MoboReader > Literature > A Mummer's Wife

   Chapter 13 No.13

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 39807

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


But next morning at Blackpool Kate woke up languid, and seeing Dick fast asleep, she thought it would be a pity to awaken him, and twisting her pretty legs out of bed, she went into the sitting-room, with the intention of looking after Dick's breakfast, and found it laid out on the round table in the rose-coloured sitting-room, the napery of exceeding whiteness. The two armchairs drawn by the quietly burning fire inspired indolence, and tempted at once by the freshness of her dressing-gown and the warmth of the room, she fell into a sort of happy reverie, from which she awoke in a few minutes prompted by a desire to see Dick; to see him asleep; to awaken him; to talk to him; to upbraid him for his laziness. The room, full of the intimacy of their life, enchanted her, and half in shame, half in delight, she affected to arrange the pillows while he buttoned his collar. When this was accomplished she led him triumphantly to the breakfast table, and with one arm resting on his knees watched the white shapes of the eggs seen through the bubbling water. This was the great business of the morning. He would pay twopence apiece to have fresh eggs, and was most particular that they should be boiled for three minutes, and not one second more. The landlady brought up the beefsteak and the hot milk for the coffee, and if any friend came in orders were sent down instantly for more food. Such extravagance could not fail to astonish Kate, accustomed as she had been from her earliest years to a strict and austere mode of life. Frequently she begged of Dick to be more economical, but having always lived Bohemian-like on the money easily gained, he paid very little attention to what she said, beyond advising her to eat more steak and put colour into her cheeks. And once the ice of habit was broken, she likewise began to abandon herself thoroughly to the pleasures of these rich warm breakfasts, and to look forward to the idle hours of digestion which followed, and the happy dreams that could then be indulged in. Before the tea-things were removed Dick opened the morning paper, and from time to time read aloud scraps of whatever news he thought interesting. These generally concerned the latest pieces produced in London; and, as if ignorant of the fact that she knew nothing of what he was speaking of, he explained to her his views on the subject-why such and such plays would, and others would not, do for the country. Kate listened with riveted attention, although she only understood half of what was told her, and the flattery of being taken into his confidence was a soft and fluttering joy. In these moments all fear that he would one day desert her died away like an ugly wind; and, with the noise of the town drumming dimly in the distance, they abandoned themselves to the pleasure of thinking of each other. Dick congratulated himself on the choice he had made, and assured himself that he would never know again the ennui of living alone. She was one of the prettiest women you could see anywhere, and, luckily, not too exacting. In fact, she hadn't a fault if it weren't that she was a bit cold, and he couldn't understand how it was; women were not generally cold with him. The question interested him profoundly, and as he considered it his glance wandered from the loose blue masses of hair to the white satin shoe which she held to the red blaze.

'Dick, do you think you'll always love me as you do now?'

'I'm sure of it, dear.'

'It seems to me, if one really loves once one must love always. But I don't know how I can talk to you like this, for how can you respect me? I've been so very wicked.'

'What nonsense, Kate! How can you talk like that? I wouldn't respect you if you went on living with a man you didn't care about.'

'Well, I liked him well enough till you came, dear, but I couldn't then-it wasn't all my fault; but if you should cease to care for me I think I should die. But you won't; tell me that you won't, dear Dick.'

At that moment the door opened; it was Montgomery come to see them. Kate jumped off Dick's knees, and, settling her skirts with the pretty movement of a surprised woman, threw herself into a chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. The musician had come to speak about his opera, especially the opening chorus, about which he could not make up his mind.

'My boy,' said Dick, 'don't be afraid of making it too long. There's nothing like having a good strong number to begin with-something with grip in it, you know.'

Montgomery looked vaguely into space; he was obviously not listening, but was trying to follow out some musical scheme that was running in his head. After a long silence he said:

'What I can't make up my mind about is whether I ought to concert that first number or have it sung in unison. Now listen. The scene is the wedding festivities of Prince Florimel, who is about to wed Eva, the daughter of the Duke of Perhapsburg-devilish good name, you know. Well then, the flower-girls come on first, scattering flowers; they proceed two by two and arrange themselves in line on both sides of the stage. They are followed by trumpeters and a herald; then come the ladies-in-waiting, the pages, the courtiers, and the palace servants. Very well; the first four lines, you know-"Hail! hail! the festive day"-that, of course, is sung by the sopranos.'

