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   Chapter 8 THE DANCE

Leonora By Arnold Bennett Characters: 32306

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


About three months after its rendering of Patience, the Bursley Amateur Operatic Society arranged to give a commemorative dance in the very scene of that histrionic triumph. The fête was to surpass in splendour all previous entertainments of the kind recorded in the annals of the town. It was talked about for weeks in advance; several dressmakers nearly died of it; and as the day approached the difficulty of getting one's self invited became extreme.

'You know, Mrs. Stanway,' said Harry Burgess when he met Leonora one afternoon in the street, 'we are relying on you to be the best-dressed woman in the place.'

She smiled with a calmness which had in it a touch of gentle cynicism. 'You shouldn't,' she answered.

'But you're coming, aren't you?' he inquired with eager concern. Of late, owing to the capricious frigidity of Millicent's attitude towards him, he had been much less a frequenter of Leonora's house, and he was no longer privy to all its doings.

'Oh, yes,' she said, 'I suppose I shall come.'

'That's all right,' he exclaimed. 'If you come you conquer.' They passed on their ways.

Leonora's existence had slipped back into its old groove since the departure of Twemlow, and the groove had deepened. She lived by the force of habit, hoping nothing from the future, but fearing more than a little. She seemed to be encompassed by vague and sinister portents. After another brief interlude of apparent security, John's situation was again disquieting. Trade was good in the Five Towns; at least the manufacturers had temporarily forgotten to complain that it was very bad, and the Monday afternoon football-matches were magnificently attended. Moreover, John had attracted favourable attention to himself by his shrewd proposals to the Manufacturers' Association for reform in the method of paying firemen and placers; his ability was everywhere recognised. At the same time, however, the Five Towns looked askance at him. Rumour revived, and said that he could not keep up his juggling performance for ever. He was known to have speculated heavily for a rise in the shares of a great brewery which had falsified the prophecies of its founders when they benevolently sold it to the investing public. Some people wondered how long John could hold those shares in a falling market. Leonora had no definite knowledge of her husband's affairs, since neither John nor any other person breathed a word to her about them. And yet she knew, by certain vibrations in the social atmosphere as mysterious and disconcerting as those discovered by R?ntgen in the physical, that disaster, after having been repelled, was returning from afar. Money flowed through the house as usual; nevertheless often, as she drove about Bursley, consciously exciting the envy and admiration which a handsome woman behind a fast cob is bound to excite, her shamed fancy pictured the day when Prince should belong to another and she should walk perforce on the pavement in attire genteelly preserved from past affluence. Only women know the keenest pang of these secret misgivings, at once desperate and helpless.

Nor did she find solace in her girls. One Saturday afternoon Ethel came back from the duty-visit to Aunt Hannah and said as it were confidentially to Leonora: 'Fred called in while I was there, mother, and stayed for tea.' What could Leonora answer? Who could deny Fred the right to visit his great-aunt and his great-uncle, both rapidly ageing? And of what use to tell John? She desired Ethel's happiness, but from that moment she felt like an accomplice in the furtive wooing, and it seemed to her that she had forfeited both the confidence of her husband and the respect of her daughter. Months ago she had meant by force of some initiative to regularise this idyll which by its stealthiness wounded the self-respect of all concerned. Vain aspiration! And now the fact that Fred Ryley had begun to call at Church Street appeared to indicate between him and Uncle Meshach a closer understanding which could only be detrimental to the interests of John.

As for Rose, that child of misfortune did well during the first four days of the examination, but on the fifth day one of her chronic sick-headaches had in two hours nullified all the intense and ceaseless effort of two years. It was precisely in chemistry that she had failed. She arrived from London in tears, and the tears were renewed when the formal announcement of defeat came three weeks later by telegraph and John added gaiety to the occasion by remarking: 'What did I tell you?' The girl's proud and tenacious spirit, weakened by the long strain, was daunted at last. She lounged in the house and garden, listless, supine, torpid, instinctively waiting for Nature's recovery.

Millicent alone in the house was unreservedly cheerful and light-hearted. She had the advantage of Mr. Corfe's instruction for two hours every Wednesday, and expressed herself as well satisfied with his methods. Her own intimate friends knew that she quite intended to go on the stage, but they were enjoined to say nothing. Consequently John Stanway was one of the few people in Bursley unaware of the definiteness of Milly's private plans; Leonora was another. Leonora sometimes felt that Milly's assertive and indestructible vivacity must be due to some specific cause, but Mr. Cecil Corfe's reputation for seriousness and discretion precluded the idea that he was encouraging the girl to dream dreams without the consent of her parents.

Leonora might have questioned Milly, but she perceived the futility of doing so. It became more and more clear to her that she did not possess the confidence of her daughters. They loved her and they admired her; and she for her part made a point of trusting them; but their confidence was withheld. Under the influence of Arthur Twemlow she had tried to assuage the customary asperities of home life, so far as possible, by a demeanour of generous quick acquiescence, and she had not entirely failed. Yet the girls, with all the obtuseness and insensibility of adolescence, never thought of giving her the one reward which she desired. She sought tremulously to win their intimacy, but she sought too late. Rose and Milly simply ignored her diffident advances, and even Ethel was not responsive. Leonora had trained up her children as she herself had been trained. She saw her error only when it could not be retrieved. The dear but transient vision of four women who had no secrets from each other, who understood each other, was finally dissolved.

Amid the secret desolation of a life which however was not without love, amid her vain regrets for an irrecoverable youth and her horror of the approach of age, amid the empty lassitudes which apparently were all that remained of the excitement caused by Arthur Twemlow's presence, Leonora found a mournful and sweet pleasure in imagining that she had a son. This son combined the best qualities of Harry Burgess and Fred Ryley. She made him tall as herself, handsome as herself, and like herself elegant. Shrewd, clever, and passably virtuous, he was nevertheless distinctly capable of follies; but he told her everything, even the worst, and though sometimes she frowned he smiled away the frown. He adored her; he appreciated all the feminine in her; he yielded to her whims; he kissed her chin and her wrist, held her sunshade, opened doors for her, allowed her to beat him at tennis, and deliciously frightened her by driving her very fast round corners in a very high dog-cart. And if occasionally she said, 'I am not as young as I was, Gerald,' he always replied: 'Oh rot, mater!'

When Ethel or Milly remarked at breakfast, as they did now and then, that Mr. Twemlow had not fulfilled his promise of writing, Leonora would answer evenly, 'No, I expect he's forgotten us.' And she would go and live with her son for a little.

* * *

She summoned this Gerald-and it was for the last time-as she stood irresolutely waiting for her husband at the door of the ladies' cloak-room in the Town Hall. She was dressed in black mousseline de soie. The corsage, which fitted loosely except at the waist and the shoulders, where it was closely confined, was not too low, but it disclosed the beautiful diminutive rondures above the armpits, and, behind, the fine hollow of her back. The sleeves were long and full with tight wrists, ending in black lace. A band of pale pink silk, covered with white lace, wandered up one sleeve, crossed her breast in strict conformity with the top of the corsage, and wandered down the other sleeve; at the armpits, below the rondures, this band was punctuated with a pink rose. An extremely narrow black velvet ribbon clasped her neck. From the belt, which was pink, the full skirt ran down in a thousand perpendicular pleats. The effect of the loose corsage and of the belt on Leonora's perfect figure was to make her look girlish, ingenuous, immaculate, and with a woman's instinct she heightened the effect by swinging her programme restlessly on its ivory-tinted cord.

They had arrived somewhat late, owing partly to John's indecision and partly to an accident with Rose's costume. On reaching the Town Hall, not only Ethel and Milly, but Rose also, had deserted Leonora eagerly, impatiently, as ducklings scurry into a pond; they passed through the cloak-room in a moment, Rose first; Rose was human that evening. Leonora did not mind; she anticipated the dance with neither joy nor melancholy, hoping nothing from it in her mood of neutral calm. John was talking with David Dain at the entrance to the gentlemen's cloak-room, further down the corridor. Presently, old Mr. Hawley, the doctor at Hillport, joined the other two, and then Dain moved away, leaving John and the doctor in conversation. Dain approached and saluted his client's wife with characteristic sheepishness.

'Large company, I believe,' he said awkwardly. In evening dress he was always particularly awkward.

She smiled kindly on him, thinking the while what a clumsy and objectionable fat little man he was. She knew he admired her, and would have given much to dance with her; but she did not care for his heavy eyes, and she despised him because he could not screw himself up to demand a place on her programme.

'Yes, very large company, I believe,' he said again, moving about nervously on his toes.

'Do you know how many invitations?' she asked.

'No, I don't.'

'Dain!' John called out, 'come and listen to this.' And the lawyer escaped from her presence like a schoolboy running out of school.

'What men!' she thought bitterly, standing neglected with all her charm and all her distinction. 'What chivalry! What courtliness! What style!' Her son belonged to a different race of beings.

Down the corridor came Harry Burgess deep in converse with a male friend; the two were walking quickly. She did not choose to greet them waiting there alone, and so she deliberately turned and put her head within the curtains of the cloak-room as if to speak to some one inside.

'Twemlow was saying--'

It seemed to her that Harry in passing had uttered that phrase to his companion. She flushed, and shook from head to foot. Then she reflected that Twemlow was a name common to dozens of people in the Five Towns. She bit her lip, surprised and angered at her own agitation. At the same time she remembered-and why should she remember?-some gossip of John's to the effect that Harry Burgess was under a cloud at the Bank because he had gone to London by a day-trip on the previous Thursday without leave. London ... perhaps....

'Am I forty-or fourteen?' she contemptuously asked herself.

She heard John and Dain laugh loudly, and the jolly voice of the old doctor: 'Come along into the refreshment-room for a minute.' Determined not to linger another moment for these boors, she moved into the corridor.

At the end of the vista of red carpet and gas-jets rose the grand staircase, and on the lowest stair stood Arthur Twemlow. She had begun to traverse the corridor and she could not stop now, and fifty feet lay between them.

'Oh!' her heart cried in the intolerable spasm of a swift and mysterious convulsion. 'Why do you thus torture me?' Every step was an agony.

He moved towards her, and she noticed that he was extremely pale. They met. His hand found hers. Then it was that she perceived, with a passionate gratitude, how heaven had been watching over her. If John had not hesitated about coming, if her daughters had not deserted her in the cloak-room, if the old doctor had not provided himself with a new supply of naughty stories, if indeed everything had not occurred exactly as it had occurred-she would have been forced to undergo in the presence of witnesses the shock which she had just experienced; and she would have died. She felt that in those seconds she had endured emotion to the last limit of her capacity. She traced a providence even in Harry's chance phrase, which had warned her and so broken the force of the stroke.

'Why, cruel one, did you play this trick on me? Can you not see what I suffer!' It was her sad glittering eyes that reproachfully appealed to him.

'Did I know what would happen?' his answered. 'Am I not equally a victim?'

She smiled pensively, and her lips murmured: 'Well, wonders will never cease.'

Such were the first words.

'I found I had to come back to London,' he was soon explaining. 'And I met young Burgess at the Empire on Thursday night, and he told me about this affair and gave me a ticket, and so I thought as I had been at the opera I might as well--' He hesitated.

'Have you seen the girls?' she inquired.

He had not.

On the flower-bordered staircase her foot slipped; she felt like a convalescent trying to walk after a long illness. Arthur with a silent questioning gesture offered his arm.

'Yes, please,' she said, gladly. She wished not to say it, but she said it, and the next instant he was supporting her up the steps. Anything might happen now, she thought; the most impossible things might come to pass.

At the top of the staircase they paused. They could hear the music faintly through closed doors. They had the precious illusion of being aloof, apart, separated from the world, sufficient to themselves and gloriously sufficient. Then some one opened the doors from within; the sound of the music, suddenly freed, rushed out and smote them; and they entered the ball-room. She was acutely conscious of her beauty, and of the distinction of his blanched, stern face.

* * *

The floor was thronged by entwined couples who, under the rhythmic domination of the music, glided and revolved in the elaborate pattern of a mazurka. With their rapt gaze, and their rigid bodies floating smoothly over a hidden mechanism of flying feet, they seemed to be the victims of some enchantment, of which the music was only a mode, and which led them enthralled through endless curves of infallible beauty and grace. Form, colour, movement, melody, and the voluptuous galvanism of delicate contacts were all combined in this unique ritual of the dance, this strange convention whose significance emerged from one mystery deeper than the fundamental notes of the bass-fiddle, and lost itself in another more light than the sudden flash of a shirt-front or the tremor of a lock of hair. The goddess reigned. And round about the hall, the guardians of decorum, the enemies of Aphrodite, enchanted too, watched with the simplicity of doves the great Aphrodisian festival, blind to the eternal verities of a satin slipper, a drooping eyelash, a parted lip.

The music ceased, the spell was lifted for a time. And while old alliances were being dissolved and new ones formed in the eager promiscuity of this interval, all remarked proudly on the success of the evening; in the gleam of every eye the sway of the goddess was acknowledged. Romance was justified. Life itself was justified. The shop-girl who had put ten thousand stitches into the ruching of her crimson skirt well symbolised the human attitude that night. As leaning heavily on a man's

arm she crossed the floor under the blazing chandelier, she secretly exulted in each stitch of her incredible labour. Two hours, and she would be back in the cold, celibate bedroom, littered with the shabby realities of existence; and the spotted glass would mirror her lugubrious yawn! Eight hours, and she would be in the dreadful shop, tying on the black apron! The crimson skirt would never look the same again; such rare blossoms fade too soon! And in exchange for the toil, the fatigue, and the distressing reaction, what had she won? She could not have said what she had won, but she knew that it was worth the ruinous cost-this bright fallacy, this fleeting chimera, this delusive ecstasy, this shadow and counterfeit of bliss which the goddess vouchsafed to her communicants.

* * *

So thick and confused was the crowd that Leonora and Arthur, having inserted themselves into a corner near the west door, escaped the notice of any of their friends. They were as solitary there as on the landing outside. But Leonora saw quite near, in another corner, Ethel talking to Fred Ryley; she noticed how awkward Fred looked in his new dress-suit, and she liked him for his awkwardness; it seemed to her that Ethel was very beautiful. Arthur pointed out Rose, who was standing up with the lady member of the School Board. Then Leonora caught sight of Millicent in the distance, handing her programme to the conductor of the opera; she recalled the notorious boast of the conductor that he never knowingly danced with a bad dancer, whatever her fascinations. Always when they met at a ball the conductor would ask Leonora for a couple of waltzes, and would lead her out with an air of saying to the company: 'Now see what fine dancing is!' Like herself, he danced with the frigidity of a professor. She wondered whether Arthur could dance really well.

The placard by the orchestra said, 'Extra.'

'Shall we?' Arthur whispered.

He made a way for her through the outer fringe of people to the middle space where the couples were forming. Her last thoughts as she gave him her hand were thoughts half-pitiful and half-scornful of John, David Dain, and the doctor, brutishly content in the refreshment-room.

There stole out, troubling the expectant air, softly, alluringly, invocatively, the first warning notes of that unique classic of the ball-room, that extraordinary composition which more than any other work of art unites all western nations in a common delight, which is adored equally by profound musicians and by the lightest cocottes, and which, unscathed and splendid, still miraculously survives the deadly ordeal of eternal perfunctory reiterance: the masterpiece of Johann Strauss.

'Why,' Leonora exclaimed, her excitement straining impatiently in the leash, 'The Blue Danube!'

He laughed, quietly gay.

While the chords, with tantalising pauses and deliberation, approached the magic moment of the waltz itself, she was conscious that his hold of her became firmer and more assertive, and she surrendered to an overmastering influence as one surrenders to chloroform, desperately, but luxuriously.

And when at the invitation of the melody the whole company in the centre of the floor broke into movement, and the spell was resumed, she lost all remembrance of that which had passed, and all apprehension of that which was to come. She lived, passionately and yet languorously, in the vivid present. Her eyes were level with his shoulder, and they looked with an entranced gaze along his arm, seeing automatically the faces, the lights, and the colours which swam in a rapid confused procession across their field of vision. She did not reason nor recognise. These fleeting images, appearing and disappearing on the horizon of Arthur's elbow, produced no effect on her. She had no thoughts. Her entire being was absorbed in a transport of obedience to the beat of the music, and to Arthur's directing pressures. She was happy, but her bliss had in it that element of stinging pain, of intolerable anticipation, which is seldom absent from a felicity too intense. 'Surely I shall sink down and die!' said her heart, seeming to faint at the joyous crises of the music, which rose and fell in tides of varying rapture. Nevertheless she was determined to drink the cup slowly, to taste every drop of that sweet and excruciating happiness. She would not utterly abandon herself. The fear of inanition was only a wayward pretence, after all, and her strong nature cried out for further tests to prove its fortitude and its power of dissimulation. As the band slipped into the final section of the waltz, she wilfully dragged the time, deepening a little the curious superficial languor which concealed her secrets, and at the same time increasing her consciousness of Arthur's control. She dreaded now that what had been intolerable should cease; she wished ardently to avert the end. The glare of lights, the separate sounds of the instruments, the slurring of feet on the smooth floor, the lineaments of familiar faces, all the multitudinous and picturesque detail of gyrating humanity around her-these phenomena forced themselves on her unwilling perception; and she tried to push them back, and to spend every faculty in savouring the ecstasy of that one physical presence which was so close, so enveloping, and so inexplicably dear. But in vain, in vain! The band rioted through the last bars of the waltz, a strange, disconcerting silence and inertia supervened, and Arthur loosed her.

