ANNE sat in her chair by the fireside, very still. She had turned out the light, for it hurt her eyes and made her head ache. She had felt very weak, and her knees shook under her as she crossed the room. Beyond that she felt nothing, no amazement, no sorrow, no anger, nor any sort of pang. If she had been aware of the trembling of her body, she would have attributed it to the agitation of a disagreeable encounter. She shivered. She thought there was a draught somewhere; but she did not rouse herself to shut the window.
At eight o’clock a telegram from Majendie was brought to her. She was not to wait dinner. He would not be home that night. She gave the message in a calm voice, and told Kate not to send up dinner. She had a bad headache, and could not eat anything.
Kate had stood by, waiting timidly. She had had a sense of things happening. Now she retired with curiosity relieved. Kate was used to her mistress’s bad headaches. A headache needed no explanation. It explained everything.
Anne picked up the telegram and read it over again. Every week, for nearly three years, she had received these messages. They had always been sent from the same post-office in Scale, and the words had always been the same: “ Don’t wait. May not be home to-night.”
To-night the telegram struck her as a new thing. It stood for something new. But all the other telegrams had meant the same thing. Not a new thing. A thing that had been going on for three years; four, five, six years, for all she knew. It was six years since their separation; and that had been his wish.
She had always known it; and she had always put her knowledge away from her, tried not to know more. Her friends had known it too, — Canon Wharton, and the Gardners, and Fanny. It all came back to her — the words, and the looks that had told her more than any words, signs that she had often wondered at and had refused to understand. They had known all the depths of it. It was only the other day that Fanny had offered her house to her as a refuge from her own house in its shame. Fanny had supposed that it must come to that.
God knew she had been loyal to him in the beginning. She had closed her eyes. She had forbidden her senses to take evidence against him. She had been loyal all through, loyal to the very end. She had lied for him; if, indeed, she had lied. In denying Lady Cayley’s statements, she had denied her right to make them, that was all.
Her mind, active now, went backwards and forwards over the chain of evidence, testing each link in turn. All held. It was all true. She had always known it.
Then she remembered that she and Peggy would be going away to-morrow. That was well. It was the best thing she could do. Later on, when they were home again, it would be time enough to make up her mind as to what she could do. If there was anything to be done.
Until then she would not see him. They would be gone to-morrow before he could come home. Unless he saw them off at the station. She would avoid that by taking an earlier train. Then she would write to him. No; she would not write. What they would have to say to each other must be said face to face. She did not know what she would say.
She dragged herself upstairs to the nursery where the packing had been begun. The room was empty. Nanna had gone down to her supper.
Anne’s heart melted. Peggy had been playing at packing. The little lamb had gathered together on the table a heap of her beloved toys, things which it would have broken her heart to part from.
Her little trunk lay open on the floor, packed already. The embroidered frock lay uppermost, carefully folded, not to be crushed. At the sight of it Anne’s brain flared in anger.
A bright fire burned in the grate. She picked up the frock; she took a pair of scissors and cut it in several places at the neck, then tore it to pieces with strong, determined hands. She threw the tatters on the fire; she watched them consume; she raked out their ashes with the tongs, and tore them again. Then she packed Peggy’s toys tenderly in the little trunk, her heart melting over them. She closed the lid of the trunk, strapped it, and turned the key in the lock.
Then, crawling on slow, quiet feet, she went to bed. Undressing vexed her. She, once so careful and punctilious, slipped her clothes like a tired Magdalen, and let them fall from her and lie where they fell. Her nightgown gaped, unbuttoned, at her throat. Her long hair lay scattered on her pillow, unbrushed, unbraided. Her white face stared to the ceiling. She was too spent to pray.
When she lay down, reality gripped her. And with it, her imagination rose up, a thing no longer crude, but fullgrown, large-eyed, and powerful. It possessed itself of her tragedy. She had lain thus, nearly nine years ago, in that room at Scarby, thinking terrible thoughts. Now she saw terrible things.
Peggy stirred in her sleep, and crept from her cot into her mother’s bed.
“Mummy, I’m so frightened.”
“What is it, darling? Have you had a little dream?”
“No. Mummy, let me stay in your bed.”
Anne let her stay, glad of the comfort of the little warm body, and afraid to vex the child. She drew the blankets round her. “There,” she said, “go to sleep, pet.”
But Peggy was in no mind to sleep.
“Mummy, your hair’s all loose,” she said; and her fingers began playing with her mother’s hair.
“Mummy, where’s daddy? Is he in his little bed ?”
“He’s away, darling. Go to sleep.”
“Why does he go away ? Is he coming back again ? ”
“Yes, darling.” Anne’s voice shook.
“Mummy, did you cry when Auntie Edie went away?”
Anne kissed her.
“Auntie Edie’s dead.”
“Lie still, darling, and let mother go to sleep.”
Peggy lay still, and Anne went on thinking.
There was nothing to be done. She would have to take him back again, always. Whatever shame he dragged her through, she must take him back again, for the child’s sake.
Suddenly she remembered Peggy’s birthday. It was only last week. Surely she had not knowm then. She must have forgotten for a time.
Then tenderness came, and with it an intolerable anguish. She was smitten and was melted; she was torn and melted again. Her throat was shaken, convulsed; then her bosom, then her whole body. She locked her teeth, lest her sobs should break through and wake the child.
She lay thus tormented, till a memory, sharper than imagination, stung her. She saw her husband carrying the sleeping child, and his face bending over her with that look of love. She closed her eyes, and let the tears rain down her hot cheeks and fall upon her breast and in her hair. She tried to stifle the sobs that strangled her, and she choked. That instant the child’s lips were on her face, tasting her tears.
“Oh mummy, you’re crying.”
“No, my pet. Go to sleep.”
“Why are you crying?”
Anne made no sound; and Peggy cried out in terror.
