(Mr. and Mrs. Nevill Tyson)
Author of THE DIVINE FIRE, THE HELPMATE, etc.
I. MR. NEVILL TYSON
II. MRS. NEVILL TYSON
III. MR. AND MRS. NEVILL TYSON AT HOME
IV. THE FIRST STONE
V. THE NIGHT WATCH
VI. A SON AND HEIR
VII. SIR PETER'S NEW CLOTHES
VIII. TOWARDS "THE CROSS-ROADS"
IX. AN UNNATURAL MOTHER
X. CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
XI. THE RETURN OF ODYSSEUS
XII. A FLAT IN TOWN
XIII. MRS. WILCOX TO THE RESCUE
XIV. THE "CRITERION"
XVI. THE NEW LIFE
XVII. THE CAPTAIN OF HIS SOUL
XVIII. A MIRACLE
XX. A MAN AND A SPHINX
XXI. OUT OF THE NIGHT
XXII. IN THE DESERT
XXIII. IN MEMORIAM
MR. NEVILL TYSON
There were only two or three houses in Drayton Parva where Mr. and Mrs. Nevill Tyson were received. A thrill of guilty expectation used to go through the room when they were announced, and people watched them with a fearful interest, as if they were the actors in some enthralling but forbidden drama.
Perhaps, if she had been tried by a jury of her peers—but Mrs. Nevill Tyson had no peers in Drayton Parva. She was tried by an invisible and incorruptible jury of ideas in Miss Batchelor's head. Opinion sways all things in Drayton Parva, and Miss Batchelor swayed opinion.
As for Mr. Nevill Tyson, he had dropped into Leicestershire from heaven knows where, and was understood to be more or less on his trial. Nobody knew anything about him, except that he was a nephew of old Tyson of Thorneytoft, and had come in for the property. Nobody cared much for old Tyson of Thorneytoft; he was not exactly—well, no matter, he was very respectable and he was dead, which entitled him to a little consideration. And as Mr. Nevill Tyson was an unmarried man in those days he naturally attracted some attention on his own account, as well as for the sake of the very respectable old man, his uncle.
He was first seen at a dinner at the Morleys. Somebody else happened to be the guest of the evening, and somebody else took Lady Morley in to dinner. Tyson took Miss Batchelor, and I don't think he quite liked it. Miss Batchelor was clever—frightfully clever—but she never showed up well in public; she had a nervous manner, and a way of looking at you as if you were some curious animal that she would like to pat if she were perfectly sure you were not dangerous. And when you were about to take compassion on her shyness, she startled you with a sudden lapse into self-possession. I can see her now looking at Tyson over the frills on her shoulder, with her thin crooked little mouth smiling slightly. She might well look, for Nevill Tyson's appearance was remarkable. He might have been any age between twenty-five and forty; as a matter of fact he was thirty-six. England had made him florid and Anglo-Saxon, but the tropics had bleached his skin and dried his straw-colored hair till it looked like hay. His figure was short and rather clumsily built, but it had a certain strength and determination; so had his face. The determination was not expressly stated by any single feature—the mouth was not what you would call firm, and the chin retreated ever so slightly in a heavy curve—but it was somehow implied by the whole. He gave you the idea of iron battered in all the arsenals of the world. Miss Batchelor wondered what he would have to say for himself.
He said very little, and looked at nobody, until some casual remark of his made somebody look at him. Then he began to talk, laconically at first, and finally with great fluency. It was all about himself, and everybody listened. He proved a good talker, as a man ought to be who has knocked about four continents and seen strange men and stranger women. You could tell that Miss Batchelor was interested, for she had turned round in her chair now and was looking him straight in the face. It seemed that he had worked his way out to Bombay and back again. He had been reporter to half-a-dozen provincial papers. He had been tutor to Somebody's son at some place not specified. He had tried his hand at comic journalism in London and at cattle-driving in Texas, and had been half-way to glory as a captain of irregulars in the Soudanese war. No, nobody was more surprised than himself when that mystic old man left him Thorneytoft. He thought he had chucked civilization for good. For good? But—after his exciting life—wouldn't he find civilization a little—dull? (Miss Batchelor had a way of pointing her sentences as if she were speaking in parables.) Not in the country, there was hardly enough of it there, and he had never tried being a country gentleman before; he rather wanted to see what it was like. Wouldn't it be a little hard, if he had never—? He thought not. The first thing he should do would be to get some decent hunters.
Hunters were all very well, but had he no hobbies? No, he had not; the bona fide country gentleman never had hobbies. They were kept by amateur gentlemen retired from business to the suburbs. Here Sir Peter observed that talking of hobbies, old Mr. Tyson had a perfect—er—mania for orchids; he spent the best part of his life in his greenhouse. Mr. Nevill Tyson thought he would rather spend his in Calcutta at once.
A dark lean man who had arrived with Tyson was seen to smile frequently during the above dialogue. Miss Batchelor caught him doing it and turned to Tyson. "Captain Stanistreet seemed rather amused at the notion of your being a fine old country gentleman."
"Stanistreet? I daresay. But he knows nothing about it, I assure you. He has the soul of a cabman. He measures everything by its distance from Charing Cross."
"I see. And you—are all for green fields and idyllic simplicity?"
He bowed, as much as to say, "I am, if you say so."
Miss Batchelor became instantly self-possessed.
"You won't like it. Nothing happens here; nothing ever will happen. You will be dreadfully bored."
"If I am bored I shall get something to do. I shall dissipate myself in a bland parochial patriotism. I can feel it coming on already. When I once get my feet on a platform I shall let myself go."
"Do. You'll astonish our simple Arcadian farmers. Nothing but good old Tory melodrama goes down here. Are you equal to that?"
"Oh yes. I'm terrific in Tory melodrama. I shall bring down the house."
She turned a curious scrutinizing look on him.
"Yes," said she, "you'll bring down the house—like Samson among the Philistines."
He returned her look with interest. "I should immensely like to know," said he, "what you go in for. I'm sure you go in for something."
She looked at her plate. "Well, I dabble a little in psychology."
"Oh!" There was a moment's silence. "Psychology is a large order," said Tyson, presently.
"Yes, if you go in deep. I'm not deep. I'm perfectly happy when I've got hold of the first principles. It sounds dreadfully superficial, but I'm not interested in anything but principles."
"I'm sorry to hear it, for in that case you won't be interested in me."
She laughed nervously. She was accustomed to be rallied on her attainments, but never quite after this fashion.
"Because I haven't any principles."
She bent her brows; but her eyes were smiling under her frown.
"You really mustn't say these things here. We are so dreadfully literal. We might take you at your word."
Tyson smiled, showing his rather prominent teeth unpleasantly.
"I wish," said she, "I knew what you think a country gentleman's duties really are."
"Do you? They are three. To hunt hard; to shoot straight; and to go to church."
"I hope you will perform them—all."
"I shall—all. No—on second thoughts I draw the line at going to church. It's all very well if you've got a private chapel, or an easy chair in the chancel, or a family vault you can sit in. But I detest these modern arrangements; I object to be stuck in a tight position between two boards, with my feet in somebody else's hat, and somebody else's feet in mine, and to have people breathing down my collar and hissing and yelling alternately, in my ear."
Again Miss Batchelor drew her eyebrows together in a friendly frown of warning. She liked the cosmopolitan Tyson and his reckless speech, and she had her own reasons for wishing him to make a good impression. But her hints had roused in him the instinct of antagonism, and he went on more recklessly than before. "No; you are perfectly wrong. I'm not an interesting atheist. I have the most beautiful child-like faith in—"
"The God who was clever enough to make Mr. Nevill Tyson?" said Miss Batchelor, very softly. She had felt the antagonism, and resented it.
At this point Sir Peter came down with one of those tremendous platitudes that roll conversation out flat. That was his notion of the duty of a host, to rush in and change the subject just as it was getting exciting. The old gentleman had destroyed many a promising topic in this way, under the impression that he was saving a situation.
"You'll be bored to death—I give you six months," were Miss Batchelor's parting words, murmured aside over her shoulder.
On their way home Stanistreet congratulated Tyson.
"By Jove! you've fallen on your feet, Tyson. They tell me Miss Batchelor is interested in you."
"I am not interested in Miss Batchelor. Who is she?"
"She is only Miss Batchelor of Meriden Court—the richest land-owner in Leicestershire."
"Good heavens! Why doesn't somebody marry her?"
"Miss Batchelor, they say, is much too clever for that."
"Is she?" And Tyson laughed, a little brutally.
* * * * *
Of course everybody called on the eccentric newcomer when they saw that the Morleys had taken him up. But before they had time to ask each other to meet him, Mr. Nevill Tyson had imported his own society from Putney or Bohemia, or some of those places.
That was his first mistake.
The next was his marriage. In fact, for a man in Tyson's insecure position, it was more than a mistake; it was madness. He ought to have married some powerful woman like Miss Batchelor, a woman with ideas and money and character, to say nothing of an inviolable social reputation. But men like Tyson never do what they ought. Miss Batchelor was clever, and he hated clever women. So he married Molly Wilcox. Molly Wilcox was nineteen; she had had no education, and, what was infinitely worse, she had a vulgar mother. And as Mr. Wilcox might be considered a negligible quantity, the chances were that she would take after her mother.
The mystery was how Tyson ever came to know these people. Mr. Wilcox was a student and an invalid; moreover, he was excessively morose. He would not have called, and even Mrs. Wilcox could hardly have called without him. Scandal-mongers said that Tyson struck up an acquaintance with the girl and her mother in a railway carriage somewhere between Drayton and St. Pancras, and had called on the strength of it. It did great credit to his imagination that he could see the makings of Mrs. Nevill Tyson in Molly Wilcox, dressed according to her mother's taste, with that hair of hers all curling into her eyes in front, and rumpled up anyhow behind. However, though I daresay his introduction was a little informal and obscure, there was every reason for the intimacy that followed. The Wilcoxes were unpopular; so, by this time, was Tyson. In cultivating him Mrs. Wilcox felt that she was doing something particularly esoteric and rather daring. She had taken a line. She loved everything that was a little flagrant, a little out of the common, and a little dubious. To a lady with these tastes Tyson was a godsend; he more than satisfied her desire for magnificence and mystery. For economical reasons Mrs. Wilcox's body was compelled to live with Mr. Wilcox in a cottage in Drayton Parva; but her soul dwelt continually in a side-street in Bayswater, in a region haunted by the shabby-refined, the shabby-smart, and the innocently risky. Mrs. Wilcox, I maintain, was as innocent as the babe unborn. She believed that not only is this world the best of all possible worlds, but that Bayswater is the best of all possible places in it. So, though she was quite deaf to many of the chords in Tyson's being, her soul responded instantly to the note of "town." And when she discovered that Tyson had met and, what is more, dined with her old friends the Blundell-Thompsons "of Bombay," her satisfaction knew no bounds.
At any rate, Tyson had not been very long at Thorneytoft before Mrs. Wilcox found herself arguing with Mr. Wilcox. She herself was impervious to argument, and owing to her rapt inconsequence it was generally difficult to tell what she would be at. This time, however, she seemed to be defending Mr. Nevill Tyson from unkind aspersions.
"Of course, all young men are likely to be wild; but Mr. Tyson is not a young man."
"Therefore Mr. Tyson is not likely to be wild. Do you know you are guilty of the fallacy known to logicians as illicit process of the major?"
Mrs. Wilcox looked up in some alarm. The term suggested anything from a court-martial to some vague impropriety.
"The Major? Major who?" she inquired, deftly recovering her mental balance. "Where is he?"
"Somewhere about the premises, I fancy," said Mr. Wilcox, dryly. When all argument failed he had still a chastened delight in mystifying the poor lady.
Mrs. Wilcox looked out of the window. "Oh, I see; you mean Captain Stanistreet." She smiled; for where Captain Stanistreet was Mr. Nevill Tyson was not very far away. Moreover, she was glad that she had on her nice ultramarine tea-gown with the green moire front. (They were wearing those colors in town that season.)
At Thorneytoft a few hours later Stanistreet's tongue was running on as usual, when Tyson pulled him up with a jerk. "Hold hard. Do you know you're talking about the future Mrs. Nevill Tyson?"
Stanistreet tried to keep calm, for he was poised on his waist across the edge of the billiard-table. As it was, he lost his balance at the critical moment, and it ruined his stroke. He looked at the cloth, then at his cue, with the puzzled air which people generally affect in these circumstances.
"Great Scott!" said he, "how did I manage that?"
The exclamation may or may not have referred to the stroke.
Tyson looked at his friend with a smile which suggested that he expected adverse criticism, and was prepared to deal temperately with it.
"Why not?" said he.
Stanistreet, however, said nothing. He was absorbed in chalking the end of his cue. His silence gave Tyson no chance; it left too much to the imagination.
"Have you any objection?"
"Well, isn't the lady a little young for a fine old country gentleman like yourself?"
Tyson's small blue eyes twinkled, for he prided himself on being able to take a joke at his own expense. Still it was not exactly kind of Stanistreet to remind him of his mushroom growth.
"Come," said Stanistreet, "you are a gentleman, you know. At any rate, you're about the only fellow in these parts who can stand a frock-coat and topper—that's the test. I saw Morley, your big man, going into church yesterday, and he looked as if he'd just sneaked out of the City on a 'bus. But you always knew how to dress yourself. The instinct is hereditary."
Louis had just made a brilliant series of cannons, and was marking fifty to his score. If he had not been so absorbed in his game, he would have seen that Tyson was angry; and Tyson when he was angry was not at all nice to see.
He made himself very stiff as he answered, "Whether I'm a gentleman or not I can't say. It's an abstruse question. But I've got the girl on my side, which is a point in my favor; I have the weighty support of my mamma-in-law elect; and—the prejudices of papa I shall subdue by degrees."
"By degrees? What degrees?" Again the question was unkind. It referred to a phase of Tyson's university career which he least liked to look back upon.
"And how about Mrs. Hathaway?"
"Damn Mrs. Hathaway," said Tyson.
"Poor lady, isn't she sufficiently damned already?"
The twinkle came back into Tyson's eyes, but there was gloom in the rest of his face. The twinkle was lost upon Stanistreet. He knew too much; and the awkward thing was that Tyson never could tell exactly how much he knew. So he wisely dropped the subject.
Stanistreet certainly knew a great deal; but he was the last man in the world to make a pedantic display of his knowledge; and Mr. Wilcox's prejudices remained the only obstacle to Tyson's marriage. It was one iron will against another, and the battle was long. Mr. Wilcox had the advantage of position. He simply retreated into his library as into a fortified camp, intrenching himself behind a barricade of books, and refusing to skirmish with the enemy in the open. And to every assault made by his family he replied with a violent fit of coughing. A well-authenticated lung-disease is a formidable weapon in domestic warfare.
At last he yielded. Not to time, nor yet to Tyson, nor yet to his wife's logic, but to the importunities of his lung-disease. Other causes may have contributed; he was a man of obstinate affections, and he had loved his daughter.
It was considered right that the faults of the dead (his unreasonable obstinacy, for instance) should be forgiven and forgotten. Death seemed to have made Mrs. Wilcox suddenly familiar with her incomprehensible husband. She was convinced that whatever he had thought of it on earth, in heaven, purged from all mortal weakness, Mr. Wilcox was taking a very different view of Molly's engagement.
He died in March, and Tyson married Molly in the following May. The bride is reported to have summed up the case thus: "Bad? I daresay he is. I'm not marrying him because he is good; I'm marrying him because he's delightful. And I'm every bit as bad as he is, if they only knew."
It was Mrs. Nevill Tyson's genius for this sort of remark that helped to make her reputation later on.
MRS. NEVILL TYSON
Tyson took his wife abroad for six months to finish her education (as if to be Tyson's wife was not education enough for any woman!); and Drayton Parva forgot about them for a time.
In fact, nobody had fully realized the existence of Molly Wilcox till she burst on them as Mrs. Nevill Tyson.
It was the first appearance of the bride and bridegroom on their return from their long honeymoon. The rector was giving an "At Home" (tentatively) in their honor; and a great many people had accepted, feeling that a very interesting social experiment was about to be made. Everybody remembers how Mrs. Nevill Tyson fluttered down into that party of thirty women to eleven men, in an absurd frock, and with a still more absurd air of assured welcome. Poor little woman! Her comings and goings from one Continental watering-place to another had been the progress of a triumphant divinity; where she found an hotel she left a temple. I sometimes think, too, that little look of expectant gladness may have been due to the feeling that the Rectory was in England, and England was home. She was dressed in the most perfect Parisian fashion, from the crown of her fur toque to the tips of her little shoes; but she had never learned to speak three words of French correctly. She informed everybody of the fact that afternoon, laughing with the keenest enjoyment of her remarkable stupidity; it seemed that her role was to be remarkable in everything. However that may have been, in less than half an hour seven out of those eleven men were gathered round her chair in the corner; two out of the seven were the rector and Sir Peter Morley, and Mrs. Nevill Tyson was talking to all of them at once.
Mrs. Nevill Tyson—she was an illusion and a distraction from head to foot; her beauty made a promise to the senses and broke it to the intellect. Coil upon coil, and curl upon curl of dark hair, the dark eyes of some ruminant animal, a little frivolous curve in an intelligent nose, a lower jaw like a boy's, the full white throat of a woman, and the mouth and cheeks of a child just waked from sleep. Tyson had escaped one misfortune that had been prophesied for him. His wife was not vulgar. She sat at her ease (much more at her ease than Miss Batchelor), and chattered away about her honeymoon, her bad French, the places she had been to, the people she had seen, and all without any consciousness of her delightful self. Now it was a continuous stream of minute talk, growing shallower and shallower as it spread over a larger surface; and now her mind had hardly settled on its subject before it was off and away again like a butterfly. There was one advantage in this excessive lightness of touch, that it left great things as it found them, for great things lay lightly on her soul. She told everybody she had been to Rome; but imagination simply, refused to picture Mrs. Nevill Tyson in Rome. Her presence in the Eternal City seemed something less than her footprint in its dust or her shadow on its walls. Nothing is more irritating than to have your dream of a place destroyed by the light-hearted gabble of some idiot who has seen it; but Mrs. Nevill Tyson spared your dreams. The most delicate ideal would have been undisturbed by the soft sweep of her generalities, or the graceful flight of her fancy from the matter in hand.
"There are a great many beautiful statues in the Vatican," said Sir Peter in his dream.
"Oh, no end. And, talking of beautiful statues, we were introduced to the most beautiful woman in Rome, the Countess—Countess—Countess—Nevill, what was that woman's name? Oh—I forget her name, but she was the loveliest woman I ever saw in my life. Everybody was in love with her—down on their knees groveling, you couldn't help it. Fancy, she was engaged to ten people at once! I suppose she had ten engagement rings—one for each finger, one for each man. I should never have known which was which. But oh! I oughtn't to have told you. My husband said I wasn't to talk about her. I don't see why—everybody was talking about her!"
There was a chorus of protestation.
"And why shouldn't they talk about her, and why shouldn't she be engaged to ten gentlemen at once? The more the merrier."
"And you haven't told us the lady's name, so we're none the wiser."
"I forgot it. But it would have been all the same if I hadn't. I never can remember not to tell things. Oh—Countess—Poli—Polidori! There—you see. My husband says I'm the soul of indiscretion."
