(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Marcella"

The Project Gutenberg eBook, Marcella, by Mrs. Humphry Ward


This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net





Title: Marcella

Author: Mrs. Humphry Ward

Release Date: October 12, 2004  [eBook #13728]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MARCELLA***


E-text prepared by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, and the Project
Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team



MARCELLA

by

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

Author of _Robert Elsmere_, _The History Of David Grieve_, etc.

In Two Volumes

1894







[Illustration: Portrait of Mary A. Ward]



TO MY FATHER I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK IN LOVE AND GRATITUDE



BOOK I.


"If nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that could live an hour?"



CHAPTER I.

"The mists--and the sun--and the first streaks of yellow in the
beeches--beautiful!--_beautiful_!"


And with a long breath of delight Marcella Boyce threw herself on her
knees by the window she had just opened, and, propping her face upon her
hands, devoured the scene, before her with that passionate intensity of
pleasure which had been her gift and heritage through life.

She looked out upon a broad and level lawn, smoothed by the care of
centuries, flanked on either side by groups of old trees--some Scotch
firs, some beeches, a cedar or two--groups where the slow selective hand
of time had been at work for generations, developing here the delightful
roundness of quiet mass and shade, and there the bold caprice of bare
fir trunks and ragged branches, standing black against the sky. Beyond
the lawn stretched a green descent indefinitely long, carrying the eye
indeed almost to the limit of the view, and becoming from the lawn
onwards a wide irregular avenue, bordered by beeches of a splendid
maturity, ending at last in a far distant gap where a gate--and a gate
of some importance--clearly should have been, yet was not. The size of
the trees, the wide uplands of the falling valley to the left of the
avenue, now rich in the tints of harvest, the autumn sun pouring
steadily through the vanishing mists, the green breadth of the vast
lawn, the unbroken peace of wood and cultivated ground, all carried with
them a confused general impression of well-being and of dignity.
Marcella drew it in--this impression--with avidity. Yet at the same
moment she noticed involuntarily the gateless gap at the end of the
avenue, the choked condition of the garden paths on either side of the
lawn, and the unsightly tufts of grass spotting the broad gravel terrace
beneath her window.

"It _is_ a heavenly place, all said and done," she protested to herself
with a little frown. "But no doubt it would have been better still if
Uncle Robert had looked after it and we could afford to keep the garden
decent. Still--"

She dropped on a stool beside the open window, and as her eyes steeped
themselves afresh in what they saw, the frown disappeared again in the
former look of glowing content--that content of youth which is never
merely passive, nay, rather, contains an invariable element of covetous
eagerness.

It was but three months or so since Marcella's father, Mr. Richard
Boyce, had succeeded to the ownership of Mellor Park the old home of the
Boyces, and it was little more than six weeks since Marcella had
received her summons home from the students' boarding-house in
Kensington, where she had been lately living. She had ardently wished
to assist in the June "settling-in," having not been able to apply her
mind to the music or painting she was supposed to be studying, nor
indeed to any other subject whatever, since the news of their
inheritance had reached her. But her mother in a dry little note had let
it be known that she preferred to manage the move for herself. Marcella
had better go on with her studies as long as possible.

Yet Marcella was here at last. And as she looked round her large bare
room, with its old dilapidated furniture, and then out again to woods
and lawns, it seemed to her that all was now well, and that her
childhood with its squalors and miseries was blotted out--atoned for by
this last kind sudden stroke of fate, which might have been delayed so
deplorably!--since no one could have reasonably expected that an
apparently sound man of sixty would have succumbed in three days to the
sort of common chill a hunter and sportsman must have resisted
successfully a score of times before.

Her great desire now was to put the past--the greater part of it at any
rate--behind her altogether. Its shabby worries were surely done with,
poor as she and her parents still were, relatively to their present
position. At least she was no longer the self-conscious schoolgirl, paid
for at a lower rate than her companions, stinted in dress, pocket-money,
and education, and fiercely resentful at every turn of some real or
fancied slur; she was no longer even the half-Bohemian student of these
past two years, enjoying herself in London so far as the iron necessity
of keeping her boarding-house expenses down to the lowest possible
figure would allow. She was something altogether different. She was
Marcella Boyce, a "finished" and grown-up young woman of twenty-one, the
only daughter and child of Mr. Boyce of Mellor Park, inheritress of one
of the most ancient names in Midland England, and just entering on a
life which to her own fancy and will, at any rate, promised the highest
possible degree of interest and novelty.

Yet, in the very act of putting her past away from her, she only
succeeded, so it seemed, in inviting it to repossess her.

For against her will, she fell straightway--in this quiet of the autumn
morning--into a riot of memory, setting her past self against her
present more consciously than she had done yet, recalling scene after
scene and stage after stage with feelings of sarcasm, or amusement, or
disgust, which showed themselves freely as they came and went, in the
fine plastic face turned to the September woods.

She had been at school since she was nine years old--there was the
dominant fact in these motley uncomfortable years behind her, which, in
her young ignorance of the irrevocableness of living, she wished so
impatiently to forget. As to the time before her school life, she had a
dim memory of seemly and pleasant things, of a house in London, of a
large and bright nursery, of a smiling mother who took constant notice
of her, of games, little friends, and birthday parties. What had led to
the complete disappearance of this earliest "set," to use a theatrical
phrase, from the scenery of her childhood, Marcella did not yet
adequately know, though she had some theories and many suspicions in
the background of her mind. But at any rate this first image of memory
was succeeded by another precise as the first was vague--the image of a
tall white house, set against a white chalk cliff rising in terraces
behind it and alongside it, where she had spent the years from nine to
fourteen, and where, if she were set down blindfold, now, at twenty-one,
she could have found her way to every room and door and cupboard and
stair with a perfect and fascinated familiarity.

When she entered that house she was a lanky, black-eyed creature, tall
for her age, and endowed or, as she herself would have put it, cursed
with an abundance of curly unmanageable hair, whereof the brushing and
tending soon became to a nervous clumsy child, not long parted from her
nurse, one of the worst plagues of her existence. During her home life
she had been an average child of the quick and clever type, with average
faults. But something in the bare, ugly rooms, the discipline, the
teaching, the companionship of Miss Frederick's Cliff House School for
Young Ladies, transformed little Marcella Boyce, for the time being,
into a demon. She hated her lessons, though, when she chose, she could
do them in a hundredth part of the time taken by her companions; she
hated getting up in the wintry dark, and her cold ablutions with some
dozen others in the comfortless lavatory; she hated the meals in the
long schoolroom, where, because twice meat was forbidden and twice
pudding allowed, she invariably hungered fiercely for more mutton and
scorned her second course, making a sort of dramatic story to herself
out of Miss Frederick's tyranny and her own thwarted appetite as she sat
black-browed and brooding in her place. She was not a favourite with her
companions, and she was a perpetual difficulty and trouble to her
perfectly well-intentioned schoolmistress. The whole of her first year
was one continual series of sulks, quarrels, and revolts.

Perhaps her blackest days were the days she spent occasionally in bed,
when Miss Frederick, at her wit's end, would take advantage of one of
the child's perpetual colds to try the effects of a day's seclusion and
solitary confinement, administered in such a form that it could do her
charge no harm, and might, she hoped, do her good. "For I do believe a
great part of it's liver or nerves! No child in her right senses could
behave so," she would declare to the mild and stout French lady who had
been her partner for years, and who was more inclined to befriend and
excuse Marcella than any one else in the house--no one exactly knew why.

Now the rule of the house when any girl was ordered to bed with a cold
was, in the first place, that she should not put her arms outside the
bedclothes--for if you were allowed to read and amuse yourself in bed
you might as well be up; that the housemaid should visit the patient in
the early morning with a cup of senna-tea, and at long and regular
intervals throughout the day with beef-tea and gruel; and that no one
should come to see and talk with her, unless, indeed, it were the
doctor, quiet being in all cases of sickness the first condition of
recovery, and the natural schoolgirl in Miss Frederick's persuasion
being more or less inclined to complain without cause if illness were
made agreeable.

For some fourteen hours, therefore, on these days of durance Marcella
was left almost wholly alone, nothing but a wild mass of black hair and
a pair of roving, defiant eyes in a pale face showing above the
bedclothes whenever the housemaid chose to visit her--a pitiable morsel,
in truth, of rather forlorn humanity. For though she had her movements
of fierce revolt, when she was within an ace of throwing the senna-tea
in Martha's face, and rushing downstairs in her nightgown to denounce
Miss Frederick in the midst of an astonished schoolroom, something
generally interposed; not conscience, it is to be feared, or any wish
"to be good," but only an aching, inmost sense of childish loneliness
and helplessness; a perception that she had indeed tried everybody's
patience to the limit, and that these days in bed represented crises
which must be borne with even by such a rebel as Marcie Boyce.

So she submitted, and presently learnt, under dire stress of boredom, to
amuse herself a good deal by developing a natural capacity for dreaming
awake. Hour by hour she followed out an endless story of which she was
always the heroine. Before the annoyance of her afternoon gruel, which
she loathed, was well forgotten, she was in full fairy-land again,
figuring generally as the trusted friend and companion of the Princess
of Wales--of that beautiful Alexandra, the top and model of English
society whose portrait in the window of the little stationer's shop at
Marswell--the small country town near Cliff House--had attracted the
child's attention once, on a dreary walk, and had ever since governed
her dreams. Marcella had no fairy-tales, but she spun a whole cycle for
herself around the lovely Princess who came to seem to her before long
her own particular property. She had only to shut her eyes and she had
caught her idol's attention--either by some look or act of passionate
yet unobtrusive homage as she passed the royal carriage in the
street--or by throwing herself in front of the divinity's runaway
horses--or by a series of social steps easily devised by an imaginative
child, well aware, in spite of appearances, that she was of an old
family and had aristocratic relations. Then, when the Princess had held
out a gracious hand and smiled, all was delight! Marcella grew up on the
instant: she was beautiful, of course; she had, so people said, the
"Boyce eyes and hair;" she had sweeping gowns, generally of white muslin
with cherry-coloured ribbons; she went here and there with the Princess,
laughing and talking quite calmly with the greatest people in the land,
her romantic friendship with the adored of England making her all the
time the observed of all observers, bringing her a thousand delicate
flatteries and attentions.

Then, when she was at the very top of ecstasy, floating in the softest
summer sea of fancy, some little noise would startle her into opening
her eyes, and there beside her in the deepening dusk would be the bare
white beds of her two dormitory companions, the ugly wall-paper
opposite, and the uncovered boards with their frugal strips of carpet
stretching away on either hand. The tea-bell would ring perhaps in the
depths far below, and the sound would complete the transformation of
the Princess's maid-of-honour into Marcie Boyce, the plain naughty
child, whom nobody cared about, whose mother never wrote to her, who in
contrast to every other girl in the school had not a single "party
frock," and who would have to choose next morning between another dumb
day of senna-tea and gruel, supposing she chose to plead that her cold
was still obstinate, or getting up at half-past six to repeat half a
page of Ince's "Outlines of English History" in the chilly schoolroom,
at seven.

Looking back now as from another world on that unkempt fractious Marcie
of Cliff House, the Marcella of the present saw with a mixture of
amusement and self-pity that one great aggravation of that child's daily
miseries had been a certain injured, irritable sense of social
difference between herself and her companions. Some proportion of the
girls at Cliff House were drawn from the tradesman class of two or three
neighbouring towns. Their tradesmen papas were sometimes ready to deal
on favourable terms with Miss Frederick for the supply of her
establishment; in which case the young ladies concerned evidently felt
themselves very much at home, and occasionally gave themselves airs
which alternately mystified and enraged a little spitfire outsider like
Marcella Boyce. Even at ten years old she perfectly understood that she
was one of the Boyces of Brookshire, and that her great-uncle had been a
famous Speaker of the House of Commons. The portrait of this great-uncle
had hung in the dining room of that pretty London house which now seemed
so far away; her father had again and again pointed it out to the
child, and taught her to be proud of it; and more than once her childish
eye had been caught by the likeness between it and an old grey-haired
gentleman who occasionally came to see them, and whom she called
"Grandpapa." Through one influence and another she had drawn the glory
of it, and the dignity of her race generally, into her childish blood.
There they were now--the glory and the dignity--a feverish leaven,
driving her perpetually into the most crude and ridiculous outbreaks,
which could lead to nothing but humiliation.

"I wish my great-uncle were here! _He'd_ make you remember--you
great--you great--big bully you!"--she shrieked on one occasion when she
had been defying a big girl in authority, and the big girl--the stout
and comely daughter of a local ironmonger--had been successfully
asserting herself.

The big girl opened her eyes wide and laughed.

"_Your_ great-uncle! Upon my word! And who may he be, miss? If it comes
to that, I'd like to show _my_ great-uncle David how you've scratched my
wrist. He'd give it you. He's almost as strong as father, though he is
so old. You get along with you, and behave yourself, and don't talk
stuff to me."

Whereupon Marcella, choking with rage and tears, found herself pushed
out of the schoolroom and the door shut upon her. She rushed up to the
top terrace, which was the school playground, and sat there in a hidden
niche of the wall, shaking and crying,--now planning vengeance on her
conqueror, and now hot all over with the recollection of her own
ill-bred and impotent folly.

No--during those first two years the only pleasures, so memory
declared, were three: the visits of the cake-woman on Saturday--Marcella
sitting in her window could still taste the three-cornered puffs and
small sweet pears on which, as much from a fierce sense of freedom and
self-assertion as anything else, she had lavished her tiny weekly
allowance; the mad games of "tig," which she led and organised in the
top playground; and the kindnesses of fat Mademoiselle Rénier, Miss
Frederick's partner, who saw a likeness in Marcella to a long-dead small
sister of her own, and surreptitiously indulged "the little wild-cat,"
as the school generally dubbed the Speaker's great-niece, whenever she
could.

But with the third year fresh elements and interests had entered in.
Romance awoke, and with it certain sentimental affections. In the first
place, a taste for reading had rooted itself--reading of the adventurous
and poetical kind. There were two or three books which Marcella had
absorbed in a way it now made her envious to remember. For at twenty-one
people who take interest in many things, and are in a hurry to have
opinions, must skim and "turn over" books rather than read them, must
use indeed as best they may a scattered and distracted mind, and suffer
occasional pangs of conscience as pretenders. But at thirteen--what
concentration! what devotion! what joy! One of these precious volumes
was Bulwer's "Rienzi"; another was Miss Porter's "Scottish Chiefs"; a
third was a little red volume of "Marmion" which an aunt had given her.
She probably never read any of them through--she had not a particle of
industry or method in her composition--but she lived in them. The parts
which it bored her to read she easily invented for herself, but the
scenes and passages which thrilled her she knew by heart; she had no
gift for verse-making, but she laboriously wrote a long poem on the
death of Rienzi, and she tried again and again with a not inapt hand to
illustrate for herself in pen and ink the execution of Wallace.

But all these loves for things and ideas were soon as nothing in
comparison with a friendship, and an adoration.

To take the adoration first. When Marcella came to Cliff House she was
recommended by the same relation who gave her "Marmion" to the kind
offices of the clergyman of the parish, who happened to be known to some
of the Boyce family. He and his wife--they had no children--did their
duty amply by the odd undisciplined child. They asked her to tea once or
twice; they invited her to the school-treat, where she was only
self-conscious and miserably shy; and Mr. Ellerton had at least one
friendly and pastoral talk with Miss Frederick as to the difficulties of
her pupil's character. For a long time little came of it. Marcella was
hard to tame, and when she went to tea at the Rectory Mrs. Ellerton, who
was refined and sensible, did not know what to make of her, though in
some unaccountable way she was drawn to and interested by the child. But
with the expansion of her thirteenth year there suddenly developed in
Marcie's stormy breast an overmastering absorbing passion for these two
persons. She did not show it to them much, but for herself it raised
her to another plane of existence, gave her new objects and new
standards. She who had hated going to church now counted time entirely
by Sundays. To see the pulpit occupied by any other form and face than
those of the rector was a calamity hardly to be borne; if the exit of
the school party were delayed by any accident so that Mr. and Mrs.
Ellerton overtook them in the churchyard, Marcella would walk home on
air, quivering with a passionate delight, and in the dreary afternoon of
the school Sunday she would spend her time happily in trying to write
down the heads of Mr. Ellerton's sermon. In the natural course of things
she would, at this time, have taken no interest in such things at all,
but whatever had been spoken by him had grace, thrill, meaning.

Nor was the week quite barren of similar delights. She was generally
sent to practise on an old square piano in one of the top rooms. The
window in front of her overlooked the long white drive and the distant
high road into which it ran. Three times a week on an average Mrs.
Ellerton's pony carriage might be expected to pass along that road.
Every day Marcella watched for it, alive with expectation, her fingers
strumming as they pleased. Then with the first gleam of the white pony
in the distance, over would go the music stool, and the child leapt to
the window, remaining fixed there, breathing quick and eagerly till the
trees on the left had hidden from her the graceful erect figure of Mrs.
Ellerton. Then her moment of Paradise was over; but the afterglow of it
lasted for the day.

So much for romance, for feelings as much like love as childhood can
know them, full of kindling charm and mystery. Her friendship had been
of course different, but it also left deep mark. A tall, consumptive
girl among the Cliff House pupils, the motherless daughter of a
clergyman-friend of Miss Frederick's, had for some time taken notice of
Marcella, and at length won her by nothing else, in the first instance,
than a remarkable gift for story-telling. She was a parlour-boarder, had
a room to herself, and a fire in it when the weather was cold. She was
not held strictly to lesson hours; many delicacies in the way of food
were provided for her, and Miss Frederick watched over her with a quite
maternal solicitude. When winter came she developed a troublesome cough,
and the doctor recommended that a little suite of rooms looking south
and leading out on the middle terrace of the garden should be given up
to her. There was a bedroom, an intermediate dressing-room, and then a
little sitting-room built out upon the terrace, with a window-door
opening upon it.

Here Mary Lant spent week after week. Whenever lesson hours were done
she clamoured for Marcie Boyce, and Marcella was always eager to go to
her. She would fly up stairs and passages, knock at the bedroom door,
run down the steps to the queer little dressing-room where the roof
nearly came on your head, and down more steps again to the sitting-room.
Then when the door was shut, and she was crooning over the fire with her
friend, she was entirely happy. The tiny room was built on the edge of
the terrace, the ground fell rapidly below it, and the west window
commanded a broad expanse of tame arable country, of square fields and
hedges, and scattered wood. Marcella, looking back upon that room,
seemed always to see it flooded with the rays of wintry sunset, a kettle
boiling on the fire, her pale friend in a shawl crouching over the
warmth, and the branches of a snowberry tree, driven by the wind,
beating against the terrace door.

But what a story-teller was Mary Lant! She was the inventor of a story
called "John and Julia," which went on for weeks and months without ever
producing the smallest satiety in Marcella. Unlike her books of
adventure, this was a domestic drama of the purest sort; it was
extremely moral and evangelical, designed indeed by its sensitively
religious author for Marcie's correction and improvement. There was in
it a sublime hero, who set everybody's faults to rights and lectured the
heroine. In real life Marcella would probably before long have been
found trying to kick his shins--a mode of warfare of which in her demon
moods she was past mistress. But as Mary Lant described him, she not
only bore with and trembled before him--she adored him. The taste for
him and his like, as well as for the story-teller herself--a girl of a
tremulous, melancholy fibre, sweet-natured, possessed by a Calvinist
faith, and already prescient of death--grew upon her. Soon her absorbing
desire was to be altogether shut up with Mary, except on Sundays and at
practising times. For this purpose she gave herself the worst cold she
could achieve, and cherished diligently what she proudly considered to
be a racking cough. But Miss Frederick was deaf to the latter, and only
threatened the usual upstairs seclusion and senna-tea for the former,
whereupon Marcella in alarm declared that her cold was much better and
gave up the cough in despair. It was her first sorrow and cost her some
days of pale brooding and silence, and some nights of stifled tears,
when during an Easter holiday a letter from Miss Frederick to her mother
announced the sudden death of Mary Lant.




CHAPTER II.


Friendship and love are humanising things, and by her fourteenth year
Marcella was no longer a clever little imp, but a fast-maturing and in
some ways remarkable girl, with much of the woman in her already. She
had begun even to feel an interest in her dress, to speculate
occasionally on her appearance. At the fourth breaking-up party after
her arrival at Cliff House, Marcella, who had usually figured on these
occasions in a linsey-woolsey high to the throat, amid the frilled and
sashed splendours of her companions, found lying on her bed, when she
went up with the others to dress, a plain white muslin dress with blue
ribbons. It was the gift of old Mademoiselle Rénier, who affectionately
wished her queer, neglected favourite to look well. Marcella examined it
and fingered it with an excited mixture of feelings. First of all there
was the sore and swelling bitterness that she should owe such things to
the kindness of the French governess, whereas finery for the occasion
had been freely sent to all the other girls from "home." She very nearly
turned her back upon the bed and its pretty burden. But then the mere
snowy whiteness of the muslin and freshness of the ribbons, and the
burning curiosity to see herself decked therein, overcame a nature
which, in the midst of its penury, had been always really possessed by
a more than common hunger for sensuous beauty and seemliness. Marcella
wore it, was stormily happy in it, and kissed Mademoiselle Rénier for it
at night with an effusion, nay, some tears, which no one at Cliff House
had ever witnessed in her before except with the accompaniments of rage
and fury.

A little later her father came to see her, the first and only visit he
paid to her at school. Marcella, to whom he was by now almost a
stranger, received him demurely, making no confidences, and took him
over the house and gardens. When he was about to leave her a sudden
upswell of paternal sentiment made him ask her if she was happy and if
she wanted anything.

"Yes!" said Marcella, her large eyes gleaming; "tell mamma I want a
'fringe.' Every other girl in the school has got one."

And she pointed disdainfully to her plainly parted hair. Her father,
astonished by her unexpected vehemence, put up his eyeglass and studied
the child's appearance. Three days later, by her mother's permission,
Marcella was taken to the hairdresser at Marswell by Mademoiselle
Rénier, returned in all the glories of a "fringe," and, in
acknowledgment thereof, wrote her mother a letter which for the first
time had something else than formal news in it.

Meanwhile new destinies were preparing for her. For a variety of small
reasons Mr. Boyce, who had never yet troubled himself about the matter
from a distance, was not, upon personal inspection, very favourably
struck with his daughter's surroundings. His wife remarked shortly, when
he complained to her, that Marcella seemed to her as well off as the
daughter of persons of their means could expect to be. But Mr. Boyce
stuck to his point. He had just learnt that Harold, the only son of his
widowed brother Robert, of Mellor Park, had recently developed a deadly
disease, which might be long, but must in the end be sure. If the young
man died and he outlived Robert, Mellor Park would be his; they would
and must return, in spite of certain obstacles, to their natural rank in
society, and Marcella must of course be produced as his daughter and
heiress. When his wife repulsed him, he went to his eldest sister, an
old maid with a small income of her own, who happened to be staying with
them, and was the only member of his family with whom he was now on
terms. She was struck with his remarks, which bore on family pride, a
commodity not always to be reckoned on in the Boyces, but which she
herself possessed in abundance; and when he paused she slowly said that
if an ideal school of another type could be found for Marcella, she
would be responsible for what it might cost over and above the present
arrangement. Marcella's manners were certainly rough; it was difficult
to say what she was learning, or with whom she was associating;
accomplishments she appeared to have none. Something should certainly be
done for her--considering the family contingencies. But being a strong
evangelical, the aunt stipulated for "religious influences," and said
she would write to a friend.

The result was that a month or two later Marcella, now close on her
fourteenth birthday, was transferred from Cliff House to the charge of a
lady who managed a small but much-sought-after school for young ladies
at Solesby, a watering place on the east coast.

       *       *       *       *       *

But when in the course of reminiscence Marcella found herself once more
at Solesby, memory began to halt and wander, to choose another tone and
method. At Solesby the rough surroundings and primitive teaching of
Cliff House, together with her own burning sense of inferiority and
disadvantage, had troubled her no more. She was well taught there, and
developed quickly from the troublesome child into the young lady duly
broken in to all social proprieties. But it was not her lessons or her
dancing masters that she remembered. She had made for herself agitations
at Cliff House, but what were they as compared to the agitations of
Solesby! Life there had been one long Wertherish romance in which there
were few incidents, only feelings, which were themselves events. It
contained humiliations and pleasures, but they had been all matters of
spiritual relation, connected with one figure only--the figure of her
schoolmistress, Miss Pemberton; and with one emotion only--a passion, an
adoration, akin to that she had lavished on the Ellertons, but now much
more expressive and mature. A tall slender woman with brown,
grey-besprinkled hair falling in light curls after the fashion of our
grandmothers on either cheek, and braided into a classic knot
behind--the face of a saint, an enthusiast--eyes overflowing with
feeling above a thin firm mouth--the mouth of the obstinate saint, yet
sweet also: this delicate significant picture was stamped on Marcella's
heart. What tremors of fear and joy could she not remember in
connection with it? what night-vigils when a tired girl kept herself
through long hours awake that she might see at last the door open and a
figure with a night-lamp standing an instant in the doorway?--for Miss
Pemberton, who slept little and read late, never went to rest without
softly going the rounds of her pupils' rooms. What storms of contest,
mainly provoked by Marcella for the sake of the emotions, first of
combat, then of reconciliation to which they led! What a strange
development on the pupil's side of a certain histrionic gift, a turn for
imaginative intrigue, for endless small contrivances such as might rouse
or heighten the recurrent excitements of feeling! What agitated moments
of religious talk! What golden days in the holidays, when
long-looked-for letters arrived full of religious admonition, letters
which were carried about and wept over till they fell to pieces under
the stress of such a worship--what terrors and agonies of a stimulated
conscience--what remorse for sins committed at school--what zeal to
confess them in letters of a passionate eloquence--and what indifference
meanwhile to anything of the same sort that might have happened at home!

Strange faculty that women have for thus lavishing their heart's blood
from their very cradles! Marcella could hardly look back now, in the
quiet of thought, to her five years with Miss Pemberton without a shiver
of agitation. Yet now she never saw her. It was two years since they
parted; the school was broken up; her idol had gone to India to join a
widowed brother. It was all over--for ever. Those precious letters had
worn themselves away; so, too, had Marcella's religious feelings; she
was once more another being.

       *       *       *       *       *

But these two years since she had said good-bye to Solesby and her
school days? Once set thinking of bygones by the stimulus of Mellor and
its novelty, Marcella must needs think, too, of her London life, of all
that it had opened to her, and meant for her. Fresh agitations!--fresh
passions!--but this time impersonal, passions of the mind and
sympathies.

At the time she left Solesby her father and mother were abroad, and it
was apparently not convenient that she should join them. Marcella,
looking back, could not remember that she had ever been much desired at
home. No doubt she had been often moody and tiresome in the holidays;
but she suspected--nay, was certain--that there had been other and more
permanent reasons why her parents felt her presence with them a burden.
At any rate, when the moment came for her to leave Miss Pemberton, her
mother wrote from abroad that, as Marcella had of late shown decided
aptitude both for music and painting, it would be well that she should
cultivate both gifts for a while more seriously than would be possible
at home. Mrs. Boyce had made inquiries, and was quite willing that her
daughter should go, for a time, to a lady whose address she enclosed,
and to whom she herself had written--a lady who received girl-students
working at the South Kensington art classes.

So began an experience, as novel as it was strenuous. Marcella soon
developed all the airs of independence and all the jargon of two
professions. Working with consuming energy and ambition, she pushed her
gifts so far as to become at least a very intelligent, eager, and
confident critic of the art of other people--which is much. But though
art stirred and trained her, gave her new horizons and new standards, it
was not in art that she found ultimately the chief excitement and
motive-power of her new life--not in art, but in the birth of social and
philanthropic ardour, the sense of a hitherto unsuspected social power.

One of her girl-friends and fellow-students had two brothers in London,
both at work at South Kensington, and living not far from their sister.
The three were orphans. They sprang from a nervous, artistic stock, and
Marcella had never before come near any one capable of crowding so much
living into the twenty-four hours. The two brothers, both of them
skilful and artistic designers in different lines, and hard at work all
day, were members of a rising Socialist society, and spent their
evenings almost entirely on various forms of social effort and Socialist
propaganda. They seemed to Marcella's young eyes absolutely sincere and
quite unworldly. They lived as workmen; and both the luxuries and the
charities of the rich were equally odious to them. That there could be
any "right" in private property or private wealth had become incredible
to them; their minds were full of lurid images or resentments drawn from
the existing state of London; and though one was humorous and handsome,
the other, short, sickly, and pedantic, neither could discuss the
Socialist ideal without passion, nor hear it attacked without anger.
And in milder measure their sister, who possessed more artistic gift
than either of them, was like unto them.

Marcella saw much of these three persons, and something of their
friends. She went with them to Socialist lectures, or to the public
evenings of the Venturist Society, to which the brothers belonged. Edie,
the sister, assaulted the imagination of her friend, made her read the
books of a certain eminent poet and artist, once the poet of love and
dreamland, "the idle singer of an empty day," now seer and prophet, the
herald of an age to come, in which none shall possess, though all shall
enjoy. The brothers, more ambitious, attacked her through the reason,
brought her popular translations and selections from Marx and Lassalle,
together with each Venturist pamphlet and essay as it appeared; they
flattered her with technical talk; they were full of the importance of
women to the new doctrine and the new era.

The handsome brother was certainly in love with her; the other,
probably. Marcella was not in love with either of them, but she was
deeply interested in all three, and for the sickly brother she felt at
that time a profound admiration--nay, reverence--which influenced her
vitally at a critical moment of life. "Blessed are the poor"--"Woe unto
you, rich men"--these were the only articles of his scanty creed, but
they were held with a fervour, and acted upon with a conviction, which
our modern religion seldom commands. His influence made Marcella a
rent-collector under a lady friend of his in the East End; because of
it, she worked herself beyond her strength in a joint attempt made by
some members of the Venturist Society to organise a Tailoresses' Union;
and, to please him, she read articles and blue-books on Sweating and
Overcrowding. It was all very moving and very dramatic; so, too, was the
persuasion Marcella divined in her friends, that she was destined in
time, with work and experience, to great things and high place in the
movement.

The wholly unexpected news of Mr. Boyce's accession to Mellor had very
various effects upon this little band of comrades. It revived in
Marcella ambitions, instincts and tastes wholly different from those of
her companions, but natural to her by temperament and inheritance. The
elder brother, Anthony Craven, always melancholy and suspicious, divined
her immediately.

"How glad you are to be done with Bohemia!" he said to her ironically
one day, when he had just discovered her with the photographs of Mellor
about her. "And how rapidly it works!"

"What works?" she asked him angrily.

"The poison of possession. And what a mean end it puts to things! A week
ago you were all given to causes not your own; now, how long will it
take you to think of us as 'poor fanatics!'--and to be ashamed you ever
knew us?"

"You mean to say that I am a mean hypocrite!" she cried. "Do you think
that because I delight in--in pretty things and old associations, I must
give up all my convictions? Shall I find no poor at Mellor--no work to
do? It is unkind--unfair. It is the way all reform breaks down--through
mutual distrust!"

He looked at her with a cold smile in his dark, sunken eyes, and she
turned from him indignantly.

When they bade her good-bye at the station, she begged them to write to
her.

"No, no!" said Louis, the handsome younger brother. "If ever you want
us, we are there. If you write, we will answer. But you won't need to
think about us yet awhile. Good-bye!"

And he pressed her hand with a smile.

The good fellow had put all his own dreams and hopes out of sight with a
firm hand since the arrival of her great news. Indeed, Marcella realised
in them all that she was renounced. Louis and Edith spoke with affection
and regret. As to Anthony, from the moment that he set eyes upon the
maid sent to escort her to Mellor, and the first-class ticket that had
been purchased for her, Marcella perfectly understood that she had
become to him as an enemy.

"They shall see--I will show them!" she said to herself with angry
energy, as the train whirled her away. And her sense of their
unwarrantable injustice kept her tense and silent till she was roused to
a childish and passionate pleasure by a first sight of the wide lawns
and time-stained front of Mellor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of such elements, such memories of persons, things, and events, was
Marcella's reverie by the window made up. One thing, however, which,
clearly, this report of it has not explained, is that spirit of
energetic discontent with her past in which she had entered on her
musings. Why such soreness of spirit? Her childhood had been pinched and
loveless; but, after all, it could well bear comparison with that of
many another child of impoverished parents. There had been compensations
all through--and were not the great passion of her Solesby days,
together with the interest and novelty of her London experience, enough
to give zest and glow to the whole retrospect? Ah! but it will be
observed that in this sketch of Marcella's schooldays nothing has been
said of Marcella's holidays. In this omission the narrative has but
followed the hasty, half-conscious gaps and slurs of the girl's own
thought. For Marcella never thought of those holidays and all that was
connected with them _in detail_, if she could possibly avoid it. But it
was with them, in truth, and with what they implied, that she was so
irritably anxious to be done when she first began to be reflective by
the window; and it was to them she returned with vague, but still
intense consciousness when the rush of active reminiscence died away.

       *       *       *       *       *

That surely was the breakfast bell ringing, and with the dignified
ancestral sound which was still so novel and attractive to Marcella's
ear. Recalled to Mellor Park and its circumstances, she went
thoughtfully downstairs, pondering a little on the shallow steps of the
beautiful Jacobean staircase. _Could_ she ever turn her back upon those
holidays? Was she not rather, so to speak, just embarked upon their
sequel, or second volume?

But let us go downstairs also.




CHAPTER III.


Breakfast was laid in the "Chinese room," a room which formed part of
the stately "garden front," added to the original structure of the house
in the eighteenth century by a Boyce whose wife had money. The
decorations, especially of the domed and vaulted roof, were supposed by
their eighteenth century designer to be "Oriental"; they were, at any
rate, intricate and overladen; and the figures of mandarins on the worn
and discoloured wall-paper had, at least, top-knots, pigtails, and
petticoats to distinguish them from the ordinary Englishmen of 1760,
besides a charming mellowness of colour and general effect bestowed on
them by time and dilapidation. The marble mantelpiece was elaborately
carved in Chinamen and pagodas. There were Chinese curiosities of a
miscellaneous kind on the tables, and the beautiful remains of an Indian
carpet underfoot. Unluckily, some later Boyce had thrust a crudely
Gothic sideboard, with an arched and pillared front, adapted to the
purposes of a warming apparatus, into the midst of the mandarins, which
disturbed the general effect. But with all its original absurdities, and
its modern defacements, the room was a beautiful and stately one.
Marcella stepped into it with a slight unconscious straightening of her
tall form. It seemed to her that she had never breathed easily till
now, in the ample space of these rooms and gardens.

Her father and mother were already at table, together with Mrs. Boyce's
brown spaniel Lynn.

Mr. Boyce was employed in ordering about the tall boy in a worn and
greasy livery coat, who represented the men-service of the
establishment; his wife was talking to her dog, but from the lift of her
eyebrows, and the twitching of her thin lips, it was plain to Marcella
that her mother was as usual of opinion that her father was behaving
foolishly.

"There, for goodness' sake, cut some bread on the sideboard," said the
angry master, "and hand it round instead of staring about you like a
stuck pig. What they taught you at Sir William Jute's I can't conceive.
_I_ didn't undertake to make a man-servant of you, sir."

The pale, harassed lad flew at the bread, cut it with a vast scattering
of crumbs, handed it clumsily round, and then took glad advantage of a
short supply of coffee to bolt from the room to order more.

"Idiot!" said Mr. Boyce, with an angry frown, as he disappeared.

"If you would allow Ann to do her proper parlour work again," said his
wife blandly, "you would, I think, be less annoyed. And as I believe
William was boot boy at the Jutes', it is not surprising that he did not
learn waiting."

"I tell you, Evelyn, that our position _demands_ a man-servant!" was the
hot reply. "None of my family have ever attempted to run this house with
women only. It would be unseemly--unfitting--incon--"

"Oh, I am no judge of course of what a Boyce may do!" said his wife
carelessly. "I leave that to you and the neighbourhood."

Mr. Boyce looked uncomfortable, cooled down, and presently when the
coffee came back asked his wife for a fresh supply in tones from which
all bellicosity had for the time departed. He was a small and singularly
thin man, with blue wandering eyes under the blackest possible eyebrows
and hair. The cheeks were hollow, the complexion as yellow as that of
the typical Anglo-Indian. The special character of the mouth was hidden
by a fine black moustache, but his prevailing expression varied between
irritability and a kind of plaintiveness. The conspicuous blue eyes were
as a rule melancholy; but they could be childishly bright and
self-assertive. There was a general air of breeding about Richard Boyce,
of that air at any rate which our common generalisations connect with
the pride of old family; his dress was careful and correct to the last
detail; and his hands with their long fingers were of an excessive
delicacy, though marred as to beauty by a thinness which nearly amounted
to emaciation.

"The servants say they must leave unless the ghost does, Marcella," said
Mrs. Boyce, suddenly, laying a morsel of toast as she spoke on Lynn's
nose. "Someone from the village of course has been talking--the cook
says she heard _something_ last night, though she will not condescend to
particulars--and in general it seems to me that you and I may be left
before long to do the house work."

"What do they say in the village?" asked Marcella eagerly.

"Oh! they say there was a Boyce two hundred years ago who fled down
here from London after doing something he shouldn't--I really forget
what. The sheriff's officers were advancing on the house. Their approach
displeased him, and he put an end to himself at the head of the little
staircase leading from the tapestry-room down to my sitting-room. Why
did he choose the _staircase_?" said Mrs. Boyce with light
reflectiveness.

"It won't do," said Marcella, shaking her head. "I know the Boyce they
mean. He was a ruffian, but he shot himself in London; and, any way, he
was dead long before that staircase was built."

"Dear me, how well up you are!" said her mother. "Suppose you give a
little lecture on the family in the servants' hall. Though I never knew
a ghost yet that was undone by dates."

There was a satiric detachment in her tone which contrasted sharply with
Marcella's amused but sympathetic interest. _Detachment_ was perhaps the
characteristic note of Mrs. Boyce's manner,--a curious separateness, as
it were, from all the things and human beings immediately about her.

Marcella pondered.

"I shall ask Mr. Harden about the stories," she said presently. "He will
have heard them in the village. I am going to the church this morning."

Her mother looked at her--a look of quiet examination--and smiled. The
Lady Bountiful airs that Marcella had already assumed during the six
weeks she had been in the house entertained Mrs. Boyce exceedingly.

"Harden!" said Mr. Boyce, catching the name. "I wish that man would
leave me alone. What have I got to do with a water-supply for the
village? It will be as much as ever I can manage to keep a water-tight
roof over our heads during the winter after the way in which Robert has
behaved."

Marcella's cheek flushed.

"The village water-supply is a _disgrace_," she said with low emphasis.
"I never saw such a crew of unhealthy, wretched-looking children in my
life as swarm about those cottages. We take the rent, and we ought to
look after them. I believe you could be _forced_ to do something,
papa--if the local authority were of any use."

She looked at him defiantly.

"Nonsense," said Mr. Boyce testily. "They got along in your Uncle
Robert's days, and they can get along now. Charity, indeed! Why, the
state of this house and the pinch for money altogether is enough, I
should think, to take a man's mind. Don't you go talking to Mr. Harden
in the way you do, Marcella. I don't like it, and I won't have it. You
have the interests of your family and your home to think of first."

"Poor starved things!" said Marcella sarcastically--"living in such a
_den_!"

And she swept her white hand round, as though calling to witness the
room in which they sat.

"I tell you," said Mr. Boyce, rising and standing before the fire,
whence he angrily surveyed the handsome daughter who was in truth so
little known to him, and whose nature and aims during the close contact
of the last few weeks had become something of a perplexity and
disturbance to him,--"I tell you our great effort, the effort of us all,
must be to keep up the family position!--_our_ position. Look at that
library, and its condition; look at the state of these wall-papers; look
at the garden; look at the estate books if it comes to that. Why, it
will be years before, even with all my knowledge of affairs, I can pull
the thing through--years!"

Mrs. Boyce gave a slight cough--she had pushed back her chair, and was
alternately studying her husband and daughter. They might have been
actors performing for her amusement. And yet, amusement is not precisely
the word. For that hazel eye, with its frequent smile, had not a spark
of geniality. After a time those about her found something scathing in
its dry light.

Now, as soon as her husband became aware that she was watching him, his
look wavered, and his mood collapsed. He threw her a curious furtive
glance, and fell silent.

"I suppose Mr. Harden and his sister remind you of your London Socialist
friends, Marcella?" asked Mrs. Boyce lightly, in the pause that
followed. "You have, I see, taken a great liking for them."

"Oh! well--I don't know," said Marcella, with a shrug, and something of
a proud reticence. "Mr. Harden is very kind--but--he doesn't seem to
have thought much about things."

She never talked about her London friends to her mother, if she could
help it. The sentiments of life generally avoided Mrs. Boyce when they
could. Marcella being all sentiment and impulse, was constantly her
mother's victim, do what she would. But in her quiet moments she stood
on the defensive.

"So the Socialists are the only people who think?" said Mrs. Boyce, who
was now standing by the window, pressing her dog's head against her
dress as he pushed up against her. "Well, I am sorry for the Hardens.
They tell me they give all their substance away--already--and every one
says it is going to be a particularly bad winter. The living, I hear, is
worth nothing. All the same, I should wish them to look more cheerful.
It is the first duty of martyrs."

Marcella looked at her mother indignantly. It seemed to her often that
she said the most heartless things imaginable.

"Cheerful!" she said--"in a village like this--with all the young men
drifting off to London, and all the well-to-do people dissenters--no one
to stand by him--no money and no helpers--the people always ill--wages
eleven and twelve shillings a week--and only the old wrecks of men left
to do the work! He might, I think, expect the people in _this_ house to
back him up a little. All he asks is that papa should go and satisfy
himself with his own eyes as to the difference between our property and
Lord Maxwell's--"

"Lord Maxwell's!" cried Mr. Boyce, rousing himself from a state of
half-melancholy, half-sleepy reverie by the fire, and throwing away his
cigarette--"Lord Maxwell! Difference! I should think so. Thirty thousand
a year, if he has a penny. By the way, I wish he would just have the
civility to answer my note about those coverts over by Willow Scrubs!"

He had hardly said the words when the door opened to admit William the
footman, in his usual tremor of nervousness, carrying a salver and a
note.

"The man says, please sir, is there any answer, sir?"

"Well, that's odd!" said Mr. Boyce, his look brightening. "Here _is_
Lord Maxwell's answer, just as I was talking of it."

His wife turned sharply and watched him take it; her lips parted, a
strange expectancy in her whole attitude. He tore it open, read it, and
then threw it angrily under the grate.

"No answer. Shut the door." The lad retreated. Mr. Boyce sat down and
began carefully to put the fire together. His thin left hand shook upon
his knee.

There was a moment's pause of complete silence. Mrs. Boyce's face might
have been seen by a close observer to quiver and then stiffen as she
stood in the light of the window, a tall and queenly figure in her
sweeping black. But she said not a word, and presently left the room.

Marcella watched her father.

"Papa--_was_ that a note from Lord Maxwell?"

Mr. Boyce looked round with a start, as though surprised that any one
was still there. It struck Marcella that he looked yellow and
shrunken--years older than her mother. An impulse of tenderness, joined
with anger and a sudden sick depression--she was conscious of them all
as she got up and went across to him, determined to speak out. Her
parents were not her friends, and did not possess her confidence; but
her constant separation from them since her childhood had now sometimes
the result of giving her the boldness with them that a stranger might
have had. She had no habitual deference to break through, and the
hindering restraints of memory, though strong, were still less strong
than they would have been if she had lived with them day by day and year
by year, and had known their lives in close detail instead of guessing
at them, as was now so often the case with her.

"Papa, is Lord Maxwell's note an uncivil one?"

Mr. Boyce stooped forward and began to rub his chilly hand over the
blaze.

"Why, that man's only son and I used to loaf and shoot and play cricket
together from morning till night when we were boys. Henry Raeburn was a
bit older than I, and he lent me the gun with which I shot my first
rabbit. It was in one of the fields over by Soleyhurst, just where the
two estates join. After that we were always companions--we used to go
out at night with the keepers after poachers; we spent hours in the snow
watching for wood-pigeons; we shot that pair of kestrels over the inner
hall door, in the Windmill Hill fields--at least I did--I was a better
shot than he by that time. He didn't like Robert--he always wanted me."

"Well, papa, but what does he say?" asked Marcella, impatiently. She
laid her hand, however, as she spoke, on her father's shoulder.

Mr. Boyce winced and looked up at her. He and her mother had originally
sent their daughter away from home that they might avoid the daily
worry of her awakening curiosities, and one of his resolutions in coming
to Mellor Park had been to keep up his dignity with her. But the sight
of her dark face bent upon him, softened by a quick and womanly
compassion, seemed to set free a new impulse in him.

"He writes in the third person, if you want to know, my dear, and refers
me to his agent, very much as though I were some London grocer who had
just bought the place. Oh, it is quite evident what he means. They were
here without moving all through June and July, and it is now three weeks
at least since he and Miss Raeburn came back from Scotland, and not a
card nor a word from either of them! Nor from the Winterbournes, nor the
Levens. Pleasant! Well, my dear, you must make up your mind to it. I did
think--I was fool enough to think--that when I came back to the old
place, my father's old friends would let bygones be bygones. I never did
_them_ any harm. Let them 'gang their gait,' confound them!"--the little
dark man straightened himself fiercely--"I can get my pleasure out of
the land; and as for your mother, she'd not lift a finger to propitiate
one of them!"

In the last words, however, there was not a fraction of that sympathetic
pride which the ear expected, but rather fresh bitterness and grievance.

Marcella stood thinking, her mind travelling hither and thither with
lightning speed, now over the social events of the last six weeks--now
over incidents of those long-past holidays. Was this, indeed, the second
volume beginning--the natural sequel to those old mysterious histories
of shrinking, disillusion, and repulse?

"What was it you wanted about those coverts, papa?" she asked presently,
with a quick decision.

"What the deuce does it matter? If you want to know, I proposed to him
to exchange my coverts over by the Scrubs, which work in with his
shooting, for the wood down by the Home Farm. It was an exchange made
year after year in my father's time. When I spoke to the keeper, I found
it had been allowed to lapse. Your uncle let the shooting go to rack and
ruin after Harold's death. It gave me something to write about, and I
was determined to know where I stood--Well! the old Pharisee can go his
way: I'll go mine."

And with a spasmodic attempt to play the squire of Mellor on his native
heath, Richard Boyce rose, drew his emaciated frame to its full height,
and stood looking out drearily to his ancestral lawns--a picturesque and
elegant figure, for all its weakness and pitiableness.

"I shall ask Mr. Aldous Raeburn about it, if I see him in the village
to-day," said Marcella, quietly.

Her father started, and looked at her with some attention.

"What have you seen of Aldous Raeburn?" he inquired. "I remember hearing
that you had come across him."

"Certainly I have come across him. I have met him once or twice at the
Vicarage--and--oh! on one or two other occasions," said Marcella,
carelessly. "He has always made himself agreeable. Mr. Harden says his
grandfather is devoted to him, and will hardly ever let him go away from
home. He does a great deal for Lord Maxwell now: writes for him, and
helps to manage the estate; and next year, when the Tories come back and
Lord Maxwell is in office again--"

"Why, of course, there'll be plums for the grandson," said Mr. Boyce
with a sneer. "That goes without saying--though we are such a virtuous
lot."

"Oh yes, he'll get on--everybody says so. And he'll deserve it too!" she
added, her eye kindling combatively as she surveyed her father. "He
takes a lot of trouble down here, about the cottages and the board of
guardians and the farms. The Hardens like him very much, but he is not
exactly popular, according to them. His manners are sometimes shy and
awkward, and the poor people think he's proud."

"Ah! a prig I dare say--like some of his uncles before him," said Mr.
Boyce, irritably. "But he was civil to you, you say?"

And again he turned a quick considering eye on his daughter.

"Oh dear! yes," said Marcella, with a little proud smile. There was a
pause; then she spoke again. "I must go off to the church; the Hardens
have hard work just now with the harvest festival, and I promised to
take them some flowers."

"Well"--said her father, grudgingly, "so long as you don't promise
anything on my account! I tell you, I haven't got sixpence to spend on
subscriptions to anything or anybody. By the way, if you see Reynolds
anywhere about the drive, you can send him to me. He and I are going
round the Home Farm to pick up a few birds if we can, and see what the
coverts look like. The stock has all run down, and the place has been
poached to death. But he thinks if we take on an extra man in the
spring, and spend a little on rearing, we shall do pretty decently next
year."

The colour leapt to Marcella's cheek as she tied on her hat.

"You will set up another keeper, and you won't do anything for the
village?" she cried, her black eyes lightening, and without another word
she opened the French window and walked rapidly away along the terrace,
leaving her father both angered and amazed.

A man like Richard Boyce cannot get comfortably through life without a
good deal of masquerading in which those in his immediate neighbourhood
are expected to join. His wife had long since consented to play the
game, on condition of making it plain the whole time that she was no
dupe. As to what Marcella's part in the affair might be going to be, her
father was as yet uneasily in the dark. What constantly astonished him,
as she moved and talked under his eye, was the girl's beauty. Surely she
had been a plain child, though a striking one. But now she had not only
beauty, but the air of beauty. The self-confidence given by the
possession of good looks was very evident in her behaviour. She was very
accomplished, too, and more clever than was always quite agreeable to a
father whose self-conceit was one of the few compensations left him by
misfortune. Such a girl was sure to be admired. She would have
lovers--friends of her own. It seemed that already, while Lord Maxwell
was preparing to insult the father, his grandson had discovered that the
daughter was handsome. Richard Boyce fell into a miserable reverie,
wherein the Raeburns' behaviour and Marcella's unexpected gifts played
about equal parts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Marcella was gathering flowers in the "Cedar garden," the most
adorable corner of Mellor Park, where the original Tudor house, grey,
mullioned and ivy-covered, ran at right angles into the later "garden
front," which projected beyond it to the south, making thereby a sunny
and sheltered corner where roses, clematis, hollyhocks, and sunflowers
grew with a more lavish height and blossom than elsewhere, as though
conscious they must do their part in a whole of beauty. The grass indeed
wanted mowing, and the first autumn leaves lay thickly drifted upon it;
the flowers were untied and untrimmed. But under the condition of two
gardeners to ten acres of garden, nature does very much as she pleases,
and Mr. Boyce when he came that way grumbled in vain.

As for Marcella, she was alternately moved to revolt and tenderness by
the ragged charm of the old place.

On the one hand, it angered her that anything so plainly meant for
beauty and dignity should go so neglected and unkempt. On the other, if
house and gardens had been spick and span like the other houses of the
neighbourhood, if there had been sound roofs, a modern water-supply,
shutters, greenhouses, and weedless paths,--in short, the general
self-complacent air of a well-kept country house,--where would have been
that thrilling intimate appeal, as for something forlornly lovely,
which the old place so constantly made upon her? It seemed to depend
even upon _her_, the latest born of all its children--to ask for
tendance and cherishing even from _her_. She was always planning
how--with a minimum of money to spend--it could be comforted and healed,
and in the planning had grown in these few weeks to love it as though
she had been bred there.

But this morning Marcella picked her roses and sunflowers in tumult and
depression of spirit. What _was_ this past which in these new
surroundings was like some vainly fled tyrant clutching at them again?
She energetically decided that the time had come for her to demand the
truth. Yet, of whom? Marcella knew very well that to force her mother to
any line of action Mrs. Boyce was unwilling to follow, was beyond her
power. And it was not easy to go to her father directly and say, "Tell
me exactly how and why it is that society has turned its back upon you."
All the same, it _was_ due to them all, due to herself especially, now
that she was grown up and at home, that she should not be kept in the
dark any longer like a baby, that she should be put in possession of the
facts which, after all, threatened to stand here at Mellor Park, as
untowardly in their, in _her_ way, as they had done in the shabby school
and lodging-house existence of all those bygone years.

Perhaps the secret of her impatience was that she did not, and could
not, believe that the facts, if faced, would turn out to be
insurmountable. Her instinct told her as she looked back that their
relation toward society in the past, though full of discomforts and
humiliations, had not been the relation of outcasts. Their poverty and
the shifts to which poverty drives people had brought them the
disrespect of one class; and as to the acquaintances and friends of
their own rank, what had been mainly shown them had been a sort of cool
distaste for their company, an insulting readiness to forget the
existence of people who had so to speak lost their social bloom, and
laid themselves open to the contemptuous disapproval or pity of the
world. Everybody, it seemed, knew their affairs, and knowing them saw no
personal advantage and distinction in the Boyces' acquaintance, but
rather the contrary.

As she put the facts together a little, she realised, however, that the
breach had always been deepest between her father and his relations, or
his oldest friends. A little shiver passed through her as she reflected
that here, in his own country, where his history was best known, the
feeling towards him, whatever it rested upon, might very probably be
strongest. Well, it _was_ hard upon them!--hard upon her mother--hard
upon her. In her first ecstasy over the old ancestral house and the
dignities of her new position, how little she had thought of these
things! And there they were all the time--dogging and thwarting.

She walked slowly along, with her burden of flowers, through a laurel
path which led straight to the drive, and so, across it, to the little
church. The church stood all alone there under the great limes of the
Park, far away from parsonage and village--the property, it seemed, of
the big house. When Marcella entered, the doors on the north and south
sides were both standing open, for the vicar and his sister had been
already at work there, and had but gone back to the parsonage for a bit
of necessary business, meaning to return in half an hour.

It was the unpretending church of a hamlet, girt outside by the humble
graves of toiling and forgotten generations, and adorned, or, at any
rate, diversified within by a group of mural monuments, of various
styles and dates, but all of them bearing, in some way or another, the
name of Boyce--conspicuous amongst them a florid cherub-crowned tomb in
the chancel, marking the remains of that Parliamentarian Boyce who
fought side by side with Hampden, his boyish friend, at Chalgrove Field,
lived to be driven out of Westminster by Colonel Pryde, and to spend his
later years at Mellor, in disgrace, first with the Protector, and then
with the Restoration. From these monuments alone a tolerably faithful
idea of the Boyce family could have been gathered. Clearly not a family
of any very great pretensions--a race for the most part of frugal,
upright country gentlemen--to be found, with scarcely an exception, on
the side of political liberty, and of a Whiggish religion; men who had
given their sons to die at Quebec, and Plassy, and Trafalgar, for the
making of England's Empire; who would have voted with Fox, but that the
terrors of Burke, and a dogged sense that the country must be carried
on, drove them into supporting Pitt; who, at home, dispensed alternate
justice and doles, and when their wives died put up inscriptions to them
intended to bear witness at once to the Latinity of a Boyce's
education, and the pious strength of his legitimate affections--a
tedious race perhaps and pig-headed, tyrannical too here and there, but
on the whole honourable English stuff--the stuff which has made, and
still in new forms sustains, the fabric of a great state.

Only once was there a break in the uniform character of the monuments--a
break corresponding to the highest moment of the Boyce fortunes, a
moment when the respectability of the family rose suddenly into
brilliance, and the prose of generations broke into a few years of
poetry. Somewhere in the last century an earlier Richard Boyce went
abroad to make the grand tour. He was a man of parts, the friend of
Horace Walpole and of Gray, and his introductions opened to him whatever
doors he might wish to enter, at a time when the upper classes of the
leading European nations were far more intimately and familiarly
acquainted with each other than they are now. He married at Rome an
Italian lady of high birth and large fortune. Then he brought her home
to Mellor, where straightway the garden front was built with all its
fantastic and beautiful decoration, the great avenue was planted,
pictures began to invade the house, and a musical library was collected
whereof the innumerable faded volumes, bearing each of them the entwined
names of Richard and Marcella Boyce, had been during the last few weeks
mines of delight and curiosity to the Marcella of to-day.

The Italian wife bore her lord two sons, and then in early middle life
she died--much loved and passionately mourned. Her tomb bore no
long-winded panegyric. Her name only, her parentage and birthplace--for
she was Italian to the last, and her husband loved her the better for
it--the dates of her birth and death, and then two lines from Dante's
_Vita Nuova_.

The portrait of this earlier Marcella hung still in the room where her
music-books survived,--a dark blurred picture by an inferior hand; but
the Marcella of to-day had long since eagerly decided that her own
physique and her father's were to be traced to its original, as well, no
doubt, as the artistic aptitudes of both--aptitudes not hitherto
conspicuous in her respectable race.

In reality, however, she loved every one of them--these Jacobean and
Georgian squires with their interminable epitaphs. Now, as she stood in
the church, looking about her, her flowers lying beside her in a tumbled
heap on the chancel step, cheerfulness, delight, nay, the indomitable
pride and exultation of her youth, came back upon her in one great
lifting wave. The depression of her father's repentances and
trepidations fell away; she felt herself in her place, under the shelter
of her forefathers, incorporated and redeemed, as it were, into their
guild of honour.

There were difficulties in her path, no doubt--but she had her
vantage-ground, and would use it for her own profit and that of others.
_She_ had no cause for shame; and in these days of the developed
individual the old solidarity of the family has become injustice and
wrong. Her mind filled tumultuously with the evidence these last two
years had brought her of her natural power over men and things. She knew
perfectly well that she could do and dare what other girls of her age
could never venture--that she had fascination, resource, brain.

Already, in these few weeks--Smiles played about her lips as she thought
of that quiet grave gentleman of thirty she had been meeting at the
Hardens'. His grandfather might write what he pleased. It did not alter
the fact that during the last few weeks Mr. Aldous Raeburn, clearly one
of the _partis_ most coveted, and one of the men most observed, in the
neighbourhood, had taken and shown a very marked interest in Mr. Boyce's
daughter--all the more marked because of the reserved manner with which
it had to contend.

No! whatever happened, she would carve her path, make her own way, and
her parents' too. At twenty-one, nothing looks irrevocable. A woman's
charm, a woman's energy should do it all.

Ay, and something else too. She looked quickly round the church, her
mind swelling with the sense of the Cravens' injustice and distrust.
Never could she be more conscious than here--on this very spot--of
mission, of an urging call to the service of man. In front of her was
the Boyces' family pew, carved and becushioned, but behind it stretched
bench after bench of plain and humble oak, on which the village sat when
it came to church. Here, for the first time, had Marcella been brought
face to face with the agricultural world as it is--no stage ruralism,
but the bare fact in one of its most pitiful aspects. Men of sixty and
upwards, grey and furrowed like the chalk soil into which they had
worked their lives; not old as age goes, but already the refuse of their
generation, and paid for at the rate of refuse; with no prospect but the
workhouse, if the grave should be delayed, yet quiet, impassive,
resigned, now showing a furtive childish amusement if a schoolboy
misbehaved, or a dog strayed into church, now joining with a stolid
unconsciousness in the tremendous sayings of the Psalms; women coarse,
or worn, or hopeless; girls and boys and young children already blanched
and emaciated beyond even the normal Londoner from the effects of
insanitary cottages, bad water, and starvation food--these figures and
types had been a ghastly and quickening revelation to Marcella. In
London the agricultural labourer, of whom she had heard much, had been
to her as a pawn in the game of discussion. Here he was in the flesh;
and she was called upon to live with him, and not only to talk about
him. Under circumstances of peculiar responsibility too. For it was very
clear that upon the owner of Mellor depended, and had always depended,
the labourer of Mellor.

Well, she had tried to live with them ever since she came--had gone in
and out of their cottages in flat horror and amazement at them and their
lives and their surroundings; alternately pleased and repelled by their
cringing; now enjoying her position among them with the natural
aristocratic instinct of women, now grinding her teeth over her father's
and uncle's behaviour and the little good she saw any prospect of doing
for her new subjects.

What, _their_ friend and champion, and ultimately their redeemer too?
Well, and why not? Weak women have done greater things in the world. As
she stood on the chancel step, vowing herself to these great things, she
was conscious of a dramatic moment--would not have been sorry,
perhaps, if some admiring eye could have seen and understood her.

But there was a saving sincerity at the root of her, and her strained
mood sank naturally into a girlish excitement.

"We shall see!--We shall see!" she said aloud, and was startled to hear
her words quite plainly in the silent church. As she spoke she stooped
to separate her flowers and see what quantities she had of each.

But while she did so a sound of distant voices made her raise herself
again. She walked down the church and stood at the open south door,
looking and waiting. Before her stretched a green field path leading
across the park to the village. The vicar and his sister were coming
along it towards the church, both flower-laden, and beside walked a tall
man in a brown shooting suit, with his gun in his hand and his dog
beside him.

The excitement in Marcella's eyes leapt up afresh for a moment as she
saw the group, and then subsided into a luminous and steady glow. She
waited quietly for them, hardly responding to the affectionate signals
of the vicar's sister; but inwardly she was not quiet at all. For the
tall man in the brown shooting coat was Mr. Aldous Raeburn.




CHAPTER IV.


"How kind of you!" said the rector's sister, enthusiastically; "but I
thought you would come and help us."

And as Marcella took some of her burdens from her, Miss Harden kissed
Marcella's cheek with a sort of timid eagerness. She had fallen in love
with Miss Boyce from the beginning, was now just advanced to this
privilege of kissing, and being entirely convinced that her new friend
possessed all virtues and all knowledge, found it not difficult to hold
that she had been divinely sent to sustain her brother and herself in
the disheartening task of civilising Mellor. Mary Harden was naturally a
short, roundly made girl, neither pretty nor plain, with grey-blue eyes,
a shy manner, and a heart all goodness. Her brother was like unto
her--also short, round, and full-faced, with the same attractive eyes.
Both were singularly young in aspect--a boy and girl pair. Both had the
worn, pinched look which Mrs. Boyce complained of, and which, indeed,
went oddly with their whole physique. It was as though creatures built
for a normal life of easy give and take with their fellows had fallen
upon some unfitting and jarring experience. One striking difference,
indeed, there was between them, for amid the brother's timidity and
sweetness there lay, clearly to be felt and seen, the consciousness of
the priest--nascent and immature, but already urging and characteristic.

Only one face of the three showed any other emotion than quick pleasure
at the sight of Marcella Boyce. Aldous Raeburn was clearly embarrassed
thereby. Indeed, as he laid down his gun outside the low churchyard
wall, while Marcella and the Hardens were greeting, that generally
self-possessed though modest person was conscious of a quite disabling
perturbation of mind. Why in the name of all good manners and decency
had he allowed himself to be discovered in shooting trim, on that
particular morning, by Mr. Boyce's daughter on her father's land, and
within a stone's throw of her father's house? Was he not perfectly well
aware of the curt note which his grandfather had that morning despatched
to the new owner of Mellor? Had he not ineffectually tried to delay
execution the night before, thereby puzzling and half-offending his
grandfather? Had not the incident weighed on him ever since, wounding an
admiration and sympathy which seemed to have stolen upon him in the
dark, during these few weeks since he had made Miss Boyce's
acquaintance, so strong and startling did he all in a moment feel them
to be?

And then to intrude upon her thus, out of nothing apparently but sheer
moth-like incapacity to keep away! The church footpath indeed was public
property, and Miss Harden's burdens had cried aloud to any passing male
to help her. But why in this neighbourhood at all?--why not rather on
the other side of the county? He could have scourged himself on the
spot for an unpardonable breach of manners and feeling.

However, Miss Boyce certainly made no sign. She received him without any
_empressement_, but also without the smallest symptom of offence. They
all moved into the church together, Mr. Raeburn carrying a vast bundle
of ivy and fern, the rector and his sister laden with closely-packed
baskets of cut flowers. Everything was laid down on the chancel steps
beside Marcella's contribution, and then the Hardens began to plan out
operations. Miss Harden ran over on her fingers the contributions which
had been sent in to the rectory, or were presently coming over to the
church in a hand-cart. "Lord Maxwell has sent the most _beautiful_ pots
for the chancel," she said, with a grateful look at young Raeburn. "It
will be quite a show." To which the young rector assented warmly. It was
very good, indeed, of Lord Maxwell to remember them always so liberally
at times like these, when they had so little direct claim upon him. They
were not his church or his parish, but he never forgot them all the
same, and Mellor was grateful. The rector had all his sister's gentle
effusiveness, but a professional dignity besides, even in his thanks,
which made itself felt.

Marcella flushed as he was speaking.

"I went to see what I could get in the way of greenhouse things," she
said in a sudden proud voice. "But we have nothing. There are the
houses, but there is nothing in them. But you shall have all our
out-of-door flowers, and I think a good deal might be done with autumn
leaves and wild things if you will let me try."

A speech, which brought a flush to Mr. Raeburn's cheek as he stood in
the background, and led Mary Harden into an eager asking of Marcella's
counsels, and an eager praising of her flowers.

Aldous Raeburn said nothing, but his discomfort increased with every
moment. Why had his grandfather been so officious in this matter of the
flowers? All very well when Mellor was empty, or in the days of a miser
and eccentric, without womankind, like Robert Boyce. But now--the act
began to seem to him offensive, a fresh affront offered to an
unprotected girl, whose quivering sensitive look as she stood talking to
the Hardens touched him profoundly. Mellor church might almost be
regarded as the Boyces' private chapel, so bound up was it with the
family and the house. He realised painfully that he ought to be
gone--yet could not tear himself away. Her passionate willingness to
spend herself for the place and people she had made her own at first
sight, checked every now and then by a proud and sore reserve--it was
too pretty, too sad. It stung and spurred him as he watched her; one
moment his foot moved for departure, the next he was resolving that
somehow or other he must make speech with her--excuse--explain.
Ridiculous! How was it possible that he should do either!

He had met her--perhaps had tried to meet her--tolerably often since
their first chance encounter weeks ago in the vicarage drawing-room. All
through there had been on his side the uncomfortable knowledge of his
grandfather's antipathy to Richard Boyce, and of the social steps to
which that antipathy would inevitably lead. But Miss Boyce had never
shown the smallest consciousness, so far, of anything untoward or
unusual in her position. She had been clearly taken up with the interest
and pleasure of this new spectacle upon which she had entered. The old
house, its associations, its history, the beautiful country in which it
lay, the speech and characteristics of rural labour as compared with
that of the town,--he had heard her talk of all these things with a
freshness, a human sympathy, a freedom from conventional phrase, and, no
doubt, a touch of egotism and extravagance, which rivetted attention.
The egotism and extravagance, however, after a first moment of critical
discomfort on his part, had not in the end repelled him at all. The
girl's vivid beauty glorified them; made them seem to him a mere special
fulness of life. So that in his new preoccupation with herself, and by
contact with her frank self-confidence, he had almost forgotten her
position, and his own indirect relation to it. Then had come that
unlucky note from Mellor; his grandfather's prompt reply to it; his own
ineffective protest; and now this tongue-tiedness--this clumsy
intrusion--which she must feel to be an indelicacy--an outrage.

Suddenly he heard Miss Harden saying, with penitent emphasis, "I _am_
stupid! I have left the scissors and the wire on the table at home; we
can't get on without them; it is really too bad of me."

"I will go for them," said Marcella promptly. "Here is the hand-cart
just arrived and some people come to help; you can't be spared. I will
be back directly."

And, gathering up her black skirt in a slim white hand, she sped down
the church, and was out of the south door before the Hardens had time to
protest, or Aldous Raeburn understood what she was doing.

A vexed word from Miss Harden enlightened him, and he went after the
fugitive, overtaking her just where his gun and dog lay, outside the
churchyard.

"Let me go, Miss Boyce," he said, as he caught her up. "My dog and I
will run there and back."

But Marcella hardly looked at him, or paused.

"Oh no!" she said quickly, "I should like the walk."

He hesitated; then, with a flush which altered his usually quiet,
self-contained expression, he moved on beside her.

"Allow me to go with you then. You are sure to find fresh loads to bring
back. If it's like our harvest festival, the things keep dropping in all
day."

Marcella's eyes were still on the ground.

"I thought you were on your way to shoot, Mr. Raeburn?"

"So I was, but there is no hurry; if I can be useful. Both the birds and
the keeper can wait."

"Where are you going?"

"To some outlying fields of ours on the Windmill Hill. There is a tenant
there who wants to see me. He is a prosy person with a host of
grievances. I took my gun as a possible means of escape from him."

"Windmill Hill? I know the name. Oh! I remember: it was there--my father
has just been telling me--that your father and he shot the pair of
kestrels, when they were boys together."

Her tone was quite light, but somehow it had an accent, an emphasis,
which made Aldous Raeburn supremely uncomfortable. In his disquiet, he
thought of various things to say; but he was not ready, nor naturally
effusive; the turn of them did not please him; and he remained silent.

Meantime Marcella's heart was beating fast. She was meditating a _coup_.

"Mr. Raeburn!"

"Yes!"

"Will you think me a very extraordinary person if I ask you a question?
Your father and mine were great friends, weren't they, as boys?--your
family and mine were friends, altogether?"

"I believe so--I have always heard so," said her companion, flushing
still redder.

"You knew Uncle Robert--Lord Maxwell did?"

"Yes--as much as anybody knew him--but--"

"Oh, I know: he shut himself up and hated his neighbours. Still you knew
him, and papa and your father were boys together. Well then, if you
won't mind telling me--I know it's bold to ask, but I have reasons--why
does Lord Maxwell write to papa in the third person, and why has your
aunt, Miss Raeburn, never found time in all these weeks to call on
mamma?"

She turned and faced him, her splendid eyes one challenge. The glow and
fire of the whole gesture--the daring of it, and yet the suggestion of
womanish weakness in the hand which trembled against her dress and in
the twitching lip--if it had been fine acting, it could not have been
more complete. And, in a sense, acting there was in it. Marcella's
emotions were real, but her mind seldom deserted her. One half of her
was impulsive and passionate; the other half looked on and put in
finishing touches.

Acting or no, the surprise of her outburst swept the man beside her off
his feet. He found himself floundering in a sea of excuses--not for his
relations, but for himself. He ought never to have intruded; it was
odious, unpardonable; he had no business whatever to put himself in her
way! Would she please understand that it was an accident? It should not
happen again. He quite understood that she could not regard him with
friendliness. And so on. He had never so lost his self-possession.

Meanwhile Marcella's brows contracted. She took his excuses as a fresh
offence.

"You mean, I suppose, that I have no right to ask such questions!" she
cried; "that I am not behaving like a lady--as one of your relations
would? Well, I dare say! I was not brought up like that. I was not
brought up at all; I have had to make myself. So you must avoid me if
you like. Of course you will. But I resolved there--in the church--that
I would make just one effort, before everything crystallises, to break
through. If we must live on here hating our neighbours and being cut by
them, I thought I would just ask you why, first. There is no one else to
ask. Hardly anybody has called, except the Hardens, and a few new people
that don't matter. And _I_ have nothing to be ashamed of," said the girl
passionately, "nor has mamma. Papa, I suppose, did some bad things long
ago. I have never known--I don't know now--what they were. But I should
like to understand. Is everybody going to cut us because of that?"

With a great effort Aldous Raeburn pulled himself together, certain fine
instincts both of race and conduct coming to his help. He met her
excited look by one which had both dignity and friendliness.

"I will tell you what I can, Miss Boyce. If you ask me, it is right I
should. You must forgive me if I say anything that hurts you. I will try
not--I will try not!" he repeated earnestly. "In the first place, I know
hardly anything in detail. I do not remember that I have ever wished to
know. But I gather that some years ago--when I was still a
lad--something in Mr. Boyce's life--some financial matters, I
believe--during the time that he was member of Parliament, made a
scandal, and especially among his family and old friends. It was the
effect upon his old father, I think, who, as you know, died soon
afterwards--"

Marcella started.

"I didn't know," she said quickly.

Aldous Raeburn's distress grew.

"I really oughtn't to speak of these things," he said, "for I don't know
them accurately. But I want to answer what you said--I do indeed. It was
that, I think, chiefly. Everybody here respected and loved your
grandfather--my grandfather did--and there was great feeling for him--"

"I see! I see!" said Marcella, her chest heaving; "and against papa."

She walked on quickly, hardly seeing where she was going, her eyes dim
with tears. There was a wretched pause. Then Aldous Raeburn broke out--

"But after all it is very long ago. And there may have been some harsh
judgment. My grandfather may have been misinformed as to some of the
facts. And I--"

He hesitated, struck with the awkwardness of what he was going to say.
But Marcella understood him.

"And you will try and make him alter his mind?" she said, not
ungratefully, but still with a touch of sarcasm in her tone. "No, Mr.
Raeburn, I don't think that will succeed."

They walked on in silence for a little while. At last he said, turning
upon her a face in which she could not but see the true feeling of a
just and kindly man--

"I meant that if my grandfather could be led to express himself in a way
which Mr. Boyce could accept, even if there were no great friendship as
there used to be, there might be something better than this--this,
which--which--is so painful. And any way, Miss Boyce, whatever happens,
will you let me say this once, that there is no word, no feeling in this
neighbourhood--how could there be?--towards you and your mother, but one
of respect and admiration? Do believe that, even if you feel that you
can never be friendly towards me and mine again--or forget the things I
have said!"

"Respect and admiration!" said Marcella, wondering, and still scornful.
"Pity, perhaps. There might be that. But any way mamma goes with papa.
She always has done. She always will. So shall I, of course. But I am
sorry--_horribly_ sore and sorry! I was so delighted to come here. I
have been very little at home, and understood hardly anything about
this worry--not how serious it was, nor what it meant. Oh! I _am_
sorry--there was so much I wanted to do here--if anybody could only
understand what it means to me to come to this place!"

They had reached the brow of a little rising ground. Just below them,
beyond a stubble field in which there were a few bent forms of gleaners,
lay the small scattered Tillage, hardly seen amid its trees, the curls
of its blue smoke ascending steadily on this calm September morning
against a great belt of distant beechwood which begirt the hamlet and
the common along which it lay. The stubble field was a feast of shade
and tint, of apricots and golds shot with the subtlest purples and
browns; the flame of the wild-cherry leaf and the deeper crimson of the
haws made every hedge a wonder; the apples gleamed in the cottage
garden; and a cloudless sun poured down on field and hedge, and on the
half-hidden medley of tiled roofs, sharp gables, and jutting dormers
which made the village.

Instinctively both stopped. Marcella locked her hands behind her in a
gesture familiar to her in moments of excitement; the light wind blew
back her dress in soft, eddying folds; for the moment, in her tall
grace, she had the air of some young Victory poised upon a height, till
you looked at her face, which was, indeed, not exultant at all, but
tragic, extravagantly tragic, as Aldous Raeburn, in his English reserve,
would perhaps have thought in the case of any woman with tamer eyes and
a less winning mouth.

"I don't want to talk about myself," she began. "But you know, Mr.
Raeburn--you must know--what a state of things there is here--you know
what a _disgrace_ that village is. Oh! one reads books, but I never
thought people could actually _live_ like that--here in the wide
country, with room for all. It makes me lie awake at night. We are not
rich--we are very poor--the house is all out of repair, and the estate,
as of course you know, is in a wretched condition. But when I see these
cottages, and the water, and the children, I ask what right we have to
anything we get. I had some friends in London who were Socialists, and I
followed and agreed with them, but here one _sees_! Yes, indeed!--it
_is_ too great a risk to let the individual alone when all these lives
depend upon him. Uncle Robert was an eccentric and a miser; and look at
the death-rate of the village--look at the children; you can see how it
has crushed the Hardens already. No, we have no right to it!--it ought
to be taken from us; some day it will be taken from us!"

Aldous Raeburn smiled, and was himself again. A woman's speculations
were easier to deal with than a woman's distress.

"It is not so hopeless as that, I think," he said kindly. "The Mellor
cottages are in a bad state certainly. But you have no idea how soon a
little energy and money and thought sets things to rights."

"But we have no money!" cried Marcella. "And if he is miserable here, my
father will have no energy to do anything. He will not care what
happens. He will defy everybody, and just spend what he has on himself.
And it will make me wretched--_wretched_. Look at that cottage to the
right, Mr. Raeburn. It is Jim Hurd's--a man who works mainly on the
Church Farm, when he is in work. But he is deformed, and not so strong
as others. The farmers too seem to be cutting down labour everywhere--of
course I don't understand--I am so new to it. Hurd and his family had an
_awful_ winter, last winter--hardly kept body and soul together. And now
he is out of work already--the man at the Church Farm turned him off
directly after harvest. He sees no prospect of getting work by the
winter. He spends his days tramping to look for it; but nothing turns
up. Last winter they parted with all they could sell. This winter it
must be the workhouse! It's _heart-breaking_. And he has a mind; he can
_feel_! I lend him the Labour paper I take in, and get him to talk. He
has more education than most, and oh! the _bitterness_ at the bottom of
him. But not against persons--individuals. It is like a sort of blind
patience when you come to that--they make excuses even for Uncle Robert,
to whom they have paid rent all these years for a cottage which is a
crime--yes, a _crime_! The woman must have been such a pretty
creature--and refined too. She is consumptive, of course--what else
could you expect with that cottage and that food? So is the eldest
boy--a little white atomy! And the other children. Talk of London--I
never saw such sickly objects as there are in this village. Twelve
shillings a week, and work about half the year! Oh! they _ought_ to hate
us!--I try to make them," cried Marcella, her eyes gleaming. "They ought
to hate all of us landowners, and the whole wicked system. It keeps them
from the land which they ought to be sharing with us; it makes one man
master, instead of all men brothers. And who is fit to be master? Which
of us? Everybody is so ready to take the charge of other people's lives,
and then look at the result!"

"Well, the result, even in rural England, is not always so bad," said
Aldous Raeburn, smiling a little, but more coldly. Marcella, glancing at
him, understood in a moment that she had roused a certain family and
class pride in him--a pride which was not going to assert itself, but
none the less implied the sudden opening of a gulf between herself and
him. In an instant her quick imagination realised herself as the
daughter and niece of two discredited members of a great class. When she
attacked the class, or the system, the man beside her--any man in
similar circumstances--must naturally think: "Ah, well, poor girl--Dick
Boyce's daughter--what can you expect?" Whereas--Aldous Raeburn!--she
thought of the dignity of the Maxwell name, of the width of the Maxwell
possessions, balanced only by the high reputation of the family for
honourable, just and Christian living, whether as amongst themselves or
towards their neighbours and dependents. A shiver of passionate vanity,
wrath, and longing passed through her as her tall frame stiffened.

"There are model squires, of course," she said slowly, striving at least
for a personal dignity which should match his. "There are plenty of
landowners who do their duty as they understand it--no one denies that.
But that does not affect the system; the grandson of the best man may be
the worst, but his one-man power remains the same. No! the time has come
for a wider basis. Paternal government and charity were very well in
their way--democratic self-government will manage to do without them!"

She flung him a gay, quivering, defiant look. It delighted her to pit
these wide and threatening generalisations against the Maxwell power--to
show the heir of it that she at least--father or no father--was no
hereditary subject of his, and bound to no blind admiration of the
Maxwell methods and position.

Aldous Raeburn took her onslaught very calmly, smiling frankly back at
her indeed all the time. Miss Boyce's opinions could hardly matter to
him intellectually, whatever charm and stimulus he might find in her
talk. This subject of the duties, rights, and prospects of his class
went, as it happened, very deep with him--too deep for chance
discussion. What she said, if he ever stopped to think of it in itself,
seemed to him a compound of elements derived partly from her personal
history, partly from the random opinions that young people of a generous
type pick up from newspapers and magazines. She had touched his family
pride for an instant; but only for an instant. What he was abidingly
conscious of, was of a beautiful wild creature struggling with
difficulties in which he was somehow himself concerned, and out of
which, in some way or other, he was becoming more and more
determined--absurdly determined--to help her.

"Oh! no doubt the world will do very well without us some day," he said
lightly, in answer to her tirade; "no one is indispensable. But are you
so sure, Miss Boyce, you believe in your own creed? I thought I had
observed--pardon me for saying it--on the two or three occasions we have
met, some degenerate signs of individualism? You take pleasure in the
old place, you say; you were delighted to come and live where your
ancestors lived before you; you are full of desires to pull these poor
people out of the mire in your own way. No! I don't feel that you are
thorough-going!"

Marcella paused a frowning moment, then broke suddenly into a delightful
laugh--a laugh of humorous confession, which changed her whole look and
mood.

"Is that all you have noticed? If you wish to know, Mr. Raeburn, I love
the labourers for touching their hats to me. I love the school children
for bobbing to me. I love my very self--ridiculous as _you_ may think
it--for being Miss Boyce of Mellor!"

"Don't say things like that, please!" he interrupted; "I think I have
not deserved them."

His tone made her repent her gibe. "No, indeed, you have been most kind
to me," she cried. "I don't know how it is. I am bitter and personal in
a moment--when I don't mean to be. Yes! you are quite right. I am proud
of it all. If nobody comes to see us, and we are left all alone out in
the cold, I shall still have room enough to be proud in--proud of the
old house and our few bits of pictures, and the family papers, and the
beeches! How absurd it would seem to other people, who have so much
more! But I have had so little--so _little_!" Her voice had a hungry
lingering note. "And as for the people, yes, I am proud too that they
like me, and that already I can influence them. Oh, I will do my best
for them, my _very best_! But it will be hard, very hard, if there is
no one to help me!"

She heaved a long sigh. In spite of the words, what she had said did not
seem to be an appeal for his pity. Rather there was in it a sweet
self-dedicating note as of one going sadly alone to a painful task, a
note which once more left Aldous Raeburn's self-restraint tottering. She
was walking gently beside him, her pretty dress trailing lightly over
the dry stubble, her hand in its white ruffles hanging so close beside
him--after all her prophetess airs a pensive womanly thing, that must
surely hear how his strong man's heart was beginning to beat!

He bent over to her.

"Don't talk of there being no one to help! There may be many ways out of
present difficulties. Meanwhile, however things go, could you be
large-minded enough to count one person here your friend?"

She looked up at him. Tall as she was, he was taller--she liked that;
she liked too the quiet cautious strength of his English expression and
bearing. She did not think him handsome, and she was conscious of no
thrill. But inwardly her quick dramatising imagination was already
constructing her own future and his. The ambition to rule leapt in her,
and the delight in conquest. It was with a delicious sense of her own
power, and of the general fulness of her new life, that she said, "I
_am_ large-minded enough! You have been very kind, and I have been very
wild and indiscreet. But I don't regret: I am sure, if you can help me,
you will."

There was a little pause. They were standing at the last gate before
the miry village road began, and almost in sight of the little vicarage.
Aldous Raeburn, with his hand on the gate, suddenly gathered a spray of
travellers'-joy out of the hedge beside him.

"That was a promise, I think, and I keep the pledge of it," he said, and
with a smile put the cluster of white seed-tufts and green leaves into
one of the pockets of his shooting jacket.

"Oh, don't tie me down!" said Marcella, laughing, but flushing also.
"And don't you think, Mr. Raeburn, that you might open that gate? At
least, we can't get the scissors and the wire unless you do."




CHAPTER V.


The autumn evening was far advanced when Aldous Raeburn, after his day's
shooting, passed again by the gates of Mellor Park on his road home. He
glanced up the ill-kept drive, with its fine overhanging limes, caught a
glimpse to the left of the little church, and to the right, of the long
eastern front of the house; lingered a moment to watch the sunset light
streaming through the level branches of two distant cedars, standing
black and sharp against the fiery west, and then walked briskly forwards
in the mood of a man going as fast as may be to an appointment he both
desires and dreads.

He had given his gun to the keeper, who had already sped far ahead of
him, in the shooting-cart which his master had declined. His dog, a
black retriever, was at his heels, and both dog and man were somewhat
weary and stiff with exercise. But for the privilege of solitude, Aldous
Raeburn would at that moment have faced a good deal more than the two
miles of extra walking which now lay between him and Maxwell Court.

About him, as he trudged on, lay a beautiful world of English woodland.
After he had passed through the hamlet of Mellor, with its
three-cornered piece of open common, and its patches of
arable--representing the original forest-clearing made centuries ago by
the primitive fathers of the village in this corner of the Chiltern
uplands--the beech woods closed thickly round him. Beech woods of all
kinds--from forest slopes, where majestic trees, grey and soaring
pillars of the woodland roof, stood in stately isolation on the
dead-leaf carpet woven by the years about their carved and polished
bases, to the close plantations of young trees, where the saplings
crowded on each other, and here and there amid the airless tangle of
leaf and branch some long pheasant-drive, cut straight through the green
heart of the wood, refreshed the seeking eye with its arched and
far-receding path. Two or three times on his walk Aldous heard from far
within the trees the sounds of hatchet and turner's wheel, which told
him he was passing one of the wood-cutter's huts that in the hilly parts
of this district supply the first simple steps of the chairmaking
industry, carried on in the little factory towns of the more populous
valleys. And two or three times also he passed a string of the great
timber carts which haunt the Chiltern lanes; the patient team of brown
horses straining at the weight behind them, the vast prostrate trunks
rattling in their chains, and the smoke from the carters' pipes rising
slowly into the damp sunset air. But for the most part the road along
which he walked was utterly forsaken of human kind. Nor were there any
signs of habitation--no cottages, no farms. He was scarcely more than
thirty miles from London; yet in this solemn evening glow it would have
been hardly possible to find a remoter, lonelier nature than that
through which he was passing.

And presently the solitude took a grander note. He was nearing the edge
of the high upland along which he had been walking. In front of him the
long road with its gleaming pools bent sharply to the left, showing pale
and distinct against a darkening heaven and the wide grey fields which
had now, on one side of his path, replaced the serried growth of young
plantations. Night was fast advancing from south and east over the
upland. But straight in front of him and on his right, the forest trees,
still flooded with sunset, fell in sharp steeps towards the plain.
Through their straight stems glowed the blues and purples of that lower
world; and when the slopes broke and opened here and there, above the
rounded masses of their red and golden leaf the level distances of the
plain could be seen stretching away, illimitable in the evening dusk, to
a west of glory, just vacant of the sun. The golden ball had sunk into
the mists awaiting it, but the splendour of its last rays was still on
all the western front of the hills, bathing the beech woods as they rose
and fell with the large undulations of the ground.

Insensibly Raeburn, filled as he was with a new and surging emotion,
drew the solemnity of the forest glades and of the rolling distances
into his heart. When he reached the point where the road diverged to the
left, he mounted a little grassy ridge, whence he commanded the whole
sweep of the hill rampart from north to west, and the whole expanse of
the low country beneath, and there stood gazing for some minutes, lost
in many thoughts, while the night fell.

He looked over the central plain of England--the plain which stretches
westward to the Thames and the Berkshire hills, and northward through
the Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire lowlands to the basin of the Trent.
An historic plain--symbolic, all of it, to an English eye. There in the
western distance, amid the light-filled mists, lay Oxford; in front of
him was the site of Chalgrove Field, where Hampden got his clumsy death
wound, and Thame, where he died; and far away, to his right, where the
hills swept to the north, he could just discern, gleaming against the
face of the down, the vast scoured cross, whereby a Saxon king had
blazoned his victory over his Danish foes to all the plain beneath.

Aldous Raeburn was a man to feel these things. He had seldom stood on
this high point, in such an evening calm, without the expansion in him
of all that was most manly, most English, most strenuous. If it had not
been so, indeed, he must have been singularly dull of soul. For the
great view had an interest for him personally it could hardly have
possessed to the same degree for any other man. On his left hand Maxwell
Court rose among its woods on the brow of the hill--a splendid pile
which some day would be his. Behind him; through all the upland he had
just traversed; beneath the point where he stood; along the sides of the
hills, and far into the plain, stretched the land which also would be
his--which, indeed, practically was already his--for his grandfather was
an old man with a boundless trust in the heir on whom, his affections
and hopes were centred. The dim churches scattered over the immediate
plain below; the villages clustered round them, where dwelt the toilers
in these endless fields; the farms amid their trees; the cottages
showing here and there on the fringes of the wood--all the equipment and
organisation of popular life over an appreciable part of the English
midland at his feet, depended to an extent hardly to be exaggerated,
under the conditions of the England of to-day, upon him--upon his one
man's brain and conscience, the degree of his mental and moral capacity.

In his first youth, of course, the thought had often roused a boy's
tremulous elation and sense of romance. Since his Cambridge days, and of
late years, any more acute or dramatic perception than usual of his lot
in life had been wont to bring with it rather a consciousness of weight
than of inspiration. Sensitive, fastidious, reflective, he was disturbed
by remorses and scruples which had never plagued his forefathers. During
his college days, the special circumstances of a great friendship had
drawn him into the full tide of a social speculation which, as it
happened, was destined to go deeper with him than with most men. The
responsibilities of the rich, the disadvantages of the poor, the
relation of the State to the individual--of the old Radical dogma of
free contract to the thwarting facts of social inequality; the Tory
ideal of paternal government by the few as compared with the Liberal
ideal of self-government by the many: these commonplaces of economical
and political discussion had very early become living and often sore
realities in Aldous Raeburn's mind, because of the long conflict in him,
dating from his Cambridge life, between the influences of birth and
early education and the influences of an admiring and profound affection
which had opened to him the gates of a new moral world.

Towards the close of his first year at Trinity, & young man joined the
college who rapidly became, in spite of various practical disadvantages,
a leader among the best and keenest of his fellows. He was poor and held
a small scholarship; but it was soon plain that his health was not equal
to the Tripos routine, and that the prizes of the place, brilliant as
was his intellectual endowment, were not for him. After an inward
struggle, of which none perhaps but Aldous Raeburn had any exact
knowledge, he laid aside his first ambitions and turned himself to
another career. A couple of hours' serious brainwork in the day was all
that was ever possible to him henceforward. He spent it, as well as the
thoughts and conversation of his less strenuous moments, on the study of
history and sociology, with a view to joining the staff of lecturers for
the manufacturing and country towns which the two great Universities,
touched by new and popular sympathies, were then beginning to organise.
He came of a stock which promised well for such a pioneer's task. His
father had been an able factory inspector, well-known for his share in
the inauguration and revision of certain important factory reforms; the
son inherited a passionate humanity of soul; and added to it a magnetic
and personal charm which soon made him a remarkable power, not only in
his own college, but among the finer spirits of the University
generally. He had the gift which enables a man, sitting perhaps after
dinner in a mixed society of his college contemporaries, to lead the way
imperceptibly from the casual subjects of the hour--the river, the dons,
the schools--to arguments "of great pith and moment," discussions that
search the moral and intellectual powers of the men concerned to the
utmost, without exciting distrust or any but an argumentative
opposition, Edward Hallin could do this without a pose, without a false
note, nay, rather by the natural force of a boyish intensity and
simplicity. To many a Trinity man in after life the memory of his slight
figure and fair head, of the eager slightly parted mouth, of the eyes
glowing with some inward vision, and of the gesture with which he would
spring up at some critical point to deliver himself, standing amid his
seated and often dissentient auditors, came back vivid and ineffaceable
as only youth can make the image of its prophets.

Upon Aldous Raeburn, Edward Hallin produced from the first a deep
impression. The interests to which Hallin's mind soon became exclusively
devoted--such as the systematic study of English poverty, or of the
relation of religion to social life, reforms of the land and of the
Church--overflowed upon Raeburn with a kindling and disturbing force.
Edward Hallin was his gad-fly; and he had no resource, because he loved
his tormentor.

Fundamentally, the two men were widely different. Raeburn was a true son
of his fathers, possessed by natural inheritance of the finer instincts
of aristocratic rule, including a deep contempt for mob-reason and all
the vulgarities of popular rhetoric; steeped, too, in a number of subtle
prejudices, and in a silent but intense pride of family of the nobler
sort. He followed with disquiet and distrust the quick motions and
conclusions of Hallin's intellect. Temperament and the Cambridge
discipline made him a fastidious thinker and a fine scholar; his mind
worked slowly, yet with a delicate precision; and his generally cold
manner was the natural protection of feelings which had never yet,
except in the case of his friendship with Edward Hallin, led him to much
personal happiness.

Hallin left Cambridge after a pass degree to become lecturer on
industrial and economical questions in the northern English towns.
Raeburn stayed on a year longer, found himself third classic and the
winner of a Greek verse prize, and then, sacrificing the idea of a
fellowship, returned to Maxwell Court to be his grandfather's companion
and helper in the work of the estate, his family proposing that, after a
few years' practical experience of the life and occupations of a country
gentleman, he should enter Parliament and make a career in politics.
Since then five or six years had passed, during which he had learned to
know the estate thoroughly, and to take his normal share in the business
and pleasures of the neighbourhood. For the last two years he had been
his grandfather's sole agent, a poor-law guardian and magistrate
besides, and a member of most of the various committees for social and
educational purposes in the county. He was a sufficiently keen sportsman
to save appearances with his class; enjoyed a walk after the partridges
indeed, with a friend or two, as much as most men; and played the host
at the two or three great battues of the year with a propriety which his
grandfather however no longer mistook for enthusiasm. There was nothing
much to distinguish him from any other able man of his rank. His
neighbours felt him to be a personality, but thought him reserved and
difficult; he was respected, but he was not popular like his
grandfather; people speculated as to how he would get on in Parliament,
or whom he was to marry; but, except to the dwellers in Maxwell Court
itself, or of late to the farmers and labourers on the estate, it would
not have mattered much to anybody if he had not been there. Nobody ever
connected any romantic thought with him. There was something in his
strong build, pale but healthy aquiline face, his inconspicuous brown
eyes and hair, which seemed from the beginning to mark him out as the
ordinary earthy dweller in an earthy world.

Nevertheless, these years had been to Aldous Raeburn years marked by an
expansion and deepening of the whole man, such as few are capable of.
Edward Hallin's visits to the Court, the walking tours which brought the
two friends together almost every year in Switzerland or the Highlands,
the course of a full and intimate correspondence, and the various calls
made for public purposes by the enthusiast and pioneer upon the pocket
and social power of the rich man--these things and influences, together,
of course, with the pressure of an environing world, ever more real,
and, on the whole, ever more oppressive, as it was better understood,
had confronted Aldous Raeburn before now with a good many teasing
problems of conduct and experience. His tastes, his sympathies, his
affinities were all with the old order; but the old faiths--economical,
social, religious--were fermenting within him in different stages of
disintegration and reconstruction; and his reserved habit and often
solitary life tended to scrupulosity and over-refinement. His future
career as a landowner and politician was by no means clear to him. One
thing only was clear to him--that to dogmatise about any subject under
heaven, at the present day, more than the immediate practical occasion
absolutely demanded, was the act of an idiot.

So that Aldous Raeburn's moments of reflection had been constantly mixed
with struggle of different kinds. And the particular point of view where
he stood on this September evening had been often associated in his
memory with flashes of self-realisation which were, on the whole, more
of a torment to him than a joy. If he had not been Aldous Raeburn, or
any other person, tied to a particular individuality, with a particular
place and label in the world, the task of the analytic mind, in face of
the spectacle of what is, would have been a more possible one!--so it
had often seemed to him.

But to-night all this cumbering consciousness, all these self-made
doubts and worries, had for the moment dropped clean away! A
transfigured man it was that lingered at the old spot--a man once more
young, divining with enchantment the approach of passion, feeling at
last through all his being the ecstasy of a self-surrender, long missed,
long hungered for.

Six weeks was it since he had first seen her--this tall, straight,
Marcella Boyce? He shut his eyes impatiently against the disturbing
golds and purples of the sunset, and tried to see her again as she had
walked beside him across the church fields, in that thin black dress,
with, the shadow of the hat across her brow and eyes--the small white
teeth flashing as she talked and smiled, the hand so ready with its
gesture, so restless, so alive! What a presence--how absorbing,
troubling, preoccupying! No one in her company could forget her--nay,
could fail to observe her. What ease and daring, and yet no hardness
with it--rather deep on deep of womanly weakness, softness, passion,
beneath it all!

How straight she had flung her questions at him!--her most awkward
embarrassing questions. What other woman would have dared such
candour--unless perhaps as a stroke of fine art--he had known women
indeed who could have done it so. But where could be the art, the
policy, he asked himself indignantly, in the sudden outburst of a young
girl pleading with her companion's sense of truth and good feeling in
behalf of those nearest to her?

As to her dilemma itself, in his excitement he thought of it with
nothing but the purest pleasure! She had let him see that she did not
expect him to be able to do much for her, though she was ready to
believe him her friend. Ah well--he drew a long breath. For once,
Raeburn, strange compound that he was of the man of rank and the
philosopher, remembered his own social power and position with an
exultant satisfaction. No doubt Dick Boyce had misbehaved himself
badly--the strength of Lord Maxwell's feeling was sufficient proof
thereof. No doubt the "county," as Raeburn himself knew, in some detail,
were disposed to leave Mellor Park severely alone. What of that? Was it
for nothing that the Maxwells had been for generations at the head of
the "county," i.e. of that circle of neighbouring families connected by
the ties of ancestral friendship, or of intermarriage, on whom in this
purely agricultural and rural district the social pleasure and comfort
of Miss Boyce and her mother must depend?

He, like Marcella, did not believe that Richard Boyce's offences were of
the quite unpardonable order; although, owing to a certain absent and
preoccupied temper, he had never yet taken the trouble to enquire into
them in detail. As to any real restoration of cordiality between the
owner of Mellor and his father's old friends and connections, that of
course was not to be looked for; but there should be decent social
recognition, and--in the case of Mrs. Boyce and her daughter--there
should be homage and warm welcome, simply because she wished it, and it
was absurd she should not have it! Raeburn, whose mind was ordinarily
destitute of the most elementary capacity for social intrigue, began to
plot in detail how it should be done. He relied first upon winning his
grandfather--his popular distinguished grandfather, whose lightest word
had weight in Brookshire. And then, he himself had two or three women
friends in the county--not more, for women had not occupied much place
in his thoughts till now. But they were good friends, and, from the
social point of view, important. He would set them to work at once.
These things should be chiefly managed by women.

But no patronage! She would never bear that, the glancing proud
creature. She must guess, indeed, let him tread as delicately as he
might, that he and others were at work for her. But oh! she should be
softly handled; as far as he could achieve it, she should, in a very
little while, live and breathe compassed with warm airs of good-will and
consideration.

He felt himself happy, amazingly happy, that at the very beginning of
his love, it should thus be open to him, in these trivial, foolish ways,
to please and befriend her. Her social dilemma and discomfort one
moment, indeed, made him sore for her; the next, they were a kind of
joy, since it was they gave him this opportunity to put out a strong
right arm.

Everything about her at this moment was divine and lovely to him; all
the qualities of her rich uneven youth which she had shown in their
short intercourse--her rashness, her impulsiveness, her generosity. Let
her but trust herself to him, and she should try her social experiments
as she pleased--she should plan Utopias, and he would be her hodman to
build them. The man perplexed with too much thinking remembered the
girl's innocent, ignorant readiness to stamp the world's stuff anew
after the forms of her own pitying thought, with a positive thirst of
sympathy. The deep poetry and ideality at the root of him under all the
weight of intellectual and critical debate leapt towards her. He thought
of the rapid talk she had poured out upon him, after their compact of
friendship, in their walk back to the church, of her enthusiasm for her
Socialist friends and their ideals,--with a momentary madness of
self-suppression and tender humility. In reality, a man like Aldous
Raeburn is born to be the judge and touchstone of natures like Marcella
Boyce. But the illusion of passion may deal as disturbingly with moral
rank as with social.

It was his first love. Years before, in the vacation before he went to
college, his boyish mind had been crossed, by a fancy for a pretty
cousin a little older than himself, who had been very kind indeed to
Lord Maxwell's heir. But then came Cambridge, the flow of a new mental
life, his friendship for Edward Hallin, and the beginnings of a moral
storm and stress. When he and the cousin next met, he was quite cold to
her. She seemed to him a pretty piece of millinery, endowed with a trick
of parrot phrases. She, on her part, thought him detestable; she married
shortly afterwards, and often spoke to her husband in private of her
"escape" from that queer fellow Aldous Raeburn.

Since then he had known plenty of pretty and charming women, both in
London and in the country, and had made friends with some of them in his
quiet serious way. But none of them had roused in him even a passing
thrill of passion. He had despised himself for it; had told himself
again and again that he was but half a man--

Ah! he had done himself injustice--he had done himself injustice!

His heart was light as air. When at last the sound of a clock striking
in the plain roused him with a start, and he sprang up from the heap of
stones where he had been sitting in the dusk, he bent down a moment to
give a gay caress to his dog, and then trudged off briskly home,
whistling under the emerging stars.




CHAPTER VI.


By the time, however, that Aldous Raeburn came within sight of the
windows of Maxwell Court his first exaltation had sobered down. The
lover had fallen, for the time, into the background, and the capable,
serious man of thirty, with a considerable experience of the world
behind him, was perfectly conscious that there were many difficulties in
his path. He could not induce his grandfather to move in the matter of
Richard Boyce without a statement of his own feelings and aims. Nor
would he have avoided frankness if he could. On every ground it was his
grandfather's due. The Raeburns were reserved towards the rest of the
world, but amongst themselves there had always been a fine tradition of
mutual trust; and Lord Maxwell amply deserved that at this particular
moment his grandson should maintain it.

But Raeburn could not and did not flatter himself that his grandfather
would, to begin with, receive his news even with toleration. The grim
satisfaction with which that note about the shooting had been
despatched, was very clear in the grandson's memory. At the same time it
said much for the history of those long years during which the old man
and his heir had been left to console each other for the terrible
bereavements which had thrown them together, that Aldous Raeburn never
for an instant feared the kind of violent outburst and opposition that
other men in similar circumstances might have looked forward to. The
just living of a life-time makes a man incapable of any mere selfish
handling of another's interests--a fact on which the bystander may
reckon.

It was quite dark by the time he entered the large open-roofed hall of
the Court.

"Is his lordship in?" he asked of a passing footman.

"Yes, sir--in the library. He has been asking for you, sir."

Aldous turned to the right along the fine corridor lighted with Tudor
windows to an inner quadrangle, and filled with Graeco-Roman statuary
and sarcophagi, which made one of the principal features of the Court.
The great house was warm and scented, and the various open doors which
he passed on his way to the library disclosed large fire-lit rooms, with
panelling, tapestry, pictures, books everywhere. The colour of the whole
was dim and rich; antiquity, refinement reigned, together with an
exquisite quiet and order. No one was to be seen, and not a voice was to
be heard; but there was no impression of solitude. These warm,
darkly-glowing rooms seemed to be waiting for the return of guests just
gone out of them; not one of them but had an air of cheerful company.
For once, as he walked through it, Aldous Raeburn spared the old house
an affectionate possessive thought. Its size and wealth, with all that
both implied, had often weighed upon him. To-night his breath quickened
as he passed the range of family portraits leading to the library door.
There was a vacant space here and there--"room for your missus, too, my
boy, when you get her!" as his grandfather had once put it.

"Why, you've had a long day, Aldous, all by yourself," said Lord
Maxwell, turning sharply round at the sound of the opening door. "What's
kept you so late?"

His spectacles fell forward as he spoke, and the old man shut them in
his hand, peering at his grandson through the shadows of the room. He
was sitting by a huge fire, an "Edinburgh Review" open on his knee. Lamp
and fire-light showed a finely-carried head, with a high wave of snowy
hair thrown back, a long face delicately sharp in the lines, and an
attitude instinct with the alertness of an unimpaired bodily vigour.

"The birds were scarce, and we followed them a good way," said Aldous,
as he came up to the fire. "Rickman kept me on the farm, too, a good
while, with interminable screeds about the things he wants done for
him."

"Oh, there is no end to Rickman," said Lord Maxwell, good-humouredly.
"He pays his rent for the amusement of getting it back again. Landowning
will soon be the most disinterested form of philanthropy known to
mankind. But I have some news for you! Here is a letter from Barton by
the second post"--he named an old friend of his own, and a Cabinet
Minister of the day. "Look at it. You will see he says they can't
possibly carry on beyond January. Half their men are becoming
unmanageable, and S----'s bill, to which they are committed, will
certainly dish them. Parliament will meet in January, and he thinks an
amendment to the Address will finish it. All this confidential, of
course; but he saw no harm in letting me know. So now, my boy, you will
have your work cut out for you this winter! Two or three evenings a
week--you'll not get off with less. Nobody's plum drops into his mouth
nowadays. Barton tells me, too, that he hears young Wharton will
certainly stand for the Durnford division, and will be down upon us
directly. He will make himself as disagreeable to us and the Levens as
he can--that we may be sure of. We may be thankful for one small mercy,
that his mother has departed this life! otherwise you and I would have
known _furens quid femina posset_!"

The old man looked up at his grandson with a humorous eye. Aldous was
standing absently before the fire, and did not reply immediately.

"Come, come, Aldous!" said Lord Maxwell with a touch of impatience,
"don't overdo the philosopher. Though I am getting old, the next
Government can't deny me a finger in the pie. You and I between us will
be able to pull through two or three of the things we care about in the
next House, with ordinary luck. It is my firm belief that the next
election will give our side the best chance we have had for half a
generation. Throw up your cap, sir! The world may be made of green
cheese, but we have got to live in it!"

Aldous smiled suddenly--uncontrollably--with a look which left his
grandfather staring. He had been appealing to the man of maturity
standing on the threshold of a possibly considerable career, and, as he
did so, it was as though he saw the boy of eighteen reappear!

