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Title: The Old Wives' Tale
Author: Arnold Bennett



To W. W. K.




PREFACE TO THIS EDITION

In the autumn of 1903 I used to dine frequently in a restaurant in
the Rue de Clichy, Paris. Here were, among others, two waitresses
that attracted my attention. One was a beautiful, pale young girl,
to whom I never spoke, for she was employed far away from the
table which I affected. The other, a stout, middle-aged managing
Breton woman, had sole command over my table and me, and gradually
she began to assume such a maternal tone towards me that I saw I
should be compelled to leave that restaurant. If I was absent for
a couple of nights running she would reproach me sharply: "What!
you are unfaithful to me?" Once, when I complained about some
French beans, she informed me roundly that French beans were a
subject which I did not understand. I then decided to be eternally
unfaithful to her, and I abandoned the restaurant. A few nights
before the final parting an old woman came into the restaurant to
dine. She was fat, shapeless, ugly, and grotesque. She had a
ridiculous voice, and ridiculous gestures. It was easy to see that
she lived alone, and that in the long lapse of years she had
developed the kind of peculiarity which induces guffaws among the
thoughtless. She was burdened with a lot of small parcels, which
she kept dropping. She chose one seat; and then, not liking it,
chose another; and then another. In a few moments she had the
whole restaurant laughing at her. That my middle-aged Breton
should laugh was indifferent to me, but I was pained to see a
coarse grimace of giggling on the pale face of the beautiful young
waitress to whom I had never spoken.

I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner: "This woman was once
young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from these
ridiculous mannerisms. Very probably she is unconscious of her
singularities. Her case is a tragedy. One ought to be able to make
a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she."
Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque--far from it!--but
there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that every stout
ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth
in her form and movements and in her mind. And the fact that the
change from the young girl to the stout ageing woman is made up of
an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by
her, only intensifies the pathos.

It was at this instant that I was visited by the idea of writing
the book which ultimately became "The Old Wives' Tale." Of course
I felt that the woman who caused the ignoble mirth in the
restaurant would not serve me as a type of heroine. For she was
much too old and obviously unsympathetic. It is an absolute rule
that the principal character of a novel must not be unsympathetic,
and the whole modern tendency of realistic fiction is against
oddness in a prominent figure. I knew that I must choose the sort
of woman who would pass unnoticed in a crowd.

I put the idea aside for a long time, but it was never very
distant from me. For several reasons it made a special appeal to
me. I had always been a convinced admirer of Mrs. W. K. Clifford's
most precious novel, "Aunt Anne," but I wanted to see in the story
of an old woman many things that Mrs. W. K. Clifford had omitted
from "Aunt Anne." Moreover, I had always revolted against the
absurd youthfulness, the unfading youthfulness of the average
heroine. And as a protest against this fashion, I was already, in
1903, planning a novel ("Leonora") of which the heroine was aged
forty, and had daughters old enough to be in love. The reviewers,
by the way, were staggered by my hardihood in offering a woman of
forty as a subject of serious interest to the public. But I meant
to go much farther than forty! Finally as a supreme reason, I had
the example and the challenge of Guy de Maupassant's "Une Vie." In
the nineties we used to regard "Une Vie" with mute awe, as being
the summit of achievement in fiction. And I remember being very
cross with Mr. Bernard Shaw because, having read "Une Vie" at the
suggestion (I think) of Mr. William Archer, he failed to see in it
anything very remarkable. Here I must confess that, in 1908, I
read "Une Vie" again, and in spite of a natural anxiety to differ
from Mr. Bernard Shaw, I was gravely disappointed with it. It is a
fine novel, but decidedly inferior to "Pierre et Jean" or even
"Fort Comme la Mort." To return to the year 1903. "Une Vie"
relates the entire life history of a woman. I settled in the
privacy of my own head that my book about the development of a
young girl into a stout old lady must be the English "Une Vie." I
have been accused of every fault except a lack of self-confidence,
and in a few weeks I settled a further point, namely, that my book
must "go one better" than "Une Vie," and that to this end it must
be the life-history of two women instead of only one. Hence, "The
Old Wives' Tale" has two heroines. Constance was the original;
Sophia was created out of bravado, just to indicate that I
declined to consider Guy de Maupassant as the last forerunner of
the deluge. I was intimidated by the audacity of my project, but I
had sworn to carry it out. For several years I looked it squarely
in the face at intervals, and then walked away to write novels of
smaller scope, of which I produced five or six. But I could not
dally forever, and in the autumn of 1907 I actually began to write
it, in a village near Fontainebleau, where I rented half a house
from a retired railway servant. I calculated that it would be
200,000 words long (which it exactly proved to be), and I had a
vague notion that no novel of such dimensions (except
Richardson's) had ever been written before. So I counted the words
in several famous Victorian novels, and discovered to my relief
that the famous Victorian novels average 400,000 words apiece. I
wrote the first part of the novel in six weeks. It was fairly easy
to me, because, in the seventies, in the first decade of my life,
I had lived in the actual draper's shop of the Baines's, and knew
it as only a child could know it. Then I went to London on a
visit. I tried to continue the book in a London hotel, but London
was too distracting, and I put the thing away, and during January
and February of 1908, I wrote "Buried Alive," which was published
immediately, and was received with majestic indifference by the
English public, an indifference which has persisted to this day.

I then returned to the Fontainebleau region and gave "The Old
Wives' Tale" no rest till I finished it at the end of July, 1908.
It was published in the autumn of the same year, and for six weeks
afterward the English public steadily confirmed an opinion
expressed by a certain person in whose judgment I had confidence,
to the effect that the work was honest but dull, and that when it
was not dull it had a regrettable tendency to facetiousness. My
publishers, though brave fellows, were somewhat disheartened;
however, the reception of the book gradually became less and less
frigid.

With regard to the French portion of the story, it was not until I
had written the first part that I saw from a study of my
chronological basis that the Siege of Paris might be brought into
the tale. The idea was seductive; but I hated, and still hate, the
awful business of research; and I only knew the Paris of the
Twentieth Century. Now I was aware that my railway servant and his
wife had been living in Paris at the time of the war. I said to
the old man, "By the way, you went through the Siege of Paris,
didn't you?" He turned to his old wife and said, uncertainly, "The
Siege of Paris? Yes, we did, didn't we?" The Siege of Paris had
been only one incident among many in their lives. Of course, they
remembered it well, though not vividly, and I gained much
information from them. But the most useful thing which I gained
from them was the perception, startling at first, that ordinary
people went on living very ordinary lives in Paris during the
siege, and that to the vast mass of the population the siege was
not the dramatic, spectacular, thrilling, ecstatic affair that is
described in history. Encouraged by this perception, I decided to
include the siege in my scheme. I read Sarcey's diary of the siege
aloud to my wife, and I looked at the pictures in Jules Claretie's
popular work on the siege and the commune, and I glanced at the
printed collection of official documents, and there my research
ended.

It has been asserted that unless I had actually been present at a
public execution, I could not have written the chapter in which
Sophia was at the Auxerre solemnity. I have not been present at a
public execution, as the whole of my information about public
executions was derived from a series of articles on them which I
read in the Paris Matin. Mr. Frank Harris, discussing my book in
"Vanity Fair," said it was clear that I had not seen an execution,
(or words to that effect), and he proceeded to give his own
description of an execution. It was a brief but terribly
convincing bit of writing, quite characteristic and quite worthy
of the author of "Montes the Matador" and of a man who has been
almost everywhere and seen almost everything. I comprehended how
far short I had fallen of the truth! I wrote to Mr. Frank Harris,
regretting that his description had not been printed before I
wrote mine, as I should assuredly have utilized it, and, of
course, I admitted that I had never witnessed an execution. He
simply replied: "Neither have I." This detail is worth preserving,
for it is a reproof to that large body of readers, who, when a
novelist has really carried conviction to them, assert off hand:
"O, that must be autobiography!"

ARNOLD BENNETT.






CONTENTS


BOOK I.

MRS. BAINES

   I. THE SQUARE

  II. THE TOOTH

 III. A BATTLE

  IV. ELEPHANT

   V. THE TRAVELLER

  VI. ESCAPADE

 VII. A DEFEAT



BOOK II.

CONSTANCE

   I. REVOLUTION

  II. CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE

 III. CYRIL

  IV. CRIME

   V. ANOTHER CRIME

  VI. THE WIDOW

 VII. BRICKS AND MORTAR

VIII. THE PROUDEST MOTHER



BOOK III.

SOPHIA

   I. THE ELOPEMENT

  II. SUPPER

 III. AN AMBITION SATISFIED

  IV. A CRISIS FOR GERALD

   V. FEVER

  VI. THE SIEGE

 VII. SUCCESS



BOOK IV.

WHAT LIFE IS

   I. FRENSHAM'S

  II. THE MEETING

 III. TOWARDS HOTEL LIFE

  IV. END OF SOPHIA

   V. END OF CONSTANCE






BOOK I

MRS. BAINES




CHAPTER I

THE SQUARE

I


Those two girls, Constance and Sophia Baines, paid no heed to the
manifold interest of their situation, of which, indeed, they had
never been conscious. They were, for example, established almost
precisely on the fifty-third parallel of latitude. A little way to
the north of them, in the creases of a hill famous for its
religious orgies, rose the river Trent, the calm and
characteristic stream of middle England. Somewhat further
northwards, in the near neighbourhood of the highest public-house
in the realm, rose two lesser rivers, the Dane and the Dove,
which, quarrelling in early infancy, turned their backs on each
other, and, the one by favour of the Weaver and the other by
favour of the Trent, watered between them the whole width of
England, and poured themselves respectively into the Irish Sea and
the German Ocean. What a county of modest, unnoticed rivers! What
a natural, simple county, content to fix its boundaries by these
tortuous island brooks, with their comfortable names--Trent,
Mease, Dove, Tern, Dane, Mees, Stour, Tame, and even hasty Severn!
Not that the Severn is suitable to the county! In the county
excess is deprecated. The county is happy in not exciting remark.
It is content that Shropshire should possess that swollen bump,
the Wrekin, and that the exaggerated wildness of the Peak should
lie over its border. It does not desire to be a pancake like
Cheshire. It has everything that England has, including thirty
miles of Watling Street; and England can show nothing more
beautiful and nothing uglier than the works of nature and the
works of man to be seen within the limits of the county. It is
England in little, lost in the midst of England, unsung by
searchers after the extreme; perhaps occasionally somewhat sore at
this neglect, but how proud in the instinctive cognizance of its
representative features and traits!

Constance and Sophia, busy with the intense preoccupations of
youth, recked not of such matters. They were surrounded by the
county. On every side the fields and moors of Staffordshire,
intersected by roads and lanes, railways, watercourses and
telegraph-lines, patterned by hedges, ornamented and made
respectable by halls and genteel parks, enlivened by villages at
the intersections, and warmly surveyed by the sun, spread out
undulating. And trains were rushing round curves in deep cuttings,
and carts and waggons trotting and jingling on the yellow roads,
and long, narrow boats passing in a leisure majestic and infinite
over the surface of the stolid canals; the rivers had only
themselves to support, for Staffordshire rivers have remained
virgin of keels to this day. One could imagine the messages
concerning prices, sudden death, and horses, in their flight
through the wires under the feet of birds. In the inns Utopians
were shouting the universe into order over beer, and in the halls
and parks the dignity of England was being preserved in a fitting
manner. The villages were full of women who did nothing but fight
against dirt and hunger, and repair the effects of friction on
clothes. Thousands of labourers were in the fields, but the fields
were so broad and numerous that this scattered multitude was
totally lost therein. The cuckoo was much more perceptible than
man, dominating whole square miles with his resounding call. And
on the airy moors heath-larks played in the ineffaceable mule-
tracks that had served centuries before even the Romans thought of
Watling Street. In short, the usual daily life of the county was
proceeding with all its immense variety and importance; but though
Constance and Sophia were in it they were not of it.

The fact is, that while in the county they were also in the
district; and no person who lives in the district, even if he
should be old and have nothing to do but reflect upon things in
general, ever thinks about the county. So far as the county goes,
the district might almost as well be in the middle of the Sahara.
It ignores the county, save that it uses it nonchalantly sometimes
as leg-stretcher on holiday afternoons, as a man may use his back
garden. It has nothing in common with the county; it is richly
sufficient to itself. Nevertheless, its self-sufficiency and the
true salt savour of its life can only be appreciated by picturing
it hemmed in by county. It lies on the face of the county like an
insignificant stain, like a dark Pleiades in a green and empty
sky. And Hanbridge has the shape of a horse and its rider, Bursley
of half a donkey, Knype of a pair of trousers, Longshaw of an
octopus, and little Turnhill of a beetle. The Five Towns seem to
cling together for safety. Yet the idea of clinging together for
safety would make them laugh. They are unique and indispensable.
From the north of the county right down to the south they alone
stand for civilization, applied science, organized manufacture,
and the century--until you come to Wolverhampton. They are unique
and indispensable because you cannot drink tea out of a teacup
without the aid of the Five Towns; because you cannot eat a meal
in decency without the aid of the Five Towns. For this the
architecture of the Five Towns is an architecture of ovens and
chimneys; for this its atmosphere is as black as its mud; for this
it burns and smokes all night, so that Longshaw has been compared
to hell; for this it is unlearned in the ways of agriculture,
never having seen corn except as packing straw and in quartern
loaves; for this, on the other hand, it comprehends the mysterious
habits of fire and pure, sterile earth; for this it lives crammed
together in slippery streets where the housewife must change white
window-curtains at least once a fortnight if she wishes to remain
respectable; for this it gets up in the mass at six a.m., winter
and summer, and goes to bed when the public-houses close; for this
it exists--that you may drink tea out of a teacup and toy with a
chop on a plate. All the everyday crockery used in the kingdom is
made in the Five Towns--all, and much besides. A district capable
of such gigantic manufacture, of such a perfect monopoly--and
which finds energy also to produce coal and iron and great men--
may be an insignificant stain on a county, considered
geographically, but it is surely well justified in treating the
county as its back garden once a week, and in blindly ignoring it
the rest of the time.

Even the majestic thought that whenever and wherever in all
England a woman washes up, she washes up the product of the
district; that whenever and wherever in all England a plate is
broken the fracture means new business for the district--even this
majestic thought had probably never occurred to either of the
girls. The fact is, that while in the Five Towns they were also in
the Square, Bursley and the Square ignored the staple manufacture
as perfectly as the district ignored the county. Bursley has the
honours of antiquity in the Five Towns. No industrial development
can ever rob it of its superiority in age, which makes it
absolutely sure in its conceit. And the time will never come when
the other towns--let them swell and bluster as they may--will not
pronounce the name of Bursley as one pronounces the name of one's
mother. Add to this that the Square was the centre of Bursley's
retail trade (which scorned the staple as something wholesale,
vulgar, and assuredly filthy), and you will comprehend the
importance and the self-isolation of the Square in the scheme of
the created universe. There you have it, embedded in the district,
and the district embedded in the county, and the county lost and
dreaming in the heart of England!

The Square was named after St. Luke. The Evangelist might have
been startled by certain phenomena in his square, but, except in
Wakes Week, when the shocking always happened, St. Luke's Square
lived in a manner passably saintly--though it contained five
public-houses. It contained five public-houses, a bank, a
barber's, a confectioner's, three grocers', two chemists', an
ironmonger's, a clothier's, and five drapers'. These were all the
catalogue. St. Luke's Square had no room for minor establishments.
The aristocracy of the Square undoubtedly consisted of the drapers
(for the bank was impersonal); and among the five the shop of
Baines stood supreme. No business establishment could possibly be
more respected than that of Mr. Baines was respected. And though
John Baines had been bedridden for a dozen years, he still lived
on the lips of admiring, ceremonious burgesses as 'our honoured
fellow-townsman.' He deserved his reputation.

The Baines's shop, to make which three dwellings had at intervals
been thrown into one, lay at the bottom of the Square. It formed
about one-third of the south side of the Square, the remainder
being made up of Critchlow's (chemist), the clothier's, and the
Hanover Spirit Vaults. ("Vaults" was a favourite synonym of the
public-house in the Square. Only two of the public-houses were
crude public-houses: the rest were "vaults.") It was a composite
building of three storeys, in blackish-crimson brick, with a
projecting shop-front and, above and behind that, two rows of
little windows. On the sash of each window was a red cloth roll
stuffed with sawdust, to prevent draughts; plain white blinds
descended about six inches from the top of each window. There were
no curtains to any of the windows save one; this was the window of
the drawing-room, on the first floor at the corner of the Square
and King Street. Another window, on the second storey, was
peculiar, in that it had neither blind nor pad, and was very
dirty; this was the window of an unused room that had a separate
staircase to itself, the staircase being barred by a door always
locked. Constance and Sophia had lived in continual expectation of
the abnormal issuing from that mysterious room, which was next to
their own. But they were disappointed. The room had no shameful
secret except the incompetence of the architect who had made one
house out of three; it was just an empty, unemployable room. The
building had also a considerable frontage on King Street, where,
behind the shop, was sheltered the parlour, with a large window
and a door that led directly by two steps into the street. A
strange peculiarity of the shop was that it bore no signboard.
Once it had had a large signboard which a memorable gale had blown
into the Square. Mr. Baines had decided not to replace it. He had
always objected to what he called "puffing," and for this reason
would never hear of such a thing as a clearance sale. The hatred
of "puffing" grew on him until he came to regard even a sign as
"puffing." Uninformed persons who wished to find Baines's must ask
and learn. For Mr. Baines, to have replaced the sign would have
been to condone, yea, to participate in, the modern craze for
unscrupulous self-advertisement. This abstention of Mr. Baines's
from indulgence in signboards was somehow accepted by the more
thoughtful members of the community as evidence that the height of
Mr. Baines's principles was greater even than they had imagined.

Constance and Sophia were the daughters of this credit to human
nature. He had no other children.

II

They pressed their noses against the window of the show-room, and
gazed down into the Square as perpendicularly as the projecting
front of the shop would allow. The show-room was over the
millinery and silken half of the shop. Over the woollen and
shirting half were the drawing-room and the chief bedroom. When in
quest of articles of coquetry, you mounted from the shop by a
curving stair, and your head gradually rose level with a large
apartment having a mahogany counter in front of the window and
along one side, yellow linoleum on the floor, many cardboard
boxes, a magnificent hinged cheval glass, and two chairs. The
window-sill being lower than the counter, there was a gulf between
the panes and the back of the counter, into which important
articles such as scissors, pencils, chalk, and artificial flowers
were continually disappearing: another proof of the architect's
incompetence.

The girls could only press their noses against the window by
kneeling on the counter, and this they were doing. Constance's
nose was snub, but agreeably so. Sophia had a fine Roman nose; she
was a beautiful creature, beautiful and handsome at the same time.
They were both of them rather like racehorses, quivering with
delicate, sensitive, and luxuriant life; exquisite, enchanting
proof of the circulation of the blood; innocent, artful, roguish,
prim, gushing, ignorant, and miraculously wise. Their ages were
sixteen and fifteen; it is an epoch when, if one is frank, one
must admit that one has nothing to learn: one has learnt simply
everything in the previous six months.

"There she goes!" exclaimed Sophia.

Up the Square, from the corner of King Street, passed a woman in a
new bonnet with pink strings, and a new blue dress that sloped at
the shoulders and grew to a vast circumference at the hem. Through
the silent sunlit solitude of the Square (for it was Thursday
afternoon, and all the shops shut except the confectioner's and
one chemist's) this bonnet and this dress floated northwards in
search of romance, under the relentless eyes of Constance and
Sophia. Within them, somewhere, was the soul of Maggie, domestic
servant at Baines's. Maggie had been at the shop since before the
creation of Constance and Sophia. She lived seventeen hours of
each day in an underground kitchen and larder, and the other seven
in an attic, never going out except to chapel on Sunday evenings,
and once a month on Thursday afternoons. "Followers" were most
strictly forbidden to her; but on rare occasions an aunt from
Longshaw was permitted as a tremendous favour to see her in the
subterranean den. Everybody, including herself, considered that
she had a good "place," and was well treated. It was undeniable,
for instance, that she was allowed to fall in love exactly as she
chose, provided she did not "carry on" in the kitchen or the yard.
And as a fact, Maggie had fallen in love. In seventeen years she
had been engaged eleven times. No one could conceive how that ugly
and powerful organism could softly languish to the undoing of even
a butty-collier, nor why, having caught a man in her sweet toils,
she could ever be imbecile enough to set him free. There are,
however, mysteries in the souls of Maggies. The drudge had
probably been affianced oftener than any woman in Bursley. Her
employers were so accustomed to an interesting announcement that
for years they had taken to saying naught in reply but 'Really,
Maggie!' Engagements and tragic partings were Maggie's pastime.
Fixed otherwise, she might have studied the piano instead.

"No gloves, of course!" Sophia criticized.

"Well, you can't expect her to have gloves," said Constance.

Then a pause, as the bonnet and dress neared the top of the
Square.

"Supposing she turns round and sees us?" Constance suggested.

"I don't care if she does," said Sophia, with a haughtiness almost
impassioned; and her head trembled slightly.

There were, as usual, several loafers at the top of the Square, in
the corner between the bank and the "Marquis of Granby." And one
of these loafers stepped forward and shook hands with an obviously
willing Maggie. Clearly it was a rendezvous, open, unashamed. The
twelfth victim had been selected by the virgin of forty, whose
kiss would not have melted lard! The couple disappeared together
down Oldcastle Street.

"WELL!" cried Constance. "Did you ever see such a thing?"

While Sophia, short of adequate words, flushed and bit her lip.

With the profound, instinctive cruelty of youth, Constance and
Sophia had assembled in their favourite haunt, the show-room,
expressly to deride Maggie in her new clothes. They obscurely
thought that a woman so ugly and soiled as Maggie was had no right
to possess new clothes. Even her desire to take the air of a
Thursday afternoon seemed to them unnatural and somewhat
reprehensible. Why should she want to stir out of her kitchen? As
for her tender yearnings, they positively grudged these to Maggie.
That Maggie should give rein to chaste passion was more than
grotesque; it was offensive and wicked. But let it not for an
instant be doubted that they were nice, kind-hearted, well-
behaved, and delightful girls! Because they were. They were not
angels.

"It's too ridiculous!" said Sophia, severely. She had youth,
beauty, and rank in her favour. And to her it really was
ridiculous.

"Poor old Maggie!" Constance murmured. Constance was foolishly
good-natured, a perfect manufactory of excuses for other people;
and her benevolence was eternally rising up and overpowering her
reason.

"What time did mother say she should be back?" Sophia asked.

"Not until supper."

"Oh! Hallelujah!" Sophia burst out, clasping her hands in joy. And
they both slid down from the counter just as if they had been
little boys, and not, as their mother called them, "great girls."

"Let's go and play the Osborne quadrilles," Sophia suggested (the
Osborne quadrilles being a series of dances arranged to be
performed on drawing-room pianos by four jewelled hands).

"I couldn't think of it," said Constance, with a precocious
gesture of seriousness. In that gesture, and in her tone, was
something which conveyed to Sophia: "Sophia, how can you be so
utterly blind to the gravity of our fleeting existence as to ask
me to go and strum the piano with you?" Yet a moment before she
had been a little boy.

"Why not?" Sophia demanded.

"I shall never have another chance like to-day for getting on with
this," said Constance, picking up a bag from the counter.

She sat down and took from the bag a piece of loosely woven
canvas, on which she was embroidering a bunch of roses in coloured
wools. The canvas had once been stretched on a frame, but now, as
the delicate labour of the petals and leaves was done, and nothing
remained to do but the monotonous background, Constance was
content to pin the stuff to her knee. With the long needle and
several skeins of mustard-tinted wool, she bent over the canvas
and resumed the filling-in of the tiny squares. The whole design
was in squares--the gradations of red and greens, the curves of
the smallest buds--all was contrived in squares, with a result
that mimicked a fragment of uncompromising Axminster carpet.
Still, the fine texture of the wool, the regular and rapid grace
of those fingers moving incessantly at back and front of the
canvas, the gentle sound of the wool as it passed through the
holes, and the intent, youthful earnestness of that lowered gaze,
excused and invested with charm an activity which, on artistic
grounds, could not possibly be justified. The canvas was destined
to adorn a gilt firescreen in the drawing-room, and also to form a
birthday gift to Mrs. Baines from her elder daughter. But whether
the enterprise was as secret from Mrs. Baines as Constance hoped,
none save Mrs. Baines knew.

"Con," murmured Sophia, "you're too sickening sometimes."

"Well," said Constance, blandly, "it's no use pretending that this
hasn't got to be finished before we go back to school, because it
has." Sophia wandered about, a prey ripe for the Evil One. "Oh,"
she exclaimed joyously--even ecstatically--looking behind the
cheval glass, "here's mother's new skirt! Miss Dunn's been putting
the gimp on it! Oh, mother, what a proud thing you will be!"
Constance heard swishings behind the glass. "What are you doing,
Sophia?"

"Nothing."

"You surely aren't putting that skirt on?"

"Why not?"

"You'll catch it finely, I can tell you!"

Without further defence, Sophia sprang out from behind the immense
glass. She had already shed a notable part of her own costume, and
the flush of mischief was in her face. She ran across to the other
side of the room and examined carefully a large coloured print
that was affixed to the wall.

This print represented fifteen sisters, all of the same height and
slimness of figure, all of the same age--about twenty-five or so,
and all with exactly the same haughty and bored beauty. That they
were in truth sisters was clear from the facial resemblance
between them; their demeanour indicated that they were princesses,
offspring of some impossibly prolific king and queen. Those hands
had never toiled, nor had those features ever relaxed from the
smile of courts. The princesses moved in a landscape of marble
steps and verandahs, with a bandstand and strange trees in the
distance. One was in a riding-habit, another in evening attire,
another dressed for tea, another for the theatre; another seemed
to be ready to go to bed. One held a little girl by the hand; it
could not have been her own little girl, for these princesses were
far beyond human passions. Where had she obtained the little girl?
Why was one sister going to the theatre, another to tea, another
to the stable, and another to bed? Why was one in a heavy mantle,
and another sheltering from the sun's rays under a parasol? The
picture was drenched in mystery, and the strangest thing about it
was that all these highnesses were apparently content with the
most ridiculous and out-moded fashions. Absurd hats, with veils
flying behind; absurd bonnets, fitting close to the head, and
spotted; absurd coiffures that nearly lay on the nape; absurd,
clumsy sleeves; absurd waists, almost above the elbow's level;
absurd scolloped jackets! And the skirts! What a sight were those
skirts! They were nothing but vast decorated pyramids; on the
summit of each was stuck the upper half of a princess. It was
astounding that princesses should consent to be so preposterous
and so uncomfortable. But Sophia perceived nothing uncanny in the
picture, which bore the legend: "Newest summer fashions from
Paris. Gratis supplement to Myra's Journal." Sophia had never
imagined anything more stylish, lovely, and dashing than the
raiment of the fifteen princesses.

For Constance and Sophia had the disadvantage of living in the
middle ages. The crinoline had not quite reached its full
circumference, and the dress-improver had not even been thought
of. In all the Five Towns there was not a public bath, nor a free
library, nor a municipal park, nor a telephone, nor yet a board-
school. People had not understood the vital necessity of going
away to the seaside every year. Bishop Colenso had just staggered
Christianity by his shameless notions on the Pentateuch. Half
Lancashire was starving on account of the American war. Garroting
was the chief amusement of the homicidal classes. Incredible as it
may appear, there was nothing but a horse-tram running between
Bursley and Hanbridge--and that only twice an hour; and between
the other towns no stage of any kind! One went to Longshaw as one
now goes to Pekin. It was an era so dark and backward that one
might wonder how people could sleep in their beds at night for
thinking about their sad state.

Happily the inhabitants of the Five Towns in that era were
passably pleased with themselves, and they never even suspected
that they were not quite modern and quite awake. They thought that
the intellectual, the industrial, and the social movements had
gone about as far as these movements could go, and they were
amazed at their own progress. Instead of being humble and ashamed,
they actually showed pride in their pitiful achievements. They
ought to have looked forward meekly to the prodigious feats of
posterity; but, having too little faith and too much conceit, they
were content to look behind and make comparisons with the past.
They did not foresee the miraculous generation which is us. A
poor, blind, complacent people! The ludicrous horse-car was
typical of them. The driver rang a huge bell, five minutes before
starting, that could he heard from the Wesleyan Chapel to the Cock
Yard, and then after deliberations and hesitations the vehicle
rolled off on its rails into unknown dangers while passengers
shouted good-bye. At Bleakridge it had to stop for the turnpike,
and it was assisted up the mountains of Leveson Place and
Sutherland Street (towards Hanbridge) by a third horse, on whose
back was perched a tiny, whip-cracking boy; that boy lived like a
shuttle on the road between Leveson Place and Sutherland Street,
and even in wet weather he was the envy of all other boys. After
half an hour's perilous transit the car drew up solemnly in a
narrow street by the Signal office in Hanbridge, and the ruddy
driver, having revolved many times the polished iron handle of his
sole brake, turned his attention to his passengers in calm
triumph, dismissing them with a sort of unsung doxology.

And this was regarded as the last word of traction! A whip-
cracking boy on a tip horse! Oh, blind, blind! You could not
foresee the hundred and twenty electric cars that now rush madly
bumping and thundering at twenty miles an hour through all the
main streets of the district!

So that naturally Sophia, infected with the pride of her period,
had no misgivings whatever concerning the final elegance of the
princesses. She studied them as the fifteen apostles of the ne
plus ultra; then, having taken some flowers and plumes out of a
box, amid warnings from Constance, she retreated behind the glass,
and presently emerged as a great lady in the style of the
princesses. Her mother's tremendous new gown ballooned about her
in all its fantastic richness and expensiveness. And with the gown
she had put on her mother's importance--that mien of assured
authority, of capacity tested in many a crisis, which
characterized Mrs. Baines, and which Mrs. Baines seemed to impart
to her dresses even before she had regularly worn them. For it was
a fact that Mrs. Baines's empty garments inspired respect, as
though some essence had escaped from her and remained in them.

"Sophia!"

Constance stayed her needle, and, without lifting her head, gazed,
with eyes raised from the wool-work, motionless at the posturing
figure of her sister. It was sacrilege that she was witnessing, a
prodigious irreverence. She was conscious of an expectation that
punishment would instantly fall on this daring, impious child. But
she, who never felt these mad, amazing impulses, could
nevertheless only smile fearfully.

"Sophia!" she breathed, with an intensity of alarm that merged
into condoning admiration. "Whatever will you do next?"

Sophia's lovely flushed face crowned the extraordinary structure
like a blossom, scarcely controlling its laughter. She was as tall
as her mother, and as imperious, as crested, and proud; and in
spite of the pigtail, the girlish semi-circular comb, and the
loose foal-like limbs, she could support as well as her mother the
majesty of the gimp-embroidered dress. Her eyes sparkled with all
the challenges of the untried virgin as she minced about the
showroom. Abounding life inspired her movements. The confident and
fierce joy of youth shone on her brow. "What thing on earth equals
me?" she seemed to demand with enchanting and yet ruthless
arrogance. She was the daughter of a respected, bedridden draper
in an insignificant town, lost in the central labyrinth of
England, if you like; yet what manner of man, confronted with her,
would or could have denied her naive claim to dominion? She stood,
in her mother's hoops, for the desire of the world. And in the
innocence of her soul she knew it! The heart of a young girl
mysteriously speaks and tells her of her power long ere she can
use her power. If she can find nothing else to subdue, you may
catch her in the early years subduing a gate-post or drawing
homage from an empty chair. Sophia's experimental victim was
Constance, with suspended needle and soft glance that shot out
from the lowered face.

Then Sophia fell, in stepping backwards; the pyramid was
overbalanced; great distended rings of silk trembled and swayed
gigantically on the floor, and Sophia's small feet lay like the
feet of a doll on the rim of the largest circle, which curved and
arched above them like a cavern's mouth. The abrupt transition of
her features from assured pride to ludicrous astonishment and
alarm was comical enough to have sent into wild uncharitable
laughter any creature less humane than Constance. But Constance
sprang to her, a single embodied instinct of benevolence, with her
snub nose, and tried to raise her.

"Oh, Sophia!" she cried compassionately--that voice seemed not to
know the tones of reproof--"I do hope you've not messed it,
because mother would be so--"

The words were interrupted by the sound of groans beyond the door
leading to the bedrooms. The groans, indicating direst physical
torment, grew louder. The two girls stared, wonder-struck and
afraid, at the door, Sophia with her dark head raised, and
Constance with her arms round Sophia's waist. The door opened,
letting in a much-magnified sound of groans, and there entered a
youngish, undersized man, who was frantically clutching his head
in his hands and contorting all the muscles of his face. On
perceiving the sculptural group of two prone, interlocked girls,
one enveloped in a crinoline, and the other with a wool-work bunch
of flowers pinned to her knee, he jumped back, ceased groaning,
arranged his face, and seriously tried to pretend that it was not
he who had been vocal in anguish, that, indeed, he was just
passing as a casual, ordinary wayfarer through the showroom to the
shop below. He blushed darkly; and the girls also blushed.

"Oh, I beg pardon, I'm sure!" said this youngish man suddenly; and
with a swift turn he disappeared whence he had come.

He was Mr. Povey, a person universally esteemed, both within and
without the shop, the surrogate of bedridden Mr. Baines, the
unfailing comfort and stand-by of Mrs. Baines, the fount and
radiating centre of order and discipline in the shop; a quiet,
diffident, secretive, tedious, and obstinate youngish man,
absolutely faithful, absolutely efficient in his sphere; without
brilliance, without distinction; perhaps rather little-minded,
certainly narrow-minded; but what a force in the shop! The shop
was inconceivable without Mr. Povey. He was under twenty and not
out of his apprenticeship when Mr. Baines had been struck down,
and he had at once proved his worth. Of the assistants, he alone
slept in the house. His bedroom was next to that of his employer;
there was a door between the two chambers, and the two steps led
down from the larger to the less.

The girls regained their feet, Sophia with Constance's help. It
was not easy to right a capsized crinoline. They both began to
laugh nervously, with a trace of hysteria.

"I thought he'd gone to the dentist's," whispered Constance.

Mr. Povey's toothache had been causing anxiety in the microcosm
for two days, and it had been clearly understood at dinner that
Thursday morning that Mr. Povey was to set forth to Oulsnam Bros.,
the dentists at Hillport, without any delay. Only on Thursdays and
Sundays did Mr. Povey dine with the family. On other days he dined
later, by himself, but at the family table, when Mrs. Baines or
one of the assistants could "relieve" him in the shop. Before
starting out to visit her elder sister at Axe, Mrs. Baines had
insisted to Mr. Povey that he had eaten practically nothing but
"slops" for twenty-four hours, and that if he was not careful she
would have him on her hands. He had replied in his quietest, most
sagacious, matter-of-fact tone--the tone that carried weight with
all who heard it--that he had only been waiting for Thursday
afternoon, and should of course go instantly to Oulsnams' and have
the thing attended to in a proper manner. He had even added that
persons who put off going to the dentist's were simply sowing
trouble for themselves.

None could possibly have guessed that Mr. Povey was afraid of
going to the dentist's. But such was the case. He had not dared to
set forth. The paragon of commonsense, pictured by most people as
being somehow unliable to human frailties, could not yet screw
himself up to the point of ringing a dentist's door-bell.

"He did look funny," said Sophia. "I wonder what he thought. I
couldn't help laughing!"

Constance made no answer; but when Sophia had resumed her own
clothes, and it was ascertained beyond doubt that the new dress
had not suffered, and Constance herself was calmly stitching
again, she said, poising her needle as she had poised it to watch
Sophia:

"I was just wondering whether something oughtn't to be done for
Mr. Povey."

"What?" Sophia demanded.

"Has he gone back to his bedroom?"

"Let's go and listen," said Sophia the adventuress.

They went, through the showroom door, past the foot of the stairs
leading to the second storey, down the long corridor broken in the
middle by two steps and carpeted with a narrow bordered carpet
whose parallel lines increased its apparent length. They went on
tiptoe, sticking close to one another. Mr. Povey's door was
slightly ajar. They listened; not a sound.

"Mr. Povey!" Constance coughed discreetly.

No reply. It was Sophia who pushed the door open. Constance made
an elderly prim plucking gesture at Sophia's bare arm, but she
followed Sophia gingerly into the forbidden room, which was,
however, empty. The bed had been ruffled, and on it lay a book,
"The Harvest of a Quiet Eye."

"Harvest of a quiet tooth!" Sophia whispered, giggling very low.

"Hsh!" Constance put her lips forward.

From the next room came a regular, muffled, oratorical sound, as
though some one had begun many years ago to address a meeting and
had forgotten to leave off and never would leave off. They were
familiar with the sound, and they quitted Mr. Povey's chamber in
fear of disturbing it. At the same moment Mr. Povey reappeared,
this time in the drawing-room doorway at the other extremity of
the long corridor. He seemed to be trying ineffectually to flee
from his tooth as a murderer tries to flee from his conscience.

"Oh, Mr. Povey!" said Constance quickly--for he had surprised them
coming out of his bedroom; "we were just looking for you."

"To see if we could do anything for you," Sophia added.

"Oh no, thanks!" said Mr. Povey.

Then he began to come down the corridor, slowly.

"You haven't been to the dentist's," said Constance
sympathetically.

"No, I haven't," said Mr. Povey, as if Constance was indicating a
fact which had escaped his attention. "The truth is, I thought it
looked like rain, and if I'd got wet--you see--"

Miserable Mr. Povey!

"Yes," said Constance, "you certainly ought to keep out of
draughts. Don't you think it would be a good thing if you went and
sat in the parlour? There's a fire there."

"I shall be all right, thank you," said Mr. Povey. And after a
pause: "Well, thanks, I will."

III

The girls made way for him to pass them at the head of the
twisting stairs which led down to the parlour. Constance followed,
and Sophia followed Constance.

"Have father's chair," said Constance.

There were two rocking-chairs with fluted backs covered by
antimacassars, one on either side of the hearth. That to the left
was still entitled "father's chair," though its owner had not sat
in it since long before the Crimean war, and would never sit in it
again.

"I think I'd sooner have the other one," said Mr. Povey, "because
it's on the right side, you see." And he touched his right cheek.

Having taken Mrs. Baines's chair, he bent his face down to the
fire, seeking comfort from its warmth. Sophia poked the fire,
whereupon Mr. Povey abruptly withdrew his face. He then felt
something light on his shoulders. Constance had taken the
antimacassar from the back of the chair, and protected him with it
from the draughts. He did not instantly rebel, and therefore was
permanently barred from rebellion. He was entrapped by the
antimacassar. It formally constituted him an invalid, and
Constance and Sophia his nurses. Constance drew the curtain across
the street door. No draught could come from the window, for the
window was not 'made to open.' The age of ventilation had not
arrived. Sophia shut the other two doors. And, each near a door,
the girls gazed at Mr. Povey behind his back, irresolute, but
filled with a delicious sense of responsibility.

The situation was on a different plane now. The seriousness of Mr.
Povey's toothache, which became more and more manifest, had
already wiped out the ludicrous memory of the encounter in the
showroom. Looking at these two big girls, with their short-sleeved
black frocks and black aprons, and their smooth hair, and their
composed serious faces, one would have judged them incapable of
the least lapse from an archangelic primness; Sophia especially
presented a marvellous imitation of saintly innocence. As for the
toothache, its action on Mr. Povey was apparently periodic; it
gathered to a crisis like a wave, gradually, the torture
increasing till the wave broke and left Mr. Povey exhausted, but
free for a moment from pain. These crises recurred about once a
minute. And now, accustomed to the presence of the young virgins,
and having tacitly acknowledged by his acceptance of the
antimacassar that his state was abnormal, he gave himself up
frankly to affliction. He concealed nothing of his agony, which
was fully displayed by sudden contortions of his frame, and
frantic oscillations of the rocking-chair. Presently, as he lay
back enfeebled in the wash of a spent wave, he murmured with a
sick man's voice:

"I suppose you haven't got any laudanum?"

The girls started into life. "Laudanum, Mr. Povey?"

"Yes, to hold in my mouth."

He sat up, tense; another wave was forming. The excellent fellow
was lost to all self-respect, all decency.

"There's sure to be some in mother's cupboard," said Sophia.

Constance, who bore Mrs. Baines's bunch of keys at her girdle, a
solemn trust, moved a little fearfully to a corner cupboard which
was hung in the angle to the right of the projecting fireplace,
over a shelf on which stood a large copper tea-urn. That corner
cupboard, of oak inlaid with maple and ebony in a simple border
pattern, was typical of the room. It was of a piece with the deep
green "flock" wall paper, and the tea-urn, and the rocking-chairs
with their antimacassars, and the harmonium in rosewood with a
Chinese paper-mache tea-caddy on the top of it; even with the
carpet, certainly the most curious parlour carpet that ever was,
being made of lengths of the stair-carpet sewn together side by
side. That corner cupboard was already old in service; it had held
the medicines of generations. It gleamed darkly with the grave and
genuine polish which comes from ancient use alone. The key which
Constance chose from her bunch was like the cupboard, smooth and
shining with years; it fitted and turned very easily, yet with a
firm snap. The single wide door opened sedately as a portal.

The girls examined the sacred interior, which had the air of being
inhabited by an army of diminutive prisoners, each crying aloud
with the full strength of its label to be set free on a mission.

"There it is!" said Sophia eagerly.

And there it was: a blue bottle, with a saffron label, "Caution.
POISON. Laudanum. Charles Critchlow, M.P.S. Dispensing Chemist.
St. Luke's Square, Bursley."

Those large capitals frightened the girls. Constance took the
bottle as she might have taken a loaded revolver, and she glanced
at Sophia. Their omnipotent, all-wise mother was not present to
tell them what to do. They, who had never decided, had to decide
now. And Constance was the elder. Must this fearsome stuff, whose
very name was a name of fear, be introduced in spite of printed
warnings into Mr. Povey's mouth? The responsibility was
terrifying.

"Perhaps I'd just better ask Mr. Critchlow," Constance faltered.

The expectation of beneficent laudanum had enlivened Mr. Povey,
had already, indeed, by a sort of suggestion, half cured his
toothache.

"Oh no!" he said. "No need to ask Mr. Critchlow ... Two or three
drops in a little water." He showed impatience to be at the
laudanum.

The girls knew that an antipathy existed between the chemist and
Mr. Povey.

"It's sure to be all right," said Sophia. "I'll get the water."

With youthful cries and alarms they succeeded in pouring four
mortal dark drops (one more than Constance intended) into a cup
containing a little water. And as they handed the cup to Mr. Povey
their faces were the faces of affrighted comical conspirators.
They felt so old and they looked so young.

Mr. Povey imbibed eagerly of the potion, put the cup on the
mantelpiece, and then tilted his head to the right so as to
submerge the affected tooth. In this posture he remained, awaiting
the sweet influence of the remedy. The girls, out of a nice
modesty, turned away, for Mr. Povey must not swallow the medicine,
and they preferred to leave him unhampered in the solution of a
delicate problem. When next they examined him, he was leaning back
in the rocking-chair with his mouth open and his eyes shut.

"Has it done you any good, Mr. Povey?"

"I think I'll lie down on the sofa for a minute," was Mr. Povey's
strange reply; and forthwith he sprang up and flung himself on to
the horse-hair sofa between the fireplace and the window, where he
lay stripped of all his dignity, a mere beaten animal in a grey
suit with peculiar coat-tails, and a very creased waistcoat, and a
lapel that was planted with pins, and a paper collar and close-
fitting paper cuffs.

Constance ran after him with the antimacassar, which she spread
softly on his shoulders; and Sophia put another one over his thin
little legs, all drawn up.

They then gazed at their handiwork, with secret self-accusations
and the most dreadful misgivings.

"He surely never swallowed it!" Constance whispered.

"He's asleep, anyhow," said Sophia, more loudly.

Mr. Povey was certainly asleep, and his mouth was very wide open--
like a shop-door. The only question was whether his sleep was not
an eternal sleep; the only question was whether he was not out of
his pain for ever.

Then he snored--horribly; his snore seemed a portent of disaster.

Sophia approached him as though he were a bomb, and stared,
growing bolder, into his mouth.

"Oh, Con," she summoned her sister, "do come and look! It's too
droll!"

In an instant all their four eyes were exploring the singular
landscape of Mr. Povey's mouth. In a corner, to the right of that
interior, was one sizeable fragment of a tooth, that was attached
to Mr. Povey by the slenderest tie, so that at each respiration of
Mr. Povey, when his body slightly heaved and the gale moaned in
the cavern, this tooth moved separately, showing that its long
connection with Mr. Povey was drawing to a close.

"That's the one," said Sophia, pointing. "And it's as loose as
anything. Did you ever see such a funny thing?"

The extreme funniness of the thing had lulled in Sophia the fear
of Mr. Povey's sudden death.

"I'll see how much he's taken," said Constance, preoccupied, going
to the mantelpiece.

"Why, I do believe---" Sophia began, and then stopped, glancing at
the sewing-machine, which stood next to the sofa.

It was a Howe sewing-machine. It had a little tool-drawer, and in
the tool-drawer was a small pair of pliers. Constance, engaged in
sniffing at the lees of the potion in order to estimate its
probable deadliness, heard the well-known click of the little
tool-drawer, and then she saw Sophia nearing Mr. Povey's mouth
with the pliers.

"Sophia!" she exclaimed, aghast. "What in the name of goodness are
you doing?"

"Nothing," said Sophia.

The next instant Mr. Povey sprang up out of his laudanum dream.

"It jumps!" he muttered; and, after a reflective pause, "but it's
much better." He had at any rate escaped death.

Sophia's right hand was behind her back.

Just then a hawker passed down King Street, crying mussels and
cockles.

"Oh!" Sophia almost shrieked. "Do let's have mussels and cockles
for tea!" And she rushed to the door, and unlocked and opened it,
regardless of the risk of draughts to Mr. Povey.

In those days people often depended upon the caprices of hawkers
for the tastiness of their teas; but it was an adventurous age,
when errant knights of commerce were numerous and enterprising.
You went on to your doorstep, caught your meal as it passed,
withdrew, cooked it and ate it, quite in the manner of the early
Briton.

Constance was obliged to join her sister on the top step. Sophia
descended to the second step.

"Fresh mussels and cockles all alive oh!" bawled the hawker,
looking across the road in the April breeze. He was the celebrated
Hollins, a professional Irish drunkard, aged in iniquity, who
cheerfully saluted magistrates in the street, and referred to the
workhouse, which he occasionally visited, as the Bastile.

Sophia was trembling from head to foot.

"What ARE you laughing at, you silly thing?" Constance demanded.

Sophia surreptitiously showed the pliers, which she had partly
thrust into her pocket. Between their points was a most
perceptible, and even recognizable, fragment of Mr. Povey.

This was the crown of Sophia's career as a perpetrator of the
unutterable.

"What!" Constance's face showed the final contortions of that
horrified incredulity which is forced to believe.

Sophia nudged her violently to remind her that they were in the
street, and also quite close to Mr. Povey.

"Now, my little missies," said the vile Hollins. "Three pence a
pint, and how's your honoured mother to-day? Yes, fresh, so help
me God!"




CHAPTER II

THE TOOTH

I


The two girls came up the unlighted stone staircase which led from
Maggie's cave to the door of the parlour. Sophia, foremost, was
carrying a large tray, and Constance a small one. Constance, who
had nothing on her tray but a teapot, a bowl of steaming and
balmy-scented mussels and cockles, and a plate of hot buttered
toast, went directly into the parlour on the left. Sophia had in
her arms the entire material and apparatus of a high tea for two,
including eggs, jam, and toast (covered with the slop-basin turned
upside down), but not including mussels and cockles. She turned to
the right, passed along the corridor by the cutting-out room, up
two steps into the sheeted and shuttered gloom of the closed shop,
up the showroom stairs, through the showroom, and so into the
bedroom corridor. Experience had proved it easier to make this
long detour than to round the difficult corner of the parlour
stairs with a large loaded tray. Sophia knocked with the edge of
the tray at the door of the principal bedroom. The muffled
oratorical sound from within suddenly ceased, and the door was
opened by a very tall, very thin, black-bearded man, who looked
down at Sophia as if to demand what she meant by such an
interruption.

"I've brought the tea, Mr. Critchlow," said Sophia.

And Mr. Critchlow carefully accepted the tray.

"Is that my little Sophia?" asked a faint voice from the depths of
the bedroom.

"Yes, father," said Sophia.

But she did not attempt to enter the room. Mr. Critchlow put the
tray on a white-clad chest of drawers near the door, and then he
shut the door, with no ceremony. Mr. Critchlow was John Baines's
oldest and closest friend, though decidedly younger than the
draper. He frequently "popped in" to have a word with the invalid;
but Thursday afternoon was his special afternoon, consecrated by
him to the service of the sick. From two o'clock precisely till
eight o'clock precisely he took charge of John Baines, reigning
autocratically over the bedroom. It was known that he would not
tolerate invasions, nor even ambassadorial visits. No! He gave up
his weekly holiday to this business of friendship, and he must be
allowed to conduct the business in his own way. Mrs. Baines
herself avoided disturbing Mr. Critchlow's ministrations on her
husband. She was glad to do so; for Mr. Baines was never to be
left alone under any circumstances, and the convenience of being
able to rely upon the presence of a staid member of the
Pharmaceutical Society for six hours of a given day every week
outweighed the slight affront to her prerogatives as wife and
house-mistress. Mr. Critchlow was an extremely peculiar man, but
when he was in the bedroom she could leave the house with an easy
mind. Moreover, John Baines enjoyed these Thursday afternoons. For
him, there was 'none like Charles Critchlow.' The two old friends
experienced a sort of grim, desiccated happiness, cooped up
together in the bedroom, secure from women and fools generally.
How they spent the time did not seem to be certainly known, but
the impression was that politics occupied them. Undoubtedly Mr.
Critchlow was an extremely peculiar man. He was a man of habits.
He must always have the same things for his tea. Black-currant
jam, for instance. (He called it "preserve.") The idea of offering
Mr. Critchlow a tea which did not comprise black-currant jam was
inconceivable by the intelligence of St. Luke's Square. Thus for
years past, in the fruit-preserving season, when all the house and
all the shop smelt richly of fruit boiling in sugar, Mrs. Baines
had filled an extra number of jars with black-currant jam,
'because Mr. Critchlow wouldn't TOUCH any other sort.'

So Sophia, faced with the shut door of the bedroom, went down to
the parlour by the shorter route. She knew that on going up again,
after tea, she would find the devastated tray on the doormat.

Constance was helping Mr. Povey to mussels and cockles. And Mr.
Povey still wore one of the antimacassars. It must have stuck to
his shoulders when he sprang up from the sofa, woollen
antimacassars being notoriously parasitic things. Sophia sat down,
somewhat self-consciously. The serious Constance was also
perturbed. Mr. Povey did not usually take tea in the house on
Thursday afternoons; his practice was to go out into the great,
mysterious world. Never before had he shared a meal with the girls
alone. The situation was indubitably unexpected, unforeseen; it
was, too, piquant, and what added to its piquancy was the fact
that Constance and Sophia were, somehow, responsible for Mr.
Povey. They felt that they were responsible for him. They had
offered the practical sympathy of two intelligent and well-trained
young women, born nurses by reason of their sex, and Mr. Povey had
accepted; he was now on their hands. Sophia's monstrous, sly
operation in Mr. Povey's mouth did not cause either of them much
alarm, Constance having apparently recovered from the first shock
of it. They had discussed it in the kitchen while preparing the
teas; Constance's extraordinarily severe and dictatorial tone in
condemning it had led to a certain heat. But the success of the
impudent wrench justified it despite any irrefutable argument to
the contrary. Mr. Povey was better already, and he evidently
remained in ignorance of his loss.

"Have some?" Constance asked of Sophia, with a large spoon
hovering over the bowl of shells.

"Yes, PLEASE," said Sophia, positively.

Constance well knew that she would have some, and had only asked
from sheer nervousness.

"Pass your plate, then."

Now when everybody was served with mussels, cockles, tea, and
toast, and Mr. Povey had been persuaded to cut the crust off his
toast, and Constance had, quite unnecessarily, warned Sophia
against the deadly green stuff in the mussels, and Constance had
further pointed out that the evenings were getting longer, and Mr.
Povey had agreed that they were, there remained nothing to say. An
irksome silence fell on them all, and no one could lift it off.
Tiny clashes of shell and crockery sounded with the terrible
clearness of noises heard in the night. Each person avoided the
eyes of the others. And both Constance and Sophia kept
straightening their bodies at intervals, and expanding their
chests, and then looking at their plates; occasionally a prim
cough was discharged. It was a sad example of the difference
between young women's dreams of social brilliance and the reality
of life. These girls got more and more girlish, until, from being
women at the administering of laudanum, they sank back to about
eight years of age--perfect children--at the tea-table.

The tension was snapped by Mr. Povey. "My God!" he muttered, moved
by a startling discovery to this impious and disgraceful oath (he,
the pattern and exemplar--and in the presence of innocent girlhood
too!). "I've swallowed it!"

"Swallowed what, Mr. Povey?" Constance inquired.

The tip of Mr. Povey's tongue made a careful voyage of inspection
all round the right side of his mouth.

"Oh yes!" he said, as if solemnly accepting the inevitable. "I've
swallowed it!"

Sophia's face was now scarlet; she seemed to be looking for some
place to hide it. Constance could not think of anything to say.

"That tooth has been loose for two years," said Mr. Povey, "and
now I've swallowed it with a mussel."

"Oh, Mr. Povey!" Constance cried in confusion, and added, "There's
one good thing, it can't hurt you any more now."

"Oh!" said Mr. Povey. "It wasn't THAT tooth that was hurting me.
It's an old stump at the back that's upset me so this last day or
two. I wish it had been."

Sophia had her teacup close to her red face. At these words of Mr.
Povey her cheeks seemed to fill out like plump apples. She dashed
the cup into its saucer, spilling tea recklessly, and then ran
from the room with stifled snorts.

"Sophia!" Constance protested.

"I must just---" Sophia incoherently spluttered in the doorway. "I
shall be all right. Don't---"

Constance, who had risen, sat down again.

II

Sophia fled along the passage leading to the shop and took refuge
in the cutting-out room, a room which the astonishing architect
had devised upon what must have been a backyard of one of the
three constituent houses. It was lighted from its roof, and only a
wooden partition, eight feet high, separated it from the passage.
Here Sophia gave rein to her feelings; she laughed and cried
together, weeping generously into her handkerchief and wildly
giggling, in a hysteria which she could not control. The spectacle
of Mr. Povey mourning for a tooth which he thought he had
swallowed, but which in fact lay all the time in her pocket,
seemed to her to be by far the most ridiculous, side-splitting
thing that had ever happened or could happen on earth. It utterly
overcame her. And when she fancied that she had exhausted and
conquered its surpassing ridiculousness, this ridiculousness
seized her again and rolled her anew in depths of mad, trembling
laughter.

Gradually she grew calmer. She heard the parlour door open, and
Constance descend the kitchen steps with a rattling tray of tea-
things. Tea, then, was finished, without her! Constance did not
remain in the kitchen, because the cups and saucers were left for
Maggie to wash up as a fitting coda to Maggie's monthly holiday.
The parlour door closed. And the vision of Mr. Povey in his
antimacassar swept Sophia off into another convulsion of laughter
and tears. Upon this the parlour door opened again, and Sophia
choked herself into silence while Constance hastened along the
passage. In a minute Constance returned with her woolwork, which
she had got from the showroom, and the parlour received her. Not
the least curiosity on the part of Constance as to what had become
of Sophia!

At length Sophia, a faint meditative smile being all that was left
of the storm in her, ascended slowly to the showroom, through the
shop. Nothing there of interest! Thence she wandered towards the
drawing-room, and encountered Mr. Critchlow's tray on the mat. She
picked it up and carried it by way of the showroom and shop down
to the kitchen, where she dreamily munched two pieces of toast
that had cooled to the consistency of leather. She mounted the
stone steps and listened at the door of the parlour. No sound!
This seclusion of Mr. Povey and Constance was really very strange.
She roved right round the house, and descended creepingly by the
twisted house-stairs, and listened intently at the other door of
the parlour. She now detected a faint regular snore. Mr. Povey, a
prey to laudanum and mussels, was sleeping while Constance worked
at her fire-screen! It was now in the highest degree odd, this
seclusion of Mr. Povey and Constance; unlike anything in Sophia's
experience! She wanted to go into the parlour, but she could not
bring herself to do so. She crept away again, forlorn and puzzled,
and next discovered herself in the bedroom which she shared with
Constance at the top of the house; she lay down in the dusk on the
bed and began to read "The Days of Bruce;" but she read only with
her eyes.

Later, she heard movements on the house-stairs, and the familiar
whining creak of the door at the foot thereof. She skipped lightly
to the door of the bedroom.

"Good-night, Mr. Povey. I hope you'll be able to sleep."

Constance's voice!

"It will probably come on again."

Mr. Povey's voice, pessimistic!

Then the shutting of doors. It was almost dark. She went back to
the bed, expecting a visit from Constance. But a clock struck
eight, and all the various phenomena connected with the departure
of Mr. Critchlow occurred one after another. At the same time
Maggie came home from the land of romance. Then long silences!
Constance was now immured with her father, it being her "turn" to
nurse; Maggie was washing up in her cave, and Mr. Povey was lost
to sight in his bedroom. Then Sophia heard her mother's lively,
commanding knock on the King Street door. Dusk had definitely
yielded to black night in the bedroom. Sophia dozed and dreamed.
When she awoke, her ear caught the sound of knocking. She jumped
up, tiptoed to the landing, and looked over the balustrade, whence
she had a view of all the first-floor corridor. The gas had been
lighted; through the round aperture at the top of the porcelain
globe she could see the wavering flame. It was her mother, still
bonneted, who was knocking at the door of Mr. Povey's room.
Constance stood in the doorway of her parents' room. Mrs. Baines
knocked twice with an interval, and then said to Constance, in a
resonant whisper that vibrated up the corridor---

"He seems to be fast asleep. I'd better not disturb him."

"But suppose he wants something in the night?"

"Well, child, I should hear him moving. Sleep's the best thing for
him."

Mrs. Baines left Mr. Povey to the effects of laudanum, and came
along the corridor. She was a stout woman, all black stuff and
gold chain, and her skirt more than filled the width of the
corridor. Sophia watched her habitual heavy mounting gesture as
she climbed the two steps that gave variety to the corridor. At
the gas-jet she paused, and, putting her hand to the tap, gazed up
into the globe.

"Where's Sophia?" she demanded, her eyes fixed on the gas as she
lowered the flame.

"I think she must be in bed, mother," said Constance,
nonchalantly.

The returned mistress was point by point resuming knowledge and
control of that complicated machine--her household.

Then Constance and her mother disappeared into the bedroom, and
the door was shut with a gentle, decisive bang that to the silent
watcher on the floor above seemed to create a special excluding
intimacy round about the figures of Constance and her father and
mother. The watcher wondered, with a little prick of jealousy,
what they would be discussing in the large bedroom, her father's
beard wagging feebly and his long arms on the counterpane,
Constance perched at the foot of the bed, and her mother walking
to and fro, putting her cameo brooch on the dressing-table or
stretching creases out of her gloves. Certainly, in some subtle
way, Constance had a standing with her parents which was more
confidential than Sophia's.

III

When Constance came to bed, half an hour later, Sophia was already
in bed. The room was fairly spacious. It had been the girls'
retreat and fortress since their earliest years. Its features
seemed to them as natural and unalterable as the features of a
cave to a cave-dweller. It had been repapered twice in their
lives, and each papering stood out in their memories like an
epoch; a third epoch was due to the replacing of a drugget by a
resplendent old carpet degraded from the drawing-room. There was
only one bed, the bedstead being of painted iron; they never
interfered with each other in that bed, sleeping with a detachment
as perfect as if they had slept on opposite sides of St. Luke's
Square; yet if Constance had one night lain down on the half near
the window instead of on the half near the door, the secret nature
of the universe would have seemed to be altered. The small fire-
grate was filled with a mass of shavings of silver paper; now the
rare illnesses which they had suffered were recalled chiefly as
periods when that silver paper was crammed into a large slipper-
case which hung by the mantelpiece, and a fire of coals
unnaturally reigned in its place--the silver paper was part of the
order of the world. The sash of the window would not work quite
properly, owing to a slight subsidence in the wall, and even when
the window was fastened there was always a narrow slit to the left
hand between the window and its frame; through this slit came
draughts, and thus very keen frosts were remembered by the nights
when Mrs. Baines caused the sash to be forced and kept at its full
height by means of wedges--the slit of exposure was part of the
order of the world.

They possessed only one bed, one washstand, and one dressing-
table; but in some other respects they were rather fortunate
girls, for they had two mahogany wardrobes; this mutual
independence as regards wardrobes was due partly to Mrs. Baines's
strong commonsense, and partly to their father's tendency to spoil
them a little. They had, moreover, a chest of drawers with a
curved front, of which structure Constance occupied two short
drawers and one long one, and Sophia two long drawers. On it stood
two fancy work-boxes, in which each sister kept jewellery, a
savings-bank book, and other treasures, and these boxes were
absolutely sacred to their respective owners. They were different,
but one was not more magnificent than the other. Indeed, a rigid
equality was the rule in the chamber, the single exception being
that behind the door were three hooks, of which Constance
commanded two.

"Well," Sophia began, when Constance appeared. "How's darling Mr.
Povey?" She was lying on her back, and smiling at her two hands,
which she held up in front of her.

"Asleep," said Constance. "At least mother thinks so. She says
sleep is the best thing for him."

"'It will probably come on again,'" said Sophia.

"What's that you say?" Constance asked, undressing.

"'It will probably come on again.'"

These words were a quotation from the utterances of darling Mr.
Povey on the stairs, and Sophia delivered them with an exact
imitation of Mr. Povey's vocal mannerism.

"Sophia," said Constance, firmly, approaching the bed, "I wish you
wouldn't be so silly!" She had benevolently ignored the satirical
note in Sophia's first remark, but a strong instinct in her rose
up and objected to further derision. "Surely you've done enough
for one day!" she added.

For answer Sophia exploded into violent laughter, which she made
no attempt to control. She laughed too long and too freely while
Constance stared at her.

"_I_ don't know what's come over you!" said Constance.

"It's only because I can't look at it without simply going off
into fits!" Sophia gasped out. And she held up a tiny object in
her left hand.

Constance started, flushing. "You don't mean to say you've kept
it!" she protested earnestly. "How horrid you are, Sophia! Give it
me at once and let me throw it away. I never heard of such doings.
Now give it me!"

"No," Sophia objected, still laughing. "I wouldn't part with it
for worlds. It's too lovely."

She had laughed away all her secret resentment against Constance
for having ignored her during the whole evening and for being on
such intimate terms with their parents. And she was ready to be
candidly jolly with Constance.

"Give it me," said Constance, doggedly.

Sophia hid her hand under the clothes. "You can have his old
stump, when it comes out, if you like. But not this. What a pity
it's the wrong one!"

"Sophia, I'm ashamed of you! Give it me."

Then it was that Sophia first perceived Constance's extreme
seriousness. She was surprised and a little intimidated by it. For
the expression of Constance's face, usually so benign and calm,
was harsh, almost fierce. However, Sophia had a great deal of what
is called "spirit," and not even ferocity on the face of mild
Constance could intimidate her for more than a few seconds. Her
gaiety expired and her teeth were hidden.

"I've said nothing to mother---" Constance proceeded.

"I should hope you haven't," Sophia put in tersely.

"But I certainly shall if you don't throw that away," Constance
finished.

"You can say what you like," Sophia retorted, adding
contemptuously a term of opprobrium which has long since passed
out of use: "Cant!"

"Will you give it me or won't you?"

"No!"

It was a battle suddenly engaged in the bedroom. The atmosphere
had altered completely with the swiftness of magic. The beauty of
Sophia, the angelic tenderness of Constance, and the youthful,
naive, innocent charm of both of them, were transformed into
something sinister and cruel. Sophia lay back on the pillow amid
her dark-brown hair, and gazed with relentless defiance into the
angry eyes of Constance, who stood threatening by the bed. They
could hear the gas singing over the dressing-table, and their
hearts beating the blood wildly in their veins. They ceased to be
young without growing old; the eternal had leapt up in them from
its sleep.

Constance walked away from the bed to the dressing-table and began
to loose her hair and brush it, holding back her head, shaking it,
and bending forward, in the changeless gesture of that rite. She
was so disturbed that she had unconsciously reversed the customary
order of the toilette. After a moment Sophia slipped out of bed
and, stepping with her bare feet to the chest of drawers, opened
her work-box and deposited the fragment of Mr. Povey therein; she
dropped the lid with an uncompromising bang, as if to say, "We
shall see if I am to be trod upon, miss!" Their eyes met again in
the looking-glass. Then Sophia got back into bed.

Five minutes later, when her hair was quite finished, Constance
knelt down and said her prayers. Having said her prayers, she went
straight to Sophia's work-box, opened it, seized the fragment of
Mr. Povey, ran to the window, and frantically pushed the fragment
through the slit into the Square.

"There!" she exclaimed nervously.

She had accomplished this inconceivable transgression of the code
of honour, beyond all undoing, before Sophia could recover from
the stupefaction of seeing her sacred work-box impudently
violated. In a single moment one of Sophia's chief ideals had been
smashed utterly, and that by the sweetest, gentlest creature she
had ever known. It was a revealing experience for Sophia--and also
for Constance. And it frightened them equally. Sophia, staring at
the text, "Thou God seest me," framed in straw over the chest of
drawers, did not stir. She was defeated, and so profoundly moved
in her defeat that she did not even reflect upon the obvious
inefficacy of illuminated texts as a deterrent from evil-doing.
Not that she eared a fig for the fragment of Mr. Povey! It was the
moral aspect of the affair, and the astounding, inexplicable
development in Constance's character, that staggered her into
silent acceptance of the inevitable.

Constance, trembling, took pains to finish undressing with
dignified deliberation. Sophia's behaviour under the blow seemed
too good to be true; but it gave her courage. At length she turned
out the gas and lay down by Sophia. And there was a little
shuffling, and then stillness for a while.

"And if you want to know," said Constance in a tone that mingled
amicableness with righteousness, "mother's decided with Aunt
Harriet that we are BOTH to leave school next term."




CHAPTER III

A BATTLE

I


The day sanctioned by custom in the Five Towns for the making of
pastry is Saturday. But Mrs. Baines made her pastry on Friday,
because Saturday afternoon was, of course, a busy time in the
shop. It is true that Mrs. Baines made her pastry in the morning,
and that Saturday morning in the shop was scarcely different from
any other morning. Nevertheless, Mrs. Baines made her pastry on
Friday morning instead of Saturday morning because Saturday
afternoon was a busy time in the shop. She was thus free to do her
marketing without breath-taking flurry on Saturday morning.

On the morning after Sophia's first essay in dentistry, therefore,
Mrs. Baines was making her pastry in the underground kitchen. This
kitchen, Maggie's cavern-home, had the mystery of a church, and on
dark days it had the mystery of a crypt. The stone steps leading
down to it from the level of earth were quite unlighted. You felt
for them with the feet of faith, and when you arrived in the
kitchen, the kitchen, by contrast, seemed luminous and gay; the
architect may have considered and intended this effect of the
staircase. The kitchen saw day through a wide, shallow window
whose top touched the ceiling and whose bottom had been out of the
girls' reach until long after they had begun to go to school. Its
panes were small, and about half of them were of the "knot" kind,
through which no object could be distinguished; the other half
were of a later date, and stood for the march of civilization. The
view from the window consisted of the vast plate-glass windows of
the newly built Sun vaults, and of passing legs and skirts. A
strong wire grating prevented any excess of illumination, and also
protected the glass from the caprices of wayfarers in King Street.
Boys had a habit of stopping to kick with their full strength at
the grating.

Forget-me-nots on a brown field ornamented the walls of the
kitchen. Its ceiling was irregular and grimy, and a beam ran
across it; in this beam were two hooks; from these hooks had once
depended the ropes of a swing, much used by Constance and Sophia
in the old days before they were grown up. A large range stood out
from the wall between the stairs and the window. The rest of the
furniture comprised a table--against the wall opposite the range--
a cupboard, and two Windsor chairs. Opposite the foot of the steps
was a doorway, without a door, leading to two larders, dimmer even
than the kitchen, vague retreats made visible by whitewash, where
bowls of milk, dishes of cold bones, and remainders of fruit-pies,
reposed on stillages; in the corner nearest the kitchen was a
great steen in which the bread was kept. Another doorway on the
other side of the kitchen led to the first coal-cellar, where was
also the slopstone and tap, and thence a tunnel took you to the
second coal-cellar, where coke and ashes were stored; the tunnel
proceeded to a distant, infinitesimal yard, and from the yard, by
ways behind Mr. Critchlow's shop, you could finally emerge,
astonished, upon Brougham Street. The sense of the vast-obscure of
those regions which began at the top of the kitchen steps and
ended in black corners of larders or abruptly in the common
dailiness of Brougham Street, a sense which Constance and Sophia
had acquired in infancy, remained with them almost unimpaired as
they grew old.

Mrs. Baines wore black alpaca, shielded by a white apron whose
string drew attention to the amplitude of her waist. Her sleeves
were turned up, and her hands, as far as the knuckles, covered
with damp flour. Her ageless smooth paste-board occupied a corner
of the table, and near it were her paste-roller, butter, some pie-
dishes, shredded apples, sugar, and other things. Those rosy hands
were at work among a sticky substance in a large white bowl.

"Mother, are you there?" she heard a voice from above.

"Yes, my chuck."

Footsteps apparently reluctant and hesitating clinked on the
stairs, and Sophia entered the kitchen.

"Put this curl straight," said Mrs. Baines, lowering her head
slightly and holding up her floured hands, which might not touch
anything but flour. "Thank you. It bothered me. And now stand out
of my light. I'm in a hurry. I must get into the shop so that I
can send Mr. Povey off to the dentist's. What is Constance doing?"

"Helping Maggie to make Mr. Povey's bed."

"Oh!"

Though fat, Mrs. Baines was a comely woman, with fine brown hair,
and confidently calm eyes that indicated her belief in her own
capacity to accomplish whatever she could be called on to
accomplish. She looked neither more nor less than her age, which
was forty-five. She was not a native of the district, having been
culled by her husband from the moorland town of Axe, twelve miles
off. Like nearly all women who settle in a strange land upon
marriage, at the bottom of her heart she had considered herself
just a trifle superior to the strange land and its ways. This
feeling, confirmed by long experience, had never left her. It was
this feeling which induced her to continue making her own pastry--
with two thoroughly trained "great girls" in the house! Constance
could make good pastry, but it was not her mother's pastry. In
pastry-making everything can be taught except the "hand," light
and firm, which wields the roller. One is born with this hand, or
without it. And if one is born without it, the highest flights of
pastry are impossible. Constance was born without it. There were
days when Sophia seemed to possess it; but there were other days
when Sophia's pastry was uneatable by any one except Maggie. Thus
Mrs. Baines, though intensely proud and fond of her daughters, had
justifiably preserved a certain condescension towards them. She
honestly doubted whether either of them would develop into the
equal of their mother.

"Now you little vixen!" she exclaimed. Sophia was stealing and
eating slices of half-cooked apple. "This comes of having no
breakfast! And why didn't you come down to supper last night?"

"I don't know. I forgot."

Mrs. Baines scrutinized the child's eyes, which met hers with a
sort of diffident boldness. She knew everything that a mother can
know of a daughter, and she was sure that Sophia had no cause to
be indisposed. Therefore she scrutinized those eyes with a faint
apprehension.

"If you can't find anything better to do," said she, "butter me
the inside of this dish. Are your hands clean? No, better not
touch it."

Mrs. Baines was now at the stage of depositing little pats of
butter in rows on a large plain of paste. The best fresh butter!
Cooking butter, to say naught of lard, was unknown in that kitchen
on Friday mornings. She doubled the expanse of paste on itself and
rolled the butter in--supreme operation!

"Constance has told you--about leaving school?" said Mrs. Baines,
in the vein of small-talk, as she trimmed the paste to the shape
of a pie-dish.

"Yes," Sophia replied shortly. Then she moved away from the table
to the range. There was a toasting-fork on the rack, and she began
to play with it.

"Well, are you glad? Your aunt Harriet thinks you are quite old
enough to leave. And as we'd decided in any case that Constance
was to leave, it's really much simpler that you should both leave
together."

"Mother," said Sophia, rattling the toasting-fork, "what am I
going to do after I've left school?"

"I hope," Mrs. Baines answered with that sententiousness which
even the cleverest of parents are not always clever enough to deny
themselves, "I hope that both of you will do what you can to help
your mother--and father," she added.

"Yes," said Sophia, irritated. "But what am I going to DO?"

"That must be considered. As Constance is to learn the millinery,
I've been thinking that you might begin to make yourself useful in
the underwear, gloves, silks, and so on. Then between you, you
would one day be able to manage quite nicely all that side of the
shop, and I should be--"

"I don't want to go into the shop, mother."

This interruption was made in a voice apparently cold and
inimical. But Sophia trembled with nervous excitement as she
uttered the words. Mrs. Baines gave a brief glance at her,
unobserved by the child, whose face was towards the fire. She
deemed herself a finished expert in the reading of Sophia's moods;
nevertheless, as she looked at that straight back and proud head,
she had no suspicion that the whole essence and being of Sophia
was silently but intensely imploring sympathy.

"I wish you would be quiet with that fork," said Mrs. Baines, with
the curious, grim politeness which often characterized her
relations with her daughters.

The toasting-fork fell on the brick floor, after having rebounded
from the ash-tin. Sophia hurriedly replaced it on the rack.

"Then what SHALL you do?" Mrs. Baines proceeded, conquering the
annoyance caused by the toasting-fork. "I think it's me that
should ask you instead of you asking me. What shall you do? Your
father and I were both hoping you would take kindly to the shop
and try to repay us for all the--"

Mrs. Baines was unfortunate in her phrasing that morning. She
happened to be, in truth, rather an exceptional parent, but that
morning she seemed unable to avoid the absurd pretensions which
parents of those days assumed quite sincerely and which every good
child with meekness accepted.

Sophia was not a good child, and she obstinately denied in her
heart the cardinal principle of family life, namely, that the
parent has conferred on the offspring a supreme favour by bringing
it into the world. She interrupted her mother again, rudely.

"I don't want to leave school at all," she said passionately.

"But you will have to leave school sooner or later," argued Mrs.
Baines, with an air of quiet reasoning, of putting herself on a
level with Sophia. "You can't stay at school for ever, my pet, can
you? Out of my way!"

She hurried across the kitchen with a pie, which she whipped into
the oven, shutting the iron door with a careful gesture.

"Yes," said Sophia. "I should like to be a teacher. That's what I
want to be."

The tap in the coal-cellar, out of repair, could be heard
distinctly and systematically dropping water into a jar on the
slopstone.

"A school-teacher?" inquired Mrs. Baines.

"Of course. What other kind is there?" said Sophia, sharply. "With
Miss Chetwynd."

"I don't think your father would like that," Mrs. Baines replied.
"I'm sure he wouldn't like it."

"Why not?"

"It wouldn't be quite suitable."

"Why not, mother?" the girl demanded with a sort of ferocity. She
had now quitted the range. A man's feet twinkled past the window.

Mrs. Baines was startled and surprised. Sophia's attitude was
really very trying; her manners deserved correction. But it was
not these phenomena which seriously affected Mrs. Baines; she was
used to them and had come to regard them as somehow the inevitable
accompaniment of Sophia's beauty, as the penalty of that
surpassing charm which occasionally emanated from the girl like a
radiance. What startled and surprised Mrs. Baines was the perfect
and unthinkable madness of Sophia's infantile scheme. It was a
revelation to Mrs. Baines. Why in the name of heaven had the girl
taken such a notion into her head? Orphans, widows, and spinsters
of a certain age suddenly thrown on the world--these were the
women who, naturally, became teachers, because they had to become
something. But that the daughter of comfortable parents,
surrounded by love and the pleasures of an excellent home, should
wish to teach in a school was beyond the horizons of Mrs. Baines's
common sense. Comfortable parents of to-day who have a difficulty
in sympathizing with Mrs. Baines, should picture what their
feelings would be if their Sophias showed a rude desire to adopt
the vocation of chauffeur.

"It would take you too much away from home," said Mrs. Baines,
achieving a second pie.

She spoke softly. The experience of being Sophia's mother for
nearly sixteen years had not been lost on Mrs. Baines, and though
she was now discovering undreamt-of dangers in Sophia's erratic
temperament, she kept her presence of mind sufficiently well to
behave with diplomatic smoothness. It was undoubtedly humiliating
to a mother to be forced to use diplomacy in dealing with a girl
in short sleeves. In HER day mothers had been autocrats. But
Sophia was Sophia.

"What if it did?" Sophia curtly demanded.

"And there's no opening in Bursley," said Mrs. Baines.

"Miss Chetwynd would have me, and then after a time I could go to
her sister."

"Her sister? What sister?"

"Her sister that has a big school in London somewhere."

Mrs. Baines covered her unprecedented emotions by gazing into the
oven at the first pie. The pie was doing well, under all the
circumstances. In those few seconds she reflected rapidly and
decided that to a desperate disease a desperate remedy must be
applied.

London! She herself had never been further than Manchester.
London, 'after a time'! No, diplomacy would be misplaced in this
crisis of Sophia's development!

"Sophia," she said, in a changed and solemn voice, fronting her
daughter, and holding away from her apron those floured, ringed
hands, "I don't know what has come over you. Truly I don't! Your
father and I are prepared to put up with a certain amount, but the
line must be drawn. The fact is, we've spoilt you, and instead of
getting better as you grow up, you're getting worse. Now let me
hear no more of this, please. I wish you would imitate your sister
a little more. Of course if you won't do your share in the shop,
no one can make you. If you choose to be an idler about the house,
we shall have to endure it. We can only advise you for your own
good. But as for this ..." She stopped, and let silence speak,
and then finished: "Let me hear no more of it."

It was a powerful and impressive speech, enunciated clearly in
such a tone as Mrs. Baines had not employed since dismissing a
young lady assistant five years ago for light conduct.

"But, mother--"

A commotion of pails resounded at the top of the stone steps. It
was Maggie in descent from the bedrooms. Now, the Baines family
passed its life in doing its best to keep its affairs to itself,
the assumption being that Maggie and all the shop-staff (Mr. Povey
possibly excepted) were obsessed by a ravening appetite for that
which did not concern them. Therefore the voices of the Baineses
always died away, or fell to a hushed, mysterious whisper,
whenever the foot of the eavesdropper was heard.

Mrs. Baines put a floured finger to her double chin. "That will
do," said she, with finality.

Maggie appeared, and Sophia, with a brusque precipitation of
herself, vanished upstairs.

II

"Now, really, Mr. Povey, this is not like you," said Mrs. Baines,
who, on her way into the shop, had discovered the Indispensable in
the cutting-out room.

It is true that the cutting-out room was almost Mr. Povey's
sanctum, whither he retired from time to time to cut out suits of
clothes and odd garments for the tailoring department. It is true
that the tailoring department flourished with orders, employing
several tailors who crossed legs in their own homes, and that
appointments were continually being made with customers for
trying-on in that room. But these considerations did not affect
Mrs. Baines's attitude of disapproval.

"I'm just cutting out that suit for the minister," said Mr. Povey.

The Reverend Mr. Murley, superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist
circuit, called on Mr. Baines every week. On a recent visit Mr.
Baines had remarked that the parson's coat was ageing into green,
and had commanded that a new suit should be built and presented to
Mr. Murley. Mr. Murley, who had a genuine mediaeval passion for
souls, and who spent his money and health freely in gratifying the
passion, had accepted the offer strictly on behalf of Christ, and
had carefully explained to Mr. Povey Christ's use for multifarious
pockets.

"I see you are," said Mrs. Baines tartly. "But that's no reason
why you should be without a coat--and in this cold room too. You
with toothache!"

The fact was that Mr. Povey always doffed his coat when cutting
out. Instead of a coat he wore a tape-measure.

"My tooth doesn't hurt me," said he, sheepishly, dropping the
great scissors and picking up a cake of chalk.

"Fiddlesticks!" said Mrs. Baines.

This exclamation shocked Mr. Povey. It was not unknown on the lips
of Mrs. Baines, but she usually reserved it for members of her own
sex. Mr. Povey could not recall that she had ever applied it to
any statement of his. "What's the matter with the woman?" he
thought. The redness of her face did not help him to answer the
question, for her face was always red after the operations of
Friday in the kitchen.

"You men are all alike," Mrs. Baines continued. "The very thought
of the dentist's cures you. Why don't you go in at once to Mr.
Critchlow and have it out--like a man?"

Mr. Critchlow extracted teeth, and his shop sign said "Bone-setter
and chemist." But Mr. Povey had his views.

"I make no account of Mr. Critchlow as a dentist," said he.

"Then for goodness' sake go up to Oulsnam's."

"When? I can't very well go now, and to-morrow is Saturday."

"Why can't you go now?"

"Well, of course, I COULD go now," he admitted.

"Let me advise you to go, then, and don't come back with that
tooth in your head. I shall be having you laid up next. Show some
pluck, do!"

"Oh! pluck--!" he protested, hurt.

At that moment Constance came down the passage singing.

"Constance, my pet!" Mrs. Baines called.

"Yes, mother." She put her head into the room. "Oh!" Mr. Povey was
assuming his coat.

"Mr. Povey is going to the dentist's."

"Yes, I'm going at once," Mr. Povey confirmed.

"Oh! I'm so GLAD!" Constance exclaimed. Her face expressed a pure
sympathy, uncomplicated by critical sentiments. Mr. Povey rapidly
bathed in that sympathy, and then decided that he must show
himself a man of oak and iron.

"It's always best to get these things done with," said he, with
stern detachment. "I'll just slip my overcoat on."

"Here it is," said Constance, quickly. Mr. Povey's overcoat and
hat were hung on a hook immediately outside the room, in the
passage. She gave him the overcoat, anxious to be of service.

"I didn't call you in here to be Mr. Povey's valet," said Mrs.
Baines to herself with mild grimness; and aloud: "I can't stay in
the shop long, Constance, but you can be there, can't you, till
Mr. Povey comes back? And if anything happens run upstairs and
tell me."

"Yes, mother," Constance eagerly consented. She hesitated and then
turned to obey at once.

"I want to speak to you first, my pet," Mrs. Baines stopped her.
And her tone was peculiar, charged with import, confidential, and
therefore very flattering to Constance.

"I think I'll go out by the side-door," said Mr. Povey. "It'll be
nearer."

This was truth. He would save about ten yards, in two miles, by
going out through the side-door instead of through the shop. Who
could have guessed that he was ashamed to be seen going to the
dentist's, afraid lest, if he went through the shop, Mrs. Baines
might follow him and utter some remark prejudicial to his dignity
before the assistants? (Mrs. Baines could have guessed, and did.)

"You won't want that tape-measure," said Mrs. Baines, dryly, as
Mr. Povey dragged open the side-door. The ends of the forgotten
tape-measure were dangling beneath coat and overcoat.

"Oh!" Mr. Povey scowled at his forgetfulness.

"I'll put it in its place," said Constance, offering to receive
the tape-measure.

"Thank you," said Mr. Povey, gravely. "I don't suppose they'll be
long over my bit of a job," he added, with a difficult, miserable
smile.

Then he went off down King Street, with an exterior of gay
briskness and dignified joy in the fine May morning. But there was
no May morning in his cowardly human heart.

"Hi! Povey!" cried a voice from the Square.

But Mr. Povey disregarded all appeals. He had put his hand to the
plough, and he would not look back.

"Hi! Povey!"

Useless!

Mrs. Baines and Constance were both at the door. A middle-aged man
was crossing the road from Boulton Terrace, the lofty erection of
new shops which the envious rest of the Square had decided to call
"showy." He waved a hand to Mrs. Baines, who kept the door open.

"It's Dr. Harrop," she said to Constance. "I shouldn't be
surprised if that baby's come at last, and he wanted to tell Mr.
Povey."

Constance blushed, full of pride. Mrs. Povey, wife of "our Mr.
Povey's" renowned cousin, the high-class confectioner and baker in
Boulton Terrace, was a frequent subject of discussion in the
Baines family,, but this was absolutely the first time that Mrs.
Baines had acknowledged, in presence of Constance, the marked and
growing change which had characterized Mrs. Povey's condition
during recent months. Such frankness on the part of her mother,
coming after the decision about leaving school, proved indeed that
Constance had ceased to be a mere girl.

"Good morning, doctor."

The doctor, who carried a little bag and wore riding-breeches (he
was the last doctor in Bursley to abandon the saddle for the dog-
cart), saluted and straightened his high, black stock.

"Morning! Morning, missy! Well, it's a boy."

"What? Yonder?" asked Mrs. Baines, indicating the confectioner's.

Dr. Harrop nodded. "I wanted to inform him," said he, jerking his
shoulder in the direction of the swaggering coward.

"What did I tell you, Constance?" said Mrs. Baines, turning to her
daughter.

Constance's confusion was equal to her pleasure. The alert doctor
had halted at the foot of the two steps, and with one hand in the
pocket of his "full-fall" breeches, he gazed up, smiling out of
little eyes, at the ample matron and the slender virgin.

"Yes," he said. "Been up most of th' night. Difficult! Difficult!"

"It's all RIGHT, I hope?"

"Oh yes. Fine child! Fine child! But he put his mother to some
trouble, for all that. Nothing fresh?" This time he lifted his
eyes to indicate Mr. Baines's bedroom.

"No," said Mrs. Baines, with a different expression.

"Keeps cheerful?"

"Yes."

"Good! A very good morning to you."

He strode off towards his house, which was lower down the street.

"I hope she'll turn over a new leaf now," observed Mrs. Baines to
Constance as she closed the door. Constance knew that her mother
was referring to the confectioner's wife; she gathered that the
hope was slight in the extreme.

"What did you want to speak to me about, mother?" she asked, as a
way out of her delicious confusion.

"Shut that door," Mrs. Baines replied, pointing to the door which
led to the passage; and while Constance obeyed, Mrs. Baines
herself shut the staircase-door. She then said, in a low, guarded
voice--

"What's all this about Sophia wanting to be a school-teacher?"

"Wanting to be a school-teacher?" Constance repeated, in tones of
amazement.

"Yes. Hasn't she said anything to you?"

"Not a word!"

"Well, I never! She wants to keep on with Miss Chetwynd and be a
teacher." Mrs. Baines had half a mind to add that Sophia had
mentioned London. But she restrained herself. There are some
things which one cannot bring one's self to say. She added,
"Instead of going into the shop!"

"I never heard of such a thing!" Constance murmured brokenly, in
the excess of her astonishment. She was rolling up Mr. Povey's
tape-measure.

"Neither did I!" said Mrs. Baines.

"And shall you let her, mother?"

"Neither your father nor I would ever dream of it!" Mrs. Baines
replied, with calm and yet terrible decision. "I only mentioned it
to you because I thought Sophia would have told you something."

"No, mother!"

As Constance put Mr. Povey's tape-measure neatly away in its
drawer under the cutting-out counter, she thought how serious life
was--what with babies and Sophias. She was very proud of her
mother's confidence in her; this simple pride filled her ardent
breast with a most agreeable commotion. And she wanted to help
everybody, to show in some way how much she sympathized with and
loved everybody. Even the madness of Sophia did not weaken her
longing to comfort Sophia.

III

That afternoon there was a search for Sophia, whom no one had seen
since dinner. She was discovered by her mother, sitting alone and
unoccupied in the drawing-room. The circumstance was in itself
sufficiently peculiar, for on weekdays the drawing-room was never
used, even by the girls during their holidays, except for the
purpose of playing the piano. However, Mrs. Baines offered no
comment on Sophia's geographical situation, nor on her idleness.

"My dear," she said, standing at the door, with a self-conscious
effort to behave as though nothing had happened, "will you come
and sit with your father a bit?"

"Yes, mother," answered Sophia, with a sort of cold alacrity.

"Sophia is coming, father," said Mrs. Baines at the open door of
the bedroom, which was at right-angles with, and close to, the
drawing-room door. Then she surged swishing along the corridor and
went into the showroom, whither she had been called.

Sophia passed to the bedroom, the eternal prison of John Baines.
Although, on account of his nervous restlessness, Mr. Baines was
never left alone, it was not a part of the usual duty of the girls
to sit with him. The person who undertook the main portion of the
vigils was a certain Aunt Maria--whom the girls knew to be not a
real aunt, not a powerful, effective aunt like Aunt Harriet of
Axe--but a poor second cousin of John Baines; one of those
necessitous, pitiful relatives who so often make life difficult
for a great family in a small town. The existence of Aunt Maria,
after being rather a "trial" to the Baineses, had for twelve years
past developed into something absolutely "providential" for them.
(It is to be remembered that in those days Providence was still
busying himself with everybody's affairs, and foreseeing the
future in the most extraordinary manner. Thus, having foreseen
that John Baines would have a "stroke" and need a faithful,
tireless nurse, he had begun fifty years in advance by creating
Aunt Maria, and had kept her carefully in misfortune's way, so
that at the proper moment she would be ready to cope with the
stroke. Such at least is the only theory which will explain the
use by the Baineses, and indeed by all thinking Bursley, of the
word "providential" in connection with Aunt Maria.) She was a
shrivelled little woman, capable of sitting twelve hours a day in
a bedroom and thriving on the regime. At nights she went home to
her little cottage in Brougham Street; she had her Thursday
afternoons and generally her Sundays, and during the school
vacations she was supposed to come only when she felt inclined, or
when the cleaning of her cottage permitted her to come. Hence, in
holiday seasons, Mr. Baines weighed more heavily on his household
than at other times, and his nurses relieved each other according
to the contingencies of the moment rather than by a set programme
of hours.

The tragedy in ten thousand acts of which that bedroom was the
scene, almost entirely escaped Sophia's perception, as it did
Constance's. Sophia went into the bedroom as though it were a mere
bedroom, with its majestic mahogany furniture, its crimson rep
curtains (edged with gold), and its white, heavily tasselled
counterpane. She was aged four when John Baines had suddenly been
seized with giddiness on the steps of his shop, and had fallen,
and, without losing consciousness, had been transformed from John
Baines into a curious and pathetic survival of John Baines. She
had no notion of the thrill which ran through the town on that
night when it was known that John Baines had had a stroke, and
that his left arm and left leg and his right eyelid were
paralyzed, and that the active member of the Local Board, the
orator, the religious worker, the very life of the town's life,
was permanently done for. She had never heard of the crisis
through which her mother, assisted by Aunt Harriet, had passed,
and out of which she had triumphantly emerged. She was not yet old
enough even to suspect it. She possessed only the vaguest memory
of her father before he had finished with the world. She knew him
simply as an organism on a bed, whose left side was wasted, whose
eyes were often inflamed, whose mouth was crooked, who had no
creases from the nose to the corners of the mouth like other
people, who experienced difficulty in eating because the food
would somehow get between his gums and his cheek, who slept a
great deal but was excessively fidgety while awake, who seemed to
hear what was said to him a long time after it was uttered, as if
the sense had to travel miles by labyrinthine passages to his
brain, and who talked very, very slowly in a weak, trembling
voice.

And she had an image of that remote brain as something with a red
spot on it, for once Constance had said: "Mother, why did father
have a stroke?" and Mrs. Baines had replied: "It was a haemorrhage
of the brain, my dear, here"--putting a thimbled finger on a
particular part of Sophia's head.

Not merely had Constance and Sophia never really felt their
father's tragedy; Mrs. Baines herself had largely lost the sense
of it--such is the effect of use. Even the ruined organism only
remembered fitfully and partially that it had once been John
Baines. And if Mrs. Baines had not, by the habit of years,
gradually built up a gigantic fiction that the organism remained
ever the supreme consultative head of the family; if Mr. Critchlow
had not obstinately continued to treat it as a crony, the mass of
living and dead nerves on the rich Victorian bedstead would have
been of no more account than some Aunt Maria in similar case.
These two persons, his wife and his friend, just managed to keep
him morally alive by indefatigably feeding his importance and his
dignity. The feat was a miracle of stubborn self-deceiving,
splendidly blind devotion, and incorrigible pride.

When Sophia entered the room, the paralytic followed her with his
nervous gaze until she had sat down on the end of the sofa at the
foot of the bed. He seemed to study her for a long time, and then
he murmured in his slow, enfeebled, irregular voice:

"Is that Sophia?"

"Yes, father," she answered cheerfully.

And after another pause, the old man said: "Ay! It's Sophia."

And later: "Your mother said she should send ye."

Sophia saw that this was one of his bad, dull days. He had,
occasionally, days of comparative nimbleness, when his wits seized
almost easily the meanings of external phenomena.

Presently his sallow face and long white beard began to slip down
the steep slant of the pillows, and a troubled look came into his
left eye. Sophia rose and, putting her hands under his armpits,
lifted him higher in the bed. He was not heavy, but only a strong
girl of her years could have done it.

"Ay!" he muttered. "That's it. That's it."

And, with his controllable right hand, he took her hand as she
stood by the bed. She was so young and fresh, such an incarnation
of the spirit of health, and he was so far gone in decay and
corruption, that there seemed in this contact of body with body
something unnatural and repulsive. But Sophia did not so feel it.

"Sophia," he addressed her, and made preparatory noises in his
throat while she waited.

He continued after an interval, now clutching her arm, "Your
mother's been telling me you don't want to go in the shop."

She turned her eyes on him, and his anxious, dim gaze met hers.
She nodded.

"Nay, Sophia," he mumbled, with the extreme of slowness. "I'm
surprised at ye. . .Trade's bad, bad! Ye know trade's bad?" He was
still clutching her arm.

She nodded. She was, in fact, aware of the badness of trade,
caused by a vague war in the United States. The words "North" and
"South" had a habit of recurring in the conversation of adult
persons. That was all she knew, though people were starving in the
Five Towns as they were starving in Manchester.

"There's your mother," his thought struggled on, like an aged
horse over a hilly road. "There's your mother!" he repeated, as if
wishful to direct Sophia's attention to the spectacle of her
mother. "Working hard! Con--Constance and you must help her. . . .
Trade's bad! What can I do. . .lying here?"

The heat from his dry fingers was warming her arm. She wanted to
move, but she could not have withdrawn her arm without appearing
impatient. For a similar reason she would not avert her glance. A
deepening flush increased the lustre of her immature loveliness as
she bent over him. But though it was so close he did not feel that
radiance. He had long outlived a susceptibility to the strange
influences of youth and beauty.

"Teaching!" he muttered. "Nay, nay! I canna' allow that."

Then his white beard rose at the tip as he looked up at the
ceiling above his head, reflectively.

"You understand me?" he questioned finally.

She nodded again; he loosed her arm, and she turned away. She
could not have spoken. Glittering tears enriched her eyes. She was
saddened into a profound and sudden grief by the ridiculousness of
the scene. She had youth, physical perfection; she brimmed with
energy, with the sense of vital power; all existence lay before
her; when she put her lips together she felt capable of outvying
no matter whom in fortitude of resolution. She had always hated
the shop. She did not understand how her mother and Constance
could bring themselves to be deferential and flattering to every
customer that entered. No, she did not understand it; but her
mother (though a proud woman) and Constance seemed to practise
such behaviour so naturally, so unquestioningly, that she had
never imparted to either of them her feelings; she guessed that
she would not be comprehended. But long ago she had decided that
she would never "go into the shop." She knew that she would be
expected to do something, and she had fixed on teaching as the one
possibility. These decisions had formed part of her inner life for
years past. She had not mentioned them, being secretive and
scarcely anxious for unpleasantness. But she had been slowly
preparing herself to mention them. The extraordinary announcement
that she was to leave school at the same time as Constance had
taken her unawares, before the preparations ripening in her mind
were complete--before, as it were, she had girded up her loins for
the fray. She had been caught unready, and the opposing forces had
obtained the advantage of her. But did they suppose she was
beaten?

No argument from her mother! No hearing, even! Just a curt and
haughty 'Let me hear no more of this'! And so the great desire of
her life, nourished year after year in her inmost bosom, was to be
flouted and sacrificed with a word! Her mother did not appear
ridiculous in the affair, for her mother was a genuine power,
commanding by turns genuine love and genuine hate, and always,
till then, obedience and the respect of reason. It was her father
who appeared tragically ridiculous; and, in turn, the whole
movement against her grew grotesque in its absurdity. Here was
this antique wreck, helpless, useless, powerless--merely pathetic
--actually thinking that he had only to mumble in order to make her
'understand'! He knew nothing; he perceived nothing; he was a
ferocious egoist, like most bedridden invalids, out of touch with
life,--and he thought himself justified in making destinies, and
capable of making them! Sophia could not, perhaps, define the
feelings which overwhelmed her; but she was conscious of their
tendency. They aged her, by years. They aged her so that, in a
kind of momentary ecstasy of insight, she felt older than her
father himself.

"You will be a good girl," he said. "I'm sure o' that."

It was too painful. The grotesqueness of her father's complacency
humiliated her past bearing. She was humiliated, not for herself,
but for him. Singular creature! She ran out of the room.

Fortunately Constance was passing in the corridor, otherwise
Sophia had been found guilty of a great breach of duty.

"Go to father," she whispered hysterically to Constance, and fled
upwards to the second floor.

IV

At supper, with her red, downcast eyes, she had returned to sheer
girlishness again, overawed by her mother. The meal had an unusual
aspect. Mr. Povey, safe from the dentist's, but having lost two
teeth in two days, was being fed on 'slops'--bread and milk, to
wit; he sat near the fire. The others had cold pork, half a cold
apple-pie, and cheese; but Sophia only pretended to eat; each time
she tried to swallow, the tears came into her eyes, and her throat
shut itself up. Mrs. Baines and Constance had a too careful air of
eating just as usual. Mrs. Baines's handsome ringlets dominated
the table under the gas.

"I'm not so set up with my pastry to-day," observed Mrs. Baines,
critically munching a fragment of pie-crust.

She rang a little hand-bell. Maggie appeared from the cave. She
wore a plain white bib-less apron, but no cap.

"Maggie, will you have some pie?"

"Yes, if you can spare it, ma'am."

This was Maggie's customary answer to offers of food.

"We can always spare it, Maggie," said her mistress, as usual.
"Sophia, if you aren't going to use that plate, give it to me."

Maggie disappeared with liberal pie.

Mrs. Baines then talked to Mr. Povey about his condition, and in
particular as to the need for precautions against taking cold in
the bereaved gum. She was a brave and determined woman; from start
to finish she behaved as though nothing whatever in the household
except her pastry and Mr. Povey had deviated that day from the
normal. She kissed Constance and Sophia with the most exact
equality, and called them 'my chucks' when they went up to bed.

Constance, excellent kind heart, tried to imitate her mother's
tactics as the girls undressed in their room. She thought she
could not do better than ignore Sophia's deplorable state.

"Mother's new dress is quite finished, and she's going to wear it
on Sunday," said she, blandly.

"If you say another word I'll scratch your eyes out!" Sophia
turned on her viciously, with a catch in her voice, and then began
to sob at intervals. She did not mean this threat, but its
utterance gave her relief. Constance, faced with the fact that her
mother's shoes were too big for her, decided to preserve her
eyesight.

Long after the gas was out, rare sobs from Sophia shook the bed,
and they both lay awake in silence.

"I suppose you and mother have been talking me over finely to-
day?" Sophia burst forth, to Constance's surprise, in a wet voice.

"No," said Constance soothingly. "Mother only told me."

"Told you what?"

"That you wanted to be a teacher."

"And I will be, too!" said Sophia, bitterly.

"You don't know mother," thought Constance; but she made no
audible comment.

There was another detached, hard sob. And then, such is the
astonishing talent of youth, they both fell asleep.

The next morning, early, Sophia stood gazing out of the window at
the Square. It was Saturday, and all over the Square little
stalls, with yellow linen roofs, were being erected for the
principal market of the week. In those barbaric days Bursley had a
majestic edifice, black as basalt, for the sale of dead animals by
the limb and rib--it was entitled 'the Shambles'--but vegetables,
fruit, cheese, eggs, and pikelets were still sold under canvas.
Eggs are now offered at five farthings apiece in a palace that
cost twenty-five thousand pounds. Yet you will find people in
Bursley ready to assert that things generally are not what they
were, and that in particular the romance of life has gone. But
until it has gone it is never romance. To Sophia, though she was
in a mood which usually stimulates the sense of the romantic,
there was nothing of romance in this picturesque tented field. It
was just the market. Holl's, the leading grocer's, was already
open, at the extremity of the Square, and a boy apprentice was
sweeping the pavement in front of it. The public-houses were open,
several of them specializing in hot rum at 5.30 a.m. The town-
crier, in his blue coat with red facings, crossed the Square,
carrying his big bell by the tongue. There was the same shocking
hole in one of Mrs. Povey's (confectioner's) window-curtains--a
hole which even her recent travail could scarcely excuse. Such
matters it was that Sophia noticed with dull, smarting eyes.

"Sophia, you'll take your death of cold standing there like that!"

She jumped. The voice was her mother's. That vigorous woman, after
a calm night by the side of the paralytic, was already up and
neatly dressed. She carried a bottle and an egg-cup, and a small
quantity of jam in a table-spoon.

"Get into bed again, do! There's a dear! You're shivering."

White Sophia obeyed. It was true; she was shivering. Constance
awoke. Mrs. Baines went to the dressing-table and filled the egg-
cup out of the bottle.

"Who's that for, mother?" Constance asked sleepily.

"It's for Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with good cheer. "Now,
Sophia!" and she advanced with the egg-cup in one hand and the
table-spoon in the other.

"What is it, mother?" asked Sophia, who well knew what it was.

"Castor-oil, my dear," said Mrs. Baines, winningly.

The ludicrousness of attempting to cure obstinacy and yearnings
for a freer life by means of castor-oil is perhaps less real than
apparent. The strange interdependence of spirit and body, though
only understood intelligently in these intelligent days, was
guessed at by sensible mediaeval mothers. And certainly, at the
period when Mrs. Baines represented modernity, castor-oil was
still the remedy of remedies. It had supplanted cupping. And, if
part of its vogue was due to its extreme unpleasantness, it had at
least proved its qualities in many a contest with disease. Less
than two years previously old Dr. Harrop (father of him who told
Mrs. Baines about Mrs. Povey), being then aged eighty-six, had
fallen from top to bottom of his staircase. He had scrambled up,
taken a dose of castor-oil at once, and on the morrow was as well
as if he had never seen a staircase. This episode was town
property and had sunk deep into all hearts.

"I don't want any, mother," said Sophia, in dejection. "I'm quite
well."

"You simply ate nothing all day yesterday," said Mrs. Baines. And
she added, "Come!" As if to say, "There's always this silly fuss
with castor-oil. Don't keep me waiting."

"I don't WANT any," said Sophia, irritated and captious.

The two girls lay side by side, on their backs. They seemed very
thin and fragile in comparison with the solidity of their mother.
Constance wisely held her peace.

Mrs. Baines put her lips together, meaning: "This is becoming
tedious. I shall have to be angry in another moment!"

"Come!" said she again.

The girls could hear her foot tapping on the floor.

"I really don't want it, mamma," Sophia fought. "I suppose I ought
to know whether I need it or not!" This was insolence.

"Sophia, will you take this medicine, or won't you?"

In conflicts with her children, the mother's ultimatum always took
the formula in which this phrase was cast. The girls knew, when
things had arrived at the pitch of 'or won't you' spoken in Mrs.
Baines's firmest tone, that the end was upon them. Never had the
ultimatum failed.

There was a silence.

"And I'll thank you to mind your manners," Mrs. Baines added.

"I won't take it," said Sophia, sullenly and flatly; and she hid
her face in the pillow.

It was a historic moment in the family life. Mrs. Baines thought
the last day had come. But still she held herself in dignity while
the apocalypse roared in her ears.

"OF COURSE I CAN'T FORCE YOU TO TAKE IT," she said with superb
evenness, masking anger by compassionate grief. "You're a big girl
and a naughty girl. And if you will be ill you must."

Upon this immense admission, Mrs. Baines departed.

Constance trembled.

Nor was that all. In the middle of the morning, when Mrs. Baines
was pricing new potatoes at a stall at the top end of the Square,
and Constance choosing threepennyworth of flowers at the same
stall, whom should they both see, walking all alone across the
empty corner by the Bank, but Sophia Baines! The Square was busy
and populous, and Sophia was only visible behind a foreground of
restless, chattering figures. But she was unmistakably seen. She
had been beyond the Square and was returning. Constance could
scarcely believe her eyes. Mrs. Baines's heart jumped. For let it
be said that the girls never under any circumstances went forth
without permission, and scarcely ever alone. That Sophia should be
at large in the town, without leave, without notice, exactly as if
she were her own mistress, was a proposition which a day earlier
had been inconceivable. Yet there she was, and moving with a
leisureliness that must be described as effrontery!

Red with apprehension, Constance wondered what would happen. Mrs.
Baines said nought of her feelings, did not even indicate that she
had seen the scandalous, the breath-taking sight. And they
descended the Square laden with the lighter portions of what they
had bought during an hour of buying. They went into the house by
the King Street door; and the first thing they heard was the sound
of the piano upstairs. Nothing happened. Mr. Povey had his dinner
alone; then the table was laid for them, and the bell rung, and
Sophia came insolently downstairs to join her mother and sister.
And nothing happened. The dinner was silently eaten, and Constance
having rendered thanks to God, Sophia rose abruptly to go.

"Sophia!"

"Yes, mother."

"Constance, stay where you are," said Mrs. Baines suddenly to
Constance, who had meant to flee. Constance was therefore destined
to be present at the happening, doubtless in order to emphasize
its importance and seriousness.

"Sophia," Mrs. Baines resumed to her younger daughter in an
ominous voice. "No, please shut the door. There is no reason why
everybody in the house should hear. Come right into the room--
right in! That's it. Now, what were you doing out in the town this
morning?"

Sophia was fidgeting nervously with the edge of her little black
apron, and worrying a seam of the carpet with her toes. She bent
her head towards her left shoulder, at first smiling vaguely. She
said nothing, but every limb, every glance, every curve, was
speaking. Mrs. Baines sat firmly in her own rocking-chair, full of
the sensation that she had Sophia, as it were, writhing on the end
of a skewer. Constance was braced into a moveless anguish.

"I will have an answer," pursued Mrs. Baines. "What were you doing
out in the town this morning?"

"I just went out," answered Sophia at length, still with eyes
downcast, and in a rather simpering tone.

"Why did you go out? You said nothing to me about going out. I
heard Constance ask you if you were coming with us to the market,
and you said, very rudely, that you weren't."

"I didn't say it rudely," Sophia objected.

"Yes you did. And I'll thank you not to answer back."

"I didn't mean to say it rudely, did I, Constance?" Sophia's head
turned sharply to her sister. Constance knew not where to look.

"Don't answer back," Mrs. Baines repeated sternly. "And don't try
to drag Constance into this, for I won't have it."

"Oh, of course Constance is always right!" observed Sophia, with
an irony whose unparalleled impudence shook Mrs. Baines to her
massive foundations.

"Do you want me to have to smack you, child?"

Her temper flashed out and you could see ringlets vibrating under
the provocation of Sophia's sauciness. Then Sophia's lower lip
began to fall and to bulge outwards, and all the muscles of her
face seemed to slacken.

"You are a very naughty girl," said Mrs. Baines, with restraint.
("I've got her," said Mrs. Baines to herself. "I may just as well
keep my temper.")

And a sob broke out of Sophia. She was behaving like a little
child. She bore no trace of the young maiden sedately crossing the
Square without leave and without an escort.

("I knew she was going to cry," said Mrs. Baines, breathing
relief.)

"I'm waiting," said Mrs. Baines aloud.

A second sob. Mrs. Baines manufactured patience to meet the
demand.

"You tell me not to answer back, and then you say you're waiting,"
Sophia blubbered thickly.

"What's that you say? How can I tell what you say if you talk like
that?" (But Mrs. Baines failed to hear out of discretion, which is
better than valour.)

"It's of no consequence," Sophia blurted forth in a sob. She was
weeping now, and tears were ricocheting off her lovely crimson
cheeks on to the carpet; her whole body was trembling.

"Don't be a great baby," Mrs. Baines enjoined, with a touch of
rough persuasiveness in her voice.

"It's you who make me cry," said Sophia, bitterly. "You make me
cry and then you call me a great baby!" And sobs ran through her
frame like waves one after another. She spoke so indistinctly that
her mother now really had some difficulty in catching her words.

"Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with god-like calm, "it is not I who
make you cry. It is your guilty conscience makes you cry. I have
merely asked you a question, and I intend to have an answer."

"I've told you." Here Sophia checked the sobs with an immense
effort.

"What have you told me?"

"I just went out."

"I will have no trifling," said Mrs. Baines. "What did you go out
for, and without telling me? If you had told me afterwards, when I
came in, of your own accord, it might have been different. But no,
not a word! It is I who have to ask! Now, quick! I can't wait any
longer."

("I gave way over the castor-oil, my girl," Mrs. Baines said in
her own breast. "But not again! Not again.!")

"I don't know," Sophia murmured.

"What do you mean--you don't know?"

The sobbing recommenced tempestuously. "I mean I don't know. I
just went out." Her voice rose; it was noisy, but scarcely
articulate. "What if I did go out?"

"Sophia, I am not going to be talked to like this. If you think
because you're leaving school you can do exactly as you like--"

"Do I want to leave school?" yelled Sophia, stamping. In a moment
a hurricane of emotion overwhelmed her, as though that stamping of
the foot had released the demons of the storm. Her face was
transfigured by uncontrollable passion. "You all want to make me
miserable!" she shrieked with terrible violence. "And now I can't
even go out! You are a horrid, cruel woman, and I hate you! And
you can do what you like! Put me in prison if you like! I know
you'd be glad if I was dead!"

She dashed from the room, banging the door with a shock that made
the house rattle. And she had shouted so loud that she might have
been heard in the shop, and even in the kitchen. It was a
startling experience for Mrs. Baines. Mrs. Baines, why did you
saddle yourself with a witness? Why did you so positively say that
you intended to have an answer?

"Really," she stammered, pulling her dignity about her shoulders
like a garment that the wind has snatched off. "I never dreamed
that poor girl had such a dreadful temper! What a pity it is, for
her OWN sake!" It was the best she could do.

Constance, who could not bear to witness her mother's humiliation,
vanished very quietly from the room. She got halfway upstairs to
the second floor, and then, hearing the loud, rapid, painful,
regular intake of sobbing breaths, she hesitated and crept down
again.

This was Mrs. Baines's first costly experience of the child
thankless for having been brought into the world. It robbed her of
her profound, absolute belief in herself. She had thought she knew
everything in her house and could do everything there. And lo! she
had suddenly stumbled against an unsuspected personality at large
in her house, a sort of hard marble affair that informed her by
means of bumps that if she did not want to be hurt she must keep
out of the way.

V

On the Sunday afternoon Mrs. Baines was trying to repose a little
in the drawing-room, where she had caused a fire to be lighted.
Constance was in the adjacent bedroom with her father. Sophia lay
between blankets in the room overhead with a feverish cold. This
cold and her new dress were Mrs. Baines's sole consolation at the
moment. She had prophesied a cold for Sophia, refuser of castor-
oil, and it had come. Sophia had received, for standing in her
nightdress at a draughty window of a May morning, what Mrs. Baines
called 'nature's slap in the face.' As for the dress, she had
worshipped God in it, and prayed for Sophia in it, before dinner;
and its four double rows of gimp on the skirt had been accounted a
great success. With her lace-bordered mantle and her low, stringed
bonnet she had assuredly given a unique lustre to the congregation
at chapel. She was stout; but the fashions, prescribing vague
outlines, broad downward slopes, and vast amplitudes, were
favourable to her shape. It must not be supposed that stout women
of a certain age never seek to seduce the eye and trouble the
meditations of man by other than moral charms. Mrs. Baines knew
that she was comely, natty, imposing, and elegant; and the
knowledge gave her real pleasure. She would look over her shoulder
in the glass as anxious as a girl: make no mistake.

She did not repose; she could not. She sat thinking, in exactly
the same posture as Sophia's two afternoons previously. She would
have been surprised to hear that her attitude, bearing, and
expression powerfully recalled those of her reprehensible
daughter. But it was so. A good angel made her restless, and she
went idly to the window and glanced upon the empty, shuttered
Square. She too, majestic matron, had strange, brief yearnings for
an existence more romantic than this; shootings across her
spirit's firmament of tailed comets; soft, inexplicable
melancholies. The good angel, withdrawing her from such a mood,
directed her gaze to a particular spot at the top of the square.

She passed at once out of the room--not precisely in a hurry, yet
without wasting time. In a recess under the stairs, immediately
outside the door, was a box about a foot square and eighteen
inches deep covered with black American cloth. She bent down and
unlocked this box, which was padded within and contained the
Baines silver tea-service. She drew from the box teapot, sugar-
bowl, milk-jug, sugar-tongs, hot-water jug, and cake-stand (a
flattish dish with an arching semicircular handle)--chased
vessels, silver without and silver-gilt within; glittering
heirlooms that shone in the dark corner like the secret pride of
respectable families. These she put on a tray that always stood on
end in the recess. Then she looked upwards through the banisters
to the second floor.

"Maggie!" she piercingly whispered.

"Yes, mum," came a voice.

"Are you dressed?"

"Yes, mum. I'm just coming."

"Well, put on your muslin." "Apron," Mrs. Baines implied.

Maggie understood.

"Take these for tea," said Mrs. Baines when Maggie descended.
"Better rub them over. You know where the cake is--that new one.
The best cups. And the silver spoons."

They both heard a knock at the side-door, far off, below.

"There!" exclaimed Mrs. Baines. "Now take these right down into
the kitchen before you open."

"Yes, mum," said Maggie, departing.

Mrs. Baines was wearing a black alpaca apron. She removed it and
put on another one of black satin embroidered with yellow flowers,
which, by merely inserting her arm into the chamber, she had taken
from off the chest of drawers in her bedroom. Then she fixed
herself in the drawing-room.

Maggie returned, rather short of breath, convoying the visitor.

"Ah! Miss Chetwynd," said Mrs. Baines, rising to welcome. "I'm
sure I'm delighted to see you. I saw you coming down the Square,
and I said to myself, 'Now, I do hope Miss Chetwynd isn't going to
forget us.'"

Miss Chetwynd, simpering momentarily, came forward with that self-
conscious, slightly histrionic air, which is one of the penalties
of pedagogy. She lived under the eyes of her pupils. Her life was
one ceaseless effort to avoid doing anything which might influence
her charges for evil or shock the natural sensitiveness of their
parents. She had to wind her earthly way through a forest of the
most delicate susceptibilities--fern-fronds that stretched across
the path, and that she must not even accidentally disturb with her
skirt as she passed. No wonder she walked mincingly! No wonder she
had a habit of keeping her elbows close to her sides, and drawing
her mantle tight in the streets! Her prospectus talked about 'a
sound and religious course of training,' 'study embracing the
usual branches of English, with music by a talented master,
drawing, dancing, and calisthenics.' Also 'needlework plain and
ornamental;' also 'moral influence;' and finally about terms,
'which are very moderate, and every particular, with references to
parents and others, furnished on application.' (Sometimes, too,
without application.) As an illustration of the delicacy of fern-
fronds, that single word 'dancing' had nearly lost her Constance
and Sophia seven years before!

She was a pinched virgin, aged forty, and not 'well off;' in her
family the gift of success had been monopolized by her elder
sister. For these characteristics Mrs. Baines, as a matron in easy
circumstances, pitied Miss Chetwynd. On the other hand, Miss
Chetwynd could choose ground from which to look down upon Mrs.
Baines, who after all was in trade. Miss Chetwynd had no trace of
the local accent; she spoke with a southern refinement which the
Five Towns, while making fun of it, envied. All her O's had a
genteel leaning towards 'ow,' as ritualism leans towards Romanism.
And she was the fount of etiquette, a wonder of correctness; in
the eyes of her pupils' parents not so much 'a perfect LADY' as 'a
PERFECT lady.' So that it was an extremely nice question whether,
upon the whole, Mrs. Baines secretly condescended to Miss Chetwynd
or Miss Chetwynd to Mrs. Baines. Perhaps Mrs. Baines, by virtue of
her wifehood, carried the day.

Miss Chetwynd, carefully and precisely seated, opened the
conversation by explaining that even if Mrs. Baines had not
written she should have called in any case, as she made a practice
of calling at the home of her pupils in vacation time: which was
true. Mrs. Baines, it should be stated, had on Friday afternoon
sent to Miss Chetwynd one of her most luxurious notes--lavender-
coloured paper with scalloped edges, the selectest mode of the
day--to announce, in her Italian hand, that Constance and Sophia
would both leave school at the end of the next term, and giving
reasons in regard to Sophia.

Before the visitor had got very far, Maggie came in with a
lacquered tea-caddy and the silver teapot and a silver spoon on a
lacquered tray. Mrs. Baines, while continuing to talk, chose a key
from her bunch, unlocked the tea-caddy, and transferred four
teaspoonfuls of tea from it to the teapot and relocked the caddy.

"Strawberry," she mysteriously whispered to Maggie; and Maggie
disappeared, bearing the tray and its contents.

"And how is your sister? It is quite a long time since she was
down here," Mrs. Baines went on to Miss Chetwynd, after whispering
"strawberry."

The remark was merely in the way of small-talk--for the hostess
felt a certain unwilling hesitation to approach the topic of
daughters--but it happened to suit the social purpose of Miss
Chetwynd to a nicety. Miss Chetwynd was a vessel brimming with
great tidings.

"She is very well, thank you," said Miss Chetwynd, and her
expression grew exceedingly vivacious. Her face glowed with pride
as she added, "Of course everything is changed now."

"Indeed?" murmured Mrs. Baines, with polite curiosity.

"Yes," said Miss Chetwynd. "You've not heard?"

"No," said Mrs. Baines. Miss Chetwynd knew that she had not heard.

"About Elizabeth's engagement? To the Reverend Archibald Jones?"

It is the fact that Mrs. Baines was taken aback. She did nothing
indiscreet; she did not give vent to her excusable amazement that
the elder Miss Chetwynd should be engaged to any one at all, as
some women would have done in the stress of the moment. She kept
her presence of mind.

"This is really MOST interesting!" said she.

It was. For Archibald Jones was one of the idols of the Wesleyan
Methodist Connexion, a special preacher famous throughout England.
At 'Anniversaries' and 'Trust sermons,' Archibald Jones had
probably no rival. His Christian name helped him; it was a
luscious, resounding mouthful for admirers. He was not an
itinerant minister, migrating every three years. His function was
to direct the affairs of the 'Book Room,' the publishing
department of the Connexion. He lived in London, and shot out into
the provinces at week-ends, preaching on Sundays and giving a
lecture, tinctured with bookishness, 'in the chapel' on Monday
evenings. In every town he visited there was competition for the
privilege of entertaining him. He had zeal, indefatigable energy,
and a breezy wit. He was a widower of fifty, and his wife had been
dead for twenty years. It had seemed as if women were not for this
bright star. And here Elizabeth Chetwynd, who had left the Five
Towns a quarter of a century before at the age of twenty, had
caught him! Austere, moustached, formidable, desiccated, she must
have done it with her powerful intellect! It must be a union of
intellects! He had been impressed by hers, and she by his, and
then their intellects had kissed. Within a week fifty thousand
women in forty counties had pictured to themselves this osculation
of intellects, and shrugged their shoulders, and decided once more
that men were incomprehensible. These great ones in London,
falling in love like the rest! But no! Love was a ribald and
voluptuous word to use in such a matter as this. It was generally
felt that the Reverend Archibald Jones and Miss Chetwynd the elder
would lift marriage to what would now be termed an astral plane.

After tea had been served, Mrs. Baines gradually recovered her
position, both in her own private esteem and in the deference of
Miss Aline Chetwynd.

"Yes," said she. "You can talk about your sister, and you can call
HIM Archibald, and you can mince up your words. But have you got a
tea-service like this? Can you conceive more perfect strawberry
jam than this? Did not my dress cost more than you spend on your
clothes in a year? Has a man ever looked at you? After all, is
there not something about my situation ... in short, something
...?"

She did not say this aloud. She in no way deviated from the
scrupulous politeness of a hostess. There was nothing in even her
tone to indicate that Mrs. John Baines was a personage. Yet it
suddenly occurred to Miss Chetwynd that her pride in being the
prospective sister-in-law of the Rev. Archibald Jones would be
better for a while in her pocket. And she inquired after Mr.
Baines. After this the conversation limped somewhat.

"I suppose you weren't surprised by my letter?" said Mrs. Baines.

"I was and I wasn't," answered Miss Chetwynd, in her professional
manner and not her manner of a prospective sister-in-law. "Of
course I am naturally sorry to lose two such good pupils, but we
can't keep our pupils for ever." She smiled; she was not without
fortitude--it is easier to lose pupils than to replace them.
"Still"--a pause--"what you say of Sophia is perfectly true,
perfectly. She is quite as advanced as Constance. Still"--another
pause and a more rapid enunciation--"Sophia is by no means an
ordinary girl."

"I hope she hasn't been a very great trouble to you?"

"Oh NO!" exclaimed Miss Chetwynd. "Sophia and I have got on very
well together. I have always tried to appeal to her reason. I have
never FORCED her ... Now, with some girls ... In some ways I look
on Sophia as the most remarkable girl--not pupil--but the most
remarkable--what shall I say?--individuality, that I have ever met
with." And her demeanour added, "And, mind you, this is something
--from me!"

"Indeed!" said Mrs. Baines. She told herself, "I am not your
common foolish parent. I see my children impartially. I am
incapable of being flattered concerning them."

Nevertheless she was flattered, and the thought shaped itself that
really Sophia was no ordinary girl.

"I suppose she has talked to you about becoming a teacher?" asked
Miss Chetwynd, taking a morsel of the unparalleled jam.

She held the spoon with her thumb and three fingers. Her fourth
finger, in matters of honest labour, would never associate with
the other three; delicately curved, it always drew proudly away
from them.

"Has she mentioned that to you?" Mrs. Baines demanded, startled.

"Oh yes!" said Miss Chetwynd. "Several times. Sophia is a very
secretive girl, very--but I think I may say I have always had her
confidence. There have been times when Sophia and I have been very
near each other. Elizabeth was much struck with her. Indeed, I may
tell you that in one of her last letters to me she spoke of Sophia
and said she had mentioned her to Mr. Jones, and Mr. Jones
remembered her quite well."

Impossible for even a wise, uncommon parent not to be affected by
such an announcement!

"I dare say your sister will give up her school now," observed
Mrs. Baines, to divert attention from her self-consciousness.

"Oh NO!" And this time Mrs. Baines had genuinely shocked Miss
Chetwynd. "Nothing would induce Elizabeth to give up the cause of
education. Archibald takes the keenest interest in the school. Oh
no! Not for worlds!"

"THEN YOU THINK SOPHIA WOULD MAKE A GOOD TEACHER?" asked Mrs.
Baines with apparent inconsequence, and with a smile. But the
words marked an epoch in her mind. All was over.

"I think she is very much set on it and--"

"That wouldn't affect her father--or me," said Mrs. Baines
quickly.

"Certainly not! I merely say that she is very much set on it. Yes,
she would, at any rate, make a teacher far superior to the
average." ("That girl has got the better of her mother without
me!" she reflected.) "Ah! Here is dear Constance!"

Constance, tempted beyond her strength by the sounds of the visit
and the colloquy, had slipped into the room.

"I've left both doors open, mother," she excused herself for
quitting her father, and kissed Miss Chetwynd.

She blushed, but she blushed happily, and really made a most
creditable debut as a young lady. Her mother rewarded her by
taking her into the conversation. And history was soon made.

So Sophia was apprenticed to Miss Aline Chetwynd. Mrs. Baines bore
herself greatly. It was Miss Chetwynd who had urged, and her
respect for Miss Chetwynd ... Also somehow the Reverend Archibald
Jones came into the cause.

Of course the idea of Sophia ever going to London was ridiculous,
ridiculous! (Mrs. Baines secretly feared that the ridiculous might
happen; but, with the Reverend Archibald Jones on the spot, the
worst could be faced.) Sophia must understand that even the
apprenticeship in Bursley was merely a trial. They would see how
things went on. She had to thank Miss Chetwynd.

"I made Miss Chetwynd come and talk to mother," said Sophia
magnificently one night to simple Constance, as if to imply, 'Your
Miss Chetwynd is my washpot.'

To Constance, Sophia's mere enterprise was just as staggering as
her success. Fancy her deliberately going out that Saturday
morning, after her mother's definite decision, to enlist Miss
Chetwynd in her aid!

There is no need to insist on the tragic grandeur of Mrs. Baines's
renunciation--a renunciation which implied her acceptance of a
change in the balance of power in her realm. Part of its tragedy
was that none, not even Constance, could divine the intensity of
Mrs. Baines's suffering. She had no confidant; she was incapable
of showing a wound. But when she lay awake at night by the
organism which had once been her husband, she dwelt long and
deeply on the martyrdom of her life. What had she done to deserve
it? Always had she conscientiously endeavoured to be kind, just,
patient. And she knew herself to be sagacious and prudent. In the
frightful and unguessed trials of her existence as a wife, surely
she might have been granted consolations as a mother! Yet no; it
had not been! And she felt all the bitterness of age against
youth--youth egotistic, harsh, cruel, uncompromising; youth that
is so crude, so ignorant of life, so slow to understand! She had
Constance. Yes, but it would be twenty years before Constance
could appreciate the sacrifice of judgment and of pride which her
mother had made, in a sudden decision, during that rambling,
starched, simpering interview with Miss Aline Chetwynd. Probably
Constance thought that she had yielded to Sophia's passionate
temper! Impossible to explain to Constance that she had yielded to
nothing but a perception of Sophia's complete inability to hear
reason and wisdom. Ah! Sometimes as she lay in the dark, she
would, in fancy, snatch her heart from her bosom and fling it down
before Sophia, bleeding, and cry: "See what I carry about with me,
on your account!" Then she would take it back and hide it again,
and sweeten her bitterness with wise admonitions to herself.

All this because Sophia, aware that if she stayed in the house she
would be compelled to help in the shop, chose an honourable
activity which freed her from the danger. Heart, how absurd of you
to bleed!




CHAPTER IV

ELEPHANT

I


"Sophia, will you come and see the elephant? Do come!" Constance
entered the drawing-room with this request on her eager lips.

"No," said Sophia, with a touch of condescension. "I'm far too
busy for elephants."

Only two years had passed; but both girls were grown up now; long
sleeves, long skirts, hair that had settled down in life; and a
demeanour immensely serious, as though existence were terrific in
its responsibilities; yet sometimes childhood surprisingly broke
through the crust of gravity, as now in Constance, aroused by such
things as elephants, and proclaimed with vivacious gestures that
it was not dead after all. The sisters were sharply
differentiated. Constance wore the black alpaca apron and the
scissors at the end of a long black elastic, which indicated her
vocation in the shop. She was proving a considerable success in
the millinery department. She had learnt how to talk to people,
and was, in her modest way, very self-possessed. She was getting a
little stouter. Everybody liked her. Sophia had developed into the
student. Time had accentuated her reserve. Her sole friend was
Miss Chetwynd, with whom she was, having regard to the disparity
of their ages, very intimate. At home she spoke little. She lacked
amiability; as her mother said, she was 'touchy.' She required
diplomacy from others, but did not render it again. Her attitude,
indeed, was one of half-hidden disdain, now gentle, now coldly
bitter. She would not wear an apron, in an age when aprons were
almost essential to decency. No! She would not wear an apron, and
there was an end of it. She was not so tidy as Constance, and if
Constance's hands had taken on the coarse texture which comes from
commerce with needles, pins, artificial flowers, and stuffs,
Sophia's fine hands were seldom innocent of ink. But Sophia was
splendidly beautiful. And even her mother and Constance had an
instinctive idea that that face was, at any rate, a partial excuse
for her asperity.

"Well," said Constance, "if you won't, I do believe I shall ask
mother if she will."

Sophia, bending over her books, made no answer. But the top of her
head said: "This has no interest for me whatever."

Constance left the room, and in a moment returned with her mother.

"Sophia," said her mother, with gay excitement, "you might go and
sit with your father for a bit while Constance and I just run up
to the playground to see the elephant. You can work just as well
in there as here. Your father's asleep."

"Oh, very, well!" Sophia agreed haughtily. "Whatever is all this
fuss about an elephant? Anyhow, it'll be quieter in your room. The
noise here is splitting." She gave a supercilious glance into the
Square as she languidly rose.

It was the morning of the third day of Bursley Wakes; not the
modern finicking and respectable, but an orgiastic carnival, gross
in all its manifestations of joy. The whole centre of the town was
given over to the furious pleasures of the people. Most of the
Square was occupied by Wombwell's Menagerie, in a vast oblong
tent, whose raging beasts roared and growled day and night. And
spreading away from this supreme attraction, right up through the
market-place past the Town Hall to Duck Bank, Duck Square and the
waste land called the 'playground' were hundreds of booths with
banners displaying all the delights of the horrible. You could see
the atrocities of the French Revolution, and of the Fiji Islands,
and the ravages of unspeakable diseases, and the living flesh of a
nearly nude human female guaranteed to turn the scale at twenty-
two stone, and the skeletons of the mysterious phantoscope, and
the bloody contests of champions naked to the waist (with the
chance of picking up a red tooth as a relic). You could try your
strength by hitting an image of a fellow-creature in the stomach,
and test your aim by knocking off the heads of other images with a
wooden ball. You could also shoot with rifles at various targets.
All the streets were lined with stalls loaded with food in heaps,
chiefly dried fish, the entrails of animals, and gingerbread. All
the public-houses were crammed, and frenzied jolly drunkards, men
and women, lunged along the pavements everywhere, their shouts
vying with the trumpets, horns, and drums of the booths, and the
shrieking, rattling toys that the children carried.

It was a glorious spectacle, but not a spectacle for the leading
families. Miss Chetwynd's school was closed, so that the daughters
of leading families might remain in seclusion till the worst was
over. The Baineses ignored the Wakes in every possible way,
choosing that week to have a show of mourning goods in the left-
hand window, and refusing to let Maggie outside on any pretext.
Therefore the dazzling social success of the elephant, which was
quite easily drawing Mrs. Baines into the vortex, cannot
imaginably be over-estimated.

On the previous night one of the three Wombwell elephants had
suddenly knelt on a man in the tent; he had then walked out of the
tent and picked up another man at haphazard from the crowd which
was staring at the great pictures in front, and tried to put this
second man into his mouth. Being stopped by his Indian attendant
with a pitchfork, he placed the man on the ground and stuck his
tusk through an artery of the victim's arm. He then, amid
unexampled excitement, suffered himself to be led away. He was
conducted to the rear of the tent, just in front of Baines's
shuttered windows, and by means of stakes, pulleys, and ropes
forced to his knees. His head was whitewashed, and six men of the
Rifle Corps were engaged to shoot at him at a distance of five
yards, while constables kept the crowd off with truncheons. He
died instantly, rolling over with a soft thud. The crowd cheered,
and, intoxicated by their importance, the Volunteers fired three
more volleys into the carcase, and were then borne off as heroes
to different inns. The elephant, by the help of his two
companions, was got on to a railway lorry and disappeared into the
night. Such was the greatest sensation that has ever occurred, or
perhaps will ever occur, in Bursley. The excitement about the
repeal of the Corn Laws, or about Inkerman, was feeble compared to
that excitement. Mr. Critchlow, who had been called on to put a
hasty tourniquet round the arm of the second victim, had popped in
afterwards to tell John Baines all about it. Mr. Baines's
interest, however, had been slight. Mr. Critchlow succeeded better
with the ladies, who, though they had witnessed the shooting from
the drawing-room, were thirsty for the most trifling details.

The next day it was known that the elephant lay near the
playground, pending the decision of the Chief Bailiff and the
Medical Officer as to his burial. And everybody had to visit the
corpse. No social exclusiveness could withstand the seduction of
that dead elephant. Pilgrims travelled from all the Five Towns to
see him.

"We're going now," said Mrs. Baines, after she had assumed her
bonnet and shawl.

"All right," said Sophia, pretending to be absorbed in study, as
she sat on the sofa at the foot of her father's bed.

And Constance, having put her head in at the door, drew her mother
after her like a magnet.

Then Sophia heard a remarkable conversation in the passage.

"Are you going up to see the elephant, Mrs. Baines?" asked the
voice of Mr. Povey.

"Yes. Why?"

"I think I had better come with you. The crowd is sure to be very
rough." Mr. Povey's tone was firm; he had a position.

"But the shop?"

"We shall not be long," said Mr. Povey.

"Oh yes, mother," Constance added appealingly.

Sophia felt the house thrill as the side-door banged. She sprang
up and watched the three cross King Street diagonally, and so
plunge into the Wakes. This triple departure was surely the
crowning tribute to the dead elephant! It was simply astonishing.
It caused Sophia to perceive that she had miscalculated the
importance of the elephant. It made her regret her scorn of the
elephant as an attraction. She was left behind; and the joy of
life was calling her. She could see down into the Vaults on the
opposite side of the street, where working men--potters and
colliers--in their best clothes, some with high hats, were
drinking, gesticulating, and laughing in a row at a long counter.

She noticed, while she was thus at the bedroom window, a young man
ascending King Street, followed by a porter trundling a flat
barrow of luggage. He passed slowly under the very window. She
flushed. She had evidently been startled by the sight of this
young man into no ordinary state of commotion. She glanced at the
books on the sofa, and then at her father. Mr. Baines, thin and
gaunt, and acutely pitiable, still slept. His brain had almost
ceased to be active now; he had to be fed and tended like a
bearded baby, and he would sleep for hours at a stretch even in
the daytime. Sophia left the room. A moment later she ran into the
shop, an apparition that amazed the three young lady assistants.
At the corner near the window on the fancy side a little nook had
been formed by screening off a portion of the counter with large
flower-boxes placed end-up. This corner had come to be known as
"Miss Baines's corner." Sophia hastened to it, squeezing past a
young lady assistant in the narrow space between the back of the
counter and the shelf-lined wall. She sat down in Constance's
chair and pretended to look for something. She had examined
herself in the cheval-glass in the showroom, on her way from the
sick-chamber. When she heard a voice near the door of the shop
asking first for Mr. Povey and then for Mrs. Baines, she rose, and
seizing the object nearest to her, which happened to be a pair of
scissors, she hurried towards the showroom stairs as though the
scissors had been a grail, passionately sought and to be jealously
hidden away. She wanted to stop and turn round, but something
prevented her. She was at the end of the counter, under the
curving stairs, when one of the assistants said:

"I suppose you don't know when Mr. Povey or your mother are likely
to be back, Miss Sophia? Here's--"

It was a divine release for Sophia.

"They're--I--" she stammered, turning round abruptly. Luckily she
was still sheltered behind the counter.

The young man whom she had seen in the street came boldly forward.

"Good morning, Miss Sophia," said he, hat in hand. "It is a long
time since I had the pleasure of seeing you."

Never had she blushed as she blushed then. She scarcely knew what
she was doing as she moved slowly towards her sister's corner
again, the young man following her on the customer's side of the
counter.

II

She knew that he was a traveller for the most renowned and
gigantic of all Manchester wholesale firms--Birkinshaws. But she
did not know his name, which was Gerald Scales. He was a rather
short but extremely well-proportioned man of thirty, with fair
hair, and a distinguished appearance, as became a representative
of Birkinshaws. His broad, tight necktie, with an edge of white
collar showing above it, was particularly elegant. He had been on
the road for Birkinshaws for several years; but Sophia had only
seen him once before in her life, when she was a little girl,
three years ago. The relations between the travellers of the great
firms and their solid, sure clients in small towns were in those
days often cordially intimate. The traveller came with the lustre
of a historic reputation around him; there was no need to fawn for
orders; and the client's immense and immaculate respectability
made him the equal of no matter what ambassador. It was a case of
mutual esteem, and of that confidence-generating phenomenon, "an
old account." The tone in which a commercial traveller of middle
age would utter the phrase "an old account" revealed in a flash
all that was romantic, prim, and stately in mid-Victorian
commerce. In the days of Baines, after one of the elaborately
engraved advice-circulars had arrived ('Our Mr.------will have the
pleasure of waiting upon you on--day next, the--inst.') John might
in certain cases be expected to say, on the morning of--day,
'Missis, what have ye gotten for supper to-night?'

Mr. Gerald Scales had never been asked to supper; he had never
even seen John Baines; but, as the youthful successor of an aged
traveller who had had the pleasure of St. Luke's Square, on behalf
of Birkinshaws, since before railways, Mrs. Baines had treated him
with a faint agreeable touch of maternal familiarity; and, both
her daughters being once in the shop during his visit, she had on
that occasion commanded the gawky girls to shake hands with him.

Sophia had never forgotten that glimpse. The young man without a
name had lived in her mind, brightly glowing, as the very symbol
and incarnation of the masculine and the elegant.

The renewed sight of him seemed to have wakened her out of a
sleep. Assuredly she was not the same Sophia. As she sat in her
sister's chair in the corner, entrenched behind the perpendicular
boxes, playing nervously with the scissors, her beautiful face was
transfigured into the ravishingly angelic. It would have been
impossible for Mr. Gerald Scales, or anybody else, to credit, as
he gazed at those lovely, sensitive, vivacious, responsive
features, that Sophia was not a character of heavenly sweetness
and perfection. She did not know what she was doing; she was
nothing but the exquisite expression of a deep instinct to attract
and charm. Her soul itself emanated from her in an atmosphere of
allurement and acquiescence. Could those laughing lips hang in a
heavy pout? Could that delicate and mild voice be harsh? Could
those burning eyes be coldly inimical? Never! The idea was
inconceivable! And Mr. Gerald Scales, with his head over the top
of the boxes, yielded to the spell. Remarkable that Mr. Gerald
Scales, with all his experience, should have had to come to
Bursley to find the pearl, the paragon, the ideal! But so it was.
They met in an equal abandonment; the only difference between them
was that Mr. Scales, by force of habit, kept his head.

"I see it's your wakes here," said he.

He was polite to the wakes; but now, with the least inflection in
the world, he put the wakes at its proper level in the scheme of
things as a local unimportance! She adored him for this; she was
athirst for sympathy in the task of scorning everything local.

"I expect you didn't know," she said, implying that there was
every reason why a man of his mundane interests should not know.

"I should have remembered if I had thought," said he. "But I
didn't think. What's this about an elephant?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Have you heard of that?"

"My porter was full of it."

"Well," she said, "of course it's a very big thing in Bursley."

As she smiled in gentle pity of poor Bursley, he naturally did the
same. And he thought how much more advanced and broad the younger
generation was than the old! He would never have dared to express
his real feelings about Bursley to Mrs. Baines, or even to Mr.
Povey (who was, however, of no generation); yet here was a young
woman actually sharing them.

She told him all the history of the elephant.

"Must have been very exciting," he commented, despite himself.

"Do you know," she replied, "it WAS."

After all, Bursley was climbing in their opinion.

"And mother and my sister and Mr. Povey have all gone to see it.
That's why they're not here."

That the elephant should have caused both Mr. Povey and Mrs.
Baines to forget that the representative of Birkinshaws was due to
call was indeed a final victory for the elephant.

"But not you!" he exclaimed.

"No," she said. "Not me."

"Why didn't you go too?" He continued his flattering
investigations with a generous smile.

"I simply didn't care to," said she, proudly nonchalant.

"And I suppose you are in charge here?"

"No," she answered. "I just happened to have run down here for
these scissors. That's all."

"I often see your sister," said he. "'Often' do I say?--that is,
generally, when I come; but never you."

"I'm never in the shop," she said. "It's just an accident to-day."

"Oh! So you leave the shop to your sister?"

"Yes." She said nothing of her teaching.

Then there was a silence. Sophia was very thankful to be hidden
from the curiosity of the shop. The shop could see nothing of her,
and only the back of the young man; and the conversation had been
conducted in low voices. She tapped her foot, stared at the worn,
polished surface of the counter, with the brass yard-measure
nailed along its edge, and then she uneasily turned her gaze to
the left and seemed to be examining the backs of the black bonnets
which were perched on high stands in the great window. Then her
eyes caught his for an important moment.

"Yes," she breathed. Somebody had to say something. If the shop
missed the murmur of their voices the shop would wonder what had
happened to them.

Mr. Scales looked at his watch. '"I dare say if I come in again
about two--" he began.

"Oh yes, they're SURE to be in then," she burst out before he
could finish his sentence.

He left abruptly, queerly, without shaking hands (but then it
would have been difficult--she argued--for him to have put his arm
over the boxes), and without expressing the hope of seeing her
again. She peeped through the black bonnets, and saw the porter
put the leather strap over his shoulders, raise the rear of the
barrow, and trundle off; but she did not see Mr. Scales. She was
drunk; thoughts were tumbling about in her brain like cargo loose
in a rolling ship. Her entire conception of herself was being
altered; her attitude towards life was being altered. The thought
which knocked hardest against its fellows was, "Only in these
moments have I begun to live!"

And as she flitted upstairs to resume watch over her father she
sought to devise an innocent-looking method by which she might see
Mr. Scales when he next called. And she speculated as to what his
name was.

III

When Sophia arrived in the bedroom, she was startled because her
father's head and beard were not in their accustomed place on the
pillow. She could only make out something vaguely unusual sloping
off the side of the bed. A few seconds passed--not to be measured
in time--and she saw that the upper part of his body had slipped
down, and his head was hanging, inverted, near the floor between
the bed and the ottoman. His face, neck, and hands were dark and
congested; his mouth was open, and the tongue protruded between
the black, swollen, mucous lips; his eyes were prominent and
coldly staring. The fact was that Mr. Baines had wakened up, and,
being restless, had slid out partially from his bed and died of
asphyxia. After having been unceasingly watched for fourteen
years, he had, with an invalid's natural perverseness, taken
advantage of Sophia's brief dereliction to expire. Say what you
will, amid Sophia's horror, and her terrible grief and shame, she
had visitings of the idea: he did it on purpose!

She ran out of the room, knowing by intuition that he was dead,
and shrieked out, "Maggie," at the top of her voice; the house
echoed.

"Yes, miss," said Maggie, quite close, coming out of Mr. Povey's
chamber with a slop-pail.

"Fetch Mr. Critchlow at once. Be quick. Just as you are. It's
father--"

Maggie, perceiving darkly that disaster was in the air, and
instantly filled with importance and a sort of black joy, dropped
her pail in the exact middle of the passage, and almost fell down
the crooked stairs. One of Maggie's deepest instincts, always held
in check by the stern dominance of Mrs. Baines, was to leave pails
prominent on the main routes of the house; and now, divining what
was at hand, it flamed into insurrection.

No sleepless night had ever been so long to Sophia as the three
minutes which elapsed before Mr. Critchlow came. As she stood on
the mat outside the bedroom door she tried to draw her mother and
Constance and Mr. Povey by magnetic force out of the wakes into
the house, and her muscles were contracted in this strange effort.
She felt that it was impossible to continue living if the secret
of the bedroom remained unknown one instant longer, so intense was
her torture, and yet that the torture which could not be borne
must be borne. Not a sound in the house! Not a sound from the
shop! Only the distant murmur of the wakes!

"Why did I forget father?" she asked herself with awe. "I only
meant to tell him that they were all out, and run back. Why did I
forget father?" She would never be able to persuade anybody that
she had literally forgotten her father's existence for quite ten
minutes; but it was true, though shocking.

Then there were noises downstairs.

"Bless us! Bless us!" came the unpleasant voice of Mr. Critchlow
as he bounded up the stairs on his long legs; he strode over the
pail. "What's amiss?" He was wearing his white apron, and he
carried his spectacles in his bony hand.

"It's father--he's--" Sophia faltered.

She stood away so that he should enter the room first. He glanced
at her keenly, and as it were resentfully, and went in. She
followed, timidly, remaining near the door while Mr. Critchlow
inspected her handiwork. He put on his spectacles with strange
deliberation, and then, bending his knees outwards, thus lowered
his body so that he could examine John Baines point-blank. He
remained staring like this, his hands on his sharp apron-covered
knees, for a little space; and then he seized the inert mass and
restored it to the bed, and wiped those clotted lips with his
apron.

Sophia heard loud breathing behind her. It was Maggie. She heard a
huge, snorting sob; Maggie was showing her emotion.

"Go fetch doctor!" Mr. Critchlow rasped. "And don't stand gaping
there!"

"Run for the doctor, Maggie," said Sophia.

"How came ye to let him fall?" Mr. Critchlow demanded.

"I was out of the room. I just ran down into the shop--"

"Gallivanting with that young Scales!" said Mr. Critchlow, with
devilish ferocity. "Well, you've killed yer father; that's all!"

He must have been at his shop door and seen the entry of the
traveller! And it was precisely characteristic of Mr. Critchlow to
jump in the dark at a horrible conclusion, and to be right after
all. For Sophia Mr. Critchlow had always been the personification
of malignity and malevolence, and now these qualities in him made
him, to her, almost obscene. Her pride brought up tremendous
reinforcements, and she approached the bed.

"Is he dead?" she asked in a quiet tone. (Somewhere within a voice
was whispering, "So his name is Scales.")

"Don't I tell you he's dead?"

"Pail on the stairs!"

This mild exclamation came from the passage. Mrs. Baines,
misliking the crowds abroad, had returned alone; she had left
Constance in charge of Mr. Povey. Coming into her house by the
shop and showroom, she had first noted the phenomenon of the pail
--proof of her theory of Maggie's incurable untidiness.

"Been to see the elephant, I reckon!" said Mr. Critchlow, in
fierce sarcasm, as he recognized Mrs. Baines's voice.

Sophia leaped towards the door, as though to bar her mother's
entrance. But Mrs. Baines was already opening the door.

"Well, my pet--" she was beginning cheerfully.

Mr. Critchlow confronted her. And he had no more pity for the wife
than for the daughter. He was furiously angry because his precious
property had been irretrievably damaged by the momentary
carelessness of a silly girl. Yes, John Baines was his property,
his dearest toy! He was convinced that he alone had kept John
Baines alive for fourteen years, that he alone had fully
understood the case and sympathized with the sufferer, that none
but he had been capable of displaying ordinary common sense in the
sick-room. He had learned to regard John Baines as, in some sort,
his creation. And now, with their stupidity, their neglect, their
elephants, between them they had done for John Baines. He had
always known it would come to that, and it had come to that.

"She let him fall out o' bed, and ye're a widow now, missis!" he
announced with a virulence hardly conceivable. His angular
features and dark eyes expressed a murderous hate for every woman
named Baines.

"Mother!" cried Sophia, "I only ran down into the shop to--to--"

She seized her mother's arm in frenzied agony.

"My child!" said Mrs. Baines, rising miraculously to the situation
with a calm benevolence of tone and gesture that remained for ever
sublime in the stormy heart of Sophia, "do not hold me." With
infinite gentleness she loosed herself from those clasping hands.
"Have you sent for the doctor?" she questioned Mr. Critchlow.

The fate of her husband presented no mysteries to Mrs. Baines.
Everybody had been warned a thousand times of the danger of
leaving the paralytic, whose life depended on his position, and
whose fidgetiness was thereby a constant menace of death to him.
For five thousand nights she had wakened infallibly every time he
stirred, and rearranged him by the flicker of a little oil lamp.
But Sophia, unhappy creature, had merely left him. That was all.

Mr. Critchlow and the widow gazed, helplessly waiting, at the
pitiable corpse, of which the salient part was the white beard.
They knew not that they were gazing at a vanished era. John Baines
had belonged to the past, to the age when men really did think of
their souls, when orators by phrases could move crowds to fury or
to pity, when no one had learnt to hurry, when Demos was only
turning in his sleep, when the sole beauty of life resided in its
inflexible and slow dignity, when hell really had no bottom, and a
gilt-clasped Bible really was the secret of England's greatness.
Mid-Victorian England lay on that mahogany bed. Ideals had passed
away with John Baines. It is thus that ideals die; not in the
conventional pageantry of honoured death, but sorrily, ignobly,
while one's head is turned--

And Mr. Povey and Constance, very self-conscious, went and saw the
dead elephant, and came back; and at the corner of King Street,
Constance exclaimed brightly--

"Why! who's gone out and left the side-door open?"

For the doctor had at length arrived, and Maggie, in showing him
upstairs with pious haste, had forgotten to shut the door.

And they took advantage of the side-door, rather guiltily, to
avoid the eyes of the shop. They feared that in the parlour they
would be the centre of a curiosity half ironical and half
reproving; for had they not accomplished an escapade? So they
walked slowly.

The real murderer was having his dinner in the commercial room up
at the Tiger, opposite the Town Hall.

IV

Several shutters were put up in the windows of the shop, to
indicate a death, and the news instantly became known in trading
circles throughout the town. Many people simultaneously remarked
upon the coincidence that Mr. Baines should have died while there
was a show of mourning goods in his establishment. This
coincidence was regarded as extremely sinister, and it was
apparently felt that, for the sake of the mind's peace, one ought
not to inquire into such things too closely. From the moment of
putting up the prescribed shutters, John Baines and his funeral
began to acquire importance in Bursley, and their importance grew
rapidly almost from hour to hour. The wakes continued as usual,
except that the Chief Constable, upon representations being made
to him by Mr. Critchlow and other citizens, descended upon St.
Luke's Square and forbade the activities of Wombwell's orchestra.
Wombwell and the Chief Constable differed as to the justice of the
decree, but every well-minded person praised the Chief Constable,
and he himself considered that he had enhanced the town's
reputation for a decent propriety. It was noticed, too, not
without a shiver of the uncanny, that that night the lions and
tigers behaved like lambs, whereas on the previous night they had
roared the whole Square out of its sleep.

The Chief Constable was not the only individual enlisted by Mr.
Critchlow in the service of his friend's fame. Mr. Critchlow spent
hours in recalling the principal citizens to a due sense of John
Baines's past greatness. He was determined that his treasured toy
should vanish underground with due pomp, and he left nothing
undone to that end. He went over to Hanbridge on the still
wonderful horse-car, and saw the editor-proprietor of the
Staffordshire Signal (then a two-penny weekly with no thought of
Football editions), and on the very day of the funeral the Signal
came out with a long and eloquent biography of John Baines. This
biography, giving details of his public life, definitely restored
him to his legitimate position in the civic memory as an ex-chief
bailiff, an ex-chairman of the Burial Board, and of the Five Towns
Association for the Advancement of Useful Knowledge, and also as a
"prime mover" in the local Turnpike Act, in the negotiations for
the new Town Hall, and in the Corinthian facade of the Wesleyan
Chapel; it narrated the anecdote of his courageous speech from the
portico of the Shambles during the riots of 1848, and it did not
omit a eulogy of his steady adherence to the wise old English
maxims of commerce and his avoidance of dangerous modern methods.
Even in the sixties the modern had reared its shameless head. The
panegyric closed with an appreciation of the dead man's fortitude
in the terrible affliction with which a divine providence had seen
fit to try him; and finally the Signal uttered its absolute
conviction that his native town would raise a cenotaph to his
honour. Mr. Critchlow, being unfamiliar with the word "cenotaph,"
consulted Worcester's Dictionary, and when he found that it meant
"a sepulchral monument to one who is buried elsewhere," he was as
pleased with the Signal's language as with the idea, and decided
that a cenotaph should come to pass.

The house and shop were transformed into a hive of preparation for
the funeral. All was changed. Mr. Povey kindly slept for three
nights on the parlour sofa, in order that Mrs. Baines might have
his room. The funeral grew into an obsession, for multitudinous
things had to be performed and done sumptuously and in strict
accordance with precedent. There were the family mourning, the
funeral repast, the choice of the text on the memorial card, the
composition of the legend on the coffin, the legal arrangements,
the letters to relations, the selection of guests, and the
questions of bell-ringing, hearse, plumes, number of horses, and
grave-digging. Nobody had leisure for the indulgence of grief
except Aunt Maria, who, after she had helped in the laying-out,
simply sat down and bemoaned unceasingly for hours her absence on
the fatal morning. "If I hadn't been so fixed on polishing my
candle-sticks," she weepingly repeated, "he mit ha' been alive and
well now." Not that Aunt Maria had been informed of the precise
circumstances of the death; she was not clearly aware that Mr.
Baines had died through a piece of neglect. But, like Mr.
Critchlow, she was convinced that there had been only one person
in the world truly capable of nursing Mr. Baines. Beyond the
family, no one save Mr. Critchlow and Dr. Harrop knew just how the
martyr had finished his career. Dr. Harrop, having been asked
bluntly if an inquest would be necessary, had reflected a moment
and had then replied: "No." And he added, "Least said soonest
mended--mark me!" They had marked him. He was commonsense in
breeches.

As for Aunt Maria, she was sent about her snivelling business by
Aunt Harriet. The arrival in the house of this genuine aunt from
Axe, of this majestic and enormous widow whom even the imperial
Mrs. Baines regarded with a certain awe, set a seal of ultimate
solemnity on the whole event. In Mr. Povey's bedroom Mrs. Baines
fell like a child into Aunt Harriet's arms and sobbed:

"If it had been anything else but that elephant!"

Such was Mrs. Baines's sole weakness from first to last.

Aunt Harriet was an exhaustless fountain of authority upon every
detail concerning interments. And, to a series of questions ending
with the word "sister," and answers ending with the word "sister,"
the prodigious travail incident to the funeral was gradually and
successfully accomplished. Dress and the repast exceeded all other
matters in complexity and difficulty. But on the morning of the
funeral Aunt Harriet had the satisfaction of beholding her younger
sister the centre of a tremendous cocoon of crape, whose slightest
pleat was perfect. Aunt Harriet seemed to welcome her then, like a
veteran, formally into the august army of relicts. As they stood
side by side surveying the special table which was being laid in
the showroom for the repast, it appeared inconceivable that they
had reposed together in Mr. Povey's limited bed. They descended
from the showroom to the kitchen, where the last delicate dishes
were inspected. The shop was, of course, closed for the day, but
Mr. Povey was busy there, and in Aunt Harriet's all-seeing glance
he came next after the dishes. She rose from the kitchen to speak
with him.

"You've got your boxes of gloves all ready?" she questioned him.

"Yes, Mrs. Maddack."

"You'll not forget to have a measure handy?"

"No, Mrs. Maddack."

"You'll find you'll want more of seven-and-three-quarters and
eights than anything."

"Yes. I have allowed for that."

"If you place yourself behind the side-door and put your boxes on
the harmonium, you'll be able to catch every one as they come in."

"That is what I had thought of, Mrs. Maddack."

She went upstairs. Mrs. Baines had reached the showroom again, and
was smoothing out creases in the white damask cloth and arranging
glass dishes of jam at equal distances from each other.

"Come, sister," said Mrs. Maddack. "A last look."

And they passed into the mortuary bedroom to gaze at Mr. Baines
before he should be everlastingly nailed down. In death he had
recovered some of his earlier dignity; but even so he was a
startling sight. The two widows bent over him, one on either side,
and gravely stared at that twisted, worn white face all neatly
tucked up in linen.

"I shall fetch Constance and Sophia," said Mrs. Maddack, with
tears in her voice. "Do you go into the drawing-room, sister."

But Mrs. Maddack only succeeded in fetching Constance.

Then there was the sound of wheels in King Street. The long rite
of the funeral was about to begin. Every guest, after having been
measured and presented with a pair of the finest black kid gloves
by Mr. Povey, had to mount the crooked stairs and gaze upon the
carcase of John Baines, going afterwards to the drawing-room to
condole briefly with the widow. And every guest, while conscious
of the enormity of so thinking, thought what an excellent thing it
was that John Baines should be at last dead and gone. The tramping
on the stairs was continual, and finally Mr. Baines himself went
downstairs, bumping against corners, and led a cortege of twenty
vehicles.

The funeral tea was not over at seven o'clock, five hours after
the commencement of the rite. It was a gigantic and faultless
meal, worthy of John Baines's distant past. Only two persons were
absent from it--John Baines and Sophia. The emptiness of Sophia's
chair was much noticed; Mrs. Maddack explained that Sophia was
very high-strung and could not trust herself. Great efforts were
put forth by the company to be lugubrious and inconsolable, but
the secret relief resulting from the death would not be entirely
hidden. The vast pretence of acute sorrow could not stand intact
against that secret relief and the lavish richness of the food.

To the offending of sundry important relatives from a distance,
Mr. Critchlow informally presided over that assemblage of grave
men in high stocks and crinolined women. He had closed his shop,
which had never before been closed on a weekday, and he had a
great deal to say about this extraordinary closure. It was due as
much to the elephant as to the funeral. The elephant had become a
victim to the craze for souvenirs. Already in the night his tusks
had been stolen; then his feet disappeared for umbrella-stands,
and most of his flesh had departed in little hunks. Everybody in
Bursley had resolved to participate in the elephant. One
consequence was that all the chemists' shops in the town were
assaulted by strings of boys. 'Please a pennorth o' alum to tak'
smell out o' a bit o' elephant.' Mr. Critchlow hated boys.

"'I'll alum ye!' says I, and I did. I alummed him out o' my shop
with a pestle. If there'd been one there'd been twenty between
opening and nine o'clock. 'George,' I says to my apprentice, 'shut
shop up. My old friend John Baines is going to his long home to-
day, and I'll close. I've had enough o' alum for one day.'"

The elephant fed the conversation until after the second relay of
hot muffins. When Mr. Critchlow had eaten to his capacity, he took
the Signal importantly from his pocket, posed his spectacles, and
read the obituary all through in slow, impressive accents. Before
he reached the end Mrs. Baines began to perceive that familiarity
had blinded her to the heroic qualities of her late husband. The
fourteen years of ceaseless care were quite genuinely forgotten,
and she saw him in his strength and in his glory. When Mr.
Critchlow arrived at the eulogy of the husband and father, Mrs.
Baines rose and left the showroom. The guests looked at each other
in sympathy for her. Mr. Critchlow shot a glance at her over his
spectacles and continued steadily reading. After he had finished
he approached the question of the cenotaph.

Mrs. Baines, driven from the banquet by her feelings, went into
the drawing-room. Sophia was there, and Sophia, seeing tears in
her mother's eyes, gave a sob, and flung herself bodily against
her mother, clutching her, and hiding her face in that broad
crape, which abraded her soft skin.

"Mother," she wept passionately, "I want to leave the school now.
I want to please you. I'll do anything in the world to please you.
I'll go into the shop if you'd like me to!" Her voice lost itself
in tears.

"Calm yourself, my pet," said Mrs. Baines, tenderly, caressing
her. It was a triumph for the mother in the very hour when she
needed a triumph.




CHAPTER V

THE TRAVELLER

I


'Equisite, 1s. 11d.'

These singular signs were being painted in shiny black on an
unrectangular parallelogram of white cardboard by Constance one
evening in the parlour. She was seated, with her left side to the
fire and to the fizzing gas, at the dining-table, which was
covered with a checked cloth in red and white. Her dress was of
dark crimson; she wore a cameo brooch and a gold chain round her
neck; over her shoulders was thrown a white knitted shawl, for the
weather was extremely cold, the English climate being much more
serious and downright at that day than it is now. She bent low to
the task, holding her head slightly askew, putting the tip of her
tongue between her lips, and expending all the energy of her soul
and body in an intense effort to do what she was doing as well as
it could be done.

"Splendid!" said Mr. Povey.

Mr. Povey was fronting her at the table; he had his elbows on the
table, and watched her carefully, with the breathless and divine
anxiety of a dreamer who is witnessing the realization of his
dream. And Constance, without moving any part of her frame except
her head, looked up at him and smiled for a moment, and he could
see her delicious little nostrils at the end of her snub nose.

Those two, without knowing or guessing it, were making history--
the history of commerce. They had no suspicion that they were the
forces of the future insidiously at work to destroy what the
forces of the past had created, but such was the case. They were
conscious merely of a desire to do their duty in the shop and to
the shop; probably it had not even occurred to them that this
desire, which each stimulated in the breast of the other, had
assumed the dimensions of a passion. It was ageing Mr. Povey, and
it had made of Constance a young lady tremendously industrious and
preoccupied.

Mr. Povey had recently been giving attention to the question of
tickets. It is not too much to say that Mr. Povey, to whom heaven
had granted a minimum share of imagination, had nevertheless
discovered his little parcel of imagination in the recesses of
being, and brought it effectively to bear on tickets. Tickets ran
in conventional grooves. There were heavy oblong tickets for
flannels, shirting, and other stuffs in the piece; there were
smaller and lighter tickets for intermediate goods; and there were
diamond-shaped tickets (containing nothing but the price) for
bonnets, gloves, and flimflams generally. The legends on the
tickets gave no sort of original invention. The words 'lasting,'
'durable,' 'unshrinkable,' 'latest,' 'cheap,' 'stylish,'
'novelty,' 'choice' (as an adjective), 'new,' and 'tasteful,'
exhausted the entire vocabulary of tickets. Now Mr. Povey attached
importance to tickets, and since he was acknowledged to be the
best window-dresser in Bursley, his views were entitled to
respect. He dreamed of other tickets, in original shapes, with
original legends. In brief, he achieved, in regard to tickets, the
rare feat of ridding himself of preconceived notions, and of
approaching a subject with fresh, virginal eyes. When he indicated
the nature of his wishes to Mr. Chawner, the wholesale stationer
who supplied all the Five Towns with shop-tickets, Mr. Chawner
grew uneasy and worried; Mr. Chawner was indeed shocked. For Mr.
Chawner there had always been certain well-defined genera of
tickets, and he could not conceive the existence of other genera.
When Mr. Povey suggested circular tickets--tickets with a blue and
a red line round them, tickets with legends such as
'unsurpassable,' 'very dainty,' or 'please note,' Mr. Chawner
hummed and hawed, and finally stated that it would be impossible
to manufacture these preposterous tickets, these tickets which
would outrage the decency of trade.

If Mr. Povey had not happened to be an exceedingly obstinate man,
he might have been defeated by the crass Toryism of Mr. Chawner.
But Mr. Povey was obstinate, and he had resources of ingenuity
which Mr. Chawner little suspected. The great, tramping march of
progress was not to be impeded by Mr. Chawner. Mr. Povey began to
make his own tickets. At first he suffered as all reformers and
inventors suffer. He used the internal surface of collar-boxes and
ordinary ink and pens, and the result was such as to give
customers the idea that Baineses were too poor or too mean to buy
tickets like other shops. For bought tickets had an ivory-tinted
gloss, and the ink was black and glossy, and the edges were very
straight and did not show yellow between two layers of white.
Whereas Mr. Povey's tickets were of a bluish-white, without gloss;
the ink was neither black nor shiny, and the edges were
amateurishly rough: the tickets had an unmistakable air of having
been 'made out of something else'; moreover, the lettering had not
the free, dashing style of Mr. Chawner's tickets.

And did Mrs. Baines encourage him in his single-minded enterprise
on behalf of HER business? Not a bit! Mrs. Baines's attitude, when
not disdainful, was inimical! So curious is human nature, so blind
is man to his own advantage! Life was very complex for Mr. Povey.
It might have been less complex had Bristol board and Chinese ink
been less expensive; with these materials he could have achieved
marvels to silence all prejudice and stupidity; but they were too
costly. Still, he persevered, and Constance morally supported him;
he drew his inspiration and his courage from Constance. Instead of
the internal surface of collar-boxes, he tried the external
surface, which was at any rate shiny. But the ink would not 'take'
on it. He made as many experiments as Edison was to make, and as
many failures. Then Constance was visited by a notion for mixing
sugar with ink. Simple, innocent creature--why should providence
have chosen her to be the vessel of such a sublime notion?
Puzzling enigma, which, however, did not exercise Mr. Povey! He
found it quite natural that she should save him. Save him she did.
Sugar and ink would 'take' on anything, and it shone like a
'patent leather' boot. Further, Constance developed a 'hand' for
lettering which outdid Mr. Povey's. Between them they manufactured
tickets by the dozen and by the score--tickets which, while
possessing nearly all the smartness and finish of Mr. Chawner's
tickets, were much superior to these in originality and
strikingness. Constance and Mr. Povey were delighted and
fascinated by them. As for Mrs. Baines, she said little, but the
modern spirit was too elated by its success to care whether she
said little or much. And every few days Mr. Povey thought of some
new and wonderful word to put on a ticket.

His last miracle was the word 'exquisite.' 'Exquisite,' pinned on
a piece of broad tartan ribbon, appeared to Constance and Mr.
Povey as the finality of appropriateness. A climax worthy to close
the year! Mr. Povey had cut the card and sketched the word and
figures in pencil, and Constance was doing her executive portion
of the undertaking. They were very happy, very absorbed, in this
strictly business matter. The clock showed five minutes past ten.
Stern duty, a pure desire for the prosperity of the shop, had kept
them at hard labour since before eight o'clock that morning!

The stairs-door opened, and Mrs. Baines appeared, in bonnet and
furs and gloves, all clad for going out. She had abandoned the
cocoon of crape, but still wore weeds. She was stouter than ever.

"What!" she cried. "Not ready! Now really!"

"Oh, mother! How you made me jump!" Constance protested. "What
time is it? It surely isn't time to go yet!"

"Look at the clock!" said Mrs. Baines, drily.

"Well, I never!" Constance murmured, confused.

"Come, put your things together, and don't keep me waiting," said
Mrs. Baines, going past the table to the window, and lifting the
blind to peep out. "Still snowing," she observed. "Oh, the band's
going away at last! I wonder how they can play at all in this
weather. By the way, what was that tune they gave us just now? I
couldn't make out whether it was 'Redhead,' or--"

"Band?" questioned Constance--the simpleton!

Neither she nor Mr. Povey had heard the strains of the Bursley
Town Silver Prize Band which had been enlivening the season
according to its usual custom. These two practical, duteous,
commonsense young and youngish persons had been so absorbed in
their efforts for the welfare of the shop that they had positively
not only forgotten the time, but had also failed to notice the
band! But if Constance had had her wits about her she would at
least have pretended that she had heard it.

"What's this?" asked Mrs. Baines, bringing her vast form to the
table and picking up a ticket.

Mr. Povey said nothing. Constance said: "Mr. Povey thought of it
to-day. Don't you think it's very good, mother?"

"I'm afraid I don't," Mrs. Baines coldly replied.

She had mildly objected already to certain words; but 'exquisite'
seemed to her silly; it seemed out of place; she considered that
it would merely bring ridicule on her shop. 'Exquisite' written
upon a window-ticket! No! What would John Baines have thought of
'exquisite'?

"'Exquisite!'" She repeated the word with a sarcastic inflection,
putting the accent, as every one put it, on the second syllable.
"I don't think that will quite do."

"But why not, mother?"

"It's not suitable, my dear."

She dropped the ticket from her gloved hand. Mr. Povey had darkly
flashed. Though he spoke little, he was as sensitive as he was
obstinate. On this occasion he said nothing. He expressed his
feelings by seizing the ticket and throwing it into the fire.

The situation was extremely delicate. Priceless employes like Mr.
Povey cannot be treated as machines, and Mrs. Baines of course
instantly saw that tact was needed.

"Go along to my bedroom and get ready, my pet," said she to
Constance. "Sophia is there. There's a good fire. I must just
speak to Maggie." She tactfully left the room.

Mr. Povey glanced at the fire and the curling red remains of the
ticket. Trade was bad; owing to weather and war, destitution was
abroad; and he had been doing his utmost for the welfare of the
shop; and here was the reward!

Constance's eyes were full of tears. "Never mind!" she murmured,
and went upstairs.

It was all over in a moment.

II

In the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Duck Bank there was a full and
influential congregation. For in those days influential people
were not merely content to live in the town where their fathers
had lived, without dreaming of country residences and smokeless
air--they were content also to believe what their fathers had
believed about the beginning and the end of all. There was no such
thing as the unknowable in those days. The eternal mysteries were
as simple as an addition sum; a child could tell you with absolute
certainty where you would be and what you would be doing a million
years hence, and exactly what God thought of you. Accordingly,
every one being of the same mind, every one met on certain
occasions in certain places in order to express the universal
mind. And in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, for example, instead
of a sparse handful of persons disturbingly conscious of being in
a minority, as now, a magnificent and proud majority had
collected, deeply aware of its rightness and its correctness.

And the minister, backed by minor ministers, knelt and covered his
face in the superb mahogany rostrum; and behind him, in what was
then still called the 'orchestra' (though no musical instruments
except the grand organ had sounded in it for decades), the choir
knelt and covered their faces; and all around in the richly
painted gallery and on the ground-floor, multitudinous rows of
people, in easy circumstances of body and soul, knelt in high pews
and covered their faces. And there floated before them, in the
intense and prolonged silence, the clear vision of Jehovah on a
throne, a God of sixty or so with a moustache and a beard, and a
non-committal expression which declined to say whether or not he
would require more bloodshed; and this God, destitute of pinions,
was surrounded by white-winged creatures that wafted themselves to
and fro while chanting; and afar off was an obscene monstrosity,
with cloven hoofs and a tail very dangerous and rude and
interfering, who could exist comfortably in the middle of a coal-
fire, and who took a malignant and exhaustless pleasure in coaxing
you by false pretences into the same fire; but of course you had
too much sense to swallow his wicked absurdities. Once a year, for
ten minutes by the clock, you knelt thus, in mass, and by
meditation convinced yourself that you had too much sense to
swallow his wicked absurdities. And the hour was very solemn, the
most solemn of all the hours.

Strange that immortal souls should be found with the temerity to
reflect upon mundane affairs in that hour! Yet there were
undoubtedly such in the congregation; there were perhaps many to
whom the vision, if clear, was spasmodic and fleeting. And among
them the inhabitants of the Baines family pew! Who would have
supposed that Mr. Povey, a recent convert from Primitive Methodism
in King Street to Wesleyan Methodism on Duck Bank, was dwelling
upon window-tickets and the injustice of women, instead of upon
his relations with Jehovah and the tailed one? Who would have
supposed that the gentle-eyed Constance, pattern of daughters, was
risking her eternal welfare by smiling at the tailed one, who,
concealing his tail, had assumed the image of Mr. Povey? Who would
have supposed that Mrs. Baines, instead of resolving that Jehovah
and not the tailed one should have ultimate rule over her, was
resolving that she and not Mr. Povey should have ultimate rule
over her house and shop? It was a pew-ful that belied its highly
satisfactory appearance. (And possibly there were other pew-fuls
equally deceptive.)

Sophia alone, in the corner next to the wall, with her beautiful
stern face pressed convulsively against her hands, was truly busy
with immortal things. Turbulent heart, the violence of her
spiritual life had made her older! Never was a passionate, proud
girl in a harder case than Sophia! In the splendour of her remorse
for a fatal forgetfulness, she had renounced that which she loved
and thrown herself into that which she loathed. It was her nature
so to do. She had done it haughtily, and not with kindness, but
she had done it with the whole force of her will. Constance had
been compelled to yield up to her the millinery department, for
Sophia's fingers had a gift of manipulating ribbons and feathers
that was beyond Constance. Sophia had accomplished miracles in the
millinery. Yes, and she would be utterly polite to customers; but
afterwards, when the customers were gone, let mothers, sisters,
and Mr. Poveys beware of her fiery darts!

But why, when nearly three months had elapsed after her father's
death, had she spent more and more time in the shop, secretly
aflame with expectancy? Why, when one day a strange traveller
entered the shop and announced himself the new representative of
Birkinshaws--why had her very soul died away within her and an
awful sickness seized her? She knew then that she had been her own
deceiver. She recognized and admitted, abasing herself lower than
the lowest, that her motive in leaving Miss Chetwynd's and joining
the shop had been, at the best, very mixed, very impure. Engaged
at Miss Chetwynd's, she might easily have never set eyes on Gerald
Scales again. Employed in the shop, she could not fail to meet
him. In this light was to be seen the true complexion of the
splendour of her remorse. A terrible thought for her! And she
could not dismiss it. It contaminated her existence, this thought!
And she could confide in no one. She was incapable of showing a
wound. Quarter had succeeded quarter, and Gerald Scales was no
more heard of. She had sacrificed her life for worse than nothing.
She had made her own tragedy. She had killed her father, cheated
and shamed herself with a remorse horribly spurious, exchanged
content for misery and pride for humiliation--and with it all,
Gerald Scales had vanished! She was ruined.

She took to religion, and her conscientious Christian virtues,
practised with stern inclemency, were the canker of the family.
Thus a year and a half had passed.

And then, on this last day of the year, the second year of her
shame and of her heart's widowhood, Mr. Scales had reappeared. She
had gone casually into the shop and found him talking to her
mother and Mr. Povey. He had come back to the provincial round and
to her. She shook his hand and fled, because she could not have
stayed. None had noticed her agitation, for she had held her body
as in a vice. She knew the reason neither of his absence nor of
his return. She knew nothing. And not a word had been said at
meals. And the day had gone and the night come; and now she was in
chapel, with Constance by her side and Gerald Scales in her soul!
Happy beyond previous conception of happiness! Wretched beyond an
unutterable woe! And none knew! What was she to pray for? To what
purpose and end ought she to steel herself? Ought she to hope, or
ought she to despair? "O God, help me!" she kept whispering to
Jehovah whenever the heavenly vision shone through the wrack of
her meditation. "O God, help me!" She had a conscience that, when
it was in the mood for severity, could be unspeakably cruel to
her.

And whenever she looked, with dry, hot eyes, through her gloved
fingers, she saw in front of her on the wall a marble tablet
inscribed in gilt letters, the cenotaph! She knew all the lines by
heart, in their spacious grandiloquence; lines such as:

EVER READY WITH HIS TONGUE HIS PEN AND HIS PURSE TO HELP THE
CHURCH OF HIS FATHERS IN HER HE LIVED AND IN HER HE DIED
CHERISHING A DEEP AND ARDENT AFFECTION FOR HIS BELOVED FAITH AND
CREED.

And again:

HIS SYMPATHIES EXTENDED BEYOND HIS OWN COMMUNITY HE WAS ALWAYS TO
THE FORE IN GOOD WORKS AND HE SERVED THE CIRCUIT THE TOWN AND THE
DISTRICT WITH GREAT ACCEPTANCE AND USEFULNESS.

Thus had Mr. Critchlow's vanity been duly appeased.

As the minutes sped in the breathing silence of the chapel the
emotional tension grew tighter; worshippers sighed heavily, or
called upon Jehovah for a sign, or merely coughed an invocation.
And then at last the clock in the middle of the balcony gave forth
the single stroke to which it was limited; the ministers rose, and
the congregation after them; and everybody smiled as though it was
the millennium, and not simply the new year, that had set in.
Then, faintly, through walls and shut windows, came the sound of
bells and of steam syrens and whistles. The superintendent
minister opened his hymn-book, and the hymn was sung which had
been sung in Wesleyan Chapels on New Year's morn since the era of
John Wesley himself. The organ finished with a clanguor of all its
pipes; the minister had a few last words with Jehovah, and nothing
was left to do except to persevere in well-doing. The people
leaned towards each other across the high backs of the pews.

"A happy New Year!"

"Eh, thank ye! The same to you!"

"Another Watch Night service over!"

"Eh, yes!" And a sigh.

Then the aisles were suddenly crowded, and there was a good-
humoured, optimistic pushing towards the door. In the Corinthian
porch occurred a great putting-on of cloaks, ulsters, goloshes,
and even pattens, and a great putting-up of umbrellas. And the
congregation went out into the whirling snow, dividing into
several black, silent-footed processions, down Trafalgar Road, up
towards the playground, along the market-place, and across Duck
Square in the direction of St. Luke's Square.

Mr. Povey was between Mrs. Baines and Constance.

"You must take my arm, my pet," said Mrs. Baines to Sophia.

Then Mr. Povey and Constance waded on in front through the drifts.
Sophia balanced that enormous swaying mass, her mother. Owing to
their hoops, she had much difficulty in keeping close to her. Mrs.
Baines laughed with the complacent ease of obesity, yet a fall
would have been almost irremediable for her; and so Sophia had to
laugh too. But, though she laughed, God had not helped her. She
did not know where she was going, nor what might happen to her
next.

"Why, bless us!" exclaimed Mrs. Baines, as they turned the corner
into King Street. "There's some one sitting on our door-step!"

There was: a figure swathed in an ulster, a maud over the ulster,
and a high hat on the top of all. It could not have been there
very long, because it was only speckled with snow. Mr. Povey
plunged forward.

"It's Mr. Scales, of all people!" said Mr. Povey.

"Mr. Scales!" cried Mrs. Baines.

And, "Mr. Scales!" murmured Sophia, terribly afraid.

Perhaps she was afraid of miracles. Mr. Scales sitting on her
mother's doorstep in the middle of the snowy night had assuredly
the air of a miracle, of something dreamed in a dream, of
something pathetically and impossibly appropriate--'pat,' as they
say in the Five Towns. But he was a tangible fact there. And years
afterwards, in the light of further knowledge of Mr. Scales,
Sophia came to regard his being on the doorstep as the most
natural and characteristic thing in the world. Real miracles never
seem to be miracles, and that which at the first blush resembles
one usually proves to be an instance of the extremely prosaic.

III

"Is that you, Mrs. Baines?" asked Gerald Scales, in a half-witted
voice, looking up, and then getting to his feet. "Is this your
house? So it is! Well, I'd no idea I was sitting on your
doorstep."

He smiled timidly, nay, sheepishly, while the women and Mr. Povey
surrounded him with their astonished faces under the light of the
gas-lamp. Certainly he was very pale.

"But whatever is the matter, Mr. Scales?" Mrs. Baines demanded in
an anxious tone. "Are you ill? Have you been suddenly--"

"Oh no," said the young man lightly. "It's nothing. Only I was set
on just now, down there,"--he pointed to the depths of King
Street.

"Set on!" Mrs. Baines repeated, alarmed.

"That makes the fourth case in a week, that we KNOW of!" said Mr.
Povey. "It really is becoming a scandal."

The fact was that, owing to depression of trade, lack of
employment, and rigorous weather, public security in the Five
Towns was at that period not as perfect as it ought to have been.
In the stress of hunger the lower classes were forgetting their
manners--and this in spite of the altruistic and noble efforts of
their social superiors to relieve the destitution due, of course,
to short-sighted improvidence. When (the social superiors were
asking in despair) will the lower classes learn to put by for a
rainy day? (They might have said a snowy and a frosty day.) It was
'really too bad' of the lower classes, when everything that could
be done was being done for them, to kill, or even attempt to kill,
the goose that lays the golden eggs! And especially in a
respectable town! What, indeed, were things coming to? Well, here
was Mr. Gerald Scales, gentleman from Manchester, a witness and
victim to the deplorable moral condition of the Five Towns. What
would he think of the Five Towns? The evil and the danger had been
a topic of discussion in the shop for a week past, and now it was
brought home to them.

"I hope you weren't--" said Mrs. Baines, apologetically and
sympathetically.

"Oh no!" Mr. Scales interrupted her quite gaily. "I managed to
beat them off. Only my elbow--"

Meanwhile it was continuing to snow.

"Do come in!" said Mrs. Baines.

"I couldn't think of troubling you," said Mr. Scales. "I'm all
right now, and I can find my way to the Tiger."

"You must come in, if it's only for a minute," said Mrs. Baines,
with decision. She had to think of the honour of the town.

"You're very kind," said Mr. Scales.

The door was suddenly opened from within, and Maggie surveyed them
from the height of the two steps.

"A happy New Year, mum, to all of you."

"Thank you, Maggie," said Mrs. Baines, and primly added:

"The same to you!" And in her own mind she said that Maggie could
best prove her desire for a happy new year by contriving in future
not to 'scamp her corners,' and not to break so much crockery.

Sophia, scarce knowing what she did, mounted the steps.

"Mr. Scales ought to let our New Year in, my pet," Mrs. Baines
stopped her.

"Oh, of course, mother!" Sophia concurred with, a gasp, springing
back nervously.

Mr. Scales raised his hat, and duly let the new year, and much
snow, into the Baines parlour. And there was a vast deal of
stamping of feet, agitating of umbrellas, and shaking of cloaks
and ulsters on the doormat in the corner by the harmonium. And
Maggie took away an armful of everything snowy, including
goloshes, and received instructions to boil milk and to bring
'mince.' Mr. Povey said "B-r-r-r!" and shut the door (which was
bordered with felt to stop ventilation); Mrs. Baines turned up the
gas till it sang, and told Sophia to poke the fire, and actually
told Constance to light the second gas.

Excitement prevailed.

The placidity of existence had been agreeably disturbed (yes,
agreeably, in spite of horror at the attack on Mr. Scales's elbow)
by an adventure. Moreover, Mr. Scales proved to be in evening-
dress. And nobody had ever worn evening-dress in that house
before.

Sophia's blood was in her face, and it remained there, enhancing
the vivid richness of her beauty. She was dizzy with a strange and
disconcerting intoxication. She seemed to be in a world of
unrealities and incredibilities. Her ears heard with
indistinctness, and the edges of things and people had a prismatic
colouring. She was in a state of ecstatic, unreasonable,
inexplicable happiness. All her misery, doubts, despair, rancour,
churlishness, had disappeared. She was as softly gentle as
Constance. Her eyes were the eyes of a fawn, and her gestures
delicious in their modest and sensitive grace. Constance was
sitting on the sofa, and, after glancing about as if for shelter,
she sat down on the sofa by Constance's side. She tried not to
stare at Mr. Scales, but her gaze would not leave him. She was
sure that he was the most perfect man in the world. A shortish
man, perhaps, but a perfect. That such perfection could be was
almost past her belief. He excelled all her dreams of the ideal
man. His smile, his voice, his hand, his hair--never were such!
Why, when he spoke--it was positively music! When he smiled--it
was heaven! His smile, to Sophia, was one of those natural
phenomena which are so lovely that they make you want to shed
tears. There is no hyperbole in this description of Sophia's
sensations, but rather an under-statement of them. She was utterly
obsessed by the unique qualities of Mr. Scales. Nothing would have
persuaded her that the peer of Mr. Scales existed among men, or
could possibly exist. And it was her intense and profound
conviction of his complete pre-eminence that gave him, as he sat
there in the rocking-chair in her mother's parlour, that air of
the unreal and the incredible.

"I stayed in the town on purpose to go to a New Year's party at
Mr. Lawton's," Mr. Scales was saying.

"Ah! So you know Lawyer Lawton!" observed Mrs. Baines, impressed,
for Lawyer Lawton did not consort with tradespeople. He was jolly
with them, and he did their legal business for them, but he was
not of them. His friends came from afar.

"My people are old acquaintances of his," said Mr. Scales, sipping
the milk which Maggie had brought.

"Now, Mr. Scales, you must taste my mince. A happy month for every
tart you eat, you know," Mrs. Baines reminded him.

He bowed. "And it was as I was coming away from there that I got
into difficulties." He laughed.

Then he recounted the struggle, which had, however, been brief, as
the assailants lacked pluck. He had slipped and fallen on his
elbow on the kerb, and his elbow might have been broken, had not
the snow been so thick. No, it did not hurt him now; doubtless a
mere bruise. It was fortunate that the miscreants had not got the
better of him, for he had in his pocket-book a considerable sum of
money in notes--accounts paid! He had often thought what an
excellent thing it would be if commercials could travel with dogs,
particularly in winter. There was nothing like a dog.

"You are fond of dogs?" asked Mr. Povey, who had always had a
secret but impracticable ambition to keep a dog.

"Yes," said Mr. Scales, turning now to Mr. Povey.

"Keep one?" asked Mr. Povey, in a sporting tone.

"I have a fox-terrier bitch," said Mr. Scales, "that took a first
at Knutsford; but she's getting old now."

The sexual epithet fell queerly on the room. Mr. Povey, being a
man of the world, behaved as if nothing had happened; but Mrs.
Baines's curls protested against this unnecessary coarseness.
Constance pretended not to hear. Sophia did not understandingly
hear. Mr. Scales had no suspicion that he was transgressing a
convention by virtue of which dogs have no sex. Further, he had no
suspicion of the local fame of Mrs. Baines's mince-tarts. He had
already eaten more mince-tarts than he could enjoy, before
beginning upon hers, and Mrs. Baines missed the enthusiasm to
which she was habituated from consumers of her pastry.

Mr. Povey, fascinated, proceeded in the direction of dogs, and it
grew more and more evident that Mr. Scales, who went out to
parties in evening dress, instead of going in respectable broad-
cloth to watch-night services, who knew the great ones of the
land, and who kept dogs of an inconvenient sex, was neither an
ordinary commercial traveller nor the kind of man to which the
Square was accustomed. He came from a different world.

"Lawyer Lawton's party broke up early--at least I mean,
considering--" Mrs. Baines hesitated.

After a pause Mr. Scales replied, "Yes, I left immediately the
clock struck twelve. I've a heavy day to-morrow--I mean to-day."

It was not an hour for a prolonged visit, and in a few minutes Mr.
Scales was ready again to depart. He admitted a certain feebleness
('wankiness,' he playfully called it, being proud of his skill in
the dialect), and a burning in his elbow; but otherwise he was
quite well--thanks to Mrs. Baines's most kind hospitality ... He
really didn't know how he came to be sitting on her doorstep. Mrs.
Baines urged him, if he met a policeman on his road to the Tiger,
to furnish all particulars about the attempted highway robbery,
and he said he decidedly would.

He took his leave with distinguished courtliness.

"If I have a moment I shall run in to-morrow morning just to let
you know I'm all right," said he, in the white street.

"Oh, do!" said Constance. Constance's perfect innocence made her
strangely forward at times.

"A happy New Year and many of them!"

"Thanks! Same to you! Don't get lost."

"Straight up the Square and first on the right," called the
commonsense of Mr. Povey.

Nothing else remained to say, and the visitor disappeared silently
in the whirling snow. "Brrr!" murmured Mr. Povey, shutting the
door. Everybody felt: "What a funny ending of the old year!"

"Sophia, my pet," Mrs. Baines began.

But Sophia had vanished to bed.

"Tell her about her new night-dress," said Mrs. Baines to
Constance.

"Yes, mother."

"I don't know that I'm so set up with that young man, after all,"
Mrs. Baines reflected aloud.

"Oh, mother!" Constance protested. "I think he's just lovely."

"He never looks you straight in the face," said Mrs. Baines.

"Don't tell ME!" laughed Constance, kissing her mother good night.
"You're only on your high horse because he didn't praise your
mince. _I_ noticed it."

IV

"If anybody thinks I'm going to stand the cold in this showroom
any longer, they're mistaken," said Sophia the next morning
loudly, and in her mother's hearing. And she went down into the
shop carrying bonnets.

She pretended to be angry, but she was not. She felt, on the
contrary, extremely joyous, and charitable to all the world.
Usually she would take pains to keep out of the shop; usually she
was preoccupied and stern. Hence her presence on the ground-floor,
and her demeanour, excited interest among the three young lady
assistants who sat sewing round the stove in the middle of the
shop, sheltered by the great pile of shirtings and linseys that
fronted the entrance.

Sophia shared Constance's corner. They had hot bricks under their
feet, and fine-knitted wraps on their shoulders. They would have
been more comfortable near the stove, but greatness has its
penalties. The weather was exceptionally severe. The windows were
thickly frosted over, so that Mr. Povey's art in dressing them was
quite wasted. And--rare phenomenon!--the doors of the shop were
shut. In the ordinary way they were not merely open, but hidden by
a display of 'cheap lines.' Mr. Povey, after consulting Mrs.
Baines, had decided to close them, foregoing the customary
display. Mr. Povey had also, in order to get a little warmth into
his limbs, personally assisted two casual labourers to scrape the
thick frozen snow off the pavement; and he wore his kid mittens.
All these things together proved better than the evidence of
barometers how the weather nipped.

Mr. Scales came about ten o'clock. Instead of going to Mr. Povey's
counter, he walked boldly to Constance's corner, and looked over
the boxes, smiling and saluting. Both the girls candidly delighted
in his visit. Both blushed; both laughed--without knowing why they
laughed. Mr. Scales said he was just departing and had slipped in
for a moment to thank all of them for their kindness of last
night--'or rather this morning.' The girls laughed again at this
witticism. Nothing could have been more simple than his speech.
Yet it appeared to them magically attractive. A customer entered,
a lady; one of the assistants rose from the neighbourhood of the
stove, but the daughters of the house ignored the customer; it was
part of the etiquette of the shop that customers, at any rate
chance customers, should not exist for the daughters of the house,
until an assistant had formally drawn attention to them. Otherwise
every one who wanted a pennyworth of tape would be expecting to be
served by Miss Baines, or Miss Sophia, if Miss Sophia were there.
Which would have been ridiculous.

Sophia, glancing sidelong, saw the assistant parleying with the
customer; and then the assistant came softly behind the counter
and approached the corner.

"Miss Constance, can you spare a minute?" the assistant whispered
discreetly.

Constance extinguished her smile for Mr. Scales, and, turning
away, lighted an entirely different and inferior smile for the
customer.

"Good morning, Miss Baines. Very cold, isn't it?"

"Good morning, Mrs. Chatterley. Yes, it is. I suppose you're
getting anxious about those--" Constance stopped.

Sophia was now alone with Mr. Scales, for in order to discuss the
unnameable freely with Mrs. Chatterley her sister was edging up
the counter. Sophia had dreamed of a private conversation as
something delicious and impossible. But chance had favoured her.
She was alone with him. And his neat fair hair and his blue eyes
and his delicate mouth were as wonderful to her as ever. He was
gentlemanly to a degree that impressed her more than anything had
impressed her in her life. And all the proud and aristocratic
instinct that was at the base of her character sprang up and
seized on his gentlemanliness like a famished animal seizing on
food.

"The last time I saw you," said Mr. Scales, in a new tone, "you
said you were never in the shop."

"What? Yesterday? Did I?"

"No, I mean the last time I saw you alone," said he.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "It's just an accident."

"That's exactly what you said last time."

"Is it?"

Was it his manner, or what he said, that flattered her, that
intensified her beautiful vivacity?

"I suppose you don't often go out?" he went on.

"What? In this weather?"

"Any time."

"I go to chapel," said she, "and marketing with mother." There was
a little pause. "And to the Free Library."

"Oh yes. You've got a Free Library here now, haven't you?"

"Yes. We've had it over a year."

"And you belong to it? What do you read?"

"Oh, stories, you know. I get a fresh book out once a week."

"Saturdays, I suppose?"

"No," she said. "Wednesdays." And she smiled. "Usually."

"It's Wednesday to-day," said he. "Not been already?"

She shook her head. "I don't think I shall go to-day. It's too
cold. I don't think I shall venture out to-day."

"You must be very fond of reading," said he.

Then Mr. Povey appeared, rubbing his mittened hands. And Mrs.
Chatterley went.

"I'll run and fetch mother," said Constance.

Mrs. Baines was very polite to the young man. He related his
interview with the police, whose opinion was that he had been
attacked by stray members of a gang from Hanbridge. The young lady
assistants, with ears cocked, gathered the nature of Mr. Scales's
adventure, and were thrilled to the point of questioning Mr. Povey
about it after Mr. Scales had gone. His farewell was marked by
much handshaking, and finally Mr. Povey ran after him into the
Square to mention something about dogs.

At half-past one, while Mrs. Baines was dozing after dinner,
Sophia wrapped herself up, and with a book under her arm went
forth into the world, through the shop. She returned in less than
twenty minutes. But her mother had already awakened, and was
hovering about the back of the shop. Mothers have supernatural
gifts.

Sophia nonchalantly passed her and hurried into the parlour where
she threw down her muff and a book and knelt before the fire to
warm herself.

Mrs. Baines followed her. "Been to the Library?" questioned Mrs.
Baines.

"Yes, mother. And it's simply perishing."

"I wonder at your going on a day like to-day. I thought you always
went on Thursdays?"

"So I do. But I'd finished my book."

"What is this?" Mrs. Baines picked up the volume, which was
covered with black oil-cloth.

She picked it up with a hostile air. For her attitude towards the
Free Library was obscurely inimical. She never read anything
herself except The Sunday at Home, and Constance never read
anything except The Sunday at Home. There were scriptural
commentaries, Dugdale's Gazetteer, Culpepper's Herbal, and works
by Bunyan and Flavius Josephus in the drawing-room bookcase; also
Uncle Tom's Cabin. And Mrs. Baines, in considering the welfare of
her daughters, looked askance at the whole remainder of printed
literature. If the Free Library had not formed part of the Famous
Wedgwood Institution, which had been opened with immense eclat by
the semi-divine Gladstone; if the first book had not been
ceremoniously 'taken out' of the Free Library by the Chief Bailiff
in person--a grandfather of stainless renown--Mrs. Baines would
probably have risked her authority in forbidding the Free Library.

"You needn't be afraid," said Sophia, laughing. "It's Miss
Sewell's Experience of Life."

"A novel, I see," observed Mrs. Baines, dropping the book.

Gold and jewels would probably not tempt a Sophia of these days to
read Experience of Life; but to Sophia Baines the bland story had
the piquancy of the disapproved.

The next day Mrs. Baines summoned Sophia into her bedroom.

"Sophia," said she, trembling, "I shall be glad if you will not
walk about the streets with young men until you have my
permission."

The girl blushed violently. "I--I--"

"You were seen in Wedgwood Street," said Mrs. Baines.

"Who's been gossiping--Mr. Critchlow, I suppose?" Sophia exclaimed
scornfully.

"No one has been 'gossiping,'" said Mrs. Baines. "Well, if I meet
some one by accident in the street I can't help it, can I?"
Sophia's voice shook.

"You know what I mean, my child," said Mrs. Baines, with careful
calm.

Sophia dashed angrily from the room.

"I like the idea of him having 'a heavy day'!" Mrs. Baines
reflected ironically, recalling a phrase which had lodged in her
mind. And very vaguely, with an uneasiness scarcely perceptible,
she remembered that 'he,' and no other, had been in the shop on
the day her husband died.




CHAPTER VI

ESCAPADE

I


The uneasiness of Mrs. Baines flowed and ebbed, during the next
three months, influenced by Sophia's moods. There were days when
Sophia was the old Sophia--the forbidding, difficult, waspish, and
even hedgehog Sophia. But there were other days on which Sophia
seemed to be drawing joy and gaiety and goodwill from some secret
source, from some fount whose nature and origin none could divine.
It was on these days that the uneasiness of Mrs. Baines waxed. She
had the wildest suspicions; she was almost capable of accusing
Sophia of carrying on a clandestine correspondence; she saw Sophia
and Gerald Scales deeply and wickedly in love; she saw them with
their arms round each other's necks. ... And then she called
herself a middle-aged fool, to base such a structure of suspicion
on a brief encounter in the street and on an idea, a fancy, a
curious and irrational notion! Sophia had a certain streak of pure
nobility in that exceedingly heterogeneous thing, her character.
Moreover, Mrs. Baines watched the posts, and she also watched
Sophia--she was not the woman to trust to a streak of pure
nobility--and she came to be sure that Sophia's sinfulness, if
any, was not such as could be weighed in a balance, or collected
together by stealth and then suddenly placed before the girl on a
charger.

Still, she would have given much to see inside Sophia's lovely
head. Ah! Could she have done so, what sleep-destroying wonders
she would have witnessed! By what bright lamps burning in what
mysterious grottoes and caverns of the brain would her mature eyes
have been dazzled! Sophia was living for months on the exhaustless
ardent vitality absorbed during a magical two minutes in Wedgwood
Street. She was living chiefly on the flaming fire struck in her
soul by the shock of seeing Gerald Scales in the porch of the
Wedgwood Institution as she came out of the Free Library with
Experience Of Life tucked into her large astrakhan muff. He had
stayed to meet her, then: she knew it! "After all," her heart
said, "I must be very beautiful, for I have attracted the pearl of
men!" And she remembered her face in the glass. The value and the
power of beauty were tremendously proved to her. He, the great man
of the world, the handsome and elegant man with a thousand strange
friends and a thousand interests far remote from her, had remained
in Bursley on the mere chance of meeting her! She was proud, but
her pride was drowned in bliss. "I was just looking at this
inscription about Mr. Gladstone." "So you decided to come out as
usual!" "And may I ask what book you have chosen?" These were the
phrases she heard, and to which she responded with similar
phrases. And meanwhile a miracle of ecstasy had opened--opened
like a flower. She was walking along Wedgwood Street by his side,
slowly, on the scraped pavements, where marble bulbs of snow had
defied the spade and remained. She and he were exactly of the same
height, and she kept looking into his face and he into hers. This
was all the miracle. Except that she was not walking on the
pavement--she was walking on the intangible sward of paradise!
Except that the houses had receded and faded, and the passers-by
were subtilized into unnoticeable ghosts! Except that her mother
and Constance had become phantasmal beings existing at an immense
distance!

What had happened? Nothing! The most commonplace occurrence! The
eternal cause had picked up a commercial traveller (it might have
been a clerk or curate, but it in fact was a commercial
traveller), and endowed him with all the glorious, unique,
incredible attributes of a god, and planted him down before Sophia
in order to produce the eternal effect. A miracle performed
specially for Sophia's benefit! No one else in Wedgwood Street saw
the god walking along by her side. No one else saw anything but a
simple commercial traveller. Yes, the most commonplace occurrence!

Of course at the corner of the street he had to go. "Till next
time!" he murmured. And fire came out of his eyes and lighted in
Sophia's lovely head those lamps which Mrs. Baines was mercifully
spared from seeing. And he had shaken hands and raised his hat.
Imagine a god raising his hat! And he went off on two legs,
precisely like a dashing little commercial traveller.

And, escorted by the equivocal Angel of Eclipses, she had turned
into King Street, and arranged her face, and courageously met her
mother. Her mother had not at first perceived the unusual; for
mothers, despite their reputation to the contrary, really are the
blindest creatures. Sophia, the naive ninny, had actually supposed
that her walking along a hundred yards of pavement with a god by
her side was not going to excite remark! What a delusion! It is
true, certainly, that no one saw the god by direct vision. But
Sophia's cheeks, Sophia's eyes, the curve of Sophia's neck as her
soul yearned towards the soul of the god--these phenomena were
immeasurably more notable than Sophia guessed. An account of them,
in a modified form to respect Mrs. Baines's notorious dignity, had
healed the mother of her blindness and led to that characteristic
protest from her, "I shall be glad if you will not walk about the
streets with young men," etc.

When the period came for the reappearance of Mr. Scales, Mrs.
Baines outlined a plan, and when the circular announcing the exact
time of his arrival was dropped into the letter-box, she
formulated the plan in detail. In the first place, she was
determined to be indisposed and invisible herself, so that Mr.
Scales might be foiled in any possible design to renew social
relations in the parlour. In the second place, she flattered
Constance with a single hint--oh, the vaguest and briefest!--and
Constance understood that she was not to quit the shop on the
appointed morning. In the third place, she invented a way of
explaining to Mr. Povey that the approaching advent of Gerald
Scales must not be mentioned. And in the fourth place, she
deliberately made appointments for Sophia with two millinery
customers in the showroom, so that Sophia might be imprisoned in
the showroom.

Having thus left nothing to chance, she told herself that she was
a foolish woman full of nonsense. But this did not prevent her
from putting her lips together firmly and resolving that Mr.
Scales should have no finger in the pie of HER family. She had
acquired information concerning Mr. Scales, at secondhand, from
Lawyer Pratt. More than this, she posed the question in a broader
form--why should a young girl be permitted any interest in any
young man whatsoever? The everlasting purpose had made use of Mrs.
Baines and cast her off, and,, like most persons in a similar
situation, she was, unconsciously and quite honestly, at odds with
the everlasting purpose.

II

On the day of Mr. Scales's visit to the shop to obtain orders and
money on behalf of Birkinshaws, a singular success seemed to
attend the machinations of Mrs. Baines. With Mr. Scales
punctuality was not an inveterate habit, and he had rarely been
known, in the past, to fulfil exactly the prophecy of the letter
of advice concerning his arrival. But that morning his promptitude
was unexampled. He entered the shop, and by chance Mr. Povey was
arranging unshrinkable flannels in the doorway. The two youngish
little men talked amiably about flannels, dogs, and quarter-day
(which was just past), and then Mr. Povey led Mr. Scales to his
desk in the dark corner behind the high pile of twills, and paid
the quarterly bill, in notes and gold--as always; and then Mr.
Scales offered for the august inspection of Mr. Povey all that
Manchester had recently invented for the temptation of drapers,
and Mr. Povey gave him an order which, if not reckless, was nearer
'handsome' than 'good.' During the process Mr. Scales had to go
out of the shop twice or three times in order to bring in from his
barrow at the kerb-stone certain small black boxes edged with
brass. On none of these excursions did Mr. Scales glance wantonly
about him in satisfaction of the lust of the eye. Even if he had
permitted himself this freedom he would have seen nothing more
interesting than three young lady assistants seated round the
stove and sewing with pricked fingers from which the chilblains
were at last deciding to depart. When Mr. Scales had finished
writing down the details of the order with his ivory-handled
stylo, and repacked his boxes, he drew the interview to a
conclusion after the manner of a capable commercial traveller;
that is to say, he implanted in Mr. Povey his opinion that Mr.
Povey was a wise, a shrewd and an upright man, and that the world
would be all the better for a few more like him. He inquired for
Mrs. Baines, and was deeply pained to hear of her indisposition
while finding consolation in the assurance that the Misses Baines
were well. Mr. Povey was on the point of accompanying the pattern
of commercial travellers to the door, when two customers
simultaneously came in--ladies. One made straight for Mr. Povey,
whereupon Mr. Scales parted from him at once, it being a universal
maxim in shops that even the most distinguished commercial shall
not hinder the business of even the least distinguished customer.
The other customer had the effect of causing Constance to pop up
from her cloistral corner. Constance had been there all the time,
but of course, though she heard the remembered voice, her
maidenliness had not permitted that she should show herself to Mr.
Scales.

Now, as he was leaving, Mr. Scales saw her, with her agreeable
snub nose and her kind, simple eyes. She was requesting the second
customer to mount to the showroom, where was Miss Sophia. Mr.
Scales hesitated a moment, and in that moment Constance, catching
his eye, smiled upon him, and nodded. What else could she do?
Vaguely aware though she was that her mother was not 'set up' with
Mr. Scales, and even feared the possible influence of the young
man on Sophia, she could not exclude him from her general
benevolence towards the universe. Moreover, she liked him; she
liked him very much and thought him a very fine specimen of a man.

He left the door and went across to her. They shook hands and
opened a conversation instantly; for Constance, while retaining
all her modesty, had lost all her shyness in the shop, and could
chatter with anybody. She sidled towards her corner, precisely as
Sophia had done on another occasion, and Mr. Scales put his chin
over the screening boxes, and eagerly prosecuted the conversation.

There was absolutely nothing in the fact of the interview itself
to cause alarm to a mother, nothing to render futile the
precautions of Mrs. Baines on behalf of the flower of Sophia's
innocence. And yet it held danger for Mrs. Baines, all unconscious
in her parlour. Mrs. Baines could rely utterly on Constance not to
be led away by the dandiacal charms of Mr. Scales (she knew in
what quarter sat the wind for Constance); in her plan she had
forgotten nothing, except Mr. Povey; and it must be said that she
could not possibly have foreseen the effect on the situation of
Mr. Povey's character.

Mr. Povey, attending to his customer, had noticed the bright smile
of Constance on the traveller, and his heart did not like it. And
when he saw the lively gestures of a Mr. Scales in apparently
intimate talk with a Constance hidden behind boxes, his uneasiness
grew into fury. He was a man capable of black and terrible furies.
Outwardly insignificant, possessing a mind as little as his body,
easily abashed, he was none the less a very susceptible young man,
soon offended, proud, vain, and obscurely passionate. You might
offend Mr. Povey without guessing it, and only discover your sin
when Mr. Povey had done something too decisive as a result of it.

The reason of his fury was jealousy. Mr. Povey had made great
advances since the death of John Baines. He had consolidated his
position, and he was in every way a personage of the first
importance. His misfortune was that he could never translate his
importance, or his sense of his importance, into terms of outward
demeanour. Most people, had they been told that Mr. Povey was
seriously aspiring to enter the Baines family, would have laughed.
But they would have been wrong. To laugh at Mr. Povey was
invariably wrong. Only Constance knew what inroads he had effected
upon her.

The customer went, but Mr. Scales did not go. Mr. Povey, free to
reconnoitre, did so. From the shadow of the till he could catch
glimpses of Constance's blushing, vivacious face. She was
obviously absorbed in Mr. Scales. She and he had a tremendous air
of intimacy. And the murmur of their chatter continued. Their
chatter was nothing, and about nothing, but Mr. Povey imagined
that they were exchanging eternal vows. He endured Mr. Scales's
odious freedom until it became insufferable, until it deprived him
of all his self-control; and then he retired into his cutting-out
room. He meditated there in a condition of insanity for perhaps a
minute, and excogitated a device. Dashing back into the shop, he
spoke up, half across the shop, in a loud, curt tone:

"Miss Baines, your mother wants you at once."

He was launched on the phrase before he noticed that, during his
absence, Sophia had descended from the showroom and joined her
sister and Mr. Scales. The danger and scandal were now less, he
perceived, but he was glad he had summoned Constance away, and he
was in a state to despise consequences.

The three chatterers, startled, looked at Mr. Povey, who left the
shop abruptly. Constance could do nothing but obey the call.

She met him at the door of the cutting-out room in the passage
leading to the parlour.

"Where is mother? In the parlour?" Constance inquired innocently.

There was a dark flush on Mr. Povey's face. "If you wish to know,"
said he in a hard voice, "she hasn't asked for you and she doesn't
want you."

He turned his back on her, and retreated into his lair.

"Then what--?" she began, puzzled.

He fronted her. "Haven't you been gabbling long enough with that
jackanapes?" he spit at her. There were tears in his eyes.

Constance, though without experience in these matters,
comprehended. She comprehended perfectly and immediately. She
ought to have put Mr. Povey into his place. She ought to have
protested with firm, dignified finality against such a ridiculous
and monstrous outrage as that which Mr. Povey had committed. Mr.
Povey ought to have been ruined for ever in her esteem and in her
heart. But she hesitated.

"And only last Sunday--afternoon," Mr. Povey blubbered.

(Not that anything overt had occurred, or been articulately said,
between them last Sunday afternoon. But they had been alone
together, and had each witnessed strange and disturbing matters in
the eyes of the other.)

Tears now fell suddenly from Constance's eyes. "You ought to be
ashamed--" she stammered.

Still, the tears were in her eyes, and in his too. What he or she
merely said, therefore, was of secondary importance.

Mrs. Baines, coming from the kitchen, and hearing Constance's
voice, burst upon the scene, which silenced her. Parents are
sometimes silenced. She found Sophia and Mr. Scales in the shop.

III

That afternoon Sophia, too busy with her own affairs to notice
anything abnormal in the relations between her mother and
Constance, and quite ignorant that there had been an unsuccessful
plot against her, went forth to call upon Miss Chetwynd, with whom
she had remained very friendly: she considered that she and Miss
Chetwynd formed an aristocracy of intellect, and the family indeed
tacitly admitted this. She practised no secrecy in her departure
from the shop; she merely dressed, in her second-best hoop, and
went, having been ready at any moment to tell her mother, if her
mother caught her and inquired, that she was going to see Miss
Chetwynd. And she did go to see Miss Chetwynd, arriving at the
house-school, which lay amid trees on the road to Turnhill, just
beyond the turnpike, at precisely a quarter-past four. As Miss
Chetwynd's pupils left at four o'clock, and as Miss Chetwynd
invariably took a walk immediately afterwards, Sophia was able to
contain her surprise upon being informed that Miss Chetwynd was
not in. She had not intended that Miss Chetwynd should be in.

She turned off to the right, up the side road which, starting from
the turnpike, led in the direction of Moorthorne and Red Cow, two
mining villages. Her heart beat with fear as she began to follow
that road, for she was upon a terrific adventure. What most
frightened her, perhaps, was her own astounding audacity. She was
alarmed by something within herself which seemed to be no part of
herself and which produced in her curious, disconcerting, fleeting
impressions of unreality.

In the morning she had heard the voice of Mr. Scales from the
showroom--that voice whose even distant murmur caused creepings of
the skin in her back. And she had actually stood on the counter in
front of the window in order to see down perpendicularly into the
Square; by so doing she had had a glimpse of the top of his
luggage on a barrow, and of the crown of his hat occasionally when
he went outside to tempt Mr. Povey. She might have gone down into
the shop--there was no slightest reason why she should not; three
months had elapsed since the name of Mr. Scales had been
mentioned, and her mother had evidently forgotten the trifling
incident of New Year's Day--but she was incapable of descending
the stairs! She went to the head of the stairs and peeped through
the balustrade--and she could not get further. For nearly a
hundred days those extraordinary lamps had been brightly burning
in her head; and now the light-giver had come again, and her feet
would not move to the meeting; now the moment had arrived for
which alone she had lived, and she could not seize it as it
passed! "Why don't I go downstairs?" she asked herself. "Am I
afraid to meet him?"

The customer sent up by Constance had occupied the surface of her
life for ten minutes, trying on hats; and during this time she was
praying wildly that Mr. Scales might not go, and asserting that it
was impossible he should go without at least asking for her. Had
she not counted the days to this day? When the customer left
Sophia followed her downstairs, and saw Mr. Scales chatting with
Constance. All her self-possession instantly returned to her, and
she joined them with a rather mocking smile. After Mr. Povey's
strange summons had withdrawn Constance from the corner, Mr.
Scales's tone had changed; it had thrilled her. "You are YOU," it
had said, "there is you--and there is the rest of the universe!"
Then he had not forgotten; she had lived in his heart; she had not
for three months been the victim of her own fancies! ... She saw
him put a piece of folded white paper on the top edge of the
screening box and flick it down to her. She blushed scarlet,
staring at it as it lay on the counter. He said nothing, and she
could not speak. ... He had prepared that paper, then, beforehand,
on the chance of being able to give it to her! This thought was
exquisite but full of terror. "I must really go," he had said,
lamely, with emotion in his voice, and he had gone--like that! And
she put the piece of paper into the pocket of her apron, and
hastened away. She had not even seen, as she turned up the stairs,
her mother standing by the till--that spot which was the conning-
tower of the whole shop. She ran, ran, breathless to the bedroom.

"I am a wicked girl!" she said quite frankly, on the road to the
rendezvous. "It is a dream that I am going to meet him. It cannot
be true. There is time to go back. If I go back I am safe. I have
simply called at Miss Chetwynd's and she wasn't in, and no one can
say a word. But if I go on--if I'm seen! What a fool I am to go
on!"

And she went on, impelled by, amongst other things, an immense,
naive curiosity, and the vanity which the bare fact of his note
had excited. The Loop railway was being constructed at that
period, and hundreds of navvies were at work on it between Bursley
and Turnhill. When she came to the new bridge over the cutting, he
was there, as he had written that he would be.

They were very nervous, they greeted each other stiffly and as
though they had met then for the first time that day. Nothing was
said about his note, nor about her response to it. Her presence
was treated by both of them as a basic fact of the situation which
it would be well not to disturb by comment. Sophia could not hide
her shame, but her shame only aggravated the stinging charm of her
beauty. She was wearing a hard Amazonian hat, with a lifted veil,
the final word of fashion that spring in the Five Towns; her face,
beaten by the fresh breeze, shone rosily; her eyes glittered under
the dark hat, and the violent colours of her Victorian frock--
green and crimson--could not spoil those cheeks. If she looked
earthwards, frowning, she was the more adorable so. He had come
down the clayey incline from the unfinished red bridge to welcome
her, and when the salutations were over they stood still, he
gazing apparently at the horizon and she at the yellow marl round
the edges of his boots. The encounter was as far away from
Sophia's ideal conception as Manchester from Venice.

"So this is the new railway!" said she.

"Yes," said he. "This is your new railway. You can see it better
from the bridge."

"But it's very sludgy up there," she objected with a pout.

"Further on it's quite dry," he reassured her.

From the bridge they had a sudden view of a raw gash in the earth;
and hundreds of men were crawling about in it, busy with minute
operations, like flies in a great wound. There was a continuous
rattle of picks, resembling a muffled shower of hail, and in the
distance a tiny locomotive was leading a procession of tiny
waggons.

"And those are the navvies!" she murmured.

The unspeakable doings of the navvies in the Five Towns had
reached even her: how they drank and swore all day on Sundays, how
their huts and houses were dens of the most appalling infamy, how
they were the curse of a God-fearing and respectable district! She
and Gerald Scales glanced down at these dangerous beasts of prey
in their yellow corduroys and their open shirts revealing hairy
chests. No doubt they both thought how inconvenient it was that
railways could not be brought into existence without the aid of
such revolting and swinish animals. They glanced down from the
height of their nice decorum and felt the powerful attraction of
similar superior manners. The manners of the navvies were such
that Sophia could not even regard them, nor Gerald Scales permit
her to regard them, without blushing.

In a united blush they turned away, up the gradual slope. Sophia
knew no longer what she was doing. For some minutes she was as
helpless as though she had been in a balloon with him.

"I got my work done early," he said; and added complacently, "As a
matter of fact I've had a pretty good day."

She was reassured to learn that he was not neglecting his duties.
To be philandering with a commercial traveller who has finished a
good day's work seemed less shocking than dalliance with a
neglecter of business; it seemed indeed, by comparison,
respectable.

"It must be very interesting," she said primly.

"What, my trade?"

"Yes. Always seeing new places and so on."

"In a way it is," he admitted judicially. "But I can tell you it
was much more agreeable being in Paris."

"Oh! Have you been to Paris?"

"Lived there for nearly two years," he said carelessly. Then,
looking at her, "Didn't you notice I never came for a long time?"

"I didn't know you were in Paris," she evaded him.

"I went to start a sort of agency for Birkinshaws," he said.

"I suppose you talk French like anything."

"Of course one has to talk French," said he. "I learnt French when
I was a child from a governess--my uncle made me--but I forgot
most of it at school, and at the Varsity you never learn anything
--precious little, anyhow! Certainly not French!"

She was deeply impressed. He was a much greater personage than she
had guessed. It had never occurred to her that commercial
travellers had to go to a university to finish their complex
education. And then, Paris! Paris meant absolutely nothing to her
but pure, impossible, unattainable romance. And he had been there!
The clouds of glory were around him. He was a hero, dazzling. He
had come to her out of another world. He was her miracle. He was
almost too miraculous to be true.

She, living her humdrum life at the shop! And he, elegant,
brilliant, coming from far cities! They together, side by side,
strolling up the road towards the Moorthorne ridge! There was
nothing quite like this in the stories of Miss Sewell.

"Your uncle ...?" she questioned vaguely.

"Yes, Mr. Boldero. He's a partner in Birkinshaws."

"Oh!"

"You've heard of him? He's a great Wesleyan."

"Oh yes," she said. "When we had the Wesleyan Conference here, he--"

"He's always very great at Conferences," said Gerald Scales.

"I didn't know he had anything to do with Birkinshaws."

"He isn't a working partner of course," Mr. Scales explained. "But
he means me to be one. I have to learn the business from the
bottom. So now you understand why I'm a traveller."

"I see," she said, still more deeply impressed.

"I'm an orphan," said Gerald. "And Uncle Boldero took me in hand
when I was three."

"I SEE!" she repeated.

It seemed strange to her that Mr. Scales should be a Wesleyan--
just like herself. She would have been sure that he was 'Church.'
Her notions of Wesleyanism, with her notions of various other
things, were sharply modified.

"Now tell me about you," Mr. Scales suggested.

"Oh! I'm nothing!" she burst out.

The exclamation was perfectly sincere. Mr. Scales's disclosures
concerning himself, while they excited her, discouraged her.

"You're the finest girl I've ever met, anyhow," said Mr. Scales
with gallant emphasis, and he dug his stick into the soft ground.

She blushed and made no answer.

They walked on in silence, each wondering apprehensively what
might happen next.

Suddenly Mr. Scales stopped at a dilapidated low brick wall, built
in a circle, close to the side of the road.

"I expect that's an old pit-shaft," said he.

"Yes, I expect it is."

He picked up a rather large stone and approached the wall.

"Be careful!" she enjoined him.

"Oh! It's all right," he said lightly. "Let's listen. Come near
and listen."

She reluctantly obeyed, and he threw the stone over the dirty
ruined wall, the top of which was about level with his hat. For
two or three seconds there was no sound. Then a faint reverberation
echoed from the depths of the shaft. And on Sophia's brain arose
dreadful images of the ghosts of miners wandering for ever in
subterranean passages, far, far beneath. The noise of the falling
stone had awakened for her the secret terrors of the earth. She
could scarcely even look at the wall without a spasm of fear.

"How strange," said Mr. Scales, a little awe in his voice, too,
"that that should be left there like that! I suppose it's very
deep."

"Some of them are," she trembled.

"I must just have a look," he said, and put his hands on the top
of the wall.

"Come away!" she cried.

"Oh! It's all right!" he said again, soothingly. "The wall's as
firm as a rock." And he took a slight spring and looked over.

She shrieked loudly. She saw him at the distant bottom of the
shaft, mangled, drowning. The ground seemed to quake under her
feet. A horrible sickness seized her. And she shrieked again.
Never had she guessed that existence could be such pain.

He slid down from the wall, and turned to her. "No bottom to be
seen!" he said. Then, observing her transformed face, he came
close to her, with a superior masculine smile. "Silly little
thing!" he said coaxingly, endearingly, putting forth all his
power to charm.

He perceived at once that he had miscalculated the effects of his
action. Her alarm changed swiftly to angry offence. She drew back
with a haughty gesture, as if he had intended actually to touch
her. Did he suppose, because she chanced to be walking with him,
that he had the right to address her familiarly, to tease her, to
call her 'silly little thing' and to put his face against hers?
She resented his freedom with quick and passionate indignation.

She showed him her proud back and nodding head and wrathful
skirts; and hurried off without a word, almost running. As for
him, he was so startled by unexpected phenomena that he did
nothing for a moment--merely stood looking and feeling foolish.

Then she heard him in pursuit. She was too proud to stop or even
to reduce her speed.

"I didn't mean to--" he muttered behind her.

No recognition from her.

"I suppose I ought to apologize," he said.

"I should just think you ought," she answered, furious.

"Well, I do!" said he. "Do stop a minute."

"I'll thank you not to follow me, Mr. Scales." She paused, and
scorched him with her displeasure. Then she went forward. And her
heart was in torture because it could not persuade her to remain
with him, and smile and forgive, and win his smile.

"I shall write to you," he shouted down the slope.

She kept on, the ridiculous child. But the agony she had suffered
as he clung to the frail wall was not ridiculous, nor her dark
vision of the mine, nor her tremendous indignation when, after
disobeying her, he forgot that she was a queen. To her the scene
was sublimely tragic. Soon she had recrossed the bridge, but not
the same she! So this was the end of the incredible adventure!

When she reached the turnpike she thought of her mother and of
Constance. She had completely forgotten them; for a space they had
utterly ceased to exist for her.

IV

"You've been out, Sophia?" said Mrs. Baines in the parlour,
questioningly. Sophia had taken off her hat and mantle hurriedly
in the cutting-out room, for she was in danger of being late for
tea; but her hair and face showed traces of the March breeze. Mrs.
Baines, whose stoutness seemed to increase, sat in the rocking-
chair with a number of The Sunday at Home in her hand. Tea was
set.

"Yes, mother. I called to see Miss Chetwynd."

"I wish you'd tell me when you are going out."

"I looked all over for you before I started."

"No, you didn't, for I haven't stirred from this room since four
o'clock. ... You should not say things like that," Mrs. Baines
added in a gentler tone.

Mrs. Baines had suffered much that day. She knew that she was in
an irritable, nervous state, and therefore she said to herself, in
her quality of wise woman, "I must watch myself. I mustn't let
myself go." And she thought how reasonable she was. She did not
guess that all her gestures betrayed her; nor did it occur to her
that few things are more galling than the spectacle of a person,
actuated by lofty motives, obviously trying to be kind and patient
under what he considers to be extreme provocation.

Maggie blundered up the kitchen stairs with the teapot and hot
toast; and so Sophia had an excuse for silence. Sophia too had
suffered much, suffered excruciatingly; she carried at that moment
a whole tragedy in her young soul, unaccustomed to such burdens.
Her attitude towards her mother was half fearful and half defiant;
it might be summed up in the phrase which she had repeated again
and again under her breath on the way home, "Well, mother can't
kill me!"

Mrs. Baines put down the blue-covered magazine and twisted her
rocking-chair towards the table.

"You can pour out the tea," said Mrs. Baines.

"Where's Constance?"

"She's not very well. She's lying down."

"Anything the matter with her?"

"No."

This was inaccurate. Nearly everything was the matter with
Constance, who had never been less Constance than during that
afternoon. But Mrs. Baines had no intention of discussing
Constance's love-affairs with Sophia. The less said to Sophia
about love, the better! Sophia was excitable enough already!

They sat opposite to each other, on either side of the fire--the
monumental matron whose black bodice heavily overhung the table,
whose large rounded face was creased and wrinkled by what seemed
countless years of joy and disillusion; and the young, slim girl,
so fresh, so virginal, so ignorant, with all the pathos of an
unsuspecting victim about to be sacrificed to the minotaur of
Time! They both ate hot toast, with careless haste, in silence,
preoccupied, worried, and outwardly nonchalant.

"And what has Miss Chetwynd got to say?" Mrs. Baines inquired.

"She wasn't in."

Here was a blow for Mrs. Baines, whose suspicions about Sophia,
driven off by her certainties regarding Constance, suddenly sprang
forward in her mind, and prowled to and fro like a band of tigers.

Still, Mrs. Baines was determined to be calm and careful. "Oh!
What time did you call?"

"I don't know. About half-past four." Sophia finished her tea
quickly, and rose. "Shall I tell Mr. Povey he can come?"

(Mr. Povey had his tea after the ladies of the house.)

"Yes, if you will stay in the shop till I come. Light me the gas
before you go."

Sophia took a wax taper from a vase on the mantelpiece, stuck it
in the fire and lit the gas, which exploded in its crystal
cloister with a mild report.

"What's all that clay on your boots, child?" asked Mrs. Baines.

"Clay?" repeated Sophia, staring foolishly at her boots.

"Yes," said Mrs. Baines. "It looks like marl. Where on earth have
you been?"

She interrogated her daughter with an upward gaze, frigid and
unconsciously hostile, through her gold-rimmed glasses.

"I must have picked it up on the roads," said Sophia, and hastened
to the door.

"Sophia!"

"Yes, mother."

"Shut the door."

Sophia unwillingly shut the door which she had half opened.

"Come here."

Sophia obeyed, with falling lip.

"You are deceiving me, Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with fierce
solemnity. "Where have you been this afternoon?"

Sophia's foot was restless on the carpet behind the table. "I
haven't been anywhere," she murmured glumly.

"Have you seen young Scales?"

"Yes," said Sophia with grimness, glancing audaciously for an
instant at her mother. ("She can't kill me: She can't kill me,"
her heart muttered. And she had youth and beauty in her favour,
while her mother was only a fat middle-aged woman. "She can't kill
me," said her heart, with the trembling, cruel insolence of the
mirror-flattered child.)

"How came you to meet him?"

No answer.

"Sophia, you heard what I said!"

Still no answer. Sophia looked down at the table. ("She can't kill
me.")

"If you are going to be sullen, I shall have to suppose the
worst," said Mrs. Baines.

Sophia kept her silence.

"Of course," Mrs. Baines resumed, "if you choose to be wicked,
neither your mother nor any one else can stop you. There are
certain things I CAN do, and these I SHALL do ... Let me warn you
that young Scales is a thoroughly bad lot. I know all about him.
He has been living a wild life abroad, and if it hadn't been that
his uncle is a partner in Birkinshaws, they would never have taken
him on again." A pause. "I hope that one day you will be a happy
wife, but you are much too young yet to be meeting young men, and
nothing would ever induce me to let you have anything to do with
this Scales. I won't have it. In future you are not to go out
alone. You understand me?"

Sophia kept silence.

"I hope you will be in a better frame of mind to-morrow. I can
only hope so. But if you aren't, I shall take very severe
measures. You think you can defy me. But you never were more
mistaken in your life. I don't want to see any more of you now. Go
and tell Mr. Povey; and call Maggie for the fresh tea. You make me
almost glad that your father died even as he did. He has, at any
rate, been spared this."

Those words 'died even as he did' achieved the intimidation of
Sophia. They seemed to indicate that Mrs. Baines, though she had
magnanimously never mentioned the subject to Sophia, knew exactly
how the old man had died. Sophia escaped from the room in fear,
cowed. Nevertheless, her thought was, "She hasn't killed me. I
made up my mind I wouldn't talk, and I didn't."

In the evening, as she sat in the shop primly and sternly sewing
at hats--while her mother wept in secret on the first floor, and
Constance remained hidden on the second--Sophia lived over again
the scene at the old shaft; but she lived it differently,
admitting that she had been wrong, guessing by instinct that she
had shown a foolish mistrust of love. As she sat in the shop, she
adopted just the right attitude and said just the right things.
Instead of being a silly baby she was an accomplished and dazzling
woman, then. When customers came in, and the young lady assistants
unobtrusively turned higher the central gas, according to the
regime of the shop, it was really extraordinary that they could
not read in the heart of the beautiful Miss Baines the words which
blazed there; "YOU'RE THE FINEST GIRL I EVER MET," and "I SHALL
WRITE TO YOU." The young lady assistants had their notions as to
both Constance and Sophia, but the truth, at least as regarded
Sophia, was beyond the flight of their imaginations. When eight
o'clock struck and she gave the formal order for dust-sheets, the
shop being empty, they never supposed that she was dreaming about
posts and plotting how to get hold of the morning's letters before
Mr. Povey.




CHAPTER VII

A DEFEAT

I


It was during the month of June that Aunt Harriet came over from
Axe to spend a few days with her little sister, Mrs. Baines. The
railway between Axe and the Five Towns had not yet been opened;
but even if it had been opened Aunt Harriet would probably not
have used it. She had always travelled from Axe to Bursley in the
same vehicle, a small waggonette which she hired from Bratt's
livery stables at Axe, driven by a coachman who thoroughly
understood the importance, and the peculiarities, of Aunt Harriet.

Mrs. Baines had increased in stoutness, so that now Aunt Harriet
had very little advantage over her, physically. But the moral
ascendency of the elder still persisted. The two vast widows
shared Mrs. Baines's bedroom, spending much of their time there in
long, hushed conversations--interviews from which Mrs. Baines
emerged with the air of one who has received enlightenment and
Aunt Harriet with the air of one who has rendered it. The pair
went about together, in the shop, the showroom, the parlour, the
kitchen, and also into the town, addressing each other as
'Sister,' 'Sister.' Everywhere it was 'sister,' 'sister,' 'my
sister,' 'your dear mother,' 'your Aunt Harriet.' They referred to
each other as oracular sources of wisdom and good taste.
Respectability stalked abroad when they were afoot. The whole
Square wriggled uneasily as though God's eye were peculiarly upon
it. The meals in the parlour became solemn collations, at which
shone the best silver and the finest diaper, but from which gaiety
and naturalness seemed to be banished. (I say 'seemed' because it
cannot be doubted that Aunt Harriet was natural, and there were
moments when she possibly considered herself to be practising
gaiety--a gaiety more desolating than her severity.) The younger
generation was extinguished, pressed flat and lifeless under the
ponderosity of the widows.

Mr. Povey was not the man to be easily flattened by ponderosity of
any kind, and his suppression was a striking proof of the prowess
of the widows; who, indeed, went over Mr. Povey like traction-
engines, with the sublime unconsciousness of traction-engines,
leaving an inanimate object in the road behind them, and scarce
aware even of the jolt. Mr. Povey hated Aunt Harriet, but, lying
crushed there in the road, how could he rebel? He felt all the
time that Aunt Harriet was adding him up, and reporting the result
at frequent intervals to Mrs. Baines in the bedroom. He felt that
she knew everything about him--even to those tears which had been
in his eyes. He felt that he could hope to do nothing right for
Aunt Harriet, that absolute perfection in the performance of duty
would make no more impression on her than a caress on the fly-
wheel of a traction-engine. Constance, the dear Constance, was
also looked at askance. There was nothing in Aunt Harriet's
demeanour to her that you could take hold of, but there was
emphatically something that you could not take hold of--a hint, an
inkling, that insinuated to Constance, "Have a care, lest
peradventure you become the second cousin of the scarlet woman."

Sophia was petted. Sophia was liable to be playfully tapped by
Aunt Harriet's thimble when Aunt Harriet was hemming dusters (for
the elderly lady could lift a duster to her own dignity). Sophia
was called on two separate occasions, 'My little butterfly.' And
Sophia was entrusted with the trimming of Aunt Harriet's new
summer bonnet. Aunt Harriet deemed that Sophia was looking pale.
As the days passed, Sophia's pallor was emphasized by Aunt Harriet
until it developed into an article of faith, to which you were
compelled to subscribe on pain of excommunication. Then dawned the
day when Aunt Harriet said, staring at Sophia as an affectionate
aunt may: "That child would do with a change." And then there
dawned another day when Aunt Harriet, staring at Sophia
compassionately, as a devoted aunt may, said: "It's a pity that
child can't have a change." And Mrs. Baines also stared--and said:
"It is."

And on another day Aunt Harriet said: "I've been wondering whether
my little Sophia would care to come and keep her old aunt company
a while."

There were few things for which Sophia would have cared less. The
girl swore to herself angrily that she would not go, that no
allurement would induce her to go. But she was in a net; she was
in the meshes of family correctness. Do what she would, she could
not invent a reason for not going. Certainly she could not tell
her aunt that she merely did not want to go. She was capable of
enormities, but not of that. And then began Aunt Harriet's
intricate preparations for going. Aunt Harriet never did anything
simply. And she could not be hurried. Seventy-two hours before
leaving she had to commence upon her trunk; but first the trunk
had to be wiped by Maggie with a damp cloth under the eye and
direction of Aunt Harriet. And the liveryman at Axe had to be
written to, and the servants at Axe written to, and the weather
prospects weighed and considered. And somehow, by the time these
matters were accomplished, it was tacitly understood that Sophia
should accompany her kind aunt into the bracing moorland air of
Axe. No smoke at Axe! No stuffiness at Axe! The spacious existence
of a wealthy widow in a residential town with a low death-rate and
famous scenery! "Have you packed your box, Sophia?" No, she had
not. "Well, I will come and help you."

Impossible to bear up against the momentum of a massive body like
Aunt Harriet's! It was irresistible.

The day of departure came, throwing the entire household into a
commotion. Dinner was put a quarter of an hour earlier than usual
so that Aunt Harriet might achieve Axe at her accustomed hour of
tea. After dinner Maggie was the recipient of three amazing muslin
aprons, given with a regal gesture. And the trunk and the box were
brought down, and there was a slight odour of black kid gloves in
the parlour. The waggonette was due and the waggonette appeared
("I can always rely upon Bladen!" said Aunt Harriet), and the door
was opened, and Bladen, stiff on his legs, descended from the box
and touched his hat to Aunt Harriet as she filled up the doorway.

"Have you baited, Bladen?" asked she.

"Yes'm," said he, assuringly.

Bladen and Mr. Povey carried out the trunk and the box, and
Constance charged herself with parcels which she bestowed in the
corners of the vehicle according to her aunt's prescription; it
was like stowing the cargo of a vessel.

"Now, Sophia, my chuck!" Mrs. Baines called up the stairs. And
Sophia came slowly downstairs. Mrs. Baines offered her mouth.
Sophia glanced at her.

"You needn't think I don't see why you're sending me away!"
exclaimed Sophia in a hard, furious voice, with glistening eyes.
"I'm not so blind as all that!" She kissed her mother--nothing but
a contemptuous peck. Then, as she turned away she added: "But you
let Constance do just as she likes!"

This was her sole bitter comment on the episode, but into it she
put all the profound bitterness accumulated during many mutinous
nights.

Mrs. Baines concealed a sigh. The explosion certainly disturbed
her. She had hoped that the smooth surface of things would not be
ruffled.

Sophia bounced out. And the assembly, including several urchins,
watched with held breath while Aunt Harriet, after having bid
majestic good-byes, got on to the step and introduced herself
through the doorway of the waggonette into the interior of the
vehicle; it was an operation like threading a needle with cotton
too thick. Once within, her hoops distended in sudden release,
filling the waggonette. Sophia followed, agilely.

As, with due formalities, the equipage drove off, Mrs. Baines gave
another sigh, one of relief. The sisters had won. She could now
await the imminent next advent of Mr. Gerald Scales with
tranquillity.

II

Those singular words of Sophia's, 'But you let Constance do just
as she likes,' had disturbed Mrs. Baines more than was at first
apparent. They worried her like a late fly in autumn. For she had
said nothing to any one about Constance's case, Mrs. Maddack of
course excepted. She had instinctively felt that she could not
show the slightest leniency towards the romantic impulses of her
elder daughter without seeming unjust to the younger, and she had
acted accordingly. On the memorable morn of Mr. Povey's acute
jealousy, she had, temporarily at any rate, slaked the fire,
banked it down, and hidden it; and since then no word had passed
as to the state of Constance's heart. In the great peril to be
feared from Mr. Scales, Constance's heart had been put aside as a
thing that could wait; so one puts aside the mending of linen when
earthquake shocks are about. Mrs. Baines was sure that Constance
had not chattered to Sophia concerning Mr. Povey. Constance, who
understood her mother, had too much commonsense and too nice a
sense of propriety to do that--and yet here was Sophia exclaiming,
'But you let Constance do just as she likes.' Were the relations
between Constance and Mr. Povey, then, common property? Did the
young lady assistants discuss them?

As a fact, the young lady assistants did discuss them; not in the
shop--for either one of the principal parties, or Mrs. Baines
herself, was always in the shop, but elsewhere. They discussed
little else, when they were free; how she had looked at him to-
day, and how he had blushed, and so forth interminably. Yet Mrs.
Baines really thought that she alone knew. Such is the power of
the ineradicable delusion that one's own affairs, and especially
one's own children, are mysteriously different from those of
others.

After Sophia's departure Mrs. Baines surveyed her daughter and her
manager at supper-time with a curious and a diffident eye. They
worked, talked, and ate just as though Mrs. Baines had never
caught them weeping together in the cutting-out room. They had the
most matter-of-fact air. They might never have heard whispered the
name of love. And there could be no deceit beneath that decorum;
for Constance would not deceive. Still, Mrs. Baines's conscience
was unruly. Order reigned, but nevertheless she knew that she
ought to do something, find out something, decide something; she
ought, if she did her duty, to take Constance aside and say: "Now,
Constance, my mind is freer now. Tell me frankly what has been
going on between you and Mr. Povey. I have never understood the
meaning of that scene in the cutting-out room. Tell me." She ought
to have talked in this strain. But she could not. That energetic
woman had not sufficient energy left. She wanted rest, rest--even
though it were a coward's rest, an ostrich's tranquillity--after
the turmoil of apprehensions caused by Sophia. Her soul cried out
for peace. She was not, however, to have peace.

On the very first Sunday after Sophia's departure, Mr. Povey did
not go to chapel in the morning, and he offered no reason for his
unusual conduct. He ate his breakfast with appetite, but there was
something peculiar in his glance that made Mrs. Baines a little
uneasy; this something she could not seize upon and define. When
she and Constance returned from chapel Mr. Povey was playing "Rock
of Ages" on the harmonium--again unusual! The serious part of the
dinner comprised roast beef and Yorkshire pudding--the pudding
being served as a sweet course before the meat. Mrs. Baines ate
freely of these things, for she loved them, and she was always
hungry after a sermon. She also did well with the Cheshire cheese.
Her intention was to sleep in the drawing-room after the repast.
On Sunday afternoons she invariably tried to sleep in the drawing-
room, and she did not often fail. As a rule the girls accompanied
her thither from the table, and either 'settled down' likewise or
crept out of the room when they perceived the gradual sinking of
the majestic form into the deep hollows of the easy-chair. Mrs.
Baines was anticipating with pleasure her somnolent Sunday
afternoon.

Constance said grace after meat, and the formula on this
particular occasion ran thus--

"Thank God for our good dinner, Amen.--Mother, I must just run
upstairs to my room." ('MY room'-Sophia being far away.)

And off she ran, strangely girlish.

"Well, child, you needn't be in such a hurry," said Mrs. Baines,
ringing the bell and rising.

She hoped that Constance would remember the conditions precedent
to sleep.

"I should like to have a word with you, if it's all the same to
you, Mrs. Baines," said Mr. Povey suddenly, with obvious
nervousness. And his tone struck a rude unexpected blow at Mrs.
Baines's peace of mind. It was a portentous tone.

"What about?" asked she, with an inflection subtly to remind Mr.
Povey what day it was.

"About Constance," said the astonishing man.

"Constance!" exclaimed Mrs. Baines with a histrionic air of
bewilderment.

Maggie entered the room, solely in response to the bell, yet a
thought jumped up in Mrs. Baines's brain, "How prying servants
are, to be sure!" For quite five seconds she had a grievance
against Maggie. She was compelled to sit down again and wait while
Maggie cleared the table. Mr. Povey put both his hands in his
pockets, got up, went to the window, whistled, and generally
behaved in a manner which foretold the worst.

At last Maggie vanished, shutting the door.

"What is it, Mr. Povey?"

"Oh!" said Mr. Povey, facing her with absurd nervous brusqueness,
as though pretending: "Ah, yes! We have something to say--I was
forgetting!" Then he began: "It's about Constance and me."

Yes, they had evidently plotted this interview. Constance had
evidently taken herself off on purpose to leave Mr. Povey
unhampered. They were in league. The inevitable had come. No
sleep! No repose! Nothing but worry once more!

"I'm not at all satisfied with the present situation," said Mr.
Povey, in a tone that corresponded to his words.

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Povey," said Mrs. Baines stiffly.
This was a simple lie.

"Well, really, Mrs. Baines!" Mr. Povey protested, "I suppose you
won't deny that you know there is something between me and
Constance? I suppose you won't deny that?"

"What is there between you and Constance? I can assure you I--"

"That depends on you," Mr. Povey interrupted her. When he was
nervous his manners deteriorated into a behaviour that resembled
rudeness. "That depends on you!" he repeated grimly.

"But--"

"Are we to be engaged or are we not?" pursued Mr. Povey, as though
Mrs. Baines had been guilty of some grave lapse and he was
determined not to spare her. "That's what I think ought to be
settled, one way or the other. I wish to be perfectly open and
aboveboard--in the future, as I have been in the past."

"But you have said nothing to me at all!" Mrs. Baines
remonstrated, lifting her eyebrows. The way in which the man had
sprung this matter upon her was truly too audacious.

Mr. Povey approached her as she sat at the table, shaking her
ringlets and looking at her hands.

"You know there's something between us!" he insisted.

"How should I know there is something between you? Constance has
never said a word to me. And have you?"

"Well," said he. "We've hidden nothing."

"What is there between you and Constance? If I may ask!"

"That depends on you," said he again.

"Have you asked her to be your wife?"

"No. I haven't exactly asked her to be my wife." He hesitated.
"You see--"

Mrs. Baines collected her forces. "Have you kissed her?" This in a
cold voice.

Mr. Povey now blushed. "I haven't exactly kissed her," he
stammered, apparently shocked by the inquisition. "No, I should
not say that I had kissed her."

It might have been that before committing himself he felt a desire
for Mrs. Baines's definition of a kiss.

"You are very extraordinary," she said loftily. It was no less
than the truth.

"All I want to know is--have you got anything against me?" he
demanded roughly. "Because if so--"

"Anything against you, Mr. Povey? Why should I have anything
against you?"

"Then why can't we be engaged?"

She considered that he was bullying her. "That's another
question," said she.

"Why can't we be engaged? Ain't I good enough?"

The fact was that he was not regarded as good enough. Mrs. Maddack
had certainly deemed that he was not good enough. He was a solid
mass of excellent qualities; but he lacked brilliance, importance,
dignity. He could not impose himself. Such had been the verdict.

And now, while Mrs. Baines was secretly reproaching Mr. Povey for
his inability to impose himself, he was most patently imposing
himself on her--and the phenomenon escaped her! She felt that he
was bullying her, but somehow she could not perceive his power.
Yet the man who could bully Mrs. Baines was surely no common soul!

"You know my very high opinion of you," she said.

Mr. Povey pursued in a mollified tone. "Assuming that Constance is
willing to be engaged, do I understand you consent?"

"But Constance is too young."

"Constance is twenty. She is more than twenty."

"In any case you won't expect me to give you an answer now."

"Why not? You know my position."

She did. From a practical point of view the match would be ideal:
no fault could be found with it on that side. But Mrs. Baines
could not extinguish the idea that it would be a 'come-down' for
her daughter. Who, after all, was Mr. Povey? Mr. Povey was nobody.

"I must think things over," she said firmly, putting her lips
together. "I can't reply like this. It is a serious matter."

"When can I have your answer? To-morrow?"

"No--really--"

"In a week, then?"

"I cannot bind myself to a date," said Mrs. Baines, haughtily. She
felt that she was gaining ground.

"Because I can't stay on here indefinitely as things are," Mr.
Povey burst out, and there was a touch of hysteria in his tone.

"Now, Mr. Povey, please do be reasonable."

"That's all very well," he went on. "That's all very well. But
what I say is that employers have no right to have male assistants
in their houses unless they are prepared to let their daughters
marry! That's what I say! No RIGHT!"

Mrs. Baines did not know what to answer.

The aspirant wound up: "I must leave if that's the case."

"If what's the case?" she asked herself. "What has come over him?"
And aloud: "You know you would place me in a very awkward position
by leaving, and I hope you don't want to mix up two quite
different things. I hope you aren't trying to threaten me."

"Threaten you!" he cried. "Do you suppose I should leave here for
fun? If I leave it will be because I can't stand it. That's all. I
can't stand it. I want Constance, and if I can't have her, then I
can't stand it. What do you think I'm made of?"

"I'm sure--" she began.

"That's all very well!" he almost shouted.

"But please let me speak,' she said quietly.

"All I say is I can't stand it. That's all. ... Employers have no
right. ... We have our feelings like other men."

He was deeply moved. He might have appeared somewhat grotesque to
the strictly impartial observer of human nature. Nevertheless he
was deeply and genuinely moved, and possibly human nature could
have shown nothing more human than Mr. Povey at the moment when,
unable any longer to restrain the paroxysm which had so
surprisingly overtaken him, he fled from the parlour,
passionately, to the retreat of his bedroom.

"That's the worst of those quiet calm ones," said Mrs. Baines to
herself. "You never know if they won't give way. And when they do,
it's awful--awful. ... What did I do, what did I say, to bring it
on? Nothing! Nothing!"

And where was her afternoon sleep? What was going to happen to her
daughter? What could she say to Constance? How next could she meet
Mr. Povey? Ah! It needed a brave, indomitable woman not to cry out
brokenly: "I've suffered too much. Do anything you like; only let
me die in peace!" And so saying, to let everything indifferently
slide!

III

Neither Mr. Povey nor Constance introduced the delicate subject to
her again, and she was determined not to be the first to speak of
it. She considered that Mr. Povey had taken advantage of his
position, and that he had also been infantile and impolite. And
somehow she privately blamed Constance for his behaviour. So the
matter hung, as it were, suspended in the ether between the
opposing forces of pride and passion.

Shortly afterwards events occurred compared to which the
vicissitudes of Mr. Povey's heart were of no more account than a
shower of rain in April. And fate gave no warning of them; it
rather indicated a complete absence of events. When the customary
advice circular arrived from Birkinshaws, the name of 'our Mr.
Gerald Scales' was replaced on it by another and an unfamiliar
name. Mrs. Baines, seeing the circular by accident, experienced a
sense of relief, mingled with the professional disappointment of a
diplomatist who has elaborately provided for contingencies which
have failed to happen. She had sent Sophia away for nothing; and
no doubt her maternal affection had exaggerated a molehill into a
mountain. Really, when she reflected on the past, she could not
recall a single fact that would justify her theory of an
attachment secretly budding between Sophia and the young man
Scales! Not a single little fact! All she could bring forward was
that Sophia had twice encountered Scales in the street.

She felt a curious interest in the fate of Scales, for whom in her
own mind she had long prophesied evil, and when Birkinshaws'
representative came she took care to be in the shop; her intention
was to converse with him, and ascertain as much as was
ascertainable, after Mr. Povey had transacted business. For this
purpose, at a suitable moment, she traversed the shop to Mr.
Povey's side, and in so doing she had a fleeting view of King
Street, and in King Street of a familiar vehicle. She stopped, and
seemed to catch the distant sound of knocking. Abandoning the
traveller, she hurried towards the parlour, in the passage she
assuredly did hear knocking, angry and impatient knocking, the
knocking of someone who thinks he has knocked too long.

"Of course Maggie is at the top of the house!" she muttered
sarcastically.

She unchained, unbolted, and unlocked the side-door.

"At last!" It was Aunt Harriet's voice, exacerbated. "What! You,
sister? You're soon up. What a blessing!"

The two majestic and imposing creatures met on the mat, craning
forward so that their lips might meet above their terrific bosoms.

"What's the matter?" Mrs. Baines asked, fearfully.

"Well, I do declare!" said Mrs. Maddack. "And I've driven
specially over to ask you!"

"Where's Sophia?" demanded Mrs. Baines.

"You don't mean to say she's not come, sister?" Mrs. Maddack sank
down on to the sofa.

"Come?" Mrs. Baines repeated. "Of course she's not come! What do
you mean, sister?"

"The very moment she got Constance's letter yesterday, saying you
were ill in bed and she'd better come over to help in the shop,
she started. I got Bratt's dog-cart for her."

Mrs. Baines in her turn also sank down on to the sofa.

"I've not been ill," she said. "And Constance hasn't written for a
week! Only yesterday I was telling her--"

"Sister--it can't be! Sophia had letters from Constance every
morning. At least she said they were from Constance. I told her to
be sure and write me how you were last night, and she promised
faithfully she would. And it was because I got nothing by this
morning's post that I decided to come over myself, to see if it
was anything serious."

"Serious it is!" murmured Mrs. Baines.

"What--"

"Sophia's run off. That's the plain English of it!" said Mrs.
Baines with frigid calm.

"Nay! That I'll never believe. I've looked after Sophia night and
day as if she was my own, and--"

"If she hasn't run off, where is she?"

Mrs. Maddack opened the door with a tragic gesture.

"Bladen," she called in a loud voice to the driver of the
waggonette, who was standing on the pavement.

"Yes'm."

"It was Pember drove Miss Sophia yesterday, wasn't it?"

"Yes'm."

She hesitated. A clumsy question might enlighten a member of the
class which ought never to be enlightened about one's private
affairs.

"He didn't come all the way here?"

"No'm. He happened to say last night when he got back as Miss
Sophia had told him to set her down at Knype Station."

"I thought so!" said Mrs. Maddack, courageously.

"Yes'm."

"Sister!" she moaned, after carefully shutting the door.

They clung to each other.

The horror of what had occurred did not instantly take full
possession of them, because the power of credence, of
imaginatively realizing a supreme event, whether of great grief or
of great happiness, is ridiculously finite. But every minute the
horror grew more clear, more intense, more tragically dominant
over them. There were many things that they could not say to each
other,--from pride, from shame, from the inadequacy of words.
Neither could utter the name of Gerald Scales. And Aunt Harriet
could not stoop to defend herself from a possible charge of
neglect; nor could Mrs. Baines stoop to assure her sister that she
was incapable of preferring such a charge. And the sheer, immense
criminal folly of Sophia could not even be referred to: it was
unspeakable. So the interview proceeded, lamely, clumsily,
inconsequently, leading to naught.

Sophia was gone. She was gone with Gerald Scales.

That beautiful child, that incalculable, untamable, impossible
creature, had committed the final folly; without pretext or
excuse, and with what elaborate deceit! Yes, without excuse! She
had not been treated harshly; she had had a degree of liberty
which would have astounded and shocked her grandmothers; she had
been petted, humoured, spoilt. And her answer was to disgrace the
family by an act as irrevocable as it was utterly vicious. If
among her desires was the desire to humiliate those majesties, her
mother and Aunt Harriet, she would have been content could she
have seen them on the sofa there, humbled, shamed, mortally
wounded! Ah, the monstrous Chinese cruelty of youth!

What was to be done? Tell dear Constance? No, this was not, at the
moment, an affair for the younger generation. It was too new and
raw for the younger generation. Moreover, capable, proud, and
experienced as they were, they felt the need of a man's voice, and
a man's hard, callous ideas. It was a case for Mr. Critchlow.
Maggie was sent to fetch him, with a particular request that he
should come to the side-door. He came expectant, with the
pleasurable anticipation of disaster, and he was not disappointed.
He passed with the sisters the happiest hour that had fallen to
him for years. Quickly he arranged the alternatives for them.
Would they tell the police, or would they take the risks of
waiting? They shied away, but with fierce brutality he brought
them again and again to the immediate point of decision. ... Well,
they could not tell the police! They simply could not. Then they
must face another danger. ... He had no mercy for them. And while
he was torturing them there arrived a telegram, despatched from
Charing Cross, "I am all right, Sophia." That proved, at any rate,
that the child was not heartless, not merely careless.

Only yesterday, it seemed to Mrs. Baines, she had borne Sophia;
only yesterday she was a baby, a schoolgirl to be smacked. The
years rolled up in a few hours. And now she was sending telegrams
from a place called Charing Cross! How unlike was the hand of the
telegram to Sophia's hand! How mysteriously curt and inhuman was
that official hand, as Mrs. Baines stared at it through red, wet
eyes!

Mr. Critchlow said some one should go to Manchester, to ascertain
about Scales. He went himself, that afternoon, and returned with
the news that an aunt of Scales had recently died, leaving him
twelve thousand pounds, and that he had, after quarrelling with
his uncle Boldero, abandoned Birkinshaws at an hour's notice and
vanished with his inheritance.

"It's as plain as a pikestaff," said Mr. Critchlow. "I could ha'
warned ye o' all this years ago, even since she killed her
father!"

Mr. Critchlow left nothing unsaid.

During the night Mrs. Baines lived through all Sophia's life,
lived through it more intensely than ever Sophia had done.

The next day people began to know. A whisper almost inaudible
went across the Square, and into the town: and in the stillness
every one heard it. "Sophia Baines run off with a commercial!"

In another fortnight a note came, also dated from London.

"Dear Mother, I am married to Gerald Scales. Please don't worry
about me. We are going abroad. Your affectionate Sophia. Love to
Constance." No tear-stains on that pale blue sheet! No sign of
agitation!

And Mrs. Baines said: "My life is over." It was, though she was
scarcely fifty. She felt old, old and beaten. She had fought and
been vanquished. The everlasting purpose had been too much for
her. Virtue had gone out of her--the virtue to hold up her head
and look the Square in the face. She, the wife of John Baines!
She, a Syme of Axe!

Old houses, in the course of their history, see sad sights, and
never forget them! And ever since, in the solemn physiognomy of
the triple house of John Baines at the corner of St. Luke's Square
and King Street, have remained the traces of the sight it saw on
the morning of the afternoon when Mr. and Mrs. Povey returned from
their honeymoon--the sight of Mrs. Baines getting into the
waggonette for Axe; Mrs. Baines, encumbered with trunks and
parcels, leaving the scene of her struggles and her defeat,
whither she had once come as slim as a wand, to return stout and
heavy, and heavy-hearted, to her childhood; content to live with
her grandiose sister until such time as she should be ready for
burial! The grimy and impassive old house perhaps heard her heart
saying: "Only yesterday they were little girls, ever so tiny, and
now--" The driving-off of a waggonette can be a dreadful thing.




BOOK II

CONSTANCE




CHAPTER I

REVOLUTION

I


"Well," said Mr. Povey, rising from the rocking-chair that in a
previous age had been John Baines's, "I've got to make a start
some time, so I may as well begin now!"

And he went from the parlour into the shop. Constance's eye
followed him as far as the door, where their glances met for an
instant in the transient gaze which expresses the tenderness of
people who feel more than they kiss.

It was on the morning of this day that Mrs. Baines, relinquishing
the sovereignty of St. Luke's Square, had gone to live as a
younger sister in the house of Harriet Maddack at Axe. Constance
guessed little of the secret anguish of that departure. She only
knew that it was just like her mother, having perfectly arranged
the entire house for the arrival of the honeymoon couple from
Buxton, to flit early away so as to spare the natural blushing
diffidence of the said couple. It was like her mother's
commonsense and her mother's sympathetic comprehension. Further,
Constance did not pursue her mother's feelings, being far too busy
with her own. She sat there full of new knowledge and new
importance, brimming with experience and strange, unexpected
aspirations, purposes, yes--and cunnings! And yet, though the very
curves of her cheeks seemed to be mysteriously altering, the old
Constance still lingered in that frame, an innocent soul
hesitating to spread its wings and quit for ever the body which
had been its home; you could see the timid thing peeping wistfully
out of the eyes of the married woman.

Constance rang the bell for Maggie to clear the table; and as she
did so she had the illusion that she was not really a married
woman and a house-mistress, but only a kind of counterfeit. She
did most fervently hope that all would go right in the house--at
any rate until she had grown more accustomed to her situation.

The hope was to be disappointed. Maggie's rather silly, obsequious
smile concealed but for a moment the ineffable tragedy that had
lain in wait for unarmed Constance.

"If you please, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, as she crushed cups
together on the tin tray with her great, red hands, which always
looked like something out of a butcher's shop; then a pause, "Will
you please accept of this?"

Now, before the wedding Maggie had already, with tears of
affection, given Constance a pair of blue glass vases (in order to
purchase which she had been obliged to ask for special permission
to go out), and Constance wondered what was coming now from
Maggie's pocket. A small piece of folded paper came from Maggie's
pocket. Constance accepted of it, and read: "I begs to give one
month's notice to leave. Signed Maggie. June 10, 1867."

"Maggie!" exclaimed the old Constance, terrified by this
incredible occurrence, ere the married woman could strangle her.

"I never give notice before, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, "so I don't
know as I know how it ought for be done--not rightly. But I hope
as you'll accept of it, Mrs. Povey."

"Oh! of course," said Mrs. Povey, primly, just as if Maggie was
not the central supporting pillar of the house, just as if Maggie
had not assisted at her birth, just as if the end of the world had
not abruptly been announced, just as if St. Luke's Square were not
inconceivable without Maggie. "But why--"

"Well, Mrs. Povey, I've been a-thinking it over in my kitchen, and
I said to myself: 'If there's going to be one change there'd
better be two,' I says. Not but what I wouldn't work my fingers to
the bone for ye, Miss Constance."

Here Maggie began to cry into the tray.

Constance looked at her. Despite the special muslin of that day
she had traces of the slatternliness of which Mrs. Baines had
never been able to cure her. She was over forty, big, gawky. She
had no figure, no charms of any kind. She was what was left of a
woman after twenty-two years in the cave of a philanthropic
family. And in her cave she had actually been thinking things
over! Constance detected for the first time, beneath the
dehumanized drudge, the stirrings of a separate and perhaps
capricious individuality. Maggie's engagements had never been real
to her employers. Within the house she had never been, in
practice, anything but 'Maggie'--an organism. And now she was
permitting herself ideas about changes!

"You'll soon be suited with another, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie.
"There's many a--many a--" She burst into sobs.

"But if you really want to leave, what are you crying for,
Maggie?" asked Mrs. Povey, at her wisest. "Have you told mother?"

"No, miss," Maggie whimpered, absently wiping her wrinkled cheeks
with ineffectual muslin. "I couldn't seem to fancy telling your
mother. And as you're the mistress now, I thought as I'd save it
for you when you come home. I hope you'll excuse me, Mrs. Povey."

"Of course I'm very sorry. You've been a very good servant. And in
these days--"

The child had acquired this turn of speech from her mother. It did
not appear to occur to either of them that they were living in the
sixties.

"Thank ye, miss."

"And what are you thinking of doing, Maggie? You know you won't
get many places like this."

"To tell ye the truth, Mrs. Povey, I'm going to get married
mysen."

"Indeed!" murmured Constance, with the perfunctoriness of habit in
replying to these tidings.

"Oh! but I am, mum," Maggie insisted. "It's all settled. Mr.
Hollins, mum."

"Not Hollins, the fish-hawker!"

"Yes, mum. I seem to fancy him. You don't remember as him and me
was engaged in '48. He was my first, like. I broke it off because
he was in that Chartist lot, and I knew as Mr. Baines would never
stand that. Now he's asked me again. He's been a widower this long
time."

"I'm sure I hope you'll be happy, Maggie. But what about his
habits?"

"He won't have no habits with me, Mrs. Povey."

A woman was definitely emerging from the drudge.

When Maggie, having entirely ceased sobbing, had put the folded
cloth in the table-drawer and departed with the tray, her mistress
became frankly the girl again. No primness about her as she stood
alone there in the parlour; no pretence that Maggie's notice to
leave was an everyday document, to be casually glanced at--as one
glances at an unpaid bill! She would be compelled to find a new
servant, making solemn inquiries into character, and to train the
new servant, and to talk to her from heights from which she had
never addressed Maggie. At that moment she had an illusion that
there were no other available, suitable servants in the whole
world. And the arranged marriage? She felt that this time--the
thirteenth or fourteenth time--the engagement was serious and
would only end at the altar. The vision of Maggie and Hollins at
the altar shocked her. Marriage was a series of phenomena, and a
general state, very holy and wonderful--too sacred, somehow, for
such creatures as Maggie and Hollins. Her vague, instinctive
revolt against such a usage of matrimony centred round the idea of
a strong, eternal smell of fish. However, the projected outrage on
a hallowed institution troubled her much less than the imminent
problem of domestic service.

She ran into the shop--or she would have run if she had not
checked her girlishness betimes--and on her lips, ready to be
whispered importantly into a husband's astounded ear, were the
words, "Maggie has given notice! Yes! Truly!" But Samuel Povey was
engaged. He was leaning over the counter and staring at an
outspread paper upon which a certain Mr. Yardley was making
strokes with a thick pencil. Mr. Yardley, who had a long red
beard, painted houses and rooms. She knew him only by sight. In
her mind she always associated him with the sign over his premises
in Trafalgar Road, "Yardley Bros., Authorised plumbers. Painters.
Decorators. Paper-hangers. Facia writers." For years, in
childhood, she had passed that sign without knowing what sort of
things 'Bros,' and 'Facia' were, and what was the mysterious
similarity between a plumber and a version of the Bible. She could
not interrupt her husband, he was wholly absorbed; nor could she
stay in the shop (which appeared just a little smaller than
usual), for that would have meant an unsuccessful endeavour to
front the young lady-assistants as though nothing in particular
had happened to her. So she went sedately up the showroom stairs
and thus to the bedroom floors of the house--her house! Mrs.
Povey's house! She even climbed to Constance's old bedroom; her
mother had stripped the bed--that was all, except a slight
diminution of this room, corresponding to that of the shop! Then
to the drawing-room. In the recess outside the drawing-room door
the black box of silver plate still lay. She had expected her
mother to take it; but no! Assuredly her mother was one to do
things handsomely--when she did them. In the drawing-room, not a
tassel of an antimacassar touched! Yes, the fire-screen, the
luscious bunch of roses on an expanse of mustard, which Constance
had worked for her mother years ago, was gone! That her mother
should have clung to just that one souvenir, out of all the heavy
opulence of the drawing-room, touched Constance intimately. She
perceived that if she could not talk to her husband she must write
to her mother. And she sat down at the oval table and wrote,
"Darling mother, I am sure you will be very surprised to hear. ...
She means it. ... I think she is making a serious mistake. Ought I
to put an advertisement in the Signal, or will it do if. ...
Please write by return. We are back and have enjoyed ourselves
very much. Sam says he enjoys getting up late. ..." And so on to
the last inch of the fourth scolloped page.

She was obliged to revisit the shop for a stamp, stamps being kept
in Mr. Povey's desk in the corner--a high desk, at which you
stood. Mr. Povey was now in earnest converse with Mr. Yardley at
the door, and twilight, which began a full hour earlier in the
shop than in the Square, had cast faint shadows in corners behind
counters.

"Will you just run out with this to the pillar, Miss Dadd?"

"With pleasure, Mrs. Povey."

"Where are you going to?" Mr. Povey interrupted his conversation
to stop the flying girl.

"She's just going to the post for me," Constance called out from
the region of the till.

"Oh! All right!"

A trifle! A nothing! Yet somehow, in the quiet customerless shop,
the episode, with the scarce perceptible difference in Samuel's
tone at his second remark, was delicious to Constance. Somehow it
was the REAL beginning of her wifehood. (There had been about nine
other real beginnings in the past fortnight.)

Mr. Povey came in to supper, laden with ledgers and similar works
which Constance had never even pretended to understand. It was a
sign from him that the honeymoon was over. He was proprietor now,
and his ardour for ledgers most justifiable. Still, there was the
question of her servant.

"Never!" he exclaimed, when she told him all about the end of the
world. A 'never' which expressed extreme astonishment and the
liveliest concern!

But Constance had anticipated that he would have been just a
little more knocked down, bowled over, staggered, stunned,
flabbergasted. In a swift gleam of insight she saw that she had
been in danger of forgetting her role of experienced, capable
married woman.

"I shall have to set about getting a fresh one," she said hastily,
with an admirable assumption of light and easy casualness.

Mr. Povey seemed to think that Hollins would suit Maggie pretty
well. He made no remark to the betrothed when she answered the
final bell of the night.

He opened his ledgers, whistling.

"I think I shall go up, dear," said Constance. "I've a lot of
things to put away."

"Do," said he. "Call out when you've done."

II

"Sam!" she cried from the top of the crooked stairs.

No answer. The door at the foot was closed.

"Sam!"

"Hello?" Distantly, faintly.

"I've done all I'm going to do to-night."

And she ran back along the corridor, a white figure in the deep
gloom, and hurried into bed, and drew the clothes up to her chin.

In the life of a bride there are some dramatic moments. If she has
married the industrious apprentice, one of those moments occurs
when she first occupies the sacred bed-chamber of her ancestors,
and the bed on which she was born. Her parents' room had always
been to Constance, if not sacred, at least invested with a certain
moral solemnity. She could not enter it as she would enter another
room. The course of nature, with its succession of deaths,
conceptions, and births, slowly makes such a room august with a
mysterious quality which interprets the grandeur of mere existence
and imposes itself on all. Constance had the strangest sensations
in that bed, whose heavy dignity of ornament symbolized a past
age; sensations of sacrilege and trespass, of being a naughty girl
to whom punishment would accrue for this shocking freak. Not since
she was quite tiny had she slept in that bed--one night with her
mother, before her father's seizure, when he had been away. What a
limitless, unfathomable bed it was then! Now it was just a bed--so
she had to tell herself--like any other bed. The tiny child that,
safely touching its mother, had slept in the vast expanse, seemed
to her now a pathetic little thing; its image made her feel
melancholy. And her mind dwelt on sad events: the death of her
father, the flight of darling Sophia; the immense grief, and the
exile, of her mother. She esteemed that she knew what life was,
and that it was grim. And she sighed. But the sigh was an
affectation, meant partly to convince herself that she was grown-
up, and partly to keep her in countenance in the intimidating bed.
This melancholy was factitious, was less than transient foam on
the deep sea of her joy. Death and sorrow and sin were dim shapes
to her; the ruthless egoism of happiness blew them away with a
puff, and their wistful faces vanished. To see her there in the
bed, framed in mahogany and tassels, lying on her side, with her
young glowing cheeks, and honest but not artless gaze, and the
rich curve of her hip lifting the counterpane, one would have said
that she had never heard of aught but love.

Mr. Povey entered, the bridegroom, quickly, firmly, carrying it
off rather well, but still self-conscious. "After all," his
shoulders were trying to say, "what's the difference between this
bedroom and the bedroom of a boarding-house? Indeed, ought we not
to feel more at home here? Besides, confound it, we've been
married a fortnight!"

"Doesn't it give you a funny feeling, sleeping in this room? It
does me," said Constance. Women, even experienced women, are so
foolishly frank. They have no decency, no self-respect.

"Really?" replied Mr. Povey, with loftiness, as who should say:
"What an extraordinary thing that a reasonable creature can have
such fancies! Now to me this room is exactly like any other room."
And he added aloud, glancing away from the glass, where he was
unfastening his necktie: "It's not a bad room at all." This, with
the judicial air of an auctioneer.

Not for an instant did he deceive Constance, who read his real
sensations with accuracy. But his futile poses did not in the
slightest degree lessen her respect for him. On the contrary, she
admired him the more for them; they were a sort of embroidery on
the solid stuff of his character. At that period he could not do
wrong for her. The basis of her regard for him was, she often
thought, his honesty, his industry, his genuine kindliness of act,
his grasp of the business, his perseverance, his passion for doing
at once that which had to be done. She had the greatest admiration
for his qualities, and he was in her eyes an indivisible whole;
she could not admire one part of him and frown upon another.
Whatever he did was good because he did it. She knew that some
people were apt to smile at certain phases of his individuality;
she knew that far down in her mother's heart was a suspicion that
she had married ever so little beneath her. But this knowledge did
not disturb her. She had no doubt as to the correctness of her own
estimate.

Mr. Povey was an exceedingly methodical person, and he was also
one of those persons who must always be 'beforehand' with time.
Thus at night he would arrange his raiment so that in the morning
it might be reassumed in the minimum of minutes. He was not a man,
for example, to leave the changing of studs from one shirt to
another till the morrow. Had it been practicable, he would have
brushed his hair the night before. Constance already loved to
watch his meticulous preparations. She saw him now go into his old
bedroom and return with a paper collar, which he put on the
dressing-table next to a black necktie. His shop-suit was laid out
on a chair.

"Oh, Sam!" she exclaimed impulsively, "you surely aren't going to
begin wearing those horrid paper collars again!" During the
honeymoon he had worn linen collars.

Her tone was perfectly gentle, but the remark, nevertheless,
showed a lack of tact. It implied that all his life Mr. Povey had
been enveloping his neck in something which was horrid. Like all
persons with a tendency to fall into the ridiculous, Mr. Povey was
exceedingly sensitive to personal criticisms. He flushed darkly.

"I didn't know they were 'horrid,'" he snapped. He was hurt and
angry. Anger had surprised him unawares.

Both of them suddenly saw that they were standing on the edge of a
chasm, and drew back. They had imagined themselves to be wandering
safely in a flowered meadow, and here was this bottomless chasm!
It was most disconcerting.

Mr. Povey's hand hovered undecided over the collar. "However--" he
muttered.

She could feel that he was trying with all his might to be gentle
and pacific. And she was aghast at her own stupid clumsiness, she
so experienced!

"Just as you like, dear," she said quickly. "Please!"

"Oh no!" And he did his best to smile, and went off gawkily with
the collar and came back with a linen one.

Her passion for him burned stronger than ever. She knew then that
she did not love him for his good qualities, but for something
boyish and naive that there was about him, an indescribable
something that occasionally, when his face was close to hers, made
her dizzy.

The chasm had disappeared. In such moments, when each must pretend
not to have seen or even suspected the chasm, small-talk is
essential.

"Wasn't that Mr. Yardley in the shop to-night?" began Constance.

"Yes."

"What did he want?"

"I'd sent for him. He's going to paint us a signboard."

Useless for Samuel to make-believe that nothing in this world is
more ordinary than a signboard.

"Oh!" murmured Constance. She said no more, the episode of the
paper collar having weakened her self-confidence.

But a signboard!

What with servants, chasms, and signboards, Constance considered
that her life as a married woman would not be deficient in
excitement. Long afterwards, she fell asleep, thinking of Sophia.

III

A few days later Constance was arranging the more precious of her
wedding presents in the parlour; some had to be wrapped in tissue
and in brown paper and then tied with string and labelled; others
had special cases of their own, leather without and velvet within.
Among the latter was the resplendent egg-stand holding twelve
silver-gilt egg-cups and twelve chased spoons to match, presented
by Aunt Harriet. In the Five Towns' phrase, 'it must have cost
money.' Even if Mr. and Mrs. Povey had ten guests or ten children,
and all the twelve of them were simultaneously gripped by a desire
to eat eggs at breakfast or tea--even in this remote contingency
Aunt Harriet would have been pained to see the egg-stand in use;
such treasures are not designed for use. The presents, few in
number, were mainly of this character, because, owing to her
mother's heroic cession of the entire interior, Constance already
possessed every necessary. The fewness of the presents was
accounted for by the fact that the wedding had been strictly
private and had taken place at Axe. There is nothing like secrecy
in marriage for discouraging the generous impulses of one's
friends. It was Mrs. Baines, abetted by both the chief parties,
who had decided that the wedding should be private and secluded.
Sophia's wedding had been altogether too private and secluded; but
the casting of a veil over Constance's (whose union was
irreproachable) somehow justified, after the event, the
circumstances of Sophia's, indicating as it did that Mrs. Baines
believed in secret weddings on principle. In such matters Mrs.
Baines was capable of extraordinary subtlety.

And while Constance was thus taking her wedding presents with due
seriousness, Maggie was cleaning the steps that led from the
pavement of King Street to the side-door, and the door was ajar.
It was a fine June morning.

Suddenly, over the sound of scouring, Constance heard a dog's low
growl and then the hoarse voice of a man:

"Mester in, wench?"

"Happen he is, happen he isn't," came Maggie's answer. She had no
fancy for being called wench.

Constance went to the door, not merely from curiosity, but from a
feeling that her authority and her responsibilities as house-
mistress extended to the pavement surrounding the house.

The famous James Boon, of Buck Row, the greatest dog-fancier in
the Five Towns, stood at the bottom of the steps: a tall, fat man,
clad in stiff, stained brown and smoking a black clay pipe less
than three inches long. Behind him attended two bull-dogs.

"Morning, missis!" cried Boon, cheerfully. "I've heerd tell as th'
mister is looking out for a dog, as you might say."

"I don't stay here with them animals a-sniffing at me--no, that I
don't!" observed Maggie, picking herself up.

"Is he?" Constance hesitated. She knew that Samuel had vaguely
referred to dogs; she had not, however, imagined that he regarded
a dog as aught but a beautiful dream. No dog had ever put paw into
that house, and it seemed impossible that one should ever do so.
As for those beasts of prey on the pavement ...!

"Ay!" said James Boon, calmly.

"I'll tell him you're here," said Constance. "But I don't know if
he's at liberty. He seldom is at this time of day. Maggie, you'd
better come in."

She went slowly to the shop, full of fear for the future.

"Sam," she whispered to her husband, who was writing at his desk,
"here's a man come to see you about a dog."

Assuredly he was taken aback. Still, he behaved with much presence
of mind.

"Oh, about a dog! Who is it?"

"It's that Jim Boon. He says he's heard you want one."

The renowned name of Jim Boon gave him pause; but he had to go
through with the affair, and he went through with it, though
nervously. Constance followed his agitated footsteps to the side-
door.

"Morning, Boon."

"Morning, master."

They began to talk dogs, Mr. Povey, for his part, with due caution.

"Now, there's a dog!" said Boon, pointing to one of the bull-dogs,
a miracle of splendid ugliness.

"Yes," responded Mr. Povey, insincerely. "He is a beauty. What's
it worth now, at a venture?"

"I'll tak' a hundred and twenty sovereigns for her," said Boon.
"Th' other's a bit cheaper--a hundred."

"Oh, Sam!" gasped Constance.

And even Mr. Povey nearly lost his nerve. "That's more than I want
to give," said he timidly.

"But look at her!" Boon persisted, roughly snatching up the more
expensive animal, and displaying her cannibal teeth.

Mr. Povey shook his head. Constance glanced away.

"That's not quite the sort of dog I want," said Mr. Povey.

"Fox-terrier?"

"Yes, that's more like," Mr. Povey agreed eagerly.

"What'll ye run to?"

"Oh," said Mr. Povey, largely, "I don't know."

"Will ye run to a tenner?"

"I thought of something cheaper."

"Well, hoo much? Out wi' it, mester."

"Not more than two pounds," said Mr. Povey. He would have said one
pound had he dared. The prices of dogs amazed him.

"I thowt it was a dog as ye wanted!" said Boon. "Look 'ere,
mester. Come up to my yard and see what I've got."

"I will," said Mr. Povey.

"And bring missis along too. Now, what about a cat for th' missis?
Or a gold-fish?"

The end of the episode was that a young lady aged some twelve
months entered the Povey household on trial. Her exiguous legs
twinkled all over the parlour, and she had the oddest appearance
in the parlour. But she was so confiding, so affectionate, so
timorous, and her black nose was so icy in that hot weather, that
Constance loved her violently within an hour. Mr. Povey made rules
for her. He explained to her that she must never, never go into
the shop. But she went, and he whipped her to the squealing point,
and Constance cried an instant, while admiring her husband's
firmness.

The dog was not all.

On another day Constance, prying into the least details of the
parlour, discovered a box of cigars inside the lid of the
harmonium, on the keyboard. She was so unaccustomed to cigars that
at first she did not realize what the object was. Her father had
never smoked, nor drunk intoxicants; nor had Mr. Critchlow. Nobody
had ever smoked in that house, where tobacco had always been
regarded as equally licentious with cards, 'the devil's
playthings.' Certainly Samuel had never smoked in the house,
though the sight of the cigar-box reminded Constance of an
occasion when her mother had announced an incredulous suspicion
that Mr. Povey, fresh from an excursion into the world on a
Thursday evening, 'smelt of smoke.'

She closed the harmonium and kept silence.

That very night, coming suddenly into the parlour, she caught
Samuel at the harmonium. The lid went down with a resonant bang
that awoke sympathetic vibrations in every corner of the room.

"What is it?" Constance inquired, jumping.

"Oh, nothing!" replied Mr. Povey, carelessly. Each was deceiving
the other: Mr. Povey hid his crime, and Constance hid her
knowledge of his crime. False, false! But this is what marriage
is.

And the next day Constance had a visit in the shop from a possible
new servant, recommended to her by Mr. Holl, the grocer.

"Will you please step this way?" said Constance, with affable
primness, steeped in the novel sense of what it is to be the sole
responsible mistress of a vast household. She preceded the girl to
the parlour, and as they passed the open door of Mr. Povey's
cutting-out room, Constance had the clear vision and titillating
odour of her husband smoking a cigar. He was in his shirt-sleeves,
calmly cutting out, and Fan (the lady companion), at watch on the
bench, yapped at the possible new servant.

"I think I shall try that girl," said she to Samuel at tea. She
said nothing as to the cigar; nor did he.

On the following evening, after supper, Mr. Povey burst out:

"I think I'll have a weed! You didn't know I smoked, did you?"

Thus Mr. Povey came out in his true colours as a blood, a blade,
and a gay spark.

But dogs and cigars, disconcerting enough in their degree, were to
the signboard, when the signboard at last came, as skim milk is to
hot brandy. It was the signboard that, more startlingly than
anything else, marked the dawn of a new era in St. Luke's Square.
Four men spent a day and a half in fixing it; they had ladders,
ropes, and pulleys, and two of them dined on the flat lead roof of
the projecting shop-windows. The signboard was thirty-five feet
long and two feet in depth; over its centre was a semicircle about
three feet in radius; this semicircle bore the legend, judiciously
disposed, "S. Povey. Late." All the sign-board proper was devoted
to the words, "John Baines," in gold letters a foot and a half
high, on a green ground.

The Square watched and wondered; and murmured: "Well, bless us!
What next?"

It was agreed that in giving paramount importance to the name of
his late father-in-law, Mr. Povey had displayed a very nice
feeling.

Some asked with glee: "What'll the old lady have to say?"

Constance asked herself this, but not with glee. When Constance
walked down the Square homewards, she could scarcely bear to look
at the sign; the thought of what her mother might say frightened
her. Her mother's first visit of state was imminent, and Aunt
Harriet was to accompany her. Constance felt almost sick as the
day approached. When she faintly hinted her apprehensions to
Samuel, he demanded, as if surprised--

"Haven't you mentioned it in one of your letters?"

"Oh NO!"

"If that's all," said he, with bravado, "I'll write and tell her
myself."

IV

So that Mrs. Baines was duly apprised of the signboard before her
arrival. The letter written by her to Constance after receiving
Samuel's letter, which was merely the amiable epistle of a son-in-
law anxious to be a little more than correct, contained no
reference to the signboard. This silence, however, did not in the
least allay Constance's apprehensions as to what might occur when
her mother and Samuel met beneath the signboard itself. It was
therefore with a fearful as well as an eager, loving heart that
Constance opened her side-door and ran down the steps when the
waggonette stopped in King Street on the Thursday morning of the
great visit of the sisters. But a surprise awaited her. Aunt
Harriet had not come. Mrs. Baines explained, as she soundly kissed
her daughter, that at the last moment Aunt Harriet had not felt
well enough to undertake the journey. She sent her fondest love,
and cake. Her pains had recurred. It was these mysterious pains
which had prevented the sisters from coming to Bursley earlier.
The word "cancer"--the continual terror of stout women--had been
on their lips, without having been actually uttered; then there
was a surcease, and each was glad that she had refrained from the
dread syllables. In view of the recurrence, it was not unnatural
that Mrs. Baines's vigorous cheerfulness should be somewhat
forced.

"What is it, do you think?" Constance inquired.

Mrs. Baines pushed her lips out and raised her eyebrows--a gesture
which meant that the pains might mean God knew what.

"I hope she'll be all right alone," observed Constance. "Of
course," said Mrs. Baines, quickly. "But you don't suppose I was
going to disappoint you, do you?" she added, looking round as if
to defy the fates in general.

This speech, and its tone, gave intense pleasure to Constance;
and, laden with parcels, they mounted the stairs together, very
content with each other, very happy in the discovery that they
were still mother and daughter, very intimate in an inarticulate
way.

Constance had imagined long, detailed, absorbing, and highly novel
conversations between herself and her mother upon this their first
meeting after her marriage. But alone in the bedroom, and with a
clear half-hour to dinner, they neither of them seemed to have a
great deal to impart.

Mrs. Baines slowly removed her light mantle and laid it with
precautions on the white damask counterpane. Then, fingering her
weeds, she glanced about the chamber. Nothing was changed. Though
Constance had, previous to her marriage, envisaged certain
alterations, she had determined to postpone them, feeling that one
revolutionist in a house was enough.

"Well, my chick, you all right?" said Mrs. Baines, with hearty and
direct energy, gazing straight into her daughter's eyes.

Constance perceived that the question was universal in its
comprehensiveness, the one unique expression that the mother would
give to her maternal concern and curiosity, and that it condensed
into six words as much interest as would have overflowed into a
whole day of the chatter of some mothers. She met the candid
glance, flushing.

"Oh YES!" she answered with ecstatic fervour. "Perfectly!"

And Mrs. Baines nodded, as if dismissing THAT. "You're stouter,"
said she, curtly. "If you aren't careful you'll be as big as any
of us."

"Oh, mother!"

The interview fell to a lower plane of emotion. It even fell as
far as Maggie. What chiefly preoccupied Constance was a subtle
change in her mother. She found her mother fussy in trifles. Her
manner of laying down her mantle, of smoothing out her gloves, and
her anxiety that her bonnet should not come to harm, were rather
trying, were perhaps, in the very slightest degree, pitiable. It
was nothing; it was barely perceptible, and yet it was enough to
alter Constance's mental attitude to her mother. "Poor dear!"
thought Constance. "I'm afraid she's not what she was." Incredible
that her mother could have age in less than six weeks! Constance
did not allow for the chemistry that had been going on in herself.

The encounter between Mrs. Baines and her son-in-law was of the
most satisfactory nature. He was waiting in the parlour for her to
descend. He made himself exceedingly agreeable, kissing her, and
flattering her by his evidently sincere desire to please. He
explained that he had kept an eye open for the waggonette, but had
been called away. His "Dear me!" on learning about Aunt Harriet
lacked nothing in conviction, though both women knew that his
affection for Aunt Harriet would never get the better of his
reason. To Constance, her husband's behaviour was marvellously
perfect. She had not suspected him to be such a man of the world.
And her eyes said to her mother, quite unconsciously: "You see,
after all, you didn't rate Sam as high as you ought to have done.
Now you see your mistake."

As they sat waiting for dinner, Constance and Mrs. Baines on the
sofa, and Samuel on the edge of the nearest rocking-chair, a small
scuffling noise was heard outside the door which gave on the
kitchen steps, the door yielded to pressure, and Fan rushed
importantly in, deranging mats. Fan's nose had been hinting to her
that she was behind the times, not up-to-date in the affairs of
the household, and she had hurried from the kitchen to make
inquiries. It occurred to her en route that she had been washed
that morning. The spectacle of Mrs. Baines stopped her. She stood,
with her legs slightly out-stretched, her nose lifted, her ears
raking forward, her bright eyes blinking, and her tail undecided.
"I was sure I'd never smelt anything like that before," she was
saying to herself, as she stared at Mrs. Baines.

And Mrs. Baines, staring at Fan, had a similar though not the same
sentiment. The silence was terrible. Constance took on the mien of
a culprit, and Sam had obviously lost his easy bearing of a man of
the world. Mrs. Baines was merely thunderstruck.

A dog!

Suddenly Fan's tail began to wag more quickly; and then, having
looked in vain for encouragement to her master and mistress, she
gave one mighty spring and alighted in Mrs. Baines's lap. It was
an aim she could not have missed. Constance emitted an "Oh, FAN!"
of shocked terror, and Samuel betrayed his nervous tension by an
involuntary movement. But Fan had settled down into that titanic
lap as into heaven. It was a greater flattery than Mr. Povey's.

"So your name's Fan!" murmured Mrs. Baines, stroking the animal.
"You are a dear!"

"Yes, isn't she?" said Constance, with inconceivable rapidity.

The danger was past. Thus, without any explanation, Fan became an
accepted fact.

The next moment Maggie served the Yorkshire pudding.

"Well, Maggie," said Mrs. Baines. "So you are going to get married
this time? When is it?"

"Sunday, ma'am."

"And you leave here on Saturday?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well, I must have a talk with you before I go."

During the dinner, not a word as to the signboard! Several times
the conversation curved towards that signboard in the most
alarming fashion, but invariably it curved away again, like a
train from another train when two trains are simultaneously
leaving a station. Constance had frights, so serious as to destroy
her anxiety about the cookery. In the end she comprehended that
her mother had adopted a silently disapproving attitude. Fan was
socially very useful throughout the repast.

After dinner Constance was on pins lest Samuel should light a
cigar. She had not requested him not to do so, for though she was
entirely sure of his affection, she had already learned that a
husband is possessed by a demon of contrariety which often forces
him to violate his higher feelings. However, Samuel did not light
a cigar. He went off to superintend the shutting-up of the shop,
while Mrs. Baines chatted with Maggie and gave her L5 for a
wedding present. Then Mr. Critchlow called to offer his
salutations.

A little before tea Mrs. Baines announced that she would go out
for a short walk by herself.

"Where has she gone to?" smiled Samuel, superiorly, as with
Constance at the window he watched her turn down King Street
towards the church.

"I expect she has gone to look at father's grave," said Constance.

"Oh!" muttered Samuel, apologetically.

Constance was mistaken. Before reaching the church, Mrs. Baines
deviated to the right, got into Brougham Street and thence, by
Acre Lane, into Oldcastle Street, whose steep she climbed. Now,
Oldcastle Street ends at the top of St. Luke's Square, and from
the corner Mrs. Baines had an excellent view of the signboard. It
being Thursday afternoon, scarce a soul was about. She returned to
her daughter's by the same extraordinary route, and said not a
word on entering. But she was markedly cheerful.

The waggonette came after tea, and Mrs. Baines made her final
preparations to depart. The visit had proved a wonderful success;
it would have been utterly perfect if Samuel had not marred it at
the very door of the waggonette. Somehow, he contrived to be
talking of Christmas. Only a person of Samuel's native clumsiness
would have mentioned Christmas in July.

"You know you'll spend Christmas with us!" said he into the
waggonette.

"Indeed I shan't!" replied Mrs. Baines. "Aunt Harriet and I will
expect you at Axe. We've already settled that."

Mr. Povey bridled. "Oh no!" he protested, hurt by this
summariness.

Having had no relatives, except his cousin the confectioner, for
many years, he had dreamt of at last establishing a family
Christmas under his own roof, and the dream was dear to him.

Mrs. Baines said nothing. "We couldn't possibly leave the shop,"
said Mr. Povey.

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Baines retorted, putting her lips together.
"Christmas Day is on a Monday."

The waggonette in starting jerked her head towards the door and
set all her curls shaking. No white in those curls yet, scarcely a
touch of grey!

"I shall take good care we don't go there anyway," Mr. Povey
mumbled, in his heat, half to himself and half to Constance.

He had stained the brightness of the day.




CHAPTER II

CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE

I


Mr. Povey was playing a hymn tune on the harmonium, it having been
decided that no one should go to chapel. Constance, in mourning,
with a white apron over her dress, sat on a hassock in front of
the fire; and near her, in a rocking-chair, Mrs. Baines swayed
very gently to and fro. The weather was extremely cold. Mr.
Povey's mittened hands were blue and red; but, like many
shopkeepers, he had apparently grown almost insensible to vagaries
of temperature. Although the fire was immense and furious, its
influence, owing to the fact that the mediaeval grate was designed
to heat the flue rather than the room, seemed to die away at the
borders of the fender. Constance could not have been much closer
to it without being a salamander. The era of good old-fashioned
Christmases, so agreeably picturesque for the poor, was not yet at
an end.

Yes, Samuel Povey had won the battle concerning the locus of the
family Christmas. But he had received the help of a formidable
ally, death. Mrs. Harriet Maddack had passed away, after an
operation, leaving her house and her money to her sister. The
solemn rite of her interment had deeply affected all the
respectability of the town of Axe, where the late Mr. Maddack had
been a figure of consequence; it had even shut up the shop in St.
Luke's Square for a whole day. It was such a funeral as Aunt
Harriet herself would have approved, a tremendous ceremonial which
left on the crushed mind an ineffaceable, intricate impression of
shiny cloth, crape, horses with arching necks and long manes, the
drawl of parsons, cake, port, sighs, and Christian submission to
the inscrutable decrees of Providence. Mrs. Baines had borne
herself with unnatural calmness until the funeral was over: and
then Constance perceived that the remembered mother of her
girlhood existed no longer. For the majority of human souls it
would have been easier to love a virtuous principle, or a
mountain, than to love Aunt Harriet, who was assuredly less a
woman than an institution. But Mrs. Baines had loved her, and she
had been the one person to whom Mrs. Baines looked for support and
guidance. When she died, Mrs. Baines paid the tribute of respect
with the last hoarded remains of her proud fortitude, and
weepingly confessed that the unconquerable had been conquered, the
inexhaustible exhausted; and became old with whitening hair.

She had persisted in her refusal to spend Christmas in Bursley,
but both Constance and Samuel knew that the resistance was only
formal. She soon yielded. When Constance's second new servant took
it into her head to leave a week before Christmas, Mrs. Baines
might have pointed out the finger of Providence at work again, and
this time in her favour. But no! With amazing pliancy she
suggested that she should bring one of her own servants to 'tide
Constance over' Christmas. She was met with all the forms of
loving solicitude, and she found that her daughter and son-in-law
had 'turned out of' the state bedroom in her favour. Intensely
flattered by this attention (which was Mr. Povey's magnanimous
idea), she nevertheless protested strongly. Indeed she 'would not
hear of it.'

"Now, mother, don't be silly," Constance had said firmly. "You
don't expect us to be at all the trouble of moving back again, do
you?" And Mrs. Baines had surrendered in tears.

Thus had come Christmas. Perhaps it was fortunate that, the Axe
servant being not quite the ordinary servant, but a benefactor
where a benefactor was needed, both Constance and her mother
thought it well to occupy themselves in household work, 'sparing'
the benefactor as much as possible. Hence Constance's white
apron.

"There he is!" said Mr. Povey, still playing, but with his eye on
the street.

Constance sprang up eagerly. Then there was a knock on the door.
Constance opened, and an icy blast swept into the room. The
postman stood on the steps, his instrument for knocking (like a
drumstick) in one hand, a large bundle of letters in the other,
and a yawning bag across the pit of his stomach.

"Merry Christmas, ma'am!" cried the postman, trying to keep warm
by cheerfulness.

Constance, taking the letters, responded, while Mr. Povey, playing
the harmonium with his right hand, drew half a crown from his
pocket with the left.

"Here you are!" he said, giving it to Constance, who gave it to
the postman.

Fan, who had been keeping her muzzle warm with the extremity of
her tail on the sofa, jumped down to superintend the transaction.

"Brrr!" vibrated Mr. Povey as Constance shut the door.

"What lots!" Constance exclaimed, rushing to the fire. "Here,
mother! Here, Sam!"

The girl had resumed possession of the woman's body.

Though the Baines family had few friends (sustained hospitality
being little practised in those days) they had, of course, many
acquaintances, and, like other families, they counted their
Christmas cards as an Indian counts scalps. The tale was
satisfactory. There were between thirty and forty envelopes.
Constance extracted Christmas cards rapidly, reading their
contents aloud, and then propping them up on the mantelpiece. Mrs.
Baines assisted. Fan dealt with the envelopes on the floor. Mr.
Povey, to prove that his soul was above toys and gewgaws,
continued to play the harmonium.

"Oh, mother!" Constance murmured in a startled, hesitant voice,
holding an envelope.

"What is it, my chuck?"

"It's----"

The envelope was addressed to "Mrs. and Miss Baines" in large,
perpendicular, dashing characters which Constance instantly
recognised as Sophia's. The stamps were strange, the postmark
'Paris.' Mrs. Baines leaned forward and looked.

"Open it, child," she said.

The envelope contained an English Christmas card of a common type,
a spray of holly with greetings, and on it was written, "I do hope
this will reach you on Christmas morning. Fondest love." No
signature, nor address.

Mrs. Baines took it with a trembling hand, and adjusted her
spectacles. She gazed at it a long time.

"And it has done!" she said, and wept.

She tried to speak again, but not being able to command herself,
held forth the card to Constance and jerked her head in the
direction of Mr. Povey. Constance rose and put the card on the
keyboard of the harmonium.

"Sophia!" she whispered.

Mr. Povey stopped playing. "Dear, dear!" he muttered.

Fan, perceiving that nobody was interested in her feats, suddenly
stood still.

Mrs. Baines tried once more to speak, but could not. Then, her
ringlets shaking beneath the band of her weeds, she found her
feet, stepped to the harmonium, and, with a movement almost
convulsive, snatched the card from Mr. Povey, and returned to her
chair.

Mr. Povey abruptly left the room, followed by Fan. Both the women
were in tears, and he was tremendously surprised to discover a
dangerous lump in his own throat. The beautiful and imperious
vision of Sophia, Sophia as she had left them, innocent, wayward,
had swiftly risen up before him and made even him a woman too! Yet
he had never liked Sophia. The awful secret wound in the family
pride revealed itself to him as never before, and he felt
intensely the mother's tragedy, which she carried in her breast as
Aunt Harriet had carried a cancer.

At dinner he said suddenly to Mrs. Baines, who still wept: "Now,
mother, you must cheer up, you know."

"Yes, I must," she said quickly. And she did do.

Neither Samuel nor Constance saw the card again. Little was said.
There was nothing to say. As Sophia had given no address she must
be still ashamed of her situation. But she had thought of her
mother and sister. She ... she did not even know that Constance
was married ... What sort of a place was Paris? To Bursley, Paris
was nothing but the site of a great exhibition which had recently
closed.

Through the influence of Mrs. Baines a new servant was found for
Constance in a village near Axe, a raw, comely girl who had never
been in a 'place.' And through the post it was arranged that this
innocent should come to the cave on the thirty-first of December.
In obedience to the safe rule that servants should never be
allowed to meet for the interchange of opinions, Mrs. Baines
decided to leave with her own servant on the thirtieth. She would
not be persuaded to spend the New Year in the Square. On the
twenty-ninth poor Aunt Maria died all of a sudden in her cottage
in Brougham Street. Everybody was duly distressed, and in
particular Mrs. Baines's demeanour under this affliction showed
the perfection of correctness. But she caused it to be understood
that she should not remain for the funeral. Her nerves would be
unequal to the ordeal; and, moreover, her servant must not stay to
corrupt the new girl, nor could Mrs. Baines think of sending her
servant to Axe in advance, to spend several days in idle gossip
with her colleague.

This decision took the backbone out of Aunt Maria's funeral, which
touched the extreme of modesty: a hearse and a one-horse coach.
Mr. Povey was glad, because he happened to be very busy. An hour
before his mother-in-law's departure he came into the parlour with
the proof of a poster.

"What is that, Samuel?" asked Mrs. Baines, not dreaming of the
blow that awaited her.

"It's for my first Annual Sale," replied Mr. Povey with false
tranquillity.

Mrs. Baines merely tossed her head. Constance, happily for
Constance, was not present at this final defeat of the old order.
Had she been there, she would certainly not have known where to
look.

II

"Forty next birthday!" Mr. Povey exclaimed one day, with an
expression and in a tone that were at once mock-serious and
serious. This was on his thirty-ninth birthday.

Constance was startled. She had, of course, been aware that they
were getting older, but she had never realized the phenomenon.
Though customers occasionally remarked that Mr. Povey was stouter,
and though when she helped him to measure himself for a new suit
of clothes the tape proved the fact, he had not changed for her.
She knew that she too had become somewhat stouter; but for
herself, she remained exactly the same Constance. Only by
recalling dates and by calculations could she really grasp that
she had been married a little over six years and not a little over
six months. She had to admit that, if Samuel would be forty next
birthday, she would be twenty-seven next birthday. But it would
not be a real twenty-seven; nor would Sam's forty be a real forty,
like other people's twenty-sevens and forties. Not long since she
had been in the habit of regarding a man of forty as senile, as
practically in his grave.

She reflected, and the more she reflected the more clearly she saw
that after all the almanacs had not lied. Look at Fan! Yes, it
must be five years since the memorable morning when doubt first
crossed the minds of Samuel and Constance as to Fan's moral
principles. Samuel's enthusiasm for dogs was equalled by his
ignorance of the dangers to which a young female of temperament
may be exposed, and he was much disturbed as doubt developed into
certainty. Fan, indeed, was the one being who did not suffer from
shock and who had no fears as to the results. The animal, having a
pure mind, was bereft of modesty. Sundry enormities had she
committed, but none to rank with this one! The result was four
quadrupeds recognizable as fox-terriers. Mr. Povey breathed again.
Fan had had more luck than she deserved, for the result might have
been simply anything. Her owners forgave her and disposed of these
fruits of iniquity, and then married her lawfully to a husband who
was so high up in the world that he could demand a dowry. And now
Fan was a grandmother, with fixed ideas and habits, and a son in
the house, and various grandchildren scattered over the town. Fan
was a sedate and disillusioned dog. She knew the world as it was,
and in learning it she had taught her owners above a bit.

Then there was Maggie Hollins. Constance could still vividly
recall the self-consciousness with which she had one day received
Maggie and the heir of the Hollinses; but it was a long time ago.
After staggering half the town by the production of this infant
(of which she nearly died) Maggie allowed the angels to waft it
away to heaven, and everybody said that she ought to be very
thankful--at her age. Old women dug up out of their minds
forgotten histories of the eccentricities of the goddess Lucina.
Mrs. Baines was most curiously interested; she talked freely to
Constance, and Constance began to see what an incredible town
Bursley had always been--and she never suspected it! Maggie was
now mother of other children, and the draggled, lame mistress of a
drunken home, and looked sixty. Despite her prophecy, her husband
had conserved his 'habits.' The Poveys ate all the fish they
could, and sometimes more than they enjoyed, because on his sober
days Hollins invariably started his round at the shop, and
Constance had to buy for Maggie's sake. The worst of the worthless
husband was that he seldom failed to be cheery and polite. He
never missed asking after the health of Mrs. Baines. And when
Constance replied that her mother was 'pretty well considering,'
but that she would not come over to Bursley again until the Axe
railway was opened, as she could not stand the drive, he would
shake his grey head and be sympathetically gloomy for an instant.

All these changes in six years! The almanacs were in the right of
it.

But nothing had happened to her. Gradually she had obtained a sure
ascendency over her mother, yet without seeking it, merely as the
outcome of time's influences on her and on her mother
respectively. Gradually she had gained skill and use in the
management of her household and of her share of the shop, so that
these machines ran smoothly and effectively and a sudden
contretemps no longer frightened her. Gradually she had
constructed a chart of Samuel's individuality, with the submerged
rocks and perilous currents all carefully marked, so that she
could now voyage unalarmed in those seas. But nothing happened.
Unless their visits to Buxton could be called happenings!
Decidedly the visit to Buxton was the one little hill that rose
out of the level plain of the year. They had formed the annual
habit of going to Buxton for ten days. They had a way of saying:
"Yes, we always go to Buxton. We went there for our honeymoon, you
know." They had become confirmed Buxtonites, with views concerning
St. Anne's Terrace, the Broad Walk and Peel's Cavern. They could
not dream of deserting their Buxton. It was the sole possible
resort. Was it not the highest town in England? Well, then! They
always stayed at the same lodgings, and grew to be special
favourites of the landlady, who whispered of them to all her other
guests as having come to her house for their honeymoon, and as
never missing a year, and as being most respectable, superior
people in quite a large way of business. Each year they walked out
of Buxton station behind their luggage on a truck, full of joy and
pride because they knew all the landmarks, and the lie of all the
streets, and which were the best shops.

At the beginning, the notion of leaving the shop to hired custody
had seemed almost fantastic, and the preparations for absence had
been very complicated. Then it was that Miss Insull had detached
herself from the other young lady assistants as a creature who
could be absolutely trusted. Miss Insull was older than Constance;
she had a bad complexion, and she was not clever, but she was one
of your reliable ones. The six years had witnessed the slow,
steady rise of Miss Insull. Her employers said 'Miss Insull' in a
tone quite different from that in which they said 'Miss Hawkins,'
or 'Miss Dadd.' 'Miss Insull' meant the end of a discussion.
'Better tell Miss Insull.' 'Miss Insull will see to that.' 'I
shall ask Miss Insull.' Miss Insull slept in the house ten nights
every year. Miss Insull had been called into consultation when it
was decided to engage a fourth hand in the shape of an apprentice.

Trade had improved in the point of excellence. It was now admitted
to be good--a rare honour for trade! The coal-mining boom was at
its height, and colliers, in addition to getting drunk, were
buying American organs and expensive bull-terriers. Often they
would come to the shop to purchase cloth for coats for their dogs.
And they would have good cloth. Mr. Povey did not like this. One
day a butty chose for his dog the best cloth of Mr. Povey's shop--
at 12s. a yard. "Will ye make it up? I've gotten th'
measurements," asked the collier. "No, I won't!" said Mr. Povey,
hotly. "And what's more, I won't sell you the cloth either! Cloth
at 12s. a yard on a dog's back indeed! I'll thank you to get out
of my shop!" The incident became historic, in the Square. It
finally established that Mr. Povey was a worthy son-in-law and a
solid and successful man. It vindicated the old pre-eminence of
"Baines's." Some surprise was expressed that Mr. Povey showed no
desire nor tendency towards entering the public life of the town.
But he never would, though a keen satirical critic of the Local
Board in private. And at the chapel he remained a simple private
worshipper, refusing stewardships and trusteeships.

III

Was Constance happy? Of course there was always something on her
mind, something that had to be dealt with, either in the shop or
in the house, something to employ all the skill and experience
which she had acquired. Her life had much in it of laborious
tedium--tedium never-ending and monotonous. And both she and
Samuel worked consistently hard, rising early, 'pushing forward,'
as the phrase ran, and going to bed early from sheer fatigue; week
after week and month after month as season changed imperceptibly
into season. In June and July it would happen to them occasionally
to retire before the last silver of dusk was out of the sky. They
would lie in bed and talk placidly of their daily affairs. There
would be a noise in the street below. "Vaults closing!" Samuel
would say, and yawn. "Yes, it's quite late," Constance would say.
And the Swiss clock would rapidly strike eleven on its coil of
resonant wire. And then, just before she went to sleep, Constance
might reflect upon her destiny, as even the busiest and smoothest
women do, and she would decide that it was kind. Her mother's
gradual decline and lonely life at Axe saddened her. The cards
which came now and then at extremely long intervals from Sophia
had been the cause of more sorrow than joy. The naive ecstasies of
her girlhood had long since departed--the price paid for
experience and self-possession and a true vision of things. The
vast inherent melancholy of the universe did not exempt her. But
as she went to sleep she would be conscious of a vague
contentment. The basis of this contentment was the fact that she
and Samuel comprehended and esteemed each other, and made
allowances for each other. Their characters had been tested and
had stood the test. Affection, love, was not to them a salient
phenomenon in their relations. Habit had inevitably dulled its
glitter. It was like a flavouring, scarce remarked; but had it
been absent, how they would have turned from that dish!

Samuel never, or hardly ever, set himself to meditate upon the
problem whether or not life had come up to his expectations. But
he had, at times, strange sensations which he did not analyze, and
which approached nearer to ecstasy than any feeling of
Constance's. Thus, when he was in one of his dark furies, molten
within and black without, the sudden thought of his wife's
unalterable benignant calm, which nothing could overthrow, might
strike him into a wondering cold. For him she was astoundingly
feminine. She would put flowers on the mantelpiece, and then,
hours afterwards, in the middle of a meal, ask him unexpectedly
what he thought of her 'garden;' and he gradually divined that a
perfunctory reply left her unsatisfied; she wanted a genuine
opinion; a genuine opinion mattered to her. Fancy calling flowers
on a mantelpiece a 'garden'! How charming, how childlike! Then she
had a way, on Sunday mornings, when she descended to the parlour
all ready for chapel, of shutting the door at the foot of the
stairs with a little bang, shaking herself, and turning round
swiftly as if for his inspection, as if saying: "Well, what about
this? Will this do?" A phenomenon always associated in his mind
with the smell of kid gloves! Invariably she asked him about the
colours and cut of her dresses. Would he prefer this, or that? He
could not take such questions seriously until one day he happened
to hint, merely hint, that he was not a thorough-going admirer of
a certain new dress--it was her first new dress after the definite
abandonment of crinolines. She never wore it again. He thought she
was not serious at first, and remonstrated against a joke being
carried too far. She said: "It's not a bit of use you talking, I
shan't wear it again." And then he so far appreciated her
seriousness as to refrain, by discretion, from any comment. The
incident affected him for days. It flattered him; it thrilled him;
but it baffled him. Strange that a woman subject to such caprices
should be so sagacious, capable, and utterly reliable as Constance
was! For the practical and commonsense side of her eternally
compelled his admiration. The very first example of it--her
insistence that the simultaneous absence of both of them from the
shop for half an hour or an hour twice a day would not mean the
immediate downfall of the business--had remained in his mind ever
since. Had she not been obstinate--in her benevolent way--against
the old superstition which he had acquired from his employers,
they might have been eating separately to that day. Then her
handling of her mother during the months of the siege of Paris,
when Mrs. Baines was convinced that her sinful daughter was in
hourly danger of death, had been extraordinarily fine, he
considered. And the sequel, a card for Constance's birthday, had
completely justified her attitude.

Sometimes some blundering fool would jovially exclaim to them:

"What about that baby?"

Or a woman would remark quietly: "I often feel sorry you've no
children."

And they would answer that really they did not know what they
would do if there was a baby. What with the shop and one thing or
another ...! And they were quite sincere.

IV

It is remarkable what a little thing will draw even the most
regular and serious people from the deep groove of their habits.
One morning in March, a boneshaker, an affair on two equal wooden
wheels joined by a bar of iron, in the middle of which was a
wooden saddle, disturbed the gravity of St. Luke's Square. True,
it was probably the first boneshaker that had ever attacked the
gravity of St. Luke's Square. It came out of the shop of Daniel
Povey, the confectioner and baker, and Samuel Povey's celebrated
cousin, in Boulton Terrace. Boulton Terrace formed nearly a right
angle with the Baines premises, and at the corner of the angle
Wedgwood Street and King Street left the Square. The boneshaker
was brought forth by Dick Povey, the only son of Daniel, now aged
eleven years, under the superintendence of his father, and the
Square soon perceived that Dick had a natural talent for breaking-
in an untrained boneshaker. After a few attempts he could remain
on the back of the machine for at least ten yards, and his feats
had the effect of endowing St. Luke's Square with the
attractiveness of a circus. Samuel Povey watched with candid
interest from the ambush of his door, while the unfortunate young
lady assistants, though aware of the performance that was going
on, dared not stir from the stove. Samuel was tremendously tempted
to sally out boldly, and chat with his cousin about the toy; he
had surely a better right to do so than any other tradesman in the
Square, since he was of the family; but his diffidence prevented
him from moving. Presently Daniel Povey and Dick went to the top
of the Square with the machine, opposite Holl's, and Dick, being
carefully installed in the saddle, essayed to descend the gentle
paven slopes of the Square. He failed time after time; the machine
had an astonishing way of turning round, running uphill, and then
lying calmly on its side. At this point of Dick's life-history
every shop-door in the Square was occupied by an audience. At last
the boneshaker displayed less unwillingness to obey, and lo! in a
moment Dick was riding down the Square, and the spectators held
their breath as if he had been Blondin crossing Niagara. Every
second he ought to have fallen off, but he contrived to keep
upright. Already he had accomplished twenty yards--thirty yards!
It was a miracle that he was performing! The transit continued,
and seemed to occupy hours. And then a faint hope rose in the
breast of the watchers that the prodigy might arrive at the bottom
of the Square. His speed was increasing with his 'nack.' But the
Square was enormous, boundless. Samuel Povey gazed at the
approaching phenomenon, as a bird at a serpent, with bulging,
beady eyes. The child's speed went on increasing and his path grew
straighter. Yes, he would arrive; he would do it! Samuel Povey
involuntarily lifted one leg in his nervous tension. And now the
hope that Dick would arrive became a fear, as his pace grew still
more rapid. Everybody lifted one leg, and gaped. And the intrepid
child surged on, and, finally victorious, crashed into the
pavement in front of Samuel at the rate of quite six miles an
hour.

Samuel picked him up, unscathed. And somehow this picking up of
Dick invested Samuel with importance, gave him a share in the
glory of the feat itself.

Daniel Povey same running and joyous. "Not so bad for a start,
eh?" exclaimed the great Daniel. Though by no means a simple man,
his pride in his offspring sometimes made him a little naive.

Father and son explained the machine to Samuel, Dick incessantly
repeating the exceedingly strange truth that if you felt you were
falling to your right you must turn to your right and vice versa.
Samuel found himself suddenly admitted, as it were, to the inner
fellowship of the boneshaker, exalted above the rest of the
Square. In another adventure more thrilling events occurred. The
fair-haired Dick was one of those dangerous, frenzied madcaps who
are born without fear. The secret of the machine had been revealed
to him in his recent transit, and he was silently determining to
surpass himself. Precariously balanced, he descended the Square
again, frowning hard, his teeth set, and actually managed to
swerve into King Street. Constance, in the parlour, saw an
incomprehensible winged thing fly past the window. The cousins
Povey sounded an alarm and protest and ran in pursuit; for the
gradient of King Street is, in the strict sense, steep. Half-way
down King Street Dick was travelling at twenty miles an hour, and
heading straight for the church, as though he meant to
disestablish it and perish. The main gate of the churchyard was
open, and that affrighting child, with a lunatic's luck, whizzed
safely through the portals into God's acre. The cousins Povey
discovered him lying on a green grave, clothed in pride. His first
words were: "Dad, did you pick my cap up?" The symbolism of the
amazing ride did not escape the Square; indeed, it was much
discussed.

This incident led to a friendship between the cousins. They formed
a habit of meeting in the Square for a chat. The meetings were the
subject of comment, for Samuel's relations with the greater Daniel
had always been of the most distant. It was understood that Samuel
disapproved of Mrs. Daniel Povey even, more than the majority of
people disapproved of her. Mrs. Daniel Povey, however, was away
from home; probably, had she not been, Samuel would not even have
gone to the length of joining Daniel on the neutral ground of the
open Square. But having once broken the ice, Samuel was glad to be
on terms of growing intimacy with his cousin. The friendship
flattered him, for Daniel, despite his wife, was a figure in a
world larger than Samuel's; moreover, it consecrated his position
as the equal of no matter what tradesman (apprentice though he had
been), and also he genuinely liked and admired Daniel, rather to
his own astonishment.

Every one liked Daniel Povey; he was a favourite among all ranks.
The leading confectioner, a member of the Local Board, and a
sidesman at St. Luke's, he was, and had been for twenty-five
years, very prominent in the town. He was a tall, handsome man,
with a trimmed, greying beard, a jolly smile, and a flashing, dark
eye. His good humour seemed to be permanent. He had dignity
without the slightest stiffness; he was welcomed by his equals and
frankly adored by his inferiors. He ought to have been Chief
Bailiff, for he was rich enough; but there intervened a mysterious
obstacle between Daniel Povey and the supreme honour, a scarcely
tangible impediment which could not be definitely stated. He was
capable, honest, industrious, successful, and an excellent
speaker; and if he did not belong to the austerer section of
society, if, for example, he thought nothing of dropping into the
Tiger for a glass of beer, or of using an oath occasionally, or of
telling a facetious story--well, in a busy, broad-minded town of
thirty thousand inhabitants, such proclivities are no bar whatever
to perfect esteem. But--how is one to phrase it without wronging
Daniel Povey? He was entirely moral; his views were
unexceptionable. The truth is that, for the ruling classes of
Bursley, Daniel Povey was just a little too fanatical a worshipper
of the god Pan. He was one of the remnant who had kept alive the
great Pan tradition from the days of the Regency through the vast,
arid Victorian expanse of years. The flighty character of his wife
was regarded by many as a judgment upon him for the robust
Rabelaisianism of his more private conversation, for his frank
interest in, his eternal preoccupation with, aspects of life and
human activity which, though essential to the divine purpose, are
not openly recognized as such--even by Daniel Poveys. It was not a
question of his conduct; it was a question of the cast of his
mind. If it did not explain his friendship with the rector of St.
Luke's, it explained his departure from the Primitive Methodist
connexion, to which the Poveys as a family had belonged since
Primitive Methodism was created in Turnhill in 1807.

Daniel Povey had a way of assuming that every male was boiling
over with interest in the sacred cult of Pan. The assumption,
though sometimes causing inconvenience at first, usually conquered
by virtue of its inherent truthfulness. Thus it fell out with
Samuel. Samuel had not suspected that Pan had silken cords to draw
him. He had always averted his eyes from the god--that is to say,
within reason. Yet now Daniel, on perhaps a couple of fine
mornings a week, in full Square, with Fan sitting behind on the
cold stones, and Mr. Critchlow ironic at his door in a long white
apron, would entertain Samuel Povey for half an hour with Pan's
most intimate lore, and Samuel Povey would not blench. He would,
on the contrary, stand up to Daniel like a little man, and pretend
with all his might to be, potentially, a perfect arch-priest of
the god. Daniel taught him a lot; turned over the page of life for
him, as it were, and, showing the reverse side, seemed to say:
"You were missing all that." Samuel gazed upwards at the handsome
long nose and rich lips of his elder cousin, so experienced, so
agreeable, so renowned, so esteemed, so philosophic, and admitted
to himself that he had lived to the age of forty in a state of
comparative boobyism. And then he would gaze downwards at the
faint patch of flour on Daniel's right leg, and conceive that life
was, and must be, life.

Not many weeks after his initiation into the cult he was startled
by Constance's preoccupied face one evening. Now, a husband of six
years' standing, to whom it has not happened to become a father,
is not easily startled by such a face as Constance wore. Years ago
he had frequently been startled, had frequently lived in suspense
for a few days. But he had long since grown impervious to these
alarms. And now he was startled again--but as a man may be
startled who is not altogether surprised at being startled. And
seven endless days passed, and Samuel and Constance glanced at
each other like guilty things, whose secret refuses to be kept.
Then three more days passed, and another three. Then Samuel Povey
remarked in a firm, masculine, fact-fronting tone:

"Oh, there's no doubt about it!"

And they glanced at each other like conspirators who have lighted
a fuse and cannot take refuge in flight. Their eyes said
continually, with a delicious, an enchanting mixture of ingenuous
modesty and fearful joy:

"Well, we've gone and done it!"

There it was, the incredible, incomprehensible future--coming!

Samuel had never correctly imagined the manner of its heralding.
He had imagined in his early simplicity that one day Constance,
blushing, might put her mouth to his ear and whisper--something
positive. It had not occurred in the least like that. But things
are so obstinately, so incurably unsentimental.

"I think we ought to drive over and tell mother, on Sunday," said
Constance.

His impulse was to reply, in his grand, offhand style: "Oh, a
letter will do!"

But he checked himself and said, with careful deference: "You
think that will be better than writing?"

All was changed. He braced every fibre to meet destiny, and to
help Constance to meet it.

The weather threatened on Sunday. He went to Axe without
Constance. His cousin drove him there in a dog-cart, and he
announced that he should walk home, as the exercise would do him
good. During the drive Daniel, in whom he had not confided,
chattered as usual, and Samuel pretended to listen with the same
attitude as usual; but secretly he despised Daniel for a man who
has got something not of the first importance on the brain. His
perspective was truer than Daniel's.

He walked home, as he had decided, over the wavy moorland of the
county dreaming in the heart of England. Night fell on him in mid-
career, and he was tired. But the earth, as it whirled through
naked space, whirled up the moon for him, and he pressed on at a
good speed. A wind from Arabia wandering cooled his face. And at
last, over the brow of Toft End, he saw suddenly the Five Towns a-
twinkle on their little hills down in the vast amphitheatre. And
one of those lamps was Constance's lamp--one, somewhere. He lived,
then. He entered into the shadow of nature. The mysteries made him
solemn. What! A boneshaker, his cousin, and then this!

"Well, I'm damned! Well, I'm damned!" he kept repeating, he who
never swore.




CHAPTER III

CYRIL

I


Constance stood at the large, many-paned window in the parlour.
She was stouter. Although always plump, her figure had been
comely, with a neat, well-marked waist. But now the shapeliness
had gone; the waist-line no longer existed, and there were no more
crinolines to create it artificially. An observer not under the
charm of her face might have been excused for calling her fat and
lumpy. The face, grave, kind, and expectant, with its radiant,
fresh cheeks, and the rounded softness of its curves, atoned for
the figure. She was nearly twenty-nine years of age.

It was late in October. In Wedgwood Street, next to Boulton
Terrace, all the little brown houses had been pulled down to make
room for a palatial covered market, whose foundations were then
being dug. This destruction exposed a vast area of sky to the
north-east. A great dark cloud with an untidy edge rose massively
out of the depths and curtained off the tender blue of approaching
dusk; while in the west, behind Constance, the sun was setting in
calm and gorgeous melancholy on the Thursday hush of the town. It
was one of those afternoons which gather up all the sadness of the
moving earth and transform it into beauty.

Samuel Povey turned the corner from Wedgwood Street, and crossed
King Street obliquely to the front-door, which Constance opened.
He seemed tired and anxious.

"Well?" demanded Constance, as he entered.

"She's no better. There's no getting away from it, she's worse. I
should have stayed, only I knew you'd be worrying. So I caught the
three-fifty."

"How is that Mrs. Gilchrist shaping as a nurse?"

"She's very good," said Samuel, with conviction. "Very good!"

"What a blessing! I suppose you didn't happen to see the doctor?"

"Yes, I did."

"What did he say to you?"

Samuel gave a deprecating gesture. "Didn't say anything
particular. With dropsy, at that stage, you know ..."

Constance had returned to the window, her expectancy apparently
unappeased.

"I don't like the look of that cloud," she murmured.

"What! Are they out still?" Samuel inquired, taking off his
overcoat.

"Here they are!" cried Constance. Her features suddenly
transfigured, she sprang to the door, pulled it open, and
descended the steps.

A perambulator was being rapidly pushed up the slope by a
breathless girl.

"Amy," Constance gently protested, "I told you not to venture
far."

"I hurried all I could, mum, soon as I seed that cloud," the girl
puffed, with the air of one who is seriously thankful to have
escaped a great disaster.

Constance dived into the recesses of the perambulator and
extricated from its cocoon the centre of the universe, and
scrutinized him with quiet passion, and then rushed with him into
the house, though not a drop of rain had yet fallen.

"Precious!" exclaimed Amy, in ecstasy, her young virginal eyes
following him till he disappeared. Then she wheeled away the
perambulator, which now had no more value nor interest than an
egg-shell. It was necessary to take it right round to the Brougham
Street yard entrance, past the front of the closed shop.

Constance sat down on the horsehair sofa and hugged and kissed her
prize before removing his bonnet.

"Here's Daddy!" she said to him, as if imparting strange and
rapturous tidings. "Here's Daddy come back from hanging up his
coat in the passage! Daddy rubbing his hands!" And then, with a
swift transition of voice and features: "Do look at him, Sam!"

Samuel, preoccupied, stooped forward. "Oh, you little scoundrel!
Oh, you little scoundrel!" he greeted the baby, advancing his
finger towards the baby's nose.

The baby, who had hitherto maintained a passive indifference to
external phenomena, lifted elbows and toes, blew bubbles from his
tiny mouth, and stared at the finger with the most ravishing,
roguish smile, as though saying: "I know that great sticking-out
limb, and there is a joke about it which no one but me can see,
and which is my secret joy that you shall never share."

"Tea ready?" Samuel asked, resuming his gravity and his ordinary
pose.

"You must give the girl time to take her things off," said
Constance. "We'll have the table drawn, away from the fire, and
baby can lie on his shawl on the hearthrug while we're having
tea." Then to the baby, in rapture: "And play with his toys; all
his nice, nice toys!"

"You know Miss Insull is staying for tea?"

Constance, her head bent over the baby, who formed a white patch
on her comfortable brown frock, nodded without speaking.

Samuel Povey, walking to and fro, began to enter into details of
his hasty journey to Axe. Old Mrs. Baines, having beheld her
grandson, was preparing to quit this world. Never again would she
exclaim, in her brusque tone of genial ruthlessness:
'Fiddlesticks!' The situation was very difficult and distressing,
for Constance could not leave her baby, and she would not, until
the last urgency, run the risks of a journey with him to Axe. He
was being weaned. In any case Constance could not have undertaken
the nursing of her mother. A nurse had to be found. Mr. Povey had
discovered one in the person of Mrs. Gilchrist, the second wife of
a farmer at Malpas in Cheshire, whose first wife had been a sister
of the late John Baines. All the credit of Mrs. Gilchrist was due
to Samuel Povey. Mrs. Baines fretted seriously about Sophia, who
had given no sign of life for a very long time. Mr. Povey went to
Manchester and ascertained definitely from the relatives of Scales
that nothing was known of the pair. He did not go to Manchester
especially on this errand. About once in three weeks, on Tuesdays,
he had to visit the Manchester warehouses; but the tracking of
Scales's relative cost him so much trouble and time that,
curiously, he came to believe that he had gone to Manchester one
Tuesday for no other end. Although he was very busy indeed in the
shop, he flew over to Axe and back whenever he possibly could, to
the neglect of his affairs. He was glad to do all that was in his
power; even if he had not done it graciously his sensitive,
tyrannic conscience would have forced him to do it. But
nevertheless he felt rather virtuous, and worry and fatigue and
loss of sleep intensified this sense of virtue.

"So that if there is any sudden change they will telegraph," he
finished, to Constance.

She raised her head. The words, clinching what had led up to them,
drew her from her dream and she saw, for a moment, her mother in
an agony.

"But you don't surely mean--?" she began, trying to disperse the
painful vision as unjustified by the facts.

"My dear girl," said Samuel, with head singing, and hot eyes, and
a consciousness of high tension in every nerve of his body, "I
simply mean that if there's any sudden change they will
telegraph."

While they had tea, Samuel sitting opposite to his wife, and Miss
Insull nearly against the wall (owing to the moving of the table),
the baby rolled about on the hearthrug, which had been covered
with a large soft woollen shawl, originally the property of his
great-grandmother. He had no cares, no responsibilities. The shawl
was so vast that he could not clearly distinguish objects beyond
its confines. On it lay an indiarubber ball, an indiarubber doll,
a rattle, and fan. He vaguely recollected all four items, with
their respective properties. The fire also was an old friend. He
had occasionally tried to touch it, but a high bright fence always
came in between. For ten months he had never spent a day without
making experiments on this shifting universe in which he alone
remained firm and stationary. The experiments were chiefly
conducted out of idle amusement, but he was serious on the subject
of food. Lately the behaviour of the universe in regard to his
food had somewhat perplexed him, had indeed annoyed him. However,
he was of a forgetful, happy disposition, and so long as the
universe continued to fulfil its sole end as a machinery for the
satisfaction, somehow, of his imperious desires, he was not
inclined to remonstrate. He gazed at the flames and laughed, and
laughed because he had laughed. He pushed the ball away and
wriggled after it, and captured it with the assurance of practice.
He tried to swallow the doll, and it was not until he had tried
several times to swallow it that he remembered the failure of
previous efforts and philosophically desisted. He rolled with a
fearful shock, arms and legs in air, against the mountainous flank
of that mammoth Fan, and clutched at Fan's ear. The whole mass of
Fan upheaved and vanished from his view, and was instantly
forgotten by him. He seized the doll and tried to swallow it, and
repeated the exhibition of his skill with the ball. Then he saw
the fire again and laughed. And so he existed for centuries: no
responsibilities, no appetites; and the shawl was vast. Terrific
operations went on over his head. Giants moved to and fro. Great
vessels were carried off and great books were brought and deep
voices rumbled regularly in the spaces beyond the shawl. But he
remained oblivious. At last he became aware that a face was
looking down at his. He recognized it, and immediately an
uncomfortable sensation in his stomach disturbed him; he tolerated
it for fifty years or so, and then he gave a little cry. Life had
resumed its seriousness.

"Black alpaca. B quality. Width 20, t.a. 22 yards," Miss Insull
read out of a great book. She and Mr. Povey were checking stock.

And Mr. Povey responded, "Black alpaca B quality. Width 20, t.a.
22 yards. It wants ten minutes yet." He had glanced at the clock.

"Does it?" said Constance, well knowing that it wanted ten
minutes.

The baby did not guess that a high invisible god named Samuel
Povey, whom nothing escaped, and who could do everything at once,
was controlling his universe from an inconceivable distance. On
the contrary, the baby was crying to himself, There is no God.

His weaning had reached the stage at which a baby really does not
know what will happen next. The annoyance had begun exactly three
months after his first tooth, such being the rule of the gods, and
it had grown more and more disconcerting. No sooner did he
accustom himself to a new phenomenon than it mysteriously ceased,
and an old one took its place which he had utterly forgotten. This
afternoon his mother nursed him, but not until she had foolishly
attempted to divert him from the seriousness of life by means of
gewgaws of which he was sick. Still; once at her rich breast, he
forgave and forgot all. He preferred her simple natural breast to
more modern inventions. And he had no shame, no modesty. Nor had
his mother. It was an indecent carouse at which his father and
Miss Insull had to assist. But his father had shame. His father
would have preferred that, as Miss Insull had kindly offered to
stop and work on Thursday afternoon, and as the shop was chilly,
the due rotation should have brought the bottle round at half-past
five o'clock, and not the mother's breast. He was a self-conscious
parent, rather apologetic to the world, rather apt to stand off
and pretend that he had nothing to do with the affair; and he
genuinely disliked that anybody should witness the intimate scene
of HIS wife feeding HIS baby. Especially Miss Insull, that prim,
dark, moustached spinster! He would not have called it an outrage
on Miss Insull, to force her to witness the scene, but his idea
approached within sight of the word.

Constance blandly offered herself to the child, with the
unconscious primitive savagery of a young mother, and as the baby
fed, thoughts of her own mother flitted to and fro ceaselessly
like vague shapes over the deep sea of content which filled her
mind. This illness of her mother's was abnormal, and the baby was
now, for the first time perhaps, entirely normal in her
consciousness. The baby was something which could be disturbed,
not something which did disturb. What a change! What a change that
had seemed impossible until its full accomplishment!

For months before the birth, she had glimpsed at nights and in
other silent hours the tremendous upset. She had not allowed
herself to be silly in advance; by temperament she was too
sagacious, too well balanced for that; but she had had fitful
instants of terror, when solid ground seemed to sink away from
her, and imagination shook at what faced her. Instants only!
Usually she could play the comedy of sensible calmness to almost
perfection. Then the appointed time drew nigh. And still she
smiled, and Samuel smiled. But the preparations, meticulous,
intricate, revolutionary, belied their smiles. The intense resolve
to keep Mrs. Baines, by methods scrupulous or unscrupulous, away
from Bursley until all was over, belied their smiles. And then the
first pains, sharp, shocking, cruel, heralds of torture! But when
they had withdrawn, she smiled, again, palely. Then she was in
bed, full of the sensation that the whole house was inverted and
disorganized, hopelessly. And the doctor came into the room. She
smiled at the doctor apologetically, foolishly, as if saying: "We
all come to it. Here I am." She was calm without. Oh, but what a
prey of abject fear within! "I am at the edge of the precipice,"
her thought ran; "in a moment I shall be over." And then the
pains--not the heralds but the shattering army, endless,
increasing in terror as they thundered across her. Yet she could
think, quite clearly: "Now I'm in the middle of it. This is it,
the horror that I have not dared to look at. My life's in the
balance. I may never get up again. All has at last come to pass.
It seemed as if it would never come, as if this thing could not
happen to me. But at last it has come to pass!"

Ah! Some one put the twisted end of a towel into her hand again--
she had loosed it; and she pulled, pulled, enough to break cables.
And then she shrieked. It was for pity. It was for some one to
help her, at any rate to take notice of her. She was dying. Her
soul was leaving her. And she was alone, panic-stricken, in the
midst of a cataclysm a thousand times surpassing all that she had
imagined of sickening horror. "I cannot endure this," she thought
passionately. "It is impossible that I should be asked to endure
this!" And then she wept; beaten, terrorized, smashed and riven.
No commonsense now! No wise calmness now! No self-respect now!
Why, not even a woman now! Nothing but a kind of animalized
victim! And then the supreme endless spasm, during which she gave
up the ghost and bade good-bye to her very self.

She was lying quite comfortable in the soft bed; idle, silly:
happiness forming like a thin crust over the lava of her anguish
and her fright. And by her side was the soul that had fought its
way out of her, ruthlessly; the secret disturber revealed to the
light of morning. Curious to look at! Not like any baby that she
had ever seen; red, creased, brutish! But--for some reason that
she did not examine--she folded it in an immense tenderness.

Sam was by the bed, away from her eyes. She was so comfortable and
silly that she could not move her head nor even ask him to come
round to her eyes. She had to wait till he came.

In the afternoon the doctor returned, and astounded her by saying
that hers had been an ideal confinement. She was too weary to
rebuke him for a senseless, blind, callous old man. But she knew
what she knew. "No one will ever guess," she thought, "no one ever
can guess, what I've been through! Talk as you like. I KNOW, now."

Gradually she had resumed cognizance of her household, perceiving
that it was demoralized from top to bottom, and that when the time
came to begin upon it she would not be able to settle where to
begin, even supposing that the baby were not there to monopolize
her attention. The task appalled her. Then she wanted to get up.
Then she got up. What a blow to self-confidence! She went back to
bed like a little scared rabbit to its hole, glad, glad to be on
the soft pillows again. She said: "Yet the time must come when I
shall be downstairs, and walking about and meeting people, and
cooking and superintending the millinery." Well, it did come--
except that she had to renounce the millinery to Miss Insull--but
it was not the same. No, different! The baby pushed everything
else on to another plane. He was a terrific intruder; not one
minute of her old daily life was left; he made no compromise
whatever. If she turned away her gaze from him he might pop off
into eternity and leave her.

And now she was calmly and sensibly giving him suck in presence of
Miss Insull. She was used to his importance, to the fragility of
his organism, to waking twice every night, to being fat. She was
strong again. The convulsive twitching that for six months had
worried her repose, had quite disappeared. The state of being a
mother was normal, and the baby was so normal that she could not
conceive the house without him.

All in ten months!

When the baby was installed in his cot for the night, she came
downstairs and found Miss Insull and Samuel still working, and
Larder than ever, but at addition sums now. She sat down, leaving
the door open at the foot of the stairs. She had embroidery in
hand: a cap. And while Miss Insull and Samuel combined pounds,
shillings, and pence, whispering at great speed, she bent over the
delicate, intimate, wasteful handiwork, drawing the needle with
slow exactitude. Then she would raise her head and listen.

"Excuse me," said Miss Insull, "I think I hear baby crying."

"And two are eight and three are eleven. He must cry," said Mr.
Povey, rapidly, without looking up.

The baby's parents did not make a practice of discussing their
domestic existence even with Miss Insull; but Constance had to
justify herself as a mother.

"I've made perfectly sure he's comfortable," said Constance. "He's
only crying because he fancies he's neglected. And we think he
can't begin too early to learn."

"How right you are!" said Miss Insull. "Two and carry three."

That distant, feeble, querulous, pitiful cry continued
obstinately. It continued for thirty minutes. Constance could not
proceed with her work. The cry disintegrated her will, dissolved
her hard sagacity.

Without a word she crept upstairs, having carefully deposed the
cap on her rocking-chair.

Mr. Povey hesitated a moment and then bounded up after her,
startling Fan. He shut the door on Miss Insull, but Fan was too
quick for him. He saw Constance with her hand on the bedroom door.

"My dear girl," he protested, holding himself in. "Now what ARE
you going to do?"

"I'm just listening," said Constance.

"Do be reasonable and come downstairs."

He spoke in a low voice, scarcely masking his nervous irritation,
and tiptoed along the corridor towards her and up the two steps
past the gas-burner. Fan followed, wagging her tail expectant.

"Suppose he's not well?" Constance suggested.

"Pshaw!" Mr. Povey exclaimed contemptuously. "You remember what
happened last night and what you said!"

They argued, subduing their tones to the false semblance of good-
will, there in the closeness of the corridor. Fan, deceived,
ceased to wag her tail and then trotted away. The baby's cry,
behind the door, rose to a mysterious despairing howl, which had
such an effect on Constance's heart that she could have walked
through fire to reach the baby. But Mr. Povey's will held her. And
she rebelled, angry, hurt, resentful. Commonsense, the ideal of
mutual forbearance, had winged away from that excited pair. It
would have assuredly ended in a quarrel, with Samuel glaring at
her in black fury from the other side of a bottomless chasm, had
not Miss Insull most surprisingly burst up the stairs.

Mr. Povey turned to face her, swallowing his emotion.

"A telegram!" said Miss Insull. "The postmaster brought it down
himself--"

"What? Mr. Derry?" asked Samuel, opening the telegram with an
affectation of majesty.

"Yes. He said it was too late for delivery by rights. But as it
seemed very important ..."

Samuel scanned it and nodded gravely; then gave it to his wife.
Tears came into her eyes.

"I'll get Cousin Daniel to drive me over at once," said Samuel,
master of himself and of the situation.

"Wouldn't it be better to hire?" Constance suggested. She had a
prejudice against Daniel.

Mr. Povey shook his head. "He offered," he replied. "I can't
refuse his offer."

"Put your thick overcoat on, dear," said Constance, in a dream,
descending with him.

"I hope it isn't--" Miss Insull stopped.

"Yes it is, Miss Insull," said Samuel, deliberately.

In less than a minute he was gone.

Constance ran upstairs. But the cry had ceased. She turned the
door-knob softly, slowly, and crept into the chamber. A night-
light made large shadows among the heavy mahogany and the crimson,
tasselled rep in the close-curtained room. And between the bed and
the ottoman (on which lay Samuel's newly-bought family Bible) the
cot loomed in the shadows. She picked up the night-light and stole
round the bed. Yes, he had decided to fall asleep. The hazard of
death afar off had just defeated his devilish obstinacy. Fate had
bested him. How marvellously soft and delicate that tear-stained
cheek! How frail that tiny, tiny clenched hand! In Constance grief
and joy were mystically united.

II

The drawing-room was full of visitors, in frocks of ceremony. The
old drawing-room, but newly and massively arranged with the finest
Victorian furniture from dead Aunt Harriet's house at Axe; two
"Canterburys," a large bookcase, a splendid scintillant table
solid beyond lifting, intricately tortured chairs and armchairs!
The original furniture of the drawing-room was now down in the
parlour, making it grand. All the house breathed opulence; it was
gorged with quiet, restrained expensiveness; the least
considerable objects, in the most modest corners, were what Mrs.
Baines would have termed 'good.' Constance and Samuel had half of
all Aunt Harriet's money and half of Mrs. Baines's; the other half
was accumulating for a hypothetical Sophia, Mr. Critchlow being
the trustee. The business continued to flourish. People knew that
Samuel Povey was buying houses. Yet Samuel and Constance had not
made friends; they had not, in the Five Towns phrase, 'branched
out socially,' though they had very meetly branched out on
subscription lists. They kept themselves to themselves
(emphasizing the preposition). These guests were not their guests;
they were the guests of Cyril.

He had been named Samuel because Constance would have him named
after his father, and Cyril because his father secretly despised
the name of Samuel; and he was called Cyril; 'Master Cyril,' by
Amy, definite successor to Maggie. His mother's thoughts were on
Cyril as long as she was awake. His father, when not planning
Cyril's welfare, was earning money whose unique object could be
nothing but Cyril's welfare. Cyril was the pivot of the house;
every desire ended somewhere in Cyril. The shop existed now solely
for him. And those houses that Samuel bought by private treaty, or
with a shamefaced air at auctions--somehow they were aimed at
Cyril. Samuel and Constance had ceased to be self-justifying
beings; they never thought of themselves save as the parents of
Cyril.

They realized this by no means fully. Had they been accused of
monomania they would have smiled the smile of people confident in
their commonsense and their mental balance. Nevertheless, they
were monomaniacs. Instinctively they concealed the fact as much as
possible; They never admitted it even to themselves. Samuel,
indeed, would often say: "That child is not everybody. That child
must be kept in his place." Constance was always teaching him
consideration for his father as the most important person in the
household. Samuel was always teaching him consideration for his
mother as the most important person in the household. Nothing was
left undone to convince him that he was a cipher, a nonentity, who
ought to be very glad to be alive. But he knew all about his
importance. He knew that the entire town was his. He knew that his
parents were deceiving themselves. Even when he was punished he
well knew that it was because he was so important. He never
imparted any portion of this knowledge to his parents; a primeval
wisdom prompted him to retain it strictly in his own bosom.

He was four and a half years old, dark, like his father; handsome
like his aunt, and tall for his age; not one of his features
resembled a feature of his mother's, but sometimes he 'had her
look.' From the capricious production of inarticulate sounds, and
then a few monosyllables that described concrete things and
obvious desires, he had gradually acquired an astonishing
idiomatic command over the most difficult of Teutonic languages;
there was nothing that he could not say. He could walk and run,
was full of exact knowledge about God, and entertained no doubt
concerning the special partiality of a minor deity called Jesus
towards himself.

Now, this party was his mother's invention and scheme. His father,
after flouting it, had said that if it was to be done at all, it
should be done well, and had brought to the doing all his
organizing skill. Cyril had accepted it at first--merely accepted
it; but, as the day approached and the preparations increased in
magnitude, he had come to look on it with favour, then with
enthusiasm. His father having taken him to Daniel Povey's
opposite, to choose cakes, he had shown, by his solemn and
fastidious waverings, how seriously he regarded the affair.

Of course it had to occur on a Thursday afternoon. The season was
summer, suitable for pale and fragile toilettes. And the eight
children who sat round Aunt Harriet's great table glittered like
the sun. Not Constance's specially provided napkins could hide
that wealth and profusion of white lace and stitchery. Never in
after-life are the genteel children of the Five Towns so richly
clad as at the age of four or five years. Weeks of labour,
thousands of cubic feet of gas, whole nights stolen from repose,
eyesight, and general health, will disappear into the manufacture
of a single frock that accidental jam may ruin in ten seconds.
Thus it was in those old days; and thus it is to-day. Cyril's
guests ranged in years from four to six; they were chiefly older
than their host; this was a pity, it impaired his importance; but
up to four years a child's sense of propriety, even of common
decency, is altogether too unreliable for a respectable party.

Round about the outskirts of the table were the elders, ladies the
majority; they also in their best, for they had to meet each
other. Constance displayed a new dress, of crimson silk; after
having mourned for her mother she had definitely abandoned the
black which, by reason of her duties in the shop, she had
constantly worn from the age of sixteen to within a few months of
Cyril's birth; she never went into the shop now, except casually,
on brief visits of inspection. She was still fat; the destroyer of
her figure sat at the head of the table. Samuel kept close to her;
he was the only male, until Mr. Critchlow astonishingly arrived;
among the company Mr. Critchlow had a grand-niece. Samuel, if not
in his best, was certainly not in his everyday suit. With his
large frilled shirt-front, and small black tie, and his little
black beard and dark face over that, he looked very nervous and
self-conscious. He had not the habit of entertaining. Nor had
Constance; but her benevolence ever bubbling up to the calm
surface of her personality made self-consciousness impossible for
her. Miss Insull was also present, in shop-black, 'to help.'
Lastly there was Amy, now as the years passed slowly assuming the
character of a faithful retainer, though she was only twenty-
three. An ugly, abrupt, downright girl, with convenient notions of
pleasure! For she would rise early and retire late in order to
contrive an hour to go out with Master Cyril; and to be allowed to
put Master Cyril to bed was, really, her highest bliss.

All these elders were continually inserting arms into the fringe
of fluffy children that surrounded the heaped table; removing
dangerous spoons out of cups into saucers, replacing plates,
passing cakes, spreading jam, whispering consolations,
explanations, and sage counsel. Mr. Critchlow, snow-white now but
unbent, remarked that there was 'a pretty cackle,' and he sniffed.
Although the window was slightly open, the air was heavy with the
natural human odour which young children transpire. More than one
mother, pressing her nose into a lacy mass, to whisper, inhaled
that pleasant perfume with a voluptuous thrill.

Cyril, while attending steadily to the demands of his body, was in
a mood which approached the ideal. Proud and radiant, he combined
urbanity with a certain fine condescension. His bright eyes, and
his manner of scraping up jam with a spoon, said: "I am the king
of this party. This party is solely in my honour. I know that. We
all know it. Still, I will pretend that we are equals, you and I."
He talked about his picture-books to a young woman on his right
named Jennie, aged four, pale, pretty, the belle in fact, and Mr.
Critchlow's grand-niece. The boy's attractiveness was
indisputable; he could put on quite an aristocratic air. It was
the most delicious sight to see them, Cyril and Jennie, so soft
and delicate, so infantile on their piles of cushions and books,
with their white socks and black shoes dangling far distant from
the carpet; and yet so old, so self-contained! And they were
merely an epitome of the whole table. The whole table was bathed
in the charm and mystery of young years, of helpless fragility,
gentle forms, timid elegance, unshamed instincts, and waking
souls. Constance and Samuel were very satisfied; full of praise
for other people's children, but with the reserve that of course
Cyril was hors concours. They both really did believe, at that
moment, that Cyril was, in some subtle way which they felt but
could not define, superior to all other infants.

Some one, some officious relative of a visitor, began to pass a
certain cake which had brown walls, a roof of cocoa-nut icing, and
a yellow body studded with crimson globules. Not a conspicuously
gorgeous cake, not a cake to which a catholic child would be
likely to attach particular importance; a good, average cake! Who
could have guessed that it stood, in Cyril's esteem, as the cake
of cakes? He had insisted on his father buying it at Cousin
Daniel's, and perhaps Samuel ought to have divined that for Cyril
that cake was the gleam that an ardent spirit would follow through
the wilderness. Samuel, however, was not a careful observer, and
seriously lacked imagination. Constance knew only that Cyril had
mentioned the cake once or twice. Now by the hazard of destiny
that cake found much favour, helped into popularity as it was by
the blundering officious relative who, not dreaming what volcano
she was treading on, urged its merits with simpering enthusiasm.
One boy took two slices, a slice in each hand; he happened to be
the visitor of whom the cake-distributor was a relative, and she
protested; she expressed the shock she suffered. Whereupon both
Constance and Samuel sprang forward and swore with angelic smiles
that nothing could be more perfect than the propriety of that dear
little fellow taking two slices of that cake. It was this
hullaballoo that drew Cyril's attention to the evanescence of the
cake of cakes. His face at once changed from calm pride to a
dreadful anxiety. His eyes bulged out. His tiny mouth grew and
grew, like a mouth in a nightmare. He was no longer human; he was
a cake-eating tiger being balked of his prey. Nobody noticed him.
The officious fool of a woman persuaded Jennie to take the last
slice of the cake, which was quite a thin slice.

Then every one simultaneously noticed Cyril, for he gave a yell.
It was not the cry of a despairing soul who sees his beautiful
iridescent dream shattered at his feet; it was the cry of the
strong, masterful spirit, furious. He turned upon Jennie, sobbing,
and snatched at her cake. Unaccustomed to such behaviour from
hosts, and being besides a haughty put-you-in-your-place beauty of
the future, Jennie defended her cake. After all, it was not she
who had taken two slices at once. Cyril hit her in the eye, and
then crammed most of the slice of cake into his enormous mouth. He
could not swallow it, nor even masticate it, for his throat was
rigid and tight. So the cake projected from his red lips, and big
tears watered it. The most awful mess you can conceive! Jennie
wept loudly, and one or two others joined her in sympathy, but the
rest went on eating tranquilly, unmoved by the horror which
transfixed their elders.

A host to snatch food from a guest! A host to strike a guest! A
gentleman to strike a lady!

Constance whipped up Cyril from his chair and flew with him to his
own room (once Samuel's), where she smacked him on the arm and
told him he was a very, very naughty boy and that she didn't know
what his father would say. She took the food out of his disgusting
mouth--or as much of it as she could get at--and then she left
him, on the bed. Miss Jennie was still in tears when, blushing
scarlet and trying to smile, Constance returned to the drawing-
room. Jennie would not be appeased. Happily Jennie's mother (being
about to present Jennie with a little brother--she hoped) was not
present. Miss Insull had promised to see Jennie home, and it was
decided that she should go. Mr. Critchlow, in high sardonic
spirits, said that he would go too; the three departed together,
heavily charged with Constance's love and apologies. Then all
pretended, and said loudly, that what had happened was naught,
that such things were always happening at children's parties. And
visitors' relatives asseverated that Cyril was a perfect darling
and that really Mrs. Povey must not ...

But the attempt to keep up appearance was a failure.

The Methuselah of visitors, a gaping girl of nearly eight years,
walked across the room to where Constance was standing, and said
in a loud, confidential, fatuous voice:

"Cyril HAS been a rude boy, hasn't he, Mrs. Povey?"

The clumsiness of children is sometimes tragic.

Later, there was a trickling stream of fluffy bundles down the
crooked stairs and through the parlour and so out into King
Street. And Constance received many compliments and sundry appeals
that darling Cyril should be forgiven.

"I thought you said that boy was in his bedroom," said Samuel to
Constance, coming into the parlour when the last guest had gone.
Each avoided the other's eyes.

"Yes, isn't he?"

"No."

"The little jockey!" ("Jockey," an essay in the playful, towards
making light of the jockey's sin!) "I expect he's been in search
of Amy."

She went to the top of the kitchen stairs and called out: "Amy, is
Master Cyril down there?"

"Master Cyril? No, mum. But he was in the parlour a bit ago, after
the first and second lot had gone. I told him to go upstairs and
be a good boy."

Not for a few moments did the suspicion enter the minds of Samuel
and Constance that Cyril might be missing, that the house might
not contain Cyril. But having once entered, the suspicion became a
certainty. Amy, cross-examined, burst into sudden tears, admitting
that the side-door might have been open when, having sped 'the
second lot,' she criminally left Cyril alone in the parlour in
order to descend for an instant to her kitchen. Dusk was
gathering. Amy saw the defenceless innocent wandering about all
night in the deserted streets of a great city. A similar vision
with precise details of canals, tramcar-wheels, and cellar-flaps,
disturbed Constance. Samuel said that anyhow he could not have got
far, that some one was bound to remark and recognize him, and
restore him. "Yes, of course," thought sensible Constance. "But
supposing--"

They all three searched the entire house again. Then, in the
drawing-room (which was in a sad condition of anticlimax) Amy
exclaimed:

"Eh, master! There's town-crier crossing the Square. Hadn't ye
better have him cried?"

"Run out and stop him," Constance commanded.

And Amy flew.

Samuel and the aged town-crier parleyed at the side door, the
women in the background.

"I canna' cry him without my bell," drawled the crier, stroking
his shabby uniform. "My bell's at wum (home). I mun go and fetch
my bell. Yo' write it down on a bit o' paper for me so as I can
read it, and I'll foot off for my bell. Folk wouldna' listen to me
if I hadna' gotten my bell."

Thus was Cyril cried.

"Amy," said Constance, when she and the girl were alone, "there's
no use in you standing blubbering there. Get to work and clear up
that drawing-room, do! The child is sure to be found soon. Your
master's gone out, too."

Brave words! Constance aided in the drawing-room and kitchen.
Theirs was the woman's lot in a great crisis. Plates have always
to be washed.

Very shortly afterwards, Samuel Povey came into the kitchen by the
underground passage which led past the two cellars to the yard and
to Brougham Street. He was carrying in his arms an obscene black
mass. This mass was Cyril, once white.

Constance screamed. She was at liberty to give way to her
feelings, because Amy happened to be upstairs.

"Stand away!" cried Mr. Povey. "He isn't fit to touch."

And Mr. Povey made as if to pass directly onward, ignoring the
mother.

"Wherever did you find him?"

"I found him in the far cellar," said Mr. Povey, compelled to
stop, after all. "He was down there with me yesterday, and it just
occurred to me that he might have gone there again."

"What! All in the dark?"

"He'd lighted a candle, if you please! I'd left a candle-stick and
a box of matches handy because I hadn't finished that shelving."

"Well!" Constance murmured. "I can't think how ever he dared go
there all alone!"

"Can't you?" said Mr. Povey, cynically. "I can. He simply did it
to frighten us."

"Oh, Cyril!" Constance admonished the child. "Cyril!"

The child showed no emotion. His face was an enigma. It might have
hidden sullenness or mere callous indifference, or a perfect
unconsciousness of sin.

"Give him to me," said Constance.

"I'll look after him this evening," said Samuel, grimly.

"But you can't wash him," said Constance, her relief yielding to
apprehension.

"Why not?" demanded Mr. Povey. And he moved off.

"But Sam--"

"I'll look after him, I tell you!" Mr. Povey repeated,
threateningly.

"But what are you going to do?" Constance asked with fear.

"Well," said Mr. Povey, "has this sort of thing got to be dealt
with, or hasn't it?" He departed upstairs.

Constance overtook him at the door of Cyril's bedroom.

Mr. Povey did not wait for her to speak. His eyes were blazing.

"See here!" he admonished her cruelly. "You get away downstairs,
mother!"

And he disappeared into the bedroom with his vile and helpless
victim.

A moment later he popped his head out of the door. Constance was
disobeying him. He stepped into the passage and shut the door so
that Cyril should not hear.

"Now please do as I tell you," he hissed at his wife. "Don't let's
have a scene, please."

She descended, slowly, weeping. And Mr. Povey retired again to the
place of execution.

Amy nearly fell on the top of Constance with a final tray of
things from the drawing-room. And Constance had to tell the girl
that Cyril was found. Somehow she could not resist the instinct to
tell her also that the master had the affair in hand. Amy then
wept.

After about an hour Mr. Povey at last reappeared. Constance was
trying to count silver teaspoons in the parlour.

"He's in bed now," said Mr. Povey, with a magnificent attempt to
be nonchalant. "You mustn't go near him."

"But have you washed him?" Constance whimpered.

"I've washed him," replied the astonishing Mr. Povey.

"What have you done to him?"

"I've punished him, of course," said Mr. Povey, like a god who is
above human weaknesses. "What did you expect me to do? Someone had
to do it."

Constance wiped her eyes with the edge of the white apron which
she was wearing over her new silk dress. She surrendered; she
accepted the situation; she made the best of it. And all the
evening was spent in dismally and horribly pretending that their
hearts were beating as one. Mr. Povey's elaborate, cheery
kindliness was extremely painful.

They went to bed, and in their bedroom Constance, as she stood
close to Samuel, suddenly dropped the pretence, and with eyes and
voice of anguish said:

"You must let me look at him."

They faced each other. For a brief instant Cyril did not exist for
Constance. Samuel alone obsessed her, and yet Samuel seemed a
strange, unknown man. It was in Constance's life one of those
crises when the human soul seems to be on the very brink of
mysterious and disconcerting cognitions, and then, the wave
recedes as inexplicably as it surged up.

"Why, of course!" said Mr. Povey, turning away lightly, as though
to imply that she was making tragedies out of nothing.

She gave an involuntary gesture of almost childish relief.

Cyril slept calmly. It was a triumph for Mr. Povey.

Constance could not sleep. As she lay darkly awake by her husband,
her secret being seemed to be a-quiver with emotion. Not exactly
sorrow; not exactly joy; an emotion more elemental than these! A
sensation of the intensity of her life in that hour; troubling,
anxious, yet not sad! She said that Samuel was quite right, quite
right. And then she said that the poor little thing wasn't yet
five years old, and that it was monstrous. The two had to be
reconciled. And they never could be reconciled. Always she would
be between them, to reconcile them, and to be crushed by their
impact. Always she would have to bear the burden of both of them.
There could be no ease for her, no surcease from a tremendous
preoccupation and responsibility. She could not change Samuel;
besides, he was right! And though Cyril was not yet five, she felt
that she could not change Cyril either. He was just as
unchangeable as a growing plant. The thought of her mother and
Sophia did not present itself to her; she felt, however, somewhat
as Mrs. Baines had felt on historic occasions; but, being more
softly kind, younger, and less chafed by destiny, she was
conscious of no bitterness, conscious rather of a solemn
blessedness.




CHAPTER IV

CRIME

I


"Now, Master Cyril," Amy protested, "will you leave that fire
alone? It's not you that can mend my fires."

A boy of nine, great and heavy for his years, with a full face and
very short hair, bent over the smoking grate. It was about five
minutes to eight on a chilly morning after Easter. Amy, hastily
clad in blue, with a rough brown apron, was setting the breakfast
table. The boy turned his head, still bending.

"Shut up, Ame," he replied, smiling. Life being short, he usually
called her Ame when they were alone together. "Or I'll catch you
one in the eye with the poker."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Amy. "And you know
your mother told you to wash your feet this morning, and you
haven't done. Fine clothes is all very well, but--"

"Who says I haven't washed my feet?" asked Cyril, guiltily.

Amy's mention of fine clothes referred to the fact that he was
that morning wearing his Sunday suit for the first time on a week-
day.

"I say you haven't," said Amy.

She was more than three times his age still, but they had been
treating each other as intellectual equals for years.

"And how do you know?" asked Cyril, tired of the fire.

"I know," said Amy.

"Well, you just don't, then!" said Cyril. "And what about YOUR
feet? I should be sorry to see your feet, Ame."

Amy was excusably annoyed. She tossed her head. "My feet are as
clean as yours any day," she said. "And I shall tell your mother."

But he would not leave her feet alone, and there ensued one of
those endless monotonous altercations on a single theme which
occur so often between intellectual equals when one is a young son
of the house and the other an established servant who adores him.
Refined minds would have found the talk disgusting, but the
sentiment of disgust seemed to be unknown to either of the
wranglers. At last, when Amy by superior tactics had cornered him,
Cyril said suddenly:

"Oh, go to hell!"

Amy banged down the spoon for the bacon gravy. "Now I shall tell
your mother. Mark my words, this time I SHALL tell your mother."

Cyril felt that in truth he had gone rather far. He was perfectly
sure that Amy would not tell his mother. And yet, supposing that
by some freak of her nature she did! The consequences would be
unutterable; the consequences would more than extinguish his
private glory in the use of such a dashing word. So he laughed, a
rather silly, giggling laugh, to reassure himself.

"You daren't," he said.

"Daren't I?" she said grimly. "You'll see. _I_ don't know where
you learn! It fair beats me. But it isn't Amy Bates as is going to
be sworn at. As soon as ever your mother comes into this room!"

The door at the foot of the stairs creaked and Constance came into
the room. She was wearing a dress of majenta merino, and a gold
chain descended from her neck over her rich bosom. She had
scarcely aged in five years. It would have been surprising if she
had altered much, for the years had passed over her head at an
incredible rate. To her it appeared only a few months since
Cyril's first and last party.

"Are you all ready, my pet? Let me look at you." Constance greeted
the boy with her usual bright, soft energy.

Cyril glanced at Amy, who averted her head, putting spoons into
three saucers.

"Yes, mother," he replied in a new voice.

"Did you do what I told you?"

"Yes, mother," he said simply.

"That's right."

Amy made a faint noise with her lips, and departed.

He was saved once more. He said to himself that never again would
he permit his soul to be disturbed by any threat of old Ame's.

Constance's hand descended into her pocket and drew out a hard
paper packet, which she clapped on to her son's head.

"Oh, mother!" He pretended that she had hurt him, and then he
opened the packet. It contained Congleton butterscotch, reputed a
harmless sweetmeat.

"Good!" he cried, "good! Oh! Thanks, mother."

"Now don't begin eating them at once."

"Just one, mother."

"No! And how often have I told you to keep your feet off that
fender. See how it's bent. And it's nobody but you."

"Sorry."

"It's no use being sorry if you persist in doing it."

"Oh, mother, I had such a funny dream!"

They chatted until Amy came up the stairs with tea and bacon. The
fire had developed from black to clear red.

"Run and tell father that breakfast is ready."

After a little delay a spectacled man of fifty, short and
stoutish, with grey hair and a small beard half grey and half
black, entered from the shop. Samuel had certainly very much aged,
especially in his gestures, which, however, were still quick. He
sat down at once--his wife and son were already seated--and served
the bacon with the rapid assurance of one who needs not to inquire
about tastes and appetites. Not a word was said, except a brief
grace by Samuel. But there was no restraint. Samuel had a mild,
benignant air. Constance's eyes were a fountain of cheerfulness.
The boy sat between them and ate steadily.

Mysterious creature, this child, mysteriously growing and growing
in the house! To his mother he was a delicious joy at all times
save when he disobeyed his father. But now for quite a
considerable period there had been no serious collision. The boy
seemed to be acquiring virtue as well as sense. And really he was
charming. So big, truly enormous (every one remarked on it), and
yet graceful, lithe, with a smile that could ravish. And he was
distinguished in his bearing. Without depreciating Samuel in her
faithful heart, Constance saw plainly the singular differences
between Samuel and the boy. Save that he was dark, and that his
father's 'dangerous look' came into those childish eyes
occasionally, Cyril had now scarcely any obvious resemblance to
his father. He was a Baines. This naturally deepened Constance's
family pride. Yes, he was mysterious to Constance, though probably
not more so than any other boy to any other parent. He was equally
mysterious to Samuel, but otherwise Mr. Povey had learned to
regard him in the light of a parcel which he was always attempting
to wrap up in a piece of paper imperceptibly too small. When he
successfully covered the parcel at one corner it burst out at
another, and this went on for ever, and he could never get the
string on. Nevertheless, Mr. Povey had unabated confidence in his
skill as a parcel-wrapper. The boy was strangely subtle at times,
but then at times he was astoundingly ingenuous, and then his
dodges would not deceive the dullest. Mr. Povey knew himself more
than a match for his son. He was proud of him because he regarded
him as not an ordinary boy; he took it as a matter of course that
his boy should not be an ordinary boy. He never, or very rarely,
praised Cyril. Cyril thought of his father as a man who, in
response to any request, always began by answering with a
thoughtful, serious 'No, I'm afraid not.'

"So you haven't lost your appetite!" his mother commented.

Cyril grinned. "Did you expect me to, mother?"

"Let me see," said Samuel, as if vaguely recalling an unimportant
fact. "It's to-day you begin to go to school, isn't it?"

"I wish father wouldn't be such a chump!" Cyril reflected. And,
considering that this commencement of school (real school, not a
girls' school, as once) had been the chief topic in the house for
days, weeks; considering that it now occupied and filled all
hearts, Cyril's reflection was excusable.

"Now, there's one thing you must always remember, my boy," said
Mr. Povey. "Promptness. Never be late either in going to school or
in coming home. And in order that you may have no excuse"--Mr.
Povey pressed on the word 'excuse' as though condemning Cyril in
advance--"here's something for you!" He said the last words
quickly, with a sort of modest shame.

It was a silver watch and chain.

Cyril was staggered. So also was Constance, for Mr. Povey could
keep his own counsel. At long intervals he would prove, thus, that
he was a mighty soul, capable of sublime deeds. The watch was the
unique flowering of Mr. Povey's profound but harsh affection. It
lay on the table like a miracle. This day was a great day, a
supremely exciting day in Cyril's history, and not less so in the
history of his parents.

The watch killed its owner's appetite dead.

Routine was ignored that morning. Father did not go back into the
shop. At length the moment came when father put on his hat and
overcoat to take Cyril, and Cyril's watch and satchel, to the
Endowed School, which had quarters in the Wedgwood Institution
close by. A solemn departure, and Cyril could not pretend by his
demeanour that it was not! Constance desired to kiss him, but
refrained. He would not have liked it. She watched them from the
window. Cyril was nearly as tall as his father; that is to say,
not nearly as tall, but creeping up his father's shoulder. She
felt that the eyes of the town must be on the pair. She was very
happy, and nervous.

At dinner-time a triumph seemed probable, and at tea-time, when
Cyril came home under a mortar-board hat and with a satchel full
of new books and a head full of new ideas, the triumph was
actually and definitely achieved. He had been put into the third
form, and he announced that he should soon be at the top of it. He
was enchanted with the life of school; he liked the other boys,
and it appeared that the other boys liked him. The fact was that,
with a new silver watch and a packet of sweets, he had begun his
new career in the most advantageous circumstances. Moreover, he
possessed qualities which ensure success at school. He was big,
and easy, with a captivating smile and a marked aptitude to learn
those things which boys insist on teaching to their new comrades.
He had muscle, a brave demeanour, and no conceit.

During tea the parlour began, to accustom itself to a new
vocabulary, containing such words as 'fellows,' 'kept in,'m'
lines,' 'rot,' 'recess,' 'jolly.' To some of these words the
parents, especially Mr. Povey, had an instinct to object, but they
could not object, somehow they did not seem to get an opportunity
to object; they were carried away on the torrent, and after all,
their excitement and pleasure in the exceeding romantic novelty of
existence were just as intense and nearly as ingenuous as their
son's.

He demonstrated that unless he was allowed to stay up later than
aforetime he would not be able to do his home-work, and hence
would not keep that place in the school to which his talents
entitled him. Mr. Povey suggested, but only with half a heart,
that he should get up earlier in the morning. The proposal fell
flat. Everybody knew and admitted that nothing save the scorpions
of absolute necessity, or a tremendous occasion such as that
particular morning's, would drive Cyril from his bed until the
smell of bacon rose to him from the kitchen. The parlour table was
consecrated to his lessons. It became generally known that 'Cyril
was doing his lessons.' His father scanned the new text-books
while Cyril condescendingly explained to him that all others were
superseded and worthless. His father contrived to maintain an air
of preserving his mental equilibrium, but not his mother; she gave
it up, she who till that day had under his father's direction
taught him nearly all that he knew, and Cyril passed above her
into regions of knowledge where she made no pretence of being able
to follow him.

When the lessons were done, and Cyril had wiped his fingers on
bits of blotting-paper, and his father had expressed qualified
approval and had gone into the shop, Cyril said to his mother,
with that delicious hesitation which overtook him sometimes:

"Mother."

"Well, my pet."

"I want you to do something for me."

"Well, what is it?"

"No, you must promise."

"I'll do it if I can."

"But you CAN. It isn't doing. It's NOT doing."

"Come, Cyril, out with it."

"I don't want you to come in and look at me after I'm asleep any
more."

"But, you silly boy, what difference can it make to you if you're
asleep?"

"I don't want you to. It's like as if I was a baby. You'll have to
stop doing it some day, and so you may as well stop now."

It was thus that he meant to turn his back on his youth.

She smiled. She was incomprehensibly happy. She continued to
smile.

"Now you'll promise, won't you, mother?"

She rapped him on the head with her thimble, lovingly. He took the
gesture for consent.

"You are a baby," she murmured.

"Now I shall trust you," he said, ignoring this. "Say 'honour
bright.'"

"Honour bright."

With what a long caress her eyes followed him, as he went up to
bed on his great sturdy legs! She was thankful that school had not
contaminated her adorable innocent. If she could have been Ame for
twenty-four hours, she perhaps would not have hesitated to put
butter into his mouth lest it should melt.

Mr. Povey and Constance talked late and low that night. They could
neither of them sleep; they had little desire to sleep.
Constance's face said to her husband: "I've always stuck up for
that boy, in spite of your severities, and you see how right I
was!" And Mr. Povey's face said: "You see now the brilliant
success of my system. You see how my educational theories have
justified themselves. Never been to a school before, except that
wretched little dame's school, and he goes practically straight to
the top of the third form--at nine years of age!" They discussed
his future. There could be no sign of lunacy in discussing his
future up to a certain point, but each felt that to discuss the
ultimate career of a child nine years old would not be the act of
a sensible parent; only foolish parents would be so fond. Yet each
was dying to discuss his ultimate career. Constance yielded first
to the temptation, as became her. Mr. Povey scoffed, and then, to
humour Constance, yielded also. The matter was soon fairly on the
carpet. Constance was relieved to find that Mr. Povey had no
thought whatever of putting Cyril in the shop. No; Mr. Povey did
not desire to chop wood with a razor. Their son must and would
ascend. Doctor! Solicitor! Barrister! Not barrister--barrister was
fantastic. When they had argued for about half an hour Mr. Povey
intimated suddenly that the conversation was unworthy of their
practical commonsense, and went to sleep.

II

Nobody really thought that this almost ideal condition of things
would persist: an enterprise commenced in such glory must surely
traverse periods of difficulty and even of temporary disaster. But
no! Cyril seemed to be made specially for school. Before Mr. Povey
and Constance had quite accustomed themselves to being the parents
of 'a great lad,' before Cyril had broken the glass of his
miraculous watch more than once, the summer term had come to a end
and there arrived the excitations of the prize-giving, as it was
called; for at that epoch the smaller schools had not found the
effrontery to dub the breaking-up ceremony a 'speech-day.' This
prize-giving furnished a particular joy to Mr. and Mrs. Povey.
Although the prizes were notoriously few in number--partly to add
to their significance, and partly to diminish their cost (the
foundation was poor)--Cyril won a prize, a box of geometrical
instruments of precision; also he reached the top of his form, and
was marked for promotion to the formidable Fourth. Samuel and
Constance were bidden to the large hall of the Wedgwood
Institution of a summer afternoon, and they saw the whole Board of
Governors raised on a rostrum, and in the middle, in front of what
he referred to, in his aristocratic London accent, as 'a beggarly
array of rewards,' the aged and celebrated Sir Thomas Wilbraham
Wilbraham, ex-M.P., last respectable member of his ancient line.
And Sir Thomas gave the box of instruments to Cyril, and shook
hands with him. And everybody was very well dressed. Samuel, who
had never attended anything but a National School, recalled the
simple rigours of his own boyhood, and swelled. For certainly, of
all the parents present, he was among the richest. When, in the
informal promiscuities which followed the prize distribution,
Cyril joined his father and mother, sheepishly, they duly did
their best to make light of his achievements, and failed. The
walls of the hall were covered with specimens of the pupils'
skill, and the headmaster was observed to direct the attention of
the mighty to a map done by Cyril. Of course it was a map of
Ireland, Ireland being the map chosen by every map-drawing
schoolboy who is free to choose. For a third-form boy it was
considered a masterpiece. In the shading of mountains Cyril was
already a prodigy. Never, it was said, had the Macgillycuddy Reeks
been indicated by a member of that school with a more amazing
subtle refinement than by the young Povey. From a proper pride in
themselves, from a proper fear lest they should be secretly
accused of ostentation by other parents, Samuel and Constance did
not go near that map. For the rest, they had lived with it for
weeks, and Samuel (who, after all, was determined not to be dirt
under his son's feet) had scratched a blot from it with a
completeness that defied inquisitive examination.

The fame of this map, added to the box of compasses and Cyril's
own desire, pointed to an artistic career. Cyril had always drawn
and daubed, and the drawing-master of the Endowed School, who was
also headmaster of the Art School, had suggested that the youth
should attend the Art School one night a week. Samuel, however,
would not listen to the idea; Cyril was too young. It is true that
Cyril was too young, but Samuel's real objection was to Cyril's
going out alone in the evening. On that he was adamant.

The Governors had recently made the discovery that a sports
department was necessary to a good school, and had rented a field
for cricket, football, and rounders up at Bleakridge, an
innovation which demonstrated that the town was moving with the
rapid times. In June this field was open after school hours till
eight p.m. as well as on Saturdays. The Squire learnt that Cyril
had a talent for cricket, and Cyril wished to practise in the
evenings, and was quite ready to bind himself with Bible oaths to
rise at no matter what hour in the morning for the purpose of home
lessons. He scarcely expected his father to say 'Yes' as his
father never did say 'Yes,' but he was obliged to ask. Samuel
nonplussed him by replying that on fine evenings, when he could
spare time from the shop, he would go up to Bleakridge with his
son. Cyril did not like this in the least. Still, it might be
tried. One evening they went, actually, in the new steam-car which
had superseded the old horse-cars, and which travelled all the way
to Longshaw, a place that Cyril had only heard of. Samuel talked
of the games played in the Five Towns in his day, of the Titanic
sport of prison-bars, when the team of one 'bank' went forth to
the challenge of another 'bank,' preceded by a drum-and-fife band,
and when, in the heat of the chase, a man might jump into the
canal to escape his pursuer; Samuel had never played at cricket.

Samuel, with a very young grandson of Fan (deceased), sat in
dignity on the grass and watched his cricketer for an hour and a
half (while Constance kept an eye on the shop and superintended
its closing). Samuel then conducted Cyril home again. Two days
later the father of his own accord offered to repeat the
experience. Cyril refused. Disagreeable insinuations that he was a
baby in arms had been made at school in the meantime.

Nevertheless, in other directions Cyril sometimes surprisingly
conquered. For instance, he came home one day with the information
that a dog that was not a bull-terrier was not worth calling a
dog. Fan's grandson had been carried off in earliest prime by a
chicken-bone that had pierced his vitals, and Cyril did indeed
persuade his father to buy a bull-terrier. The animal was a
superlative of forbidding ugliness, but father and son vied with
each other in stern critical praise of his surpassing beauty, and
Constance, from good nature, joined in the pretence. He was called
Lion, and the shop, after one or two untoward episodes, was
absolutely closed to him.

But the most striking of Cyril's successes had to do with the
question of the annual holiday. He spoke of the sea soon after
becoming a schoolboy. It appeared that his complete ignorance of
the sea prejudicially affected him at school. Further, he had
always loved the sea; he had drawn hundreds of three-masted ships
with studding-sails set, and knew the difference between a brig
and a brigantine. When he first said: "I say, mother, why can't we
go to Llandudno instead of Buxton this year?" his mother thought
he was out of his senses. For the idea of going to any place other
than Buxton was inconceivable! Had they not always been to Buxton?
What would their landlady say? How could they ever look her in the
face again? Besides ... well ...! They went to Llandudno, rather
scared, and hardly knowing how the change had come about. But they
went. And it was the force of Cyril's will, Cyril the theoretic
cypher, that took them.

III

The removal of the Endowed School to more commodious premises in
the shape of Shawport Hall, an ancient mansion with fifty rooms
and five acres of land round about it, was not a change that quite
pleased Samuel or Constance. They admitted the hygienic
advantages, but Shawport Hall was three-quarters of a mile distant
from St. Luke's Square--in the hollow that separates Bursley from
its suburb of Hillport; whereas the Wedgwood Institution was
scarcely a minute away. It was as if Cyril, when he set off to
Shawport Hall of a morning, passed out of their sphere of
influence. He was leagues off, doing they knew not what. Further,
his dinner-hour was cut short by the extra time needed for the
journey to and fro, and he arrived late for tea; it may be said
that he often arrived very late for tea; the whole machinery of
the meal was disturbed. These matters seemed to Samuel and
Constance to be of tremendous import, seemed to threaten the very
foundations of existence. Then they grew accustomed to the new
order, and wondered sometimes, when they passed the Wedgwood
Institution and the insalubrious Cock Yard--once sole playground
of the boys--that the school could ever have 'managed' in the
narrow quarters once allotted to it.

Cyril, though constantly successful at school, a rising man, an
infallible bringer-home of excellent reports, and a regular taker
of prizes, became gradually less satisfactory in the house. He was
'kept in' occasionally, and although his father pretended to hold
that to be kept in was to slur the honour of a spotless family,
Cyril continued to be kept in; a hardened sinner, lost to shame.
But this was not the worst. The worst undoubtedly was that Cyril
was 'getting rough.' No definite accusation could be laid against
him; the offence was general, vague, everlasting; it was in all he
did and said, in every gesture and movement. He shouted, whistled,
sang, stamped, stumbled, lunged. He omitted such empty rites as
saying 'Yes' or 'Please,' and wiping his nose. He replied gruffly
and nonchalantly to polite questions, or he didn't reply until the
questions were repeated, and even then with a 'lost' air that was
not genuine. His shoelaces were a sad sight, and his finger-nails
no sight at all for a decent woman; his hair was as rough as his
conduct; hardly at the pistol's point could he be forced to put
oil on it. In brief, he was no longer the nice boy that he used to
be. He had unmistakably deteriorated. Grievous! But what can you
expect when YOUR boy is obliged, month after month and year after
year, to associate with other boys? After all, he was a GOOD boy,
said Constance, often to herself and now and then to Samuel. For
Constance, his charm was eternally renewed. His smile, his
frequent ingenuousness, his funny self-conscious gesture when he
wanted to 'get round' her--these characteristics remained; and his
pure heart remained; she could read that in his eyes. Samuel was
inimical to his tastes for sports and his triumphs therein. But
Constance had pride in all that. She liked to feel him and to gaze
at him, and to smell that faint, uncleanly odour of sweat that
hung in his clothes.

In this condition he reached the advanced age of thirteen. And his
parents, who despite their notion of themselves as wide-awake
parents were a simple pair, never suspected that his heart,
conceived to be still pure, had become a crawling, horrible mass
of corruption.

One day the head-master called at the shop. Now, to see a head-
master walking about the town during school-hours is a startling
spectacle, and is apt to give you the same uncanny sensation as
when, alone in a room, you think you see something move which
ought not to move. Mr. Povey was startled. Mr. Povey had a
thumping within his breast as he rubbed his hands and drew the
head-master to the private corner where his desk was. "What can I
do for you to-day?" he almost said to the head-master. But he did
not say it. The boot was emphatically not on that leg. The head-
master talked to Mr. Povey, in tones carefully low, for about a
quarter of an hour, and then he closed the interview. Mr. Povey
escorted him across the shop, and the head-master said with
ordinary loudness: "Of course it's nothing. But my experience is
that it's just as well to be on the safe side, and I thought I'd
tell you. Forewarned is forearmed. I have other parents to see."
They shook hands at the door. Then Mr. Povey stepped out on to the
pavement and, in front of the whole Square, detained an unwilling
head-master for quite another minute.

His face was deeply flushed as he returned into the shop. The
assistants bent closer over their work. He did not instantly rush
into the parlour and communicate with Constance. He had dropped
into a way of conducting many operations by his own unaided brain.
His confidence in his skill had increased with years. Further, at
the back of his mind, there had established itself a vision of Mr.
Povey as the seat of government and of Constance and Cyril as a
sort of permanent opposition. He would not have admitted that he
saw such a vision, for he was utterly loyal to his wife; but it
was there. This unconfessed vision was one of several causes which
had contributed to intensify his inherent tendency towards
Machiavellianism and secretiveness. He said nothing to Constance,
nothing to Cyril; but, happening to encounter Amy in the showroom,
he was inspired to interrogate her sharply. The result was that
they descended to the cellar together, Amy weeping. Amy was
commanded to hold her tongue. And as she went in mortal fear of
Mr. Povey she did hold her tongue.

Nothing occurred for several days. And then one morning--it was
Constance's birthday: children are nearly always horribly unlucky
in their choice of days for sin--Mr. Povey, having executed
mysterious movements in the shop after Cyril's departure to
school, jammed his hat on his head and ran forth in pursuit of
Cyril, whom he intercepted with two other boys, at the corner of
Oldcastle Street and Acre Passage.

Cyril stood as if turned into salt. "Come back home!" said Mr.
Povey, grimly; and for the sake of the other boys: "Please."

"But I shall be late for school, father," Cyril weakly urged.

"Never mind."

They passed through the shop together, causing a terrific
concealed emotion, and then they did violence to Constance by
appearing in the parlour. Constance was engaged in cutting straws
and ribbons to make a straw-frame for a water-colour drawing of a
moss-rose which her pure-hearted son had given her as a birthday
present.

"Why--what--?" she exclaimed. She said no more at the moment
because she was sure, from the faces of her men, that the time was
big with fearful events.

"Take your satchel off," Mr. Povey ordered coldly. "And your
mortar-board," he added with a peculiar intonation, as if glad
thus to prove that Cyril was one of those rude boys who have to be
told to take their hats off in a room.

"Whatever's amiss?" Constance murmured under her breath, as Cyril
obeyed the command. "Whatever's amiss?"

Mr. Povey made no immediate answer. He was in charge of these
proceedings, and was very anxious to conduct them with dignity and
with complete effectiveness. Little fat man over fifty, with a
wizened face, grey-haired and grey-bearded, he was as nervous as a
youth. His heart beat furiously. And Constance, the portly matron
who would never see forty again, was just as nervous as a girl.
Cyril had gone very white. All three felt physically sick.

"What money have you got in your pockets?" Mr. Povey demanded, as
a commencement.

Cyril, who had had no opportunity to prepare his case, offered no
reply.

"You heard what I said," Mr. Povey thundered.

"I've got three-halfpence," Cyril murmured glumly, looking down at
the floor. His lower lip seemed to hang precariously away from his
gums.

"Where did you get that from?"

"It's part of what mother gave me," said the boy.

"I did give him a threepenny bit last week," Constance put in
guiltily. "It was a long time since he had had any money."

"If you gave it him, that's enough," said Mr. Povey, quickly, and
to the boy: "That's all you've got?"

"Yes, father," said the boy.

"You're sure?"

"Yes, father."

Cyril was playing a hazardous game for the highest stakes, and
under grave disadvantages; and he acted for the best. He guarded
his own interests as well as he could.

Mr. Povey found himself obliged to take a serious risk. "Empty
your pockets, then."

Cyril, perceiving that he had lost that particular game, emptied
his pockets.

"Cyril," said Constance, "how often have I told you to change your
handkerchiefs oftener! Just look at this!"

Astonishing creature! She was in the seventh hell of sick
apprehension, and yet she said that!

After the handkerchief emerged the common schoolboy stock of
articles useful and magic, and then, last, a silver florin!

Mr. Povey felt relief.

"Oh, Cyril!" whimpered Constance.

"Give it your mother," said Mr. Povey.

The boy stepped forward awkwardly, and Constance, weeping, took
the coin.

"Please look at it, mother," said Mr. Povey. "And tell me if
there's a cross marked on it."

Constance's tears blurred the coin. She had to wipe her eyes.

"Yes," she whispered faintly. "There's something on it."

"I thought so," said Mr. Povey. "Where did you steal it from?" he
demanded.

"Out of the till," answered Cyril.

"Have you ever stolen anything out of the till before?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what."

"Yes, father."

"Take your hands out of your pockets and stand up straight, if you
can. How often?"

"I--I don't know, father."

"I blame myself," said Mr. Povey, frankly. "I blame myself. The
till ought always to be locked. All tills ought always to be
locked. But we felt we could trust the assistants. If anybody had
told me that I ought not to trust you, if anybody had told me that
my own son would be the thief, I should have--well, I don't know
what I should have said!"

Mr. Povey was quite justified in blaming himself. The fact was
that the functioning of that till was a patriarchal survival,
which he ought to have revolutionized, but which it had never
occurred to him to revolutionize, so accustomed to it was he. In
the time of John Baines, the till, with its three bowls, two for
silver and one for copper (gold had never been put into it), was
invariably unlocked. The person in charge of the shop took change
from it for the assistants, or temporarily authorized an assistant
to do so. Gold was kept in a small linen bag in a locked drawer of
the desk. The contents of the till were never checked by any
system of book-keeping, as there was no system of book-keeping;
when all transactions, whether in payment or receipt, are in cash
--the Baineses never owed a penny save the quarterly wholesale
accounts, which were discharged instantly to the travellers--a
system of book-keeping is not indispensable. The till was situate
immediately at the entrance to the shop from the house; it was in
the darkest part of the shop, and the unfortunate Cyril had to
pass it every day on his way to school. The thing was a perfect
device for the manufacture of young criminals.

"And how have you been spending this money?" Mr. Povey inquired.

Cyril's hands slipped into his pockets again. Then, noticing the
lapse, he dragged them out.

"Sweets," said he.

"Anything else?"

"Sweets and things."

"Oh!" said Mr. Povey. "Well, now you can go down into the cinder-
cellar and bring up here all the things there are in that little
box in the corner. Off you go!"

And off went Cyril. He had to swagger through the kitchen.

"What did I tell you, Master Cyril?" Amy unwisely asked of him.
"You've copped it finely this time."

'Copped' was a word which she had learned from Cyril.

"Go on, you old bitch!" Cyril growled.

As he returned from the cellar, Amy said angrily:

"I told you I should tell your father the next time you called me
that, and I shall. You mark my words."

"Cant! cant!" he retorted. "Do you think I don't know who's been
canting? Cant! cant!"

Upstairs in the parlour Samuel was explaining the matter to his
wife. There had been a perfect epidemic of smoking in the school.
The head-master had discovered it and, he hoped, stamped it out.
What had disturbed the head-master far more than the smoking was
the fact that a few boys had been found to possess somewhat costly
pipes, cigar-holders, or cigarette-holders. The head-master, wily,
had not confiscated these articles; he had merely informed the
parents concerned. In his opinion the articles came from one
single source, a generous thief; he left the parents to ascertain
which of them had brought a thief into the world.

Further information Mr. Povey had culled from Amy, and there could
remain no doubt that Cyril had been providing his chums with the
utensils of smoking, the till supplying the means. He had told Amy
that the things which he secreted in the cellar had been presented
to him by blood-brothers. But Mr. Povey did not believe that.
Anyhow, he had marked every silver coin in the till for three
nights, and had watched the till in the mornings from behind the
merino-pile; and the florin on the parlour-table spoke of his
success as a detective.

Constance felt guilty on behalf of Cyril. As Mr. Povey outlined
his case she could not free herself from an entirely irrational
sensation of sin; at any rate of special responsibility. Cyril
seemed to be her boy and not Samuel's boy at all. She avoided her
husband's glance. This was very odd.

Then Cyril returned, and his parents composed their faces and he
deposited, next to the florin, a sham meerschaum pipe in a case, a
tobacco-pouch, a cigar of which one end had been charred but the
other not cut, and a half-empty packet of cigarettes without a
label.

Nothing could be hid from Mr. Povey. The details were distressing.

"So Cyril is a liar and a thief, to say nothing of this smoking!"
Mr. Povey concluded.

He spoke as if Cyril had invented strange and monstrous sins. But
deep down in his heart a little voice was telling him, as regards
the smoking, that HE had set the example. Mr. Baines had never
smoked. Mr. Critchlow never smoked. Only men like Daniel smoked.

Thus far Mr. Povey had conducted the proceedings to his own
satisfaction. He had proved the crime. He had made Cyril confess.
The whole affair lay revealed. Well--what next? Cyril ought to
have dissolved in repentance; something dramatic ought to have
occurred. But Cyril simply stood with hanging, sulky head, and
gave no sign of proper feeling.

Mr. Povey considered that, until something did happen, he must
improve the occasion.

"Here we have trade getting worse every day," said he (it was
true), "and you are robbing your parents to make a beast of
yourself, and corrupting your companions! I wonder your mother
never smelt you!"

"I never dreamt of such a thing!" said Constance, grievously.

Besides, a young man clever enough to rob a till is usually clever
enough to find out that the secret of safety in smoking is to use
cachous and not to keep the stuff in your pockets a minute longer
than you can help.

"There's no knowing how much money you have stolen," said Mr.
Povey. "A thief!"

If Cyril had stolen cakes, jam, string, cigars, Mr. Povey would
never have said 'thief' as he did say it. But money! Money was
different. And a till was not a cupboard or a larder. A till was a
till. Cyril had struck at the very basis of society.

"And on your mother's birthday!" Mr. Povey said further.

"There's one thing I can do!" he said. "I can burn all this. Built
on lies! How dared you?"

And he pitched into the fire--not the apparatus of crime, but the
water-colour drawing of a moss-rose and the straws and the blue
ribbon for bows at the corners.

"How dared you?" he repeated.

"You never gave me any money," Cyril muttered.

He thought the marking of coins a mean trick, and the dragging-in
of bad trade and his mother's birthday roused a familiar devil
that usually slept quietly in his breast.

"What's that you say?" Mr. Povey almost shouted.

"You never gave me any money," the devil repeated in a louder tone
than Cyril had employed.

(It was true. But Cyril 'had only to ask' and he would have
received all that was good for him.)

Mr. Povey sprang up. Mr. Povey also had a devil. The two devils
gazed at each other for an instant; and then, noticing that
Cyril's head was above Mr. Povey's, the elder devil controlled
itself. Mr. Povey had suddenly had as much drama as he wanted.

"Get away to bed!" said he with dignity.

Cyril went, defiantly.

"He's to have nothing but bread and water, mother," Mr. Povey
finished. He was, on the whole, pleased with himself.

Later in the day Constance reported, tearfully, that she had been
up to Cyril and that Cyril had wept. Which was to Cyril's credit.
But all felt that life could never be the same again. During the
remainder of existence this unspeakable horror would lift its
obscene form between them. Constance had never been so unhappy.
Occasionally, when by herself, she would rebel for a brief moment,
as one rebels in secret against a mummery which one is obliged to
treat seriously. "After all," she would whisper, "suppose he HAS
taken a few shillings out of the till! What then? What does it
matter?" But these moods of moral insurrection against society and
Mr. Povey were very transitory. They were come and gone in a
flash.




CHAPTER V

ANOTHER CRIME

I


One night--it was late in the afternoon of the same year, about
six months after the tragedy of the florin--Samuel Povey was
wakened up by a hand on his shoulder and a voice that whispered:
"Father!"

The thief and the liar was standing in his night-shirt by the bed.
Samuel's sleepy eyes could just descry him in the thick gloom.

"What--what?" questioned the father, gradually coming to
consciousness. "What are you doing there?"

"I didn't want to wake mother up," the boy whispered. "There's
someone been throwing dirt or something at our windows, and has
been for a long time."

"Eh, what?"

Samuel stared at the dim form of the thief and liar. The boy was
tall, not in the least like a little boy; and yet, then, he seemed
to his father as quite a little boy, a little 'thing' in a night-
shirt, with childish gestures and childish inflections, and a
childish, delicious, quaint anxiety not to disturb his mother, who
had lately been deprived of sleep owing to an illness of Amy's
which had demanded nursing. His father had not so perceived him
for years. In that instant the conviction that Cyril was
permanently unfit for human society finally expired in the
father's mind. Time had already weakened it very considerably. The
decision that, be Cyril what he might, the summer holiday must be
taken as usual, had dealt it a fearful blow. And yet, though
Samuel and Constance had grown so accustomed to the companionship
of a criminal that they frequently lost memory of his guilt for
long periods, nevertheless the convention of his leprosy had more
or less persisted with Samuel until that moment: when it vanished
with strange suddenness, to Samuel's conscious relief.

There was a rain of pellets on the window.

"Hear that?" demanded Cyril, whispering dramatically. "And it's
been like that on my window too."

Samuel arose. "Go back to your room!" he ordered in the same
dramatic whisper; but not as father to son--rather as conspirator
to conspirator.

Constance slept. They could hear her regular breathing.

Barefooted, the elderly gowned figure followed the younger, and
one after the other they creaked down the two steps which
separated Cyril's room from his parents'.

"Shut the door quietly!" said Samuel.

Cyril obeyed.

And then, having lighted Cyril's gas, Samuel drew the blind,
unfastened the catch of the window, and began to open it with many
precautions of silence. All the sashes in that house were
difficult to manage. Cyril stood close to his father, shivering
without knowing that he shivered, astonished only that his father
had not told him to get back into bed at once. It was, beyond
doubt, the proudest hour of Cyril's career. In addition to the
mysterious circumstances of the night, there was in the situation
that thrill which always communicates itself to a father and son
when they are afoot together upon an enterprise unsuspected by the
woman from whom their lives have no secrets.

Samuel put his head out of the window.

A man was standing there.

"That you, Samuel?" The voice came low.

"Yes," replied Samuel, cautiously. "It's not Cousin Daniel, is
it?"

"I want ye," said Daniel Povey, curtly.

Samuel paused. "I'll be down in a minute," he said.

Cyril at length received the command to get back into bed at once.

"Whatever's up, father?" he asked joyously.

"I don't know. I must put some things on and go and see."

He shut down the window on all the breezes that were pouring into
the room.

"Now quick, before I turn the gas out!" he admonished, his hand on
the gas-tap.

"You'll tell me in the morning, won't you, father?"

"Yes," said Mr. Povey, conquering his habitual impulse to say
'No.'

He crept back to the large bedroom to grope for clothes.

When, having descended to the parlour and lighted the gas there,
he opened the side-door, expecting to let Cousin Daniel in, there
was no sign of Cousin Daniel. Presently he saw a figure standing
at the corner of the Square. He whistled--Samuel had a singular
faculty of whistling, the envy of his son--and Daniel beckoned to
him. He nearly extinguished the gas and then ran out, hatless. He
was wearing most of his clothes, except his linen collar and
necktie, and the collar of his coat was turned up.

Daniel advanced before him, without waiting, into the
confectioner's shop opposite. Being part of the most modern
building in the Square, Daniel's shop was provided with the new
roll-down iron shutter, by means of which you closed your
establishment with a motion similar to the winding of a large
clock, instead of putting up twenty separate shutters one by one
as in the sixteenth century. The little portal in the vast sheet
of armour was ajar, and Daniel had passed into the gloom beyond.
At the same moment a policeman came along on his beat, cutting off
Mr. Povey from Daniel.

"Good-night, officer! Brrr!" said Mr. Povey, gathering his dignity
about him and holding himself as though it was part of his normal
habit to take exercise bareheaded and collarless in St. Luke's
Square on cold November nights. He behaved so because, if Daniel
had desired the services of a policeman, Daniel would of course
have spoken to this one.

"Goo' night, sir," said the policeman, after recognizing him.

"What time is it?" asked Samuel, bold.

"A quarter-past one, sir."

The policeman, leaving Samuel at the little open door, went
forward across the lamplit Square, and Samuel entered his cousin's
shop.

Daniel Povey was standing behind the door, and as Samuel came in
he shut the door with a startling sudden movement. Save for the
twinkle of gas, the shop was in darkness. It had the empty
appearance which a well-managed confectioner's and baker's always
has at night. The large brass scales near the flour-bins glinted;
and the glass cake-stands, with scarce a tart among them, also
caught the faint flare of the gas.

"What's the matter, Daniel? Anything wrong?" Samuel asked, feeling
boyish as he usually did in the presence of Daniel.

The well-favoured white-haired man seized him with one hand by the
shoulder in a grip that convicted Samuel of frailty.

"Look here, Sam'l," said he in his low, pleasant voice, somewhat
altered by excitement. "You know as my wife drinks?"

He stared defiantly at Samuel.

"N--no," said Samuel. "That is--no one's ever SAID---"

This was true. He did not know that Mrs. Daniel Povey, at the age
of fifty, had definitely taken to drink. There had been rumours
that she enjoyed a glass with too much gusto; but 'drinks' meant
more than that.

"She drinks," Daniel Povey continued. "And has done this last two
year!"

"I'm very sorry to hear it," said Samuel, tremendously shocked by
this brutal rending of the cloak of decency.

Always, everybody had feigned to Daniel, and Daniel had feigned to
everybody, that his wife was as other wives. And now the man
himself had torn to pieces in a moment the veil of thirty years'
weaving.

"And if that was the worst!" Daniel murmured reflectively,
loosening his grip.

Samuel was excessively disturbed. His cousin was hinting at
matters which he himself, at any rate, had never hinted at even to
Constance, so abhorrent were they; matters unutterable, which hung
like clouds in the social atmosphere of the town, and of which at
rare intervals one conveyed one's cognizance, not by words, but by
something scarce perceptible in a glance, an accent. Not often is
a town such as Bursley starred with such a woman as Mrs. Daniel
Povey.

"But what's wrong?" Samuel asked, trying to be firm.

And, "What is wrong?" he asked himself. "What does all this mean,
at after one o'clock in the morning?"

"Look here, Sam'l," Daniel recommenced, seizing his shoulder
again. "I went to Liverpool corn market to-day, and missed the
last train, so I came by mail from Crewe. And what do I find? I
find Dick sitting on the stairs in the dark pretty high naked."

"Sitting on the stairs? Dick?"

"Ay! This is what I come home to!"

"But--"

"Hold on! He's been in bed a couple of days with a feverish cold,
caught through lying in damp sheets as his mother had forgot to
air. She brings him no supper to-night. He calls out. No answer.
Then he gets up to go down-stairs and see what's happened, and he
slips on th' stairs and breaks his knee, or puts it out or summat.
Sat there hours, seemingly! Couldn't walk neither up nor down."

"And was your--wife--was Mrs.-?"

"Dead drunk in the parlour, Sam'l."

"But the servant?"

"Servant!" Daniel Povey laughed. "We can't keep our servants. They
won't stay. YOU know that."

He did. Mrs. Daniel Povey's domestic methods and idiosyncrasies
could at any rate be freely discussed, and they were.

"And what have you done?"

"Done? Why, I picked him up in my arms and carried him upstairs
again. And a fine job I had too! Here! Come here!"

Daniel strode impulsively across the shop--the counterflap was up
--and opened a door at the back. Samuel followed. Never before had
he penetrated so far into his cousin's secrets. On the left,
within the doorway, were the stairs, dark; on the right a shut
door; and in front an open door giving on to a yard. At the
extremity of the yard he discerned a building, vaguely lit, and
naked figures strangely moving in it.

"What's that? Who's there?" he asked sharply.

"That's the bakehouse," Daniel replied, as if surprised at such a
question. "It's one of their long nights."

Never, during the brief remainder of his life, did Samuel eat a
mouthful of common bread without recalling that midnight
apparition. He had lived for half a century, and thoughtlessly
eaten bread as though loaves grew ready-made on trees.

"Listen!" Daniel commanded him.

He cocked his ear, and caught a feeble, complaining wail from an
upper floor.

"That's Dick! That is!" said Daniel Povey.

It sounded more like the distress of a child than of an
adventurous young man of twenty-four or so.

"But is he in pain? Haven't you fetched the doctor?"

"Not yet," answered Daniel, with a vacant stare.

Samuel gazed at him closely for a second. And Daniel seemed to him
very old and helpless and pathetic, a man unequal to the situation
in which he found himself; and yet, despite the dignified snow of
his age, wistfully boyish. Samuel thought swiftly: "This has been
too much for him. He's almost out of his mind. That's the
explanation. Some one's got to take charge, and I must." And all
the courageous resolution of his character braced itself to the
crisis. Being without a collar, being in slippers, and his
suspenders imperfectly fastened anyhow,--these things seemed to be
a part of the crisis.

"I'll just run upstairs and have a look at him," said Samuel, in a
matter-of-fact tone.

Daniel did not reply.

There was a glimmer at the top of the stairs. Samuel mounted,
found the gas-jet, and turned it on full. A dingy, dirty, untidy
passage was revealed, the very antechamber of discomfort. Guided
by the moans, Samuel entered a bedroom, which was in a shameful
condition of neglect, and lighted only by a nearly expired candle.
Was it possible that a house-mistress could so lose her self-
respect? Samuel thought of his own abode, meticulously and
impeccably 'kept,' and a hard bitterness against Mrs. Daniel
surged up in his soul.

"Is that you, doctor?" said a voice from the bed; the moans
ceased.

Samuel raised the candle.

Dick lay there, his face, on which was a beard of several days'
growth, distorted by anguish, sweating; his tousled brown hair was
limp with sweat.

"Where the hell's the doctor?" the young man demanded brusquely.
Evidently he had no curiosity about Samuel's presence; the one
thing that struck him was that Samuel was not the doctor.

"He's coming, he's coming,' said Samuel, soothingly.

"Well, if he isn't here soon I shall be damn well dead," said
Dick, in feeble resentful anger. "I can tell you that."

Samuel deposited the candle and ran downstairs. "I say, Daniel,"
he said, roused and hot, "this is really ridiculous. Why on earth
didn't you fetch the doctor while you were waiting for me? Where's
the missis?"

Daniel Povey was slowly emptying grains of Indian corn out of his
jacket-pocket into one of the big receptacles behind the counter
on the baker's side of the shop. He had provisioned himself with
Indian corn as ammunition for Samuel's bedroom window; he was now
returning the surplus.

"Are ye going for Harrop?" he questioned hesitatingly.

"Why, of course!" Samuel exclaimed. "Where's the missis?"

"Happen you'd better go and have a look at her," said Daniel
Povey. "She's in th' parlour."

He preceded Samuel to the shut door on the right. When he opened
it the parlour appeared in full illumination.

"Here! Go in!" said Daniel.

Samuel went in, afraid. In a room as dishevelled and filthy as the
bedroom, Mrs. Daniel Povey lay stretched awkwardly on a worn
horse-hair sofa, her head thrown back, her face discoloured, her
eyes bulging, her mouth wet and yawning: a sight horribly
offensive. Samuel was frightened; he was struck with fear and with
disgust. The singing gas beat down ruthlessly on that dreadful
figure. A wife and mother! The lady of a house! The centre of
order! The fount of healing! The balm for worry, and the refuge of
distress! She was vile. Her scanty yellow-grey hair was dirty, her
hollowed neck all grime, her hands abominable, her black dress in
decay. She was the dishonour of her sex, her situation, and her
years. She was a fouler obscenity than the inexperienced Samuel
had ever conceived. And by the door stood her husband, neat,
spotless, almost stately, the man who for thirty years had
marshalled all his immense pride to suffer this woman, the jolly
man who had laughed through thick and thin! Samuel remembered when
they were married. And he remembered when, years after their
marriage, she was still as pretty, artificial, coquettish, and
adamantine in her caprices as a young harlot with a fool at her
feet. Time and the slow wrath of God had changed her.

He remained master of himself and approached her; then stopped.

"But--" he stammered.

"Ay, Sam'l, lad!" said the old man from the door. "I doubt I've
killed her! I doubt I've killed her! I took and shook her. I got
her by the neck. And before I knew where I was, I'd done it.
She'll never drink brandy again. This is what it's come to!"

He moved away.

All Samuel's flesh tingled as a heavy wave of emotion rolled
through his being. It was just as if some one had dealt him a blow
unimaginably tremendous. His heart shivered, as a ship shivers at
the mountainous crash of the waters. He was numbed. He wanted to
weep, to vomit, to die, to sink away. But a voice was whispering
to him: "You will have to go through with this. You are in charge
of this." He thought of HIS wife and child, innocently asleep in
the cleanly pureness of HIS home. And he felt the roughness of his
coat-collar round his neck and the insecurity of his trousers. He
passed out of the room, shutting the door. And across the yard he
had a momentary glimpse of those nude nocturnal forms,
unconsciously attitudinizing in the bakehouse. And down the stairs
came the protests of Dick, driven by pain into a monotonous silly
blasphemy.

"I'll fetch Harrop," he said, melancholily, to his cousin.

The doctor's house was less than fifty yards off, and the doctor
had a night-bell, which, though he was a much older man than his
father had been at his age, he still answered promptly. No need to
bombard the doctor's premises with Indian corn! While Samuel was
parleying with the doctor through a window, the question ran
incessantly through his mind: "What about telling the police?"

But when, in advance of old Harrop, he returned to Daniel's shop,
lo! the policeman previously encountered had returned upon his
beat, and Daniel was talking to him in the little doorway. No
other soul was about. Down King Street, along Wedgwood Street, up
the Square, towards Brougham Street, nothing but gaslamps burning
with their everlasting patience, and the blind facades of shops.
Only in the second storey of the Bank Building at the top of the
Square a light showed mysteriously through a blind. Somebody ill
there!

The policeman was in a high state of nervous excitement. That had
happened to him which had never happened to him before. Of the
sixty policemen in Bursley, just he had been chosen by fate to fit
the socket of destiny. He was startled.

"What's this, what's this, Mr. Povey?" he turned hastily to
Samuel. "What's this as Mr. Councillor Povey is a-telling me?"

"You come in, sergeant," said Daniel.

"If I come in," said the policeman to Samuel, "you mun' go along
Wedgwood Street, Mr. Povey, and bring my mate. He should be on
Duck Bank, by rights."

It was astonishing, when once the stone had begun to roll, how
quickly it ran. In half an hour Samuel had actually parted from
Daniel at the police-office behind the Shambles, and was hurrying
to rouse his wife so that she could look after Dick Povey until he
might be taken off to Pirehill Infirmary, as old Harrop had
instantly, on seeing him, decreed.

"Ah!" he reflected in the turmoil of his soul: "God is not
mocked!" That was his basic idea: God is not mocked! Daniel was a
good fellow, honourable, brilliant; a figure in the world. But
what of his licentious tongue? What of his frequenting of bars?
(How had he come to miss that train from Liverpool? How?) For many
years he, Samuel, had seen in Daniel a living refutation of the
authenticity of the old Hebrew menaces. But he had been wrong,
after all! God is not mocked! And Samuel was aware of a revulsion
in himself towards that strict codified godliness from which, in
thought, he had perhaps been slipping away.

And with it all he felt, too, a certain officious self-importance,
as he woke his wife and essayed to break the news to her in a
manner tactfully calm. He had assisted at the most overwhelming
event ever known in the history of the town.

II

"Your muffler--I'll get it," said Constance. "Cyril, run upstairs
and get father's muffler. You know the drawer."

Cyril ran. It behoved everybody, that morning, to be prompt and
efficient.

"I don't need any muffler, thank you," said Samuel, coughing and
smothering the cough.

"Oh! But, Sam--" Constance protested.

"Now please don't worry me!" said Samuel with frigid finality.
"I've got quite enough--!" He did not finish.

Constance sighed as her husband stepped, nervous and self-
important, out of the side-door into the street. It was early, not
yet eight o'clock, and the shop still unopened.

"Your father couldn't wait," Constance said to Cyril when he had
thundered down the stairs in his heavy schoolboy boots. "Give it
to me." She went to restore the muffler to its place.

The whole house was upset, and Amy still an invalid! Existence was
disturbed; there vaguely seemed to be a thousand novel things to
be done, and yet she could think of nothing whatever that she
needed to do at that moment; so she occupied herself with the
muffler. Before she reappeared Cyril had gone to school, he who
was usually a laggard. The truth was that he could no longer
contain within himself a recital of the night, and in particular
of the fact that he had been the first to hear the summons of the
murderer on the window-pane. This imperious news had to be
imparted to somebody, as a preliminary to the thrilling of the
whole school; and Cyril had issued forth in search of an
appreciative and worthy confidant. He was scarcely five minutes
after his father.

In St. Luke's Square was a crowd of quite two hundred persons,
standing moveless in the November mud. The body of Mrs. Daniel
Povey had already been taken to the Tiger Hotel, and young Dick
Povey was on his way in a covered wagonette to Pirehill Infirmary
on the other side of Knype. The shop of the crime was closed, and
the blinds drawn at the upper windows of the house. There was
absolutely nothing to be seen, not even a policeman. Nevertheless
the crowd stared with an extraordinary obstinate attentiveness at
the fatal building in Boulton Terrace. Hypnotized by this face of
bricks and mortar, it had apparently forgotten all earthly ties,
and, regardless of breakfast and a livelihood, was determined to
stare at it till the house fell down or otherwise rendered up its
secret. Most of its component individuals wore neither overcoats
nor collars, but were kept warm by a scarf round the neck and by
dint of forcing their fingers into the furthest inch of their
pockets. Then they would slowly lift one leg after the other.
Starers of infirm purpose would occasionally detach themselves
from the throng and sidle away, ashamed of their fickleness. But
reinforcements were continually arriving. And to these new-comers
all that had been said in gossip had to be repeated and repeated:
the same questions, the same answers, the same exclamations, the
same proverbial philosophy, the same prophecies recurred in all
parts of the Square with an uncanny iterance. Well-dressed men
spoke to mere professional loiterers; for this unparalleled and
glorious sensation, whose uniqueness grew every instant more
impressive, brought out the essential brotherhood of mankind. All
had a peculiar feeling that the day was neither Sunday nor week-
day, but some eighth day of the week. Yet in the St. Luke's
Covered Market close by, the stall-keepers were preparing their
stalls just as though it were Saturday, just as though a Town
Councillor had not murdered his wife--at last! It was stated, and
restated infinitely, that the Povey baking had been taken over by
Brindley, the second-best baker and confectioner, who had a stall
in the market. And it was asserted, as a philosophical truth, and
reasserted infinitely, that there would have been no sense in
wasting good food.

Samuel's emergence stirred the multitude. But Samuel passed up the
Square with a rapt expression; he might have been under an
illusion, caused by the extreme gravity of his preoccupations,
that he was crossing a deserted Square. He hurried past the Bank
and down the Turnhill Road, to the private residence of 'Young
Lawton,' son of the deceased 'Lawyer Lawton.' Young Lawton
followed his father's profession; he was, as his father had been,
the most successful solicitor in the town (though reputed by his
learned rivals to be a fool), but the custom of calling men by
their occupations had died out with horse-cars. Samuel caught
young Lawton at his breakfast, and presently drove with him, in
the Lawton buggy, to the police-station, where their arrival
electrified a crowd as large as that in St. Luke's Square. Later,
they drove together to Hanbridge, informally to brief a barrister;
and Samuel, not permitted to be present at the first part of the
interview between the solicitor and the barrister, was humbled
before the pomposity of legal etiquette.

It seemed to Samuel a game. The whole rigmarole of police and
police-cells and formalities seemed insincere. His cousin's case
was not like any other case, and, though formalities might be
necessary, it was rather absurd to pretend that it was like any
other case. In what manner it differed from other cases Samuel did
not analytically inquire. He thought young Lawton was self-
important, and Daniel too humble, in the colloquy of these two,
and he endeavoured to indicate, by the dignity of his own
demeanour, that in his opinion the proper relative tones had not
been set. He could not understand Daniel's attitude, for he lacked
imagination to realize what Daniel had been through. After all,
Daniel was not a murderer; his wife's death was due to accident,
was simply a mishap.

But in the crowded and stinking court-room of the Town Hall,
Samuel began to feel qualms. It occurred that the Stipendiary
Magistrate was sitting that morning at Bursley. He sat alone, as
not one of the Borough Justices cared to occupy the Bench while a
Town Councillor was in the dock. The Stipendiary, recently
appointed, was a young man, from the southern part of the county;
and a Town Councillor of Bursley was no more to him than a petty
tradesman to a man of fashion. He was youthfully enthusiastic for
the majesty and the impartiality of English justice, and behaved
as though the entire responsibility for the safety of that vast
fabric rested on his shoulders. He and the barrister from
Hanbridge had had a historic quarrel at Cambridge, and their
behaviour to each other was a lesson to the vulgar in the art of
chill and consummate politeness. Young Lawton, having been to
Oxford, secretly scorned the pair of them, but, as he had engaged
counsel, he of course was precluded from adding to the eloquence,
which chagrined him. These three were the aristocracy of the
court-room; they knew it; Samuel Povey knew it; everybody knew it,
and felt it. The barrister brought an unexceptionable zeal to the
performance of his duties; be referred in suitable terms to
Daniel's character and high position in the town, but nothing
could hide the fact that for him too his client was a petty
tradesman accused of simple murder. Naturally the Stipendiary was
bound to show that before the law all men are equal--the Town
Councillor and the common tippler; he succeeded. The policeman
gave his evidence, and the Inspector swore to what Daniel Povey
had said when charged. The hearing proceeded so smoothly and
quickly that it seemed naught but an empty rite, with Daniel as a
lay figure in it. The Stipendiary achieved marvellously the
illusion that to him a murder by a Town Councillor in St. Luke's
Square was quite an everyday matter. Bail was inconceivable, and
the barrister, being unable to suggest any reason why the
Stipendiary should grant a remand--indeed, there was no reason--
Daniel Povey was committed to the Stafford Assizes for trial. The
Stipendiary instantly turned to the consideration of an alleged
offence against the Factory Acts by a large local firm of potters.
The young magistrate had mistaken his vocation. With his steely
calm, with his imperturbable detachment from weak humanity, he
ought to have been a General of the Order of Jesuits.

Daniel was removed--he did not go: he was removed, by two bare-
headed constables. Samuel wanted to have speech with him, and
could not. And later, Samuel stood in the porch of the Town Hall,
and Daniel appeared out of a corridor, still in the keeping of two
policemen, helmeted now. And down below at the bottom of the broad
flight of steps, up which passed dancers on the nights of
subscription balls, was a dense crowd, held at bay by other
policemen; and beyond the crowd a black van. And Daniel--to his
cousin a sort of Christ between thieves--was hurried past the
privileged loafers in the corridor, and down the broad steps. A
murmuring wave agitated the crowd. Unkempt idlers and ne'er-do-
wells in corduroy leaped up like tigers in the air, and the
policemen fought them back furiously. And Daniel and his guardians
shot through the little living lane. Quick! Quick! For the captive
is more sacred even than a messiah. The law has him in charge! And
like a feat of prestidigitation Daniel disappeared into the
blackness of the van. A door slammed loudly, triumphantly, and a
whip cracked. The crowd had been balked. It was as though the
crowd had yelled for Daniel's blood and bones, and the faithful
constables had saved him from their lust.

Yes, Samuel had qualms. He had a sickness in the stomach.

The aged Superintendent of Police walked by, with the aged Rector.
The Rector was Daniel's friend. Never before had the Rector spoken
to the Nonconformist Samuel, but now he spoke to him; he squeezed
his hand.

"Ah, Mr. Povey!" he ejaculated grievously.

"I--I'm afraid it's serious!" Samuel stammered. He hated to admit
that it was serious, but the words came out of his mouth.

He looked at the Superintendent of Police, expecting the
Superintendent to assure him that it was not serious; but the
Superintendent only raised his small white-bearded chin, saying
nothing. The Rector shook his head, and shook a senile tear out of
his eye.

After another chat with young Lawton, Samuel, on behalf of Daniel,
dropped his pose of the righteous man to whom a mere mishap has
occurred, and who is determined, with the lofty pride of
innocence, to indulge all the whims of the law, to be more
royalist than the king. He perceived that the law must be fought
with its own weapons, that no advantage must be surrendered, and
every possible advantage seized. He was truly astonished at
himself that such a pose had ever been adopted. His eyes were
opened; he saw things as they were.

He returned home through a Square that was more interested than
ever in the facade of his cousin's house. People were beginning to
come from Hanbridge, Knype, Longshaw, Turnhill, and villages such
as Moorthorne, to gaze at that facade. And the fourth edition of
the Signal, containing a full report of what the Stipendiary and
the barrister had said to each other, was being cried.

In his shop he found customers, as absorbed in the trivialities of
purchase as though nothing whatever had happened. He was shocked;
he resented their callousness.

"I'm too busy now," he said curtly to one who accosted him."

"Sam!" his wife called him in a low voice. She was standing behind
the till.

"What is it?" He was ready to crush, and especially to crush
indiscreet babble in the shop. He thought she was going to vent
her womanly curiosity at once.

"Mr. Huntbach is waiting for you in the parlour," said Constance.

"Mr. Huntbach?"

"Yes, from Longshaw." She whispered, "It's Mrs. Povey's cousin.
He's come to see about the funeral and so on, the--the inquest, I
suppose."

Samuel paused. "Oh, has he!" said he defiantly. "Well, I'll see
him. If he WANTS to see me, I'll see him."

That evening Constance learned all that was in his mind of
bitterness against the memory of the dead woman whose failings had
brought Daniel Povey to Stafford gaol and Dick to the Pirehill
Infirmary. Again and again, in the ensuing days, he referred to
the state of foul discomfort which he had discovered in Daniel's
house. He nursed a feud against all her relatives, and when, after
the inquest, at which he gave evidence full of resentment, she was
buried, he vented an angry sigh of relief, and said: "Well, SHE'S
out of the way!" Thenceforward he had a mission, religious in its
solemn intensity, to defend and save Daniel. He took the
enterprise upon himself, spending the whole of himself upon it, to
the neglect of his business and the scorn of his health. He lived
solely for Daniel's trial, pouring out money in preparation for
it. He thought and spoke of nothing else. The affair was his one
preoccupation. And as the weeks passed, he became more and more
sure of success, more and more sure that he would return with
Daniel to Bursley in triumph after the assize. He was convinced of
the impossibility that 'anything should happen' to Daniel; the
circumstances were too clear, too overwhelmingly in Daniel's
favour.

When Brindley, the second-best baker and confectioner, made an
offer for Daniel's business as a going concern, he was indignant
at first. Then Constance, and the lawyer, and Daniel (whom he saw
on every permitted occasion) between them persuaded him that if
some arrangement was not made, and made quickly, the business
would lose all its value, and he consented, on Daniel's behalf, to
a temporary agreement under which Brindley should reopen the shop
and manage it on certain terms until Daniel regained his freedom
towards the end of January. He would not listen to Daniel's
plaintive insistence that he would never care to be seen in
Bursley again. He pooh-poohed it. He protested furiously that the
whole town was seething with sympathy for Daniel; and this was
true. He became Daniel's defending angel, rescuing Daniel from
Daniel's own weakness and apathy. He became, indeed, Daniel.

One morning the shop-shutter was wound up, and Brindley, inflated
with the importance of controlling two establishments, strutted in
and out under the sign of Daniel Povey. And traffic in bread and
cakes and flour was resumed. Apparently the sea of time had risen
and covered Daniel and all that was his; for his wife was under
earth, and Dick lingered at Pirehill, unable to stand, and Daniel
was locked away. Apparently, in the regular flow of the life of
the Square, Daniel was forgotten. But not in Samuel Povey's heart
was he forgotten! There, before an altar erected to the martyr,
the sacred flame of a new faith burned with fierce consistency.
Samuel, in his greying middle-age, had inherited the eternal youth
of the apostle.

III

On the dark winter morning when Samuel set off to the grand
assize, Constance did not ask his views as to what protection he
would adopt against the weather. She silently ranged special
underclothing, and by the warmth of the fire, which for days she
had kept ablaze in the bedroom, Samuel silently donned the special
underclothing. Over that, with particular fastidious care, he put
his best suit. Not a word was spoken. Constance and he were not
estranged, but the relations between them were in a state of
feverish excitation. Samuel had had a cold on his flat chest for
weeks, and nothing that Constance could invent would move it. A
few days in bed or even in one room at a uniform temperature would
have surely worked the cure. Samuel, however, would not stay in
one room: he would not stay in the house, nor yet in Bursley. He
would take his lacerating cough on chilly trains to Stafford. He
had no ears for reason; he simply could not listen; he was in a
dream. After Christmas a crisis came. Constance grew desperate. It
was a battle between her will and his that occurred one night when
Constance, marshalling all her forces, suddenly insisted that he
must go out no more until he was cured. In the fight Constance was
scarcely recognizable. She deliberately gave way to hysteria; she
was no longer soft and gentle; she flung bitterness at him like
vitriol; she shrieked like a common shrew. It seems almost
incredible that Constance should have gone so far; but she did.
She accused him, amid sobs, of putting his cousin before his wife
and son, of not caring whether or not she was left a widow as the
result of this obstinacy. And she ended by crying passionately
that she might as well talk to a post. She might just as well have
talked to a post. Samuel answered quietly and coldly. He told her
that it was useless for her to put herself about, as he should act
as he thought fit. It was a most extraordinary scene, and quite
unique in their annals. Constance was beaten. She accepted the
defeat, gradually controlling her sobs and changing her tone to
the tone of the vanquished. She kissed him in bed, kissing the
rod. And he gravely kissed her.

Henceforward she knew, in practice, what the inevitable, when you
have to live with it, may contain of anguish wretched and
humiliating. Her husband was risking his life, so she was
absolutely convinced, and she could do nothing; she had come to
the bed-rock of Samuel's character. She felt that, for the time
being, she had a madman in the house, who could not be treated
according to ordinary principles. The continual strain aged her.
Her one source of relief was to talk with Cyril. She talked to him
without reserve, and the words 'your father,' 'your father,' were
everlastingly on her complaining tongue. Yes, she was utterly
changed. Often she would weep when alone.

Nevertheless she frequently forgot that she had been beaten. She
had no notion of honourable warfare. She was always beginning
again, always firing under a flag of truce; and thus she
constituted a very inconvenient opponent. Samuel was obliged,
while hardening on the main point, to compromise on lesser
questions. She too could be formidable, and when her lips took a
certain pose, and her eyes glowed, he would have put on forty
mufflers had she commanded. Thus it was she who arranged all the
details of the supreme journey to Stafford. Samuel was to drive to
Knype, so as to avoid the rigours of the Loop Line train from
Bursley and the waiting on cold platforms. At Knype he was to take
the express, and to travel first-class.

After he was dressed on that gas-lit morning, he learnt bit by bit
the extent of her elaborate preparations. The breakfast was a
special breakfast, and he had to eat it all. Then the cab came,
and he saw Amy put hot bricks into it. Constance herself put
goloshes over his boots, not because it was damp, but because
indiarubber keeps the feet warm. Constance herself bandaged his
neck, and unbuttoned his waistcoat and stuck an extra flannel
under his dickey. Constance herself warmed his woollen gloves, and
enveloped him in his largest overcoat.

Samuel then saw Cyril getting ready to go out. "Where are you
off?" he demanded.

"He's going with you as far as Knype," said Constance grimly.
"He'll see you into the train and then come back here in the cab."

She had sprung this indignity upon him. She glared. Cyril glanced
with timid bravado from one to the other. Samuel had to yield.

Thus in the winter darkness--for it was not yet dawn--Samuel set
forth to the trial, escorted by his son. The reverberation of his
appalling cough from the cab was the last thing that Constance
heard.

During most of the day Constance sat in 'Miss Insull's corner' in
the shop. Twenty years ago this very corner had been hers. But
now, instead of large millinery-boxes enwrapped in brown paper, it
was shut off from the rest of the counter by a rich screen of
mahogany and ground-glass, and within the enclosed space all the
apparatus necessary to the activity of Miss Insull had been
provided for. However, it remained the coldest part of the whole
shop, as Miss Insull's fingers testified. Constance established
herself there more from a desire to do something, to interfere in
something, than from a necessity of supervising the shop, though
she had said to Samuel that she would keep an eye on the shop.
Miss Insull, whose throne was usurped, had to sit by the stove
with less important creatures; she did not like it, and her
underlings suffered accordingly.

It was a long day. Towards tea-time, just before Cyril was due
from school, Mr. Critchlow came surprisingly in. That is to say,
his arrival was less of a surprise to Miss Insull and the rest of
the staff than to Constance. For he had lately formed an irregular
habit of popping in at tea-time, to chat with Miss Insull. Mr.
Critchlow was still defying time. He kept his long, thin figure
perfectly erect. His features had not altered. His hair and heard
could not have been whiter than they had been for years past. He
wore his long white apron, and over that a thick reefer jacket. In
his long, knotty fingers he carried a copy of the Signal.

Evidently he had not expected to find the corner occupied by
Constance. She was sewing.

"So it's you!" he said, in his unpleasant, grating voice, not even
glancing at Miss Insull. He had gained the reputation of being the
rudest old man in Bursley. But his general demeanour expressed
indifference rather than rudeness. It was a manner that said:
"You've got to take me as I am. I may be an egotist, hard, mean,
and convinced; but those who don't like it can lump it. I'm
indifferent."

He put one elbow on the top of the screen, showing the Signal.

"Mr. Critchlow!" said Constance, primly; she had acquired Samuel's
dislike of him.

"It's begun!" he observed with mysterious glee.

"Has it?" Constance said eagerly. "Is it in the paper already?"

She had been far more disturbed about her husband's health than
about the trial of Daniel Povey for murder, but her interest in
the trial was of course tremendous. And this news, that it had
actually begun, thrilled her.

"Ay!" said Mr. Critchlow. "Didn't ye hear the Signal boy hollering
just now all over the Square?"

"No," said Constance. For her, newspapers did not exist. She never
had the idea of opening one, never felt any curiosity which she
could not satisfy, if she could satisfy it at all, without the
powerful aid of the press. And even on this day it had not
occurred to her that the Signal might be worth opening.

"Ay!" repeated Mr. Critchlow. "Seemingly it began at two o'clock--
or thereabouts." He gave a moment of his attention to a noisy gas-
jet, which he carefully lowered.

"What does it say?"

"Nothing yet!" said Mr. Critchlow; and they read the few brief
sentences, under their big heading, which described the formal
commencement of the trial of Daniel Povey for the murder of his
wife. "There was some as said," he remarked, pushing up his
spectacles, "that grand jury would alter the charge, or summat!"
He laughed, grimly tolerant of the extreme absurdity. "Ah!" he
added contemplatively, turning his head to see if the assistants
were listening. They were. It would have been too much, on such a
day, to expect a strict adherence to the etiquette of the shop.

Constance had been hearing a good deal lately of grand juries, but
she had understood nothing, nor had she sought to understand.

"I'm very glad it's come on so soon," she said. "In a sense, that
is! I was afraid Sam might be kept at Stafford for days. Do you
think it will last long?"

"Not it!" said Mr. Critchlow, positively. "There's naught in it to
spin out."

Then a silence, punctuated by the sound of stitching.

Constance would really have preferred not to converse with the old
man; but the desire for reassurance, for the calming of her own
fears, forced her to speak, though she knew well that Mr.
Critchlow was precisely the last man in the town to give moral
assistance if he thought it was wanted.

"I do hope everything will be all right!" she murmured.

"Everything'll be all right!" he said gaily. "Everything'll be all
right. Only it'll be all wrong for Dan."

"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Critchlow?" she protested.

Nothing, she reflected, could rouse pity in that heart, not even a
tragedy like Daniel's. She bit her lip for having spoken.

"Well," he said in loud tones, frankly addressing the girls round
the stove as much as Constance. "I've met with some rare good
arguments this new year, no mistake! There's been some as say that
Dan never meant to do it. That's as may be. But if it's a good
reason for not hanging, there's an end to capital punishment in
this country. 'Never meant'! There's a lot of 'em as 'never
meant'! Then I'm told as she was a gallivanting woman and no
housekeeper, and as often drunk as sober. I'd no call to be told
that. If strangling is a right punishment for a wife as spends her
time in drinking brandy instead of sweeping floors and airing
sheets, then Dan's safe. But I don't seem to see Judge Lindley
telling the jury as it is. I've been a juryman under Judge Lindley
myself--and more than once--and I don't seem to see him, like!" He
paused with his mouth open. "As for all them nobs," he continued,
"including th' rector, as have gone to Stafford to kiss the book
and swear that Dan's reputation is second to none--if they could
ha' sworn as Dan wasn't in th' house at all that night, if they
could ha' sworn he was in Jericho, there'd ha' been some sense in
their going. But as it is, they'd ha' done better to stop at home
and mind their business. Bless us! Sam wanted ME to go!"

He laughed again, in the faces of the horrified and angry women.

"I'm surprised at you, Mr. Critchlow! I really am!" Constance
exclaimed.

And the assistants inarticulately supported her with vague sounds.
Miss Insull got up and poked the stove. Every soul in the
establishment was loyally convinced that Daniel Povey would be
acquitted, and to breathe a doubt on the brightness of this
certainty was a hideous crime. The conviction was not within the
domain of reason; it was an act of faith; and arguments merely
fretted, without in the slightest degree disturbing it.

"Ye may be!" Mr. Critchlow gaily concurred. He was very content.

Just as he shuffled round to leave the shop, Cyril entered.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Critchlow," said Cyril, sheepishly polite.

Mr. Critchlow gazed hard at the boy, then nodded his head several
times rapidly, as though to say: "Here's another fool in the
making! So the generations follow one another!" He made no answer
to the salutation, and departed.

Cyril ran round to his mother's corner, pitching his bag on to the
showroom stairs as he passed them. Taking off his hat, he kissed
her, and she unbuttoned his overcoat with her cold hands.

"What's old Methuselah after?" he demanded.

"Hush!" Constance softly corrected him. "He came in to tell me the
trial had started."

"Oh, I knew that! A boy bought a paper and I saw it. I say,
mother, will father be in the paper?" And then in a different
tone: "I say, mother, what is there for tea?"

When his stomach had learnt exactly what there was for tea, the
boy began to show an immense and talkative curiosity in the trial.
He would not set himself to his home-lessons. "It's no use,
mother," he said, "I can't." They returned to the shop together,
and Cyril would go every moment to the door to listen for the cry
of a newsboy. Presently he hit upon the idea that perhaps newsboys
might be crying the special edition of the Signal in the market-
place, in front of the Town Hall, to the neglect of St. Luke's
Square. And nothing would satisfy him but he must go forth and
see. He went, without his overcoat, promising to run. The shop
waited with a strange anxiety. Cyril had created, by his restless
movements to and fro, an atmosphere of strained expectancy. It
seemed now as if the whole town stood with beating heart, fearful
of tidings and yet burning to get them. Constance pictured
Stafford, which she had never seen, and a court of justice, which
she had never seen, and her husband and Daniel in it. And she
waited.

Cyril ran in. "No!" he announced breathlessly. "Nothing yet."

"Don't take cold, now you're hot," Constance advised.

But he would keep near the door. Soon he ran off again.

And perhaps fifteen seconds after he had gone, the strident cry of
a Signal boy was heard in the distance, faint and indistinct at
first, then clearer and louder.

"There's a paper!" said the apprentice.

"Sh!" said Constance, listening.

"Sh!" echoed Miss Insull.

"Yes, it is!" said Constance. "Miss Insull, just step out and get
a paper. Here's a halfpenny."

The halfpenny passed quickly from one thimbled hand to another.
Miss Insull scurried.

She came in triumphantly with the sheet, which Constance
tremblingly took. Constance could not find the report at first.
Miss Insull pointed to it, and read--

"'Summing up!' Lower down, lower down! 'After an absence of
thirty-five minutes the jury found the prisoner guilty of murder,
with a recommendation to mercy. The judge assumed the black cap
and pronounced sentence of death, saying that he would forward the
recommendation to the proper quarter.'"

Cyril returned. "Not yet!" he was saying--when he saw the paper
lying on the counter. His crest fell.

Long after the shop was shut, Constance and Cyril waited in the
parlour for the arrival of the master of the house. Constance was
in the blackest despair. She saw nothing but death around her. She
thought: misfortunes never come singly. Why did not Samuel come?
All was ready for him, everything that her imagination could
suggest, in the way of food, remedies, and the means of warmth.
Amy was not allowed to go to bed, lest she might be needed.
Constance did not even hint that Cyril should go to bed. The dark,
dreadful minutes ticked themselves off on the mantelpiece until
only five minutes separated Constance from the moment when she
would not know what to do next. It was twenty-five minutes past
eleven. If at half-past Samuel did not appear, then he could not
come that night, unless the last train from Stafford was
inconceivably late.

The sound of a carriage! It ceased at the door. Mother and son
sprang up.

Yes, it was Samuel! She beheld him once more. And the sight of his
condition, moral and physical, terrified her. His great strapping
son and Amy helped him upstairs. "Will he ever come down those
stairs again?" This thought lanced Constance's heart. The pain was
come and gone in a moment, but it had surprised her tranquil
commonsense, which was naturally opposed to, and gently scornful
of, hysterical fears. As she puffed, with her stoutness, up the
stairs, that bland cheerfulness of hers cost her an immense effort
of will. She was profoundly troubled; great disasters seemed to be
slowly approaching her from all quarters.

Should she send for the doctor? No. To do so would only be a
concession to the panic instinct. She knew exactly what was the
matter with Samuel: a severe cough persistently neglected, no
more. As she had expressed herself many times to inquirers, "He's
never been what you may call ill." Nevertheless, as she laid him
in bed and possetted him, how frail and fragile he looked! And he
was so exhausted that he would not even talk about the trial.

"If he's not better to-morrow I shall send for the doctor!" she
said to herself. As for his getting up, she swore she would keep
him in bed by force if necessary.

IV

The next morning she was glad and proud that she had not yielded
to a scare. For he was most strangely and obviously better. He had
slept heavily, and she had slept a little. True that Daniel was
condemned to death! Leaving Daniel to his fate, she was conscious
of joy springing in her heart. How absurd to have asked herself:
"Will he ever come down those stairs again?"!

A message reached her from the forgotten shop during the morning,
that Mr. Lawton had called to see Mr. Povey. Already Samuel had
wanted to arise, but she had forbidden it in the tone of a woman
who is dangerous, and Samuel had been very reasonable. He now said
that Mr. Lawton must be asked up. She glanced round the bedroom.
It was 'done'; it was faultlessly correct as a sick chamber. She
agreed to the introduction into it of the man from another sphere,
and after a preliminary minute she left the two to talk together.
This visit of young Lawton's was a dramatic proof of Samuel's
importance, and of the importance of the matter in hand. The
august occasion demanded etiquette, and etiquette said that a wife
should depart from her husband when he had to transact affairs
beyond the grasp of a wife.

The idea of a petition to the Home Secretary took shape at this
interview, and before the day was out it had spread over the town
and over the Five Towns, and it was in the Signal. The Signal
spoke of Daniel Povey as 'the condemned man.' And the phrase
startled the whole district into an indignant agitation for his
reprieve. The district woke up to the fact that a Town Councillor,
a figure in the world, an honest tradesman of unspotted character,
was cooped solitary in a little cell at Stafford, waiting to be
hanged by the neck till he was dead. The district determined that
this must not and should not be. Why! Dan Povey had actually once
been Chairman of the Bursley Society for the Prosecution of
Felons, that association for annual eating and drinking, whose
members humorously called each other 'felons'! Impossible,
monstrous, that an ex-chairman of the 'Felons' should be a
sentenced criminal!

However, there was nothing to fear. No Home Secretary would dare
to run counter to the jury's recommendation and the expressed wish
of the whole district. Besides, the Home Secretary's nephew was
M.P. for the Knype division. Of course a verdict of guilty had
been inevitable. Everybody recognized that now. Even Samuel and
all the hottest partisans of Daniel Povey recognized it. They
talked as if they had always foreseen it, directly contradicting
all that they had said on only the previous day. Without any sense
of any inconsistency or of shame, they took up an absolutely new
position. The structure of blind faith had once again crumbled at
the assault of realities, and unhealthy, un-English truths, the
statement of which would have meant ostracism twenty-four hours
earlier, became suddenly the platitudes of the Square and the
market-place.

Despatch was necessary in the affair of the petition, for the
condemned man had but three Sundays. But there was delay at the
beginning, because neither young Lawton nor any of his colleagues
was acquainted with the proper formula of a petition to the Home
Secretary for the reprieve of a criminal condemned to death. No
such petition had been made in the district within living memory.
And at first, young Lawton could not get sight or copy of any such
petition anywhere, in the Five Towns or out of them. Of course
there must exist a proper formula, and of course that formula and
no other could be employed. Nobody was bold enough to suggest that
young Lawton should commence the petition, "To the Most Noble the
Marquis of Welwyn, K.C.B., May it please your Lordship," and end
it, "And your petitioners will ever pray!" and insert between
those phrases a simple appeal for the reprieve, with a statement
of reasons. No! the formula consecrated by tradition must be
found. And, after Daniel had arrived a day and a half nearer
death, it was found. A lawyer at Alnwick had the draft of a
petition which had secured for a murderer in Northumberland twenty
years' penal servitude instead of sudden death, and on request he
lent it to young Lawton. The prime movers in the petition felt
that Daniel Povey was now as good as saved. Hundreds of forms were
printed to receive signatures, and these forms, together with
copies of the petition, were laid on the counters of all the
principal shops, not merely in Bursley, but in the other towns.
They were also to be found at the offices of the Signal, in
railway waiting-rooms, and in the various reading-rooms; and on
the second of Daniel's three Sundays they were exposed in the
porches of churches and chapels. Chapel-keepers and vergers would
come to Samuel and ask with the heavy inertia of their stupidity:
"About pens and ink, sir?" These officials had the air of
audaciously disturbing the sacrosanct routine of centuries in
order to confer a favour.

Samuel continued to improve. His cough shook him less, and his
appetite increased. Constance allowed him to establish himself in
the drawing-room, which was next to the bedroom, and of which the
grate was particularly efficient. Here, in an old winter overcoat,
he directed the vast affair of the petition, which grew daily to
vaster proportions. Samuel dreamed of twenty thousand signatures.
Each sheet held twenty signatures, and several times a day he
counted the sheets; the supply of forms actually failed once, and
Constance herself had to hurry to the printers to order more.
Samuel was put into a passion by this carelessness of the
printers. He offered Cyril sixpence for every sheet of signatures
which the boy would obtain. At first Cyril was too shy to canvass,
but his father made him blush, and in a few hours Cyril had
developed into an eager canvasser. One whole day he stayed away
from school to canvas. Altogether he earned over fifteen
shillings, quite honestly except that he got a companion to forge
a couple of signatures with addresses lacking at the end of a last
sheet, generously rewarding him with sixpence, the value of the
entire sheet.

When Samuel had received a thousand sheets with twenty thousand
signatures, he set his heart on twenty-five thousand signatures.
And he also announced his firm intention of accompanying young
Lawton to London with the petition. The petition had, in fact,
become one of the most remarkable petitions of modern times. So
the Signal said. The Signal gave a daily account of its progress,
and its progress was astonishing. In certain streets every
householder had signed it. The first sheets had been reserved for
the signatures of members of Parliament, ministers of religion,
civic dignitaries, justices of the peace, etc. These sheets were
nobly filled. The aged Rector of Bursley signed first of all;
after him the Mayor of Bursley, as was right; then sundry M.P.'s.

Samuel emerged from the drawing-room. He went into the parlour,
and, later, into the shop; and no evil consequence followed. His
cough was nearly, but not quite, cured. The weather was
extraordinarily mild for the season. He repeated that he should go
with the petition to London; and he went; Constance could not
validly oppose the journey. She, too, was a little intoxicated by
the petition. It weighed considerably over a hundredweight. The
crowning signature, that of the M.P. for Knype, was duly obtained
in London, and Samuel's one disappointment was that his hope of
twenty-five thousand signatures had fallen short of realization--
by only a few score. The few score could have been got had not
time urgently pressed. He returned from London a man of mark, full
of confidence; but his cough was worse again.

His confidence in the power of public opinion and the inherent
virtue of justice might have proved to be well placed, had not the
Home Secretary happened to be one of your humane officials. The
Marquis of Welwyn was celebrated through every stratum of the
governing classes for his humane instincts, which were continually
fighting against his sense of duty. Unfortunately his sense of
duty, which he had inherited from several centuries of ancestors,
made havoc among his humane instincts on nearly every occasion of
conflict. It was reported that he suffered horribly in
consequence. Others also suffered, for he was never known to
advise a remission of a sentence of flogging. Certain capital
sentences he had commuted, but he did not commute Daniel Povey's.
He could not permit himself to be influenced by a wave of popular
sentiment, and assuredly not by his own nephew's signature. He
gave to the case the patient, remorseless examination which he
gave to every case. He spent a sleepless night in trying to
discover a reason for yielding to his humane instincts, but
without success. As Judge Lindley remarked in his confidential
report, the sole arguments in favour of Daniel were provocation
and his previous high character; and these were no sort of an
argument. The provocation was utterly inadequate, and the previous
high character was quite too ludicrously beside the point. So once
more the Marquis's humane instincts were routed and he suffered
horribly.

On the Sunday morning after the day on which the Signal had
printed the menu of Daniel Povey's supreme breakfast, and the
exact length of the 'drop' which the executioner had administered
to him, Constance and Cyril stood together at the window of the
large bedroom. The boy was in his best clothes; but Constance's
garments gave no sign of the Sabbath. She wore a large apron over
an old dress that was rather tight for her. She was pale and
looked ill.

"Oh, mother!" Cyril exclaimed suddenly. "Listen! I'm sure I can
hear the band."

She checked him with a soundless movement of her lips; and they
both glanced anxiously at the silent bed, Cyril with a gesture of
apology for having forgotten that he must make no noise.

The strains of the band came from down King Street, in the
direction of St. Luke's Church. The music appeared to linger a
long time in the distance, and then it approached, growing louder,
and the Bursley Town Silver Prize Band passed under the window at
the solemn pace of Handel's "Dead March." The effect of that
requiem, heavy with its own inherent beauty and with the vast
weight of harrowing tradition, was to wring the tears from
Constance's eyes; they fell on her aproned bosom, and she sank
into a chair. And though, the cheeks of the trumpeters were puffed
out, and though the drummer had to protrude his stomach and arch
his spine backwards lest he should tumble over his drum, there was
majesty in the passage of the band. The boom of the drum,
desolating the interruptions of the melody, made sick the heart,
but with a lofty grief; and the dirge seemed to be weaving a
purple pall that covered every meanness.

The bandsmen were not all in black, but they all wore crape on
their sleeves and their instruments were knotted with crape. They
carried in their hats a black-edged card. Cyril held one of these
cards in his hands. It ran thus:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF DANIEL POVEY A TOWN COUNCILLOR OF THIS
TOWN JUDICIALLY MURDERED AT 8 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING 8TH FEBRUARY
1888 "HE WAS MORE SINNED AGAINST THAN SINNING."

In the wake of the band came the aged Rector, bare-headed, and
wearing a surplice over his overcoat; his thin white hair was
disarranged by the breeze that played in the chilly sunshine; his
hands were folded on a gilt-edged book. A curate, churchwardens,
and sidesmen followed. And after these, tramping through the dark
mud in a procession that had apparently no end, wound the
unofficial male multitude, nearly all in mourning, and all, save
the more aristocratic, carrying the memorial card in their hats.
Loafers, women, and children had collected on the drying
pavements, and a window just opposite Constance was ornamented
with the entire family of the landlord of the Sun Vaults. In the
great bar of the Vaults a barman was craning over the pitchpine
screen that secured privacy to drinkers. The procession continued
without break, eternally rising over the verge of King Street
'bank,' and eternally vanishing round the corner into St. Luke's
Square; at intervals it was punctuated by a clergyman, a
Nonconformist minister, a town crier, a group of foremen, or a few
Rifle Volunteers. The watching crowd grew as the procession
lengthened. Then another band was heard, also playing the march
from Saul. The first band had now reached the top of the Square,
and was scarcely audible from King Street. The reiterated glitter
in the sun of memorial cards in hats gave the fanciful illusion of
an impossible whitish snake that was straggling across the town.
Three-quarters of an hour elapsed before the tail of the snake
came into view, and a rabble of unkempt boys closed in upon it,
filling the street,

"I shall go to the drawing-room window, mother," said Cyril.

She nodded. He crept out of the bedroom.

St. Luke's Square was a sea of hats and memorial cards. Most of
the occupiers of the Square had hung out flags at half-mast, and a
flag at half-mast was flying over the Town Hall in the distance.
Sightseers were at every window. The two bands had united at the
top of the Square; and behind them, on a North Staffordshire
Railway lorry, stood the white-clad Rector and several black
figures. The Rector was speaking; but only those close to the
lorry could hear his feeble treble voice.

Such was the massive protest of Bursley against what Bursley
regarded as a callous injustice. The execution of Daniel Povey had
most genuinely excited the indignation of the town. That execution
was not only an injustice; it was an insult, a humiliating snub.
And the worst was that the rest of the country had really
discovered no sympathetic interest in the affair. Certain London
papers, indeed, in commenting casually on the execution, had
slurred the morals and manners of the Five Towns, professing to
regard the district as notoriously beyond the realm of the Ten
Commandments. This had helped to render furious the townsmen.
This, as much as anything, had encouraged the spontaneous outburst
of feeling which had culminated in a St. Luke's Square full of
people with memorial cards in their hats. The demonstration had
scarcely been organized; it had somehow organized itself,
employing the places of worship and a few clubs as centres of
gathering. And it proved an immense success. There were seven or
eight thousand people in the Square, and the pity was that England
as a whole could not have had a glimpse of the spectacle. Since
the execution of the elephant, nothing had so profoundly agitated
Bursley. Constance, who left the bedroom momentarily for the
drawing-room, reflected that the death and burial of Cyril's
honoured grandfather, though a resounding event, had not caused
one-tenth of the stir which she beheld. But then John Baines had
killed nobody.

The Rector spoke too long; every one felt that. But at length he
finished. The bands performed the Doxology, and the immense
multitudes began to disperse by the eight streets that radiate
from the Square. At the same time one o'clock struck, and the
public-houses opened with their customary admirable promptitude.
Respectable persons, of course, ignored the public-houses and
hastened homewards to a delayed dinner. But in a town of over
thirty thousand souls there are sufficient dregs to fill all the
public-houses on an occasion of ceremonial excitement. Constance
saw the bar of the Vaults crammed with individuals whose sense of
decent fitness was imperfect. The barman and the landlord and the
principal members of the landlord's family were hard put to it to
quench that funereal thirst. Constance, as she ate a little meal
in the bedroom, could not but witness the orgy. A bandsman with
his silver instrument was prominent at the counter. At five
minutes to three the Vaults spewed forth a squirt of roysterers
who walked on the pavement as on a tight-rope; among them was the
bandsman, his silver instrument only half enveloped in its bag of
green serge. He established an equilibrium in the gutter. It would
not have mattered so seriously if he had not been a bandsman. The
barman and the landlord pushed the ultimate sot by force into the
street and bolted the door (till six o'clock) just as a policeman
strolled along, the first policeman of the day. It became known
that similar scenes were enacting at the thresholds of other inns.
And the judicious were sad.

VI

When the altercation between the policeman and the musician in the
gutter was at its height, Samuel Povey became restless; but since
he had scarcely stirred through the performances of the bands, it
was probably not the cries of the drunkard that had aroused him.

He had shown very little interest in the preliminaries of the
great demonstration. The flame of his passion for the case of
Daniel Povey seemed to have shot up on the day before the
execution, and then to have expired. On that day he went to
Stafford in order, by permit of the prison governor, to see his
cousin for the last time. His condition then was undoubtedly not
far removed from monomania. 'Unhinged' was the conventional
expression which frequently rose in Constance's mind as a
description of the mind of her husband; but she fought it down;
she would not have it; it was too crude--with its associations.
She would only admit that the case had 'got on' his mind. A
startling proof of this was that he actually suggested taking
Cyril with him to see the condemned man. He wished Cyril to see
Daniel; he said gravely that he thought Cyril ought to see him.
The proposal was monstrous, inexplicable--or explicable only by
the assumption that his mind, while not unhinged, had temporarily
lost its balance. Constance opposed an absolute negative, and
Samuel being in every way enfeebled, she overcame. As for Cyril,
he was divided between fear and curiosity. On the whole, perhaps
Cyril regretted that he would not be able to say at school that he
had had speech with the most celebrated killer of the age on the
day before his execution.

Samuel returned hysterical from Stafford. His account of the
scene, which he gave in a very loud voice, was a most absurd and
yet pathetic recital, obviously distorted by memory. When he came
to the point of the entrance of Dick Povey, who was still at the
hospital, and who had been specially driven to Stafford and
carried into the prison, he wept without restraint. His hysteria
was painful in a very high degree.

He went to bed--of his own accord, for his cough had improved
again. And on the following day, the day of the execution, he
remained in bed till the afternoon. In the evening the Rector sent
for him to the Rectory to discuss the proposed demonstration. On
the next day, Saturday, he said he should not get up. Icy showers
were sweeping the town, and his cough was worse after the evening
visit to the Rector. Constance had no apprehensions about him. The
most dangerous part of the winter was over, and there was nothing
now to force him into indiscretions. She said to herself calmly
that he should stay in bed as long as he liked, that he could not
have too much repose after the cruel fatigues, physical and
spiritual, which he had suffered. His cough was short, but not as
troublesome as in the past; his face flushed, dusky, and settled
in gloom; and he was slightly feverish, with quick pulse and quick
breathing--the symptoms of a renewed cold. He passed a wakeful
night, broken by brief dreams in which he talked. At dawn he had
some hot food, asked what day it was, frowned, and seemed to doze
off at once. At eleven o'clock he had refused food. And he had
intermittently dozed during the progress of the demonstration and
its orgiastic sequel.

Constance had food ready for his waking, and she approached the
bed and leaned over him. The fever had increased somewhat, the
breathing was more rapid, and his lips were covered with tiny
purple pimples. He feebly shook his head, with a disgusted air, at
her mention of food. It was this obstinate refusal of food which
first alarmed her. A little uncomfortable suspicion shot up in
her: Surely there's nothing the MATTER with him?

Something--impossible to say what--caused her to bend still lower,
and put her ear to his chest. She heard within that mysterious box
a rapid succession of thin, dry, crackling sounds: sounds such as
she would have produced by rubbing her hair between her fingers
close to her ear. The crepitation ceased, then recommenced, and
she perceived that it coincided with the intake of his breath. He
coughed; the sounds were intensified; a spasm of pain ran over his
face; and he put his damp hand to his side.

"Pain in my side!" he whispered with difficulty.

Constance stepped into the drawing-room, where Cyril was sketching
by the fire.

"Cyril," she said, "go across and ask Dr. Harrop to come round at
once. And if he isn't in, then his new partner."

"Is it for father?"

"Yes."

"What's the matter?"

"Now do as I say, please," said Constance, sharply, adding: "I
don't know what's the matter. Perhaps nothing. But I'm not
satisfied."

The venerable Harrop pronounced the word 'pneumonia.' It was acute
double pneumonia that Samuel had got. During the three worst
months of the year, he had escaped the fatal perils which await a
man with a flat chest and a chronic cough, who ignores his
condition and defies the weather. But a journey of five hundred
yards to the Rectory had been one journey too many. The Rectory
was so close to the shop that he had not troubled to wrap himself
up as for an excursion to Stafford. He survived the crisis of the
disease and then died of toxsemia, caused by a heart that would
not do its duty by the blood. A casual death, scarce noticed in
the reaction after the great febrile demonstration! Besides,
Samuel Povey never could impose himself on the burgesses. He
lacked individuality. He was little. I have often laughed at
Samuel Povey. But I liked and respected him. He was a very honest
man. I have always been glad to think that, at the end of his
life, destiny took hold of him and displayed, to the observant,
the vein of greatness which runs through every soul without
exception. He embraced a cause, lost it, and died of it.




CHAPTER VI

THE WIDOW

I


Constance, alone in the parlour, stood expectant by the set tea-
table. She was not wearing weeds; her mother and she, on the death
of her father, had talked of the various disadvantages of weeds;
her mother had worn them unwillingly, and only because a public
opinion not sufficiently advanced had intimidated her. Constance
had said: "If ever I'm a widow I won't wear them," positively, in
the tone of youth; and Mrs. Baines had replied: "I hope you won't,
my dear." That was over twenty years ago, but Constance perfectly
remembered. And now, she was a widow! How strange and how
impressive was life! And she had kept her word; not positively,
not without hesitations; for though times were changed, Bursley
was still Bursley; but she had kept it.

This was the first Monday after Samuel's funeral. Existence in the
house had been resumed on the plane which would henceforth be the
normal plane. Constance had put on for tea a dress of black silk
with a jet brooch of her mother's. Her hands, just meticulously
washed, had that feeling of being dirty which comes from
roughening of the epidermis caused by a day spent in fingering
stuffs. She had been 'going through' Samuel's things, and her own,
and ranging all anew. It was astonishing how little the man had
collected, of 'things,' in the course of over half a century. All
his clothes were contained in two long drawers and a short one. He
had the least possible quantity of haberdashery and linen, for he
invariably took from the shop such articles as he required, when
he required them, and he would never preserve what was done with.
He possessed no jewellery save a set of gold studs, a scarf-ring,
and a wedding-ring; the wedding-ring was buried with him. Once,
when Constance had offered him her father's gold watch and chain,
he had politely refused it, saying that he preferred his own--a
silver watch (with a black cord) which kept excellent time; he had
said later that she might save the gold watch and chain for Cyril
when he was twenty-one. Beyond these trifles and a half-empty box
of cigars and a pair of spectacles, he left nothing personal to
himself. Some men leave behind them a litter which takes months to
sift and distribute. But Samuel had not the mania for owning.
Constance put his clothes in a box to be given away gradually
(all except an overcoat and handkerchiefs which might do for
Cyril); she locked up the watch and its black cord, the spectacles
and the scarf-ring; she gave the gold studs to Cyril; she climbed
on a chair and hid the cigar-box on the top of her wardrobe; and
scarce a trace of Samuel remained!

By his own wish the funeral had been as simple and private as
possible. One or two distant relations, whom Constance scarcely
knew and who would probably not visit her again until she too was
dead, came--and went. And lo! the affair was over. The simple
celerity of the funeral would have satisfied even Samuel, whose
tremendous self-esteem hid itself so effectually behind such
externals that nobody had ever fully perceived it. Not even
Constance quite knew Samuel's secret opinion of Samuel. Constance
was aware that he had a ridiculous side, that his greatest lack
had been a lack of spectacular dignity. Even in the coffin, where
nevertheless most people are finally effective, he had not been
imposing--with his finicky little grey beard persistently sticking
up.

The vision of him in his coffin--there in the churchyard, just at
the end of King Street!--with the lid screwed down on that
unimportant beard, recurred frequently in the mind of the widow,
as something untrue and misleading. She had to say to herself:
"Yes, he is really there! And that is why I have this particular
feeling in my heart." She saw him as an object pathetic and
wistful, not majestic. And yet she genuinely thought that there
could not exist another husband quite so honest, quite so just,
quite so reliable, quite so good, as Samuel had been. What a
conscience he had! How he would try, and try, to be fair with her!
Twenty years she could remember, of ceaseless, constant endeavour
on his part to behave rightly to her! She could recall many an
occasion when he had obviously checked himself, striving against
his tendency to cold abruptness and to sullenness, in order to
give her the respect due to a wife. What loyalty was his! How she
could depend on him! How much better he was than herself (she
thought with modesty)!

His death was an amputation for her. But she faced it with
calmness. She was not bowed with sorrow. She did not nurse the
idea that her life was at an end; on the contrary, she obstinately
put it away from her, dwelling on Cyril. She did not indulge in
the enervating voluptuousness of grief. She had begun in the first
hours of bereavement by picturing herself as one marked out for
the blows of fate. She had lost her father and her mother, and now
her husband. Her career seemed to be punctuated by interments. But
after a while her gentle commonsense came to insist that most
human beings lose their parents, and that every marriage must end
in either a widower or a widow, and that all careers are
punctuated by interments. Had she not had nearly twenty-one years
of happy married life? (Twenty-one years--rolled up! The sudden
thought of their naive ignorance of life, hers and his, when they
were first married, brought tears into her eyes. How wise and
experienced she was now!) And had she not Cyril? Compared to many
women, she was indeed very fortunate.

The one visitation which had been specially hers was the
disappearance of Sophia. And yet even that was not worse than the
death outright of Sophia, was perhaps not so bad. For Sophia might
return out of the darkness. The blow of Sophia's flight had seemed
unique when it was fresh, and long afterwards; had seemed to
separate the Baines family from all other families in a particular
shame. But at the age of forty-three Constance had learnt that
such events are not uncommon in families, and strange sequels to
them not unknown. Thinking often of Sophia, she hoped wildly and
frequently.

She looked at the clock; she had a little spasm of nervousness
lest Cyril might fail to keep his word on that first day of their
new regular life together. And at the instant he burst into the
room, invading it like an armed force, having previously laid
waste the shop in his passage.

"I'm not late, mother! I'm not late!" he cried proudly.

She smiled warmly, happy in him, drawing out of him balm and
solace. He did not know that in that stout familiar body before
him was a sensitive, trembling soul that clutched at him
ecstatically as the one reality in the universe. He did not know
that that evening meal, partaken of without hurry after school had
released him to her, was to be the ceremonial sign of their
intimate unity and their interdependence, a tender and delicious
proof that they were 'all in all to each other': he saw only his
tea, for which he was hungry--just as hungry as though his father
were not scarcely yet cold in the grave.

But he saw obscurely that the occasion demanded something not
quite ordinary, and so exerted himself to be boyishly charming to
his mother. She said to herself 'how good he was.' He felt at ease
and confident in the future, because he detected beneath her
customary judicial, impartial mask a clear desire to spoil him.

After tea, she regretfully left him, at his home-lessons, in order
to go into the shop. The shop was the great unsolved question.
What was she to do with the shop? Was she to continue the business
or to sell it? With the fortunes of her father and her aunt, and
the economies of twenty years, she had more than sufficient means.
She was indeed rich, according to the standards of the Square;
nay, wealthy! Therefore she was under no material compulsion to
keep the shop. Moreover, to keep it would mean personal
superintendence and the burden of responsibility, from which her
calm lethargy shrank. On the other hand, to dispose of the
business would mean the breaking of ties and leaving the premises:
and from this also she shrank. Young Lawton, without being asked,
had advised her to sell. But she did not want to sell. She wanted
the impossible: that matters should proceed in the future as in
the past, that Samuel's death should change nothing save in her
heart.

In the meantime Miss Insull was priceless. Constance thoroughly
understood one side of the shop; but Miss Insull understood both,
and the finance of it also. Miss Insull could have directed the
establishment with credit, if not with brilliance. She was indeed
directing it at that moment. Constance, however, felt jealous of
Miss Insull; she was conscious of a slight antipathy towards the
faithful one. She did not care to be in the hands of Miss Insull.

There were one or two customers at the millinery counter. They
greeted her with a deplorable copiousness of tact. Most tactfully
they avoided any reference to Constance's loss; but by their tone,
their glances, at Constance and at each other, and their
heroically restrained sighs, they spread desolation as though they
had been spreading ashes instead of butter on bread. The
assistants, too, had a special demeanour for the poor lone widow
which was excessively trying to her. She wished to be natural, and
she would have succeeded, had they not all of them apparently
conspired together to make her task impossible.

She moved away to the other side of the shop, to Samuel's desk, at
which he used to stand, staring absently out of the little window
into King Street while murmurously casting figures. She lighted
the gas-jet there, arranged the light exactly to suit her, and
then lifted the large flap of the desk and drew forth some account
books.

"Miss Insull!" she called, in a low, clear voice, with a touch of
haughtiness and a touch of command in it. The pose, a comical
contradiction of Constance's benevolent character, was
deliberately adopted; it illustrated the effects of jealousy on
even the softest disposition.

Miss Insull responded. She had no alternative but to respond. And
she gave no sign of resenting her employer's attitude. But then
Miss Insull seldom did give any sign of being human.

The customers departed, one after another, obsequiously sped by
the assistants, who thereupon lowered the gases somewhat,
according to secular rule; and in the dim eclipse, as they
restored boxes to shelves, they could hear the tranquil, regular,
half-whispered conversation of the two women at the desk,
discussing accounts; and then the chink of gold.

Suddenly there was an irruption. One of the assistants sprang
instinctively to the gas; but on perceiving that the disturber of
peace was only a slatternly girl, hatless and imperfectly clean,
she decided to leave the gas as it was, and put on a
condescending, suspicious demeanour.

"If you please, can I speak to the missis?" said the girl,
breathlessly.

She seemed to be about eighteen years of age, fat and plain. Her
blue frock was torn, and over it she wore a rough brown apron,
caught up at one corner to the waist. Her bare forearms were of
brick-red colour.

"What is it?" demanded the assistant.

Miss Insull looked over her shoulder across the shop. "It must be
Maggie's--Mrs. Hollins's daughter!" said Miss Insull under her
breath.

"What can she want?" said Constance, leaving the desk instantly;
and to the girl, who stood sturdily holding her own against the
group of assistants: "You are Mrs. Hollins's daughter, aren't
you?"

"Yes, mum."

"What's your name?"

"Maggie, mum. And, if you please, mother's sent me to ask if
you'll kindly give her a funeral card."

"A funeral card?"

"Yes. Of Mr. Povey. She's been expecting of one, and she thought
as how perhaps you'd forgotten it, especially as she wasn't asked
to the funeral."

The girl stopped.

Constance perceived that by mere negligence she had seriously
wounded the feelings of Maggie, senior. The truth was, she had
never thought of Maggie. She ought to have remembered that funeral
cards were almost the sole ornamentation of Maggie's abominable
cottage.

"Certainly," she replied after a pause. "Miss Insull, there are a
few cards left in the desk, aren't there? Please put me one in an
envelope for Mrs. Hollins."

She gave the heavily bordered envelope to the ruddy wench, who
enfolded it in her apron, and with hurried, shy thanks ran off.

"Tell your mother I send her a card with pleasure," Constance
called after the girl.

The strangeness of the hazards of life made her thoughtful. She,
to whom Maggie had always seemed an old woman, was a widow, but
Maggie's husband survived as a lusty invalid. And she guessed that
Maggie, vilely struggling in squalor and poverty, was somehow
happy in her frowsy, careless way.

She went back to the accounts, dreaming.

II

When the shop had been closed, under her own critical and precise
superintendence, she extinguished the last gas in it and returned
to the parlour, wondering where she might discover some entirely
reliable man or boy to deal with the shutters night and morning.
Samuel had ordinarily dealt with the shutters himself, and on
extraordinary occasions and during holidays Miss Insull and one of
her subordinates had struggled with their unwieldiness. But the
extraordinary occasion had now become ordinary, and Miss Insull
could not be expected to continue indefinitely in the functions of
a male. Constance had a mind to engage an errand-boy, a luxury
against which Samuel had always set his face. She did not dream of
asking the herculean Cyril to open and shut shop.

He had apparently finished his home-lessons. The books were pushed
aside, and he was sketching in lead-pencil on a drawing-block. To
the right of the fireplace, over the sofa, there hung an engraving
after Landseer, showing a lonely stag paddling into a lake. The
stag at eve had drunk or was about to drink his fill, and Cyril
was copying him. He had already indicated a flight of birds in the
middle distance; vague birds on the wing being easier than
detailed stags, he had begun with the birds.

Constance put a hand on his shoulder. "Finished your lessons?" she
murmured caressingly.

Before speaking, Cyril gazed up at the picture with a frowning,
busy expression, and then replied in an absent-minded voice:

"Yes." And after a pause: "Except my arithmetic. I shall do that
in the morning before breakfast."

"Oh, Cyril!" she protested.

It had been a positive ordinance, for a long time past, that there
should be no sketching until lessons were done. In his father's
lifetime Cyril had never dared to break it.

He bent over his block, feigning an intense absorption.
Constance's hand slipped from his shoulder. She wanted to command
him formally to resume his lessons. But she could not. She feared
an argument; she mistrusted herself. And, moreover, it was so soon
after his father's death!

"You know you won't have time to-morrow morning!" she said weakly.

"Oh, mother!" he retorted superiorly. "Don't worry." And then, in
a cajoling tone: "I've wanted to do that stag for ages."

She sighed and sat down in her rocking-chair. He went on
sketching, rubbing out, and making queer expostulatory noises
against his pencil, or against the difficulties needlessly
invented by Sir Edwin Landseer. Once he rose and changed the
position of the gas-bracket, staring fiercely at the engraving as
though it had committed a sin.

Amy came to lay the supper. He did not acknowledge that she
existed.

"Now, Master Cyril, after you with that table, if you please!" She
announced herself brusquely, with the privilege of an old servant
and a woman who would never see thirty again.

"What a nuisance you are, Amy!" he gruffly answered. "Look here,
mother, can't Amy lay the cloth on that half of the table? I'm
right in the middle of my drawing. There's plenty of room there
for two."

He seemed not to be aware that, in the phrase 'plenty of room for
two,' he had made a callous reference to their loss. The fact was,
there WAS plenty of room for two.

Constance said quickly: "Very well, Amy. For this once."

Amy grunted, but obeyed.

Constance had to summon him twice from art to nourishment. He ate
with rapidity, frequently regarding the picture with half-shut,
searching eyes. When he had finished, he refilled his glass with
water, and put it next to his sketching-block.

"You surely aren't thinking of beginning to paint at this time of
night!" Constance exclaimed, astonished.

"Oh YES, mother!" he fretfully appealed. "It's not late."

Another positive ordinance of his father's had been that there
should be nothing after supper except bed. Nine o'clock was the
latest permissible moment for going to bed. It was now less than a
quarter to.

"It only wants twelve minutes to nine," Constance pointed out.

"Well, what if it does?"

"Now, Cyril," she said, "I do hope you are going to be a good boy,
and not cause your mother anxiety."

But she said it too kindly.

He said sullenly: "I do think you might let me finish it. I've
begun it. It won't take me long."

She made the mistake of leaving the main point. "How can you
possibly choose your colours properly by gas-light?" she said.

"I'm going to do it in sepia," he replied in triumph.

"It mustn't occur again," she said.

He thanked God for a good supper, and sprang to the harmonium,
where his paint-box was. Amy cleared away. Constance did crochet-
work. There was silence. The clock struck nine, and it also struck
half-past nine. She warned him repeatedly. At ten minutes to ten
she said persuasively:

"Now, Cyril, when the clock strikes ten I shall really put the gas
out."

The clock struck ten.

"Half a mo, half a mo!" he cried. "I've done! I've done!"

Her hand was arrested.

Another four minutes elapsed, and then he jumped up. "There you
are!" he said proudly, showing her the block. And all his gestures
were full of grace and cajolery.

"Yes, it's very good," Constance said, rather indifferently.

"I don't believe you care for it!" he accused her, but with a
bright smile.

"I care for your health," she said. "Just look at that clock!"

He sat down in the other rocking-chair, deliberately.

"Now, Cyril!"

"Well, mother, I suppose you'll let me take my boots off!" He said
it with teasing good-humour.

When he kissed her good night, she wanted to cling to him, so
affectionate was his kiss; but she could not throw off the habits
of restraint which she had been originally taught and had all her
life practised. She keenly regretted the inability.

In her bedroom, alone, she listened to his movements as he
undressed. The door between the two rooms was unlatched. She had
to control a desire to open it ever so little and peep at him. He
would not have liked that. He could have enriched her heart beyond
all hope, and at no cost to himself; but he did not know his
power. As she could not cling to him with her hands, she clung to
him with that heart of hers, while moving sedately up and down the
room, alone. And her eyes saw him through the solid wood of the
door. At last she got heavily into bed. She thought with placid
anxiety, in the dark: "I shall have to be firm with Cyril." And
she thought also, simultaneously: "He really must be a good boy.
He MUST." And clung to him passionately, without shame! Lying
alone there in the dark, she could be as unrestrained and girlish
as her heart chose. When she loosed her hold she instantly saw the
boy's father arranged in his coffin, or flitting about the room.
Then she would hug that vision too, for the pleasure of the pain
it gave her.

III

She was reassured as to Cyril during the next few days. He did not
attempt to repeat his ingenious naughtiness of the Monday evening,
and he came directly home for tea; moreover he had, as a kind of
miracle performed to dazzle her, actually arisen early on the
Tuesday morning and done his arithmetic. To express her
satisfaction she had manufactured a specially elaborate straw-
frame for the sketch after Sir Edwin Landseer, and had hung it in
her bedroom: an honour which Cyril appreciated. She was as happy
as a woman suffering from a recent amputation can be; and compared
with the long nightmare created by Samuel's monomania and illness,
her existence seemed to be now a beneficent calm.

Cyril, she thought, had realized the importance in her eyes of
tea, of that evening hour and that companionship which were for
her the flowering of the day. And she had such confidence in his
goodness that she would pour the boiling water on the Horniman
tea-leaves even before he arrived: certainty could not be more
sure. And then, on the Friday of the first week, he was late! He
bounded in, after dark, and the state of his clothes indicated too
clearly that he had been playing football in the mud that was a
grassy field in summer.

"Have you been kept in, my boy?" she asked, for the sake of form.

"No, mother," he said casually. "We were just kicking the ball
about a bit. Am I late?"

"Better go and tidy yourself," she said, not replying to his
question. "You can't sit down in that state. And I'll have some
fresh tea made. This is spoilt."

"Oh, very well!"

Her sacred tea--the institution which she wanted to hallow by long
habit, and which was to count before everything with both of them
--had been carelessly sacrificed to the kicking of a football in
mud! And his father buried not ten days! She was wounded: a deep,
clean, dangerous wound that would not bleed. She tried to be glad
that he had not lied; he might easily have lied, saying that he
had been detained for a fault and could not help being late. No!
He was not given to lying; he would lie, like any human being,
when a great occasion demanded such prudence, but he was not a
liar; he might fairly be called a truthful boy. She tried to be
glad, and did not succeed. She would have preferred him to have
lied.

Amy, grumbling, had to boil more water.

When he returned to the parlour, superficially cleaned, Constance
expected him to apologize in his roundabout boyish way; at any
rate to woo and wheedle her, to show by some gesture that he was
conscious of having put an affront on her. But his attitude was
quite otherwise. His attitude was rather brusque and overbearing
and noisy. He ate a very considerable amount of jam, far too
quickly, and then asked for more, in a tone of a monarch who calls
for his own. And ere tea was finished he said boldly, apropos of
nothing:

"I say, mother, you'll just have to let me go to the School of Art
after Easter."

And stared at her with a fixed challenge in his eyes.

He meant, by the School of Art, the evening classes at the School
of Art. His father had decided absolutely against the project. His
father had said that it would interfere with his lessons, would
keep him up too late at night, and involve absence from home in
the evening. The last had always been the real objection. His
father had not been able to believe that Cyril's desire to study
art sprang purely from his love of art; he could not avoid
suspecting that it was a plan to obtain freedom in the evenings--
that freedom which Samuel had invariably forbidden. In all Cyril's
suggestions Samuel had been ready to detect the same scheme
lurking. He had finally said that when Cyril left school and took
to a vocation, then he could study art at night if he chose, but
not before.

"You know what your father said!" Constance replied.

"But, mother! That's all very well! I'm sure father would have
agreed. If I'm going to take up drawing I ought to do it at once.
That's what the drawing-master says, and I suppose he ought to
know." He finished on a tone of insolence.

"I can't allow you to do it yet," said Constance, quietly. "It's
quite out of the question. Quite!"

He pouted and then he sulked. It was war between them. At times he
was the image of his Aunt Sophia. He would not leave the subject
alone; but he would not listen to Constance's reasoning. He openly
accused her of harshness. He asked her how she could expect him to
get on if she thwarted him in his most earnest desires. He pointed
to other boys whose parents were wiser.

"It's all very fine of you to put it on father!" he observed
sarcastically.

He gave up his drawing entirely.

When she hinted that if he attended the School of Art she would be
condemned to solitary evenings, he looked at her as though saying:
"Well, and if you are--?" He seemed to have no heart.

After several weeks of intense unhappiness she said: "How many
evenings do you want to go?"

The war was over.

He was charming again. When she was alone she could cling to him
again. And she said to herself: "If we can be happy together only
when I give way to him, I must give way to him." And there was
ecstasy in her yielding. "After all," she said to herself,
"perhaps it's very important that he should go to the School of
Art." She solaced herself with such thoughts on three solitary
evenings a week, waiting for him to come home.




CHAPTER VII

BRICKS AND MORTAR

I


In the summer of that year the occurrence of a white rash of
posters on hoardings and on certain houses and shops, was
symptomatic of organic change in the town. The posters were
iterations of a mysterious announcement and summons, which began
with the august words: "By Order of the Trustees of the late
William Clews Mericarp, Esq." Mericarp had been a considerable
owner of property in Bursley. After a prolonged residence at
Southport, he had died, at the age of eighty-two, leaving his
property behind. For sixty years he had been a name, not a figure;
and the news of his death, which was assuredly an event, incited
the burgesses to gossip, for they had come to regard him as one of
the invisible immortals. Constance was shocked, though she had
never seen Mericarp. ("Everybody dies nowadays!" she thought.) He
owned the Baines-Povey shop, and also Mr. Critchlow's shop.
Constance knew not how often her father and, later, her husband,
had renewed the lease of those premises that were now hers; but
from her earliest recollections rose a vague memory of her father
talking to her mother about 'Mericarp's rent,' which was and
always had been a hundred a year. Mericarp had earned the
reputation of being 'a good landlord.' Constance said sadly: "We
shall never have another as good!" When a lawyer's clerk called
and asked her to permit the exhibition of a poster in each of her
shop-windows, she had misgivings for the future; she was worried;
she decided that she would determine the lease next year, so as to
be on the safe side; but immediately afterwards she decided that
she could decide nothing.

The posters continued: "To be sold by auction, at the Tiger Hotel
at six-thirty for seven o'clock precisely." What six-thirty had to
do with seven o'clock precisely no one knew. Then, after stating
the name and credentials of the auctioneer, the posters at length
arrived at the objects to be sold: "All those freehold messuages
and shops and copyhold tenements namely." Houses were never sold
by auction in Bursley. At moments of auction burgesses were
reminded that the erections they lived in were not houses, as they
had falsely supposed, but messuages. Having got as far as 'namely'
the posters ruled a line and began afresh: "Lot I. All that
extensive and commodious shop and messuage with the offices and
appurtenances thereto belonging situate and being No. 4 St. Luke's
Square in the parish of Bursley in the County of Stafford and at
present in the occupation of Mrs. Constance Povey widow under a
lease expiring in September 1889." Thus clearly asserting that all
Constance's shop was for sale, its whole entirety, and not a
fraction or slice of it merely, the posters proceeded: "Lot 2. All
that extensive and commodious shop and messuage with the offices
and appurtenances thereto belonging situate and being No. 3 St.
Luke's Square in the parish of Bursley in the County of Stafford
and at present in the occupation of Charles Critchlow chemist
under an agreement for a yearly tenancy." The catalogue ran to
fourteen lots. The posters, lest any one should foolishly imagine
that a non-legal intellect could have achieved such explicit and
comprehensive clarity of statement, were signed by a powerful firm
of solicitors in Hanbridge. Happily in the Five Towns there were
no metaphysicians; otherwise the firm might have been expected to
explain, in the 'further particulars and conditions' which the
posters promised, how even a messuage could 'be' the thing at
which it was 'situate.'

Within a few hours of the outbreak of the rash, Mr. Critchlow
abruptly presented himself before Constance at the millinery
counter; he was waving a poster.

"Well!" he exclaimed grimly. "What next, eh?"

"Yes, indeed!" Constance responded.

"Are ye thinking o' buying?" he asked. All the assistants,
including Miss Insull, were in hearing, but he ignored their
presence.

"Buying!" repeated Constance. "Not me! I've got quite enough house
property as it is."

Like all owners of real property, she usually adopted towards her
possessions an attitude implying that she would be willing to pay
somebody to take them from her.

"Shall you?" she added, with Mr. Critchlow's own brusqueness.

"Me! Buy property in St. Luke's Square!" Mr. Critchlow sneered.
And then left the shop as suddenly as he had entered it.

The sneer at St. Luke's Square was his characteristic expression
of an opinion which had been slowly forming for some years. The
Square was no longer what it had been, though individual
businesses might be as good as ever. For nearly twelve months two
shops had been to let in it. And once, bankruptcy had stained its
annals. The tradesmen had naturally searched for a cause in every
direction save the right one, the obvious one; and naturally they
had found a cause. According to the tradesmen, the cause was 'this
football.' The Bursley Football Club had recently swollen into a
genuine rival of the ancient supremacy of the celebrated Knype
Club. It had transformed itself into a limited company, and rented
a ground up the Moorthorne Road, and built a grand stand. The
Bursley F.C. had 'tied' with the Knype F.C. on the Knype ground--a
prodigious achievement, an achievement which occupied a column of
the Athletic News one Monday morning! But were the tradesmen
civically proud of this glory? No! They said that 'this football'
drew people out of the town on Saturday afternoons, to the
complete abolition of shopping. They said also that people thought
of nothing but 'this football;' and, nearly in the same breath,
that only roughs and good-for-nothings could possibly be
interested in such a barbarous game. And they spoke of gate-money,
gambling, and professionalism, and the end of all true sport in
England. In brief, something new had come to the front and was
submitting to the ordeal of the curse.

The sale of the Mericarp estate had a particular interest for
respectable stake-in-the-town persons. It would indicate to what
extent, if at all, 'this football' was ruining Bursley. Constance
mentioned to Cyril that she fancied she might like to go to the
sale, and as it was dated for one of Cyril's off-nights Cyril said
that he fancied he might like to go too. So they went together;
Samuel used to attend property sales, but he had never taken his
wife to one. Constance and Cyril arrived at the Tiger shortly
after seven o'clock, and were directed to a room furnished and
arranged as for a small public meeting of philanthropists. A few
gentlemen were already present, but not the instigating trustees,
solicitors, and auctioneers. It appeared that 'six-thirty for
seven o'clock precisely' meant seven-fifteen. Constance took a
Windsor chair in the corner nearest the door, and motioned Cyril
to the next chair; they dared not speak; they moved on tiptoe;
Cyril inadvertently dragged his chair along the floor, and
produced a scrunching sound; he blushed, as though he had
desecrated a church, and his mother made a gesture of horror. The
remainder of the company glanced at the corner, apparently pained
by this negligence. Some of them greeted Constance, but self-
consciously, with a sort of shamed air; it might have been that
they had all nefariously gathered together there for the
committing of a crime. Fortunately Constance's widowhood had
already lost its touching novelty, so that the greetings, if self-
conscious, were at any rate given without unendurable
commiseration and did not cause awkwardness.

When the official world arrived, fussy, bustling, bearing
documents and a hammer, the general feeling of guilty shame was
intensified. Useless for the auctioneer to try to dissipate the
gloom by means of bright gestures and quick, cheerful remarks to
his supporters! Cyril had an idea that the meeting would open with
a hymn, until the apparition of a tapster with wine showed him his
error. The auctioneer very particularly enjoined the tapster to
see to it that no one lacked for his thirst, and the tapster
became self-consciously energetic. He began by choosing Constance
for service. In refusing wine, she blushed; then the fellow
offered a glass to Cyril, who went scarlet, and mumbled 'No' with
a lump in his throat; when the tapster's back was turned, he
smiled sheepishly at his mother. The majority of the company
accepted and sipped. The auctioneer sipped and loudly smacked, and
said: "Ah!"

Mr. Critchlow came in.

And the auctioneer said again: "Ah! I'm always glad when the
tenants come. That's always a good sign."

He glanced round for approval of this sentiment. But everybody
seemed too stiff to move. Even the auctioneer was self-conscious.

"Waiter! Offer wine to Mr. Critchlow!" he exclaimed bullyingly, as
if saying: "Man! what on earth are you thinking of, to neglect Mr.
Critchlow?"

"Yes, sir; yes, sir," said the waiter, who was dispensing wine as
fast as a waiter can.

The auction commenced.

Seizing the hammer, the auctioneer gave a short biography of
William Clews Mericarp, and, this pious duty accomplished, called
upon a solicitor to read the conditions of sale. The solicitor
complied and made a distressing exhibition of self-consciousness.
The conditions of sale were very lengthy, and apparently composed
in a foreign tongue; and the audience listened to this elocution
with a stoical pretence of breathless interest.

Then the auctioneer put up all that extensive and commodious
messuage and shop situate and being No. 4, St. Luke's Square.
Constance and Cyril moved their limbs surreptitiously, as though
being at last found out. The auctioneer referred to John Baines
and to Samuel Povey, with a sense of personal loss, and then
expressed his pleasure in the presence of 'the ladies;' he meant
Constance, who once more had to blush.

"Now, gentlemen," said the auctioneer, "what do you say for these
famous premises? I think I do not exaggerate when I use the word
'famous.'"

Some one said a thousand pounds, in the terrorized voice of a
delinquent.

"A thousand pounds," repeated the auctioneer, paused, sipped, and
smacked.

"Guineas," said another voice self-accused of iniquity.

"A thousand and fifty," said the auctioneer.

Then there was a long interval, an interval that tightened the
nerves of the assembly.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen," the auctioneer adjured.

The first voice said sulkily: "Eleven hundred."

And thus the bids rose to fifteen hundred, lifted bit by bit, as
it were, by the magnetic force of the auctioneer's personality.
The man was now standing up, in domination. He bent down to the
solicitor's head; they whispered together.

"Gentlemen," said the auctioneer, "I am happy to inform you that
the sale is now open." His tone translated better than words his
calm professional beatitude. Suddenly in a voice of wrath he
hissed at the waiter: "Waiter, why don't you serve these
gentlemen?"

"Yes, sir; yes, sir."

The auctioneer sat down and sipped at leisure, chatting with his
clerk and the solicitor and the solicitor's clerk.

When he rose it was as a conqueror. "Gentlemen, fifteen hundred is
bid. Now, Mr. Critchlow."

Mr. Critchlow shook his head. The auctioneer threw a courteous
glance at Constance, who avoided it.

After many adjurations, he reluctantly raised his hammer,
pretended to let it fall, and saved it several times.

And then Mr. Critchlow said: "And fifty."

"Fifteen hundred and fifty is bid," the auctioneer informed the
company, electrifying the waiter once more. And when he had sipped
he said, with feigned sadness: "Come, gentlemen, you surely don't
mean to let this magnificent lot go for fifteen hundred and fifty
pounds?"

But they did mean that.

The hammer fell, and the auctioneer's clerk and the solicitor's
clerk took Mr. Critchlow aside and wrote with him.

Nobody was surprised when Mr. Critchlow bought Lot No. 2, his own
shop.

Constance whispered then to Cyril that she wished to leave. They
left, with unnatural precautions, but instantly regained their
natural demeanour in the dark street.

"Well, I never! Well, I never!" she murmured outside, astonished
and disturbed.

She hated the prospect of Mr. Critchlow as a landlord. And yet she
could not persuade herself to leave the place, in spite of
decisions.

The sale demonstrated that football had not entirely undermined
the commercial basis of society in Bursley; only two Lots had to
be withdrawn.

II

On Thursday afternoon of the same week the youth whom Constance
had ended by hiring for the manipulation of shutters and other
jobs unsuitable for fragile women, was closing the shop. The clock
had struck two. All the shutters were up except the last one, in
the midst of the doorway. Miss Insull and her mistress were
walking about the darkened interior, putting dust-sheets well over
the edges of exposed goods; the other assistants had just left.
The bull-terrier had wandered into the shop as he almost
invariably did at closing time--for he slept there, an efficient
guard--and had lain down by the dying stove; though not venerable,
he was stiffening into age.

"You can shut," said Miss Insull to the youth.

But as the final shutter was ascending to its position, Mr.
Critchlow appeared on the pavement.

"Hold on, young fellow!" Mr. Critchlow commanded, and stepped
slowly, lifting up his long apron, over the horizontal shutter on
which the perpendicular shutters rested in the doorway.

"Shall you be long, Mr. Critchlow?" the youth asked, posing the
shutter. "Or am I to shut?"

"Shut, lad," said Mr. Critchlow, briefly. "I'll go out by th' side
door."

"Here's Mr. Critchlow!" Miss Insull called out to Constance, in a
peculiar tone. And a flush, scarcely perceptible, crept very
slowly over her dark features. In the twilight of the shop, lit
only by a few starry holes in the shutters, and by the small side-
window, not the keenest eye could have detected that flush.

"Mr. Critchlow!" Constance murmured the exclamation. She resented
his future ownership of her shop. She thought he was come to play
the landlord, and she determined to let him see that her mood was
independent and free, that she would as lief give up the business
as keep it. In particular she meant to accuse him of having
deliberately deceived her as to his intentions on his previous
visit.

"Well, missis!" the aged man greeted her. "We've made it up
between us. Happen some folk'll think we've taken our time, but I
don't know as that's their affair."

His little blinking eyes had a red border. The skin of his pale
small face was wrinkled in millions of minute creases. His arms
and legs were marvellously thin and sharply angular. The corners
of his heliotrope lips were turned down, as usual, in a mysterious
comment on the world; and his smile, as he fronted Constance with
his excessive height, crowned the mystery.

Constance stared, at a loss. It surely could not after all be
true, the substance of the rumours that had floated like vapours
in the Square for eight years and more!

"What ...?" she began.

"Me, and her!" He jerked his head in the direction of Miss Insull.

The dog had leisurely strolled forward to inspect the edges of the
fiance's trousers. Miss Insull summoned the animal with a noise of
fingers, and then bent down and caressed it. A strange gesture
proving the validity of Charles Critchlow's discovery that in
Maria Insull a human being was buried!

Miss Insull was, as near as any one could guess, forty years of
age. For twenty-five years she had served in the shop, passing
about twelve hours a day in the shop; attending regularly at least
three religious services at the Wesleyan Chapel or School on
Sundays, and sleeping with her mother, whom she kept. She had
never earned more than thirty shillings a week, and yet her
situation was considered to be exceptionally good. In the eternal
fusty dusk of the shop she had gradually lost such sexual
characteristics and charms as she had once possessed. She was as
thin and flat as Charles Critchlow himself. It was as though her
bosom had suffered from a prolonged drought at a susceptible
period of development, and had never recovered. The one proof that
blood ran in her veins was the pimply quality of her ruined
complexion, and the pimples of that brickish expanse proved that
the blood was thin and bad. Her hands and feet were large and
ungainly; the skin of the fingers was roughened by coarse contacts
to the texture of emery-paper. On six days a week she wore black;
on the seventh a kind of discreet half-mourning. She was honest,
capable, and industrious; and beyond the confines of her
occupation she had no curiosity, no intelligence, no ideas.
Superstitions and prejudices, deep and violent, served her for
ideas; but she could incomparably sell silks and bonnets, braces
and oilcloth; in widths, lengths, and prices she never erred; she
never annoyed a customer, nor foolishly promised what could not be
performed, nor was late nor negligent, nor disrespectful. No one
knew anything about her, because there was nothing to know.
Subtract the shop-assistant from her, and naught remained.
Benighted and spiritually dead, she existed by habit.

But for Charles Critchlow she happened to be an illusion. He had
cast eyes on her and had seen youth, innocence, virginity. During
eight years the moth Charles had flitted round the lamp of her
brilliance, and was now singed past escape. He might treat her
with what casualness he chose; he might ignore her in public; he
might talk brutally about women; he might leave her to wonder
dully what he meant, for months at a stretch: but there emerged
indisputable from the sum of his conduct the fact that he wanted
her. He desired her; she charmed him; she was something ornamental
and luxurious for which he was ready to pay--and to commit
follies. He had been a widower since before she was born; to him
she was a slip of a girl. All is relative in this world. As for
her, she was too indifferent to refuse him. Why refuse him?
Oysters do not refuse.

"I'm sure I congratulate you both," Constance breathed, realizing
the import of Mr. Critchlow's laconic words. "I'm sure I hope
you'll be happy."

"That'll be all right," said Mr. Critchlow.

"Thank you, Mrs. Povey," said Maria Insull.

Nobody seemed to know what to say next. "It's rather sudden," was
on Constance's tongue, but did not achieve utterance, being
patently absurd.

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Critchlow, as though himself contemplating
anew the situation.

Miss Insull gave the dog a final pat.

"So that's settled," said Mr. Critchlow. "Now, missis, ye want to
give up this shop, don't ye?"

"I'm not so sure about that," Constance answered uneasily.

"Don't tell me!" he protested. "Of course ye want to give up the
shop."

"I've lived here all my life," said Constance.

"Ye've not lived in th' shop all ye're life. I said th' shop.
Listen here!" he continued. "I've got a proposal to make to you.
You can keep on the house, and I'll take the shop off ye're hands.
Now?" He looked at her inquiringly.

Constance was taken aback by the brusqueness of the suggestion,
which, moreover, she did not understand.

"But how--" she faltered.

"Come here," said Mr. Critchlow, impatiently, and he moved towards
the house-door of the shop, behind the till.

"Come where? What do you want?" Constance demanded in a maze.

"Here!" said Mr. Critchlow, with increasing impatience. "Follow
me, will ye?"

Constance obeyed. Miss Insull sidled after Constance, and the dog
after Miss Insull. Mr. Critchlow went through the doorway and down
the corridor, past the cutting-out room to his right. The corridor
then turned at a right-angle to the left and ended at the parlour
door, the kitchen steps being to the left.

Mr. Critchlow stopped short of the kitchen steps, and extended his
arms, touching the walls on either side.

"Here!" he said, tapping the walls with his bony knuckles. "Here!
Suppose I brick ye this up, and th' same upstairs between th'
showroom and th' bedroom passage, ye've got your house to
yourself. Ye say ye've lived here all your life. Well, what's to
prevent ye finishing up here? The fact is," he added, "it would
only be making into two houses again what was two houses to start
with, afore your time, missis."

"And what about the shop?" cried Constance.

"Ye can sell us th' stock at a valuation."

Constance suddenly comprehended the scheme. Mr. Critchlow would
remain the chemist, while Mrs. Critchlow became the head of the
chief drapery business in the town. Doubtless they would knock a
hole through the separating wall on the other side, to balance the
bricking-up on this side. They must have thought it all out in
detail. Constance revolted.

"Yes!" she said, a little disdainfully. "And my goodwill? Shall
you take that at a valuation too?"

Mr. Critchlow glanced at the creature for whom he was ready to
scatter thousands of pounds. She might have been a Phryne and he
the infatuated fool. He glanced at her as if to say: "We expected
this, and this is where we agreed it was to stop."

"Ay!" he said to Constance. "Show me your goodwill. Lap it up in a
bit of paper and hand it over, and I'll take it at a valuation.
But not afore, missis! Not afore! I'm making ye a very good offer.
Twenty pound a year, I'll let ye th' house for. And take th' stock
at a valuation. Think it over, my lass."

Having said what he had to say, Charles Critchlow departed,
according to his custom. He unceremoniously let himself out by the
side door, and passed with wavy apron round the corner of King
Street into the Square and so to his own shop, which ignored the
Thursday half-holiday. Miss Insull left soon afterwards.

III

Constance's pride urged her to refuse the offer. But in truth her
sole objection to it was that she had not thought of the scheme
herself. For the scheme really reconciled her wish to remain where
she was with her wish to be free of the shop.

"I shall make him put me in a new window in the parlour--one that
will open!" she said positively to Cyril, who accepted Mr.
Critchlow's idea with fatalistic indifference.

After stipulating for the new window, she closed with the offer.
Then there was the stock-taking, which endured for weeks. And then
a carpenter came and measured for the window. And a builder and a
mason came and inspected doorways, and Constance felt that the end
was upon her. She took up the carpet in the parlour and protected
the furniture by dustsheets. She and Cyril lived between bare
boards and dustsheets for twenty days, and neither carpenter nor
mason reappeared. Then one surprising day the old window was
removed by the carpenter's two journeymen, and late in the
afternoon the carpenter brought the new window, and the three men
worked till ten o'clock at night, fixing it. Cyril wore his cap
and went to bed in his cap, and Constance wore a Paisley shawl. A
painter had bound himself beyond all possibility of failure to
paint the window on the morrow. He was to begin at six a.m.; and
Amy's alarm-clock was altered so that she might be up and dressed
to admit him. He came a week later, administered one coat, and
vanished for another ten days. Then two masons suddenly came with
heavy tools, and were shocked to find that all was not prepared
for them. (After three carpetless weeks Constance had relaid her
floors.) They tore off wall-paper, sent cascades of plaster down
the kitchen steps, withdrew alternate courses of bricks from the
walls, and, sated with destruction, hastened away. After four days
new red bricks began to arrive, carried by a quite guiltless
hodman who had not visited the house before. The hodman met the
full storm of Constance's wrath. It was not a vicious wrath,
rather a good-humoured wrath; but it impressed the hodman. "My
house hasn't been fit to live in for a month," she said in fine.
"If these walls aren't built to-morrow, upstairs AND down--to-
morrow, mind!--don't let any of you dare to show your noses here
again, for I won't have you. Now you've brought your bricks. Off
with you, and tell your master what I say!"

It was effective. The next day subdued and plausible workmen of
all sorts awoke the house with knocking at six-thirty precisely,
and the two doorways were slowly bricked up. The curious thing was
that, when the barrier was already a foot high on the ground-floor
Constance remembered small possessions of her own which she had
omitted to remove from the cutting-out room. Picking up her
skirts, she stepped over into the region that was no more hers,
and stepped back with the goods. She had a bandanna round her head
to keep the thick dust out of her hair. She was very busy, very
preoccupied with nothings. She had no time for sentimentalities.
Yet when the men arrived at the topmost course and were at last
hidden behind their own erection, and she could see only rough
bricks and mortar, she was disconcertingly overtaken by a misty
blindness and could not even see bricks and mortar. Cyril found
her, with her absurd bandanna, weeping in a sheet-covered rocking-
chair in the sacked parlour. He whistled uneasily, remarked: "I
say, mother, what about tea?" and then, hearing the heavy voices
of workmen above, ran with relief upstairs. Tea had been set in
the drawing-room, he was glad to learn that from Amy, who informed
him also that she should 'never get used to them there new walls,'
not as long as she lived.

He went to the School of Art that night. Constance, alone, could
find nothing to do. She had willed that the walls should be built,
and they had been built; but days must elapse before they could be
plastered, and after the plaster still more days before the
papering. Not for another month, perhaps, would her house be free
of workmen and ripe for her own labours. She could only sit in the
dust-drifts and contemplate the havoc of change, and keep her eyes
as dry as she could. The legal transactions were all but complete;
little bills announcing the transfer of the business lay on the
counters in the shop at the disposal of customers. In two days
Charles Critchlow would pay the price of a desire realized. The
sign was painted out and new letters sketched thereon in chalk. In
future she would be compelled, if she wished to enter the shop, to
enter it as a customer and from the front. Yes, she saw that,
though the house remained hers, the root of her life had been
wrenched up.

And the mess! It seemed inconceivable that the material mess could
ever be straightened away!

Yet, ere the fields of the county were first covered with snow
that season, only one sign survived of the devastating revolution,
and that was a loose sheet of wall-paper that had been too soon
pasted on to new plaster and would not stick. Maria Insull was
Maria Critchlow. Constance had been out into the Square and seen
the altered sign, and seen Mrs. Critchlow's taste in window-
curtains, and seen--most impressive sight of all--that the grimy
window of the abandoned room at the top of the abandoned staircase
next to the bedroom of her girlhood, had been cleaned and a table
put in front of it. She knew that the chamber, which she herself
had never entered, was to be employed as a storeroom, but the
visible proof of its conversion so strangely affected her that she
had not felt able to go boldly into the shop, as she had meant to
do, and make a few purchases in the way of friendliness. "I'm a
silly woman!" she muttered. Later, she did venture, timidly
abrupt, into the shop, and was received with fitting state by Mrs.
Critchlow (as desiccated as ever), who insisted on allowing her
the special trade discount. And she carried her little friendly
purchases round to her own door in King Street. Trivial, trivial
event! Constance, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, did both.
She accused herself of developing a hysterical faculty in tears,
and strove sagely against it.




CHAPTER VIII

THE PROUDEST MOTHER

I


In the year 1893 there was a new and strange man living at No. 4,
St. Luke's Square. Many people remarked on the phenomenon. Very
few of his like had ever been seen in Bursley before. One of the
striking things about him was the complex way in which he secured
himself by means of glittering chains. A chain stretched across
his waistcoat, passing through a special button-hole, without a
button, in the middle. To this cable were firmly linked a watch at
one end and a pencil-case at the other; the chain also served as a
protection against a thief who might attempt to snatch the fancy
waistcoat entire. Then there were longer chains, beneath the
waistcoat, partly designed, no doubt, to deflect bullets, but
serving mainly to enable the owner to haul up penknives,
cigarette-cases, match-boxes, and key-rings from the profundities
of hip-pockets. An essential portion of the man's braces, visible
sometimes when he played at tennis, consisted of chain, and the
upper and nether halves of his cuff-links were connected by
chains. Occasionally he was to be seen chained to a dog.

A reversion, conceivably, to a mediaeval type! Yes, but also the
exemplar of the excessively modern! Externally he was a
consequence of the fact that, years previously, the leading tailor
in Bursley had permitted his son to be apprenticed in London. The
father died; the son had the wit to return and make a fortune
while creating a new type in the town, a type of which multiple
chains were but one feature, and that the least expensive if the
most salient. For instance, up to the historic year in which the
young tailor created the type, any cap was a cap in Bursley, and
any collar was a collar. But thenceforward no cap was a cap, and
no collar was a collar, which did not exactly conform in shape and
material to certain sacred caps and collars guarded by the young
tailor in his back shop. None knew why these sacred caps and
collars were sacred, but they were; their sacredness endured for
about six months, and then suddenly--again none knew why--they
fell from their estate and became lower than offal for dogs, and
were supplanted on the altar. The type brought into existence by
the young tailor was to be recognized by its caps and collars, and
in a similar manner by every other article of attire, except its
boots. Unfortunately the tailor did not sell boots, and so imposed
on his creatures no mystical creed as to boots. This was a pity,
for the boot-makers of the town happened not to be inflamed by the
type-creating passion as the tailor was, and thus the new type
finished abruptly at the edges of the tailor's trousers.

The man at No. 4, St. Luke's Square had comparatively small and
narrow feet, which gave him an advantage; and as he was endowed
with a certain vague general physical distinction he managed,
despite the eternal untidiness of his hair, to be eminent among
the type. Assuredly the frequent sight of him in her house
flattered the pride of Constance's eye, which rested on him almost
always with pleasure. He had come into the house with startling
abruptness soon after Cyril left school and was indentured to the
head-designer at "Peel's," that classic earthenware manufactory.
The presence of a man in her abode disconcerted Constance at the
beginning; but she soon grew accustomed to it, perceiving that a
man would behave as a man, and must be expected to do so. This
man, in truth, did what he liked in all things. Cyril having
always been regarded by both his parents as enormous, one would
have anticipated a giant in the new man; but, queerly, he was
slim, and little above the average height. Neither in enormity nor
in many other particulars did he resemble the Cyril whom he had
supplanted. His gestures were lighter and quicker; he had nothing
of Cyril's ungainliness; he had not Cyril's limitless taste for
sweets, nor Cyril's terrific hatred of gloves, barbers, and soap.
He was much more dreamy than Cyril, and much busier. In fact,
Constance only saw him at meal-times. He was at Peel's in the day
and at the School of Art every night. He would dream during a
meal, even; and, without actually saying so, he gave the
impression that he was the busiest man in Bursley, wrapped in
occupations and preoccupations as in a blanket--a blanket which
Constance had difficulty in penetrating.

Constance wanted to please him; she lived for nothing but to
please him; he was, however, exceedingly difficult to please, not
in the least because he was hypercritical and exacting, but
because he was indifferent. Constance, in order to satisfy her
desire of pleasing, had to make fifty efforts, in the hope that he
might chance to notice one. He was a good man, amazingly
industrious--when once Constance had got him out of bed in the
morning; with no vices; kind, save when Constance mistakenly tried
to thwart him; charming, with a curious strain of humour that
Constance only half understood. Constance was unquestionably vain
about him, and she could honestly find in him little to blame. But
whereas he was the whole of her universe, she was merely a dim
figure in the background of his. Every now and then, with his
gentle, elegant raillery, he would apparently rediscover her, as
though saying: "Ah! You're still there, are you?" Constance could
not meet him on the plane where his interests lay, and he never
knew the passionate intensity of her absorption in that minor part
of his life which moved on her plane. He never worried about her
solitude, or guessed that in throwing her a smile and a word at
supper he was paying her meagrely for three hours of lone rocking
in a rocking-chair.

The worst of it was that she was quite incurable. No experience
would suffice to cure her trick of continually expecting him to
notice things which he never did notice. One day he said, in the
midst of a silence: "By the way, didn't father leave any boxes of
cigars?" She had the steps up into her bedroom and reached down
from the dusty top of the wardrobe the box which she had put there
after Samuel's funeral. In handing him the box she was doing a
great deed. His age was nineteen and she was ratifying his
precocious habit of smoking by this solemn gift. He entirely
ignored the box for several days. She said timidly: "Have you
tried those cigars?" "Not yet," he replied. "I'll try 'em one of
these days." Ten days later, on a Sunday when he chanced not to
have gone out with his aristocratic friend Matthew Peel-
Swynnerton, he did at length open the box and take out a cigar.
"Now," he observed roguishly, cutting the cigar, "we shall see,
Mrs. Plover!" He often called her Mrs. Plover, for fun. Though she
liked him to be sufficiently interested in her to tease her, she
did not like being called Mrs. Plover, and she never failed to
say: "I'm not Mrs. Plover." He smoked the cigar slowly, in the
rocking-chair, throwing his head back and sending clouds to the
ceiling. And afterwards he remarked: "The old man's cigars weren't
so bad." "Indeed!" she answered tartly, as if maternally resenting
this easy patronage. But in secret she was delighted. There was
something in her son's favourable verdict on her husband's cigars
that thrilled her.

And she looked at him. Impossible to see in him any resemblance to
his father! Oh! He was a far more brilliant, more advanced, more
complicated, more seductive being than his homely father! She
wondered where he had come from. And yet ...! If his father had
lived, what would have occurred between them? Would the boy have
been openly smoking cigars in the house at nineteen?

She laboriously interested herself, so far as he would allow, in
his artistic studies and productions. A back attic on the second
floor was now transformed into a studio--a naked apartment which
smelt of oil and of damp clay. Often there were traces of clay on
the stairs. For working in clay he demanded of his mother a smock,
and she made a smock, on the model of a genuine smock which she
obtained from a country-woman who sold eggs and butter in the
Covered Market. Into the shoulders of the smock she put a week's
fancy-stitching, taking the pattern from an old book of
embroidery. One day when he had seen her stitching morn, noon, and
afternoon, at the smock, he said, as she rocked idly after supper:
"I suppose you haven't forgotten all about the smock I asked you
for, have you, mater?" She knew that he was teasing her; but,
while perfectly realizing how foolish she was, she nearly always
acted as though his teasing was serious; she picked up the smock
again from the sofa. When the smock was finished he examined it
intently; then exclaimed with an air of surprise: "By Jove! That's
beautiful! Where did you get this pattern?" He continued to stare
at it, smiling in pleasure. He turned over the tattered leaves of
the embroidery-book with the same naive, charmed astonishment, and
carried the book away to the studio. "I must show that to
Swynnerton," he said. As for her, the epithet 'beautiful' seemed a
strange epithet to apply to a mere piece of honest stitchery done
in a pattern, and a stitch with which she had been familiar all
her life. The fact was she understood his 'art' less and less. The
sole wall decoration of his studio was a Japanese print, which
struck her as being entirely preposterous, considered as a
picture. She much preferred his own early drawings of moss-roses
and picturesque castles--things that he now mercilessly contemned.
Later, he discovered her cutting out another smock. "What's that
for?" he inquired. "Well," she said, "you can't manage with one
smock. What shall you do when that one has to go to the wash?"
"Wash!" he repeated vaguely. "There's no need for it to go to the
wash." "Cyril," she replied, "don't try my patience! I was
thinking of making you half-a-dozen." He whistled. "With all that
stitching?" he questioned, amazed at the undertaking. "Why not?"
she said. In her young days, no seamstress ever made fewer than
half-a-dozen of anything, and it was usually a dozen; it was
sometimes half-a-dozen dozen. "Well," he murmured, "you have got a
nerve! I'll say that." Similar things happened whenever he showed
that he was pleased. If he said of a dish, in the local tongue: "I
could do a bit of that!" or if he simply smacked his lips over it,
she would surfeit him with that dish.

II

On a hot day in August, just before they were to leave Bursley for
a month in the Isle of Man, Cyril came home, pale and perspiring,
and dropped on to the sofa. He wore a grey alpaca suit, and,
except his hair, which in addition to being very untidy was damp
with sweat, he was a masterpiece of slim elegance, despite the
heat. He blew out great sighs, and rested his head on the
antimacassared arm of the sofa.

"Well, mater," he said, in a voice of factitious calm, "I've got
it." He was looking up at the ceiling.

"Got what?"

"The National Scholarship. Swynnerton says it's a sheer fluke. But
I've got it. Great glory for the Bursley School of Art!"

"National Scholarship?" she said. "What's that? What is it?"

"Now, mother!" he admonished her, not without testiness. "Don't go
and say I've never breathed a word about it!"

He lit a cigarette, to cover his self-consciousness, for he
perceived that she was moved far beyond the ordinary.

Never, in fact, not even by the death of her husband, had she
received such a frightful blow as that which the dreamy Cyril had
just dealt her.

It was not a complete surprise, but it was nearly a complete
surprise. A few months previously he certainly had mentioned, in
his incidental way, the subject of a National Scholarship. Apropos
of a drinking-cup which he had designed, he had said that the
director of the School of Art had suggested that it was good
enough to compete for the National, and that as he was otherwise
qualified for the competition he might as well send the cup to
South Kensington. He had added that Peel-Swynnerton had laughed at
the notion as absurd. On that occasion she had comprehended that a
National Scholarship involved residence in London. She ought to
have begun to live in fear, for Cyril had a most disturbing habit
of making a mere momentary reference to matters which he deemed
very important and which occupied a large share of his attention.
He was secretive by nature, and the rigidity of his father's rule
had developed this trait in his character. But really he had
spoken of the competition with such an extreme casualness that
with little effort she had dismissed it from her anxieties as
involving a contingency so remote as to be negligible. She had,
genuinely, almost forgotten it. Only at rare intervals had it
wakened in her a dull transitory pain--like the herald of a fatal
malady. And, as a woman in the opening stage of disease, she had
hastily reassured herself: "How silly of me! This can't possibly
be anything serious!"

And now she was condemned. She knew it. She knew there could be no
appeal. She knew that she might as usefully have besought mercy
from a tiger as from her good, industrious, dreamy son.

"It means a pound a week," said Cyril, his self-consciousness
intensified by her silence and by the dreadful look on her face.
"And of course free tuition."

"For how long?" she managed to say.

"Well," said he, "that depends. Nominally for a year. But if you
behave yourself it's always continued for three years." If he
stayed for three years he would never come back: that was a
certainty.

How she rebelled, furious and despairing, against the fortuitous
cruelty of things! She was sure that he had not, till then,
thought seriously of going to London. But the fact that the
Government would admit him free to its classrooms and give him a
pound a week besides, somehow forced him to go to London. It was
not the lack of means that would have prevented him from going.
Why, then, should the presence of means induce him to go? There
was no logical reason. The whole affair was disastrously absurd.
The art-master at the Wedgwood Institution had chanced, merely
chanced, to suggest that the drinking-cup should be sent to South
Kensington. And the result of this caprice was that she was
sentenced to solitude for life! It was too monstrously, too
incredibly wicked!

With what futile and bitter execration she murmured in her heart
the word 'If.' If Cyril's childish predilections had not been
encouraged! If he had only been content to follow his father's
trade! If she had flatly refused to sign his indenture at Peel's
and pay the premium! If he had not turned from, colour to clay! If
the art-master had not had that fatal 'idea'! If the judges for
the competition had decided otherwise! If only she had brought
Cyril up in habits of obedience, sacrificing temporary peace to
permanent security!

For after all he could not abandon her without her consent. He was
not of age. And he would want a lot more money, which he could
obtain from none but her. She could refuse. ...

No! She could not refuse. He was the master, the tyrant. For the
sake of daily pleasantness she had weakly yielded to him at the
start! She had behaved badly to herself and to him. He was
spoiled. She had spoiled him. And he was about to repay her with
lifelong misery, and nothing would deflect him from his course.
The usual conduct of the spoilt child! Had she not witnessed it,
and moralized upon it, in other families?

"You don't seem very chirpy over it, mater!" he said.

She went out of the room. His joy in the prospect of departure
from the Five Towns, from her, though he masked it, was more
manifest than she could bear.

The Signal, the next day, made a special item of the news. It
appeared that no National Scholarship had been won in the Five
Towns for eleven years. The citizens were exhorted to remember
that Mr. Povey had gained his success in open competition with the
cleverest young students of the entire kingdom--and in a branch of
art which he had but recently taken up; and further, that the
Government offered only eight scholarships each year. The name of
Cyril Povey passed from lip to lip. And nobody who met Constance,
in street or shop, could refrain from informing her that she ought
to be a proud mother, to have such a son, but that truly they were
not surprised ... and how proud his poor father would have been! A
few sympathetically hinted that maternal pride was one of those
luxuries that may cost too dear.

III

The holiday in the Isle of Man was of course ruined for her. She
could scarcely walk because of the weight of a lump of lead that
she carried in her bosom. On the brightest days the lump of lead
was always there. Besides, she was so obese. In ordinary
circumstances they might have stayed beyond the month. An
indentured pupil is not strapped to the wheel like a common
apprentice. Moreover, the indentures were to be cancelled. But
Constance did not care to stay. She had to prepare for his
departure to London. She had to lay the faggots for her own
martyrdom.

In this business of preparation she showed as much silliness, she
betrayed as perfect a lack of perspective, as the most superior
son could desire for a topic of affectionate irony. Her
preoccupation with petty things of no importance whatever was
worthy of the finest traditions of fond motherhood. However,
Cyril's careless satire had no effect on her, save that once she
got angry, thereby startling him; he quite correctly and sagely
laid this unprecedented outburst to the account of her wrought
nerves, and forgave it. Happily for the smoothness of Cyril's
translation to London, young Peel-Swynnerton was acquainted with
the capital, had a brother in Chelsea, knew of reputable lodgings,
was, indeed, an encyclopaedia of the town, and would himself spend
a portion of the autumn there. Otherwise, the preliminaries which
his mother would have insisted on by means of tears and hysteria
might have proved fatiguing to Cyril.

The day came when on that day week Cyril would be gone. Constance
steadily fabricated cheerfulness against the prospect. She said:

"Suppose I come with you?"

He smiled in toleration of this joke as being a passable quality
of joke. And then she smiled in the same sense, hastening to agree
with him that as a joke it was not a bad joke.

In the last week he was very loyal to his tailor. Many a young man
would have commanded new clothes after, not before, his arrival in
London. But Cyril had faith in his creator.

On the day of departure the household, the very house itself, was
in a state of excitation. He was to leave early. He would not
listen to the project of her accompanying him as far as Knype,
where the Loop Line joined the main. She might go to Bursley
Station and no further. When she rebelled he disclosed the merest
hint of his sullen-churlish side, and she at once yielded. During
breakfast she did not cry, but the aspect of her face made him
protest.

"Now, look here, mater! Just try to remember that I shall be back
for Christmas. It's barely three months." And he lit a cigarette.

She made no reply.

Amy lugged a Gladstone bag down the crooked stairs. A trunk was
already close to the door; it had wrinkled the carpet and deranged
the mat.

"You didn't forget to put the hair-brush in, did you, Amy?" he
asked.

"N--no, Mr. Cyril," she blubbered.

"Amy!" Constance sharply corrected her, as Cyril ran upstairs, "I
wonder you can't control yourself better than that."

Amy weakly apologized. Although treated almost as one of the
family, she ought not to have forgotten that she was a servant.
What right had she to weep over Cyril's luggage? This question was
put to her in Constance's tone.

The cab came. Cyril tumbled downstairs with exaggerated
carelessness, and with exaggerated carelessness he joked at the
cabman.

"Now, mother!" he cried, when the luggage was stowed. "Do you want
me to miss this train?" But he knew that the margin of time was
ample. It was his fun!

"Nay, I can't be hurried!" she said, fixing her bonnet. "Amy, as
soon as we are gone you can clear this table."

She climbed heavily into the cab.

"That's it! Smash the springs!" Cyril teased her.

The horse got a stinging cut to recall him to the seriousness of
life. It was a fine, bracing autumn morning, and the driver felt
the need of communicating his abundant energy to some one or
something. They drove off, Amy staring after them from the door.
Matters had been so marvellously well arranged that they arrived
at the station twenty minutes before the train was due.

"Never mind!" Cyril mockingly comforted his mother. "You'd rather
be twenty minutes too soon than one minute too late, wouldn't
you?"

His high spirits had to come out somehow.

Gradually the minutes passed, and the empty slate-tinted platform
became dotted with people to whom that train was nothing but a
Loop Line train, people who took that train every week-day of
their lives and knew all its eccentricities.

And they heard the train whistle as it started from Turnhill. And
Cyril had a final word with the porter who was in charge of the
luggage. He made a handsome figure, and he had twenty pounds in
his pocket. When he returned to Constance she was sniffing, and
through her veil he could see that her eyes were circled with red.
But through her veil she could see nothing. The train rolled in,
rattling to a standstill. Constance lifted her veil and kissed
him; and kissed her life out. He smelt the odour of her crape. He
was, for an instant, close to her, close; and he seemed to have an
overwhelmingly intimate glimpse into her secrets; he seemed to be
choked in the sudden strong emotion of that crape. He felt queer.

"Here you are, sir! Second smoker!" called the porter.

The daily frequenters of the train boarded it with their customary
disgust.

"I'll write as soon as ever I get there!" said Cyril, of his own
accord. It was the best he could muster.

With what grace he raised his hat!

A sliding-away; clouds of steam; and she shared the dead platform
with milk-cans, two porters, and Smith's noisy boy!

She walked home, very slowly and painfully. The lump of lead was
heavier than ever before. And the townspeople saw the proudest
mother in Bursley walking home.

"After all," she argued with her soul angrily, petulantly, "could
you expect the boy to do anything else? He is a serious student,
he has had a brilliant success, and is he to be tied to your
apron-strings? The idea is preposterous. It isn't as if he was an
idler, or a bad son. No mother could have a better son. A nice
thing, that he should stay all his life in Bursley simply because
you don't like being left alone!"

Unfortunately one might as well argue with a mule as with one's
soul. Her soul only kept on saying monotonously: "I'm a lonely old
woman now. I've nothing to live for any more, and I'm no use to
anybody. Once I was young and proud. And this is what my life has
come to! This is the end!"

When she reached home, Amy had not touched the breakfast things;
the carpet was still wrinkled, and the mat still out of place.
And, through the desolating atmosphere of reaction after a
terrific crisis, she marched directly upstairs, entered his
plundered room, and beheld the disorder of the bed in which he had
slept.




BOOK III

SOPHIA




CHAPTER I

THE ELOPEMENT

I


Her soberly rich dress had a countrified air, as she waited, ready
for the streets, in the bedroom of the London hotel on the
afternoon of the first of July, 1866; but there was nothing of the
provincial in that beautiful face, nor in that bearing at once shy
and haughty; and her eager heart soared beyond geographical
boundaries.

It was the Hatfield Hotel, in Salisbury Street, between the Strand
and the river. Both street and hotel are now gone, lost in the
vast foundations of the Savoy and the Cecil; but the type of the
Hatfield lingers with ever-increasing shabbiness in Jermyn Street.
In 1866, with its dark passages and crooked stairs, its candles,
its carpets and stuffs which had outlived their patterns, its
narrow dining-room where a thousand busy flies ate together at one
long table, its acrid stagnant atmosphere, and its disturbing
sensation of dirt everywhere concealing itself, it stood forth in
rectitude as a good average modern hotel. The patched and senile
drabness of the bedroom made an environment that emphasized
Sophia's flashing youth. She alone in it was unsullied.

There was a knock at the door, apparently gay and jaunty. But she
thought, truly: "He's nearly as nervous as I am!" And in her sick
nervousness she coughed, and then tried to take full possession of
herself. The moment had at last come which would divide her life
as a battle divides the history of a nation. Her mind in an
instant swept backwards through an incredible three months.

The schemings to obtain and to hide Gerald's letters at the shop,
and to reply to them! The far more complex and dangerous duplicity
practised upon her majestic aunt at Axe! The visits to the Axe
post-office! The three divine meetings with Gerald at early
morning by the canal-feeder, when he had told her of his
inheritance and of the harshness of his uncle Boldero, and with a
rush of words had spread before her the prospect of eternal bliss!
The nights of fear! The sudden, dizzy acquiescence in his plan,
and the feeling of universal unreality which obsessed her! The
audacious departure from her aunt's, showering a cascade of
appalling lies! Her dismay at Knype Station! Her blush as she
asked for a ticket to London! The ironic, sympathetic glance of
the porter, who took charge of her trunk! And then the thunder of
the incoming train! Her renewed dismay when she found that it was
very full, and her distracted plunge into a compartment with six
people already in it! And the abrupt reopening of the carriage-
door and that curt inquisition from an inspector: "Where for,
please? Where for? Where for?" Until her turn was reached: "Where
for, miss?" and her weak little reply: "Euston"! And more violent
blushes! And then the long, steady beating of the train over the
rails, keeping time to the rhythm of the unanswerable voice within
her breast: "Why are you here? Why are you here?" And then Rugby;
and the awful ordeal of meeting Gerald, his entry into the
compartment, the rearrangement of seats, and their excruciatingly
painful attempts at commonplace conversation in the publicity of
the carriage! (She had felt that that part of the enterprise had
not been very well devised by Gerald.) And at last London; the
thousands of cabs, the fabulous streets, the general roar, all
dream-surpassing, intensifying to an extraordinary degree the
obsession of unreality, the illusion that she could not really
have done what she had done, that she was not really doing what
she was doing!

Supremely and finally, the delicious torture of the clutch of
terror at her heart as she moved by Gerald's side through the
impossible adventure! Who was this rash, mad Sophia? Surely not
herself!

The knock at the door was impatiently repeated.

"Come in," she said timidly.

Gerald Scales came in. Yes, beneath that mien of a commercial
traveller who has been everywhere and through everything, he was
very nervous. It was her privacy that, with her consent, he had
invaded. He had engaged the bedroom only with the intention of
using it as a retreat for Sophia until the evening, when they were
to resume their travels. It ought not to have had any disturbing
significance. But the mere disorder on the washstand, a towel
lying on one of the cane chairs, made him feel that he was
affronting decency, and so increased his jaunty nervousness. The
moment was painful; the moment was difficult beyond his skill to
handle it naturally.

Approaching her with factitious ease, he kissed her through her
veil, which she then lifted with an impulsive movement, and he
kissed her again, more ardently, perceiving that her ardour was
exceeding his. This was the first time they had been alone
together since her flight from Axe. And yet, with his worldly
experience, he was naive enough to be surprised that he could not
put all the heat of passion into his embrace, and he wondered why
he was not thrilled at the contact with her! However, the powerful
clinging of her lips somewhat startled his senses, and also
delighted him by its silent promise. He could smell the stuff of
her veil, the sarsenet of her bodice, and, as it were wrapped in
these odours as her body was wrapped in its clothes, the faint
fleshly perfume of her body itself. Her face, viewed so close that
he could see the almost imperceptible down on those fruit-like
cheeks, was astonishingly beautiful; the dark eyes were
exquisitely misted; and he could feel the secret loyalty of her
soul ascending to him. She was very slightly taller than her
lover; but somehow she hung from him, her body curved backwards,
and her bosom pressed against his, so that instead of looking up
at her gaze he looked down at it. He preferred that; perfectly
proportioned though he was, his stature was a delicate point with
him. His spirits rose by the uplift of his senses. His fears
slipped away; he began to be very satisfied with himself. He was
the inheritor of twelve thousand pounds, and he had won this
unique creature. She was his capture; he held her close,
permittedly scanning the minutiae of her skin, permittedly
crushing her flimsy silks. Something in him had forced her to lay
her modesty on the altar of his desire. And the sun brightly
shone. So he kissed her yet more ardently, and with the slightest
touch of a victor's condescension; and her burning response more
than restored the self-confidence which he had been losing.

"I've got no one but you now," she murmured in a melting voice.

She fancied in her ignorance that the expression of this sentiment
would please him. She was not aware that a man is usually rather
chilled by it, because it proves to him that the other is thinking
about his responsibilities and not about his privileges. Certainly
it calmed Gerald, though without imparting to him her sense of his
responsibilities. He smiled vaguely. To Sophia his smile was a
miracle continually renewed; it mingled dashing gaiety with a hint
of wistful appeal in a manner that never failed to bewitch her. A
less innocent girl than Sophia might have divined from that
adorable half-feminine smile that she could do anything with
Gerald except rely on him. But Sophia had to learn.

"Are you ready?" he asked, placing his hands on her shoulders and
holding her away from him.

"Yes," she said, nerving herself. Their faces were still very near
together.

"Well, would you like to go and see the Dore pictures?"

A simple enough question! A proposal felicitous enough! Dore was
becoming known even in the Five Towns, not, assuredly, by his
illustrations to the Contes Drolatiques of Balzac--but by his
shuddering Biblical conceits. In pious circles Dore was saving art
from the reproach of futility and frivolity. It was indubitably a
tasteful idea on Gerald's part to take his love of a summer's
afternoon to gaze at the originals of those prints which had so
deeply impressed the Five Towns. It was an idea that sanctified
the profane adventure.

Yet Sophia showed signs of affliction. Her colour went and came;
her throat made the motion of swallowing; there was a muscular
contraction over her whole body. And she drew herself from him.
Her glance, however, did not leave him, and his eyes fell before
hers.

"But what about the--wedding?" she breathed.

That sentence seemed to cost all her pride; but she was obliged to
utter it, and to pay for it.

"Oh," he said lightly and quickly, just as though she had reminded
him of a detail that might have been forgotten, "I was just going
to tell you. It can't be done here. There's been some change in
the rules. I only found out for certain late last night. But I've
ascertained that it'll be as simple as ABC before the English
Consul at Paris; and as I've got the tickets for us to go over to-
night, as we arranged ..." He stopped.

She sat down on the towel-covered chair, staggered. She believed
what he said. She did not suspect that he was using the classic
device of the seducer. It was his casualness that staggered her.
Had it really been his intention to set off on an excursion and
remark as an afterthought: "BY THE WAY, we can't be married as I
told you at half-past two to-day"? Despite her extreme ignorance
and innocence, Sophia held a high opinion of her own commonsense
and capacity for looking after herself, and she could scarcely
believe that he was expecting her to go to Paris, and at night,
without being married. She looked pitiably young, virgin, raw,
unsophisticated; helpless in the midst of dreadful dangers. Yet
her head was full of a blank astonishment at being mistaken for a
simpleton! The sole explanation could be that Gerald, in some
matters, must himself be a confiding simpleton. He had not
reflected. He had not sufficiently realized the immensity of her
sacrifice in flying with him even to London. She felt sorry for
him. She had the woman's first glimpse of the necessity for some
adjustment of outlook as an essential preliminary to uninterrupted
happiness.

"It'll be all right!" Gerald persuasively continued.

He looked at her, as she was not looking at him. She was nineteen.
But she seemed to him utterly mature and mysterious. Her face
baffled him; her mind was a foreign land. Helpless in one sense
she might be; yet she, and not he, stood for destiny; the future
lay in the secret and capricious workings of that mind.

"Oh no!" she exclaimed curtly. "Oh no!"

"Oh no what?"

"We can't possibly go like that," she said.

"But don't I tell you it'll be all right?" he protested. "If we
stay here and they come after you ...! Besides, I've got the
tickets and all."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" she demanded.

"But how could I?" he grumbled. "Have we had a single minute
alone?"

This was nearly true. They could not have discussed the
formalities of marriage in the crowded train, nor during the
hurried lunch with a dozen cocked ears at the same table. He saw
himself on sure ground here.

"Now, could we?" he pressed.

"And you talk about going to see pictures!" was her reply.

Undoubtedly this had been a grave error of tact. He recognized
that it was a stupidity. And so he resented it, as though she had
committed it and not he.

"My dear girl," he said, hurt, "I acted for the best. It isn't my
fault if rules are altered and officials silly."

"You ought to have told me before," she persisted sullenly.

"But how could I?"

He almost believed in that moment that he had really intended to
marry her, and that the ineptitudes of red-tape had prevented him
from achieving his honourable purpose. Whereas he had done nothing
whatever towards the marriage.

"Oh no! Oh no!" she repeated, with heavy lip and liquid eye. "Oh
no!"

He gathered that she was flouting his suggestion of Paris.

Slowly and nervously he approached her. She did not stir nor look
up. Her glance was fixed on the washstand. He bent down and
murmured:

"Come, now. It'll be all right. You'll travel in the ladies'
saloon on the steam-packet."

She did not stir. He bent lower and touched the back of her neck
with his lips. And she sprang up, sobbing and angry. Because she
was mad for him she hated him furiously. All tenderness had
vanished.

"I'll thank you not to touch me!" she said fiercely. She had given
him her lips a moment ago, but now to graze her neck was an
insult.

He smiled sheepishly. "But really you must be reasonable," he
argued. "What have I done?"

"It's what you haven't done, I think!" she cried. "Why didn't you
tell me while we were in the cab?"

"I didn't care to begin worrying you just then," he replied: which
was exactly true.

The fact was, he had of course shirked telling her that no
marriage would occur that day. Not being a professional seducer of
young girls, he lacked skill to do a difficult thing simply.

"Now come along, little girl," he went on, with just a trifle of
impatience. "Let's go out and enjoy ourselves. I assure you that
everything will be all right in Paris."

"That's what you said about coming to London," she retorted
sarcastically through her sobs. "And look at you!"

Did he imagine for a single instant that she would have come to
London with him save on the understanding that she was to be
married immediately upon arrival? This attitude of an indignant
question was not to be reconciled with her belief that his excuses
for himself were truthful. But she did not remark the discrepancy.

Her sarcasm wounded his vanity.

"Oh, very well!" he muttered. "If you don't choose to believe what
I say!" He shrugged his shoulders.

She said nothing; but the sobs swept at intervals through her
frame, shaking it.

Reading hesitation in her face, he tried again. "Come along,
little girl. And wipe your eyes." And he approached her. She
stepped back.

"No, no!" she denied him, passionately. He had esteemed her too
cheaply. And she did not care to be called 'little girl.'

"Then what shall you do?" he inquired, in a tone which blended
mockery and bullying. She was making a fool of him.

"I can tell you what I shan't do," she said. "I shan't go to
Paris." Her sobs were less frequent.

"That's not my question," he said icily. "I want to know what you
will do."

There was now no pretence of affectionateness either on her part
or on his. They might, to judge from their attitudes, have been
nourished from infancy on mutual hatred.

"What's that got to do with you?" she demanded.

"It's got everything to do with me," he said.

"Well, you can go and find out!" she said.

It was girlish; it was childish; it was scarcely according to the
canons for conducting a final rupture; but it was not the less
tragically serious. Indeed, the spectacle of this young girl
absurdly behaving like one, in a serious crisis, increased the
tragicalness of the situation even if it did not heighten it. The
idea that ran through Gerald's brain was the ridiculous folly of
having anything to do with young girls. He was quite blind to her
beauty.

"'Go'?" he repeated her word. "You mean that?"

"Of course I mean it," she answered promptly.

The coward in him urged him to take advantage of her ignorant,
helpless pride, and leave her at her word. He remembered the scene
she had made at the pit shaft, and he said to himself that her
charm was not worth her temper, and that he was a fool ever to
have dreamed that it was, and that he would be doubly a fool now
not to seize the opportunity of withdrawing from an insane
enterprise.

"I am to go?" he asked, with a sneer.

She nodded.

"Of course if you order me to leave you, I must. Can I do anything
for you?"

She signified that he could not,

"Nothing? You're sure?"

She frowned.

"Well, then, good-bye." He turned towards the door.

"I suppose you'd leave me here without money or anything?" she
said in a cold, cutting voice. And her sneer was far more
destructive than his. It destroyed in him the last trace of
compassion for her.

"Oh, I beg pardon!" he said, and swaggeringly counted out five
sovereigns on to a chest of drawers.

She rushed at them. "Do you think I'll take your odious money?"
she snarled, gathering the coins in her gloved hand.

Her first impulse was to throw them in his face; but she paused
and then flung them into a corner of the room.

"Pick them up!" she commanded him.

"No, thanks," he said briefly; and left, shutting the door.

Only a very little while, and they had been lovers, exuding
tenderness with every gesture, like a perfume! Only a very little
while, and she had been deciding to telegraph condescendingly to
her mother that she was 'all right'! And now the dream was utterly
dissolved. And the voice of that hard commonsense which spake to
her in her wildest moods grew loud in asserting that the
enterprise could never have come to any good, that it was from its
inception an impossible enterprise, unredeemed by the slightest
justification. An enormous folly! Yes, an elopement; but not like
a real elopement; always unreal! She had always known that it was
only an imitation of an elopement, and must end in some awful
disappointment. She had never truly wanted to run away; but
something within her had pricked her forward in spite of her
protests. The strict notions of her elderly relatives were right
after all. It was she who had been wrong. And it was she who would
have to pay.

"I've been a wicked girl," she said to herself grimly, in the
midst of her ruin.

She faced the fact. But she would not repent; at any rate she
would never sit on that stool. She would not exchange the remains
of her pride for the means of escape from the worst misery that
life could offer. On that point she knew herself. And she set to
work to repair and renew her pride.

Whatever happened she would not return to the Five Towns. She
could not, because she had stolen money from her Aunt Harriet. As
much as she had thrown back at Gerald, she had filched from her
aunt, but in the form of a note. A prudent, mysterious instinct
had moved her to take this precaution. And she was glad. She would
never have been able to dart that sneer at Gerald about money if
she had really needed money. So she rejoiced in her crime; though,
since Aunt Harriet would assuredly discover the loss at once, the
crime eternally prevented her from going back to her family.
Never, never would she look at her mother with the eyes of a
thief!

(In truth Aunt Harriet did discover the loss, and very creditably
said naught about it to anybody. The knowledge of it would have
twisted the knife in the maternal heart.)

Sophia was also glad that she had refused to proceed to Paris. The
recollection of her firmness in refusing flattered her vanity as a
girl convinced that she could take care of herself. To go to Paris
unmarried would have been an inconceivable madness. The mere
thought of the enormity did outrage to her moral susceptibilities.
No, Gerald had most perfectly mistaken her for another sort of
girl; as, for instance, a shop-assistant or a barmaid!

With this the catalogue of her satisfactions ended. She had no
idea at all as to what she ought to do, or could do. The mere
prospect of venturing out of the room intimidated her. Had Gerald
left her trunk in the hall? Of course he had. What a question! But
what would happen to her? London ... London had merely dazed her.
She could do nothing for herself. She was as helpless as a rabbit
in London. She drew aside the window-curtain and had a glimpse of
the river. It was inevitable that she should think of suicide; for
she could not suppose that any girl had ever got herself into a
plight more desperate than hers. "I could slip out at night and
drown myself," she thought seriously. "A nice thing that would be
for Gerald!"

Then loneliness, like a black midnight, overwhelmed her, swiftly
wasting her strength, disintegrating her pride in its horrid
flood. She glanced about for support, as a woman in the open
street who feels she is going to faint, and went blindly to the
bed, falling on it with the upper part of her body, in an attitude
of abandonment. She wept, but without sobbing.

II

Gerald Scales walked about the Strand, staring up at its high
narrow houses, crushed one against another as though they had been
packed, unsorted, by a packer who thought of nothing but economy
of space. Except by Somerset House, King's College, and one or two
theatres and banks, the monotony of mean shops, with several
storeys unevenly perched over them, was unbroken, Then Gerald
encountered Exeter Hall, and examined its prominent facade with a
provincial's eye; for despite his travels he was not very familiar
with London. Exeter Hall naturally took his mind back to his Uncle
Boldero, that great and ardent Nonconformist, and his own godly
youth. It was laughable to muse upon what his uncle would say and
think, did the old man know that his nephew had run away with a
girl, meaning to seduce her in Paris. It was enormously funny!

However, he had done with all that. He was well out of it. She had
told him to go, and he had gone. She had money to get home; she
had nothing to do but use the tongue in her head. The rest was her
affair. He would go to Paris alone, and find another amusement. It
was absurd to have supposed that Sophia would ever have suited
him. Not in such a family as the Baineses could one reasonably
expect to discover an ideal mistress. No! there had been a
mistake. The whole business was wrong. She had nearly made a fool
of him. But he was not the man to be made a fool of. He had kept
his dignity intact.

So he said to himself. Yet all the time his dignity, and his pride
also, were bleeding, dropping invisible blood along the length of
the Strand pavements.

He was at Salisbury Street again. He pictured her in the bedroom.
Damn her! He wanted her. He wanted her with an excessive desire.
He hated to think that he had been baulked. He hated to think that
she would remain immaculate. And he continued to picture her in
the exciting privacy of that cursed bedroom.

Now he was walking down Salisbury Street. He did not wish to be
walking down Salisbury Street; but there he was!

"Oh, hell!" he murmured. "I suppose I must go through with it."

He felt desperate. He was ready to pay any price in order to be
able to say to himself that he had accomplished what he had set
his heart on.

"My wife hasn't gone out, has she?" he asked of the hall-porter.

"I'm not sure, sir; I think not," said the hall-porter.

The fear that Sophia had already departed made him sick. When he
noticed her trunk still there, he took hope and ran upstairs.

He saw her, a dark crumpled, sinuous piece of humanity, half on
and half off the bed, silhouetted against the bluish-white
counterpane; her hat was on the floor, with the spotted veil
trailing away from it. This sight seemed to him to be the most
touching that he had ever seen, though her face was hidden. He
forgot everything except the deep and strange emotion which
affected him. He approached the bed. She did not stir.

Having heard the entry and knowing that it must be Gerald who had
entered, Sophia forced herself to remain still. A wild, splendid
hope shot up in her. Constrained by all the power of her will not
to move, she could not stifle a sob that had lain in ambush in her
throat.

The sound of the sob fetched tears to the eyes of Gerald.

"Sophia!" he appealed to her.

But she did not stir. Another sob shook her.

"Very well, then," said Gerald. "We'll stay in London till we can
be married. I'll arrange it. I'll find a nice boarding-house for
you, and I'll tell the people you're my cousin. I shall stay on at
this hotel, and I'll come and see you every day."

A silence.

"Thank you!" she blubbered. "Thank you!"

He saw that her little gloved hand was stretching out towards him,
like a feeler; and he seized it, and knelt down and took her
clumsily by the waist. Somehow he dared not kiss her yet.

An immense relief surged very slowly through them both.

"I--I--really--" She began to say something, but the articulation
was lost in her sobs.

"What? What do you say, dearest?" he questioned eagerly.

And she made another effort. "I really couldn't have gone to Paris
with you without being married," she succeeded at last. "I really
couldn't."

"No, no!" he soothed her. "Of course you couldn't. It was I who
was wrong. But you didn't know how I felt. ... Sophia, it's all
right now, isn't it?"

She sat up and kissed him fairly.

It was so wonderful and startling that he burst openly into tears.
She saw in the facile intensity of his emotion a guarantee of
their future happiness. And as he had soothed her, so now she
soothed him. They clung together, equally surprised at the sweet,
exquisite, blissful melancholy which drenched them through and
through. It was remorse for having quarrelled, for having lacked
faith in the supreme rightness of the high adventure. Everything
was right, and would be right; and they had been criminally
absurd. It was remorse; but it was pure bliss, and worth the
quarrel! Gerald resumed his perfection again in her eyes! He was
the soul of goodness and honour! And for him she was again the
ideal mistress, who would, however, be also a wife. As in his mind
he rapidly ran over the steps necessary to their marriage, he kept
saying to himself, far off in some remote cavern of the brain: "I
shall have her! I shall have her!" He did not reflect that this
fragile slip of the Baines stock, unconsciously drawing upon the
accumulated strength of generations of honest living, had put a
defeat upon him.

After tea, Gerald, utterly content with the universe, redeemed his
word and found an irreproachable boarding-house for Sophia in
Westminster, near the Abbey. She was astonished at the glibness of
his lies to the landlady about her, and about their circumstances
generally. He also found a church and a parson, close by, and in
half an hour the formalities preliminary to a marriage were begun.
He explained to her that as she was now resident in London, it
would be simpler to recommence the business entirely. She
sagaciously agreed. As she by no means wished to wound him again,
she made no inquiry about those other formalities which, owing to
red-tape, had so unexpectedly proved abortive! She knew she was
going to be married, and that sufficed. The next day she carried
out her filial idea of telegraphing to her mother.




CHAPTER II

SUPPER

I


They had been to Versailles and had dined there. A tram had
sufficed to take them out; but for the return, Gerald, who had
been drinking champagne, would not be content with less than a
carriage. Further, he insisted on entering Paris by way of the
Bois and the Arc de Triomphe. Thoroughly to appease his conceit,
it would have been necessary to swing open the gates of honour in
the Arc and allow his fiacre to pass through; to be forced to
drive round the monument instead of under it hurt the sense of
fitness which champagne engenders. Gerald was in all his pride
that day. He had been displaying the wonders to Sophia, and he
could not escape the cicerone's secret feeling: that he himself
was somehow responsible for the wonders. Moreover, he was
exceedingly satisfied with the effect produced by Sophia.

Sophia, on arriving in Paris with the ring on her triumphant
finger, had timidly mentioned the subject of frocks. None would
have guessed from her tone that she was possessed by the desire
for French clothes as by a devil. She had been surprised and
delighted by the eagerness of Gerald's response. Gerald, too, was
possessed by a devil. He thirsted to see her in French clothes. He
knew some of the shops and ateliers in the Rue de la Paix, the Rue
de la Chaussee d'Antin, and the Palais Royal. He was much more
skilled in the lore of frocks than she, for his previous business
in Paris had brought him into relations with the great firms; and
Sophia suffered a brief humiliation in the discovery that his
private opinion of her dresses was that they were not dresses at
all. She had been aware that they were not Parisian, nor even of
London; but she had thought them pretty good. It healed her wound,
however, to reflect that Gerald had so marvellously kept his own
counsel in order to spare her self-love. Gerald had taken her to
an establishment in the Chaussee d'Antin. It was not one of what
Gerald called les grandes maisons, but it was on the very fringe
of them, and the real haute couture was practised therein; and
Gerald was remembered there by name.

Sophia had gone in trembling and ashamed, yet in her heart
courageously determined to emerge uncompromisingly French. But the
models frightened her. They surpassed even the most fantastic
things that she had seen in the streets. She recoiled before them
and seemed to hide for refuge in Gerald, as it were appealing to
him for moral protection, and answering to him instead of to the
saleswoman when the saleswoman offered remarks in stiff English.
The prices also frightened her. The simplest trifle here cost
sixteen pounds; and her mother's historic 'silk,' whose
elaborateness had cost twelve pounds, was supposed to have
approached the inexpressible! Gerald said that she was not to
think about prices. She was, however, forced by some instinct to
think about prices--she who at home had scorned the narrowness of
life in the Square. In the Square she was understood to be quite
without commonsense, hopelessly imprudent; yet here, a spring of
sagacity seemed to be welling up in her all the time, a continual
antidote against the general madness in which she found herself.
With extraordinary rapidity she had formed a habit of preaching
moderation to Gerald. She hated to 'see money thrown away,' and
her notion of the boundary line between throwing money away and
judiciously spending it was still the notion of the Square.

Gerald would laugh. But she would say, piqued and blushing, but
self-sure: "You can laugh!" It was all deliciously agreeable.

On this evening she wore the first of the new costumes. She had
worn it all day. Characteristically she had chosen something which
was not too special for either afternoon or evening, for either
warm or cold weather. It was of pale blue taffetas striped in a
darker blue, with the corsage cut in basques, and the underskirt
of a similar taffetas, but unstriped. The effect of the ornate
overskirt falling on the plain underskirt with its small double
volant was, she thought, and Gerald too, adorable. The waist was
higher than any she had had before, and the crinoline expansive.
Tied round her head with a large bow and flying blue ribbons under
the chin, was a fragile flat capote like a baby's bonnet, which
allowed her hair to escape in front and her great chignon behind.
A large spotted veil flew out from the capote over the chignon.
Her double skirts waved amply over Gerald's knees in the carriage,
and she leaned back against the hard cushions and put an arrogant
look into her face, and thought of nothing but the intense
throbbing joy of life, longing with painful ardour for more and
more pleasure, then and for ever.

As the carriage slipped downwards through the wide, empty gloom of
the Champs Elysees into the brilliant Paris that was waiting for
them, another carriage drawn by two white horses flashed upwards
and was gone in dust. Its only occupant, except the coachman and
footman, was a woman. Gerald stared after it.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "That's Hortense!"

It might have been Hortense, or it might not. But he instantly
convinced himself that it was. Not every evening did one meet
Hortense driving alone in the Champs Elysees, and in August too!

"Hortense?" Sophia asked simply.

"Yes. Hortense Schneider."

"Who is she?"

"You've never heard of Hortense Schneider?"

"No!"

"Well! Have you ever heard of Offenbach?"

"I--I don't know. I don't think so."

He had the mien of utter incredulity. "You don't mean to say
you've never heard of Bluebeard?"

"I've heard of Bluebeard, of course," said she. "Who hasn't?"

"I mean the opera--Offenbach's."

She shook her head, scarce knowing even what an opera was.

"Well, well! What next?"

He implied that such ignorance stood alone in his experience.
Really he was delighted at the cleanness of the slate on which he
had to write. And Sophia was not a bit alarmed. She relished
instruction from his lips. It was a pleasure to her to learn from
that exhaustless store of worldly knowledge. To the world she
would do her best to assume omniscience in its ways, but to him,
in her present mood, she liked to play the ignorant, uninitiated
little thing.

"Why," he said, "the Schneider has been the rage since last year
but one. Absolutely the rage."

"I do wish I'd noticed her!" said Sophia.

"As soon as the Varietes reopens we'll go and see her," he
replied, and then gave his detailed version of the career of
Hortense Schneider.

More joys for her in the near future! She had yet scarcely
penetrated the crust of her bliss. She exulted in the dazzling
destiny which comprised freedom, fortune, eternal gaiety, and the
exquisite Gerald.

As they crossed the Place de la Concorde, she inquired, "Are we
going back to the hotel?"

"No," he said. "I thought we'd go and have supper somewhere, if it
isn't too early."

"After all that dinner?"

"All what dinner? You ate about five times as much as me, anyhow!"

"Oh, I'm ready!" she said.

She was. This day, because it was the first day of her French
frock, she regarded as her debut in the dizzy life of capitals.
She existed in a rapture of bliss, an ecstasy which could feel no
fatigue, either of body or spirit.

II

It was after midnight when they went into the Restaurant Sylvain;
Gerald, having decided not to go to the hotel, had changed his
mind and called there, and having called there, had remained a
long time: this of course! Sophia was already accustoming herself
to the idea that, with Gerald, it was impossible to predict
accurately more than five minutes of the future.

As the chasseur held open the door for them to enter, and Sophia
passed modestly into the glowing yellow interior of the
restaurant, followed by Gerald in his character of man-of-the-
world, they drew the attention of Sylvain's numerous and
glittering guests. No face could have made a more provocative
contrast to the women's faces in those screened rooms than the
face of Sophia, so childlike between the baby's bonnet and the
huge bow of ribbon, so candid, so charmingly conscious of its own
pure beauty and of the fact that she was no longer a virgin, but
the equal in knowledge of any woman alive. She saw around her,
clustered about the white tables, multitudes of violently red
lips, powdered cheeks, cold, hard eyes, self-possessed arrogant
faces, and insolent bosoms. What had impressed her more than
anything else in Paris, more even than the three-horsed omnibuses,
was the extraordinary self-assurance of all the women, their
unashamed posing, their calm acceptance of the public gaze. They
seemed to say: "We are the renowned Parisiennes." They frightened
her: they appeared to her so corrupt and so proud in their
corruption. She had already seen a dozen women in various
situations of conspicuousness apply powder to their complexions
with no more ado than if they had been giving a pat to their hair.
She could not understand such boldness. As for them, they
marvelled at the phenomena presented in Sophia's person; they
admired; they admitted the style of the gown; but they envied
neither her innocence nor her beauty; they envied nothing but her
youth and the fresh tint of her cheeks.

"Encore des Anglais!" said some of them, as if that explained all.

Gerald had a very curt way with waiters; and the more obsequious
they were, the haughtier he became; and a head-waiter was no more
to him than a scullion. He gave loud-voiced orders in French of
which both he and Sophia were proud, and a table was laid for them
in a corner near one of the large windows. Sophia settled herself
on the bench of green velvet, and began to ply the ivory fan which
Gerald had given her. It was very hot; all the windows were wide
open, and the sounds of the street mingled clearly with the tinkle
of the supper-room. Outside, against a sky of deepest purple,
Sophia could discern the black skeleton of a gigantic building; it
was the new opera house.

"All sorts here!" said Gerald, contentedly, after he had ordered
iced soup and sparkling Moselle. Sophia did not know what Moselle
was, but she imagined that anything would be better than
champagne.

Sylvain's was then typical of the Second Empire, and particularly
famous as a supper-room. Expensive and gay, it provided, with its
discreet decorations, a sumptuous scene where lorettes, actresses,
respectable women, and an occasional grisette in luck, could
satisfy their curiosity as to each other. In its catholicity it
was highly correct as a resort; not many other restaurants in the
centre could have successfully fought against the rival
attractions of the Bois and the dim groves of the Champs Elysees
on a night in August. The complicated richness of the dresses, the
yards and yards of fine stitchery, the endless ruching, the hints,
more or less incautious, of nether treasures of embroidered linen;
and, leaping over all this to the eye, the vivid colourings of
silks and muslins, veils, plumes and flowers, piled as it were
pell-mell in heaps on the universal green cushions to the furthest
vista of the restaurant, and all multiplied in gilt mirrors--the
spectacle intoxicated Sophia. Her eyes gleamed. She drank the soup
with eagerness, and tasted the wine, though no desire on her part
to like wine could make her like it; and then, seeing pineapples
on a large table covered with fruits, she told Gerald that she
should like some pineapple, and Gerald ordered one.

She gathered her self-esteem and her wits together, and began to
give Gerald her views on the costumes. She could do so with
impunity, because her own was indubitably beyond criticism. Some
she wholly condemned, and there was not one which earned her
unreserved approval. All the absurd fastidiousness of her
schoolgirlish provinciality emerged in that eager, affected
torrent of remarks. However, she was clever enough to read, after
a time, in Gerald's tone and features, that she was making a
tedious fool of herself. And she adroitly shifted her criticism
from the taste to the WORK--she put a strong accent on the word--
and pronounced that to be miraculous beyond description. She
reckoned that she knew what dressmaking and millinery were, and
her little fund of expert knowledge caused her to picture a whole
necessary cityful of girls stitching, stitching, and stitching day
and night. She had wondered, during the few odd days that they had
spent in Paris, between visits to Chantilly and other places, at
the massed luxury of the shops; she had wondered, starting with
St. Luke's Square as a standard, how they could all thrive. But
now in her first real glimpse of the banal and licentious
profusion of one among a hundred restaurants, she wondered that
the shops were so few. She thought how splendid was all this
expensiveness for trade. Indeed, the notions chasing each other
within that lovely and foolish head were a surprising medley.

"Well, what do you think of Sylvain's?" Gerald asked, impatient to
be assured that his Sylvain's had duly overwhelmed her.

"Oh, Gerald!" she murmured, indicating that speech was inadequate.
And she just furtively touched his hand with hers.

The ennui due to her critical disquisition on the shortcomings of
Parisian costume cleared away from Gerald's face.

"What do you suppose those people there are talking about?" he
said with a jerk of the head towards a chattering group of three
gorgeous lorettes and two middle-aged men at the next table but
one.

"What are they talking about?"

"They're talking about the execution of the murderer Rivain that
takes place at Auxerre the day after to-morrow. They're arranging
to make up a party and go and see it."

"Oh, what a horrid idea!" said Sophia.

"Guillotine, you know!" said Gerald.

"But can people see it?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, I think it's horrible."

"Yes, that's why people like to go and see it. Besides, the man
isn't an ordinary sort of criminal at all. He's very young and
good-looking, and well connected. And he killed the celebrated
Claudine. ..."

"Claudine?"

"Claudine Jacquinot. Of course you wouldn't know. She was a
tremendous--er--wrong 'un here in the forties. Made a lot of
money, and retired to her native town."

Sophia, in spite of her efforts to maintain the role of a woman
who has nothing to learn, blushed.

"Then she was older than he is."

"Thirty-five years older, if a day."

"What did he kill her for?"

"She wouldn't give him enough money. She was his mistress--or
rather one of 'em. He wanted money for a young lady friend, you
see. He killed her and took all the jewels she was wearing.
Whenever he went to see her she always wore all her best jewels--
and you may bet a woman like that had a few. It seems she had been
afraid for a long time that he meant to do for her."

"Then why did she see him? And why did she wear her jewels?"

"Because she liked being afraid, goose! Some women only enjoy
themselves when they're terrified. Queer, isn't it?"

Gerald insisted on meeting his wife's gaze as he finished these
revelations. He pretended that such stories were the commonest
things on earth, and that to be scandalized by them was infantile.
Sophia, thrust suddenly into a strange civilization perfectly
frank in its sensuality and its sensuousness, under the guidance
of a young man to whom her half-formed intelligence was a most
diverting toy--Sophia felt mysteriously uncomfortable, disturbed
by sinister, flitting phantoms of ideas which she only dimly
apprehended. Her eyes fell. Gerald laughed self-consciously. She
would not eat any more pineapple.

Immediately afterwards there came into the restaurant an
apparition which momentarily stopped every conversation in the
room. It was a tall and mature woman who wore over a dress of
purplish-black silk a vast flowing sortie de bal of vermilion
velvet, looped and tasselled with gold. No other costume could
live by the side of that garment, Arab in shape, Russian in
colour, and Parisian in style. It blazed. The woman's heavy
coiffure was bound with fillets of gold braid and crimson
rosettes. She was followed by a young Englishman in evening dress
and whiskers of the most exact correctness. The woman sailed, a
little breathlessly, to a table next to Gerald's, and took
possession of it with an air of use, almost of tedium. She sat
down, threw the cloak from her majestic bosom, and expanded her
chest. Seeming to ignore the Englishman, who superciliously
assumed the seat opposite to her, she let her large scornful eyes
travel round the restaurant, slowly and imperiously meeting the
curiosity which she had evoked. Her beauty had undoubtedly been
dazzling, it was still effulgent; but the blossom was about to
fall. She was admirably rouged and powdered; her arms were
glorious; her lashes were long. There was little fault, save the
excessive ripeness of a blonde who fights in vain against obesity.
And her clothes combined audacity with the propriety of fashion.
She carelessly deposed costly trinkets on the table, and then,
having intimidated the whole company, she accepted the menu from
the head-waiter and began to study it.

"That's one of 'em!" Gerald whispered to Sophia.

"One of what?" Sophia whispered.

Gerald raised his eyebrows warningly, and winked. The Englishman
had overheard; and a look of frigid displeasure passed across his
proud face. Evidently he belonged to a rank much higher than
Gerald's; and Gerald, though he could always comfort himself by
the thought that he had been to a university with the best, felt
his own inferiority and could not hide that he felt it. Gerald was
wealthy; he came of a wealthy family; but he had not the habit of
wealth. When he spent money furiously, he did it with bravado, too
conscious of grandeur and too conscious of the difficulties of
acquiring that which he threw away. For Gerald had earned money.
This whiskered Englishman had never earned money, never known the
value of it, never imagined himself without as much of it as he
might happen to want. He had the face of one accustomed to give
orders and to look down upon inferiors. He was absolutely sure of
himself. That his companion chiefly ignored him did not appear to
incommode him in the least. She spoke to him in French. He replied
in English, very briefly; and then, in English, he commanded the
supper. As soon as the champagne was served he began to drink; in
the intervals of drinking he gently stroked his whiskers. The
woman spoke no more.

Gerald talked more loudly. With that aristocratic Englishman
observing him, he could not remain at ease. And not only did he
talk more loudly; he brought into his conversation references to
money, travels, and worldly experiences. While seeking to impress
the Englishman, he was merely becoming ridiculous to the
Englishman; and obscurely he was aware of this. Sophia noticed and
regretted it. Still, feeling very unimportant herself, she was
reconciled to the superiority of the whiskered Englishman as to a
natural fact. Gerald's behaviour slightly lowered him in her
esteem. Then she looked at him--at his well-shaped neatness, his
vivacious face, his excellent clothes, and decided that he was
much to be preferred to any heavy-jawed, long-nosed aristocrat
alive.

The woman whose vermilion cloak lay around her like a
fortification spoke to her escort. He did not understand. He tried
to express himself in French, and failed. Then the woman
recommenced, talking at length. When she had done he shook his
head. His acquaintance with French was limited to the vocabulary
of food.

"Guillotine!" he murmured, the sole word of her discourse that he
had understood.

"Oui, oui! Guillotine. Enfin ...!" cried the woman excitedly.
Encouraged by her success in conveying even one word of her
remarks, she began a third time.

"Excuse me," said Gerald. "Madame is talking about the execution
at Auxerre the day after to-morrow. N'est-ce-pas, madame, que vous
parliez de Rivain?"

The Englishman glared angrily at Gerald's officious interruption.
But the woman smiled benevolently on Gerald, and insisted on
talking to her friend through him. And the Englishman had to make
the best of the situation.

"There isn't a restaurant in Paris to-night where they aren't
talking about that execution," said Gerald on his own account.

"Indeed!" observed the Englishman.

Wine affected them in different ways.

Now a fragile, short young Frenchman, with an extremely pale face
ending in a thin black imperial, appeared at the entrance. He
looked about, and, recognizing the woman of the scarlet cloak,
very discreetly saluted her. Then he saw Gerald, and his worn,
fatigued features showed a sudden, startled smile. He came rapidly
forward, hat in hand, seized Gerald's palm and greeted him
effusively.

"My wife," said Gerald, with the solemn care of a man who is
determined to prove that he is entirely sober.

The young man became grave and excessively ceremonious. He bowed
low over Sophia's hand and kissed it. Her impulse was to laugh,
but the gravity of the young man's deference stopped her. She
glanced at Gerald, blushing, as if to say: "This comedy is not my
fault." Gerald said something, the young man turned to him and his
face resumed its welcoming smile.

"This is Monsieur Chirac," Gerald at length completed the
introduction, "a friend of mine when I lived in Paris."

He was proud to have met by accident an acquaintance in a
restaurant. It demonstrated that he was a Parisian, and improved
his standing with the whiskered Englishman and the vermilion
cloak.

"It is the first time you come Paris, madame?" Chirac addressed
himself to Sophia, in limping, timorous English.

"Yes," she giggled. He bowed again.

Chirac, with his best compliments, felicitated Gerald upon his
marriage.

"Don't mention it!" said the humorous Gerald in English, amused at
his own wit; and then: "What about this execution?"

"Ah!" replied Chirac, breathing out a long breath, and smiling at
Sophia. "Rivain! Rivain!" He made a large, important gesture with
his hand.

It was at once to be seen that Gerald had touched the topic which
secretly ravaged the supper-world as a subterranean fire ravages a
mine.

"I go!" said Chirac, with pride, glancing at Sophia, who smiled
self-consciously.

Chirac entered upon a conversation with Gerald in French. Sophia
comprehended that Gerald was surprised and impressed by what
Chirac told him and that Chirac in turn was surprised. Then Gerald
laboriously found his pocket-book, and after some fumbling with it
handed it to Chirac so that the latter might write in it.

"Madame!" murmured Chirac, resuming his ceremonious stiffness in
order to take leave. "Alors, c'est entendu, mon cher ami!" he said
to Gerald, who nodded phlegmatically. And Chirac went away to the
next table but one, where were the three lorettes and the two
middle-aged men. He was received there with enthusiasm.

Sophia began to be teased by a little fear that Gerald was not
quite his usual self. She did not think of him as tipsy. The idea
of his being tipsy would have shocked her. She did not think
clearly at all. She was lost and dazed in the labyrinth of new and
vivid impressions into which Gerald had led her. But her prudence
was awake.

"I think I'm tired," she said in a low voice.

"You don't want to go, do you?" he asked, hurt.

"Well--"

"Oh, wait a bit!"

The owner of the vermilion cloak spoke again to Gerald, who showed
that he was flattered. While talking to her he ordered a brandy-
and-soda. And then he could not refrain from displaying to her his
familiarity with Parisian life, and he related how he had met
Hortense Schneider behind a pair of white horses. The vermilion
cloak grew even more sociable at the mention of this resounding
name, and chattered with the most agreeable vivacity. Her friend
stared inimically.

"Do you hear that?" Gerald explained to Sophia, who was sitting
silent. "About Hortense Schneider--you know, we met her to-night.
It seems she made a bet of a louis with some fellow, and when he
lost he sent her the louis set in diamonds worth a hundred
thousand francs. That's how they go on here."

"Oh!" cried Sophia, further than ever in the labyrinth.

"'Scuse me," the Englishman put in heavily. He had heard the words
'Hortense Schneider,' 'Hortense Schneider,' repeating themselves
in the conversation, and at last it had occurred to him that the
conversation was about Hortense Schneider. "'Scuse me," he began
again. "Are you--do you mean Hortense Schneider?"

"Yes," said Gerald. "We met her to-night."

"She's in Trouville," said the Englishman, flatly.

Gerald shook his head positively.

"I gave a supper to her in Trouville last night," said the
Englishman. "And she plays at the Casino Theatre to-night."

Gerald was repulsed but not defeated. "What is she playing in to-
night? Tell me that!" he sneered.

"I don't see why I sh'd tell you."

"Hm!" Gerald retorted. "If what you say is true, it's a very
strange thing I should have seen her in the Champs Elysees to-
night, isn't it?"

The Englishman drank more wine. "If you want to insult me, sir--"
he began coldly.

"Gerald!" Sophia urged in a whisper.

"Be quiet!" Gerald snapped.

A fiddler in fancy costume plunged into the restaurant at that
moment and began to play wildly. The shock of his strange advent
momentarily silenced the quarrel; but soon it leaped up again,
under the shelter of the noisy music,--the common, tedious,
tippler's quarrel. It rose higher and higher. The fiddler looked
askance at it over his fiddle. Chirac cautiously observed it.
Instead of attending to the music, the festal company attended to
the quarrel. Three waiters in a group watched it with an impartial
sporting interest. The English voices grew more menacing.

Then suddenly the whiskered Englishman, jerking his head towards
the door, said more quietly:

"Hadn't we better settle thish outside?"

"At your service!" said Gerald, rising.

The owner of the vermilion cloak lifted her eyebrows to Chirac in
fatigued disgust, but she said nothing. Nor did Sophia say
anything. Sophia was overcome by terror.

The swain of the cloak, dragging his coat after him across the
floor, left the restaurant without offering any apology or
explanation to his lady.

"Wait here for me," said Gerald defiantly to Sophia. "I shall be
back in a minute."

"But, Gerald!" She put her hand on his sleeve.

He snatched his arm away. "Wait here for me, I tell you," he
repeated.

The doorkeeper obsequiously opened the door to the two unsteady
carousers, for whom the fiddler drew back, still playing.

Thus Sophia was left side by side with the vermilion cloak. She
was quite helpless. All the pride of a married woman had abandoned
her. She stood transfixed by intense shame, staring painfully at a
pillar, to avoid the universal assault of eyes. She felt like an
indiscreet little girl, and she looked like one. No youthful
radiant beauty of features, no grace and style of a Parisian
dress, no certificate of a ring, no premature initiation into the
mysteries, could save her from the appearance of a raw fool whose
foolishness had been her undoing. Her face changed to its reddest,
and remained at that, and all the fundamental innocence of her
nature, which had been overlaid by the violent experiences of her
brief companionship with Gerald, rose again to the surface with
that blush. Her situation drew pity from a few hearts and a
careless contempt from the rest. But since once more it was a
question of ces Anglais, nobody could be astonished.

Without moving her head, she twisted her eyes to the clock: half-
past two. The fiddler ceased his dance and made a collection in
his tasselled cap. The vermilion cloak threw a coin into the cap.
Sophia stared at it moveless, until the fiddler, tired of waiting,
passed to the next table and relieved her agony. She had no money
at all. She set herself to watch the clock; but its fingers would
not stir.

With an exclamation the lady of the cloak got up and peered out of
the window, chatted with waiters, and then removed herself and her
cloak to the next table, where she was received with amiable
sympathy by the three lorettes, Chirac, and the other two men. The
party surreptitiously examined Sophia from time to time. Then
Chirac went outside with the head-waiter, returned, consulted with
his friends, and finally approached Sophia. It was twenty minutes
past three.

He renewed his magnificent bow. "Madame," he said carefully, "will
you allow me to bring you to your hotel?"

He made no reference to Gerald, partly, doubtless, because his
English was treacherous on difficult ground.

Sophia had not sufficient presence of mind to thank her saviour.

"But the bill?" she stammered. "The bill isn't paid."

He did not instantly understand her. But one of the waiters had
caught the sound of a familiar word, and sprang forward with a
slip of paper on a plate.

"I have no money," said Sophia, with a feeble smile.

"Je vous arrangerai ca," he said. "What name of the hotel?
Meurice, is it not?"

"Hotel Meurice," said Sophia. "Yes."

He spoke to the head-waiter about the bill, which was carried away
like something obscene; and on his arm, which he punctiliously
offered and she could not refuse, Sophia left the scene of her
ignominy. She was so distraught that she could not manage her
crinoline in the doorway. No sign anywhere outside of Gerald or
his foe!

He put her into an open carriage, and in five minutes they had
clattered down the brilliant silence of the Rue de la Paix,
through the Place Vendome into the Rue de Rivoli; and the night-
porter of the hotel was at the carriage-step.

"I tell them at the restaurant where you gone," said Chirac, bare-
headed under the long colonnade of the street. "If your husband is
there, I tell him. Till to-morrow ...!"

His manners were more wonderful than any that Sophia had ever
imagined. He might have been in the dark Tuileries on the opposite
side of the street, saluting an empress, instead of taking leave
of a raw little girl, who was still too disturbed even to thank
him.

She fled candle in hand up the wide, many-cornered stairs; Gerald
might be already in the bedroom, ... drunk! There was a chance.
But the gilt-fringed bedroom was empty. She sat down at the
velvet-covered table amid the shadows cast by the candle that
wavered in the draught from the open window. And she set her teeth
and a cold fury possessed her in the hot and languorous night.
Gerald was an imbecile. That he should have allowed himself to get
tipsy was bad enough, but that he should have exposed her to the
horrible situation from which Chirac had extricated her, was
unspeakably disgraceful. He was an imbecile. He had no common
sense. With all his captivating charm, he could not be relied upon
not to make himself and her ridiculous, tragically ridiculous.
Compare him with Mr. Chirac! She leaned despairingly on the table.
She would not undress. She would not move. She had to realize her
position; she had to see it.

Folly! Folly! Fancy a commercial traveller throwing a compromising
piece of paper to the daughter of his customer in the shop itself:
that was the incredible folly with which their relations had
begun! And his mad gesture at the pit-shaft! And his scheme for
bringing her to Paris unmarried! And then to-night! Monstrous
folly! Alone in the bedroom she was a wise and a disillusioned
woman, wiser than any of those dolls in the restaurant.

And had she not gone to Gerald, as it were, over the dead body of
her father, through lies and lies and again lies? That was how she
phrased it to herself. ... Over the dead body of her father! How
could such a venture succeed? How could she ever have hoped that
it would succeed? In that moment she saw her acts with the
terrible vision of a Hebrew prophet.

She thought of the Square and of her life there with her mother
and Sophia. Never would her pride allow her to return to that
life, not even if the worst happened to her that could happen. She
was one of those who are prepared to pay without grumbling for
what they have had.

There was a sound outside. She noticed that the dawn had begun.
The door opened and disclosed Gerald.

They exchanged a searching glance, and Gerald shut the door.
Gerald infected the air, but she perceived at once that he was
sobered. His lip was bleeding.

"Mr. Chirac brought me home," she said.

"So it seems," said Gerald, curtly. "I asked you to wait for me.
Didn't I say I should come back?"

He was adopting the injured magisterial tone of the man who is
ridiculously trying to conceal from himself and others that he has
recently behaved like an ass.

She resented the injustice. "I don't think you need talk like
that," she said.

"Like what?" he bullied her, determined that she should be in the
wrong.

And what a hard look on his pretty face!

Her prudence bade her accept the injustice. She was his. Rapt away
from her own world, she was utterly dependent on his good nature.

"I knocked my chin against the damned balustrade, coming
upstairs," said Gerald, gloomily.

She knew that was a lie. "Did you?" she replied kindly. "Let me
bathe it."




CHAPTER III

AN AMBITION SATISFIED

I


She went to sleep in misery. All the glory of her new life had
been eclipsed. But when she woke up, a few hours later, in the
large, velvety stateliness of the bedroom for which Gerald was
paying so fantastic a price per day, she was in a brighter mood,
and very willing to reconsider her verdicts. Her pride induced her
to put Gerald in the right and herself in the wrong, for she was
too proud to admit that she had married a charming and
irresponsible fool. And, indeed, ought she not to put herself in
the wrong? Gerald had told her to wait, and she had not waited. He
had said that he should return to the restaurant, and he had
returned. Why had she not waited? She had not waited because she
had behaved like a simpleton. She had been terrified about
nothing. Had she not been frequenting restaurants now for a month
past? Ought not a married woman to be capable of waiting an hour
in a restaurant for her lawful husband without looking a ninny?
And as for Gerald's behaviour, how could he have acted
differently? The other Englishman was obviously a brute and had
sought a quarrel. His contradiction of Gerald's statements was
extremely offensive. On being invited by the brute to go outside,
what could Gerald do but comply? Not to have complied might have
meant a fight in the restaurant, as the brute was certainly drunk.
Compared to the brute, Gerald was not at all drunk, merely a
little gay and talkative. Then Gerald's fib about his chin was
natural; he simply wished to minimize the fuss and to spare her
feelings. It was, in fact, just like Gerald to keep perfect
silence as to what had passed between himself and the brute.
However, she was convinced that Gerald, so lithe and quick, had
given that great brute with his supercilious ways as good as he
received, if not better.

And if she were a man and had asked her wife to wait in a
restaurant, and the wife had gone home under the escort of another
man, she would most assuredly be much more angry than Gerald had
been. She was very glad that she had controlled herself and
exercised a meek diplomacy. A quarrel had thus been avoided. Yes,
the finish of the evening could not be called a quarrel; after her
nursing of his chin, nothing but a slight coolness on his part had
persisted.

She arose silently and began to dress, full of a determination to
treat Gerald as a good wife ought to treat a husband. Gerald did
not stir; he was an excellent sleeper: one of those organisms that
never want to go to bed and never want to get up. When her toilet
was complete save for her bodice, there was a knock at the door.
She started.

"Gerald!" She approached the bed, and leaned her nude bosom over
her husband, and put her arms round his neck. This method of being
brought back to consciousness did not displease him.

The knock was repeated. He gave a grunt.

"Some one's knocking at the door," she whispered.

"Then why don't you open it?" he asked dreamily.

"I'm not dressed, darling."

He looked at her. "Stick something on your shoulders, girl!" said
he. "What does it matter?"

There she was, being a simpleton again, despite her resolution!

She obeyed, and cautiously opened the door, standing behind it.

A middle-aged whiskered servant, in a long white apron, announced
matters in French which passed her understanding. But Gerald had
heard from the bed, and he replied.

"Bien, monsieur!" The servant departed, with a bow, down the
obscure corridor.

"It's Chirac," Gerald explained when she had shut the door. "I was
forgetting I asked him to come and have lunch with us, early. He's
waiting in the drawing-room. Just put your bodice on, and go and
talk to him till I come."

He jumped out of bed, and then, standing in his night-garb,
stretched himself and terrifically yawned.

"Me?" Sophia questioned.

"Who else?" said Gerald, with that curious satiric dryness which
he would sometimes import into his tone.

"But I can't speak French!" she protested.

"I didn't suppose you could," said Gerald, with an increase of
dryness; "but you know as well as I do that he can speak English."

"Oh, very well, then!" she murmured with agreeable alacrity.

Evidently Gerald had not yet quite recovered from his legitimate
displeasure of the night. He minutely examined his mouth in the
glass of the Louis Philippe wardrobe. It showed scarcely a trace
of battle.

"I say!" he stopped her, as, nervous at the prospect before her,
she was leaving the room. "I was thinking of going to Auxerre to-
day."

"Auxerre?" she repeated, wondering under what circumstances she
had recently heard that name. Then she remembered: it was the
place of execution of the murderer Rivain.

"Yes," he said. "Chirac has to go. He's on a newspaper now. He was
an architect when I knew him. He's got to go and he thinks himself
jolly lucky. So I thought I'd go with him."

The truth was that he had definitely arranged to go.

"Not to see the execution?" she stammered.

"Why not? I've always wanted to see an execution, especially with
the guillotine. And executions are public in France. It's quite
the proper thing to go to them."

"But why do you want to see an execution?"

"It just happens that I do want to see an execution. It's a fancy
of mine, that's all. I don't know that any reason is necessary,"
he said, pouring out water into the diminutive ewer.

She was aghast. "And shall you leave me here alone?"

"Well," said he, "I don't see why my being married should prevent
me from doing something that I've always wanted to do. Do you?"

"Oh NO!" she eagerly concurred.

"That's all right," he said. "You can do exactly as you like.
Either stay here, or come with me. If you go to Auxerre there's no
need at all for you to see the execution. It's an interesting old
town--cathedral and so on. But of course if you can't bear to be
in the same town as a guillotine, I'll go alone. I shall come back
to-morrow."

It was plain where his wish lay. She stopped the phrases that came
to her lips, and did her best to dismiss the thoughts which
prompted them.

"Of course I'll go," she said quietly. She hesitated, and then
went up to the washstand and kissed a part of his cheek that was
not soapy. That kiss, which comforted and somehow reassured her,
was the expression of a surrender whose monstrousness she would
not admit to herself.

In the rich and dusty drawing-room, Chirac and Chirac's exquisite
formalities awaited her. Nobody else was there.

"My husband ..." she began, smiling and blushing. She liked
Chirac.

It was the first time she had had the opportunity of using that
word to other than a servant. It soothed her and gave her
confidence. She perceived after a few moments that Chirac did
genuinely admire her; more, that she inspired him with something
that resembled awe. Speaking very slowly and distinctly she said
that she should travel with her husband to Auxerre; as he saw no
objection to that course; implying that if he saw no objection she
was perfectly satisfied. Chirac was concurrence itself. In five
minutes it seemed to be the most natural and proper thing in the
world that, on her honeymoon, she should be going with her husband
to a particular town because a notorious murderer was about to be
decapitated there in public.

"My husband has always wanted to see an execution," she said,
later. "It would be a pity to ..."

"As psychological experience," replied Chirac, pronouncing the p
of the adjective, "it will be very interessant. ... To observe
one's self, in such circumstances ..." He smiled
enthusiastically.

She thought how strange even nice Frenchmen were. Imagine going to
an execution in order to observe yourself!

II

What continually impressed Sophia as strange, in the behaviour not
only of Gerald but of Chirac and other people with whom she came
into contact, was its quality of casualness. She had all her life
been accustomed to see enterprises, even minor ones, well pondered
and then carefully schemed beforehand. In St. Luke's Square there
was always, in every head, a sort of time-table of existence
prepared at least one week in advance. But in Gerald's world
nothing was prearranged. Elaborate affairs were decided in a
moment and undertaken with extraordinary lightness. Thus the
excursion to Auxerre! During lunch scarcely a word was said as to
it; the conversation, in English for Sophia's advantage, turning,
as usual under such circumstances, upon the difficulty of
languages and the differences between countries. Nobody would have
guessed that any member of the party had any preoccupation
whatever for the rest of the day. The meal was delightful to
Sophia; not merely did she find Chirac comfortingly kind and
sincere, but Gerald was restored to the perfection of his charm
and his good humour. Then suddenly, in the midst of coffee, the
question of trains loomed up like a swift crisis. In five minutes
Chirac had departed--whether to his office or his home Sophia did
not understand, and within a quarter of an hour she and Gerald
were driving rapidly to the Gare de Lyon, Gerald stuffing into his
pocket a large envelope full of papers which he had received by
registered post. They caught the train by about a minute, and
Chirac by a few seconds. Yet neither he nor Gerald seemed to
envisage the risk of inconvenience and annoyance which they had
incurred and escaped. Chirac chattered through the window with
another journalist in the next compartment. When she had leisure
to examine him, Sophia saw that he must have called at his home to
put on old clothes. Everybody except herself and Gerald seemed to
travel in his oldest clothes.

The train was hot, noisy, and dusty. But, one after another, all
three of them fell asleep and slept heavily, calmly, like healthy
and exhausted young animals. Nothing could disturb them for more
than a moment. To Sophia it appeared to be by simple chance that
Chirac aroused himself and them at Laroche and sleepily seized her
valise and got them all out on the platform, where they yawned and
smiled, full of the deep, half-realized satisfaction of repose.
They drank nectar from a wheeled buffet, drank it eagerly, in
thirsty gulps, and sighed with pleasure and relief, and Gerald
threw down a coin, refusing change with a lord's gesture. The
local train to Auxerre was full, and with a varied and sinister
cargo. At length they were in the zone of the waiting guillotine.
The rumour ran that the executioner was on the train. No one had
seen him; no one was sure of recognizing him, but everyone hugged
the belief that he was on the train. Although the sun was sinking
the heat seemed not to abate. Attitudes grew more limp, more
abandoned. Soot and prickly dust flew in unceasingly at the open
windows. The train stopped at Bonnard, Chemilly, and Moneteau,
each time before a waiting crowd that invaded it. And at last, in
the great station at Auxerre, it poured out an incredible mass of
befouled humanity that spread over everything like an inundation.
Sophia was frightened. Gerald left the initiative to Chirac, and
Chirac took her arm and led her forward, looking behind him to see
that Gerald followed with the valise. Frenzy seemed to reign in
Auxerre.

The driver of a cab demanded ten francs for transporting them to
the Hotel de l'Epee.

"Bah!" scornfully exclaimed Chirac, in his quality of experienced
Parisian who is not to be exploited by heavy-witted provincials.

But the driver of the next cab demanded twelve francs.

"Jump in," said Gerald to Sophia. Chirac lifted his eyebrows.

At the same moment a tall, stout man with the hard face of a
flourishing scoundrel, and a young, pallid girl on his arm, pushed
aside both Gerald and Chirac and got into the cab with his
companion.

Chirac protested, telling him that the cab was already engaged.

The usurper scowled and swore, and the young girl laughed boldly.

Sophia, shrinking, expected her escort to execute justice heroic
and final; but she was disappointed.

"Brute!" murmured Chirac, and shrugged his shoulders, as the
carriage drove off, leaving them foolish on the kerb.

By this time all the other cabs had been seized. They walked to
the Hotel de l'Epee, jostled by the crowd, Sophia and Chirac in
front, and Gerald following with the valise, whose weight caused
him to lean over to the right and his left arm to rise. The avenue
was long, straight, and misty with a floating dust. Sophia had a
vivid sense of the romantic. They saw towers and spires, and
Chirac talked to her slowly and carefully of the cathedral and the
famous churches. He said that the stained glass was marvellous,
and with much care he catalogued for her all the things she must
visit. They crossed a river. She felt as though she was stepping
into the middle age. At intervals Gerald changed the valise from
hand to hand; obstinately, he would not let Chirac touch it. They
struggled upwards, through narrow curving streets.

"Voila!" said Chirac.

They were in front of the Hotel de l'Epee. Across the street was a
cafe crammed with people. Several carriages stood in front. The
Hotel de l'Epee had a reassuring air of mellow respectability,
such as Chirac had claimed for it. He had suggested this hotel for
Madame Scales because it was not near the place of execution.
Gerald had said, "Of course! Of course!" Chirac, who did not mean
to go to bed, required no room for himself.

The Hotel de l'Epee had one room to offer, at the price of twenty-
five francs.

Gerald revolted at the attempted imposition. "A nice thing!" he
grumbled, "that ordinary travellers can't get a decent room at a
decent price just because some one's going to be guillotined to-
morrow! We'll try elsewhere!"

His features expressed disgust, but Sophia fancied that he was
secretly pleased.

They swaggered out of the busy stir of the hotel, as those must
who, having declined to be swindled, wish to preserve their
importance in the face of the world. In the street a cabman
solicited them, and filled them with hope by saying that he knew
of a hotel that might suit them and would drive them there for
five francs. He furiously lashed his horse. The mere fact of being
in a swiftly moving carriage which wayfarers had to avoid nimbly,
maintained their spirits. They had a near glimpse of the
cathedral. The cab halted with a bump, in a small square, in front
of a repellent building which bore the sign, 'Hotel de Vezelay.'
The horse was bleeding. Gerald instructed Sophia to remain where
she was, and he and Chirac went up four stone steps into the
hotel. Sophia, stared at by loose crowds that were promenading,
gazed about her, and saw that all the windows of the square were
open and most of them occupied by people who laughed and
chattered. Then there was a shout: Gerald's voice. He had appeared
at a window on the second floor of the hotel with Chirac and a
very fat woman. Chirac saluted, and Gerald laughed carelessly, and
nodded.

"It's all right," said Gerald, having descended.

"How much do they ask?" Sophia inquired indiscreetly.

Gerald hesitated, and looked self-conscious. "Thirty-five francs,"
he said. "But I've had enough of driving about. It seems we're
lucky to get it even at that."

And Chirac shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate that the
situation and the price ought to be accepted philosophically.
Gerald gave the driver five francs. He examined the piece and
demanded a pourboire.

"Oh! Damn!" said Gerald, and, because he had no smaller change,
parted with another two francs.

"Is any one coming out for this damned valise?" Gerald demanded,
like a tyrant whose wrath would presently fall if the populace did
not instantly set about minding their p's and q's.

But nobody emerged, and he was compelled to carry the bag himself.

The hotel was dark and malodorous, and every room seemed to be
crowded with giggling groups of drinkers.

"We can't both sleep in this bed, surely," said Sophia when,
Chirac having remained downstairs, she faced Gerald in a small,
mean bedroom.

"You don't suppose I shall go to bed, do you?" said Gerald, rather
brusquely. "It's for you. We're going to eat now. Look sharp."

III

It was night. She lay in the narrow, crimson-draped bed. The heavy
crimson curtains had been drawn across the dirty lace curtains of
the window, but the lights of the little square faintly penetrated
through chinks into the room. The sounds of the square also
penetrated, extraordinarily loud and clear, for the unabated heat
had compelled her to leave the window open. She could not sleep.
Exhausted though she was, there was no hope of her being able to
sleep.

Once again she was profoundly depressed. She remembered the dinner
with horror. The long, crowded table, with semi-circular ends, in
the oppressive and reeking dining-room lighted by oil-lamps! There
must have been at least forty people at that table. Most of them
ate disgustingly, as noisily as pigs, with the ends of the large
coarse napkins tucked in at their necks. All the service was done
by the fat woman whom she had seen at the window with Gerald, and
a young girl whose demeanour was candidly brazen. Both these
creatures were slatterns. Everything was dirty. But the food was
good. Chirac and Gerald were agreed that the food was good, as
well as the wine. "Remarquable!" Chirac had said, of the wine.
Sophia, however, could neither eat nor drink with relish. She was
afraid. The company shocked her by its gestures alone. It was very
heterogeneous in appearance, some of the diners being well
dressed, approaching elegance, and others shabby. But all the
faces, to the youngest, were brutalized, corrupt, and shameless.
The juxtaposition of old men and young women was odious to her,
especially when those pairs kissed, as they did frequently towards
the end of the meal. Happily she was placed between Chirac and
Gerald. That situation seemed to shelter her even from the
conversation. She would have comprehended nothing of the
conversation, had it not been for the presence of a middle-aged
Englishman who sat at the opposite end of the table with a
youngish, stylish Frenchwoman whom she had seen at Sylvain's on
the previous night. The Englishman was evidently under a promise
to teach English to the Frenchwoman. He kept translating for her
into English, slowly and distinctly, and she would repeat the
phrases after him, with strange contortions of the mouth.

Thus Sophia gathered that the talk was exclusively about
assassinations, executions, criminals, and executioners. Some of
the people there made a practice of attending every execution.
They were fountains of interesting gossip, and the lions of the
meal. There was a woman who could recall the dying words of all
the victims of justice for twenty years past. The table roared
with hysteric laughter at one of this woman's anecdotes. Sophia
learned that she had related how a criminal had said to the priest
who was good-naturedly trying to screen the sight of the
guillotine from him with his body: "Stand away now, parson.
Haven't I paid to see it?" Such was the Englishman's rendering.
The wages of the executioners and their assistants were discussed,
and differences of opinions led to ferocious arguments. A young
and dandiacal fellow told, as a fact which he was ready to vouch
for with a pistol, how Cora Pearl, the renowned English courtesan,
had through her influence over a prefect of police succeeded in
visiting a criminal alone in his cell during the night preceding
his execution, and had only quitted him an hour before the final
summons. The tale won the honours of the dinner. It was regarded
as truly impressive, and inevitably it led to the general inquiry:
what could the highest personages in the empire see to admire in
that red-haired Englishwoman? And of course Rivain himself, the
handsome homicide, the centre and hero of the fete, was never long
out of the conversation. Several of the diners had seen him; one
or two knew him and could give amazing details of his prowess as a
man of pleasure. Despite his crime, he seemed to be the object of
sincere idolatry. It was said positively that a niece of his
victim had been promised a front place at the execution.

Apropos of this, Sophia gathered, to her intense astonishment and
alarm, that the prison was close by and that the execution would
take place at the corner of the square itself in which the hotel
was situated. Gerald must have known; he had hidden it from her.
She regarded him sideways, with distrust. As the dinner finished,
Gerald's pose of a calm, disinterested, scientific observer of
humanity gradually broke down. He could not maintain it in front
of the increasing license of the scene round the table. He was at
length somewhat ashamed of having exposed his wife to the view of
such an orgy; his restless glance carefully avoided both Sophia
and Chirac. The latter, whose unaffected simplicity of interest in
the affair had more than anything helped to keep Sophia in
countenance, observed the change in Gerald and Sophia's excessive
discomfort, and suggested that they should leave the table without
waiting for the coffee. Gerald agreed quickly. Thus had Sophia
been released from the horror of the dinner. She did not
understand how a man so thoughtful and kindly as Chirac--he had
bidden her good night with the most distinguished courtesy--could
tolerate, much less pleasurably savour, the gluttonous, drunken,
and salacious debauchery of the Hotel de Vezelay; but his theory
was, so far as she could judge from his imperfect English, that
whatever existed might be admitted and examined by serious persons
interested in the study of human nature. His face seemed to say:
"Why not?" His face seemed to say to Gerald and to herself: "If
this incommodes you, what did you come for?"

Gerald had left her at the bedroom door with a self-conscious nod.
She had partly undressed and lain down, and instantly the hotel
had transformed itself into a kind of sounding-box. It was as if,
beneath and within all the noises of the square, every movement in
the hotel reached her ears through cardboard walls: distant
shoutings and laughter below; rattlings of crockery below;
stampings up and down stairs; stealthy creepings up and down
stairs; brusque calls; fragments of song, whisperings; long sighs
suddenly stifled; mysterious groans as of torture, broken by a
giggle; quarrels and bickering,--she was spared nothing in the
strangely resonant darkness.

Then there came out of the little square a great uproar and
commotion, with shrieks, and under the shrieks a confused din. In
vain she pressed her face into the pillow and listened to the
irregular, prodigious noise of her eyelashes as they scraped the
rough linen. The thought had somehow introduced itself into her
head that she must arise and go to the window and see all that was
to be seen. She resisted. She said to herself that the idea was
absurd, that she did not wish to go to the window. Nevertheless,
while arguing with herself, she well knew that resistance to the
thought was useless and that ultimately her legs would obey its
command.

When ultimately she yielded to the fascination and went to the
window and pulled aside one of the curtains, she had a feeling of
relief. The cool, grey beginnings of dawn were in the sky, and
every detail of the square was visible. Without exception all the
windows were wide open and filled with sightseers. In the
background of many windows were burning candles or lamps that the
far distant approach of the sun was already killing. In front of
these, on the frontier of two mingling lights, the attentive
figures of the watchers were curiously silhouetted. On the red-
tiled roofs, too, was a squatted population. Below, a troop of
gendarmes, mounted on caracoling horses stretched in line across
the square, was gradually sweeping the entire square of a packed,
gesticulating, cursing crowd. The operation of this immense besom
was very slow. As the spaces of the square were cleared they began
to be dotted by privileged persons, journalists or law officers or
their friends, who walked to and fro in conscious pride; among
them Sophia descried Gerald and Chirac, strolling arm-in-arm and
talking to two elaborately clad girls, who were also arm-in-arm.

Then she saw a red reflection coming from one of the side streets
of which she had a vista; it was the swinging lantern of a waggon
drawn by a gaunt grey horse. The vehicle stopped at the end of the
square from which the besom had started, and it was immediately
surrounded by the privileged, who, however, were soon persuaded to
stand away. The crowd amassed now at the principal inlets of the
square, gave a formidable cry and burst into the refrain--

"Le voila! Nicolas! Ah! Ah! Ah!"

The clamour became furious as a group of workmen in blue blouses
drew piece by piece all the components of the guillotine from the
waggon and laid them carefully on the ground, under the
superintendence of a man in a black frock-coat and a silk hat with
broad flat brims; a little fussy man of nervous gestures. And
presently the red columns had risen upright from the ground and
were joined at the top by an acrobatic climber. As each part was
bolted and screwed to the growing machine the man in the high hat
carefully tested it. In a short time that seemed very long, the
guillotine was finished save for the triangular steel blade which
lay shining on the ground, a cynosure. The executioner pointed to
it, and two men picked it up and slipped it into its groove, and
hoisted it to the summit of the machine. The executioner peered at
it interminably amid a universal silence. Then he actuated the
mechanism, and the mass of metal fell with a muffled,
reverberating thud. There were a few faint shrieks, blended
together, and then an overpowering racket of cheers, shouts,
hootings, and fragments of song. The blade was again lifted,
instantly reproducing silence, and again it fell, liberating a new
bedlam. The executioner made a movement of satisfaction. Many
women at the windows clapped enthusiastically, and the gendarmes
had to fight brutally against the fierce pressure of the crowd.
The workmen doffed their blouses and put on coats, and Sophia was
disturbed to see them coming in single file towards the hotel,
followed by the executioner in the silk hat.

IV

There was a tremendous opening of doors in the Hotel de Vezelay,
and much whispering on thresholds, as the executioner and his band
entered solemnly. Sophia heard them tramp upstairs; they seemed to
hesitate, and then apparently went into a room on the same landing
as hers. A door banged. But Sophia could hear the regular sound of
new voices talking, and then the rattling of glasses on a tray.
The conversation which came to her from the windows of the hotel
now showed a great increase of excitement. She could not see the
people at these neighbouring windows without showing her own head,
and this she would not do. The boom of a heavy bell striking the
hour vibrated over the roofs of the square; she supposed that it
might be the cathedral clock. In a corner of the square she saw
Gerald talking vivaciously alone with one of the two girls who had
been together. She wondered vaguely how such a girl had been
brought up, and what her parents thought--or knew! And she was
conscious of an intense pride in herself, of a measureless haughty
feeling of superiority.

Her eye caught the guillotine again, and was held by it. Guarded
by gendarmes, that tall and simple object did most menacingly
dominate the square with its crude red columns. Tools and a large
open box lay on the ground beside it. The enfeebled horse in the
waggon had an air of dozing on his twisted legs. Then the first
rays of the sun shot lengthwise across the square at the level of
the chimneys; and Sophia noticed that nearly all the lamps and
candles had been extinguished. Many people at the windows were
yawning; they laughed foolishly after they had yawned. Some were
eating and drinking. Some were shouting conversations from one
house to another. The mounted gendarmes were still pressing back
the feverish crowds that growled at all the inlets to the square.
She saw Chirac walking to and fro alone. But she could not find
Gerald. He could not have left the square. Perhaps he had returned
to the hotel and would come up to see if she was comfortable or if
she needed anything. Guiltily she sprang back into bed. When last
she had surveyed the room it had been dark; now it was bright and
every detail stood clear. Yet she had the sensation of having been
at the window only a few minutes.

She waited. But Gerald did not come. She could hear chiefly the
steady hum of the voices of the executioner and his aids. She
reflected that the room in which they were must be at the back.
The other sounds in the hotel grew less noticeable. Then, after an
age, she heard a door open, and a low voice say something
commandingly in French, and then a 'Oui, monsieur,' and a general
descent of the stairs. The executioner and his aids were leaving.
"You," cried a drunken English voice from an upper floor--it was
the middle-aged Englishman translating what the executioner had
said--"you, you will take the head." Then a rough laugh, and the
repeating voice of the Englishman's girl, still pursuing her
studies in English: "You will take ze 'ead. Yess, sair." And
another laugh. At length quiet reigned in the hotel. Sophia said
to herself: "I won't stir from this bed till it's all over and
Gerald comes back!"

She dozed, under the sheet, and was awakened by a tremendous
shrieking, growling, and yelling: a phenomenon of human bestiality
that far surpassed Sophia's narrow experiences. Shut up though she
was in a room, perfectly secure, the mad fury of that crowd,
balked at the inlets to the square, thrilled and intimidated her.
It sounded as if they would be capable of tearing the very horses
to pieces. "I must stay where I am," she murmured. And even while
saying it she rose and went to the window again and peeped out.
The torture involved was extreme, but she had not sufficient force
within her to resist the fascination. She stared greedily into the
bright square. The first thing she saw was Gerald coming out of a
house opposite, followed after a few seconds by the girl with whom
he had previously been talking. Gerald glanced hastily up at the
facade of the hotel, and then approached as near as he could to
the red columns, in front of which were now drawn a line of
gendarmes with naked swords. A second and larger waggon, with two
horses, waited by the side of the other one. The racket beyond the
square continued and even grew louder. But the couple of hundred
persons within the cordons, and all the inhabitants of the
windows, drunk and sober, gazed in a fixed and sinister
enchantment at the region of the guillotine, as Sophia gazed. "I
cannot stand this!" she told herself in horror, but she could not
move; she could not move even her eyes.

At intervals the crowd would burst out in a violent staccato--

"Le voila! Nicholas! Ah! Ah! Ah!"

And the final 'Ah' was devilish.

Then a gigantic passionate roar, the culmination of the mob's
fierce savagery, crashed against the skies. The line of maddened
horses swerved and reared, and seemed to fall on the furious
multitude while the statue-like gendarmes rocked over them. It was
a last effort to break the cordon, and it failed.

From the little street at the rear of the guillotine appeared a
priest, walking backwards, and holding a crucifix high in his
right hand, and behind him came the handsome hero, his body all
crossed with cords, between two warders, who pressed against him
and supported him on either side. He was certainly very young. He
lifted his chin gallantly, but his face was incredibly white.
Sophia discerned that the priest was trying to hide the sight of
the guillotine from the prisoner with his body, just as in the
story which she had heard at dinner.

Except the voice of the priest, indistinctly rising and falling in
the prayer for the dying, there was no sound in the square or its
environs. The windows were now occupied by groups turned to stone
with distended eyes fixed on the little procession. Sophia had a
tightening of the throat, and the hand trembled by which she held
the curtain. The central figure did not seem to her to be alive;
but rather a doll, a marionette wound up to imitate the action of
a tragedy. She saw the priest offer the crucifix to the mouth of
the marionette, which with a clumsy unhuman shoving of its corded
shoulders butted the thing away. And as the procession turned and
stopped she could plainly see that the marionette's nape and
shoulders were bare, his shirt having been slit. It was horrible.
"Why do I stay here?" she asked herself hysterically. But she did
not stir. The victim had disappeared now in the midst of a group
of men. Then she perceived him prone under the red column, between
the grooves. The silence was now broken only by the tinkling of
the horses' bits in the corners of the square. The line of
gendarmes in front of the scaffold held their swords tightly and
looked over their noses, ignoring the privileged groups that
peered almost between their shoulders.

And Sophia waited, horror-struck. She saw nothing but the gleaming
triangle of metal that was suspended high above the prone,
attendant victim. She felt like a lost soul, torn too soon from
shelter, and exposed for ever to the worst hazards of destiny. Why
was she in this strange, incomprehensible town, foreign and
inimical to her, watching with agonized glance this cruel, obscene
spectacle? Her sensibilities were all a bleeding mass of wounds.
Why? Only yesterday, and she had been, an innocent, timid creature
in Bursley, in Axe, a foolish creature who deemed the concealment
of letters a supreme excitement. Either that day or this day was
not real. Why was she imprisoned alone in that odious,
indescribably odious hotel, with no one to soothe and comfort her,
and carry her away?

The distant bell boomed once. Then a monosyllabic voice sounded,
sharp, low, nervous; she recognized the voice of the executioner,
whose name she had heard but could not remember. There was a
clicking noise.

She shrank down to the floor in terror and loathing, and hid her
face, and shuddered. Shriek after shriek, from various windows,
rang on her ears in a fusillade; and then the mad yell of the
penned crowd, which, like herself, had not seen but had heard,
extinguished all other noise. Justice was done. The great ambition
of Gerald's life was at last satisfied.

Later, amid the stir of the hotel, there came a knock at her door,
impatient and nervous. Forgetting, in her tribulation, that she
was without her bodice, she got up from the floor in a kind of
miserable dream, and opened. Chirac stood on the landing, and he
had Gerald by the arm. Chirac looked worn out, curiously fragile
and pathetic; but Gerald was the very image of death. The
attainment of ambition had utterly destroyed his equilibrium; his
curiosity had proved itself stronger than his stomach. Sophia
would have pitied him had she in that moment been capable of pity.
Gerald staggered past her into the room, and sank with a groan on
to the bed. Not long since he had been proudly conversing with
impudent women. Now, in swift collapse, he was as flaccid as a
sick hound and as disgusting as an aged drunkard.

"He is some little souffrant," said Chirac, weakly.

Sophia perceived in Chirac's tone the assumption that of course
her present duty was to devote herself to the task of restoring
her shamed husband to his manly pride.

"And what about me?" she thought bitterly.

The fat woman ascended the stairs like a tottering blancmange, and
began to gabble to Sophia, who understood nothing whatever.

"She wants sixty francs," Chirac said, and in answer to Sophia's
startled question, he explained that Gerald had agreed to pay a
hundred francs for the room, which was the landlady's own--fifty
francs in advance and the fifty after the execution. The other ten
was for the dinner. The landlady, distrusting the whole of her
clientele, was collecting her accounts instantly on the completion
of the spectacle.

Sophia made no remark as to Gerald's lie to her. Indeed, Chirac
had heard it. She knew Gerald for a glib liar to others, but she
was naively surprised when he practised upon herself.

"Gerald! Do you hear?" she said coldly.

The amateur of severed heads only groaned.

With a movement of irritation she went to him and felt in his
pockets for his purse; he acquiesced, still groaning. Chirac
helped her to choose and count the coins.

The fat woman, appeased, pursued her way.

"Good-bye, madame!" said Chirac, with his customary courtliness,
transforming the landing of the hideous hotel into some imperial
antechamber.

"Are you going away?" she asked, in surprise. Her distress was so
obvious that it tremendously flattered him. He would have stayed
if he could. But he had to return to Paris to write and deliver
his article.

"To-morrow, I hope!" he murmured sympathetically, kissing her
hand. The gesture atoned somewhat for the sordidness of her
situation, and even corrected the faults of her attire. Always
afterwards it seemed to her that Chirac was an old and intimate
friend; he had successfully passed through the ordeal of seeing
'the wrong side' of the stuff of her life.

She shut the door on him with a lingering glance, and reconciled
herself to her predicament.

Gerald slept. Just as he was, he slept heavily.

This was what he had brought her to, then! The horrors of the
night, of the dawn, and of the morning! Ineffable suffering and
humiliation; anguish and torture that could never be forgotten!
And after a fatuous vigil of unguessed license, he had tottered
back, an offensive beast, to sleep the day away in that filthy
chamber! He did not possess even enough spirit to play the role of
roysterer to the end. And she was bound to him; far, far from any
other human aid; cut off irrevocably by her pride from those who
perhaps would have protected her from his dangerous folly. The
deep conviction henceforward formed a permanent part of her
general consciousness that he was simply an irresponsible and
thoughtless fool! He was without sense. Such was her brilliant and
godlike husband, the man who had given her the right to call
herself a married woman! He was a fool. With all her ignorance of
the world she could see that nobody but an arrant imbecile could
have brought her to the present pass. Her native sagacity
revolted. Gusts of feeling came over her in which she could have
thrashed him into the realization of his responsibilities.

Sticking out of the breast-pocket of his soiled coat was the
packet which he had received on the previous day. If he had not
already lost it, he could only thank his luck. She took it. There
were English bank-notes in it for two hundred pounds, a letter
from a banker, and other papers. With precautions against noise
she tore the envelope and the letter and papers into small pieces,
and then looked about for a place to hide them. A cupboard
suggested itself. She got on a chair, and pushed the fragments out
of sight on the topmost shelf, where they may well be to this day.
She finished dressing, and then sewed the notes into the lining of
her skirt. She had no silly, delicate notions about stealing. She
obscurely felt that, in the care of a man like Gerald, she might
find herself in the most monstrous, the most impossible dilemmas.
Those notes, safe and secret in her skirt, gave her confidence,
reassured her against the perils of the future, and endowed her
with independence. The act was characteristic of her enterprise
and of her fundamental prudence. It approached the heroic. And her
conscience hotly defended its righteousness.

She decided that when he discovered his loss, she would merely
deny all knowledge of the envelope, for he had not spoken a word
to her about it. He never mentioned the details of money; he had a
fortune. However, the necessity for this untruth did not occur. He
made no reference whatever to his loss. The fact was, he thought
he had been careless enough to let the envelope be filched from
him during the excesses of the night.

All day till evening Sophia sat on a dirty chair, without food,
while Gerald slept. She kept repeating to herself, in amazed
resentment: "A hundred francs for this room! A hundred francs! And
he hadn't the pluck to tell me!" She could not have expressed her
contempt.

Long before sheer ennui forced her to look out of the window
again, every sign of justice had been removed from the square.
Nothing whatever remained in the heavy August sunshine save
gathered heaps of filth where the horses had reared and caracoled.




CHAPTER IV

A CRISIS FOR GERALD

I


For a time there existed in the minds of both Gerald and Sophia
the remarkable notion that twelve thousand pounds represented the
infinity of wealth, that this sum possessed special magical
properties which rendered it insensible to the process of
subtraction. It seemed impossible that twelve thousand pounds,
while continually getting less, could ultimately quite disappear.
The notion lived longer in the mind of Gerald than in that of
Sophia; for Gerald would never look at a disturbing fact, whereas
Sophia's gaze was morbidly fascinated by such phenomena. In a life
devoted to travel and pleasure Gerald meant not to spend more than
six hundred a year, the interest on his fortune. Six hundred a
year is less than two pounds a day, yet Gerald never paid less
than two pounds a day in hotel bills alone. He hoped that he was
living on a thousand a year, had a secret fear that he might be
spending fifteen hundred, and was really spending about two
thousand five hundred. Still, the remarkable notion of the
inexhaustibility of twelve thousand pounds always reassured him.
The faster the money went, the more vigorously this notion
flourished in Gerald's mind. When twelve had unaccountably
dwindled to three, Gerald suddenly decided that he must act, and
in a few months he lost two thousand on the Paris Bourse. The
adventure frightened him, and in his panic he scattered a couple
of hundred in a frenzy of high living.

But even with only twenty thousand francs left out of three
hundred thousand, he held closely to the belief that natural laws
would in his case somehow be suspended. He had heard of men who
were once rich begging bread and sweeping crossings, but he felt
quite secure against such risks, by simple virtue of the axiom
that he was he. However, he meant to assist the axiom by efforts
to earn money. When these continued to fail, he tried to assist
the axiom by borrowing money; but he found that his uncle had
definitely done with him. He would have assisted the axiom by
stealing money, but he had neither the nerve nor the knowledge to
be a swindler; he was not even sufficiently expert to cheat at
cards.

He had thought in thousands. Now he began to think in hundreds, in
tens, daily and hourly. He paid two hundred francs in railway
fares in order to live economically in a village, and shortly
afterwards another two hundred francs in railway fares in order to
live economically in Paris. And to celebrate the arrival in Paris
and the definite commencement of an era of strict economy and
serious search for a livelihood, he spent a hundred francs on a
dinner at the Maison Doree and two balcony stalls at the Gymnase.
In brief, he omitted nothing--no act, no resolve, no self-
deception--of the typical fool in his situation; always convinced
that his difficulties and his wisdom were quite exceptional.

In May, 1870, on an afternoon, he was ranging nervously to and fro
in a three-cornered bedroom of a little hotel at the angle of the
Rue Fontaine and the Rue Laval (now the Rue Victor Masse), within
half a minute of the Boulevard de Clichy. It had come to that--an
exchange of the 'grand boulevard' for the 'boulevard exterieur'!
Sophia sat on a chair at the grimy window, glancing down in idle
disgust of life at the Clichy-Odeon omnibus which was casting off
its tip-horse at the corner of the Rue Chaptal. The noise of
petty, hurried traffic over the bossy paving stones was deafening.
The locality was not one to correspond with an ideal. There was
too much humanity crowded into those narrow hilly streets;
humanity seemed to be bulging out at the windows of the high
houses. Gerald healed his pride by saying that this was, after
all, the real Paris, and that the cookery was as good as could be
got anywhere, pay what you would. He seldom ate a meal in the
little salons on the first floor without becoming ecstatic upon
the cookery. To hear him, he might have chosen the hotel on its
superlative merits, without regard to expense. And with his air of
use and custom, he did indeed look like a connoisseur of Paris who
knew better than to herd with vulgar tourists in the pens of the
Madeleine quarter. He was dressed with some distinction; good
clothes, when put to the test, survive a change of fortune, as a
Roman arch survives the luxury of departed empire. Only his
collar, large V-shaped front, and wristbands, which bore the
ineffaceable signs of cheap laundering, reflected the shadow of
impending disaster.

He glanced sideways, stealthily, at Sophia. She, too, was still
dressed with distinction; in the robe of black faille, the
cashmere shawl, and the little black hat with its falling veil,
there was no apparent symptom of beggary. She would have been
judged as one of those women who content themselves with few
clothes but good, and, greatly aided by nature, make a little go a
long way. Good black will last for eternity; it discloses no
secrets of modification and mending, and it is not transparent.

At last Gerald, resuming a suspended conversation, said as it were
doggedly:

"I tell you I haven't got five francs altogether! and you can feel
my pockets if you like," added the habitual liar in him, fearing
incredulity.

"Well, and what do you expect me to do?" Sophia inquired.

The accent, at once ironic and listless, in which she put this
question, showed that strange and vital things had happened to
Sophia in the four years which had elapsed since her marriage. It
did really seem to her, indeed, that the Sophia whom Gerald had
espoused was dead and gone, and that another Sophia had come into
her body: so intensely conscious was she of a fundamental change
in herself under the stress of continuous experience. And though
this was but a seeming, though she was still the same Sophia more
fully disclosed, it was a true seeming. Indisputably more
beautiful than when Gerald had unwillingly made her his legal
wife, she was now nearly twenty-four, and looked perhaps somewhat
older than her age. Her frame was firmly set, her waist thicker,
neither slim nor stout. The lips were rather hard, and she had a
habit of tightening her mouth, on the same provocation as sends a
snail into its shell. No trace was left of immature gawkiness in
her gestures or of simplicity in her intonations. She was a woman
of commanding and slightly arrogant charm, not in the least degree
the charm of innocence and ingenuousness. Her eyes were the eyes
of one who has lost her illusions too violently and too
completely. Her gaze, coldly comprehending, implied familiarity
with the abjectness of human nature. Gerald had begun and had
finished her education. He had not ruined her, as a bad professor
may ruin a fine voice, because her moral force immeasurably
exceeded his; he had unwittingly produced a masterpiece, but it
was a tragic masterpiece. Sophia was such a woman as, by a mere
glance as she utters an opinion, will make a man say to himself,
half in desire and half in alarm lest she reads him too: "By Jove!
she must have been through a thing or two. She knows what people
are!"

The marriage was, of course, a calamitous folly. From the very
first, from the moment when the commercial traveller had with
incomparable rash fatuity thrown the paper pellet over the
counter, Sophia's awakening commonsense had told her that in
yielding to her instinct she was sowing misery and shame for
herself; but she had gone on, as if under a spell. It had needed
the irretrievableness of flight from home to begin the breaking of
the trance. Once fully awakened out of the trance, she had
recognized her marriage for what it was. She had made neither the
best nor the worst of it. She had accepted Gerald as one accepts a
climate. She saw again and again that he was irreclaimably a fool
and a prodigy of irresponsibleness. She tolerated him, now with
sweetness, now bitterly; accepting always his caprices, and not
permitting herself to have wishes of her own. She was ready to pay
the price of pride and of a moment's imbecility with a lifetime of
self-repression. It was high, but it was the price. She had
acquired nothing but an exceptionally good knowledge of the French
language (she soon learnt to scorn Gerald's glib maltreatment of
the tongue), and she had conserved nothing but her dignity. She
knew that Gerald was sick of her, that he would have danced for
joy to be rid of her; that he was constantly unfaithful; that he
had long since ceased to be excited by her beauty. She knew also
that at bottom he was a little afraid of her; here was her sole
moral consolation. The thing that sometimes struck her as
surprising was that he had not abandoned her, simply and crudely
walked off one day and forgotten to take her with him.

They hated each other, but in different ways. She loathed him, and
he resented her.

"What do I expect you to do?" he repeated after her. "Why don't
you write home to your people and get some money out of them?"

Now that he had said what was in his mind, he faced her with a
bullying swagger. Had he been a bigger man he might have tried the
effect of physical bullying on her. One of his numerous reasons
for resenting her was that she was the taller of the two.

She made no reply.

"Now you needn't turn pale and begin all that fuss over again.
What I'm suggesting is a perfectly reasonable thing. If I haven't
got money I haven't got it. I can't invent it."

She perceived that he was ready for one of their periodical
tempestuous quarrels. But that day she felt too tired and unwell
to quarrel. His warning against a repetition of 'fuss' had
reference to the gastric dizziness from which she had been
suffering for two years. It would take her usually after a meal.
She did not swoon, but her head swam and she could not stand. She
would sink down wherever she happened to be, and, her face
alarmingly white, murmur faintly: "My salts." Within five minutes
the attack had gone and left no trace. She had been through one
just after lunch. He resented this affection. He detested being
compelled to hand the smelling-bottle to her, and he would have
avoided doing so if her pallor did not always alarm him. Nothing
but this pallor convinced him that the attacks were not a deep
ruse to impress him. His attitude invariably implied that she
could cure the malady if she chose, but that through obstinacy she
did not choose.

"Are you going to have the decency to answer my question, or
aren't you?"

"What question?" Her vibrating voice was low and restrained.

"Will you write to your people?"

"For money?"

The sarcasm of her tone was diabolic. She could not have kept the
sarcasm out of her tone; she did not attempt to keep it out. She
cared little if it whipped him to fury. Did he imagine, seriously,
that she would be capable of going on her knees to her family?
She? Was he unaware that his wife was the proudest and the most
obstinate woman on earth; that all her behaviour to him was the
expression of her pride and her obstinacy? Ill and weak though she
felt, she marshalled together all the forces of her character to
defend her resolve never, never to eat the bread of humiliation.
She was absolutely determined to be dead to her family. Certainly,
one December, several years previously, she had seen English
Christmas cards in an English shop in the Rue de Rivoli, and in a
sudden gush of tenderness towards Constance, she had despatched a
coloured greeting to Constance and her mother. And having
initiated the custom, she had continued it. That was not like
asking a kindness; it was bestowing a kindness. But except for the
annual card, she was dead to St. Luke's Square. She was one of
those daughters who disappear and are not discussed in the family
circle. The thought of her immense foolishness, the little tender
thoughts of Constance, some flitting souvenir, full of unwilling
admiration, of a regal gesture of her mother,--these things only
steeled her against any sort of resurrection after death.

And he was urging her to write home for money! Why, she would not
even have paid a visit in splendour to St. Luke's Square. Never
should they know what she had suffered! And especially her Aunt
Harriet, from whom she had stolen!

"Will you write to your people?" he demanded yet again,
emphasizing and separating each word.

"No," she said shortly, with terrible disdain.

"Why not?"

"Because I won't." The curling line of her lips, as they closed on
each other, said all the rest; all the cruel truths about his
unspeakable, inane, coarse follies, his laziness, his excesses,
his lies, his deceptions, his bad faith, his truculence, his
improvidence, his shameful waste and ruin of his life and hers.
She doubted whether he realized his baseness and her wrongs, but
if he could not read them in her silent contumely, she was too
proud to recite them to him. She had never complained, save in
uncontrolled moments of anger.

"If that's the way you're going to talk--all right!" he snapped,
furious. Evidently he was baffled.

She kept silence. She was determined to see what he would do in
the face of her inaction.

"You know, I'm not joking," he pursued. "We shall starve."

"Very well," she agreed. "We shall starve."

She watched him surreptitiously, and she was almost sure that he
really had come to the end of his tether. His voice, which never
alone convinced, carried a sort of conviction now. He was
penniless. In four years he had squandered twelve thousand pounds,
and had nothing to show for it except an enfeebled digestion and a
tragic figure of a wife. One small point of satisfaction there
was--and all the Baines in her clutched at it and tried to suck
satisfaction from it--their manner of travelling about from hotel
to hotel had made it impossible for Gerald to run up debts. A few
debts he might have, unknown to her, but they could not be
serious.

So they looked at one another, in hatred and despair. The
inevitable had arrived. For months she had fronted it in bravado,
not concealing from herself that it lay in waiting. For years he
had been sure that though the inevitable might happen to others it
could not happen to him. There it was! He was conscious of a heavy
weight in his stomach, and she of a general numbness, enwrapping
her fatigue. Even then he could not believe that it was true, this
disaster. As for Sophia she was reconciling herself with bitter
philosophy to the eccentricities of fate. Who would have dreamed
that she, a young girl brought up, etc? Her mother could not have
improved the occasion more uncompromisingly than Sophia did--
behind that disdainful mask.

"Well--if that's it ...!" Gerald exploded at length, puffing. And
he puffed out of the room and was gone in a second.

II

She languidly picked up a book, the moment Gerald had departed,
and tried to prove to herself that she was sufficiently in command
of her nerves to read. For a long time reading had been her chief
solace. But she could not read. She glanced round the inhospitable
chamber, and thought of the hundreds of rooms--some splendid and
some vile, but all arid in their unwelcoming aspect--through which
she had passed in her progress from mad exultation to calm and
cold disgust. The ceaseless din of the street annoyed her jaded
ears. And a great wave of desire for peace, peace of no matter
what kind, swept through her. And then her deep distrust of Gerald
reawakened; in spite of his seriously desperate air, which had a
quality of sincerity quite new in her experience of him, she could
not be entirely sure that, in asserting utter penury, he was not
after all merely using a trick to get rid of her.

She sprang up, threw the book on the bed, and seized her gloves.
She would follow him, if she could. She would do what she had
never done before--she would spy on him. Fighting against her
lassitude, she descended the long winding stairs, and peeped forth
from the doorway into the street. The ground floor of the hotel
was a wine-shop; the stout landlord was lightly flicking one of
the three little yellow tables that stood on the pavement. He
smiled with his customary benevolence, and silently pointed in the
direction of the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette. She saw Gerald down
there in the distance. He was smoking a cigar.

He seemed to be a little man without a care. The smoke of the
cigar came first round his left cheek and then round his right,
sailing away into nothing. He walked with a gay spring, but not
quickly, flourishing his cane as freely as the traffic of the
pavement would permit, glancing into all the shop windows and into
the eyes of all the women under forty. This was not at all the
same man as had a moment ago been spitting angry menaces at her in
the bedroom of the hotel. It was a fellow of blithe charm, ripe
for any adventurous joys that destiny had to offer.

Supposing he turned round and saw her?

If he turned round and saw her and asked her what she was doing
there in the street, she would tell him plainly: "I'm following
you, to find out what you do."

But he did not turn. He went straight forward, deviating at the
church, where the crowd became thicker, into the Rue du Faubourg
Montmartre, and so to the boulevard, which he crossed. The whole
city seemed excited and vivacious. Cannons boomed in slow
succession, and flags were flying. Sophia had no conception of the
significance of those guns, for, though she read a great deal, she
never read a newspaper; the idea of opening a newspaper never
occurred to her. But she was accustomed to the feverish atmosphere
of Paris. She had lately seen regiments of cavalry flashing and
prancing in the Luxembourg Gardens, and had much admired the fine
picture. She accepted the booming as another expression of the
high spirits that had to find vent somehow in this feverish
empire. She so accepted it and forgot it, using all the panorama
of the capital as a dim background for her exacerbated egoism.

She was obliged to walk slowly, because Gerald walked slowly. A
beautiful woman, or any woman not positively hag-like or
venerable, who walks slowly in the streets of Paris becomes at
once the cause of inconvenient desires, as representing the main
objective on earth, always transcending in importance politics and
affairs. Just as a true patriotic Englishman cannot be too busy to
run after a fox, so a Frenchman is always ready to forsake all in
order to follow a woman whom he has never before set eyes on. Many
men thought twice about her, with her romantic Saxon mystery of
temperament, and her Parisian clothes; but all refrained from
affronting her, not in the least out of respect for the gloom in
her face, but from an expert conviction that those rapt eyes were
fixed immovably on another male. She walked unscathed amid the
frothing hounds as though protected by a spell.

On the south side of the boulevard, Gerald proceeded down the Rue
Montmartre, and then turned suddenly into the Rue Croissant.
Sophia stopped and asked the price of some combs which were
exposed outside a little shop. Then she went on, boldly passing
the end of the Rue Croissant. No shadow of Gerald! She saw the
signs of newspapers all along the street, Le Bien Public, La
Presse Libre, La Patrie. There was a creamery at the corner. She
entered it, asked for a cup of chocolate and sat down. She wanted
to drink coffee, but every doctor had forbidden coffee to her, on
account of her attacks of dizziness. Then, having ordered
chocolate, she felt that, on this occasion, when she had need of
strength in her great fatigue, only coffee could suffice her, and
she changed the order. She was close to the door, and Gerald could
not escape her vigilance if he emerged at that end of the street.
She drank the coffee with greedy satisfaction, and waited in the
creamery till she began to feel conspicuous there. And then Gerald
went by the door, within six feet of her. He turned the corner and
continued his descent of the Rue Montmartre. She paid for her
coffee and followed the chase. Her blood seemed to be up. Her lips
were tightened, and her thought was: "Wherever he goes, I'll go,
and I don't care what happens." She despised him. She felt herself
above him. She felt that somehow, since quitting the hotel, he had
been gradually growing more and more vile and meet to be
exterminated. She imagined infamies as to the Rue Croissant. There
was no obvious ground for this intensifying of her attitude
towards him; it was merely the result of the chase. All that could
be definitely charged against him was the smoking of a cigar.

He stepped into a tobacco-shop, and came out with a longer cigar
than the first one, a more expensive article, stripped off its
collar and lighted it as a millionaire might have lighted it. This
was the man who swore that he did not possess five francs.

She tracked him as far as the Rue de Rivoli, and then lost him.
There were vast surging crowds in the Rue de Rivoli, and much
bunting, and soldiers and gesticulatory policemen. The general
effect of the street was that all things were brightly waving in
the breeze. She was caught in the crowd as in the current of a
stream, and when she tried to sidle out of it into a square, a row
of smiling policemen barred her passage; she was a part of the
traffic that they had to regulate. She drifted till the Louvre
came into view. After all, Gerald had only strolled forth to see
the sight of the day, whatever it might be! She knew not what it
was. She had no curiosity about it. In the middle of all that
thickening mass of humanity, staring with one accord at the vast
monument of royal and imperial vanities, she thought, with her
characteristic grimness, of the sacrifice of her whole career as a
school-teacher for the chance of seeing Gerald once a quarter in
the shop. She gloated over that, as a sick appetite will gloat
over tainted food. And she saw the shop, and the curve of the
stairs up to the showroom, and the pier-glass in the showroom.

Then the guns began to boom again, and splendid carriages swept
one after another from under a majestic archway and glittered
westward down a lane of spotless splendid uniforms. The carriages
were laden with still more splendid uniforms, and with enchanting
toilets. Sophia, in her modestly stylish black, mechanically
noticed how much easier it was for attired women to sit in a
carriage now that crinolines had gone. That was the sole
impression made upon her by this glimpse of the last fete of the
Napoleonic Empire. She knew not that the supreme pillars of
imperialism were exhibiting themselves before her; and that the
eyes of those uniforms and those toilettes were full of the
legendary beauty of Eugenie, and their ears echoing to the long
phrases of Napoleon the Third about his gratitude to his people
for their confidence in him as shown by the plebiscite, and about
the ratification of constitutional reforms guaranteeing order, and
about the empire having been strengthened at its base, and about
showing force by moderation and envisaging the future without
fear, and about the bosom of peace and liberty, and the eternal
continuance of his dynasty.

She just wondered vaguely what was afoot.

When the last carriage had rolled away, and the guns and
acclamations had ceased, the crowd at length began to scatter. She
was carried by it into the Place du Palais Royal, and in a few
moments she managed to withdraw into the Rue des Bons Enfants and
was free.

The coins in her purse amounted to three sous, and therefore,
though she felt exhausted to the point of illness, she had to
return to the hotel on foot. Very slowly she crawled upwards in
the direction of the Boulevard, through the expiring gaiety of the
city. Near the Bourse a fiacre overtook her, and in the fiacre
were Gerald and a woman. Gerald had not seen her; he was talking
eagerly to his ornate companion. All his body was alive. The
fiacre was out of sight in a moment, but Sophia judged instantly
the grade of the woman, who was evidently of the discreet class
that frequented the big shops of an afternoon with something of
their own to sell.

Sophia's grimness increased. The pace of the fiacre, her fatigued
body, Gerald's delightful, careless vivacity, the attractive
streaming veil of the nice, modest courtesan--everything conspired
to increase it.

III

Gerald returned to the bedroom which contained his wife and all
else that he owned in the world at about nine o'clock that
evening. Sophia was in bed. She had been driven to bed by
weariness. She would have preferred to sit up to receive her
husband, even if it had meant sitting up all night, but her body
was too heavy for her spirit. She lay in the dark. She had eaten
nothing. Gerald came straight into the room. He struck a match,
which burned blue, with a stench, for several seconds, and then
gave a clear, yellow flame. He lit a candle; and saw his wife.

"Oh!" he said; "you're there, are you?"

She offered no reply.

"Won't speak, eh?" he said. "Agreeable sort of wife! Well, have
you made up your mind to do what I told you? I've come back
especially to know."

She still did not speak.

He sat down, with his hat on, and stuck out his feet, wagging them
to and fro on the heels.

"I'm quite without money," he went on. "And I'm sure your people
will be glad to lend us a bit till I get some. Especially as it's
a question of you starving as well as me. If I had enough to pay
your fares to Bursley I'd pack you off. But I haven't."

She could only hear his exasperating voice. The end of the bed was
between her eyes and his.

"Liar!" she said, with uncompromising distinctness. The word
reached him barbed with all the poison of her contempt and
disgust.

There was a pause.

"Oh! I'm a liar, am I? Thanks. I lied enough to get you, I'll
admit. But you never complained of that. I remember be-ginning the
New Year well with a thumping lie just to have a sight of you, my
vixen. But you didn't complain then. I took you with only the
clothes on your back. And I've spent every cent I had on you. And
now I'm spun, you call me a liar."

She said nothing.

"However," he went on, "this is going to come to an end, this is!"

He rose, changed the position of the candle, putting it on a chest
of drawers, and then drew his trunk from the wall, and knelt in
front of it.

She gathered that he was packing his clothes. At first she did not
comprehend his reference to beginning the New Year. Then his
meaning revealed itself. That story to her mother about having
been attacked by ruffians at the bottom of King Street had been an
invention, a ruse to account plausibly for his presence on her
mother's doorstep! And she had never suspected that the story was
not true. In spite of her experience of his lying, she had never
suspected that that particular statement was a lie. What a
simpleton she was!

There was a continual movement in the room for about a quarter of
an hour. Then a key turned in the lock of the trunk.

His head popped up over the foot of the bed. "This isn't a joke,
you know," he said.

She kept silence.

"I give you one more chance. Will you write to your mother--or
Constance if you like--or won't you?"

She scorned to reply in any way.

"I'm your husband," he said. "And it's your duty to obey me,
particularly in an affair like this. I order you to write to your
mother."

The corners of her lips turned downwards.

Angered by her mute obstinacy, he broke away from the bed with a
sudden gesture.

"You do as you like," he cried, putting on his overcoat, "and I
shall do as I like. You can't say I haven't warned you. It's your
own deliberate choice, mind you! Whatever happens to you you've
brought on yourself." He lifted and shrugged his shoulders to get
the overcoat exactly into place on his shoulders.

She would not speak a word, not even to insist that she was
indisposed.

He pushed his trunk outside the door, and returned to the bed.

"You understand," he said menacingly; "I'm off."

She looked up at the foul ceiling.

"Hm!" he sniffed, bringing his reserves of pride to combat the
persistent silence that was damaging his dignity. And he went off,
sticking his head forward like a pugilist.

"Here!" she muttered. "You're forgetting this."

He turned.

She stretched her hand to the night-table and held up a red
circlet.

"What is it?"

"It's the bit of paper off the cigar you bought in the Rue
Montmartre this afternoon," she answered, in a significant tone.

He hesitated, then swore violently, and bounced out of the room.
He had made her suffer, but she was almost repaid for everything
by that moment of cruel triumph. She exulted in it, and never
forgot it.

Five minutes later, the gloomy menial in felt slippers and alpaca
jacket, who seemed to pass the whole of his life flitting in and
out of bedrooms like a rabbit in a warren, carried Gerald's trunk
downstairs. She recognized the peculiar tread of his slippers.

Then there was a knock at the door. The landlady entered, actuated
by a legitimate curiosity.

"Madame is suffering?" the landlady began.

Sophia refused offers of food and nursing.

"Madame knows without doubt that monsieur has gone away?"

"Has he paid the bill?" Sophia asked bluntly.

"But yes, madame, till to-morrow. Then madame has want of
nothing?"

"If you will extinguish the candle," said Sophia.

He had deserted her, then!

"All this," she reflected, listening in the dark to the ceaseless
rattle of the street, "because mother and Constance wanted to see
the elephant, and I had to go into father's room! I should never
have caught sight of him from the drawing-room window!"

IV

She passed a night of physical misery, exasperated by the tireless
rattling vitality of the street. She kept saying to herself: "I'm
all alone now, and I'm going to be ill. I am ill." She saw herself
dying in Paris, and heard the expressions of facile sympathy and
idle curiosity drawn forth by the sight of the dead body of this
foreign woman in a little Paris hotel. She reached the stage, in
the gradual excruciation of her nerves, when she was obliged to
concentrate her agonized mind on an intense and painful expectancy
of the next new noise, which when it came increased her torture
and decreased her strength to support it. She went through all the
interminable dilatoriness of the dawn, from the moment when she
could scarcely discern the window to the moment when she could
read the word 'Bock' on the red circlet of paper which had tossed
all night on the sea of the counterpane. She knew she would never
sleep again. She could not imagine herself asleep; and then she
was startled by a sound that seemed to clash with the rest of her
impressions. It was a knocking at the door. With a start she
perceived that she must have been asleep.

"Enter," she murmured.

There entered the menial in alpaca. His waxen face showed a morose
commiseration. He noiselessly approached the bed--he seemed to
have none of the characteristics of a man, but to be a creature
infinitely mysterious and aloof from humanity--and held out to
Sophia a visiting card in his grey hand.

It was Chirac's card.

"Monsieur asked for monsieur," said the waiter. "And then, as
monsieur had gone away he demanded to see madame. He says it is
very important."

Her heart jumped, partly in vague alarm, and partly with a sense
of relief at this chance of speaking to some one whom she knew.
She tried to reflect rationally.

"What time is it?" she inquired.

"Eleven o'clock, madame."

This was surprising. The fact that it was eleven o'clock destroyed
the remains of her self-confidence. How could it be eleven
o'clock, with the dawn scarcely finished?

"He says it is very important," repeated the waiter, imperturbably
and solemnly. "Will madame see him an instant?"

Between resignation and anticipation she said: "Yes."

"It is well, madame," said the waiter, disappearing without a
sound.

She sat up and managed to drag her matinee from a chair and put it
around her shoulders. Then she sank back from weakness, physical
and spiritual. She hated to receive Chirac in a bedroom, and
particularly in that bedroom. But the hotel had no public room
except the dining-room, which began to be occupied after eleven
o'clock. Moreover, she could not possibly get up. Yes, on the
whole she was pleased to see Chirac. He was almost her only
acquaintance, assuredly the only being whom she could by any
stretch of meaning call a friend, in the whole of Europe. Gerald
and she had wandered to and fro, skimming always over the real
life of nations, and never penetrating into it. There was no place
for them, because they had made none. With the exception of
Chirac, whom an accident of business had thrown, into Gerald's
company years before, they had no social relations. Gerald was not
a man to make friends; he did not seem to need friends, or at any
rate to feel the want of them. But, as chance had given him
Chirac, he maintained the connection whenever they came to Paris.
Sophia, of course, had not been able to escape from the solitude
imposed by existence in hotels. Since her marriage she had never
spoken to a woman in the way of intimacy. But once or twice she
had approached intimacy with Chirac, whose wistful admiration for
her always aroused into activity her desire to charm.

Preceded by the menial, he came into the room hurriedly,
apologetically, with an air of acute anxiety. And as he saw her
lying on her back, with flushed features, her hair disarranged,
and only the grace of the silk ribbons of her matinee to mitigate
the melancholy repulsiveness of her surroundings, that anxiety
seemed to deepen.

"Dear madame," he stammered, "all my excuses!" He hastened to the
bedside and kissed her hand--a little peek according to his
custom. "You are ill?"

"I have my migraine," she said. "You want Gerald?"

"Yes," he said diffidently. "He had promised----"

"He has left me," Sophia interrupted him in her weak and fatigued
voice. She closed her eyes as she uttered the words.

"Left you?" He glanced round to be sure that the waiter had
retired.

"Quitted me! Abandoned me! Last night!"

"Not possible!" he breathed.

She nodded. She felt intimate with him. Like all secretive
persons, she could be suddenly expansive at times.

"It is serious?" he questioned.

"All that is most serious," she replied.

"And you ill! Ah, the wretch! Ah, the wretch! That, for example!"
He waved his hat about.

"What is it you want, Chirac?" she demanded, in a confidential
tone.

"Eh, well," said Chirac. "You do not know where he has gone?"

"No. What do you want?" she insisted.

He was nervous. He fidgetted. She guessed that, though warm with
sympathy for her plight, he was preoccupied by interests and
apprehensions of his own. He did not refuse her request
temporarily to leave the astonishing matter of her situation in
order to discuss the matter of his visit.

"Eh, well! He came to me yesterday afternoon in the Rue Croissant
to borrow some money."

She understood then the object of Gerald's stroll on the previous
afternoon.

"I hope you didn't lend him any," she said.

"Eh, well! It was like this. He said he ought to have received
five thousand francs yesterday morning, but that he had had a
telegram that it would not arrive till to-day. And he had need of
five hundred francs at once. I had not five hundred francs"--he
smiled sadly, as if to insinuate that he did not handle such sums
--"but I borrowed it from the cashbox of the journal. It is
necessary, absolutely, that I should return it this morning." He
spoke with increased seriousness. "Your husband said he would take
a cab and bring me the money immediately on the arrival of the
post this morning--about nine o'clock. Pardon me for deranging you
with such a----"

He stopped. She could see that he really was grieved to 'derange'
her, but that circumstances pressed.

"At my paper," he murmured, "it is not so easy as that to--in
fine----!"

Gerald had genuinely been at his last francs. He had not lied when
she thought he had lied. The nakedness of his character showed
now. Instantly upon the final and definite cessation of the lawful
supply of money, he had set his wits to obtain money unlawfully.
He had, in fact, simply stolen it from Chirac, with the ornamental
addition of endangering Chirac's reputation and situation--as a
sort of reward to Chirac for the kindness! And, further, no sooner
had he got hold of the money than it had intoxicated him, and he
had yielded to the first fatuous temptation. He had no sense of
responsibility, no scruple. And as for common prudence--had he not
risked permanent disgrace and even prison for a paltry sum which
he would certainly squander in two or three days? Yes, it was
indubitable that he would stop at nothing, at nothing whatever.

"You did not know that he was coming to me?" asked Chirac, pulling
his short, silky brown beard.

"No," Sophia answered.

"But he said that you had charged him with your friendlinesses to
me!" He nodded his head once or twice, sadly but candidly
accepting, in his quality of a Latin, the plain facts of human
nature--reconciling himself to them at once.

Sophia revolted at this crowning detail of the structure of
Gerald's rascality.

"It is fortunate that I can pay you," she said.

"But----" he tried to protest.

"I have quite enough money."

She did not say this to screen Gerald, but merely from amour-
propre. She would not let Chirac think that she was the wife of a
man bereft of all honour. And so she clothed Gerald with the rag
of having, at any rate, not left her in destitution as well as in
sickness. Her assertion seemed a strange one, in view of the fact
that he had abandoned her on the previous evening--that is to say,
immediately after the borrowing from Chirac. But Chirac did not
examine the statement.

"Perhaps he has the intention to send me the money. Perhaps, after
all, he is now at the offices----"

"No," said Sophia. "He is gone. Will you go downstairs and wait
for me. We will go together to Cook's office. It is English money
I have."

"Cook's?" he repeated. The word now so potent had then little
significance. "But you are ill. You cannot----"

"I feel better."

She did. Or rather, she felt nothing except the power of her
resolve to remove the painful anxiety from that wistful brow. The
shame of the trick played on Chirac awakened new forces in her.
She dressed in a physical torment which, however, had no more
reality than a nightmare. She searched in a place where even an
inquisitive husband would not think of looking, and then,
painfully, she descended the long stairs, holding to the rail,
which swam round and round her, carrying the whole staircase with
it. "After all," she thought, "I can't be seriously ill, or I
shouldn't have been able to get up and go out like this. I never
guessed early this morning that I could do it! I can't possibly be
as ill as I thought I was!"

And in the vestibule she encountered Chirac's face, lightening at
the sight of her, which proved to him that his deliverance was
really to be accomplished.

"Permit me----"

"I'm all right," she smiled, tottering. "Get a cab." It suddenly
occurred to her that she might quite as easily have given him the
money in English notes; he could have changed them. But she had
not thought. Her brain would not operate. She was dreaming and
waking together.

He helped her into the cab.

V

In the bureau de change there was a little knot of English,
people, with naive, romantic, and honest faces, quite different
from the faces outside in the street. No corruption in those
faces, but a sort of wondering and infantile sincerity, rather out
of its element and lost in a land too unsophisticated, seeming to
belong to an earlier age! Sophia liked their tourist stare, and
their plain and ugly clothes. She longed to be back in England,
longed for a moment with violence, drowning in that desire.

The English clerk behind his brass bars took her notes, and
carefully examined them one by one. She watched him, not entirely
convinced of his reality, and thought vaguely of the detestable
morning when she had abstracted the notes from Gerald's pocket.
She was filled with pity for the simple, ignorant Sophia of those
days, the Sophia who still had a few ridiculous illusions
concerning Gerald's character. Often, since, she had been tempted
to break into the money, but she had always withstood the
temptation, saying to herself that an hour of more urgent need
would come. It had come. She was proud of her firmness, of the
force of will which had enabled her to reserve the fund intact.
The clerk gave her a keen look, and then asked her how she would
take the French money. And she saw the notes falling down one
after another on to the counter as the clerk separated them with a
snapping sound of the paper.

Chirac was beside her.

"Does that make the count?" she said, having pushed towards him
five hundred-franc notes.

"I should not know how to thank you," he said, accepting the
notes. "Truly--"

His joy was unmistakably eager. He had had a shock and a fright,
and he now saw the danger past. He could return to the cashier of
his newspaper, and fling down the money with a lordly and careless
air, as if to say: "When it is a question of these English, one
can always be sure!" But first he would escort her to the hotel.
She declined--she did not know why, for he was her sole point of
moral support in all France. He insisted. She yielded. So she
turned her back, with regret, on that little English oasis in the
Sahara of Paris, and staggered to the fiacre.

And now that she had done what she had to do, she lost control of
her body, and reclined flaccid and inert. Chirac was evidently
alarmed. He did not speak, but glanced at her from time to time
with eyes full of fear. The carriage appeared to her to be
swimming amid waves over great depths. Then she was aware of a
heavy weight against her shoulder; she had slipped down upon
Chirac, unconscious.




CHAPTER V

FEVER

I


Then she was lying in bed in a small room, obscure because it was
heavily curtained; the light came through the inner pair of
curtains of ecru lace, with a beautiful soft silvery quality. A
man was standing by the side of the bed--not Chirac.

"Now, madame," he said to her, with kind firmness, and speaking
with a charming exaggerated purity of the vowels. "You have the
mucous fever. I have had it myself. You will be forced to take
baths, very frequently. I must ask you to reconcile yourself to
that, to be good."

She did not reply. It did not occur to her to reply. But she
certainly thought that this doctor--he was probably a doctor--was
overestimating her case. She felt better than she had felt for two
days. Still, she did not desire to move, nor was she in the least
anxious as to her surroundings. She lay quiet.

A woman in a rather coquettish deshabille watched over her with
expert skill.

Later, Sophia seemed to be revisiting the sea on whose waves the
cab had swum; but now she was under the sea, in a watery gulf,
terribly deep; and the sounds of the world came to her through the
water, sudden and strange. Hands seized her and forced her from
the subaqueous grotto where she had hidden into new alarms. And
she briefly perceived that there was a large bath by the side of
the bed, and that she was being pushed into it. The water was icy
cold. After that her outlook upon things was for a time clearer
and more precise. She knew from fragments of talk which she heard
that she was put into the cold bath by her bed every three hours,
night and day, and that she remained in it for ten minutes.
Always, before the bath, she had to drink a glass of wine, and
sometimes another glass while she was in the bath. Beyond this
wine, and occasionally a cup of soup, she took nothing, had no
wish to take anything. She grew perfectly accustomed to these
extraordinary habits of life, to this merging of night and day
into one monotonous and endless repetition of the same rite amid
the same circumstances on exactly the same spot. Then followed a
period during which she objected to being constantly wakened up
for this annoying immersion. And she fought against it even in her
dreams. Long days seemed to pass when she could not be sure
whether she had been put into the bath or not, when all external
phenomena were disconcertingly interwoven with matters which she
knew to be merely fanciful. And then she was overwhelmed by the
hopeless gravity of her state. She felt that her state was
desperate. She felt that she was dying. Her unhappiness was
extreme, not because she was dying, but because the veils of sense
were so puzzling, so exasperating, and because her exhausted body
was so vitiated, in every fibre, by disease. She was perfectly
aware that she was going to die. She cried aloud for a pair of
scissors. She wanted to cut off her hair, and to send part of it
to Constance and part of it to her mother, in separate packages.
She insisted upon separate packages. Nobody would give her a pair
of scissors. She implored, meekly, haughtily, furiously, but
nobody would satisfy her. It seemed to her shocking that all her
hair should go with her into her coffin while Constance and her
mother had nothing by which to remember her, no tangible souvenir
of her beauty. Then she fought for the scissors. She clutched at
some one--always through those baffling veils--who was putting her
into the bath by the bedside, and fought frantically. It appeared
to her that this some one was the rather stout woman who had
supped at Sylvain's with the quarrelsome Englishman, four years
ago. She could not rid herself of this singular conceit, though
she knew it to be absurd. ...

A long time afterwards--it seemed like a century--she did actually
and unmistakably see the woman sitting by her bed, and the woman
was crying.

"Why are you crying?" Sophia asked wonderingly.

And the other, younger, woman, who was standing at the foot of the
bed, replied:

"You do well to ask! It is you who have hurt her, in your
delirium, when you so madly demanded the scissors."

The stout woman smiled with the tears on her cheeks; but Sophia
wept, from remorse. The stout woman looked old, worn, and untidy.
The other one was much younger. Sophia did not trouble to inquire
from them who they were.

That little conversation formed a brief interlude in the delirium,
which overtook her again and distorted everything. She forgot,
however, that she was destined to die.

One day her brain cleared. She could be sure that she had gone to
sleep in the morning and not wakened till the evening. Hence she
had not been put into the bath.

"Have I had my baths?" she questioned.

It was the doctor who faced her.

"No," he said, "the baths are finished."

She knew from his face that she was out of danger. Moreover, she
was conscious of a new feeling in her body, as though the fount of
physical energy within her, long interrupted, had recommenced to
flow--but very slowly, a trickling. It was a rebirth. She was not
glad, but her body itself was glad; her body had an existence of
its own.

She was now often left by herself in the bedroom. To the right of
the foot of the bed was a piano in walnut, and to the left a
chimney-piece with a large mirror. She wanted to look at herself
in the mirror. But it was a very long way off. She tried to sit
up, and could not. She hoped that one day she would be able to get
as far as the mirror. She said not a word about this to either of
the two women.

Often they would sit in the bedroom and talk without ceasing.
Sophia learnt that the stout woman was named Foucault, and the
other Laurence. Sometimes Laurence would address Madame Foucault
as Aimee, but usually she was more formal. Madame Foucault always
called the other Laurence.

Sophia's curiosity stirred and awoke. But she could not obtain any
very exact information as to where she was, except that the house
was in the Rue Breda, off the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette. She
recollected vaguely that the reputation of the street was
sinister. It appeared that, on the day when she had gone out with
Chirac, the upper part of the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette was closed
for repairs--(this she remembered)--and that the cabman had turned
up the Rue Breda in order to make a detour, and that it was just
opposite to the house of Madame Foucault that she had lost
consciousness. Madame Foucault happened to be getting into a cab
at the moment; but she had told Chirac nevertheless to carry
Sophia into the house, and a policeman had helped. Then, when the
doctor came, it was discovered that she could not be moved, save
to a hospital, and both Madame Foucault and Laurence were
determined that no friend of Chirac's should be committed to the
horrors of a Paris hospital. Madame Foucault had suffered in one
as a patient, and Laurence had been a nurse in another. ...

Chirac was now away. The women talked loosely of a war.

"How kind you have been!" murmured Sophia, with humid eyes.

But they silenced her with gestures. She was not to talk. They
seemed to have nothing further to tell her. They said Chirac would
be returning perhaps soon, and that she could talk to him.
Evidently they both held Chirac in affection. They said often that
he was a charming boy.

Bit by bit Sophia comprehended the length and the seriousness of
her illness, and the immense devotion of the two women, and the
terrific disturbance of their lives, and her own debility. She saw
that the women were strongly attached to her, and she could not
understand why, as she had never done anything for them, whereas
they had done everything for her. She had not learnt that benefits
rendered, not benefits received, are the cause of such
attachments.

All the time she was plotting, and gathering her strength to
disobey orders and get as far as the mirror. Her preliminary
studies and her preparations were as elaborate as those of a
prisoner arranging to escape from a fortress. The first attempt
was a failure. The second succeeded. Though she could not stand
without support, she managed by clinging to the bed to reach a
chair, and to push the chair in front of her until it approached
the mirror. The enterprise was exciting and terrific. Then she saw
a face in the glass: white, incredibly emaciated, with great,
wild, staring eyes; and the shoulders were bent as though with
age. It was a painful, almost a horrible sight. It frightened her,
so that in her alarm she recoiled from it. Not attending
sufficiently to the chair, she sank to the ground. She could not
pick herself up, and she was caught there, miserably, by her
angered jailers. The vision of her face taught her more
efficiently than anything else the gravity of her adventure. As
the women lifted her inert, repentant mass into the bed, she
reflected, "How queer my life is!" It seemed to her that she ought
to have been trimming hats in the showroom instead of being in
that curtained, mysterious, Parisian interior.

II

One day Madame Foucault knocked at the door of Sophia's little
room (this ceremony of knocking was one of the indications that
Sophia, convalescent, had been reinstated in her rights as an
individual), and cried:

"Madame, one is going to leave you all alone for some time."

"Come in," said Sophia, who was sitting up in an armchair, and
reading.

Madame Foucault opened the door. "One is going to leave you all
alone for some time," she repeated in a low, confidential voice,
sharply contrasting with her shriek behind the door.

Sophia nodded and smiled, and Madame Foucault also nodded and
smiled. But Madame Foucault's face quickly resumed its anxious
expression.

"The servant's brother marries himself to-day, and she implored me
to accord her two days--what would you? Madame Laurence is out.
And I must go out. It is four o'clock. I shall re-enter at six
o'clock striking. Therefore ..."

"Perfectly," Sophia concurred.

She looked curiously at Madame Foucault, who was carefully made up
and arranged for the street, in a dress of yellow tussore with
blue ornaments, bright lemon-coloured gloves, a little blue
bonnet, and a little white parasol not wider when opened than her
shoulders. Cheeks, lips, and eyes were heavily charged with rouge,
powder, or black. And that too abundant waist had been most
cunningly confined in a belt that descended beneath, instead of
rising above, the lower masses of the vast torso. The general
effect was worthy of the effort that must have gone to it. Madame
Foucault was not rejuvenated by her toilette, but it almost
procured her pardon for the crime of being over forty, fat,
creased, and worn out. It was one of those defeats that are a
triumph.

"You are very chic," said Sophia, uttering her admiration.

"Ah!" said Madame Foucault, shrugging the shoulders of
disillusion. "Chic! What does that do?"

But she was pleased.

The front-door banged. Sophia, by herself for the first time in
the flat into which she had been carried unconscious and which she
had never since left, had the disturbing sensation of being
surrounded by mysterious rooms and mysterious things. She tried to
continue reading, but the sentences conveyed nothing to her. She
rose--she could walk now a little--and looked out of the window,
through the interstices of the pattern of the lace curtains. The
window gave on the courtyard, which was about sixteen feet below
her. A low wall divided the courtyard from that of the next house.
And the windows of the two houses, only to be distinguished by the
different tints of their yellow paint, rose tier above tier in
level floors, continuing beyond Sophia's field of vision. She
pressed her face against the glass, and remembered the St. Luke's
Square of her childhood; and just as there from the showroom
window she could not even by pressing her face against the glass
see the pavement, so here she could not see the roof; the
courtyard was like the bottom of a well. There was no end to the
windows; six storeys she could count, and the sills of a seventh
were the limit of her view. Every window was heavily curtained,
like her own. Some of the upper ones had green sunblinds. Scarcely
any sound! Mysteries brooded without as well as within the flat of
Madame Foucault. Sophia saw a bodiless hand twitch at a curtain
and vanish. She noticed a green bird in a tiny cage on a sill in
the next house. A woman whom she took to be the concierge appeared
in the courtyard, deposited a small plant in the track of a ray of
sunshine that lighted a corner for a couple of hours in the
afternoon, and disappeared again. Then she heard a piano--
somewhere. That was all. The feeling that secret and strange lives
were being lived behind those baffling windows, that humanity was
everywhere intimately pulsing around her, oppressed her spirit yet
not quite unpleasantly. The environment softened her glance upon
the spectacle of existence, insomuch that sadness became a
voluptuous pleasure. And the environment threw her back on
herself, into a sensuous contemplation of the fundamental fact of
Sophia Scales, formerly Sophia Baines.

She turned to the room, with the marks of the bath on the floor by
the bed, and the draped piano that was never opened, and her two
trunks filling up the corner opposite the door. She had the idea
of thoroughly examining those trunks, which Chirac or somebody
else must have fetched from the hotel. At the top of one of them
was her purse, tied up with old ribbon and ostentatiously sealed!
How comical these French people were when they deemed it necessary
to be serious! She emptied both trunks, scrutinizing minutely all
her goods, and thinking of the varied occasions upon which she had
obtained them. Then she carefully restored them, her mind full of
souvenirs newly awakened.

She sighed as she straightened her back. A clock struck in another
room. It seemed to invite her towards discoveries. She had been in
no other room of the flat. She knew nothing of the rest of the
flat save by sound. For neither of the other women had ever
described it, nor had it occurred to them that Sophia might care
to leave her room though she could not leave the house.

She opened her door, and glanced along the dim corridor, with
which she was familiar. She knew that the kitchen lay next to her
little room, and that next to the kitchen came the front-door. On
the opposite side of the corridor were four double-doors. She
crossed to the pair of doors facing her own little door, and
quietly turned the handle, but the doors were locked; the same
with the next pair. The third pair yielded, and she was in a large
bedroom, with three windows on the street. She saw that the second
pair of doors, which she had failed to unfasten, also opened into
this room. Between the two pairs of doors was a wide bed. In front
of the central window was a large dressing-table. To the left of
the bed, half hiding the locked doors, was a large screen. On the
marble mantelpiece, reflected in a huge mirror, that ascended to
the ornate cornice, was a gilt-and-basalt clock, with pendants to
match. On the opposite side of the room from this was a long wide
couch. The floor was of polished oak, with a skin on either side
of the bed. At the foot of the bed was a small writing-table, with
a penny bottle of ink on it. A few coloured prints and engravings
--representing, for example, Louis Philippe and his family, and
people perishing on a raft--broke the tedium of the walls. The
first impression on Sophia's eye was one of sombre splendour.
Everything had the air of being richly ornamented, draped, looped,
carved, twisted, brocaded into gorgeousness. The dark crimson bed-
hangings fell from massive rosettes in majestic folds. The
counterpane was covered with lace. The window-curtains had
amplitude beyond the necessary, and they were suspended from
behind fringed and pleated valances. The green sofa and its sateen
cushions were stiff with applied embroidery. The chandelier
hanging from the middle of the ceiling, modelled to represent
cupids holding festoons, was a glittering confusion of gilt and
lustres; the lustres tinkled when Sophia stood on a certain part
of the floor. The cane-seated chairs were completely gilded. There
was an effect of spaciousness. And the situation of the bed
between the two double-doors, with the three windows in front and
other pairs of doors communicating with other rooms on either
hand, produced in addition an admirable symmetry.

But Sophia, with the sharp gaze of a woman brought up in the
traditions of a modesty so proud that it scorns ostentation,
quickly tested and condemned the details of this chamber that
imitated every luxury. Nothing in it, she found, was 'good.' And
in St. Luke's Square 'goodness' meant honest workmanship,
permanence, the absence of pretence. All the stuffs were cheap and
showy and shabby; all the furniture was cracked, warped, or
broken. The clock showed five minutes past twelve at five o'clock.
And further, dust was everywhere, except in those places where
even the most perfunctory cleaning could not have left it. In the
obscurer pleatings of draperies it lay thick. Sophia's lip curled,
and instinctively she lifted her peignoir. One of her mother's
phrases came into her head: 'a lick and a promise.' And then
another: "If you want to leave dirt, leave it where everybody can
see it, not in the corners."

She peeped behind the screen, and all the horrible welter of a
cabinet de toilette met her gaze: a repulsive medley of foul
waters, stained vessels and cloths, brushes, sponges, powders, and
pastes. Clothes were hung up in disorder on rough nails; among
them she recognized a dressing-gown of Madame Foucault's, and,
behind affairs of later date, the dazzling scarlet cloak in which
she had first seen Madame Foucault, dilapidated now. So this was
Madame Foucault's room! This was the bower from which that
elegance emerged, the filth from which had sprung the mature
blossom!

She passed from that room direct to another, of which the shutters
were closed, leaving it in twilight. This room too was a bedroom,
rather smaller than the middle one, and having only one window,
but furnished with the same dubious opulence. Dust covered it
everywhere, and small footmarks were visible in the dust on the
floor. At the back was a small door, papered to match the wall,
and within this door was a cabinet de toilette, with no light and
no air; neither in the room nor in the closet was there any sign
of individual habitation. She traversed the main bedroom again and
found another bedroom to balance the second one, but open to the
full light of day, and in a state of extreme disorder; the double-
pillowed bed had not even been made: clothes and towels draped all
the furniture: shoes were about the floor, and on a piece of
string tied across the windows hung a single white stocking, wet.
At the back was a cabinet de toilette, as dark as the other one, a
vile malodorous mess of appliances whose familiar forms loomed
vague and extraordinarily sinister in the dense obscurity. Sophia
turned away with the righteous disgust of one whose preparations
for the gaze of the world are as candid and simple as those of a
child. Concealed dirt shocked her as much as it would have shocked
her mother; and as for the trickeries of the toilet table, she
contemned them as harshly as a young saint who has never been
tempted contemns moral weakness. She thought of the strange
flaccid daily life of those two women, whose hours seemed to slip
unprofitably away without any result of achievement. She had
actually witnessed nothing; but since the beginning of her
convalescence her ears had heard, and she could piece the
evidences together. There was never any sound in the flat, outside
the kitchen, until noon. Then vague noises and smells would
commence. And about one o'clock Madame Foucault, disarrayed, would
come to inquire if the servant had attended to the needs of the
invalid. Then the odours of cookery would accentuate themselves;
bells rang; fragments of conversations escaped through doors ajar;
occasionally a man's voice or a heavy step; then the fragrance of
coffee; sometimes the sound of a kiss, the banging of the front
door, the noise of brushing, or of the shaking of a carpet, a
little scream as at some trifling domestic contretemps. Laurence,
still in a dressing-gown, would lounge into Sophia's room, dirty,
haggard, but polite with a curious stiff ceremony, and would drink
her coffee there. This wandering in peignoirs would continue till
three o'clock, and then Laurence might say, as if nerving herself
to an unusual and immense effort: "I must be dressed by five
o'clock. I have not a moment." Often Madame Foucault did not dress
at all; on such days she would go to bed immediately after dinner,
with the remark that she didn't know what was the matter with her,
but she was exhausted. And then the servant would retire to her
seventh floor, and there would be silence until, now and then,
faint creepings were heard at midnight or after. Once or twice,
through the chinks of her door, Sophia had seen a light at two
o'clock in the morning, just before the dawn.

Yet these were the women who had saved her life, who between them
had put her into a cold bath every three hours night and day for
weeks! Surely it was impossible after that to despise them for
shiftlessness and talkative idling in peignoirs; impossible to
despise them for anything whatever! But Sophia, conscious of her
inheritance of strong and resolute character, did despise them as
poor things. The one point on which she envied them was their
formal manners to her, which seemed to become more dignified and
graciously distant as her health improved. It was always 'Madame,'
'Madame,' to her, with an intonation of increasing deference. They
might have been apologizing to her for themselves.

She prowled into all the corners of the flat; but she discovered
no more rooms, nothing but a large cupboard crammed with Madame
Foucault's dresses. Then she went back to the large bedroom, and
enjoyed the busy movement and rattle of the sloping street, and
had long, vague yearnings for strength and for freedom in wide,
sane places. She decided that on the morrow she would dress
herself 'properly,' and never again wear a peignoir; the peignoir
and all that it represented, disgusted her. And while looking at
the street she ceased to see it and saw Cook's office and Chirac
helping her into the carriage. Where was he? Why had he brought
her to this impossible abode? What did he mean by such conduct?
But could he have acted otherwise? He had done the one thing that
he could do. ... Chance! ... Chance! And why an impossible abode?
Was one place more impossible than another? All this came of
running away from home with Gerald. It was remarkable that she
seldom thought of Gerald. He had vanished from her life as he had
come into it--madly, preposterously. She wondered what the next
stage in her career would be. She certainly could not forecast it.
Perhaps Gerald was starving, or in prison ... Bah! That
exclamation expressed her appalling disdain of Gerald and of the
Sophia who had once deemed him the paragon of men. Bah!

A carriage stopping in front of the house awakened her from her
meditation. Madame Foucault and a man very much younger than
Madame Foucault got out of it. Sophia fled. After all, this prying
into other people's rooms was quite inexcusable. She dropped on to
her own bed and picked up a book, in case Madame Foucault should
come in.

III

In the evening, just after night had fallen, Sophia on the bed
heard the sound of raised and acrimonious voices in Madame
Foucault's room. Nothing except dinner had happened since the
arrival of Madame Foucault and the young man. These two had
evidently dined informally in the bedroom on a dish or so prepared
by Madame Foucault, who had herself served Sophia with her
invalid's repast. The odours of cookery still hung in the air.

The noise of virulent discussion increased and continued, and then
Sophia could hear sobbing, broken by short and fierce phrases from
the man. Then the door of the bedroom opened brusquely. "J'en ai
soupe!" exclaimed the man, in tones of angry disgust. "Laisse-moi,
je te prie!" And then a soft muffled sound, as of a struggle, a
quick step, and the very violent banging of the front door. After
that there was a noticeable silence, save for the regular sobbing.
Sophia wondered when it would cease, that monotonous sobbing.

"What is the matter?" she called out from her bed.

The sobbing grew louder, like the sobbing of a child who has
detected an awakening of sympathy and instinctively begins to
practise upon it. In the end Sophia arose and put on the peignoir
which she had almost determined never to wear again. The broad
corridor was lighted by a small, smelling oil-lamp with a crimson
globe. That soft, transforming radiance seemed to paint the whole
corridor with voluptuous luxury: so much so that it was impossible
to believe that the smell came from the lamp. Under the lamp lay
Madame Foucault on the floor, a shapeless mass of lace, frilled
linen, and corset; her light brown hair was loose and spread about
the floor. At the first glance, the creature abandoned to grief
made a romantic and striking picture, and Sophia thought for an
instant that she had at length encountered life on a plane that
would correspond to her dreams of romance. And she was impressed,
with a feeling somewhat akin to that of a middling commoner when
confronted with a viscount. There was, in the distance, something
imposing and sensational about that prone, trembling figure. The
tragic works of love were therein apparently manifest, in a sort
of dignified beauty. But when Sophia bent over Madame Foucault,
and touched her flabbiness, this illusion at once vanished; and
instead of being dramatically pathetic the woman was ridiculous.
Her face, especially as damaged by tears, could not support the
ordeal of inspection; it was horrible; not a picture, but a
palette; or like the coloured design of a pavement artist after a
heavy shower. Her great, relaxed eyelids alone would have rendered
any face absurd; and there were monstrous details far worse than
the eyelids. Then she was amazingly fat; her flesh seemed to be
escaping at all ends from a corset strained to the utmost limit.
And above her boots--she was still wearing dainty, high-heeled,
tightly laced boots--the calves bulged suddenly out.

As a woman of between forty and fifty, the obese sepulchre of a
dead vulgar beauty, she had no right to passions and tears and
homage, or even the means of life; she had no right to expose
herself picturesquely beneath a crimson glow in all the panoply of
ribboned garters and lacy seductiveness. It was silly; it was
disgraceful. She ought to have known that only youth and slimness
have the right to appeal to the feelings by indecent abandonments.

Such were the thoughts that mingled with the sympathy of the
beautiful and slim Sophia as she bent down to Madame Foucault. She
was sorry for her landlady, but at the same time she despised her,
and resented her woe.

"What is the matter?" she asked quietly.

"He has chucked me!" stammered Madame Foucault. "And he's the
last. I have no one now!"

She rolled over in the most grotesque manner, kicking up her legs,
with a fresh outburst of sobs. Sophia felt quite ashamed for her.

"Come and lie down. Come now!" she said, with a touch of
sharpness. "You musn't lie there like that."

Madame Foucault's behaviour was really too outrageous. Sophia
helped her, morally rather than physically, to rise, and then
persuaded her into the large bedroom. Madame Foucault fell on the
bed, of which the counterpane had been thrown over the foot.
Sophia covered the lower part of her heaving body with the
counterpane.

"Now, calm yourself, please!"

This room too was lit in crimson, by a small lamp that stood on
the night-table, and though the shade of the lamp was cracked, the
general effect of the great chamber was incontestably romantic.
Only the pillows of the wide bed and a small semi-circle of floor
were illuminated, all the rest lay in shadow. Madame Foucault's
head had dropped between the pillows. A tray containing dirty
plates and glasses and a wine-bottle was speciously picturesque on
the writing-table.

