Mrs. Pendyce felt very faint when she hurried away from Chelsea. She had passed through hours of great emotion, and eaten nothing.
Like sunset clouds or the colours in mother-o'-pearl, so, it is written, shall be the moods of men--interwoven as the threads of an embroidery, less certain than an April day, yet with a rhythm of their own that never fails, and no one can quite scan.
A single cup of tea on her way home, and her spirit revived. It seemed suddenly as if there had been a great ado about nothing! As if someone had known how stupid men could be, and been playing a fantasia on that stupidity. But this gaiety of spirit soon died away, confronted by the problem of what she should do next.
She reached her hotel without making a decision. She sat down in the reading-room to write to Gregory, and while she sat there with her pen in her hand a dreadful temptation came over her to say bitter things to him, because by not seeing people as they were he had brought all this upon them. But she had so little practice in saying bitter things that she could not think of any that were nice enough, and in the end she was obliged to leave them out. After finishing and sending off the note she felt better. And it came to her suddenly that, if she packed at once, there was just time to catch the 5.55 to Worsted Skeynes.
As in leaving her home, so in returning, she followed her instinct, and her instinct told her to avoid unnecessary fuss and suffering.
The decrepit station fly, mouldy and smelling of stables, bore her almost lovingly towards the Hall. Its old driver, clean-faced, cheery, somewhat like a bird, drove her almost furiously, for, though he knew nothing, he felt that two whole days and half a day were quite long enough for her to be away. At the lodge gate old Roy, the Skye, was seated on his haunches, and the sight of him set Mrs. Pendyce trembling as though till then she had not realised that she was coming home.
Home! The long narrow lane without a turning, the mists and stillness, the driving rain and hot bright afternoons; the scents of wood smoke and hay and the scent of her flowers; the Squire's voice, the dry rattle of grass-cutters, the barking of dogs, and distant hum of threshing; and Sunday sounds--church bells and rooks, and Mr. Barter's preaching; the tastes, too, of the very dishes! And all these scents and sounds and tastes, and the feel of the air to her cheeks, seemed to have been for ever in the past, and to be going on for ever in the time to come.
She turned red and white by turns, and felt neither joy nor sadness, for in a wave the old life came over her. She went at once to the study to wait for her husband to come in. At the hoarse sound he made, her heart beat fast, while old Roy and the spaniel John growled gently at each other.
"John," she murmured, "aren't you glad to see me, dear?"
The spaniel John, without moving, beat his tail against his master's foot.
The Squire raised his head at last.
"Well, Margery?" was all he said.
It shot through her mind that he looked older, and very tired!
The dinner-gong began to sound, and as though attracted by its long monotonous beating, a swallow flew in at one of the narrow windows and fluttered round the room. Mrs. Pendyce's eyes followed its flight.
The Squire stepped forward suddenly and took her hand.
"Don't run away from me again, Margery!" he said; and stooping down, he kissed it.
At this action, so unlike her husband, Mrs. Pendyce blushed like a girl. Her eyes above his grey and close-cropped head seemed grateful that he did not reproach her, glad of that caress.
"I have some news to tell you, Horace. Helen Bellew has given George up!"
The Squire dropped her hand.
"And quite time too," he said. "I dare say George has refused to take his dismissal. He's as obstinate as a mule."
"I found him in a dreadful state."
Mr. Pendyce asked uneasily:
"What? What's that?"
"He looked so desperate."
"Desperate?" said the Squire, with a sort of startled anger.
Mrs. Pendyce went on:
"It was dreadful to see his face. I was with him this afternoon-"
The Squire said suddenly:
"He's not ill, is he?"
"No, not ill. Oh, Horace, don't you understand? I was afraid he might do something rash. He was so--miserable."
The Squire began to walk up and down.
"Is he is he safe now?" he burst out.
Mrs. Pendyce sat down rather suddenly in the nearest chair.
"Yes," she said with difficulty, "I--I think so."
"Think! What's the good of that? What---- Are you feeling faint, Margery?"
Mrs. Pendyce, who had closed her eyes, said:
"No dear, it's all right."
Mr. Pendyce came close, and since air and quiet were essential to her at that moment, he bent over and tried by every means in his power to rouse her; and she, who longed to be let alone, sympathised with him, for she knew that it was natural that he should do this. In spite of his efforts the feeling of faintness passed, and, taking his hand, she stroked it gratefully.