"_Je ne demands pas mieux_!" said Aldous with a quick lift of the voice
above its ordinary key. "The fact is, grandfather, I have come home with
something in my mind very different from politics--and you must give me
time to change the focus. I did not come home as straight as I
might--for I wanted to be sure of myself before I spoke to you. During
the last few weeks--"

"Go on!" cried Lord Maxwell.

But Aldous did not find it easy to go on. It suddenly struck him that it
was after all absurd that he should be confiding in any one at such a
stage, and his tongue stumbled.

But he had gone too far for retreat. Lord Maxwell sprang up and seized
him by the arms.

"You are in love, sir! Out with it!"

"I have seen the only woman in the world I have ever wished to marry,"
said Aldous, flushing, but with deliberation. "Whether she will ever
have me, I have no idea. But I can conceive no greater happiness than to
win her. And as I want _you_, grandfather, to do something for her and
for me, it seemed to me I had no right to keep my feelings to myself.
Besides, I am not accustomed to--to--" His voice wavered a little. "You
have treated me as more than a son!"

Lord Maxwell pressed his arm affectionately.

"My dear boy! But don't keep me on tenterhooks like this--tell me the
name!--the name!"

And two or three long meditated possibilities flashed through the old
man's mind.

Aldous replied with a certain slow stiffness--

"Marcella Boyce!--Richard Boyce's daughter. I saw her first six weeks
ago."

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Lord Maxwell, falling back a step or two,
and staring at his companion. Aldous watched him with anxiety.

"You know that fellow's history, Aldous?"

"Richard Boyce? Not in detail. If you will tell me now all you know, it
will be a help. Of course, I see that you and the neighbourhood mean to
cut him,--and--for the sake of--of Miss Boyce and her mother, I should
be glad to find a way out."

"Good heavens!" said Lord Maxwell, beginning to pace the room, hands
pressed behind him, head bent. "Good heavens! what a business! what an
extraordinary business!"

He stopped short in front of Aldous. "Where have you been meeting
her--this young lady?"

"At the Hardens'--sometimes in Mellor village. She goes about among the
cottages a great deal."

"You have not proposed to her?"

"I was not certain of myself till to-day. Besides it would have been
presumption so far. She has shown me nothing but the merest
friendliness."

"What, you can suppose she would refuse you!" cried Lord Maxwell, and
could not for the life of him keep the sarcastic intonation out of his
voice.

Aldous's look showed distress. "You have not seen her, grandfather," he
said quietly.

Lord Maxwell began to pace again, trying to restrain the painful emotion
that filled him. Of course, Aldous had been entrapped; the girl had
played upon his pity, his chivalry--for obvious reasons.

Aldous tried to soothe him, to explain, but Lord Maxwell hardly
listened. At last he threw himself into his chair again with a long
breath.

"Give me time, Aldous--give me time. The thought of marrying my heir to
that man's daughter knocks me over a little."

There was silence again. Then Lord Maxwell looked at his watch with
old-fashioned precision.

"There is half an hour before dinner. Sit down, and let us talk this
thing out."

       *       *       *       *       *

The conversation thus started, however, was only begun by dinner-time;
was resumed after Miss Raeburn--the small, shrewd, bright-eyed person
who governed Lord Maxwell's household--had withdrawn; and was continued
in the library some time beyond his lordship's usual retiring hour. It
was for the most part a monologue on the part of the grandfather, broken
by occasional words from his companion; and for some time Marcella Boyce
herself--the woman whom Aldous desired to marry--was hardly mentioned in
it. Oppressed and tormented by a surprise which struck, or seemed to
strike, at some of his most cherished ideals and just resentments, Lord
Maxwell was bent upon letting his grandson know, in all their fulness,
the reasons why no daughter of Richard Boyce could ever be, in the true
sense, fit wife for a Raeburn.

Aldous was, of course, perfectly familiar with the creed implied in it
all. A Maxwell should give himself no airs whatever, should indeed feel
no pride whatever, towards "men of goodwill," whether peasant,
professional, or noble. Such airs or such feeling would be both vulgar
and unchristian. But when it came to _marriage_, then it behoved him to
see that "the family"--that carefully grafted and selected stock to
which he owed so much--should suffer no loss or deterioration through
him. Marriage with the fit woman meant for a Raeburn the preservation of
a pure blood, of a dignified and honourable family habit, and moreover
the securing to his children such an atmosphere of self-respect within,
and of consideration from without, as he had himself grown up in. And a
woman could not be fit, in this sense, who came either of an
insignificant stock, untrained to large uses and opportunities, or of a
stock which had degenerated, and lost its right of equal mating with the
vigorous owners of unblemished names. Money was of course important and
not to be despised, but the present Lord Maxwell, at any rate,
large-minded and conscious of wealth he could never spend, laid
comparatively little stress upon it; whereas, in his old age, the other
instinct had but grown the stronger with him, as the world waxed more
democratic, and the influence of the great families waned.

Nor could Aldous pretend to be insensible to such feelings and beliefs.
Supposing the daughter could be won, there was no doubt whatever that
Richard Boyce would be a cross and burden to a Raeburn son-in-law. But
then! After all! Love for once made philosophy easy--made class
tradition sit light. Impatience grew; a readiness to believe Richard
Boyce as black as Erebus and be done with it,--so that one might get to
the point--the real point.

As to the story, it came to this. In his youth, Richard Boyce had been
the younger and favourite son of his father. He possessed some ability,
some good looks, some manners, all of which were wanting in his loutish
elder brother. Sacrifices were accordingly made for him. He was sent to
the bar. When he stood for Parliament his election expenses were
jubilantly paid, and his father afterwards maintained him with as
generous a hand as the estate could possibly bear, often in the teeth of
the grudging resentment of Robert his firstborn. Richard showed signs of
making a rapid success, at any rate on the political platform. He spoke
with facility, and grappled with the drudgery of committees during his
first two years at Westminster in a way to win him the favourable
attention of the Tory whips. He had a gift for modern languages, and
spoke chiefly on foreign affairs, so that when an important Eastern
Commission had to be appointed, in connection with some troubles in the
Balkan States, his merits and his father's exertions with certain old
family friends sufficed to place him upon it.

The Commission was headed by a remarkable man, and was able to do
valuable work at a moment of great public interest, under the eyes of
Europe. Its members came back covered with distinction, and were much
fêted through the London season. Old Mr. Boyce came up from Mellor to
see Dick's success for himself, and his rubicund country gentleman's
face and white head might have been observed at many a London party
beside the small Italianate physique of his son.

And love, as he is wont, came in the wake of fortune. A certain fresh
west-country girl, Miss Evelyn Merritt, who had shown her stately beauty
at one of the earliest drawing-rooms of the season, fell across Mr.
Richard Boyce at this moment when he was most at ease with the world,
and the world was giving him every opportunity. She was very young, as
unspoilt as the daffodils of her Somersetshire valleys, and her
character--a character of much complexity and stoical strength--was
little more known to herself than it was to others. She saw Dick Boyce
through a mist of romance; forgot herself absolutely in idealising him,
and could have thanked him on her knees when he asked her to marry him.

Five years of Parliament and marriage followed, and then--a crash. It
was a common and sordid story, made tragic by the quality of the wife,
and the disappointment of the father, if not by the ruined possibilities
of Dick Boyce himself. First, the desire to maintain a "position," to
make play in society with a pretty wife, and, in the City, with a
marketable reputation; then company-promoting of a more and more
doubtful kind; and, finally, a swindle more energetic and less skilful
than the rest, which bomb-like went to pieces in the face of the public,
filling the air with noise, lamentations, and unsavoury odours. Nor was
this all. A man has many warnings of ruin, and when things were going
badly in the stock market, Richard Boyce, who on his return from the
East had been elected by acclamation a member of several fashionable
clubs, tried to retrieve himself at the gaming-table. Lastly, when money
matters at home and abroad, when the anxieties of his wife and the
altered manners of his acquaintance in and out of the House of Commons
grew more than usually disagreeable, a certain little chorus girl came
upon the scene and served to make both money and repentance scarcer even
than they were before. No story could be more commonplace or more
detestable.

"Ah, how well I remember that poor old fellow--old John Boyce," said
Lord Maxwell, slowly, shaking his stately white head over it, as he
leant talking and musing against the mantelpiece. "I saw him the day he
came back from the attempt to hush up the company business. I met him in
the road, and could not help pulling up to speak to him. I was so sorry
for him. We had been friends for many years, he and I. 'Oh, good God!'
he said, when he saw me. 'Don't stop me--don't speak to me!' And he
lashed his horse up--as white as a sheet--fat, fresh-coloured man that
he was in general--and was off. I never saw him again till after his
death. First came the trial, and Dick Boyce got three months'
imprisonment, on a minor count, while several others of the precious lot
he was mixed up with came in for penal servitude. There was some
technical flaw in the evidence with regard to him, and the clever
lawyers they put on made the most of it; but we all thought, and society
thought, that Dick was morally as bad as any of them. Then the papers
got hold of the gambling debts and the woman. She made a disturbance at
his club, I believe, during the trial, while he was out on bail--anyway
it all came out. Two or three other people were implicated in the
gambling business--men of good family. Altogether it was one of the
biggest scandals I remember in my time."

The old man paused, the long frowning face sternly set. Aldous gazed at
him in silence. It was certainly pretty bad--worse than he had thought.

"And the wife and child?" he said presently.

"Oh, poor things!"--said Lord Maxwell, forgetting everything for the
moment but his story--"when Boyce's imprisonment was up they disappeared
with him. His constituents held indignation meetings, of course. He gave
up his seat, and his father allowed him a small fixed income--she had
besides some little money of her own--which was secured him afterwards,
I believe, on the estate during his brother's lifetime. Some of her
people would have gladly persuaded her to leave him, for his behaviour
towards her had been particularly odious,--and they were afraid, too, I
think, that he might come to worse grief yet and make her life
unbearable. But she wouldn't. And she would have no sympathy and no
talk. I never saw her after the first year of their marriage, when she
was a most radiant and beautiful creature. But, by all accounts of her
behaviour at the time, she must be a remarkable woman. One of her family
told me that she broke with all of them. She would know nobody who would
not know him. Nor would she take money, though they were wretchedly
poor; and Dick Boyce was not squeamish. She went off to little lodgings
in the country or abroad with him without a word. At the same time, it
was plain that her life was withered. She could make one great effort;
but, according to my informant, she had no energy left for anything
else--not even to take interest in her little girl--"

Aldous made a movement.

"Suppose we talk about her?" he said rather shortly.

Lord Maxwell started and recollected himself. After a pause he said,
looking down under his spectacles at his grandson with an expression in
which discomfort strove with humour--

"I see. You think we are beating about the bush. Perhaps we are. It is
the difference between being old and being young, Aldous, my boy.
Well--now then--for Miss Boyce. How much have you seen of her?--how deep
has it gone? You can't wonder that I am knocked over. To bring that man
amongst us! Why, the hound!" cried the old man, suddenly, "we could not
even get him to come and see his father when he was dying. John had lost
his memory mostly--had forgotten, anyway, to be angry--and just _craved_
for Dick, for the only creature he had ever loved. With great difficulty
I traced the man, and tried my utmost. No good! He came when his father
no longer knew him, an hour before the end. His nerves, I understood,
were delicate--not so delicate, however, as to prevent his being present
at the reading of the will! I have never forgiven him that cruelty to
the old man, and never will!"

And Lord Maxwell began to pace the library again, by way of working off
memory and indignation.

Aldous watched him rather gloomily. They had now been discussing Boyce's
criminalities in great detail for a considerable time, and nothing else
seemed to have any power to touch--or, at any rate, to hold--Lord
Maxwell's attention. A certain deep pride in Aldous--the pride of
intimate affection--felt itself wounded.

"I see that you have grave cause to think badly of her father," he said
at last, rising as he spoke. "I must think how it concerns me. And
to-morrow you must let me tell you something about her. After all, she
has done none of these things. But I ought not to keep you up like this.
You will remember Clarke was very emphatic about your not exhausting
yourself at night, last time he was here."

Lord Maxwell turned and stared.

"Why--why, what is the matter with you, Aldous? Offended?
Well--well--There--I _am_ an old fool!"

And, walking up to his grandson, he laid an affectionate and rather
shaking hand on the younger's shoulder.

"You have a great charge upon you, Aldous--a charge for the future. It
has upset me--I shall be calmer to-morrow. But as to any quarrel between
us! Are you a youth, or am I a three-tailed bashaw? As to money, you
know, I care nothing. But it goes against me, my boy, it goes against
me, that _your_ wife should bring such a story as that with her into
this house!"

"I understand," said Aldous, wincing. "But you must see her,
grandfather. Only, let me say it again--don't for one moment take it for
granted that she will marry me. I never saw any one so free, so
unspoilt, so unconventional."

His eyes glowed with the pleasure of remembering her looks, her tones.

Lord Maxwell withdrew his hand and shook his head slowly.

"You have a great deal to offer. No woman, unless she were either
foolish or totally unexperienced, could overlook that. Is she about
twenty?"

"About twenty."

Lord Maxwell waited a moment, then, bending over the fire, shrugged his
shoulders in mock despair.

"It is evident you are out of love with me, Aldous. Why, I don't know
yet whether she is dark or fair!"

The conversation jarred on both sides. Aldous made an effort.

"She is very dark," he said; "like her mother in many ways, only quite
different in colour. To me she seems the most beautiful--the only
beautiful woman I have ever seen. I should think she was very clever in
some ways--and very unformed--childish almost--in others. The Hardens
say she has done everything she could--of course it isn't much--for that
miserable village in the time she has been there. Oh! by the way, she is
a Socialist. She thinks that all we landowners should be done away
with."

Aldous looked round at his grandfather, so soon probably to be one of
the lights of a Tory Cabinet, and laughed. So, to his relief, did Lord
Maxwell.

"Well, don't let her fall into young Wharton's clutches, Aldous, or he
will be setting her to canvas. So, she is beautiful and she is
clever--and _good_, my boy? If she comes here, she will have to fill
your mother's and your grandmother's place."

Aldous tried to reply once or twice, but failed.

"If I did not feel that she were everything in herself to be loved and
respected"--he said at last with some formality--"I should not long, as
I do, to bring you and her together."

Silence fell again. But instinctively Aldous felt that his grandfather's
mood had grown gentler--his own task easier. He seized on the moment at
once.

"In the whole business," he said, half smiling, "there is only one thing
clear, grandfather, and that is, that, if you will, you can do me a
great service with Miss Boyce."

Lord Maxwell turned quickly and was all sharp attention, the keen
commanding eyes under their fine brows absorbing, as it were, expression
and life from the rest of the blanched and wrinkled face.

"You could, if you would, make matters easy for her and her mother in
the county," said Aldous, anxious to carry it off lightly. "You could,
if you would, without committing yourself to any personal contact with
Boyce himself, make it possible for me to bring her here, so that you
and my aunt might see her and judge."

The old man's expression darkened.

"What, take back that note, Aldous! I never wrote anything with greater
satisfaction in my life!"

"Well,--more or less," said Aldous, quietly. "A very little would do it.
A man in Richard Boyce's position will naturally not claim very
much--will take what he can get."

"And you mean besides," said his grandfather, interrupting him, "that I
must send your aunt to call?"

"It will hardly be possible to ask Miss Boyce here unless she does!"
said Aldous.

"And you reckon that I am not likely to go to Mellor, even to see her?
And you want me to say a word to other people--to the Winterbournes and
the Levens, for instance?"

"Precisely," said Aldous.

Lord Maxwell meditated; then rose.

"Let me now appease the memory of Clarke by going to bed!" (Clarke was
his lordship's medical attendant and autocrat.) "I must sleep upon this,
Aldous."

"I only hope I shall not have tired you out."

Aldous moved to extinguish a lamp standing on a table near.

Suddenly his grandfather called him.

"Aldous!"

"Yes."

But, as no words followed, Aldous turned. He saw his grandfather
standing erect before the fire, and was startled by the emotion he
instantly perceived in eye and mouth.

"You understand, Aldous, that for twenty years--it is twenty years last
month since your father died--you have been the blessing of my life? Oh!
don't say anything, my boy; I don't want any more agitation. I have
spoken strongly; it was hardly possible but that on such a matter I
should feel strongly. But don't go away misunderstanding me--don't
imagine for one instant that there is anything in the world that really
matters to me in comparison with your happiness and your future!"

The venerable old man wrung the hand he held, walked quickly to the
door, and shut it behind him.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later, Aldous was writing in his own sitting-room, a room on the
first floor, at the western corner of the house, and commanding by
daylight the falling slopes of wood below the Court, and all the wide
expanses of the plain. To-night, too, the blinds were up, and the great
view drawn in black and pearl, streaked with white mists in the ground
hollows and overarched by a wide sky holding a haloed moon, lay spread
before the windows. On a clear night Aldous felt himself stifled by
blinds and curtains, and would often sit late, reading and writing, with
a lamp so screened that it threw light upon his book or paper, while not
interfering with the full range of his eye over the night-world without.
He secretly believed that human beings see far too little of the night,
and so lose a host of august or beautiful impressions, which might be
honestly theirs if they pleased, without borrowing or stealing from
anybody, poet or painter.

The room was lined with books, partly temporary visitors from the great
library downstairs, partly his old college books and prizes, and partly
representing small collections for special studies. Here were a large
number of volumes, blue books, and pamphlets, bearing on the condition
of agriculture and the rural poor in England and abroad; there were some
shelves devoted to general economics, and on a little table by the fire
lay the recent numbers of various economic journals, English and
foreign. Between the windows stood a small philosophical bookcase, the
volumes of it full of small reference slips, and marked from end to end;
and on the other side of the room was a revolving book-table crowded
with miscellaneous volumes of poets, critics, and novelists--mainly,
however, with the first two. Aldous Raeburn read few novels, and those
with a certain impatience. His mind was mostly engaged in a slow wrestle
with difficult and unmanageable fact; and for that transformation and
illumination of fact in which the man of idealist temper must sometimes
take refuge and comfort, he went easily and eagerly to the poets and to
natural beauty. Hardly any novel writing, or reading, seemed to him
worth while. A man, he thought, might be much better employed than in
doing either.

Above the mantelpiece was his mother's picture--the picture of a young
woman in a low dress and muslin scarf, trivial and empty in point of
art, yet linked in Aldous's mind with a hundred touching recollections,
buried all of them in the silence of an unbroken reserve. She had died
in childbirth when he was nine; her baby had died with her, and her
husband, Lord Maxwell's only son and surviving child, fell a victim two
years later to a deadly form of throat disease, one of those ills which
come upon strong men by surprise, and excite in the dying a sense of
helpless wrong which even religious faith can only partially soothe.

Aldous remembered his mother's death; still more his father's, that
father who could speak no last message to his son, could only lie dumb
upon his pillows, with those eyes full of incommunicable pain, and the
hand now restlessly seeking, now restlessly putting aside the small and
trembling hand of the son. His boyhood had been spent under the shadow
of these events, which had aged his grandfather, and made him too early
realise himself as standing alone in the gap of loss, the only hope left
to affection and to ambition. This premature development, amid the most
melancholy surroundings, of the sense of personal importance--not in any
egotistical sense, but as a sheer matter of fact--had robbed a nervous
and sensitive temperament of natural stores of gaiety and elasticity
which it could ill do without. Aldous Raeburn had been too much thought
for and too painfully loved. But for Edward Hallin he might well have
acquiesced at manhood in a certain impaired vitality, in the scholar's
range of pleasures, and the landowner's customary round of duties.

It was to Edward Hallin he was writing to-night, for the stress and stir
of feeling caused by the events of the day, and not least by his
grandfather's outburst, seemed to put sleep far off. On the table before
him stood a photograph of Hallin, besides a miniature of his mother as a
girl. He had drawn the miniature closer to him, finding sympathy and joy
in its youth, in the bright expectancy of the eyes, and so wrote, as it
were, having both her and his friend in mind and sight.

To Hallin he had already spoken of Miss Boyce, drawing her in light,
casual, and yet sympathetic strokes as the pretty girl in a difficult
position whom one would watch with curiosity and some pity. To-night his
letter, which should have discussed a home colonisation scheme of
Hallin's, had but one topic, and his pen flew.

"Would you call her beautiful? I ask myself again and again, trying to
put myself behind your eyes. She has nothing, at any rate, in common
with the beauties we have down here, or with those my aunt bade me
admire in London last May. The face has a strong Italian look, but not
Italian of to-day. Do you remember the Ghirlandajo frescoes in Santa
Maria Novella, or the side groups in Andrea's frescoes at the
Annunziata? Among them, among the beautiful tall women of them, there
are, I am sure, noble, freely-poised, suggestive heads like hers--hair,
black wavy hair, folded like hers in large simple lines, and faces
with the same long, subtle curves. It is a face of the Renaissance,
extraordinarily beautiful, as it seems to me, in colour and expression;
imperfect in line, as the beauty which marks the meeting point
between antique perfection and modern character must always be. It
has _morbidezza_--unquiet melancholy charm, then passionate
gaiety--everything that is most modern grafted on things Greek and old.
I am told that Burne Jones drew her several times while she was in
London, with delight. It is the most _artistic_ beauty, having both the
harmonies and the dissonances that a full-grown art loves.

"She may be twenty or rather more. The mind has all sorts of ability;
comes to the right conclusion by a divine instinct, ignoring the how and
why. What does such a being want with the drudgery of learning? to such
keenness life will be master enough. Yet she has evidently read a good
deal--much poetry, some scattered political economy, some modern
socialistic books, Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Carlyle. She takes everything
dramatically, imaginatively, goes straight from it to life, and back
again. Among the young people with whom she made acquaintance while she
was boarding in London and working at South Kensington, there seem to
have been two brothers, both artists, and both Socialists; ardent young
fellows, giving all their spare time to good works, who must have
influenced her a great deal. She is full of angers and revolts, which
you would delight in. And first of all, she is applying herself to her
father's wretched village, which will keep her hands full. A large and
passionate humanity plays about her. What she says often seems to me
foolish--in the ear; but the inner sense, the heart of it, command me.

"Stare as you please, Ned! Only write to me, and come down here as soon
as you can. I can and will hide nothing from you, so you will believe me
when I say that all is uncertain, that I know nothing, and, though I
hope everything, may just as well fear everything too. But somehow I am
another man, and the world shines and glows for me by day and night."

Aldous Raeburn rose from his chair and, going to the window, stood
looking out at the splendour of the autumn moon. Marcella moved across
the whiteness of the grass; her voice was still speaking to his inward
ear. His lips smiled; his heart was in a wild whirl of happiness.

Then he walked to the table, took up his letter, read it, tore it
across, and locked the fragments in a drawer.

"Not yet, Ned--not yet, dear old fellow, even to you," he said to
himself, as he put out his lamp.




CHAPTER VII.


Three days passed. On the fourth Marcella returned late in the afternoon
from a round of parish visits with Mary Harden. As she opened the oak
doors which shut off the central hall of Mellor from the outer
vestibule, she saw something white lying on the old cut and disused
billiard table, which still occupied the middle of the floor till
Richard Boyce, in the course of his economies and improvements, could
replace it by a new one.

She ran forward and took up a sheaf of cards, turning them over in a
smiling excitement. "Viscount Maxwell," "Mr. Raeburn," "Miss Raeburn,"
"Lady Winterbourne and the Misses Winterbourne," two cards of Lord
Winterbourne's--all perfectly in form.

Then a thought flashed upon her. "Of course it is his doing--and I asked
him!"

The cards dropped from her hand on the billiard table, and she stood
looking at them, her pride fighting with her pleasure. There was
something else in her feeling too--the exultation of proved power over a
person not, as she guessed, easily influenced, especially by women.

"Marcella, is that you?"

It was her mother's voice. Mrs. Boyce had come in from the garden
through the drawing-room, and was standing at the inner door of the
hall, trying with shortsighted eyes to distinguish her daughter among
the shadows of the great bare place. A dark day was drawing to its
close, and there was little light left in the hall, except in one corner
where a rainy sunset gleam struck a grim contemporary portrait of Mary
Tudor, bringing out the obstinate mouth and the white hand holding a
jewelled glove.

Marcella turned, and by the same gleam her mother saw her flushed and
animated look.

"Any letters?" she asked.

"No; but there are some cards. Oh yes, there is a note," and she pounced
upon an envelope she had overlooked. "It is for you, mother--from the
Court."

Mrs. Boyce came up and took note and cards from her daughter's hand.
Marcella watched her with quick breath.

Her mother looked through the cards, slowly putting them down one by one
without remark.

"Oh, mother! do read the note!" Marcella could not help entreating.

Mrs. Boyce drew herself together with a quick movement as though her
daughter jarred upon her, and opened the note. Marcella dared not look
over her. There was a dignity about her mother's lightest action, about
every movement of her slender fingers and fine fair head, which had
always held the daughter in check, even while she rebelled.

Mrs. Boyce read it, and then handed it to Marcella.

"I must go and make the tea," she said, in a light, cold tone, and
turning, she went back to the drawing-room, whither afternoon tea had
just been carried.

Marcella followed, reading. The note was from Miss Raeburn, and it
contained an invitation to Mrs. Boyce and her daughter to take luncheon
at the Court on the following Friday. The note was courteously and
kindly worded. "We should be so glad," said the writer, "to show you and
Miss Boyce our beautiful woods while they are still at their best, in
the way of autumn colour."

"How will mamma take it?" thought Marcella anxiously. "There is not a
word of papa!"

When she entered the drawing-room, she caught her mother standing
absently at the tea-table. The little silver caddy was still in her hand
as though she had forgotten to put it down; and her eyes, which
evidently saw nothing, were turned to the window, the brows frowning.
The look of suffering for an instant was unmistakable; then she started
at the sound of Marcella's step, and put down the caddy amid the
delicate china crowded on the tray, with all the quiet precision of her
ordinary manner.

"You will have to wait for your tea," she said, "the water doesn't
nearly boil."

Marcella went up to the fire and, kneeling before it, put the logs with
which it was piled together. But she could not contain herself for long.

"Will you go to the Court, mamma?" she asked quickly, without turning
round.

There was a pause. Then Mrs. Boyce said drily--

"Miss Raeburn's proceedings are a little unexpected. We have been here
four months, within two miles of her, and it has never occurred to her
to call. Now she calls and asks us to luncheon in the same afternoon.
Either she took too little notice of us before, or she takes too much
now--don't you think so?"

Marcella was silent a moment. Should she confess? It began to occur to
her for the first time that in her wild independence she had been taking
liberties with her mother.

"Mamma!"

"Yes."

"I asked Mr. Aldous Raeburn the other day whether everybody here was
going to cut us! Papa told me that Lord Maxwell had written him an
uncivil letter and--"

"You--asked--Mr. Raeburn--" said Mrs. Boyce, quickly. "What do you
mean?"

Marcella turned round and met the flash of her mother's eyes.

"I couldn't help it," she said in a low hurried voice. "It seemed so
horrid to feel everybody standing aloof--we were walking together--he
was very kind and friendly--and I asked him to explain."

"I see!" said Mrs. Boyce. "And he went to his aunt--and she went to Lady
Winterbourne--they were compassionate--and there are the cards. You have
certainly taken us all in hand, Marcella!"

Marcella felt an instant's fear--fear of the ironic power in the
sparkling look so keenly fixed on her offending self; she shrank before
the proud reserve expressed in every line of her mother's fragile
imperious beauty. Then a cry of nature broke from the girl.

"You have got used to it, mamma! I feel as if it would kill me to live
here, shut off from everybody--joining with nobody--with no friendly
feelings or society. It was bad enough in the old lodging-house days;
but here--why _should_ we?"

Mrs. Boyce had certainly grown pale.

"I supposed you would ask sooner or later," she said in a low determined
voice, with what to Marcella was a quite new note of reality in it.
"Probably Mr. Raeburn told you--but you must of course have guessed it
long ago--that society does not look kindly on us--and has its reasons.
I do not deny in the least that it has its reasons. I do not accuse
anybody, and resent nothing. But the question with me has always been,
Shall I accept pity? I have always been able to meet it with a No! You
are very different from me--but for you also I believe it would be the
happiest answer."

The eyes of both met--the mother's full of an indomitable fire which had
for once wholly swept away her satiric calm of every day; the daughter's
troubled and miserable.

"I want friends!" said Marcella, slowly. "There are so many things I
want to do here, and one can do nothing if every one is against you.
People would be friends with you and me--and with papa too,--through us.
Some of them wish to be kind"--she added insistently, thinking of Aldous
Raeburn's words and expression as he bent to her at the gate--"I know
they do. And if we can't hold our heads high because--because of things
in the past--ought we to be so proud that we won't take their hands when
they stretch them out--when they write so kindly and nicely as this?"

And she laid her fingers almost piteously on the note upon her knee.

Mrs. Boyce tilted the silver urn and replenished the tea-pot. Then with
a delicate handkerchief she rubbed away a spot from the handle of a
spoon near her.

"You shall go," she said presently--"you wish it--then go--go by all
means. I will write to Miss Raeburn and send you over in the carriage.
One can put a great deal on health--mine is quite serviceable in the way
of excuses. I will try and do you no harm, Marcella. If you have chosen
your line and wish to make friends here--very well--I will do what I can
for you so long as you do not expect me to change my life--for which, my
dear, I am grown too crotchety and too old."

Marcella looked at her with dismay and a yearning she had never felt
before.

"And you will never go out with me, mamma?"

There was something childlike and touching in the voice, something which
for once suggested the normal filial relation. But Mrs. Boyce did not
waver. She had long learnt perhaps to regard Marcella as a girl
singularly well able to take care of herself; and had recognised the
fact with relief.

"I will not go to the Court with you anyway," she said, daintily sipping
her tea--"in your interests as well as mine. You will make all the
greater impression, my dear, for I have really forgotten how to behave.
Those cards shall be properly returned, of course. For the rest--let no
one disturb themselves till they must. And if I were you, Marcella, I
would hardly discuss the family affairs any more--with Mr. Raeburn or
anybody else."

And again her keen glance disconcerted the tall handsome girl, whose
power over the world about her had never extended to her mother.
Marcella flushed and played with the fire.

"You see, mamma," she said after a moment, still looking at the logs and
the shower of sparks they made as she moved them about, "you never let
me discuss them with you."

"Heaven forbid!" said Mrs. Boyce, quickly; then, after a pause: "You
will find your own line in a little while, Marcella, and you will see,
if you so choose it, that there will be nothing unsurmountable in your
way. One piece of advice let me give you. Don't be too _grateful_ to
Miss Raeburn, or anybody else! You take great interest in your Boyce
belongings, I perceive. You may remember too, perhaps, that there is
other blood in you--and that no Merritt has ever submitted quietly to
either patronage or pity."

Marcella started. Her mother had never named her own kindred to her
before that she could remember. She had known for many years that there
was a breach between the Merritts and themselves. The newspapers had
told her something at intervals of her Merritt relations, for they were
fashionable and important folk, but no one of them had crossed the
Boyces' threshold since the old London days, wherein Marcella could
still dimly remember the tall forms of certain Merritt uncles, and even
a stately lady in a white cap whom she knew to have been her mother's
mother. The stately lady had died while she was still a child at her
first school; she could recollect her own mourning frock; but that was
almost the last personal remembrance she had, connected with the
Merritts.

And now this note of intense personal and family pride, under which Mrs.
Boyce's voice had for the first time quivered a little! Marcella had
never heard it before, and it thrilled her. She sat on by the fire,
drinking her tea and every now and then watching her companion with a
new and painful curiosity. The tacit assumption of many years with her
had been that her mother was a dry limited person, clever and determined
in small ways, that affected her own family, but on the whole
characterless as compared with other people of strong feelings and
responsive susceptibilities. But her own character had been rapidly
maturing of late, and her insight sharpening. During these recent weeks
of close contact, her mother's singularity had risen in her mind to the
dignity at least of a problem, an enigma.

Presently Mrs. Boyce rose and put the scones down by the fire.

"Your father will be in, I suppose. Yes, I hear the front door."

As she spoke she took off her velvet cloak, put it carefully aside on a
sofa, and sat down again, still in her bonnet, at the tea-table. Her
dress was very different from Marcella's, which, when they were not in
mourning, was in general of the ample "aesthetic" type, and gave her a
good deal of trouble out of doors. Marcella wore "art serges" and
velveteens; Mrs. Boyce attired herself in soft and costly silks,
generally black, closely and fashionably made, and completed by various
fanciful and distinguished trifles--rings, an old chatelaine, a diamond
brooch--which Marcella remembered, the same, and worn in the same way,
since her childhood. Mrs. Boyce, however, wore her clothes so daintily,
and took such scrupulous and ingenious care of them, that her dress
cost, in truth, extremely little--certainly less than Marcella's.

There were sounds first of footsteps in the hall, then of some scolding
of William, and finally Mr. Boyce entered, tired and splashed from
shooting, and evidently in a bad temper.

"Well, what are you going to do about those cards?" he asked his wife
abruptly when she had supplied him with tea, and he was beginning to dry
by the fire. He was feeling ill and reckless; too tired anyway to
trouble himself to keep up appearances with Marcella.

"Return them," said Mrs. Boyce, calmly, blowing out the flame of her
silver kettle.

"_I_ don't want any of their precious society," he said irritably. "They
should have done their calling long ago. There's no grace in it now; I
don't know that one isn't inclined to think it an intrusion."

But the women were silent. Marcella's attention was diverted from her
mother to the father's small dark head and thin face. There was a great
repulsion and impatience in her heart, an angry straining against
circumstance and fate; yet at the same time a mounting voice of natural
affection, an understanding at once sad and new, which paralysed and
silenced her. He stood in her way--terribly in her way--and yet it
strangely seemed to her, that never before till these last few weeks had
she felt herself a daughter.

"You are very wet, papa," she said to him as she took his cup; "don't
you think you had better go at once and change?"

"I'm all right," he said shortly--"as right as I'm likely to be, anyway.
As for the shooting, it's nothing but waste of time and shoe leather. I
shan't go out any more. The place has been clean swept by some of those
brutes in the village--your friends, Marcella. By the way, Evelyn, I
came across young Wharton in the road just now."

"Wharton?" said his wife, interrogatively. "I don't remember--ought I?"

"Why, the Liberal candidate for the division, of course," he said
testily. "I wish you would inform yourself of what goes on. He is
working like a horse, he tells me. Dodgson, the Raeburns' candidate, has
got a great start; this young man will want all his time to catch him
up. I like him. I won't vote for him; but I'll see fair play. I've asked
him to come to tea here on Saturday, Evelyn. He'll be back again by the
end of the week. He stays at Dell's farm when he comes--pretty bad
accommodation, I should think. We must show him some civility."

He rose and stood with his back to the fire, his spare frame stiffening
under his nervous determination to assert himself--to hold up his head
physically and morally against those who would repress him.

Richard Boyce took his social punishment badly. He had passed his first
weeks at Mellor in a tremble of desire that his father's old family and
country friends should recognise him again and condone his
"irregularities." All sorts of conciliatory ideas had passed through
his head. He meant to let people see that he would be a good neighbour
if they would give him the chance--not like that miserly fool, his
brother Robert. The past was so much past; who now was more respectable
or more well intentioned than he? He was an impressionable imaginative
man in delicate health; and the tears sometimes came into his eyes as he
pictured himself restored to society--partly by his own efforts,
partly, no doubt, by the charms and good looks of his wife and
daughter--forgiven for their sake, and for the sake also of that store
of virtue he had so laboriously accumulated since that long-past
catastrophe. Would not most men have gone to the bad altogether, after
such a lapse? He, on the contrary, had recovered himself, had neither
drunk nor squandered, nor deserted his wife and child. These things, if
the truth were known, were indeed due rather to a certain lack of
physical energy and vitality, which age had developed in him, than to
self-conquest; but he was no doubt entitled to make the most of them.
There were signs indeed that his forecast had been not at all
unreasonable. His womenkind _were_ making their way. At the very moment
when Lord Maxwell had written him a quelling letter, he had become aware
that Marcella was on good terms with Lord Maxwell's heir. Had he not
also been stopped that morning in a remote lane by Lord Winterbourne and
Lord Maxwell on their way back from the meet, and had not both
recognised and shaken hands with him? And now there were these cards.

Unfortunately, in spite of Raeburn's opinion to the contrary, no man in
such a position and with such a temperament ever gets something without
claiming more--and more than he can conceivably or possibly get.
Startled and pleased at first by the salutation which Lord Maxwell and
his companion had bestowed upon him, Richard Boyce had passed his
afternoon in resenting and brooding over the cold civility of it. So
these were the terms he was to be on with them--the deuce take them and
their pharisaical airs! If all the truth were known, most men would look
foolish; and the men who thanked God that they were not as other men,
soonest of all. He wished he had not been taken by surprise; he wished
he had not answered them; he would show them in the future that he would
eat no dirt for them or anybody else.

So on the way home there had been a particular zest in his chance
encounter with the young man who was likely to give the Raeburns and
their candidate--so all the world said--a very great deal of trouble.
The seat had been held to be an entirely safe one for the Maxwell
nominee. Young Wharton, on the contrary, was making way every day, and,
what with securing Aldous's own seat in the next division, and helping
old Dodgson in this, Lord Maxwell and his grandson had their hands full.
Dick Boyce was glad of it. He was a Tory; but all the same he wished
every success to this handsome, agreeable young man, whose deferential
manners to him at the end of the day had come like ointment to a wound.

The three sat on together for a little while in silence. Marcella kept
her seat by the fire on the old gilt fenderstool, conscious in a
dreamlike way of the room in front of her--the stately room with its
stucco ceiling, its tall windows, its Prussian-blue wall-paper behind
the old cabinets and faded pictures, and the chair covers in Turkey-red
twill against the blue, which still remained to bear witness at once to
the domestic economies and the decorative ideas of old Robert
Boyce--conscious also of the figures on either side of her, and of her
own quick-beating youth betwixt them. She was sore and unhappy; yet, on
the whole, what she was thinking most about was Aldous Raeburn. What had
he said to Lord Maxwell?--and to the Winterbournes? She wished she could
know. She wished with leaping pulse that she could see him again
quickly. Yet it would be awkward too.

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently she got up and went away to take off her things. As the door
closed behind her, Mrs. Boyce held out Miss Raeburn's note, which
Marcella had returned to her, to her husband.

"They have asked Marcella and me to lunch," she said. "I am not going,
but I shall send her."

He read the note by the firelight, and it produced the most
contradictory effects upon him.

"Why don't you go?" he asked her aggressively, rousing himself for a
moment to attack her, and so vent some of his ill-humour.

"I have lost the habit of going out," she said quietly, "and am too old
to begin again."

"What! you mean to say," he asked her angrily, raising his voice, "that
you have never _meant_ to do your duties here--the duties of your
position?"

"I did not foresee many, outside this house and land. Why should we
change our ways? We have done very well of late. I have no mind to risk
what I have got."

He glanced round at her in a quick nervous way, and then looked back
again at the fire. The sight of her delicate blanched face had in some
respects a more and more poignant power with him as the years went on.
His anger sank into moroseness.

"Then why do you let Marcella go? What good will it do her to go about
without her parents? People will only despise her for a girl of no
spirit--as they ought."

"It depends upon how it is done. I can arrange it, I think," said Mrs.
Boyce. "A woman has always convenient limitations to plead in the way of
health. She need never give offence if she has decent wits. It will be
understood that I do not go out, and then someone--Miss Raeburn or Lady
Winterbourne--will take up Marcella and mother her."

She spoke with her usual light gentleness, but he was not appeased.

"If you were to talk of _my_ health, it would be more to the purpose,"
he said, with grim inconsequence. And raising his heavy lids he looked
at her full.

She got up and went over to him.

"Do you feel worse again? Why will you not change your things directly
you come in? Would you like Dr. Clarke sent for?"

She was standing close beside him; her beautiful hand, for which in
their young days it had pleased his pride to give her rings, almost
touched him. A passionate hunger leapt within him. She would stoop and
kiss him if he asked her; he knew that. But he would not ask her; he did
not want it; he wanted something that never on this earth would she give
him again.

Then moral discomfort lost itself in physical.

"Clarke does me no good--not an atom," he said, rising. "There--don't
you come. I Can look after myself."

He went, and Mrs. Boyce remained alone in the great fire-lit room. She
put her hands on the mantelpiece, and dropped her head upon them, and so
stood silent for long. There was no sound audible in the room, or from
the house outside. And in the silence a proud and broken heart once more
nerved itself to an endurance that brought it peace with neither man nor
God.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I shall go, for all our sakes," thought Marcella, as she stood late
that night brushing her hair before her dimly-lighted and rickety
dressing-table. "We have, it seems, no right to be proud."

A rush of pain and bitterness filled her heart--pain, new-born and
insistent, for her mother, her father, and herself. Ever since Aldous
Raeburn's hesitating revelations, she had been liable to this sudden
invasion of a hot and shamed misery. And to-night, after her talk with
her mother, it could not but overtake her afresh.

But her strong personality, her passionate sense of a moral independence
not to be undone by the acts of another, even a father, made her soon
impatient of her own distress, and she flung it from her with decision.

"No, we have no right to be proud," she repeated to herself. "It must be
all true what Mr. Raeburn said--probably a great deal more. Poor, poor
mamma! But, all the same, there is nothing to be got out of empty
quarrelling and standing alone. And it was so long ago."

Her hand fell, and she stood absently looking at her own black and white
reflection in the old flawed glass.

She was thinking, of course, of Mr. Raeburn. He had been very prompt in
her service. There could be no question but that he was specially
interested in her.

And he was not a man to be lightly played upon--nay, rather a singularly
reserved and scrupulous person. So, at least, it had been always held
concerning him. Marcella was triumphantly conscious that he had not from
the beginning given _her_ much trouble. But the common report of him
made his recent manner towards her, this last action of his, the more
significant. Even the Hardens--so Marcella gathered from her friend and
admirer Mary--unworldly dreamy folk, wrapt up in good works, and in the
hastening of Christ's kingdom, were on the alert and beginning to take
note.

It was not as though he were in the dark as to her antecedents. He knew
all--at any rate, more than she did--and yet it might end in his asking
her to marry him. What then?

Scarcely a quiver in the young form before the glass! _Love_, at such a
thought, must have sunk upon its knees and hid its face for tender
humbleness and requital. Marcella only looked quietly at the beauty
which might easily prove to be so important an arrow in her quiver.

What was stirring in her was really a passionate ambition--ambition to
be the queen and arbitress of human lives--to be believed in by her
friends, to make a mark for herself among women, and to make it in the
most romantic and yet natural way, without what had always seemed to her
the sordid and unpleasant drudgeries of the platform, of a tiresome
co-operation with, or subordination to others who could not understand
your ideas.

Of course, if it happened, people would say that she had tried to
capture Aldous Raeburn for his money and position's sake. Let them say
it. People with base minds must think basely; there was no help for it.
Those whom she would make her friends would know very well for what
purpose she wanted money, power, and the support of such a man, and such
a marriage. Her modern realism played with the thought quite freely; her
maidenliness, proud and pure as it was, being nowise ashamed. Oh! for
something to carry her _deep_ into life; into the heart of its widest
and most splendid opportunities!

She threw up her hands, clasping them above her head amid her clouds of
curly hair--a girlish excited gesture.

"I could revive the straw-plaiting; give them better teaching and better
models. The cottages should be rebuilt. Papa would willingly hand the
village over to me if I found the money! We would have a parish
committee to deal with the charities--oh! the Hardens would come in. The
old people should have their pensions as of right. No hopeless old age,
no cringing dependence! We would try co-operation on the land, and pull
it through. And not in Mellor only. One might be the ruler, the
regenerator of half a county!"

Memory brought to mind in vivid sequence the figures and incidents of
the afternoon, of her village round with Mary Harden.

"_As the eyes of servants towards the hand of their mistress_"--the old
words occurred to her as she thought of herself stepping in and out of
the cottages. Then she was ashamed of herself and rejected the image
with vehemence. Dependence was the curse of the poor. Her whole aim, of
course, should be to teach them to stand on their own feet, to know
themselves as men. But naturally they would be grateful, they would let
themselves be led. Intelligence and enthusiasm give power, and ought to
give it--power for good. No doubt, under Socialism, there will be less
scope for either, because there will be less need. But Socialism, as a
system, will not come in our generation. What we have to think for is
the transition period. The Cravens had never seen that, but Marcella saw
it. She began to feel herself a person of larger experience than they.

As she undressed, it seemed to her as though she still felt the clinging
hands of the Hurd children round her knees, and through them, symbolised
by them, the suppliant touch of hundreds of other helpless creatures.

She was just dropping to sleep when her own words to Aldous Raeburn
flashed across her,--

"Everybody is so ready to take charge of other people's lives, and look
at the result!"

She must needs laugh at herself, but it made little matter. She fell
asleep cradled in dreams. Aldous Raeburn's final part in them was not
great!




CHAPTER VIII.


Mrs. Boyce wrote her note to Miss Raeburn, a note containing cold though
civil excuses as to herself, while accepting the invitation for
Marcella, who should be sent to the Court, either in the carriage or
under the escort of a maid who could bring her back. Marcella found her
mother inclined to insist punctiliously on conventions of this kind. It
amused her, in submitting to them, to remember the free and easy ways of
her London life. But she submitted--and not unwillingly.

On the afternoon of the day which intervened between the Maxwells' call
and her introduction to the Court, Marcella walked as usual down to the
village. She was teeming with plans for her new kingdom, and could not
keep herself out of it. And an entry in one of the local papers had
suggested to her that Hurd might possibly find work in a parish some
miles from Mellor. She must go and send him off there.

When Mrs. Hurd opened the door to her, Marcella was astonished to
perceive behind her the forms of several other persons filling up the
narrow space of the usually solitary cottage--in fact, a tea-party.

"Oh, come in, miss," said Mrs. Hurd, with some embarrassment, as though
it occurred to her that her visitor might legitimately wonder to find a
person of her penury entertaining company. Then, lowering her voice,
she hurriedly explained: "There's Mrs. Brunt come in this afternoon to
help me wi' the washin' while I finished my score of plait for the woman
who takes 'em into town to-morrow. And there's old Patton an' his
wife--you know 'em, miss?--them as lives in the parish houses top o' the
common. He's walked out a few steps to-day. It's not often he's able,
and when I see him through the door I said to 'em, 'if you'll come in
an' take a cheer, I dessay them tea-leaves 'ull stan' another wettin'. I
haven't got nothink else.' And there's Mrs. Jellison, she came in along
o' the Pattons. You can't say her no, she's a queer one. Do you know
her, miss?"

"Oh, bless yer, yes, yes. She knows me!" said a high, jocular voice,
making Mrs. Hurd start; "she couldn't be long hereabouts without makkin'
eëaste to know me. You coom in, miss. We're not afraid o' you--Lor'
bless you!"

Mrs. Hurd stood aside for her visitor to pass in, looking round her the
while, in some perplexity, to see whether there was a spare chair and
room to place it. She was a delicate, willowy woman, still young in
figure, with a fresh colour, belied by the grey circles under the eyes
and the pinched sharpness of the features. The upper lip, which was
pretty and childish, was raised a little over the teeth; the whole
expression of the slightly open mouth was unusually soft and sensitive.
On the whole, Minta Hurd was liked in the village, though she was
thought a trifle "fine." The whole family, indeed, "kept theirsels to
theirsels," and to find Mrs. Hurd with company was unusual. Her name,
of course, was short for Araminta.

Marcella laughed as she caught Mrs. Jellison's remarks, and made her way
in, delighted. For the present, these village people affected her like
figures in poetry or drama. She saw them with the eye of the imagination
through a medium provided by Socialist discussion, or by certain phases
of modern art; and the little scene of Mrs. Hurd's tea-party took for
her in an instant the dramatic zest and glamour.

"Look here, Mrs. Jellison," she said, going up to her; "I was just going
to leave these apples for your grandson. Perhaps you'll take them, now
you're here. They're quite sweet, though they look green. They're the
best we've got, the gardener says."

"Oh, they are, are they?" said Mrs. Jellison, composedly, looking up at
her. "Well, put 'em down, miss. I dare say he'll eat 'em. He eats most
things, and don't want no doctor's stuff nayther, though his mother do
keep on at me for spoilin' his stummuck."

"You are just fond of that boy, aren't you, Mrs. Jellison?" said
Marcella, taking a wooden stool, the only piece of furniture left in the
tiny cottage on which it was possible to sit, and squeezing herself into
a corner by the fire, whence she commanded the whole group. "No! don't
you turn Mr. Patton out of that chair, Mrs. Hurd, or I shall have to go
away."

For Mrs. Hurd, in her anxiety, was whispering in old Patton's ear that
it might be well for him to give up her one wooden arm-chair, in which
he was established, to Miss Boyce. But he, being old, deaf, and
rheumatic, was slow to move, and Marcella's peremptory gesture bade her
leave him in peace.

"Well, it's you that's the young 'un, ain't it, miss?" said Mrs.
Jellison, cheerfully. "Poor old Patton, he do get slow on his legs,
don't you, Patton? But there, there's no helping it when you're turned
of eighty."

And she turned upon him a bright, philosophic eye, being herself a young
thing not much over seventy, and energetic accordingly. Mrs. Jellison
passed for the village wit, and was at least talkative and excitable
beyond her fellows.

"Well, _you_ don't seem to mind getting old, Mrs. Jellison," said
Marcella, smiling at her.

The eyes of all the old people round their tea-table were by now drawn
irresistibly to Miss Boyce in the chimney corner, to her slim grace, and
the splendour of her large black hat and feathers. The new squire's
daughter had so far taken them by surprise. Some of them, however, were
by now in the second stage of critical observation--none the less
critical because furtive and inarticulate.

"Ah?" said Mrs. Jellison, interrogatively, with a high, long-drawn note
peculiar to her. "Well, I've never found you get forrarder wi' snarlin'
over what you can't help. And there's mercies. When you've had a husband
in his bed for fower year, miss, and he's took at last, you'll _know_."

She nodded emphatically. Marcella laughed.

"I know you were very fond of him, Mrs. Jellison, and looked after him
very well, too."

"Oh, I don't say nothin' about that," said Mrs. Jellison, hastily. "But
all the same you kin reckon it up, and see for yoursen. Fower year--an'
fire upstairs, an' fire downstairs, an' fire all night, an' soomthin'
allus wanted. An' he such an objeck afore he died! It do seem like a
holiday now to sit a bit."

And she crossed her hands on her lap with a long breath of content. A
lock of grey hair had escaped from her bonnet, across her wrinkled
forehead, and gave her a half-careless rakish air. Her youth of long
ago--a youth of mad spirits, and of an extraordinary capacity for
physical enjoyment, seemed at times to pierce to the surface again, even
through her load of years. But in general she had a dreamy, sunny look,
as of one fed with humorous fancies, but disinclined often to the
trouble of communicating them.

"Well, I missed my daughter, I kin tell you," said Mrs. Brunt, with a
sigh, "though she took a deal more lookin' after nor your good man, Mrs.
Jellison."

Mrs. Brunt was a gentle, pretty old woman, who lived in another of the
village almshouses, next door to the Pattons, and was always ready to
help her neighbours in their domestic toils. Her last remaining
daughter, the victim of a horrible spinal disease, had died some nine or
ten months before the Boyces arrived at Mellor. Marcella had already
heard the story several times, but it was part of her social gift that
she was a good listener to such things even at the twentieth hearing.

"You wouldn't have her back though," she said gently, turning towards
the speaker.

"No, I wouldn't have her back, miss," said Mrs. Brunt, raising her hand
to brush away a tear, partly the result of feeling, partly of a
long-established habit. "But I do miss her nights terrible! 'Mother,
ain't it ten o'clock?--mother, look at the clock, do, mother--ain't it
time for my stuff, mother--oh, I do _hope_ it is.' That was her stuff,
miss, to make her sleep. And when she'd got it, she'd _groan_--you'd
think she couldn't be asleep, and yet she was, dead-like--for two hours.
I didn't get no rest with her, and now I don't seem to get no rest
without her."

And again Mrs. Brunt put her hand up to her eyes.

"Ah, you were allus one for toilin' an' frettin'," said Mrs. Jellison,
calmly. "A body must get through wi' it when it's there, but I don't
hold wi' thinkin' about it when it's done."

"I know one," said old Patton, slily, "that fretted about _her_ darter
when it didn't do her no good."

He had not spoken so far, but had sat with his hands on his stick, a
spectator of the women's humours. He was a little hunched man, twisted
and bent double with rheumatic gout, the fruit of seventy years of field
work. His small face was almost lost, dog-like, under shaggy hair and
overgrown eyebrows, both snow-white. He had a look of irritable
eagerness, seldom, however, expressed in words. A sudden passion in the
faded blue eyes; a quick spot of red in his old cheeks; these Marcella
had often noticed in him, as though the flame of some inner furnace
leapt. He had been a Radical and a rebel once in old rick-burning days,
long before he lost the power in his limbs and came down to be thankful
for one of the parish almshouses. To his social betters he was now a
quiet and peaceable old man, well aware of the cakes and ale to be got
by good manners; but in the depths of him there were reminiscences and
the ghosts of passions, which were still stirred sometimes by causes not
always intelligible to the bystander.

He had rarely, however, physical energy enough to bring any
emotion--even of mere worry at his physical ills--to the birth. The
pathetic silence of age enwrapped him more and more. Still he could gibe
the women sometimes, especially Mrs. Jellison, who was in general too
clever for her company.

"Oh, you may talk, Patton!" said Mrs. Jellison, with a little flash of
excitement. "You do like to have your talk, don't you! Well, I dare say
I _was_ orkard with Isabella. I won't go for to say I _wasn't_ orkard,
for I _was_. She should ha' used me to 't before, if she wor took that
way. She and I had just settled down comfortable after my old man went,
and I didn't see no sense in it, an' I don't now. She might ha' let the
men alone. She'd seen enough o' the worrit ov 'em."

"Well, she did well for hersen," said Mrs. Brunt, with the same gentle
melancholy. "She married a stiddy man as 'ull keep her well all her
time, and never let her want for nothink."

"A sour, wooden-faced chap as iver I knew," said Mrs. Jellison,
grudgingly. "I don't have nothink to say to him, nor he to me. He thinks
hissen the Grand Turk, he do, since they gi'en him his uniform, and made
him full keeper. A nassty, domineerin' sort, I calls him. He's allus
makin' bad blood wi' the yoong fellers when he don't need. It's the way
he's got wi' 'im. But _I_ don't make no account of 'im, an' I let 'im
see 't."

All the tea-party grinned except Mrs. Hurd. The village was well
acquainted with the feud between Mrs. Jellison and her son-in-law,
George Westall, who had persuaded Isabella Jellison at the mature age of
thirty-five to leave her mother and marry him, and was now one of Lord
Maxwell's keepers, with good pay, and an excellent cottage some little
way out of the village. Mrs. Jellison had never forgiven her daughter
for deserting her, and was on lively terms of hostility with her
son-in-law; but their only child, little Johnnie, had found the soft
spot in his grandmother, and her favourite excitement in life, now that
he was four years old, was to steal him from his parents and feed him on
the things of which Isabella most vigorously disapproved.

Mrs. Hurd, as has been said, did not smile. At the mention of Westall,
she got up hastily, and began to put away the tea things.

Marcella meanwhile had been sitting thoughtful.

"You say Westall makes bad blood with the young men, Mrs. Jellison?" she
said, looking up. "Is there much poaching in this village now, do you
think?"

There was a dead silence. Mrs. Hurd was at the other end of the cottage
with her back to Marcella; at the question, her hands paused an instant
in their work. The eyes of all the old people--of Patton and his wife,
of Mrs. Jellison, and pretty Mrs. Brunt--were fixed on the speaker, but
nobody said a word, not even Mrs. Jellison. Marcella coloured.

"Oh, you needn't suppose--" she said, throwing her beautiful head back,
"you needn't suppose that _I_ care about the game, or that I would ever
be mean enough to tell anything that was told me. I know it _does_
cause a great deal of quarrelling and bad blood. I believe it does
here--and I should like to know more about it. I want to make up my mind
what to think. Of course, my father has got his land and his own
opinions. And Lord Maxwell has too. But I am not bound to think like
either of them--I should like you to understand that. It seems to me
right about all such things that people should enquire and find out for
themselves."

Still silence. Mrs. Jellison's mouth twitched, and she threw a sly
provocative glance at old Patton, as though she would have liked to poke
him in the ribs. But she was not going to help him out; and at last the
one male in the company found himself obliged to clear his throat for
reply.

"We're old folks, most on us, miss, 'cept Mrs. Hurd. We don't hear talk
o' things now like as we did when we were younger. If you ast Mr. Harden
he'll tell you, I dessay."

Patton allowed himself an inward chuckle. Even Mrs. Jellison, he
thought, must admit that he knew a thing or two as to the best way of
dealing with the gentry.

But Marcella fixed him with her bright frank eyes.

"I had rather ask in the village," she said. "If you don't know how it
is now, Mr. Patton, tell me how it used to be when you were young. Was
the preserving very strict about here? Were there often fights, with the
keepers--long ago?--in my grandfather's days?--and do you think men
poached because they were hungry, or because they wanted sport?"

Patton looked at her fixedly a moment undecided, then her strong
nervous youth seemed to exercise a kind of compulsion on him; perhaps,
too, the pretty courtesy of her manner. He cleared his throat again, and
tried to forget Mrs. Jellison, who would be sure to let him hear of it
again, whatever he said.

"Well, I can't answer for 'em, miss, I'm sure, but if you ast _me_, I
b'lieve ther's a bit o' boath in it. Yer see it's not in human natur,
when a man's young and 's got his blood up, as he shouldn't want ter
have 'is sport with the wild creeturs. Perhaps he see 'em when ee's
going to the wood with a wood cart--or he cooms across 'em in the
turnips--wounded birds, you understan', miss, perhaps the day after the
gentry 'as been bangin' at 'em all day. An' ee don't see, not for the
life of 'im, why ee shouldn't have 'em. Ther's bin lots an' lots for the
rich folks, an' he don't see why _ee_ shouldn't have a few arter they've
enjoyed theirselves. And mebbe he's eleven shillin' a week--an'
two-threy little chillen--you understan', miss?"

"Of course I understand!" said Marcella, eagerly, her dark cheek
flushing. "Of course I do! But there's a good deal of game given away in
these parts, isn't there? I know Lord Maxwell does, and they say Lord
Winterbourne gives all his labourers rabbits, almost as many as they
want."

Her questions wound old Patton up as though he had been a disused clock.
He began to feel a whirr among his creaking wheels, a shaking of all his
rusty mind.

"Perhaps they do, miss," he said, and his wife saw that he was beginning
to tremble. "I dessay they do--I don't say nothink agen it--though
theer's none of it cooms my way. But that isn't all the rights on it
nayther--no, that it ain't. The labourin' man ee's glad enough to get a
hare or a rabbit for 'is eatin'--but there's more in it nor that, miss.
Ee's allus in the fields, that's where it is--ee can't help seein' the
hares and the rabbits a-comin' in and out o' the woods, if it were iver
so. Ee knows ivery run ov ivery one on 'em; if a hare's started furthest
corner o' t' field, he can tell yer whar she'll git in by, because he's
allus there, you see, miss, an' it's the only thing he's got to take his
mind off like. And then he sets a snare or two--an' ee gits very sharp
at settin' on 'em--an' ee'll go out nights for the sport of it. Ther
isn't many things _ee's_ got to liven him up; an' ee takes 'is chances
o' goin' to jail--it's wuth it, ee thinks."

The old man's hands on his stick shook more and more visibly. Bygones of
his youth had come back to him.

"Oh, I know! I know!" cried Marcella, with an accent half of
indignation, half of despair. "It's the whole wretched system. It spoils
those who've got, and those who haven't got. And there'll be no mending
it till the _people_ get the land back again, and till the rights on it
are common to all."

"My! she do speak up, don't she?" said Mrs. Jellison, grinning again at
her companions. Then, stooping forward with one of her wild movements,
she caught Marcella's arm--"I'd like to hear yer tell that to Lord
Maxwell, miss. I likes a roompus, I do."

Marcella flushed and laughed.

"I wouldn't mind saying that or anything else to Lord Maxwell," she said
proudly. "I'm not ashamed of anything I think."

"No, I'll bet you ain't," said Mrs. Jellison, withdrawing her hand. "Now
then, Patton, you say what _you_ thinks. You ain't got no vote now
you're in the parish houses--I minds that. The quality don't trouble
_you_ at 'lection times. This yoong man, Muster Wharton, as is goin'
round so free, promisin' yer the sun out o' the sky, iv yer'll only vote
for 'im, so th' men say--_ee_ don't coom an' set down along o' you an'
me, an' cocker of us up as ee do Joe Simmons or Jim Hurd here. But that
don't matter. Yur thinkin's yur own, anyway."

But she nudged him in vain. Patton had suddenly run down, and there was
no more to be got out of him.

Not only had nerves and speech failed him as they were wont, but in his
cloudy soul there had risen, even while Marcella was speaking, the
inevitable suspicion which dogs the relations of the poor towards the
richer class. This young lady, with her strange talk, was the new
squire's daughter. And the village had already made up its mind that
Richard Boyce was "a poor sort," and "a hard sort" too, in his landlord
capacity. He wasn't going to be any improvement on his brother--not a
haporth! What was the good of this young woman talking, as she did, when
there were three summonses as he, Patton, heard tell, just taken out by
the sanitary inspector against Mr. Boyce for bad cottages? And not a
farthing given away in the village neither, except perhaps the bits of
food that the young lady herself brought down to the village now and
then, for which no one, in truth, felt any cause to be particularly
grateful. Besides, what did she mean by asking questions about the
poaching? Old Patton knew as well as anybody else in the village, that
during Robert Boyce's last days, and after the death of his sportsman
son, the Mellor estate had become the haunt of poachers from far and
near, and that the trouble had long since spread into the neighbouring
properties, so that the Winterbourne and Maxwell keepers regarded it
their most arduous business to keep watch on the men of Mellor. Of
course the young woman knew it all, and she and her father wanted to
know more. That was why she talked. Patton hardened himself against the
creeping ways of the quality.

"I don't think nought," he said roughly in answer to Mrs. Jellison.
"Thinkin' won't come atwixt me and the parish coffin when I'm took. I've
no call to think, I tell yer."

Marcella's chest heaved with indignant feeling.

"Oh, but, Mr. Patton!" she cried, leaning forward to him, "won't it
comfort you a bit, even if you can't live to see it, to think there's a
better time coming? There must be. People can't go on like this
always--hating each other and trampling on each other. They're beginning
to see it now, they are! When I was living in London, the persons I was
with talked and thought of it all day. Some day, whenever the people
choose--for they've got the power now they've got the vote--there'll be
land for everybody, and in every village there'll be a council to
manage things, and the labourer will count for just as much as the
squire and the parson, and he'll be better educated and better fed, and
care for many things he doesn't care for now. But all the same, if he
wants sport and shooting, it will be there for him to get. For everybody
will have a chance and a turn, and there'll be no bitterness between
classes, and no hopeless pining and misery as there is now!"

The girl broke off, catching her breath. It excited her to say these
things to these people, to these poor tottering old things who had lived
out their lives to the end under the pressure of an iron system, and had
no lien on the future, whatever Paradise it might bring. Again the
situation had something foreseen and dramatic in it. She saw herself, as
the preacher, sitting on her stool beside the poor grate--she realised
as a spectator the figures of the women and the old man played on by the
firelight--the white, bare, damp-stained walls of the cottage, and in
the background the fragile though still comely form of Minta Hurd, who
was standing with her back to the dresser, and her head bent forward,
listening to the talk while her fingers twisted the straw she plaited
eternally from morning till night, for a wage of about 1s. 3d. a week:

Her mind was all aflame with excitement and defiance--defiance of her
father, Lord Maxwell, Aldous Raeburn. Let him come, her friend, and see
for himself what she thought it right to do and say in this miserable
village. Her soul challenged him, longed to provoke him! Well, she was
soon to meet him, and in a new and more significant relation and
environment. The fact made her perception of the whole situation the
more rich and vibrant.

Patton, while these broken thoughts and sensations were coursing through
Marcella's head, was slowly revolving what she had been saying, and the
others were waiting for him.

At last he rolled his tongue round his dry lips and delivered himself by
a final effort.

"Them as likes, miss, may believe as how things are going to happen that
way, but yer won't ketch me! Them as have got 'ull _keep_"--he let his
stick sharply down on the floor--"an' them as 'aven't got 'ull 'ave to
go without and _lump it_--as long as you're alive, miss, you mark my
words!"

"Oh, Lor', you wor allus one for makin' a poor mouth, Patton!" said Mrs.
Jellison. She had been sitting with her arms folded across her chest,
part absent, part amused, part malicious. "The young lady speaks
beautiful, just like a book she do. An' she's likely to know a deal
better nor poor persons like you and me. All _I_ kin say is,--if there's
goin' to be dividin' up of other folks' property, when I'm gone, I hope
George Westall won't get nothink ov it! He's bad enough as 'tis.
Isabella 'ud have a fine time if _ee_ took to drivin' ov his carriage."

The others laughed out, Marcella at their head, and Mrs. Jellison
subsided, the corners of her mouth still twitching, and her eyes shining
as though a host of entertaining notions were trooping through
her--which, however, she preferred to amuse herself with rather than the
public. Marcella looked at Patton thoughtfully.

"You've been all your life in this village, haven't you, Mr. Patton?"
she asked him.

"Born top o' Witchett's Hill, miss. An' my wife here, she wor born just
a house or two further along, an' we two bin married sixty-one year come
next March."

He had resumed his usual almshouse tone, civil and a little plaintive.
His wife behind him smiled gently at being spoken of. She had a long
fair face, and white hair surmounted by a battered black bonnet, a mouth
set rather on one side, and a more observant and refined air than most
of her neighbours. She sighed while she talked, and spoke in a delicate
quaver.

"D'ye know, miss," said Mrs. Jellison, pointing to Mrs. Patton, "as she
kep' school when she was young?"

"Did you, Mrs. Patton?" asked Marcella in her tone of sympathetic
interest. "The school wasn't very big then, I suppose?"

"About forty, miss," said Mrs. Patton, with a sigh. "There was eighteen
the Rector paid for, and eighteen Mr. Boyce paid for, and the rest paid
for themselves."

Her voice dropped gently, and she sighed again like one weighted with an
eternal fatigue.

"And what did you teach them?"

"Well, I taught them the plaitin', miss, and as much readin' and writin'
as I knew myself. It wasn't as high as it is now, you see, miss," and a
delicate flush dawned on the old cheek as Mrs. Patton threw a glance
round her companions as though appealing to them not to tell stories of
her.

But Mrs. Jellison was implacable. "It wor she taught _me_," she said,
nodding at Marcella and pointing sideways to Mrs. Patton. "She had a
queer way wi' the hard words, I can tell yer, miss. When she couldn't
tell 'em herself she'd never own up to it. 'Say Jerusalem, my dear, and
pass on.' That's what she'd say, she would, sure's as you're alive! I've
heard her do it times. An' when Isabella an' me used to read the Bible,
nights, I'd allus rayther do 't than be beholden to me own darter. It
gets yer through, anyway."

"Well, it wor a good word," said Mrs. Patton, blushing and mildly
defending herself. "It didn't do none of yer any harm."

"Oh, an' before her, miss, I went to a school to another woman, as lived
up Shepherd's Row. You remember her, Betsy Brunt?"

Mrs. Brunt's worn eyes began already to gleam and sparkle.

"Yis, I recolleck very well, Mrs. Jellison. She wor Mercy Moss, an' a
goodish deal of trouble you'd use to get me into wi' Mercy Moss, all
along o' your tricks."

Mrs. Jellison, still with folded arms, began to rock herself gently up
and down as though to stimulate memory.

"My word, but Muster Maurice--he wor the clergyman here then, miss--wor
set on Mercy Moss. He and his wife they flattered and cockered her up.
Ther wor nobody like her for keepin' school, not in their eyes--till one
midsummer--she--well she--I don't want to say nothink onpleasant--_but
she transgressed_," said Mrs. Jellison, nodding mysteriously,
triumphant however in the unimpeachable delicacy of her language, and
looking round the circle for approval.

"What do you say?" asked Marcella, innocently. "What did Mercy Moss do?"

Mrs. Jellison's eyes danced with malice and mischief, but her mouth shut
like a vice. Patton leaned forward on his stick, shaken with a sort of
inward explosion; his plaintive wife laughed under her breath till she
must needs sigh because laughter tired her old bones. Mrs. Brunt gurgled
gently. And finally Mrs. Jellison was carried away.

"Oh, my goodness me, don't you make me tell tales o' Mercy Moss!" she
said at last, dashing the water out of her eyes with an excited
tremulous hand. "She's bin dead and gone these forty year--married and
buried mos' respeckable--it 'ud be a burning shame to bring up tales
agen her now. Them as tittle-tattles about dead folks needn't look to
lie quiet theirselves in their graves. I've said it times, and I'll say
it again. What are you lookin' at me for, Betsy Brunt?"

And Mrs. Jellison drew up suddenly with a fierce glance at Mrs. Brunt.

"Why, Mrs. Jellison, I niver meant no offence," said Mrs. Brunt,
hastily.

"I won't stand no insinooating," said Mrs. Jellison, with energy. "If
you've got soomthink agen me, you may out wi' 't an' niver mind the
young lady."

But Mrs. Brunt, much flurried, retreated amid a shower of excuses,
pursued by her enemy, who was soon worrying the whole little company, as
a dog worries a flock of sheep, snapping here and teasing there,
chattering at the top of her voice in broad dialect, as she got more and
more excited, and quite as ready to break her wit on Marcella as on
anybody else. As for the others, most of them had known little else for
weeks than alternations of toil and sickness; they were as much amused
and excited to-night by Mrs. Jellison's audacities as a Londoner is by
his favourite low comedian at his favourite music-hall. They played
chorus to her, laughed, baited her; even old Patton was drawn against
his will into a caustic sociability.

Marcella meanwhile sat on her stool, her chin upon her hand, and her
full glowing eyes turned upon the little spectacle, absorbing it all
with a covetous curiosity.

The light-heartedness, the power of enjoyment left in these old folk
struck her dumb. Mrs. Brunt had an income of two-and-sixpence a week,
_plus_ two loaves from the parish, and one of the parish or "charity"
houses, a hovel, that is to say, of one room, scarcely fit for human
habitation at all. She had lost five children, was allowed two shillings
a week by two labourer sons, and earned sixpence a week--about--by
continuous work at "the plait." Her husband had been run over by a farm
cart and killed; up to the time of his death his earnings averaged about
twenty-eight pounds a year. Much the same with the Pattons. They had
lost eight children out of ten, and were now mainly supported by the
wages of a daughter in service. Mrs. Patton had of late years suffered
agonies and humiliations indescribable, from a terrible illness which
the parish doctor was quite incompetent to treat, being all through a
singularly sensitive woman, with a natural instinct for the decorous and
the beautiful.

Amazing! Starvation wages; hardships of sickness and pain; horrors of
birth and horrors of death; wholesale losses of kindred and friends; the
meanest surroundings; the most sordid cares--of this mingled cup of
village fate every person in the room had drunk, and drunk deep. Yet
here in this autumn twilight, they laughed and chattered, and
joked--weird, wrinkled children, enjoying an hour's rough play in a
clearing of the storm! Dependent from birth to death on squire, parson,
parish, crushed often, and ill-treated, according to their own ideas,
but bearing so little ill-will; amusing themselves with their own
tragedies even, if they could but sit by a fire and drink a neighbour's
cup of tea.

Her heart swelled and burned within her. Yes, the old people were past
hoping for; mere wreck and driftwood on the shore, the spring-tide of
death would soon have swept them all into unremembered graves. But the
young men and women, the children, were they too to grow up, and grow
old like these--the same smiling, stunted, ignobly submissive creatures?
One woman at least would do her best with her one poor life to rouse
some of them to discontent and revolt!




CHAPTER IX.


The fire sank, and Mrs. Hurd made no haste to light her lamp. Soon the
old people were dim chattering shapes in a red darkness. Mrs. Hurd still
plaited, silent and upright, lifting her head every now and then at each
sound upon the road.

At last there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Hurd ran to open it.

"Mother, I'm going your way," said a strident voice. "I'll help you home
if you've a mind."

On the threshold stood Mrs. Jellison's daughter, Mrs. Westall, with her
little boy beside her, the woman's broad shoulders and harsh striking
head standing out against the pale sky behind. Marcella noticed that she
greeted none of the old people, nor they her. And as for Mrs. Hurd, as
soon as she saw the keeper's wife, she turned her back abruptly on her
visitor, and walked to the other end of the kitchen.

"Are you comin', mother?" repeated Isabella.

Mrs. Jellison grumbled, gibed at her, and made long leave-takings, while
the daughter stood silent, waiting, and every now and then peering at
Marcella, who had never seen her before.

"I don' know where yur manners is," said Mrs. Jellison sharply to her,
as though she had been a child of ten, "that you don't say good evenin'
to the young lady."

Mrs. Westall curtsied low, and hoped she might be excused, as it had
grown so dark. Her tone was smooth and servile, and Marcella disliked
her as she shook hands with her.

The other old people, including Mrs. Brunt, departed a minute or two
after the mother and daughter, and Marcella was left an instant with
Mrs. Hurd.

"Oh, thank you, thank you kindly, miss," said Mrs. Hurd, raising her
apron to her eyes to staunch some irrepressible tears, as Marcella
showed her the advertisement which it might possibly be worth Hurd's
while to answer. "He'll try, you may be sure. But I can't think as how
anythink 'ull come ov it."

And then suddenly, as though something unexplained had upset her
self-control, the poor patient creature utterly broke down. Leaning
against the bare shelves which held their few pots and pans, she threw
her apron over her head and burst into the forlornest weeping. "I wish I
was dead; I wish I was dead, an' the chillen too!"

Marcella hung over her, one flame of passionate pity, comforting,
soothing, promising help. Mrs. Hurd presently recovered enough to tell
her that Hurd had gone off that morning before it was light to a farm
near Thame, where it had been told him he might possibly find a job.

"But he'll not find it, miss, he'll not find it," she said, twisting her
hands in a sort of restless misery; "there's nothing good happens to
such as us. An' he wor allus a one to work if he could get it."

There was a sound outside. Mrs. Hurd flew to the door, and a short,
deformed man, with a large head and red hair, stumbled in blindly,
splashed with mud up to his waist, and evidently spent with long
walking.

He stopped on the threshold, straining his eyes to see through the
fire-lit gloom.

"It's Miss Boyce, Jim," said his wife. "Did you hear of anythink?"

"They're turnin' off hands instead of takin' ov 'em on," he said
briefly, and fell into a chair by the grate.

He had hardly greeted Marcella, who had certainly looked to be greeted.
Ever since her arrival in August, as she had told Aldous Raeburn, she
had taken a warm interest in this man and his family. There was
something about them which marked them out a bit from their
fellows--whether it was the husband's strange but not repulsive
deformity, contrasted with the touch of plaintive grace in the wife, or
the charm of the elfish children, with their tiny stick-like arms and
legs, and the glancing wildness of their blue eyes, under the frizzle of
red hair, which shone round their little sickly faces. Very soon she had
begun to haunt them in her eager way, to try and penetrate their peasant
lives, which were so full of enigma and attraction to her, mainly
because of their very defectiveness, their closeness to an animal
simplicity, never to be reached by any one of her sort. She soon
discovered or imagined that Hurd had more education than his neighbours.
At any rate, he would sit listening to her--and smoking, as she made him
do--while she talked politics and socialism to him; and though he said
little in return, she made the most of it, and was sure anyway that he
was glad to see her come in, and must some time read the labour
newspapers and Venturist leaflets she brought him, for they were always
well thumbed before they came back to her.

But to-night his sullen weariness would make no effort, and the hunted
restless glances he threw from side to side as he sat crouching over the
fire--the large mouth tight shut, the nostrils working--showed her that
he would be glad when she went away.

Her young exacting temper was piqued. She had been for some time trying
to arrange their lives for them. So, in spite of his dumb resistance,
she lingered on, questioning and suggesting. As to the advertisement she
had brought down, he put it aside almost without looking at it. "There
ud be a hun'erd men after it before ever he could get there," was all he
would say to it. Then she inquired if he had been to ask the steward of
the Maxwell Court estate for work. He did not answer, but Mrs. Hurd said
timidly that she heard tell a new drive was to be made that winter for
the sake of giving employment. But their own men on the estate would
come first, and there were plenty of them out of work.

"Well, but there is the game," persisted Marcella. "Isn't it possible
they might want some extra men now the pheasant shooting has begun. I
might go and inquire of Westall--I know him a little."

The wife made a startled movement, and Hurd raised his misshapen form
with a jerk.

"Thank yer, miss, but I'll not trouble yer. I don't want nothing to do
with Westall."

And taking up a bit of half-burnt wood which lay on the hearth, he threw
it violently back into the grate. Marcella looked from one to the other
with surprise. Mrs. Hurd's expression was one of miserable discomfort,
and she kept twisting her apron in her gnarled hands.

"Yes, I _shall_ tell, Jim!" she broke out. "I shall. I know Miss Boyce
is one as ull understand--"

Hurd turned round and looked at his wife full. But she persisted.

"You see, miss, they don't speak, don't Jim and George Westall. When Jim
was quite a lad he was employed at Mellor, under old Westall, George's
father as was. Jim was 'watcher,' and young George he was assistant.
That was in Mr. Robert's days, you understand, miss--when Master Harold
was alive; and they took a deal o' trouble about the game. An' George
Westall, he was allays leading the others a life--tale-bearing an'
spyin', an' settin' his father against any of 'em as didn't give in to
him. An', oh, he behaved _fearful_ to Jim! Jim ull tell you. Now, Jim,
what's wrong with you--why shouldn't I tell?"

For Hurd had risen, and as he and his wife looked at each other a sort
of mute conversation seemed to pass between them. Then he turned
angrily, and went out of the cottage by the back door into the garden.

The wife sat in some agitation a moment, then she resumed. "He can't
bear no talk about Westall--it seems to drive him silly. But I say as
how people _should_ know."

Her wavering eye seemed to interrogate her companion. Marcella was
puzzled by her manner--it was so far from simple.

"But that was long ago, surely," she said.

"Yes, it wor long ago, but you don't forget them things, miss! An'
Westall, he's just the same sort as he was then, so folks say," she
added hurriedly. "You see Jim, miss, how he's made? His back was twisted
that way when he was a little un. His father was a good old
man--everybody spoke well of 'im--but his mother, she was a queer mad
body, with red hair, just like Jim and the children, and a temper! my
word. They do say she was an Irish girl, out of a gang as used to work
near here--an' she let him drop one day when she was in liquor, an'
never took no trouble about him afterwards. He was a poor sickly lad, he
was! you'd wonder how he grew up at all. And oh! George Westall he
treated him _cruel_. He'd kick and swear at him; then he'd dare him to
fight, an' thrash him till the others came in, an' got him away. Then
he'd carry tales to his father, and one day old Westall beat Jim within
an inch of 'is life, with a strap end, because of a lie George told 'im.
The poor chap lay in a ditch under Disley Wood all day, because he was
that knocked about he couldn't walk, and at night he crawled home on his
hands and knees. He's shown me the place many a time! Then he told his
father, and next morning he told me, as he couldn't stand it no longer,
an' he never went back no more."

"And he told no one else?--he never complained?" asked Marcella,
indignantly.

"What ud ha been the good o' that, miss?" Mrs. Hurd said, wondering.
"Nobody ud ha taken his word agen old Westall's. But he come and told
me. I was housemaid at Lady Leven's then, an' he and his father were old
friends of ourn. And I knew George Westall too. He used to walk out with
me of a Sunday, just as civil as could be, and give my mother rabbits
now and again, and do anything I'd ask him. An' I up and told him he was
a brute to go ill-treatin' a sickly fellow as couldn't pay him back.
That made him as cross as vinegar, an' when Jim began to be about with
me ov a Sunday sometimes, instead of him, he got madder and madder. An'
Jim asked me to marry him--he begged of me--an' I didn't know what to
say. For Westall had asked me twice; an' I was afeard of Jim's health,
an' the low wages he'd get, an' of not bein' strong myself. But one day
I was going up a lane into Tudley End woods, an' I heard George Westall
on tother side of the hedge with a young dog he was training. Somethin'
crossed him, an' he flew into a passion with it. It turned me _sick_. I
ran away and I took against him there and then. I was frightened of him.
I duresn't trust myself, and I said to Jim I'd take him. So you can
understan', miss, can't you, as Jim don't want to have nothing to do
with Westall? Thank you kindly, all the same," she added, breaking off
her narrative with the same uncertainty of manner, the same timid
scrutiny of her visitor that Marcella had noticed before.

Marcella replied that she could certainly understand.

"But I suppose they've not got in each other's way of late years," she
said as she rose to go.

"Oh! no, miss, no," said Mrs. Hurd as she went hurriedly to fetch a fur
tippet which her visitor had laid down on the dresser.

"There is _one_ person I can speak to," said Marcella, as she put on the
wrap. "And I will." Against her will she reddened a little; but she had
not been able to help throwing out the promise. "And now, you won't
despair, will you? You'll trust me? I could always do something."

She took Mrs. Hurd's hand with a sweet look and gesture. Standing there
in her tall vigorous youth, her furs wrapped about her, she had the air
of protecting and guiding this poverty that could not help itself. The
mother and wife felt herself shy, intimidated. The tears came back to
her brown eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Miss Boyce had gone, Minta Hurd went to the fire and put it
together, sighing all the time, her face still red and miserable.

The door opened and her husband came in. He carried some potatoes in his
great earth-stained hands.

"You're goin' to put that bit of hare on? Well, mak' eëaste, do, for I'm
starvin'. What did she want to stay all that time for? You go and get
it. I'll blow the fire up--damn these sticks!--they're as wet as Dugnall
pond."

Nevertheless, as she sadly came and went, preparing the supper, she saw
that he was appeased, in a better temper than before.

"What did you tell 'er?" he asked abruptly.

"What do you spose I'd tell her? I acted for the best. I'm always
thinkin' for you!" she said as though with a little cry, "or we'd soon
be in trouble--worse trouble than we are!" she added miserably.

He stopped working the old bellows for a moment, and, holding his long
chin, stared into the flames. With his deformity, his earth-stains, his
blue eyes, his brown wrinkled skin, and his shock of red hair, he had
the look of some strange gnome crouching there.

"I don't know what you're at, I'll swear," he said after a pause. "I
ain't in any pertickler trouble just now--if yer wouldn't send a fellow
stumpin' the country for nothink. If you'll just let me alone I'll get a
livin' for you and the chillen right enough. Don't you trouble
yourself--an' hold your tongue!"

She threw down her apron with a gesture of despair as she stood beside
him, in front of the fire, watching the pan.

"What am I to do, Jim, an' them chillen--when you're took to prison?"
she asked him vehemently.

"I shan't get took to prison, I tell yer. All the same, Westall got holt
o' me this mornin'. I thought praps you'd better know."

Her exclamation of terror, her wild look at him, were exactly what he
had expected; nevertheless, he flinched before them. His brutality was
mostly assumed. He had adopted it as a mask for more than a year past,
because he _must_ go his way, and she worried him.

"Now look here," he said resolutely, "it don't matter. I'm not goin' to
be took by Westall. I'd kill him or myself first. But he caught me
lookin' at a snare this mornin'--it wor misty, and I didn't see no one
comin'. It wor close to the footpath, and it worn't my snare."

"'Jim, my chap,' says he, mockin', 'I'm sorry for it, but I'm going to
search yer, so take it quietly,' says he. He had young Dynes with
him--so I didn't say nought--I kep' as still as a mouse, an' sure enough
he put his ugly han's into all my pockets. An' what do yer think he
foun'?"

"What?" she said breathlessly.

"Nothink!" he laughed out. "Nary an end o' string, nor a kink o'
wire--nothink. I'd hidden the two rabbits I got las' night, and all my
bits o' things in a ditch far enough out o' his way. I just laughed at
the look ov 'im. 'I'll have the law on yer for assault an' battery, yer
damned miscalculatin' brute!' says I to him--'why don't yer get that boy
there to teach yer your business?' An' off I walked. Don't you be
afeared--'ee'll never lay hands on me!"

But Minta was sore afraid, and went on talking and lamenting while she
made the tea. He took little heed of her. He sat by the fire quivering
and thinking. In a public-house two nights before this one, overtures
had been made to him on behalf of a well-known gang of poachers with
head-quarters in a neighbouring county town, who had their eyes on the
pheasant preserves in Westall's particular beat--the Tudley End
beat--and wanted a local watcher and accomplice. He had thought the
matter at first too dangerous to touch. Moreover, he was at that moment
in a period of transition, pestered by Minta to give up "the poachin',"
and yet drawn back to it after his spring and summer of field work by
instincts only recently revived, after long dormancy, but now hard to
resist.

Presently he turned with anger upon one of Minta's wails which happened
to reach him.

"Look 'ere!" said he to her, "where ud you an' the chillen be this night
if I 'adn't done it? 'Adn't we got rid of every stick o' stuff we iver
'ad? 'Ere's a well-furnished place for a chap to sit in!"--he glanced
bitterly round the bare kitchen, which had none of the little properties
of the country poor, no chest, no set of mahogany drawers, no
comfortable chair, nothing, but the dresser and the few rush chairs and
the table, and a few odds and ends of crockery and household
stuff--"wouldn't we all a bin on the parish, if we 'adn't starved
fust--_wouldn't_ we?--jes' answer me that! _Didn't_ we sit here an'
starve, till the bones was comin' through the chillen's skin?--didn't
we?"

That he could still argue the point with her showed the inner
vulnerableness, the inner need of her affection and of peace with her,
which he still felt, far as certain new habits were beginning to sweep
him from her.

"It's Westall or Jenkins (Jenkins was the village policeman) havin' the
_law_ on yer, Jim," she said with emphasis, putting down a cup and
looking at him--it's the thought of _that_ makes me cold in my back.
None o' _my_ people was ever in prison--an' if it 'appened to you I
should just die of shame!"

"Then yer'd better take and read them papers there as _she_ brought," he
said impatiently, first jerking his finger over his shoulder in the
direction of Mellor to indicate Miss Boyce, and then pointing to a heap
of newspapers which lay on the floor in a corner, "they'd tell yer
summat about the shame o' _makin_' them game-laws--not o' breakin' ov
'em. But I'm sick o' this! Where's them chillen? Why do yer let that boy
out so late?"

And opening the door he stood on the threshold looking up and down the
village street, while Minta once more gave up the struggle, dried her
eyes, and told herself to be cheerful. But it was hard. She was far
better born and better educated than her husband. Her father had been a
small master chair-maker in Wycombe, and her mother, a lackadaisical
silly woman, had given her her "fine" name by way of additional proof
that she and her children were something out of the common. Moreover,
she had the conforming law-abiding instincts of the well-treated
domestic servant, who has lived on kindly terms with the gentry and
shared their standards. And for years after their marriage Hurd had
allowed her to govern him. He had been so patient, so hard-working, such
a kind husband and father, so full of a dumb wish to show her he was
grateful to her for marrying such a fellow as he. The quarrel with
Westall seemed to have sunk out of his mind. He never spoke to or of
him. Low wages, the burden of quick-coming children, the bad sanitary
conditions of their wretched cottage, and poor health, had made their
lives one long and sordid struggle. But for years he had borne his load
with extraordinary patience. He and his could just exist, and the man
who had been in youth the lonely victim of his neighbours' scorn had
found a woman to give him all herself and children to love. Hence years
of submission, a hidden flowering time for both of them.

Till that last awful winter!--the winter before Richard Boyce's
succession to Mellor--when the farmers had been mostly ruined, and half
the able-bodied men of Mellor had tramped "up into the smoke," as the
village put it, in search of London work--then, out of actual sheer
starvation--that very rare excuse of the poacher!--Hurd had gone one
night and snared a hare on the Mellor land. Would the wife and mother
ever forget the pure animal satisfaction of that meal, or the fearful
joy of the next night, when he got three shillings from a local publican
for a hare and two rabbits?

But after the first relief Minta had gone in fear and trembling. For the
old woodcraft revived in Hurd, and the old passion for the fields and
their chances which he had felt as a lad before his "watcher's" place
had been made intolerable to him by George Westall's bullying. He became
excited, unmanageable. Very soon he was no longer content with Mellor,
where, since the death of young Harold, the heir, the keepers had been
dismissed, and what remained of a once numerous head of game lay open to
the wiles of all the bold spirits of the neighbourhood. He must needs go
on to those woods of Lord Maxwell's, which girdled the Mellor estate on
three sides. And here he came once more across his enemy. For George
Westall was now in the far better-paid service of the Court--and a very
clever keeper, with designs on the head keeper's post whenever it might
be vacant. In the case of a poacher he had the scent of one of his own
hares. It was known to him in an incredibly short time that that "low
caselty fellow Hurd" was attacking "his" game.

Hurd, notwithstanding, was cunning itself, and Westall lay in wait for
him in vain. Meanwhile, all the old hatred between the two men revived.
Hurd drank this winter more than he had ever drunk yet. It was
necessary to keep on good terms with one or two publicans who acted as
"receivers" of the poached game of the neighbourhood. And it seemed to
him that Westall pursued him into these low dens. The keeper--big,
burly, prosperous--would speak to him with insolent patronage, watching
him all the time, or with the old brutality, which Hurd dared not
resent. Only in his excitable dwarf's sense hate grew and throve, very
soon to monstrous proportions. Westall's menacing figure darkened all
his sky for him. His poaching, besides a means of livelihood, became
more and more a silent duel between him and his boyhood's tyrant.

And now, after seven months of regular field-work and respectable
living, it was all to begin again with the new winter! The same shudders
and terrors, the same shames before the gentry and Mr. Harden!--the
soft, timid woman with her conscience could not endure the prospect. For
some weeks after the harvest was over she struggled. He had begun to go
out again at nights. But she drove him to look for employment, and lived
in tears when he failed.

As for him, she knew that he was glad to fail; there was a certain ease
and jauntiness in his air to-night as he stood calling the children:

"Will!--you come in at once! Daisy!--Nellie!"

Two little figures came pattering up the street in the moist October
dusk, a third, panted behind. The girls ran in to their mother
chattering and laughing. Hurd lifted the boy in his arm.

"Where you bin, Will? What were yo out for in this nasty damp? I've
brought yo a whole pocket full o' chestnuts, and summat else too."

He carried him in to the fire and sat him on his knees. The little
emaciated creature, flushed with the pleasure of his father's company,
played contentedly in the intervals of coughing with the shining
chestnuts, or ate his slice of the fine pear--the gift of a friend in
Thame--which proved to be the "summat else" of promise. The curtains
were close-drawn; the paraffin lamp flared on the table, and as the
savoury smell of the hare and onions on the fire filled the kitchen, the
whole family gathered round watching for the moment of eating. The fire
played on the thin legs and pinched faces of the children; on the baby's
cradle in the further corner; on the mother, red-eyed still, but able to
smile and talk again; on the strange Celtic face and matted hair of the
dwarf. Family affection--and the satisfaction of the simpler physical
needs--these things make the happiness of the poor. For this hour,
to-night, the Hurds were happy.

Meanwhile, in the lane outside, Marcella, as she walked home, passed a
tall broad-shouldered man in a velveteen suit and gaiters, his gun over
his shoulder and two dogs behind him, his pockets bulging on either
side. He walked with a kind of military air, and touched his cap to her
as he passed.

Marcella barely nodded.

"Tyrant and bully!" she thought to herself with Mrs. Hurd's story in her
mind. "Yet no doubt he is a valuable keeper; Lord Maxwell would be sorry
to lose him! It is the system makes such men--and must have them."

The clatter of a pony carriage disturbed her thoughts. A small, elderly
lady, in a very large mushroom hat, drove past her in the dusk and bowed
stiffly. Marcella was so taken by surprise that she barely returned the
bow. Then she looked after the carriage. That was Miss Raeburn.

To-morrow!




CHAPTER X.


"Won't you sit nearer to the window? We are rather proud of our view at
this time of year," said Miss Raeburn to Marcella, taking her visitor's
jacket from her as she spoke, and laying it aside. "Lady Winterbourne is
late, but she will come, I am sure. She is very precise about
engagements."

Marcella moved her chair nearer to the great bow-window, and looked out
over the sloping gardens of the Court, and the autumn splendour of the
woods girdling them in on all sides. She held her head nervously erect,
was not apparently much inclined to talk, and Miss Raeburn, who had
resumed her knitting within a few paces of her guest, said to herself
presently after a few minutes' conversation on the weather and the walk
from Mellor: "Difficult--decidedly difficult--and too much manner for a
young girl. But the most picturesque creature I ever set eyes on!"

Lord Maxwell's sister was an excellent woman, the inquisitive,
benevolent despot of all the Maxwell villages; and one of the soundest
Tories still left to a degenerate party and a changing time. Her brother
and her great-nephew represented to her the flower of human kind; she
had never been capable, and probably never would be capable, of
quarrelling with either of them on any subject whatever. At the same
time she had her rights with them. She was at any rate their natural
guardian in those matters, relating to womankind, where men are
confessedly given to folly. She had accordingly kept a shrewd eye in
Aldous's interest on all the young ladies of the neighbourhood for many
years past; knew perfectly well all that he might have done, and sighed
over all that he had so far left undone.

At the present moment, in spite of the even good-breeding with which she
knitted and chattered beside Marcella, she was in truth consumed with
curiosity, conjecture, and alarm on the subject of this Miss Boyce.
Profoundly as they trusted each other, the Raeburns were not on the
surface a communicative family. Neither her brother nor Aldous had so
far bestowed any direct confidence upon her; but the course of affairs
had, notwithstanding, aroused her very keenest attention. In the first
place, as we know, the mistress of Maxwell Court had left Mellor and its
new occupants unvisited; she had plainly understood it to be her
brother's wish that she should do so. How, indeed, could you know the
women without knowing Richard Boyce? which, according to Lord Maxwell,
was impossible. And now it was Lord Maxwell who had suggested not only
that after all it would be kind to call upon the poor things, who were
heavily weighted enough already with Dick Boyce for husband and father,
but that it would be a graceful act on his sister's part to ask the girl
and her mother to luncheon. Dick Boyce of course must be made to keep
his distance, but the resources of civilisation were perhaps not unequal
to the task of discriminating, if it were prudently set about. At any
rate Miss Raeburn gathered that she was expected to try, and instead of
pressing her brother for explanations she held her tongue, paid her call
forthwith, and wrote her note.

But although Aldous, thinking no doubt that he had been already
sufficiently premature, had said nothing at all as to his own feelings
to his great-aunt, she knew perfectly well that he had said a great deal
on the subject of Miss Boyce and her mother to Lady Winterbourne, the
only woman in the neighbourhood with whom he was ever really
confidential. No woman, of course, in Miss Raeburn's position, and with
Miss Raeburn's general interest in her kind, could have been ignorant
for any appreciable number of days after the Boyces' arrival at Mellor
that they possessed a handsome daughter, of whom the Hardens in
particular gave striking but, as Miss Raeburn privately thought, by no
means wholly attractive accounts. And now, after all these somewhat
agitating preliminaries, here was the girl established in the Court
drawing-room, Aldous more nervous and preoccupied than she had ever seen
him, and Lord Maxwell expressing a particular anxiety to return from his
Board meeting in good time for luncheon, to which he had especially
desired that Lady Winterbourne should be bidden, and no one else! It may
well be supposed that Miss Raeburn was on the alert.

As for Marcella, she was on her side keenly conscious of being observed,
of having her way to make. Here she was alone among these formidable
people, whose acquaintance she had in a manner compelled. Well--what
blame? What was to prevent her from doing the same thing again
to-morrow? Her conscience was absolutely clear. If they were not ready
to meet her in the same spirit in which through Mr. Raeburn she had
approached them, she would know perfectly well how to protect
herself--above all, how to live out her life in the future without
troubling them.

Meanwhile, in spite of her dignity and those inward propitiations it
from time to time demanded, she was, in her human vivid way, full of an
excitement and curiosity she could hardly conceal as perfectly as she
desired--curiosity as to the great house and the life in it, especially
as to Aldous Raeburn's part therein. She knew very little indeed of the
class to which by birth she belonged; great houses and great people were
strange to her. She brought her artist's and student's eyes to look at
them with; she was determined not to be dazzled or taken in by them. At
the same time, as she glanced every now and then round the splendid room
in which they sat, with its Tudor ceiling, its fine pictures, its
combination of every luxury with every refinement, she was distinctly
conscious of a certain thrill, a romantic drawing towards the
stateliness and power which it all implied, together with a proud and
careless sense of equality, of kinship so to speak, which she made light
of, but would not in reality have been without for the world.

In birth and blood she had nothing to yield to the Raeburns--so her
mother assured her. If things were to be vulgarly measured, this fact
too must come in. But they should not be vulgarly measured. She did not
believe in class or wealth--not at all. Only--as her mother had told
her--she must hold her head up. An inward temper, which no doubt led to
that excess of manner of which Miss Raeburn was meanwhile conscious.

Where were the gentlemen? Marcella was beginning to resent and tire of
the innumerable questions as to her likes and dislikes, her
accomplishments, her friends, her opinions of Mellor and the
neighbourhood, which this knitting lady beside her poured out upon her
so briskly, when to her great relief the door opened and a footman
announced "Lady Winterbourne."

A very tall thin lady in black entered the room at the words. "My dear!"
she said to Miss Raeburn, "I am very late, but the roads are abominable,
and those horses Edward has just given me have to be taken such tiresome
care of. I told the coachman next time he might wrap them in shawls and
put them to bed, and _I_ should walk."

"You are quite capable of it, my dear," said Miss Raeburn, kissing her.
"We know you! Miss Boyce--Lady Winterbourne."

Lady Winterbourne shook hands with a shy awkwardness which belied her
height and stateliness. As she sat down beside Miss Raeburn the contrast
between her and Lord Maxwell's sister was sufficiently striking. Miss
Raeburn was short, inclined to be stout, and to a certain gay profusion
in her attire. Her cap was made of a bright silk handkerchief edged with
lace; round her neck were hung a number of small trinkets on various
gold chains; she abounded too in bracelets, most of which were clearly
old-fashioned mementos of departed relatives or friends. Her dress was
a cheerful red verging on crimson; and her general air suggested energy,
bustle, and a good-humoured common sense.

Lady Winterbourne, on the other hand, was not only dressed from head to
foot in severe black without an ornament; her head and face belonged
also to the same impression, as of some strong and forcible study in
black and white. The attitude was rigidly erect; the very dark eyes,
under the snowy and abundant hair, had a trick of absent staring; in
certain aspects the whole figure had a tragic, nay, formidable dignity,
from which one expected, and sometimes got, the tone and gesture of
tragic acting. Yet at the same time, mixed in therewith, a curious
strain of womanish, nay childish, weakness, appealingness. Altogether, a
great lady, and a personality--yet something else too--something
ill-assured, timid, incongruous--hard to be defined.

"I believe you have not been at Mellor long?" the new-comer asked, in a
deep contralto voice which she dragged a little.

"About seven weeks. My father and mother have been there since May."

"You must of course think it a very interesting old place?"

"Of course I do; I love it," said Marcella, disconcerted by the odd
habit Lady Winterbourne had of fixing her eyes upon a person, and then,
as it were, forgetting what she had done with them.

"Oh, I haven't been there, Agneta," said the new-comer, turning after a
pause to Miss Raeburn, "since that summer--_you_ remember that party
when the Palmerstons came over--so long ago--twenty years!"

Marcella sat stiffly upright. Lady Winterbourne grew a little nervous
and flurried.

"I don't think I ever saw your mother, Miss Boyce--I was much away from
home about then. Oh, yes, I did once--"

The speaker stopped, a sudden red suffusing her pale cheeks. She had
felt certain somehow, at sight of Marcella, that she should say or do
something untoward, and she had promptly justified her own prevision.
The only time she had ever seen Mrs. Boyce had been in court, on the
last day of the famous trial in which Richard Boyce was concerned, when
she had made out the wife sitting closely veiled as near to her husband
as possible, waiting for the verdict. As she had already confided this
reminiscence to Miss Raeburn, and had forgotten she had done so, both
ladies had a moment of embarrassment.

"Mrs. Boyce, I am sorry to say, does not seem to be strong," said Miss
Raeburn, bending over the heel of her stocking. "I wish we could have
had the pleasure of seeing her to-day."

There was a pause. Lady Winterbourne's tragic eyes were once more
considering Marcella.

"I hope you will come and see me," she said at last abruptly--"and Mrs.
Boyce too."

The voice was very soft and refined though so deep, and Marcella looking
up was suddenly magnetised.

"Yes, I will," she said, all her face melting into sensitive life.
"Mamma won't go anywhere, but I will come, if you will ask me."

"Will you come next Tuesday?" said Lady Winterbourne quickly--"come to
tea, and I will drive you back. Mr. Raeburn told me about you. He
says--you read a great deal."

The solemnity of the last words, the fixedness of the tragic look, were
not to be resisted. Marcella laughed out, and both ladies simultaneously
thought her extraordinarily radiant and handsome.

"How can he know? Why, I have hardly talked about books to him at all."

"Well! here he comes," said Lady Winterbourne, smiling suddenly; "so I
can ask him. But I am sure he did say so."

It was now Marcella's turn to colour. Aldous Raeburn crossed the room,
greeted Lady Winterbourne, and next moment she felt her hand in his.

"You did tell me, Aldous, didn't you," said Lady Winterbourne, "that
Miss Boyce was a great reader?"

The speaker had known Aldous Raeburn as a boy, and was, moreover, a sort
of cousin, which explained the Christian name.

Aldous smiled.

"I said I thought Miss Boyce was like you and me, and had a weakness
that way, Lady Winterbourne. But I won't be cross-examined!"

"I don't think I am a great reader," said Marcella, bluntly--"at least I
read a great deal, but I hardly ever read a book through. I haven't
patience."

"You want to get at everything so quickly?" said Miss Raeburn, looking
up sharply.

"I suppose so!" said Marcella. "There seems to be always a hundred
things tearing one different ways, and no time for any of them."

"Yes, when one is young one feels like that," said Lady Winterbourne,
sighing. "When one is old one accepts one's limitations. When I was
twenty I never thought that I should still be an ignorant and
discontented woman at nearly seventy."

"It is because you are so young still, Lady Winterbourne, that you feel
so," said Aldous, laughing at her, as one does at an old friend. "Why,
you are younger than any of us! I feel all brushed and stirred up--a boy
at school again--after I have been to see you!"

"Well, I don't know what you mean, I'm sure," said Lady Winterbourne,
sighing again. Then she looked at the pair beside her--at the alert
brightness in the man's strong and quiet face as he sat stooping
forward, with his hands upon his knees, hardly able to keep his eyes for
an instant from the dark apparition beside him--at the girl's evident
shyness and pride.

"My dear!" she said, turning suddenly to Miss Raeburn, "have you heard
what a monstrosity Alice has produced this last time in the way of a
baby? It was born with four teeth!"

Miss Raeburn's astonishment fitted the provocation, and the two old
friends fell into a gossip on the subject of Lady Winterbourne's
numerous family, which was clearly meant for a _tête-à-tête_.

"Will you come and look at our tapestry?" said Aldous to his neighbour,
after a few nothings had passed between them as to the weather and her
walk from Mellor. "I think you would admire it, and I am afraid my
grandfather will be a few minutes yet. He hoped to get home earlier than
this, but his Board meeting was very long and important, and has kept
him an unconscionable time."

Marcella rose, and they moved together towards the south end of the room
where a famous piece of Italian Renaissance tapestry entirely filled the
wall from side to side.

"How beautiful!" cried the girl, her eyes filling with delight. "What a
delicious thing to live with."

And, indeed, it was the most adorable medley of forms, tints,
suggestions, of gods and goddesses, nymphs and shepherds, standing in
flowery grass under fruit-laden trees and wreathed about with roses.
Both colour and subject were of fairyland. The golds and browns and
pinks of it, the greens and ivory whites had been mellowed and pearled
and warmed by age into a most glowing, delicate, and fanciful beauty. It
was Italy at the great moment--subtle, rich, exuberant.

Aldous enjoyed her pleasure.

"I thought you would like it; I hoped you would. It has been my special
delight since I was a child, when my mother first routed it out of a
garret. I am not sure that I don't in my heart prefer it to any of the
pictures."

"The flowers!" said Marcella, absorbed in it--"look at them--the irises,
the cyclamens, the lilies! It reminds one of the dreams one used to have
when one was small of what it would be like to have _flowers enough_. I
was at school, you know, in a part of England where one seemed always
cheated out of them! We walked two and two along the straight roads, and
I found one here and one there--but such a beggarly, wretched few, for
all one's trouble. I used to hate the hard dry soil, and console myself
by imagining countries where the flowers grew like this--yes, just like
this, in a gold and pink and blue mass, so that one might thrust one's
hands in and gather and gather till one was really _satisfied_! That is
the worst of being at school when you are poor! You never get enough of
anything. One day it's flowers--but the next day it is pudding--and the
next frocks."

