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ing on tiptoe to see. «No! They ought to be ashamed of themselves! >>
Tressady wondered who and why; but all he saw was that a thin, tall woman was being handed along the bench in front of him, while her neighbors and friends clapped her on the back as she passed, laughing and urging her on. Then, presently, there she stood on the platform, a wand-like creature, with her battered bonnet sidewise on her head, a woolen crossover on her shoulders in spite of July, her hands clasped across her chest, her queer light eyes wandering and smiling hither and thither. In her emaciation, her weird cheerfulness, she was like a figure from a Dance of Death. But what was amazing was her self-possession.
«Now yer laughin' at me,» she began in a conversational tone, nodding toward the group of women she had just left. «You go 'long! I told the lidy I'd speak, an' I will. Well, they comes to me an' they says, (Mrs. Dickson, yer not to work at 'ome no longer; they'll put yer in prison if yer do 't, they says; (yer to go out ter work, same as the shop 'ands, they says; and, what 's more, if they cotch Mr. Butterford -that's my landlord; p'r'aps yer don' know 'im-»
She looked down at the meeting with a whimsical grin, her eyes screwed up and her crooked brows lifted, so that the room roared merely to look at her. The trim lady secretary, however, bent forward with an air of annoyance. She had not, perhaps, realized that Mrs. Dickson was so much of a character.
"If they cotch Mr. Butterford, they'll make 'im pay up smart for lettin' yer do such a thing as make knickers in 'is 'ouse. So I asks the lidy, Wot 's ter become o' me an' the little uns? An' she says she don' know. But yer mus' come and speak Tuesday night, she says-Manx Road Schools, she says if yer want to perwent 'em makin' a law of it. Which I'm a-doin' of- ain't I?»
Fresh laughter and response from the room. She went on, satisfied:
"An', yer know, if I can't make the knickers at 'ome, I can't make 'em aw'y from 'ome. For ther' ain't no shops as want kids squallin' round, as fer as I can make out. An' Jimmy's a limb, as boys mos'ly are in my egsperience. Larst week 'e give the biby a 'alfpenny and two o' my biggest buttons to swaller, an' I on'y jest smacked 'em out of 'er in time. Ther''d be murder done if I was to leave 'em. An' 'ow 'u'd I be able to pay any one fer lookin' after 'em? I can't git much, yer know, shop or no shop. I ain't wot I was.»>
She stopped, and pointed significantly to her chest. Tressady shuddered as the curate whispered to him.
<< I've been in 'orspital-cut about fearful. I can't go at the pace them shops works at. They'd give me the sack double-quick if I was to go tryin' 'em. No; it 's settin' as does it-settin' an' settin'. I'm at it by seven, an' my 'usband-yer can see 'im there-'e'll tell yer.»
She stopped, and pointed to a burly ruffian standing amid a group of pals about the door. This gentleman had his arms folded, and was alternately frowning and grinning at this novel spectacle of his wife as a public performer. Bribes had probably been necessary to bring him to consent to the spectacle at all; but he was not happy, and when his wife pointed at him, and the meeting turned to look, he suddenly took a dive head foremost into the crowd about him, so that when the laughter and horse-play that followed had subsided, it was seen that Mr. Tom Dickson's place knew him no more.
Meanwhile Mrs. Dickson stood grinninggrinning wide and visibly. It was the strangest mirth, as though hollow pain and laughter strove with each other for the one poor indomitable face.
« Well, 'e could 'a' told yer, if 'e 'd 'ad the mind,» she said, nodding; «for 'e knows. 'E's been out o' work this twelve an' a 'arf year; well, come, I 'll bet yer, anyway, as 'e 'as n't done a 'and's turn this three year-an' I don't blime 'im. Fust, there is n't the work to be got, and then yer git out of the way o' wantin' it. An' beside, I'm used to 'im. When Janey -no, it were Sue-were seven month old, he come in one night from the public, an' after 'e 'd broke up most o' the things, he says to me, Clear out, will yer! An' I cleared out, and Sue and me set on the door-step till mornin'. And when mornin' come, Tom opened the door, and 'e says, What are you doin' there, mother? Why ain't yer got my breakfast? An' I went in an' got it. But, bless yer, nowadays-the women won't do it!»
Another roar went up from the meeting. Mrs. Dickson still grinned.
"An' so there's nothink but settin', as I said before-settin' till yer can't set no more. If I begin o' seven, I gets Mr. Dickson to put the tea-things an' the loaf 'andy, so as I don't 'ave to get up more 'n jes' to fetch the kettle; and the children gets the same as me-tea an' bread, and a red 'erring Sundays; an' Mr. Dickson 'e gets 'is meals out; I gives 'im the needful, and 'e don't make no trouble; an' the
children is dreadful fractious sometimes, and gets in my way fearful. But there, if I can set-set till I 'ear Stepney Church goin' twelve -I can earn my ten shillin' a week, an' keep the lot of 'em. Wot does any lidy or genelman want, a-comin' meddlin' down 'ere? Now, that's the middle an' both ends on it. Done? Well, I dessay I is done. Lor', I says to 'em in the 'orspital, it do seem rummy to me to be layin' abed like that. If Tom was 'ere, why, 'e 'd->>
She made a queer, significant grimace. But the audience laughed no longer. They stared silently at the gaunt creature, and with their silence her own mood changed.
Suddenly she whipped up her apron. She drew it across her eyes, and flung it away again passionately.
"I dessay we shall be lyin' abed in kingdom come, she said defiantly, yet piteously; «but we've got to git there fust. An' I don't want no shops, thank yer!»>
She rambled on a little longer; then, at a sign from the lady secretary, made a grinning courtesy to the audience, and departed.
<< What do they get out of that?» said Watton in Tressady's ear. «Poor galley-slave in praise of servitude! »
«Her slavery keeps her alive, please.»
pass gradually from expectation to nervousness, from nervousness to dismay.
What was happening? She had once told him that she was not a speaker, and he had not believed her. She had begun well, he thought, though with a hesitation he had not expected. But now-had she lost her thread, or what? Incredible, when one remembered her in private life, in conversation. Yet these stumbling sentences, this evident distress!
Tressady found himself fidgeting in sympathetic misery. He and Watton looked at each other.
A little more, and she would have lost her audience. She had lost it. At first there had been eager listening, for she had plunged straightway into a set explanation and defense of the bill point by point, and half the room knew that she was Lord Maxwell's wife. But by the end of ten minutes their attention was gone. They were only staring at her because she was handsome and a great lady. Otherwise, they seemed not to know what to make of her. She grew white; she wavered. Tressady saw that she was making great efforts, and all in vain. The division between her and her audience widened with every sentence, and Fontenoy's lady organizer in the background sat smilingly erect. Tressady,
«Yes, and drags down the standard of a who had been at first inclined to hate the whole class.»>
«You'll admit she seemed content?» "It's that content we want to kill. Ah! at last,» and Watton clapped loudly, followed by about half the meeting, while the rest sat silent. Then Tressady perceived that the chairwoman had called upon Lady Maxwell to move the next resolution, and that the tall figure had risen.
She came forward slowly, glancing from side to side, as though doubtful where to look for her friends. She was in black, and her head was covered with a little black lace bonnet, in the strings of which, at her throat, shone a small diamond brooch. The delicate whiteness of her face and hands, and this sparkle of light on her breast, that moved as she moved, struck a thrill of pleasure through Tressady's senses. The squalid monotony and physical defect of the crowd about him passed from his mind. Her beauty redressed the balance. «Loveliness, magic, and grace-they are here; they are set in the world! and ugliness and pain have not conquered while this face still looks and breathes.» This, and nothing less, was the cry of the young man's heart and imagination as he strained forward, waiting for her voice.
Then he settled himself to listen-only to
thought of her success in this inferno, grew hot with wrath and irritation. His own vanity suffered in her lack of triumph.
Amazing! How could her personal magic, so famous on so many fields, have deserted her like this in an East End school-room, before people whose lives she knew, whose griefs she carried in her heart?
