« AnkstesnisTęsti »
But it looks as though Mrs. Allison and Maxwell between them had somehow found a way out.»
«How's the mother?»
You see, she has gone abroad, too-to Bad Wildheim. In fact, Lord Ancoats has taken her.»
That's the place for heart, is n't it?» said his mother, abruptly. «There's a man there that cures everybody.»
I believe so,» said George. «May we come to business, mother? I have brought these papers for you to sign, and I must get to the House in good time.»>
Lady Tressady seemed to take no notice. She got up again restlessly, and walked to the window.
How do you like my dress, George? Now don't imagine anything absurd! Justine made it, and it was quite cheap.»
George could not help smiling-all the more that he was conscious of relief. She would not be asking him to admire her dress if there were fresh debts to confess to him. "It makes you look wonderfully young,» he said, turning a critical eye, first upon the elegant gown of some soft, pinky stuff in which his mother had arrayed herself, then upon the subtly rouged and powdered face above it. You are a marvelous person, mother. All the same, I think the heat must have been getting hold of you, for your eyes are tired. Don't racket too much.>>
He spoke with his usual careless kindness, laying a hand upon her arm.
Lady Tressady drew herself away, and turning her back upon him, looked out of the window.
Have you seen any more of the Maxwells?» she said over her shoulders.
George gave a slight involuntary start. Then it occurred to him that his mother was making conversation in an odd way.
"Once or twice," he said reluctantly, in reply. They were at the Ardaghs' the other night, of course.»
Oh, you were there?» Lady Tressady's voice was sharp again. «Well, of course. Letty went as your wife, and you 're a member of Parliament. Lady Ardagh knows me quite well-but I don't count now; she used to be glad enough to ask me.»
It was a great crush and very hot,» said George, not knowing what to say. Lady Tressady frowned as she looked out of the window.
Well! And Lady Maxwell-is she as absurd as ever? »
"That depends upon one's point of view,»
said George, smiling. «She seemed as convinced as ever.»
«Who sent Mrs. Allison to that place? Barham, I suppose. He always sends his patients there. They say he's in league with the hotel-keepers.>>
George stared. What was the matter with her? What made her throw out these jerky sentences with this short, hurried breath. Suddenly Lady Tressady turned. «George!»
«Yes, mother.»> He stepped nearer to her. She caught his sleeve.
«George, there was something like a sob in her voice,-«you were quite right. I am ill. There, don't talk about it. The doctors are all fools. And if you tell Letty anything about it, I'll never forgive you.»>
George put his arm round her, but was not, in truth, much disturbed. Lady Tressady's repertory, alas! had many rôles. He had known her play that of the invalid at least as effectively as any other.
«You are just overdone with London and the heat,» he said. «I saw it at once. You ought to go away.»
She looked up in his face.
«You don't believe it?» she said.
Then she seemed to stagger. He saw a terrible drawn look in her face, and, putting out all his strength, he held her and helped her to a sofa.
«Mother!» he exclaimed, kneeling beside her, «what is the matter? »
Voice and tone were those of another man, and Lady Tressady quailed under the change. She pointed to a small bag on a table near her. He opened it, and she took out a box from which she swallowed something. Gradually breath and color returned, and she began to move restlessly.
«That was nothing,» she said, as though to herself-nothing-and it yielded at once. Well, George, I knew you thought me a humbug.»
Her eyes glanced at him with a kind of miserable triumph. He looked down upon her, still kneeling, horror-struck against his will. After a life of acting, was this the truth-this terror which spoke in every movement, and in some strange way had seized upon and infected himself?
He urgently asked her to be frank with. him; and with a sob she poured herself out. It was the tragic, familiar story that every household knows. Grave symptoms, suddenly observed, the hurried visit to a specialist, his verdict and his warnings.
"Of course he said at first I ought to give
up everything and go abroad-to this very same place-Bad-what-do-you-call-it? But I told him straight out I could n't and would n't do anything of the sort. I am just eaten up with engagements. And as to staying at home and lying up, that 's nonsense-I should die of that in a fortnight. So I told him to give me something to take, and that was all I could do. And in the end he quite came round, they always do if you take your own line, and said I had much better do what suited me, and take care. Besides, what do any of them know? They all confess they're just fumbling about. Now surgery, of course -that's different. Battye» (Battye was Lady Tressady's ordinary medical adviser) « does n't believe all the other man said. I knew he would n't. And as for making an invalid of me, he sees, of course, that it would kill me at once. There, my dear George; don't make too much of it. I think I was a fool to tell you.»
And Lady Tressady struggled to a sitting position, looking at her son with a certain hostility. The frown on her white face showed that she was already angry with him for his emotion-this rare emotion, that she had never yet been able to rouse in him.
