At one end of the walled garden which Mr. Pendyce had formed in imitation of that at dear old Strathbegally, was a virgin orchard of pear and cherry trees. They blossomed early, and by the end of the third week in April the last of the cherries had broken into flower. In the long grass, underneath, a wealth of daffodils, jonquils, and narcissus, came up year after year, and sunned their yellow stars in the light which dappled through the blossom.
And here Mrs. Pendyce would come, tan gauntlets on her hands, and stand, her face a little flushed with stooping, as though the sight of all that bloom was restful. It was due to her that these old trees escaped year after year the pruning and improvements which the genius of the Squire would otherwise have applied. She had been brought up in an old Totteridge tradition that fruit-trees should be left to themselves, while her husband, possessed of a grasp of the subject not more than usually behind the times, was all for newer methods. She had fought for those trees. They were as yet the only things she had fought for in her married life, and Horace Pendyce still remembered with a discomfort robbed by time of poignancy how she had stood with her back to their bedroom door and said, "If you cut those poor trees, Horace, I won't live here!" He had at once expressed his determination to have them pruned; but, having put off the action for a day or two, the trees still stood unpruned thirty- three years later. He had even come to feel rather proud of the fact that they continued to bear fruit, and would speak of them thus: "Queer fancy of my wife's, never been cut. And yet, remarkable thing, they do better than any of the others!"
This spring, when all was so forward, and the cuckoos already in full song, when the scent of young larches in the New Plantation (planted the year of George's birth) was in the air like the perfume of celestial lemons, she came to the orchard more than usual, and her spirit felt the stirring, the old, half-painful yearning for she knew not what, that she had felt so often in her first years at Worsted Skeynes. And sitting there on a green-painted seat under the largest of the cherry-trees, she thought even more than her wont of George, as though her son's spirit, vibrating in its first real passion, were calling to her for sympathy.
He had been down so little all that winter, twice for a couple of days' shooting, once for a week-end, when she had thought him looking thinner and rather worn. He had missed Christmas for the first time. With infnite precaution she had asked him casually if he had seen Helen Bellew, and he had answered, "Oh yes, I see her once in a way!"
Secretly all through the winter she consulted the Times newspaper for mention of George's horse, and was disappointed not to find any. One day, however, in February, discovering him absolutely at the head of several lists of horses with figures after them, she wrote off at once with a joyful heart. Of five lists in which the Ambler's name appeared, there was only one in which he was second. George's answer came in the course of a week or so.
"MY DEAR MOTHER,
"What you saw were the weights for the Spring Handicaps. They've simply done me out of everything. In great haste,
"Your affectionate son,
As the spring approached, the vision of her independent visit to London, which had sustained her throughout the winter, having performed its annual function, grew mistier and mistier, and at last faded away. She ceased even to dream of it, as though it had never been, nor did George remind her, and as usual, she ceased even to wonder whether he would remind her. She thought instead of the season visit, and its scurry of parties, with a sort of languid fluttering. For Worsted Skeynes, and all that Worsted Skeynes stood for, was like a heavy horseman guiding her with iron hands along a narrow lane; she dreamed of throwing him in the open, but the open she never reached.
She woke at seven with her tea, and from seven to eight made little notes on tablets, while on his back Mr. Pendyce snored lightly. She rose at eight. At nine she poured out coffee. From halfpast nine to ten she attended to the housekeeper and her birds. From ten to eleven she attended to the gardener and her dress. From eleven to twelve she wrote invitations to persons for whom she did not care, and acceptances to persons who did not care for her; she drew out also and placed in due sequence cheques for Mr. Pendyce's signature; and secured receipts, carefully docketed on the back, within an elastic band; as a rule, also, she received a visit from Mrs. Husell Barter. From twelve to one she walked with her and "the dear dogs" to the village, where she stood hesitatingly in the cottage doors of persons who were shy of her. From half-past one to two she lunched. From two to three she rested on a sofa in the white morning-room with the newspaper in her hand, trying to read the Parliamentary debate, and thinking of other things. From three to half-past four she went to her dear flowers, from whom she was liable to be summoned at any moment by the arrival of callers; or, getting into the carriage, was driven to some neighbour's mansion, where she sat for half an hour and came away. At half-past four she poured out tea. At five she knitted a tie, or socks, for George or Gerald, and listened with a gentle smile to what was going on. From six to seven she received from the Squire his impressions of Parliament and things at large. From seven to seven-thirty she changed to a black low dress, with old lace about the neck. At seven-thirty she dined. At a quarter to nine she listened to Norah playing two waltzes of Chopin's, and a piece called "Serenade du Printemps" by Baff, and to Bee singing "The Mikado," or the "Saucy Girl" From nine to ten thirty she played a game called piquet, which her father had taught her, if she could get anyone with whom to play; but as this was seldom, she played as a rule patience by herself. At ten-thirty she went to bed. At eleven- thirty punctually the Squire woke her. At one o'clock she went to sleep. On Mondays she wrote out in her clear Totteridge hand, with its fine straight strokes, a list of library books, made up without distinction of all that were recommended in the Ladies' Paper that came weekly to Worsted Skeynes. Periodically Mr. Pendyce would hand her a list of his own, compiled out of the Times and the Field in the privacy of his study; this she sent too.
