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   Chapter 11 No.11

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 22718

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Next morning the sky was low and grey, and the house-tops appeared dimly through the mist. A little later the clouds began to gather, and it seemed like rain, but now and then a shaft of sunlight fell on a corner of the table within a few inches of Kate's impatiently moving fingers. She had not been able to eat any breakfast-had just crumbled a piece of bread and sipped a cup of tea, and begged Dick to hasten. It seemed that he hadn't a thought for her, of what her fate would be if they missed the train. She couldn't spend another night in Hanley.

'Dick, dear, do make haste. We shall miss the train.'

'We've plenty of time,' he answered, and she read in his face the desire for another plate of crumpets, and she prayed that he might not ask for another egg.

'Dick, it's ten minutes to ten.'

'I don't think it can be as much as that, dear.' He turned to look at the clock, which was behind him.

'Oh, Dick, Dick! Make haste, I beg of you; you don't know what I'm suffering. Supposing my husband was to come in now and find us here?'

'He can't know that we're here; the station is the first place he'd go to; there's no use hanging about there longer than we can help.'

'Oh dear, I'd give ten years of my life if we were once in the train.'

'There's no use exciting yourself like that, dear; I'll see that you don't meet anyone.'

'How will you manage that?'

'I'll tell you in the cab. I think on the whole we'd better start now. Luckily, we haven't much luggage to delay us. Waiter, bring the bill and call me a cab.'

'And how will you save me from meeting him if he's there before us?' she said to Dick as they drove away.

'I'll leave you in the cab, and cut down and see if he's there.'

'He might come and find me when you were gone, and that would be worse than anything. He might kill me, and I should have no one to save me.'

He was, in truth, a little puzzled, for there was no getting away from the fact that it was only too possible, not to say probable, that they would find Mr. Ede waiting for them. He thought of disguises and secret doors, and masks and wigs, of the wardrobe-baskets, but a moment's reflection convinced him of the impracticability of stowing Kate away in one of these. He then thought of wrapping a railway rug around his newly-acquired wife, and carrying her thus concealed in his arms; but that would not do either. Mr. Ede would be sure to ask him what he had there.

'Oh, Dick, dear, what shall we do if we find him waiting on the platform? You'll protect me, won't you? You won't desert me! I couldn't go back to him.'

'Of course not. Let him take you away from me? Not me! If you don't want to live with him any more you've a right to leave him. I'll knock him down if he gives me any of his cheek.'

'You won't do that, will you, dear? Remember how small and weak he is; you'd kill him.'

'That's true, so I would. Well, I'm damned if I know what to do; you'll have to come with me even if he does kick up a row. It'll be deuced unpleasant, and before the whole company too. Don't you think that you could wait a moment in the cab while I have a look round-I won't go far.'

'Oh, I'd be too afraid! Couldn't you ask someone to go for you?'

'I'll see who's there,' said Dick, twisting his neck to look round the corner. 'By Jove! they're all there-Beaumont, Dolly Goddard. I think I'll ask Montgomery; he's a devilish good chap. We had better stop the cab here and I'll call to him.'

Kate consented, and a moment after the musician's immense nose and scarecrow face was poked in the window.

'Hey, old pal, what is it? Waiting-but-I beg--'

'Never mind that,' said Dick, laying his hand on the young fellow's arm; 'I want you to do me a favour. Run down on the platform and see if there's a little scraggy man about the height of Dubois hanging about anywhere. You can't mistake him; he has a dirty dark beard that grows on his face like a bunch of grass, and he's no chest, little thin shoulders, and he'd have on--'

'A pair of grey trousers, and a red woollen comforter round his neck,' whispered Kate, feeling bitterly ashamed.

'All right,' said Montgomery, 'I'll spot him if he's there. But you know the train goes in ten minutes or less, and Hayes says that he can't take the tickets; you've all the coin.'

'So I have; I forgot to send it round to him last night. Ask him to step up here, there's a good fellow.'