There was a sudden silence. Mrs. Nevill Tyson's last sentence seemed to detach itself and float about the room, and Miss Batchelor perceived with a pang of pleasure that if Tyson's wife was not vulgar she was an arrant fool.
"I suppose you visited all the great cathedrals?" said the Rector. Perhaps he wished to change the subject; perhaps he felt that by talking about cathedrals to Mrs. Nevill Tyson he was giving a serious, not to say sacerdotal, character to a frivolous occupation.
"Well, only St. Peter's and the one at Milan."
"And which did you prefer! I am told that St. Peter's is very like our own St. Paul's—or I should say St. Paul's—"
"Oh, please don't ask me! I know no more than the man in the moon—I mean the man in the honeymoon" (that joke was Tyson's), "and a lot he knows about it. There's the man in the honeymoon," she explained, nodding merrily in her husband's direction.
Meanwhile Tyson was making himself agreeable to Miss Batchelor. And this is how he did it.
"I hear, Miss Batchelor, that you are a lady of genius."
There was a rumor that Miss Batchelor was engaged on a work of fiction, which indeed may have been true, though not exactly in the sense intended.
"Indeed; who told you that?"
"Scandal. But I never listen to scandal, and I didn't believe it."
"I don't suppose you believe that a woman could be a genius."
"No? I have seen women who were geniuses, before now; but in every instance it meant—I shall hurt your feelings if I tell you what it meant."
"Not at all. I have no feelings."
"It meant either devilry or disease." Tyson's eyes twinkled wickedly as he stroked his blonde mustache. He felt a diabolical delight in teasing Miss Batchelor. There was a time when Miss Batchelor had admired Tyson. He was not handsome; but his face had character, and she liked character. Now she hated him and his face and everything belonging to him, his wife included. But there was no denying that he was clever, cleverer than any man she had ever met in her life.
"Even a great intellect"—here Tyson looked hard at Miss Batchelor, and her faded nervous face seemed to shrink under the look—"is a great misfortune—to a woman. Look at my wife now. She has about as much intellect as a guinea-pig, and the consequence is she is not only happy herself, but a cause of happiness to others. There—see!"
Miss Batchelor saw. She saw Sir Peter Morley contending with the rector for the honor of handing Mrs. Nevill Tyson her tea. They were joined by Stanistreet. Yes, Stanistreet. The rector seemed to have drawn the line nowhere that day. There was no mistaking the tall figure, alert and vigorous, the lean dark face, a little eager, a little hard. And that very clever woman Miss Batchelor sat hungry and thirsty—very hungry and very thirsty—and Tyson stood behind her stroking his mustache. He was not looking at her now, nor thinking of her. He was contemplating that adorable piece of folly, his wife.
MR. AND MRS. NEVILL TYSON AT HOME
Perhaps it was well that Mrs. Nevill Tyson took things so lightly, otherwise she might have been somewhat oppressed by her surroundings at Thorneytoft. That hideous old barrack stared with all the uncompromising truculence of bare white stone on nature that smiled agreeably round it in lawn and underwood. Old Tyson had bought the house as it stood from an impecunious nobleman, supplying its deficiencies according to his own very respectable fancy. The result was a little startling. Worm-eaten oak was flanked by mahogany veneer, brocade and tapestry were eked out with horse-hair and green rep, gules and azure from the stained-glass lozenge lattices were reflected in a hundred twinkling, dangling lusters; and you came upon lions rampant in a wilderness of wax-flowers. What with antique heraldry and utilitarian furniture, you would have said there was no place there for anything so frivolously pretty as Mrs. Nevill Tyson; unless, indeed, her figure served to give the finishing touch to the ridiculous medley.
The sight of Thorneytoft would have taken the heart out of Mrs. Wilcox if anything could. Mrs. Wilcox herself looked remarkably crisp and fresh and cheerful in her widow's dress. Tyson rather liked Mrs. Wilcox than otherwise (perhaps because she was a little afraid of him and showed it); he noticed with relief that his mother-in-law was beginning to look almost like a lady, and he attributed this pleasing effect to the fact that she was now unable to commit any of her former atrocities of color. He respected her, too, for wearing her weeds with an air of genial worldliness. There was something about Mrs. Wilcox that evaded the touch of sorrow; but from certain things—food, clothes, furniture—she seemed to catch, as it were, the sense of tears, suggestions of the human tragedy. She was peculiarly sensitive to interiors, and a drawing-room "without any of the little refinements and luxuries, you know—not so much as a flower-pot or a basket-table"—weighed heavily on her happy soul. Needless to say she had never dreamed that Nevill would let the house remain in its present state; her intellect could never have grasped so melancholy a possibility, and the fact was somewhat unsettling to her faith in Nevill Tyson. "Isn't it—for a young bride, you know—just a little—a little triste?" And being more than a little afraid of her son-in-law, she waved her hands to give an inoffensive vagueness to her idea. Tyson said he didn't care to spend money on a place like Thorneytoft; he didn't know how long he would stay in it; he never stayed anywhere long; he was a pilgrim and a stranger, a sort of cosmopolitan Cain, and he might go abroad again, or he might take a flat in town for the season. And at the mention of a flat in town all Mrs. Wilcox's beautiful beliefs came back to her unimpaired. A flat in town, and a house in the country that you can afford to look down upon—what more could you desire?
Mrs. Nevill Tyson did not take the furniture very seriously. For quite three days after her arrival she was content to sit in that very respectable drawing-room, waiting for the callers who never came. She could not have taken the callers very seriously either (what did Mrs. Nevill Tyson take seriously, I should like to know?), or else, surely she would have had some little regard for appearances; she would never have risked being caught at four o'clock in the afternoon sitting on Tyson's knee, doing all sorts of absurd things to his face. First, she stroked his hair straight down over his forehead, which had a singularly brutalizing effect, so that she was obliged to push it back again and make it all neat with one of the little tortoise-shell combs that kept her own curls in order. Then she lifted up his mustache till the lip curled in a dreadful mechanical smile, showing a slightly crooked, slightly prominent tooth.
"Oh, what an ugly tooth!" said Mrs. Nevill Tyson; and she let the lip fall again like a curtain. "How could I marry a man with a tooth like that! Do you know, poor papa used to say you were just like Phorc—Phorc—something with a fork in it."
"Yes. How clever you are! Who was Phorc-y-as?" Mrs. Nevill Tyson made a face over the word.
"It's another name for Mephistopheles." (Tyson knew his Goethe better than his classics.)
"And Mephistopheles is another name for—the devil! Oh!" She took the tips of his ears with the tips of her fingers and held his head straight while she stared into his eyes. "Look me straight in the face now. No blinking. Are you the devil, I wonder?" She put her head on one side as if she were considering him judicially from an entirely new point of view. "I wonder why papa didn't like you?"
"He didn't think me good enough for his little girl, and he was quite right there."
"He didn't mind so much when I got engaged to Willie Payne. He said we were admirably suited to each other. That was because Willie was a fool. Oh—I forgot you didn't know!"
"Ah, I know now. And how many more, Mrs. Molly?"
"No more—only you. And Willie doesn't count. It was ages ago, when I was at school. Look here." She pushed back the ruffles of her sleeve and showed him a little livid mark running across the back of her hand. "Did I ever tell you what that meant? It means that they shoved Willie's letters into the big fireplace—with the tongs—and that I stuck my hand between the bars and pulled them out."
"I say—you must have been rather gone on Willie, you know."
"No. I didn't like him much. But I loved his letters." Mrs. Nevill Tyson looked at the tips of her little shoes, and Mr. Nevill Tyson looked at her.
"So Willie doesn't count, doesn't he?"
"No. He was a fool. He never did anything. Nevill, what did father think you'd done?"
"I really cannot say. Nothing to deserve you, I suppose."
"Rubbish! I know all that. But he said there was something, and he wouldn't tell me what. Anyhow, you didn't do it, did you?"
"Come, I think you might tell me when I've confessed all my little sins to you." Mrs. Nevill Tyson was persistent, not because she in the least wanted to know, but because nobody likes being beaten.
"I don't know what the dear old pater was driving at. I don't suppose he knew himself. He was a scholar, not a man of the world. He could read any Greek poet, I daresay, who was dead enough and dull enough; but when a real live Englishman walked into his study, it seemed to put him out somehow. He didn't like me, and he showed it. All the same, I think I could have made him like me if he'd given me a chance. I don't suppose he does me any injustice now."
"No. He knew an awful lot about those stupid old Greeks and Romans and people, but I don't think he knew much about you. I expect he made it up to frighten mother. That reminds me, what do you think Miss Batchelor says about you? She told mother that it was a pity you hadn't any profession—every man ought to have a profession—keep you out of mischief. I wasn't going to have her talking like that about my husband—the impudent thing!—so I just stopped her yesterday in Moxon's shop and told her you had a profession. I led up to it so neatly, you can't think. I said you were going to be a barrister or a judge or something."
"A judge? That's rather a large order. But you know you mustn't tell stories, you little minx. Miss Batchelor's too clever to take all that in."
"Well, but it's true. You are going to be a barrister, and everybody knows that barristers grow into judges, if you feed them properly."
"But I haven't the remotest intention of being a barrister. How did you get hold of that notion?"
"Oh, I knew it all along. Papa said so."
"You must have been mistaken."
"Not a bit. I'll tell you exactly what he said. I heard him talking about it to mother in the library. I wasn't listening, you know. I—I heard your name, and I couldn't help it. He said he expected to see you figuring in the law courts some of these days—Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division."
Tyson rose, putting her down from his knee as if she had been a baby.
"I hope you didn't tell Miss Batchelor that?"
"Yes, I did though—rather!"
He smiled in spite of himself. "What did she do?"
"Oh, she just stared—over her shoulder; you know her way."
"Look here, Molly, you must not go about saying that sort of thing. People here don't understand it; they'll only think—"
"Never mind what they'll think. The world is chock-full of wickedness, my child. But if half the people we meet are sinners, the other half are fools. I never knew any one yet who wasn't one or the other. So don't think about what they think, but mind what you say. See?"
"I'm sorry." She had come softly up to the window where he stood; and now she was rubbing his sleeve with one side of her face and smiling with the other.
He stroked her hair.
"All right. Don't do it again, that's all."
"I won't—if you'll only tell me one thing. Were you ever engaged to anybody but me?"
"No; I was never engaged to anybody but you."
"Then you were never in love with ten gentlemen at once like the Countess Pol—"
His answer was cut short by the entrance of Sir Peter Morley, followed by Captain Stanistreet.
THE FIRST STONE
Tyson was much flattered by the rumor that Sir Peter Morley had pronounced his wife to be "the loveliest woman in Leicestershire"; for Lady Morley herself was a sufficiently splendid type, with her austere Puritan beauty. As for the rector, it was considered that his admiration of Mrs. Nevill Tyson somewhat stultified his utterances in the pulpit.
It is not always well for a woman when the judgment of the other sex reverses that of her own. It was not well for Mrs. Nevill Tyson to be told that she had fascinated Sir Peter Morley and spoiled the rector's sermons; it was not well for her to be worshipped (collectively) by the riff-raff that swarmed about Thorneytoft at Tyson's invitation; but any of these things were better than for her to be left, as she frequently was, to the unmixed society of Captain Stanistreet. He had a reputation. Tyson thought nothing of going up to town for the week-end and leaving Louis to entertain his wife in his absence. To do him justice, this neglect was at first merely a device by which he heightened the luxury of possession. In his own choice phrase, he "liked to give a mare a loose rein when he knew her paces." It was all right. He knew Molly, and if he did not, Stanistreet knew him. But these things were subtleties which Drayton Parva did not understand, and naturally enough it began to avoid the Tysons because of them.
Apparently Mrs. Nevill Tyson liked Stanistreet. She liked his humorous dark face and his courteous manners; above all, she liked that air of profound interest with which he listened to everything that she had to say; it made it easy for her to chatter to him as she chattered to nobody else, except (presumably) her husband. As for Stanistreet, try as he would (and he tried a great deal), he could not make Mrs. Nevill Tyson out. Day after day Mrs. Nevill Tyson, in amazing garments, sat and prattled to him in the dog-cart, while Tyson followed the hounds; yet for the life of him he could not tell whether she was really very infantile or only very deep. You see she was Tyson's wife. It must be said she gave him every opportunity for clearing his ideas on the subject, and if he did not know, other people might be allowed to make mistakes. And when he came to stay at Thorneytoft for weeks at a time, familiarity with the little creature's moods only complicated the problem.
It was about the middle of February, and Stanistreet had been down for a fortnight's hunting, when, in the morning of his last day, Tyson announced his intention of going up to town with him to-morrow. He might be away for three weeks or a month altogether; it depended upon whether he enjoyed himself sufficiently.
Stanistreet, who was looking at Mrs. Nevill Tyson at the time, saw the smile and the color die out of her face; her beauty seemed to suffer a shade, a momentary eclipse. She began to drink tea (they were at breakfast) with an air of abstraction too precipitate to be quite convincing.
"Moll," said Tyson, "if you're going to this meet, you'd better run upstairs and put your things on."
"I don't want to go to any meets."
"Because—I—I don't like to see other women riding."
"Bless her little heart!" (Tyson was particularly affectionate this morning) "she's never had a bridle in her ridiculous hands, and she talks about 'other women riding.'"
"Because I want to ride, and you won't let me, and I'm jealous."
"Well, if you mayn't ride with me, you may drive with Stanistreet."
"I may drive Captain Stanistreet?"
"Certainly not; Captain Stanistreet may drive you."
"We'll see about that," said Mrs. Nevill Tyson as she left the room.
She soon reappeared, enchantingly pretty again in her laces and furs.
It was a glorious morning, the first thin white frost after a long thaw. The meet was in front of the Cross-Roads Inn, about a mile out of Drayton Parva. It was neutral ground, where Farmer Ashby could hold his own with Sir Peter any day, and speech was unfettered. Somebody remarked that Mrs. Nevill Tyson looked uncommonly happy in the dog-cart; while Tyson spoke to nobody and nobody spoke to him. Poor devil! he hadn't at all a pretty look on that queer bleached face of his. And all the time he kept twisting his horse's head round in a melancholy sort of way, and backing into things and out of them, fit to make you swear.
She must have noticed something. They were trotting along, Stanistreet driving, by a road that ran side by side with the fields scoured by the hunt, and Tyson could always be seen going recklessly and alone. He could ride, he could ride! His worst enemy never doubted that.
"It's very odd," said she, "but the people here don't seem to like Nevill one bit. I suppose they've never seen anything quite like him before."
"I very much doubt if they have."
"I think they're afraid of him. Mother is, I know; she blinks when she talks to him."
"Does she blink when she talks to me?"
"Of course not—you're different."
"I am not her son-in-law, certainly."
"Do you know, though he's so much older than me—I simply shudder when I think he's thirty-seven—and so awfully clever, and so bad-tempered, I'm not in the least afraid of him. And he really has a shocking bad temper."
"I know it of old."
"So many nice people have bad tempers. I think it's the least horrid fault you can have; because it comes on you when you're not thinking, and it isn't your fault at all."
"No; it is generally some one else's."
"I don't think much of people's passions myself. He might have something far worse than that."
"Most undoubtedly. He might have atrocious taste in dress, or a tendency to drink."
"Don't be silly. Did you know him when he was young? I don't mean to say he isn't young—thirty-seven's young enough for anybody—I mean when he was young like me?"
"I can't say. I doubt if he was ever young—like you. But I knew him when he was a boy."
"So you understand him?"
"Oh, pretty well. Not always, perhaps. He's a difficult subject."
"Anyhow, you like him? Don't you?"
Stanistreet gave a curious hard laugh.
"Oh yes—I like him."
"That's all right. And really, I don't wonder that people can't make him out. He's the strangest animal I ever met in my life. I haven't made him out yet. I think I shall give him up."
"Give him up, by all means. Isn't that what people generally do when they can't understand each other?"
Mrs. Nevill Tyson made no answer. She was trying to think, and thinking came hard to Mrs. Nevill Tyson.
"I suppose he's had a past. But of course it doesn't do to go poking and probing into a man's past—"
Stanistreet lifted his eyebrows and looked at the little woman. She was sitting bolt upright, staring out over the vague fields; she seemed to have uttered the words unconsciously, as if at the dictation of some familiar spirit. "And yet I wish—no, I don't wish I knew. I know he must have had an awful time of it." She turned her face suddenly on Stanistreet. "What do you think he told me the other day? He said he had never known anybody who wasn't either a fool or a sinner. What do you think of that? Must you be one or the other?"
Stanistreet shrugged his shoulders. "You may be both. We are all of us sinners, and certainly a great many of us are fools."
"I wonder. He isn't a fool."
Stanistreet wondered too. He wondered at the things she allowed herself to say; he wondered whether she was drawing any inference; and above all, he wondered at the shrinking introspective look on her careless face.
In another minute Mrs. Nevill Tyson had started from her seat and was waving her muff wildly in the air. "Look—there he goes! Oh, did you see him take that fence? What an insane thing to do with the ground like that."
He looked in the direction indicated by the muff, and saw Tyson riding far ahead of the hunt, a small scarlet blot on the gray-white landscape.
"By Jove! he rides as if he were charging the enemy's guns at the head of a line of cavalry."
"Yes." She leaned back; the excitement faded from her face, and she sighed. The sigh was so light that it scarcely troubled the frosty air, but it made Stanistreet look at her again. How adorably pretty she was in all her moods!
Perhaps she was conscious of the look, for she rattled on again more incoherently than before. "I'm talking a great deal of nonsense; I always do when I get the chance. You can't talk nonsense to mother; she wouldn't understand it. She'd think it was sense. And, you see, I'm interested in my husband. I suppose it's the proper thing to take an interest in your husband. If you won't take an interest in your husband, what will you take an interest in? It's natural—not to say primitive. Do you know, he says I'm the most primitive person he ever came across. Should you say I was primitive? Don't answer that. I don't think he'd like me to talk about him quite so much. He thinks I never know where to draw the line. But I never see any lines to draw, and if I did, I wouldn't know how to draw them."
Stanistreet smiled grimly. He was wondering whether she was "primitive."
"Just look at Scarum's ears! Don't tease her. She doesn't like it. Dear thing! She's delicious to kiss—she's got such a soft nose. But she'll bolt as soon as look at you, and she's awfully hard to hold." Her fingers were twitching with the desire to hold Scarum.
"I think I can manage her."
"You see, somehow or the other I like talking to you. You may be a sinner, but I don't think you are a fool; and I've a sort of a notion that you understand."
He was silent. So many women had thought he understood.
"I wonder—do you understand!"
The eyes that Mrs. Nevill Tyson turned on Stanistreet were not search-lights; they were wells of darkness, unsearchable, unfathomable.
Something in Stanistreet, equally inscrutable, something that was himself and not himself, answered very low to that vague appeal.
"Yes, I understand."
He had turned towards her, smiling darkly, and all her face flashed back a happy smile.
Surely, oh surely, Mrs. Nevill Tyson was the soul of indiscretion; for at that moment Miss Batchelor, trotting past with Lady Morley, looked from them to her companion and smiled too.
That smile was the first stone.
Miss Batchelor acknowledged them with a curt little nod, and Mrs. Nevill Tyson's face became instantly overclouded. Louis leaned a little nearer and said in a husky, uneven voice, "Surely you don't mind that impertinent woman?"
"Not a bit," said Mrs. Nevill Tyson. "She's got a villainous seat."
"Then what are you thinking about?"
"I'm thinking what horrid hard lines it is that they won't let me hunt. All the time I might have been flying across country with Nevill, instead of—"
"Instead of crawling in a dog-cart with me. Thank you, Mrs. Nevill."
"You needn't thank me. I haven't given you anything."
Again Stanistreet wondered whether Mrs. Nevill was very simple or very profound. And wondering, he gave the mare a cut across the flanks that made her leap in the shafts.
"That was silly of you. She'll have her heels through before you know where you are. She's a demon to kick, is Scarum."
Scarum had spared the splash-board this time, but she was going furiously, and the little dog-cart rocked from side to side. Mrs. Nevill Tyson rose to her feet.
"Strikes me you can't drive a little bit," said she.
"Please sit down, Mrs. Tyson." But Mrs. Tyson remained imperiously standing, trying to keep her balance like a small sailor in a rollicking sea.
Stanistreet muttered wrathfully under his mustache, and she caught the words "damned foolery."
"Bundle out this minute." She made a grab at the rail in an undignified manner.
He doubled the reins firmly over his right hand, and with his left arm he forced her back into her seat. He was holding her there when Farmer Ashby turned out of a by-lane and followed close behind them. And Farmer Ashby had a nice tale to tell at "The Cross-Roads" of how he had seen the Captain driving with his arm round Mrs. Tyson's waist.
That was another stone.
Stanistreet tugged at the reins with both hands and pulled the mare almost on to her haunches; her hoofs shrieked on the iron road; she stood still and snorted, her forelegs well out, her hide smoking.
When he had made quite sure that the animal's attitude was that of temporary exhaustion rather than of passion, Stanistreet changed seats, and gave the reins to Mrs. Nevill Tyson; and Scarum burst into her second heat.
"I suppose you have a right to drive your own animal into the ditch," said he.
Mrs. Nevill Tyson set her teeth with a determined air, planted her feet firmly on the floor of the trap to give herself a good purchase; she gave the reins a little twist as she had seen Stanistreet do, she balanced the whip like a fishing-rod, with the line dangling over Scarum's ears, and then she rattled away over the wrinkling roads at a glorious pace; she reeled over cart-ruts, she went thump over sods and bump over mud-heaps, she grazed walls and hedges, skimmed over the brink of ditches, careened round corners, and tore past most things on the wrong side; and Stanistreet's sense of deadly peril was lost in the pleasure of seeing her do it. When she was not chattering to him she was encouraging Scarum with all sorts of endearments, small chirping sounds and delicate chuckles, smiling that indefinably malicious, lop-sided smile which Stanistreet had been taught all his life to interpret as a challenge. Now they were going down a lane of beeches, they bent their heads under the branches, and a shower of rime fell about her shoulders, powdering her black hair; he watched it thawing in the warmth there till it sparkled like a fine dew; and now they were running between low hedges, and the keen air from the frosted fields smote the blood into her cheeks and the liquid light into her eyes; it lifted the fringe from her forehead and crisped it over the fur border of her hat; flying ends of lace and sable were flung behind her like streamers; she seemed to be winged with the wind of speed; she was the embodiment of vivid, reckless, beautiful life.
It came over him with a sort of shock that this woman was Tyson's wife, irrevocably, until one or other of them died. And Tyson was not the sort of man to die for anybody's convenience but his own.
At last they swayed into the courtyard at Thorneytoft. "Thank heaven we're alive!" he said, as he followed her into the house.
Mrs. Nevill Tyson turned on the threshold. "Do you mean to say you didn't enjoy it!"
"Oh, of course it was delightful; but I don't know that it was exactly—safe."
"I see—you were afraid. We were safe enough so long as I was driving."
He smiled drearily. He felt that he had been whirled along in a delirious dream—a madman driven by a fool. As if in answer to his thoughts, she called back over the banisters—
"I'm not such a fool as I look, you know."
No, for the life of him Stanistreet did not know. His doubt was absurd, for it implied that Mrs. Nevill Tyson practiced the art of symbolism, and he could hardly suppose her to be so well acquainted with the resources of language. On the other hand, he could not conceive how, after living more than half a year with Tyson, she had preserved her formidable naivete.
At dinner that evening she still further obscured the question by boasting that she had saved Captain Stanistreet's life. Stanistreet protested.
"Nonsense," said she; "you know perfectly well that you'd have upset the whole show if you'd been left to yourself."
Tyson stared at his wife. "Do you mean to say that he let you drive?"
"Let me? Not he! He couldn't help it." Her white throat shook with derisive laughter. "I took the reins; or, if you like, I kicked over the traces. I always told you I'd do it some day."
Tyson pushed his chair back from the table and scowled meditatively. Mrs. Nevill Tyson was smiling softly to herself as she played with the water in her finger-glass. Presently she rose and shook the drops from her fingertips, like one washing her hands of a light matter. Stanistreet got up and opened the door for her, standing very straight and militant and grim; and as she passed through she looked back at him and laughed again.
"I can see," said Tyson, as Stanistreet took his seat again, "you've been letting that wife of mine make more or less of a fool of herself. If you had no consideration for her neck or your own, you might have thought of my son and heir."
"Oh," said Stanistreet, a little vaguely, for he was startled, "I kept a good lookout."
"Not much use in that," said Tyson.
Stanistreet battled with his doubt. Tyson had furnished him with a key to his wife's moods. Moreover, a simpler explanation had occurred to him. Mrs. Nevill Tyson was fond of driving; she had been forbidden to drive, therefore she drove; she had never driven any animal in her life before, and, notwithstanding her inexperience, she had accomplished the dangerous feat without injury to anybody. Hence no doubt her laughter and her triumph.
But this again was symbolism. He determined to sleep on it.
THE NIGHT WATCH
Like all delightful things, Mrs. Nevill Tyson's laughter was short-lived. When Tyson went up to bed that night between twelve and one, he found his wife sitting by her bedroom fire in the half-darkness. Evidently contemplation had overtaken her in the act of undressing, for her hair was still untouched, her silk bodice lay beside her on the floor where she had let it fall, and she sat robed in her long dressing-gown. He came up to her, holding his candle so that the light fell full on her face; it looked strange and pale against the vivid scarlet of her gown. Her eyes, too, were dim, her mouth had lost its delicate outline, her cheeks seemed to have grown slightly, ever so slightly, fuller, and the skin looked glazed as if by the courses of many tears. He had noticed these changes before; of late they had come many times in the twelve hours; but to-night it seemed not so much a momentary disfigurement as a sudden precocious maturity, as if nature had stamped her face with the image of what it would be ten, fifteen years hence. And as he looked at her a cold and subtle pang went through him, a curious abominable sensation, mingled with a sort of spiritual pain. He dared not give a name to the one feeling, but the other he easily recognized as self-reproach. He had known it once or twice before.
He stooped over her and kissed her. "Why are you sitting up here and crying, all by your little self?"
She shook her head.
"What are you crying about? You didn't suppose I was angry with you?"
"No. I wouldn't have cried if you had been angry. I'm not crying now. I don't know why I cried at all. I'm tired, or cold, or something."
"Why don't you go to bed, then?"
"I'm going." She rose wearily and went to the dressing-table. He watched her reflection in the looking-glass. As she raised her arms to take the pins from her hair, her white face grew whiter, it was deadly white. He went to her help, unpinning the black coils, smoothing them and plaiting them in a loose braid. He did it in a business-like way, as if he had been a hairdresser, he whose pulse used to beat faster if he so much as touched her gown. Then he gave her a cold business-like kiss that left her sadder than before. The fact was, he had thought she was going to faint. But Mrs. Nevill Tyson was not of the fainting kind; she was only tired, tired and sick.
It was arranged that Tyson was to leave by the two o'clock train the next day. He was packing up his things about noon, when Molly staggered into his dressing-room with her teeth chattering. Clinging to the rail of the bedstead for support, she gazed at the preparations for his departure.
"I wish you wouldn't go away, Nevill," she said.
"It's all right, I'll be back in a day or two." He blushed at his own lie.
Mrs. Nevill Tyson sat down on the bed and began to cry.
"What's the matter, Moll, eh?"
"I don't know, I don't know," she sobbed. "I'm afraid, Nevill—I'm so terribly afraid."
"Why, what are you afraid of?" He looked up and was touched by the terror in her face.
"I don't know. But I can bear it—I won't be silly and frightened—I can bear it if you'll only stay."
She slid on to her knees beside him; and while she implored him to stay, her hands worked unconsciously, helping him to go—smoothing and folding his clothes, and laying them in little heaps about the floor, her figure swaying unsteadily as she knelt.
He put his arm round her; he drew her head against his shoulder; and she looked up into his face, trying to smile.
"You won't leave me?" she whispered hoarsely.
He laid his hand upon her forehead. It was damp with the first sweat of her agony.
He carried her to her room and sent for Mrs. Wilcox and the doctor and the nurse. Then he went back and began turning the things in and out of his portmanteau in a melancholy, undecided manner. Mrs. Wilcox came and found him doing it.
"I'm not going," he said in answer to her indignant stare.
"I'm glad to hear it. Because if you do go—"
"I am not going."
But Mrs. Wilcox's maternal instinct had subdued her fear of Nevill Tyson, and he respected her defiance even more than he had respected her fear. "If you go you'll put her in a fever, and I won't answer for the consequences."
He said nothing, for he had a sense of justice, and it was her hour. Besides, he was no little conscience-stricken.
He went out to look for Stanistreet, and found him in the courtyard, piling his own luggage on the dog-cart. He put his hand on his shoulder. "Look here," said he, "I can't go. It's a damned nuisance, but it's out of the question. Leave those things till to-morrow."
"To-morrow?" Stanistreet stared vaguely at his host.
"Yes; you must see me through this, Stanny. I can't trust myself by myself. For God's sake let's go and do something, or I'll go off my head."
