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   Chapter 10 IN THE GARDEN

Leonora By Arnold Bennett Characters: 50387

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


'Father's in a horrid temper. Did anything go wrong?' said Rose, when Leonora reached Hillport.

'No,' Leonora replied. 'Where is he?'

'In the drawing-room. He says he won't have any tea.'

'You must remember, my dear, that your father has been through a great deal this last day or two.'

'So have all of us, as far as that goes,' Rose stated ruthlessly. 'However--' She turned away, shrugging her shoulders.

Leonora wondered by means of what sad experience Rose would ultimately discover that, whereas men have the right to cry out when they are hurt, it is the whole business of a woman's life to suffer in cheerful silence. She sat with the girls during tea, drinking a cup for the sake of form, and giving them disconnected items of information about the funeral, which at their own passionate request they had been excused from attending. The talk was carried on in low tones, so that the rattle of a spoon in a saucer sounded loud and distinct. And in the drawing-room John steadily perused the 'Signal,' column by column, from the announcement of 'Pink Dominoes' at the Hanbridge Theatre Royal on the first page, to the bait of a sporting bookmaker in Holland at the end of the last. The evening was desolating, but Leonora endured it with philosophy, because she appreciated John's state of mind.

It was the disclosure of the legacy of two hundred and fifty pounds to Fred Ryley, and of the recent conditional revocation of that legacy, which had galled her husband's sensibilities by bringing home to him what he had lost through Aunt Hannah's sudden death and through the senile whim of Uncle Meshach to alter his will. He could well have tolerated Meshach's refusal to distribute Aunt Hannah's savings immediately (Leonora thought), had the old man's original testament remained uncancelled. Once upon a time, Ryley, the despised poor relation, the offspring of an outcast from the family, was to have been put off with two hundred and fifty pounds, and the bulk of the Myatt joint fortune was to have passed in any case to John. The withdrawal of the paltry legacy, as shown in the codicil, was the outward and irritating sign that Ryley had been lifted from his humble position to the level of John himself. John, of course, had known months ago that he and Ryley stood level in the hazard of gaining the inheritance, but the history of the legacy, revealed after the funeral, aroused his disgusted imagination, as it had not been roused before.

He was beaten; and, more important, he knew it now; he had the incensed, futile, malevolent, devil-may-care feeling of being beaten. He bitterly invited Fate not to stop at half-measures but to come on and do her worst. And Fate, with that mysterious responsiveness which often distinguishes her movements, came on. 'Of course! I might have expected it!' John exclaimed savagely, two days later, when he received a circular to the effect that a small and desperate minority of shareholders were trying to put the famous brewery company into liquidation under the supervision of the Court. The shares fell another five in twenty-four hours. The Bursley Conservative Club knew positively the same night that John had 'got out' at a ruinous loss, and this episode seemed to give vigorous life to certain rumours, hitherto faint, that John and his uncle had violently quarrelled at his aunt's funeral, and that when Meshach died Fred Ryley would be found to be the heir. Other rumours, that Ethel Stanway and Fred Ryley were about to be secretly married, that Dain would have been the owner of Prince but for the difference between guineas and pounds, and that the real object of Arthur Twemlow's presence in the Five Towns was to buy up the concern of Twemlow & Stanway, were received with reserve, though not entirely discredited. The town, however, was more titillated than perturbed, for every one said that old Meshach, for the sake of the family's good name, would never under any circumstances permit a catastrophe to occur. The town saw little of Meshach now-he had almost ceased to figure in the streets; it knew, however, the Myatt pride in the Myatt respectability.

* * *

Leonora sympathised with John, but her sympathy, weakened by his surliness, was also limited by her ignorance of his real plight, and by the secret preoccupation of her own existence. From the evening of the funeral the desire to see Arthur again, to study his features, to hear his voice, definitely took the uppermost place in her mind. She thought of him always, and she ceased to pretend to herself that this was not so. She continually expected him to call, or to meet some one who had met him, or to receive a letter from him. She forced her memory to reconstitute in detail his last visit to Hillport, and all the exacerbating scene of the funeral feast, in order that she might dwell tenderly upon his gestures, his glances, his remarks, the inflections of his voice. The eyes of her soul were ever beholding his form. Even at breakfast, after the disappointment of the post, she would indulge in ridiculous hopes that he might be abroad very early and would look in, and not until bedtime did she cease to listen for his ring at the front door. No chance of a meeting was too remote for her wild fancy. But she dared not breathe his name, dared not even adumbrate an inquiry; and her husband and daughters appeared to have entered into a compact not to mention him. She did not take counsel with herself, examine herself, demand from herself what was the significance of these symptoms; she could not; she could only live from one moment to the next engrossed in an eternal expectancy which instead of slackening became hourly more intense and painful. Towards the close of the afternoon of the third day, in the drawing-room, she whispered that something decisive must happen soon, soon.... The bell rang; her ears caught the distant sound for which they had so long waited. Shuddering, she thanked heaven that she was alone. She could hear the opening and closing of the front door. In three seconds Bessie would appear. She heard the knob of the drawing-room door turn, and to hide her agitation she glanced aside at the clock. It was a quarter to six. 'He will stay the evening,' she thought.

'Mr. Dain,' Bessie proclaimed.

'Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Stanway? Stanway not come in yet, eh?' said the stout lawyer, approaching her hurriedly with his fussy, awkward gait.

She could have laughed; but the visit was at any rate a distraction.

A few minutes later John arrived.

'Dain will stay for tea, Nora. Eh, Dain?' he said.

'Well-thanks,' was Dain's reply.

She asked herself, with sudden misgiving, what new thing was afoot.

After tea, the two men were left together at the table.

'Mother,' Ethel inquired eagerly, coming into the drawing-room, 'why are father and Mr. Dain measuring the dining-room?'

'I don't know,' said Leonora. 'Are they?'

'Yes, Mr. Dain has got ever such a long tape.'

Leonora went into the kitchen and talked to the cook.

The next morning an idea occurred to her. Since the funeral, the girls had been down to see Uncle Meshach each afternoon, and Leonora had called at Church Street in the forenoon, so that the solitude of the old man might be broken at least twice a day. When she had suggested the arrangement to her husband, John had answered stiffly, with an unimpeachable righteousness, that everything possible must be done for his uncle. On this fourth day, Leonora sent Ethel and Milly in the morning, with a message that she herself would come in the afternoon, by way of change. The phrase that sang in her head was Arthur's promise to Meshach: 'I shall call in a day or two.' She knew that he had not yet called. 'Don't wait tea, if I should be late, dears,' she said smilingly to the girls; 'I may stay with uncle a while.' And she nearly ran out of the house.

* * *

When they had had tea, and when Leonora had performed the delicate feat of arranging Uncle Meshach's domestic affairs without affronting his servant, she sat down opposite to him before the fire in the parlour.

'You're for stopping a bit, eh?' he said, as if surprised.

'Well,' she laughed, 'wouldn't you like me to?'

'Oh, ay!' he admitted readily, 'I'st like it well enough. I don't know but what you aren't all on ye very good-you and th' wenches, and Fred as calls in of nights. But it's all one to me, I reckon. I take no pleasure i' life. Nay,' he went on, 'it isn't because of her. I've felt as I was done for for months past. I mun just drag on.'

'Don't talk like that, uncle.' She tried conventionally to cheer him. 'You must rouse yourself.'

'What for?'

She sought a good answer to this conundrum. 'For all of us,' she said lamely, at length.

'Leonora, my lass,' he remarked drily, 'you're no better than the rest of 'em.'

And as she sat there in the age-worn parlour, and thought of the distant days of his energy, when with his own hands he had pulled down a wall and replaced it by a glass partition, and of the night when he lay like a corpse on Ethel's bed at the mercy of his nephew, and of Aunt Hannah resting in the cold tomb just at the end of the street, her heart was filled for a moment with an awful, ineffable, devastating sadness. It seemed to her that every grief, anxiety, apprehension was joy itself compared to this supreme tragedy of natural decay.

'Shall I light the gas?' she suggested. The room was always obscure, and that evening happened to be a sombre one.

'Ay!'

'There!' she said brightly, when the gas flared, 'that's better, isn't it? Aren't you going to smoke?'

'Ay!'

In reaching a second spill from the spill-jar on the mantelpiece she noticed the clock. It was only a quarter past five. 'He may call yet,' she dreamed, and then a more piquant thought: 'He may be at home when I get back.'

There was a perfunctory knock at the house-door. She started.

'It's the "Signal" lad,' Meshach explained. 'He keeps on bringing it, but I never look at it.'

She went into the lobby for the paper, and then read aloud to Uncle Meshach the items of local news. The clock showed a quarter to six. Suddenly it struck her that Arthur Twemlow might have called quite early in the afternoon and that Meshach might have forgotten to tell her. If he had perchance called, and perchance informed Meshach that he was going on to Hillport, and if he had walked up by the road while she came down by the fields! The idea was too dreadful.

'Has Mr. Twemlow been to see you yet?' she demanded, after a long silence, pretending to be interested in the 'Signal.'

'No,' said Meshach; 'why dost ask?'

'I remembered he said he should.'

'He'll come, he'll come,' Meshach murmured confidently. 'Dain's been in,' he added, 'wi' papers to sign, probate o' Hannah's will. Seemingly John's not satisfied, from what Dain hints.'

'Not satisfied with what?' Flushing a little, she dropped the paper; but she was still busily employed in expecting Arthur to arrive.

'Eh, I canna' tell you, lass.' Meshach gave a grim sigh. 'You know as I altered my will?'

'Jack mentioned it.'

'Me and her, we thought it over. It was her as first said that Fred was getting a nice young chap, and very respectable, and why should he be left out in the cold? And so I says to her, I says, "Well, you can make your will i' favour o' Fred, if you've a mind." "Nay, Meshach," her says, "never ask me to cut out our John's name." "Well," I says to her, "if you won't, I will. It'll give 'em both an even chance. Us'n die pretty near together, me and you, Hannah, it'll be a toss-up," I says. Wasn't that fair?' Leonora made no reply. 'Wasn't that fair?' he repeated.

She could not be sure, even then, whether Uncle Meshach had devised in perfect seriousness this extraordinary arrangement for dealing justly between the surviving members of the Myatt family, or whether he had always had a private humorous appreciation of the fantastic element in it.

'I don't know,' she said.

'Well, lass,' he continued persuasively, sitting up in his chair, 'us ignored young Fred for more till twenty year. And it wasna' right. Hannah said it wasna' right as Fred should suffer for his mother and his grandfeyther. And then us give Fred and your John an equal chance, and John's lost, and now John isna' satisfied, by all accounts.' She gazed at him with a gentle smile. 'Why dostna' speak, lass?'

