'David won't come,' said Lucy, in answer to Dora's last remark; 'he hardly ever goes anywhere now unless he hears of some one going to preach that he thinks he'll like.'
'No—I know,' said Dora. A shade came over her face. The attitude of David Grieve towards religion during the last four or five years represented to her the deep disappointment of certain eager hopes, perhaps one might almost call them ambitions, of her missionary youth. The disappointment had brought a certain bitterness with it, though for long years she had been sister and closest friend to both David and his wife. And it had made her doubly sensitive with regard to Lucy, whom she had herself brought over from the Baptist communion to the Church, and Sandy, who was her godchild.
After a pause, she hesitatingly brought a small paper book out of the handbag she carried.
'I brought you this, Lucy. Father Russell sent it you. He thinks it the best beginning book you can have. He always gives it in the parish; and if the mothers will only use it, it makes it so much easier to teach the children when they come to Sunday school.'
Lucy took it doubtfully. It was called 'The Mother's Catechism;' and, opening it, she saw that it contained a series of questions and answers, as between a mother and a child.
'I don't think Sandy would understand it,' she said, slowly, as she turned it over.
'Oh yes, he would!' said Dora, eagerly. 'Why, he's nearly five, Lucy. It's really time you began to teach him something—unless you want him to grow up a little heathen!'
The last words had a note of indignation. Lucy took no notice. She was still turning over the book.
'And I don't think David will like it,' she said, still more slowly than before.
'He can't want to keep Sandy from being taught any religion at all! It wouldn't be fair to you—or to the child. And if he won't do it, if he isn't certain enough about what he thinks, how can he mind your doing it?'
'I don't know,' said Lucy, and paused. 'I sometimes think,' she went on, with more energy, 'that David will be quite different some day from what he has been. I'm sure he'll want to teach Sandy.'
'He's got nothing to teach him!' cried Dora. Then she added in another voice—a voice of wounded feeling—'If he was to be brought up an atheist, I don't think David ought to have asked me to be godmother.'
'He shan't be brought up an atheist,' exclaimed Lucy startled. Then, feeling the subject too much for her—for it provoked in her a mingled train of memories which she had not words enough to express—she turned back to her work, leaving the book on the table and the discussion pending.
'David's dreadfully late,' she said, discontentedly, looking at the clock.
'Where is he?'
'Down in Ancoats, I expect. He told me he had a committee there to-day after work, about those houses he's going to pull down. He's got Mr. Buller and Mr. Haycraft—and'—Lucy named some half-dozen more rich and well-known men—'to help him, and they're going to pull down one of the worst bits of James Street, David says, and build up new houses for working people. He's wild about it. Oh, I know we'll have no money at all left soon!' cried Lucy indignantly, with a shrug of her small shoulders.
Dora smiled at what seemed to her a childish petulance.
'Why, I'm sure you've got everything very nice, Lucy, and all you want.'
'No, indeed, I haven't got all I want,' said Lucy, looking up and frowning; 'I never shall, neither. I want David to be—to be—like everybody else. He might be a rich man to-morrow if he wouldn't have such ideas. He doesn't think a bit about me and Sandy. I told you what would happen when he made that division between the bookselling and the printing, and took up with those ideas about the men. I knew he'd come not to care about the bookselling. And I was perfectly right! There's that printing-office getting bigger and bigger, and crowds of men waiting to be taken on, and such a lot of business doing as never was. And are we a bit the richer? Not a penny—or hardly. It's sickening to hear the way people talk about him! Why, they say the last election wouldn't have been nearly so good for the Liberals all about the North if it hadn't been for the things he's always publishing and the two papers he started last year. He might be a member of Parliament any day, and he wouldn't be a member of Parliament—not he! He told me he didn't care twopence about it. No, he doesn't care for anything but just taking our money and giving it to other people—there! You may say what you like, but it's true.'
The wilful energy with which Lucy spoke the last words transformed the small face—brought out the harder lines on it.
'Well, I never know what it is that you want exactly,' said Dora. 'I don't think you do yourself.'
Lucy stitched silently, her thin red lips pressed together. She knew perfectly well what she wanted, only she was ashamed to confess it to the religious and ascetic Dora. Her ideal of living Was filled in with images and desires abundantly derived from Manchester life, where every day she saw people grow rich rapidly, and rise as a matter of course into that upper region of gentility, carriages, servants, wines, and grouse-moors, whither, ever since it had become plain to her that David could, if he chose, easily place her there, it had been her constant craving to go. Other people came to be gentlefolks and lord it over the land—why not they? It made her mad, as she had said to Dora, to see their money—their very own money—chucked away to other people, and they getting no good of it, and remaining mere working booksellers and printers as before.
'Why don't you go and help him?' said Dora suddenly. 'Perhaps if you were to go right in and see what he's doing, you wouldn't mind it so much. You might get to like it. He doesn't want to keep everything to himself—he wants to share with those that need. If there were a good many others like that, perhaps there'd be fewer awful things happening down at Ancoats.'
A sigh rose to her lips. Her beautiful eyes grew sad.
'Well, I did try once or twice,' said Lucy, pettishly, 'but I've always told you that sort of thing isn't in my line. Of course I understand about giving away, and all that. But he'll hardly let you give away at all! He says it's pauperising the people. And the things he wants me to do—I never seem to do 'em right, and I can't get to care a bit about them.'
The tone in her voice betrayed a past experience which had been in some way trying and discouraging to a fine natural vanity.
Dora did not answer. She played absently with the little book on the table.
'Oh! but he's going to let us accept the invitation to Benet's Park—I didn't tell you that,' said Lucy suddenly, her face clearing.
Dora was startled.
'Why, I thought you told me he wouldn't go?'
'So I did. But—well, I let out!' said Lucy, colouring.
He's changed his mind. But I'm rather in a fright, Dora, though I don't tell him. Think of that big house and all those servants—I'm more frightened of them than of anybody! I say, do you think my new dresses'll do? You'll come up and look at them, won't you? Not that you're much use about dresses.'
Dora was profoundly interested and somewhat bewildered. That her little cousin Lucy, Purcell's daughter and Daddy's niece, should be going to stay as an invited guest in a castle, with an earl and countess, was very amazing. Was it because the Radicals had got the upper hand so much at the election? She could not understand it, but some of her old girlishness, her old interest in small womanish trifles, came back upon her, and she discussed the details of what Lucy might expect so eagerly that Lucy was quite delighted with her.
In the middle of their talk a step was heard in the hall.
'Ah, there he is!' said Lucy; 'now we'll ring for supper, and I'll go and get ready.'
Dora sat alone for a few minutes, and then David came in.
'Ah! Dora, this is nice. Lucy says you will stay to supper. We get so busy, you and I, we see each other much too seldom.'
He spoke in his most cordial, brotherly tone, and, standing on the rug with his back to the fire, he looked down upon her with evident pleasure.
As for her, though the throb of her young passion had been so soon and so sternly silenced, it was still happiness to her to be in the same room with David Grieve, and any unusual kindness from him, or a long talk with him, would often send her back to her little room in Ancoats stored with a cheerful warmth of soul which helped her through many days. For of late years she had been more liable than of old to fits of fretting—fretting about her father, about her own sins and other people's, about the little worries of her Sunday-school class, or the little rubs of church work. The contact with a nature so large and stimulating, though sometimes it angered and depressed her through the influence of religious considerations, was yet on the whole of infinite service to her, of more service than she knew.
'Have you forgiven me for upsetting Sandy?' she asked him, with a smile.
'I'm on the way to it. I left him just now prancing about Lucy's bed, and making an abominable noise. She told him to be quiet, whereupon he indignantly informed her that he was "a dwagon hunting wats." So I imagine he hasn't had "the wrong dinner" today.'
They both laughed.
'And you have been in Ancoats?'
'Yes,' said David, tossing back his black hair with an animated gesture, and thrusting his hands into his pockets. 'Yes—we are getting on. We have got the whole of that worst James Street court into our hands. We shall begin pulling down directly, and the plans for the new buildings are almost ready. And we have told all the old tenants that they shall have a prior claim on the new rooms if they choose to come back. Some will; for a good many others of course we shall be too respectable, though I am set on keeping the plans as simple and the rents as low as possible.'
Dora sat looking at him with somewhat perplexed eyes.
Her Christianity had been originally of the older High Church type, wherein the ideal of personal holiness had not yet been fused with the ideal of social service. The care of the poor and needy was, of course, indispensable to the Christian life; but she thought first and most of bringing them to church, and to the blessing and efficacy of the sacraments; then of giving them money when they were sick, and assuring to them the Church's benediction in dying. The modern fuss about overcrowded houses and insanitary conditions—the attack on bricks and mortar—the preaching of temperance, education, thrift—these things often seemed to Christian people of Dora's type and day, if they spoke their true minds, to be tinged with atheism and secularism. They were jealous all the time for something better. They instinctively felt that the preeminence of certain ideas, most dear to them, was threatened by this absorption in the detail of the mere human life.
Something of this it was that passed vaguely through Dora's mind as she sat listening to David's further talk about his Ancoats scheme; and at last, influenced, perhaps, by a half-conscious realisation of her demur—it was only that—he let it drop.
'What is that book?' he said, his quick eye detecting the little paper-covered volume on Lucy's table. And, stepping forward, he took it up.
Dora unexpectedly found her voice a little husky as she replied, and had to clear her throat.
'It is a book I brought for Lucy. Sandy is a baptized Christian, David. Lucy wants to teach him, so I brought her this little Catechism, which Father Russell recommends.'
David turned the book over in silence. He read a passage concerning the Virgin Mary; another, in which the child asked about the number and names of the Archangels, gave a detailed answer; another in which Dissenters were handled with an acrimony which contrasted with a general tone of sweetness and unction.
David laid it down on the mantelpiece.
'No, Dora, I can't have Sandy taught out of this.'
