Could we ever hope to eradicate it? Was not the survival of this fighting instinct proof that war was still needful to us? In the sculpture-room of an exhibition she came upon a painted statue of Bellona. Its grotesqueness shocked her at first sight, the red streaming hair, the wild eyes filled with fury, the wide open mouth—one could almost hear it screaming—the white uplifted arms with outstretched hands! Appalling! Terrible! And yet, as she gazed at it, gradually the thing grew curiously real to her. She seemed to hear the gathering of the chariots, the neighing of the horses, the hurrying of many feet, the sound of an armouring multitude, the shouting, and the braying of the trumpets.
These cold, thin-lipped calculators, arguing that "War doesn't pay"; those lank-haired cosmopolitans, preaching their "International," as if the only business of mankind were wages! War still was the stern school where men learnt virtue, duty, forgetfulness of self, faithfulness unto death.
This particular war, of course, must be stopped: if it were not already too late. It would be a war for markets; for spheres of commercial influence; a sordid war that would degrade the people. War, the supreme test of a nation's worth, must be reserved for great ideals. Besides, she wanted to down Carleton.
One of the women on her list, and the one to whom Mrs. Denton appeared to attach chief importance, a Madame de Barante, disappointed Joan. She seemed to have so few opinions of her own. She had buried her young husband during the Franco-Prussian war. He had been a soldier. And she had remained unmarried. She was still beautiful.
"I do not think we women have the right to discuss war," she confided to Joan in her gentle, high-bred voice. "I suppose you think that out of date. I should have thought so myself forty years ago. We talk of 'giving' our sons and lovers, as if they were ours to give. It makes me a little angry when I hear pampered women speak like that. It is the men who have to suffer and die. It is for them to decide."
"But perhaps I can arrange a meeting for you with a friend," she added, "who will be better able to help you, if he is in Paris. I will let you know."
She told Joan what she remembered herself of 1870. She had turned her country house into a hospital and had seen a good deal of the fighting.
"It would not do to tell the truth, or we should have our children growing up to hate war," she concluded.
She was as good as her word, and sent Joan round a message the next morning to come and see her in the afternoon. Joan was introduced to a Monsieur de Chaumont. He was a soldierly-looking gentleman, with a grey moustache, and a deep scar across his face.
"Hanged if I can see how we are going to get out of it," he answered Joan cheerfully. "The moment there is any threat of war, it becomes a point of honour with every nation to do nothing to avoid it. I remember my old duelling days. The quarrel may have been about the silliest trifle imaginable. A single word would have explained the whole thing away. But to utter it would have stamped one as a coward. This Egyptian Tra-la-la! It isn't worth the bones of a single grenadier, as our friends across the Rhine would say. But I expect, before it's settled, there will be men's bones sufficient, bleaching on the desert, to build another Pyramid. It's so easily started: that's the devil of it. A mischievous boy can throw a lighted match into a powder magazine, and then it becomes every patriot's business to see that it isn't put out. I hate war. It accomplishes nothing, and leaves everything in a greater muddle than it was before. But if the idea ever catches fire, I shall have to do all I can to fan the conflagration. Unless I am prepared to be branded as a poltroon. Every professional soldier is supposed to welcome war. Most of us do: it's our opportunity. There's some excuse for us. But these men—Carleton and their lot: I regard them as nothing better than the Menades of the Commune. They care nothing if the whole of Europe blazes. They cannot personally get harmed whatever happens. It's fun to them."
"But the people who can get harmed," argued Joan. "The men who will be dragged away from their work, from their business, used as 'cannon fodder.'"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, they are always eager enough for it, at first," he answered. "There is the excitement. The curiosity. You must remember that life is a monotonous affair to the great mass of the people. There's the natural craving to escape from it; to court adventure. They are not so enthusiastic about it after they have tasted it. Modern warfare, they soon find, is about as dull a business as science ever invented."
There was only one hope that he could see: and that was to switch the people's mind on to some other excitement. His advices from London told him that a parliamentary crisis was pending. Could not Mrs. Denton and her party do something to hasten it? He, on his side, would consult with the Socialist leaders, who might have something to suggest.
He met Joan, radiant, a morning or two later. The English Government had resigned and preparations for a general election were already on foot.
"And God has been good to us, also," he explained.
A well-known artist had been found murdered in his bed and grave suspicion attached to his beautiful young wife.
"She deserves the Croix de Guerre, if it is proved that she did it," he thought. "She will have saved many thousands of lives—for the present."
Folk had fixed up a party at his studio to meet her. She had been there once or twice; but this was a final affair. She had finished her business in Paris and would be leaving the next morning. To her surprise, she found Phillips there. He had come over hurriedly to attend a Socialist conference, and Leblanc, the editor of Le Nouveau Monde, had brought him along.
"I took Smedley's place at the last moment," he whispered to her. "I've never been abroad before. You don't mind, do you?"
It didn't strike her as at all odd that a leader of a political party should ask her "if she minded" his being in Paris to attend a political conference. He was wearing a light grey suit and a blue tie. There was nothing about him, at that moment, suggesting that he was a leader of any sort. He might have been just any man, but for his eyes.
"No," she whispered. "Of course not. I don't like your tie." It seemed to depress him, that.
She felt elated at the thought that he would see her for the first time amid surroundings where she would shine. Folk came forward to meet her with that charming air of protective deference that he had adopted towards her. He might have been some favoured minister of state kissing the hand of a youthful Queen. She glanced down the long studio, ending in its fine window overlooking the park. Some of the most distinguished men in Paris were there, and the immediate stir of admiration that her entrance had created was unmistakable. Even the women turned pleased glances at her; as if willing to recognize in her their representative. A sense of power came to her that made her feel kind to all the world. There was no need for her to be clever: to make any effort to attract. Her presence, her sympathy, her approval seemed to be all that was needed of her. She had the consciousness that by the mere exercise of her will she could sway the thoughts and actions of these men: that sovereignty had been given to her. It reflected itself in her slightly heightened colour, in the increased brilliance of her eyes, in the confident case of all her movements. It added a compelling softness to her voice.
She never quite remembered what the talk was about. Men were brought up and presented to her, and hung about her words, and sought to please her. She had spoken her own thoughts, indifferent whether they expressed agreement or not; and the argument had invariably taken another plane. It seemed so important that she should be convinced. Some had succeeded, and had been strengthened. Others had failed, and had departed sorrowful, conscious of the necessity of "thinking it out again."
Guests with other engagements were taking their leave. A piquante little woman, outrageously but effectively dressed—she looked like a drawing by Beardsley—drew her aside. "I've always wished I were a man," she said. "It seemed to me that they had all the power. From this afternoon, I shall be proud of belonging to the governing sex."
She laughed and slipped away.
Phillips was waiting for her in the vestibule. She had forgotten him; but now she felt glad of his humble request to be allowed to see her home. It would have been such a big drop from her crowded hour of triumph to the long lonely cab ride and the solitude of the hotel. She resolved to be gracious, feeling a little sorry for her neglect of him—but reflecting with satisfaction that he had probably been watching her the whole time.
"What's the matter with my tie?" he asked. "Wrong colour?"
She laughed. "Yes," she answered. "It ought to be grey to match your suit. And so ought your socks."
"I didn't know it was going to be such a swell affair, or I shouldn't have come," he said.
She touched his hand lightly.
"I want you to get used to it," she said. "It's part of your work. Put your brain into it, and don't be afraid."
"I'll try," he said.
He was sitting on the front seat, facing her. "I'm glad I went," he said with sudden vehemence. "I loved watching you, moving about among all those people. I never knew before how beautiful you are."
Something in his eyes sent a slight thrill of fear through her. It was not an unpleasant sensation—rather exhilarating. She watched the passing street till she felt that his eyes were no longer devouring her.
"You're not offended?" he asked. "At my thinking you beautiful?" he added, in case she hadn't understood.
She laughed. Her confidence had returned to her. "It doesn't generally offend a woman," she answered.
He seemed relieved. "That's what's so wonderful about you," he said. "I've met plenty of clever, brilliant women, but one could forget that they were women. You're everything."
He pleaded, standing below her on the steps of the hotel, that she would dine with him. But she shook her head. She had her packing to do. She could have managed it; but something prudent and absurd had suddenly got hold of her; and he went away with much the same look in his eyes that comes to a dog when he finds that his master cannot be persuaded into an excursion.
She went up to her room. There really was not much to do. She could quite well finish her packing in the morning. She sat down at the desk and set to work to arrange her papers. It was a warm spring evening, and the window was open. A crowd of noisy sparrows seemed to be delighted about something. From somewhere, unseen, a blackbird was singing. She read over her report for Mrs. Denton. The blackbird seemed never to have heard of war. He sang as if the whole world were a garden of languor and love. Joan looked at her watch. The first gong would sound in a few minutes. She pictured the dreary, silent dining-room with its few scattered occupants, and her heart sank at the prospect. To her relief came remembrance of a cheerful but entirely respectable restaurant near to the Louvre to which she had been taken a few nights before. She had noticed quite a number of women dining there alone. She closed her dispatch case with a snap and gave a glance at herself in the great mirror. The blackbird was still singing.
She walked up the Rue des Sts. Peres, enjoying the delicious air. Half way across the bridge she overtook a man, strolling listlessly in front of her. There was something familiar about him. He was wearing a grey suit and had his hands in his pockets. Suddenly the truth flashed upon her. She stopped. If he strolled on, she would be able to slip back. Instead of which he abruptly turned to look down at a passing steamer, and they were face to face.
It made her mad, the look of delight that came into his eyes. She could have boxed his ears. Hadn't he anything else to do but hang about the streets.
He explained that he had been listening to the band in the gardens, returning by the Quai d'Orsay.
"Do let me come with you," he said. "I kept myself free this evening, hoping. And I'm feeling so lonesome."