“Mummy — is daddy dead ?”
Anne folded her in her arms.
“No, my pet, no.”
“He is, mummy, I know he is. Daddy! Daddy!”
If Majendie had been in the house she would have carried the child into his room, shown him to her, and relieved her of her terror. She had done that once before when she had cried for him.
But now Peggy cried persistently, vehemently; not loud, but in an agony that tore and tortured her as she had seen her mother torn and tortured. She cried till she was sick; and still her sobs shook her, with a sharp mechanical jerk that would not cease.
Gradually she grew drowsy and fell asleep.
All night Anne lay awake beside her, driven to the edge of the bed, that she might give breathing space to the little body that pushed, closer and closer, to the warm place she made.
Towards dawn Peggy sighed three times and stretched her limbs, as if awakening out of her sleep.
Then Anne turned, and laid her hands on the dead body of her child.
The yacht had lain all night in Fawlness Creek. Majendie had slept onboard. He had sent Steve up to the farm with a message for Maggie. He had told her not to expect him that night. He would call and see her very early in the morning. That would prepare her for the end. In the morning he would call and say goodby to her.
He had taken that resolution on the night when Gardner had told him about Peggy. _
He did not sleep. He heard all the sounds of the land, of the river, of the night, and of the dawn. He heard the lapping of the creek water against the yacht’s side, the wash of the steamers passing on the river, the stir of the wild fowl at daybreak, the swish of wind and water among the reeds and grasses of the creek.
All night he thought of Peggy, who would not live, who was the child of her father’s passion and her mother’s grief.
At dawn he got up. It was a perfect day, with the promise of warmth in it. Over land and water the white mist was lifting and drifting eastwards towards the risen sun. Inland, over the five fields, the drops of fallen mist glittered on the grass. The farm, guarded by its three elms, showed clear, and red, and still, as if painted under an unchanging light. A few leaves, loosened by the damp, were falling with a shivering sound against the house wall, and lay where they fell, yellow on the red-brick path.
Maggie was not at the garden gate. She sat crouched inside, by the fender, kindling a fire. Tea had been made and was standing on the table. She was waiting.
She rose, with a faint cry, as Majendie entered. She put her arms on his shoulders in her old way. He loosened her hands gently and held her by them, keeping her from him at arm’s length. Her hands were cold, her eyes had foreknowledge of the end; but, moved by his touch, her mouth curled unaware and shaped itself for kissing.
He did not kiss her. And she knew.
Upstairs in the bedroom overhead, Steve and his mother moved heavily. There was a sound of drawers opening and shutting, then a grating sound. Something was being dragged from under the bed. Maggie knew that they were packing Majendie’s portmanteau with the things he had left behind him.
They stood together by the hearth, where the fire kindled feebly. He thrust out his foot, and struck the woodpile; it fell and put out the flame that w-as struggling to be born.
“I’m sorry, Maggie,” be said.
Maggie stooped and built up the pile again and kindled it. She knelt there, patient and humble, waiting for the fire to burn.
He did not know whether he was going to have trouble with her. He was afraid of her tenderness.
“Why didn’t you come last night?” she said.
“I could n’t.”
She looked at him with eyes that said, “That is not true.”
“You could n’t?”
“I could n’t.”
“You came last week.”
“Last week — yes. But since then things have happened, do you see?”
“Things have happened,” she repeated, under her breath.
“Yes. My little girl is very ill.”
“Peggy?” she cried, and covered her face with her hands. Then with her hands she made a gesture that swept calamity aside. Maggie would only believe what she wanted.
“She will get better,” she said.
“Perhaps. But I must be with my wife.”
“You weren’t with her last night,” said Maggie. “You could have come then.”
“No, Maggie, I could n’t.”
“D’ you mean — because of the little girl?”
“I see,” she said softly. She had understood.
“She will get better,” she said, “and then you can come again.”
“No. I’ve told you. I must be with my wife.”
“I thought — " said Maggie.
“Never mind what you thought,” he said with a quick, fierce impatience.
“Are you fond of her?” she asked suddenly.
“You know I am,” he said; and his voice was kind again. “You ’ve known it all the time. I told you that in the beginning.”
“But —since then,” said Maggie, “You’ve been fond of me, have n’t you ? ”
“It’s not the same thing. I’ve told you that, too, a great many times. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s different.”
“How is it different?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You mean —it’s different because I’m not good.”
“No, my child, I’m afraid it’s different because I’m bad. That’s as near as we can get to it.”
She shook her head in persistent, obstinate negation.
“See here, Maggie, we must end it. We can’t go on like this any more. We must give it up.”
“I can’t,” she moaned. “Don’t ask me to do that, Wallie dear. Don’t ask me.”
“I must, Maggie. I must give it up. I told you, dear, before we took this place, that it must end, sooner or later, that it could n’t last very long. Don’t you remember ? ”
“Yes, — I remember.”
“And you promised me, did n’t you, that when the time came, you would n’t — ”
“I know. I said I would n’t make a fuss.”
“Well, we’ve got to end it now. I only came to talk it over with you. There’ll have to be arrangements.”
“ I know. I’ve got to clear out of this.”
She said it sadly, without passion and without resentment.
“No,” he said, “not if you’d rather stay. Do you like the farm, Maggie?”
“I love it.”
“Do you ? I was afraid you did n’t. I thought you hated the country.”
“I love it. I love it.”
“Oh, well then, you shan’t leave it. I’ll keep on the farm for you. And, see here, don’t worry about things. I ’ll look after you, all your life, dear.”
“ Look after me ? ” Her face brightened. “Like you used to?”
“Provide for you.”
“Oh!” she cried. “That! I don’t want to be provided for. I won’t have it. I’d rather be let alone and die.”
“Maggie, I know it’s hard on you. Don’t make it harder. Don’t make it hard for me.”
“You?” she sobbed.
“Yes, me. It’s all wrong. I’m all wrong. I can’t do the right thing, whatever I do. It’s wrong to stay with you. It’s wrong, it’s brutally wrong, to leave you. But that’s what I’ve got to do.”
“You said — you only said — just now — you’d got to end it.”
“That’s it. I’ve got to end it.”
She stood up flaming.
“End it, then. End it this minute. Give up the farm. Send me away. I’ll go anywhere you tell me. Only don’t say you won’t come and see me.”
“See you? Don’t you understand, Maggie, that seeing you is what I’ve got to give up ? The other things don’t matter.”
“Ah,” she cried, “it’s you who don’t understand. I mean — I mean — see me like you used to. That’s all I want, Wallie. Only just to see me. That would n’t be awful, would it? There would n’t be any sin in that?”
Sin ? It was the first time she had ever said the word. The first time, he imagined, she had formed the thought.
“Poor little girl,” he said. “No, no, dear, it would n’t do. It sounds simple, but it is n’t.”
“But,” she said, bewildered, “I love you.”
He smiled. “That’s why, Maggie, that’s why. You’ve been very sweet and very good to me. And that’s why I must n’t see you. That’s how you make it bard for me.”
Maggie sat down and put her elbows on the table and hid her face in her hands.
“Will you give me some tea ?” he said abruptly.
“It’s all stewed. I’ll make fresh.”
“No. That’ll do. I can’t wait.”
She gave him his tea. Before he tasted it he got up and poured out a cup for her. She drank a little at his bidding, then pushed the cup from her, choking. She sat, not looking at him, but looking away, through the window, across the garden and the fields.
“I must go now,” he said. “Don’t come with me.”
She started to her feet.
“Ah, let me come.”
“Better not. Much better not.”
“I must,” she said.
They set out along the field-track. Steve, carrying his master’s luggage, went in front, at a little distance. He did n’t want to see them, still less to hear them speak.
But they did not speak.
At the creek’s bank Steve was ready with the boat.
Majendie took Maggie’s hand and pressed it. She flung herself on him, and he had to loose her hold by main force. She swayed, clutching at him to steady herself. He heard Steve groan. He put his hand on her shoulder, and kept it there a moment, till she stood firm. Her eyes, fixed on his, struck tears from them, tears that cut their way like knives under his eyelids.
Her body ceased swaying. He felt it grow rigid under his hand.
Then he went from her and stepped into the boat. She stood still, looking after him, pressing one hand against her breast, as if to keep down its heaving.
Steve pushed off from the bank, and rowed toward the creek’s mouth. And as he rowed, he turned his head over his right shoulder, away from the shore where Maggie stood with her hand upon her breast.
Majendie did not look back. Neither he nor Steve saw that, as they neared the mouth of the creek, Maggie had turned, and was going rapidly across the field, towards the far side of the spit of land where the yacht lay moored out of the current. As they had to round the point, her way by land was shorter than theirs by water.
When they rounded the point they saw her standing on the low inner shore, watching for them.
She stood on the bank, just above the belt of silt and sand that divided it from the river. The two men turned for a moment, and watched her from the yacht’s deck. She waited till the big mainsail went up, and the yacht’s head swung round and pointed upstream. Then she began to run fast along the shore, close to the river.
At that sight Majendie turned away and set his face toward the Lincolnshire side.
He was startled by an oath from Steve and a growl from Steve’s father at the wheel. “Eh — the — little —” At the same instant the yacht was pulled suddenly inshore and her boom swung violently round.
Steve and the boatswain rushed to the ropes and began hauling down the mainsail.
“What the devil are you doing there ? ” shouted Majendie. But no one answered him.
When the sail came down he saw.
“ My God,” he cried, “she’s going in.”
Old Pearson, at the wheel, spat quietly over the yacht’s side. “ Not she,” said old Pearson. “She’s too much afraid o’ cold water.”
Maggie was down on the lower bank close to the edge of the river. Majendie saw her putting her feet in the water and drawing them out again, first one foot, and then the other. Then she ran a little way, very fast, like a thing hunted. She stumbled on the slippery, slanting ground, fell, picked herself up again, and ran. Then she stood still and tried the water again, first one foot and then the other, desperate, terrified, determined. She was afraid of life and death.
The belt of sand sloped gently, and the river was shallow for a few feet from the shore. She was safe unless she threw herself in.
Majendie and Steve rushed together for the boat. As Majendie pushed against him at the gangway, Steve shook him off. There was a brief struggle. Old Pearson left the wheel to the boatswain and crossed to the gangway, where the two men still struggled. He put his hand on his master’s sleeve.
“Excuse me, sir, you’d best stay where you are.”
The captain went to the wheel again, and the boatswain to the boat. Majendie stood stock-still by the gangway. His hands were clenched in his pockets; his face was drawn and white. The captain slewed round upon him a small vigilant eye. “You ’d best leave her to Steve, sir. He’s a good lad and he '11 look after ’er. He’d give his ’ead to marry her. Only she wudd n’t look at ’im.”
Majendie said nothing. And the captain continued his consolation.
“She’s only trying it on, sir,” said he. “I know ’em. She’ll do nowt. She’ll do nubbut wet ’er feet. She’s afeard o’ cold water.”
But before the boat could put off, Maggie was in again. This time her feet struck a shelf of hard mud. She slipped, rolled sideways, and lay, half in and half out of the water. There she stayed till the boat reached her.
Majendie saw Steve lift her and carry her to the upper bank. He saw Maggie struggle from his arms and beat him off. Then he saw Steve seize her by force, and drag her back, over the fields, towards Three Elms Farm.
Majendie landed at the pier and went straight to the office. There he found a telegram from Anne telling him of his child’s death.
