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SIR GEORGE TRESSADY

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⚫y. Mrs Humphry Ward

Author of "Robert Elsmere" "The History of David Grieve”
"Marcella" etc

XXI.

[BEGUN IN THE NOVEMBER NUMBER.]

"MY dear, you don't mean to say you have

had her here for ten days?»

The speaker was Betty Leven, who had just arrived at Maxwell Court, and was sitting with her hostess under the cedars in front of the magnificent Caroline mansion which it was the never-ending task of Marcella's life to bring somehow into a democratic scheme of things.

A still September afternoon, lightly charged with autumn mists, lay gently on the hollows of the park. Betty was in her liveliest mood and her gayest dress. Her hat, a marvel in poppies, was perched high upon no less ingenious waves and frettings of hair. Her straw-colored gown, which was simple only for the untrained eye, gave added youth even to her childish figure, and her very feet, clothed in the smallest and most preposterous of shoes, had something merry and provocative about them as they lay crossed upon the wooden footstool Marcella had pushed toward her.

The remark just quoted followed upon one made by her hostess, to the effect that Lady Tressady would be down to tea shortly.

"Now, Betty," said Marcella, seriously, though she laughed, «I meant to have a few words with you on this subject first thing; let's have them. Do you want to be very kind to me, or do you ever want me to be very nice to you?» Betty considered.

«You can't do half as much for me now as you once could, now that Frank 's going to leave Parliament,» she remarked, with as much worldly wisdom as her face allowed. «Nevertheless the quality of my nature is such that sometimes I might even be nice to you for nothing. But information before benevolence; why have you got her here?» «Because she was fagged and unhappy in

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London, and her husband had gone to take his mother abroad, after first doing Maxwell

a

great kindness,» said Marcella,—not, how

ever, without embarrassment, as Betty saw, «and I want you to be kind to her.»

<<< Reasons one and two no reasons at all,» said Betty, meditating; «and the third wants examining. You mean that George Tressady went after Ancoats? >>

Marcella raised her shoulders and was silent.

«If you are going to be stuffy and mysterious,» said Betty, with vivacity, «you know what sort of a hedgehog I can be. How can you expect me to be nice to Letty Tressady unless you make it worth my while

«Betty, you infant! Well, then, he did go after Ancoats, got him safely away from Trouville, brought him to Paris to join Mrs. Allison, and in general has laid us all under very great obligations. Meanwhile, she was very much tired out with nursing her mother-in-law—»

«Oh, and such a mother-in-law-such a jewel!» ejaculated Betty.

« And I brought her down here to rest till he should come back from Wildheim and take her home. He will probably be here to-night.>>

The speaker reddened unconsciously during her story, a fact not lost on Betty.

Well, I knew most of that before,» said Betty, quietly. «And what sort of a time have you been having this ten days?»

«I have been glad to have her here,» came the quick reply; «I ought to have known her long ago.»>

Betty looked at the speaker with a halfincredulous smile.

"You have been collecting her, I suppose, as Hallin collects grasses. Of course, what I pine to know is what sort of a time she's had. You 're not the easiest person in the world to get on with, my lady.» Copyright, 1895, by Mrs. HUMPHRY WARD. All rights reserved.

"I know that," said Marcella, sighing; «but I don't think she has been unhappy.»

Betty's green eyes opened suddenly to the light.

«Are you ever going to tell me the truth? Have you got her under your thumb? Does she adore you?»>

« Betty, don't be an idiot!»>

"I expect she does,» said Betty, thoughtfully, a myriad thoughts and conjectures passing through her quick brain as she studied her friend's face and attitude. «I see exactly what fate is going to happen to you in middle life. Women could n't get on with you when you were a girl-you did n't like them, nor they you; and now everywhere I hear the young women beginning to talk about you, especially the young married women; and in a few years you will have them all about you like a cluster of doves, cooing and confessing and making your life a burden to you.»>

"Well, suppose you begin,» said Marcella, with meaning. «I'm quite ready. How are Frank's spirits since the great decision?»

«Frank's spirits?» said Betty. She leisurely took off her glove. «Frank's spirits, my dear, if you wish to know, are simply an affront to his wife. My ruined ambitions appear to affect him as Parrish's food does the baby. I prophesy he will have gained a stone by Christmas.»>

For the great step had been taken: Betty had given way, and Frank was to escape from politics. For three years Betty had held him to his task-had written his speeches, formed his opinions, and done her very best to train him for a statesman. But the young man had, in truth, no opinions, save, indeed, whatever might be involved in the constant opinion that Heaven had intended him for a country gentleman and a sportsman, and for nothing else. And at last a mixture of revolt and melancholy had served his purpose. Betty was subdued; the Chiltern Hundreds were in sight. The young wife, with many sighs, had laid down all dreams of a husband on the front bench. But, in compensation, she had regained her lover, and the honeymoon shone once more. «Frank came to see me yesterday,» said Marcella, smiling.

Betty sprang forward.

"What did he say? Did n't he tell you I was an angel? Now, there's a bargain! Repeat to me every single word he said, and I will devote myself, body and bones, to Letty Tressady.» «Hush!» said Marcella, laying two fingers on the pretty mouth. «Here she comes.>>

Letty Tressady, in fact, had just emerged from a side door of the house, and was slowly approaching the two friends on the terrace.

Lady Leven's discerning eye ran over the advancing figure. Marcella heard her make some exclamation under her breath. Then she rose with little, hurrying steps, and went to greet the newcomer with a charming ease and kindness.

Letty responded rather nervously. Marcella looked up with a smile, and pointed to a low chair, which Letty took with a certain stiffness. It was evident to Marcella that she was afraid of Lady Leven, who had, indeed, shown a marked indifference to her society at Castle Luton.

But Betty was disarmed. The << minx >> had lost her color and, for the moment, her prettiness. She looked depressed, and talked little. As to her relation to Marcella, Betty's inquisitive brain indulged itself in a score of conjectures. «How like her!» she thought to herself; «to forget the wife's existence, to begin with, and then to make love to her by way of warding off the husband.»

Meanwhile, aloud, Lady Leven professed herself exceedingly dissatisfied with the entertainment provided for her. Where were the gentlemen? What was the good of one putting on one's best frock to come down to a Maxwell Court Saturday to find only a << hen tea-party » at the end? Marcella protested that there were only too many men somewhere on the premises already, and more, with their wives, were arriving by the next train. But Maxwell had taken off such as had already appeared for a long cross-country walk.

Betty demanded the names, and Marcella gave them obediently. Betty perceived at once that the party was the party of a political chief obliged to do his duty. She allowed herself a good many shrugs of her small shoulders. «Oh, Mrs. Lexham-very charming, of course; but what's the good of being friends with a person who has five hundred people in London that call her Nelly? Lady Wendover? I ought to have had notice. A good mother? I should think she is! That's the whole point against her. She always gives you the idea of having reared fifteen out of a possible twelve. To see her beaming on her offspring makes me positively ashamed of being in the same business myself. Don't you agree, Lady Tressady?»

But Letty, whose chief joy a month before would have been to dart in on such a list with little pecking proofs of acquaintance, was leaning back listlessly in her chair, and could summon only a forced smile for answer.

« And Sir George, too, is coming to-night, is n't he?» said Lady Leven.

«Yes; I expect my husband to-night,» said Letty, coldly, without looking at her questioner. Betty glanced quickly at the expres

sion of the eyes, which were bent upon the farther reaches of the park; then, to Letty's astonishment, she bent forward impulsively and laid her little hand on Lady Tressady's arm. «Do you mind telling me,» she said in a loud whisper, with a glance over her shoulder, «your candid opinion of her as a country lady?»