'Now, I bet you Hayes won't be able to get the tickets right. He's perfectly useless, always boozed-nipping, you know.'

Kate did not answer, and an uneasy silence ensued, which was broken at length by the appearance of a hiccuping, long-whiskered man.

'How are you, o-o-old man? Eh! who is-? I don't think I have the pleasure of this lady's acquaintance.'

'Mrs. Ede-Mr. Hayes, our acting manager. Now, look here, Hayes, you go and get the tickets. I can't leave this lady. Thirty-five will do.'

'How thirty-five? We travel forty-one.'

'You know well enough that thirty-five is what we always get. Damn it, man, make haste!'

'Don't damn me. New member of the com-company, eh?'

'I'll tell you all about that after, old man,' said Dick, leaning forward and pretending to whisper confidentially.

This satisfied the tippler, who, after pulling his silky whiskers and serving Kate to another drunken stare, hurried off, black bag in hand.

'Confounded nuisance to have to deal with a fellow like that; he thinks he's a dab at business, and goes about with the black bag for show.'

Two minutes passed, maybe three; it seemed to her an eternity, and then she heard Montgomery's voice crying:

'It's all right, I'm sure.'

'Then get out, dear,' said Dick, 'we haven't a moment to lose.'

She jumped out, but hadn't walked a dozen yards before she stopped panic-stricken.

'Mrs. Ede-my mother-in-law-perhaps she's there! Oh, Dick, what shall I do?'

'She isn't there,' Montgomery answered; 'I know her by sight,' and that Montgomery should know her mother-in-law by sight meant to Kate as much as a footprint does to a lost one in a desert. For the sight of the company on the asphalt, and all the luggage, portmanteaux, and huge white baskets labelled 'Morton and Cox's Operatic Company,' and the train waiting to carry them away to an unknown destination, made her feel more intensely than ever that she was adrift in a current that would carry her she knew not whither. All these strange people collected together were henceforth her world. She was not unnaturally frightened, but the baggage man especially filled her with alarm, so all-powerful did he seem, rushing up and down the platform, shouting at the porters, and throwing out bits of information to the ladies of the company as he passed them by.

'We shall be off in a minute, dear,' whispered Dick softly in her ear, 'and then--'

'Whose carriage are you going in, Dick?' said a little stout man who walked with a strut and wore a hat like a bishop's.

'I really don't know; I don't mind; anywhere except with the pipe-smokers.

I can't stand that lot.'

'Perhaps he's going to take a first-class compartment with hot-water pans,' remarked Mortimer, and the little group of admirers all laughed consumedly. Dick, overhearing the remark, said to Kate: 'One mustn't take notice of what he says; I very nearly kicked him into the orchestra at Halifax about six months ago. But what compartment shall we take? Let's go with Leslie and Dubois and Montgomery; they're the quietest. Let me introduce you to Miss Leslie. Miss Leslie-Mrs. Ede, a lady I'm escorting to Blackpool; you two have a chat together. I'll be back in a minute. I must go after Hayes; if I don't he may forget all about the tickets.'

'I'm afraid you'll find us a very noisy lot, Mrs. Ede,' said Miss Leslie, and in a way that made Kate feel intimate with her at once.

Miss Leslie had a bright smiling face, with clear blue eyes, and a mop of dyed hair peeped from under a prettily ribboned bonnet, and Kate noticed how beautifully cut were her clothes. Miss Beaumont sported large diamonds in her ears, and she wore a somewhat frayed yellow French cloak, which, she explained to the girls near her, particularly to her pal, Dolly Goddard, was quite good enough for travelling. No one in the company could understand the friendship between these two; the knowing ones declared that Dolly was Beaumont's daughter; others, who professed to be more knowing, entertained other views. Dolly was a tiny girl with crumpled features, who wore dresses that were remade from the big woman's cast-off garments. She sang in the chorus, was in receipt of a salary of five-and-twenty shillings a week, and was a favourite with everyone. Around her stood a group of girls; they formed a black mass of cotton, alpaca, and dirty cloth. Near them half a dozen chorus-men were talking of the possibility of getting another drink before the train came up. Their frayed boots and threadbare frock-coats would have caused them to be mistaken for street idlers, but one or two of their number exhibited patent leathers and a smart made-up cravat of the latest fashion. Dubois's hat gave him the appearance of a bishop, his tight trousers confounded him with a groom; and Joe Mortimer made up very well for the actor whose friends once believed he was a genius.

