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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLeonora: A Novel - Chapter 9. A Death In The Family
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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 9. A Death In The Family Post by :Jack_Bastide Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2112

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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 9. A Death In The Family


While Prince, tethered summarily outside the stable-door with all his harness on, was trying in vain to understand this singular caprice on the part of Carpenter, Carpenter and the head of the house lifted Uncle Meshach's form and carried it into the hall. The women watched, ceasing their wild useless questions.

'Into the breakfast-room, on the sofa,' said John, breathing hard, to the man.

'No, no,' Leonora intervened, 'you had better take him upstairs at once, to Ethel and Milly's bedroom.'

The procession, undignified and yet impressive, came to a halt, and Carpenter, who was holding Meshach's feet, glanced with canine anxiety from his master to his mistress.

'But look here, Nora,' John began.

'Yes, father, upstairs,' said Rose, cutting him short.

Preoccupied with the cumbrous weight of Meshach's shoulders, John could not maintain the discussion; he hesitated, and then Carpenter moved towards the stairs. The small dangling body seemed to say: 'I am indifferent, but it is perhaps as well that you have done arguing.'

'Run over to Dr. Hawley's, and ask him to come across at _once_, John instructed Carpenter, when they had steered Uncle Meshach round the twist of the staircase, and insinuated him through a doorway, and laid him at length, in his overcoat and his muffler and his quaint boots, on Ethel's virginal bed.

'But has the doctor come home, Jack?' Leonora inquired.

'Of course he has,' said John. 'He drove up with Dain, and they passed us at Shawport. Didn't you hear me call out to them?'

'Oh yes,' she agreed.

Then John, hatless but in his ulster, and the women, hooded and shawled, drew round the bed; but Ethel and Milly stood at the foot. The inanimate form embarrassed them all, made them feel self-conscious and afraid to meet one another's eyes.

'Better loosen his things,' said Leonora, and Rose's fingers were instantly at work to help her.

Uncle Meshach was white, rigid, and stonecold; the stiff 'Myatt' jaw was set; the eyes, wide open, looked upwards, and strangely outwards, in a fixed stare. And his audience thought, as they gazed in a sort of foolish astonishment at the puny, grotesque, and unfamiliar thing, 'Is this really Uncle Meshach?' John lifted the wrist and felt for the pulse, but he could distinguish no beat, and he shook his head accordingly. 'Try the heart, mother,' Rose suggested, and Leonora, after penetrating beneath garment after garment, placed her hand on Meshach's icy and tranquil breast. And she too shook her head. Then John, with an air of finality, took out his gold repeater and when he had polished the glass he held it to Uncle Meshach's parted lips. 'Can you see any moisture on it?' he asked, taking it to the light, but none of them could detect the slightest dimness.

'I do wish the doctor would be quick,' said Milly.

'Doctor'll be no use,' John remarked gruffly, returning to gaze again at the immovable face. 'Except for an inquest,' he added.

'I think some one had better walk down to Church Street at once, and tell Aunt Hannah that uncle is here,' said Leonora. 'Perhaps she _is ill. Anyhow, she'll be very anxious.' But she faltered before the complicated problem. 'Rose, go and wake Bessie, and ask her if uncle called here during the evening, and tell her to get up at once and light the gas-stove and put some water on to boil, and then to light a fire here.'

'And who's to go to Church Street?' John asked quickly.

Leonora looked for an instant at Rose, as the girl left the room. She felt that on such an occasion she could more easily spare Ethel's sweet eagerness to help than Rose's almost sinister self-possession. 'Ethel and Milly,' she said promptly. 'At least they can run on first. And be very careful what you say to Aunt Hannah, my dears. And one of you must hurry back at once in any case, by the road, not by the fields, and tell us what has happened.'

Rose came in to say that Bessie and the other servants had seen nothing of Uncle Meshach, and that they were all three getting up, and then she disappeared into the kitchen. Ethel and Milly departed, a little scared, a little regretful, but inspirited by the dreadful charm and fascination of the whole inexplicable adventure.

'Aunt Hannah's had another attack, depend on it,' said John, 'that's it.'

'I hope not,' Leonora murmured perfunctorily. Now that she had broken the spell of futile inactivity which the discovery of Uncle Meshach's body seemed for a few dire moments to have laid upon them, she was more at ease.

'I fancy you'd better go down there yourself as soon as the doctor's been,' John continued. 'You're perhaps more likely to be useful there than here. What do you think?'

She looked at him under her eyelids, saying nothing, and reading all his mind. He had obstinately determined that Uncle Meshach was dead, and he was striving to conceal both his satisfaction on that account and his rapidly growing anxiety as to the condition of Aunt Hannah. His terrible lack of frankness, that instinct for the devious and the underhand which governed his entire existence, struck her afresh and seemed to devastate her heart. She felt that she could have tolerated in her husband any vice with less effort than that one vice which was specially his, that vice so contemptible and odious, so destructive of every noble and generous sentiment. Her silent, measured indignation fed itself on almost nothing--on a mere word, a mere inflection of his voice, a single transient gleam of his guilty eye. And though she was right by unerring intuition, John, could he have seen into her soul, might have been excused for demanding, 'What have I said, what have I done, to deserve this scorn?'

Rose returned, bearing materials for a fire; she had changed her Liberty dress for the dark severe frock of her studious hours, and she had an irritating air of being perfectly equal to the occasion. John, having thrown off his ulster, endeavoured to assist her in lighting the fire, but she at once proved to him that his incapacity was a hindrance to her; whereupon he wondered what in the name of goodness Carpenter and the doctor were doing to be so long. Leonora began to tidy the room, which bore witness to the regardless frenzy of anticipation with which its occupants had cast aside the soiled commonplaces of life six hours before.

'But look!' Rose cried suddenly, examining Uncle Meshach anew, after the fire was lighted.

'What?' John and Leonora demanded together, rushing to the bed.

'His lips weren't like that!' the girl asserted with eagerness.

All three gazed long at the impassive face.

'Of course they were,' said John, coldly discouraging. Leonora made no remark.

The unblinking eyes of Uncle Meshach continued to stare upwards and outwards, indifferently, interested in the ceiling. Outside could be heard the creaking of stairs, and the affrighted whisper of the maids as they descended in deshabille from their attics at the bidding of this unconscious, cynical, and sardonic enigma on the bed.

* * * * *

'His heart is beating faintly.'

Old Dr. Hawley dropped the antique stethoscope back into the pocket of his tight dress coat, and, still bending over Uncle Meshach, but turning slightly towards John and Leonora, smiled with all his invincible jollity.

'Is it, by Jove?' John exclaimed.

'You thought he was dead?' said the doctor, beaming.

Leonora nodded.

'Well, he isn't,' the doctor announced with curt cheerfulness.

'That's good,' said John.

'But I don't think he can get over it,' the doctor concluded, with undiminished brightness, his eyes twinkling.

While he spoke he was busy with the hot water and the cloths which Leonora and Rose had produced immediately upon demand. In a few minutes Uncle Meshach was covered almost from head to foot with cloths drenched in hot mustard-and-water; he had hot-water bags under his arms, and he was swathed in a huge blanket.

'There!' said the rotund doctor. 'You must keep that up, and I'll send a stimulant at once. I can't stop now; not another minute. I was called to an obstetric case just as I started out. I'll come back the moment I'm free.'

'What is it--this thing?' John inquired.

'What is it!' the doctor repeated genially. 'I'll tell you what it is. Put your nose there.' He indicated Uncle Meshach's mouth. 'Do you notice that ammoniacal smell? That's due to uraemia, a sequel of Bright's disease.'

'Bright's disease?' John muttered.

'Bright's disease,' affirmed the doctor, dwelling on the famous and striking syllables. 'Your uncle is the typical instance of the man who has never been ill in his life. He walks up a little slope or up some steps to a friend's house, and just as he is lifting his hand to the knocker, he has a convulsion and falls down unconscious. That's Bright's disease. Never been ill in his life! Not so far as _he knew! Not so far as _he knew! Nearly all you Myatts had weak kidneys. Do you remember your great-uncle Ebenezer? You've sent down to Miss Myatt, you say? Good.... Perhaps he was lying on your steps for two or three hours. He may pull round. He may. We must hope so.'

The doctor put on his overcoat, and his cap with the ear-flaps, and after a final glance at the patient and a friendly, reassuring smile at Leonora, he went slowly to the door. Girth and good humour and funny stories had something to do with his great reputation in Bursley and Hillport. But he possessed shrewdness and sagacity; he belonged to a dynasty of doctors; and he was deeply versed in the social traditions of the district. Men consulted him because their grandfathers had consulted his father, and because there had always been a Dr. Hawley in Bursley, and because he was acquainted with the pathological details of their ancestral history on both sides of the hearth. His patients, indeed, were not individuals, but families. There were cleverer doctors in the place, doctors of more refined appearance and manners, doctors less monotonously and loudly gay; but old Hawley, with his knowledge of pedigrees and his unique instinctive sympathy with the idiosyncrasies of local character, could hold his own against the most assertive young M.D. that ever came out of Edinburgh to monopolise the Five Towns.

'Can you send some one round with me for the medicine?' he asked in the doorway. 'Happen you'll come yourself, John?'

There was a momentary hesitation.

'I'll come, doctor,' said Rose. 'And then you can give me all your instructions. Mother must stay here.' She completely ignored her father.

'Do, my dear; come by all means.' And the doctor beamed again suddenly with the maximum of cheerfulness.

* * * * *

Meshach had given no sign of life; his eyes, staring upwards and outwards, were still unchangeably fixed on the same portion of the ceiling. He ignored equally the nonchalant and expert attentions of the doctor, the false solicitude of John, Leonora's passionate anxiety, and Rose's calm self-confidence. He treated the fomentations with the apathy which might have been expected from a man who for fifty years had been accustomed to receive the meek skilled service of women in august silence. One could almost have detected in those eyes a glassy and profound secret amusement at the disturbance which he had caused--a humorous appreciation of all the fuss: the maids with their hair down their backs bending and whispering over a stove; Ethel and Milly trudging scared through the nocturnal streets; Rose talking with demure excitement to old Hawley in his aromatic surgery; John officiously carrying kettles to and fro, and issuing orders to Bessie in the passage; Leonora cast violently out of one whirlpool into another; and some unknown expectant terrified pair wondering why the doctor, who had been warned months before, should thus culpably neglect their urgent summons. As he lay there so grim and derisive and solitary, so fatigued with days and nights, so used up, so steeped in experience, and so contemptuously unconcerned, he somehow baffled all the efforts of blankets, cloths, and bags to make his miserable frame look ridiculous. He had a majesty which subdued his surroundings. And in this room hitherto sacred to the charming mysteries of girlhood his cadaverous presence forced the skirts and petticoats on Milly's bed, and the disordered apparatus on the dressing-table, and the scented soaps on the washstand, and the row of tiny boots and shoes which Leonora had arranged near the wardrobe, to apologise pathetically and wistfully for their very existence.

'Is that enough mustard?' John inquired idly.

'Yes,' said Leonora.

She realised--but not in the least because he had asked a banal question about mustard--that he was perfectly insensible to all spiritual significances. She had been aware of it for many years, yet the fact touched her now more sharply than ever. It seemed to her that she must cry out in a long mournful cry: 'Can't you see, can't you feel!' And once again her husband might justifiably have demanded: 'What have I done this time?'

'I wish one of those girls would come back from Church Street,' he burst out, frowning. 'They're here!' He became excited as he listened to light rapid footsteps on the stair. But it was Rose who entered.

'Here's the medicine, mother,' said Rose eagerly. She was flushed with running. 'It's chloric ether and nitrate of potash, a highly diffusible stimulant. And there's a chance that sooner or later it may put him into a perspiration. But it will be worse than useless if the hot applications aren't kept up, the doctor said. You must raise his head and give it him in a spoon in very small doses.'

And then Meshach impassively submitted to the handling of his head and his mouth. He gurgled faintly in accepting the medicine, and soon his temples and the corners of his lips showed a very slight perspiration. But though the doses were repeated, and the fomentations assiduously maintained, no further result occurred, save that Meshach's eyes, according to the shifting of his head, perused new portions of the ceiling.

* * * * *

As the futile minutes passed, John grew more and more restless. He was obliged to admit to himself that Uncle Meshach was not dead, but he felt absolutely sure that he would never revive. Had not the doctor said as much? And he wanted desperately to hear that Aunt Hannah still lived, and to take every measure of precaution for her continuance in this world. The whole of his future might depend upon the hazard of the next hour.

'Look here, Nora,' he said protestingly, while Rose was on one of her journeys to the kitchen. 'It's evidently not much use you stopping here, whereas there's no knowing what hasn't happened down at Church Street.'

'Do you mean you wish me to go down there?' she asked coldly.

'Well, I leave it to your common sense,' he retorted.

Rose appeared.

'Your father thinks I ought to go down to Church Street,' said Leonora.

'What! And leave uncle?' Rose added nothing to this question, but proceeded with her tasks.

'Certainly,' John insisted.

Leonora was conscious of an acute resentment against her husband. The idea of her leaving Uncle Meshach at such a crisis seemed to her to be positively wicked. Had not John heard what Rose said to the doctor: 'Mother must stay here'? Had he not heard that? But of course he desired that Uncle Meshach should die. Yes, every word, every gesture of his in the sick-room was an involuntary expression of that desire.

'Why don't you go yourself, father?' Rose demanded of him bluntly, after a pause.

'Simply because, if there _is any illness, I shouldn't be any use.' John glared at his daughter.

Then, quite suddenly, Leonora thought how vain, how pitiful, how unseemly, were these acrimonious conflicts of opinion in presence of the strange and awe-inspiring riddle in the blanket. An impulse seized her to give way, and she found a dozen reasons why she should desert Uncle Meshach for Aunt Hannah.

'Can you manage?' she asked Rose doubtfully.

'Oh yes, mother, we can manage,' answered Rose, with an exasperating manufactured sweetness of tone.

'Tell Carpenter to put the horse in,' John suggested. 'I expect he's waiting about in the kitchen.'

'No,' said Leonora, 'I'll pin my skirt up and walk. I shall be half way there before he's ready to start.'

