BY MAY SINCLAIR
GLOOM fell on the house in Prior Street in the weeks that followed Christmas. The very servants went heavily in the shadow of it. Anne began to have her headaches again. Deep lines of worry showed on Majendie’s face. And on her couch by the window, looking on the blackened winter garden, Edith fought day after day a losing battle with her spine.
The slow disease that held her captive there seemed to be quickening its pace. In January there came a whole procession of bad nights, without, as she pathetically said, “anything to show for it,” for her hands could make nothing now. She lay flatter than ever; each day she seemed to sink deeper into her couch.
Anne, between her headaches, devoted herself to her sister with a kind of passion. Her keenest experience of passion came to her through the emotion wakened in her by the sight of Edith’s suffering. She told herself that her love for Edith satisfied her heart completely; that she fulfilled herself in it, as she never could have fulfilled herself in any other way. Nothing could degrade or spoil the spiritual beauty of this relation. It served as a standard by which she could better judge her relation to her husband. “I love her more than I ever loved him,” she thought. “I cannot help it. If it had been possible to love him as I love her, — but I have lowered myself by loving him. I will raise myself by loving her.”
She was never tired of being with Edith, sewing silently by her fireside, or reading aloud to her (for Edith’s hands were too tremulous now to hold a book), or sitting close up against her couch, nursing her hands in hers, as if she would have given them her own strength.
And thus her ardor spent and renewed itself, and left her colder than ever to her husband.
At times she mourned, obscurely, the destruction of the new sold that had been given her last year, on her birthday, when she had been born again to her sweet human destiny. At times she had glimpses of the perfect thing it might have been. There was no logical sequence in the events that had destroyed it, the return of Lady Cayley and the spectacle of her triumph. She could not say that her husband had deteriorated inconsequence. The change was in herself, and not in him. He was what he always had been; only she seemed to see him more completely now. At times, when the high spiritual life died down in sleep, she slipped from her trouble, and turned, with her arm stretched towards him where he lay. In her dreams he came to her with the low cry she had heard in the wood at Westleydale. And in her dreams she was tender; but her waking thoughts were sad and hard.
Majendie found it more than ever difficult to realize that she had ever shown him kindness, that her arms had opened to him and her pulses beaten with his own. Her face and body were changing with this change of soul. Her health suffered. Her eyes became dull, her skin dry; her small, reticent mouth had taken on the tragic droop; she was growing austerely thin. She had abandoned the pleasing and worldly fashion of her dress, and arrayed herself now in straight-cut, sombre garments, very serviceable in the sick room, but mournfully suggestive, to her husband’s fancy, of her renunciation of the will to please.
On her first appearance in this garb he inquired whether she had embraced the religious life.
“I always have embraced it,” said she in her ringing voice.
“I believe it’s about the only thing you ever wanted to embrace.”
“You need not say so,” she returned.
“Then why, oh why, do you wear those awful clothes?”
“My clothes are suitable,” said she.
“Suitable ? My dear girl, they suggest a divorce suit, Majendie versus Majendie, if you like. You’re a walking prosecution. Your face, with that expression on it, is a decree nisi with costs. You don’t want to be a libel on your husband, do you?”
“How can you say such things?”
“Well,— look in the glass, dear, if you don’t believe me.”
She looked. The dress was certainly not becoming. She greeted the joyless apparition with her thin, unwilling smile.
He put his arm round her and drew her to him. He loved her dearly, for all her sadness and unsweetness.
“Poor Nancy,” he said, “I am a brute. Forgive me.”
“I do forgive you.”
The words seemed the refrain of her life’s sad song.
And as he kissed her he said to himself, “That’s all very well; but if I only knew what I ’m supposed to have done to her! Her friends must think me a perfect monster.”
And, indeed, there was more truth than Majendie was aware of in his extravagant jests. His wife’s face was so eloquent of misery that her friends were not slow in drawing their conclusions. Thurston Square prepared itself to rally round her. Mrs. Eliott was loyal in keeping what she supposed to be Anne’s secret, but when she found that the Gardners also understood that young Mrs. Majendie was n’t very happy with her husband, discussion became free in Thurston Square, though it went no farther.
“The kindest thing we can do is to give her a refuge sometimes from his dreadful friends,” said Mrs. Eliott. “I have to ask her here every time they’re there.”
Mrs. Gardner declared that she also would ask her gladly. Miss Proctor said that she would ask Mr. Majendie and Mr. Gorst, which would come to the same thing for Anne, but that she would not have Anne without her husband. Miss Proctor could be depended on to take a light view of any situation, a view entirely her own.
So the Gardners, as well as the Eliotts, rallied round Mrs. Majendie, and offered their house also as her refuge. And thus poor Anne, whose ideal was an indestructible loyalty, contrived to build up a most undesirable reputation for her husband in Thurston Square. Of this reputation she now became aware, and it reacted on her own estimate of him. She said to herself, “They don’t approve of him. They seem to know something. They are sorry for me.” And she was humbled in her pride.
The one who seemed to know most, and to be sorriest of all, was Canon Wharton. She was always meeting him now. It was positively as if he lay in wait for her. His eyes seemed more than ever to have penetrated her secret. They held it safe under the pent-house of his brows. They seemed to be always making allusions to it, while his tongue preserved a delicate reticence. At meeting they said to her, “It does n’t matter if I know your secret. Do you suppose it is so evident to everybody ? Why, in all this town, there is no one — no one, dear lady — capable of discovering it but I. It is a spiritual secret.” And at parting they said, “When you can bear it no longer you must come to me. Sooner or later you will come to me.”
And the weeks went on towards Lent. Anne longed for the time of cleansing, and absolution, and communion; for the peace of the week-day services; and for the sweet, sharp gray light of the young spring at evening, a light that recalled, piercingly, the long Lent of her girlhood, and the passing of its pure and consecrated days.
She had not yet completely forsaken St. Saviour’s for All Souls. She loved the gray old church in the market-place. Set in the midst of that sordid scene of chaffering and grime, St. Saviour’s perpetuated for her the ancient beauty and the majesty of her faith. When she desired to forget herself, to sink humbly back into the ages, passive to a superb tradition, she went to St. Saviour’s. When she wished to be stirred and strengthened, to realize her spiritual value, to feel the grip of divine forces centring on her, she went to All Souls.
On the Sunday before Lent she was fairly possessed by this ardent personal mood. In obedience to it she attended Matins at the Canon’s church.
She had had a, scruple about going, for Edith had been worse that morning and more evidently unhappy. She went alone. Majendie had admitted lately that he liked going to St. Saviour’s, but he refused to accompany her to All Souls.
She went in a strange, premonitory mood, expectant of some great illumination. It came with the Collect for the day. Anne was deeply moved by the Collect. She prayed inaudibly, with parted lips, thirsting for the sources of her spiritual help. Her light went up with the ascending, sentence by sentence, of the prayer.
“Oh Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth:
“Send Thy Holy Ghost and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues ;
“ Without whom whatsoever liveth is counted dead before Thee:
“Grant this for thine only Son, Jesus Christ’s sake.” The ritual rang upon that note. The music of the hymns of charity were part of the light that penetrated her, poignant but tender.
Poignant but tender, too, was the aspect and the mood of the Canon as he ascended the pulpit and looked upon his congregation.
There was a rustling, sliding sound as the congregation turned to listen to their vicar.
“‘Though I speak,’” said the Canon, “‘with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or as a tinkling cymbal.’ ”
He gripped his hearers with the stress he laid upon certain words, “angels,” and “cymbal.” He bade them mark that it was not by hazard that the great prayer for charity was appointed for the Sunday before Lent. “The Church,” he said, “has such care for her children that she does nothing by hazard. This call is made to us on the eve of the great battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Why ? But that those among us who come off victors may have mercy upon those weaker ones who are worsted and fallen in the fight. The life of the spirit has its own unique temptations; and it is against these that we pray to-day. We are all prepared to repent, to use abstinence, to mortify the body with its corrupt affections. Are we prepared to bear the burden of our brother’s and our sister’s unrepentance ? Of their self-indulgence ? Of their sin ? To follow in all things the Divine Example ? We are told that the Saviour of the world was the friend of publicans and sinners. We accept the statement, we have gone on accepting it, year after year, as the statement of a somewhat remote, but well-authenticated historical fact. Have we yet realized its significance ? Have we pictured, are we able to picture to ourselves, what company He kept ? Among what surroundings his divine figure was actually seen ? In what purlieus of degenerate Jerusalem ? In what iniquitous splendors ? In what orgies of the Gentiles ? And who are they to whom He showed most tenderness ? Who but the rich young man, the woman taken in adultery, and Mary Magdalen with her seven devils ? Which is the divinest of the divine parables ? The parable of the prodigal son, who devoured his father’s living with harlots! ”
The Canon’s voice rose and fell, and rose again; thrilling, as his breast heaved with the immense pathos and burden of the world.
