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crouching Indians.... And then she heard Louis Fores behind her. She
had not meant to turn round, but when a hand was put heavily on her
shoulder she turned quickly, resenting the contact.

"I should like a word with ye, if ye can spare a minute, young miss,"
whispered a voice as heavy as the hand. It was old Thomas Batchgrew's
face and whiskers that she was looking up at in the gloom.

As if fascinated, she followed in terror those flaunting whiskers up
the slope of the narrow isle to the back of the auditorium. Thomas
Batchgrew seemed to be quite at home in the theatre; he wore no hat
and there was a pen behind his ear. Never would she have set foot
inside the Imperial de Luxe had she guessed that Thomas Batchgrew was
concerned in it. She thought she had heard once, somewhere, that he
had to do with cinemas in other parts of the country, but it would
not have occurred to her to connect him with a picture-palace so near
home. She was not alone in her ignorance of the councillor's share in
the Imperial. Practically nobody had heard of it until that night, for
Batchgrew had come into the new enterprise by the back door of a loan
to its promoters, who were richer in ideas than in capital; and now,
the harvest being ripe, he was arranging, by methods not unfamiliar to
capitalists, to reap where he had not sown.

Shame and fear overcame Rachel. The crystal dream was shivered
to dust. Awful apprehension, the expectancy of frightful events,
succeeded to it. She perceived that since the very moment of quitting
the house the dread of some disaster had been pursuing her; only she
had refused to see it - she had found oblivion from it in the new and
agitatingly sweet sensations which Louis Fores had procured for her.
But now the real was definitely sifted out from the illusory. And
nothing but her own daily existence, as she had always lived it, was
real. The rest was a snare. There were no forests, no passionate
love, no flying steeds, no splendid adorers - for her. She was Rachel
Fleckring and none else.

Councillor Batchgrew turned to the left, and through a small hole in
the painted wall Rachel saw a bright beam shooting out in the shape of
a cone - forests, and the unreal denizens of forests shimmering across
the entire auditorium to impinge on the screen! And she heard the
steady rattle of a revolving machine. Then Batchgrew beckoned her into
a very small, queerly shaped room furnished with a table and a chair
and a single electric lamp that hung by a cord from a rough hook in
the ceiling. A boy stood near the door holding three tin boxes one
above another in his arms, and keeping the top one in position with
his chin. These boxes were similar to that in which Louis' tickets had
been dropped.

"Did you want your boxes, sir?" asked the boy.

"Put 'em down," Thomas Batchgrew growled.

The boy deposited them in haste on the table and hurried out.

"How is Mrs. Maldon?" demanded Mr. Batchgrew with curtness, after he
had snorted and sniffed. He remained standing near to Rachel.

"Oh, she's very much better," said Rachel eagerly. "She was asleep
when I left."

"Have ye left her by herself?" Mr. Batchgrew continued his inquiry.
His voice was as offensive as thick dark glue.

"Of course not! Mrs. Tams is sitting up with her." Rachel meant her
tone to be a dignified reproof to Thomas Batchgrew for daring
to assume even the possibility of her having left Mrs. Maldon to
solitude. But she did not succeed, because she could not manage her
tone. She desired intensely to be the self-possessed, mature woman,
sure of her position and of her sagacity; but she could be nothing
save the absurd, guilty, stammering, blushing little girl, shifting
her feet and looking everywhere except boldly into Thomas Batchgrew's
horrid eyes.

"So it's Mrs. Tams as is sitting with her!"

Rachel could not help explaining -

"I had to come down town to do some shopping for Sunday. Somebody had
to come. Mr. Fores had called in to ask after Mrs. Maldon, and so he
walked down with me." Every word she said appeared intolerably foolish
to her as she uttered it.

"And then he brought ye in here!" Batchgrew grimly completed the tale.

"We came in here for ten minutes or so, as I'd finished my shopping
so quickly. Mr. Fores has just run across to the butcher's to get
something that was forgotten."

Mr. Batchgrew coughed loosely and loudly. And beyond the cough, beyond
the confines of the ugly little room which imprisoned her so close to
old Batchgrew and his grotesque whiskers, Rachel could hear the harsh,
quick laughter of the audience, and then faint music - far off.

"If young Fores was here," said Mr. Batchgrew brutally, "I should tell
him straight as he might do better than to go gallivanting about the
town until that there money's found."

He turned towards his boxes.

"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Batchgrew," said Rachel, tapping her
foot and trying to be very dignified.

"And I'll tell ye another thing, young miss," Batchgrew went on.
"Every minute as ye spend with young Fores ye'll regret. He's a bad
lot, and ye may as well know it first as last. Ye ought to thank me
for telling of ye, but ye won't."

"I really don't know what you mean, Mr. Batchgrew!" She could not
invent another phrase.

"Ye know what I mean right enough, young miss!... If ye only came in
for ten minutes yer time's up."

Rachel moved to leave.

"Hold on!" Batchgrew stopped her. There was a change in his voice.

"Look at me!" he commanded, but with the definite order was mingled
some trace of cajolery.

She obeyed, quivering, her cheeks the colour of a tomato. In spite of
all preoccupations, she distinctly noticed - and not without a curious
tremor - that his features had taken on a boyish look. In the almost
senile face she could see ambushed the face of the youth that Thomas
Batchgrew had been perhaps half a century before.

"Ye're a fine wench," said he, with a note of careless but genuine
admiration. "I'll not deny it. Don't ye go and throw yerself away.
Keep out o' mischief."

Forgetting all but the last phrase, Rachel marched out of the room,
unspeakably humiliated, wounded beyond any expression of her own. The
cowardly, odious brute! The horrible ancient! What right had he?...
What had she done that was wrong, that would not bear the fullest
inquiry. The shopping was an absolute necessity. She was obliged to
come out. Mrs. Maldon was better, and quietly sleeping. Mrs. Tarns was
the most faithful and capable old person that was ever born. Hence she
was justified in leaving the invalid. Louis Fores had offered to go
with her. How could she refuse the offer? What reason could there be
for refusing it? As for the cinema, who could object to the cinema?
Certainly not Thomas Batchgrew! There was no hurry. And was she not an
independent woman, earning her own living? Who on earth had the right
to dictate to her? She was not a slave. Even a servant had an evening
out once a week. She was sinless....

And yet while she was thus ardently defending herself she knew well
that she had sinned against the supreme social law - the law of "the
look of things." It was true that chance had worked against her. But
common sense would have rendered chance powerless by giving it no
opportunity to be malevolent. She was furious with Rachel Fleckring.
That Rachel Fleckring, of all mortal girls, should have exposed
herself to so dreadful, so unforgettable a humiliation was mortifying
in the very highest degree. Her lips trembled. She was about to burst
into a sob. But at this moment the rattle of the revolving machine
behind the hole ceased, the theatre blazed from end to end with sudden
light, the music resumed, and a number of variegated advertisements
were weakly thrown on the screen. She set herself doggedly to walk
back down the slope of the aisle, not daring to look ahead for Louis.
She felt that every eye was fixed on her with base curiosity.... When,
after the endless ordeal of the aisle, she reached her place, Louis
was not there. And though she was glad, she took offence at his
delay. Gathering up the reticule with a nervous sweep of the hand, she
departed from the theatre, her eyes full of tears. And amid all the
wild confusion in her brain one little thought flashed clear and was
gone: the wastefulness of paying for a whole night's entertainment and
then only getting ten minutes of it!



IV

She met Louis Fores high up Bycars Lane, about a hundred yards below
Mrs. Maldon's house. She saw some one come out of the gate of the
house, and heard the gate clang in the distance. For a moment
she could not surely identify the figure, but as soon as Louis,
approaching, and carrying his stick, grew unmistakable even in the
darkness, all her agitation, which had been subsiding under the
influence of physical exercise, rose again to its original fever.

"Ah!" said Louis, greeting her with a most deferential salute. "There
you are. I was really beginning to wonder. I opened the front door,
but there was no light and no sound, so I shut it again and came back.
What happened to you?"

His ingenuous and delightful face, so confident, good-natured, and
respectful, had exactly the same effect on her as before. At the sight
of it Thomas Batchgrew's vague accusation against Louis was dismissed
utterly as the rancorous malice of an evil old man. For the rest, she
had never given it any real credit, having an immense trust in her own
judgment. But she had no intention of letting Louis go free. As she
had been put in the wrong, so must he be put in the wrong. This
seemed to her only just. Besides, was he not wholly to blame? Also she
remembered with strange clearness the admiration in the mien of the
hated Batchgrew, and the memory gave her confidence.

She said, with an effort after chilly detachment -

"I couldn't wait in the cinema alone for ever."

He was perturbed.

"But I assure you," he said nicely, "I was as quick as ever I could
be. Heath had put my stick in his back parlour to keep it safe for me,
and it was quite a business finding it again. Why didn't you wait?...
I say, I hope you weren't vexed at my leaving you."

"Of course I wasn't vexed," she answered, with heat. "Didn't I tell
you I didn't mind? But if you want to know, old Batchgrew came along
while you were gone and insulted me."

"Insulted you? How? What was he doing there?"

"How should I know what he was doing there? Better ask him questions
like that! All I can tell you is that he came to me and called me into
a room at the back - and - and - told me I'd no business to be there, nor
you either, while Mrs. Maldon was ill in bed."

"Silly old fool! I hope you didn't take any notice of him."

"Yes, that's all very fine, that is! It's easy for you to talk like
that. But - but - well, I suppose there's nothing more to be said!" She
moved to one side; her anger was rising. She knew that it was rising.
She was determined that it should rise. She did not care. She rather
enjoyed the excitement. She smarted under her recent experience; she
was deeply miserable; and yet, at the same time, standing there close
to Louis in the rustling night, she was exultant as she certainly had
never been exultant before.

She walked forward grimly. Louis turned and followed her.

"I'm most frightfully sorry," he said.

She replied fiercely -

"It isn't as if I didn't wait. I waited in the porch I don't know how
long. Then of course I came home, as there was no sign of you."

"When I went back you weren't there; it must have been while you were
with old Batch; so I naturally didn't stay. I just came straight up
here. I was afraid you were vexed because I'd left you alone."

"Well, and if I was!" said Rachel, splendidly contradicting herself.
"It's not a very nice thing for a girl to be left alone like
that - _and all on account of a stick_!" There was a break in her
voice.

Arrived at the gate, she pushed it open.

"Good-night," she snapped. "Please don't come in."

And within the gate she deliberately stared at him with an unforgiving
gaze. The impartial lamp-post lighted the scene.

"Good-night," she repeated harshly. She was saying to herself: "He
really does take it in the most beautiful way. I could do anything I
liked with him."

"Good-night," said Louis, with strict punctilio.

When she got to the top of the steps she remembered that Louis had the
latch-key. He was gone. She gave a wet sob and impulsively ran down
the steps and opened the gate. Louis returned. She tried to speak and
could not.

"I beg your pardon," said Louis. "Of course you want the key."

He handed her the key with a gesture that disconcertingly melted the
rigour of all her limbs. She snatched at it, and plunged for the gate
just as the tears rolled down her cheeks in a shower. The noise of the
gate covered a fresh sob. She did not look back. Amid all her quite
real distress she was proud and happy - proud because she was old
enough and independent enough and audacious enough to quarrel with
her lover, and happy because she had suddenly discovered life. And the
soft darkness and the wind, and the faint sky reflections of distant
furnace fires, and the sense of the road winding upward, and the very
sense of the black mass of the house in front of her (dimly lighted at
the upper floor) all made part of her mysterious happiness.




CHAPTER VIII

END AND BEGINNING


I

"Mrs. Tams!" said Mrs. Maldon, in a low, alarmed, and urgent voice.

The gas was turned down in the bedroom, and Mrs. Maldon, looking from
her bed across the chamber, could only just distinguish the stout,
vague form of the charwoman asleep in an arm-chair. The light from
the street lamp was strong enough to throw faint shadows of the
window-frames on the blinds. The sleeper did not stir.

Mrs. Maldon summoned again, more loudly -

"Mrs. Tams!"

And Mrs. Tams, starting out of another world, replied with
deprecation -

"Hey, hey!" as if saying: "I am here. I am fully awake and observant.
Please remain calm."

Mrs. Maldon said agitatedly -

"I've just heard the front door open. I'm sure whoever it was was
trying not to make a noise. There! Can't you hear anything?"

"That I canna'!" said Mrs. Tams.

"No!" Mrs. Maldon protested, as Mrs. Tams approached the gas to raise
it. "Don't touch the gas. If anybody's got in let them think we're
asleep."

The mystery of the vanished money and the fear of assassins seemed
suddenly to oppress the very air of the room. Mrs. Maldon was leaning
on one elbow in her bed.

Mrs. Tams said to her in a whisper -

"I mun go see."

"Please don't!" Mrs. Maldon entreated.

"I mun go see," said Mrs. Tams.

She was afraid, but she conceived that she ought to examine the house,
and no fear could have stopped her from going forth into the zone of
danger.

The next moment she gave a short laugh, and said in her ordinary
tone -

"Bless us! I shall be forgetting the nose on my face next. It's Miss
Rachel coming in, of course."

"Miss Rachel coming in!" repeated Mrs. Maldon. "Has she been out? I
was not aware. She said nothing - "

"Her came up a bit since, and said her had to do some shopping."

"Shopping! At this time of night!" murmured Mrs. Maldon.

Said Mrs. Tams laconically -

"To-morrow's Sunday - and pray God ye'll fancy a bite o' summat tasty."

While the two old women, equalized in rank by the fact of Mrs.
Maldon's illness, by the sudden alarm, and by the darkness of the
room, were thus conversing, sounds came from the pavement through
the slightly open windows - voices, and the squeak of the gate roughly
pushed open.

"That's Miss Rachel now," said Mrs. Tams.

"Then who was it came in before?" Mrs. Maldon demanded.

There was the tread of rapid feet on the stone steps, and then the
gate squeaked again.

Mrs. Tams went to the window and pulled aside the blind.

"Aye!" she announced simply. "It's Miss Rachel and Mr. Fores."

Mrs. Maldon caught her breath.

"You didn't tell me she was out with Mr. Fores," said Mrs. Maldon,
stiffly but weakly.

"It's first I knew of it," Mrs. Tams replied, still spying over the
pavement. "He's given her th' key. There! He's gone."

Mrs. Maldon muttered -

"The key? What key?"

"Th' latch-key belike."

"I must speak to Miss Rachel," breathed Mrs. Maldon in a voice of
extreme and painful apprehension.

The front door closing sent a vibration through the bedroom. Mrs.
Tarns hesitated an instant, and then raised the gas. Mrs. Maldon lay
with shut eyes on her left side and gave no sign of consciousness.
Light footsteps could be heard on the stairs.

"I'll go see," said Mrs. Tams.

In the heart of the aged woman exanimate on the bed, and in the heart
of the aging woman whose stout, coarse arm was still raised to the
gas-tap, were the same sentiments of wonder, envy, and pity, aroused
by the enigmatic actions of a younger generation going its perilous,
instinctive ways to keep the race alive.

Mrs. Tarns lighted a benzolene hand-lamp at the gas, and silently left
the bedroom. She still somewhat feared an unlawful invader, but the
arrival of Rachel had reassured her. Preceded by the waving
little flame, she passed Rachel's door, which was closed, and went
downstairs. Every mysterious room on the ground floor was in order and
empty. No sign of an invasion. Through the window of the kitchen she
saw the fresh cutlets under a wire cover in the scullery; and on the
kitchen table were the tin of pineapple and the tin of cocoa, with the
reticule near by. All doors that ought to be fastened were fastened.
She remounted the stairs and blew out the lamp on the threshold of the
mistress's bedroom. And as she did so she could hear Rachel winding
up her alarm-clock in quick jerks, and the light shone bright like a
silver rod under Rachel's door.

"Her's gone reet to bed," said Mrs. Tams softly, by the bedside of
Mrs. Maldon. "Ye've no cause for to worrit yerself. I've looked over
th' house."

Mrs. Maldon was fast asleep.

Mrs. Tams lowered the gas and resumed her chair, and the street lamp
once more threw the shadows of the window-frames on the blinds.



II

The next day Mrs. Tams, who had been appointed to sleep in the spare
room, had to exist under the blight of Rachel's chill disapproval
because she had not slept in the spare room - nor in any bed at all.
The arrangement had been that Mrs. Tams should retire at 4 a.m.,
Rachel taking her place with Mrs. Maldon. Mrs. Tams had not retired at
4 a.m. because Rachel had not taken her place.

As a fact, Rachel had been wakened by a bang of the front door,
at 10.30 a.m. only. Her first glance at the alarm-clock on her
dressing-table was incredulous. And she refused absolutely to believe
that the hour was so late. Yet the alarm-clock was giving its usual
sturdy, noisy tick, and the sun was high. Then she refused to believe
that the alarm had gone off, and in order to remain firm in her belief
she refrained from any testing of the mechanism, which might - indeed,
would - have proved that the alarm had in fact gone off. It became
with her an article of dogma that on that particular morning, of all
mornings, the very reliable alarm-clock had failed in its duty. The
truth was that she had lain awake till nearly three o'clock, turning
from side to side and thinking bitterly upon the imperfections of
human nature, and had then fallen into a deep, invigorating sleep from
which perhaps half a dozen alarm-clocks might not have roused her.

She arose full of health and anger, and in a few minutes she was out
of the bedroom, for she had not fully undressed; like many women, when
there was watching to be done, she loved to keep her armour on and to
feel the exciting strain of the unusual in every movement. She fell
on Mrs. Tams as Mrs. Tams was coming upstairs after letting out the
doctor and refreshing herself with cocoa in the kitchen. A careless
observer might have thought from their respective attitudes that it
was Mrs. Tarns, and not Rachel, who had overslept herself. Rachel
divided the blame between the alarm-clock and Mrs. Tams for not
wakening her; indeed, she seemed to consider herself the victim of
a conspiracy between Mrs. Tams and the alarm-clock. She explicitly
blamed Mrs. Tams for allowing the doctor to come and go without her
knowledge. Even the doctor did not get off scot-free, for he ought to
have asked for Rachel and insisted on seeing her.

She examined Mrs. Tams about the invalid's health as a lawyer examines
a hostile witness. And when Mrs. Tams said that the invalid had slept,
and was sleeping, stertorously in an unaccountable manner, and hinted
that the doctor was not undisturbed by the new symptom and meant to
call again later on, Rachel's tight-lipped mien indicated that this
might not have occurred if only Mrs. Tams had fulfilled her obvious
duty of wakening Rachel. Though she was hungry, she scornfully
repulsed the suggestion of breakfast. Mrs. Tams, thoroughly accustomed
to such behaviour in the mighty, accepted it as she accepted the
weather. But if she had had to live through the night again - after
all, a quite tolerable night - she would still not have wakened Rachel
at 4 a.m.

Rachel softened as the day passed. She ate a good dinner at one
o'clock, with Mrs. Tams in the kitchen, one or the other mounting at
short intervals to see if Mrs. Maldon had stirred. Then she changed
into her second-best frock, in anticipation of the doctor's Sunday
afternoon visit, strictly commanded Mrs. Tams (but with relenting
kindness in her voice) to go and lie down, and established herself
neatly in the sick-room.

Though her breathing had become noiseless again, Mrs. Maldon still
slept. She had wakened only once since the previous night. She lay
calm and dignified in slumber - an old and devastated woman, with that
disconcerting resemblance to a corpse shown by all aged people
asleep, but yet with little sign of positive illness save the slight
distortion of her features caused by the original attack. Rachel sat
idle, prim, in vague reflection, at intervals smoothing her petticoat,
or giving a faint cough, or gazing at the mild blue September sky. She
might have been reading a book, but she was not by choice a reader.
She had the rare capacity of merely existing. Her thoughts flitted to
and fro, now resting on Mrs. Maldon with solemnity, now on Mrs. Tams
with amused benevolence, now on old Batchgrew with lofty disgust, and
now on Louis Fores with unquiet curiosity and delicious apprehension.

She gave a little shudder of fright and instantly controlled it - Mrs.
Maldon, instead of being asleep, was looking at her. She rose and went
to the bedside and stood over the sick woman, by the pillow, benignly,
asking with her eyes what desire of the sufferer's she might fulfil.
And Mrs. Maldon looked up at her with another benignity. And they both
smiled.

"You've slept very well," said Rachel softly.

Mrs. Maldon, continuing to smile, gave a scarcely perceptible
affirmative movement of the head.

"Will you have some of your Revalenta? I've only got to warm it, here.
Everything's ready."

"Nothing, thank you, dear," said Mrs. Maldon, in a firm,
matter-of-fact voice.

The doctor had left word that food was not to be forced on her.

"Do you feel better?"

Mrs. Maldon answered, in a peculiar tone -

"My dear, I shall never feel any better than I do now."

"Oh, you mustn't talk like that!" said Rachel in gay protest.

"I want to talk to you, Rachel," said Mrs. Maldon, once more
reassuringly matter-of-fact. "Sit down there."

Rachel obediently perched herself on the bed, and bent her head. And
her face, which was now much closer to Mrs. Maldon's, expressed
the gravity which Mrs. Maldon would wish, and also the affectionate
condescension of youth towards age, and of health towards infirmity.
And as almost unconsciously she exulted in her own youth, and
strength, delicate little poniards of tragic grief for Mrs. Maldon's
helpless and withered senility seemed to stab through that personal
pride. The shiny, veined right hand of the old woman emerged from
under the bedclothes and closed with hot, fragile grasp on Rachel's
hand.

Within the impeccable orderliness of the bedroom was silence;
and beyond was the vast Sunday afternoon silence of the district,
producing the sensation of surcease, re-creating the impressive
illusion of religion even out of the brutish irreligion that was
bewailed from pulpits to empty pews in all the temples of all the Five
Towns. Only the smoke waving slowly through the clean-washed sky from
a few high chimneys over miles of deserted manufactories made a link


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