Part 3 out of 4
pathetically; and then, 'Tell me about yourself. What are you doing?'
'No.' Mallinson shook his head.
'I have no incentive--nothing to work for.'
They played out their farce of sham sentiment with a luxurious
earnestness for a little while longer, and then Mallinson went away.
'So he's doing no work?' said Fielding maliciously to Miss Le Mesurier.
He leaned forward as he spoke from the embrasure of the second window,
which was in a line with, and but a few feet apart from, that at which
she was sitting.
Miss Le Mesurier flushed, and asked, 'How did you hear?'
'Both windows are open. Mallinson was leaning out.'
The girl's confusion increased, and with it Fielding's enjoyment. He
repeated, 'So he's doing no work?'
'A thousand a year, don't you know?' said Conway, with a sneer. 'It would
make a man like that lazy.'
'It's not laziness,' exclaimed Clarice indignantly. She was filled with
pity for Mallinson, and experienced, too, a sort of reflex pity for
herself as the inappropriate instrument of his suffering. She was
consequently altogether tuned to tenderness for him. 'It's not laziness
at all. It's--it's--' She cast about for a laudatory explanation.
'Well, what?' Fielding pressed genially.
'It's the artistic temperament,' she exclaimed triumphantly.
Fielding laughed at her vindication, and Miss Le Mesurier walked across
the room and said good-bye to Mrs. Willoughby. Conway rose at the same
time, and the pair left the house together.
'What a liar that man is!' said Fielding.
'What man?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.
'Why, Mallinson. He said he was doing no work because he had no
incentive. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that he is working
'What did Clarice say?'
'What you might expect. She melted into sympathy.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked puzzled. 'Yet she went off with Percy Conway
immediately afterwards,' she said, and then laughed at her recollections
of a previous visit from that gentleman.
'Yes; and absolutely unconscious of the humour of her behaviour,' said
Fielding. 'That's so delightful about her.' He paused for a second and
asked, 'Have you ever been inside a camera obscura? You get a picture, an
impression, very vivid, very accurate, of something that is actually
happening. Then some one pulls a string and you get a totally different
picture, equally vivid, equally accurate, of something else which is
actually happening. There is no trace of the first picture in the second.
Then they open a shutter and you see nothing but a plain white slab.
Somehow I always think of Miss Le Mesurier's mind.'
After leaving Mrs. Willoughby's, Conway and Miss Le Mesurier walked
together in the direction of Beaufort Gardens.
'Do you see much of Mr. Drake?' she asked, after a considerable silence.
'Not as much as one would wish to. He's generally busy.'
'You like him, then?' she asked curiously. 'Why?'
'Don't you? There's an absence of pretension about him. Nothing of the
born-to-command air, but insensibly you find yourself believing in him,
following him. I believe even Fielding finds that as well. When Drake
first came back I used to stand up for him--well, because, perhaps, I had
a reason of my own. I am not sure that I believed all I said, but I am
sure now I should say exactly the same and believe every word of it.'
He spoke with a quiet conviction which gave solid weight to his words,
owing to its contrast with the flighty enthusiasm which was the usual
characteristic of his eulogies.
'You mentioned Mr. Fielding,' she said.
'Yes; haven't you heard? He's investing in Matanga Concessions, and
largely for him. He's often seen in Drake's office.'
Clarice walked along in silence for some way further. Then she said, with
a distinct irritation in her voice, 'I suppose it all comes from the fact
that Mr. Drake doesn't seem to need any one to rely upon, or--well--any
particular incentive to work.'
Conway glanced at Miss Le Mesurier with a slight surprise. She was
generally given to accept facts without inquiry into their causes. 'I
shouldn't wonder if you are right. Drake, I should think, would find his
incentive in the work itself. Yes; I believe you _are_ right. It's just
his single-mindedness which influences one. There are certain ideas fixed
in his mind, combined into one aim, and he lets nothing interfere to
obscure that aim.'
So he spoke; so, too, Clarice believed, and that picture of moonlight on
the veld became yet more vivid, yet more frequent in her thoughts.
Pondering upon it, her fancy led her to exaggerate Drake into the
likeness of some Egyptian god, that sits with huge hands resting upon
massive knees, and works out its own schemes behind indifferent eyes. The
sight of him, and the sound of commonplace words from his mouth, would at
times make her laugh at the conception and restore her to her former
familiarity with him. But the fancy returned to her, and, each time,
added a fresh layer to the colour of her thoughts. She came now and again
to betray a positive shrinking from him. Drake noticed it; he noticed
something else as well: in the first week of July the emerald ring
reappeared upon her finger.
In the second week Mr. Le Mesurier removed his household gods to Sark. It
was his habit to spend the summer months upon the island, and to
entertain there his friends in succession. He invited both Mrs.
Willoughby and Stephen Drake. The former accepted, the latter, being on
the eve of floating the Matanga Concessions, declined for the present to
Clarice's great relief, but promised to come later. The company was
floated towards the end of the month, and with immediate success. Mr. Le
Mesurier read out at breakfast a letter which he had received from Drake,
announcing that every share had been taken up on the very day of
'Then he is coming,' said Clarice. 'When?'
Mr. Le Mesurier mistook his daughter's anxiety, and smiled satisfaction
at her. 'To-morrow,' he replied; 'but only for three days at first.
There's some new development he speaks of. He will have to leave again on
Saturday for a fortnight.'
Clarice sat thoughtfully for a minute or two. Then she asked: 'Did you
invite Mr. Mallinson this summer?'
Mr. Le Mesurier shuffled his feet under the table. 'No, my dear,'
he said. 'I forgot all about it; and now I don't see that we shall
'Oh yes,' replied Clarice quickly. 'He might have Mr. Drake's room during
that fortnight. I think we ought to ask him. We always have, and it will
look rather strange if we leave him out this summer. I will get aunt to
write after breakfast.'
Mr. Le Mesurier glanced at Mrs. Willoughby, but made no active
resistance, and Clarice took care that the letter was despatched by that
day's post. On the next day she organised a picnic in Little Sark, and
returned to the Seigneurie at an hour which gave her sufficient time to
dress for dinner, but no margin for welcoming visitors. In consequence
she only saw Drake at the dinner-table. She saw little of him afterwards,
for Mr. Le Mesurier pounced upon him after dinner. 'I want to introduce
you to Burl,' he said. 'He's Parliamentary agent for the Northern
Counties. There's a constituency in Yorkshire where my brother lives, and
I rather think Burl wants a candidate.'
Drake was presented to a gentleman six feet three in his socks,
deep-chested, broad-shouldered, with a square rugged face on the slant
from the forehead to the chin. Mrs. Willoughby said he looked like a
pirate, and rumour made of her simile a fact. It was known that, late one
night in the smoking-room of the Seigneurie, he had owned to
silver-running on the coast of Mexico. Mr. Burl and Drake passed most of
that evening smoking together in the garden. Similarly on the next day
Clarice avoided a private interview with Drake. On the other hand,
however, he made no visible effort to secure one. Mrs. Willoughby
wondered at his reticence, and did more than wonder. She had by this time
espoused his cause, and knowing no half-measures in her enthusiasms, saw
his chances slipping from him, with considerable irritation. She was
consequently provoked to hint her advice to him on the evening before he
was to leave.
Drake shook his head and replied frankly: 'One can be too previous. I
made that mistake once before, and I don't mean to repeat it.'
He remained silent for a moment or two, and added: 'I think I'll tell you
about it, Mrs. Willoughby. You have guessed some part of the story, and
you are Clarice's friend, and mine too, I believe.'
With an impulsiveness rare in him, which however served to rivet him yet
more firmly in Mrs. Willoughby's esteem, he confided to her the history
of his proposal and its lame result. 'So you see,' he concluded, 'I am
not likely to risk a repetition of the incident.'
'But,' said she, 'surely there's no risk now?'
'Very likely, but there is just a little. This next fortnight will, I
think, make everything secure, but I must wait that fortnight.'
'Well, I believe you are unwise.' Drake turned to her quickly. 'Why?'
'Mr. Mallinson takes your place for the fortnight. Of course I don't
know. Clarice has given up confiding in me. But I really think you
Drake sat staring in front of him. He was considering Mallinson's visit
in conjunction with the reappearance of the emerald ring upon Miss Le
Mesurier's finger. 'All the same,' he said at length, 'I shall wait.'
The reason for this hesitation he explained more fully to Clarice herself
some half an hour afterwards. He found her standing by herself upon the
terrace. She started nervously as he approached, and it seemed to him
that her whole figure stiffened to a posture of defence. She said
nothing, however, and for a while they stood side by side looking
seawards across the breadth of the island. The ground stretched away
broken into little hollows and little hills,--downs in vignette. A cheery
yellow light streamed from the windows of a cottage in a dip of the
grass; the slates of a roof glistened from a group of sycamores like a
mirror in a dark frame; the whole island lay bared to the moonlight.
Towards the edge of it the land rose upwards to a ridge, but there was a
cleft in the ridge opposite to where they stood, and through the cleft
they looked downwards to the sea.
Clarice spoke of the moonbeams broken into sparkles by the ripple of
'Like a shoal of silver coins,' said Drake.
'Wouldn't you like to hear them clink?' she asked petulantly.
Then he said: 'Miss Le Mesurier'--and the change in his voice made the
girl turn swiftly to face him--'I leave Sark to-morrow morning by the
early boat, so I thought I would say good-bye to you to-night.'
'But you are coming back,' she said quickly; 'I shall see you, of course,
when you come back. What takes you away?'
'There's some land in Matanga which bounds my concession on the north,
and I want to get hold of it. It's, I believe, quite as good, and may be
better, than mine, and I know that some people are after it. It wouldn't
help me if another company was to be started; and as the President of the
Matanga Republic is on his way to England, I thought that I had better go
out to Madeira, catch his steamer there, and secure a concession of it
before he reaches England.'
Clarice gave a laugh. 'Then we are to expect you in a fortnight?'
'Yes, in a fortnight,' and he laid a significance upon the word which
Clarice did not mistake. It was spoken with an accent of entreaty.
But indeed she needed no emphasis to fix it in her mind. The word
besieged her; she caught herself uttering it, and while she uttered it
the time itself seemed to have slipped by. She had but to say 'No' at the
end of the fortnight, she assured herself, and she knew that she would
only have to say it once. But the memory of that Sunday afternoon in
Beaufort Gardens lay upon her like a load crushing all the comfort out of
Drake caught his steamer at Southampton, and the President at Madeira. He
was received warmly as an old acquaintance, warily as a negotiator.