He went on to the house. The old nurse opened the door for him. She was weeping bitterly. He asked for Anne, and was told that she was lying down and could not see him. It was Nanna who told him how Peggy died, and all the things he had to know. When she left him, he shut himself up alone in his study for the first hour of his grief. He wanted to go to Anne; but he was too deeply stupefied to wonder why she would not see him.
Later they met.
He knew by his first glance at her face that he must not speak to her of the dead child. He could understand that. He was even glad of it. In this she was like him, that deep feeling left her dumb. And yet, there was a difference. It was that he could not speak, and she, he felt, would not.
There were things that had to be done. He did them all, sparing her as much as possible. Once or twice she had to be consulted. She gave him a fact, or an opinion, in a brief methodic manner that set him at a distance from her sacred sorrow. She had betrayed more emotion in speaking to Dr. Gardner.
But for those things, they went through their first day in silence, like people who respect each others’ grief too profoundly for any speech.
In the evening they sat together in the drawing-room. There was nothing more to do.
Then he spoke. He asked to see Peggy. His voice was so low that she did not hear him.
“What did you say, Walter?”
He had to say it again. “ Where is she ? Can I see her?”
His voice was still low, and it was thick and uncertain; but this time she understood.
“In Edie’s room,” she said. “Nanna has the key.”
She did not go with him.
When he came back to her she was still cold and torpid. He could understand that her grief had frozen her.
At night she parted from him without a word.
So the days went on. Sometimes he would sit in the study by himself for a little while. His racked nerves were soothed by solitude. Then he would think of the woman upstairs in the drawing-room, sitting alone. And he would go to her. She did not send him away. She did not leave him. She did nothing. She said nothing.
He began to be afraid. It would do her good, he said to himself, if she could cry. He wondered whether it was wise to leave her to her terrible torpor; whether he ought to speak to her. But he could not.
Yet she was kind to him for all her coldness. Once, when his grief was heaviest upon him, he thought she looked at him with anxiety, with pity. She came to him once, wliere he sat downstairs, alone. But though she came to him, she still kept him from her. And she would not go with him into the room where Peggy lay.
How and then he wondered if she knew. He was not certain. He put the thought away from him. He was sure that for nearly three years she had not known anything. She had not known anything as long as she had had the child; when her knowing would not. he thought, have mattered half so much. It would be horrible if she knew now. And yet, sometimes her eyes seemed to say to him, “ Why not now, when nothing matters ? ”
On the night before the funeral, the night they closed the coffin, he came to her where she sat upstairs alone. He put his hand on her shoulder and spoke her name. She shrank from him with a low cry. And again he wondered if she knew.
The day after the funeral she told him that she was going away for a month with Mrs. Gardner.
He said he was glad to hear it. It would do her good. It was the best thing she could do.
He had meant to take her away himself. She knew it. Yet she had arranged to go with Mrs. Gardner.
Then he was certain that she knew.
She went, with Mrs. Gardner, the next day. He and Dr. Gardner saw them off at the station. He thanked Mrs. Gardner for her kindness, wondering if she knew. The little woman had tears in her eyes. She pressed his hand and tried to speak to him, and broke down. He gathered that, whatever Anne knew, her friend knew nothing.
The doctor was inscrutable. He might or he might not know. If he did, he would keep his knowledge to himself. They walked together from the station, and the doctor talked about the weather and the municipal elections.
Anne was to be away a month. Majendie wrote to her every week and received, every week, a precise, formal little letter in reply. She told him, every week, of an improvement in her own health, and appeared solicitous for his.
While she was away, he saw a great deal of the Hannays and of Gorst. When he was not with the Hannays, Gorst was with him. Gorst was punctilious, but a little shy, in his inquiries for Mrs. Majendie. The Hannays made no allusion to her beyond what decency demanded. They evidently regarded her as a painful subject.
About a week before the day fixed for Anne’s return, the firm of Hannay and Majendie had occasion to consult its solicitor about a mortgage on some office buildings. Price was excited and assiduous. Excited and assiduous, Hannay thought, beyond all proportion to the trivial affair. Hannay noticed that Price took a peculiar and almost morbid interest in the junior partner. His manner set Hannay thinking. It suggested the legal instinct scenting the divorce court from afar.
He spoke of it to Mrs. Hannay.
“Do you think she knows?” said Mrs. Hannay.
“Of course she does. Or why should she leave him, at a lime when most people stick to each other if they’ve never stuck before?”
“Do you think she’ll try for a separation ? ”
“No, I don’t.”
“I do,” said Mrs. Hannay. “Now that the dear little girl’s gone.”
“Not she. She won’t let him off as easily as all that. She’ll think of the other woman. And she’ll live with him and punish him forever.”
He paused, pondering. Then he delivered himself of that which was within him, his idea of Anne.
“I always said she was a she-dog in the manger.”
Anne was not expected home before the middle of November. She wrote to her husband, fixing Saturday for the day of her return.
Majendie, therefore, was surprised to find her luggage in the hall when he entered the house at six o’clock on Friday evening. Nanna had evidently been waiting for the sound of his latch-key. She hurried to intercept him.
“The mistress has come home, sir,” she said.
“Has she? I hope you’ve got things comfortable for her.”
“Yes, sir. We had a telegram this afternoon. She said she would like to see you in the study, sir, as soon as you came in.”
He went at once into the study. Anne was sitting there in her chair by the hearth. Her hat and jacket were thrown on the writing-table that stood in the middle of the room. She rose as he came in, but made no advance to meet him. He stood still for a moment by the closed door, and they held each other with their eyes.
“I did n’t expect you till to-morrow.”
“I sent a telegram,” she said.
“If you’d sent it to the office I’d have met you.”
“I didn’t want anybody to meet me.”
He felt that her words had some reference to their loss, and to the sadness of her homecoming. A sigh broke from him; but he was unaware that he had sighed.