'You surely don't want to concert that, do you?' interrupted Dick.

'Of course not; you must think me an ignoramus. The first four lines are sung naturally in unison; then there is a repeat, in which the tenors and basses are singing against the women's voices. By that time the stage will be full. Well, then, what I'm thinking of doing, when I get to the second part, you know-"May the stars much pleasure send you, may romance and love attend you," is to repeat "May the stars."'

'Oh, I see what you mean,' said Dick, who began to grow interested. You'll give "May the stars" first to the sopranos, and then repeat with the tenors and basses?'

'That's it. I'll show you,' replied Montgomery, rushing to the piano. 'Here are the sopranos singing in G, "May the stars"; tenors, "May the stars"; tenors and sopranos, "Much pleasure send you"; basses an octave lower, "May the stars-may stars." Now I'm going to join them together-"May the Stars."'

Twisting round rapidly on the piano-stool, Montgomery pushed his glasses high up on his beak-like nose, and demanded an opinion. But before Dick could say a word a kick of the long legs brought the musician again face to the keyboard, and for several minutes he crashed away, occasionally shouting forth an explanatory remark, or muttering an apology when he failed to reach the high soprano notes. The lovesong, however, was too much for him, and, laughing at his own breakdown, he turned from the piano and consented to resume the interrupted conversation. Then the plot and musical setting of Montgomery's new work was discussed. The names of Offenbach and Hervé were mentioned; both were admitted to be geniuses, but the latter, it was declared, would have been the greater had he had the advantage of a musical education. Various anecdotes were related as to how the latter had achieved his first successes, and Montgomery, who questioned the possibility of a man who could not write down the notes being able to compose the whole score of an opera, maintained it was ridiculous to talk of dictating a finale.

Kate often asked herself if she would ever be able to take part in these artistic discussions; she was afraid not. Even when she succeeded in picking up the thread of an idea, it soon got tangled with another, and she began to fear she would never know why Hervé was a better composer than Offenbach, and why a certain quintette was written on classical lines and such-like. She asked Montgomery to explain things to her, but he was more anxious to speak of his own music, and when the names of the ladies of the company were being run over in search of one who could take the part of a page, with a song and twenty lines of dialogue to speak, Dick said:

'Well, perhaps it isn't for me to say it, but I assure you that I don't know a nicer soprano voice than Mrs. Ede's.'

'Ho, ho!' cried Montgomery, twisting his legs over the arm of the chair, 'how is it I never heard of this before? But won't you sing something, Mrs. Ede? If you have any of your songs here I'll try the accompaniment over.'

Kate, who did not know a crotchet from a semiquaver, grew frightened at this talk of trying over accompaniments, and tried to stammer out some apologies and excuses.

'Oh, really, Mr. Montgomery, I assure you Dick is only joking. I don't sing at all-I don't know anything about music.'

'Don't you mind her; 'tis as I say: she's got a very nice soprano voice; and as for an ear, I never knew a better in my life. There's no singing flat there, I can tell you. But, seriously speaking,' he continued, taking pity on Kate, whose face expressed the agony of shame she was suffering, 'of course I know well enough she don't know how to produce her voice; she never had a lesson in her life, but I think you'll agree with me, when you hear it, that the organ is there. Do sing something, Kate.'

Kate cast a beseeching glance at her lover, and murmured some unintelligible words, but they did not save her. Montgomery crossed himself over the stool, and, after running his fingers over the keys, said:

'Now, sing the scale after me-do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, la-that's the note; try to get that clear-sol, do!' and Kate, not liking to disoblige Dick, sang the scale after Montgomery in the first instance, and then, encouraged by her success, gave it by herself, first in one octave and then in the other. 'Well, don't you agree with me?' said Dick. 'The organ is there, and there's no fluffing the notes; they come out clear, don't they?'