* * *

As she sat down on the cane chair which Arthur had found, Leonora's characteristic ease of manner deserted her. She felt conspicuous and embarrassed, and she could neither maintain her usual cold nonchalant glance in examining the room, nor look at Arthur in a natural way. She had the illusion that every one must be staring at her with amazed curiosity. Yet her furtive searching eye could not discover a single person except Arthur who seemed to notice her existence. All were preoccupied that night with immediate neighbours.

'Will you come down into the refreshment-room?' Arthur asked. She observed with annoyance that he too was confused, nervous, and still very pale.

She shook her head, without meeting his gaze. She wished above all things to behave simply and sincerely, to speak in her ordinary voice, and to use familiar phrases. But she could not. On the contrary she was seized with a strong impulse to say to him entreatingly: 'Leave me,' as though she were a person on the stage. She thought of other phrases, such as 'Please go away,' and 'Do you mind leaving me for a while?' but her tongue, somehow insisting on the melodramatic, would not utter these.

'Leave me!' She was frightened by her own words, and added hastily, with the most seductive smile that her lips had ever-framed: 'Do you mind?'

'I shall call to-morrow,' he said anxiously, almost gruffly. 'Shall you be in?'

She nodded, and he left her; she did not watch him depart.

'May I have the honour, gracious lady?'

It was the conductor of the opera who addressed her in his even, apparently sarcastic tones.

'I'm afraid I must rest a bit,' she said, smiling quite naturally. 'I've hurt my foot a little-Oh, it's nothing, it's nothing. But I must sit still for a bit.'

She could not comprehend why, unintentionally and without design, she should have told this stupid lie, and told it so persuasively. She foresaw how the tedious consequences of the fiction might continue throughout the evening. For a moment she had the idea of announcing a sprained ankle and of returning home at once. But the thought of old Dr. Hawley's presence in the building deterred her. She perceived that her foot must get gradually better, and that she must be resigned.

'Oh, mamma!' cried Rose, coming up to her. 'Just fancy Mr. Twemlow being back again! But why did you let him leave?'

'Has he gone?'

'Yes. He just saw me on the stairs, and told me he must catch the last car to Knype.'

'Our dance, I think, Miss Rose,' said a young man with a gardenia, and Rose, flushed and sparkling, was carried off. The ball proceeded.

* * *

John Stanway had a singular capacity for not enjoying himself on those social occasions when to enjoy one's self is a duty to the company. But this evening, as the hour advanced, he showed the symptoms of a sharp attack of gaiety such as visited him from time to time. He and Dr. Hawley and Dain formed an ebullient centre of high spirits, and they upheld the ancient traditions; they professed a liking for old-fashioned dances, and for old-fashioned ways of dancing the steps which modern enthusiasm for the waltz had not extinguished. And they found an appreciable number of followers. The organisers of the ball, the upholders of correctness, punctilio, and the mode, fretted and fought against the antagonistic influence. 'Ass!' said the conductor of the opera bitterly when Harry Burgess told him that Stanway had suggested Sir Roger de Coverley for an extra, 'I wonder what his wife thinks of him!' Sir Roger de Coverley was not danced, but twenty or thirty late stayers, with Stanway and Dain in charge, crossed hands in a circle and sang 'Auld Lang Syne' at the close. It was one of those incredible things that can only occur between midnight and cock-crow. During this revolting rite, the conductor and his friends sought sanctuary in the refreshment-room. Leonora, Ethel, and Milly were also there, but Rose and the lady-member of the School Board had remained upstairs to sing 'Auld Lang Syne.'

'Now, girls,' said Stanway with loud good humour, invading the select apartment with his followers, 'time to go. Carpenter's been waiting half-an-hour. Your foot all right again, Nora?'

'Quite,' she replied. 'Are you really ready?'

She had so interminably waited that she could not believe the evening to be at length actually finished.

They all exchanged adieux, Stanway and his cronies effusively, the opposing and outraged faction with a certain fine acrimony. 'Good-night, Fred,' said John, throwing a backward patronising glance at Ryley, who had strolled uneasily into the room. The young man paused before replying. 'Good-night,' he said stiffly, and his demeanour indicated: 'Do not patronise me too much.' Fred could not dance, but he had audaciously sat out four dances with Ethel, at this his first ball, and the serious young man had the strange agreeable sensation of feeling a dog. He dared not, however, accompany Ethel to the carriage, as Harry Burgess accompanied Millicent. Harry had been partially restored to favour again during the latter half of the entertainment, just in time to prevent him from getting tipsy. The fact was that Millicent had vaguely expected, in view of her position as prima donna, to be 'the belle of the ball'; but there had been no belle, and Millicent was put to the inconvenience of discovering that she could do nothing without footlights.