He spoke with dignity, but with an endeavour to make his tone as gentle as possible.
Dora was silent a moment; then she broke out:
'What will you teach him, then? Is he to be a Christian at all?'
'In a sense, yes; with all my heart, yes! so far, at least, as his father has any share in the matter.'
'And is his mother to have no voice?' Dora went on with growing bitterness and hurry. 'And as for me—why did you let me be his godmother? I take it seriously, and I may do nothing.'
'You may do everything,' he said, sitting down beside her, 'except teach him extreme matter of this kind, which, because I am what I am, will make a critic of the child before his time. I am not a bigot, Dora! I shall not interfere with Lucy; she would not teach him in this way. She talks to him; and she instinctively feels for me, and what she says comes softly and vaguely to him. It is different with things like this, set down in black and white, and to be learnt by heart. You must remember that half of it seems to me false history, and some of it false morals.'
He looked at her anxiously. The jarring note was hateful to him. He had always taken for granted that Lucy was under Dora's influence religiously—had perhaps made it an excuse for a gradual withdrawal of his inmost mind from his wife, which in reality rested on quite other reasons. But his heart was full of dreams about his son. He could not let Dora have her way there.
'Oh, how different it is,' cried Dora, in a low, intense voice, twining her hands together, 'from what I once thought!'
'No!' he said, vehemently, 'there is no real difference between you and me—there never can be; teach Sandy to be good and to love you! That's what I should like!'
His eyes were full of emotion, but he smiled. Dora, however, could not respond. The inner tension was too strong. She turned away, and began fidgeting with Lucy's workbag.
Then a small voice and a preparatory turmoil were heard outside.
'Auntie Dora! Auntie Dora!' cried Sandy, rushing in with a hop, skip, and a jump, and flourishing a picture-book, 'look at zese pickers! Dat's a buffalo—most es tror nary animal, the buffalo!'
'Come here, rascal!' called his father, and the child ran up to him. David knelt to look at the picture, but the little fellow suddenly dropped it and his interest in it, in a way habitual to him, twined one arm round his father's neck, laid his cheek against David's, crossed one foot over the other, and, thumb in mouth, looked Dora up and down with his large, observant eyes.
Dora, melted, wooed him to come to her. Her adoration of him was almost on a level with David's. Sandy took a minute to think whether he should leave his father. Then he climbed her knee, and patronised her on the subject of buffaloes and giraffes—'I tan't 'splain everything to you, Auntie Dora; you'll now when you're older'—till Lucy and supper came together. And supper was brightened both by Lucy's secret content in the prospect of the Benet's Park visit and by the child's humours. When Dora said good night to her host, their manner to each other had its usual fraternal quality. Nevertheless, the woman carried away with her both resentment and distress.
About a fortnight later David and Lucy started one fine October afternoon for Benet's Park. The cab was crowded with Lucy's luggage, and David, in new clothes to please his wife, felt himself, as the cab door closed upon them, a trapped and miserable man.
What had possessed Lord Driffield to send that unlucky note? For Lord Driffield himself David had a grateful and real affection. Ever since that whimsical scholar had first taken kindly notice of the boy-tradesman, there had been a growing friendship between the two; and of late years Lord Driffield's interest in David's development and career had become particularly warm and cordial. He had himself largely contributed to the subtler sides of that development, had helped to refine the ambitions and raise the standards of the growing intellect; his advice, owing to his lifelong commerce with and large possession of books, had often been of great practical use to the young man; his library had for years been at David's service, both for reference and borrowing; and he had supplied his favourite with customers and introductions in a large percentage of the University towns both at home and abroad, a social milieu where Lord Driffield was more at home and better appreciated than in any other. The small delicately featured man, whose distinguished face, with its abundant waves of silky hair—once ruddy, now a goldenish white—presided so oddly over an incorrigible shabbiness of dress, had become a familiar figure in David's life. Their friendship, of course, was limited to a very definite region of thought and relation; but they corresponded freely, when they were apart, on matters of literature, bibliography, sometimes of politics; and no sooner was the Earl at Benet's Park than David had constant calls from him in his office at the back of the now spacious and important establishment in Prince's Street.
But Lord Driffield, as we know, had managed his mind better than his marriage, and his savoir vivre was no match for his learning. He bore his spouse and his country-gentleman life patiently enough in general; but every now and then he fell into exasperation. His wife flooded him too persistently, perhaps, with cousins and grandees of the duller sort, whose ideas seemed to him as raw as their rent-rolls were large—till he rebelled. Then he would have his friends; selecting them more or less at random from up and down the ranks of literature and science, till Lady Driffield raised her eyebrows, invited a certain number of her own set to keep her in countenance, and made up her mind to endure. At the end of the ordeal Lord Driffield generally made the rueful reflection that it had not gone off well. But he felt the better and digested the better for the self-assertion of it, and it was periodically renewed.
David and Lucy Grieve had been asked in some such moment of domestic annoyance. The Earl had seen 'Grieve's wife' twice, and hastily remembered that she seemed 'a presentable little person.' He was constitutionally indifferent to and contemptuous of women. But he imagined that it would please David to bring his wife; and he was perhaps tolerably certain, since no one, be he rake or savant, possesses an historical name and domain without knowing it, that it would please the bookseller's wife to be invited.
David suspected a good deal of this, for he knew his man pretty well. As he sat opposite to Lucy in the railway carriage— first-class, since she felt it incongruous to go in anything else—he recalled certain luncheons at Benet's Park, when he had been doing a bit of work in the library during the family sojourn. Certainly Lucy did not realise at all how formidable these aristocratic women could be!
And his pride—at bottom the workman's pride—was made uncomfortable by his wife's newness. New hat, new dress, new gloves! Himself too! It annoyed him that Lady Driffield should be so plainly informed that great pains had been taken for her. He felt irritable and out of gear. Being neither self-conscious nor awkward, he became both for the moment, out of sympathy with Lucy.
Yet Lucy was supremely happy as they sped along to Stalybridge. Suppose her father heard of it! She could no doubt insure his knowing; but it might set his back up still more, make him more mad than before with her and David. Eight years and more since he had spoken to her, and the other day, when he had seen her coming in Deansgate, he had crossed to the other side of the street!—Were those sleeves of her evening dress quite right? They were not caught down, she thought, quite in the right place. No doubt there would be time before dinner to put in a stitch. And she did hope that pleat from the neck would look all right. It was peculiar, but Miss Helby had assured her it was much worn. Would there be many titled people, she wondered, and would all the ladies wear diamonds? She thought disconsolately of the little black enamelled locket and the Roman pearls, which were all the adornments she possessed.
After a short journey they alighted at their station as the dusk was beginning.
'Are you for Benet's Park, m'm?' said the porter to Lucy. 'All right!—the carriage is just outside.'
Lucy held herself an inch taller, and waited for David to come back from the van with their two new portmanteaus.
Meanwhile she noticed two other groups of people, whose bags and rugs were being appropriated by a couple of powdered footmen—a husband and wife, and a tall military-looking man accompanied by two ladies. The two ladies belonged to the height of fashion—of that Lucy was certain, as she stole an intimidated glance at the cut of their tailor-made gowns and the costliness of the fur cloak which one of them carried. As for the other lady, could she also be on her way to Benet's Park—with this uncouth figure, this mannish height and breadth, this complete lack of waist, these large arms and hands, and the over-ample garments and hat, of green cashmere slashed with yellow, in which she was marvellously arrayed? Yet she seemed entirely at her ease, which was more than Lucy was, and her little dark husband was already talking with the tall ladies.
David, having captured the luggage, was accosted by one of the footmen, who then came up to Lucy and took her bag. She and David followed in his wake, and found themselves mingling with the other five persons, who were clearly to be their fellow-guests.
As they stood outside the station door, the elder of the two ladies turned and ran a scrutinising eye over Lucy and the person in sage green following her; then she said rapidly to the gentleman with her:
'Now, remember Mathilde can't go outside, and I prefer to have her with me.'
'Well I suppose there'll be room in the omnibus,' said he, shortly. 'I shall go in the dog-cart and get a smoke. By George! those are good horses of Driffield's! And they are not the pair I sent him over from Ireland in the autumn either.'
He went down the steps, patted and examined the horses, and threw a word or two to the coachman. Lucy, palpitating with excitement and alarm, felt a corresponding awe of the person who could venture such familiarities even with the servants and live-stock of Benet's Park.
The servant let down the steps of the smart omnibus with its impatient steeds. The two tall ladies got in.
'Mathilde!' called the elder.
A little maid, dressed in black, and carrying a large dressing-bag, hurried down the steps before the remaining guests, and was helped in by the footman. The lady in sage green smiled at her husband—a sleepy, humorous smile. Then she stepped in, the footman touching his hat to her as though he knew her.
'Any maid, m'm?' said the man to Lucy, as she was following.
'No—oh no!' said Lucy, stumbling in. 'Give me my bag, please.'
The man gave it to her, and timidly looking round her she settled herself in the smallest space and the remotest corner she could.
When the carriage rolled off, the lady in green looked out of window for a while at the dark flying fields and woods, over which the stars were beginning to come out.
'Are you a stranger in these parts, or do you know Benet's Park already?' she said presently to Lucy, who was next her, in a pleasant, nonchalant way.
'I have never been here before,' said Lucy, dreading somehow the sound of her own voice; 'but my husband is well acquainted with the family.'
She was pleased with her own phrase, and began to recover herself. The lady said no more, however, but leant back and apparently went to sleep. The tall ladies presently did the same. Lucy's depression returned as the silence lasted. She supposed that it was aristocratic not to talk to people till you had been introduced to them. She hoped she would be introduced when they reached Benet's Park. Otherwise it would be awkward staying in the same house.