However, he extracted the concession as the boat passed up Southampton
Water, and disembarked with a signed memorandum in his pocket. At
Southampton post-office he received a bundle of letters which had been
forwarded to him from his chambers in London. He slipped them into his
coat, and went at once on board the Guernsey steamer. At Guernsey, the
next morning, he embarked on the little boat which runs between Guernsey
and Sark. The sun was a golden fire upon the water; the race of the tides
no more than a ripple. The island stuck out its great knees into the sea
and lolled in the heat. Half-way across Drake bethought him of the
letters. He took them out and glanced over the envelopes. One was in
Clarice's handwriting. It announced to him her engagement with Sidney
Of Drake's arrival at the Seigneurie Mrs. Willoughby wrote some account
to Hugh Fielding, who was taking the waters for no ailment whatever at
Marienbad. 'I was surprised to see him,' she wrote, 'because Clarice told
me that she had written to him. Clarice was running down the stairs when
he came into the hall. She stopped suddenly as she caught sight of him,
clutched at the balustrade, slipped a heel upon the edge of the step, and
with a cry pitched straight into his arms at the bottom. Mr. Mallinson
came out of the library while he was holding her. Clarice was not hurt,
however, and Mr. Drake set her down. "I didn't pass through London," he
said, and he seemed to be apologising. "My letters were forwarded to
Southampton, and I only opened them on the Sark steamer." Then he
congratulated them both. I spoke to Mr. Drake the same evening on the
terrace here, foolishly hinting the feminine consolation that he was well
free from a girl of Clarice's fickleness. He was in arms on the instant.
One gets at truth only by experiment, and through repeated mistakes. Why
except women's hearts from the same law? I give his opinion, not his
words. He doesn't talk of "women's hearts." You know his trick of
suggesting when it comes to talk of the feelings. I slid into a worse
blunder and sympathised with him. He replied that it didn't make the
difference to him which I might think. I felt as if a stream of ice-water
had been turned down my back on Christmas Day. However, he went on in a
sort of shame-faced style, like a schoolboy caught talking sentiment.
"One owes her a debt for having cared for her, and the debt remains." He
stayed out his visit and left this morning. He goes to Switzerland, and
asked for your address. His is _The Bear, Grindelwald_. Write to him
there; better, join him. He talks of going out to Matanga later in the
year for a few months. So there's the end of the business, or rather one
hopes so. I used to hope that Clarice would wake up some morning into a
real woman and find herself--isn't that the phrase? I hope the reverse
now; that she and her husband will philander along to the close of the
chapter. But I prefer your word,--to the close of the "comedy," say. It
implies something artificial. Mallinson and Clarice give me that
impression,--as of Watteau figures mincing a gavotte, and made more
unreal by the juxtaposition of a man. Let's hope they will never perceive
the flimsiness of their pretty bows and ribbons! But I think of your one
o'clock in the morning of the masquerade ball, and frankly I am afraid. I
look at the three without--well, with as little prejudice as weak woman
may. Mallinson, you know him--always on the artist's see-saw between
exaltation and despair. Doesn't that make for shiftiness generally?
Clarice I don't understand; but I incline to your idea of her as at the
mercy of every momentary emotion, and the more for what has happened this
week. Since her engagement she seems to have lost her fear of Stephen
Drake. She has been all unexpressed sympathy. And Drake? There's the
danger, I am sure--a danger not of the usual kind. Had he been
unscrupulous he might have ridden roughshod over Clarice long before now.
But he's too scrupulous for that. I think that he misses greatness as we
understand it, through excess of scruple. But there's that saying of his
about a debt incurred to Clarice by the man caring for her. Well,
convince him that he can pay it by any sacrifice; won't he pay it?
Convince him that it would benefit her if he lay in the mud; wouldn't he
do it? I don't know. I made a little prayer yesterday night, grotesque
enough, but very sincere, that there might be no fifth act of tragedy to
make a discord of your comedy.'
Fielding received Mrs. Willoughby's command to join Drake with a grin at
her conception of him as fit company for a gentleman disappointed in his
love-affairs. He nevertheless obeyed it, and travelling to Grindelwald
found Drake waiting him on the platform with the hands of an
oakum-picker, and a face toned uniformly to the colour of a ripe pippin.
'You have been climbing mountains, I suppose?' asked Fielding.
'Yes,' nodded Drake.
'Well, don't ask me to join you. It produces a style of conversation I
Drake laughed, and protested that nothing was further from his intention.
Certain letters, however, which Fielding wrote to Mrs. Willoughby during
this period proved that he did join him, and more than once. The two men
returned to London half-way through September.
On the journey from Dover to Charing Cross Drake asked whether Mrs.
Willoughby was in town. He was informed that at the moment she was
visiting in Scotland, but she was expected to pass through London at the
end of a fortnight. Drake wrote a note to her address asking her to spare
him a few moments when she came south, and receiving a cordial assent
with the statement of the most favourable hour, walked across one evening
to Knightsbridge. Mrs. Willoughby remarked a certain constraint in his
manner, and awaited tentacle questions concerning Sidney Mallinson and
Clarice. She said: 'You look well. You have enjoyed your holiday.'
'I had an amusing companion.'
'You have given him some spark of your activity,' and the sentence was
pitched to convey thanks.
'Then you have seen him?' Drake's embarrassment became more
pronounced. He paused for a second and then rose and walked across the
room. 'You know, I suppose,' he resumed, 'that I am going out to
Matanga in a month.'
'I heard something of that from Mr. Fielding,' she said gently.
'Yes,' he said, with a change in his voice to brisk cheerfulness. 'It
seemed to me that I ought to go. Our interests there are rather large
now. I consulted my fellow-directors, and they agreed with me.'
The sudden disappearance of the constraint which had marked him surprised
Mrs. Willoughby. 'But can you leave London?' she asked.
'Oh yes; I have made arrangements for that,' he replied. 'I have got Burl
to look after things here.'
'Yes; it's rather funny,' said Drake, with a laugh. 'He came to ask
me whether I was disposed to take up politics. There was a
constituency in Yorkshire he could arrange for me to stand
for--Bentbridge. Do you know it?'
'I have been there. Mr. Le Mesurier has a brother just outside the town.
It was there, I believe, that he became acquainted with Mr. Burl.'
'So I gathered. Well, I wanted the question left open for a bit. Then
Burl made another proposal. He said they wanted a paper in the district.
There were some people ready to back the idea, but they didn't have quite
enough capital. Burl wanted me to provide the rest. He didn't get it, but
he nearly did, and it struck me that he was just the man I wanted. So
after he had had his say, I had mine, and he has thrown up politics and
joined me.' Drake ended his story with a laugh, and added, 'I think I am
lucky to have got hold of him.'
'Then you don't mean to go away for good?' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby.
'Oh dear no! What on earth made you think that? But I will be away a
year, I think,--and--and, that's just the point.' His embarrassment
returned as suddenly as it had left him.
'I don't understand.'
'Well, I had an idea of persuading Fielding to go with me.' He blurted
the proposal brusquely. 'He's interested, you see, in the success of the
colony, and--well, altogether, I didn't think it would be a bad thing.'
Mrs. Willoughby walked to the window and looked out of it for a few
seconds. 'What does Mr. Fielding say?' she asked.
'I haven't broached the subject to him yet. I thought I wouldn't
before--' He stopped and made no effort to finish the sentence.
'It's a year,' she said slowly, lengthening out the word. 'Yes, only a
year,' said he briskly, and Mrs. Willoughby smiled in spite of herself.
She thought of the new air of alertness which Fielding had worn since his
return from Switzerland. She came back to Drake and held out her hand to
him. 'You think very wisely for your friends,' she said.
'It's an inspiriting business to see a community in the making,'
he answered; 'especially when there's money to help it to make
He wished her good-bye and moved to the door. As he opened it he said,
'By the way, is the date of the marriage fixed?' but without turning
She said, 'Yes, the 8th of December,' and she saw his shoulders brace,
and the weight of his body come backwards from the ball of the foot on
to the heel.
'Ah! I shall be in Africa by then,' he said.
It was in fact near upon the end of February that the river-steamer
plying between the settlement and the coast of Matanga brought to Drake
and Fielding an announcement that the marriage had taken place. There
were letters for both the men, and they carried them out to a grass knoll
on the edge of the forest some quarter of a mile away from the little
village of tin huts which shone in the sunshine like a tidy kitchen, as
Fielding was used to say. Drake read his through, and said to Fielding,
'You have a letter from Mrs. Willoughby?'
Fielding looked him in the face. 'Yes,' he said slowly, and putting the
letter in his pocket, buttoned it up. Drake understood alike from his
tone and action what news the letter conveyed, and made no further
inquiry. He fell instead to talking of some machinery which the boat had
brought up along with the letters. The letter, indeed, was written in a
vein which made it impossible for Fielding to follow the usual habit of
reading Mrs. Willoughby's letters aloud to his companion. 'The wedding,'
she wrote, 'lacked nothing but a costumier and a composer. The bride and
bridegroom should have been in fancy dress, and a new Gounod was needed
to compose the wedding-march of a marionette. One might have taken the
ceremony seriously as an artistic whole under those circumstances.'
Mrs. Willoughby continued to keep Fielding informed of the progress or
the married couple, and in May hinted at dissensions. The hint Fielding
let slip one day to Drake. Drake, however, received the news with
apparent indifference, and indeed returned to England in September with
Fielding without having so much as referred to the subject.
During the month which followed his return, he preserved the same
appearance of indifference, seeming, indeed, thoroughly engrossed in
working off arrears of business. The fact, however, of this dissension
was thrust before his notice one evening when he dined with Mr. Le
Mesurier, and that gentleman dealt out extravagant praise to the French
for recognising that the marriages of the children are matters which
solely concern the parents.
'We English,' said he with a shrug of contempt at the fatuity of his
countrymen, 'men and women, or rather boys and girls, choose for
ourselves, and what's the result nine times out of ten? Well, it's the
custom, and it's no use for a man by himself trying to alter it.'
Drake was familiar with Mr. Le Mesurier's habit of shifting
responsibilities, and while he said nothing at the moment, called upon
Mrs. Willoughby the next day and questioned her openly. Mrs. Willoughby
admitted that there were disagreements, but believed them not to be deep.
'The first year,' she said, 'is as a rule a trying time. There are
illusions to be sloughed. People may come out all the stronger in the
end.' Mrs. Willoughby generalised to conceal the little hopefulness she
felt in regard to the particular instance.
'I ask,' continued Drake, 'because I thought money might be at the bottom
of it. In that case something perhaps might be done. Mrs. Mallinson would
be troubled, I believe, by a need to economise.'
'Oh no,' she returned. 'There's no trouble of that kind. You see, Mr. Le
Mesurier sold the Seigneurie, for one thing--'
'Sold it!' exclaimed Drake. 'Why, I was told that it was strictly
entailed from father to child.'
'In one respect it is. It can't be charged with annuities. But any one
who owns it can sell it outright. Mr. Le Mesurier always intended to sell
it if Clarice married a man only moderately well off.'