When Leonora had departed, John redoubled his activity as a nurse. 'There's no object in changing the cloths as often as that,' said Rose. But his suspense forbade him to keep still. Rose annoyed him excessively, and the nervous energy which should have helped towards self-control was expended in concealing that annoyance. He felt as though he should go mad unless something decisive happened very soon. To his surprise, just after the hall clock (which was always kept half-an-hour fast) had sounded three through the dark passages of the apprehensive house, Rose left the room. He was alone with what remained of Uncle Meshach. He moved the blanket, and touched the cloth which lay on Meshach's heart. 'Not too hot, that,' he said aloud. Taking the cloth he walked to the fire, where was a large saucepan full of nearly boiling water. He picked up the lid of the saucepan, dropped it, crossed over to the washstand with a brusque movement, and plunged the cloth into the cold water of the ewer. Holding it there, he turned and gazed in a sort of abstract meditation at Uncle Meshach, who steadily ignored him. He was possessed by a genuine feeling of righteous indignation against his uncle.... He drew the cloth from the ewer, squeezed it a little, and approached the bed again. And as he stood over Meshach with the cloth in his hand, he saw his wife in the doorway. He knew in an instant that his own face had frightened her and prevented her from saying what she was about to say.

'How you startled me, Nora!' he exclaimed, with his surpassing genius for escaping from an apparently fatal situation.

She ran up to the bed. 'Don't keep uncle uncovered like that,' she said; 'put it on.' And she took the cloth from his hand. 'Why,' she cried, 'it's like ice! What on earth are you doing? Where's Rose?'

'I was just taking it off,' he replied. 'What about aunt?'

'I met the girls down the road,' she said. 'Your aunt is dead.'

* * * * *

A few minutes later Uncle Meshach's rigid frame suffered a convulsion; the whole surface of his skin sweated abundantly; his eyes wavered, closed, and opened again; his mouth made the motion of swallowing. He had come back from unconsciousness. He was no longer an enigma, wrapped in supercilious and inflexible calm; but a sick, shrivelled little man, so pitiably prostrate that his condition drew the sympathy out of Leonora with a sharp violent pain, as very cold metal burns the fingers. He could not even whisper; he could only look. Soon afterwards Dr. Hawley returned, explaining that the anxiety of a husband about to be a father had called him too soon by several hours. The doctor, who had been informed of Aunt Hannah's death as he entered the house, said at once, on seeing him, that Uncle Meshach had had a marvellous escape. Then, when he had succoured the patient further, he turned rather formidably to Leonora.

'I want to speak to you,' he said, and he led her out of the room, leaving Rose, Ethel, and John in charge of Meshach.

'What is it, doctor?' she asked him plaintively on the landing.

'Which is your bedroom? Show it me,' he demanded. She opened a door, and they both went in. 'I'll light the gas,' he said, doing so. 'And now,' he proceeded, 'you'll kindly retire to bed, instantly. Mr. Myatt is out of danger.' He smiled warmly, just as he had smiled when he predicted that Meshach would probably not recover.

'But, doctor,' Leonora protested.

'Instantly,' he said, forcing her gently on to the sofa at the foot of the two beds.

'But some one ought to go down to Church Street to look after things,' she began.

'Church Street can wait. There's no hurry at Church Street now.'

'And uncle hasn't been told yet ... I'm not at all over-tired, doctor.'

'Yes, mother dear, you are, and you must do as the doctor orders.' It was Ethel who had come into the room; she touched Leonora's arm caressingly.

'And where are you girls to sleep? The spare room isn't----'

'Oh, mother!----Just listen to her, doctor!' said Ethel, stroking her mother's hand, as though she and the doctor were two old and sage persons, and Leonora was a small child.

'They think I'm ill! They think I'm going to collapse!' The idea struck her suddenly. 'But I'm not. I'm quite well, and my brain is perfectly clear. And anyhow, I'm sure I can't sleep.' She said aloud: 'It wouldn't be any use; I shouldn't sleep.'

'Ah! I'll attend to that, I'll attend to that!' the doctor laughed. 'Ethel, help your mother to bed.' He departed.

'This is really most absurd,' Leonora reflected. 'It's ridiculous. However, I'm only doing it to oblige them.'

Before she was entirely undressed, Rose entered with a powder in a white paper, and a glass of hot milk.

'You are to swallow _this_, mother, and then drink _this_. Here, Eth, hold the glass a second.'

And Leonora accepted the powder from Rose and the milk from Ethel, as they stood side by side in front of her. Great waves seemed to surge through her brain. In walking to the bed, she saw herself all white in the mirror of the wardrobe.

