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   Chapter 6 No.6

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 16736

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


But Kate could not manage to see Mr. Lennox that evening or the next. He came in very late, and was away before she was down. She tormented herself trying to find reasons for his absence, and it pained her to think that it might be because the breakfasts were not to his taste. It seemed strange to her, too, that when a man cared to walk about the potteries with a woman, and talked as nicely as he had done to her, that he should not take the trouble to come and see her, if only to say good-morning; and in a thousand different ways did these thoughts turn and twist in Kate's brain, as she sat sewing opposite Hender in the workroom. This young woman had made up her mind that there was something between the stage-manager and her employer, and it irritated her when Kate said she had not seen him for the last two days. Kate was not very successful either in extracting theatrical news from Hender. 'If she's going to be close with me, I'll show her that two can play at that game,' and she answered that she had not noticed any limp. But Mrs. Ede told Kate he limped so badly that she felt sure he must have met with an accident. Which was she to believe? Mother, of course; but feeling that only direct news of him would satisfy her, she waited next morning in the kitchen. But the trick was not successful; she was serving in the shop, and heard him leave by the side door. Whether he had done this on purpose to avoid her, or whether it was the result of chance, Kate passed the morning in considering. She had hitherto succeeded in completely ignoring their ridiculous fall amid the teacups, but the memory of it now surged up in her mind; and certain coarse details that she had forgotten continued to recur to her with a singular persistency; deaf to Hender's conversation, she sat sullenly sewing, hating even to go down to the shop to attend when Mrs. Ede called from below that there was a customer waiting.

About three o'clock Mrs. Ede's voice was heard.

'Kate, come down; there is someone in the shop.'

Passing round the counter, she found herself face to face with a well-dressed woman.

'I was recommended here by Mrs. West,' the lady said, after a slight hesitation, 'to buy a set of baby clothes.'

'Is it for a new-born infant?' Kate asked, putting on her shop airs.

'Well, the baby is not born yet, but I hope soon will be.'

'Oh, I beg pardon,' said Kate, casting a rapid glance in the direction of the lady's waist.

The baby clothes were kept in a box under the counter, and in a few moments

Kate reappeared with a bundle of flannels.

'You will find these of the very best quality; will you feel the warmth of this, ma'am?' she said, spreading out something that looked like two large towels.

The lady seemed satisfied with the quality, but from her manner of examining the strings Kate judged she was at her first confinement, and with short phrases and quick movements proceeded to explain how the infant was to be laid in the middle, and how the tapes were to be tied across.

'And you will want a hood and cloak? We have some very nice ones at two pounds ten; but perhaps you would not like to give so much?'

Without replying to this question, the lady asked to see the articles referred to, and then, beneath the men's shirts that hung just above their heads, the two women talked with many genuine airs of mystery and covert subtlety. The lady spoke of her fears, of how much she wished the next fortnight was over, of her husband, of how long she had been married. She was Mrs. Wood, the stationer's wife in Piccadilly. Kate said she knew her customer's shop perfectly, and assumed a sad expression when in her turn she was asked if she had any children. On her replying in the negative, Mrs. Wood said, with a sigh of foreboding, that people were possibly just as well without them.

It was at this moment that Mr. Lennox entered, and Kate tried to sweep away and to hide up the things that were on the counter. Mrs. Wood was mildly embarrassed, and with a movement of retiring she attempted to resume the conversation.

'Very well, Mrs. Ede,' she said; 'I quite agree with you-and I'll call again about those pocket-handkerchiefs.'

But Kate, in her anxiety not to lose a chance of doing a bit of business, foolishly replied:

'Yes, but about those baby clothes-shall I send them, Mrs. Wood?'

Mrs. Wood murmured something inaudible in reply, and as she sidled and backed out of the shop she bumped against Mr. Lennox.

He lifted his big hat and strove to make way for her, but he had to get into a corner to allow her to pass out, and then, still apologizing, he took a step forwards, and leaning on the counter, said in a hurried voice:

'I've been waiting to see you for the last two days. Where have you been hiding yourself?'

The unexpected question disconcerted Kate, and instead of answering him coldly and briefly, as she had intended, said:

'Why, here; where did you expect me to be? But you've been out ever since,' she added simply.

'It wasn't my fault-the business I've had to do! I was in London yesterday, and only got back last night in time for the show. There was talk of our boss drying up, but I think it's all right. I'll tell you about that another time. I want you to come to the theatre to-morrow night. Here are some tickets for the centre circle. I'll come and sit with you when I get the curtain up, and we'll be able to talk.'

The worm does not easily realize the life of the fly, and Kate did not understand. The rapidly stated facts bewildered her, and she could only say, in answer to his again repeated question:

'Oh, I should like it so much, but it is impossible; if my mother-in-law heard of it I don't know what she would say.'