Drake rose from his chair and walked once or twice quickly across the
'He should have told his daughter that,' he said slowly.
Mrs. Willoughby glanced at him in surprise.
'Well, of course he did.'
'Oh no, he didn't,' said Drake quickly. 'You remember, I told you at Sark
why she wanted our engagement to be kept secret.'
'Because your position wasn't altogether assured. You didn't mention the
'No, I thought you would understand. She believed an engagement between
us would cause trouble with her father, just because it was necessary for
her to marry a man who could keep up the Seigneurie.'
Mrs. Willoughby started. 'Clarice told you that!' she said,
staring at him.
'Yes,' he replied simply. 'So you see she didn't know.'
Mrs. Willoughby sank back into her chair. She had heard Mr. Le Mesurier
announce his intention more than once in Clarice's presence. However, she
fancied that no particular good would be done by informing him of the
girl's deception, and she dropped the subject.
'What about Conway?' asked Drake.
'He still walks up and down London. I fancy he is secretary to
Drake hesitated for a second. 'Does he go there very much?'
'A good deal, I fancy,' she replied. 'But you mustn't think the
disagreement is really serious. There is no cause outside themselves.
Have you called?'
'No; I go down to Bentbridge to-morrow. I must call when I get back.'
'Then you are going to stand for Parliament?' she exclaimed. 'I am so
'Yes; they expect an election in July, I believe. You see, now that
Fielding has been made a director and has settled down to work, I have
got more time. In fact, one feels rather lonely at nights.'
Mrs. Willoughby was willing to hear more concerning Fielding's merits.
She promptly set herself to belittle the importance of his position and
work for the sake of hearing them upheld, and she was not disappointed.
'It's easy enough to laugh at finance, and fashionable into the bargain,'
he said. 'But here's the truth of the matter. Money does to-day what was
the work of the sword a century or so ago, and, as far as I can see, does
it better. To my thinking, it should be held in quite as high esteem. You
can put it aside and let it rust if you like, but other nations won't
follow your good example. Then the time comes when you must use it, and
you find the only men you've got to handle it are the men you can't
trust--the bandit instead of the trained soldier. No! Put the best men
you can find to finance, I say,' and with that he said good-bye.
'Why doesn't he drop them altogether?' asked Fielding with considerable
irritation when Mrs. Willoughby informed him of Drake's intention to
renew his acquaintance with the Mallinsons.
'It would only make matters worse if he did,' replied she. 'Clarice would
be certain to count any falling off of her friends as a new grievance
against her husband.'
'He is willing to take his place as one.'
'He will find it singularly uninteresting. Friendship between a man
and a woman!'
He shrugged his shoulders; then he laughed to himself. Mrs.
Willoughby got up nervously from her chair and walked to the opposite
end of the room.
'These things,' continued Fielding in a perfectly complacent and
unconscious tone, 'are best understood by their symbols.'
Mrs. Willoughby swung round. 'Symbols?' she asked curiously.
Fielding took a seat and leaned back comfortably. 'The feelings and
emotions,' he began, 'have symbols in the visible world. Of these symbols
the greater number are flowers. I won't trouble you with an enumeration
of them, for in the first place I couldn't give it, and in the second,
Shakespeare has provided a fairly comprehensive list. And by nature I am
averse to challenging comparisons. There are, however, feelings of which
the symbols are not flowers, and amongst them we must reckon friendship
between man and woman. Passion, we know, has its passion flower, but the
friendship I am speaking of has its symbol too'--he paused
impressively--'and that symbol is cold boiled mutton.'
Mrs. Willoughby laughed awkwardly. 'What nonsense!' she said.
'A mere _jeu d'esprit_, I admit,' said he, and he waved his hand to
signify that he could be equally witty every day in the week if he chose.
His satisfaction, indeed, blinded him to the fact that his speech might
be construed as uncommonly near to a proposal of marriage. He thought,
with a cast back to his old dilettante spirit, that it would be amusing
to repeat it, especially to a woman of the sentimental kind--Clarice
Mallinson, for instance. He pictured the look of injury in her eyes and
Clarice was indeed even more disappointed than Mrs. Willoughby imagined.
She had looked forward to her marriage, and had indeed been persuaded to
look forward to it, as to the smiting of a rock in her husband's nature
whence a magical spring of inspiration should flow perennially. 'The
future owes us a great deal,' Mallinson had said. 'It does indeed,'
Clarice had replied in her most sentimental tones. Only she made the
mistake of believing that the date of her marriage was the time appointed
for payment. Instead of that spontaneous flow of inspiration, she had
beneath her eyes a process of arduous work, which was not limited to a
special portion of the day, like the work of a business man, and which,
in the case of a man with Mallinson's temperament, inevitably produced an
incessant fretfulness with his surroundings. Now, since this work was
done not in an office but at home, the burden of that fretfulness fell
altogether upon Clarice.
She took to reading the _Morte d'Arthur_. Fielding found her with the
book in her hand when he called, and commented on her choice.
'There's no romance in the world nowadays,' she replied.
'But there has been,' he replied cheerfully; 'lots.'
Clarice professed not to understand his meaning. He proceeded to tick off
upon his ringers those particular instances in which he knew her to have
had a share, and mentioned the names of the gentlemen. He omitted
Drake's, however, and Clarice noticed the omission. For the rest she
listened quite patiently until he came to an end. Then she asked gravely,
'Do you think that is quite a nice way to talk to a married woman?'
'No,' he admitted frankly, 'I don't.' For a few minutes the
This was, however, Fielding's first visit since his home-coming, and
Clarice yielded to certain promptings of curiosity.
'I hardly expected you would be persuaded to go out to Africa, even
by--any one,' she concluded lamely.
'Neither did I,' he replied.
'Did you enjoy it?' she asked.
'I went out a Remus, I return a Romulus.'
There were points in Clarice's behaviour which never failed to excite
Fielding's admiration. Amongst these was a habit she possessed of staring
steadily into the speaker's face with all the appearance of complete
absence of mind whenever an allusion was made which she did not
understand, and then continuing the conversation as though the allusion
had never been made. 'Of course you had a companion,' she said.
Fielding agreed that he had.
'I have not seen him,' she added.
'No.' Clarice was driven to name the companion. 'You seem to have struck
up a great friendship with Mr. Drake. I should hardly have thought that
you would have found much in common.'
'_Arcades ambo_, don't you know?'
Clarice did not know, and being by this time exasperated, she showed that
she did not. Fielding explained blandly, 'We both drive the same pigs to
the same market.'
Clarice laughed shortly, and stroked the cover of her _Morte d'Arthur_.
'I suppose that's just what friendship means nowadays?'
'Between man and man--yes. Between woman and woman it's different, and
it's, of course, different too between man and woman. But perhaps that's
best to be understood by means of its symbol,' and he worked up to his
climax of cold boiled mutton with complete satisfaction.
'I gather, then, that you see nothing of Mrs. Willoughby now,' said
Clarice quietly as soon as he had stopped. Fielding was for the moment
taken aback. It seemed to him that the point of view was unfair.
'Widows,' he replied with great sententiousness,--'widows are different,'
and he took his leave without explaining wherein the difference lay. He
wondered, however, if Clarice's point of view had occurred to Mrs.
Fielding's visit, and in particular his teasing reticence as to his
stay in Matanga, had the effect of recalling Clarice's thoughts to the
subject of Stephen Drake. She recalled her old impression of him as one
self-centred and self-sufficing, a man to whom nothing outside himself
would make any tangible difference; but she recalled it without a trace
of the apprehension with which it had been previously coupled. She
began indeed to dwell upon that idea of him as upon something restful,
and the idea was still prominent in her mind when, a little more than a
week afterwards, Drake galloped up to her one morning as she was
crossing the Park.
'I have been meaning to call, Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'but the fact is,
I have had no time. I only got back from Bentbridge last night.'
Clarice received a sudden and yet expected impression of freshness from
him. 'Papa told me you were going to stand,' she replied. 'You stayed
with my uncle, Captain Le Mesurier, didn't you?'
'Yes. Funnily enough, I have met him before, although I didn't know his
name. He travelled in the carriage with me from Plymouth to London when I
first landed in England.'
Clarice wondered what made him pause for a moment in the middle of the
sentence. 'Your chances are promising?' she asked.
'I can't say yet. I have a Radical lord against me. Burl says there's no
opponent more dangerous. It will be a close fight, I think.' He threw
back his head and opened his chest. His voice rang with a vigorous
enjoyment in the anticipation of a strenuous contest.
'So you are glad to get back to London,' she said.
'Rather. I feel at home here, and only here--even in January.' He looked
across the Park with a laugh. It stretched away vacant and dull in the
gray cheerlessness of a winter's morning. 'The place fascinates me; it
turns me into a child, especially at night. I like the glitter of shops
and gas-lamps, and the throng of people in the light of them. One
understands what the Roman citizen felt. I like driving about the streets
in a hansom. There are some one never gets tired of Oxford Street, for
instance, and the turn out of Leicester Square into Coventry Street, with
the blaze of Piccadilly Circus ahead. One hears that poets starve in
London, and are happy; I can believe it. Well, I am keeping you from the
shops, and myself from business.'
He shook hands with her and mounted his horse.
'You have not yet seen my husband,' she said, and she felt that she
forced herself to speak the word.
'Not yet. I must look him up. You live in Regent's Park, don't you?'
'Close by. Will you come some evening and dine?'
The invitation was accepted, and Drake rode off. He rode well, Clarice
noticed, and his horse was finely limbed and perfectly groomed. The
perception of these details had its effect. She stood looking after him,
then she turned slowly and made her way homewards across the Park. Two of
her acquaintances passed her and lifted their hats, but she took no
notice of them; she did not see them. A picture was fixed in her mind--a
picture of a rolling plain, black as midnight, exhaling blackness, so
that the air itself was black for some feet above the ground; and into
this cool and quiet darkness the moonbeams plunged out of a fiery sky and
were lost. They dropped, she fancied, after their long flight, to their
appointed haven of repose.
The street door of her house gave on to a garden. Clarice walked along
the pathway in front of the house towards the door of the hall. As she
passed her husband's study windows she glanced in. He was standing in
front of the fireplace, tearing across some sheets of manuscript. Clarice
hurried forwards. He was always tearing up manuscript. While she was
upstairs taking off her hat she heard his door open and his voice
complaining to the servants about some papers which had been mislaid. She
felt inclined to take the servants' part. After all, what was a man doing
in the house all day? There was a dragging shuffle of his slippers upon
the floor of the hall. The sound jarred on her. She pinned on her hat
again, ran downstairs, gave orders that she would not be in for lunch,
and drove at once to Mrs. Willoughby's. She arrived in a state little
short of hysterical.
'Connie,' she cried, almost before the servant who announced her was out
of the room, 'I know you don't like me, but oh, I'm so unhappy!'