Anne had a vision of the Hannays and the Ransomes, and of the prodigal cast out from the house that loved him. And she said to herself for the first time, “Have I done right ? Have I done what Christ would have me do ? ” The light that went up in her was a light by which her deeds looked doubtful. If she had failed in this, in charity ? She pondered the problem, while the Canon approached gloriously his peroration.
“Therefore we pray for charity,” — the Canon’s voice rang tears, — “for charity, oh, dear and tender Lord, lest, having known thy love, we fall, ourselves, into the sins of unpity and of pride.”
Tears came into Anne’s eyes. She was overcome, bowed, shaken by the Canon’s incomparable pleading. The Canon was shaken by it himself; his voice trembled in the benediction that followed. No one had a clearer vision of the spiritual city. It was his tragedy that he saw it, and could not enter in. Many, remembering that sermon, counted it, long afterwards, to him for righteousness. It had conquered Anne. The tongues of men and of angels, of all spiritual powers, human and divine, spoke to her in that vibrating, indomitable voice.
The problem it had raised remained with her, oppressed, tormented her. What she had done had seemed to her so good. But if, after all, she had done wrong? If she had failed in charity ?
She had come to a turning in her way when she could no longer see for herself, or walk alone. She was prepared to surrender, meekly, her own judgment. She must ask help of the priest whose voice told her that he had suffered, and whose eyes told her that he knew.
She sent a note to All Souls vicarage, requesting an interview, at Canon Wharton’s house rather than her own. She did not want Edith or the servants to know that she had been closeted with the Canon. The answer came that night, making an appointment after early evensong on the morrow.
After early evensong, Anne found herself in the Canon’s library. He did not keep her waiting, and, as he entered, he held out to her, literally, the hand of help. For the Canon never wasted a gesture. There was no detail of social observance to which he could not give some spiritual significance. This was partly the secret of his power. His face had lost the light that illuminated it in the pulpit, but his eyes gleamed with a lambent triumph. They said, “Sooner or later. But rather sooner than I had expected.”
Anne presented her ease in a veiled form, as a situation in the abstract.. She scrupulously refrained from mentioning any names.
The Canon smiled at her precautions. “We are working in the dark,” said he. “I think I can help you a little bit more if you’ll allow me to come down to the concrete. You are speaking, I fancy, of our poor friend, Mr. Gorst?”
She looked at him helplessly, startled at his penetration and her own betrayal, but appeased by the pitying adjective which brought Gorst into the regions of pardonable discussion.
“You needn’t be afraid,” he said. “I had to be certain before I could advise you. I can now tell you -with confidence that you are doing right. I — know — the — man.”
He uttered the phrase with measured emphasis, and closed his teeth upon the last words with a snap. It was impossible to convey a stronger effect of moral reprobation. “But I see your difficulty,” he continued. “I understand that he is a rather intimate friend of Miss Majendie.”
Anne noticed that he deliberately avoided all mention of her husband.
“She has known him for a very long time.”
“Ah yes. And it is your affection, your pity, for your sister that makes you hesitate ? You do not wish to be hard, and at the same time you wish to do right. Is it not so ?”
She murmured her assent. (How well he understood her!)
“Ah, my dear Mrs. Majendie, we have sometimes to be a little hard, in order that we may not be harder. You have thought, perhaps, that you should be tender to this friendship ? Now, I am an old man, and I have had a pretty large experience of men and women, and I tell you that such friendships are unwholesome. Un-wholesome. Both for the woman and the man.”
“If I thought that —”
“You may think it. Look at the man. What has it done for him ? Has it made him any better, any stronger, any purer ? Has it made her any happier?”
“I think so. It is all she has —”
“How can you say that, my dear Mrs. Majendie, when she has you?”
“And her brother.”
The Canon gave her a keen glance. He seemed to be turning a little extra light on to her secret, to see it the better by. And under that light her mind conceived again a miserable suspicion.
“He knows something,” she thought. “What is it that he knows? that they all seem to know?”
She turned the subject back again to her sister-in-law and Mr. Gorst. “She thinks she can save him.”
It was another turn of the searchlight, but this time the Canon veiled his eyes, as if in mercy. He really knew nothing, nothing at ah; but, as a man of the world, he felt that there was a great deal more than Mr. Gorst and Miss Majendie at the back of this discussion, and he was very curious to know what it might be.
Anne recoiled from the veiled condemnation of his face more than she had from its open intimations. She was not clever enough to see that the clever Canon had simply laid a trap for her.
She was now convinced that there was something that he knew. She lifted her head in loyal defiance of his knowledge. “No,” said she proudly, “Mr. Gorst. It was of him I was speaking.”
“Ah,” said the Canon, as if his mind had come down with difficulty from the contemplation of another and more interesting personality; and again the significance of his manner was not lost upon Anne.
“I do not know Miss Majendie,” he went on, still with the air of forcing himself to deal equitably with a subject of minor interest; “but if I am not much mistaken, she is, is she not, a little morbid?”
“She is a hopeless invalid.”
“I know she is ” (his voice dropped pity). “Poor thing — poor thing —And she thinks that she can save him ? Mark me, I put no limit to the saving grace of God, and I would not like to say whom he may not choose as his instrument. But before we presume to act for him, we should be very sure about the choice. Judging by the fruits — the fruits of this friendship—He paused, as if seeking for a perfect justice — “Yes, That is what we must look at. I imagine that Miss Majendie has been morbid on this subject. Morbid; and, perhaps, a little weak ?”
Anne flushed. She was distressed to think she had given such an impression. “Indeed, indeed she isn’t. You would n’t say that if you knew her.”
“I do not know her. But the strongest of us may be sometimes weak. You must be strong for her. And I ” — he smiled — “must be strong for you. And I tell you that you have been — so far — wise and right. As long as this man continues in his evil courses, go on as you are doing. Do not encourage him by admitting him to your house and to your friendship. But” — the Canon stood up, both for the better emphasis of his point, and as a gentle reminder to Mrs. Majendie that his dinner-hour was now approaching — “but let him repent; let him give up his most objectionable companions; let him lead a pure life — and then — accept him — welcome him” — the Canon opened his arms, as if he were that moment receiving a repentant sinner — “rejoice over him ” — the Canon’s face became fairly illuminated —“as — as much as you like.”
The peroration was rapid, valedictory, complete. He thrust out his hand, displaying the whole palm of it as a sign of openness, honesty, and good-will.
“God bless you.”
The solemn benediction atoned for any little momentary brusquerie.
Anne went away with a conscience wholly satisfied, in an exalted mood, fortified by all the ramparts of the spiritual life.
She was very gentle with Edith that evening. She said to herself that her love must make up to Edie for the loss her conscience had been compelled to inflict. “After all,” she said to herself, “it’s not as if she had n’t me.” Measuring her services with those of the disreputable Mr. Gorst, it seemed to her that she was amply making up. She had a hatred of moral indebtedness, as of any other, and she loved to spend. In reckoning the love she had spent so lavishly on Edie, she had not allowed for the amount of forgiveness that Edie had spent on her. Forgiveness is a gift we have to take, whether we will or no, and Anne was blissfully unaware of what she took.
Majendie watched her ministrations curiously. Her tenderness was the subtlest lure to the love in him that still watched and waited for its hour. That night, in the study, he was silent, nervous,and unhappy. She shrank from the unrest and misery in his eyes. They followed or were fixed on her, rousing in her an obscure resentment and discomfort. She was beginning to be afraid of him. It had come to that.
She left him earlier than usual, and went very miserably to bed. She prayed, to-night, with her eyes fixed on the crucifix. It had become for her the symbol of her life, and of her marriage, which was nothing to her now but a sacrifice, a martyrdom, a vicarious expiation of her husband’s sin.
As she lay down, the beating of her pulses told her that she was not to sleep. She longed for sleep, and tried to win it to her by repeating the Psalm which had been her comfort in all times of her depression. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. ”
She closed her eyes under the peace of the beloved words. And as she closed them, she felt herself once more in the arms of the green hills, the folding hills of Westleydale.
She shook off the obsession and prayed another prayer. She longed to be alone; but, to her grief, she heard the opening and shutting of a door and her husband’s feet moving in the room beyond.
