Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter XII
On Monday morning he went up to town without seeing her again. Tuesday he got that fateful telegram:
Stevens seen man hanging about house, shabby peering man. Questioned cook. Sick with fear. Send back all my letters at once by special messenger. In panic. On no account come down or near me but letters urgent.
Stevens had told her in the evening whilst putting her to bed. Stevens knew all about the case and was alert for possible complications. The shabby man had been under the observation of cook and housemaid.
"And much satisfaction he got out of what they told him. Askin' questions an' peerin' about! Cook told him off, said no one hadn't been stayin' here, an' if they had 'twas no business of his."
Margaret, pale and stricken, asked if the man looked like … like a detective.
"Lawyer's clerk more like, but I thought I'd best let you know."
The news would have kept until the morning, but one could not expect a servant to take into consideration the effect her stories might have on Margaret's sensitiveness. She had no sleep at all. Sleepless and shaken she lay awake the whole night, conjuring up ghosts, chiefly the ghost or vision of James, coarse-mouthed, cruel, vindictive. The bare idea of the case being reopened made her shudder, she had been so tormented in court, her modesties outraged. She knew she could never, would never bear it again. If the dreadful choice were all that was left to her she would give up Gabriel. At the thought of giving up Gabriel it seemed there was nothing else for which she cared, nothing on earth.
She conjured up not only ghosts but absurdities. The shabby peering man would go to Hampstead, question Gabriel's silly sister, be shown letters. This was more than she could bear. On the last occasion letters of hers had been read in court; love letters to James! She cringed in her bed at the remembrance of them. And what had she written to Gabriel? Not one word came back to her of anything she had written. At first she knew they had been laboured letters, laboured or literary. But since she had been down here, and Peter Kennedy, by sheer force of contrast, had taught her how much she could care for a really good and clever man, she had written with entire unrestraint, freely.
She wrote that telegram to Gabriel Stanton at four o'clock in the morning, going down to the drawing-room for a telegram form in dressing-gown and slippers, her hair in two plaits, shivering with cold and apprehension. The house was full of eerie sounds; she heard pursuing feet. After she had secured the forms she rushed for the shelter of her room and the warmth of her bed; cowering under the clothes, not able for a long time to do the task she had set herself. When she became sufficiently rested she took more time and care over the wording of her telegram to Gabriel than she might have done over a sonnet. She wanted to say just enough, not too much, not to bring him down, yet to make the matter urgent. Stevens was rung for at six o'clock for tea and perhaps sympathy.
"Get me a cup of tea as quickly as you can, I've been awake the whole night. I want this telegram sent off as soon as the office opens, not later anyway than eight o'clock. Keep the house as quiet as you can. I shall try and sleep now."
She slept until Gabriel's telegram came back.
One of our own men coming with package by 3.15.
She met the train, looking pale and wretched. Stanton's man wore the familiar cap. She had been to the office two or three times about the pottery book, and he recognised her easily.
"You have a parcel for me?"
"Mr. Gabriel said I was to tell you there was a letter inside."
"A letter! But I thought... oh, yes! Give it to me."
"And I was to ask if there was an answer."
"An answer, but I can't write here!"
"He didn't know you was meeting me. 'Go up to the house,' he said; 'give it to her in her own hands. Ask if there is any answer.'"
"Tell him... tell him I'll write," she said vaguely.
But as yet she had not read. What would he say, what comfort send her? For all her wired definiteness she wished he had come himself, had a moment's disloyalty to him, thought he should have disregarded her wishes, rushed down, even if they had met only at the station. He need not have been so punctilious!
She could not let the man go back until she had read and answered Gabriel's letter. She made him drive back with her to Carbies, seated on the box beside the driver. She held the precious package tight, but did not open it. For that she must be alone.
Stanton's man was handed over to the household's care for lunch or tea. He was to go back by the 5.5. "Mr. Gabriel" had given him his instructions.
Now she was at her writing-table and alone. The packet was sealed with sealing-wax. Inside there were all her own letters, and a closed envelope superscribed in the dear familiar handwriting. She tore it open. After she had read her lover's letter she had no more reproaches for him, vague or otherwise.