He could only implore her to be guided by her doctor-to rest, to give up at least some of the mill-round of her London life, if she would not go abroad. Lady Tressady listened to him with increasing obstinacy and excitability.
<< I tell you I know best!» she said passionately, at last. «Don't go on like this; it worries me. Now look here.» She turned upon him with emphasis. «Promise me not to tell Letty a word of this. Nobody shall knowshe least of all. I shall do just as usual. In fact, I expect a very gay season. Three (drums) this afternoon, and a dinner-party -it does n't look as though I were quite forgotten yet, though Letty does think me an old fogy.»
She smiled at him with a ghastly mixture of defiance and conceit. The old age in her pinched face, fighting with the rouged cheeks and the gaiety of her fanciful dress, was pitiful.
«Promise, she said. «Not a word-to
George promised, in much distress. While he was speaking she had a slight return of pain, and was obliged to submit to lie down again.
"At least, he urged, «don't go out to-day. Give yourself a rest. Shall I go back and ask Letty to come round to tea?»
Lady Tressady made a face like a spoiled child.
<< I don't think she 'll come,» she said. «Of course I know from the first she took an ungodly dislike to me. Though, if it had n't been for me-well, never mind. Yes, you can ask her, George-do. I'll wait and see if she comes. If she comes, perhaps I'll stay in. It would amuse me to hear what she has been doing. I'll behave quite nicely-there! >>
And, taking up her fan, Lady Tressady lightly tapped her son's hand with it, in her most characteristic manner.
He rose, seeing from the clock that he should only just have time to drive quickly back to Letty if he was to be at the House in time for an appointment with a constituent which had been arranged for one o'clock.
«I will send Justine to you as I go out,» he said, taking up his hat, and I shall hear of you from Letty this evening.»>
Lady Tressady said nothing. Her eyes, bright with some inner excitement, watched him as he looked for his stick. Suddenly she said, «George, kiss me!»
Her tone was unsteady. Deeply touched and bewildered, the young man approached her, and, kneeling down again beside her, took her in his arms. He felt a quick, sobbing breath pass through her; then she pushed him lightly away, and, putting up the slim, pinknailed hand of which she was so proud, she patted him on the cheek.
«There go along! I don't like that coat of yours, you know. I told you so the other day. If your figure were n't so good you 'd positively look badly dressed in it. You should try another man.»>
TRESSADY hailed a hansom outside, and drove back to Brook street. On the way his eyes saw little of the crowded streets. So far he had had no personal experience of death. His father had died suddenly while he was at Oxford, and he had lost no other near relative or friend. Strange! this grave, sudden sense that all was changed, that his careless, half-contemptuous affection for his mother could never again be what it had been-supposing, indeed, her story was all true. But in the case of a character like Lady Tressady's there are for long recurrent, involuntary skepticisms on the part of the bystander. It seems impossible, unfitting, to grant to such persons le beau rôle they claim. It outrages a certain ideal instinct, even, to be asked to believe that they, too, can yield, in their measure, precisely the same tragic stuff as the hero or the saint.
Letty was at home, just about to share her lunch with Harding Watton, who had dropped in. Hearing her husband's voice, she came out to the stair-head to speak to him. But after a minute or two George dashed down again to his study, that he might write a hurried note to a middle-aged cousin of his mother's, asking her to go round to Warwick Square early in the afternoon, and making excuses for Letty, who was very much engaged.» For Letty had met his request with a smiling disdain. Why, she was simply crowded up with engagements of all sorts and kinds!
«Mother is really unwell,» said George, standing with his hands on his sides, looking down upon her. He was fuming with irritation and hurry, and had to put a force on himself to speak persuasively.
My dear old boy!»-she rose on tiptoe and twisted his mustache for him-«don't we know all about your mother's ailments by this time? I suppose she wants to give me a scolding, or to hear about the Ardaghs, or to tell me all about the smart parties she has been to, or something of the sort. No, really; it's quite impossible-this afternoon. I know I must go and see her some time; of course I will.»
She said this with the air of some one making a great concession. It was, indeed, her first formal condonement of the offense offered her just before the Castle Luton visit. George attempted a little more argument and entreaty, but in vain. Letty was rather puzzled by his urgency, but quite obdurate. And as he ran down the stairs he heard her laugh in the drawing-room, mingled with Harding Watton's. No doubt they were making merry over the «discipline » which Letty found it necessary to apply to her mother-inlaw.
In the House of Commons the afternoon was once more given up to the adjourned debate on the second reading of the Maxwell bill. The House was full, and showing itself to advantage. On the whole, the animation and competence of the speeches reflected the general rise in combative energy and the wide kindling of social passions which the bill had so far brought about both in and out of Parliament. Those who figured as the defenders of industries, harassed beyond bearing by the Socialist meddlers, spoke with more fire, with more semblance, at any rate, of putting their hearts into it, than any men of their kind had been able to attain since the giant days of the first factory debates.
