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   Chapter 3 No.3

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 39677

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'Oh, ma'am!' Hender broke in, 'you can't think how amusing it was last night! I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. The place was crammed! Such a house! And Miss Leslie got three encores and a call after each act.'

'And what was Mr. Lennox like?'

'Oh, he only played a small part-one of the policemen. He don't play Pom-poucet; I was wrong. It's too heavy a part, and he's too busy looking after the piece. But Joe Mortimer was splendid; I nearly died of laughing when he fell down and lost his wig in the middle of the stage. And Frank Bret looked such a swell, and he got an encore for the song, "Oh, Certainly I Love Clairette." And he and Miss Leslie got another for the duet. To-morrow they play the Cloches.'

'But now you've seen so much of the theatre I hope you'll be able to do a little overtime with me. I've promised to let Mrs. Barnes have her dress by to-morrow morning.'

'I'm afraid I shan't be able to stay after six o'clock.'

'But surely if they're doing the same play you don't want to see it again?'

'Well 'tisn't exactly that, but-well, I prefer to tell you the truth; 'tisn't the piece I go to the theatre for; I'm one of the dressers, and I get twelve shillings a week, and I can't afford to lose it. But there's no use in telling Mrs. Ede, she'd only make a bother.'

'How do you mean, dressing?'

'The ladies of the theatre must have someone to dress them, and I look after the principals, Miss Leslie and Miss Beaumont, that's all.'

'And how long have you been doing that?'

'Why, about a month now. Bill got me the place.'

This conversation had broken in upon a silence of nearly half an hour; with bent heads and clicking needles, Kate and Hender had been working assiduously at Mrs. Barnes's skirt.

Having a great deal of passementerie ornamentation to sew on to the heading of the flounces, and much fringe to arrange round the edge of the drapery, Kate looked forward to a heavy day. She had expected Miss Hender an hour earlier, and she had not turned up until after nine. An assistant whose time was so occupied that she couldn't give an extra hour when you were in a difficulty was of very little use; and it might be as well to look out for somebody more suitable. Besides, all this talk about theatres and actors was very wrong; there could be little doubt that the girl was losing her character, and to have her coming about the house would give it a bad name. Such were Kate's reflections as she handled the rustling silk and folded it into large plaitings. Now and again she tried to come to a decision, but she was not sincere with herself. She knew she liked the girl, and Hender's conversation amused her: to send her away meant to surrender herself completely to her mother-in-law's stern kindness and her husband's irritability.

Hender was the window through which Kate viewed the bustle and animation of life, and even now, annoyed as she was that she would not be able to get the dress done in time, she could not refrain from listening to the girl's chatter. There was about Miss Hender that strange charm which material natures possess even when they offend. Being of the flesh, we must sympathize with it, and the amiability of Hender's spirits made a great deal pass that would have otherwise appeared wicked. She could tell without appearing too rude, how Mr. Wentworth, the lessee, was gone on a certain lady in the new company, and would give her anything if she would chuck up her engagement and come and live with him. When Hender told these stories, Kate, fearing that Mrs. Ede might have overheard, looked anxiously at the door, and under the influence of the emotion, it interested her to warn her assistant of the perils of frequenting bad company. But as Kate lectured she could not help wondering how it was that her life passed by so wearily. Was she never going to do anything else but work? she often asked herself, and then reproached herself for the regret that had risen unwittingly up in her mind that life was not all pleasure. It certainly was not, 'but perhaps it is better,' she said to herself, 'that we have to get our living, for me at least'-her thoughts broke off sharply, and she passed out of the present into a long past time.

Kate had never known her father; her mother, an earnest believer in Wesley, was a hard-working woman who made a pound a week by painting on china. This was sufficient for their wants, and Mrs. Howell's only fears were that she might lose her health and die before her time, leaving her daughter in want. To avoid this fate she worked early and late at the factory, and Kate was left in the charge of the landlady, a childless old woman who, sitting by the fire, used to tell stories of her deceptions and misfortunes in life, thereby intoxicating the little girl's brain with sentiment. The mother's influence was a sort of make-weight; Mrs. Howell was a deeply religious woman, and Kate was often moved to trace back a large part of herself to Bible-readings and extemporary prayers offered up by the bedside in the evening.

Her school-days were unimportant. She learnt to read and write and to do sums; that was all. Kate grew, softly and mystically as a dark damask rose, into a pretty woman without conversions or passions: for notwithstanding her early training, religion had never taken a very firm hold upon her, and despite the fact that she married into a family very similar to her own, although her mother-in-law was almost a counterpart of her real mother-a little harder and more resolute, but as God-fearing and as kind-Kate had caught no blast of religious fervour; religion taught her nothing, inspired her with nothing, could influence her in little. She was not strong nor great, nor was she conscious of any deep feeling that if she acted otherwise than she did she would be living an unworthy life. She was merely good because she was a kind-hearted woman, without bad impulses, and admirably suited to the life she was leading.

But in this commonplace inactivity of mind there was one strong characteristic, one bit of colour in all these grey tints: Kate was dreamy, not to say imaginative. When she was a mere child she loved fairies, and took a vivid interest in goblins; and when afterwards she discarded these stories for others, it was not because it shocked her logical sense to read of a beanstalk a hundred feet high, but for a tenderer reason: Jack did not find a beautiful lady to love him. She could not help feeling disappointed, and when the London Journal came for the first time across her way, with the story of a broken heart, her own heart melted with sympathy; the more sentimental and unnatural the romance, the more it fevered and enraptured her. She loved to read of singular subterranean combats, of high castles, prisoners, hair-breadth escapes; and her sympathies were always with the fugitives. It was also very delightful to hear of lovers who were true to each other in spite of a dozen wicked uncles, of women who were tempted until their hearts died within them, and who years after threw up their hands and said, 'Thank God that I had the courage to resist!'

The second period of her sentimental education was when she passed from the authors who deal exclusively with knights, princesses, and kings to those who interest themselves in the love fortunes of doctors and curates.

Amid these there was one story that interested her in particular, and caused her deeper emotions than the others. It concerned a beautiful young woman with a lovely oval face, who was married to a very tiresome country doctor. This lady was in the habit of reading Byron and Shelley in a rich, sweet-scented meadow, down by the river, which flowed dreamily through smiling pasture-lands adorned by spreading trees. But this meadow belonged to a squire, a young man with grand, broad shoulders, who day after day used to watch these readings by the river without venturing to address a word to the fair trespasser. One day, however, he was startled by a shriek: in her poetical dreamings the lady had slipped into the water. A moment sufficed to tear off his coat, and as he swam like a water-dog he had no difficulty in rescuing her. Of course after this adventure he had to call and inquire, and from henceforth his visits grew more and more frequent, and by a strange coincidence, he used to come riding up to the hall-door when the husband was away curing the ills of the country-folk. Hours were passed under the trees by the river, he pleading his cause, and she refusing to leave poor Arthur, till at last the squire gave up the pursuit and went to foreign parts, where he waited thirty years, until he heard Arthur was dead. And then he came back with a light heart to his first and only love, who had never ceased to think of him, and lived with her happily for ever afterwards. The grotesque mixture of prose and poetry, both equally false, used to enchant Kate, and she always fancied that had she been the heroine of the book she would have acted in the same way.

Kate's taste for novel-reading distressed Mrs. Howell; she thought it 'a sinful waste of time, not to speak of the way it turned people's heads from God'; and when one day she found Kate's scrap-book, made up of poems cut from the Family Herald, she began to despair of her daughter's salvation. The answer Kate made to her mother's reproaches was: 'Mother, I've been sewing all day; I can't see what harm it can be to read a little before I go to bed. Nobody is required to be always saying their prayers.'

The next two years passed away unperceived by either mother or daughter, and then an event occurred of some importance. Their neighbours at the corner of the street got into difficulties, and were eventually sold out and their places taken by strangers, who changed the oil-shop into a drapery business. The new arrivals aroused the keenest interest, and Mrs. Howell and her daughter called to see what they were like, as did everybody else. The acquaintance thus formed was renewed at church, and much to their surprise and pleasure, they discovered that they were of the same religious persuasion.

Henceforth the Howells and Edes saw a great deal of each other, and every Sunday after church the mothers walked home together and the young people followed behind. Ralph spoke of his ill-health, and Kate pitied him, and when he complimented her on her beautiful hair she blushed with pleasure. For much as she had revelled in fictitious sentiment, she had somehow never thought of seeking it in nature, and how that she had found a lover, the critical sense was not strong enough in her to lead her to compare reality with imagination. She accepted Ralph as unsuspectingly as she hitherto accepted the tawdry poetry of her favourite fiction. And her nature not being a passionate one, she was able to do this without any apparent transition of sentiment. She pitied him, hoped she could be of use in nursing him, and felt flattered at the idea of being mistress of a shop.

The mothers were delighted, and spoke of the coincidence of their religions and the admirable addition dressmaking would be to the drapery business. Of love, small mention was made. The bridegroom spoke of his prospects of improving the business, the bride listened, interested for the while in his enthusiasm; orders came in, and Kate was soon transformed into a hard-working woman.

This change of character passed unperceived by all but Mrs. Howell, who died wondering how it came about. Kate herself did not know; she fancied that it was fully accounted for by the fact that she had no time-'no time for reading now'-which was no more than the truth; but she did not complain; she accepted her husband's kisses as she did the toil he imposed on her-meekly, unaffectedly, as a matter of course, as if she always knew that the romances which used to fascinate her were merely idle dreams, having no bearing upon the daily life of human beings-things fit to amuse a young girl's fancies, and to be thrown aside when the realities of life were entered upon. The only analogy between the past and present was an ample submission to authority and an indifference to the world and its interest. Even the fact of being without children did not seem to concern her, and when her mother-in-law regretted it she merely smiled languidly, or said, 'We are very well as we are.' Of the world and the flesh she lived almost in ignorance, suspecting their existence only through Miss Hender. Hender was attracted by her employer's kindness and softness of manner, and Kate by her assistant's strength of will. For some months past a friendship had been growing up between the two women, but if Kate had known for certain that Hender was living a life of sin with the stage carpenter she might not have allowed her into the house. But the possibility of sin attached her to the girl in the sense that it forced her to think of her continually. And then there was a certain air of bravado in Miss Hender's freckled face that Kate admired. She instituted comparisons between herself and the assistant, and she came to the conclusion that she preferred that fair, blonde complexion to her own clear olive skin; and the sparkle of the red frizzy hair put her out of humour with the thick, wavy blue tresses which encircled her small temples like a piece of black velvet.

As she continued her sewing she reconsidered the question of Hender's dismissal, but only to perceive more and more clearly the blank it would occasion in her life. And besides her personal feeling there was the fact to consider that to satisfy her customers she must have an assistant who could be depended upon. And she did not know where she would find another who would turn out work equal to Hender's. At last Kate said:

'I don't know what I shall do; I promised the dress by to-morrow morning.'

'I think we'll be able to finish it to-day,' Hender answered. 'I'll work hard at it all the afternoon; a lot can be done between this and seven o'clock.'

'Oh, I don't know,' replied Kate dolefully; 'these leaves take such a time to sew on; and then there's all the festooning.'

'I think it can be managed, but we must stick at it.'

On this expression of good-will the conversation ceased for the time being, and the clicking of needles and the buzzing of flies about the brown-paper patterns were all that was heard until twelve o'clock, when Mrs. Ede burst into the room.

'I knew what it would be,' she said, shutting the door after her.

'What is it?' said Kate, looking up frightened.

'Well, I offered to do him a chop or some fried eggs, but he says he must have an omelette. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I told him I didn't know how to make one, but he said that I was to ask you if you could spare the time.'

'I'll make him an omelette,' said Kate, rising. 'Have you got the eggs?'

'Yes. The trouble that man gives us! What with his bath in the morning, and two pairs of boots to be cleaned, and the clothes that have to be brushed, I've done nothing but attend to him since ten o'clock; and what hours to keep!-it is now past eleven.'

'What's the use of grumbling? You know the work must be done, and I can't be in two places at once. You promised me you wouldn't say anything more about it, but would attend to him just the same as any other lodger.'

'I can't do more than I'm doing; I haven't done anything all the morning but run upstairs,' said Mrs. Ede very crossly; 'and I wish you'd take the little girls out of the kitchen; I can't look after them, and they do nothing but look out of the window.'

'Very well, I'll have them up here; they can sit on the sofa. We can manage with them now that we've finished the cutting out.'

Hender made no reply to this speech, which was addressed to her. She hated having the little girls up in the workroom, and Kate knew it.

Kate did not take long to make Mr. Lennox's omelette. There was a bright fire in the kitchen, the muffins were toasted, and the tea was made.

'This is a very small breakfast,' she said as she put the plates and dishes on the tray. 'Didn't he order anything else?'

'He spoke about some fried bacon, but I'll attend to that; you take the other things up to him.'

As Kate passed with the tray in her hand she reproved the little girls for their idleness and told them to come upstairs, but it was not until she motioned them into the workroom that she realized that she was going into Mr. Lennox's room.

After a slight pause she turned the handle of the door and entered. Mr. Lennox was lying very negligently in the armchair, wrapped in his dressing-gown. 'Oh, I beg your pardon, sir; I didn't know-' she said, starting back. Then, blushing for shame at her own silliness in taking notice of such things, she laid the breakfast things on the table.

Mr. Lennox thanked her, and without seeming to notice her discomfiture he wrapped himself up more closely, drew his chair forward, and, smacking his lips, took the cover off the dish. 'Oh, very nice indeed,' he said, 'but I'm afraid I've given you a great deal of trouble; the old lady said you were very, very busy.'

'I've to finish a dress to-day, sir, and my assistant-'

Here Kate stopped, remembering that if Mr. Lennox had renewed his acquaintance with Hender at the theatre, any allusion to her would give rise to further conversation. 'Oh yes, I know Miss Hender; she's one of our dressers; she looks after our two leading ladies, Miss Leslie and Miss Beaumont. But I don't see the bacon here.'

'Mrs. Ede is cooking it; she'll bring it up in a minute or two,' Kate answered, edging towards the door.

'We've nothing to do with the dressers,' said Mr. Lennox, speaking rapidly, so as to detain his landlady; 'but if you're as pressed with your work as you tell me, I dare say, by speaking to the lessee, I might manage to get Miss Hender off for this one evening.'

'Thank you, sir; I'm sure it's very kind of you, but I shall be able to manage without that.'

The lodger spoke with such an obvious desire to oblige that Kate could not choose but like him, and it made her wish all the more that he would cover up his big, bare neck.

''Pon my word, this is a capital omelette,' he said, licking his lips, 'There is nothing I like so much as a good omelette, I was very lucky to come here,' he added, glancing at Kate's waist, which was slim even in her old blue striped dress.

'It's very kind of you to say so, sir,' she said, and a glow of rose-colour flushed the dark complexion. There was something very human in this big man, and Kate did not know whether his animalism irritated or pleased her.

'You weren't at the theatre last night?' he said, forcing a huge piece of deeply buttered, spongy French roll into his mouth.

'No, sir, I wasn't there; I rarely go to the theatre.'

'Ah! I'm sorry. How's that? We had a tremendous house. I never saw the piece go better. If this business keeps up to the end of the week I think we shall try to get another date.'

Kate did not know what 'another date' meant, but Hender would be able to tell her.

'You've only to tell me when you want to see the piece, and I'll give you places. Would you like to come to-night?'

'Not to-night, thank you, sir. I shall be busy all the evening, and my husband is not very well.'

The conversation then came to an irritating pause. Mr. Lennox had scraped up the last fragments of the omelette, and poured himself out another cup of tea, when Mrs. Ede appeared with the broiled bacon. On seeing Kate talking to Mr. Lennox, she at once assumed an air of mingled surprise and regret.

Kate noticed this, but Mr. Lennox had no eyes for anything but the bacon, which he heaped on his plate and devoured vo

raciously. It pleased Kate to see him enjoy his breakfast, but while she was admiring him Mrs. Ede said as she moved towards the door, 'Can I do anything for you, sir?'

'Well, no,' replied Mr. Lennox indifferently; but seeing that Kate was going too he swallowed a mouthful of tea hastily and said, 'I was just telling the lady here that we had a tremendous success last night, and that she ought to come and see the piece. I think she said she had no one to go with. You should take her. I'm sure you will like the Cloches.'

Mrs. Ede looked indignant, but after a moment she recovered herself, and said severely and emphatically: 'Thank you, sir, but I'm a Christian woman. No offence, sir, but I don't think such things are right.'

'Ah! don't you, indeed?' replied the mummer, looking at her in blank astonishment. But the expression of his face soon changed, and as if struck suddenly by some painful remembrance, he said, 'You're a Dissenter or something of that kind, I suppose. We lost a lot of money at Bradford through people of your persuasion; they jolly well preached against us.'

Mrs. Ede did not answer, and after a few brief apologetic phrases to the effect that it would not do for us all to think alike, Kate withdrew to her work-room, asking herself if Mr. Lennox would take offence and leave them. Hender suspected that something had occurred, and was curious to hear what it was; but there sat those idiotic little girls, and of course it wouldn't do to speak before them. Once she hinted that she had heard that Mr. Lennox, though a very nice man, was a bit quick-tempered, a query that Kate answered evasively, saying that it was difficult to know what Mr. Lennox was like. Words were an effort to her, and she could not detach a single precise thought from the leaden-coloured dreams which hung about her.

Click, click, went the needles all day long, and Kate wondered what a woman who lived in a thirty-pound house could want with a ten-pound dress. But that was no affair of hers, and as it was most important she should not disappoint her, Kate kept Hender to dinner; and as compensation for the press of work, she sent round to the public for three extra half-pints. They needed a drink, for the warmth of the day was intense. Along the red tiles of the houses, amid the brick courtyards, the sun's rays created an oven-like atmosphere. From the high wall opposite the dead glare poured into the little front kitchen through the muslin blinds, burning the pot of green-stuff, and falling in large spots upon the tiled floor; and overcome by the heat, the two women lay back on the little red calico-covered sofa, languidly sipping their beer, and thinking vaguely of when they would have to begin work again. Hender lolled with her legs stretched out; Kate rested her head upon her hand wearily; Mrs. Ede sat straight, apparently unheeding the sunlight which fell across the plaid shawl that she wore winter and summer. She drank her beer in quick gulps, as if even the time for swallowing was rigidly portioned out. The others watched her, knowing that when her pewter was empty she would turn them out of the kitchen. In a few moments she said, 'I think, Kate, that if you're in a hurry you'd better get on with your dress. I have to see to Mr. Lennox's dinner, and I can't have you a-hanging about. As it is, I don't know how I'm to get the work done. There's a leg of mutton to be roasted, and a pudding to be made, and all by four o'clock.'

Kate calmed the old woman with a few words, and taking Ralph's dinner from her, carried it upstairs. She found her husband better, and, setting the tray on the edge of the bed, she answered the questions he put to her concerning the actor briefly; then begged of him to excuse her, as she heard voices in the shop. Mr. Lennox had come in bringing two men with him, Joe Mortimer, the low comedian, and young Montgomery, the conductor; and it became difficult to prevent Hender from listening at the doors, and almost useless to remind her of the fact that there were children present, so excited did she become when she spoke of Bret's love affairs.

But at six o'clock she put on her hat, and there was no dissuading her; Mrs. Barnes must wait for her dress. There was still much to be done, and when Mrs. Ede called from the kitchen that tea was ready, Kate did not at first answer, and when at last she descended she remained only long enough to eat a piece of bread and butter. Her head was filled with grave forebodings, that gradually drifted and concentrated into one fixed idea-not to disappoint Mrs. Barnes. Once quite suddenly, she was startled by an idea which flashed across her mind, and stopping in the middle of a 'leaf,' she considered the question that had propounded itself. Lodgers often make love to their landladies; what would she do if Mr. Lennox made love to her? Such a thing might occur. An expression of annoyance contracted her face, and she resumed her sewing. The hours passed slowly and oppressively. It was now ten o'clock, and the tail had still to be bound with braid, and the side strings to be sewn in. She had no tape by her, and thought of putting off these finishing touches till the morning, but plucking up her courage, she determined to go down and fetch from the shop what was required. The walk did her good, but it was hard to sit down to work again; and the next few minutes seemed to her interminable: but at last the final stitch was given, the thread bitten off, and the dress held up in triumph. She looked at it for a moment with a feeling of pride, which soon faded into a sensation of indifference.

All the same her day's labour was over; she was now free. But the thought carried a bitterness: she remembered that there was no place for her to go to but her sick husband's room. Yet she had been looking forward to having at least one night's rest, and it exasperated her to think that there was nothing for her but a hard pallet in the back room, and the certainty of being awakened several times to attend to Ralph. She asked herself passionately if she was always going to remain a slave and a drudge? Hender's words came back to her with a strange distinctness, and she saw that she knew nothing of pleasure, or even of happiness; and in a very simple way she wondered what were really the ends of life. If she were good and religious like her mother or her mother-in-law-But somehow she could never feel as they did. Heaven seemed so far away. Of course it was a consolation to think there was a happier and better world; still-still-Not being able to pursue the thread any further, she stopped, puzzled, and a few moments after she was thinking of the lady who used to read Byron and Shelley, and who resisted her lover's entreaties so bravely. Every part of the forgotten story came back to her. She realized the place they used to dream in. She could see them watching with ardent eyes the paling of the distant sky as they listened to the humming of insects, breathing the honied odour of the flowers; she saw her leaning on his arm caressingly, whilst pensively she tore with the other hand the leaves as they passed up the long terrace.

Then as the vision became more personal and she identified herself with the heroine of the book, she thought of the wealth of love she had to give, and it seemed to her unutterably sad that it should bloom like a rose in a desert unknown and unappreciated.

This was the last flight of her dream. The frail wings of her imagination could sustain her no longer, and too weary to care for or even to think of anything, she went upstairs, to find Mrs. Ede painting her son's chest and back with iodine. He had a bad attack, which was beginning to subside. His face was haggard, his eyes turgid, and the two women talked together. Mrs. Ede was indignant, and told of all her trouble with the dinner. She had to fetch cigars and drinks. Kate listened, watching her husband all the while. He began to get a little better, and Mrs. Ede took advantage of the occasion to suggest that it was time for evening prayers.

In days when speech was possible, it was Ralph who read the customary chapter of the Bible and led the way with the Lord's Prayer; but when words were forbidden to him his mother supplied his place. The tall figure knelt upright. It was not a movement of cringing humility, but of stalwart belief, and as she handed her the Bible, Kate could not help thinking that there was pride in her mother-in-law's very knees.

The old woman turned over the leaves for a few seconds in silence; then, having determined on a chapter, she began to read. But she had not got beyond a few sentences before she was interrupted by the sound of laughing voices and stamping feet.

She stopped reading, and looked from Kate to her husband. He was at the moment searching for his pocket-handkerchief. Kate rose to assist him, and Mrs. Ede said:

'It's shameful! it's disgraceful!'

'It's only Mr. Lennox coming in.'

'Only Mr. Lennox!' At that moment she was interrupted by the lighter laughter of female voices; she paused to listen, and then, shutting the book fiercely, she said, 'From the first I was against letting our rooms to a mummer; but I didn't think I should live to see my son's house turned into a night house. I shall not stop here.'

'Not stop here-eh, eh? We must tell-tell him that it can't be allowed,'

Ralph wheezed.

'And I should like to know who these women are he has dared to bring into-

People he has met in Piccadilly, I suppose!'

'Oh no!' interrupted Kate, 'I'm sure that they are the ladies of the theatre.'

'And where's the difference?' Mrs. Ede asked fiercely. Sectarian hatred of worldly amusement flamed in her eyes, and made common cause with the ordinary prejudice of the British landlady. Mr. Ede shared his mother's opinions, but as he was then suffering from a splitting headache, his chief desire was that she should lower the tone of her voice.

'For goodness' sake don't speak so loud!' he said plaintively. 'Of course he mustn't bring women into the house; but he had better be told so. Kate, go down and tell him that these ladies must leave.'

Kate stood aghast at hearing her fate thus determined, and she asked herself how she was to tell Mr. Lennox that he must put his friends out of doors. She hesitated, and during a long silence all three listened. A great guffaw, a woman's shriek, a peal of laughter, and then a clinking of glasses was heard. Even Kate's face told that she thought it very improper, and Mrs. Ede said with a theatrical air of suppressed passion:

'Very well; I suppose that is all that can be done at present.'

Feeling very helpless, Kate murmured, 'I don't see how I'm to tell them to go. Hadn't we better put it off until morning?'

'Till morning!' said Mr. Ede, trying to button his dirty nightshirt across his hairy chest. 'I'm not going to listen to that noise all night. Kate, you g-go and tur-r-rn them out.'

'I'm sorry, dearie,' said Mrs. Ede, seeing her daughter-in-law's distress.

'I'll soon send them away.'

'Oh no! I'd rather go myself,' said Kate.

'Very well, dear. I only thought you might not like to go down among a lot of rough people.'

The noise downstairs was in the meanwhile increasing, and Ralph grew as angry as his asthma would allow him. 'They're just killing me with their noise. Go down at once and tell them they must leave the house instantly. If you don't I'll go myself.'

Mrs. Ede made a movement towards the door, but Kate stopped her, saying:

'I'll go; it's my place.' As she descended the stairs she heard a man's voice screaming above the general hubbub:

'I'll tell you what; if Miss Beaumont doesn't wait for my beat another night, I'll insist on a rehearsal being called. She took the concerted music in the finale of the first act two whole bars before her time. It was damned awful. I nearly broke my stick trying to stop her.'

'Quite true; I never saw the piece go so badly. Bret was "fluffing" all over the shop.'

Kate listened to these fragments of conversation, asked herself how she was to walk in upon those people and tell them that they must keep quiet.

'And the way Beaumont tries to spoon with Dick. She nearly missed her cue once with sneaking after him in the wings.'

A peal of laughter followed. This sally determined Kate to act; and without having made up her mind what to say, she turned the handle of the door and walked into the room.

The three gas-burners were blazing, wine-glasses were on the table, and Mr. Lennox stood twisting a corkscrew into a bottle which he held between his fat thighs. On the little green sofa Miss Lucy Leslie lay back playing with her bonnet-strings. Her legs were crossed, and a lifted skirt showed a bit of striped stocking. Next her, with his spare legs sprawled over the arm of the easy-chair, was Mr. Montgomery, the thinnest being possible to imagine, in grey clothes. His nose was enormous, and he pushed up his glasses when Kate came into the room with a movement of the left hand that was clearly habitual. On the other side of the round table sat Mr. Joe Mortimer, the heavy lead, the celebrated miser in the Cloches. A tall girl standing behind him playfully twisted his back hair. He addressed paternal admonitions to her from time to time in an artificially cracked voice.

'Please, sir,' said Kate pleadingly, 'I'm very sorry, but we cannot keep open house after eleven o'clock.'

A deep silence followed this announcement. Miss Leslie looked up at Kate curiously. Mr. Lennox stopped twisting the corkscrew into the bottle, and the low comedian, seizing the opportunity, murmured in his mechanical voice to the girl behind him, 'Open house! Of course, she's quite right. I knew there was a draught somewhere; I felt my hair blowing about.'

Everybody laughed, and the merriment still contributed to discountenance the workwoman.

'Will he never speak and let me go?' she asked herself. At last he did speak, and his words fell upon her like blows.

'I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Ede,' he said in a loud, commanding voice. 'I made no agreement with you that I wasn't to bring friends home with me in the evening. Had I known that I was taking lodgings in a church I wouldn't have come.'

She felt dreadfully humiliated, and nothing was really present in her mind but a desire to conciliate Mr. Lennox.

'It isn't my fault, sir. I really don't mind; but my mother-in-law and my husband won't have people coming into the house after ten o'clock.'

Mr. Lennox's face showed that his heart had softened towards her, and when she mentioned that her husband was lying ill in bed, turning round to his company, he said:

'I think we are making too much noise; we shouldn't like it ourselves if-'

But just at that moment, when all was about to end pleasantly, Mrs. Ede was heard at the top of the stairs.

'I'm a Christian woman, and will not remain in a house where drinking and women-'

This speech changed everything. Mr. Lennox's eyes flashed passion, and he made a movement as if he were going to shout an answer back to Mrs. Ede, but checking himself, he said, addressing Kate, 'I beg that you leave my rooms, ma'am. You can give me warning in the morning if you like, or rather, I'll give it to you; but for this evening, at least, the place is mine, and I shall do what I like.' On that he advanced towards the door and threw it open.

Tears stood in her eyes. She looked sorrowfully at Mr. Lennox. He noticed the pitiful, appealing glance, but was too angry to understand. The look was her whole soul. She did not see Miss Leslie sneering, nor Mr. Montgomery's grinning face. She saw nothing but Mr. Lennox, and, stunned by the thought of his leaving them, she followed her mother-in-law upstairs. The old woman scolded and rowed. To have that lot of men and women smoking and drinking after eleven o'clock in the house was not to be thought of, and she tried to force her son to say that the police must be sent for. But it was impossible to get an answer from him: the excitement and effort of speaking had rendered him speechless, and holding his moppy black hair with both hands, he wheezed in deep organ tones. Kate looked at him blankly, and longed for some place out of hearing of his breath and out of the smell of the medicine-bottles. His mother was now insisting on his taking a couple of pills, and called upon Kate to find the box. The sharp, sickly odour of the aloes was abominable, and with her stomach turning, she watched her husband trying vainly to swallow the dose with the aid of a glass of water. Stop in this room! No, that she couldn't do! It would poison her. She wanted sleep and fresh air. Where could she get them? The mummer was in the spare room; but he would be gone to-morrow, and she would be left alone. The thought startled her, though she soon forgot it in her longing to get out of her husband's sight. Every moment this desire grew stronger, and at last she said:

'I cannot stay here; another night would kill me. Will you let me have your room?'

'Certainly I will, my dear,' replied the old woman, astonished not so much at the request, but at the vehemence of the emphasis laid upon the words. 'You're looking dreadfully worn out, my dear; I'll see to my boy.'

As soon as her request had been granted, Kate hesitated as if she feared she was doing wrong, and she looked at her husband, wondering if he would call her back.

But he took no heed; his attention was too entirely occupied by his breath to think either of her or of the necessity of sending for the police, and he waved his mother away when she attempted to speak to him.

'Are those men going to stop there all night?' Mrs. Ede asked.

'Oh, I really don't know; I'm too tired to bother about it any more,' replied Kate petulantly. 'It's all your fault-you're to blame for everything; you've no right to interfere with the lodgers in my house.'

Mrs. Ede raised her arms as she sought for words, but Kate walked out of the room without giving her time to answer. Suddenly a voice cried in a high key:

'Who do you take me for, Dick? I wasn't born yesterday. A devilish pretty woman, if you ask me. What hair!-like velvet!'

Kate stopped. 'Black hair,' she said to herself-'they must be talking of me,' and she listened intently.

The remark, however, did not appear to have been particularly well-timed, for after a long silence, a woman's voice said:

'Well, I don't know whether he liked her, and I don't care, but what I'm not going to do is to wait here listening to you all cracking up a landlady's good looks. I'm off.'

A scuffle then seemed to be taking place; half a dozen voices spoke together, and in terror of her life Kate flew across the workroom to Mrs. Ede's bed.

The door of the sitting-room was flung open and cajoling and protesting words echoed along the passage up and down the staircase. It was disgraceful, and Kate expected every minute to hear her mother-in-law's voice mingling in the fray; but peace was restored, and for at least an hour she listened to sounds of laughing voices mingling with the clinking of glasses. At last Dick wished his friends good-night, and Kate lay under the sheets and listened. Something was going to happen. 'He thinks me a pretty woman; she is jealous,' were phrases that rang without ceasing in her ears. Then, hearing his door open, she fancied he was coming to seek her, and in consternation buried herself under the bedclothes, leaving only her black hair over the pillows to show where she had disappeared. But the duplicate drop of a pair of boots was conclusive, and assuring herself that he would not venture on such a liberty, she strove to compose herself to sleep.

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