Then she fell into a dream, imagining herself with a maid—ordering her about deliciously—saying to the handsome footman, 'My maid has my wraps'—and then with the next jolt of the carriage waking up to the humdrum and unwelcome reality. And David might be as rich as anybody! Familiar resentments and cravings stirred in her, and her drive became even less of a pleasure than before. As for David, he spent the whole of it in lively conversation with the small dark man, beside the window.
The carriage paused a moment. Then great gates were swung back and in they sped, the horses stepping out smartly now that they were within scent of home. There was a darkness as of thick and lofty trees, then dim opening stretches of park; lastly a huge house, mirage-like in the distance, with rows of lighted windows, a crackling of crisp gravel, the sound of the drag, and a pomp of opening doors.
'Shall I take your bag, Madam?' said a magnificent person, bending towards Lucy, as, clinging to her possession, she followed the lady in green into the outer hall.
'Oh no, thank you! at least, shall I find it again?' said the frightened Lucy, looking in front of her at the vast hall, with its tall lamps and statues and innumerable doors.
'It shall be sent upstairs for you, Madam,' said the magnificent person gravely, and, as Lucy thought, severely.
She submitted, and looked round for David. Oh, where was he?
'This is a fine hall, isn't it?' said the lady in green beside her. 'Bad period—but good of its kind. What on earth do they spoil it for with those shocking modern portraits?'
Such assurance—combined with such garments—in such a house—it was nothing short of a miracle!
'Now, Lavinia, do be kind to young Mrs. Grieve. She is evidently as shy as she can be.'
So spoke Lord Driffield, with some annoyance in his voice, as he looked into his wife's room after dressing for dinner.
'I suppose she can amuse herself like other people,' said Lady Driffield. She was standing by the fire warming a satin-shoed foot. 'I have told Williams to leave all the houses open tomorrow. And there's church, and the pictures. The Danbys and the rest of us are going over to Lady Herbart's for tea.'
A cloud came over Lord Driffield's face. He made some impatient exclamation, which was muffled by his white beard and moustache, and walked back to his own room.
Meanwhile Lucy, in another corridor of the great house, was standing before a long glass, looking herself up and down in a tumult of excitement and anxiety.
She had just passed through a formidable hour! In a great gallery, with polished floor, and hung with portraits of ancestral Driffields, the party from the station had found Lady Driffield, with five or six other people, who seemed to be already staying in the house. Though the butler had preceded them, no names but those of Lady Venetia Danby and Miss Danby had been announced; and when Lady Driffield, a tall effective-looking woman with a cold eye and an expressionless voice, said a short 'How do you do?' and extended a few fingers to David and his wife, no names were mentioned, and Lucy felt a sudden depressing conviction that no names were needed. To the mistress of the house they were just two nonentities, to whom she was to give bed and board for two nights to gratify her husband's whims; whether their insignificant name happened to be Grieve, or Tompkins, or Johnson, mattered nothing.
So Lucy had sat down in a subdued state of mind, and was handed tea by a servant, while the Danbys—Colonel Danby, after his smoke in the dog-cart, following close on the heels of his wife and daughter—mixed with the group round the tea-table, and much chatter, combined with a free use of Christian names, liberal petting of Lady Driffield's Pomeranian, and an account by Miss Danby of an accident to herself in the hunting-field, filled up a half-hour which to one person, at least, had the qualities of a nightmare. David was talking to the lady in green—to whom, by the way, Lady Driffield had been distinctly civil. Once he came over to relieve Lucy from a waterproof which was on her knee, and to get her some bread and butter. But otherwise no one took any notice of her, and she fell into a nervous terror lest she should upset her cup, or drop her teaspoon, or scatter her crumbs on the floor.
Then at last Lord Driffield, who had been absent on some country business, which his soul loathed, had come in, and with the cordiality, nay, affection of his greeting to David, and the kindness of his notice of herself, little Lucy's spirits had risen at a bound. She felt instinctively that a protector had arrived, and even the formidable procession upstairs in the wake of Lady Driffield, when the moment at last arrived for showing the guests to their rooms, had passed off safely, Lucy throwing out an agitated 'Thank you!' when Lady Driffield had even gone so far as to open a door with her own bediamonded hand, which had Mrs. Grieve's plebeian appellations written in full upon the card attached to it.
And now? Was the dress nice? Would it do? Unluckily, since Lucy's rise in the social scale which had marked the last few years, the sureness of her original taste in dress had somewhat deserted her. Her natural instinct was for trimness and closeness; but of late her ideals had been somewhat confused by a new and more important dressmaker with 'aesthetic' notions, who had been recommended to her by the good-natured and artistic wife of one of the College professors. Under the guidance of this expert, she had chosen a 'Watteau sacque' from a fashion-plate, not quite daring, little tradesman's daughter as she felt herself at bottom, to venture on the undisguised low neck and short sleeves of ordinary fashionable dress.
She said fretfully to herself that she could see nothing in this vast room. More and more candles did she light with a trembling hand, trusting devoutly that no one would come in and discover her with such an extravagant illumination. Then she tried each of the two long glasses of the room in turn. Her courage mounted. It was pretty. The terra-cotta shade was exquisite, and no one could tell that the satin was cotton-backed. The flowing sleeves and the pleat from the shoulder gave her dignity, she was certain; and she had done her hair beautifully. She wished David would come in and see! But his room was across a little landing, which, indeed, seemed to be all their own, for it was shut off from the passage they had entered from by an outer door. There was, however, more than one door opening on to the landing, and Lucy was so much afraid of her surroundings that she preferred to wait till he came.
Meanwhile—what a bedroom! Why, it was more gorgeous than any drawing-room she had ever entered. Every article of furniture was of old marqueterie, adapted to modern uses, the appointments of the writing-table were of solid silver—Lucy had eagerly ascertained the fact by looking at the 'marks'—and as for the towels, she simply could not have imagined that such things were made! Her little soul was in a whirl of envy, admiration, pride. What tales she would have to tell Dora when they got home!
'Are you ready?' said David, opening the door. 'I believe I hear people going downstairs.'
He came in arrayed in the new dress suit which became him as well as anything else; for he had a natural dignity which absorbed and surmounted any novelty of circumstance or setting, and was purely a matter of character, depending upon a mind familiar with large interests and launched towards ideal aims. He might be silent, melancholy, impracticable, but never meanly self-conscious. It had rarely occurred to anyone to pity or condescend to David Grieve.
Lucy looked at him with uneasy pride. Then she glanced back at her own reflection in the glass.
'What do you think of it?' she asked him, eagerly.
'Magnificent!' said David, with all the sincerity of ignorance—wishing, moreover, to make his wife pleased with herself. 'But oughtn't you to have gloves instead of those things?'
He pointed doubtfully to the mittens on her arms.
'Oh, David, don't say that!' cried Lucy, in despair. 'Miss Helby said these were the right things. It's to be like an old picture, don't you understand? And I haven't got any gloves but those I came in. Oh, don't be so disagreeable!'
She looked ready to cry. Poor David hastened to declare that Miss Helby must be right, and that it was all very nice. Then they blew out the candles and ventured forth.
'Lord Driffield says that Canon Aylwin is coming,' said David, examining some Hollar engravings on the wall of the staircase as they descended, 'and the Dean of Bradford, who is staying with him. I shall be glad to see Canon Aylwin.'
His face took a pleased meditative look. He was thinking of Canon Aylwin's last volume of essays—of their fine scholarship, their delicate, unique qualities of style. As for Lucy, it seemed to her that all the principalities and powers of this world were somehow arraying themselves against her in that terrible drawing-room they were so soon to enter. She set her teeth, held up her bead, and on they went.
Presently they found themselves approaching a glass door, which opened into the central hall. Beyond it was a crowd of figures and a buzz of talk, and at the door stood a tall person in black with white gloves, holding a silver tray, from which he presented David with a button-hole. Then, with a manner at once suave and impersonal, he held open the door, and the husband and wife passed through.
'Ah, my dear Grieve,' said Lord Driffield, laying his hand on David's shoulder, 'come here and be introduced to Canon Aylwin. I am delighted to have caught him for you.'
So David was swept away to the other side of the room, and Lucy was left forlorn and stranded. It seemed to her an immense party; there were at least eight or ten fresh faces beyond those she had seen already. And just as she was looking for a seat into which she might slip and hide herself, Lady Venetia Danby, who was standing near, playing with a huge feather fan and talking to a handsome young man, turned around by chance and, seeing the figure in the bright-coloured 'Watteau sacque,' involuntarily put up her eyeglass to look at it. Instantly Lucy, conscious of the eyeglass, and looking hurriedly round on the people near, was certain that the pleat from the shoulder and the mittens were irretrievably wrong and conspicuous, and that she had betrayed herself at once by her dress as an ignoramus and an outsider. Worst of all, the lady in green was in a sacque too!—a shapeless yellow thing of the most untutored and detestable make. Mittens also! drawn laboriously over the hands and arms of an Amazon. Lucy glanced at Miss Danby beside her, then at a beautiful woman in pale pink across the room—at their slim waists, the careless aplomb and grace with which the costly stuffs and gleaming jewels were worn, and the white necks displayed—and sank into a chair trembling and miserable. That the only person to keep her in countenance should be that particular person—that they two should thus fall into a class together, by themselves, cut off from all the rest—it was too much! Then, by a quick reaction, some of her natural obstinacy returned upon her. She held herself erect, and looked steadily round the room.
'Mr. Edwardes—Mrs. Grieve,' said Lady Driffield's impassive voice, speaking, as it seemed to Lucy, from a great height, as the tall figure swept past her to introductions more important.
A young man bowed to Lucy, looked at her for a moment, then, pulling his fair moustache, turned away to speak to Miss Danby, who, in the absence of more stimulating suitors for her smiles, was graciously pleased to bestow a few of them on Lord Driffield's new agent.
'Whom are we waiting for?' said Miss Danby, looking round her, and slightly glancing at Lucy.
'Only the Dean, I believe,' said Mr. Edwardes, with a smile. 'I never knew Dean Manley less than half an hour late in this house.'