Her eye was sparkling, her tongue loosened. Not only was it pleasant to
feel herself beside him, enwrapped in such an atmosphere of admiration
and deference, but the artistic sensitive chord in her had been struck,
and vibrated happily.

"Well, only wait till May, and the cowslips in your own fields will make
up to you!" he said, smiling at her. "But now, I have been wondering to
myself in my room upstairs what you would like to see. There are a good
many treasures in this house, and you will care for them, because you
are an artist. But you shall not be bored with them! You shall see what
and as much as you like. You had about a quarter of an hour's talk with
my aunt, did you not?" he asked, in a quite different tone.

So all the time while she and Miss Raeburn had been making acquaintance,
he had known that she was in the house, and he had kept away for his own
purposes! Marcella felt a colour she could not restrain leap into her
cheek.

"Miss Raeburn was very kind," she said, with a return of shyness, which
passed however the next moment by reaction, into her usual daring. "Yes,
she was very kind!--but all the same she doesn't like me--I don't think
she is going to like me--I am not her sort."

"Have you been talking Socialism to her?" he asked her, smiling.

"No, not yet--not yet," she said emphatically. "But I am dreadfully
uncertain--I can't always hold my tongue--I am afraid you will be sorry
you took me up."

"Are you so aggressive? But Aunt Neta is so mild!--she wouldn't hurt a
fly. She mothers every one in the house and out of it. The only people
she is hard upon are the little servant girls, who will wear feathers in
their hats!"

"There!" cried Marcella, indignantly. "Why shouldn't they wear feathers
in their hats? It is their form of beauty--their tapestry!"

"But if one can't have both feathers and boots?" he asked her humbly, a
twinkle in his grey eye. "If one hasn't boots, one may catch a cold and
die of it--which is, after all, worse than going featherless."

"But why _can't_ they have feathers and boots? It is because
you--we--have got too much. You have the tapestry--and--and the
pictures"--she turned and looked round the room--"and this wonderful
house--and the park. Oh, no--I think it is Miss Raeburn has too many
feathers!"

"Perhaps it is," he admitted, in a different tone, his look changing and
saddening as though some habitual struggle of thought were recalled to
him. "You see I am in a difficulty. I want to show you our feathers. I
think they would please you--and you make me ashamed of them."

"How absurd!" cried Marcella, "when I told you how I liked the school
children bobbing to me!"

They laughed, and then Aldous looked round with a start--"Ah, here is my
grandfather!"

Then he stood back, watching the look with which Lord Maxwell, after
greeting Lady Winterbourne, approached Miss Boyce. He saw the old man's
somewhat formal approach, the sudden kindle in the blue eyes which
marked the first effect of Marcella's form and presence, the bow, the
stately shake of the hand. The lover hearing his own heart beat,
realised that his beautiful lady had so far done well.

"You must let me say that I see a decided likeness in you to your
grandfather," said Lord Maxwell, when they were all seated at lunch,
Marcella on his left hand, opposite to Lady Winterbourne. "He was one of
my dearest friends."

"I'm afraid I don't know much about him," said Marcella, rather bluntly,
"except what I have got out of old letters. I never saw him that I
remember."

Lord Maxwell left the subject, of course, at once, but showed a great
wish to talk to her, and make her talk. He had pleasant things to say
about Mellor and its past, which could be said without offence; and some
conversation about the Boyce monuments in Mellor church led to a
discussion of the part played by the different local families in the
Civil Wars, in which it seemed to Aldous that his grandfather tried in
various shrewd and courteous ways to make Marcella feel at ease with
herself and her race, accepted, as it were, of right into the local
brotherhood, and so to soothe and heal those bruised feelings he could
not but divine.

The girl carried herself a little loftily, answering with an
independence and freedom beyond her age and born of her London life. She
was not in the least abashed or shy. Yet it was clear that Lord
Maxwell's first impressions were favourable. Aldous caught every now and
then his quick, judging look sweeping over her and instantly
withdrawn--comparing, as the grandson very well knew, every point, and
tone, and gesture with some inner ideal of what a Raeburn's wife should
be. How dream-like the whole scene was to Aldous, yet how exquisitely
real! The room, with its carved and gilt cedar-wood panels, its
Vandykes, its tall windows opening on the park, the autumn sun flooding
the gold and purple fruit on the table, and sparkling on the glass and
silver, the figures of his aunt and Lady Winterbourne, the moving
servants, and dominant of it all, interpreting it all for him anew, the
dark, lithe creature beside his grandfather, so quick, sensitive,
extravagant, so much a woman, yet, to his lover's sense, so utterly
unlike any other woman he had ever seen--every detail of it was charged
to him with a thousand new meanings, now oppressive, now delightful.

For he was passing out of the first stage of passion, in which it is,
almost, its own satisfaction, so new and enriching is it to the whole
nature, into the second stage--the stage of anxiety, incredulity.
Marcella, sitting there on his own ground, after all his planning,
seemed to him not nearer, but further from him. She was terribly on her
dignity! Where was all that girlish abandonment gone which she had shown
him on that walk, beside the gate? There had been a touch of it, a
divine touch, before luncheon. How could he get her to himself again?

Meanwhile the conversation passed to the prevailing local topic--the
badness of the harvest, the low prices of everything, the consequent
depression among the farmers, and stagnation in the villages.

"I don't know what is to be done for the people this winter," said Lord
Maxwell, "without pauperising them, I mean. To give money is easy
enough. Our grandfathers would have doled out coal and blankets, and
thought no more of it. We don't get through so easily."

"No," said Lady Winterbourne, sighing. "It weighs one down. Last winter
was a nightmare. The tales one heard, and the faces one saw!--though we
seemed to be always giving. And in the middle of it Edward would buy me
a new set of sables. I begged him not, but he laughed at me."

"Well, my dear," said Miss Raeburn, cheerfully, "if nobody bought
sables, there'd be other poor people up in Russia, isn't it?--or
Hudson's Bay?--badly off. One has, to think of that. Oh, you needn't
talk, Aldous! I know you say it's a fallacy. _I_ call it common sense."

She got, however, only a slight smile from Aldous, who had long ago left
his great-aunt to work out her own economics. And, anyway, she saw that
he was wholly absorbed from his seat beside Lady Winterbourne in
watching Miss Boyce.

"It's precisely as Lord Maxwell says," replied Lady Winterbourne; "that
kind of thing used to satisfy everybody. And our grandmothers were very
good women. I don't know why we, who give ourselves so much more trouble
than they did, should carry these thorns about with us, while they went
free."

She drew herself up, a cloud over her fine eyes. Miss Raeburn, looking
round, was glad to see the servants had left the room.

"Miss Boyce thinks we are all in a very bad way, I'm sure. I have heard
tales of Miss Boyce's opinions!" said Lord Maxwell, smiling at her, with
an old man's indulgence, as though provoking her to talk.

Her slim fingers were nervously crumbling some bread beside her; her
head was drooped a little. At his challenge she looked up with a start.
She was perfectly conscious of him, as both the great magnate on his
native heath, and as the trained man of affairs condescending to a
girl's fancies. But she had made up her mind not to be afraid.

"What tales have you heard?" she asked him.

"You alarm us, you know," he said gallantly, waiving her question. "We
can't afford a prophetess to the other side, just now."

Miss Raeburn drew herself up, with a sharp dry look at Miss Boyce, which
escaped every one but Lady Winterbourne.

"Oh! I am not a Radical!" said Marcella, half scornfully. "We
Socialists don't fight for either political party as such. We take what
we can get out of both."

"So you call yourself a Socialist? A real full-blown one?"

Lord Maxwell's pleasant tone masked the mood of a man who after a
morning of hard work thinks himself entitled to some amusement at
luncheon.

"Yes, I am a Socialist," she said slowly, looking at him. "At least I
ought to be--I am in my conscience."

"But not in your judgment?" he said laughing. "Isn't that the condition
of most of us?"

"No, not at all!" she exclaimed, both her vanity and her enthusiasm
roused by his manner. "Both my judgment and my conscience make me a
Socialist. It's only one's wretched love for one's own little luxuries
and precedences--the worst part of one--that makes me waver, makes me a
traitor! The people I worked with in London would think me a traitor
often, I know."

"And you really think that the world ought to be 'hatched over again and
hatched different'? That it ought to be, if it could be?"

"I think that things are intolerable as they are," she broke out, after
a pause. "The London poor were bad enough; the country poor seem to me
worse! How can any one believe that such serfdom and poverty--such
mutilation of mind and body--were meant to go on for ever!"

Lord Maxwell's brows lifted. But it certainly was no wonder that Aldous
should find those eyes of hers superb?

"Can you really imagine, my dear young lady," he asked her mildly,
"that if all property were divided to-morrow the force of natural
inequality would not have undone all the work the day after, and given
us back our poor?"

The "newspaper cant" of this remark, as the Cravens would have put it,
brought a contemptuous look for an instant into the girl's face. She
began to talk eagerly and cleverly, showing a very fair training in the
catch words of the school, and a good memory--as one uncomfortable
person at the table soon perceived--for some of the leading arguments
and illustrations of a book of Venturist Essays which had lately been
much read and talked of in London.

Then, irritated more and more by Lord Maxwell's gentle attention, and
the interjections he threw in from time to time, she plunged into
history, attacked the landowning class, spoke of the Statute of
Labourers, the Law of Settlement, the New Poor Law, and other great
matters, all in the same quick flow of glancing, picturesque speech, and
all with the same utter oblivion--so it seemed to her stiff indignant
hostess at the other end of the table--of the manners and modesty proper
to a young girl in a strange house, and that young girl Richard Boyce's
daughter!

Aldous struck in now and then, trying to soothe her by supporting her to
a certain extent, and so divert the conversation. But Marcella was soon
too excited to be managed; and she had her say; a very strong say often
as far as language went: there could be no doubt of that.

"Ah, well," said Lord Maxwell, wincing at last under some of her
phrases, in spite of his courteous _savoir-faire_, "I see you are of the
same opinion as a good man whose book I took up yesterday: 'The
landlords of England have always shown a mean and malignant passion for
profiting by the miseries of others?' Well, Aldous, my boy, we are
judged, you and I--no help for it!"

The man whose temper and rule had made the prosperity of a whole country
side for nearly forty years, looked at his grandson with twinkling eyes.
Miss Raeburn was speechless. Lady Winterbourne was absently staring at
Marcella, a spot of red on each pale cheek.

Then Marcella suddenly wavered, looked across at Aldous, and broke down.

"Of course, you think me very ridiculous," she said, with a tremulous
change of tone. "I suppose I am. And I am as inconsistent as anybody--I
hate myself for it. Very often when anybody talks to me on the other
side, I am almost as much persuaded as I am by the Socialists: they
always told me in London I was the prey of the last speaker. But it
can't make any difference to one's _feeling_: nothing touches that."

She turned to Lord Maxwell, half appealing--

"It is when I go down from our house to the village; when I see the
places the people live in; when one is comfortable in the carriage, and
one passes some woman in the rain, ragged and dirty and tired, trudging
back from her work; when one realises that they have no _rights_ when
they come to be old, nothing to look to but charity, for which _we_, who
have everything, expect them to be grateful; and when I know that every
one of them has done more useful work in a year of their life than I
shall ever do in the whole of mine, then I feel that the whole state of
things is _somehow_ wrong and topsy-turvy and _wicked_." Her voice rose
a little, every emphasis grew more passionate. "And if I don't do
something--the little such a person as I can--to alter it before I die,
I might as well never have lived."

Everybody at table started. Lord Maxwell looked at Miss Raeburn, his
mouth twitching over the humour of his sister's dismay. Well! this was a
forcible young woman: was Aldous the kind of man to be able to deal
conveniently with such eyes, such emotions, such a personality?

Suddenly Lady Winterbourne's deep voice broke in:

"I never could say it half so well as that, Miss Boyce; but I agree with
you. I may say that I have agreed with you all my life."

The girl turned to her, grateful and quivering.

"At the same time," said Lady Winterbourne, relapsing with a long breath
from tragic emphasis into a fluttering indecision equally
characteristic, "as you say, one is inconsistent. I was poor once,
before Edward came to the title, and I did not at all like it--not at
all. And I don't wish my daughters to marry poor men; and what I should
do without a maid or a carriage when I wanted it, I cannot imagine.
Edward makes the most of these things. He tells me I have to choose
between things as they are, and a graduated income tax which would leave
nobody--not even the richest--more than four hundred a year."

"Just enough, for one of those little houses on your station road,"
said Lord Maxwell, laughing at her. "I think you might still have a
maid."

"There, you laugh," said Lady Winterbourne, vehemently: "the men do. But
I tell you it is no laughing matter to feel that your _heart_ and
_conscience_ have gone over to the enemy. You want to feel with your
class, and you can't. Think of what used to happen in the old days. My
grandmother, who was as good and kind a woman as ever lived, was driving
home through our village one evening, and a man passed her, a labourer
who was a little drunk, and who did not take off his hat to her. She
stopped, made her men get down and had him put in the stocks there and
then--the old stocks were still standing on the village green. Then she
drove home to her dinner, and said her prayers no doubt that night with
more consciousness than usual of having done her duty. But if the power
of the stocks still remained to us, my dear friend"--and she laid her
thin old woman's hand, flashing with diamonds, on Lord Maxwell's
arm--"we could no longer do it, you or I. We have lost the sense of
_right_ in our place and position--at least I find I have. In the old
days if there was social disturbance the upper class could put it down
with a strong hand."

"So they would still," said Lord Maxwell, drily, "if there were
violence. Once let it come to any real attack on property, and you will
see where all these Socialist theories will be. And of course it will
not be _we_--not the landowners or the capitalists--who will put it
down. It will be the hundreds and thousands of people with something to
lose--a few pounds in a joint-stock mill, a house of their own built
through a co-operative store, an acre or two of land stocked by their
own savings--it is they, I am afraid, who will put Miss Boyce's friends
down so far as they represent any real attack on property--and brutally,
too, I fear, if need be."

"I dare say," exclaimed Marcella, her colour rising again. "I never can
see how we Socialists are to succeed. But how can any one _rejoice_ in
it? How can any one _wish_ that the present state of things should go
on? Oh! the horrors one sees in London. And down here, the cottages, and
the starvation wages, and the ridiculous worship of game, and then, of
course, the poaching--"

Miss Raeburn pushed back her chair with a sharp noise. But her brother
was still peeling his pear, and no one else moved. Why did he let such
talk go on? It was too unseemly.

Lord Maxwell only laughed. "My dear young lady," he said, much amused,
"are you even in the frame of mind to make a hero of a poacher?
Disillusion lies that way!--it does indeed. Why--Aldous!--I have been
hearing such tales from Westall this morning. I stopped at Corbett's
farm a minute or two on the way home, and met Westall at the gate coming
out. He says he and his men are being harried to death round about
Tudley End by a gang of men that come, he thinks, from Oxford, a driving
gang with a gig, who come at night or in the early morning--the smartest
rascals out, impossible to catch. But he says he thinks he will soon
have his hand on the local accomplice--a Mellor man--a man named Hurd:
not one of our labourers, I think."

"Hurd!" cried Marcella, in dismay. "Oh no, it _can't_ be--impossible!"

Lord Maxwell looked at her in astonishment.

"Do you know any Hurds? I am afraid your father will find that Mellor is
a bad place for poaching."

"If it is, it is because they are so starved and miserable," said
Marcella, trying hard to speak coolly, but excited almost beyond bounds
by the conversation and all that it implied. "And the Hurds--I don't
believe it a bit! But if it were true--oh! they have been in such
straits--they were out of work most of last winter; they are out of work
now, No one _could_ grudge them. I told you about them, didn't I?" she
said, suddenly glancing at Aldous. "I was going to ask you to-day, if
you could help them?" Her prophetess air had altogether left her. She
felt ready to cry; and nothing could have been more womanish than her
tone.

He bent across to her. Miss Raeburn, invaded by a new and intolerable
sense of calamity, could have beaten him for what she read in his
shining eyes, and in the flush on his usually pale cheek.

"Is he still out of work?" he said. "And you are unhappy about it? But I
am sure we can find him work: I am just now planning improvements at the
north end of the park. We can take him on; I am certain of it. You must
give me his full name and address."

"And let him beware of Westall," said Lord Maxwell, kindly. "Give him a
hint, Miss Boyce, and nobody will rake up bygones. There is nothing I
dislike so much as rows about the shooting. All the keepers know that."

"And of course," said Miss Raeburn, coldly, "if the family are in real
distress there are plenty of people at hand to assist them. The man need
not steal."

"Oh, charity!" cried Marcella, her lip curling.

"A worse crime than poaching, you think," said Lord Maxwell, laughing.
"Well, these are big subjects. I confess, after my morning with the
lunatics, I am half inclined, like Horace Walpole, to think everything
serious ridiculous. At any rate shall we see what light a cup of coffee
throws upon it? Agneta, shall we adjourn?"




CHAPTER XI.


Lord Maxwell closed the drawing-room door behind Aldous and Marcella.
Aldous had proposed to take their guest to see the picture gallery,
which was on the first floor, and had found her willing.

The old man came back to the two other women, running his hand nervously
through his shock of white hair--a gesture which Miss Raeburn well knew
to show some disturbance of mind.

"I should like to have your opinion of that young lady," he said
deliberately, taking a chair immediately in front of them.

"I like her," said Lady Winterbourne, instantly. "Of course she is crude
and extravagant, and does not know quite what she may say. But all that
will improve. I like her, and shall make friends with her."

Miss Raeburn threw up her hands in angry amazement.

"Most forward, conceited, and ill-mannered," she said with energy. "I am
certain she has no proper principles, and as to what her religious views
may be, I dread to think of them! If _that_ is a specimen of the girls
of the present day--"

"My dear," interrupted Lord Maxwell, laying a hand on her knee, "Lady
Winterbourne is an old friend, a very old friend. I think we may be
frank before her, and I don't wish you to say things you may regret.
Aldous has made up his mind to get that girl to marry him, if he can."

Lady Winterbourne was silent, having in fact been forewarned by that odd
little interview with Aldous in her own drawing-room, when he had
suddenly asked her to call on Mrs. Boyce. But she looked at Miss
Raeburn. That lady took up her knitting, laid it down again, resumed it,
then broke out--

"How did it come about? Where have they been meeting?"

"At the Hardens mostly. He seems to have been struck from the beginning,
and now there is no question as to his determination. But she may not
have him; he professes to be still entirely in the dark."

"Oh!" cried Miss Raeburn, with a scornful shrug, meant to express all
possible incredulity. Then she began to knit fast and furiously, and
presently said in great agitation,--

"What can he be thinking of? She is very handsome, of course, but--"
then her words failed her. "When Aldous remembers his mother, how can
he?--undisciplined! self-willed! Why, she laid down the law to _you_,
Henry, as though you had nothing to do but to take your opinions from a
chit of a girl like her. Oh! no, no; I really can't; you must give me
time. And her father--the disgrace and trouble of it! I tell you, Henry,
it will bring misfortune!"

Lord Maxwell was much troubled. Certainly he should have talked to
Agneta beforehand. But the fact was he had his cowardice, like other
men, and he had been trusting to the girl herself, to this beauty he
heard so much of, to soften the first shock of the matter to the present
mistress of the Court.

"We will hope not, Agneta," he said gravely. "We will hope not. But you
must remember Aldous is no boy. I cannot coerce him. I see the
difficulties, and I have put them before him. But I am more favourably
struck with the girl than you are. And anyway, if it comes about, we
must make the best of it."

Miss Raeburn made no answer, but pretended to set her heel, her needles
shaking. Lady Winterbourne was very sorry for her two old friends.

"Wait a little," she said, laying her hand lightly on Miss Raeburn's.
"No doubt with her opinions she felt specially drawn to assert herself
to-day. One can imagine it very well of a girl, and a generous girl in
her position. You will see other sides of her, I am sure you will. And
you would never--you could never--make a breach with Aldous."

"We must all remember," said Lord Maxwell, getting up and beginning to
walk up and down beside them, "that Aldous is in no way dependent upon
me. He has his own resources. He could leave us to-morrow. Dependent on
me! It is the other way, I think, Agneta--don't you?"

He stopped and looked at her, and she returned his look in spite of
herself. A tear dropped on her stocking which she hastily brushed away.

"Come, now," said Lord Maxwell, seating himself; "let us talk it over
rationally. Don't go, Lady Winterbourne."

"Why, they may be settling it at this moment," cried Miss Raeburn,
half-choked, and feeling as though "the skies were impious not to fall."

"No, no!" he said smiling. "Not yet, I think. But let us prepare
ourselves."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the cause of all this agitation was sitting languidly in a
great Louis Quinze chair in the picture gallery upstairs, with Aldous
beside her. She had taken off her big hat as though it oppressed her,
and her black head lay against a corner of the chair in fine contrast to
its mellowed golds and crimsons. Opposite to her were two famous Holbein
portraits, at which she looked from time to time as though attracted to
them in spite of herself, by some trained sense which could not be
silenced. But she was not communicative, and Aldous was anxious.

"Do you think I was rude to your grandfather?" she asked him at last
abruptly, cutting dead short some information she had stiffly asked him
for just before, as to the date of the gallery and its collection.

"Rude!" he said startled. "Not at all. Not in the least. Do you suppose
we are made of such brittle stuff, we poor landowners, that we can't
stand an argument now and then?"

"Your aunt thought I was rude," she said unheeding. "I think I was. But
a house like this excites me." And with a little reckless gesture she
turned her head over her shoulder and looked down the gallery. A
Velasquez was beside her; a great Titian over the way; a priceless
Rembrandt beside it. On her right hand stood a chair of carved steel,
presented by a German town to a German emperor, which, had not its
equal in Europe; the brocade draping the deep windows in front of her
had been specially made to grace a state visit to the house of Charles
II.

"At Mellor," she went on, "we are old and tumble-down. The rain comes
in; there are no shutters to the big hall, and we can't afford to put
them--we can't afford even to have the pictures cleaned. I can pity the
house and nurse it, as I do the village. But here--"

And looking about her, she gave a significant shrug.

"What--our feathers again!" he said laughing. "But consider. Even you
allow that Socialism cannot begin to-morrow. There must be a transition
time, and clearly till the State is ready to take over the historical
houses and their contents, the present nominal owners of them are bound,
if they can, to take care of them. Otherwise the State will be some day
defrauded."

She could not be insensible to the charm of his manner towards her.
There was in it, no doubt, the natural force and weight of the man older
and better informed than his companion, and amused every now and then by
her extravagance. But even her irritable pride could not take offence.
For the intellectual dissent she felt at bottom was tempered by a moral
sympathy of which the gentleness and warmth touched and moved her in
spite of herself. And now that they were alone he could express himself.
So long as they had been in company he had seemed to her, as often
before, shy, hesitating, and ineffective. But with the disappearance of
spectators, who represented to him, no doubt, the harassing claim of
the critical judgment, all was freer, more assured, more natural.

She leant her chin on her hand, considering his plea.

"Supposing you live long enough to see the State take it, shall you be
able to reconcile yourself to it? Or shall you feel it a wrong, and go
out a rebel?"

A delightful smile was beginning to dance in the dark eyes. She was
recovering the tension of her talk with Lord Maxwell.

"All must depend, you see, on the conditions--on how you and your
friends are going to manage the transition. You may persuade
me--conceivably--or you may eject me with violence."

"Oh, no!" she interposed quickly. "There will be no violence. Only we
shall gradually reduce your wages. Of course, we can't do without
leaders--we don't want to do away with the captains of any industry,
agricultural or manufacturing. Only we think you overpaid. You must be
content with less."

"Don't linger out the process," he said laughing, "otherwise it will be
painful. The people who are condemned to live in these houses before the
Commune takes to them, while your graduated land and income taxes are
slowly starving them out, will have a bad time of it."

"Well, it will be your first bad time! Think of the labourer now, with
five children, of school age, on twelve shillings a week--think of the
sweated women in London."

"Ah, think of them," he said in a different tone.

There was a pause of silence.

"No!" said Marcella, springing up. "Don't let's think of them. I get to
believe the whole thing a _pose_ in myself and other people. Let's go
back to the pictures. Do you think Titian 'sweated' his drapery
men--paid them starvation rates, and grew rich on their labour? Very
likely. All the same, that blue woman"--she pointed to a bending
Magdalen--"will be a joy to all time."

They wandered through the gallery, and she was now all curiosity,
pleasure, and intelligent interest, as though she had thrown off an
oppression. Then they emerged into the upper corridor answering to the
corridor of the antiques below. This also was hung with pictures,
principally family portraits of the second order, dating back to the
Tudors--a fine series of berobed and bejewelled personages, wherein
clothes pre-dominated and character was unimportant.

Marcella's eye was glancing along the brilliant colour of the wall,
taking rapid note of jewelled necks surmounting stiff embroidered
dresses, of the whiteness of lace ruffs, or the love-locks and gleaming
satin of the Caroline beauties, when it suddenly occurred to her,--

"I shall be their successor. This is already potentially mine. In a few
months, if I please, I shall be walking this house as mistress--its
future mistress, at any rate!"

She was conscious of a quickening in the blood, a momentary blurring of
the vision. A whirlwind of fancies swept across her. She thought of
herself as the young peeress--Lord Maxwell after all was over
seventy--her own white neck blazing with diamonds, the historic jewels
of a great family--her will making law in this splendid house--in the
great domain surrounding it. What power--what a position--what a
romance! She, the out-at-elbows Marcella, the Socialist, the friend of
the people. What new lines of social action and endeavour she might
strike out! Miss Raeburn should not stop her. She caressed the thought
of the scandals in store for that lady. Only it annoyed her that her
dream of large things should be constantly crossed by this foolish
delight, making her feet dance--in this mere prospect of satin gowns and
fine jewels--of young and fêted beauty holding its brilliant court. If
she made such a marriage, it should be, it must be, on public grounds.
Her friends must have no right to blame her.

Then she stole a glance at the tall, quiet gentleman beside her. A man
to be proud of from the beginning, and surely to be very fond of in
time. "He would always be my friend," she thought. "I could lead him. He
is very clever, one can see, and knows a great deal. But he admires what
I like. His position hampers him--but I could help him to get beyond it.
We might show the way to many!"

"Will you come and see this room here?" he said, stopping suddenly, yet
with a certain hesitation in the voice. "It is my own sitting-room.
There are one or two portraits I should like to show you if you would
let me."

She followed him with a rosy cheek, and they were presently standing in
front of the portrait of his mother. He spoke of his recollections of
his parents, quietly and simply, yet she felt through every nerve that
he was not the man to speak of such things to anybody in whom he did not
feel a very strong and peculiar interest. As he was talking a rush of
liking towards him came across her. How good he was--how affectionate
beneath his reserve--a woman might securely trust him with her future.

So with every minute she grew softer, her eye gentler, and with each
step and word he seemed to himself to be carried deeper into the current
of joy. Intoxication was mounting within him, as her slim, warm youth
moved and breathed beside him; and it was natural that he should read
her changing behaviour for something other than it was. A man of his
type asks for no advance from the woman; the woman he loves does not
make them; but at the same time he has a natural self-esteem, and
believes readily in his power to win the return he is certain he will
deserve.

"And this?" she said, moving restlessly towards his table, and taking up
the photograph of Edward Hallin.

"Ah! that is the greatest friend I have in the world. But I am sure you
know the name. Mr. Hallin--Edward Hallin."

She paused bewildered.

"What! _the_ Mr. Hallin--_that_ was Edward Hallin--who settled the
Nottingham strike last month--who lectures so much in the East End, and
in the north?"

"The same. We are old college friends. I owe him much, and in all his
excitements he does not forget old friends. There, you see--" and he
opened a blotting book and pointed smiling to some closely written
sheets lying within it--"is my last letter to him. I often write two of
those in the week, and he to me. We don't agree on a number of things,
but that doesn't matter."

"What can you find to write about?" she said wondering. "I thought
nobody wrote letters nowadays, only notes. Is it books, or people?"

"Both, when it pleases us!" How soon, oh! ye favouring gods, might he
reveal to her the part she herself played in those closely covered
sheets? "But he writes to me on social matters chiefly. His whole heart,
as you probably know, is in certain experiments and reforms in which he
sometimes asks me to help him."

Marcella opened her eyes. These were new lights. She began to recall all
that she had heard of young Hallin's position in the Labour movement;
his personal magnetism and prestige; his power as a speaker. Her
Socialist friends, she remembered, thought him in the way--a force, but
a dangerous one. He was for the follies of compromise--could not be got
to disavow the principle of private property, while ready to go great
lengths in certain directions towards collective action and corporate
control. The "stalwarts" of _her_ sect would have none of him as a
leader, while admitting his charm as a human being--a charm she
remembered to have heard discussed with some anxiety among her Venturist
friends. But for ordinary people he went far enough. Her father, she
remembered, had dubbed him an "Anarchist" in connection with the terms
he had been able to secure for the Nottingham strikers, as reported in
the newspapers. It astonished her to come across the man again as Mr.
Raeburn's friend.

They talked about Hallin a little, and about Aldous's Cambridge
acquaintance with him. Then Marcella, still nervous, went to look at the
bookshelves, and found herself in front of that working collection of
books on economics which Aldous kept in his own room under his hand, by
way of guide to the very fine special collection he was gradually making
in the library downstairs.

Here again were surprises for her. Aldous had never made the smallest
claim to special knowledge on all those subjects she had so often
insisted on making him discuss. He had been always tentative and
diffident, deferential even so far as her own opinions were concerned.
And here already was the library of a student. All the books she had
ever read or heard discussed were here--and as few among many. The
condition of them, moreover, the signs of close and careful reading she
noticed in them, as she took them out, abashed her: _she_ had never
learnt to read in this way. It was her first contact with an exact and
arduous culture. She thought of how she had instructed Lord Maxwell at
luncheon. No doubt he shared his grandson's interests. Her cheek burned
anew; this time because it seemed to her that she had been ridiculous.

"I don't know why you never told me you took a particular interest in
these subjects," she said suddenly, turning round upon him
resentfully--she had just laid down, of all things, a volume of
Venturist essays. "You must have thought I talked a great deal of
nonsense at luncheon."

"Why!--I have always been delighted to find you cared for such things
and took an interest in them. How few women do!" he said quite simply,
opening his eyes. "Do you know these three pamphlets? They were
privately printed, and are very rare."

He took out a book and showed it to her as one does to a comrade and
equal--as he might have done to Edward Hallin. But something was jarred
in her--conscience or self-esteem--and she could not recover her sense
of heroineship. She answered absently, and when he returned the book to
the shelf she said that it was time for her to go, and would he kindly
ask for her maid, who was to walk with her?

"I will ring for her directly," he said. "But you will let me take you
home?" Then he added hurriedly, "I have some business this afternoon
with a man who lives in your direction."

She assented a little stiffly--but with an inward thrill. His words and
manner seemed suddenly to make the situation unmistakable. Among the
books it had been for the moment obscured.

He rang for his own servant, and gave directions about the maid. Then
they went downstairs that Marcella might say good-bye.

Miss Raeburn bade her guest farewell, with a dignity which her small
person could sometimes assume, not unbecomingly. Lady Winterbourne held
the girl's hand a little, looked her out of countenance, and insisted on
her promising again to come to Winterbourne Park the following Tuesday.
Then Lord Maxwell, with old-fashioned politeness, made Marcella take his
arm through the hall.

"You must come and see us again," he said smiling; "though we are such
belated old Tories, we are not so bad as we sound."

And under cover of his mild banter he fixed a penetrating attentive look
upon her. Flushed and embarrassed! Had it indeed been done already? or
would Aldous settle it on this walk? To judge from his manner and hers,
the thing was going with rapidity. Well, well, there was nothing for it
but to hope for the best.

On their way through the hall she stopped him, her hand still in his
arm. Aldous was in front, at the door, looking for a light shawl she had
brought with her.

"I should like to thank you," she said shyly, "about the Hurds. It will
be very kind of you and Mr. Raeburn to find them work."

Lord Maxwell was pleased; and with the usual unfair advantage of beauty
her eyes and curving lips gave her little advance a charm infinitely
beyond what any plainer woman could have commanded.

"Oh, don't thank me!" he said cheerily. "Thank Aldous. He does all that
kind of thing. And if in your good works you want any help we can give,
ask it, my dear young lady. My old comrade's grand-daughter will always
find friends in this house."

Lord Maxwell would have been very much astonished to hear himself making
this speech six weeks before. As it was, he handed her over gallantly to
Aldous, and stood on the steps looking after them in a stir of mind not
unnoted by the confidential butler who held the door open behind him.
Would Aldous insist on carrying his wife off to the dower house on the
other side of the estate? or would they be content to stay in the old
place with the old people? And if so, how were that girl and his sister
to get on? As for himself, he was of a naturally optimist temper, and
ever since the night of his first interview with Aldous on the subject,
he had been more and more inclining to take a cheerful view. He liked to
see a young creature of such evident character and cleverness holding
opinions and lines of her own. It was infinitely better than mere
nonentity. Of course, she was now extravagant and foolish, perhaps vain
too. But that would mend with time--mend, above all, with her position
as Aldous's wife. Aldous was a strong man--how strong, Lord Maxwell
suspected that this impetuous young lady hardly knew. No, he thought the
family might be trusted to cope with her when once they got her among
them. And she would certainly be an ornament to the old house.

Her father of course was, and would be, the real difficulty, and the
blight which had descended on the once honoured name. But a man so
conscious of many kinds of power as Lord Maxwell could not feel much
doubt as to his own and his grandson's competence to keep so poor a
specimen of humanity as Richard Boyce in his place. How wretchedly ill,
how feeble, both in body and soul, the fellow had looked when he and
Winterbourne met him!

The white-haired owner of the Court walked back slowly to his library,
his hands in his pockets, his head bent in cogitation. Impossible to
settle to the various important political letters lying on his table,
and bearing all of them on that approaching crisis in the spring which
must put Lord Maxwell and his friends in power. He was over seventy, but
his old blood quickened within him as he thought of those two on this
golden afternoon, among the beech woods. How late Aldous had left all
these experiences! His grandfather, by twenty, could have shown him the
way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the two in question were walking along the edge of the hill
rampart overlooking the plain, with the road on one side of them, and
the falling beech woods on the other. They were on a woodland path, just
within the trees, sheltered, and to all intents and purposes alone. The
maid, with leisurely discretion, was following far behind them on the
high road.

Marcella, who felt at moments as though she could hardly breathe, by
reason of a certain tumult of nerve, was yet apparently bent on
maintaining a conversation without breaks. As they diverged from the
road into the wood-path, she plunged into the subject of her companion's
election prospects. How many meetings did he find that he must hold in
the month? What places did he regard as his principal strongholds? She
was told that certain villages, which she named, were certain to go
Radical, whatever might be the Tory promises. As to a well-known
Conservative League, which was very strong in the country, and to which
all the great ladies, including Lady Winterbourne, belonged, was he
actually going to demean himself by accepting its support? How was it
possible to defend the bribery, buns, and beer by which it won its
corrupting way?

Altogether, a quick fire of questions, remarks, and sallies, which
Aldous met and parried as best he might, comforting himself all the time
by thought of those deeper and lonelier parts of the wood which lay
before them. At last she dropped out, half laughing, half defiant, words
which arrested him,--

"Well, I shall know what the other side think of their prospects very
soon. Mr. Wharton is coming to lunch with us to-morrow."

"Harry Wharton!" he said astonished. "But Mr. Boyce is not supporting
him. Your father, I think, is Conservative?"

One of Dick Boyce's first acts as owner of Mellor, when social
rehabilitation had still looked probable to him, had been to send a
contribution to the funds of the League aforesaid, so that Aldous had
public and conspicuous grounds for his remark.

"Need one measure everything by politics?" she asked him a little
disdainfully. "Mayn't one even feed a Radical?"

He winced visibly a moment, touched in his philosopher's pride.

"You remind me," he said, laughing and reddening--"and justly--that an
election perverts all one's standards and besmirches all one's morals.
Then I suppose Mr. Wharton is an old friend?"

"Papa never saw him before last week," she said carelessly. "Now he
talks of asking him to stay some time, and says that, although he won't
vote for him, he hopes that he will make a good fight."

Raeburn's brow contracted in a puzzled frown.

"He will make an excellent fight," he said rather shortly. "Dodgson
hardly hopes to get in. Harry Wharton is a most taking speaker, a very
clever fellow, and sticks at nothing in the way of promises. Ah, you
will find him interesting, Miss Boyce! He has a co-operative farm on his
Lincolnshire property. Last year he started a Labour paper--which I
believe you read. I have heard you quote it. He believes in all that you
hope for--great increase in local government and communal control--the
land for the people--graduated income-tax--the extinction of landlord
and capitalist as soon as may be--_e tutti quanti_. He talks with great
eloquence and ability. In our villages I find he is making way every
week. The people think his manners perfect. ''Ee 'as a way wi' un,' said
an old labourer to me last week. 'If 'ee wor to coe the wild birds, I do
believe, Muster Raeburn, they'd coom to un!'"

"Yet you dislike him!" said Marcella, a daring smile dancing on the dark
face she turned to him. "One can hear it in every word you say."

He hesitated, trying, even at the moment that an impulse of jealous
alarm which astonished himself had taken possession of him, to find the
moderate and measured phrase.

"I have known him from a boy," he said. "He is a connection of the
Levens, and used to be always there in old days. He is very brilliant
and very gifted--"

"Your 'but' must be very bad," she threw in, "it is so long in coming."

"Then I will say, whatever opening it gives you," he replied with
spirit, "that I admire him without respecting him."

"Who ever thought otherwise of a clever opponent?" she cried. "It is the
stock formula."

The remark stung, all the more because Aldous was perfectly conscious
that there was much truth in her implied charge of prejudice. He had
never been very capable of seeing this particular man in the dry light
of reason, and was certainly less so than before, since it had been
revealed to him that Wharton and Mr. Boyce's daughter were to be
brought, before long, into close neighbourhood.

"I am sorry that I seem to you such a Pharisee," he said, turning upon
her a look which had both pain and excitement in it.

She was silent, and they walked on a few yards without speaking. The
wood had thickened around them: The high road was no longer visible. No
sound of wheels or footsteps reached them. The sun struck freely through
the beech-trees, already half bared, whitening the grey trunks at
intervals to an arrowy distinctness and majesty, or kindling the slopes
of red and freshly fallen leaves below into great patches of light and
flame. Through the stems, as always, the girdling blues of the plain,
and in their faces a gay and buoyant breeze, speaking rather of spring
than autumn. Robins, "yellow autumn's nightingales," sang in the hedge
to their right. In the pause between them, sun, wind, birds made their
charm felt. Nature, perpetual chorus as she is to man, stole in, urging,
wooing, defining. Aldous's heart leapt to the spur of a sudden resolve.

Instinctively she turned to him at the same moment as he to her, and
seeing his look she paled a little.

"Do you guess at all why it hurts me to jar with you?" he said--finding
his words in a rush, he did not know how--"Why every syllable of yours
matters to me? It is because I have hopes--dreams--which have become my
life! If you could accept this--this--feeling--this devotion--which has
grown up in me--if you could trust yourself to me--you should have no
cause, I think--ever--to think me hard or narrow towards any person, any
enthusiasm for which you had sympathy. May I say to you all that is in
my mind--or--or--am I presuming?"

She looked away from him, crimson again. A great wave of
exultation--boundless, intoxicating--swept through her. Then it was
checked by a nobler feeling--a quick, penitent sense of his nobleness.

"You don't know me," she said hurriedly: "you think you do. But I am all
odds and ends. I should annoy--wound--disappoint you."

His quiet grey eyes flamed.

"Come and sit down here, on these dry roots," he said, taking already
joyous command of her. "We shall be undisturbed. I have so much to say!"

She obeyed trembling. She felt no passion, but the strong thrill of
something momentous and irreparable, together with a swelling
pride--pride in such homage from such a man.

He led her a few steps down the slope, found a place for her against a
sheltering trunk, and threw himself down beside her. As he looked up at
the picture she made amid the autumn branches, at her bent head, her
shy moved look, her white hand lying ungloved on her black dress,
happiness overcame him. He took her hand, found she did not resist, drew
it to him, and clasping it in both his, bent his brow, his lips upon it.
It shook in his hold, but she was passive. The mixture of emotion and
self-control she showed touched him deeply. In his chivalrous modesty he
asked for nothing else, dreamt of nothing more.

Half an hour later they were still in the same spot. There had been much
talk between them, most of it earnest, but some of it quite gay, broken
especially by her smiles. Her teasing mood, however, had passed away.
She was instead composed and dignified, like one conscious that life had
opened before her to great issues.

Yet she had flinched often before that quiet tone of eager joy in which
he had described his first impressions of her, his surprise at finding
in her ideals, revolts, passions, quite unknown to him, so far, in the
women of his own class. Naturally he suppressed, perhaps he had even
forgotten, the critical amusement and irritation she had often excited
in him. He remembered, he spoke only of sympathy, delight, pleasure--of
his sense, as it were, of slaking some long-felt moral thirst at the
well of her fresh feeling. So she had attracted him first,--by a certain
strangeness and daring--by what she _said_--

"Now--and above all by what you _are_!" he broke out suddenly, moved out
of his even speech. "Oh! it is too much to believe--to dream of! Put
your hand in mine, and say again that it is really _true_ that we two
are to go forward together--that you will be always there to inspire--to
help--"

And as she gave him the hand, she must also let him--in this first
tremor of a pure passion--take the kiss which was now his by right. That
she should flush and draw away from him as she did, seemed to him the
most natural thing in the world, and the most maidenly.

Then, as their talk wandered on, bit by bit, he gave her all his
confidence, and she had felt herself honoured in receiving it. She
understood now at least something--a first fraction--of that inner life,
masked so well beneath his quiet English capacity and unassuming manner.
He had spoken of his Cambridge years, of his friend, of the desire of
his heart to make his landowner's power and position contribute
something towards that new and better social order, which he too, like
Hallin--though more faintly and intermittently--believed to be
approaching. The difficulties of any really new departure were
tremendous; he saw them more plainly and more anxiously than Hallin. Yet
he believed that he had thought his way to some effective reform on his
grandfather's large estate, and to some useful work as one of a group of
like-minded men in Parliament. She must have often thought him careless
and apathetic towards his great trust. But he was not so--not
careless--but paralysed often by intellectual difficulty, by the claims
of conflicting truths.

She, too, explained herself most freely, most frankly. She would have
nothing on her conscience.

"They will say, of course," she said with sudden nervous abruptness,
"that I am marrying you for wealth and position. And in a sense I shall
be. No! don't stop me! I should not marry you if--if--I did not like
you. But you can give me--you have--great opportunities. I tell you
frankly, I shall enjoy them and use them. Oh! do think well before you
do it. I shall _never_ be a meek, dependent wife. A woman, to my mind,
is bound to cherish her own individuality sacredly, married or not
married. Have you thought that I may often think it right to do things
you disagree with, that may scandalise your relations?"

"You shall be free," he said steadily. "I have thought of it all."

"Then there is my father," she said, turning her head away. "He is
ill--he wants pity, affection. I will accept no bond that forces me to
disown him."

"Pity and affection are to me the most sacred things in the world," he
said, kissing her hand gently. "Be content--be at rest--my beautiful
lady!"

There was again silence, full of thought on her side, of heavenly
happiness on his. The sun had sunk almost to the verge of the plain, the
wind had freshened.

"We _must_ go home," she said, springing up. "Taylor must have got there
an hour ago. Mother will be anxious, and I must--I must tell them."

"I will leave you at the gate," he suggested as they walked briskly;
"and you will ask your father, will you not, if I may see him to-night
after dinner?"

The trees thinned again in front of them, and the path curved inward to
the front. Suddenly a man, walking on the road, diverged into the path
and came towards them. He was swinging a stick and humming. His head was
uncovered, and his light chestnut curls were blown about his forehead by
the wind. Marcella, looking up at the sound of the steps, had a sudden
impression of something young and radiant, and Aldous stopped with an
exclamation.

The new-comer perceived them, and at sight of Aldous smiled, and
approached, holding out his hand.

"Why, Raeburn, I seem to have missed you twenty times a day this last
fortnight. We have been always on each other's tracks without meeting.
Yet I think, if we had met, we could have kept our tempers."

"Miss Boyce, I think you do not know Mr. Wharton," said Aldous, stiffly.
"May I introduce you?"

The young man's blue eyes, all alert and curious at the mention of
Marcella's name, ran over the girl's face and form. Then he bowed with a
certain charming exaggeration--like an eighteenth-century beau with his
hand upon his heart--and turned back with them a step or two towards the
road.





BOOK II.


"A woman has enough to govern wisely
Her own demeanours, passions and divisions."



CHAPTER I.


On a certain night in the December following the engagement of Marcella
Boyce to Aldous Raeburn, the woods and fields of Mellor, and all the
bare rampart of chalk down which divides the Buckinghamshire plain from
the forest upland of the Chilterns lay steeped in moonlight, and in the
silence which belongs to intense frost.

Winter had set in before the leaf had fallen from the last oaks; already
there had been a fortnight or more of severe cold, with hardly any snow.
The pastures were delicately white; the ditches and the wet furrows in
the ploughed land, the ponds on Mellor common, and the stagnant pool in
the midst of the village, whence it drew its main water supply, were
frozen hard. But the ploughed chalk land itself lay a dull grey beside
the glitter of the pastures, and the woods under the bright sun of the
days dropped their rime only to pass once more with the deadly cold of
the night under the fantastic empire of the frost. Every day the veil of
morning mist rose lightly from the woods, uncurtaining the wintry
spectacle, and melting into the brilliant azure of an unflecked sky;
every night the moon rose without a breath of wind, without a cloud; and
all the branch-work of the trees, where they stood in the open fields,
lay reflected clean and sharp on the whitened ground. The bitter cold
stole into the cottages, marking the old and feeble with the touch of
Azrael; while without, in the field solitudes, bird and beast cowered
benumbed and starving in hole and roosting place.

How still it was--this midnight--on the fringe of the woods! Two men
sitting concealed among some bushes at the edge of Mr. Boyce's largest
cover, and bent upon a common errand, hardly spoke to each other, so
strange and oppressive was the silence. One was Jim Hurd; the other was
a labourer, a son of old Patton of the almshouses, himself a man of
nearly sixty, with a small wizened face showing sharp and white to-night
under his slouched hat.

They looked out over a shallow cup of treeless land to a further bound
of wooded hill, ending towards the north in a bare bluff of down shining
steep under the moon. They were in shadow, and so was most of the wide
dip of land before them; but through a gap to their right, beyond the
wood, the moonbeams poured, and the farms nestling under the opposite
ridge, the plantations ranging along it, and the bald beacon hill in
which it broke to the plain, were all in radiant light.

Not a stir of life anywhere. Hurd put up his hand to his ear, and
leaning forward listened intently. Suddenly--a vibration, a dull
thumping sound in the soil of the bank immediately beside him. He
started, dropped his hand, and, stooping, laid his ear to the ground.

"Gi' us the bag," he said to his companion, drawing himself upright.
"You can hear 'em turnin' and creepin' as plain as anything. Now then,
you take these and go t' other side."

He handed over a bundle of rabbit nets. Patton, crawling on hands and
knees, climbed over the low overgrown bank on which the hedge stood into
the precincts of the wood itself. The state of the hedge, leaving the
cover practically open and defenceless along its whole boundary, showed
plainly enough that it belonged to the Mellor estate. But the field
beyond was Lord Maxwell's.

Hurd applied himself to netting the holes on his own side, pushing the
brambles and undergrowth aside with the sure hand of one who had already
reconnoitred the ground. Then he crept over to Patton to see that all
was right on the other side, came back, and went for the ferrets, of
whom he had four in a closely tied bag.

A quarter of an hour of intense excitement followed. In all, five
rabbits bolted--three on Hurd's side, two on Patton's. It was all the
two men could do to secure their prey, manage the ferrets, and keep a
watch on the holes. Hurd's great hands--now fixing the pegs that held
the nets, now dealing death to the entangled rabbit, whose neck he broke
in an instant by a turn of the thumb, now winding up the line that held
the ferret--seemed to be everywhere.

At last a ferret "laid up," the string attached to him having either
slipped or broken, greatly to the disgust of the men, who did not want
to be driven either to dig, which made a noise and took time, or to lose
their animal. The rabbits made no more sign, and it was tolerably
evident that they had got as much as they were likely to get out of
that particular "bury."

Hurd thrust his arm deep into the hole where he had put the ferret.
"Ther's summat in the way," he declared at last. "Mos' likely a dead un.
Gi' me the spade."

He dug away the mouth of the hole, making as little noise as possible,
and tried again.

"'Ere ee be," he cried, clutching at something, drew it out, exclaimed
in disgust, flung it away, and pounced upon a rabbit which on the
removal of the obstacle followed like a flash, pursued by the lost
ferret. Hurd caught the rabbit by the neck, held it by main force, and
killed it; then put the ferret into his pocket. "Lord!" he said, wiping
his brow, "they do come suddent."

What he had pulled out was a dead cat; a wretched puss, who on some
happy hunt had got itself wedged in the hole, and so perished there
miserably. He and Patton stooped over it wondering; then Hurd walked
some paces along the bank, looking warily out to the right of him across
the open country all the time. He threw the poor malodorous thing far
into the wood and returned.

The two men lit their pipes under the shelter of the bushes, and rested
a bit, well hidden, but able to see out through a break in the bit of
thicket.

"Six on 'em," said Hurd, looking at the stark creatures beside him. "I
be too done to try another bury. I'll set a snare or two, an' be off
home."

Patton puffed silently. He was wondering whether Hurd would give him one
rabbit or two. Hurd had both "plant" and skill, and Patton would have
been glad enough to come for one. Still he was a plaintive man with a
perpetual grievance, and had already made up his mind that Hurd would
treat him shabbily to-night, in spite of many past demonstrations that
his companion was on the whole of a liberal disposition.

"You bin out workin' a day's work already, han't yer?" he said
presently. He himself was out of work, like half the village, and had
been presented by his wife with boiled swede for supper. But he knew
that Hurd had been taken on at the works at the Court, where the new
drive was being made, and a piece of ornamental water enlarged and
improved--mainly for the sake of giving employment in bad times. He,
Patton, and some of his mates, had tried to get a job there. But the
steward had turned them back. The men off the estate had first claim,
and there was not room for all of them. Yet Hurd had been taken on,
which had set people talking.

Hurd nodded, and said nothing. He was not disposed to be communicative
on the subject of his employment at the Court.

"An' it be true as _she_ be goin' to marry Muster Raeburn?"

Patton jerked his head towards the right, where above a sloping hedge
the chimneys of Mellor and the tops of the Mellor cedars, some two or
three fields away, showed distinct against the deep night blue.

Hurd nodded again, and smoked diligently. Patton, nettled by this
parsimony of speech, made the inward comment that his companion was "a
deep un." The village was perfectly aware of the particular friendship
shown by Miss Boyce to the Hurds. He was goaded into trying a more
stinging topic.

"Westall wor braggin' last night at Bradsell's"--(Bradsell was the
landlord of "The Green Man" at Mellor)--"ee said as how they'd taken you
on at the Court--but that didn't prevent 'em knowin' as you was a bad
lot. Ee said _ee_ 'ad 'is eye on yer--ee 'ad warned yer twoice last
year--"

"That's a lie!" said Hurd, removing his pipe an instant and putting it
back again.

Patton looked more cheerful.

"Well, ee spoke cru'l. Ee was certain, ee said, as you could tell a
thing or two about them coverts at Tudley End, if the treuth were known.
You wor allus a loafer, an' a loafer you'd be. Yer might go snivellin'
to Miss Boyce, ee said, but yer wouldn't do no honest work--ee said--not
if yer could help it--that's what ee said."

"Devil!" said Hurd between his teeth, with a quick lift of all his great
misshapen chest. He took his pipe out of his mouth, rammed it down
fiercely with his thumb, and put it in his pocket.

"Look out!" exclaimed Patton with a start.

A whistle!--clear and distinct--from the opposite side of the hollow.
Then a man's figure, black and motionless an instant on the whitened
down, with a black speck beside it; lastly, another figure higher up
along the hill, in quick motion towards the first, with other specks
behind it. The poachers instantly understood that it was Westall--whose
particular beat lay in this part of the estate--signalling to his night
watcher, Charlie Dynes, and that the two men would be on them in no
time. It was the work of a few seconds to efface as far as possible the
traces of their raid, to drag some thick and trailing brambles which
hung near over the mouth of the hole where there had been digging, to
catch up the ferrets and game, and to bid Hurd's lurcher to come to
heel. The two men crawled up the ditch with their burdens as far away to
leeward as they could get from the track by which the keepers would
cross the field. The ditch was deeply overgrown, and when the
approaching voices warned them to lie close, they crouched under a dense
thicket of brambles and overhanging bushes, afraid of nothing but the
noses of the keepers' dogs.

Dogs and men, however, passed unsuspecting.

"Hold still!" said Hurd, checking Patton's first attempt to move. "He'll
be back again mos' like. It's 'is dodge."

And sure enough in twenty minutes or so the men reappeared. They
retraced their steps from the further corner of the field, where some
preserves of Lord Maxwell's approached very closely to the big Mellor
wood, and came back again along the diagonal path within fifty yards or
so of the men in the ditch.

In the stillness the poachers could hear Westall's harsh and peremptory
voice giving some orders to his underling, or calling to the dogs, who
had scattered a little in the stubble. Hurd's own dog quivered beside
him once or twice.

Then steps and voices faded into the distance and all was safe.

The poachers crept out grinning, and watched the keepers' progress
along the hill-face, till they disappeared into the Maxwell woods.

"_Ee_ be sold again--blast 'im!" said Hurd, with a note of quite
disproportionate exultation in his queer, cracked voice. "Now I'll set
them snares. But you'd better git home."

Patton took the hint, gave a grunt of thanks as his companion handed him
two rabbits, which he stowed away in the capacious pockets of his
poacher's coat, and slouched off home by as sheltered and roundabout a
way as possible.

Hurd, left to himself, stowed his nets and other apparatus in a hidden
crevice of the bank, and strolled along to set his snares in three
hare-runs, well known to him, round the further side of the wood.

Then he waited impatiently for the striking of the clock in Mellor
church. The cold was bitter, but his night's work was not over yet, and
he had had very good reasons for getting rid of Patton.

Almost immediately the bell rang out, the echo rolling round the bend of
the hills in the frosty silence. Half-past twelve Hurd scrambled over
the ditch, pushed his way through the dilapidated hedge, and began to
climb the ascent of the wood. The outskirts of it were filled with a
thin mixed growth of sapling and underwood, but the high centre of it
was crowned by a grove of full-grown beeches, through which the moon,
now at its height, was playing freely, as Hurd clambered upwards amid
the dead leaves just freshly strewn, as though in yearly festival, about
their polished trunks. Such infinite grace and strength in the line work
of the branches!--branches not bent into gnarled and unexpected
fantasies, like those of the oak, but gathered into every conceivable
harmony of upward curve and sweep, rising all together, black against
the silvery light, each tree related to and completing its neighbour, as
though the whole wood, so finely rounded on itself and to the hill, were
but one majestic conception of a master artist.

But Hurd saw nothing of this as he plunged through the leaves. He was
thinking that it was extremely likely a man would be on the look-out for
him to-night under the big beeches--a man with some business to propose
to him. A few words dropped in his ear at a certain public-house the
night before had seemed to him to mean this, and he had accordingly sent
Patton out of the way.

But when he got to the top of the hill no one was to be seen or heard,
and he sat him down on a fallen log to smoke and wait awhile.

He had no sooner, however, taken his seat than he shifted it uneasily,
turning himself round so as to look in the other direction. For in front
of him, as he was first placed, there was a gap in the trees, and over
the lower wood, plainly visible and challenging attention, rose the dark
mass of Mellor House. And the sight of Mellor suggested reflections just
now that were not particularly agreeable to Jim Hurd.

He had just been poaching Mr. Boyce's rabbits without any sort of
scruple. But the thought of _Miss_ Boyce was not pleasant to him when he
was out on these nightly raids.

Why had she meddled? He bore her a queer sort of grudge for it. He had
just settled down to the bit of cobbling which, together with his wife's
plait, served him for a blind, and was full of a secret excitement as to
various plans he had in hand for "doing" Westall, combining a maximum of
gain for the winter with a maximum of safety, when Miss Boyce walked in,
radiant with the news that there was employment for him at the Court, on
the new works, whenever he liked to go and ask for it.

And then she had given him an odd look.

"And I was to pass you on a message from Lord Maxwell, Hurd," she had
said: "'You tell him to keep out of Westall's way for the future, and
bygones shall be bygones.' Now, I'm not going to ask what that means. If
you've been breaking some of our landlords' law, I'm not going to say
I'm shocked. I'd alter the law to-morrow, if I could!--you know I would.
But I do say you're a fool if you go on with it, now you've got good
work for the winter; you must please remember your wife and children."

And there he had sat like a log, staring at her--both he and Minta not
knowing where to look, or how to speak. Then at last his wife had broken
out, crying:

"Oh, miss! we should ha starved--"

And Miss Boyce had stopped her in a moment, catching her by the hand.
Didn't she know it? Was she there to preach to them? Only Hurd must
promise not to do it any more, for his wife's sake.

And he--stammering--left without excuse or resource, either against her
charge, or the work she offered him--had promised her, and promised her,
moreover--in his trepidation--with more fervency than he at all liked
to remember.

For about a fortnight, perhaps, he had gone to the Court by day, and had
kept indoors by night. Then, just as the vagabond passions, the Celtic
instincts, so long repressed, so lately roused, were goading at him
again, he met Westall in the road--Westall, who looked him over from top
to toe with an insolent smile, as much as to say, "Well, my man, we've
got the whip hand of you now!" That same night he crept out again in the
dark and the early morning, in spite of all Minta's tears and scolding.

Well, what matter? As towards the rich and the law, he had the morals of
the slave, who does not feel that he has had any part in making the
rules he is expected to keep, and breaks them when he can with glee. It
made him uncomfortable, certainly, that Miss Boyce should come in and
out of their place as she did, should be teaching Willie to read, and
bringing her old dresses to make up for Daisy and Nellie, while he was
making a fool of her in this way. Still he took it all as it came. One
sensation wiped out another.

Besides, Miss Boyce had, after all, much part in this double life of
his. Whenever he was at home, sitting over the fire with a pipe, he read
those papers and things she had brought him in the summer. He had not
taken much notice of them at first. Now he spelled them out again and
again. He had always thought "them rich people took advantage of yer."
But he had never supposed, somehow, they were such thieves, such mean
thieves, as it appeared, they were. A curious ferment filled his
restless, inconsequent brain. The poor were downtrodden, but they were
coming to their rights. The land and its creatures were for the people!
not for the idle rich. Above all, Westall was a devil, and must be put
down. For the rest, if he could have given words to experience, he would
have said that since he began to go out poaching he had burst his prison
and found himself. A life which was not merely endurance pulsed in him.
The scent of the night woods, the keenness of the night air, the tracks
and ways of the wild creatures, the wiles by which he slew them, the
talents and charms of his dog Bruno--these things had developed in him
new aptitudes both of mind and body, which were in themselves
exhilaration. He carried his dwarf's frame more erect, breathed from an
ampler chest. As for his work at the Court, he thought of it often with
impatience and disgust. It was a more useful blind than his cobbling, or
he would have shammed illness and got quit of it.

"Them were sharp uns that managed that business at Tudley End!" He fell
thinking about it and chuckling over it as he smoked. Two of Westall's
best coverts swept almost clear just before the big shoot in
November!--and all done so quick and quiet, before you could say "Jack
Robinson." Well, there was plenty more yet, more woods, and more birds.
There were those coverts down there, on the Mellor side of the
hollow--they had been kept for the last shoot in January. Hang him! why
wasn't that fellow up to time?

But no one came, and he must sit on, shivering and smoking, a sack
across his shoulders. As the stir of nerve and blood caused by the
ferreting subsided, his spirits began to sink. Mists of Celtic
melancholy, perhaps of Celtic superstition, gained upon him. He found
himself glancing from side to side, troubled by the noises in the wood.
A sad light wind crept about the trunks like a whisper; the owls called
overhead; sometimes there was a sudden sharp rustle or fall of a branch
that startled him. Yet he knew every track, every tree in that wood. Up
and down that field outside he had followed his father at the plough, a
little sickly object of a lad, yet seldom unhappy, so long as childhood
lasted, and his mother's temper could be fled from, either at school or
in the fields. Under that boundary hedge to the right he had lain
stunned and bleeding all a summer afternoon, after old Westall had
thrashed him, his heart scorched within him by the sense of wrong and
the craving for revenge. On that dim path leading down the slope of the
wood, George Westall had once knocked him down for disturbing a sitting
pheasant. He could see himself falling--the tall, powerful lad standing
over him with a grin.

Then, inconsequently, he began to think of his father's death. He made a
good end did the old man. "Jim, my lad, the Lord's verra merciful," or
"Jim, you'll look after Ann." Ann was the only daughter. Then a sigh or
two, and a bit of sleep, and it was done.

And everybody must go the same way, must come to the same stopping of
the breath, the same awfulness--in a life of blind habit--of a moment
that never had been before and never could be again? He did not put it
to these words, but the shudder that is in the thought for all of us,
seized him. He was very apt to think of dying, to ponder in his secret
heart _how_ it would be, and when. And always it made him very soft
towards Minta and the children. Not only did the _life_ instinct cling
to them, to the warm human hands and faces hemming him in and protecting
him from that darkness beyond with its shapes of terror. But to think of
himself as sick, and gasping to his end, like his father, was to put
himself back in his old relation to his wife, when they were first
married. He might cross Minta now, but if he came to lie sick, he could
see himself there, in the future, following her about with his eyes, and
thanking her, and doing all she told him, just as he'd used to do. He
couldn't die without her to help him through. The very idea of her being
taken first, roused in him a kind of spasm--a fierceness, a clenching of
the hands. But all the same, in this poaching matter, he must have, his
way, and she must just get used to it.

Ah! a low whistle from the further side of the wood. He replied, and was
almost instantly joined by a tall slouching youth, by day a blacksmith's
apprentice at Gairsley, the Maxwells' village, who had often brought him
information before.

The two sat talking for ten minutes or so on the log. Then they parted;
Hurd went back to the ditch where he had left the game, put two rabbits
into his pockets, left the other two to be removed in the morning when
he came to look at his snares, and went off home, keeping as much as
possible in the shelter of the hedges. On one occasion he braved the
moonlight and the open field, rather than pass through a woody corner
where an old farmer had been found dead some six years before. Then he
reached a deep lane leading to the village, and was soon at his own
door.

As he climbed the wooden ladder leading to the one bedroom where he, his
wife, and his four children slept, his wife sprang up in bed.

"Jim, you must be perished--such a night as 't is. Oh, Jim--where ha'
you bin?"

She was a miserable figure in her coarse nightgown, with her grizzling
hair wild about her, and her thin arms nervously outstretched along the
bed. The room was freezing cold, and the moonlight stealing through the
scanty bits of curtains brought into dismal clearness the squalid bed,
the stained walls, and bare uneven floor. On an iron bedstead, at the
foot of the large bed, lay Willie, restless and coughing, with the elder
girl beside him fast asleep; the other girl lay beside her mother, and
the wooden box with rockers, which held the baby, stood within reach of
Mrs. Hurd's arm.

He made her no answer, but went to look at the coughing boy, who had
been in bed for a week with bronchitis.

"You've never been and got in Westall's way again?" she said anxiously.
"It's no good my tryin' to get a wink o' sleep when you're out like
this."

"Don't you worrit yourself," he said to her, not roughly, but decidedly.
"I'm all right. This boy's bad, Minta."

"Yes, an' I kep' up the fire an' put the spout on the kettle, too." She
pointed to the grate and to the thin line of steam, which was doing its
powerless best against the arctic cold of the room.

Hurd bent over the boy and tried to put him comfortable. The child, weak
and feverish, only began to cry--a hoarse bronchial crying, which
threatened to wake the baby. He could not be stopped, so Hurd made haste
to take off his own coat and boots, and then lifted the poor soul in his
arms.

"You'll be quiet, Will, and go sleep, won't yer, if daddy takes keer on
you?"

He wrapped his own coat round the little fellow, and lying down beside
his wife, took him on his arm and drew the thin brown blankets over
himself and his charge. He himself was warm with exercise, and in a
little while the huddling creatures on either side of him were warm too.
The quick, panting breath of the boy soon showed that he was asleep. His
father, too, sank almost instantly into deep gulfs of sleep. Only the
wife--nervous, overdone, and possessed by a thousand fears--lay tossing
and wakeful hour after hour, while the still glory of the winter night
passed by.




CHAPTER II.


"Well, Marcella, have you and Lady Winterbourne arranged your classes?"

Mrs. Boyce was stooping over a piece of needlework beside a window in
the Mellor drawing-room, trying to catch the rapidly failing light. It
was one of the last days of December. Marcella had just come in from the
village rather early, for they were expecting a visitor to arrive about
tea time, and had thrown herself, tired, into a chair near her mother.

"We have got about ten or eleven of the younger women to join; none of
the old ones will come," said Marcella. "Lady Winterbourne has heard of
a capital teacher from Dunstable, and we hope to get started next week.
There is money enough to pay wages for three months."

In spite of her fatigue, her eye was bright and restless. The energy of
thought and action from which she had just emerged still breathed from
every limb and feature.

"Where have you got the money?"

"Mr. Raeburn has managed it," said Marcella, briefly.

Mrs. Boyce gave a slight shrug of the shoulders.

"And afterwards--what is to become of your product?"

"There is a London shop Lady Winterbourne knows will take what we make
if it turns out well. Of course, we don't expect to pay our way."

Marcella gave her explanations with a certain stiffness of self-defence.
She and Lady Winterbourne had evolved a scheme for reviving and
improving the local industry of straw-plaiting, which after years of
decay seemed now on the brink of final disappearance. The village women
who could at present earn a few pence a week by the coarser kinds of
work were to be instructed, not only in the finer and better paid sorts,
but also in the making up of the plait when done, and the "blocking" of
hats and bonnets--processes hitherto carried on exclusively at one or
two large local centres.

"You don't expect to pay your way?" repeated Mrs. Boyce. "What, never?"

"Well, we shall give twelve to fourteen shillings a week wages. We shall
find the materials, and the room--and prices are very low, the whole
trade depressed."

Mrs. Boyce laughed.

"I see. How many workers do you expect to get together?"

"Oh! eventually, about two hundred in the three villages. It will
regenerate the whole life!" said Marcella, a sudden ray from the inner
warmth escaping her, against her will.

Mrs. Boyce smiled again, and turned her work so as to see it better.

"Does Aldous understand what you are letting him in for?"

Marcella flushed.

"Perfectly. It is 'ransom'--that's all."

"And he is ready to take your view of it?"

"Oh, he thinks us economically unsound, of course," said Marcella,
impatiently. "So we are. All care for the human being under the present
state of things is economically unsound. But he likes it no more than I
do."

"Well, lucky for you he has a long purse," said Mrs. Boyce, lightly.
"But I gather, Marcella, you don't insist upon his spending it _all_ on
straw-plaiting. He told me yesterday he had taken the Hertford Street
house."

"We shall live quite simply," said Marcella, quickly.

"What, no carriage?"

Marcella hesitated.

"A carriage saves time. And if one goes about much, it does not cost so
much more than cabs."

"So you mean to go about much? Lady Winterbourne talks to me of
presenting you in May."

"That's Miss Raeburn," cried Marcella. "She says I must, and all the
family would be scandalised if I didn't go. But you can't imagine--"

She stopped and took off her hat, pushing the hair back from her
forehead. A look of worry and excitement had replaced the radiant glow
of her first resting moments.

"That you like it?" said Mrs. Boyce, bluntly. "Well, I don't know. Most
young women like pretty gowns, and great functions, and prominent
positions. I don't call you an ascetic, Marcella."

Marcella winced.

"One has to fit oneself to circumstances," she said proudly. "One may
hate the circumstances, but one can't escape them."

"Oh, I don't think you will hate your circumstances, my dear! You would
be very foolish if you did. Have you heard finally how much the
settlement is to be?"

"No," said Marcella, shortly. "I have not asked papa, nor anybody."

"It was only settled this morning. Your father told me hurriedly as he
went out. You are to have two thousand a year of your own."

The tone was dry, and the speaker's look as she turned towards her
daughter had in it a curious hostility; but Marcella did not notice her
mother's manner.

"It is too much," she said in a low voice.

She had thrown back her head against the chair in which she sat, and her
half-troubled eyes were wandering over the darkening expanse of lawn and
avenue.

"He said he wished you to feel perfectly free to live your own life, and
to follow out your own projects. Oh, for a person of projects, my dear,
it is not so much. You will do well to husband it. Keep it for yourself.
Get what _you_ want out of it: not what other people want."

Again Marcella's attention missed the note of agitation in her mother's
sharp manner. A soft look--a look of compunction--passed across her
face. Mrs. Boyce began to put her working things away, finding it too
dark to do any more.

"By the way," said the mother, suddenly, "I suppose you will be going
over to help him in his canvassing this next few weeks? Your father says
the election will be certainly in February."

Marcella moved uneasily.

"He knows," she said at last, "that I don't agree with him in so many
things. He is so full of this Peasant Proprietors Bill. And I hate
peasant properties. They are nothing but a step backwards."

Mrs. Boyce lifted her eyebrows.

"That's unlucky. He tells me it is likely to be his chief work in the
new Parliament. Isn't it, on the whole, probable that he knows more
about the country than you do, Marcella?"

Marcella sat up with sudden energy and gathered her walking things
together.

"It isn't knowledge that's the question, mamma; it's the principle of
the thing. I mayn't know anything, but the people whom I follow know.
There are the two sides of thought--the two ways of looking at things. I
warned Aldous when he asked me to marry him which I belonged to. And he
accepted it."

Mrs. Boyce's thin fine mouth curled a little.

"So you suppose that Aldous had his wits about him on that great
occasion as much as you had?"

Marcella first started, then quivered with nervous indignation.

"Mother," she said, "I can't bear it. It's not the first time that you
have talked as though I had taken some unfair advantage--made an
unworthy bargain. It is too hard too. Other people may think what they
like, but that you--"

Her voice failed her, and the tears came into her eyes. She was tired
and over-excited, and the contrast between the atmosphere of flattery
and consideration which surrounded her in Aldous's company, in the
village, or at the Winterbournes, and this tone which her mother so
often took with her when they were alone, was at the moment hardly to be
endured.

Mrs. Boyce looked up more gravely.

"You misunderstand me, my dear," she said quietly. "I allow myself to
wonder at you a little, but I think no hard things of you ever. I
believe you like Aldous."

"Really, mamma!" cried Marcella, half hysterically.

Mrs. Boyce had by now rolled up her work and shut her workbasket.

"If you are going to take off your things," she said, "please tell
William that there will be six or seven at tea. You said, I think, that
Mr. Raeburn was going to bring Mr. Hallin?"

"Yes, and Frank Leven is coming. When will Mr. Wharton be here?"

"Oh, in ten minutes or so, if his train is punctual. I hear your father
just coming in."

Marcella went away, and Mrs. Boyce was left a few minutes alone. Her
thin hands lay idle a moment on her lap, and leaning towards the window
beside her, she looked out an instant into the snowy twilight. Her mind
was full of its usual calm scorn for those--her daughter included--who
supposed that the human lot was to be mended by a rise in weekly wages,
or that suffering has any necessary dependence on the amount of
commodities of which a man disposes. What hardship is there in starving
and scrubbing and toiling? Had she ever seen a labourer's wife scrubbing
her cottage floor without envy, without moral thirst? Is it these things
that kill, or any of the great simple griefs and burdens? Doth man live
by bread alone? The whole language of social and charitable enthusiasm
often raised in her a kind of exasperation.

So Marcella would be rich, excessively rich, even now. Outside the
amount settled upon her, the figures of Aldous Raeburn's present income,
irrespective of the inheritance which would come to him on his
grandfather's death, were a good deal beyond what even Mr. Boyce--upon
whom the daily spectacle of the Maxwell wealth exercised a certain
angering effect--had supposed.

Mrs. Boyce had received the news of the engagement with astonishment,
but her after-acceptance of the situation had been marked by all her
usual philosophy. Probably behind the philosophy there was much secret
relief. Marcella was provided for. Not the fondest or most contriving
mother could have done more for her than she had at one stroke done for
herself. During the early autumn Mrs. Boyce had experienced some moments
of sharp prevision as to what her future relations might be towards this
strong and restless daughter, so determined to conquer a world her
mother had renounced. Now all was clear, and a very shrewd observer
could allow her mind to play freely with the ironies of the situation.

As to Aldous Raeburn, she had barely spoken to him before the day when
Marcella announced the engagement, and the lover a few hours later had
claimed her daughter at the mother's hands with an emotion to which Mrs.
Boyce found her usual difficulty in responding. She had done her best,
however, to be gracious and to mask her surprise that he should have
proposed, that Lord Maxwell should have consented, and that Marcella
should have so lightly fallen a victim. One surprise, however, had to be
confessed, at least to herself. After her interview with her future
son-in-law, Mrs. Boyce realised that for the first time for fifteen
years she was likely to admit a new friend. The impression made upon him
by her own singular personality had translated itself in feelings and
language which, against her will as it were, established an
understanding, an affinity. That she had involuntarily aroused in him
the profoundest and most chivalrous pity was plain to her. Yet for the
first time in her life she did not resent it; and Marcella watched her
mother's attitude with a mixture of curiosity and relief.

Then followed talk of an early wedding, communications from Lord Maxwell
to Mr. Boyce of a civil and formal kind, a good deal more notice from
the "county," and finally this definite statement from Aldous Raeburn as
to the settlement he proposed to make upon his wife, and the joint
income which he and she would have immediately at their disposal.

Under all these growing and palpable evidences of Marcella's future
wealth and position, Mrs. Boyce had shown her usual restless and ironic
spirit. But of late, and especially to-day, restlessness had become
oppression. While Marcella was so speedily to become the rich and
independent woman, they themselves, Marcella's mother and father, were
very poor, in difficulties even, and likely to remain so. She gathered
from her husband's grumbling that the provision of a suitable trousseau
for Marcella would tax his resources to their utmost. How long would it
be before they were dipping in Marcella's purse? Mrs. Boyce's
self-tormenting soul was possessed by one of those nightmares her pride
had brought upon her in grim succession during these fifteen years. And
this pride, strong towards all the world, was nowhere so strong or so
indomitable, at this moment, as towards her own daughter. They were
practically strangers to each other; and they jarred. To inquire where
the fault lay would have seemed to Mrs. Boyce futile.

       *       *       *       *       *

Darkness had come on fast, and Mrs. Boyce was in the act of ringing for
lights when her husband entered.

"Where's Marcella?" he asked as he threw himself into a chair with the
air of irritable fatigue which was now habitual to him.

"Only gone to take off her things and tell William about tea. She will
be down directly."

"Does she know about that settlement?"

"Yes, I told her. She thought it generous, but not--I think--unsuitable.
The world cannot be reformed on nothing."

"Reformed!--fiddlesticks!" said Mr. Boyce, angrily. "I never saw a girl
with a head so full of nonsense in my life. Where does she get it from?
Why did you let her go about in London with those people? She may be
spoilt for good. Ten to one she'll make a laughing stock of herself and
everybody belonging to her, before she's done."

"Well, that is Mr. Raeburn's affair. I think I should take him into
account more than Marcella does, if I were she. But probably she knows
best."

"Of course she does. He has lost his head; any one can see that. While
she is in the room, he is like a man possessed. It doesn't sit well on
that kind of fellow. It makes him ridiculous. I told him half the
settlement would be ample. She would only spend the rest on nonsense."

"You told him that?"

"Yes, I did. Oh!"--with an angry look at her--"I suppose you thought I
should want to sponge upon her? I am as much obliged to you as usual!"

A red spot rose in his wife's thin cheek. But she turned and answered
him gently, so gently that he had the rare sensation of having triumphed
over her. He allowed himself to be mollified, and she stood there over
the fire, chatting with him for some time, a friendly natural note in
her voice which was rare and, insensibly, soothed him like an opiate.
She chatted about Marcella's trousseau gowns, detailing her own
contrivances for economy; about the probable day of the wedding, the
latest gossip of the election, and so on. He sat shading his eyes from
the firelight, and now and then throwing in a word or two. The inmost
soul of him was very piteous, harrowed often by a new dread--the dread
of dying. The woman beside him held him in the hollow of her hand. In
the long wrestle between her nature and his, she had conquered. His fear
of her and his need of her had even come to supply the place of a dozen
ethical instincts he was naturally without.

Some discomfort, probably physical, seemed at last to break up his
moment of rest.

"Well, I tell you, I often wish it were the other man," he said, with
some impatience. "Raeburn 's so d----d superior. I suppose I offended
him by what I said of Marcella's whims, and the risk of letting her
control so much money at her age, and with her ideas. You never saw such
an air!--all very quiet, of course. He buttoned his coat and got up to
go, as though I were no more worth considering than the table. Neither
he nor his precious grandfather need alarm themselves: I shan't trouble
them as a visitor. If I shock them, they bore me--so we're quits.
Marcella'll have to come here if she wants to see her father. But owing
to your charming system of keeping her away from us all her childhood,
she's not likely to want."

"You mean Mr. Wharton by the other man?" said Mrs. Boyce, not defending
herself or Aldous.

"Yes, of course. But he came on the scene just too late, worse luck! Why
wouldn't he have done just as well? He's as mad as she--madder. He
believes all the rubbish she does--talks such _rot_, the people tell me,
in his meetings. But then he's good company--he amuses you--you don't
need to be on your p's and q's with _him_. Why wouldn't she have taken
up with him? As far as money goes they could have rubbed along. _He's_
not the man to starve when there are game-pies going. It's just bad
luck."

Mrs. Boyce smiled a little.

"What there is to make you suppose that she would have inclined to him,
I don't exactly see. She has been taken up with Mr. Raeburn, really,
from the first week of her arrival here."

"Well, I dare say--there was no one else," said her husband, testily.
"That's natural enough. It's just what I say. All I know is, Wharton
shall be free to use this house just as he pleases during his
canvassing, whatever the Raeburns may say."

He bent forward and poked the somewhat sluggish fire with a violence
which hindered rather than helped it. Mrs. Boyce's smile had quite
vanished. She perfectly understood all that was implied, whether in his
instinctive dislike of Aldous Raeburn, or in his cordiality towards
young Wharton.

After a minute's silence, he got up again and left the room, walking, as
she observed, with difficulty. She stopped a minute or so in the same
place after he had gone, turning her rings absently on her thin fingers.
She was thinking of some remarks which Dr. Clarke, the excellent and
experienced local doctor, had made to her on the occasion of his last
visit. With all the force of her strong will she had set herself to
disbelieve them. But they had had subtle effects already. Finally she
too went upstairs, bidding Marcella, whom she met coming down, hurry
William with the tea, as Mr. Wharton might arrive any moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marcella saw the room shut up--the large, shabby, beautiful room--the
lamps brought in, fresh wood thrown on the fire to make it blaze, and
the tea-table set out. Then she sat herself down on a low chair by the
fire, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her hands clasped
in front of her. Her black dress revealed her fine full throat and her
white wrists, for she had an impatience of restraint anywhere, and wore
frills and falls of black lace where other people would have followed
the fashion in high collars and close wristbands. What must have struck
any one with an observant eye, as she sat thus, thrown into beautiful
light and shade by the blaze of the wood fire, was the massiveness of
the head compared with the nervous delicacy of much of the face, the
thinness of the wrist, and of the long and slender foot raised on the
fender. It was perhaps the great thickness and full wave of the hair
which gave the head its breadth; but the effect was singular, and would
have been heavy but for the glow of the eyes, which balanced it.

She was thinking, as a _fiancée_ should, of Aldous and their marriage,
which had been fixed for the end of February. Yet not apparently with
any rapturous absorption. There was a great deal to plan, and her mind
was full of business. Who was to look after her various village schemes
while she and Lady Winterbourne were away in London? Mary Harden had
hardly brains enough, dear little thing as she was. They must find some
capable woman and pay her. The Cravens would tell her, of course, that
she was on the high road to the most degrading of _rôles_--the _rôle_ of
Lady Bountiful. But there were Lady Bountifuls and Lady Bountifuls. And
the _rôle_ itself was inevitable. It all depended upon how it was
managed--in the interest of what ideas.

She must somehow renew her relations with the Cravens in town. It would
certainly be in her power now to help them and their projects forward a
little. Of course they would distrust her, but that she would get over.

All the time she was listening mechanically for the hall door bell,
which, however, across the distances of the great rambling house it was
not easy to hear. Their coming guest was not much in her mind. She
tacitly assumed that her father would look after him. On the two or
three occasions when they had met during the last three months,
including his luncheon at Mellor on the day after her engagement, her
thoughts had been too full to allow her to take much notice of
him--picturesque and amusing as he seemed to be. Of late he had not been
much in the neighbourhood. There had been a slack time for both
candidates, which was now to give way to a fresh period of hard
canvassing in view of the election which everybody expected at the end
of February.

But Aldous was to bring Edward Hallin! That interested her. She felt an
intense curiosity to see and know Hallin, coupled with a certain
nervousness. The impression she might be able to make on him would be in
some sense an earnest of her future.

Suddenly, something undefinable--a slight sound, a current of air--made
her turn her head. To her amazement she saw a young man in the doorway
looking at her with smiling eyes, and quietly drawing off his gloves.

She sprang up with a feeling of annoyance.

"Mr. Wharton!"

"Oh!--must you?"--he said, with a movement of one hand, as though to
stop her. "Couldn't you stay like that? At first I thought there was
nobody in the room. Your servant is grappling with my bags, which are as
the sand of the sea for multitude, so I wandered in by myself. Then I
saw you--and the fire--and the room. It was like a bit of music. It was
mere wanton waste to interrupt it."

Marcella flushed, as she very stiffly shook hands with him.

"I did not hear the front door," she said coldly. "My mother will be
here directly. May I give you some tea?"

"Thanks. No, I knew you did not hear me. That delighted me. It showed
what charming things there are in the world that have no spectators!
What a _delicious_ place this is!--what a heavenly old place--especially
in these half lights! There was a raw sun when I was here before, but
now--"

He stood in front of the fire, looking round the great room, and at the
few small lamps making their scanty light amid the flame-lit darkness.
His hands were loosely crossed behind his back, and his boyish face, in
its setting of curls, shone with content and self-possession.

"Well," said Marcella, bluntly, "I should prefer a little more light to
live by. Perhaps, when you have fallen downstairs here in the dark as
often as I have, you may too."

He laughed.

"But how much better, after all--don't you think so?--to have too little
of anything than too much!"

He flung himself into a chair beside the tea-table, looking up with gay
interrogation as Marcella handed him his cup. She was a good deal
surprised by him. On the few occasions of their previous meetings, these
bright eyes, and this pronounced manner, had been--at any rate as
towards herself--much less free and evident. She began to recover the
start he had given her, and to study him with a half-unwilling
curiosity.

"Then Mellor will please you," she said drily, in answer to his remark,
carrying her own tea meanwhile to a chair on the other side of the fire.
"My father never bought anything--my father can't. I believe we have
chairs enough to sit down upon--but we have no curtains to half the
windows. Can I give you anything?"

For he had risen, and was looking over the tea-tray.

"Oh! but I _must_," he said discontentedly. "I _must_ have enough sugar
in my tea!"

"I gave you more than the average," she said, with a sudden little leap
of laughter, as she came to his aid. "Do all your principles break down
like this? I was going to suggest that you might like some of that fire
taken away?" And she pointed to the pile of blazing logs which now
filled up the great chimney.

"That fire!" he said, shivering, and moving up to it. "Have you any idea
what sort of a wind you keep up here on these hills on a night like
this? And to think that in this weather, with a barometer that laughs in
your face when you try to move it, I have three meetings to-morrow
night!"

"When one loves the 'People,' with a large P," said Marcella, "one
mustn't mind winds."

He flashed a smile at her, answering to the sparkle of her look, then
applied himself to his tea and toasted bun again, with the dainty
deliberation of one enjoying every sip and bite.

"No; but if only the People didn't live so far apart. Some murderous
person wanted them to have only one neck. I want them to have only one
ear. Only then unfortunately everybody would speak well--which would
bring things round to dulness again. Does Mr. Raeburn make you think
very bad things of me, Miss Boyce?"

He bent forward to her as he spoke, his blue eyes all candour and mirth.

Marcella started.

"How can he?" she said abruptly. "I am not a Conservative."

"Not a Conservative?" he said joyously. "Oh! but impossible! Does that
mean that you ever read my poor little speeches?"

He pointed to the local newspaper, freshly cut, which lay on a table at
Marcella's elbow.

"Sometimes--" said Marcella, embarrassed. "There is so little time."

In truth she had hardly given his candidature a thought since the day
Aldous proposed to her. She had been far too much taken up with her own
prospects, with Lady Winterbourne's friendship, and her village schemes.

He laughed.

"Of course there is. When is the great event to be?"

"I didn't mean that," said Marcella, stiffly. "Lady Winterbourne and I
have been trying to start some village workshops. We have been working
and talking, and writing, morning, noon, and night."

"Oh! I know--yes, I heard of it. And you really think anything is going
to come out of finicking little schemes of that sort?"

His dry change of tone drew a quick look from her. The fresh-coloured
face was transformed. In place of easy mirth and mischief, she read an
acute and half contemptuous attention.

"I don't know what you mean," she said slowly, after a pause. "Or
rather--I do know quite well. You told papa--didn't you?--and Mr.
Raeburn says that you are a Socialist--not half-and-half, as all the
world is, but the real thing? And of course you want great changes: you
don't like anything that might strengthen the upper class with the
people. But that is nonsense. You can't get the changes for a long
_long_ time. And, meanwhile, people must be clothed and fed and kept
alive."

She lay back in her high-backed chair and looked at him defiantly. His
lip twitched, but he kept his gravity.

"You would be much better employed in forming a branch of the
Agricultural Union," he said decidedly. "What is the good of playing
Lady Bountiful to a decayed industry? All that is childish; we want _the
means of revolution_. The people who are for reform shouldn't waste
money and time on fads."

"I understand all that," she said scornfully, her quick breath rising
and falling. "Perhaps you don't know that I was a member of the
Venturist Society in London? What you say doesn't sound very new to me!"

His seriousness disappeared in laughter. He hastily put down his cup
and, stepping over to her, held out his hand.

"You a Venturist? So am I. Joy! Won't you shake hands with me, as
comrades should? We are a very mixed set of people, you know, and
between ourselves I don't know that we are coming to much. But we can
make an alderman dream of the guillotine--that is always something. Oh!
but now we can talk on quite a new footing!"

She had given him her hand for an instant, withdrawing it with shy
rapidity, and he had thrown himself into a chair again, with his arms
behind his head, and the air of one reflecting happily on a changed
situation. "Quite a new footing," he repeated thoughtfully. "But it
is--a little surprising. What does--what does Mr. Raeburn say to it?"

"Nothing! He cares just as much about the poor as you or I, please
understand! He doesn't choose my way--but he won't interfere with it."

"Ah! that is like him--like Aldous."

Marcella started.

"You don't mind my calling him by his Christian name sometimes? It drops
out. We used to meet as boys together at the Levens. The Levens are my
cousins. He was a big boy, and I was a little one. But he didn't like
me. You see--I was a little beast!"

His air of appealing candour could not have been more engaging.

"Yes, I fear I was a little beast. And he was, even then, and always,
'the good and beautiful.' You don't understand Greek, do you, Miss
Boyce? But he was very good to me. I got into an awful scrape once. I
let out a pair of eagle owls that used to be kept in the courtyard--Sir
Charles loved them a great deal more than his babies--I let them out at
night for pure wickedness, and they came to fearful ends in the park. I
was to have been sent home next day, in the most unnecessary and penal
hurry. But Aldous interposed--said he would look after me for the rest
of the holidays."

"And then you tormented him?"

"Oh no!" he said with gentle complacency. "Oh no! I never torment
anybody. But one must enjoy oneself you know; what else can one do? Then
afterwards, when we were older--somehow I don't know--but we didn't get
on. It is very sad--I wish he thought better of me."

The last words were said with a certain change of tone, and sitting up
he laid the tips of his fingers together on his knees with a little
plaintive air. Marcella's eyes danced with amusement, but she looked
away from him to the fire, and would not answer.

"You don't help me out. You don't console me. It's unkind of-you. Don't
you think it a melancholy fate to be always admiring the people who
detest you?"

"Don't admire them!" she said merrily.

His eyebrows lifted. "_That_," he said drily, "is disloyal. I call--I
call your ancestor over the mantelpiece"--he waved his hand towards a
blackened portrait in front of him--"to witness, that I am all for
admiring Mr. Raeburn, and you discourage it. Well, but now--_now_"--he
drew his chair eagerly towards hers, the pose of a minute before thrown
to the winds--"do let us understand each other a little more before
people come. You know I have a labour newspaper?"

She nodded.

"You read it?"

"Is it the _Labour Clarion_? I take it in."

"Capital!" he cried. "Then I know now why I found a copy in the village
here. You lent it to a man called Hurd?"

"I did."

"Whose wife worships you?--whose good angel you have been? Do I know
something about you, or do I not? Well, now, are you satisfied with that
paper? Can you suggest to me means of improving it? It wants some fresh
blood, I think--I must find it? I bought the thing last year, in a
moribund condition, with the old staff. Oh! we will certainly take
counsel together about it--most certainly! But first--I have been
boasting of knowing something about you--but I should like to ask--do
you know anything about me?"

Both laughed. Then Marcella tried to be serious.

"Well--I--I believe--you have some land?"

"Eight!" he nodded--"I am a Lincolnshire landowner. I have about five
thousand acres--enough to be tolerably poor on--and enough to play
tricks with. I have a co-operative farm, for instance. At present I have
lent them a goodish sum of money--and remitted them their first
half-year's rent. Not so far a paying speculation. But it will do--some
day. Meanwhile the estate wants money--and my plans and I want
money--badly. I propose to make the _Labour Clarion_ pay--if I can.
That will give me more time for speaking and organising, for what
concerns _us_--as Venturists--than the Bar."

"The Bar?" she said, a little mystified, but following every word with a
fascinated attention.

"I made myself a barrister three years ago, to please my mother. She
thought I should do better in Parliament--if ever I got in. Did you ever
hear of my mother?"

There was no escaping these frank, smiling questions.

"No," said Marcella, honestly.

"Well, ask Lord Maxwell," he said, laughing. "He and she came across
each other once or twice, when he was Home Secretary years ago, and she
was wild about some woman's grievance or other. She always maintains
that she got the better of him--no doubt he was left with a different
impression. Well--my mother--most people thought her mad--perhaps she
was--but then somehow--I loved her!"

He was still smiling, but at the last words a charming vibration crept
into the words, and his eyes sought her with a young open demand for
sympathy.

"Is that so rare?" she asked him, half laughing--instinctively defending
her own feeling lest it should be snatched from her by any make-believe.

"Yes--as we loved each other--it is rare. My father died when I was ten.
She would not send me to school, and I was always in her pocket--I
shared all her interests. She was a wild woman--but she _lived_, as not
one person in twenty lives."

Then he sighed. Marcella was too shy to imitate his readiness to ask
questions. But she supposed that his mother must be dead--indeed, now
vaguely remembered to have heard as much.

There was a little silence.

"Please tell me," she said suddenly, "why do you attack my
straw-plaiting? Is a co-operative farm any less of a stopgap?"

Instantly his face changed. He drew up his chair again beside her, as
gay and keen-eyed as before.

"I can't argue it out now. There is so much to say. But do listen! I
have a meeting in the village here next week to preach land
nationalisation. We mean to try and form a branch of the Labourers'
Union. Will you come?"

Marcella hesitated.

"I think so," she said slowly.

There was a pause. Then she raised her eyes and found his fixed upon
her. A sudden sympathy--of youth, excitement, pleasure--seemed to rise
between them. She had a quick impression of lightness, grace; of an open
brow set in curls; of a look more intimate, inquisitive, commanding,
than any she had yet met.

"May I speak to you, miss?" said a voice at the door.

Marcella rose hastily. Her mother's maid was standing there.

She hurried across the room.

"What is the matter, Deacon?"

"Your mother says, miss," said the maid, retreating into the hall, "I am
to tell you she can't come down. Your father is ill, and she has sent
for Dr. Clarke. But you are please not to go up. Will you give the
gentlemen their tea, and she will come down before they go, if she can."

Marcella had turned pale.

"Mayn't I go, Deacon? What is it?"

"It's a bad fit of pain, your mother says, miss. Nothing can be done
till the doctor comes. She begged _particular_ that you wouldn't go up,
miss. She doesn't want any one put out."

At the same moment there was a ring at the outer door.

"Oh, there is Aldous," cried Marcella, with relief, and she ran out into
the hall to meet him.




CHAPTER III.


Aldous advanced into the inner hall at sight of Marcella, leaving his
companions behind in the vestibule taking off their coats. Marcella ran
to him.

"Papa is ill!" she said to him hastily. "Mamma has sent for Dr. Clarke.
She won't let me go up, and wants us to take no notice and have tea
without her."

"I am so sorry! Can we do anything? The dogcart is here with a fast
horse. If your messenger went on foot--"

"Oh, no! they are sure to have sent the boy on the pony. I don't know
why, but I have had a presentiment for a long time past that papa was
going to be ill."

She looked white and excited. She had turned back to the drawing-room,
forgetting the other guests, he walking beside her. As they passed along
the dim hall, Aldous had her hand close in his, and when they passed
under an archway at the further end he stooped suddenly in the shadows
and kissed the hand. Touch--kiss--had the clinging, the intensity of
passion.

They were the expression of all that had lain vibrating at the man's
inmost heart during the dark drive, while he had been chatting with his
two companions.

"My darling! I hope not. Would you rather not see strangers? Shall I
send Hallin and young Leven away? They would understand at once."

"Oh, no! Mr. Wharton is here anyway--staying. Where is Mr. Hallin? I
had forgotten him."

Aldous turned and called. Mr. Hallin and young Frank Leven, divining
something unusual, were looking at the pictures in the hall.

Edward Hallin came up and took Marcella's offered hand. Each looked at
the other with a special attention and interest. "She holds my friend's
life in her hands--is she worthy of it?" was naturally the question
hanging suspended in the man's judgment. The girl's manner was proud and
shy, the manner of one anxious to please, yet already, perhaps, on the
defensive.

Aldous explained the position of affairs, and Hallin expressed his
sympathy. He had a singularly attractive voice, the voice indeed of the
orator, which can adapt itself with equal charm and strength to the most
various needs and to any pitch. As he spoke, Marcella was conscious of a
sudden impression that she already knew him and could be herself with
him at once.

"Oh, I say," broke in young Leven, who was standing behind; "don't you
be bothered with us, Miss Boyce. Just send us back at once. I'm awfully
sorry!"

"No; you are to come in!" she said, smiling through her pallor, which
was beginning to pass away, and putting out her hand to him--the young
Eton and Oxford athlete, just home for his Christmas vacation, was a
great favourite with her--"You must come and have tea and cheer me up by
telling me all the things you have killed this week. Is there anything
left alive? You had come down to the fieldfares, you know, last
Tuesday."

He followed her, laughing and protesting, and she led the way to the
drawing-room. But as her fingers were on the handle she once more caught
sight of the maid, Deacon, standing on the stairs, and ran to speak to
her.

"He is better," she said, coming back with a face of glad relief. "The
attack seems to be passing off. Mamma can't come down, but she begs that
we will all enjoy ourselves."

"We'll endeavour," said young Leven, rubbing his hands, "by the help of
tea. Miss Boyce, will you please tell Aldous and Mr. Hallin not to talk
politics when they're taking me out to a party. They should fight a man
of their own size. I'm all limp and trampled on, and want you to protect
me."

The group moved, laughing and talking, into the drawing-room.

"Jiminy!" said Leven, stopping short behind Aldous, who was alone
conscious of the lad's indignant astonishment; "what the deuce is _he_
doing here?"

For there on the rug, with his back to the fire, stood Wharton,
surveying the party with his usual smiling _aplomb_.

"Mr. Hallin, do you know Mr. Wharton?" said Marcella.

"Mr. Wharton and I have met several times on public platforms," said
Hallin, holding out his hand, which Wharton took with effusion. Aldous
greeted him with the impassive manner, the "three finger" manner, which
was with him an inheritance--though not from his grandfather--and did
not contribute to his popularity in the neighbourhood. As for young
Leven, he barely nodded to the Radical candidate, and threw himself into
a chair as far from the fire as possible.

"Frank and I have met before to-day!" said Wharton, laughing.

"Yes, I've been trying to undo some of your mischief," said the boy,
bluntly. "I found him, Miss Boyce, haranguing a lot of men at the
dinner-hour at Tudley End--one of our villages, you know--cramming them
like anything--all about the game laws, and our misdeeds--my father's,
of course."

Wharton raised a protesting hand.

"Oh--all very well! Of course it was us you meant! Well, when he'd
driven off, I got up on a cart and had _my_ say. I asked them whether
they didn't all come out at our big shoots, and whether they didn't have
almost as much fun as we did--why! the schoolmaster and the postman come
to ask to carry cartridges, and everybody turns out, down to the
cripples!--whether they didn't have rabbits given them all the year
round; whether half of them hadn't brothers and sons employed somehow
about the game, well-paid, and well-treated; whether any man-jack of
them would be a ha'porth better off if there were no game; whether many
of them wouldn't be worse off; and whether England wouldn't be a beastly
dull place to live in, if people like him"--he pointed to Wharton--"had
the governing of it! And I brought 'em all round too. I got them
cheering and laughing. Oh! I can tell you old Dodgson'll have to take
me on. He says he'll ask me to speak for him at several places. I'm not
half bad, I declare I'm not."

"I thought they gave you a holiday task at Eton," observed Wharton,
blandly.

The lad coloured hotly, then bethought himself--radiant:--

"I left Eton last half, as of course you know quite well. But if it had
only been last Christmas instead of this, wouldn't I have scored--by
Jove! They gave us a beastly _essay_ instead of a book. _Demagogues_!' I
sat up all night, and screwed out a page and a half. I'd have known
something about it _now_."

And as he stood beside the tea-table, waiting for Marcella to entrust
some tea to him for distribution, he turned and made a profound bow to
his candidate cousin.

Everybody joined in the laugh, led by Wharton. Then there was a general
drawing up of chairs, and Marcella applied herself to making tea, helped
by Aldous. Wharton alone remained standing before the fire, observant
and apart.

Hallin, whose health at this moment made all exertion, even a drive,
something of a burden, sat a little away from the tea-table, resting,
and glad to be silent. Yet all the time he was observing the girl
presiding and the man beside her--his friend, her lover. The moment had
a peculiar, perhaps a melancholy interest for him. So close had been the
bond between himself and Aldous, that the lover's communication of his
engagement had evoked in the friend that sense--poignant,
inevitable--which in the realm of the affections always waits on
something done and finished,--a leaf turned, a chapter closed. "That sad
word, Joy!" Hallin was alone and ill when Raeburn's letter reached him,
and through the following day and night he was haunted by Landor's
phrase, long familiar and significant to him. His letter to his friend,
and the letter to Miss Boyce for which Raeburn had asked him, had cost
him an invalid's contribution of sleep and ease. The girl's answer had
seemed to him constrained and young, though touched here and there with
a certain fineness and largeness of phrase, which, if it was to be taken
as an index of character, no doubt threw light upon the matter so far as
Aldous was concerned.

Her beauty, of which he had heard much, now that he was face to face
with it, was certainly striking enough--all the more because of its
immaturity, the subtlety and uncertainty of its promise.
_Immaturity_--_uncertainty_--these words returned upon him as he
observed her manner with its occasional awkwardness, the awkwardness
which goes with power not yet fully explored or mastered by its
possessor. How Aldous hung upon her, following every movement,
anticipating every want! After a while Hallin found himself
half-inclined to Mr. Boyce's view, that men of Raeburn's type are never
seen to advantage in this stage--this queer topsy-turvy stage--of first
passion. He felt a certain impatience, a certain jealousy for his
friend's dignity. It seemed to him too, every now and then, that
she--the girl--was teased by all this absorption, this deference. He was
conscious of watching for something in her that did not appear; and a
first prescience of things anxious or untoward stirred in his quick
sense.

"You may all say what you like," said Marcella, suddenly, putting down
her cup, and letting her hand drop for emphasis on her knee; "but you
will never persuade me that game-preserving doesn't make life in the
country much more difficult, and the difference between classes much
wider and bitterer, than they need be."

The remark cut across some rattling talk of Frank Leven's, who was in
the first flush of the sportsman's ardour, and, though by no means
without parts, could at the present moment apply his mind to little else
than killing of one kind or another, unless it were to the chances of
keeping his odious cousin out of Parliament.

Leven stared. Miss Boyce's speech seemed to him to have no sort of _à
propos_. Aldous looked down upon her as he stood beside her, smiling.

"I wish you didn't trouble yourself so much about it," he said.

"How can I help it?" she answered quickly; and then flushed, like one
who has drawn attention indiscreetly to their own personal situation.

"Trouble herself!" echoed young Leven. "Now, look here Miss Boyce, will
you come for a walk with me? I'll convince you, as I convinced those
fellows over there. I know I could, and you won't give me the chance;
it's too bad."

"Oh, you!" she said, with a little shrug; "what do you know about it?
One might as well consult a gambler about gambling when he is in the
middle of his first rush of luck. I have ten times more right to an
opinion than you have. I can keep my head cool, and notice a hundred
things that _you_ would never see. I come fresh into your country life,
and the first thing that strikes me is that the whole machinery of law
and order seems to exist for nothing in the world but to protect your
pheasants! There are policemen--to catch poachers; there are
magistrates--to try them. To judge from the newspapers, at least, they
have nothing else to do. And if _you_ follow your sporting instincts,
you are a very fine fellow, and everybody admires you. But if a
shoemaker's son in Mellor follows his, he is a villain and a thief, and
the policeman and the magistrate make for him at once."

"But I don't steal his chickens!" cried the lad, choking with arguments
and exasperation; "and why should he steal my pheasants? I paid for the
eggs, I paid for the hens to sit on 'em, I paid for the coops to rear
them in, I paid the men to watch them, I paid for the barley to feed
them with: why is he to be allowed to take my property, and I am to be
sent to jail if I take his?"

"_Property_!" said Marcella, scornfully. "You can't settle everything
nowadays by that big word. We are coming to put the public good before
property. If the nation should decide to curtail your 'right,' as you
call it, in the general interest, it will do it, and you will be left to
scream."

She had flung her arm round the back of her chair, and all her lithe
young frame was tense with an eagerness, nay, an excitement, which drew
Hallin's attention. It was more than was warranted by the conversation,
he thought.

"Well, if you think the abolition of game preserving would be popular in
the country, Miss Boyce, I'm certain you make a precious mistake," cried
Leven. "Why, even you don't think it would be, do you, Mr. Hallin?" he
said, appealing at random in his disgust.

"I don't know," said Hallin, with his quiet smile. "I rather think, on
the whole, it would be. The farmers put up with it, but a great many of
them don't like it. Things are mended since the Ground Game Act, but
there are a good many grievances still left."

"I should think there are!" said Marcella, eagerly, bending forward to
him. "I was talking to one of our farmers the other day whose land goes
up to the edge of Lord Winterbourne's woods. '_They_ don't keep their
pheasants, miss,' he said. '_I_ do. I and my corn. If I didn't send a
man up half-past five in the morning, when the ears begin to fill,
there'd be nothing left for _us_.' 'Why don't you complain to the
agent?' I said. 'Complain! Lor' bless you, miss, you may complain till
you're black in the face. I've allus found--an' I've been here, man and
boy, thirty-two year--as how _Winterbournes generally best it.'_ There
you have the whole thing in a nutshell. It's a tyranny--a tyranny of the
rich."

Flushed and sarcastic, she looked at Frank Leven; but Hallin had an
uncomfortable feeling that the sarcasm was not all meant for him. Aldous
was sitting with his hands on his knees, and his head bent forward a
little. Once, as the talk ran on, Hallin saw him raise his grey eyes to
the girl beside him, who certainly did not notice it, and was not
thinking of him. There was a curious pain and perplexity in the
expression, but something else too--a hunger, a dependence, a yearning,
that for an instant gripped the friend's heart.

"Well, I know Aldous doesn't agree with you, Miss Boyce," cried Leven,
looking about him in his indignation for some argument that should be
final. "You don't, do you, Aldous? You don't think the country would be
the better, if we could do away with game to-morrow?"