'Well, then, come to-night; but no, confound it! I shall be busy all to-night. Hayes, our acting manager, has been drunk for the last three days; he can't even make up the returns. No, no; you must come to-morrow night. Come with Hender; she's one of the dressers. I'll make that all right; you can tell her so from me. Will you promise to come?'

'I should like it so much; but what excuse can I give for being out till half-past ten at night?'

'You needn't stay till then; you can leave before the piece is half over.

Say you went out for a walk.'

The most ingenious and complete fiction that Mr. Lennox's inventive brain might have worked out would not have appeased Kate's fears so completely as the simple suggestion of a walk, and her face lit up with a glow of intelligence as she remembered how successfully she had herself made use of the same excuse.

'Then you'll come?' he said, taking her look for an answer.

'I'll try,' she replied, still hesitating.

'Then that's all right,' he murmured, pressing two or three pieces of paper into her hands. 'I've been thinking of you a great deal.'

Kate smiled slowly, and a slight flush for a moment illuminated the pale olive complexion.

'I dreamt that we were going up to London together, and that your head was lying on my shoulder, and it was so nice and pleasant, and when I woke up I was disappointed.'

Kate shivered a little, and drew back as if afraid; and in the pause which ensued Mr. Lennox remembered an appointment.

'I must be off now,' he said, 'there's no help for it; but you won't disappoint me, will you? The doors open at half-past six. If you're there early I may be able to see you before the piece begins.'

And with a grand lift of the hat the actor hurried away, leaving Kate to examine the three pieces of paper he had given her.

It was clearly impossible for her to go to the theatre without her assistant finding it out; she must confide in Hender, who would be astonished, no doubt. And she was not wrong in her surmise; the news produced first an astonished stare, and then a look of satisfaction to be read: 'Well, you are coming to your senses at last.' Kate would have liked no more to be said on the subject, but the fact that her employer was going to meet Mr. Lennox at the theatre was not sufficient for Hender; she must needs question Kate how this change had come about in her. 'Was she really spoons on the actor?' At these words Kate, who wished to leave everything vague, the facts as well as her conception of them, declared that she would rather not go to the theatre at all

, if such remarks were to be made. Whereupon Miss Hender took a view less carnal, and the two women discussed how old Mrs. Ede might be given the slip. The idea of the walk was not approved of; it was too simple; but on this point Kate would take no advice, although she accepted the suggestion that she was to go upstairs, and under the pretext of changing her petticoat, should fold her hat into her mantle and tie the two behind her just as she would a bustle; an ingenious device, but difficult to put into practice.

Ralph was out of bed, and, having been deprived of speech for more than a week, he followed Kate into the back room, worrying her with questions about the shop, his health, his mother, and Mr. Lennox.

At five o'clock Mrs. Ede came up to say she was going up the town to do a little marketing for Sunday, and to ask Kate to come down to the front kitchen, where she could be in sight of the shop. Miss Hender said nothing could have happened more fortunately, and, with many instructions as to where they should meet, she hurried away. But she was no sooner gone than Kate remembered she had no one to leave in charge of the shop. She should have asked one of the apprentices, but she hadn't, and would have to turn the key in the door and leave her mother-in-law to come in by the side way. Ralph would open to her; it couldn't be helped. Mr. Lennox was going away to-morrow; she must see him.

At that moment her mantle caused her some uneasiness; it didn't seem to hang well, and it was impossible to go to the theatre in the gloves that had been lying in her pocket for the last month. She took a pair of grey thread from the window, but while pulling them on her face changed expression. Was it Ralph coming down the staircase? There was nobody else in the house. Trembling, she waited for him to appear. Wheezing loudly, her husband dragged himself through the doorway.

'What-do you look so fri-frightened at? You did-didn't expect to see me, did you?'

'No, I didn't,' Kate answered as if in a dream.

'Feeling a good deal better, I thou-ght I would come down, but-but the stairs-have tried me.'

It was some time before he could speak again. At last he said:

'Where are you going?'

'I was just going for a walk.'

'I don't know how it is, but it seems to me that you're always out now; always coming in or going out; never in the shop. If it wasn't for my asthma I don't think I'd ever be out of the shop, but women think of nothing but pleasure and-,' a very rude word which she had never heard Ralph use before. But it might be that she was mistaken. Poor man! it was distressing to watch him gasping for breath. He leaned against the counter, and Kate begged him to let her help him upstairs, but he shook her off testily, saying that he understood himself better than anybody else did, and that he would look after the shop.