My Own, my Beloved:—
Here are the letters. I could refuse you nothing, but to part from these has overwhelmed me, weakened me. I have turned coward. For it is all so unknown. I am in the dark, bewildered. Your wire was an awful shock. I am haunted with terror, the harder to bear because it came in the midst of all the sweet sacred thoughts and remembrances of a wonderful week-end, of the things you said or allowed me to say which filled me with high hopes, promise of joy and happiness I dared hardly dwell upon. I don't know what has happened. I only know you must not be alone and have forbidden me to come to you. Rescind your decision, I implore you. As I think and think with restless brain and heart my great ache and anxiety are that you are in trouble and that I am away and useless, just when I would give my soul for the chance of standing by you and with you in any need and for always. By all the remembrance of our happy hours, by all the new and sweet happiness you have given me, by all I yearn for in the future give me this chance. Let me come to you. To think of you suffering alone is maddening. Trust me, give me your trust, solemnly I swear not to fail you whatever may happen. It is of you only I am thinking. I can be strong for you, wise for you, and should thank God, both in pride and humbleness, for the chance to serve you; to serve you with reverence and love. Send for me. Tell me—let me share all and always.
She sat a long time with the letter in her hand, read it again and yet again. She forgot the night terrors, began to question herself. Of what had she been so frightened? What had Stevens told her? Only that a shabby man had questioned cook about their visitors. Now she wanted to analyse and sift the trouble, get to bedrock with it. She rang the bell and sent for the maids. They had singularly little to tell her; summarised it came to this: A shabby man had hung about Carbies all Monday; cook had called him up to the back door and asked him what he was after—"No good, I'll be bound," she told him. He had paid her a compliment and said that "with her in the kitchen it was no wonder men 'ung about." And after that they seemed to have had something of a colloquy and cook had been asked if she walked out with anybody. "Like his nasty impidence," she commented, when telling the story to her mistress. "I up and told him whether I walked out with anybody or not I wasn't for the likes of him."
It was not without question and cross-question Margaret elicited that this final snub was not given until after tea. Cook defended the invitation.
"It's 'ard if in an establishment like this you can't offer a young man a cup of tea." She complained, not without waking a sympathetic echo in Margaret's own heart, that Pineland was that dull, not a bit o' life in it. Married men came round with the carts and a girl delivered the milk.
"'E was pleasant company enough till 'e started arskin' questions."
Then it appeared it was Stevens who "gave him as good as he gave," asking him what it was he did want to know, and being satirical with him. The housemaid had chimed in with Stevens; there may have been some little feminine jealousy at the back of it. Cook was young and frivolous, the two others more sedate. Stevens and the housemaid must have set upon cook and her presumed admirer. In any case the young man was given his congé immediately after tea, before he had established a footing. Stevens' report had been exaggerated, Margaret's terror excessive and unreasonable. She dismissed the erring cook now with the mildest of rebukes, then set herself to write to Gabriel. The time was limited, since the man was returning by the 5.5. She heard later, by the way, that he quite replaced the stranger in the cook's facile affections. Stevens again was responsible for the statement that cook was "that light and talked away to any man." Contrasting with herself, Stevens, who "didn't 'old with making herself cheap."
Margaret wrote slowly, even if it were only a letter. She had to recall her mood, to analyse the panic. She was quite calm now. His letter seemed exaggerated beyond what the occasion or the telegram demanded.
How good you are, and safe. Your letter calmed and comforted me. Panic! no other word describes my condition at four o'clock this morning after a sleepless night. Servants' gossip was at the bottom of it. I have always wished for a dumb maid, but Stevens' tongue is hung on vibrating wires, never still. There was a man, it seems now he was a suitor of cook's! He did ask questions, but chiefly as to her hours off duty, whether she was already "walking out," an expression for an engagement on probation, I understand. He was an aspirant. I cannot write you a proper letter, my bad night has turned me into a wreck, a "beautiful ruin" as you would say. No, you wouldn't, you are too polite. You must take it then that all is well; except that your choice has fallen upon a woman easily unnerved. Was I so foolish after all? James is capable of any blackguardism, he would hate that I should be happy with you. He can no longer excuse his conduct to me, or my resentment of it on the plea that I am unlike other women. I know his mind so well! "Women of genius have no sex," he said among other things to account for the failure of our married life. He can say so no longer. "Women of genius have no sex!" It isn't true. Do you see me reddening as I write it? What about that little house in Westminster? Have you written to all the agents? Are you searching? Sunday night I was so happy. One large room there must be. Colour prints on the walls and chintz on the big sofas, my Staffordshire everywhere, a shrine somewhere, central place for the musicians; cushions of all shades of roses, some a pale green. I can't see the carpets or curtains yet. I incline to dark green for both. No, I am not frivolous, only emotional. I think I shall alter when we are together, begin to develop and grow uniform in the hothouse of your love, under the forcing glass of your great regard. It is into that house, under that glass I want to creep, to be warmed through, to blossom.