A few blessed moments of solitude were left her during Majendie’s undressing. She devoted them to the final expulsion of all lingering illusions. She had long ago lost the illusion of her husband’s immaculate goodness; and now she cast off, once for all, the dear and pitiful belief that had revived in her under her brief enchantment in the wood at Westleydale. She told herself that she had married a man who had, not. only a lower standard than her own, but an entirely different code of morals, a man irremediably contaminated, destitute of all perception of spiritual values. And she had got to make the best of him, that was all. Not quite all; for she had still to make the best of herself; and the two things seemed, at moments, incompatible. To guard herself from all contact with the invading evil, to take her stand bravely, to raise high the spiritual ramparts and retire behind them, that was no more than her bare duty to herself and him. She must create a standard for him by keeping herself forever high and pure. He loved her still, in his fashion; he must also respect her, and, in respecting her, respect goodness — the highest goodness — in her.
Accustomed to move in a region of spiritual certainty, Anne was untroubled by any misgiving as to the soundness of her attitude. It was open to no criticism except the despicable wisdom of the world.
Her chief difficulty was poor Majendie’s imperishable affection. She tried to protect herself from it to-night by feigning drowsiness. She lay still as a stone, stiff with her fear. Once, at midnight, she felt him stir, and turn, and raise himself on his elbow. She was conscious through all her unhappy being of the adoring tenderness with which he watched her sleep.
At last she slept, and, sleeping, she dreamed a strange dream. She found herself again in Westleydale, walking in green aisles of the holy, mystic, cathedral woods. The tall beech-stems were the pillars of the temple. A still light came through them, guiding her to the beechtree that she knew. And she saw an angel lying under the beech-tree. It lay on its side, with its wings stretched out so that the right wing covered the left. As she approached, it raised the covering wing, and in the warm hollow of the other she saw that it cradled a little naked child. And at the sight there came a thorn in her breast that pricked her. The child stirred in its sleep, and crawled to the place of the angel’s breast, and fondled it with searching lips and hands. Then it wailed, and, as she heard its cry, the thorn pressed sharper into Anne’s breast; and the angel’s eyes turned to her with an immortal anguish, and pity, and despair. She looked and saw that its breast was as the breast of the little child. And she was moved to compassion at the helplessness of them both, of the heavenly and of the earthly thing; and she stooped and lifted the child and laid it to her own breast, and nourished it; and had peace from her pain.
IT was the first day in Lent. Anne had come down in a state of depression. She was silent during breakfast, and Majendie became absorbed in his morning paper. So much wisdom he had learned. Presently he gave a sudden murmur of interest, and looked up with a smile. “I see,” said he, “your friend Mrs. Gardner has got a little son.”
“Has she?” said Anne coldly.
The blood flushed in her cheeks, and a sudden pang went through her and rose to her breasts with a pricking pain, such pain as she had felt once in her dream, and only once in her waking life before. She thought of dear little Mrs. Gardner, and tried to look glad. She failed miserably, achieving an expression of more than usual austerity. It was the expression that Majendie had come to associate with Lent. He thought he saw in it the spiritual woman’s abhorrence of her natural destiny. And with the provocation of it the devil entered into him.
“Is there anything in poor Mrs. Gardner’s conduct to displease you ? ”
She looked at him in a dull passion of reproach.
“Oh,” she said, “how can you be so unkind to me!”
Her breast heaved, her lower lip trembled. She rose suddenly, pressing her handkerchief to her mouth, and left the room. He heard the study door open hastily and shut again. And he said to himself, as with sudden lucid freshness, “What an extraordinary woman my wife is. If I only knew what I’d done.”
As she had left her breakfast unfinished, he waited a judicious interval and then went to fetch her back.
He found her standing by the window, holding her hands tight to her heaving sides, trying by main force to control the tempest of her sobs. He approached her gently.
“Go away,” she whispered, through loose lips that shook with every word. “Go away. Don’t come near me.”
“Nancy — what is it?”
She turned from him, and leaned up against the folded window-shutter. Her emotion was the more terrible to him because she was so seldom given to these outbursts. She had seemed to him a woman passionless, and of almost superhuman self-possession. He removed himself to the hearth-rug and waited for five minutes.
“Poor child,” he said at last. “Can’t you tell me what it is?”
He waited another five minutes, thinking hard.
“Was it —was it what I said about Mrs. Gardner ? ”
He still waited. Then he conceived a happy idea. He would try to make her laugh.
“Just because I said she’d had a little son ? ”
Her tears fell to answer him.
She gathered herself together with a supreme effort, and steadied her lips to speak. “ Please leave me. I came here to be alone.”
A light broke in on him, and he left her.
He shut himself up in the dining-room with his light. He had pushed his breakfast aside, too preoccupied to eat it.
“So that’s it?” he said to himself. “That’s it. Poor Nancy. That’s what she’s wanted all the time. What a fool I was never to have thought of it.”
He breathed with an immense relief. He had solved the enigma of Anne with all her “funniness.” It was not that she had turned against him, nor against her destiny. She had been disappointed of her destiny, that was all. It was enough. She must have been fretting for months, poor child; and, just when she could bear it no longer, Mrs. Gardner, he supposed, had come as the last straw. No wonder that she had said he was unkind.
And in that hour of his enlightenment a great chastening fell upon Majendie. He told himself that he must be as gentle with her as he knew how; gentler than he had ever yet known how. And his heart smote him as he thought how he had hurt her, how he might hurt her again unknowingly, and how the tenderness of the tenderest male was brutality when applied to these wonderful, pitiful, incomprehensible things that women were. He accepted the misery of the last three months as a fit punishment for his lack of understanding.
His light brought a great longing to him and a great hope. From that moment he watched her anxiously. He had never realized till now, after three months of misery, quite what she meant to him, how sacred and dear she was, and how much he loved her.
The depth of this feeling left him for the most part dumb before her. His former levity forsook him, and Anne wondered at this change in him, and brooded over the possible cause of his serious and unintelligible silences. She attributed them to some deep personal preoccupation of which she was not the object.
Meanwhile her days went on much as before, a serene and dignified procession to the outward eye. She was thankful that she had so established her religion of the household that its services could still continue in their punctual order, after the joy of the spirit had departed from them. The more she felt that she was losing, hour by hour, her love of the house in Prior Street, the more she clung to the observances that held her days together. She had become a pale, sad-eyed, perfunctory priestess of the home. Majendie protested against what he called her base superstition, her wholesale sacrifices to the gods of the hearth. He forbade her to stay so much indoors, or to sit so long in Edith’s room.
One afternoon he came home unexpectedly and found her there, doing nothing but watching Edith, who dozed. He touched her gently, and told her to get up and go out for a walk.
“I’m too tired,” she whispered.
“Then go upstairs and lie down.”
She went; but, instead of lying down, she wandered through the house, restless and unsettled. She was possessed by a terrible sense of isolation. It came over her that this house of which she was the mistress did not in the least belong to her. She had not been consulted or thought of in any of its arrangements. There was no place in it that appealed to her as her own. She went into the little grave oldfashioned drawing-room. It had a beauty she approved of, a dignity that was in keeping with her own traditions, but, except for a few books and photographs that she had placed there herself, there was not a solitary object in it that was hers. It had remained unchanged since the days when it was inhabited, first by her husband’s mother, then by his aunt, then by his sister. He had handed it over, just as it stood, to his wife. It was full, the whole house was full, of portraits of the Majendies; Majendies in oils; Majendies in water colors; Majendies in crayons, in miniatures, and silhouettes. She thought of Mrs. Eliott’s room in Thurston Square, of the bookcases, the bronzes, the triptych with its saints in glory, and of how Fanny sat enthroned among these things that reflected completely her cultured individuality. Fanny had counted. Her rarity had been appreciated by the best of husbands; her tastes had been studied, consulted, indulged. Anne did not go so far as to say that her own life had been made unhappy for want of a triptych in her drawing-room. The triptych only reminded her of the immense spiritual want through which her marriage had been made void.
As she looked sadly round, it occurred to her that she might find some consolation in arranging the furniture on an entirely different plan. She rang the bell and sent for Walter. He came, and found her sitting on the high-backed chair whose cover had been worked by his grandmother. He smiled at the uncomfortable figure she presented.
“So that ’s what you call resting, is it ? ”
“Walter, — do you mind if I move some of the furniture in this room?”
“Move it? Of course I don’t. But why ?”
“Because I don’t very much like the room as it is.”
“ Why don’t you like it ? ” (He really wanted to know.)
“Because I don’t feel comfortable in it.”
“Oh , I’m so sorry, dear. Perhaps — we’d better have some new things.”
“I don’t want any new things.”
“What do you want, then ? ” His voice was gentleness itself.
“Just to move all the old ones, — to move everything.”
She spoke with an almost infantile petulance that appealed to him as pathetic. There was something terrible about Anne when armored in the cold steel of her spirituality, taking her stand upon a lofty principle. But Anne sitting on a high-backed chair, uttering tremulous absurdities, Anne protected by the unconscious humor of her own ill-temper, was adorable. He loved this humanly captious and capricious, childishly unreasonable Anne. And her voice was sweet even in petulance.