'What am I to say, uncle?'

'Wouldst like me to make a new will, and halve it between John and Fred? It wouldna' be fair to Fred, not rightly fair, because he's run his risk for th' lot. But wouldst like it, lass?'

There was a trace of the old vitality in his shrivelled features, as he laid this offering on the altar of her feminine charm.

'Oh, do, uncle!' she was about to say eagerly, but she thought in the same instant of John standing over Meshach's body, with the ice-cold cloth in his hand, and something, some dim instinct of a fundamental propriety, prevented her from uttering those words. 'I would like you to do whatever you think right,' she answered with calmness.

Meshach was evidently disappointed.

'I shall see,' he ejaculated. And after a pause, 'John's i' smooth water again, isn't he? I meant to ask Dain.'

'I think so,' said Leonora.

She had become restive. Soon afterwards she bade him good-night and departed. And all the way up to Hillport she speculated upon the chances of finding Arthur in her drawing-room when she got home.

* * *

As she passed through the hall she knew at once that Arthur was not in the house and had not been there; and the agitation of her heart subsided suddenly into the melancholy stillness of defeated hope. She sadly admitted that she no longer knew herself, and that the Leonora of old had been supplanted by a creature of incalculable moods, a feeble victim of strange crises of secret folly. Through the open door of the drawing-room she could see Rose reading, and Millicent searching among a pile of music on the piano. Bessie emerged from the dining-room with a white cloth and the crumb-tray.

'Master's in there,' said Bessie; 'they didn't wait tea, ma'am.'

Leonora went into the dining-room, where John sat alone at the bare mahogany, smoking. With her deep knowledge of him, she detected instantly that he had been annoyed by her absence from tea. The condition of the sharp end of his cigar showed that he was perturbed, fretful, and perhaps in a state of suspense. 'Well,' she thought with resignation, 'I may as well play the wife,' and she sat down in a chair near him, put her purse on the table, and smiled generously. Then she raised her veil, loosed the buttons of her new black coat, and began to draw off her gloves.

'I've been waiting for you,' he said, and to her surprise his tone was extremely pacific.

'Have you?' she answered, intensifying all her alluring grace. 'I hurried home.'

'Yes, I wanted to ask you--' He stopped, ostensibly to put the cigar into his meerschaum holder.

She perceived that the desire to ingratiate fought within him against his vexation, and she wondered, with a touch of cynicism, what new scheme had got possession of him, and how her assistance was necessary to it.

'Would you like to go and live in the country, Nora?' He looked at her audaciously for a moment and then his eyes shifted.

'For the summer, you mean?'

'Yes,' he said, 'for the summer and the winter too. Somewhere out Sneyd way.'

'And leave here?'

'Exactly.'

'But what about the house, Jack?'

'Sell it, if you like,' said John lightly.

'Oh, no! I shouldn't like that at all,' she replied, nervously but amiably. She wished to believe that his suggestion about selling the house was merely an idle notion thrown out on the spur of the moment, but she could not.

'You wouldn't?'

She shook her head. 'What has made you think of going to live in the country?' she asked him, using a tone of gentle, mild curiosity. 'How should you get to the works in the morning?'

'There's a very good train service from Sneyd to Knype,' he said. 'But look here, Nora, why wouldn't you care to sell the house?'

It was perfectly clear to her that, having mortgaged her house, he had now made up his mind to sell it. He must therefore still be in financial difficulties, and she had unwittingly misled Uncle Meshach.

'I don't know,' she answered coldly. 'I can't explain to you why. But I shouldn't.' And she privately resolved that nothing should induce her to assent to this monstrous proposal. Her heart hardened to steel. She felt prepared to suffer any unpleasantness, any indignity, rather than give way.

'It isn't as if Hillport wasn't changing,' he went on, politely argumentative. 'It is changing. In another ten years all the decent estates will have been broken up, and we shall be left alone in the middle of streets of villas rented at nineteen guineas to escape the house duty. You know the sort of thing.... And I've had a very fair offer for the place.'

'Whom from?'

'Well, Dain. I know he's wanted the house a long time. Of course, he's a hard nut to crack, is Dain. But he went up to two thousand, and yesterday I got him to make it guineas. That's a good price, Nora.'

'Is it?' she exclaimed absently.

'I should just imagine it was!' said John.

So it was expected of her that she should surrender her home, her domain, her kingdom, the beautiful and mellow creation of her intelligence; and that she should surrender it to David Dain, and to the impossible Mrs. Dain, and to their impossible niece. She remembered one of Milly's wicked tales about Mrs. Dain and the niece. Milly had met Mrs. Dain in the street, and in response to an inquiry about the health of the hypochondriacal niece, Mrs. Dain, gorgeously attired, had replied: 'Her had but just rallied up off th' squab as I come out.' These were the people who wanted to evict her from her house. And they would cover its walls with new papers, and its floors with new carpets, in their own appalling taste; and they would crowd the rooms with furniture as fat, clumsy, and disgusting as themselves. And Mrs. Dain would hold sewing meetings in the drawing-room, and would stand chattering with tradesmen at the front door, and would drive out to Sneyd to pay a call on Leonora and tell her how pleased they all were with the place!

'Do you absolutely need the money, John?' She came to the point with a frank, blunt directness which angered him.

