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Title: The Dawn of Reckoning Author: James Hilton * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1301681h.html Language: English Date first posted: Apr 2013 Most recent update: Oct 2016 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned." —William Congreve
A splash disturbed the throbbing mystery of the twilight and Philip Monsell heard it, wondered idly what it was, and proceeded to light a Turkish cigarette. He was quite alone at the stern of the little paddle-boat, where the canvas awning protected him from smuts from the funnel but not from the various cooking smells that came from the saloon. Most of the other passengers, indeed, were at "second" dinner; he himself had taken the less popular "first" in order to be free to watch the darkness falling over the shadowy river. Already daylight had almost vanished and the boat was ploughing its way through what seemed endless rolls of glistening frothy snakes, silvery in the dusk.
The sound of commotion came from the other end of the boat. Voices were raised sharply, and jabbered in a high-pitched language that Philip guessed to be Hungarian; then came the sudden tingling of bells and the unmistakable jogging caused by the reversal of the boat's engines. Something had happened. He rose lazily from his deck-chair and stared about him. The boat was in mid-stream, churning up great eddies of foam in the effort to check its pace; the banks of the river, about a quarter of a mile away on each side, presented a dull violet blur without a flicker of light to indicate human habitation.
He strode along the narrowing gangway past the windows of the saloon. The three long tables inside were crowded with diners of almost every nationality, and at one of them he could see his mother, brilliant-looking as ever, conversing animatedly with a group of Americans. They were all laughing, and occasion ally one or other of them peered out of the window into the blackness, as if wondering why the boat had stopped. The stewards, passing each other swiftly about the saloon, exchanged remarks mysteriously...
The chatter in the forepart of the ship grew noisier as he approached, and became almost a roar as he pulled open the door that separated the first from the second class, the luxury from the comparative squalor. Here the lighting was dim and fitful; old peasant women sat on boxes with babies on their knees; young men, brown-faced, hatless, and bare-chested, checked their lilting songs and chattered together eagerly in corners. Something strange, something a little sinister, was happening. The crew were rushing about with ropes and tackle, and now and then an officer came among them, barked a brisk guttural order, and went away again.
"Wal?" said a voice, almost in Monsell's ear. "D'ye think they'll get her?"
Monsell turned, and saw close to him a man whom he had met previously at lunch—an elderly retired business-man from Chicago, globe-trotting with quiet alertness. "Get her?" exclaimed Monsell, puzzled. "What do you mean—get her?"
The other examined his cigar. "You dunno what the fuss is about then, eh?"
"Not in the least. What is it?"
The man from Chicago flicked off his cigar-ash against the engine-room stairway.
"Girl overboard," he said laconically. And he added thoughtfully: "Hungarian girl..."
Accidents are rare upon the Danube boats. For that reason they cause all the more commotion when they occur. Monsell and the American stood talking calmly while the noise and commotion increased all around them. "These fellers make too much noise," said the American, chewing his cigar. "Too much talk—not enough action. Now in America...or "—he added as a concession to his neighbour "in England..."
Monsell had thrown away his cigarette and was tapping his foot irritably on the deck. "Surely some body will go in and rescue her," he said, more to himself than to the other. "Or throw a lifebelt...or something..."
"Have you seen a lifebelt anywhere on this gol darned boat?—Because I haven't...Now on the Mississippi..."
"Well, damn it all," Monsell interrupted, "I'd go in and have a try myself if—if—" He shrugged his shoulders and added lamely: "If I could swim and—heaps of other things."
"No," said Monsell curtly.
"Do you know that in every high-school and college in America swimmun is—"
The impact of a huge-limbed member of the crew knocked the cigar from his lips amidst a jet of sparks. Interest seemed suddenly to be converging on the part of the boat where Monsell and the American were standing; blue-jerseyed sailors hurried to the deck-rail, threw ropes over, and shouted shrill and deafening instructions. An officer, vibrating with gold-lace and self-importance, ordered away all the second-class passengers, but gave the American a salute and a smile as he passed.
"Curious fellers," remarked the latter to Monsell, choosing another cigar.
Suddenly the men at the deck-rail gave a loud cry, evidently of satisfaction, and began lifting something up from over the side. The huge-limbed man who had collided with the American was the one to whom fell the actual honour of rescue. He came away from the deck-rail with a huddled and dripping bundle in his arms; it might have been as light as a feather from the way he carried it. The gold-laced officer rapped out an order, and he laid the bundle gently upon a sheet of tarpaulin, almost at Monsell's feet. The crew thronged round, chattering more loudly than ever, while the water made a dull lead-coloured pool, a pool that grew and grew and then trickled over the boards to the Danube again...
The dapper little ship's officer approached the American and addressed him a few words in German. The latter nodded and turned to Monsell.
"This gentleman wants to know if you're a doctor—or if you know of one on board. I don't."
"Nor do I, but—but—perhaps my mother—she has been a nurse—I'll fetch her, anyway..."
He raced back towards the saloon, and when he had gone the American said to the officer in German "That young English kid's gone to fetch his mother. Says she's been a nurse. I quite believe it. I'd believe anything of her. She's a most remarkable woman—most remarkable..."
Mrs. Monsell hastened out of the saloon, with Philip leading her and telling her what had happened. The American had spoken correctly; she was a remarkable woman. Finely built, finely dressed, fifty years old and looking twenty years younger, the possessor of a keen brain, a ripe experience, and an inexhaustible supply of energy, she was distinctly the kind of woman whom all other women dislike and whom men do not easily forget. Wherever she went, at home or abroad, she could not fail to be a planet of whom others were delighted to be satellites; and as she spoke French and German perfectly, and loved scandal of every type and nationality, it was easy for her to enjoy herself amidst the cosmopolitan crowd on the Danube steamers.
Philip led her to the huddled figure on the tarpaulin.
"Anything I can do, mother?" he asked eagerly.
She replied: "There's a bottle of sal volatile in my bag in the cabin. You might go and get it for me."
The cabin was on the upper-deck, and when he reached it he remembered that he had left the key in his raincoat-pocket, and that his raincoat was by his deckchair in the stern. He ran back, and along the gangways: as he reached his coat and got the key he felt the throb of the engines beginning again. It was pitch-dark now, and the lights of the boat shone out weirdly over the black river. Back again on the upper-deck he unlocked the cabin and sought for the bottle in the bag, but without success. Possibly his mother had left it in her handbag downstairs in the saloon; he would go and see. He did so, found it after a search, and rushed back to the steerage. The American alone stood where formerly the crowd had been.
"Wal," he said, still chewing his cigar, "I guess you're too late."
"Too late?—What do you mean?"
"She's all right now. They've taken her to a cabin an' put her to bed. An' your mother don't need the sal volatile—she borrowed it off somebody. By the way, did you know—"
The man from Chicago paused and spat vehemently on deck. Monsell looked up eagerly. "Do I know what?"
"Do you know it wasn't an accident?"
"Not an accident?—No, I don't know...Then what—what was it?"
The other answered gruffly: "Attempted suicide. That's what it was."
All through the summer night the boat throbbed its way up the Danube, and in the morning the dawn rose on a wide green plain which the river split into halves. At intervals during the night, calls had been made at sleeping villages by the river-side; passengers had embarked and disembarked; once Monsell had been awakened by the slight bump of the boat against a pier.
He rose fairly early and breakfasted alone, for his mother never left her cabin until lunch-time. The dark-coloured rye bread and bitter coffee were at once refreshing and unsatisfying, but he lingered long over them, with the August sunlight pouring on him through the windows of the saloon. He was quite happy. This idea of his mother's—to take the slow comfortable journey by river-steamer instead of the quicker uncomfortable journey by rail—was proving an excellent one. He smiled, thinking what a remark able woman she was, how all the most interesting people everywhere clustered round her, and how supremely competent she was to decide everything for herself.
After he had paid the waiter he took a notebook and pen from his pocket and continued a letter to a friend in England.
"I am writing this on the Danube boat some where between Mohacs and Buda-Pesth. We ought to reach Buda about eight this evening, and what we shall do when we get there I don't know. Probably we shall stay a few days, or, if mother really takes a fancy to the place, a few weeks or months—you know how everything depends on her. She's enjoying herself immensely, and so am I. The scenery and the weather are both delightful.
"We had quite an adventure yesterday when a young Hungarian girl tried to drown herself by diving into the river at night. One of the crew jumped in after her, but eventually she saved herself by swimming to the boat and being hauled up. Rather ignominious, eh?—Shows how hard it is for a swimmer to commit suicide by drowning. There was no doctor on board, so mother had to attend to her..."
Through the saloon windows he could see the shore rapidly approaching, and in the near distance a quaint little brown-roofed village basking in the sun. It was too good to be missed, so he interrupted his letter and climbed on to the upper-deck, whence he could view the interesting and sometimes amusing scene of embarkation. Scrubby little brown-faced children stood barefooted on the beach, cheering and waving coloured handkerchiefs; a single blue-uniformed gendarme guarded the pier and examined the papers of those who wanted to land. From the faces that filled every available window-space, it was obvious that the arrival of the bi-weekly boat was an important event. For those on board, of course, it was a mere pause in the peaceful monotony of the journey. Admiring remarks were passed in a variety of languages; cameras clicked; and then, after a few moments of bustle and chatter from down below, the gangways were hauled up and the paddles began to chug their way into midstream again.
Monsell went down the stairway into the steerage quarters, for the scene there was always interesting after a halt. Brightly-dressed peasants who had just come aboard were hurrying about with their bundles, finding places where they could curl up and sleep, and chattering shrilly all the while. A group of tall dark-skinned youths were singing a sleepy ballad to the music of a mandolin, and the remorseless chug-chug of the engines beat out a calm monotonous rhythm as the boat crawled slowly against the stream. The sun was rising high in the sky, and it was already very hot. The whole mingling of colour and sound fascinated Monsell, and he passed intricately amongst the crowd, smiling apologetically when once or twice he collided with somebody. The extreme forepart of the boat was cooler, with the breeze blowing through it, but it stank abominably with the various crates of perishables that had been loaded up during the journey. And it was there, almost hidden behind a huge packing-case, that he saw a girl sitting disconsolately on a heap of rope.
Her feet and legs were bare, and she was leaning forward with her chin resting on her hands, so that her face was shaded. There was something so instinctively despairing in her attitude that Monsell stopped, too acutely embarrassed to go any nearer. For almost a minute he stood watching, expecting her to move, but she did not. The half-sad, half-passionate lilt of the ballad-singers kept coming to him faint and then full on the changing breeze...
He started at the interruption. One of the stewards had come up just behind him—a fat greasy fellow whose smattering of half a dozen languages made him one of the most important officials on board. He smiled at Monsell with a magnificent array of gold-filled teeth.
"M'sieur regard the—the girl, hein?...Gestern—yaisterday she—" he made a gesture with his arms over the rail of the boat. "Comprenez?"
"I understand," replied Monsell coldly.
The girl looked up, hearing the sound of voices. Monsell could see that she was hardly more than a child, but a child of astonishing beauty. And she was angry, with pouting rosebud lips and dark violet eyes stained by weeping. For a moment she stared back at the two men who were staring at her; then without any warning, broke into a passionate torrent of words that seemed to rise tempestuously up to the final syllable, which rang out like a pistol-shot.
The steward said something in reply, and Monsell turned to him and spoke rather curtly. "What did she say?" he asked.
The other's greasy forehead puckered as he prepared himself for the effort of translation. "She say," he began cautiously, with his gold teeth gleaming in the sunlight, "She say—she wish—to be dead...And she say—also—she wish—that nobody—see her..."
Monsell turned away and looked hard at the rivet, glaring under the sun's fierce rays. "Tell her I'm sorry," he answered uncomfortably, moving away amongst the litter of the deck.
He heard the steward muttering something in that strange incomprehensible language, and then, as he turned a corner, another sound was on him like a flood. All the men and women in the steerage, excepting those asleep, were joining in some wild and throbbing refrain to which the thrumming of the mandolin added a final touch of weirdness.
"Teli van a Duna,
Tán még ki is szalad.
Szivemben is alig
Fér meg az indulat..."*
* From the Reszket a bokor (The Tembling Bush) by
Sándor Petöfi (01.01.1823-ca. July 1849).
High water in the Danube,
Enough, perhaps, to breast the banks.
So full also is my heart
With feelings nigh to overflow.
Buda, crowning the rocky hill-side, with its towers and minarets gleaming in the red-gold sunset; the Last City of the East. And Pesth, hot, dusty and bustling, with its outdoor cafés and beer-gardens, wharves and warehouses, the First City of the West. At the quayside, alive with chattering and gesticulating porters, the steamer tilted steeply with the press of people that fought and jostled to disembark as soon as the gangways were lowered.
Mrs. Monsell and Philip still lingered in the saloon over a bottle of golden Hungarian wine. It was her habit, born of long travelling experience, always to wait till the last before leaving a boat. "For one thing, the customs people get tired before they come to you. And then, also, if there's a boat-train and it's full when you get to it, they put on a special carriage for you if you complain loud enough Any way, it's much pleasanter to wait till the crush is over." Almost for the first time since the beginning of the journey she and Philip were alone together. The other passengers were busy with their luggage elsewhere, and the saloon was empty save for them selves and a steward clearing the tables.
"By the way, Philip, I sent our address to that unfortunate girl—"
"Yes. Why not? I wrote it out on a visiting-card and told the steward to take it to her."
"Bet you she can't read."
"Even if she can't, she can ask someone who can."
"Oh, yes, I dare say...But what made you think of all this?"
"My dear Philip, my natural intelligence. I'm quite aware that you haven't a great deal yourself—"
"Oh, haven't I? Anyhow, I don't need it, with a mother who can decide everything, arrange every thing, talk five languages, read foreign railway time tables, give first-aid to the drowning—"
"Rubbish," she interrupted him. "I didn't give first-aid. There was no need to. The girl wasn't anywhere near drowning. She was just sick with misery because she hadn't had pluck enough to drown herself."
"But why on earth should she want to drown herself?"
"Goodness knows...She seemed cheerful enough after I'd been with her about ten minutes. She had no money—only the steamer ticket. The few crowns I gave her won't last long in Buda. That's why I sent her the address of our hotel, so that if she finds herself in difficulties she can..."
The steward approached. "Pardon, madame, but de ozzers are all gone..."
"Come on then, Philip," said Mrs. Monsell. She gave the steward his expected trinkgeld, adding: "Did you deliver my message?"
"What did she say?"
"She say zank-you,' madame."
"Nothing else, madame."
That was how Philip Monsell and his mother came to Buda- Pesth upon a golden August evening. They took a cab from the quayside to their hotel in the Andrassy-Ut, where Mrs. Monsell promptly examined the visitors' book to see if they were to have interest ing fellow-guests. A German baron and an Italian from Perugia looked the most promising, though Mrs. Monsell was clearly doubtful about them. "I guess if it isn't interesting enough here we can go some where else," she remarked. Interest for her was almost entirely a matter of interesting conversation.
Philip was different. Slower, less communicative, and inclined to be easily embarrassed, he was always a trifle bored at his mother's dinner-parties. He was interested in people, not merely in interesting people, and Buda-Pesth, with its curious meeting of East and West, was quick to exert a fascination over him. While his mother spent the mornings conversing animatedly in the hotel-lounge, he went out into the streets and by-ways, braving the smells and the dust-storms and the fierce heat of the sun. And sometimes he took the funicular up to Buda and sipped iced beer in the cafes on the hill. He enjoyed travelling, and his mother's annual pilgrimages on which he had accompanied her since his early years, had given him a fairly extensive knowledge of the world. Last year it had been Asia Minor and Egypt; this year Roumania and the Danubian provinces.
He was twenty years old, rather tall, quite good-looking, with blue eyes and brown hair and small, delicate features. An adolescent heart had taught him to be cautious in his movements; his speech, too, was somewhat slow and precise, but his brain was sound enough, though perhaps a shade too coldly intellectual. Already, in his freshman's year at Cambridge he had done moderately well, and most likely he would enter the diplomatic service on leaving the University. "For there," as his mother observed cynically, "your ignorance of life will be a positive asset to you."
During the lazy, drowsy hours of the afternoon, when all good Pesthians were asleep, he used to climb the pathway up the hill of Buda, on whose summit the cool Danubian breeze played softly beneath the glare of the sun. And it was there that, on the third day after his arrival, he met the Hungarian girl again.
He was resting in the shadow of a rock, and she came suddenly round the corner of it and stood before him. A bright-coloured scarf bound back her hair and straggled over her shoulders; she was stockingless but wore a pair of exceedingly shabby sandals that were too large for her. And she held out her hand and displayed his mother's visiting-card, crumpled and limp with perspiration.
He rose, startled, and smiled at her. She smiled back. He really did not know what on earth to do. Finally he took the proffered visiting-card and read on it, in his mother's pencilled handwriting smudged almost into illegibility: "Hotel Europeen, Andrassy Ut." And here he showed what Mrs. Monsell would have termed a lamentable deficiency in common sense. He pointed down in the valley in the rather vague direction of the city and the hotel.
Still smiting at him, the girl nodded, yet seemed unsatisfied. He asked her in German if anything was the matter, but she did not understand. Then she came nearer, touched first him and then herself, and pointed downwards over the city. At last he divined a possible meaning—that she wanted him to take her back with him to the hotel. When he nodded and made signs that they should descend the steep, rocky path together, she smiled eagerly. That seemed to confirm the supposition.
They began the scramble down over the sharp stones, and at the foot of the hill, by the greatest of good fortune, an open droschky was plying for hire. The driver stared curiously as Monsell helped the girl inside and gave his directions. A smartly-dressed foreigner with a Hungarian girl, tattered and shabby, but diabolically pretty—it was something to be curious about.
Driving over the suspension-bridge from Buda into Pesth, Monsell had time and opportunity to observe the girl more closely than he had done before. She was, undoubtedly, as beautiful as any girl he had ever seen; and hers, moreover, was a vital, not a languid beauty. The sunlight, split by the chains of the bridge, threw her small brown face into ever-changing light and shadow; she shut her eyes, and opened them again as soon as the droschky turned into a shady side-street. Then her foot seemed to be troubling her, and she bent down to adjust the sandal.
She looked up and saw that Monsell was watching her. And he, again embarrassed, smiled and pointed interrogatively to her foot, as if inquiring whether it were hurt. The carriage swept into a wide and sunlit boulevard, crowded with promenaders seeking the stuffy shade of the shop-awnings. And the girl suddenly kicked off her sandal, and with a quick movement of her leg showed Monsell a foot that was desperately torn and bleeding.
A queer thrill went over him. He hated physical pain, and the girl's nonchalant revelation of what must have been the acute torture of that scramble up and down the hill, affected him with a strange mingling of pity and indignation. Involuntarily he moved closer, not knowing how else to indicate his instinctive sympathy.
But she laughed—a silvery cascade of laughter that echoed curiously amongst the clatter of the boulevard. And, out of pure devilment, as it were, she kicked off the other sandal and showed the second foot, as bad as, or worse than, the first. Something in his shocked face evidently amused her. And she shrugged her shoulders, still laughing at him.
An hour later Mrs. Monsell came down to the lounge. "I've sent for a doctor and made arrangements with the hotel people," she announced. "I don't think there's much the matter, except her feet, which are badly cut about. By the way, I've found out a bit of her history. Her name's Srolta and some other name that's quite unpronounceable, so I think we shall have to call her Stella. She's been ill-treated by a brutal father, and he wanted to marry her to somebody—she's fifteen, by the way—and she ran off rather than submit...That's the kind she is...No nonsense about her..."
"But, mother, how on earth did you find out all that? You don't know any Hungarian, do you?"
"Not a word of it. But I use my intelligence...I also found out why she didn't come here straight away. She was frightened of being turned off by the hotel people, and when you went out she followed you till she could get a chance of meeting you alone. Of course it was like you to drag her up to the top of a mountain!"
"Do you mean to say that you understood all that too?"
"My dear Philip, as I said before, I used my intelligence. So did the girl—she has plenty—and between us...Perhaps she will encourage you to use yours when we get back to England."
"Yes, England. I have decided to take the girl back home with us."
"Well, why not? Am I to understand that you have any objection?"
Philip stared vacantly in front of him, and did not answer for several moments. Then at last he replied: "I have certainly no objection, but the idea surprises me, I must admit. I suppose you have taken a fancy to her?"
He glanced at her with a strange mingling of despair and admiration. She was so capable, so managerial, and, unlike himself, so quick to make decisions of all kinds.
"I prefer the girl," he said, "to the usual sort of souvenir we take home with us. That awful Egyptian sarcophagus last year, for instance...Oh yes, I much prefer the girl..."
Mrs. Monsell smiled.
The Monsells lived in the Essex market-town of Chassingford, and had the reputation of being "peculiar." Mr. Monsell, a high Foreign Office official, had died when Philip was quite young, and his wife's managerial efficiency had made a fairish private income into a rather good one. Philip had grown up amidst surroundings which only his mother's shrewdness had prevented from being luxurious.
The house was old without being historic, and he had learned everything within its grey walls. His "everything" was rather extensive, for being too weakly to play games or go to a boarding-school, he had begun the solemn acquisition of learning at a very early age. Learning, however, did not include wisdom. He lost as much as he gained by those lonely years, for he grew nervous of strangers and fully upheld the Monsell tradition of being "peculiar" Burly farmers who met him on market-day in the town found that he could not look them straight in the face; there was something odd about him—something that they scornfully associated with book-learning.
He was not very popular. Indeed, at one time he was definitely disgraced, for he was publicly censured by a coroner. He had been walking along by the river-bank, and had failed to rescue a child from drowning. He told the coroner that he could not swim, and that he did all he could in running for help, whereupon the latter had observed acidly that most men would have had a try for it, whether they could swim or not. It was an unfair attack, and Philip would have done better to ignore it. Instead of that, however, he wrote a solemn letter to the local paper, explaining and protesting. Others replied, and the whole ethical problem was remorselessly thrashed out, The prevalent opinion was that Philip, though possibly justified, had not exactly covered himself with glory.
People who knew him well liked him. He was courteous, extremely willing to spend his time and energy in helping others, and a most reliable friend in the smaller matters of friendship. In the larger ones he was prone to embarrass by his partisanship. If, however, he made a promise, he kept to it. So also if he made a mistake he kept to it—by defend ing himself, or apologising unnecessarily, or in some way advertising the matter to those who might never have heard about it.
Into this somewhat unusual family the advent of Stella was as a breath of fresh air into a darkened room. Within a few months of Mrs. Monsell's arrival in England, rumour and exaggeration had done their utmost. People were saying across dining-tables: "My dear, have you heard of Mrs. Monsell's latest? She's kidnapped some girl from Roumania or Turkey or somewhere and brought her to Chassingford—and a most fascinating little thing she is too—the girl, I mean..."
Certainly Stella had caused something of a commotion during the journey home. There had been customs and frontier difficulties, and her smiles had helped to smooth them over. In every city they passed through men had stared at her—in Innsbruck, Zurich, Basle, Paris, and now London...
Venner, for nearly half a century butler at Chassingford, met Philip at the door of the library one bright October morning. "Miss Stella has been up early to-day," he said suggestively.
Philip looked puzzled. "Really?—Oh, well, it's a nice morning for early rising, eh?"
Venner stared severely at the ground. "I'm afraid, Mr. Philip, you will find she has been meddling with a good many of your things. Not knowing the—er language, sir, I did not know quite how to—to interfere."
"Oh, that's all right, Venner...I'll settle matters."
He laughed, but really he was rather cross, and when he entered the library and took a look round he was crosser still. For the library was his own special preserve, his private and intimate sanctum, where all his books and papers were arranged in neat and orderly fashion. Even his mother would hardly have dared to upset any of those arrangements, much less to create the appearance of utter confusion that now awaited him. To begin with, his desk was heaped up with a miscellany of odd articles—an umbrella, a sporting gun, a thermos flask, a bicycle pump, and what seemed to him the contents of a dressing-table drawer from one of the bedrooms. A similar medley of unclassifiable articles was heaped up round his chair and on the settee...What on earth had she been doing? Was it a practical joke? If so, he must somehow or other take steps to show her that such jokes were neither appreciated nor allowed. If these were Hungarian manners, the sooner they were eradicated the better.
At last she danced into the room, brimful of that triumphant vitality that was somehow more fascinating than her beauty. Even amidst his clear determination to rebuke her, he could not help noticing how the gloomy book-lined library seemed to grow lighter and less funereal as she romped into it. But he did not smile. He wanted her to see that he was angry.
She sat down quickly, laughing and looking about as if proud of her handiwork. Then she held up the thing nearest her (a button-hook) and cried: "Feelip, what—is—zees?"
Then it became clear to him. She had organised this medley in order to learn new words. It had been his earliest way of teaching—holding up something and telling her the name of it. Recently they had come to the somewhat duller business of grammar, and this was no doubt her way of showing preference for the earlier method of tuition. He was amused, but all the same he must still show her that no reason could justify her taking such liberties with his possessions.
"Stella!" he said severely, ignoring the button hook. He stood up so that his tallness should have its full effect. How could he express disapproval?
She stood before him quite demurely, looking perfectly unconscious that she had done anything wrong. On the contrary, her long dark-lashed eyes danced with suppressed glee, as if she imagined that his curious utterance of her name was to be the prelude of something novel and exciting.
An idea struck him. Among the heap of articles on the settee was a short hunting-crop. Supposing he...? Just in dumb-show, to indicate his displeasure.
He waved his hands to indicate the disorder in the room, and frowned heavily. Then he went over to the settee, took up the hunting-crop, and brandished it threateningly.
It was the sort of stupid thing from which what ever cleverness he possessed did not attempt to save him. A moment later he was bitterly regretting it, as he regretted so many of his blunders. For he saw a sudden change come over the girl, saw the joyousness leave her eyes and give place to stark fear, saw her cringe back, forcing herself against the window and holding up her hands in instinctive self-defence. It appalled him, and appalled him so much that he did not even think to drop the weapon...
"Stella!" he cried, approaching her. "Stella—I didn't mean it—I was only—joking..." Then he remembered to drop the hunting-crop. "Stella—my noor little girl—how could you, how could you think I meant it?"
He did not realise the absurdity of speaking in English. And perhaps, after all, it was not so very absurd, for the tone, if not the words, conveyed a meaning. Gradually, at any rate, the fear left her eyes, though the old joyousness did not immediately return. She looked puzzled—relieved certainly, but still doubtful.
"Stella, I'm sorry."
Suddenly her eyes darkened, and with a movement of lightning swiftness she slipped aside her dress and showed him her bare shoulder—plump and brown, but ridged with long dark weals.
His face was quite white, twitching so much that he had to look away. The spectacle or the revelation of cruelty always frightened him. It cast a spell over him that was half-dreadful, half-fascinating. Some sensitive spot was stirred by it and intoxicated.
Then she laughed—the sharp melodious laughter that he had heard once before as he rode with her through the boulevards of Pesth.
"Stella, don't—please—please—Stella—stop it—" he cried hoarsely.
And she answered, holding up the button-hook which had all the time been in her hand: "Fee-lip what—is—zees?"
The incident was closed.
But though it was closed it troubled and worried him, and eventually he confided in his mother, telling her rather embarrassedly the full details. When he had finished she smiled.
"What extraordinarily foolish things you do!" she exclaimed. "Really, Philip, you have no tact at all. Didn't I tell you at Buda that she had a brute of a father and ran away from him? As for the marks on her shoulder, you should have seen them when I examined her first."
He nodded uncomfortably. "Do you think she will get over the misunderstanding?
"My dear Philip, she will have forgotten the incident years before you do. You don't understand her."
It was true. He could not forget the incident. Something lured him to it, time after time; and once he tried to draw her to speak of those early childhood days of cruelty and neglect.
To his intense surprise she replied: "Oh, I was—so—so happee...I used to play all ze time...Ver nice...Happee ver nice..." Evidently she had already forgotten.
When he came home from Cambridge in December he found there was no need for any more formal lessons. As the taxi curved along the drive she came running out to him, shouting: "Hallo, Fee-lip Hallo!"
She was a child of amazing quickness and adaptability. Not only had she learned in two months to chatter English coherently if not always grammatically, but she had thoroughly acclimatised herself to the district in which she lived and to the friends she met. She had, too, something of Mrs. Monsell's fond ness for company, as well as a passionate love of the open-air.
Christmas, Stella's first Christmas at Chassingford, was bitterly cold, and the pond in the woods was frozen over. She clapped her hands in ecstasy when Venner, reputed an expert on the subject, declared that skating was possible. Philip was in the library as usual; he was working for some University prize for which a good deal of research was necessary. She came rushing in, making a draught that blew some of his papers off the desk on to the floor. "Oh—Fee-lip—I'm sorry—I'll pick them up—Fee-lip, you come down to the pond to see me skate!—Oh, yes, you do come, don't you! I skate beautiful...And I skate with you, I do, eh?"
"I'm afraid I don't skate at all, Stella," he said, smiling ruefully at his disturbed papers.
"Then I—I learn you, eh?"
"'Teach,' not 'learn.'"
"'Teach,'" she repeated dutifully.
He went on: "I'm afraid it wouldn't be any good. Skating isn't much in my line."
Her eyes flashed indignantly. "'In your line,' eh? What is that?—What is 'in your line'?"
"I mean I don't do—I can't do that sort of thing. It isn't my—" He paused, reflected, and finished up: "It wouldn't suit me."
She picked up a sheaf of his neatly typewritten notes. "This suit you more—eh?" she exclaimed, with a touch of scorn in her voice.
He smiled. "I must work, Stella. I have a great deal to do. You don't understand."
"Will you learn—teach me to understand?"
"Some time. Some evening when it's raining and you've nothing to do, I'll tell you all about it."
"If I come this evening?"
"Well, no, better not to-night. I'm rather too busy just now. Some night soon—perhaps next week."
"All right. And now I go—skate—by myself."
One thing they discovered very quickly: she was intensely musical. She had never had any instrument to play till she came to Chassingford, and by that time she was almost too old to begin learning. But she taught herself to play the piano just well enough to accompany herself when she sang; the accompaniments were very simple, and always her own composition. Her voice was a contralto, not at all powerful, but of fine quality, and on dark winter afternoons when there was nothing to do, she used to sing scores of old Hungarian tunes one after the other, solely for her own amusement. Neither Philip nor his mother was especially musical, or thought these songs anything more than queer and perhaps picturesque. But to Stella they were full of wild passion or else of rocking melancholy, and sometimes she translated the words into quaint English for the benefit of anybody who was interested. But the tr
"Volt szeretom de mar nincsen
O volt az en draga kincsem..."
—she sang, and then stopped at the piano, puckered her forehead, and went on: "That means 'One day I loved, but now not any more...My bride also—but now I have him not.'...Understand? But English is not a language for a love-song."
She played over the air softly and then added "You English have no passion. Passion—is that right? At your concerts—I went to one last week—everybody is bored. You are not full—as the Hungarians are—of music—and love—and what is the word?" She paused, and then said slowly and curiously: "Music—it means a nothing to you...you do not think about love and death...oh, I cannot say it. But this—this is what you English people are not full of."
She played a wild rhythmic tune which, even with her inexpert handling, conveyed something of its native restlessness.
Philip said sombrely "All Englishmen are not like me, Stella. Some are more like—like what you played."
"When I meet one I tell you so," she answered, with lightning rapidity.
Mrs. Monsell "ragged" her a good deal (as she ragged everybody) but Stella did not mind, particularly as the witticisms were often too subtle for her to understand. "Is it a choke?" she used to say, interrogatively. And when somebody nodded, she would reply, tranquilly: "Ah, yes, I thought it was a choke."
Many a calm hour during the University vacations she used to squat down on the hearth-rug in the library with her head propped up comfortably against Philip's legs, while he treated her to learned talks about English history, politics, and literature. Not always were these talks enthrallingly interesting, and sometimes Mrs. Monsell used to say, in her pert mocking manner: "My dear Philip, I'm sure you must bore that girl dreadfully." But if Stella were present she always took up the defence. "Sometimes Philip is most dreadfully boring," she admitted once, "but he is so nice to be bored by."
Outsiders, seeing the extent to which the two were together, gave many warnings and much advice. "She really is extraordinarily pretty," said the wife of the vicar of Chassingford. "But aren't you afraid that Philip will fall madly in love with her?"
To which Mrs. Monsell replied characteristically "My dear, I assure you I should be perfectly delighted if Philip ever did anything half so sensible."
Philip's rooms at Cambridge were at the top of the corner staircase of Christ's, with windows that faced on the one side the delightful, not quite rectangular quadrangle, and on the other the junction of two narrow and busy streets. Opposite on the same staircase was another set of rooms, and these were occupied, as the inscription on the door announced, by a certain "A. Ward."
They had come up to Christ's together, Philip from his years of private tuition and study, and Aubrey Ward from one of the lesser public-schools. Though tenants of adjacent rooms they hardly spoke during their first year, except for an occasional greet ing on the stairs; and indeed, it seemed that they had little, if anything at all, in common. Philip was a "reading" man, taking no part in sports of any kind, and allowing himself no recreation save now and then a grim walk over the ploughed fields to Madingley. Ward, on the other hand, was a keen Rugby player (having more than once been tried for the University team), and the leading figure not only in most of the College sports but in all the College "rags."
The "gyp" who attended both sets of rooms was never tired of giving Philip information about his neighbour. "I must say 'e's a very fair man, is Mr. Ward, and very generous an' open-'anded. You'd think 'e was so quiet an' shy when you speak to by 'imself, but crikey, when 'e lets 'imself go!—I never seed a gentleman get so mad as he can when there's a rag or anythin' on...No, 'e don't drink—'e's a teetotaller. The other gentlemen bring beer and wines up to 'is room when 'e 'as a party, but he 'as lemonade 'imself. I know 'cos 'e 'as me to wait on 'em...But crikey, 'e can get noisier on lemonade than what all the others put together can on whisky!"
One night during Philip's second year, Ward was holding a large party in his rooms to celebrate the success of the College hockey team. It began about eight o'clock and became progressively noisier until midnight. About that time Philip, who was reading late, heard the party breaking up, and from the way they clattered and clumped down the narrow winding stairs he guessed that they were all pretty drunk. Five minutes later they were racing round the quadrangle, shouting and catcalling, and in a little while Philip heard them clumsily reascending the stairs to Ward's rooms. Ward had sported his oak, but they hammered on it with their fists till he came to the door. "Come out and let's have a rag," one of them yelled ferociously, and others shouted, "Let's raid the porter's lodge!"—"Come on, Ward, and rag the Dean," etc.
Then Philip heard Ward's voice, very quiet and calm: "No, it's too late. Go back to bed, you fellows, I'm not coming."
Then a voice cried out: "I say, who's this man next door? 'P. Monsell'—Anybody heard of 'P. Monsell'—Who is he, anyway? Come on, boys, let's rag P. Monsell's rooms!"
Somebody pushed open the door, and Philip, putting down his book, turned to face a recklessly drunken crowd.
He turned very pale. It was not that he was afraid, for he was no coward, and would certainly have defended himself if anybody had set about him. It was rather that, as his mother had often said, he lacked a certain "tact," the power of dealing ingeniously with a difficult situation. As one of the men staggered and almost fell into his room, knocking over in doing so a table with crockery on it, he did not know whether to smile and treat the matter as a joke or to allow himself to get angry. Really, he was embarrassed almost up to the point of panic.
"I say, look what you've done..." he began, ineffectually. "Mind that desk or you'll smash something else."
A roar of laughter greeted his protest.
Then all at once there was a scuffle out on the land ing, and he saw Ward, in dressing-gown and pyjamas, forcing his way through the crowd and into his room.
"Get back..." said Ward sharply.
No more than that. Somehow they all, even those who were hopelessly drunk, took notice of him. He stood between Philip and the invaders, with his rather sunburnt face set very grimly. "Get back," he repeated, and he gave one of the foremost men a push that sent him sprawling over the carpet. The crowd on the landing guffawed with laughter, but Ward did not even smile.
"Somebody help me to pull Briggs out," he ordered curtly, and one of the others, less drunk than the rest, took the prostrate figure by the arms and, with Ward's assistance, dragged him ignominiously through the doorway.
"Better sport your oak now," Ward said to Philip, as the last intruder shuffled his way back on to the landing.
Philip did so, too uncomfortable even to murmur thanks.
Next morning Ward was emptying his letter-box as Philip left his rooms to attend a lecture. "Quite a little to-do we had last night, didn't we?" he said, smiling pleasantly. "Decent fellows, all of them you know—horribly tight—but didn't mean any harm. They'll pay for the damage to your pots, of course. You must tell me what it comes to."
"I ought to thank you for clearing them out for me," said Philip, rather nonplussed.
"Oh, not at all—not at all," replied the other, shyly. "You must come to tea with me soon and meet them when they're more—er—more themselves...Really you must."
Soon afterwards Philip accepted a definite invitation, and found Ward's sporting friends genial enough but hardly a type with whom he had much in common. Ward himself, however, he liked immensely, and during their third year the two became great friends.
Ever since he was a small boy Philip had learned to mistrust his body, and to expect it to fail him at critical moments. It was hardly a surprise, though a bitter disappointment to him, when he fell ill within a month of the Tripos examinations. "Nervous weakness," the doctor said, and remarked cheerfully that a month or two's rest would effect a complete cure.
It was possible, of course, to take a degree by means of an "aegrotat," and Philip thought that he would be entitled to do this. Unfortunately, he bungled his interview with his tutor so badly that the latter judged him to be malingering and refused to sign the necessary statement.
"The aegrotat degree is not simply a matter of form," he assured Philip severely. "It is not so easy to obtain as a medical certificate, I dare say...No, Monsell, I am afraid I cannot recommend you as you suggest."
So Philip struggled on as best he could, and in the same way struggled through the hard gruelling of a week-long examination. To his own surprise, he did not collapse. Nor did he do quite so badly as he expected.
At nine o'clock on a warm June morning he stood with Ward amongst the waiting crowd by the flank of the Senate House. Through the windows he could see the dons moving about like slow, mysterious shadows in the dark interior; St. Mary's Church across the road chimed the hour, and then, whilst they were still waiting, the quarter-past. For Philip, at any rate, the seconds crawled like minutes and the minutes like hours; and meanwhile the sun rose languidly and the stone wall with the notice-boards began to glare fiercely in the gathering heat.
There had been evidently some delay, for the official time for posting the results was nine o'clock, and already it was nearly half-past. As the clang of the half-hour sounded across the road Philip's excitement, till then carefully controlled, began to escape a little. "I'll tell you what, Ward," he said, in sharp gusts of speech, in which his inward perturbation gave him a slight stammer, "If—if I've got through—I'll have a p-party, and get my mother and Stella to come up for it."
"Who's Stella? I didn't know you had a sister."
He told him. They had both been reticent about their private affairs, and indeed, had known each other for over a year without having more than a vague idea of each other's families. Now, in the curiously tense atmosphere of waiting for the lists to be posted, it was almost a relief to give and accept confidences. Philip told of his visit three years before to the Balkans and Hungary, of the trip up the Danube, and of the girl who had tried to drown herself on the way to Buda. "She's nearly nineteen now," he said in conclusion, "and speaks p-perfect English."
"I should like to meet her," said Ward quietly.
A uniformed figure appeared at the door of the Senate House, carrying an array of printed sheets, and a simultaneous burst of cheers went up and continued as he picked his way through the throng to the notice-boards. "Y-you go and see," said Philip, puffing nervously at a cigarette. "I think I'd rather wait here than f-face that crowd."
"All right," answered the other, laughing. He strolled over to the excited jostling group, stood on tiptoe, and tried to read down the lists as they were put up. His whole attitude was as if he were no more than casually interested in them.
Three minutes later he returned.
"We shall have that party, Monsell," he said.
"You got through all right...And so have I. Let's go and send some wires. Then perhaps we might knock off for the day and go on the river..."
He was like a boy in his excitement.
"Have I just got a p-pass?" inquired Philip nervously.
"Oh, yes, you're through, you needn't worry. Jolly good, I call it. Considering how you've been ill."
"Yes..." He agreed limply. "By the way, what did you get?"
"Oh, a first—much better than I expected."
Philip held out his hand. "Yes," he said, smiling bravely. "We will have that p-party. In your honour if not in m-mine."
"Oh, nonsense, man. You're through—that's the main thing."
Was it? He looked at the blue sky over the Market Square and suddenly the very sunlight seemed to grow dark and dim before his eyes.
The week that intervened between the announcement of the result and Philip's party was an anti climax. There seemed to be nothing at all to do. Each outgoing train left Cambridge emptier, and in a few days the place had all the forlorn air of a ball room from which all but the last revellers have departed. It was all right for Ward; he had his plans cut and dried for the future—two years at a London hospital, and then, perhaps, a year or so of specialisation, and finally a house-surgeonship or else the ordinary unexciting life of the general practitioner.
