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   Chapter 27 No.27

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 21730

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'Oh, Dick, dear, what did I do yesterday? Do tell me about yesterday. Was I very violent? And those wounds on your face, I didn't do that; don't tell me that I did. Dick, Dick, are you going to leave me?'

'I have to attend to my business, Kate.'

'Ah, your business! Your business! Mrs. Forest is your business; you've no other business but her now. And that is what is driving me to drink.'

'Oh, Kate, don't begin it again. I've a rehearsal--'

'Yes, the rehearsal of her opera and Montgomery's music. I did think he was my friend; yet he is putting up her opera to music, and all the while he was setting it you were telling me lies about Chilpéric, saying that I was to play the Fredegonde, and all the principal parts in the great Hervé festival, that the American-but there was no American. It was cruel of you, Dick, to shut me up here with nobody to speak to; nothing to do but to wait for you hour after hour, and when you come home to hear nothing from you but lies, nothing but lies! Chilpéric, Le Petit Faust, L'Oeil Créve, Tr?ne d'écosse, Marguerite de Navarre, La Belle Poule. And all the music I've learnt hoping that I would be allowed to sing it; and yet you expect that a woman who is deceived like that can abstain from drink. Why, you drive me to it, Dick. An angel from heaven wouldn't abstain from drink. Away you go in the morning to Mrs. Forest-to her opera.'

'But, Kate, there's nothing between me and Mrs. Forest. She is a very clever woman, and I am doing her opera for her. How are we to live if you come between me and my business?'

'Womanizing is your business,' Kate answered suddenly.

'Well, don't let us argue it,' Dick answered. He tied his shoe-strings and sought for his hat.

'So you're going,' she said; 'and when shall I see you again?'

'I shall try to get home for dinner.'

'What time?'

'Not before eight.'

'I shall not see you before twelve,' she replied, and she experienced a sad sinking of the heart when she heard the door close behind him, a sad sinking that she would have to endure till she heard his latchkey, and that would not be for many hours, perhaps not till midnight. She did not know how she would be able to endure all these hours; to sleep some of them away would be the best thing she could do, and with that intention she drew down the blind and threw herself on the bed, and lay between sleeping and waking till the afternoon. Then, feeling a little better, she rang and asked for a cup of tea. It tasted very insipid, but she gulped it down as best she could, making wry faces and feeling more miserable than ever she had felt before; afraid to look back on yesterday, afraid to look forward on the morrow, she bethought herself of the past, of the happy days when Montgomery used to come and teach her to sing, and her triumphs in the part of Clairette; she was quite as successful in Serpolette; people had liked her in Serpolette, and to recall those days more distinctly she opened a box in which she kept her souvenirs: a withered flower, a broken cigarette-holder, two or three old buttons that had fallen from his clothes, and a lock of hair, and it was under these that the prize of prizes lay-a string of false pearls. She liked to run them through her fingers and to see them upon her neck. She still kept the dresses she wore in her two favourite parts, the stockings and the shoes, and having nothing to do, no way of passing the time away, she bethought herself of dressing herself in the apparel of her happy days, presenting, when the servant came up with her dinner, a spectacle that almost caused Emma to drop the dish of cold mutton.

'Lord, Mrs. Lennox, I thought I see a ghost; you in that white dress, oh, what lovely clothes!'

'These were the clothes I used to wear when I was on the stage.'

'But law, mum, why aren't you on the stage now?'

Kate began to tell her story to the servant-girl, who listened till a bell rang, and she said:

'That's Mr. So-and-So ringing for his wife; I must run and see to it. You must excuse me, mum.'

The cold mutton and the damp potatoes did not tempt her appetite, and catching sight of herself in the glass, bitter thoughts of the wrongs done to her surged up in her mind. The tiny nostrils dilated and the upper lip contracted, and for ten minutes she stood, her hands grasping nervously at the back of her chair; the canine teeth showed, for the project of revenge was mounting to her head. 'He'll not be back till midnight; all this while he is with Leslie and Mrs. Forest, or some new girl perhaps. Yet when he returns to me, when he is wearied out, he expects to find me sober and pleased to see him. But he shall never see me sober or pleased to see him again.' On these words she walked across the room to the fire-place, and putting her hand up the chimney brought down a bottle of Old Tom, and sat moodily sipping gin and water till she heard his key in the lock.

'He's back earlier than I expected,' she said.

Dick entered in his usual deliberate, elephantine way. Kate made no sign till he was seated, then she asked what the news was.

It was clearly out of the question to tell her that he had been round to tea with one of the girls; to explain how he had wheedled Mrs. Forest into all sorts of theatrical follies was likewise not to be thought of as a subject of news, and as to making conversation out of the rest of the day's duties, he really didn't see how he was to do it. Miss Howard had put out the entire procession by not listening to his instructions; Miss Adair, although she was playing the Brigand of the Ultramarine Mountains, had threatened to throw up her part if she were not allowed to wear her diamond ear-rings. The day had gone in deciding such questions, had passed in drilling those infernal girls; and what interest could there be in going through it all over again? Besides, he never knew how or where he might betray himself, and Kate was so quick in picking up the slightest word and twisting it into extraordinary meanings, that he really would prefer to talk about something else.

'I can't understand how you can have been out all day without having heard something. It is because you want to keep me shut up here and not let me know anything of your going-on; but I shall go down to the theatre to-morrow and have it out of you.'

'My dear, I assure you that I was at the rehearsal all day. The girls don't know their music yet, and it puts me out in my stage arrangement. I give you my word that is all I heard or saw to-day. I've nothing to conceal from you.'

'You're a liar, and you know you are!'

Blows and shrieks followed.

'I shall pull that woman's nose off; I know I shall!'

'I give you my word, my dear, that I've been the whole day with Montgomery and Harding cutting the piece.'

'Cutting the piece! And I should like to know why I'm not in that piece. I suppose it was you who kept me out of it. Oh, you beast! Why did you ever have anything to do with me? It's you who are ruining me. Were it not for you, do you think I should be drinking? Not I-it was all your fault.'

Dick made no attempt to answer. He was very tired. Kate continued her march up and down the room for some moments in silence, but he could see from the twitching of her face and the swinging of her arms that the storm was bound to burst soon. Presently she said:

'You go and get me something to drink; I've had nothing all this evening.'

'Oh, Kate dear! I beg of-'

'Oh, you won't, won't you? We'll see about that,' she answered as she looked around the room for the heaviest object she could conveniently throw at him.

Seeing how useless it would be to attempt to contradict her in her present mood, Dick rose to his feet and said hurriedly:

'Now there's no use in getting into a passion, Kate. I'll go, I'll go.'

'You'd better, I can tell you.'

'What shall I get, then?'

'Get me half a pint of gin, and be quick about it-I'm dying of thirst.'

Even Dick, accustomed as he was now to these scenes, could not repress a look in which there was at once mingled pity, astonishment and fear, so absolutely demoniacal did this little woman seem as she raved under the watery light of the lodging-house gas, her dark complexion gone to a dull greenish pallor. By force of contrast she called to his mind the mild-eyed workwoman he had known in the linen-draper's shop in Hanley, and he asked himself if it were possible that she and this raging creature, more like a tiger in her passion than a human being, were one and the same person? He could not choose but wonder. But another scream came, bidding him make haste, or it would be worse for him, and he bent his head and went to fetch the gin.

In the meantime Kate's fury leaped, crackled, and burnt with the fierceness of a house in the throes of conflagration, and in the smoke-cloud of hatred which enveloped her, only fragments of ideas and sensations flashed like falling sparks through her mind. Up and down the room she walked swinging her arms, only hesitating for some new object whereon to wreak new fury. Suddenly it struck her that Dick had been too long away-that he was keeping her waiting on purpose; and grinding her teeth, she muttered:

'Oh, the beast! Would he-would he keep me waiting, and since nine this morning I've been alone!'

In an instant her resolve was taken. It came to her sullenly, obtusely, like the instinct of revenge to an animal. She did not stop to consider what she was doing, but, seizing a large stick, the handle of a brush that happened to have been broken, she stationed herself at the top of the landing. A feverish tremor agitated her as she waited in the semi-darkness of the stairs. But at last she heard the door open, and Dick came up slowly with his usual heavy tread. She made neither sign nor stir, but allowed him to get past her, and then, raising the brush-handle, she landed him one across the back. The poor man uttered a long cry, and the crash of broken glass was heard.

'What did you hit me like that for?' he cried, holding himself with both hands.

'You beast, you! I'll teach you to keep me waiting! You would, would you!

Do you want another? Go into the sitting-room.'

Dick obeyed humbly and in silence. His only hope was that the landlady had not been awakened, and he felt uneasily at his pockets, through which he could feel the gin dripping down his legs.

'Well, have you brought the drink I sent you for? Where is it?'

'Well,' replied Dick, desirous of conciliating at any price, 'it was in my pocket, but when you hit me with that stick you broke it.'

'I broke it?' cried Kate, her eyes glistening with fire.

'Yes, dear, you did; it wasn't my fault.'

'Wasn't your fault! Oh, you horrid wretch! you put it there on purpose that

I should break it.'

'Oh, now

really, Kate,' he cried, shocked by the unfairness of the accusation, 'how could I know that you were going to hit me there?'

'I don't know and I don't care; what's that to me? But what I'm sure of is that you always want to spite me, that you hate me, that you would wish to see me dead, so that you might marry Mrs. Forest.'

'I can't think how you can say such things. I've often told you that Mrs.

Forest and I-'

'Oh! don't bother me. I'm not such a fool. I know she keeps you, and she will have to pay me a drink to-night. Go and get another bottle of gin; and mind you pay for it with the money she gave you to-day. Yes, she shall stand me a drink to-night!'

'I give you my word I haven't another penny-piece upon me; it's just the accident-'

But Dick did not get time to finish the sentence; he was interrupted by a heavy blow across the face, and like a panther that has tasted blood, she rushed at him again, screaming all the while: 'Oh, you've no money! You liar! you liar! So you would make me believe that she does not give you money, that you have no money of hers in your pocket. You would keep it all for yourself; but you shan't, no, you shan't, for I will tear it from you and throw it in your face! Oh, that filthy money! that filthy money!'

The patience with which he bore with her was truly angelic. He might easily have felled her to the ground with one stroke, but he contented himself with merely warding off the blows she aimed at him. From his great height and strength, he was easily able to do this, and she struck at him with her little womanish arms as she might against a door.

'Take down your hands,' she screamed, exasperated to a last degree. 'You would strike me, would you? You beast! I know you would.'

Her rage had now reached its height. Showing her clenched teeth, she foamed at the mouth, the bloodshot eyes protruded from their sockets, and her voice grew more and more harsh and discordant. But, although the excited brain gave strength to the muscles and energy to the will, unarmed she could do nothing against Dick, and suddenly becoming conscious of this she rushed to the fireplace and seized the poker. With one sweep of the arm she cleared the mantel-board, and the mirror came in for a tremendous blow as she advanced round the table brandishing her weapon; but, heedless of the shattered glass, she followed in pursuit of Dick, who continued to defend himself dexterously with a chair. And it is difficult to say how long this combat might have lasted if Dick's attention had not been interrupted by the view of the landlady's face at the door; and so touched was he by the woman's dismay when she looked upon her broken furniture, that he forgot to guard himself from the poker. Kate took advantage of the occasion and whirled the weapon round her head. He saw it descending in time, and half warded off the blow; but it came down with awful force on the forearm, and glancing off, inflicted a severe scalp wound. The landlady screamed 'Murder!' and Dick, seeing that matters had come to a crisis, closed in upon his wife, and undeterred by yells and struggles, pinioned her and forced her into a chair.

'Oh, dear! Oh, dear! You're all bleeding, sir,' cried the landlady; 'she has nearly killed you.'

'Never mind me. But what are we to do? I think she has gone mad this time.'

'That's what I think,' said the landlady, trying to make herself heard above Kate's shrieks.

'Well, then, go and fetch a doctor, and let's hear what he has to say,' replied Dick, as he changed his grip on Kate's arm, for in a desperate struggle she had nearly succeeded in wrenching herself free. The landlady retreated precipitately towards the door.

'Well, will you go?'

'Yes, yes, I'll run at once.'

'You'd better,' yelled the mad woman after her. 'I'll give it to you! Let me go! Let me go, will you?'

But Dick never ceased his hold of her, and the blood, dripping upon her, trickled in large drops into her ears, and down into her neck and bosom.

'You're spitting on me, you beast! You filthy beast! I'll pay you out for this.' Then she perceived that it was blood; the intonation of her voice changed, and in terror she screamed, 'Murder! murder! He's murdering me! Is there no one here to save me?'

The minutes seemed like eternities. Dick felt himself growing faint, but should he lose his power over her before the doctor arrived, the consequences might be fatal to himself, so he struggled with her for very life.

At last the door was opened, and a man walked into the room, tripping in so doing over a piece of the broken mirror. It was the doctor, and accustomed as he was to betray surprise at nothing, he could not repress a look of horror on catching sight of the scene around him.

The apartment was almost dismantled; chairs lay backless about the floor amid china shepherdesses and toreadors; pictures were thrown over the sofa, and a huge pile of wax fruit-apples and purple grapes-was partially reflected in a large piece of mirror that had fallen across the hearthrug.

'Come, help me to hold her,' said Dick, raising his blood-stained face.

With a quick movement the doctor took possession of Kate's arms. 'Give me a sheet from the next room; I'll soon make her fast.'