'My face looks as if it was covered with flour,' she said to Ethel, with a short laugh. It did not occur to her that she was pale. 'Don't forget to----' But she had forgotten what Ethel was not to forget. Her head reeled as it lay firmly on the pillow. The waves were waves of sound now, and they developed into a rhythm, a tune. She had barely time to discover that the tune was the Blue Danube Waltz, and that she was dancing, when the whole world came to an end.

* * * * *

She awoke to feel the radiant influence of the afternoon sun through the green blinds. Impregnated with a delicious languor, she slowly stretched out her arms, and, lifting her head, gazed first at the intricate tracery of the lace on her silk nightgown, and then into the silent dreamy spaces of the room. Everything was in perfect order; she guessed that Ethel must have trod softly to make it tidy before leaving her, hours ago. John's bed was turned down, and his pyjamas laid out, with all Bessie's accustomed precision. Presently she noticed on her night-table a sheet of note-paper, on which had been written in pencil, in large letters: 'Ring the bell before getting up.' She could not be sure whether the hand was Ethel's or Rose's. 'Oh!' she thought, 'how good my girls are!' She was quite well, quite restored, and slightly hungry. And she was also calm, content, ready to commence existence anew.

'I suppose I had better humour them,' she murmured, and she rang the bell.

Bessie entered. The treasure was irreproachably neat and prim in her black and white.

'What time is it, Bessie?' Leonora inquired.

'It's a straight-up three, ma'am.'

'Then I must have slept for eleven hours! How is Mr. Myatt going on?'

Bessie dropped her hands, and smiled benevolently: 'Oh! He's much better, ma'am. And when the doctor told him about poor Miss Myatt, ma'am, he just said the funeral must be on Saturday because he didn't like Sunday funerals, and it wouldn't do to wait till Monday. He didn't say nothing else. And he keeps on telling us he shall be well enough to go to the funeral, and he's sent master down to Guest's in St. Luke's Square to order it, and the hearse is to have two horses, but not the coaches, ma'am. He's asleep just now, ma'am, and I'm watching him, but Miss Rose is resting on Miss Milly's bed in case, so I can come in here for a minute or two. He told the doctor and master that Miss Myatt was took with one of them attacks at half-past eleven o'clock, and he went for Dr. Adams as lives at the top of Oldcastle Street. Dr. Adams wasn't in, and then he saw a cab--it must have been coming from the ball, ma'am, but Mr. Myatt didn't know as there was any ball--and he drove up to Hillport for Dr. Hawley, him being the family doctor. And then he said he felt bad-like, and he thought he'd come here and send master across the way for Dr. Hawley. And he got out of the cab and paid the cabman, and then he doesn't remember no more. Wasn't it dreadful, ma'am? I don't believe he rightly knew what he was doing, the poor old gentleman!'

Leonora listened. 'Where are Miss Ethel and Miss Milly?' she asked.

'Master said they was to go to Oldcastle to order mourning, ma'am. They've but just gone. And master said he should be back himself about six. He never slept a wink, ma'am; nor even sat down. He just had his bath, and Miss Ethel crept in here for his clothes.'

'And have you been to bed, Bessie?'

'Me? No, ma'am. What should I go to bed for? I'm as well as well, ma'am. Miss Milly slept in Miss Rose's bedroom, for a bit, and Miss Ethel on the sofy in the drawing-room--not as you might call that sleeping. Miss Rose said you was to have some tea before you got up, ma'am. Shall I tell cook to get it now?'

'I really think I should prefer to have it downstairs, Bessie, thanks,' said Leonora.

'Very well, ma'am. But Miss Rose said----'

'Yes, but I will have it downstairs. In three-quarters of an hour, say.'

'Very well, ma'am. Now is there anything I can do for you, ma'am?'

While dressing, very placidly and deliberately, and while thinking upon all the multitudinous things that seemed to have happened in her world during her long slumber, Leonora dwelt too upon the extraordinary loving kindness of this hireling, who got twenty pounds a year, half-a-day a week, and a day a month. On the first of every month Leonora handed to Bessie one paltry sovereign, thirteen shillings, and the odd fourpence in coppers. She wondered fancifully if she would have the effrontery to requite the girl in coin on the next pay-day; and she was filled with a sense of the goodness of humanity. And then there crossed her mind the recollection that she had caught John in a wicked act on the previous night. Yes; he had not imposed on her for a moment; and she perceived clearly now that murder had been in his heart. She was not appalled nor desolated. She thought: 'So that is murder, that little thing, that thing over in a minute!' It appeared to her that murder in the concrete was less dreadful than murder in the abstract, far less horrible than the strident sound of the word on the lips of a newsboy, or the look of it in the 'Signal.' She felt dimly that she ought to be shocked, unnerved, terrified, at the prospect of living, eating, and sleeping with a man who had meant to kill. But she could not summon these sensations. She merely experienced a kind of pity for John. She put the episode away from her, as being closed, accidental, and unimportant. Uncle Meshach was alive.