He sat down, not in his accustomed seat by the hearth, opposite to hers, but in a nearer chair by the writing-table. He saw that she had been writing letters. He pushed them away and turned his chair round so as to face her. His heart ached looking at her.
There were deep lines on her forehead; and she was very pale; even her little close mouth had no color in it. She kept her sad eyes half hidden under their drooping lids. Her lips were tightly compressed, her narrow nostrils white and pinched. It was a face in which all the doors of life were closing; where the inner life went on tensely, secretly, behind the closing doors.
“ Well,” he said, “ I’m very glad you’ve come back.”
“Walter, — have you any idea why I went away ? ”
“ Why you went ? Obviously, it was the best thing you could do.”
“ It was the only thing I could do. And I am glad I did it. My mind has become clearer ”
“I see. I thought it would.”
“It would not have been clear if I had stayed.”
“No,” he said vaguely, “of course it would n’t.”
“I’ve seen,” she continued, “that there is nothing for me but to come back. It is the right thing.”
“Did you doubt it?”
“Yes. I even doubted whether it were possible — whether, in the circumstances, I could bear to come back, to stay—”
“ Do you mean — to — to the house ? ”
“No. I mean — to you.”
He turned away. “I understand,” he said. “So it came to that?”
“Yes. It came to that. I’ve been here three hours; and up to the last hour, I was not sure whether I would not pack the rest of my things and go away. I had written a letter to you. There it is, under your arm.”
“Am I to read it?”
He turned his back on her, and read the letter.
“I see. You say here you want a separation. If you want it you shall have it. But had n’t you better hear what I have to say, first ? ”
“I’ve come back for that. What have you to say ? ”
He bowed his head upon his breast.
“Not very much, I’m afraid. Except that I’m sorry — and ashamed of myself — and — I ask your forgiveness. What more can I say?”
“What more indeed? I’m to understand, then, that everything I was told is true ? ”
“It was true.”
“And is not now?”
“No. Whoever told you, omitted to tell you that.”
“You mean you have given up living with this woman ? ”
“Yes. If you call it living with her.”
“You have given it up —for how long?”
“About five weeks.” His voice was almost inaudible.
She winced. Five weeks back brought her to the date of Peggy’s death.
“I daresay,” she said. “You could hardly — have done less in the circumstances.”
“Anne,” he said, “I gave it up — I broke it off — before that. I — I broke with her that morning — before I heard.”
“You were away that night.”
“I was not with her.”
“Well — And it was going on, all the time, for three years before that?”
“Ever since your sister’s death?”
He did not answer.
“Ever since Edie died,” she repeated, as if to herself rather than to him.
“Not quite. Why don’t you say,— since you sent me away ? ”
“When did I ever send you away?”
“That night. When I came to you.”
“Then? Walter, that is unforgivable. To bring up a little thing like that — ”
“You call it a little thing? A little thing ? ”
“I had forgotten it. And for you to remember it all these years — and to cast it up against me — now —”
“ I have n’t cast anything up against you.”
“ You implied that you held me responsible for your sin.”
“I don’t hold you responsible for anything. Not even for that.”
Her face never changed. She did not take in the meaning of his emphasis.
He continued. “ And if you want your separation, you shall have it. Though I did hope that you might consider that six years was about enough of it.”
“I did want it. But I do not want it now. When I wrote that letter I had forgotten my promise.”
“You shall have your promise back again, if you want it. I shall not hold you to it, or to anything, if you ’d rather not.”
“I can never have my promise back, — I made it to Edie.”
“Yes. A short time before she died.”
His face brightened.
“What did you promise her,” he said softly.
“That I would never leave you.”
“Did she make you promise not to?”
“No. It did not occur to her that I could leave you. She did not think it possible.”
“But you did ? ”
“I thought it possible — yes.”
“ Even then ? There was no reason then. I had given you no cause.”
“I did not know that.”
“Do you mean that you suspected me — then ? ”
“I never accused you, Walter, even in my thoughts.”
“I did n’t know.”
“And — afterwards — did you suspect anything?”
“No. I never suspected anything — afterwards.”
“I see. You suspected me when you had no cause. And when I gave you cause you suspected nothing. I must say you are a very extraordinary woman.”
“I didn’t know,” she answered.
“Who told you? Or must I not ask that ?”
“ I cannot tell you. I would rather not. I was not told much. And there are some things that I have a right to know.”
“ Well —”
“Who is this woman? the girl you’ve been living with?”
“I ’ve no right to tell you —that. Why do you want to know? It’s all over.”
“I must know, Walter. I have a reason.”
“Can you give me your reason?”
“Yes. I want to help her.”
“ You would — really — help her ?”
“If I can. It is my duty.”
“It is n’t in the least your duty.”
“And I want to help you. That also is my duty. I want to undo, as far as possible, the consequences of your sin. We cannot let the girl suffer.”
Majendie was moved by her charity. He had not looked for charity from Anne.
“If you will give me her name, and tell me where to find her, I will see that she is provided for.”
“She is provided for.”
“I am keeping on the house for her.”
Anne’s face flushed.
“A farm, out in the country.”
“That house is yours ? You were living with her there ? ”
Her face hardened. She was thinking of her dead child who was to have gone into the country to get strong.
He was tortured by the same thought. Maggie, his mistress, had grown fat and rosy in the pure air of Holderness. Peggy had died in Scale.
In her bitterness she turned on him.
“And what guarantee have I that you will not go to her again?”
“My word. Is n’t that sufficient?”
“I don’t know, Walter. It would have been once. It is n’t now. What proof have I of your honor ? ”
“My — ”
“ I beg your pardon. I forgot. A man’s honor and a woman’s honor are two very different things.”
“They are both things that are usually taken for granted, and not mentioned.”
“ I will try to take it for granted. You must forgive my having mentioned it. There is one thing I must know. Has she — that woman — any children ? ”
“She has none.”