They spent the afternoon in the low coverts about the Toft, and the evening in the billiard-room, sitting forlornly over whiskey-and-soda. A peculiar throbbing silence and mystery seemed to hang about the house. Stanistreet was depressed and hardly spoke, while Tyson vainly tried to hide his nervousness under a fictitious jocularity. He looked eagerly for the night, by which time he had concluded that all anxiety would be ended. But when ten o'clock came and he found that nothing more nor less than a long night-watch was required of him, his nerves revolted.
"I wonder how long this business is going to last? I wish to God I'd never stayed." He leaned back against the chimney-piece, grinding his heels on the fender in his irritation. "I was a fool not to get away in the morning when I had the chance."
He looked up and saw Stanistreet regarding him with a curiously critical expression. Louis did not look very like sitting up all night; his lean face was haggard already.
"I say, Stanistreet, it's awfully good of you to stop like this. I'm confoundedly sorry I asked you to. I don't know how we're going to get through the night." He cast a glance at the billiard-table. "Pity we can't knock the balls about a bit—but you see they'd hear us, and she might think it a little cold-blooded."
"My dear fellow, I'm ready to sit up with you till any time in the morning, and I never felt less like billiards in my life."
"Then there's nothing for it that I can see but a mighty smoke—it'll soothe our nerves any way. And a mighty drink—we shall need it, you bet."
He rang the bell, lit his first cigar, and settled himself for his watch. His irritation was still sullenly fermenting; for not only was he going to spend a disagreeable night, but he had been most inconsiderately balked of a pleasant one.
"It's inconceivable," said he, "the things women expect you to do. If I could do her the smallest good by stopping I wouldn't complain. But I can't see her, can't go near her, can't do her the least bit of good in the world—I would be better out of the way, in fact—and yet I have to stick here, fretting myself into a fever. If I didn't do it I should be an unfeeling, heartless, disgusting brute. See? That's the way they reason."
Presently, under the soothing influence of the cigar, he settled down into some semblance of his former self. He talked almost as well as usual, touching on such light local topics as Miss Batchelor and the new Parish Council; he told Mrs. Nevill's barrister story with variations, and that landed him in a discussion of his plans. "I very much doubt whether I shall die a country gentleman after all. It isn't the life for me. That old man's respectability was ideal—transcendental—it's too much for me. I don't know why he left it to me. Sheer cussedness, I suppose. It would have been just like him if he had left me his immortality, on the condition that I should spend it at Drayton Parva. I couldn't stand that. I don't even know if I can stand another year of it. I shall be dragged to the center again some of these days. It must come. As it is, I'm a rag of a human moth fluttering round the lamps of town."
"Fate," said Stanistreet.
"Not at all. If I go, it'll be chance that takes me—pure chance."
"Don't see much difference myself."
"There's all the difference. Ask any man who's been chivied about to all the ends of the earth and back again. He can tell you something about, chance, but I doubt if he swears much by fate. Chance—oh Lord, don't I know it!—chance takes you up and plays with you, pleases you or teases you, and drops you when she's tired of you. Like—some ladies of our acquaintance, and you're none the worse for it, not you! Fate looks devilish well after you, loves you or hates you, and in either case sticks to you and ruins you. Like your wife. To complete the little allegory, you can have as many chances as you like, but only one fate. Needless to say, though my chances have been many and charming, I naturally prefer my—fate."
Tyson was a master of the graceful art of symbolism, and Stanistreet had caught the trick from him. At the present moment he would have given a great deal to know how much of all this was a mere playing with words.
There was a sound of hurrying feet in the room upstairs, and the two men held their breath. Tyson was the first to recover.
"Good God, Stanistreet, how white you are! I wish I hadn't let you in for this. I'm not in the least nervous myself, you know. She's all right. Thompson says so. I'm awfully sorry for the poor little soul, but if you come to think of it, it's the most natural and ordinary thing in the world."
But Stanistreet's thoughts were back in yesterday. He could see nothing, think of nothing but the little figure going through the doorway, and laughing as it went.
"Do you mind not talking about it?" said he.
Tyson sat quiet for a while, except when some obscure movement overhead roused him from his philosophic calm. Towards midnight Mrs. Wilcox came to the door and spoke to him for a minute. After that he became thoughtful. "I don't quite like the look of it," said he; "he's sent for Baker of Drayton—I suppose it means that the idiot has just sense enough not to trust his own judgment. But I don't like it."
By the time he had struck another attitude, lit another cigar, and gulped down another tumbler of whiskey-and-soda, philosophic calm gave way to philosophic doubt. "I don't know who has the management of these things, but what I want to know is—why do they make women like that? Is it justice? Is it even common decency? What do you think?"
Stanistreet moved impatiently. "I don't think. I've no opinion on the subject. And I never interfere between a man and his Maker—it's bad form. They must settle it between them."
"It's all very well to be so infernally polite. But this sort of thing wakes you up impolitely, and makes you ask impolite questions. I suppose I've seen men die by dozens—so have you—seen them die as if they enjoyed it, and seen them foaming at the mouth, kicking against death—and I can't say it particularly staggered my belief in my Maker. But when it comes to the women, somehow it seems more polite not to believe in him than to believe that he does these damnable things on purpose."
Stanistreet closed his eyes to shut out the sight of Tyson and his eternal cigar, and the slow monotonous movement of his lips. His friend's theological views were not exactly the supreme interest of the moment.
"Down there in the desert" (Tyson seemed to dream as he raised his eyes to the great map of the Soudan that hung above the chimney-piece), "where there's no end to the sand and the sky, and man's nothing and woman less than nothing, this curious belief in the infinite seems the natural thing; it simply possesses you. You know the feeling? But here it gets crowded out somehow; it's too big for these little houses we've got to live in, and work in, and die in. It's beastly business thinking, though. I fancy old Tennyson got very near the mark—
"'Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds. At last he beat his music out; There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half—'"
There was a sharp bitter cry, stifled in the instant of its utterance, and Tyson started to his feet. His mouth worked convulsively. "My God! I don't care who's responsible for this filthy world. Nobody but a fiend could take that little thing and torture her so. Think of it, Louis!"
"I'm trying not to think of it. It's damnable as you say, but—other women have to stand it."
"Other women!" Tyson flung the words out like an execration that throbbed with his scorn and loathing of the sex. Other women! By an act of his will he had put his wife on a high pedestal for the moment—made her shine, for the moment, white and fair above the contemptible herd, her obscure multitudinous sisterhood. Other women! The phrase had an undertone of dull passionate self-reproach that was distinctly audible to Stanistreet's finer ear. Stanistreet knew many things about Tyson—knew, for instance, the cause that but for this would have taken him up to town; and Tyson knew that he knew.
If it came to that, Stanistreet too had some grounds for self-reproach. He took up a book and tried to read; but the words reeled and staggered and grew dim before him; he found himself listening to the ticking of the clock, and the pulse of time became a woman's heart beating violently with pain, a heart indistinguishable from his own. Other women (it was he who had used the words)—was it simply by her share in their grim lot that Mrs. Nevill Tyson had contrived to invest herself with this somber significance? Perhaps. It was the same woman that he had driven with, laughed with, flirted with a hundred times—the woman that in the natural course of things (Tyson apart) he would infallibly have made love to; and yet in one day and one night her prettinesses, her impertinences had fallen from her like a frivolous garment, leaving only the simple eternal lines of her womanhood. Henceforth, whatever he might think, he would not think of her to-morrow as he had thought yesterday; whatever he felt to-morrow, his feeling would never lose that purifying touch of tragic pity. Mrs. Nevill Tyson would never be the same woman that he had known before. And yet—she was a fool, a fool; and he doubted if her sufferings would make her any wiser.
Tyson looked at his watch. "Look there, Stanistreet, it's two o'clock—there must be some blundering. I'll speak to Baker. What are those damned doctors thinking of! Why can't they have done with it? Why can't they put her under chloroform?"
One by one the lamps over the billiard-table died down and went out; the firelight leapt and started on the wall, making the gloom of the great room visible; in the half-darkness Tyson became clairvoyant, and his self-reproach grew dominant and clamorous. "It's all my fault—if she dies it'll be my fault! But how was I to know? How could I tell that anything like this would happen? I swear I'd die rather than let her go through this villainy a second time. It's infamous—I'll kill myself before it happens again!" He flung himself on the sofa and turned his face to the wall, muttering invectives, blasphemies—a confused furious arraignment of the finite and the Infinite.
At three o'clock the doctors sent for him. When he came back he was very silent. He lay down again quietly, and from time to time his lips moved, whether in imprecation or prayer it was hard to say; but it struck Stanistreet that Tyson's mind had veered again to the orthodoxy of terror.
There was silence overhead too. They were putting her under chloroform.
Another hour and the window-panes glimmered as if a tissue of liquid air were spread between them and the darkness. There was a break in the night outside, a livid streak of dawn; the objects in the room took curious unintelligible shapes, the billiard-table in its white cloth became a monstrous bed, a bier, a gleaming mausoleum. And with the dawn Tyson on his sofa had dropped into a doze, and thence into a sleep. The night's orgy of emotion had left his features in a curious moral disarray; once or twice a sort of bubbling murmur rose to his lips. "Poor devil!" thought Stanistreet, "I'd give anything to know how much he really cared."
Stanistreet still watched. Mrs. Wilcox found him sitting bent forward, with his elbows on his knees and his face hidden in his hands. He was roused by her touch on his shoulder. He started when he saw her standing over him, a strange figure in the dull light. She was clad in a long gray dressing-gown, her hair uncurled, red rims round her eyes and dark streaks under them, her mouth swollen and trembling. That night had been a rude shock to her optimism.
Stanistreet never knew how he became possessed of her plump hand, nor what he did with it. His eyes looked the question he was afraid to speak.
"It's all right—all per—perfectly right," stammered the optimist. "Wake him up, please, and tell him he has got a son."
A SON AND HEIR
It seems a simple thing to believe in the divinity of motherhood, when you have only seen it in the paintings of one or two old masters, or once in a while perhaps in flesh and blood, transfiguring the face of some commonplace vulgar woman whom, but for that, nobody would have called beautiful. But sometimes the divine thing chooses some morsel of humanity like Mrs. Nevill Tyson, struggles with and overpowers it, rending the small body, spoiling the delicate beauty; and where you looked for the illuminating triumphant glory of motherhood, you find, as Tyson found, a woman with a pitiful plain face and apathetic eyes—apathetic but for the dull horror of life that wakes in them every morning.
That Tyson had the sentiment of the thing is pretty certain. When he went up to town (for he went, after all, when the baby was a week old), he brought back with him a picture (a Madonna of Botticelli's, I think) in a beautiful frame, as a present for his wife. Poor little soul! I believe she thought he had gone up on purpose to get it (it was so lovely that he might well have taken a fortnight to find it); and she had it hung up over the chimney-piece in her bedroom, so that she could see it whether she were sitting up or lying down.
Now, whether it was the soothing influence of that belief, or whether Mrs. Nevill Tyson, the mystic of a moment, found help in the gray eyes of the mother of God when Nevill had pointed out their beauty, pointed out, too, the paradox of the divine hands pressing the human breasts for the milk of life, she revived so far as to take, or seem to take, an interest in her son. She indulged in no ecstasies of maternal passion; but as she nursed the little creature, her face began to show a serene half-ruminant, half-spiritual content.
He was very tiny, tinier than any baby she had ever seen, as well he might be considering that he had come into the world full seven weeks before his time; his skin was very red; his eyes were very small, but even they looked too large for his ridiculous face; his fingers were fine, like little claws; and his hands—she could hardly feel their feeble kneading of her breast. He was not at all a pretty baby, but he was very light to hold.
Tyson had not the least objection to Stanistreet or Sir Peter and the rest of them, they were welcome to stare at his wife as much as they pleased; but he was insanely jealous of this minute masculine thing that claimed so much of her attention. He began to have a positive dislike to seeing her with the child. There was a strain of morbid sensibility in his nature, and what was beautiful to him in a Botticelli Madonna, properly painted and framed, was not beautiful—to him—in Mrs. Nevill Tyson. He had the sentiment of the thing, as I said, but the thing itself, the flesh and blood of it, was altogether too much for his fastidious nerves. And yet once or twice he had seen her turn away from him, clutching hastily at the open bodice of her gown; once she had started up and left the room when he came into it; and, curious contradiction that he was, it had hurt him indescribably. He thought he recognized in these demonstrations a prouder instinct than feminine false shame. It was as if she had tried to hide from him some sacred thing—as if she had risen up in her indignation to guard the portals of her soul. To be sure he was in no mood just then for entering sanctuaries; but for all that he did not like to have the door slammed in his face.
Thank heaven, the worst had not happened. The little creature's volatile beauty fluttered back to her from time to time; there was a purified transparent quality in it that had been wanting before. It had still the trick of fluctuating, vanishing, as if it had caught something of her soul's caprice; but while it was there Mrs. Nevill Tyson was a more beautiful woman than she had been before. Some men might have preferred this divine uncertainty to a more monotonous prettiness. Tyson was not one of these.
One afternoon, about a fortnight after his return from town, he found her sitting in the library with "the animal," as he called his son. There had been a sound of singing, but it ceased as he came in. The child's shawl was lying on the floor; he picked it up and pitched it to the other end of the room. Then he came up to her and scanned her face closely.
"What's the matter with you?" he said.
"Nothing. Do I—do I look funny?" She put her hand to her hair, a trick of Mrs. Nevill Tyson's when she was under criticism. She had been such an untidy little girl.
"Oh, damned funny. Look here. You've had about enough of that. You must stop it."
"Because it takes up your time, wastes your strength, ruins your figure—it has ruined your complexion—and it—it makes you a public nuisance."
"I can't help it."
She got up and stood by the window with her back to Tyson. She still held the child to her breast, but she was not looking at him; she was looking away through the window, rocking her body slightly backwards and forwards, either to soothe the child or to vent her own impatience.
Tyson's angry voice followed her. "Of course you can help it. Other women can. You must wean the animal."
She turned. "Oh, Nevill, look at him—"
"I don't want to look at him."
"But—he's so ti-i-ny. Whatever will he do?"
"Do? He'll do as other women's children do."
"He won't. He'll die."
"Not he. Catch him dying. He'll only howl more infernally than he's howled before. That's all he'll do. Do him good too—teach him that he can't get everything he wants in this vile world. But whatever he does I'm not going to have you sacrificed to him."
"I'm not sacrificed. I don't mind it."
"Well, then, I mind it. That's enough. I hate the little beast coming into my room at night."
"He needn't come. I can go to him."
"All right. If you want to make an invalid scarecrow of yourself before your time, it's not my business. Only don't come to me for sympathy, that's all."
With one of her passionate movements, she snatched the child from her breast, carried him upstairs screaming and laid him on her bed. When the nurse came she found him writhing and wailing, and his mother on her knees beside the bed, her face hidden in the counterpane.
"Take him away," sobbed Mrs. Nevill Tyson.
"Ma'am?" said the nurse.
"Take him away, I tell you. I won't—I can't nurse him. It—it makes me ill."
And forthwith she went off into a fit of hysterics.
It was at this crisis of the baby's fate that Miss Batchelor, of all people, took it into her head to call. After all, Tyson was Nevill Tyson, Esquire, of Thorneytoft, and his wife had been somewhere very near death's door. People who would have died rather than call for any other reason, called "to inquire." As did Miss Batchelor, saying to herself that nothing should induce her to go in.
Now as she was inquiring in her very softest voice, who should come up to the doorstep but Tyson. He smiled as he greeted her. He was polite; he was charming; for as a matter of fact he had been rather hard-driven of late, and a little kindness touched him, especially when it came from an unexpected quarter.
"This is very good of you, Miss Batchelor," said he. "I hope you'll come in and see my wife."
Miss Batchelor played nervously with her card-case.
"I—I—Would your wi—would Mrs. Tyson care to see me?"
He smiled again. "I think I can answer for that."
And to her own intense surprise, for the first and last time Miss Batchelor crossed the threshold of Thorneytoft.
They found the little woman sitting in her drawing-room with her hands before her, and Mrs. Nevill Tyson did not smile at Miss Batchelor as she greeted her. Perhaps with her feminine instinct and antipathy, she felt that Miss Batchelor had not come to see her. So she smiled at her husband, and the smile was gall and wormwood to the clever woman; it had the effect, too, of bringing back to her recollection the occasion on which she had last seen Mrs. Nevill Tyson smiling. She wondered whether Mrs. Nevill Tyson also recalled the incident. If she did she must find the situation rather trying.
Apparently Mrs. Nevill Tyson was so happily constituted that to her trying situations were a stimulant and a resource. She prattled to Miss Batchelor about her new side-saddle, and her "friend, Captain Stanistreet"—any subject that came uppermost and dragged another with it to the surface.
Miss Batchelor was very kind and sympathetic; she took an interest in the saddle; she assured Mrs. Nevill Tyson that Drayton Parva had been much concerned on her account; and she asked to see the baby.
The next instant she was sorry she had done so, for Tyson, who had continued to be charming, went out of the room when the baby came in.
The child was laid in Mrs. Nevill Tyson's lap, and she looked at it with a gay indifference. "Isn't he a queer thing?" said she. "He isn't pretty a bit, so you needn't say so. Nevill calls him a boiled shrimp, and a little rat. He is rather like a little rat—a baby rat, when it's all pink and squirmy, you know, and its eyes just opened—they've got such pretty bright eyes. But I'm afraid baby's eyes are more like pig's eyes. Well, they're pretty too. As he's so ugly I expect he's going to be clever, like Nevill. They say he's like me. What do you think? Look at his forehead. Do you think he's going to be clever?"
"It depends," said Miss Batchelor, a little maliciously. (Really, the woman was impossible, and such a hopeless fool!) Miss Batchelor's habitually nervous manner made her innuendoes doubly telling when they came.
"Well—he's very small. Just feel how small he is."
Instinctively Miss Batchelor held out her hands for the child, and in another moment he was lying across her arms, slobbering dreamily.
He was not quiet long. He stretched himself, he writhed, he made himself limp, he made himself stiff, he threw himself backwards recklessly; and still Miss Batchelor held him. And when he cried she held him all the closer. She let him explore the front of her dress with his little wet mouth and fingers. He had made a great many futile experiments of the kind in the last two days. Of those three worlds that were his, the world of light, the world of sleep, and the world of his mother's breast, they had taken away the one that he liked best—the warm living world of which he had been lord and master, that was flesh of his flesh, given to his hands to hold, and obedient to the pressure of his lips. Since then he had lived from feeble hope to hope; and now, when he struck upon that hard and narrow tract of corduroy studded with comfortless buttons, he began again his melancholy wail.
"Poor little beggar," said Mrs. Nevill Tyson, "he can't help it. He's being weaned. Don't let him slobber over your nice dress."
Certainly he had not improved the corduroy, but Miss Batchelor did not seem to resent it.
"Can't you nurse him?" she asked.
"No," said Mrs. Nevill Tyson.
"I don't believe it," said Miss Batchelor to herself. "She isn't that sort. It's the clever, nervous, modern women who can't nurse their children—it all runs to brains. But these little animals! If ever there was a woman born to suckle fools, it's Mrs. Nevill Tyson. She's got the physique, the temperament, everything. And she can give her whole mind to it."
"What a pity," she said aloud, and Mrs. Nevill Tyson laughed.