A cold shiver ran through Lucy. Then they—she and David—had been all but the last, had all but kept the whole of this portentous gathering waiting for them.
In the midst of her new tremor the glass doors were again thrown open, and in walked the Dean—a short, plain man, with a mirthful eye, a substantial person, and legs which became his knee-breeches.
'Thirty-five minutes, Dean!' said the handsome youth, who had been talking to Lady Venetia, as he held up his watch.
'It is a remarkable fact, Reggie,' said the Dean, laying his hand on the lad's shoulder, 'that your watch has gained persistently ever since I was first acquainted with you. Ah, well, keep it ahead, my boy. A diplomatist must be egged on somehow.'
'I thought the one condition of success in that trade was the patience to do nothing,' said a charming voice. 'Don't interfere with Reggie's prospects, Dean.'
'Has he got any?' said the Dean, maliciously. 'My dear Mrs. Wellesdon, you are a "sight for sair een."'
And he pressed the new-comer's hand between both his own, surveying her the while with a fatherly affection and admiration.
Lucy looked up, a curious envy at her heart. She saw the beautiful lady in pink, who had come across the room to greet the Dean. Was she beautiful? Lucy hurriedly asked herself. Perhaps not, in point of feature, but she held her head so nobly, her colour was so subtle and lovely, her eye so speaking, and her mouth so sweet, she carried about with her a preeminence so natural and human, that beauty was in truth the only word that fitted her. Now, as the Dean passed on from her to some one else, she glanced down at the little figure in terra-cotta satin, and, with a kindly diffident expression, she sat down and began to talk to Lucy. Marcia Wellesdon was a sorceress, and could win whatever hearts she pleased. In a few moments she so soothed Lucy's nervousness that she even beguiled from her some bright and natural talk about the journey and the house, and Lucy was rapidly beginning to be happy, when the signal for dinner was given, and a general move began.
At dinner Mr. Edwardes bestowed his conversation for a decent space of time—say, during the soup and fish—upon Mrs. Grieve. Lucy, once more ill at ease, tried eagerly to propitiate him by asking innumerable questions about the family, and the pictures, and the estate, it being at once evident that he had an intimate knowledge of all three. But as the family, the pictures, and the estate were always with him, so to speak, made, indeed, a burden which his shoulders had some difficulty in carrying, the attractions of this vein of talk palled on the young agent—who was himself a scion of good family, with his own social ambitions—before long. He decided that Mrs. Grieve was pure middle-class, not at all accustomed to dine in halls of pride, and much agitated by her surroundings. The type did not interest him. She seemed to be asking him to help her out of the mire, and as one does not go into society to be benevolent but to be amused, by the time the first entree was well in he had edged his chair round, and was in animated talk with pretty little Lady Alice Findlay, the daughter of the hook-nosed Lord-Lieutenant of the county, who was seated at Lady Driffield's right hand. Lucy noticed the immediate difference in tone, the easy variety of topic, compared with her own sense of difficulty, and her heart swelled with bitterness.
Then, to her horror, she saw that, from inattention and ignorance of what might be expected, she had allowed the servants to fill every single wineglass of the four standing at her right—positively every one. Sherry, claret, hock, champagne—she was provided with them all. She cast a hurried and guilty eye round the table. Save for champagne, each lady's glasses stood immaculately empty, and when Lucy came back to her own collection she could bear it no longer.
'Mr. Edwardes!' she said hastily, leaning over towards him.
The young man turned abruptly. 'Yes,' he said, looking at her in some surprise.
'Oh, Mr. Edwardes! can you ask some one to take these wineglasses away? I didn't want any, and it looks so—so—dreadful!'
The agent thought that Mrs. Grieve was going to cry. As for himself, his eye twinkled, and he had great difficulty to restrain a burst of laughter. He called a footman near, and Lucy was soon relieved of her fourfold incubus.
'Oh, but you must save the champagne!' he said, and, bending his chair backward, he was about to recall the man, Lucy stopped him.
'Don't—don't, please, Mr. Edwardes!' she said, in an agony.
He lifted his eyebrows good-humouredly, and desisted. Then he asked her if he should give her some water, and when that was done the episode apparently seemed to him closed, for he turned away again, and looked out for fresh opportunities with Lady Alice. Lucy, meanwhile, was left feeling herself even more unsuccessful and more out of place than before, and ready to sink with vexation. And how well David was getting on! There he was, between Mrs. Shepton and the beautiful lady in pink, and he and Mrs. Wellesdon were deep in conversation, his dark head bent gravely towards her, his face melting every now and then into laughter or crossed by some vivid light of assent and pleasure. Lucy's look travelled over the table, the orchids with which it was covered, the lights, the plate, then to the Vandykes behind the guests, and the great mirrors in between—came back to the table, and passed from face to face, till again it rested upon David. The conviction of her husband's handsome looks and natural adequacy to this or any world, with which her survey ended, brought with it a strange mixture of feelings—half pleasure, half bitterness.
'Are you from this part of the world, may I ask?' said a voice at her elbow.
She turned, and saw Colonel Danby, who was tired of devoting himself to the wife of a neighbouring Master of Hounds—a lady with white hair and white eyelashes, always apparently on the point of sleep, even at the liveliest dinner-table—and was now inclined to see what this little provincial might be made of.
'Oh, yes! we are from Manchester,' said Lucy, straightening herself, and preparing to do her best. 'We live in Manchester—at least, of course, not in Manchester. No one could do that.'
It was but three years since she had ceased to do it, but new habits of speech grow apace when it is a matter of social prestige. She was terribly afraid lest anybody should now think of them as persons who lived over their shop.
'Ah!—suppose not,' said Colonel Danby, carelessly. 'Land in Manchester, they tell me now, is almost as costly as it is in London.'
Whereat Lucy went off at score, delighted to make Manchester important and to produce her own information. She had an aptitude for business gossip, and she chatted eagerly about the price that So-and-So had paid for their new warehouses, and the sum which report said the Corporation was going to spend on a fine new street.
'And of course many people don't like it. There's always grumbling about the rates. But they should have public spirit, shouldn't they? Are you acquainted with Manchester?' she added, more timidly.
All this time Colonel Danby had been listening with half an ear, and was much more assiduously trying to make up his mind whether the little bourgeoise was pretty at all. She had rather a fine pair of eyes—he supposed she had made that dress in her own back parlour.
'Manchester? I—oh, I have spent a night at the Queen's Hotel now and then,' said the Colonel, with a yawn. 'What do you do there? Do you amuse yourself—eh?'
His smile was not pleasant. He had a florid face, with bad lines round the eyes and a tyrannous mouth. His physical make had been magnificent, but reckless living had brought on the penalties of gout before their time.
Lucy was intimidated by the mixture of familiarity and patronage in the tone.
'Oh, yes,' she said, hurriedly; 'we get all the best companies from the London theatres, and there are very good concerts.'
'And that kind of thing amuses you?' said the Colonel, still examining her with the same cool, fixed glance.
'I like music very much,' stammered Lucy, and then fell silent.
'Do you know all these people here?'
'Oh, dear, no!' she cried, feeling the very question malevolent. 'I don't know any of them. My husband wishes to lead a very retired life,' she added, bridling a little, by way of undoing the effect of her admissions.
'And you don't wish it?'
The disagreeable eyes smiled again.
'Oh! I don't know,' said Lucy.
Colonel Danby reflected that whatever his companion might be, she was not amusing.
'Have you noticed the gentleman opposite?' he inquired, stifling another yawn.
Lucy timidly looked across.
'It is—it is the Dean of Bradford, isn't it?'
'Yes; it's a comfort, isn't it, when one can know a man by his clothes! Do you see what his deanship has had for dinner?'
Lucy ventured another look, and saw that the Dean had in front of him a plate of biscuits and a glass of water, and that the condition of his knives and forks showed him to have hitherto subsisted on this fare alone.
'Is he so very—so very religious?' she said, wondering.
'A-saint in gaiters? Well, I don't know. Probably the saint has dined at one. Do you feel any inclination to be a saint, Mrs. Grieve?'
Lucy could neither meet nor parry the banter of his look. She only blushed.
'I wouldn't attempt it, if I were you,' he said, laughing. 'Those pretty brown eyes weren't meant for it.'
Lucy suddenly felt as though she had been struck, so free and cavalier was the tone. Her cheek took a deeper crimson, and she looked helplessly across at David.
'Little fool!' thought the Colonel. 'But she has certainly some points.'
At that moment Lady Driffield gave the signal, and, with a half-ironical bow to his companion, Colonel Danby rose, picked up her handkerchief for her, and drew his chair aside to let her pass.
Presently Lucy was sitting in a corner of the magnificent green drawing-room, to which Lady Driffield had carelessly led the way. In her vague humiliation and unhappiness, she craved that some one should come and talk to her and be kind to her—even Mrs. Shepton, who had addressed a few pleasant remarks to her on their way from the dining-room. But Mrs. Shepton was absorbed by Lady Driffield, who sat down beside her, and took some trouble to talk. 'Then why not to me?' was Lucy's instinctive thought. For she realised that she and Mrs. Shepton were socially not far apart. Yet Lady Driffield had so far addressed about six words to Mrs. David Grieve, while she was now bending her aristocratic neck to listen to Mrs. Shepton, who was talking entirely at her ease, with her arm round the back of a neighbouring chair, and, as it seemed to Lucy, about politics.
The rest of the ladies, with the exception of the Master of Hounds' wife, who sat in a chair by the fire and dozed, were all either old friends or relations, and they gathered in a group on the Aubusson rug in front of the fire, chatting merrily about their common kindred, the visits they had paid, or were to pay, the fate of their fathers and brothers in the recent election, 'the Duke's' terrible embarrassments, or 'Sir Alfred's' yachting party to Norway, of which little Lady Alice gave a sparkling account.
In her chair on the outskirts of the talkers, Lucy sat painfully turning over the leaves of a costly collection of autographs, which lay on the table near her. Sometimes she tried to interest herself in the splendid room, with its hangings of pale flowered silk, its glass cases, full of historical relics, miniatures, and precious things, representing the long and brilliant past of the house of Driffield, the Sir Joshuas and Romneys, which repeated on the walls the grace and physical perfection of some of the living women below. But she had too few associations with anything she saw to care for it, and, indeed, her mind was too wholly given to her own vague, but overmastering sense of isolation and defeat. If it were only bedtime!
Mrs. Wellesdon glanced at the solitary figure from time to time, but Lady Alice had her arm round 'Marcia's' waist, and kept close hold of her favourite cousin. At last, however, Mrs. Wellesdon drew the young girl with her to the side of Lucy's chair, and, sitting down by the stranger, they both tried to entertain her, and to show her some of the things in the room.
Lucy brightened up at once, and thought them both the most beautiful and fascinating of human beings. But her good fortune was soon over, alas! for the gentlemen came in, and the social elements were once more redistributed. 'Reggie', the young diplomatist, freshly returned from Berlin, laid hold of his sister Marcia, and his cousin Lady Alice, and carried them off for a family gossip into a corner of the room, whence peals of young laughter were soon to be heard from him and Lady Alice.
Mr. Edwardes and Colonel Danby passed Mrs. Grieve by, in quest of metal more attractive; Lord Driffield, the Dean, Canon Aylwin, and David stood absorbed in conversation; while Lady Driffield transferred her attentions to Mr. Shepton, and the husband of the lady by the fire walked up to her, insisting, somewhat crossly, on waking her. Lucy was once more left alone.
'Lavinia, haven't we done our duty to this apartment?' cried Lord Driffield, impatiently; 'it always puts me on stilts. The library is ten times more comfortable. I propose an adjournment.'
Lady Driffield shrugged her shoulders, and assented. So the whole party, Lucy timidly attaching herself to Mrs. Shepton, moved slowly through a long suite of beautiful rooms, till they reached the great cedar-fitted library, which was Lord Driffield's paradise. Here was every book to be desired of the scholar to make him wise, and every chair to make him comfortable. Lord Driffield went to one of the bookcases, and took a vellum-bound book, found a passage in it, and showed it to David Grieve. Canon Aylwin and the Dean pressed in to look, and they all fell back into the recess of a great oriel, talking earnestly.
The others passed on into a conservatory beyond the library, where was a billard-table, and many nooks for conversation amid the cunning labyrinths of flowers.
Lucy sank into a cane chair, close to a towering mass of arum lilies, and looked back into the library. Nobody in the conservatory had any thought for her. They were absorbed in each other, and a merry game of pyramids had been already organised. So Lucy watched her husband wistfully.
What a beautiful face was that of Canon Aylwin, with whom he was talking! She could not take her eyes from its long, thin outlines, the apostolic white hair, the eager eyes and quivering mouth, contrasting with the patient courtesy of manner. Yet in her present soreness and heat, the saintly charm of the old man's figure did somehow but depress her the more.
A little after ten it became evident that nothing could keep the lady with the white eyelashes out of bed any longer, so the billiard-room party broke up, and, with a few gentlemen in attendance, the ladies streamed into the hall, and possessed themselves of bedroom candlesticks. The great house seemed to be alive with talk and laughter as they strolled upstairs, the girls making dressing-gown appointments in each other's rooms for a quarter of an hour later.
When Lucy reached her own door she stopped awkwardly. Lady Driffield walked on, talking to Marcia Wellesdon. But Marcia looked back:
'Good night, Mrs. Grieve.'
She returned, and pressed Lucy's hand kindly. 'I am afraid you must be tired,' she said; 'you look so.'
Lady Driffield also shook hands, but, with constitutional gaucherie, she did not second Mrs. Wellesdon's remark; she stood by silent and stiff.
'Oh, no, thank you,' said Lucy, hurriedly, 'I am quite well.'
When she had disappeared, the other two walked on.
'What a stupid little thing!' said Lady Driffield. 'The husband may be interesting—Driffield says he is—but I defy anybody to get anything out of the wife.'
It occurred to Marcia that nobody had been very anxious to make the attempt. But she only said aloud:
'I'm sure she is very shy. What a pity she wears that kind of dress! She might be quite pretty in something else.'
Meanwhile Lucy, after shutting the outer door of their little suite behind her, was overtaken as she opened that leading to her own room by a sudden gust of wind coming from a back staircase emerging on to their private passage, which she had not noticed before. The candle was blown out, and she entered the room in complete darkness. She groped for the matches, and found the little stand; but there were none there. She must have used the last in the making of her great illumination before dinner. After much hesitation, she at last summoned up courage to ring the bell, groping her way to it by the help of the light in the passage.
For a long time no one came. Lucy, standing near her own door, seemed to hear two sounds—the angry beating of her own heart, and a murmur of far-off talk and jollity, conveyed to her up the mysterious staircase, which apparently led to some of the servants' quarters.
Fully five minutes passed; then steps were heard approaching, and a housemaid appeared. Lucy timidly asked for fresh matches. The girl said 'Yes, ma'am,' in an off-hand way, looked at Lucy with a somewhat hostile eye, and vanished.
The minutes passed, but no matches were forthcoming. The whirlpool of the lower regions, where the fun was growing uproarious, seemed to have engulfed the messenger. At last Lucy was fain to undress by the help of a glimmer of light from her door left ajar, and after many stumbles and fumblings at last crept, tired and wounded, into bed. This finale seemed to her of a piece with all the rest.
As she lay there in the dark, incident after incident of her luckless evening coming back upon her, her heart grew hungry for David. Nay, her craving for him mounted to jealousy and passion. After all, though he did get on so much better in grand houses than she did, though they were all kind to him and despised her, he was hers, her very own, and no one should take him from her. Beautiful Mrs. Wellesdon might talk to him and make friends with him, but he did not belong to any of them, but to her, Lucy. She pined for the sound of his step—thought of throwing herself into his arms, and seeking consolation there for the pains of an habitual self-importance crushed beyond bearing.
But when that step was actually heard outside, her mind veered in an instant. She had made him come; he would think she had disgraced him; he had probably noticed nothing, for a certain absent-mindedness in society had grown upon him of late years. No, she would hold her peace.
So when David, stepping softly and shading his candle, came in, and called 'Lucy' under his breath to see whether she might be awake, Lucy pretended to be sound asleep. He waited a minute, and then went out to change his coat and go down to the smoking-room.
Poor little Lucy! As she lay there in the dark, the tears dropping slowly on her embroidered pillow, the issue of all her mortification was a new and troubled consciousness about her husband. Why this difference between them? How was it that he commanded from all who knew him either a warm sympathy or an involuntary respect, while she—
She had gathered from some scraps of the talk round him which had reached her that it was just those sides of his life—those quixotic ideal sides—which were an offence and annoyance to her that touched other people's imagination, opened their hearts. And she had worried and teased him all these years! Not since the beginning. For, looking back, she could well remember the days when it was still an intoxication that he should have married her, when she was at once in awe of him and foolishly, proudly, happy. But there had come a year when David's profits from his business had amounted to over 2, 000 pounds, and when, thanks to a large loan pressed upon him by his Unitarian landlord, Mr. Doyle, he had taken the new premises in Prince's Street. And from that moment Lucy's horizon had changed, her ambitions had hardened and narrowed; she had begun to be impatient with her husband, first, that he could not make her rich faster, then, after their Tantalus gleam of wealth, that he would put mysterious and provoking obstacles in the way of their getting rich at all.
She meant to keep awake—to wait for him. But she began to think of Sandy. He would be glad to see his 'mummy' again! In fancy she pressed his cheek against her own burning one. He and David were still alive—still hers—it was all right somehow. Consolation began to steal upon her, and in ten minutes she was asleep.
When David came in later, he took advantage of Lucy's sleep to sit up awhile in his own room. He was excited, and any strong impression, in the practical loneliness of his deepest life, always now produced the impulse to write.
'Midnight.—Lucy is asleep. I hope she has been happy and they have been kind to her. I saw Mrs. Wellesdon talking to her after dinner. She must have liked that. But at dinner she seemed to be sitting silent a good deal.
'What a strange spectacle is this country-house life to anyone bringing to it a fresh and unaccustomed eye! "After all," said Mrs. Wellesdon, "you must admit that the best of anything is worth keeping. And in these country-houses, with all their drawbacks, you do from time to time get the best of social intercourse, a phase of social life as gay, complex, and highly finished as it can possibly be made."
'Certainly this applies to me to-night. When have I enjoyed any social pleasure so much as my talk with her at dinner? When have I been conscious of such stimulus, such exhilaration, as the evening's discussion produced in me? In the one case, Mrs. Wellesdon taught me what general conversation might be how nimble, delicate, and pleasure-giving; in the other, there was the joy of the intellectual wrestle, mingled with a glad respect for one's opponents. Perhaps nowhere, except on some such ground and in some such circumstances as these, could a debate so earnest have taken quite so wholesome a tone, so wide a range. We were equals—debaters, not controversialists—friends, not rivals—in the quest for truth.
'Yet what drawbacks! This army of servants—which might be an army of slaves without a single manly right, so mute, impassive, and highly trained it is—the breeding of a tyrannous temper in the men, of a certain contempt for facts and actuality even in the best of the women. Mrs. Wellesdon poured out her social aspirations to me. How naive and fanciful they were! They do her credit, but they will hardly do anyone else much good. And it is evident that they mark her out in her own circle, that they have brought her easily admiration and respect, so that she has never been led to test them, as any one, with the same social interest, living closer to the average realities and griefs of life, must have been led to test them.
'The culture, too, of these aristocratic women, when they are cultured, is so curious. Quite unconsciously and innocently it takes itself for much more than it is, merely by contrast with the milieu—the milieu of material luxury and complication—in which it moves.
