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Moth and Rust; Together with Geoffrey's Wife and The Pitfall By Mary Cholmondeley Characters: 13532

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Il n'est aucun mal qui ne naisse, en dernière analyse-d'une pensée étroite, ou d'un sentiment mediocre."

-Maeterlinck.

The storm had fallen on Janet at last. She saw it was a storm, and met it with courage and patience, and without apprehension as to what so fierce a hurricane might ultimately destroy, what foundations its rising floods might sweep away. She suffered dumbly under the knowledge that Monkey Brand and Fred both firmly believed her to be guilty, suffered dumbly the gradual alienation of her brother, who never forgave her her obtuseness when a way of escape had been offered her, and who shivered under an acute anxiety as to what Monkey Brand would do next, together with a gnawing suspense respecting the eldest Miss Ford, who had become the object of marked attentions on the part of a colonial Bishop.

Janet said to herself constantly in these days, "Truth will prevail." She did not believe in the principle, but in her version of it. Her belief in the power of truth became severely shaken as the endless July days dragged themselves along, each slower than the last. Truth did not prevail. The storm prevailed instead. Foundations began to crumble.

How it came about it would be difficult to say, but the damning evidence against Janet, the suspicion, the almost certainty of her duplicity, reached Easthope.

Mrs Trefusis seized upon it to urge her son to break with Janet. He resisted with stubbornness his mother's frenzied entreaties. Nevertheless after a time his fixity of purpose was undermined by a sullen, growing suspicion that Janet was guilty. Fred had hinted as much. Fred's evident conviction of Janet's action, and inability to see that it was criminal, his confidential assertion that the money would be repaid, pushed George slowly to the conclusion that Janet had been her brother's catspaw-perhaps not for the first time. George felt with deep if silent indignation, that with him, her future husband if with any one, Janet ought to be open, truthful. But she was not. She repeated her obvious lie even to him when at last he forced himself to speak to her on the subject. His narrow, upright nature abhorred crookedness, and, according to his feeble searchlight, he deemed Janet crooked.

His mother's admonitions began to work in him like leaven. How often she had said to him, "She has lied to others. The day will come when she will lie to you." That day had already come. Perhaps his mother was right after all. He had heard men say the same thing. "What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh." "Take a bird out of a good nest," etc., etc.

And George who, in other circumstances, would have defended Janet to the last drop of his blood, who would have carried her over burning deserts till he fell dead from thirst-George, who was capable of heroism on her behalf-weakened towards her.

She had fallen in love with him in the beginning, partly because he was "straighter" than the men she associated with. Yet this very rectitude which had attracted her was now alienating her lover from her, as perhaps nothing else could have done. Strange back-blow of Fate, that the cord which had drawn her towards him should tighten to a noose round her neck.

George weakened towards her.

It seems to be the miserable fate of certain upright, closed natures, who take their bearings from without, always to fail when the pinch comes; to disbelieve in those whom they obtusely love when suspicion falls on them, to be alienated from them by their success, to be discouraged by their faults, incredulous of their higher motives, repelled by their enthusiasms.

George would not have failed if the pinch had not come. Like many another man, found faithful because his faith had not been put to the test, he would have made Janet an excellent and loving husband, and they would probably have spent many happy years together-if only the pinch had not come. Anne early divined, from Janet's not very luminous letters, that George was becoming estranged from her. Anne came down for a Sunday to Easthope early in July, and quickly discovered the cause of this estrangement (which Janet had not mentioned) in the voluble denunciations of Mrs Trefusis, and the sullen unhappiness of her son.

Mrs Trefusis had wormed out all the most damning evidence against Janet, partly from Fred's confidence to George, and partly from Monkey Brand, with whom she had had money dealings, and to whom she applied direct. She showed Anne the money-lender's answer, in its admirable restrained conciseness, with its ordered sequence of inexorable facts. Anne's heart sank as she read it, and she suddenly remembered Janet's words in delirium. "I have burnt them all. Everything. There is nothing left."

The letter fell from her nerveless hand. She looked at it, momentarily stunned.

"And this is the woman," said Mrs Trefusis, scratching the letter towards her with her stick, and regaining possession of it, "this is the woman whom you pressed me, only a month ago, to receive as my daughter-in-law. Didn't I say she came of a bad stock? Didn't I say that what was bred in the bone would come out in the flesh? George would not listen to me then, but my poor deluded boy is beginning to see now that I was right."

Mrs Trefusis wiped away two small tears with her trembling claw-like hand. Anne could not but see that she was invincibly convinced of Janet's guilt.

"You think I am vindictive, Anne," she said. "You may be right; I know I was at first, and perhaps I am still. I always hated the connection, and I always hated her. But-but it's not only that now. It's my boy's happiness. I must think of him. He is my only son, and I can't sit still and see his life wrecked."

"I am certain Janet did not do it," said Anne suddenly, her pale face flaming. "George and you may believe she did, if you like. I don't."

Anne walked over to Ivy Cottage the same afternoon, and Janet saw her in the distance, and fled out to her across the fields and fell upon her neck. But even Anne's tender entreaties and exhortations were of no avail. Janet understood at last that her mechanically-repeated formula was ruining her with her lover. But she had promised Cuckoo to say it, and she stuck to it.

"Why does not George believe in me even if appearances are against me?" said Janet at last. "I would believe in him."

"That is different."

"How different?"