'I asked Twemlow to come up to-morrow night, Nora,' said John, still elated, turning on the box-seat as the waggonette rattled briskly over the paved crossing at the top of Oldcastle Street.

She mumbled something through her furs.

'And is he coming?' asked Rose.

'He said he'd try to.' John lighted a cigar.

'He's very queer,' said Millicent.

'How?' Rose aggressively demanded.

'Well, imagine him going off like that. He's always going off suddenly.' Millicent stopped and then added: 'He only danced with mother. But he's a good dancer.'

'I should think he was!' Ethel murmured, roused from lethargy. 'Isn't he just, mother?'

Leonora mumbled again.

'Your mother's knocked up,' said John drily. 'These late nights don't suit her. So you reckon Mr. Twemlow's a good dancer, eh?'

No one spoke further. John threw his cigar into the road.

Under the rug Leonora could feel the knees of all her daughters as they sat huddled and limp with fatigue in the small body of the waggonette. Her shoulders touched Ethel's, and every one of Milly's fidgety movements communicated itself to her. Mother and children were so close that they could not have been closer had they lain in the same grave. And yet the girls, and John too, had no slightest suspicion how far away the mother was from them, how blind they were, how amazingly they had been deceived. They deemed Leonora to be like themselves, the victim of reaction and weariness; so drowsy that even the joltings of the carriage could not prevent a doze. She marvelled, she could not help marvelling, that her spiritual detachment should remain unnoticed; the phenomenon frightened her as something full of strange risks. Was it possible that none had caught a glimpse of the intense illumination and activity of her brain, burning and labouring there so conspicuously amid the other brains sombre and dormant? And was it possible that the girls had observed the qualities of Arthur's dancing and had observed nothing else? Common sense tried to reassure her, and did not quite succeed. Her attitude resembled that of a person who leans against a firm rail over the edge of a precipice: there is no danger, but the precipice is so deep that he fears; and though the fear is a torture the sinister magnetism of the abyss forbids him to withdraw. She lived again in the waltz; in the gliding motions of it, the delicious fluctuations of the reverse, the long trance-like union, the instinctive avoidances of other contact. She whispered the music, endlessly repeating those poignant and voluptuous phrases which linger in the memory of all the world. And she recalled and reconstituted Arthur's physical presence, and the emanating charm of his disposition, and dwelt on them long and long. Instead of lessening, the secret commotion within her increased and continued to increase. While brooding with feverish joy over the immediate past, her mind reached forward and existed in the appalling and fatal moment, for whose reality however her eagerness could scarcely wait, when she should see him once more. And it asked unanswerable questions about his surprising return from New York, and his pallor, and the tremor in his voice, and his swift departure. Suddenly she knew that she was planning to have the girls out of the house to-morrow afternoon between four and five o'clock.... Her spine shivered, she grew painfully hot, and tears rushed to her eyes. She pitied herself profoundly. She said that she did not know what was the matter with her, or what was going to happen. She could not give names to things. She only felt that she was too violently alive.

'Now, missis,' John roused her. The carriage had stopped and he had already descended. She got out last, and Carpenter drove away while John was still fumbling in his hip-pocket for the latchkey. The night was humid and very dark. Leonora and the girls stood waiting on the gravel, and John groped his way into the blackness of the portico to unfasten the door. A faint gleam from the hall-gas came through the leaded fanlight. This scarcely perceptible glow and the murmur of John's expletives were all that came to the women from the mystery of the house. The key grated in the lock, and the door opened.

'G--d d--n!' Stanway exclaimed distinctly, with fierce annoyance. He had fallen headlong into the hall, and his silk hat could be heard hopping towards the staircase.

'Pa! 'Milly protested, shocked.

John sprang up, fuming, turned the gas on to the full, and rushed back to the doorway.

'Ah!' he shouted. 'I knew it was a tramp lying there. Get up. Is the beggar asleep?'

They all bent down, startled into gravity, to examine a form which lay in the portico, nearly parallel with the step and below it.

'It's Uncle Meshach,' said Ethel. 'Oh! mother!'

'Then my aunt's had another attack,' cried John, 'and he's come up to tell us, and-Milly, run for Carpenter.'

It seemed to Leonora, as with sudden awe she vaguely figured an august and capricious power which conferred experience on mortals like a wonderful gift, that that bestowing hand was never more full than when it had given most.

* * *

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