But George did not come to take his mother to the theatre, and she whose day had been passed in looking forward to the evening, passed that evening in a drawing-room full of furniture whose history she did not know, and a dining-room full of people eating in twos and threes and fours, at whom she might look, but to whom she must not speak, to whom she did not even want to speak, so soon had the wheel of life rolled over her wonder and her expectation, leaving it lifeless in her breast. And all that night, with one short interval of sleep, she ate of bitter isolation and futility, and of the still more bitter knowledge: "George does not want me; I'm no good to him!"
Her heart, seeking consolation, went back again and again to the time when he had wanted her; but it was far to go, to the days of holland suits, when all those things that he desired--slices of pineapple, Benson's old carriage-whip, the daily reading out of "Tom Brown's School-days," the rub with Elliman when he sprained his little ankle, the tuck-up in bed--were in her power alone to give.
This night she saw with fatal clearness that since he went to school he had never wanted her at all. She had tried so many years to believe that he did, till it had become part of her life, as it was part of her life to say her prayers night and morning; and now she found it was all pretence. But, lying awake, she still tried to believe it, because to that she had been bound when she brought him, firstborn, into the world. Her other son, her daughters, she loved them too, but it was not the same thing, quite; she had never wanted them to want her, because that part of her had been given once for all to George.
The street noises died down at last; she had slept two hours when they began again. She lay listening. And the noises and her thoughts became tangled in her exhausted brain--one great web of weariness, a feeling that it was all senseless and unnecessary, the emanation of cross-purposes and cross-grainedness, the negation of that gentle moderation, her own most sacred instinct. And an early wasp, attracted by the sweet perfumes of her dressing-table, roused himself from the corner where he had spent the night, and began to hum and hover over the bed. Mrs. Pendyce was a little afraid of wasps, so, taking a moment when he was otherwise engaged, she stole out, and fanned him with her nightdress-case till, perceiving her to be a lady, he went away. Lying down again, she thought: 'People will worry them until they sting, and then kill them; it's so unreasonable,' not knowing that she was putting all her thoughts on suffering in a single nutshell.
She breakfasted upstairs, unsolaced by any news from George. Then with no definite hope, but a sort of inner certainty, she formed the resolution to call on Mrs. Bellew. She determined, however, first to visit Mr. Paramor, and, having but a hazy notion of the hour when men begin to work, she did not dare to start till past eleven, and told her cabman to drive her slowly. He drove her, therefore, faster than his wont. In Leicester Square the passage of a Personage between two stations blocked the traffic, and on the footways were gathered a crowd of simple folk with much in their hearts and little in their stomachs, who raised a cheer as the Personage passed. Mrs. Pendyce looked eagerly from her cab, for she too loved a show.
The crowd dispersed, and the cab went on.
It was the first time she had ever found herself in the business apartment of any professional man less important than a dentist. From the little waiting-room, where they handed her the Times, which she could not read from excitement, she caught sight of rooms lined to the ceilings with leather books and black tin boxes, initialed in white to indicate the brand, and of young men seated behind lumps of paper that had been written on. She heard a perpetual clicking noise which roused her interest, and smelled a peculiar odour of leather and disinfectant which impressed her disagreeably. A youth with reddish hair and a pen in his hand passed through and looked at her with a curious stare immediately averted. She suddenly felt sorry for him and all those other young men behind the lumps of paper, and the thought went flashing through her mind, 'I suppose it's all because people can't agree.'
She was shown in to Mr. Paramor at last. In his large empty room, with its air of past grandeur, she sat gazing at three La France roses in a tumbler of water with the feeling that she would never be able to begin.
Mr. Paramor's eyebrows, which jutted from his clean, brown face like little clumps of pothooks, were iron-grey, and iron-grey his hair brushed back from his high forehead. Mrs. Pendyce wondered why he looked five years younger than Horace, who was his junior, and ten years younger than Charles, who, of course, was younger still. His eyes, which from iron-grey some inner process of spiritual manufacture had made into steel colour, looked young too, although they were grave; and the smile which twisted up the corners of his mouth looked very young.
"Well," he said, "it's a great pleasure to see you."
Mrs. Pendyce could only answer with a smile.
Mr. Paramor put the roses to his nose.
"Not so good as yours," he said, "are they? but the best I can do."
