MoboReader > Literature > A Mummer's Wife

   Chapter 17 No.17

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 17952

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


As soon as it was announced that Miss Leslie suffered so much with her ankle that she would be unable to travel, the whole company called to see the poor invalid; the chorus left their names, the principals went up to sit by the sofa-side, and all brought her something: Beaumont, a basket of fruit; Dolly Goddard, a bouquet of flowers; Dubois, an interesting novel; Mortimer, a fresh stock of anecdotes. Around her sofa sprains were discussed. Dubois had known a première danseuse at the Opera House, in Paris, but the handing round of cigarettes prevented his story from being heard, and Beaumont related instead how Lord Shoreham in youth had broken his legs out hunting. The relation might not have come to an end that evening if Leslie had not asked Bret to change her position on the sofa, and when he and Dick went out of the room a look of inquiry was passed round.

'You needn't be uneasy. I wouldn't let Bret stop for anything. I shall be very comfortable here. My landlady is as kind as she can be and the rooms are very nice.'

A murmur of approval followed these words, and continuing Miss Leslie said, laying her hand on Kate's:

'And my friend here will play my parts until I come back. You must begin to-night, my dear, and try to work up Clairette. If you're a quick study you may be able to play it on Wednesday night.'

This was too much; the tears stood in Kate's eyes. She had in her pocket a little gold porte-bonheur which she had bought that morning to make a present of to her once hated rival, but she waited until they were alone to slip it on the good natured prima donna's wrist. The parting between the two women was very touching, and being in a melting mood Kate made a full confession of her quarrel with Dick, and, abandoning herself, she sought for consolation. Leslie smiled curiously, and after a long pause said:

'I know what you mean, dear, I've been jealous myself; but you'll get over it, and learn to take things easily as I do. Men aren't worth it.' The last phrase seemed to have slipped from her inadvertently, and seeing how she had shocked Kate she hastened to add, 'Dick is a very good fellow, and will look after you; but take my advice, avoid a row; we women don't gain anything by it.'

The words dwelt long in Kate's mind, but she found it hard to keep her temper. Her temper surprised even herself. It seemed to be giving way, and she trembled with rage at things that before would not have stirred an unquiet thought in her mind. Remembrances of the passions that used to convulse her when a child returned to her. As is generally the case, there was right on both sides. Her life, it must be confessed, was woven about with temptations. Dick's character easily engendered suspicion, and when the study of the part of Clairette was over, the iron of distrust began again to force its way into her heart. The slightest thing sufficed to arouse her. On one occasion, when travelling from Bath to Wolverhampton, she could not help thinking, judging from the expression of the girl's face, that Dick was squeezing Dolly's foot under the rug; without a word she moved to the other end of the carriage and remained looking out of the window for the rest of the journey. Another time she was seized with a fit of mad rage at seeing Dick dancing with Beaumont at the end of the second act of Madame Angot. There were floods of tears and a distinct refusal 'to dress with that woman.' Dick was in despair! What could he do? There was no spare room, and unless she went to dress with the chorus he didn't know what she'd do.

'My God!' he exclaimed to Mortimer, as he rushed across the stage after the 'damned property-man,' 'never have your woman playing in the same theatre as yourself; it's awful!'

For the last couple of weeks everything he did seemed to be wrong. Success, instead of satisfying Kate, seemed to render her more irritable, and instead of contenting herself with the plaudits that were nightly showered upon her, her constant occupation was to find out either where Dick was or what he had been doing or saying. If he went up to make a change without telling her she would invent some excuse for sending to inquire after him; if he were giving some directions to the girls at one of the top entrances, she would walk from the wing where she was waiting for her cue to ask him what he was saying. This watchfulness caused a great deal of merriment in the theatre, and in the dressing-rooms Mortimer's imitation of the catechism the manager was put to at night was considered very amusing.

'My dear, I assure you you're mistaken. I only smoked two cigarettes after lunch, and then I had a glass of beer. I swear I'm concealing nothing from you.'