Those, on the other hand, who were urging the House to a yet sterner vigilance in protecting the worker-even the grown manfrom his own helplessness and need, who believed that law spells freedom, and that the experience of half a century was wholly on their side-these friends of a strong cause were also at their best, on their mettle. Owing to the wide-spread flow of a great reaction, the fight had become a representative contest between two liberties-a true battle of ideas.
Yet George, sitting below the gangway beside his leader, his eyes staring at the ceiling and his hands in his pockets, listened to it all in much languor and revolt. He himself had made his speech on the third day of the debate. It had cost him endless labor, only to seem to him in the end-by contrast with the vast majority of speeches made in the course of the debate, even those by men clearly inferior to himself in mind and training-to be a hollow and hypocritical performance. What did he really think and believe? What did he really desire? He vowed to himself once more, as he had vowed at Ferth, that his mind was a chaos, without convictions, either intellectual or moral; that he had begun what he was not able to finish; and that he was doomed to make a failure of his parliamentary career, as he was already making a failure of coal-owning, and a failure
He curbed something bitter and springing that haunted his inmost mind. But his effort could not prevent his dwelling angrily for a minute on the thought of Letty laughing with Harding Watton-laughing because he had asked her a small kindness and she had most unkindly refused it.
Yet she must help him with his poor mother. How softened were all his thoughts about that difficult and troublesome lady! As it happened, he had a good deal of desultory medical knowledge, for the problems and perils of the body had always attracted his pessimist sense; yet it did not help him much. at this juncture. At one moment he said to himself, «Eighteen months-she will live eighteen months »; and at another, «Battye was probably right: Barham took an unnecessarily gloomy view; she may quite well last as long as the rest of us.»
SUDDENLY he was startled by a movement beside him.
«The honorable member has totally misunderstood me,» cried Fontenoy, springing to his feet and looking eagerly toward the Speaker.
But when the man opposite was once more on his legs, doing his best to undo the impression which had been made, George found himself wondering whether, after all, the point had been so good, and why he had been so quick to praise. She would have said, of course, that it was a point scored against common sense, against humanity. He began to fancy the play of her scornful eyes, the eloquence of her white hand moving and quivering as she spoke.
How long was it—one hurried month only -since he had walked with her along the river at Castle Luton? While the crowded House about him was again listening with attention to the speech on behalf of the government from one of the senior London members which had just brought the protesting Fontenoy to his legs; while his leader was fidgeting and muttering beside him; while to his left the crowd of members about the door was constantly melting, constantly reassembling, Tressady's mind withdrew itself from its surroundings, saw nothing, heard nothing but the scenes of a far-off London and a figure that moved among them.
How often had he been with her since Castle Luton? Once or twice a week, certainly, either at St. James's Square or in the East End, in spite of Parliament and Fontenoy and his many engagements as Letty's husband. Strange phenomenon-that little salon of hers in the far East! For it was practically a salon, though it existed for purposes the Hôtel Rambouillet knew nothing of. He found himself one of many there; and like all salons, it had an inner circle. Charles Naseby, Edward Watton, Lady Madeleine Penley, the Levens-some or all of these were generally to be found in Lady Maxwell's neighborhood, rendering homage or help in one way or another. It was touching to see that girl, Lady Madeleine, looking at the docker or the shirt-maker with her restless greenish eyes, as though she realized for the first time what hideous bond it is the one true commonalty-that crushes the human family together.
Well, and what had he seen? Nothing, cer
tainly, of which he had not had ample information before. Under the fresh spur of the talk that occupied the Maxwell circle he had made one or two rounds through some dismal regions in Whitechapel, Mile End, and Hackney, where some of the worst of the home industries to which, at last, after long hesitation on the part of successive governments, Maxwell's bill was intended to put an end, crowded every house and yard. He saw some of it in the company of a lady rent-collector, an old friend of the Maxwells, who had charge of several tenement blocks where the trousers and vest trade was largely carried on; and he welcomed the chance of one or two walks in quest of law-breaking workshops with a young inspector who could not say enough in praise of the bill. But if it had been only a question of fact, George would have felt, when the rounds were done, merely an added respect for Fontenoy, perhaps even for his own party as a whole. Not a point raised by his guides but had been abundantly discussed and realized- -on paper, at any rate-by Fontenoy and his friends. The young inspector, himself a hot partizan, and knowing with whom he had to deal, would have liked to convict his companion of sheer and simple ignorance; but, on the contrary, Tressady was not to be caught napping. As far as the trade details and statistics of this gruesome slop-work of East London went, he knew all that could be shown him.