'But I am ungrateful. What a social power in the best sense such a woman might become—a woman so sensitively endowed, so nobly planned!'
David dropped his pen awhile. In the silence of the great house, a silence broken only by the breathings of a rainy autumn wind through the trees outside, his thought took that picture-making intensity which was its peculiar gift. Images of what had been in his own life, and what might have been—the dream of passion which had so deeply marked and modified his manhood—Elise, seen in the clearer light of his richer experience—his married years—the place of the woman in the common life—on these his mind brooded, one by one, till gradually the solemn consciousness of opportunities for ever missed, of failure, of limitation, evoked another, as solemn, but sweeter and more touching, of human lives irrevocably dependent on his, of the pathetic unalterable claim of marriage, the poverty and hopelessness of all self-seeking, the essential wealth, rich and making rich, of all self-spending. As he thought of his wife and son a deep tenderness flooded the man's whole nature. With a long sigh, it was as though he took them both in his arms, adjusting his strength patiently and gladly to the familiar weight.
Then, by a natural reaction, feeling, to escape itself, passed into speculative reminiscence and meditation of a wholly different kind.
'Our discussion to-night arose from an attack—if anyone so gentle can be said to attack—made upon me by Canon Aylwin, on the subject of those "Tracts on the New Testament"—tracts of mine, of which we have published three, while I have two or three more half done in my writing-table drawer. He said, with a certain nervous decision, that he did not wish to discuss the main question, but he would like to ask me, Could anyone be so sure of supposed critical and historical fact as to be clear that he was right in proclaiming it, when the proclamation of it meant the inevitable disturbance in his fellow-men of conceptions whereon their moral life depended? It was certain that he could destroy; it was most uncertain, even to himself, whether he could do anything else, with the best intentions; and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, ought not the certainty of doing a moral mischief to outweigh, with any just and kindly mind, the much feebler and less solid certainty he may imagine himself to have attained with regard to certain matters of history and criticism?
'It was the old question of the rights of "heresy," the function of the individual in the long history of thought. We fell into sides: Lord Driffield and I against the Dean and Canon Aylwin. The Dean did not, indeed, contribute much. He sat with his square powerful head bent forward, throwing in a shrewd comment here and there, mainly on the logical course of the argument. But when we came to the main question, as we inevitably did, he withdrew altogether, though he listened.
'"No," he said, "no. I am not competent. It has not been my line in life. I have found more than enough to tax my strength in the practical administration of the goods of Christ. All such questions I leave, and must leave, to experts, such experts as"—and he mentioned the names of some of the leading scholars of the English Church—"or as my friend here", and he laid his hand affectionately on Canon Aylwin's knee.
'Strange! He leaves to experts such questions as those of the independence, authenticity, and trustworthiness of the Gospel records; of the culture and idiosyncrasies of the first two centuries as tending to throw light on those records; of the earliest growth of dogma, as, thanks mainly to German labour, it may now fee exhibited within the New Testament itself. In a Church of private judgment, he takes all this at second hand, after having vowed at his ordination "to be diligent in such studies as help to the knowledge of the Scriptures"!
'Yet a better, a more God-fearing, a more sincere, and, within certain lines, a more acute man than Dean Manley it would certainly be difficult to find at the present time within the English Church. It is an illustration of the dualism in which so many minds tend to live, divided between two worlds, two standards, two wholly different modes of thought—the one applied to religion even in its intellectual aspect, the other applied to all the rest of existence. Yet—is truth divided?
'To return to Canon Aylwin. I could only meet his reproach, which he had a special right to make, for he has taken the kindliest interest in some of the earlier series of our "Workmen's Tracts," by going back to some extent to first principles. I endeavoured to argue the matter on ground more or less common to us both. If both knowledge and morality have only become possible for man by the perpetual action of a Divine spirit on his since the dawn of conscious life; if this action has taken effect in human history, as, broadly speaking, the Canon would admit, through a free and constant struggle of opposites, whether in the realm of interest or the realm of opinion; and if this struggle, perpetually reconciled, perpetually renewed, is the divinely ordered condition, nay, if you will, the sacred task of human life,—how can the Christian, who clings, above all men, to the victory of the Divine in the human, who, moreover, in the course of his history has affronted and resisted all possible "authorities" but that of conscience—how can he lawfully resent the fullest and largest freedom of speech, employed disinterestedly and in good faith, on the part of his brother man? The truth must win; and it is only through the free life of the spirit that she has hitherto prevailed. So much, at least, the English Churchman must hold.
It comes to this: must there be no movement of thought because the individual who lives by custom and convention may at least temporarily suffer? Yet the risks of the individual throughout nature—so far we were agreed—are the correlative of his freedom and responsibility.
'"Ah, well," said the dear old man at last, with a change of expression which went to my heart, so wistful and spiritual it was, "perhaps I have been faithless; perhaps the Christian minister would do better to trust the Lord with His own. But before we leave the subject, let me say, once for all, that I have read all your tracts, and weighed most carefully all that they contain. The matter of them bears on what for me has been the study of many years, and all I can say is that I regard your methods of reasoning as unsound, and your conclusions as wholly false. I have been a literary man from my youth as well as a theologian, and I completely dissent from your literary judgments. I believe that if you had not been already possessed by a hostile philosophy—which will allow no space for miracle and revelation—you would not have arrived at them. I am old and you are young. Let me bear my testimony while there is time. I have taken a great interest in you and your work."
'He spoke with the most exquisite courtesy and simplicity, his look was dignified and heavenly. I felt like kneeling to ask his blessing, even though he could only give it in the shape of a prayer for my enlightenment.
'But now, alone with conscience, alone with God, how does the matter stand? The challenge of such a life and conviction as Canon Aylwin's is a searching one. It bids one look deep into one's self, it calls one to truth and soberness. What I seem to see is that he and I both approach Christianity with a prepossession, with, as he says, "a philosophy." His is a prepossession in favour of a system of interference from without, by Divine or maleficent powers, for their own ends, with the ordinary sequences of nature—which once covered, one may say, the whole field of human thought and shaped the whole horizon of humanity. From the beginning of history this prepossession—which may be regarded in all its phases as an expression of man's natural impatience to form a working hypothesis of things—has struggled with the "impulse to know." And slowly, irrevocably, from age to age—the impulse to know has beaten back the impulse to imagine, has confined the prepossession of faith within narrower and narrower limits, till at last it is even preparing to deny it the guidance of religion, which it has so long claimed. For the impulse of science, justified by the long wrestle of centuries, is becoming itself religious,—and there is a new awe rising on the brow of Knowledge.
'My prepossession—but let the personal pronoun be merely understood as attaching me to that band of thinkers, "of all countries, nations, and languages," whose pupil and creature I am—is simply that of science, of the organised knowledge of the race. It is drawn from the whole of experience, it governs without dispute every department of thought, and without it, in fact, neither Canon Aylwin nor I could think at all.
'Moreover, I humbly believe that I desire the same spiritual goods as he: holiness, the knowledge of God, the hope of immortality. But while for him these things are bound up with the maintenance of the older prepossession, for me there is no such connection at all.
'And again, I seem to see that when this intellect of his, so keen, so richly stored, approaches the special ground of Christian thought, it changes in quality. It becomes wholly subordinate to the affections, to the influences of education and habitual surroundings. Talk to him of Dante, of the influence of the barbarian invasions on the culture and development of Europe, of the Oxford movement, you will find in him an historical sense, a delicate accuracy of perception, a luminous variety of statement, which carry you with him into the very heart of the truth. But discuss with him the critical habits and capacity of those earliest Christian writers, on whose testimony so much of the Christian canon depends—ask him to separate the strata of material in the New Testament, according to their relative historical and ethical value, under the laws which he would himself apply to any other literature in the world—invite him to exclude this as legendary and that as accretion, to distinguish between the original kernel and that which the fancy or the theology of the earliest hearers inevitably added—and you will feel that a complete change has come over the mind. However subtle and precise his arguments may outwardly look, they are at bottom the arguments of affection, of the special pleader. He has fenced off the first century from the rest of knowledge; has invented for all its products alike special criteria and a special perspective. He cannot handle the New Testament in the spirit of science, for he approaches it on his knees. The imaginative habit of a lifetime has decided for him; and you ask of him what is impossible.
'"An end must come to scepticism somewhere!" he once said in the course of our talk. "Faith must take her leap—you know as well as I!—if there is to be faith at all."
'Yes, but where—at what point? Is the clergyman who talks with sincere distress about infidel views of Scripture and preaches against them, while at the same time he could not possibly give an intelligible account of the problem of the Synoptic Gospels as it now presents itself to the best knowledge, or an outline of the case pressed by science for more than half a century with increasing force and success against the historical character of St. John's Gospel—is he justified in making his ignorance the leaping-point?
'Yet the upshot of all our talk is that I am restless and oppressed.
'... I sit and think of these nine years since Berkeley and sorrow first laid hold of me. Berkeley rooted in me the conception of mind as the independent antecedent of all experience, and none of the scientific materialism, which so troubles Anerum that he will ultimately take refuge from it in Catholicism, affects me. But the ethical inadequacy of Berkeley became very soon plain to me. I remember I was going one day through one of the worst slums of Ancoats, when a passage in his examination of the origin of evil occurred to me:
'"But we should further consider that the very blemishes and defects of nature are not without their use, in that they make an agreeable sort of variety, and augment the beauty of the rest of creation, as shades in a picture serve to set off the brighter and more enlightened parts."
'I had just done my best to save a little timit scarecrow of a child, aged about six, from the blows of its brutal father, who had already given it a black eye—my heart blazed within me,—and from that moment Berkeley had no spell for me.