"No more than I think it would be the better," said Aldous, quietly, "if
we could do away with gold-plate and false hair to-morrow. There would
be too many hungry goldsmiths and wig-makers on the streets."

Marcella turned to him, half defiant, half softened.

"Of course, your point lies in _to-morrow,"_ she said. "I accept that.
We can't carry reform by starving innocent people. But the question is,
what are we to work towards? Mayn't we regard the game laws as one of
the obvious crying abuses to be attacked first--in the great
campaign!--the campaign which is to bring liberty and self-respect back
to the country districts, and make the labourer feel himself as much of
a man as the squire?"

"What a head! What an attitude!" thought Hallin, half repelled, half
fascinated. "But a girl that can talk politics--hostile politics--to her
lover, and mean them too--or am I inexperienced?--and is it merely that
she is so much interested in him that she wants to be quarrelling with
him?"

Aldous looked up. "I am not _sure_," he said, answering her. "That is
always my difficulty, you know," and he smiled at her. "Game preserving
is not to me personally an attractive form of private property, but it
seems to me bound up with other forms, and I want to see where the
attack is going to lead me. But I would protect your farmer--mind!--as
zealously as you."

Hallin caught the impatient quiver of the girl's lip. The tea had just
been taken away, and Marcella had gone to sit upon an old sofa near the
fire, whither Aldous had followed her. Wharton, who had so far said
nothing, had left his post of observation on the hearth-rug, and was
sitting under the lamp balancing a paper-knife with great attention on
two fingers. In the half light Hallin by chance saw a movement of
Raeburn's hand towards Marcella's, which lay hidden among the folds of
her dress--quick resistance on her part, then acquiescence. He felt a
sudden pleasure in his friend's small triumph.

"Aldous and I have worn these things threadbare many a time," he said,
addressing his hostess. "You don't know how kind he is to my dreams. I
am no sportsman and have no landowning relations, so he ought to bid me
hold my tongue. But he lets me rave. To me the simple fact is that _game
preserving creates crime_. Agricultural life is naturally simpler--might
be, it always seems to me, so much more easily moralised and fraternised
than the industrial form. And you split it up and poison it all by the
emphasis laid on this class pleasure. It is a natural pleasure, you say.
Perhaps it is--the survival, perhaps, of some primitive instinct in our
northern blood--but, if so, why should it be impossible for the rich to
share it with the poor? I have little plans--dreams. I throw them out
sometimes to catch Aldous, but he hardly rises to them!"

"Oh! I _say_," broke in Frank Leven, who could really bear it no longer.
"Now look here, Miss Boyce,--what do you think Mr. Hallin wants? It is
just sheer lunacy--it really is--though I know I'm impertinent, and he's
a great man. But I do declare he wants Aldous to give up a big common
there is--oh! over beyond Girtstone, down in the plain--on Lord
Maxwell's estate, and make a _labourers'_ shoot of it! Now, I ask you!
And he vows he doesn't see why they shouldn't rear pheasants if they
choose to club and pay for it. Well, I will say that much for him,
Aldous didn't see his way to _that_, though he isn't the kind of
Conservative _I_ want to see in Parliament by a long way. Besides, it's
such stuff! They say sport brutalises _us_, and then they want to go and
contaminate the labourer. But we won't take the responsibility. We've
got our own vices, and we'll stick to them; we're used to them; but we
won't hand them on: we'd scorn the action."

The flushed young barbarian, driven to bay, was not to be resisted.
Marcella laughed heartily, and Hallin laid an affectionate hand on the
boy's shoulder, patting him as though he were a restive horse.

"Yes, I remember I was puzzled as to the details of Hallin's scheme,"
said Aldous, his mouth twitching. "I wanted to know who was to pay for
the licences; how game enough for the number of applicants was to be
got without preserving; and how men earning twelve or fourteen shillings
a week were to pay a keeper. Then I asked a clergyman who has a living
near this common what he thought would be the end of it. 'Well,' he
said, 'the first day they'd shoot every animal on the place; the second
day they'd shoot each other. Universal carnage--I should say that would
be about the end of it.' These were trifles, of course--details."

Hallin shook his head serenely.

"I still maintain," he said, "that a little practical ingenuity might
have found a way."

"And I will support you," said Wharton, laying down the paper-knife and
bending over to Hallin, "with good reason. For three years and a few
months just such an idea as you describe has been carried out on my own
estate, and it has not worked badly at all."

"There!" cried Marcella. "There! I knew something could be done, if
there was a will. I have always felt it."

She half turned to Aldous, then bent forward instead as though listening
eagerly for what more Wharton might say, her face all alive, and
eloquent.

"Of course, there was nothing to shoot!" exclaimed Frank Leven.

"On the contrary," said Wharton, smiling, "we are in the middle of a
famous partridge country."

"How your neighbours must dote on you!" cried the boy. But Wharton took
no notice.

"And my father preserved strictly," he went on. "It is quite a simple
story. When I inherited, three years ago, I thought the whole thing
detestable, and determined I wouldn't be responsible for keeping it up.
So I called the estate together--farmers and labourers--and we worked
out a plan. There are keepers, but they are the estate servants, not
mine. Everybody has his turn according to the rules--I and my friends
along with the rest. Not everybody can shoot every year, but everybody
gets his chance, and, moreover, a certain percentage of all the game
killed is public property, and is distributed every year according to a
regular order."

"Who pays the keepers?" interrupted Leven.

"I do," said Wharton, smiling again. "Mayn't I--for the present--do what
I will with mine own? I return in their wages some of my ill-gotten
gains as a landowner. It is all makeshift, of course."

"I understand!" exclaimed Marcella, nodding to him--"you could not be a
Venturist and keep up game-preserving?"

Wharton met her bright eye with a half deprecating, reserved air.

"You are right, of course," he said drily. "For a Socialist to be
letting his keepers run in a man earning twelve shillings a week for
knocking over a rabbit would have been a little strong. No one can be
consistent in my position--in any landowner's position--it is
impossible; still, thank Heaven, one can deal with the most glaring
matters. As Mr. Raeburn said, however, all this game business is, of
course, a mere incident of the general land and property system, as you
will hear me expound when you come to that meeting you promised me to
honour."

He stooped forward, scanning her with smiling deference. Marcella felt
the man's hand that held her own suddenly tighten an instant. Then
Aldous released her, and rising walked towards the fire.

"You're _not_ going to one of his meetings, Miss Boyce!" cried Frank, in
angry incredulity.

Marcella hesitated an instant, half angry with Wharton. Then she
reddened and threw back her dark head with the passionate gesture Hallin
had already noticed as characteristic.

"Mayn't I go where I belong?" she said--"where my convictions lead me?"

There was a moment's awkward silence. Then Hallin got up.

"Miss Boyce, may we see the house? Aldous has told me much of it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently, in the midst of their straggling progress through the
half-furnished rooms of the garden front, preceded by the shy footman
carrying a lamp, which served for little more than to make darkness
visible, Marcella found herself left behind with Aldous. As soon as she
felt that they were alone, she realised a jar between herself and him.
His manner was much as usual, but there was an underlying effort and
difficulty which her sensitiveness caught at once. A sudden wave of
girlish trouble--remorse--swept over her. In her impulsiveness she moved
close to him as they were passing through her mother's little
sitting-room, and put her hand on his arm.

"I don't think I was nice just now," she said, stammering. "I didn't
mean it. I seem to be always driven into opposition--into a feeling of
war--when you are so good to me--so much too good to me!"

Aldous had turned at her first word. With a long breath, as it were of
unspeakable relief, he caught her in his arms vehemently, passionately.
So far she had been very shrinking and maidenly with him in their
solitary moments, and he had been all delicate chivalry and respect,
tasting to the full the exquisiteness of each fresh advance towards
intimacy, towards lover's privilege, adoring her, perhaps, all the more
for her reserve, her sudden flights, and stiffenings. But to-night he
asked no leave, and in her astonishment she was almost passive.

"Oh, do let me go!" she cried at last, trying to disengage herself
completely.

"No!" he said with emphasis, still holding her hand firmly. "Come and
sit down here. They will look after themselves."

He put her, whether she would or no, into an arm-chair and knelt beside
her.

"Did you think it was hardly kind," he said with a quiver of voice he
could not repress, "to let me hear for the first time, in public, that
you had promised to go to one of that man's meetings after refusing
again and again to come to any of mine?"

"Do you want to forbid me to go?" she said quickly. There was a feeling
in her which would have been almost relieved, for the moment, if he had
said yes.

"By no means," he said steadily. "That was not our compact. But--guess
for yourself what I want! Do you think"--he paused a moment--"do you
think I put nothing of myself into my public life--into these meetings
among the people who have known me from a boy? Do you think it is all a
convention--that my feeling, my conscience, remain outside? You can't
think that! But if not, how can I bear to live what is to be so large a
part of my life out of your ken and sight? I know--I know--you warned me
amply--you can't agree with me. But there is much besides intellectual
agreement possible--much that would help and teach us both--if only we
are together--not separated--not holding aloof--"

He stopped, watching all the changes of her face. She was gulfed in a
deep wave of half-repentant feeling, remembering all his generosity, his
forbearance, his devotion.

"When are you speaking next?" she half whispered. In the dim light her
softened pose, the gentle sudden relaxation of every line, were an
intoxication.

"Next week--Friday--at Gairsly. Hallin and Aunt Neta are coming."

"Will Miss Raeburn take me?"

His grey eyes shone upon her, and he kissed her hand.

"Mr. Hallin won't speak for you!" she said, after the silence, with a
return of mischief.

"Don't be so sure! He has given me untold help in the drafting of my
Bill. If I didn't call myself a Conservative, he would vote for me
to-morrow. That's the absurdity of it. Do you know, I hear them coming
back?"

"One thing," she said hastily, drawing him towards her, and then
holding him back, as though shrinking always from the feeling she could
so readily evoke. "I must say it; you oughtn't to give me so much money,
it is too much. Suppose I use it for things you don't like?"

"You won't," he said gaily.

She tried to push the subject further, but he would not have it.

"I am all for free discussion," he said in the same tone; "but sometimes
debate must be stifled. I am going to stifle it!"

And stooping, he kissed her, lightly, tremulously. His manner showed her
once more what she was to him--how sacred, how beloved. First it touched
and shook her; then she sprang up with a sudden disagreeable sense of
moral disadvantage--inferiority--coming she knew not whence, and undoing
for the moment all that buoyant consciousness of playing the
magnanimous, disinterested part which had possessed her throughout the
talk in the drawing-room.

The others reappeared, headed by their lamp: Wharton first, scanning the
two who had lingered behind, with his curious eyes, so blue and
brilliant under the white forehead and the curls.

"We have been making the wildest shots at your ancestors, Miss Boyce,"
he said. "Frank professed to know everything about the pictures, and
turned out to know nothing. I shall ask for some special coaching
to-morrow morning. May I engage you--ten o'clock?"

Marcella made some evasive answer, and they all sauntered back to the
drawing-room.

"Shall you be at work to-morrow, Raeburn?" said Wharton.

"Probably," said Aldous drily. Marcella, struck by the tone, looked
back, and caught an expression and bearing which were as yet new to her
in the speaker. She supposed they represented the haughtiness natural in
the man of birth and power towards the intruder, who is also the
opponent.

Instantly the combative critical mood returned upon her, and the impulse
to assert herself by protecting Wharton. His manner throughout the talk
in the drawing-room had been, she declared to herself, excellent--modest,
and self-restrained, comparing curiously with the boyish egotism and
self-abandonment he had shown in their _tête-à-tête_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Why, there is Mr. Boyce," exclaimed Wharton, hurrying forward as they
entered the drawing-room.

There, indeed, on the sofa was the master of the house, more ghastly
black and white than ever, and prepared to claim to the utmost the
tragic pre-eminence of illness. He shook hands coldly with Aldous, who
asked after his health with the kindly brevity natural to the man who
wants no effusions for himself in public or personal matters, and
concludes therefore that other people desire none.

"You _are_ better, papa?" said Marcella, taking his hand.

"Certainly, my dear--better for morphia. Don't talk of me. I have got my
death warrant, but I hope I can take it quietly. Evelyn, I _specially_
asked to have that thin cushion brought down from my dressing-room. It
is strange that no one pays any attention to my wants."

Mrs. Boyce, almost as white, Marcella now saw, as her husband, moved
forward from the fire, where she had been speaking to Hallin, took a
cushion from a chair near, exactly similar to the one he missed, and
changed his position a little.

"It is just the feather's weight of change that makes the difference,
isn't it?" said Wharton, softly, sitting down beside the invalid.

Mr. Boyce turned a mollified countenance upon the speaker, and being now
free from pain, gave himself up to the amusement of hearing his guest
talk. Wharton devoted himself, employing all his best arts.

"Dr. Clarke is not anxious about him," Mrs. Boyce said in a low voice to
Marcella as they moved away. "He does not think the attack will return
for a long while, and he has given me the means of stopping it if it
does come back."

"How tired you look!" said Aldous, coming up to them, and speaking in
the same undertone. "Will you not let Marcella take you to rest?"

He was always deeply, unreasonably touched by any sign of stoicism, of
defied suffering in women. Mrs. Boyce had proved it many times already.
On the present occasion she put his sympathy by, but she lingered to
talk with him. Hallin from a distance noticed first of all her tall
thinness and fairness, and her wonderful dignity of carriage; then the
cordiality of her manner to her future son-in-law. Marcella stood by
listening, her young shoulders somewhat stiffly set. Her consciousness
of her mother's respect and admiration for the man she was to marry was,
oddly enough, never altogether pleasant to her. It brought with it a
certain discomfort, a certain wish to argue things out.

Hallin and Aldous parted with Frank Leven at Mellor gate, and turned
homeward together under a starry heaven already whitening to the coming
moon.

"Do you know that man Wharton is getting an extraordinary hold upon the
London working men?" said Hallin. "I have heard him tell that story of
the game-preserving before. He was speaking for one of the Radical
candidates at Hackney, and I happened to be there. It brought down
the house. The _rôle_ of your Socialist aristocrat, of your
land-nationalising landlord, is a very telling one."

"And comparatively easy," said Aldous, "when you know that neither
Socialism nor land-nationalisation will come in your time!"

"Oh! so you think him altogether a windbag?"

Aldous hesitated and laughed.

"I have certainly no reason to suspect him of principles. His conscience
as a boy was of pretty elastic stuff."

"You may be unfair to him," said Hallin, quickly. Then, after a pause:
"How long is he staying at Mellor?"

"About a week, I believe," said Aldous, shortly. "Mr. Boyce has taken a
fancy to him."

They walked on in silence, and then Aldous turned to his friend in
distress.

"You know, Hallin, this wind is much too cold for you. You are the most
wilful of men. Why would you walk?"

"Hold your tongue, sir, and listen to me. I think your Marcella is
beautiful, and as interesting as she is beautiful. There!"

Aldous started, then turned a grateful face upon him.

"You must get to know her well," he said, but with some constraint.

"Of course. I wonder," said Hallin, musing, "whom she has got hold of
among the Venturists. Shall you persuade her to come out of that, do you
think, Aldous?"

"No!" said Raeburn, cheerfully. "Her sympathies and convictions go with
them."

Then, as they passed through the village, he began to talk of quite
other things--college friends, a recent volume of philosophical essays,
and so on. Hallin, accustomed and jealously accustomed as he was to be
the one person in the world with whom Raeburn talked freely, would not
to-night have done or said anything to force a strong man's reserve. But
his own mind was full of anxiety.




CHAPTER IV.


"I _love_ this dilapidation!" said Wharton, pausing for a moment with
his back against the door he had just shut. "Only it makes me long to
take off my coat and practise some honest trade or other--plastering, or
carpentering, or painting. What useless drones we upper classes are!
Neither you nor I could mend that ceiling or patch this floor--to save
our lives."

They were in the disused library. It was now the last room westwards of
the garden front, but in reality it was part of the older house, and had
been only adapted and re-built by that eighteenth-century Marcella whose
money had been so gracefully and vainly lavished on giving dignity to
her English husband's birthplace. The roof had been raised and domed to
match the "Chinese room," at the expense of some small rooms on the
upper floor; and the windows and doors had been suited to
eighteenth-century taste. But the old books in the old latticed shelves
which the Puritan founder of the family had bought in the days of the
Long Parliament were still there; so were the chairs in which that
worthy had sat to read a tract of Milton's or of Baxter's, or the table
at which he had penned his letters to Hampden or Fairfax, or to his old
friend--on the wrong side--Edmund Verney the standard-bearer. Only the
worm-eaten shelves were dropping from their supports, and the books lay
in mouldy confusion; the roofs had great holes and gaps, whence the
laths hung dismally down, and bats came flitting in the dusk; and there
were rotten places in the carpetless floor.

"I have tried my best," said Marcella, dolefully, stooping to look at a
hole in the floor. "I got a bit of board and some nails, and tried to
mend some of these places myself. But I only broke the rotten wood away;
and papa was angry, and said I did more harm than good. I did get a
carpenter to mend some of the chairs; but one doesn't know where to
begin. I have cleaned and mended some of the books, but--"

She looked sadly round the musty, forlorn place.

"But not so well, I am afraid, as any second-hand bookseller's
apprentice could have done it," said Wharton, shaking his head. "It's
maddening to think what duffers we gentlefolks are!"

"Why do you harp on that?" said Marcella, quickly. She had been taking
him over the house, and was in twenty minds again as to whether and how
much she liked him.

"Because I have been reading some Board of Trade reports before
breakfast," said Wharton, "on one or two of the Birmingham industries in
particular. Goodness! what an amount of knowledge and skill and resource
these fellows have that I go about calling the 'lower orders.' I wonder
how long they are going to let me rule over them!"

"I suppose brain-power and education count for something still?" said
Marcella, half scornfully.

"I am greatly obliged to the world for thinking so," said Wharton with
emphasis, "and for thinking so about the particular kind of brain-power
I happen to possess, which is the point. The processes by which a
Birmingham jeweller makes the wonderful things which we attribute to
'French taste' when we see them in the shops of the Rue de la Paix are,
of course, mere imbecility--compared to my performances in Responsions.
Lucky for _me_, at any rate, that the world has decided it so. I get a
good time of it--and the Birmingham jeweller calls me 'sir.'"

"Oh! the skilled labour! that can take care of itself, and won't go on
calling you 'sir' much longer. But what about the unskilled--the people
here for instance--the villagers? We talk of their governing themselves;
we wish it, and work for it. But which of us _really_ believes that they
are fit for it, or that they are ever going to get along without _our_
brain-power?"

"No--poor souls!" said Wharton, with a peculiar vibrating emphasis.
"'_By their stripes we are healed, by their death we have lived_.' Do
you remember your Carlyle?"

They had entered one of the bays formed by the bookcases which on either
side of the room projected from the wall at regular intervals, and were
standing by one of the windows which looked out on the great avenue.
Beside the window on either side hung a small portrait--in the one case
of an elderly man in a wig, in the other of a young, dark-haired woman.

"Plenty in general, but nothing in particular," said Marcella, laughing.
"Quote."

He was leaning against the angle formed by the wall and the bookcase.
The half-serious, half-provocative intensity of his blue eyes under the
brow which drooped forward contrasted with the careless, well-appointed
ease of his general attitude and dress.

"'_Two men I honour, and no third_,'" he said, quoting in a slightly
dragging, vibrating voice: "'_First, the toil-worn craftsman that with
earth-made implement laboriously conquers the earth and makes her
man's.--Hardly-entreated Brother! For us was thy back so bent, for us
were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed; thou wert our
conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles wert so
marred_.' Heavens! how the words swing! But it is great nonsense, you
know, for you and me--Venturists--to be maundering like this.
Charity--benevolence--that is all Carlyle is leading up to. He merely
wants the cash nexus supplemented by a few good offices. But we want
something much more unpleasant! 'Keep your subscriptions--hand over your
dividends--turn out of your land--and go to work!' Nowadays society is
trying to get out of doing what _we_ want, by doing what Carlyle
wanted."

"_Do_ you want it?" said Marcella.

"I don't know," he said, laughing. "It won't come in our time."

Her lip showed her scorn.

"That's what we all think. Meanwhile you will perhaps admit that a
little charity greases the wheels."

"_You_ must, because you are a woman; and women are made for
charity--and aristocracy."

"Do you suppose you know so much about women?" she asked him, rather
hotly. "I notice it is always the assumption of the people who make most
mistakes."

"Oh! I know enough to steer by!" he said, smiling, with a little
inclination of his curly head, as though to propitiate her. "How like
you are to that portrait!"

Marcella started, and saw that he was pointing to the woman's portrait
beside the window--looking from it to his hostess with a close
considering eye.

"That was an ancestress of mine," she said coldly, "an Italian lady. She
was rich and musical. Her money built these rooms along the garden, and
these are her music books."

She showed him that the shelves against which she was leaning were full
of old music.

"Italian!" he said, lifting his eyebrows. "Ah, that explains. Do you
know--that you have all the qualities of a leader!"--and he moved away a
yard from her, studying her--"mixed blood--one must always have that to
fire and fuse the English paste--and then--but no! that won't do--I
should offend you."

Her first instinct was one of annoyance--a wish to send him about his
business, or rather to return him to her mother who would certainly keep
him in order. Instead, however, she found herself saying, as she looked
carelessly out of window--

"Oh! go on."

"Well, then"--he drew himself up suddenly and wheeled round upon
her--"you have the gift of compromise. That is invaluable--that will
take you far."

"Thank you!" she said. "Thank you! I know what that means--from a
Venturist. You think me a mean insincere person!"

He started, then recovered himself and came to lean against the
bookshelves beside her.

"I mean nothing of the sort," he said, in quite a different manner, with
a sort of gentle and personal emphasis. "But--may I explain myself, Miss
Boyce, in a room with a fire? I can see you shivering under your fur."

For the frost still reigned supreme outside, and the white grass and
trees threw chill reflected lights into the forsaken library. Marcella
controlled a pulse of excitement that had begun to beat in her, admitted
that it was certainly cold, and led the way through a side door to a
little flagged parlour, belonging to the oldest portion of the house,
where, however, a great log-fire was burning, and some chairs drawn up
round it. She took one and let the fur wrap she had thrown about her for
their promenade through the disused rooms drop from her shoulders. It
lay about her in full brown folds, giving special dignity to her slim
height and proud head. Wharton glancing about in his curious inquisitive
way, now at the neglected pictures, now on the walls, now at the old oak
chairs and chests, now at her, said to himself that she was a splendid
and inspiring creature. She seemed to be on the verge of offence with
him too, half the time, which was stimulating. She would have liked, he
thought, to play the great lady with him already, as Aldous Raeburn's
betrothed. But he had so far managed to keep her off that plane--and
intended to go on doing so.

"Well, I meant this," he said, leaning against the old stone chimney
and looking down upon her; "only _don't_ be offended with me, please.
You are a Socialist, and you are going--some day--to be Lady Maxwell.
Those combinations are only possible to women. They can sustain them,
because they are imaginative--not logical."

She flushed.

"And you," she said, breathing quickly, "are a Socialist and a landlord.
What is the difference?"

He laughed.

"Ah! but I have no gift--I can't ride the two horses, as you will be
able to--quite honestly. There's the difference. And the consequence is
that with my own class I am an outcast--they all hate me. But you will
have power as Lady Maxwell--and power as a Socialist--because you will
give and take. Half your time you will act as Lady Maxwell should, the
other half like a Venturist. And, as I said, it will give you power--a
modified power. But men are less clever at that kind of thing."

"Do you mean to say," she asked him abruptly, "that you have given up
the luxuries and opportunities of your class?"

He shifted his position a little.

"That is a different matter," he said after a moment. "We Socialists are
all agreed, I think, that no man can be a Socialist by himself.
Luxuries, for the present, are something personal, individual. It is
only a man's 'public form' that matters. And there, as I said before, I
have no gift!--I have not a relation or an old friend in the world that
has not turned his back upon me--as you might see for yourself
yesterday! My class has renounced me already--which, after all, is a
weakness."

"So you pity yourself?" she said.

"By no means! We all choose the part in life that amuses us--that brings
us most _thrill_. I get most thrill out of throwing myself into the
workmen's war--much more than I could ever get, you will admit, out of
dancing attendance on my very respectable cousins. My mother taught me
to see everything dramatically. We have no drama in England at the
present moment worth a cent; so I amuse myself with this great
tragi-comedy of the working-class movement. It stirs, pricks, interests
me, from morning till night. I feel the great rough elemental passions
in it, and it delights me to know that every day brings us nearer to
some great outburst, to scenes and struggles at any rate that will make
us all look alive. I am like a child with the best of its cake to come,
but with plenty in hand already. Ah!--stay still a moment, Miss Boyce!"

To her amazement he stooped suddenly towards her; and she, looking down,
saw that a corner of her light, black dress, which had been overhanging
the low stone fender, was in flames, and that he was putting it out with
his hands. She made a movement to rise, alarmed lest the flames should
leap to her face--her hair. But he, releasing one hand for an instant
from its task of twisting and rolling the skirt upon itself, held her
heavily down.

"Don't move; I will have it out in a moment. You won't be burnt."

And in a second more she was looking at a ragged brown hole in her
dress; and at him, standing, smiling, before the fire, and wrapping a
handkerchief round some of the fingers of his left hand.

"You have burnt yourself, Mr. Wharton?"

"A little."

"I will go and get something--what would you like?"

"A little olive oil if you have some, and a bit of lint--but don't
trouble yourself."

She flew to find her mother's maid, calling and searching on her way for
Mrs. Boyce herself, but in vain. Mrs. Boyce had disappeared after
breakfast, and was probably helping her husband to dress.

In a minute or so Marcella ran downstairs again, bearing various
medicaments. She sped to the Stone Parlour, her cheek and eye glowing.

"Let me do it for you."

"If you please," said Wharton, meekly.

She did her best, but she was not skilful with her fingers, and this
close contact with him somehow excited her.

"There," she said, laughing and releasing him. "Of course, if I were a
work-girl I should have done it better. They are not going to be very
bad, I think."

"What, the burns? Oh, no! They will have recovered, I am afraid, long
before your dress."

"Oh, my dress! yes, it is deplorable. I will go and change it."

She turned to go, but she lingered instead, and said with an odd,
introductory laugh:

"I believe you saved my life!"

"Well, I am glad I was here. You might have lost self-possession--even
_you_ might, you know!--and then it would have been serious."

"Anyway"--her voice was still uncertain--"I might have been
disfigured--disfigured for life!"

"I don't know why you should dwell upon it now it's done with," he
declared, smiling.

"It would be strange, wouldn't it, if I took it quite for granted--all
in the day's work?" She held out her hand: "I am grateful--please."

He bowed over it, laughing, again with that eighteenth-century air which
might have become a Chevalier des Grieux.

"May I exact a reward?"

"Ask it."

"Will you take me down with you to your village? I know you are going. I
must walk on afterwards and catch a midday train to Widrington. I have
an appointment there at two o'clock. But perhaps you will introduce me
to one or two of your poor people first?"

Marcella assented, went upstairs, changed her dress, and put on her
walking things, more than half inclined all the time to press her mother
to go with them. She was a little unstrung and tremulous, pursued by a
feeling that she was somehow letting herself go, behaving disloyally and
indecorously towards whom?--towards Aldous? But how, or why? She did not
know. But there was a curious sense of lost bloom, lost dignity,
combined with an odd wish that Mr. Wharton were not going away for the
day. In the end, however, she left her mother undisturbed.

By the time they were half way to the village, Marcella's uncomfortable
feelings had all passed away. Without knowing it, she was becoming too
much absorbed in her companion to be self-critical, so long as they were
together. It seemed to her, however, before they had gone more than a
few hundred yards that he was taking advantage--presuming on what had
happened. He offended her taste, her pride, her dignity, in a hundred
ways, she discovered. At the same time it was _she_ who was always on
the defensive--protecting her dreams, her acts, her opinions, against
the constant fire of his half-ironical questions, which seemed to leave
her no time at all to carry the war into the enemy's country. He put her
through a quick cross-examination about the village, its occupations,
the incomes of the people, its local charities and institutions, what
she hoped to do for it, what she would do if she could, what she thought
it _possible_ to do. She answered first reluctantly, then eagerly, her
pride all alive to show that she was not merely ignorant and amateurish.
But it was no good. In the end he made her feel as Antony Craven had
constantly done--that she knew nothing exactly, that she had not
mastered the conditions of any one of the social problems she was
talking about; that not only was her reading of no account, but that she
had not even managed to _see_ these people, to interpret their lives
under her very eyes, with any large degree of insight.

Especially was he merciless to all the Lady Bountiful pose, which meant
so much to her imagination--not in words so much as in manner. He let
her see that all the doling and shepherding and advising that still
pleased her fancy looked to him the merest temporary palliative, and
irretrievably tainted, even at that, with some vulgar feeling or other.
All that the well-to-do could do for the poor under the present state of
society was but a niggardly quit-rent; as for any relation of "superior"
and "inferior" in the business, or of any social desert attaching to
these precious efforts of the upper class to daub the gaps in the
ruinous social edifice for which they were themselves responsible, he
did not attempt to conceal his scorn. If you did not do these things, so
much the worse for you when the working class came to its own; if you
did do them, the burden of debt was hardly diminished, and the rope was
still left on your neck.

Now Marcella herself had on one or two occasions taken a malicious
pleasure in flaunting these doctrines, or some of them, under Miss
Raeburn's eyes. But somehow, as applied to herself, they were
disagreeable. Each of us is to himself a "special case"; and she saw the
other side. Hence a constant soreness of feeling; a constant recalling
of the argument to the personal point of view; and through it all a
curious growth of intimacy, a rubbing away of barriers. She had felt
herself of no account before, intellectually, in Aldous's company, as we
know. But then how involuntary on his part, and how counter-balanced by
that passionate idealism of his love, which glorified every pretty
impulse in her to the noblest proportions! Under Wharton's Socratic
method, she was conscious at times of the most wild and womanish
desires, worthy of her childhood--to cry, to go into a passion!--and
when they came to the village, and every human creature, old and young,
dropped its obsequious curtsey as they passed, she could first have
beaten them for so degrading her, and the next moment felt a feverish
pleasure in thus parading her petty power before a man who in his
doctrinaire pedantry had no sense of poetry, or of the dear old natural
relations of country life.

They went first to Mrs. Jellison's, to whom Marcella wished to unfold
her workshop scheme.

"Don't let me keep you," she said to Wharton coldly, as they neared the
cottage; "I know you have to catch your train."

Wharton consulted his watch. He had to be at a local station some two
miles off within an hour.

"Oh! I have time," he said. "Do take me in, Miss Boyce. I have made
acquaintance with these people so far, as my constituents--now show them
to me as your subjects. Besides, I am an observer. I 'collect' peasants.
They are my study."

"They are not my subjects, but my friends," she said with the same
stiffness.

They found Mrs. Jellison having her dinner. The lively old woman was
sitting close against her bit of fire, on her left a small deal table
which held her cold potatoes and cold bacon; on her right a tiny window
and window-sill whereon lay her coil of "plait" and the simple
straw-splitting machine she had just been working. When Marcella had
taken the only other chair the hovel contained, nothing else remained
for Wharton but to flatten himself as closely against the door as he
might.

"I'm sorry I can't bid yer take a cheer," said Mrs. Jellison to him,
"but what yer han't got yer can't give, so I don't trouble my head about
nothink."

Wharton applauded her with easy politeness, and then gave himself, with
folded arms, to examining the cottage while Marcella talked. It might be
ten feet broad, he thought, by six feet in one part and eight feet in
another. The roof was within little more than an inch of his head. The
stairway in the corner was falling to pieces; he wondered how the woman
got up safely to her bed at night; custom, he supposed, can make even
old bones agile.

Meanwhile Marcella was unfolding the project of the straw-plaiting
workshop that she and Lady Winterbourne were about to start. Mrs.
Jellison put on her spectacles apparently that she might hear the
better, pushed away her dinner in spite of her visitors' civilities, and
listened with a bright and beady eye.

"An' yer agoin' to pay me one a sixpence a score, where I now gets
ninepence. And I'll not have to tramp it into town no more--you'll send
a man round. And who is agoin' to pay me, miss, if you'll excuse me
asking?"

"Lady Winterbourne and I," said Marcella, smiling. "We're going to
employ this village and two others, and make as good business of it as
we can. But we're going to begin by giving the workers better wages, and
in time we hope to teach them the higher kinds of work."

"Lor'!" said Mrs. Jellison. "But I'm not one o' them as kin do with
changes." She took up her plait and looked at it thoughtfully.
"Eighteen-pence a score. It wor that rate when I wor a girl. An' it ha'
been dibble--dibble--iver sense; a penny off here, an' a penny off
there, an' a hard job to keep a bite ov anythink in your mouth."

"Then I may put down your name among our workers, Mrs. Jellison?" said
Marcella, rising and smiling down upon her.

"Oh, lor', no; I niver said that," said Mrs. Jellison, hastily. "I don't
hold wi' shilly-shallyin' wi' yer means o' livin'. I've took my plait to
Jimmy Gedge--'im an' 'is son, fust shop on yer right hand when yer git
into town--twenty-five year, summer and winter--me an' three other
women, as give me a penny a journey for takin' theirs. If I wor to go
messin' about wi' Jimmy Gedge, Lor' bless yer, I should 'ear ov it--oh!
I shoulden sleep o' nights for thinkin' o' how Jimmy ud serve me out
when I wor least egspectin' ov it. He's a queer un. No, miss, thank yer
kindly; but I think I'll bide."

Marcella, amazed, began to argue a little, to expound the many
attractions of the new scheme. Greatly to her annoyance, Wharton came
forward to her help, guaranteeing the solvency and permanence of her new
partnership in glib and pleasant phrase, wherein her angry fancy
suspected at once the note of irony. But Mrs. Jellison held firm,
embroidering her negative, indeed, with her usual cheerful chatter, but
sticking to it all the same. At last there was no way of saving dignity
but to talk of something else and go--above all, to talk of something
else before going, lest the would-be benefactor should be thought a
petty tyrant.

"Oh, Johnnie?--thank yer, miss--'e's an owdacious young villain as iver
I seed--but _clever_--lor', you'd need 'ave eyes in yer back to look
after _'im_. An' _coaxin'_! ''Aven't yer brought me no sweeties,
Gran'ma?' 'No, my dear,' says I. 'But if you was to _look_, Gran'ma--in
both your pockets, Gran'ma--iv you was to let _me_ look?' It's a sharp
un Isabella, she don't 'old wi' sweet-stuff, she says, sich a pack o'
nonsense. She'd stuff herself sick when she wor 'is age. Why shouldn't
_ee_ be happy, same as her? There ain't much to make a child 'appy in
_that_ 'ouse. Westall, ee's that mad about them poachers over Tudley
End; ee's like a wild bull at 'ome. I told Isabella ee'd come to
knockin' ov her about _some_ day, though ee did speak so oily when ee
wor a courtin'. Now she knows as I kin see a thing or two," said Mrs.
Jellison, significantly. Her manner, Wharton noticed, kept always the
same gay philosophy, whatever subject turned up.

"Why, that's an old story--that Tudley End business--" said Marcella,
rising. "I should have thought Westall might have got over it by now."

"But bless yer, ee says it's goin' on as lively as iver. Ee says ee
knows they're set on grabbin' the birds t'other side the estate, over
beyond Mellor way--ee's got wind of it--an' ee's watchin' night an' day
to see they don't do him no bad turn _this_ month, bekase o' the big
shoot they allus has in January. An' lor', ee do speak drefful bad o'
_soom_ folks," said Mrs. Jellison, with an amused expression. "You know
some on 'em, miss, don't yer?" And the old woman, who had begun toying
with her potatoes, slanted her fork over her shoulder so as to point
towards the Hurds' cottage, whereof the snow-laden roof could be seen
conspicuously through the little lattice beside her, making sly eyes the
while at her visitor.

"I don't believe a word of it," said Marcella, impatiently. "Hurd has
been in good work since October, and has no need to poach. Westall has a
down on him. You may tell him I think so, if you like."

"That I will," said Mrs. Jellison, cheerfully, opening the door for
them. "There's nobody makes 'im 'ear the trëuth, nobbut me. I _loves_
naggin' ov 'im, ee's that masterful. But ee don't master _me_!"

"A gay old thing," said Wharton as they shut the gate behind them. "How
she does enjoy the human spectacle. And obstinate too. But you will find
the younger ones more amenable."

"Of course," said Marcella, with dignity. "I have a great many names
already. The old people are always difficult. But Mrs. Jellison will
come round."

"Are you going in here?"

"Please."

Wharton knocked at the Hurds' door, and Mrs. Hurd opened.

The cottage was thick with smoke. The chimney only drew when the door
was left open. But the wind to-day was so bitter that mother and
children preferred the smoke to the draught. Marcella soon made out the
poor little bronchitic boy, sitting coughing by the fire, and Mrs. Hurd
busied with some washing. She introduced Wharton, who, as before, stood
for some time, hat in hand, studying the cottage. Marcella was perfectly
conscious of it, and a blush rose to her cheek while she talked to Mrs.
Hurd. For both this and Mrs. Jellison's hovel were her father's property
and somewhat highly rented.

Minta Hurd said eagerly that she would join the new straw-plaiting, and
went on to throw out a number of hurried, half-coherent remarks about
the state of the trade past and present, leaning meanwhile against the
table and endlessly drying her hands on the towel she had taken up when
her visitors came in.

Her manner was often nervous and flighty in these days. She never looked
happy; but Marcella put it down to health or natural querulousness of
character. Yet both she and the children were clearly better nourished,
except Willie, in whom the tubercular tendency was fast gaining on the
child's strength.

Altogether Marcella was proud of her work, and her eager interest in
this little knot of people whose lives she had shaped was more
possessive than ever. Hurd, indeed, was often silent and secretive; but
she put down her difficulties with him to our odious system of class
differences, against which in her own way she was struggling. One thing
delighted her--that he seemed to take more and more interest in the
labour questions she discussed with him, and in that fervid, exuberant
literature she provided him with. Moreover, he now went to all Mr.
Wharton's meetings that were held within reasonable distance of Mellor;
and, as she said to Aldous with a little laugh, which, however, was not
unsweet, _he_ had found her man work--_she_ had robbed his candidate of
a vote.

Wharton listened a while to her talk with Minta, smiled a little,
unperceived of Marcella, at the young mother's docilities of manner and
phrase; then turned his attention to the little hunched and coughing
object by the fire.

"Are you very bad, little man?"

The white-faced child looked up, a dreary look, revealing a patient,
melancholy soul. He tried to answer, but coughed instead.

Wharton, moving towards him, saw a bit of ragged white paper lying on
the ground, which had been torn from a grocery parcel.

"Would you like something to amuse you a bit--Ugh! this smoke! Come
round here, it won't catch us so much. _Now_, then, what do you say to a
doggie,--two doggies?"

The child stared, let himself be lifted on the stranger's knee, and did
his very utmost to stop coughing. But when he had succeeded his quick
panting breaths still shook his tiny frame and Wharton's knee.

"Hm--Give him two months or thereabouts!" thought Wharton. "What a
beastly hole!--one room up, and one down, like the other, only a shade
larger. Damp, insanitary, cold--bad water, bad drainage, I'll be
bound--bad everything. That girl may well try her little best. And I go
making up to that man Boyce! What for? Old spites?--new
spites?--which?--or both!"

Meanwhile his rapid skilful fingers were tearing, pinching, and shaping;
and in a very few minutes there, upon his free knee, stood the most
enticing doggie of pinched paper, a hound in full course, with long ears
and stretching legs.

The child gazed at it with ravishment, put out a weird hand, touched
it, stroked it, and then, as he looked back at Wharton, the most
exquisite smile dawned in his saucer-blue eyes.

"What? did you like it, grasshopper?" cried Wharton, enchanted by the
beauty of the look, his own colour mounting. "Then you shall have
another."

And he twisted and turned his piece of fresh paper, till there, beside
the first, stood a second fairy animal--a greyhound this time, with
arching neck and sharp long nose.

"There's two on 'em at Westall's!" cried the child, hoarsely, clutching
at his treasures in an ecstasy.

Mrs. Hurd, at the other end of the cottage, started as she heard the
name. Marcella noticed it; and with her eager sympathetic look began at
once to talk of Hurd and the works at the Court. She understood they
were doing grand things, and that the work would last all the winter.
Minta answered hurriedly and with a curious choice of phrases. "Oh! he
didn't have nothing to say against it." Mr. Brown, the steward, seemed
satisfied. All that she said was somehow irrelevant; and, to Marcella's
annoyance, plaintive as usual. Wharton, with the boy inside his arm,
turned his head an instant to listen.

Marcella, having thought of repeating, without names, some of Mrs.
Jellison's gossip, then shrank from it. He had promised her, she thought
to herself with a proud delicacy; and she was not going to treat the
word of a working man as different from anybody else's.

So she fastened her cloak again, which she had thrown open in the
stifling air of the cottage, and turned both to call her companion and
give a smile or two to the sick boy.

But, as she did so, she stood amazed at the spectacle of Wharton and the
child. Then, moving up to them, she perceived the menagerie--for it had
grown to one--on Wharton's knee.

"You didn't guess I had such tricks," he said, smiling.

"But they are so good--so artistic!" She took up a little galloping
horse he had just fashioned and wondered at it.

"A great-aunt taught me--she was a genius--I follow her at a long
distance. Will you let me go, young man? You may keep all of them."

But the child, with a sudden contraction of the brow, flung a tiny
stick-like arm round his neck, pressing hard, and looking at him. There
was a red spot in each wasted cheek, and his eyes were wide and happy.
Wharton returned the look with one of quiet scrutiny--the scrutiny of
the doctor or the philosopher. On Marcella's quick sense the contrast of
the two heads impressed itself--the delicate youth of Wharton's with its
clustering curls--the sunken contours and the helpless suffering of the
other. Then Wharton kissed the little fellow, put his animals carefully
on to a chair beside him, and set him down.

They walked along the snowy street again, in a different relation to
each other. Marcella had been touched and charmed, and Wharton teased
her no more. As they reached the door of the almshouse where the old
Pattons lived, she said to him: "I think I had rather go in here by
myself, please. I have some things to give them--old Patton has been
very ill this last week--but I know what you think of doles--and I know
too what you think, what you must think, of my father's cottages. It
makes me feel a hypocrite; yet I must do these things; we are different,
you and I--I am sure you will miss your train!"

But there was no antagonism, only painful feeling in her softened look.

Wharton put out his hand.

"Yes, it is time for me to go. You say I make you feel a hypocrite! I
wonder whether you have any idea what you make me feel? Do you imagine I
should dare to say the things I have said except to one of the _élite_?
Would it be worth my while, as a social reformer? Are you not vowed to
great destinies? When one comes across one of the tools of the future,
must one not try to sharpen it, out of one's poor resources, in spite of
manners?"

Marcella, stirred--abashed--fascinated--let him press her hand. Then he
walked rapidly away towards the station, a faint smile twitching at his
lip.

"An inexperienced girl," he said to himself, composedly.




CHAPTER V.


Before she went home, Marcella turned into the little rectory garden to
see if she could find Mary Harden for a minute or two. The intimacy
between them was such that she generally found entrance to the house by
going round to a garden door and knocking or calling. The house was very
small, and Mary's little sitting-room was close to this door.

Her knock brought Mary instantly.

"Oh! come in. You won't mind. We were just at dinner. Charles is going
away directly. Do stay and talk to me a bit."

Marcella hesitated, but at last went in. The meals at the rectory
distressed her--the brother and sister showed the marks of them. To-day
she found their usual fare carefully and prettily arranged on a spotless
table; some bread, cheese, and boiled rice--nothing else. Nor did they
allow themselves any fire for meals. Marcella, sitting beside them in
her fur, did not feel the cold, but Mary was clearly shivering under her
shawl. They eat meat twice a week, and in the afternoon Mary lit the
sitting-room fire. In the morning she contented herself with the
kitchen, where, as she cooked for many sick folk, and had only a girl of
fourteen whom she was training to help her with the housework, she had
generally much to do.

The Rector did not stay long after her arrival. He had a distant visit
to pay to a dying child, and hurried off so as to be home, if possible,
before dark. Marcella admired him, but did not feel that she understood
him more as they were better acquainted. He was slight and young, and
not very clever; but a certain inexpugnable dignity surrounded him,
which, real as it was, sometimes irritated Marcella. It sat oddly on his
round face--boyish still, in spite of its pinched and anxious look--but
there it was, not to be ignored. Marcella thought him a Conservative,
and very backward and ignorant in his political and social opinions. But
she was perfectly conscious that she must also think him a saint; and
that the deepest things in him were probably not for her.

Mr. Harden said a few words to her now as to her straw-plaiting scheme,
which had his warmest sympathy--Marcella contrasted his tone gratefully
with that of Wharton, and once more fell happily in love with her own
ideas--then he went off, leaving the two girls together.

"Have you seen Mrs. Hurd this morning?" said Mary.

"Yes, Willie seems very bad."

Mary assented.

"The doctor says he will hardly get through the winter, especially if
this weather goes on. But the greatest excitement of the village just
now--do you know?--is the quarrel between Hurd and Westall. Somebody
told Charles yesterday that they never meet without threatening each
other. Since the covers at Tudley End were raided, Westall seems to have
quite lost his head. He declares Hurd knew all about that, and that he
is hand and glove with the same gang still. He vows he will catch him
out, and Hurd told the man who told Charles that if Westall bullies him
any more he will put a knife into him. And Charles says that Hurd is not
a bit like he was. He used to be such a patient, silent creature. Now--"

"He has woke up to a few more ideas and a little more life than he had,
that's all," said Marcella, impatiently. "He poached last winter, and
small blame to him. But since he got work at the Court in November--is
it likely? He knows that he was suspected; and what could be his
interest now, after a hard day's work, to go out again at night, and run
the risk of falling into Westall's clutches, when he doesn't want either
the food or the money?"

"I don't know," said Mary, shaking her head. "Charles says, if they once
do it, they hardly ever leave it off altogether. It's the excitement and
amusement of it."

"He promised me," said Marcella, proudly.

"They promise Charles all sorts of things," said Mary, slyly; "but they
don't keep to them."

Warmly grateful as both she and the Rector had been from the beginning
to Marcella for the passionate interest she took in the place and the
people, the sister was sometimes now a trifle jealous--divinely
jealous--for her brother. Marcella's unbounded confidence in her own
power and right over Mellor, her growing tendency to ignore anybody
else's right or power, sometimes set Mary aflame, for Charles's sake,
heartily and humbly as she admired her beautiful friend.

"I shall speak to Mr. Raeburn about it," said Marcella.

She never called him "Aldous" to anybody--a stiffness which jarred a
little upon the gentle, sentimental Mary.

"I saw you pass," she said, "from one of the top windows. He was with
you, wasn't he?"

A slight colour sprang to her sallow cheek, a light to her eyes. Most
wonderful, most interesting was this engagement to Mary, who--strange to
think!--had almost brought it about. Mr. Raeburn was to her one of the
best and noblest of men, and she felt quite simply, and with a sort of
Christian trembling for him, the romance of his great position. Was
Marcella happy, was she proud of him, as she ought to be? Mary was often
puzzled by her.

"Oh no!" said Marcella, with a little laugh. "That wasn't Mr. Raeburn. I
don't know where your eyes were, Mary. That was Mr. Wharton, who is
staying with us. He has gone on to a meeting at Widrington."

Mary's face fell.

"Charles says Mr. Wharton's influence in the village is very bad," she
said quickly. "He makes everybody discontented; sets everybody by the
ears; and, after all, what can he do for anybody?"

"But that's just what he wants to do--to make them discontented," cried
Marcella. "Then, if they vote for him, that's the first practical step
towards improving their life."

"But it won't give them more wages or keep them out of the public
house," said Mary, bewildered. She came of a homely middle-class stock,
accustomed to a small range of thinking, and a high standard of doing.
Marcella's political opinions were an amazement, and on the whole a
scandal to her. She preferred generally to give them a wide berth.

Marcella did not reply. It was not worth while to talk to Mary on these
topics. But Mary stuck to the subject a moment longer.

"You can't want him to get in, though?" she said in a puzzled voice, as
she led the way to the little sitting-room across the passage, and took
her workbasket out of the cupboard. "It was only the week before last
Mr. Raeburn was speaking at the schoolroom for Mr. Dodgson. You weren't
there, Marcella?"

"No," said Marcella, shortly. "I thought you knew perfectly well, Mary,
that Mr. Raeburn and I don't agree politically. Certainly, I hope Mr.
Wharton will get in!"

Mary opened her eyes in wonderment. She stared at Marcella, forgetting
the sock she had just slipped over her left hand, and the darning needle
in her right.

Marcella laughed.

"I know you think that two people who are going to be married ought to
say ditto to each other in everything. Don't you--you dear old goose?"

She came and stood beside Mary, a stately and beautiful creature in her
loosened furs. She stroked Mary's straight sandy hair back from her
forehead. Mary looked up at her with a thrill, nay, a passionate throb
of envy--soon suppressed.

"I think," she said steadily, "it is very strange--that love should
oppose and disagree with what it loves."

Marcella went restlessly towards the fire and began to examine the
things on the mantelpiece.

"Can't people agree to differ, you sentimentalist? Can't they respect
each other, without echoing each other on every subject?"

"Respect!" cried Mary, with a sudden scorn, which was startling from a
creature so soft.

"There, she could tear me in pieces!" said Marcella, laughing, though
her lip was not steady. "I wonder what you would be like, Mary, if you
were engaged."

Mary ran her needle in and out with lightning speed for a second or two,
then she said almost under her breath--

"I shouldn't be engaged unless I were in love. And if I were in love,
why, I would go anywhere--do anything--believe anything--if _he_ told
me!"

"Believe anything?--Mary--you wouldn't!"

"I don't mean as to religion," said Mary, hastily. "But everything
else--I would give it all up!--governing one's self, thinking for one's
self. He should do it, and I would _bless_ him!"

She looked up crimson, drawing a very long breath, as though from some
deep centre of painful, passionate feeling. It was Marcella's turn to
stare. Never had Mary so revealed herself before.

"Did you ever love any one like that, Mary?" she asked quickly.

Mary dropped her head again over her work and did not answer
immediately.

"Do you see--" she said at last, with a change of tone, "do you see
that we have got our invitation?"

Marcella, about to give the rein to an eager curiosity Mary's manner had
excited in her, felt herself pulled up sharply. When she chose, this
little meek creature could put on the same unapproachableness as her
brother. Marcella submitted.

"Yes, I see," she said, taking up a card on the mantelpiece. "It will be
a great crush. I suppose you know. They have asked the whole county, it
seems to me."

The card bore an invitation in Miss Raeburn's name for the Rector and
his sister to a dance at Maxwell Court--the date given was the
twenty-fifth of January.

"What fun!" said Mary, her eye sparkling. "You needn't suppose that I
know enough of balls to be particular. I have only been to one before in
my life--ever. That was at Cheltenham. An aunt took me--I didn't dance.
There were hardly any men, but I enjoyed it."

"Well, you shall dance this time," said Marcella, "for I will make Mr.
Raeburn introduce you."

"Nonsense, you won't have any time to think about me. You will be the
queen--everybody will want to speak to you. I shall sit in a corner and
look at you--that will be enough for me."

Marcella went up to her quickly and kissed her, then she said, still
holding her--

"I know you think I ought to be very happy, Mary!"

"I should think I do!" said Mary, with astonished emphasis, when the
voice paused--"I should think I do!"

"I _am_ happy--and I want to make him happy. But there are so many
things, so many different aims and motives, that complicate life, that
puzzle one. One doesn't know how much to give of one's self, to each--"

She stood with her hand on Mary's shoulder, looking away towards the
window and the snowy garden, her brow frowning and distressed.

"Well, I don't understand," said Mary, after a pause. "As I said before,
it seems to me so plain and easy--to be in love, and give one's self
_all_--to that. But you are so much cleverer than I, Marcella, you know
so much more. That makes the difference. I can't be like you. Perhaps I
don't want to be!"--and she laughed. "But I can admire you and love you,
and think about you. There, now, tell me what you are going to wear?"

"White satin, and Mr. Raeburn wants me to wear some pearls he is going
to give me, some old pearls of his mother's. I believe I shall find them
at Mellor when I get back."

There was little girlish pleasure in the tone. It was as though Marcella
thought her friend would be more interested in her bit of news than she
was herself, and was handing it on to her to please her.

"Isn't there a superstition against doing that--before you're married?"
said Mary, doubtfully.

"As if I should mind if there was! But I don't believe there is, or Miss
Raeburn would have heard of it. She's a mass of such things. Well! I
hope I shall behave myself to please her at this function. There are
not many things I do to her satisfaction; it's a mercy we're not going
to live with her. Lord Maxwell is a dear; but she and I would never get
on. Every way of thinking she has, rubs me up the wrong way; and as for
her view of me, I am just a tare sown among her wheat. Perhaps she is
right enough!"

Marcella leant her cheek pensively on one hand, and with the other
played with the things on the mantelpiece.

Mary looked at her, and then half smiled, half sighed.

"I think it is a very good thing you are to be married soon," she said,
with her little air of wisdom, which offended nobody. "Then you'll know
your own mind. When is it to be?"

"The end of February--after the election."

"Two months," mused Mary.

"Time enough to throw it all up in, you think?" said Marcella,
recklessly, putting on her gloves for departure. "Perhaps you'll be
pleased to hear that I _am_ going to a meeting of Mr. Raeburn's next
week?"

"I _am_ glad. You ought to go to them all."

"Really, Mary! How am I to lift you out of this squaw theory of
matrimony? Allow me to inform you that the following evening I am going
to one of Mr. Wharton's--here in the schoolroom!"

She enjoyed her friend's disapproval.

"By yourself, Marcella? It isn't seemly!"

"I shall take a maid. Mr. Wharton is going to tell us how the people
can--get the land, and how, when they have got it, all the money that
used to go in rent will go in taking off taxes and making life
comfortable for the poor." She looked at Mary with a teasing smile.

"Oh! I dare say he will make his stealing sound very pretty," said Mary,
with unwonted scorn, as she opened the front door for her friend.

Marcella flashed out.

"I know you are a saint, Mary," she said, turning back on the path
outside to deliver her last shaft. "I am often not so sure whether you
are a Christian!"

Then she hurried off without another word, leaving the flushed and
shaken Mary to ponder this strange dictum.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marcella was just turning into the straight drive which led past the
church on the left to Mellor House, when she heard footsteps behind her,
and, looking round, she saw Edward Hallin.

"Will you give me some lunch, Miss Boyce, in return for a message? I am
here instead of Aldous, who is very sorry for himself, and will be over
later. I am to tell you that he went down to the station to meet a
certain box. The box did not come, but will come this afternoon; so he
waits for it, and will bring it over."

Marcella flushed, smiled, and said she understood. Hallin moved on
beside her, evidently glad of the opportunity of a talk with her.

"We are all going together to the Gairsley meeting next week, aren't we?
I am so glad you are coming. Aldous will do his best."

There was something very winning in his tone to her. It implied both
his old and peculiar friendship for Aldous, and his eager wish to find a
new friend in her--to adopt her into their comradeship. Something very
winning, too, in his whole personality--in the loosely knit, nervous
figure, the irregular charm of feature, the benignant eyes and
brow--even in the suggestions of physical delicacy, cheerfully
concealed, yet none the less evident. The whole balance of Marcella's
temper changed in some sort as she talked to him. She found herself
wanting to please, instead of wanting to conquer, to make an effect.

"You have just come from the village, I think?" said Hallin. "Aldous
tells me you take a great interest in the people?"

He looked at her kindly, the look of one who saw all his
fellow-creatures nobly, as it were, and to their best advantage.

"One may take an interest," she said, in a dissatisfied voice, poking at
the snow crystals on the road before her with the thorn-stick she
carried, "but one can do so little. And I don't know anything; not even
what I want myself."

"No; one can do next to nothing. And systems and theories don't matter,
or, at least, very little. Yet, when you and Aldous are together, there
will be more chance of _doing_, for you than for most. You will be two
happy and powerful people! His power will be doubled by happiness; I
have always known that."

Marcella was seized with shyness, looked away, and did not know what to
answer. At last she said abruptly--her head still turned to the woods
on her left--

"Are you sure he is going to be happy?"

"Shall I produce his letter to me?" he said, bantering--"or letters? For
I knew a great deal about you before October 5" (their engagement-day),
"and suspected what was going to happen long before Aldous did. No;
after all, no! Those letters are my last bit of the old friendship. But
the new began that same day," he hastened to add, smiling: "It may be
richer than the old; I don't know. It depends on you."

"I don't think--I am a very satisfactory friend," said Marcella, still
awkward, and speaking with difficulty.

"Well, let me find out, won't you? I don't think Aldous would call me
exacting. I believe he would give me a decent character, though I tease
him a good deal. You must let me tell you sometime what he did for
me--what he was to me--at Cambridge? I shall always feel sorry for
Aldous's wife that she did not know him at college."

A shock went through Marcella at the word--that tremendous word--wife.
As Hallin said it, there was something intolerable in the claim it made!

"I should like you to tell me," she said faintly. Then she added, with
more energy and a sudden advance of friendliness, "But you really must
come in and rest. Aldous told me he thought the walk from the Court was
too much for you. Shall we take this short way?"

And she opened a little gate leading to a door at the side of the house
through the Cedar Garden. The narrow path only admitted of single file,
and Hallin followed her, admiring her tall youth and the fine black and
white of her head and cheek as she turned every now and then to speak to
him. He realised more vividly than before the rare, exciting elements of
her beauty, and the truth in Aldous's comparison of her to one of the
tall women in a Florentine fresco. But he felt himself a good deal
baffled by her, all the same. In some ways, so far as any man who is not
the lover can understand such things, he understood why Aldous had
fallen in love with her; in others, she bore no relation whatever to the
woman his thoughts had been shaping all these years as his friend's fit
and natural wife.

Luncheon passed as easily as any meal could be expected to do, of which
Mr. Boyce was partial president. During the preceding month or two he
had definitely assumed the character of an invalid, although to
inexperienced eyes like Marcella's there did not seem to be very much
the matter. But, whatever the facts might be, Mr. Boyce's adroit use of
them had made a great difference to his position in his own household.
His wife's sarcastic freedom of manner was less apparent; and he was
obviously less in awe of her. Meanwhile he was as sore as ever towards
the Raeburns, and no more inclined to take any particular pleasure in
Marcella's prospects, or to make himself agreeable towards his future
son-in-law. He and Mrs. Boyce had been formally asked in Miss Raeburn's
best hand to the Court ball, but he had at once snappishly announced his
intention of staying at home. Marcella sometimes looked back with
astonishment to his eagerness for social notice when they first came to
Mellor. Clearly the rising irritability of illness had made it doubly
unpleasant to him to owe all that he was likely to get on that score to
his own daughter; and, moreover, he had learnt to occupy himself more
continuously on his own land and with his own affairs.

As to the state of the village, neither Marcella's entreaties nor
reproaches had any effect upon him. When it appeared certain that he
would be summoned for some specially flagrant piece of neglect he would
spend a few shillings on repairs; otherwise not a farthing. All that
filial softening towards him of which Marcella had been conscious in the
early autumn had died away in her. She said to herself now plainly and
bitterly that it was a misfortune to belong to him; and she would have
pitied her mother most heartily if her mother had ever allowed her the
smallest expression of such a feeling. As it was, she was left to wonder
and chafe at her mother's new-born mildness.

In the drawing-room, after luncheon, Hallin came up to Marcella in a
corner, and, smiling, drew from his pocket a folded sheet of foolscap.

"I made Aldous give me his speech to show you, before to-morrow night,"
he said. "He would hardly let me take it, said it was stupid, and that
you would not agree with it. But I wanted you to see how he does these
things. He speaks now, on an average, two or three times a week. Each
time, even for an audience of a score or two of village folk, he writes
out what he has to say. Then he speaks it entirely without notes. In
this way, though he has not much natural gift, he is making himself
gradually an effective and practical speaker. The danger with him, of
course, is lest he should be over-subtle and over-critical--not simple
and popular enough."

Marcella took the paper half unwillingly and glanced over it in silence.

"You are sorry he is a Tory, is that it?" he said to her, but in a lower
voice, and sitting down beside her.

Mrs. Boyce, just catching the words from where she sat with her work, at
the further side of the room, looked up with a double wonder--wonder at
Marcella's folly, wonder still more at the deference with which men like
Aldous Raeburn and Hallin treated her. It was inevitable, of
course--youth and beauty rule the world. But the mother, under no spell
herself, and of keen, cool wit, resented the intellectual confusion, the
lowering of standards involved.

"I suppose so," said Marcella, stupidly, in answer to Hallin's question,
fidgeting the papers under her hand. Then his curious confessor's gift,
his quiet questioning look with its sensitive human interest to all
before him, told upon her.

"I am sorry he does not look further ahead, to the great changes that
must come," she added hurriedly. "This is all about details,
palliatives. I want him to be more impatient."

"Great political changes you mean?"

She nodded; then added--

"But only for the sake, of course, of great social changes to come
after."

He pondered a moment.

"Aldous has never believed in _great_ changes coming suddenly. He
constantly looks upon me as rash in the things _I_ adopt and believe in.
But for the contriving, unceasing effort of every day to make that part
of the social machine in which a man finds himself work better and more
equitably, I have never seen Aldous's equal--for the steady passion, the
persistence, of it."

She looked up. His pale face had taken to itself glow and fire; his eyes
were full of strenuous, nay, severe expression. Her foolish pride
rebelled a little.

"Of course, I haven't seen much of that yet," she said slowly.

His look for a moment was indignant, incredulous, then melted into a
charming eagerness.

"But you will! naturally you will!--see everything. I hug myself
sometimes now for pure pleasure that some one besides his grandfather
and I will know what Aldous is and does. Oh! the people on the estate
know; his neighbours are beginning to know; and now that he is going
into Parliament, the country will know some day, if work and high
intelligence have the power I believe. But I am impatient! In the first
place--I may say it to you, Miss Boyce!--I want Aldous to come out of
that _manner_ of his to strangers, which is the only bit of the true
Tory in him; _you_ can get rid of it, no one else can--How long shall I
give you?--And in the next, I want the world not to be wasting itself on
baser stuff when it might be praising Aldous!"

"Does he mean Mr. Wharton?" thought Marcella, quickly. "But this
world--our world--hates him and runs him down."

But she had no time to answer, for the door opened to admit Aldous,
flushed and bright-eyed, looking round the room immediately for her, and
bearing a parcel in his left hand.

"Does she love him at all?" thought Hallin, with a nervous stiffening of
all his lithe frame, as he walked away to talk to Mrs. Boyce, "or, in
spite of all her fine talk, is she just marrying him for his money and
position!"

Meanwhile, Aldous had drawn Marcella into the Stone Parlour and was
standing by the fire with his arm covetously round her.

"I have lost two hours with you I might have had, just because a
tiresome man missed his train. Make up for it by liking these pretty
things a little, for my sake and my mother's."

He opened the jeweller's case, took out the fine old pearls--necklace
and bracelets--it contained, and put them into her hand. They were his
first considerable gift to her, and had been chosen for association's
sake, seeing that his mother had also worn them before her marriage.

She flushed first of all with a natural pleasure, the girl delighting in
her gaud. Then she allowed herself to be kissed, which was, indeed,
inevitable. Finally she turned them over and over in her hands; and he
began to be puzzled by her.

"They are much too good for me. I don't know whether you ought to give
me such precious things. I am dreadfully careless and forgetful. Mamma
always says so."

"I shall want you to wear them so often that you won't have a chance of
forgetting them," he said gaily.

"Will you? Will you want me to wear them so often?" she asked, in an odd
voice. "Anyway, I should like to have just these, and nothing else. I am
glad that we know nobody, and have no friends, and that I shall have so
few presents. You won't give me many jewels, will you?" she said
suddenly, insistently, turning to him. "I shouldn't know what to do with
them. I used to have a magpie's wish for them; and now--I don't know,
but they don't give me pleasure. Not these, of course--not these!" she
added hurriedly, taking them up and beginning to fasten the bracelets on
her wrists.

Aldous looked perplexed.

"My darling!" he said, half laughing, and in the tone of the apologist,
"You know we _have_ such a lot of things. And I am afraid my grandfather
will want to give them all to you. Need one think so much about it? It
isn't as though they had to be bought fresh. They go with pretty gowns,
don't they, and other people like to see them?"

"No, but it's what they imply--the wealth--the _having_ so much while
other people want so much. Things begin to oppress me so!" she broke
out, instinctively moving away from him that she might express herself
with more energy. "I like luxuries so desperately, and when I get them I
seem to myself now the vulgarest creature alive, who has no right to an
opinion or an enthusiasm, or anything else worth having. You must not
let me like them--you must help me not to care about them!"

Raeburn's eye as he looked at her was tenderness itself. He could of
course neither mock her, nor put what she said aside. This question she
had raised, this most thorny of all the personal questions of the
present--the ethical relation of the individual to the World's Fair and
its vanities--was, as it happened, a question far more sternly and
robustly real to him than it was to her. Every word in his few
sentences, as they stood talking by the fire, bore on it for a practised
ear the signs of a long wrestle of the heart.

But to Marcella it sounded tame; her ear was haunted by the fragments of
another tune which she seemed to be perpetually trying to recall and
piece together. Aldous's slow minor made her impatient.

He turned presently to ask her what she had been doing with her
morning--asking her with a certain precision, and observing her
attentively. She replied that she had been showing Mr. Wharton the
house, that he had walked down with her to the village, and was gone to
a meeting at Widrington. Then she remarked that he was very good
company, and very clever, but dreadfully sure of his own opinion.
Finally she laughed, and said drily:

"There will be no putting him down all the same. I haven't told anybody
yet, but he saved my life this morning."

Aldous caught her wrists.

"Saved your life! Dear--What do you mean?"

She explained, giving the little incident all--perhaps more than--its
dramatic due. He listened with evident annoyance, and stood pondering
when she came to an end.

"So I shall be expected to take quite a different view of him
henceforward?" he inquired at last, looking round at her, with a very
forced smile.

"I am sure I don't know that it matters to him what view anybody takes
of him," she cried, flushing. "He certainly takes the frankest views of
other people, and expresses them."

And while she played with the pearls in their box she gave a vivid
account of her morning's talk with the Radical candidate for West
Brookshire, and of their village expedition.

There was a certain relief in describing the scorn with which her acts
and ideals had been treated; and, underneath, a woman's curiosity as to
how Aldous would take it.

"I don't know what business he had to express himself so frankly," said
Aldous, turning to the fire and carefully putting it together. "He
hardly knows you--it was, I think, an impertinence."

He stood upright, with his back to the hearth, a strong, capable,
frowning Englishman, very much on his dignity. Such a moment must surely
have become him in the eyes of a girl that loved him. Marcella proved
restive under it.

"No; it's very natural," she protested quickly. "When people are so much
in earnest they don't stop to think about impertinence! I never met any
one who dug up one's thoughts by the roots as he does."

Aldous was startled by her flush, her sudden attitude of opposition. His
intermittent lack of readiness overtook him, and there was an awkward
silence. Then, pulling himself together with a strong hand, he left the
subject and began to talk of her straw-plaiting scheme, of the Gairsley
meeting, and of Hallin. But in the middle Marcella unexpectedly said:

"I wish you would tell me, seriously, what reasons you have for not
liking Mr. Wharton?--other than politics, I mean?"

Her black eyes fixed him with a keen insistence.

He was silent a moment with surprise; then he said:

"I had rather not rake up old scores."

She shrugged her shoulders, and he was roused to come and put his arm
round her again, she shrinking and turning her reddened face away.

"Dearest," he said, "you shall put me in charity with all the world. But
the worst of it is," he added, half laughing, "that I don't see how I am
to help disliking him doubly henceforward for having had the luck to put
that fire out instead of me!"




CHAPTER VI.


A few busy and eventful weeks, days never forgotten by Marcella in after
years, passed quickly by. Parliament met in the third week of January.
Ministers, according to universal expectation, found themselves
confronted by a damaging amendment on the Address, and were defeated by
a small majority. A dissolution and appeal to the country followed
immediately, and the meetings and speech-makings, already active
throughout the constituencies, were carried forward with redoubled
energy. In the Tudley End division, Aldous Raeburn was fighting a
somewhat younger opponent of the same country-gentleman stock--a former
fag indeed of his at Eton--whose zeal and fluency gave him plenty to do.
Under ordinary circumstances Aldous would have thrown himself with all
his heart and mind into a contest which involved for him the most
stimulating of possibilities, personal and public. But, as these days
went over, he found his appetite for the struggle flagging, and was
harassed rather than spurred by his adversary's activity. The real truth
was that he could not see enough of Marcella! A curious uncertainty and
unreality, moreover, seemed to have crept into some of their relations;
and it had begun to gall and fever him that Wharton should be staying
there, week after week, beside her, in her father's house, able to
spend all the free intervals of the fight in her society, strengthening
an influence which Raeburn's pride and delicacy had hardly allowed him
as yet, in spite of his instinctive jealousy from the beginning, to take
into his thoughts at all, but which was now apparent, not only to
himself but to others.

In vain did he spend every possible hour at Mellor he could snatch from
a conflict in which his party, his grandfather, and his own personal
fortunes were all deeply interested. In vain--with a tardy instinct that
it was to Mr. Boyce's dislike of himself, and to the wilful fancy for
Wharton's society which this dislike had promoted, that Wharton's long
stay at Mellor was largely owing--did Aldous subdue himself to
propitiations and amenities wholly foreign to a strong character long
accustomed to rule without thinking about it. Mr. Boyce showed himself
not a whit less partial to Wharton than before; pressed him at least
twice in Raeburn's hearing to make Mellor his head-quarters so long as
it suited him, and behaved with an irritable malice with regard to some
of the details of the wedding arrangements, which neither Mrs. Boyce's
indignation nor Marcella's discomfort and annoyance could restrain.
Clearly there was in him a strong consciousness that by his attentions
to the Radical candidate he was asserting his independence of the
Raeburns, and nothing for the moment seemed to be more of an object with
him, even though his daughter was going to marry the Raeburns' heir.
Meanwhile, Wharton was always ready to walk or chat or play billiards
with his host in the intervals of his own campaign; and his society had
thus come to count considerably among the scanty daily pleasures of a
sickly and disappointed man. Mrs. Boyce did not like her guest, and took
no pains to disguise it, least of all from Wharton. But it seemed to be
no longer possible for her to take the vigorous measures she would once
have taken to get rid of him.

In vain, too, did Miss Raeburn do her best for the nephew to whom she
was still devoted, in spite of his deplorable choice of a wife. She took
in the situation as a whole probably sooner than anybody else, and she
instantly made heroic efforts to see more of Marcella, to get her to
come oftener to the Court, and in many various ways to procure the poor
deluded Aldous more of his betrothed's society. She paid many chattering
and fussy visits to Mellor--visits which chafed Marcella--and before
long, indeed, roused a certain suspicion in the girl's wilful mind.
Between Miss Raeburn and Mrs. Boyce there was a curious understanding.
It was always tacit, and never amounted to friendship, still less to
intimacy. But it often yielded a certain melancholy consolation to
Aldous Raeburn's great-aunt. It was clear to her that this strange
mother was just as much convinced as she was that Aldous was making a
great mistake, and that Marcella was not worthy of him. But the
engagement being there--a fact not apparently to be undone--both ladies
showed themselves disposed to take pains with it, to protect it against
aggression. Mrs. Boyce found herself becoming more of a _chaperon_ than
she had ever yet professed to be; and Miss Raeburn, as we have said,
made repeated efforts to capture Marcella and hold her for Aldous, her
lawful master.

But Marcella proved extremely difficult to manage. In the first place
she was a young person of many engagements. Her village scheme absorbed
a great deal of time. She was deep in a varied correspondence, in the
engagement of teachers, the provision of work-rooms, the collecting and
registering of workers, the organisation of local committees and so
forth. New sides of the girl's character, new capacities and
capabilities were coming out; new forms of her natural power over her
fellows were developing every day; she was beginning, under the
incessant stimulus of Wharton's talk, to read and think on social and
economic subjects, with some system and coherence, and it was evident
that she took a passionate mental pleasure in it all. And the more
pleasure these activities gave her, the less she had to spare for those
accompaniments of her engagement and her position that was to be, which
once, as Mrs. Boyce's sharp eyes perceived, had been quite normally
attractive to her.

"Why do you take up her time so, with all these things?" said Miss
Raeburn impatiently to Lady Winterbourne, who was now Marcella's
obedient helper in everything she chose to initiate. "She doesn't care
for anything she _ought_ to care about at this time, and Aldous sees
nothing of her. As for her trousseau, Mrs. Boyce declares she has had to
do it all. Marcella won't even go up to London to have her wedding-dress
fitted!"

Lady Winterbourne looked up bewildered.

"But I can't make her go and have her wedding-dress fitted, Agneta! And
I always feel you don't know what a fine creature she is. You don't
really appreciate her. It's splendid the ideas she has about this work,
and the way she throws herself into it."

"I dare say!" said Miss Raeburn, indignantly. "That's just what I object
to. Why can't she throw herself into being in love with Aldous! That's
her business, I imagine, just now--if she were a young woman like
anybody else one had ever seen--instead of holding aloof from everything
he does, and never being there when he wants her. Oh! I have no patience
with her. But, of course, I must--" said Miss Raeburn, hastily
correcting herself--"of course, I must have patience."

"It will all come right, I am sure, when they are married," said Lady
Winterbourne, rather helplessly.

"That's just what my brother says," cried Miss Raeburn, exasperated. "He
won't hear a word--declares she is odd and original, and that Aldous
will soon know how to manage her. It's all very well; nowadays men
_don't_ manage their wives; that's all gone with the rest. And I am
sure, my dear, if she behaves after she is married as she is doing now,
with that most objectionable person Mr. Wharton--walking, and talking,
and taking up his ideas, and going to his meetings--she'll be a handful
for any husband."

"Mr. Wharton!" said Lady Winterbourne, astonished. Her absent black
eyes, the eyes of the dreamer, of the person who lives by a few intense
affections, saw little or nothing of what was going on immediately under
them. "Oh! but that is because he is staying in the house, and he is a
Socialist; she calls herself one--"

"My _dear_," said Miss Raeburn, interrupting emphatically;
"if--you--had--now--an unmarried daughter at home--engaged or not--would
you care to have Harry Wharton hanging about after her?"

"Harry Wharton?" said the other, pondering; "he is the Levens' cousin,
isn't he? he used to stay with them. I don't think I have seen him since
then. But yes, I do remember; there was something--something
disagreeable?"

She stopped with a hesitating, interrogative air. No one talked less
scandal, no one put the uglinesses of life away from her with a hastier
hand than Lady Winterbourne. She was one of the most consistent of moral
epicures.

"Yes, _extremely_ disagreeable," said Miss Raeburn, sitting bolt
upright. "The man has no principles--never had any, since he was a child
in petticoats. I know Aldous thinks him unscrupulous in politics and
everything else. And then, just when you are worked to death, and have
hardly a moment for your own affairs, to have a man of that type always
at hand to spend odd times with your lady love--flattering her, engaging
her in his ridiculous schemes, encouraging her in all the extravagances
she has got her head twice too full of already, setting her against your
own ideas and the life she will have to live--you will admit that it is
not exactly soothing!"

"Poor Aldous!" said Lady Winterbourne, thoughtfully, looking far ahead
with her odd look of absent rigidity, which had in reality so little to
do with a character essentially soft; "but you see he _did_ know all
about her opinions. And I don't think--no, I really don't think--I could
speak to her."

In truth, this woman of nearly seventy--old in years, but wholly young
in temperament--was altogether under Marcella's spell--more at ease with
her already than with most of her own children, finding in her
satisfaction for a hundred instincts, suppressed or starved by her own
environment, fascinated by the girl's friendship, and eagerly grateful
for her visits. Miss Raeburn thought it all both incomprehensible and
silly.

"Apparently no one can!" cried that lady in answer to her friend's
demurrer; "is all the world afraid of her?"

And she departed in wrath. But she knew, nevertheless, that she was just
as much afraid of Marcella as anybody else. In her own sphere at the
Court, or in points connected with what was due to the family, or to
Lord Maxwell especially, as the head of it, this short, capable old lady
could hold her own amply with Aldous's betrothed, could maintain,
indeed, a sharp and caustic dignity, which kept Marcella very much in
order. Miss Raeburn, on the defensive, was strong; but when it came to
attacking Marcella's own ideas and proceedings, Lord Maxwell's sister
became shrewdly conscious of her own weaknesses. She had no wish to
measure her wits on any general field with Marcella's. She said to
herself that the girl was too clever and would talk you down.

Meanwhile, things went untowardly in various ways. Marcella disciplined
herself before the Gairsley meeting, and went thither resolved to give
Aldous as much sympathy as she could. But the performance only repelled
a mind over which Wharton was every day gaining more influence. There
was a portly baronet in the chair; there were various Primrose Dames on
the platform and among the audience; there was a considerable
representation of clergy; and the labourers present seemed to Marcella
the most obsequious of their kind. Aldous spoke well--or so the audience
seemed to think; but she could feel no enthusiasm for anything that he
said. She gathered that he advocated a Government inspection of
cottages, more stringent precautions against cattle disease, better
technical instruction, a more abundant provision of allotments and small
freeholds, &c.; and he said many cordial and wise-sounding things in
praise of a progress which should go safely and wisely from step to
step, and run no risks of dangerous reaction. But the assumptions on
which, as she told herself rebelliously, it all went--that the rich and
the educated must rule, and the poor obey; that existing classes and
rights, the forces of individualism and competition, must and would go
on pretty much as they were; that great houses and great people, the
English land and game system, and all the rest of our odious class
paraphernalia were in the order of the universe; these ideas, conceived
as the furniture of Aldous's mind, threw her again into a ferment of
passionate opposition. And when the noble baronet in the chair--to her
eye, a pompous, frock-coated stick, sacrificing his after-dinner sleep
for once, that he might the more effectually secure it in the
future--proposed a vote of confidence in the Conservative candidate;
when the vote was carried with much cheering and rattling of feet; when
the Primrose Dames on the platform smiled graciously down upon the
meeting as one smiles at good children in their moments of pretty
behaviour; and when, finally, scores of toil-stained labourers, young
and old, went up to have a word and a hand-shake with "Muster Raeburn,"
Marcella held herself aloof and cold, with a look that threatened
sarcasm should she be spoken to. Miss Raeburn, glancing furtively round
at her, was outraged anew by her expression.

"She will be a thorn in all our sides," thought that lady. "Aldous is a
fool!--a poor dear noble misguided fool!"

Then on the way home, she and Aldous drove together. Marcella tried to
argue, grew vehement, and said bitter things for the sake of victory,
till at last Aldous, tired, worried, and deeply wounded, could bear it
no longer.

"Let it be, dear, let it be!" he entreated, snatching at her hand as
they rolled along through a stormy night. "We grope in a dark world--you
see some points of light in it, I see others--won't you give me credit
for doing what I can--seeing what I can? I am sure--_sure_--you will
find it easier to bear with differences when we are quite together--when
there are no longer all these hateful duties and engagements--and
persons--between us."

"Persons! I don't know what you mean!" said Marcella.

Aldous only just restrained himself in time. Out of sheer fatigue and
slackness of nerve he had been all but betrayed into some angry speech
on the subject of Wharton, the echoes of whose fantastic talk, as it
seemed to him, were always hanging about Mellor when he went there. But
he did refrain, and was thankful. That he was indeed jealous and
disturbed, that he had been jealous and disturbed from the moment Harry
Wharton had set foot in Mellor, he himself knew quite well. But to play
the jealous part in public was more than the Raeburn pride could bear.
There was the dread, too, of defining the situation--of striking some
vulgar irrevocable note.

So he parried Marcella's exclamation by asking her whether she had any
idea how many human hands a parliamentary candidate had to shake between
breakfast and bed; and then, having so slipped into another tone, he
tried to amuse himself and her by some of the daily humours of the
contest. She lent herself to it and laughed, her look mostly turned away
from him, as though she were following the light of the carriage lamps
as it slipped along the snow-laden hedges, her hand lying limply in his.
But neither were really gay. His soreness of mind grew as in the pauses
of talk he came to realise more exactly the failure of the evening--of
his very successful and encouraging meeting--from his own private point
of view.

"Didn't you like that last speech?" he broke out suddenly--"that
labourer's speech? I thought you would. It was entirely his own
idea--nobody asked him to do it."

In reality Gairsley represented a corner of the estate which Aldous had
specially made his own. He had spent much labour and thought on the
improvement of what had been a backward district, and in particular he
had tried a small profit-sharing experiment upon a farm there which he
had taken into his own hands for the purpose. The experiment had met
with fair success, and the labourer in question, who was one of the
workers in it, had volunteered some approving remarks upon it at the
meeting.

"Oh! it was very proper and respectful!" said Marcella, hastily.

The carriage rolled on some yards before Aldous replied. Then he spoke
in a drier tone than he had ever yet used to her.

"You do it injustice, I think. The man is perfectly independent, and an
honest fellow. I was grateful to him for what he said."

"Of course, I am no judge!" cried Marcella, quickly--repentantly. "Why
did you ask me? I saw everything crooked, I suppose--it was your
Primrose Dames--they got upon my nerves. Why did you have them? I didn't
mean to vex and hurt you--I didn't indeed--it was all the other way--and
now I have."

She turned upon him laughing, but also half crying, as he could tell by
the flutter of her breath.

He vowed he was not hurt, and once more changed both talk and tone. They
reached the drive's end without a word of Wharton. But Marcella went to
bed hating herself, and Aldous, after his solitary drive home, sat up
long and late, feverishly pacing and thinking.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then next evening how differently things fell!

Marcella, having spent the afternoon at the Court, hearing all the
final arrangements for the ball, and bearing with Miss Raeburn in a way
which astonished herself, came home full of a sense of duty done, and
announced to her mother that she was going to Mr. Wharton's meeting in
the Baptist chapel that evening.

"Unnecessary, don't you think?" said Mrs. Boyce, lifting her eyebrows.
"However, if you go, I shall go with you."

Most mothers, dealing with a girl of twenty-one, under the
circumstances, would have said, "I had rather you stayed at home." Mrs.
Boyce never employed locutions of this kind. She recognised with perfect
calmness that Marcella's bringing up, and especially her independent
years in London, had made it impossible.

Marcella fidgeted.

"I don't know why you should, mamma. Papa will be sure to want you. Of
course, I shall take Deacon."

"Please order dinner a quarter of an hour earlier, and tell Deacon to
bring down my walking things to the hall," was all Mrs. Boyce said in
answer.

Marcella walked upstairs with her head very stiff. So her mother, and
Miss Raeburn too, thought it necessary to keep watch on her. How
preposterous! She thought of her free and easy relations with her
Kensington student-friends, and wondered when a more reasonable idea of
the relations between men and women would begin to penetrate English
country society.

Mr. Boyce talked recklessly of going too.

"Of course, I know he will spout seditious nonsense," he said irritably
to his wife, "but it's the fellow's power of talk that is so
astonishing. _He_ isn't troubled with your Raeburn heaviness."

Marcella came into the room as the discussion was going on.

"If papa goes," she said in an undertone to her mother as she passed
her, "it will spoil the meeting. The labourers will turn sulky. I
shouldn't wonder if they did or said something unpleasant. As it is,
_you_ had much better not come, mamma. They are sure to attack the
cottages--and other things."

Mrs. Boyce took no notice as far as she herself was concerned, but her
quiet decision at last succeeded in leaving Mr. Boyce safely settled by
the fire, provided as usual with a cigarette and a French novel.

The meeting was held in a little iron Baptist chapel, erected some few
years before on the outskirts of the village, to the grief and scandal
of Mr. Harden. There were about a hundred and twenty labourers present,
and at the back some boys and girls, come to giggle and make a
noise--nobody else. The Baptist minister, a smooth-faced young man,
possessed, as it turned out, of opinions little short of Wharton's own
in point of vigour and rigour, was already in command. A few late
comers, as they slouched in, stole side looks at Marcella and the veiled
lady in black beside her, sitting in the corner of the last bench; and
Marcella nodded to one or two of the audience, Jim Hurd amongst them.
Otherwise no one took any notice of them. It was the first time that
Mrs. Boyce had been inside any building belonging to the village.

Wharton arrived late. He had been canvassing at a distance, and neither
of the Mellor ladies had seen him all day. He slipped up the bench with
a bow and a smile to greet them. "I am done!" he said to Marcella, as he
took off his hat. "My voice is gone, my mind ditto. I shall drivel for
half an hour and let them go. Did you ever see such a stolid set?"

"You will rouse them," said Marcella.

Her eyes were animated, her colour high, and she took no account at all
of his plea of weariness.

"You challenge me? I must rouse them--that was what you came to see? Is
that it?"

She laughed and made no answer. He left her and went up to the
minister's desk, the men shuffling their feet a little, and rattling a
stick here and there as he did so.

The young minister took the chair and introduced the speaker. He had a
strong Yorkshire accent, and his speech was divided between the most
vehement attacks, couched in the most Scriptural language, upon capital
and privilege--that is to say, on landlords and the land system, on
State churches and the "idle rich," interspersed with quavering returns
upon himself, as though he were scared by his own invective. "My
brothers, let us be _calm_!" he would say after every burst of passion,
with a long deep-voiced emphasis on the last word; "let us, above all
things, be _calm_!"--and then bit by bit voice and denunciation would
begin to mount again towards a fresh climax of loud-voiced attack, only
to sink again to the same lamb-like refrain. Mrs. Boyce's thin lip
twitched, and Marcella bore the good gentleman a grudge for providing
her mother with so much unnecessary amusement.

As for Wharton, at the opening of his speech he spoke both awkwardly and
flatly; and Marcella had a momentary shock. He was, as he said, tired,
and his wits were not at command. He began with the general political
programme of the party to which--on its extreme left wing--he proclaimed
himself to belong. This programme was, of course, by now a newspaper
commonplace of the stalest sort. He himself recited it without
enthusiasm, and it was received without a spark, so far as appeared, of
interest or agreement. The minister gave an "hear, hear," of a loud
official sort; the men made no sign.

"They might be a set of Dutch cheeses!" thought Marcella, indignantly,
after a while. "But, after all, why should they care for all this? I
shall have to get up in a minute and stop those children romping."

But through all this, as it were, Wharton was only waiting for his
second wind. There came a moment when, dropping his quasi-official and
high political tone, he said suddenly with another voice and emphasis:

"Well now, my men, I'll be bound you're thinking, 'That's all pretty
enough!--we haven't got anything against it--we dare say it's all right;
but we don't care a brass ha'porth about any of it! If that's all you'd
got to say to us, you might have let us bide at home. We don't have none
too much time to rest our bones a bit by the fire, and talk to the
missus and the kids. Why didn't you let us alone, instead of bringing us
out in the cold?'

"Well, but it _isn't_ all I've got to say--and you know it--because
I've spoken to you before. What I've been talking about is all true, and
all important, and you'll see it some day when you're fit. But what can
men in your position know about it, or care about it? What do any of you
want, but _bread_--"

--He thundered on the desk--

"--a bit of decent _comfort_--a bit of _freedom_--freedom from tyrants
who call themselves your betters!--a bit of rest in your old age, a home
that's something better than a dog-hole, a wage that's something better
than starvation, an honest share in the wealth you are making every day
and every hour for other people to gorge and plunder!"

He stopped a moment to see how _that_ took. A knot of young men in a
corner rattled their sticks vigorously. The older men had begun at any
rate to look at the speaker. The boys on the back benches instinctively
stopped scuffling.

Then he threw himself into a sort of rapid question-and-answer. What
were their wages?--eleven shillings a week?

"Not they!" cried a man from the middle of the chapel. "Yer mus' reckon
it wet an' dry. I wor turned back two days las' week, an' two days this,
_fower_ shillin' lost each week--that's what I call skinnin' ov yer."

Wharton nodded at him approvingly. By now he knew the majority of the
men in each village by name, and never forgot a face or a biography.
"You're right there, Watkins. Eleven shillings, then, when it isn't
less, never more, and precious often less; and harvest money--the
people that are kind enough to come round and ask you to vote Tory for
them make a deal of that, don't they?--and a few odds and ends here and
there--precious few of them! There! that's about it for wages, isn't it?
Thirty pounds a year, somewhere about, to keep a wife and children
on--and for ten hours a day work, not counting meal times--that's it, I
think. Oh, you _are_ well off!--aren't you?"

He dropped his arms, folded, on the desk in front of him, and paused to
look at them, his bright kindling eye running over rank after rank. A
chuckle of rough laughter, bitter and jeering, ran through the benches.
Then they broke out and applauded him.

Well, and about their cottages?

His glance caught Marcella, passed to her mother sitting stiffly
motionless under her veil. He drew himself up, thought a moment, then
threw himself far forward again over the desk as though the better to
launch what he had to say, his voice taking a grinding determined note.

He had been in all parts of the division, he said; seen everything,
inquired into everything. No doubt, on the great properties there had
been a good deal done of late years--public opinion had effected
something, the landlords had been forced to disgorge some of the gains
wrested from labour, to pay for the decent housing of the labourer. But
did anybody suppose that _enough_ had been done? Why, he had seen
_dens_--aye, on the best properties--not fit for the pigs that the
farmers wouldn't let the labourers keep, lest they should steal their
straw for the littering of them!--where a man was bound to live the
life of a beast, and his children after him--

A tall thin man of about sixty rose in his place, and pointed a long
quavering finger at the speaker.

"What is it, Darwin? speak up!" said Wharton, dropping at once into the
colloquial tone, and stooping forward to listen.

"My sleepin' room's six foot nine by seven foot six. We have to shift
our bed for the rain's comin' in, an' yer may see for yoursels ther
ain't much room to shift it in. An' beyont us ther's a room for the
chillen, same size as ourn, an' no window, nothin' but the door into us.
Ov a summer night the chillen, three on 'em, is all of a sweat afore
they're asleep. An' no garden, an' no chance o' decent ways nohow. An'
if yer ask for a bit o' repairs yer get sworn at. An' that's all that
most on us can get out of Squire Boyce!"

There was a hasty whisper among some of the men round him, as they
glanced over their shoulders at the two ladies on the back bench. One or
two of them half rose, and tried to pull him down. Wharton looked at
Marcella; it seemed to him he saw a sort of passionate satisfaction on
her pale face, and in the erect carriage of her head. Then she stooped
to the side and whispered to her mother. Mrs. Boyce shook her head and
sat on, immovable. All this took but a second or two.

"Ah, well," said Wharton, "we won't have names; that'll do us no good.
It's not the _men_ you've got to go for so much--though we shall go for
them too before long when we've got the law more on our side. It's the
system. It's the whole way of dividing the wealth that _you_ made, you
and your children--by your work, your hard, slavish, incessant
work--between you and those who _don't_ work, who live on your labour
and grow fat on your poverty! What we want is _a fair division_. There
_ought_ to be wealth enough--there _is_ wealth enough for all in this
blessed country. The earth gives it; the sun gives it: labour extracts
and piles it up. Why should one class take three-fourths of it and leave
you and your fellow-workers in the cities the miserable pittance which
is all you have to starve and breed on? Why?--_why_? I say.
Why!--because you are a set of dull, jealous, poor-spirited _cowards_,
unable to pull together, to trust each other, to give up so much as a
pot of beer a week for the sake of your children and your liberties and
your class--there, _that's_ why it is, and I tell it you straight out!"

He drew himself up, folded his arms across his chest, and looked at
them--scorn and denunciation in every line of his young frame, and the
blaze of his blue eye. A murmur ran through the room. Some of the men
laughed excitedly. Darwin sprang up again.

"You keep the perlice off us, an' gie us the cuttin' up o' their
bloomin' parks an' we'll do it fast enough," he cried.

"Much good that'll do you, just at present," said Wharton,
contemptuously. "Now, you just listen to me."

And, leaning forward over the desk again, his finger pointed at the
room, he went through the regular Socialist programme as it affects the
country districts--the transference of authority within the villages
from the few to the many, the landlords taxed more and more heavily
during the transition time for the provision of house room, water,
light, education and amusement for the labourer; and ultimately land and
capital at the free disposal of the State, to be supplied to the worker
on demand at the most moderate terms, while the annexed rent and
interest of the capitalist class relieves him of taxes, and the
disappearance of squire, State parson, and plutocrat leaves him master
in his own house, the slave of no man, the equal of all. And, as a first
step to this new Jerusalem--_organisation_!--self-sacrifice enough to
form and maintain a union, to vote for Radical and Socialist candidates
in the teeth of the people who have coals and blankets to give away.

"Then I suppose you think you'd be turned out of your cottages,
dismissed your work, made to smart for it somehow. Just you try! There
are people all over the country ready to back you, if you'd only back
yourselves. But you _won't_. You won't fight--that's the worst of you;
that's what makes all of us _sick_ when we come down to talk to you. You
won't spare twopence halfpenny a week from boozing--not you!--to
subscribe to a union, and take the first little step towards filling
your stomachs and holding your heads up as free men. What's the good of
your grumbling? I suppose you'll go on like that--grumbling and starving
and cringing--and talking big of the things you could do if you
would:--and all the time not one honest effort--not one!--to better
yourselves, to pull the yoke off your necks! By the Lord! I tell you
it's a _damned_ sort of business talking to fellows like you!"

Marcella started as he flung the words out with a bitter, nay, a brutal,
emphasis. The smooth-faced minister coughed loudly with a sudden
movement, half got up to remonstrate, and then thought better of it.
Mrs. Boyce for the first time showed some animation under her veil. Her
eyes followed the speaker with a quick attention.

As for the men, as they turned clumsily to stare at, to laugh, or talk
to each other, Marcella could hardly make out whether they were angered
or fascinated. Whichever it was, Wharton cared for none of them. His
blood was up; his fatigue thrown off. Standing there in front of them,
his hands in his pockets, pale with the excitement of speaking, his
curly head thrown out against the whitened wall of the chapel, he lashed
into the men before him, talking their language, their dialect even;
laying bare their weaknesses, sensualities, indecisions; painting in the
sombrest colours the grim truths of their melancholy lives.

Marcella could hardly breathe. It seemed to her that, among these
cottagers, she had never lived till now--under the blaze of these
eyes--within the vibration of this voice. Never had she so realised the
power of this singular being. He was scourging, dissecting, the
weather-beaten men before him, as, with a difference, he had scourged,
dissected her. She found herself exulting in his powers of tyranny, in
the naked thrust of his words, so nervous, so pitiless. And then by a
sudden flash she thought of him by Mrs. Hurd's fire, the dying child on
his knee, against his breast. "Here," she thought, while her pulses
leapt, "is the leader for me--for these. Let him call, I will follow."

It was as though he followed the ranging of her thought, for suddenly,
when she and his hearers least expected it, his tone changed, his storm
of speech sank. He fell into a strain of quiet sympathy, encouragement,
hope; dwelt with a good deal of homely iteration on the immediate
practical steps which each man before him could, if he would, take
towards the common end; spoke of the help and support lying ready for
the country labourers throughout democratic England if they would but
put forward their own energies and quit themselves like men; pointed
forward to a time of plenty, education, social peace; and so--with some
good-tempered banter of his opponent, old Dodgson, and some precise
instructions as to how and where they were to record their votes on the
day of election--came to an end. Two or three other speeches followed,
and among them a few stumbling words from Hurd. Marcella approved
herself and applauded him, as she recognised a sentence or two taken
bodily from the _Labour Clarion_ of the preceding week. Then a
resolution pledging the meeting to support the Liberal candidate was
passed unanimously amid evident excitement. It was the first time that
such a thing had ever happened in Mellor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Boyce treated her visitor on their way home with a new respect,
mixed, however, as usual, with her prevailing irony. For one who knew
her, her manner implied, not that she liked him any more, but that a
man so well trained to his own profession must always hold his own.

As for Marcella, she said little or nothing. But Wharton, in the dark of
the carriage, had a strange sense that her eye was often on him, that
her mood marched with his, and that if he could have spoken her response
would have been electric.

When he had helped her out of the carriage, and they stood in the
vestibule--Mrs. Boyce having walked on into the hall--he said to her,
his voice hoarse with fatigue:

"Did I do your bidding, did I rouse them?"

Marcella was seized with sudden shyness.

"You rated them enough."

"Well, did you disapprove?"

"Oh, no! it seems to be your way."

"My proof of friendship? Well, can there be a greater? Will you show me
some to-morrow?"

"How can I?"

"Will you criticise?--tell me where you thought I was a fool to-night,
or a hypocrite? Your mother would."

"I dare say!" said Marcella, her breath quickening; "but don't expect it
from me."

"Why?"

"Because--because I don't pretend. I don't know whether you roused them,
but you roused _me_."

She swept on before him into the dark hall, without giving him a moment
for reply, took her candle, and disappeared.

Wharton found his own staircase, and went up to bed. The light he
carried showed his smiling eyes bent on the ground, his mouth still
moving as though with some pleasant desire of speech.




CHAPTER VII.


Wharton was sitting alone in the big Mellor drawing-room, after dinner.
He had drawn one of the few easy chairs the room possessed to the fire,
and with his feet on the fender, and one of Mr. Boyce's French novels on
his knee, he was intensely enjoying a moment of physical ease. The work
of these weeks of canvassing and speaking had been arduous, and he was
naturally indolent. Now, beside this fire and at a distance, it amazed
him that any motive whatever, public or private, should ever have been
strong enough to take him out through the mire on these winter nights to
spout himself hoarse to a parcel of rustics. "What did I do it for?" he
asked himself; "what am I going to do it for again to-morrow?"

Ten o'clock. Mr. Boyce was gone to bed. No more entertaining of _him_ to
be done; one might be thankful for that mercy. Miss Boyce and her mother
would, he supposed, be down directly. They had gone up to dress at nine.
It was the night of the Maxwell Court ball, and the carriage had been
ordered for half-past ten. In a few minutes he would see Miss Boyce in
her new dress, wearing Raeburn's pearls. He was extraordinarily
observant, and a number of little incidents and domestic arrangements
bearing on the feminine side of Marcella's life had been apparent to
him from the beginning. He knew, for instance, that the trousseau was
being made at home, and that during the last few weeks the lady for whom
it was destined had shown an indifference to the progress of it which
seemed to excite a dumb annoyance in her mother. Curious woman, Mrs.
Boyce!

He found himself listening to every opening door, and already, as it
were, gazing at Marcella in her white array. He was not asked to this
ball. As he had early explained to Miss Boyce, he and Miss Raeburn had
been "cuts" for years, for what reason he had of course left Marcella to
guess. As if Marcella found any difficulty in guessing--as if the
preposterous bigotries and intolerances of the Ladies' League were not
enough to account for any similar behaviour on the part of any similar
high-bred spinster! As for this occasion, she was far too proud both on
her own behalf and Wharton's to say anything either to Lord Maxwell or
his sister on the subject of an invitation for her father's guest.

It so happened, however, that Wharton was aware of certain other reasons
for his social exclusion from Maxwell Court. There was no necessity, of
course, for enlightening Miss Boyce on the point. But as he sat waiting
for her, Wharton's mind went back to the past connected with those
reasons. In that past Raeburn had had the whip-hand of him; Raeburn had
been the moral superior dictating indignant terms to a young fellow
detected in flagrant misconduct. Wharton did not know that he bore him
any particular grudge. But he had never liked Aldous, as a boy, that he
could remember; naturally he had liked him less since that old affair.
The remembrance of it had made his position at Mellor particularly sweet
to him from the beginning; he was not sure that it had not determined
his original acceptance of the offer made to him by the Liberal
Committee to contest old Dodgson's seat. And during the past few weeks
the exhilaration and interest of the general position--considering all
things--had been very great. Not only was he on the point of ousting the
Maxwell candidate from a seat which he had held securely for
years--Wharton was perfectly well aware by now that he was trespassing
on Aldous Raeburn's preserves in ways far more important, and infinitely
more irritating! He and Raeburn had not met often at Mellor during these
weeks of fight. Each had been too busy. But whenever they had come
across each other Wharton had clearly perceived that his presence in the
house, his growing intimacy with Marcella Boyce, the free-masonry of
opinion between them, the interest she took in his contest, the village
friendships they had in common, were all intensely galling to Aldous
Raeburn.

The course of events, indeed, had lately produced in Wharton a certain
excitement--recklessness even. He had come down into these parts to
court "the joy of eventful living"--politically and personally. But the
situation had proved to be actually far more poignant and personal than
he had expected. This proud, crude, handsome girl--to her certainly it
was largely due that the days had flown as they had. He was perfectly,
one might almost say gleefully, aware that at the present moment it was
he and not Aldous Raeburn who was intellectually her master. His mind
flew back at first with amusement, then with a thrill of something else,
over their talks and quarrels. He smiled gaily as he recalled her fits
of anger with him, her remonstrances, appeals--and then her awkward
inevitable submissions when he had crushed her with sarcasm or with
facts. Ah! she would go to this ball to-night; Aldous Raeburn would
parade her as his possession; but she would go with thoughts, ambitions,
ideals, which, as they developed, would make her more and more difficult
for a Raeburn to deal with. And in those thoughts and ambitions the man
who had been her tormentor, teacher, and companion during six rushing
weeks knew well that he already counted for much. He had cherished in
her all those "divine discontents" which were already there when he
first knew her; taught her to formulate them, given her better reasons
for them; so that by now she was a person with a far more defined and
stormy will than she had been to begin with. Wharton did not
particularly know why he should exult; but he did exult. At any rate, he
was prodigiously tickled--by the whole position.

A step, a rustle outside--he hastily shut his book and listened.

The door opened, and Marcella came in--a white vision against the heavy
blue of the walls. With her came, too, a sudden strong scent of flowers,
for she carried a marvellous bunch of hot-house roses, Aldous's gift,
which had just arrived by special messenger.

Wharton sprang up and placed a chair for her.

"I had begun to believe the ball only existed in my own imagination!"
he said gaily. "Surely you are very late."

Then he saw that she looked disturbed.

"It was papa," she said, coming to the fire, and looking down into it.
"It has been another attack of pain--not serious, mamma says; she is
coming down directly. But I wonder why they come, and why he thinks
himself so ill--do you know?" she added abruptly, turning to her
companion.

Wharton hesitated, taken by surprise. During the past weeks, what with
Mr. Boyce's confidence and his own acuteness, he had arrived at a very
shrewd notion of what was wrong with his host. But he was not going to
enlighten the daughter.

"I should say your father wants a great deal of care--and is nervous
about himself," he said quietly. "But he will get the care--and your
mother knows the whole state of the case."

"Yes, she knows," said Marcella. "I wish I did."

And a sudden painful expression--of moral worry, remorse--passed across
the girl's face. Wharton knew that she had often been impatient of late
with her father, and incredulous of his complaints. He thought he
understood.

"One can often be of more use to a sick person if one is not too well
acquainted with what ails them," he said. "Hope and cheerfulness are
everything in a case like your father's. He will do well."

"If he does he won't owe any of it--"

She stopped as impulsively as she had begun. "To me," she meant to have
said; then had retreated hastily, before her own sense of something
unduly intimate and personal. Wharton stood quietly beside her, saying
nothing, but receiving and soothing her self-reproach just as surely as
though she had put it into words.

"You are crushing your flowers, I think," he said suddenly.

And indeed her roses were dangling against her dress, as if she had
forgotten all about them.

She raised them carelessly, but he bent to smell them, and she held them
out.

"Summer!" he said, plunging his face into them with a long breath of
sensuous enjoyment. "How the year sweeps round in an instant! And all
the effect of a little heat and a little money. Will you allow me a
philosopher's remark?"

He drew back from her. His quick inquisitive but still respectful eye
took in every delightful detail.

"If I don't give you leave, my experience is that you will take it!" she
said, half laughing, half resentful, as though she had old aggressions
in mind.

"You admit the strength of the temptation? It is very simple, no one
could help making it. To be spectator of the _height_ of anything--the
best, the climax--makes any mortal's pulses run. Beauty, success,
happiness, for instance?"

He paused smiling. She leant a thin hand on the mantelpiece and looked
away; Aldous's pearls slipped backwards along her white arm.

"Do you suppose to-night will be the height of happiness?" she said at
last with a little scorn. "These functions don't present themselves to
_me_ in such a light."

Wharton could have laughed out--her pedantry was so young and
unconscious. But he restrained himself.

"I shall be with the majority to-night," he said demurely. "I may as
well warn you."

Her colour rose. No other man had ever dared to speak to her with this
assurance, this cool scrutinising air. She told herself to be indignant;
the next moment she _was_ indignant, but with herself for remembering
conventionalities.

"Tell me one thing," said Wharton, changing his tone wholly. "I know you
went down hurriedly to the village before dinner. Was anything wrong?"

"Old Patton is very ill," she said, sighing. "I went to ask after him;
he may die any moment. And the Hurds' boy too."

He leant against the mantelpiece, talking to her about both cases with a
quick incisive common-sense--not unkind, but without a touch of
unnecessary sentiment, still less of the superior person--which
represented one of the moods she liked best in him. In speaking of the
poor he always took the tone of comradeship, of a plain equality, and
the tone was, in fact, genuine.

"Do you know," he said presently, "I did not tell you before, but I am
certain that Hurd's wife is afraid of you, that she has a secret from
you?"

"From me! how could she? I know every detail of their affairs."

"No matter. I listened to what she said that day in the cottage when I
had the boy on my knee. I noticed her face, and I am quite certain. She
has a secret, and above all a secret from you."

Marcella looked disturbed for a moment, then she laughed.

"Oh, no!" she said, with a little superior air. "I assure you I know her
better than you."

Wharton said no more.

"Marcella!" called a distant voice from the hall.

The girl gathered up her white skirts and her flowers in haste.

"Good-night!"

"Good-night! I shall hear you come home and wonder how you have sped.
One word, if I may! Take your _rôle_ and play it. There is nothing
subjects dislike so much as to see royalty decline its part."

She laughed, blushed, a little proudly and uncertainly, and went without
reply. As she shut the door behind her, a sudden flatness fell upon her.
She walked through the dark Stone Parlour outside, seeing still the
firmly-knit lightly-made figure--boyish, middle-sized, yet never
insignificant--the tumbled waves of fair hair, the eyes so keenly blue,
the face with its sharp mocking lines, its powers of sudden charm. Then
self-reproach leapt, and possessed her. She quickened her pace, hurrying
into the hall, as though from something she was ashamed or afraid of.

In the hall a new sensation awaited her. Her mother, fully dressed,
stood waiting by the old billiard-table for her maid, who had gone to
fetch her a cloak.

Marcella stopped an instant in surprise and delight, then ran up to her.
"Mamma, how _lovely_ you look! I haven't seen you like that, not since I
was a child. I remember you then once, in a low dress, a white dress,
with flowers, coming into the nursery. But that black becomes you so
well, and Deacon has done your hair beautifully!"

She took her mother's hand and kissed her cheek, touched by an emotion
which had many roots. There was infinite relief in this tender natural
outlet; she seemed to recover possession of herself.

Mrs. Boyce bore the kiss quietly. Her face was a little pinched and
white. But the unusual display Deacon had been allowed to make of her
pale golden hair, still long and abundant; the unveiling of the shapely
shoulders and neck, little less beautiful than her daughter's; the
elegant lines of the velvet dress, all these things, had very nobly
transformed her. Marcella could not restrain her admiration and delight.
Mrs. Boyce winced, and, looking upward to the gallery, which ran round
the hall, called Deacon impatiently.

"Only, mamma," said Marcella, discontentedly, "I don't like that little
chain round your neck. It is not equal to the rest, not worthy of it."

"I have nothing else, my dear," said Mrs. Boyce, drily. "Now, Deacon,
don't be all night!"

Nothing else? Yet, if she shut her eyes, Marcella could perfectly recall
the diamonds on the neck and arms of that white figure of her
childhood--could see herself as a baby playing with the treasures of her
mother's jewel-box.

Nowadays, Mrs. Boyce was very secretive and reserved about her personal
possessions. Marcella never went into her room unless she was asked, and
would never have thought of treating it or its contents with any
freedom.

The mean chain which went so ill with the costly hoarded dress--it
recalled to Marcella all the inexorable silent miseries of her mother's
past life, and all the sordid disadvantages and troubles of her own
youth. She followed Mrs. Boyce out to the carriage in silence--once more
in a tumult of sore pride and doubtful feeling.

       *       *       *       *       *

Four weeks to her wedding-day! The words dinned in her ears as they
drove along. Yet they sounded strange to her, incredible almost. How
much did she know of Aldous, of her life that was to be--above all, how
much of herself? She was not happy--had not been happy or at ease for
many days. Yet in her restlessness she could think nothing out.
Moreover, the chain that galled and curbed her was a chain of character.
In spite of her modernness, and the complexity of many of her motives,
there was certain inherited simplicities of nature at the bottom of her.
In her wild demonic childhood you could always trust Marcie Boyce, if
she had given you her word--her schoolfellows knew that. If her passions
were half-civilised and southern, her way of understanding the point of
honour was curiously English, sober, tenacious. So now. Her sense of
bond to Aldous had never been in the least touched by any of her
dissatisfactions and revolts. Yet it rushed upon her to-night with
amazement, and that in four weeks she was going to marry him! Why?
how?--what would it really _mean_ for him and for her? It was as though
in mid-stream, she were trying to pit herself for an instant against the
current which had so far carried them all on, to see what it might be
like to retrace a step, and could only realise with dismay the force
and rapidity of the water.

Yet all the time another side of her was well aware that she was at that
moment the envy of half a county, that in another ten minutes hundreds
of eager and critical eyes would be upon her; and her pride was rising
to her part. The little incident of the chain had somehow for the moment
made the ball and her place in it more attractive to her.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had no sooner stepped from their carriage than Aldous, who was
waiting in the outer hall, joyously discovered them. Till then he had
been walking aimlessly amid the crowd of his own guests, wondering when
she would come, how she would like it. This splendid function had been
his grandfather's idea; it would never have entered his own head for a
moment. Yet he understood his grandfather's wish to present his heir's
promised bride in this public ceremonious way to the society of which
she would some day be the natural leader. He understood, too, that there
was more in the wish than met the ear; that the occasion meant to Lord
Maxwell, whether Dick Boyce were there or no, the final condoning of
things past and done with, a final throwing of the Maxwell shield over
the Boyce weakness, and full adoption of Marcella into her new family.

All this he understood and was grateful for. But how would _she_
respond? How would she like it--this parade that was to be made of
her--these people that must be introduced to her? He was full of
anxieties.

Yet in many ways his mind had been easier of late. During the last week
she had been very gentle and good to him--even Miss Raeburn had been
pleased with her. There had been no quoting of Wharton when they met;
and he had done his philosopher's best to forget him. He trusted her
proudly, intensely; and in four weeks she would be his wife.

"Can you bear it?" he said to her in a laughing whisper as she and her
mother emerged from the cloak-room.

"Tell me what to do," she said, flushing. "I will do my best. What a
crowd! Must we stay very long?"

"Ah, my dear Mrs. Boyce," cried Lord Maxwell, meeting them on the steps
of the inner quadrangular corridor--"Welcome indeed! Let me take you in.
Marcella! with Aldous's permission!" he stooped his white head gallantly
and kissed her on the cheek--"Remember I am an old man; if I choose to
pay you compliments, you will have to put up with them!"

Then he offered Mrs. Boyce his arm, a stately figure in his ribbon and
cross of the Bath. A delicate red had risen to that lady's thin cheek in
spite of her self-possession. "Poor thing," said Lord Maxwell to himself
as he led her along--"poor thing!--how distinguished and charming still!
One sees to-night what she was like as a girl."

Aldous and Marcella followed. They had to pass along the great corridor
which ran round the quadrangle of the house. The antique marbles which
lined it were to-night masked in flowers, and seats covered in red had
been fitted in wherever it was possible, and were now crowded with
dancers "sitting out." From the ball-room ahead came waves of
waltz-music; the ancient house was alive with colour and perfume, with
the sounds of laughter and talk, lightly fretting, and breaking the
swaying rhythms of the band. Beyond the windows of the corridor, which
had been left uncurtained because of the beauty of the night, the stiff
Tudor garden with its fountains, which filled up the quadrangle, was
gaily illuminated under a bright moon; and amid all the varied colour of
lamps, drapery, dresses, faces, the antique heads ranged along the walls
of the corridor--here Marcus Aurelius, there Trajan, there Seneca--and
the marble sarcophagi which broke the line at intervals, stood in cold,
whitish relief.

Marcella passed along on Aldous's arm, conscious that people were
streaming into the corridor from all the rooms opening upon it, and that
every eye was fixed upon her and her mother. "Look, there she is," she
heard in an excited girl's voice as they passed Lord Maxwell's library,
now abandoned to the crowd like all the rest. "Come, quick! There--I
told you she was lovely!"

Every now and then some old friend, man or woman, rose smiling from the
seats along the side, and Aldous introduced his bride.

"On her dignity!" said an old hunting squire to his daughter when they
had passed. "Shy, no doubt--very natural! But nowadays girls, when
they're shy, don't giggle and blush as they used to in _my_ young days;
they look as if you meant to insult them, and they weren't going to
allow it! Oh, very handsome--very handsome--of course. But you can see
she's advanced--peculiar--or what d'ye call it?--woman's rights, I
suppose, and all that kind of thing? Like to see you go in for it,
Nettie, eh!"

"She's _awfully_ handsome," sighed his pink-cheeked, insignificant
little daughter, still craning her neck to look--"very simply dressed
too, except for those lovely pearls. She does her hair very oddly, so
low down--in those plaits. Nobody does it like that nowadays."

"That's because nobody has such a head," said her brother, a young
Hussar lieutenant, beside her, in the tone of connoisseurship. "By
George, she's ripping--she's the best-looking girl I've seen for a good
long time. But she's a Tartar, I'll swear--looks it, anyway."

"Every one says she has the most extraordinary opinions," said the girl,
eagerly. "She'll manage him, don't you think? I'm sure he's very meek
and mild."

"Don't know that," said the young man, twisting his moustache with the
air of exhaustive information. "Raeburn's a very good fellow--excellent
fellow--see him shooting, you know--that kind of thing. I expect he's
got a will when he wants it. The mother's handsome, too, and looks a
lady. The father's kept out of the way, I see. Rather a blessing for the
Raeburns. Can't be pleasant, you know, to get a man like that in the
family. Look after your spoons--that kind of thing."

Meanwhile Marcella was standing beside Miss Raeburn, at the head of the
long ball-room, and doing her best to behave prettily. One after
another she bowed to, or shook hands with, half the magnates of the
county--the men in pink, the women in the new London dresses, for which
this brilliant and long-expected ball had given so welcome an excuse.
They knew little or nothing of her, except that she was clearly
good-looking, that she was that fellow Dick Boyce's daughter and was
reported to be "odd." Some, mostly men, who said their conventional few
words to her, felt an amused admiration for the skill and rapidity with
which she had captured the _parti_ of the county; some, mostly women,
were already jealous of her. A few of the older people here and there,
both men and women--but after all they shook hands like the rest!--knew
perfectly well that the girl must be going through an ordeal, were
touched by the signs of thought and storm in the face, and looked back
at her with kind eyes.

But of these last Marcella realised nothing. What she was saying to
herself was that, if they knew little of her, she knew a great deal of
many of them. In their talks over the Stone Parlour fire she and Wharton
had gone through most of the properties, large and small, of his
division, and indeed of the divisions round, by the help of the
knowledge he had gained in his canvass, together with a blue-book--one
of the numberless!--recently issued, on the state of the midland
labourer. He had abounded in anecdote, sarcasm, reflection, based partly
on his own experiences, partly on his endless talks with the
working-folk, now in the public-house, now at their own chimney-corner.
Marcella, indeed, had a large unsuspected acquaintance with the county
before she met it in the flesh. She knew that a great many of these men
who came and spoke to her were doing their best according to their
lights, that improvements were going on, that times were mending. But
there were abuses enough still, and the abuses were far more vividly
present to her than the improvements. In general, the people who
thronged these splendid rooms were to her merely the incompetent members
of a useless class. The nation would do away with them in time!
Meanwhile it might at least be asked of them that they should practise
their profession of landowning, such as it was, with greater conscience
and intelligence--that they should not shirk its opportunities or idle
them away. And she could point out those who did both--scandalously,
intolerably. Once or twice she thought passionately of Minta Hurd,
washing and mending all day, in her damp cottage; or of the Pattons in
"the parish house," thankful after sixty years of toil for a hovel where
the rain came through the thatch, and where the smoke choked you,
unless, with the thermometer below freezing-point, you opened the door
to the blast. Why should _these_ people have all the gay clothes, the
flowers, the jewels, the delicate food--all the delight and all the
leisure? And those, nothing! Her soul rose against what she saw as she
stood there, going through her part. Wharton's very words, every
inflection of his voice was in her ears, playing chorus to the scene.

But when these first introductions, these little empty talks of three or
four phrases apiece, and all of them alike, were nearly done with,
Marcella looked eagerly round for Mary Harden. There she was, sitting
quietly against the wall in a remote corner, her plain face all smiles,
her little feet dancing under the white muslin frock which she had
fashioned for herself with so much pain under Marcella's directions.
Miss Raeburn was called away to find an arm-chair for some dowager of
importance; Marcella took advantage of the break and of the end of a
dance to hurry down the room to Mary. Aldous, who was talking to old Sir
Charles Leven, Frank's father, a few steps off, nodded and smiled to her
as he saw her move.

"Have you been dancing, Mary?" she said severely.

"I wouldn't for worlds! I never was so much amused in my life. Look at
those girls--those sisters--in the huge velvet sleeves, like coloured
balloons!--and that old lady in the pink tulle and diamonds.--I do so
want to get her her cloak! _And_ those Lancers!--I never could have
imagined people danced like that. They didn't dance them--they romped
them! It wasn't beautiful--was it?"

"Why do you expect an English crowd to do anything beautiful? If we
could do it, we should be too ashamed."

"But it _is_ beautiful, all the same, you scornful person!" cried Mary,
dragging her friend down beside her. "How pretty the girls are! And as
for the diamonds, I never saw anything so wonderful. I wish I could have
made Charles come!"

"Wouldn't he?"

"No"--she looked a little troubled--"he couldn't think it would be
quite right. But I don't know--a sight like this takes me off my feet,
shakes me up, and does _me_ a world of good!"

"You dear, simple thing!" said Marcella, slipping her hand into Mary's
as it lay on the bench.

"Oh, you needn't be so superior!" cried Mary,--"not for another year at
least. I don't believe you are much more used to it than I am!"

"If you mean," said Marcella, "that I was never at anything so big and
splendid as this before, you are quite right."

And she looked round the room with that curious, cold air of personal
detachment from all she saw, which had often struck Mary, and to-night
made her indignant.

"Then enjoy it!" she said, laughing and frowning at the same time.
"That's a much more plain duty for _you_ than it was for Charles to stay
at home--there! Haven't you been dancing?"

"No, Mr. Raeburn doesn't dance. But he thinks he can get through the
next Lancers if I will steer him."

"Then I shall find a seat where I can look at you," said Mary,
decidedly. "Ah, there is Mr. Raeburn coming to introduce somebody to
you. I knew they wouldn't let you sit here long."

Aldous brought up a young Guardsman, who boldly asked Miss Boyce for the
pleasure of a dance. Marcella consented; and off they swept into a room
which was only just beginning to fill for the new dance, and where,
therefore, for the moment the young grace of both had free play.
Marcella had been an indefatigable dancer in the old London days at
those students' parties, with their dyed gloves and lemonade suppers,
which were running in her head now, as she swayed to the rhythm of this
perfect band. The mere delight in movement came back to her; and while
they danced, she danced with all her heart. Then in the pauses she would
lean against the wall beside her partner, and rack her brain to find a
word to say to him. As for anything that _he_ said, every word--whether
of Ascot, or the last Academy, or the new plays, or the hunting and the
elections--sounded to her more vapid than the last.

Meanwhile Aldous stood near Mary Harden and watched the dancing figure.
He had never seen her dance before. Mary shyly stole a look at him from
time to time.

"Well," he said at last, stooping to his neighbour, "what are you
thinking of?"

"I think she is a dream!" said Mary, flushing with the pleasure of being
able to say it. They were great friends, he and she, and to-night
somehow she was not a bit afraid of him.

Aldous's eye sparkled a moment; then he looked down at her with a kind
smile.

"If you suppose I am going to let you sit here all night, you are very
much mistaken. Marcella gave me precise instructions. I am going off
this moment to find somebody."

"Mr. Raeburn--don't!" cried Mary, catching at him. But he was gone, and
she was left in trepidation, imagining the sort of formidable young man
who was soon to be presented to her, and shaking at the thought of him.

When the dance was over Marcella returned to Miss Raeburn, who was
standing at the door into the corridor and had beckoned to her. She went
through a number of new introductions, and declared to herself that she
was doing all she could. Miss Raeburn was not so well satisfied.

"Why can't she smile and chatter like other girls?" thought Aunt Neta,
impatiently. "It's her 'ideas,' I suppose. What rubbish! There,
now--just see the difference!"

For at the moment Lady Winterbourne came up, and instantly Marcella was
all smiles and talk, holding her friend by both hands, clinging to her
almost.

"Oh, do come here!" she said, leading her into a corner. "There's such a
crowd, and I say all the wrong things. There!" with a sigh of relief.
"Now I feel myself protected."

"I mustn't keep you," said Lady Winterbourne, a little taken aback by
her effusion. "Everybody is wanting to talk to you."

"Oh, I know! There is Miss Raeburn looking at me severely already. But I
must do as I like a little."

"You ought to do as Aldous likes," said Lady Winterbourne, suddenly, in
her deepest and most tragic voice. It seemed to her a moment had come
for admonition, and she seized it hastily.

Marcella stared at her in surprise. She knew by now that when Lady
Winterbourne looked most forbidding she was in reality most shy. But
still she was taken aback.

"Why do you say that, I wonder?" she asked, half reproachfully. "I have
been behaving myself quite nicely--I have indeed; at least, as nicely as
I knew how."

Lady Winterbourne's tragic air yielded to a slow smile.

"You look very well, my dear. That white becomes you charmingly; so do
the pearls. I don't wonder that Aldous always knows where you are."

Marcella raised her eyes and caught those of Aldous fixed upon her from
the other side of the room. She blushed, smiled slightly, and looked
away.

"Who is that tall man just gone up to speak to him?" she asked of her
companion.

"That is Lord Wandle," said Lady Winterbourne, "and his plain second
wife behind him. Edward always scolds me for not admiring him. He says
women know nothing at all about men's looks, and that Lard Wandle was
the most splendid man of his time. But I always think it an unpleasant
face."

"Lord Wandle!" exclaimed Marcella, frowning. "Oh, _please_ come with me,
dear Lady Winterbourne! I know he is asking Aldous to introduce him, and
I won't--no I will _not_--be introduced to him."

And laying hold of her astonished companion, she drew her hastily
through a doorway near, walked quickly, still gripping her, through two
connected rooms beyond, and finally landed her and herself on a sofa in
Lord Maxwell's library, pursued meanwhile through all her hurried course
by the curious looks of an observant throng.

"That man!--no, that would really have been _too_ much!" said Marcella,
using her large feather fan with stormy energy.

"What _is_ the matter with you, my dear?" said Lady Winterbourne in her
amazement; "and what is the matter with Lord Wandle?"

"You must know!" said Marcella, indignantly. "Oh, you _must_ have seen
that case in the paper last week--that _shocking_ case! A woman and two
children died in one of his cottages of blood-poisoning--nothing in the
world but his neglect--his _brutal_ neglect!" Her breast heaved; she
seemed almost on the point of weeping. "The agent was appealed to--did
nothing. Then the clergyman wrote to him direct, and got an answer. The
answer was published. For cruel insolence I never saw anything like it!
He ought to be in prison for manslaughter--and he comes _here_! And
people laugh and talk with him!"

She stopped, almost choked by her own passion. But the incident, after
all, was only the spark to the mine.

Lady Winterbourne stared at her helplessly.

"Perhaps it isn't true," she suggested. "The newspapers put in so many
lies, especially about _us_--the landlords. Edward says one ought never
to believe them. Ah, here comes Aldous."

Aldous, indeed, with some perplexity on his brow, was to be seen
approaching, looking for his betrothed. Marcella dropped her fan and sat
erect, her angry colour fading into whiteness.

"My darling! I couldn't think what had become of you. May I bring Lord
Wandle and introduce him to you? He is an old friend here, and my
godfather. Not that I am particularly proud of the relationship," he
said, dropping his voice as he stooped over her. "He is a soured,
disagreeable fellow, and I hate many of the things he does. But it is an
old tie, and my grandfather is tender of such things. Only a word or
two; then I will get rid of him."

"Aldous, I _can't_," said Marcella, looking up at him. "How could I? I
saw that case. I must be rude to him."

Aldous looked considerably disturbed.

"It was very bad," he said slowly. "I didn't know you had seen it. What
shall I do? I promised to go back for him."

"Lord Wandle--Miss Boyce!" said Miss Raeburn's sharp little voice behind
Aldous. Aldous, moving aside in hasty dismay, saw his aunt, looking very
determined, presenting her tall neighbour, who bowed with old-fashioned
deference to the girl on the sofa.

Lady Winterbourne looked with trepidation at Marcella. But the social
instinct held, to some extent. Ninety-nine women can threaten a scene of
the kind Lady Winterbourne dreaded, for one that can carry it through.
Marcella wavered; then, with her most forbidding air, she made a
scarcely perceptible return of Lord Wandle's bow.

"Did you escape in here out of the heat?" he asked her. "But I am afraid
no one lets you escape to-night. The occasion is too interesting."

Marcella made no reply. Lady Winterbourne threw in a nervous remark on
the crowd.

"Oh, yes, a great crush," said Lord Wandle. "Of course, we all come to
see Aldous happy. How long is it, Miss Boyce, since you settled at
Mellor?"

"Six months."

She looked straight before her and not at him as she answered, and her
tone made Miss Raeburn's blood boil.

Lord Wandle--a battered, coarsened, but still magnificent-looking man of
sixty--examined the speaker an instant from half-shut eyes, then put up
his hand to his moustache with a half-smile.

"You like the country?"

"Yes."

As she spoke her reluctant monosyllable, the girl had really no
conception of the degree of hostility expressed in her manner. Instead
she was hating herself for her own pusillanimity.

"And the people?"

"Some of them."

And straightway she raised her fierce black eyes to his, and the man
before her understood, as plainly as any one need understand, that,
whoever else Miss Boyce might like, she did not like Lord Wandle, and
wished for no more conversation with him.

Her interrogator turned to Aldous with smiling _aplomb_.

"Thank you, my dear Aldous. Now let me retire. No one must _monopolise_
your charming lady."

And again he bowed low to her, this time with an ironical emphasis not
to be mistaken, and walked away.

Lady Winterbourne saw him go up to his wife, who had followed him at a
distance, and speak to her roughly with a frown. They left the room, and
presently, through the other door of the library which opened on the
corridor, she saw them pass, as though they were going to their
carriage.

Marcella rose. She looked first at Miss Raeburn--then at Aldous.

"Will you take me away?" she said, going up to him; "I am tired--take me
to your room."

He put her hand inside his arm, and they pushed their way through the
crowd. Outside in the passage they met Hallin. He had not seen her
before, and he put out his hand. But there was something distant in his
gentle greeting which struck at this moment like a bruise on Marcella's
quivering nerves. It came across her that for some time past he had made
no further advances to her; that his first eager talk of friendship
between himself and her had dropped; that his _acceptance_ of her into
his world and Aldous's was somehow suspended--in abeyance. She bit her
lip tightly and hurried Aldous along. Again the same lines of gay,
chatting people along the corridor, and on either side of the wide
staircase--greetings, introduction--a nightmare of publicity.

"Rather pronounced--to carry him off like that," said a clergyman to his
wife with a kindly smile, as the two tall figures disappeared along the
upper gallery. "She will have him all to herself before long."

       *       *       *       *       *

Aldous shut the door of his sitting-room behind them. Marcella quickly
drew her hand out of his arm, and going forward to the mantelpiece
rested both elbows upon it and hid her face.

He looked at her a moment in distress and astonishment, standing a
little apart. Then he saw that she was crying. The colour flooded into
his face, and going up to her he took her hand, which was all she would
yield him, and, holding it to his lips, said in her ear every soothing
tender word that love's tutoring could bring to mind. In his emotion he
told himself and her that he admired and loved her the more for the
incident downstairs, for the temper she had shown! She alone among them
all had had the courage to strike the true stern Christian note. As to
the annoyance such courage might bring upon him and her in the
future--even as to the trouble it might cause his own dear folk--what
real matter? In these things she should lead.

What could love have asked better than such a moment? Yet Marcella's
weeping was in truth the weeping of despair. This man's very sweetness
to her, his very assumption of the right to comfort and approve her,
roused in her a desperate stifled sense of bonds that should never have
been made, and that now could not be broken. It was all plain to her at
last. His touch had no thrill for her; his frown no terror. She had
accepted him without loving him, coveting what he could give her. And
now it seemed to her that she cared nothing for anything he could
give!--that the life before her was to be one series of petty conflicts
between her and a surrounding circumstance which must inevitably in the
end be too strong for her, conflicts from which neither heart nor
ambition could gain anything. She had desired a great position for what
she might do with it. But could she do with it! She would be
subdued--oh! very quickly!--to great houses and great people, and all
the vapid pomp and idle toil of wealth. All that picture of herself,
stooping from place and power, to bind up the wounds of the people, in
which she had once delighted, was to her now a mere flimsy vulgarity.
She had been shown other ideals--other ways--and her pulses were still
swaying under the audacity--the virile inventive force of the showman.
Everything she had once desired looked flat to her; everything she was
not to have, glowed and shone. Poverty, adventure, passion, the joys of
self-realisation--these she gave up. She would become Lady Maxwell, make
friends with Miss Raeburn, and wear the family diamonds!

Then, in the midst of her rage with herself and fate, she drew herself
away, looked up, and caught full the eyes of Aldous Raeburn. Conscience
stung and burned. What was this life she had dared to trifle with--this
man she had dared to treat as a mere pawn in her own game? She gave way
utterly, appalled at her own misdoing, and behaved like a penitent
child. Aldous, astonished and alarmed by her emotions and by the wild
incoherent things she said, won his way at last to some moments of
divine happiness, when, leaving her trembling hand in his, she sat
submissively beside him, gradually quieting down, summoning back her
smiles and her beauty, and letting him call her all the fond names he
would.




CHAPTER VIII.


Scarcely a word was exchanged between Marcella and her mother on the
drive home. Yet under ordinary circumstances Marcella's imagination
would have found some painful exercise in the effort to find out in what
spirit her mother had taken the evening--the first social festivity in
which Richard Boyce's wife had taken part for sixteen years. In fact,
Mrs. Boyce had gone through it very quietly. After her first public
entry on Lord Maxwell's arm she had sat in her corner, taking keen note
of everything, enjoying probably the humours of her kind. Several old
acquaintances who had seen her at Mellor as a young wife in her first
married years had come up with some trepidation to speak to her. She had
received them with her usual well-bred indifference, and they had gone
away under the impression that she regarded herself as restored to
society by this great match that her daughter was making. Lady
Winterbourne had been shyly and therefore formidably kind to her; and
both Lord Maxwell and Miss Raeburn had been genuinely interested in
smoothing the effort to her as much as they could. She meanwhile watched
Marcella--except through the encounter with Lord Wandle, which she did
not see--and found some real pleasure in talking both to Aldous and to
Hallin.

Yet all through she was preoccupied, and towards the end very anxious
to get home, a state of mind which prevented her from noticing
Marcella's changed looks after her reappearance with Aldous in the
ball-room, as closely as she otherwise might have done. Yet the mother
_had_ observed that the end of Marcella's progress had been somewhat
different from the beginning; that the girl's greetings had been
gentler, her smiles softer; and that in particular she had taken some
pains, some wistful pains, to make Hallin talk to her. Lord
Maxwell--ignorant of the Wandle incident--was charmed with her, and
openly said so, both to the mother and Lady Winterbourne, in his hearty
old man's way. Only Miss Raeburn held indignantly aloof, and would not
pretend, even to Mrs. Boyce.

And now Marcella was tired--dead tired, she said to herself, both in
mind and body. She lay back in the carriage, trying to sink herself in
her own fatigue, to forget everything, to think of nothing. Outside the
night was mild, and the moon clear. For some days past, after the break
up of the long frost, there had been heavy rain. Now the rain had
cleared away, and in the air there was already an early promise of
spring. As she walked home from the village that afternoon she had felt
the buds and the fields stirring.

When they got home, Mrs. Boyce turned to her daughter at the head of the
stairs, "Shall I unlace your dress, Marcella?"

"Oh no, thank you. Can I help you?"

"No. Good-night."

"Mamma!" Marcella turned and ran after her. "I should like to know how
papa is. I will wait here if you will tell me."

Mrs. Boyce looked surprised. Then she went into her room and shut the
door. Marcella waited outside, leaning against the old oak gallery which
ran round the hall, her candle the one spot of light and life in the
great dark house.

"He seems to have slept well," said Mrs. Boyce, reappearing, and
speaking under her breath. "He has not taken the opiate I left for him,
so he cannot have been in pain. Good-night."

Marcella kissed her and went. Somehow, in her depression of nerve and
will, she was loth to go away by herself. The loneliness of the night,
and of her wing of the house, weighed upon her; the noises made by the
old boards under her steps, the rustling draughts from the dark passages
to right and left startled and troubled her; she found herself
childishly fearing lest her candle should go out.

Yet, as she descended the two steps to the passage outside her door, she
could have felt little practical need of it, for the moonlight was
streaming in through its uncovered windows, not directly, but reflected
from the Tudor front of the house which ran at right angles to this
passage, and was to-night a shining silver palace, every battlement,
window, and moulding in sharpest light and shade under the radiance of
the night. Beneath her feet, as she looked out into the Cedar Garden,
was a deep triangle of shadow, thrown by that part of the building in
which she stood; and beyond the garden the barred black masses of the
cedars closing up the view lent additional magic to the glittering
unsubstantial fabric of the moonlit house, which was, as it were,
embosomed and framed among them. She paused a moment, struck by the
strangeness and beauty of the spectacle. The Tudor front had the air of
some fairy banqueting-hall lit by unearthly hands for some weird
gathering of ghostly knights. Then she turned to her room, impatiently
longing in her sick fatigue to be quit of her dress and ornaments and
tumble into sleep.

Yet she made no hurry. She fell on the first chair that offered. Her
candle behind her had little power over the glooms of the dark
tapestried room, but it did serve to illuminate the lines of her own
form, as she saw it reflected in the big glass of her wardrobe, straight
in front of her. She sat with her hands round her knees, absently
looking at herself, a white long-limbed apparition struck out of the
darkness. But she was conscious of nothing save one mounting
overwhelming passionate desire, almost a cry.

Mr. Wharton must go away--he _must_--or she could not bear it.

Quick alternations of insight, memory, self-recognition, self-surrender,
rose and broke upon her. At last, physical weariness recalled her. She
put up her hands to take off her pearls.

As she did so, she started, hearing a noise that made her turn her head.
Just outside her door a little spiral staircase led down from her
corridor to the one below, which ran at the back of the old library, and
opened into the Cedar Garden at its further end.

Steps surely--light steps--along the corridor outside, and on the
staircase. Nor did they die away. She could still hear them,--as she
sat, arrested, straining her ears,--pacing slowly along the lower
passage.

Her heart, after its pause, leapt into fluttering life. This room of
hers, the two passages, the library, and the staircase, represented that
part of the house to which the ghost stories of Mellor clung most
persistently. Substantially the block of building was of early Tudor
date, but the passages and the staircase had been alterations made with
some clumsiness at the time of the erection of the eighteenth-century
front, with a view to bringing these older rooms into the general plan.
Marcella, however, might demonstrate as she pleased that the Boyce who
was supposed to have stabbed himself on the staircase died at least
forty years before the staircase was made. None the less, no servant
would go alone, if she could help it, into either passage after dark;
and there was much excited marvelling how Miss Boyce could sleep where
she did. Deacon abounded in stories of things spiritual and peripatetic,
of steps, groans, lights in the library, and the rest. Marcella had
consistently laughed at her.

Yet all the same she had made in secret a very diligent pursuit of this
ghost, settling in the end to a certain pique with him that he would not
show himself to so ardent a daughter of the house. She had sat up
waiting for him; she had lingered in the corridor outside, and on the
stairs, expecting him. By the help of a favourite carpenter she had made
researches into roofs, water-pipes, panelling, and old cupboards, in the
hope of finding a practical clue to him. In vain.

Yet here were the steps--regular, soft, unmistakable. The colour rushed
back into her cheeks! Her eager healthy youth forgot its woes, flung off
its weariness, and panted for an adventure, a discovery. Springing up,
she threw her fur wrap round her again, and gently opened the door,
listening.

For a minute, nothing--then a few vague sounds as of something living
and moving down below--surely in the library? Then the steps again.
Impossible that it should be any one breaking in. No burglar would walk
so leisurely. She closed her door behind her, and, gathering her white
satin skirts about her, she descended the staircase.

The corridor below was in radiant moonlight, chequered by the few pieces
of old furniture it contained, and the black and white of the old
portrait prints hanging on the walls. At first her seeking, excited eyes
could make out nothing. Then in a flash they perceived the figure of
Wharton at the further end near the garden door, leaning against one of
the windows. He was apparently looking out at the moonlit house, and she
caught the faint odour of a cigarette.

Her first instinct was to turn and fly. But Wharton had seen her. As he
looked about him at the sound of her approach, the moon, which was just
rounding the corner of the house, struck on her full, amid the shadows
of the staircase, and she heard his exclamation.

Dignity--a natural pride--made her pause. She came forward slowly--he
eagerly.

"I heard footsteps," she said, with a coldness under which he plainly
saw her embarrassment. "I could not suppose that anybody was still up,
so I came down to see."

He was silent a moment, scanning her with laughing eyes. Then he shook
his head. "Confess you took me for the ghost?" he said.

She hesitated; then must laugh too. She herself had told him the
stories, so that his guess was natural.

"Perhaps I did," she said. "One more disappointment! Good-night."

He looked after her a quick undecided moment as she made a step in front
of him, then at the half-burnt cigarette he held in his hand, threw the
end away with a hasty gesture, overtook her and walked beside her along
the corridor.

"I heard you and your mother come in," he said, as though explaining
himself. "Then I waited till I thought you must both be asleep, and came
down here to look at that wonderful effect on the old house." He pointed
to the silver palace outside. "I have a trick of being sleepless--a
trick, too, of wandering at night. My own people know it, and bear with
me, but I am abashed that you should have found me out. Just tell me--in
one word--how the ball went?"

He paused at the foot of the stairs, his hands on his sides, as keenly
wide-awake as though it were three o'clock in the afternoon instead of
three in the morning.

Womanlike, her mood instantly shaped itself to his.

"It went very well," she said perversely, putting her satin-slippered
foot on the first step. "There were six hundred people upstairs, and
four hundred coachmen and footmen downstairs, according to our man.
Everybody said it was splendid."

His piercing enigmatic gaze could not leave her. As he had often frankly
warned her, he was a man in quest of sensations. Certainly, in this
strange meeting with Aldous Raeburn's betrothed, in the midst of the
sleep-bound house, he had found one. Her eyes were heavy, her cheek
pale. But in this soft vague light--white arms and neck now hidden, now
revealed by the cloak she had thrown about her glistening satin--she was
more enchanting than he had ever seen her. His breath quickened.

He said to himself that he would make Miss Boyce stay and talk to him.
What harm--to her or to Raeburn? Raeburn would have chances enough
before long. Why admit his monopoly before the time? She was not in love
with him! As to Mrs. Grundy--absurd! What in the true reasonableness of
things was to prevent human beings from conversing by night as well as
by day?

"One moment"--he said, delaying her. "You must be dead tired--too tired
for romance. Else I should say to you, turn aside an instant and look at
the library. It is a sight to remember."

Inevitably she glanced behind her, and saw that the library door was
ajar. He flung it open, and the great room showed wide, its high domed
roof lost in shadow, while along the bare floor and up the latticed
books crept, here streaks and fingers, and there wide breadths of light
from the unshuttered and curtainless windows.

"Isn't it the very poetry of night and solitude?" he said, looking in
with her. "You love the place; but did you ever see it so lovable? The
dead are here; you did right to come and seek them! Look at your
namesake, in that ray. To-night she lives! She knows that is her husband
opposite--those are her books beside her. And the rebel!"--he pointed
smiling to the portrait of John Boyce. "When you are gone I shall shut
myself up here--sit in his chair, invoke him--and put my speech
together. I am nervous about to-morrow" (he was bound, as she knew, to a
large Labour Congress in the Midlands, where he was to preside), "and
sleep will make no terms with me. Ah!--how strange! Who can that be
passing the avenue?"

He made a step or two into the room, and put up his hand to his brow,
looking intently. Involuntarily, yet with a thrill, Marcella followed.
They walked to the window.

"It is _Hurd_!" she cried in a tone of distress, pressing her face
against the glass. "Out at this time, and with a gun! Oh, dear, dear!"

There could be no question that it was Hurd. Wharton had seen him linger
in the shadowy edge of the avenue, as though reconnoitring, and now, as
he stealthily crossed the moonlit grass, his slouching dwarf's figure,
his large head, and the short gun under his arm, were all plainly
visible.

"What do you suppose he is after?" said Wharton, still gazing, his hands
in his pockets.

"I don't know; he wouldn't poach on _our_ land; I'm sure he wouldn't!
Besides, there is nothing to poach."--Wharton smiled.--"He must be
going, after all, to Lord Maxwell's coverts! They are just beyond the
avenue, on the side of the hill. Oh! it is too disappointing! Can we do
anything?"

She looked at her companion with troubled eyes. This incursion of
something sadly and humanly real seemed suddenly to have made it natural
to be standing beside him there at that strange hour. Her conscience was
soothed.

Wharton shook his head.

"I don't see what we could do. How strong the instinct is! I told you
that woman had a secret. Well, it is only one form--the squalid
peasant's form--of the same instinct which sends the young fellows of
our class ruffling it and chancing it all over the world. It is the
instinct to take one's fling, to get out of the rut, to claim one's
innings against the powers that be--Nature, or the law, or convention."

"I know all that--I never blame them!"--cried Marcella--"but just now it
is so monstrous--so dangerous! Westall specially alert--and this gang
about! Besides, I got him work from Lord Maxwell, and made him promise
me--for the wife and children's sake."

Wharton shrugged his shoulders.

"I should think Westall is right, and that the gang have got hold of
him. It is what always happens. The local man is the catspaw.--So you
are sorry for him--this man?" he said in another tone, facing round upon
her.

She looked astonished, and drew herself up nervously, turning at the
same time to leave the room. But before she could reply he hurried on:

"He--may escape his risk. Give your pity, Miss Boyce, rather to
one--who has not escaped!"

"I don't know what you mean," she said, unconsciously laying a hand on
one of the old chairs beside her to steady herself. "But it is too late
to talk. Good-night, Mr. Wharton."

"Good-bye," he said quietly, yet with a low emphasis, at the same time
moving out of her path. She stopped, hesitating. Beneath the lace and
faded flowers on her breast he could see how her heart beat.

"Not good-bye? You are coming back after the meeting?"

"I think not. I must not inflict myself--on Mrs. Boyce--any more. You
will all be very busy during the next three weeks. It would be an
intrusion if I were to come back at such a time--especially--considering
the fact"--he spoke slowly--"that I am as distasteful as I now know
myself to be, to your future husband. Since you all left to-night the
house has been very quiet. I sat over the fire thinking. It grew clear
to me. I must go, and go at once. Besides--a lonely man as I am must not
risk his nerve. His task is set him, and there are none to stand by him
if he fails."

She trembled all over. Weariness and excitement made normal self-control
almost impossible.

"Well, then, I must say thank you," she said indistinctly, "for you have
taught me a great deal."

"You will unlearn it!" he said gaily, recovering his self-possession, so
it seemed, as she lost hers. "Besides, before many weeks are over you
will have heard hard things of me. I know that very well. I can say
nothing to meet them. Nor should I attempt anything. It may sound
brazen, but that past of mine, which I can see perpetually present in
Aldous Raeburn's mind, for instance, and which means so much to his good
aunt, means to me just nothing at all! The doctrine of identity must be
true--I must be the same person I was then. But, all the same, what I
did then does not matter a straw to me now. To all practical purposes I
am another man. I was then a youth, idle, _désoeuvré_, playing with all
the keys of life in turn. I have now unlocked the path that suits me.
Its quest has transformed me--as I believe, ennobled me. I do not ask
Raeburn or any one else to believe it. It is my own affair. Only, if we
ever meet again in life, you and I, and you think you have reason to ask
humiliation of me, do not ask it, do not expect it. The man you will
have in your mind has nothing to do with me. I will not be answerable
for his sins."

As he said these things he was leaning lightly forward, looking up at
her, his arms resting on the back of one of the old chairs, one foot
crossed over the other. The attitude was easy calm itself. The
tone--indomitable, analytic, reflective--matched it. Yet, all the same,
her woman's instinct divined a hidden agitation, and, woman-like,
responded to that and that only.

"Mr. Raeburn will never tell me old stories about anybody," she said
proudly. "I asked him once, out--out of curiosity--about you, and he
would tell me nothing."

"Generous!" said Wharton, drily. "I am grateful."

"No!" cried Marcella, indignantly, rushing blindly at the outlet for
emotion. "No!--you are not grateful; you are always judging him
harshly--criticising, despising what he does."

Wharton was silent a moment. Even in the moonlight she could see the
reddening of his cheek.

"So be it," he said at last. "I submit. You must know best. But you? are
you always content? Does this _milieu_ into which you are passing always
satisfy you? To-night, did your royalty please you? will it soon be
enough for you?"

"You know it is not enough," she broke out, hotly; "it is insulting that
you should ask in that tone. It means that you think me a
hypocrite!--and I have given you no cause--"

"Good heavens, no!" he exclaimed, interrupting her, and speaking in a
low, hurried voice. "I had no motive, no reason for what I
said--none--but this, that you are going--that we are parting. I spoke
in gibes to make you speak--somehow to strike--to reach you. To-morrow
it will be too late!"

And before, almost, she knew that he had moved, he had stooped forward,
caught a fold of her dress, pressed it to his lips, and dropped it.

"Don't speak," he said brokenly, springing up, and standing before her
in her path. "You shall forgive me--I will compel it! See! here we are
on this moonlit space of floor, alone, in the night. Very probably we
shall never meet again, except as strangers. Put off convention, and
speak to me, soul to soul! You are not happy altogether in this
marriage. I know it. You have as good as confessed it. Yet you will go
through with it. You have given your word--your honour holds you. I
recognise that it holds you. I say nothing, not a syllable, against your
bond! But here, to-night, tell me, promise me that you will make this
marriage of yours serve _our_ hopes and ends, the ends that you and I
have foreseen together--that it shall be your instrument, not your
chain. We have been six weeks together. You say you have learnt from me;
you have! you have given me your mind, your heart to write on, and I
have written. Henceforward you will never look at life as you might have
done if I had not been here. Do you think I triumph, that I boast? Ah!"
he drew in his breath--"What if in helping you, and teaching you--for I
have helped and taught you!--I have undone myself? What if I came here
the slave of impersonal causes, of ends not my own? What if I
leave--maimed--in face of the battle? Not your fault? No, perhaps not!
but, at least, you owe me some gentleness now, in these last words--some
kindness in farewell."

He came closer, held out his hands. With one of her own she put his
back, and lifted the other dizzily to her forehead.

"Don't come near me!" she said, tottering. "What is it? I cannot see.
Go!"

And guiding herself, as though blindfold, to a chair, she sank upon it,
and her head dropped. It was the natural result of a moment of intense
excitement coming upon nerves already strained and tried to their
utmost. She fought desperately against her weakness; but there was a
moment when all around her swam, and she knew nothing.

Then came a strange awakening. What was this room, this weird light,
these unfamiliar forms of things, this warm support against which her
cheek lay? She opened her eyes languidly. They met Wharton's half in
wonder. He was kneeling beside her, holding her. But for an instant she
realised nothing except his look, to which her own helplessly replied.

"Once!" she heard him whisper. "Once! Then nothing more--for ever."

And stooping, slowly, deliberately, he kissed her.

In a stinging flow, life, shame, returned upon her. She struggled to her
feet, pushing him from her.

"You dared," she said, "_dared_ such a thing!"

She could say no more; but her attitude, fiercely instinct, through all
her physical weakness, with her roused best self, was speech enough. He
did not venture to approach her. She walked away. He heard the door
close, hurrying steps on the little stairs, then silence.

He remained where she had left him, leaning against the latticed wall
for some time. When he moved it was to pick up a piece of maidenhair
which had dropped from her dress.

"That was a scene!" he said, looking at it, and at the trembling of his
own hand. "It carries one back to the days of the Romantics. Was I
Alfred de Musset?--and she George Sand? Did any of them ever taste a
more poignant moment than I--when she--lay upon my breast? To be
helpless--yet yield nothing--it challenged me! Yet I took no
advantage--none. When she _looked_--when her eye, her _soul_, was, for
that instant, mine, then!--Well!--the world has rushed with me since I
saw her on the stairs; life can bring me nothing of such a quality
again. What did I say?--how much did I mean? My God! how can I tell? I
began as an actor, did I finish as a man?"

He paced up and down, thinking; gradually, by the help of an iron will
quieting down each rebellious pulse.

"That poacher fellow did me a good turn. _Dare_! the word galled. But,
after all, what woman could say less? And what matter? I have held her
in my arms, in a setting--under a moon--worthy of her. Is not life
enriched thereby beyond robbery? And what harm? Raeburn is not injured.
_She_ will never tell--and neither of us will ever forget. Ah!--what was
that?"

He walked quickly to the window. What he had heard had been a dull
report coming apparently from the woods beyond the eastern side of the
avenue. As he reached the window it was followed by a second.

"That poacher's gun?--no doubt!"--he strained his eyes in
vain--"Collision perhaps--and mischief? No matter! I have nothing to do
with it. The world is all lyric for me to-night. I can hear in it no
other rhythm."

       *       *       *       *       *

The night passed away. When the winter morning broke, Marcella was lying
with wide sleepless eyes, waiting and pining for it. Her candle still
burnt beside her; she had had no courage for darkness, nor the smallest
desire for sleep. She had gone through shame and anguish. But she would
have scorned to pity herself. Was it not her natural, inevitable
portion?

"I will tell Aldous everything--_everything_," she said to herself for
the hundredth time, as the light penetrated. "Was _that_ only seven
striking--_seven_--impossible!"

She sat up haggard and restless, hardly able to bear the thought of the
hours that must pass before she could see Aldous--put all to the touch.

Suddenly she remembered Hurd--then old Patton.

"He was dying last night," she thought, in her moral torment--her
passion to get away from herself. "Is he gone? This is the hour when old
people die--the dawn. I will go and see--go at once."

She sprang up. To baffle this ache within her by some act of repentance,
of social amends, however small, however futile--to propitiate herself,
if but by a hairbreadth--this, no doubt, was the instinct at work. She
dressed hastily, glad of the cold, glad of the effort she had to make
against the stiffness of her own young bones--glad of her hunger and
faintness, of everything physically hard that had to be fought and
conquered.

In a very short time she had passed quietly downstairs and through the
hall, greatly to the amazement of William, who opened the front door for
her. Once in the village road the damp raw air revived her greatly. She
lifted her hot temples to it, welcoming the waves of wet mist that swept
along the road, feeling her youth come back to her.

Suddenly as she was nearing the end of a narrow bit of lane between
high hedges, and the first houses of the village were in sight, she was
stopped by a noise behind her--a strange unaccountable noise as of
women's voices, calling and wailing. It startled and frightened her, and
she stood in the middle of the road waiting.

Then she saw coming towards her two women running at full speed, crying
and shouting, their aprons up to their faces.

"What is it? What is the matter?" she asked, going to meet them, and
recognising two labourers' wives she knew.

"Oh! miss--oh! miss!" said the foremost, too wrapt up in her news to be
surprised at the sight of her. "They've just found him--they're bringin'
ov 'im home; they've got a shutter from Muster Wellin! 'im at Disley
Farm. It wor close by Disley wood they found 'em. And there's one ov 'is
men they've sent off ridin' for the inspector--here he come, miss! Come
out o' th' way!"

They dragged her back, and a young labourer galloped past them on a farm
colt, urging it on to its full pace, his face red and set.

"Who is found?" cried Marcella--"What is it?"

"Westall, miss--Lor' bless you--Shot him in the head they did--blowed
his brains right out--and Charlie Dynes--oh! he's knocked about
shamful--the doctor don't give no hopes of him. Oh deary--deary me! And
we're goin' for Muster Harden--ee must tell the widder--or Miss
Mary--none on us can!"

"And who did it?" said Marcella, pale with horror, holding her.

"Why the poachers, miss. Them as they've bin waitin' for all along--and
they do say as Jim Hurd's in it. Oh Lord, oh Lord!"

Marcella stood petrified, and let them hurry on.




CHAPTER IX.


The lane was still again, save for the unwonted sounds coming from the
groups which had gathered round the two women, and were now moving
beside them along the village street a hundred yards ahead.

Marcella stood in a horror of memory--seeing Hurd's figure cross the
moonlit avenue from dark to dark. Where was he? Had he escaped? Suddenly
she set off running, stung by the thought of what might have already
happened under the eyes of that unhappy wife, those wretched children.

As she entered the village, a young fellow ran up to her in breathless
excitement. "They've got 'im, miss. He'd come straight home--'adn't made
no attempt to run. As soon as Jenkins" (Jenkins was the policeman)
"heared of it, ee went straight across to 'is house, an' caught 'im. Ee
wor goin' to make off--'is wife 'ad been persuadin' ov 'im all night.
But they've got him, miss, sure enough!"

The lad's exultation was horrible. Marcella waved him aside and ran on.
A man on horseback appeared on the road in front of her leading from
Widrington to the village. She recognised Aldous Raeburn, who had
checked his horse in sudden amazement as he saw her talking to the boy.

"My darling! what are you here for? Oh! go home--go _home_!--out of
this horrible business. They have sent for me as a magistrate. Dynes is
alive--I _beg_ you!--go home!"

She shook her head, out of breath and speechless with running. At the
same moment she and he, looking to the right, caught sight of the crowd
standing in front of Hurd's cottage.

A man ran out from it, seeing the horse and its rider.

"Muster Raeburn! Muster Raeburn! They've cotched 'im; Jenkins has got
'im."

"Ah!" said Aldous, drawing a long, stern breath; "he didn't try to get
off then? Marcella!--you are not going there--to that house!"

He spoke in a tone of the strongest remonstrance. Her soul rose in anger
against it.

"I am going to _her_" she said panting;--"don't wait."

And she left him and hurried on.

As soon as the crowd round the cottage saw her coming, they divided to
let her pass.

"She's quiet now, miss," said a woman to her significantly, nodding
towards the hovel. "Just after Jenkins got in you could hear her crying
out pitiful."

"That was when they wor a-handcuffin' him," said a man beside her.

Marcella shuddered.

"Will they let me in?" she asked.

"They won't let none ov _us_ in," said the man. "There's Hurd's sister,"
and he pointed to a weeping woman supported by two others. "They've kep'
her out. But here's the inspector, miss; you ask him."

The inspector, a shrewd officer of long experience, fetched in haste
from a mile's distance, galloped up, and gave his horse to a boy.

Marcella went up to him.

He looked at her with sharp interrogation. "You are Miss Boyce? Miss
Boyce of Mellor?"

"Yes, I want to go to the wife; I will promise not to get in your way."

He nodded. The crowd let them pass. The inspector knocked at the door,
which was cautiously unlocked by Jenkins, and the two went in together.

"She's a queer one," said a thin, weasel-eyed man in the crowd to his
neighbour. "To think o' her bein' in it--at this time o' day. You could
see Muster Raeburn was a tellin' of her to go 'ome. But she's allus
pampered them Hurds."

The speaker was Ned Patton, old Patton's son, and Hurd's companion on
many a profitable night-walk. It was barely a week since he had been out
with Hurd on another ferreting expedition, some of the proceeds of which
were still hidden in Patton's outhouse. But at the present moment he was
one of the keenest of the crowd, watching eagerly for the moment when he
should see his old comrade come out, trapped and checkmated, bound
safely and surely to the gallows. The natural love of incident and
change which keeps life healthy had been starved in him by his
labourer's condition. This sudden excitement had made a brute of him.

The man next him grimaced, and took his pipe out of his mouth a moment.

"_She_ won't be able to do nothin' for 'im! There isn't a man nor boy
in this 'ere place as didn't know as ee hated Westall like pison, and
would be as like as not to do for 'im some day. That'll count agen 'im
now terrible strong! Ee wor allus one to blab, ee wor."

"Well, an' Westall said jus' as much!" struck in another voice; "theer
wor sure to be a fight iv ever Westall got at 'im--on the job. You
see--they may bring it in manslarter after all."

"'Ow does any one know ee wor there at all? who seed him?" inquired a
white-haired elderly man, raising a loud quavering voice from the middle
of the crowd.

"Charlie Dynes seed 'im," cried several together.

"How do yer know ee seed 'im?"

From the babel of voices which followed the white-haired man slowly
gathered the beginnings of the matter. Charlie Dynes, Westall's
assistant, had been first discovered by a horsekeeper in Farmer Wellin's
employment as he was going to his work. The lad had been found under a
hedge, bleeding and frightfully injured, but still alive. Close beside
him was the dead body of Westall with shot-wounds in the head. On being
taken to the farm and given brandy, Dynes was asked if he had recognised
anybody. He had said there were five of them, "town chaps"; and then he
had named Hurd quite plainly--whether anybody else, nobody knew. It was
said he would die, and that Mr. Raeburn had gone to take his deposition.

"An' them town chaps got off, eh?" said the elderly man.

"Clean!" said Patton, refilling his pipe. "Trust them!"

Meanwhile, inside this poor cottage Marcella was putting out all the
powers of the soul. As the door closed behind her and the inspector, she
saw Hurd sitting handcuffed in the middle of the kitchen, watched by a
man whom Jenkins, the local policeman, had got in to help him, till some
more police should arrive. Jenkins was now upstairs searching the
bedroom. The little bronchitic boy sat on the fender, in front of the
untidy fireless grate, shivering, his emaciated face like a yellowish
white mask, his eyes fixed immovably on his father. Every now and then
he was shaken with coughing, but still he looked--with the dumb devoted
attention of some watching animal.

Hurd, too, was sitting silent. His eyes, which seemed wider open and
more brilliant than usual, wandered restlessly from thing to thing about
the room; his great earth-stained hands in their fetters twitched every
now and then on his knee. Haggard and dirty as he was, there was a
certain aloofness, a dignity even, about the misshapen figure which
struck Marcella strangely. Both criminal and victim may have it--this
dignity. It means that a man feels himself set apart from his kind.

Hurd started at sight of Marcella. "I want to speak to her," he said
hoarsely, as the inspector approached him--"to that lady"--nodding
towards her.

"Very well," said the inspector; "only it is my duty to warn you that
anything you say now will be taken down and used as evidence at the
inquest."

Marcella came near. As she stood in front of him, one trembling ungloved
hand crossed over the other, the diamond in her engagement ring
catching the light from the window sparkled brightly, diverting even for
the moment the eyes of the little fellow against whom her skirts were
brushing.

"Ee might ha' killed me just as well as I killed 'im," said Hurd,
bending over to her and speaking with difficulty from the dryness of his
mouth. "I didn't mean nothink o' what happened. He and Charlie came on
us round Disley Wood. He didn't take no notice o' them. It was they as
beat Charlie. But he came straight on at me--all in a fury--a
blackguardin' ov me, with his stick up. I thought he was for beatin' my
brains out, an' I up with my gun and fired. He was so close--that was
how he got it all in the head. But ee might 'a' killed me just as well."

He paused, staring at her with a certain anguished intensity, as though
he were watching to see how she took it--nay, trying its effect both on
her and himself. He did not look afraid or cast down--nay, there was a
curious buoyancy and steadiness about his manner for the moment which
astonished her. She could almost have fancied that he was more alive,
more of a _man_ than she had ever seen him--mind and body better fused,
more at command.

"Is there anything more you wish to say to me?" she asked him, after
waiting.

Then suddenly his manner changed. Their eyes met. Hers, with all their
subtle inheritance of various expression, their realised character, as
it were, searched his, tried to understand them--those peasant eyes, so
piercing to her strained sense in their animal urgency and shame. _Why_
had he done this awful thing?--deceived her--wrecked his wife?--that was
what her look asked. It seemed to her too _childish_--too _stupid_ to be
believed.

"I haven't made nobbut a poor return to _you_, miss," he said in a
shambling way, as though the words were dragged out of him. Then he
threw up his head again. "But I didn't mean nothink o' what happened,"
he repeated, doggedly going off again into a rapid yet, on the whole,
vivid and consecutive account of Westall's attack, to which Marcella
listened, trying to remember every word.

"Keep that for your solicitor," the inspector said at last, interrupting
him; "you are only giving pain to Miss Boyce. You had better let her go
to your wife."

Hurd looked steadily once more at Marcella. "It be a bad end I'm come
to," he said, after a moment. "But I thank you kindly all the same.
_They'll_ want seein' after." He jerked his head towards the boy, then
towards the outhouse or scullery where his wife was. "She takes it
terr'ble hard. She wanted me to run. But I said, 'No, I'll stan' it
out.' Mr. Brown at the Court'll give you the bit wages he owes me. But
they'll have to go on the Union. Everybody'll turn their backs on them
now."

"I will look after them," said Marcella, "and I will do the best I can
for you. Now I will go to Mrs. Hurd."

Minta Hurd was sitting in a corner of the outhouse on the clay floor,
her head leaning against the wall. The face was turned upward, the eyes
shut, the mouth helplessly open. When Marcella saw her, she knew that
the unhappy woman had already wept so much in the hours since her
husband came back to her that she could weep no more. The two little
girls in the scantiest of clothing, half-fastened, sat on the floor
beside her, shivering and begrimed--watching her. They had been crying
at the tops of their voices, but were now only whimpering miserably, and
trying at intervals to dry their tear-stained cheeks with the skirts of
their frocks. The baby, wrapped in an old shawl, lay on its mother's
knee, asleep and unheeded. The little lean-to place, full of odds and
ends of rubbish, and darkened overhead by a string of damp clothes--was
intolerably cold in the damp February dawn. The children were blue; the
mother felt like ice as Marcella stooped to touch her. Outcast misery
could go no further.

The mother moaned as she felt Marcella's hand, then started wildly
forward, straining her thin neck and swollen eyes that she might see
through the two open doors of the kitchen and the outhouse.

"They're not taking him away?" she said fiercely. "Jenkins swore to me
they'd give me notice."

"No, he's still there," said Marcella, her voice shaking. "The
inspector's come. You shall have notice."

Mrs. Hurd recognised her voice, and looked up at her in amazement.

"You must put this on," said Marcella, taking off the short fur cape she
wore. "You are perished. Give me the baby, and wrap yourself in it."

But Mrs. Hurd put it away from her with a vehement hand.

"I'm not cold, miss--I'm burning hot. He made me come in here. He said
he'd do better if the children and I ud go away a bit. An' I couldn't go
upstairs, because--because--" she hid her face on her knees.

Marcella had a sudden sick vision of the horrors this poor creature must
have gone through since her husband had appeared to her, splashed with
the blood of his enemy, under that same marvellous moon which--

Her mind repelled its own memories with haste. Moreover, she was aware
of the inspector standing at the kitchen door and beckoning to her. She
stole across to him so softly that Mrs. Hurd did not hear her.

"We have found all we want," he said in his official tone, but under his
breath--"the clothes anyway. We must now look for the gun. Jenkins is
first going to take him off to Widrington. The inquest will be held
to-morrow here, at 'The Green Man.' We shall bring him over." Then he
added in another voice, touching his hat, "I don't like leaving you,
miss, in this place. Shall Jenkins go and fetch somebody to look after
that poor thing? They'll be all swarming in here as soon as we've gone."

"No, I'll stay for a while. I'll look after her. They won't come in if
I'm here. Except his sister--Mrs. Mullins--she may come in, of course,
if she wants."

The inspector hesitated.

"I'm going now to meet Mr. Raeburn, miss. I'll tell him that you're
here."

"He knows," said Marcella, briefly. "Now are you ready?"

He signed assent, and Marcella went back to the wife.

"Mrs. Hurd," she said, kneeling on the ground beside her, "they're
going."

The wife sprang up with a cry and ran into the kitchen, where Hurd was
already on his feet between Jenkins and another policeman, who were to
convey him to the gaol at Widrington. But when she came face to face
with her husband something--perhaps the nervous appeal in his strained
eyes--checked her, and she controlled herself piteously. She did not
even attempt to kiss him. With her eyes on the ground, she put her hand
on his arm. "They'll let me come and see you, Jim?" she said, trembling.

"Yes; you can find out the rules," he said shortly. "Don't let them
children cry. They want their breakfast to warm them. There's plenty of
coal. I brought a sack home from Jellaby's last night myself. Good-bye."

"Now, march," said the inspector, sternly, pushing the wife back.

Marcella put her arm round the shaking woman. The door opened; and
beyond the three figures as they passed out, her eye passed to the
waiting crowd, then to the misty expanse of common and the dark woods
behind, still wrapped in fog.

When Mrs. Hurd saw the rows of people waiting within a stone's throw of
the door she shrank back. Perhaps it struck her, as it struck Marcella,
that every face was the face of a foe. Marcella ran to the door as the
inspector stepped out, and locked it after him. Mrs. Hurd, hiding
herself behind a bit of baize curtain, watched the two policemen mount
with Hurd into the fly that was waiting, and then followed it with her
eyes along the bit of straight road, uttering sounds the while of low
anguish, which wrung the heart in Marcella's breast. Looking back in
after days it always seemed to her that for this poor soul the true
parting, the true wrench between life and life, came at this moment.

She went up to her, her own tears running over.

"You must come and lie down," she said, recovering herself as quickly as
possible. "You and the children are both starved, and you will want your
strength if you are to help him. I will see to things."

She put the helpless woman on the wooden settle by the fireplace,
rolling up her cloak to make a pillow.

"Now, Willie, you sit by your mother. Daisy, where's the cradle? Put the
baby down and come and help me make the fire."

The dazed children did exactly as they were told, and the mother lay
like a log on the settle. Marcella found coal and wood under Daisy's
guidance, and soon lit the fire, piling on the fuel with a lavish hand.
Daisy brought her water, and she filled the kettle and set it on to
boil, while the little girl, still sobbing at intervals like some little
weeping automaton, laid the breakfast. Then the children all crouched
round the warmth, while Marcella rubbed their cold hands and feet, and
"mothered" them. Shaken as she was with emotion and horror, she was yet
full of a passionate joy that this pity, this tendance was allowed to
her. The crushing weight of self-contempt had lifted. She felt morally
free and at ease.

Already she was revolving what she could do for Hurd. It was as clear
as daylight to her that there had been no murder but a free fight--an
even chance between him and Westall. The violence of a hard and
tyrannous man had provoked his own destruction--so it stood, for her
passionate protesting sense. That at any rate must be the defence, and
some able man must be found to press it. She thought she would write to
the Cravens and consult them. Her thoughts carefully avoided the names
both of Aldous Raeburn and of Wharton.

She was about to make the tea when some one knocked at the door. It
proved to be Hurd's sister, a helpless woman, with a face swollen by
crying, who seemed to be afraid to come into the cottage, and afraid to
go near her sister-in-law. Marcella gave her money, and sent her for
some eggs to the neighbouring shop, then told her to come back in half
an hour and take charge. She was an incapable, but there was nothing
better to be done. "Where is Miss Harden?" she asked the woman. The
answer was that ever since the news came to the village the rector and
his sister had been with Mrs. Westall and Charlie Dyne's mother. Mrs.
Westall had gone into fit after fit; it had taken two to hold her, and
Charlie's mother, who was in bed recovering from pneumonia, had also
been very bad.

Again Marcella's heart contracted with rage rather than pity. Such wrack
and waste of human life, moral and physical! for what? For the
protection of a hateful sport which demoralised the rich and their
agents, no less than it tempted and provoked the poor!

When she had fed and physically comforted the children, she went and
knelt down beside Mrs. Hurd, who still lay with closed eyes in
heavy-breathing stupor.

"Dear Mrs. Hurd," she said, "I want you to drink this tea and eat
something."

The half-stupefied woman signed refusal. But Marcella insisted.

"You have got to fight for your husband's life," she said firmly, "and
to look after your children. I must go in a very short time, and before
I go you must tell me all that you can of this business. Hurd would tell
you to do it. He knows and you know that I am to be trusted. I want to
save him. I shall get a good lawyer to help him. But first you must take
this--and then you must talk to me."

The habit of obedience to a "lady," established long ago in years of
domestic service, held. The miserable wife submitted to be fed, looked
with forlorn wonder at the children round the fire, and then sank back
with a groan. In her tension of feeling Marcella for an impatient moment
thought her a poor creature. Then with quick remorse she put her arms
tenderly round her, raised the dishevelled grey-streaked head on her
shoulder, and stooping, kissed the marred face, her own lips quivering.

"You are not alone," said the girl with her whole soul. "You shall never
be alone while I live. Now tell me."

She made the white and gasping woman sit up in a corner of the settle,
and she herself got a stool and established herself a little way off,
frowning, self-contained, and determined to make out the truth.

"Shall I send the children upstairs?" she asked.

"No!" said the boy, suddenly, in his husky voice, shaking his head with
energy, "I'm not a-going."

"Oh! he's safe--is Willie," said Mrs. Hurd, looking at him, but
strangely, and as it were from a long distance, "and the others is too
little."

Then gradually Marcella got the story out of her--first, the misery of
alarm and anxiety in which she had lived ever since the Tudley End raid,
owing first to her knowledge of Hurd's connection with it, and with the
gang that had carried it out; then to her appreciation of the quick and
ghastly growth of the hatred between him and Westall; lastly, to her
sense of ingratitude towards those who had been kind to them.

"I knew we was acting bad towards you. I told Jim so. I couldn't hardly
bear to see you come in. But there, miss,--I couldn't do anything. I
tried, oh! the Lord knows I tried! There was never no happiness between
us at last, I talked so. But I don't believe he could help himself--he's
not made like other folks, isn't Jim--"

Her features became convulsed again with the struggle for speech.
Marcella reached out for the toil-disfigured hand that was fingering and
clutching at the edge of the settle, and held it close. Gradually she
made out that although Hurd had not been able of course to conceal his
night absences from his wife, he had kept his connection with the Oxford
gang absolutely dark from her, till, in his wild exultation over
Westall's discomfiture in the Tudley End raid, he had said things in his
restless snatches of sleep which had enabled her to get the whole truth
out of him by degrees. Her reproaches, her fears, had merely angered and
estranged him; her nature had had somehow to accommodate itself to his,
lest affection should lose its miserable all.

As to this last fatal attack on the Maxwell coverts, it was clear to
Marcella, as she questioned and listened, that the wife had
long foreseen it, and that she now knew much more about it
than--suddenly--she would allow herself to say. For in the midst of her
out-pourings she drew herself together, tried to collect and calm
herself, looked at Marcella with an agonised, suspicious eye, and fell
silent.

"I don't know nothing about it, miss," she stubbornly declared at last,
with an inconsequent absurdity which smote Marcella's pity afresh. "How
am I to know? There was seven o' them Oxford fellows at Tudley End--that
I know. Who's to say as Jim was with 'em at all last night? Who's to say
as it wasn't them as--"

She stopped, shivering. Marcella held her reluctant hand.

"You don't know," she said quietly, "that I saw your husband in here for
a minute before I came in to you, and that he told me, as he had already
told Jenkins, that it was in a struggle with him that Westall was shot,
but that he had fired in self-defence because Westall was attacking him.
You don't know, too, that Charlie Dynes is alive, and says he saw
Hurd--"

"Charlie Dynes!" Mrs. Hurd gave a shriek, and then fell to weeping and
trembling again, so that Marcella had need of patience.

"If you can't help me more," she said at last in despair, "I don't know
what we shall do. Listen to me. Your husband will be charged with
Westall's murder. That I am sure of. He says it was not murder--that it
happened in a fight. I believe it. I want to get a lawyer to prove it. I
am your friend--you know I am. But if you are not going to help me by
telling me what you know of last night I may as well go home--and get
your sister-in-law to look after you and the children."

She rose as she spoke. Mrs. Hurd clutched at her.

"Oh, my God!" she said, looking straight before her vacantly at the
children, who at once began to cry again. "_Oh, my God_! Look here,
miss"--her voice dropped, her swollen eyes fixed themselves on
Marcella--the words came out in a low, hurried stream--"It was just
after four o'clock I heard that door turn; I got up in my nightgown and
ran down, and there was Jim. 'Put that light out,' he says to me, sharp
like. 'Oh, Jim,' says I, 'wherever have you been? You'll be the death o'
me and them poor children!' 'You go to bed,' says he to me, 'and I'll
come presently.' But I could see him, 'cos of the moon, almost as plain
as day, an' I couldn't take my eyes off him. And he went about the
kitchen so strange like, puttin' down his hat and takin' it up again,
an' I saw he hadn't got his gun. So I went up and caught holt on him.
An' he gave me a push back. 'Can't you let me alone?' he says; 'you'll
know soon enough.' An' then I looked at my sleeve where I'd touched
him--oh, my God! my God!"

Marcella, white to the lips and shuddering too, held her tight. She had
the _seeing_ faculty which goes with such quick, nervous natures, and
she saw the scene as though she had been there--the moonlit cottage, the
miserable husband and wife, the life-blood on the woman's sleeve.

Mrs. Hurd went on in a torrent of half-finished sentences and fragments
of remembered talk. She told her husband's story of the encounter with
the keepers as he had told it to her, of course with additions and
modifications already struck out by the agony of inventive pain; she
described how she had made him take his blood-stained clothes and hide
them in a hole in the roof; then how she had urged him to strike across
country at once and get a few hours start before the ghastly business
was known. But the more he talked to her the more confident he became of
his own story, and the more determined to stay and brave it out.
Besides, he was shrewd enough to see that escape for a man of his
deformity was impossible, and he tried to make her understand it so. But
she was mad and blind with fear, and at last, just as the light was
coming in, he told her roughly, to end their long wrestle, that he
should go to bed and get some sleep. She would make a fool of him, and
he should want all his wits. She followed him up the steep ladder to
their room, weeping. And there was little Willie sitting up in bed,
choking with the phlegm in his throat, and half dead of fright because
of the voices below.

"And when Hurd see him, he went and cuddled him up, and rubbed his legs
and feet to warm them, an' I could hear him groanin'. And I says to him,
'Jim, if you won't go for my sake, will you go for the boy's?' For you
see, miss, there was a bit of money in the house, an' I thought he'd
hide himself by day and walk by night, and so get to Liverpool perhaps,
and off to the States. An' it seemed as though my head would burst with
listening for people comin', and him taken up there like a rat in a
trap, an' no way of provin' the truth, and everybody agen him, because
of the things he'd said. And he burst out a-cryin', an' Willie cried.
An' I came an' entreated of him. An' he kissed me; an' at last he said
he'd go. An' I made haste, the light was getting so terrible strong; an'
just as he'd got to the foot of the stairs, an' I was holding little
Willie in my arms an' saying good-bye to him--"

She let her head sink against the settle. There was no more to say, and
Marcella asked no more questions--she sat thinking. Willie stood, a
wasted, worn figure, by his mother, stroking her face; his hoarse
breathing was for the time the only sound in the cottage.

Then Marcella heard a loud knock at the door. She got up and looked
through the casement window. The crowd had mostly dispersed, but a few
people stood about on the green, and a policeman was stationed outside
the cottage. On the steps stood Aldous Raeburn, his horse held behind
him by a boy.

She went and opened the door.

"I will come," she said at once. "There--I see Mrs. Mullins crossing the
common. Now I can leave her."

Aldous, taking off his hat, closed the door behind him and stood with
his hand on Marcella's arm, looking at the huddled woman on the settle,
at the pale children. There was a solemnity in his expression, a mixture
of judgment and pity which showed that the emotion of other scenes
also--scenes through which he had just passed--was entering into it.

"Poor unhappy souls," he said slowly, under his breath. "You say that
you have got some one to see after her. She looks as though it might
kill her, too."

Marcella nodded. Now that her task, for the moment, was nearly over, she
could hardly restrain herself nervously or keep herself from crying.
Aldous observed her with disquiet as she put on her hat. His heart was
deeply stirred. She had chosen more nobly for herself than he would have
chosen for her, in thus daring an awful experience for the sake of
mercy. His moral sense, exalted and awed by the sight of death,
approved, worshipped her. His man's impatience pined to get her away, to
cherish and comfort hen Why, she could hardly have slept three hours
since they parted on the steps of the Court, amidst the crowd of
carriages!

Mrs. Mullins came in still scared and weeping, and dropping frightened
curtseys to "Muster Raeburn." Marcella spoke to her a little in a
whisper, gave some counsels which filled Aldous with admiration for the
girl's practical sense and thoughtfulness, and promised to come again
later. Mrs. Hurd neither moved nor opened her eyes.

"Can you walk?" said Aldous, bending over her, as they stood outside the
cottage. "I can see that you are worn out. Could you sit my horse if I
led him?"

"No, let us walk."

They went on together, followed by the eyes of the village, the boy
leading the horse some distance behind.

"Where have you been?" said Marcella, when they had passed the village.
"Oh, _please_ don't think of my being tired! I had so much rather know
it all. I must know it all."

She was deathly pale, but her black eyes flashed impatience and
excitement. She even drew her hand out of the arm where Aldous was
tenderly holding it, and walked on erect by herself.

"I have been with poor Dynes," said Aldous, sadly; "we had to take his
deposition. He died while I was there."

"He died?"

"Yes. The fiends who killed him had left small doubt of that. But he
lived long enough, thank God, to give the information which will, I
think, bring them to justice!"

The tone of the magistrate and the magnate goaded Marcella's quivering
nerves.

"What is justice?" she cried; "the system that wastes human lives in
protecting your tame pheasants?"

A cloud came over the stern clearness of his look. He gave a bitter
sigh--the sigh of the man to whom his own position in life had been, as
it were, one long scruple.

"You may well ask that!" he said. "You cannot imagine that I did not
ask it of myself a hundred times as I stood by that poor fellow's
bedside."

They walked on in silence. She was hardly appeased. There was a deep,
inner excitement in her urging her towards difference, towards attack.
At last he resumed:

"But whatever the merits of our present game system may be, the present
case is surely clear--horribly clear. Six men, with at least three guns
among them, probably more, go out on a pheasant-stealing expedition.
They come across two keepers, one a lad of seventeen, who have nothing
but a light stick apiece. The boy is beaten to death, the keeper shot
dead at the first brush by a man who has been his life-long enemy, and
threatened several times in public to 'do for him.' If that is not
brutal and deliberate murder, it is difficult to say what is!"

Marcella stood still in the misty road trying to command herself.

"It was _not_ deliberate," she said at last with difficulty; "not in
Hurd's case. I have heard it all from his own mouth. It was a
_struggle_--he might have been killed instead of Westall--Westall
attacked, Hurd defended himself."

Aldous shook his head.

"Of course Hurd would tell you so," he said sadly, "and his poor wife.
He is not a bad or vicious fellow, like the rest of the rascally pack.
Probably when he came to himself, after the moment of rage, he could not
simply believe what he had done. But that makes no difference. It was
murder; no judge or jury could possibly take any other view. Dynes's
evidence is clear, and the proof of motive is overwhelming."

Then, as he saw her pallor and trembling, he broke off in deep distress.
"My dear one, if I could but have kept you out of this!"

They were alone in the misty road. The boy with the horse was out of
sight. He would fain have put his arm round her, have consoled and
supported her. But she would not let him.

"Please understand," she said in a sort of gasp, as she drew herself
away, "that I do _not_ believe Hurd is guilty--that I shall do my very
utmost to defend him. He is to me the victim of unjust, abominable laws!
If _you_ will not help me to protect him--then I must look to some one
else."

Aldous felt a sudden stab of suspicion--presentiment.

"Of course he will be well defended; he will have every chance; that you
may be sure of," he said slowly.

Marcella controlled herself, and they walked on. As they entered the
drive of Mellor, Aldous thought passionately of those divine moments in
his sitting-room, hardly yet nine hours old. And now--_now_!--she walked
beside him as an enemy.

The sound of a step on the gravel in front of them made them look up.
Past, present, and future met in the girl's bewildered and stormy sense
as she recognised Wharton.




CHAPTER X.


The first sitting of the Birmingham Labour Congress was just over, and
the streets about the hall in which it had been held were beginning to
fill with the issuing delegates. Rain was pouring down and umbrellas
were plentiful.

Harry Wharton, accompanied by a group of men, left the main entrance of
the hall,--releasing himself with difficulty from the friendly crowd
about the doors--and crossed the street to his hotel.

"Well, I'm glad you think I did decently," he said, as they mounted the
hotel stairs. "What a beastly day, and how stuffy that hall was! Come in
and have something to drink."

He threw open the door of his sitting-room as he spoke. The four men
with him followed him in.

"I must go back to the hall to see two or three men before everybody
disperses," said the one in front. "No refreshment for me, thank you,
Mr. Wharton. But I want to ask a question--what arrangements have you
made for the reporting of your speech?"

The man who spoke was thin and dark, with a modest kindly eye. He wore a
black frock coat, and had the air of a minister.

"Oh, thank you, Bennett, it's all right. The _Post_, the _Chronicle_,
and the _Northern Guardian_ will have full copies. I sent them off
before the meeting. And my own paper, of course. As to the rest they may
report it as they like. I don't care."

"They'll all have it," said another man, bluntly. "It's the best speech
you've ever made--the best president's speech we've had yet, I
say,--don't you think so?"

The speaker, a man called Casey, turned to the two men behind him. Both
nodded.

"Hallin's speech last year was first-rate," he continued, "but somehow
Hallin damps you down, at least he did me last year; what you want just
now is _fight_--and, my word! Mr. Wharton let 'em have it!"

And standing with his hands on his sides, he glanced round from one to
another. His own face was flushed, partly from the effects of a crowded
hall and bad air, but mostly with excitement. All the men present
indeed--though it was less evident in Bennett and Wharton than in the
rest--had the bright nervous look which belongs to leaders keenly
conscious of standing well with the led, and of having just emerged
successfully from an agitating ordeal. As they stood together they went
over the speech to which they had been listening, and the scene which
had followed it, in a running stream of talk, laughter, and gossip.
Wharton took little part, except to make a joke occasionally at his own
expense, but the pleasure on his smiling lip, and in his roving,
contented eye was not to be mistaken. The speech he had just delivered
had been first thought out as he paced the moonlit library and corridor
at Mellor. After Marcella had left him, and he was once more in his own
room, he had had the extraordinary self-control to write it out, and
make two or three machine-copies of it for the press. Neither its range
nor its logical order had suffered for that intervening experience. The
programme of labour for the next five years had never been better
presented, more boldly planned, more eloquently justified. Hallin's
presidential speech of the year before, as Casey said, rang flat in the
memory when compared with it. Wharton knew that he had made a mark, and
knew also that his speech had given him the whip-hand of some fellows
who would otherwise have stood in his way.

Casey was the first man to cease talking about the speech. He had
already betrayed himself about it more than he meant. He belonged to the
New Unionism, and affected a costume in character--fustian trousers,
flannel shirt, a full red tie and work-man's coat, all well calculated
to set off a fine lion-like head and broad shoulders. He had begun life
as a bricklayer's labourer, and was now the secretary of a recently
formed Union. His influence had been considerable, but was said to be
already on the wane; though it was thought likely that he would win a
seat in the coming Parliament.

The other two men were Molloy, secretary to the congress, short,
smooth-faced, and wiry, a man whose pleasant eye and manner were often
misleading, since he was in truth one of the hottest fighting men of a
fighting movement; and Wilkins, a friend of Casey's--ex-iron worker,
Union official, and Labour candidate for a Yorkshire division--an
uneducated, passionate fellow, speaking with a broad, Yorkshire accent,
a bad man of affairs, but honest, and endowed with the influence which
comes of sincerity, together with a gift for speaking and superhuman
powers of physical endurance.

"Well, I'm glad it's over," said Wharton, throwing himself into a chair
with a long breath, and at the same time stretching out his hand to ring
the bell. "Casey, some whisky? No? Nor you, Wilkins? nor Molloy? As for
you, Bennett, I know it's no good asking you. By George! our
grandfathers would have thought us a poor lot! Well, some coffee at any
rate you must all of you have before you go back. Waiter! coffee. By the
way, I have been seeing something of Hallin, Bennett, down in the
country."

He took out his cigarette case as he spoke, and offered it to the
others. All refused except Molloy. Casey took his half-smoked pipe out
of his pocket and lit up. He was not a teetotaler as the others were,
but he would have scorned to drink his whisky and water at the expense
of a "gentleman" like Wharton, or to smoke the "gentleman's" cigarettes.
His class-pride was irritably strong. Molloy, who was by nature
anybody's equal, took the cigarette with an easy good manners, which
made Casey look at him askance.

Mr. Bennett drew his chair close to Wharton's. The mention of Hallin had
roused a look of anxiety in his quick dark eyes.

"How is he, Mr. Wharton? The last letter I had from him he made light of
his health. But you know he only just avoided a breakdown in that strike
business. We only pulled him through by the skin of his teeth--Mr.
Raeburn and I."

"Oh, he's no constitution; never had, I suppose. But he seemed much as
usual. He's staying with Raeburn, you know, and I've been staying with
the father of the young lady whom Raeburn 's going to marry."

"Ah! I've heard of that," said Bennett, with a look of interest. "Well,
Mr. Raeburn isn't on our side, but for judgment and fair dealing there
are very few men of his class and circumstances I would trust as I would
him. The lady should be happy."

"Of course," said Wharton, drily. "However, neither she nor Raeburn are
very happy just at this moment. A horrible affair happened down there
last night. One of Lord Maxwell's gamekeepers and a 'helper,' a lad of
seventeen, were killed last night in a fight with poachers. I only just
heard the outlines of it before I came away, but I got a telegram just
before going into congress, asking me to defend the man charged with the
murder."

A quick expression of repulsion and disgust crossed Bennett's face.

"There have been a whole crop of such cases lately," he said. "How shall
we ever escape from the _curse_ of this game system?"

"We shan't escape it," said Wharton, quietly, knocking the end off his
cigarette, "not in your lifetime or mine. When we get more Radicals on
the bench we shall lighten the sentences; but that will only exasperate
the sporting class into finding new ways of protecting themselves. Oh!
the man will be hung--that's quite clear to me. But it will be a good
case--from the public point of view--will work up well--"

He ran his hand through his curls, considering.

"Will work up admirably," he added in a lower tone of voice, as though
to himself, his eyes keen and brilliant as ever, in spite of the marks
of sleeplessness and fatigue visible in the rest of the face, though
only visible there since he had allowed himself the repose of his
cigarette and arm-chair.

"Are yo' comin' to dine at the 'Peterloo' to-night, Mr. Wharton?" said
Wilkins, as Wharton handed him a cup of coffee; "but of coorse you
are--part of yower duties, I suppose?"

While Molloy and Casey were deep in animated discussion of the great
meeting of the afternoon he had been sitting silent against the edge of
the table--a short-bearded sombre figure, ready at any moment to make a
grievance, to suspect a slight.

"I'm afraid I can't," said Wharton, bending forward and speaking in a
tone of concern; "that was just what I was going to ask you all--if you
would make my excuses to-night? I have been explaining to Bennett. I
have an important piece of business in the country--a labourer has been
getting into trouble for shooting a keeper; they have asked me to defend
him. The assizes come on in little more than a fortnight, worse luck! so
that the time is short--"

And he went on to explain that, by taking an evening train back to
Widrington, he could get the following (Saturday) morning with the
solicitor in charge of the case, and be back in Birmingham, thanks to
the convenience of a new line lately opened, in time for the second
meeting of the congress, which was fixed for the early afternoon.

He spoke with great cordiality and persuasiveness. Among the men who
surrounded him, his youth, good looks, and easy breeding shone out
conspicuous. In the opinion of Wilkins, indeed, who followed his every
word and gesture, he was far too well dressed and too well educated. A
day would soon come when the labour movement would be able to show these
young aristocrats the door. Not yet, however.

"Well, I thowt you wouldn't dine with us," he said, turning away with a
blunt laugh.

Bennett's mild eye showed annoyance. "Mr. Wharton has explained himself
very fully, I think," he said, turning to the others. "We shall miss him
at dinner--but this matter seems to be one of life and death. And we
mustn't forget anyway that Mr. Wharton is fulfilling this engagement at
great inconvenience to himself. We none of us knew when we elected him
last year that he would have to be fighting his election at the same
time. Next Saturday, isn't it?"

Bennett rose as he spoke and carefully buttoned his coat. It was curious
to contrast his position among his fellows--one of marked ascendency and
authority--with his small insignificant physique. He had a gentle
deprecating eye, and the heart of a poet. He played the flute and
possessed the gift of repeating verse--especially Ebenezer Eliot's Corn
Law Rhymes--so as to stir a great audience to enthusiasm or tears. The
Wesleyan community of his native Cheshire village owned no more
successful class-leader, and no humbler Christian. At the same time he
could hold a large business meeting sternly in check, was the secretary
of one of the largest and oldest Unions in the country, had been in
Parliament for years, and was generally looked upon even by the men who
hated his "moderate" policy, as a power not to be ignored.

"Next Saturday. Yes!" said Wharton, nodding in answer to his inquiry.

"Well, are you going to do it?" said Casey, looking round at him.

"Oh, yes!" said Wharton, cheerfully; "oh, yes! we shall do it. We shall
settle old Dodgson, I think."

"Are the Raeburns as strong as they were?" asked Molloy, who knew
Brookshire.

"What landlord is? Since '84 the ground is mined for them all--good and
bad--and they know it."

"The mine takes a long time blowing up--too long for my patience," said
Wilkins, gruffly. "How the country can go on year after year paying its
tribute to these plunderers passes my comprehension. But you may attack
them as you please. You will never get any forrarder so long as
Parliament and the Cabinet is made up of them and their hangers on."

Wharton looked at him brightly, but silently, making a little assenting
inclination of the head. He was not surprised that anything should pass
Wilkins's comprehension, and he was determined to give him no opening
for holding forth.

"Well, we'll let you alone," said Bennett. "You'll have very little time
to get off in. We'll make your excuses, Mr. Wharton. You may be sure
everybody is so pleased with your speech we shall find them all in a
good temper. It was grand!--let me congratulate you again. Good-night--I
hope you'll get your poacher off!"

The others followed suit, and they all took leave in character;--Molloy,
with an eager business reference to the order of the day for
Saturday,--"Give me your address at Widrington; I'll post you everything
to-night, so that you may have it all under your eye"--Casey, with the
off-hand patronage of the man who would not for the world have his
benevolence mistaken for servility,--and Wilkins with as gruff a nod and
as limp a shake of the hand as possible. It might perhaps have been read
in the manner of the last two, that although this young man had just
made a most remarkable impression, and was clearly destined to go far,
they were determined not to yield themselves to him a moment before they
must. In truth, both were already jealous of him; whereas Molloy,
absorbed in the business of the congress, cared for nothing except to
know whether in the next two days' debates Wharton would show himself as
good a chairman as he was an orator; and Bennett, while saying no word
that he did not mean, was fully conscious of an inner judgment, which
pronounced five minutes of Edward Hallin's company to be worth more to
him than anything which this brilliant young fellow could do or say.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wharton saw them out, then came back and threw himself again into his
chair by the window. The venetian blinds were not closed, and he looked
out on a wide and handsome street of tall red-brick houses and shops,
crowded with people and carriages, and lit with a lavishness of gas
which overcame even the February dark and damp. But he noticed nothing,
and even the sensation of his triumph was passing off. He was once more
in the Mellor drive; Aldous Raeburn and Marcella stood in front of him;
the thrill of the moment beat once more in his pulse.

He buried his head in his hands and thought. The news of the murder had
reached him from Mr. Boyce. The master of Mellor had heard the news from
William, the man-servant, at half-past seven, and had instantly knocked
up his guest, by way of sharing the excitement with which his own feeble
frame was throbbing.

"By Gad! I never heard such an _atrocious_ business," said the invalid,
his thin hand shaking against his dressing-gown. "That's what your
Radical notions bring us to! We shall have them plundering and burning
the country houses next."

"I don't think my Radical notions have much to do with it," said
Wharton, composedly.

But there was a red spot in his cheeks which belied his manner. So when
he--_they_--saw Hurd cross the avenue he was on his way to this deed of
blood. The shot that he, Wharton, had heard had been the shot which slew
Westall? Probably. Well, what was the bearing of it? Could she keep her
own counsel or would they find themselves in the witness box? The idea
quickened his pulse amazingly.

"Any clue? Any arrests?" he asked of his host. "Why, I told you," said
Boyce, testily, though as a matter of fact he had said nothing. "They
have got that man Hurd. The ruffian has been a marked man by the keepers
and police, they tell me, for the last year or more. And there's my
daughter has been pampering him and his wife all the time, and
_preaching_ to me about them! She got Raeburn even to take him on at the
Court. I trust it will be a lesson to her."

Wharton drew a breath of relief. So the man was in custody, and there
was other evidence. Good! There was no saying what a woman's conscience
might be capable of, even against her friends and herself.

When Mr. Boyce at last left him free to dress and make his preparations
for the early train, by which the night before, after the ladies'
departure for the ball, he had suddenly made up his mind to leave
Mellor, it was some time before Wharton could rouse himself to action.
The situation absorbed him. Miss Boyce's friend was now in imminent
danger of his neck, and Miss Boyce's thoughts must be of necessity
concentrated upon his plight and that of his family. He foresaw the
passion, the _saeva indignatio_, that she must ultimately throw--the
general situation being what it was--into the struggle for Hurd's life.
Whatever the evidence might be, he would be to her either victim or
champion--and Westall, of course, merely the Holofernes of the piece.

How would Raeburn take it? Ah, well! the situation must develop. It
occurred to him, however, that he would catch an earlier train to
Widrington than the one he had fixed on, and have half an hour's talk
with a solicitor who was a good friend of his before going on to
Birmingham. Accordingly, he rang for William--who came, all staring and
dishevelled, fresh from the agitation of the servants' hall--gave orders
for his luggage to be sent after him, got as much fresh information as
he could from the excited lad, plunged into his bath, and finally
emerged, fresh and vigorous in every nerve, showing no trace whatever of
the fact that two hours of broken sleep had been his sole portion for a
night, in which he had gone through emotions and sustained a travail of
brain either of which would have left their mark on most men.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the meeting in the drive! How plainly he saw them both--Raeburn
grave and pale, Marcella in her dark serge skirt and cap, with an eye
all passion and a cheek white as her hand.

"A tragic splendour enwrapped her!--a fierce heroic air. She was the
embodiment of the moment--of the melancholy morning with its rain and
leafless woods--of the human anguish throbbing in the little village.
And I, who had seen her last in her festal dress, who had held her warm
perfumed youth in my arms, who had watched in her white breast the
heaving of the heart that I--_I_ had troubled!--how did I find it
possible to stand and face her? But I did. It rushed through me at once
_how_ I would make her forgive me--how I would regain possession of her.
I had thought the play was closed: it was suddenly plain to me that the
second act was but just beginning. She and Raeburn had already come to
words--I knew it directly I saw them. This business will divide them
more and more. His _conscience_ will come in--and a Raeburn's conscience
is the devil!

"By now he hates me; every word I speak to him--still more every word
to her--galls him. But he controlled himself when I made him tell me the
story--I had no reason to complain--though every now and then I could
see him wince under the knowledge I must needs show of the persons and
places concerned--a knowledge I could only have got from _her_. And she
stood by meanwhile like a statue. Not a word, not a look, so far, though
she had been forced to touch my hand. But my instinct saved me. I roused
her--I played upon her! I took the line that I was morally certain
_she_ had been taking in their _tête-à-tête_. Why not a scuffle?--a
general scrimmage?--in which it was matter of accident who fell? The man
surely was inoffensive and gentle, incapable of deliberate murder. And
as to the evidence of hatred, it told both ways. He stiffened and was
silent. What a fine brow he has--a look sometimes, when he is moved, of
antique power and probity! But she--she trembled--animation came back.
She would almost have spoken to me--but I did well not to prolong it--to
hurry on."

Then he took the telegram out of his pocket which had been put into his
hands as he reached the hotel, his mouth quivering again with the
exultation which he had felt when he had received it. It recalled to his
ranging memory all the details of his hurried interview with the little
Widrington solicitor, who had already scented a job in the matter of
Hurd's defence. This man--needy, shrewd, and well equipped with local
knowledge--had done work for Wharton and the party, and asked nothing
better than to stand well with the future member for the division.
"There is a lady," Wharton had said, "the daughter of Mr. Boyce of
Mellor, who is already very much interested in this fellow and his
family. She takes this business greatly to heart. I have seen her this
morning, but had no time to discuss the matter with her. She will, I
have little doubt, try to help the relations in the arrangements for the
defence. Go to her this morning--tell her that the case has my
sympathy--that, as she knows, I am a barrister, and, if she wishes it, I
will defend Hurd. I shall be hard put to it to get up the case with the
election coming on, but I will do it--for the sake of the public
interest involved. You understand? Her father is a Tory--and she is just
about to marry Mr. Raeburn. Her position, therefore, is difficult.
Nevertheless, she will feel strongly--she does feel strongly about this
case, and about the whole game system--and I feel moved to support her.
She will take her own line, whatever happens. See her--see the wife,
too, who is entirely under Miss Boyce's influence--and wire to me at my
hotel at Birmingham. If they wish to make other arrangements, well and
good. I shall have all the more time to give to the election."

Leaving this commission behind him, he had started on his journey. At
the end of it a telegram had been handed to him on the stairs of his
hotel:

"Have seen the lady, also Mrs. Hurd. You are urgently asked to undertake
defence."

He spread it out before him now, and pondered it. The bit of flimsy
paper contained for him the promise of all he most coveted,--influence,
emotion, excitement. "She will have returns upon herself," he thought
smiling, "when I see her again. She will be dignified, resentful; she
will suspect everything I say or do--still more, she will suspect
herself. No matter! The situation is in my hands. Whether I succeed or
fail, she will be forced to work with me, to consult with me--she will
owe me gratitude. What made her consent?--she must have felt it in some
sort a humiliation. Is it that Raeburn has been driving her to strong
measures--that she wants, woman-like, to win, and thought me after all
her best chance, and put her pride in her pocket? Or is it?--ah! one
should put _that_ out of one's head. It's like wine--it unsteadies one.
And for a thing like this one must go into training. Shall I write to
her--there is just time now, before I start--take the lofty tone, the
equal masculine tone, which I have noticed she likes?--ask her pardon
for an act of madness--before we go together to the rescue of a life? It
might do--it might go down. But no, I think not! Let the situation
develop itself. Action and reaction--the unexpected--I commit myself to
that. _She_--marry Aldous Raeburn in a month? Well, she may--certainly
she may. But there is no need for me, I think, to take it greatly into
account. Curious! twenty-four hours ago I thought it all done with--dead
and done with. 'So like Provvy,' as Bentham used to say, when he heard
of anything particularly unseemly in the way of natural catastrophe. Now
to dine, and be off! How little sleep can I do with in the next
fortnight?"

He rang, ordered his cab, and then went to the coffee-room for some
hasty food. As he was passing one of the small tables with which the
room was filled, a man who was dining there with a friend recognised him
and gave him a cold nod. Wharton walked on to the further end of the
room, and, while waiting for his meal, buried himself in the local
evening paper, which already contained a report of his speech.

"Did you see that man?" asked the stranger of his friend.

"The small young fellow with the curly hair?"

"Small young fellow, indeed! He is the wiriest athlete I
know--extraordinary physical strength for his size--and one of the
cleverest rascals out as a politician. I am a neighbour of his in the
country. His property joins mine. I knew his father--a little, dried-up
old chap of the old school--very elegant manners and very
obstinate--worried to death by his wife--oh, my goodness! such a woman!"

"What's the name?" said the friend, interrupting.

"Wharton--H.S. Wharton. His mother was a daughter of Lord Westgate, and
_her_ mother was an actress whom the old lord married in his dotage.
Lady Mildred Wharton was like Garrick, only natural when she was acting,
which she did on every possible occasion. A preposterous woman! Old
Wharton ought to have beaten her for her handwriting, and murdered her
for her gowns. Her signature took a sheet of note-paper, and as for her
dress I never could get out of her way. Whatever part of the room I
happened to be in I always found my feet tangled in her skirts.
Somehow, I never could understand how she was able to find so much stuff
of one pattern. But it was only to make you notice her, like all the
rest. Every bit of her was a pose, and the maternal pose was the worst
of all."

"H.S. Wharton?" said the other. "Why, that's the man who has been
speaking here to-day. I've just been reading the account of it in the
_Evening Star_. A big meeting--called by a joint committee of the
leading Birmingham trades to consider the Liberal election programme as
it affects labour--that's the man--he's been at it hammer and
tongs--red-hot--all the usual devices for harrying the employer out of
existence, with a few trifles--graduated income-tax and land
nationalisation--thrown in. Oh! that's the man, is it?--they say he had
a great reception--spoke brilliantly--and is certainly going to get into
Parliament next week."

The speaker, who had the air of a shrewd and prosperous manufacturer,
put up his eyeglass to look at this young Robespierre. His
_vis-à-vis_--a stout country gentleman who had been in the army and
knocked about the world before coming into his estate--shrugged his
shoulders.

"So I hear--he daren't show his nose as a candidate in _our_ part of the
world, though of course he does us all the harm he can. I remember a
good story of his mother--she quarrelled with her husband and all her
relations, his and hers, and then she took to speaking in public,
accompanied by her dear boy. On one occasion she was speaking at a
market town near us, and telling the farmers that as far as she was
concerned she would like to see the big properties cut up to-morrow. The
sooner her father's and husband's estates were made into small holdings
stocked with public capital the better. After it was all over, a friend
of mine, who was there, was coming home in a sort of omnibus that ran
between the town and a neighbouring village. He found himself between
two fat farmers, and this was the conversation--broad Lincolnshire, of
course: 'Did tha hear Lady Mildred Wharton say them things, Willum?'
'Aye, a did.' 'What did tha think, Willum?' 'What did _tha_ think,
George?' 'Wal, _aa_ thowt Laady Mildred Wharton wor a graät fule,
Willum, if tha asks me.' 'I'll uphowd tha, George! I'll uphowd tha!'
said the other, and then they talked no more for the rest of the
journey."

The friend laughed.

"So it was from the dear mamma that the young man got his opinions?"

"Of course. She dragged him into every absurdity she could from the time
he was fifteen. When the husband died she tried to get the servants to
come in to meals, but the butler struck. So did Wharton himself, who,
for a Socialist, has always showed a very pretty turn for comfort. I am
bound to say he was cut up when she died. It was the only time I ever
felt like being civil to him--in those months after she departed. I
suppose she was devoted to him--which after all is something."

"Good heavens!" said the other, still lazily turning over the pages of
the newspaper as they sat waiting for their second course, "here is
another poaching murder--in Brookshire--the third I have noticed within
a month. On Lord Maxwell's property--you know them?"

"I know the old man a little--fine old fellow! They'll make him
President of the Council, I suppose. He can't have much work left in
him; but it is such a popular, respectable name. Ah! I'm sorry; the sort
of thing to distress him terribly."

"I see the grandson is standing."

"Oh yes; will get in too. A queer sort of man--great ability and high
character. But you can't imagine him getting on in politics, unless it's
by sheer weight of wealth and family influence. He'll find a scruple in
every bush--never stand the rough work of the House, or get on with the
_men_. My goodness! you have to pull with some queer customers nowadays.
By the way, I hear he is making an unsatisfactory marriage--a girl very
handsome, but with no manners, and like nobody else--the daughter, too,
of an extremely shady father. It's surprising; you'd have thought a man
like Aldous Raeburn would have looked for the pick of things."

"Perhaps it was she looked for the pick of things!" said the other, with
a blunt laugh. "Waiter, another bottle of champagne."




CHAPTER XI.


Marcella was lying on the sofa in the Mellor drawing-room. The February
evening had just been shut out, but she had told William not to bring
the lamps till they were rung for. Even the fire-light seemed more than
she could bear. She was utterly exhausted both in body and mind; yet, as
she lay there with shut eyes, and hands clasped under her cheek, a start
went through her at every sound in the house, which showed that she was
not resting, but listening. She had spent the morning in the Hurds'
cottage, sitting by Mrs. Hurd and nursing the little boy. Minta Hurd,
always delicate and consumptive, was now generally too ill from shock
and misery to be anywhere but in her bed, and Willie was growing
steadily weaker, though the child's spirit was such that he would insist
on dressing, on hearing and knowing everything about his father, and on
moving about the house as usual. Yet every movement of his wasted bones
cost him the effort of a hero, and the dumb signs in him of longing for
his father increased the general impression as of some patient creature
driven by Nature to monstrous and disproportionate extremity.

The plight of this handful of human beings worked in Marcella like some
fevering torture. She was wholly out of gear physically and morally.
Another practically sleepless night, peopled with images of horror, had
decreased her stock of sane self-control, already lessened by long
conflict of feeling and the pressure of self-contempt. Now, as she lay
listening for Aldous Raeburn's ring and step, she hardly knew whether to
be angry with him for coming so late, or miserable that he should come
at all. That there was a long score to settle between herself and him
she knew well. Shame for an experience which seemed to her maiden sense
indelible--both a weakness and a treachery--lay like a dull weight on
heart and conscience. But she would not realise it, she would not act
upon it. She shook the moral debate from her impatiently. Aldous should
have his due all in good time--should have ample opportunity of deciding
whether he would, after all, marry such a girl as she. Meanwhile his
attitude with regard to the murder exasperated her. Yet, in some strange
way it relieved her to be angry and sore with him--to have a grievance
she could avow, and on which she made it a merit to dwell. His gentle,
yet firm difference of opinion with her on the subject struck her as
something new in him. It gave her a kind of fierce pleasure to fight it.
He seemed somehow to be providing her with excuses--to be coming down to
her level--to be equalling wrong with wrong.

The door handle turned. At last! She sprang up. But it was only William
coming in with the evening post. Mrs. Boyce followed him. She took a
quiet look at her daughter, and asked if her headache was better, and
then sat down near her to some needlework. During these two days she
had been unusually kind to Marcella. She had none of the little feminine
arts of consolation. She was incapable of fussing, and she never
caressed. But from the moment that Marcella had come home from the
village that morning, a pale, hollow-eyed wreck, the mother had asserted
her authority. She would not hear of the girl's crossing the threshold
again; she had put her on the sofa and dosed her with sal-volatile. And
Marcella was too exhausted to rebel. She had only stipulated that a note
should be sent to Aldous, asking him to come on to Mellor with the news
as soon as the verdict of the coroner's jury should be given. The jury
had been sitting all day, and the verdict was expected in the evening.

Marcella turned over her letters till she came to one from a London firm
which contained a number of cloth patterns. As she touched it she threw
it aside with a sudden gesture of impatience, and sat upright.

"Mamma! I have something to say to you."

"Yes, my dear."

"Mamma, the wedding must be put off!--it _must_!--for some weeks. I have
been thinking about it while I have been lying here. How _can_ I?--you
can see for yourself. That miserable woman depends on me altogether. How
can I spend my time on clothing and dressmakers? I feel as if I could
think of nothing else--nothing else in the world--but her and her
children." She spoke with difficulty, her voice high and strained. "The
assizes may be held that very week--who knows?--the very day we are
married."

She stopped, looking at her mother almost threateningly. Mrs. Boyce
showed no sign of surprise. She put her work down.

"I had imagined you might say something of the kind," she said after a
pause. "I don't know that, from your point of view, it is unreasonable.
But, of course, you must understand that very few people will see it
from your point of view. Aldous Raeburn may--you must know best. But his
people certainly won't; and your father will think it--"

"Madness," she was going to say, but with her usual instinct for the
moderate fastidious word she corrected it to "foolish."

Marcella's tired eyes were all wilfulness and defiance.

"I can't help it. I couldn't do it. I will tell Aldous at once. It must
be put off for a month. And even that," she added with a shudder, "will
be bad enough."

Mrs. Boyce could not help an unperceived shrug of the shoulders, and a
movement of pity towards the future husband. Then she said drily,--

"You must always consider whether it is just to Mr. Raeburn to let a
matter of this kind interfere so considerably with his wishes and his
plans. He must, I suppose, be in London for Parliament within six
weeks."

Marcella did not answer. She sat with her hands round her knees lost in
perplexities. The wedding, as originally fixed, was now three weeks and
three days off. After it, she and Aldous were to have spent a short
fortnight's honeymoon at a famous house in the north, lent them for the
occasion by a Duke who was a cousin of Aldous's on the mother's side,
and had more houses than he knew what to do with. Then they were to go
immediately up to London for the opening of Parliament. The furnishing
of the Mayfair house was being pressed on. In her new-born impatience
with such things, Marcella had hardly of late concerned herself with it
at all, and Miss Raeburn, scandalised, yet not unwilling, had been doing
the whole of it, subject to conscientious worryings of the bride,
whenever she could be got hold of, on the subject of papers and
curtains.