“My darling,” he said, “you shall turn the whole house upside down if it makes you any happier. But” — he looked round the room in quest of its deficiencies — “what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing’s wrong. You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t.” His eye fell upon the corner where the piano once stood that was now in Edith’s room.
“There are three things,” said he, “that you certainly ought to have. A piano, and a reading-stand, and a comfortable sofa. You shall have them.”
She threw back her head and closed her eyes to shut out the stupidity and the mockery and the misery of that idea.
“I— don’t —want"— she spoke slowly; her voice dropped from its high petulant pitch, and rounded to its funeral bell note — “I don’t want a piano, nor a readingstand, nor a sofa. I simply want a place that I can call my own,”
“But, bless you, the whole house is your own, if it comes to that, and every mortal thing in it. Everything I’ve got’s yours, except my razors and my braces, and a few little things of that sort that I’m keeping for myself.”
She passed her hand over her forehead, as if to brush away the irritating impression of his folly.
“Come,” he said, “let’s begin. What do you want moved first ? And where ? ”
She indicated a cabinet which she desired to have removed from its place between the windows to a slanting position in the corner. He was delighted to hear her express a preference, still more delighted to be able to gratify it by his own exertions. He took off his coat and waistcoat, turned up his shirt cuffs, and set to work. For an hour he labored under her directions, struggling with pieces of furniture as perverse and obstinate as his wife, but more ultimately amenable.
When it was all over, Anne seated herself on the settee between the windows, and surveyed the scene. Majendie, in a rumpled shirt and with his hair in disorder, stood beside her, and smiled as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
“Yes,” he said, “it’s all altered. There is n’t a blessed thing, not a chair, or a foot-stool, or a candlestick, that is n’t in some place where it was n’t. And the room does n’t look a bit better, and you won’t be a bit better pleased with it tomorrow.”
He put on his coat and sat down beside her. “See here,” said he, “you don’t want me really to believe that that’s where the trouble is ? ”
“The trouble ?”
“Yes, Nancy, the trouble. Do you think I ’m such a fool that I don’t see it ? It’s been coming on a long time, I know you’re not happy. You’re not satisfied with things as they are. As they are, you know, there’s a sort of incompleteness, something wanting, is n’t there?”
She sighed. “It’s you who are putting it that way, not I.”
“Of course I’m putting it that way. How am I to put it any other way ? Let me think now. Well — Of course I know perfectly well that it’s not a piano, or a reading-stand, or a sofa that you want, any more than I do. We want the same thing, sweetheart.”
She smiled sadly. “Do we? I should have said the trouble is that we don’t want the same thing, and never did.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Nor I you. You think I’m always wanting something. What is it that you think I want ?”
“Well — Do you remember Westleydale ?”
She drew back. “ Westleydale ? What has put that into your head?”
He grew desperate under her evasions, and plunged into his theme. “Well — that jolly baby we saw there — in the wood — You looked so happy when you grabbed it, and I thought, perhaps—”
“There’s no use talking about that,” said she. “I don’t like it.”
“All right — only — it’s still a little soon, you know, is n’t it, to give it up?”
“You’re quite mistaken,” she said coldly. “It is n’t that. It never has been. If I want anything, Walter, that you haven’t given me, it’s something that you cannot give me. I’ve long ago made up my mind to that.”
“But why make up your mind to anything ? How do you know I can’t give it you — whatever it is — if you won’t tell me anything about it? What do you want, dear ? ”
“Ah, my dear, I want nothing, except not to have to feel like this.”
“What do you feel like?”
“Like what I am. A stranger in my husband’s house.”
“And is that my fault?” he asked gently.
“It is not mine. But. there it is. I feel sometimes as if I’d never been married to you. That’s why you must never talk to me as you did just now.”
“ Good God, what a thing to say! ”
He hid his face in his hands. The pain she had inflicted would have been unbearable, but for the light that was in him. He rose to leave her. But before he left, he took one long scrutinizing look at her. It struck him that she was not, at the moment, entirely responsible for her utterances. And again his light helped him.
“Look here,” said he. “I don’t think you’re feeling very well. This isn’t exactly a joyous life for you.”
“I want no other,” said she.
“You don’t know what you want. You ’re over-strained — frightfully — and you ought to have a long rest and a change. You’re too good, you know, to my little sister. I’ve told you before that I won’t allow you to sacrifice yourself to her. I shall get some one to come and stay, and I shall take you down this week to the south coast, or wherever you like to go. It ’ll do you all the good in the world to get away from this beastly place for a month or two.”
“It ’ll do me no good to get away from poor Edie.”
“It will, dearest, it will, really.”
“It will not. If you go and take me away from Edie I shall get ill myself.”
“You only think so because you’re ill already.”
“I am not ill.” She turned to him her sombre, tragic face. “Walter, — whatever you do, don’t ask me to leave Edie, for I can’t.”
“Why not?” he asked gently.
“Because I love her. And it’s — it’s the only thing.”
“I see,” he said; and left her.
He went back to Edith. She smiled at his disarray and inquired the cause of it. He entertained her with an account of his labors.
“How funny you must both have looked,” said Edith, “and, oh, how funny the poor drawing-room must feel.”
“It does. And if I could have made it feel still funnier, I would. I’m in a state of mind to let her keep ten Barbary apes in my dressing-room, if she wanted to.”
“And she’s in a state of mind to write a post-card to Whiteley’s, ordering ten Barbary apes to be sent by return.”
“The fact is,” said Majendie gravely, “I don’t think she’s very well. I shall get her to see Gardner.”
“I would, if I were you.”
He wrote to Dr. Gardner that night and told Anne what he had done. She was indignant, and expounded his anxiety as one more instance of his failure to understand her nature. But she did not refuse to see the doctor when he called the next morning.
When Majendie came back from the office he found his wnfe calm, but disposed to a terrifying reticence on the subject of her health. “It’s nothing — nothing,” she said; and that was all the answer she would give him. In the evening he went round to Thurston Square, to get the truth out of Gardner.
He stayed there an hour, although a very few words sufficed to tell him that his hope had become a certainty. The President of the Philosophic Society had cast off all his vagueness. His wandering eyes steadied themselves to grip Majendie as they had gripped Majendie’s wife. To Gardner, Majendie, with his consuming innocence and anxiety was, at the moment, by far the more interesting of the two. The doctor brought all his grave lucidity to bear on Majendie’s case, and sent him away unspeakably consoled; giving him a piece of advice to take with him. “If I were you,” said he, “I wouldn’t say anything about it until she speaks to you herself. Better not let her know you’ve consulted me.”
In one hour Majendie had learned more about his wife than he had found out in the year he had lived with her; and the doctor had found out more about Majendie than he had learned in the ten years he had been practicing in Scale.
And upstairs in her drawing-room, little Mrs. Gardner waited impatiently for her husband to come back and finish the very interesting conversation that Majendie had interrupted.
“Who is the fiend,” said she, “who ’s been keeping you all this time ? One whole hour he’s been.”
“The fiend, my dear, is Mr. Majendie.” The doctor’s face was thoughtful.
“Is he ill ?”
“No; but I think he would have been if he had n’t come to me. I’ve been revising my opinion of Majendie to-night. Between you and me, our friend the Canon is a very dangerous old woman. Don’t you go and believe those tales he’s told you.”
“I don’t believe the tales,” said Mrs. Gardner, “but I can’t help believing poor Mrs. Majendie’s face. That tells a tale, if you like.”
“Poor Mrs. Majendie’s face is a face of poor Mrs. Majendie’s own making, I’m inclined to think.”
“I don’t think Mrs. Majendie would make faces. I’m sure she is n’t happy.”
“Are you ? Well then, if you’re fond of her, I think you’d better try and see a little more of her, Rosy. You can help her a good deal better than I can now.”
Professional honor forbade him to say more than that. He passed to a more absorbing topic.
“I must say I can’t see the force of this fellow’s reasoning. What’s that ? ”
“I thought I heard baby crying.”
“You didn’t. It was the cat. You must learn the difference, my dear. Don’t you see that these pragmatists are putting the cart before the horse ? Conduct is one of the things to be explained. How can you take it, then, as the ground of the explanation ? ”
“I don’t,” said Mrs. Gardner.
“But you do,” said Dr. Gardner. It was in such bickerings that they lived and moved and had their happy being. Each was the possessor of a strenuous soul, made harmless by its extreme simplicity. They were united by their love of argument, divided only by their adoration of each other. They now plunged with joy into the heart of a vast metaphysical contention; and Majendie, his conduct and the explanation of it, were forgotten, until another cry was heard, and, this time, Mrs. Gardner fled.