"I don't want to nurse him; why should I?" said she. She lay back in her attitude of indifference, watching her son, and watched by Miss Batchelor's sharp eyes and heartless brain.
Heartless? Well, I can't say. Not altogether, perhaps. Goodness knows what went on in the heart of that extraordinary woman, condemned by her own cleverness to perpetual maidenhood.
"How very odd," said she to Mrs. Nevill Tyson.
To herself she said, "I thought so. It's not that she can't. She won't—selfish little thing. And yet—she isn't the kind that abominates babies, as such. Therefore if she doesn't care for this small thing, that is because it's her husband's child."
To do Miss Batchelor justice, she was appalled by her own logic. Was it the logic of the heart or of the brain? She did not stop to think. Having convinced herself that her argument was a chain of adamant, she caught herself leaning on it for support, with the surprising result that she found it easier to be kind to Mrs. Nevill Tyson (a woman who presumably did not love her husband) when she took her leave.
I am not going to be hard on her. To some women a bitterer thing than not to be loved is not to be allowed to love. And when two women insist on loving the same man, the despised one is naturally skeptical as to the strength and purity and eternity of the other's feelings. "She never loved him!" is the heart's consolation to the lucid brain reiterating "He never loved me!" I did not say that Miss Batchelor loved Tyson.
So the baby was weaned. He did not howl under the process so much as his father expected. He lost his cheerful red hue and grew thin; he was indifferent to things around him, so that people thought poorly of his intelligence, and the nurse shook her head and said it was a "bad sign when they took no notice." Gradually, very gradually, his features settled into an expression of disillusionment, curious in one so young. Perhaps he bore in his blood reminiscences, forebodings of that wonderful and terrible world he had been in such a hurry to enter. He was Tyson's son and heir.
And that other baby, Mrs. Nevill Tyson, so violently weaned from the joy of motherhood, she too grew pale and thin; she too was indifferent to things around her, and she took very little notice of her son.
By a strange and unfortunate coincidence Captain Stanistreet had not been seen in Drayton for the space of five months; and coupling this fact with Mrs. Nevill Tyson's altered looks, the logical mind of Drayton Parva drew its own conclusions.
SIR PETER'S NEW CLOTHES
Tyson had not married in order to improve his social position; he had married because he was in love as he had never been in love before. He would have married a barmaid, if necessary, for the same reason. He was not long in finding out that he owed his unpopularity in a great measure to his marriage. To the curious observer this consciousness of his mistake was conspicuous in his manner. (It was to be hoped that his wife was not a curious observer.) And Sir Peter made matters no better by going about declaring that Mrs. Nevill Tyson was the loveliest woman in Leicestershire, when everybody knew that his wife had flatly refused to call on her. By this time Tyson was quite aware that his standing in the county had depended all along on the support which the Morleys were pleased to give him. They had taken him up in the beginning, and his position had seemed secure. If at that ripe moment he had chosen to strengthen it by a marriage with Lady Morley's dearest friend, he might have been anything he pleased. Miss Batchelor of Meriden would have proved a still more powerful ally than Sir Peter. She would have been as ambitious for him as he could have been for himself. By joining the estates of Thorneytoft and Meriden, Nevill Tyson, Esquire, would have become one of the largest land-owners in Leicestershire, when in all probability he would have known the joy of representing his county in Parliament. He was born for life on a large scale, a life of excitement and action; and there were times when a political career presented itself to his maturer fancy as the end and crown of existence. All this might have been open to him if he had chosen; if, for instance, this clever man had not cherished a rooted objection to the society of clever women. As it was, his marriage had made him the best-abused man in those parts.
Since Tyson was not to mold his country's destinies in Parliament, he turned his attention to local politics as the next best thing, thus satisfying his appetite for action. He did what he had told Miss Batchelor he should do; he dissipated himself in parochial patriotism. He went to and fro, he presided at meetings, sat on committees, made speeches on platforms. You would hardly have thought that one parish could have contained so much fiery energy. Moreover, he found a field for his journalistic talents in a passionate correspondence in the local papers. Tyson could speak, Tyson could write, where other men maunder and drivel. His tongue was tipped with fire and his pen with vitriol. Looking about him for a worthy antagonist, he singled out Smedley, M.D., a local practitioner given over to two ideals—sanitation and reform. Needless to say, for sanitation and reform Tyson cared not a hang. It was a stand-up fight between the man of facts and the man of letters. Smedley was solid and imperturbable; he stood firm on his facts, and defended himself with figures. Tyson, a master of literary strategy, was alert and ubiquitous. Having driven Smedley into a tangled maze of controversy, Tyson pursued him with genial irony. When Smedley argued, Tyson riddled his arguments with the lightest of light banter; when Smedley hung back, Tyson lured him on with some artful feint; when Smedley thrust, Tyson dodged. Finally, when Smedley, so to speak, drew up all his facts and figures in the form of a hollow square, Tyson charged with magnificent contempt of danger. No doubt Tyson's method was extremely amusing and effective, and his sparkling periods proved the enemy's dullness up to the hilt; unfortunately, the prosy but responsible representations of Smedley had more weight with committees.
Only two people really appreciated that correspondence. They were Mrs. Nevill Tyson and Miss Batchelor. "At this rate," said the lady of Meriden, smiling to herself, "my friend Samson will very soon bring down the house."
Tyson, contemptuous of the gallery, had been playing to Sir Peter and Sir Peter alone, and he flattered himself that this time he had caught the great man's eye. It was in the first excitement of the elections; Tyson had come in from Drayton, and was glancing as usual at the visiting cards on the hall table. On the top of the dusty pile that had accumulated in the days of his wife's illness there was actually a fresh card. Tyson's face lost something of its militant expression when he read the name "Sir Peter Morley," and he smiled up through the banisters at his wife as she came downstairs to greet him.
"Ha, Molly, I see Morley's looked us up again. He couldn't very well be off it much longer."
"He called about the elections."
"Oh—I thought you were out?"
"So I was. I met him in the drive and made him come in."
"H'm. Did he say anything about my letters in the Herald?"
Mrs. Nevill Tyson hesitated. "N-no. Not much."
"What did he say!"
"Oh—I think—he only said it was rather a pity you'd mixed yourself up with it."
"Damn his impertinence!"
He flicked the card with a disdainful fingernail and followed his wife into the drawing-room. She gave him some tea to keep him quiet; he drank it in passionate gulps. Then he felt better, and lay back in his chair biting his mustache meditatively.
"By the way, did Morley say whether he'd support Ringwood! The fellow's a publican, likewise a sinner, but we must rush him in for the District Council."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Nevill Tyson, trying hard to be interested.
"Why? To keep that radical devil out, of course; a cad that spits on his Bible, and would do the same for his Queen's face any day—if he got the chance, I'd like to sound Morley, though." A smile flickered on his lips, as he anticipated the important interview.
"Oh, he did say something about it. I remember now. I think he's going to vote for the Smedley man."
Tyson's smile went out suddenly. He was scowling now. Not that he cared a straw which way the elections went, but he liked to "mix himself up" in them to give himself local color; and now it seemed that he had taken the wrong shade. He had spent the better part of six weeks in badgering and bullying Sir Peter's pet candidate.
"Morley's a miserable time-server," said he savagely. "I suppose the usual excuses for his wife's not calling?"
"Neuralgia," said Mrs. Nevill Tyson, with a grin.
"Neuralgia! Why couldn't he give her a stomach-ache for a change?"
Now, when Tyson expressed his opinion of Sir Peter with such delightful frankness, both he and Mrs. Nevill had overlooked the trifling fact that Pinker, the footman, while to all outward appearance absorbed in emptying a coal-scuttle, was listening with all his ears. Pinker was an intelligent fellow, interested in local politics, still more interested in the affairs of his master and mistress. The dust upon those visiting-cards had provided Pinker with much matter for reflection. Now men will say anything in the passion of elections; but when it was reported that Mr. Nevill Tyson had in private pronounced Sir Peter to be a "miserable time-server," and in public (that is to say, in Drayton Town Hall) declared excitedly—"We will have no time-servers—men who will go through any gate you open for them—we Leicestershire people want a man who rides straight across country, and doesn't funk his fences!" And when Sir Peter remarked that "no doubt Mr. Tyson had taken some nasty ones in his time," everybody knew that there was something more behind all this than mere party feeling. Sir Peter was right: that electioneering business was Tyson's third great mistake. It proved, what nobody would have been very much aware of, that Nevill Tyson, Esquire, had next to no standing in the county. As a public man he was worse off than he would have been as a harmless private individual. He could never have been found out if he had only stayed quietly at home and devoted himself to the cultivation of orchids, in the manner of old Tyson, who had managed to hoodwink himself and his neighbors into the belief that he was a country gentleman. As it was, for such a clever fellow Tyson had displayed stupidity that was almost ridiculous. For nobody ever denied that he was a clever fellow, that he could have been anything that he liked; in fact, he had been most things already. Anything he liked—except a country gentleman. The country gentleman, like the poet, is born, not made; and it was a question if Tyson had ever been a gentleman at all. He had all the accidents of the thing, but not its substance, its British stability and reserve. Civilization was rubbing off him at the edges; he seemed to be struggling against some primeval tendency. You expected at any moment to see a reversion to some earlier and uglier type. Across the chastened accents of the journalist there sounded the wild intemperate tongue of the man of the people. Miss Batchelor used to declare that Tyson was a self-made man, because he was constructed on such eccentric principles. His slightest movements showed that he was uncertain of his ground, and ready to fight you for it, if it came to that. And now he still met you with the twinkle in his small blue eyes, but there was a calculating light behind it, as if he were measuring his forces against yours. And you were sorry for him in spite of yourself. With the spirit of the soldier of Fortune, Tyson had the nerves and temper of her spoilt child. He had made an open bid for popularity and failed, and it was positively painful to see him writhing under the consciousness of his failure.