Despite her genuine gratitude to Madame Foucault for astounding
care during her illness, Sophia did not like her landlady, and the
present scene made her coldly wrathful. She saw the probability of
having another's troubles piled on the top of her own. She did
not, in her mind, actively object, because she felt that she could
not be more hopelessly miserable than she was; but she passively
resented the imposition. Her reason told her that she ought to
sympathize with this ageing, ugly, disagreeable, undignified
woman; but her heart was reluctant; her heart did not want to know
anything at all about Madame Foucault, nor to enter in any way
into her private life.

"I have not a single friend now," stammered Madame Foucault.

"Oh, yes, you have," said Sophia, cheerfully. "You have Madame
Laurence."

"Laurence--that is not a friend. You know what I mean."

"And me! I am your friend!" said Sophia, in obedience to her
conscience.

"You are very kind," replied Madame Foucault, from the pillow.
"But you know what I mean."

The fact was that Sophia did know what she meant. The terms of
their intercourse had been suddenly changed. There was no
pretentious ceremony now, but the sincerity that disaster brings.
The vast structure of make-believe, which between them they had
gradually built, had crumbled to nothing.

"I never treated badly any man in my life," whimpered Madame
Foucault. "I have always been a--good girl. There is not a man who
can say I have not been a good girl. Never was I a girl like the
rest. And every one has said so. Ah! when I tell you that once I
had a hotel in the Avenue de la Reine Hortense. Four horses ... I
have sold a horse to Madame Musard. ... You know Madame Musard.
... But one cannot make economies. Impossible to make economies!
Ah! In 'fifty-six I was spending a hundred thousand francs a year.
That cannot last. Always I have said to myself: 'That cannot
last.' Always I had the intention. ... But what would you? I
installed myself here, and borrowed money to pay for the
furniture. There did not remain to me one jewel. The men are
poltroons, all! I could let three bedrooms for three hundred and
fifty francs a month, and with serving meals and so on I could
live."

"Then that," Sophia interrupted, pointing to her own bedroom
across the corridor, "is your room?"

"Yes," said Madame Foucault. "I put you in it because at the
moment all these were let. They are so no longer. Only one--
Laurence--and she does not pay me always. What would you? Tenants
--that does not find itself at the present hour. ... I have
nothing, and I owe. And he quits me. He chooses this moment to
quit me! And why? For nothing. For nothing. That is not for his
money that I regret him. No, no! You know, at his age--he is
twenty-five--and with a woman like me--one is not generous! No. I
loved him. And then a man is a moral support, always. I loved him.
It is at my age, mine, that one knows how to love. Beauty goes
always, but not the temperament! Ah, that--No! ... I loved him. I
love him."

Sophia's face tingled with a sudden emotion caused by the
repetition of those last three words, whose spell no usage can
mar. But she said nothing.

"Do you know what I shall become? There is nothing but that for
me. And I know of such, who are there already. A charwoman! Yes, a
charwoman! More soon or more late. Well, that is life. What would
you? One exists always." Then in a different tone: "I demand your
pardon, madame, for talking like this. I ought to have shame."

And Sophia felt that in listening she also ought to be ashamed.
But she was not ashamed. Everything seemed very natural, and even
ordinary. And, moreover, Sophia was full of the sense of her
superiority over the woman on the bed. Four years ago, in the
Restaurant Sylvain, the ingenuous and ignorant Sophia had shyly
sat in awe of the resplendent courtesan, with her haughty stare,
her large, easy gestures, and her imperturbable contempt for the
man who was paying. And now Sophia knew that she, Sophia, knew all
that was to be known about human nature. She had not merely youth,
beauty, and virtue, but knowledge--knowledge enough to reconcile
her to her own misery. She had a vigorous, clear mind, and a clean
conscience. She could look any one in the face, and judge every
one too as a woman of the world. Whereas this obscene wreck on the
bed had nothing whatever left. She had not merely lost her
effulgent beauty, she had become repulsive. She could never have
had any commonsense, nor any force of character. Her haughtiness
in the day of glory was simply fatuous, based on stupidity. She
had passed the years in idleness, trailing about all day in stuffy
rooms, and emerging at night to impress nincompoops; continually
meaning to do things which she never did, continually surprised at
the lateness of the hour, continually occupied with the most
foolish trifles. And here she was at over forty writhing about on
the bare floor because a boy of twenty-five (who MUST be a
worthless idiot) had abandoned her after a scene of ridiculous
shoutings and stampings. She was dependent on the caprices of a
young scamp, the last donkey to turn from her with loathing!
Sophia thought: "Goodness! If I had been in her place I shouldn't
have been like that. I should have been rich. I should have saved
like a miser. I wouldn't have been dependent on anybody at that
age. If I couldn't have made a better courtesan than this pitiable
woman, I would have drowned myself."

In the harsh vanity of her conscious capableness and young
strength she thought thus, half forgetting her own follies, and
half excusing them on the ground of inexperience.

Sophia wanted to go round the flat and destroy every crimson
lampshade in it. She wanted to shake Madame Foucault into self-
respect and sagacity. Moral reprehension, though present in her
mind, was only faint. Certainly she felt the immense gulf between
the honest woman and the wanton, but she did not feel it as she
would have expected to feel it. "What a fool you have been!" she
thought; not: "What a sinner!" With her precocious cynicism, which
was somewhat unsuited to the lovely northern youthfulness of that
face, she said to herself that the whole situation and their
relative attitudes would have been different if only Madame
Foucault had had the wit to amass a fortune, as (according to
Gerald) some of her rivals had succeeded in doing.

And all the time she was thinking, in another part of her mind: "I
ought not to be here. It's no use arguing. I ought not to be here.
Chirac did the only thing for me there was to do. But I must go
now."

Madame Foucault continued to recite her woes, chiefly financial,
in a weak voice damp with tears; she also continued to apologize
for mentioning herself. She had finished sobbing, and lay looking
at the wall, away from Sophia, who stood irresolute near the bed,
ashamed for her companion's weakness and incapacity.

"You must not forget," said Sophia, irritated by the unrelieved
darkness of the picture drawn by Madame Foucault, "that at least I
owe you a considerable sum, and that I am only waiting for you to
tell me how much it is. I have asked you twice already, I think."

"Oh, you are still suffering!" said Madame Foucault.

"I am quite well enough to pay my debts," said Sophia.

"I do not like to accept money from you," said Madame Foucault.

"But why not?"

"You will have the doctor to pay."

"Please do not talk in that way," said Sophia. "I have money, and
I can pay for everything, and I shall pay for everything."

She was annoyed because she was sure that Madame Foucault was only
making a pretence of delicacy, and that in any case her delicacy
was preposterous. Sophia had remarked this on the two previous
occasions when she had mentioned the subject of bills. Madame
Foucault would not treat her as an ordinary lodger, now that the
illness was past. She wanted, as it were, to complete brilliantly
what she had begun, and to live in Sophia's memory as a unique
figure of lavish philanthropy. This was a sentiment, a luxury that
she desired to offer herself: the thought that she had played
providence to a respectable married lady in distress; she
frequently hinted at Sophia's misfortunes and helplessness. But
she could not afford the luxury. She gazed at it as a poor woman
gazes at costly stuffs through the glass of a shop-window. The
truth was, she wanted the luxury for nothing. For a double reason
Sophia was exasperated: by Madame Foucault's absurd desire, and by
a natural objection to the role of a subject for philanthropy. She
would not admit that Madame Foucault's devotion as a nurse
entitled her to the satisfaction of being a philanthropist when
there was no necessity for philanthropy.

"How long have I been here?" asked Sophia.

"I don't know." murmured Madame Foucault. "Eight weeks--or is it
nine?"

"Suppose we say nine," said Sophia.

"Very well," agreed Madame Foucault, apparently reluctant.

"Now, how much must I pay you per week?"

"I don't want anything--I don't want anything! You are a friend of
Chirac's. You---"

"Not at all!" Sophia interrupted, tapping her foot and biting her
lip. "Naturally I must pay."

Madame Foucault wept quietly.

"Shall I pay you seventy-five francs a week?" said Sophia, anxious
to end the matter.

"It is too much!" Madame Foucault protested, insincerely.

"What? For all you have done for me?"

"I speak not of that," Madame Foucault modestly replied.

If the devotion was not to be paid for, then seventy-five francs a
week was assuredly too much, as during more than half the time
Sophia had had almost no food. Madame Foucault was therefore
within the truth when she again protested, at sight of the bank-
notes which Sophia brought from her trunk:

"I am sure that it is too much."

"Not at all!" Sophia repeated. "Nine weeks at seventy-five. That
makes six hundred and seventy-five. Here are seven hundreds."

"I have no change," said Madame Foucault. "I have nothing."

"That will pay for the hire of the bath," said Sophia.

She laid the notes on the pillow. Madame Foucault looked at them
gluttonously, as any other person would have done in her place.
She did not touch them. After an instant she burst into wild
tears.

"But why do you cry?" Sophia asked, softened.

"I--I don't know!" spluttered Madame Foucault. "You are so
beautiful. I am so content that we saved you." Her great wet eyes
rested on Sophia.

It was sentimentality. Sophia ruthlessly set it down as
sentimentality. But she was touched. She was suddenly moved. Those
women, such as they were in their foolishness, probably had saved
her life--and she a stranger! Flaccid as they were, they had been
capable of resolute perseverance there. It was possible to say
that chance had thrown them upon an enterprise which they could
not have abandoned till they or death had won. It was possible to
say that they hoped vaguely to derive advantage from their
labours. But even then? Judged by an ordinary standard, those
women had been angels of mercy. And Sophia was despising them,
cruelly taking their motives to pieces, accusing them of
incapacity when she herself stood a supreme proof of their
capacity in, at any rate, one direction! In a rush of emotion she
saw her hardness and her injustice.

She bent down. "Never can I forget how kind you have been to me.
It is incredible! Incredible!" She spoke softly, in tones loaded
with genuine feeling. It was all she said. She could not embroider
on the theme. She had no talent for thanksgiving.

Madame Foucault made the beginning of a gesture, as if she meant
to kiss Sophia with those thick, marred lips; but refrained. Her
head sank back, and then she had a recurrence of the fit of
nervous sobbing. Immediately afterwards there was the sound of a
latchkey in the front-door of the flat; the bedroom door was open.
Still sobbing very violently, she cocked her ear, and pushed the
bank-notes under the pillow.

Madame Laurence--as she was called: Sophia had never heard her
surname--came straight into the bedroom, and beheld the scene with
astonishment in her dark twinkling eyes. She was usually dressed
in black, because people said that black suited her, and because
black was never out of fashion; black was an expression of her
idiosyncrasy. She showed a certain elegance, and by comparison
with the extreme disorder of Madame Foucault and the deshabille of
Sophia her appearance, all fresh from a modish restaurant, was
brilliant; it gave her an advantage over the other two--that moral
advantage which ceremonial raiment always gives.

"What is it that passes?" she demanded.

"He has chucked me, Laurence!" exclaimed Madame Foucault, in a
sort of hysteric scream which seemed to force its way through her
sobs. From the extraordinary freshness of Madame Foucault's woe,
it might have been supposed that her young man had only that
instant strode out.

Laurence and Sophia exchanged a swift glance; and Laurence, of
course, perceived that Sophia's relations with her landlady and
nurse were now of a different, a more candid order. She indicated
her perception of the change by a single slight movement of the
eyebrows.

"But listen, Aimee," she said authoritatively. "You must not let
yourself go like that. He will return."

"Never!" cried Madame Foucault. "It is finished. And he is the
last!"

Laurence, ignoring Madame Foucault, approached Sophia. "You have
an air very fatigued," she said, caressing Sophia's shoulder with
her gloved hand. "You are pale like everything. All this is not
for you. It is not reasonable to remain here, you still suffering!
At this hour! Truly not reasonable!"

Her hands persuaded Sophia towards the corridor. And, in fact,
Sophia did then notice her own exhaustion. She departed from the
room with the ready obedience of physical weakness, and shut her
door.

After about half an hour, during which she heard confused noises
and murmurings, her door half opened.

"May I enter, since you are not asleep?" It was Laurence's voice.
Twice, now, she had addressed Sophia without adding the formal
'madame.'

"Enter, I beg you," Sophia called from the bed. "I am reading."

Laurence came in. Sophia was both glad and sorry to see her. She
was eager to hear gossip which, however, she felt she ought to
despise. Moreover, she knew that if they talked that night they
would talk as friends, and that Laurence would ever afterwards
treat her with the familiarity of a friend. This she dreaded.
Still, she knew that she would yield, at any rate, to the
temptation to listen to gossip.

"I have put her to bed," said Laurence, in a whisper, as she
cautiously closed the door. "The poor woman! Oh, what a charming
bracelet! It is a true pearl, naturally?"

Her roving eye had immediately, with an infallible instinct,
caught sight of a bracelet which, in taking stock of her
possessions, Sophia had accidentally left on the piano. She picked
it up, and then put it down again.

"Yes," said Sophia. She was about to add: "It's nearly all the
jewellery I possess;" but she stopped.

Laurence moved towards Sophia's bed, and stood over it as she had
often done in her quality as nurse. She had taken off her gloves,
and she made a piquant, pretty show, with her thirty years, and
her agreeable, slightly roguish face, in which were mingled the
knowingness of a street boy and the confidence of a woman who has
ceased to be surprised at the influence of her snub nose on a
highly intelligent man.

"Did she tell you what they had quarrelled about?" Laurence
inquired abruptly. And not only the phrasing of the question, but
the assured tone in which it was uttered, showed that Laurence
meant to be the familiar of Sophia.

"Not a word!" said Sophia.

In this brief question and reply, all was crudely implied that had
previously been supposed not to exist. The relations between the
two women were altered irretrievably in a moment.

"It must have been her fault!" said Laurence. "With men she is
insupportable. I have never understood how that poor woman has
made her way. With women she is charming. But she seems to be
incapable of not treating men like dogs. Some men adore that, but
they are few. Is it not?"

Sophia smiled.

"I have told her! How many times have I told her! But it is
useless. It is stronger than she is, and if she finishes on straw
one will be able to say that it was because of that. But truly she
ought not to have asked him here! Truly that was too much! If he
knew ...!"

"Why not?" asked Sophia, awkwardly. The answer startled her.

"Because her room has not been disinfected."

"But I thought all the flat had been disinfected?"

"All except her room."

"But why not her room?"

Laurence shrugged her shoulders. "She did not want to disturb her
things! Is it that I know, I? She is like that. She takes an idea
--and then, there you are!"

"She told me every room had been disinfected."

"She told the same to the police and the doctor."

"Then all the disinfection is useless?"

"Perfectly! But she is like that. This flat might be very
remunerative; but with her, never! She has not even paid for the
furniture--after two years!"

"But what will become of her?" Sophia asked.

"Ah--that!" Another shrug of the shoulders. "All that I know is
that it will be necessary for me to leave here. The last time I
brought Monsieur Cerf here, she was excessively rude to him. She
has doubtless told you about Monsieur Cerf?"

"No. Who is Monsieur Cerf?"

"Ah! She has not told you? That astonishes me. Monsieur Cerf, that
is my friend, you know."

"Oh!" murmured Sophia.

"Yes," Laurence proceeded, impelled by a desire to impress Sophia
and to gossip at large. "That is my friend. I knew him at the
hospital. It was to please him that I left the hospital. After
that we quarrelled for two years; but at the end he gave me right.
I did not budge. Two years! It is long. And I had left the
hospital. I could have gone back. But I would not. That is not a
life, to be nurse in a Paris hospital! No, I drew myself out as
well as I could ... He is the most charming boy you can imagine!
And rich now; that is to say, relatively. He has a cousin
infinitely more rich than he. I dined with them both to-night at
the Maison Doree. For a luxurious boy, he is a luxurious boy--the
cousin I mean. It appears that he has made a fortune in Canada."

"Truly!" said Sophia, with politeness. Laurence's hand was playing
on the edge of the bed, and Sophia observed for the first time
that it bore a wedding-ring.

"You remark my ring?" Laurence laughed. "That is he--the cousin.
'What!' he said, 'you do not wear an alliance? An alliance is more
proper. We are going to arrange that after dinner.' I said that
all the jewellers' shops would be closed. 'That is all the same to
me,' he said. 'We will open one.' And in effect ... it passed like
that. He succeeded! Is it not beautiful?" She held forth her hand.

"Yes," said Sophia. "It is very beautiful."

"Yours also is beautiful," said Laurence, with an extremely
puzzling intonation.

"It is just the ordinary English wedding-ring," said Sophia. In
spite of herself she blushed.

"Now I have married you. It is I, the cure, said he--the cousin--
when he put the ring on my finger. Oh, he is excessively amusing!
He pleases me much. And he is all alone. He asked me whether I
knew among my friends a sympathetic, pretty girl, to make four
with us three for a picnic. I said I was not sure, but I thought
not. Whom do I know? Nobody. I'm not a woman like the rest. I am
always discreet. I do not like casual relations. ... But he is
very well, the cousin. Brown eyes. ... It is an idea--will you
come, one day? He speaks English. He loves the English. He is all
that is most correct, the perfect gentleman. He would arrange a
dazzling fete. I am sure he would be enchanted to make your
acquaintance. Enchanted! ... As for my Charles, happily he is
completely mad about me--otherwise I should have fear."

She smiled, and in her smile was a genuine respect for Sophia's
face.

"I fear I cannot come," said Sophia. She honestly endeavoured to
keep out of her reply any accent of moral superiority, but she did
not quite succeed. She was not at all horrified by Laurence's
suggestion. She meant simply to refuse it; but she could not do so
in a natural voice.

"It is true you are not yet strong enough," said the imperturbable
Laurence, quickly, and with a perfect imitation of naturalness.
"But soon you must make a little promenade." She stared at her
ring. "After all, it is more proper," she observed judicially.
"With a wedding-ring one is less likely to be annoyed. What is
curious is that the idea never before came to me. Yet ..."

"You like jewellery?" said Sophia.

"If I like jewellery!" with a gesture of the hands.

"Will you pass me that bracelet?"

Laurence obeyed, and Sophia clasped it round the girl's wrist.

"Keep it," Sophia said.

"For me?" Laurence exclaimed, ravished. "It is too much."

"It is not enough," said Sophia. "And when you look at it, you
must remember how kind you were to me, and how grateful I am."

"How nicely you say that!" Laurence said ecstatically.

And Sophia felt that she had indeed said it rather nicely. This
giving of the bracelet, souvenir of one of the few capricious
follies that Gerald had committed for her and not for himself,
pleased Sophia very much.

"I am afraid your nursing of me forced you to neglect Monsieur
Cerf," she added.

"Yes, a little!" said Laurence, impartially, with a small pout of
haughtiness. "It is true that he used to complain. But I soon put
him straight. What an idea! He knows there are things upon which I
do not joke. It is not he who will quarrel a second time! Believe
me!"

Laurence's absolute conviction of her power was what impressed
Sophia. To Sophia she seemed to be a vulgar little piece of goods,
with dubious charm and a glance that was far too brazen. Her
movements were vulgar. And Sophia wondered how she had established
her empire and upon what it rested.

"I shall not show this to Aimee," whispered Laurence, indicating
the bracelet.

"As you wish," said Sophia.

"By the way, have I told you that war is declared?" Laurence
casually remarked.

"No," said Sophia. "What war?"

"The scene with Aimee made me forget it ... With Germany. The city
is quite excited. An immense crowd in front of the new Opera. They
say we shall be at Berlin in a month--or at most two months."

"Oh!" Sophia muttered. "Why is there a war?"

"Ah! It is I who asked that. Nobody knows. It is those Prussians."

"Don't you think we ought to begin again with the disinfecting?"
Sophia asked anxiously. "I must speak to Madame Foucault."

Laurence told her not to worry, and went off to show the bracelet
to Madame Foucault. She had privately decided that this was a
pleasure which, after all, she could not deny herself.

IV

About a fortnight later--it was a fine Saturday in early August--
Sophia, with a large pinafore over her dress, was finishing the
portentous preparations for disinfecting the flat. Part of the
affair was already accomplished, her own room and the corridor
having been fumigated on the previous day, in spite of the
opposition of Madame Foucault, who had taken amiss Laurence's
tale-bearing to Sophia. Laurence had left the flat--under exactly
what circumstances Sophia knew not, but she guessed that it must
have been in consequence of a scene elaborating the tiff caused by
Madame Foucault's resentment against Laurence. The brief,
factitious friendliness between Laurence and Sophia had gone like
a dream, and Laurence had gone like a dream. The servant had been
dismissed; in her place Madame Foucault employed a charwoman each
morning for two hours. Finally, Madame Foucault had been suddenly
called away that morning by a letter to her sick father at St.
Mammes-sur-Seine. Sophia was delighted at the chance. The
disinfecting of the flat had become an obsession with Sophia--the
obsession of a convalescent whose perspective unconsciously twists
things to the most wry shapes. She had had trouble on the day
before with Madame Foucault, and she was expecting more serious
trouble when the moment arrived for ejecting Madame Foucault as
well as all her movable belongings from Madame Foucault's own
room. Nevertheless, Sophia had been determined, whatever should
happen, to complete an honest fumigation of the entire flat. Hence
the eagerness with which, urging Madame Foucault to go to her
father, Sophia had protested that she was perfectly strong and
could manage by herself for a couple of days. Owing to the partial
suppression of the ordinary railway services in favour of military
needs, Madame Foucault could not hope to go and return on the same
day. Sophia had lent her a louis.

Pans of sulphur were mysteriously burning in each of the three
front rooms, and two pairs of doors had been pasted over with
paper, to prevent the fumes from escaping. The charwoman had
departed. Sophia, with brush, scissors, flour-paste, and news-
sheets, was sealing the third pair of doors, when there was a ring
at the front door.

She had only to cross the corridor in order to open.

It was Chirac. She was not surprised to see him. The outbreak of
the war had induced even Sophia and her landlady to look through
at least one newspaper during the day, and she had in this way
learnt, from an article signed by Chirac, that he had returned to
Paris after a mission into the Vosges country for his paper.

He started on seeing her. "Ah!" He breathed out the exclamation
slowly. And then smiled, seized her hand, and kissed it.

The sight of his obvious extreme pleasure in meeting her again was
the sweetest experience that had fallen to Sophia for years.

"Then you are cured?"

"Quite."

He sighed. "You know, this is an enormous relief to me, to know,
veritably, that you are no longer in danger. You gave me a fright
... but a fright, my dear madame!"

She smiled in silence.

As he glanced inquiringly up and down the corridor, she said--

"I'm all alone in the flat. I'm disinfecting it."

"Then that is sulphur that I smell?"

She nodded. "Excuse me while I finish this door," she said.

He closed the front-door. "But you seem to be quite at home here!"
he observed.

"I ought to be," said she.

He glanced again inquiringly up and down the corridor. "And you
are really all alone now?" he asked, as though to be doubly sure.

She explained the circumstances.

"I owe you my most sincere excuses for bringing you here," he said
confidentially.

"But why?" she replied, looking intently at her door. "They have
been most kind to me. Nobody could have been kinder. And Madame
Laurence being such a good nurse----"

"It is true," said he. "That was a reason. In effect they are both
very good-natured little women. ... You comprehend, as journalist
it arrives to me to know all kinds of people ..." He snapped his
fingers ... "And as we were opposite the house. In fine, I pray
you to excuse me."

"Hold me this paper," she said. "It is necessary that every crack
should be covered; also between the floor and the door."

"You English are wonderful," he murmured, as he took the paper.
"Imagine you doing that! Then," he added, resuming the
confidential tone, "I suppose you will leave the Foucault now,
hein?"

"I suppose so," she said carelessly.

"You go to England?"

She turned to him, as she patted the creases out of a strip of
paper with a duster, and shook her head.

"Not to England?"

"No."

"If it is not indiscreet, where are you going?"

"I don't know," she said candidly.

And she did not know. She was without a plan. Her brain told her
that she ought to return to Bursley, or, at the least, write. But
her pride would not hear of such a surrender. Her situation would
have to be far more desperate than it was before she could confess
her defeat to her family even in a letter. A thousand times no!
That was a point which she had for ever decided. She would face
any disaster, and any other shame, rather than the shame of her
family's forgiving reception of her.

"And you?" she asked. "How does it go? This war?"

He told her, in a few words, a few leading facts about himself.
"It must not be said," he added of the war, "but that will turn
out ill! I--I know, you comprehend."

"Truly?" she answered with casualness.

"You have heard nothing of him?" Chirac asked.

"Who? Gerald?"

He gave a gesture.

"Nothing! Not a word! Nothing!"

"He will have gone back to England!"

"Never!" she said positively.

"But why not?"

"Because he prefers France. He really does like France. I think it
is the only real passion he ever had."

"It is astonishing," reflected Chirac, "how France is loved! And
yet ...! But to live, what will he do? Must live!"

Sophia merely shrugged her shoulders.

"Then it is finished between you two?" he muttered awkwardly.

She nodded. She was on her knees, at the lower crack of the doors.

"There!" she said, rising. "It's well done, isn't it? That is
all."

She smiled at him, facing him squarely, in the obscurity of the
untidy and shabby corridor. Both felt that they had become very
intimate. He was intensely flattered by her attitude, and she knew
it.

"Now," she said, "I will take off my pinafore. Where can I niche
you? There is only my bedroom, and I want that. What are we to
do?"

"Listen," he suggested diffidently. "Will you do me the honour to
come for a drive? That will do you good. There is sunshine. And
you are always very pale."

"With pleasure," she agreed cordially.

While dressing, she heard him walking up and down the corridor;
occasionally they exchanged a few words. Before leaving, Sophia
pulled off the paper from one of the key-holes of the sealed suite
of rooms, and they peered through, one after the other, and saw
the green glow of the sulphur, and were troubled by its
uncanniness. And then Sophia refixed the paper.

In descending the stairs of the house she felt the infirmity of
her knees; but in other respects, though she had been out only
once before since her illness, she was conscious of a sufficient
strength. A disinclination for any enterprise had prevented her
from taking the air as she ought to have done, but within the flat
she had exercised her limbs in many small tasks. The little
Chirac, nervously active and restless, wanted to take her arm, but
she would not allow it.

The concierge and part of her family stared curiously at Sophia as
she passed under the archway, for the course of her illness had
excited the interest of the whole house. Just as the carriage was
driving off, the concierge came across the pavement and paid her
compliments, and then said:

"You do not know by hazard why Madame Foucault has not returned
for lunch, madame?"

"Returned for lunch!" said Sophia. "She will not come back till
to-morrow."

The concierge made a face. "Ah! How curious it is! She told my
husband that she would return in two hours. It is very grave!
Question of business."

"I know nothing, madame," said Sophia. She and Chirac looked at
each other. The concierge murmured thanks and went off muttering
indistinctly.

The fiacre turned down the Rue Laferriere, the horse slipping and
sliding as usual over the cobblestones. Soon they were on the
boulevard, making for the Champs Elysees and the Bois de Boulogne.

The fresh breeze and bright sunshine and the large freedom of the
streets quickly intoxicated Sophia--intoxicated her, that is to
say, in quite a physical sense. She was almost drunk, with the
heady savour of life itself. A mild ecstasy of well-being overcame
her. She saw the flat as a horrible, vile prison, and blamed
herself for not leaving it sooner and oftener. The air was
medicine, for body and mind too. Her perspective was instantly
corrected. She was happy, living neither in the past nor in the
future, but in and for that hour. And beneath her happiness moved
a wistful melancholy for the Sophia who had suffered such a
captivity and such woes. She yearned for more and yet more
delight, for careless orgies of passionate pleasure, in the midst
of which she would forget all trouble. Why had she refused the
offer of Laurence? Why had she not rushed at once into the
splendid fire of joyous indulgence, ignoring everything but the
crude, sensuous instinct? Acutely aware as she was of her youth,
her beauty, and her charm, she wondered at her refusal. She did
not regret her refusal. She placidly observed it as the result of
some tremendously powerful motive in herself, which could not be
questioned or reasoned with--which was, in fact, the essential
HER.

"Do I look like an invalid?" she asked, leaning back luxuriously
in the carriage among the crowd of other vehicles.

Chirac hesitated. "My faith! Yes!" he said at length. "But it
becomes you. If I did not know that you have little love for
compliments, I--"

"But I adore compliments!" she exclaimed. "What made you think
that?"

"Well, then," he youthfully burst out, "you are more ravishing
than ever."

She gave herself up deliciously to his admiration.

After a silence, he said: "Ah! if you knew how disquieted I was
about you, away there ...! I should not know how to tell you.
Veritably disquieted, you comprehend! What could I do? Tell me a
little about your illness."

She recounted details.

As the fiacre entered the Rue Royale, they noticed a crowd of
people in front of the Madeleine shouting and cheering.

The cabman turned towards them. "It appears there has been a
victory!" he said.

"A victory! If only it was true!" murmured Chirac, cynically.

In the Rue Royale people were running frantically to and fro,
laughing and gesticulating in glee. The customers in the cafes
stood on their chairs, and even on tables, to watch, and
occasionally to join in, the sudden fever. The fiacre was slowed
to a walking pace. Flags and carpets began to show from the upper
storeys of houses. The crowd grew thicker and more febrile.
"Victory! Victory!" rang hoarsely, shrilly, and hoarsely again in
the air.

"My God!" said Chirac, trembling. "It must be a true victory! We
are saved! We are saved! ... Oh yes, it is true!"

"But naturally it is true! What are you saying?" demanded the
driver.

At the Place de la Concorde the fiacre had to stop altogether. The
immense square was a sea of white hats and flowers and happy
faces, with carriages anchored like boats on its surface. Flag
after flag waved out from neighbouring roofs in the breeze that
tempered the August sun. Then hats began to go up, and cheers
rolled across the square like echoes of firing in an enclosed
valley. Chirac's driver jumped madly on to his seat, and cracked
his whip.

"Vive la France!" he bawled with all the force of his lungs.

A thousand throats answered him.

Then there was a stir behind them. Another carriage was being
slowly forced to the front. The crowd was pushing it, and crying,
"Marseillaise! Marseillaise!" In the carriage was a woman alone;
not beautiful, but distinguished, and with the assured gaze of one
who is accustomed to homage and multitudinous applause.

"It is Gueymard!" said Chirac to Sophia. He was very pale. And he
too shouted, "Marseillaise!" All his features were distorted.

The woman rose and spoke to her coachman, who offered his hand and
she climbed to the box seat, and stood on it and bowed several
times.

"Marseillaise!" The cry continued. Then a roar of cheers, and then
silence spread round the square like an inundation. And amid this
silence the woman began to sing the Marseillaise. As she sang, the
tears ran down her cheeks. Everybody in the vicinity was weeping
or sternly frowning. In the pauses of the first verse could be
heard the rattle of horses' bits, or a whistle of a tug on the
river. The refrain, signalled by a proud challenging toss of
Gueymard's head, leapt up like a tropical tempest, formidable,
overpowering. Sophia, who had had no warning of the emotion
gathering within her, sobbed violently. At the close of the hymn
Gueymard's carriage was assaulted by worshippers. All around, in
the tumult of shouting, men were kissing and embracing each other;
and hats went up continually in fountains. Chirac leaned over the
side of the carriage and wrung the hand of a man who was standing
by the wheel.

"Who is that?" Sophia asked, in an unsteady voice, to break the
inexplicable tension within her.

"I don't know," said Chirac. He was weeping like a child. And he
sang out: "Victory! To Berlin! Victory!"

V

Sophia walked alone, with tired limbs, up the damaged oak stairs
to the flat. Chirac had decided that, in the circumstances of the
victory, he would do well to go to the offices of his paper rather
earlier than usual. He had brought her back to the Rue Breda. They
had taken leave of each other in a sort of dream or general
enchantment due to their participation in the vast national
delirium which somehow dominated individual feelings. They did not
define their relations. They had been conscious only of emotion.

The stairs, which smelt of damp even in summer, disgusted Sophia.
She thought of the flat with horror and longed for green places
and luxury. On the landing were two stoutish, ill-dressed men, of
middle age, apparently waiting. Sophia found her key and opened
the door.

"Pardon, madame!" said one of the men, raising his hat, and they
both pushed into the flat after her. They stared, puzzled, at the
strips of paper pasted on the doors.

"What do you want?" she asked haughtily. She was very frightened.
The extraordinary interruption brought her down with a shock to
the scale of the individual.

"I am the concierge," said the man who had addressed her. He had
the air of a superior artisan. "It was my wife who spoke to you
this afternoon. This," pointing to his companion, "this is the
law. I regret it, but ..."

The law saluted and shut the front door. Like the concierge, the
law emitted an odour--the odour of uncleanliness on a hot August
day.

"The rent?" exclaimed Sophia.

"No, madame, not the rent: the furniture!"

Then she learnt the history of the furniture. It had belonged to
the concierge, who had acquired it from a previous tenant and sold
it on credit to Madame Foucault. Madame Foucault had signed bills
and had not met them. She had made promises and broken them. She
had done everything except discharge her liabilities. She had been
warned and warned again. That day had been fixed as the last
limit, and she had solemnly assured her creditor that on that day
she would pay. On leaving the house she had stated precisely and
clearly that she would return before lunch with all the money. She
had made no mention of a sick father.

Sophia slowly perceived the extent of Madame Foucault's duplicity
and moral cowardice. No doubt the sick father was an invention.
The woman, at the end of a tether which no ingenuity of lies could
further lengthen, had probably absented herself solely to avoid
the pain of witnessing the seizure. She would do anything, however
silly, to avoid an immediate unpleasantness. Or perhaps she had
absented herself without any particular aim, but simply in the
hope that something fortunate might occur. Perhaps she had hoped
that Sophia, taken unawares, would generously pay. Sophia smiled
grimly.

"Well," she said. "I can't do anything. I suppose you must do what
you have to do. You will let me pack up my own affairs?"

"Perfectly, madame!"

She warned them as to the danger of opening the sealed rooms. The
man of the law seemed prepared to stay in the corridor
indefinitely. No prospect of delay disturbed him.

Strange and disturbing, the triumph of the concierge! He was a
locksmith by trade. He and his wife and their children lived in
two little dark rooms by the archway--an insignificant fragment of
the house. He was away from home about fourteen hours every day,
except Sundays, when he washed the courtyard. All the other duties
of the concierge were performed by the wife. The pair always
looked poor, untidy, dirty, and rather forlorn. But they were
steadily levying toll on everybody in the big house. They amassed
money in forty ways. They lived for money, and all men have what
they live for. With what arrogant gestures Madame Foucault would
descend from a carriage at the great door! What respectful
attitudes and tones the ageing courtesan would receive from the
wife and children of the concierge! But beneath these conventional
fictions the truth was that the concierge held the whip. At last
he was using it. And he had given himself a half-holiday in order
to celebrate his second acquirement of the ostentatious furniture
and the crimson lampshades. This was one of the dramatic crises in
his career as a man of substance. The national thrill of victory
had not penetrated into the flat with the concierge and the law.
The emotions of the concierge were entirely independent of the
Napoleonic foreign policy.

As Sophia, sick with a sudden disillusion, was putting her things
together, and wondering where she was to go, and whether it would
be politic to consult Chirac, she heard a fluster at the front
door: cries, protestations, implorings. Her own door was thrust
open, and Madame Foucault burst in.

"Save me!" exclaimed Madame Foucault, sinking to the ground.

The feeble theatricality of the gesture offended Sophia's taste.
She asked sternly what Madame Foucault expected her to do. Had not
Madame Foucault knowingly exposed her, without the least warning,
to the extreme annoyance of this visit of the law, a visit which
meant practically that Sophia was put into the street?

"You must not be hard!" Madame Foucault sobbed.

Sophia learnt the complete history of the woman's efforts to pay
for the furniture: a farrago of folly and deceptions. Madame
Foucault confessed too much. Sophia scorned confession for the
sake of confession. She scorned the impulse which forces a weak
creature to insist on its weakness, to revel in remorse, and to
find an excuse for its conduct in the very fact that there is no
excuse. She gathered that Madame Foucault had in fact gone away in
the hope that Sophia, trapped, would pay; and that in the end, she
had not even had the courage of her own trickery, and had run
back, driven by panic into audacity, to fall at Sophia's feet,
lest Sophia might not have yielded and the furniture have been
seized. From, beginning to end the conduct of Madame Foucault had
been fatuous and despicable and wicked. Sophia coldly condemned
Madame Foucault for having allowed herself to be brought into the
world with such a weak and maudlin character, and for having
allowed herself to grow old and ugly. As a sight the woman was
positively disgraceful.

"Save me!" she exclaimed again. "I did what I could for you!"

Sophia hated her. But the logic of the appeal was irresistible.

"But what can I do?" she asked reluctantly.

"Lend me the money. You can. If you don't, this will be the end
for me."

"And a good thing, too!" thought Sophia's hard sense.

"How much is it?" Sophia glumly asked.

"It isn't a thousand francs!" said Madame Foucault with eagerness.
"All my beautiful furniture will go for less than a thousand
francs! Save me!"

She was nauseating Sophia.

"Please rise," said Sophia, her hands fidgeting undecidedly.

"I shall repay you, surely!" Madame Foucault asseverated. "I
swear!"

"Does she take me for a fool?" thought Sophia, "with her oaths!"

"No!" said Sophia. "I won't lend you the money. But I tell you
what I will do. I will buy the furniture at that price; and I will
promise to re-sell it to you as soon as you can pay me. Like that,
you can be tranquil. But I have very little money. I must have a
guarantee. The furniture must be mine till you pay me."

"You are an angel of charity!" cried Madame Foucault, embracing
Sophia's skirts. "I will do whatever you wish. Ah! You
Englishwomen are astonishing."

Sophia was not an angel of charity. What she had promised to do
involved sacrifice and anxiety without the prospect of reward. But
it was not charity. It was part of the price Sophia paid for the
exercise of her logical faculty; she paid it unwillingly. 'I did
what I could for you!' Sophia would have died sooner than remind
any one of a benefit conferred, and Madame Foucault had committed
precisely that enormity. The appeal was inexcusable to a fine
mind; but it was effective.

The men were behind the door, listening. Sophia paid out of her
stock of notes. Needless to say, the total was more and not less
than a thousand francs. Madame Foucault grew rapidly confidential
with the man. Without consulting Sophia, she asked the bailiff to
draw up a receipt transferring the ownership of all the furniture
to Sophia; and the bailiff, struck into obligingness by glimpses
of Sophia's beauty, consented to do so. There was much conferring
upon forms of words, and flourishing of pens between thick, vile
fingers, and scattering of ink.

Before the men left Madame Foucault uncorked a bottle of wine for
them, and helped them to drink it. Throughout the evening she was
insupportably deferential to Sophia, who was driven to bed. Madame
Foucault contentedly went up to the sixth floor to occupy the
servant's bedroom. She was glad to get so far away from the
sulphur, of which a few faint fumes had penetrated into the
corridor.

The next morning, after a stifling night of bad dreams, Sophia was
too ill to get up. She looked round at the furniture in the little
room, and she imagined the furniture in the other rooms, and
dismally thought: "All this furniture is mine. She will never pay
me! I am saddled with it."

It was cheaply bought, but she probably could not sell it for even
what she had paid. Still, the sense of ownership was reassuring.

The charwoman brought her coffee, and Chirac's newspaper; from
which she learnt that the news of the victory which had sent the
city mad on the previous day was utterly false. Tears came into
her eyes as she gazed absently at all the curtained windows of the
courtyard. She had youth and loveliness; according to the rules
she ought to have been irresponsible, gay, and indulgently watched
over by the wisdom of admiring age. But she felt towards the
French nation as a mother might feel towards adorable, wilful
children suffering through their own charming foolishness. She saw
France personified in Chirac. How easily, despite his special
knowledge, he had yielded to the fever! Her heart bled for France
and Chirac on that morning of reaction and of truth. She could not
bear to recall the scene in the Place de la Concorde. Madame
Foucault had not descended.




CHAPTER VI

THE SIEGE

I


Madame Foucault came into Sophia's room one afternoon with a
peculiar guilty expression on her large face, and she held her
peignoir close to her exuberant body in folds consciously
majestic, as though endeavouring to prove to Sophia by her
carriage that despite her shifting eyes she was the most righteous
and sincere woman that ever lived.

It was Saturday, the third of September, a beautiful day. Sophia,
suffering from an unimportant relapse, had remained in a state of
inactivity, and had scarcely gone out at all. She loathed the
flat, but lacked the energy to leave it every day. There was no
sufficiently definite object in leaving it. She could not go out
and look for health as she might have looked for flowers. So she
remained in the flat, and stared at the courtyard and the
continual mystery of lives hidden behind curtains that
occasionally moved. And the painted yellow walls of the house, and
the papered walls of her room pressed upon her and crushed her.
For a few days Chirac had called daily, animated by the most
adorable solicitude. Then he had ceased to call. She had tired of
reading the journals; they lay unopened. The relations between
Madame Foucault and herself, and her status in the flat of which
she now legally owned the furniture,--these things were left
unsettled. But the question of her board was arranged on the terms
that she halved the cost of food and service with Madame Foucault;
her expenses were thus reduced to the lowest possible--about
eighteen francs a week. An idea hung in the air--like a scientific
discovery on the point of being made by several independent
investigators simultaneously--that she and Madame Foucault should
co-operate in order to let furnished rooms at a remunerative
profit. Sophia felt the nearness of the idea and she wanted to be
shocked at the notion of any avowed association between herself
and Madame Foucault; but she could not be.

"Here are a lady and a gentleman who want a bedroom," began Madame
Foucault, "a nice large bedroom, furnished."

"Oh!" said Sophia; "who are they?"

"They will pay a hundred and thirty francs a month, in advance,
for the middle bedroom."

"You've shown it to them already?" said Sophia. And her tone
implied that somehow she was conscious of a right to overlook the
affair of Madame Foucault.

"No," said the other. "I said to myself that first I would ask you
for a counsel."

"Then will they pay all that for a room they haven't seen?"

"The fact is," said Madame Foucault, sheepishly. "The lady has
seen the room before. I know her a little. It is a former tenant.
She lived here some weeks."

"In that room?"

"Oh no! She was poor enough then."

"Where are they?"

"In the corridor. She is very well, the lady. Naturally one must
live, she like all the world; but she is veritably well. Quite
respectable! One would never say ... Then there would be the
meals. We could demand one franc for the cafe au lait, two and a
half francs for the lunch, and three francs for the dinner.
Without counting other things. That would mean over five hundred
francs a month, at least. And what would they cost us? Almost
nothing! By what appears, he is a plutocrat ... I could thus
quickly repay you."

"Is it a married couple?"

"Ah! You know, one cannot demand the marriage certificate." Madame
Foucault indicated by a gesture that the Rue Breda was not the
paradise of saints.

"When she came before, this lady, was it with the same man?"
Sophia asked coldly.

"Ah, my faith, no!" exclaimed Madame Foucault, bridling. "It was a
bad sort, the other, a ...! Ah, no."

"Why do you ask my advice?" Sophia abruptly questioned, in a hard,
inimical voice. "Is it that it concerns me?"

Tears came at once into the eyes of Madame Foucault. "Do not be
unkind," she implored.

"I'm not unkind," said Sophia, in the same tone.

"Shall you leave me if I accept this offer?"

There was a pause.

"Yes," said Sophia, bluntly. She tried to be large-hearted, large-
minded, and sympathetic; but there was no sign of these qualities
in her speech.

"And if you take with you the furniture which is yours ...!"

Sophia kept silence.

"How am I to live, I demand of you?" Madame Foucault asked weakly.

"By being respectable and dealing with respectable people!" said
Sophia, uncompromisingly, in tones of steel.

"I am unhappy!" murmured the elder woman. "However, you are more
strong than I!"

She brusquely dabbed her eyes, gave a little sob, and ran out of
the room. Sophia listened at the door, and heard her dismiss the
would-be tenants of the best bedroom. She wondered that she should
possess such moral ascendancy over the woman, she so young and
ingenuous! For, of course, she had not meant to remove the
furniture. She could hear Madame Foucault sobbing quietly in one
of the other rooms; and her lips curled.

Before evening a truly astonishing event happened. Perceiving that
Madame Foucault showed no signs of bestirring herself, Sophia,
with good nature in her heart but not on her tongue, went to her,
and said:

"Shall I occupy myself with the dinner?"

Madame Foucault sobbed more loudly.

"That would be very amiable on your part," Madame Foucault managed
at last to reply, not very articulately.

Sophia put a hat on and went to the grocer's. The grocer, who kept
a busy establishment at the corner of the Rue Clausel, was a
middle-aged and wealthy man. He had sent his young wife and two
children to Normandy until victory over the Prussians should be
more assured, and he asked Sophia whether it was true that there
was a good bedroom to let in the flat where she lived. His servant
was ill of smallpox; he was attacked by anxieties and fears on all
sides; he would not enter his own flat on account of possible
infection; he liked Sophia, and Madame Foucault had been a
customer of his, with intervals, for twenty years. Within an hour
he had arranged to rent the middle bedroom at eighty francs a
month, and to take his meals there. The terms were modest, but the
respectability was prodigious. All the glory of this tenancy fell
upon Sophia.

Madame Foucault was deeply impressed. Characteristically she began
at once to construct a theory that Sophia had only to walk out of
the house in order to discover ideal tenants for the rooms. Also
she regarded the advent of the grocer as a reward from Providence
for her self-denial in refusing the profits of sinfulness. Sophia
felt personally responsible to the grocer for his comfort, and so
she herself undertook the preparation of the room. Madame Foucault
was amazed at the thoroughness of her housewifery, and at the
ingenuity of her ideas for the arrangement of furniture. She sat
and watched with admiration sycophantic but real.

That night, when Sophia was in bed, Madame Foucault came into the
room, and dropped down by the side of the bed, and begged Sophia
to be her moral support for ever. She confessed herself generally.
She explained how she had always hated the negation of
respectability; how respectability was the one thing that she had
all her life passionately desired. She said that if Sophia would
be her partner in the letting of furnished rooms to respectable
persons, she would obey her in everything. She gave Sophia a list
of all the traits in Sophia's character which she admired. She
asked Sophia to influence her, to stand by her. She insisted that
she would sleep on the sixth floor in the servant's tiny room; and
she had a vision of three bedrooms let to successful tradesmen.
She was in an ecstasy of repentance and good intentions.

Sophia consented to the business proposition; for she had nothing
else whatever in prospect, and she shared Madame Foucault's rosy
view about the remunerativeness of the bedrooms. With three
tenants who took meals the two women would be able to feed
themselves for nothing and still make a profit on the food; and
the rents would be clear gain.

And she felt very sorry for the ageing, feckless Madame Foucault,
whose sincerity was obvious. The association between them would be
strange; it would have been impossible to explain it to St. Luke's
Square. ... And yet, if there was anything at all in the virtue of
Christian charity, what could properly be urged against the
association?

"Ah!" murmured Madame Foucault, kissing Sophia's hands, "it is to-
day, then, that I recommence my life. You will see--you will see!
You have saved me!"

It was a strange sight, the time-worn, disfigured courtesan, half
prostrate before the beautiful young creature proud and
unassailable in the instinctive force of her own character. It was
almost a didactic tableau, fraught with lessons for the vicious.
Sophia was happier than she had been for years. She had a purpose
in existence; she had a fluid soul to mould to her will according
to her wisdom; and there was a large compassion to her credit.
Public opinion could not intimidate her, for in her case there was
no public opinion; she knew nobody; nobody had the right to
question her doings.

The next day, Sunday, they both worked hard at the bedrooms from
early morning. The grocer was installed in his chamber, and the
two other rooms were cleansed as they had never been cleansed. At
four o'clock, the weather being more magnificent than ever, Madame
Foucault said:

"If we took a promenade on the boulevard?"

Sophia reflected. They were partners. "Very well," she agreed.

The boulevard was crammed with gay, laughing crowds. All the cafes
were full. None, who did not know, could have guessed that the
news of Sedan was scarcely a day old in the capital. Delirious joy
reigned in the glittering sunshine. As the two women strolled
along, content with their industry and their resolves, they came
to a National Guard, who, perched on a ladder, was chipping away
the "N" from the official sign of a court-tradesman. He was
exchanging jokes with a circle of open mouths. It was in this way
that Madame Foucault and Sophia learnt of the establishment of a
republic.

"Vive la republique!" cried Madame Foucault, incontinently, and
then apologized to Sophia for the lapse.

They listened a long while to a man who was telling strange
histories of the Empress.

Suddenly Sophia noticed that Madame Foucault was no longer at her
elbow. She glanced about, and saw her in earnest conversation with
a young man whose face seemed familiar. She remembered it was the
young man with whom Madame Foucault had quarrelled on the night
when Sophia found her prone in the corridor; the last remaining
worshipper of the courtesan.

The woman's face was quite changed by her agitation. Sophia drew
away, offended. She watched the pair from a distance for a few
moments, and then, furious in disillusion, she escaped from the
fever of the boulevards and walked quietly home. Madame Foucault
did not return. Apparently Madame Foucault was doomed to be the
toy of chance. Two days later Sophia received a scrawled letter
from her, with the information that her lover had required that
she should accompany him to Brussels, as Paris would soon be
getting dangerous. "He adores me always. He is the most delicious
boy. As I have always said, this is the grand passion of my life.
I am happy. He would not permit me to come to you. He has spent
two thousand francs on clothes for me, since naturally I had
nothing." And so on. No word of apology. Sophia, in reading the
letter, allowed for a certain exaggeration and twisting of the
truth.

"Young fool! Fool!" she burst out angrily. She did not mean
herself; she meant the fatuous adorer of that dilapidated,
horrible woman. She never saw her again. Doubtless Madame Foucault
fulfilled her own prediction as to her ultimate destiny, but in
Brussels.

II

Sophia still possessed about a hundred pounds, and had she chosen
to leave Paris and France, there was nothing to prevent her from
doing so. Perhaps if she had chanced to visit the Gare St. Lazare
or the Gare du Nord, the sight of tens of thousands of people
flying seawards might have stirred in her the desire to flee also
from the vague coming danger. But she did not visit those termini;
she was too busy looking after M. Niepce, her grocer. Moreover,
she would not quit her furniture, which seemed to her to be a sort
of rock. With a flat full of furniture she considered that she
ought to be able to devise a livelihood; the enterprise of
becoming independent was already indeed begun. She ardently wished
to be independent, to utilize in her own behalf the gifts of
organization, foresight, commonsense and tenacity which she knew
she possessed and which had lain idle. And she hated the idea of
flight.

Chirac returned as unexpectedly as he had gone; an expedition for
his paper had occupied him. With his lips he urged her to go, but
his eyes spoke differently. He had, one afternoon, a mood of
candid despair, such as he would have dared to show only to one in
whom he felt great confidence. "They will come to Paris," he said;
"nothing can stop them. And ... then ...!" He gave a cynical
laugh. But when he urged her to go she said:

"And what about my furniture? And I've promised M. Niepce to look
after him."

Then Chirac informed her that he was without a lodging, and that
he would like to rent one of her rooms. She agreed.

Shortly afterwards he introduced a middle-aged acquaintance named
Carlier, the secretary-general of his newspaper, who wished to
rent a bedroom. Thus by good fortune Sophia let all her rooms
immediately, and was sure of over two hundred francs a month,
apart from the profit on meals supplied. On this latter occasion
Chirac (and his companion too) was quite optimistic, reiterating
an absolute certitude that Paris could never be invested. Briefly,
Sophia did not believe him. She believed the candidly despairing
Chirac. She had no information, no wide theory, to justify her
pessimism; nothing but the inward conviction that the race capable
of behaving as she had seen it behave in the Place de la Concorde,
was bound to be defeated. She loved the French race; but all the
practical Teutonic sagacity in her wanted to take care of it in
its difficulties, and was rather angry with it for being so
unfitted to take care of itself.

She let the men talk, and with careless disdain of their
discussions and their certainties she went about her business of
preparation. At this period, overworked and harassed by novel
responsibilities and risks, she was happier, for days together,
than she had ever been, simply because she had a purpose in life
and was depending upon herself. Her ignorance of the military and
political situation was complete; the situation did not interest
her. What interested her was that she had three men to feed wholly
or partially, and that the price of eatables was rising. She
bought eatables. She bought fifty pecks of potatoes at a franc a
peck, and another fifty pecks at a franc and a quarter--double the
normal price; ten hams at two and a half francs a pound; a large
quantity of tinned vegetables and fruits, a sack of flour, rice,
biscuits, coffee, Lyons sausage, dried prunes, dried figs, and
much wood and charcoal. But the chief of her purchases was cheese,
of which her mother used to say that bread and cheese and water
made a complete diet. Many of these articles she obtained from her
grocer. All of them, except the flour and the biscuits, she stored
in the cellar belonging to the flat; after several days' delay,
for the Parisian workmen were too elated by the advent of a
republic to stoop to labour, she caused a new lock to be fixed on
the cellar-door. Her activities were the sensation of the house.
Everybody admired, but no one imitated.

One morning, on going to do her marketing, she found a notice
across the shuttered windows of her creamery in the Rue Notre Dame
de Lorette: "Closed for want of milk." The siege had begun. It was
in the closing of the creamery that the siege was figured for her;
in this, and in eggs at five sous a piece. She went elsewhere for
her milk and paid a franc a litre for it. That evening she told
her lodgers that the price of meals would be doubled, and that if
any gentleman thought that he could get equally good meals
elsewhere, he was at liberty to get them elsewhere. Her position
was strengthened by the appearance of another candidate for a
room, a friend of Niepce. She at once offered him her own room, at
a hundred and fifty francs a month.

"You see," she said, "there is a piano in it."

"But I don't play the piano," the man protested, shocked at the
price.

"That is not my fault," she said.

He agreed to pay the price demanded for the room because of the
opportunity of getting good meals much cheaper than in the
restaurants. Like M. Niepce, he was a 'siege-widower,' his wife
having been put under shelter in Brittany. Sophia took to the
servant's bedroom on the sixth floor. It measured nine feet by
seven, and had no window save a skylight; but Sophia was in a fair
way to realize a profit of at least four pounds a week, after
paying for everything.

On the night when she installed herself in that chamber, amid a
world of domestics and poor people, she worked very late, and the
rays of her candles shot up intermittently through the skylight
into a black heaven; at intervals she flitted up and down the
stairs with a candle. Unknown to her a crowd gradually formed
opposite the house in the street, and at about one o'clock in the
morning a file of soldiers woke the concierge and invaded the
courtyard, and every window was suddenly populated with heads.
Sophia was called upon to prove that she was not a spy signalling
to the Prussians. Three quarters of an hour passed before her
innocence was established and the staircases cleared of uniforms
and dishevelled curiosity. The childish, impossible unreason of
the suspicion against her completed in Sophia's mind the ruin of
the reputation of the French people as a sensible race. She was
extremely caustic the next day to her boarders. Except for this
episode, the frequency of military uniforms in the streets, the
price of food, and the fact that at least one house in four was
flying either the ambulance flag or the flag of a foreign embassy
(in an absurd hope of immunity from the impending bombardment) the
siege did not exist for Sophia. The men often talked about their
guard-duty, and disappeared for a day or two to the ramparts, but
she was too busy to listen to them. She thought of nothing but her
enterprise, which absorbed all her powers. She arose at six a.m.,
in the dark, and by seven-thirty M. Niepce and his friend had been
served with breakfast, and much general work was already done. At
eight o'clock she went out to market. When asked why she continued
to buy at a high price, articles of which she had a store, she
would reply: "I am keeping all that till things are much dearer."
This was regarded as astounding astuteness.

On the fifteenth of October she paid the quarter's rent of the
flat, four hundred francs, and was accepted as tenant. Her ears
were soon quite accustomed to the sound of cannon, and she felt
that she had always been a citizeness of Paris, and that Paris had
always been besieged. She did not speculate about the end of the
siege; she lived from day to day. Occasionally she had a qualm of
fear, when the firing grew momentarily louder, or when she heard
that battles had been fought in such and such a suburb. But then
she said it was absurd to be afraid when you were with a couple of
million people, all in the same plight as yourself. She grew
reconciled to everything. She even began to like her tiny bedroom,
partly because it was so easy to keep warm (the question of
artificial heat was growing acute in Paris), and partly because it
ensured her privacy. Down in the flat, whatever was done or said
in one room could be more or less heard in all the others, owing
to the prevalence of doors.

Her existence, in the first half of November, had become regular
with a monotony almost absolute. Only the number of meals served
to her boarders varied slightly from day to day. All these
repasts, save now and then one in the evening, were carried into
the bedrooms by the charwoman. Sophia did not allow herself to be
seen much, except in the afternoons. Though Sophia continued to
increase her prices, and was now selling her stores at an immense
profit, she never approached the prices current outside. She was
very indignant against the exploitation of Paris by its
shopkeepers, who had vast supplies of provender, and were hoarding
for the rise. But the force of their example was too great for her
to ignore it entirely; she contented herself with about half their
gains. Only to M. Niepce did she charge more than to the others,
because he was a shopkeeper. The four men appreciated their
paradise. In them developed that agreeable feeling of security
which solitary males find only under the roof of a landlady who is
at once prompt, honest, and a votary of cleanliness. Sophia hung a
slate near the frontdoor, and on this slate they wrote their
requests for meals, for being called, for laundry-work, etc.
Sophia never made a mistake, and never forgot. The perfection of
the domestic machine amazed these men, who had been accustomed to
something quite different, and who every day heard harrowing
stories of discomfort and swindling from their acquaintances. They
even admired Sophia for making them pay, if not too high, still
high. They thought it wonderful that she should tell them the
price of all things in advance, and even show them how to avoid
expense, particularly in the matter of warmth. She arranged rugs
for each of them, so that they could sit comfortably in their
rooms with nothing but a small charcoal heater for the hands.
Quite naturally they came to regard her as the paragon and miracle
of women. They endowed her with every fine quality. According to
them there had never been such a woman in the history of mankind;
there could not have been! She became legendary among their
friends: a young and elegant creature, surpassingly beautiful,
proud, queenly, unapproachable, scarcely visible, a marvellous
manager, a fine cook and artificer of strange English dishes,
utterly reliable, utterly exact and with habits of order ...! They
adored the slight English accent which gave a touch of the exotic
to her very correct and freely idiomatic French. In short, Sophia
was perfect for them, an impossible woman. Whatever she did was
right.

And she went up to her room every night with limbs exhausted, but
with head clear enough to balance her accounts and go through her
money. She did this in bed with thick gloves on. If often she did
not sleep well, it was not because of the distant guns, but
because of her preoccupation with the subject of finance. She was
making money, and she wanted to make more. She was always
inventing ways of economy. She was so anxious to achieve
independence that money was always in her mind. She began to love
gold, to love hoarding it, and to hate paying it away.

One morning her charwoman, who by good fortune was nearly as
precise as Sophia herself, failed to appear. When the moment came
for serving M. Niepce's breakfast, Sophia hesitated, and then
decided to look after the old man personally. She knocked at his
door, and went boldly in with the tray and candle. He started at
seeing her; she was wearing a blue apron, as the charwoman did,
but there could be no mistaking her for the charwoman. Niepce
looked older in bed than when dressed. He had a rather ridiculous,
undignified appearance, common among old men before their morning
toilette is achieved; and a nightcap did not improve it. His
rotund paunch lifted the bedclothes, upon which, for the sake of
extra warmth, he had spread unmajestic garments. Sophia smiled to
herself; but the contempt implied by that secret smile was
softened by the thought: "Poor old man!" She told him briefly that
she supposed the charwoman to be ill. He coughed and moved
nervously. His benevolent and simple face beamed on her paternally
as she fixed the tray by the bed.

"I really must open the window for one little second," she said,
and did so. The chill air of the street came through the closed
shutters, and the old man made a noise as of shivering. She pushed
back the shutters, and closed the window, and then did the same
with the other two windows. It was almost day in the room.

"You will no longer need the candle," she said, and came back to
the bedside to extinguish it.

The benign and fatherly old man put his arm round her waist. Fresh
from the tonic of pure air, and with the notion of his
ridiculousness still in her mind, she was staggered for an instant
by this gesture. She had never given a thought to the temperament
of the old grocer, the husband of a young wife. She could not
always imaginatively keep in mind the effect of her own radiance,
especially under such circumstances. But after an instant her
precocious cynicism, which had slept, sprang up. "Naturally! I
might have expected it!" she thought with blasting scorn.

"Take away your hand!" she said bitterly to the amiable old fool.
She did not stir.

He obeyed, sheepishly.

"Do you wish to remain with me?" she asked, and as he did not
immediately answer, she said in a most commanding tone: "Answer,
then!"

"Yes," he said feebly.

"Well, behave properly."

She went towards the door.

"I wished only--" he stammered.

"I do not wish to know what you wished," she said.

Afterwards she wondered how much of the incident had been
overheard. The other breakfasts she left outside the respective
doors; and in future Niepce's also.

The charwoman never came again. She had caught smallpox and she
died of it, thus losing a good situation. Strange to say, Sophia
did not replace her; the temptation to save her wages and food was
too strong. She could not, however, stand waiting for hours at the
door of the official baker and the official butcher, one of a long
line of frozen women, for the daily rations of bread and tri-
weekly rations of meat. She employed the concierge's boy, at two
sous an hour, to do this. Sometimes he would come in with his
hands so blue and cold that he could scarcely hold the precious
cards which gave the right to the rations and which cost Chirac an
hour or two of waiting at the mayoral offices each week. Sophia
might have fed her flock without resorting to the official
rations, but she would not sacrifice the economy which they
represented. She demanded thick clothes for the concierge's boy,
and received boots from Chirac, gloves from Carlier, and a great
overcoat from Niepce. The weather increased in severity, and
provisions in price. One day she sold to the wife of a chemist who
lived on the first floor, for a hundred and ten francs, a ham for
which she had paid less than thirty francs. She was conscious of a
thrill of joy in receiving a beautiful banknote and a gold coin in
exchange for a mere ham. By this time her total cash resources had
grown to nearly five thousand francs. It was astounding. And the
reserves in the cellar were still considerable, and the sack of
flour that encumbered the kitchen was still more than half full.
The death of the faithful charwoman, when she heard of it,
produced but little effect on Sophia, who was so overworked and so
completely absorbed in her own affairs that she had no nervous
energy to spare for sentimental regrets. The charwoman, by whose
side she had regularly passed many hours in the kitchen, so that
she knew every crease in her face and fold of her dress, vanished
out of Sophia's memory.

Sophia cleaned and arranged two of the bedrooms in the morning,
and two in the afternoon. She had stayed in hotels where fifteen
bedrooms were in charge of a single chambermaid, and she thought
it would be hard if she could not manage four in the intervals of
cooking and other work! This she said to herself by way of excuse
for not engaging another charwoman. One afternoon she was rubbing
the brass knobs of the numerous doors in M. Niepce's room, when
the grocer unexpectedly came in.

She glanced at him sharply. There was a self-conscious look in his
eye. He had entered the flat noiselessly. She remembered having
told him, in response to a question, that she now did his room in
the afternoon. Why should he have left his shop? He hung up his
hat behind the door, with the meticulous care of an old man. Then
he took off his overcoat and rubbed his hands.

"You do well to wear gloves, madame," he said. "It is dog's
weather."

"I do not wear them for the cold," she replied. "I wear them so as
not to spoil my hands."

"Ah! truly! Very well! Very well! May I demand some wood? Where
shall I find it? I do not wish to derange you."

She refused his help, and brought wood from the kitchen, counting
the logs audibly before him.

"Shall I light the fire now?" she asked.

"I will light it," he said.

"Give me a match, please."

As she was arranging the wood and paper, he said: "Madame, will
you listen to me?"

"What is it?"

"Do not be angry," he said. "Have I not proved that I am capable
of respecting you? I continue in that respect. It is with all that
respect that I say to you that I love you, madame. ... No, remain
calm, I implore you!" The fact was that Sophia showed no sign of
not remaining calm. "It is true that I have a wife. But what do
you wish ...? She is far away. I love you madly," he proceeded
with dignified respect. "I know I am old; but I am rich. I
understand your character. You are a lady, you are decided,
direct, sincere, and a woman of business. I have the greatest
respect for you. One can talk to you as one could not to another
woman. You prefer directness and sincerity. Madame, I will give
you two thousand francs a month, and all you require from my shop,
if you will be amiable to me. I am very solitary, I need the
society of a charming creature who would be sympathetic. Two
thousand francs a month. It is money."

He wiped his shiny head with his hand.

Sophia was bending over the fire. She turned her head towards him.

"Is that all?" she said quietly.

"You could count on my discretion," he said in a low voice. "I
appreciate your scruples. I would come, very late, to your room on
the sixth. One could arrange ... You see, I am direct, like you."

She had an impulse to order him tempestuously out of the flat; but
it was not a genuine impulse. He was an old fool. Why not treat
him as such? To take him seriously would be absurd. Moreover, he
was a very remunerative boarder.

"Do not be stupid," she said with cruel tranquillity. "Do not be
an old fool."

And the benign but fatuous middle-aged lecher saw the enchanting
vision of Sophia, with her natty apron and her amusing gloves,
sweep and fade from the room. He left the house, and the expensive
fire warmed an empty room.

Sophia was angry with him. He had evidently planned the proposal.
If capable of respect, he was evidently also capable of chicane.
But she supposed these Frenchmen were all alike: disgusting; and
decided that it was useless to worry over a universal fact. They
had simply no shame, and she had been very prudent to establish
herself far away on the sixth floor. She hoped that none of the
other boarders had overheard Niepce's outrageous insolence. She
was not sure if Chirac was not writing in his room.

That night there was no sound of cannon in the distance, and
Sophia for some time was unable to sleep. She woke up with a
start, after a doze, and struck a match to look at her watch. It
had stopped. She had forgotten to wind it up, which omission
indicated that the grocer had perturbed her more than she thought.
She could not be sure how long she had slept. The hour might be
two o'clock or it might be six o'clock. Impossible for her to
rest! She got up and dressed (in case it should be as late as she
feared) and crept down the interminable creaking stairs with the
candle. As she descended, the conviction that it was the middle of
the night grew upon her, and she stepped more softly. There was no
sound save that caused by her footfalls. With her latchkey she
cautiously opened the front door of the flat and entered. She
could then hear the noisy ticking of the small, cheap clock in the
kitchen. At the same moment another door creaked, and Chirac, with
hair all tousled, but fully dressed, appeared in the corridor.

"So you have decided to sell yourself to him!" Chirac whispered.

She drew away instinctively, and she could feel herself blushing.
She was at a loss. She saw that Chirac was in a furious rage,
tremendously moved. He crept towards her, half crouching. She had
never seen anything so theatrical as his movement, and the
twitching of his face. She felt that she too ought to be
theatrical, that she ought nobly to scorn his infamous suggestion,
his unwarrantable attack. Even supposing that she had decided to
sell herself to the old pasha, did that concern him? A dignified
silence, an annihilating glance, were all that he deserved. But
she was not capable of this heroic behaviour.

"What time is it?" she added weakly.

"Three o'clock," Chirac sneered.

"I forgot to wind up my watch," she said. "And so I came down to
see."

"In effect!" He spoke sarcastically, as if saying: "I've waited
for you, and here you are."

She said to herself that she owed him nothing, but all the time
she felt that he and she were the only young people in that flat,
and that she did owe to him the proof that she was guiltless of
the supreme dishonour of youth. She collected her forces and
looked at him.

"You should be ashamed," she said. "You will wake the others."

"And M. Niepce--will he need to be wakened?"

"M. Niepce is not here," she said.

Niepce's door was unlatched. She pushed it open, and went into the
room, which was empty and bore no sign of having been used.

"Come and satisfy yourself!" she insisted.

Chirac did so. His face fell.

She took her watch from her pocket.

"And now wind my watch, and set it, please."

She saw that he was in anguish. He could not take the watch. Tears
came into his eyes. Then he hid his face, and dashed away. She
heard a sob-impeded murmur that sounded like, "Forgive me!" and
the banging of a door. And in the stillness she heard the regular
snoring of M. Carlier. She too cried. Her vision was blurred by a
mist, and she stumbled into the kitchen and seized the clock, and
carried it with her upstairs, and shivered in the intense cold of
the night. She wept gently for a very long time. "What a shame!
What a shame!" she said to herself. Yet she did not quite blame
Chirac. The frost drove her into bed, but not to sleep. She
continued to cry. At dawn her eyes were inflamed with weeping. She
was back in the kitchen then. Chirac's door was wide open. He had
left the flat. On the slate was written, "I shall not take meals
to-day."

III

Their relations were permanently changed. For several days they
did not meet at all; and when at the end of the week Chirac was
obliged at last to face Sophia in order to pay his bill, he had a
most grievous expression. It was obvious that he considered
himself a criminal without any defence to offer for his crime. He
seemed to make no attempt to hide his state of mind. But he said
nothing. As for Sophia, she preserved a mien of amiable
cheerfulness. She exerted herself to convince him by her attitude
that she bore no resentment, that she had determined to forget the
incident, that in short she was the forgiving angel of his dreams.
She did not, however, succeed entirely in being quite natural.
Confronted by his misery, it would have been impossible for her to
be quite natural, and at the same time quite cheerful!

A little later the social atmosphere of the flat began to grow
querulous, disputatious and perverse. The nerves of everybody were
seriously strained. This applied to the whole city. Days of heavy
rains followed the sharp frosts, and the town was, as it were,
sodden with woe. The gates were closed. And though nine-tenths of
the inhabitants never went outside the gates, the definite and
absolute closing of them demoralized all hearts. Gas was no longer
supplied. Rats, cats, and thorough-bred horses were being eaten
and pronounced 'not bad.' The siege had ceased to be a novelty.
Friends did not invite one another to a 'siege-dinner' as to a
picnic. Sophia, fatigued by regular overwork, became weary of the
situation. She was angry with the Prussians for dilatoriness, and
with the French for inaction, and she poured out her English
spleen on her boarders. The boarders told each other in secret
that the patronne was growing formidable. Chiefly she bore a
grudge against the shopkeepers; and when, upon a rumour of peace,
the shop-windows one day suddenly blossomed with prodigious
quantities of all edibles, at highest prices, thus proving that
the famine was artificially created, Sophia was furious. M. Niepce
in particular, though he sold goods to her at a special discount,
suffered indignities. A few days later that benign and fatherly
man put himself lamentably in the wrong by attempting to introduce
into his room a charming young creature who knew how to be
sympathetic. Sophia, by an accident unfortunate for the grocer,
caught them in the corridor. She was beside herself, but the only
outward symptoms were a white face and a cold steely voice that
grated like a rasp on the susceptibilities of the adherents of
Aphrodite. At this period Sophia had certainly developed into a
termagant--without knowing it!

She would often insist now on talking about the siege, and hearing
everything that the men could tell her. Her comments, made without
the least regard for the justifiable delicacy of their feelings as
Frenchmen, sometimes led to heated exchanges. When all Montmartre
and the Quartier Breda was impassioned by the appearance from
outside of the Thirty-second battalion, she took the side of the
populace, and would not credit the solemn statement of the
journalists, proved by documents, that these maltreated soldiers
were not cowards in flight. She supported the women who had spit
in the faces of the Thirty-second. She actually said that if she
had met them, she would have spit too. Really, she was convinced
of the innocence of the Thirty-second, but something prevented her
from admitting it. The dispute ended with high words between
herself and Chirac.

The next day Chirac came home at an unusual hour, knocked at the
kitchen door, and said:

"I must give notice to leave you."

"Why?" she demanded curtly.

She was kneading flour and water for a potato-cake. Her potato-
cakes were the joy of the household.

"My paper has stopped!" said Chirac.

"Oh!" she added thoughtfully, but not looking at him. "That is no
reason why you should leave."

"Yes," he said. "This place is beyond my means. I do not need to
tell you that in ceasing to appear the paper has omitted to pay
its debts. The house owes me a month's salary. So I must leave."

"No!" said Sophia. "You can pay me when you have money."

He shook his head. "I have no intention of accepting your
kindness."

"Haven't you got any money?" she abruptly asked.

"None," said he. "It is the disaster--quite simply!"

"Then you will be forced to get into debt somewhere."

"Yes, but not here! Not to you!"

"Truly, Chirac," she exclaimed, with a cajoling voice, "you are
not reasonable."

"Nevertheless it is like that!" he said with decision.

"Eh, well!" she turned on him menacingly. "It will not be like
that! You understand me? You will stay. And you will pay me when
you can. Otherwise we shall quarrel. Do you imagine I shall
tolerate your childishness? Just because you were angry last
night----"

"It is not that," he protested. "You ought to know it is not
that." (She did.) "It is solely that I cannot permit myself to----"

"Enough!" she cried peremptorily, stopping him. And then in a
quieter tone, "And what about Carlier? Is he also in the ditch?"

"Ah! he has money," said Chirac, with sad envy.

"You also, one day," said she. "You stop--in any case until after
Christmas, or we quarrel. Is it agreed?" Her accent had softened.

"You are too good!" he yielded. "I cannot quarrel with you. But it
pains me to accept--"

"Oh!" she snapped, dropping into the vulgar idiom, "you make me
sweat with your stupid pride. Is it that that you call friendship?
Go away now. How do you wish that I should succeed with this cake
while you station yourself there to distract me?"

IV

But in three days' Chirac, with amazing luck, fell into another
situation, and on the Journal des Debats. It was the Prussians who
had found him a place. The celebrated Payenneville, second
greatest chroniqueur of his time, had caught a cold while doing
his duty as a national guard, and had died of pneumonia. The
weather was severe again; soldiers were being frozen to death at
Aubervilliers. Payenneville's position was taken by another man,
whose post was offered to Chirac. He told Sophia of his good
fortune with unconcealed vanity.

"You with your smile!" she said impatiently. "One can refuse you
nothing!"

She behaved just as though Chirac had disgusted her. She humbled
him. But with his fellow-lodgers his airs of importance as a
member of the editorial staff of the Debats were comical in their
ingenuousness. On the very same day Carlier gave notice to leave
Sophia. He was comparatively rich; but the habits which had
enabled him to arrive at independence in the uncertain vocation of
a journalist would not allow him, while he was earning nothing, to
spend a sou more than was absolutely necessary. He had decided to
join forces with a widowed sister, who was accustomed to parsimony
as parsimony is understood in France, and who was living on
hoarded potatoes and wine.

"There!" said Sophia, "you have lost me a tenant!"

And she insisted, half jocularly and half seriously, that Carlier
was leaving because he could not stand Chirac's infantile conceit.
The flat was full of acrimonious words.

On Christmas morning Chirac lay in bed rather late; the newspapers
did not appear that day. Paris seemed to be in a sort of stupor.
About eleven o'clock he came to the kitchen door.

"I must speak with you," he said. His tone impressed Sophia.

"Enter," said she.

He went in, and closed the door like a conspirator. "We must have
a little fete," he said. "You and I."

"Fete!" she repeated. "What an idea! How can I leave?"

If the idea had not appealed to the secrecies of her heart,
stirring desires and souvenirs upon which the dust of time lay
thick, she would not have begun by suggesting difficulties; she
would have begun by a flat refusal.

"That is nothing," he said vigorously. "It is Christmas, and I
must have a chat with you. We cannot chat here. I have not had a
true little chat with you since you were ill. You will come with
me to a restaurant for lunch."

She laughed. "And the lunch of my lodgers?"

"You will serve it a little earlier. We will go out immediately
afterwards, and we will return in time for you to prepare dinner.
It is quite simple."

She shook her head. "You are mad," she said crossly.

"It is necessary that I should offer you something," he went on
scowling. "You comprehend me? I wish you to lunch with me to-day.
I demand it, and you are not going to refuse me."

He was very close to her in the little kitchen, and he spoke
fiercely, bullyingly, exactly as she had spoken to him when
insisting that he should live on credit with her for a while.

"You are very rude," she parried.

"If I am rude, it is all the same to me," he held out
uncompromisingly. "You will lunch with me; I hold to it."

"How can I be dressed?" she protested.

"That does not concern me. Arrange that as you can."

It was the most curious invitation to a Christmas dinner
imaginable.

At a quarter past twelve they issued forth side by side, heavily
clad, into the mournful streets. The sky, slate-coloured, presaged
snow. The air was bitterly cold, and yet damp. There were no
fiacres in the little three-cornered place which forms the mouth
of the Rue Clausel. In the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, a single
empty omnibus was toiling up the steep glassy slope, the horses
slipping and recovering themselves in response to the whip-
cracking, which sounded in the streets as in an empty vault.
Higher up, in the Rue Fontaine, one of the few shops that were
open displayed this announcement: "A large selection of cheeses
for New Year's gifts." They laughed.

"Last year at this moment," said Chirac, "I was thinking of only
one thing--the masked ball at the opera. I could not sleep after
it. This year even the churches, are not open. And you?"

She put her lips together. "Do not ask me," she said.

They proceeded in silence.

"We are triste, we others," he said. "But the Prussians, in their
trenches, they cannot be so gay, either! Their families and their
Christmas trees must be lacking to them. Let us laugh!"

The Place Blanche and the Boulevard de Clichy were no more lively
than the lesser streets and squares. There was no life anywhere,
scarcely a sound; not even the sound of cannon. Nobody knew
anything; Christmas had put the city into a lugubrious trance of
hopelessness. Chirac took Sophia's arm across the Place Blanche,
and a few yards up the Rue Lepic he stopped at a small restaurant,
famous among the initiated, and known as "The Little Louis." They
entered, descending by two steps into a confined and sombrely
picturesque interior.

Sophia saw that they were expected. Chirac must have paid a
previous visit to the restaurant that morning. Several disordered
tables showed that people had already lunched, and left; but in
the corner was a table for two, freshly laid in the best manner of
such restaurants; that is to say, with a red-and-white checked
cloth, and two other red-and-white cloths, almost as large as the
table-cloth, folded as serviettes and arranged flat on two thick
plates between solid steel cutlery; a salt-cellar, out of which
one ground rock-salt by turning a handle, a pepper-castor, two
knife-rests, and two common tumblers. The phenomena which
differentiated this table from the ordinary table were a champagne
bottle and a couple of champagne glasses. Champagne was one of the
few items which had not increased in price during the siege.

The landlord and his wife were eating in another corner, a fat,
slatternly pair, whom no privations of a siege could have
emaciated. The landlord rose. He was dressed as a chef, all in
white, with the sacred cap; but a soiled white. Everything in the
place was untidy, unkempt and more or less unclean, except just
the table upon which champagne was waiting. And yet the restaurant
was agreeable, reassuring. The landlord greeted his customers as
honest friends. His greasy face was honest, and so was the pale,
weary, humorous face of his wife. Chirac saluted her.

"You see," said she, across from the other corner, indicating a
bone on her plate. "This is Diane!"

"Ah! the poor animal!" exclaimed Chirac, sympathetically.

"What would you?" said the landlady. "It cost too dear to feed
her. And she was so mignonne! One could not watch her grow thin!"

"I was saying to my wife," the landlord put in, "how she would
have enjoyed that bone--Diane!" He roared with laughter.

Sophia and the landlady exchanged a curious sad smile at this
pleasantry, which had been re-discovered by the landlord for
perhaps the thousandth time during the siege, but which he
evidently regarded as quite new and original.

"Eh, well!" he continued confidentially to Chirac. "I have found
for you something very good--half a duck." And in a still lower
tone: "And it will not cost you too dear."

No attempt to realize more than a modest profit was ever made in
that restaurant. It possessed a regular clientele who knew the
value of the little money they had, and who knew also how to
appreciate sincere and accomplished cookery. The landlord was the
chef, and he was always referred to as the chef, even by his wife.

"How did you get that?" Chirac asked.

"Ah!" said the landlord, mysteriously. "I have one of my friends,
who comes from Villeneuve St. Georges--refugee, you know. In
fine ..." A wave of the fat hands, suggesting that Chirac should not
inquire too closely.

"In effect!" Chirac commented. "But it is very chic, that!"

"I believe you that it is chic!" said the landlady, sturdily.

"It is charming," Sophia murmured politely.

"And then a quite little salad!" said the landlord.

"But that--that is still more striking!" said Chirac.

The landlord winked. The fact was that the commerce which resulted
in fresh green vegetables in the heart of a beleagured town was
notorious.

"And then also a quite little cheese!" said Sophia, slightly
imitating the tone of the landlord, as she drew from the
inwardness of her cloak a small round parcel. It contained a Brie
cheese, in fairly good condition. It was worth at least fifty
francs, and it had cost Sophia less than two francs. The landlady
joined the landlord in inspecting this wondrous jewel. Sophia
seized a knife and cut a slice for the landlady's table.

"Madame is too good!" said the landlady, confused by this noble
generosity, and bearing the gift off to her table as a fox-terrier
will hurriedly seek solitude with a sumptuous morsel. The landlord
beamed. Chirac was enchanted. In the intimate and unaffected
cosiness of that interior the vast, stupefied melancholy of the
city seemed to be forgotten, to have lost its sway.

Then the landlord brought a hot brick for the feet of madame. It
was more an acknowledgment of the slice of cheese than a
necessity, for the restaurant was very warm; the tiny kitchen
opened directly into it, and the door between the two was open;
there was no ventilation whatever.

"It is a friend of mine," said the landlord, proudly, in the way
of gossip as he served an undescribed soup, "a butcher in the
Faubourg St. Honore, who has bought the three elephants of the
Jardin des Plantes for twenty-seven thousand francs."

Eyebrows were lifted. He uncorked the champagne.

As she drank the first mouthful (she had long lost her youthful
aversion for wine), Sophia had a glimpse of herself in a tilted
mirror hung rather high on the opposite wall. It was several
months since she had attired herself with ceremoniousness. The
sudden unexpected vision of elegance and pallid beauty pleased
her. And the instant effect of the champagne was to renew in her
mind a forgotten conception of the goodness of life and of the
joys which she had so long missed.

V

At half-past two they were alone in the little salon of the
restaurant, and vaguely in their dreamy and feverish minds that
were too preoccupied to control with precision their warm, relaxed
bodies, there floated the illusion that the restaurant belonged to
them and that in it they were at home. It was no longer a
restaurant, but a retreat and shelter from hard life. The chef and
his wife were dozing in an inner room. The champagne was drunk;
the adorable cheese was eaten; and they were sipping Marc de
Bourgogne. They sat at right angles to one another, close to one
another, with brains aswing; full of good nature and quick
sympathy; their flesh content and yet expectant. In a pause of the
conversation (which, entirely banal and fragmentary, had seemed to
reach the acme of agreeableness), Chirac put his hand on the hand
of Sophia as it rested limp on the littered table. Accidentally
she caught his eye; she had not meant to do so. They both became
self-conscious. His thin, bearded face had more than ever that
wistfulness which always softened towards him the
uncompromisingness of her character. He had the look of a child.
For her, Gerald had sometimes shown the same look. But indeed she
was now one of those women for whom all men, and especially all
men in a tender mood, are invested with a certain incurable
quality of childishness. She had not withdrawn her hand at once,
and so she could not withdraw it at all.

He gazed at her with timid audacity. Her eyes were liquid.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"I was asking myself what I should have done if you had refused to
come."

"And what SHOULD you have done?"

"Assuredly something terribly inconvenient," he replied, with the
large importance of a man who is in the domain of pure
supposition. He leaned towards her. "My very dear friend," he said
in a different voice, getting bolder.

It was infinitely sweet to her, voluptuously sweet, this basking
in the heat of temptation. It certainly did seem to her, then, the
one real pleasure in the world. Her body might have been saying to
his: "See how ready I am!" Her body might have been saying to his:
"Look into my mind. For you I have no modesty. Look and see all
that is there." The veil of convention seemed to have been rent.
Their attitude to each other was almost that of lover and
mistress, between whom a single glance may be charged with the
secrets of the past and promises for the future. Morally she was
his mistress in that moment.

He released her hand and put his arm round her waist.

"I love thee," he whispered with great emotion.

Her face changed and hardened. "You must not do that," she said,
coldly, unkindly, harshly. She scowled. She would not abate one
crease in her forehead to the appeal of his surprised glance. Yet
she did not want to repulse him. The instinct which repulsed him
was not within her control. Just as a shy man will obstinately
refuse an invitation which he is hungering to accept, so, though
not from shyness, she was compelled to repulse Chirac. Perhaps if
her desires had not been laid to sleep by excessive physical
industry and nervous strain, the sequel might have been different.

Chirac, like most men who have once found a woman weak, imagined
that he understood women profoundly. He thought of women as the
Occidental thinks of the Chinese, as a race apart, mysterious but
capable of being infallibly comprehended by the application of a
few leading principles of psychology. Moreover he was in earnest;
he was hard driven, and he was honest. He continued, respectfully
obedient in withdrawing his arm:

"Very dear friend," he urged with undaunted confidence, "you must
know that I love you."

She shook her head impatiently, all the time wondering what it was
that prevented her from slipping into his arms. She knew that she
was treating him badly by this brusque change of front; but she
could not help it. Then she began to feel sorry for him.

"We have been very good friends," he said. "I have always admired
you enormously. I did not think that I should dare to love you
until that day when I overheard that old villain Niepce make his
advances. Then, when I perceived my acute jealousy, I knew that I
was loving you. Ever since, I have thought only of you. I swear to
you that if you will not belong to me, it is already finished for
me! Altogether! Never have I seen a woman like you! So strong, so
proud, so kind, and so beautiful! You are astonishing, yes,
astonishing! No other woman could have drawn herself out of an
impossible situation as you have done, since the disappearance of
your husband. For me, you are a woman unique. I am very sincere.
Besides, you know it ... Dear friend!"

She shook her head passionately.

She did not love him. But she was moved. And she wanted to love
him. She wanted to yield to him, only liking him, and to love
afterwards. But this obstinate instinct held her back. "I do not
say, now," Chirac went on. "Let me hope."

The Latin theatricality of his gestures and his tone made her
sorrowful for him.

"My poor Chirac!" she plaintively murmured, and began to put on
her gloves.

"I shall hope!" he persisted.

She pursed her lips. He seized her violently by the waist. She
drew her face away from his, firmly. She was not hard, not angry
now. Disconcerted by her compassion, he loosed her.

"My poor Chirac," she said, "I ought not to have come. I must go.
It is perfectly useless. Believe me."

"No, no!" he whispered fiercely.

She stood up and the abrupt movement pushed the table gratingly
across the floor. The throbbing spell of the flesh was snapped
like a stretched string, and the scene over. The landlord, roused
from his doze, stumbled in. Chirac had nothing but the bill as a
reward for his pains. He was baffled.

They left the restaurant, silently, with a foolish air.

Dusk was falling on the mournful streets, and the lamp-lighters
were lighting the miserable oil lamps that had replaced gas. They
two, and the lamplighters, and an omnibus were alone in the
streets. The gloom was awful; it was desolating. The universal
silence seemed to be the silence of despair. Steeped in woe,
Sophia thought wearily upon the hopeless problem of existence. For
it seemed to her that she and Chirac had created this woe out of
nothing, and yet it was an incurable woe!




CHAPTER VII

SUCCESS

I


Sophia lay awake one night in the room lately quitted by Carlier.
That silent negation of individuality had come and gone, and left
scarcely any record of himself either in his room or in the
memories of those who had surrounded his existence in the house.
Sophia had decided to descend from the sixth floor, partly because
the temptation of a large room, after months in a cubicle, was
rather strong; but more because of late she had been obliged to
barricade the door of the cubicle with a chest of drawers, owing
to the propensities of a new tenant of the sixth floor. It was
useless to complain to the concierge; the sole effective argument
was the chest of drawers, and even that was frailer than Sophia
could have wished. Hence, finally, her retreat.

She heard the front-door of the flat open; then it was shut with
nervous violence. The resonance of its closing would have
certainly wakened less accomplished sleepers than M. Niepce and
his friend, whose snores continued with undisturbed regularity.
After a pause of shuffling, a match was struck, and feet crept
across the corridor with the most exaggerated precautions against
noise. There followed the unintentional bang of another door. It
was decidedly the entry of a man without the slightest natural
aptitude for furtive irruptions. The clock in M. Niepce's room,
which the grocer had persuaded to exact time-keeping, chimed three
with its delicate ting.

For several days past Chirac had been mysteriously engaged very
late at the bureaux of the Debats. No one knew the nature of his
employment; he said nothing, except to inform Sophia that he would
continue to come home about three o'clock until further notice.
She had insisted on leaving in his room the materials and
apparatus for a light meal. Naturally he had protested, with the
irrational obstinacy of a physically weak man who sticks to it
that he can defy the laws of nature. But he had protested in vain.

His general conduct since Christmas Day had frightened Sophia, in
spite of her tendency to stifle facile alarms at their birth. He
had eaten scarcely anything at all, and he went about with the
face of a man dying of a broken heart. The change in him was
indeed tragic. And instead of improving, he grew worse. "Have I
done this?" Sophia asked herself. "It is impossible that I should
have done this! It is absurd and ridiculous that he should behave
so!" Her thoughts were employed alternately in sympathizing with
him and in despising him, in blaming herself and in blaming him.
When they spoke, they spoke awkwardly, as though one or both of
them had committed a shameful crime, which could not even be
mentioned. The atmosphere of the flat was tainted by the horror.
And Sophia could not offer him a bowl of soup without wondering
how he would look at her or avoid looking, and without carefully
arranging in advance her own gestures and speech. Existence was a
nightmare of self-consciousness.

"At last they have unmasked their batteries!" he had exclaimed
with painful gaiety two days after Christmas, when the besiegers
had recommenced their cannonade. He tried to imitate the strange,
general joy of the city, which had been roused from apathy by the
recurrence of a familiar noise; but the effort was a deplorable
failure. And Sophia condemned not merely the failure of Chirac's
imitation, but the thing imitated. "Childish!" she thought. Yet,
despise the feebleness of Chirac's behaviour as she might, she was
deeply impressed, genuinely astonished, by the gravity and
persistence of the symptoms. "He must have been getting himself
into a state about me for a long time," she thought. "Surely he
could not have gone mad like this all in a day or two! But I never
noticed anything. No; honestly I never noticed anything!" And just
as her behaviour in the restaurant had shaken Chirac's confidence
in his knowledge of the other sex, so now the singular behaviour
of Chirac shook hers. She was taken aback. She was frightened,
though she pretended not to be frightened.

She had lived over and over again the scene in the restaurant. She
asked herself over and over again if really she had not beforehand
expected him to make love to her in the restaurant. She could not
decide exactly when she had begun to expect a declaration; but
probably a long time before the meal was finished. She had
foreseen it, and might have stopped it. But she had not chosen to
stop it. Curiosity concerning not merely him, but also herself,
had tempted her tacitly to encourage him. She asked herself over
and over again why she had repulsed him. It struck her as curious
that she had repulsed him. Was it because she was a married woman?
Was it because she had moral scruples? Was it at bottom because
she did not care for him? Was it because she could not care for
anybody? Was it because his fervid manner of love-making offended
her English phlegm? And did she feel pleased or displeased by his
forbearance in not renewing the assault? She could not answer. She
did not know.

But all the time she knew that she wanted love. Only, she
conceived a different kind of love: placid, regular, somewhat
stern, somewhat above the plane of whims, moods, caresses, and all
mere fleshly contacts. Not that she considered that she despised
these things (though she did)! What she wanted was a love that was
too proud, too independent, to exhibit frankly either its joy or
its pain. She hated a display of sentiment. And even in the most
intimate abandonments she would have made reserves, and would have
expected reserves, trusting to a lover's powers of divination, and
to her own! The foundation of her character was a haughty moral
independence, and this quality was what she most admired in
others.

Chirac's inability to draw from his own pride strength to sustain
himself against the blow of her refusal gradually killed in her
the sexual desire which he had aroused, and which during a few
days flickered up under the stimulus of fancy and of regret.
Sophia saw with increasing clearness that her unreasoning instinct
had been right in saying him nay. And when, in spite of this,
regrets still visited her, she would comfort herself in thinking:
"I cannot be bothered with all that sort of thing. It is not worth
while. What does it lead to? Is not life complicated enough
without that? No, no! I will stay as I am. At any rate I know what
I am in for, as things are!" And she would reflect upon her
hopeful financial situation, and the approaching prospect of a
constantly sufficient income. And a little thrill of impatience
against the interminable and gigantic foolishness of the siege
would take her.

But her self-consciousness in presence of Chirac did not abate.

As she lay in bed she awaited accustomed sounds which should have
connoted Chirac's definite retirement for the night. Her ear,
however, caught no sound whatever from his room. Then she imagined
that there was a smell of burning in the flat. She sat up, and
sniffed anxiously, of a sudden wideawake and apprehensive. And
then she was sure that the smell of burning was not in her
imagination. The bedroom was in perfect darkness. Feverishly she
searched with her right hand for the matches on the night-table,
and knocked candlestick and matches to the floor. She seized her
dressing-gown, which was spread over the bed, and put it on,
aiming for the door. Her feet were bare. She discovered the door.
In the passage she could discern nothing at first, and then she
made out a thin line of light, which indicated the bottom of
Chirac's door. The smell of burning was strong and unmistakable.
She went towards the faint light, fumbled for the door-handle with
her palm, and opened. It did not occur to her to call out and ask
what was the matter.

The house was not on fire; but it might have been. She had left on
the table at the foot of Chirac's bed a small cooking-lamp, and a
saucepan of bouillon. All that Chirac had to do was to ignite the
lamp and put the saucepan on it. He had ignited the lamp, having
previously raised the double wicks, and had then dropped into the
chair by the table just as he was, and sunk forward and gone to
sleep with his head lying sideways on the table. He had not put
the saucepan on the lamp; he had not lowered the wicks, and the
flames, capped with thick black smoke, were waving slowly to and
fro within a few inches of his loose hair. His hat had rolled
along the floor; he was wearing his great overcoat and one woollen
glove; the other glove had lodged on his slanting knee. A candle
was also burning.

Sophia hastened forward, as it were surreptitiously, and with a
forward-reaching movement turned down the wicks of the lamp; black
specks were falling on the table; happily the saucepan was
covered, or the bouillon would have been ruined.

Chirac made a heart-rending spectacle, and Sophia was aware of
deep and painful emotion in seeing him thus. He must have been
utterly exhausted and broken by loss of sleep. He was a man
incapable of regular hours, incapable of treating his body with
decency. Though going to bed at three o'clock, he had continued to
rise at his usual hour. He looked like one dead; but more sad,
more wistful. Outside in the street a fog reigned, and his thin
draggled beard was jewelled with the moisture of it. His attitude
had the unconsidered and violent prostration of an overspent dog.
The beaten animal in him was expressed in every detail of that
posture. It showed even in his white, drawn eyelids, and in the
falling of a finger. All his face was very sad. It appealed for
mercy as the undefended face of sleep always appeals; it was so
helpless, so exposed, so simple. It recalled Sophia to a sense of
the inner mysteries of life, reminding her somehow that humanity
walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses. She did not
physically shudder; but her soul shuddered.

She mechanically placed the saucepan on the lamp, and the noise
awakened Chirac. He groaned. At first he did not perceive her.
When he saw that some one was looking down at him, he did not
immediately realize who this some one was. He rubbed his eyes with
his fists, exactly like a baby, and sat up, and the chair cracked.

"What then?" he demanded. "Oh, madame, I ask pardon. What?"

"You have nearly destroyed the house," she said. "I smelt fire,
and I came in. I was just in time. There is no danger now. But
please be careful." She made as if to move towards the door.

"But what did I do?" he asked, his eyelids wavering.

She explained.

He rose from his chair unsteadily. She told him to sit down again,
and he obeyed as though in a dream.

"I can go now," she said.

"Wait one moment," he murmured. "I ask pardon. I should not know
how to thank you. You are truly too good. Will you wait one
moment?"

His tone was one of supplication. He gazed at her, a little
dazzled by the light and by her. The lamp and the candle
illuminated the lower part of her face, theatrically, and showed
the texture of her blue flannel peignoir; the pattern of a part of
the lace collar was silhouetted in shadow on her cheek. Her face
was flushed, and her hair hung down unconfined. Evidently he could
not recover from his excusable astonishment at the apparition of
such a figure in his room.

"What is it--now?" she said. The faint, quizzical emphasis which
she put on the 'now' indicated the essential of her thought. The
sight of him touched her and filled her with a womanly sympathy.
But that sympathy was only the envelope of her disdain of him. She
could not admire weakness. She could but pity it with a pity in
which scorn was mingled. Her instinct was to treat him as a child.
He had failed in human dignity. And it seemed to her as if she had
not previously been quite certain whether she could not love him,
but that now she was quite certain. She was close to him. She saw
the wounds of a soul that could not hide its wounds, and she
resented the sight. She was hard. She would not make allowances.
And she revelled in her hardness. Contempt--a good-natured,
kindly, forgiving contempt--that was the kernel of the sympathy
which exteriorly warmed her! Contempt for the lack of self-control
which had resulted in this swift degeneration of a man into a
tortured victim! Contempt for the lack of perspective which
magnified a mere mushroom passion till it filled the whole field
of life! Contempt for this feminine slavery to sentiment! She felt
that she might have been able to give herself to Chirac as one
gives a toy to an infant. But of loving him ...! No! She was
conscious of an immeasurable superiority to him, for she was
conscious of the freedom of a strong mind.

"I wanted to tell you," said he, "I am going away."

"Where?" she asked.

"Out of Paris."

"Out of Paris? How?"

"By balloon! My journal ...! It is an affair of great importance.
You understand. I offered myself. What would you?"

"It is dangerous," she observed, waiting to see if he would put on
the silly air of one who does not understand fear.

"Oh!" the poor fellow muttered with a fatuous intonation and
snapping of the fingers. "That is all the same to me. Yes, it is
dangerous. Yes, it is dangerous!" he repeated. "But what would
you ...? For me ...!"

She wished that she had not mentioned danger. It hurt her to watch
him incurring her ironic disdain.

"It will be the night after to-morrow," he said. "In the courtyard
of the Gare du Nord. I want you to come and see me go. I
particularly want you to come and see me go. I have asked Carlier
to escort you."

He might have been saying, "I am offering myself to martyrdom, and
you must assist at the spectacle."

She despised him yet more.

"Oh! Be tranquil," he said. "I shall not worry you. Never shall I
speak to you again of my love. I know you. I know it would be
useless. But I hope you will come and wish me bon voyage."

"Of course, if you really wish it," she replied with cheerful
coolness.

He seized her hand and kissed it.

Once it had pleased her when he kissed her hand. But now she did
not like it. It seemed hysterical and foolish to her. She felt her
feet to be stone-cold on the floor.

"I'll leave you now," she said. "Please eat your soup."

She escaped, hoping he would not espy her feet.

II

The courtyard of the Nord Railway Station was lighted by oil-lamps
taken from locomotives; their silvered reflectors threw dazzling
rays from all sides on the under portion of the immense yellow
mass of the balloon; the upper portion was swaying to and fro with
gigantic ungainliness in the strong breeze. It was only a small
balloon, as balloons are measured, but it seemed monstrous as it
wavered over the human forms that were agitating themselves
beneath it. The cordage was silhouetted against the yellow
taffetas as high up as the widest diameter of the balloon, but
above that all was vague, and even spectators standing at a
distance could not clearly separate the summit of the great sphere
from the darkly moving sky. The car, held by ropes fastened to
stakes, rose now and then a few inches uneasily from the ground.
The sombre and severe architecture of the station-buildings
enclosed the balloon on every hand; it had only one way of escape.
Over the roofs of that architecture, which shut out the sounds of
the city, came the irregular booming of the bombardment. Shells
were falling in the southern quarters of Paris, doing perhaps not
a great deal of damage, but still plunging occasionally into the
midst of some domestic interior and making a sad mess of it. The
Parisians were convinced that the shells were aimed maliciously at
hospitals and museums; and when a child happened to be blown to
pieces their unspoken comments upon the Prussian savagery were
bitter. Their faces said: "Those barbarians cannot even spare our
children!" They amused themselves by creating a market in shells,
paying more for a live shell than a dead one, and modifying the
tariff according to the supply. And as the cattle-market was
empty, and the vegetable-market was empty, and beasts no longer
pastured on the grass of the parks, and the twenty-five million
rats of the metropolis were too numerous to furnish interest to
spectators, and the Bourse was practically deserted, the traffic
in shells sustained the starving mercantile instinct during a very
dull period. But the effect on the nerves was deleterious. The
nerves of everybody were like nothing but a raw wound. Violent
anger would spring up magically out of laughter, and blows out of
caresses. This indirect consequence of the bombardment was
particularly noticeable in the group of men under the balloon.
Each behaved as if he were controlling his temper in the most
difficult circumstances. Constantly they all gazed upwards into
the sky, though nothing could possibly be distinguished there save
the blurred edge of a flying cloud. But the booming came from that
sky; the shells that were dropping on Montrouge came out of that
sky; and the balloon was going up into it; the balloon was
ascending into its mysteries, to brave its dangers, to sweep over
the encircling ring of fire and savages.

Sophia stood apart with Carlier. Carlier had indicated a
particular spot, under the shelter of the colonnade, where he said
it was imperative that they should post themselves. Having guided
Sophia to this spot, and impressed upon her that they were not to
move, he seemed to consider that the activity of his role was
finished, and spoke no word. With the very high silk hat which he
always wore, and a thin old-fashioned overcoat whose collar was
turned up, he made a rather grotesque figure. Fortunately the
night was not very cold, or he might have passively frozen to
death on the edge of that feverish group. Sophia soon ignored him.
She watched the balloon. An aristocratic old man leaned against
the car, watch in hand; at intervals he scowled, or stamped his
foot. An old sailor, tranquilly smoking a pipe, walked round and
round the balloon, staring at it; once he climbed up into the
rigging, and once he jumped into the car and angrily threw out of
it a bag, which some one had placed in it. But for the most part
he was calm. Other persons of authority hurried about, talking and
gesticulating; and a number of workmen waited idly for orders.

"Where is Chirac?" suddenly cried the old man with the watch.

Several voices deferentially answered, and a man ran away into the
gloom on an errand.

Then Chirac appeared, nervous, self-conscious, restless. He was
enveloped in a fur coat that Sophia had never seen before, and he
carried dangling in his hand a cage containing six pigeons whose
whiteness stirred uneasily within it. The sailor took the cage
from him and all the persons of authority gathered round to
inspect the wonderful birds upon which, apparently, momentous
affairs depended. When the group separated, the sailor was to be
seen bending over the edge of the car to deposit the cage safely.
He then got into the car, still smoking his pipe, and perched
himself negligently on the wicker-work. The man with the watch was
conversing with Chirac; Chirac nodded his head frequently in
acquiescence, and seemed to be saying all the time: "Yes, sir!
Perfectly sir! I understand, sir! Yes, sir!"

Suddenly Chirac turned to the car and put a question to the
sailor, who shook his head. Whereupon Chirac gave a gesture of
submissive despair to the man with the watch. And in an instant
the whole throng was in a ferment.

"The victuals!" cried the man with the watch. "The victuals, name
of God! Must one be indeed an idiot to forget the victuals! Name
of God--of God!"

Sophia smiled at the agitation, and at the inefficient management
which had never thought of food. For it appeared that the food had
not merely been forgotten; it was a question which had not even
been considered. She could not help despising all that crowd of
self-important and fussy males to whom the idea had not occurred
that even balloonists must eat. And she wondered whether
everything was done like that. After a delay that seemed very
long, the problem of victuals was solved, chiefly, as far as
Sophia could judge, by means of cakes of chocolate and bottles of
wine.

"It is enough! It is enough!" Chirac shouted passionately several
times to a knot of men who began to argue with him.

Then he gazed round furtively, and with an inflation of the chest
and a patting of his fur coat he came directly towards Sophia.
Evidently Sophia's position had been prearranged between him and
Carlier. They could forget food, but they could think of Sophia's
position!

All eyes followed him. Those eyes could not, in the gloom,
distinguish Sophia's beauty, but they could see that she was young
and slim and elegant, and of foreign carriage. That was enough.
The very air seemed to vibrate with the intense curiosity of those
eyes. And immediately Chirac grew into the hero of some brilliant
and romantic adventure. Immediately he was envied and admired by
every man of authority present. What was she? Who was she? Was it
a serious passion or simply a caprice? Had she flung herself at
him? It was undeniable that lovely creatures did sometimes fling
themselves at lucky mediocrities. Was she a married woman? An
artiste? A girl? Such queries thumped beneath overcoats, while the
correctness of a ceremonious demeanour was strictly observed.

Chirac uncovered, and kissed her hand. The wind disarranged his
hair. She saw that his face was very pale and anxious beneath the
swagger of a sincere desire to be brave.

"Well, it is the moment!" he said.

"Did you all forget the food?" she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. "What will you? One cannot think of
everything."

"I hope you will have a safe voyage," she said.

She had already taken leave of him once, in the house, and heard
all about the balloon and the sailor-aeronaut and the
preparations; and now she had nothing to say, nothing whatever.

He shrugged his shoulders again. "I hope so!" he murmured, but in
a tone to convey that he had no such hope.

"The wind isn't too strong?" she suggested.

He shrugged his shoulders again. "What would you?"

"Is it in the direction you want?"

"Yes, nearly," he admitted unwillingly. Then rousing himself: "Eh,
well, madame. You have been extremely amiable to come. I held to
it very much--that you should come. It is because of you I quit
Paris."

She resented the speech by a frown.

"Ah!" he implored in a whisper. "Do not do that. Smile on me.
After all, it is not my fault. Remember that this may be the last
time I see you, the last time I regard your eyes."

She smiled. She was convinced of the genuineness of the emotion
which expressed itself in all this flamboyant behaviour. And she
had to make excuses to herself on behalf of Chirac. She smiled to
give him pleasure. The hard commonsense in her might sneer, but
indubitably she was the centre of a romantic episode. The balloon
darkly swinging there! The men waiting! The secrecy of the
mission! And Chirac, bare-headed in the wind that was to whisk him
away, telling her in fatalistic accents that her image had
devastated his life, while envious aspirants watched their
colloquy! Yes, it was romantic. And she was beautiful! Her beauty
was an active reality that went about the world playing tricks in
spite of herself. The thoughts that passed through her mind were
the large, splendid thoughts of romance. And it was Chirac who had
aroused them! A real drama existed, then, triumphing over the
accidental absurdities and pettinesses of the situation. Her final
words to Chirac were tender and encouraging.

He hurried back to the balloon, resuming his cap. He was received
with the respect due to one who comes fresh from conquest. He was
sacred.

Sophia rejoined Carlier, who had withdrawn, and began to talk to
him with a self-conscious garrulity. She spoke without reason and
scarcely noticed what she was saying. Already Chirac was snatched
out of her life, as other beings, so many of them, had been
snatched. She thought of their first meetings, and of the sympathy
which had always united them. He had lost his simplicity, now, in
the self-created crisis of his fate, and had sunk in her esteem.
And she was determined to like him all the more because he had
sunk in her esteem. She wondered whether he really had undertaken
this adventure from sentimental disappointment. She wondered
whether, if she had not forgotten to wind her watch one night,
they would still have been living quietly under the same roof in
the Rue Breda.

The sailor climbed definitely into the car; he had covered himself
with a large cloak. Chirac had got one leg over the side of the
car, and eight men were standing by the ropes, when a horse's
hoofs clattered through the guarded entrance to the courtyard,
amid an uproar of sudden excitement. The shiny chest of the horse
was flecked with the classic foam.

"A telegram from the Governor of Paris!"

As the orderly, checking his mount, approached the group, even the
old man with the watch raised his hat. The orderly responded, bent
down to make an inquiry, which Chirac answered, and then, with
another exchange of salutes, the official telegram was handed over
to Chirac, and the horse backed away from the crowd. It was quite
thrilling. Carlier was thrilled.

"He is never too prompt, the Governor. It is a quality!" said
Carlier, with irony.

Chirac entered the car. And then the old man with the watch drew a
black bag from the shadow behind him and entrusted it to Chirac,
who accepted it with a profound deference and hid it. The sailor
began to issue commands. The men at the ropes were bending down
now. Suddenly the balloon rose about a foot and trembled. The
sailor continued to shout. All the persons of authority gazed
motionless at the balloon. The moment of suspense was eternal.