Mrs. Willoughby softened at sight of her evident distress. 'Why, what's
the matter?' she asked, and made her sit down beside her on the sofa.
'It's awful,' she said, and repeated, 'it's awful.'
'Yes, child, but what is?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.
'All is--I mean everything is,' sobbed Clarice.
Mrs. Willoughby recognised that though the correction amended the
grammar, it did not simplify the meaning. She pressed for something
'Don't be irritable, Connie,' quavered Clarice, 'because that's just
what Sidney is--and always. It's so difficult to make you understand.
But he's just a lot of wires, and they keep twanging all day. He
nags--there's no other word for it--he nags about everything--the
servants, his publishers, the dinner, and--oh!--oh!--why can't he wear
boots in the morning?'
The point of the question was lost on Mrs. Willoughby. She began to
expostulate with Clarice for magnifying trifles.
'Of course,' replied Clarice, sitting up suddenly--she had been half
lying on the sofa in Mrs. Willoughby's arms--'I know they are trifles; I
know that. But make every day full of them, every day repeat them! Oh,
it's awful! I wonder I don't break down!' She turned again to Mrs.
Willoughby, lapsing from vehemence to melancholy as the notion occurred
to her. 'Connie, I believe I shall--break down altogether. You know I'm
not very strong.' She put her arms about Mrs. Willoughby, and clung to
her in the intensity of her self-compassion. 'You can't imagine the
strain it is. And if that wasn't enough, his mother comes up from Clapham
and lectures me. I wouldn't mind that, only she's not very safe about her
h's, and she stops to dinner and talks about the nobility she's had cooks
from, to impress the servants. It's so humiliating, to be lectured by any
one like that.'
Mrs. Willoughby scented a fact. 'But what does she lecture you about? The
dinner?' she asked, with an irrelevant recollection of Drake's impression
of Clarice as one little adapted for housewifely duties, and not rightly
to be troubled by them.
'Oh no. She says I don't give Sidney the help he expected from me. But
what more can I do? He has got me. Sidney says the same, too. He told me
that he had never had so much difficulty to work properly as since we
were married. And when his work doesn't succeed I know he blames me for
it. Oh, Connie! _is_ it my fault? I think we had better get divorced--and
I--I--c-c-can go into a convent, and never do anybody any more harm.'
Clarice glanced as she spoke down the neatest of morning frocks, and the
mental picture which she straightway had of herself in a white-washed
cell with iron bars, clad in shapeless black, her chin swathed, her face
under eaves of starched linen, induced an access of weeping.
For all her sympathy Mrs. Willoughby was forced to bite her lips.
Clarice, however, was not in the mood to observe the effect which her
words produced on others. She continued: 'It's much the best thing to do,
because whatever I did it would always be the same. I could never make
him content. Connie, if you only knew the strain of it all! He's always
wanting to be something different. One day a clerk, with a nice quiet
routine, another a soldier, another a ----' she hesitated, and gave
Constance an extra squeeze--'a colonist, and fire off Maxim guns. If you
could only see him! He sits in front of the fire, with his glasses on,
and talks about the roaring world of things.'
This time Mrs. Willoughby really laughed. She turned the laugh into a
cough, and cleared her throat emphatically once or twice. Clarice sat up
and looked at her reproachfully, then she said, 'I know it's absurd. I
don't know whether to laugh or cry myself, b-b-but I usually cry. And
then in his books he's--he's always his own hero.' With that Clarice
reached at once the climax of her distress and the supreme charge of her
indictment. The rest was but sighs and sobs and disconnected phrases.
Finally she fell asleep; later she was caressed into eating lunch, taken
for a drive, and sent home subsequently greatly mollified and relieved.
Mrs. Willoughby refrained from tendering advice that afternoon. There was
nothing sufficiently tangible in the story which she had heard. In fact
the only thing really tangible was the girl's distress in telling it, and
that Mrs. Willoughby attributed to some dispute between her and Sidney
that morning. She could not know that Clarice's outburst had been
preceded by that chance meeting in the Park with Stephen Drake, for
Clarice had made no allusion to it of any kind. She felt, besides, that
advice in any case would be of little use. The couple had to work out
their own salvation, and time and experience alone could help them.
Events seemed to justify Mrs. Willoughby's reticence, for the winter
blossomed into spring, the spring flowered into summer, and the Mallinson
household remained to the external view unshaken.
Drake's visits to Bentbridge increased in frequency as the prospect of
the general election became more real. A snap vote in the House of
Commons on a minor question of administrative expenditure decided the
matter suddenly towards the end of June. The Government determined on a
dissolution. Fielding took Clarice Mallinson into dinner at Mr. Le
Mesurier's house on the day after the date of the dissolution was fixed.
He noticed that she looked worn. There were shadows about her eyes, her
colour had lost its freshness, and there was a melancholy droop about the
corners of her mouth. Fielding suggested the advisability of a change.
'I'm to have one,' said she. 'I'm going down to stay with my uncle at
Bentbridge in a week's time.'
'At Bentbridge?' asked Fielding sharply. 'For the election.'
She saw his lips tighten. 'My husband goes with me,' she replied
quickly and stopped, flushing as she realised that she had meant and
conveyed an apology.
'I should have thought that the Continent would have been more advisable
as a change.'
'The Continent! I don't want to travel far. I am so tired.' She spoke in
a tone of weariness which touched Fielding in spite of himself. He looked
at her more closely. 'Yes,' he said gently, 'you look very tired. You
have been doing too much.'
'No, it isn't that,' she replied. 'One thinks of things, that's all.' She
bent her head and was silent for a little, tracing a pattern on the
table-cloth with a finger absently. Then she added in a low voice, 'I
suppose few women ever think at all until after they are married.'
The voice was low, and Fielding was conscious of something new in the
tone of it, a deeper vibration, a sincerity different in kind from that
surface frankness which he had always known in her. He wondered whether
she had struck down from her pinchbeck sentimentality into something that
rang solid in the depths of her nature. He looked at her again, her eyes
were turned to his. With the shadows about them, they looked bigger,
darker, more piteously appealing. She was no less a child to him, the
child looked out of her eyes, sounded in the commonplace sentiment she
had spoken, and the air of originality with which she had spoken it. But
the child seemed beginning to learn the lesson of womanhood, and from the
one mistress which could teach it her.
'But why think then?' he asked lightly. 'It ruins a complexion no less
than before. Or does a complexion cease to count? Look!' He leaned
forward. A pink carnation was in a glass in front of him, already
withering from the heat. He touched the faded tips of the petals. 'That
is the colour which conies from thinking.'
Clarice lifted her shoulders with more of sadness than impatience in the
gesture. 'You believe,' she said, 'no woman at all has a right to dare
'I notice,' he answered with the same levity, 'that the woman who thinks
generally thinks of what she ought not to.'
Later, in the drawing-room, he looked for her again, and looked
unsuccessfully. The window, however, was open, and he advanced to
it. Clarice was on the balcony alone, her elbows on the rail, a hand
on either side of her cheek. Something in her attitude made him
almost pity her.
'Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'you will probably think me intrusive, but do
you think your visit really wise?' Clarice turned towards him quickly
with something of defiance in her manner. 'You are tired,' he went on,
'you want rest. Well, an election isn't a very restful time, even for the
Clarice did not reply for a moment, and when she did she replied with an
impulsive frankness, to which his friendly tone had prompted her. 'To
tell you the truth, I am not anxious to go. I don't want to, but Sidney
'You don't believe me.'
'Of course I do.' He left her on the balcony, and went in search of
Mallinson. 'So you go to Bentbridge for the election,' he said.
'Yes,' replied the other, lighting up. 'I am looking forward to it like a
schoolboy to a football match. The prospect of activity exhilarates
me--bodily activity, don't you know--a town humming with excitement.'
Fielding cut him short. 'My dear fellow, you're a damned fool,' he said.
Stephen Drake had decided to stay during the period of the election at a
hotel in the centre of the town, rather than to accept an invitation from
Captain Le Mesurier, who lived some miles beyond the outskirts. He
travelled down to Bentbridge on the day that the dissolution was
announced, and during the journey Mr. Burl gave him much sage advice.
'Keep the arguments for buildings; they're in place there. Mass-meetings
in the open air want something different. Many a good man has lost his
seat from not observing that rule. In the open air pitch out a fact or
two--not too many--or a couple of round sums of figures first of all,
just to give them confidence in you, and then go straight for your
opponent. No rapier play--it's lost then--but crack him on the top-knot
with a bludgeon. They'll want to hear his skull ring before they'll
believe that you have touched him. Phrases! Those are the things to get
you in, not arguments. Pin a label on his coat-tails. You'll see them
laugh as he squirms round to pull it off. And, mind you, there'll be no
walking over, you'll want all you know. The man's a Radical and a Lord!
The combination satisfies their democratic judgments and their snobbish
instincts at the same time. People forget to count the snob in the
democrat, but he's there all the same, as in most Englishmen. A veneer of
snobbishness over solid independence. That's our characteristic. Lord
Cranston! Can't you hear their tongues licking it? Luckily, there are
things against him. He's a carpet-bagger like yourself, and he's been
more than once separated from his wife. His fault, too--once it was an
opera dancer. I've got up the facts. He only joined his wife again a few
months ago--probably for the purpose of this election.'
Mr. Burl pulled out a pocket-book, and began to turn over the leaves in
search of the damning details, when Drake interrupted him. 'You don't
expect me to discuss the man's private life?'
'My dear Drake, do be practical. It's no use being finicking. The
essential thing is to win the seat.'
'Whatever the price?'
'Look here; I am not asking you to do anything so crude as to make
platform speeches about the man's disgraceful conduct to his wife.' Mr.
Burl assumed the look of a Rhadamanthus. 'But'--and again he relaxed into
the tactician--'you might take a strong social line on morals generally,
and the domestic hearth, and that sort of thing.' He looked critically at
Drake. 'You're one of the few chaps I know who look as if they could do
that and make people believe they really mean it.'
He finally discredited his advice by adding impressibly, 'You needn't
go into the instance at all, you know. They'll understand what you're
alluding to, never fear'; and Drake flatly refused to dance into
Parliament to that tune, however persuasively Mr. Burl played upon
The hotel at which Drake put up was situated in a short broad street
which ran from the Market Square. From the balcony of his sitting-room on
the first floor he could see the market sheds at the end of the street to
his left. The opposite end was closed in by the Town Hall, which was
built upon an ancient gate of the town. From Drake's windows you got a
glimpse through the archway of green fields and trees. Almost facing him
was a second hotel on the opposite side of the street, the 'Yellow Boar.'