Thus was the household supplied with literature unerringly adapted to its needs; nor was it possible for any undesirable book to find its way into the house--not that this would have mattered much to Mrs. Pendyce, for as she often said with gentle regret, "My dear, I have no time to read."
This afternoon it was so warm that the bees were all around among the blossoms, and two thrushes, who had built in a yew-tree that watched over the Scotch garden, were in a violent flutter because one of their chicks had fallen out of the nest. The mother bird, at the edge of the long orchard grass, was silent, trying by example to still the tiny creature's cheeping, lest it might attract some large or human thing.
Mrs. Pendyce, sitting under the oldest cherry-tree, looked for the sound, and when she had located it, picked up the baby bird, and, as she knew the whereabouts of all the nests, put it back into its cradle, to the loud terror and grief of the parent birds. She went back to the bench and sat down again.
She had in her soul something of the terror of the mother thrush. The Maidens had been paying the call that preceded their annual migration to town, and the peculiar glow which Lady Maiden had the power of raising had not yet left her cheeks. True, she had the comfort of the thought, 'Ellen Maiden is so bourgeoise,' but to-day it did not still her heart.
Accompanied by one pale daughter who never left her, and two pale dogs forced to run all the way, now lying under the carriage with their tongues out, Lady Maiden had come and stayed full time; and for three-quarters of that time she had seemed, as it were, labouring under a sense of duty unfulfilled; for the remaining quarter Mrs. Pendyce had laboured under a sense of duty fulfilled.
"My dear," Lady Maiden had said, having told the pale daughter to go into the conservatory, "I'm the last person in the world to repeat gossip, as you know; but I think it's only right to tell you that I've been hearing things. You see, my boy Fred" (who would ultimately become Sir Frederick Maiden) "belongs to the same club as your son George--the Stoics. All young men belong there of course-I mean, if they're anybody. I'm sorry to say there's no doubt about it; your son has been seen dining at--perhaps I ought not to mention the name--Blafard's, with Mrs. Bellew. I dare say you don't know what sort of a place Blafard's is--a lot of little rooms where people go when they don't want to be seen. I've never been there, of course; but I can imagine it perfectly. And not once, but frequently. I thought I would speak to you, because I do think it's so scandalous of her in her position."
An azalea in a blue and white pot had stood between them, and in this plant Mrs. Pendyce buried her cheeks and eyes; but when she raised her face her eyebrows were lifted to their utmost limit, her lips trembled with anger.
"Oh," she said, "didn't you know? There's nothing in that; it's the latest thing!"
For a moment Lady Maiden wavered, then duskily flushed; her temperament and principles had recovered themselves.
"If that," she said with some dignity, "is the latest thing, I think it is quite time we were back in town."
She rose, and as she rose, such was her unfortunate conformation, it flashed through Mrs. Pendyce's mind 'Why was I afraid? She's only--' And then as quickly: 'Poor woman! how can she help her legs being short?'
But when she was gone, side by side with the pale daughter, the pale dogs once more running behind the carriage, Margery Pendyce put her hand to her heart.
And out here amongst the bees and blossom, where the blackbirds were improving each minute their new songs, and the air was so fainting sweet with scents, her heart would not be stilled, but throbbed as though danger were coming on herself; and she saw her son as a little boy again in a dirty holland suit with a straw hat down the back of his neck, flushed and sturdy, as he came to her from some adventure.