As they sat silent, the unspoken idea in the mother's mind was--"Eight
weeks more will carry us past the execution." Mrs. Boyce had already
possessed herself very clearly of the facts of the case, and it was her
perception that Marcella was throwing herself headlong into a hopeless
struggle--together with something else--a confession perhaps of a touch
of greatness in the girl's temper, passionate and violent as it was,
that had led to this unwonted softness of manner, this absence of
sarcasm.

Very much the same thought--only treated as a nameless horror not to be
recognised or admitted--was in Marcella's mind also, joined however with
another, unsuspected even by Mrs. Boyce's acuteness. "Very likely--when
I tell him--he will not want to marry me at all--and of course I shall
tell him."

But not yet--certainly not yet. She had the instinctive sense that
during the next few weeks she should want all her dignity with Aldous,
that she could not afford to put herself at a disadvantage with him. To
be troubled about her own sins at such a moment would be like the
meanness of the lazy and canting Christian, who whines about saving his
soul while he ought to be rather occupied with feeding the bodies of his
wife and children.

A ring at the front door. Marcella rose, leaning one hand on the end of
the sofa--a long slim figure in her black dress--haggard and pathetic.

When Aldous entered, her face was one question. He went up to her and
took her hand.

"In the case of Westall the verdict is one of 'Wilful Murder' against
Hurd. In that of poor Charlie Dynes the court is adjourned. Enough
evidence has been taken to justify burial. But there is news to-night
that one of the Widrington gang has turned informer, and the police say
they will have their hands on them all within the next two or three
days."

Marcella withdrew herself from him and fell back into the corner of the
sofa. Shading her eyes with her hand she tried to be very composed and
business-like.

"Was Hurd himself examined?"

"Yes, under the new Act. He gave the account which he gave to you and to
his wife. But the Court--"

"Did not believe it?"

"No. The evidence of motive was too strong. It was clear from his own
account that he was out for poaching purposes, that he was leading the
Oxford gang, and that he had a gun while Westall was unarmed. He
admitted too that Westall called on him to give up the bag of pheasants
he held, and the gun. He refused. Then he says Westall came at him, and
he fired. Dick Patton and one or two others gave evidence as to the
language he has habitually used about Westall for months past."

"Cowards--curs!" cried Marcella, clenching both her hands, a kind of sob
in her throat.

Aldous, already white and careworn, showed, Mrs. Boyce thought, a ray of
indignation for an instant. Then he resumed steadily--

"And Brown, our steward, gave evidence as to his employment since
October. The coroner summed up carefully, and I think fairly, and the
verdict was given about half-past six."

"They took him back to prison?"

"Of course. He comes before the magistrates on Thursday."

"And you will be one!"

The girl's tone was indescribable.

Aldous started. Mrs. Boyce reddened with anger, and checking her
instinct to intervene began to put away her working materials that she
might leave them together. While she was still busy Aldous said:

"You forget; no magistrate ever tries a case in which he is personally
concerned. I shall take no part in the trial. My grandfather, of course,
must prosecute."

"But it will be a bench of landlords," cried Marcella; "of men with whom
a poacher is already condemned."

"You are unjust to us, I think," said Aldous, slowly, after a pause,
during which Mrs. Boyce left the room--"to some of us, at any rate.
Besides, as of course you know, the case will be simply sent on for
trial at the assizes. By the way "--his tone changed--"I hear to-night
that Harry Wharton undertakes the defence."

"Yes," said Marcella, defiantly. "Is there anything to say against it?
You wouldn't wish Hurd not to be defended, I suppose?"

"Marcella!"

Even her bitter mood was pierced by the tone. She had never wounded him
so deeply yet, and for a moment he felt the situation intolerable; the
surging grievance and reproach, with which his heart was really full,
all but found vent in an outburst which would have wholly swept away his
ordinary measure and self-control. But then, as he looked at her, it
struck his lover's sense painfully how pale and miserable she was. He
could not scold! But it came home to him strongly that for her own sake
and his it would be better there should be explanations. After all
things had been going untowardly for many weeks. His nature moved slowly
and with much self-doubt, but it was plain to him now that he must make
a stand.

After his cry, her first instinct was to apologise. Then the words stuck
in her throat. To her, as to him, they seemed to be close on a trial of
strength. If she could not influence him in this matter--so obvious, as
it seemed to her, and so near to her heart--what was to become of that
lead of hers in their married life, on which she had been reckoning from
the beginning? All that was worst in her and all that was best rose to
the struggle.

But, as he did not speak, she looked up at last.

"I was waiting," he said in a low voice.

"What for?"

"Waiting till you should tell me you did not mean what you said."

She saw that he was painfully moved; she also saw that he was
introducing something into their relation, an element of proud
self-assertion, which she had never felt in it before. Her own vanity
instantly rebelled.

"I ought not to have said exactly what I did," she said, almost stifled
by her own excitement, and making great efforts not to play the mere
wilful child; "that I admit. But it has been clear to me from the
beginning that--that"--her words hurried, she took up a book and
restlessly lifted it and let it fall--"you have never looked at this
thing justly. You have looked at the crime as any one must who is a
landowner; you have never allowed for the provocation; you have not let
yourself feel pity--"

He made an exclamation.

"Do you know where I was before I went into the inquest?"

"No," she said defiantly, determined not to be impressed, feeling a
childish irritation at the interruption.

"I was with Mrs. Westall. Harden and I went in to see her. She is a
hard, silent woman. She is clearly not popular in the village, and no
one comes in to her. Her"--he hesitated--"her baby is expected before
long. She is in such a state of shock and excitement that Clarke thinks
it quite possible she may go out of her mind. I saw her sitting by the
fire, quite silent, not crying, but with a wild eye that means mischief.
We have sent in a nurse to help Mrs. Jellison watch her. She seems to
care nothing about her boy. Everything that that woman most desired in
life has been struck from her at a blow. Why? That a man who was in no
stress of poverty, who had friends and employment, should indulge
himself in acts which he knew to be against the law, and had promised
you and his wife to forego, and should at the same time satisfy a wild
beast's hatred against the man, who was simply defending his master's
property. Have _you_ no pity for Mrs. Westall or her child?"

He spoke as calmly as he could, making his appeal to reason and moral
sense; but, in reality, every word was charged with electric feeling.

"I _am_ sorry for her!" cried Marcella, passionately. "But, after all,
how can one feel for the oppressor, or those connected with him, as one
does for the victim?" He shook his head, protesting against the word,
but she rushed on. "You do know--for I told you yesterday--how under the
shelter of this _hateful_ game system Westall made Kurd's life a burden
to him when he was a young man--how he had begun to bully him again this
past year. We had the same sort of dispute the other day about that
murder in Ireland. You were shocked that I would not condemn the
Moonlighters who had shot their landlord from behind a hedge, as you
did. You said the man had tried to do his duty, and that the murder was
brutal and unprovoked. But I thought of the _system_--of the _memories_
in the minds of the murderers. There _were_ excuses--he suffered for his
father--I am not going to judge that as I judge other murders. So, when
a Czar of Russia is blown up, do you expect one to think only of his
wife and children? No! I will think of the tyranny and the revolt; I
will pray, yes, _pray_ that I might have courage to do as they did! You
may think me wild and mad. I dare say. I am made so. I shall always feel
so!"

She flung out her words at him, every limb quivering under the emotion
of them. His cool, penetrating eye, this manner she had never yet known
in him, exasperated her.

"Where was the tyranny in this case?" he asked her quietly. "I agree
with you that there are murders and murders. But I thought your point
was that here was neither murder nor attack, but only an act of
self-defence. That is Hurd's plea."

She hesitated and stumbled. "I know," she said, "I know. I believe it.
But, even if the attack had been on Hurd's part, I should still find
excuses, because of the system, and because of Westall's hatefulness."

He shook his head again.

"Because a man is harsh and masterful, and uses stinging language, is he
to be shot down like a dog?"

There was a silence. Marcella was lashing herself up by thoughts of the
deformed man in his cell, looking forward after the wretched,
unsatisfied life, which was all society had allowed him, to the violent
death by which society would get rid of him--of the wife yearning her
heart away--of the boy, whom other human beings, under the name of law,
were about to separate from his father for ever. At last she broke out
thickly and indistinctly:

"The terrible thing is that I cannot count upon you--that now I cannot
make you feel as I do--feel with me. And by-and-by, when I shall want
your help desperately, when your help might be everything--I suppose it
will be no good to ask it."

He started, and bending forward he possessed himself of both her
hands--her hot trembling hands--and kissed them with a passionate
tenderness.

"What help will you ask of me that I cannot give? That would be hard to
bear!"

Still held by him, she answered his question by another:

"Give me your idea of what will happen. Tell me how you think it will
end."

"I shall only distress you, dear," he said sadly.

"No; tell me. You think him guilty. You believe he will be convicted."

"Unless some wholly fresh evidence is forthcoming," he said reluctantly,
"I can see no other issue."

"Very well; then he will be sentenced to death. But, after sentence--I
know--that man from Widrington, that solicitor told me--if--if strong
influence is brought to bear--if anybody whose word counts--if Lord
Maxwell and you, were to join the movement to save him--There is sure to
be a movement--the Radicals will take it up. Will you do it--will you
promise me now--for my sake?"

He was silent.

She looked at him, all her heart burning in her eyes, conscious of her
woman's power too, and pressing it.

"If that man is hung," she said pleadingly, "it will leave a mark on my
life nothing will ever smooth out. I shall feel myself somehow
responsible. I shall say to myself, if I had not been thinking about my
own selfish affairs--about getting married--about the straw-plaiting--I
might have seen what was going on. I might have saved these people, who
have been my friends--my _real_ friends--from this horror."

She drew her hands away and fell back on the sofa, pressing her
handkerchief to her eyes. "If you had seen her this morning!" she said
in a strangled voice. "She was saying, 'Oh, miss, if they do find him
guilty, they can't hang him--not my poor deformed Jim, that never had a
chance of being like the others. Oh, we'll beg so hard. I know there's
many people will speak for him. He was mad, miss, when he did it. He'd
never been himself, not since last winter, when we all sat and starved,
and he was driven out of his senses by thinking of me and the children.
You'll get Mr. Raeburn to speak--won't you, miss?--and Lord Maxwell? It
was their game. I know it was their game. But they'll forgive him.
They're such great people, and so rich--and we--we've always had such a
struggle. Oh, the bad times we've had, and no one know! They'll try and
get him off, miss? Oh, I'll go and _beg_ of them.'"

She stopped, unable to trust her voice any further. He stooped over her
and kissed her brow. There was a certain solemnity in the moment for
both of them. The pity of human fate overshadowed them. At last he said
firmly, yet with great feeling:

"I will not prejudge anything, that I promise you. I will keep my mind
open to the last. But--I should like to say--it would not be any easier
to me to throw myself into an agitation for reprieve because this man
was tempted to crime by _my_ property--on _my_ land. I should think it
right to look at it altogether from the public point of view. The
satisfaction of my own private compunctions--of my own private
feelings--is not what I ought to regard. My own share in the
circumstances, in the conditions which made such an act possible does
indeed concern me deeply. You cannot imagine but that the moral problem
of it has possessed me ever since this dreadful thing happened. It
troubled me much before. Now, it has become an oppression--a torture. I
have never seen my grandfather so moved, so distressed, in all my
remembrance of him. Yet he is a man of the old school, with the old
standards. As for me, if ever I come to the estate I will change the
whole system, I will run no risks of such human wreck and ruin as
this--"

His voice faltered.

"But," he resumed, speaking steadily again, "I ought to warn you that
such considerations as these will not affect my judgment of this
particular case. In the first place, I have no quarrel with capital
punishment as such. I do not believe we could rightly give it up. Your
attitude properly means that wherever we can legitimately feel pity for
a murderer, we should let him escape his penalty. I, on the other hand,
believe that if the murderer saw things as they truly are, he would
himself _claim_ his own death, as his best chance, his only chance--in
this mysterious universe!--of self-recovery. Then it comes to this--was
the act murder? The English law of murder is not perfect, but it appears
to me to be substantially just, and guided by it--"

"You talk as if there were no such things as mercy and pity in the
world," she interrupted wildly; "as if law were not made and
administered by men of just the same stuff and fabric as the
lawbreaker!"

He looked troubled.

"Ah, but _law_ is something beyond laws or those who administer them,"
he said in a lower tone; "and the law--the _obligation-sense_--of our
own race and time, however imperfect it may be, is sacred, not because
it has been imposed upon us from without, but because it has grown up to
what it is, out of our own best life--ours, yet not ours--the best proof
we have, when we look back at it in the large, when we feel its work in
ourselves of some diviner power than our own will--our best clue to what
that power may be!"

He spoke at first, looking away--wrestling out his thought, as it were,
by himself--then turning back to her, his eyes emphasised the appeal
implied, though not expressed, in what he said--intense appeal to her
for sympathy, forbearance, mutual respect, through all acuteness of
difference. His look both promised and implored.

He bad spoken to her but very rarely or indirectly as yet of his own
religious or philosophical beliefs. She was in a stage when such things
interested her but little, and reticence in personal matters was so much
the law of his life that even to her expansion was difficult. So
that--inevitably--she was arrested, for the moment, as any quick
perception must be, by the things that unveil character.

Then an upheaval of indignant feeling swept the impression away. All
that he said might be ideally, profoundly true--_but_--the red blood of
the common life was lacking in every word of it! He ought to be
incapable of saying it _now_. Her passionate question was, how could he
_argue_--how could he hold and mark the ethical balance--when a _woman_
was suffering, when _children_ were to be left fatherless? Besides--the
ethical balance itself--does it not alter according to the hands that
hold it--poacher or landlord, rich or poor?

But she was too exhausted to carry on the contest in words. Both felt it
would have to be renewed. But she said to herself secretly that Mr.
Wharton, when he got to work, would alter the whole aspect of affairs.
And she knew well that her vantage-ground as towards Aldous was strong.

Then at last he was free to turn his whole attention for a little to her
and her physical state, which made him miserable. He had never imagined
that any one, vigorous and healthy as she was, could look so worn out in
so short a time. She let him talk to her--lament, entreat, advise--and
at last she took advantage of his anxiety and her admissions to come to
the point, to plead that the marriage should be put off.

She used the same arguments that she had done to her mother.

"How can I bear to be thinking of these things?"--she pointed a shaking
finger at the dress patterns lying scattered on the table--"with this
agony, this death, under my eyes?"

It was a great blow to him, and the practical inconveniences involved
were great. But the fibre of him--of which she had just felt the
toughness--was delicate and sensitive as her own, and after a very short
recoil he met her with great chivalry and sweetness, agreeing that
everything should be put off for six weeks, till Easter in fact. She
would have been very grateful to him but that something--some secret
thought--checked the words she tried to say.

"I must go home then," he said, rising and trying to smile. "I shall
have to make things straight with Aunt Neta, and set a great many
arrangements in train. Now, you will _try_ to think of something else?
Let me leave you with a book that I can imagine you will read."

She let herself be tended and thought for. At the last, just as he was
going, he said:

"Have you seen Mr. Wharton at all since this happened?"

His manner was just as usual. She felt that her eye was guilty, but the
darkness of the firelit room shielded her.

"I have not seen him since we met him in the drive. I saw the solicitor
who is working up the case for him yesterday. He came over to see Mrs.
Hurd and me. I had not thought of asking him, but we agreed that, if he
would undertake it, it would be the best chance."

"It _is_ probably the best chance," said Aldous, thoughtfully. "I
believe Wharton has not done much at the Bar since he was called, but
that, no doubt, is because he has had so much on his hands in the way of
journalism and politics. His ability is enough for anything, and he will
throw himself into this. I do not think Hurd could do better."

She did not answer. She felt that he was magnanimous, but felt it
coldly, without emotion.

He came and stooped over her.

"Good-night--good-night--tired child--dear heart! When I saw you in that
cottage this morning I thought of the words, 'Give, and it shall be
given unto you.' All that my life can do to pour good measure, pressed
down, running over, into yours, I vowed you then!"

When the door closed upon him, Marcella, stretched in the darkness, shed
the bitterest tears that had ever yet been hers--tears which transformed
her youth--which baptised her, as it were, into the fulness of our
tragic life.

She was still weeping when she heard the door softly opened. She sprang
up and dried her eyes, but the little figure that glided in was not one
to shrink from. Mary Harden came and sat down beside her.

"I knew you would be miserable. Let me come and cry too. I have been my
round--have seen them all--and I came to bring you news."

"How has she taken--the verdict?" asked Marcella, struggling with her
sobs, and succeeding at last in composing herself.

"She was prepared for it. Charlie told her when he saw her after you
left this afternoon that she must expect it."

There was a pause.

"I shall soon hear, I suppose," said Marcella, in a hardening voice, her
hands round her knees, "what Mr. Wharton is doing for the defence. He
will appear before the magistrates, I suppose."

"Yes; but Charlie thinks the defence will be mainly reserved. Only a
little more than a fortnight to the assizes! The time is so short. But
now this man has turned informer, they say the case is quite
straightforward. With all the other evidence the police have there will
be no difficulty in trying them all. Marcella!"

"Yes."

Had there been light enough to show it, Mary's face would have revealed
her timidity.

"Marcella, Charlie asked me to give you a message. He begs you not
to--not to make Mrs. Hurd hope too much. He himself believes there is no
hope, and it is not kind."

"Are you and he like all the rest," cried Marcella, her passion breaking
out again, "only eager to have blood for blood?"

Mary waited an instant.

"It has almost broken Charlie's heart," she said at last; "but he thinks
it was murder, and that Hurd will pay the penalty; nay, more "--she
spoke with a kind of religious awe in her gentle voice--"that he ought
to be glad to pay it. He believes it to be God's will, and I have heard
him say that he would even have executions in public again--under
stricter regulations of course--that we may not escape, as we always do
if we can--from all sight and thought of God's justice and God's
punishments."

Marcella shuddered and rose. She almost threw Mary's hand away from her.

"Tell your brother from me, Mary," she said, "that his God is to _me_
just a constable in the service of the English game-laws! If He _is_
such a one, I at least will fling my Everlasting No at him while I
live."

And she swept from the room, leaving Mary aghast.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile there was consternation and wrath at Maxwell Court, where
Aldous, on his return from Mellor, had first of all given his great-aunt
the news of the coroner's verdict, and had then gone on to break to her
the putting-off of the marriage. His championship of Marcella in the
matter, and his disavowal of all grievance were so quiet and decided,
that Miss Raeburn had been only able to allow herself a very modified
strain of comment and remonstrance, so long as he was still there to
listen. But she was all the more outspoken when he was gone, and Lady
Winterbourne was sitting with her. Lady Winterbourne, who was at home
alone, while her husband was with a married daughter on the Riviera, had
come over to dine _tête-à-tête_ with her friend, finding it impossible
to remain solitary while so much was happening.

"Well, my dear," said Miss Raeburn, shortly, as her guest entered the
room, "I may as well tell you at once that Aldous's marriage is put
off."

"Put off!" exclaimed Lady Winterbourne, bewildered. "Why it was only
Thursday that I was discussing it all with Marcella, and she told me
everything was settled."

"Thursday!--I dare say!" said Miss Raeburn, stitching away with fiery
energy, "but since then a poacher has murdered one of our gamekeepers,
which makes all the difference."

"What _do_ you mean, Agneta?"

"What I say, my dear. The poacher was Marcella's friend, and she cannot
now distract her mind from him sufficiently to marry Aldous, though
every plan he has in the world will be upset by her proceedings. And as
for his election, you may depend upon it she will never ask or know
whether he gets in next Monday or no. That goes without saying. She is
meanwhile absorbed with the poacher's defence, _Mr. Wharton_, of course,
conducting it. This is your modern young woman, my dear--typical, I
should think."

Miss Raeburn turned her buttonhole in fine style, and at lightning
speed, to show the coolness of her mind, then with a rattling of all her
lockets, looked up and waited for Lady Winterbourne's reflections.

"She has often talked to me of these people--the Hurds," said Lady
Winterbourne, slowly. "She has always made special friends with them.
Don't you remember she told us about them that day she first came back
to lunch?"

"Of course I remember! That day she lectured Maxwell, at first sight,
on his duties. She began well. As for these people," said Miss Raeburn,
more slowly, "one is, of course, sorry for the wife and children, though
I am a good deal sorrier for Mrs. Westall, and poor, poor Mrs. Dynes.
The whole affair has so upset Maxwell and me, we have hardly been able
to eat or sleep since. I thought it made Maxwell look dreadfully old
this morning, and with all that he has got before him too! I shall
insist on sending for Clarke to-morrow morning if he does not have a
better night. And now this postponement will be one more trouble--all
the engagements to alter, and the invitations. _Really_! that girl."

And Miss Raeburn broke off short, feeling simply that the words which
were allowed to a well-bred person were wholly inadequate to her state
of mind.

"But if she feels it--as you or I might feel such a thing about some one
we knew or cared for, Agneta?"

"How can she feel it like that?" cried Miss Raeburn, exasperated. "How
can she know any one of--of that class well enough? It is not seemly, I
tell you, Adelaide, and I don't believe it is sincere. It's just done to
make herself conspicuous, and show her power over Aldous. For other
reasons too, if the truth were known!"

Miss Raeburn turned over the shirt she was making for some charitable
society and drew out some tacking threads with a loud noise which
relieved her. Lady Winterbourne's old and delicate cheek had flushed.

"I'm sure it's sincere," she said with emphasis. "Do you mean to say,
Agneta, that one can't sympathise, in such an awful thing, with people
of another class, as one would with one's own flesh and blood?"

Miss Raeburn winced. She felt for a moment the pressure of a democratic
world--a hated, formidable world--through her friend's question. Then
she stood to her guns.

"I dare say you'll think it sounds bad," she said stoutly; "but in my
young days it would have been thought a piece of posing--of
sentimentalism--something indecorous and unfitting--if a girl had put
herself in such a position. Marcella _ought_ to be absorbed in her
marriage; that is the natural thing. How Mrs. Boyce can allow her to mix
herself with such things as this murder--to _live_ in that cottage, as I
hear she has been doing, passes my comprehension."

"You mean," said Lady Winterbourne, dreamily, "that if one had been very
fond of one's maid, and she died, one wouldn't put on mourning for her.
Marcella would."

"I dare say," said Miss Raeburn, snappishly. "She is capable of anything
far-fetched and theatrical."

The door opened and Hallin came in. He had been suffering of late, and
much confined to the house. But the news of the murder had made a deep
and painful impression upon him, and he had been eagerly acquainting
himself with the facts. Miss Raeburn, whose kindness ran with unceasing
flow along the channels she allowed it, was greatly attached to him in
spite of his views, and she now threw herself upon him for sympathy in
the matter of the wedding. In any grievance that concerned Aldous she
counted upon him, and her shrewd eyes had plainly perceived that he had
made no great friendship with Marcella.

"I am very sorry for Aldous," he said at once; "but I understand _her_
perfectly. So does Aldous."

Miss Raeburn was angrily silent. But when Lord Maxwell, who had been
talking with Aldous, came in, he proved, to her final discomfiture, to
be very much of the same opinion.

"My dear," he said wearily as he dropped into his chair, his old face
grey and pinched, "this thing is too terrible--the number of widows and
orphans that night's work will make before the end breaks my heart to
think of. It will be a relief not to have to consider festivities while
these men are actually before the courts. What I am anxious about is
that Marcella should not make herself ill with excitement. The man she
is interested in will be hung, must be hung; and with her somewhat
volatile, impulsive nature--"

He spoke with old-fashioned discretion and measure. Then quickly he
pulled himself up, and, with some trivial question or other, offered his
arm to Lady Winterbourne, for Aldous had just come in, and dinner was
ready.




CHAPTER XII.


Nearly three weeks passed--short flashing weeks, crowded with
agitations, inward or outward, for all the persons of this story.

After the inquiry before the magistrates--conducted, as she passionately
thought, with the most marked animus on the part of the bench and police
towards the prisoners--had resulted in the committal for trial of Hurd
and his five companions, Marcella wrote Aldous Raeburn a letter which
hurt him sorely.

"Don't come over to see me for a little while," it ran. "My mind is all
given over to feelings which must seem to you--which, I know, do seem to
you--unreasonable and unjust. But they are my life, and when they are
criticised, or even treated coldly, I cannot bear it. When you are not
there to argue with, I can believe, most sincerely, that you have a
right to see this matter as you do, and that it is monstrous of me to
expect you to yield to me entirely in a thing that concerns your sense
of public duty. But don't come now--not before the trial. I will appeal
to you if I think you can help me. I _know_ you will if you can. Mr.
Wharton keeps me informed of everything. I enclose his last two letters,
which will show you the line he means to take up with regard to some of
the evidence."

Aldous's reply cost him a prodigal amount of pain and difficulty.

"I will do anything in the world to make these days less of a burden to
you. You can hardly imagine that it is not grievous to me to think of
any trouble of yours as being made worse by my being with you. But still
I understand. One thing only I ask--that you should not imagine the
difference between us greater than it is. The two letters you enclose
have given me much to ponder. If only the course of the trial enables me
with an honest heart to throw myself into your crusade of mercy, with
what joy shall I come and ask you to lead me, and to forgive my own
slower sense and pity!

"I should like you to know that Hallin is very much inclined to agree
with you, to think that the whole affair was a 'scrimmage,' and that
Hurd at least ought to be reprieved. He would have come to talk it over
with you himself, but that Clarke forbids him anything that interests or
excites him for the present. He has been very ill and suffering for the
last fortnight, and, as you know, when these attacks come on we try to
keep everything from him that could pain or agitate him. But I see that
this whole affair is very much on his mind, in spite of my efforts.

"... Oh, my darling! I am writing late at night, with your letter open
before me and your picture close to my hand. So many things rise in my
mind to say to you. There will come a time--there _must!_--when I may
pour them all out. Meanwhile, amid all jars and frets, remember this,
that I have loved you better each day since first we met.

"I will not come to Mellor then for a little while. My election, little
heart as I have for it, will fill up the week. The nomination-day is
fixed for Thursday and the polling for Monday."

Marcella read the letter with a confusion of feeling so great as to be
in itself monstrous and demoralising. Was she never to be simple, to see
her way clearly again?

As for him, as he rode about the lanes and beechwoods in the days that
followed, alone often with that nature for which all such temperaments
as Aldous Raeburn's have so secret and so observant an affection, he was
perpetually occupied with this difficulty which had arisen between
Marcella and himself, turning it over and over in the quiet of the
morning, before the turmoil of the day began.

He had followed the whole case before the magistrates with the most
scrupulous care. And since then, he had twice run across the Widrington
solicitor for the defence, who was now instructing Wharton. This man,
although a strong Radical, and employed generally by his own side, saw
no objection at all to letting Lord Maxwell's heir and representative
understand how in his opinion the case was going. Aldous Raeburn was a
person whom everybody respected; confidences were safe with him; and he
was himself deeply interested in the affair. The Raeburns being the
Raeburns, with all that that implied for smaller people in Brookshire,
little Mr. Burridge was aware of no reason whatever why Westall's
employers should not know that, although Mr. Wharton was working up the
defence with an energy and ability which set Burridge marvelling, it was
still his, Burridge's opinion, that everything that could be advanced
would be wholly unavailing with the jury; that the evidence, as it came
into final shape, looked worse for Hurd rather than better; and that the
only hope for the man lay in the after-movement for reprieve which can
always be got up in a game-preserving case.

"And is as a rule political and anti-landlord," thought Aldous, on one
of these mornings, as he rode along the edge of the down. He foresaw
exactly what would happen. As he envisaged the immediate future, he saw
one figure as the centre of it--not Marcella, but Wharton! Wharton was
defending, Wharton would organise the petition, Wharton would apply for
his own support and his grandfather's, through Marcella. To Wharton
would belong not only the popular _kudos_ of the matter, but much more,
and above all, Marcella's gratitude.

Aldous pulled up his horse an instant, recognising that spot in the
road, that downward stretching glade among the beeches, where he had
asked Marcella to be his wife. The pale February sunlight was spreading
from his left hand through the bare grey trunks, and over the distant
shoulders of the woods, far into the white and purple of the chalk
plain. Sounds of labour came from the distant fields; sounds of winter
birds from the branches round him. The place, the time, raised in him
all the intensest powers of consciousness. He saw himself as the man
_standing midway_ in everything--speculation, politics, sympathies--as
the perennially ineffective and, as it seemed to his morbid mood, the
perennially defeated type, beside the Whartons of this world. Wharton!
He knew him--had read him long ago--read him afresh of late. Raeburn's
lip showed the contempt, the bitterness which the philosopher could not
repress, showed also the humiliation of the lover. Here was he, banished
from Marcella; here was Wharton, in possession of her mind and
sympathies, busily forging a link--

"It shall be _broken!_" said Raeburn to himself with a sudden fierce
concentration of will. "So much I will claim--and enforce."

But not now, nothing now, but patience, delicacy, prudence. He gathered
himself together with a long breath, and went his way.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the rest, the clash of motives and affections he felt and foresaw in
this matter of the Disley murders, became day by day more harassing. The
moral debate was strenuous enough. The murders had roused all the humane
and ethical instincts, which were in fact the man, to such a point that
they pursued him constantly, in the pauses of his crowded days, like
avenging Erinnyes. Hallin's remark that "game-preserving creates crime"
left him no peace. Intellectually he argued it, and on the whole
rejected it; morally, and in feeling, it scourged him. He had suffered
all his mature life under a too painful and scrupulous sense that he,
more than other men, was called to be his brother's keeper. It was
natural that, during these exhausting days, the fierce death on
Westall's rugged face, the piteous agony in Dynes's young eyes and
limbs, should haunt him, should make his landlord's place and
responsibility often mere ashes and bitterness.

But, as Marcella had been obliged to perceive, he drew the sharpest line
between the bearings of this ghastly business on his own private life
and action, and its relation to public order. That the gamekeepers
destroyed were his servants, or practically his servants, made no
difference to him whatever in his estimate of the crime itself. If the
circumstances had been such that he could honestly have held Hurd not to
be a murderer, no employer's interest, no landlord's desire for
vengeance, would have stood in his way. On the other hand, believing, as
he emphatically did, that Hurd's slaying of Westall had been of a kind
more deliberate and less capable of excuse than most murders, he would
have held it a piece of moral cowardice to allow his own qualms and
compunctions as to the rights and wrongs of game-preserving to interfere
with a duty to justice and society.

Ay! and something infinitely dearer to him than his own qualms and
compunctions.

Hallin, who watched the whole debate in his friend day by day, was
conscious that he had never seen Aldous more himself, in spite of
trouble of mind; more "in character," so to speak, than at this moment.
Spiritual dignity of mind and temper, blended with a painful personal
humility, and interfused with all--determining all--elements of
judgment, subtleties, prejudices, modes of looking at things, for which
he was hardly responsible, so deeply ingrained were they by inheritance
and custom. More than this: did not the ultimate explanation of the
whole attitude of the man lie in the slow but irresistible revolt of a
strong individuality against the passion which had for a time suppressed
it? The truth of certain moral relations may be for a time obscured and
distorted; none the less, _reality_ wins the day. So Hallin read it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, during days when both for Aldous and Wharton the claims of a
bustling, shouting public, which must be canvassed, shaken hands with,
and spoken to, and the constant alternations of business meetings,
committee-rooms and the rest, made it impossible, after all, for either
man to spend more than the odds and ends of thought upon anything
outside the clatter of politics, Marcella had been living a life of
intense and monotonous feeling, shut up almost within the walls of a
tiny cottage, hanging over sick-beds, and thrilling to each pulse of
anguish as it beat in the miserable beings she tended.

The marriage of the season, with all its accompanying festivities and
jubilations, had not been put off for seven weeks--till after
Easter--without arousing a storm of critical astonishment both in
village and county. And when the reason was known--that it was because
Miss Boyce had taken the Disley murder so desperately to heart, that
until the whole affair was over, and the men either executed or
reprieved, she could spare no thought to wedding clothes or cates--there
was curiously little sympathy with Marcella. Most of her own class
thought it a piece of posing, if they did not say so as frankly as Miss
Raeburn--something done for self-advertisement and to advance
anti-social opinions; while the Mellor cottagers, with the instinctive
English recoil from any touch of sentiment not, so to speak, in the
bargain, gossiped and joked about it freely.

"She can't be very fond o' 'im, not of Muster Raeburn, she can't," said
old Patton, delivering himself as he sat leaning on his stick at his
open door, while his wife and another woman or two chattered inside.
"_Not_ what I'd call lover-y. She don't want to run in harness, she
don't, no sooner than, she need. She's a peert filly is Miss Boyce."

"I've been a-waitin', an' a-waitin'," said his wife, with her gentle
sigh, "to hear summat o' that new straw-plaitin' she talk about. But
nary a word. They do say as it's give up althegither."

"No, she's took up wi' nursin' Minta Hurd--wonderful took up," said
another woman. "They do say as Ann Mullins can't abear her. When she's
there nobody can open their mouth. When that kind o' thing happens in
the fambly it's bad enoof without havin' a lady trailin' about you all
day long, so that you have to be mindin' yersel', an' thinkin' about
givin' her a cheer, an' the like."

One day in the dusk, more than a fortnight after the inquest, Marcella,
coming from the Hurds' cottage, overtook Mrs. Jellison, who was going
home after spending the afternoon with her daughter.

Hitherto Marcella had held aloof from Isabella Westall and her
relations, mainly, to do her justice, from fear lest she might somehow
hurt or offend them. She had been to see Charlie Dynes's mother, but she
had only brought herself to send a message of sympathy through Mary
Harden to the keeper's widow.

Mrs. Jellison looked at her askance with her old wild eyes as Marcella
came up with her.

"Oh, she's _puddlin'_ along," she said in answer to Marcella's inquiry,
using a word very familiar in the village. "She'll not do herself a
mischief while there's Nurse Ellen an' me to watch her like a pair o'
cats. She's dreadful upset, is Isabella--shouldn't ha' thought it of
her. That fust day"--a cloud darkened the curious, dreamy face--"no, I'm
not a-goin' to think about that fust day, I'm not, 'tain't a ha'porth o'
good," she added resolutely; "but she was all right when they'd let her
get 'im 'ome, and wash an' settle 'im, an' put 'im comfortable like in
his coffin. He wor a big man, miss, when he wor laid out! Searle, as
made the coffin, told her as ee 'adn't made one such an extry size since
old Harry Flood, the blacksmith, fifteen year ago. Ee'd soon a done for
Jim Hurd if it 'ad been fists o' both sides. But guns is things as yer
can't reckon on.".

"Why didn't he let Hurd alone," said Marcella, sadly, "and prosecute him
next day? It's attacking men when their blood is up that brings these
awful hings about."

"Wal, I don't see that," said Mrs. Jellison, pugnaciously; "he wor paid
to do 't--an' he had the law on his side. 'Ow 's she?" she said,
lowering her voice and jerking her thumb in the direction of the Hurds'
cottage.

"She's very ill," replied Marcella, with a contraction of the brow.
"Dr. Clarke says she ought to stay in bed, but of course she won't."

"They're a-goin' to try 'im Thursday?" said Mrs. Jellison, inquiringly.

"Yes."

"An' Muster Wharton be a-goin' to defend 'im. Muster Wharton may be
cliver, ee may--they do say as ee can see the grass growin', ee's that
knowin'--but ee'll not get Jim Hurd off; there's nobody in the village
as b'lieves for a moment as 'ow he will. They'll best 'im. Lor' bless
yer, they'll best 'im. I was a-sayin' it to Isabella this
afternoon--ee'll not save 'is neck, don't you be afeared."

Marcella drew herself up with a shiver of repulsion.

"Will it mend your daughter's grief to see another woman's heart broken?
Don't you suppose it might bring her some comfort, Mrs. Jellison, if she
were to try and forgive that poor wretch? She might remember that her
husband gave him provocation, and that anyway, if his life is spared,
his punishment and their misery will be heavy enough!"

"Oh, lor' no!" said Mrs. Jellison, composedly. "She don't want to be
forgivin' of 'im. Mr. Harden ee come talkin' to 'er, but she isn't one
o' that sort, isn't Isabella. I'm sartin sure she'll be better in
'erself when they've put 'im out o' the way. It makes her all ov a fever
to think of Muster Wharton gettin' 'im off. _I_ don't bear Jim Hurd no
pertickler malice. Isabella may talk herself black i' the face, but she
and Johnnie'll have to come 'ome and live along o' me, whatever she may
say. She can't stay in that cottage, cos they'll be wantin' it for
another keeper. Lord Maxwell ee's givin' her a fine pension, my word ee
is! an' says ee'll look after Johnnie. And what with my bit
airnins--we'll do, yer know, miss--we'll do!"

The old woman looked up with a nod, her green eyes sparkling with the
queer inhuman light that belonged to them.

Marcella could not bring herself to say good-night to her, and was
hurrying on without a word, when Mrs. Jellison stopped her.

"An' 'ow about that straw-plaitin', miss?" she said slyly.

"I have had to put it on one side for a bit," said Marcella, coldly,
hating the woman's society. "I have had my hands full and Lady
Winterbourne has been away, but we shall, of course, take it up again
later."

She walked away quickly, and Mrs. Jellison hobbled after her, grinning
to herself every now and then as she caught the straight, tall figure
against the red evening sky.

"I'll go in ter town termorrer," she thought, "an' have a crack wi'
Jimmy Gedge; _ee_ needn't be afeard for 'is livin'. An' them great fules
as ha' bin runnin' in a string arter 'er, an' cacklin' about their
eighteen-pence a score, as I've told 'em times, I'll eat my apron the
fust week as iver they get it. I don't hold wi' ladies--no, nor passons
neither--not when it comes to meddlin' wi' your wittles, an' dictatin'
to yer about forgivin' them as ha' got the better ov yer. That young
lady there, what do she matter? That sort's allus gaddin' about? What'll
she keer about us when she's got 'er fine husband? Here o' Saturday,
gone o' Monday--that's what she is. Now Jimmy Gedge, yer kin allus count
on '_im._ Thirty-six year ee ha' set there in that 'ere shop, and I
guess ee'll set there till they call 'im ter kingdom come. Be's a
cheatin', sweatin', greedy old skinflint is Jimmy Gedge; but when yer
wants 'im yer _kin_ find 'im."

       *       *       *       *       *

Marcella hurried home, she was expecting a letter from Wharton, the
third within a week. She had not set eyes on him since they had met that
first morning in the drive, and it was plain to her that he was as
unwilling as she was that there should be any meeting between them.
Since the moment of his taking up the case, in spite of the pressure of
innumerable engagements, he had found time to send her, almost daily,
sheets covered with his small even writing, in which every detail and
prospect of the legal situation, so far as it concerned James Hurd, were
noted and criticised with a shrewdness and fulness which never wavered,
and never lost for a moment the professional note.

"Dear Miss Boyce"--the letters began--leading up to a "Yours
faithfully," which Marcella read as carefully as the rest. Often, as she
turned them over, she asked herself whether that scene in the library
had not been a mere delusion of the brain, whether the man whose wild
words and act had burnt themselves into her life could possibly be
writing her these letters, in this key, without a reference, without an
allusion. Every day, as she opened them, she looked them through quietly
with a shaking pulse; every day she found herself proudly able to hand
them on to her mother, with the satisfaction of one who has nothing to
conceal, whatever the rest of the world may suspect. He was certainly
doing his best to replace their friendship on that level of high
comradeship in ideas and causes which, as she told herself, it had once
occupied. His own wanton aggression and her weakness had toppled it down
thence, and brought it to ruin. She could never speak to him, never know
him again till it was re-established. Still his letters galled her. He
assumed, she supposed, that such a thing could happen, and nothing more
be said about it? How little he knew her, or what she had in her mind!

Now, as she walked along, wrapped in her plaid cape, her thought was one
long tumultuous succession of painful or passionate images, interrupted
none the less at times by those curious self-observing pauses of which
she had always been capable. She had been sitting for hours beside Mrs.
Hurd, with little Willie upon her knees. The mother, always anaemic and
consumptive, was by now prostrate, the prey of a long-drawn agony,
peopled by visions of Jim alone and in prison--Jim on the scaffold with
the white cap over his eyes--Jim in the prison coffin--which would rouse
her shrieking from dreams which were the rending asunder of soul and
body. Minta Hurd's love for the unhappy being who had brought her to
this pass had been infinitely maternal. There had been a boundless pity
in it, and the secret pride of a soul, which, humble and modest towards
all the rest of the world, yet knew itself to be the breath and
sustenance, the indispensable aid of one other soul in the universe, and
gloried accordingly. To be cut off now from all ministration, all
comforting--to have to lie there like a log, imagining the moment when
the neighbours should come in and say, "It is all over--they have broken
his neck--and buried him"--it was a doom beyond all even that her timid
pessimist heart had ever dreamed. She had already seen him twice in
prison, and she knew that she would see him again. She was to go on
Monday, Miss Boyce said, before the trial began, and after--if they
brought him in guilty--they would let her say good-bye. She was always
thirsting to see him. But when she went, the prison surroundings
paralysed her. Both she and Hurd felt themselves caught in the wheels of
a great relentless machine, of which the workings filled them with a
voiceless terror. He talked to her spasmodically of the most incongruous
things--breaking out sometimes with a glittering eye into a string of
instances bearing on Westall's bullying and tyrannous ways. He told her
to return the books Miss Boyce had lent him, but when asked if he would
like to see Marcella he shrank and said no. Mr. Wharton was "doin'
capital" for him; but she wasn't to count on his getting off. And he
didn't know that he wanted to, neither. Once she took Willie to see him;
the child nearly died of the journey; and the father, "though any one
can see, miss, he's just sick for 'im," would not hear of his coming
again. Sometimes he would hardly kiss her at parting; he sat on his
chair, with his great head drooped forward over his red hands, lost in a
kind of animal lethargy. Westall's name always roused him. Hate still
survived. But it made _her_ life faint within her to talk of the
murdered man--wherein she showed her lack of the usual peasant's
realism and curiosity in the presence of facts of blood and violence.
When she was told it was time for her to go, and the heavy door was
locked behind her, the poor creature, terrified at the warder and the
bare prison silences, would hurry away as though the heavy hand of this
awful Justice were laid upon her too, torn by the thought of him she
left behind, and by the remembrance that he had only kissed her once,
and yet impelled by mere physical instinct towards the relief of Ann
Mullins's rough face waiting for her--of the outer air and the free
heaven.

As for Willie, he was fast dwindling. Another week or two--the doctor
said--no more. He lay on Marcella's knee on a pillow, wasted to an
infant's weight, panting and staring with those strange blue eyes, but
always patient, always struggling to say his painful "thank you" when
she fed him with some of the fruit constantly sent her from Maxwell
Court. Everything that was said about his father he took in and
understood, but he did not seem to fret. His mother was almost divided
from him by this passivity of the dying; nor could she give him or his
state much attention. Her gentle, sensitive, but not profound nature was
strained already beyond bearing by more gnawing griefs.

After her long sit in Mrs. Hurd's kitchen Marcella found the air of the
February evening tonic and delightful. Unconsciously impressions stole
upon her--the lengthening day, the celandines in the hedges, the
swelling lilac buds in the cottage gardens. They spoke to her youth, and
out of mere physical congruity it could not but respond. Still, her face
kept the angered look with which she had parted from Mrs. Jellison.
More than that--the last few weeks had visibly changed it, had graved
upon it the signs of "living." It was more beautiful than ever in its
significant black and white, but it was older--a _woman_ spoke from it.
Marcella had gone down into reality, and had found there the rebellion
and the storm for which such souls as hers are made. Rebellion most of
all. She had been living with the poor, in their stifling rooms, amid
their perpetual struggle for a little food and clothes and bodily ease;
she had seen this struggle, so hard in itself, combined with agonies of
soul and spirit, which made the physical destitution seem to the
spectator something brutally gratuitous, a piece of careless and
tyrannous cruelty on the part of Nature--or God? She would hardly let
herself think of Aldous--though she _must_ think of him by-and-by! He
and his fared sumptuously every hour! As for her, it was as though in
her woman's arms, on her woman's breast, she carried Lazarus all day,
stooping to him with a hungering pity. And Aldous stood aloof. Aldous
would not help her--or not with any help worth having--in consoling this
misery--binding up these sores. Her heart cried shame on him. She had a
crime against him to confess--but she felt herself his superior none the
less. If he cast her off--why then surely they would be quits, quits for
good and all.

As she reached the front door of Mellor, she saw a little two-wheeled
cart standing outside it, and William holding the pony.

Visitors were nowadays more common at Mellor than they had been, and
her instinct was to escape. But as she was turning to a side door
William touched his cap to her.

"Mr. Wharton's waiting to see you, miss."

She stopped sharply.

"Where is Mrs. Boyce, William?"

"In the drawing-room, miss."

She walked in calmly. Wharton was standing on the rug, talking; Mrs.
Boyce was listening to what he had to say with the light repellent air
Marcella knew so well.

When she came in Wharton stepped forward ceremoniously to shake hands,
then began to speak at once, with the manner of one who is on a business
errand and has no time to waste.

"I thought it best, Miss Boyce, as I had unexpectedly a couple of spare
hours this evening, to come and let you know how things were going. You
understand that the case comes on at the assizes next Thursday?"

Marcella assented. She had seated herself on the old sofa beside the
fire, her ungloved hands on her knee. Something in her aspect made
Wharton's eyes waver an instant as he looked down upon her--but it was
the only sign.

"I should like to warn you," he said gravely, "that I entertain no hope
whatever of getting James Hurd off. I shall do my best, but the verdict
will certainly be murder; and the judge, I think, is sure to take a
severe view. We may get a recommendation to mercy, though I believe it
to be extremely unlikely. But if so, the influence of the judge,
according to what I hear, will probably be against us. The prosecution
have got together extremely strong evidence--as to Hurd's long
connection with the gang, in spite of the Raeburns' kindness--as to his
repeated threats that he would 'do for' Westall if he and his friends
were interrupted--and so on. His own story is wholly uncorroborated; and
Dynes's deposition, so far as it goes, is all against it."

He went on to elaborate these points with great clearness of exposition
and at some length; then he paused.

"This being so," he resumed, "the question is, what can be done? There
must be a petition. Amongst my own party I shall be, of course, able to
do something, but we must have men of all sides. Without some at least
of the leading Conservatives, we shall fare badly. In one word--do you
imagine that you can induce Mr. Raeburn and Lord Maxwell to sign?"

Mrs. Boyce watched him keenly. Marcella sat in frozen paleness.

"I will try," she said at last, with deliberation.

"Then"--he took up his gloves--"there may be a chance for us. If you
cannot succeed, no one else can. But if Lord Maxwell and Mr. Raeburn can
be secured, others will easily follow. Their names--especially under all
the circumstances--will carry a peculiar weight. I may say everything,
in the first instance--the weight, the first effect of the
petition--depends on them. Well, then, I leave it in your hands. No time
should be lost after the sentence. As to the grounds of our plea, I
shall, of course, lay them down in court to the best of my ability."

"I shall be there," she interrupted.

He started. So did Mrs. Boyce, but characteristically she made no
comment.

"Well, then," he resumed after a pause, "I need say no more for the
present. How is the wife?"

She replied, and a few other formal sentences of inquiry or comment
passed between them.

"And your election?" said Mrs. Boyce, still studying him with hostile
eyes, as he got up to take leave.

"To-morrow!" He threw up his hands with a little gesture of impatience.
"That at least will be one thread spun off and out of the way, whatever
happens. I must get back to Widrington as fast as my pony can carry me.
Good-bye, Miss Boyce."

Marcella went slowly upstairs. The scene which had just passed was
unreal, impossible; yet every limb was quivering. Then the sound of the
front door shutting sent a shock through her whole nature. The first
sensation was one of horrible emptiness, forlornness. The next--her mind
threw itself with fresh vehemence upon the question, "Can I, by any
means, get my way with Aldous?"




CHAPTER XIII.


"And may the Lord have mercy on your soul!" The deep-pitched words fell
slowly on Marcella's ears, as she sat leaning forward in the gallery of
the Widrington Assize Court. Women were sobbing beside and behind her.
Minta Hurd, to her left, lay in a half-swoon against her sister-in-law,
her face buried in Ann's black shawl. For an instant after Hurd's death
sentence had been spoken Marcella's nerves ceased to throb--the long
exhaustion of feeling stopped. The harsh light and shade of the ill-lit
room; the gas-lamps in front of the judge, blanching the ranged faces of
the jury; the long table of reporters below, some writing, but most
looking intently towards the dock; the figure of Wharton opposite, in
his barrister's gown and wig--that face of his, so small, nervous,
delicate--the frowning eyebrows a dark bar under the white of the
wig--his look, alert and hostile, fixed upon the judge; the heads and
attitudes of the condemned men, especially the form of a fair-haired
youth, the principal murderer of Charlie Dynes, who stood a little in
front of the line, next to Hurd, and overshadowing his dwarf's
stature--these things Marcella saw indeed; for years after she could
have described them point by point; but for some seconds or minutes her
eyes stared at them without conscious reaction of the mind on the
immediate spectacle.

In place of it, the whole day, all these hours that she had been sitting
there, brushed before her in a synthesis of thought, replacing the
stream of impressions and images. The crushing accumulation of hostile
evidence--witness after witness coming forward to add to the damning
weight of it; the awful weakness of the defence--Wharton's irritation
under it--the sharpness, the useless, acrid ability of his
cross-examinations; yet, contrasting with the legal failure, the
personal success, the mixture of grace with energy, the technical
accomplishment of the manner, as one wrestling before his
equals--nothing left here of the garrulous vigour and brutality of the
labourers' meeting!--the masterly use of all that could avail, the few
quiet words addressed at the end to the pity of the jury, and by
implication to the larger ethical sense of the community,--all this she
thought of with great intellectual clearness while the judge's sonorous
voice rolled along, sentencing each prisoner in turn. Horror and pity
were alike weary; the brain asserted itself.

The court was packed. Aldous Raeburn sat on Marcella's right hand; and
during the day the attention of everybody in the dingy building had been
largely divided between the scene below, and that strange group in the
gallery where the man who had just been elected Conservative member for
East Brookshire, who was Lord Maxwell's heir, and Westall's employer,
sat beside his betrothed, in charge of a party which comprised not only
Marcella Boyce, but the wife, sister, and little girl of Westall's
murderer.

On one occasion some blunt answer of a witness had provoked a laugh
coming no one knew whence. The judge turned to the gallery and looked up
sternly--"I cannot conceive why men and women--women especially--should
come crowding in to hear such a case as this; but if I hear another
laugh I shall clear the court." Marcella, whose whole conscious nature
was by now one network of sensitive nerve, saw Aldous flush and shrink
as the words were spoken. Then, looking across the court, she caught the
eye of an old friend of the Raeburns, a county magistrate. At the
judge's remark he had turned involuntarily to where she and Aldous sat;
then, as he met Miss Boyce's face, instantly looked away again. She
perfectly--passionately--understood that Brookshire was very sorry for
Aldous Raeburn that day.

The death sentences--three in number--were over. The judge was a very
ordinary man; but, even for the ordinary man, such an act carries with
it a great tradition of what is befitting, which imposes itself on voice
and gesture. When he ceased, the deep breath of natural emotion could be
felt and heard throughout the crowded court; loud wails of sobbing women
broke from the gallery.

"Silence!" cried an official voice, and the judge resumed, amid stifled
sounds that stabbed Marcella's sense, once more nakedly alive to
everything around it.

The sentences to penal servitude came to an end also. Then a ghastly
pause. The line of prisoners directed by the warders turned right about
face towards a door in the back wall of the court. As the men filed
out, the tall, fair youth, one of those condemned to death, stopped an
instant and waved his hand to his sobbing sweetheart in the gallery.
Hurd also turned irresolutely.

"Look!" exclaimed Ann Mullins, propping up the fainting woman beside
her, "he's goin'."

Marcella bent forward. She, rather than the wife, caught the last look
on his large dwarf's face, so white and dazed, the eyes blinking under
the gas.

Aldous touched her softly on the arm.

"Yes," she said quickly, "yes, we must get her out. Ann, can you lift
her?"

Aldous went to one side of the helpless woman: Ann Mullins held her on
the other. Marcella followed, pressing the little girl close against her
long black cloak. The gallery made way for them; every one looked and
whispered till they had passed. Below, at the foot of the stairs, they
found themselves in a passage crowded with people--lawyers, witnesses,
officials, mixed with the populace. Again a road was opened for Aldous
and his charges.

"This way, Mr. Raeburn," said a policeman, with alacrity. "Stand back,
please! Is your carriage there, sir?"

"Let Ann Mullins take her--put them into the cab--I want to speak to Mr.
Wharton," said Marcella in Aldous's ear.

"Get me a cab at once," he said to the policeman, "and tell my carriage
to wait."

"Miss Boyce!"

Marcella turned hastily and saw Wharton beside her. Aldous also saw
him, and the two men interchanged a few words.

"There is a private room close by," said Wharton, "I am to take you
there, and Mr. Raeburn will join us at once."

He led her along a corridor, and opened a door to the left. They entered
a small dingy room, looking through a begrimed window on a courtyard.
The gas was lit, and the table was strewn with papers.

"Never, never more beautiful!" flashed through Wharton's mind, "with
that knit, strenuous brow--that tragic scorn for a base world--that
royal gait--"

Aloud he said:

"I have done my best privately among the people I can get at, and I
thought, before I go up to town to-night--you know Parliament meets on
Monday?--I would show you what I had been able to do, and ask you to
take charge of a copy of the petition." He pointed to a long envelope
lying on the table. "I have drafted it myself--I think it puts all the
points we can possibly urge--but as to the names--"

He took out a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket.

"It won't do," he said, looking down at it, and shaking his head. "As I
said to you, it is so far political merely. There is a very strong
Liberal and Radical feeling getting up about the case. But that won't
carry us far. This petition with these names is a demonstration against
game preserving and keepers' tyranny. What we want is the co-operation
of a _neighbourhood_, especially of its leading citizens. However, I
explained all this to you--there is no need to discuss it. Will you look
at the list?"

Still holding it, he ran his finger over it, commenting here and there.
She stood beside him; the sleeve of his gown brushed her black cloak;
and under his perfect composure there beat a wild exultation in his
power--without any apology, any forgiveness--to hold her there, alone
with him, listening--her proud head stooped to his--her eye following
his with this effort of anxious attention.

She made a few hurried remarks on the names, but her knowledge of the
county was naturally not very serviceable. He folded up the paper and
put it back.

"I think we understand," he said. "You will do what you can in the only
quarter"--he spoke slowly--"that can really aid, and you will
communicate with me at the House of Commons? I shall do what I can, of
course, when the moment comes, in Parliament, and meanwhile I shall
start the matter in the Press--our best hope. The Radical papers are
already taking it up."

There was a sound of steps in the passage outside. A policeman opened
the door, and Aldous Raeburn entered. His quick look ran over the two
figures standing beside the table.

"I had some difficulty in finding a cab," he explained, "and we had to
get some brandy; but she came round, and we got her off. I sent one of
our men with her. The carriage is here."

He spoke--to Marcella--with some formality. He was very pale, but there
was both authority and tension in his bearing.

"I have been consulting with Miss Boyce," said Wharton, with equal
distance of manner, "as to the petition we are sending up to the Home
Office."

Aldous made no reply.

"One word, Miss Boyce,"--Wharton quietly turned to her. "May I ask you
to read the petition carefully, before you attempt to do anything with
it? It lays stress on the _only_ doubt that can reasonably be felt after
the evidence, and after the judge's summing up. That particular doubt I
hold to be entirely untouched by the trial; but it requires careful
stating--the issues may easily be confused."

"Will you come?" said Aldous to Marcella. What she chose to think the
forced patience of his tone exasperated her.

"I will do everything I can," she said in a low, distinct voice to
Wharton. "Good-bye."

She held out her hand. To both the moment was one of infinite meaning;
to her, in her high spiritual excitement, a sacrament of pardon and
gratitude--expressed once for all--by this touch--in Aldous Raeburn's
presence.

The two men nodded to each other. Wharton was already busy, putting his
papers together.

"We shall meet next week, I suppose, in the House?" said Wharton,
casually. "Good-night."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Will you take me to the Court?" said Marcella to Aldous, directly the
door of the carriage was shut upon them, and, amid a gaping crowd that
almost filled the little market-place of Widrington, the horses moved
off. "I told mamma, that, if I did not come home, I should be with you,
and that I should ask you to send me back from the Court to-night."

She still held the packet Wharton had given her in her hand. As though
for air, she had thrown back the black gauze veil she had worn all
through the trial, and, as they passed through the lights of the town,
Aldous could see in her face the signs--the plain, startling signs--of
the effect of these weeks upon her. Pale, exhausted, yet showing in
every movement the nervous excitement which was driving her on--his
heart sank as he looked at her--foreseeing what was to come.

As soon as the main street had been left behind, he put his head out of
the window, and gave the coachman, who had been told to go to Mellor,
the new order.

"Will you mind if I don't talk?" said Marcella, when he was again beside
her. "I think I am tired out, but I might rest now a little. When we get
to the Court, will you ask Miss Raeburn to let me have some food in her
sitting-room? Then, at nine o'clock or so, may I come down and see Lord
Maxwell and you--together?"

What she said, and the manner in which she said it, could only add to
his uneasiness; but he assented, put a cushion behind her, wrapped the
rugs round her, and then sat silent, train after train of close and
anxious thought passing through his mind as they rolled along the dark
roads.

When they arrived at Maxwell Court, the sound of the carriage brought
Lord Maxwell and Miss Raeburn at once into the hall.

Aldous went forward in front of Marcella. "I have brought Marcella," he
said hastily to his aunt. "Will you take her upstairs to your
sitting-room, and let her have some food and rest? She is not fit for
the exertion of dinner, but she wishes to speak to my grandfather
afterwards."

Lord Maxwell had already hurried to meet the black-veiled figure
standing proudly in the dim light of the outer hall.

"My dear! my dear!" he said, drawing her arm within his, and patting her
hand in fatherly fashion. "How worn-out you look!--Yes,
certainly--Agneta, take her up and let her rest--And you wish to speak
to me afterwards? Of course, my dear, of course--at any time."

Miss Raeburn, controlling herself absolutely, partly because of Aldous's
manner, partly because of the servants, took her guest upstairs
straightway, put her on the sofa in a cheerful sitting-room with a
bright fire, and then, shrewdly guessing that she herself could not
possibly be a congenial companion to the girl at such a moment, whatever
might have happened or might be going to happen, she looked at her
watch, said that she must go down to dinner, and promptly left her to
the charge of a kind elderly maid, who was to do and get for her
whatever she would.

Marcella made herself swallow some food and wine. Then she said that she
wished to be alone and rest for an hour, and would come downstairs at
nine o'clock. The maid, shocked by her pallor, was loth to leave her,
but Marcella insisted.

When she was left alone she drew herself up to the fire and tried hard
to get warm, as she had tried to eat. When in this way a portion of
physical ease and strength had come back to her, she took out the
petition from its envelope and read it carefully. As she did so her lip
relaxed, her eye recovered something of its brightness. All the points
that had occurred to her confusedly, amateurishly, throughout the day,
were here thrown into luminous and admirable form. She had listened to
them indeed, as urged by Wharton in his concluding speech to the jury,
but it had not, alas! seemed so marvellous to her then, as it did now,
that, _after_ such a plea, the judge should have summed up as he did.

When she had finished it and had sat thinking awhile over the declining
fire, an idea struck her. She took a piece of paper from Miss Raeburn's
desk, and wrote on it:

"Will you read this--and Lord Maxwell--before I come down? I forgot that
you had not seen it.--M."

A ring at the bell brought the maid.

"Will you please get this taken to Mr. Raeburn? And then, don't disturb
me again for half an hour."

And for that time she lay in Miss Raeburn's favourite chair, outwardly
at rest. Inwardly she was ranging all her arguments, marshalling all her
forces.

When the chiming clock in the great hall below struck nine, she got up
and put the lamp for a moment on the mantelpiece, which held a mirror.
She had already bathed her face and smoothed her hair. But she looked at
herself again with attention, drew down the thick front waves of hair a
little lower on the white brow, as she liked to have them, and once
more straightened the collar and cuffs which were the only relief to her
plain black dress.

The house as she stepped out into it seemed very still. Perfumed breaths
of flowers and pot-pourri ascended from the hall. The pictures along the
walls as she passed were those same Caroline and early Georgian beauties
that had so flashingly suggested her own future rule in this domain on
the day when Aldous proposed to her.

She felt suddenly very shrinking and lonely as she went downstairs. The
ticking of a large clock somewhere--the short, screaming note of Miss
Raeburn's parrot in one of the ground-floor rooms--these sounds and the
beating of her own heart seemed to have the vast house to themselves.

No!--that was a door opening--Aldous coming to fetch her. She drew a
childish breath of comfort.

He sprang up the stairs, two or three steps at a time, as he saw her
coming.

"Are you rested--were they good to you? Oh! my precious one!--how pale
you are still! Will you come and see my--grandfather now? He is quite
ready."

She let him lead her in. Lord Maxwell was standing by his writing-table,
leaning over the petition which was open before him--one hand upon it.
At sight of her he lifted his white head. His fine aquiline face was
grave and disturbed. But nothing could have been kinder or more courtly
than his manner as he came towards her.

"Sit down in that chair. Aldous, make her comfortable. Poor child, how
tired she looks! I hear you wished to speak to me on this most unhappy,
most miserable business."

Marcella, who was sitting erect on the edge of the chair into which
Aldous had put her, lifted her eyes with a sudden confidence. She had
always liked Lord Maxwell.

"Yes," she said, struggling to keep down eagerness and emotion. "Yes, I
came to bring you this petition, which is to be sent up to the Home
Secretary on behalf of Jim Hurd, and--and--to _beg_ of you and Aldous to
sign it, if in any way you can. I know it will be difficult, but I
thought I might--I might be able to suggest something to you--to
convince you--as I have known these people so well--and it is very
important to have your signatures."

How crude it sounded--how mechanical! She felt that she had not yet
command of herself. The strange place, the stately room, the
consciousness of Aldous behind her--Aldous, who should have been on her
side and was not--all combined to intimidate her.

Lord Maxwell's concern was evident. In the first place, he was
painfully, unexpectedly struck by the change in the speaker. Why, what
had Aldous been about? So thin! so frail and willowy in her black
dress--monstrous!

"My dear," he said, walking up to her and laying a fatherly hand on her
shoulder, "my dear, I wish I could make you understand how gladly I
would do this, or anything else, for you, if I honourably could. I would
do it for your sake and for your grandfather's sake. But--this is a
matter of conscience, of public duty, both for Aldous and myself. You
will not surely _wish_ even, that we should be governed in our relations
to it by any private feeling or motive?"

"No, but I have had no opportunity of speaking to you about it--and I
take such a different view from Aldous. He knows--everybody must
know--that there is another side, another possible view from that which
the judge took. You weren't in court to-day, were you, at all?"

"No. But I read all the evidence before the magistrates with great care,
and I have just talked over the crucial points with Aldous, who followed
everything to-day, as you know, and seems to have taken special note of
Mr. Wharton's speeches."

"Aldous!"--her voice broke irrepressibly into another note--"I thought
he would have let me speak to you first!--to-night!"

Lord Maxwell, looking quickly at his grandson, was very sorry for him.
Aldous bent over her chair.

"You remember," he said, "you sent down the petition. I thought that
meant that we were to read and discuss it. I am very sorry."

She tried to command herself, pressing her hand to her brow. But already
she felt the irrevocable, and anger and despair were rising.

"The whole point lies in this," she said, looking up: "_Can_ we believe
Hurd's own story? There is no evidence to corroborate it. I grant
that--the judge did not believe it--and there is the evidence of hatred.
But is it not possible and conceivable all the same? He says that he did
not go out with any thought whatever of killing Westall, but that when
Westall came upon him with his stick up, threatening and abusing him,
as he had done often before, in a fit of wild rage he shot at him.
Surely, _surely_ that is conceivable? There _is_--there _must_ be a
doubt; or, if it is murder, murder done in that way is quite, quite
different from other kinds and degrees of murder."

Now she possessed herself. The gift of flowing persuasive speech which
was naturally hers, which the agitations, the debates of these weeks had
been maturing, came to her call. She leant forward and took up the
petition. One by one she went through its pleas, adding to them here and
there from her own knowledge of Hurd and his peasant's life--presenting
it all clearly, with great intellectual force, but in an atmosphere of
emotion, of high pity, charged throughout with the "tears of things." To
her, gradually, unconsciously, the whole matter--so sordid, commonplace,
brutal in Lord Maxwell's eyes!--had become a tragic poem, a thing of
fear and pity, to which her whole being vibrated. And as she conceived
it, so she reproduced it. Wharton's points were there indeed, but so
were Hurd's poverty, Hurd's deformity, Hurd as the boyish victim of a
tyrant's insults, the miserable wife, the branded children--emphasised,
all of them, by the occasional quiver, quickly steadied again, of the
girl's voice.

Lord Maxwell sat by his writing-table, his head resting on his hand, one
knee crossed over the other. Aldous still hung over her chair. Neither
interrupted her. Once the eyes of the two men met over her head--a
distressed, significant look. Aldous heard all she said, but what
absorbed him mainly was the wild desire to kiss the dark hair, so close
below him, alternating with the miserable certainty that for him at that
moment to touch, to soothe her, was to be repulsed.

When her voice broke--when she had said all she could think of--she
remained looking imploringly at Lord Maxwell.

He was silent a little; then he stooped forward and took her hand.

"You have spoken," he said with great feeling, "most nobly--most
well--like a good woman, with a true compassionate heart. But all these
things you have said are not new to me, my dear child. Aldous warned me
of this petition--he has pressed upon me, still more I am sure upon
himself, all that he conceived to be your view of the case--the view of
those who are now moving in the matter. But with the best will in the
world I cannot, and I believe that he cannot--though he must speak for
himself--I cannot take that view. In my belief Hurd's act was murder,
and deserves the penalty of murder. I have paid some attention to these
things. I was a practising barrister in my youth, and later I was for
two years Home Secretary. I will explain to you my grounds very
shortly."

And, bending forward, he gave the reasons for his judgment of the case
as carefully and as lucidly as though he were stating them to a
fellow-expert, and not to an agitated girl of twenty-one. Both in words
and manner there was an implied tribute, not only to Marcella, but
perhaps to that altered position of the woman in our moving world which
affects so many things and persons in unexpected ways.

Marcella listened, restlessly. She had drawn her hand away, and was
twisting her handkerchief between her fingers. The flush that had sprung
up while she was talking had died away. She grew whiter and whiter. When
Lord Maxwell ceased, she said quickly, and as he thought unreasonably--

"So you will not sign?"

"No," he replied firmly, "I cannot sign. Holding the conviction about
the matter I do, I should be giving my name to statements I do not
believe; and in order to give myself the pleasure of pleasing you, and
of indulging the pity that every man must feel for every murderer's wife
and children, I should be not only committing a public wrong, but I
should be doing what I could to lessen the safety and security of one
whole class of my servants--men who give me honourable service--and two
of whom have been so cruelly, so wantonly hurried before their Maker!"

His voice gave the first sign of his own deep and painful feeling on the
matter. Marcella shivered.

"Then," she said slowly, "Hurd will be executed."

Lord Maxwell had a movement of impatience.

"Let me tell you," he said, "that that does not follow at all. There is
_some_ importance in signatures--or rather in the local movement that
the signatures imply. It enables a case to be reopened, which, in any
event, this case is sure to be. But any Home Secretary who could decide
a murder case on any other grounds whatever than those of law and his
own conscience would not deserve his place a day--an hour! Believe me,
you mistake the whole situation."

He spoke slowly, with the sharp emphasis natural to his age and
authority. Marcella did not believe him. Every nerve was beginning to
throb anew with that passionate recoil against tyranny and prejudice,
which was in itself an agony.

"And you say the same?" she said, turning to Aldous.

"I cannot sign that petition," he said sadly. "Won't you try and believe
what it costs me to refuse?"

It was a heavy blow to her. Amply as she had been prepared for it, there
had always been at the bottom of her mind a persuasion that in the end
she would get her way. She had been used to feel barriers go down before
that ultimate power of personality of which she was abundantly
conscious. Yet it had not availed her here--not even with the man who
loved her.

Lord Maxwell looked at the two--the man's face of suffering, the girl's
struggling breath.

"There, there, Aldous!" he said, rising. "I will leave you a minute. Do
make Marcella rest--get her, for all our sakes, to forget this a little.
Bring her in presently to us for some coffee. Above all, persuade her
that we love her and admire her with all our hearts, but that in a
matter of this kind she must leave us to do--as before God!--what we
think right."

He stood before her an instant, gazing down upon her with dignity--nay,
a certain severity. Then he turned away and left the room.

Marcella sprang up.

"Will you order the carriage?" she said in a strangled voice. "I will go
upstairs."

"Marcella!" cried Aldous; "can you not be just to me, if it is
impossible for you to be generous?"

"Just!" she repeated, with a tone and gesture of repulsion, pushing him
back from her. "_You_ can talk of justice!"

He tried to speak, stammered, and failed. That strange paralysis of the
will-forces which dogs the man of reflection at the moment when he must
either take his world by storm or lose it was upon him now. He had never
loved her more passionately--but as he stood there looking at her,
something broke within him, the first prescience of the inevitable
dawned.

"_You_," she said again, walking stormily to and fro, and catching at
her breath--"_You_, in this house, with this life--to talk of
justice--the justice that comes of slaying a man like Hurd! And I must
go back to that cottage, to that woman, and tell her there is _no_
hope--none! Because _you_ must follow your conscience--you who have
everything! Oh! I would not have your conscience--I wish you a
heart--rather! Don't come to me, please! Oh! I must think how it can be.
Things cannot go on so. I should kill myself, and make you miserable.
But now I must go to _her_--to the _poor_--to those whom I _love_, whom
I carry in my heart!"

She broke off sobbing. He saw her, in her wild excitement, look round
the splendid room as though she would wither it to ruin with one fiery,
accusing glance.

"You are very scornful of wealth," he said, catching her wrists, "but
one thing you have no right to scorn!--the man who has given you his
inmost heart--and now only asks you to believe in this, that he is not
the cruel hypocrite you are determined to make him!"

His face quivered in every feature. She was checked a moment--checked by
the moral compulsion of his tone and manner, as well as by his words.
But again she tore herself away.

"_Please_ go and order the carriage," she said. "I cannot bear any more.
I _must_ go home and rest. Some day I will ask your pardon--oh! for
this--and--and--" she was almost choked again--"other things. But now I
must go away. There is some one who will help me. I must not forget
that!"

The reckless words, the inflection, turned Aldous to stone.
Unconsciously he drew himself proudly erect--their eyes met. Then he
went up to the bell and rang it.

"The brougham at once, for Miss Boyce. Will you have a maid to go with
you?" he asked, motioning the servant to stay till Miss Boyce had given
her answer.

"No, thank you. I must go and put on my things. Will you explain to Miss
Raeburn?"

The footman opened the door for her. She went.




CHAPTER XIV.


"But this is unbearable!" said Aldous. "Do you mean to say that she is
at home and that she will not see me?"

Mrs. Boyce's self-possession was shaken for once by the flushed
humiliation of the man before her.

"I am afraid it is so," she said hurriedly. "I remonstrated with
Marcella, but I could do nothing. I think, if you are wise, you will not
for the present attempt to see her."

Aldous sat down, with his hat in his hand, staring at the floor. After a
few moments' silence he looked up again.

"And she gave you no message for me?"

"No," said Mrs. Boyce, reluctantly. "Only that she could not bear to see
anybody from the Court, even you, while this matter was still
undecided."

Aldous's eye travelled round the Mellor drawing-room. It was arrested by
a chair beside him. On it lay an envelope addressed to Miss Boyce, of
which the handwriting seemed to him familiar. A needle with some black
silk hanging from it had been thrust into the stuffed arm of the chair;
the cushion at the back still bore the imprint of the sitter. She had
been there, not three minutes ago, and had fled before him. The door
into Mrs. Boyce's sitting-room was still ajar.

He looked again at the envelope on the chair, and recognised the
writing. Walking across to where Mrs. Boyce sat, he took a seat beside
her.

"Will you tell me," he said steadily--"I think you will admit I have a
right to know--is Marcella in constant correspondence now with Henry
Wharton?"

Mrs. Boyce's start was not perceptible.

"I believe so," she quickly replied. "So far as I can judge, he writes
to her almost every other day."

"Does she show you his letters?"

"Very often. They are entirely concerned with his daily interviews and
efforts on Hurd's behalf."

"Would you not say," he asked, after another pause, raising his clear
grey eyes to her, "that since his arrival here in December Marcella's
whole views and thoughts have been largely--perhaps vitally--influenced
by this man?"

Mrs. Boyce had long expected questions of this kind--had, indeed, often
marvelled and cavilled that Aldous had not asked them weeks before. Now
that they were put to her she was, first of all, anxious to treat them
with common sense, and as much plain truth as might be fair to both
parties. The perpetual emotion in which Marcella lived tired and
oppressed the mother. For herself she asked to see things in a dry
light. Yet she knew well that the moment was critical. Her feeling was
more mixed than it had been. On the whole it was indignantly on Aldous's
side--with qualifications and impatiences, however.

She took up her embroidery again before she answered him. In her
opinion the needle is to the woman what the cigarette is to the
diplomatist.

"Yes, certainly," she said at last. "He has done a great deal to form
her opinions. He has made her both read and think on all those subjects
she has so long been fond of talking about."

She saw Aldous wince; but she had her reasons for being plain with him.

"Has there been nothing else than that in it?" said Aldous, in an odd
voice.

Mrs. Boyce tried no evasions. She looked at him straight, her slight,
energetic head, with its pale gold hair lit up by the March sun behind
her.

"I do not know," she said calmly; "that is the real truth. I _think_
there is nothing else. But let me tell you what more I think."

Aldous laid his hand on hers for an instant. In his pity and liking for
her he had once or twice allowed himself this quasi-filial freedom.

"If you would," he entreated.

"Leave Marcella quite alone--for the present. She is not herself--not
normal, in any way. Nor will she be till this dreadful thing is over.
But when it is over, and she has had time to recover a little,
_then_"--her thin voice expressed all the emphasis it could--"_then_
assert yourself! Ask her that question you have asked me--and get your
answer."

He understood. Her advice to him, and the tone of it, implied that she
had not always thought highly of his powers of self-defence in the past.
But there was a proud and sensitive instinct in him which both told him
that he could not have done differently and forbade him to explain.

"You have come from London to-day?" said Mrs. Boyce, changing the
subject. All intimate and personal conversation was distasteful to her,
and she admitted few responsibilities. Her daughter hardly counted among
them.

"Yes; London is hard at work cabinet-making," he said, trying to smile.
"I must get back to-night."

"I don't know how you could be spared," said Mrs. Boyce.

He paused; then he broke out: "When a man is in the doubt and trouble I
am, he must be spared. Indeed, since the night of the trial, I feel as
though I had been of very little use to any human being."

He spoke simply, but every word touched her. What an inconceivable
entanglement the whole thing was! Yet she was no longer merely
contemptuous of it.

"Look!" she said, lifting a bit of black stuff from the ground beside
the chair which held the envelope; "she is already making the mourning
for the children. I can see she despairs."

He made a sound of horror.

"Can you do nothing?" he cried reproachfully. "To think of her dwelling
upon this--nothing but this, day and night--and I, banished and
powerless!"

He buried his head in his hands.

"No, I can do nothing," said Mrs. Boyce, deliberately. Then, after a
pause, "You do not imagine there is any chance of success for her?"

He looked up and shook his head.

"The Radical papers are full of it, as you know. Wharton is managing it
with great ability, and has got some good supporters in the House. But I
happened to see the judge the day before yesterday, and I certainly
gathered from him that the Home Office was likely to stand firm. There
may be some delay. The new ministry will not kiss hands till Saturday.
But no doubt it will be the first business of the new Home
Secretary.--By the way, I had rather Marcella did not hear of my seeing
Judge Cartwright," he added hastily--almost imploringly. "I could not
bear that she should suppose--"

Mrs. Boyce thought to herself indignantly that she never could have
imagined such a man in such a plight.

"I must go," he said, rising. "Will you tell her from me," he added
slowly, "that I could never have believed she would be so unkind as to
let me come down from London to see her, and send me away empty--without
a word?"

"Leave it to my discretion," said Mrs. Boyce, smiling and looking up.
"Oh, by the way, she told me to thank you. Mr. Wharton, in his letter
this morning, mentioned that you had given him two introductions which
were important to him. She specially wished you to be thanked for it."

His exclamation had a note of impatient contempt that Mrs. Boyce was
genuinely glad to hear. In her opinion he was much too apt to forget
that the world yields itself only to the "violent."

He walked away from the house without once looking back. Marcella, from,
her window, watched him go.

"How _could_ she see him?" she asked herself passionately, both then
and on many other occasions during these rushing, ghastly days. His turn
would come, and it should be amply given him. But _now_ the very thought
of that half-hour in Lord Maxwell's library threw her into wild tears.
The time for entreaty--for argument--was gone by, so far as he was
concerned. He might have been her champion, and would not. She threw
herself recklessly, madly into the encouragement and support of the man
who had taken up the task which, in her eyes, should have been her
lover's. It had become to her a _fight_--with society, with the law,
with Aldous--in which her whole nature was absorbed. In the course of
the fight she had realised Aldous's strength, and it was a bitter
offence to her.

How little she could do after all! She gathered together all the
newspapers that were debating the case, and feverishly read every line;
she wrote to Wharton, commenting on what she read, and on his letters;
she attended the meetings of the Reprieve Committee which had been
started at Widrington; and she passed hours of every day with Minta Hurd
and her children. She would hardly speak to Mary Harden and the rector,
because they had not signed the petition, and at home her relations with
her father were much strained. Mr. Boyce was awakening to a good deal of
alarm as to how things might end. He might not like the Raeburns, but
that anything should come in the way of his daughter's match was,
notwithstanding, the very last thing in the world, as he soon
discovered, that he really desired. During six months he had taken it
for granted; so had the county. He, of all men, could not afford to be
made ridiculous, apart from the solid, the extraordinary advantages of
the matter. He thought Marcella a foolish, unreasonable girl, and was
not the less in a panic because his wife let him understand that he had
had a good deal to do with it. So that between him and his daughter
there were now constant sparrings--sparrings which degraded Marcella in
her own eyes, and contributed not a little to make her keep away from
home.

The one place where she breathed freely, where the soul had full course,
was in Minta Hurd's kitchen. Side by side with that piteous plaintive
misery, her own fierceness dwindled. She would sit with little Willie on
her knees in the dusk of the spring evenings, looking into the fire, and
crying silently. She never suspected that her presence was often a
burden and constraint, not only to the sulky sister-in-law but to the
wife herself. While Miss Boyce was there the village kept away; and Mrs.
Hurd was sometimes athirst, without knowing it, for homelier speech and
simpler consolations than any Marcella could give her.

The last week arrived. Wharton's letters grew more uncertain and
despondent; the Radical press fought on with added heat as the cause
became more desperate. On Monday the wife went to see the condemned man,
who told her not to be so silly as to imagine there was any hope.
Tuesday night, Wharton asked his last question in Parliament. Friday was
the day fixed for the execution.

The question in Parliament came on late. The Home Secretary's answer,
though not final in form, was final in substance. Wharton went out
immediately and wrote to Marcella. "She will not sleep if I telegraph
to-night," he thought, with that instinct for detail, especially for
physical detail, which had in it something of the woman. But, knowing
that his letter could not reach her by the early post with the stroke of
eight next morning, he sent out his telegram, that she might not learn
the news first from the papers.

Marcella had wandered out before breakfast, feeling the house an
oppression, and knowing that, one way or another, the last news might
reach her any hour.

She had just passed through the little wood behind and alongside of the
house, and was in a field beyond, when she heard some one running behind
her. William handed her the telegram, his own red face full of
understanding. Marcella took it, commanded herself till the boy was out
of sight and hearing again, then sank down on the grass to read it.

"All over. The Home Secretary's official refusal to interfere with
sentence sent to Widrington to-day. Accept my sorrow and sympathy."

She crushed it in her hand, raising her head mechanically. Before her
lay that same shallow cup of ploughed land stretching from her father's
big wood to the downs, on the edge of which Hurd had plied his ferrets
in the winter nights. But to-day the spring worked in it, and breathed
upon it. The young corn was already green in the furrows; the
hazel-catkins quivered in the hedge above her; larks were in the air,
daisies in the grass, and the march of sunny clouds could be seen in the
flying shadows they flung on the pale greens and sheeny purples of the
wide treeless basin.

Human helplessness, human agony--set against the careless joy of
nature--there is no new way of feeling these things. But not to have
felt them, and with the mad, impotent passion and outcry which filled
Marcella's heart at this moment, is never to have risen to the full
stature of our kind.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Marcella, it is my strong wish--my command--that you do _not_ go out to
the village to-night."

"I must go, papa."

It was Thursday night--the night before the Friday morning fixed for
Hurd's execution. Dinner at Mellor was just over. Mr. Boyce, who was
standing in front of the fire, unconsciously making the most of his own
inadequate height and size, looked angrily at his stately daughter. She
had not appeared at dinner, and she was now dressed in the long black
cloak and black hat she had worn so constantly in the last few weeks.
Mr. Boyce detested the garb.

"You are making yourself _ridiculous_, Marcella. Pity for these wretched
people is all very well, but you have no business to carry it to such a
point that you--and we--become the talk, the laughing-stock of the
county. And I should like to see you, too, pay some attention to Aldous
Raeburn's feelings and wishes."

The admonition, in her father's mouth, would almost have made her laugh,
if she could have laughed at anything. But, instead, she only repeated:

"I must go, I have explained to mamma."

"Evelyn! why do you permit it?" cried Mr. Boyce, turning aggressively to
his wife.

"Marcella explained to me, as she truly said," replied Mrs. Boyce,
looking up calmly. "It is not her habit to ask permission of any one."

"Mamma," exclaimed the girl, in her deep voice, "you would not wish to
stop me?"

"No," said Mrs. Boyce, after a pause, "no. You have gone so far, I
understand your wish to do this. Richard,"--she got up and went to
him,--"don't excite yourself about it; shall I read to you, or play a
game with you?"

He looked at her, trembling with anger. But her quiet eye warned him
that he had had threatenings of pain that afternoon. His anger sank into
fear. He became once more irritable and abject.

"Let her gang her gait," he said, throwing himself into a chair. "But I
tell you I shall not put up with this kind of thing much longer,
Marcella."

"I shall not ask you, papa," she said steadily, as she moved towards the
door. Mrs. Boyce paused where she stood, and looked after her daughter,
struck by her words. Mr. Boyce simply took them as referring to the
marriage which would emancipate her before long from any control of his,
and fumed, without finding a reply.

The maid-servant who, by Mrs. Boyce's orders, was to accompany Marcella
to the village, was already at the front door. She carried a basket
containing invalid food for little Willie, and a lighted lantern.

It was a dark night and raining fast. Marcella was fastening up her
tweed skirt in the hall, when she saw Mrs. Boyce hurry along the gallery
above, and immediately afterwards her mother came across the hall to
her.

"You had better take the shawl, Marcella: it is cold and raw. If you are
going to sit up most of the night you will want it."

She put a wrap of her own across Marcella's arm.

"Your father is quite right," she went on. "You have had one horrible
experience to-day already--"

"Don't, mamma!" exclaimed Marcella, interrupting her. Then suddenly she
threw her arms round her mother.

"Kiss me, mamma! please kiss me!"

Mrs. Boyce kissed her gravely, and let herself even linger a moment in
the girl's strong hold.

"You are extraordinarily wilful," she said. "And it is so strange to me
that you think you do any good. Are you sure even that she wants to have
you?"

Marcella's lip quivered. She could not speak, apparently. Waving her
hand to her mother, she joined the maid waiting for her, and the two
disappeared into the blackness.

"But _does_ it do any good?" Mrs. Boyce repeated to herself as she went
back to the drawing-room. "_Sympathy!_ who was ever yet fed, warmed,
comforted by _sympathy_? Marcella robs that woman of the only thing that
the human being should want at such a moment--solitude. Why should we
force on the poor what to us would be an outrage?"

Meanwhile Marcella battled through the wind and rain, thankful that the
warm spring burst was over, and that the skies no longer mocked this
horror which was beneath them.

At the entrance to the village she stopped, and took the basket from the
little maid.

"Now, Ruth, you can go home. Run quick, it is so dark, Ruth!"

"Yes, miss."

The young country girl trembled. Miss Boyce's tragic passion in this
matter had to some extent infected the whole household in which she
lived.

"Ruth, when you say your prayers to-night, pray God to comfort the
poor,--and to punish the cruel!"

"Yes, miss," said the girl, timidly, and ready to cry. The lantern she
held flashed its light on Miss Boyce's white face and tall form. Till
her mistress turned away she did not dare to move; that dark eye, so
wide, full, and living, roused in her a kind of terror.

On the steps of the cottage Marcella paused. She heard voices inside--or
rather the rector's voice reading.

A thought of scorn rose in her heart. "How long will the poor endure
this religion--this make-believe--which preaches patience, _patience_!
when it ought to be urging war?"

But she went in softly, so as not to interrupt. The rector looked up and
made a grave sign of the head as she entered; her own gesture forbade
any other movement in the group; she took a stool beside Willie, whose
makeshift bed of chairs and pillows stood on one side of the fire; and
the reading went on.

Since Minta Hurd had returned with Marcella from Widrington Gaol that
afternoon, she had been so ill that a doctor had been sent for. He had
bade them make up her bed downstairs in the warm; and accordingly a
mattress had been laid on the settle, and she was now stretched upon it.
Her huddled form, the staring whiteness of the narrow face and closed
eyelids, thrown out against the dark oak of the settle, and the
disordered mass of grizzled hair, made the centre of the cottage.

Beside her on the floor sat Mary Harden, her head bowed over the rough
hand she held, her eyes red with weeping. Fronting them, beside a little
table, which held a small paraffin lamp, sat the young rector, his
Testament in his hand, his slight boy's figure cast in sharp shadow on
the cottage wall. He had placed himself so as to screen the crude light
of the lamp from the wife's eyes; and an old skirt had been hung over a
chair to keep it from little Willie. Between mother and child sat Ann
Mullins, rocking herself to and fro over the fire, and groaning from
time to time--a shapeless sullen creature, brutalised by many children
and much poverty--of whom Marcella was often impatient.

"_And he said, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. And
He said unto him, Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me
in Paradise."_

The rector's voice, in its awed monotony, dwelt insistently on each
word, then paused. "_To-day_," whispered Mary, caressing Minta's hand,
while the tears streamed down her cheeks; "he repented, Minta, and the
Lord took him to Himself--at once--forgiving all his sins."

Mrs. Hurd gave no sign, but the dark figure on the other side of the
cottage made an involuntary movement, which threw down a fire-iron, and
sent a start through Willie's wasted body. The reader resumed; but
perfect spontaneity was somehow lost both for him and for Mary.
Marcella's stormy presence worked in them both, like a troubling leaven.

Nevertheless, the priest went steadily through his duty, dwelling on
every pang of the Passion, putting together every sacred and sublime
word. For centuries on centuries his brethren and forerunners had held
up the Man of Sorrows before the anguished and the dying; his turn had
come, his moment and place in the marvellous never-ending task; he
accepted it with the meek ardour of an undoubting faith.

"_And all the multitudes that came together to this sight, when they
beheld the things that were done, returned, smiting their breasts_."

He closed the book, and bent forward, so as to bring his voice close to
the wife's ear.

"So He died--the Sinless and the Just--for you, for your husband. He has
passed through death--through cruel death; and where He has gone, we
poor, weak, stained sinners can follow,--holding to Him. No sin, however
black, can divide us from Him, can tear us from His hand in the dark
waters, if it be only repented,--thrown upon His Cross. Let us pray for
your husband, let us implore the Lord's mercy this night--this
hour!--upon his soul."

A shudder of remembrance passed through Marcella. The rector knelt; Mrs.
Hurd lay motionless, save for deep gasps of struggling breath at
intervals; Ann Mullins sobbed loudly; and Mary Harden wept as she
prayed, lost in a mystical vision of the Lord Himself among them--there
on the cottage floor--stretching hands of pity over the woman beside
her, showing His marred side and brow.

Marcella alone sat erect, her whole being one passionate protest against
a faith which could thus heap all the crimes and responsibilities of
this too real earth on the shadowy head of one far-off Redeemer. "This
very man who prays," she thought, "is in some sort an accomplice of
those who, after tempting, are now destroying, and killing, because they
know of nothing better to do with the life they themselves have made
outcast."

And she hardened her heart.

When the spoken prayer was over, Mr. Harden still knelt on silently for
some minutes. So did Mary. In the midst of the hush, Marcella saw the
boy's eyes unclose. He looked with a sort of remote wonder at his mother
and the figures beside her. Then suddenly the gaze became eager,
concrete; he sought for something. Her eye followed his, and she
perceived in the shadow beside him, on a broken chair placed behind the
rough screen which had been made for him, the four tiny animals of
pinched paper Wharton had once fashioned. She stooped noiselessly and
moved the chair a little forward that he might see them better. The
child with difficulty turned his wasted head, and lay with his skeleton
hand under his cheek, staring at his treasures--his little, all--with
just a gleam, a faint gleam, of that same exquisite content which had
fascinated Wharton. Then, for the first time that day, Marcella could
have wept.

At last the rector and his sister rose.

"God be with you, Mrs. Hurd," said Mr. Harden, stooping to her; "God
support you!"

His voice trembled. Mrs. Hurd in bewilderment looked up.

"Oh, Mr. Harden!" she cried with a sudden wail. "Mr. Harden!"

Mary bent over her with tears, trying to still her, speaking again with
quivering lips of "the dear Lord, the Saviour."

The rector turned to Marcella.

"You are staying the night with her?" he asked, under his breath.

"Yes. Mrs. Mullins was up all last night. I offered to come to-night."

"You went with her to the prison to-day, I believe?"

"Yes."

"Did you see Hurd?"

"For a very few minutes."

"Did you hear anything of his state of mind?" he asked anxiously. "Is he
penitent?"

"He talked to me of Willie," she said--a fierce humanness in her
unfriendly eyes. "I promised him that when the child died, he should be
buried respectably--not by the parish. And I told him I would always
look after the little girls."

The rector sighed. He moved away. Then unexpectedly he came back again.

"I must say it to you," he said firmly, but still so low as not to be
heard by any one else in the cottage. "You are taking a great
responsibility here to-night. Let me implore you not to fill that poor
woman with thoughts of bitterness and revenge at such a moment of her
life. That _you_ feel bitterly, I know. Mary has explained to me--but
ask yourself, I beg of you!--how is _she_ to be helped through her
misery, either now or in the future, except by patience and submission
to the will of God?"

He had never made so long a speech to this formidable parishioner of
his, and his young cheek glowed with the effort.

"You must leave me to do what I think best," said Marcella, coldly. She
felt herself wholly set free from that sort of moral compulsion which
his holiness of mind and character had once exerted upon her. That
hateful opinion of his, which Mary had reported, had broken the spell
once for all.

Mary did not venture to kiss her friend. They all went. Ann Mulling, who
was dropping as much with sleep as grief, shuffled off last. When she
was going, Mrs. Hurd seemed to rouse a little, and held her by the
skirt, saying incoherent things.

"Dear Mrs. Hurd," said Marcella, kneeling down beside her, "won't you
let Ann go? I am going to spend the night here, and take care of you and
Willie."

Mrs. Hurd gave a painful start.

"You're very good, miss," she said half-consciously, "very good, I'm
sure. But she's his own flesh and blood is Ann--his own flesh and blood.
Ann!"

The two women clung together, the rough, ill-tempered sister-in-law
muttering what soothing she could think of. When she was gone, Minta
Hurd turned her face to the back of the settle and moaned, her hands
clenched under her breast.

Marcella went about her preparations for the night. "She is extremely
weak," Dr. Clarke had said; "the heart in such a state she may die of
syncope on very small provocation. If she is to spend the night in
crying and exciting herself, it will go hard with her. Get her to sleep
if you possibly can."

And he had left a sleeping draught. Marcella resolved that she would
persuade her to take it. "But I will wake her before eight o'clock," she
thought. "No human being has the right to rob her of herself through
that last hour."

And tenderly she coaxed Minta to take the doctor's "medicine." Minta
swallowed it submissively, asking no questions. But the act of taking it
roused her for the time, and she would talk. She even got up and
tottered across to Willie.

"Willie!--Willie!--Oh! look, miss, he's got his animals--he don't think
of nothing else. Oh, Willie! won't you think of your father?--you'll
never have a father, Willie, not after to-night!"

The boy was startled by her appearance there beside him--his haggard,
dishevelled mother, with the dews of perspiration standing on the face,
and her black dress thrown open at the throat and breast for air. He
looked at her, and a little frown lined the white brow. But he did not
speak. Marcella thought he was too weak to speak, and for an instant it
struck her with a thrill of girlish fear that he was dying then and
there--that night--that hour. But when she had half helped, half forced
Mrs. Hurd back to bed again, and had returned to him, his eyelids had
fallen, he seemed asleep. The fast, whistling breath was much the same
as it had been for days; she reassured herself.

And at last the wife slept too. The narcotic seized her. The aching
limbs relaxed, and all was still. Marcella, stooping over her, kissed
the shoulder of her dress for very joy, so grateful to every sense of
the watcher was the sudden lull in the long activity of anguish.

Then she sat down in the rocking chair by the fire, yielding herself
with a momentary relief to the night and the silence. The tall clock
showed that it was not yet ten. She had brought a book with her, and she
drew it upon her knee; but it lay unopened.

A fretting, gusty wind beat against the window, with occasional rushes
of rain. Marcella shivered, though she had built up the fire, and put on
her cloak.

A few distant sounds from the village street round the corner, the
chiming of the church clock, the crackling of the fire close beside
her--she heard everything there was to hear, with unusual sharpness of
ear, and imagined more.

All at once restlessness, or some undefined impression, made her look
round her. She saw that the scanty baize curtain was only half-drawn
across one of the windows, and she got up to close it. Fresh from the
light of the lamp, she stared through the panes into the night without
at first seeing anything. Then there flashed out upon the dark the door
of a public-house to the right, the last in the village road. A man came
out stumbling and reeling; the light within streamed out an instant on
the road and the common; then the pursuing rain and darkness fell upon
him.

She was drawing back when, with sudden horror, she perceived something
else close beside her, pressing against the window. A woman's face!--the
powerful black and white of it--the strong aquiline features--the mad
keenness of the look were all plain to her. The eyes looked in hungrily
at the prostrate form on the settle--at the sleeping child. Another
figure appeared out of the dark, running up the path. There was a slight
scuffle, and voices outside. Marcella drew the curtain close with a
hasty hand, and sat down hardly able to breathe. The woman who had
looked in was Isabella Westall. It was said that she was becoming more
and more difficult to manage and to watch.

Marcella was some time in recovering herself. That look, as of a
sleepless, hateful eagerness, clung to the memory. Once or twice, as it
haunted her, she got up again to make sure that the door was fast.

The incident, with all it suggested, did but intensify the horror and
struggle in which the girl stood, made her mood more strained, more
piercingly awake and alert. Gradually, as the hours passed, as all
sounds from without, even that of the wind, died away, and the silence
settled round her in ever-widening circles, like deep waters sinking to
repose, Marcella felt herself a naked soul, alone on a wide sea, with
shapes of pain and agony and revolt. She looked at the sleeping wife.
"He, too, is probably asleep," she thought, remembering some information
which a kindly warder had given her in a few jerky, well-meant
sentences, while she was waiting downstairs in the gaol for Minta Hurd.
"Incredible! only so many hours, minutes left--so far as any mortal
_knows_--of living, thinking, recollecting, of all that makes us
something as against the _nothing_ of death--and a man wastes them in
sleep, in that which is only meant for the ease and repair of the daily
struggle. And Minta--her husband is her all--to-morrow she will have no
husband; yet she sleeps, and I have helped to make her. Ah! Nature may
well despise and trample on us; there is no reason in us--no dignity!
Oh, why are we here--why am _I_ here--to ache like this--to hate good
people like Charles Harden and Mary--to refuse all I could give--to
madden myself over pain I can never help? I cannot help it, yet I cannot
forsake it; it drives, it clings to me!"

She sat over the fire, Willie's hand clasped in hers. He alone in this
forlorn household _loved_ her. Mrs. Hurd and the other children feared
and depended on her. This creature of thistle-down--this little thread
and patch of humanity--felt no fear of her. It was as though his
weakness divined through her harshness and unripeness those maternal and
protecting powers with which her nature was in truth so richly dowered.
He confided himself to her with no misgivings. He was at ease when she
was there.

Little piteous hand!--its touch was to her symbolic, imperative.

Eight months had she been at Mellor? And that Marcella, who had been
living and moving amid these woods and lanes all this time--that foolish
girl, delighting in new grandeurs, and flattered by Aldous Raeburn's
attentions--that hot, ambitious person who had meant to rule a county
through a husband--what had become of her? Up to the night of Hurd's
death sentence she had still existed in some sort, with her obligations,
qualms, remorses. But since then--every day, every hour had been
grinding, scorching her away--fashioning in flame and fever this new
Marcella who sat here, looking impatiently into another life, which
should know nothing of the bonds of the old.

Ah, yes!--her _thought_ could distinguish between the act and the man,
between the man and his class; but in her _feeling_ all was confounded.
This awful growth of sympathy in her--strange irony!--had made all
sympathy for Aldous Raeburn impossible to her. Marry him?--no!
no!--never! But she would make it quite easy to him to give her up.
Pride should come in--he should feel no pain in doing it. She had in her
pocket the letter she had received from him that afternoon. She had
hardly been able to read it. Ear and heart were alike dull to it.

From time to time she probably slept in her chair. Or else it was the
perpetual rush of images and sensations through the mind that hastened
the hours. Once when the first streaks of the March dawn were showing
through the curtains Minta Hurd sprang up with a loud cry:

"Oh, my God! Jim, _Jim!_ Oh, no!--take that off. Oh, _please_, sir,
please! Oh, for God's sake, sir!"

Agony struggled with sleep. Marcella, shuddering, held and soothed her,
and for a while sleep, or rather the drug in her veins, triumphed again.
For another hour or two she lay restlessly tossing from side to side,
but unconscious.

Willie hardly moved all night. Again and again Marcella held beef-tea or
milk to his mouth, and tried to rouse him to take it, but she could make
no impression on the passive lips; the sleeping serenity of the brow
never changed.

At last, with a start, Marcella looked round and saw that the morning
was fully there. A cold light was streaming through the curtains; the
fire was still glowing; but her limbs were stiff and chilled under her
shawl. She sprang up, horror descending on her. Her shaking fingers
could hardly draw out the watch in her belt.

_Ten minutes to eight_!

For the first time the girl felt nerve and resolution fail her. She
looked at Mrs. Hurd and wrung her hands. The mother was muttering and
moving, but not yet fully awake; and Willie lay as before. Hardly
knowing what she was doing, she drew the curtains back, as though
inspiration might come with the light. The rain-clouds trailed across
the common; water dripped heavily from the thatch of the cottage; and a
few birds twittered from some bedraggled larches at the edge of the
common. Far away, beyond and beneath those woods to the right,
Widrington lay on the plain, with that high-walled stone building at its
edge. She saw everything as it must now be happening as plainly as
though she were bodily present there--the last meal--the pinioning--the
chaplain.

Goaded by the passing seconds, she turned back at last to wake that poor
sleeper behind her. But something diverted her. With a start she saw
that Willie's eyes were open.

"Willie," she said, running to him, "how are you, dear? Shall I lift
your head a little?"

He did not answer, though she thought he tried, and she was struck by
the blueness under the eyes and nose. Hurriedly she felt his tiny feet.
They were quite cold.

"Mrs. Hurd!" she cried, rousing her in haste; "dear Mrs. Hurd, come and
see Willie!"

The mother sprang up bewildered, and, hurrying across the room, threw
herself upon him.

"Willie, what is it ails you, dear? Tell mother! Is it your feet are so
cold? But we'll rub them--we'll get you warm soon. And here's something
to make you better." Marcella handed her some brandy. "Drink it, dear;
drink it, sweetheart!" Her voice grew shrill.

"He can't," said Marcella. "Do not let us plague him; it is the end. Dr.
Clarke said it would come in the morning."

They hung over him, forgetting everything but him for the moment--the
only moment in his little life he came first even with his mother.

There was a slight movement of the hand.

"He wants his animals," said Marcella, the tears pouring down her
cheeks. She lifted them and put them on his breast, laying the cold
fingers over them.

Then he tried to speak.

"Daddy!" he whispered, looking up fully at his mother; "take 'em to
Daddy!"

She fell on her knees beside him with a shriek, hiding her face, and
shaking from head to foot. Marcella alone saw the slight, mysterious
smile, the gradual sinking of the lids, the shudder of departing life
that ran through the limbs.

A heavy sound swung through the air--a heavy repeated sound. Mrs. Hurd
held up her head and listened. The church clock tolled eight. She knelt
there, struck motionless by terror--by recollection.

"Oh, Jim!" she said, under her breath--"my Jim!"

The plaintive tone--as of a creature that has not even breath and
strength left wherewith to chide the fate that crushes it--broke
Marcella's heart. Sitting beside the dead son, she wrapt the mother in
her arms, and the only words that even her wild spirit could find
wherewith to sustain this woman through the moments of her husband's
death were words of prayer--the old shuddering cries wherewith the human
soul from the beginning has thrown itself on that awful encompassing
Life whence it issued, and whither it returns.




CHAPTER XV.


Two days later, in the afternoon, Aldous Raeburn found himself at the
door of Mellor. When he entered the drawing-room, Mrs. Boyce, who had
heard his ring, was hurrying away.

"Don't go," he said, detaining her with a certain peremptoriness. "I
want all the light on this I can get. Tell me, she has _actually_
brought herself to regard this man's death as in some sort my doing--as
something which ought to separate us?"

Mrs. Boyce saw that he held an opened letter from Marcella crushed in
his hand. But she did not need the explanation. She had been expecting
him at any hour throughout the day, and in just this condition of mind.

"Marcella must explain for herself," she said, after a moment's thought.
"I have no right whatever to speak for her. Besides, frankly, I do not
understand her, and when I argue with her she only makes me realise that
I have no part or lot in her--that I never had. It is just enough. She
was brought up away from me. And I have no natural hold. I cannot help
you, or any one else, with her."

Aldous had been very tolerant and compassionate in the past of this
strange mother's abdication of her maternal place, and of its probable
causes. But it was not in human nature that he should be either to-day.
He resumed his questioning, not without sharpness.

"One word, please. Tell me something of what has happened since
Thursday, before I see her. I have written--but till this morning I have
had not one line from her."

They were standing by the window, he with his frowning gaze, in which
agitation struggled against all his normal habits of manner and
expression, fixed upon the lawn and the avenue. She told him briefly
what she knew of Marcella's doings since the arrival of Wharton's
telegram--of the night in the cottage, and the child's death. It was
plain that he listened with a shuddering repulsion.

"Do you know," he exclaimed, turning upon her, "that she may never
recover this? Such a strain, such a horror! rushed upon so wantonly, so
needlessly."

"I understand. You think that I have been to blame? I do not wonder. But
it is not true--not in this particular case. And anyway your view is not
mine. Life--and the iron of it--has to be faced, even by women--perhaps,
most of all, by women. But let me go now. Otherwise my husband will come
in. And I imagine you would rather see Marcella before you see him or
any one."

That suggestion told. He instantly gathered himself together, and
nervously begged that she would send Marcella to him at once. He could
think of nothing, talk of nothing, till he had seen her. She went, and
Aldous was left to walk up and down the room planning what he should
say. After the ghastly intermingling of public interests and private
misery in which he had lived for these many weeks there was a certain
relief in having reached the cleared space--the decisive moment--when he
might at last give himself wholly to what truly concerned him. He would
not lose her without a struggle. None the less he knew, and had known
ever since the scene in the Court library, that the great disaster of
his life was upon him.

The handle of the door turned. She was there.

He did not go to meet her. She had come in wrought up to face
attack--reproaches, entreaties--ready to be angry or to be humble, as he
should give her the lead. But he gave her no lead. She had to break
through that quivering silence as best she could.

"I wanted to explain everything to you," she said in a low voice, as she
came near to him. "I know my note last night was very hard and abrupt. I
didn't mean to be hard. But I am still so tired--and everything that one
says, and feels, hurts so."

She sank down upon a chair. This womanish appeal to his pity had not
been at all in her programme. Nor did it immediately succeed. As he
looked at her, he could only feel the wantonness of this eclipse into
which she had plunged her youth and beauty. There was wrath, a
passionate protesting wrath, under his pain.

"Marcella," he said, sitting down beside her, "did you read my letter
that I wrote you the day before--?"

"Yes."