Letty, taken aback, turned and laughed uneasily; but Betty went rattling on: «Have you found out that she treats her servants like hospital nurses; that they go off and on duty at stated hours; that she has workshops and art schools for them in the back premises; and that the first footman has just produced a cantata, which has been sent in to the comImittee of the Worcester Festival (be quiet, Marcella; if it is n't that, it's something near it); that she teaches the stable-boys and the laundry-maids old English dances, and the pas de quatre once a fortnight, and acts showman to her own pictures for the benefit of the neighborhood once a week? I came once to see how she did it, but I found her and the Gairsley ironmonger measuring the ears of the Holbeins-it seems you can't know any thing about pictures now unless you have measured all the ears and the little fingers, which I hope you know. I did n't; so I fled, as she had n't a word to throw to me, even as one of the public. Then, perhaps, you don't know that she has invented a whole, new, and original system of game-preserving, she and Frank fight over it by the hour,-that she has upset all the wage arrangements of the county,-that, perhaps, you do know, for it got into the papers,-and a hundred other trifles. Has she revealed these things?»

Letty looked in perplexity from Betty's face, full of sweetness and mirth, to Marcella's.

«She has n't talked about them,» she said, hesitating. «Of course I have n't understood a good many things that are done here->>

«Don't try," said Marcella, first laughing and then sighing.

Nothing appeased, Lady Leven chattered away, while Letty watched her hostess in silence. She had come down to the Court gloating somewhat, in spite of her very real unhappiness, over the prospect of the riches and magnificence she was to find there. And to discover that wealth might be merely the source of one long moral wrestle to the people who possessed it, burdening them with all sorts of problems and remorses that others escaped, had been a strange and, on the whole, jarring experience to her. Of course there must be rich and poor; of course there must be servants and masters. Marcella's rebellion against the barriers of life had been

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a sort of fatigue and offense to Letty ever since she had been made to feel it. And daily contact with the simple, and even Spartan, ways of living that prevailed-for the owners of it at least in the vast house, with the overflowing energy and humanity that often made its mistress a restless companion, and led her into a fair percentage of mistakes, had roused a score of half-scornful protests in the small, shrewd mind of her guest. Nevertheless, when Marcella was kind, when she put Letty on the sofa, insisting that she was tired, and anxiously accusing herself of some lack of consideration or other; when she took her to her room at night, seeing to every comfort, and taking thought for luxuries that in her heart she despised; or when, very rarely, and turning rather pale, she said a few wordssweet, hopeful, encouraging-about George's return, then Letty was conscious of a strange leap of something till then unknown-something that made her want to sob, that seemed to open to her a new room in the house of life. Marcella had not kissed her since the day of their great scene; they had been «<Lady Maxwell » and « Lady Tressady» to each other all the time, and Letty had but realized her own insolences and audacities the more as gradually the spiritual dignity of the woman she had raved at came home to her. But sometimes when Marcella stood beside her, unconscious, talking pleasantly of London folk or Ancoats, or trying to inform herself as to Letty's life at Ferth, a half-desolate intuition would flash across the younger woman of what it might be to be admitted to the intimate friendship of such a nature; to feel those long, slender arms pressed about her once more, not in pity or remonstrance, as of one trying to exorcise an evil spirit, but in mere love, as of one asking as well as giving. The tender and adoring friendship of women for women, which has become so marked a feature of our self-realizing generation, had passed Letty by. She had never known it. Now, in these unforeseen circumstances, she seemed to be trembling within reach of its emotion, divining it, desiring it, yet forced onward to the question, «What is there in me that may claim it?»>