Then an idea struck him. The thought was an illumination; he understood. He shut his eyes and listened. Maxwell's sentences, Maxwell's manner-even, at times, Maxwell's voice! He had been rehearsing to her his coming speech in the House of Lords, and she was painfully repeating it! To his disgust, Tressady saw the reporters scribbling away; no doubt they knew their business. Ay, there was the secret. The wife's adoration showed through her very failurethrough this strange conversion of all that was manly, solid, and effective in Maxwell into a confused mass of facts and figures, pedantic, colorless, and cold!
Edward Watton began to look desperately unhappy. «Too long,» he said, whispering in Tressady's ear, and too technical. They can't follow.»
And he looked at a group of rough factory girls beginning to scuffle with the young men
near them, at the restless crowd of «greeners,» at the women in the center of the hall lifting puzzled faces to the speaker, as though in a pain of listening.
Tressady nodded. In the struggle of devotion with a half-laughing annoyance, he could only crave that the thing should be over.
But the next instant his face altered. He pushed forward instinctively, turning his back on Watton, hating the noisy room that would hardly let him hear.
Ah! those few last sentences, that voice, that quiver of passion-they were her own, herself, not Maxwell. The words were very simple, and a little tremulous-words of personal reminiscence and experience. But for one listener there they changed everything. The room, the crowd, the speaker-he saw them for a moment under another aspectthat poetic, eternal aspect which is always there, behind the veil of common things, ready to flash out on mortal eyes. He felt the woman's heart, oppressed with a pity too great for it; the delicate, trembling consciousness, like a point in space, weighed on by the burden of the world; he stood, as it were, beside her, hearing with her ears, seeing the earth spectacle as she saw it with that terrible second-sight of hers: the all-environing woe and tragedy of human things, the creeping hunger and pain, the struggle that leads nowhither, the life that hates to live and yet dreads to die, the death that cuts all short, and does but add one more hideous question to the great pile that hems the path of man.
A hard, reluctant tear rose in his eyes. Is it starved tailoresses and shirt-makers alone who suffer? Is there no hunger of the heart that matches and overweighs the physical? Is it not as easy for the rich as for the poor to miss the one thing needful, the one thing that matters and saves? Angrily, and in a kind of protest, he put out his hand to claim, as it were, his own share of the common pain.
<< MAKE way there! make way,» cried a police sergeant, holding back the crowd, «and let the lady pass!»
Tressady did his best to push through with Lady Maxwell on his arm. But there was an angry hum of voices in front of him, an angry pressure round the doors.
"We shall soon get a cab,» he said, bending over her. «You are very tired, I fear. Please lean upon me.»>
Yet he could but feel grateful to the crowd. It gave him this joy of protecting and supporting her. Nevertheless, as he
looked ahead, he wished that they were safely off, and that there were more police.
For this meeting, which had been only mildly disorderly and inattentive while Marcella was speaking, had suddenly flamed, after she sat down, into a fierce confusion and tumult; why, Tressady hardly now understood. As she sat down, a man had sprung up to speak who was apparently in bad repute with most of the unions of the district. At any rate, there had been immediate uproar and protest. The trade-unionists would not hear him, hurled names at him- «< Thief! » "Blackleg!»-as he attempted to speak. Then the Free Workers, for whom this dubious person had been lately acting, rose in a mass and «booed » at the unionists; and finally some of the dark-eyed, black-bearded «greeners » near the door, urged on, probably, by the masters, whose slaves they were, had leaped the benches near them, shouting strange tongues, and making for the hostile throng about the platform.
Then it had been time for Naseby and the police to clear the platform and open a passage for the Maxwell party. Unfortunately, there was no outlet to the back, no chance of escaping the shouting crowd in Manx Road. Tressady, joining his friends at last by dint of his height and a free play of elbows, found himself suddenly alone with Lady Maxwell, Naseby and Lady Madeleine borne along far behind, and no chance but to follow the current, with such occasional help as the police stationed along the banks of it might be able to give.
Outside Tressady strained his eyes for a
« Here, sir!» cried the sergeant in front, carving a passage by dint of using his own stalwart frame as a ram.