Poor fellow! She had come to understand that feeling. After all, it wasn't altogether his fault that they had met. And she had been so cross to him!
He was reading every expression on her face.
"It's such a lovely evening," he said. "Couldn't we go somewhere and dine under a tree?"
It would be rather pleasant. There was a little place at Meudon, she remembered. The plane trees would just be in full leaf.
A passing cab had drawn up close to them. The chauffeur was lighting his pipe.
Even Mrs. Grundy herself couldn't object to a journalist dining with a politician!
The stars came out before they had ended dinner. She had made him talk about himself. It was marvellous what he had accomplished with his opportunities. Ten hours a day in the mines had earned for him his living, and the night had given him his leisure. An attic, lighted by a tallow candle, with a shelf of books that left him hardly enough for bread, had been his Alma Mater. History was his chief study. There was hardly an authority Joan could think of with which he was not familiar. Julius Caesar was his favourite play. He seemed to know it by heart. At twenty-three he had been elected a delegate, and had entered Parliament at twenty-eight. It had been a life of hardship, of privation, of constant strain; but she found herself unable to pity him. It was a tale of strength, of struggle, of victory, that he told her.
Strength! The shaded lamplight fell upon his fearless kindly face with its flashing eyes and its humorous mouth. He ought to have been drinking out of a horn, not a wine glass that his well-shaped hand could have crushed by a careless pressure. In a winged helmet and a coat of mail he would have looked so much more fitly dressed than in that soft felt hat and ridiculous blue tie.
She led him to talk on about the future. She loved to hear his clear, confident voice with its touch of boyish boastfulness. What was there to stop him? Why should he not climb from power to power till he had reached the end!
And as he talked and dreamed there grew up in her heart a fierce anger. What would her own future be? She would marry probably some man of her own class, settle down to the average woman's "life"; be allowed, like a spoilt child, to still "take an interest" in public affairs: hold "drawing-rooms" attended by cranks and political nonentities: be President, perhaps, of the local Woman's Liberal League. The alternative: to spend her days glued to a desk, penning exhortations to the people that Carleton and his like might or might not allow them to read; while youth and beauty slipped away from her, leaving her one of the ten thousand other lonely, faded women, forcing themselves unwelcome into men's jobs. There came to her a sense of having been robbed of what was hers by primitive eternal law. Greyson had been right. She did love power—power to serve and shape the world. She would have earned it and used it well. She could have helped him, inspired him. They would have worked together: he the force and she the guidance. She would have supplied the things he lacked. It was to her he came for counsel, as it was. But for her he would never have taken the first step. What right had this poor brainless lump of painted flesh to share his wounds, his triumphs? What help could she give him when the time should come that he should need it?
Suddenly he broke off. "What a fool I'm making of myself," he said. "I always was a dreamer."
She forced a laugh. "Why shouldn't it come true?" she asked.
They had the little garden to themselves. The million lights of Paris shone below them.
"Because you won't be there," he answered, "and without you I can't do it. You think I'm always like I am to-night, bragging, confident. So I am when you are with me. You give me back my strength. The plans and hopes and dreams that were slipping from me come crowding round me, laughing and holding out their hands. They are like the children. They need two to care for them. I want to talk about them to someone who understands them and loves them, as I do. I want to feel they are dear to someone else, as well as to myself: that I must work for them for her sake, as well as for my own. I want someone to help me to bring them up."
There were tears in his eyes. He brushed them angrily away. "Oh, I know I ought to be ashamed of myself," he said. "It wasn't her fault. She wasn't to know that a hot-blooded young chap of twenty hasn't all his wits about him, any more than I was. If I had never met you, it wouldn't have mattered. I'd have done my bit of good, and have stopped there, content. With you beside me"—he looked away from her to where the silent city peeped through its veil of night—"I might have left the world better than I found it."
The blood had mounted to her face. She drew back into the shadow, beyond the tiny sphere of light made by the little lamp.
"Men have accomplished great things without a woman's help," she said.
"Some men," he answered. "Artists and poets. They have the woman within them. Men like myself—the mere fighter: we are incomplete in ourselves. Male and female created He them. We are lost without our mate."
He was thinking only of himself. Had he no pity for her. So was she, also, useless without her mate. Neither was she of those, here and there, who can stand alone. Her task was that of the eternal woman: to make a home: to cleanse the world of sin and sorrow, make it a kinder dwelling-place for the children that should come. This man was her true helpmeet. He would have been her weapon, her dear servant; and she could have rewarded him as none other ever could. The lamplight fell upon his ruddy face, his strong white hands resting on the flimsy table. He belonged to an older order than her own. That suggestion about him of something primitive, of something not yet altogether tamed. She felt again that slight thrill of fear that so strangely excited her. A mist seemed to be obscuring all things. He seemed to be coming towards her. Only by keeping her eyes fixed on his moveless hands, still resting on the table, could she convince herself that his arms were not closing about her, that she was not being drawn nearer and nearer to him, powerless to resist.
Suddenly, out of the mist, she heard voices. The waiter was standing beside him with the bill. She reached out her hand and took it. The usual few mistakes had occurred. She explained them, good temperedly, and the waiter, with profuse apologies, went back to have it corrected.
He turned to her as the man went. "Try and forgive me," he said in a low voice. "It all came tumbling out before I thought what I was saying."
The blood was flowing back into her veins. "Oh, it wasn't your fault," she answered. "We must make the best we can of it."
He bent forward so that he could see into her eyes.
"Tell me," he said. There was a note of fierce exultation in his voice. "I'll promise never to speak of it again. If I had been a free man, could I have won you?"
She had risen while he was speaking. She moved to him and laid her hands upon his shoulders.
"Will you serve me and fight for me against all my enemies?" she asked.
"So long as I live," he answered.
She glanced round. There was no sign of the returning waiter. She bent over him and kissed him.
"Don't come with me," she said. "There's a cab stand in the Avenue. I shall walk to Sevres and take the train."
She did not look back.
She reached home in the evening. The Phillips's old rooms had been twice let since Christmas, but were now again empty. The McKean with his silent ways and his everlasting pipe had gone to America to superintend the production of one of his plays. The house gave her the feeling of being haunted. She had her dinner brought up to her and prepared for a long evening's work; but found herself unable to think—except on the one subject that she wanted to put off thinking about. To her relief the last post brought her a letter from Arthur. He had been called to Lisbon to look after a contract, and would be away for a fortnight. Her father was not as well as he had been.
It seemed to just fit in. She would run down and spend a few quiet days at Liverpool. In her old familiar room where the moon peeped in over the tops of the tall pines she would be able to reason things out. Perhaps her father would be able to help her. She had lost her childish conception of him as of someone prim and proper, with cut and dried formulas for all occasions. That glimpse he had shown her of himself had established a fellowship between them. He, too, had wrestled with life's riddles, not sure of his own answers. She found him suffering from his old heart trouble, but more cheerful than she had known him for years. Arthur seemed to be doing wonders with the men. They were coming to trust him.
"The difficulty I have always been up against," explained her father, "has been their suspicion. 'What's the cunning old rascal up to now? What's his little game?' That is always what I have felt they were thinking to themselves whenever I have wanted to do anything for them. It isn't anything he says to them. It seems to be just he, himself."
He sketched out their plans to her. It seemed to be all going in at one ear and out at the other. What was the matter with her? Perhaps she was tired without knowing it. She would get him to tell her all about it to- morrow. Also, to-morrow, she would tell him about Phillips, and ask his advice. It was really quite late. If he talked any more now, it would give her a headache. She felt it coming on.
She made her "good-night" extra affectionate, hoping to disguise her impatience. She wanted to get up to her own room.
But even that did not help her. It seemed in some mysterious way to be no longer her room, but the room of someone she had known and half forgotten: who would never come back. It gave her the same feeling she had experienced on returning to the house in London: that the place was haunted. The high cheval glass from her mother's dressing-room had been brought there for her use. The picture of an absurdly small child—the child to whom this room had once belonged—standing before it naked, rose before her eyes. She had wanted to see herself. She had thought that only her clothes stood in the way. If we could but see ourselves, as in some magic mirror? All the garments usage and education has dressed us up in laid aside. What was she underneath her artificial niceties, her prim moralities, her laboriously acquired restraints, her unconscious pretences and hypocrisies? She changed her clothes for a loose robe, and putting out the light drew back the curtains. The moon peeped in over the top of the tall pines, but it only stared at her, indifferent. It seemed to be looking for somebody else.
Suddenly, and intensely to her own surprise, she fell into a passionate fit of weeping. There was no reason for it, and it was altogether so unlike her. But for quite a while she was unable to control it. Gradually, and of their own accord, her sobs lessened, and she was able to wipe her eyes and take stock of herself in the long glass. She wondered for the moment whether it was really her own reflection that she saw there or that of some ghostly image of her mother. She had so often seen the same look in her mother's eyes. Evidently the likeness between them was more extensive than she had imagined. For the first time she became conscious of an emotional, hysterical side to her nature of which she had been unaware. Perhaps it was just as well that she had discovered it. She would have to keep a stricter watch upon herself. This question of her future relationship with Phillips: it would have to be thought out coldly, dispassionately. Nothing unexpected must be allowed to enter into it.
It was some time before she fell asleep. The high glass faced her as she lay in bed. She could not get away from the idea that it was her mother's face that every now and then she saw reflected there.
She woke late the next morning. Her father had already left for the works. She was rather glad to have no need of talking. She would take a long walk into the country, and face the thing squarely with the help of the cheerful sun and the free west wind that was blowing from the sea. She took the train up north and struck across the hills. Her spirits rose as she walked.