Up to that moment, the examination had been conducted with the coolness of intense constraint. But for her one burst of feeling, Anne had sustained her tone of businesslike inquiry, her manner of the woman of committees. Now, as she asked her question, her voice shook with the beating of her heart. Majendie, as he answered, heard her draw a long, deep breath of relief.
“And you propose to keep on this house for her?” she said calmly.
“Yes. She has settled in there, and she will be well looked after.”
“Who will look after her?”
“The Pearsons. They’re people I can trust.”
“And, besides the house, I suppose you will give her money ? ”
“I must make her a small allowance.”
“That is a very unwise arrangement. Whatever help is given her had much better come from me.”
“From a woman. It will be the best safeguard for the girl.”
He saw her drift and smiled.
“Am I to understand that you propose to rescue her?”
“It’s my duty — my work.”
“You may not realize it; but that is the work I’ve been doing for the last three years. I am doubly responsible to a girl who has suffered through my husband’s fault.”
“What do you want to do with her?”
“I want, if possible, to reclaim her.”
He smiled again.
“Do you realize what sort of a girl she is?”
“I’m afraid, Walter, she is what you have made her.”
“ And so you want to reclaim her ? ”
“I do, indeed.”
“You couldn’t reclaim her.”
“She is very young, isn’t she?”
“N-no — she’s eight and twenty.”
“I thought she was a young girl. But, if she’s as old as that — and bad—”
He rose and looked down on her in anger.
“She’s good. You don’t know what you ’re talking about. She is n’t a lady, but she’s as gentle and as modest as you are yourself. She’s sweet, and kind, and loving. She’s the most unworldly and unselfish creature I ever met. All the time I’ve known her she never did a selfish thing. She was absolutely devoted. She’d have stripped herself bare of everything she possessed if it would have done me any good. Why, the very thing you blame the poor little soul for, only proves that she had n’t a thought for herself. It would have been better for her if she’d had. And you talk of ‘reclaiming’ a woman like that! You want to turn your preposterous committee on to her, to decide whether she’s good enough to be taken and shut up in some of your beastly institutions! No. On the whole, I think she ‘11 be better off if you leave her to me.”
“Say at once that you think I’d better leave you to her, since you think her perfect.”
“She was perfect to me. She gave me all she had to give. She could n’t very well do more.”
“ You mean she helped you to sin. So, of course, you condone her sin.”
“ I should be an utter brute if I did n’t stand up for her, should n’t I?”
“Yes.” She admitted it. “I suppose you feel that you must defend her. Can you defend yourself, Walter?”
He was silent.
“I’m not going to remind you of your sin against your wife. That you would think nothing of. What have you to say for your sin against her?”
“ My sin against her was not caring for her. You need n’t call me to account for it.”
“ I am to believe that you did not care for her ? ”
“I never cared for her. I took everything from her and gave her nothing, and I left her like a brute.”
“Why did you go to her if you did not care for her?”
“I went to her because I cared for my wife. And I left her for the same reason. And she knew it.”
“Do you really expect me to believe that you left me for another woman, because you cared for me?”
“For no earthly reason except that.”
“ Yoti deceived me — you lived in deliberate sin with this woman for three years — and now you come back to me, because, I suppose, you are tired of her — and I am to believe that you cared for me ? ”
“I don’t expect you to believe it. It’s the fact, all the same. I would not have left you if I had n’t been hopelessly in love with you. You may n’t know it, and I don’t suppose you’d understand it if you did, but that was the trouble. It was the trouble all along, ever since I married you. I know I’ve been unfaithful to you, but I never loved any one but you. Consider how we’ve been living, you and I, for the last six years, — can you say that I put another woman in your place ? ”
She looked at him with her sad, uncomprehending eyes; her hands made a hopeless, helpless gesture.
“You know what you have done,” she said presently, “And you know that it was wrong.”
“Yes, it was wrong. But the whole thing was wrong. Wrong from the beginning. How are we going to make it right ? ”
“I don’t know, Walter. We must do our best.”
“Yes, but what are we going to do? What are you going to do ? ”
“I have told you that. I am not going to leave you.”
“We are to go on, then, as we did before ?”
“Yes — as far as possible.”
“Then,” he said, “we shall still be all wrong. Can’t you see it ? Can’t you see now that it’s all wrong ? ”
“What do you mean?”
“Our life. Yours and mine. Are you going to begin again like that?”
“Does it rest with me?”
“Yes. It rests with you, I think. You say we must make the best of it. What is your notion of the best?”
“I don’t know, Walter.”
“I must know. You say you’ll take me back — you ’ll never leave me. What are you taking me back to ? Not to that old misery ? It was n’t only bad for me, dear. It was bad for both of us.”
She sighed, and her sigh shuddered to a sob in her throat. The sound went to his heart and stirred in it a passion of pity.
“God knows,” he said, “I’d live with you on any terms. And I ’ll keep straight. You need n’t be afraid. Only — See here. There’s no reason, why you should n’t take me back. I would n’t ask you to if I’d left off caring for you. But it was n’t there I went wrong. I can’t explain about Maggie. You would n’t understand. But, if you’d only try to, we might get along. There’s nothing that I won’t do for you to make up — ”
“You can do nothing. There are things that, cannot be made up for.”
“I know — I know. But still — we might n’t be so unhappy — perhaps, in time — And if we had children —”
“Never,” she cried sharply; “never!”
He had not stirred in his chair, where he sat bowed and dejected. But she drew back, flinching.
“I see,” he said. “Then you do not forgive me.”
“If you had come to me, and told me of your temptation — of your sin — three years ago, I would have forgiven you then. I would have taken you back. I cannot now; not willingly, not with the feeling that I ought to have.”
She spoke humbly, gently, as if aware that she was giving him pain. Her face was averted. He said nothing; and she turned and faced him.
“Of course you can compel me,”she said. “You can compel me to anything.”
“I have never compelled you, as you know.”
“I know. I know you have been good, in that way.”
“ Good ? Is that your only notion of goodness ? ”
“Good to me, Waiter. Yes. You were very good. I do not say that I will not go back to you; but if I do, you must understand plainly, that it will be for one reason only; because I desire to save you from yourself; to save some other woman, perhaps — ”
“You can let the other woman take care of herself. As for me, I appreciate your generosity, but I decline to be saved on those terms. I’m fastidious about a few things, and that’s one of them. What you are trying to tell me is that you do not care for me.”
She lifted her face. “Walter, I have never in all my life deceived you. I do not care for you. Not in that way.”
He smiled. “Well, I’ll be content so long as you care for me in any way — your way. I think your way’s a mistake; but I won’t, insist on that. I '11 do my best to adapt my way to yours, that’s all.”
Her face was very still. Under their deep lids her eyes brooded, as if trying to see the truth inside herself.
“No —No,” she moaned. “I have n’t told you the truth. I believe there is no way in which I can care for you again. Or — well — I can care perhaps — I’m caring now — but — ”
“I see. You do not love me.”
She shook her head. “No. I know what love is and — I do not love you.”
“ If you don’t love me, of course, there’s nothing more to be said.”
“ Yes, there is. There’s one thing that I have kept from you.”
“Well,” he said, “you may as well let me have it. There’s no good keeping things from me.”
“I had meant to spare you.”
At that he laughed. “Oh, don’t spare me.”
She still hesitated.
“What is it ?”
She spoke low.
“ If you had been here — that night — Peggy would not have died.”
He drew a quick breath. “ What makes you think that?” he said quietly.
“She overstrained her heart with crying. As you know. She was crying for you. And you were not there. Nothing would make her believe that you were not dead.”
She saw the muscles of his face contract with sudden pain.
He looked at her gravely. The look expressed his large male contempt for her woman’s cruelty; also a certain luminous compassion.
“Why have you told me this ? ” he said.
“I’ve told you, because I think the thought of it may restrain you, when nothing else will.”
“I see. You mean to say, you believe I killed her?”
Anne closed her eyes.
He did not know whether he believed what she had said, nor whether she believed it herself, neither could he understand her motive in saying it.
At intervals he was profoundly sorry for her. Pity for her loosened, from time to time, the grip of his own pain. He told himself that she must have gone through intolerable days and nights of misery before she could bring herself to say a thing like that. Her grief excused her. But he knew that, if he had been in her place, she in his, he the saint and she the sinner, and that, if he had known her through her sin to be responsible for the child’s death, there was no misery on earth that could have made him charge her with it.
Further than that he could not understand her. The suddenness and cruelty of the blow had brutalized his imagination.
He got up and stretched himself, to shake off the oppression that weighed on him like an unwholesome sleep. As he rose he felt a queer feeling in his head, a giddiness, a sense of obstruction in his brain. He went into the dining-room, and poured himself out a small quantity of whiskey, measuring it with the accuracy of abstemious habit. The dose had become necessary since his nerves had been unhinged by worry and the shock of Peggy’s death. This time he drank it undiluted.
He felt better. The stimulant had jogged something in his brain and cleared it.
He went back into the study and began to think. He remained thinking for some time, consecutively, and with great lucidity. He asked himself what he was to do now, and he saw clearly that he could do nothing. If Anne had been a passionate woman, hurling her words in a fury of fierce grief, he would have thought no more of it. If she had been the tender, tearful sort, dropping words in a weak helpless misery, he would have thought no more of it. He could imagine poor little Maggie saying a thing like that, not knowing what she said. If it had been poor little Maggie, he could have drawn her to him and comforted her, and reasoned with her till he had made her see the senselessness of her idea. Maggie would have listened to reason,—his reason. Anne never would.
She had been cold and slow, and implacably deliberate. It was not blind instinct but illuminated reason that had told her what to say and when to say it. Nothing he could ever do or say would make her take back her words. And if she took back her words, her thought would remain indestructible. She would never give it up; she would never approach him without it; she would never forget that it was there. It would always rise up between them, unburied, unappeased.
His brain swam and clouded again. He went again to the dining-room and drank more whiskey. Kate was in the dining-room and she saw him drinking. He saw Kate looking at him; but he did not care. He was past caring for what anybody might think of him.
His brain was clearer than ever now. He realized Anne’s omnipotence to harm him. He saw the hard, imperishable divinity in her. His wife was a spiritual woman. He had not always known what that meant. But he knew now; and now for the first time in his life he judged her. For the first time in his life his heart rose in a savage revolt against her power.
His head grew hot. The air of the study was stifling. He opened the window and went out into the cool dark garden. He paced up and down, heedless where he trod, trampling the flowerless plants down into their black beds. At the end of the path a little circle of white stones glimmered in the dark. That was Peggy’s garden.
An agony of love and grief shook him as he thought of the dead child.
He thought, with his hot brain, of Anne; and his anger flared like hate. It was through the child that she had always struck him. She was a fool to refuse to have more children, to sacrifice her boundless opportunities to strike.
There was a light in the upper window. He thought of Maggie, walking up and down in the back alley behind the garden, watching the lights of his house burning to the dawn. The little thing had loved him. She had given him all she had to give; and he had given her nothing. He had compelled her to live childless; and he had cast her off. She had been sacrificed to his passion, and to his wife’s coldness.
Up there he could see Anne’s large shadow moving on the lighted windowblind. She was dressing for dinner.
Kate was standing on the step, looking for him. As he came to the study window he saw Nanna behind her, going out of the room. His servants had been watching him. Kate was frightened. Her voice fluttered in her throat as she told him dinner was served.
He sat opposite his wife, with the little oblong table between them. Twice, sometimes three times a day, as long as they both lived, they would have to sit like that, separated, hostile, horribly conscious of each other.