They hurried on, for some rough lads on the edges of the crowd had already begun stone-throwing. The faces about them seemed to be partly indifferent, partly hostile. «Look at the bloomin' bloats!» cried a wild factory girl with a tousled head as Lady Maxwell passed. «Let 'em stop at 'ome and mind their own 'usbands-yah!»
«Garn! who paid for your bonnet?» shouted another, until a third girl pulled her back, panting, «If you say that any more I'll scrag yer! For this third girl had spent a fortnight in the Mile End Road house, getting fed and strengthened before an operation.
But here was the cab. Lady Maxwell's foot was already on the step when Tressady felt something fly past him.
There was a slight cry. The form in front
of him seemed to waver a moment. Then Tressady himself mounted, caught her, and in another moment, after a few plunges from the excited horse, they were off down Manx Road, followed by a shouting crowd that gradually thinned.
«You are hurt!» he said.
"Yes," she said faintly; «but not much. Will you tell him to drive first to Mile End Road?»
<<I have told him. Can I do anything to stop the bleeding? >>
He looked at her in despair. The handkerchief and the delicate hand itself that she was holding to her brow were dabbled in blood.
«Have you a silk handkerchief to spare?» she asked him, smiling slightly and suddenly through her pallor, as though at their common predicament.
By good fortune he had one. She took off her bonnet, and gave him a few business-like directions. His fingers trembled as he tried to obey her; but he had the practical sense that the small vicissitudes and hardships of travel often develop in a man, and between them they adjusted a rough but tolerable bandage.
Then she leaned against the side of the cab, and he thought she would have swooned. There was a pause, during which he watched the quivering lines of the lips and nostrils and the pallor of the cheeks with a feeling of dismay.
But she did not mean to faint, and little by little her will answered to her call upon it. Presently she said, with eyes shut and brow contracted:
"I trust the others are safe. Oh, what a failure-what a failure! I am afraid I have done Aldous harm.»
The tone of the last words touched Tressady deeply. Evidently she could hardly restrain her tears.
«They were not worthy you should go and speak to them," he said quickly. «Besides, it was only a noisy minority.>>
She did not speak again till they drew up before the house in the Mile End Road. Then she turned to him.
"I was to stay here for the night, but I think I must go home. Aldous might hear that there had been a disturbance. I will leave a message here, and drive home.>>
<«< I trust you will let me go with you. We should none of us be happy to think of you as alone just yet. And I am due at the House by eleven.»
She smiled, assenting; then descended, leaning heavily upon him in her weakness.
When she reappeared, attended by her two little servants, frightened and round-eyed at their mistress's mishap, she had thrown a thick lace scarf round her head, which hid the bandage and gave to her pale beauty a singularly touching, appealing air.
«I wish I could see Madeleine,» she said anxiously, standing beside the cab and looking up the road. «Ah!»
For she had suddenly caught sight of a cab in the distance driving smartly up. As it approached, Naseby and Lady Madeleine were plainly to be seen inside it. The latter jumped out almost at Marcella's feet, looking more scared than ever as she saw the black scarf twisted round the white face. But in a few moments Marcella had soothed her, and given her over, apparently, to the care of another lady staying in the house. Then she waved her hand to Naseby, who, with his usual coolness, asked no questions and made no remarks, and she and Tressady drove off.
«Madeleine will stay the night,» Marcella explained as they sped toward Aldgate. «That was our plan. My secretary will look after her. She has been often here with me lately, and has things of her own to do. But I ought not to have taken her to-night. Lady Kent would never have forgiven me if she had been hurt. Oh, it was all a mistake-all a great mistake! I suppose I imagined-that is one's folly-that I could really do some good-make an effect.»>
She bit her lip, and the furrow reappeared in the white brow.
Tressady felt by sympathy that her heart was all sore, her moral being shaken and vibrating. After these long months of labor and sympathy and emotion, the sudden touch of personal brutality had unnerved her.
Mere longing to comfort, to «make up,» overcame him.
«You would n't talk of mistake-of failing if you knew how to be near you, to listen to you, to see you, touches and illuminates some of us!»
His cheek burned, but he turned a manly, eager look upon her.
Her cheek, too, flushed, and he thought he saw her bosom heave.
«Oh, no-no!»> she cried. «How impossible, when one feels one's self so helpless, so clumsy, so useless. Why could n't I do better? But perhaps it is as well. It all prepares one-braces one-against->>
She paused, and leaned forward, looking out at the maze of figures and carriages on the Mansion House crossing, her tight-pressed lips trembling against her will.
"Against the last inevitable disappointment >>-that, no doubt, was what she meant. «If you only understood how loath some of us are to differ with you,» he cried; «how hard it seems to have to press another view -to be already pledged!»
"Oh, yes!-please-I know that you are pledged, she said, in hasty distress, her delicacy shrinking as before from the direct personal argument.
They were silent a little. Tressady looked out at the houses in Queen Victoria street, at the lamplit summer night, grudging the progress of the cab, the approach of the river, of the Embankment, where there would be less traffic to bar their way-clinging to the minutes as they passed.
«Oh, how could they put up that woman!» she said presently, her eyes still shut, her hand shaking as it rested on the door. «How could they! It is the thought of women like that the hundreds and thousands of themthat goads one on. A clergyman who knows the East End well said to me the other day, The difference between now and twenty years ago is that the women work much more, the men less. I can never get away from the thought of the women. Their lives come to seem to me the mere refuse, the rags and shreds, that are thrown every day into the mill and ground to nothing, without a thought, without a word of pity, an hour of happiness. Cancer-three children left out of nine-and barely forty, though she looks sixty. They tell me she may live eighteen months. Then, when the parish has buried her, the man has only to hold up his finger to find some one else to use up in the same way. And she is just one of thousands.»>
"I can only reply by the old stale question, said Tressady, sturdily-« Did we make the mill? Can we stop its grinding? And if not, is it fair, even, to the race that has something to gain from courage and gaiety-is it reasonable to take all our own poor little joy and drench it in this horrible pain of sympathy, as you do? But we have said all these things before.>>
He bent over to her, smiling; but she did not look up. And he saw a tear, which her weakness, born of shock and fatigue, could not restrain, steal from the lashes on the cheek. Then he added, still leaning toward her:
But I was without a sense when I went into this game of politics; and now—»
His heart beat. What would he not have said, mad youth-within the limits imposed by her nature and his own dread-to make her look at him, to soften this preposterous sadness!
But it needed no more. She opened her eyes, and looked at him with a wild sweetness and gratitude which dazzled him, and struck his memory with the thought of the Southern, romantic strain in her.
«You are very kind and comforting,» she said; «but then, from the first, somehow, I knew you were a friend to us. One felt itthrough all difference.>>
The little sentences were steeped in emotion-emotion springing from many sources, fed by a score of collateral thoughts and memories, with which Tressady had, in truth, nothing to do. Yet the young man gulped inwardly. She had been a tremulous woman till the words were said. Now-strange!through her very gentleness and gratefulness a barrier had risen between them. Something stern and quick told him that this was the very utmost of what she could ever say to himthe farthest limit of it all.
They passed under Charing Cross railway bridge. Beside them, as they emerged, the moon shone out above the darks and silvers of the river, and in front the towers of Westminster rose purplish gray against a west still golden.
<< How were things going in the House this afternoon? » she asked, looking at the towers. «Oh, I forgot. You see, the clock says close on eleven. Please let me drop you here. I can manage by myself quite well.»
He protested, and she yielded with a patient kindness that made him sore. Then he gave his account, and they talked a little of Monday's division and of the next critical votes in committee, each of them, so he felt in his exaltation, a blow dealt to her-that he must help to deal. Yet there was a fascination in the topic. Neither could get away from it.
Presently, Pall Mall being very full of traffic, they had to wait a moment at the corner of the street that turns into St. James's Square. In the pause Tressady caught sight of a man on the pavement. The man smiled, looked astonished, and took off his hat. Lady Maxwell bowed coldly, and immediately looked away. Tressady recognized Harding Watton; but neither he nor she mentioned his name.
In another minute Tressady had seen her