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   Chapter 5 No.5

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 12462

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On leaving Mr. Lennox Kate walked slowly along the streets, recalling every word he had said, feeling his breath upon her cheek and his blue eyes looking into hers more distinctly in recollection than when he had held her in his arms. She walked immersed in recollections, every one clear and precise, experiencing a sort of supersensual gratification, one she had never known before. Being a child of the people, his violence had not impressed her, and she murmured to herself every now and then:

'Poor fellow, what a fall he had! I hope he didn't hurt himself.'

By turns she thought of things totally different-of Hender, of the little girls, who would regret her absence from the workroom, and it was not without surprise that she caught herself wishing suddenly they were her own children. The wish was only momentary, but it was the first time a desire for motherhood had ever troubled her.

It amused her to think of their smiling faces, and to make sure of their smiles she entered a shop and bought a small packet of sweetstuff, and with the paper in her hand continued her walk home. The cheap prints in a newspaper shop delayed her, and the workmen who were tearing up the road forced her to consider how a suspension of traffic would interfere with her business. She was now in Broad Street, and when she raised her eyes she saw her own house. A new building high and narrow, it stood in the main street at the corner of a lane, the ground-floor windows filled with light goods, and underneath them black hats trimmed with wings and tails of birds. There were also children's dresses, and a few neckties trimmed with white lace.

As she entered the shop Mrs. Ede, who was in the front kitchen, cried, 'Well, is that you, Kate? Where have you been? I waited dinner an hour for you; and how tired you look!'

In her present state of mind Mrs. Ede was the last person Kate cared to meet.

'What's the matter, my dear? Aren't you well? Shall I get you a glass of water?'

'Oh no, mother; I'm all right. Can't you see that I'm only very hot?'

'But where have you been? I waited dinner an hour for you. It's past two o'clock!'

Kate did not know how to account for her absence from home, but after a pause she answered, thinking of Mr. Lennox as she spoke, 'Mrs. Barnes kept me waiting above an hour trying her dress on, and then I was so done up with night-watching and sewing that I thought I'd go for a walk,' and after wiping her weary hot face she asked her mother-in-law if many people had been in the shop that morning.

'Well, yes, half a dozen or more,' Mrs. Ede answered, and began to recount the different events of the morning. Mrs. White had bought one of the aprons; she said she hadn't seen the pattern before; a stranger had taken another; and Miss Sargent had called and wanted to know how much it would cost to remake her blue dress.

'Oh, I know; she wants me to reline the skirt and put new trimming on the bodice for seven and sixpence; we can do without her custom. What then?'

'And then-ah! I was forgetting-Mrs. West came in to tell us that her friend Mrs. Wood, the bookseller's wife, you know, up the street, was going to be confined, and would want some baby-linen, and she recommended her here.'

'Did you see nobody else?'

'Well, yes, a young man who bought half a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs; I let him have the half-dozen for four shillings; and I sold a pink necktie to one of the factory hands over the way.'

'Why, mother, you've done a deal of business, and I'm glad about the

baby-linen. We've a lot in stock, and it hasn't gone off well. I don't know

Mrs. Wood, but it's very kind of Mrs. West to recommend us; and how has

Hender been getting on with the skirt?'

'Well, I must say she has been working very well; she was here at half-past eight, and she did not stop away above three-quarters of an hour for dinner.'

'I'm glad of that, for I was never so backward in my life with my work, what with Ralph being ill and Mr. --'

Kate tried here to stop herself. The conversation had so far been an agreeable one, and she did not wish to spoil it by alluding to a subject on which there was no likelihood of their agreeing. But her mother-in-law, guessing that Kate was thinking of the mummer, said, 'Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that. He hasn't sent anyone to take away his things, and he didn't even speak when I took him up his breakfast this morning.'

'I don't think Mr. Lennox is leaving us,' she answered, after a pause. 'I thought it was settled last night that he was to be told that he mustn't bring friends home after eleven o'clock at night. When I see him I'll speak to him about it.'

'The house is yours, deary. If you're satisfied, I am.' And Kate walked into the kitchen, and when she had finished her dinner she went upstairs to see Ralph, whom Mrs. Ede declared to be much better. On passing the workroom the door opened suddenly and the bright faces of the little girls darted out.

'Oh, is that you, Mrs. Ede? How we've missed you all the morning!' Annie cried.

'And Miss Hender has been so busy that she had to get me to help her with the skirt, and I did a great long piece myself without a mistake. Didn't I, Miss Hender?'

'I'm going to see my husband,' said Kate, smiling; 'but I shall be down presently, and I've bought something for you.'

'Oh, what is it?' cried Annie excitedly.

'You shall see presently.'

Ralph was lying still in bed, propped up in his usual attitude, with his legs tucked under him.

'Don't you think we might open something?' she said, as she sat down by the bedside; 'and your sheets want changing.'

'Oh, if you've only come in to turn everything upside-down, you might as well have stayed away.' He spoke with difficulty, in a thin wheeze.

'I think the pills did me good last night,' he said, after a pause; and then added, laughing as much as his breath would allow him, 'and what a rage mother was in! But tell me, what were they doing downstairs? Were there any ladies there? I was too bad to think of anything.'

'Yes, some of the ladies from the theatre,' Kate answered. 'But I don't think mother had a right to kick up all the row she did.'

