Billeder på siden

he was willing she should spend? And why should he hesitate about speaking firmly and with authority when he recollected the poverty wherein he had first seen her, the obscurity from which he knew she had sprung?

He did hesitate, however; partly because he recollected so fully, partly because he disliked and feared a scene.

He knew the fury of the devil which possessed her; he had seen it throw down all reticence and self-respect, and trample on everything a man holds most sacred; he dreaded beholding it let loose, more especially in a strange place, and amongst strange people, who might, perchance, have never seen such a tempest of rage as rarely disturbs the proprieties of modern domestic life.

Still the question must be raised, the matter, if possible, settled; and having so decided, he returned to the spot he had occupied previously, and recommenced his argument.

'I used to imagine that statements about a man being ruined by his home expenditure were the purest of fictions-that is by home expenditure, unless he himself elected to keep open house and live in a wildly extravagant


She did not turn her eyes from the sea, or move her position even by the sixteenth of an inch; but she laughed.

Now when amused by Captain Battersley, or flattered by Miss Banks, Lady Moffat's laugh was not disagreeable; but on such occasions as the present it sounded intensely unpleasant. It was a short sneering laugh, like an exclamation or an interjectionary comment, and was capable of expressing at once contempt, ridicule, defiance, and anger.

Sir John was well acquainted

[blocks in formation]

'But it is quite evident to me now,' he proceeded, 'that a person might become seriously embarrassed, or at least deeply involved, without being in the slightest degree aware of the fact. Since we entered Holyrood House, independent of the cost of alterations and furniture, and entirely exclusive of what may be called ordinary household expenses, we have spent something like nine thousand pounds.'

'And I daresay you have often made nine thousand pounds in a day,' she said.

He smiled; though she was angry and he vexed, he could not help smiling.

'Indeed no, Mira,' he answered. 'Mine is not a speculative business; there are no great gains in it, as there are no enormous risks. Never in a day, never in a week, and but once, so far as I remember, in a month, did I make even half the sum; but that is quite beside the question. I cannot afford to live at the rate we have been doing. No moderate business would stand it; and the sooner we revert to a more modest and economical style of housekeeping, the better it will be for all of us.'

'I never again intend to live on cheeseparings,' answered her ladyship, with a little fluttering hurry, which caused the ribbons on her dress to tremble and stir

as though they too felt emotion.

'When you are asked to do so,' he said, it will be time enough for you to refuse, will it not?'

She turned her head now and looked at him. She placed a white hand one on each arm of the chair, and gazed in his face, with the evil light of old smouldering in her eyes-lying there, as Doctor Dilton said, like lightning within a cloud.

We may as well understand each other,' she began. 'Till quite lately I never knew how rich you were; or, indeed, that you were rich at all. If my sight had not been opened I might have gone on for ever grubbing along, managing and contriving while you were enjoying yourself out in the world; making yourself a great person; giving to your Lancashire operatives and London poor; dining with your earls and your lord mayors, and the Queen, for aught I know to the contrary. But I will do it no longer. Life is not so long one need waste any part of it. For years and years I have been kept mewed up, seeing nothing, knowing no one, going nowhere. If I do not take some pleasure out of existence now, I shall be an old woman before I have a chance of ever feeling I was a young one.'

'What have you lacked that I could give you? asked Sir John.

'What have I had? would be a better question,' she retorted. 'Till just lately have I ever had the chance of visiting or going about like other women? I was not taken with you anywhere. When you were at dinner-parties I was at home with the children. I thought it a treat to go to tea at the Rector's. Your money was no advantage to me. I wore dowdy dresses because I knew no

better. I went on foot, though you could well have kept your carriage long ago; and now when, no thanks to you, an opportunity presents itself for enjoying life a little, you come down and tell me you won't have it!'

'And I will not,' said Sir John, as he stood, looking grim and gray, confronting his beautiful wife, who had risen in her passion, and seemed now in the bright sunlight a visible embodiment of Fury. He was quite firm; pale, but resolved; grim, but determined. I will not,' he repeated;

'I won't have it!'

Then she broke out; the paroxysm was sure to come. Under the circumstances it could no more be kept back than a fit of epilepsy, no more be controlled than an outburst of smallpox. She scolded, she stormed, she raved; the only marvel seemed she did not assault and murder; and then she swept out of the room, knocking down a chair, and sweeping a cloth off the table in her progress.

It was over; the storm had come and gone, and Sir John stood living and alone. No worse tempest had ever threatened to annihilate him, and yet he was in safety and scathless. This was what he had done for himself; this was what he had commenced to compass on the morning when he walked due west.

Time had blunted the first terror such hurricanes evoked, but could never reconcile him to the domestic climate when they might be expected.

He knew now if there were one thing on earth he would have valued more than another it was a happy fireside, where peace sat tranquil, where some dear woman smiled to see him return, where some kindly face brightened at his approach as it could brighten

at the approach of none other upon earth.

But it was not to be. Early enough he had not considered the quality of the grain he was sowing. At first he had not reckoned it would cover all the fields of his future, and that the harvest it yielded would require the best years of his later life to garner into the granaries he had built.

Half unconscious of what he did, he picked up the chair she had overturned, and carefully replaced the cloth, smoothing out its folds with unaccustomed hands as he laid it on the table. An onlooker might almost have guessed something of the man's nature from the way he strove to conceal all trace of his wife's wild paroxysm of passion, to hide the evidence of her temper, to keep strangers from knowing she had permitted herself to be so disturbed. books that had fallen with the cover, the nicknacks lying scattered on the floor, the vase filled with flowers, which had not broken, though the water contained in it was spilt, all these things Sir John rearranged as best he could; and then he went back and stood by the window, looking out over the sea dancing in the sunlight, his heart heavy in his bosom the while-heavy as lead.


He felt determined, but he was sorrowful; and as he watched the bright beams glittering on the surface of the ocean, and thought of the man who had been swallowed by the waves, and whose requiem was sung by the winds and the billows, his very soul sickened by reason of the past which lay behind and the future which spread before him.

Ere long the door opened, and Edwina looked in, searching for her mother.

'Why, papa, who would have

thought of seeing you?' she cried, running to him and flinging her arms round his neck. Then she held him at arm's length, and made believe to be incredulous. 'It is papa after all. And how are you, papa, and how is Rachel? You have not brought her, I am afraid, have you?'

'No,' Sir John said, 'I have not brought her; but she is very well. We have been Darby and Joan, you know, together for ever so long.'

[ocr errors]


'Dear old Joan,' murmured the girl. Where is mamma? have seen her, of course?'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I have seen her; but I don't know where she is now.'

'I'll try if I can find her,' exclaimed Edwina; and she left the room, only to return in a couple of minutes, and say with a pout, pout, Winter' (Lady Moffat's maid) 'told her mamma was gone out, dressed all in a hurry, and left word she might not be back until dinner-time.'

Having vouchsafed which information, Miss Edwina went and drummed in an absent and unladylike manner on the windowpane, while her father stood looking on.

Miss Edwina's personnel did not exactly please him. He was not given to study his feminine belongings as regards their attire over critically or carefully, but the effect of his youngest daughter's appearance grated upon his sense of fitness.

Her dress was too short, her boots were too thick, her ankles too visible. She wore the sailor's hat before mentioned, and besides the bodice of her gown she apparently wore nothing over her shoulders. Externally she certainly did not, save a cloud of hair tossed and untidy, wild as the mane of a colt just taken

in from grass, crazy as that of Ophelia after she had stuck sticks through her dishevelled tresses.

In silence Sir John contemplated the young lady. Always a hoyden, she seemed to him at that moment a wilder hoyden than he had ever before imagined. Always wanting in repose, she locked then storm-tossed and weather-beaten. Sunburnt almost beyond credibility, her bluestriped costume stained and discoloured with grubbing amongst the sand and being splashed with sea-water, her hands brown and gloveless, her collar soiled, her cuffs limp and tossed, Miss Edwina certainly appeared an anachronism in that state of life in which she was placed, and the fact forced itself upon her father's attention.

'Wina,' he said at last, after he had exhausted every defect in her dress and manner and listened to the tune she was discontentedly drumming on the glass till he felt its inconsequence irritating his already irritable nerves, 'how long would it take the maid to pack up your things?'

She had turned towards him and ceased her musical exercises at the sound of her name.

'Not long, papa. Why? 'Because I am going to take you back to town with me.'

She flushed scarlet. Through the sunburn and the freckles he could see the blood mantling her cheeks and mounting to her forehead. There was one thing, however, Sir John's children knewnamely, that when he spoke to them he meant to be obeyed. He did not often speak; but if he did so, there was no appeal.

'Very well, papa,' she said resignedly. Shall I tell Winter now?

'You had better,' he answered. 'I want to start as soon as you can get ready.'

With a crestfallen and humiliated air the girl took her short dress, her thick boots, her streaming hair, her sailor's hat across the room. At the door she paused.

'Papa,' she pleaded, 'mayn't I have something to eat before we go? I'm so hungry.'

He did not feel much inclined for merriment, but he could not help smiling at the rueful tone in which she spoke.

'Don't make yourself uneasy, child,' he answered. 'I have no intention of starving you.'

Still very sorrowful, but with that one ray of comfort breaking athwart the gloom, Edwina betook herself to Winter; whilst Sir John, left alone, rang the bell, and ordered luncheon; and then, searching about for writing materials, began and finished a long letter to his wife.

By the time he had ended the impromptu lunch was announced, and Edwina, dressed for travelling, came down, and did ample justice to the viands. Half an hour later they were on their way to the railway-station.

'Should you like to see York? asked Sir John of his daughter, who was still depressed, though no longer hungry.

'We stopped there as we came down, papa.'

'Then you do not care about breaking our journey for the night?'

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

No, papa.'

You would prefer going straight through to London?' 'Yes, papa.'

'You do not think it will be too much for you?'

'O no, papa.'

Such conversation was not likely to beguile the way, and Sir John felt pleased when he found the train pretty full, and that they were not able to secure

the privilege of a compartment to themselves. It was the same all the way. If one passenger or set of passengers alighted, others at once stepped into their vacant places. He bought some books and papers, and shared them with his daughter, who looked first at a paper, and then at a magazine, and then dipped into a book, till she grew tired and went to sleep. Sir John also indulged in a nap; and thus, with a cup of tea at Peterborough, and a few remarks interchanged with their fellowtravellers, they got through the time, and when it was very late arrived in London, hired a cab, and drove to Palace Gardens.

The master of that household had not been expected to return

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsæt »