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   Chapter 29 SUGGESTION AND ASSURANCE

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 18544

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


When Miriam went out by herself to walk, either going or returning she took the road in which was Mallard's studio. She kept on the side opposite the gateway, and, in passing, seemed to have no particular interest in anything at hand. A model who one day came out of the gate, and made inspection of the handsomely attired lady just going by, little suspected for what purpose she walked in this locality.

And so it befell that Miriam was drawing near to the studios at the moment when a cab stopped there, at the moment when Cecily alighted from it. Instantly recognizing her sister-in-law, Miriam thought it inevitable that she herself must be observed; for an instant her foot was checked. But Cecily paid the driver without looking this way or that, and entered the gateway. Miriam walked on for a few paces; then glanced back and saw the cab waiting. She reached the turning of the road, and still the cab waited, Another moment, and it drove away empty.

She stood and watched it, until it disappeared in the opposite direction. Heedless of one or two people who came by, she remained on the spot for several minutes, gazing towards the studios. Presently she moved that way again. She passed the gate, and walked on to the farther end of the road, always with glances at the gate. Then she waited again, and then began to retrace her steps.

How many times backwards and forwards? She neither knew nor cared; it was indifferent to her whether or not she was observed from the windows of certain houses. She felt no weariness of body, but time seemed endless. The longer she stood or walked, the longer was Cecily there within. For what purpose? Yesterday she was to arrive in London; to-day she doubtless knew all that had been going on in her absence. And dusk fell, and twilight thickened. The street-lamps were lit. But Cecily still remained within.

Twice or thrice some one entered or left the studio-yard, strangers to Miriam. At length there came forth a man who, after looking about, hurried away, and in a few minutes returned with a hansom following him. Seeing that it stopped at the gateway, she approached as close as she durst, keeping in shadow. There issued two persons, whom at once she knew-Cecily with Mallard. They spoke together a moment; then both got into the vehicle and drove away.

That evening Miriam had an engagement to dine out, together with the Spences. When she reached home, Eleanor, dressed ready for departure and not a little impatient, met her in the entrance-hall.

"Have you forgotten?"

"No. I am very sorry that I couldn't get back sooner. What is the time?"

It was too late for Miriam to dress and reach her destination at the appointed hour.

"You must go without me. I hope it doesn't matter. They are not the kind of people who plan for their guests to go like the animals of Noah's ark."

This was a sally of unwonted liveliness from Miriam, and it did not suit very well with her jaded face.

"Will you come after dinner?" Eleanor asked.

"Yes, I will. Make some excuse for me."

So Miriam dined alone, or made a pretence of doing so, and at nine o'clock joined her friends. Through the evening she talked far more freely than usual, and with a frequency of caustic remark which made one or two mild ladies rather afraid of her.

At half-past nine next morning, when she and Eleanor were talking over a letter Mrs. Spence had just received from Greece, a servant came into the drawing-room to say that Mr. Elgar wished to speak with Mrs. Baske. The ladies looked at each other; then Miriam directed that the visitor should go up to her own sitting-room.

"This has something to do with Cecily," said Eleanor in a low voice.

"Probably."

And Miriam turned away.

As she entered her room, Reuben faced her, standing close by. He looked miserably ill, the wreck of a man compared with what he had been at his last visit. When the door was shut, he asked without preface, and in an anxious tone:

"Can you tell me where Cecily is?"

Miriam laid her band on a chair, and met his gaze.

"Where she is?"

"She isn't at home. Haven't you heard of her?"

"Since when has she been away?"

Her manner of questioning seemed to Elgar to prove that her own surprise was as great as his.

"I only went there last night," he said, "about eleven o'clock. She had been in the house since her arrival the day before yesterday; but in the afternoon she went out and didn't return. She left no word, and there's nothing from her this morning. I thought it likely you had heard something."

"I have heard many things, but not about her."

"Of course, I know that!" he exclaimed impatiently, averting his eyes for a moment. "I haven't come to talk, but to ask you a simple question. You have no idea where she is?"

Miriam moved a few steps away and seated herself. But almost at once she arose again.

"Why didn't you go home before last night?" she asked harshly.

"I tell you, I am not going to talk of my affairs," he answered, with a burst of passion. "If you want to drive me mad-! Can't you answer me? Do you know anything, or guess anything, about her?"

"Yes," said Miriam, after some delay, speaking deliberately, "I can give you some information."

"Then do so, and don't keep me in torment."

"Yesterday afternoon I happened to be passing Mr. Mallard's studio, and I saw her enter it; she came in a cab. She stayed there an hour or two; it grew dark whilst she was there. Then I saw them both go away together."

Elgar stared, half incredulously.

"You saw this? Do you mean that you waited about and watched?"

"Yes."

"You had suspicions?"

"I knew what a happy home she had returned to."

Again she seated herself.

"She went there to ask about me," said Elgar, in a forced voice.

"You think so? Why to him? Wouldn't she rather have come to me? Why did she stay so long? Why did he go away with her? And why hasn't she returned home?"

Question followed question with cold deliberateness, as if the matter barely concerned her.

"But Mallard? What is Mallard to her?"