'An

d it just came in upon her prayers,' Ralph replied, smiling.

Although cross-grained, Mr. Ede was not always an unpleasant man, and often in sudden flashes of affection the kind heart of his mother was recognizable in him.

'You mustn't laugh, Ralph,' said Kate, looking aside, for the comic side of the question had suddenly dawned upon her.

But their hilarity was not of long endurance. Ralph was seized with a fit of coughing, and when this was over he lay back exhausted. At last he said:

'But where have you been all the day? We've been wondering what had become of you.'

The question, although not put unkindly, annoyed Kate. 'One would think I'd come back from a long journey', she said to herself. 'It's just as Hender says; if I'm out half an hour more than my time everyone is, as they say, "wondering what has become of me."' Assuming an air of indifference, she told him that Mrs. Barnes kept her a long time, and that she went for a walk afterwards.

'I'm glad of that,' he said. 'You wanted a walk after being shut up with me three nights running. And what a time you must have had of it! But tell me what you've been doing in the shop.'

She told him that 'mother' had sold all the aprons, and he said: 'I knew they'd sell. I told you so, didn't I?'

'You did, dear,' said Kate, seeking to satisfy him; 'but you mustn't talk so much; you'll make yourself bad again.'

'But are you going?'

'I've been out so long that I've a lot to do; but I'll come back and see you in the evening.'

'Well, then, kiss me before you go.'

As she kissed him, she remembered the struggle in the potteries, and it appeared strange to her that she should now be giving as a matter of course what she had refused an hour ago. She had always complied with the ordinances of the marriage state without passion or revolt, but now it disgusted her to kiss her husband, and as she stepped into the passage she almost walked into Mr. Lennox's room unconsciously, without knowing what she was doing, beguiled by the natural sentiment that a woman feels in the room of a man she is interested in. Hoping that Mrs. Ede had not yet set everything straight, she went on to make sure. Slippers and boots lay about; the portmanteau yawned wide open, with some soiled shirts on the top; a pair of trousers trailed from a chair on the floor. Annoyed at the mother's negligence, Kate hung the trousers on the door, placed the slippers tidily by his bedside, and put away the soiled linen. But in doing so she could not refrain from glancing at the contents of the portmanteau. She saw many of the traces which follow those who frequent women's society. The duchess works a pair of slippers for her lover, and the chorus-girl does the same. The merchant's wife, as she holds the loved hand under the ledge of her box at the theatre, clasps the ring she had given; the rich widow opposite has a jewel-case in her pocket which will presently be sent round to the stage-door for the tenor, who is now thinking of his high B flat.

Under the shirts Kate found a pair of slippers, a pin-cushion, and the inevitable ring. But there were other presents more characteristic of the man: there was a bracelet, a scent-bottle, and two pots of paté de foie gras wrapped up in a lace-trimmed chemise. Kate examined everything, but without being able to adduce any conclusion beyond a vague surmise that Lennox lived in a different world from hers. The foie gras suggested delicacy of living, the chemise immorality, the bottle of scent refinement of taste; the bracelet she could make nothing of. Prosaic and vulgar as were all these articles, in the dressmaker's imagination they became both poetized and purified. An infinite sadness, that she could not explain, rose up through her mind, and, staring vaguely at the pious exhortations hung on the wall-'Thou art my will,' 'Thou art my hope'-she thought of Mr. Lennox's wounded legs, and asked herself if his bed were soft, and if she could do anything to make him more comfortable. It vexed her to see that he had chosen to use the basin-stand made out of a triangular board set in a corner instead of the proper one, where she had hung two clean towels; and it was not until she remembered the little girls that she was able to tear herself away.

'What have you got for us?' said four red lips as Kate entered.

'Oh, you must guess,' she replied, taking a chair, and bidding Miss Hender good-morning.

'An apple?' cried Annie.

'No.'

'An orange?' cried Lizzie.

Kate shook her head, and at the sight of their bright looks she felt her spirits return to her.

'No, it is sweetstuff.'

'Brandy balls?'

'No.'

'Toffee.'

'Yes; Annie has guessed right,' said Kate, as she divided the toffee equally between the two.

'And do I get nothing for guessing right?' said Annie doubtfully.

'Oh, for shame, Annie! I didn't think you were greedy!'

'I think I ought to have the most,' replied Lizzie in self-defence. 'Had it not been for me Miss Hender would never have got through her skirt. I helped you famously, didn't I, Miss Hender?'

The assistant nodded an impatient assent and gazed at her mistress curiously. But while the children were present, she could only watch her employer's face, and strive to read it.

And unconscious of the scrutiny, Kate sat idly talking of the skirt that was finished. The clicking of the needles sounded as music in her ears, and she abandoned herself to all sorts of soft and floating reveries. Not for years had she known what it was to take her fill of rest; and her thoughts swayed, now on one side and then on the other, as voluptuously as flowers, and hid themselves in the luxurious current of idleness which lapped loosely around her.

The afternoon passed delightfully, full of ease and pleasant quiet, Hender telling them how Les Cloches had gone the night before: of Miss Leslie's spirited singing, of the cider song, of Joe Mortimer's splendid miser scene, of Bret's success in the barcarole. So eagerly did she speak of them that one would have thought she herself had received the applause she described. Kate listened dreamily, and the little girls sucked toffee, staring the while with interested eyes.

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