It was only the intellectual part of him she wanted—the spirit, not the man. She would be taking nothing away from the woman, nothing that had ever belonged to her. All the rest of him: his home life, the benefits that would come to her from his improved means, from his social position: all that the woman had ever known or cared for in him would still be hers. He would still remain to her the kind husband and father. What more was the woman capable of understanding? What more had she any right to demand?
It was not of herself she was thinking. It was for his work's sake that she wanted to be near to him always: that she might counsel him, encourage him. For this she was prepared to sacrifice herself, give up her woman's claim on life. They would be friends, comrades—nothing more. That little lurking curiosity of hers, concerning what it would be like to feel his strong arms round her, pressing her closer and closer to him: it was only a foolish fancy. She could easily laugh that out of herself. Only bad women had need to be afraid of themselves. She would keep guard for both of them. Their purity of motive, their high purpose, would save them from the danger of anything vulgar or ridiculous.
Of course they would have to be careful. There must be no breath of gossip, no food for evil tongues. About that she was determined even more for his sake than her own. It would be fatal to his career. She was quite in agreement with the popular demand, supposed to be peculiarly English, that a public man's life should be above reproach. Of what use these prophets without self-control; these social reformers who could not shake the ape out of themselves? Only the brave could give courage to others. Only through the pure could God's light shine upon men.
It was vexing his having moved round the corner, into North Street. Why couldn't the silly woman have been content where she was. Living under one roof, they could have seen one another as often as was needful without attracting attention. Now, she supposed, she would have to be more than ever the bosom friend of Mrs. Phillips—spend hours amid that hideous furniture, surrounded by those bilious wallpapers. Of course he could not come to her. She hoped he would appreciate the sacrifice she would be making for him. Fortunately Mrs. Phillips would give no trouble. She would not even understand.
What about Hilda? No hope of hiding their secret from those sharp eyes. But Hilda would approve. They could trust Hilda. The child might prove helpful.
It cast a passing shadow upon her spirits, this necessary descent into details. It brought with it the suggestion of intrigue, of deceit: robbing the thing, to a certain extent, of its fineness. Still, what was to be done? If women were coming into public life these sort of relationships with men would have to be faced and worked out. Sex must no longer be allowed to interfere with the working together of men and women for common ends. It was that had kept the world back. They would be the pioneers of the new order. Casting aside their earthly passions, humbly with pure hearts they would kneel before God's altar. He should bless their union.
A lark was singing. She stood listening. Higher and higher he rose, pouring out his song of worship; till the tiny, fragile body disappeared as if fallen from him, leaving his sweet soul still singing. The happy tears came to her eyes, and she passed on. She did not hear that little last faint sob with which he sank exhausted back to earth beside a hidden nest among the furrows.
She had forgotten the time. It was already late afternoon. Her long walk and the keen air had made her hungry. She had a couple of eggs with her tea at a village inn, and was fortunate enough to catch a train that brought her back in time for dinner. A little ashamed of her unresponsiveness the night before, she laid herself out to be sympathetic to her father's talk. She insisted on hearing again all that he and Arthur were doing, opposing him here and there with criticism just sufficient to stimulate him; careful in the end to let him convince her.
These small hypocrisies were new to her. She hoped she was not damaging her character. But it was good, watching him slyly from under drawn-down lids, to see the flash of triumph that would come into his tired eyes in answer to her half-protesting: "Yes, I see your point, I hadn't thought of that," her half reluctant admission that "perhaps" he was right, there; that "perhaps" she was wrong. It was delightful to see him young again, eager, boyishly pleased with himself. It seemed there was a joy she had not dreamed of in yielding victory as well as in gaining it. A new tenderness was growing up in her. How considerate, how patient, how self-forgetful he had always been. She wanted to mother him. To take him in her arms and croon over him, hushing away remembrance of the old sad days.
Folk's words came back to her: "And poor Jack Allway. Tell him I thank him for all those years of love and gentleness." She gave him the message.
Folk had been right. He was not offended. "Dear old chap," he said. "That was kind of him. He was always generous."
He was silent for a while, with a quiet look on his face.
"Give him our love," he said. "Tell him we came together, at the end."
It was on her tongue to ask him, as so often she had meant to do of late, what had been the cause of her mother's illness—if illness it was: what it was that had happened to change both their lives. But always something had stopped her—something ever present, ever watchful, that seemed to shape itself out of the air, bending towards her with its finger on its lips.
She stayed over the week-end; and on the Saturday, at her suggestion, they took a long excursion into the country. It was the first time she had ever asked him to take her out. He came down to breakfast in a new suit, and was quite excited. In the car his hand had sought hers shyly, and, feeling her responsive pressure, he had continued to hold it; and they had sat for a long time in silence. She decided not to tell him about Phillips, just yet. He knew of him only from the Tory newspapers and would form a wrong idea. She would bring them together and leave Phillips to make his own way. He would like Phillips when he knew him, she felt sure. He, too, was a people's man. The torch passed down to him from his old Ironside ancestors, it still glowed. More than once she had seen it leap to flame. In congenial atmosphere, it would burn clear and steadfast. It occurred to her what a delightful solution of her problem, if later on her father could be persuaded to leave Arthur in charge of the works, and come to live with her in London. There was a fine block of flats near Chelsea Church with long views up and down the river. How happy they could be there; the drawing-room in the Adams style with wine-coloured curtains! He was a father any young woman could be proud to take about. Unconsciously she gave his hand an impulsive squeeze. They lunched at an old inn upon the moors; and the landlady, judging from his shy, attentive ways, had begun by addressing her as Madame.
"You grow wonderfully like your mother," he told her that evening at dinner. "There used to be something missing. But I don't feel that, now."
She wrote to Phillips to meet her, if possible, at Euston. There were things she wanted to talk to him about. There was the question whether she should go on writing for Carleton, or break with him at once. Also one or two points that were worrying her in connection with tariff reform. He was waiting for her on the platform. It appeared he, too, had much to say. He wanted her advice concerning his next speech. He had not dined and suggested supper. They could not walk about the streets. Likely enough, it was only her imagination, but it seemed to her that people in the restaurant had recognized him, and were whispering to one another: he was bound to be well known. Likewise her own appearance, she felt, was against them as regarded their desire to avoid observation. She would have to take to those mousey colours that did not suit her, and wear a veil. She hated the idea of a veil. It came from the East and belonged there. Besides, what would be the use? Unless he wore one too. "Who is the veiled woman that Phillips goes about with?" That is what they would ask. It was going to be very awkward, the whole thing. Viewed from the distance, it had looked quite fine. "Dedicating herself to the service of Humanity" was how it had presented itself to her in the garden at Meudon, the twinkling labyrinth of Paris at her feet, its sordid by-ways hidden beneath its myriad lights. She had not bargained for the dedication involving the loss of her self-respect.
They did not talk as much as they had thought they would. He was not very helpful on the Carleton question. There was so much to be said both for and against. It might be better to wait and see how circumstances shaped themselves. She thought his speech excellent. It was difficult to discover any argument against it.
He seemed to be more interested in looking at her when he thought she was not noticing. That little faint vague fear came back to her and stayed with her, but brought no quickening of her pulse. It was a fear of something ugly. She had the feeling they were both acting, that everything depended upon their not forgetting their parts. In handing things to one another, they were both of them so careful that their hands should not meet and touch.
They walked together back to Westminster and wished each other a short good-night upon what once had been their common doorstep. With her latchkey in her hand, she turned and watched his retreating figure, and suddenly a wave of longing seized her to run after him and call him back—to see his eyes light up and feel the pressure of his hands. It was only by clinging to the railings and counting till she was sure he had entered his own house round the corner and closed the door behind him, that she restrained herself.
It was a frightened face that looked at her out of the glass, as she stood before it taking off her hat.
She decided that their future meetings should be at his own house. Mrs. Phillips's only complaint was that she knocked at the door too seldom.
"I don't know what I should do without you, I really don't," confessed the grateful lady. "If ever I become a Prime Minister's wife, it's you I shall have to thank. You've got so much courage yourself, you can put the heart into him. I never had any pluck to spare myself."
She concluded by giving Joan a hug, accompanied by a sloppy but heartfelt kiss.
She would stand behind Phillips's chair with her fat arms round his neck, nodding her approval and encouragement; while Joan, seated opposite, would strain every nerve to keep her brain fixed upon the argument, never daring to look at poor Phillips's wretched face, with its pleading, apologetic eyes, lest she should burst into hysterical laughter. She hoped she was being helpful and inspiring! Mrs. Phillips would assure her afterwards that she had been wonderful. As for herself, there were periods when she hadn't the faintest idea about what she was talking.
Sometimes Mrs. Phillips, called away by domestic duty, would leave them; returning full of excuses just as they had succeeded in forgetting her. It was evident she was under the impression that her presence was useful to them, making it easier for them to open up their minds to one another.
"Don't you be put off by his seeming a bit unresponsive," Mrs. Phillips would explain. "He's shy with women. What I'm trying to do is to make him feel you are one of the family."
"And don't you take any notice of me," further explained the good woman, "when I seem to be in opposition, like. I chip in now and then on purpose, just to keep the ball rolling. It stirs him up, a bit of contradictoriness. You have to live with a man before you understand him."
One morning Joan received a letter from Phillips, marked immediate. He informed her that his brain was becoming addled. He intended that afternoon to give it a draught of fresh air. He would be at the Robin Hood gate in Richmond Park at three o'clock. Perhaps the gods would be good to him. He would wait there for half an hour to give them a chance, anyway.
She slipped the letter unconsciously into the bosom of her dress, and sat looking out of the window. It promised to be a glorious day, and London was stifling and gritty. Surely no one but an unwholesome-minded prude could jib at a walk across a park. Mrs. Phillips would be delighted to hear that she had gone. For the matter of that, she would tell her—when next they met.
Phillips must have seen her getting off the bus, for he came forward at once from the other side of the gate, his face radiant with boyish delight. A young man and woman, entering the park at the same time, looked at them and smiled sympathetically.