"And after that, you could still believe that I was indifferent to your
grief--your suffering--or to the suffering of any human being for whom
you cared? You could still think it, and feel it?"

"It was not what you have said all through," she replied, looking
sombrely away from him, her chin on her hand, "it is what you have
done."

"What have I done?" he said proudly, bending forward from his seat
beside her. "What have I ever done but claim from you that freedom you
desire so passionately for others--freedom of conscience--freedom of
judgment? You denied me this freedom, though I asked it of you with all
my soul. And you denied me more. Through these five weeks you have
refused me the commonest right of love--the right to show you myself, to
prove to you that through all this misery of differing opinion--misery,
much more, oh, much more to me than to you!--I was in truth bent on the
same ends with you, bearing the same burden, groping towards the same
goal."

"No! no!" she cried, turning upon him, and catching at a word; "what
burden have you ever borne? I know you were sorry--that there was a
struggle in your mind--that you pitied me--pitied _them_. But you judged
it all _from above_--you looked down--and I could not see that you had
any right. It made me mad to have such things seen from a height, when I
was below--in the midst--_close_ to the horror and anguish of them."

"Whose fault was it," he interrupted, "that I was not with you? Did I
not offer--entreat? I could not sign a statement of fact which seemed
to me an untrue statement, but what prevented me--prevented
us.--However, let me take that point first. Would you,"--he spoke
deliberately, "would you have had me put my name to a public statement
which I, rightly or wrongly, believed to be false, because you asked me?
You owe it to me to answer."

She could not escape the penetrating fire of his eye. The man's
mildness, his quiet self-renouncing reserve, were all burnt up at last
in this white heat of an accusing passion. In return she began to forget
her own resolve to bear herself gently.

"You don't remember," she cried, "that what divided us was
your--your--incapacity to put the human pity first; to think of the
surrounding circumstances--of the debt that you and I and everybody like
us owe to a man like Hurd--to one who had been stunted and starved by
life as he had been."

Her lip began to tremble.

"Then it comes to this," he said steadily, "that if I had been a poor
man, you would have allowed me my conscience--my judgment of right and
wrong--in such a matter. You would have let me remember that I was a
citizen, and that pity is only one side of justice! You would have let
me plead that Hurd's sin was not against me, but against the community,
and that in determining whether to do what you wished or no, I must
think of the community and its good before even I thought of pleasing
you. If I had possessed no more than Hurd, all this would have been
permitted me; but because of Maxwell Court--because of my _money_,"--she
shrank before the accent of the word--"you refused me the commonest
moral rights. _My_ scruple, _my_ feeling, were nothing to you. Your
pride was engaged as well as your pity, and I must give way. Marcella!
you talk of justice--you talk of equality--is the only man who can get
neither at your hands--the man whom you promised to marry!"

His voice dwelt on that last word, dwelt and broke. He leant over her in
his roused strength, and tried to take her hand. But she moved away from
him with a cry.

"It is no use! Oh, don't--don't! It may be all true. I was vain, I dare
say, and unjust, and hard. But don't you see--don't you understand--if
we _could_ take such different views of such a case--if it could divide
us so deeply--what chance would there be if we were married? I ought
never--never--to have said 'Yes' to you--even as I was then. But _now_,"
she turned to him slowly, "can't you see it for yourself? I am a changed
creature. Certain things in me are gone--_gone_--and instead there is a
fire--something driving, tormenting--which must burn its way out. When I
think of what I liked so much when you asked me to marry you--being
rich, and having beautiful things, and dresses, and jewels, and
servants, and power--social power--above all _that_--I feel sick and
choked. I couldn't breathe now in a house like Maxwell Court. The poor
have come to mean to me the only people who really _live_, and really
_suffer_. I must live with them, work for them, find out what I can do
for them. You must give me up--you must indeed. Oh! and you will! You
will be glad enough, thankful enough, when--when--you know what I _am_!"

He started at the words. Where was the prophetess? He saw that she was
lying white and breathless, her face hidden against the arm of the
chair.

In an instant he was on his knees beside her.

"Marcella!" he could hardly command his voice, but he held her
struggling hand against his lips. "You think that suffering belongs to
one class? Have you really no conception of what you will be dealing to
me if you tear yourself away from me?"

She withdrew her hand, sobbing.

"Don't, don't stay near me!" she said; "there is--more--there is
something else."

Aldous rose.

"You mean," he said in an altered voice, after a pause of silence, "that
another influence--another man--has come between us?"

She sat up, and with a strong effort drove back her weeping.

"If I could say to you only this," she began at last, with long pauses,
"'I mistook myself and my part in life. I did wrong, but forgive me, and
let me go for both our sakes'--that would be--well!--that would be
difficult,--but easier than this! Haven't you understood at all?
When--when Mr. Wharton came, I began to see things very soon, not in my
own way, but in his way. I had never met any one like him--not any one
who showed me such possibilities in _myself_--such new ways of using
one's life, and not only one's possessions--of looking at all the great
questions. I thought it was just friendship, but it made me critical,
impatient of everything else. I was never myself from the beginning.
Then,--after the ball,"--he stooped over her that he might hear her the
more plainly,--"when I came home I was in my room and I heard
steps--there are ghost stories, you know, about that part of the house.
I went out to see. Perhaps, in my heart of hearts--oh, I can't tell, I
can't tell!--anyway, he was there. We went into the library, and we
talked. He did not want to touch our marriage,--but he said all sorts of
mad things,--and at last--he kissed me."

The last words were only breathed. She had often pictured herself
confessing these things to him. But the humiliation in which she
actually found herself before him was more than she had ever dreamed of,
more than she could bear. All those great words of pity and mercy--all
that implication of a moral atmosphere to which he could never
attain--to end in this story! The effect of it, on herself, rather than
on him, was what she had not foreseen.

Aldous raised himself slowly.

"And when did this happen?" he asked after a moment.

"I told you--the night of the ball--of the murder," she said with a
shiver; "we saw Hurd cross the avenue. I meant to have told you
everything at once."

"And you gave up that intention?" he asked her, when he had waited a
little for more, and nothing came.

She turned upon him with a flash of the old defiance.

"How could I think of my own affairs?"

"Or of mine?" he said bitterly.

She made no answer.

Aldous got up and walked to the chimney-piece. He was very pale, but his
eyes were bright and sparkling. When she looked up at him at last she
saw that her task was done. His scorn--his resentment--were they not the
expiation, the penalty she had looked forward to all along?--and with
that determination to bear them calmly? Yet, now that they were there in
front of her, they stung.

"So that--for all those weeks--while you were letting me write as I did,
while you were letting me conceive you and your action as I did, you had
this on your mind? You never gave me a hint; you let me plead; you let
me regard you as wrapped up in the unselfish end; you sent me those
letters of his--those most misleading letters!--and all the time--"

"But I meant to tell you--I always meant to tell you," she cried
passionately. "I would never have gone on with a secret like that--not
for your sake--but for my own."

"Yet you did go on so long," he said steadily; "and my agony of mind
during those weeks--my feeling towards you--my--"

He broke off, wrestling with himself. As for her, she had fallen back in
her chair, physically incapable of anything more.

He walked over to her side and took up his hat.

"You have done me wrong," he said, gazing down upon her. "I pray God you
may not do yourself a greater wrong in the future! Give me leave to
write to you once more, or to send my friend Edward Hallin to see you.
Then I will not trouble you again."

He waited, but she could give him no answer. Her form as she lay there
in this physical and moral abasement printed itself upon his heart. Yet
he felt no desire whatever to snatch the last touch--the last kiss--that
wounded passion so often craves. Inwardly, and without words, he said
farewell to her. She heard his steps across the room; the door shut; she
was alone--and free.





BOOK III.


"O Neigung, sage, wie hast du so tief
  Im Herzen dich verstecket?
Wer hat dich, die verborgen schlief,
  Gewecket?"



CHAPTER I.


"Don't suppose that I feel enthusiastic or sentimental about the 'claims
of Labour,'" said Wharton, smiling to the lady beside him. "You may get
that from other people, but not from me. I am not moral enough to be a
fanatic. My position is simplicity itself. When things are inevitable, I
prefer to be on the right side of them, and not on the wrong. There is
not much more in it than that. I would rather be on the back of the
'bore' for instance, as it sweeps up the tidal river, than the swimmer
caught underneath it."

"Well, that is intelligible," said Lady Selina Farrell, looking at her
neighbour, as she crumbled her dinner-roll. To crumble your bread at
dinner is a sign of nervousness, according to Sydney Smith, who did it
with both hands when he sat next an Archbishop; yet no one for a good
many years past had ever suspected Lady Selina of nervousness, though
her powers had probably been tried before now by the neighbourhood of
many Primates, Catholic and Anglican. For Lady Selina went much into
society, and had begun it young.

"Still, you know," she resumed after a moment's pause--"you _play_
enthusiasm in public--I suppose you must."

"Oh! of course," said Wharton, indifferently. "That is in the game."

"Why should it be--always? If you are a leader of the people, why don't
you educate them? My father says that bringing feeling into politics is
like making rhymes in one's account book."

"Well, when you have taught the masses how _not_ to feel," said Wharton,
laughing, "we will follow your advice. Meanwhile it is our brains and
their feelings that do the trick. And by the way, Lady Selina, are _you_
always so cool? If you saw the Revolution coming to-morrow into the
garden of Alresford House, would you go to the balcony and argue?"

"I devoutly hope there would be somebody ready to do something more to
the point," said Lady Selina, hastily. "But of course _we_ have
enthusiasms too."

"What, the Flag--and the Throne--that kind of thing?"

The ironical attention which Wharton began at this moment to devote to
the selection of an olive annoyed his companion.

"Yes," she repeated emphatically, "the Flag and the Throne--all that has
made England great in the past. But we know very well that they are not
_your_ enthusiasms."

Wharton's upper lip twitched a little.

"And you are quite sure that Busbridge Towers has nothing to do with
it?" he said suddenly, looking round upon her.

Busbridge Towers was the fine ancestral seat which belonged to Lady
Selina's father, that very respectable and ancient peer, Lord Alresford,
whom an ungrateful party had unaccountably omitted--for the first
time--from the latest Conservative administration.

"Of course we perfectly understand," replied Lady Selina, scornfully,
"that your side--and especially your Socialist friends, put down all
that _we_ do and say to greed and selfishness. It is our
misfortune--hardly our fault."

"Not at all," said Wharton, quietly, "I was only trying to convince you
that it is a little difficult to drive feeling out of politics. Do you
suppose our host succeeds? You perceive?--this is a Radical house--and a
Radical banquet?"

He pushed the _menu_ towards her significantly. Then his eye travelled
with its usual keen rapidity over the room, over the splendid
dinner-table, with its display of flowers and plate, and over the
assembled guests. He and Lady Selina were dining at the hospitable board
of a certain rich manufacturer, who drew enormous revenues from the
west, had formed part of the Radical contingent of the last Liberal
ministry, and had especially distinguished himself by a series of
uncompromising attacks on the ground landlords of London.

Lady Selina sighed.

"It is all a horrible tangle," she said, "and what the next twenty years
will bring forth who can tell? Oh! one moment, Mr. Wharton, before I
forget. Are you engaged for Saturday week?"

He drew a little note-book out of his pocket and consulted it. It
appeared that he was not engaged.

"Then will you dine with us?" She lightly mentioned the names of four or
five distinguished guests, including the Conservative Premier of the
day. Wharton made her a little ceremonious bow.

"I shall be delighted. Can you trust me to behave?"

Lady Selina's smile made her his match for the moment.

"Oh! we can defend ourselves!" she said. "By the way I think you told me
that Mr. Raeburn was not a friend of yours."

"No," said Wharton, facing her look with coolness. "If you have asked
Mr. Raeburn for the 23rd, let me crave your leave to cancel that note in
my pocket-book. Not for my sake, you understand, at all."

She had difficulty in concealing her curiosity. But his face betrayed
nothing. It always seemed to her that his very dark and straight
eyebrows, so obtrusive and unusual as compared with the delicacy of the
features, of the fair skin and light brown curls, made it easy for him
to wear any mask he pleased. By their mere physical emphasis they drew
attention away from the subtler and more revealing things of expression.

"They say," she went on, "that he is sure to do well in the House, if
only he can be made to take interest enough in the party. But one of his
admirers told me that he was not at all anxious to accept this post they
have just given him. He only did it to please his grandfather. My father
thinks Lord Maxwell much aged this year. He is laid up now, with a chill
of some sort I believe. Mr. Raeburn will have to make haste if he is to
have any career in the Commons. But you can see he cares very little
about it. All his friends tell me they find him changed since that
unlucky affair last year. By the way, did you ever see that girl?"

"Certainly. I was staying in her father's house while the engagement
was going on."

"Were you!" said Lady Selina, eagerly, "and what did you think of her?"

"Well, in the first place," said Wharton, slowly, "she is beautiful--you
knew that?"

Lady Selina nodded.

"Yes. Miss Raeburn, who has told me most of what I know, always throws
in a shrug and a 'but' when you ask about her looks. However, I have
seen a photograph of her, so I can judge for myself. It seemed to me a
beauty that men perhaps would admire more than women."

Wharton devoted himself to his green peas, and made no reply. Lady
Selina glanced at him sharply. She herself was by no means a beauty. But
neither was she plain. She had a long, rather distinguished face, with a
marked nose and a wide thin-lipped mouth. Her plentiful fair hair, a
little dull and ashy in colour, was heaped up above her forehead in
infinitesimal curls and rolls which did great credit to her maid, and
gave additional height to the head and length to a thin white neck. Her
light blue eyes were very direct and observant. Their expression implied
both considerable knowledge of the world and a natural inquisitiveness.
Many persons indeed were of opinion that Lady Selina wished to know too
much about you and were on their guard when she approached.

"You admired her very much, I see," she resumed, as Wharton still
remained silent.

"Oh, yes. We talked Socialism, and then I defended her poacher for her."

"Oh, I remember. And it is really true, as Miss Raeburn says, that she
broke it off because she could not get Lord Maxwell and Mr. Raeburn to
sign the petition for the poacher?"

"Somewhere about true," said Wharton, carelessly.

"Miss Raeburn always gives the same account; you can never get anything
else out of her. But I sometimes wonder whether it is the _whole_ truth.
_You_ think she was sincere?"

"Well, she gave up Maxwell Court and thirty thousand a year," he replied
drily. "I should say she had at least earned the benefit of the doubt."

"I mean," said Lady Selina, "was she in love with anybody else, and was
the poacher an excuse?"

She turned upon him as she spoke--a smiling, self-possessed person--a
little spoilt by those hard, inquisitive eyes.

"No, I think not," said Wharton, throwing his head back to meet her
scrutiny. "If so, nothing has been heard of him yet. Miss Boyce has been
at St. Edward's Hospital for the last year."

"To learn nursing? It is what all the women do nowadays, they tell me,
who can't get on with their relations or their lovers. Do you suppose it
is such a very hard life?"

"I don't want to try!" said Wharton. "Do you?"

She evaded his smile.

"What is she going to do when she has done her training?"

"Settle down and nurse among the poor, I believe."

"Magnificent, no doubt, but hardly business, from her point of view. How
much more she might have done for the poor with thirty thousand a year!
And any woman could put up with Aldous Raeburn."

Wharton shrugged his shoulders.

"We come back to those feelings, Lady Selina, you think so badly of."

She laughed.

"Well, but feelings must be intelligible. And this seems so small a
cause. However, were you there when it was broken off?"

"No; I have never seen her since the day of the poacher's trial."

"Oh! So she has gone into complete seclusion from all her friends?"

"That I can't answer for. I can only tell you my own experience."

Lady Selina bethought herself of a great many more questions to ask, but
somehow did not ask them. The talk fell upon politics, which lasted till
the hostess gave the signal, and Lady Selina, gathering up her fan and
gloves, swept from the room next after the Countess at the head of the
table, while a host of elderly ladies, wives of ministers and the like,
stood meekly by to let her pass.

As he sat down again, Wharton made the entry of the dinner at Alresford
House, to which he had just promised himself, a little plainer. It was
the second time in three weeks that Lady Selina had asked him, and he
was well aware that several other men at this dinner-table, of about the
same standing and prospects as himself, would be very glad to be in his
place. Lady Selina, though she was unmarried, and not particularly
handsome or particularly charming, was a personage--and knew it. As the
mistress of her father's various fine houses, and the kinswoman of half
the great families of England, she had ample social opportunities, and
made, on the whole, clever use of them. She was not exactly popular, but
in her day she had been extremely useful to many, and her invitations
were prized. Wharton had been introduced to her at the beginning of
this, his second session, had adopted with her the easy, aggressive,
"personal" manner--which, on the whole, was his natural manner towards
women--and had found it immediately successful.

When he had replaced his pocket-book, he found himself approached by a
man on his own side of the table, a member of Parliament like himself,
with whom he was on moderately friendly terms.

"Your motion comes on next Friday, I think," said the new-comer.

Wharton nodded.

"It'll be a beastly queer division," said the other--"a precious lot of
cross-voting."

"That'll be the way with that kind of question for a good while to
come--don't you think"--said Wharton, smiling, "till we get a complete
reorganisation of parties?"

As he leaned back in his chair, enjoying his cigarette, his half-shut
eyes behind the curls of smoke made a good-humoured but contemptuous
study of his companion.

Mr. Bateson was a young manufacturer, recently returned to Parliament,
and newly married. He had an open, ruddy face, spoilt by an expression
of chronic perplexity, which was almost fretfulness. Not that the
countenance was without shrewdness; but it suggested that the man had
ambitions far beyond his powers of performance, and already knew himself
to be inadequate.

"Well, I shouldn't wonder if you get a considerable vote," he resumed,
after a pause; "it's like women's suffrage. People will go on voting for
this kind of thing, till there seems a chance of getting it. _Then_!"

"Ah, well!" said Wharton, easily, "I see we shan't get _you_."

"_I_!--vote for an eight-hours day, by local and trade option! In my
opinion I might as well vote for striking the flag on the British Empire
at once! It would be the death-knell of all our prosperity."

Wharton's artistic ear disliked the mixture of metaphor, and he frowned
slightly.

Mr. Bateson hurried on. He was already excited, and had fallen upon
Wharton as a prey.

"And you really desire to make it _penal_ for us manufacturers--for me
in my industry--in spite of all the chances and changes of the market,
to work my men more than eight hours a day--_even_ if they wish it!"

"We must get our decision, our majority of the adult workers in any
given district in favour of an eight-hours day," said Wharton, blandly;
"then when they have voted for it, the local authority will put the Act
in motion."

"And my men--conceivably--may have voted in the minority, against any
such tomfoolery; yet, when the vote is given, it will be a punishable
offence for them, and me, to work overtime? You _actually_ mean that;
how do you propose to punish us?"

"Well," said Wharton, relighting his cigarette, "that is a much debated
point. Personally, I am in favour of imprisonment rather than fine."

The other bounded on his chair.

"You would imprison me for working overtime--with _willing men!_"

Wharton eyed him with smiling composure. Two or three other men--an old
general, the smart private secretary of a cabinet minister, and a
well-known permanent official at the head of one of the great spending
departments--who were sitting grouped at the end of the table a few feet
away, stopped their conversation to listen.

"Except in cases of emergency, which are provided for under the Act,"
said Wharton. "Yes, I should imprison you, with the greatest pleasure in
life. Eight hours _plus_ overtime is what we are going to stop, _at all
hazards!_"

A flash broke from his blue eyes. Then he tranquilly resumed his
smoking.

The young manufacturer flushed with angry agitation.

"But you must know, it is inconceivable that you should not know, that
the whole thing is stark staring lunacy. In our business, trade is
declining, the export falling every year, the imports from France
steadily advancing. And you are going to make us fight a country where
men work eleven hours a day, for lower wages, with our hands tied behind
our backs by legislation of this kind? Well, you know," he threw
himself back in his chair with a contemptuous laugh, "there can be only
one explanation. You and your friends, of course, have banished
political economy to Saturn--and you suppose that by doing so you get
rid of it for all the rest of the world. But I imagine it will beat you,
all the same!"

He stopped in a heat. As usual what he found to say was not equal to
what he wanted to say, and beneath his anger with Wharton was the
familiar fuming at his own lack of impressiveness.

"Well, I dare say," said Wharton, serenely. "However, let's take your
'political economy' a moment, and see if I can understand what you mean
by it. There never were two words that meant all things to all men so
disreputably!"

And thereupon to the constant accompaniment of his cigarette, and with
the utmost composure and good temper, he began to "heckle" his
companion, putting questions, suggesting perfidious illustrations,
extracting innocent admissions, with a practised shrewdness and malice,
which presently left the unfortunate Bateson floundering in a sea of his
own contradictions, and totally unable for the moment to attach any
rational idea whatever to those great words of his favourite science,
wherewith he was generally accustomed to make such triumphant play, both
on the platform and in the bosom of the family.

The permanent official round the corner watched the unequal fight with
attentive amusement. Once when it was a question of Mill's doctrine of
cost of production as compared with that of a leading modern
collectivist, he leant forward and supplied a correction of something
Wharton had said. Wharton instantly put down his cigarette and addressed
him in another tone. A rapid dialogue passed between them, the dialogue
of experts, sharp, allusive, elliptical, in the midst of which the host
gave the signal for joining the ladies.

"Well, all I know is," said Bateson, as he got up, "that these kinds of
questions, if you and your friends have your way, will _wreck_ the
Liberal party before long--far more effectually than anything Irish has
ever done. On these things some of us will fight, if it must come to
that."

Wharton laughed.

"It would be a national misfortune if you didn't give us a stiff job,"
he said, with an airy good-humour which at once made the other's
blustering look ridiculous.

"I wonder what that fellow is going to do in the House," said the
permanent official to his companion as they went slowly upstairs,
Wharton being some distance ahead. "People are all beginning to talk of
him as a coming man, though nobody quite knows why, as yet. They tell me
he frames well in speaking, and will probably make a mark with his
speech next Friday. But his future seems to me very doubtful. He can
only become a power as the head of a new Labour party. But where is the
party? They all want to be kings. The best point in his favour is that
they are likely enough to take a gentleman if they must have a leader.
But there still remains the question whether he can make anything out of
the material."

"I hope to God he can't!" said the old general, grimly; "it is these
town-chatterers of yours that will bring the Empire about our heads
before we've done. They've begun it already, wherever they saw a
chance."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the drawing-room Wharton devoted himself for a few minutes to his
hostess, a little pushing woman, who confided to his apparently
attentive ear a series of grievances as to the bad manners of the great
ladies of their common party, and the general evil plight of Liberalism
in London from the social point of view.

"Either they give themselves airs--_rediculous_ airs!--or they admit
everybody!" she said, with a lavish use of white shoulders and scarlet
fan by way of emphasis. "My husband feels it just as much as I do. It is
a real misfortune for the party that its social affairs should be so
villainously managed. Oh! I dare say _you_ don't mind, Mr. Wharton,
because you are a Socialist. But, I assure you, those of us who still
believe in the influence of the best people don't like it."

A point whence Wharton easily led her through a series of spiteful
anecdotes bearing on her own social mishaps and rebuffs, which were none
the less illuminating because of the teller's anxious effort to give
them a dignified and disinterested air. Then, when neither she nor her
plight were any longer amusing, he took his leave, exchanging another
skirmishing word or two on the staircase with Lady Selina, who it
appeared was "going on" as he was, and to the same house.

In a few minutes his hansom landed him at the door of a great mansion
in Berkeley Square, where a huge evening party was proceeding, given by
one of those Liberal ladies whom his late hostess had been so freely
denouncing. The lady and the house belonged to a man who had held high
office in the late Administration.

As he made his way slowly to the top of the crowded stairs, the stately
woman in white satin and diamonds who was "receiving" on the landing
marked him, and when his name was announced she came forward a step or
two. Nothing could have been more flattering than the smile with which
she gave him her gloved hand to touch.

"Have you been out of town all these Sundays?" she said to him, with the
slightest air of soft reproach. "I am always at home, you know--I told
you so!"

She spoke with the ease of one who could afford to make whatever social
advances she pleased. Wharton excused himself, and they chatted a little
in the intervals of her perpetual greetings to the mounting crowd. She
and he had met at a famous country house in the Easter recess, and her
aristocrat's instinct for all that gives savour and sharpness to the
dish of life had marked him at once.

"Sir Hugh wants you to come down and see us in Sussex," she said,
stretching her white neck a little to speak after him, as he was at last
carried through the drawing-room door by the pressure behind him. "Will
you?"

He threw back an answer which she rather took for granted than heard,
for she nodded and smiled through it--stiffening her delicate-face the
moment afterwards to meet the timid remarks of one of her husband's
constituents--asked by Sir Hugh in the streets that afternoon--who
happened to present her with the next hand to shake.

Inside, Wharton soon found himself brought up against the ex-Secretary
of State himself, who greeted him cordially, and then bantered him a
little on his coming motion.

"Oh, I shall be interested to see what you make of it. But, you know, it
has no _actuality_--never can have--till you can agree among yourselves.
You _say_ you want the same thing--I dare say you'll all swear it on
Friday--but _really_--"

The statesman shook his head pleasantly.

"The details are a little vague still, I grant you," said Wharton,
smiling.

"And you think the principle matters twopence without the details? I
have always found that the difficulty with the Christian command, 'Be ye
perfect.' The principle doesn't trouble me at all!"

The swaying of the entering throng parted the two speakers, and for a
second or two the portly host followed with his eye the fair profile and
lightly-built figure of the younger man as they receded from him in the
crowd. It was in his mind that the next twenty years, whether this man
or that turned out to be important or no, must see an enormous
quickening of the political pace. He himself was not conscious of any
jealousy of the younger men; but neither did he see among them any
commanding personality. This young fellow, with his vivacity, his
energy, and his Socialist whims, was interesting enough; and his
problem was interesting--the problem of whether he could make a party
out of the heterogeneous group of which he was turning out to be
indisputably the ablest member. But what was there _certain_ or
_inevitable_ about his future after all? And it was the same with all
the rest. Whereas the leaders of the past had surely announced
themselves beyond mistake from the beginning. He was inclined to think,
however, that we were levelling up rather than levelling down. The world
grew too clever, and leadership was more difficult every day.

Meanwhile Wharton found his progress through these stately rooms
extremely pleasant. He was astonished at the multitude of people he
knew, at the numbers of faces that smiled upon him. Presently, after
half an hour of hard small talk, he found himself for a moment without
an acquaintance, leaning against an archway between two rooms, and free
to watch the throng. Self-love, "that froward presence, like a
chattering child within us," was all alert and happy. A feeling of
surprise, too, which had not yet worn away. A year before he had told
Marcella Boyce, and with conviction, that he was an outcast from his
class. He smiled now at that past _naïveté_ which had allowed him to
take the flouts of his country neighbours and his mother's unpopularity
with her aristocratic relations for an index of the way in which
"society" in general would be likely to treat him and his opinions. He
now knew, on the contrary, that those opinions had been his best
advertisement. Few people, it appeared, were more in demand among the
great than those who gave it out that they would, if they could, abolish
the great.

"It's because they're not enough afraid of us--yet," he said to himself,
not without spleen. "When we really get to business--if we ever do--I
shall not be coming to Lady Cradock's parties."

"Mr. Wharton, do you ever do such a frivolous thing as go to the
theatre?" said a pretty, languishing creature at his elbow, the wife of
a London theatrical manager. "Suppose you come and see us in 'The
Minister's Wooing,' first night next Saturday. I've got _one_ seat in my
box, for somebody _very_ agreeable. Only it must be somebody who can
appreciate my frocks!"

"I should be charmed," said Wharton. "Are the frocks so adorable?"

"Adorable! Then I may write you a note? You don't have your horrid
Parliament that night, do you?" and she fluttered on.

"I think you don't know my younger daughter, Mr. Wharton?" said a severe
voice at his elbow.

He turned and saw an elderly matron with the usual matronly cap and
careworn countenance putting forward a young thing in white, to whom he
bowed with great ceremony. The lady was the wife of a north-country
magnate of very old family, and one of the most exclusive of her kind in
London. The daughter, a vision of young shyness and bloom, looked at him
with frightened eyes as he leant against the wall beside her and began
to talk. She wished he would go away and let her get to the girl friend
who was waiting for her and signalling to her across the room. But in a
minute or two she had forgotten to wish anything of the kind. The
mixture of audacity with a perfect self-command in the manner of her new
acquaintance, that searching half-mocking look, which saw everything in
detail, and was always pressing beyond the generalisations of talk and
manners, the lightness and brightness of the whole aspect, of the curls,
the eyes, the flexible determined mouth, these things arrested her. She
began to open her virgin heart, first in protesting against attack, then
in confession, till in ten minutes her white breast was heaving under
the excitement of her own temerity and Wharton knew practically all
about her, her mingled pleasure and remorse in "going out," her
astonishment at the difference between the world as it was this year,
and the world as it had been last, when she was still in the
school-room--her Sunday-school--her brothers--her ideals--for she was a
little nun at heart--her favourite clergyman--and all the rest of it.

"I say, Wharton, come and dine, will you, Thursday, at the House--small
party--meet in my room?"

So said one of the party whips, from behind into his ear. The speaker
was a popular young aristocrat who in the preceding year had treated the
member for West Brookshire with chilliness. Wharton turned--to consider
a moment--then gave a smiling assent.

"All right!" said the other, withdrawing his hand from Wharton's
shoulder--"good-night!--two more of these beastly crushes to fight
through till I can get to my bed, worse luck! Are any of your fellows
here to-night?"

Wharton shook his head.

"Too austere, I suppose?"

"A question of dress coats, I should think," said Wharton, drily.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"And this calls itself a party gathering--in a radical and democratic
house--what a farce it all is!"

"Agreed! good-night."

And Wharton moved on, just catching as he did so the eyes of his new
girl acquaintance looking back at him from a distant door. Their shy
owner withdrew them instantly, coloured, and passed out of sight.

At the same moment a guest entered by the same door, a tall grave man in
the prime of life, but already grey haired. Wharton, to his surprise,
recognised Aldous Raeburn, and saw also that the master of the house had
him by the arm. They came towards him, talking. The crowd prevented him
from getting effectually out of their way, but he turned aside and took
up a magazine lying on a bookcase near.

"And you really think him a trifle better?" said the ex-minister.

"Oh, yes, better--certainly better--but I am afraid he will hardly get
back to work this session--the doctors talk of sending him away at
once."

"Ah, well," said the other, smiling, "we don't intend it seems to let
you send anything important up to the Lords yet awhile, so there will be
time for him to recruit."

"I wish I was confident about the recruiting," said Raeburn, sadly. "He
has lost much strength. I shall go with them to the Italian lakes at the
end of next week, see them settled and come back at once."

"Shall you miss a sitting of the commission?" asked his host. Both he
and Raeburn were members of an important Labour Commission appointed the
year before by the new Conservative government.

"Hardly, I think," said Raeburn, "I am particularly anxious not to miss
D----'s evidence."

And they fell talking a little about the Commission and the witnesses
recently examined before it. Wharton, who was wedged in by a group of
ladies, and could not for the moment move, heard most of what they were
saying, much against his will. Moreover Raeburn's tone of quiet and
masterly familiarity with what he and his companion were discussing
annoyed him. There was nothing in the world that he himself would more
eagerly have accepted than a seat on that Commission.

"Ah! there is Lady Cradock!" said Raeburn, perceiving his hostess across
a sea of intervening faces, and responding to her little wave of the
hand. "I must go and get a few words with her, and then take my aunt
away."

As he made his way towards her, he suddenly brushed against Wharton, who
could not escape. Raeburn looked up, recognised the man he had touched,
flushed slightly and passed on. A bystander would have supposed them
strangers to each other.




CHAPTER II.


Two or three minutes later, Wharton was walking down a side street
towards Piccadilly. After all the flattering incidents of the evening,
the chance meeting with which it concluded had jarred unpleasantly.
Confound the fellow! Was he the first man in the world who had been
thrown over by a girl because he had been discovered to be a tiresome
pedant? For even supposing Miss Boyce had described that little scene in
the library at Mellor to her _fiancé_ at the moment of giving him his
dismissal--and the year before, by the help of all the news that reached
him about the broken engagement, by the help still more of the look, or
rather the entire absence of look wherewith Raeburn had walked past his
greeting and his outstretched hand in a corridor of the House, on the
first occasion of their meeting after the news had become public
property, Wharton was inclined to think she _had_--what then? No doubt
the stern moralist might have something to say on the subject of taking
advantage of a guest's position to tamper with another man's betrothed.
If so, the stern moralist would only show his usual incapacity to grasp
the actual facts of flesh and blood. What chance would he or any one
else have had with Marcella Boyce, if she had happened to be in love
with the man she had promised to marry? That little trifle had been left
out in the arrangement. It might have worked through perfectly well
without; as it happened it had broken down. _Realities_ had broken it
down. Small blame to them!

"I stood for _truth_!" he said to himself with a kind of rage--"that
moment when I held her in the library, she _lived_.--Raeburn offered her
a platform, a position; _I_ made her think, and feel. I helped her to
know herself. Our relation was not passion; it stood on the
threshold--but it was real--a true relation so far as it went. That it
went no farther was due again to circumstances--realities--of another
kind. That _he_ should scorn and resent my performance at Mellor is
natural enough. If we were in France he would call me out and I should
give him satisfaction with all the pleasure in life. But what am _I_
about? Are his ways mine? I should have nothing left but to shoot myself
to-morrow if they were!"

He walked on swiftly, angrily rating himself for those symptoms of a
merely false and conventional conscience which were apt to be roused in
him by contact with Aldous Raeburn.

"Has he not interfered with my freedom--stamped his pedantic foot on
me--ever since we were boys together! I have owed him one for many
years--now I have paid it. Let him take the chances of war!"

Then, driven on by an irritation not to be quieted, he began against his
will to think of those various occasions on which he and Aldous Raeburn
had crossed each other in the past--of that incident in particular which
Miss Raeburn had roughly recalled to Lady Winterbourne's reluctant
memory.

Well, and what of it? It had occurred when Wharton was a lad of
twenty-one, and during an interval of some months when Aldous Raeburn,
who had left Cambridge some three years before, and was already the man
of importance, had shown a decided disposition to take up the brilliant,
unmanageable boy, whom the Levens, among other relations, had already
washed their hands of.

"What did he do it for?" thought Wharton. "Philanthropic motives of
course. He is one of the men who must always be saving their souls, and
the black sheep of the world come in handy for the purpose. I remember I
was flattered then. It takes one some time to understand the workings of
the Hebraistic conscience!"

Yes--as it galled him to recollect--he had shown great plasticity for a
time. He was then in the middle of his Oxford years, and Raeburn's
letters and Raeburn's influence had certainly pulled him through various
scrapes that might have been disastrous. Then--a little later--he could
see the shooting lodge on the moors above Loch Etive, where he and
Raeburn, Lord Maxwell, Miss Raeburn, and a small party had spent the
August of his twenty-first birthday. Well--that surly keeper, and his
pretty wife who had been Miss Raeburn's maid--could anything be more
inevitable? A hard and jealous husband, and one of the softest, most
sensuous natures that ever idleness made love to. The thing was in the
air!--in the summer, in the blood--as little to be resisted as the
impulse to eat when you are hungry, or drink when you thirst. Besides,
what particular harm had been done, what particular harm _could_ have
been done with such a Cerberus of a husband? As to the outcry which had
followed one special incident, nothing could have been more uncalled
for, more superfluous. Aldous had demanded contrition, had said strong
things with the flashing eyes, the set mouth of a Cato. And the culprit
had turned obstinate--would repent nothing--not for the asking.
Everything was arguable, and Renan's doubt as to whether he or Théophile
Gautier were in the right of it, would remain a doubt to all time--that
was all Raeburn could get out of him. After which the Hebraist friend of
course had turned his back on the offender, and there was an end of it.

That incident, however, had belonged to a stage in his past life, a
stage marked by a certain prolonged tumult of the senses, on which he
now looked back with great composure. That tumult had found vent in
other adventures more emphatic a good deal than the adventure of the
keeper's wife. He believed that one or two of them had been not unknown
to Raeburn.

Well, that was done with! His mother's death--that wanton stupidity on
the part of fate--and the shock it had somehow caused him, had first
drawn him out of the slough of a cheap and facile pleasure on which he
now looked back with contempt. Afterwards, his two years of travel, and
the joys at once virile and pure they had brought with them, joys of
adventure, bodily endurance, discovery, together with the intellectual
stimulus which comes of perpetual change, of new heavens, new seas, new
societies, had loosened the yoke of the flesh and saved him from
himself. The deliverance so begun had been completed at home, by the
various chances and opportunities which had since opened to him a solid
and tempting career in that Labour movement his mother had linked him
with, without indeed ever understanding either its objects or its men.
The attack on capital now developing on all sides, the planning of the
vast campaign, and the handling of its industrial troops, these things
had made the pursuit of women look insipid, coupled as they were with
the thrill of increasing personal success. Passion would require to
present itself in new forms, if it was now to take possession of him
again.

As to his relation to Raeburn, he well remembered that when, after that
long break in his life, he and Aldous had met casually again, in London
or elsewhere, Aldous had shown a certain disposition to forget the old
quarrel, and to behave with civility, though not with friendliness. As
to Wharton he was quite willing, though at the same time he had gone
down to contest West Brookshire, and, above all, had found himself in
the same house as Aldous Raeburn's betrothed, with an even livelier
sense than usual of the excitement to be got out of mere living.

No doubt when Raeburn heard that story of the library--if he had heard
it--he recognised in it the man and the character he had known of old,
and had shrunk from the connection of both with Marcella Boyce in bitter
and insurmountable disgust. A mere Hebraist's mistake!

"That girl's attraction for me was not an attraction of the
senses--except so far that for every normal man and woman charm is
charm, and ginger is hot in the mouth and always will be! What I played
for with her was _power_--power over a nature that piqued and yet by
natural affinity belonged to me. I could not have retained that power,
as it happened, by any bait of passion. Even without the Hurd affair, if
I had gone on to approach her so, her whole moral nature would have
risen against me and her own treachery. I knew that perfectly well, and
took the line I did because for the moment the game was too exciting,
too interesting, to give up. For the moment! then a few days,--a few
weeks later--Good Lord! what stuff we mortals be!"

And he raised his shoulders, mocking, yet by no means disliking his own
idiosyncrasies. It had been strange, indeed, that complete change of
mental emphasis, that alteration of spiritual axis that had befallen him
within the first weeks of his parliamentary life, nay, even before the
Hurd agitation was over. That agitation had brought him vigorously and
profitably into public notice at a convenient moment. But what had
originally sprung from the impulse to retain a hold over a woman, became
in the end the instrument of a new and quite other situation. Wharton
had no sooner entered the House of Commons than he felt himself
strangely at home there. He had the instinct for debate, the instinct
for management, together with a sensitive and contriving ambition. He
found himself possessed for the moment of powers of nervous endurance
that astonished him--a patience of boredom besides, a capacity for
drudgery, and for making the best of dull men. The omens were all
favourable, sometimes startlingly so. He was no longer hampered by the
ill-will of a county or a family connection. Here in this new world,
every man counted strictly for what, in the parliamentary sense, he was
worth. Wharton saw that, owing to his public appearances during the two
preceding years, he was noticed, listened to, talked about in the House,
from the first; and that his position in the newly-formed though still
loosely-bound Labour party was one of indefinite promise. The anxieties
and pitfalls of the position only made it the more absorbing.

The quick, elastic nature adjusted itself at once. To some kinds of
success, nothing is so important as the ability to forget--to sweep the
mind free of everything irrelevant and superfluous. Marcella Boyce, and
all connected with her, passed clean out of Wharton's consciousness.
Except that once or twice he said to himself with a passing smile that
it was a good thing he had not got himself into a worse scrape at
Mellor. Good heavens! in what plight would a man stand--a man with his
career to make--who had given Marcella Boyce claims upon him! As well
entangle oneself with the Tragic Muse at once as with that stormy,
unmanageable soul!

So much for a year ago. To-night, however, the past had been thrust back
upon him, both by Lady Selina's talk and by the meeting with Raeburn. To
smart indeed once more under that old ascendency of Raeburn's, was to
be provoked into thinking of Raeburn's old love.

Where was Miss Boyce? Surely her year of hospital training must be up by
now?

He turned into St. James Street, stopped at a door not far from the
Palace end, let himself in, and groped his way to the second floor. A
sleepy man-servant turned out of his room, and finding that his master
was not inclined to go to bed, brought lights and mineral water. Wharton
was practically a teetotaller. He had taken a whim that way as a boy,
and a few experiments in drunkenness which he had made at college had
only confirmed what had been originally perhaps a piece of
notoriety-hunting. He had, as a rule, flawless health; and the
unaccustomed headaches and nausea which followed these occasional
excesses had disgusted and deterred him. He shook himself easily free of
a habit which had never gained a hold upon him, and had ever since found
his abstinence a source both of vanity and of distinction. Nothing
annoyed him more than to hear it put down to any ethical motive. "If I
liked the beastly stuff, I should swim in it to-morrow," he would say
with an angry eye when certain acquaintance--not those he made at Labour
Congresses--goaded him on the point. "As it is, why should I make it, or
chloral, or morphia, or any other poison, my master! What's the
inducement--eh, you fellows?"

_En revanche_ he smoked inordinately.

"Is that all, sir," said his servant, pausing behind his chair, after
candles, matches, cigarettes, and Apollinaris had been supplied in
abundance.

"Yes; go to bed, Williams, but don't lock up. Good-night."

The man departed, and Wharton, going to the window which opened on a
balcony looking over St. James Street, threw it wide, and smoked a
cigarette leaning against the wall. It was on the whole a fine night and
warm, though the nip of the east wind was not yet out of the air. In the
street below there was still a good deal of movement, for it was only
just past midnight and the clubs were not yet empty. To his right the
turreted gate-house of the Palace with its clock rose dark against a sky
covered with light, windy cloud. Beyond it his eye sought instinctively
for the Clock Tower, which stood to-night dull and beaconless--like some
one in a stupid silence. That light of the sitting House had become to
him one of the standing pleasures of life. He had never yet been
honestly glad of its extinction.

"I'm a precious raw hand," he confessed to himself with a shake of the
head as he stood there smoking. "And it can't last--nothing does."

Presently he laid down his cigarette a moment on the edge of the
balcony, and, coming back into the room, opened a drawer, searched a
little, and finally took out a letter. He stooped over the lamp to read
it. It was the letter which Marcella Boyce had written him some two or
three days after the breach of her engagement. That fact was barely
mentioned at the beginning of it, without explanation or comment of any
kind. Then the letter continued:

"I have never yet thanked you as I ought for all that you have done and
attempted through these many weeks. But for them it must have been plain
to us both that we could never rightly meet again. I am very destitute
just now--and I cling to self-respect as though it were the only thing
left me. But that scene in the past, which put us both wrong with
honour and conscience, has surely been wiped out--_thought--suffered_
away. I feel that I dare now say to you, as I would to any other
co-worker and co-thinker--if in the future you ever want my work, if you
can set me, with others, to any task that wants doing and that I could
do--ask me, and I am not likely to refuse.

"But for the present I am going quite away into another world. I have
been more ill than I have ever been in my life this last few days, and
they are all, even my father, ready to agree with me that I must go. As
soon as I am a little stronger I am to have a year's training at a
London hospital, and then I shall probably live for a while in town and
nurse. This scheme occurred to me as I came back with the wife from
seeing Hurd the day before the execution. I knew then that all was over
for me at Mellor.

"As for the wretched break-down of everything--of all my schemes and
friendships here--I had better not speak of it. I feel that I have given
these village-folk, whom I had promised to help, one more reason to
despair of life. It is not pleasant to carry such a thought away with
one. But if the tool breaks and blunts, how can the task be done? It can
be of no use till it has been re-set.

"I should like to know how your plans prosper. But I shall see your
paper and follow what goes on in Parliament. For the present I want
neither to write nor get letters. They tell me that as a probationer I
shall spend my time at first in washing glasses, and polishing
bath-taps, on which my mind rests!

"If you come across my friends of whom I have spoken to you--Louis,
Anthony, and Edith Craven--and could make any use of Louis for the
_Labour Clarion_, I should be grateful. I hear they have had bad times
of late, and Louis has engaged himself, and wants to be married. You
remember I told you how we worked at the South Kensington classes
together, and how they made me a Venturist?

  "Yours very truly,

  "MARCELLA BOYCE."

Wharton laid down the letter, making a wry mouth over some of its
phrases.

"'_Put us both wrong with honour and conscience.' 'One more reason for
despair of life'--'All was over for me at Mellor_'--dear! dear!--how
women like the big words--the emphatic pose. All those little odds and
ends of charities--that absurd straw-plaiting scheme! Well, perhaps one
could hardly expect her to show a sense of humour just then. But why
does nature so often leave it out in these splendid creatures?"

"Hullo!" he added, as he bent over the table to look for a pen; "why
didn't that idiot give me these?"

For there, under an evening paper which he had not touched, lay a pile
of unopened letters. His servant had forgotten to point them out to him.
On the top was a letter on which Wharton pounced at once. It was
addressed in a bold inky hand, and he took it to be from Nehemiah
Wilkins, M.P., his former colleague at the Birmingham Labour Congress,
of late a member of the _Labour Clarion_ staff, and as such a daily
increasing plague and anxiety to the _Clarion's_ proprietor.

However, the letter was not from Wilkins. It was from the secretary of
a Midland trades-union, with whom Wharton had already been in
communication. The union was recent, and represented the as yet feeble
organisation of a metal industry in process of transition from the
home-workshop to the full factory, or Great Industry stage. The
conditions of work were extremely bad, and grievances many; wages were
low, and local distress very great. The secretary, a young man of
ability and enthusiasm, wrote to Wharton to say that certain alterations
in the local "payment lists" lately made by the employers amounted to a
reduction of wages; that the workers, beginning to feel the heartening
effects of their union, were determined not to submit; that bitter and
even desperate agitation was spreading fast, and that a far-reaching
strike was imminent. Could they count on the support of the _Clarion_?
The _Clarion_ had already published certain letters on the industry from
a Special Commissioner--letters which had drawn public attention, and
had been eagerly read in the district itself. Would the _Clarion_ now
"go in" for them? Would Mr. Wharton personally support them, in or out
of Parliament, and get his friends to do the same? To which questions,
couched in terms extremely flattering to the power of the _Clarion_ and
its owner, the secretary appended a long and technical statement of the
situation.

Wharton looked up from the letter with a kindling eye. He foresaw an
extremely effective case, both for the newspaper and the House of
Commons. One of the chief capitalists involved was a man called Denny,
who had been long in the House, for whom the owner of the _Clarion_
entertained a strong personal dislike. Denny had thwarted him
vexatiously--had perhaps even made him ridiculous--on one or two
occasions; and Wharton saw no reason whatever for forgiving one's
enemies until, like Narvaez, one had "shot them all." There would be
much satisfaction in making Denny understand who were his masters. And
with these motives there mingled a perfectly genuine sympathy with the
"poor devils" in question, and a desire to see them righted.

"Somebody must be sent down at once," he said to himself. "I suppose,"
he added, with discontent, "it must be Wilkins."

For the man who had written the articles for the _Labour Clarion_, as
Special Commissioner, had some three weeks before left England to take
command of a colonial newspaper.

Still pondering, he took up the other letters, turned them
over--childishly pleased for the thousandth time by the M.P. on each
envelope and the number and variety of his correspondence--and eagerly
chose out three--one from his bankers, one from his Lincolnshire agent,
and one from the _Clarion_ office, undoubtedly this time in Wilkins's
hand.

He read them, grew a little pale, swore under his breath, and, angrily
flinging the letters away from him, he took up his cigarette again and
thought.

The letter from his bankers asked his attention in stiff terms to a
largely overdrawn account, and entirely declined to advance a sum of
money for which he had applied to them without the guarantee of two
substantial names in addition to his own. The letter from his agent
warned him that the extraordinary drought of the past six weeks,
together with the general agricultural depression, would certainly mean
a large remission of rents at the June quarter day, and also informed
him that the holders of his co-operative farm would not be able to pay
their half-yearly interest on the capital advanced to them by the
landlord.

As to the third letter, it was in truth much more serious than the two
others. Wilkins, the passionate and suspicious workman, of great natural
ability, who had been in many ways a thorn in Wharton's side since the
beginning of his public career, was now member for a mining
constituency. His means of support were extremely scanty, and at the
opening of the new Parliament Wharton had offered him well-paid work on
the _Clarion_ newspaper. It had seemed to the proprietor of the
_Clarion_ a way of attaching a dangerous man to himself, perhaps also of
controlling him. Wilkins had grudgingly accepted, understanding
perfectly well what was meant.

Since then the relation between the two men had been one of perpetual
friction. Wilkins's irritable pride would yield nothing, either in the
House or in the _Clarion_ office, to Wharton's university education and
class advantages, while Wharton watched with alarm the growing influence
of this insubordinate and hostile member of his own staff on those
labour circles from which the _Clarion_ drew its chief support.

In the letter he had just read Wilkins announced to the proprietor of
the _Clarion_ that in consequence of the "scandalous mismanagement" of
that paper's handling of a certain trade arbitration which had just
closed, he, Wilkins, could no longer continue to write for it, and
begged to terminate his engagement at once, there being no formal
agreement between himself and Wharton as to length of notice on either
side. A lively attack on the present management and future prospects of
the _Clarion_ followed, together with the threat that the writer would
do what in him lay henceforward to promote the cause of a certain rival
organ lately started, among such working men as he might be able to
influence.

"_Brute_! jealous, impracticable brute!" exclaimed Wharton aloud, as he
stood chafing and smoking by the window. All the difficulties which this
open breach was likely to sow in his path stood out before him in clear
relief.

"_Personal_ leadership, there is the whole problem," he said to himself
in moody despair. "Can I--like Parnell--make a party and keep it
together? Can I through the _Clarion_--and through influence _outside_
the House--coerce the men _in_ the House? If so, we can do something,
and Lady Cradock will no longer throw me her smiles. If not the game is
up, both for me and for them. They have no cohesion, no common
information, no real power. Without leaders they are a mere set of
half-educated firebrands whom the trained mind of the country humours
because it must, and so far as they have brute force behind them.
Without _leadership_, _I_ am a mere unit of the weakest group in the House.
Yet, by Jove! it looks as though I had not the gifts."

And he looked back with passionate chagrin on the whole course of his
connection with Wilkins, his unavailing concessions and small
humiliations, his belief in his own tact and success, all the time that
the man dealt with was really slipping out of his hands.

"Damn the fellow!" he said at last, flinging his cigarette away. "Well,
that's done with. All the same, he would have liked that Midland job! He
has been hankering after a strike there for some time, and might have
ranted as he pleased. I shall have the satisfaction of informing him he
has lost his opportunity. Now then--who to send? By Jove! what about
Miss Boyce's friend?"

He stood a moment twisting the quill-pen he had taken up, then he
hastily found a sheet of paper and wrote:

"Dear Miss Boyce,--It is more than a year since I have heard of you, and
I have been wondering with much interest lately whether you have really
taken up a nursing life. You remember speaking to me of your friends the
Cravens? I come across them sometimes at the Venturist meetings, and
have always admired their ability. Last year I could do nothing
practical to meet your wishes. This year, however, there is an opening
on the _Clarion_, and I should like to discuss it with you. Are you in
town or to be found? I could come any afternoon next week, _early_--I go
down to the House at four--or on Saturdays. But I should like it to be
Tuesday or Wednesday, that I might try and persuade you to come to our
Eight Hours debate on Friday night. It would interest you, and I think I
could get you a seat. We Labour members are like the Irishmen--we can
always get our friends in.

"I must send this round by Mellor, so it may not reach you till Tuesday.
Perhaps you will kindly telegraph. The _Clarion_ matter is pressing.

  "Yours sincerely,

  "H.S. WHARTON."

When he had finished he lingered a moment over the letter, the play of
conflicting motives and memories bringing a vague smile to the lips.

Reverie, however, was soon dispersed. He recollected his other
correspondents, and springing up he began to pace his room, gloomily
thinking over his money difficulties, which were many. He and his mother
had always been in want of money ever since he could remember. Lady
Mildred would spend huge sums on her various crotchets and campaigns,
and then subside for six months into wretched lodgings in a back street
of Southsea or Worthing, while the Suffolk house was let, and her son
mostly went abroad. This perpetual worry of needy circumstances had
always, indeed, sat lightly on Wharton. He was unmarried, and so far
scarcity had generally passed into temporary comfort before he had time
to find it intolerable. But now the whole situation was becoming more
serious. In the first place, his subscriptions and obligations as a
member of Parliament, and as one of the few propertied persons in a
moneyless movement, were considerable. Whatever Socialism might make of
money in the future, he was well aware that money in the present was no
less useful to a Socialist politician than to any one else. In the next
place, the starting and pushing of the _Clarion_ newspaper--originally
purchased by the help of a small legacy from an uncle--had enormously
increased the scale of his money transactions and the risks of life.

How was it that, with all his efforts, the _Clarion_ was not making, but
losing money? During the three years he had possessed it he had raised
it from the position of a small and foul-mouthed print, indifferently
nourished on a series of small scandals, to that of a Labour organ of
some importance. He had written a weekly signed article for it, which
had served from the beginning to bring both him and the paper into
notice; he had taken pains with the organisation and improvement of the
staff; above all, he had spent a great deal more money upon it, in the
way of premises and appliances, than he had been, as it turned out, in
any way justified in spending.

Hence, indeed, these tears. Rather more than a year before, while the
_Clarion_ was still enjoying a first spurt of success and notoriety, he
had, with a certain recklessness which belonged to his character,
invested in new and costly machinery, and had transferred the paper to
larger offices. All this had been done on borrowed money.

Then, for some reason or other, the _Clarion_ had ceased to answer to
the spur--had, indeed, during the past eight months been flagging
heavily. The outside world was beginning to regard the _Clarion_ as an
important paper. Wharton knew all the time that its advertisements were
falling off, and its circulation declining. Why? Who can say? If it is
true that books have their fates, it is still more true of newspapers.
Was it that a collectivist paper--the rival organ mentioned by
Wilkins--recently started by a group of young and outrageously clever
Venturists and more closely in touch than the _Clarion_ with two or
three of the great unions, had filched the _Clarion's_ ground? Or was it
simply that, as Wharton put it to himself in moments of rage and
despondency, the majority of working men "are either sots or
block-heads, and will read and support _nothing_ but the low racing or
police-court news, which is all their intelligences deserve?" Few people
had at the bottom of their souls a more scornful distrust of the
"masses" than the man whose one ambition at the present moment was to be
the accepted leader of English labour.

Finally, his private expenditure had always been luxurious; and he was
liable, it will be seen, to a kind of debt that is not easily kept
waiting. On the whole, his bankers had behaved to him with great
indulgence.

He fretted and fumed, turning over plan after plan as he walked, his
curly head sunk in his shoulders, his hands behind his back. Presently
he stopped--absently--in front of the inner wall of the room, where,
above a heavy rosewood bookcase, brought from his Lincolnshire house, a
number of large framed photographs were hung close together.

His eye caught one and brightened. With an impatient gesture, like that
of a reckless boy, he flung his thoughts away from him.

"If ever the game becomes too tiresome here, why, the next steamer will
take me out of it! What a _gorgeous_ time we had on that glacier!"

He stood looking at a splendid photograph of a glacier in the Thibetan
Himalayas, where, in the year following his mother's death, he had spent
four months with an exploring party. The plate had caught the very grain
and glisten of the snow, the very sheen and tint of the ice. He could
_feel_ the azure of the sky, the breath of the mountain wind. The man
seated on the ladder over that bottomless crevasse was himself. And
there were the guides, two from Chamounix, one from Grindelwald, and
that fine young fellow, the son of the elder Chamounix guide, whom they
had lost by a stone-shower on that nameless peak towering to the left of
the glacier. Ah, those had been years of _life_, those _Wanderjahre_! He
ran over the photographs with a kind of greed, his mind meanwhile losing
itself in covetous memories of foamy seas, of long, low, tropical shores
with their scattered palms, of superb rivers sweeping with sound and
fury round innumerable islands, of great buildings ivory white amid the
wealth of creepers which had pulled them into ruin, vacant now for ever
of the voice of man, and ringed by untrodden forests.

"'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay,'" he thought.
"Ah! but how much did the man who wrote that know about Cathay?"

And with his hands thrust into his pockets, he stood lost awhile in a
flying dream that defied civilisation and its cares. How well, how
indispensable to remember, that beyond these sweltering streets where we
choke and swarm, Cathay stands always waiting! _Somewhere_, while we
toil in the gloom and the crowd, there is _air_, there is _sea_, the joy
of the sun, the life of the body, so good, so satisfying! This
interminable ethical or economical battle, these struggles selfish or
altruistic, in which we shout ourselves hoarse to no purpose--why! they
could be shaken off at a moment's notice!

"However"--he turned on his heel--"suppose we try a few other trifles
first. What time? those fellows won't have gone to bed yet!"

He took out his watch, then extinguished his candles, and made his way
to the street. A hundred yards or so away from his own door he stopped
before a well-known fashionable club, extremely small, and extremely
select, where his mother's brother, the peer of the family, had
introduced him when he was young and tender, and his mother's relations
still cherished hopes of snatching him as a brand from the burning.

The front rooms of the club were tolerably full still. He passed on to
the back. A door-keeper stationed in the passage stepped back and
silently opened a door. It closed instantly behind him, and Wharton
found himself in a room with some twenty other young fellows playing
baccarat, piles of shining money on the tables, the electric lamps hung
over each, lighting every detail of the scene with the same searching
disenchanting glare.

"I say!" cried a young dark-haired fellow, like a dishevelled Lord
Byron. "Here comes the Labour leader--make room!"

And amid laughter and chaffing he was drawn down to the baccarat table,
where a new deal was just beginning. He felt in his pockets for money;
his eyes, intent and shining, followed every motion of the dealer's
hand. For three years now, ever since his return from his travels, the
gambler's passion had been stealing on him. Already this season he had
lost and won--on the whole lost--large sums. And the fact was--so
far--absolutely unknown except to the men with whom he played in this
room.




CHAPTER III.


"If yer goin' downstairs, Nuss, you'd better take that there scuttle
with yer, for the coals is gittin' low an' it ull save yer a journey!"

Marcella looked with amusement at her adviser--a small bandy-legged boy
in shirt and knickerbockers, with black Jewish eyes in a strongly
featured face. He stood leaning on the broom he had just been wielding,
his sleeves rolled up to the shoulder showing his tiny arms; his
expression sharp and keen as a hawk's.

"Well, Benny, then you look after your mother while I'm gone, and don't
let any one in but the doctor."

And Marcella turned for an instant towards the bed whereon lay a sick
woman too feeble apparently to speak or move.

"I aint a goin' ter," said the boy, shortly, beginning to sweep again
with energy, "an' if this 'ere baby cries, give it the bottle, I
s'pose?"

"No, certainly not," said Marcella, firmly; "it has just had one. You
sweep away, Benny, and let the baby alone."

Benny looked a trifle wounded, but recovered himself immediately, and
ran a general's eye over Marcella who was just about to leave the room.

"Now look 'ere, Nuss," he said in a tone of pitying remonstrance, "yer
never a goin' down to that 'ere coal cellar without a light. Yer'll 'ave
to come runnin' up all them stairs again--sure as I'm alive yer will!"

And darting to a cupboard he pulled out a grimy candlestick with an end
of dip and some matches, disposed of them at the bottom of the
coal-scuttle that Marcella carried over her left arm, and then, still
masterfully considering her, let her go.

Marcella groped her way downstairs. The house was one of a type familiar
all over the poorer parts of West Central London--the eighteenth-century
house inhabited by law or fashion in the days of Dr. Johnson, now
parcelled out into insanitary tenements, miserably provided with air,
water, and all the necessaries of life, but still showing in its
chimney-piece or its decaying staircase signs of the graceful domestic
art which had ruled at the building and fitting of it.

Marcella, however, had no eye whatever at the moment for the panelling
on the staircase, or the delicate ironwork of the broken balustrade.
Rather it seemed to her, as she looked into some of the half-open doors
of the swarming rooms she passed, or noticed with disgust the dirt and
dilapidation of the stairs, and the evil smells of the basement, that
the house added one more to the standing shames of the district--an
opinion doubly strong in her when at last she emerged from her gropings
among the dens of the lower regions, and began to toil upstairs again
with her filled kettle and coal-scuttle.

The load was heavy, even for her young strength, and she had just passed
a sleepless night. The evening before she had been sent for in haste to
a woman in desperate illness. She came, and found a young Jewess, with a
ten days old child beside her, struggling with her husband and two women
friends in a state of raging delirium. The room, was full to suffocation
of loud-tongued, large-eyed Jewesses, all taking turns at holding the
patient, and chattering or quarrelling between their turns. It had been
Marcella's first and arduous duty to get the place cleared, and she had
done it without ever raising her voice or losing her temper for an
instant. The noisy pack had been turned out; the most competent woman
among them chosen to guard the door and fetch and carry for the nurse;
while Marcella set to work to wash her patient and remake the bed as
best she could, in the midst of the poor thing's wild shrieks and
wrestlings.

It was a task to test both muscular strength and moral force to their
utmost. After her year's training Marcella took it simply in the day's
work. Some hours of intense effort and strain; then she and the husband
looked down upon the patient, a woman of about six-and-twenty, plunged
suddenly in narcotic sleep, her matted black hair, which Marcella had
not dared to touch, lying in wild waves on the clean bed-clothes and
night-gear that her nurse had extracted from this neighbour and
that--she could hardly have told how.

"_Ach, mein Gott, mein Gott!_" said the husband, rising and shaking
himself. He was a Jew from German Poland, and, unlike most of his race,
a huge man, with the make and the muscles of a prize-fighter. Yet,
after the struggle of the last two hours he was in a bath of
perspiration.

"You will have to send her to the infirmary if this comes on again,"
said Marcella.

The husband stared in helpless misery, first at his wife, then at the
nurse.

"You will not go away, mees," he implored, "you will not leaf me alone?"

Wearied as she was, Marcella could have smiled at the abject giant.

"No, I will stay with her till the morning and till the doctor comes.
You had better go to bed."

It was close on three o'clock. The man demurred a little, but he was in
truth too worn out to resist. He went into the back room and lay down
with the children.

Then Marcella was left through the long summer dawn alone with her
patient. Her quick ear caught every sound about her--the heavy breaths
of the father and children in the back room, the twittering of the
sparrows, the first cries about the streets, the first movements in the
crowded house. Her mind all the time was running partly on contrivances
for pulling the woman through--for it was what a nurse calls "a good
case," one that rouses all her nursing skill and faculty--partly on the
extraordinary misconduct of the doctor, to whose criminal neglect and
mismanagement of the case she hotly attributed the whole of the woman's
illness; and partly--in deep, swift sinkings of meditative thought--on
the strangeness of the fact that she should be there at all, sitting in
this chair in this miserable room, keeping guard over this Jewish mother
and her child!

The year in hospital had _rushed_--dreamless sleep by night, exhausting
fatigue of mind and body by day. A hospital nurse, if her work _seizes_
her, as it had seized Marcella, never thinks of herself. Now, for some
six or seven weeks she had been living in rooms, as a district nurse,
under the control of a central office and superintendent. Her work lay
in the homes of the poor, and was of the most varied kind. The life was
freer, more elastic; allowed room at last to self-consciousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

But now the night was over. The husband had gone off to work at a
factory near, whence he could be summoned at any moment; the children
had been disposed of to Mrs. Levi, the helpful neighbour; she herself
had been home for an hour to breakfast and dress, had sent to the office
asking that her other cases might be attended to, and was at present in
sole charge, with Benny to help her, waiting for the doctor.

When she reached the sick-room again with her burdens, she found
Benjamin sitting pensive, with the broom across his knees.

"Well, Benny!" she said as she entered, "how have you got on?"

"Yer can't move the dirt on them boards with sweepin'," said Benny,
looking at them with disgust; "an' I ain't a goin' to try it no more."

"You're about right there, Benny," said Marcella, mournfully, as she
inspected them; "well, we'll get Mrs. Levi to come in and scrub--as soon
as your mother can bear it."

She stepped up to the bed and looked at her patient, who seemed to be
passing into a state of restless prostration, more or less under the
influence of morphia. Marcella fed her with strong beef tea made by
herself during the night, and debated whether she should give brandy.
No--either the doctor would come directly, or she would send for him.
She had not seen him yet, and her lip curled at the thought of him. He
had ordered a nurse the night before, but had not stayed to meet her,
and Marcella had been obliged to make out his instructions from the
husband as best she could.

Benny looked up at her with a wink as she went back to the fire.

"I didn't let none o' _them_ in," he said, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder. "They come a whisperin' at the door, an' a rattlin' ov the
handle as soon as ever you gone downstairs. But I tole 'em just to take
theirselves off, an' as 'ow you didn't want 'em. Sillies!"

And taking a crust smeared with treacle out of his pocket, Benny
returned with a severe air to the sucking of it.

Marcella laughed.

"Clever Benny," she said, patting his head; "but why aren't you at
school, sir?"

Benjamin grinned.

"'Ow d'yer s'pose my ma's goin' to git along without me to do for 'er
and the babby?" he replied slily.

"Well, Benny, you'll have the Board officer down on you."

At this the urchin laughed out.

"Why, 'e wor here last week! Ee can't be troublin' 'isself about this
'ere bloomin' street _ev_ery day in the week."

There was a sharp knock at the door.

"The doctor," she said, as her face dismissed the frolic brightness
which had stolen upon it for a moment. "Run away, Benny."

Benny opened the door, looked the doctor coolly up and down, and then
withdrew to the landing, where his sisters were waiting to play with
him.

The doctor, a tall man of thirty, with a red, blurred face and a fair
moustache, walked in hurriedly, and stared at the nurse standing by the
fire.

"You come from the St. Martin's Association?"

Marcella stiffly replied. He took her temperature-chart from her hand
and asked her some questions about the night, staring at her from time
to time with eyes that displeased her. Presently she came to an account
of the condition in which she had found her patient. The edge on the
words, for all their professional quiet, was unmistakable. She saw him
flush.

He moved towards the bed, and she went with him. The woman moaned as he
approached her. He set about his business with hands that shook.
Marcella decided at once that he was not sober, and watched his
proceedings with increasing disgust and amazement. Presently she could
bear it no longer.

"I think," she said, touching his arm, "that you had better leave it to
me--and--go away!"

He drew himself up with a start which sent the things he held flying,
and faced her fiercely.

"What do you mean?" he said, "don't you know your place?"

The girl was very white, but her eyes were scornfully steady.

"Yes--I know my place!"

Then with a composure as fearless as it was scathing she said what she
had to say. She knew--and he could not deny--that he had endangered his
patient's life. She pointed out that he was in a fair way to endanger it
again. Every word she said lay absolutely within her sphere as a nurse.
His cloudy brain cleared under the stress of it.

Then his eyes flamed, his cheeks became purple, and Marcella thought for
an instant he would have struck her. Finally he turned down his
shirt-cuffs and walked away.

"You understand," he said thickly, turning upon her, with his hat in his
hand, "that I shall not attend this case again till your Association can
send me a nurse that will do as she is told without insolence to the
doctor. I shall now write a report to your superintendent."

"As you please," said Marcella, quietly. And she went to the door and
opened it.

He passed her sneering:

"A precious superior lot you lady-nurses think yourselves, I dare say.
I'd sooner have one old gamp than the whole boiling of you!"

Marcella eyed him sternly, her nostrils tightening. "Will you go?" she
said.

He gave her a furious glance, and plunged down the stairs outside,
breathing threats.

Marcella put her hand to her head a moment, and drew a long breath.
There was a certain piteousness in the action, a consciousness of youth
and strain.

Then she saw that the landing and the stairs above were beginning to
fill with dark-haired Jewesses, eagerly peering and talking. In another
minute or two she would be besieged by them. She called sharply,
"Benny!"

Instantly Benny appeared from the landing above, elbowing the Jewesses
to right and left.

"What is it you want, Nuss? No, she don't want none o' _you_--_there_!"

And Benjamin darted into the room, and would have slammed the door in
all their faces, but that Marcella said to him--

"Let in Mrs. Levi, please."

The kind neighbour, who had been taking care of the children, was
admitted, and then the key was turned. Marcella scribbled a line on a
half-sheet of paper, and, with careful directions, despatched Benny with
it.

"I have sent for a new doctor," she explained, still frowning and white,
to Mrs. Levi. "That one was not fit."

The woman's olive-skinned face lightened all over. "Thanks to the Lord!"
she said, throwing up her hands. "But how in the world did you do 't,
miss? There isn't a single soul in this house that doesn't go all of a
tremble at the sight of 'im. Yet all the women has 'im when they're
ill--bound to. They thinks he must be clever, 'cos he's such a brute. I
do believe sometimes it's that. He _is_ a brute!"

Marcella was bending over her patient, trying so far as she could to set
her straight and comfortable again. But the woman had begun to mutter
once more words in a strange dialect that Marcella did not understand,
and could no longer be kept still. The temperature was rising again, and
another fit of delirium was imminent. Marcella could only hope that she
and Mrs. Levi between them would be able to hold her till the doctor
came. When she had done all that was in her power, she sat beside the
poor tossing creature, controlling and calming her as best she could,
while Mrs. Levi poured into her shrinking ear the story of the woman's
illness and of Dr. Blank's conduct of it. Marcella's feeling, as she
listened, was made up of that old agony of rage and pity! The sufferings
of the poor, _because_ they were poor--these things often, still,
darkened earth and heaven for her. That wretch would have been quite
capable, no doubt, of conducting himself decently and even competently,
if he had been called to some supposed lady in one of the well-to-do
squares which made the centre of this poor and crowded district.

"Hullo, nurse!" said a cheery voice; "you seem to have got a bad case."

The sound was as music in Marcella's ears. The woman she held was fast
becoming unmanageable--had just shrieked, first for "poison," then for a
"knife," to kill herself with, and could hardly be prevented by the
combined strength of her nurse and Mrs. Levi, now from throwing herself
madly out of bed, and now from tearing out her black hair in handfuls.
The doctor--a young Scotchman with spectacles, and stubbly red
beard--came quickly up to the bed, asked Marcella a few short questions,
shrugged his shoulders over her dry report of Dr. Blank's proceedings,
then took out a black case from his pocket, and put his morphia syringe
together.

For a long time no result whatever could be obtained by any treatment.
The husband was sent for, and came trembling, imploring doctor and
nurse, in the intervals of his wife's paroxysms, not to leave him alone.

Marcella, absorbed in the tragic horror of the case, took no note of the
passage of time. Everything that the doctor suggested she carried out
with a deftness, a tenderness, a power of mind, which keenly affected
his professional sense. Once, the poor mother, left unguarded for an
instant, struck out with a wild right hand. The blow caught Marcella on
the cheek, and she drew back with a slight involuntary cry.

"You are hurt," said Dr. Angus, running up to her.

"No, no," she said, smiling through the tears that the shock had called
into her eyes, and putting him rather impatiently aside; "it is nothing.
You said you wanted some fresh ice."

And she went into the back room to get it.

The doctor stood with his hands in his pockets, studying the patient.

"You will have to send her to the infirmary," he said to the husband;
"there is nothing else for it."

Marcella came back with the ice, and was able to apply it to the head.
The patient was quieter--was, in fact, now groaning herself into a fresh
period of exhaustion.

The doctor's sharp eyes took note of the two figures, the huddled
creature on the pillows and the stately head bending over her, with the
delicately hollowed cheek, whereon the marks of those mad fingers stood
out red and angry. He had already had experience of this girl in one or
two other cases.

"Well," he said, taking up his hat, "it is no good shilly-shallying. I
will go and find Dr. Swift." Dr. Swift was the parish doctor.

When he had gone, the big husband broke down and cried, with his head
against the iron of the bed close to his wife. He put his great hand on
hers, and talked to her brokenly in their own patois. They had been
eight years married, and she had never had a day's serious illness till
now. Marcella's eyes filled with tears as she moved about the room,
doing various little tasks.

At last she went up to him.

"Won't you go and have some dinner?" she said to him kindly. "There's
Benjamin calling you," and she pointed to the door of the back room,
where stood Benny, his face puckered with weeping, forlornly holding out
a plate of fried fish, in the hope of attracting his father's attention.

The man, who in spite of his size and strength was in truth childishly
soft and ductile, went as he was bid, and Marcella and Mrs. Levi set
about doing what they could to prepare the wife for her removal.

Presently parish doctor and sanitary inspector appeared, strange and
peremptory invaders who did but add to the terror and misery of the
husband. Then at last came the ambulance, and Dr. Angus with it. The
patient, now once more plunged in narcotic stupor, was carried
downstairs by two male nurses, Dr. Angus presiding. Marcella stood in
the doorway and watched the scene,--the gradual disappearance of the
helpless form on the stretcher, with its fevered face under the dark mat
of hair; the figures of the straining men heavily descending step by
step, their heads and shoulders thrown out against the dirty drabs and
browns of the staircase; the crowd of Jewesses on the stairs and
landing, craning their necks, gesticulating and talking, so that Dr.
Angus could hardly make his directions heard, angrily as he bade them
stand back; and on the top stair, the big husband, following the form of
his departing and unconscious wife with his eyes, his face convulsed
with weeping, the whimpering children clinging about his knees.

How hot it was!--how stifling the staircase smelt, and how the sun beat
down from that upper window on the towzled unkempt women with their
large-eyed children.




CHAPTER IV.


Marcella on her way home turned into a little street leading to a great
block of model dwellings, which rose on the right hand side and made
everything else, the mews entrance opposite, the lines of squalid shops
on either side, look particularly small and dirty. The sun was beating
fiercely down, and she was sick and tired.

As she entered the iron gate of the dwellings, and saw before her the
large asphalted court round which they ran--blazing heat on one side of
it, and on the other some children playing cricket against the wall with
chalk marks for wickets--she was seized with depression. The tall yet
mean buildings, the smell of dust and heat, the general impression of
packed and crowded humanity--these things, instead of offering her rest,
only continued and accented the sense of strain, called for more
endurance, more making the best of it.

But she found a tired smile for some of the children who ran up to her,
and then she climbed the stairs of the E. block, and opened the door of
her own tenement, number 10. In number 9 lived Minta Hurd and her
children, who had joined Marcella in London some two months before. In
sets 7 and 8, on either side of Marcella and the Hurds, lived two
widows, each with a family, who were mostly out charing during the day.

Marcella's Association allowed its District Nurses to live outside the
"home" of the district on certain conditions, which had been fulfilled
in Marcella's case by her settlement next door to her old friends in
these buildings which were inhabited by a very respectable though poor
class. Meanwhile the trustees of the buildings had allowed her to make a
temporary communication between her room and the Hurds, so that she
could either live her own solitary and independent life, or call for
their companionship, as she pleased.

As she shut her door behind her she found herself in a little passage or
entry. To the left was her bedroom. Straight in front of her was the
living room with a small close range in it, and behind it a little back
kitchen.

The living room was cheerful and even pretty. Her art-student's training
showed itself. The cheap blue and white paper, the couple of oak flap
tables from a broker's shop in Marchmont Street, the two or three cane
chairs with their bright chintz cushions, the Indian rug or two on the
varnished boards, the photographs and etchings on the walls, the books
on the tables--there was not one of these things that was not in its
degree a pleasure to her young senses, that did not help her to live her
life. This afternoon as she opened the door and looked in, the pretty
colours and forms in the tiny room were as water to the thirsty. Her
mother had sent her some flowers the day before. There they were on the
tables, great bunches of honey-suckles, of blue-bells, and Banksia
roses. And over the mantelpiece was a photograph of the place where such
flowers as Mellor possessed mostly grew--the unkempt lawn, the old
fountain and grey walls of the Cedar Garden.

The green blind over the one window which looked into the court, had
been drawn down against the glare of the sun, as though by a careful
hand. Beside a light wooden rocking chair, which was Marcella's
favourite seat, a tray of tea things had been put out. Marcella drew a
long breath of comfort as she put down her bag.

"Now, _can_ I wait for my tea till I have washed and dressed?"

She argued with herself an instant as though she had been a greedy
child, then, going swiftly into the back kitchen, she opened the door
between her rooms and the Hurds.

"Minta!"

A voice responded.

"Minta, make me some tea and boil an egg! there's a good soul! I will be
back directly."

And in ten minutes or so she came back again into the sitting-room,
daintily fresh and clean but very pale. She had taken off her nurse's
dress and apron, and had put on something loose and white that hung
about her in cool folds.

But Minta Hurd, who had just brought in the tea, looked at her
disapprovingly.

"Whatever are you so late for?" she asked a little peevishly. "You'll
get ill if you go missing your dinner."

"I couldn't help it, Minta, it was such a bad case."

Mrs. Hurd poured out the tea in silence, unappeased. Her mind was
constantly full of protest against this nursing. Why should Miss Boyce
do such "funny things"--why should she live as she did, at all?

Their relation to each other was a curious one. Marcella, knowing that
the life of Hurd's widow at Mellor was gall and bitterness, had sent for
her at the moment that she herself was leaving the hospital, offering
her a weekly sum in return for a little cooking and house service. Minta
already possessed a weekly pension, coming from a giver unknown to her.
It was regularly handed to her by Mr. Harden, and she could only imagine
that one of the "gentlemen" who had belonged to the Hurd Reprieve
Committee, and had worked so hard for Jim, was responsible for it, out
of pity for her and her children. The payment offered her by Miss Boyce
would defray the expense of London house-rent, the children's schooling,
and leave a trifle over. Moreover she was pining to get away from
Mellor. Her first instinct after her husband's execution had been to
hide herself from all the world. But for a long time her precarious
state of health, and her dependence first on Marcella, then on Mary
Harden, made it impossible for her to leave the village. It was not till
Marcella's proposal came that her way was clear. She sold her bits of
things at once, took her children and went up to Brown's buildings.

Marcella met her with the tenderness, the tragic tremor of feeling from
which the peasant's wife shrank anew, bewildered, as she had often
shrunk from it in the past. Jim's fate had made her an old woman at
thirty-two. She was now a little shrivelled consumptive creature with
almost white hair, and a face from which youth had gone, unless perhaps
there were some traces of it in the still charming eyes, and small open
mouth. But these changes had come upon her she knew not why, as the
result of blows she felt but had never reasoned about. Marcella's fixed
mode of conceiving her and her story caused her from the beginning of
their fresh acquaintance a dumb irritation and trouble she could never
have explained. It was so tragic, reflective, exacting. It seemed to ask
of her feelings that she could not have, to expect from her expression
that was impossible. And it stood also between her and the friends and
distractions that she would like to have. Why shouldn't that queer man,
Mr. Strozzi, who lived down below, and whose name she could not
pronounce, come and sit sometimes of an evening, and amuse her and the
children? He was a "Professor of Elocution," and said and sung comic
pieces. He was very civil and obliging too; she liked him. Yet Miss
Boyce was evidently astonished that she could make friends with him, and
Minta perfectly understood the lift of her dark eyebrows whenever she
came in and found him sitting there.

Meanwhile Marcella had expected her with emotion, and had meant through
this experiment to bring herself truly near to the poor. Minta must not
call her Miss Boyce, but by her name; which, however, Minta, reddening,
had declared she could never do. Her relation to Marcella was not to be
that of servant in any sense, but of friend and sister; and on her and
her children Marcella had spent from the beginning a number of new
womanish wiles which, strangely enough, this hard, strenuous life had
been developing in her. She would come and help put the children to bed;
she would romp with them in their night-gowns; she would bend her
imperious head over the anxious endeavour to hem a pink cotton pinafore
for Daisy, or dress a doll for the baby. But the relation jarred and
limped perpetually, and Marcella wistfully thought it her fault.

Just now, however, as she sat gently swaying backwards and forwards in
the rocking-chair, enjoying her tea, her mood was one of nothing but
content.

"Oh, Minta, give me another cup. I want to have a sleep so badly, and
then I am going to see Miss Hallin, and stay to supper with them."

"Well, you mustn't go out in them nursin' things again," said Minta,
quickly; "I've put you in some lace in your black dress, an' it looks
beautiful."

"Oh, thank you, Minta; but that black dress always seems to me too smart
to walk about these streets in."

"It's just _nice_," said Minta, with decision. "It's just what everybody
that knows you--what your mamma--would like to see you in. I can't abide
them nursin' clothes--nasty things!"

"I declare!" cried Marcella, laughing, but outraged; "I never like
myself so well in anything."

Minta was silent, but her small mouth took an obstinate look. What she
really felt was that it was absurd for ladies to wear caps and aprons
and plain black bonnets, when there was no need for them to do anything
of the kind.

"Whatever have you been doing to your cheek?" she exclaimed, suddenly,
as Marcella handed her the empty cup to take away.

Marcella explained shortly, and Minta looked more discontented than
ever. "A lot of low people as ought to look after themselves," that was
how in her inmost mind she generally defined Marcella's patients. She
had been often kind and soft to her neighbours at Mellor, but these
dirty, crowded Londoners were another matter.

"Where is Daisy?" asked Marcella as Minta was going away with the tea;
"she must have come back from school."

"Here I am," said Daisy, with a grin, peeping in through the door of the
back kitchen. "Mother, baby's woke up."

"Come here, you monkey," said Marcella; "come and go to sleep with me.
Have you had your tea?"

"Yes, lots," said Daisy, climbing up into Marcella's lap. "Are you going
to be asleep a long time?"

"No--only a nap. Oh! Daisy, I'm so tired. Come and cuddlie a bit! If you
don't go to sleep you know you can slip away--I shan't wake."

The child, a slight, red-haired thing, with something of the ethereal
charm that her dead brother had possessed, settled herself on Marcella's
knees, slipped her left thumb into her mouth, and flung her other arm
round Marcella's neck. They had often gone to sleep so. Mrs. Hurd came
back, drew down the blind further, threw a light shawl over them both,
and left them.

An hour and a half later Minta came in again as she had been told.
Daisy had slipped away, but Marcella was still lying in the perfect
gentleness and relaxation of sleep.

"You said I was to come and wake you," said Minta, drawing up the blind;
"but I don't believe you're a bit fit to be going about. Here's some hot
water, and there's a letter just come."

Marcella woke with a start, Minta put the letter on her knee, and dream
and reality flowed together as she saw her own name in Wharton's
handwriting.

She read the letter, then sat flushed and thinking for a while with her
hands on her knees.

A little while later she opened the Hurds' front-door.

"Minta, I am going now. I shall be back early after supper, for I
haven't written my report."

"There--now you look something like!" said Minta, scanning her
approvingly--the wide hat and pretty black dress. "Shall Daisy run out
with that telegram?"

"No, thanks. I shall pass the post. Good-bye."

And she stooped and kissed the little withered woman. She wished,
ardently wished, that Minta would be more truly friends with her!

After a brisk walk through the June evening she stopped--still within
the same district--at the door of a house in a long, old-fashioned
street, wherein the builder was busy on either hand, since most of the
long leases had just fallen in. But the house she entered was still
untouched. She climbed a last-century staircase, adorned with panels of
stucco work--slender Italianate reliefs of wreaths, ribbons, and
medallions on a pale green ground. The decoration was clean and cared
for, the house in good order. Eighty years ago it was the home of a
famous judge, who entertained in its rooms the legal and literary
celebrities of his day. Now it was let out to professional people in
lodgings or unfurnished rooms. Edward Hallin and his sister occupied the
top floor.

Miss Hallin, a pleasant-looking, plain woman of about thirty-five, came
at once in answer to Marcella's knock, and greeted her affectionately.
Edward Hallin sprang up from a table at the further end of the room.

"You are so late! Alice and I had made up our minds you had forgotten
us!"

"I didn't get home till four, and then I had to have a sleep," she
explained, half shyly.

"What! you haven't been night-nursing?"

"Yes, for once."

"Alice, tell them to bring up supper, and let's look after her."

He wheeled round a comfortable chair to the open window--the charming
circular bow of last-century design, which filled up the end of the room
and gave it character. The window looked out on a quiet line of back
gardens, such as may still be seen in Bloomsbury, with fine plane trees
here and there just coming into full leaf; and beyond them the backs of
another line of houses in a distant square, with pleasant irregularities
of old brickwork and tiled roof. The mottled trunks of the planes, their
blackened twigs and branches, their thin, beautiful leaves, the forms of
the houses beyond, rose in a charming medley of line against the blue
and peaceful sky. No near sound was to be heard, only the distant murmur
that no Londoner escapes; and some of the British Museum pigeons were
sunning themselves on the garden-wall below.

Within, the Hallins' room was spacious and barely furnished. The walls,
indeed, were crowded with books, and broken, where the books ceased, by
photographs of Italy and Greece; but of furniture proper there seemed to
be little beside Hallin's large writing-table facing the window, and a
few chairs, placed on the blue drugget which brother and sister had
chosen with a certain anxiety, dreading secretly lest it should be a
piece of self-indulgence to buy what pleased them both so much. On one
side of the fireplace was Miss Hallin's particular corner; her chair,
the table that held her few special books, her work-basket, with its
knitting, her accounts. There, in the intervals of many activities, she
sat and worked or read, always cheerful and busy, and always watching
over her brother.

"I wish," said Hallin, with some discontent, when Marcella had settled
herself, "that we were going to be alone to-night; that would have
rested you more."

"Why, who is coming?" said Marcella, a little flatly. She had certainly
hoped to find them alone.

"Your old friend, Frank Leven, is coming to supper. When he heard you
were to be here he vowed that nothing could or should keep him away.
Then, after supper, one or two people asked if they might come in. There
are some anxious things going on."

He leant his head on his hand for a moment with a sigh, then forcibly
wrenched himself from what were evidently recurrent thoughts.

"Do tell me some more of what you are doing!" he said, bending forward
to her. "You don't know how much I have thought of what you have told me
already."

"I'm doing just the same," she said, laughing. "Don't take so much
interest in it. It's the fashion just now to admire nurses; but it's
ridiculous. We do our work like other people--sometimes badly, sometimes
well. And some of us wouldn't do it if we could help it."

She threw out the last words with a certain vehemence, as though eager
to get away from any sentimentalism about herself. Hallin studied her
kindly.

"Is this miscellaneous work a relief to you after hospital?" he asked.

"For the present. It is more exciting, and one sees more character. But
there are drawbacks. In hospital everything was settled for you--every
hour was full, and there were always orders to follow. And the 'off'
times were no trouble--I never did anything else but walk up and down
the Embankment if it was fine, or go to the National Gallery if it was
wet."

"And it was the monotony you liked?"

She made a sign of assent.

"Strange!" said Hallin, "who could ever have foreseen it?"

She flushed.

"You might have foreseen it, I think," she said, not without a little
impatience. "But I didn't like it all at once. I hated a great deal of
it. If they had let me alone all the time to scrub and polish and
wash--the things they set me to at first--I thought I should have been
quite happy. To see my table full of glasses without a spot, and my
brass-taps shining, made me as proud as a peacock! But then of course I
had to learn the real work, and that was very odd at first."

"How? Morally?"

She nodded, laughing at her own remembrances. "Yes--it seemed to me all
topsy-turvy. I thought the Sister at the head of the ward rather a
stupid person. If I had seen her at Mellor I shouldn't have spoken two
words to her. And here she was ordering me about--rating me as I had
never rated a house-maid--laughing at me for not knowing this or that,
and generally making me feel that a raw probationer was one of the
things of least account in the whole universe. I knew perfectly well
that she had said to herself, 'Now then I must take that proud girl down
a peg, or she will be no use to anybody;' and I had somehow to put up
with it."

"Drastic!" said Hallin, laughing; "did you comfort yourself by
reflecting that it was everybody's fate?"

Her lip twitched with amusement.

"Not for a long time. I used to have the most absurd ideas!--sometimes
looking back I can hardly believe it--perhaps it was partly a queer
state of nerves. When I was at school and got in a passion I used to try
and overawe the girls by shaking my Speaker great-uncle in their faces.
And so in hospital; it would flash across me sometimes in a plaintive
sort of way that they _couldn't_ know that I was Miss Boyce of Mellor,
and had been mothering and ruling the whole of my father's village--or
they wouldn't treat me so. Mercifully I held my tongue. But one day it
came to a crisis. I had had to get things ready for an operation, and
had done very well. Dr. Marshall had paid me even a little compliment
all to myself. But then afterwards the patient was some time in coming
to, and there had to be hot-water bottles. I had them ready of course;
but they were too hot, and in my zeal and nervousness I burnt the
patient's elbow in two places. Oh! the _fuss_, and the scolding, and the
humiliation! When I left the ward that evening I thought I would go home
next day."

"But you didn't?"

"If I could have sat down and thought it out, I should probably have
gone. But I couldn't think it out--I was too _dead_ tired. That is the
chief feature of your first months in hospital--the utter helpless
fatigue at night. You go to bed aching and you wake up aching. If you
are healthy as I was, it doesn't hurt you; but, when your time comes to
sleep, sleep you _must_. Even that miserable night my head was no sooner
on the pillow than I was asleep; and next morning there was all the
routine as usual, and the dread of being a minute late on duty. Then
when I got into the ward the Sister looked at me rather queerly and went
out of her way to be kind to me. Oh! I was so grateful to her! I could
have brushed her boots or done any other menial service for her with
delight. And--then--somehow I pulled through. The enormous interest of
the work seized me--I grew ambitious--they pushed me on
rapidly--everybody seemed suddenly to become my friend instead of my
enemy--and I ended by thinking the hospital the most fascinating and
engrossing place in the whole world."

"A curious experience," said Hallin. "I suppose you had never obeyed any
one in your life before?"

"Not since I was at school--and then--not much!"

Hallin glanced at her as she lay back in her chair. How richly human the
face had grown! It was as forcible as ever in expression and colour, but
that look which had often repelled him in his first acquaintance with
her, as of a hard speculative eagerness more like the ardent boy than
the woman, had very much disappeared. It seemed to him absorbed in
something new--something sad and yet benignant, informed with all the
pathos and the pain of growth.

"How long have you been at work to-day?" he asked her.

"I went at eleven last night. I came away at four this afternoon."

Hallin exclaimed, "You had food?"

"Do you think I should let myself starve with my work to do?" she asked
him, with a shade of scorn and her most professional air. "And don't
suppose that such a case occurs often. It is a very rare thing for us to
undertake night-nursing at all."

"Can you tell me what the case was?"

She told him vaguely, describing also in a few words her encounter with
Dr. Blank.

"I suppose he will make a fuss," she said, with a restless look, "and
that I shall be blamed."

"I should think your second doctor will take care of that!" said Hallin.

"I don't know. I couldn't help it. But it is one of our first principles
not to question a doctor. And last week too I got the Association into
trouble. A patient I had been nursing for weeks and got quite fond of
had to be removed to hospital. She asked me to cut her hair. It was
matted dreadfully, and would have been cut off directly she got to the
ward. So I cut it, left her all comfortable, and was to come back at one
to meet the doctor and help get her off. When I came, I found the whole
court in an uproar. The sister of the woman, who had been watching for
me, stood on the doorstep, and implored me to go away. The husband had
gone out of his senses with rage because I had cut his wife's hair
without his consent. 'He'll murder you, Nuss!' said the sister, 'if he
sees you! Don't come in!--he's mad--he's _been going round on 'is 'ands
and knees on the floor_!'"--Hallin interrupted with a shout of laughter.
Marcella laughed too; but to his amazement he saw that her hand shook,
and that there were tears in her eyes.

"It's all very well," she said with a sigh, "but I had to come away in
disgrace, all the street looking on. And he made such a fuss at the
office as never was. It was unfortunate--we don't want the people set
against the nurses. And now Dr. Blank!--I seem to be always getting into
scrapes. It is different from hospital, where everything is settled for
one."

Hallin could hardly believe his ears. Such womanish terrors and
depressions from Marcella Boyce! Was she, after all, too young for the
work, or was there some fret of the soul reducing her natural force? He
felt an unwonted impulse of tenderness towards her--such as one might
feel towards a tired child--and set himself to cheer and rest her.

He had succeeded to some extent, when he saw her give a little start,
and following her eyes he perceived that unconsciously his arm, which
was resting on the table, had pushed into her view a photograph in a
little frame, which had been hitherto concealed from her by a glass of
flowers. He would have quietly put it out of sight again, but she sat up
in her chair.

"Will you give it me?" she said, putting out her hand.

He gave it her at once.

"Alice brought it home from Miss Raeburn the other day. His aunt made
him sit to one of the photographers who are always besieging public men.
We thought it good."

"It is very good," she said, after a pause. "Is the hair really--as grey
as that?" She pointed to it.

"Quite. I am very glad that he is going off with Lord Maxwell to Italy.
It will be ten days' break for him at any rate. His work this last year
has been very heavy. He has had his grandfather's to do really, as well
as his own; and this Commission has been a stiff job too. I am rather
sorry that he has taken this new post."

"What post?"

"Didn't you hear? They have made him Under-secretary to the Home
Department. So that he is now in the Government."

She put back the photograph, and moved her chair a little so as to see
more of the plane trees and the strips of sunset cloud.

"How is Lord Maxwell?" she asked presently.

"Much changed. It might end in a sudden break-up at any time."

Hallin saw a slight contraction pass over her face. He knew that she had
always felt an affection for Lord Maxwell. Suddenly Marcella looked
hastily round her. Miss Hallin was busy with a little servant at the
other end of the room making arrangements for supper.

"Tell me," she said, bending over the arm of her chair and speaking in a
low, eager voice, "he is beginning to forget it?"

Hallin looked at her in silence, but his half sad, half ironic smile
suggested an answer from which she turned away.

"If he only would!" she said, speaking almost to herself, with a kind of
impatience. "He ought to marry, for everybody's sake."

"I see no sign of his marrying--at present," said Hallin, drily.

He began to put some papers under his hand in order. There was a cold
dignity in his manner which she perfectly understood. Ever since that
day--that never-forgotten day--when he had come to her the morning after
her last interview with Aldous Raeburn--come with reluctance and
dislike, because Aldous had asked it of him--and had gone away her
friend, more drawn to her, more touched by her than he had ever been in
the days of the engagement, their relation on this subject had been the
same. His sweetness and kindness to her, his influence over her life
during the past eighteen months, had been very great. In that first
interview, the object of which had been to convey to her a warning on
the subject of the man it was thought she might allow herself to marry,
something in the manner with which he had attempted his incredibly
difficult task--its simplicity, its delicate respect for her
personality, its suggestion of a character richer and saintlier than
anything she had yet known, and unconsciously revealing itself under the
stress of emotion--this something had suddenly broken down his pale,
proud companion, had to his own great dismay brought her to tears, and
to such confidences, such indirect askings for help and understanding as
amazed them both.

Experiences of this kind were not new to him. His life consecrated to
ideas, devoted to the wresting of the maximum of human service from a
crippling physical weakness; the precarious health itself which cut him
off from a hundred ordinary amusements and occupations, and especially
cut him off from marriage--together with the ardent temperament, the
charm, the imaginative insight which had been his cradle-gifts--these
things ever since he was a lad had made him again and again the guide
and prop of natures stronger and stormier than his own. Often the
unwilling guide; for he had the half-impatient breathless instincts of
the man who has set himself a task, and painfully doubts whether he will
have power and time to finish it. The claims made upon him seemed to him
often to cost him physical and brain energy he could ill spare.

But his quick tremulous sympathy rendered him really a defenceless prey
in such matters. Marcella threw herself upon him as others had done; and
there was no help for it. Since their first memorable interview, at long
intervals, he had written to her and she to him. Of her hospital life,
till to-night, she had never told him much. Her letters had been the
passionate outpourings of a nature sick of itself, and for the moment of
living; full of explanations which really explained little; full too of
the untaught pangs and questionings of a mind which had never given any
sustained or exhaustive effort to any philosophical or social question,
and yet was in a sense tortured by them all--athirst for an impossible
justice, and aflame for ideals mocked first and above all by the
writer's own weakness and defect. Hallin had felt them interesting, sad,
and, in a sense, fine; but he had never braced himself to answer them
without groans. There were so many other people in the world in the same
plight!

Nevertheless, all through the growth of friendship one thing had never
altered between them from the beginning--Hallin's irrevocable judgment
of the treatment she had bestowed on Aldous Raeburn. Never throughout
the whole course of their acquaintance had he expressed that judgment to
her in so many words. Notwithstanding, she knew perfectly well both the
nature and the force of it. It lay like a rock in the stream of their
friendship. The currents of talk might circle round it, imply it, glance
off from it; they left it unchanged. At the root of his mind towards
her, at the bottom of his gentle sensitive nature, there was a
sternness which he often forgot--she never.

This hard fact in their relation had insensibly influenced her greatly,
was constantly indeed working in and upon her, especially since the
chances of her nursing career had brought her to settle in this
district, within a stone's throw of him and his sister, so that she saw
them often and intimately. But it worked in different ways.
Sometimes--as to-night--it evoked a kind of defiance.

A minute or two after he had made his remark about Aldous, she said to
him suddenly,

"I had a letter from Mr. Wharton to-day. He is coming to tea with me
to-morrow, and I shall probably go to the House on Friday with Edith
Craven to hear him speak."

Hallin gave a slight start at the name. Then he said nothing; but went
on sorting some letters of the day into different heaps. His silence
roused her irritation.

"Do you remember," she said, in a low, energetic voice, "that I told you
I could never be ungrateful, never forget what he had done?"

"Yes, I remember," he said, not without a certain sharpness of tone.
"You spoke of giving him help if he ever asked it of you--has he asked
it?"

She explained that what he seemed to be asking was Louis Craven's help,
and that his overtures with regard to the _Labour Clarion_ were
particularly opportune, seeing that Louis was pining to be able to
marry, and was losing heart, hope, and health for want of some fixed
employment. She spoke warmly of her friends and their troubles, and
Hallin's inward distaste had to admit that all she said was plausible.
Since the moment in that strange talk which had drawn them together,
when she had turned upon him with the passionate cry--"I see what you
mean, perfectly! but I am not going to marry Mr. Wharton, so don't
trouble to warn me--for the matter of that he has warned me
himself:--but my _gratitude_ he _has_ earned, and if he asks for it I
will _never_ deny it him "--since that moment there had been no word of
Wharton between them. At the bottom of his heart Hallin distrusted her,
and was ashamed of himself because of it. His soreness and jealousy for
his friend knew no bounds. "If that were to come on again"--he was
saying to himself now, as she talked to him--"I could not bear it, I
could not forgive her!"

He only wished that she would give up talking about Wharton altogether.
But, on the contrary, she would talk of him--and with a curious
persistence. She must needs know what Hallin thought of his career in
Parliament, of his prospects, of his powers as a speaker. Hallin
answered shortly, like some one approached on a subject for which he
cares nothing.

"Yet, of course, it is not that; it is injustice!" she said to herself,
with vehemence. "He _must_ care; they are his subjects, his interests
too. But he will not look at it dispassionately, because--"

So they fell out with each other a little, and the talk dragged. Yet,
all the while, Marcella's inner mind was conscious of quite different
thoughts. How good it was to be here, in this room, beside these two
people! She must show herself fractious and difficult with Hallin
sometimes; it was her nature. But in reality, that slight and fragile
form, that spiritual presence were now shrined in the girl's eager
reverence and affection. She felt towards him as many a Catholic has
felt towards his director; though the hidden yearning to be led by him
was often oddly covered, as now, by an outer self-assertion. Perhaps her
quarrel with him was that he would not lead her enough--would not tell
her precisely enough what she was to do with herself.




CHAPTER V.


While she and Hallin were sitting thus, momentarily out of tune with
each other, the silence was suddenly broken by a familiar voice.

"I say, Hallin--is this all right?"

The words came from a young man who, having knocked unheeded, opened the
door, and cautiously put in a curly head.

"Frank!--is that you? Come in," cried Hallin, springing up.

Frank Leven came in, and at once perceived the lady sitting in the
window.

"Well, I _am_ glad!" he cried, striding across the room and shaking
Hallin's hand by the way. "Miss Boyce! I thought none of your friends
were ever going to get a sight of you again! Why, what--"

He drew back scanning her, a gay look of quizzing surprise on his fair
boy's face.

"He expected me in cap and apron," said Marcella, laughing; "or means to
pretend he did."

"I expected a sensation! And here you are, just as you were, only twice
as--I say, Hallin, doesn't she look well!"--this in a stage aside to
Hallin, while the speaker was drawing off his gloves, and still studying
Marcella.

"Well, _I_ think she looks tired," said Hallin, with a little attempt at
a smile, but turning away. Everybody felt a certain tension, a certain
danger, even in the simplest words, and Miss Hallin's call to supper was
very welcome.

The frugal meal went gaily. The chattering Christchurch boy brought to
it a breath of happy, careless life, to which the three
others--over-driven and over-pressed, all of them--responded with a kind
of eagerness. Hallin especially delighted in him, and would have out all
his budget--his peacock's pride at having been just put into the
'Varsity eleven, his cricket engagements for the summer, his rows with
his dons, above all his lasting amazement that he should have just
scraped through his Mods.

"I thought those Roman emperors would have done for me!" he declared,
with a child's complacency. "_Brutes!_ I couldn't remember them. I
learnt them up and down, backwards and forwards--but it was no good;
they nearly dished me!"

"Yet it comes back to me," said Hallin, slily, "that when a certain
person was once asked to name the winner of the Derby in some obscure
year, he began at the beginning, and gave us all of them, from first to
last, without a hitch."

"The winner of the _Derby_!" said the lad, eagerly, bending forward with
his hands on his knees; "why, I should rather think so! That isn't
memory; that's _knowledge_!--Goodness! who's this?"

The last remark was addressed _sotto voce_ to Marcella. Supper was just
over, and the two guests, with Hallin, had returned to the window, while
Miss Hallin, stoutly refusing their help, herself cleared the table and
set all straight.

Hallin, hearing a knock, had gone to the door while Leven was speaking.
Four men came crowding in, all of them apparently well known both to
Hallin and his sister. The last two seemed to be workmen; the others
were Bennett, Hallin's old and tried friend among the Labour-leaders,
and Nehemiah Wilkins, M.P. Hallin introduced them all to Marcella and
Leven; but the new-comers took little notice of any one but their host,
and were soon seated about him discussing a matter already apparently
familiar to them, and into which Hallin had thrown himself at once with
that passionate directness which, in the social and speculative field,
replaced his ordinary gentleness of manner. He seemed to be in strong
disagreement with the rest--a disagreement which troubled himself and
irritated them.

Marcella watched them with quick curiosity from the window where she was
sitting, and would have liked to go forward to listen. But Frank Leven
turned suddenly round upon her with sparkling eyes.

"Oh, I say! don't go. Do come and sit here with me a bit. Oh, isn't it
rum! isn't it _rum_! Look at Hallin,--those are the people whom he
_cares_ to talk to. That's a shoemaker, that man to the left--really an
awfully cute fellow--and this man in front, I think he told me he was a
mason, a Socialist of course--would like to string _me_ up to-morrow.
Did you ever see such a countenance? Whenever that man begins, I think
we must be precious near to shooting. And he's pious too, would pray
over us first and shoot us afterwards--which isn't the case, I
understand, with many of 'em. Then the others--you know them? That's
Bennett--regular good fellow--always telling his pals not to make fools
of themselves--for which of course they love him no more than they are
obliged--And Wilkins--oh! _Wilkins_"--he chuckled--"they say it'll come
to a beautiful row in the House before they've done, between him and my
charming cousin, Harry Wharton. My father says he backs Wilkins."

Then suddenly the lad recollected himself and his clear cheek coloured a
little after a hasty glance at his companion. He fell to silence and
looking at his boots. Marcella wondered what was the matter with him.
Since her flight from Mellor she had lived, so to speak, with her head
in the sand. She herself had never talked directly of her own affairs to
anybody. Her sensitive pride did not let her realise that,
notwithstanding, all the world was aware of them.

"I don't suppose you know much about your cousin!" she said to him with
a little scorn.

"Well, I don't want to!" said the lad, "that's one comfort! But I don't
know anything about anything!--Miss Boyce!"

He plunged his head in his hands, and Marcella, looking at him, saw at
once that she was meant to understand she had woe and lamentation beside
her.

Her black eyes danced with laughter. At Mellor she had been several
times his confidante. The handsome lad was not apparently very fond of
his sisters and had taken to her from the beginning. To-night she
recognised the old symptoms.

"What, you have been getting into scrapes again?" she said--"how many
since we met last?"

"There! you make fun of it!" he said indignantly from behind his
fingers--"you're like all the rest."

Marcella teased him a little more till at last she was astonished by a
flash of genuine wrath from the hastily uncovered eyes.

"If you're only going to chaff a fellow let's go over there and talk!
And yet I did want to tell you about it--you were awfully kind to me
down at home. I want to tell you--and I don't want to tell you--perhaps
I _oughtn't_ to tell you--you'll think me a brute, I dare say, an
ungentlemanly brute for speaking of it at all--and yet somehow--"

The boy, crimson, bit his lips. Marcella, arrested and puzzled, laid a
hand on his arm. She had been used to these motherly ways with him at
Mellor, on the strength of her seniority, so inadequately measured by
its two years or so of time!