It was tricked out, he noticed, with the colours of his opponent. While
he was standing at the window an open carriage turned out of the
market-place, and drove up to the 'Yellow Boar.' Lord Cranston got down
from it, and a lady. The candidate was of a short and slight build; a
pencil--line of black moustache crossed a pallid and indecisive face, and
he seemed a year or two more than thirty. The lady looked the younger,
and was certainly the taller of the two. Drake was impressed by her face,
which bore womanly gentleness, stamped on features of a marked
intellectuality. The couple disappeared into the hall, and appeared again
in a large room with big windows upon the first floor. From where he
stood Drake could see every corner of the room. Lord and Lady Cranston,
the land-lord informed him, were staying at the 'Yellow Boar.' The two
candidates overlooked each other.
In this street, morning and evening, they met for a moment or two, and
took a breath of friendly intercourse. Drake was introduced to Lady
Cranston, but she would have none of the truce. To her he was the enemy,
and to be treated as such consistently, with a heart-and-soul hostility,
until he confessed himself beaten. Drake liked her all the better for her
attitude. Meanwhile he made headway in the constituency. He was in
earnest, with a big theme to descant upon--the responsibility of the
constituency to the empire. His fervour brought it home to his audiences
as a fact; he set the recognition of that responsibility forwards as the
prime duty of the citizen, sneering at the parochial notion of politics.
Mr. Burl shook his head over Drake's method of fighting the battle, and
hinted more than once at the necessity of that lecture upon morals. Drake
not only refused to reconsider it, but flatly forbade Mr. Burl to allude
to the subject in any speech which he might make. Burl shrugged his
shoulders and confided his doubts to Captain Le Mesurier. Said the
Captain, 'I think he's wise; a speech might offend. What's wanted is an
epigram--a good stinging epigram. We could set it about, and, if it's
sharp enough, no need to fear it won't travel.' He paused dubiously.
'After all, though, it's a bit unfair on Cranston. Hang it, I've been a
married man myself,' and he chuckled in unregenerate enjoyment. 'However,
the seat's got to be won. Let's think of an epigram,' and he scratched
his head and slapped his thigh. It was the Captain's way of thinking. The
satisfactory epigram would not emerge. He could fashion nothing better as
a description of Cranston than, 'A refreshment-room sandwich; two great
chunks of sin and a little slice of repentance between.' Mr. Burl
condemned it as crude, and for the moment the epigram was dropped.
The Mallinsons arrived a week after the contest had begun. Captain Le
Mesurier welcomed Clarice with boisterous effusion, and her husband with
quarter-deck dignity. 'You look ill,' he said to Clarice. 'It's your
husband worrying you. Ah, I know, I know! Those writing chaps!'
To Mallinson, however, he suddenly showed excessive friendliness, and
took the opportunity of saying to him loudly in a full room, 'There's
something I must tell you. I know it'll make you laugh. It does me
whenever I think of it. You know Drake? Well, we travelled up from
Plymouth together when he came back from Africa. He bought your book at
the bookstall, and sat opposite me reading it. What was it called? I
know, _A Man of Influence_. You should have seen Drake's face. Lord, he
couldn't make head or tail of it. How should he? I asked him what he
thought of it, and imagine what he answered! You can't, though. It's the
funniest thing I ever heard. He said it was a very clever satire. Satire!
Good Lord, I almost rolled off the seat. It is funny, isn't it?'
Mallinson, with a wry face, agreed that the story was funny.
'I knew you would think so,' pursued the Captain relentlessly.
'Everybody does I have told it to, and that's everybody I know. Satire!
Lord help us!' and he shook with laughter and clapped Mallinson in the
small of the back.
Mallinson felt the fool that he was intended to look, with the result
that his dormant resentment against Drake sprang again into activity.
That resentment became intensified, as the date of the election drew
nearer, by an unconfessed jealousy. They both made speeches, but
Mallinson chiefly at the smaller meetings. And when they stood upon the
same platform he was continually forced to compare the difference in the
acclamation with which their speeches were severally received. As a
matter of fact, Drake spoke from a fire of conviction, and the conviction
not merely burnt through his words, but minted them for him, gave him
spontaneously the short homely phrase which sank his meaning into the
minds of his hearers. Mallinson took refuge in a criticism of Drake's
speeches from the standpoint of literary polish. He recast them in his
thoughts, turning this sentence more deftly, whittling that repartee to a
finer point. The process consoled him for Drake's misreckoning of his
purpose in the matter of _A Man of Influence_, since it pointed to a
certain lack of delicacy, say at once to crassness in the man's
Mallinson began immediately to imagine himself in Drake's position, the
candidate for whom brass bands played, and hats went spinning into the
air. And it needed no conscious effort for one so agile in egotistical
leaps to spring thence to the fancy that Drake was a kind of vicarious
substitute for himself, doing his work, too, not without blemishes.
Ten days before the polling-day Fielding ran down from town, and attended
a meeting at the Town Hall, at which both Drake and Mallinson were to
speak. He sat on the platform by Clarice's side and paid some attention
to her manner during the evening. He noticed the colour mount in her
cheeks and her eyes kindle, as on first entering the room she looked down
upon the crowded floor. The chairs had been removed, and the audience
stood packed beneath the flaring gas-jets--artificers for the most part,
their white faces smeared and stained with the grime of their factories.
The roar of applause as Drake rose by the table swelled up to three
cheers in consonance, and a subsequent singing of 'For he's a jolly good
fellow' stirred even Fielding to enthusiasm. He noted that feeling of
enthusiasm as strange in himself, and had a thought in consequence that
such scenes were hardly of the kind to help Clarice to the rest she
needed. The hall for a moment became a sea of tossing handkerchiefs. He
took a glance at Clarice. She sat bent forward with parted lips and a
bosom that heaved. Fielding turned on his cold-water tap of flippancy.
'It's a bad omen,' said he, with a nod towards the waving handkerchiefs.
'They hang out flags of surrender.'
'Hardly,' she replied, with a smile. 'I can't recognise that the flags
are white'; and she added, 'I should like it less if they were. These men
are the workers.'
'The workers.' Fielding could hear Drake uttering the word in just the
same tone, and his compassion for Clarice deepened. Why? he asked
himself. The girl was undergoing not a jot more punishment than a not
over-rigid political justice would have meted out to her. The question
inexplicably raised to view a pair of the clearest blue eyes, laughing
from between the blackest of eyelashes. He promptly turned his attention
to the speaker at the table.
Drake commenced that night with an apology. It was necessary that he
should speak about himself. An utterly baseless story had, within the
last few days, and doubtless with a view to this election, been revived
by the London evening paper which originally made it. He regretted also
to notice that his opponent had accepted the story, and was making use of
it to prejudice him in the eyes of the electors. Accordingly he felt
bound to put the facts simply and briefly before his audience, although
the indifference of the Colonial Office to what, if true, was a crime
committed by an Englishman on English soil, and against practically
English subjects, in effect acquitted him of the charge.
Drake thereupon proceeded to describe his march to Boruwimi. The story,
modestly recited in simple nervous English, did more to forward his
candidature than all the political speeches he could have made during a
twelvemonth. It came pat at the right time, when arguments were growing
stale. His listeners hung upon the words; in the intense silence Fielding
could feel the sympathy between speaker and audience flowing to and fro
between them like a current. Drake instinctively lowered his voice; it
thrilled through the hall the more convincingly. There was a perceptible
sway of heads forwards, which started at the back and ran from line to
line towards the platform like a quick ripple across a smooth sea. It was
as though this crowded pack of men and women was drawn to move towards
the speaker, where indeed there was no room at all to move.
And in truth the subject was one to stir the blood. Drake prefaced his
account by a description of the geography of Boruwimi; he instanced
briefly the iniquities of the Arab slave-dealers whom he was attacking.
Thereupon he contrasted the numbers of his little force with the horde of
his enemies, and dwelt for a second upon their skill as marksmen; so that
his auditors, following him as he hewed his path through the tangle of an
untrodden forest, felt that each obstacle he stopped at might mean not
merely failure to the expedition, but death to all who shared in it.
Success and life were one and the same thing, and the condition of that
thing was speed. He must fall upon the Arabs unawares, like a bolt from
the blue. They forgot that he who led that expedition was speaking to
them now; they were with him in the obscure depths of the undergrowth,
surging against gigantic barriers of fallen tree-trunks, twenty, thirty
feet high; they were marching behind him, like him at grips with nature
in a six-weeks' struggle of life and death; and when finally he burst
into the clearing on the river's bank the ripple went backwards across
the hall, and a cheer of relief rang out, as though their lives, too,
Upon Fielding the relation produced a somewhat peculiar effect. He was
fascinated, not so much by the incident described or by the earnestness
of the man who described it,--for with both he was familiar,--but by the
strangeness of the conditions under which it was told--this story of
Africa, before these serried rows of white eager faces, in this stifling
hall, where the gaslight struggled with the waning day. From the raised
platform on which he sat he could see through the open windows away
across green fields to where the sun was setting in a clear sky behind
quiet Yorkshire wolds. The combination of circumstances made the episode
bizarre to him; he was, in fact, paying an unconscious tribute to the
Clarice paid the same tribute, but she phrased it differently, and the
difference was significant. She said, 'Isn't it strange that he should
_be here_--in a frock-coat? I half thought the room would dissolve and we
should find ourselves at Boruwimi.' Fielding started. Coming from her
lips the name sounded strange; yet she spoke it without the least
hesitation. For the moment it had plainly one association in her
thoughts, and only one. It sounded as though every recollection of Gorley
had vanished from her mind. 'Oh, he must get in!' she whispered, clasping
her hands upon her knees.
After Drake had concluded, Mallinson moved a resolution. He spoke
fluently, Fielding remarked, and with a finished phrasing. The very
finish, however, imparted an academic effect; he was, besides, hampered
by the speech which had preceded his. The audience began to shuffle
restlessly; they were capping a rich Burgundy with _vin ordinaire_, and
found the liquor tasteless to the palate. Fielding perceived from certain
movements at his side that Clarice shared in the general restlessness.
She gave an audible sigh of relief and patted her hands with the most
perfunctory applause when her husband sat down. 'You are staying with Mr.
Drake at the Three Nuns?' she asked, turning to Fielding.
'Only till to-morrow. I leave by the night-train.'
'Oh, you are going back!'
'Yes. You see Drake and Burl are both here. Somebody must keep the shop
open, if it's only to politely put the customers off.' He interpreted the
look of surprise upon Mrs. Mallinson's face. 'Yes, I have been gradually
sucked into the whirlpool,' and he laughed with a nod towards Drake.
She turned to him with her eyes shining. 'And you are proud of it.'
Fielding smiled indulgently. 'That's a woman's thought.'
'But you don't deny it's truth.'
Clarice said nothing more until the meeting had terminated and the
party was in the street. They walked from the Town Hall to Drake's
hotel, Clarice and Fielding a few paces behind the rest. The first
words which she spoke showed to him that her thoughts had not altered
their drift. 'Yes, you have changed,' she said, and implied
unmistakably, 'for the better.'
'You only mean,' laughed Fielding, 'that I have given up provoking you.'
'No, no,' she said. 'Besides, you evidently haven't given that up.'
'Then in what way?'
'I shall offend you.'
'I can hardly think so.'
'Well, you were becoming a kind of--'
To a gentleman whose ambition it had been to combine the hermit's
indifference to social obligations with an indulgence in social
festivities, the blow was a cruel one; and the more cruel because he
realised that Clarice's criticism contained a grain of truth. He hit back
cruelly. 'Drake tells me he thinks of taking a place here. I suppose he
means to marry.'
'I believe he does,' replied Clarice promptly. 'Mrs. Willoughby.'
Fielding stopped and apostrophised the stars. 'That is perfectly untrue,'
he said. He walked on again as soon as he perceived that he had stopped,
adding, with a grumble, 'I pity the woman who marries Drake.'
'Why?' asked Clarice in a tone of complete surprise, as though the idea
was incomprehensible to her, and she repeated insistently, 'Why?'
'Well,' he said, inventing a reason, 'I think he would never stand in
actual need of her.' Clarice drew a sharp breath--a sigh of longing, it
seemed to her companion, as for something desirable beyond all blessings.
He continued in the tone of argument, 'And she would come to know that.
Surely she would feel it.'
'Yes, but feel proud of it perhaps,' replied Clarice, 'proud of him just
for that reason. All her woman's tricks she would know useless to move
him. Nothing she could do would make him swerve. Oh yes, she would feel
proud--proud of him and proud of herself because he stooped to choose
her.' She corrected the ardency of her voice of a sudden; it dropped
towards indifference. 'At all events I can imagine that possible.'
They were within fifty yards of the hotel, and walked silently the rest
of the way. At the door, however, she said, turning weary eyes upon
Fielding, 'And think! The repose of it for her.'
'Ah, here you are!' The robustious voice of Captain Le Mesurier sounded
from the hall. 'Look here,' to Fielding, 'we are going to take you back
with us. Drake won't come. He's tired--so we don't miss him.'
Fielding protested vainly that he would crowd the waggonette. Besides, he
had business matters to discuss with Drake before he left for London.
'Well, you can talk them over to-morrow. You don't go until to-morrow
night. And as to crowding the waggonette, I have ordered a trap here; so
you can drive it back again to-night, if you like, from Garples.
Otherwise we'll be happy to put you up. You must come; we want to talk to
you particularly. Mallinson will drive his wife in the trap, so there'll
be plenty of room.'
The party in the waggonette consisted of Captain Le Mesurier, Burl,
Fielding, and five country gentlemen belonging to the district.
Clarice, riding some yards behind them through the dark fragrant lanes,
saw eight glowing cigars draw together in a bunch. The cigars were
fixed points of red light for a little. Then they danced as though
heads were wagging, retired this side and that and set to partners. A
minute more and the figure was repeated: cigars to the centre, dance,
retire, set to partners. A laugh from the Captain sounded as though he
laughed from duty, and Mr. Burl was heard to say, 'Not too subtle, old
man, you know.' At the third repetition the Captain bellowed
satisfaction from a full heart, and Mr. Burl cried, 'Capital!' The
country gentlemen could be understood to agree in the commendation.
Whence it was to be inferred that the dance of the cigars was to have a
practical result upon the election.
Clarice, however, paid no great attention to the proceedings in the
waggonette. She was almost oblivious to the husband at her side. The
night was about her, cool with soft odours, wrapping her in solitude.
Love at last veritably possessed her, so she believed; it had invaded her
last citadel to-night. That it sat throned on ruins she had no eyes to
see. It sat throned in quiescence, and that was enough. Clarice, in fact,
was in that compressed fever-heat of the mushroom passions which takes on
the semblance of intense and penetrating calm. And her very consciousness
of this calm seemed to ally her to Drake, to give to them both something
in common. She was troubled by no plans for the future; she had no regret
for anything which had happened in the past. The vague questions which
had stirred her--why had she been afraid of him?--was the failure of her
marriage her fault?--for these questions she had no room. She did not
think at all, she only felt that her heart was anchored to a rock.
Given a driver who is at once inexperienced and short-sighted, a fresh
horse harnessed to a light dog-cart, a dark night and a narrow gateway,
and the result may be forecast without much rashness. Mallinson upset his
wife and the cart just within the entrance to Garples. Luckily the drive
was bordered by thick shrubs of laurel, so that Clarice was only shaken
and dazed. She sat in the middle of a bush vaguely reflecting that her
heart was anchored to a rock and yet her husband had spilled her out of a
dog-cart. Between the incident and her state of mind immediately
preceding it, she recognised an incongruity which she merely felt to be
in some way significant. Fielding and Captain Le Mesurier picked her out
of the bush before she had time to examine into its significance. All she
said was, 'It's so like him.'
'Yes, hang the fellow!' said the Captain, and under his breath he
launched imprecations at all 'those writer chaps.'
Mallinson raised himself from a bed of mould upon the opposite side of
the drive and apologised. Captain Le Mesurier bluntly cut short the
apology. 'Why didn't you say you couldn't drive? I can't. Who's ashamed
of it? You might have broken your wife's neck.'
'I might, and my own too,' replied Mallinson in a tone not a whit less
Captain Le Mesurier raised his eyes to the heavens with the apoplectic
look which comes of an intense desire to swear, and the repressive
presence of ladies. 'Will you kindly sit on the horse's head until you
are told to get up? I want the groom to help here,' he said, as soon as
he found words tolerable to feminine ears. A groom was already occupying
the position designated, but he rose with alacrity and Mallinson silently
took his place and sat there until the harness was loosed.
Fielding's visit, however, had another consequence beyond the upsetting
of a gig. A few days later an epigram was circulating through the
constituency. The squires passed it on with a smack of the tongue; it had
a flavour, to their thinking, which was of the town. The epigram was
this: 'Lord Cranston lives a business life of vice, with rare holidays of
repentance, but being a dutiful husband he always takes his wife with him
on his holidays.' From the squires it descended through the grades of
society. Lord Cranston, at the close of a speech, was invited to mention
the precise date at which he intended to end his holidays. Believing that
the question sprang out of an objection to a do-nothing aristocracy, he
answered with emphatic earnestness, 'The moment I am returned for
Bentbridge.' The shout of laughter which greeted the remark he attributed
at first to political opposition.
Subsequently, however, a sympathiser explained to him delicately the true
meaning of the question, and, as a counter-move, Lord Cranston made a
violent attack upon 'Empire building plus finance.' He drew distinctions
between governing men and making money.
Drake accepted the distinctions as obvious platitudes, but failed to see
that the capacity for one could not coexist with the capacity for the
other. He asserted, on the contrary, that money was not as a rule made
without the exercise of tact, and some aptitude for the management of
men. He was, consequently, not disinclined to believe that money-making
afforded a good preliminary lesson in the art of government. Lord
Cranston's argument, in fact, did little more then alienate a few of his
own supporters, who, having raised themselves to affluence, felt quite
capable of doing the same for the nation.
On the night of the polling-day Captain Le Mesurier brought his
house-party into Bentbridge to dine with Drake, and after dinner the
ladies remained in the room overlooking the street, while the gentlemen
repaired to the Town Hall, where the votes were being counted. It seemed
to Clarice as she gazed down that all the seven thousand electors had
gathered to hear the result announced. The street was paved with heads as
with black cobble-stones. Occasionally some one would look up and direct
now a cheer, now a shout of derision towards the 'Three Nuns' or the
'Yellow Boar.' But the rooms of both candidates were darkened, and the
attention of the crowd was for the most part riveted upon the red blinds
of the Town Hall.
For Clarice, the time limped by on crutches. She barely heard the
desultory conversation about her: she felt as if her life was beating
itself out against those red windows. A clock in the market-place chimed
the hour of nine: she counted the strokes, with a sense of wonder when
they stopped. She seemed to have been waiting for a century.
Across the street she could see the glimmer of a light summer dress in
Lord Cranston's apartment. It moved restlessly backwards and forwards
from one window to the other: now it shone out in the balcony above the
street: now it retired into the darkness of the room. Clarice gauged Lady
Cranston's impatience by her own, and experienced a fellow-feeling of
sympathy. 'During this suspense,' she thought, 'you and I ought to be
together.' As the thought flashed into her mind, her husband spoke to
her. She set a hand before her eyes and did not answer him. She realised
that she had been thinking of herself as Drake's wife. On the instant
every force within her seemed to concentrate and fuse into one passionate
longing. 'If only that were true!' She felt the longing throb through
every vein: she acknowledged it: she expressed it clearly to herself. If
only that were true! And then in a second the longing was displaced by an
equally passionate regret.
'It might have been,' she thought.
Again her husband spoke to her. She turned towards him almost fiercely,
and saw that he was offering her a shawl. She steadied her voice to
decline it, and turned back again to the window. But now as she looked
across the street, she was filled with a new and very bitter envy. The
woman over there had the right to suffer for her suspense.
At last the clock doled out ten strokes with a grudging deliberation, and
less than five minutes later the shadow of a man was seen upon one of the
red blinds. In the street below the people surged forward: there was a
running flash of white as their heads were thrown back and their faces
upturned to the Hall; and the shouts and cries swelled to a Babel,
tearing the air. The blind was withdrawn, the window thrown open: Clarice
could see people pressing forward in the room. They looked in the glare
of yellow light like black ninepins. A gleam of bright scarlet shot out
from amongst them, and the Mayor stepped on to the balcony above the
archway. The tumult died rapidly to absolute silence, a silence deeper
than the silence of desolate places, because one saw the crowd and one's
ears were still tingling with the echo of its shouts. It was as though
all sound, all motion had been arrested by some enchantment, and in the
midst of that silence one word was launched down the street.
The announcement of the numbers was lost in the sudden renewal of
conflicting shouts. Clarice made no effort to ascertain them. That one
word 'Drake' filled the world for her. The very noise in the street came
to her ears with a dull muffled sound as though it had travelled across a
wide space, and it seemed no more than an undertone to the ringing name.
She saw Stephen Drake come forward and give place to his opponent, and
after a little the street began to clear. The number thirty-five,
incessantly repeated by the retiring crowd, penetrated to her mind and
informed her of the actual majority. In about half an hour a little
stream of people trickled from the porch of the Town Hall, and, gathering
in volume, flowed into a narrow passage which led to the Conservative
Club, a few yards to the right of the hotel. Clarice caught a glimpse of
Drake's face at the head of the procession as he passed under a gas-lamp
above the mouth of the passage, and was surprised by its expression of
despondency. A fear sprang up in her mind that some mistake had been made
in the announcement, but the fear was dispelled by the tone of her
uncle's voice as he shouted an invitation to some one across the street
to join them at the Club. It was a tone of boisterous exultation. There
could be no doubt that Drake had been elected, and she wondered at the
cause of his dejection.
A few minutes later a second stream flowed along the opposite pavement
towards the Liberal Club in the Market Square, and drew most of the
remaining loiterers into its current. The noise and bustle grew fainter
and died away: the lights were extinguished in the houses, and only one
small group, clustering excitedly about the passage, relieved the quarter
of its native sleepiness.
Clarice turned with a certain reluctance into the room. It was empty, and
the voices of her companions rose from the hall below. She did not follow
them, however. There was time enough, for the party could not leave until
Captain Le Mesurier returned from the Conservative Club. She went back to
her post. Through the open window opposite to her she perceived the
glimmer of a light dress in the dark of the room, but it was motionless
now, a fixed patch of white. Clarice experienced a revulsion of pity for
Lady Cranston. 'What must be her thoughts?' she asked herself.
She remained at the window until the party from the Club emerged again
from the passage and turned towards the hotel.
Clarice heard her husband's voice asking where Drake was, and what in
the world was the matter with him. Captain Le Mesurier replied, and the
reply rang boisterously. 'He's behind. He's a bit unstrung, I fancy,
and reason enough too, after all his work, eh? You see, Drake's
not in the habit of taking holidays,' and the Captain grew hilarious
over his allusion.
Across the street Clarice saw the light dress flutter and move abruptly.
It was evident that Lady Cranston had heard and understood the words.
Drake followed some few minutes later, and alone. He walked slowly to the
hotel with an air of utter weariness, as though the springs of his
activity had been broken. A moment after, he had entered it; she heard
him ascending the staircase, and she drew instinctively close within the
curtains. He pushed open the door, walked forward into the embrasure of
the window, and stood within a foot of Clarice, apparently gazing into
the street. A pale light from the gas-lamp over the front door flickered
upon his face. It was haggard and drawn, the lips were pressed closely
together, the eyelids shut tightly over the eyes--a white mask of pain.
Or was this the real face, Clarice wondered, and that which he showed to
the world the mask?
She was almost afraid to move; she even held her breath.
Suddenly the echoes of the street were reawakened. Drake roused himself
and opened his eyes. A small group of people strolled out of the
market-place and stopped in front of the 'Yellow Boar.' There was
interchange of farewells, a voice said encouragingly, 'Better luck next
time,' and one man entered the hotel.
In the room opposite a match flared up and Lady Cranston lit the gas. She
stood for a moment underneath the chandelier, in the full light,
listening. Then she walked quickly to the mirror above the mantelpiece
and appeared to dry her eyes and cheeks with her handkerchief. She turned
to the door almost guiltily, just as it opened. Lord Cranston advanced
into the room, and his wife moved towards him. The whole scene, every
movement, every corner of the room was visible to Clarice like a scene on
the stage of a theatre; it was visible also to Drake.
Clarice could note the disconsolate attitude of Lord Cranston, the smile
of tenderness upon his wife's face. She saw Lady Cranston set her arms
gently about his neck, and her lips move, and then a low hoarse cry burst
from Drake at her side.
It sounded to her articulate with all the anguish and all the suffering
of which she had ever heard. There was a harsh note of irony in it too,
which deepened its sadness. It seemed almost an acknowledgment of defeat
in the actual moment of victory--a recognition that after all his
opponent had really won.
The cry was a revelation to Clarice; it struck her like a blow, and she
started under it, so that the rings of the curtain rattled upon the pole.
Drake bent sharply towards her; she caught a gleam of his eyes in the
darkness. Then with a catch of his breath he started back. Clarice heard
the click of a match-box, the scraping of a lucifer, and Drake held the
lighted match above his head.
'You!' he said.
Clarice moved out from the curtain and confronted him. She did not
answer, and he did not speak again. Clarice was in no doubt as to the
meaning of his cry. His eyes even in that unsteady light told it to her
only too clearly.
And this was the man whom she had believed to stand in no need of a
woman's companionship. The thought at the actual moment of its occurrence
sent a strange thrill of disappointment through her; she had built up her
pride in him so confidently upon this notion of his independence. And
having built up her pride, she had lived in it, using this very notion as
her excuse and justification. She ran no risk, she had felt.
The name was shouted impatiently from the hall, and came to them quite
audibly through the half-opened door. But neither she nor Drake seemed to
hear it. They stood looking silently into each other's eyes.
At last she began to speak, and as she spoke, her sense of disappointment
diminished and died. She became conscious again of the suffering which
his cry had confessed. The contrast between this one outburst and his
ordinary self-control enforced its meaning upon her. It seemed still to
be ringing in her ears, stretched out to a continuous note, and her voice
gradually took a tone as of one pleading for forgiveness.
'I did not know,' she said. 'I always thought of you as--' and she gave a
queer little laugh, 'as driving about London in hansoms, and working
quite contentedly. I never imagined that you cared at all--really, I
mean, as I know now. Even right at the beginning--that afternoon in
Beaufort Gardens, I never imagined that. Indeed, I was afraid of you.'
'Afraid!' Drake echoed the word with an accent of wonderment.
'Yes, yes, afraid. I believed that I should mean so little to you, that I
should be of no use or help to you. And that's why--I--I--married--'
Drake straightened his shoulders with a jerk as Clarice uttered the word.
He became aware of the tell-tale look in his eyes, and lowered them from
the girl's face to the ground.
'You mustn't fancy,' he began in a hesitating tone. 'You mustn't
misunderstand. I was thinking what men owe to women--that's all--that's
all, indeed--and how vilely they repay it. That way, like Cranston'--he
nodded in the direction of the house across the street--'or worse--or
worse,' he clung to the word on a lift of his voice, as though he found
some protection in it, as though he appealed to Clarice to agree with and
second him, 'or worse.'
The match burned down to his fingers, and he dropped it on the floor and
set his foot on it. Once in the darkness he repeated 'or worse,' with a
note almost of despair, and then he was silent. Clarice simply waited.
She stood, feeling the darkness throb about her, listening to the sharp
irregular breathing which told her where Drake stood. In a few moments
he stirred, and she stretched out her hands towards him. But again she
heard the click of a match-box, and again the thin flame of light flared
up in the room.
Her name was shouted up a second time. There was a sound of quicker
footsteps upon the stairs, the door was flung back, and Sidney Mallinson
entered the room. Drake lighted the gas.
'We have been waiting for you,' said Mallinson to his wife. 'I couldn't
think where you had got to,' and he glanced from her to Drake.
'I have been here all the time,' she said with a certain defiance.
Mallinson turned and walked down the stairs again, without as much as a
word to Drake. Clarice followed him, and after her came Drake.
'Ah, here you are!' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'Now we're ready. Drake,
you are coming back with us?'
'You said you would at the Town Hall. So I have had your bag packed, and
put in the waggonette.'
'Very well,' he assented; and the party went outside the hotel.
'Now, how shall we go?' asked the Captain. 'Mallinson, you of course in
the waggonette,' and he chuckled with a cheery maliciousness. 'Clarice,
will you get in?'
'No!' she said with an involuntary vehemence. The idea of driving back
wedged in amongst a number of people, listening to their chatter, and
forced to take her share in it, became suddenly repugnant to her. 'I
would rather drive in the trap, if I might.'
'Very well! But who is to drive you?' Captain Le Mesurier turned to
Drake. 'You can drive, of course.'
Drake replied absently. 'I have driven the coach from Johannesburg to
Pretoria, ten mules and a couple of ponies, and a man beside you swinging
a sixty-foot lash.'
Captain Le Mesurier laughed out. 'Then there'll be no upset to-night.
The guests took their seats, while Drake stood on the pavement.
'Come along, Drake,' shouted the Captain from the box seat of the
Drake roused himself with a start. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, and he
went to the side of the dog-cart. He drew back when he saw Clarice
already in it, and looked from cart to waggonette. 'I am so sorry,' he
said in a low voice. 'I was not listening, I am afraid.'
He mounted beside her, whipped up the horse, and drove ahead of the
waggonette. They passed out of the town into the open country. Behind
them the sounds of wheels grew fainter and fainter and died away. In
front the road gleamed through the night like a white riband; the
hedgerows flung out a homely scent of honeysuckle and wild roses; above,
the stars rode in a clear sky. To Clarice this was the perfect hour of
her life. All her speculations had dropped from her; she had but one
thought, that this man driving her cared for her, as she cared for him.
It was, in truth, more than a thought; she felt it as a glory about her.
Accidentally, as the trap swung round a bend of the road, she leaned her
weight upon his arm and she felt the muscles brace beneath his sleeve.
The sensation confirmed her thought, and she repeated her action
deliberately and more than once. She had but one wish, that this drive
should never end, that they should go forward always side by side through
a starlit night, in a stillness unbroken by the sound of voices. And that
wish was more a belief than a wish.
They ascended the slope and came out upon an open moor. It stretched
around them, dark with heather as far as they could see. The night
covered it like a tent. It seemed the platform of the world. Clarice
suddenly recollected her old image of the veld, and she laughed at the
recollection as one laughs at some queer fancy one has held in childhood.
Across the moor the wind blew freshly into their faces. Drake quickened
the horse's paces, and Clarice imagined a lyrical note in the ringing
beat of its hooves. The road dipped towards a valley. A stream wound
along the bed of it, and as they reached the crest of the moor they could
see below them the stars mirrored in the stream. Upon one of the banks a
factory was built, and its six tiers of windows were so many golden spots
of light like the flames of candles. Drake stopped the trap and sat
watching the factory.
'Night and day,' he said, 'night and day. There is no end to it. It
is the law.'
He spoke not so much dispiritedly, but rather as though he was teaching
himself a lesson which he must needs surely get by heart. He lifted the
reins and drove down the hill, past the factory and along the valley to
the gates of Garples. There he stopped the trap again. For a moment
Clarice fancied that the gates must be shut, but as she bent forward and
looked across Drake, she saw that they were open. She turned her eyes to
her companion. He was sitting bolt upright with an unfamiliar expression
of irresolution upon his face, and he was doubtfully drawing the lash of
the whip to and fro across the horse's back.
Clarice felt that her life was in the balance. 'Yes,' she whispered.
'No!' Drake almost shouted the word. He turned the horse through the
gates and drove in a gallop to the door of the house. Clarice heard him
draw a deep breath of relief as he jumped to the ground. As he was
pulling off his gloves in the hall, Clarice brushed past him and ran
quickly up the stairs. He was roused from his reverie by the arrival of
the rest of the party.
Clarice sent word downstairs that she was tired and would not appear
But an hour later Sidney Mallinson found her seated by the open window.
She had not even taken off her hat or gloves. Once or twice he seemed on
the point of speaking, but she faced him steadily and her manner even
invited his questions. Mallinson turned away with the questions unasked.
But he lay long awake that night, thinking; and his resentment against
Drake gained new fuel from his thoughts. The frankness of his wife's
admiration for Drake had before this awakened his suspicions, and the
suspicions had become certain knowledge. He guessed, too, that to some
degree Drake returned his wife's inclination, and he began immediately on
that account to set a higher value upon the possession of her than he had
Once Clarice heard him laugh aloud harshly. He was thinking of the
relationship in which he had set Drake to himself in that first novel
which he had written. Actually the relationship was reversed. 'No, not
yet,' he said to himself. But it would be, unless he could hit upon some
plan. The day was breaking when his plan came to him.
The next morning Drake's seat at the breakfast table was empty.
'He caught the early train from Bentbridge,' Captain Le Mesurier
explained. 'Business, I suppose. He told me last thing yesterday night
that he had to go.'
Clarice coloured and lowered her eyes to her plate. Mallinson noticed her
embarrassment, and took it for evidence of some secret understanding
between her and Drake. He became yet more firmly resolved to put his idea
'You are not in a hurry,' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'You had better stay
the week out.'
Mallinson saw his wife raise her head quickly as though she was about to
object, and immediately accepted the invitation. Parliament would not
meet for three weeks, he reckoned, since there were still the county
members to be elected.
Clarice spent the week in defining the relationship in which she and
Drake were henceforth to stand towards each other. They were to be
animated by a stern spirit of duty,--by the same spirit, in fact, which
had compelled Drake to court-martial Gorley in Africa, and subsequently
to detail the episode to her. Duty was to keep them apart. She came to
think of duty as a row of footlights across which they could from time to
time look into each other's eyes.
Clarice felt that there was something very reassuring and protective in
this notion of duty. It justified her in buying a copy of _Frou-Frou_,
which lay upon the bookstall at Bentbridge railway station, and in
studying it continuously all the way from Bentbridge to London. She was
impelled to purchase it by a recollection that Drake had first been
introduced to her at a performance of that play, and his criticisms
returned to her thoughts as she read the dialogue. The play had seemed
true to him, the disaster inevitable--given the particular characters,
and she bore the qualification particularly in mind. There was a
difference between _Frou-Frou_ and a woman animated by a sense of duty; a
difference of kind, rather than of degree. Sidney Mallinson remarked the
book which she was reading, but he made no comment whatsoever.
The next morning he paid a long call upon the editor of the _Meteor_.
Meanwhile, Drake was devoting himself to the business of the Matanga
Company, with an assiduity unusual even for him. Fielding discovered that
he seldom left the city before ten at night, and felt it incumbent to
expostulate with him. 'You can't go on like this for much longer, you
know. You had better take a rest. There's no need for all this work.'
'There is,' replied Drake. 'I want to clear off arrears, because I am not
sure that I oughtn't to go out again to Matanga. You see I can do it
quite easily. Parliament meets in a fortnight to vote supplies. It will
adjourn, it's thought, three weeks later. I could leave England in
September, and get back easily in time for the regular sessions.'
'But why should you go at all?' asked Fielding. 'You haven't been back a
year as it is.'
'I know,' said Drake slowly. 'But it seems to me that it would inspire
confidence, and that sort of thing, if one of us were out there as much
as possible. You see, thanks to you and Burl, I can leave everything
here quite safely,' and he returned to his desk as though the discussion
A week later he received an invitation to dinner from Mr. Le Mesurier,
and the invitation was so worded that he could find no becoming excuse to
decline it. The dinner was given, the note stated, in order to celebrate
his victory at Bentbridge. Fielding and he went together, and when they
arrived, they found Mallinson taking off his coat in the hall.
'Where have you been all this time?' asked Fielding. 'I haven't seen
'At Clapham,' replied Mallinson.
'I don't know it.'
'It's a suburb to the south-west.'
'My mother lives there.'
'I am very sorry.'
The words might have been intended to convey either an apology, or an
expression of sympathy with his mother. Mallinson preferred to take them
in the former sense. 'I took my wife down there,' he continued. 'She
wanted more quiet than one can get in London.'
Fielding noticed, however, that Clapham quiet had not materially
benefited Mrs. Mallinson. He commented on her worn appearance to Mrs.
Willoughby, when they were seated at the dinner-table.
'She has been staying, she tells me, with her husband's people,' replied
Mrs. Willoughby. 'I fancy she finds them trying.'
Clarice was placed next to Drake, upon the opposite side to Mrs.
Willoughby, and out of ear-shot, and was endeavouring to talk to him
indifferently. 'You never take a holiday, I suppose. Where are you going
this year?' she asked.
'To Matanga,' said Drake.
'Matanga! Oh no.' The words slipped from her lips before she was able to
'I think that my place is there,' returned Drake, 'at all events for the
moment. I shall go as soon as the House rises.'
'I thought you didn't mean to leave London again.'
'One gets over ideas of that kind. After all, my interests lie in
Matanga, and one gets a kind of affection for the place which makes
The recantation was uttered with sufficient awkwardness. But Clarice was
too engrossed in her own thoughts to notice his embarrassment. 'Do you
remember when I first met you?' she asked. 'It was at a performance of
'I remember quite well,' said he. 'I was rather struck with the play.'
'I have been reading it lately.'
Drake started at the significant tone in which the words were spoken.
'Really?' he said, with an uneasy laugh. 'What impressed me was that
scene at Venice, where Gilberte and De Valreas read over the list of
plays in the Paris newspapers, and realise what they have thrown away,
and for how little. It seemed to me the saddest scene I had ever
'Yes,' interposed Clarice quickly. 'But because Paris and its theatres
meant so much to them. I remember what you said, that everything in the
play seemed so true just to those characters, Gilberte and De Valreas.'
She glanced at him as she uttered the last name. Drake understood that
she was drawing a distinction between him and the fashionable lounger
of the play.
'Besides,' she went on, dropping her voice, 'Gilberte left a child behind
her. Her unhappiness turned on that.'
'In a way, no doubt, but the loss of friends, station, home, counts
for something--for enough to destroy her liking for De Valreas at
'For De Valreas!' insisted Clarice. 'He was not worth the sacrifice.' She
paused for a moment, and then continued diffidently. 'There's something
else; I hardly like to tell you it. You wouldn't notice it from seeing
the play. I didn't; but it came to me when I read the book. I think the
play's absolutely untrue, yes, even to those characters, in one respect.'
'And what's that?' asked Drake.
Clarice glanced round. Her neighbours, she perceived, were talking.
Mrs. Willoughby was too far off to hear. She dropped her voice to a yet
lower key and said, 'They make the husband kill the lover in the duel.
It's always the end in books and plays; but really the opposite of that
Drake leant back in his chair and stared at her. 'What do you mean?'
'Hush!' she said warningly, and turning away she spoke for a little
to the man on the other side of her. Then she turned back. 'I mean,'
she said, 'if two people really care for one another, their love
would triumph over everything--everything. De Valreas would have
killed the husband.' She spoke with an intense conviction of the
truth of what she said.
'But, my dear child!' replied Drake. 'You--oh, you don't really
'I do,' she answered. 'You see, there are so few people who really care
for one another. If you find two who do, I am sure they would conquer,
whatever stood in the way.'
The conversation was interrupted, to Drake's relief, by Captain Le
Mesurier. He rose from the corner of the table to propose the health of
the guest of the evening. He said that he was proud to be represented in
Parliament by a man of Stephen Drake's calibre. If there was anything of
which he was prouder, it was the way in which the election had been
fought at Bentbridge. That election was the triumph not merely of a man
or a cause, but of a method; and that method was honesty and fair-play.
'We never indulged in personalities,' he continued, with shameless
sincerity. 'I have always myself been very strong on that point. Fight of
course for all you're worth, but never indulge in personalities. It's a
good rule. It's a rule that helped Stephen Drake to win his seat. We
followed it. We left the lies for the opponent to tell, and he told them.
But we never did and never will indulge in contemptible personalities.'
The Captain subsided to a gentle rapping of forks and spoons upon the
table, while Fielding said pointedly, 'Yes, Captain, you deserve your
holidays,' and he emphasised the word. The Captain caught the allusion
and laughed heartily. It was evident that he saw no inconsistency between
the epigram and his professed method of contesting an election.
Drake replied shortly, and the ladies retired. Mallinson moved round the
table, and seated himself in the chair which Clarice had left.
'Do you think of speaking at all during this session?' he asked.
'I am not quite sure,' replied Drake; 'but I rather think I shall on the
colonial vote. You see there's first-class wheat-growing land in Africa,
quite near to the west coast. We import practically all that we use in
England. Well, why shouldn't we import it from our own dominions?
Besides, the route would be so much safer in times of war, unless, of
course, we were at war with France. Ships could slip up the coast of
Africa, across the bay and into Plymouth with much less risk than if they
have to sail from the Argentines or some place like that. I believe, if
the Colonial Office could be induced to move in the matter, the idea
might be carried out. What do you think?'
Mallinson carelessly assented and returned to his seat.
For the remainder of the evening Drake avoided Clarice. As he was taking
his leave, however, she came up to him. He shook her by the hand and she
whispered one word to him, 'Matanga.' Drake could not mistake the note of
longing in her voice, and as he drove to his chambers the temptation with
which he had wrestled at the gates of Garples assailed him again, and
with double force. He had but to speak, he knew, and she would come. The
loneliness of his rooms made the struggle yet harder, yet more doubtful.
He pictured to himself what he had never had, a home, and he located that
home in Matanga. The arid plain blossomed in his imagination, for he saw
the weariness die out of Clarice's face.
He tossed restlessly through the night, until one thought emerged from
the turmoil of his ideas, fashioned itself into a fact, and stood framed
there before his eyes. He held the future of Clarice in the hollow of his
hand. Her fate rested upon his decision, and he must decide.
Drake rose and walked out on to the balcony, as the dawn was breaking
over London. A white mist was crawling above the Thames; he could see
a glimpse of the water here and there as the mist shredded. He turned
to the west and looked towards Westminster, recollecting how his name
and purposes had centred there as though drawn by a magnet. But in
that clear morning light they seemed unreal and purposeless. One
immediate responsibility invaded him, and, contrasted with that, his
ambitions dwindled into vanities. He filled no place, he realised,
which would be vacant unless he occupied it. He had to decide for
Clarice and solely for her.
Drake took up his hat and walked out of London to Elm Tree Hill. There,
gazing down upon its spires asparkle in the early sunlight, while the
city gradually awoke and the hum of its stirring began to swell through
the air, he came to his decision. Clarice belonged to London; he did not.
In Matanga she would be content--for how long? The roughness, the absence
of her kind and class, the makeshift air of transition, would soon
destroy its charm of novelty. Every instinct would draw her back to
London, and the way would be barred, whilst for him Matanga was a
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