Picture me then as no longer unhappy or distressed, although all day I have neither worked nor played. Your letter healed me; take thanks for it therefore and come down Saturday as usual, with a plan of the house that is to be. (By the way, I must have dog stoves.) In a few days now I, or you, will tell my father and stepmother. The days crawl, each one emptier than the other, until the one that brings you. A rivierdici.
She sent it, but not the old ones back. She wanted to read them again, it would be an occupation for the evening. She would place them in order, together with his answers. She saw a story there. "The Love Tale of a Woman of Genius." After all, both she and Gabriel were of sufficient interest for the world to wish to read about them. (It was not until a few days later, by the way, that the title was altered, others tried, that the disingenuous diary began, the MS. started.)
She slept well that night and wrote him again in the morning, the most passionate love-letter of any of the series. Then she sent for Peter Kennedy. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday had to be got through. And then another week, and one other. And Safety, safety with Gabriel!
Peter came hot-foot like a starving animal. It was five days since he had seen her, and he looked worn and cadaverous. She gave him an intermittent pulse to count, told him she had had a sleepless night, found herself restless, unnerved, told him no more. He was purely professional at first, brusquely uneasy about her, blaming her for all she had done and left undone, the tonic she had missed, the unrest to which she admitted. After that they found little more to say to each other, though Peter could not tear himself away.
She talked best to Peter through the piano, as he to her. Even in these few weeks his playing had enormously improved. The whole man had altered. She had had more and different effect upon him than would have seemed possible at first. He had never been in love before, only known vulgar intrigue, how to repel the glad-eye attentions of provincial maidens to whom his size was an attraction, and his stupidity no deterrent. This was something altogether different, and in a measure he had grown to meet it, become more ambitious and less demonstrative, perceptibly humbler. She knew he loved her but made light of it. He filled up the hours until Gabriel would come again. That was all. But less amusingly now that she had less difficulty in managing him. This mutual attraction of music slurred over many weak places in their intercourse.
Wednesday he sat through the afternoon, stayed on to dinner playing to her and listening. Thursday he paid her a professional visit in the morning, would have sounded her heart but that his stethoscope was unsteady, and he heard his own heartbeats louder and more definitely than hers. Thursday evening he ran up on his bicycle to see if she was all right. There was more music, and for all his newly found self-restraint a scene at parting, a scene that troubled her because she could not hold herself guiltless in bringing it about, and Gabriel was in her mind now to the exclusion of any other man. Gabriel had won solidly that which at first was little more than an incitement, an inclination.
Gabriel Stanton would not have made love to another man's fiancée. His standard was higher than her own, just as his scholarship was deeper and more profound. She was proud that he loved her, simpler and more sincere than she had ever been before.
Tonight, when Peter Kennedy broke down, and cried at her feet and told her that his days were hell and all his nights sleepless, she was ashamed and distressed, much more repelled than attracted. She told him she would refuse to see him, that she would not have him at the house at all if he could not learn to behave himself.
"You are a disgrace to your profession," she said crossly, knowing she was not blameless.
"You do not really think so, do you?" he asked. "I can't help being in love with you."
"Yes, I do. You have given me a pain."
When she said that and pressed both hands over her heart his whole attitude changed. It was true that under the influence of his love his skill had developed. Her lips grew pale and her eyes frightened. He made her lie down, loosened her dress, gave her restoratives. The pain had been but slight, and she recovered rapidly.
"It was entirely your fault," she said when she was able to speak. "You know I can't bear any agitation or excitement."
"The last you'll have through me, I swear it. You can trust me."
"Until the first time the spirit moves you." She never had considered his feelings and did not pause to do so now. "You've no self-control. You dump your ungainly love upon me …"
"And you throw it back in my face with both hands, as if it were mud. But you'll never have another chance, never …"
She was a little sorry for him, and to show it reproached him more.
"Why do you do it, then? You know that, as far as I can be, I am engaged to Gabriel Stanton, that the moment the decree is made absolute we shall be married. Perhaps I ought not to have let you come so often …"
"I fell in love with you the very first moment I saw you. If I'd never seen you again it would have been the same thing. And you've nothing to reproach yourself with. You've made a different man of me. I play better."
"And your taste in music has improved." He looked so forlorn standing up and saying he played the piano better since he had known her, that she regretted the cruelty of her words. He had relieved her pain not once but many times. Instead of sending him away, as she had intended, she kept him with her until quite late. She let him tell her about himself; and what a change his love for her had brought into his life, and there was nothing he would not do, nor sacrifice for her. He said, humbly enough, that he knew she could never, never have cared for such a man as himself. "Stanton has been to a public school and university, is no end of a swell at classics. I got what little education I have at St. Paul's and the London University, walked the hospitals and thought well of myself for doing it, that I was coming up in the world. My father was a country dentist. I've studied more, learnt more since you've been here than in all my student days. You've opened a new world to me. I didn't know there were women like you. After the girls I've met! You were such a … lady, and all that. You are so clever too, and satirical, I don't mind you being down on me. It isn't as if you were strong."
She smiled and asked him whether her delicacy was an additional charm.
"Well, yes, in a way it is. I can always bring you round. I want you to go on letting me be your doctor. You hardly had that pain a minute tonight. It is angina, you know, genuine angina pectoris, and I can do no end of things for it."
"You don't mean I must always have these pains, that they will grow worse?" She grew pale and he saw he had made a mistake, hastening to reassure her.
"You've only got to live quietly, take things easily."
"Oh, that will be all right. When I am married everything will be easy," she said almost complacently. And then in plaintive explanation or apology added, "I bear pain so badly."
"And I may go on doctoring you?"
"I don't suppose I shall send to Pineland if I should feel not quite well," she answered seriously. "We are going to live in London."
"I'll come up to London. There is no difficulty about that. I've started reading for my M.D. I can get back to my old hospital." She rallied him a little and then sent him away.
"I shall expect to hear you are house physician when I return from my honeymoon!"
"May I come up in the morning? I want to hear that attack has not recurred."
"The morning is a long way off, the night has to be got through first." Suddenly she remembered her panic and had a faint recrudescence of fear. "I've so many things on my mind. I wish you could ensure me a good night."
"But I can," he said eagerly. "I can easily."
"And without after-effects?"
"Without any bad after-effects."
"The bromide! but it always makes me feel dull and stupid."
"I am frightened of veronal."
"Adolin, paraldehyde, trional, a small injection of morphia?" "But it is so late. You would have to get anything from a chemist."
"No, I shouldn't. I've got my case."
"Yes." He showed it to her, full of strange little bottles and unknown drugs. She showed interest, asking what was this or the other, then changing her mind suddenly:
"No, I won't try any experiments. I'll sleep, or I'll stay awake."
"You don't trust me?"
"Indeed I do, but I distrust drugs. Unless I am in pain, then I would take anything. Tell me, can you really always help me if I get into pain? Would you? At any risk?"
"At any risk to myself, not at any risk to you. But we won't talk of pain, it mustn't happen."
"But if it did?" she persisted.
"Don't fear, I couldn't see you in pain."
"Yet I've always heard and sometimes seen how callous doctors are."
"But I'm not only a doctor …"
"Hush! I thought we had agreed you were. My very good and concerned doctor. Now you really must go. Yes, you can come up in the morning."
"You will take your bromide? "
"If I need it. Good-night!"
Margaret slept well. But she heard from Stevens again next morning over her toilette that cook was not to be trusted, should be got rid of, that she was deceitful, had been seen, after all, with the shabby man from London.
"She took her oath that she'd never mentioned you to him, you nor your visitors, only Dr. Kennedy who attends you. But I'd not believe her oath. A hat with feathers she had on, and a ring on her finger when she went out with him. Such goings-on are not fit for a respectable Christian house, and so I told her."
Margaret listened inattentively, and irritably. She did not want ever to think again of that shabby man or her own unreasoned fears. She bade the maid be silent, attend to her duties. Stevens sniffed and grumbled under her breath. Afterwards she asked if the doctor were coming up again this morning.
"He might want to sound you. You'd best have your Valenciennes slip."
"Don't be so absurd."