Anne talked about the Gardners, and he stared at her stupidly, with eyes that were like heavy burning balls under his aching forehead. He ate little and drank a good deal. Half an hour after dinner he followed her to the drawing-room, dazed, not knowing clearly where he went.
Anne was seated at her writing-table. The place was strewn with papers. She was absorbed in the business of her committee, working off five weeks of correspondence in arrears.
He lay on the sofa and dozed, and she took no notice of him. He left the room and she did not hear him go out.
He went to the Hannays’. They were out. He went on to the Ransomes’ and found them there. He found Canon Wharton there, too, drinking whiskey and soda.
“Here’s Wallie,” some one said. Mrs. Hannay (it was Mrs. Hannay) gave a cry of delight, and made a little rush at him which confused him. Ransome poured out more whiskey, and gave it to him and to the canon. The canon drank peg for peg with them, while he eyed Majendie austerely. He used to drink peg for peg with Lawson Hannay, in the days when Hannay drank; now he drank peg for peg with Majendie, eying him austerely.
Then the Hannays came between them. They closed round Majendie, and hemmed him in a corner, and kept him there talking to him. He had no clear idea what they were saying or what he was saying to them; but their voices were kind and they soothed him. Dick Ransome brought him more whiskey. He refused it. He had a sort of idea that he had had enough, rather more, in fact, than was quite good for him; and ladies were in the room. Ransome pressed him, and Lawson Hannay said something to Ransome; he could n’t tell what. He was getting drowsy and disinclined to answer when people spoke to him. He wished they would let him alone.
Lawson Hannay put his hand on his shoulder, and said. “Come along with us, Wallie,” and he wished Lawson Hannay would let him alone. Mrs. Hannay came and stooped over him and whispered things in his ear, and he tried to rouse himself so far as to stare into her face and try to understand what she was saying.
She was saying “Wallie, get up! Come with us, Wallie, dear.” And she laid her hand on his arm. He took her hand in his, and pressed it, and let it drop.
Then Ransome said, “Why can’t you let the poor chap alone ? Let him stay if he likes.”
That was what he wanted. Ransome knew what he wanted — to be let alone.
He did n’t see the Hannays go. The only thing he saw distinctly was the canon’s large gray face, and the eyes in it fixed unpleasantly on him. He wished the canon would let him alone.
He was getting really too sleepy. He would have to rouse himself presently and go. With a tremendous effort he dragged himself up and went. Ransome walked with him to the club and left him there.
The club room was in an hotel opposite the pier. He could get a bedroom there for the night; and when the night was over he would be able to think what he would do. He could n’t go back to Prior Street as he was. He was too sleepy to know very much about it, but he knew that. He knew, too, that something had happened which might make it impossible for him to go back at all.
Ransome had told the manager of the hotel to take care of him. Every now and then the manager came and looked at him; and then the drowsiness lifted from his brain with a jerk, and he knew that something horrible had happened. That was why they kept on looking at him.
At last he dragged himself to his room. He rang the bell and ordered more whiskey. This time he drank, not for lucidity, but for blessed drunkenness, for kind sleep, and pitiful oblivion.
He slept on far into the morning and woke with a headache. At twelve Hannay and Lawson called for him. It was a fine warm day with a southerly wind blowing, and sails on the river. Ransome’s yacht lay off the pier, with Mrs. Ransome in it. The sails were going up in Ransome’s yacht. Hannay’s yacht rocked beside it. Dick took Majendie by the arm. Dick, outside in the morning light, looked paler and puffier than ever, but his eyes were kind. He had an idea. Dick’s idea was that Majendie should run with him and Mrs. Ransome to Scarby for the week-end. Hannay looked troubled as Dick unfolded his idea.
“I wouldn’t go, old man,” said he, “with that head of yours.”
Dick stared. “Head! Just the thing for his head,” said Dick. “It’ll do him all the good in the world.”
Hannay took Dick aside. “No, it won’t. It won’t do him any good at all.”
“I say, you know, I don’t know what you ’re driving at, but you might let the poor chap have a little peace. Come along, Majendie.”
Majendie sent a telegram to Prior Street and went.
The wind blew away his headache and put its own strong, violent, gusty life into him. He felt agreeably excited as he paced the slanting deck. He stayed there in the wind.
Downstairs in the cabin the Ransomes were quarreling.
“What on earth,” said she, “possessed you to bring him ? ”
“And why not ? ”
“Because of Sarah.”
“What’s she got to do with it?”
“Well, you don’t want them to meet again, do you?”
Dick made his face a puffy blank. “Why the devil shouldn’t they?” said he.
“Well, you know the trouble he’s had with his wife already about Sarah.”
“It wasn’t about Sarah. It was another woman altogether.”
“I know that. But she was the beginning of it.”
“Let her be the end of it, then, if you ’re thinking of him. The sooner that wife of his gets a separation the better it’ll be for him.”
“And you want my sister to be mixed up in that ?”
Mrs. Ransome began to cry.
“She can’t be mixed up in it. He’s past caring for Sarah, poor old girl.”
“She isn’t past caring for him. She is n’t past anything,” sobbed Mrs. Ransome.
“Don’t be a fool, Topsy. There is n’t any harm in poor old Toodles. Majendie ’s a jolly sight safer with Toodles, I can tell you, than he is with that wife of his.”
“Has she come home then?”
“She came yesterday afternoon. You saw what he was like last night. If I’d left him to himself this morning he’d have drunk himself into a fit. When a sober — a fantastically sober — man does that — ”
“ What does it mean ? ”
“It generally means that he’s in a pretty bad way. And,” added Dick pensively, “they call poor Toodles a dangerous woman.”
All night the yacht lay in Scarby harbor.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1906, by MAY SINCLAIR.↩