'You're going out? Well, go,' and she hurried away, hoping that a customer would come in, for his great delight was the shop. 'Attending on half a dozen customers will amuse him more than the play will amuse me,' she said to herself, and a smile rose to her lips, for she imagined him taking advantage of her absence to rearrange the window. 'But what can have brought him down?' Kate asked herself. 'Ah! that's it,' she said, for it had suddenly come into her mind that ever since she had told him of a certain sale of aprons and some unexpected orders for baby clothes he had often mentioned that the worst part of these asthmatic attacks was that they prevented his attendance in the shop. 'The shop is his pleasure just as the theatre is Hender's,' Kate said as she hurried up Piccadilly to the theatre, her heart in her mouth, for her time was up. Fearing to miss Hender, she raced along, dodging the passengers with quick turns and twists. 'It's my only chance of seeing him; he's going away tomorrow,' and she was living so intensely in her own imagination that she neither saw nor heeded anybody until she suddenly heard somebody calling after her, 'Kate! Kate! Kate!' She turned round and faced her mother-in-law.

'Where on earth are you going at that rate?' said Mrs. Ede, who carried a small basket on her arm.

'Only for a walk,' Kate replied in a voice dry with enforced calmness.

'Oh, for a walk; I'm glad of that, it will do you good. But which way are you going?'

'Any where round about the town. Up on the hill, St. John's Road.'

'How curious! I was just thinking of going back that way. There's a fruiterer's shop where you can get potatoes a penny a stone cheaper than you can here.'

If a thunderbolt had ruined Hanley before her eyes at that moment, it would not have appeared to her of such importance as this theft of her evening's pleasure. It was with difficulty that she saved herself from saying straight out that she was going to the theatre to see Mr. Lennox, and had a right to do so if she pleased.

'But I like walking fast,' she said; 'perhaps I walk too fast for you?'

'Oh no, not at all. My old legs are as good as your young ones. Kate, dear, what is the matter? Are you all right?' she said, seeing how cross her daughter-in-law was looking.

'Oh yes, I'm all right, but you do bother one so.'

This very injudicious phrase led to a demonstration of affection on the part of Mrs. Ede, and whatever were the chances of getting rid of her before, they were now reduced to nothing. The strain on her nerves was at height during the first half of the walk, for during that time she knew that Mr. Lennox was expecting her; afterwards, while bargaining with the fruiterer in St. John's Road, she fell into despondency. Nothing seemed to matter now; she did not care what might befall her, and in silence she accompanied her mother-in-law home.

'Now, mother, you must leave me; I've some work to finish.'

'I'm sorry, Kate, if--'

'Mother, I've some work to finish; good-night.'

And she sat in the workroom waiting for Mr. Lennox. At last his heavy step was heard on the stairs; then, laying aside the shirt she was making, she stole out to meet him. He saw her as he scraped a match on the wall; dropping it, he put out his hands towards her.

'Is that you, dear?' he said. 'Why didn't you come to the theatre? We had a magnificent house.'

'I couldn't; I met my mother-in-law.'

The red embers of the match that had fallen on the floor now went out, and the indication of their faces was swept away in the darkness.

'Let me get a light, dear.' The intonation of his voice as he said 'dear' caused her an involuntary feeling of voluptuousness. She trembled as the vague outline of his big cheeks became clear in the red flame of the match which he held in his hollowed hands.

'Won't you come in?' she heard him say a moment after.

'No, I couldn't; I must go upstairs in a minute. I only came to tell you, for I didn't want you to go away angry; it wasn't my fault. I should so much have liked to have gone to the theatre.'

'It was a pity you didn't come; I was waiting at the door for you. I could have sat by you the whole time.'

Kate's heart died within her at thought of what she had lost, and after a long silence she said very mournfully:

'Perhaps when you come back another time I shall be able to go to the theatre.'

'We've done so well here that we're going to get another date. I'll write and let you know.'

'Will you? And will you come back and lodge here?'

'Of course, and I hope that I shan't be so unlucky the next time as to fall down amid the crockery.'

At this they both laughed, and the conversation came to a pause.

'I must bid you good-night now.'

'But won't you kiss me-just a kiss, so that I may have something to think of?'

'Why do you want to kiss me? You have Miss Leslie to kiss.'

'I never kissed Leslie; that's all nonsense, and I want to kiss you because

I love you.'

Kate made no answer, and, following her into the heavy darkness that hung around the foot of the staircase, he took her in his arms. She at first made no resistance, but the passion of his kiss caused her a sudden revolt, and she struggled with him.

'Oh, Mr. Lennox, let me go, I beg of you,' she said, speaking with her lips close to his. 'Let me go, let me go; they will miss me.'

Possibly fearing another fall, Mr. Lennox loosed his embrace, and she left him.

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