'I don't absolutely need anything,' he retorted, controlling himself. 'But Dain made the offer--'

'Because if you do,' she proceeded, 'I dare say Uncle Meshach--'

'Look here, my girl,' he interrupted in turn, 'I've had exactly as much of Uncle Meshach as I can stand. I know all about Uncle Meshach, what I wanted to know was whether you cared to sell the house.' And then he added, after hesitating, and with a false graciousness, 'To oblige me.'

There was a marked pause.

'I really shouldn't like to sell the house, John,' she answered quietly. 'It was aunt's, and--'

'Enough said! enough said!' he cried. 'That finishes it. I suppose you don't mind my having asked you!'

He walked out of the room in a rage.

Tears came into her eyes, the tears of a wounded and proud heart. Was it conceivable that he expected her to be willing to sell her house?... He must indeed be in serious straits. She would consult Uncle Meshach.

The front door banged. And then Rose entered the room.

Leonora drove back the tears.

'Your father has been suggesting that we sell this house, and go and live at Sneyd,' she said to the girl in a trembling voice. 'Aren't you surprised?' She seldom talked about John to her daughters, but at that moment a desire for sympathy overwhelmed her.

'I should never be surprised at anything where father was concerned,' said Rose coldly, with a slight hint of aloofness and of mental superiority. 'Not at anything.'

Leonora got up, and, leaving the room, went into the garden through the side door opposite the stable. She could hear Millicent practising the Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust. As she passed down the sombre garden the sound of the piano and of Milly's voice in the brilliant ecstatic phrases of the song grew fainter. She shook violently, like a child who is recovering from a fit of sobs, and without thinking she fastened her coat. 'What a shame it is that he should want to sell my house! What a shame!' she murmured, full of an aggrieved resentment. At the same time she was surprised to find herself so suddenly and so deeply disturbed.

* * *

At the foot of the long garden was a low fence separating it from the meadow, and in the fence a wicket from which ran a faint track to the main field-path. She leaned against the fence, a few yards away from the wicket, at a spot where a clump of bushes screened the house. No one could possibly have seen her from the house, even had the bushes not been there; but she wished to isolate herself completely, and to find tranquillity in the isolation. The calm spring night, chill but not too cold, cloudy but not too dark, favoured her intention. She gazed about her at the obscure nocturnal forms of things, at the silent trees, and the mysterious clouds gently rounded in their vast shape, and the sharp slant of the meadow. Far below could be seen the red signal of the railway, and, mapped in points of light on the opposite slope, the streets of Bursley. To the right the eternal conflagration of the Cauldon Bar furnaces illumined the sky with wavering amber. And on the keen air came to her from the distance noises, soft but impressive, of immense industrial activities.

She thought she could decipher a figure moving from the field-path across the gloom of the meadow, and as she strained her eyes the figure became an indubitable fact. Presently she knew that it was Arthur. 'At last!' her heart passionately exclaimed, and she was swept and drenched with happiness as a ship by the ocean. She forgot everything in the tremendous shock of joy. She felt as though she could have waited no more, and that now she might expire in a bliss intense and fatal, in a sigh of supreme content. She could not stir nor speak, and he was striding towards the wicket unconscious of her nearness! She coughed, a delicate feminine cough, and then he turned aside from the direction of the wicket and approached the fence, peering.

'Is that you?' he asked.

'Yes.'

Across the fence they clasped hands. And in spite of her great wish not to do so she clutched his hand tightly in her long fingers, and held it for a moment. And as she felt the returning pressure of his large, powerful, protective grasp, she covered-but in imagination only-she covered his face, which she could shadowily see, with brave and abandoned kisses; and she whispered to him, but unheard: 'Admit that I am made for love.' She feared, in those beautiful and shameless instants, neither John, nor Ethel and Milly, nor even Rose. She knew suddenly why men and women leave all-honour, duty, and affection-and follow love. Then her arm dropped, and there was silence.

'What are you doing here?' She was unable to speak in an ordinary tone, but she spoke. Her voice exquisitely trembled, and its vibrations said everything that the words did not say.

'Why,' he answered, and his voice too bore strange messages, 'I called at Church Street and Mr. Myatt said you had only been gone a few minutes, and so I came right away. I guessed I should overtake you. I don't know what he would think.' Arthur laughed nervously.

She smiled at him, satisfied. And how well she knew that her smiling face, caught by him dimly in the obscurity of the night, troubled him like an enchanting and enigmatic vision!

After they had looked at each other, speechless, for a while, the strong influence of convention forced them again into unnecessary, irrelevant talk.

'What's this about you selling this place?' he inquired in a low, mild tone.

'Have you heard?'

'Yes,' he said, 'I did hear something.'

'Ah!' she murmured, wrinkling her forehead in a pretty make-believe of woe-the question of the sale had ceased to be acute: 'I just came out here to think about it.'

'But you aren't really going to--'

'No, of course not.'

She had no desire to discuss the tedious affair, because she was infallibly certain of his entire sympathy. Explanations on her side, and assurances on his, were equally superfluous.

'But won't you come into the house?' She invited him as a sort of afterthought.

'Why?' he demanded bluntly.

She hesitated before replying: 'It will look so queer, us staying here like this.' As soon as she had uttered the words she suspected that she had said something decisive and irretrievable.