"How can I tell?"

"Were they together much in Rome?"

"I think very likely they were."

"Miriam, I can't believe this. How could it happen that you were near Mallard's studio just then? How could you stand about for hours, spying?"

"Perhaps I dreamt it."

"Where is this studio?" he asked. "I knew the other day, but I have forgotten."

She told him the address.

"Very well, then I must go there. You still adhere to your story?"

"Why should I invent it?" she exclaimed bitterly "And what is there astonishing in it? What right have you to be astonished?"

"Every right!" he answered, with violence. "What warning have I had of such a thing?"

She rose and moved away with a scornful laugh. For a minute he looked at her as she stood apart, her face turned from him.

"If I find Mallard," he said, "of course I shall tell him who my authority is."

She turned.

"No; that you will not do!"

"And why not?"

"Because I forbid you. You will not dare to mention my name in any such conversation! Besides"-her voice fell to a tone of indifference-"if you meet him, there will be no need. You will ask your question, and that will be enough. There is very little chance of his being at the studio."

"I see that your Puritan spirit is gratified," he said, looking at her with fierce eyes.

"Naturally."

He went towards the door. Miriam, raising her eyes and following him a step or two, said sternly:

"In any case, you understand that my name is not to be spoken. Show at least some remnant of honour. Remember who I am, and don't involve me in your degradation."

"Have no fear. Your garment of righteousness shall not be soiled."

When he was gone, Miriam sat for a short time alone. She had not foreseen this sequel of yesterday's event. In spite of all the promptings of her jealous fear, she had striven to explain Cecily's visit in some harmless way. Mean what it might, it tortured her; but, in her ignorance of what was happening between Cecily and her husband, she tried to believe that Mallard was perhaps acting the part of reconciler-not an unlikely thing, as her better judgment told her. Now she could no longer listen to such calm suggestions. Cecily had abandoned her home, and with Mallard's knowledge, if not at his persuasion.

She thought of Reuben with all but hatred. He was the cause of the despair which had come upon her. The abhorrence with which she regarded his vices-no whit less strong for all her changed habits of thought-blended now with the sense of personal injury; this only had been lacking to destroy what natural tenderness remained in her feeling towards him. Cecily she hated, without the power of condemning her as she formerly would have done. The old voice of conscience was not mute, but Miriam turned from it with sullen scorn. If Cecily declared her marriage at an end, what fault could reason find with her? If she acted undisguisedly as a free woman, how was she to blame? Reuben's praise of her might still keep its truth. And the unwilling conviction of this was one of Miriam's sharpest torments. She would have liked to regard her with disdainful condemnation, or a

fugitive wife, a dishonoured woman. But the power of sincerely judging thus was gone. Reuben had taunted her amiss.

Presently she left her room and went to seek Eleanor. Mrs. Spence was writing; she laid down her pen, and glanced at Miriam, but did not speak.

"Cecily has left her home," Miriam said, with matter-of-fact brevity.

Eleanor stood up.

"Parted from him?"

"It seems be didn't go to the house till late last night. She had left in the afternoon, and did not come back."

"Then they have not met?".

"No."

"And had Cecily heard?"

"There's no knowing."

"Of course, she has gone to Mrs. Lessingham."

"I think not," replied Miriam, turning away.

"Why?"

But Miriam would give no definite answer. Neither did she hint at the special grounds of her suspicion. Presently she left the room as she had entered, dispirited and indisposed for talk.

Elgar walked on to the studios. He found Mallard's door, and was beginning to ascend the stairs, when the artist himself appeared at the top of them, on the point of going out. He recognized his visitor with a grim movement of brows and lips, and without speaking turned back. Reuben reached the door, which remained open, and entered. Mallard, who stood there in the ante-room, looked at him inquiringly.

"I want a few minutes' talk with you, if you please," said Elgar.

"Come in."

They passed into the studio. The last time they had seen each other was more than three years ago, at Naples; both showed something of curiosity, over and above the feelings of graver moment. Mallard, observing the signs of mental stress on Elgar's features, wondered to what they were attributable. Was the fellow capable of suffering remorse or shame to this degree? Or was it the outcome of that other affair, sheer ignoble passion? Reuben, on his part, could not face the artist's somewhat rigid self-possession without feeling rebuked and abashed. The fact of Mallard's being here at this hour seemed all but a disproval of what Miriam had hinted, and when he looked up again at the rugged, saturnine, energetic countenance, and met the calmly austere eyes, he felt how improbable it was that this man should be anything to Cecily save a conscientious friend.

"I haven't come in answer to your invitation," Reuben began, glancing uneasily at the pictures, and endeavouring to support an air of self-respect. "Something less agreeable has brought me."

They had not shaken hands, nor did Mallard offer a seat.

"What may that be?" he asked.

"I believe you have seen my wife lately?"

"What of that?"

Mallard began to knit his brows anxiously. He put up one foot on a chair, and rested his arm on his knee.

"Will you tell me when it was that you saw her?"

"If you will first explain why you come with such questions," returned the other, quietly.

"She has not been home since yesterday; I think that is reason enough."