Mrs. Pendyce blushed with pleasure.
"My garden is looking so beautiful----" Then, remembering that she no longer had a garden, she stopped; but remembering also that, though she had lost her garden, Mr. Paramor still had his, she added quickly: "And yours, Mr. Paramor--I'm sure it must be looking lovely."
Mr. Paramor drew out a kind of dagger with which he had stabbed some papers to his desk, and took a letter from the bundle.
"Yes," he said, "it's looking very nice. You'd like to see this, I expect."
"Bellew v. Bellew and Pendyce" was written at the top. Mrs. Pendyce stared at those words as though fascinated by their beauty; it was long before she got beyond them. For the first time the full horror of these matters pierced the kindly armour that lies between mortals and what they do not like to think of. Two men and a woman wrangling, fighting, tearing each other before the eyes of all the world. A woman and two men stripped of charity and gentleness, of moderation and sympathy-stripped of all that made life decent and lovable, squabbling like savages before the eyes of all the world. Two men, and one of them her son, and between them a woman whom both of them had loved! "Bellew v. Bellew and Pendyce"! And this would go down to fame in company with the pitiful stories she had read from time to time with a sort of offended interest; in company with "Snooks v. Snooks and Stiles," "Horaday v. Horaday," "Bethany v. Bethany and Sweetenham." In company with all those cases where everybody seemed so dreadful, yet where she had often and often felt so sorry, as if these poor creatures had been fastened in the stocks by some malignant, loutish spirit, for all that would to come and jeer at. And horror filled her heart. It was all so mean, and gross, and common.
The letter contained but a few words from a firm of solicitors confirming an appointment. She looked up at Mr. Paramor. He stopped pencilling on his blotting-paper, and said at once:
"I shall be seeing these people myself tomorrow afternoon. I shall do my best to make them see reason."
She felt from his eyes that he knew what she was suffering, and was even suffering with her.
"And if--if they won't?"
"Then I shall go on a different tack altogether, and they must look out for themselves."
Mrs. Pendyce sank back in her chair; she seemed to smell again that smell of leather and disinfectant, and hear a sound of incessant clicking. She felt faint, and to disguise that faintness asked at random, "What does 'without prejudice' in this letter mean?"
Mr. Paramor smiled.
"That's an expression we always use," he said. "It means that when we give a thing away, we reserve to ourselves the right of taking it back again."
Mrs. Pendyce, who did not understand, murmured:
"I see. But what have they given away?"
Paramor put his elbows on the desk, and lightly pressed his finger- tips together.
"Well," he said, "properly speaking, in a matter like this, the other side and I are cat and dog.
We are supposed to know nothing about each other and to want to know less, so that when we do each other a courtesy we are obliged to save our faces by saying, 'We don't really do you one.' D'you understand?"
Again Mrs. Pendyce murmured:
"It sounds a little provincial, but we lawyers exist by reason of provincialism. If people were once to begin making allowances for each other, I don't know where we should be."
Mrs. Pendyce's eyes fell again on those words, "Bellew v. Bellew and Pendyce," and again, as though fascinated by their beauty, rested there.
"But you wanted to see me about something else too, perhaps?" said Mr. Paramor.
A sudden panic came over her.
"Oh no, thank you. I just wanted to know what had been done. I've come up on purpose to see George. You told me that I----"
Mr. Paramor hastened to her aid.
"Yes, yes; quite right--quite right."
"Horace hasn't come with me."
"He and George sometimes don't quite----"
"Hit it off? They're too much alike."
"Do you think so? I never saw-----"
"Not in face, not in face; but they've both got----"
Mr. Paramor's meaning was lost in a smile; and Mrs. Pendyce, who did not know that the word "Pendycitis" was on the tip of his tongue, smiled vaguely too.
"George is very determined," she said. "Do you think--oh, do you think, Mr. Paramor, that you will be able to persuade Captain Bellew's solicitors----"
Mr. Paramor threw himself back in his chair, and his hand covered what he had written on his blotting-paper.
"Yes," he said slowly----"oh yes, yes!"
But Mrs. Pendyce had had her answer. She had meant to speak of her visit to Helen Bellew, but now her thought was:
'He won't persuade them; I feel it. Let me get away!'
Again she seemed to hear the incessant clicking, to smell leather and disinfectant, to see those words, "Bellew v. Bellew and, Pendyce."