He put his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and walked several times to and fro a few paces. Then he stopped in front of her.

'I guess we are bound to look queer, you and I, some day. So it may as well be now,' he said.

It was in this exchange of sentences that their mutual passion became at length articula

te. A single discreet word spoken quickly, and she might even yet perhaps have withdrawn from the situation. But she did not speak; she could not speak; and soon she knew that her own silence had bound her. She yielded herself with poignant and magnificent joy to the profound drama which had been magically created by this apparently commonplace dialogue. The climax had been achieved, and she was conscious of being lifted into a sublime exultation, and of being cut off from all else in the world save him. She looked at him intently with a sadness that was the cloak of celestial rapture. 'How courageous you are!' her soft eyes said. 'I should never have dared. What a man!' It seemed to her that her heart would break under the strain of that ecstasy. She had not imagined the possibility of such bliss.

'Listen!' he proceeded. 'I ought to be in New York-I oughtn't to be here. I must tell you. Scarcely a fortnight ago, one afternoon while I was working in my office in Fourteenth Street, I had a feeling I would be bound to come over. I said to myself the idea was preposterous. But the next thing I knew I was arranging to come. I couldn't believe I was coming. Not even when I had booked my berth and boarded the steamer, not even when the steamer was actually passing Sandy Hook, could I believe that I was really coming. I said to myself I was mad. I said to myself that no man in his senses could behave as I was behaving. And when I got to Southampton I said I would go right back. And yet I couldn't help getting into the special for London. And when I got to London I said I would act sensible and go back. But I met young Burgess, and the next thing I knew I was at Euston. And here I am pretending that it's my new London branch that brings me over, and doing business I don't want to do in Knype and Cauldon and Bursley. And I'm killing myself-yes, I am; I tell you I couldn't stand much more-and I wouldn't be sure I wasn't killing you. Some folks would say the whole thing was perfectly dreadful, but I don't care so long as you-so long as you don't. I'm not conceited really, but it looks like conceit-me talking like this and assuming that you're ready to stand and listen. I assure you it isn't conceit. I only know-that's all. It's difficult for you to say anything-I can feel that-but I'd like you just to tell me you're glad I came and glad I've spoken. I'd just like to hear that.'

She gazed fondly at him, at the male creature in whom she could find only perfection, and she was filled with glorious pride that her image should have drawn this strong, shrewd self-possessed man across the Atlantic. It was incredible, but it was true. 'And,' said the secret feminine in her, 'why not?'

He waited for her answer, facing her.

'Oh, yes!' she breathed. 'Oh, yes!... I'm glad-I'm so glad.'

'I wish,' he broke out, 'I wish I could explain to you what I think of you, what I feel about you. You're so quiet and simple and direct and yet-you don't know it, but you are. You're absolutely the most-Oh! it's no use.'

She saw that he was growing very excited, and this, too, gave her deep pleasure.

'We're in a hell of a fix!' he sighed.

Like many women, she took a fearful, almost thrilling joy in hearing a man swear earnestly and religiously.

'That's it,' she said, 'there's nothing to be done?'

'Nothing to be done?' he demanded, imperiously. 'Nothing to be done?'

She examined his face, which was close to hers, with a meditative, expectant smile. She loved to see him out of repose, eager, masterful, and daring. 'What is there to be done?' she asked.

'I don't know yet,' he said firmly, 'I must think.' Then, in a delicious surrender, she felt towards him as though they were on the brink of a rushing river, and he was about to pick her up in his arms, like a trifle, and carry her safely through the flood; and she had the illusion of pressing her face, which she knew he adored, against his shoulder.

'Oh, you innocent angel!' he cried, seizing her hand (she let it lie inert), 'do you suppose I'm the sort of man to sit down and cross my legs and say that fate, or whatever you call it, hasn't done me right? Do you suppose that two sensible persons like you and me are going to be beaten by a mere set of circumstances? We aren't children, and we aren't fools.'

'But--'

'You're not afraid, are you?' He drank in her charm.

'What of?'

'Anything.'

'It's when you aren't there,' she murmured tenderly. She really thought, then, that by some marvellous plan he would perform the impossible feat of reconciling the duty of fulfilling love with all the other duties.

'I shall reckon it up,' he said. 'Ah!'

Silence fell. And with the feel of the grass under her feet, and the soft clouds overhead, and the patient trees, and the glare in the southern smoke, and the lamps of Bursley, and the solitary red signal in the valley, she breathed out her spirit like an aerial essence, and merged into unity with him. And the strange far-off noises of nocturnal industry wandered faintly across the void and seemed fraught with a mysterious significance. Everything, in that unique hour, had the same mysterious significance.

'Mother!' Millicent's distant voice, fresh and strong and pure in the night, chanted the word startlingly to the first notes of a phrase from the Jewel Song. 'Mother! Aren't you coming in?' The girl finished the phrase with inviting gaiety, holding the final syllable. And the sound faded, went out, like the flare of a rocket in the sky, and the dark stillness was emphasised.

They did not move; they did not speak; but Leonora pressed his hand. The passing thought of the orderly, multifarious existence of the house behind her, of the warmed and lighted rooms, of the preoccupied lives, only increased the felicity of her halcyon dream. And in the dreamy and brooding silence all things retreated and gradually lapsed away, and the pair were left sole amid the ineffable spaces of the universe to listen to the irregular beatings of their own hearts. Time itself had paused.