"I won't laugh," she said, "tell me."

"No--really?--shall I?"

Whereupon there burst forth a history precisely similar it seemed to
some half dozen others she had already heard from the same lips. A
pretty girl--or rather "an exquisite creature!" met at the house of some
relation in Scotland, met again at the "Boats" at Oxford, and yet again
at Commemoration balls, Nuneham picnics, and the rest; adored and
adorable; yet, of course, a sphinx born for the torment of men, taking
her haughty way over a prostrate sex, kind to-day, cruel to-morrow; not
to be won by money, yet, naturally, not to be won without it; possessed
like Rose Aylmer of "every virtue, every grace," whether of form or
family; yet making nothing but a devastating and death-dealing use of
them--how familiar it all was!--and how many more of them there seemed
to be in the world, on a man's reckoning, than on a woman's!

"And you know," said the lad, eagerly, "though she's so _frightfully_
pretty--well, frightfully fetching, rather--and well dressed and all the
rest of it, she isn't a bit silly, not one of your empty-headed
girls--not she. She's read a _lot_ of things--a lot! I'm sure, Miss
Boyce"--he looked at her confidently,--"if _you_ were to see her you'd
think her awfully clever. And yet she's so little--and so dainty--and
she dances--my goodness! you should see her dance, skirt-dance I
mean--Letty Lind isn't in it! She's good too, awfully good. I think her
mother's a most dreadful old bore--well, no, I didn't mean that--of
course I didn't mean that!--but she's fussy, you know, and invalidy, and
has to be wrapped up in shawls, and dragged about in bath chairs, and
Betty's an angel to her--she is really--though her mother's always
snapping her head off. And as to the _poor_--"

Something in his tone, in the way he had of fishing for her approval,
sent Marcella into a sudden fit of laughter. Then she put out a hand to
restrain this plunging lover.

"Look here--do come to the point--have you proposed to her?"

"I should rather think I have!" said the boy, fervently. "About once a
week since Christmas. Of course she's played with me--that sort always
does--but I think I might really have a chance with her, if it weren't
for her mother--horrible old--no, of _course_ I don't mean that! But
now it comes in--what I oughtn't to tell you--I _know_ I oughtn't to
tell you! I'm always making a beastly mess of it. It's because I can't
help talking of it!"

And shaking his curly head in despair, he once more plunged his red
cheeks into his hands and fell abruptly silent.

Marcella coloured for sympathy. "I really wish you wouldn't talk in
riddles," she said. "What is the matter with you?--of course you must
tell me."

"Well, I know you won't mind!" cried the lad, emerging. "As if you could
mind! But it sounds like my impudence to be talking to you
about--about--You see," he blurted out, "she's going to Italy with the
Raeburns. She's a connection of theirs, somehow, and Miss Raeburn's
taken a fancy to her lately--and her mother's treated me like dirt ever
since they asked her to go to Italy--and naturally a fellow sees what
_that_ means--and what her mother's after. I don't believe Betty
_would_; he's too old for her, isn't he? Oh, my goodness!"--this time he
smote his knee in real desperation--"now I _have_ done it. I'm simply
_bursting_ always with the thing I'd rather cut my head off than say.
Why they make 'em like me I don't know!"

"You mean," said Marcella, with impatience--"that her mother wants her
to marry Mr. Raeburn?"

He looked round at his companion. She was lying back in a deep chair,
her hands lightly clasped on her knee. Something in her attitude, in the
pose of the tragic head, in the expression of the face stamped to-night
with a fatigue which was also a dignity, struck a real compunction into
his mood of vanity and excitement. He had simply not been able to resist
the temptation to talk to her. She reminded him of the Raeburns, and the
Raeburns were in his mind at the present moment by day and by night. He
knew that he was probably doing an indelicate and indiscreet thing, but
all the same his boyish egotism would not be restrained from the
headlong pursuit of his own emotions. There was in him too such a
burning curiosity as to how she would take it--what she would say.

Now however he felt a genuine shrinking. His look changed. Drawing his
chair close up to her he began a series of penitent and
self-contradictory excuses which Marcella soon broke in upon.

"I don't know why you talk like that," she said, looking at him
steadily. "Do you suppose I can go on all my life without hearing Mr.
Raeburn's name mentioned? And don't apologise so much! It really doesn't
matter what I suppose--that _you_ think--about my present state of mind.
It is very simple. I ought never to have accepted Mr. Raeburn. I behaved
badly. I know it--and everybody knows it. Still one has to go on living
one's life somehow. The point is that I am rather the wrong person for
you to come to just now, for if there is one thing I ardently wish about
Mr. Raeburn, it is that he should get himself married."

Frank Leven looked at her in bewildered dismay.

"I never thought of that," he said.

"Well, you might, mightn't you?"

For another short space there was silence between them, while the rush
of talk in the centre of the room was still loud and unspent.

Then she rated herself for want of sympathy. Frank sat beside her shy
and uncomfortable, his confidence chilled away.

"So you think Miss Raeburn has views?" she asked him, smiling, and in
her most ordinary voice.

The boy's eye brightened again with the implied permission to go on
chattering.

"I know she has! Betty's brother as good as told me that she and Mrs.
Macdonald--that's Betty's mother--she hasn't got a father--had talked it
over. And now Betty's going with them to Italy, and Aldous is going too
for ten days--and when I go to the Macdonalds Mrs. Macdonald treats me
as if I were a little chap in jackets, and Betty worries me to death.
It's sickening!"

"And how about Mr. Raeburn?"

"Oh, Aldous seems to like her very much," he said despondently. "She's
always teasing and amusing him. When she's there she never lets him
alone. She harries him out. She makes him read to her and ride with her.
She makes him discuss all sorts of things with her you'd _never_ think
Aldous would discuss--her lovers and her love affairs, and being in
love!--it's extraordinary the way she drives him round. At Easter she
and her mother were staying at the Court, and one night Betty told me
she was bored to death. It was a very smart party, but everything was so
flat and everybody was so dull. So she suddenly got up and ran across to
Aldous. 'Now look here, Mr. Aldous,' she said; 'this'll never do! you've
got to come and dance with me, and _push_ those chairs and tables
aside'--I can fancy the little stamp she'd give--'and make those other
people dance too.' And she made him--she positively made him. Aldous
declared he didn't dance, and she wouldn't have a word of it. And
presently she got to all her tricks, skirt-dancing and the rest of
it--and of course the evening went like smoke."

Marcella's eyes, unusually wide open, were somewhat intently fixed on
the speaker.

"And Mr. Raeburn liked it?" she asked in a tone that sounded
incredulous.

"Didn't he just? She told me they got regular close friends after that,
and he told her everything--oh, well," said the lad, embarrassed, and
clutching at his usual formula--"of course, I didn't mean that. And
she's fearfully flattered, you can see she is, and she tells me that she
adores him--that he's the only great man she's ever known--that I'm not
fit to black his boots, and ought to be grateful whenever he speaks to
me--and all that sort of rot. And now she's going off with them. I shall
have to shoot myself--I declare I shall!"

"Well, not yet," said Marcella, in a soothing voice; "the case isn't
clear enough. Wait till they come back. Shall we move? I'm going over
there to listen to that talk. But--first--come and see me whenever you
like--3 to 4.30, Brown's Buildings, Maine Street--and tell me how this
goes on?"

She spoke with a careless lightness, laughing at him with a half
sisterly freedom. She had risen from her seat, and he, whose thoughts
had been wrapped up for months in one of the smallest of the sex, was
suddenly struck with her height and stately gesture as she moved away
from him.

"By Jove! Why didn't she stick to Aldous," he said to himself
discontentedly as his eyes followed her. "It was only her cranks, and of
course she'll get rid of _them_. Just like my luck!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Marcella took a seat next to Miss Hallin, who looked up from
her knitting to smile at her. The girl fell into the attitude of
listening; but for some minutes she was not listening at all. She was
reflecting how little men knew of each other!--even the most intimate
friends--and trying to imagine what Aldous Raeburn would be like,
married to such a charmer as Frank had sketched. His friendship for her
meant, of course, the attraction of contraries--one of the most
promising of all possible beginnings. On the whole, she thought Frank's
chances were poor.

Then, unexpectedly, her ear was caught by Wharton's name, and she
discovered that what was going on beside her was a passionate discussion
of his present position and prospects in the Labour party--a discussion,
however, mainly confined to Wilkins and the two workmen. Bennett had the
air of the shrewd and kindly spectator who has his own reasons for
treating a situation with reserve; and Hallin was lying back in his
chair flushed and worn out. The previous debate, which had now merged in
these questions of men and personalities, had made him miserable; he had
no heart for anything more. Miss Hallin observed him anxiously, and
made restless movements now and then, as though she had it in her mind
to send all her guests away.

The two Socialist workmen were talking strongly in favour of an
organised and distinct Labour party, and of Wharton's leadership. They
referred constantly to Parnell, and what he had clone for "those Irish
fellows." The only way to make Labour formidable in the House was to
learn the lesson of Unionism and of Parnellism, to act together and
strike together, to make of the party a "two-handed engine," ready to
smite Tory and Liberal impartially. To this end a separate organisation,
separate place in the House, separate Whips--they were ready, nay
clamorous, for them all. And they were equally determined on Harry
Wharton as a leader. They spoke of the _Clarion_ with enthusiasm, and
declared that its owner was already an independent power, and was,
moreover, as "straight" as he was sharp.

The contention and the praise lashed Wilkins into fury. After making one
or two visible efforts at a sarcastic self-control which came to
nothing, he broke out into a flood of invective which left the rest of
the room staring. Marcella found herself indignantly wondering who this
big man, with his fierce eyes, long, puffy cheeks, coarse black hair,
and North-country accent, might be. Why did he talk in this way, with
these epithets, this venom? It was intolerable!

Hallin roused himself from his fatigue to play the peace-maker. But some
of the things Wilkins had been saying had put up the backs of the two
workmen, and the talk flamed up unmanageably--Wilkins's dialect getting
more pronounced with each step of the argument.

"Well, if I'd ever ha' thowt that I war coomin' to Lunnon to put myself
and my party oonder the heel o' Muster Harry Wharton, I'd ha' stayed at
_home_, I tell tha," cried Wilkins, slapping his knee. "If it's to be
the People's party, why, in the name o' God, must yo put a yoong
ripstitch like yon at the head of it? a man who'll just mak _use_ of us
all, you an' me, and ivery man Jack of us, for his own advancement, an'
ull kick us down when he's done with us! Why shouldn't he? What is he?
Is he a man of _us_--bone of our bone? He's a _landlord_, and an
aristocrat, I tell tha! What have the likes of him ever been but thorns
in our side? When have the landlords ever gone with the people? Have
they not been the blight and the curse of the country for hun'erds of
years? And you're goin' to tell me that a man bred out o' _them_--living
on his rent and interest--grinding the faces of the poor, I'll be bound
if the truth were known, as all the rest of them do--is goin' to lead
_me_, an' those as'll act with me to the pullin' down of the landlords!
Why are we to go lickspittlin' to any man of his sort to do our work for
us? Let him go to his own class--I'm told Mr. Wharton is mighty fond of
countesses, and they of him!--or let him set up as the friend of the
working man just as he likes--I'm quite agreeable!--I shan't make any
bones about takin' his _vote_; but I'm not goin' to make him master over
me, and give him the right to speak for my mates in the House of
Commons. I'd cut my hand off fust!"

Leven grinned in the background. Bennett lay back in his chair with a
worried look. Wilkins's crudities were very distasteful to him both in
and out of the House. The younger of the Socialist workmen, a mason,
with a strong square face, incongruously lit somehow with the eyes of
the religious dreamer, looked at Wilkins contemptuously.

"There's none of you in the House will take orders," he said quickly,
"and that's the ruin of us. We all know that. Where do you think we'd
have been in the struggle with the employers, if we'd gone about our
business as you're going about yours in the House of Commons?"

"I'm not saying we shouldn't _organise_," said Wilkins, fiercely. "What
I'm sayin' is, get a man of the working class--a man who has the _wants_
of the working class--a man whom the working class can get a hold on--to
do your business for you, and not any bloodsucking landlord or
capitalist. It's a slap i' the face to ivery honest working man i' the
coontry, to mak' a Labour party and put Harry Wharton at t' head of it!"

The young Socialist looked at him askance. "Of course you'd like it
yourself!" was what he was thinking. "But they'll take a man as can hold
his own with the swells--and quite right too!"

"And if Mr. Wharton _is_ a landlord he's a good sort!" exclaimed the
shoemaker--a tall, lean man in a well-brushed frock coat. "There's many
on us knows as have been to hear him speak, what he's tried to do about
the land, and the co-operative farming. E's _straight_ is Mr. Wharton.
We 'aven't got Socialism yet--an' it isn't 'is fault bein' a landlord.
Ee was born it."

"I tell tha he's playin' for his own hand!" said Wilkins, doggedly, the
red spot deepening on his swarthy cheek--"he's runnin' that paper for
his own hand--Haven't I had experience of him? I know it--And I'll prove
it some day! He's one for featherin' his own nest is Mr. Wharton--and
when he's doon it by makkin' fools of us, he'll leave us to whistle for
any good we're iver likely to get out o' _him. He_ go agen the landlords
when it coom to the real toossle,--I know 'em--I tell tha--I know 'em!"

A woman's voice, clear and scornful, broke into the talk.

"It's a little strange to think, isn't it, that while we in London go on
groaning and moaning about insanitary houses, and making our small
attempts here and there, half of the country poor of England have been
re-housed in our generation by these same landlords--no fuss about
it--and rents for five-roomed cottages, somewhere about one and
fourpence a week!"

Hallin swung his chair round and looked at the speaker--amazed!

Wilkins also stared at her under his eyebrows. He did not like
women--least of all, ladies.

He gruffly replied that if they had done anything like as much as she
said--which, he begged her pardon, but he didn't believe--it was done
for the landlords' own purposes, either to buy off public opinion, or
just for show and aggrandisement. People who had prize pigs and prize
cattle must have prize cottages of course--"with a race of slaves
inside 'em!"

Marcella, bright-eyed, erect, her thin right hand hanging over her knee,
went avengingly into facts--the difference between landlords' villages
and "open" villages; the agrarian experiments made by different great
landlords; the advantage to the community, even from the Socialist point
of view of a system which had preserved the land in great blocks, for
the ultimate use of the State, as compared with a system like the
French, which had for ever made Socialism impossible.

Hallin's astonishment almost swept away his weariness.

"Where in the world did she get it all from, and is she standing on her
head or am I?"

After an animated little debate, in which Bennett and the two workmen
joined, while Wilkins sat for the most part in moody, contemptuous
silence, and Marcella, her obstinacy roused, carried through her defence
of the landlords with all a woman's love of emphasis and paradox,
everybody rose simultaneously to say good-night.

"You ought to come and lead a debate down at our Limehouse club," said
Bennett pleasantly to Marcella, as she held out her hand to him; "you'd
take a lot of beating."

"Yet I'm a Venturist, you know," she said, laughing; "I _am_."

He shook his head, laughed too, and departed.

When the four had gone, Marcella turned upon Hallin.

"Are there many of these Labour members like _that_?"

Her tone was still vibrating and sarcastic.

"He's not much of a talker, our Nehemiah," said Hallin, smiling; "but he
has the most extraordinary power as a speaker over a large popular
audience that I have ever seen. The man's honesty is amazing,--it's his
tempers and his jealousies get in his way. You astonished him; but, for
the matter of that, you astonished Frank and me still more!"

And as he fell back into his chair, Marcella caught a flash of
expression, a tone that somehow put her on her defence.

"I was not going to listen to such unjust stuff without a word. Politics
is one thing--slanderous abuse is another!" she said, throwing back her
head with a gesture which instantly brought back to Hallin the scene in
the Mellor drawing-room, when she had denounced the game-laws and
Wharton had scored his first point.

He was silent, feeling a certain inner exasperation with women and their
ways.

"'She only did it to annoy,'" cried Frank Leven; "'because she knows it
teases.' _We_ know very well what she thinks of us. But where did you
get it all from, Miss Boyce? I just wish you'd tell me. There's a horrid
Radical in the House I'm always having rows with--and upon my word I
didn't know there was half so much to be said for us!"

Marcella flushed.

"Never mind where I got it!" she said.

In reality, of course, it was from those Agricultural Reports she had
worked through the year before under Wharton's teaching, with so much
angry zest, and to such different purpose.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the door closed upon her and upon Frank Leven, who was to escort
her home, Hallin walked quickly over to the table, and stood looking for
a moment in a sort of bitter reverie at Raeburn's photograph.

His sister followed him, and laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Do go to bed, Edward! I am afraid that talk has tired you dreadfully."

"It would be no good going to bed, dear," he said, with a sigh of
exhaustion. "I will sit and read a bit, and see if I can get myself into
sleeping trim. But you go, Alice--good-night."

When she had gone he threw himself into his chair again with the
thought--"She must contradict here as she contradicted there! _She_--and
justice! If she could have been just to a landlord for one hour last
year--"

He spent himself for a while in endless chains of recollection,
oppressed by the clearness of his own brain, and thirsting for sleep.
Then from the affairs of Raeburn and Marcella, he passed with a fresh
sense of strain and effort to his own. That discussion with those four
men which had filled the first part of the evening weighed upon him in
his weakness of nerve, so that suddenly in the phantom silence of the
night, all life became an oppression and a terror, and rest, either
to-night or in the future, a thing never to be his.

He had come to the moment of difficulty, of tragedy, in a career which
so far, in spite of all drawbacks of physical health and cramped
activities, had been one of singular happiness and success. Ever since
he had discovered his own gifts as a lecturer to working men, content,
cheerfulness, nay, a passionate interest in every hour, had been quite
compatible for him with all the permanent limitations of his lot. The
study of economical and historical questions; the expression through
them of such a hunger for the building of a "city of God" among men, as
few are capable of; the evidence not to be ignored even by his modesty,
and perpetually forthcoming over a long period of time, that he had the
power to be loved, the power to lead, among those toilers of the world
on whom all his thoughts centred--these things had been his joy, and had
led him easily through much self-denial to the careful husbanding of
every hour of strength and time in the service of his ideal end.

And now he had come upon opposition--the first cooling of friendships,
the first distrust of friends that he had ever known.

Early in the spring of this year a book called _To-morrow and the Land_
had appeared in London, written by a young London economist of great
ability, and dealing with the nationalisation of the land. It did not
offer much discussion of the general question, but it took up the
question as it affected England specially and London in particular. It
showed--or tried to show--in picturesque detail what might be the
consequences for English rural or municipal life of throwing all land
into a common or national stock, of expropriating the landlords, and
transferring all rent to the people, to the effacement of taxation and
the indefinite enrichment of the common lot. The book differed from
_Progress and Poverty_, which also powerfully and directly affected the
English working class, in that it suggested a financial scheme, of great
apparent simplicity and ingenuity, for the compensation of the
landlords; it was shorter, and more easily to be grasped by the average
working man; and it was written in a singularly crisp and taking style,
and--by the help of a number of telling illustrations borrowed directly
from the circumstances of the larger English towns, especially of
London--treated with abundant humour.

The thing had an enormous success--in popular phrase, "caught on." Soon
Hallin found, that all the more active and intelligent spirits in the
working-class centres where he was in vogue as a lecturer were
touched--nay, possessed--by it. The crowd of more or less socialistic
newspapers which had lately sprung up in London were full of it; the
working men's clubs rang with it. It seemed to him a madness--an
infection; and it spread like one. The book had soon reached an immense
sale, and was in every one's hands.

To Hallin, a popular teacher, interested above all in the mingled
problems of ethics and economics, such an incident was naturally of
extreme importance. But he was himself opposed by deepest conviction,
intellectual and moral, to the book and its conclusions. The more its
success grew, the more eager and passionate became his own desire to
battle with it. His platform, of course, was secured to him; his
openings many. Hundreds and thousands of men all over England were keen
to know what he had to say about the new phenomenon.

And he had been saying his say--throwing into it all his energies, all
his finest work. With the result that--for the first time in eleven
years--he felt his position in the working-class movement giving beneath
his feet, and his influence beginning to drop from his hand. Coldness in
place of enthusiasm; critical aloofness in place of affection; readiness
to forget and omit him in matters where he had always hitherto belonged
to the inner circle and the trusted few--these bitter ghosts, with their
hard, unfamiliar looks, had risen of late in his world of idealist
effort and joy, and had brought with them darkness and chill. He could
not give way, for he had a singular unity of soul--it had been the
source of his power--and every economical or social conviction was in
some way bound up with the moral and religious passion which was his
being--his inmost nature. And his sensitive state of nerve and brain,
his anchorite's way of life, did not allow him the distractions of other
men. The spread of these and other similar ideas seemed to him a
question of the future of England; and he had already begun to throw
himself into the unequal struggle with a martyr's tenacity, and with
some prescience of the martyr's fate.

Even Bennett! As he sat there alone in the dim lamp-light, his head bent
over his knees, his hands hanging loosely before him, he thought
bitterly of the defection of that old friend who had stood by him
through so many lesser contests. It was _impossible_ that Bennett
should think the schemes of that book feasible! Yet he was one of the
honestest of men, and, within a certain range, one of the most
clear-headed. As for the others, they had been all against him.
Intellectually, their opinion did not matter to him; but morally it was
so strange to him to find himself on the side of doubt and dissent,
while all his friends were talking language which was almost the
language of a new faith!

He had various lecturing engagements ahead, connected with this great
debate which was now surging throughout the Labour world of London. He
had accepted them with eagerness; in these weary night hours he looked
forward to them with terror, seeing before him perpetually thousands of
hostile faces, living in a nightmare of lost sympathies and broken
friendships. Oh, for _sleep_--for the power to rest--to escape this
corrosion of an ever active thought, which settled and reconciled
nothing!

"_The tragedy of life lies in the conflict between the creative will of
man and the hidden wisdom of the world, which seems to thwart it_."
These words, written by one whose thought had penetrated deep into his
own, rang in his ears as he sat brooding there. Not the hidden fate, or
the hidden evil, but the hidden _wisdom_. Could one die and still
believe it? Yet what else was the task of faith?




CHAPTER VI.


"So I understand you wish me to go down at once?" said Louis Craven.
"This is Friday--say Monday?"

Wharton nodded. He and Craven were sitting in Marcella's little
sitting-room. Their hostess and Edith Craven had escaped through the
door in the back kitchen communicating with the Hurds' tenement, so that
the two men might be left alone a while. The interview between them had
gone smoothly, and Louis Craven had accepted immediate employment on the
_Labour Clarion_, as the paper's correspondent in the Midlands, with
special reference to the important strike just pending. Wharton, whose
tendency in matters of business was always to go rather further than he
had meant to go, for the sake generally of making an impression on the
man with whom he was dealing, had spoken of a two years' engagement, and
had offered two hundred a year. So far as that went, Craven was
abundantly satisfied.

"And I understand from you," he said, "that the paper _goes in_ for the
strike, that you will fight it through?"

He fixed his penetrating greenish eyes on his companion. Louis Craven
was now a tall man with narrow shoulders, a fine oval head and face,
delicate features, and a nervous look of short sight, producing in
appearance and manner a general impression of thin grace and of a
courtesy which was apt to pass unaccountably into sarcasm. Wharton had
never felt himself personally at ease with him, either now, or in the
old days of Venturist debates.

"Certainly, we shall fight it through," Wharton replied, with
emphasis--"I have gone through the secretary's statement, which I now
hand over to you, and I never saw a clearer case. The poor wretches have
been skinned too long; it is high time the public backed them up. There
are two of the masters in the House. Denny, I should say, belonged quite
to the worst type of employer going."

He spoke with light venom, buttoning his coat as he spoke with the air
of the busy public man who must not linger over an appointment.

"Oh! Denny!" said Craven, musing; "yes, Denny is a hard man, but a just
one according to his lights. There are plenty worse than he."

Wharton was disagreeably reminded of the Venturist habit of never
accepting anything that was said quite as it stood--of not, even in
small things, "swearing to the words" of anybody. He was conscious of
the quick passing feeling that his judgment, with regard to Denny, ought
to have been enough for Craven.

"One thing more," said Craven suddenly, as Wharton looked for his
stick--"you see there is talk of arbitration."

"Oh yes, I know!" said Wharton impatiently; "a mere blind. The men have
been done by it twice before. They get some big-wig from the
neighbourhood--not in the trade, indeed, but next door to it--and, of
course, the award goes against the men."

"Then the paper will not back arbitration?"

Craven took out a note-book.

"No!--The quarrel itself is as plain as a pikestaff. The men are asking
for a mere pittance, and must get it if they are to live. It's like all
these home industries, abominably ground down. We must go for them! I
mean to go for them hot and strong. Poor devils! did you read the
evidence in that Bluebook last year? Arbitration? no, indeed! let them
live first!"

Craven looked up absently.

"And I think," he said, "you gave me Mr. Thorpe's address?" Mr. Thorpe
was the secretary.

Again Wharton gulped down his annoyance. If he chose to be expansive, it
was not for Craven to take no notice.

Craven, however, except in print, where he could be as vehement as
anybody else, never spoke but in the driest way of those workman's
grievances, which in reality burnt at the man's heart. A deep
disdain for what had always seemed to him the cheapest form of
self-advertisement, held him back. It was this dryness, combined with an
amazing disinterestedness, which had so far stood in his way.

Wharton repeated the address, following it up by some rather curt
directions as to the length and date of articles, to which Craven gave
the minutest attention.

"May we come in?" said Marcella's voice.

"By all means," said Wharton, with a complete change of tone. "Business
is up and I am off!"

He took up his hat as he spoke.

"Not at all! Tea is just coming, without which no guest departs," said
Marcella, taking as she spoke a little tray from the red-haired Daisy
who followed her, and motioning to the child to bring the tea-table.

Wharton looked at her irresolute. He had spent half an hour with her
_tête-à-tête_ before Louis Craven arrived, and he was really due at the
House. But now that she was on the scene again, he did not find it so
easy to go away. How astonishingly beautiful she was, even in this
disguise! She wore her nurse's dress; for her second daily round began
at half-past four, and her cloak, bonnet, and bag were lying ready on a
chair beside her. The dress was plain brown holland, with collar and
armlets of white linen; but, to Wharton's eye, the dark Italian head,
and the long slenderness of form had never shown more finely. He
hesitated and stayed.

"All well?" said Marcella, in a half whisper, as she passed Louis Craven
on her way to get some cake.

He nodded and smiled, and she went back to the tea-table with an eye all
gaiety, pleased with herself and everybody else.

The quarter of an hour that followed went agreeably enough. Wharton sat
among the little group, far too clever to patronise a cat, let alone a
Venturist, but none the less master and conscious master of the
occasion, because it suited him to take the airs of equality. Craven
said little, but as he lounged in Marcella's long cane chair with his
arms behind his head, his serene and hazy air showed him contented; and
Marcella talked and laughed with the animation that belongs to one whose
plots for improving the universe have at least temporarily succeeded.
Or did it betray, perhaps, a woman's secret consciousness of some
presence beside her, more troubling and magnetic to her than others?

"Well then, Friday," said Wharton at last, when his time was more than
spent.--"You must be there early, for there will be a crush. Miss Craven
comes too? Excellent! I will tell the doorkeeper to look out for you.
Good-bye!--good-bye!"

And with a hasty shake of the hand to the Cravens, and one more keen
glance, first at Marcella and then round the little workman's room in
which they had been sitting, he went.

He had hardly departed before Anthony Craven, the lame elder brother,
who must have passed him on the stairs, appeared.

"Well--any news?" he said, as Marcella found him a chair.

"All right!" said Louis, whose manner had entirely changed since Wharton
had left the room. "I am to go down on Monday to report the Damesley
strike that is to be. A month's trial, and then a salary--two hundred a
year. Oh! it'll do."

He fidgeted and looked away from his brother, as though trying to hide
his pleasure. But in spite of him it transformed every line of the
pinched and worn face.

"And you and Anna will walk to the Registry Office next week?" said
Anthony, sourly, as he took his tea.

"It can't be next week," said Edith Craven's quiet voice, interposing.
"Anna's got to work out her shirt-making time. She only left the
tailoresses and began this new business ten days ago. And she was to
have a month at each."

Marcella's lifted eyebrows asked for explanations. She had not yet seen
Louis's betrothed, but she was understood to be a character, and a
better authority on many Labour questions than he.

Louis explained that Anna was exploring various sweated trades for the
benefit of an East End newspaper. She had earned fourteen shillings her
last week at tailoring, but the feat had exhausted her so much that he
had been obliged to insist on two or three days respite before moving on
to shirts. Shirts were now brisk, and the hours appallingly long in this
heat.

"It was on shirts they made acquaintance," said Edith pensively. "Louis
was lodging on the second floor, she in the third floor back, and they
used to pass on the stairs. One day she heard him imploring the little
slavey to put some buttons on his shirts. The slavey tossed her head,
and said she'd see about it. When he'd gone out, Anna came downstairs,
calmly demanded his shirts, and, having the slavey under her thumb, got
them, walked off with them, and mended them all. When Louis came home he
discovered a neat heap reposing on his table. Of course he
wept--whatever he may say. But next morning Miss Anna found her shoes
outside her door, blacked as they had never been blacked before, with a
note inside one of them. Affecting! wasn't it? Thenceforward, as long as
they remained in those lodgings, Anna mended and Louis blacked.
Naturally, Anthony and I drew our conclusions."

Marcella laughed.

"You must bring her to see me," she said to Louis.

"I will," said Louis, with some perplexity; "if I can get hold of her.
But when she isn't stitching she's writing, or trying to set up Unions.
She does the work of six. She'll earn nearly as much as I do when we're
married. Oh! we shall swim!"

Anthony surveyed his radiant aspect--so unlike the gentle or satirical
detachment which made his ordinary manner--with a darkening eye, as
though annoyed by his effusion.

"Two hundred a year?" he said slowly; "about what Mr. Harry Wharton
spends on his clothes, I should think. The Labour men tell me he is
superb in that line. And for the same sum that he spends on his clothes,
he is able to buy _you_, Louis, body and soul, and you seem inclined to
be grateful."

"Never mind," said Louis recklessly. "He didn't buy some one else--and I
_am_ grateful!"

"No; by Heaven, you shan't be!" said Anthony, with a fierce change of
tone. "_You_ the dependent of that charlatan! I don't know how I'm to
put up with it. You know very well what I think of him, and of your
becoming dependent on him."

Marcella gave an angry start. Louis protested.

"Nonsense!" said Anthony doggedly; "you'll have to bear it from me, I
tell you--unless you muzzle me too with an Anna."

"But I don't see why _I_ should bear it," said Marcella, turning upon
him. "I think you know that I owe Mr. Wharton a debt. Please remember
it!"

Anthony looked at her an instant in silence. A question crossed his
mind concerning her. Then he made her a little clumsy bow.

"I am dumb," he said. "My manners, you perceive, are what they always
were."

"What do you mean by such a remark," cried Marcella, fuming. "How can a
man who has reached the position he has in so short a time--in so many
different worlds--be disposed of by calling him an ugly name? It is more
than unjust--it is absurd! Besides, what can you know of him?"

"You forget," said Anthony, as he calmly helped himself to more bread
and butter, "that it is some three years since Master Harry Wharton
joined the Venturists and began to be heard of at all. I watched his
beginnings, and if I didn't know him well, my friends and Louis's did.
And most of them--as he knows!--have pretty strong opinions by now about
the man."

"Come, come, Anthony!" said Louis, "nobody expects a man of that type to
be the pure-eyed patriot. But neither you nor I can deny that he has
done some good service. Am I asked to take him to my bosom? Not at all!
He proposes a job to me, and offers to pay me. I like the job, and mean
to use him and his paper, both to earn some money that I want, and do a
bit of decent work."

"_You_--use Harry Wharton!" said the cripple, with a sarcasm that
brought the colour to Louis's thin cheek and made Marcella angrier than
before. She saw nothing in his attack on Wharton, except personal
prejudice and ill-will. It was natural enough, that a man of Anthony
Craven's type--poor, unsuccessful, and embittered--should dislike a
popular victorious personality.

"Suppose we leave Mr. Wharton alone?" she said with emphasis, and
Anthony, making her a little proud gesture of submission, threw himself
back in his chair, and was silent.

It had soon become evident to Marcella, upon the renewal of her
friendship with the Cravens, that Anthony's temper towards all men,
especially towards social reformers and politicians, had developed into
a mere impotent bitterness. While Louis had renounced his art, and
devoted himself to journalism, unpaid public work and starvation, that
he might so throw himself the more directly into the Socialist battle,
Anthony had remained an artist, mainly employed as before in decorative
design. Yet he was probably the more fierce Venturist and anticapitalist
of the two. Only what with Louis was an intoxication of hope, was on the
whole with Anthony a counsel of despair. He loathed wealth more
passionately than ever; but he believed less in the working man, less in
his kind. Rich men must cease to exist; but the world on any terms would
probably remain a sorry spot.

In the few talks that he had had with Marcella since she left the
hospital, she had allowed him to gather more or less clearly--though
with hardly a mention of Aldous Raeburn's name--what had happened to her
at Mellor. Anthony Craven thought out the story for himself, finding it
a fit food for a caustic temper. Poor devil--the lover! To fall a victim
to enthusiasms so raw, so unprofitable from any point of view, was hard.
And as to this move to London, he thought he foresaw the certain end of
it. At any rate he believed in her no more than before. But her beauty
was more marked than ever, and would, of course, be the dominant factor
in her fate. He was thankful, at any rate, that Louis in this two years'
interval had finally transferred his heart elsewhere.

After watching his three companions for a while, he broke in upon their
chat with an abrupt--

"What _is_ this job, Louis?"

"I told you. I am to investigate, report, and back up the Damesley
strike, or rather the strike that begins at Damesley next week."

"No chance!" said Anthony shortly, "the masters are too strong. I had a
talk with Denny yesterday."

The Denny he meant, however, was not Wharton's colleague in the House,
but his son--a young man who, beginning life as the heir of one of the
most stiff-backed and autocratic of capitalists, had developed socialist
opinions, renounced his father's allowance, and was now a member of the
"intellectual proletariat," as they have been called, the free-lances of
the Collectivist movement. He had lately joined the Venturists. Anthony
had taken a fancy to him. Louis as yet knew little or nothing of him.

"Ah, well!" he said, in reply to his brother, "I don't know. I think the
_Clarion can_ do something. The press grows more and more powerful in
these things."

And he repeated some of the statements that Wharton had made--that
Wharton always did make, in talking of the _Clarion_--as to its growth
under his hands, and increasing influence in Labour disputes.

"Bunkum!" interrupted Anthony drily; "pure bunkum! My own belief is
that the _Clarion_ is a rotten property, and that he knows it!"

At this both Marcella and Louis laughed out. Extravagance after a
certain point becomes amusing. They dropped their vexation, and Anthony
for the next ten minutes had to submit to the part of the fractious
person whom one humours but does not argue with. He accepted the part,
saying little, his eager, feverish eyes, full of hostility, glancing
from one to the other.

However, at the end, Marcella bade him a perfectly friendly farewell. It
was always in her mind that Anthony Craven was lame and solitary, and
her pity no less than her respect for him had long since yielded him the
right to be rude.

"How are you getting on?" he said to her abruptly as he dropped her
hand.

"Oh, very well! my superintendent leaves me almost alone now, which is a
compliment. There is a parish doctor who calls me 'my good woman,' and a
sanitary inspector who tells me to go to him whenever I want advice.
Those are my chief grievances, I think."

"And you are as much in love with the poor as ever?"

She stiffened at the note of sarcasm, and a retaliatory impulse made her
say:--

"I see a great deal more happiness than I expected."

He laughed.

"How like a woman! A few ill-housed villagers made you a democrat. A few
well-paid London artisans will carry you safely back to your class. Your
people were wise to let you take this work."

"Do you suppose I nurse none but well-paid artisans?" she asked him,
mocking. "And I didn't say 'money' or 'comfort,' did I? but 'happiness.'
As for my 'democracy,' you are not perhaps the best judge."

She stood resting both hands on a little table behind her, in an
attitude touched with the wild freedom which best became her, a gleam of
storm in her great eyes.

"Why are you still a Venturist?" he asked her abruptly.

"Because I have every right to be! I joined a society, pledged to work
'for a better future.' According to my lights, I do what poor work I can
in that spirit."

"_You_ are not a Socialist. Half the things you say, or imply, show it.
And we _are_ Socialists."

She hesitated, looking at him steadily.

"No!--so far as Socialism means a political system--the trampling out of
private enterprise and competition, and all the rest of it--I find
myself slipping away from it more and more. No!--as I go about among
these wage-earners, the emphasis--do what I will--comes to lie less and
less on possession--more and more on character. I go to two tenements in
the same building. One is Hell--the other Heaven. Why? Both belong to
well-paid artisans with equal opportunities. Both, so far as I can see,
might have a decent and pleasant life of it. But one is a man--the
other, with all his belongings, will soon be a vagabond. That is not
all, I know--oh! don't trouble to tell me so!--but it is more than I
thought. No!--my sympathies in this district where I work are not so
much with the Socialists that I know here--saving your presence!
but--with the people, for instance, that slave at Charity Organisation!
and get all the abuse from all sides."

Anthony laughed scornfully.

"It is always the way with a woman," he said; "she invariably prefers
the tinkers to the reformers."

"And as to your Socialism," she went on, unheeding, the thought of many
days finding defiant expression--"it seems to me like all other
interesting and important things--destined to help something else!
Christianity begins with the poor and division of goods--it becomes the
great bulwark of property and the feudal state. The Crusades--they set
out to recover the tomb of the Lord!--what they did was to increase
trade and knowledge. And so with Socialism. It talks of a new
order--what it _will_ do is to help to make the old sound!"

Anthony clapped her ironically.

"Excellent! When the Liberty and Property Defence people have got hold
of you--ask me to come and hear!"

Meanwhile, Louis stood behind, with his hands on his sides, a smile in
his blinking eyes. He really had a contempt for what a handsome
half-taught girl of twenty-three might think. Anthony only pretended or
desired to have it.

Nevertheless, Louis said good-bye to his hostess with real, and, for
him, rare effusion. Two years before, for the space of some months, he
had been in love with her. That she had never responded with anything
warmer than liking and comradeship he knew; and his Anna now possessed
him wholly. But there was a deep and gentle chivalry at the bottom of
all his stern social faiths; and the woman towards whom he had once felt
as he had towards Marcella Boyce could never lose the glamour lent her
by that moment of passionate youth. And now, so kindly, so eagerly!--she
had given him his Anna.

When they were all gone Marcella threw herself into her chair a moment
to think. Her wrath with Anthony was soon dismissed. But Louis's thanks
had filled her with delicious pleasure. Her cheek, her eye had a child's
brightness. The old passion for ruling and influencing was all alive and
happy.

"I will see it is all right," she was saying to herself. "I will look
after them."

What she meant was, "I will see that Mr. Wharton looks after them!" and
through the link of thought, memory flew quickly back to that
_tête-à-tête_ with him which had preceded the Cravens' arrival.

How changed he was, yet how much the same! He had not sat beside her for
ten minutes before each was once more vividly, specially conscious of
the other. She felt in him the old life and daring, the old imperious
claim to confidence, to intimacy--on the other hand a new atmosphere, a
new gravity, which suggested growing responsibilities, the difficulties
of power, a great position--everything fitted to touch such an
imagination as Marcella's, which, whatever its faults, was noble, both
in quality and range. The brow beneath the bright chestnut curls had
gained lines that pleased her--lines that a woman marks, because she
thinks they mean experience an I mastery.

Altogether, to have met him again was pleasure; to think of him was
pleasure; to look forward to hearing him speak in Parliament was
pleasure; so too was his new connection with her old friends. And a
pleasure which took nothing from self-respect; which was open,
honourable, eager. As for that ugly folly of the past, she frowned at
the thought of it, only to thrust the remembrance passionately away.
That _he_ should remember or allude to it, would put an end to
friendship. Otherwise friends they would and should be; and the personal
interest in his public career should lift her out of the cramping
influences that flow from the perpetual commerce of poverty and
suffering. Why not? Such equal friendships between men and women grow
more possible every day. While, as for Hallin's distrust, and Anthony
Craven's jealous hostility, why should a third person be bound by either
of them? Could any one suppose that such a temperament as Wharton's
would be congenial to Hallin or to Craven--or--to yet another person, of
whom she did not want to think? Besides, who wished to make a hero of
him? It was the very complexity and puzzle of the character that made
its force.

       *       *       *       *       *

So with a reddened cheek, she lost herself a few minutes in this
pleasant sense of a new wealth in life; and was only roused from the
dreamy running to and fro of thought by the appearance of Minta, who
came to clear away the tea.

"Why, it is close on the half-hour!" cried Marcella, springing up.
"Where are my things?"

She looked down the notes of her cases, satisfied herself that her bag
contained all she wanted, and then hastily tied on her bonnet and cloak.

Suddenly--the room was empty, for Minta had just gone away with the
tea--by a kind of subtle reaction, the face in that photograph on
Hallin's table flashed into her mind--its look--the grizzled hair. With
an uncontrollable pang of pain she dropped her hands from the fastenings
of her cloak, and wrung them together in front of her--a dumb gesture of
contrition and of grief.

She!--she talk of social reform and "character," she give her opinion,
as of right, on points of speculation and of ethics, she, whose main
achievement so far had been to make a good man suffer! Something
belittling and withering swept over all her estimate of herself, all her
pleasant self-conceit. Quietly, with downcast eyes, she went her way.




CHAPTER VII.


Her first case was in Brown's Buildings itself--a woman suffering from
bronchitis and heart complaint, and tormented besides by an ulcerated
foot which Marcella had now dressed daily for some weeks. She lived on
the top floor of one of the easterly blocks, with two daughters and a
son of eighteen.

When Marcella entered the little room it was as usual spotlessly clean
and smelt of flowers. The windows were open, and a young woman was busy
shirt-ironing on a table in the centre of the room. Both she and her
mother looked up with smiles as Marcella entered. Then, they introduced
her with some ceremony to a "lady," who was sitting beside the patient,
a long-faced melancholy woman employed at the moment in marking linen
handkerchiefs, which she did with extraordinary fineness and delicacy.
The patient and her daughter spoke of Marcella to their friend as "the
young person," but all with a natural courtesy and charm that could not
have been surpassed.

Marcella knelt to undo the wrappings of the foot. The woman, a pale
transparent creature, winced painfully as the dressing was drawn off;
but between each half stifled moan of pain she said something eager and
grateful to her nurse. "I never knew any one, Nurse, do it as gentle as
you--" or--"I _do_ take it kind of you, Nurse, to do it so _slow_--oh!
there were a young person before you--" or "hasn't she got nice hands,
Mrs. Burton? they don't never seem to _jar_ yer."

"Poor foot! but I think it is looking better," said Marcella, getting up
at last from her work, when all was clean and comfortable and she had
replaced the foot on the upturned wooden box that supported it--for its
owner was not in bed, but sitting propped up in an old armchair. "And
how is your cough, Mrs. Jervis?"

"Oh! it's very bad, nights," said Mrs. Jervis, mildly--"disturbs Emily
dreadful. But I always pray every night, when she lifts me into bed, as
I may be took before the morning, an' God ull do it soon."

"Mother!" cried Emily, pausing in her ironing, "you know you oughtn't to
say them things."

Mrs. Jervis looked at her with a sly cheerfulness. Her emaciated face
was paler than usual because of the pain of the dressing, but from the
frail form there breathed an indomitable air of _life_, a gay courage
indeed which had already struck Marcella with wonder.

"Well, yer not to take 'em to heart, Em'ly. It ull be when it will
be--for the Lord likes us to pray, but He'll take his own time--an'
she's got troubles enough of her own, Nurse. D'yer see as she's leff off
her ring?"

Marcella looked at Emily's left hand, while the girl flushed all over,
and ironed with a more fiery energy than before.

"I've 'eerd such things of 'im, Nurse, this last two days," she said
with low vehemence--"as I'm _never_ goin' to wear it again. It 'ud burn
me!"

Emily was past twenty. Some eighteen months before this date she had
married a young painter. After nearly a year of incredible misery her
baby was born. It died, and she very nearly died also, owing to the
brutal ill-treatment of her husband. As soon as she could get on her
feet again, she tottered home to her widowed mother, broken for the time
in mind and body, and filled with loathing of her tyrant. He made no
effort to recover her, and her family set to work to mend if they could
what he had done. The younger sister of fourteen was earning seven
shillings a week at paper-bag making; the brother, a lad of eighteen,
had been apprenticed by his mother, at the cost of heroic efforts some
six years before, to the leather-currying trade, in a highly skilled
branch of it, and was now taking sixteen shillings a week with the
prospect of far better things in the future. He at once put aside from
his earnings enough to teach Emily "the shirt-ironing," denying himself
every indulgence till her training was over.

Then they had their reward. Emily's colour and spirits came back; her
earnings made all the difference to the family between penury and ease;
while she and her little sister kept the three tiny rooms in which they
lived, and waited on their invalid mother, with exquisite cleanliness
and care.

Marcella stood by the ironing-table a moment after the girl's speech.

"Poor Emily!" she said softly, laying her hand on the ringless one that
held down the shirt on the board.

Emily looked up at her in silence. But the girl's eyes glowed with
things unsaid and inexpressible--the "eternal passion, eternal pain,"
which in half the human race have no voice.

"He was a very rough man was Em'ly's husband," said Mrs. Jervis, in her
delicate thoughtful voice--"a very uncultivated man."

Marcella turned round to her, startled and amused by the adjective. But
the other two listeners took it quite quietly. It seemed to them
apparently to express what had to be said.

"It's a sad thing is want of edication," Mrs. Jervis went on in the same
tone. "Now there's that lady there"--with a little courtly wave of her
hand towards Mrs. Burton--"she can't read yer know, Nurse, and I'm that
sorry for her! But I've been reading to her, an' Emily--just while my
cough's quiet--one of my ole tracks."

She held up a little paper-covered tract worn with use. It was called "A
Pennorth of Grace, or a Pound of Works?" Marcella looked at it in
respectful silence as she put on her cloak. Such things were not in her
line.

"I do _love_ a track!" said Mrs. Jervis, pensively. "That's why I don't
like these buildings so well as them others, Em'ly. Here you never get
no tracks; and there, what with one person and another, there was a new
one most weeks. But"--her voice dropped, and she looked timidly first at
her friend, and then at Marcella--"she isn't a Christian, Nurse. Isn't
it sad?"

Mrs. Burton, a woman of a rich mahogany complexion, with a black
"front," and a mouth which turned down decisively at the corners,
looked up from her embroidery with severe composure.

"No, Nurse, I'm not a Christian," she said in the tone of one stating a
disagreeable fact for which they are noways responsible. "My brother
is--and my sisters--real good Christian people. One of my sisters
married a gentleman up in Wales. She 'as two servants, an' fam'ly
prayers reg'lar. But I've never felt no 'call,' and I tell 'em I can't
purtend. An' Mrs. Jervis here, she don't seem to make me see it no
different."

She held her head erect, however, as though the unusually high sense of
probity involved, was, after all, some consolation. Mrs. Jervis looked
at her with pathetic eyes. But Emily coloured hotly. Emily was a
churchwoman.

"Of course you're a Christian, Mrs. Burton," she said indignantly. "What
she means, Nurse, is she isn't a 'member' of any chapel, like mother.
But she's been baptised and confirmed, for I asked her. And of course
she's a Christian."

"Em'ly!" said Mrs. Jervis, with energy.

Emily looked round trembling. The delicate invalid was sitting bolt
upright, her eyes sparkling, a spot of red on either hollow cheek. The
glances of the two women crossed; there seemed to be a mute struggle
between them. Then Emily laid down her iron, stepped quickly across to
her mother, and kneeling beside her, threw her arms around her.

"Have it your own way, mother," she said, while her lip quivered; "I
wasn't a-goin' to cross you."

Mrs. Jervis laid her waxen cheek against her daughter's tangle of brown
hair with a faint smile, while her breathing, which had grown quick and
panting, gradually subsided. Emily looked up at Marcella with a
terrified self-reproach. They all knew that any sudden excitement might
kill out the struggling flame of life.

"You ought to rest a little, Mrs. Jervis," said Marcella, with gentle
authority. "You know the dressing must tire you, though you won't
confess it. Let me put you comfortable. There; aren't the pillows easier
so? Now rest--and good-bye."

But Mrs. Jervis held her, while Emily slipped away.

"I shall rest soon," she said significantly. "An' it hurts me when Emily
talks like that. It's the only thing that ever comes atween us. She
thinks o' forms an' ceremonies; an' _I_ think o' _grace_."

Her old woman's eyes, so clear and vivid under the blanched brow,
searched Marcella's face for sympathy. But Marcella stood, shy and
wondering in the presence of words and emotions she understood so
little. So narrow a life, in these poor rooms, under these crippling
conditions of disease!--and all this preoccupation with, this passion
over, the things not of the flesh, the thwarted, cabined flesh, but of
the spirit--wonderful!

       *       *       *       *       *

On coming out from Brown's Buildings, she turned her steps reluctantly
towards a street some distance from her own immediate neighbourhood,
where she had a visit to pay which filled her with repulsion and an
unusual sense of helplessness. A clergyman who often availed himself of
the help of the St. Martin's nurses had asked the superintendent to
undertake for him "a difficult case." Would one of their nurses go
regularly to visit a certain house, ostensibly for the sake of a little
boy of five just come back from the hospital, who required care at home
for a while, _really_ for the sake of his young mother, who had suddenly
developed drinking habits and was on the road to ruin?

Marcella happened to be in the office when the letter arrived. She
somewhat unwillingly accepted the task, and she had now paid two or
three visits, always dressing the child's sore leg, and endeavouring to
make acquaintance with the mother. But in this last attempt she had not
had much success. Mrs. Vincent was young and pretty, with a flighty,
restless manner. She was always perfectly civil to Marcella, and
grateful to her apparently for the ease she gave the boy. But she
offered no confidences; the rooms she and her husband occupied showed
them to be well-to-do; Marcella had so far found them well-kept; and
though the evil she was sent to investigate was said to be notorious,
she had as yet discovered nothing of it for herself. It seemed to her
that she must be either stupid, or that there must be something about
her which made Mrs. Vincent more secretive with her than with others;
and neither alternative pleased her.

To-day, however, as she stopped at the Vincents' door, she noticed that
the doorstep, which was as a rule shining white, was muddy and
neglected. Then nobody came to open, though she knocked and rang
repeatedly. At last a neighbour, who had been watching the strange
nurse through her own parlour window, came out to the street.

"I think, miss," she said, with an air of polite mystery, "as you'd
better walk in. Mrs. Vincent 'asn't been enjyin' very good 'ealth this
last few days."

Marcella turned the handle, found it yielded, and went in. It was after
six o'clock, and the evening sun streamed in through a door at the back
of the house. But in the Vincents' front parlour the blinds were all
pulled down, and the only sound to be heard was the fretful wailing of a
child. Marcella timidly opened the sitting-room door.

The room at first seemed to her dark. Then she perceived Mrs. Vincent
sitting by the grate, and the two children on the floor beside her. The
elder, the little invalid, was simply staring at his mother in a
wretched silence; but the younger, the baby of three, was restlessly
throwing himself hither and thither, now pulling at the woman's skirts,
now crying lustily, now whining in a hungry voice, for "Máma! din-din!
Máma! din-din!"

Mrs. Vincent neither moved nor spoke, even when Marcella came in. She
sat with her hands hanging over her lap in a desolation incapable of
words. She was dirty and unkempt; the room was covered with litter; the
breakfast things were still on the table; and the children were
evidently starving.

Marcella, seized with pity, and divining what had happened, tried to
rouse and comfort her. But she got no answer. Then she asked for
matches. Mrs. Vincent made a mechanical effort to find them, but
subsided helpless with a shake of the head. At last Marcella found them
herself, lit a tire of some sticks she discovered in a cupboard, and put
on the kettle. Then she cut a slice of bread and dripping for each of
the children--the only eatables she could find--and after she had
dressed Bertie's leg she began to wash up the tea things and tidy the
room, not knowing very well what to be at, but hoping minute by minute
to get Mrs. Vincent to speak to her.

In the midst of her labours, an elderly woman cautiously opened the door
and beckoned to her.

Marcella went out into the passage.

"I'm her mother, miss! I 'eered you were 'ere, an' I follered yer. Oh!
such a business as we 'ad, 'er 'usband an' me, a gettin' of 'er 'ome
last night. There's a neighbour come to me, an' she says: 'Mrs. Lucas,
there's your daughter a drinkin' in that public 'ouse, an' if I was you
I'd go and fetch her out; for she's got a lot o' money, an' she's
treatin' everybody all round.' An' Charlie--that's 'er 'usband--ee come
along too, an' between us we got holt on her. An' iver sence we brought
her 'ome last night, she set there in that cheer, an' niver a word to
nobody! Not to me 't any rate, nor the chillen. I believe 'er 'usband
an' 'er 'ad words this mornin'. But she won't tell me nothin'. She sits
there--just heart-broke"--the woman put up her apron to her eyes and
began crying. "She ain't eatin' nothink all day, an' I dursen't leave
the 'ouse out o' me sight--I lives close by, miss--for fear of 'er doing
'erself a mischief."

"How long has she been like this?" said Marcella, drawing the door
cautiously to behind her.

"About fourteen month," said the woman, hopelessly. "An' none of us
knows why. She was such a neat, pretty girl when she married 'im--an' ee
such a steady fellow. An' I've done _my_ best. I've talked to 'er, an'
I've 'id 'er 'at an' her walking things, an' taken 'er money out of 'er
pockets. An', bless yer, she's been all right now for seven weeks--till
last night. Oh, deary, deary, me! whatever 'ull become o' them--'er, an'
'im, an' the children!"

The tears coursed down the mother's wrinkled face.

"Leave her to me a little longer," said Marcella, softly; "but come back
to me in about half an hour, and don't let her be alone."

The woman nodded, and went away.

Mrs. Vincent turned quickly round as Marcella came back again, and spoke
for the first time:

"That was my mother you were talkin' to?"

"Yes," said Marcella, quietly, as she took the kettle off the fire. "Now
I do want you to have a cup of tea, Mrs. Vincent. Will you, if I make
it?"

The poor creature did not speak, but she followed Marcella's movements
with her weary eyes. At last when Marcella knelt down beside her holding
out a cup of tea and some bread and butter, she gave a sudden cry.
Marcella hastily put down what she carried, lest it should be knocked
out of her hand.

"He struck me this morning!--Charlie did--the first time in seven years.
Look here!"

She pulled up her sleeve, and on her white, delicate arm she showed a
large bruise. As she pointed to it her eyes filled with miserable tears;
her lips quivered; anguish breathed in every feature. Yet even in this
abasement Marcella was struck once more with her slim prettiness, her
refined air. This woman drinking and treating in a low public-house at
midnight!--rescued thence by a decent husband!

She soothed her as best she could, but when she had succeeded in making
the wretched soul take food, and so in putting some physical life into
her, she found herself the recipient of an outburst of agony before
which she quailed. The woman clung to her, moaning about her husband,
about the demon instinct that had got hold of her, she hardly knew
how--by means it seemed originally of a few weeks of low health and
small self-indulgences--and she felt herself powerless to fight; about
the wreck she had brought upon her home, the shame upon her husband, who
was the respected, well-paid foreman of one of the large shops of the
neighbourhood. All through it came back to him.

"We had words, Nurse, this morning, when he went out to his work. He
said he'd nearly died of shame last night; that he couldn't bear it no
more; that he'd take the children from me. And I was all queer in the
head still, and I sauced him--and then--he looked like a devil--and he
took me by the arm--and _threw_ me down--as if I'd been a sack. An' he
never, _never,_--touched me--before--in all his life. An' he's never
come in all day. An' perhaps I shan't ever see him again. An' last
time--but it wasn't so bad as this--he said he'd try an' love me again
if I'd behave. An' he did try--and I tried too. But now it's no good,
an' perhaps he'll not come back. Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do!"
she flung her arms above her head. "Won't _anybody_ find him? won't
_anybody_ help me?"

She dropped a hand upon Marcella's arm, clutching it, her wild eyes
seeking her companion's.

But at the same moment, with the very extremity of her own emotion, a
cloud of impotence fell upon Marcella. She suddenly felt that she could
do nothing--that there was nothing in her adequate to such an
appeal--nothing strong enough to lift the weight of a human life thus
flung upon her.

She was struck with a dryness, a numbness, that appalled her. She tried
still to soothe and comfort, but nothing that she said went home--took
hold. Between the feeling in her heart which might have reached and
touched this despair, and the woman before her, there seemed to be a
barrier she could not break. Or was it that she was really barren and
poor in soul, and had never realised it before? A strange misery rose in
her too, as she still knelt, tending and consoling, but with no
efficacy--no power.

At last Mrs. Vincent sank into miserable quiet again. The mother came
in, and silently began to put the children to bed. Marcella pressed the
wife's cold hand, and went out hanging her head. She had just reached
the door when it opened, and a man entered. A thrill passed through her
at the sight of his honest, haggard face, and this time she found what
to say.

"I have been sitting by your wife, Mr. Vincent. She is very ill and
miserable, and very penitent. You will be kind to her?"

The husband looked at her, and then turned away.

"God help us!" he said; and Marcella went without another word, and
with that same wild, unaccustomed impulse of prayer rilling her being
which had first stirred in her at Mellor at the awful moment of Hurd's
death.

       *       *       *       *       *

She was very silent and distracted at tea, and afterwards--saying that
she must write some letters and reports--she shut herself up, and bade
good-night to Minta and the children.

But she did not write or read. She hung at the window a long time,
watching the stars come out, as the summer light died from the sky, and
even the walls and roofs and chimneys of this interminable London spread
out before her took a certain dim beauty. And then, slipping down on the
floor, with her head against a chair--an attitude of her stormy
childhood--she wept with an abandonment and a passion she had not known
for years. She thought of Mrs. Jervis--the saint--so near to death, so
satisfied with "grace," so steeped in the heavenly life; then of the
poor sinner she had just left and of the agony she had no power to stay.
Both experiences had this in common--that each had had some part in
plunging her deeper into this darkness of self-contempt.

What had come to her? Daring the past weeks there had been something
wrestling in her--some new birth--some "conviction of sin," as Mrs.
Jervis would have said. As she looked back over all her strenuous youth
she hated it. What was wrong with her? Her own word to Anthony Craven
returned upon her, mocked her--made now a scourge for her own pride, not
a mere, measure of blame for others. Aldous Raeburn, her father and
mother, her poor--one and all rose against her--plucked at
her--reproached her. "Aye! what, indeed, are wealth and poverty?" cried
a voice, which was the voice of them all; "what are opinions--what is
influence, beauty, cleverness?--what is anything worth but
_character_--but _soul?_"

And character--soul--can only be got by self-surrender; and
self-surrender comes not of knowledge but of love.

A number of thoughts and phrases, hitherto of little meaning to her,
floated into her mind--sank and pressed there. That strange word "grace"
for instance!

A year ago it would not have smitten or troubled her. After her first
inevitable reaction against the evangelical training of her school
years, the rebellious cleverness of youth had easily decided that
religion was played out, that Socialism and Science were enough for
mankind.

But nobody could live in hospital--nobody could go among the
poor--nobody could share the thoughts and hopes of people like Edward
Hallin and his sister, without understanding that it is still here in
the world--this "grace" that "sustaineth"--however variously
interpreted, still living and working, as it worked of old, among the
little Galilean towns, in Jerusalem, in Corinth. To Edward Hallin it did
not mean the same, perhaps, as it meant to the hard-worked clergymen she
knew, or to Mrs. Jervis. But to all it meant the motive power of
life--something subduing, transforming, delivering--something that
to-night she envied with a passion and a yearning that amazed herself.

How many things she craved, as an eager child craves them! First some
moral change, she knew not what--then Aldous Raeburn's pardon and
friendship--then and above all, the power to lose herself--the power to
_love_.

Dangerous significant moment in a woman's life--moment at once of
despair and of illusion!




CHAPTER VIII.


Wharton was sitting in a secluded corner of the library of the House of
Commons. He had a number of loose sheets of paper on a chair beside him,
and others in his hand and on his knee. It was Friday afternoon;
questions were going on in the House; and he was running rapidly for the
last time through the notes of his speech, pencilling here and there,
and every now and then taking up a volume of Hansard that lay near that
he might verify a quotation.

An old county member, with a rugged face and eye-glasses, who had been
in Parliament for a generation, came to the same corner to look up a
speech. He glanced curiously at Wharton, with whom he had a familiar
House-of-Commons acquaintance.

"Nervous, eh?" he said, as he put on his eye-glasses to inspect first
Wharton, then the dates on the backs of the Reports.

Wharton put his papers finally together, and gave a long stretch.

"Not particularly."

"Well, it's a beastly audience!" said the other, carrying off his book.

Wharton, lost apparently in contemplation of the ceiling, fell into a
dreamy attitude. But his eye saw nothing of the ceiling, and was not at
all dreamy. He was not thinking of his speech, nor of the other man's
remark. He was thinking of Marcella Boyce.

When he left her the other day he had been conscious, only more vividly
and intensely, more possessively as it were, than she, of the same
general impression that had been left upon her. A new opening for
pleasure--their meeting presented itself to him, too, in the same way.
What had he been about all this time? _Forget_?--such a creature? Why,
it was the merest wantonness! As if such women--with such a brow, such
vitality, such a gait--passed in every street!

What possessed him now was an imperious eagerness to push the matter, to
recover the old intimacy--and as to what might come out of it, let the
gods decide! He could have had but a very raw appreciation of her at
Mellor. It seemed to him that she had never forced him to think of her
then in absence, as he had thought of her since the last meeting.

As for the nursing business, and the settlement in Brown's Buildings, it
was, of course, mere play-acting. No doubt when she emerged she would be
all the more of a personage for having done it. But she must emerge
soon. To rule and shine was as much her _métier_ as it was the _métier_
of a bricklayer's labourer to carry hods. By George! what would not Lady
Selina give for beauty of such degree and kind as that! They must be
brought together. He already foresaw that the man who should launch
Marcella Boyce in London would play a stroke for himself as well as for
her. And she must be launched in London. Let other people nurse, and
pitch their tents in little workmen's flats, and _live_ democracy
instead of preaching it. Her fate was fixed for her by her physique. _Il
ne faut pas sortir de son caractère_.

The sight of Bennett approaching distracted him.

Bennett's good face showed obvious vexation.

"He sticks to it," he said, as Wharton jumped up to meet him. "Talks of
his conscience--and a lot of windy stuff. He seems to have arranged it
with the Whips. I dare say he won't do much harm."

"Except to himself," said Wharton, with dry bitterness. "Goodness! let's
leave him alone!"

He and Bennett lingered a few minutes discussing points of tactics.
Wilkins had, of course, once more declared himself the _enfant terrible_
of a party which, though still undefined, was drawing nearer day by day
to organised existence and separate leadership. The effect of to-night's
debate might be of far-reaching importance. Wharton's Resolution,
pledging the House to a Legal Eight Hours' Day for all trades, came at
the end of a long and varied agitation, was at the moment in clear
practical relation to labour movements all over the country, and had in
fact gained greatly in significance and interest since it was first
heard of in public, owing to events of current history. Workable
proposals--a moderate tone--and the appearance, at any rate, of harmony
and a united front among the representatives of labour--if so much at
least could be attained to-night, both Wharton and Bennett believed that
not only the cause itself, but the importance of the Labour party in the
House would be found to have gained enormously.

"I hope I shall get my turn before dinner," said Bennett, as he was
going; "I want badly to get off for an hour or so. The division won't be
till half-past ten at earliest."

Wharton stood for a moment in a brown study, with his hands in his
pockets, after Bennett left him. It was by no means wholly clear to him
what line Bennett would take--with regard to one or two points. After a
long acquaintance with the little man, Wharton was not always, nor
indeed generally, at his ease with him. Bennett had curious reserves. As
to his hour off, Wharton felt tolerably certain that he meant to go and
hear a famous Revivalist preacher hold forth at a public hall not far
from the House. The streets were full of placards.

Well!--to every man his own excitements! What time? He looked first at
his watch, then at the marked question paper Bennett had left behind
him. The next minute he was hurrying along passages and stairs, with his
springing, boyish step, to the Ladies' Gallery.

The magnificent doorkeeper saluted him with particular deference.
Wharton was in general a favourite with officials.

"The two ladies are come, sir. You'll find them in the front--oh! not
very full yet, sir--will be directly."

Wharton drew aside the curtain of the Gallery, and looked in.
Yes!--there was the dark head bent forward, pressed indeed against the
grating which closes the front of the den into which the House of
Commons puts its ladies--as though its owner were already absorbed in
what was passing before her.

She looked up with an eager start, as she heard his voice in her ear.

"Oh! now, come and tell us everything--and who everybody is. Why don't
we see the Speaker?--and which is the Government side?--oh, yes, I see.
And who's this speaking now?"

"Why, I thought you knew everything," said Wharton as, with a greeting
to Miss Craven, he slipped in beside them and took a still vacant chair
for an instant. "How shall I instruct a Speaker's great-niece?"

"Why, of course I feel as if the place belonged to me!" said Marcella,
impatiently; "but that somehow doesn't seem to help me to people's
names. Where's Mr. Gladstone? Oh, I see. Look, look, Edith!--he's just
come in!--oh, don't be so superior, though you _have_ been here
before--you couldn't tell me heaps of people!"

Her voice had a note of joyous excitement like a child's.

"That's because I'm short-sighted," said Edith Craven, calmly; "but it's
no reason why you should show me Mr. Gladstone."

"Oh, my dear, my dear!--do be quiet! Now, Mr. Wharton, where are the
Irishmen? Oh! I wish we could have an Irish row! And where do you
sit?--I see--and there's Mr. Bennett--and that black-faced man, Mr.
Wilkins, I met at the Hallins--you don't like him, do you?" she said,
drawing back and looking at him sharply.

"Who? Wilkins? Perhaps you'd better ask me that question later on!" said
Wharton, with a twist of the lip; "he's going to do his best to make a
fool of himself and us to-night--we shall see! It's kind of you to wish
us an Irish row!--considering that if I miss my chance to-night I shall
never get another!"

"Then for heaven's sake don't let's wish it!" she said decidedly. "Oh,
that's the Irish Secretary answering now, is it?"--a pause--"Dear me,
how civil everybody is. I don't think this is a good place for a
Democrat, Mr. Wharton--I find myself terribly in love with the
Government. But who's that?"

She craned her neck. Wharton was silent. The next instant she drew
hurriedly back.

"I didn't see," she murmured; "it's so confusing."

A tall man had risen from the end of the Government bench, and was
giving an answer connected with the Home Secretary's department. For the
first time since their parting in the Mellor drawing-room Marcella saw
Aldous Raeburn.

She fell very silent, and leant back in her chair. Yet Wharton's quick
glance perceived that she both looked and listened intently, so long as
the somewhat high-pitched voice was speaking.

"He does those things very well," he said carelessly, judging it best to
take the bull by the horns. "Never a word too much--they don't get any
change out of him. Do you see that old fellow in the white beard under
the gallery? He is one of the chartered bores. When he gets up to-night
the House will dine. I shall come up and look for you, and hand you over
to a friend if I may--a Staffordshire member, who has his wife
here--Mrs. Lane. I have engaged a table, and I can start with you.
Unfortunately I mustn't be long out of the House, as it's my motion;
but they will look after you."

The girls glanced a little shyly at each other. Nothing had been said
about dining; but Wharton took it for granted; and they yielded. It was
Marcella's "day off," and she was a free woman.

"Good-bye, then," he said, getting up. "I shall be on in about twenty
minutes. Wish me well through!"

Marcella looked round and smiled. But her vivacity had been quenched for
the moment; and Wharton departed not quite so well heartened for the
fray as he could have wished to be. It was hard luck that the Raeburn
ghost should walk this particular evening.

Marcella bent forward again when he had gone, and remained for long
silent, looking down into the rapidly filling House. Aldous Raeburn was
lying back on the Treasury bench, his face upturned. She knew very well
that it was impossible he should see her; yet every now and then she
shrank a little away as though he must. The face looked to her older and
singularly blanched; but she supposed that must be the effect of the
light; for she noticed the same pallor in many others.

"_All that my life can do to pour good measure_--_down_--_running
over_--_into yours, I vowed you then!_"

The words stole into her memory, throbbing there like points of pain.
Was it indeed this man under her eyes--so listless, so unconscious--who
had said them to her with a passion of devotion it shamed her to think
of.

And now--never so much as an ordinary word of friendship between them
again? "On the broad seas of life enisled"--separate, estranged, for
ever? It was like the touch of death--the experience brought with it
such a chill--such a sense of irreparable fact, of limitations never to
be broken through.

Then she braced herself. The "things that are behind" must be left. To
have married him after all would have been the greatest wrong. Nor, in
one sense, was what she had done irreparable. She chose to believe Frank
Leven, rather than Edward Hallin. Of course he must and should marry! It
was absurd to suppose that he should not. No one had a stronger sense of
family than he. And as for the girl--the little dancing, flirting
girl!--why the thing happened every day. _His_ wife should not be too
strenuous, taken up with problems and questions of her own. She should
cheer, amuse, distract him. Marcella endeavoured to think of it all with
the dry common-sense her mother would have applied to it. One thing at
least was clear to her--the curious recognition that never before had
she considered Aldous Raeburn, _in and for himself_, as an independent
human being.

"He was just a piece of furniture in my play last year," she said to
herself with a pang of frank remorse. "He was well quit of me!"

But she was beginning to recover her spirits, and when at last Raeburn,
after a few words with a minister who had just arrived, disappeared
suddenly behind the Speaker's chair, the spectacle below her seized her
with the same fascination as before.

The House was filling rapidly. Questions were nearly over, and the
speech of the evening, on which considerable public expectation both
inside and outside Parliament had been for some time concentrated, was
fast approaching. Peers were straggling into the gallery; the reporters
were changing just below her: and some "crack hands" among them, who had
been lounging till now, were beginning to pay attention and put their
paper in order. The Irish benches, the Opposition, the Government--all
were full, and there was a large group of members round the door.

"There he is!" cried Marcella, involuntarily, with a pulse of
excitement, as Wharton's light young figure made its way through the
crowd. He sat down on a corner seat below the gangway and put on his
hat.

In five minutes more he was on his feet, speaking to an attentive and
crowded House in a voice--clear, a little hard, but capable of the most
accomplished and subtle variety--which for the first moment sent a
shudder of memory through Marcella.

Then she found herself listening with as much trepidation and anxiety as
though some personal interest and reputation depended for her, too, on
the success of the speech. Her mind was first invaded by a strong, an
_irritable_ sense of the difficulty of the audience. How was it possible
for any one, unless he had been trained to it for years, to make any
effect upon such a crowd!--so irresponsive, individualist, unfused--so
lacking, as it seemed to the raw spectator, in the qualities and
excitements that properly belong to multitude! Half the men down below,
under their hats, seemed to her asleep; the rest indifferent. And were
those languid, indistinguishable murmurs what the newspapers call
"_cheers_"?

But the voice below flowed on; point after point came briskly out; the
atmosphere warmed; and presently this first impression passed into one
wholly different--nay, at the opposite pole. Gradually the girl's ardent
sense--informed, perhaps, more richly than most women's with the
memories of history and literature, for in her impatient way she had
been at all times a quick, omnivorous reader--awoke to the peculiar
conditions, the special thrill, attaching to the place and its
performers. The philosopher derides it; the man of letters out of the
House talks of it with a smile as a "Ship of Fools"; both, when occasion
offers, passionately desire a seat in it; each would give his right hand
to succeed in it.

Why? Because here after all is power--here is the central machine. Here
are the men who, both by their qualities and their defects, are to have
for their span of life the leading--or the wrecking?--of this great
fate-bearing force, this "weary Titan" we call our country. Here things
are not only debated, but done--lamely or badly, perhaps, but still
_done_--which will affect our children's children; which link us to the
Past; which carry us on safely or dangerously to a Future only the gods
know. And in this passage, this chequered, doubtful passage from
thinking to doing, an infinite savour and passion of life is somehow
disengaged. It penetrates through the boredom, through all the failure,
public and personal; it enwraps the spectacle and the actors; it carries
and supports patriot and adventurer alike.

Ideas, perceptions of this kind--the first chill over--stole upon and
conquered Marcella. Presently it was as though she had passed into
Wharton's place, was seeing with his eyes, feeling with his nerves. It
would be a success this speech--it was a success! The House was gained,
was attentive. A case long familiar to it in portions and fragments,
which had been spoilt by violence and discredited by ignorance, was
being presented to it with all the resources of a great talent--with
brilliancy, moderation, practical detail--moderation above all! From the
slight historical sketch, with which the speech opened, of the English
"working day," the causes and the results of the Factory Acts--through
the general description of the present situation, of the workman's
present hours, opportunities and demands, the growth of the desire for
State control, the machinery by which it was to be enforced, and the
effects it might be expected to have on the workman himself, on the
great army of the "unemployed," on wages, on production, and on the
economic future of England--the speaker carried his thread of luminous
speech, without ever losing his audience for an instant. At every point
he addressed himself to the smoothing of difficulties, to the
propitiation of fears; and when, after the long and masterly handling of
detail, he came to his peroration, to the bantering of capitalist
terrors, to the vindication of the workman's claim to fix the conditions
of his labour, and to the vision lightly and simply touched of the
regenerate working home of the future, inhabited by free men, dedicated
to something beyond the first brutal necessities of the bodily life,
possessed indeed of its proper share of the human inheritance of
leisure, knowledge, and delight--the crowded benches before and behind
him grudged him none of it. The House of Commons is not tolerant of
"flights," except from its chartered masters. But this young man had
earned his flight; and they heard him patiently. For the rest, the
Government had been most attractively wooed; and the Liberal party in
the midst of much plain speaking had been treated on the whole with a
deference and a forbearance that had long been conspicuously lacking in
the utterances of the Labour men.

"'The mildest mannered man' _et cetera!_" said a smiling member of the
late Government to a companion on the front Opposition bench, as Wharton
sat down amid the general stir and movement which betoken the break-up
of a crowded House, and the end of a successful speech which people are
eager to discuss in the lobbies. "A fine performance, eh? Great advance
on anything last year."

"Bears about as much relation to facts as I do to the angels!" growled
the man addressed.

"What! as bad as that?" said the other, laughing. "Look! they have put
up old Denny. I think I shall stay and hear him." And he laid down his
hat again which he had taken up.

Meanwhile Marcella in the Ladies' Gallery had thrown herself back in her
chair with a long breath.

"How can one listen to anything else!" she said; and for a long time she
sat staring at the House without hearing a word of what the very
competent, caustic, and well-informed manufacturer on the Government
side was saying. Every dramatic and aesthetic instinct she
possessed--and she was full of them--had been stirred and satisfied by
the speech and the speaker.

But more than that. He had spoken for the toiler and the poor; his
peroration above all had contained tones and accents which were in fact
the products of something perfectly sincere in the speaker's motley
personality; and this girl, who in her wild way had given herself to the
poor, had followed him with all her passionate heart. Yet, at the same
time, with an amount of intellectual dissent every now and then as to
measures and methods, a scepticism of detail which astonished herself! A
year before she had been as a babe beside him, whether in matters of
pure mind or of worldly experience. Now she was for the first time
conscious of a curious growth--independence.

But the intellectual revolt, such as it was, was lost again, as soon as
it arose, in the general impression which the speech had left upon
her--in this warm quickening of the pulses, this romantic interest in
the figure, the scene, the young emerging personality.

Edith Craven looked at her with wondering amusement. She and her
brothers were typical Venturists--a little cynical, therefore, towards
all the world, friend or foe. A Venturist is a Socialist minus cant, and
a cause which cannot exist at all without a passion of sentiment lays it
down--through him--as a first law, that sentiment in public is the
abominable thing. Edith Craven thought that after all Marcella was
little less raw and simple now than she had been in the old days.

"There!" said Marcella, with relief, "that's done. Now, who's this? That
man _Wilkins_!"

Her tone showed her disgust. Wilkins had sprung up the instant Wharton's
Conservative opponent had given the first decisive sign of sitting
down. Another man on the same side was also up, but Wilkins, black and
frowning, held his own stubbornly, and his rival subsided.

With the first sentences of the new speech the House knew that it was to
have an emotion, and men came trooping in again. And certainly the short
stormy utterance was dramatic enough. Dissent on the part of an
important north-country Union from some of the most vital machinery of
the bill which had been sketched by Wharton--personal jealousy and
distrust of the mover of the resolution--denial of his representative
place, and sneers at his kid-gloved attempts to help a class with which
he had nothing to do--the most violent protest against the servility
with which he had truckled to the now effete party of free contract and
political enfranchisement--and the most passionate assertion that
between any Labour party, worthy of the name, and either of the great
parties of the past there lay and must lie a gulf of hatred,
unfathomable and unquenchable, till Labour had got its rights, and
landlord, employer, and dividend-hunter were trampled beneath its
heel--all these ugly or lurid things emerged with surprising clearness
from the torrent of north-country speech. For twenty minutes Nehemiah
Wilkins rioted in one of the best "times" of his life. That he was an
orator thousands of working men had borne him witness again and again;
and in his own opinion he had never spoken better.

The House at first enjoyed its sensation. Then, as the hard words
rattled on, it passed easily into the stage of amusement. Lady
Cradock's burly husband bent forward from the front Opposition bench,
caught Wharton's eye, and smiled, as though to say: "What!--you haven't
even been able to keep up appearances so far!" And Wilkins's final
attack upon the Liberals--who, after ruining their own chances and the
chances of the country, were now come cap in hand to the working man
whining for his support as their only hope of recovery--was delivered to
a mocking chorus of laughter and cheers, in the midst of which, with an
angry shake of his great shoulders, he flung himself down on his seat.

Meanwhile Wharton, who had spent the first part of Wilkins's speech in a
state of restless fidget, his hat over his eyes, was alternately sitting
erect with radiant looks, or talking rapidly to Bennett, who had come to
sit beside him. The Home Secretary got up after Wilkins had sat down,
and spent a genial forty minutes in delivering the Government _non
possumus_, couched, of course, in the tone of deference to King Labour
which the modern statesman learns at his mother's knee, but enlivened
with a good deal of ironical and effective perplexity as to which hand
to shake and whose voice to follow, and winding up with a tribute of
compliment to Wharton, mixed with some neat mock condolence with the
Opposition under the ferocities of some others of its nominal friends.

Altogether, the finished performance of the old stager, the _habitué_.
While it was going on, Marcella noticed that Aldous Raeburn had come
back again to his seat next to the Speaker, who was his official chief.
Every now and then the Minister turned to him, and Raeburn handed him a
volume of Hansard or the copy of some Parliamentary Return whence the
great man was to quote. Marcella watched every movement; then from the
Government bench her eye sped across the House to Wharton sitting once
more buried in his hat, his arms folded in front of him. A little shiver
of excitement ran through her. The two men upon whom her life had so far
turned were once more in presence of, pitted against, each other--and
she, once more, looking on!

When the Home Secretary sat down, the House was growing restive with
thoughts of dinner, and a general movement had begun--when it was seen
that Bennett was up. Again men who had gone out came back, and those who
were still there resigned themselves. Bennett was a force in the House,
a man always listened to and universally respected, and the curiosity
felt as to the relations between him and this new star and would-be
leader had been for some time considerable.

When Bennett sat down, the importance of the member for West Brookshire,
both in the House and in the country, had risen a hundred per cent. A
man who over a great part of the north was in labour concerns the
unquestioned master of many legions, and whose political position had
hitherto been one of conspicuous moderation, even to his own hurt, had
given Wharton the warmest possible backing; had endorsed his proposals,
to their most contentious and doubtful details, and in a few generous
though still perhaps ambiguous words had let the House see what he
personally thought of the services rendered to labour as a whole during
the past five years, and to the weak and scattered group of Labour
members in particular, since his entrance into Parliament, by the young
and brilliant man beside him.

Bennett was no orator. He was a plain man, ennobled by the training of
religious dissent, at the same time indifferently served often by an
imperfect education. But the very simplicity and homeliness of its
expression gave additional weight to this first avowal of a strong
conviction that the time had come when the Labour party _must_ have
separateness and a leader if it were to rise out of insignificance; to
this frank renunciation of whatever personal claims his own past might
have given him; and to the promise of unqualified support to the policy
of the younger man, in both its energetic and conciliatory aspects. He
threw out a little not unkindly indignation, if one may be allowed the
phrase, in the direction of Wilkins--who in the middle of the speech
abruptly walked out--and before he sat down, the close attention, the
looks, the cheers, the evident excitement of the men sitting about
him,--amongst whom were two-thirds of the whole Labour representation in
Parliament--made it clear to the House that the speech marked an epoch
not only in the career of Harry Wharton, but in the parliamentary
history of the great industrial movement.

The white-bearded bore under the gallery, whom Wharton had pointed out
to Marcella, got up as Bennett subsided. The house streamed out like one
man. Bennett, exhausted by the heat and the effort, mopped his brow with
his red handkerchief, and, in the tension of fatigue, started as he felt
a touch upon his arm. Wharton was bending over to him--perfectly white,
with a lip he in vain tried to steady.

"I can't thank you," he said; "I should make a fool of myself."

Bennett nodded pleasantly, and presently both were pressing into the
out-going crowd, avoiding each other with the ineradicable instinct of
the Englishman.

Wharton did not recover his self-control completely till, after an
ordeal of talk and handshaking in the lobby, he was on his way to the
Ladies' Gallery. Then in a flash he found himself filled with the
spirits, the exhilaration, of a schoolboy. This wonderful experience
behind him!--and upstairs, waiting for him, those eyes, that face! How
could he get her to himself somehow for a moment--and dispose of that
Craven girl?

"Well!" he said to her joyously, as she turned round in the darkness of
the Gallery.

But she was seized with sudden shyness, and he felt, rather than saw,
the glow of pleasure and excitement which possessed her.

"Don't let's talk here," she said. "Can't we go out? I am melted!"

"Yes, of course! Come on to the terrace. It's a divine evening, and we
shall find our party there. Well, Miss Craven, were you interested?"

Edith smiled demurely.

"I thought it a good debate," she said.

"Confound these Venturist prigs!" was Wharton's inward remark as he led
the way.




CHAPTER IX.


"How enchanting!" cried Marcella, as they emerged on the terrace, and
river, shore, and sky opened upon them in all the thousand-tinted light
and shade of a still and perfect evening. "Oh, how hot we were--and how
badly you treat us in those dens!"

Those confident eyes of Wharton's shone as they glanced at her.

She wore a pretty white dress of some cotton stuff--it seemed to him he
remembered it of old--and on the waving masses of hair lay a little
bunch of black lace that called itself a bonnet, with black strings tied
demurely under the chin. The abundance of character and dignity in the
beauty which yet to-night was so young and glowing--the rich arresting
note of the voice--the inimitable carriage of the head--Wharton realised
them all at the moment with peculiar vividness, because he felt them in
some sort as additions to his own personal wealth. To-night she was in
his power, his possession.

The terrace was full of people, and alive with a Babel of talk. Yet, as
he carried his companions forward in search of Mrs. Lane, he saw that
Marcella was instantly marked. Every one who passed them, or made way
for them, looked and looked again.

The girl, absorbed in her pleasant or agitating impressions, knew
nothing of her own effect. She was drinking in the sunset light--the
poetic mystery of the river--the lovely line of the bridge--the
associations of the place where she stood, of this great building
overshadowing her. Every now and then she started in a kind of terror
lest some figure in the dusk should be Aldous Raeburn; then when a
stranger showed himself she gave herself up again to her young pleasure
in the crowd and the spectacle. But Wharton knew that she was observed;
Wharton caught the whisper that followed her. His vanity, already so
well-fed this evening, took the attention given to her as so much fresh
homage to itself; and she had more and more glamour for him in the
reflected light of this publicity, this common judgment.

"Ah, here are the Lanes!" he said, detecting at last a short lady in
black amid a group of men.

Marcella and Edith were introduced. Then Edith found a friend in a young
London member who was to be one of the party, and strolled off with him
till dinner should be announced.

"I will just take Miss Boyce to the end of the terrace," said Wharton to
Mr. Lane; "we shan't get anything to eat yet awhile. What a crowd! The
Alresfords not come yet, I see."

Lane shrugged his shoulders as he looked round.

"Raeburn has a party to-night. And there are at least three or four
others besides ourselves. I should think food and service will be
equally scarce!"

Wharton glanced quickly at Marcella. But she was talking to Mrs. Lane,
and had heard nothing.

"Let me just show you the terrace," he said to her. "No chance of dinner
for another twenty minutes."

They strolled away together. As they moved along, a number of men
waylaid the speaker of the night with talk and congratulations--glancing
the while at the lady on his left. But presently they were away from the
crowd which hung about the main entrance to the terrace, and had reached
the comparatively quiet western end, where were only a few pairs and
groups walking up and down.

"Shall I see Mr. Bennett?" she asked him eagerly, as they paused by the
parapet, looking down upon the grey-brown water swishing under the fast
incoming tide. "I want to."

"I asked him to dine, but he wouldn't. He has gone to a
prayer-meeting--at least I guess so. There is a famous American
evangelist speaking in Westminster to-night--I am as certain as I ever
am of anything that Bennett is there--dining on Moody and Sankey. Men
are a medley, don't you think?--So you liked his speech?"

"How coolly you ask!" she said, laughing. "Did _you_?"

He was silent a moment, his smiling gaze fixed on the water. Then he
turned to her.

"How much gratitude do you think I owe him?"

"As much as you can pay," she said with emphasis. "I never heard
anything more complete, more generous."

"So you were carried away?"

She looked at him with a curious, sudden gravity--a touch of defiance.

"No!--neither by him, nor by you. I don't believe in your Bill--and I am
_sure_ you will never carry it!"

Wharton lifted his eyebrows.

"Perhaps you'll tell me where you are," he said, "that I may know how to
talk? When we last discussed these things at Mellor, I _think_--you were
a Socialist?"

"What does it matter what I was last year?" she asked him gaily, yet
with a final inflection of the voice which was not gay; "I was a baby!
_Now_ perhaps I have earned a few poor, little opinions--but they are a
ragged bundle--and I have never any time to sort them."

"Have you left the Venturists?"

"No!--but I am full of perplexities; and the Cravens, I see, will soon
be for turning me out. You understand--I _know_ some working folk now!"

"So you did last year."

"No!"--she insisted, shaking her head--"that was all different. But now
I am _in_ their world--I live with them--and they talk to me. One
evening in the week I am 'at home' for all the people I know in our
Buildings--men and women. Mrs. Hurd--you know who I mean?"--her brow
contracted a moment--"she comes with her sewing to keep me company; so
does Edith Craven; and sometimes the little room is packed. The men
smoke--when we can have the windows open!--and I believe I shall soon
smoke too--it makes them talk better. We get all sorts--Socialists,
Conservatives, Radicals--"

"--And you don't think much of the Socialists?"

"Well! they are the interesting, dreamy fellows," she said, laughing,
"who don't save, and muddle their lives. And as for argument, the
Socialist workman doesn't care twopence for facts--that don't suit him.
It's superb the way he treats them!"

"I should like to know who does care!" said Wharton, with a shrug. Then
he turned with his back to the parapet, the better to command her. He
had taken off his hat for coolness, and the wind played with the crisp
curls of hair. "But tell me"--he went on--"who has been tampering with
you? Is it Hallin? You told me you saw him often."

"Perhaps. But what if it's everything?--_living?_--saving your presence!
A year ago at any rate the world was all black--_or_ white--to me. Now I
lie awake at night, puzzling my head about the shades between--which
makes the difference. A compulsory Eight Hours' Day for all men in all
trades!" Her note of scorn startled him. "You _know_ you won't get it!
And all the other big exasperating things you talk about--public
organisation of labour, and the rest--you won't get them till all the
world is a New Jerusalem--and when the world is a New Jerusalem nobody
will want them!"

Wharton made her an ironical bow.

"Nicely said!--though we have heard it before. Upon my word, you have
marched!--or Edward Hallin has carried you. So now you think the poor
are as well off as possible, in the best of all possible worlds--is that
the result of your nursing? You agree with Denny, in fact? the man who
got up after me?"

His tone annoyed her. Then suddenly the name suggested to her a
recollection that brought a frown.

"That was the man, then, you attacked in the _Clarion_ this morning!"

"Ah! you read me!" said Wharton, with sudden pleasure. "Yes--that opened
the campaign. As you know, of course, Craven has gone down, and the
strike begins next week. Soon we shall bring two batteries to bear, he
letting fly as correspondent, and I from the office. I enjoyed writing
that article."

"So I should think," she said drily; "all I know is, it made _one_
reader passionately certain that there was another side to the matter!
There may not be. I dare say there isn't; but on me at least that was
the effect. Why is it"--she broke out with vehemence--"that not a single
Labour paper is ever capable of the simplest justice to an opponent?"

"You think any other sort of paper is any better?" he asked her
scornfully.

"I dare say not. But that doesn't matter to me! it is _we_ who talk of
justice, of respect, and sympathy from man to man, and then we go and
blacken the men who don't agree with us--whole classes, that is to say,
of our fellow-countrymen, not in the old honest slashing style,
Tartuffes that we are!--but with all the delicate methods of a new art
of slander, pursued almost for its own sake. We know so much
better--always--than our opponents, we hardly condescend even to be
angry. One is only 'sorry'--'obliged to punish'--like the priggish
governess of one's childhood!"

In spite of himself, Wharton flushed.

"My best thanks!" he said. "Anything more? I prefer to take my drubbing
all at once."

She looked at him steadily.

"Why did you write, or allow that article on the West Brookshire
landlords two days ago?"

Wharton started.

"Well! wasn't it true?"

"No!" she said with a curling lip; "and I think you know it wasn't
true."

"What! as to the Raeburns? Upon my word, I should have imagined," he
said slowly, "that it represented your views at one time with tolerable
accuracy."

Her nerve suddenly deserted her. She bent over the parapet, and, taking
up a tiny stone that lay near, she threw it unsteadily into the river.
He saw the hand shake.

"Look here," he said, turning round so that he too leant over the river,
his arms on the parapet, his voice close to her ear. "Are you always
going to quarrel with me like this? Don't you know that there is no one
in the world I would sooner please if I could?"

She did not speak.

"In the first place," he said, laughing, "as to my speech, do you
suppose that I believe in that Bill which I described just now?"

"I don't know," she said indignantly, once more playing with the stones
on the wall. "It sounded like it."

"That is my gift--my little _carillon_, as Renan would say. But do you
imagine I want you or any one else to tell me that we shan't get such a
Bill for generations? Of course we shan't!"

"Then why do you make farcical speeches, bamboozling your friends and
misleading the House of Commons?"

He saw the old storm-signs with glee--the lightning in the eye, the rose
on the cheek. She was never so beautiful as when she was angry.

"Because, my dear lady--_we must generate our force_. Steam must be got
up--I am engaged in doing it. We shan't get a compulsory eight hours'
day for all trades--but in the course of the agitation for that precious
illusion, and by the help of a great deal of beating of tom-toms, and
gathering of clans, we shall get a great many other things by the way
that we _do_ want. Hearten your friends, and frighten your
enemies--there is no other way of scoring in politics--and the
particular score doesn't matter. Now don't look at me as if you would
like to impeach me!--or I shall turn the tables. _I_ am still fighting
for my illusions in my own way--_you_, it seems, have given up yours!"

But for once he had underrated her sense of humour. She broke into a low
merry laugh which a little disconcerted him.

"You mock me?" he said quickly--"think me insincere,
unscrupulous?--Well, I dare say! But you have no right to mock me. Last
year, again and again, you promised me guerdon. Now it has come to
paying--and I claim!"

His low distinct voice in her ear had a magnetising effect upon her. She
slowly turned her face to him, overcome by--yet fighting
against--memory. If she had seen in him the smallest sign of reference
to that scene she hated to think of, he would have probably lost this
hold upon her on the spot. But his tact was perfect. She saw nothing but
a look of dignity and friendship, which brought upon her with a rush all
those tragic things they had shared and fought through, purifying things
of pity and fear, which had so often seemed to her the atonement for,
the washing away of that old baseness.

He saw her face tremble a little. Then she said proudly--

"I promised to be grateful. So I am."

"No, no!" he said, still in the same low tone. "You promised me a
friend. Where is she?"

She made no answer. Her hands were hanging loosely over the water, and
her eyes were fixed on the haze opposite, whence emerged the blocks of
the great hospital and the twinkling points of innumerable lamps. But
his gaze compelled her at last, and she turned back to him. He saw an
expression half hostile, half moved, and pressed on before she could
speak.

"Why do you bury yourself in that nursing life?" he said drily. "It is
not the life for you; it does not fit you in the least."

"You test your friends!" she cried, her cheek flaming again at the
provocative change of voice. "What possible right have you to that
remark?"

"I know you, and I know the causes you want to serve. You can't serve
them where you are. Nursing is not for you; you are wanted among your
own class--among your equals--among the people who are changing and
shaping England. It is absurd. You are masquerading."

She gave him a little sarcastic nod.

"Thank you. I am doing a little honest work for the first time in my
life."

He laughed. It was impossible to tell whether he was serious or posing.

"You are just what you were in one respect--terribly in the right! Be a
little humble to-night for a change. Come, condescend to the classes! Do
you see Mr. Lane calling us?"

And, in fact, Mr. Lane, with his arm in the air, was eagerly beckoning
to them from the distance.

"Do you know Lady Selina Farrell?" he asked her, as they walked quickly
back to the dispersing crowd.

"No; who is she?"

Wharton laughed.

"Providence should contrive to let Lady Selina overhear that question
once a week--in your tone! Well, she is a personage--Lord Alresford's
daughter--unmarried, rich, has a _salon_, or thinks she has--manipulates
a great many people's fortunes and lives, or thinks she does, which,
after all, is what matters--to Lady Selina. She wants to know you,
badly. Do you think you can be kind to her? There she is--you will let
me introduce you? She dines with us."

In another moment Marcella had been introduced to a tall, fair lady in a
very fashionable black and pink bonnet, who held out a gracious hand.

"I have heard so much of you!" said Lady Selina, as they walked along
the passage to the dining-room together. "It must be so wonderful, your
nursing!"

Marcella laughed rather restively.

"No, I don't think it is," she said; "there are so many of us."

"Oh, but the things you do--Mr. Wharton told me--so interesting!"

Marcella said nothing, and as to her looks the passage was dark. Lady
Selina thought her a very handsome but very _gauche_ young woman. Still,
_gauche_ or no, she had thrown over Aldous Raeburn and thirty thousand a
year; an act which, as Lady Selina admitted, put you out of the common
run.

"Do you know most of the people dining?" she enquired in her blandest
voice. "But no doubt you do. You are a great friend of Mr. Wharton's, I
think?"

"He stayed at our house last year," said Marcella, abruptly. "No, I
don't know anybody."

"Then shall I tell you? It makes it more interesting, doesn't it? It
ought to be a pleasant little party."

And the great lady lightly ran over the names. It seemed to Marcella
that most of them were very "smart" or very important. Some of the smart
names were vaguely known to her from Miss Raeburn's talk of last year;
and, besides, there were a couple of Tory Cabinet ministers and two or
three prominent members. It was all rather surprising.

At dinner she found herself between one of the Cabinet ministers and the
young and good-looking private secretary of the other. Both men were
agreeable, and very willing, besides, to take trouble with this unknown
beauty. The minister, who knew the Raeburns very well, was discussing
with himself all the time whether this was indeed the Miss Boyce of that
story. His suspicion and curiosity were at any rate sufficiently strong
to make him give himself much pains to draw her out.

Her own conversation, however, was much distracted by the attention she
could not help giving to her host and his surroundings. Wharton had Lady
Selina on his right, and the young and distinguished wife of Marcella's
minister on his left. At the other end of the table sat Mrs. Lane, doing
her duty spasmodically to Lord Alresford, who still, in a blind old age,
gave himself all the airs of the current statesman and possible premier.
But the talk, on the whole, was general--a gay and careless
give-and-take of parliamentary, social, and racing gossip, the ball
flying from one accustomed hand to another.

And Marcella could not get over the astonishment of Wharton's part in
it. She shut her eyes sometimes for an instant and tried to see him as
her girl's fancy had seen him at Mellor--the solitary, eccentric figure
pursued by the hatreds of a renounced Patricianate--bringing the enmity
of his own order as a pledge and offering to the Plebs he asked to lead.
Where even was the speaker of an hour ago? Chat of Ascot and of
Newmarket; discussion with Lady Selina or with his left-hand neighbour
of country-house "sets," with a patter of names which sounded in her
scornful ear like a paragraph from the _World_; above all, a general air
of easy comradeship, which no one at this table, at any rate, seemed
inclined to dispute, with every exclusiveness and every amusement of the
"idle rich," whereof--in the popular idea--he was held to be one of the
very particular foes!--

No doubt, as the dinner moved on, this first impression changed
somewhat. She began to distinguish notes that had at first been lost
upon her. She caught the mocking, ambiguous tone under which she herself
had so often fumed; she watched the occasional recoil of the women about
him, as though they had been playing with some soft-pawed animal, and
had been suddenly startled by the gleam of its claws. These things
puzzled, partly propitiated her. But on the whole she was restless and
hostile. How was it possible--from such personal temporising--such a
frittering of the forces and sympathies--to win the single-mindedness
and the power without which no great career is built? She wanted to talk
with him--reproach him!

"Well--I must go--worse luck," said Wharton at last, laying down his
napkin and rising. "Lane, will you take charge? I will join you outside
later."

"If he ever finds us!" said her neighbour to Marcella. "I never saw the
place so crowded. It is odd how people enjoy these scrambling meals in
these very ugly rooms."

Marcella, smiling, looked down with him over the bare coffee-tavern
place, in which their party occupied a sort of high table across the
end, while two other small gatherings were accommodated in the space
below.

"Are there any other rooms than this?" she asked idly.

"One more," said a young man across the table, who had been introduced
to her in the dusk outside, and had not yet succeeded in getting her to
look at him, as he desired. "But there is another big party there
to-night--Raeburn--you know," he went on innocently, addressing the
minister; "he has got the Winterbournes and the Macdonalds--quite a
gathering--rather an unusual thing for him."

The minister glanced quickly at his companion. But she had turned to
answer a question from Lady Selina, and thenceforward, till the party
rose, she gave him little opportunity of observing her.

As the outward-moving stream of guests was once more in the corridor
leading to the terrace, Marcella hurriedly made her way to Mrs. Lane.

"I think," she said--"I am afraid--we ought to be going--my friend and
I. Perhaps Mr. Lane--perhaps he would just show us the way out; we can
easily find a cab."

There was an imploring, urgent look in her face which struck Mrs. Lane.
But Mr. Lane's loud friendly voice broke in from behind.

"My dear Miss Boyce!--we can't possibly allow it--no! no--just half an
hour--while they bring us our coffee--to do your homage, you know, to
the terrace--and the river--and the moon!--And then--if you don't want
to go back to the House for the division, we will see you safely into
your cab. Look at the moon!--and the tide"--they had come to the wide
door opening on the terrace--"aren't they doing their very best for
you?"

Marcella looked behind her in despair. _Where_ was Edith? Far in the
rear!--and fully occupied apparently with two or three pleasant
companions. She could not help herself. She was carried on, with Mr.
Lane chatting beside her--though the sight of the shining terrace, with
its moonlit crowd of figures, breathed into her a terror and pain she
could hardly control.

"Come and look at the water," she said to Mr. Lane; "I would rather not
walk up and down if you don't mind."

He thought she was tired, and politely led her through the sitting or
promenading groups till once more she was leaning over the parapet, now
trying to talk, now to absorb herself in the magic of bridge, river, and
sky, but in reality listening all the time with a shrinking heart for
the voices and the footfalls that she dreaded. Lady Winterbourne, above
all! How unlucky! It was only that morning that she had received a
forwarded letter from that old friend, asking urgently for news and her
address.

"Well, how did you like the speech to-night--_the_ speech?" said Mr.
Lane, a genial Gladstonian member, more heavily weighted with estates
than with ideas. "It was splendid, wasn't it?--in the way of speaking.
Speeches like that are a safety-valve--that's my view of it. Have 'em
out--all these ideas--get 'em discussed!"--with a good-humoured shake of
the head for emphasis. "Does nobody any harm and may do good. I can tell
you, Miss Boyce, the House of Commons is a capital place for taming
these clever young men!--you must give them their head--and they make
excellent fellows after a bit. Why--who's this?--My dear Lady
Winterbourne!--this _is_ a sight for sair een!"

And the portly member with great effusion grasped the hand of a stately
lady in black, whose abundant white hair caught the moonlight.

"_Marcella_!" cried a woman's voice.

Yes--there he was!--close behind Lady Winterbourne. In the soft darkness
he and his party had run upon the two persons talking over the wall
without an idea--a suspicion.

She hurriedly withdrew herself from Lady Winterbourne, hesitated a
second, then held out her hand to him. The light was behind him. She
could not see his face in the darkness; but she was suddenly and
strangely conscious of the whole scene--of the great dark building with
its lines of fairy-lit gothic windows--the blue gulf of the river
crossed by lines of wavering light--the swift passage of a steamer with
its illuminated saloon and crowded deck--of the wonderful mixture of
moonlight and sunset in the air and sky--of this dark figure in front of
her.

Their hands touched. Was there a murmured word from him? She did not
know; she was too agitated, too unhappy to hear it if there was. She
threw herself upon Lady Winterbourne, in whom she divined at once a
tremor almost equal to her own.

"Oh! do come with me--come away!--I want to talk to you!" she said
incoherently under her breath, drawing Lady Winterbourne with a strong
hand.

Lady Winterbourne yielded, bewildered, and they moved along the terrace.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" cried the elder lady--"to think of finding _you_
here! How astonishing--how--how dreadful! No!--I don't mean that. Of
course you and he must meet--but it was only yesterday he told me he
had never seen you again--since--and it gave me a turn. I was very
foolish just now. There now--stay here a moment--and tell me about
yourself."

And again they paused by the river, the girl glancing nervously behind
her as though she were in a company of ghosts. Lady Winterbourne
recovered herself, and Marcella, looking at her, saw the old tragic
severity of feature and mien blurred with the same softness, the same
delicate tremor. Marcella clung to her with almost a daughter's feeling.
She took up the white wrinkled hand as it lay on the parapet, and kissed
it in the dark so that no one saw.

"I _am_ glad to see you again," she said passionately, "so glad!"

Lady Winterbourne was surprised and moved.

"But you have never written all these months, you unkind child! And I
have heard so little of you--your mother never seemed to know. When will
you come and see me--or shall I come to you? I can't stay now, for we
were just going; my daughter, Ermyntrude Welwyn, has to take some one to
a ball. How _strange_"--she broke off--"how very strange that you and he
should have met to-night! He goes off to Italy to-morrow, you know, with
Lord Maxwell."

"Yes, I had heard," said Marcella, more steadily. "Will you come to tea
with me next week?--Oh, I will write.--And we must go too--where _can_
my friend be?"

She looked round in dismay, and up and down the terrace for Edith.

"I will take you back to the Lanes, anyway," said Lady Winterbourne;
"or shall we look after you?"

"No! no! Take me back to the Lanes."

"Mamma, are you coming?" said a voice like a softened version of Lady
Winterbourne's. Then something small and thin ran forward, and a girl's
voice said piteously:

"_Dear_ Lady Winterbourne, my frock and my hair take so long to do! _I_
shall be cross with my maid, and look like a fiend. Ermyntrude will be
sorry she ever knew me. _Do_ come!"

"Don't cry, Betty. I certainly shan't take you if you do!" said Lady
Ermyntrude, laughing. "Mamma, is this Miss Boyce--_your_ Miss Boyce?"

She and Marcella shook hands, and they talked a little, Lady Ermyntrude
under cover of the darkness looking hard and curiously at the tall
stranger whom, as it happened, she had never seen before. Marcella had
little notion of what she was saying. She was far more conscious of the
girlish form hanging on Lady Winterbourne's arm than she was of her own
words, of "Betty's" beautiful soft eyes--also shyly and gravely fixed
upon herself--under that marvellous cloud of fair hair; the long,
pointed chin; the whimsical little face.

"Well, none of _you_ are any good!" said Betty at last, in a tragic
voice. "I shall have to walk home my own poor little self, and 'ask a
p'leeceman.' Mr. Raeburn!"

He disengaged himself from a group behind and came--with no alacrity.
Betty ran up to him.

"Mr. Raeburn! Ermyntrude and Lady Winterbourne are going to sleep here,
if you don't mind making arrangements. But _I_ want a hansom."

At that very moment Marcella caught sight of Edith strolling along
towards her with a c