She held out her hand.
Mr. Paramor took it in his own and looked at the floor.
"Good-bye," he said-"good-bye. What's your address--Green's Hotel? I'll come and tell you what I do. I know--I know!"
Mrs. Pendyce, on whom those words "I know--I know!" had a strange, emotionalising effect, as though no one had ever known before, went away with quivering lips. In her life no one had ever "known"--not indeed that she could or would complain of such a trifle, but the fact remained. And at this moment, oddly, she thought of her husband, and wondered what he was doing, and felt sorry for him.
But Mr. Paramor went back to his seat and stared at what he had written on his blotting paper. It ran thus:
"We stand on our petty rights here, And our potty dignity there; We make no allowance for others, They make no allowance for us; We catch hold of them by the ear, They grab hold of us by the hair The result is a bit of a muddle That ends in a bit of a fuss."
He saw that it neither rhymed nor scanned, and with a grave face he tore it up.
Again Mrs. Pendyce told her cabman to drive slowly, and again he drove her faster than usual; yet that drive to Chelsea seemed to last for ever, and interminable were the turnings which the cabman took, each one shorter than the last, as if he had resolved to see how much his horse's mouth could bear.
'Poor thing!' thought Mrs. Pendyce; 'its mouth must be so sore, and it's quite unnecessary.' She put her hand up through the trap. "Please take me in a straight line. I don't like corners."
The cabman obeyed. It worried him terribly to take one corner instead of the six he had purposed on his way; and when she asked him his fare, he charged her a shilling extra for the distance he had saved by going straight. Mrs. Pendyce paid it, knowing no better, and gave him sixpence over, thinking it might benefit the horse; and the cabman, touching his hat, said:
"Thank you, my lady," for to say "my lady" was his principle when he received eighteen pence above his fare.
Mrs. Pendyce stood quite a minute on the pavement, stroking the horse's nose and thinking:
'I must go in; it's silly to come all this way and not go in!'
But her heart beat so that she could hardly swallow.
At last she rang.
Mrs. Bellew was seated on the sofa in her little drawing-room whistling to a canary in the open window. In the affairs of men there is an irony constant and deep, mingled with the very springs of life. The expectations of Mrs. Pendyce, those timid apprehensions of this meeting which had racked her all the way, were lamentably unfulfilled. She had rehearsed the scene ever since it came into her head; the reality seemed unfamiliar. She felt no nervousness and no hostility, only a sort of painful interest and admiration. And how could this or any other woman help falling in love with George?
The first uncertain minute over, Mrs. Bellew's eyes were as friendly as if she had been quite within her rights in all she had done; and Mrs. Pendyce could not help meeting friendliness halfway.
"Don't be angry with me for coming. George doesn't know. I felt I must come to see you. Do you think that you two quite know all you're doing? It seems so dreadful, and it's not only yourselves, is it?"
Mrs. Bellew's smile vanished.
"Please don't say 'you two,' she said.
Mrs. Pendyce stammered:
"I don't understand."
Mrs. Bellew looked her in the face and smiled; and as she smiled she seemed to become a little coarser.
"Well, I think it's quite time you did! I don't love your son. I did once, but I don't now. I told him so yesterday, once for all."
Mrs. Pendyce heard those words, which made so vast, so wonderful a difference--words which should have been like water in a wilderness-- with a sort of horror, and all her spirit flamed up into her eyes.
"You don't love him?" she cried.
She felt only a blind sense of insult and affront.
This woman tire of George? Tire of her son? She looked at Mrs. Bellew, on whose face was a kind of inquisitive compassion, with eyes that had never before held hatred.
"You have tired of him? You have given him up? Then the sooner I go to him the better! Give me the address of his rooms, please."
Helen Bellew knelt down at the bureau and wrote on an envelope, and the grace of the woman pierced Mrs. Pendyce to the heart.
She took the paper. She had never learned the art of abuse, and no words could express what was in her heart, so she turned and went out.
Mrs. Bellew's voice sounded quick and fierce behind her.
"How could I help getting tired? I am not you. Now go!"
Mrs. Pendyce wrenched open the outer door. Descending the stairs, she felt for the bannister. She had that awful sense of physical soreness and shrinking which violence, whether their own or others', brings to gentle souls.
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