Nevertheless the query set her thinking of Peter Kennedy and his love for her. Desultory thinking connects itself naturally with a leisurely toilette. She was sorry for Peter and composed phrases for him, comforting noncommittal phrases. She thought it would do him good to get to London, his ideas wanted expanding, his provincialisms brushed off. She was under the impression she would do great things for Peter one day, let him into her circle; that salon she and Gabriel would hold. Her father should consult him, she would help him to build up a practice.
When he came up, later on, she told him something of her good intentions. They did not interest him very much, it was not service he wanted from her. He heard her night had been good, that she felt rested and better this morning. He had not been told what had disturbed the last one. They were sitting together in the drawing-room, doctor and patient, when the parlourmaid came in with a card. Margaret looked at it and laughed, passed it over to him.
"That's Anne," she said. "Anne evidently thinks I am a hopeful subject."
The card bore the name of "Mrs. Roope, Christian Healer."
"Stay and see her with me," she said to Peter. "It will be almost like a consultation, won't it? … Yes," she told the parlourmaid, "I will see the lady. Let her come up. Now, Peter Kennedy, is opportunity to show your quality, your tact. I expect to be amused, I want to be amused."
Peter was not loath to stay, whatever the excuse.
Mrs. Roope, tall, and dressed something like a hospital nurse, in long flowing cloak and bonnet with veil, was ushered in, but delayed a little in her greeting, because that hysterical affection of the throat of which Anne had spoken, caught and held her, and at first she could only make uncanny noises, something between a hiccough and a bad stammer.
"I've come to see you," she said not once but several times without getting any further.
"Sit down," Margaret said good-naturedly. "This is my doctor. I would suggest you ask him to cure your affliction, only I understand you prefer your own methods."
"There is nothing the matter with me," said the Christian Scientist with an unavoidable contortion.
"So I see," said Margaret, her eyes sparkling with humour.
"I would prefer that this interview should take place without witnesses."
Margaret found that a little surprising, but even then she was not disturbed. There was no connection in her mind between Anne Stanton's healer and the shabby man who had wooed her cook.
"I have no secrets from this gentleman," she answered, her eyes still laughing. "He has no prejudice against you irregular practitioners. You can decide together what is to be done for me. He is my present physician."
"I had thought he was "–bupp, bupp, explosion–"your co-respondent." When she said that Peter Kennedy looked up. He tingled all over and his forehead flushed. He made a step forward and then stood still. His instinct told him here was an enemy, an enemy of Margaret's. He looked, too, at Margaret.
"Your name is Gabriel Stanton."
"My name is Peter Kennedy."
Margaret's quick mind leapt to the truth, saw, and foresaw what was coming. She turned very pale, as if she had been struck. Peter Kennedy moved nearer to her.
"Shall I turn her out?" he asked.
Mrs. Roope fanned herself with her bonnet strings as if she had said nothing unusual.
"You had better see me alone," she said, not menacingly but as if she had established her point. To save repetition the rest of her conversation can be recorded without the affliction that retarded it.
"No," Margaret answered, her courage at low ebb. "Stay where you are," she said to Peter Kennedy.
"You don't suppose I am going, do you?" he asked. Mrs. Roope, after a glance, ignored him.
"Perhaps you are not aware that you have been under observation for some time. My call on you is one of kindness, of kindness only. James Capel is my husband's cousin." At the name of James Capel Margaret gave a little low cry and Peter Kennedy sat down by her side, abruptly.
"We heard you were being visited by Gabriel Stanton and a watch was set upon you. Your decree is not yet made absolute. It never will be now, if the King's Proctor is informed. James, I know, does not wish for a divorce from you."
Margaret sat very still and speechless,—any movement, she knew, might bring on that sickening pain. Peter too realised the position, although he had so little to guide him.
"Answer her. Don't let her think you are afraid. It's blackmail she's after. I am sure of it," he whispered to his patient. Thus strengthened Margaret made an effort for self-control. Peter saw then that the fear was not as new to her as it was to him.
"So it is you who have been having this house watched? Is it perhaps your husband who has been making love to my cook?" Since Peter Kennedy was here she would not show the cold fear at her heart. Mrs. Roope was not offended. She had been kicked out of too many houses by irate fathers, brothers, and husbands to be sensitive.
"No, that is not my husband. The gentleman who has been here is my nephew. As for making love to your cook, I will not admit it. I suggested your maid."