Nevertheless, cool and impassive as his manner was throughout, the experience in the main did mean the exchange of a personal for a paper and hearsay knowledge. When, indeed, had he or Fontenoy or any one else ever denied that the life of the poor was an odious and miserable struggle, a scandal to gods and men? What then? Did they make the world and its iron conditions? And yet this long succession of hot and smelling dens; this series of pale, stooping figures, toiling hour after hour, at fever pace, in these stifling back-yards, while the June sun shone outside, reminding one of English meadows and the ripple of English grass; these panting, disheveled women slaving beside their husbands and brothers amid the rattle of the machines and the steam of the pressers' irons, with the sick or the dying, perhaps, in the bed beside them, and their starved children at their feet-sights of this sort, thus translated from the commonplace of reports and newspapers into a poignant, unsavory truth, had at least this effect: they vastly quickened the personal melancholy of the spectator; they raised and drove home a num
ber of piercing questions which, probably, George Tressady would never have raised, and would have lived happily without raising, if it had not been for a woman and a woman's charm.
For that woman's solutions remained as doubtful to him as ever. He would go back to that strange little house where she kept her strange court, meet her eager eyes, and be roused at once to battle. How they had argued! He knew that she had less hope than ever of persuading him even to modify his view of the points at issue between the government and his own group. She could not hope for a moment that any act of his would be likely to stand between Maxwell and defeat. He had not talked of his adventures to Fontenoy-would rather, indeed, that Fontenoy knew nothing of them. But he and she knew that Fontenoy, so far, had little to fear from them.
And yet she had not turned from him. To her personal mood, to her wifely affection even, he must appear more plainly than ever as the callous and selfish citizen, ready and glad to take his own ease while his brethren perished. He had been skeptical and sarcastic; he had declined to accept her evidence; he had shown a persistent preference for the drier and more brutal estimate of things. Yet she had never parted from him without gentleness, without a look in her beautiful eyes that had often tormented his curiosity. What did it mean? Pity? Or some unspoken comment of a personal kind she could not persuade her womanly reticence to put into words? Or, rather, had she some distant inkling of the real truth-that he was beginning to hate his own convictions-to feel that to be right with Fontenoy was nothing, but to be wrong with her would be delight? What absurdity! With a strong effort he pulled himself together, steadied his rushing pulse. It was like some one waking at night in a nervous terror, and feeling the pressure of some iron dilemma from which he cannot free himself-cold vacancy and want on the one side, calamity on the other.
For that cool power of judgment in his own case which he had always possessed did not fail him now. He saw everything nakedly and coldly. His marriage was not three months old, but no spectator could have discussed its results more frankly than he was now prepared to discuss them with himself. It was monstrous, no doubt. He felt his whole position to be as ugly as it was abnormal. Who could feel any sympathy with it or him? He himself had been throughout the architect of
his own misfortune. Had he not rushed upon his marriage with less care-relatively to the weight of the human interest in such a matter-than an animal shows when it mates?
Letty's personal idiosyncrasies even-her way of entering a room, her mean little devices for attracting social notice, the stubborn extravagance of her dress and personal habits, her manner to her servants, her sharp voice as she retailed some scrap of slanderous gossip- her husband had by now ceased to be blind or deaf to any of them. Indeed, his senses in relation to many things she said and did were far more irritable at this moment-possibly far less just-than a stranger's would have been. Often and often he would try to recall to himself the old sense of charm, of piquancy. In vain. It was all gone; he could only miserably wonder at the past. Was it that he knew now what charm might mean, and what divinity may breathe around a woman?
«I SAY, where are you off to?»
Tressady looked up with a start as Fontenoy rose beside him.
«Good opportunity for dinner, I think,» said Fontenoy, with a motion of the head toward the man who had just caught the Speaker's eye. «Are you coming? I should like a word with you.»
George followed him into the lobby. As the swing-door closed behind him, they plunged into a whirlpool of talk and movement. All the approaches to the House were full of folk. Everybody was either giving news or getting it; for the excitement of a coming crisis was in the air. This was Friday, and the division on the second reading was expected on the following Monday.
<< What a crowd, and what a temperature! » said Fontenoy. «Come out upon the terrace a moment.>>
They made their way into the air, and as they walked up and down Fontenoy talked in his hoarse, hurried voice of the latest aspect of affairs. The government would get their second reading, of course; that had never been really doubtful, though Fontenoy was certain that the normal majority would be a good deal reduced. But all the hopes of the heterogeneous coalition which had been slowly forming throughout the spring hung upon the committee stage, and Fontenoy's mind was now full of the closest calculations as to the voting on particular amendments. For him the bill fell into three parts. The first part, which was mainly confined to small amendments and extensions of former acts, would