Joan had no idea the park contained such pleasant by-ways. But for an occasional perambulator they might have been in the heart of the country. The fallow deer stole near to them with noiseless feet, regarding them out of their large gentle eyes with looks of comradeship. They paused and listened while a missal thrush from a branch close to them poured out his song of hope and courage. From quite a long way off they could still hear his clear voice singing, telling to the young and brave his gallant message. It seemed too beautiful a day for politics. After all, politics—one has them always with one; but the spring passes.
He saw her on to a bus at Kingston, and himself went back by train. They agreed they would not mention it to Mrs. Phillips. Not that she would have minded. The danger was that she would want to come, too; honestly thinking thereby to complete their happiness. It seemed to be tacitly understood there would be other such excursions.
The summer was propitious. Phillips knew his London well, and how to get away from it. There were winding lanes in Hertfordshire, Surrey hills and commons, deep, cool, bird-haunted woods in Buckingham. Each week there was something to look forward to, something to plan for and manoeuvre. The sense of adventure, a spice of danger, added zest. She still knocked frequently, as before, at the door of the hideously-furnished little house in North Street; but Mrs. Phillips no longer oppressed her as some old man of the sea she could never hope to shake off from her shoulders. The flabby, foolish face, robbed of its terrors, became merely pitiful. She found herself able to be quite gentle and patient with Mrs. Phillips. Even the sloppy kisses she came to bear without a shudder down her spine.
"I know you are only doing it because you sympathize with his aims and want him to win," acknowledged the good lady. "But I can't help feeling grateful to you. I don't feel how useless I am while I've got you to run to."
They still discussed their various plans for the amelioration and improvement of humanity; but there seemed less need for haste than they had thought. The world, Joan discovered, was not so sad a place as she had judged it. There were chubby, rogue-eyed children; whistling lads and smiling maidens; kindly men with ruddy faces; happy mothers crooning over gurgling babies. There was no call to be fretful and vehement. They would work together in patience and in confidence. God's sun was everywhere. It needed only that dark places should be opened up and it would enter.
Sometimes, seated on a lichened log, or on the short grass of some sloping hillside, looking down upon some quiet valley, they would find they had been holding hands while talking. It was but as two happy, thoughtless children might have done. They would look at one another with frank, clear eyes and smile.
Once, when their pathway led through a littered farm-yard, he had taken her up in his arms and carried her and she had felt a glad pride in him that he had borne her lightly as if she had been a child, looking up at her and laughing.
An old bent man paused from his work and watched them. "Lean more over him, missie," he advised her. "That's the way. Many a mile I've carried my lass like that, in flood time; and never felt her weight."
Often on returning home, not knowing why, she would look into the glass. It seemed to her that the girlhood she had somehow missed was awakening in her, taking possession of her, changing her. The lips she had always seen pressed close and firm were growing curved, leaving a little parting, as though they were not quite so satisfied with one another. The level brows were becoming slightly raised. It gave her a questioning look that was new to her. The eyes beneath were less confident. They seemed to be seeking something.
One evening, on her way home from a theatre, she met Flossie. "Can't stop now," said Flossie, who was hurrying. "But I want to see you: most particular. Was going to look you up. Will you be at home to-morrow afternoon at tea-time?"
There was a distinct challenge in Flossie's eye as she asked the question. Joan felt herself flush, and thought a moment.
"Yes," she answered. "Will you be coming alone?"
"That's the idea," answered Flossie; "a heart to heart talk between you and me, and nobody else. Half-past four. Don't forget."
Joan walked on slowly. She had the worried feeling with which, once or twice, when a schoolgirl, she had crawled up the stairs to bed after the head mistress had informed her that she would see her in her private room at eleven o'clock the next morning, leaving her to guess what about. It occurred to her, in Trafalgar Square, that she had promised to take tea with the Greysons the next afternoon, to meet some big pot from America. She would have to get out of that. She felt it wouldn't do to put off Flossie.
She went to bed wakeful. It was marvellously like being at school again. What could Flossie want to see her about that was so important? She tried to pretend to herself that she didn't know. After all, perhaps it wasn't that.
But she knew that it was the instant Flossie put up her hands in order to take off her hat. Flossie always took off her hat when she meant to be unpleasant. It was her way of pulling up her sleeves. They had their tea first. They seemed both agreed that that would be best. And then Flossie pushed back her chair and sat up.
She had just the head mistress expression. Joan wasn't quite sure she oughtn't to stand. But, controlling the instinct, leant back in her chair, and tried to look defiant without feeling it.
"How far are you going?" demanded Flossie.
Joan was not in a comprehending mood.
"If you're going the whole hog, that's something I can understand," continued Flossie. "If not, you'd better pull up."
"What do you mean by the whole hog?" requested Joan, assuming dignity.
"Oh, don't come the kid," advised Flossie. "If you don't mind being talked about yourself, you might think of him. If Carleton gets hold of it, he's done for."
"'A little bird whispers to me that Robert Phillips was seen walking across Richmond Park the other afternoon in company with Miss Joan Allway, formerly one of our contributors.' Is that going to end his political career?" retorted Joan with fine sarcasm.
Flossie fixed a relentless eye upon her. "He'll wait till the bird has got a bit more than that to whisper to him," she suggested.
"There'll be nothing more," explained Joan. "So long as my friendship is of any assistance to Robert Phillips in his work, he's going to have it. What use are we going to be in politics—what's all the fuss about, if men and women mustn't work together for their common aims and help one another?"
"Why can't you help him in his own house, instead of wandering all about the country?" Flossie wanted to know.
"So I do," Joan defended herself. "I'm in and out there till I'm sick of the hideous place. You haven't seen the inside. And his wife knows all about it, and is only too glad."
"Does she know about Richmond Park—and the other places?" asked Flossie.
"She wouldn't mind if she did," explained Joan. "And you know what she's like! How can one think what one's saying with that silly, goggle-eyed face in front of one always."
Flossie, since she had become engaged, had acquired quite a matronly train of thought. She spoke kindly, with a little grave shake of her head. "My dear," she said, "the wife is always in the way. You'd feel just the same whatever her face was like."
Joan grew angry. "If you choose to suspect evil, of course you can," she answered with hauteur. "But you might have known me better. I admire the man and sympathize with him. All the things I dream of are the things he is working for. I can do more good by helping and inspiring him"—she wished she had not let slip that word "inspire." She knew that Flossie would fasten upon it—"than I can ever accomplish by myself. And I mean to do it." She really did feel defiant, now.
"I know, dear," agreed Flossie, "you've both of you made up your minds it shall always remain a beautiful union of twin spirits. Unfortunately you've both got bodies—rather attractive bodies."
"We'll keep it off that plane, if you don't mind," answered Joan with a touch of severity.
"I'm willing enough," answered Flossie. "But what about Old Mother Nature? She's going to be in this, you know."
"Take off your glasses, and look at it straight," she went on, without giving Joan time to reply. "What is it in us that 'inspires' men? If it's only advice and sympathy he's after, what's wrong with dear old Mrs. Denton? She's a good walker, except now and then, when she's got the lumbago. Why doesn't he get her to 'inspire' him?"
"It isn't only that," explained Joan. "I give him courage. I always did have more of that than is any use to a woman. He wants to be worthy of my belief in him. What is the harm if he does admire me—if a smile from me or a touch of the hand can urge him to fresh effort? Suppose he does love me—"
Flossie interrupted. "How about being quite frank?" she suggested. "Suppose we do love one another. How about putting it that way?"
"And suppose we do?" agreed Joan, her courage rising. "Why should we shun one another, as if we were both of us incapable of decency or self- control? Why must love be always assumed to make us weak and contemptible, as if it were some subtle poison? Why shouldn't it strengthen and ennoble us?"
"Why did the apple fall?" answered Flossie. "Why, when it escapes from its bonds, doesn't it soar upward? If it wasn't for the irritating law of gravity, we could skip about on the brink of precipices without danger. Things being what they are, sensible people keep as far away from the edge as possible."
"I'm sorry," she continued; "awfully sorry, old girl. It's a bit of rotten bad luck for both of you. You were just made for one another. And Fate, knowing what was coming, bustles round and gets hold of poor, silly Mrs. Phillips so as to be able to say 'Yah.'"
"Unless it all comes right in the end," she added musingly; "and the poor old soul pegs out. I wouldn't give much for her liver."
"That's not bringing me up well," suggested Joan: "putting those ideas into my head."
"Oh, well, one can't help one's thoughts," explained Flossie. "It would be a blessing all round."
They had risen. Joan folded her hands. "Thank you for your scolding, ma'am," she said. "Shall I write out a hundred lines of Greek? Or do you think it will be sufficient if I promise never to do it again?"
"You mean it?" said Flossie. "Of course you will go on seeing him—visiting them, and all that. But you won't go gadding about, so that people can talk?"
"Only through the bars, in future," she promised. "With the gaoler between us." She put her arms round Flossie and bent her head, so that her face was hidden.
Flossie still seemed troubled. She held on to Joan.
"You are sure of yourself?" she asked. "We're only the female of the species. We get hungry and thirsty, too. You know that, kiddy, don't you?"
Joan laughed without raising her face. "Yes, ma'am, I know that," she answered. "I'll be good."
She sat in the dusk after Flossie had gone; and the laboured breathing of the tired city came to her through the open window. She had rather fancied that martyr's crown. It had not looked so very heavy, the thorns not so very alarming—as seen through the window. She would wear it bravely. It would rather become her.
Facing the mirror of the days to come, she tried it on. It was going to hurt. There was no doubt of that. She saw the fatuous, approving face of the eternal Mrs. Phillips, thrust ever between them, against the background of that hideous furniture, of those bilious wall papers—the loneliness that would ever walk with her, sit down beside her in the crowded restaurant, steal up the staircase with her, creep step by step with her from room to room—the ever unsatisfied yearning for a tender word, a kindly touch. Yes, it was going to hurt.