'Then came that moment when, after my marriage, haunted as I was by the perpetual oppression of Manchester's pain and poverty, the Christian mythology, the Christian theory with all its varied and beautiful flowerings in human life, had for a time an attraction for me so strong that Dora naturally hoped everything, and I felt myself becoming day by day more of an orthodox Christian. What checked the tendency I can hardly now remember in detail. It was a converging influence of books and life—no doubt largely helped, with regard to the details of Christian belief, by the pressure of the German historical movement, as I became more and more fully acquainted with it.
'At any rate, St. Damian's gradually came to mean nothing to me, though I kept, and keep still, a close working friendship with most of the people there. But I am thankful for that Christian phase. It enabled me to realise as nothing else could the strength of the Christian case.
'And since then it has been a long and weary journey through many paths of knowledge and philosophy, till of late years the new English phase of Kantian and Hegelian thought, which has been spreading in our universities, and which is the outlet of men who can neither hand themselves over to authority, like Newman, nor to a mere patient nescience in the sphere of metaphysics, like Herbert Spencer, has come to me with an ever-increasing power of healing and edification.
'That the spiritual principle in nature and man exists and governs; that mind cannot be explained out of anything but itself; that the human consciousness derives from a universal consciousness, and is thereby capable both of knowledge and of goodness; that the phenomena and history of conscience are the highest revelation of God; that we are called to co-operation in a divine work, and in spite of pain and sin may find ground for an infinite trust, covering the riddle of the individual lot, in the history and character of that work in man, so far as it has gone—these things are deeper and deeper realities to me. They govern my life; they give me peace; they breathe me hope.
'But the last glow, the certainties, the vision, of faith! Ah! me, I believe that He is there, yet my heart gropes in darkness. All that is personality, holiness, compassion in us, must be in Him intensified beyond all thought. Yet I have no familiarity of prayer. I cannot use the religious language which should be mine without a sense of unreality. My heart is athirst.
'And can religion possibly depend upon a long process of thought? How few can think their way to Him—perhaps none, indeed, by the logical intellect alone. He reveals himself to the simple. Speak to me, to me also, O my Father!'
Sunday morning broke fresh and golden after a wet night. Lucy lay still in the early dawn, thinking of the day that had to be faced, feeling more cheerful, however, with the refreshment of sleep, and inclined to hope that she might have got over the worst, and that better things might be in store for her.
So that when David said to her, 'You poor little person, did they eat you up last night—Lady Driffield and her set?' she only answered evasively that Mrs. Wellesdon had been nice, but that Lady Driffield had very bad manners, and she was sure everybody thought so.
To which David heartily assented. Then Lucy put her question:
'Did you think, when you looked at me last night at dinner, that I—that I looked nice?' she said, flushing, yet driven on by an inward smart.
'Of course I did!' David declared. 'Perhaps you should hold yourself up a little more. The women here are so astonishingly straight and tall, like young poplars.'
'Mrs. Wellesdon especially,' Lucy reflected, with a pang.
'But you thought I—had done my hair nicely?' she said desperately.
'Very! And it was the prettiest hair there!' he said, smoothing back the golden brown curls from her temple.
His compliment so delighted her that she dressed and prepared to descend to breakfast with a light heart. She was not often now so happily susceptible to a word of praise from him; she was more exacting than she had once been, but since her acquaintance with Lady Driffield she had been brought low!
And her evil fortune returned upon her, alas, at breakfast, and throughout the day. Breakfast, indeed, seemed to her a more formidable meal than any. For people straggled in, and the ultimate arrangement of the table seemed entirely to depend upon the personal attractiveness of individuals, upon whether they annexed or repelled new-comers. Lucy found herself at one time alone and shivering in the close neighbourhood of Lady Driffield, who was intrenched behind the tea-urn, and after giving her guest a finger, had, Lucy believed, spoken once to her, expressing a desire for scones. The meal itself, with its elaborate cakes and meats and fruits, intimidated Lucy even more than the dinner had done. The breach between it and any small housekeeping was more complete. She felt that she was eating like a school-girl; she devoured her toast dry, out of sheer inability to ask for butter; and, sitting for the most part isolated in the unpopular—that is to say, the Lady Driffield—quarter of the table, went generally half-starved.
As for David, he, with Lord Driffield, Mrs. Wellesdon, Lady Alice, Reggie, and Mrs. Shepton for company at the other end, had on the whole an excellent time. There was, however, one uncomfortable moment of friction between him and Colonel Danby, who had strolled in last of all, with the vicious look of a man who has not had the good night to which he considered himself entitled, and must somehow wreak it on the world.
Just before he entered, Lady Driffield, looking round to see that the servants had departed, had languidly started the question: 'Does one talk to one's maid? Do you, Marcia, talk to your maid? How can anyone ever find anything to say to one's maid?'
The topic proved unexpectedly interesting. Both Marcia Wellesdon and Lady Alice declared that their maids were their bosom friends. Lady Driffield shrugged her shoulders, then looked at Mrs. Grieve, who had sat silent, opened her mouth to speak, recollected herself, and said nothing. At that moment Colonel Danby entered.
'I say, Danby!' called the young attache, Marcia's brother, 'do you talk to your valet?'
'Talk to my valet!' said the Colonel, putting up his eye-glass to look at the dishes on the side table—he spoke with suavity, but there was an ominous pucker in the brow—'what should I do that for? I don't pay the fellow for his conversation, I presume, but to button my boots, and precious badly he does it too. I don't even know what his elegant surname is. "Thomas," or "James," or "William" is enough peg for me to hang my orders on. I generally christen them fresh when they come to me.'
Little Lady Alice looked indignant. Lucy caught her husband's face, and saw it suddenly pale, as it easily did under a quick emotion. He was thinking of the valet he had seen at the station standing by the Danbys' luggage—a dark, anxious-looking man, whose likeness to one of the compositors in his own office—a young fellow for whom he had a particular friendship—had attracted his notice.
'Why do you suppose he puts up with you—your servant?' he said, bending across to Colonel Danby. He smiled a little, but his eyes betrayed him.
'Puts up with me!' Colonel Danby lifted his brows, regarding David with an indescribable air of insolent surprise. 'Because I make it worth his while in pounds, shillings, and pence; that's all.'
And he put down his pheasant salmi with a clatter, while his wife handed him bread and other propitiations.
'Probably because he has a mother or sister,' said David, slowly.' We trust a good deal to the patience of our "masters."'
The Colonel stopped his wife's attentions with an angry hand. But just as he was about to launch a reply more congruous with his gout and his contempt for 'Driffield's low-life friends' than with the amenities of ordinary society, and while Lady Venetia was slowly and severely studying David through her eyeglass, Lord Driffield threw himself into the breach with a nervous story of some favourite 'man' of his own, and the storm blew over.
Lady Driffield, indeed, who herself disliked Colonel Danby, as one overbearing person dislikes another, and only invited him because Lady Venetia was her cousin and an old friend, was rather pleased with David's outbreak. After breakfast she graciously asked him if she should show him the picture gallery.
But David was still seething with wrath, and looked at Vandeveldes and De Hoochs and Rembrandts with a distracted eye. Once, indeed, in a little alcove of the gallery hung with English portraits, he woke to a start of interest.
'Imagine that that should be Gray!' he said, pointing to a picture—well known to him through engraving—of a little man in a bob wig, with a turned-up nose and a button chin, and a general air of eager servility. 'Gray,—one of our greatest poets!' He stood wondering, feeling it impossible to fit the dignity of Gray's verse to the insignificance of Gray's outer man.
'Oh, Gray—a great poet, you think? I don't agree with you. I have always thought the "Night Thoughts" very dull,' said Lady Driffield, sweeping along to the next picture, in a sublime unconsciousness. David smiled—a flash of mirth that cleared his whole look—and was himself again. Moreover he was soon taken possession of by Lord Driffield, and the two disappeared for a happy morning spent between the library and the woods.
Meanwhile Lucy went to church, and had the bliss of feeling that she made one too many in the omnibus, and that, squeeze herself as small as she might, she was still crushing Miss Danby's new dress—a fact of which both mother and daughter were clearly aware. Looking back upon it, Lucy could not remember that for her there had been any conversation going or coming; but it is quite possible that her memory of Benet's Park was even more pronounced than in reality.
David and Lord Driffield came in when lunch was half over, and afterwards there was a general strolling into the garden.
'Are you all right?' said David to his wife, taking her arm affectionately.
'Oh yes, thank you,' she said hurriedly, perceiving that Reggio Calvert was coming up to her. 'I'm all right. Don't take my arm, David. It looks so odd.'
And she turned delightedly to talk to the young diplomatist, who had the kindliness and charm of his race, and devoted himself to her very prettily for a while, though they had great difficulty in finding topics, and he was coming finally to the end of his resources when Lady Driffield announced that 'the carriage would be round in half an hour.'
'Goodness gracious! then I must write some letters first,' he said, with the importance of the budding ambassador, and ran into the house.
The others seemed to melt away—David and Canon Aylwin strolling off together—and soon Lucy found herself alone. She sat down in a seat round which curved a yew hedge, and whence there was a somewhat wide view over a bare, hilly country, with suggestions everywhere of factory life in the hollows, till on the southwest it rose and melted into the Derbyshire moors. Autumn—late autumn—was on all the reddening woods and in the cool sunshine; but there was a bright border of sunflowers and dahlias near, which no frost had yet touched, and the gaiety both of the flowers and of the clear blue distance forbade as yet any thought of winter.
Lucy's absent and discontented eye saw neither flowers nor distance; but it was perforce arrested before long by the figure of Mrs. Shepton, who came round the corner of the yew hedge.
'Have they gone?' said that lady.
'Who?' said Lucy, startled. 'I heard a carriage drive off just now, I think.'
'Ah! then they are gone. Lady Driffield has carried off all her friends—except Mrs. Wellesdon, who, I believe, is lying down with a headache—to tea at Sir Wilfrid Herbart's. You see the house there'—and she pointed to a dim, white patch among woods, about five miles off. 'It is not very civil of a hostess, perhaps, to leave her guests in this way. But Lady Driffield is Lady Driffield.'