'They do indeed,' replied Montgomery, casting a warm glance of admiration at Kate; 'but I should so much like to hear Mrs. Ede sing a song.'

'Oh, I really couldn't-'

'Nonsense! Sing the song of "The Bells" in the Cloches,' said Dick, taking her by the arm. She pleaded and argued, but it was no use, and when at last it was decided she was to sing, Montgomery, who had in the meantime been trying the finale of his first act in several different ways, stopped short and said suddenly:

'Oh, I beg your pardon; you're going to sing the song of "The Bells." I'll tell you when to begin-now, "Though they often tell us of our ancient masters."'

When Kate had finished singing Montgomery spun round, bringing himself face to face with Dick, and speaking professionally, said:

''Pon my word, it's extraordinary. Of course it is a head voice, but as soon as we get a few chest notes-you know I don't pretend to be able to teach singing, but after a year's training under my grandfather Beaumont wouldn't be in the same street with you.'

'Yes, but as he isn't here,' replied Dick, who always kept an eye on the possible, 'don't you think it would be as well for her to learn a little music?'

'I shall be only too delighted to teach Mrs. Ede the little I know myself. I'll come in the morning, and we'll work away at the piano; and you know,' continued Montgomery, who began to regret the confession of his inability to teach singing, 'although I don't pretend to be able to do what my grandfather could with a voice, still, I know something about it. I used to attend all his singing-classes, and am pretty well up in his method, and-and-if Mrs. Ede likes, I shall be only too happy to do some singing with her; and, between you and me, I think that in a few lessons I could get rid of that throatiness, and show her how to get a note or two from the chest.'

'I'm sure you could, my boy; and I shall be delighted with you if you will.

Of course we must consider it as a matter of business.'

'Oh, nonsense, nonsense, between pals!' exclaimed Montgomery, who saw a perspective of long hours passed in the society of a pretty woman-a luxury which his long nose and scraggy figure prevented him from indulging in as frequently as he desired.

After some further discussion, it was arranged that Montgomery should call round some time after breakfast, and that Dick should then leave them together to work away at do, re, mi, fa. Hamilton's system was purchased, and it surprised and amused Kate to learn that the notes between the spaces spelt 'face.' But it was in her singing lessons that she took the most interest, and her voice soon began to improve both in power and quality. She sang the scales for three-quarters of an hour daily, and before the end of the week she so thoroughly satisfied Montgomery in her rendering of a ballad he had bought for her that he begged Dick to ask a few of the 'Co.' in to tea next Sunday evening. The shine would be taken out of Beaumont, he declared with emphasis. Kate, however, would not hear of singing before anybody for the present, and she gave up going to the theatre in the evening so that she might have two or three hours of quiet to study music-reading by herself. In the morning she woke to talk of Montgomery, who generally came in while they were at breakfast; and when the lesson was over he would often stop on until they were far advanced in the afternoon; and, looking at each other from time to time, they spoke of the next town they were going to, and alluded to the events of their last journey. Kate would have liked to speak much of Dick, but she felt ashamed, and listened with interest to all Montgomery told her of himself, of the difficulties he had to contend against, of his hopes for the future. He spoke a great deal of his opera, and often sprang up in the middle of a sentence to give a practical illustration of his meaning on the instrument. But these musical digressions did not weary Kate, and to the best of her ability she judged the different versions of the finale. 'Give the public what they want,' was his motto, and he intended to act up to it. He had written two or three comic songs that had been immense successes, not to speak of the yards of pantomime music he had composed, and he knew that when he got hold of a good book in three acts he'd be able to tackle it. What he was doing now was not much more than a curtain-raiser; but never mind, that was the way to begin. You couldn't expect a manager to trust you with the piece of the evening until you'd proved that you could interest the public in smaller work. At this point of the argument Montgomery generally spoke of Dick, whom he declared was a dear good fellow, who would be only too glad to give a pal a lift when the time came. Kate, on her side, longed to hear something of her lover from an outside source. All she knew of him she had learned from his own lips. Montgomery, in whose head all sorts of reveries concerning Kate were floating, was burning to talk to her of her lover, and to hear from her own lips of the happiness which he imagined a true and perfect affection bestowed upon human life. Kate had not spoken on this important subject; and Montgomery, for fear of wounding her feelings, had avoided it; but they were conscious that the restraint jarred their intimacy. One afternoon Dick suddenly burst in upon them, and after some preamble told them that he had arranged to meet there some gentleman with whom he had important business to transact. Montgomery took up his hat and prepared to go, and Kate offered to sit with the landlady in the kitchen.

'I'm afraid you'll bore yourself, dear,' Dick said after a pause. 'But I'll tell you what you might do-I shan't be able to take you out to-day. Why not go for a walk with Montgomery?'

'I shall be delighted; I'll take you for a charming walk up the hill, and show you the whole town.'

Kate had no objection to make, and she returned to the sitting-room sooner than they expected her. 'A quick-change artist,' Dick said.

She wore a brown costume, trimmed with feathers to match; a small bonnet crowned the top of her head, and her face looked adorably coquettish amid the big bows into which she had tied the strings. Her companion was very conscious of this fact, and with his heart full of pride he occasionally jerked his head round to watch the passers-by, doubting at the same time if any were as happy as he.

It was a great pleasure to be alone with Kate in the open air, walking by her side, escorting her, and telling her as they walked all he knew about Blackpool: that it bore the same relation to the other towns of Lancashire as the seventh day does to the other six of the week; that it was the huge Lancashire Sunday, where the working classes of Accrington, Blackburn, Preston, and Burnley, during a week or a fortnight of the year, go to recreate themselves.

'The streets are built with large pavements,' he told her, 'so that jostling may be avoided, and there are many open spaces where people may loiter and congregate; the bonnets exhibited in the plate-glass windows, you can see, are obviously intended for holiday wear.' She stopped to look at these. 'Not one,' he said, 'is as pretty as the one you're wearing.'

'It's a pretty little hat,' she answered, and he pointed to the spider-legged piers and to a high headland, a sort of green cap over the ocean.

'Do you know that the fellow who owns that building has made a fortune?' said Montgomery, pointing to the roofs which began to appear above the edge of the common.

'Did he really?' replied Kate, trying to appear interested.

'Yes; he began with a sort of shanty where he sold ginger-beer and lemonade. It became the fashion to go out there, and now he's got dining-rooms and a spirit licence. We went up there last week, a lot of us, and we had such fun; we went donkey-riding, and Leslie had a fall. Did she tell you of it?'

'No; I've scarcely spoken to her for the last few days.'

'How's that? I thought you were such friends.'

'I like her very much; but she's always on the stage at night, and I don't like-I mean I should like-but I don't know that she would like me to go and see her.'

'And why not, pray?'

'Well, I thought she mightn't like me to come and see her, because,

I'm-well, on account of Dick.'

'There's nothing between them now; that's all over ages ago, and she's dead nuts on Bret.'

Kate had been nearly a fortnight with the mummers, but she had lived almost apart. She had not yet learnt that in the company she was in no opprobrium was attached to the fact of a woman having a lover, and she still supposed that because she had left her husband Leslie might not like to associate with her. To learn, then, that she had only replaced another woman in Dick's affections came upon her with a shock, and it was the very suddenness of the blow that saved her from half the pain; for it was impossible for a woman who saw in the world nothing but the sacrifice she had made for the man she loved, to realize the fact that Dick's love of her was a toy that had been taken up, just as love of Miss Leslie was a toy that had been laid down. It did not occur to her to think that the man she was living with might desert her, nor did she experience any very cruel pangs of jealousy; she was more startled than anything else by the appearance of a third person in the world which for the last week had seemed so entirely her own.

'What do you mean?' she said, stopping abruptly. 'Was Dick in love with

Miss Leslie before he knew me?'

Montgomery coloured, and strove to improvise excuses.

'No,' he said, 'of course he wasn't really in love with her; but we used to chaff him about her; that's all.'

'Why should you do that, when she is in love with Bret?' said Kate harshly.

Montgomery, who dreaded a quarrel with Dick as he would death, grasped at a bit of truth to help him out of his difficulty.

'But I ass

ure you Bret and Leslie's affair only began a couple of months ago, when we first went out on tour. We joked Dick about her to vex him, that's all. If you don't believe me, you can ask the rest of the company.'

To this Kate made no reply, and with her eyes upon the ground she remained for some moments thinking. The light and the matter-of-course way in which her companion spoke of the affections troubled her exceedingly, and very na?vely she asked herself if the company did not admit fornication among the sins.

''Tis too bad to be taken up in that way,' he said. 'There's always a bit of chaff going on; but if it were all taken for gospel truth I don't know where we should be. I give you my word of honour that I don't think he ever looked twice at her; anyhow, he didn't hesitate between you; nor could he, for, of course, you know you're a fifty times prettier woman.'

Kate answered the flattery with a delightful smile, and Montgomery thought that he had convinced her. But the young man was deceived by appearances. He had succeeded more in turning the current of her thoughts than in persuading her.

'You seem to think very lightly of such things,' she said, raising her brown eyes with a look that melted her face to a heavenly softness.

Montgomery did not understand, and she was forced to explain. This was difficult to do, but, after a slight hesitation, she said:

'Then you really do believe that Miss Leslie and Mr. Bret are lovers?'

'Oh, I really don't know,' he said hastily, for he saw himself drawn into a fresh complication; 'I never pry into other people's affairs. They seem to like each other, that's all.'

It was now Kate's turn to see that indiscreet questions might lead to the quarrels she was most anxious to avoid, and they walked along the breezy common in silence, seeing the sea below them, and far away the weedy waste of stone filled with the white wings of gulls, touched here and there with the black backs of the shrimp-fishers.

'How strange it is that the sea should go and come like that! I'd never seen it as it is now till the day before yesterday, and Dick was so amused, for I thought it was going to dry up. The morning after our arrival here we sat down by the bathing-boxes on the beach and listened to the waves. They roared along the shore. It's very wonderful. Don't you think so?'

'Yes, indeed I do. When I was here before, I spent one whole morning listening to the waves, and their surging suggested a waltz to me. This is the way it went,' and leaning on the rough paling that guarded the precipitous edge, Montgomery sang his unpublished composition. 'I never got any further,' he said, stopping short in the middle of the second part; 'I somehow lost the character of the thing; but I like the opening.'

'Oh, so do I. I wonder how you can think of such tunes. How clever you must be!'

Montgomery smiled nervously, and he proposed that they should go over to the hotel to have a drink.

'Oh, I don't like to go up there,' she said, after examining for some moments this hillside bar-room. 'There're too many men.'

'What does it matter? We'll have a table to ourselves. Besides, you'd better have something to eat, for now we're out we may as well stay out. There's no use going back yet awhile;' and he talked so rapidly of his waltz-of whether he should call it the 'Wave,' the 'Seashore,' or the 'Cliff,' that he didn't give her time to collect her thoughts.

'I can't go in there,' she said; 'why, it's only a public-house.'

'Everybody comes up here to have a drink. It's quite the fashion.'

The men round the doorway stared at her, and seeing some of the chorus-girls coming from where the donkeys were stationed, in the company of young men with high collars and tight trousers, she almost ran into the bar-room.

'Now you see what a scrape you've led me into, I wouldn't have met those people for anything.'

'What does it matter? If it were wrong do you think I'd bring you in here?

You ask Dick when you get home.'

A doubt of the possibility of Dick thinking anything wrong clouded Kate's mind, and Montgomery ordered sandwiches and two brandies-and-sodas. The sandwiches were excellent, and Kate, who had scarcely tasted anything but beer in her life, thought the brandy-and-soda very refreshing. The question then came of how to get out of the place, and after much hesitation and conjecturing, they slipped out the back way through the poultry-yard and stables.

In front of them was a very steep path that led to the sea strand. Large masses of earth had given way, and these had formed ledges which, in turn, had somehow become linked together, and it was possible to climb down these.

'Do you think you could manage?' he said, holding out his hand.

'I don't know; do you think it dangerous?'

'No, not if you take care; but the cliff is pretty high; it would not do to fall over. Perhaps you'd better come back across the common by the road.'

'And meet all those girls?'

'I don't see why you should be afraid of meeting them,' said Montgomery, who was secretly anxious to show the chorus that if he were not the possessor, he was at least on intimate terms of friendship with this pretty woman.

'No, I'd sooner not meet them, and coming out of a public-house; I don't see why we shouldn't come down this way. I'm sure I can manage it if you'll give me your hand and go first.'

The descent then began. Kate's high-heeled boots were hard to walk in, and every now and then her feet would fail her, and she would utter little cries of fear, and lean against the cliff's side. It was delightful to reassure her, and Montgomery profited by those occasions to lay his hands upon her shoulders and hold her arms in his hands. No human creature was in hearing or in sight, and solitude seemed to unite them, and the mimic danger of the descent to endear them to each other. The quiet and enchantment of earth and air melted into her thoughts until she enjoyed a perfect bliss of unreasoned emotion. He, too, was conscious of the day, and his happiness, touched with a diffused sense of desire, was intense, even to a savour of bitterness. Like all young men, he longed to complete his youth by some great passion, but out of horror of the gross sensualities with which he was always surrounded, his delicate artistic nature took refuge in a half-platonic affection for his friend's mistress. It was an infinite pleasure, and could it have lasted for ever he would not have thought of changing it. To take her by the hand and help her to cross the weedy stones; to watch her pretty stare of wonderment when he explained that the flux and the reflux of the tides were governed by the moon; to hear her speak of love, and to dream what that love might be, was enough.

Along the coast there were miles and miles of reaches, and to gain the sea they were obliged to make many detours. Sometimes they came upon long stretches of sand separated by what seemed to them to be a river, and Montgomery often proposed that he should carry Kate across the streamlet. But she would not hear of it, although on one occasion she did not refuse until he had placed his arms around her waist. Escaping from him, she ran along the edge, saying she would find a crossing. Montgomery pursued her, amused by the fluttering of her petticoats; but after a race of twenty or thirty yards, they found that their discovered river was only a long pool that owned no outlet to the sea, and they both stopped like disappointed children.

'Well, never mind,' said Kate; 'did you ever see such beautiful clear water? I must have a drink.'

'You've no cup,' he said, turning away so that she should not see him laughing. 'You might manage to get up a little in your hands.'

'So I might. Oh, what fun! Tell me how I'm to do it.'

He told her how to hollow her hands, and waited to enjoy the result, and, forgetful that the sea was salt she lifted the brine to her lips; but when she spat out the horrible mouthful and turned on him a questioning face, he only answered that if she didn't take care she would be the death of him.

'And didn't ums know the sea was salt, and did ums think it very nasty, and not half as nice as a brandy-and-soda?'

Kate watched him for a moment, and then her face clouded, and pouting her pretty lips, she said:

'Of course I don't pretend to be as clever as you, but if you'd never seen the sea until a week ago you might forget.'

'Yes, yes, for-for-get that it-it wasn't as nice as brandy-and-soda,' cried Montgomery, holding his sides.

'I wasn't going to say that, and it was very rude of you to interrupt me in that way.'

'Now come, don't get cross. You should understand a joke better than that,' he replied, for seeing the tears in her eyes he began to fear that he had spoilt the delight of their day.

'I think it is unkind of you to laugh at me and play tricks on me like that,' said Kate, trying to master her emotion; and as they walked under the sunset, Montgomery broke long and irritating silences by apologizing for his indiscretion, but Kate did not answer him until they arrived at a place where a little boy and girl were fishing for shrimps. Here there was quite a little lake, and amid the rocks and weedy stones the clear water flowed as it might in an aquarium, the liquid surface reflecting as perfectly as any mirror the sky's blue, with clouds going by and many delicate opal tints, and the forms of the children's plump limbs.

'Oh, how nice they look! What little dears!' exclaimed Kate, but as she pressed forward to watch the children her foot dislodged a young lobster from the corner of rock in which he had been hiding.

'That's a lobster,' cried Montgomery.

'Is it?' cried Kate, and she pursued the ungainly thing, which sought vainly for a crevice.

After an animated chase, with the aid of her parasol she caught it, and was about to take it up with her fingers when Montgomery stopped her.

'You'd better take care; it will pretty well nip the fingers off you.'

'You aren't joking?' she asked innocently.

'No, indeed I'm not; but I hope you don't mind my telling you.'

At that moment their eyes met, and Kate, seeing how foolish she had been, burst into fits of laughter.

'No, no, no, I-I don't mind your telling me that-that a lobster bites, but-'

'But when it comes to saying sea-water is not as nice as brandy-and-soda,' he replied, bursting into a roar of merriment, 'we cut up rough, don't we?'

The children climbed up on the rocks to look at them, and it was some time before Kate could find words to ask them to show what they had caught.

The little boy was especially clever at his work, and regardless of wetting himself, he plunged into the deepest pools, intercepting with his net at every turn the shrimps that vainly sought to escape him. His little sister, too, was not lacking in dexterity, and between them they had filled a fairly-sized basket. Kate examined everything with an almost feverish interest. She tore long gluey masses of seaweed from the rocks and insisted on carrying them home; the mussels she found on the rocks interested her; she questioned the little shrimp fishers for several minutes about a dead starfish, and they stared in open-eyed amazement, thinking it very strange that a grown-up woman should ask such questions. At last the little boy showed her what she was to do with the lobster. He wedged the claws with two bits of wood, and attached a string whereby she might carry it in her hand, and in silences that were only interrupted by occasional words they picked their way along the strand.

Kate thought of Dick-of what he was doing, of what he was saying. She saw him surrounded by men; there were glasses on the table. She looked into his large, melancholy blue eyes, and dreamed of the time she would again sit on his knees and explain to him for the hundredth time that love was all-sufficing, and that he who possessed it could possess nothing more. Montgomery was also thinking of Dick, and for the conquest of so pretty a woman the dreamy-minded musician viewed his manager with admiration. The morality of the question did not appeal to him, and his only fear was that Kate would one day be deserted. 'If so, I shall have to support her.' He thought of the music he would have to compose-songs, all of which would be dedicated to her.

'Have you known Dick,' she asked suddenly, 'a long time?'

'Two or three years or so,' replied Montgomery, a little abashed at a question which sounded at that moment like a distant echo of his own thoughts. 'Why do you ask?'

'For no particular reason, only you seem such great friends.'

'Yes, I like him very much; he's a dear good fellow, he'd divide his last bob with a pal.'

The conversation then came to a pause. Both suddenly remembered how they had set out on their walk determined to seek information of each other on certain subjects.

Montgomery wished to hear from Kate how Dick had persuaded her to run away with him; Kate wanted to learn from Montgomery something of her lover's private life-if he were faithful to a woman when he loved her, if he had been in love with many women before.

As she considered how she would put her questions a grey cloud passed over her face, and she thought of Leslie. But just as she was going to speak Montgomery interrupted her. He said:

'You didn't know Dick before he came to lodge in your house at Hanley, did you?'

Kate raised her eyes with a swift and startled look, but being anxious to speak on the subject she replied, speaking very softly:

'No, and perhaps it would have been well if he had never come to my house.'

There was not so much insincerity in the phrase as may at first appear. Nearly all women consider it necessary to maintain to themselves and to others that they deeply regret having sinned. The delusion at once pleases and consoles them, and they cling to it to the last.

'I often think of you,' said Montgomery. 'Yours appears to me such a romantic story … you who sat all day and mi-mi-' he was going to say minding a sick husband, but for fear of wounding her feelings he altered the sentence to 'and never, or hardly ever, left Hanley in your life, should be going about the country with us.'

Kate, who guessed what he had intended saying, answered:

'Yes, I'm afraid I've been very wicked. I often think of it and you must despise me. That's what makes me ashamed to go about with the rest of the company. I'm always wondering what they think of me. Tell me, do tell me the truth; I don't mind hearing it. What do they say about me? Do they abuse me very much?'

'Abuse you? They abuse you for being a pretty woman, I suppose; but as for anything else, good heavens! they'd look well! Why, you're far the most respectable one among the lot. Don't you know that?'

'I suspected Beaumont was not quite right, perhaps; but you don't mean to say there isn't one? Not that little thing with fair hair who sings in the chorus?'

'Well, yes, they say she's all right. There are one or two, perhaps; but when it comes to asking me if Beaumont and Leslie are down on you-well!' Montgomery burst out laughing.

This decided expression of opinion was grateful to Kate's feelings, and the conversation might have been pursued with advantage, but seeing an opportunity of speaking of Dick, she said:

'But you told me there was nothing between Mr. Bret and Miss Leslie.'

'I told you I didn't know whether there was or not; but I'm quite sure there never was between her and Dick. You see I can guess what you're trying to get at.'

'I can scarcely believe it. Now I think of it, I remember she was in his room the night of the row, when he turned me out.'

'Yes, yes; but there were a lot of us. The principals in a company generally stick together. It's extraordinary how you women will keep on nagging at a thing. I swear to you that I'm as certain as I stand here there was never anything between them. Do let us talk of something else.'

They had now wandered back to the fine pebbly beach, to within a hundred yards of the pier, and above the high cliff they could just see the red chimney-stacks of the town.

Montgomery sang his waltz softly over, but before he arrived at the second part his thoughts wandered, and he said:

'Have you heard anything of your husband since you left Hanley?'

The abruptness of the question made Kate start; but she was not offended, and she answered:

'No, I haven't. I wonder what he'll do.'

'Possibly apply for a divorce. If he does, you'll be able to marry Dick.'

A flush of pleasure passed over Kate's face, and when she raised her eyes her look seemed to have caught some of the brightness of the sunset. But it died into grey gloom even as the light above, and she said sighing:

'I don't suppose he'd marry me.'

'Well, if he wouldn't, there are lots who would.'

'What do you mean?' asked Kate simply.

'Oh, nothing; only I should think that anyone would be glad to marry you,' the young man answered, hoping that she would not repeat the conversation to her lover.

'I hope he will; for if he were to leave me, I think I should die. But tell me-you will, won't you? For you are my friend, aren't you?'

'I hope so,' he replied constrainedly.

'Well, tell me the truth: do you think he can be constant to a woman? Does he get tired easily? Does he like change?'

Kate laid her hand on Montgomery's shoulder, and looked pleadingly in his face.

'Dick is an awful good fellow, and I'm sure he couldn't but behave well to anyone he liked-not to say loved; and I know that he never cared for anybody as he does for you; he as much as told me.'

Kate's smile was expressive of pleasure and weariness, and after a pause, she said:

'I hope what you say is true; but I don't think men ever love as women do. When we give our heart to one man, we cannot love another. I don't know why, but I don't believe that a man could be quite faithful to a woman.'

'That's all nonsense. I'm sure that if I loved a woman it wouldn't occur to me to think of another.'

'Perhaps you might,' she answered; and, unconsciously comparing them with Dick's jovial features, she examined intently the enormous nose and the hollow, sunken cheeks. Montgomery wondered what she was thinking of, and he half guessed that she was considering if it were possible that any woman could care for him. To die without ever having been able to inspire an affection was a fear that was habitual to him, and often at night he lay awake, racked by the thought that his ugliness would ever debar him from attaining this dearly desired end.

'Were you ever in love with anybody?' she asked, after a long silence.

'Yes, once.'

'And did she care for you?'

'Yes, I think she did at first. We used to meet at dinner every day; but then she fell in love with an acrobat-I suppose you would call him an acrobat-I mean one of those gutta-percha men who tie their legs in a knot over their heads. The child was deformed. I was awfully cut up about it at the time, but it's all over now.'

The conversation then came to a pause. Kate did not like to ask any further questions, but as she stared vaguely at the pale sun setting, she wondered what the acrobat was like, and how a girl could prefer a gutta-percha man to the musician. As the minutes passed, the silence grew more irritating, and the evening colder.

'I'm afraid we shall catch a chill if we remain here much longer, said

Montgomery, who had again begun to sing his waltz over.

'Yes, I think we'd better be getting home,' Kate answered dreamily.

After some searching, they found a huge stairway cut for the use of bathers in the side of the cliff, and up this feet-torturing path Montgomery helped Kate carefully and lovingly.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares