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it was an horizon of cloud. The April east wind blew the smoke of
Hanbridge right across it.

In this east wind men in shirt-sleeves, and women with aprons over
their heads, stood nonchalantly at cottage gates contemplating the
vacuum of leisure. On two different parcels of land teams of shrieking
boys were playing football, with piles of caps and jackets to serve as
goal-posts. To the left, in a clough, was an enormous yellow marlpit,
with pools of water in its depths, and gangways of planks along them,
and a few overturned wheelbarrows lying here and there. A group of men
drove at full speed up the street in a dogcart behind a sweating cob,
stopped violently at the summit, and, taking watches from pockets,
began to let pigeons out of baskets. The pigeons rose in wide circles
and were lost in the vast dome of melancholy that hung over the
district.



II

No. 29 was the second house from the top, new, and already in decay.
It and its attached twin were named "Prospect Villas" in vermilion
tiles on the yellowish-red bricks of the fa√Іade. Hot, and yet chilled
by the wind, Rachel hesitated a moment at the gate, suddenly realizing
the perils of her mission. And then she saw Julian Maldon standing in
the bay-window of the ground floor; he was eating. Simultaneously he
recognized her.

She thought, "I can't go back now."

He came sheepishly to the front door and asked her to walk in.

"Who'd have thought of seeing you?" he exclaimed. "You must take me as
I am. I've only just moved in."

"I've been to your old address," she said, smiling, with an attempt at
animation.

"A rare row I had there!" he murmured.

She understood, with a pang of compassion and yet with feminine
disdain, the horrible thing that his daily existence was. No wonder he
would never allow Mrs. Maldon to go and see him! The spectacle of his
secret squalor would have desolated the old lady.

"Don't take any notice of all this," he said apologetically, as he
preceded her into the room where she had seen him standing. "I'm not
straight yet.... Not that it matters. By the way, take a seat, will
you?"

Rachel courageously sat down.

Just as there were no curtains to the windows, so there was no carpet
on the planked floor. A few pieces of new, cheap, ignoble furniture
half filled the room. In one corner was a sofa-bedstead covered with
an army blanket, in the middle a crimson-legged deal table, partly
covered with a dirty cloth, and on the cloth were several apples, an
orange, and a hunk of brown bread - his meal. Although he had only just
"moved in," dust had had time to settle thickly on all the furniture.
No pictures of any kind hid the huge sunflower that made the pattern
of the wall-paper. In the hearth, which lacked a fender, a small fire
was expiring.

"Ye see," said Julian, "I only eat when I'm hungry. It's a good plan.
So I'm eating now. I've turned vegetarian. There's naught like it.
I've chucked all that guzzling an swilling business. It's no good. I
never touch a drop of liquor, nor a morsel of fleshmeat. Nor smoke,
either. When you come to think of it, smoking's a disgusting habit."

Rachel said, pleasantly, "But you were smoking last week, surely?"

"Ah! But it's since then. I don't mind telling you. In fact, I meant
to tell you, anyhow. I've turned over a new leaf. And it wasn't too
soon. I've joined the Knype Ethical Society. So there you are!" His
voice grew defiant and fierce, as in the past, and he proceeded with
his meal.

Rachel knew nothing of the Knype Ethical Society, except that in
spite of its name it was regarded with unfriendly suspicion by the
respectable as an illicit rival of churches and chapels and a haunt of
dubious characters who, under high-sounding mottoes, were engaged in
the wicked scheme of setting class against class. She had accepted
the general verdict on the Knype Ethical Society. And now she was
confirmed in it. As she gazed at Julian Maldon in that dreadful
interior, chewing apples and brown bread and sucking oranges, only
when he felt hungry, she loathed the Knype Ethical Society. It was
nothing to her that the Knype Ethical Society was responsible for a
religious and majestic act in Julian Maldon - the act of turning over a
new leaf.

"And why did you come up here?"

"Oh, various reasons!" said Julian, with a certain fictitious
nonchalance, beneath which was all his old ferocious domination.
"You see, I didn't get enough exercise before. Lived too close to the
works. In fact, a silly existence. I saw it all plain enough as soon
as I got back from South Africa.... Exercise! What you want is for
your skin to act at least once every day. Don't you think so?" He
seemed to be appealing to her for moral support in some revolutionary
theory.

"Well - I'm sure I don't know."

Julian continued -

"If you ask me, I believe there are some people who never perspire
from one year's end to another. Never! How can they expect to be well?
How can they expect even to be clean? The pores, you know. I've been
reading a lot about it. Well, I walk up here from Knype full speed
every day. Everybody ought to do it. Then I have a bath."

"Oh! Is there a bathroom?"

"No, there isn't," he answered curtly. Then in a tone of apology: "But
I manage. You see, I'm going to save. I was spending too much
down there - furnished rooms. Here I took two rooms - this one and a
kitchen - unfurnished; very much cheaper, of course. I've just fixed
them up temporarily. Little by little they'll be improved. The woman
upstairs comes in for half an hour in the morning and just cleans up
when I'm gone."

"And does your cooking?"

"Not much!" said Julian bravely. "I do that myself. In the first
place, I want very little cooking. Cooking's not natural. And what
bit I do want - well, I have my own ideas about it, I've got a little
pamphlet about rational eating and cooking. You might read it.
Everybody ought to read it."

"I suppose all that sort of thing's very interesting," Rachel remarked
at large, with politeness.

"It is," Julian said emphatically.

Neither of them felt the necessity of defining what was meant by "all
that sort of thing." The phrase had been used with intention and was
perfectly understood.

"But if you want to know what I really came up here for," Julian
resumed, "I'll show you."

"Where?"

"Outside." And he repeated, "I'll show you."



III

She followed him as, bareheaded, he hurried out of the room into the
street.

"Shan't you take cold without anything on your head in this wind?" she
suggested mildly.

He would have snapped off the entire head of any other person who had
ventured to make the suggestion. But he treated Rachel more gently
because he happened to think that she was the only truly sensible and
kind woman he had ever met in his life.

"No fear!" he muttered.

At the front gate he stopped and looked back at his bay-window.

"Now - curtains!" he said. "I won't have curtains. Blinds, at night,
yes, if you like. But curtains! I never could see any use in curtains.
Fallals! Keep the light out! Dust-traps!"

Rachel gazed at him. Despite his beard, he appeared to her as a big
schoolboy, blundering about in the world, a sort of leviathan puppy in
earnest. She liked him, on account of an occasional wistful expression
in his eyes, and because she had been kind to him during his fearful
visit to Bycars. She even admired him, for his cruel honesty and
force. At the same time, he excited her compassion to an acute degree.
As she gazed at him the tears were ready to start from her eyes. What
she had seen, and what she had heard of the new existence which he was
organizing for himself made her feel sick with pity. But mingled
with her pity was a sharp disdain. The idea of Julian talking about
cleanliness, dust-traps, and rationality gave her a desire to laugh
and cry at once. All the stolid and yet wary conservatism of her
character revolted against meals at odd hours, brown bread, apples,
orange-sucking, action of the skin, male cooking, camp-beds, the
frowsiness of casual charwomen, bare heads, and especially bare
windows. If Rachel had been absolutely free to civilize Julian's life,
she would have begun by measuring the bay-window.

She said firmly -

"I must say I don't agree with you about curtains."

His gestures of impatience were almost violent; but she would not
flinch.

"Don't ye?"

"No."

"Straight?"

She nodded.

He drew breath. "Well, I'll get some - if it'll satisfy you."

His surrender was intensely dramatic to her. It filled her with
happiness, with a consciousness of immense power. She thought: "I can
influence him. I alone can influence him. Unless _I_ look after
him his existence will be dreadful - dreadful."

"You'd much better let me buy them for you." She smiled persuasively.

"Have it your own way!" he said gloomily. "Just come along up here."

He led her up to the top of the street.

"Ye'll see what I live up here for," he muttered as they approached
the summit.

The other half of the world lay suddenly at their feet as they capped
the brow, but it was obscured by mist and cloud. The ragged downward
road was lost in the middle distance amid vaporous grey-greens and
earthy browns.

"No go!" he exclaimed crossly. "Not clear enough! But on a fine day ye
can see Axe and Axe Edge.... Finest view in the Five Towns."

The shrill cries of the footballers reached them.

"What a pity!" she sympathized eagerly. "I'm sure it must be
splendid." His situation seemed extraordinarily tragic to her. His
short hair, ruffled by the keen wind, was just like a boy's hair and
somehow the sight of it touched her deeply.

He put his hands far into his pockets and drummed one foot on the
ground.

"What brought ye up here?" he demanded, with his eyes on an invisible
town of Axe.

She opened her hand-bag.

"I came to bring you this," she said, and offered him an envelope,
which he took, wonderingly.

Then, when he had it in his hands, he said abruptly, angrily, "If it's
that money, I won't take it."

"Yes you will."

"Has Louis sent ye?" This was the first mention of Louis, though he
was well aware of the accident.

She shook her head.

"Well, let him keep his half, and you can keep mine."

"It's all there."

"How - all there?"

"All that you left the other night."

"But - but - " He seemed to be furious as he faced her.

Rachel went on -

"The other part of the missing money's been found ... Louis had it. So
all this belongs to you. If some one hadn't told you it wouldn't have
been fair."

She flushed slowly, trembling, but looking at him.

"Well!" Julian burst out with savage solemnity, "there's not many of
your sort knocking about. By G - - there isn't!"

She walked quickly away from his passionate homage to her.

"Here!" he shouted, fingering the envelope.

But she kept on at a swift pace towards Hanbridge. About a quarter of
a mile down the road the pigeon-flyer's dogcart stood empty outside a
public-house.




CHAPTER XVI

THE LETTER


I

Rachel stood at her own front door and took off her glove in order
more easily to manipulate the latch-key, which somehow, since coming
into frequent use again, had never been the same manageable latch-key,
but a cantankerous old thing, though still very bright. She opened
the door quietly, and stepped inside quietly, lest by chance she might
disturb Louis, the invalid - but also because she was a little afraid.

The most contradictory feelings can exist together in the mind. After
the desolate discomfort of Julian Maldon's lodging and the spectacle
of his clumsiness in the important affair of mere living, Rachel
was conscious of a deep and proud happiness as she re-entered
the efficient, cosy, and gracious organism of her own home. But
simultaneously with this feeling of happiness she had a dreadful
general apprehension that the organism might soon be destroyed, and a
particular apprehension concerning her next interview with Louis, for
at the next interview she would be under the necessity of telling him
about her transaction with Julian. She had been absolutely determined
upon that transaction. She had said to herself, "Whatever happens, I
shall take that money to Julian and insist on his keeping all of
it." She had, in fact, been very brave - indeed, audacious. Now the
consequences were imminent, and they frightened her; she was less
brave now. One awkward detail of the immediate future was that to tell
Louis would be to reopen the entire question of the theft, which she
had several times in the most abrupt and arrogant manner refused to
discuss with him.

As soon as she had closed the front door she perceived that twilight
was already obscuring the interior of the house. But she could plainly
see that the parlour door was about two inches ajar, exactly as she
had left it a couple of hours earlier. Probably Louis had not stirred.
She listened vainly for a sign of life from him. Probably he was
reading, for on rare occasions when he read a novel he would stick
to the book with surprising pertinacity. At any rate, he would be
too lofty to give any sign that he had heard her return. Under less
sinister circumstances he might have yelled gaily: "I say, Rache!" for
in a teasing mood he would sometimes prefer "Rache" to "Louise."

Rachel from the lobby could see the fire bright in the kitchen, and
a trayful of things on the kitchen table ready to be brought into the
parlour for high tea.

Mrs. Tams was out. It was not among Mrs. Tams's regular privileges
to be out in the afternoon. But this was Easter Saturday - rather a
special day - and, further, one of her daughters had gone away for
Easter and left a child with one of her daughters-in-law, and
Mrs. Tams had desired to witness some of the dealings of her
daughter-in-law with her grandchild. Not without just pride had Mrs.
Tams related the present circumstances to Rachel. In Mrs. Tams's young
maturity parents who managed a day excursion to Blackpool in the year
did well, and those who went away for four or five days at Knype Wakes
in August were princes and plutocrats. But nowadays even a daughter
of Mrs. Tams, not satisfied with a week at Knype Wakes, could take a
week-end at Easter just like great folk such as Louis. Which proved
that the community at large, or Mrs. Tams's family, had famously got
up in the world. Rachel recalled Louis' suggestion, more than a week
earlier, of a trip to Llandudno. The very planet itself had aged since
then.

She looked at the clock. In twenty minutes Mrs. Tams would be back.
She and Louis were alone together in the house. She might go straight
into the parlour, and say, in as indifferent and ordinary a voice as
she could assume: "I've just been over to Julian Maldon's to give him
that money - all of it, you know," and thus get the affair finished
before Mrs. Tams's reappearance. Louis was within a few feet of her,
hidden only by the door which a push would cause to swing!... Yes, but
she could not persuade herself to push the door! The door seemed to
be protected from her hand by a mysterious spell which she dared not
break. She was, indeed, overwhelmed by the simple but tremendous fact
that Louis and herself were alone together in the darkening house. She
decided, pretending to be quite calm: "I'll just run upstairs and take
my things off first. There's no use in my seeming to be in a hurry."

In the bedroom she arranged her toilet for the evening, and
established order in every corner of the chamber. Under the washstand
lay the long row of Louis' boots and shoes, each pair in stretchers.
She suddenly contrasted Julian's heavy and arrogant dowdiness with the
nice dandyism of Louis. She could not help thinking that Julian
would be a terrible person to live with. This was the first thought
favourable to Louis which had flitted through her mind for a long
time. She dismissed it. Nothing in another man could be as terrible to
live with as the defects of Louis. She set herself - she was obliged to
set herself - high above Louis. The souvenir of the admiration of
old Batchgrew and John's Ernest, the touching humility before her
of Julian Maldon, once more inflated her self-esteem - it could not
possibly have failed to do so. She knew that she was an extraordinary
woman, and a prize.

Invigorated and reassured by these reflections, she descended proudly
to the ground floor. And then, hesitating at the entrance to the
parlour, she went into the kitchen and poked the fire. As the fire
was in excellent condition there was no reason for this act except her
diffidence at the prospect of an encounter with Louis. At last, having
examined the tea-tray and invented other delays, she tightened her
nerves and passed into the parlour to meet the man who seemed to be
waiting for her like the danger of a catastrophe. He was not there.
The parlour was empty. His book was lying on the Chesterfield.

She felt relieved. It was perhaps not very wise for him to have gone
out for a walk, but if he chose to run risks, he was free to do so,
for all she cared. In the meantime the interview was postponed; hence
her craven relief. She lit the gas, but not by the same device as in
Mrs. Maldon's day; and then she saw an envelope lying on the table.
It was addressed in Louis' handwriting to "Mrs. Louis Fores." She was
alone in the house. She felt sick. Why should he write a letter to her
and leave it there on the table? She invented half a dozen harmless
reasons for the letter, but none of them was the least convincing.
The mere aspect of the letter frightened her horribly. There was no
strength in her limbs. She tore the envelope in a daze.

The letter ran -

Dear Rachel, - I have decided to leave England. I do not know
how long I shall be away. I cannot and will not stand the life
I have been leading with you this last week. I had a perfectly
satisfactory explanation to give you, but you have most rudely
refused to listen to it. So now I shall not give it. I shall
write you as to my plans. I shall send you whatever money is
necessary for you. By the way, I put four hundred and fifty
pounds away in my private drawer. On looking for it this
afternoon I see that you have taken it, without saying a word
to me. You must account to me for this money. When you have
done so we will settle how much I am to send you. In the
meantime you can draw from it for necessary expenses.

Yours,

L.F.



II

Rachel stared at the letter. It was the first letter she had seen
written on the new note-paper, embossed with the address, "Bycars,
Bursley." Louis would not have "Bycars Lane" on the note-paper,
because "Bycars" alone was more vague and impressive; distant
strangers might take it to be the name of a magnificent property. Her
lips curled. She violently ripped the paper to bits and stuck them in
the fire; a few fragments escaped and fluttered like snow on to the
fender. She screwed up the envelope and flung it after the letter. Her
face smarted and tingled as the blood rushed passionately to her head.

She thought, aghast: "Everything is over! He will never come back.
He will never have enough moral force to come back. We haven't
been married two months, and everything is over! And this is Easter
Saturday! He wanted us to be at Llandudno or somewhere for Easter, and
I shouldn't be at all surprised if he's gone there. Yes, he would be
capable of that. And if it wasn't for the plaster on his face, he'd be
capable of gallivanting on Llandudno pier this very night!"

She had no illusion as to him. She saw him as objectively as a god
might have seen him.

And then she thought with fury: "Oh, what a fool I've been! What a
little fool! Why didn't I listen to him? Why didn't I foresee?... No,
I've _not_ been a fool! I've not! I've not! What did I do wrong?
Nothing! I couldn't have borne his explanations!... Explanations,
indeed! I can imagine his explanations! Did he expect me to smile and
kiss him after he'd told me he was a thief?"

And then she thought, in reference to his desertion: "It's not true!
It can't be true!"

She wanted to read the letter again, so that perhaps she might
read something into it that was hopeful. But to read it again was
impossible. She tried to recall its exact terms, and could not. She
could only remember with certainty that the final words were "Yours,
L.F." Nevertheless, she knew that the thing was true; she knew by the
weight within her breast and the horrible nausea that almost overcame
her self-control.

She whispered, alone in the room -

"Yes, it's true! And it's happened to me!... He's gone!"

And not the ruin of her life, but the scandal of the affair, was the
first matter that occupied her mind. She was too shaken yet to feel
the full disaster. Her mind ran on little things. And just as once
she had pictured herself self-conscious in the streets of Bursley as
a young widow, so now she pictured herself in the far more appalling
role of deserted wife. The scandal would be enormous. Nothing - no
carefully invented fiction - would suffice to stifle it. She would
never dare to show her face. She would be compelled to leave the
district. And supposing a child came! Fears stabbed her. She felt
tragically helpless as she stood there, facing a vision of future
terrors. She had legal rights, of course. Her common sense told her
that. She remembered also that she possessed a father and a brother in
America. But no legal rights and no relatives would avail against
the mere simple, negligent irresponsibility of Louis. In the end, she
would have to rely on herself. All at once she recollected that she
had promised to see after Julian's curtains.

She had almost no money. And how could the admiration of three men
other than her husband (so enheartening a few minutes earlier) serve
her in the crisis? No amount of masculine admiration could mitigate
the crudity of the fact that she had almost no money. Louis' illness
had interrupted the normal course of domestic finance - if, indeed, a
course could be called normal which had scarcely begun. Louis had
not been to the works. Hence he had received no salary. And how much
salary was due to him, and whether he was paid weekly or monthly, she
knew not. Neither did she know whether his inheritance actually had
been paid over to him by Thomas Batchgrew.

What she knew was that she had received no house-keeping allowance for
more than a week, and that her recent payments to tradesmen had been
made from a very small remaining supply of her own prenuptial money.
Economically she was as dependent on Louis as a dog, and not more so;
she had the dog's right to go forth and pick up a living.... Of course
Louis would send her money. Louis was a gentleman - he was not a cad.
Yes, but he was a very careless gentleman. She was once again filled
with the bitter realization of his extreme irresponsibility.

She heard a noise in the back lobby, and started. It was Mrs. Tams,
returned. Mrs. Tams had a key of her own, of which she was proud - an
affair of about four inches in length and weighing over a quarter of a
pound. It fitted the scullery door, and was, indeed, the very key with
which Rachel had embroidered her lie to Thomas Batchgrew on the day
after the robbery. Mrs. Tams always took pleasure in entering the
house from the rear, without a sound. She was now coming into the
parlour with the tray for high tea. No wonder that Rachel started.
Here was the first onset of the outer world.

Mrs. Tams came in, already perfectly transformed from a mother,
mother-in-law, and grandmother into a parlour-maid with no human tie.

"Good-afternoon, Mrs. Tams."

"So ye've got back, ma'am!"

While Mrs. Tams laid the table, with many grunts and creakings of the
solid iron in her stays, Rachel sat on a chair by the fire, trying to
seem in a casual, dreamy mood, cogitating upon what she must say.

"Will mester be down for tea, ma'am?" asked Mrs. Tams, who had
excusably assumed that Louis was upstairs.

And Rachel, forced now to defend, instead of attacking, blurted out -

"Oh! By the way, I was forgetting; Mr. Fores will not be in for tea."

Mrs. Tams, forgetting she was a parlour-maid, vociferated in amazement
and protest -

"Not be in for tea, ma'am? And him as he is!" All her lately gathering
suspicions were strengthened and multiplied.

Rachel had to continue as she had begun: "He's been called away on
very urgent business. He simply had to go."

Mrs. Tams, intermitting her duties, stood still and gazed at Rachel.

"Was it far, ma'am, as he had for to go?"

A simple question, and yet how difficult to answer plausibly!


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