She came back full of reproach. “Oh Philip, to think that you can’t recognize the voice of your little son!”
Dr. Gardner looked guilty. “I really thought,” said he, “it was the cat.” He hated these interruptions.
He looked for Mrs. Gardner to take up the thread of the delicious argument where she had dropped it; but something had reminded Mrs. Gardner that she must write a note to Mrs. Majendie. She sat down and wrote it at once while she remembered. She could think of nothing to say but, “When will you come and take tea with me, and see my little son ? ”
Anne came that week, and saw the little son, and rejoiced over him. She kept on coming to see him. She always had been fond of Mrs. Gardner; now she was growing fonder of her than ever. In her happy presence she felt wonderfully at peace. There had been a time when the spectacle of Mrs. Gardner’s happiness would have given her sharp pangs of jealousy; but that time was over now for Anne. She liked to sit and look at her and watch the happiness flowering in Mrs. Gardner’s face. She thought Mrs. Gardner’s face was more beautiful than any woman’s she had ever seen, except Edie’s. Edie’s face was perfect; but Airs. Gardner’s was a simple oval that sacrificed perfection in the tender amplitude of her chin. There were no lines on it; for Mrs. Gardner was never worried, nor excited, nor perplexed. How could she be worried when Dr. Gardner was well and happy ? Or excited, when, having Dr. Gardner, there was nothing left to be excited about ? Or perplexed, when Dr. Gardner held the solution of all problems in his mighty brain ?
Mrs. Gardner’s bridal aspect had not disappeared with the advent of her motherhood. She was not more wrapped up in the baby than she was in Dr. Gardner and his metaphysics. She even admitted to Anne that the baby had been something of a disappointment. Anne was sitting in the nursery with her when Mrs. Gardner ventured on this confidence.
“You know I’d rather have had a little daughter.”
Anne confessed that her own yearning was for a little son.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Gardner, “I would n’t have him different now. He’s going to have as happy a life as ever I can give him. I’ve got so much to make up for.”
“To make up for?” Anne wondered what little Mrs. Gardner could possibly have to make up for.
“Well, you see, it’s a shocking confession to make; but I did n’t care for him at all before he came. I did n’t want him. I did n’t want anybody but Philip, and Philip did n’t want anybody but me. Are you horrified?”
“I think I am,” said Anne. She had difficulty in believing that dear little Mrs. Gardner could ever have taken this abnormal, this monstrous attitude.
“ You see, our life was so perfect as it was. And we have so little time to be together, because of his tiresome patients. I grudged every minute taken from him. And, when I knew that this little creature was coming, I sat down and cried with rage. I felt that he was going to spoil everything, and keep me from Philip. I had n’t a scrap of tenderness for him, poor little darling.”
“Oh,” said Anne.
“I had n’t really. I was quite happy with my husband.” She paused, feeling that the ground under her was perilous. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, dear Mrs. Majendie. I’ve never told another soul. But I thought, perhaps, you ought to know.”
“Why,” Anne wondered, “does she think I ought to know ? ”
“You see,” Mrs. Gardner went on, “I thought I could n’t be any happier than I was. But I am; ten times happier. And I did n’t think I could love my husband more than I did. But. I do; ten times more, and quite differently. Just because of this tiny, crying thing, without an idea in his little soft head. I’ve learned things I never should have learned without him. He takes up all my time, and keeps me from enjoying Philip; and yet I know now that I never was really married till he came.”
Mrs. Gardner looked up at Anne with shy, beautiful eyes that begged forgiveness if she had said too much. And Anne realized that it was for her that the little bride had been singing that hymn of hope, for her that she had been laying out the sacred treasures of her mysteriously wedded heart.
In the same spirit Mrs. Gardner now laid out her fine store of clothing for the little son. And Anne’s heart grew soft over the many little vests, and the jackets, and the diminutive short-waisted gowns.
She was busy with a pile of such things one evening up in her bedroom when Majendie came in. The bed was strewn with the absurd garments, and Anne sat beside it, sorting them, and smiling to herself that small, pure, shy smile of hers. Her soft face drew him to her. He thought it was his hour. He took up one of the little vests and spanned it with his hand. “I’m so glad,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me ? ”
She shook her head.
“I can’t talk about it.”
“Not to me ?”
“No,” she said. “Not to you.”
“I should have thought—
Her face hardened. “I can’t. Please understand that, Walter. I don’t think I ever can, now. You’ve made everything so that I can’t bear it.”
She took the little vest from him, and laid it with the rest.
And as he left her his hope grew cold. Her motherhood was only another sanctuary from which she shut him out. There was something so humiliating in his pain that he would have hidden it even from Edith. But Edith was too clever for him.
“Has she said anything to you about it?” he asked.
“Yes. Has she not to you?”
“Not yet. She won’t let me speak about it. She’s funnier than ever. She treats me as if I were some obscene monster just crawling up out of the primeval slime.”
“Well, but it’s pretty serious. Do you think she’s going to keep it up for all eternity ? ”
“No, I don’t, dear. I don’t think she ’ll keep it up at all.”
“I’m not so sure. I’m tired out with it. I give her up.”
“No, you don’t, dear, any more than I do.”
“But what can I do? Is it, honestly, Edie, is it in any way my fault ? ”
“Well — I think, perhaps, if you’d approached her in another spirit at the first. She told me that what shocked her more than anything that night at Scarby, was, darling, your appalling flippancy. You know, if you’d taken that tone when you first spoke to me about it, I think it would have killed me. And she’s your wife, not your sister. It’s worse for her. Think of the shock it must have been to her.”
“Think of the shock it was to me. She sprang the whole thing on me at four o’clock in the morning, — before I was awake. What could I do ? Besides, she got over all that in the summer. And now she goes back to it worse than ever, though I have n’t done anything in between.”
“It was all brought back to her in the autumn, remember.”
“Granted that, it’s inconceivable how she can keep it up. It is n’t as if she was a hard woman.”
“No. She’s softer than any woman I know, in some ways. But she happens to be made so that that is the one thing she finds it hardest to forgive. Besides, think of her health.”
“I wonder if that really accounts for it.”
“I think it may.”
“I don’t know. It began before, and I’m afraid it’s come to stay.”
“What has come to stay?”
“The dislike she’s taken to me.”
“I don’t believe in her dislike. Give her time.”
“Oh, the time I have given her! A year and more.”
“What’s a year? Wait,” said Edith. “Wait.”
He waited; and as the months went on, Anne schooled herself, for her child’s sake, into strength and calm. Her white brooding face grew full and tender; but its tenderness was not for him. He remained shut out from the sanctuary where she sat nursing her dream.
He suffered indescribably; but he told himself that Anne had merely taken one of those queer morbid aversions of which Gardner had told him. And at the birth of their child he looked for it to pass.
The child was born in mid-October. Majendie had sat up all night; and very early in the morning he was sent for to her room. He came, stealing in on tiptoe, dumb, with his head bowed in terror and a certain awe.
He found Anne lying in the big bed under the crucifix. Her face was dull and white, and her arms were stretched out by her sides in utter exhaustion. When he bent over her she closed her eyes; but her lips moved as if she were trying to speak to him. He felt her breath upon his face, but he could hear no words.
“What is it?” he whispered to the nurse who stood beside him. She held in one arm the new-born child, hooded and folded in a piece of flannel.
The nurse touched him on the shoulder. “She’s trying to tell you to look at your little daughter, sir.”
He turned and saw something—something queer and red between two folds of flannel, something that stirred and drew itself into puckers, and gave forth a cry.
And as he touched the child, his strength melted in him, as it had melted when he laid his hands for the first time upon its mother.
After the birth of her child, Anne was restored to her normal poise and self-possession. She appeared the robust, superb creature she had once been. The serenity of her bearing proclaimed that in her motherhood her nature was fulfilled. She had given herself up to the child from the first moment that she held it to her breast. She had found again her tenderness, her gladness, and her peace.
Majendie had waited for this. He believed that if the child made her so happy, she could hardly continue to cherish an aversion from its father.
In the months that followed he witnessed the slow destruction of this hope. The very fact that Anne had become “normal” made its end more certain. There were no longer any affecting moods, any divine caprices, for him to look to, nor was there much likelihood of a profounder change. Such as his wife was now, she always would be.
She had settled down.
And he had accepted the situation.
He had had his illusions. He loved the child. It was white, and weak, and sickly, as if it drew a secret bitterness from its mother’s milk. It kept Anne awake at night with its crying. Once Majendie got up, and came to her, and took it from her, and it was suddenly pacified, and fell asleep in his arms. He had risen many nights after that to quiet it. It. had seemed to him then that something passed between them with the small tender body his arms took from her, and gave to her again. But he had abandoned that illusion now. And when he saw her with the child he said to himself, “I see. She has got all she wanted. She has no further use for me.”