The news had gone about that Dick was running away with a married woman, and that the husband was expected to appear every minute to stop her; it had reached even the ears of the chorus-men in the refreshment-room, and they gulped down their beer and hurried back to see the sport. Mortimer declared that they were going to see Dick for the first time in legitimate drama, and that he wouldn't miss it for the world. The joke was repeated through the groups, and before the laughter ceased the green-painted engine puffed into sight, and at the same moment Dick was seen making his way towards them from the refreshment room, dragging drunken Mr. Hayes along with them.

Then Kate felt glad, and almost triumphantly she dashed the tears from her eyes. No one could stop her now. She was going away with Dick, to be loved and live happy for ever. Beaumont was forgotten, and the fierce longing for change she had been so long nourishing completely mastered her, and, with a childlike impetuosity, she rushed up to her lover, and leaning on his arm, strove to speak.

'What is it, dear?' he said, bending towards her. 'What are you crying about?'

'Oh, nothing, Dick. I'm so happy. Oh, if only we were outside this station!

Where shall I get in?'

Even if her husband did come, and she were taken back, she thought that she would like to have been at least inside a railway carriage.

'Get in here. Where's Montgomery? Let's have him.'

'And, oh, do ask Miss Leslie! She's been so kind to me.'

'Yes, she always travels with us,' said Dick, standing at the carriage door. 'Come, get in, Montgomery; make haste, Dubois.'

'But where's Bret?' shouted someone.

'I haven't seen him,' replied several voices.

'Is there any lady missing?' asked Montgomery.

'No,' replied Mortimer in the deepest nasal intonation he could assume, 'but I noticed a relation of the chief banker in the town in the theatre last night. Perhaps our friend has had his cheque stopped.'

Roars of laughter greeted

this sally, the relevance of which no one could even faintly guess; and the guard smiled as he said to the porter:

'That's Mr. Mortimer. Amusing, is them theatre gentlemen.' Then, turning to Dick, 'I must start the train. Your friend will be late if he doesn't come up jolly quick.'

'Isn't it extraordinary that Bret can never be up to time? Every night there's a stage wait for him to come on for the serenade,' said Dick, withdrawing his head from the window. 'Here 'e is, sir,' said the guard.

'Come on, Bret; you'll be late,' shouted Dick.

A tall, thin man in a velvet coat, urged on by two porters, was seen making his way down the platform with a speed that was evidently painful.

'In here,' said Dick, opening the door.

Out of the dim station they passed into the bright air alongside of long lines of waggons laden with chimney-pots and tiles, the produce of Hanley. The collieries steamed above their cinder-hills, the factory chimneys vomited, and as Kate looked out on this world of work that she was leaving for ever, she listened to the uncertain trouble that mounted up through her mind, and to the voices of the actors talking of comic songs and dances.

She put out her hand instinctively to find Dick's; he was sitting beside her, and she felt happy again.

At these intimacies none but Frank Bret was surprised, and the laugh that made Kate blush was occasioned by the tenor's stupid questioning look: it was the first time he had seen her; he had not yet heard the story of the elopement, and his glance went from one to the other, vainly demanding an explanation, and to increase the hilarity Dick said:

'But, by the way, Bret, what made you so late this morning? Were you down at the bank cashing a cheque?'

'What are you thinking about? There are no banks open on Sunday morning,' said Bret, who of course had not the least idea what was meant.

The reply provoked peals of laughter from all save Miss Leslie, and all possible changes were rung on the joke, until it became as nauseous to the rest of the company as to the bewildered tenor, who bore the chaff with the dignified stupidity of good looks.

The mummers travelled third class. Kate sat next the window, with her back to the engine; Dick was beside her, and Miss Leslie facing her; then came Dubois and Bret, with Montgomery at the far end.

The conversation had fallen, and Dick, passing his arm around Kate's waist, whispered to her and to Leslie:

'I want you two to be pals. Lucy is one of my oldest friends. I knew her when she was so high, and it was I who gave her her first part, wasn't it, Lucy?'

'Yes. Don't you remember, Dick, the first night I played Florette in The Brigands? Wasn't I in a fright? I never should have ventured on the stage if you hadn't pushed me on from the wings.'

Kate thought she had never seen anyone look so nice or heard anyone speak so sweetly. In fact, she liked her better off the stage than on. Leslie had a way of raising her voice as she spoke till it ended in a laugh and a display of white teeth. The others of the company she did not yet recognize. They were still to her figures moving through an agitated dream. Leslie was the first to awaken to life.

The tendency of Dick's conversation was to wander, but after having indulged for some time in the pleasures of retrospection he returned to the subject in point:

'Well, it's a bit difficult to explain,' Dick said, 'but, you see, this lady, Mrs. Ede, wasn't very happy at home, and having a nice voice-you must hear her sing some Angot-and such an ear! She only heard the waltz once, and she can give it note for note. Well, to make a long story short, she thought she'd cut it, and try what she could do with us.'

'You're all very kind to me, but I'm afraid I've been very wicked.'

'Oh my!' said Miss Leslie, laughing, 'you mustn't talk like that; you'll put us all to the blush.'

'I wonder how such theories would suit Beaumont's book,' said Dick.

'You see,' Dick continued, 'she's left Hanley without any clothes except those she's wearing, and we'll have to buy everything in Derby,' and he begged Bret to move down a bit and allow him to take the seat next to Leslie.

The tenor, conductor, and second low comedian had spread a rug over their knees, and were playing nap. They shouted, laughed, and sang portions of their evening music when they made or anticipated making points, and Kate was therefore left to herself, and she looked out of the window.

They were passing through the most beautiful parts of Staffordshire, and for the first time she saw the places that seemed to her just like the spot where the lady with the oval face used to read Shelley to the handsome baronet when her husband was away doctoring the country-folk.

The day was full of mist and sun. Along the edges of the woods the white vapours loitered, half concealing the forms of the grazing kine; and the light shadows floated on the grass, long and prolonged, even as the memories that were now filling the mind of this sentimental workwoman. It seemed to her that she was now on the threshold of a new life-the life of which she had so long dreamed. Her lover was near her, but in a railway carriage filled with smoke and with various men and women; and it seemed to her that they should be walking in sunny meadows by hedgerows. The birds were singing in the shaws; but in her imagination the clicking of needles and the rustling of silk mingled with the songs of the birds, and forgetting the landscape, with a sigh she fell to thinking of what they would be saying of her at home.

She knew Mrs. Ede would have the whole town searched, and when it was no longer possible to entertain a doubt, she would say that Kate's name must never again be mentioned in her presence. A letter! there was much to say: but none would understand. The old woman who had once loved her so dearly would for ever hate and detest her. And Ralph? Kate did not care quite so much what he thought of her; she fancied him swearing and cursing, and sending the police after her; and then he appeared to her as a sullen, morose figure moving about the shop, growling occasionally at his mother, and muttering from time to time that he was devilish glad that his wife had gone away. She would have wished him to regret her; and when she remembered the little girls, she felt the tears rise to her eyes. What explanation would be given to them? Would they learn to hate her? She thought not; but still, they would have to give up coming to the shop-there was no one now to teach them sewing. Her absence would change everything. Mrs. Ede would never be able to get on with Hender, and even if she did, neither of them knew enough of dressmaking to keep the business going, and she asked herself sorrowfully: 'What will become of them?' They would not be able to live upon what they sold in the shop-that was a mere nothing. Poor Ralph's dreams of plate-glass and lamps! Where were they now? Mrs. Ede's thirty pounds a year would barely pay the rent. A vision of destruction and brokers passed before her mind, and she realized for the first time the immense importance of the step she had taken. Not only was her own future hidden, but the future of those she had left behind. The tedium of her life in Hanley was forgotten, and she remembered only the quiet, certain life she might have led, in and out from the shop to the front kitchen, and up to her workroom-the life that she had been born into. Now she had nothing but this man's love. If she were to lose it!