Mrs. Shepton laughed, and threw back the flapping green gauze veil with which she generally shrouded a freckled and serviceable complexion, in no particular danger, one would have thought, of spoiling.
Lucy instinctively looked round to see how near they were to the house, and whether there were any windows open.
'It must be very difficult, I should think, to be—to be friends with Lady Driffield.'
She looked up at Mrs. Shepton with the childish air of one both hungry for gossip and conscious of the naughtiness of it.
Mrs. Shepton laughed again. She had never seen anyone behave worse, she reflected, than Lady Driffield to this little Manchester person, who might be uninteresting, but was quite inoffensive.
'Friends! I should think so. An armed neutrality is all that pays with Lady Driffield. I have been here many times, and I can now keep her in order perfectly. You see, Lady Driffield has a brother whom she happens to be fond of—everybody has some soft place—and this brother is a Liberal member down in our West Riding part of the world. And my husband is the editor of a paper that possesses a great deal of political influence in the brother's constituency. We have backed him up through this election. He is not a bad fellow at all, though about as much of a Liberal at heart as this hedge,' and Mrs. Shepton struck it lightly with the parasol she carried. 'My husband thinks we got him in—by the skin of his teeth. So Lady Driffield asks us periodically, and behaves herself, more or less. My husband likes Lord Driffield. So do I; and an occasional descent upon country houses amuses me. It especially entertains me to make Lady Driffield talk politics.'
'She must be very Conservative,' said Lucy, heartily. Conservatism stood in her mind for the selfish exclusiveness of big people. Her father had always been a bitter Radical.
'Oh dear no—not at all! Lady Driffield believes herself an advanced Liberal; that is the comedy of it. Liberals!' cried Mrs. Shepton, with a sudden bitterness, which transformed the broad, plain, sleepy face. 'I should like to set her to work for a year in one of those mills down there. She might have some politics worth having by the end of it.'
Lucy looked at her in amazement. Why, the mill people were very happy—most of them.
'Ah well!' said Mrs. Shepton, recovering herself, 'what we have to do—we intelligent middle class—for the next generation or two, is to drive these aristocrats. Then it will be seen what is to be done with them finally. Well, Mrs. Grieve, we must amuse ourselves. Au revoir! My husband has some writing to do, and I must go and help him.'
She waved her hand and disappeared, sweeping her green and yellow skirts behind her with an air as though Benet's Park were already a seminary for the correction of the great.
Lucy sat on pondering till she felt dull and cold, and decided to go in. On finding her way back she passed round a side of the house which she had not yet seen. It was the oldest part of the building, and the windows, which were mullioned and narrow, and at some height from the ground, looked out upon a small bowling-green, closely walled in from the rest of the gardens and the park by a thick screen of trees. She lingered along the path looking at a few late roses which were still blooming in this sheltered spot against the wall of the house, when she was startled by the sound of her own name, and, looking up, she saw that there was an open window above her. The temptation was too great. She held her breath and listened.
'Lord Driffield says he married her when he was quite young, that accounts for it.' Was not the voice Lady Alice's? 'But it is a pity that she is not more equal to him. I never saw a more striking face, did you? Yet Lord Driffield says he is not as good-looking as he promised to be as a boy. I wish we had been there last night after dinner, Marcia! They say he gave Colonel Danby such a dressing about some workmen's question. Colonel Danby was laying down the law about strikes in his usual way—he is an odious creature!—and wishing that the Government would just send an infantry regiment into the middle of the Yorkshire miners that are on strike now, when Mr. Grieve fired up. And everybody backed him. Reggie told me it was splendid; he never saw a better shindy. It is a pity about her. Everybody says he might have a great career if he pleased. And she can't be any companion to him.—Now, Marcia, you know your head is better, so don't say it isn't! Why, I have used a whole bottle of eau de Cologne on you.'
So chattered pretty, kindly Lady Alice, sitting with her back to the window beside Marcia Wellesdon. Lucy stood still a moment, could not hear what Mrs. Wellesdon said languidly in answer, then crept on, her lip quivering.
From then till long after the dark had fallen she was quite alone. David, coming back from a long walk, and tea at the agent's house on the further edge of the estate, found his wife lying on her bed, and the stars beginning to look in upon her through the unshuttered windows.
'Why, Lucy! aren't you well, dear?' he said, hurrying up to her.
'Oh yes, very well, thank you' she said, in a constrained voice. 'My head aches rather.'
'Who has been looking after you?' he said, instantly reproaching himself for the enjoyment of his own afternoon.
'I have been here since three o'clock.'
'And nobody gave you any tea?' he asked, flushing.
'No, I went down, but there was nobody in the drawing-room. I suppose the footman thought nobody was in.'
'Where was Lady Driffield?'
'Oh! she and most of them went out to tea—to a house a good way off.'
Lucy's tone was dreariness itself. David sat still, his breath coming quickly. Then suddenly Lucy turned round and drew him down to her passionately.
'When can we get home? Is there an early train?'
Then David understood. He took her in his arms, and she broke down and cried, sobbing out a catalogue of griefs that was only half coherent. But he saw at once that she had been neglected and slighted, nay more, that she had been somehow wounded to the quick. His clasped hand trembled on his knee. This was hospitality! He had gauged Lady Driffield well.
'An early train?' he said, with frowning decision. 'Yes, of course. There is to be an eight o'clock breakfast for those who want to get off. We shall be home by a little after nine. Cheer up, darling. I will look after you to-night—and think of Sandy to-morrow!'
He laid his cheek tenderly against hers, full of a passion of resentment and pity. As for her, the feeling with which she clung to him was more like the feeling she had first shown him on the Wakely moors, than anything she had known since.
'Sandy! why don't you say good morning, sir?' said David next morning, standing on the threshold of his own study, with Lucy just behind. His face was beaming with the pleasures of home.
Sandy, who was lying curled up in David's arm-chair, looked sleepily at his parents. His thumb was tightly wedged in his mouth, and with the other he held pressed against him a hideous rag doll, which had been presented to him in his cradle.
'Jane's asleep,' he said, just removing his thumb for the purpose, and then putting it back again.
'Heartless villain!' said David, taking possession of both him and Jane. 'And do you mean to say you aren't glad to see Daddy and Mammy?'
'Zes—but Sandy's so fond of childwen,' said Sandy, cuddling Jane up complacently, and subsiding into his father's arms.
Husband and wife laughed into each other's eyes. Then Lucy knelt down to tie the child's shoe, and David, first kissing the boy, bent forward and laid another kiss on the mother's hair.
'An exciting post,' said David to Lucy one morning as she entered the dining-room for breakfast. 'Louie proposes to bring her little girl over to see us, and Ancrum will be home to-night!'
'Louie!' repeated Mrs. Grieve, standing still in her amazement. 'What do you mean?'
It was certainly unexpected. David had not heard from Louie for more than six months; his remittances to her, however, were at all times so casually acknowledged that he had taken no particular notice; and he and she had not met for two years and more—since that visit to Paris, in fact, recorded in his journal.
'It is quite true,' said David; 'it seems to be one of her sudden schemes. I don't see any particular reason for it. She says she must "put matters before" me, and that Cecile wants a change. I don't see that a change to Manchester in February is likely to help the poor child much. No, it must mean more money. We must make up our minds to that,' said David with a little sad smile, looking at his wife.
'David! I don't see that you're called to do it at all!' cried Lucy. 'Why, you've done much more for her than anybody else would have done! What they do with the money I can't think—dreadful people!'
She began to pour out the tea with vehemence and an angry lip. She had always in her mind that vision of Louie, as she had seen her for the first and only time in her life, marching up Market Place in the 'loud' hat and the black and scarlet dress, stared at and staring. Nor had she ever lost her earliest impression of strong dislike which had come upon her immediately afterwards, when Louie and Reuben had mounted to Dora's sitting-room, and she, Lucy, had angrily told the quick-fingered, bold-eyed girl who claimed to be David Grieve's sister not to touch Dora's work. Nay, every year since had but intensified it, especially since their income had ceased to expand rapidly, and the drain of the Montjoies' allowance had been more plainly felt. She might have begun to feel a little ashamed of herself that she was able to give her husband so little sympathy in his determination to share his gains with his co-workers. She was quite clear that she was right in resenting the wasting of his money on such worthless people as the Montjoies. It was disgusting that they should sponge upon them so—and with hardly a 'thank you' all the time. Oh dear, no!—Louie took everything as her right, and had once abused David through four pages because his cheque had been two days late.
David received his wife's remarks in a meditative silence. He devoted himself a while to Sandy, who was eating porridge at his right hand, and tended with great regularity to bestow on his pinafore what was meant for his mouth. At last he said, pushing the letter over to Lucy:
'You had better read it, Lucy. She talks of coming next week.'
Lucy read it with mounting wrath. It was the outcome of a fit of characteristic violence. Louie declared that she could stand her life no longer; that she was coming over to put things before David; and if he couldn't help her, she and her child would just go out and beg. She understood from an old Manchester acquaintance whom she had met in the Rue de Rivoli about Christmas-time that David was doing very well with his business. She wished him joy of it. If he was prosperous, it was more than she was. Nobody ever seemed to trouble their heads about her.
'Well, I never!' said Lucy, positively choked. 'Why, it's not much more than a month since you sent her that last cheque. And now I know you'll be saying you can't afford yourself a new great-coat. It's disgraceful! They'll suck you dry, those kind of people, if you let them.'
She had taken no pains so far to curb her language for the sake of her husband's feelings. But as she gave vent to the last acid phrase she felt a sudden compunction. For David was looking straight before him into vacancy, with a painful intensity in the eyes, and a curious droop and contraction of the mouth. Why did he so often worry himself about Louie? He had done all he could, anyway.