'Mother!' Millicent sang again, nearer, more strongly and purely in the night. 'We are waiting for you to come in!' She varied a little the phrase from the Jewel Song. 'To come in!' The long sustained notes seemed to become a beautiful warning, and then the sound expired.

Leonora withdrew her hand.

'I shall think it out, and write you to-morrow,' Arthur whispered, and was gone.

* * *

The next day, after a futile morning of hesitations, Leonora decided in the afternoon that she would go out for a walk and return in some definite state of mind. She loosed Bran, and the dog, when he had finished his elephantine gambades, followed her close at heel, with all stateliness, to the wide marsh on the brow of the hill. Here she began actively and seriously to cogitate.

John was sulking; and it was seldom that he sulked. He had not spoken to her again, neither on the previous evening nor at breakfast; he had said nothing whatever to any one, except to tell Bessie that he should not be at home for dinner; on committee-meeting days, when he was engaged at the Town Hall, John sometimes dined at the Tiger. His attitude produced small effect on Leonora. She was far too completely absorbed in herself to be perturbed by the offensive symptoms of her husband's wrath. She had neglected even to call on Uncle Meshach; and as she strolled about the marsh she thought vaguely and perfunctorily that she must see Uncle Meshach soon and acquaint him with John's difficulties.

Pride as much as joy and alarm filled her heart. She was proud of her perilous love; she would have liked proudly to confide it to some friend, some mature and brilliant woman who knew the world and understood things, and who would talk rationally; it seemed to her that this secret idyll, at once tender and sincere and rather dashing, was worthy of pride. She knew that many women, languishing in the greyness of an impeccable and frigid domesticity, would be capable of envying her; she remembered that, in reading the newspapers, she had sometimes timidly envied the heroines of the matrimonial court who had bought romance at the price of esteem and of peace. Then suddenly the whole matter slipped into unreality, and she could not credit it. Was it possible that she, a respectable matron, a known figure, the mother of adult daughters, had fallen in love with a man not her husband, had had a secret interview with her lover, and was anticipating, not a retreat, but an advance? And she thought, as every honest woman has thought in like case: 'This may happen to others; one hears of it, one reads about it; but surely it cannot have happened to me!' And when she had admitted that it had in fact happened to her, and had perceived with a kind of shock that the heroines of the matrimonial court were real persons, everyday creatures of flesh-and-blood, she thought, again like the rest: 'Ah! But my affair is different from all the others. There is something in it, something indefinable and precious, which makes it different.'

She said: 'Can one help falling in love? Can one be blamed for that?'

For John she had little compassion, and the gay and feverish existence of New York spread out invitingly before her in a vision full of piquant contrasts with the death-in-life of the Five Towns! But her beloved girls! They were an insuperable barrier. She could not leave them; she could not forfeit the right to look them in the eyes without embarrassment ... And then the next moment-somehow, she did not know how-the difficulty of the girls was arranged. And she had departed. She had left the Five Towns for ever. And she was in the train, in the hotel, on the steamer; she saw every detail of the escape. Oh! The rapture! The tremors! The long sigh! The surrender! The intense living! Surely no price could be too great....

No! Common sense, the acquirement of forty years, supervened, and informed her wild heart, with all the cold arrogance of sagacity, that these imaginings were vain. She felt that she must write a brief and firm letter to Arthur and tell him to desist. She saw with extraordinary clearness that this course was inevitable. And lest her resolution might slacken, she turned instantly towards home and began to hurry. The dog glanced up questioningly, and hurried too.

'Why!' she reflected. 'People would say: "And her husband's aunt scarcely cold in her grave!"' She laughed scornfully.

A carriage overtook her. It was Mrs. Dain's, coming from the direction of Oldcastle.

'Good afternoon to you,' Mrs. Dain shouted, without stopping, and then, when she caught sight of Bran: 'Bless us! The dog hasn't brukken his leg after all!'

'Broken his leg!' Leonora repeated, astonished. The carriage was now in front of her.

'Our Polly come in this morning and sat hersen down on a chair and told us as your dog had brukken his leg. What tales one hears!' Mrs. Dain had to twist her stout neck dangerously in order to finish the sentence.

'I should think so!' was Leonora's private comment, her gaze fixed on the scarlet of Mrs. Dain's nodding bonnet.

In the little room off the dining-room Leonora dipped pen in ink to write to Arthur. She wrote the date, and she wrote the word 'Dear.' And she could not proceed. She knew that she could not compose a letter which would be effective. She went to the window and looked out, biting the pen. 'What am I to do?' she whispered, in terror. 'What am I to do?' Then she saw Ethel running hard down the drive to the front door.

'Oh, mother!' The pale girl burst into the room. 'Father's done something to himself. Fred's come up. They're bringing him.'

* * *

John Stanway had called at the chemist's in the Market Place and had given a circumstantial description of an accident to Bran. It appeared that while Carpenter was washing the waggonette, Bran being loose in the stable-yard, the groom had suddenly slipped the lever of the carriage-jack and the off hind wheel had caught Bran's hind leg and snapped it like a piece of wood. The chemist had suggested prussic acid, and John had laughingly answered that perhaps the chemist would be good enough to come up and show them how to administer prussic acid to a dog of Bran's size in great pain. John explained that the animal was now fast by the collar, and he had demanded a large dose of morphia, together with a hypodermic instrument. Having obtained these, and precise instructions for their use, John had hurried away. It was not till three hours had elapsed that a startling suspicion had disturbed the chemist's easy mind. By that time, his preparations completed, John had dropped unconscious from the arm-chair in his office at the works, and Bursley was provided with one of those morbid sensations which more than joy or triumph electrify the stagnant pulses of a provincial town. Scores of persons followed the cab which conveyed Stanway from the works to his house; and on the route most of the inhabitants seemed to know in advance, by some strange intuition, that the vehicle was coming, and at their windows or at their gates (according to social status) they stood ready to watch it pass. And even after John had entered his home and had been carried upstairs, and the cab and the policeman had gone, and the doctor had gone, and Fred Ryley and Mr. Mayer, the works manager, had gone, a crowd still remained on the footpath, staring at the gravelled drive and at the front door, silent, patient, implacable.

The doctor had tried hot coffee, artificial respiration, and other remedies, but without the least success, and he had reluctantly departed, solemn for once, leaving four women to understand that there was nothing to do save to wait for the final sigh. The inactivity was dreadful for them. They could only look at each other and think, and move to and fro aimlessly in the large bedroom, and light the gas at dusk, and examine from moment to moment those contracted pupils and that damp white brow, and listen for the faint occasional breaths. They did not think the thoughts which, could they have foreseen the situation, they might have expected to think. It did not occur to them to search for the causes of the disaster, nor to speculate upon its results in regard to themselves: they surrendered to the supreme fact. They were all incapable of logical and ordered reflections, and in the hushed torpor of their secret hearts there wandered, loosely, little disconnected ideas and sensations; as that the Stanway family was at length getting its full share of vicissitude and misfortune, that John was after all more important and more truly dominant and more intimately a part of their lives than they had imagined, that this affair was a thousand miles removed from that of Uncle Meshach, that they were fully supplied with mourning, and that suicide was mysteriously different from their previous notion of it. The impressive thoughts, the obvious thoughts-that if their creeds were sound, a soul was about to enter into eternal torment, and that their lives would be violently changed, and that they would be branded before the world as the wife and the daughters of a defaulter and a self-murderer-did not by any means absorb their minds in those first hours.

In the attitude of the girls towards Leonora there was a sort of religious deference, as of priestesses to one soon to be sacrificed. 'She is the central figure of the tragedy,' they had the air of saying to each other. 'We feel the affliction, but it cannot be demanded from us that we should feel it as she feels it. We are only beginning to live; we have the future; but she-she will have nothing. She will be the widow.' And the significance of that terrible word-all that it implied of social diminishment, of feeding on memory, and of mere waiting for death-seemed to cling about Leonora as she stood restlessly observant by the bed. And when Rose urged her to drink some tea, she could not help drinking the tea humbly, from a sense of the duty of doing what she was told. It was not Rose's fault that Rose was superior, and that only twenty-four hours ago she had coldly informed her mother that no act of her father's would surprise her. Leonora resigned herself to humility.

'Mamma,' said Millicent, creeping into the room after an absence, 'Uncle Meshach is here with Mr. Twemlow, and he says he's coming in. Must he?'

'Of course, darling,' Leonora answered, without turning her head.

Uncle Meshach appeared, leaning on his stick and on Arthur's arm. He wore his overcoat and even his hat, and a white knitted muffler encircled his shrivelled neck in loose folds. No one spoke as the old and feeble man, with short uncertain steps, drew Arthur towards the bed and gazed at his dying nephew. Meshach looked long, and sighed. Suddenly he demanded of Leonora in a whisper:

'Is he unconscious?'

Leonora nodded.

Drawing a little nearer to the bed, Meshach signed to Millicent to approach, and gave her his stick. Then he unbuttoned his overcoat, and his coat, and the flap-pocket of his trousers, and after much searching found a box of matches. He shook out a match clumsily, and struck it, and came still nearer to the bed. All wondered apprehensively what the old man was going to do, but none dared interfere or protest because he was so old, and so precariously attached to life, and because he was the head of the family. With his thin, veined, trembling hand, he passed the lighted match close across John's eyeballs; not a muscle twitched. Then he extinguished the match, put it in the box, returned the box to his pocket, and buttoned the pocket and his coats.

'Ay!' he breathed. 'The lad's unconscious right enough. Let's be going.'

Taking his stick from Milly, he clutched Arthur's arm again, and very slowly left the room.

After a moment's hesitation Leonora followed and overtook them at the bottom of the stairs; it was the first time she had forsaken the bedside. She was surprised to see Fred Ryley in the hall, self-conscious but apparently determined to be quite at home. She remembered that he said he should come up again as soon as he had arranged matters at the works.

'Just take Mr. Myatt to the cab, will you?' said Twemlow quietly to Fred. 'I'll follow.'

'Certainly,' Fred agreed, pulling his moustache nervously. 'Now, Mr. Myatt, let me help you.'

'Ay!' said Meshach. 'Thou shalt help me if thou'n a mind.' As he was feeling for the step with his stick he stopped and looked round at Leonora. 'Lass!' he exclaimed, 'thou toldst me John was i' smooth water.' Then he departed and they could hear his shuffling steps on the gravel.

Twemlow glanced inquiringly at Leonora.

'Come in here,' she said briefly, pointing to the drawing-room. They entered; it was dark.

'Your uncle made me drive up with him,' Arthur explained, as if in apology.

She ignored the remark. 'You must go back to New York-at once,' she told him, in a dry, curt voice.

'Yes,' he assented, 'I suppose I'd better.'

'And don't write to me-until after I have written.'

'Oh, but--' he began.

She thought wildly: 'This man, with his reason and his judgment, has not the slightest notion how I feel, not the slightest!'

'I must write,' he said in a persuasive tone.

'No!' she cried passionately and vehemently. 'You aren't to write, and you aren't to see me. You must promise, absolutely.'

'For how long?' he asked.

She shook her head. 'I don't know, I can't tell.'

'But isn't that rather--'

'Will you promise?' she cried once more, quite loudly and almost fiercely. And her accents were so full of entreaty, of command, and of despair, that Arthur feared a nervous crisis for her.

'If you wish it,' he said, forced to yield.

And even then she could not be content.

'You give me your word to do nothing at all until you hear from me?'

He paused, but he saw no alternative to submission. 'Yes.'

She thanked him, and without shaking hands or saying good-night she went upstairs and resumed her place by the bedside. She could hear Uncle Meshach's cab drive away.

'How came Mr. Twemlow to be here, mother?' Rose demanded quietly.

'I don't know,' Leonora replied. 'He must have been at uncle's.'

When the doctor had been again and gone, and various neighbours and the 'Signal' reporter had called to inquire for news, and the hour was growing late, Ethel said to her mother, 'Fred thinks he had better stay all night.'

'But why?' Leonora asked.

'Well, mother,' said Milly, 'it's just as well to have a man in the house.'

'He can rest on the Chesterfield in the drawing-room,' Ethel added. 'Then if he's wanted--'

'Yes, yes,' Leonora agreed. 'And tell him he's very kind.'

At midnight, Fred was reading in the drawing-room, the man in the house, the ultimate fount of security for seven women. Bessie, having refused positively to go to bed, slept in a chair in the kitchen, her heels touching the scrap of hearthrug which lay like a little island on the red tiles in front of the range. Rose and Millicent had retired to bed till three o'clock. Ethel, as the eldest, stayed with her mother. When the hall-clock sounded one, meaning half past twelve, Leonora glanced at her daughter, who reclined on the sofa at the foot of the beds; the girl had fallen into a doze.

John's condition was unchanged; the doctor had said that he might possibly survive for many hours. He lay on his back, with open eyes, and damp face and hair; his arms rested inert on the sheet; and underneath that thin covering his chest rose and fell from time to time, with a scarcely perceptible movement. It seemed to Leonora that she could realise now what had happened and what was to happen. In the nocturnal solemnity of the house filled with sleeping and quiescent youth, she who was so mature and so satiate had the sensation of being alone with her mate. Images of Arthur Twemlow did not distract her. With the full strength of her mind she had shut an iron door on the episode in the garden; it was as though it had never existed. And she gazed at John with calm and sad compassion. 'I would not sell my home,' she reflected, 'and here is the consequence of refusal.' She wished she had yielded-and she could perceive how unimportant, comparatively, bricks-and-mortar might be-but she did not blame herself for not having yielded. She merely regretted her sensitive obstinacy as a misfortune for both of them. She had a vision of humanity in a hurried procession, driven along by some force unseen and ruthless, a procession in which the grotesque and the pitiable were always occurring. She thought of John standing over Meshach with the cold towel, and of Meshach passing the flame across John's dying eyes, and these juxtapositions appeared to her intolerably mournful in their ridiculous grimness.

Impelled by a physical curiosity, she lifted the sheet and scrutinised John's breast, so pallid against the dark red of his neck, and bent down to catch the last tired efforts of the heart within. And the idea of her extraordinary intimacy with this man, of the incessant familiarity of more than twenty years, struck her and overwhelmed her. She saw that nothing is so subtly influential as constant uninterrupted familiarity, nothing so binding, and perhaps nothing so sacred. It was a trifle that they had not loved. They had lived. Ah! she knew him so profoundly that words could not describe her knowledge. He kept his own secrets, hundreds of them; and he had, in a way, astounded and shocked her by his suicide. Yet, in another way, this miserable termination did not at all surprise her; and his secrets were petty, factual things of no essential import, which left her mystic omniscience of him unimpaired.

She looked at his eyes, and thought pitifully: 'These eyes cannot see that I uncover him.' Then she looked again at his breast, which heaved in shallow respirations. And at the moment he exhaled a sigh, so softly delicate and gentle that it might have been the sigh of an infant sinking to sleep. She put her ear quickly to the still breast, as to a sea-shell, and listened intently, and caught no rumour of life there. Startled, she glanced at the jaw, which had dropped, and then at Ethel dozing on the sofa.

The room was filled for her with the majestic sound of trumpets, loud, sustained, and thrilling, but heard only by the soul; a noble and triumphant fanfare announcing the awful advent of those forces which are beyond the earthly sense. John's body lay suddenly deserted and residual; that deceitful brain, and that lying tongue, and that murderous hand had already begun to decay; and the informing fragment of eternal and universal energy was gone to its next manifestation and its next task, unconscious, irresponsible, and unchanged. The ineptitude of human judgments had been once more emphasised, and the great excellence of charity.

'Ethel,' said Leonora timorously, waking with a touch the young and beautiful girl whose flushed cheek was pressed against the cushion of the sofa. 'He's gone.... Call Fred.'

* * *

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