And suddenly a gush of emotion from deep within her heart and the heart of the spring day, a sense of being severed from him by a great, remorseless power, came over her; and taking out a tiny embroidered handkerchief, she wept. Round her the bees hummed carelessly, the blossom dropped, the dappled sunlight covered her with a pattern as of her own fine lace. From the home farm came the lowing of the cows on their way to milking, and, strange sound in that well-ordered home, a distant piping on a penny flute ....
"Mother, Mother, Mo-o-ther!"
Mrs. Pendyce passed her handkerchief across her eyes, and instinctively obeying the laws of breeding, her face lost all trace of its emotion. She waited, crumpling the tiny handkerchief in her gauntleted hand.
"Mother! Oh, there you are! Here's Gregory Vigil!"
Norah, a fox-terrier on either side, was coming down the path; behind her, unhatted, showed Gregory's sanguine face between his wings of grizzled hair.
"I suppose you're going to talk. I'm going over to the Rectory. Ta-to!"
And preceded by her dogs, Norah went on.
Mrs. Pendyce put out her hand.
"Well, Grig," she said, "this is a surprise."
Gregory seated himself beside her on the bench.
"I've brought you this," he said. "I want you to look at it before I answer."
Mrs. Pendyce, who vaguely felt that he would want her to see things as he was seeing them, took a letter from him with a sinking heart.
"LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS,
"April 21, 1892.
"MY DEAR VIGIL,
"I have now secured such evidence as should warrant our instituting a suit. I've written your ward to that effect, and am awaiting her instructions. Unfortunately, we have no act of cruelty, and I've been obliged to draw her attention to the fact that, should her husband defend the suit, it will be very difficult to get the Court to accept their separation in the light of desertion on his part-- difficult indeed, even if he doesn't defend the suit. In divorce cases one has to remember that what has to be kept out is often more important than what has to be got in, and it would be useful to know, therefore, whether there is likelihood of opposition. I do not advise any direct approaching of the husband, but if you are possessed of the information you might let me know. I hate humbug, my dear Vigil, and I hate anything underhand, but divorce is always a dirty business, and while the law is shaped as at present, and the linen washed in public, it will remain impossible for anyone, guilty or innocent, and even for us lawyers, to avoid soiling our hands in one way or another. I regret it as much as you do.
"There is a new man writing verse in the Tertiary, some of it quite first-rate. You might look at the last number. My blossom this year is magnificent.
"With kind regards, I am,
"Very sincerely yours,
"Gregory Vigil, Esq." t
Mrs. Pendyce dropped the letter in her lap, and looked at her cousin.
"He was at Harrow with Horace. I do like him. He is one of the very nicest men I know."
It was clear that she was trying to gain time.
Gregory began pacing up and down.
"Paramor is a man for whom I have the highest respect. I would trust him before anyone."
It was clear that he, too, was trying to gain time.
"Oh, mind my daffodils, please!"
Gregory went down on his knees, and raised the bloom that he had trodden on. He then offered it to Mrs. Pendyce. The action was one to which she was so unaccustomed that it struck her as slightly ridiculous.
"My dear Grig, you'll get rheumatism, and spoil that nice suit; the grass comes off so terribly!"
Gregory got up, and looked shamefacedly at his knees.
"The knee is not what it used to be," he said.
Mrs. Pendyce smiled.
"You should keep your knees for Helen Bellow, Grig. I was always five years older than you.
Gregory rumpled up his hair.
"Kneeling's out of fashion, but I thought in the country you wouldn't mind!"
"You don't notice things, dear Grig. In the country it's still more out of fashion. You wouldn't find a woman within thirty miles of here who would like a man to kneel to her. We've lost the habit. She would think she was being made fun of. We soon grow out of vanity!"
"In London," said Gregory, "I hear all women intend to be men; but in the country I thought----"
"In the country, Grig, all women would like to be men, but they don't dare to try. They trot behind."
As if she had been guilty of thoughts too insightful, Mrs. Pendyce blushed.
Gregory broke out suddenly:
"I can't bear to think of women like that!"
Again Mrs. Pendyce smiled.
"You see, Grig dear, you are not married."
"I detest the idea that marriage changes our views, Margery; I loathe it."
"Mind my daffodils!" murmured Mrs. Pendyce.
She was thinking all the time: 'That dreadful letter! What am I to do?'
And as though he knew her thoughts, Gregory said:
"I shall assume that Bellew will not defend the case. If he has a spark of chivalry in him he will be only too glad to see her free. I will never believe that any man could be such a soulless clod as to wish to keep her bound. I don't pretend to understand the law, but it seems to me that there's only one way for a man to act and after all Bellew's a gentleman. You'll see that he will act like one!"
Mrs. Pendyce looked at the daffodil in her lap.
"I have only seen him three or four times, but it seemed to me, Grig, that he was a man who might act in one way today and another tomorrow. He is so very different from all the men about here."
"When it comes to the deep things of life," said Gregory, "one man is much as another. Is there any man you know who would be so lacking in chivalry as to refuse in these circumstances?"
Mrs. Pendyce looked at him with a confused expression--wonder, admiration, irony, and even fear, struggled in her eyes.
"I can think of dozens."
Gregory clutched his forehead.
"Margery," he said, "I hate your cynicism. I don't know where you get it from."
"I'm so sorry; I didn't mean to be cynical--I didn't, really. I only spoke from what I've seen."
"Seen?" said Gregory. "If I were to go by what I saw daily, hourly, in London in the course of my work I should commit suicide within a week."
"But what else can one go by?"
Without answering, Gregory walked to the edge of the orchard, and stood gazing over the Scotch garden, with his face a little tilted towards the sky. Mrs. Pendyce felt he was grieving that she failed to see whatever it was he saw up there, and she was sorry. He came back, and said:
"We won't discuss it any more."
Very dubiously she heard those words, but as she could not express the anxiety and doubt torturing her soul, she told him tea was ready. But Gregory would not come in just yet out of the sun.
In the drawing-room Beatrix was already giving tea to young Tharp and the Reverend Husell Barter. And the sound of these well-known voices restored to Mrs. Pendyce something of her tranquillity. The Rector came towards her at once with a teacup in his hand.
"My wife has got a headache," he said. "She wanted to come over with me, but I made her lie down. Nothing like lying down for a headache. We expect it in June, you know. Let me get you your tea."
Mrs. Pendyce, already aware even to the day of what he expected in June, sat down, and looked at Mr. Barter with a slight feeling of surprise. He was really a very good fellow; it was nice of him to make his wife lie down! She thought his broad, red-brown face, with its protecting, not unhumorous, lower lip, looked very friendly. Roy, the Skye terrier at her feet, was smelling at the reverend gentleman's legs with a slow movement of his tail.
"The old dog likes me," said the Rector; "they know a dog-lover when they see one wonderful creatures, dogs! I'm sometimes tempted to think they may have souls!"
Mrs. Pendyce answered:
"Horace says he's getting too old."
The dog looked up in her face, and her lip quivered.
The Rector laughed.
"Don't you worry about that; there's plenty of life in him." And he added unexpectedly: " I couldn't bear to put a dog away, the friend of man. No, no; let Nature see to that."
Over at the piano Bee and young Tharp were turning the pages of the "Saucy Girl"; the room was full of the scent of azaleas; and Mr. Barter, astride of a gilt chair, looked almost sympathetic, gazing tenderly at the old Skye.
Mrs. Pendyce felt a sudden yearning to free her mind, a sudden longing to ask a man's advice.
"Oh, Mr. Barter," she said, "my cousin, Gregory Vigil, has just brought me some news; it is confidential, please. Helen Bellew is going to sue for a divorce. I wanted to ask you whether you could tell me----" Looking in the Rector's face, she stopped.
"A divorce! H'm! Really!"
A chill of terror came over Mrs. Pendyce.
"Of course you will not mention it to anyone, not even to Horace. It has nothing to do with us."
Mr. Barter bowed; his face wore the expression it so often wore in school on Sunday mornings.
"H'm!" he said again.
It flashed through Mrs. Pendyce that this man with the heavy jowl and menacing eyes, who sat so square on that flimsy chair, knew something. It was as though he had answered:
"This is not a matter for women; you will be good enough to leave it to me."
With the exception of those few words of Lady Malden's, and the recollection of George's face when he had said, "Oh yes, I see her now and then," she had no evidence, no knowledge, nothing to go on; but she knew from some instinctive source that her son was Mrs. Bellew's lover.
So, with terror and a strange hope, she saw Gregory entering the room.
"Perhaps," she thought, "he will make Grig stop it."
She poured out Gregory's tea, followed Bee and Cecil Tharp into the conservatory, and left the two men together:
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