Mallard maintained his attitude for a few moments, but at length put his foot to the ground again, and repeated the keen look he had cast at the speaker as soon as that news was delivered.

"When did you yourself go home?" he asked gravely.

"Late last night."

Mallard pondered anxiously.

"Then," said he, "what leads you to believe that I have seen Mrs. Elgar?"

"I don't merely believe; I know that you have."

Elgar felt himself oppressed by the artist's stern and authoritative manner. He could not support his dignity; his limbs embarrassed him, and he was conscious of looking like a man on his trial for ignoble offences.

"How do you know?" came from Mallard, sharply.

"I have been told by some one who saw her come here yesterday, in the late afternoon."

"I see. No doubt, Mrs. Baske?"

The certainty of this flashed upon Mallard. He had never seen Miriam walk by, but on the instant he comprehended her doing so. It was even possible, he thought, that, if she had not herself seen Cecily, some one in her employment had made the espial for her. The whole train of divination was perfect in his mind before Elgar spoke.

"It is nothing to the purpose who told me. My wife was here for a long time, and when she went away, you accompanied her."

"I understand."

"That is more than I do. Will you please to explain it?"

"You are accurately informed. Mrs. Elgar came here, naturally enough, to ask if I knew what had become of you."

"And why should she come to you?"

"Because my letter to you lay open somewhere in your house, and she thought it possible we had been together."

Elgar reflected. Yes, he remembered that the letter was left on his table.

"And where did she go afterwards? Where did you conduct her?"

"I went rather more than half-way home with her, in the cab" replied Mallard, somewhat doggedly. "I supposed she was going on to Belsize Park."

"Then you know nothing of her reason for not doing so?"

"Nothing whatever."

Elgar became silent. The artist, after moving about quietly, turned to question him with black brows.

"Hasn't it occurred to you that she may have joined Mrs. Lessingham in the country?"

"She has taken nothing-not even a travelling-bag."

"You come, of course, from the Spences' house?"

Elgar replied with an affirmative. As soon as he had done so, he remembered that this was as much as corroborating Mallard's conjecture with regard to Miriam; but for that he cared little. He had begun to discern something odd in the relations between Miriam and Mallard, and suspected that Cecily might in some way be the cause of it.

"Did they not at once suggest that she was with Mrs. Lessingham?"

Elgar muttered a "No," averting his face.

"What did they suggest, then?"

"I saw only my sister," said Reuben, irritably.

"And your sister thought I was the most likely person to know of Mrs. Elgar's whereabouts?"

"Yes, she did."

"I am sorry to disappoint you," said Mallard, coldly. "I have given you all the information I can."

"All you will," replied Elgar, whose temper was exasperated by the firmness with which he was held at a scornful distance. He began now to imagine that Mallard, from reasons of disinterested friendship, had advised Cecily to seek some retreat, and would not disclose the secret. More than that, he still found incredible.

Mallard eyed him scornfully.

"I said 'all I can,' and I don't deal in double meanings. I know nothing more than I have told you. You are probably unaccustomed, of late, to receive simple and straightforward answers to your questions; but you'll oblige me by remembering where you are."

Elgar might rage inwardly, but he had no power of doubting what he heard. He understood that Mallard would not even permit an allusion to anything save the plain circumstances which had come to light. Moreover, the artist had found a galling way of referring to the events that had brought about this juncture. Reuben was profoundly humiliated; he had never seen himself in so paltry a light. He could have shed tears of angry shame.

"I dare say the tone of your conversation," he said acridly, "was not such as would reconcile her to remaining at home. No doubt you gave her abundant causes for self-pity."

"I did not congratulate her on her return home; but, on the other hand, I said nothing that could interfere with her expressed intention to remain there."

"She told you that she had this intention?" asked Reuben, with some eagerness.

"She did."

As in the dialogue of last evening, so now, Mallard kept the sternest control upon himself. Had he obeyed his desire, he would have scarified Elgar with savage words; but of that nothing save harm could come. His duty was to smooth, and not to aggravate, the situation. It was a blow to him to learn that Cecily had passed the night away from home, but he felt sure that this would be explained in some way that did no injury to her previous resolve. He would not admit the thought that she had misled him. What had happened, he could not with any satisfaction conjecture, but he was convinced that a few hours would solve the mystery. Had she really failed in her determination, then assuredly she would write to him, even though it were without saying where she had taken refuge. But he persisted in hoping that it was not so.

"Go back to your house, and wait there," he added gravely, but without harshness. "For some reason best known to yourself, you kept your wife waiting for nearly two days, in expectation of your coming. I hope it was reluctance to face her. You can only go and wait. If I hear any news of her, you shall at once receive it. And if she comes, I desire to know of it as soon as possible."

Elgar could say nothing more. He would have liked to ask several questions, but pride forbade him. Turning in silence he went from the studio, and slowly descended the stairs Mallard heard him pause near the foot, then go forth.

Reuben had no choice but to obey the artist's directions. He walked a long way, the exercise helping him to combat his complicated wretchedness, but at length he felt weary and threw himself into a cab.

The servant who opened the door to him said that Mrs. Elgar had been in for a few minutes, about an hour ago; she would be back again by lunch-time.

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