A few minutes before four o'clock, she went quietly into the sick-room. Bessie, sitting upright between the beds, put her finger to her lips. Uncle Meshach was asleep on Ethel's bed, and on the other bed lay Rose, also asleep, stretched in a negligent attitude, but fully dressed and wearing an old black frock that was too tight for her. The fire burned brightly.

'Tea is ready in the drawing-room, ma'am,' Bessie whispered, 'and Mr. Twemlow has just called. He's waiting to see you.'

* * * * *

'So you know what has happened to us?'

'Yes,' he said, 'I met your husband on St. Luke's Square. But I heard something before that. At one o'clock, a man told me at Knype Station that Mr. Myatt had cut his throat on your doorstep. I didn't believe it. So I called up Twemlow & Stanway over the 'phone and got on to the facts.'

'What things people say!' she exclaimed.

'I guess you've stood it very well,' he remarked, gazing at her, as with quick, sure movements of her gracile hands she poured out the tea.

'Ah!' she murmured, flushing, 'they sent me to bed. I have only just got up.'

'I know exactly when you went to bed,' he smiled.

His tone filled her with satisfaction. She had hoped and expected that he would behave naturally, that he would not adopt the desolating attitude of gloom prescribed by convention for sympathisers with the bereaved; and she was not disappointed. He spoke with an easy and cheerful sincerity, and she was exquisitely conscious of the flattery implied in that simple, direct candour which seemed to say to her, 'You and I have no need of convention--we understand each other.' Perhaps never in her life, not even in the wonderful felicities of girlhood, had Leonora been more peacefully content than during those moments of calm succeeding stress, as she met Arthur's eyes in the intimacy of a fraternal confidence. The large room was so tranquil, the curtains so white, and the sunlight so benignant in the caress of its amber horizontal rays. Rose lay asleep upstairs, Ethel and Millicent were at Oldcastle, John would not return for two hours; and she and Arthur were alone together in the middle of the long quiet chamber, talking quietly. She was happy. She had no fear, neither for herself nor for him. As innocent as Rose, and more innocent than Ethel, she now regarded the feverish experience of the dance as accidental, a thing to be forgotten, an episode of which the repetition was merely to be avoided; Death and the fear of Death had come suddenly and written over its record in the page of existence. Her present sanity and calmness and mild bliss and self-control--these were to last, these were the real symptoms of her condition, and of Arthur's condition. No! The memory of the ball did not trouble her; it had not troubled her since she awoke after the sedative. She had entered the drawing-room without a qualm, and the instant of their meeting, anticipated on the previous night as much in terror as in joy, had passed equably and serenely. Relying on his strength, and exulting in her own, she had given him her hand, and he had taken it, and that was all. She knew her native force. She knew that she had the precious and rare gift of common sense, and she was perfectly convinced that this common sense, which had never long deserted her in the past, could never permanently desert her in the future. She imagined that nothing was stronger than common sense; she had small suspicion that in their noblest hours men and women have invariably despised common sense, and trampled it underfoot as the most contemptible of human attributes. Therefore she was content and unalarmed. And she found pleasure even in trifles, as, for example, that the maid had set two cups-and-saucers and two only; the duality struck her as delicious. She looked close at Arthur's sagacious, shrewd, and kindly face, with the heavy, clipped moustache, and the bluish chin, and those grey hairs at the sides of the forehead. 'We belong to the same generation, he and I,' she thought, eating bread and butter with relish, 'and we are not so very old, after all!' Aunt Hannah was incomparably older, ripe for death. Who could be profoundly moved by that unimportant, that trivial, demise? She felt very sorry for Uncle Meshach, but no more than that. Such sentiments may have the appearance of callousness, but they were the authentic sentiments of Leonora, and Leonora was not callous. The financial aspect of Aunt Hannah's death, as it affected John and herself and the girls and their home, did not disturb her. She was removed far above finance, far above any preoccupation about the latter years, as she sat talking quietly and blissfully with Arthur in the drawing-room.

'Yes,' she was telling him, 'it was just opposite the Clayton-Vernons' that I met them.'

'Where the elm-trees spread over the road?' he questioned.

She nodded, pleased by his minute interest in her narrative and by his knowledge of the neighbourhood. 'I saw them both a long way off, walking quickly, under a gas-lamp. And it's very curious, but although I was so anxious to know what had happened, I couldn't go on to meet them--I was obliged to wait until they came up. And they didn't notice me at first, and then Ethel shrieked out: "Oh, it's mother!" And Milly said: "Aunt Hannah's dead, mother. Is Uncle Meshach dead?" You can't understand how queer I felt. I felt as if Milly would go on asking and asking: "Is father dead? Is Bessie dead? Is Bran dead? Are you dead?"'

'I know,' he said reflectively.