"If she had only sent her husband instead of coming herself. One can talk to a man."
Peter might have been talking to himself. He had risen and now was walking about the room on soft-balled feet like a captive panther.
"You don't know our religion, our creed. We have the true Christian spirit and desire to help others. The sensual cannot be made the mouthpiece of the spiritual. Sensuality palsies the right hand and causes the left to let go its divine grasp. That is why I interfere, for your own good as we are enjoined. Uncleanliness must lead to the body's hurt, in so far as it can be hurt. But mind and matter being one, what hurts the one will hurt the other."
"You can cut the cackle and come to the horses," Peter interrupted rudely. He had summed up the situation and thought he might control it. To him it was obvious the woman was a common blackmailer, although she had formulated no terms. "You are making a great deal of the fact that Mr. Stanton has been down here two or three times. I suppose you know he is Mrs. Capel's publisher."
"Do not interfere, young man. You are a member of a mendacious profession. I am not here to speak to you. I know Gabriel Stanton slept in the house," she said to Margaret.
"What then? Show us your foul mind, if you dare."
"There is no mind..."
"Oh! damn your jargon. What have you come here for? What do you want?" He stopped opposite to her in his restless walking. There shot a gleam of avarice into her dull eye.
"Is he your mouthpiece?" she asked Margaret, who nodded her assent. "I want nothing for myself."
"For whom, then?"
"The labourer is worthy of his hire.... Our Church..."
"You call it a church, do you ? And you are short of cash. There are not enough silly women, half-witted men. You want money..."
"For the promulgation of our tenets." She interrupted. "Yes, we need money for that, for the regeneration of the world."
"And to keep your own house going."
"Your insults do not touch me. I am uplifted from them. Nothing touches the true believer."
Margaret called him over to her and whispered:
"Find out whether James knows anything of this or whether she is acting on her own; what she really wants. I can't talk to her."
Mrs. Roope went on talking and spluttering out texts.
"Cannot you see that Mrs. Capel is ill?" he said angrily.
The Christian Healer was quick to take the opening he gave her.
"Sickness is a growth of error, springing from man's ignorance of Christian Science."
"Oh! more rot—rot—rot, rot! Shut it! What we want to know is if there is any one in this but yourself. We don't admit a word of truth in your allegations. They are lies, and we have no doubt you know they are lies."
"Mrs. Capel will make her own deductions. What have you to do with it, young man?"
"I'll tell you what I have to do with it. I am here to protect this lady."
"Mr. Capel and his lawyer will understand."
"That isn't what you came down here to say."
"I knew that I should be guided. I prayed about it with my husband."
"A pretty sight! 'The Blackmailers' Prayer!' How it must have stank to Heaven! And this fellow here?"
"My nephew. An honourable young man, one of the believers."
"He would be. What's the proverb? Bon sang ne peut pas mentir. Well, for the whole lot of you, your prayerful husband, your honourable nephew, and yourself?"
"What is it you are asking me?"
"As you are here and not with James Capel it is fair to presume you've got your price. Mrs. Capel does not wish to argue or defend herself, she wants to be left alone. You don't know anything because there is nothing to know. But I daresay you could make mischief. What are you asking to keep your venomous mouth shut? There is no good beating about the bush or talking Christian Science. Come to the point. How much?"
"A thousand pounds!" They were both startled, but Peter spoke first.
"That be damned for a tale." A most unedifying dialogue ensued. Then Peter said, after a short whispered colloquy with Margaret:
"She will give you a hundred pounds, no more and no less. Come, close, or leave it alone. A hundred pounds! Take it or leave it."
Margaret would have interrupted. "I said double," she whispered. He translated it quickly:
"Not a farthing more, she says. She has made up her mind. Either that or clear out and do your damnedest."
Sarah Roope stood out for her price until she nearly exhausted his patience, would have exhausted it but that Margaret, terrified, kept urging and soothing him. Before the end Mrs. Roope said a word that justified him—and he put his two hands on her shoulders. He made no point now of her being a woman. There are times when a man's brutality stands him in good stead, and this was one of such occasions.
"Get out of that chair," he jerked it away from her. "Out of her presence. You'll deal with me, or not at all."
He slid his hands from her shoulders to under her elbows: the noises she made in her throat were indescribable, but her actual resistance was small.
"You are not to sit down in her presence."
"I prefer to stand."
"Nor stand either. Outside..." he bundled her towards the door, she tried to hold her ground, but he forced her along. "We've had nearly enough of you, very nearly enough. You wait outside that door. I'll have a word with Mrs. Capel and give you your last chance." She bup—ped out her remonstrance.
"I came here to do her a service. As Mrs. Eddy writes: 'Light and darkness cannot mingle.' I must do as I am guided, and I said from the first we should go to James Capel. Husband and wife should never separate if there is no Christian demand for it."
"Oh! go to hell!"
He shut the door in her face and came back to Margaret.
"You'd better let me get rid of her for you. I shouldn't pay her a brass farthing."
"I'd pay her anything, anything, rather than go through again what I went through before." She burst into tears.
"Oh! if that's the case..." he said indecisively.
"Pay her what she wants."
"I can get her down a good bit." He had no definite idea but to stop her tears, carry out her wishes. In a measure he acted cleverly, going backward and forward between dining and drawing-room negotiating terms. Mrs. Roope said she had no wish to expose Mrs. Capel, and repeated, "I came here to do her a kindness."
In the end two hundred and fifty pounds was agreed upon, a hundred down and a hundred and fifty when the decree was made absolute, this latter represented by a post-dated cheque. Peter had to write the cheques himself, it was as much as Margaret could do to sign them. Her hands were shaking and her eyelids red, the sight swept away all his conventions.
"You've got to go to bed and stay there," he told her when he came back to her finally. He forgot everything but that she looked terribly ill and exhausted, and that he was her physician. "You need not have a minute's more anxiety. I know the type. She has gone. She won't bother you again. She's taken her hundred pounds. That's a lot to the woman who makes her money by shillings. That absent treatment business is a pound a week at the outside. There's a limited number of fools who pay for isolated visits. Did you see her boots? They didn't look like affluence! and her cotton gloves! She will have another hundred and fifty if nothing comes out, if she keeps her mouth shut until the 30th of May. You are quite safe. Don't look so woebegone. I…I can't bear it."
He turned his back to her.
"What will Gabriel say?"
"The most priggish thing he can think of," he answered roughly.
"He doesn't look at things in the same way you do."
"Do you think I don't know his superiority?"
"Now you are angry, offended."
"You've done the right thing. You are not in the health for any big annoyance."
She was holding her side with both hands.
"I believe the pain is coming on again."
"Oh; no, it isn't." But he moved nearer to her. No contradiction or denial warded off the attack. She bore it badly too, pulse and colour evidencing her collapse. Hurriedly and perhaps without sufficient thought he rang for Stevens, called for hot water, gave her her first injection of morphia.
Stevens knew or guessed what had been going on, and took a gloomy view. Every one in the house knew of Mrs. Roope's visit.
"It will be the death of her."
"No, it won't," he said savagely. "You do what you are told."
"I 'ope I know my duty," she replied primly.
"I'm sure you do, but not the effect of a morphia injection," he retorted.
He said Stevens knew nothing of the effect of a morphia injection, but he was not quite sure of it himself in those days and with such a patient. The immediate effect was instantaneous. Margaret grew easier, she smiled at him with her pale lips:
"How wonderful," she said. He made her stay as she was for half an hour, then helped to carry her to bed. Stevens said she required no help in undressing her.
"You are not to let her do a thing for herself, not to let her move. Give her iced milk, or milk and soda.…"
The afternoon was not so satisfactory, there were disquieting symptoms, and not the sleep for which he hoped. He suggested Dr. Lansdowne, but she would not hear of him being sent for. When night fell he found it impossible to leave her.
He walked up and down outside the house for a long time, only desisting when Margaret herself sent down a message that she heard his footsteps on the gravel and they disturbed her. The rest of the night he spent on the drawing-room sofa, running upstairs to listen outside her bedroom door, now and then, to reassure himself. Tomorrow he knew Gabriel would be there and he would not be needed. But tonight she had no one but himself. Wild thoughts came to him in the dawn. What if Gabriel Stanton were not such a good fellow after all? What if he were put off by the thought of a scandal and figuring as a co-respondent? He, Peter, would stick to her through thick and thin. She might turn to him, get to care.
But he had not an ounce of real hope. He was as humble as Gabriel by now, and the nearer to being a true lover.