But Philip's plans were vague in the extreme. He was twenty-five years old—rather older, that is, than most undergraduates attaining their degrees; he had had by no means a distinguished career, though he could regard that as chiefly a result of bad luck, The Civil Service did not attract him, despite the high position that his father had held in it; nor did journalism or the law, even supposing he could have obtained an entry into either of those professions. Sufficient money to do as he liked, without the necessity of earning a living, rather accentuated than eased the difficulty of the problem.
One sphere of life had always lured him, and that was politics. He had the half didactic, half administrative mind, the mind that delights in schemes and paper formulations of all kinds. In another age he would have found a patron and been nominated for a "rotten" borough. As it was, the way to success seemed barred by the utter unthinkability of his ever winning an election. He was too nervous, too slow in speech, too unready for any combative emergency. "My dear boy," said his mother, "why on earth should you choose a profession in which you will be even more a failure than in any other? Take my advice and be either a diplomat or a stockbroker. And if you can't make up your mind which, have another year at Cambridge to think about it...Or travel...Or write books...Or marry...Or do anything you like."
"Marry?—And whom should I marry?"
"I should have thought, Philip," she answered severely, "that there were some things which even you would have felt capable of deciding for yourself."
But with all her mordant cleverness she totally failed to understand him. She did not realise that beneath his slowness and willingness to listen to advice, he hail a quiet and definite will of his own, in subservience to which he would spend himself wholly and absolutely, and with all the greater fierceness in that he would count and mark down every atom of the coast. In short, he was an idealist, and Mrs. Monsell did not understand the breed.
The party was arranged. Mrs. Monsell motored up with Stella, and Philip met them at the "White Horse" Hotel, where they all lunched together. Somehow the realisation that Stella was beautiful had never occurred to him quite so keenly as it did during those first moments of seeing her after his failure. Perhaps it was because he had never previously had so much time to think of anything outside his work; or perhaps it was some subtle alchemy in the Cambridge atmosphere that was making her more beautiful and himself more perceptive of it. At any rate, as he watched her across the table during lunch, he thought it strange that for so long he had missed something in her that he was seeing then.
That afternoon they motored about the town and district. Stella took the wheel, and he watched her, brown-faced and eager-eyed, as she picked her way cautiously round corners and drove swiftly along the straight vistas of Fenland road. There was some thing vital and passionate in even the least thing she did, the least movement of her head and hand—the clasp of her fingers on the rim of the steering-wheel, the quivering blade-like glance she gave at every cross-roads, and, above all, the slight smile that played about her lips as she thrilled to the sensation of speed. They drove through Girton, Impington, and Milton, to old Chesterton village, where the road creeps along by the riverside and broadens in front of The Pike and Eel inn. Here they meditated tea, and as they were climbing out of the car two "Rob-Roy" skiffs came flashing down the stream with the men in them paddling at top speed.
"Look—look!" cried Stella, in ecstasy. She was like a child when she saw swiftly moving things.
Her eyes kindled as she watched the approaching figures, and Philip smiled calmly, seeing nothing extraordinary in the spectacle. Then as the two men came nearer he exclaimed: "Why, one of them's Ward—a fellow I've asked in for to-morrow. Awfully nice chap—I'm sure you'll like him He's turning now—perhaps he'll see us."
As the skiffs curved back Philip shouted, and one of the men looked up, smiled shyly, and drew in at the bank. Then, as he clambered out (a somewhat risky business where the bank was steep) a not un usual accident occurred. A tuft of grass by which he was hauling himself on to the bank gave way, and with a mighty splash and a not too polite ejaculation he fell backwards into the water.
Philip turned very pale and looked first this way and then that, as if uncertain whether to attempt a rescue himself or to summon aid from the inn near by. "It's dangerous—" he cried excitedly. "The current is swift and there are reeds."
Stella, meanwhile, was roaring with laughter. It was the sort of thing that always amused her in kinema pictures. She was helpless with merriment.
Before she had finished laughing and before Philip had decided what, if anything, he should do, the victim had swum to an easy landing-place and was climbing to land. Voices from within the Pike and Eel gave an uproarious and ironical cheer.
The victim advanced towards Philip, shaking himself and smiling. "That's saved me a bath when I get home," he said. His smile was winsome and rather shy, and he laughingly declined to shake hands with them because he was both wet and muddy.
"It was very—very funny," said Stella, looking at him.
He laughed again, a laugh that was rather like the bark of a happy dog. "Here's my friend coming along. He's got a motor-bike. I'd better get home and change, I think."
"Then we shall see you again to-morrow?" said Mrs. Monsell.
"I shall be very pleased to come."
He smiled apologetically and then, bidding them good-bye, went off to join his friend.
Over tea in the Pike and Eel he was discussed: "Did you notice, Stella," said Mrs. Monsell, "how shy he was?—Really, to be embarrassed so charmingly is almost an accomplishment. It puts you at your ease."
Stella said: "He's like a Hungarian. He's big and he swims and he—he laughs at danger. I told you I'd tell you when I met an Englishman like a Hungarian. Well, he is."
Philip smiled. "You seem to have summed him up very quickly."
"Yes, I always do. And I know he's like a Hungarian. But I don't know whether I like him or not."
The lunch-party was neither a success nor a failure, but a phenomenon. Mrs. Monsell, discussing the matter afterwards, declared that she had never been so completely bored in her life. The men whom Philip had invited were clever and interesting, but somehow they mixed badly. Ward, especially, was rather grimly silent, though he became charming as soon as the demand for coffee gave him a chance to be up and doing something.
Philip, leaning back in his chair, looked from face to face and wondered what was the matter. Was his mother over-aweing them? It did not seem probable, for Stella, whom nobody could over-awe, was just as silent as the others. Then what was it? There was certainly a queer something in the atmosphere—a something, moreover, that had to do with Stella.
While they sat over their coffee Stella went to the piano and sang. She seemed strangely nervous or else uninterested, and accompanied herself very badly. After singing two verses of an old Danubian folk-tune that Philip knew to possess many more than two, she stopped, swung round suddenly on the stool, and exclaimed: "Sorry, but I don't feel much like singing.. But I'll recite you a little Hungarian poem about springtime. You won't understand the words, but perhaps the sound of them will give you the sense." She began to recite very beautifully and softly, but she rather spoilt the effect by a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders at the end.
Philip had another year at Cambridge. It became his ambition to console himself for a third-class degree by taking one of the big University prizes. Work for this, in the form of a thesis, could be done at leisure, and without the nerve-racking tension of the examination-room. He entered for the Albert Historical Prize, and was asked to submit the subject on which he proposed to write a thesis. He chose "The Political Aspects of the Industrial Revolution." After a year of careful work he sent in his thesis and waited eagerly for the result.
It came, and he learned that he had got an "honourable mention." "Your work was very sound and painstaking," he was told privately, "but several of the examiners found it a little tedious. It would have been a good thing if you had compelled yourself to compress it to two-thirds of its length. The winning thesis was very short—and also very brilliant."
Stella, of course, understood nothing of all this. Neither degrees nor University Prizes meant anything to her. And in a way, this was a slight—a very slight consolation.
At one of his mother's dinner-parties Philip met a certain Sir Charles Maddison, M.P., and this gentle man listened to him with a patience and sympathy unusual in Mrs. Monsell's guests, most of whom were bent on exploding their own carefully prepared bombs of brilliance.
Sir Charles, however, had a special reason for taking notice of Philip. He was chairman of the Northern Political Association, and as such was responsible for providing party candidates for some of the less promising industrial constituencies between the Irwell and the Tyne. When he heard that Philip hankered after a political career, and above all, when he learned that Philip was prepared to put up a thousand pounds at the service of any local association that chose him as their candidate, he immediately asked him if he would care to become Member of Parliament for Loamport.
True there were difficulties, chief among which was a hostile majority of some eleven thousand votes. "But you have youth," said Sir Charles, optimistically, "and Loamport folks like young 'uns. There's no knowing what you might do if you had a try."
Philip, torn betwixt the fires of his ambition and his doubts as to his own capabilities, promised that he would give the matter his earnest consideration.
Philip had never been to Loamport until the day on which he delivered his first speech there. Sir Charles Maddison, the local magnate of those parts had asked him, his mother, and Stella to Loamport Hall for the week-end, and on the Saturday night of their arrival there was to be a "monster" political rally at which Sir Charles had arranged for Philip to speak. It was to be his "début," as Sir Charles optimistically put it, before his future constituents. And, since Loamport politics were apt to be turbulent, the sooner he got into the swing of them the better.
The huge industrial city, grim enough at any time, was especially grim upon the first Saturday in December. The train brought them in four hours from Euston, and as they stepped out on to the platform Sir Charles's chauffeur was waiting to drive them through the darkening streets to the Hall. Even the country-side when they reached it was dour and unbeautiful, with gaunt chimney-stacks and mining-gear disfiguring the landscape and blur ring the horizon with smoke. Loamport Hall was a house in sympathy with its surroundings—gloomy and forbidding, with vast empty gardens and smoke-stained conservatories.
"If you get in Parliament for Loamport will you have to live there?" asked Stella, as they drove up to the porch.
Philip laughed. "Don't you trouble about that. I've got to get elected first, and I don't think I've a dog's chance. Loamport's one of the hardest constituencies in England."
"Then why bother with it? Why not try an easy one?—Chassingford would be rather nice, and everybody would vote for you there."
"Very possibly. But you see, Colonel Dumbleby mightn't like being turned out to make room for me. Otherwise, it's a splendid idea."
She made a grimace and then, deliberately imitating her famous remark of years before, added: "It is a joke, eh?—Ah, well, Philip, it seems to me you've been given Loamport because nobody else will have it."
"Exactly. In politics they have the curious habit of giving you the most difficult job right at the beginning."
The meeting was to be held in the Town Hall at eight o'clock, with Sir Charles Maddison in the chair. Other speakers were to be neighbouring M.P.'s, but whereas they were restricted to a time-limit, Sir Charles gave Philip to understand that he could go on as long as he liked. "And I've no doubt that if you manage pretty well our Association will be pleased to have you. I've given them excellent reports of you, so they're anticipating something good."
Philip said quietly: "You oughtn't to have told me that. If will make me nervous."
Sir Charles laughed. "Oh, you needn't be afraid. A Loamport audience may be a bit rough, but they're decent fellows—even the other side. Once when a heckler kept worrying me I ran down off the platform to him, hauled him up by the scruff of the neck, and made him address the meeting himself. I've always had decent hearings since then...Good old Loamport—they keep on voting the wrong man in, but still, I don't care what you say—there's not a fairer, decenter set of people in all England."
He spoke of them affectionately, as an indulgent father might speak of his children.
"Anyhow, Sir Charles," remarked Mrs. Monsell, decisively. "Nothing will induce me to go to the meeting. I hate politics. I shall stay here and play billiards with your butler, if he'll give me a game..."
The Town Hall was the only building in Loamport that had any pretensions to art. It had been built about the middle of the nineteenth century, in a style which its architect had imagined to be Gothic and at various times since then a succession of borough surveyors had added a doorway here, an extension there, and so on. If the result was a trifle chaotic, at least the chaos had been given a certain purposeful grimness by half a century of Loamport smoke, which had mercifully obliterated the features of the female Justice, with scales complete, who balanced herself acrobatically in a niche above the main entrance. Further along the side of the building were the twin-sisters Science and Art, with their corners encrusted with dirt and only their breasts washed streaky by fifty years of Loamport rain.
The interior was, if that were possible, less pre possessing than the exterior. Round the painted walls of the public hall were ranged huge gilt-framed full-length portraits of all the mayors that Loamport had ever had—a fearsome and almost terrible array, resplendent in robes of office and complete with the usual scroll. Through windows in the roof a pungent, sinister-looking fog floated in and downwards; it hung over the mayoral portraits like a dim, im palpable shroud; it swayed in languid melancholy in front of the blazing, hissing arc-lights that hung from the roof; it even descended on to the platform and heaped itself against a three-manual organ of incredible and devastating ugliness. This organ, on which anything besides "God Save the King" was very rarely played, was painted like a roundabout, and had immense pipes—chiefly dummy ones—on each of which was inscribed in ornate letters the name of some composer—Gounod, Beethoven, etc.
The scene, however, was quite animated at five minutes past eight on the evening of the political rally. The notables had just seated themselves at the green-baize trestle-tables on the platform, and Philip was among them, looking rather pale under the dazzling incandescent roof-lights. Floor and gallery were packed, and the space at the back of the hall was crowded with men and women standing three and four deep. Sir Charles was obviously pleased. "A much bigger audience than I had ever expected," he whispered with enthusiasm, leaning across to Philip. Philip smiled wanly.
Stella was in one of the shilling reserved seats in the front of the hall. He followed along the rows with his eyes until he saw her, and saw that she was watching him. She smiled, and he smiled back very faintly, not knowing quite whether he ought to or not. Curiously, perhaps, he could not take his eyes off her for long, now that he knew where she was. He kept looking at the red-robed mayors on the walls, at a certain shabby-looking wild-eyed man who leaned forward in the gallery with his head resting on his hands, at the stewards forming a phalanx at the doors, and then, inevitably, his eyes would be on Stella again, and he would see her smiling...Sir Charles rose. What a fat, bloated little man he looked when he stood up and you looked at him sideways! But he was evidently popular. The huge audience cheered for moments on end, and then only desisted when, with smiling face, he held up his hand in protest. But when the sound died down, another could be heard, faint yet sinister, the sound of hissing. Philip looked around trying to locate it. It seemed to come at once from everywhere and from nowhere, from the shilling rows in front (this was unlikely), from the crowd at the back of the hall, from the side-galleries, even (most unlikely of all) from the little group of dazzlingly rosetted stewards by the doorways. And at last when he looked at Stella he could almost imagine that she too had set her teeth together to produce that sibilant, menacing murmur.
Sir Charles was speaking. He seemed to be holding the audience fairly well. Sometimes there were cheers, mutterings of approval, isolated "hear hear's!" Once the wild-eyed man in the gallery opened his mouth and shouted shatteringly "Liar." Philip almost expected the roof to fall. But no—Sir Charles did not seem to be in the least perturbed. "I wish my friend in the gallery would not keep shouting out his name," he said. Roars of laughter...
What a stupid little joke, thought Philip. Did people really think it funny?—What did the man in the gallery think?—What did Stella—why, Stella was laughing also. Then he looked round and saw that everybody on the platform was laughing. Perhaps he had better laugh himself—it would look strange if he were the only one not to laugh. He laughed—suddenly—but by that time everybody else had stopped laughing, and now they looked at him. His laugh had sounded ridiculously like a guffaw...Stella, too, was looking at him, but she was not laughing any more; she was dreadfully serious.
The clock at the back of the hall crawled to the half-hour, and a muffled chime boomed in the belfry somewhere above them. The mayors all stared at him, one behind the other, like men in picture-posters that follow you with their eyes wherever you go. One of them close to the platform looked almost venomous; he had cold, fishy eyes, and must have been a very terrible mayor indeed. "Sir Samuel Blatherwick, M.P., K.C.V.O., thrice Mayor of Loamport."...Thrice, indeed!
Suddenly Sir Charles sat down, and there was another deafening, roof-raising burst of applause. And in the midst of it Sir Charles leaned over and whispered loudly: "Now then, Philip, do your best and take your time. They're an easy lot to night..."
The cheering died away and he felt himself rising from his chair and leaning his knuckles on the table. He felt a cold spot on his hand; he looked down curiously: somebody, it seemed, had upset the ink-bottle, and the funny little black liquid was spreading all over the cloth. Stupid of somebody...The lady next to him moved backward, away from the threatening tide..."Never mind," somebody said close to him. "Don't let it worry you."
"Ladies and Gentlemen..." he shouted, clear ing his throat. He shouted, because he knew that in a large hall you must shout, even if you seem to be deafening everybody.
The river of ink toppled over the edge and dripped on to the floor of the platform. Somebody in the gallery tittered. He looked up, and saw the wild-eyed man wilder-eyed than ever, crouching there with his chin sunk on his hands like an animal meditating a spring. Then he looked at Stella; and for the first time caught her when she was not look ing at him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen...It gives me very great pleasure to be here this evening...visiting Loamport for the first time in my life..."
A voice, a woman's shrill voice with its menacing northern accent, screamed at him from somewhere: "Speak up, young man..."
The man in the gallery suddenly sat up with eyes blazing...
As soon as Philip began to speak Stella thought with a sort of calm horror: Oh, Philip, Philip, this will never do...Somehow, right from his first words, she knew that he was going to fail. He was nervous, and after upsetting the ink-bottle his nervousness seemed to increase to panic. Then, also he simply had no idea how to talk to a Loamport audience. He was not speaking to them; he was lecturing, coldly, unfeelingly, as he might have done to a classroom of tired undergraduates. Oh, for some fire in his voice, something, however untrue or ridiculous, that the audience could cheer or laugh at!—She moved uneasily in her seat, every second making her feel more uncomfortable. Others round about her were moving similarly; she could feel a wave of uneasiness passing over the entire audience, not due to anything Philip was saying, but to the mere way in which he was saying it. He was—the metaphor occurred to her spontaneously—he was stroking them the wrong way. And her inmost being was crying out protestingly: Oh, Philip, why are you talking like this?—If only I were talking, I, with all my ignorance, could do far better! I would make them laugh, and then make them cry (if I could), and then make them cheer the roof off...But you, you are so cold, so distant, so austere...
He had started by a fierce shout of "Ladies and Gentlemen" that had led the audience to expect something dramatic. Yet by the end of his opening sentence his voice had sunk so low as to be scarcely audible. Then somebody had called out to him to speak up, and after that he had pitched his voice at a tone of level monotony from which he did not afterwards vary. It was terrible...Sir Charles fidgeted on the platform, staring uneasily at his hands; two or three people in the gallery walked out noisily; even the babies scattered throughout the hall seemed curiously discomfited and began to cry. Nevertheless, the prevailing mood was one of patience under difficulties; Loamport was going to give the newcomer at least fair play. But after Philip had been speaking for five minutes (quite grammatically and sensibly, but oh, how irritatingly I) Stella's unspoken prayer was merely that he should stop as soon as he could and on whatever pretext he could find.
But he did not stop. On the contrary, his voice rose a semitone, like the hum of a motor-engine when speed is accelerated. And at once, with such suddenness and unanimity that it was almost as if a signal had been given for them, interruptions began. Cries came simultaneously from the side-galleries, from the back and body of the hall, even from a few rows not far behind Stella. "Hey, mister, what part of the country do you come from?" a bass voice called out from somewhere. "Y' mother oughtn't to let ye stop out so late!" a shrill-voiced girl shouted down from the gallery, amidst the piercing laughter of her companions. "Ye'll never get in for Loamport," declared a man quite close to Stella, in a voice that was hardly unkind.
Philip at first took no notice, except perhaps to raise his voice a shade of a tone higher in the scale. But at last a group in the gallery nearest him gave a deafening and evidently preconcerted shout of "Sit down." Then, as if unable to ignore this final and most uncompromising provocation, he stopped. He was very pale. He looked fixedly at the interrupters in the gallery. "I d-don't know if those gentlemen in, the g-gallery are speaking only for themselves, or for a c-considerable section of the audience, but if the l-latter is the case I sh-shall—"
A curious thrill came over Stella. Oh, for him to stand there proud and defiant—to challenge them, as it were, to shout him down if they could!—"But if the latter is the case I shall just go on talking, whether you like it or not, till I have finished all I have to say. I'm not going to be intimidated by a handful of hooligans. I've come here to make a speech and I shall make it..." Would he talk like that!—The words rose fiercely to her lips, and she had hard work to keep herself from speaking them aloud. If only she were on the platform instead of him!
But the voice went on coldly: "I sh-shall then be obliged to b-bow to the g-general will and b-bring my remarks to an end."
A great sinking sensation enveloped her He was giving in: he was surrendering to them ignominiously. A swelling hubbub arose all over the hall; voices shouted to him to sit down, to continue, to take no notice of interruptions, to go home...
Then all at once she saw him stagger back, deathly pale, and almost fall into the arms of Sir Charles Maddison. He had fainted. They put him in a chair and gave him some water. He seemed to revive. Two of them took him by the arms and guided him slowly off the platform. All this in front of the shouting, gesticulating audience...
Sir Charles rose and held up his hand. "I am sure," he began, when the tumult was partially stilled, "I am sure we are all very sorry..."
She must go to him. She could not stop away any longer. She got up, squirmed her way out of the crowded hall, and went round to the side-door leading to the platform.
"Oh, Philip," she cried, rushing forward to him. "Are you better?"
He was sitting in an arm-chair in the mayoral anteroom, and two men were there with him. One was standing in front of the fire with his hands in his pockets, and the other was mixing and consuming brandies and sodas. Stella's sudden entrance surprised them both, but not Philip; he said smilingly: "I thought you'd c-come, Stella."
He spoke very sadly, and then rallied a little and remembered to introduce her to the two others. "Mr. Henry Crayford...Sir Thomas Hayling...my—s-sister..." (He always introduced her as his sister, to avoid misunderstandings.)
A muffled roar enveloped them suddenly like the sound of a railway train passing overhead. "Maddison's finished," said Crayford, nodding towards the door. "Perhaps we'd better get back."
The other smiled approvingly. "Perhaps we may leave Mr. Monsell in your capable hands," he said, addressing Stella.
Somehow she disliked both of them instinctively. She nodded curtly, and they bowed to her and went out. Not a word or a sign to Philip. She saw him flush as he realised the significance of the omission.
As soon as they had gone she flung herself down on the carpet and knelt by the side of him with her cheek against his hand. "Oh, Philip—Philip you mustn't mind them—they're nothing, they're nobodies—they don't count—you mustn't let them hurt you—you mustn't, you mustn't, Philip!"
"I d-don't," he said, bravely.
She did not know what to say after that. She was almost crying, and a renewal of the cheering outside in the hall brought the tears swimming into her eyes. If only Philip could have made them cheer like that! If only...She exclaimed, passionately: "Oh, Philip, dear Philip, you mustn't worry about it—it doesn't matter—doesn't matter a tiny scrap—"
He answered, stroking her hair gently: "Ah, but you know it d-does matter. And I know t-too. Stella, you think I've Mailed, don't you? You're s-sorry for me, eh? "—He brushed back the hair that was straggling down over his forehead and went on in a changed tone: "B-but I'll win yet, Stella. I know I will. I won't be beaten."
She flung her arms round his neck and drew his head down to hers. "Oh, Philip, I love you to say that—and I love you when you say it—yes, I do love you, Philip—ever so much—and I mean that!"
She stopped, seeing that he had turned very pale again. "I have l-loved you for a long t-time, Stella," he answered calmly, "but I did not g-guess that you l-loved me."
"Oh, you poor old Philip—" she said, pressing her face to his so that her tears wet his cheek. It was just like him, to be shy of telling her, and then, when she had told him, to be so calm about it. She added, half-sobbing "Didn't you ever wonder if I did?"
He nodded quaintly. "Yes, I s-sometimes wondered. And I—I m-made up my mind I would ask you when I had—when I had s-succeeded."
His mouth twisted into a wry smile over that final word.
Chassingford is an old town, less important to-day than formerly; it consists mainly of a single long street, fringed with old-fashioned houses and shops, and a fifteenth-century parish church with a crocketed spire. There is also a famous old coaching inn, slowly winning back some of its former splendour, a village stocks, a market-place with cattle-pens, and a railway station where for some reason or other many important main-line trains make a halt.
"Hardly an exciting place to live in," commented Aubrey Ward, when Philip met him one bright spring morning in the High Street.
"Perhaps not," Philip admitted with a laugh. "But that makes it all the more remarkable why you should be here. Has London become too hot for you since the last hospital 'rag'? I saw your exploits photographed in all the picture papers, by the way."
Ward shrugged his shoulders and smiled, his bright finely-set teeth gleaming healthfully. If ever a man seemed to radiate energy in the manner illustrated in patent medicine advertisements, that man was Ward, and Philip, tall, stooping, almost cadaverous, was a perfect foil to him.
Ward's smile became a laugh. "I'm on a visit," he replied simply. "In fact I've discovered in Chassingford something I didn't think I possessed in all the world."
"A relative..." He stopped short, as if checked by an innate reticence in dealing with his private affairs. "I have no father or mother, you know," he said, hastily, "nor—so far as I knew up to last week—any relative. Then I—I got into touch with somebody who told me that I had a great-uncle living in Chassingford." His voice became bantering again. "Extraordinary how precious a great-uncle can be when he's the nearest thing you've got!"
The sun had disappeared behind the folds of heavy black clouds, and a few big drops of rain heralded the coming of an April shower. "Haven't you got a café of some sort in Chassingford?" Ward continued, looking at the sky apprehensively. "It's going to rain like the dickens in a minute, and I I could talk to you for hours."
He said that in a sudden burst of boyish enthusiasm that made him seem for the moment more like a happy, brown-faced youngster than a grown man. As he stood there on the Chassingford pavement he looked virility personified, and kindled by an affection that had just very shyly broken its bounds.
"We don't have cafés in Chassingford," answered Philip, smiling, "except on market-day, and then we call them eating-houses. But we can go in the Greyhound and chat, if you like. And perhaps, if you're not doing anything for lunch, you can walk with me up to the Hall when the shower's over. I'm sure my mother would be delighted to see you."
"Sorry, Monsell—awfully sorry—but I'm lunching with my great-uncle."
He broke into a roar of happy laughter, laughter that by its cleansing, heartening quality seemed almost to push the clouds in the sky a little further off. This notion of possessing a great-uncle amused him immeasurably, and even Philip, without perceiving exactly what the joke was, could not help joining in.
"But who is your great-uncle?" he asked, as they entered the cool tiled hall of the Greyhound.
Ward lowered his voice. "He's one of the most charming old men I've ever met—and, as it happens, a doctor himself...Doctor Challis...Probably you know him?"
Philip took the other affectionately by the arm and led the way into the hotel-lounge. "Now that's really extraordinary," he said quietly, "Challis is our family doctor—has been for the past forty years..."
Over beer and lemonade they discussed further, while the pavements and gutters outside hissed and swirled in the sudden downpour.
"As a matter of fact," Ward said, when they had settled themselves in the old-fashioned window-seat, "Challis wants me to be his assistant—sort of under study, you know. He's getting too old to tackle all the work by himself."
"I should think so. He must be well over sixty."
"Sixty-five. Of course, it wants thinking about, and I haven't quite made up my mind yet—that's why what I'm telling you is in confidence. You see—to put it frankly—I have to decide whether coming here wouldn't be—in a sort of way—burying myself alive. On the other hand, Challis has a good practice, and a few years' general experience is a good qualification for a medical man if he wants to turn to specialisation afterwards."
"And you want to do that?"
"Yes..." He flushed slightly, as if conscious that he had said rather more about himself than was his habit. "I'm ambitious, Monsell—very."
"So am I."
They stared at each other for a moment without speaking, and then at last Philip added: "Though so far I've been a rather humorous failure. Do you remember that time you cleared those drunken fellows out of my room?—I couldn't have done it—but you seemed to know how by instinct. I simply don't know how to deal with people...Last December, for instance, I made an awful fool of myself at a big political meeting up in Loamport..."
He told him the whole story, without exaggeration or reticence. There was nobody else in the world (except, perhaps, Stella) with whom such a confession would have been even possible.
When he had finished Ward made no comment, and for that Philip was grateful. By this time also the shower was over, and the clock in the tower of the parish church began the chiming of noon.
"So you can't come to lunch with us to-day?" Philip resumed, as they left the hotel and turned up the High Street.
The other smiled and shook his head regretfully.
"Oh rather, yes. I was waiting for you to say that."
A moment later the sun shone brightly on them as they shook hands and separated.
Since the fiasco at Loamport Philip and Stella had been aware of a difference in their relationship, but exactly how far the difference extended neither of them could say. That curious incident in the ante room of the Loamport Town Hall had brought them face to face with the reality of their own affections, but afterwards Philip, from very shyness, had seemed unwilling to define the matter further. When, how ever, Stella hinted at the change in their relationship, he surprised her by saying: "But, Stella—I thought—I thought it was all settled. I love you, and I want to marry you, but I can't till I'm successful."
"Then we must hurry up and make you successful," she answered, laughing. "And I can help you, can't I?"
She felt she wanted to spring upwards and throw her arms round his neck and kiss him. She had to fight down the desire, because—well, because he was Philip, and different from other men. It was not that he was cold or unfeeling, nor even that he was passionless; it was rather a kind of over-refinement that made him shy of love-making, or of any demonstrative affection. Really the only thing in the world she was afraid of was that look of his, puzzled, doubtful, and with just the merest hint of reproach in it—the look that came into his eyes whenever she did something he did not quite approve.
She had invented a strange little parlour game (though it was just as pleasant to play it under the verandah in fine weather), designed to help Philip in his public-speaking. Philip delivered his speeches to her, and whenever the opportunity occurred she would interrupt, as awkwardly and as impertinently as possible. By dealing with so many interjections it was intended that Philip should improve and perfect his armour against even the most pertinacious heckler.
Ward, therefore, arriving at Chassingford Hall at a few minutes to one on the day following his meeting with Philip, and ringing twice at the front door without getting an answer, had not strolled very far in the direction of the garden before the sound of voices came to his ears. He could not help listening, and what he heard was the following duologue:
Male Voice: "—but I say, on the contrary, that the policy of my opponents has been absolutely detrimental to the best interests of the workers of this country, as well as—"
Female Voice (shrilly): "What do you know about the workers?"
Male Voice: "Never mind what I know. I work hard myself, and—"
Female Voice (more shrilly than ever): "Rubbish! What did Lloyd George say in nineteen-ten?"
Male Voice (nervously): "I—I—I say, really, Stella, what an absurd question!—Do you think anybody would be silly enough to ask it?"
Female Voice (now unmistakably Stella's): "Philip, my dear little innocent, people are silly enough to ask anything at political meetings. And the only thing to do is to reply to a silly question by a silly answer. For instance, in reply to the question 'What did Lloyd George say in nineteen-ten?' you might answer, 'I don't know, but I know what Christopher Columbus said when he discovered America.'"
Male Voice: "But I should hate to reply like that. It's cheap. And besides, supposing the man asked me what Columbus did say—"
At this point Ward came through the shrubbery and provided a more effective interruption than even Stella could have thought of.
Later in the afternoon Stella told Philip she had finally decided that she did not like Ward. "When I first met him at Cambridge, I didn't know, but I know now. I don't like him."
"But you said then he was like a Hungarian?"
"So he is, and I like that part of him, but there's something else. He—he makes me uncomfortable. I hope—I hope he doesn't come here often."
Philip looked serious. "But Stella, why do you dislike him? I assure you I know him, and he's a splendid fellow—"
"Yes, he may be. But—but he makes me uncomfortable. He did the first time I met him, and he did the same again this afternoon. He was laugh ing at us, too—about you making your speeches and me interrupting you."
"Oh, you mustn't worry about that. He laughs at anything—everything When some men at Cambridge got drunk and messed up my rooms he turned them out—that was how I first got to know him, by the way—but the next morning he was laughing about the whole business. 'Quite a little to-do we had last night, didn't we?' he said—that was how he regarded it. I shall never forget his words, because I felt indignant at the time that he should treat the matter so lightly."
Stella went on: "Well, anyway, I don't like him. I—yes, I'm quite certain of it—I fear him. I don't know why or in what way, but I do."
"That's rather a pity," answered Philip, "because he's likely to be in Chassingford a good deal in the future. He told me just before he went that he had finally decided to be Doctor Challis's assistant. So I'm afraid it's rather—inevitable—that you should meet him occasionally."
"Inevitable, is it?" She stared moodily in front of her, as if reckoning things out. "Ah, well," she added, smiling again, "when you're successful we shall marry and move out of Chassingford, shan't we?"
"Oh, yes, if you're keen on it. But do you dislike him so much as that?"
After a long pause she answered thoughtfully: "When I come to think about it I don't know that I dislike him—him personally—at all. But I dislike the—the feeling I have—inside me—when he's near...Perhaps that's it. Or perhaps not. Any way, what does it matter? You're conquering your nervousness, you'll soon get into Parliament, then you'll marry me, and then—" Her eyes sparkled deliciously, and she whispered: "Would you mind very much if I kissed you, Philip?"
She sprang forward and kissed him very prettily on the lips. He started back, flushing slightly, and then smiled at her with that strange, half-puzzled smile she knew so well.
"Would you rather I hadn't done that, Philip?" she asked, not contritely, but with the utmost defiance.
He answered: "Stella, of course not...I don't mind at all, but but—"
"But what?" Her voice was sharp, almost acid. "You—you startle me so much."
She burst into a sudden ripple of laughter. "Oh you poor old Philip—startled because I kiss you Well, you must never be startled like that any more, because I'm going to do it again—often and often—just when I want, in fact. See?"
And she did it again. A strange daring infected her. Her fear of him, and of that curious puzzled look that came into his eyes, was gone—for the time being at any rate. Something had driven it away.
Aubrey Ward came to Chassingford a fortnight afterwards, and within a week he was the talk of the little market town. It seemed incomprehensible that the old and respected Doctor Challis could have chosen such a wild and romantic-looking youth to be his second in command. For Doctor Challis, on the one hand, was all that a doctor should be. He had silver-grey hair, a wistful smile, a perfect bedside manner, and a tendency to tell people exactly what they delighted to hear about themselves. He never visited except in immaculate morning-coat and top-hat, and still preferred a carriage and pair to the smartest limousine. Add to that an excellent taste in wines and a disposition to treat the smallest illness as gravely as if it were an affair of state, and you complete the picture of the man.
Doctor Ward, on the other hand, was young, hand some, and possessed manners that were more natural on the rugger field than at the bedside. Doctor Challis paid visits like an ambassador; his assistant "blinded" through the countryside on a high-powered motor-cycle, with an incredibly dirty motor-oilskin covering a suit of light-coloured plus-fours; he was, as Mrs. Monsell nicknamed him, the Human Tornado. There was, however, no doubt about his ability. What he lacked in experience he made up for in knowledge and earnestness, and before he had been in Chassingford many months he had staunch partisans. Curiously, perhaps, a majority of these were to be found in the small but very compact working-class district in the town.
When the Monsells returned after their usual foreign tour they found that Ward had immensely consolidated his position. He was popular with all classes, and even his curious habit of telling people frankly that they had nothing at all the matter with them did not antagonise so much as it fascinated.
Stella alone refused to join in the general chorus of adulation. "It's no good questioning me about it," she said to Philip, almost crossly. "I just don't like him, and perhaps there isn't the least reason at all why I don't."
Chassingford seemed bent on losing its reputation for being unexciting. Not only had Ward come into it, but a few months after his arrival, Colonel Dumbleby, its aged and respected representative in Parliament, passed away in a nursing-home at Brighton. Colonel Dumbleby had been, like the place he represented, unexciting. Only once had he spoken in the House, and that was when, to his own great surprise and alarm, he had interjected the word "Why?" at a moment when nobody else was interjecting anything. Hansard reported it, the Chassingford Advertiser reported it; but after wards the Colonel allowed his quickly-won fame to slip away from him. He never spoke in the House again, and a few years later he became too old and ill to speak much anywhere.
After the funeral it became necessary for the Chassingford Association to seek another candidate. Philip's name was put forward, along with those of several other men; and at the Association meeting he made an excellent speech in which he was not in the least nervous. Of course it was a small and comparatively select gathering; nevertheless, he had improved immensely since the Loamport fiasco, and had actually, by taking thought, added cubits to his political stature, In the end the Association adopted him unanimously, and since Chassingford was considered a safe seat, it looked as if one great barrier was at last surmounted.
Indeed, for several days it seemed even possible that there might be no contest at all, and that Philip would be returned to Parliament unopposed. Then at the last minute, a few hours before the time for nominations, an opponent appeared, went through the necessary formalities, and was officially listed for the Chassingford election stakes. He was a Mr. James Grainger, a local estate agent. Stella was furious. She had, as Philip often told her severely, an absolutely unpolitical mind.
"The man has a perfect right to oppose me," Philip said, though the expensive prospect of a contest was no doubt a disappointment to him. "And I shall fight him fairly."
"Then you'll lose," put in Mrs. Monsell.
Philip's face hardened. "That's cynical, mother, and you don't mean it. I shall fight fairly, any how."
Stella cried: "Oh, Philip, I shall be able to help you, shan't I?—I can post bills and things, and canvass, and drive cars about for you."
"I shall want all the help I can get," Philip answered quickly.
That was a few hours after the nominations. About four in the afternoon the telephone-bell rang and Stella answered it. A man's voice was speak ing—a sharp gruff bark of a voice that made the instrument sing in her ears.
"I'm Ward...I've just come back from a holiday...Is it true that Philip is going to stand in the bye-election?"
She felt herself going uncomfortable from the mere sound of his voice over the telephone.
"Yes, it's quite true..."
"Well, I'd like to help him .. I'm no good at speaking, you know, but I can use what influence I've got, which isn't much...And I can drive a car and canvass and post bills and do any old thing there is..."
"Yes..." She did not know what to reply. "By the way, what is he?"
"What is he?—What do you mean?"
"What party does he belong to?"
"Oh..." She told him, and then something made her add: "Do you mean you'd support him whatever he was?"
"Rather. Wouldn't you?"
She laughed, half with pleasure, half with the same curious embarrassment magnified now tenfold. "I'm afraid you have an unpolitical mind. That's what Philip tells me I have."
She did not wait for him to reply, but added abruptly: "All right, I'll tell him of your offer. I'm sure he'll be very pleased. Good-bye."
She hung up the receiver with a strange inward perturbation.
Almost immediately Philip was immersed in the storm and tempest of his first electoral contest. At least it seemed to him to be storm and tempest enough, though Kemp, his agent, declared that it was "by far the tamest show he'd ever struck in his life." The fact was, Philip was not made for flurry and excitement. His brain functioned best when it functioned calmly and slowly; and Kemp, whose idea of heaven was a perpetual whirlwind election campaign, merely worried him into doing and saying things he afterwards regretted. Above all, Philip detested the high lights of electoral propaganda, the unrelieved blacks mad whites that Kemp infused into all the frenzied literature he sent out. "Anybody would think Grainger was the Devil himself, from the way you expect me to talk about him," he protested, to which Kemp replied: "Perhaps it wouldn't do you any harm if you thought so as well, Mr. Monsell."
Kemp was a wiry little man, aged forty-five or thereabouts, with an incessant bustling activity and a comprehension of the merely combative side of electioneering that was not touched in any way by genuine political enthusiasm. To Philip he seemed a fierce, soulless automaton, scheming victory with out desiring it and without any knowledge of what to do with it if he got it. Above all, he was un scrupulous. He discovered somehow or other that Grainger had been divorced, and he wanted to circulate a special leaflet hinting (but not directly stating) that he was unsound in the matter of the marriage laws. Philip would not allow it, and the two had a fierce quarrel in the committee-rooms in Chassingford High Street. "I believe my opponent is an entirely decent and virtuous man," declared Philip doggedly, "and I'm not going to pretend anywhere that I don't."—"Then you'll lose the election," snapped Kemp angrily.—"Very well then, I'll lose it," retorted Philip.
Long before polling-day he was heartily miserable about the whole business. His opponent had had bills pasted all over Chassingford: "Vote for Grainger and Keep The Home Fires Burning." Kemp had them all pasted over with "Vote for Monsell and Make Sure You Have a Fire to Burn." He seemed to think it was an extraordinary witty riposte. "To my mind it is both unintelligible and stupid," said Philip, but as it was no worse than that he allowed it to be done.
To Stella, on the contrary, the election campaign was a sheer joy, though the shadow of Philip's possible disapproval lay over everything she did. She loved the struggle for its own sake, and she was the only person who could quell Kemp adequately and succinctly. "One might think you were the candidate himself, the way you order Mr. Monsell about," she told him bluntly. To which Kemp retorted: "Your brother ought to have been a parson, not a parliamentary candidate. He's too mild—too—"
"Too honest, eh?"
"Honest? Well, I wouldn't say that. But still even honesty you can have too much of. It may be the best policy, but it isn't always the best politics."
One thing she learned, without being able to help it, and that was the extent to which Ward was popular, especially in the working-class district of Chassingford, and also in the country villages round about. Here she found an intensely personal enthusiasm for him, an enthusiasm which, however much she might pretend not to understand it, was nevertheless quick to evoke an answering chord within her. After empty and wind-blown political partisanship, it was a relief to find a human and strictly personal keenness. In many a workman's and farm-labourer's cottage that she canvassed, the name Ward was mentioned inevitably, always with respect, sometimes with a feeling akin to reverence. "We shall vote for your brother, miss," was a quite usual remark, "because Doctor Ward put in a good word for him the last time he was here."
She tried to ignore these repeated testimonials to Ward's influence; she did not care to think that Philip, if successful, would owe everything to his friend. But there were certain things which she could not ignore. Ward, she discovered, had become almost a local hero, a patron saint; he had done deeds in those tiny houses that their occupants could never forget; the detailed stories of them came to her continually as she canvassed from door to door; she did not ask for them; she did not want to hear them, for they wasted her time and were almost endless in the telling.
When she told Philip of Ward's energetic and valuable canvassing on his behalf he seemed partly pleased and partly troubled. "It's splendid of him, Stella...But—but I want people to vote for me because they think I'm worth it, not—not because other people tell them to."
"I think Kemp is right," she answered, "and you ought to have been a parson."
As the polling-day came nearer Ward's partisan ship developed on more active lines. He plunged into the thick of the campaign with all the zest of the young and irresponsible medical student; he drove a lorry round the town, packed to the brim with shouting children; he festooned his motor-cycle with "Vote for Monsell" bills; the whole affair might have been a great and gorgeous "rag." Stella could not decide whether she liked him for it or not. But there was a careless rapture in his adventures that she could not help but admire; she felt sometimes that he was no more than a huge boy, running wild with infectious excitement. Once, whilst canvassing in a crowded alley, she met him as he suddenly swung round the corner on his flamboyantly decorated motor-cycle. He stopped and smiled at her. His smile, like his enthusiasm, was infectious. For the first time in her life she did not feel acutely un comfortable because he was near to her. She was not even perturbed. On the contrary she laughed in his face and exclaimed: "Well, enjoying yourself, eh? I believe you're having the time of your life with all this business, aren't you?"
"It's great fun," he answered boyishly. "I hope Philip's enjoying it half as much as I am."
"I don't think he is," she replied.
"Well, of course"—he shrugged his shoulders—"it's more serious to him than to me. Frankly, I don't care a jot for politics, one side or another, but I want to see Philip in, that's all..."
"Don't you think politics are important?"
"Oh, maybe...But to me my own job's more important, naturally...After all, it doesn't seem to make much difference which side gets in. You still have this sort of thing, don't you?" And he swung his arm round to indicate the dejected slum property that surrounded them. He added musingly: "If I ever went in for Parliament I think I should stand as an Anti-Tuberculosis candidate."
She made no answer, and after a short pause he gave a jerk to his self-starter and went on: "Ah, well, we're doing our best, aren't we?—I've got eleven more votes for you this morning. What's your bag?"
"None so far," she replied, "I've only just started. As soon as you've gone I shall—"
"That's a hint," he cried, laughing. "I'll go. Ever such good luck to you..."
And with a series of terrific explosions he rode off, waving to her at the corner.
As the campaign drew to a close it became clear that Philip would win no easy victory. "Times have changed," as Kemp put it, "since old Dumbleby used to get a four-figure majority with out opening his mouth." Unfortunately, it was by no means certain that Philip had done himself any good by opening his mouth. It was not exactly that he had said or done tactless things; it was just that his whole platform manner gave somehow the appearance of being cold and remote. "You're too dignified," Kemp said. "You ought to let your self go and put a bit of pep into it." By way of contrast, Grainger was an excellent speaker, with a pleasant if somewhat meretricious personal charm.
From eight o'clock on the morning of the polling-day until twelve hours later, Stella was working indefatigably, driving Philip from village to village and from committee-room to committee-room, and finding time for no more than hastily-consumed meals of sandwiches and cups of cocoa. Rather to her surprise, Ward did not put in an appearance, but she remembered that the day before he had mentioned a bad case of pneumonia that he was attending in one of the smaller villages.
At eight in the evening, when the polling-booths closed, she went back with Philip to the Hall and had a good meal. By half-past nine or thereabouts, the ballot-boxes would be brought in from the neighbouring villages, and the count would begin. She was limp and tired after the exertions of the day; Philip was exactly as he had been outside the Senate-House at Cambridge years before—nervous and full of hardly-suppressed excitement. They ate their meal alone, and, for the most part, in silence. Towards the end, however, Philip said: "If I win, Stella, I shall t-tell mother about our engagement."
Stella's answer, characteristic of her, was: "And if you lose I shall tell her."
He looked at her queerly, almost frightenedly, and then suddenly reached forward across the table and squeezed her outstretched arm. "I am very f-fond of you, Stella," he said softly.
Almost at that moment the sound came of an exceedingly noisy motor-cycle tearing along the main highway towards the town.
"That's Ward," she said vaguely. "I can tell the sound of his machine." Then fierceness came into her voice as she went on: "Oh, Philip, Philip—I'm so glad you're fond of me. Because I'm fonder of you than of anybody else on earth...You're a darling, and won't it be splendid if you get in!—We shall know in a couple of hours from now, shan't we?"
He smiled and nodded.
Midnight in the small, excessively-ornate council-chamber of the Chassingford Town Hall. In the High Street outside it was raining fast, and a large part of the crowd had already gone home. The rain had, indeed, begun almost as soon as the polling stopped, and a heavy storm had delayed the trans port of some of the ballot-boxes. The postponement was dreadfully unsettling to Philip. He stood by the window, looking out into the street through the slits in the Venetian blinds, and hardly daring to watch the actual counting of the votes and the stack ing of them into hundreds. Kemp stood by the tables, observing everything with keen, ferret-like eyes. Now and again he made some objection, consulted with the opposing agent, and lit cigarette after cigarette as the night wore on. Stella, in her official capacity as scrutineer, moved about in the crowded, smoke-hazy room, always with one eye on Philip and the other on the trestle-tables with their growing pile of voting-papers.
The parish clock struck the hour of midnight, and a few seconds later the clock in the Town Hall belfry followed suit. A few cheers came upwards from the crowd waiting outside, eager, anxious cheers, for none but the eager and the anxious were waiting on such a night...Mr. James Grainger, smart and spruce, was obviously one of those people whom excitement makes even smarter and sprucer. "Allow me to express the hope that the best man may win," he said, touching Philip on the elbow and offering his well-manicured hand.
"I h-hope so too," answered Philip, shaking hands with him rather wearily...
The counting went on. At ten minutes past midnight Kemp whispered to Stella that it was going to be "a damned near thing—damned near."
Excitement grew amongst the watchers round the tables. Stella, loving excitement of any kind, had yet had enough of it for one night; like Philip, she stood some way off, preferring to be told the result when it should be discovered. Her brain was whirling round and round; it seemed to her that the electric lights were dancing jigs in front of her eyes; the thick smoke from the men's cigarettes was giving her a headache.
All at once she saw Ward standing in front of her, and in his eyes was such a fierce light of pleasure that she seized his arm convulsively. "Is it good news?" she cried eagerly. "Tell me—tell me—is he in?"
"Splendid news," he answered, calmly, and then perceiving her meaning, added: "Oh, not about the election—they haven't finished counting yet."
Something sagged in her mind; she could have struck him then, for raising such hopes in her and dashing them to pieces.
"That little boy I told you about has pulled through," he went on. "I thought it was hopeless this morning, but an hour ago...he seemed to turn the corner. I've been with him nearly all day...didn't have time to vote even...awfully sorry..."
The electric lights and the cigarette smoke and the trestle tables and Ward himself trailed away into vagueness again...
Then all at once a cry went up, only to be immediately hushed by a clamour of voices. "Monsell's in...Monsell's in..."
She rushed over to Philip and buried her head against his shoulder. She could not speak. Neither could he. People rushed round him, seizing his hand and shouting: "Congrats...old man...Splendid...In by seven...Seven...Majority of seven..."
Above the hubbub came the sharp, exquisitely controlled voice of Grainger addressing his agent. "Demand a recount..."
"Recount—recount. There's going to be a re count..." Stella found herself near to Kemp. "What does it mean, a recount?" she whispered. "Does it mean there's been a mistake?"
"It means," he answered churlishly, "exactly what it says—a recount."
A slow subsiding of the clamour and then silence again, broken only by the occasional bursts of cheering from outside. The rain was falling faster than ever. The clock struck the half-hour, then the three-quarters, then one o'clock, then a quarter-past...
Stella was white as chalk when the end came. Clamour once more, sickening and hideous, and all the air throbbing and buzzing in her ears. "Grainger in...Grainger in. In by three." Ward was next to her, holding her, speaking to her quietly, profoundly: "Don't be alarmed...Don't let go...Shall I get you some water?"
"Take me to Philip..." she gasped.
But she could not get near Philip, could not see where he was, could not see him anywhere in the room. All she could hear was Kemp's voice snarl ing and defiant: "Another recount...I demand another recount..."
Clamour more than ever, and then silence, more throbbing, palpitating silence than before. Half-past one, a quarter to two, two o'clock...
"Grainger...Grainger...Majority of two...majority of two..."
She would have fainted then, had not Ward held her. She could hardly realise anything that had happened. "Philip's not got in?" she whispered hazily, and Ward slowly shook his head. "Bad luck...bad luck..." was all he could say.
She sat in a tiny cupboard-like room while noise and commotion went on outside. Ward had been with her and had left her for a while. Then he came back with face clouded. "I've been out there," he said, pointing vaguely to the window. "It's raining hard. Poor old Philip!...It's a hard blow to him. He—he couldn't speak when his turn came, but old Kemp got up and said something for him. It seems cruel—to miss it by so little. And—and the curious thing is—" He paused, and looked as if he were wondering whether to proceed.
"What is curious?" she whispered.
He went on pensively: "I've just been working it out. It looks just like fate. Down at the house I've been visiting there were three voters, and but for the boy being so ill they'd have voted for Philip. Then, with my vote as well, that would have been four more—just enough to turn the scale...It's rather maddening to think of, isn't it?"
She nodded, and the clock somewhere in the build ing above startled them by chiming the quarter.
"Anyway," she said, in a different tone, "I'm glad the little boy's better." She spoke as if she were remembering something strange and far-off.
For a long moment they stared at each other in silence, and then all at once it was as if a great calm had come to both of them, healing their disappointment and making them sane for the future.
He suddenly grasped her hand and squeezed it till she winced involuntarily. "That's the way to talk," he said gruffly. "That's the way to talk...After all, do—do these things "—he gave a little gesture with his hand—"do they matter such—such a very great deal?"
She answered: "You don't think they do. Neither do I...But Philip..."
"Yes," he interrupted. "I'm damned sorry for Philip."
She did not tell Philip of the four lost votes that had made all the difference. But somebody else, apparently, gave him the details, for he mentioned the matter very calmly when he got home.
"It seems ironical," he remarked, "that I should have lost because my greatest friend didn't vote for me."
"Couldn't," she insisted. "Not didn't."
He seemed perplexed by her reminder. "Oh, of course...Why, did you think for a moment that I supposed—?" He paused and finished with a new note altogether. "Never mind, Stella. I shall succeed—some day—somehow. I'm not easy to dishearten. With every defeat I get stronger...fight harder...I—I live for my ambitions, and some day, when I have won through, I shall be happy..."
Stella kept her promise that, if Philip lost the bye- election, she would tell Mrs. Monsell of their engagement. She did so, and Mrs. Monsell received the news with half-cynical incredulity. "Do you mean to tell me that Philip has at last done what any other young man would have done as soon as he met you?" she asked, and added, when Stella looked puzzled: "Do you mean to say he has fallen in love with you?"
"He says he has."
"Then you can take it from me it's the truth. Philip wouldn't say he loved anybody till he'd analysed himself to the last atom...I suppose, by the way, that you're in love with him?"
Stella shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. I don't analyse myself."
Behind her usual mask of raillery Mrs. Monsell seemed quite pleased with the turn of events. She suggested, and Stella agreed to, a dinner-party to celebrate the announcement; Philip was not enthusiastic, but he acquiesced when he saw that Stella wanted it. They spent a rather baffling half-hour deciding who should be invited. "Ward, of course," said Philip, when the list was nearly complete. And Stella replied: "Oh, yes, of course."
The day of the party arrived, but towards tea-time a messenger-boy brought a note from Ward apologising and regretting that he could not come because of an urgent case. Stella was half-glad, half-sorry; Philip was deeply disappointed. Nevertheless, the party went off without a hitch; Stella was brilliantly vivacious and scored an immense success with a few Hungarian songs in the drawing-room afterwards, and Mrs. Monsell shone with her usual hard, opalescent glitter. Even Philip talked animatedly—about politics.
The guests were taking their farewell whiskies before departure when Stella heard a sharp ring at the front door. Venner was engaged elsewhere, so she went into the hall and turned the lock herself, leaving Philip in the drawing-room with the others. A curious inward premonition warned her whom she might expect to see, so that when the door swung open she was not in the least surprised: He was standing there on the top step in a leather motoring coat and leggings, carrying his gauntlet gloves in his hand, and with his goggles pushed upwards from his eyes over his forehead.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't come earlier," he said, smiling. "But I thought I'd run round at the last minute and congratulate you...both of you."
Outside the drive lost itself in the white icy mist that crept in from the marshes on these winter evenings, and the head-lamp of Ward's motor-bicycle shone like a dull yellow globe, lighting up the swathes of vapour that passed ghost-like in front of it. Stella, clad in a light evening frock, shivered as she stood.
"Thank you very much," she replied, with her teeth chattering. "So good of you to call. I wish you could have come to dinner. Philip would have been pleased...It's cold to-night, isn't it?...You'll come in and have a drink to warm you, won't you?...Oh, I forgot—you're teetotal...How unfortunate—but there's lemonade...Do come in..."
"Sorry, but I'd best get back. I've work to do before I go to bed."
"But come in and see Philip, anyway. Or let me go in and fetch him."
"No, really, I'd rather you didn't. I don't want to make any fuss. Just tell him I called to congratulate you both, that's all..."
"You're shy of coming in," she said.
"Yes. I'm always shy of meeting a crowd of people I don't know. Stupid of me, isn't it?...Well, you'll be catching cold if you stop here any longer. Good-bye...See you again some time."
He smiled boyishly and sprang on to his machine and was off. The noise attracted Philip from the drawing-room.
"Who was that, Stella?"
She answered: "Ward. He came to give us his—his congratulations."
"Why didn't he come in?"
She replied: "I asked him to, but he said he was in a great hurry and couldn't stop."
He took her by the arm and led her back into the hall.
"We must ask him round some evening by himself," he said slowly. "He'll come then, I'm sure. You've got over your old dislike of him, I suppose?"
She answered simply: "Yes."
She was passionately fond of sea-bathing, and Chassingford was only seven or eight miles from the sea. She used to drive herself down in the two-seater car to a lonely part of the coast, change behind the closed hood, and then run down into the water and splash and swim about to her heart's content. The sea was almost always calm, and the land, segmented into huge dyke-bound marshes, was protected from it by a high turf sea wall. At low tide the sands and mud-flats ran out evenly for over a mile.
Towards the close of March there came an afternoon so rich with warmth and sunlight that she was tempted to indulge in her first bathe of the year. The hint of spring was in the air, thrilling all who breathed it with a rare and intoxicating joy, and to Stella, more than to most living creatures, it was irresistible. As she drove through the decaying villages to the marshes the tang of the sea assailed her and made her immensely eager to shed her clothes and be breasting the sunlit waves. She took the car as far as she could along a sandy uneven road that led nowhere in particular, and then, after changing into a bathing costume and mackintosh, raced for nearly a mile over the marshlands to the ridge of sea wall that had seemed only a few hundred yards away. The sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and by the time she doffed her mackintosh and ran down the sands to the water she was warm from exertion.
The tide was high and almost on the turn. Not a soul was in sight, nor was there likely to be a living person anywhere round about, for the marshes were uncultivated and the nearest village was several miles away. She loved the loneliness as well as the sunshine, for it reminded her of the sun-baked shores of the Danube, with just such another turf wall as this to protect it from the turmoil of the water. Indeed this part of the coast, to which hardly the most pertinacious tripper penetrated, made her almost homesick, despite the years she had been in England. When she had first discovered it, during the course of a long and solitary cycling expedition, she had actually cried, so poignant had been the reminder of things half-forgotten.
She did not cry now, but was rapturously and ecstatically happy at the thought of a glorious bathe and swim at least two months earlier than she had dared to hope. She walked out into the sea till the water reached her waist, and then struck out with all her limbs, swimming as hard as she could. The water was very cold, much colder than she had expected, but she hoped that the effort of hard swimming would warm her. After about a quarter-of-an-hour she felt decidedly less chilly, and then, for the first time, lifted her head and tried to see exactly where she was.
It seemed that she was in the midst of the wide and open sea, with no land for miles. She could not discern the low-lying fringe of sea wall in any direction, nor could she have believed that she had swum so far out. Then she recognised a little pin point on the horizon which she knew was the steeple of Marshhaven Church, the nearest village to the coast. It looked miles farther away than from the sea wall, but it gave her a direction, at any rate. She smiled to herself quite confidently, though even a few seconds' cessation of movement was enough to give her a strange, tight sensation of cold in her limbs. She must swim back in the direction of the land, and as quickly as possible. She knew herself to be an excellent swimmer, and was not in the least afraid.
But a few strokes in the homeward direction sent the first thrill of fear through her. She understood now why she had been able to swim so far out in so short a time. The tide was racing out, as it did in these wide estuaries, and the ebb-current, though not a perfidious one, was like a great icy wall pushing her back as she battered herself against it.
Afterwards she remembered that she deliberately told herself to keep calm, speaking the words aloud, and paying for her foolishness by a mouthful of water. Then she set herself grimly and resolutely to the task of swimming ashore against the current. It was the only thing to do, and therefore there was nothing of the mental struggle involved in making a desperate decision. Just iron grit, that was all, fortified by the knowledge that she had often swum against the stream of the Danube years before.
A quarter-of-an-hour later she saw or thought she saw that the coast was coming nearer. She could see the sea wall very faintly on the horizon, and the point of Marshhaven steeple seemed a little higher in the sky. She swam on without a pause, telling herself that she was winning and that she would soon be safe.
Ten minutes after that she counted her victory won. The sea wall was plain now, and there was a man walking along it—she could see him quite distinctly. Probably he was a farm labourer using the wall as a short cut to some remote little place...The current was much stronger near the land, and the water seemed colder too. Only another few hundred yards and she would be able to put her feet down and walk...Then a sharp pain gripped her round the thighs and spread down her legs in a long burning wave. She was calm enough even then to say to herself: I suppose this is the "cramp" they talk about...
The next thing she knew was that she was lying stretched out amidst the tall grasses of the sea wall, and that a man was bending over her, raising her arms up and down and staring at her intently.
"Ah," he said.
Her ears, rather than her eyes (which did not yet seem to be working quite properly) told her that the man was Ward. Why on earth was he here, though?—What could possibly have brought him to such a place?
"You?" she gasped.
"Yes, me," he answered grimly.
He bustled around her, saying nothing and doing a great deal. The grim look on his face never once lightened into a smile. The sun, as if obedient to some mystic change of atmosphere, had disappeared behind thick banks of vapoury cloud that had drifted up from the sea. She noticed—all these things very gradually—that he was sopping wet from head to feet—that he wore no boots, and that his short-cropped hair still dripped water on to his forehead.
At last he said quietly: "You must get back to the car. Can you walk or shall I carry you?"
"Very well. Hold on to my arm."
After about ten yards through the thick, tough grasses on the sea wall she gasped weakly: "I—I don't think I—I can walk any more."
"Very well. I'll carry you."
He picked her up as matter-of-factly as he might have done a rather bulky parcel. "You'll be more comfortable if you hang on round my neck," he remarked.
She took no notice, but after a while the strain of the position made her realise the soundness of his advice. She put her arm round his neck.
He said nothing, and after a while she could not endure his silence. She felt she must say something, however stupid, to break the intolerable silence.
"You're wet through," she whispered.
The grim face did not relax, but the lips just moved. "Swimming with one's clothes on has a habit of making one wet through."
"There was no need for you to come in," she answered coldly. "I didn't ask you to."
Silence again. Was he never going to reply? She went on impetuously, after a long pause: "I wasn't in any danger. I was swimming in quite well on my own. When I was a girl I used to swim across the Danube often."
He said slowly and calculatingly: "I don't care if you used to swim across the Atlantic—you're a damned little fool and you deserve a good hiding."
While she changed into her clothes and dried her self behind the closed hood of the car, he went off amongst the marshes and somehow or other managed to remove most of the water from his person. Then he came back and drove her very grimly home to Chassingford.
He said nothing until they were almost in the village. Then he began suddenly: "I was visiting a case at Marsh Farm. I saw your car unattended and your clothes inside it, and guessed you'd be stupid enough to swim...In March...and at ebb-tide!...Are you quite mad?"
"Quite," she answered. "Aren't you?"
He ignored her.
"I want you to realise that but for pure chance you would have been drowned...Now you're almost home. I shan't come in with you, and you needn't tell your adventure to anybody if you don't want—I never shall. Have a glass of brandy when you get in—I suppose you've got plenty of the filthy stuff in the house...It'll steady you. And don't swim again till June...Good-bye. You can take the car up the drive yourself, no doubt...Good bye..."
He opened the door and stepped out, raised his hat perfunctorily and was off.
She pleaded a bad headache and went to bed early that evening. Rather to her astonishment Philip, whom she had expected to be too deeply immersed in his books to take much notice of her indisposition, showed himself greatly concerned about it. "There's so rarely anything the matter with you, Stella," he said uneasily. "Suppose I 'phone Ward to come round?"
She could not help smiling at the thought.
"No, no, Philip. I'm all right, really. Just a headache, that's all. I shall be fit as anything after a night's sleep."
When she was left alone she thought things out very carefully. She decided, not without reluctance, that she had been abominably rude and ungrateful to Ward for what had undoubtedly been the saving of her life. To balance matters he had been abominably rude to her, treating her exactly like a misbehaving child. That may have excused, but it did not altogether justify her own rudeness. Very gradually, as her mind pondered on it, she became sorry. And she was sorry that she was sorry, she told herself quaintly, because she hated apologising.
It had come to that. She knew she would have to apologise. Whether she liked or disliked him (and she was by no means sure which), he had saved her life at great discomfort and perhaps risk to himself, and she had rewarded him by surliness. She must apologise, even if she detested him.>
The next morning, after about an hour at the writing-desk in her bedroom, she evolved the following:
"Dear Dr. Ward,—I feel I must write and tell you how sorry I am for being such a beast yesterday. You certainly saved my life, and though you don't want any thanks for it, it was rather wicked of me to be so rude to you. I hope you'll forgive me, and in return I promise I won't bathe any more till the weather's much warmer. I have adopted your suggestion and not told anybody about my extremely naughty escapade.—Yours sincerely,
"P.S.—I hope your suit dried all right—if not, you really ought to let me have the pleasure of buying you another."
She read it over several times and decided that it possessed exactly the right mixture of contrition and jauntiness. After all, an apology did not necessarily mean a humiliation.
After completing her dressing she went down stairs. Mrs. Monsell was talking to a caller, and the subject of the discussion was, as she could overhear, Ward.
"He's going away almost immediately," said Mrs. Monsell. "He's joined an expedition to the South Pole. Now isn't that just the sort of hare-brained thing you'd expect him to do?"
Stella descended upon them. "The South Pole?" she echoed incredulously, and Mrs. Monsell smiled.
"Yes, my dear, the South Pole. He was offered the job three weeks ago and asked for time to decide. Last night he sent a telegram accepting. The sister of Doctor Challis's butler told my maid, so it's absolutely authentic."
"And when did you say he was going?" Stella's voice, perfectly controlled, sounded no more than one of casual interest.
"As soon as he can get away, I suppose. The expedition sets out in a week or two. You'd better ask him the details yourself, my dear, if you want to see him off."
What did it matter to her whether he were going to the South Pole or not? She tried to think.
Of course it might be no more than a rumour. She could not help wondering about it. Was he really going? She felt that if she knew for certain she could let the matter drop, but that as long as the question was unsettled she must go on pondering over it.
She said to Philip as soon as she saw him: "I say, have you heard the latest rumour—Ward's going to the South Pole?"
Philip looked up with his usual attitude of slow astonishment. "Good heavens! You don't say so! What for?"
"To discover it, of course," she replied succinctly. "What else should he go there for?"
Philip slowly realised the situation. "You mean to say he's joined that expedition they're talking about in all the papers?"
"I don't know anything about the expedition they're talking about in the papers. But, according to a rumour round the town, Ward has got a job of doctor to the party. Do you mean to say you haven't heard anything about it at all?"
Even yet he had not completely conquered his astonishment. He sank into an easy chair and scratched his head with an expression of bewilderment that was increased rather than decreased by further reflection.
"I certainly haven't. He never mentioned any thing of the kind to me. Though I must confess—it's just the sort of thing he would do."
"Is it?—Is it?" Her query was almost plaintive.
Philip went on: "He's keen on danger and excitement. Personally I question whether information about the Pole is worth the expenditure of human life and energy."
"Life?—But you don't necessarily die, do you?"
"Many men have died. I—yes, I question whether it's worth it. It was different in the days of Frobisher and Magellan when—"
She replied a trifle impatiently: "My dear Philip, it's not a bit of use talking like that to me—you know I've never heard of Frobisher and—and the other fellow."
"Really?—Well, I can soon explain. Frobisher was—"
"Oh, don't—not now," she said hastily. "Some other time, Philip—when I'm more in the mood for learning things."
He glanced at her oddly and resumed his books.
Gradually she formed a plan of action. It was Wednesday, and Wednesday was Doctor Challis's day for giving consultations. She was a great favourite of his, and he, moreover, was the sort of doctor to whom you could go and complain very vaguely of being just "not quite up to the mark," whereupon he would be immediately sympathetic, and would dismiss you with a pontifical blessing and a battle of iron and quinine. And at a hint about his young assistant's plans for the future he would most probably tell the complete story.
Hence Stella's visit that afternoon. Over an hour she sat in the gloomy waiting-room of the surgery, endeavouring to extract a forlorn interest from the two-year-old Graphics that lay in a tumbled and dog-eared heap on the table. She had not reckoned on having to wait. Usually Doctor Challis was avail able straightaway, but this afternoon the waiting-room was full when she entered it; there were women with children and babies, and one or two rather shabbily-dressed men, not at all the kind of clientêle that she had expected Doctor Challis to possess.
She sat down on the edge of the table, since none of the chairs were vacant. The room was fearfully depressing. It seemed to her that there was a hostility to her in the room; that the people in it were all disliking her. She knew that many of them were politically opposed to Philip; and she knew also that during the election campaign a good deal of play had been made out of the fact that she was a "foreigner." She dangled her legs nonchalantly, not caring about the dour looks that she received. These people seemed to think that a surgery waiting-room was like a church—a sacred edifice. After she had waited half an hour she wished fervently that she hadn't come. But she thought that, having waited so long, she might as well stay on.
At last it came her turn, and the trimly-dressed maid conducted her along devious corridors of the doctor's old house, and finally to the glass door of what looked like a conservatory. The door was opened for her and she stepped inside.
The man facing her was not Doctor Challis, but Ward himself.
"Good afternoon," he began, in the abrupt voice that was so wildly different from Doctor Challis's suave mellifluous tones.
His grey eyes narrowed till he seemed almost to be closing them tightly. She noticed little insignificant things about him—that he wore a brown suit (not the one that had been drenched the day before), that he had had his hair cut shorter than ever, and that his teeth as he showed them momentarily were white as chalk.
"I—I thought it was Doctor Challis's day," she said, hardly conquering her surprise.
"Doctor Challis has given up seeing patients. Have you any objection to seeing me instead?"
"Oh no, not at all."
"Very well, please sit down, and tell me what is the matter."
She took the chair nearest her, and he sat down in a swivel office chair behind a pedestal desk and fingered a pencil.
"I'm not feeling very—great just at present," she began, hesitatingly.
He answered briskly: "I should think not. You oughtn't to expect to feel great the day after you've been half drowned."
The opportunity came. She lurched forward to take it "By the way, I ought to tell you—I'm I'm sorry for the way I behaved yesterday. It was very—ungrateful of me—to—to—"
He held up his hand imperiously. "No, no, you mustn't do that. I'm not here to receive apologies. So far as I'm concerned, none are needed...I'm here to attend to your physical ailments. Tell me exactly what they are."
She was floundering. She said the first thing that came into her head. "I get—palpitation. Here." She touched her heart. Some sudden perception of comedy assailed her for the moment, so that she was hard put to it to prevent herself from bursting into peals of laughter.
"Probably due to your adventure yesterday. Or else indigestion...I'll sound your heart if you like."
He reached out his hand and was on the point of pressing the bell-knob to summon the nurse. Panic seized her. "No—it—it doesn't matter. I'm sure my heart's all right."
"In the right place, for instance?"
She stared at him and saw the narrow slits of his eyes screwed round into the tiniest of wrinkles. He was laughing at her. That drove away her panic and made her righteously indignant. What right had a doctor to poke fun at his patients?
"I'll write you out a prescription," he went on, opening a note-book. "It is what we call 'the usual.' It is for people who suffer from the distressing complaint of having nothing at all the matter with them. Quite an epidemic of it in Chassingford since I came."
"Then perhaps it's a good thing you're going. You are going, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am going."
He put down his pencil with an air of finality and handed her the scribbled prescription.
She took it and crumpled it into her handbag. "Are you going to the South Pole?" she asked with uncompromising abruptness.
"I hope so..."
"You hope you are going?"
"I hope I get there."
She rose from her chair and held out her hand. The interview had to be finished somehow, and the thought of the crowded waiting-room urged her to be brief, now that she had found out what she wanted.
"Well—good-bye. I wish you luck...When are you going?"
"Monday week...Thank you for your good wishes. By the way, did you come in your car?"
"Would you like to do somebody a good turn?"
He went on "My last patient before you was a little boy brought by his mother. He has a bad ankle, and no doubt his mother will be carrying him all the way home. They live at Firs Cottages, on your way back. If you should overtake them it would be an act of kindness to—"
"Of course I'll give them a lift," she said eagerly.
His eyes widened and his face became less severe. "Give my best wishes to Philip," he added, opening the door for her and ringing for the maid. "I shall call to see him before I go...Good-bye..."
She walked out briskly to her car. In the middle of the High Street she overtook the mother carrying her little boy, and only her promise to Ward made her pull in at the kerb and offer them a lift. She saw people staring curiously, especially when the woman, surprised out of her senses, had to have the offer shouted at her several times. In the end she accepted suspiciously, as if she had fears of being kidnapped with her offspring. The latter meanwhile was sucking sweets and making sticky finger-marks on the upholstery of the car. When Firs Cottages were reached the whole population turned out en masse to see the remarkable scene of disembarkation. Stella was desperately uncomfortable. It seemed such ostentatious philanthropy—all who had seen it would be certain she had done it for show. And Stimpson, the chauffeur at the Hall, would want to know the origin of the sticky marks.
When she drove up to the Hall a few minutes later she was quite miserable, thus falsifying the dictum that a good deed makes the doer happy.
Ward accepted an invitation to dinner the following Tuesday.
Stella's fixed intention—which she freely admitted to herself—was to make as deep an impression on him as she could. He had humbled her and been rude to her as no other man had; it was almost as if he alone, out of all the men she had ever met, had failed to respond to her attractiveness. Not that she particularly wanted to attract him, but that curiosity and pique urged her to find out whether he were really adamant.
She dressed herself with unusual care, and in a frock which she knew made her look enchantingly pretty—a delicate thing of black and gold that clung closely to her and enhanced the rounded slimness of her body. In her mind she had the whole of that evening accurately mapped out. She would sit between him and Philip at dinner, and afterwards, in the drawing-room, she would sing at the piano—plaintive little Hungarian songs which, if he had a spark of music or poetry in him, would kindle him to flame as they never failed to kindle her.
In all this she was certain there was no disloyalty to Philip. She even said to Philip before Ward arrived: "Don't I look pretty?—Don't you think I shall make the doctor fall madly in love with me?"
Philip smiled. "Probably he's done that already. Most people have."
"Even you?" she hinted.
"All your love is of course. Kiss me, then—of course..."
He kissed her gently, and she stared at him after wards with wistful, half-mocking eyes. "You strange old Philip..." she whispered. "What a nuisance I am to you...and shall be..."
That evening was unforgettable, but in a way that no one could have foreseen. All the day a great wind had been blowing from the sea, and at night it increased to a gale. Men coming in from the east reported that the sea was very rough (a rare occurrence on the coasts near by), and in the open road outside the Hall gates the taste of the salt spray was on the wind that raced past. Ward, when he arrived, said that several times on the short journey he had been nearly blown off his machine.
All during dinner the gale howled down the chimneys and shrieked through the tall trees in the garden. Then suddenly, over the coffee and liqueurs, there came a tremendous whistle of wind followed by the clamour of smashing glass and splintering wood. Philip started to his feet, upsetting his liqueur-glass over the table-cloth. Stella rushed to the window. Only Mrs. Monsell and Ward remained in their places, apparently quite calm.
"A tree's fallen on top of the conservatories," Stella cried, pulling aside the window blinds.
Mrs. Monsell sipped her coffee. "Really? Is that all?—Well, don't let it interrupt a pleasant party."
At At that moment the door opened and Venner entered. "Another liqueur for Mr. Philip," said Mrs. Monsell, imperturbably, nodding to him.
But the old fellow shuffled forward and seemed most unprofessionally disturbed about something.
"Excuse me, madam, but one of the big elms has fallen on the conservatory and—"
"Yes, Venner, we know all about it. Don't worry yourself."
"But—you'll excuse me, madam—one of the maids—was there, madam, when it fell, and is—is injured—"
It was Ward then who interrupted. He bounded out of his seat like a sharp flash. "I'll go," he said quietly to the company in general. And he added to Venner, in a voice at once curt and courteous: "Please show me the way."
The girl had been walking through the conservatory when the tree fell, and a splinter of glass had fallen on her arm, cutting it severely. When Ward reached her, followed closely by Stella, she was sitting in a chair in the kitchen, very pale-faced, and with one of the men-servants dabbing at her arm with handkerchiefs. Her dress was soaked with blood, and blood ran down her arm and dripped off her finger-tips on to the floor.
"Telephone for an ambulance," said Ward as soon as he saw her. Stella was about to run off to the telephone in the hall when he beckoned to her to stay. "No, let one of the servants do that. You stay here and help me. Does the sight of blood make you sick?"
"Good. Fetch me a towel."
She got one for him, and for the next few minutes both were busy applying a tourniquet, he directing and she obeying him.
When she looked up she saw that Philip was watching them. His face was very white. "C—can I do anything?" he asked plaintively.
"We've finished now," said Stella.
The ambulance came and Ward accompanied the frightened girl to the local hospital. The cut had been a bad one, puncturing the artery, and she had lost a great deal of blood and was very weak.
Meanwhile, Stella and Philip waited at the Hall. The wind was still high, raving through the trees, and blowing in great angry whuffs down the wide hall chimney. The evening had turned to tragedy, and as the moments crawled by it seemed to Stella as if the whole world were filled with tragedy also. The mediocre oil-paintings of the Monsell ancestors gazed at her in stony-eyed ferocity, and when the clocks whirred and clanged the hour of nine it seemed impossible that the night could be still so young.
Then there came a telephone call. It was Ward, speaking from the hospital. "Yes...not serious...they're keeping her for a few days—then she'll need a rest...I left my machine at your place, didn't I?...Yes, I'll come on then...Why, walk, of course; it's only a mile over the fields..."
Philip was in his study, and she went to him, meaning to tell him that Ward was coming back. She found him cosily settled in an armchair by a huge fire. A table by his side contained a decanter and syphon, from which he was helping himself as she entered.
"You look very pale, Philip," she said.
He answered: "Do I? It upset me—seeing all that blood...Did Ward think she was badly hurt?"
"He just 'phoned me to say it wasn't serious at all, and that she'd soon be all right again."
"Good...Good...Oh, excellent...I hate to think of people suffering...Now perhaps I can read a little. But I'm afraid seeing all that—has disturbed my mind...Do you mind handing me that book on my desk—the one with the red cover—The Evolution of Society, it's called..."
She gave it him, smiled slightly and went out.
In the hall she put on her sou'wester hat and mackintosh, chose a stout walking-stick out of the stand, and walked quickly through the kitchens out of the house.
Over the black and noisy night the moon shone faintly, piercing every now and then the scurrying clouds. She walked round the side of the house, down the drive, and into the high road; and then turned sharply to the right along the field-path over the stile. The wind had dried the mud into a soft clay-like surface, into which her feet sank as into thick carpet; everywhere was the rich wintry smell of upturned soil, mingled now and then with a sudden sharp tang of the sea. The field-path was one of Chassingford's favourite evening walks, but that night it was almost deserted. Only once, a few yards from the high road, did she see strangers—an amorous couple whose locked embrace was made more passionate by the gale that swirled around them.
Half-way across the ploughed fields she met him, and knew that it was he by the swelling bulk of his motor-coat, too stiff for even the wind to blow into folds.
"I thought I'd meet you," she said, when she was quite ten yards away from him.
She stopped and let him approach her. He did so, and, when he was near to her, stopped also and smiled.
"The girl's not in any danger," he began. "By the way, thank you for helping me. If you ever think of doing any work in life, try nursing. You'd do rather well."
They walked on some way in silence. The wind was still boisterous, galloping across the country in savage gusts and bending the trees till they creaked and jostled against one another.
"Don't you love to be out on a night like this?" she said, standing still with her face to the keen onrush.
"Yes. There's such a delightful possibility of being brained by a falling tree, isn't there?"
She ignored his reply. "All this reminds me of my old home-country—the wind along the Danube in winter-time...Don't you ever feel homesick for the place you were born in?"
"Never. I was born in a Lancashire mining town—one that has the highest death-rate of any county borough in England. If you saw it you'd understand why I'm never homesick...By the way, what made you come out to meet me? Did you think I didn't know the way?"
She replied slowly: "I was quite certain you knew the way."
She said sharply and rather rudely: "I came out because I wanted to. That's enough reason, isn't it?"
He would not be charmed by her. And the incidents of the evening, bizarre almost to the point of tragedy, had made her desperate. She was desperate all the while she walked back with him through the darkness and the rushing wind. Some strange uneasiness seized her soul and swept her miles away from the usual Chassingford atmosphere of calm and seclusion. Strange memories of childhood assailed her—of the Danube sweeping through the plains, and the croon of the winds through the tall reeds—all as if it had been but yesterday, and her life in England a vague and pointless interruption. She remembered the first time she had met Ward—on the river-bank near Cambridge—and her remark afterwards that he was like a Hungarian. The likeness impressed her again; he was like a Hungarian, though not noticeably in appearance, habits, personality or character. In what, then? In some mysterious something that formed a link between him and her; something she could not understand; but something that was stirring her restlessly through and through. One thing she knew for certain; she hated him fiercely and intensely, and her desire to attract was merely her desire to subdue.
When they reached the Hall they went into the drawing-room, where after a short while Philip and Mrs. Monsell joined them. Philip was still rather pale and made eager enquiries after the condition of the injured girl. Ward reassured him, patting him affectionately on the shoulder.
Then Stella went to the piano and sang a sad little Hungarian song about a girl who killed herself because her lover was unfaithful. Beautifully, conscious that passion was in her voice, she sang the words:
"Ha tudtad, hogy nem szerettel,
Halodba mest keritettel?"
Surely, even in an unknown language, she could convey some rough sense of their meaning?
When she had finished Philip hastened to congratulate her; he had never heard her sing so well, so he said. Ward meanwhile sat smoking stolidly in his chair; at last he remarked calmly, almost casually: "Yes, quite a pretty little tune."
She left the piano-stool, with the uneasiness of her soul quivering almost into flame. Quite a pretty little tune! Was that all?
Then Ward got up, shook himself in front of the fire like a great animal, and lounged over to the piano. "I say, Philip," he began, putting his pipe on the music-rest, "do you remember that song we used to sing on Rag-nights at College?—Something about Booze—it goes to the tune of 'John Peel'...?"
And he began to thump out, with one finger and many inaccuracies, the tune of "John Peel" in the key of C natural.
What a man! She stared at him from the shadows of the settee, hating him fiercely. And Philip was laughing like a schoolboy—she could never make him laugh like that...Something about Booze!...
She shrugged her shoulders and looked at Mrs. Monsell. That lady was smiling.
An hour later he had gone. They were not to see him again before his departure for the South Pole. His last words to her had been a casual and ordinary "Good-bye," accompanied by an equally casual and ordinary handshake. Philip walked down the drive with him, and the two stopped talking for some while. Their laughter echoed weirdly above the roaring of the wind, and Stella, undressing in her bedroom, shivered as she heard it.
The next morning as she came down to breakfast Philip met her in the hall. "By the way, Stella," he remarked, methodically opening his morning's letters with a paper-knife: "Did you go to meet Ward last night on his way back from the hospital?"
"Yes," she answered, with suddenly awakened interest.