She guessed that he envied her the strange nocturnal adventure. And her secret pride in the adventure, which hitherto she had endeavoured to suppress, suddenly became open and legitimate. She allowed her face to disclose the thought: 'You see that I too have lived through crises, and that I can appreciate how wonderful they are.' And she proceeded to give him all the details of Aunt Hannah's death, as she had learnt them from Ethel and Milly during the walk home through sleeping Hillport: how the servant had grown alarmed, and had called a neighbour by breaking a bedroom window with a broomstick, leaning from Aunt Hannah's window, and how the neighbour's eldest boy had run for Dr. Adams and had caught him in the street just as he was returning home, and how Aunt Hannah was gone before the boy came back with Dr. Adams, and how no one could guess what had happened to Uncle Meshach, and no one could suggest what to do, until Ethel and Milly knocked at the door.

'Isn't it all strange? Don't you think it's strange?' Leonora demanded.

'No,' he said. 'It seems strange, but it isn't really. Such things are always happening.'

'Are they?' She spoke naively, with a girlish inflection and a girlish gesture.

'Well, of course!' He smiled gravely, and yet humorously. And his eyes said: 'What a charming simple thing you are!' And she liked to think of his superiority over her in experience, knowledge, imperturbability, breadth of view, and all those kindred qualities which women give to the men they admire.

They could not talk further on the subject.

'By the by, how's your foot?' he inquired.

'My foot?'

'Yes. You hurt it last night, didn't you, after I'd gone?'

She had completely forgotten the trifling fiction, until it thus rather startlingly reappeared on his lips. She might easily have let it die naturally, had she chosen; but she could not choose. She had a whim to kill it violently, romantically.

'No,' she said, 'I didn't hurt it.'

'It was your husband was telling me.'

She went on joyously and fearfully: 'Some one asked me to dance, after--after the Blue Danube. And I didn't want to; I couldn't. And so I said I had hurt my foot. It was just one of those things that one says, you know!'

He was embarrassed; he had no remark ready. But to preserve appearances he lowered the corners of his lips and glanced at the copper tea-kettle through half-closed eyes, feigning to suppress a private amusement. She was quite aware, however, that she had embarrassed him. And just as, a minute earlier, she had liked him for his lordly, masculine, philosophic superiority, so now she liked him for that youthful embarrassment. She felt that all men were equally child-like to women, and that the most adorable were the most child-like. 'How little you understand, after all!' she thought. 'Poor boy, I unlatched the door, and you dared not push it open! You were afraid of committing an indiscretion. But I will guide and protect you, and protect us both.'

This was the woman who, half an hour ago, had been exulting in the adequacy of her common sense. Innocent and enchanting creature, with the rashness of innocence!

'I guess I couldn't dance again after the Blue Danube, either,' he said at length, boldly.

She made no answer; perhaps she was a little intimidated; but she looked at him with eyes and lips full of latent vivacity.

'That was why I left,' he finished firmly. There was in his tone a hint of that engaging and piquant antagonism which springs up between lovers and dies away; he had the air of telling her that since she had invited a confession she was welcome to it.

She retreated, still admiring, and said evenly that the ball had been a great success.

Soon afterwards Ethel and Milly unexpectedly entered the room. They had put on the formal aspect of dejection which they deemed proper for them, but on perceiving that their elders were talking quite naturally, they at once abandoned constraint and became natural too. From the sight of their unaffected pleasure in seeing Arthur Twemlow again, Leonora drew further sustenance for her mood of serene content.

'Just fancy, Mr. Twemlow,' Millicent burst out. 'We walked all the way to Oldcastle, and we never thought, and no one reminded us. It's father's fault, really.'

'What is father's fault, really?'

'It's Thursday afternoon and the shops were all shut. We shall have to go to-morrow morning.'

'Ah!' he said. 'The stores don't shut on Thursday afternoon in New York.'

'Mother will be able to come with us to-morrow morning,' said Ethel, and approaching Leonora she asked: 'Are you all right, mother?'

This simple, familiar conversation, and the free movements of the girls, and the graver suavity of Arthur and herself, seemed to Leonora to constitute a picture, a scene, of mysterious and profound charm.

Arthur rose to depart. The girls wished him to stay, but Leonora did not support them. In a house where an aged relative lay ill, and that relative so pathetically bereaved, it was not meet that a visitor should remain too long. Immediately he had gone she began to anticipate their next meeting. The eagerness of that anticipation surprised her. And, moreover, the environment of her life closed quickly round her; she could not ignore it. She demanded of herself what was Arthur's excuse for calling, and how it was that she should be so happy in the midst of woe and death. Her joyous confidence was shaken. Feeling that on such a day she ought to have been something other than a delicate chatelaine idly dispensing tea in a drawing-room, she went upstairs, determined to find some useful activity.

The light was failing in the sick-room, and the fire shone brighter. Bessie had disappeared, and Rose sat in her place. Uncle Meshach still slept.