"What is to be done now, Horace?"
"Done!" cried the Squire. "Good God! how should I know? Here you are in this state, all because of that d---d fellow Bellew and his d---d wife! What you want is some dinner."
So saying, he put his arm around her, and half leading, half carrying, took her to her room.
They did not talk much at dinner, and of indifferent things, of Mrs. Barter, Peacock, the roses, and Beldame's hock. Only once they came too near to that which instinct told them to avoid, for the Squire said suddenly:
"I suppose you saw that woman?"
And Mrs. Pendyce murmured:
She soon went to her room, and had barely got into bed when he appeared, saying as though ashamed:
"I'm very early."
She lay awake, and every now and then the Squire would ask her, "Are you asleep, Margery?" hoping that she might have dropped off, for he himself could not sleep. And she knew that he meant to be nice to her, and she knew, too, that as he lay awake, turning from side to side, he was thinking like herself: 'What's to be done next?' And that his fancy, too, was haunted by a ghost, high-shouldered, with little burning eyes, red hair, and white freckled face. For, save that George was miserable, nothing was altered, and the cloud of vengeance still hung over Worsted Skeynes. Like some weary lesson she rehearsed her thoughts: 'Now Horace can answer that letter of Captain Bellow's, can tell him that George will not--indeed, cannot-- see her again. He must answer it. But will he?'
She groped after the secret springs of her husband's character, turning and turning and trying to understand, that she might know the best way of approaching him. And she could not feel sure, for behind all the little outside points of his nature, that she thought so "funny," yet could comprehend, there was something which seemed to her as unknown, as impenetrable as the dark, a sort of thickness of soul, a sort of hardness, a sort of barbaric-what? And as when in working at her embroidery the point of her needle would often come to a stop against stiff buckram, so now was the point of her soul brought to a stop against the soul of her husband. 'Perhaps,' she thought, 'Horace feels like that with me.' She need not so have thought, for the Squire never worked embroideries, nor did the needle of his soul make voyages of discovery.
By lunch-time the next day she had not dared to say a word. 'If I say nothing,' she thought, 'he may write it of his own accord.'
Without attracting his attention, therefore, she watched every movement of his morning. She saw him sitting at his bureau with a creased and crumpled letter, and knew it was Bellew's; and she hovered about, coming softly in and out, doing little things here and there and in the hall, outside. But the Squire gave no sign, motionless as the spaniel John couched along the ground with his nose between his paws.
After lunch she could bear it no longer.
"What do you think ought to be done now, Horace?"
The Squire looked at her fixedly.
"If you imagine," he said at last, "that I'll have anything to do with that fellow Bellew, you're very much mistaken."
Mrs. Pendyce was arranging a vase of flowers, and her hand shook so that some of the water was spilled over the cloth. She took out her handkerchief and dabbed it up.
"You never answered his letter, dear," she said.
The Squire put his back against the sideboard; his stiff figure, with lean neck and angry eyes, whose pupils were mere pin-points, had a certain dignity.
"Nothing shall induce me!" he said, and his voice was harsh and strong, as though he spoke for something bigger than himself. "I've thought it over all the morning, and I'm d---d if I do! The man is a ruffian. I won't knuckle under to him!"
Mrs. Pendyce clasped her hands.
"Oh, Horace," she said; "but for the sake of us all! Only just give him that assurance."
"And let him crow over me!" cried the Squire. "By Jove, no!"
"But, Horace, I thought that was what you wanted George to do. You wrote to him and asked him to promise."
The Squire answered:
"You know nothing about it, Margery; you know nothing about me. D'you think I'm going to tell him that his wife has thrown my son over--let him keep me gasping like a fish all this time, and then get the best of it in the end? Not if I have to leave the county--not if I----"
But, as though he had imagined the most bitter fate of all, he stopped.
Mrs. Pendyce, putting her hands on the lapels of his coat, stood with her head bent. The colour had gushed into her cheeks, her eyes were bright with tears. And there came from her in her emotion a warmth and fragrance, a charm, as though she were again young, like the portrait under which they stood.
"Not if I ask you, Horace?"
The Squire's face was suffused with dusky colour; he clenched his hands and seemed to sway and hesitate.
"No, Margery," he said hoarsely; "it's--it's--I can't!"
And, breaking away from her, he left the room.
Mrs. Pendyce looked after him; her fingers, from which he had torn his coat, began twining the one with the other.
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