The threat of being tied had its effect. Kate became quieter, and after some trouble they succeeded in carrying her into the next room and laying her on the bed. There she rolled convulsively, beating the pillows with her arms. The landlady stationed herself at the door to give notice of any further manifestation of fury, whilst Dick explained the circumstances of the case to the doctor.

After a short consultation, he agreed to sign an order declaring that in his opinion Mrs. Lennox was a dangerous lunatic.

'Will that be enough,' said Dick, 'to place her in an asylum?'

'No, you'll have to get the opinion of another doctor.'

The possibility of being able to rid himself of her was to him like the sudden dawning of a new life, and Dick rushed off, bleeding, haggard, wild-looking as he was, to seek for another doctor who would concur in the judgment of the first, asking himself if it were possible to see Kate in her present position, and say conscientiously that she was a person who could be safely trusted with her liberty? And to his great joy this view was taken by the second authority consulted, and having placed his wife under lock and key, Dick lay down to rest a happier man than he had been for many a day. The position in his mind was, of course, the means he should adopt to place her in the asylum. Force was not to be thought of; persuasion must be first tried. So far he was decided, but as to the arguments he should advance to induce her to give up her liberty he knew nothing, nor did he attempt to formulate any scheme, and when he entered the bedroom next morning he relied more on the hope of finding her repentant, and appealing to and working on her feelings of remorse than anything else. 'The whole thing,' as he put it, 'depended upon the humour he should find her in.'

And he found her with stains of blood still upon her face, amid the broken furniture, and she asked calmly but with intense emotion:

'Dick, did he say I was mad?'

'Well, dear, I don't know that he said you were mad except when you were the worse for drink, but he said-'

'That I might become mad,' she interposed, 'if I don't abstain from drink.

Did he say that?'

'Well, it was something like that, Kate. You know I only just escaped with my life.'

'Only just escaped with your life, Dick! Oh, if I'd killed you, if I'd killed you! If I'd seen you lying dead at my feet!' and unable to think further she fell on her knees and reached out her arms to him. But he did not take her to his bosom, and she sobbed till, touched to the heart, he strove to console her with kind words, never forgetting, however, to introduce a hint that she was not responsible for her actions.

'Then I'm really downright mad?' said Kate, raising her tear-stained face from her arms. 'Did the doctor say so?'

This was by far too direct a question for Dick to answer; it were better to equivocate.

'Well, my dear-mad? He didn't say that you were always mad, but he said you were liable to fits, and that if you didn't take care those fits would grow upon you, and you would become-'

Then he hesitated as he always did before a direct statement.

'But what did he say I must do to get well?'

'He advised that you should go to a home where you would not be able to get hold of any liquor and would be looked after'

'You mean a madhouse. You wouldn't put me in a madhouse, Dick?'

'I wouldn't put you anywhere where you didn't like to go; but he said nothing about a madhouse.'

'What did he say, then?'

'He spoke merely of one of those houses which are under medical supervision, and where anyone can go and live for a time; a kind of hospital, you know.'

The argument was continued for an hour or more. Kate wept and protested against being locked up as a mad woman; while he, conscious of the strong hold he had over her, reminded her in a thousand ways of the danger she ran of awakening one morning to find herself a murderess. Yet it is difficult to persuade anyone voluntarily to enter a lunatic asylum, no matter how irrefutable the reasons advanced may be, and it was not until Dick on one side skilfully threatened her with separation, and tempted her on the other with the hope of being cured of her vice and living with him happily ever afterwards, that she consented to enter Dr. --'s private asylum, Craven Street, Bloomsbury. But even then the battle was not won, for when he suggested going off there at once, he very nearly brought another fit of passion down on his head. It was only the extreme lassitude and debility produced from the excesses of last night that saved him.

'Oh, Dick, dear! if you only knew how I love you! I would give my last drop of blood to save you from harm.'

'I know you would, dear; it's the fault of that confounded drink,' he answered, his heart tense with the hope of being rid of her. Then the packing began. Kate sat disconsolate on the sofa, and watched Dick folding up her dresses and petticoats. It seemed to her that everything had ended, and wearily she collected the pearls which had been scattered in last night's skirmishing. Some had been trodden on, others were lost, and only about half the original number could be found, and shaken with nervousness and lassitude, Kate cried and wrung her hands. Dick sat next her, kind, huge, and indifferent, even as the world itself.

'But you'll come and see me? You promise me that you'll come-that you'll come very often.'

'Yes, dear, I'll come two or three times a week; but I hope that you'll be well soon-very soon.'

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