And this is scarcely a parody of the strict surveillance under which Dick lived, but from a mixture of lassitude and good nature it did not seem to annoy him too much, and he appeared to be most troubled when Kate murmured that she was tired, that she hated the profession and would like to go and live in the country. For now she complained of fatigue and weariness; the society of those who formed her life no longer interested her, and she took violent and unreasoning antipathies. It was not infrequent for Mortimer and Montgomery to make an arrangement to grub with the Lennoxes whenever a landlady could be discovered who would undertake so much cooking. But without being able to explain why, Kate declared she could not abide sitting face to face with the heavy lead. She saw and heard quite enough of him at the theatre without being bothered by him in the day-time. Dick made no objection. He confessed, and, willingly, that he was a bit tired of disconnected remarks, and the wit of irrelevancies; and Mortimer, he said, fell to sulking if you didn't laugh at his jokes. Montgomery continued to board with them, the young man very uncertain always whether he would be as unhappy away from her as he was with her. He often dreamed of sending in his resignation, but he could not leave the company, having begun to look upon himself as her guardian angel; and, without consulting Dick, they arranged deftly that Dubois should be asked to take Mortimer's place. Dick approved when the project was unfolded to him, the natty appearance of the little foreigner was a welcome change after Mortimer's draggled show of genius. He could do everything better than anybody else, but that did not matter, for he was amusing in his relations. Whether you spoke of Balzac's position in modern fiction or the rolling of cigarettes, you were certain to be interrupted with, 'I assure you, my dear fellow, you're mistaken' uttered in a stentorian voice. On the subject of his bass voice a child could draw him out, and, under the pretext of instituting a comparison between him and one of the bass choristers, Montgomery never failed to induce him to give the company an idea of his register. At first to see the little man settling the double chin into his chest in his efforts to get at the low D used to convulse Kate with laughter, but after a time even this grew monotonous, and wearily she begged Montgomery to leave him alone. 'Nothing seems to amuse you now' he would say with a mingled look of affection and regret. A shrug of the shoulder she considered a sufficient answer for him, and she would sink back as if pursuing to its furthest consequences the train of some far-reaching ideas.

And in wonder these men watched the progress of Kate's malady without ever suspecting what was really the matter with her. She was homesick. But not for the house in Hanley and the dressmaking of yore. She had come to look upon Hanley, Ralph, Mrs. Ede, the apprentices and Hender as a bygone dream, to which she could not return and did not wish to return. Her homesickness was not to go back to the point from which she had started, but to settle down in a house for a while.

'Not for long, Dick,' she said, 'a month; even a fortnight would make all the difference. We spent a fortnight at Blackpool, but we have never stayed a fortnight at the same place since.'

'I know what's the matter with you, Kate,' he answered; 'you want a holiday; so do I; we all want a holiday. One of these days we shall get one when the tour comes to an end.'

It did not seem to Kate that the tour would ever come to an end: she would always be going round like a wheel.

Dick begged her to have patience, and she resolved to have patience, but one Saturday night in the middle of her packing the vision of the long railway journey that awaited her on the morrow rose up suddenly in her mind, and she could not do else than spring to her feet, and standing over the half-filled trunk she said:

'Dick, I cannot, I cannot; don't ask me.'

'Ask you what?' he said.

'To go to Bath with you to-morrow morning,' she answered.

'You won't come to Bath!' he cried. 'But who will play Clairette?'

'I will, of course.'

'I don't understand, Kate,' Dick

replied.

'I only want one day off. Why shouldn't I spend the Sunday in Leamington and go to church? I want a little rest. I can't help it, Dick.'

'Well, I never! You seem to get more and more capricious every day.'

'Then you won't let me?' said Kate, with a flush flowing through her olive cheeks.

'Won't let you! Why shouldn't you stay if it pleases you, dear? Montgomery is staying too; he wants to see an aunt of his who lives in the town.'

Dick's unaffected kindness so touched Kate's sensibilities that the tears welled up into her eyes, and she flung herself into his arms sobbing hysterically. For the moment she was very happy, and she looked into the dream of the long day she was going to spend with Montgomery, afraid lest some untoward incident might rob her of her happiness. But nothing fell out to blot her hopes, everything seemed to be happening just as she had foreseen it, and trembling with pleasurable excitement the twain hurried through the town inquiring out the way to the Wesleyan Church. At last it was found in a distant suburb, and her emotion almost from the moment she entered into the peace of the building became so uncontrollable that to hide the tears upon her cheeks she was forced to bury her face in her hands, and in the soft snoring of the organ, recollections of her life frothed up; but as the psalm proceeded her excitement abated, until at last it subsided into a state of languid ecstasy. Nor was it till the congregation knelt down with one accord for the extemporary prayer that she asked pardon for her sins. 'But how could God forgive her her sins if she persevered in them?' she asked herself. 'How could she leave Dick and return to Hanley? Her husband would not receive her; her life had got into a tangle and might never get straight again. But all is in the hands of God,' and thinking of the woman that had been and the woman that was, she prayed God to consider her mercifully. 'God will understand,' she said, 'how it all came about; I cannot.'

Montgomery was kneeling in the pew beside her, and he wondered at seeing her so absorbed in prayer; he did not know that she was so pious, and thought that such piety as hers was not in accord with the life she had taken up and the company with which they were touring. But perhaps it was a mere passing emotion, a sudden recrudescence of her past life which would fade away and never return again; he hoped that this was the case, for he believed in her talent, and that a London success awaited her. He kept his eyes averted from her, knowing that his observation would distress her, and after church she said she would like to go for a walk and he suggested the river.

In the shade of spreading trees they watched the boats passing, and in the course of the afternoon talked of many things and of many people, and it pleased and surprised them to find that their ideas coincided, and in the pauses of the conversation they wondered why they had never spoken to each other like this before. He was often tempted to hold out prospects of a London success with a view to cheering her, but he felt that this was not the moment to do so. But she, being a little less tactful, spoke to him of his music with a view to pleasing him, but he could not detach his thoughts from her, and could only tell her that he heard her voice in the music as he composed it.

'The afternoon is passing,' he said; 'it's time to begin thinking of tea.' Whereupon they rose to their feet and walked a long way into the country in search of an inn, and finding one they had tea in a garden, and afterwards they dined in a sanded parlour and enjoyed the cold beef, although they could not disguise from themselves the fact that it was a little tough. But what matter the food? It was the close intimacy and atmosphere of the day that mattered to them, and they returned to Leamington thinking of the day that had gone by, a day unique in their experience, one that might never return to them.

The ways were filled with Sunday strollers-mothers leading a tired child moved steadily forward; a drunken man staggered over a heap of stones; sweethearts chased each other; occasionally a girl, kissed from behind as she stretched to reach a honeysuckle, rent the airless evening with a scream.

Kate had not spoken for a long while, and Montgomery's apprehensions were awakened. Of what could she be thinking? 'Something was on her mind,' he said to himself. 'Something has been on her mind all day,' he continued, and he began to ask himself if he should put his arm around her and beg of her to confide in him. He would have done so if the striking of a clock had not reminded him that they had little time before them if they wished to catch the train, so instead of asking her to confide in him he asked her to try to walk a little faster. She was tired. He offered her his arm.

'We've just time to get to the station and no more; it's lucky we have our tickets.'

The guard on the platform begged them to hasten and to get in anywhere they could. A moment afterwards they jumped into the carriage, and the train rolled with a slight oscillating motion out of the station into the open country. Dim masses of trees, interrupted by spires and roofs, were painted upon a huge orange sky that somehow reminded them of an opéra bouffe.

'What are you crying for?' Montgomery asked, bending forward.

'Oh, I don't know!-nothing,' exclaimed Kate, sobbing; 'but I'm very unhappy. I know I've been very wicked, and am sure to be punished for it.'

'Nonsense! Nonsense!'

'God will punish me-know He will. I felt it all to-day in church. I'm done for, I'm done for.'

'You've made a success on the stage. I never saw anyone get on so well in so short a time; and you're loved,' he added with a certain bitterness, 'as much as any woman could be.'

'That's what you think, but I know better. I see him flirting every day with different girls.'

'You imagine those things. Dick couldn't speak roughly to anyone if he tried; but he doesn't care for any woman but you.'

'Of course, you say so. You're his friend.'

'I assure you 'pon my word of honour; I wouldn't tell you so if it weren't true. You're my friend as much as he, aren't you?' and then, as if afraid that she should read his thoughts, he added:

'I'm sure he hasn't kissed anyone since he knew you. I can't put it plainer than that, can I?'

'I'm glad to hear you say so. I don't think you'd tell me a lie; it would be too cruel, wouldn't it? For you know what a position I am in: if Dick were to desert me to-morrow what should I do?'

'You're in a mournful humour. Why should Dick desert you? And even if he did, I don't see that it would be such an awful fate.'

Startled, Kate raised her eyes suddenly and looked him straight in the face.

'What do you mean?' she said.

The abruptness of her question made him hesitate. In a swift instant he regretted having risked himself so far, and reproached himself for being false to his friend; but the temptation was irresistible, and overcome by the tenderness of the day, and irritated by the memory of years of vain longing, he said:

'Even if he did desert you, you might, you would, find somebody better-somebody who'd marry you.'

Kate did not answer and they sat listening to the rattle of the train. At last she said:

'I could never marry anyone but Dick.'

'Why? Do you love him so much?'

'Yes, I love him better than anything in the world; but even if I didn't, there are reasons which would prevent my marrying anyone but him.'

'What reasons?'

A desire that someone should know of her trouble smothered all other considerations, and after another attempt to speak she again dropped into silence.

Montgomery tried to rouse her: 'Tell me,' he said, 'tell me why you couldn't marry anyone but Dick.'

The sound of his voice startled her, and then, in a moment of sudden naturalness, she answered:

'Because I'm in the family way.'

'Then there's nothing else for him to do but to marry you.'

She knew he was at that moment his own proper executioner, but the intensity of her own feelings did not leave her time for pity.

Why after all shouldn't she marry Dick? Why hadn't she asked for this reparation before? 'I dare say you're right,' she said. 'When I tell him--'

'What! haven't you told him yet?' Montgomery cried.

'No,' Kate answered timidly, 'I was afraid he wouldn't care to hear it.'

'Then you must do so at once,' Montgomery said, and the poor vagrant musician, whom nobody had ever loved, said: 'I will speak to him about it the first time I get a chance. It would be wicked of him not to. He couldn't refuse even if he didn't love you, which he does.'

The last streak of yellow had died out of the sky telling of the day that had gone by, and in a deep tranquillity of mind Kate inhaled the sweetness of her luck as a convalescent might a bunch of freshly culled violets.

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares