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crooked. When I came back to put my coat on again after washing, my
eye again caught the picture. There was a chair almost beneath it.
I got on the chair and put the picture into an horizontal position.
While I was standing on the chair I could see on the top of the
cupboard, where something white struck my attention. It was behind the
cornice of the cupboard, but I could see it. I took it off the top of
the cupboard and carefully scrutinized it by the gas, which, as you
know, is at the corner of the fireplace, close to the cupboard. It
was a roll consisting of Bank of England notes, to the value of four
hundred and fifty pounds. I counted them at once, while I was standing
on the chair. I then put them in the pocket of my coat which I had
already put on. I wish to point out that if the chair had not been
under the picture I should in all human probability not have attempted
to straighten the picture. Also - '"

"But surely, Julian," Louis interrupted him, in a constrained voice,
"you could have reached the picture without standing on the chair?" He
interrupted solely from a tremendous desire for speech. It would have
been impossible for him to remain silent. He had to speak or perish.

"I couldn't," Julian denied vehemently. "The picture's practically as
high as the top of the cupboard - or was."

"And could _you_ see on to the top of the cupboard from a chair?"
Louis, with a peculiar gaze, was apparently estimating Julian's total
height from the ground when raised on a chair.

Julian dashed down the papers.

"Here! Come and look for yourself!" he exclaimed with furious
pugnacity. "Come and look." He jumped up and moved towards the door.

Rachel and Louis followed him obediently. In the back room it was he
who struck a match and lighted the gas.

"You've shifted the picture!" he cried, as soon as the room was

"Yes, we have," Louis admitted.

"But there's where it was!" Julian almost shouted, pointing. "You
can't deny it! There's the marks. Are they as high as the top of
the cupboard, or aren't they?" Then he dragged along a chair to the
cupboard and stood on it, puffing at his pipe. "Can I see on to the
top of the cupboard or can't I?" he demanded. Obviously he could see
on to the top of the cupboard.

"I didn't think the top was so low," said Louis.

"Well, you shouldn't contradict," Julian chastised him.

"It's just as your great-aunt said," put in Rachel, in a meditative
tone. "I remember she told us she pushed a chair forward with her
knee. I dare say in getting on to the chair she knocked her elbow or
something against the picture, and no doubt she left the chair more or
less where she'd pushed it. That would be it."

"Did she say that to you?" Louis questioned Rachel.

"It doesn't matter much what she said," Julian growled. "That's how
it _was_, anyway. I'm telling you. I'm not here to listen to

"Well," said Louis amiably, "you put the notes into your pocket. What

Julian removed his pipe from his mouth.

"What then? I walked off with 'em."

"But you don't mean to tell us you meant - to appropriate them, Julian?
You don't mean that!" Louis spoke reassuringly, good-naturedly, and
with a slight superiority.

"No, I don't. I don't mean I appropriated 'em." Julian's voice rose
defiantly. "I mean I stole them.... I stole them, and what's more,
I meant to steal them. And so there ye are! But come back to the
parlour. I must finish my reading."

He strode away into the parlour, and the other two had no alternative
but to follow him. They followed him like guilty things; for the
manner of his confession was such as apparently to put his hearers,
more than himself, in the wrong. He confessed as one who accuses.

"Sit down," said he, in the parlour.

"But surely," Louis protested, "if you're serious - "

"If I'm serious, man! Do you take me for a bally mountebank? Do you
suppose I'm doing this for fun?"

"Well," said Louis, "if you _are_ serious, you needn't tell us
any more. We know, and that's enough, isn't it?"

Julian replied curtly, "You've got to hear me out."

And picking up his document from the floor, he resumed the perusal.

"'Also, if the gas hadn't been where it is, I should not have noticed
anything on the top of the cupboard. I took the notes because I was
badly in need of money, and also because I was angry at money being
left like that on the tops of cupboards. I had no idea Aunt Maldon was
such a foolish woman.'"

Louis interjected soothingly: "But you only meant to teach the old
lady a lesson and give the notes back."

"I didn't," said Julian, again extremely irritated. "Can't ye
understand plain English? I say I stole the money, and I meant to
steal it. Don't let me have to tell ye that any more. I'll go on: 'The
sight of the notes was too sore a temptation for me, and I yielded
to it. And all the more shame to me, for I had considered myself
an honest man up to that very hour. I never thought about the
consequences to my Aunt Maldon, nor how I was going to get rid of
the notes. I wanted money bad, and I took it. As soon as I'd left the
house I was stricken with remorse. I could not decide what to do. The
fact is I had no time to reflect until I was on the steamer, and
it was then too late. Upon arriving at Cape Town I found the cable
stating that Aunt Maldon was dead. I draw a veil over my state of
mind, which, however, does not concern you. I ought to have returned
to England at once, but I could not. I might have sent to Batchgrew
and told him to take half of four hundred and fifty pounds off my
share of Aunt Maldon's estate and put it into yours. But that would
not have helped my conscience. I had it on my conscience, as it might
have been on my stomach. I tried religion, but it was no good to me.
It was between a prayer-meeting and an experience-meeting at Durban
that I used part of the ill-gotten money. I had not touched it till
then. But two days later I got back the very note that I'd spent.
A prey to remorse, I wandered from town to town, trying to do


Rachel stood up.


It was the first time in her life that she had called him by his
Christian name.


"Give me that." As he hesitated, she added, "I want it."

He handed her the written confession.

"I simply can't bear to hear you reading it," said Rachel
passionately. "All about a prey to remorse and so on and so on! Why
do you want to confess? Why couldn't you have paid back the money and
have done with it, instead of all this fuss?"

"I must finish it now I've begun," Julian insisted sullenly.

"You'll do no such thing - not in my house."

And, repeating pleasurably the phrase "not in _my_ house," Rachel
stuck the confession into the fire, and feverishly forced it into the
red coals with lunges of the poker. When she turned away from the fire
she was flushing scarlet. Julian stood close by her on the hearth-rug.

"You don't understand," he said, with half-fearful resentment. "I had
to punish myself. I doubt I'm not a religious man, but I had to punish
myself. There's nobody in the world as I should hate confessing to as
much as Louis here, and so I said to myself, I said, 'I'll confess
to Louis.' I've been wandering about all the evening trying to bring
myself to do it.... Well, I've done it."

His voice trembled, and though the vibration in it was almost
imperceptible, it was sufficient to nullify the ridiculousness of
Julian's demeanour as a wearer of sackcloth, and to bring a sudden
lump into Rachel's throat. The comical absurdity of his bellicose
pride because he had accomplished something which he had sworn to
accomplish was extinguished by the absolutely painful sincerity of his
final words, which seemed somehow to damage the reputation of Louis.
Rachel could feel her emotion increasing, but she could not have
defined what her emotion was. She knew not what to do. She was in the
midst of a new and intense experience, which left her helpless. All
she was clearly conscious of was an unrepentant voice in her heart
repeating the phrase: "I don't care! I'm glad I stuck it in the fire!
I don't care! I'm glad I stuck it in the fire." She waited for the
next development. They were all waiting, aware that individual forces
had been loosed, but unable to divine their resultant, and afraid of
that resultant. Rachel glanced furtively at Louis. His face had an
uneasy, stiff smile.

With an aggrieved air Julian knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"Anyhow," said Louis at length, "this accounts for four hundred and
fifty out of nine sixty-five. What we have to find out now, all of us,
is what happened to the balance."

"I don't care a fig about the balance," said Julian impetuously. "I've
said what I had to say and that's enough for me."

And he did not, in fact, care a fig about the balance. And if the
balance had been five thousand odd instead of five hundred odd, he
still probably would not have cared. Further, he privately considered
that nobody else ought to care about the balance, either, having
regard to the supreme moral importance to himself of the four hundred
and fifty.

"Have you said anything to Mr. Batchgrew?" Louis asked, trying to
adopt a casual tone, and to keep out of his voice the relief and joy
which were gradually taking possession of his soul. The upshot of
Julian's visit was so amazingly different from the apprehension of it
that he could have danced in his glee.

"Not I!" Julian answered ferociously. "The old robber has been writing
me, wanting me to put money into some cinema swindle or other. I gave
him a bit of my mind."

"He was trying the same here," said Rachel. The words popped by
themselves out of her mouth, and she instantly regretted them.
However, Louis seemed to be unconscious of the implied reproach on a
subject presumably still highly delicate.

"But you can tell him, if you've a mind," Julian went on

"We shan't do any such thing," said Rachel, words again popping by
themselves out of her mouth. But this time she put herself right by
adding, "Shall we, Louis?"

"Of course not," Louis agreed very amiably.

Rachel began to feel sympathetic towards the thief. She thought: "How
strange to have some one close to me, and talking quite naturally,
who has stolen such a lot of money and might be in prison for it - a
convict!" Nevertheless, the thief seemed to be remarkably like
ordinary people.

"Oh!" Julian ejaculated. "Well, here's the notes." He drew a lot of
notes from a pocket-book and banged them down on the table. "Four
hundred and fifty. The identical notes. Count 'em." He glared afresh,
and with even increased virulence.

"That's all right," said Louis. "That's all right. Besides, we only
want half of them."

Sundry sheets of the confession, which had not previously caught
fire, suddenly blazed up with a roar in the grate, and all looked
momentarily at the flare.

"You've _got_ to have it all!" said Julian, flushing.

"My dear fellow," Louis repeated, "we shall only take half. The other
half's yours."

"As God sees me," Julian urged, "I'll never take a penny of that
money! Here - "

He snatched up all the notes and dashed wrathfully out of the parlour.
Rachel followed quickly. He went to the back room, where the gas had
been left burning high, sprang on to a chair in front of the cupboard,
and deposited the notes on the top of the cupboard, in the very place
from which he had originally taken them.

"There!" he exclaimed, jumping down from the chair. The symbolism of
the action appeared to tranquillize him.


For a moment Rachel, as a newly constituted housewife to whom every
square foot of furniture surface had its own peculiar importance, was
enraged to see Julian's heavy and dirty boots again on the seat of her
unprotected chair. But the sense of hurt passed like a spasm as her
eyes caught Julian's. They were alone together in the back room and
not far from each other. And in the man's eyes she no longer saw
the savage Julian, but an intensely suffering creature, a creature
martyrized by destiny. She saw the real Julian glancing out in torment
at the world through those eyes. The effect of the vibration in
Julian's voice a few minutes earlier was redoubled. Her emotion nearly
overcame her. She desired very much to succour Julian, and was aware
of a more distinct feeling of impatience against Louis.

She thought Julian had been magnificently heroic, and all his faults
of demeanour were counted to him for excellences. He had been a thief;
but the significance of the word "thief" was indeed completely altered
for her. She had hitherto envisaged thieves as rascals in handcuffs
bandied along the streets by policemen at the head of a procession of
urchins - dreadful rascals! But now a thief was just a young man like
other young men - only he had happened to see some bank-notes lying
about and had put them in his pocket and then had felt very sorry
for what he had done. There was no crime in what he had done ... was
there? She pictured Julian's pilgrimage through South Africa, all
alone. She pictured his existence at Knype, all alone; and his very
ferocity rendered him the more wistful and pathetic in her sight. She
was sure that his mother and sisters had never understood him; and she
did not think it quite proper on their part to have gone permanently
to America, leaving him solitary in England, as they had done. She
perceived that she herself was the one person in the world capable
of understanding Julian, the one person who could look after him,
influence him, keep him straight, civilize him, and impart some charm
to his life. And she was glad that she had the status of a married
woman, because without that she would have been helpless.

Julian sat down, or sank, on to the chair.

"I'm very sorry I spoke like that to you in the other room - I mean
about what you'd written," she said. "I suppose I ought not to have
burnt it."

She spoke in this manner because to apologize to him gave her a
curious pleasure.

"That's nothing," he answered, with the quietness of fatigue. "I dare
say you were right enough. Anyhow, ye'll never see me again."

She exclaimed, kindly protesting -

"Why not, I should like to know?"

"You won't want me here as a visitor, after all this." He faintly

"I shall," she insisted.

"Louis won't."

She replied: "You must come and see me. I shall expect you to. I must
tell you," she added confidentially, in a lower tone, "I think you've
been splendid to-night. I'm sure I respect you much more than I did
before - and you can take it how you like!"

"Nay! Nay!" he murmured deprecatingly. All the harshness had melted
out of his voice.

Then he stood up.

"I'd better hook it," he said briefly. "Will you get me my overcoat,

She comprehended that he wished to avoid speaking to Louis again that
night, and, nodding, went at once to the parlour and brought away the

"He's going," she muttered hastily to Louis, who was standing near the
fire. Leaving the parlour, she drew the door to behind her.

She helped Julian with his overcoat and preceded him to the front
door. She held out her hand to be tortured afresh, and suffered the
grip of the vice with a steady smile.

"Now don't forget," she whispered.

Julian seemed to try to speak and to fail.... He was gone. She
carefully closed and bolted the door.


Louis had not followed Julian and Rachel into the back room because
he felt the force of an instinct to be alone with his secret
satisfaction. In those moments it irked him to be observed, and
especially to be observed by Rachel, not to mention Julian. He was
glad for several reasons - on account of his relief, on account of the
windfall of money, and perhaps most of all on account of the discovery
that he was not the only thief in the family. The bizarre coincidence
which had divided the crime about equally between himself and Julian
amused him. His case and Julian's were on a level. Nevertheless, he
somewhat despised Julian, patronized him, condescended to him. He
could not help thinking that Julian was, after all, a greater sinner
than himself. Never again could Julian look him (Louis) in the face as
if nothing had happened. The blundering Julian was marked for life, by
his own violent, unreasonable hand. Julian was a fool.

Rachel entered rather solemnly.

"Has he really gone?" Louis asked. Rachel did not care for her
husband's tone, which was too frivolous for her. She was shocked to
find that Louis had not been profoundly impressed by the events of the

"Yes," she said.

"What's he done with the money?"

"He's left it in the other room." She would not disclose to Louis that
Julian had restored the notes to the top of the cupboard, because she
was afraid that he might treat the symbolic act with levity.

"All of it?"

"Yes. I'll bring it you."

She did so. Louis counted the notes and casually put them in his
breast pocket.

"Oddest chap I ever came across!" he observed, smiling.

"But aren't you sorry for him?" Rachel demanded.

"Yes," said Louis airily. "I shall insist on his taking half,

"I'm going to bed," said Rachel. "You'll see all the lights out."

She offered her face and kissed him tepidly.

"What's come over the kid?" Louis asked himself, somewhat
disconcerted, when she had gone.

He remained smoking, purposeless, in the parlour until all sounds had
ceased overhead in the bedroom. Then he extinguished the gas in the
parlour, in the back room, in the kitchen, and finally in the lobby,
and went upstairs by the light of the street lamp. In the bedroom
Rachel lay in bed, her eyes closed. She did not stir at his entrance.
He locked the bank-notes in a drawer of the dressing-table, undressed
with his usual elaborate care, approached Rachel's bed and gazed at
her unresponsive form, turned down the gas to a pinpoint, and got into
bed himself. Not the slightest sound could be heard anywhere, either
in or out of the house, save the faint breathing of Rachel. And after
a few moments Louis no longer heard even that. In the darkness the
mystery of the human being next him began somehow to be disquieting.
He was capable of imagining that he lay in the room with an utter
stranger. Then he fell asleep.




Rachel, according to her own impression the next morning, had no sleep
during that night. The striking of the hall clock could not be heard
in the bedroom with the door closed, but it could be felt as a faint,
distinct concussion; and she had thus noted every hour, except four
o'clock, when daylight had come and the street lamp had been put out.
She had deliberately feigned sleep as Louis entered the room, and had
maintained the soft, regular breathing of a sleeper until long after
he was in bed. She did not wish to talk; she could not have talked
with any safety.

Her brain was occupied much by the strange and emotional episode of
Julian's confession, but still more by the situation of her husband in
the affair. Julian's story had precisely corroborated one part of Mrs.
Maldon's account of her actions on the evening when the bank-notes had
disappeared. Little by little that recital of Mrs. Maldon's had been
discredited, and at length cast aside as no more important than the
delirium of a dying creature; it was an inconvenient story, and would
only fit in with the alternative theories that money had wings and
could fly on its own account, or that there had been thieves in
the house. Far easier to assume that Mrs. Maldon in some lapse had
unwittingly done away with the notes! But Mrs. Maldon was now suddenly
reinstated as a witness. And if one part of her evidence was true, why
should not the other part be true? Her story was that she had put the
remainder of the bank-notes on the chair on the landing, and then (she
thought) in the wardrobe. Rachel recalled clearly all that she had
seen and all that she had been told. She remembered once more the
warnings that had been addressed to her. She lived the evening and
the night of the theft over again, many times, monotonously, and with
increasing woe and agitation.

Then with the greenish dawn, that the blinds let into the room, came
some refreshment and new health to the brain, but the trend of
her ideas was not modified. She lay on her side and watched the
unconscious Louis for immense periods, and occasionally tears
filled her eyes. The changes in her existence seemed so swift and so
tremendous as to transcend belief. Was it conceivable that only twelve
hours earlier she had been ecstatically happy? In twelve hours - in six
hours - she had aged twenty years, and she now saw the Rachel of
the reception and of the bicycle lesson as a young girl, touchingly
ingenuous, with no more notion of danger than a baby.

At six o'clock she arose. Already she had formed the habit of arising
before Louis, and had reconciled herself to the fact that Louis had to
be forced out of bed. Happily, his feet once on the floor, he became
immediately manageable. Already she was the conscience and time-keeper
of the house. She could dress herself noiselessly; in a week she had
perfected all her little devices for avoiding noise and saving time.
She finally left the room neat, prim, with lips set to a thousand
responsibilities. She had a peculiar sensation of tight elastic about
her eyes, but she felt no fatigue, and she did not yawn. Mrs. Tams,
who had just descended, found her taciturn and exacting. She would
have every household task performed precisely in her own way, without
compromise. And it appeared that the house, which had the air of being
in perfect order, was not in order at all, that indeed the processes
of organization had, in young Mrs. Fores' opinion, scarcely yet begun.
It appeared that there was no smallest part or corner of the house as
to which young Mrs. Fores had not got very definite ideas and plans.
The individuality of Mrs. Tams was to have scope nowhere. But after
all, this seemed quite natural to Mrs. Tams.

When Rachel went back to the bedroom, about 7.30, to get Louis by
ruthlessness and guile out of bed, she was surprised to discover that
he had already gone up to the bathroom. She guessed, with vague alarm,
from this symptom that he had a new and very powerful interest in
life. He came to breakfast at three minutes to eight, three minutes
before it was served. When she entered the parlour in the wake of
Mrs. Tams he kissed her with gay fervour. She permitted herself to be
kissed. Her unresponsiveness, though not marked, disconcerted him and
somewhat dashed his mood. Whereupon Rachel, by the reassurance of her
voice, set about to convince him that he had been mistaken in deeming
her unresponsive. So that he wavered between two moods.

As she sat behind the tray, amid the exquisite odours of fresh coffee
and Ted Malkin's bacon (for she had forgiven Miss Malkin), behaving
like a staid wife of old standing, she well knew that she was a
mystery for Louis. She was the source of his physical comfort, the
origin of the celestial change in his life which had caused him to
admit fully that to live in digs was "a rotten game"; but she was
also, that morning, a most sinister mystery. Her behaviour was
faultless. He could seize on no definite detail that should properly
disturb him; only she had woven a veil between herself and him. Still,
his liveliness scarcely abated.

"Do you know what I'm going to do this very day as ever is?" he asked.

"What is it?"

"I'm going to buy you a bike. I've had enough of that old crock I
borrowed for you. I shall return it and come back with a new 'un. And
I know the precise bike that I shall come back with. It's at Bostock's
at Hanbridge. They've just opened a new cycle department."

"Oh, Louis!" she protested.

His scheme for spending money on her flattered her. But nevertheless
it was a scheme for spending money. Two hundred and twenty-five
pounds had dropped into his lap, and he must needs begin instantly to
dissipate it. He could not keep it. That was Louis! She refused to
see that the purchase of a bicycle was the logical consequence of her
lessons. She desired to believe that by some miracle at some future
date she could possess a bicycle without a bicycle being bought - and
in the meantime was there not the borrowed machine?

Suddenly she yawned.

"Didn't you sleep well?" he demanded.

"Not very."


She could almost see into the interior of his brain, where he was
persuading himself that fatigue alone was the explanation of her

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Online LibraryArnold BennettThe Price of Love → online text (page 18 of 26)