"Because you are made like that, and he isn't. It's a question of temperament. You have a trustful nature. He has not. You must take George's character into consideration. It is foolish to love a person who is easily suspicious, and then allow him to become suspicious. You have no right to perplex him. Just as some people who care for

us must have it made easy to them all the time to go on caring for us. If there is any strain or difficulty, or if they are put to inconvenience, they will leave us."

Janet was silent.

"As you and George both love each other," continued Anne, "can't you say something to him? Don't you see it would be only right to say a few words to him, which will show him-what I am sure is the truth-that you are concealing something, which has led to this false suspicion falling on you?"

Janet shook her head. "He ought to know it's false," she said.

"Could not you say to him, even though you cannot say so to your brother or Mr Brand-that you burnt some compromising papers at Mrs Brand's dying request? He might believe that, for it is known that you did burn papers, dearest, and it is also obvious that you must have burnt a good many. That one I O U does not account for the quantity of ashes."

"I could not say that," said Janet, whitening. "And besides," she added hastily, "I have said so many times" (and indeed she had) "that I burnt nothing, that George would not know what to believe if I say first one thing and then another."

"He does not know what to believe now. Unless you can say something to reassure his mind, you will lose your George."

"You believe in me?"

"Implicitly."

"Then why doesn't George?" continued Janet, with the feminine talent for reasoning in a circle. "That is the only thing that is necessary. Not that I should say things I can't say, but that he should trust me. I don't care what other people think so long as he believes in me."

She, who had never exacted anything heretofore, whose one object had been to please her George, now made one demand upon him. It was the first and last which she ever made upon her lover. And he could not meet it.

"His belief is shaken."

"Truth will prevail," said Janet stubbornly.

"It will no doubt in the end, but in the meanwhile? And how if the truth is masked by a lie?"

Janet did not answer. Perhaps she did not fully understand. She saw only two things in these days: one, that George ought to believe in her; and the other, that, come what might, she would keep the promise made to Cuckoo on her death-bed. She constantly remembered the rigid dying face, the difficult whisper: "Promise me that whatever happens you will never tell anyone that you have burnt anything."

"I promise."

"You swear it."

"I swear it."

That oath she would keep.

* * *

Anne returned to London with a heavy heart. She left no stone unturned. She interviewed De Rivaz and Stephen on the subject, as we have seen. But her efforts were unavailing, as far as George was concerned. The affair of the burning of papers was hushed up, but it had reached the only person who had the power to wreck Janet's happiness.

Some weeks after Anne's visit Janet one day descried the large figure of Stephen stalking slowly up across the fields. Janet tired her eyes daily in scanning the fields in the direction of Easthope, but a certain person came no more by that much frequented way.

The millionaire had a long interview with Janet, but his valuable time was wasted. He could not move her. He told her that he firmly believed the missing I O U would turn up, and that in the meanwhile he had paid Mr Brand, and that she might repay him at her convenience. He could wait. For a moment she was frightened, but a glance at Stephen's austere, quick eyes, bent searchingly upon her, reassured her. She trusted him at once. It was never known what he had said to Monkey Brand, as to his having seen Janet in the burnt flat, but Monkey Brand gained nothing from the discussion of that compromising fact-except his money.

Fred was awed by the visit of Stephen, and by the amazing fact that he had paid Monkey Brand. Fred said repeatedly that it was the action of a perfect gentleman, exactly what he should have done if he had been in Stephen's place. He let George hear of it at the first opportunity. But the information had no effect on George's mind, except that it was vaguely prejudicial to Janet.

Why had she accepted such a large sum from a man of whom she knew next to nothing, whom she had only seen once before for a moment, and that an equivocal one? Women should not accept money from men. And why did he offer it?

He asked these questions of himself. To Fred he only vouchsafed a nod, to show that he had heard what Fred had waylaid him to say.

Some weeks later still, in August, De Rivaz came to Ivy Cottage, hat in hand, stammering, deferential, to ask Janet to allow him to paint her. He would do anything, take rooms in the neighbourhood, make his convenience entirely subservient to hers if she would only sit to him. He saw with a pang that she was not conscious that they had met before. She had forgotten him, and he did not remind her of their first meeting. He knew that hour had brought trouble upon her. Her face showed it. The patient, enduring spirit was beginning to look through the exquisite face. Her beauty overwhelmed him. He trembled before it. He pleaded hard, but she would not listen to him. She said apathetically that she did not wish to be painted. She was evidently quite unaware of the distinction which he was offering her. His name had conveyed nothing to her. He had to take his leave at last, but, as he walked away in the rain, he turned and looked back at the house.

"I will come back," he said, his thin face quivering.

It was a wet August, and the harvest rotted on the ground. No one came to Ivy Cottage along the sodden footpath from Easthope. A slow anger was rising in Janet's heart against her lover, the anger that will invade at last the hearts of humble sincere natures, when they find that love and trust have not gone together.

George never openly broke with Janet, never could be induced to write the note to her which, his mother told him, it was his duty to write. No. He simply stayed away from her, week after week, month after month. When his mother urged him to break off his engagement formally, he said doggedly that Janet could see for herself that all was over between them.

The day came at last when Janet met him suddenly in the streets of Mudbury, on market day. He took off his hat in answer to her timid greeting, and passed on looking straight in front of him.

Perhaps he had his evil hour that night, for Janet was very fair. Seen suddenly, unexpectedly, she seemed more beautiful than ever. And she was to have been his wife.

After that blighting moment, when even Janet perceived that George was determined not to speak to her; after that Janet began to see that when foundations are undermined that which is built upon them will one day totter and-fall.

* * *

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