Thus the child that should have united separated them. Anne took from him whatever small comfort it might have given him. She was disposed to ignore those paternal passages in the nightwatches, and to combat the idea of his devotion to the child. That situation he had accepted, too.
But Anne, in appearing to accept everything, accepted nothing. She was conscious of a mute rebellion, even of a certain disloyalty of the imagination. She disapproved of Majendie more than ever. She guarded her own purity now as her child’s inheritance, and her motherhood strengthened her spiritual revolt. Her mind turned sometimes to the ideal father of her child, evoking visions of the Minor Canon whom her soul had loved. Lent brought the image of the Minor Canon nearer to her, and toward his perfections she turned the tender face of her dreams, while she presented to her husband the stern face of duty.
She had never swerved from that. There was no reason why she should close her door to him, since the material bond was torture to her, and the ramparts of the spiritual life rose high. Her marriage was more than ever a martyrdom and a sacrifice, redemptive, propitiatory of powers she abhorred and but dimly understood.
Majendie was aware that she had now no attitude to him but one of apathy touched by repugnance. He accepted the apathy, but the repugnance he could not accept. The very tenderness and fineness of his nature held him back from that, and Anne found once more her refuge in his chivalry. She made no attempt to reconcile it with her estimate of him.
By the time the child was a year old their separation was complete.
As yet their good taste shrank from any acknowledgment of the rupture. Majendie did his best to cover it by a certain fineness of transition, and by a high smooth courtesy punctiliously applied. Anne responded on the same pure note; for, tried by courtesy, her breeding rang golden to the test.
She was not a woman (as Majendie had reflected several times already) to trail an untidy tragedy through the house; she had never desired to play a passionate part; and she was glad to exchange tragedy for the decent drama of convention. She was helped both by her weakness and her strength. Her soul was satisfied with its secret communion with the Unseen; her heart was filled with its profound affection for her child; her mind was appeased by appearances, and she had no doubt as to her ability to keep them up.
It was Majendie who felt the strain. His mind had an undying contempt for appearances; his heart and soul had looked to one woman for satisfaction, and could not be appeased with anything but her. Among all the things he had accepted, he accepted most of all the fact that she was perfect. Too perfect to be the helpmate of his imperfection. Always to do without her, always to be tortured by the fairness of her presence and the sweetness of her voice; always to sit up late and rise up early, in order to get away from the thought of them; to come down and find her fairness and sweetness smiling politely at him over the teapot; to hunt in the morning paper for news to interest her; to mix with business men all day, and talk business, and to return at five o’clock and find her, punctual and perfect, smiling in her duty, over another teapot ; to rack his brains for something to talk about to her; not to be allowed to mention his own friends, but to have to feign indestructible interest in the Eliotts and the Gardners; to dine with inspiration drawn again from the paper; and then perhaps to be read aloud to all evening, till it was time to go to bed again. That was how his days went on. He shuddered at the years that were in store for him. The child and Edie were his only accessible sources of consolation. But Edie was dying by inches; and he had to suppress his affection for the child as well as his passion for the mother.
For that was the thorn in Anne’s side now. The child was happy with her only when Majendie was not there. The moment he came into the room she would struggle from her mother’s lap, and crawl frantically to his feet. Her tiny face curled in its white, angelic smile as soon as he lifted her in his arms. Little Peggy had an adorable way of turning her back on her mother and tucking her face away under Majendie’s chin. When she was cross or ailing she cried for Majendie, and declined to take food or medicine from any one but him.
He was sitting one day in the nursery with the little year-old thing on his knees, feeding her deftly from a cup of warm milk that she had pushed away when presented by her mother. The nurse and Nanna looked kindly on the spectacle of Majendie’s success, while his wife watched him steadily without a word. The nurse, presuming on her privileges, made an injudicious remark.
“She won’t do anything for anybody but her daddy. I never saw such a funny little girl.”
“I never saw such a shocking little flirt,” said Majendie; “she takes after her mother.”
“She’s the living image of you, m’m,” said Nanna, conscious of the other’s blunder.
“I wish she had my strength,” said Anne, in a voice fine and trenchant as a sword.
Nanna and the nurse retired discreetly.
The parents looked at each other over the frail body of the little girl. Majendie’s face had flushed under his wife’s blow. He knew she was thinking of Edith and her fate. The same malady had appeared in more than one member of his family, as Anne was well aware. (Her own strain was pure.) Instinctively he put his hand to the child’s spine. Little Peggy sat up straight and strong enough. And another thought passed through him. His eyes conveyed it to Anne as plainly as if he had said, “I don’t know about her mother’s strength. She’s the child of her mother’s coldness.”
He set the child down on Anne’s lap, told her to be good there, and left them.
Anne saw she had hurt him, and was visited with an unfamiliar pang of selfreproach. She was very nice to him all that evening. And out of his own pain a kinder thought came to him. He had been the cause of great unhappiness to Anne. There might be a sense in which the child was suffering from her mother’s martyrdom. He persuaded himself that the least he could do was to leave Anne in supreme possession of her.
What with anxiety about his daughter and his sister, and a hopeless attachment to his wife, Majendie’s misery became so acute that it told upon his health. His friends, Gorst, and the Hannays, noticed the change and spent themselves in persistent efforts to cheer him. And, at times when his need of distraction became imperious, he declined from Anne’s lofty domesticities upon the Hannays. He liked to go over in the evening, and sit with Mrs. Hannay and talk about his child. Mrs. Hannay was never tired of listening. The subject drew her out remarkably, so that Mrs. Hannay, always soft and kind, showed at her very softest and kindest. To talk to her was like resting an aching head upon the down cushion to which it was impossible not to compare her. It was the Hannays’ bitter misfortune that they had no children; but this frustration had left their hearts more hospitably open to their friends.
Mrs. Hannay called in Prior Street, at stated intervals, to see Edith and the baby. On these occasions Anne, if taken unaware by Mrs. Hannay, was always perfect and polite, but when she knew that Mrs. Hannay was coming, she contrived adroitly to be out. Her attitude to the Hannays was one of the things she undoubtedly meant to keep up. The natural result was that Majendie was driven to an increasing friendliness, by way of making up for the slights the poor things had to endure from his wife. He was always meaning to remonstrate with Anne, and always putting off the uncomfortable moment. The subject was so mixed with painful matters that he shrank from handling it. But, with the New Year following Peggy’s first birthday, circumstances forced him to take, once for all, a firm stand. Certain entanglements in the affairs of Mr. Gorst had called for his intervention. There had been important developments in his business; Majendie was about to enter into partnership with Mr. Hannay. And Anne had given him an opportunity for protest by expressing her unqualified disapprobation of Mrs. Hannay. Mrs. Hannay had offended grossly; she had passed the limits; having no instincts, Anne maintained, to tell her where to stop. Mrs. Hannay had a passion for Peggy which she was wholly unable to conceal. Moved by a tender impulse of vicarious motherhood, she had sent her at Christmas the present of a little coat. Anne had acknowledged the gift in a note so frigid that it cut Mrs. Hannay to the heart. She had wept over it, and had been found weeping by her husband, who mentioned the incident to Majendie.
It was more than Majendie could bear; and that night, in the drawing-room (Anne had left off sitting in the study; she said it smelt of smoke) he entered on an explanation, full, brief, and clear.
“I must ask you,” he said, “to behave a little better to poor Mrs. Hannay. You ’ve never known her anything but kind, and sweet, and forgiving; and your treatment of her has been simply barbarous.”
“I think so. There are reasons why you will have to ask the Hannays to dinner next week, and reasons why you will have to be nice to them.”
“One’s enough. I’m going into partnership with Lawson Hannay.”
She stared. The announcement was a blow to her.
“Is that a reason why I should make a friend of Mrs. Hannay?”
“ It is a reason why you should be civil to her. You will send an invitation to Gorst at the same time.”
She winced. “That I cannot do.”
“You can, dear, and you will. Gorst’s in a pretty bad way. I knew he would be. He’s got entangled now with some wretched girl, and I’ve got to disentangle him. The only way to do it is to get him to come here again.”
“And I am to write to him?” Her tone proclaimed the idea preposterous.
“It will come best from you, as it’s you who have kept him out of the house. You must, please, put your own feelings aside, and simply do what I tell you.”
He rose and went to the writing-place, and prepared a place for her there.
Anne said nothing. She was considering how far it was possible to oppose him. It had always been his way to yield greatly in little things; to drift and let things drift till he created an illusory impression of his weakness. Then when “things ” had gone too far, he would rise, as he had risen now, and take his stand with a strength the more formidable because it came as a complete surprise.
“Come,” said he, “it’s got to be done, and you may as well do it at once and get it over.”
She gave one glance at him, as if she measured his will against hers. Then she obeyed.
She handed the notes to him in silence.
“That’s all right,” said he, laying down her note to Gorst. “And this could n’t be better. I’m glad you’ve written so charmingly to Mrs. Hannay.”
“I’m sorry that I ever seemed ungracious to her, Walter. But the other I wrote under compulsion, as you know.”
“I don’t care how you did it, my dear, so long as it’s done.” He slipped the note to Mrs. Hannay into his pocket.
“Where are you going?” she asked anxiously.
“I’m going to take this myself to Mrs. Hannay.”
“What are you going to say to her ?”
“The first thing that comes into my head.”
She called him back as he was going. “Walter — have you paid Mr. Hannay that money you owed him?”
He stood still, astonished at her knowledge, and inclined for one moment to dispute her right to question him.
“I have,” he said sternly. “I paid it yesterday.”
She breathed freely.
Majendie found Mrs. Hannay by her fireside, alone but cheerful. She gave him a little anxious look as she took his hand. “Wallie,” said she, “you’re depressed. What is it?”
He owned to the charge, but declined to give an account of himself.
She settled him comfortably among her cushions; she told him to light his pipe; and while he smoked she poured out consolation as she best knew how. She drew him on to talk of Peggy.
“That child’s going to be a comfort to you, Wallie. See if she is n’t. I wanted you to have a little son, because I thought he’d be more of a companion. But I’m glad now it’s been a little daughter.”
“So am I. Anne would have fidgeted frightfully about a son. But Peggy’ll be a help to her.”
“And what helps her will help you, my dear; mind that.”
“Oh, rather,” he said vaguely. “The worst of it is she is n’t very strong. Peggy, I mean.”
“Oh, rubbish,” said Mrs. Hannay. “I was a peeky, piny baby, and look at me now!”
He looked at her and laughed.
“Sarah’s coming in this evening,” said she. “I hope you won’t mind.”
“Why should I?”
“Why, indeed? Nobody need mind poor Sarah now. I don’t know what’s happened. She went abroad last year, and came back quite chastened, I suppose you know it’s all come to nothing?”
“Oh, her marriage. Has she told you about it ? ”
“My dear, she’s told everybody about it. He was an angel; and he’s been going to marry her for the last four years. I say, Wallie, do you think he really was ? ”
“Do I think he really was an angel? Or do I think he really was going to marry her?”
“If he was, you know, perhaps he would n’t.”
“Oh, no, if he was, he would; because he w’ould n’t know what he was in for. Anyhow the angel has flown, has he ? I fancy some rumors of the past must have troubled his bright essence.”
Mrs. Hannay suppressed her own opinion, which was that the angel, wings and all, was merely a stage property in the comedy of respectability that poor Sarah had been playing in so long. He was one of many brilliant and entertaining fictions which had helped to restore her to her place in society. “And you really,” she repeated, “don’t mind meeting her ? ”
“I don’t think I mind anything very much now.”
The entrance of the lady showed him how very little there really was to mind. Lady Cayley had (as her looking-glass informed her) both gone off and come on quite remarkably in the last three years. Her face presented a paler, softer, larger surface to the eye. Her own eye had gained in meaning and her mouth in sensuous charm; while her figure had acquired a quality to which she herself gave the name of “presence.” Other women of forty might go about looking like incarnate elegies on their dead youth; Lady Cayley’s “presence” was as some great ode, celebrating the triumph of maturity.
She took the place Mrs. Hannay had vacated, settling down by Majendie among the cushions. “How delightfully unexpected,” she murmured, “to meet you here.”
She ignored the occasion of their last meeting, just as she had then ignored the circumstance of their last parting. Lady Cayley owed her success to her immense capacity for ignoring. In her way she lived the glorious life of fantasy, lapped in the freshest and most beautifid illusions. Not but what she saw through every one of them, her own and other people’s; for Lady Cayley’s intelligence was marvelously subtle and astute. But the fierce will by which she accomplished her desires urged her intelligence to reject and to destroy whatever consideration was hostile to the illusion. It was thus that she had achieved respectability.
But respectability accomplished had lost all the charm of its young appeal to the imagination; and it was not agreeing very well with Lady Cayley just at present. The sight of Majendie revived in her memories of the happy past.
“Mr. Majendie, why have I not met you here before?”
Some instinct told her that if she wished him to approve of her, she must approach him with respect. He had grown terribly unapproachable with time.
He smiled in spite of himself. “We did meet, more than three years ago.”
“I remember.” Lady Cayley’s face shone with the illumination of her memory. “So we did. Just after you were married ? ”
She paused discreetly. “You have n’t brought Mrs. Majendie with you?”
“N-no — er — she is n’t very well. She does n’t go out much at night.”
“Indeed? I did hear, did n’t I? that you had a little—” She paused, if anything, more discreetly than before.
“A little girl. Yes. That history is a year old now.”
“Wallie!” cried Mrs. Hannay, “it’s a year and three months. And a darling she is, too.”
“I’m sure she is,” said Sarah, in the softest voice imaginable. There was another pause, the discreetest of them all. “Is she like Mr. Majendie?”
“No, she’s like her mother.” Mrs. Hannay was instantly transported with the blessed vision of Peggy. “She’s got blue, blue eyes, Sarah; and the dearest little goldy ducks’ tails, curling over the nape of her neck.”
Majendie’s sad face brightened under praise of Peggy.
“Sweet,” murmured Sarah. “I love them when they’re like that.” She saw how she would flatter him. If he loved to talk about the baby, she could talk about babies till all was blue. They talked for more than half an hour. It was the prettiest, most innocent conversation in which Sarah had ever taken part.
When Majendie had left (he seldom kept it up later than ten o’clock) she turned to Mrs. Hannay.
“What’s the matter with him?” said she. “He looks awful.”
“He’s married the wrong woman, my dear. That’s what’s the matter with him.”
“I knew he would! He was born to do it.”
“Thank goodness,” said Mrs. Hannay, “he’s got the child.”
“Oh —the child.”
She intimated by a shrug how much she thought of that consolation.
The new firm of Hannay and Majendie promised to do well. Hannay had a genius for business, and Majendie was carried along by the inspiration of his senior partner. Hannay was the soul of the firm and Majendie its brain. He was, Hannay maintained, an ideal partner, the indefatigable master of commercial detail.
The fourth year of his marriage found Majendie supremely miserable at home, and established, in his office, before a fair, wide prospect of financial prosperity. The office had become his home. He worked there early and late, with a dumb, indomitable industry. For the first time in his life Majendie was beginning to take an interest in his business. Disappointed in the only form of happiness that appealed to him, he applied himself gravely and steadily to shipping, finding some, personal satisfaction in the thought that Anne and Peggy would benefit by this devotion. There was Peggy’s education to be thought of. When she was older they would travel. There would be greater material comfort and a wider life for Anne. He himself counted for little in his schemes. At thirty-five he found himself, with all his flames extinguished, settling down into the dull habits and the sober thoughts of middle age.
To the mind of Gorst, the spectacle of Majendie in his office was, as he informed him, too sad for words. To Majendie’s mind nothing could well be sadder than the private affairs of Gorst, to which he was frequently required to give his best attention.
The prodigal had been at last admitted to Prior Street on a footing of his own. He blossomed out in perpetual previous engagements whenever he was asked to dine; but he had made a bargain with Majendie by which he claimed unlimited opportunity for seeing Edie as the price of his promise to reform. This time Majendie was obliged to intimate to him that his reform must be regarded as the price of his admission.
For, this time, in the long year of his exile, the prodigal’s prodigality had exceeded the measure of all former years. And, to his intense surprise, he found that Majendie drew the line somewhere. In consequence of this, and of the “entanglement ” to which Majendie had once referred, the aspect of Gorst’s affairs was peculiarly dark and threatening.
In the spring of the year they gathered to their climax. One afternoon Gorst appeared in Majendie’s office, sat down with a stricken air, and appealed to his friend to help him out.
“I thought you were out,” said Majendie.
“So I am. It’s because I’m so well out that I’m in for it. Evans’s have turned her off. She’s down on her luck — and — well — you see, now she wants me to marry her.”
“I see. Well—”
“Well, of course I can’t. Maggie’s a dear little thing, but — you see — I’m not the first.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Certain. She confessed, poor girl. Besides, I knew it. I’m not a brute. I’d marry her if I’d been the first and only one. I’d marry her if I were sure I’d be the last. I’d marry her, as it is, if I cared enough for her. Always provided I could keep her. But you know—”
“You don’t care, and you can’t keep her. What are you going to do for her ? ”
Gorst in his anguish glared at Majendie.
“I can’t do anything. That’s the damnedest part of it. I ’m simply cleaned out, till I get a berth somewhere.”
Majendie looked grave. This time the prodigal had devoured his living. “You ’re going to leave her there, then. Is that it?”
“No, it is n’t. There’s another fellow who’d marry her, if she’d have him, but she won’t. That’s it.”
“Because she’s fond of you, I suppose ?”
“Oh, I don’t know about being fond,” said Gorst sulkily. “She ’d be fond of anybody.”
“And what do you want me to do?”
“I’d be awfully glad if you’d go and see her.”
“ See her ? ”
“Yes, and explain the situation. I can’t. She won’t let me. She goes mad when I try. She keeps on worrying at it from morning to night. When I don’t go, she writes. And it knocks me all to pieces.”
“If she’s that sort, what good do you think I’ll do by seeing her?”
“Oh, she’ll listen to reason from any one but me. And there are things you can say to her that I can’t. I say, will you ? ”
“I will if you like. But I don’t suppose it will do one atom of good. It never does, you know. Where does t he woman live ? ”
He took down the address on the visiting-card that Gorst gave him.
Between six and seven that evening he presented himself at one of many tiny, two-storied, red brick and stucco houses that stood in a long flat street, each with a narrow mat of grass laid down before its bay window. It was the new quarter of the respectable milliners and clerks; and Majendie judged that the prodigal had taken some pains to lodge his Maggie with decent people. He reasoned farther that such an arrangement, could only be possible, given the complete rupture of their relations.
A clean, kindly woman opened the door. She admitted, with some show of hesitation, that Miss Forrest was at home, and led him to a sitting-room on the upper floor. As he followed her he heard a door open; a dress rustled on the landing, and another door opened and shut again.
Maggie was not in the room as Majendie entered. From signs of recent occupation he gathered that she had risen up and fled at his approach.
The woman went into the adjoining room and returned, politely embarrassed. “Miss Forrest is very sorry, sir, but she can’t see anybody.”
He wrote his name on Gorst’s card, and sent her back with it.
Then Maggie came to him.
He remembered long afterwards the manner of her coming; how he heard her blow her poor nose outside the door before she entered; how she stood on the threshold and looked at him, and made him a stiff little bow; how she approached shyly and slowly, with her arms hanging awkwardly at her sides, and her eyes fixed on him in terror, as if she were drawn to him against her will; how she held Gorst’s card tight in her poor little hand; how her eyes had foreknowledge of his errand and besought him to spare her; and how in her awkwardness she yet preserved her inimitable grace.
He could hardly believe that this was the girl he had once seen in Evans’s shop, when he was buying flowers for Anne. The girl in Evans’s shop was only a pretty girl. Maggie, at five and twenty, living under Gorst’s “protection,” and attired according to his taste, was almost (but not quite) a pretty lady. Maggie was neither inhumanly tall, nor inhumanly slender; she was simply and supremely feminine. She was dressed delicately in black, a choice which made brilliant the beauty of her coloring. Her hair was abundant, fawn-dark, laced with gold. Her face was a full short oval. Its whiteness was the tinged whiteness of pure cream, with a rose in it that flamed, under Maggie’s swift emotions, to a sudden red. She had soft gray eyes dappled with a tawny green. Her little high-arched nose was sensitive to the constant play of her upper lip; and that lip was so short that it could n’t always cover the tips of her little white teeth. Majendie judged that Maggie’s mouth was the prettiest feature in her face, and there was something about it that reminded him, preposterously, of Anne. The likeness bothered him, till he discovered that it lay in that trick of the lifted lip. But the small charm that was so brief and divine an accident in Anne was perpetual in Maggie. He thought he should get. tired of it in time.
Maggie had been crying. Her sobs had left, her lips still parted; her eyelids were swollen; there were little ashen shades and rosy flecks all over her pretty face. Her diminutive muslin handkerchief was limp with her tears. As he looked at her he realized that he had a painful and disgusting task before him, and that there would be no intelligence in the girl to help him out.
He bade her sit down; for poor Maggie stood before him humbly. He told her briefly that his friend, Mr. Gorst, had asked him to explain things to her; and he was beginning to explain them, very gently, when Maggie cut him short.
“It’s not that I want to be married,” she said sadly. “Mr. Mumford would marry me.”
“ Well — then —" he suggested; but Maggie shook her head. “Is n’t he nice to you, Mr. Mumford?”
“He’s nice enough. But I can’t marry ’im. I won’t. I don’t love him. I can’t — Mr. Majendie — because of Charlie.”
She looked at him as if she thought he would compel her to marry Mr. Mumford.
“Oh, dear—” said Maggie, surprised at herself, as she began to cry again.
She pressed the little muslin handkerchief to her eyes; not making a show of her grief, but furtive, rather, and ashamed.
And Majendie took in all the pitifulness of her sweet, predestined nature. Pretty Maggie could never have been led astray; she had gone out, fervent and swift, dream-drunk, to meet her destiny. She was a creature of ardors, of tenderness, and of some perverse instinct that it would be crude to call depravity. Where her heart led, her flesh, he judged, had followed; that was all. Her brain had been passive in her sad affairs. Maggie had never schemed, or calculated, or deliberated. She had only felt.
“See here,” he said. “Charlie can’t marry you. He can’t marry anybody.”
“Why not ?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s too poor.”
“I know he’s poor.”
“And you would n’t be happy if he did marry you. He could n’t make you happy.”
“I’d be unhappy then.”
“Yes. And he’d be unhappy, too. Is that what you want?”
“No — no! You don’t understand.”
“I’ll try to. What do you want ? Tell me.”
“To help him.”
“You can’t help him,” he said softly.
“I could n’t help him if ’e was rich, I can help him if he’s poor.”
He smiled. “How do you make that out, Maggie?”
“Well — He ought to marry a lady, I know. But he can’t marry a lady. She’d cost him pounds and pounds. If he married me I’d cost him nothing. I’d work for him.”
Majendie was startled at this reasoning. Maggie was more intelligent than he had thought.
She went on. “I can cook, I can do housework, I can sew. I ’m learning dressmaking. Look!” She held up a coarse lining she had been stitching at when he came. From its appearance he judged that Maggie was yet a novice in her art. “I’d work my fingers to the bone for him.”
“And you think he’d be happy seeing you do that ? A gentleman can’t let his wife work for him. He has to work for her.” He paused. “ And there’s another reason, Maggie, why he can’t marry you.”
Maggie’s head drooped. “I know,”she said. “But I thought — if he was poor — he would n’t mind so much. They don’t, sometimes.”
“I don’t think you quite know what I mean,”
“I do. You mean he’s afraid. He won’t trust me. He doesn’t think I’m very good. But I would be — if he married me —I would — I would indeed.”
“Of course you would. Whatever happens you ’re going to be good. That was n’t what I meant by the other reason.”
Her face flamed. “Has he left off caring for me ?”
He was silent, and the flame died in her face.
“Does he care for somebody else?”
“It would be better for you if you could think so.”
“I know,” she said; “it’s the lady he used to send flowers to. I thought it was all right. I thought it was funerals.”
She sat very still, taking it in.
“Is he going to marry her?”
“No. He isn’t, going to marry her.”
“She’s not got enough money, I suppose. She can’t help him.”
“You must leave him free to marry somebody who can.”
He waited to see what she would do. He expected tears, and a storm of jealous rage. But all Maggie did was to sit stiller than ever, while her tears gathered and fell, and gathered again.
Majendie rose. “I may tell Mr. Gorst that you accept his explanations ? That you understand ? ”
“Am I never to see him again ?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Nor write to him ?”
“It’s better not. It only worries him.”
She looked round her, dazed by the destruction of her dream.
“What am I to do, then ? Where am I to go to ? ”
“Stay where you are, if you’re comfortable. Your rent will be paid for you, and you shall have a small allowance.”
“But who’s going to give it me?”
“Mr. Gorst would if he could. As he cannot, I am.”
“You mustn’t,” said she. “I can’t take it from you.”
He had approached this point with a horrible dread lest she should misunderstand him.
“Better to take it. from me than from him, or anybody else,” he said significantly, “if it must be.”
But Maggie had not misunderstood.
“I can work,” she said. “I can pay a little now.”
“No, no. Never mind about that. Keep it — keep all you earn.”
“I can’t keep it. I’ll pay you back again. I’ll work my fingers to the bone.”
“ Oh, not for me,” he said, laughing, as he took his hat to go.
Maggie lifted her sad head, and faced him with all her candor.
“Yes,” she said, “for you.”
- Copyright, 1906, by MAY SINCLAIR.↩