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Mr. Pembroke did not receive a clear account of what had happened when he returned for the interval. His sister--he told her frankly--was concealing something from him. She could make no reply. Had she gone mad, she wondered. Hitherto she had pretended to love her husband. Why choose such a moment for the truth?
"But I understand Rickie's position," he told her. "It is an unbalanced position, yet I understand it; I noted its approach while he was ill. He imagines himself his brother's keeper. Therefore we must make concessions. We must negotiate." The negotiations were still progressing in November, the month during which this story draws to its close.
"I understand his position," he then told her. "It is both weak and defiant. He is still with those Ansells. Read this letter, which thanks me for his little stories. We sent them last month, you remember--such of them as we could find. It seems that he fills up his time by writing: he has already written a book."
She only gave him half her attention, for a beautiful wreath had just arrived from the florist's. She was taking it up to the cemetery: today her child had been dead a year.
"On the other hand, he has altered his will. Fortunately, he cannot alter much. But I fear that what is not settled on you, will go. Should I read what I wrote on this point, and also my minutes of the interview with old Mr. Ansell, and the copy of my correspondence with Stephen Wonham?"
But her fly was announced. While he put the wreath in for her, she ran for a moment upstairs. A few tears had come to her eyes. A scandalous divorce would have been more bearable than this withdrawal. People asked, "Why did her husband leave her?" and the answer came, "Oh, nothing particular; he only couldn't stand her; she lied and taught him to lie; she kept him from the work that suited him, from his friends, from his brother,--in a word, she tried to run him, which a man won't pardon." A few tears; not many. To her, life never showed itself as a classic drama, in which, by trying to advance our fortunes, we shatter them. She had turned Stephen out of Wiltshire, and he fell like a thunderbolt on Sawston and on herself. In trying to gain Mrs. Failing's money she had probably lost money which would have been her own. But irony is a subtle teacher, and she was not the woman to learn from such lessons as these. Her suffering was more direct. Three men had wronged her; therefore she hated them, and, if she could, would do them harm.
"These negotiations are quite useless," she told Herbert when she came downstairs. "We had much better bide our time. Tell me just about Stephen Wonham, though."
He drew her into the study again. "Wonham is or was in Scotland, learning to farm with connections of the Ansells: I believe the money is to go towards setting him up. Apparently he is a hard worker. He also drinks!"
She nodded and smiled. "More than he did?"
"My informant, Mr. Tilliard--oh, I ought not to have mentioned his name. He is one of the better sort of Rickie's Cambridge friends, and has been dreadfully grieved at the collapse, but he does not want to be mixed up in it. This autumn he was up in the Lowlands, close by, and very kindly made a few unobtrusive inquiries for me. The man is becoming an habitual drunkard."
She smiled again. Stephen had evoked her secret, and she hated him more for that than for anything else that he had done. The poise of his shoulders that morning--it was no more--had recalled Gerald.
If only she had not been so tired! He had reminded her of the greatest thing she had known, and to her cloudy mind this seemed degradation. She had turned to him as to her lover; with a look, which a man of his type understood, she had asked for his pity; for one terrible moment she had desired to be held in his arms. Even Herbert was surprised when she said, "I'm glad he drinks. I hope he'll kill himself. A man like that ought never to have been born."
"Perhaps the sins of the parents are visited on the children," said Herbert, taking her to the carriage. "Yet it is not for us to decide."
"I feel sure he will be punished. What right has he--" She broke off. What right had he to our common humanity? It was a hard lesson for any one to learn. For Agnes it was impossible. Stephen was illicit, abnormal, worse than a man diseased. Yet she had turned to him: he had drawn out the truth.
"My dear, don't cry," said her brother, drawing up the windows. "I have great hopes of Mr. Tilliard--the Silts have written--Mrs. Failing will do what she can--"
As she drove to the cemetery, her bitterness turned against Ansell, who had kept her husband alive in the days after Stephen's expulsion. If he had not been there, Rickie would have renounced his mother and his brother and all the outer world, troubling no one. The mystic, inherent in him, would have prevailed. So Ansell himself had told her. And Ansell, too, had sheltered the fugitives and given them money, and saved them from the ludicrous checks that so often stop young men. But when she reached the cemetery, and stood beside the tiny grave, all her bitterness, all her hatred were turned against Rickie.
"But he'll come back in the end," she thought. "A wife has only to wait. What are his friends beside me? They too will marry. I have only to wait. His book, like all that he has done, will fail. His brother is drinking himself away. Poor aimless Rickie! I have only to keep civil. He will come back in the end."
She had moved, and found herself close to the grave of Gerald. The flowers she had planted after his death were dead, and she had not liked to renew them. There lay the athlete, and his dust was as the little child's whom she had brought into the world with such hope, with such pain.
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