"Why?" He spoke the word very quietly, still manipulating the paper-knife.
She gave him the answer that she had given Ward the night before, only less sharply.
"Because I wanted to...That's enough reason, isn't it?"
The paper-knife stopped suddenly, and he looked round with a look that she had never seen on his face before. Then, very slowly, he walked across the room to her and took her by the arm. "Of course it is, Stella," he said, smiling. "Let's come and have some breakfast..."
She began to feel that she did not understand Philip. Almost as soon as Ward had set sail from Gravesend in the little thousand-ton boat that was, if he were lucky, to take him to Antarctica, Philip began to be different. She did not assume any significant connection between the two happenings, though she guessed that Philip was missing the company of his friend. She was, on the whole, baffled by the new Philip, though he charmed her by his almost childlike strangeness.
One day he said to her: "Stella, do you remember that I promised to marry you as soon as I was successful?"
"Yes, of course I do. And since then you haven't mentioned it."
He smiled his nervous smile. "I'm going to mention it now. May I marry you, Stella, before I'm successful?"
"Philip!" She took hold of his sleeve and gave his arm a quick caress. "Of course you may. You can marry me whenever you like—I shan't object. But why this despondency about your prospects?"
He answered slowly: "Not despondency, Stella. Only that I've been thinking things out carefully. And I've come to the conclusion that perhaps I shall succeed better with you than on my own. It is so hard for me to succeed in anything."
"And is success the only reason why you want to marry me?"
He looked down at her rather sadly and said: "Good God, no. I love you...You'll never understand how much...I want you...Will you marry me as soon as it can be arranged?"
And then he suddenly knelt down at her feet and burst into tears. It was a weird mingling of the comic and the tragic; of old-fashioned Victorian gallantry and a touch of half-clumsy pathos that was all his own. She was stirred, as a mother by a shy child who has come to her for protection. For Philip, surely, was only a child, driven by the buffetings of a hard world into her own calm embrace.
She stooped down and kissed his forehead, and for the first time he offered her his lips to kiss, again as a child might have done. "I'll marry you to-morrow if you want," she said, choking back a sob. "You poor old Philip—I'm so glad you want me."
He said, with a calm smile "Then I have s-succeeded in s-something at l-last."
They were married a month later and went to live in a comfortable flat in Kensington. Philip had a private income of some two thousand a year, so that his efforts for success had no financial urge. Very soon after the marriage, Mrs. Monsell decided she would like to live in town, and as Philip preferred the country an easy exchange was effected, Mrs. Monsell taking the Kensington flat and Philip and Stella returning to Chassingford.
Stella was wonderfully and ecstatically happy. She could never have believed that marriage was so beautiful, and that her strange, childish Philip would make so wonderful a husband. And he, on his side, seemed equally happy. The two of them went about together everywhere, entertained modestly, and were certainly popular amongst those who knew them intimately. Philip, however, was still regarded as a political opponent by many Chassingford people, and his somewhat austere manner with strangers prevented him from achieving any boisterous popularity. For this he was no doubt profoundly thankful, though he was becoming increasingly aware of the value of such popularity in political life.
Now, indeed, he set himself deliberately to the task of making his career. It was almost pathetic, Stella thought, that he should be so grimly serious about it, especially when there was no real need why he should trouble about a career at all. Mrs. Monsell put the matter in her usual mordant way. "Why on earth he should want to be an M.P., I can't imagine," she remarked. "It's about as sensible as a deaf man wanting to be a music-teacher. Why doesn't he potter about Chassingford and write books that nobody reads, instead of flinging himself into the struggle for existence? Anyone would think he had to earn his own living."
To Stella Philip explained himself differently. "I'm not going to be a waster. If I thought my private income was going to make me that I'd give it up. I want to be something more than an amiable country squire."
"But why politics, Philip?"
"Because—" His face lit up suddenly with a gleam that she had never seen before, something that transformed his white calm into the still calm whiteness of fire. "Because—" He paused again, and then resumed, in a rush of words in which, as usual, he began to stammer slightly: "Stella, deep down in me I've got enormous ambitions. I won't give them up, whatever happens. Doesn't matter how often I fail or how many times it's hinted to me that I'm a predestined failure—those ambitions are still there. I want to get into Parliament. I feel I could do good—even great work there—if I had the chance. Nobody's going to give me the chance. I've got to fight for it myself, and I know as well as you do that there's not a sillier spectacle on earth than me on a public platform. Yet gradually I'm improving. I'm getting less and less silly, until some day—you wait!—I'll do it!—I'll do it I've set my mind on it and nothing shall stop me. Other men seem to succeed without trying to, but I shall catch them up in the end, because I am trying a hundred and a thousand times harder than they!"
He clenched his fists at his side and stared in front of him. "Of all my ambitions so far, Stella, only one has come to fulfilment. That's you. And I didn't win you—you simply gave yourself to me. If I'd had to fight for you, probably I'd have been fighting still. Do you think I could have held out against some bold handsome warrior with a successful past, and a heart—less liable to stop suddenly than mine?"
She answered him by a ripple of laughter. "Why," she ejaculated, without pausing to think, "that sounds like Ward!"
Not by a flicker did his face betray any emotion whatever. "Does it?" he said quietly, and resumed the book from which the conversation had disturbed him.
Philip's quest for success was certainly a difficult one in the sphere he had deliberately chosen. He kept making a fool of himself. He couldn't help it. As prospective candidate for the constituency, he was asked to "kick off" at the annual match between Chassingford Rovers and Felton United; here, as Kemp assured him, was a unique opportunity for making himself popular amongst the younger male voters. Unfortunately the day was wet and the ground greasy, and when, supremely nervous, he ran out to kick the ball, he missed it. Not only that, but he slipped on the soft turf and fell ludicrously into a patch of mud, smashing his pince-nez and covering himself with slime. The spectacle of a nervous, morning-coated gentleman streaked and spattered with mud moved the crowd to natural laughter; it was many minutes before even the players were composed enough to start the game.
Philip, of course, ought to have taken part in the laughter against himself, thereby making the bad not so bad. Unfortunately again, he had hurt himself in the fall, and he was by nature incapable of concealing physical pain. Instead of laughing he groaned, and, with the assistance of a few cynical onlookers, hobbled back to the stand in a most lugubrious manner. Kemp could hardly cover up his contempt. Even Stella was disappointed, though she washed his mud-streaked face in the pavilion and behaved to him very much as an indulgent mother towards a child who has met with a deserved mishap.
For some time after the incident it seemed as though Philip's electoral chances were absolutely spoiled. Kempt almost said so outright; Stella thought so secretly; there was even some talk of the local Association asking him to resign. The opposition, of course, made as much capital as it could out of the affair; "Monsell in the Mud" was the not very gentlemanly placard of its current local paper. For a long time Philip's meetings were interrupted by derisive references to mud and football.
Only he himself never gave up. He did not seem to care whether he were listened to or laughed at. A certain quality in his dignity made him impervious to derision. Perhaps if he had had a sense of humour, he would have laughed at himself. Perhaps he was' so desperately in earnest that he saw nothing but the shining goal in front of him. He went on addressing meetings, facing scornful and insulting interruptions, arguing seriously with people who had no intention of arguing seriously, treating every man he met as a gentleman on his own level, but not as a friend—he was incapable of that.
Another football club invited him to "kick-off" for them. The invitation was probably made derisively. Philip appeared to see nothing in it but a plain and courteous request, which lie as courteously accepted. He was determined there should be no mistakes this time. He practised with a football in the Hall garden in order to make himself ready for the ordeal. No doubt the gardeners would see him and spread the tale in the village—he did not seem to care. "I know nothing about games, and I don't see why I should be ashamed of having to learn how to kick a football," he told Stella. "There's many a footballer would have to learn how to make a speech."
The hour came. Deafening ironical cheers followed his kick; the ball went spinning across the field and hit the chest of one of the footballers who had been too intent on watching Philip to notice where the ball was going. This time the laugh was with Philip, and it seemed as though Providence had specially intervened on his behalf.
Unfortunately he walked on to the field, interrupting the hardly begun game, and apologised to the footballer who had been hit, hoping courteously that he had not been hurt. Roars of stupefied, incredulous laughter! Was it possible that any man on earth could be such a fool?
Meanwhile, Ward crossed the oceans with his party, fitted finally at Tasmania, and set sail for the frozen South. Newspaper cables gave graphic descriptions of the final send-off of the wanderers, and Ward's photograph, along with those of others of the party, was in most of the English illustrated papers. Philip and Stella both followed his progress with great interest; then there came the last message from the southernmost outpost of civilization, after which there could be no more news until the expedition had either failed or succeeded.
Two of the photographs Stella cut out and kept. One had been evidently posed for; it showed Ward leaning negligently on the deck-rail and smiling exactly as he had smiled during that rollicking election-campaign at Chassingford. The other, a snap-shot, showed him standing alone on deck, gazing Southward without the shadow of a smile, his face set in lines of grim determination. The two photographs presented a remarkable contrast for anyone who was interested enough in their subject to notice it. Stella pointed it out to Philip; he remarked, casually, "Yes, he'll find it's no laughing matter to get to the South Pole."
Something in his words stirred her to momentary irritation. "I should imagine he never thought it would be," she answered quietly.
Autumn and winter swept by, with gales that drove in from the marshes and littered the Hall lawn with leaves. Happiness still lay over Stella like the misty fumes of a drug; a pleasure that was half-painful wafted her from day to day amidst a life that was dreamlike in its exquisiteness. Philip was an angel of kindness and consideration; his husband-love entranced her by its delicacy and sweetness; besides that, he was a child for her to care for and protect. The old Hall seemed to glow on those windy autumn days with the pure love of an almost perfect idyll. Philip at work in his study; Stella superintending the household, bustling into all the rooms (except the study), and telling Venner what wine to serve at lunch—such quiet, refined tastes, and money enough to satisfy all of them! Sometimes, Stella, driving past Firs Cottage in her car, caught sight of the woman to whom, at Ward's request, she had given a lift; the woman sometimes cut her dead, and at other times offered a faint, reluctant smile. Once Stella, acting on momentary impulse, stopped the car at the house and enquired after the health of the little boy. She could be very charming when she set herself out to be so, and in a few moments she really thought she had begun to melt the woman's rough exterior. They chatted desultorily, and at length the woman gave Stella a tedious and very detailed description of all the illnesses her Johnnie had ever had, concluding with the remark: "Ah well, you ain't got any children yerself, ma'am, so I don't suppose..."
Stella interrupted her. "I haven't any yet, it's true, but I'm going to have—in a few months."
She smiled as she said it. This rough working-woman whom she hardly knew was the first person besides Philip to whom she had confided her secret. After all, why not? She wanted to tell somebody; better this stranger woman than Mrs. Monsell or any of her friends.
The woman seemed surprised, almost shocked by the sudden intimacy of the confession. Talk went on, less smoothly, until at last Stella, feeling that she might as well make use of the opportunity in Philip's interest, remarked: "Well, I'm very glad to have had a chat with you. My husband will be a candidate at the next election; perhaps, if your sympathies are that way, you'll give him your vote?"
The woman's mouth closed like a vice.
"Oh, we're for Grainger," she said, sharply. "And it's no use canvassing anybody in these houses. They're all for Grainger."
No more to be said. There was a calm, cold and accurate hostility in the woman's eyes. Stella went back to the car feeling that she had committed a number of indiscretions.
What was this "politics" that Philip bothered about so much? For all the speeches she had listened to, the explanations Philip had given her, and the constant political atmosphere in which she had lived, she was very hazy about the meaning and significance of the word. She could not have argued with the woman at Firs Cottages, because she did not know a single reason why anybody should vote for Philip rather than for Grainger, except the, to her, all-satisfying reason that Philip was Philip. She remembered that once Ward had remarked that if he ever stood for Parliament he should call himself an Anti-Tuberculosis candidate. There seemed sense in that, at any rate.
Yet to Philip the difference between one party and another had a spiritual as well as an intellectual value. He wrote out his speeches and memorised them as an enthusiastic missionary might have prepared sermons. Every morning for three or four solid hours he worked hard and alone; two or three evenings a week he went out to various meetings in the district and addressed them. He was an indefatigable candidate, and perhaps it was because of his willingness to spend time, energy and money without stint that the local Association continued to support him.
To Stella those evening meetings were sudden nightmares breaking in upon the cairn dream of her home life. The halls, very often the schoolroom or church-hall of the villages, were either stuffy or draughty; the men smoked strong tobacco and smelt heavily of the sodden earth amidst which most of them had worked all day. Some dull uncouth fellow was chairman; the interruptions were lively and frequent; Philip faced them with a pained equanimity born of experience, but without any real verve or readiness. The measure of his improvement seemed to be that he was no longer panic-stricken, no matter what anybody did or said. A sharp question that he could not answer as sharply, a senseless interruption, an abusive epithet—whatever was flung at him made no difference; he stood his ground with dignity, but somehow without credit.
To Stella the whole business was shameful. Why didn't he leave that sort of work to the type of man that knew how to tackle it?—Why didn't he come back to Chassingford and lead the quiet, cultured life that would earn him repose and the respect of others?
In his own words the answer. "I will succeed, Stella. Perhaps not soon. Perhaps not till everybody thinks I am a failure past hope. I will succeed in something—some day—you wait..."
She waited. She observed all the patient, pathetic neatness of his habits; his careful docketing and newspaper-cutting; his calm accumulation of facts and figures; his passionless plodding from day to day, despite the jeers and laughter of others. He found time to write (and publish at his own expense) a book entitled "Twentieth-Century Unrest"; she glanced at it in proof, and felt a certain oddity in the notion that he, her husband, had written stuff so entirely beyond her comprehension. The book was still-born; received one or two unkind reviews; and sold exactly fifty-four copies.
His patience almost revolted her at times. She longed for him to lose his temper, tear up as many important papers as he could get hold of, and exclaim: "To hell with all this—I'm fed up with it!" That, she felt, would have been an action at once human and in a way heroic. To remain calm, to accept each rebuff as imperturbably as the one before it, and as the one that would follow it, touched very near the inhuman extremity where bravery became cowardice. She felt that Philip was a coward before his ambition; he dared not overthrow it and escape; he was a slave, bound hand and foot to a duty that his reason could not sanction.
That was one way of looking at it. Another way was to admire him simply and wholly, not for anything that had to do with his ambition, but for a certain wholesomeness of his nature, and for that deep charitableness to others which even his outward manner could not entirely conceal. He was a gentleman, she felt; and her English upbringing had made her quick to recognise the peculiarly national variety. There were moments when her affection for him almost froze into awe at something in him that, despite its shackles, was great. She was glad that she was to bear him a child.
Winter gave way to spring and spring to summer, and there came a bright June morning when, because of her condition, she was taking breakfast quietly on the verandah outside her bedroom. Scents of summer flowers streamed up to her from the garden below, and the sun shone warmly on the arm of the chair on which her elbow rested. She was glad to be married; glad to be Philip's wife; glad to be alive; above all, glad of the event that was so soon to change her life.
After the meal she rose and made her way through her bedroom to the landing at the head of the stairs. Philip was coming up to meet her, newspaper in hand. The morning papers did not arrive at the Hall until ten o'clock, and it was Philip's habit, if they contained anything he considered interesting to her, to bring them up. Too often what he considered interesting was merely some item of political news that had no meaning for her at all.
"Stella," he began, calmly as usual, "I've brought you The Times. There's news in it about Ward's expedition."
Somehow it was the last thing she was prepared for. She started violently, and felt herself beginning to shiver from head to foot. She had known that news was expected, but her surprise was hardly less great than if she had known nothing. A hot flush enveloped her cheeks; she felt her skin tingling as the flush spread downwards over her body.
"Ward..." she gasped, steadying herself by holding on to the hand-rail of the staircase. "Well, what's happened?"
Still in the same calm voice Philip, went on: "There's bad news, I'm afraid. The party haven't been able to reach the Pole, and out of the twenty-four, eleven..."
She seemed to feel the floor and the hand-rail slipping away from her.
"Yes?" She forced herself to appear as calm as Philip. "Oh, how dreadful—are they dead?"
"Eleven...yes, eleven of them are dead..."
The floor slipped entirely away, and she gave a little scream and felt herself falling, falling, falling, and then a most awful head-splitting crash...
An hour later she opened her eyes and found herself in bed and Philip at her side, holding her hand tenderly. And behind Philip stood Vaughan, the elderly, ordinary-looking medico who had succeeded to Doctor Challis's practice.
Vaughan smiled and twirled his grey moustache. "Ah, yes, we shall soon be quite well again...oh, yes, very soon...No bones broken. I will call again later, Mr. Monsell..."
When he had gone Philip spoke to her very softly. "I'm s-sorry, Stella...It was m-my fault. I ought not to have s-startled you...M-my fault, Stella darling...Oh, if you had been hurt I should never have c-ceased to reproach m-myself..."
Then the recollection of it all began to dawn upon her slowly.
"I suppose I fainted," she said casually.
"Yes. You fell forward over the stairs, and if I had been a strong m-man instead of a l-little weakling I c-could have c-caught you."
That seemed to put her in mind of something.
"But the paper," she whispered eagerly. "The newspaper...About the expedition...It failed, didn't it? And eleven—"
She paused for breath, and then went on, almost inaudibly: "Was Ward one of the eleven?"
And his answer came: "No. Ward was saved."
Then she said: "Will you give me the paper and let me read about it? And will you please go downstairs to your study and do your work as usual? I don't feel the least bit hurt, and I know you're always busy in the mornings."
He handed her the paper; the maid had brought it in, all torn and crumpled from having been trodden on.
"Now will you please go away, Philip," she repeated, taking it from him. "To please me, Philip...I'm really all right, I assure you."
He looked at her. "If you wish me to, I will," he answered simply, and walked out of the room without another word.
The newspaper report was an official cable transmitted by wireless from the base-camp. It told in simple, unliterary language, moving by its very lack of artifice, how the party had set out at the beginning of the Antarctic summer, with the intention of making a quick dash to the Pole and back again before the winter set in. It went on to describe, from the scribbled diary of the party, how blizzards and glaciers had delayed them so much on the outward journey that when they were four hundred miles from the Pole they decided that the only chance of saving their lives lay in an immediate return. "In this decision all concurred save one: Ward, the physician of the party." The cable gave no details of what might or might not have been a dramatic argument fought out amidst the frozen splendour of the South.
It was on the return journey that the loss of life occurred. All the party were affected more or less with frostbite, and the position became serious when they were no more than eighty miles from the camp, where those left behind, owing to the sudden change of plans, were not expecting their return so early. Several of the party could go no farther, and began to give up hope. Food and fuel were both running short, and there seemed no chance of anyone surviving unless help were sent from the base-camp. "One of the party, Ward the physician, who was less unfit than the others, volunteered to attempt the eighty miles journey alone. He set out with food enough for six days, and was within twenty miles of the camp when a severe blizzard began, and lasted three days. By that time his food and fuel had run out. Struggling on, however, he arrived at the camp in the last stage of exhaustion. A relief party set out immediately, and on locating the rest of the party, found that nine out of the remaining twenty-three lead died. Two others died during the journey back to the camp. The physician Ward is recovering."
It was all curiously simple and straightforward, the language of men of action, not of literary artists. Only in the newspaper's headlines was there any sign of writing-up, and also in a short leading-article in which "the physician Ward" was held up as the type of man who had helped to build up the greatness of England.
Stella read it through with intense eagerness, trying to see behind the words, to visualize the hard majestic drama that had taken place on the other side of the world, and the part that Ward had played in it. She realized only very gradually that he had performed a deed of incomparable bravery.
After a little while there came a knock at the door and Philip entered again. There was something strange and anxious about his face; something that made her immediately sorry for him.
"Come in, Philip," she said in a kindly tone. "I've read the account in the paper."
He sat down at her bedside and began to speak very slowly and quietly. "It must be a dreadful thing to go out all those thousands of miles and then have to turn back without reaching the place you're aiming at. It is Ward's first failure in anything he has tackled."
"Failure" The word seemed to her astounding. "Failure?—Would you call it a failure?—Anyhow, it's the most magnificent failure I've ever heard of."
He looked at her and was silent.
She was no longer sorry for him, but indignant—indignant because he had not commented generously on Ward's bravery. If he had done so she would have loved him passionately, and thought how unfair it was that bodily strength was given to one man and not to another.
There came a warm summer midnight when Philip sat in his revolving desk-chair and clasped his hands nervously in, front of his knees. Vaughan stood by the mantelpiece, suave even amidst his breathlessness. He looked as if he had come through some gory affray; his hair was ruffled, his forehead smeared with sweat, and on his collar and tie were red-brown bloodstains. Philip faced him white as chalk, and with a look in his eyes of almost uncanny horror.
He could not speak. When Vaughan spoke he looked at him as a dumb animal looks at his master. And Vaughan spoke icily, almost casually, as if emphasising his own composure.
"A very difficult case, Mr. Monsell...One of the worst I have ever had..."
"Is she dead?"
The question came out like a shot from a gun-barrel, with the same quality of irrepressible explosive force. Having spoken, the bloodless lips were set firm as before, and the eyes stared forth again with their dumb half-babyish appeal.
"No, she is living, and will, I think, recover. But the baby is dead...She had a fall some weeks ago, if I remember rightly..."
"Undoubtedly that was the reason. Most unfortunate...Otherwise..."
When he went upstairs to her all he could do was to kneel down at the bedside and press his lips to her outstretched hand.
"Stella—dear—Stella, my dearest darling—What a shame! What a shame..."
She stroked his forehead, comforting him.
Yes, it seemed to him that he had failed. He sat in his study during the long lonely hours of the early morning; the nurse had sent him away from Stella's room, not wishing her to be kept awake. He sat in his old arm-chair, surrounded by the books he loved; he loved them, but they had played him false; they had not taught him how to do the ordinary simple things of the world that needed doing. Written up across almost everything he had ever tackled he could read in his mind's eye the verdict: This man did the wrong thing, said the wrong word...meant well, poor fool, but made a hash of everything...
Whereas others in their very blindness did right, and by their very failures were made heroes.
Dawn found him still there in the quiet book-lined room, pondering on a strange perverted twist in his soul. Some day, he told himself again and again with unrelenting confidence—some day he would succeed, would snatch victory, if need be, from the very jaws of death...
Ward was due to arrive in England at the beginning of the following December. Many of his colleagues were Australians, and the English contingent returned in an ordinary passenger liner with what seemed no doubt to them the minimum of publicity. They had reckoned, however, without the all-embracing activities of modern journalism. This return of Ward and his companions, occurring as it did during the depth of a particularly lifeless autumn, attracted the frenzied zeal of a half-desperate Fleet Street. For weeks before the Oruma reached Tilbury the full orchestra of the great "dailies" had been preparing for the event. "The physician Ward," like a popular novelist or actor, had somehow appealed to the capricious taste of the public, with the added benefit that it was Fleet Street, and not the man himself, who scored the financial advantage.
The story of Ward's undoubtedly heroic exploit, meagre in its certified details, had been so elaborated by people gifted with journalistic imagination that the figure of Ward stood as that of a Siegfried, giving vicarious disproof to the complaints that England was becoming altogether decadent. School children were told of Ward in the same sentence as of Drake and Florence Nightingale; during the two months of the rather slow homeward voyage from Tasmania by way of Sydney, Ward's fame grew and spread and became fierce like a prairie fire fanned by a high wind.
What happened might, of course, have been expected. On the arrival of the boat at Tilbury crowds of press-reporters and photographers gave the returning adventurers some foretaste of what they might expect. A multitude numbering at least five thousand surged round the cramped Fenchurch Street Station when the boat train came in, and insisted on staying until they had seen their hero. Their hero, however, escaped by a side exit and took a taxi to his hotel, a quiet one in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, well-known only to a few carefully selected families from the Provinces. In a few minutes the sleuths of Fleet Street had tracked him down, and in a few hours the quiet hotel in Bloomsbury was as well-known to the world as Claridge's and the Savoy.
Popular frenzy knew no bounds. The soberer journals, without in any way disparaging Ward, deplored the extraordinary madness of the enthusiasm. No foreign crowned head had ever been lionised on such a colossal scale. If Ward went to a theatre the audience cheered him more than the play; if he walked down Bond Street little knots of people followed him till as a last resort he had to take a taxi back to his hotel. He gave interviews good-humouredly, signed autographs for a solid hour every morning, and wrote several articles to Sunday newspapers for almost incredible sums.
Then, towards Christmas, the enthusiasm died down almost as suddenly as it had risen. By the beginning of the New Year, Ward was, in the journalistic sense, quite "dead"; even the news that he had taken the post of surgeon at a famous London hospital did not attract a great deal of attention. He had, however, established himself permanently as a well-known personage, and both the book he was writing and the lectures he was proposing to give were certain of being popular successes.
At Chassingford, Philip and Stella found Ward looming even larger and larger on their horizon.
Ever since the first cable containing news of him they had found it impossible to keep him out of their words and thoughts. They talked of him cordially and affectionately, as of a true and valued friend whom they were both of them proud to know: And now, with Ward's name shouted from all the newspapers, and with everybody in Chassingford full of gossip about him, it was small wonder that, without their noticing it, a legend of him came into being and took habitation with them.
It was Philip who would say, after dinner during the long lamp-lit winter evenings: "When I was at Cambridge Ward used to..." Some anecdote, pointed or pointless, with Ward for the hero. And then Stella would take up the tale with: "Did you ever notice when Ward used to come here how he..." The Legend was all about them, wrapping them round, enchanting them somehow, and each in a different way.
Sometimes they rebelled against it, as if the clouds lifted suddenly and revealed to them the spell that had been cast over them. "Good God, we've been talking about Ward for two solid hours!" Philip exclaimed once. "He seems to be the only subject that makes us fluent."
That was before the newspaper "boom." When that came, it was easier for Philip to explain the prominence that Ward held in their conversation; easier also to let themselves talk frankly and endlessly about him. They were not always in the mood for hero-worship. Sometimes they argued whether the sort of bravery Ward showed deserved any special praise at all, since apparently it was natural to him and required far less deliberate courage than Philip had to expend every time he made a public speech. Sometimes, especially at the height of the "boom," they talked a little condescendingly of him, as of a mere popular idol. And once Stella cried out furiously: "Oh, for Heaven's sake let's stop talking about the fellow altogether. I'm sick to death of hearing his name from early morning till late at night. Even when I'm asleep I dream about him!"
Philip's voice quickened curiously: "What's that?—You dream about him? Do you?"
"Yes, often. Last night I dreamed the house was on fire and he saved us all from being burned to death."
She laughed oddly, as if to throw doubt upon whether she were speaking seriously or not.
They were rather surprised when weeks passed by and Ward did not visit them. "He must know we're here," said Stella. "Perhaps, though, he feels he's too big for us now." Philip shrugged his shoulders rather irritably. "We're as good as he is, Stella, and I can't imagine him fool enough to think otherwise. Most likely he's afraid we should lionise him if he came here."
"Oh, but we wouldn't, would we, Philip? I'd promise not to, anyway. Do write to him and ask him to come."
That was one mood. At another time she would implore Philip not to ask him to come. "He used to frighten me. Oh, don't bother about him, Philip."
Then one evening Philip returned to Chassingford after a day in town. "I met Ward in the Strand this morning," he said, observing Stella closely.
She started, and something sharp and strange flashed into her eyes. "You did?—Really?—And what happened?"
"Oh, we talked. He insisted on lunching me at Simpson's. And I asked him to dinner."
"Yes; why not?"
"But Philip, I told you why not...I don't want him to come...I couldn't bear him—there's something about him that—that oppresses me...And you promised me you wouldn't ask him...Oh, Philip, why did you when you knew...?"
"It's all right." His voice was like a could douche upon her excitement. "You needn't get alarmed. He declined my invitation."
"He couldn't come?"
She gave a faint gasp of relief. "That's lucky...isn't it?" she said, weakly. "But you oughtn't to have asked him..."
Three hours later before going to sleep she said uneasily: "Philip, I wonder why Ward wouldn't come?...If he won't accept an invitation from you, I think I'll write to him...myself..."
And she added, with careful slowness: "I'm—I'm not going to be silly about him any more."
But it happened that when she wrote a note to Ward asking him to come to a dinner-party at the Hall, he replied to her as he had done to Philip—by a courteous refusal. He was too busy; his work at the hospital would not allow of his going so far out of town and so on. She wrote back immediately a sharp, extremely feminine letter that she would probably have torn up on a second reading, "I don't believe that your work prevents you from visiting your friends," she wrote. "You can choose your own evening—or make it lunch if that suits you better. There are good late trains from Chassingford to town, and in any case we should be able to put you up for the night. If you don't come, Philip, I know, will be both hurt and disappointed..." She posted the letter in hot haste, as if aware that a delay would probably result in its being torn up.
By return an answer came, not to her but to Philip, stating that although he (Ward) was very busy, he would try to look them up some time in the near future if they would fix on a suitable evening.
"So now," said Philip, as he handed her the letter, "you've got what you want, or else what you don't want. Which is it? I don't know."
"And neither do I," replied Stella. Then she gave him a look half-imploring, half-defiant, and returned the letter without glancing at it. "An acceptance, I suppose?"
"Yes. Shall I ask him for next week?"
"To-morrow if you like," she replied instantly. "It makes no difference to me."
In the end Philip selected and Ward agreed to an evening about a week later. When the day came the weather was wild and rainy—one of those fierce January days that die fighting, with twilight, calm as death, to give an awful quietus to the roaring of winds and rain. The darkness, when it crept over the mist-hung lawns, drew with it a pall of silence, more terrible by far than the storm that had raged all day. Philip was away in a neighbouring town on business, and Stella took tea alone amidst the sombre cosiness of the library.
There were times in her life, and this was one, when she felt that all her years in England and in an English household had meant nothing to her; that deep down in her was a heart-beat still untamed by the colder northern clime. Something, she felt, was on the verge of happening; something that would resolve her out of uncertainty into a sharp tumultuous confidence. The Hall, with its breathings of distant days and traditions which she did not and could not share, appeared cold and foreign to her; she was an interloper, and the old walls, by their very calmness, were telling her so. Only yesterday, it seemed, she had sat on the floor against Philip's knees and had listened to him expounding to her all the small accurate things that were not worth knowing. How kind and good he was to her, and had been, ever since their first meeting. He loved her, she knew, with a love that was like the rest of him, tireless and at times tiresome; a love that never flagged and never rioted; that was at once patient and profound; intellectual without romance and physical without passion.
She poked up the fire and lit an Egyptian cigarette. The hours crawled on; the night was very dark and still. Something, she was sure, was going to happen...A strange thing was already in her heart that had never been there before; a fear of the house itself, of the long dark corridors and the black windows with the blinds yet undrawn. Almost in panic she climbed the stairs to her bedroom and began to dress for dinner.
The first thing she noticed was the merely physical change in him. Somehow she had never reckoned on his coming back any different. He had been ill, she knew, but it had never occurred to her that his illness would alter his appearance.
Now she stood almost aghast as Venner ushered him into the drawing-room. She drew in her breath tightly, as if facing an apparition; but she perceived the truth subtly and at once; he had gone out to the Antarctic a boy and had come back a man. There was manliness in every line and furrow of his face; the old winsome, almost unearthly boyishness had grown into a grim and passionate virility. He did not look so young as he was, but had instead a deep half-tragical maturity that seemed perfectly in accord with the touches of iron-grey hair round his temples.
She felt, as she met him and as he gave her hand a quick indefinite pressure, a sudden leaping up of something within her, as at a new and decisive contact. The twinkling electric lights of the drawing-room swam together into a dim opaque mist in which Ward, grim and dinner-jacketed, was the heroic centre-piece; a curious columnar immensity about him seemed to dwarf and obscure all else for the time being, so that she had no presence of mind to do anything but smile weakly and avoid his eyes.
Nothing, she told herself, as she sat at the dinner-table, looking dimly across the sparkling arena of silver and cut-glass, with the red-shaded lamps sending their warm glow to illumine the faces of the men—nothing would ever be the same again. She was aware, in a vague half-conscious way, that decisive moments in her life were passing. The whole orderly routine of dinner slipped past her like episodes in a crowded dream; miracles were happening, and one of them was her own outward quietness, when inside her such commotion was raging. She wondered what would happen if she were to scream suddenly at the top of her voice. She pictured Philip's startled face, the gossip in the servants' room afterwards, Venner perhaps dropping a tray of liqueurs in his astonishment...and Ward, calm and statuesque, regarding her outbreak as some new and interesting form of disease.
Conversation, never Ward's strongest point, surprised her by its occasional vividness. He was different; he was different; he was a grown man now, touching a chord in her that had never been touched before and that racked her with exquisite agony. He brought back to her mind those childhood days in a far country; memories vast yet simple, clean and naked as pain...And meanwhile Philip chattered politics and discussed his prospects for the next election.
As she had guessed, Ward spoke hardly at all about his experiences in the South. Philip, indeed, did not give him many chances of doing so; he seemed immensely glad of the opportunity to discuss the tangled intricacies of political tactics with one who, after so long abroad, might be expected to thirst for them. "If the Government throws out the amendment...then a dissolution...general election...If, on the other hand..." This sort of thing made Philip as excited as it was ever possible for him to be. He absently collected cutlery into a heap around his wine-glass as he expounded, and every now and then he tapped the table lightly with one finger in emphasis. A curious enthusiasm filled his eyes as he steered carefully through the meshes of a somewhat technical argument; Venner kept filling up his glass with port and he drank automatically.
At last Ward remarked, half-smiling: "I'm sure Mrs. Monsell can't be interested in all this, Philip. Don't you think we're boring her rather?"
Philip glanced round as one roused suddenly from an intoxicating dream. "My wife is very interested in politics," he said distantly. "Aren't you, Stella?"
She had been sitting there, not in the least bored (for she had not been listening), but entranced by her own particular dream. Something prompted her to reply: "Interested, yes, but not thrilled."
Ward looked up suddenly and gave her a quick glance, half-puzzled, half-sympathetic.
When they went into the drawing-room, it became apparent to Stella, at any rate, that Philip had drunk more than was good for him Not that he had drunk a great deal, but that alcohol, even in very small quantities, had an immediate effect on him. It did not make him brilliant and vivacious (or he would have been more of a success at public dinners) nor did it make him noisy or boisterous; it merely afflicted him with an irresistible and undignified tiredness. And now, as he painfully settled himself in an arm-chair, he struggled hard to prevent the fuddled glaze from obscuring his eyes.
Stella found conversation with Ward rather difficult, for he kept appealing to Philip, as if unwilling to be dragged into a tête-à-tête with her; and Philip, after much laborious repetition, could be induced to reply no more than vague affirmatives. His eyes were expressionless, and his whole posture was one of limpness and stupefaction. Ward, seated a little to the rear, would not be able to observe him so accurately, and Stella was glad of this. Her chief aim now was to prevent him from realizing that Philip was fuddled. She felt ashamed; and it was the first time in her life that she had been ashamed of Philip. When he had broken down in the middle of the Loamport speech years before, she had been passionately sorry for him; even at the recent football-match fiasco she had been no more than disappointed. But now, viewing his crumpled figure, more undignified than ever because of the immaculateness of his evening clothes, she felt, not sorry, nor disappointed, but bitterly, poignantly ashamed. She would have felt less shame if he had come home roaring drunk in a taxi after a night at a cabaret, if his clothes had been torn after a mêllée with a night-porter, or if, on the threshold, he had begun to knock her about. She could have forgiven boisterous animal spirits, however objectionable; it was this harmless placid tippling, this refined domestic half-drunkenness, that forced on her the deepest sense of personal humiliation.
She talked almost frantically to Ward, for she knew that Philip's condition would not last long. She discussed the weather, politics, family affairs, Hungary, anything she could think of to stave off a recognition by Ward of what was the matter with Philip. And then, when she began to think she would succeed, Ward leaned forward towards her, and said, lowering his voice to a whisper: "I hope you won't think me rude if, as Philip's friend and also a medical man, I ask a rather personal question. Why does Philip take alcoholic drinks when he obviously can't stand them?"
She flushed hotly, and for a second was in the mood to snub him as crushingly as she could. Then, to her own infinite surprise, a feeling of calm satisfaction came over her; she was glad he knew; it was so much easier for her than if she were still trying to disguise the truth from him.
She answered, very calmly: "I don't know. I suppose he doesn't realize..." She paused, and then found herself defending Philip almost instinctively. "He doesn't often take too much, and of course he's never really—really drunk...It was that argument he had with you—he got excited and didn't realize quite what he was drinking."
Ward nodded understandingly. "He ought to be teetotal. Otherwise he'll make rather a fool of himself some time when it matters."
She went on, in the way in which a fond mother describes the intricate characteristics of her child's minor ailments: "I don't know why it is that a few glasses of port affect him...Other people can drink twice as much. I can myself. I was brought up on Hungarian wines that are nearly as strong as whisky."
He answered: "Were you! It's a good job I wasn't. I should have murdered somebody by now if I had been. Do you know why I'm teetotal? It's not any faddist reason, I assure you. It's because I'm afraid of what I should do if I got drunk. I've got a hard enough job to keep myself properly controlled as it is, without loosening my grip with alcohol. You don't know me, Mrs. Monsell. But take my advice, anyway—get Philip to knock off strong drink."
"I will if I can," she answered. And she added, whimsically: "All the same I can't imagine Philip ever getting drunk enough to kill anybody."
There was an almost regretful note in her voice. And at that moment, when perhaps both of them were wondering what on earth they were going to talk about, Philip slowly and rather ludicrously opened his eyes. "Ah, what was I saying?" he began vaguely, blinking round him. "I forget...Anyway it doesn't matter...Suppose we have a little music? Stella, my dear, would you mind singing something for us?"
And Ward added meaningly: "Yes, do. Please."
She went to the piano and sat perfectly still for a moment, wondering what she should sing. At last, smiling slightly, she began, not a Hungarian song, but an English ballad of the sentimental drawing-room variety. She sang it flagrantly, blatantly, emphasizing all its trite phraseology and equally trite cadences. And at the conclusion she swung round on the piano-stool and asked Philip what he thought about it.
"Rather pretty," he replied vaguely.
"And you?" she went on, turning inquiringly to Ward.
He answered: "My opinion about music is of no value...But personally I didn't like it."
"Neither did I." She tossed her head and added defiantly: "I don't know what made me sing it. I don't know what's making anybody do anything to-night...And...if Philip will only manage to keep awake I don't very much care..."
She looked at both of them, one after the other, and her lower lip began to tremble as if she were going to cry. But on the very brink of disaster she gave a sharp, hard little laugh and shrugged her shoulders. There was something uncanny in the suddenness of it, as if she had summoned energy to throw off fetters of wrought iron and had found them only gossamer.
For over six months they did not see Ward again, except once when he was lecturing at the Orpheus Hall in Wigmore Street, and they were among the audience. He had written to Philip enclosing a couple of tickets and explaining that he had arranged to deliver a series of lectures on his polar experiences. "I'm rather nervous about it," he wrote, "because I'm absolutely no good at public speaking. So I hope you're not bored..." Philip read this to Stella and suggested that they should take advantage of the invitation. "Of course, it's perfectly true, what he says, he's no good at public speaking. But still..."
They went to the lecture. The hall was packed, and hundreds could not gain admittance. Stella hardly expected to be bored, but she did not expect the extraordinary success that followed. It was true that Ward did not know the art of public speaking. But then, he did not attempt to make a public speech. He just talked—quietly, winsomely, without the merest pencil note, for just over an hour and a quarter. The intimacy of it all was fascinating. At the close a mob of enthusiasts waited to ask him questions and chat with him, but Philip, contrary to Stella's expectation, did not suggest waiting behind at all. "He'll be too busy to bother with us," he said. "I suggest that we get some tea and then catch the next train back."
He seemed curiously discomfited about something.
That was the last time they saw him for many months. He did not write or call, and Philip, apparently, did not ask him; Stella occasionally suggested an invitation, but nothing came of it. She learned, however, that Ward had taken up a private West-End practice in Manchester Square, and was fast becoming fashionable. This development rather surprised her; she could not imagine him in the rôle of the smart society medico. "Money," was Philip's explanation. "When a man has such amazing luck as he's had, he's a fool if he doesn't make the most of it."
Meanwhile at Chassingford nothing happened. Nothing, she felt, ever did happen or ever could happen in such a place. Philip toiled on, speechmaking and writing pamphlets that nobody, so far as she could gather, ever read; his incessant activities and keen passionless enthusiasm stirred hardly a ripple on the calm surface of the constituency. In the old days his political ambitions had stirred her to enthusiasm merely because they had been his; now she regarded them coldly merely because they were political.