Poor Robert! It would be hard on him, too. She could not help feeling consolation in the thought that he also would be wearing that invisible crown.
She must write to him. The sooner it was done, the better. Half a dozen contradictory moods passed over her during the composing of that letter; but to her they seemed but the unfolding of a single thought. On one page it might have been his mother writing to him; an experienced, sagacious lady; quite aware, in spite of her affection for him, of his faults and weaknesses; solicitous that he should avoid the dangers of an embarrassing entanglement; his happiness being the only consideration of importance. On others it might have been a queen laying her immutable commands upon some loyal subject, sworn to her service. Part of it might have been written by a laughing philosopher who had learnt the folly of taking life too seriously, knowing that all things pass: that the tears of to-day will be remembered with a smile. And a part of it was the unconsidered language of a loving woman. And those were the pages that he kissed.
His letter in answer was much shorter. Of course he would obey her wishes. He had been selfish, thinking only of himself. As for his political career, he did not see how that was going to suffer by his being occasionally seen in company with one of the most brilliantly intellectual women in London, known to share his views. And he didn't care if it did. But inasmuch as she valued it, all things should be sacrificed to it. It was hers to do what she would with. It was the only thing he had to offer her.
Their meetings became confined, as before, to the little house in North Street. But it really seemed as if the gods, appeased by their submission, had decided to be kind. Hilda was home for the holidays; and her piercing eyes took in the situation at a flash. She appeared to have returned with a new-born and exacting affection for her mother, that astonished almost as much as it delighted the poor lady. Feeling sudden desire for a walk or a bus ride, or to be taken to an entertainment, no one was of any use to Hilda but her mother. Daddy had his silly politics to think and talk about. He must worry them out alone; or with the assistance of Miss Allway. That was what she was there for. Mrs. Phillips, torn between her sense of duty and fear of losing this new happiness, would yield to the child's coaxing. Often they would be left alone to discuss the nation's needs uninterrupted. Conscientiously they would apply themselves to the task. Always to find that, sooner or later, they were looking at one another, in silence.
One day Phillips burst into a curious laugh. They had been discussing the problem of the smallholder. Joan had put a question to him, and with a slight start he had asked her to repeat it. But it seemed she had forgotten it.
"I had to see our solicitor one morning," he explained, "when I was secretary to a miners' union up north. A point had arisen concerning the legality of certain payments. It was a matter of vast importance to us; but he didn't seem to be taking any interest, and suddenly he jumped up. 'I'm sorry, Phillips,' he said, 'but I've got a big trouble of my own on at home—I guess you know what—and I don't seem to care a damn about yours. You'd better see Delauny, if you're in a hurry.' And I did."
He turned and leant over his desk. "I guess they'll have to find another leader if they're in a hurry," he added. "I don't seem able to think about turnips and cows."
"Don't make me feel I've interfered with your work only to spoil it," said Joan.
"I guess I'm spoiling yours, too," he answered. "I'm not worth it. I might have done something to win you and keep you. I'm not going to do much without you."
"You mean my friendship is going to be of no use to you?" asked Joan.
He raised his eyes and fixed them on her with a pleading, dog-like look.
"For God's sake don't take even that away from me," he said. "Unless you want me to go to pieces altogether. A crust does just keep one alive. One can't help thinking what a fine, strong chap one might be if one wasn't always hungry."
She felt so sorry for him. He looked such a boy, with the angry tears in his clear blue eyes, and that little childish quivering of the kind, strong, sulky mouth.
She rose and took his head between her hands and turned his face towards her. She had meant to scold him, but changed her mind and laid his head against her breast and held it there.
He clung to her, as a troubled child might, with his arms clasped round her, and his head against her breast. And a mist rose up before her, and strange, commanding voices seemed calling to her.
He could not see her face. She watched it herself with dim half consciousness as it changed before her in the tawdry mirror above the mantelpiece, half longing that he might look up and see it, half terrified lest he should.
With an effort that seemed to turn her into stone, she regained command over herself.
"I must go now," she said in a harsh voice, and he released her.
"I'm afraid I'm an awful nuisance to you," he said. "I get these moods at times. You're not angry with me?"
"No," she answered with a smile. "But it will hurt me if you fail. Remember that."
She turned down the Embankment after leaving the house. She always found the river strong and restful. So it was not only bad women that needed to be afraid of themselves—even to the most high-class young woman, with letters after her name, and altruistic interests: even to her, also, the longing for the lover's clasp. Flossie had been right. Mother Nature was not to be flouted of her children—not even of her new daughters; to them, likewise, the family trait.
She would have run away if she could, leaving him to guess at her real reason—if he were smart enough. But that would have meant excuses and explanations all round. She was writing a daily column of notes for Greyson now, in addition to the weekly letter from Clorinda; and Mrs. Denton, having compromised with her first dreams, was delegating to Joan more and more of her work. She wrote to Mrs. Phillips that she was feeling unwell and would be unable to lunch with them on the Sunday, as had been arranged. Mrs. Phillips, much disappointed, suggested Wednesday; but it seemed on Wednesday she was no better. And so it drifted on for about a fortnight, without her finding the courage to come to any decision; and then one morning, turning the corner into Abingdon Street, she felt a slight pull at her sleeve; and Hilda was beside her. The child had shown an uncanny intuition in not knocking at the door. Joan had been fearing that, and would have sent down word that she was out. But it had to be faced.
"Are you never coming again?" asked the child.
"Of course," answered Joan, "when I'm better. I'm not very well just now. It's the weather, I suppose."
The child turned her head as they walked and looked at her. Joan felt herself smarting under that look, but persisted.
"I'm very much run down," she said. "I may have to go away."
"You promised to help him," said the child.
"I can't if I'm ill," retorted Joan. "Besides, I am helping him. There are other ways of helping people than by wasting their time talking to them."
"He wants you," said the child. "It's your being there that helps him."
Joan stopped and turned. "Did he send you?" she asked.
"No," the child answered. "Mama had a headache this morning, and I slipped out. You're not keeping your promise."
Palace Yard, save for a statuesque policeman, was empty.
"How do you know that my being with him helps him?" asked Joan.
"You know things when you love anybody," explained the child. "You feel them. You will come again, soon?"
Joan did not answer.
"You're frightened," the child continued in a passionate, low voice. "You think that people will talk about you and look down upon you. You oughtn't to think about yourself. You ought to think only about him and his work. Nothing else matters."
"I am thinking about him and his work," Joan answered. Her hand sought Hilda's and held it. "There are things you don't understand. Men and women can't help each other in the way you think. They may try to, and mean no harm in the beginning, but the harm comes, and then not only the woman but the man also suffers, and his work is spoilt and his life ruined."
The small, hot hand clasped Joan's convulsively.
"But he won't be able to do his work if you keep away and never come back to him," she persisted. "Oh, I know it. It all depends upon you. He wants you."
"And I want him, if that's any consolation to you," Joan answered with a short laugh. It wasn't much of a confession. The child was cute enough to have found that out for herself. "Only you see I can't have him. And there's an end of it."
They had reached the Abbey. Joan turned and they retraced their steps slowly.
"I shall be going away soon, for a little while," she said. The talk had helped her to decision. "When I come back I will come and see you all. And you must all come and see me, now and then. I expect I shall have a flat of my own. My father may be coming to live with me. Good-bye. Do all you can to help him."
She stooped and kissed the child, straining her to her almost fiercely. But the child's lips were cold. She did not look back.
Miss Greyson was sympathetic towards her desire for a longish holiday and wonderfully helpful; and Mrs. Denton also approved, and, to Joan's surprise, kissed her; Mrs. Denton was not given to kissing. She wired to her father, and got his reply the same evening. He would be at her rooms on the day she had fixed with his travelling bag, and at her Ladyship's orders. "With love and many thanks," he had added. She waited till the day before starting to run round and say good-bye to the Phillipses. She felt it would be unwise to try and get out of doing that. Both Phillips and Hilda, she was thankful, were out; and she and Mrs. Phillips had tea alone together. The talk was difficult, so far as Joan was concerned. If the woman had been possessed of ordinary intuition, she might have arrived at the truth. Joan almost wished she would. It would make her own future task the easier. But Mrs. Phillips, it was clear, was going to be no help to her.
For her father's sake, she made pretence of eagerness, but as the sea widened between her and the harbour lights it seemed as if a part of herself were being torn away from her.
They travelled leisurely through Holland and the Rhine land, and that helped a little: the new scenes and interests; and in Switzerland they discovered a delightful little village in an upland valley with just one small hotel, and decided to stay there for a while, so as to give themselves time to get their letters. They took long walks and climbs, returning tired and hungry, looking forward to their dinner and the evening talk with the few other guests on the veranda. The days passed restfully in that hidden valley. The great white mountains closed her in. They seemed so strong and clean.
It was on the morning they were leaving that a telegram was put into her hands. Mrs. Phillips was ill at lodgings in Folkestone. She hoped that Joan, on her way back, would come to see her.
She showed the telegram to her father. "Do you mind, Dad, if we go straight back?" she asked.
"No, dear," he answered, "if you wish it."
"I would like to go back," she said.
Mrs. Phillips was sitting up in an easy chair near the heavily-curtained windows when Joan arrived. It was a pleasant little house in the old part of the town, and looked out upon the harbour. She was startlingly thin by comparison with what she had been; but her face was still painted. Phillips would run down by the afternoon train whenever he could get away. She never knew when he was coming, so she explained; and she could not bear the idea of his finding her "old and ugly." She had fought against his wish that she should go into a nursing home; and Joan, who in the course of her work upon the Nursing Times had acquired some knowledge of them as a whole, was inclined to agree with her. She was quite comfortable where she was. The landlady, according to her account, was a dear. She had sent the nurse out for a walk on getting Joan's wire, so that they could have a cosy chat. She didn't really want much attendance. It was her heart. It got feeble now and then, and she had to keep very still; that was all. Joan told how her father had suffered for years from much the same complaint. So long as you were careful there was no danger. She must take things easily and not excite herself.
Mrs. Phillips acquiesced. "It's turning me into a lazy-bones," she said with a smile. "I can sit here by the hour, just watching the bustle. I was always one for a bit of life."
The landlady entered with Joan's tea. Joan took an instinctive dislike to her. She was a large, flashy woman, wearing a quantity of cheap jewellery. Her familiarity had about it something almost threatening. Joan waited till she heard the woman's heavy tread descending the stairs, before she expressed her opinion.
"I think she only means to be cheerful," explained Mrs. Phillips. "She's quite a good sort, when you know her." The subject seemed in some way to trouble her, and Joan dropped it.
They watched the loading of a steamer while Joan drank her tea.
"He will come this afternoon, I fancy," said Mrs. Phillips. "I seem to feel it. He will be able to see you home."
Joan started. She had been thinking about Phillips, wondering what she should say to him when they met.
"What does he think," she asked, "about your illness?"
"Oh, it worries him, of course, poor dear," Mrs. Phillips answered. "You see, I've always been such a go-ahead, as a rule. But I think he's getting more hopeful. As I tell him, I'll be all right by the autumn. It was that spell of hot weather that knocked me over."
Joan was still looking out of the window. She didn't quite know what to say. The woman's altered appearance had shocked her. Suddenly she felt a touch upon her hand.
"You'll look after him if anything does happen, won't you?" The woman's eyes were pleading with her. They seemed to have grown larger. "You know what I mean, dear, don't you?" she continued. "It will be such a comfort to me to know that it's all right."
In answer the tears sprang to Joan's eyes. She knelt down and put her arms about the woman.
"Don't be so silly," she cried. "There's nothing going to happen. You're going to get fat and well again; and live to see him Prime Minister."
"I am getting thin, ain't I?" she said. "I always wanted to be thin." They both laughed.
"But I shan't see him that, even if I do live," she went on. "He'll never be that, without you. And I'd be so proud to think that he would. I shouldn't mind going then," she added.
Joan did not answer. There seemed no words that would come.
"You will promise, won't you?" she persisted, in a whisper. "It's only 'in case'—just that I needn't worry myself."
Joan looked up. There was something in the eyes looking down upon her that seemed to be compelling her.
"If you'll promise to try and get better," she answered.
Mrs. Phillips stooped and kissed her. "Of course, dear," she said. "Perhaps I shall, now that my mind is easier."
Phillips came, as Mrs. Phillips had predicted. He was surprised at seeing Joan. He had not thought she could get back so soon. He brought an evening paper with him. It contained a paragraph to the effect that Mrs. Phillips, wife of the Rt. Hon. Robert Phillips, M.P., was progressing favourably and hoped soon to be sufficiently recovered to return to her London residence. It was the first time she had had a paragraph all to herself, headed with her name. She flushed with pleasure; and Joan noticed that, after reading it again, she folded the paper up small and slipped it into her pocket. The nurse came in from her walk a little later and took Joan downstairs with her.
"She ought not to talk to more than one person at a time," the nurse explained, with a shake of the head. She was a quiet, business-like woman. She would not express a definite opinion.
"It's her mental state that is the trouble," was all that she would say. "She ought to be getting better. But she doesn't."
"You're not a Christian Scientist, by any chance?" she asked Joan suddenly.
"No," answered Joan. "Surely you're not one?"
"I don't know," answered the woman. "I believe that would do her more good than anything else. If she would listen to it. She seems to have lost all will-power."
The nurse left her; and the landlady came in to lay the table. She understood that Joan would be dining with Mr. Phillips. There was no train till the eight-forty. She kept looking at Joan as she moved about the room. Joan was afraid she would begin to talk, but she must have felt Joan's antagonism for she remained silent. Once their eyes met, and the woman leered at her.
Phillips came down looking more cheerful. He had detected improvement in Mrs. Phillips. She was more hopeful in herself. They talked in low tones during the meal, as people do whose thoughts are elsewhere. It happened quite suddenly, Phillips explained. They had come down a few days after the rising of Parliament. There had been a spell of hot weather; but nothing remarkable. The first attack had occurred about three weeks ago. It was just after Hilda had gone back to school. He wasn't sure whether he ought to send for Hilda, or not. Her mother didn't want him to—not just yet. Of course, if she got worse, he would have to. What did Joan think?—did she think there was any real danger?
Joan could not say. So much depended upon the general state of health. There was the case of her own father. Of course she would always be subject to attacks. But this one would have warned her to be careful.
Phillips thought that living out of town might be better for her, in the future—somewhere in Surrey, where he could easily get up and down. He could sleep himself at the club on nights when he had to be late.
They talked without looking at one another. They did not speak about themselves.
Mrs. Phillips was in bed when Joan went up to say good-bye. "You'll come again soon?" she asked, and Joan promised. "You've made me so happy," she whispered. The nurse was in the room.
They discussed politics in the train. Phillips had found more support for his crusade against Carleton than he had expected. He was going to open the attack at once, thus forestalling Carleton's opposition to his land scheme.
"It isn't going to be the Daily This and the Daily That and the Weekly the Other all combined to down me. I'm going to tell the people that it's Carleton and only Carleton—Carleton here, Carleton there, Carleton everywhere, against them. I'm going to drag him out into the open and make him put up his own fists."
Joan undertook to sound Greyson. She was sure Greyson would support him, in his balanced, gentlemanly way, that could nevertheless be quite deadly.
They grew less and less afraid of looking at one another as they felt that darkened room further and further behind them.
They parted at Charing Cross. Joan would write. They agreed it would be better to choose separate days for their visits to Folkestone.
She ran against Madge in the morning, and invited herself to tea. Her father had returned to Liverpool, and her own rooms, for some reason, depressed her. Flossie was there with young Halliday. They were both off the next morning to his people's place in Devonshire, from where they were going to get married, and had come to say good-bye. Flossie put Sam in the passage and drew-to the door.
"Have you seen her?" she asked. "How is she?"
"Oh, she's changed a good deal," answered Joan. "But I think she'll get over it all right, if she's careful."
"I shall hope for the best," answered Flossie. "Poor old soul, she's had a good time. Don't send me a present; and then I needn't send you one—when your time comes. It's a silly custom. Besides, I've nowhere to put it. Shall be in a ship for the next six months. Will let you know when we're back."
She gave Joan a hug and a kiss, and was gone. Joan joined Madge in the kitchen, where she was toasting buns.
"I suppose she's satisfied herself that he's brainy," she laughed.
"Oh, brains aren't everything," answered Madge. "Some of the worst rotters the world has ever been cursed with have been brainy enough—men and women. We make too much fuss about brains; just as once upon a time we did about mere brute strength, thinking that was all that was needed to make a man great. Brain is only muscle translated into civilization. That's not going to save us."
"You've been thinking," Joan accused her. "What's put all that into your head?"
Madge laughed. "Mixing with so many brainy people, perhaps," she suggested; "and wondering what's become of their souls."
"Be good, sweet child. And let who can be clever," Joan quoted. "Would that be your text?"
Madge finished buttering her buns. "Kant, wasn't it," she answered, "who marvelled chiefly at two things: the starry firmament above him and the moral law within him. And they're one and the same, if he'd only thought it out. It's rather big to be good."
They carried their tea into the sitting-room.
"Do you really think she'll get over it?" asked Madge. "Or is it one of those things one has to say?"
"I think she could," answered Joan, "if she would pull herself together. It's her lack of will-power that's the trouble."
Madge did not reply immediately. She was watching the rooks settling down for the night in the elm trees just beyond the window. There seemed to be much need of coming and going, of much cawing.
"I met her pretty often during those months that Helen Lavery was running her round," she said at length. "It always seemed to me to have a touch of the heroic, that absurd effort she was making to 'qualify' herself, so that she might be of use to him. I can see her doing something quite big, if she thought it would help him."
The cawing of the rooks grew fainter. One by one they folded their wings.
Neither spoke for a while. Later on, they talked about the coming election. If the Party got back, Phillips would go to the Board of Trade. It would afford him a better platform for the introduction of his land scheme.
"What do you gather is the general opinion?" Joan asked. "That he will succeed?"
"The general opinion seems to be that his star is in the ascendant," Madge answered with a smile; "that all things are working together for his good. It's rather a useful atmosphere to have about one, that. It breeds friendship and support!"
Joan looked at her watch. She had an article to finish. Madge stood on tiptoe and kissed her.
"Don't think me unsympathetic," she said. "No one will rejoice more than I shall if God sees fit to call you to good work. But I can't help letting fall my little tear of fellowship with the weeping."
"And mind your p's and q's," she added. "You're in a difficult position. And not all the eyes watching you are friendly."
Joan bore the germ of worry in her breast as she crossed the Gray's Inn Garden. It was a hard law, that of the world: knowing only winners and losers. Of course, the woman was to be pitied. No one could feel more sorry for her than Joan herself. But what had Madge exactly meant by those words: that she could "see her doing something really big," if she thought it would help him? There was no doubt about her affection for him. It was almost dog-like. And the child, also! There must be something quite exceptional about him to have won the devotion of two such opposite beings. Especially Hilda. It would be hard to imagine any lengths to which Hilda's blind idolatry would not lead her.
She ran down twice to Folkestone during the following week. Her visits made her mind easier. Mrs. Phillips seemed so placid, so contented. There was no suggestion of suffering, either mental or physical.
She dined with the Greysons the Sunday after, and mooted the question of the coming fight with Carleton. Greyson thought Phillips would find plenty of journalistic backing. The concentration of the Press into the hands of a few conscienceless schemers was threatening to reduce the journalist to a mere hireling, and the better-class men were becoming seriously alarmed. He found in his desk the report of a speech made by a well-known leader writer at a recent dinner of the Press Club. The man had risen to respond to the toast of his own health and had taken the opportunity to unpack his heart.
"I am paid a thousand a year," so Greyson read to them, "for keeping my own opinions out of my paper. Some of you, perhaps, earn more, and others less; but you're getting it for writing what you're told. If I were to be so foolish as to express my honest opinion, I'd be on the street, the next morning, looking for another job."
"The business of the journalist," the man had continued, "is to destroy the truth, to lie, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, to sell his soul for his daily bread. We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping-jacks. They pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities, our lives are the property of other men."
"We tried to pretend it was only one of Jack's little jokes," explained Greyson as he folded up the cutting; "but it wouldn't work. It was too near the truth."
"I don't see what you are going to do," commented Mary. "So long as men are not afraid to sell their souls, there will always be a Devil's market for them."
Greyson did not so much mind there being a Devil's market, provided he could be assured of an honest market alongside, so that a man could take his choice. What he feared was the Devil's steady encroachment, that could only end by the closing of the independent market altogether. His remedy was the introduction of the American trust law, forbidding any one man being interested in more than a limited number of journals.
"But what's the difference," demanded Joan, "between a man owning one paper with a circulation of, say, six millions; or owning six with a circulation of a million apiece? By concentrating all his energies on one, a man with Carleton's organizing genius might easily establish a single journal that would cover the whole field."
"Just all the difference," answered Greyson, "between Pooh Bah as Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Lord High Admiral, or Chief Executioner, whichever he preferred to be, and Pooh Bah as all the Officers of State rolled into one. Pooh Bah may be a very able statesman, entitled to exert his legitimate influence. But, after all, his opinion is only the opinion of one old gentleman, with possible prejudices and preconceived convictions. The Mikado—or the people, according to locality—would like to hear the views of others of his ministers. He finds that the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice and the Groom of the Bedchamber and the Attorney-General—the whole entire Cabinet, in short, are unanimously of the same opinion as Pooh Bah. He doesn't know it's only Pooh Bah speaking from different corners of the stage. The consensus of opinion convinces him. One statesman, however eminent, might err in judgment. But half a score of statesmen, all of one mind! One must accept their verdict."
Mary smiled. "But why shouldn't the good newspaper proprietor hurry up and become a multi-proprietor?" she suggested. "Why don't you persuade Lord Sutcliffe to buy up three or four papers, before they're all gone?"
"Because I don't want the Devil to get hold of him," answered Greyson.
"You've got to face this unalterable law," he continued. "That power derived from worldly sources can only be employed for worldly purposes. The power conferred by popularity, by wealth, by that ability to make use of other men that we term organization—sooner or later the man who wields that power becomes the Devil's servant. So long as Kingship was merely a force struggling against anarchy, it was a holy weapon. As it grew in power so it degenerated into an instrument of tyranny. The Church, so long as it remained a scattered body of meek, lowly men, did the Lord's work. Enthroned at Rome, it thundered its edicts against human thought. The Press is in danger of following precisely the same history. When it wrote in fear of the pillory and of the jail, it fought for Liberty. Now it has become the Fourth Estate, it fawns—as Jack Swinton said of it—at the feet of Mammon. My Proprietor, good fellow, allows me to cultivate my plot amid the wilderness for other purposes than those of quick returns. If he were to become a competitor with the Carletons and the Bloomfields, he would have to look upon it as a business proposition. The Devil would take him up on to the high mountain, and point out to him the kingdom of huge circulations and vast profits, whispering to him: 'All this will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.' I don't want the dear good fellow to be tempted."
"Is it impossible, then, to combine duty and success?" questioned Joan.
"The combination sometimes happens, by chance," admitted Greyson. "But it's dangerous to seek it. It is so easy to persuade ourselves that it's our duty to succeed."
"But we must succeed to be of use," urged Mary. "Must God's servants always remain powerless?"
"Powerless to rule. Powerful only to serve," he answered. "Powerful as Christ was powerful; not as Caesar was powerful—powerful as those who have suffered and have failed, leaders of forlorn hopes—powerful as those who have struggled on, despised and vilified; not as those of whom all men speak well—powerful as those who have fought lone battles and have died, not knowing their own victory. It is those that serve, not those that rule, shall conquer."
Joan had never known him quite so serious. Generally there was a touch of irony in his talk, a suggestion of aloofness that had often irritated her.
"I wish you would always be yourself, as you are now," she said, "and never pose."
"Do I pose?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"That shows how far it has gone," she told him, "that you don't even know it. You pretend to be a philosopher. But you're really a man."
He laughed. "It isn't always a pose," he explained. "It's some men's way of saying: Thy will be done."
"Ask Phillips to come and see me," he said. "I can be of more help, if I know exactly his views."
He walked with her to the bus. They passed a corner house that he had more than once pointed out to her. It had belonged, years ago, to a well- known artist, who had worked out a wonderful scheme of decoration in the drawing-room. A board was up, announcing that the house was for sale. A gas lamp, exactly opposite, threw a flood of light upon the huge white lettering.
Joan stopped. "Why, it's the house you are always talking about," she said. "Are you thinking of taking it?"
"I did go over it," he answered. "But it would be rather absurd for just Mary and me."
She looked up Phillips at the House, and gave him Greyson's message. He had just returned from Folkestone, and was worried.
"She was so much better last week," he explained. "But it never lasts."
"Poor old girl!" he added. "I believe she'd have been happier if I'd always remained plain Bob Phillips."
Joan had promised to go down on the Friday; but finding, on the Thursday morning, that it would be difficult, decided to run down that afternoon instead. She thought at first of sending a wire. But in Mrs. Phillips's state of health, telegrams were perhaps to be avoided. It could make no difference. The front door of the little house was standing half open. She called down the kitchen stairs to the landlady, but received no answer. The woman had probably run out on some short errand. She went up the stairs softly. The bedroom door, she knew, would be open. Mrs. Phillips had a feeling against being "shut off," as she called it. She meant to tap lightly and walk straight in, as usual. But what she saw through the opening caused her to pause. Mrs. Phillips was sitting up in bed with her box of cosmetics in front of her. She was sensitive of anyone seeing her make-up; and Joan, knowing this, drew back a step. But for some reason, she couldn't help watching. Mrs. Phillips dipped a brush into one of the compartments and then remained with it in her hand, as if hesitating. Suddenly she stuck out her tongue and passed the brush over it. At least, so it seemed to Joan. It was only a side view of Mrs. Phillips's face that she was obtaining, and she may have been mistaken. It might have been the lips. The woman gave a little gasp and sat still for a moment. Then, putting away the brush, she closed the box and slipped it under the pillow.
Joan felt her knees trembling. A cold, creeping fear was taking possession of her. Why, she could not understand. She must have been mistaken. People don't make-up their tongues. It must have been the lips. And even if not—if the woman had licked the brush! It was a silly trick people do. Perhaps she liked the taste. She pulled herself together and tapped at the door.
Mrs. Phillips gave a little start at seeing her; but was glad that she had come. Phillips had not been down for two days and she had been feeling lonesome. She persisted in talking more than Joan felt was good for her. She was feeling so much better, she explained. Joan was relieved when the nurse came back from her walk and insisted on her lying down. She dropped to sleep while Joan and the nurse were having their tea.
Joan went back by the early train. She met some people at the station that she knew and travelled up with them. That picture of Mrs. Phillips's tongue just showing beyond the line of Mrs. Phillips's cheek remained at the back of her mind; but it was not until she was alone in her own rooms that she dared let her thoughts return to it.
The suggestion that was forcing itself into her brain was monstrous—unthinkable. That, never possessed of any surplus vitality, and suffering from the added lassitude of illness, the woman should have become indifferent—willing to let a life that to her was full of fears and difficulties slip peacefully away from her, that was possible. But that she should exercise thought and ingenuity—that she should have reasoned the thing out and deliberately laid her plans, calculating at every point on their success; it was inconceivable.
Besides, what could have put the idea into her head? It was laughable, the presumption that she was a finished actress, capable of deceiving everyone about her. If she had had an inkling of the truth, Joan, with every nerve on the alert, almost hoping for it, would have detected it. She had talked with her alone the day before she had left England, and the woman had been full of hopes and projects for the future.
That picture of Mrs. Phillips, propped up against the pillows, with her make-up box upon her knees was still before her when she went to bed. All night long it haunted her: whether thinking or dreaming of it, she could not tell.
Suddenly, she sat up with a stifled cry. It seemed as if a flash of light had been turned upon her, almost blinding her.
Hilda! Why had she never thought of it? The whole thing was so obvious. "You ought not to think about yourself. You ought to think only of him and of his work. Nothing else matters." If she could say that to Joan, what might she not have said to her mother who, so clearly, she divined to be the incubus—the drag upon her father's career? She could hear the child's dry, passionate tones—could see Mrs. Phillips's flabby cheeks grow white—the frightened, staring eyes. Where her father was concerned the child had neither conscience nor compassion. She had waited her time. It was a few days after Hilda's return to school that Mrs. Phillips had been first taken ill.
She flung herself from the bed and drew the blind. A chill, grey light penetrated the room. It was a little before five. She would go round to Phillips, wake him up. He must be told.
With her hat in her hands, she paused. No. That would not do. Phillips must never know. They must keep the secret to themselves. She would go down and see the woman; reason with her, insist. She went into the other room. It was lighter there. The "A.B.C." was standing in its usual place upon her desk. There was a train to Folkestone at six-fifteen. She had plenty of time. It would be wise to have a cup of tea and something to eat. There would be no sense in arriving there with a headache. She would want her brain clear.
It was half-past five when she sat down with her tea in front of her. It was only ten minutes' walk to Charing Cross—say a quarter of an hour. She might pick up a cab. She grew calmer as she ate and drank. Her reason seemed to be returning to her. There was no such violent hurry. Hadn't she better think things over, in the clear daylight? The woman had been ill now for nearly six weeks: a few hours—a day or two—could make no difference. It might alarm the poor creature, her unexpected appearance at such an unusual hour—cause a relapse. Suppose she had been mistaken? Hadn't she better make a few inquiries first—feel her way? One did harm more often than good, acting on impulse. After all, had she the right to interfere? Oughtn't the thing to be thought over as a whole? Mightn't there be arguments, worth considering, against her interference? Her brain was too much in a whirl. Hadn't she better wait till she could collect and arrange her thoughts?
The silver clock upon her desk struck six. It had been a gift from her father when she was at Girton. It never obtruded. Its voice was a faint musical chime that she need not hear unless she cared to listen. She turned and looked at it. It seemed to be a little face looking back at her out of its two round, blinkless eyes. For the first time during all the years that it had watched beside her, she heard its quick, impatient tick.
She sat motionless, staring at it. The problem, in some way, had simplified itself into a contest between herself, demanding time to think, and the little insistent clock, shouting to her to act upon blind impulse. If she could remain motionless for another five minutes, she would have won.
The ticking of the little clock was filling the room. The thing seemed to have become alive—to be threatening to burst its heart. But the thin, delicate indicator moved on.
Suddenly its ticking ceased. It had become again a piece of lifeless mechanism. The hands pointed to six minutes past. Joan took off her hat and laid it aside.
She must think the whole thing over quietly.
She could help him. Without her, he would fail. The woman herself saw that, and wished it. Why should she hesitate? It was not as if she had only herself to consider. The fate—the happiness of millions was at stake. He looked to her for aid—for guidance. It must have been intended. All roads had led to it. Her going to the house. She remembered now, it was the first door at which she had knocked. Her footsteps had surely been directed. Her meeting with Mrs. Phillips in Madge's rooms; and that invitation to dinner, coinciding with that crisis in his life. It was she who had persuaded him to accept. But for her he would have doubted, wavered, let his opportunities slip by. He had confessed it to her.
And she had promised him. He needed her. The words she had spoken to Madge, not dreaming then of their swift application. They came back to her. "God has called me. He girded His sword upon me." What right had she to leave it rusting in its scabbard, turning aside from the pathway pointed out to her because of one weak, useless life, crouching in her way. It was not as if she were being asked to do evil herself that good might come. The decision had been taken out of her hands. All she had to do was to remain quiescent, not interfering, awaiting her orders. Her business was with her own part, not with another's. To be willing to sacrifice oneself: that was at the root of all service. Sometimes it was one's own duty, sometimes that of another. Must one never go forward because another steps out of one's way, voluntarily? Besides, she might have been mistaken. That picture, ever before her, of the woman pausing with the brush above her tongue—that little stilled gasp! It may have been but a phantasm, born of her own fevered imagination. She clung to that, desperately.
It was the task that had been entrusted to her. How could he hope to succeed without her. With her, he would be all powerful—accomplish the end for which he had been sent into the world. Society counts for so much in England. What public man had ever won through without its assistance. As Greyson had said: it is the dinner-table that rules. She could win it over to his side. That mission to Paris that she had undertaken for Mrs. Denton, that had brought her into contact with diplomatists, politicians, the leaders and the rulers, the bearers of names known and honoured in history. They had accepted her as one of themselves. She had influenced them, swayed them. That afternoon at Folk's studio, where all eyes had followed her, where famous men and women had waited to attract her notice, had hung upon her words. Even at school, at college, she had always commanded willing homage. As Greyson had once told her, it was herself—her personality that was her greatest asset. Was it to be utterly wasted? There were hundreds of impersonal, sexless women, equipped for nothing else, with pens as keen if not keener than hers. That was not the talent with which she had been entrusted—for which she would have to account. It was her beauty, her power to charm, to draw after her—to compel by the mere exercise of her will. Hitherto Beauty had been content to barter itself for mere coin of the realm—for ease and luxury and pleasure. She only asked to be allowed to spend it in service. As his wife, she could use it to fine ends. By herself she was helpless. One must take the world as one finds it. It gives the unmated woman no opportunity to employ the special gifts with which God has endowed her—except for evil. As the wife of a rising statesman, she could be a force for progress. She could become another Madame Roland; gather round her all that was best of English social life; give back to it its lost position in the vanguard of thought.
She could strengthen him, give him courage. Without her, he would always remain the mere fighter, doubtful of himself. The confidence, the inspiration, necessary for leadership, she alone could bring to him. Each by themselves was incomplete. Together, they would be the whole. They would build the city of their dreams.
She seemed to have become a wandering spirit rather than a living being. She had no sense of time or place. Once she had started, hearing herself laugh. She was seated at a table, and was talking. And then she had passed back into forgetfulness. Now, from somewhere, she was gazing downward. Roofs, domes and towers lay stretched before her, emerging from a sea of shadows. She held out her arms towards them and the tears came to her eyes. The poor tired people were calling to her to join with him to help them. Should she fail them—turn deaf ears to the myriad because of pity for one useless, feeble life?
She had been fashioned to be his helpmate, as surely as if she had been made of the same bone. Nature was at one with God. Spirit and body both yearned for him. It was not position—power for herself that she craved. The marriage market—if that had been her desire: it had always been open to her. She had the gold that buys these things. Wealth, ambition: they had been offered to her—spread out temptingly before her eyes. They were always within her means, if ever she chose to purchase them. It was this man alone to whom she had ever felt drawn—this man of the people, with that suggestion about him of something primitive, untamed, causing her always in his presence that faint, compelling thrill of fear, who stirred her blood as none of the polished men of her own class had ever done. His kind, strong, ugly face: it moved beside her: its fearless, tender eyes now pleading, now commanding.
He needed her. She heard his passionate, low voice, as she had heard it in the little garden above Meudon: "Because you won't be there; and without you I can do nothing." What right had this poor, worn-out shadow to stand between them, to the end? Had love and life no claims, but only weakness? She had taken all, had given nothing. It was but reparation she was making. Why stop her?
She was alone in a maze of narrow, silent streets that ended always in a high blank wall. It seemed impossible to get away from this blank wall. Whatever way she turned she was always coming back to it.
What was she to do? Drag the woman back to life against her will—lead her back to him to be a chain about his feet until the end? Then leave him to fight the battle alone?
And herself? All her world had been watching and would know. She had counted her chickens before they were dead. She had set her cap at the man, reckoning him already widowed; and his wife had come to life and snatched it from her head. She could hear the laughter—the half amused, half contemptuous pity for her "rotten bad luck." She would be their standing jest, till she was forgotten.
What would life leave to her? A lonely lodging and a pot of ink that she would come to hate the smell of. She could never marry. It would be but her body that she could give to any other man. Not even for the sake of her dreams could she bring herself to that. It might have been possible before, but not now. She could have won the victory over herself, but for hope, that had kindled the smouldering embers of her passion into flame. What cunning devil had flung open this door, showing her all her heart's desire, merely that she should be called upon to slam it to in her own face?
A fierce anger blazed up in her brain. Why should she listen? Why had reason been given to us if we were not to use it—weigh good and evil in the balance and decide for ourselves where lay the nobler gain? Were we to be led hither and thither like blind children? What was right—what wrong, but what our own God-given judgment told us? Was it wrong of the woman to perform this act of self-renunciation, yielding up all things to love? No, it was great—heroic of her. It would be her cross of victory, her crown.
If the gift were noble, so also it could not be ignoble to accept it.
To reject it would be to dishonour it.
She would accept it. The wonder of it should cast out her doubts and fears. She would seek to make herself worthy of it. Consecrate it with her steadfastness, her devotion.
She thought it ended. But yet she sat there motionless.
What was plucking at her sleeve—still holding her?
Unknowing, she had entered a small garden. It formed a passage between two streets, and was left open day and night. It was but a narrow strip of rank grass and withered shrubs with an asphalte pathway widening to a circle in the centre, where stood a gas lamp and two seats, facing one another.
And suddenly it came to her that this was her Garden of Gethsemane; and a dull laugh broke from her that she could not help. It was such a ridiculous apology for Gethsemane. There was not a corner in which one could possibly pray. Only these two iron seats, one each side of the gaunt gas lamp that glared down upon them. Even the withered shrubs were fenced off behind a railing. A ragged figure sprawled upon the bench opposite to her. It snored gently, and its breath came laden with the odour of cheap whisky.
But it was her Gethsemane: the best that Fate had been able to do for her. It was here that her choice would be made. She felt that.
And there rose before her the vision of that other Garden of Gethsemane with, below it, the soft lights of the city shining through the trees; and above, clear against the starlit sky, the cold, dark cross.
It was only a little cross, hers, by comparison. She could see that. They seemed to be standing side by side. But then she was only a woman—little more than a girl. And her courage was so small. She thought He ought to know that. For her, it was quite a big cross. She wondered if He had been listening to all her arguments. There was really a good deal of sense in some of them. Perhaps He would understand. Not all His prayer had come down to us. He, too, had put up a fight for life. He, too, was young. For Him, also, life must have seemed but just beginning. Perhaps He, too, had felt that His duty still lay among the people—teaching, guiding, healing them. To Him, too, life must have been sweet with its noble work, its loving comradeship. Even from Him the words had to be wrung: "Thy will, not Mine, be done."
She whispered them at last. Not bravely, at all. Feebly, haltingly, with a little sob: her forehead pressed against the cold iron seat, as if that could help her.