Leslie smiled at the lovers, and moving towards the card-players, she placed her arm round Bret's shoulders and examined his hand. Then the three men raised their heads. Dubois, with the cynicism of the ugly little man who has ever had to play the part of the disdained lover both in real or fictitious life, giggled, leered, and pointed over his shoulder. Montgomery smiled too, but a close observer would detect in him the yearnings of a young man from whose plain face the falling fruit is ever invisibly lifted. Bret looked round also, but his look was the indifferent stare of one to whom love has come often, and he glanced as idly at the picture as a worn-out gourmet would over the bill of fare of a table d'h?te dinner.

A moment after all eyes were again fixed on the game, and Dick began to speak to Kate of the clothes she would have to buy in Derby.

'I can give you twenty pounds to fit yourself out. Do you think you could manage with that?'

'I'm afraid I'm putting you to a lot of expense, dear.'

'Not more than you're worth. You don't know what a pleasant time we shall have travellin' about; it's so tiresome bein' always alone. There's no society in these country towns, but I shan't want society now.'

'And do you think that you won't get tired of me? Will you never care again for any of these fine ladies?' and her brilliant eyes drew down Dick's lips, and when they entered a tunnel the temptation to repeat the kiss was great, but owing to Dubois's attempt to light matches it ended in failure. Dick bumped his head against the woodwork of the carriage; Kate felt she hated the little comedian, and before she recovered her temper the train began to slacken speed, and there were frequent calls for Dick from the windows of the different compartments.

'Is the railway company going to stand us treat this journey?' shouted

Mortimer.

'Yes,' replied Dick, putting his head out, 'seven the last time and seven this; we should have more than a couple of quid.'

When the train stopped and a voice was heard crying, 'All tickets here!' he said to Dubois, Bret, and Montgomery, 'Now then, you fellows, cut off; get Mortimer and a few of the chorus-men to join you; we're seven short.'

As they ran away he continued to Leslie: 'I hope Hayes won't bungle it; he's got the tickets to-day.'

'You shouldn't have let him take them; you know he's always more or less drunk, and may answer forty-two.'

'I can't help it if he does; I'd something else to look after at Hanley.'

'Tickets!' said the guard.

'Our acting manager has them; he's in the end carriage.'

'You know I don't want anything said about it; Hayes and I are old pals; but it's a damned nuisance to have an acting manager who's always boozed. I have to look after everythin', even to making up the returns. But I must have a look and see how he's gettin' on with the guard,' said Dick, jumping up and putting his head out of the window.

After a moment or two he withdrew it and said hastily, 'By Jove! there's a row on. I must go and see what's up. I bet that fool has gone and done something.'

In a minute he had opened the carriage door and was hurrying down the platform.

'Oh, what's the matter?-do tell me,' said Kate to Miss Leslie. 'I hope he won't get into any trouble.'

'It's nothing at all. We never, you know, take the full number of tickets, for it is impossible for the guard to count us all; and besides, there are some members who always run down the platform; and in that way we save a good deal of coin, which is spent in drinks all round.' But guessing what was passing in Kate's mind Leslie said: 'It isn't cheating. The company provides us with a carriage, and it is all the same to them if we travel five-and-thirty or forty-two.'

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