The fact was, both she and he were changing. She was becoming restless—intolerably and intolerantly restless. There were days when the sombre routine of the Hall shrouded her in complete and ineffable melancholy, and there were other days when the serene beauty of the country-side gave her glimpses of a new world that beckoned her to leave the old. Days came when she felt that she had so far hardly begun to live, and nights followed when she felt that she was slowly and painfully dying. The life of Chassingford had tamed her without her noticing it; now, when she did notice it, she was more than tamed; she was a prisoner. More and more, as she lived her life at Chassingford, there came to her the wistful sights and echoes of childhood, until she almost lived on the shores of the Danube again, amidst a riot of sounds and colours that gave miraculous ease to her senses.
"Philip," she told him once, "I'm simply starving for colour..."
"We'll have the house painted," he replied solemnly.
She thought he was joking, but in a few days the decorators came round -and took possession of the house. His idea of colour was all sombre browns and greys. Her idea, which she carried out in her own particular rooms, was orange and black and gold and flaming red. When it was finished she asked him what he thought about it. He said it hurt his eyes.
She replied quietly: "Do you think heaven would hurt your eyes, Philip?"
He stared at her uncomprehendingly.
He also was changing. He was developing a pompous, almost a formidable dignity. He looked out upon the world with calm and unflinching eyes; in whatever he had set his mind upon he would not give way. "Well, at any rate, he's a sticker," said a jovial political opponent to Stella. "You can't help admiring him."
"Or fearing him," Stella added to herself.
She did fear him. She feared him because he would not let even failure fail. His failures now were no longer pathetic to her; they were grim, sinister, terrible—almost, in a way, successful. He had not conquered adverse fortune; he had wearied her. He was still a joke in Chassingford, but because he was a stale joke people no longer laughed at him. When Stella heard his quavering high-pitched voice shrill in the midst of some village hall a tenth part filled, she did not feel sorry for him because his audience was so small; she felt appalled by the significance of the fact that even such an audience was giving him a vague but respectful hearing. He was actually succeeding, without triumph and without even dignity, but succeeding nevertheless. But his shrill impotent voice was a symbol of a success which, if it should in the end come to him, she felt she would not be able to endure, because the impulse of it was somehow sinister and inhuman.
He still had all the trappings of weakness—he still stammered when he spoke to strangers, was still awkward when introduced, was still incapable of dealing adequately with any situation that required tact. But, by means of long experience, he had acquired a sort of technique in making a fool of himself; nobody could "talk down" a crowd better after losing his dignity before it. He was growing stronger out of his very weakness, and it was a kind of strength that frightened her.
During the autumn they left Chassingford for a while and lived in the Kensington flat while Mrs. Monsell was perambulating abroad. Philip had to be in Chassingford a great deal, so that for a time Stella became one of those rather forlorn women who spend their afternoons in bustling department stores and exotic tea-shops. London seemed to her just as devoid of happenings as Chassingford, but the vacuum was a more interesting one.
One night after a severe rainstorm Philip came back from Chassingford wet to the skin. A chill developed, and by the evening of the next day medical attendance seemed advisable. Of course she thought of Ward. She looked up his name in the telephone directory, but there seemed to be hundreds of Wards. Not one of them, however, was a doctor living in. Manchester Square; but there was a Doctor Ward in Bethnal Green Road, East. This could hardly be the Ward she knew, but she called up the number, thinking that perhaps the Bethnal Green man might be able to tell her the address of his namesake.
The voice that answered her was a woman's.
"Oh, yes, I am Doctor Ward's dispenser...He used to live in Manchester Square...yes—" the voice sounded rather amused—"Doctor Ward the explorer, certainly...I'm not sure that he could find time to come out so far as Kensington...you see, most of his work is round about here...Oh, I see—a friend? Very well, I'll ask him when he comes back—he's engaged at present..."
Half an hour later the telephone bell rang in the small room, that served as study and work-room for Philip. Stella, answering the call, heard Ward's voice, strong and gruff like the bark of a big dog, "Yes? That you, Mrs. Monsell? Ward speaking...Philip not well? Right, I'm coming...Immediately, of course..."
That was all.
When she told Philip whom she had sent for he seemed displeased. "Why not a local man? Fancy dragging the fellow all the way from Bethnal Green!"
"Oh!" she exclaimed quickly. "So you knew he'd moved to Bethnal Green? Why didn't you tell me?"
He looked at her curiously as he replied: "Perhaps because it didn't occur to me that you were so deeply interested in his affairs."
She would never, could never forget the weeks that followed. They were a strange dreamlike interlude, full of light and shadow, sound and silence; and, in and about them all, Philip weak and pitiful, Ward strong and immense. The contrast soothed her. On that dark rainy night when Ward told her brusquely that Philip was suffering from acute pneumonia, that his temperature was a hundred and four and his pulse a hundred and sixty, and that as near as possible would be the margin between life and death—at that sharp challenging moment her senses cleared and she was a calm warrior marshalling her forces for victory. "You said once that I should make a good nurse," she told Ward. "Very well, I shall nurse Philip. And I shan't let him die."
She said that with quiet confidence, and Ward replied, just as quietly: "I don't believe you will."
The days passed like drab phantoms, with nothing alive in them but the firelight flickering in the bedroom and the autumn rains lashing the windows. Philip, almost lost amidst the shadows of the dark days, could hardly speak, could only breathe heavily, and cough, and stare at her with dim, suffering eyes. She loved him now as she had loved him at first; he was a child, a baby, and she was a strong mother fighting his battles for him and protecting him from a hard world. A great calm was on her as the battle progressed, and as she urged herself to fight yet more and more strenuously—the calm as of, perhaps, the motherhood she had missed. For a whole week of days and nights she hardly slept at all, even in the arm-chair by the fire; yet nature armed her with a strength that renewed her every hour and every minute. The restlessness left her: she was radiant, serene, brimful of a deep and tranquil love that was finding at last an outlet. There was even a change in her appearance; she looked a mother, and the soft fire-glow gave her body a curving beauty that it had seemed never to possess before.
Ward came twice a day. He said very little, was always curt, would waste no time in idle conversations. He came dressed in rough tweeds that seemed oddly at variance with his profession; once he told her very brusquely why he had left Manchester Square. "Couldn't stand fashionable women with fashionable complaints. Couldn't stand a morning-coat and top-hat. Prefer the East-End people who don't bother me till they're really ill..."
Then at last there came the morning when she stood with him in the small entrance-hall of the flat, and he told her that for the future he would call only once a day, in the evenings.
"I suppose that means he's out of danger?" she queried eagerly.
He answered: "Yes, I think I can say he's out of danger now."
She looked at him with vague, swimming eyes. She was speechless with joy, and smiled stupidly. She stood still for some moments, grappling with this fierce overwhelming joy, and also with a new feeling that she could not analyse, but which seemed somehow to rob her of her strength.
He said simply: "You've saved his life."
"And you also," she replied, with sudden passionate eagerness.
There was a long silence. Then it was, when the battle was over and the fight won, that she could open her eyes at last and see the fighter who had stood shoulder to shoulder with her and had helped her to victory. She looked at him, slowly and carefully, as if she had never seen him before.
The memory of their common fight and their common victory was a bond between them. That bond might grow and grow until—
He was speaking. "I'm—I'm more glad than I can say. I'm very fond of Philip."
"So am I."
She felt then that he, Ward, was her husband, and that Philip, weak and puny on the bed in the next room, was their child, whom they had watched over and tended together.
And in another moment, with a quick embarrassed smile, he had stepped into the lift and was gone.
Mrs. Monsell, hurriedly interrupted in the midst of a tour in Tunis and Algiers, arrived in London just after Philip had been reported out of danger. Stella saw her from the window as she arrived, heavily furred and cloaked, in a taxi; saw her engage in a sharp and short altercation with the driver with no less sang-froid because, for all she knew, her only son might be lying dead a few yards away. There was something hard and frosty in the look of her, something which, for the first time in her life, Stella actively disliked.
A minute later she was kissing her and telling her that Philip was better. And, incidentally, mentioning Ward. "Oh, so he's your doctor," remarked Mrs. Monsell. "You're in luck, I can see."
Stella wondered what she meant by that—whether it was merely one of the vaguely cynical remarks that fell so easily from her lips. Soon afterwards mother and son were alone together for some time, while Stella remained in the drawing-room, feeling for some reason or other acutely uncomfortable. She made up her mind that she would go back to Chassingford as soon as ever Philip was well enough.
Coming soundlessly out of the sick-room, Mrs. Monsell greeted the brooding Stella with a calm smile. "Philip has been telling me all about it," she said.
Something in Stella's subconscious mind forced her to exclaim sharply: "All about what?"
Mrs. Monsell's eyes fixed themselves on Stella in a cold relentless stare. "He has been telling me how good you have been to him." She began to smile as she added: "You and Doctor Ward."
She insisted on going out of town as soon as Philip was better, and as Mrs. Monsell vastly preferred Kensington to Chassingford the matter was easy to arrange.
Yet almost as soon as the train pulled up at Chassingford's wind-swept station she wished she were back in London again. It was the hour of twilight; the sky was grey with heavy rain clouds, and the station lamps creaked and jangled as the wind shook them. The stationmaster touched his cap to Philip as they passed the ticket barrier; Philip replied by a sombre smile.
There seemed to her to be an air of melancholy brooding over the place. As the horse-drawn cab squelched through the mud of the station-yard and turned at last into the High Street, she felt a sudden sickening pull of depression—an almost physical sensation that gripped her like pain. The green-white gas lamps of the shops lit up Philip's face in passing; he was sitting rigidly upright in his corner of the cab. His face was drawn and pale, a witness of the struggle from which he had just emerged; but in his eyes there was a keener, fiercer light, as of, perhaps, the victory won. She had thought at first that after his illness he would need to be nursed and coddled back to health, and she had looked forward to it rapturously. But from the moment that he left his bed she had realised that he was different. He repelled her attentions with frigid politeness; he was colder, sterner—had even the beginnings of power.
During the drive down the long lampless lane from the village to the Hall the darkness fell rapidly, and with it came big drops of rain that blew in through the open window of the cab. "Isn't it miserable?" she said, hoping for comfort. But he gave her no more than a perfunctory affirmative.
During dinner that night she felt she could cry at the loneliness of it all. She looked at Philip, in his starched shirt and dinner-jacket (he was becoming more and more punctilious in such matters); at Venner, standing at his elbow with the usual featureless benignity; at the rather disappointing dinner served with a kind of morose magnificence; and finally, in the mirror opposite, at herself, thoroughly and completely miserable. She never analysed herself, never tracked down her thoughts and wants to their ultimate foundations; she merely felt, and now she felt dead. She longed for the noisy gaiety of some "popular" restaurant in town, for somebody who would talk to her eagerly about something. Philip was so silent; if he talked at all, it was as a professor delivering a lecture to a rather exasperating pupil.
After dinner he went to his study to work. She amused herself for an hour or so with the gramophone, and then, being tired, went up to bed. Yet she did not sleep well; her head was throbbing and unquiet. Once when she stirred out of a troubled sleep she heard Philip coming upstairs to his room. She looked at the radium clock at her bedside; the time was half-past one.
Philip was "busy." He gave that as his reason for everything; for seeing so little of her, for shutting himself in his study till the early hours of the morning, for declining her suggested excursions with him, for his silence, his strangeness, his curious grim energy. Hard work (or perhaps something else which she did not understand) was certainly having its results. "Your husband is becoming a really good speaker," said a friend whom she met one day in Chassingford. "He's got a touch of what he never had before—emotion."
She wondered, and was puzzled, and suffered meanwhile the extremes of loneliness in the sombre old house. Music was her only consolation—music, and then, fortuitously, Roly. Roly was a black and white kitten that, rain-sodden and half-starved, had mewed on the window-sill one stormy December night. She had opened the window a few inches and Roly had promptly squeezed his way through. From that moment she felt she had a friend.
She was rather stupid about Roly. During a party to which Philip had invited various political people, she spent most of the time holding out a piece of cotton for Roly to play with. "Surely rather childish," as Philip remarked afterwards. "What must people have thought of you, sitting there all the time playing with a cat?"
"A kitten," she corrected. "Well, anyway, what must Roly have thought of you all, chattering nonsense and taking notice of neither him nor me?"
"Is it? Perhaps it is."
Roly was certainly an intelligent creature, with a voluptuous fondness for having his belly rubbed and scratched. Wherever Stella went he followed; she used to take him in the car on shopping expeditions, and it was only through an intense fear of dogs that he would stay in the car while she went into the shops. And on the dark winter evenings when Philip was in his study working, the pressure of Roly asleep on her lap in front of the fire soothed her and made her less lonely.
One night she was lying full-length on the hearth-rug, enjoying a fierce and exciting game with the kitten, when she looked up and saw a figure standing by the curtained doorway. She thought at first it was Philip, but as her eyes accustomed themselves to the shadows she saw something that startled her and made her scramble hastily to her feet.
It was Ward.
He was looking at her curiously, and as soon as he saw that she was looking at him, he went forward and held out his hand. "I rang the bell," he said, "but I couldn't get any answer. The front door was half-open, so I took the liberty of coming in on my own."
"Yes..." she replied nervously. "Venner's very deaf."
She said quickly: "Oh, Philip wouldn't hear you. He's had a sound-proof door put in his study. He works every night till late."
"While you amuse yourself with your cat."
"Yes, why not?—He's a darling. Just look at him—do you like cats?"
"I like all animals."
"Do you?—Oh, so do I. Philip doesn't. He's kind to them, of course, but they get on his nerves."
She made an attempt to secure Roly for Ward's inspection, but the cat scampered away, afraid, no doubt, of the stranger.
"Never mind; he'll come back," she said, laughing. "He doesn't know you. And no wonder. I haven't seen you since Philip was ill."
"That wasn't very long ago," he answered.
"Well?—Do you call two months a long time?"
"It's seemed so to me."
Then, as if realising suddenly the interpretation of which her reply was capable, she blushed a fierce red, mercifully indistinct in the shadows.
"To me," he went on, either not noticing or else seeming not to notice, "the time has gone just like a busy day. I assure you this is the first opportunity I've had of leaving town even for a few hours. I wanted to see how Philip was getting on."
"He's much better," she replied. "And working tremendously hard. I suppose you are also. Still in Bethnal Green?"
"Yes. Not at all a dull place to live in. A hundred thousand people all packed together within a few hundred acres, so one doesn't lack company."
"It sounds better to me than Chassingford. I'd like to go and see it. Can I visit you some time?"
He seemed to throw off the question without giving a direct answer. "Yes, you certainly ought to visit a place like Bethnal Green. It would teach you things."
She looked at him, quick to perceive his evasion of her question. "Philip..." he began, and she went on, as if glad of the lead he had given her: "Yes, I'll fetch him. He'll be in his study writing. Do you mind waiting here for a moment?"
She left him standing with his back to the fire, his overcoat still on, but loosely unbuttoned. And when she returned, a few minutes later, he was still in the same place, as if he had scarcely moved a muscle during the whole interval.
But her scampering return roused him, and her face, when in the flickering fire-glow he could glimpse it, made him step forward and catch sharply at her bare arm. "What's happened?" he said quickly. "You're looking scared. What's the matter?"
She stared up at him and for a long moment could not speak. Through the tears that streamed from her eyes there gleamed a light that he had never seen in them before; she spoke at last with slow sobbing passion. "They've drowned my kitten," she said, brokenly. "They've—drowned—Roly...What for?—Oh, why on earth should they have done it?—I can't understand—I can't understand..."
She would have fallen had not he supported her, and after that she lay helplessly in his arms, her whole body rocking and shaking with sobs.
Ward's voice was calm but grim. "Who's the 'they' you're talking about?"
"They drowned your kitten?"
"Yes—why—why? That's what I can't understand...They wouldn't tell me."
"Didn't they know it was your kitten?"
"Perhaps not...But why—why—?"
"Look here." He pushed her gently away from him and made her sit down in a chair. "I'll go out and talk to those fellows. Then we shall see what's happened."
He went out and returned in about ten minutes. His face was grimmer than ever then; he walked over to the window and stood looking out upon the grey wintry twilight for some time without speaking. Then he came towards the fire and began quietly: "This is a peculiar business. Those fellows wouldn't tell me the truth at first. They said they'd merely done it because they thought it was a stray, and they always drown strays...But at last I got them to talk differently. And they said—it seems queer, I'll admit—that Philip ordered them to drown the kitten."
She stood up with clenched fists and flashing eyes. "You say Philip ordered them to—"
"Don't shout!" he commanded. He put both his hands on her arms as if to calm her excitement. But she would not be calmed. "You say Philip—" she went on, in a furious torrent of words, and then stopped suddenly.
For in the shadow of the doorway stood Philip himself, thin-faced and stooping.
Ward was the first to speak. He began, briskly: "Good evening, Philip. Mrs. Monsell is rather upset because the gardeners have drowned her kitten. I went out to make inquiries and the men say that you gave them orders to do so. Surely that can't be true?"
Philip stepped forward and held out his hand to Ward. "Delighted to see you...What an extraordinary thing for the men to say...My poor Stella...good heavens, why on earth should I give them such an order?"
He tried to put his arm round her shoulders but she shrank away from him.
He went on: "I must certainly enquire into this business. I can't understand why they have done such a thing, and still less why they say I ordered them to. An absurd story...Doesn't it seem so to you?" He looked at Ward.
The latter did not reply, and Philip went on, shrugging his shoulders: "Well, anyway, I'll go and see the men about it straight away. It's a scandalous thing."
When he had gone Stella said: "What does it all mean? Can you understand it?"
And Ward replied: "No, I can't...I can't...I can't at all..."
They stood together in silence, as if faced with the presence of something uncanny. The firelight stirred the silence with cracklings,' and every now and then some beam or joist in the old house gave a faint creak, like a thing hardly alive. After a few moments Philip returned, and they noticed that he was very pale. But he addressed them calmly enough.
"I've paid the men a week's wages and told them to go," he announced. "They must have had some unaccountable grudge against you, Stella. Anyhow, after the lies they told, it didn't seem to me to be a case for leniency...Well now, don't let's make ourselves unhappy about it." He turned to Ward. "You'll stay to dinner, of course?"
"Sorry, but I've an appointment in town again this evening. I just took the only opportunity I had of running up to see how you were."
"Oh, I'm much better. Don't I look it?"
He stepped into the firelight, revealing cheeks no longer pale but flushed with excitement.
"I'm not sure that you do." Ward gave him a curious glance, and then, with a final shrug of the shoulders, turned towards the door. "Well, I must get along to catch the train. Just a flying visit, that's all...Good-bye..."
Philip shook hands with him cordially and left him alone with Stella in the hail.
"Good-bye, Mrs. Monsell," he said quietly, taking her hand.
"It's an excuse to get away, isn't it?" she whispered: "You don't want to stay?
"Well? Can you blame me? Wouldn't it be uncomfortable for all of us if I did stay?"
"Perhaps..." She added softly: "But I shall be frightened when you've gone."
"Frightened? Why? Of what? Of whom?"
"I don't know yet. But I can feel something terrible growing up all around me. When I was a little girl my father used to beat me, and I was always frightened when he went towards the corner where he kept his stick. I feel like that now."
"Don't be silly..." He gave her hand a quick, clumsy pressure, as if her words had stirred him suddenly and uncomfortably. "Don't be silly...Good-bye. You'll be all right."
"You don't think so yourself," she urged. "You're full of doubts. I can feel that from your voice. You're puzzled, aren't you?"
"Look here." His tone was severe. "You know my address. Write to me if you want any help or advice. Don't 'phone, because I'm very rarely on the spot to answer. See? And now, go back and try not to fret about the kitten. I'm sure there must have been some mistake about it. Good-bye."
"You're not sure," she whispered, but he either did not hear or else pretended not to.
She gave him a strange farewell smile and closed the heavy door after him.
That was in December.
Upon a certain evening of the following February, Stella waited by the main bookstall at Liverpool Street Station. Her slim, girlish body was oddly at variance with her nervous pacings to and fro and glancings at the clock. She could hardly see it, however, for there was a thick fog outside, and sufficient had penetrated under the glass roof to obscure in a dull yellow haze everything more than a few yards off.
As the minute-hand jerked itself further from the position of seven o'clock she became more and more restless, peering through the gloom at strangers who passed by, and continually walking the length of the bookstall and back again.
She waited till a few minutes to eight and then was on the point of going away when a tall, heavily-coated figure approached her and touched her lightly on the arm.
They looked at each other with puzzled recognition, as if expectant of some explanation.
He began: "Sorry I'm late. The fog at Bethnal Green is so bad that I feared I shouldn't get here at all."
She answered: "And if you hadn't, I think—I really mean this—I think I should have gone out and killed myself."
He clutched quickly at her arm. "Oh, nonsense. You mustn't talk like that. Come now, let's go somewhere out of this fog. How are things getting on at Chassingford—all right, I suppose so—It's over two months since I saw or heard from you—"
She interrupted him excitedly. "You didn't get any of my letters, then?"
"Letters?" He stared at her in blank astonishment. "Certainly not. I never received any letters until the one this morning. Did you write before that?"
"I can see I shall have to tell you quite a lot," she said, with suddenly achieved calmness. "Where can we go? Somewhere where we shan't be seen. Philip, of course, doesn't know I've come."
His voice, grown stern, had the effect of making her cry softly. "Please be kind to me," she whispered. "Until I've told you everything, at any rate. Please don't be cross with me for anything I've done. Not for anything."
"I didn't mean to be unkind," he answered gruffly. And there in the thick evening fog, as completely isolated from the rest of the world as if they had been on a lonely moorland instead of on a busy railway platform, he slipped his arm protectingly round her waist.
They managed to reach a small café in Broad Street—not the kind they would have ordinarily have chosen, but a welcome shelter on such a night. Its red plush seats and gilt-framed mirrors and odour of steak and onions combined to give an atmosphere of good cheer if not of good taste. Stella, however, insisted that she was not hungry, so Ward ordered tea and cakes, after choosing a seat in the least blatantly conspicuous corner of the establishment.
"Now," he began, when the greasy-looking, white-aproned waiter had taken their order. "Please remember that I'm completely in the dark. Tell me everything from the beginning. You say you wrote me letters. How many?"
"Five," she answered. "And I got no answer to any of them. So at last I decided I'd see you in person. And when you didn't come I thought—I thought—"
"I thought of walking on to the Embankment and throwing myself over."
"Now, now—" He stared at her acutely for a moment, and then added quietly, almost professionally: "It's quiet evident you're in a highly nervous condition. Will you please tell me exactly what's made you so. I give you my solemn word I will help you all I can. There!"
The waiter appeared with the tea, and while he laid it on the table Stella stared vacantly about her. They were sitting next to a window, not one fronting Broad Street, but a smaller one that overlooked some side entry or warehouse yard. As soon as the waiter had gone, Stella leaned forward excitedly across the table and whispered: "A man put his face to the window just now and looked at us. He did! I saw him!—While the waiter was laying the tea things...And I saw him before on the platform while I was waiting for you!—Oh—my God—my God—I've been followed!"
She almost collapsed, spilling her tea into the saucer and attracting the curious attention of the waiter. Ward seized her wrist in a grip that must have hurt. "Stop it!" he cried, in a loud whisper. "You're a silly girl—to frighten yourself like that. Your nerves are all unstrung. It's absurd—how could anybody—how should anybody want to follow you—on such a night, as well? Here, drink some tea...I'll send you a tonic to-morrow morning..."
Perhaps the pain in her wrist where he had held her exercised a calming effect. She began to talk very slowly and quietly, drinking her tea in gulps every now and then. "It would be Philip who had sent somebody to follow me," she said. "You don't understand Philip. He's different since you knew him. And he frightens me."
"Frightens you? How?"
"The things he does...The house itself frightens me. I'm so lonely in it...And he hardly ever speaks to me. But he goes walking about so softly and mysteriously, and sometimes in the middle of the night I hear his footsteps pacing about the rooms...And one night...I sleep in one of the top rooms and there's a big wardrobe at the side of my bed. It was bright moonlight and I couldn't sleep. I lay awake for hours, and then must have gone to sleep for a while and wakened again. I remember opening my eyes and wondering for the moment if the moonlight were dawn. On one side of the bed, as I told you, is the wardrobe, and on the other there's a full-length cheval-glass. Now—now—" her voice became slightly unsteady—"I could see the wardrobe door through the mirror...You understand...And I saw—I saw the door open slowly and a man stepped out of it."
"Well? Being a brave little woman you immediately got out of bed, tackled him, gave the alarm, and sent for the police. Isn't that right?"
"Don't you be silly," she said scathingly. "It wasn't a burglar. It was Philip. He just walked quietly to the bedroom door and went out...But it wasn't what he did; it was the way he looked—his face...It was all twisted..."
The danger light was in her eyes again, and he put a calming hand over her wrist. "Yes. I understand. Now I don't want you to tell me any more about that. Lock your bedroom door in future. That's a very simple remedy.'
"Yes, of course. I did lock my door, and then one morning during breakfast Philip said: 'So you barricade yourself in at nights now?'—Just that—nothing more. But I knew—I knew from the tone of his voice that he knew I had seen him. And I'm certain that when I get back to-night he'll know where I've been. I'm certain, I'm certain—"
"Now, just a moment—"
"It's no use trying to talk me round. I feel I'm going mad in that awful old house day after day and night after night—I can't endure it much longer—I know I can't. Something in my head will break suddenly, and then—"
"Mrs. Monsell." He looked at her earnestly until she had regained some measure of calmness, and then went on: "From what you have told me I should imagine that both you and Philip are suffering from a severe attack of nerves. As regards Philip, it isn't at all unusual after a bad illness. Anyhow, I'll come round and observe things for myself. I'll just run up some evening unexpectedly and stay for dinner. Will that suit you?"
She nodded without much enthusiasm; it was as if her excitement had been quenched suddenly by a fit of exhaustion.
They dropped the subject then. He talked to her of his medical work in Bethnal Green, and from that the conversation turned to the polar expedition and his adventures in the South. He told her that another South Polar expedition had been projected, and that he had been asked by the promoters to join it.
"And will you?" she said, with a strange fearfulness at her heart.
His answer was: "I might. I shall think about it."
Then they had to leave in time for her to catch the last train but one back to Chassingford. As they left the café, newsboys were rushing through the streets crying out: "Great Fog over London. M.P.'s Tragic Death..."
Ward bought a paper, but did not glance at it until he had seen Stella safely on the train. Then, leaning against a pillar underneath a light, he read: "Among the victims of to-day's fog was Mr. James Grainger, M.P. He was knocked down by a lorry whilst crossing the Strand, and although the vehicle pulled up in time, he fell badly, fracturing the base of the skull and dying almost immediately...His death necessitates a bye-election in the Chassingford division of Essex..."
There was no chance of any assiduous newspaper-reader forgetting Chassingford in the days that followed. Ward was by no means an assiduous newspaper-reader, but on this occasion he took the trouble to glance at a few head-lines, and from these he gathered (very vaguely, for he knew next to nothing about politics) that popular feeling was beginning to turn against the Government of the day, and that such popular feeling was expected to find an outlet in the Chassingford bye-election. It was to be a "key" election, to which the big guns of all parties would give their keenest attention. And within a few days of the funeral of the late Mr. Grainger it was announced officially that Philip Monsell would stand again for the constituency.
Ward was not surprised. He wondered, though, whether the impending election would help or hinder him in his task of judging the peculiarities of life at the Hall. In one sense the mere announcement of Philip's candidature helped him to judge, for it was obvious that there could not be very much amiss with a man who had offered himself and had been accepted as a Parliamentary candidate. And if, therefore, there was nothing wrong with Philip, with whom did the wrong lie? He could see only one answer, and it both hurt and worried him.
He was on the point of making his own personal arrangement to visit Chassingford one evening when the following letter arrived, solving his problem to some extent:
"My Dear Ward,—As you may perhaps have seen from the papers, I am once again in the turmoil of an election campaign. I should be delighted, however, if you could come up to see us one evening and stay the night. I have to be out a good deal, of course, but if you would let me know a date that suited you I would try to arrange to be in for at least a part of the evening.
"By the way, could you lend me a revolver—the more murderous-looking the better? There have been a good many attempted burglaries round here lately, and once or twice, when I have been working late, I have had the idea that men were trying to get into the house. Recently also I have had several threatening letters, though these are quite possibly political hoaxes. Any-how, as you know, I am temperamentally rather nervous, and I should feel better if I had a revolver in one of my desk-drawers. Could you bring me one when you come? But for goodness sake don't bring it loaded, as that would only make me more nervous than ever. My idea is to frighten any intruders, you see.
"Stella and I both hope we shall see you very soon. My health is not so bad, considering the strain of the campaign. Stella, however, seems run down and low-spirited—I think she is even more scared of burglars than I am.—Yours cordially,
Ward nodded to himself as he read it. It seemed to confirm both his hopes and his fears. Philip was all right, evidently; it was Stella who was in a far more serious condition.
He wrote to Philip suggesting the following Wednesday evening, but making it clear that he could not stay overnight. And after posting the letter he examined some of his old polar kit and selected a villainous-looking fire-arm that he had used on the ice-floes of Adelie Land for killing seals. He smiled at the notion of the mild-mannered, pacifically-inclined Philip flourishing such a weapon.
Chassingford, when Ward reached it at twilight on the following Wednesday evening, betrayed all the evidences of having been violently wakened up. There was a life, a pulsating activity everywhere, which Ward, knowing the place very well, had never witnessed before. At the corner where the station approach curved into the High Street, a great hoard-ing advised the passer-by to "Vote for Monsell," and beneath the fat red letters was a head-and-shoulders photograph of Philip, more than life-size, that made him look almost Napoleonic. Unfortunately, just as Ward passed by, some urchin with opposite political views aimed a dollop of mud very accurately on Philip's nose and mouth. The urchin ran away and Ward laughed.
He was still laughing when he saw a car, gaily decorated with red and blue streamers, draw up at the kerb near-by. In front of the radiator was a card: "Vote for Monsell." And in the car was Philip himself.
Now Philip had seen the mud-throwing incident. Ward was certain of it from the look in his eyes. It was a look of fierce, consuming hatred, the kind that is powerless to hurt anyone save its possessor. It was obviously hurting Philip. His eyes kept looking first at the defaced poster and then at the grey distance into which the urchin had disappeared. And then, quite suddenly, he saw Ward.
His face changed then, as quickly as the removal of a mask. With some agility he got out of the car and went up to Ward with a cordially outstretched hand. "Hallo, old chap...How are you?...So glad you've come. You're looking fit. Just hop into the car, will you?...Home, Stimpson..."
Ward, never very communicative at first, smiled a greeting and settled himself into a corner of the car. One thing he noticed; Philip both talked and looked more like a public man. There was a new verve about him; almost a personality. His slang phrases—his "Halo, old chap," and "hop into the car" showed the extent of his improvement. And if he had not been able to laugh at a small boy throwing mud at his photograph, well, perhaps that was an irremediable deficiency in sense of humour.
The car was an open touring-car, and the journey through the pleasant chilly twilight gave some impression of the extent to which the bye-election had roused Chassingford from its customary lethargy. The High Street presented a litter of posters and hoardings—"Vote for Monsell"—and "Vote for Stookes"; Monsell was championed by most of the big shops, but Stookes seemed strong in the residential roads that branched out from the High Street. As they passed one rather busy corner a group of children booed vociferously. Ward smiled, but once again Philip seemed hurt, even by such a paltry matter.
In the open road between the town and the Hall Philip became very cordial. "I'm so glad you've come, Ward. For one thing, it will be a change for Stella. She likes you, and as a matter of fact, she gets rather bored with living at a dull place like this."
"Dull? I shouldn't call it dull at present. Isn't she working in the election?"
Philip spoke more quietly. "No, she's not. I wish she were, but she doesn't appear to want to, and I don't care to persuade her. The fact is, she suffers terribly from nerves. Are you a nerve specialist at all?
"Well, I shouldn't call myself that. But of course I know something about nerves. What exactly is the matter with—with Mrs. Monsell?"
Philip considered. "Well, she's frightened. She's frightened of any sudden noise, or anything—anything that comes unexpectedly. By the way, while I think of it—did you bring me that revolver?"
"It's safely packed away in my bag."
"Good. Well, that's an instance—don't let Stella see it. It's the sort of thing that would most certainly frighten her. See?"
"Quite. And if you like I'll try to diagnose what's wrong, so far as I can without seeming inquisitive."
"I wish you would. I shall be going out to a meeting almost immediately after dinner, so you'll be alone with her for a little while."
"Wouldn't she care for us all to go to the meeting?"
"I think not. She hates politics. She's often told me so. I'm sure she'd rather stay indoors and talk to you."
Philip was almost a charming host that evening. Before dinner he took Ward into his study and showed him the drawer in which he proposed to keep the revolver. He was very amusing when he flourished it as he would do if he were confronted by any unwelcome intruder. "We really need a weapon in this house," he said. "Venner's very deaf, and the maids go out in the evenings. I told you in my letter—didn't I?—that I rather thought that burglars had been trying to get in. I think Stella must have heard them too, for she always locks her bedroom door now."
Dinner Was a pleasant meal, admirably seasoned with conversation. Ward tried from time to time to include Stella in it, but she seemed terribly low-spirited and despondent, giving a morose, almost a surly reply to everything he asked her.
He was quite certain now that it was Stella with whom the trouble lay, and that her complaints against Philip were based on mere delusions of her own. Perhaps Philip was tactless in dealing with her; but no doubt she was difficult to deal with. The truth most likely was that her careful nursing of Philip during his illness had strained her nerves, and that life at Chassingford was not making her any better. Perhaps after the election Philip would take her for a long holiday abroad.
After dinner the snorting of the car in the drive outside was a reminder of the busy life of the parliamentary candidate. Philip, notes and dispatch-case in his hand, bade farewell to Ward. "So sorry I've got to be off. Wish you could stay the night...Afraid I shan't be back till after you've gone, if you're catching the last train, because I've two meetings out in the villages...Good-bye, old chap...So pleased to have seen you..." And in a whisper: "Find out what's the matter with Stella if you can."
The car drove away and left Ward standing rather uncomfortably in the hall. He did not much care for being left in the house in this way; he would much rather have gone with Philip to the meetings, intensely as he loathed politics. As Venner locked and bolted the front door, the Hall seemed to grow suddenly darker and huger, so that for a fleeting moment he could almost share Stella's distaste for it.
"Perhaps you will ring the bell, sir, if you want anything," said Venner, shuffling down to the side staircase with a huge bunch of keys in his hand.
Ward nodded, and as soon as Venner was out of sight he walked briskly to the drawing-room door and knocked on it. There was no answer, and after a pause he turned the handle and entered.
The moment he saw her he lost something, some sense of personal security that he had always possessed up to then. Before he saw her he had been wishing that Philip had taken him along to the meeting. Now he was strangely glad that he was left behind.
And as soon as she saw him she smiled. She looked sadly, pitiably beautiful, like a bird with a torn wing, fluttering on the earth instead of soaring in the skies. His senses were, for the moment, reeling; if he had taken wine he would have believed himself drunk.
"Come and sit down," she said quietly. And when he had taken a chair near to her she went on, just as quietly: "Now what is it you have been commissioned to find out?"
He stared at her blankly. "What—what—"
"Poor man," she said. "You must be in a dreadful muddle. I ask you here for you to find out what's wrong with Philip, and as soon as you come he gets hold of you and asks you to find out what's wrong with me. Well, you can have your chance. One or the other of us is mad, that's certain."
There was not a trace of excitement in her voice.
"Mad?" he echoed, and then shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "Oh, that's an absurd word to use, Mrs. Monsell. Now, now, since you've mentioned the subject, I may as well give you a little lecture about it. First of all, let me tell you this—that there's nothing seriously the matter, either with you or with Philip. It's entirely a question of nerves. You're run down, you need a change and a holiday, you—"
But she had sprung to her feet with clenched fists and wildly flashing eyes.
"It's me?" she cried fiercely. "It's me, is it? I'm all wrong, and he's all right!—You really think that? Do you?—Are you against me also?"
He rose and faced her sternly.
"Sit down and be quiet. Don't make a scene."
"Thinking of the servants?—There aren't any, except Venner, and an earthquake wouldn't wake him."
"I'm not thinking of the servants. I'm thinking of you yourself. It's dangerous for you to get excited like this. Sit down and keep calm."
She sat down, sobbing convulsively. He took her hand and gave it a friendly pressure.
"Now, Mrs. Monsell, I want you to understand that I'm not against you. I—I..." He stopped; her eyes were searching his with a look he had never seen in them before. "I'm your true friend," he finished up hastily. He went on after a pause: "You're unhappy here. That's very certain. The place worries you—gets on your nerves. You think—"
Her eyes, still searching his, brought him to a stop. Into the pause she interjected sadly and without vehemence: "I don't think at all. I feel. And I feel—that there's evil brooding. Can you understand? I hoped you could. There's too much thinking in this house and not enough feeling. Philip thinks...He's all thought...And you—I thought you were like me—feeling. Oh, God, I am miserable. I wasn't made for a man like him. I want warmth and sunshine and—and love...and he hasn't any of them to give me."
She felt his grip on her arm tighten like a vice.
And meanwhile, in some crowded village hall, miles away, Philip was delivering thunderous platitudes and receiving thunderous applause...The thought occurred to Ward as he sat there in the darkly-glowing room, his senses tingling with a new and curious excitement. Philip's activities seemed vague and unreal; it was he himself who was at the core of things, touching a human soul.
She was only a girl, even yet, and she was hungry for love. But the love he thought of was that of a mother for her child; for that, he knew, was the love she had had for Philip during his illness. She was so pitiful and lonely, with this newly-grown, self-reliant Philip.
"You love children?" he heard himself saying.
He saw her dark-lashed eyes fill suddenly with tears. "Why do you ask me that?" she whispered. "Do you love children?"
He answered: "I do."
She went on: "When you are very lonely you love anything—a kitten, an old book, a doll, a half-faded flower that somebody has thrown away. But children..."
"It hurts so much to want them that one tries to forget. Do you understand?" She paused, glanced down at the wrist which he still held and was hurting, and then continued: "I had a baby once...It was born dead...Perhaps you knew?"
He started violently, as at a physical shock. She had been this in his mind, and now he had to make her that...It seemed to him that the room was growing smaller, that the walls were closing in upon them—stooping to hear what she was saying. How young and girlish she was...and how her brown eyes stared at him, calmly, mystically. They stole the years from him, made him a boy again, shy and almost afraid in the presence of some beautiful, unknown thing.
"No, I didn't know." His words were hardly audible.
Still her eyes were fixed on his in that same calm, tranquil stare. "That was because of a fall I had...It was while you were away on your expedition. Philip came to me one morning with the newspaper. He said—there was bad news of your party—many killed—and—and he didn't tell me that—that you were safe...And I fell down...and hurt myself..."
He felt as if his brain were whirling round in his head at a maddening pace. "Because—" he ejaculated harshly, without knowing what or why he spoke.
"Because," she answered, with almost unearthly serenity, "because I didn't want any harm to come to you."
He knew then that he loved her. The knowledge was like a spear of flame burning into him; he closed his eyes and could not speak.
An hour later she was sitting by the fire alone. Venner had brought in a heaped-up scuttle, and the new coal crackled fiercely on its bed of living embers. In the light of the flames the dark copper-brown of her hair kindled almost to gold.
Ward had gone—was now, no doubt, miles westward over the country-side, passing without heed the black fields and sleeping farmsteads. She could not think or remember anything that had happened; but she could feel—could feel more intensely than she had ever felt before. The spell of his manliness—his manliness that was half boyishness—was still on her, calming her passion and making it sweet and clear.
The night grew quieter, and the hours lengthened to midnight. She was happy until she heard the harsh hooting of the car in the lane. Philip's car...Then all her fears swooped down upon her again, more agonisingly after the short respite. She stumbled to her feet and rushed out of the room and up the wide staircase. She would not—could not see him.
One Friday at twilight in Bethnal Green, when the streets were crowded with shoppers, and the flaming pageant of the slums was just beginning, a sudden shower smeared all the pavements with a brown and greasy mud. And on this mud, glistening in the rosy light of the naptha-flares, a lady chanced to slip and fall. She picked herself up immediately, smiled, and said that she was not hurt, but the usual kindly crowd gathered round her, asking kindly questions and giving kindly advice, and being, in short, a very kindly nuisance. They noticed, both from her dress and from her voice, that she was comfortably well-to-do; they guessed therefore that only some queer business could have brought her alone to Bethnal Green.
In her fall she had dropped her handbag, and some money had escaped from it, chiefly coppers. A small boy rescued the hand-bag, and another small boy, assisted by stall-keepers and passers-by of all kinds, began a search for the vagrant coins. Meanwhile, a man wiped the mud off her fur coat with his handkerchief. The crowd became larger and larger, until it was composed chiefly of people who did not know what was the matter.
She tried to go her way, but the crowd were uncertain whether all her money had been recovered, and when she said that the rest of it, if there were any, did not matter, they seemed incredulous, almost resentful of her nonchalance. "'Ere's another penny, missis," said an unshaven, shabbily-dressed man, thrusting himself forward. She smiled at him, and he gaped back at her. For she was very beautiful.
But at last a watcher on the fringe of the crowd reported that police were coming. And the crowd, true to the ingrained instinct of generations, prepared to dissolve. "Clear out before they come...Don't want any trouble..." were the general exclamations, as if anybody could get into trouble for falling down on a greasy pavement. "'Ere, missis, where d' you wanter go to?"
He was a young, dark-haired, and intelligent Jew boy. She answered: "Clay Street...Doctor Ward...Do you know him?"
"Oh, yers, I know 'im. You jes' foller me."
She followed him out of the glare of the main highway into a forlorn and dismal side turning, the crowd making way for her and murmuring together in a sombre bedraggled chorus..."She wants Doctor Ward...Doctor Ward...Wot she want 'im for?...Doctor Ward...Clay Street..."
After walking a few yards she knew that she had received several bad sprains. But no matter; she followed her guide unswervingly, content that she was nearing her destination at last.
The streets became darker and more slimy and the occasional lamps paler and sallower; leering gin-palaces and stench-laden fried-fish shops bathed the pavements in sudden arcs of light that emphasised the gloom of the intervals. Her guide led her swiftly from street to street, solemnly and without speaking. And at last he halted in front of an old-fashioned three-storeyed house that opened directly on to the pavement. "'Ere y'are, m'm. Sh'll I ring?"
She nodded, and he gave a tug at the bell-pull that must have been deafening within. She opened her hand-bag and gave him a shilling, and he ran off smiling delightedly. So far so good; she was here at last, and one stage of her necessary adventure was complete.
The door of the house opened with silent suddenness, and an elderly competent-looking nurse stood on the threshold.
"Can I see Doctor Ward, please?
"Have you an appointment?"
"Well, you see, I'm afraid he's very busy to-night, but perhaps I could help you. Will you come inside?"
The nurse carefully closed the door behind her and led the way down the dimly-lit hall. "If you'll come into the surgery—" she began.
She was obviously misapprehending.
"But—but I haven't come as a patient. I'm a friend—a personal friend of the doctor's, and I want to see him—on—on private business."
"Oh, I see." The nurse glanced at her shrewdly, and went on, if anything, rather less cordially: "The doctor's very busy to-night. Perhaps you'd prefer to wait in the office. There'll be callers here, you see. I'll ring through to the hospital and tell the doctor you've come. What name shall I say?
"Monsell," came the reply, almost inaudibly. And then, as if to make amends, a shrill repetition: "Monsell. Mrs. Monsell. From Chassingford...Doctor Ward will understand as soon as you give him my name."
"Very well," replied the nurse imperturbably. She led the way into a further room, switched on the light and an electric fire and retired.
As soon as she was left alone in the room Stella was the cringing prey of all her fears. The room was rather bleak, and the single high-powered electric light in the ceiling added a glare that made the bleakness more terrible. The window was wide open, and a draught of chilly air swept in from outside. The night was almost dark, and through the gloom she could see a wide-tiled courtyard, and on the other side of it the many-storeyed hospital, its tiers of windows glowing more brightly as the darkness deepened. At the further end the glass-roofed operating theatre shone like an immense silver-blue conflagration, dazzling the night with an awful radiance. As the last faint grey of twilight left the sky the radiance blazed more fiercely; it hypnotised her as she gazed at it; it seemed to her the huge malevolent eye of something monstrously evil. A humming was in her ears; she staggered to a chair and sank into it almost fainting.
But a cool gust of air quickly revived her, and she heard footsteps outside. She hoped—was sure that it was Ward. But when the door opened only the nurse entered. "I'll pull down the blinds for you," she said quietly.
"Did you ring through to the hospital as you said?"
"Yes. But I couldn't speak to the doctor. He's still operating."
"Oh, operating?" Something made her shiver.
"A long operation?"
The words, casual and non-committal, chilled her. In the hard white light she saw a ruthlessly competent woman—cold, passionless, almost superb. The woman reminded her of Mrs. Monsell, of Chassingford, of all that was and had been terrible in her recent life.
Something impelled her to keep up the conversation while the nurse was attending to the blinds "I suppose—I suppose you haven't any sort of idea how long it will last?
"No, I haven't. It's impossible to say."
"Is it a bad—a difficult operation?"
The nurse walked calmly to the door. "All operations are bad," she said simply. And she added, as if throwing out the information as a half-contemptuous tit-bit for the curious: "It's a cancer case...A woman, I believe."
The door closed again and all was silent. She looked carefully round the room, trying to save her thoughts from panic. It seemed to be a sort of office and store-room combined. Glass-lidded cases of surgical instruments lay on a large table in the middle, and there was a book-case in an alcove, filled with scientific and medical text-books. One corner of the room was tiled, and contained a neat porcelain wash-basin. The walls exhibited nothing but a large map of England and Wales, another of London, and an eye-testing card. She noticed all these details because her mind was comparing this room with Philip's study at Chassingford. Comparing, and also contrasting. Philip's room was luxurious and complicated; it suggested the naturally indolent man who likes to think himself busy. Ward's room was stark and simple...She worked out the contrast and the comparison until both broke down. She had to do something to occupy her mind...Would Ward never come? Could an operation take so long to perform? How long had she been waiting? Half an hour? A clock somewhere clanged the hour of seven o'clock...Only seven?
Faintly in the distance came the shrill cries of children playing in the street. The white glare of the room seemed to strain harder and harder until it suddenly burst before her eyes into a cataract of stars. She closed her eyes tightly, and then she could see only the blue blaze of the theatre, clearly as if there had been nothing else in the world.
She must have dozed from time to time, for the chiming of the quarters seemed to follow closely upon each other, awakening her with a spasm of pain and recollection. Eight o'clock came, and then half-past, and then a quarter to nine...
Once she went to the window and dared to pull aside the blind. The theatre was still ablaze...
Then she went back to her chair and fell half-asleep again—a sleep full of fears and spectres and strange torturing phantoms. She dreamed that she saw the blue blaze coming nearer to her, that at last its walls opened and admitted her inside it, that she lay stretched out on the table beneath the grim pitiless light. And Ward was above her, dissecting not her body, but her soul.
A sharp sound awakened her. To her self-conscious senses it was like the roar of doom. The door opened, not silently this time, but with such force as a tornado might have made.
The first thing she noticed was the extraordinary size of him. The small room made him seem monstrous, and his surgeon's overalls, once spotlessly white, but now stained and crumpled, added even a touch of the sinister.
He came into the room with bent shoulders and huge sombre strides, his long arms hanging down like those of a gorilla. His face was smeared and streaked with perspiration, and even his close-cropped hair looked dishevelled. But it was his eyes that she noticed most of all. There was a terrible tragic tiredness in them, a strained sullen glare that never once left the ground as he entered. He did not see her, did not seem to see anything. But he banged the door ferociously, took off his soiled overalls, and strode over to the wash-basin.
"I've come," she said.
It was only then that he looked up and saw her.
"Good God!" he exclaimed under his breath.
He had already turned on the hot water in the basin and was holding his hands under the tap. He withdrew them now, dripping and steaming, and gazed at her in wild astonishment.
"What have you come for?"
His voice was almost brutal in its directness. She did not flinch under it, but spoke out bravely as if it were the sort of treatment she had expected. "I came here because I couldn't bear to be anywhere else."
"What d'you mean?
"Exactly what I have said."
She approached him with a simplicity that suggested both meekness and defiance. She reached barely up to the level of his stooping shoulders, but there was no flinching of the serene stare that her eyes bestowed.
"'Why couldn't—couldn't you bear to—to be anywhere else?"
"Because you can help me and nobody else can."
He seized a towel and wiped his still dripping hands. "That's queer...I mean—it sounds a queer thing to say..." He crumpled the towel into a heap and flung it to the farthest corner of the room. "Now then—"
"What are you going to do?" she asked quietly. "Kill me?"
"Kill you? And why should I do that?"
"I don't know. But you told me once that you were afraid of getting drunk in case you killed somebody. And you look drunk now."
"Do I? Well, you needn't worry. I'm not going to kill you. But I'm going to—I want to—Come here—don't go away."
"I haven't moved yet."
"Why not? Aren't you afraid?"
"No. I'm interested."
"Interested? In what?"
"In what you're going to do."
"What d'you think I'm going to do?"
"I don't know." And with her voice still calm, though her eyes were all but overflowing with tears, she added: "And I don't care either."
He suddenly put his two hands on her shoulders. "You poor little wild, foreign thing! What does all this seem to you—all this?" He waved one hand vaguely about him. "What does it seem like—Bethnal Green after Chassingford—poverty after plenty—hardness after luxury? Don't you feel strange?"
"No stranger than I feel anywhere else in England."
"I've told you the truth. Are we to have an argument? If so, I'd like to sit down. I'm tired."
His eyes lit with a sudden vivid brightness. "No, you can't sit down. Not yet...See?...Kiss me...Go on. Kiss me...Do you mind?"
His voice was a strange incongruous mingling of the embarrassed and the peremptory. But the light in his eyes was blazing more fiercely than ever.
"I don't mind anything."
He seized her in both his strong ape-like arms and nearly crushed the life out of her. Her body winced with the sudden sharp pain of it, but her eyes were still unflinching. She offered her lips simply and calmly, without either eagerness or reluctance. Only when his mouth pressed down upon hers did she give way, and then because the power of his body was beginning to overwhelm her. She felt a sudden slackening of resistance in her knees; she knew then that he was holding her from falling.
But it was only in his body that there was fierceness. At the moment that his lips touched hers the light in his eyes changed to one of almost frightened calm. "Oh, you beauty—you beauty!" he whispered, and his voice was like a shy boy's. "You wild little thing—why shouldn't I love you—why shouldn't I?"
He stayed on her lips for seconds—minutes, it seemed—and then, very slowly, he pushed her away from him.
He was silent. She sat down in a chair with her eyes still fixed on him. He walked to the wash-basin and turned off the tap, which had been running all the time. "I'm sorry," he said, gruffly. Then, with an odd little gesture, he straightened his hair, rolled up his sleeves, and began to wash..
She could not see his face, but every now and then she caught the reflection of it in a small mirror on the wall above the basin. There was nothing that she could interpret.
He suddenly swung round. "I'm sorry...I can't say more, can I?"
She did not answer immediately, simply because she could not think of anything to say. But her silence seemed to make him furiously angry.
"If you will come and see me on an evening like this..." he went on roughly, seizing a clean towel from a cupboard and banging the door.
"After all, if you'd been paddling about inside a cancerous stomach for two hours and a half, you'd feel the lure of something strong—and—and pure—and—and clean—"
"You overlook one thing," she said quietly.
She answered, still with her eyes fixed on his: "That I'm not complaining...And now since we've settled that, may I tell you what I came to tell you?"
He did not answer, but she went on without waiting: "I'm going to leave Philip...That's what I came to tell you."
He seemed stupefied. He sat down heavily in a chair and closed his eyes. It was only then that she lost all her fear of him, for she saw the marks of the strain he had endured, and she was sorry. A quiet, infinite motherliness crept into her feeling for him, but it was a different motherliness from the kind she had felt for Philip. There was no pity in it, but the deeper stauncher comradeship of strength.
He opened his eyes and set his lips in a grim purposeful severity. "Now, tell me," he said, without preamble. "What's all this about leaving Philip?"
The second storm was threatening.
"I am going to leave him."
"Because to stay with him would drive me mad."
"No?" He seemed vaguely protestant. Then, after a pause, he went on: "Please tell me exactly what you mean."
"I mean just what I say. I'm miserable. And if I stay at Chassingford with Philip I shall go mad."
His persistent question seemed to irritate her. "Isn't that plain enough? Don't you believe me? Or do you think I'm mad already?"
He leaned forward and spoke to her very earnestly. "I want you to be very calm and tell me just what is the matter," he said.
She lowered her voice to a whisper.
"Yes, I'll tell you. But first of all, let me tell you this. He's been watching us—you and me. He's been watching us for weeks and months. Ever since he was ill, and you came to the flat at Kensington. Ever since you came home from the expedition. Ever since that election when we were both working for him. Maybe, for all I know, ever since that afternoon we first met by the riverside at Cambridge. He's been watching us every minute of the time. And he says queer things to me when we're alone, because he wants me to give myself away. He-frightens me by following me about the house and—and hiding and—and doing strange things. And he tells me, with his eyes as well as with curious half-meaning words, that he knows—he knows—"
"Knows?" The storm had broken. "Knows, you say? What does he know? What is there to know? What have we done? What are we guilty of?"
She answered with level melancholy: "He knows, if we don't. He knows far more than we give him credit for. He's clever. He's got the sort of cleverness that nobody realizes. Nobody except me. And that's because I feel."
His voice was quieter now. "I don't understand you. I don't understand you at all. But go on explaining."
"Oh, yes." She assented as if he had reminded her of something she had forgotten. "I'll go on explaining, even if you go on disbelieving. I must tell you about my kitten. You remember that, don't you?"
Suddenly she broke into sobs. "He did have it drowned," she cried fiercely. "He hated it—and so he had it killed. I met one of the men yesterday in Chassingford. He told me that Philip had made it worth his while...Philip..."
"Let's get to details," His voice was hard and metallic. "You say you met this man—the man who had been a gardener at your place and whom Philip dismissed?"
"What do you mean by saying that Philip made it worth his while?"
"He gave him money to say nothing after he had been dismissed. It was an unjust dismissal, and probably he could have made trouble about it."
"Why did he tell you this?"
"I don't know. Perhaps he wanted to help me. Perhaps Philip hadn't given him enough money. Perhaps—oh, perhaps anything."
"And your theory is that Philip gave orders that the kitten should be drowned? Why do you suppose he didn't drown it himself? Surely that would have been far easier."
"Drown it himself? he'd have fainted! Why, he couldn't kill a fly even! He used to go out of the room while Venner went in to do it."
"I see. And you think his motive was spite—just spite?"
"Jealousy," she interrupted. "He hated my little kitten because he knew how I loved it, just as now he hates you because he knows—"
She stopped, scared suddenly by his appearance. For a spasm of pain passed over his face, and he almost closed his eyes for a moment. When he spoke it was with both voice and words carefully under control. "You—you must not talk like that," he said, biting his lips. "I'm afraid it is partly my own fault...I—I most sincerely regret what—what took place a little while since...No, no, you must never talk like that." He seemed in the end almost soliloquising. "Besides—" He recollected himself. "Besides, it's absurd to say that Philip hates me. He and I are old friends—'varsity friends—"
"And therefore you must always stick up for him, eh? Very well, I understand. You don't believe me; you believe him. Even still? Never mind...I'll go now. I've said all I can say. I'll go. But not back to him."
That seemed to electrify him.
"No? What d'you mean? You're not going back to Chassingford?"
"Where are you going?"
"That's my business."
"Very well, I don't mind. Let's discuss it. Where do you suggest that I should go?"
He began to pace up and down the small room. She smiled slightly as she watched him, although in her heart there was a gradually increasing pain. The clock outside chimed the half-hour.
At last he said very quietly: "I'll tell you where you will go. You will go back to Chassingford. No—don't interrupt. I'll tell you why. When does the bye-election take place?"
"Good. Then you will not have long to wait. You must stay at Chassingford with Philip until next Wednesday. It's only fair. Think what the effect would be if it got about that the candidate's wife had left him? No, you must not leave him until then."
"And then?" she said. "What then?"
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"I shall leave him, I suppose."
"I suppose so. Have you any money of your own?"
"Not a penny. But I'm prepared to earn some."
"Yes...yes..." He sprawled himself out in a chair and stared vaguely at the ceiling. "These affairs are apt to have rather troublesome details. It seems a pity that you and Philip can't—"
"Can't kiss and be friends, eh?" she interrupted witheringly. "As if this were just a delightful little lovers' quarrel? The fact is, you don't believe me. Be honest and admit it."
He replied slowly: "I will be honest. I'll tell you quite frankly that I find all that you have said damnably hard to believe. Mind you, I don't dis-believe it. Oh, hang it all—I'm fogged—absolutely—I don't know what to believe. I've thought and thought about it—"
"Ah, that's where you go wrong. I don't think—I feel!"
He stopped suddenly and relapsed into silence. At last he rose, stretched himself, and walked to the window. "Well," he said, heavily, "carry on as best you can until next Wednesday. That's my advice, and you'll admit there's some sense in it. And now I'll 'phone for a cab and you'll be able to reach Liverpool Street in time for the 10.12...You can"—he paused and cleared his throat as if the words were difficult to say—"you can always count on me to help you...always." He went over to the window and pulled the blind slightly aside. "Ha, it's raining...Now then, before we say good-bye for—for perhaps a short while, is there—is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
In the silence that followed, they could hear the rain falling heavily on the roof above; in a few seconds it had swollen from a gentle drizzle to a fierce slanting storm. The seconds seemed hours in length; her head was again swimming and her heart pounding away tumultuously. There came a curious crashing sound from outside; she started violently, and then realized that it was only the closing of the windows in the wards. The rain beat down in a furious crescendo.
"Just one question," she said quietly. She paused a little and then added, with hardly the least change of voice: "Do—do you love me?"
He faced her like one suddenly fighting for his life. He stared at her without speaking for a moment, and then moved near to her in two enormous strides. She was less frightened now; indeed, his angry looks gave her almost a sensation of relief.
He seized her by the shoulders and shook her. "You're trying to tempt me," he cried, gritting his teeth. "You've got a devil in you to-night."
"And if I have, you put it there," she answered boldly. "Won't you give me a plain answer to my plain question?"
His hands on her shoulders gripped her till she winced with pain. "Very well, you can have your plain answer. I do love you. Now sit down."
But she did not obey him. A strange transfiguring light came into her eyes, and she stood on tiptoe and flung both her arms round him. "Oh, you man," she gasped, half-choking with emotion, "you try to take away the joy by talking as if it were business—just business—not love. But you can't—you shan't—I won't let you!—Oh, kiss me—kiss me—kiss me as you did a little while ago when you were tired and weary and worn out—when you wanted me and you found me waiting for you..." She gave him her red glowing lips and he crushed them wildly to his. All her words were quenched by the fire that ran down her limbs; the room grew dark about them till they saw nothing but each other's eyes; he kissed her again and again and again, till she almost fainted from delicious weariness.
"Oh, my strong, lovely man," she whispered, trembling vitally as he held her. "I have been tame for so long...but now you have made me wild again..."
The clock outside began the chiming of ten. He almost flung her away from him. "Your train," he cried sharply. "Your train."
"Oh, damn my train."
"No...No, no. It's the last train to-night. You must catch it. Hurry up. Thank goodness it's not foggy."
"I wish it were."
"Nonsense. Get yourself ready quickly while I 'phone for a cab."
"Suppose I refuse to go?"
"You won't refuse. You will do as I tell you."
"And after Wednesday?"
"Then you will also do as I tell you."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am quite sure. After Wednesday we will settle everything."
"We will decide when the time comes...Your train—you must hurry. One thing I want you to promise."
"What is it?"
"I want you to help Philip all you can in his election. It's only for a few more days. You must, oh, you must promise that."
She looked at him at first defiantly, and then replied: "Yes, I promise. And you—what will you promise?"
"I promise you that—as I said before—you can count on me...I—I am very—very tired to-night and—-and—" He put his hand to his head as if to defend himself from a blow. "Tired, yes, and—and, oh, anyway, I must go and telephone."
He dashed out of the room. It was only as the light shone on his face near the doorway that she noticed how suddenly pale he had grown.
Five minutes later she was racing through the greasy garbage-littered streets in a taxi. She reached the courtyard of Liverpool Street Station at eleven minutes past the hour, and jumped into the last compartment of the train just as it began to move out of the platform.
By the evening post on the next day she received this letter
"Dear Stella,—I've thought it all out, darling, and I know it's all impossible. I'd better tell you frankly, to save you all sorts of worries and anxieties. I love you very, very much, but I cannot—I cannot steal the wife of my friend. Don't think me priggish—it isn't that.
"I spent all last night after you had gone, thinking it all out, and I must be honest with you and with myself, Stella. I think that Philip loves and always has loved you very deeply, perhaps even as deeply as I do. I think also that all his queernesses lately have been due to jealousy.
"He wants you and he thinks you are slipping away from him. Even the things you most hate him for have been done, I am convinced, because he loves you so much. And I think it would be treachery to do what we contemplated. I cannot do it. It isn't mere convention—if you and Philip were tired of each other I would run off with you to-night. But he loves you, and he is my friend, and I think that to lose you would kill him. We must remember that.
"Help him all you can, both in the election and afterwards. Give him another big chance, for my sake, Stella.
"I am going to sign on for another trip to the South, and I leave for Norway on Thursday morning to make certain arrangements. I hope by then I shall know that Philip is M.P. for Chassingford.
"Darling, it will be hard for both of us—it is hard, infernally hard, but for the present it's the only honest thing we can do."
"Good-bye till we meet again. Be brave.
"P.S.—Before I go away finally I will call round to say good-bye to you and Philip."
She replied by return as follows:
"My Dear, Dear Man,—Your letter has made me the most miserable woman on earth. I only read it once hastily, because I heard Philip's footsteps outside the room, and I got in such a panic that I threw the whole letter into the fire. Oh, why, why are you going to do this dreadful thing? Is there no other way at all? I feel blind, deaf, and dumb with misery, now that I know what you are going to do. Oh, my man, think of the danger. It frightens me—I'm too absolutely scared to write any more. If you do come here, don't, for God's sake, have anything to do with me, for at the first sight of you I should go raving mad and give the whole game away. I shall help Philip till the polling is over, but after that—God help me, and you too! I feel disaster all about you, but then, you won't take heed of my warning. Oh, if I had known you when I was a girl, all these terrible things would never have happened. Good-bye, dearest—good-bye.—Your own always, whatever you do—
As the polling-day drew nearer, Chassingford became vastly more excited that it had ever been in its life before. By the almost fatuous caprice of the English electoral system, it had been chosen to express the opinion of the country upon a Government that was suffering primarily from the fatigue and sterility of long office. Chassingford was aware of its sudden importance in the scheme of things; it received retinues of newspaper correspondents and bevies of ex-Cabinet Ministers with the coy air of a middle-aged woman accepting flatteries.
Let us hear Mr. Jefferson Milner-White, special correspondent of the Manchester Sentinel.
"There is no doubt," he wrote two days before the election, "that Mr. Monsell's chances are improving hour by hour, one had almost said minute by minute. Nor is this due entirely to the trend of events that has overwhelmed even this lethargic rural constituency..." and here follow a few sentences expressing in choice well-modulated phrases the Sentinel's choice well-modulated politics. "It is rather, I believe, a personal—perhaps even a psychological matter. Mr. Monsell is a curious man, almost the exact opposite of the typical Parliamentary candidate. He is always very nervous; he has absolutely no sense of humour; his platform manner is unattractive and even disconcerting; nor can it be said that he is especially popular in the locality. Yet for all that there is a certain sombre unanalyzable power about him; this and his persistence are assuredly winning votes. Every night he addresses half-a-dozen meetings, delivering at each one long and exceeding dull speeches. Is there such a thing as being unconsciously hypnotized? If so, I should say that a large proportion of Mr. Monsell's audience go home to their beds in such a condition. His eyes are of an intense blue, the eyes of a dreamer rather than of a practical man; yet his speeches are crammed full of unwieldy and singularly unilluminating Blue-Book statistics. What can one make of such a man? I do not profess to know, but I am rather afraid that the electors of Chassingford will make an M.P. of him."
Evidently Mr. Milner-White's report aroused keen interest in Withington and Fallowfield, for he returned to the subject the next day in somewhat the same strain. "I cannot help writing mysteriously about Mr. Monsell. I do not understand him. People here to whom I have spoken seem to treat him as a sort of joke. And yet, on inquiry, I find that they are most of them are going to vote for him 'Why vote for a joke?' I ask, and the reply is generally vague...A curious in rent took place at one of Mr. Monsell's meetings last evening. The Chairman, a local licensed victualler of rubicund countenance and Falstaffian proportions, had just made the usual optimistic remarks about the candidate's chances of success, when the candidate himself suddenly echoed it, with clenched fists and uplifted eyes. 'I will succeed,' he declared, with death-like solemnity. 'I shall succeed.' The strange thing was that nobody laughed. On the contrary, the effect was electric. I myself distinctly felt a tense prickling of the skin. Whether Mr. Monsell was carried away by his own sombre enthusiasm, or whether it was a mere piece of consummate play-acting, I cannot say, but I confess that it was curiously impressive.
"The candidate's humourless intensity is well and aptly balanced by the high spirits of his wife, who has suddenly at almost the eleventh hour thrown herself into the combat. She combines great personal charm with an entire ignorance of political matters. Her assistance is, to say the least, timely, for Mr. Monsell has been working at such a high pressure that I am not surprised to hear rumours of his ill-health. The town, however, is full of rumours...etc., etc..."
They were thrown together more during those few final days of the campaign than they had been for many months. They had to attend meetings together, to drive in motor-cars from village to village, to smile at each other on platforms with ostentatious affection. They hid the truth from the crowd by tacit agreement, but from each other they could not hide it.
"I am grateful to you for your help," he said once, rather coldly, as they were motoring from one evening meeting to another through the dark country-side. "Oh, yes, I am very grateful. You make an excellent candidate's wife. If only I were half so good a candidate...By the way, have you seen what that fellow Milner-White says about me in the Manchester Sentinel?
"No, I haven't read any of the papers."
He pulled out a sheaf of cuttings from his pocket.
"This," he answered, holding one of them beneath the dim roof-light of the limousine. "Listen..." He read out the passage beginning: 'Mr. Monsell is a curious man...' When he came to the phrase 'sombre unanalyzable power' he stopped and glanced at her intently. "Do you think I have this sombre unanalyzable power?"
His strange eyes were upon her and something in them was making her suddenly frightened. "I—I haven't noticed," she said haltingly.
"You haven't noticed, eh? What have you noticed?" He checked himself sharply and went on, with more suavity: "Anyway, I should like to know this Mr. Milner-White. I rather fancy we should get on well together. I wonder if he's a Cambridge man..."
He seemed obsessed with Mr. Milner-White. When there were opportunities of private conversation with her (there were not many), he rarely seized them except to speculate upon the character and personality of the Sentinel correspondent.
"I wish I knew him," he kept saying. "I think I should find him remarkably sympathetic. I imagine him rather as an elderly scholarly type of man, by no means strong physically...None of the sweeping intolerance of youth...He would listen quietly and understand. The sort of friend who would stand by you through thick and thin..."
And on the very morning of the poll he said to her: "That fellow Milner-White's got something else in to-day. He says I am like a man who, after many failures, is at last staking his all. Now what do you suppose he means by that?"
"I—I don't know."
"I wish I knew...It is so rarely that one feels a certain sense of spiritual kinship breaking through the cold lines of print—"
And so on.
Philip, however, was wrong in his estimate of Mr. Milner- White. That gentleman was not elderly, nor was he either particularly scholarly or particularly sympathetic. He was a youngster almost fresh from Oxford, sent out to try his spurs on the somewhat arid adventure of bye-election reporting. Being perfectly well aware of his own brilliant gifts, he was determined from the first to make the Chassing ford contest a subtle, not to say sinister business. His dispatch to the Sentinel concerning the events of the polling-day, and culminating in a declaration of the result, was a final tour de force.
"This election," he wrote, "is proving an excellent stroke of business for Chassingford. Not only are all the hotels full to the last billiard-table, but local tradesmen have got rid of all their remaining stocks of last year's fireworks at famine prices. To-day, the great day, has of necessity been something of an anti-climax. The slight drizzle of rain that has fallen most of the time has not, however, damped the enthusiasm, much less the fireworks of the protagonists. Indeed, the enthusiasm has increased, largely as a result of the substitution of Mrs. Monsell's charming irrelevance for Mr. Monsell's gloomy intensity. 'What is your attitude on the mines question? asked a member of the audience at an eve-of-poll meeting, and Mrs. Monsell replied: I am afraid I don't know very much about the matter at all, but I can assure you, sir, that my husband will take the right line on that as on all other questions.' Well might a supporter at the back of the hall exclaim fervently: That's the stuff to give 'em!"
"The poll has been very heavy and not without its minor excitements. Before the counting began, however, most people were quite certain that Mr. Monsell was in. Estimates of his majority varied from 500 to 2,000, and the narrow margin of 89 came as a great surprise...Owing to ill-health the successful candidate was not present at the declaration, but his wife charmingly deputised for him...When the crowd had shouted itself hoarse (for one side was pleased by the victory, and the other by the smallness of the majority), she made a pretty little speech in which she said that as soon as she learned the result in the counting-room she rang through to her husband at home to tell him the good news, but could not get an answer. 'I expect the member for Chassingford has gone to sleep in front of the fire,' she said, laughing. He will do it when I leave him alone in the evenings. But wait till I get home—I'll soon waken him.'
"Upon this pleasant note of domesticity the incident of the Chassingford bye-election has closed."
She disengaged herself from her too enthusiastic supporters and commissioned a taxi to drive her up to the Hall. She had to beg some of the party stalwarts not to come with her. "My husband is ill after the strain," she told them, "and he simply musn't get excited. When he has learnt the result I shall make him go straight to bed." All of which the half-dozen or so attendant reporters diligently took down in their note-books.
The gates at the entrance to the drive were closed, so she walked up the drive alone, after paying and dismissing the taxi-man. Not a light was visible in the Hall. It was very late—past midnight—and the night was pitch dark. Far in the distance she could hear the faint sound of cheering, and the muffled reports of fireworks. Chassingford was still revelling.
She let herself in by her own private key. Nobody was in sight. Fear and excitement waged war within her for mastery. "Venner!" she called, going to the further end of the entrance-hall and shouting down. No answer. But he was very, very deaf. "Venner!" she called again, more shrilly.
Still no sound. The echoes of her own voice were frightening. Still, she could do without Venner. She only wanted to ask him where Philip was. She hated to search dark rooms at night. And Philip might be anywhere.
She opened the door of the library. Nobody was there. The empty silence cooled her excitement and sent a little shiver of apprehension through her—but a cold calm apprehension that made her walk very quietly to the door of Philip's study and tap on the panel. No answer. She opened the outer door, and a long slit of light at the foot of the inner door showed her that the room was illuminated. Philip, therefore, was working, or reading, or perhaps he had gone to sleep, or perhaps—perhaps he was waiting for her.
The thought of his possible occupations behind the closed door would have driven her to panic had she persisted in it. She turned the handle hastily and entered.
Yes, he was there, and she was relieved to see that he was sitting quietly by the fire-side, leaning across the arm of his chair as if he had fallen asleep through sheer weariness. She felt sorry for him then, and was glad that she had brought him the news that the great dream of his life had at last come true.
"Philip!" she cried, thinking to rouse him.
She went nearer to him and called his name again, but his slumbers were seemingly too deep. Then she stooped down to shake him to wakefulness, and at last, when she saw the front of him, a strange agonised shriek went up that filled the whole house with echoes, and stirred even Venner, slumbering in his pantry near by.
"Tragic Death of New M.P."—"Chassingford Victor Found Shot"—"Sensational End to Bye-Election"—were among the announcements that embellished the newspaper-shops on the following morning. Many who did not see the placards bought their morning journals to learn who had topped the poll at the Chassingford election; they read, to their immense astonishment, that Philip Monsell had not only been elected by a small majority, but that he had been found shot dead in his study shortly after midnight. Which of the two events had taken place first was not clear, but the Daily Wire, taking unique advantage of the uncertainty, issued the bold and challenging news-bill: "Dead Man Elected to Parliament." Whereat at least a dozen habitual newspaper correspondents dived into Erskine May to see whether such a happening was even theoretically possible.
All over the country the strange affair was eagerly discussed, for men's minds were already attuned to Chassingford, and it was not difficult to interest them in a far greater sensation than any conceivable election result. In the little Essex market-town there was none of the half-drugged somnolence that usually follows on the morning after the declaration of the poll. On the contrary, the town was livelier than ever; small groups of people gossiped together at street-corners; newspaper reporters who were' lucky enough not to have returned to town immediately after the result, stayed on and despatched frantic wires to their editors. The lane to the Hall was dotted from an early hour with curious, eager, and undoubtedly morbid pilgrims. At the Lodge gates two policemen were stationed, with orders to let nobody pass without proper authority.
Amidst the heavy clouds of rumours that rolled to and fro, nothing was very clear except the bald facts as stated in the morning papers. Mrs. Monsell, according to more than one report of the scene at the declaration of poll, had stated that she had rung up her husband to tell him the news of his victory, but had been unable to get any reply. When she reached home, she found him dead in his private study, shot through the chest. The window was open wide, and outside in the shrubbery a revolver had been found. Venner, the aged and very deaf butler, had not heard any shot, but it was understood that he had been able to help the police with certain information. Scotland Yard had been summoned, and was credited with already possessing important clues. Beyond these facts, all was as yet surmise.
The evening papers, although they had nothing new to report, fanned the flame of popular excitement by every means at their disposal. They examined the political aspect of the affair, searched the past for precedents, disinterred a certain Joshua Bone, M.P. for somewhere-or-other in 1765, who had died from shock at finding himself elected; they printed photographs of the Hall and of the town of Chassingford, and dived into Chassingford's history to relate how Samuel Pepys once dined there with the rector. The one thing which everybody wanted to know was the one thing that they could not tell, and that was any further fact concerning the crime itself. They hinted, however, that the inquest might reveal much that was startling and sensational.
The inquest was held on the Friday morning in the drawing- room at the Hall. The room was uncomfortably crowded, and very hot for early March. Many of the reporters noted that it was "richly' though not extravagantly furnished," and Mr. Milner-White, transferred by editorial telegram to another field of enterprise, remarked superiorly that the room "possessed the typically Victorian layout of so many of our ancient houses."
Purely formal evidence of identification was given, and the inquiry was adjourned unto March 17th. "The room emptied amidst an atmosphere of foreboding," wrote Mr. Milner White. "The stage was being set for a grander and more terrible drama, and we of the coroner's inquest were being ordered curtly to get on with our little piece and then step back to the wings...We trooped out into the fresh March air for all the world like a crowd of scared school-children."
The opening of the inquest, little as it had disclosed, was yet reported fully in most of the papers. But a far more sensational event filled their headlines on the day following. This was the arrest of Aubrey Ward, the hero of the South Pole expedition, at Bergen, Norway, in connection with the Chassingford affair. He had been detained by the Bergen police as a result of a wireless message, and English detectives had arrived by the next boat. Within a couple of days he was back in England again, and was brought up before the Chassingford magistrates and charged with the wilful murder of Philip Monsell upon the night of February 27th. The police gave formal evidence of arrest and asked for eight days' remand.
The public was entirely staggered by the affair. No arrest could have caused a deeper and more immediate sensation, and the newspapers, realising the popular clamour for information, were compelled to disinter the whole of the South Pole episode. It read uncommonly well; indeed, as a famous London wit remarked, the effect of its publication could only be "to create a most unfortunate public prejudice in favour of the prisoner."
When the case came up on remand, a second remand was granted, and a day or two after that the adjourned inquest was resumed. Highly sensational evidence was given, and after a two hours' deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against Aubrey Ward.
The next stage was the examination before the Chassingford magistrates. The town was packed with visitors, and the tiny court-house could hardly contain a hundredth part of the crowd that had begun to form a queue in the High Street as early as seven o'clock in the morning. Those who gained admission were richly rewarded, however, for the evidence and depositions were again "highly sensational." The prisoner's bearing, according to one report, was "calm and unmoved, and the way in which he pleaded Not Guilty seemed to indicate his complete confidence that he would be able to establish his innocence." The examination lasted four days, and by that time sufficient evidence had been brought forward to justify a committal for trial to the Colford Assizes. A feature of the examination had been the reading of written depositions by Mrs. Monsell, widow of the deceased, under Section 17 of the Indictable Offences Act. It was understood that Mrs. Monsell was seriously ill in a nursing home.
Public opinion veered round considerably after the committal. There was still, no doubt, the "unfortunate prejudice in favour of the prisoner," but the strength of the police case was impressive as well as surprising. On weight of evidence alone it seemed that Ward was guilty, although many people believed that the defence was keeping back its trump cards until the trial, when they might produce a more powerful effect. At any rate, the proceedings before the Chassingford magistrates did nothing to lessen popular interest in the case, and the opening of the Assizes at Colford in June was keenly anticipated. It was expected that by then Mrs. Monsell might have recovered sufficiently to give evidence in person.
The months passed quickly; the public half forgot the case, but were very ready and eager to be reminded of it. Meanwhile the authorities took all precautions necessary for a cause célèbre. A few rickety benches in the Colford Assize Court were repaired and strengthened, and the Post Office arranged for an extra staff of telegraphists to be on duty during the trial. Colford as a whole was delighted at the prospect; the hotels expected a bumper week, as least as profitable as the annual show of the County Agricultural Society.
The day of the opening of the Assizes dawned bright and clear, and Mr. Jefferson Milner-White, eating his ham and eggs in the breakfast-room of the "White Lion," scanned the pages of the Daily Wire and mused upon the ineffable superiority of Manchester over London journalism. Meanwhile, Colford, the first town on the circuit, was preparing for the reception of the judge. Later in the day, Mr. Milner-White went out and described what he saw with that mingling of loftiness and curiosity that a secularist might affect in describing a revivalist meeting. He described the arrival of the judge at the railway-station, his solemn meeting with the High Sheriff of the county, the latter's frantic efforts not to fall over his sword, the posse comitatus of county police, the ear-splitting fanfare of the trumpeters, the ride through the sunlit town, with the judge in his state carriage and his escort of "javelin" men with halberds, the extremely boring sermon preached by the sheriff's chaplain in the parish church, and, in conclusion, the bucolic somnolence of rural country towns even when they had everything to make them excited. All this Mr. Milner-White most graphically described, and it was perhaps a pity that the Sentinel was not able to find room for all of it.
The ensuing account of the trial is taken mainly from the columns of that journal.
As early as five o'clock the next morning a queue began to form outside the court. The doors were opened at ten, but the building was so small and the number of pressmen so large that only a few dozen out of many hundreds could gain admittance.
Counsel for the defence was Sir Robert Hempidge, K.C., whose name had been associated with some of the most famous cases, both civil and criminal, during the past dozen years. Prosecuting for the Crown was the Solicitor-General, Sir Theydon Lampard-Gorian, K.C., M.P.
The opening speech for the Crown was delivered by Sir Theydon in his usual manner. Unimpressive—almost even dull—at first, it gradually worked up during its two hours' length to a pitch of excitement in which, as Mr. Milner-White remarked, "every face, including the prisoner's and the judge's, seemed held by the hypnotic spell of those calm, freezing words. The prisoner looked pale and care-worn, through his spruce bearing and keen thoughtful eyes drew attention from the fact."
Sir Theydon began by giving a rough sketch of the prisoner's life and his relations with the late Mr. Monsell. He began with the prisoner's first meeting with the deceased at Cambridge, and quickly outlined the history of the friendship up to the eve of the tragedy. He mentioned Mr. Monsell's marriage "with a foreign lady—a native of Hungary," and prisoner's friendship with his friend's wife as well as with his friend. "How far this friendship developed is a matter of conjecture, but there is some evidence that it aroused a certain amount of local gossip at the time." Sir Theydon then went on to mention the polar expedition which took the prisoner away from England for two years, and on which he "bore himself with a high courage and a distinction which no fair-minded Englishman, least of all I myself, would attempt to deny."
Sir Theydon sketched the prisoner's changes of abode after returning to England, and mentioned that one of his private cases had been that of his friend Mr. Monsell, whom he had attended for pneumonia. "The prosecution does not suggest that in this matter he acted in any way dishonourably or unprofessionally.
"Now," continued Sir Theydon, "let us make a particular examination of the events that occurred during the month or so that preceded the crime. I shall bring forward witnesses to show that on several occasions during that time the prisoner met Mrs. Monsell in London without her husband's knowledge, and that she wrote to the prisoner many letters imploring him to meet her. Some of these letters were intercepted by Mr. Monsell and never reached their destination. The fact was, that Mr. Monsell had begun to suspect his wife of infidelity and had taken steps to have her watched.
"On the day that the late Mr. Grainger, M.P. for Chassingford, died, thus precipitating the bye election, Mrs. Monsell went to London and met the prisoner at Liverpool Street Station. They went to a restaurant near by and talked for several hours together. This was on February 7th. On the 16th the prisoner visited the Monsells at Chassingford, apparently in the role of friend of the family. In the evening Mr. Monsen had to speak at a public meeting, and the prisoner stayed in the house with Mrs. Monsell. They were alone except for the butler, whose evidence we shall shortly hear.
"On February the 22nd, just five days before the night of the crime, Mrs. Monsell went again to London and visited the prisoner at the Bethnal Green Hospital. She stayed there from five in the afternoon until ten in the evening, when she had to hurry back to catch the last train to Chassingford. On the following Saturday the prisoner wrote Mrs. Monsell a letter which she destroyed immediately and answered. What this letter contained we should like very much to know, and perhaps the evidence we bring will help us to hazard a surmise.
"Now we come to the actual day of the crime. It was the day of the bye-election, and Mr. Monsell was suffering from the strain of the fight. He therefore asked his wife to deputize for him at the declaration of the poll. She left Chassingford Hall at six p.m., leaving her husband reading quietly in his study. We have evidence that she arrived at the Town Hall at about six-ten, and that she did not leave until after midnight, when the result had been declared. This took place just before midnight, and she rang up her husband to tell him the news. She could get no answer. And no wonder, for at that very moment—at that very moment—the telephone-bell in his study was ringing beside a dead men.
"What had happened at the Hall while the busy and exciting count of votes was being taken not a couple of miles away? I shall be able to tell you that in a few short sentences. The butler at the Hall, who, though he suffers from deafness, is in every other way a thoroughly dependable witness, will say that he admitted the prisoner at eight-twenty p.m. and showed him into Mr. Monsell's private study. He (the butler) then went to his pantry, which is situated immediately next to the study. He had some supper, and then went back to the study to replenish the fire. It was his duty to do this every hour without being specially summoned. When he knocked at the door and entered the room, he saw Mr. Monsell and the prisoner standing up facing each other. He could not hear them saying anything, but he could see from their faces that they were in the midst of a quarrel. He naturally performed his duties as quickly as he could and then went out. Now, gentlemen, so far as the prosecution have been able to discover, that was the last time Mr. Monsell was seen alive by any human being except the prisoner.
"The butler did not go immediately to his pantry after attending to the fire. He went upstairs to his bedroom, which is in the attics, and he was there some time arranging his clothes and doing other odd jobs. About eleven o'clock, thinking that it was getting time for the election result to be known, he went downstairs to the pantry again and dozed off to sleep. He was awakened by a sudden shriek from the next room. When he gathered his wits and went to the study, he found the tragedy complete—Mr. Monsell shot through the breast and his wife fainting beside his body."
Sir Theydon then proceeded to describe the steps taken by the police and by Scotland Yard when they were called in. They found in the shrubbery a revolver of a most unusual kind, with the prisoner's initials engraved upon it. The prisoner admitted it was his, and "his explanation of how it came to be there you will be able, gentlemen, to consider in due course." Sir Theydon then gave a detailed description of the revolver and the ammunition it required, remarking that it was a type of weapon specially constructed for use in very low temperatures. "In fact, the prisoner admits that he used this particular weapon to kill seals on the ice-floes of Antarctica.
"The contention of the prosecution," continued Sir Theydon, "is that the prisoner shot and killed Mr. Monsell some time between nine o'clock and a quarter to midnight. He escaped through the window, which was found wide open when the crime was discovered, because he did not wish to meet the butler on the way out. In his haste he dropped the revolver in the shrubbery. There are traces of his footmarks," went on Sir Theydon, "leading across the lawns towards the lane, where he had left his motor-cycle."
Sir Theydon then detailed the prisoner's movements after the crime. There were a series of witnesses who would be called to prove absolutely what the prisoner did. "At ten minutes to midnight he was seen passing through the village of Nasechurch. At half-past twelve he stopped at an open-all-night petrol-station at Bishop's Stortford. Here he asked for his tank to be filled to the brim, despite the fact that by that method he was charged the price of three gallons for what was only a little over two. He was evidently not only in a great hurry, but anticipating a journey of some length. Half-past one saw him at Cambridge, and five minutes to two at Ely. It is eighteen miles between these two places, so the rate works out at well over forty miles per hour. I will not weary you, gentlemen, with details of this high-speed Odyssey; suffice it to say that the prisoner arrived in Hull at a few minutes after six, garaged his machine, telling the proprietor that he would call for it in a few days, breakfasted at a workmen's restaurant, and boarded the Hull-Bergen steamer about a quarter of an hour before sailing-time. His passport and steamer-ticket were both in order.
"This," went on Sir Theydon, striking the desk with his fist, "is no ordinary crime, committed in the heat of the moment by a weak man distraught by guilty passion. On the contrary, it is a crime carefully thought out and wilfully executed, the crime of a man who possesses both ingenuity and will-power. He set out from London with the fixed intention of killing his friend. He loaded his revolver, bought his steamboat ticket for Bergen, and packed a minimum of travelling-kit on the rear-carrier of his motor-cycle—all with the fixed intention of killing his friend. If ever, gentlemen, a murder deserved the adjective 'wilful' this is that murder..."
Here the court adjourned for lunch.
In the afternoon began the calling of the witnesses. John Venner, butler of the deceased, gave evidence of the finding of the body. His deafness made him a very difficult witness to cross-examine, and once or twice Sir John Hempidge, counsel for the defence, addressed him very sharply. A police-constable stood by him in the witness-box and shouted each question into his ear.
Cross-examined, he said that according to his master's orders, he visited the study every hour to put coal on the fire.
"It was your custom to go in without being specially summoned?"
"Then why did you not go in at ten or eleven o'clock?"
"I had orders not to put coal on the fire after nine."
"Not even if there was a guest with your master?"
"You mean to say that even if your master was entertaining visitors he would let the fires go out after nine o'clock?"
"If he wanted anything after nine, he used to send for me specially."
"How did he send for you?"
"He used to ring."
"And could you hear the ring?"
"Yes. It was a very loud one."
"Did it not strike you as strange that your master did not ring for you after nine o'clock?"
"You expected that he would stay up to hear the result of his own election?"
"I thought he would."
"And yet you were not surprised when he did not ring for you? Did you expect him to sit up with the fire out?"
Witness appeared not to catch the question. When it had been repeated to him, he replied hazily: "I don't know. I only did what I was told."
"Now," continued Sir John, "you have said that you were asleep in your pantry when you were awakened by a shriek. How was it that, being so deaf, you could hear such a sound in another room?"
"It was a very loud shriek."
"Loud enough to waken a very deaf man in another room?"
"Mr. Monsell's study was the room just next to my pantry."
"I see. And now let us turn back to the time when you admitted the prisoner into the house. What was he wearing?"
"His morning coat and a cloth cap."
"And he went into the study with them on?"
"With his cap on?"
"He carried his cap in his hand."
"You said just now he went in with his cap on."
Witness appeared confused. Further cross-examined, he said that the reason he did not take prisoner's hat and coat was that prisoner seemed in a great hurry and rushed past him.
"I want you to tell the court plainly what you heard between the time you left the study after replenishing the fire and the moment you were awakened by Mrs. Monsell's shriek."
"I heard nothing at all."
"Nothing outside the house?
"No sound of a motor-bicycle, for instance?"
"Children, I am told, were letting off fireworks all the evening, and there was a considerable amount of noise due to the election. Did you hear any of it?"
The next witness was Dr. Livingstone Hardy, who described how he was sent for shortly after midnight. After giving medical evidence, he was sharply cross-examined by Sir John.
"You state that in your opinion the shot was fired from a distance of six or seven feet from the victim?"
"How do you judge that?"
"From the condition of the flesh round the wound."
"And from that you are certain that the injury could not have been self-inflicted?"
"I always guard myself from saying that I am certain. It is my opinion, however, that the shot could not possibly have been fired by Mr. Monsell himself."
"Would the death have been instantaneous?"
"What do you mean by 'nearly so'?"
"A matter of a couple of minutes, perhaps."
"Would it be impossible, after receiving such a wound, to get up by a superhuman effort and walk a few paces?"
"I always guard myself from saying that anything is impossible. And as a medical man I do not know what a superhuman effort is."
"In plain words, sir, if you choose to understand them, I mean this: could Mr. Monsell, after being shot, have walked a couple of yards?"
"I should say not. If, however, he was moving forward when he was shot, it is quite possible that his momentum might have sent him staggering a couple of yards, or even farther."
Inspector Ridyard was then called. He described the search of the Hall garden and the discovery of the revolver and the footprints. At the conclusion of his evidence the court was adjourned until the following day.
Larger crowds than ever waited for admittance the next morning, but the available accommodation was even more restricted than on the previous day.
The whole day was taken up with the examination and cross-examination of various witnesses for the prosecution. On the whole the evidence was rather less exciting, but there were one or two thrills. One was when James Middleton, an assistant at Maycrafts, Ltd., the Strand gunsmiths, deposed that on the day before the crime lie sold a quantity of ammunition to the prisoner. It was special ammunition—a particular kind of cartridge—that could only be fired from a revolver of the type possessed by the prisoner. Cross-examined, he admitted that he had recently sold these cartridges to other purchasers.
Dr. Hedwig Braun was then called. He said that he was one of the organizers of the new South Pole expedition which had set out in April. So far back as November, he declared, Dr. Ward had been asked to join the party. He had been asked several times since, but had declined owing to pressure of work.
Cross-examined, he said that he was in Christiania on February 27th.
"Would you have been very much surprised to receive a visit from the prisoner?"
"He and I were friends, and if he had been in Norway I have no doubt we should have arranged to meet."
"Was it too late, on February 28th, to join your party?"
"I am afraid it was. We had everything settled then."
"Would Dr. Ward have known that it was too late?"
"I cannot say. After his repeated refusal to join us, we naturally did not trouble him with particulars of our personnel."
"Would you have refused to take him at so late a date?"
"That would have been a matter for my committee. It would have been very awkward to place him at such short notice, but of course, we should have done our best, realizing the sort of man he is."
At this point there was some cheering in the court, which was sharply suppressed.
Several other witnesses were then called, including those who saw the prisoner on the road from Chassingford and Hull. Evidence for the prosecution was concluded by five o'clock, when the court was again adjourned.
The next day the accused was placed in the witness-box by his counsel and, after taking the oath, gave his story in full detail. "He is a tall Siegfried of a man," wrote Mr. Milner-White, "with deep-set blue-grey eyes, and firm outstanding chin. Everything about him, and every word that he uttered, gave an impression of iron control; even before the steel-cold eyes of the Solicitor-General he did not flinch, but gave his evidence and replied to cross-examination with calmness, a carefulness, and an unwavering directness that created the best possible impression."
His evidence was a complete denial that he knew anything about the crime at all. As a matter of fact, he said, he did not hear about it until he reached Bergen, where a short paragraph in a Norwegian paper was translated for him. The news came as a great shock to him.
Prisoner then, at the request of his counsel, gave a detailed summary of his movements on the night of February 27th. He was intending, he said, to catch the midnight train from King's Cross to Hull, and had packed his luggage and made all preparations. Then in the morning a telegram came to him at the hospital. It was from Mr. Monsell, and ran somewhat as follows: "Can you come Chassingford this evening eight o'clock urgent." The word "urgent" made him decide that at all costs he must keep the appointment, yet he knew that by doing so he might be too late to get back to King's Cross in time for the midnight train. He therefore decided to accomplish the whole of the journey on his motor-cycle. He set out from Bethnal Green about six o'clock and arrived at Chassingford soon after eight. He was admitted into the study where he found the deceased writing.
"I expressed surprise that he was not at the Town Hall, waiting for the count to begin, and he replied that he did not feel very well.
"We chatted pleasantly for some time, and I was beginning to wonder why I had been sent for so urgently. Suddenly, without any warning, we began to quarrel."
Here his lordship interposed: "Really, you must explain yourself a little more definitely than that."
Prisoner: "I would rather not go into details about the nature of our quarrel. As a medical man I am quite certain that my friend was not properly aware of what he was saying. Of course, his statements and suggestions naturally provoked me at the time, and it was in the midst of it all that the butler came in to attend to the fire."
His lordship: "I would advise you to explain yourself more fully than that."
Prisoner was silent. After a pause he went on: "I prefer not to say any more than I have said. Our quarrel did not last long, for I very soon discovered that my friend was not quite responsible for his words. We chatted quite amicably till about half-past ten, when I began to think of going. As I was about to go out of the room he asked me whether I would mind stepping out on to the lawn through the window, because the butler had locked the front door and gone to bed, and it would be a trouble to get the keys. I said I had no objection at all, so he opened the window and I said good-bye and walked down to the lane, where I had left my machine. I then rode to Hull, as I had intended. That is all that happened, so far as I am aware.
"I ought to explain one or two matters. First, the revolver. It is certainly mine, for I had lent it to Mr. Monsell some weeks before the election. He said he had received threatening letters, and had suspected attempts at burglary, and wanted me to lend him an unloaded revolver to frighten off anybody who might attempt any trouble. As the election was over when I went to the Hall on the evening of the 27th, I asked for my revolver back, because I knew I should want it if I joined the polar expedition. My friend said that he had left it at the Town Hall, and promised to send it to me the following day.
"It is quite true that I bought the cartridges on the 26th. I wanted to have a supply in case I joined the expedition. I went in the shop really to see if they had any of the kind I wanted. Usually they have to be specially ordered, and when I was told that they had them in stock I thought I would buy them and make sure."
The cross-examination began after the lunch interval.
Beginning at the beginning, said Sir Theydon: "Why did you suddenly make up your mind to join this polar expedition?"
"I wished to, that was all."
"Why was it necessary to go to Norway? Could you not have written or cabled?"
"I wanted to see Dr. Braun in person. I knew it was very late to join, but I thought I was more likely to be successful if I had a personal interview than if I wrote."
"You set a high value on your own powers of persuasiveness?"
"A higher value than on my literary powers, certainly."
"You must have been very keen to join the expedition?"
"Now I want to question you about your movements on the evening of the 27th. What is your motor-cycle?"
"A 7½ h.p. Harley-Davison."
"It is a very fast machine?"
"Supposing your interview with Mr. Monsell had begun at eight punctually and had lasted for an hour, there would have been ample time for you to get back to King's Cross on your machine in time to catch the midnight express."
"No doubt. But how could I know how long the interview would last?"
"Surely a midnight train to catch would have been an excellent reason for leaving early?"
"I can't quite see what you are driving at."
"I will tell you what I am driving at. I am suggesting that there was really no need for you to motor-cycle to Hull at all, and that, if you had wanted to, you could easily have caught the train. But you did not want to."
"Quite true. I did not want to."
"Why did you not want to?"
"Because"—answered the prisoner with a slight smile—"because I prefer motor-cycling to train-riding."
"You mean that you prefer motor-cycling for six hours on a dark night in March to travelling by a comfortable boat-express?"
"You ask us to believe that this wild dash through the night, in many cases at the speed of an express train, was a mere whim on your part—a mad escapade?"
"If you call it that I shall raise no objection. But I have done far madder things in the past."
"No doubt. Now I want you to see where your admission has led you. A little while ago you said that you decided to travel by motor-cycle because you might not have time to catch the train. Now you say that you motor-cycled because you preferred to. Which of those statements is correct?"
"You see no inconsistency?"
"Very well, we will leave it at that. No doubt the jury will form their own opinions as to your consistency or inconsistency. Now let us turn to the matter of the revolver. You say that Mr. Monsell borrowed it from you because he had been threatened?"
"He wrote you a letter asking for it?"
"Have you got that letter to show the court?"
"No. It is destroyed."
"Do you always destroy letters?"
"Those that are unimportant, yes."
"Did anyone beside yourself see that letter?"
"We have called several witnesses who have said that they had no knowledge of any threats uttered against Mr. Monsell, nor of any attempted burglaries. Can you give us any details about these threats or about the attempted burglaries?"
"When you lent the revolver, didn't you question Mr. Monsell about the threats?"
"Weren't you at all curious?"
"Not very. Mr. Monsell was very nervous and highly-strung, and from the doctor's point of view an imagined danger is just as serious as a real one. I should have lent my revolver just as willingly if I had been quite certain that the threats were mere hallucinations."
"Now I want to question you about your visit to the Hall on the night of the tragedy. Why did you leave your motor-cycle outside in the lane?"
"The gates were locked and there was only a small wicket-gate to pass through."
"When you were admitted by Mr. Monsell's butler you did not offer him your coat or hat. Why not?"
"Chiefly because he is very deaf, and on previous occasions it has taken as much as ten minutes to shout him from his room afterwards. I preferred to save both myself and him a good deal of trouble."
"When you left the study you went out by the window?"
"Your reason was that Mr. Monsell told you to go out that way because the butler had already locked up?"
"That was what he told me, yes."
"Didn't you think it rather a curious thing that on the night of a candidate's election his front-door should be locked and barred before midnight? Didn't you think it rather curious that a man should allow his butler to lock up the house while a guest was still inside?"
"I have thought so since, but I did not think so at the time. After all, if an old friend asks you to go out by the window instead of by the door, your first instinct is to do so without suspecting his motives."
"So you suspect his motives now, do you?"
"I did not say that. I admit, however, that I am puzzled as to why I was asked to go out by the window."
"I notice that you call Mr. Monsell an old friend at the time you bade him good-bye. You had got over your quarrel by that time?"
"Now tell me this. What was your quarrel about?"
"I would rather not say."
"I put it to you that your quarrel was about your relations with deceased's wife?"
Prisoner did not answer.
"I put it to you that Mr. Monsell taxed you with having had immoral relations with his wife?"
"That is a damned lie!"
"Do you mean that it is a lie to say that Mr. Monsell taxed you with it?"
"I mean that it is a lie—an absolute lie—to say that I have ever treated Mrs. Monsell other than honourably."
"But all the same, it is not a lie to say that Mr. Monsell taxed you with such a thing, and that you were indignant then as you are now, and that in that way you began your quarrel?"
Prisoner did not answer.
"I will go further and suggest that it was in your anger that you stood up facing Mr. Monsell as the butler saw you when he entered?"
Prisoner again made no answer.
"You refuse to answer any questions on the subject?"
"I would rather not."
"The court is not likely to draw favourable conclusions from your silence."
Here the judge interposed: "I think, Sir Theydon, it had better be put this way, that the prisoner is doing his case a good deal of harm by declining to answer questions which seem to me perfectly right and proper."
After further detailed cross-examination of the prisoner the court adjourned till the following day.
The most sensational feature of the next day's proceedings, indeed perhaps of the entire trial, was the examination and cross-examination of Mrs. Monsell. Mr. Milner-White wrote of her: "She is a slim, frail woman, pale-cheeked and dark-eyed, possessed of some secret vitality which, even through her nervous glance and stumbling answers, seemed to communicate itself to all who saw and heard her. Yet for all this vitality, she is spirituelle, a wraith of a woman, with all the marks of nerve-torture upon her...People who knew her a year ago tell me that they can hardly think she is the same woman. She looked a girl then; now she is ageless, with the agelessness born of suffering...It was easy to see that her public appearance and examination was forcing a great strain upon her; once or twice she lost control of her voice and became inaudible...But it was when Sir Theydon began his cross-examination that the really terrible phase was entered. He gave her no quarter. There was something unholy, almost obscene, in the contest—like that between a python and a gazelle. To watch it was to see a creature torn and twisted upon the rack. The result was nausea, and when, after two hours of the agony, the victim fainted and had to be carried out of the witness-box, a man turned to me and said: 'That was the most dreadful thing I ever saw...' Luckily the court adjourned for the lunch interval. Even the June sunlight blazing on the pavements outside the court seemed first of all a mockery."
Counsel for the defence began by taking Mrs. Monsell rapidly over the ground of the trial. He induced her to describe the finding of the body, and then questioned her about her late husband's health, private circumstances, etc. She replied carefully and without hesitation.
Her manner changed, however, as soon as Sir Theydon rose. "His first question, like a champion boxer's first blow, sent her staggering to the ropes."
"What," began Sir Theydon, "were your relations with the prisoner?"
Witness replied very softly and nervously: "We were friends."
"Was that all?"
"Are you quite sure that was all?"
Sir Theydon then began to read from a sheet of foolscap paper. It was a copy of a letter written, apparently, from Mrs. Monsell to the prisoner, but never delivered because Mr. Monsell intercepted it.
At the conclusion he asked: "Would you regard that letter as the letter of a friend to a friend?"
Witness's almost inaudible reply was: "I wanted him to help me."
Sir Theydon then read out other letters, asking at the end of each one the same question. There were five letters altogether and during the reading of them the witness gradually lost her calmness. At the finish she exclaimed shrilly: "I was hall-mad with worry when I wrote those letters! It is not fair to read them and try to prove things from them!"
"Never mind what is fair and what is not fair, Mrs. Monsell. I want you to tell me whether you think that your husband, reading those letters, was justified in suspecting you of infidelity with the prisoner?"
"He may have been. I ought not to have written them."
"Were you happy with your husband?"
"But not always?"
"No, not always."
"I put it to you that for some time before the tragedy you were anything but happy with him—in fact, that you had as little to do with him as possible?"
"I worked with him a good deal during the election."
"Ah, yes, I am coming to that. As a matter of fact, it is not quite correct to say that you worked for him a good deal during the whole of the election campaign."
His lordship here remarked: "I think Mrs. Monsell did not say that, Sir Theydon."
Sir Theydon: "I thank your Lordship for correcting me. Now, Mrs. Monsell, it is a fact, I believe, that you did no work in your husband's election campaign until a few days before the poll?"
"'Why was this?"
"I made up my mind that I would do all I could to help him."
"You made up your mind?"
"You visited the prisoner at Bethnal Green on the 22nd?"
"I suggest to you that at that meeting he gave you particular instructions that you were to help your husband all you could?"
"I admit that he advised me to. After all, why shouldn't he?"
"I think the question is rather: 'Why should he?' I suggest to you that the prisoner wished you to help your husband in order to further his own particular plan."
"I don't think he did at all."
"Very well...Now let us turn to another side of the question. What were you intending to do on the night of the election?"
"I was going home to tell my husband that he had won."
"And after that?"
Witness was silent.
"I put it to you that you had your luggage all packed and were going to follow the prisoner by a later boat and meet him in Norway?"
Here Mrs. Monsell covered her face with her hands. After a very long silence, she said, almost inaudibly: "That is so. But he did not know anything about it. I swear he did not know anything about it!"
"Whether he did or not, that was what you intended to do. Do you think that is the sort of thing that could happen between two people who were merely friends?"
"I was driven to it."
"Ah I Now what do you mean by that?"
"I was unhappy."
"Had you no other friends besides the prisoner?"
"Not so much a friend."
"A curious phrase, that. 'Not so much a friend!' You are a Hungarian, I believe?"
"How long have you lived in England?"
"Since I was fifteen."
"So that you know the people fairly well?"
"I think so."
"Do you know that English custom is against a wife having as her greatest friend a man other than her husband?"
Witness did not answer.
"I put it to you that your 'great friend' could have been described far more accurately as your lover?"
Again witness was silent.
"To put the matter quite plainly, Mrs. Monsell, I suggest that the prisoner murdered your husband, and that you were and are more or less in the secret."
The witness here startled the court by a shrill protest. "That is not true," she cried, covering her face with her hands. "I swear before God that is not true!"
"You say that your husband's death and manner of death was a great surprise to you?"
"You had had no conversation with the prisoner on the question of getting rid of your husband?"
"Most certainly we had neither of us ever dreamed of it."
"You had better answer for yourself only. You say you hadn't the slightest idea that the prisoner was contemplating such a crime?"
"I hadn't, because he never contemplated it!"
"Very well. Now I will read to you a letter which was found in the prisoner's possession when he was arrested. It is signed 'Stella' and was written apparently on the Saturday preceding the crime. It runs as follows:
My Dear, Dear Man,—(the second 'dear' is underlined) Your letter has made me the most miserable woman on earth. I only read it once hastily, because I heard Philip's footsteps outside the room, and I got in such a panic that I threw the whole letter into the fire. Oh, why, why (the second 'why' underlined) are you going to do this dreadful thing? Is there no other way at all? I feel blind, deaf, and dumb with misery, now that I know what you are going to do, Oh, my man, think of the danger I It frightens me—I'm too absolutely scared to write any more. If you do come here, for God's sake don't have anything to do with me, for at the first sight of you I should go raving mad and give the whole game away. I shall help Philip till the polling is over, but after that—God help me, and you too I I feel disaster all about you, but then, you won't take heed of my warning. Oh, if I had known you when I was a girl, all these terrible things would never have happened. Good-bye, dearest—goodbye.—Your own always, whatever you do—
During the reading of this, the witness sobbed convulsively.
"Now," said Sir Theydon, "do you admit writing that letter?"
After a long pause Mrs. Monsell answered: "Yes, I wrote it."
"Now be very careful how you reply to the questions I am going to ask you. What had the prisoner written in the letter you were so quick to destroy?"
"He had said he would go on another expedition to the South Pole."
"Then, if that was all that was in the letter, why were you so anxious to conceal it from your husband?"
Witness did not reply.
"What did you mean by writing to the prisoner: 'Why are you going to do this dreadful tiling?' What was this dreadful thing?"
"His going on the expedition was dreadful to me."
"Well, then, if that is so, what did you mean by telling him not to have anything to do with you if he visited Chassingford, lest you should give the whole game away? Come, come, Mrs. Monsell, what was this game that you were afraid to give away? 'Going to the South Pole' will not quite do for an answer, will it?"
Witness did not reply.
"You wrote to the prisoner: 'Is there no other way at all?' What did that mean?"
Witness was still silent.
"I suggest to you that the question you asked the prisoner had nothing at all to do with the South Pole. I suggest that it meant: Is there no other way of continuing our guilty relationship than by murdering my husband!"
Sir Theydon paused a long while for an answer, and when none was forthcoming, continued: "Will you, in the face of the letter I have just read, persist in your assertion that your relations with the prisoner were no more than friendly?"
After a tense silence witness slowly shook her head. Then, in hardly more than a whisper, she said: "It is true. I love him."
"Then the statements you made a little while ago were untrue?"
"I suppose so."
Mrs. Monsell seemed here to summon up the last fragments of control she possessed. She lifted her face for a moment and looked at Sir Theydon.
"You have tried to trap me," she said quietly, "and you have succeeded."
Sir Theydon retorted sharply. "You have no right to say that. My aim is not to trap you, but to get the truth out of you. You have deliberately sought to mislead the court as to your relations with this man. I hope his lordship will take note—"
"You may rest assured, Sir Theydon," interposed the judge, "that I am perfectly aware of the duties appertaining to my office."
Sir Theydon bowed, and, with a curt inclination of the head towards the witness-box, added: "That is all I have to ask, my lord."
"The battle was over," wrote Mr. Milner-White, "and with the cessation of the cannonade the pent-up emotions swelled over and wrought chaos. Mrs. Monsell gave a low cry and fell back into the arms of a police-constable...Everybody in the well of the court craned forward to look; the judge made some remark, obviously of a sympathetic kind, to one of the ushers; and Sir Theydon glowered upon the scene and carefully moistened his lips with a tumbler of water. Perhaps the most terrible thing of all was the prisoner's face. Outwardly it was unmoved, but there was a hint of fearful struggle in the tightly closed lips and sunken eyes."
All else after that was anti-climax, even the final speeches and the summing-up. The next day was occupied by more examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses for the defence, and by certain re-examinations. The court was then adjourned till the following Monday.
On that day, exactly a week after the opening of the trial, Sir John Hempidge began his closing speech for the defence. He wished the jury to regard the whole case logically. It was obviously one of those cases where the really important evidence was circumstantial. Mr. Monsell had been shot; nobody had seen him being shot; therefore logic propounded three solutions—suicide, accident, or murder. It was not their business to suggest an alternative explanation of the tragedy; but it was still less their business to send a man to the gallows because his guilt fitted in with certain cunningly constructed theories of people whose business it was to construct theories. In short, if they had the least doubt about the prisoner's guilt it was their duty to find the prisoner "not guilty."
Sir John stressed the fact that though prisoner had made a good many statements that he had unfortunately been unable to prove, the prosecution had been equally unable to disprove them. They could only say that they were improbable and extraordinary. Well, remarked Sir John, there were improbable and extraordinary things in everybody's life, and, to turn the thing into a sort of paradox, it would be most improbable and extraordinary of all if there weren't. The prosecution, for example, had made much of the fact that the prisoner motorcycled to Hull when he might have travelled by train. Well, why shouldn't he? Prisoner was a man who liked to do unusual and exciting things; he loved adventure, and because in these pallid days so few of us could sympathize with such a love, the prosecution were trying to make out that it could not be sincere. "Granted," said Sir John, "that neither you nor I would greatly enjoy a two-hundred mile night-ride on a motor-cycle in winter-time; what reason have we to doubt the prisoner's statement that he did it because he enjoyed it?" After all, perhaps there were other things in the prisoner's life that might seem to the average citizen both improbable and extraordinary. That same species of madness that drove the prisoner on his motorcycling escapade, drove him also almost to the South Pole. "It is a madness," added Sir John, "that England as a nation dare not lose."
At this point there was an outburst of cheering, and the judge ordered one person, a well-dressed woman, to be removed from the court.
The prosecution, continued Sir John, had made much play with the revolver question. It was true that the prisoner could not prove his explanation, but was it therefore not to be believed? That prisoner should destroy unimportant letters as soon as they were received was quite to be expected in a man of his character, and that Mr. Monsell should not have mentioned the loan of the revolver to anybody was also quite in keeping with the state of mind of a nervous man who is rather ashamed of his nervousness. On the face of it, the receipt of threatening letters by Mr. Monsell was a matter that hardly needed proof. Every public man received them; received them by every post and took no notice of them. "I could show the jury scores of threatening letters addressed to me on occasions when I have been contesting parliamentary elections—I could show them, I say, if I were not addicted to the same excellent habit as the prisoner—that of destroying unimportant letters as soon as they are received."
Sir John proceeded to discuss the relationship of prisoner and Mrs. Monsell. This was not a court of morals, he declared, and the question of Mrs. Monsell's illicit affection was only germane to the issue so far as it concerned the question of Mr. Monsell's death. It was absurd to say that because Mrs. Monsell had fallen in love with a man not her husband, that man should be immediately presumed to wish to encompass her husband's death. "In these days," said Sir John, "when the three parties to the triangle are reasonable people, and when there is no financial problem attached, the settlement of such an affair can be arranged without murder. Prisoner and Mrs. Monsell were apparently running off to Norway. Well, if that were so, where was the need for getting rid of Mr. Monsell? He had no power to fetch them back. The prosecution's theory of 'motive' was really no theory at all, but a bundle of fallacies.
"I say," added Sir John, eloquently, "that the prosecution has not produced a single shred of evidence to justify a verdict of guilty. I am amazed that the case has been brought so far. I would not muzzle a dog, much less hang a man, on the statements that have been made by the witnesses for the prosecution. Nobody saw the prisoner commit the crime; there is no likely reason why he should have done so; and he has given an account of himself which, though unsupported, has not been in the least disproved by all the efforts of the prosecution, There can only be one verdict, gentlemen, and I ask you to give that verdict, and to set free an innocent man who has done great services in the past and is likely to honour his country, still further in the future."
Sir Theydon Lampard-Gorian looked grimmer than ever as he began his final speech in his usual manner. "I shall disdain eloquence," he declared, "and appeal to facts and facts alone. I do not share the opinions of learned counsel for the defence concerning the value of the evidence we have brought forward. He says he is surprised that the case has been brought so far. Well, I should be surprised if the case had been brought so far on totally worthless evidence—I should have been more than surprised, I should have been absolutely amazed if a farrago of nonsense had induced a coroner's jury, a bench of magistrates, and a grand jury, to put this man on his trial for murder. No, gentlemen, the case of the prosecution is to be argued, if you like, but not to be abused. It is merely stupid to say that because the evidence is circumstantial it is therefore foolish."
The prisoner, continued Sir Theydon, had got together a very ingenious tale that was hardly strong enough to stand merely on his own word. Wasn't it a very curious thing that prisoner's story was not only very extraordinary and improbable, but that he could find nobody to substantiate it? He said he lent Mr. Monsell his revolver to scare away the writers of threatening letters. Well, he couldn't find a single person who could give even the least support to such a story. Nobody saw the revolver at the Hall; nobody saw even the threatening letters. Why didn't somebody who wrote the threatening letters come forward? They would no doubt be pardoned, and would be giving valuable help in the interests of justice.
As for the most important part of the evidence for the prosecution, not the slightest attempt had been made to dislodge it. Prisoner had obviously been conducting an intrigue with his friend's wife, and although this was certainly not a court of morals, it was at least to be hoped that it was a court of common sense. Defending counsel had said there was no motive. "No motive? Then Clytemnestra acted without motive, and so did Mary Queen of Scots, and Bothwell, and Henry the Eighth, and Therêse Raquin, and hundreds of celebrated people, real and imaginary, throughout the ages. No motive? When two people conceive a guilty relationship and a third party stands in the way of their complete freedom from restrictions and restraints, will any reasonable person say that there is not ample motive for getting rid of that third party?
"No, gentlemen," went on Sir Theydon. "But I will tell you one or two things for which there are no motives. Why should the prisoner go out of that study by the window, unless he were in a hurry to get away and were afraid of being seen? That is a point where I see no motive, except one which the prisoner will not admit. The whole explanation given by the prisoner of why he left his friend's room by the window seems to me the most ridiculous I ever heard. I do not even congratulate him on a clever invention. It is true it cannot be disproved. Nor could it be disproved if I said to you that there were exactly fifteen million hairs on my head."
Sir Theydon went on to stress the importance of the letter from Mrs. Monsell that was found in prisoner's possession when arrested. "I ask you, gentlemen, to take that letter, not as a sort of jigsaw puzzle, to be twisted this way and that, but as an ordinary letter which probably means what you or I would mean if we wrote the same thing in the same circumstances. Of course, we cannot be absolutely certain what it means, but in the light of other evidence, can any reasonable person have much doubt?
"As I said in my opening speech, this is no ordinary crime. But because the crime is extraordinary, that does not mean that all the motives are extraordinary, and that when you find a man stepping out of a window instead of through a door you must believe the most extraordinary explanation and reject the most ordinary one...
"As for the suggestion of suicide, is it likely that a man would commit suicide a few minutes before he would learn whether his life's ambition had been realized or not? Is it likely that a suicide would take the trouble to throw his revolver out of the window after shooting himself? Much has been said about Mr. Monsell's nervousness and highly-strung temperament. The fact is, quite evidently, that' Mr. Monsell was not too nervous to stand for Parliament, to address meetings, and to stand up bravely against a man who had been tampering with his wife!"
Sir Theydon finished his speech at ten minutes to four.
The judge then began his charge to the jury.
The jury, said his lordship, must try to divest themselves of all impressions produced by recollections of prisoner's past life. If prisoner had been in the past convicted for criminal assault, that fact would very rightly have been kept from the jury lest it might prejudice them in their verdict. In prisoner's case the exact opposite applied. Prisoner's past had been remarkable and distinguished, but they must try to forget that, just as they would forget or ignore a felon's previous convictions. The question was: Had Aubrey Ward murdered Philip Monsell? If so, his distinguished past ought not to save him from the punishment usually meted out to the murderer. It would be a bad day for English justice if ever there came to be an unwritten rule that a famous or distinguished man could break the law and be treated leniently.
Then again they must not be led away into any misplaced leniency because it was a crime passionel. In certain foreign countries, including perhaps Hungary, where Mrs. Monsell came from, the crime of which prisoner was charged would be regarded sympathetically because its motive was sexual attachment. Happily, our English law had never made such distinctions. A murder was a murder, and to kill a man to possess his wife was as heinous as to kill him for any other reason.
He would like the jury to consider the following points: Both prisoner and Mrs. Monsell had tried to conceal the guilty nature of their affection until cross-examination had forced them to admit it. Prisoner had said that he had never treated Mrs. Monsell other than honourably. Was it likely that this was the truth when Mrs. Monsell had written him such letters as had been read, and when she was preparing to follow him abroad? Prisoner's account of himself on the night of the tragedy was so remarkable that the slightest impugnment of his veracity in any other matter would tend to make his evidence of little value without the support of witnesses. Could it fairly be denied that prisoner's veracity had been impugned, when cross-examination revealed a relationship existing between prisoner and Mrs. Monsell which both had first of all denied?
It was true that circumstantial evidence must always be scrutinized carefully. If the jury thought that there was any reasonable doubt they must find the prisoner "not guilty." But it would be absurd to feel a doubt merely because there was no actual witness of the crime. Crimes were very rarely witnessed. It was naturally in the prisoner's interests that he should choose a time when no one should see him.
He (his lordship) would ask the jury to pay a great deal of attention to the letter written to the prisoner by Mrs. Monsell on the Saturday before the crime. Was that letter the sort of thing that a friend would write to another friend who had decided to join a polar expedition? The prosecution had put forward an explanation of that letter which, he was bound to say, seemed to him perfectly natural and logical. The defence explained a portion of it very obscurely, and at least one part of it not at all. The part to which he referred to was the sentence: "Is there no other way at all?" What could that mean? The jury must think carefully, and give prisoner the benefit of any reasonable doubt.
He would like to add a word or two about prisoner's refusal to give evidence concerning the matter of his quarrel with Mr. Monsell. That refusal was bound, of course, as he had warned the prisoner, to create an unfortunate impression. The jury must not, however, be affected by it. The probable subject of the quarrel, was not difficult to guess, and prisoner had very likely refused his evidence from a desire—to a certain extent a praiseworthy desire—to spare Mrs. Monsell as much as possible. That, in his Lordship's opinion, was an unwise thing to attempt, but it was not one that ought to count against him.
The jury must not concern themselves with anything except the guilt or innocence of the prisoner himself Whether Mrs. Monsell was or was not an accessory before or after the fact was a matter which was beyond their sphere. Their sole purpose was to discover whether or not the prisoner was himself guilty of murder...
His lordship then proceeded to review the evidence section by section, concluding his summing-up at five o'clock. Bailiffs were then sworn to take the jury in charge.
"The moment," wrote Mr. Milner-White, "was electric. The dying but still brilliant sunlight of a June day was streaming in through the windows of the court, lighting up the myriads of dust fragments that hovered in the turbid air, and kindling to silver the wigs of judge and counsel. It was such an evening as mortal man should have spent in the cornfields or on broad acres or upon the slopes of green and lovely hills. He should have been watching the village lads play cricket, or trudging homeward after his honest toil, or washing the smell of the earth off him in the tiny kitchen of a labourer's cottage...Instead of that, he was entering the court with bowed head and pallid perspiring face, with weariness in his eyes and the message of death on his lips...I have thus personified the jury as one man because to me, half-drowsy with the heat and strain of the day, they seemed to re-enter the jury-box like a single Nemesis. The sunlight fell upon them, dappling their honest faces with gold; and the sum of them was Everyman, the half-human, half-heroic figure of the old mortality play.
"Like the Cantoris and Decani of doom came the colloquy between the Clerk of the Court and the Foreman of the Jury.
"'Members of the Jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?'
"'And do you find the prisoner Aubrey Ward guilty or not guilty of the murder of Philip Monsell?'
"'That is the verdict of you all?'
"The blow had fallen, and we looked at the prisoner to see how he had taken it. He was unmoved, passionless, statuesque. He reminded one of Ossian's heroes (I hope I may not be deemed too fanciful)—' tall as a rock of ice; his spar, the blasted fir; his shield, the rising moon; he sat on the shore, like a cloud of mist on a hill.' There was that in his attitude and countenance that well explained why this trial for murder, out of all the hundreds that take place annually, should have had the attention of the whole world focussed upon it.
"The Clerk of the Court turned to him. 'Aubrey Ward,' he said, 'you stand convicted of murder. Have you anything to say why the court should not give judgment of death according to law?' The prisoner answered with simple dignity: 'I am not guilty. That is all I have to say.'
"His Lordship then asked if there were any questions of law to be pronounced, and Sir John Hempidge replied in the negative...Pause...The black cap...and then, more like a benediction than a sentence: I have now to pass upon you the sentence of the court, which is that you be taken from hence to a lawful prison, and from thence to a place of execution, and that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be buried in the precincts of the prison where you shall have last been confined after your conviction. And may God have mercy on your soul..."
"The chaplain's deep-toned 'Amen' rolled out sonorously, and at that moment a shaft of sunlight pierced through the veil of dust and struck to gold the prisoner's light brown hair. A woman's voice in the well of the court broke the silence by a hoarse 'It's a shame—a shame—' No attempt was made to remove her; it was as if a spell had been cast over the whole assembly.
"Then the final question and answer—'Aubrey Ward, have you anything to say in stay of execution?'—'Nothing, except what I have already said. I am not guilty.'
"When we groped our way into the street the heavens were aflame. A single window in Chassingford Old Church blazed out like a crimson star, and those of us who walked towards the town had our faces towards it as we hastened..."