"Let go all!" cried the sailor, standing up, and clinging to the
cordage. Chirac was seated in the car, a mass of dark fur with a
small patch of white in it. The men at the ropes were a knot of
struggling confused figures.

One side of the car tilted up, and the sailor was nearly pitched
out. Three men at the other side had failed to free the ropes.

"Let go, corpses!" the sailor yelled at them.

The balloon jumped, as if it were drawn by some terrific impulse
from the skies.

"Adieu!" called Chirac, pulling his cap off and waving it.
"Adieu!"

"Bon voyage! Bon voyage!" the little crowd cheered. And then,
"Vive la France!" Throats tightened, including Sophia's.

But the top of the balloon had leaned over, destroying its pear-
shape, and the whole mass swerved violently towards the wall of
the station, the car swinging under it like a toy, and an anchor
under the car. There was a cry of alarm. Then the great ball
leaped again, and swept over the high glass roof, escaping by
inches the spouting. The cheers expired instantly. ... The balloon
was gone. It was spirited away as if by some furious and mighty
power that had grown impatient in waiting for it. There remained
for a few seconds on the collective retina of the spectators a
vision of the inclined car swinging near the roof like the tail of
a kite. And then nothing! Blankness! Blackness! Already the
balloon was lost to sight in the vast stormy ocean of the night, a
plaything of the winds. The spectators became once more aware of
the dull booming of the cannonade. The balloon was already perhaps
flying unseen amid the wrack over those guns.

Sophia involuntarily caught her breath. A chill sense of
loneliness, of purposelessness, numbed her being.

Nobody ever saw Chirac or the old sailor again. The sea must have
swallowed them. Of the sixty-five balloons that left Paris during
the siege, two were not heard of. This was the first of the two.
Chirac had, at any rate, not magnified the peril, though his
intention was undoubtedly to magnify it.

III

This was the end of Sophia's romantic adventures in France. Soon
afterwards the Germans entered Paris, by mutual agreement, and
made a point of seeing the Louvre, and departed, amid the silence
of a city. For Sophia the conclusion of the siege meant chiefly
that prices went down. Long before supplies from outside could
reach Paris, the shop-windows were suddenly full of goods which
had arrived from the shopkeepers alone knew where. Sophia, with
the stock in her cellar, could have held out for several weeks
more, and it annoyed her that she had not sold more of her good
things while good things were worth gold. The signing of a treaty
at Versailles reduced the value of Sophia's two remaining hams
from about five pounds apiece to the usual price of hams. However,
at the end of January she found herself in possession of a capital
of about eight thousand francs, all the furniture of the flat, and
a reputation. She had earned it all. Nothing could destroy the
structure of her beauty, but she looked worn and appreciably
older. She wondered often when Chirac would return. She might have
written to Carlier or to the paper; but she did not. It was Niepce
who discovered in a newspaper that Chirac's balloon had
miscarried. At the moment the news did not affect her at all; but
after several days she began to feel her loss in a dull sort of
way; and she felt it more and more, though never acutely. She was
perfectly convinced that Chirac could never have attracted her
powerfully. She continued to dream, at rare intervals, of the kind
of passion that would have satisfied her, glowing but banked down
like a fire in some fine chamber of a rich but careful household.

She was speculating upon what her future would be, and whether by
inertia she was doomed to stay for ever in the Rue Breda, when the
Commune caught her. She was more vexed than frightened by the
Commune; vexed that a city so in need of repose and industry
should indulge in such antics. For many people the Commune was a
worse experience than the siege; but not for Sophia. She was a
woman and a foreigner. Niepce was infinitely more disturbed than
Sophia; he went in fear of his life. Sophia would go out to market
and take her chances. It is true that during one period the whole
population of the house went to live in the cellars, and orders to
the butcher and other tradesmen were given over the party-wall
into the adjoining courtyard, which communicated with an alley. A
strange existence, and possibly perilous! But the women who passed
through it and had also passed through the siege, were not very
much intimidated by it, unless they happened to have husbands or
lovers who were active politicians.

Sophia did not cease, during the greater part of the year 1871, to
make a living and to save money. She watched every sou, and she
developed a tendency to demand from her tenants all that they
could pay. She excused this to herself by ostentatiously declaring
every detail of her prices in advance. It came to the same thing
in the end, with this advantage, that the bills did not lead to
unpleasantness. Her difficulties commenced when Paris at last
definitely resumed its normal aspect and life, when all the women
and children came back to those city termini which they had left
in such huddled, hysterical throngs, when flats were re-opened
that had long been shut, and men who for a whole year had had the
disadvantages and the advantages of being without wife and family,
anchored themselves once more to the hearth. Then it was that
Sophia failed to keep all her rooms let. She could have let them
easily and constantly and at high rents; but not to men without
encumbrances. Nearly every day she refused attractive tenants in
pretty hats, or agreeable gentlemen who only wanted a room on
condition that they might offer hospitality to a dashing
petticoat. It was useless to proclaim aloud that her house was
'serious.' The ambition of the majority of these joyous persons
was to live in a 'serious' house, because each was sure that at
bottom he or she was a 'serious' person, and quite different from
the rest of the joyous world. The character of Sophia's flat,
instead of repelling the wrong kind of aspirant, infallibly drew
just that kind. Hope was inextinguishable in these bosoms. They
heard that there would be no chance for them at Sophia's; but they
tried nevertheless. And occasionally Sophia would make a mistake,
and grave unpleasantness would occur before the mistake could be
rectified. The fact was that the street was too much for her. Few
people would credit that there was a serious boarding-house in the
Rue Breda. The police themselves would not credit it. And Sophia's
beauty was against her. At that time the Rue Breda was perhaps the
most notorious street in the centre of Paris; at the height of its
reputation as a warren of individual improprieties; most busily
creating that prejudice against itself which, over thirty years
later, forced the authorities to change its name in obedience to
the wish of its tradesmen. When Sophia went out at about eleven
o'clock in the morning with her reticule to buy, the street was
littered with women who had gone out with reticules to buy. But
whereas Sophia was fully dressed, and wore headgear, the others
were in dressing-gown and slippers, or opera-cloak and slippers,
having slid directly out of unspeakable beds and omitted to brush
their hair out of their puffy eyes. In the little shops of the Rue
Breda, the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, and the Rue des Martyrs, you
were very close indeed to the primitive instincts of human nature.
It was wonderful; it was amusing; it was excitingly picturesque;
and the universality of the manners rendered moral indignation
absurd. But the neighbourhood was certainly not one in which a
woman of Sophia's race, training, and character, could comfortably
earn a living, or even exist. She could not fight against the
entire street. She, and not the street, was out of place and in
the wrong. Little wonder that the neighbours lifted their
shoulders when they spoke of her! What beautiful woman but a mad
Englishwoman would have had the idea of establishing herself in
the Rue Breda with the intention of living like a nun and
compelling others to do the same?

By dint of continual ingenuity, Sophia contrived to win somewhat
more than her expenses, but she was slowly driven to admit to
herself that the situation could not last.

Then one day she saw in Galignani's Messenger an advertisement of
an English pension for sale in the Rue Lord Byron, in the Champs
Elysees quarter. It belonged to some people named Frensham, and
had enjoyed a certain popularity before the war. The proprietor
and his wife, however, had not sufficiently allowed for the
vicissitudes of politics in Paris. Instead of saving money during
their popularity they had put it on the back and on the fingers of
Mrs. Frensham. The siege and the Commune had almost ruined them.
With capital they might have restored themselves to their former
pride; but their capital was exhausted. Sophia answered the
advertisement. She impressed the Frenshams, who were delighted
with the prospect of dealing in business with an honest English
face. Like many English people abroad they were most strangely
obsessed by the notion that they had quitted an island of honest
men to live among thieves and robbers. They always implied that
dishonesty was unknown in Britain. They offered, if she would take
over the lease, to sell all their furniture and their renown for
ten thousand francs. She declined, the price seeming absurd to
her. When they asked her to name a price, she said that she
preferred not to do so. Upon entreaty, she said four thousand
francs. They then allowed her to see that they considered her to
have been quite right in hesitating to name a price so ridiculous.
And their confidence in the honest English face seemed to have
been shocked. Sophia left. When she got back to the Rue Breda she
was relieved that the matter had come to nothing. She did not
precisely foresee what her future was to be, but at any rate she
knew she shrank from the responsibility of the Pension Frensham.
The next morning she received a letter offering to accept six
thousand. She wrote and declined. She was indifferent and she
would not budge from four thousand. The Frenshams gave way. They
were pained, but they gave way. The glitter of four thousand
francs in cash, and freedom, was too tempting.

Thus Sophia became the proprietress of the Pension Frensham in the
cold and correct Rue Lord Byron. She made room in it for nearly
all her other furniture, so that instead of being under-furnished,
as pensions usually are, it was over-furnished. She was extremely
timid at first, for the rent alone was four thousand francs a
year; and the prices of the quarter were alarmingly different from
those of the Rue Breda. She lost a lot of sleep. For some nights,
after she had been installed in the Rue Lord Byron about a
fortnight, she scarcely slept at all, and she ate no more than she
slept. She cut down expenditure to the very lowest, and frequently
walked over to the Rue Breda to do her marketing. With the aid of
a charwoman at six sous an hour she accomplished everything. And
though clients were few, the feat was in the nature of a miracle;
for Sophia had to cook.

The articles which George Augustus Sala wrote under the title
"Paris herself again" ought to have been paid for in gold by the
hotel and pension-keepers of Paris. They awakened English
curiosity and the desire to witness the scene of terrible events.
Their effect was immediately noticeable. In less than a year after
her adventurous purchase, Sophia had acquired confidence, and she
was employing two servants, working them very hard at low wages.
She had also acquired the landlady's manner. She was known as Mrs.
Frensham. Across the balconies of two windows the Frenshams had
left a gilded sign, "Pension Frensham," and Sophia had not removed
it. She often explained that her name was not Frensham; but in
vain. Every visitor inevitably and persistently addressed her
according to the sign. It was past the general comprehension that
the proprietress of the Pension Frensham might bear another name
than Frensham. But later there came into being a class of persons,
habitues of the Pension Frensham, who knew the real name of the
proprietress and were proud of knowing it, and by this knowledge
were distinguished from the herd. What struck Sophia was the
astounding similarity of her guests. They all asked the same
questions, made the same exclamations, went out on the same
excursions, returned with the same judgments, and exhibited the
same unimpaired assurance that foreigners were really very
peculiar people. They never seemed to advance in knowledge. There
was a constant stream of explorers from England who had to be set
on their way to the Louvre or the Bon Marche.

Sophia's sole interest was in her profits. The excellence of her
house was firmly established. She kept it up, and she kept the
modest prices up. Often she had to refuse guests. She naturally
did so with a certain distant condescension. Her manner to guests
increased in stiff formality; and she was excessively firm with
undesirables. She grew to be seriously convinced that no pension
as good as hers existed in the world, or ever had existed, or ever
could exist. Hers was the acme of niceness and respectability. Her
preference for the respectable rose to a passion. And there were
no faults in her establishment. Even the once despised showy
furniture of Madame Foucault had mysteriously changed into the
best conceivable furniture; and its cracks were hallowed.

She never heard a word of Gerald nor of her family. In the
thousands of people who stayed under her perfect roof, not one
mentioned Bursley nor disclosed a knowledge of anybody that Sophia
had known. Several men had the wit to propose marriage to her with
more or less skilfulness, but none of them was skilful enough to
perturb her heart. She had forgotten the face of love. She was a
landlady. She was THE landlady: efficient, stylish, diplomatic,
and tremendously experienced. There was no trickery, no baseness
of Parisian life that she was not acquainted with and armed
against. She could not be startled and she could not be swindled.

Years passed, until there was a vista of years behind her.
Sometimes she would think, in an unoccupied moment, "How strange
it is that I should be here, doing what I am doing!" But the
regular ordinariness of her existence would instantly seize her
again. At the end of 1878, the Exhibition Year, her Pension
consisted of two floors instead of one, and she had turned the two
hundred pounds stolen from Gerald into over two thousand.




BOOK IV

WHAT LIFE IS




CHAPTER I

FRENSHAM'S

I


Matthew Peel-Swynnerton sat in the long dining-room of the Pension
Frensham, Rue Lord Byron, Paris; and he looked out of place there.
It was an apartment about thirty feet in length, and of the width
of two windows, which sufficiently lighted one half of a very long
table with round ends. The gloom of the other extremity was
illumined by a large mirror in a tarnished gilt frame, which
filled a good portion of the wall opposite the windows. Near the
mirror was a high folding-screen of four leaves, and behind this
screen could be heard the sound of a door continually shutting and
opening. In the long wall to the left of the windows were two
doors, one dark and important, a door of state, through which a
procession of hungry and a procession of sated solemn self-
conscious persons passed twice daily, and the other, a smaller
door, glazed, its glass painted with wreaths of roses, not an
original door of the house, but a late breach in the wall, that
seemed to lead to the dangerous and to the naughty. The wall-paper
and the window drapery were rich and forbidding, dark in hue,
mysterious of pattern. Over the state-door was a pair of antlers.
And at intervals, so high up as to defy inspection, engravings and
oil-paintings made oblong patches on the walls. They were hung
from immense nails with porcelain heads, and they appeared to
depict the more majestic aspect of man and nature. One engraving,
over the mantelpiece and nearer earth than the rest, unmistakably
showed Louis Philippe and his family in attitudes of virtue.
Beneath this royal group, a vast gilt clock, flanked by pendants
of the same period, gave the right time--a quarter past seven.

And down the room, filling it, ran the great white table, bordered
with bowed heads and the backs of chairs. There were over thirty
people at the table, and the peculiarly restrained noisiness of
their knives and forks on the plates proved that they were a
discreet and a correct people. Their clothes--blouses, bodices,
and jackets--did not flatter the lust of the eye. Only two or
three were in evening dress. They spoke little, and generally in a
timorous tone, as though silence had been enjoined. Somebody would
half-whisper a remark, and then his neighbour, absently fingering
her bread and lifting gaze from her plate into vacancy, would
conscientiously weigh the remark and half-whisper in reply: "I
dare say." But a few spoke loudly and volubly, and were regarded
by the rest, who envied them, as underbred.

Food was quite properly the chief preoccupation. The diners ate as
those eat who are paying a fixed price per day for as much as they
can consume while observing the rules of the game. Without moving
their heads they glanced out of the corners of their eyes,
watching the manoeuvres of the three starched maids who served.
They had no conception of food save as portions laid out in rows
on large silver dishes, and when a maid bent over them
deferentially, balancing the dish, they summed up the offering in
an instant, and in an instant decided how much they could decently
take, and to what extent they could practise the theoretic liberty
of choice. And if the food for any reason did not tempt them, or
if it egregiously failed to coincide with their aspirations, they
considered themselves aggrieved. For, according to the game, they
might not command; they had the right to seize all that was
presented under their noses, like genteel tigers; and they had the
right to refuse: that was all. The dinner was thus a series of
emotional crises for the diners, who knew only that full dishes
and clean plates came endlessly from the banging door behind the
screen, and that ravaged dishes and dirty plates vanished
endlessly through the same door. They were all eating similar food
simultaneously; they began together and they finished together.
The flies that haunted the paper-bunches which hung from the
chandeliers to the level of the flower-vases, were more free. The
sole event that chequered the exact regularity of the repast was
the occasional arrival of a wine-bottle for one of the guests. The
receiver of the wine-bottle signed a small paper in exchange for
it and wrote largely a number on the label of the bottle; then,
staring at the number and fearing that after all it might be
misread by a stupid maid or an unscrupulous compeer, he would re-
write the number on another part of the label, even more largely.

Matthew Peel-Swynnerton obviously did not belong to this world. He
was a young man of twenty-five or so, not handsome, but elegant.
Though he was not in evening dress, though he was, as a fact, in a
very light grey suit, entirely improper to a dinner, he was
elegant. The suit was admirably cut, and nearly new; but he wore
it as though he had never worn anything else. Also his demeanour,
reserved yet free from self-consciousness, his method of handling
a knife and fork, the niceties of his manner in transferring food
from the silver dishes to his plate, the tone in which he ordered
half a bottle of wine--all these details infallibly indicated to
the company that Matthew Peel-Swynnerton was their superior. Some
folks hoped that he was the son of a lord, or even a lord. He
happened to be fixed at the end of the table, with his back to the
window, and there was a vacant chair on either side of him; this
situation favoured the hope of his high rank. In truth, he was the
son, the grandson, and several times the nephew, of earthenware
manufacturers. He noticed that the large 'compote' (as it was
called in his trade) which marked the centre of the table, was the
production of his firm. This surprised him, for Peel, Swynnerton
and Co., known and revered throughout the Five Towns as 'Peels,'
did not cater for cheap markets. A late guest startled the room, a
fat, flabby, middle-aged man whose nose would have roused the
provisional hostility of those who have convinced themselves that
Jews are not as other men. His nose did not definitely brand him
as a usurer and a murderer of Christ, but it was suspicious. His
clothes hung loose, and might have been anybody's clothes. He
advanced with brisk assurance to the table, bowed, somewhat too
effusively, to several people, and sat down next to Peel-
Swynnerton. One of the maids at once brought him a plate of soup,
and he said: "Thank you, Marie," smiling at her. He was evidently
a habitue of the house. His spectacled eyes beamed the superiority
which comes of knowing girls by their names. He was seriously
handicapped in the race for sustenance, being two and a half
courses behind, but he drew level with speed and then, having
accomplished this, he sighed, and pointedly engaged Peel-
Swynnerton with his sociable glance.

"Ah!" he breathed out. "Nuisance when you come in late, sir!"

Peel-Swynnerton gave a reluctant affirmative.

"Doesn't only upset you! It upsets the house! Servants don't like
it!"

"No," murmured Peel-Swynnerton, "I suppose not."

"However, it's not often _I_'m late," said the man. "Can't help it
sometimes. Business! Worst of these French business people is that
they've no notion of time. Appointments ...! God bless my soul!"

"Do you come here often?" asked Peel-Swynnerton. He detested the
fellow, quite inexcusably, perhaps because his serviette was
tucked under his chin; but he saw that the fellow was one of your
determined talkers, who always win in the end. Moreover, as being
clearly not an ordinary tourist in Paris, the fellow mildly
excited his curiosity.

"I live here," said the other. "Very convenient for a bachelor,
you know. Have done for years. My office is just close by. You may
know my name--Lewis Mardon."

Peel-Swynnerton hesitated. The hesitation convicted him of not
'knowing his Paris' well.

"House-agent," said Lewis Mardon, quickly.

"Oh yes," said Peel-Swynnerton, vaguely recalling a vision of the
name among the advertisements on newspaper kiosks.

"I expect," Mr. Mardon went on, "my name is as well-known as
anybody's in Paris."

"I suppose so," assented Peel-Swynnerton.

The conversation fell for a few moments.

"Staying here long?" Mr. Mardon demanded, having added up Peel-
Swynnerton as a man of style and of means, and being puzzled by
his presence at that table.

"I don't know," said Peel-Swynnerton.

This was a lie, justified in the utterer's opinion as a repulse to
Mr. Mardon's vulgar inquisitiveness, such inquisitiveness as might
have been expected from a fellow who tucked his serviette under
his chin. Peel-Swynnerton knew exactly how long he would stay. He
would stay until the day after the morrow; he had only about fifty
francs in his pocket. He had been making a fool of himself in
another quarter of Paris, and he had descended to the Pension
Frensham as a place where he could be absolutely sure of spending
not more than twelve francs a day. Its reputation was high, and it
was convenient for the Galliera Museum, where he was making some
drawings which he had come to Paris expressly to make, and without
which he could not reputably return to England. He was capable of
foolishness, but he was also capable of wisdom, and scarcely any
pressure of need would have induced him to write home for money to
replace the money spent on making himself into a fool.

Mr. Mardon was conscious of a check. But, being of an
accommodating disposition, he at once tried another direction.

"Good food here, eh?" he suggested.

"Very," said Peel-Swynnerton, with sincerity. "I was quite--"

At that moment, a tall straight woman of uncertain age pushed open
the principal door and stood for an instant in the doorway. Peel-
Swynnerton had just time to notice that she was handsome and pale,
and that her hair was black, and then she was gone again, followed
by a clipped poodle that accompanied her. She had signed with a
brief gesture to one of the servants, who at once set about
lighting the gas-jets over the table.

"Who is that?" asked Peel-Swynnerton, without reflecting that it
was now he who was making advances to the fellow whose napkin
covered all his shirt-front.

"That's the missis, that is," said Mr. Mardon, in a lower and
semi-confidential voice.

"Oh! Mrs. Frensham?"

"Yes. But her real name is Scales," said Mr. Mardon, proudly.

"Widow, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"And she runs the whole show?"

"She runs the entire contraption," said Mr. Mardon, solemnly; "and
don't you make any mistake!" He was getting familiar.

Peel-Swynnerton beat him off once more, glancing with careful,
uninterested nonchalance at the gas-burners which exploded one
after another with a little plop under the application of the
maid's taper. The white table gleamed more whitely than ever under
the flaring gas. People at the end of the room away from the
window instinctively smiled, as though the sun had begun to shine.
The aspect of the dinner was changed, ameliorated; and with the
reiterated statement that the evenings were drawing in though it
was only July, conversation became almost general. In two minutes
Mr. Mardon was genially talking across the whole length of the
table. The meal finished in a state that resembled conviviality.

Matthew Peel-Swynnerton might not go out into the crepuscular
delights of Paris. Unless he remained within the shelter of the
Pension, he could not hope to complete successfully his re-
conversion from folly to wisdom. So he bravely passed through the
small rose-embroidered door into a small glass-covered courtyard,
furnished with palms, wicker armchairs, and two small tables; and
he lighted a pipe and pulled out of his pocket a copy of The
Referee. That retreat was called the Lounge; it was the only part
of the Pension where smoking was not either a positive crime or a
transgression against good form. He felt lonely. He said to
himself grimly in one breath that pleasure was all rot, and in the
next he sullenly demanded of the universe how it was that pleasure
could not go on for ever, and why he was not Mr. Barney Barnato.
Two old men entered the retreat and burnt cigarettes with many
precautions. Then Mr. Lewis Mardon appeared and sat down boldly
next to Matthew, like a privileged friend. After all, Mr. Mardon
was better than nobody whatever, and Matthew decided to suffer
him, especially as he began without preliminary skirmishing to
talk about life in Paris. An irresistible subject! Mr. Mardon said
in a worldly tone that the existence of a bachelor in Paris might
easily be made agreeable. But that, of course, for himself--well,
he preferred, as a general rule, the Pension Frensham sort of
thing; and it was excellent for his business. Still he could not
... he knew ... He compared the advantages of what he called
'knocking about' in Paris, with the equivalent in London. His
information about London was out of date, and Peel-Swynnerton was
able to set him right on important details. But his information
about Paris was infinitely precious and interesting to the younger
man,, who saw that he had hitherto lived under strange
misconceptions.

"Have a whiskey?" asked Mr. Mardon, suddenly. "Very good here!" he
added.

"Thanks!" drawled Peel-Swynnerton.

The temptation to listen to Mr. Mardon as long as Mr. Mardon would
talk was not to be overcome. And presently, when the old men had
departed, they were frankly telling each other stories in the
dimness of the retreat. Then, when the supply of stories came to
an end, Mr. Mardon smacked his lips over the last drop of whiskey
and ejaculated: "Yes!" as if giving a general confirmation to all
that had been said.

"Do have one with me," said Matthew, politely. It was the least he
could do.

The second supply of whiskies was brought into the Lounge by Mr.
Mardon's Marie. He smiled on her familiarly, and remarked that he
supposed she would soon be going to bed after a hard day's work.
She gave a moue and a flounce in reply, and swished out.

"Carries herself well, doesn't she?" observed Mr. Mardon, as
though Marie had been an exhibit at an agricultural show. "Ten
years ago she was very fresh and pretty, but of course it takes it
out of 'em, a place like this!"

"But still," said Peel-Swynnerton, "they must like it or they
wouldn't stay--that is, unless things are very different here from
what they are in England."

The conversation seemed to have stimulated him to examine the
woman question in all its bearings, with philosophic curiosity.

"Oh! They LIKE it," Mr. Mardon assured him, as one who knew.
"Besides, Mrs. Scales treats 'em very well. I know THAT. She's
told me. She's very particular"--he looked around to see if walls
had ears--"and, by Jove, you've got to be; but she treats 'em
well. You'd scarcely believe the wages they get, and pickings. Now
at the Hotel Moscow--know the Hotel Moscow?"

Happily Peel-Swynnerton did. He had been advised to avoid it
because it catered exclusively for English visitors, but in the
Pension Frensham he had accepted something even more exclusively
British than the Hotel Moscow. Mr. Mardon was quite relieved at
his affirmative.

"The Hotel Moscow is a limited company now," said he; "English."

"Really?"

"Yes. I floated it. It was my idea. A great success! That's how I
know all about the Hotel Moscow." He looked at the walls again. "I
wanted to do the same here," he murmured, and Peel-Swynnerton had
to show that he appreciated this confidence. "But she never would
agree. I've tried her all ways. No go! It's a thousand pities."

"Paying thing, eh?"

"This place? I should say it was! And I ought to be able to judge,
I reckon. Mrs. Scales is one of the shrewdest women you'd meet in
a day's march. She's made a lot of money here, a lot of money. And
there's no reason why a place like this shouldn't be five times as
big as it is. Ten times. The scope's unlimited, my dear sir. All
that's wanted is capital. Naturally she has capital of her own,
and she could get more. But then, as she says, she doesn't want
the place any bigger. She says it's now just as big as she can
handle. That isn't so. She's a woman who could handle anything--a
born manager--but even if it was so, all she would have to do
would be to retire--only leave us the place and the name. It's the
name that counts. And she's made the name of Frensham worth
something, I can tell you!"

"Did she get the place from her husband?" asked Peel-Swynnerton.
Her own name of Scales intrigued him.

Mr. Mardon shook his head. "Bought it on her own, after the
husband's time, for a song--a song! I know, because I knew the
original Frenshams."

"You must have been in Paris a long time," said Peel-Swynnerton.

Mr. Mardon could never resist an opportunity to talk about
himself. His was a wonderful history. And Peel-Swynnerton, while
scorning the man for his fatuity, was impressed. And when that was
finished--

"Yes!" said Mr. Mardon after a pause,, reaffirming everything in
general by a single monosyllable.

Shortly afterwards he rose, saying that his habits were regular.

"Good-night,' he said with a mechanical smile.

"G-good-night," said Peel-Swynnerton, trying to force the tone of
fellowship and not succeeding. Their intimacy, which had sprung up
like a mushroom, suddenly fell into dust. Peel-Swynnerton's
unspoken comment to Mr. Mardon's back was: "Ass!" Still, the sum
of Peel-Swynnerton's knowledge had indubitably been increased
during the evening. And the hour was yet early. Half-past ten! The
Folies-Marigny, with its beautiful architecture and its crowds of
white toilettes, and its frothing of champagne and of beer, and
its musicians in tight red coats, was just beginning to be alive--
and at a distance of scarcely a stone's-throw! Peel-Swynnerton
pictured the terraced, glittering hall, which had been the prime
origin of his exceeding foolishness. And he pictured all the other
resorts, great and small, garlanded with white lanterns, in the
Champs Elysees; and the sombre aisles of the Champs Elysees where
mysterious pale figures walked troublingly under the shade of
trees, while snatches of wild song or absurd brassy music floated
up from the resorts and restaurants. He wanted to go out and spend
those fifty francs that remained in his pocket. After all, why not
telegraph to England for more money? "Oh, damn it!" he said
savagely, and stretched his arms and got up. The Lounge was very
small, gloomy and dreary.

One brilliant incandescent light burned in the hall, crudely
illuminating the wicker fauteuils, a corded trunk with a blue-and-
red label on it, a Fitzroy barometer, a map of Paris, a coloured
poster of the Compagnie Transatlantique, and the mahogany retreat
of the hall-portress. In that retreat was not only the hall-
portress--an aged woman with a white cap above her wrinkled pink
face--but the mistress of the establishment. They were murmuring
together softly; they seemed to be well disposed to one another.
The portress was respectful, but the mistress was respectful also.
The hall, with its one light tranquilly burning, was bathed in an
honest calm, the calm of a day's work accomplished, of gradual
relaxation from tension, of growing expectation of repose. In its
simplicity it affected Peel-Swynnerton as a medicine tonic for
nerves might have affected him. In that hall, though exterior
nocturnal life was but just stirring into activity, it seemed that
the middle of the night had come, and that these two women alone
watched in a mansion full of sleepers. And all the recitals which
Peel-Swynnerton and Mr. Mardon had exchanged sank to the level of
pitiably foolish gossip. Peel-Swynnerton felt that his duty to the
house was to retire to bed. He felt, too, that he could not leave
the house without saying that he was going out, and that he lacked
the courage deliberately to tell these two women that he was going
out--at that time of night! He dropped into one of the chairs and
made a second attempt to peruse The Referee. Useless! Either his
mind was outside in the Champs Elysees, or his gaze would wander
surreptitiously to the figure of Mrs. Scales. He could not well
distinguish her face because it was in the shadow of the mahogany.

Then the portress came forth from her box, and, slightly bent,
sped actively across the hall, smiling pleasantly at the guest as
she passed him, and disappeared up the stairs. The mistress was
alone in the retreat. Peel-Swynnerton jumped up brusquely,
dropping the paper with a rustle, and approached her.

"Excuse me," he said deferentially. "Have any letters come for me
to-night?"

He knew that the arrival of letters for him was impossible, since
nobody knew his address.

"What name?" The question was coldly polite, and the questioner
looked him full in the face. Undoubtedly she was a handsome woman.
Her hair was greying at the temples, and the skin was withered and
crossed with lines. But she was handsome. She was one of those
women of whom to their last on earth the stranger will say: "When
she was young she must have been worth looking at!"--with a little
transient regret that beautiful young women cannot remain for ever
young. Her voice was firm and even, sweet in tone, and yet morally
harsh from incessant traffic--with all varieties of human nature.
Her eyes were the impartial eyes of one who is always judging. And
evidently she was a proud, even a haughty creature, with her
careful, controlled politeness. Evidently she considered herself
superior to no matter what guest. Her eyes announced that she had
lived and learnt, that she knew more about life than any one whom
she was likely to meet, and that having pre-eminently succeeded in
life, she had tremendous confidence in herself. The proof of her
success was the unique Frensham's. A consciousness of the
uniqueness of Frensham's was also in those eyes. Theoretically
Matthew Peel-Swynnerton's mental attitude towards lodging-house
keepers was condescending, but here it was not condescending. It
had the real respectfulness of a man who for the moment at any
rate is impressed beyond his calculations. His glance fell as he
said--

"Peel-Swynnerton." Then he looked up again.

He said the words awkwardly, and rather fearfully, as if aware
that he was playing with fire. If this Mrs. Scales was the long-
vanished aunt of his friend, Cyril Povey, she must know those two
names, locally so famous. Did she start? Did she show a sign of
being perturbed? At first he thought he detected a symptom of
emotion, but in an instant he was sure that he had detected
nothing of the sort, and that it was silly to suppose that he was
treading on the edge of a romance. Then she turned towards the
letter-rack at her side, and he saw her face in profile. It bore a
sudden and astonishing likeness to the profile of Cyril Povey; a
resemblance unmistakable and finally decisive. The nose, and the
curve of the upper lip were absolutely Cyril's. Matthew Peel-
Swynnerton felt very queer. He felt like a criminal in peril of
being caught in the act, and he could not understand why he should
feel so. The landlady looked in the 'P' pigeon-hole, and in the
'S' pigeon-hole.

"No," she said quietly, "I see nothing for you."

Taken with a swift rash audacity, he said: "Have you had any one
named Povey here recently?"

"Povey?"

"Yes. Cyril Povey, of Bursley--in the Five Towns."

He was very impressionable, very sensitive, was Matthew Peel-
Swynnerton. His voice trembled as he spoke. But hers also trembled
in reply.

"Not that I remember! No! Were you expecting him to be here?"

"Well, it wasn't at all sure," he muttered. "Thank you. Good-
night."

"Good-night," she said, apparently with the simple perfunctoriness
of the landlady who says good-night to dozens of strangers every
evening.

He hurried away upstairs, and met the portress coming down. "Well,
well!" he thought. "Of all the queer things--!" And he kept
nodding his head. At last he had encountered something REALLY
strange in the spectacle of existence. It had fallen to him to
discover the legendary woman who had fled from Bursley before he
was born, and of whom nobody knew anything. What news for Cyril!
What a staggering episode! He had scarcely any sleep that night.
He wondered whether he would be able to meet Mrs. Scales without
self-consciousness on the morrow. However, he was spared the
curious ordeal of meeting her. She did not appear at all on the
following day; nor did he see her before he left. He could not
find a pretext for asking why she was invisible.

II

The hansom of Matthew Peel-Swynnerton drew up in front of No. 26,
Victoria Grove, Chelsea; his kit-bag was on the roof of the cab.
The cabman had a red flower in his buttonhole. Matthew leaped out
of the vehicle, holding his straw hat on his head with one hand.
On reaching the pavement he checked himself suddenly and became
carelessly calm. Another straw-hatted and grey-clad figure was
standing at the side-gate of No. 26 in the act of lighting a
cigarette.

"Hello, Matt!" exclaimed the second figure, languidly, and in a
veiled voice due to the fact that he was still holding the match
to the cigarette and puffing. "What's the meaning of all this
fluster? You're just the man I want to see."

He threw away the match with a wave of the arm, and took Matthew's
hand for a moment, blowing a double shaft of smoke through his
nose

"I want to see you, too," said Matthew. "And I've only got a
minute. I'm on my way to Euston. I must catch the twelve-five."

He looked at his friend, and could positively see no feature of it
that was not a feature of Mrs. Scales's face. Also, the elderly
woman held her body in exactly the same way as the young man. It
was entirely disconcerting.

"Have a cigarette," answered Cyril Povey, imperturbably. He was
two years younger than Matthew, from whom he had acquired most of
his vast and intricate knowledge of life and art, with certain
leading notions of deportment; whose pupil indeed he was in all
the things that matter to young men. But he had already surpassed
his professor. He could pretend to be old much more successfully
than Matthew could.

The cabman approvingly watched the ignition of the second
cigarette, and then the cabman pulled out a cigar, and showed his
large, white teeth, as he bit the end off it. The appearance and
manner of his fare, the quality of the kit-bag, and the opening
gestures of the interview between the two young dukes, had put the
cabman in an optimistic mood. He had no apprehensions of miserly
and ungentlemanly conduct by his fare upon the arrival at Euston.
He knew the language of the tilt of a straw hat. And it was a
magnificent day in London. The group of the two elegances
dominated by the perfection of the cabman made a striking tableau
of triumphant masculinity, content with itself, and needing
nothing.

Matthew lightly took Cyril's arm and drew him further down the
street, past the gate leading to the studio (hidden behind a
house) which Cyril rented.

"Look here, my boy," he began, "I've found your aunt."

"Well, that's very nice of you," said Cyril, solemnly. "That's a
friendly act. May I ask what aunt?"

"Mrs. Scales," said Matthew. "You know--"

"Not the--" Cyril's face changed.

"Yes, precisely!" said Matthew, feeling that he was not being
cheated of the legitimate joy caused by making a sensation.
Assuredly he had made a sensation in Victoria Grove.

When he had related the whole story, Cyril said: "Then she doesn't
know you know?"

"I don't think so. No, I'm sure she doesn't. She may guess."

"But how can you be certain you haven't made a mistake? It may be
that--"

"Look here, my boy," Matthew interrupted him. "I've not made any
mistake."

"But you've no proof."

"Proof be damned!" said Matthew, nettled. "I tell you it's HER!"

"Oh! All right! All right! What puzzles me most is what the devil
you were doing in a place like that. According to your description
of it, it must be a--"

"I went there because I was broke," said Matthew.

"Razzle?"

Matthew nodded.

"Pretty stiff, that!" commented Cyril, when Matthew had narrated
the prologue to Frensham's.

"Well, she absolutely swore she never took less than two hundred
francs. And she looked it, too! And she was worth it! I had the
time of my life with that woman. I can tell you one thing--no more
English for me! They simply aren't in it."

"How old was she?"

Matthew reflected judicially. "I should say she was thirty." The
gaze of admiration and envy was upon him. He had the legitimate
joy of making a second sensation. "I'll let you know more about
that when I come back," he added. "I can open your eyes, my
child."

Cyril smiled sheepishly. "Why can't you stay now?" he asked. "I'm
going to take the cast of that Verrall girl's arm this afternoon,
and I know I can't do it alone. And Robson's no good. You're just
the man I want."

"Can't!" said Matthew.

"Well, come into the studio a minute, anyhow."

"Haven't time; I shall miss my train."

"I don't care if you miss forty trains. You must come in. You've
got to see that fountain," Cyril insisted crossly.

Matthew yielded. When they emerged into the street again, after
six minutes of Cyril's savage interest in his own work, Matthew
remembered Mrs. Scales.

"Of course you'll write to your mother?" he said.

"Yes," said Cyril, "I'll write; but if you happen to see her, you
might tell her."

"I will," said Matthew. "Shall you go over to Paris?"

"What! To see Auntie?" He smiled. "I don't know. Depends. If the
mater will fork out all my exes ... it's an idea," he said
lightly, and then without any change of tone, "Naturally, if
you're going to idle about here all morning you aren't likely to
catch the twelve-five."

Matthew got into the cab, while the driver, the stump of a cigar
between his exposed teeth, leaned forward and lifted the reins
away from the tilted straw hat.

"By-the-by, lend me some silver," Matthew demanded. "It's a good
thing I've got my return ticket. I've run it as fine as ever I did
in my life."

Cyril produced eight shillings in silver. Secure in the possession
of these riches, Matthew called to the driver--

"Euston--like hell!"

"Yes, sir," said the driver, calmly.

"Not coming my way I suppose?" Matthew shouted as an afterthought,
just when the cab began to move.

"No. Barber's," Cyril shouted in answer, and waved his hand.

The horse rattled into Fulham Road.

III

Three days later Matthew Peel-Swynnerton was walking along Bursley
Market Place when, just opposite the Town Hall, he met a short,
fat, middle-aged lady dressed in black, with a black embroidered
mantle, and a small bonnet tied with black ribbon and ornamented
with jet fruit and crape leaves. As she stepped slowly and
carefully forward she had the dignified, important look of a
provincial woman who has always been accustomed to deference in
her native town, and whose income is ample enough to extort
obsequiousness from the vulgar of all ranks. But immediately she
caught sight of Matthew, her face changed. She became simple and
naive. She blushed slightly, smiling with a timid pleasure. For
her, Matthew belonged to a superior race. He bore the almost
sacred name of Peel. His family had been distinguished in the
district for generations. 'Peel!' You could without impropriety
utter it in the same breath with 'Wedgwood.' And 'Swynnerton'
stood not much lower. Neither her self-respect, which was great,
nor her commonsense, which far exceeded the average, could enable
her to extend as far as the Peels the theory that one man is as
good as another. The Peels never shopped in St. Luke's Square.
Even in its golden days the Square could not have expected such a
condescension. The Peels shopped in London or in Stafford; at a
pinch, in Oldcastle. That was the distinction for the ageing stout
lady in black. Why, she had not in six years recovered from her
surprise that her son and Matthew Peel-Swynnerton treated each
other rudely as equals! She and Matthew did not often meet, but
they liked each other. Her involuntary meekness flattered him. And
his rather elaborate homage flattered her. He admired her
fundamental goodness, and her occasional raps at Cyril seemed to
put him into ecstasies of joy.

"Well, Mrs. Povey," he greeted her, standing over her with his hat
raised. (It was a fashion he had picked up in Paris.) "Here I am,
you see."

"You're quite a stranger, Mr. Matthew. I needn't ask you how you
are. Have you been seeing anything of my boy lately?"

"Not since Wednesday," said Matthew. "Of course he's written to
you?"

"There's no 'of course' about it," she laughed faintly. "I had a
short letter from him on Wednesday morning. He said you were in
Paris."

"But since that--hasn't he written?"

"If I hear from him on Sunday I shall be lucky, bless ye!" said
Constance, grimly. "It's not letter-writing that will kill Cyril."

"But do you mean to say he hasn't--" Matthew stopped.

"Whatever's amiss?" asked Constance. Matthew was at a loss to know
what to do or say. "Oh, nothing."

"Now, Mr. Matthew, do please--" Constance's tone had suddenly
quite changed. It had become firm, commanding, and gravely
suspicious. The conversation had ceased to be small-talk for her.

Matthew saw how nervous and how fragile she was. He had never
noticed before that she was so sensitive to trifles, though it was
notorious that nobody could safely discuss Cyril with her in terms
of chaff. He was really astounded at that youth's carelessness,
shameful carelessness. That Cyril's attitude to his mother was
marked by a certain benevolent negligence--this Matthew knew; but
not to have written to her with the important news concerning Mrs.
Scales was utterly inexcusable; and Matthew determined that he
would tell Cyril so. He felt very sorry for Mrs. Povey. She seemed
pathetic to him, standing there in ignorance of a tremendous fact
which she ought to have been aware of. He was very content that he
had said nothing about Mrs. Scales to anybody except his own
mother, who had prudently enjoined silence upon him, saying that
his one duty, having told Cyril, was to keep his mouth shut until
the Poveys talked. Had it not been for his mother's advice he
would assuredly have spread the amazing tale, and Mrs. Povey might
have first heard of it from a stranger's gossip, which would have
been too cruel upon her.

"Oh!" Matthew tried to smile gaily, archly. "You're bound to hear
from Cyril to-morrow."

He wanted to persuade her that he was concealing merely some
delightful surprise from her. But he did not succeed. With all his
experience of the world and of women he was not clever enough to
deceive that simple woman.

"I'm waiting, Mr. Matthew," she said, in a tone that flattened the
smile out of Matthew's sympathetic face. She was ruthless. The
fact was, she had in an instant convinced herself that Cyril had
met some girl and was engaged to be married. She could think of
nothing else. "What has Cyril been doing?" she added, after a
pause.

"It's nothing to do with Cyril," said he.

"Then what is it?"

"It was about--Mrs. Scales," he murmured, nearly trembling. As she
offered no response, merely looking around her in a peculiar
fashion, he said: "Shall we walk along a bit?" And he turned in
the direction in which she had been going. She obeyed the
suggestion.

"What did ye say?" she asked. The name of Scales for a moment had
no significance for her. But when she comprehended it she was
afraid, and so she said vacantly, as though wishing to postpone a
shock: "What did ye say?"

"I said it was about Mrs. Scales. You know I m-met her in Paris."
And he was saying to himself: "I ought not to be telling this poor
old thing here in the street. But what can I do?" "Nay, nay!" she
muttered.

She stopped and looked at him with a worried expression. Then he
observed that the hand that carried her reticule was making
strange purposeless curves in the air, and her rosy face went the
colour of cream, as though it had been painted with one stroke of
an unseen brush. Matthew was very much put about.

"Hadn't you better--" he began.

"Eh," she said; "I must sit me--" Her bag dropped.

He supported her to the door of Allman's shop, the ironmonger's.
Unfortunately, there were two steps up into the shop, and she
could not climb them. She collapsed like a sack of flour on the
first step. Young Edward Allman ran to the door. He was wearing a
black apron and fidgeting with it in his excitement.

"Don't lift her up--don't try to lift her up, Mr. Peel-
Swynnerton!" he cried, as Matthew instinctively began to do the
wrong thing.

Matthew stopped, looking a fool and feeling one, and he and young
Allman contemplated each other helpless for a second across the
body of Constance Povey. A part of the Market Place now perceived
that the unusual was occurring. It was Mr. Shawcross, the chemist
next door to Allman's who dealt adequately with the situation. He
had seen all, while selling a Kodak to a young lady, and he ran
out with salts. Constance recovered very rapidly. She had not
quite swooned. She gave a long sigh, and whispered weakly that she
was all right. The three men helped her into the lofty dark shop,
which smelt of nails and of stove-polish, and she was balanced on
a ricketty chair.

"My word!" exclaimed young Allman, in his loud voice, when she
could smile and the pink was returning reluctantly to her cheeks.
"You mustn't frighten us like that, Mrs. Povey!"

Matthew said nothing. He had at last created a genuine sensation.
Once again he felt like a criminal, and could not understand why.

Constance announced that she would walk slowly home, down the
Cock-yard and along Wedgwood Street. But when, glancing round in
her returned strength, she saw the hedge of faces at the doorway,
she agreed with Mr. Shawcross that she would do better to have a
cab. Young Allman went to the door and whistled to the unique cab
that stands for ever at the grand entrance to the Town Hall.

"Mr. Matthew will come with me," said Constance.

"Certainly, with pleasure," said Matthew.

And she passed through the little crowd of gapers on Mr.
Shawcross's arm.

"Just take care of yourself, missis," said Mr. Shawcross to her,
through the window of the cab. "It's fainting weather, and we're
none of us any younger, seemingly."

She nodded.

"I'm awfully sorry I upset you, Mrs. Povey," said Matthew, when
the cab moved.

She shook her head, refusing his apology as unnecessary. Tears
filled her eyes. In less than a minute the cab had stopped in
front of Constance's light-grained door. She demanded her reticule
from Matthew, who had carried it since it fell. She would pay the
cabman. Never before had Matthew permitted a woman to pay for a
cab in which he had ridden; but there was no arguing with
Constance. Constance was dangerous.

Amy Bates, still inhabiting the cave, had seen the cab-wheels
through the grating of her window and had panted up the kitchen
stairs to open the door ere Constance had climbed the steps. Amy,
decidedly over forty, was a woman of authority. She wanted to know
what was the matter, and Constance had to tell her that she had
'felt unwell.' Amy took the hat and mantle and departed to prepare
a cup of tea. When they were alone Constance said to Matthew:

"Now. Mr. Matthew, will you please tell me?"

"It's only this," he began.

And as he told it, in quite a few words, it indeed had the air of
being 'only that.' And yet his voice shook, in sympathy with the
ageing woman's controlled but visible emotion. It seemed to him
that gladness should have filled the absurd little parlour, but
the spirit that presided had no name; it was certainly not joy. He
himself felt very sad, desolated. He would have given much money
to have been spared the experience. He knew simply that in the
memory of the stout, comical, nice woman in the rocking-chair he
had stirred old, old things, wakened slumbers that might have been
eternal. He did not know that he was sitting on the very spot
where the sofa had been on which Samuel Povey lay when a beautiful
and shameless young creature of fifteen extracted his tooth. He
did not know that Constance was sitting in the very chair in which
the memorable Mrs. Baines had sat in vain conflict with that same
unconquerable girl. He did not know ten thousand matters that were
rushing violently about in the vast heart of Constance.

She cross-questioned him in detail. But she did not put the
questions which he in his innocence expected; such as, if her
sister looked old, if her hair was grey, if she was stout or thin.
And until Amy, mystified and resentful, had served the tea, on a
little silver tray, she remained comparatively calm. It was in the
middle of a gulp of tea that she broke down, and Matthew had to
take the cup from her.

"I can't thank you, Mr. Matthew," she wept. "I couldn't thank you
enough."

"But I've done nothing," he protested.

She shook her head. "I never hoped for this. Never hoped for it!"
she went on. "It makes me so happy--in a way. ... You mustn't take
any notice of me. I'm silly. You must kindly write down that
address for me. And I must write to Cyril at once. And I must see
Mr. Critchlow."

"It's really very funny that Cyril hasn't written to you," said
Matthew.

"Cyril has not been a good son," she said with sudden, solemn
coldness. "To think that he should have kept that ...!" She wept
again.

At length Matthew saw the possibility of leaving. He felt her
warm, soft, crinkled hand round his fingers.

"You've behaved very nicely over this," she said. "And very
cleverly. In EVERY thing--both over there and here. Nobody could
have shown a nicer feeling than you've shown. It's a great comfort
to me that my son has got you for a friend."

When he thought of his escapades, and of all the knowledge,
unutterable in Bursley, fantastically impossible in Bursley, which
he had imparted to her son, he marvelled that the maternal
instinct should be so deceived. Still, he felt that her praise of
him was deserved.

Outside, he gave vent to a 'Phew' of relief. He smiled, in his
worldliest manner. But the smile was a sham. A pretence to
himself! A childish attempt to disguise from himself how
profoundly he had been moved by a natural scene!

IV

On the night when Matthew Peel-Swynnerton spoke to Mrs. Scales,
Matthew was not the only person in the Pension Frensham who failed
to sleep. When the old portress came downstairs from her errand,
she observed that her mistress was leaving the mahogany retreat.

"She is sleeping tranquilly, the poor one!" said the portress,
discharging her commission, which had been to learn the latest
news of the mistress's indisposed dog, Fossette. In saying this
her ancient, vibrant voice was rich with sympathy for the
suffering animal. And she smiled. She was rather like a figure out
of an almshouse, with her pink, apparently brittle skin, her tight
black dress, and frilled white cap. She stooped habitually, and
always walked quickly, with her head a few inches in advance of
her feet. Her grey hair was scanty. She was old; nobody perhaps
knew exactly how old. Sophia had taken her with the Pension, over
a quarter of a century before, because she was old and could not
easily have found another place. Although the clientele was almost
exclusively English, she spoke only French, explaining herself to
Britons by means of benevolent smiles.

"I think I shall go to bed, Jacqueline," said the mistress, in
reply.

A strange reply, thought Jacqueline. The unalterable custom of
Jacqueline was to retire at midnight and to rise at five-thirty.
Her mistress also usually retired about midnight, and during the
final hour mistress and portress saw a good deal of each other.
And considering that Jacqueline had just been sent up into the
mistress's own bedroom to glance at Fossette, and that the
bulletin was satisfactory, and that madame and Jacqueline had
several customary daily matters to discuss, it seemed odd that
madame should thus be going instantly to bed. However, Jacqueline
said nothing but:

"Very well, madame. And the number 32?"

"Arrange yourself as you can," said the mistress, curtly.

"It is well, madame. Good evening, madame, and a good night."

Jacqueline, alone in the hall, re-entered her box and set upon one
of those endless, mysterious tasks which occupied her when she was
not rushing to and fro or whistling up the tubes.

Sophia, scarcely troubling even to glance into Fossette's round
basket, undressed, put out the light, and got into bed. She felt
extremely and inexplicably gloomy. She did not wish to reflect;
she strongly wished not to reflect; but her mind insisted on
reflection--a monotonous, futile, and distressing reflection.
Povey! Povey! Could this be Constance's Povey, the unique Samuel
Povey? That is to say, not he, but his son, Constance's son. Had
Constance a grown-up son? Constance must be over fifty now,
perhaps a grandmother! Had she really married Samuel Povey?
Possibly she was dead. Certainly her mother must be dead, and Aunt
Harriet and Mr. Critchlow. If alive, her mother must be at least
eighty years of age.

The cumulative effect of merely remaining inactive when one ought
to be active, was terrible. Undoubtedly she should have
communicated with her family. It was silly not to have done so.
After all, even if she had, as a child, stolen a trifle of money
from her wealthy aunt, what would that have mattered? She had been
proud. She was criminally proud. That was her vice. She admitted
it frankly. But she could not alter her pride. Everybody had some
weak spot. Her reputation for sagacity, for commonsense, was, she
knew, enormous; she always felt, when people were talking to her,
that they regarded her as a very unusually wise woman. And yet she
had been guilty of the capital folly of cutting herself off from
her family. She was ageing, and she was alone in the world. She
was enriching herself; she had the most perfectly managed and the
most respectable Pension in the world (she sincerely believed),
and she was alone in the world. Acquaintances she had--French
people who never offered nor accepted hospitality other than tea
or wine, and one or two members of the English commercial colony--
but her one friend was Fossette, aged three years! She was the
most solitary person on earth. She had heard no word of Gerald, no
word of anybody. Nobody whatever could truly be interested in her
fate. This was what she had achieved after a quarter of a century
of ceaseless labour and anxiety, during which she had not once
been away from the Rue Lord Byron for more than thirty hours at a
stretch. It was appalling--the passage of years; and the passage
of years would grow more appalling. Ten years hence, where would
she be? She pictured herself dying. Horrible!

Of course there was nothing to prevent her from going back to
Bursley and repairing the grand error of her girlhood. No, nothing
except the fact that her whole soul recoiled from the mere idea of
any such enterprise! She was a fixture in the Rue Lord Byron. She
was a part of the street. She knew all that happened or could
happen there. She was attached to it by the heavy chains of habit.
In the chill way of long use she loved it. There! The incandescent
gas-burner of the street-lamp outside had been turned down, as it
was turned down every night! If it is possible to love such a
phenomenon, she loved that phenomenon. That phenomenon was a
portion of her life, dear to her.

An agreeable young man, that Peel-Swynnerton! Then evidently,
since her days in Bursley, the Peels and the Swynnertons, partners
in business, must have intermarried, or there must have been some
affair of a will. Did he suspect who she was? He had had a very
self-conscious, guilty look. No! He could not have suspected who
she was. The idea was ridiculous. Probably he did not even know
that her name was Scales. And even if he knew her name, he had
probably never heard of Gerald Scales, or the story of her flight.
Why, he could not have been born until after she had left Bursley!
Besides, the Peels were always quite aloof from the ordinary
social life of the town. No! He could not have suspected her
identity. It was infantile to conceive such a thing.

And yet, she inconsequently proceeded in the tangle of her
afflicted mind, supposing he had suspected it! Supposing by some
queer chance, he had heard her forgotten story, and casually put
two and two together! Supposing even that he were merely to
mention in the Five Towns that the Pension Frensham was kept by a
Mrs. Scales. 'Scales? Scales?' people might repeat. 'Now, what
does that remind me of?' And the ball might roll and roll till
Constance or somebody picked it up! And then ...

Moreover--a detail of which she had at first unaccountably failed
to mark the significance--this Peel-Swynnerton was a friend of the
Mr. Povey as to whom he had inquired. In that case it could not be
the same Povey. Impossible that the Peels should be on terms of
friendship with Samuel Povey or his connections! But supposing
after all they were! Supposing something utterly unanticipated and
revolutionary had happened in the Five Towns!

She was disturbed. She was insecure. She foresaw inquiries being
made concerning her. She foresaw an immense family fuss, endless
tomfoolery, the upsetting of her existence, the destruction of her
calm. And she sank away from that prospect. She could not face it.
She did not want to face it. "No," she cried passionately in her
soul, "I've lived alone, and I'll stay as I am. I can't change at
my time of life." And her attitude towards a possible invasion of
her solitude became one of resentment. "I won't have it! I won't
have it! I will be left alone. Constance! What can Constance be to
me, or I to her, now?" The vision of any change in her existence
was in the highest degree painful to her. And not only painful! It
frightened her. It made her shrink. But she could not dismiss it.
... She could not argue herself out of it. The apparition of
Matthew Peel-Swynnerton had somehow altered the very stuff of her
fibres.

And surging on the outskirts of the central storm of her brain
were ten thousand apprehensions about the management of the
Pension. All was black, hopeless. The Pension might have been the
most complete business failure that gross carelessness and
incapacity had ever provoked. Was it not the fact that she had to
supervise everything herself, that she could depend on no one?
Were she to be absent even for a single day the entire structure
would inevitably fall. Instead of working less she worked harder.
And who could guarantee that her investments were safe?

When dawn announced itself, slowly discovering each object in the
chamber, she was ill. Fever seemed to rage in her head. And in and
round her mouth she had strange sensations. Fossette stirred in
the basket near the large desk on which multifarious files and
papers were ranged with minute particularity.

"Fossette!" she tried to call out; but no sound issued from her
lips. She could not move her tongue. She tried to protrude it, and
could not. For hours she had been conscious of a headache. Her
heart sank. She was sick with fear. Her memory flashed to her
father and his seizure. She was his daughter! Paralysis! "Ca
serait le comble!" she thought in French, horrified. Her fear
became abject! "Can I move at all?" she thought, and madly jerked
her head. Yes, she could move her head slightly on the pillow, and
she could stretch her right arm, both arms. Absurd cowardice! Of
course it was not a seizure! She reassured herself. Still, she
could not put her tongue out. Suddenly she began to hiccough, and
she had no control over the hiccough. She put her hand to the
bell, whose ringing would summon the man who slept in a pantry off
the hall, and suddenly the hiccough ceased. Her hand dropped. She
was better. Besides, what use in ringing for a man if she could
not speak to him through the door? She must wait for Jacqueline.
At six o'clock every morning, summer and winter, Jacqueline
entered her mistress's bedroom to release the dog for a moment's
airing under her own supervision. The clock on the mantelpiece
showed five minutes past three. She had three hours to wait.
Fossette pattered across the room, and sprang on to the bed and
nestled down. Sophia ignored her, but Fossette, being herself
unwell and torpid, did not seem to care.

Jacqueline was late. In the quarter of an hour between six o'clock
and a quarter past, Sophia suffered the supreme pangs of despair
and verged upon insanity. It appeared to her that her cranium
would blow off under pressure from within. Then the door opened
silently, a few inches. Usually Jacqueline came into the room, but
sometimes she stood behind the door and called in her soft,
trembling voice, "Fossette! Fossette!" And on this morning she did
not come into the room. The dog did not immediately respond.
Sophia was in an agony. She marshalled all her volition, all her
self-control and strength, to shout:

"Jacqueline!"

It came out of her, a horribly difficult and misshapen birth, but
it came. She was exhausted.

"Yes, madame." Jacqueline entered.

As soon as she had a glimpse of Sophia she threw up her hands.
Sophia stared at her, wordless.

"I will fetch the doctor--myself," whispered Jacqueline, and fled.

"Jacqueline!" The woman stopped. Then Sophia determined to force
herself to make a speech, and she braced her muscles to an
unprecedented effort. "Say not a word to the others." She could
not bear that the whole household should know of her illness.
Jacqueline nodded and vanished, the dog following. Jacqueline
understood. She lived in the place with her mistress as with a
fellow-conspirator.

Sophia began to feel better. She could get into a sitting posture,
though the movement made her dizzy. By working to the foot of the
bed she could see herself in the glass of the wardrobe. And she
saw that the lower part of her face was twisted out of shape.

The doctor, who knew her, and who earned a lot of money in her
house, told her frankly what had happened. Paralysie glosso-labio-
laryngee was the phrase he used. She understood. A very slight
attack; due to overwork and worry. He ordered absolute rest and
quiet.

"Impossible!" she said, genuinely convinced that she alone was
indispensable.

"Repose the most absolute!" he repeated.

She marvelled that a few words with a man who chanced to be named
Peel-Swynnerton could have resulted in such a disaster, and drew a
curious satisfaction from this fearful proof that she was so
highly-strung. But even then she did not realize how profoundly
she had been disturbed.

V

"My darling Sophia--"

The inevitable miracle had occurred. Her suspicions concerning
that Mr. Peel-Swynnerton were well-founded, after all! Here was a
letter from Constance! The writing on the envelope was not
Constance's; but even before examining it she had had a peculiar
qualm. She received letters from England nearly every day asking
about rooms and prices (and on many of them she had to pay
threepence excess postage, because the writers carelessly or
carefully forgot that a penny stamp was not sufficient); there was
nothing to distinguish this envelope, and yet her first glance at
it had startled her; and when, deciphering the smudged post-mark,
she made out the word 'Bursley,' her heart did literally seem to
stop, and she opened the letter in quite violent tremulation,
thinking to herself: "The doctor would say this is very bad for
me." Six days had elapsed since her attack, and she was
wonderfully better; the distortion of her face had almost
disappeared. But the doctor was grave; he ordered no medicine,
merely a tonic; and monotonously insisted on 'repose the most
absolute,' on perfect mental calm. He said little else, allowing
Sophia to judge from his silences the seriousness of her
condition. Yes, the receipt of such a letter must be bad for her!

She controlled herself while she read it, lying in her dressing-
gown against several pillows on the bed; a mist did not form in
her eyes, nor did she sob, nor betray physically that she was not
reading an order for two rooms for a week. But the expenditure of
nervous force necessary to self-control was terrific.

Constance's handwriting had changed; it was, however, easily
recognizable as a development of the neat calligraphy of the girl
who could print window-tickets. The 'S' of Sophia was formed in
the same way as she had formed it in the last letter which she had
received from her at Axe!

"MY DARLING SOPHIA,

"I cannot tell you how overjoyed I was to learn that after all
these years you are alive and well, and doing so well too. I long
to see you, my dear sister. It was Mr. Peel-Swynnerton who told
me. He is a friend of Cyril's. Cyril is the name of my son. I
married Samuel in 1867. Cyril was born in 1874 at Christmas. He is
now twenty-two, and doing very well in London as a student of
sculpture, though so young. He won a National Scholarship. There
were only eight, of which he won one, in all England. Samuel died
in 1888. If you read the papers you must have seen about the Povey
affair. I mean of course Mr. Daniel Povey, Confectioner. It was
that that killed poor Samuel. Poor mother died in 1875. It doesn't
seem so long. Aunt Harriet and Aunt Maria are both dead. Old Dr.
Harrop is dead, and his son has practically retired. He has a
partner, a Scotchman. Mr. Critchlow has married Miss Insull. Did
you ever hear of such a thing? They have taken over the shop, and
I live in the house part, the other being bricked up. Business in
the Square is not what it used to be. The steam trams take all the
custom to Hanbridge, and they are talking of electric trams, but I
dare say it is only talk. I have a fairly good servant. She has
been with me a long time, but servants are not what they were. I
keep pretty well, except for my sciatica and palpitation. Since
Cyril went to London I have been very lonely. But I try to cheer
up and count my blessings. I am sure I have a great deal to be
thankful for. And now this news of you! Please write to me a long
letter, and tell me all about yourself. It is a long way to Paris.
But surely now you know I am still here, you will come and pay me
a visit--at least. Everybody would be most glad to see you. And I
should be so proud and glad. As I say, I am all alone. Mr.
Critchlow says I am to say there is a deal of money waiting for
you. You know he is the trustee. There is the half-share of
mother's and also of Aunt Harriet's, and it has been accumulating.
By the way, they are getting up a subscription for Miss Chetwynd,
poor old thing. Her sister is dead, and she is in poverty. I have
put myself down for L20. Now, my dear sister, please do write to
me at once. You see it is still the old address. I remain, my
darling Sophia, with much love, your affectionate sister,

"CONSTANCE POVEY.

"P.S.--I should have written yesterday, but I was not fit. Every
time I sat down to write, I cried."

"Of course," said Sophia to Fossette, "she expects me to go to
her, instead of her coming to me! And yet who's the busiest?"

But this observation was not serious. It was merely a trifle of
affectionate malicious embroidery that Sophia put on the edge of
her deep satisfaction. The very spirit of simple love seemed to
emanate from the paper on which Constance had written. And this
spirit woke suddenly and completely Sophia's love for Constance.
Constance! At that moment there was assuredly for Sophia no
creature in the world like Constance. Constance personified for
her the qualities of the Baines family. Constance's letter was a
great letter, a perfect letter, perfect in its artlessness; the
natural expression of the Baines character at its best. Not an
awkward reference in the whole of it! No clumsy expression of
surprise at anything that she, Sophia, had done, or failed to do!
No mention of Gerald! Just a sublime acceptance of the situation
as it was, and the assurance of undiminished love! Tact? No; it
was something finer than tact! Tact was conscious, skilful. Sophia
was certain that the notion of tactfulness had not entered
Constance's head. Constance had simply written out of her heart.
And that was what made the letter so splendid. Sophia was
convinced that no one but a Baines could have written such a
letter. She felt that she must rise to the height of that letter,
that she too must show her Baines blood. And she went primly to
her desk, and began to write (on private notepaper) in that
imperious large hand of hers that was so different from
Constance's. She began a little stiffly, but after a few lines her
generous and passionate soul was responding freely to the appeal
of Constance. She asked that Mr. Critchlow should pay L20 for her
to the Miss Chetwynd fund. She spoke of her Pension and of Paris,
and of her pleasure in Constance's letter. But she said nothing as
to Gerald, nor as to the possibility of a visit to the Five Towns.
She finished the letter in a blaze of love, and passed from it as
from a dream to the sterile banality of the daily life of the
Pension Frensham, feeling that, compared to Constance's affection,
nothing else had any worth.

But she would not consider the project of going to Bursley. Never,
never would she go to Bursley. If Constance chose to come to Paris
and see her, she would be delighted, but she herself would not
budge. The mere notion of any change in her existence intimidated
her. And as for returning to Bursley itself ... no, no!

Nevertheless, at the Pension Frensham, the future could not be as
the past. Sophia's health forbade that. She knew that the doctor
was right. Every time that she made an effort, she knew intimately
and speedily that the doctor was right. Only her will-power was
unimpaired; the machinery by which will-power is converted into
action was mysteriously damaged. She was aware of the fact. But
she could not face it yet. Time would have to elapse before she
could bring herself to face that fact. She was getting an old
woman. She could no longer draw on reserves. Yet she persisted to
every one that she was quite recovered, and was abstaining from
her customary work simply from an excess of prudence. Certainly
her face had recovered. And the Pension, being a machine all of
whose parts were in order, continued to run, apparently, with its
usual smoothness. It is true that the excellent chef began to
peculate, but as his cuisine did not suffer, the result was not
noticeable for a long period. The whole staff and many of the
guests knew that Sophia had been indisposed; and they knew no
more.

When by hazard Sophia observed a fault in the daily conduct of the
house, her first impulse was to go to the root of it and cure it,
her second was to leave it alone, or to palliate it by some
superficial remedy. Unperceived, and yet vaguely suspected by
various people, the decline of the Pension Frensham had set in.
The tide, having risen to its highest, was receding, but so little
that no one could be sure that it had turned. Every now and then
it rushed up again and washed the furthest stone.

Sophia and Constance exchanged several letters. Sophia said
repeatedly that she could not leave Paris. At length she roundly
asked Constance to come and pay her a visit. She made the
suggestion with fear--for the prospect of actually seeing her
beloved Constance alarmed her--but she could do no less than make
it. And in a few days she had a reply to say that Constance would
have come, under Cyril's charge, but that her sciatica was
suddenly much worse, and she was obliged to lie down every day
after dinner to rest her legs. Travelling was impossible for her.
The fates were combining against Sophia's decision.

And now Sophia began to ask herself about her duty to Constance.
The truth was that she was groping round to find an excuse for
reversing her decision. She was afraid to reverse it, yet tempted.
She had the desire to do something which she objected to doing. It
was like the desire to throw one's self over a high balcony. It
drew her, drew her, and she drew back against it. The Pension was
now tedious to her. It bored her even to pretend to be the
supervising head of the Pension. Throughout the house discipline
had loosened.

She wondered when Mr. Mardon would renew his overtures for the
transformation of her enterprise into a limited company. In spite
of herself she would deliberately cross his path and give him
opportunities to begin on the old theme. He had never before left
her in peace for so long a period. No doubt she had, upon his last
assault, absolutely convinced him that his efforts had no smallest
chance of success, and he had made up his mind to cease them. With
a single word she could wind him up again. The merest hint, one
day when he was paying his bill, and he would be beseeching her.
But she could not utter the word.

Then she began to say openly that she did not feel well, that the
house was too much for her, and that the doctor had imperatively
commanded rest. She said this to every one except Mardon. And
every one somehow persisted in not saying it to Mardon. The doctor
having advised that she should spend more time in the open air,
she would take afternoon drives in the Bois with Fossette. It was
October. But Mr. Mardon never seemed to hear of those drives.

One morning he met her in the street outside the house.

"I'm sorry to hear you're so unwell," he said confidentially,
after they had discussed the health of Fossette.

"So unwell!" she exclaimed as if resenting the statement. "Who
told you I was so unwell?"

"Jacqueline. She told me you often said that what you needed was a
complete change. And it seems the doctor says so, too."

"Oh! doctors!" she murmured, without however denying the truth of
Jacqueline's assertion. She saw hope in Mr. Mardon's eyes.

"Of course, you know," he said, still more confidentially, "if you
SHOULD happen to change your mind, I'm always ready to form a
little syndicate to take this"--he waved discreetly at the
Pension--"off your hands."

She shook her head violently, which was strange, considering that
for weeks she had been wishing to hear such words from Mr. Mardon.

"You needn't give it up altogether," he said. "You could retain
your hold on it. We'd make you manageress, with a salary and a
share in the profits. You'd be mistress just as much as you are
now."

"Oh!" said she carelessly. "IF _I_ GAVE IT UP, _I_ SHOULD GIVE IT
UP ENTIRELY. No half measures for me."

With the utterance of that sentence, the history of Frensham's as
a private understanding was brought to a close. Sophia knew it.
Mr. Mardon knew it. Mr. Mardon's heart leapt. He saw in his
imagination the formation of the preliminary syndicate, with
himself at its head, and then the re-sale by the syndicate to a
limited company at a profit. He saw a nice little profit for his
own private personal self of a thousand or so--gained in a moment.
The plant, his hope, which he had deemed dead, blossomed with
miraculous suddenness.

"Well," he said. "Give it up entirely, then! Take a holiday for
life. You've deserved it, Mrs. Scales."

She shook her head once again.

"Think it over," he said.

"I gave you my answer years ago," she said obstinately, while
fearing lest he should take her at her word.

"Oblige me by thinking it over," he said. "I'll mention it to you
again in a few days."

"It will be no use," she said.

He took his leave, waddling down the street in his vague clothes,
conscious of his fame as Lewis Mardon, the great house-agent of
the Champs Elysees, known throughout Europe and America.

In a few days he did mention it again.

"There's only one thing that makes me dream of it even for a
moment," said Sophia. "And that is my sister's health."

"Your sister!" he exclaimed. He did not know she had a sister.
Never had she spoken of her family.

"Yes. Her letters are beginning to worry me."

"Does she live in Paris?"

"No. In Staffordshire. She has never left home."

And to preserve her pride intact she led Mr. Mardon to think that
Constance was in a most serious way, whereas in truth Constance
had nothing worse than her sciatica, and even that was somewhat
better.

Thus she yielded.




CHAPTER II

THE MEETING

I


Soon after dinner one day in the following spring, Mr. Critchlow
knocked at Constance's door. She was seated in the rocking-chair
in front of the fire in the parlour. She wore a large 'rough'
apron, and with the outlying parts of the apron she was rubbing
the moisture out of the coat of a young wire-haired fox-terrier,
for whom no more original name had been found than 'Spot.' It is
true that he had a spot. Constance had more than once called the
world to witness that she would never have a young dog again,
because, as she said, she could not be always running about after
them, and they ate the stuffing out of the furniture. But her last
dog had lived too long; a dog can do worse things than eat
furniture; and, in her natural reaction against age in dogs, and
also in the hope of postponing as long as possible the inevitable
sorrow and upset which death causes when it takes off a domestic
pet, she had not known how to refuse the very desirable fox-
terrier aged ten months that an acquaintance had offered to her.
Spot's beautiful pink skin could be seen under his disturbed hair;
he was exquisitely soft to the touch, and to himself he was
loathsome. His eyes continually peeped forth between corners of
the agitated towel, and they were full of inquietude and shame.

Amy was assisting at this performance, gravely on the watch to see
that Spot did not escape into the coal-cellar. She opened the door
to Mr. Critchlow's knock. Mr. Critchlow entered without any
formalities, as usual. He did not seem to have changed. He had the
same quantity of white hair, he wore the same long white apron,
and his voice (which showed however an occasional tendency to
shrillness) had the same grating quality. He stood fairly
straight. He was carrying a newspaper in his vellum hand.

"Well, missis!" he said.

"That will do, thank you, Amy," said Constance, quietly. Amy went
slowly.

"So ye're washing him for her!" said Mr. Critchlow.

"Yes," Constance admitted. Spot glanced sharply at the aged man.

"An' ye seen this bit in the paper about Sophia?" he asked,
holding the Signal for her inspection.

"About Sophia?" cried Constance. "What's amiss?"

"Nothing's amiss. But they've got it. It's in the 'Staffordshire
day by day' column. Here! I'll read it ye." He drew a long wooden
spectacle-case from his waistcoat pocket, and placed a second pair
of spectacles on his nose. Then he sat down on the sofa, his knees
sticking out pointedly, and read: "'We understand that Mrs. Sophia
Scales, proprietress of the famous Pension Frensham in the Rue
Lord Byron, Paris'--it's that famous that nobody in th' Five Towns
has ever heard of it--'is about to pay a visit to her native town,
Bursley, after an absence of over thirty years. Mrs. Scales
belonged to the well-known and highly respected family of Baines.
She has recently disposed of the Pension Frensham to a limited
company, and we are betraying no secret in stating that the price
paid ran well into five figures.' So ye see!" Mr. Critchlow
commented.

"How do those Signal people find out things?" Constance murmured.

"Eh, bless ye, I don't know," said Mr. Critchlow.

This was an untruth. Mr. Critchlow had himself given the
information to the new editor of the Signal, who had soon been
made aware of Critchlow's passion for the press, and who knew how
to make use of it.

"I wish it hadn't appeared just to-day," said Constance.

"Why?"

"Oh! I don't know, I wish it hadn't."

"Well, I'll be touring on, missis," said Mr. Critchlow, meaning
that he would go.

He left the paper, and descended the steps with senile
deliberation. It was characteristic that he had shown no curiosity
whatever as to the details of Sophia's arrival.

Constance removed her apron,, wrapped Spot up in it, and put him
in a corner of the sofa. She then abruptly sent Amy out to buy a
penny time-table.

"I thought you were going by tram to Knype," Amy observed.

"I have decided to go by train," said Constance, with cold
dignity, as if she had decided the fate of nations. She hated such
observations from Amy, who unfortunately lacked, in an increasing
degree, the supreme gift of unquestioning obedience.

When Amy came breathlessly back, she found Constance in her
bedroom, withdrawing crumpled balls of paper from the sleeves of
her second-best mantle. Constance scarcely ever wore this mantle.
In theory it was destined for chapel on wet Sundays; in practice
it had remained long in the wardrobe, Sundays having been
obstinately fine for weeks and weeks together. It was a mantle
that Constance had never really liked. But she was not going to
Knype to meet Sophia in her everyday mantle; and she had no
intention of donning her best mantle for such an excursion. To
make her first appearance before Sophia in the best mantle she
had--this would have been a sad mistake of tactics! Not only would
it have led to an anti-climax on Sunday, but it would have given
to Constance the air of being in awe of Sophia. Now Constance was
in truth a little afraid of Sophia; in thirty years Sophia might
have grown into anything, whereas Constance had remained just
Constance. Paris was a great place; and it was immensely far off.
And the mere sound of that limited company business was
intimidating. Imagine Sophia having by her own efforts created
something which a real limited company wanted to buy and had
bought! Yes, Constance was afraid, but she did not mean to show
her fear in her mantle. After all, she was the elder. And she had
her dignity too--and a lot of it--tucked away in her secret heart,
hidden within the mildness of that soft exterior. So she had
decided on the second-best mantle, which, being seldom used, had
its sleeves stuffed with paper to the end that they might keep
their shape and their 'fall.' The little balls of paper were
strewed over the bed.

"There's a train at a quarter to three, gets to Knype at ten
minutes past." said Amy. officiously. "But supposing it was only
three minutes late and the London train was prompt, then you might
miss her. Happen you'd better take the two fifteen to be on the
safe side."

"Let me look," said Constance, firmly. "Please put all this paper
in the wardrobe."

She would have preferred not to follow Amy's suggestion, but it
was so incontestably wise that she was obliged to accept it.

"Unless ye go by tram," said Amy. "That won't mean starting quite
so soon."

But Constance would not go by tram. If she took the tram she would
be bound to meet people who had read the Signal, and who would
say, with their stupid vacuity: "Going to meet your sister at
Knype?" And then tiresome conversations would follow. Whereas, in
the train, she would choose a compartment, and would be far less
likely to encounter chatterers.

There was now not a minute to lose. And the excitement which had
been growing in that house for days past, under a pretence of
calm, leapt out swiftly into the light of the sun, and was
unashamed. Amy had to help her mistress make herself as comely as
she could be made without her best dress, mantle, and bonnet. Amy
was frankly consulted as to effects. The barrier of class was
lowered for a space. Many years had elapsed since Constance had
been conscious of a keen desire to look smart. She was reminded of
the days when, in full fig for chapel, she would dash downstairs
on a Sunday morning, and, assuming a pose for inspection at the
threshold of the parlour, would demand of Samuel: "Shall I do?"
Yes, she used to dash downstairs, like a child, and yet in those
days she had thought herself so sedate and mature! She sighed,
half with lancinating regret, and half in gentle disdain of that
mercurial creature aged less than thirty. At fifty-one she
regarded herself as old. And she was old. And Amy had the tricks
and manners of an old spinster. Thus the excitement in the house
was an 'old' excitement, and, like Constance's desire to look
smart, it had its ridiculous side, which was also its tragic side,
the side that would have made a boor guffaw, and a hysterical fool
cry, and a wise man meditate sadly upon the earth's fashion of
renewing itself.

At half-past one Constance was dressed, with the exception of her
gloves. She looked at the clock a second time to make sure that
she might safely glance round the house without fear of missing
the train. She went up into the bedroom on the second-floor, her
and Sophia's old bedroom, which she had prepared with enormous
care for Sophia. The airing of that room had been an enterprise of
days, for, save by a minister during the sittings of the Wesleyan
Methodist Conference at Bursley, it had never been occupied since
the era when Maria Insull used occasionally to sleep in the house.
Cyril clung to his old room on his visits. Constance had an ample
supply of solid and stately furniture, and the chamber destined
for Sophia was lightened in every corner by the reflections of
polished mahogany. It was also fairly impregnated with the odour
of furniture paste--an odour of which no housewife need be
ashamed. Further, it had been re-papered in a delicate blue, with
one of the new 'art' patterns. It was a 'Baines' room. And
Constance did not care where Sophia came from, nor what Sophia had
been accustomed to, nor into what limited company Sophia had been
transformed--that room was adequate! It could not have been
improved upon. You had only to look at the crocheted mats--even
those on the washstand under the white-and-gold ewer and other
utensils. It was folly to expose such mats to the splashings of a
washstand, but it was sublime folly. Sophia might remove them if
she cared. Constance was house-proud; house-pride had slumbered
within her; now it blazed forth.

A fire brightened the drawing-room, which was a truly magnificent
apartment, a museum of valuables collected by the Baines and the
Maddack families since the year 1840, tempered by the latest
novelties in antimacassars and cloths. In all Bursley there could
have been few drawing-rooms to compare with Constance's. Constance
knew it. She was not afraid of her drawing-room being seen by
anybody.

She passed for an instant into her own bedroom, where Amy was
patiently picking balls of paper from the bed.

"Now you quite understand about tea?" Constance asked.

"Oh yes, 'm," said Amy, as if to say: "How much oftener are you
going to ask me that question?" "Are you off now, 'm?"

"Yes," said Constance. "Come and fasten the front-door after me."

They descended together to the parlour. A white cloth for tea lay
folded on the table. It was of the finest damask that skill could
choose and money buy. It was fifteen years old, and had never been
spread. Constance would not have produced it for the first meal,
had she not possessed two other of equal eminence. On the
harmonium were ranged several jams and cakes, a Bursley pork-pie,
and some pickled salmon; with the necessary silver. All was there.
Amy could not go wrong. And crocuses were in the vases on the
mantelpiece. Her 'garden,' in the phrase which used to cause
Samuel to think how extraordinarily feminine she was! It was a
long time since she had had a 'garden' on the mantelpiece. Her
interest in her chronic sciatica and in her palpitations had grown
at the expense of her interest in gardens. Often, when she had
finished the complicated processes by which her furniture and
other goods were kept in order, she had strength only to 'rest.'
She was rather a fragile, small, fat woman, soon out of breath,
easily marred. This business of preparing for the advent of Sophia
had appeared to her genuinely colossal. However, she had come
through it very well. She was in pretty good health; only a little
tired, and more than a little anxious and nervous, as she gave the
last glance.

"Take away that apron, do!" she said to Amy, pointing to the rough
apron in the corner of the sofa. "By the way, where is Spot?"

"Spot, m'm?" Amy ejaculated.

Both their hearts jumped. Amy instinctively looked out of the
window. He was there, sure enough, in the gutter, studying the
indescribabilities of King Street. He had obviously escaped when
Amy came in from buying the time-table. The woman's face was
guilty.

"Amy, I wonder AT you!" exclaimed Constance, tragically. She
opened the door.

"Well, I never did see the like of that dog!" murmured Amy.

"Spot!" his mistress commanded. "Come here at once. Do you hear
me?"

Spot turned sharply and gazed motionless at Constance. Then with a
toss of the head he dashed off to the corner of the Square, and
gazed motionless again. Amy went forth to catch him. After an age
she brought him in, squealing. He was in a state exceedingly
offensive to the eye and to the nose. He had effectively got rid
of the smell of soap, which he loathed. Constance could have wept.
It did really appear to her that nothing had gone right that day.
And Spot had the most innocent, trustful air. Impossible to make
him realize that his aunt Sophia was coming. He would have sold
his entire family into servitude in order to buy ten yards of King
Street gutter.

"You must wash him in the scullery, that's all there is for it,"
said Constance, controlling herself. "Put that apron on, and don't
forget one of your new aprons when you open the door. Better shut
him up in Mr. Cyril's bedroom when you've dried him."

And she went, charged with worries, clasping her bag and her
umbrella and smoothing her gloves, and spying downwards at the
folds of her mantle.

"That's a funny way to go to Bursley Station, that is," said Amy,
observing that Constance was descending King Street instead of
crossing it into Wedgwood Street. And she caught Spot 'a fair
clout on the head,' to indicate to him that she had him alone in
the house now.

Constance was taking a round-about route to the station, so that,
if stopped by acquaintances, she should not be too obviously going
to the station. Her feelings concerning the arrival of Sophia, and
concerning the town's attitude towards it, were very complex.

She was forced to hurry. And she had risen that morning with plans
perfectly contrived for the avoidance of hurry. She disliked hurry
because it always 'put her about.'

II

The express from London was late, so that Constance had three-
quarters of an hour of the stony calmness of Knype platform when
it is waiting for a great train. At last the porters began to cry,
"Macclesfield, Stockport, and Manchester train;" the immense
engine glided round the curve, dwarfing the carriages behind it,
and Constance had a supreme tremor. The calmness of the platform
was transformed into a melee. Little Constance found herself left
on the fringe of a physically agitated crowd which was apparently
trying to scale a precipice surmounted by windows and doors from
whose apertures looked forth defenders of the train. Knype
platform seemed as if it would never be reduced to order again.
And Constance did not estimate highly the chances of picking out
an unknown Sophia from that welter. She was very seriously
perturbed. All the muscles of her face were drawn as her gaze
wandered anxiously from end to end of the train.

Presently she saw a singular dog. Other people also saw it. It was
of the colour of chocolate; it had a head and shoulders richly
covered with hair that hung down in thousands of tufts like the
tufts of a modern mop such as is bought in shops. This hair
stopped suddenly rather less than halfway along the length of the
dog's body, the remainder of which was naked and as smooth as
marble. The effect was to give to the inhabitants of the Five
Towns the impression that the dog had forgotten an essential part
of its attire and was outraging decency. The ball of hair which
had been allowed to grow on the dog's tail, and the circles of
hair which ornamented its ankles, only served to intensify the
impression of indecency. A pink ribbon round its neck completed
the outrage. The animal had absolutely the air of a decked
trollop. A chain ran taut from the creature's neck into the middle
of a small crowd of persons gesticulating over trunks, and
Constance traced it to a tall and distinguished woman in a coat
and skirt with a rather striking hat. A beautiful and aristocratic
woman, Constance thought, at a distance! Then the strange idea
came to her: "That's Sophia!" She was sure. ... She was not sure. ...
She was sure. The woman emerged from the crowd. Her eye fell
on Constance. They both hesitated, and, as it were, wavered
uncertainly towards each other.

"I should have known you anywhere," said Sophia, with apparently
careless tranquillity, as she stooped to kiss Constance, raising
her veil.

Constance saw that this marvellous tranquillity must be imitated,
and she imitated it very well. It was a 'Baines' tranquillity. But
she noticed a twitching of her sister's lips. The twitching
comforted Constance, proving to her that she was not alone in
foolishness. There was also something queer about the permanent
lines of Sophia's mouth. That must be due to the 'attack' about
which Sophia had written.

"Did Cyril meet you?" asked Constance. It was all that she could
think of to say.

"Oh yes!" said Sophia, eagerly. "And I went to his studio, and he
saw me off at Euston. He is a VERY nice boy. I love him."

She said 'I love him' with the intonation of Sophia aged fifteen.
Her tone and imperious gesture sent Constance flying back to the
'sixties. "She hasn't altered one bit," Constance thought with
joy. "Nothing could change Sophia." And at the back of that notion
was a more general notion: "Nothing could change a Baines." It was
true that Constance's Sophia had not changed. Powerful
individualities remain undisfigured by no matter what
vicissitudes. After this revelation of the original Sophia,
arising as it did out of praise of Cyril, Constance felt easier,
felt reassured.

"This is Fossette," said Sophia, pulling at the chain.

Constance knew not what to reply. Surely Sophia could not be aware
what she did in bringing such a dog to a place where people were
so particular as they are in the Five Towns.

"Fossette!" She repeated the name in an endearing accent, half
stooping towards the dog. After all, it was not the dog's fault.
Sophia had certainly mentioned a dog in her letters, but she had
not prepared Constance for the spectacle of Fossette.

All that happened in a moment. A porter appeared with two trunks
belonging to Sophia. Constance observed that they were
superlatively 'good' trunks; also that Sophia's clothes, though
'on the showy side,' were superlatively 'good.' The getting of
Sophia's ticket to Bursley occupied them next, and soon the first
shock of meeting had worn off.

In a second-class compartment of the Loop Line train, with Sophia
and Fossette opposite to her, Constance had leisure to 'take in'
Sophia. She came to the conclusion that, despite her slenderness
and straightness and the general effect of the long oval of her
face under the hat, Sophia looked her age. She saw that Sophia
must have been through a great deal; her experiences were
damagingly printed in the details of feature. Seen at a distance,
she might have passed for a woman of thirty, even for a girl, but
seen across a narrow railway carriage she was a woman whom
suffering had aged. Yet obviously her spirit was unbroken. Hear
her tell a doubtful porter that of course she should take Fossette
with her into the carriage! See her shut the carriage door with
the expressed intention of keeping other people out! She was
accustomed to command. At the same time her face had an almost set
smile, as though she had said to herself: "I will die smiling."
Constance felt sorry for her. While recognizing in Sophia a
superior in charm, in experience, in knowledge of the world and in
force of personality, she yet with a kind of undisturbed,
fundamental superiority felt sorry for Sophia.

"What do you think?" said Sophia, absently fingering Fossette. "A
man came up to me at Euston, while Cyril was getting my ticket,
and said, 'Eh, Miss Baines, I haven't seen ye for over thirty
years, but I know you're Miss Baines, or WERE--and you're looking
bonny.' Then he went off. I think it must have been Holl, the
grocer."

"Had he got a long white beard?"

"Yes."

"Then it was Mr. Holl. He's been Mayor twice. He's an alderman,
you know."

"Really!" said Sophia. "But wasn't it queer?"

"Eh! Bless us!" exclaimed Constance. "Don't talk about queer! It's
terrible how time flies."

The conversation stopped, and it refused to start again. Two women
who are full of affectionate curiosity about each other, and who
have not seen each other for thirty years, and who are anxious to
confide in each other, ought to discover no difficulty in talking;
but somehow these two could not talk. Constance perceived that
Sophia was impeded by the same awkwardness as herself.

"Well I never!" cried Sophia, suddenly. She had glanced out of the
window and had seen two camels and an elephant in a field close to
the line, amid manufactories and warehouses and advertisements of
soap.

"Oh!" said Constance. "That's Barnum's, you know. They have
what they call a central depot here, because it's the middle
of England." Constance spoke proudly. (After all, there can
be only one middle.) It was on her tongue to say, in her 'tart'
manner, that Fossette ought to be with the camels, but she
refrained. Sophia hit on the excellent idea of noting all the
buildings that were new to her and all the landmarks that she
remembered. It was surprising how little the district had altered.

"Same smoke!" said Sophia.

"Same smoke!" Constance agreed.

"It's even worse," said Sophia.

"Do you think so?" Constance was slightly piqued. "But they're
doing something now for smoke abatement."

"I must have forgotten how dirty it was!" said Sophia. "I suppose
that's it. I'd no idea ...!"

"Really!" said Constance. Then, in candid admission, "The fact is,
it is dirty. You can't imagine what work it makes, especially with
window-curtains."

As the train puffed under Trafalgar Road, Constance pointed to a
new station that was being built there, to be called 'Trafalgar
Road' station.

"Won't it be strange?" said she, accustomed to the eternal
sequence of Loop Lane stations--Turnhill, Bursley, Bleakridge,
Hanbridge, Cauldon, Knype, Trent Vale, and Longshaw. A 'Trafalgar
Road' inserting itself between Bleakridge and Hanbridge seemed to
her excessively curious.

"Yes, I suppose it will," Sophia agreed.

"But of course it's not the same to you," said Constance, dashed.
She indicated the glories of Bursley Park, as the train slackened
for Bursley, with modesty. Sophia gazed, and vaguely recognized
the slopes where she had taken her first walk with Gerald Scales.

Nobody accosted them at Bursley Station, and they drove to the
Square in a cab. Amy was at the window; she held up Spot, who was
in a plenary state of cleanliness, rivalling the purity of Amy's
apron.

"Good afternoon, m'm," said Amy, officiously, to Sophia, as Sophia
came up the steps.

"Good afternoon, Amy," Sophia replied. She flattered Amy in thus
showing that she was acquainted with her name; but if ever a
servant was put into her place by mere tone, Amy was put into her
place on that occasion. Constance trembled at Sophia's frigid and
arrogant politeness. Certainly Sophia was not used to being
addressed first by servants. But Amy was not quite the ordinary
servant. She was much older than the ordinary servant, and she had
acquired a partial moral dominion over Constance, though Constance
would have warmly denied it. Hence Constance's apprehension.
However, nothing happened. Amy apparently did not feel the snub.

"Take Spot and put him in Mr. Cyril's bedroom," Constance murmured
to her, as if implying: "Have I not already told you to do that?"
The fact was, she was afraid for Spot's life.

"Now, Fossette!" She welcomed the incoming poodle kindly; the
poodle began at once to sniff.

The fat, red cabman was handling the trunks on the pavement, and
Amy was upstairs. For a moment the sisters were alone together in
the parlour.

"So here I am!" exclaimed the tall, majestic woman of fifty. And
her lips twitched again as she looked round the room--so small to
her.

"Yes, here you are!" Constance agreed. She bit her lip, and, as a
measure of prudence to avoid breaking down, she bustled out to the
cabman. A passing instant of emotion, like a fleck of foam on a
wide and calm sea!

The cabman blundered up and downstairs with trunks, and saluted
Sophia's haughty generosity, and then there was quietness. Amy was
already brewing the tea in the cave. The prepared tea-table in
front of the fire made a glittering array.

"Now, what about Fossette?" Constance voiced anxieties that had
been growing on her.

"Fossette will be quite right with me," said Sophia, firmly.

They ascended to the guest's room, which drew Sophia's admiration
for its prettiness. She hurried to the window and looked out into
the Square.

"Would you like a fire?" Constance asked, in a rather perfunctory
manner. For a bedroom fire, in seasons of normal health, was still
regarded as absurd in the Square.

"Oh, no!" said Sophia; but with a slight failure to rebut the
suggestion as utterly ridiculous.

"Sure?" Constance questioned.

"Quite, thank you," said Sophia.

"Well, I'll leave you. I expect Amy will have tea ready directly."
She went down into the kitchen. "Amy," she said, "as soon as we've
finished tea, light a fire in Mrs. Scales's bedroom."

"In the top bedroom, m'm?"

"Yes."

Constance climbed again to her own bedroom, and shut the door. She
needed a moment to herself, in the midst of this terrific affair.
She sighed with relief as she removed her mantle. She thought: "At
any rate we've met, and I've got her here. She's very nice. No,
she isn't a bit altered." She hesitated to admit that to her
Sophia was the least in the world formidable. And so she said once
more: "She's very nice. She isn't a bit altered." And then: "Fancy
her being here! She really is here." With her perfect simplicity
it did not occur to Constance to speculate as to what Sophia
thought of her.

Sophia was downstairs first, and Constance found her looking at
the blank wall beyond the door leading to the kitchen steps.

"So this is where you had it bricked up?" said Sophia.

"Yes," said Constance. "That's the place."

"It makes me feel like people feel when they have tickling in a
limb that's been cut off!" said Sophia.

"Oh, Sophia!"

The tea received a great deal of praise from Sophia, but neither
of them ate much. Constance found that Sophia was like herself:
she had to be particular about her food. She tasted dainties for
the sake of tasting, but it was a bird's pecking. Not the twelfth
part of the tea was consumed. They dared not indulge caprices.
Only their eyes could feed.

After tea they went up to the drawing-room, and in the corridor
had the startling pleasure of seeing two dogs who scurried about
after each other in amity. Spot had found Fossette, with the aid
of Amy's incurable carelessness, and had at once examined her with
great particularity. She seemed to be of an amiable disposition,
and not averse from the lighter distractions. For a long time the
sisters sat chatting together in the lit drawing-room to the
agreeable sound of happy dogs playing in the dark corridor. Those
dogs saved the situation, because they needed constant attention.
When the dogs dozed, the sisters began to look through photograph
albums, of which Constance had several, bound in plush or morocco.
Nothing will sharpen the memory, evoke the past, raise the dead,
rejuvenate the ageing, and cause both sighs and smiles, like a
collection of photographs gathered together during long years of
life. Constance had an astonishing menagerie of unknown cousins
and their connections, and of townspeople; she had Cyril at all
ages; she had weird daguerreotypes of her parents and their
parents. The strangest of all was a portrait of Samuel Povey as an
infant in arms. Sophia checked an impulse to laugh at it. But when
Constance said: "Isn't it funny?" she did allow herself to laugh.
A photograph of Samuel in the year before his death was really
imposing. Sophia stared at it, impressed. It was the portrait of
an honest man.

"How long have you been a widow?" Constance asked in a low voice,
glancing at upright Sophia over her spectacles, a leaf of the
album raised against her finger.

Sophia unmistakably flushed. "I don't know that I am a widow,"
said she, with an air. "My husband left me in 1870, and I've never
seen nor heard of him since."

"Oh, my dear!" cried Constance, alarmed and deafened as by a clap
of awful thunder. "I thought ye were a widow. Mr. Peel-Swynnerton
said he was told positively ye were a widow. That's why I never. ..."
She stopped. Her face was troubled.

"Of course I always passed for a widow, over there," said Sophia.

"Of course," said Constance quickly. "I see. ..."

"And I may be a widow," said Sophia.

Constance made no remark. This was a blow. Bursley was such a
particular place. Doubtless, Gerald Scales had behaved like a
scoundrel. That was sure!

When, immediately afterwards, Amy opened the drawing-room door
(having first knocked--the practice of encouraging a servant to
plunge without warning of any kind into a drawing-room had never
been favoured in that house) she saw the sisters sitting rather
near to each other at the walnut oval table, Mrs. Scales very
upright, and staring into the fire, and Mrs. Povey 'bunched up'
and staring at the photograph album; both seeming to Amy aged and
apprehensive; Mrs. Povey's hair was quite grey, though Mrs.
Scales' hair was nearly as black as Amy's own. Mrs. Scales started
at the sound of the knock, and turned her head.

"Here's Mr. and Mrs. Critchlow, m'm," announced Amy.

The sisters glanced at one another, with lifted foreheads. Then
Mrs. Povey spoke to Amy as though visits at half-past eight at
night were a customary phenomenon of the household. Nevertheless,
she trembled to think what outrageous thing Mr. Critchlow might
say to Sophia after thirty years' absence. The occasion was great,
and it might also be terrible.

"Ask them to come up," she said calmly.

But Amy had the best of that encounter. "I have done," she
replied, and instantly produced them out of the darkness of the
corridor. It was providential: the sisters had made no remark that
the Critchlows might not hear.

Then Maria Critchlow, simpering, had to greet Sophia. Mrs.
Critchlow was very agitated, from sheer nervousness. She
curvetted; she almost pranced; and she made noises with her mouth
as though she saw some one eating a sour apple. She wanted to show
Sophia how greatly she had changed from the young, timid
apprentice. Certainly since her marriage she had changed. As
manager of other people's business she had not felt the necessity
of being effusive to customers, but as proprietress, anxiety to
succeed had dragged her out of her capable and mechanical
indifference. It was a pity. Her consistent dullness had had a
sort of dignity; but genial, she was merely ridiculous. Animation
cruelly displayed her appalling commonness and physical
shabbiness. Sophia's demeanour was not chilly; but it indicated
that Sophia had no wish to be eyed over as a freak of nature.

Mr. Critchlow advanced very slowly into the room. "Ye still carry
your head on a stiff neck," said he, deliberately examining
Sophia. Then with great care he put out his long thin arm and took
her hand. "Well, I'm rare and glad to see ye!"

Every one was thunderstruck at this expression of joy. Mr.
Critchlow had never been known to be glad to see anybody.

"Yes," twittered Maria, "Mr. Critchlow would come in to-night.
Nothing would do but he must come in to-night."

"You didn't tell me this afternoon," said Constance, "that you
were going to give us the pleasure of your company like this."

He looked momentarily at Constance. "No," he grated, "I don't know
as I did."

His gaze flattered Sophia. Evidently he treated this experienced
and sad woman of fifty as a young girl. And in presence of his
extreme age she felt like a young girl, remembering the while how
as a young girl she had hated him. Repulsing the assistance of his
wife, he arranged an armchair in front of the fire and
meticulously put himself into it. Assuredly he was much older in a
drawing-room than behind the counter of his shop. Constance had
noticed that in the afternoon. A live coal fell out of the fire.
He bent forward, wet his fingers, picked up the coal and threw it
back into the fire.

"Well," said Sophia. "I wouldn't have done that."

"I never saw Mr. Critchlow's equal for picking up hot cinders,"
Maria giggled.

Mr. Critchlow deigned no remark. "When did ye leave this Paris?"
he demanded of Sophia, leaning back, and putting his hands on the
arms of the chair.

"Yesterday morning," said Sophia,

"And what'n ye been doing with yeself since yesterday morning?"

"I spent last night in London," Sophia replied.

"Oh, in London, did ye?"

"Yes. Cyril and I had an evening together."

"Eh? Cyril! What's yer opinion o' Cyril, Sophia?"

"I'm very proud to have Cyril for a nephew," said Sophia.

"Oh! Are ye?" The old man was obviously ironic.

"Yes I am," Sophia insisted sharply. "I'm not going to hear a word
said against Cyril."

She proceeded to an enthusiastic laudation of Cyril which rather
overwhelmed his mother. Constance was pleased; she was delighted.
And yet somewhere in her mind was an uncomfortable feeling that
Cyril, having taken a fancy to his brilliant aunt, had tried to
charm her as he seldom or never tried to charm his mother. Cyril
and Sophia had dazzled and conquered each other; they were of the
same type; whereas she, Constance, being but a plain person, could
not glitter.

She rang the bell and gave instructions to Amy about food--fruit
cakes, coffee and hot milk, on a tray; and Sophia also spoke to
Amy murmuring a request as to Fossette.

"Yes, Mrs. Scales," said Amy, with eager deference.

Mrs. Critchlow smiled vaguely from a low chair near the curtained
window. Then Constance lit another burner of the chandelier. In
doing so, she gave a little sigh; it was a sigh of relief. Mr.
Critchlow had behaved himself. Now that he and Sophia had met, the
worst was over. Had Constance known beforehand that he would pay a
call, she would have been agonized by apprehensions, but now that
he had actually come she was glad he had come.

When he had silently sipped some hot milk, he drew a thick bunch
of papers, white and blue, from his bulging breast-pocket.

"Now, Maria Critchlow," he called, edging round his chair
slightly. "Ye'd best go back home."

Maria Critchlow was biting at a bit of walnut cake, while in her
right hand, all seamed with black lines, she held a cup of coffee.

"But, Mr. Critchlow----!" Constance protested.

"I've got business with Sophia, and I must get it done. I've got
for to render an account of my stewardship to Sophia, under her
father's will, and her mother's will, and her aunt's will, and
it's nobody's business but mine and Sophia's, I reckon. Now then,"
he glanced at his wife, "off with ye!"

Maria rose, half-kittenish and half-ashamed.

"Surely you don't want to go into all that to-night," said Sophia.
She spoke softly, for she had already fully perceived that Mr.
Critchlow must be managed with the tact which the capricious
obstinacies of advanced age demanded. "Surely you can wait a day
or two. I'm in no hurry."

"HAVEN'T I WAITED LONG ENOUGH?" he retorted fiercely.

There was a pause. Maria Critchlow moved.

"As for you being in no hurry, Sophia," the old man went on,
"nobody can say as you've been in a hurry."

Sophia had suffered a check. She glanced hesitatingly at
Constance.

"Mrs. Critchlow and I will go down into the parlour," said
Constance, quickly. "There is a bit of fire there."

"Oh no. I won't hear of such a thing!"

"Yes, we will, won't we, Mrs. Critchlow?" Constance insisted,
cheerfully but firmly. She was determined that in her house Sophia
should have all the freedom and conveniences that she could have
had in her own. If a private room was needed for discussions
between Sophia and her trustee, Constance's pride was piqued to
supply that room. Further, Constance was glad to get Maria out of
Sophia's sight. She was accustomed to Maria; with her it did not
matter; but she did not care that the teeth of Sophia should be
set on edge by the ridiculous demeanour of Maria. So those two
left the drawing-room, and the old man began to open the papers
which he had been preparing for weeks.

There was very little fire in the parlour, and Constance, in
addition to being bored by Mrs. Critchlow's inane and inquisitive
remarks, felt chilly, which was bad for her sciatica. She wondered
whether Sophia would have to confess to Mr. Critchlow that she was
not certainly a widow. She thought that steps ought to be taken to
ascertain, through Birkinshaws, if anything was known of Gerald
Scales. But even that course was set with perils. Supposing that
he still lived, an unspeakable villain (Constance could only think
of him as an unspeakable villain), and supposing that he molested
Sophia,--what scenes! What shame in the town! Such frightful
thoughts ran endlessly through Constance's mind as she bent over
the fire endeavouring to keep alive a silly conversation with
Maria Critchlow.

Amy passed through the parlour to go to bed. There was no other
way of reaching the upper part of the house.

"Are you going to bed, Amy?"

"Yes'm."

"Where is Fossette?"

"In the kitchen, m'm," said Amy, defending herself. "Mrs. Scales
told me the dog might sleep in the kitchen with Spot, as they was
such good friends. I've opened the bottom drawer, and Fossit is
lying in that."

"Mrs. Scales has brought a dog with her!" exclaimed Maria.

"Yes'm!" said Amy, drily, before Constance could answer. She
implied everything in that affirmative.

"You are a family for dogs," said Maria. "What sort of dog is it?"

"Well," said Constance. "I don't know exactly what they call it.
It's a French dog, one of those French dogs." Amy was lingering at
the stairfoot. "Good night, Amy, thank you."

Amy ascended, shutting the door.

"Oh! I see!" Maria muttered. "Well, I never!"

It was ten o'clock before sounds above indicated that the first
interview between trustee and beneficiary was finished.

"I'll be going on to open our side-door," said Maria. "Say good
night to Mrs. Scales for me." She was not sure whether Charles
Critchlow had really meant her to go home, or whether her mere
absence from the drawing-room had contented him. So she departed.
He came down the stairs with the most tiresome slowness, went
through the parlour in silence, ignoring Constance, and also
Sophia, who was at his heels, and vanished.

As Constance shut and bolted the front-door, the sisters looked at
each other, Sophia faintly smiling. It seemed to them that they
understood each other better when they did not speak. With a
glance, they exchanged their ideas on the subject of Charles
Critchlow and Maria, and learnt that their ideas were similar.
Constance said nothing as to the private interview. Nor did
Sophia. At present, on this the first day, they could only achieve
intimacy by intermittent flashes.

"What about bed?" asked Sophia.

"You must be tired," said Constance.

Sophia got to the stairs, which received a little light from the
corridor gas, before Constance, having tested the window-
fastening, turned out the gas in the parlour. They climbed the
lower flight of stairs together.

"I must just see that your room is all right," Constance said.

"Must you?" Sophia smiled.

They climbed the second flight, slowly. Constance was out of
breath.

"Oh, a fire! How nice!" cried Sophia. "But why did you go to all
that trouble? I told you not to."

"It's no trouble at all," said Constance, raising the gas in the
bedroom. Her tone implied that bedroom fires were a quite ordinary
incident of daily life in a place like Bursley.

"Well, my dear, I hope you'll find everything comfortable," said
Constance.

"I'm sure I shall. Good night, dear."

"Good night, then."

They looked at each other again, with timid affectionateness. They
did not kiss. The thought in both their minds was: "We couldn't
keep on kissing every day." But there was a vast amount of quiet,
restrained affection, of mutual confidence and respect, even of
tenderness, in their tones.

About half an hour later a dreadful hullaballoo smote the ear of
Constance. She was just getting into bed. She listened intently,
in great alarm. It was undoubtedly those dogs fighting, and
fighting to the death. She pictured the kitchen as a battlefield,
and Spot slain. Opening the door, she stepped out into the
corridor,

"Constance," said a low voice above her. She jumped. "Is that
you?"

"Yes."

"Well, don't bother to go down to the dogs; they'll stop in a
moment. Fossette won't bite. I'm so sorry she's upsetting the
house."

Constance stared upwards, and discerned a pale shadow. The dogs
did soon cease their altercation. This short colloquy in the dark
affected Constance strangely.

III

The next morning, after a night varied by periods of wakefulness
not unpleasant, Sophia arose and, taking due precautions against
cold, went to the window. It was Saturday; she had left Paris on
the Thursday. She looked forth upon the Square, holding aside the
blind. She had expected, of course, to find that the Square had
shrunk in size; but nevertheless she was startled to see how small
it was. It seemed to her scarcely bigger than a courtyard. She
could remember a winter morning when from the window she had
watched the Square under virgin snow in the lamplight, and the
Square had been vast, and the first wayfarer, crossing it
diagonally and leaving behind him the irregular impress of his
feet, had appeared to travel for hours over an interminable white
waste before vanishing past Holl's shop in the direction of the
Town Hall. She chiefly recalled the Square under snow; cold
mornings, and the coldness of the oil-cloth at the window, and the
draught of cold air through the ill-fitting sash (it was put right
now)! These visions of herself seemed beautiful to her; her
childish existence seemed beautiful; the storms and tempests of
her girlhood seemed beautiful; even the great sterile expanse of
tedium when, after giving up a scholastic career, she had served
for two years in the shop--even this had a strange charm in her
memory.

And she thought that not for millions of pounds would she live her
life over again.

In its contents the Square had not surprisingly changed during the
immense, the terrifying interval that separated her from her
virginity. On the east side, several shops had been thrown into
one, and forced into a semblance of eternal unity by means of a
coat of stucco. And there was a fountain at the north end which
was new to her. No other constructional change! But the moral
change, the sad declension from the ancient proud spirit of the
Square--this was painfully depressing. Several establishments
lacked tenants, had obviously lacked tenants for a long time; 'To
let' notices hung in their stained and dirty upper windows, and
clung insecurely to their closed shutters. And on the sign-boards
of these establishments were names that Sophia did not know. The
character of most of the shops seemed to have worsened; they had
become pettifogging little holes, unkempt, shabby, poor; they had
no brightness, no feeling of vitality. And the floor of the Square
was littered with nondescript refuse. The whole scene, paltry,
confined, and dull, reached for her the extreme of provinciality.
It was what the French called, with a pregnant intonation, la
province. This--being said, there was nothing else to say.
Bursley, of course, was in the provinces; Bursley must, in the
nature of things, be typically provincial. But in her mind it had
always been differentiated from the common province; it had always
had an air, a distinction, and especially St. Luke's Square! That
illusion was now gone. Still, the alteration was not wholly in
herself; it was not wholly subjective. The Square really had
changed for the worse; it might not be smaller, but it had
deteriorated. As a centr