Marcella, indeed, after their first stormy interview, had once more returned to the subject of it. She had told the story of her friendship with George Tressady very gently and plainly, in a further conversation held between them at the elder Lady Tressady's house during that odd lady's very odd convalescence, till, indeed, she reached the last scene. She could not bring herself to deliver

the truth of that. Nor was it necessary. Letty's jealousy had guessed it near enough long ago. But when all else was told, Letty had been aware at first of a half-sore resentment that there was so little to tell. In her secret soul she knew very well what had been the effect on George. Her husband's mind had been gradually absorbed by another ideal in which she had no part; nor could she deny that he had suffered miserably. The memory of his face as he asked her to forgive him when she fled past him on that last wretched night was enough. But suffered for what? A few talks about politics, a few visits to poor people, an office of kindness after a street accident that any stranger must have rendered, a few meetings in the House and elsewhere! Letty's vanity was stabbed anew by the fact that Lady Maxwell's offense was so small. It gave her a kind of measure of her own hold upon her husband.

Once, indeed, Marcella's voice and color had wavered when she made herself describe how, on the Mile End evening, she had been aware of pressing the personal influence to gain the political end. But good heavens! Letty hardly understood what the speaker's evident compunction was about. Why, it was all for Maxwell! What had she thought of all through but Maxwell? Letty's humiliation grew as she understood, and as, in the quiet of Maxwell Court, she saw the husband and wife together.

Her anger and resentment might very well have transferred themselves only the more hotly to George. But this new moral influence upon her had a kind of paralyzing effect. The incidents of the weeks before the crisis excited in her now a sick, shamed feeling whenever she thought of them. For contact with people on a wholly different plane of conduct, if such persons as Letty can once be brought to submit to it, will often produce effects, especially on women, like those one sees produced every day by the clash of two standards of manners. It means simply the recognition that one is unfit to be of certain company, and perhaps there are few moral ferments more penetrating. Probably Letty would have gone to her grave knowing nothing of it but for the accident which had opened to her the inmost heart of a woman with whom, once known, not even her vanity dared measure itself.

George and she had already met since the day when he had gone off to Paris in search of Ancoats. The telegram sent to him by Marcella on the night of his mother's violent illness had, indeed, been recalled next day.

Lady Tressady, following the idiosyncrasies of her disease, sprang from death to life-and life of the sprightliest kind-in the course of a few hours. The battered, gray-haired woman-so old, do what she would, under the betraying hand of physical decay-no sooner heard that George had been sent for than she at once, and peremptorily, telegraphed to him herself to stay away. «I'm not dead yet,» she wrote to him afterward, in spite of all the fuss they 've made with me. I was simply ashamed to own such a cadaverous-looking wretch as you were when you came here last; and if you take my advice you'll stay at Trouville with Lord Ancoats and amuse yourself. As to that young man, of course it's no good, and his mother's a great fool to suppose that you or anybody else can prevent his enjoying himself. But these High-church women are so extraordinary.»

Letty, indeed, remembering her motherin-law's old ways, and finding them little changed as far as she herself was concerned, was puzzled and astonished by the new relations between mother and son. On the smallest excuse or none, Lady Tressady, a year before, would have been ready to fetch him back from furthest Ind without the least scruple. Now, however, she thought of him or for him incessantly. And one day Letty actually found her crying over an official intimation from the lawyer concerned that another instalment of the Shapetsky debt would be due within a month. But she angrily dried her tears at sight of Letty, and Letty said nothing.

George, however, came back within about ten days of his departure, having apparently done what he was commissioned to do, though Letty took so little interest in the Ancoats affair that she barely read those portions of his letters in which he described the course of it. His letters, indeed, with the exception of a few ambiguous words here and there, dealt entirely with Trouville, Ancoats, or the ups and downs of public opinion on the subject of his action and speech in the House. Letty could only gather from a stray phrase or two that he enjoyed nothing; but evidently he could not yet bring himself to speak of what had happened.

When he did come back the husband and wife saw very little of each other. It was more convenient that he should stay in Upper Brook street, while she remained at her mother-in-law's, and altogether he was hardly three days in London. He rushed up to Market Malford to deliver his promised speech to his constituents, and immediately afterward, on the urgent advice of the doctors, he went

off to Wildheim with his mother and the elderly cousin whose aid he had already invoked. Before he went he formally thanked his wife, who hardly spoke to him unless she was obliged, for her attention to his mother, and then lingered a little, looking no less "cadaverous,» certainly, than when he had gone away, and apparently desiring to say more. «I suppose I shall be away about a fortnight," he said at last, «if one is to settle her comfortably. You have n't told me yet what you would like to do. Could n't you get Miss Tulloch to go down with you to Ferth, or would you go to your people for a fortnight?» He was longing to ask her what had come of that promised visit of Lady Maxwell's; but neither by letter nor by word of mouth had Letty as yet said a word of it. And he did not know how to open the subject. During the time that he was with his wife and mother nothing was seen of Marcella in Warwick Square, and an interview that he was to have had with Maxwell, by way of supplement to his numerous letters, had to be postponed because of overcrowded days on both sides. So he was still in the dark.

Letty at first made no answer to his rather lame proposals for her benefit; but just as he was turning away with a look of added worry she said:

"I don't want to go home, thank you, and I still less want to go to Ferth.>>

«But you can't stay in London. There is n't a soul in town, and it would be too dull for you.» He gazed at her in perplexity, praying, however, that he might not provoke a scene, for the carriage that was to take him and his mother to the station was almost at the door. Letty rose slowly, and folded up some embroidery she had been playing with. Then she took a note from her work-basket, and laid it on the table.

And now he would be here to-night. She knew both from her host himself and from George's letters that Lord Maxwell had specially written to him, begging him to come to the Court on his return, in order to join his wife, and also to give that oral report of his mission for which there had been no time on his first reappearance. Maxwell had spoken to her of his wish to see her husband without a tone or a word that could suggest anything but the natural friendliness and good will of the man who has accepted a signal service from his junior. But Letty avoided Maxwell when she could; nor would he willingly have been left alone with this thin, sharp-faced girl, whose letter to him had been like the drawing of an ugly veil from nameless and incredible things. He was sorry for her, but in his strong, deep nature he felt a repulsion for her he could not explain, and to watch Marcella with her amazed him.

IMMEDIATELY after tea Lady Leven's complaints of her entertainment became absurd. Guests poured in from the afternoon train, and a variety of men, her husband foremost among them, were soon at her disposal, asking nothing better than to amuse her.

Lady Tressady, meanwhile, looked on for a time at the brilliant crowd about her on the terrace with a dull sense of being forgotten and of no account. She said to herself sullenly that of course no one would want to talk to her; it was not her circle, and she had even few acquaintances among them.

Then, to her astonishment, she began to find herself the object of an evident curiosity and interest to many people among the throng. She divined that her name was being handed from one to the other, and she soon perceived that Marcella had been asked to introduce to her this person and that, several of them

«You may read that if you like. That 's men and women whose kindness a few weeks where I'm going.»

And she quickly went out of the room. George read the note. His face flushed, and he hurriedly busied himself with some of his preparations for departure. When his wife came into the room again he went up to her. «You could have done nothing so likely to save us both," he said huskily, and then could think of nothing more to say. He drew her to him as though to kiss her, but a blind movement of the old rage with him or circumstance leaped in her, and she pulled herself away. The thought of that particular moment had done more, perhaps, than anything else to thin and whiten her since she had been at Maxwell Court.

before would have flattered her social ambitions to the highest point. Color and nerve returned, and she found herself sitting up, forgetting her headache, and talking fast.

"I am delighted to have this opportunity of telling you, Lady Tressady, how much I admired your husband's great speech,» said the deep and unctuous voice of the gray-haired Solicitor-General, as he sank into a chair beside her. "It was not only that it gave us our bill: it gave the House of Commons a new speaker. Manner, voice, matter-all of it excellent. I hope there'll be no nonsense about his giving up his seat. Don't you let him! He will find his feet and his right place before long, and you'll be uncommonly proud of him before you've done.»

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