Miles away in Fleet Street the news was already known. The sub-editors were frantically blue-pencilling, the great Goss machines were pounding away, and in dark alleys newsboys waited like hounds on leash...
In the office of the Sunday Wire an editor was discussing with his proprietor whether Mrs. Monsell would accept a thousand pounds for an article.
"She'd probably jump at it," remarked the proprietor. And he added, thoughtfully: "By the way, there's a fellow who'd write it for you rather well. Chap named Milner-White, on the Manchester Sentinel. Bit highbrow, perhaps, but the-goods all the same...Better get hold of him..."
What many had said was quite true; Stella was so changed in appearance that those who had known her as Philip's wife would hardly have recognized her after the trial. She was scarred with anxiety and suffering; but she was not cowed. As soon as the court was dismissed she went over to Sir John Hempidge and said, with perfectly controlled voice: "You will appeal, of course?"
Now, after the turmoil of the fight, she was staying for the while at Brighton. There were several reasons for this. One was that she could not, even if she had wished, have remained at Chassingford. The Hall was no longer open to her; by Philip's will, it had been left to his mother, together with the Kensington flat and all his money and property.
During the final days of the trial, however, a letter reached her from a lady who claimed to be connected with Ward in a rather extraordinary manner. "I am the mother," she wrote, "of one of the men who went with Doctor Ward on his first polar expedition, and who would have lost his life but for Ward's bravery and self-sacrifice. My boy (for I still think of him as that) is now happy and prosperous in Australia, and every hour of the day I offer up my thanks to the man who is now on his trial for murder. I have never been able to meet him, but now, I think, has come a chance to repay a little of my great debt. Will you (whether the trial goes well or badly for him) accept the hospitality of an old lady for just as long as you care to? Of course, you may have other plans—if so, please do exactly as you prefer. My only desire is to help you and the doctor, and it occurred to me that you might be wondering where to go and what to do afterwards. People in this world, as I well know, are very thoughtless and cruel; they neglect you most of all when you need their help..."
Stella replied simply: "Dear Mrs. Bowden,—Thank you very much for your kind offer, which I shall gratefully accept. I shall come straight away to you as soon as the trial ends..."
Mrs. Bowden proved to be an old and wealthy lady who lived alone in an enormous rock-like house on the borders of Brighton and Hove. For her age she was amazingly agile and enterprising, and she seemed to take a certain malicious pleasure in being seen out in company with the woman whom all England delighted to revile. "My dear," she told Stella, "I have no reputation to keep up and consequently none to lose. If you knew more of my past life you'd understand why."
Meanwhile, the wheel of fate still moved inexorably round. One result of the popular outcry against Stella ("the woman who had driven him to do it") was that a great deal of public sympathy was aroused for Ward. Stella hoped that this would be shown by the size of a petition that was being signed for a reprieve. She was quite certain that the death sentence would never be carried out. "For one thing, it may get quashed on appeal. And, in any case, the Home Secretary can't ignore a petition signed by half the country."
Mrs. Bowden was less confident. "Hope for victory, but don't count on it," she advised. "And don't forget that your chief enemy is not the Home Secretary, but the creature who occupies every cabinet post in every government—Mrs. Grundy."
The petition was organized by Ward's solicitors, but Stella received a cold rebuff when she visited them and offered her help. They gave her to understand plainly that the less she had to do with it the more successful it was likely to be, and that her most valuable service to the prisoner would be to keep out of things as much as possible. It was this that decided her to refuse the Sunday Wire's offer of a thousand pounds for an article. Mrs. Bowden rather favoured an acceptance. "After all, a thousand isn't to be sneezed at, and it may come in very handy for you some day. Besides, you won't have to write anything—only your signature at the end." But after the interview with Ward's solicitors, Stella wrote refusing the offer. A wire in return increased the offer to fifteen hundred, and then she wrote explaining that in no circumstances would she have anything to do with the matter. The Wire published her letter in full under the heading: "Mrs. Monsell's Refusal."
About a week after the trial she had to meet Mrs. Monsell at a solicitor's office in connection with a business matter. Mrs. Monsell's attitude was curious; she seemed just as full as ever of her usual acid volubility. Her manner seemed to say: "I am too broad-minded to be rude to you, and you are perhaps even more interesting (which is the main thing) after all that has happened. But, of course, you must recognize that what you have done puts you outside the pale of society. Therefore I can only regard you as a curiosity, like my Armenian violinists, postman-poets, and other freaks."
Soon afterwards Stella heard that Mrs. Monsell had gone to America. The picture-papers called her "Mother of Chassingford Victim."
Time dragged fearfully at Brighton, even in Mrs. Bowden's energetic company. During the long days of waiting for the hearing of the appeal, there was nothing at all to do except to make tiresome visits to the shops, or go motoring with Mrs. Bowden in her enormous Renault limousine. Mrs. Bowden, indeed, took complete command, insisting that Stella should accompany her to this place and that, even though she agreed listlessly and without interest. On almost every day the sun shone, making a perfect holiday for all the happy crowds whom Stella envied, and who in their ignorance envied her just as much.
The newspapers, however, had familiarized the country with her appearance, and once or twice when she was recognized, her identity, combined with the extravagant opulence of the car, aroused hostility. This was one of the results of the Daily and Sunday Wire propaganda. Those enterprising journals, disappointed in their efforts to buy Stella's signature to an article, had begun a fierce campaign against her, cleverly exploiting her nationality for the purpose. Every day there appeared articles on the alien peril almost every day the crime passionel was the subject of a special contribution by some medical, legal, psychological, or sociological expert. Their conclusions pointed to the undoubted superiority of the English over every other nationality, and the necessity for purging our national life from "alien pests" and "continental" ideas of morality. Some of these attacks went so far that the Hungarian Minister protested, declaring in a letter to the Press that "it must not be supposed that the events disclosed in a recent murder trial are at all typical of Hungarian life and manners..."
Whenever the crowd recognized Stella, Mrs. Bowden was tactlessly and unnecessarily bellicose. Evidently she enjoyed the flouting of convention, and when at Worthing one afternoon the windows of the car were smashed and she and Stella had to take refuge in the police station, her zestful indignation knew no bounds. "I won't be intimidated by a mob," she cried to the police superintendent. "I'm sixty-nine, and a fighter yet."
The people of Brighton, less demonstrative, were none the less hostile. Mrs. Bowden despised them.
"The folks who live here," she said, "are real freezers. But the visitors aren't so bad, especially the week-ending couples. Saturday-to-Monday out-for-a-good-timers, bless them..."
She added quite calmly: "I was one myself once, so maybe that's why I'm not bigoted about it."
Once she said to Stella: "What will you do it the sentence gets quashed on appeal?"
Stella answered morosely: "I don't know."
"You haven't any money?"
"Not a penny. But I could earn some."
"It isn't as easy as you think. But perhaps the doctor has money?"
Stella flushed. "And do you think I could take money from him?"
Mrs. Bowden shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? Forgive me, my dear, if I'm rather too much a realist for you. You see I've had such real experiences...and it seems to me that since you love him—"
"I love him? How do you know that?"
"At the trial—"
"Oh, yes, I remember...Good God, I remember...Go on."
"Well, my dear, since you love him—"
She could get no further than that. Stella covered her face with her hands and burst into sobbing. "I can't bear it—I can't bear it...Even you don't understand."
"Don't I? Very likely not. Who does, anyway, except you yourself?"
Stella looked up with sudden calm. "What would you advise me to do?" she asked.
Mrs. Bowden said quietly: "Put the past on one side. Begin life afresh. Don't ruin your future with false conventions. Don't shackle yourself with a morality you don't believe in. If Ward wins, as I hope he will, go with him abroad and stay there till the world has forgotten. Thank God it has a short memory. And if money is the only difficulty, then I can—"
Stella interrupted her with a half-sad smile. "I'm afraid you don't understand at all, Mrs. Bowden. I can never marry him, even if he were willing."
"And why not, indeed?"
She answered: "Because—because—Oh, God—because I'm not certain—not certain that he's innocent..."
Mrs. Bowden raised her eyebrows. "My dear," she said gently, "I never supposed he was."
Stella was on fire in an instant.
"What! What! Do you think he's guilty? Have you thought so all along? Oh, God! What do you think?"
"Does it matter what I think?"
"Oh, don't argue—tell me..."
"Stella, I must argue. I say, does it matter what I think? I say more; I say, does it matter whether he's guilty or not? He loves you and you love him—"
"Oh, it does matter—it does matter. It's everything—"
"To you. You, the Hungarian, are chaste, moral, almost proper. I, the Englishwoman—oh, well, no need to make a boast of it. But if a man loved me, and I loved him, I would not care what crime he committed—even murder."
"Wouldn't you?" Stella seemed almost incredulous. Then she began to speak slowly and carefully. "You don't understand me. In fact, to be frank, I'm here on false pretences. You thought I was a woman who plotted with her lover to murder her husband. Didn't you?"
"I'm afraid I must be terribly disappointing."
"Don't be foolish. I'm here to help you, whatever you are and whatever you've done. I have never been impertinent enough to question you about the matter. For us to discuss Ward, however, is different—"
"Oh, Ward—Ward...Isn't it curious that I've never called him by his Christian name?...And you think he is guilty then?"
Her voice was quite calm.
"As an outsider judging by evidence alone, I feel quite certain of it."
"Yes...yes...I remember he once told me he was afraid of what he'd do if he lost control—we were talking about drinking, and he said he was teetotal because he was afraid of killing somebody if he got drunk .. Oh, yes, he did kill Philip—he must have done, and it's stupid of me to keep trying to think otherwise...But Philip—Philip...Oh, you don't understand me—nobody understands me. They don't understand how I loved Philip. Yes, Philip as well as Ward. Until he grew cold and strange, I was quite happy with him—I loved him like a little baby that I had to look after. When he was a boy—a big boy—and I was a girl, we were so happy together—he used to teach me things—and I—in a way—I used to worship him. He was very good to me then. It was only towards the end, when he wasn't well—O God, I wish I had been kinder to him...Poor Philip, so ill and weak, and Ward, big and strong—oh, it was a brutal, dreadful thing to do...and the man who did it—I hate him—I—"
"Yet you hope he wins his appeal?"
Mrs. Bowden's voice was full of sweetness.
"Yes. Yes. I hope that. I can't help hoping that." She suddenly flung herself face downwards on the settee and buried her head in the cushions. "O God, they mustn't hang him!" she screamed, sobbing convulsively. "Not hang him!—I want him!—I want him to live and do great things and wipe out this fearful business...And yet they'll hang him and take away his only chance...Oh, what can I do?—What can anybody do? They'll hang him—What can I do to stop them? Tell me—tell me—for God's sake—"
"So you still love him?"
The reply was almost inaudible. "Yes...But I will never, never see him again..."
The appeal was heard in the middle of July. It lasted two days, and on the afternoon of the second, Stella was in the streets when she heard the newsboys shouting: "Result of Ward's Appeal." She bought a paper and learned that the appeal had been dismissed.
For several moments she stood on the kerb as in a trance. She could not see the traffic; there was something heavy and monstrous in front of her eyes. People were staring, and those who recognized her were doubtless explaining the full piquancy of the situation to those who didn't. It was only the slow and gradual realization of the amount of attention she was attracting that made her grope her way along the blazing, heartless streets.
She went back to the house and cried. Without realizing it, she had pinned all her faith to this appear; she had felt an inward certainty that the sentence would be quashed or at least reduced. So many barriers had seemed to loom between the prisoner and the hangman, and to each one in its turn she had given all her hope. But now the biggest and most redoubtable of the barriers had come crashing to earth.
Suddenly the full visualization of all that was to happen came to her. She saw before her eyes the prison, and the drop, and the hangman's rope...Her blood tingled into frigidity; it almost seemed that her heart stopped its beating. She could not cry out or scream; the vision was too paralyzingly horrible. She sat facing it with dry lips and glassy eyes, hypnotized, nerveless. The terror was most fearful when the spell was broken; when the blood raced and the heart beat wildly. The newspaper headlines echoed like doom..."Appeal dismissed...dismissed." All the misery of the past seemed suddenly heaped upon her, and with the misery a frantically growing panic. Mrs. Bowden had gone out, and when she returned, she found Stella gazing into an empty firegrate with wild uncanny eyes.
The paper with its dreadful headlines lay on the floor. Stella picked it up and pointed to a small paragraph at the foot of the report of the appeal. It stated that "the execution is fixed to take place at Holloway Gaol at nine o'clock on the morning of August 5th."
"There are three weeks yet," said Mrs. Bowden. Stella nodded. "And I shall be mad before then," she said.
The only hope lay now in a petition for reprieve. It was reported that many people all over the country were eager to sign one. But a most unfortunate event took place in the meantime. A youth named Watson had been jilted by a girl, whereupon he had taken the fearful revenge of throwing vitriol over her and her new lover. The man was so terribly injured that he died in hospital, and the girl herself was disfigured and eventually lost the sight of both eyes. Watson was tried for murder and sentenced to death. A petition for reprieve was launched on the ground that he had received great provocation, but the Home Secretary refused to consider it, observing in his reply that no provocation that he could think of could in any way diminish the guilt of such a dreadful crime. Watson was accordingly executed on July 20th.
Everybody realized that the execution lessened considerably the likelihood of a reprieve being granted to Ward. Ward's position and past career even told against him, for Watson had been an ill-educated farm-labourer, and the Home Secretary, in the present precarious situation of the Government, was not likely to give scope for an outcry about one law for the rich and another for the poor. There were people, of course, who said that Ward's was a gentlemanly crime—almost a decent one—compared with Watson's; but on the other hand there were fierce logicians who replied that Watson had had his woman stolen from him, whereas Ward was both the murderer and the thief. Indeed, it was very likely true, as a certain Home Office official said in the privacy of his London club, that "but for this damnable Watson case, Ward would certainly be reprieved."
July gave place to August, and the petition, supposed to have been signed by over a hundred thousand names, was delivered to the Home Secretary in a small fleet of taxi-cabs. The affair was much photographed; indeed every feature of the case was exploited by Fleet Street for a good deal more than it was worth. This sensational publicity harmed, rather than helped, for it spread the quite erroneous idea that Ward possessed great influence. The attitude of the man in the street, frequently expressed, was: "He'll get off all right. They don't hang his sort."
Stella's hopes, always eager to be rekindled, rose again over the delivery of the petition. Somebody in the Press had mooted the idea of a special petition signed by eminent men—explorers, geographers, historians, authors, and public men of all kinds. To Stella it seemed an idea that could not fail. Mrs. Bowden was less optimistic. "Don't expect the big people to take his part," she said. "Half of them are jealous of him and glad that he's down. And the other half are too frightened to face the music. Ward's come a cropper, and the big people only back winners."
The "special" petition was duly launched, however, and duly met the fate that Mrs. Bowden had prophesied for it. A few semi-significant nobodies gave their names, more for the advertisement to themselves than for the cause; and the whole project died a very natural death. Sir Julius Hopton, F.R.G.S., approached for his signature, replied: "It is true that I have been an explorer, but it is also true that I have been an M.P. On the whole, I think I should be more likely to put my name to a petition praying that under no circumstances should Philip Monsell's murderer escape the full legal penalty." It was difficult to convince people that Sir Julius had rather missed the point.
A few days later, on August 3rd, the Home Secretary replied. "After full consideration," he wrote, "I cannot see that any fresh facts have been brought forward to justify me in recommending His Majesty to grant a reprieve."
That was all, and it was well understood to be final. To Stella it was the almost incredible shattering of her dream, but most other people were neither surprised not indignant.
On the night of August 3rd there was a terrific thunderstorm. It wakened Stella into stark panic; she screamed and sobbed frantically until, from very weariness a calmness came. Even then her self-discipline was fitful, feverish, almost demoniacal. "I'm going mad, Mrs. Bowden," she said quietly. "I mean it. Oh, I can't bear it all. Why should they hang him—oh, God—they mustn't—they mustn't..."
Mrs. Bowden had her own ideas. She wakened the chauffeur out of his bed at four in the morning and told him to prepare the car. The rain was still falling heavily, but she insisted on Stella driving with her through the hissing streets. It was hardly dawn, and the vast wet promenade was grey and empty. Every now and then the lightning blazed over the sea and glinted on the curling wave-crests. Stella pulled down the side-window and breathed deeply the cool sea-salt wind. "That makes me calmer," she said.
"I know," answered Mrs. Bowden. And she added softly: "From experience."
They drove through Portslade and Shoreham to Littlehampton, and then turned inland to Horsham and back home over the grey mist-swathed Downs. The sun was blazing upon them as they swished down the Ditchling Road at half-past seven.
"It is so kind of you to have done such an odd thing," said Stella over breakfast.
Mrs. Bowden answered: "If only you knew what odd things I have done!"
They did not mention Ward at all during the day. At night Mrs. Bowden said: "Do you think you will be able to sleep to-night?"
"Perhaps I may. I feel very sleepy."
"That's right. Try to sleep late in the morning. I'll tell the maid not to call you."
"Sleep late in the morning," Stella echoed. She seemed to ponder over the phrase, and then replied: "Yes, I think I will." She added, slowly: "I suppose there isn't—anything—anything more—that can be done?"
Mrs. Bowden took her hand quietly in hers. "Nothing at all, my dear," she answered softly. "Don't think about it. Try to sleep."
"Nothing at all?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Are you quite sure?"
They bade each other good-night and went to their rooms.
But she could not sleep. As soon as she was alone the cloud fell on her, torturing her with the thought of the morrow. She must try to sleep. She forced herself to close her eyes, and then she saw nothing but the pictures of her mind. She saw the long low fringe of the Danube river, with the mists rolling over it in winter-time, and the blaze of the summer sun at high noon, and the cross on the steeple of the quaint little ikoned church—the cross that looked like a gallows. How beautiful, despite the pain and cruelty of them, had been her childhood days, so cool, so lovely-sweet, a tremulous heaven for her to dream of now—the church bells tinkling by the riverside at Vaczs, the towers and palaces of Buda gleaming gold in the sunset—Csillagos az eg, csillagos, Bu szallt a szivemre banatos!—Oh, so long ago, so long ago.
She would never sleep that night. She would go downstairs and be very calm, and sit in the library and think and think and perhaps talk to herself in low tone that no one would hear. She tip-toed down the stairs. What a dark and mournful house it was—nearly as dark and mournful as the Hall at Chassingford. But the library was comfortable, and the night Was warm, and nobody would interrupt her thoughts. She was quite calm...Oh, yes, quite calm...One o'clock. Eight more hours...Was he sorry? One o'clock. Eight more hours...Was he as calm as she? Was he afraid to die? Surely not. Was he sorry to leave her? Ah, that was more poignant.
Oh, what a pile of letters on the library table! The letters had been opened and stacked in heaps. All had been addressed in the first place to Chassingford Hall, and had been re-addressed from there in Venner's funny wriggly handwriting. Good old Venner—perhaps he didn't hate her altogether...And all these letters were for her? Mrs. Bowden had opened them to save her trouble or worry or anxiety of some sort, for they were from people she had never heard of, from people who had never met or seen her, but who hated her so much that they took the trouble to write her abusive letters. How queer, to think of all this hate for her that was in people's hearts! How queer and how terrible!...She took some of the letters out of their envelopes. This one—from a man in Coventry..."You ought to be put on the rack and tortured to death if Ward is hanged."...Oh, how funny—how comic—that anybody should write like that to her!...Now this other letter. From Maida Vale..."Murderess..." Murderess! Murderess?
The letters slipped from her hand to the floor.
She thought she saw an old shaggy-haired dog come limping into the room. But the doors were all shut, so how could that be?—Never mind, there was the dog, all muddy and bedraggled, panting with parched lips, eyes bloodshot—limping with a wounded paw. It came on to the rug beside her and lay down exhausted. She wanted to get up and stroke it, but somehow when she tried she found that she could not move out of her chair. Poor little hunted cur! It was not frightened of her. Doggie! Doggie!—She made a whistling noise to it—softly, or Mrs. Bowden would hear her—and it opened one suffering eye and looked at her. Its tongue was hanging—hanging parched out of its mouth, and she thought it was thirsty. There was a carafe of water on the table, and she knocked it over on to the rug...If the dog were really thirsty it would lap up the water before it sank in. But—somehow—the dog wasn't there at all—had gone away...
But the letters...This man from Maida Vale. "Murderess, why arnt you waiting to be hung same as the man as isn't a quarter as bad as you Im only a poor working woman but I say..." Oh, a woman, not a man. Fancy a woman writing to her like that!
The dog was there on the rug again, but the water had all sunk into the carpet, and there was no more to throw down. Poor old doggie I...She wanted to put her arms round the shaggy neck and kiss the mud-streaked face. Nobody had ever loved that dog—you could see that from its eyes. But she loved it. She loved it because it looked so wretched and friendless and forlorn. Because she understood its dumb miseries. She must stoop down to kiss it. The creature suddenly looked up at her. She could not bear that look. It sank into her soul like a deep pain. She must...she must...she must...must...She flung out her arms and tried to embrace something dear and wonderful that had eluded her always up to now...Oh, Philip, Philip, darling Philip—if they had known each other better, if they had understood...
But the letters. Could they be real? Were all these messages of hate for her? She took them one after the other and read them. They seemed strange, unreal, unbelievable. But there was a parcel as well. It was flat and well-packed, and the first address on it had been typewritten. She took it in her hands and pulled the string until it broke with a snap...
"This is a present for you. By the time you get it I shall have succeeded. Realize that—only realize that—and I shall forgive both you and myself.
"I have been very clever, oh, consummately clever, cleverer, I hope, than all the judges and juries and king's counsels in England. For example, let me describe the method by which in due course you will receive the book.
"First of all, notice its binding. It is beautiful old Milanese leather-work, such as I have always admired. In the course of my somewhat extensive European travels I have discovered a firm that does this sort of thing very well. It is a firm in Buda-Pesth—quite a small place in a turning off the Andrassy-Ut.
"What an irony that I should send my diaries—these revelations of my soul—to your capital city to be bound sumptuously for your hands! Yet the plan has its advantages, for there is nobody in the firm (as I found out once myself) who can speak English. My diaries will therefore be safe from prying and from premature disclosure.
"Do you remember as long as last December I asked you to translate for me a short business-letter into Hungarian? How eagerly and innocently you complied. Perhaps you wondered why I was sending a book all the way to Hungary to be bound? Did you? I could never, never in all my life, know what was in your mind.
"Anyway, you will admit that the idea is clever. At the moment when the police are all nosing round my books and shelves, hoping for some clue simple enough for them to understand, the real key to my life will be lying in some workman's house in Pesth, for nearly all these skilled leather-binders work in their own homes.
"I have given careful orders to the firm that they are not to send on the completed book until July 28th, so that it ought to reach you on your birthday. Another fine stroke of irony!—A present for a good child from Blackpool? Southend? Scarborough? Ramsgate? Margate? Bournemouth? Brighton? Worthing? Broadstairs? Shanklin? Southport? Llandudno? Colwyn Bay? Bridlington? Skegness? Yarmouth? Lowestoft? Clacton? Westonsuper-Mare? Penarth? Cleethorpes?—No, my beloved, not any of these. From Buda-Pesth..."
Was this real? Was it her wild brain that was dictating the wild words that her eyes saw? The book was there, anyway, with its rich velvet-soft binding, and inside it the ordinary octavo pages of a half-crown diary. And it was Philip's handwriting...
Philip's handwriting...Her brain was too wild to receive a shock from that. It seemed almost the most natural thing in the world that she should be reading Philip's handwriting. As natural, anyway, as that she should be sitting up at four o'clock in the morning in a strange house, terrified by the fear of the morrow.
She read on haphazardly.
July 4th. Why was I made, not only weak physically, but so indescribably futile in everything I do? This morning I went out to sack one of the gardeners. The man told me such a long tale that I ended by giving him a half-crown rise. I simply hadn't the power to meet him. In personality—in all that makes a man a man and not a mere laughing-stock—he was my superior. That is why I don't blame Stella for loving Ward. Ward is a man.
Aug. 10th. I can see now that I have always hated Ward. I hate his "rightness"—the smashing ease with which he gets through life. I can't ever forget the time we waited outside the Senate House at Cambridge to learn the result of our examinations. I don't hate him because he got a first. But I do hate him because he wouldn't have cared if he hadn't. O God, how I care...I care my hardest, and try my hardest, and the result—failure.
Aug. 11th. Continuing. I used to think I had failed in everything except my marriage. Now I know that I have failed in everything without the exception...If Ward loved Stella and stole her from me openly, I could curse him like a man and put up with it. But he's too honourable for that. He won't take her because she's mine. I can't bear his damned magnanimity. I'd rather perish as a man than live on sufferance as a piteous child. There's nothing fails like failure.
Aug. 16th. Why do I continue the impossible fight? Why don't I take Stella away and hide her where she can't see Ward? I have plenty of money—I could live what most folks call an easy life if I wanted to. But I can't surrender—I must go on fighting. Stella doesn't understand me. Neither does Ward. Nor does anybody. The complaint that nobody understands him is very probably the last excuse of the incompetent.
Sept. 29th. I pin my faith to some dim and unearthly success in the future. I must succeed. If my soul (I care nothing for my body) is to keep whole, I must break this long ridiculous record of failure. I must break it shatteringly. Ward told me to-day how he hated all the fuss that was made over him when he came back from his polar expedition. I should despise him if I thought he didn't mean it. But I know he did mean it. And though I don't despise him, I hate him, because he doesn't care—because he wins so often that he can afford to throw away his gains.
Sept. 30th. To-day I read an extraordinary book called Trent's Last Case, by A. C. Bentley. It's a sort of detective-story, and the queer thing is that it has an idea in it that I have had in my mind for some time. I'm afraid reading the book has made that idea plainer to me. It's dreadful, but oh, if I could do it I In the detective-story a wealthy financier sort of person kills himself in such a way that his secretary, who has been carrying on with his wife, is accused of murder. But of course there's a witness of the actual suicide, and so the case doesn't even get as far as the police-court. That's where your clever fiction-detective comes in. In real life, though, that wouldn't happen. Oh, I'm tired—tired out—my brain's going, I believe.
Oct. 2nd. It is typical of my deplorable condition that it gives me a certain delight to blame other people for it. My mother, for instance. She sees through me; she knows I'm a weakling, an incapable. I don't think she ever loved me. Love—what is it? First definition: something that my mother hasn't got. Stella? Ah, little Stella has love, but not for me. A baby love, perhaps—the sort of love she would give to a kitten. She pities me. I shall never forget her face when I bungled that football kick-off. She looked at the crowd as much as to say: Don't you dare to laugh at him—he's my little pet. And she looked at me as much as to say: How could you be such an idiot I'm nothing like the financier person in Trent's Last Case. He was just jealous of his wife's attentions with another man. I'm not that. I'm a weak man who won't be weak. I'm justifying myself before the universe.
Of course, people who do that or think they are doing it are really quite mad.
Oct. 5th. I am making up my mind slowly, and when I have finally done that, nothing shall stop me. My soul is burning with a new vigour. I wonder what category Lombroso or Nordau would put me into.
Dec. 9th. I tested myself to-day. I gave orders that Stella's kitten should be drowned. Why? Because something in my brain got hold of me and said: You must do this, or you will go under. But of course I bungled the affair. I ought never to have told the gardener to do it. Question: Why didn't I drown the kitten myself? Answer: Because I couldn't bear to. My brain is too far ahead of my body. I could never commit a murder—myself. But I could kill my own body because I hate it—I loathe it—it has disgraced me. Poor Stella, I feel so sorry for her about the kitten. That sounds the foulest and most damnable hypocrisy, but before God, it's the living truth.
Dec. 12th. I know that I am fighting Ward to the death. I shall fight cunningly, despicably, with diabolical ingenuity, and let none blame me because I was not made to fight any other way. He who is in earnest fights how he can...To the death—mine and then his. Greater hate hath no man than this...
She closed the book and stared at it as one transfixed. Was she mad? She wondered almost calmly if her brain were sliding into chaos. She sat perfectly still for what seemed hours to her, striving to grasp reality, to hang on to any fact, however insignificant, that provided a safe and true anchorage. The book—yes, it existed. She was certain of that; she could feel its soft richly-marked leather beneath her open hand. But the rest—was it all a nightmare?
She opened the book again and read a few pages haphazardly; then she clenched her fists and jerked herself into sudden activity. It was as if she were pushing physical clouds from before her eyes. She looked at her watch. It was after half-past five...
Activity grew in her like a prairie-fire. Half-past five. There was no time to be horrified, amazed, sceptical; no time to reason, examine, ask advice. Half-past five—just over three more hours...No time for anything but to act. Good God—they must not hang him—not now, not now. Half-past five...She must act without a moment's delay. First—the telephone.
She did not care—did not think about anything but her one single aim. They must not hang him—must not. What a tiresome unwieldy thing a telephone directory was...Half-past five—just over three more hours...
It seemed an age—an eternity—before she got through. A dull-sounding, very indistinct voice replied to her first eager self-introduction. Mrs. Monsell...Oh, yes, the Mrs. Monsell...Yes, the Mrs. Monsell...Most important...Innocence...Absolute proof...must delay...
The voice, more dull-sounding, less distinct than ever. Extremely sorry...Quite impossible...approach the solicitors...no authority...asleep...too early in the morning...
Half-past five—getting on for six. She banged down the receiver. Not another moment would she waste on that method. She must go in person with the book. Immediately. She thought of the car, and remembered that the chauffeur was asleep and that there were some small repairs that would have to be made before setting out. No, the car would be too slow. But there was a train to town at six—the first train of the day. Even with stops it would probably be quicker than waiting for the car to be prepared. The train, then...Twenty to six...She rushed upstairs and put on a hat and coat. Then she rushed down again and slipped out through the servants' entrance into the quiet fresh-smelling streets. A quarter to six by the clock on the clock-tower! The policeman on duty gave her a curious stare as she passed him.
At the station everyone stared at her—booking-clerk, ticket-collector, porters, guard, passengers, the whole assembled population. They knew her from the photographs in the picture-papers, and they knew also that this was the morning—the morning. How they stared...and some of them grinned. She swept past them on to the platform like a tornado; she was aflame with an eagerness that gave her a miraculous clarity of thought. She chose, for example, the front compartment of the train, so that she would be able to jump out quickly at London Bridge.
The train stopped agonisingly at all stations as far as Croydon. Several times she nearly yielded herself to panic, but some secret strength in her responded to each more pressing demand. Not yet—not yet...A quarter to seven—Three Bridges...Good God—if she were not in time. Just over two hours now...Would the car have been quicker? The speculation was terrible. Once when there was a signal-check she pressed her head till she winced with pain, in order to stop herself from screaming aloud. Then, after passing Redhill, the train went faster, and she found it less difficult to keep calm There were others in the compartment; they stared at her, but not with recognition.
One thing she did during the journey—and did with such passion that she could almost have repeated it afterwards word for word—she read the whole diary through from cover to cover. It was real enough then. She tried to keep her mind calm while she was reading—she tried to grasp the facts, not to judge the issues. There was no longer time for that...Seven o'clock...Two hours longer—a hundred and twenty minutes. God—if she were too late!
One thing she was certain of—that the book, in parts at any rate, had been written by a madman.
Feb. 6th I have now almost perfected my plans. This bye-election makes everything simpler. And it is the irony of fate that this time I have just the very slightest chance of winning it.
Feb. 10th. Ward came this morning and brought the revolver. Nobody knows about it. The only problem left is a medical one. The chest is, I think, better than the head; it gives one more time to arrange matters. More painful and slower, perhaps, but then—"you cannot eat your pastry and have it," as my old French master used to say. The pity of it is that I can't endure physical pain. But I must. It will be a test. If I am worth anything at all, I shall.
Feb. 11th. Stella visited Ward in town to-day. I had her followed, of course. But there was no need—poor souls, their intentions are strictly honourable. Ward would not betray me for the world. Yet every day, though he will not have her himself, he takes her farther away from me.
I have now arranged that Venner shall come into the room at the exact moment when Ward and I shall be quarrelling. Venner will make a good witness at the trial; he possesses just the right mixture of stupidity and unimpeachability.
Feb. 21st. I know, by the way, that I am going mad. My brain is "racing." Stella, poor child, is frightened of me...
Feb. 25th. All prepared now. I shall be ill on the day of the poll, so that Stella can deputize for me at the Town Hall. That damnable speechifying. "Friends and constituents—I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great honour you have done my husband...This is indeed a great and magnificent victory..." Ha, ha, ha, ha. A great and magnificent victory.
This book goes off to-morrow morning according to the careful plans I have made. It will be well out of England by the 28th, and will not return until everything—if the plot works well—is carried out. Clever—wonderful. I shall succeed. I have the courage of hell in me. My soul grows apace. I am quite mad. Good luck and good-bye. The Great Day approaches—the Dawn of Reckoning—General Contango...
She sat there reading in the compartment, while the early morning sunlight streamed in through the window.
At Croydon she bought a morning newspaper. Across the top, in a streamer head-line, was "Ward to Die This Morning." She spoke to herself very firmly and almost aloud: "Ward shall not die this morning..."
"All night long," declared a front-page special message, "there has been a large crowd outside Holloway Jail..."
The leading article was headed "Murder," and defended the Home Secretary's refusal to grant a reprieve. "We hope it will be a long time before the so-called 'crime passionel' is regarded in England as less heinous than any other species of crime. Why should one single passion of the human heart be specially licensed to pursue its aims and desires to the bitter end, while others are curbed by the strong hand of the hangman? Jealousy is cruel as the grave, says the wise man, and we do not see why Avarice and Hate and Envy should be placed in a less favoured position. That a man, no matter what his rank, profession, reputation, or past career, should deliberately and in cold blood murder his lifelong friend in order to possess his friend's wife, is as despicable a crime as we can imagine. The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on doing his duty in the face of a hysterical and baseless agitation such as we hope will never occur again."
It was eight o'clock as the train raced through New Cross. A few minutes after that, she was on the platform at London Bridge, squirming her way through the crowd, and praying that there might be a taxi in the yard. Fortunately there were many of them. "Holloway Prison," she cried out to the Driver, "and a pound extra if you do it in a quarter of an hour."
"Impossible, mum. Twenty minutes, maybe—with luck."
"All right. Only for God's sake be as quick as you dare."
The sight of all the scurry and bustle of London threw her into panic again. It seemed to her that every van and every omnibus was bent upon getting into her way and snatching the precious seconds from her. At the corner of Cannon Street there was a two-minute hold-up of traffic. She felt that her brain was bursting...But the driver took her through Queen Street, Cheapside, Aldersgate, Goswell Road, past the Angel, Islington, and then along Upper Street. There were no further delays. But she had only a vague idea where Holloway was, and the distance surprised her. It was after half-past eight when the driver pulled up outside the huge prison gates. He had hardly earned his extra pound, but she gave it him.
She worked her way through the crowd, or rather the crowd gave way to her, assuming no doubt that anybody who pushed hard enough must have some special and important business. At last she reached the two expressionless policemen who were guarding the gates.
"I'm Mrs. Monsell," she gasped breathlessly. "I've got very important evidence here "—she pointed to the package in her hand—"and I must see the Governor at once."
The two policemen looked down at her unmoved. "Nobody admitted without a permit, mum," said one. "Got a permit?"
"No, I haven't—but surely—oh, you must let me see the Governor—it's a matter of life and death—"
"Nobody ain't admitted without a permit," said the other policeman, more forcibly. "That's orders."
"And is an innocent man to die because of your orders?—Good God—you mean I can't see anybody?"
"Not without a permit, mum," replied the first policeman stolidly.
By this time the crowd had become aware of her identity. Cries of "It's you that ought to be hung" and "She's the one who made him do it" reached her ears; she did not care about them, but they strengthened the dreadful impression that every hand was against her. She stood looking first this way and then that, absolutely crushed and bewildered. If she could not get inside the prison to place her evidence before the responsible authorities, then she might as well never have found the evidence. Ward would be hanged...Nothing could save him. She was powerless...She felt panic, sheer panic, rising inside her like a bubbling frothy tide. They would hang him without listening to her...The cries of the crowd became more menacing...
"You'd better go away," said one of the policemen. "You 'aven't got a permit...Move on now..."
She suddenly turned round and darted through the crowd into the bleak streets. The great smoke-mist of London was slowly covering up the last rays of sunlight. She heard somebody on the fringe of the crowd say: "Go on, she ain't Mrs. Monsell...She's got delusions—there's always a lot like that...Mrs. Monsell don't care...she knows she's damned lucky not to be 'anged herself..."
She turned into a street of small dilapidated shops. A policeman stood at the corner. Perhaps he would be more reasonable than those at the prison gates.
"I want to see a police superintendent," she said, forcing herself under control. "I've got important evidence...I'm Mrs. Monsell...Will you please take me to the nearest police-station...oh, quickly, quickly—it's a quarter to nine—there's no time to lose."
"You say you're Mrs. Monsell?" The policeman glanced down at her critically.
"Yes, yes—for God's sake hurry."
"I can't leave my beat...The police-station's down there on the left..."
She raced down the road, cursing herself and the world. She was wildly out of breath when she reached the grim, inhospitable building. Rushing up the steps she stumbled and fell, covering her clothes with dirt and dust. "For God's sake listen to me!" she cried, plunging into the charge-room. "Listen to me...Read this...It proves...Oh, where's the chief—somebody who'll take notice of me..."
A policeman seized her by the arm. "Now then, lady, keep calm. The superintendent's out, but he won't be long. Perhaps you'd like to wait. Just take a seat in here, will you?"
She screamed at him: "I can't wait. It's a matter of life and death. In ten minutes it will be too late. I'm Mrs. Monsell—"
"Oh, you're Mrs. Monsell, are you?"
He led her by the arm to the street entrance. "Look 'ere, mum, we don't want no trouble. You just go an' take a walk. It'll do you good."
She suddenly divined his meaning. "Oh, you think I'm mad, do you?" Through the glass swing-doors she caught sight at that moment of the superintendent entering the charge-room. "See, your chief's just come in...Let me see him...I must come in...Oh, do give me a chance to talk to him. Let me in, let me in, let me in—"
"You clear off. And quick, too!"
"You won't let me in?" Her voice changed its tone quite suddenly. "You won't? Very well, I'll make you."
She ran down the steps and across the road to a shop. It was a tobacconist's. She took a running kick and smashed the window to splinters. One of them fell against her cheek, cutting her below the eye...She stood there on the pavement, waiting for them to fetch her, with face streaming with blood and eyes wildly staring. In another moment she was in the charge-room again, with a policeman on either side of her. Behind the desk a heavy-jowled grey-haired blank-eyed machine faced her; a man whom nothing on earth or in heaven could startle or surprise.
When she spoke to him he took no notice of her.
He opened a big lousy-looking book, and began to write in it with a slow-moving scratchy pen. "What is the number of the shop?" he asked.
One of the policemen said it was 192; another was quite certain that it was 194. In the midst of the discussion the tobacconist himself entered, raging furiously. It was neither 192 nor 194, he said; it was 196.
The clock above the machine said five minutes to nine.
"The book!" she kept screaming, but the book lay on the desk untouched and unnoticed.
The cut on her cheek looked ghastly, but it was not a bad one. She heard them talking, just as if she were dreaming a dream, and they were the people in it.
They thought she was babbling incoherently, but really she was protesting and cursing vehemently—in Hungarian.
She was in a cell, and the four blank walls were coming nearer to her and crushing her. Nearer—nearer—she screamed, and they went away again slightly. Then they began to come nearer to her again, and she had to scream a second time to frighten them off. Each time she screamed they moved a little farther off, but she had to keep on screaming louder and louder.
A clock somewhere was striking the hour. One, two, three, four...
She was dying. She knew that. It was not Ward whom they were hanging at nine o'clock, but she herself. She could feel the drop quivering under her feet, the noose about her neck, her eyes blindfold...
Five, six, seven, eight...
The drop fell, the noose tightened round her throat; she had a moment of blinding, exquisite agony full of strange colours and sounds, half-delicious, half-excruciating...
She knew then that she was dead.
A long silence. The silence of the tomb. Eternity.
Somebody was standing before her. She thought at first it was God. She could not see him—she could only feel, as she had always felt.
Would God call her "madam"? She stared into the blackness, and then she saw that it was not God at all.
The cell-door was open, and the machine was standing beside it. For a machine he seemed curiously concerned, almost moved.
"Madam..." he said again.
She looked up, and he cleared his throat raucously.
He went on, in his driest and most official tones: "I have examined the—er—the book you—er—brought with you..."
She could hardly hear him; the sounds were all blurred; she caught stray words now and then: "...seemed to me...wise...precaution...personal authority...communicate...Holloway...fortunately...fortunately...fortunately..."
But the last sentence rang out clear and whole above all the rest.
"The execution has been delayed..."
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