'Have you had a good rest, my dear?' she whispered, kissing Rose fondly. 'You had better go downstairs. I've had some tea, and I'll take charge here now.'

'Very well,' the girl assented, yawning. 'Who's that just gone?'

'Mr. Twemlow.'

'Oh, mother!' Rose exclaimed in angry disappointment. 'Why didn't some one tell me he was here?'

* * * * *

'The cortege will move at 2.15,' said the mourning invitation cards, and on Saturday at two o'clock Uncle Meshach, dressed in deep black, sat on a cane-chair against the wall in the bedroom of his late sister. He had not been able to conceive Hannah's funeral without himself as chief mourner, and therefore he had accomplished his own recovery in the amazing period of fifty hours; and in addition to accomplishing his recovery he had given an uninterrupted series of the most minute commands concerning the arrangements for the obsequies. Protests had been utterly useless. 'It will kill him,' said Leonora to the doctor as Meshach, risen straight out of bed, was getting into a cab at Hillport that morning to drive to Church Street. 'It may,' old Hawley answered. 'But what can one do?' Smiling, first at Meshach, and then at Leonora, the doctor had joined his aged patient in the cab and they had gone off together.

Next to the cane-chair was Hannah's mahogany bed, which had been stripped. On the bed lay a massive oaken coffin, and, accurately fitted into the coffin, lay the withered remains of Meshach's slave. The prim and spotless bedroom, with its chest of drawers, its small glass, its three-cornered wardrobe, its narrow washstand, its odd bonnet-boxes, its trunk, its skirts hung inside-out behind the door, its Bible with the spectacle-case on it, its texts, its miniature portraits, its samplers, framed in maple, and its engraving of the infant John Wesley being saved from the fire at Epworth Vicarage, framed in gold, was eloquent of the habits of the woman who had used it, without ambition, without repining, and without hope, save an everlasting hope, for more than fifty years.

Into this room, obedient to the rigid etiquette of an old-fashioned Five Towns funeral, every person asked to the burial was bound to come, in order to take a last look at the departed, and to offer a few words of sympathy to the chief mourner. As they entered--Stanway, David Dain, Fred Ryley, Dr. Hawley, Leonora, the servant, and lastly Arthur Twemlow--unwillingly desecrating the almost saecular modesty of the chamber, Meshach received them one by one with calmness, with detachment, with the air of the curator of the museum. 'Here she is,' his mien indicated. 'That is to say, what's left. Gaze your fill.' Beyond a monotonous 'Thank ye, thank ye,' in response to expressions of sympathy for him, and of appreciation of Hannah's manifold excellences, he made no remarks to any one except Leonora and Arthur Twemlow.

'Has that ginger wine come?' he asked Leonora anxiously. The feast after the sepulture was as important, and as strictly controlled by etiquette, as the lying-in-state. Leonora, who had charge of the meal, was able to give him an affirmative.

'I'm glad as you've come,' he said to Twemlow. 'I had a fancy for you to see her again as soon as they told me you was back. Her makes a good corpse, eh?'

Twemlow agreed. 'To die suddenly, that's the best,' he murmured awkwardly; he did not know what to say.

'Her was a good sister, a good sister!' Meshach pronounced with an emotion which was doubtless genuine and profound, but which superficially resembled that of an examiner awarding pass-marks to a pupil. 'By the way, Twemlow,' he added as Arthur was leaving the room, 'didst ever thrash that business out wi' our John? I've been thinking over a lot of things while I was fast abed up yon'.'

Arthur stared at him.

'Thou knowst what I mean?' continued Meshach, putting his thin tremulous hand on the edge of the coffin in order to rise from the chair.

'Yes,' Arthur replied, 'I know. I haven't settled it yet, I haven't had time.'

'I should ha' thought thou'dst had time enough, lad,' said Meshach.

Then the undertaker's men adjusted the lid of the coffin, hiding Aunt Hannah's face, and screwed in the eight brass screws, and clumped down the dark stairs with their burden, and so across the pavement between two rows of sluttish sightseers, to the hearse. Uncle Meshach, with the aid only of his stick, entered the first coach; John Stanway and Fred Ryley--the rules of precedence were thus inflexible!--occupied the second; and Arthur Twemlow, with the family lawyer and the family doctor, took the third. Leonora remained in the house with the servant to spread the feast.

The church was barely four hundred yards away, and in less than half an hour they were all in the house again; all save Aunt Hannah, who had already, in the vault of the Myatts, passed the first five minutes of the tedium of waiting for the Day of Judgment. And now, as they gathered round the fish, the fowl, the ham, the cake, the preserves, the tea, the wines and the spirits, etiquette demanded that they should be cheerful, should show a resignation to the will of heaven, and should eat heartily. And although the rapid-ticking clock on the mantelpiece in the parlour pointed only to a little better than three o'clock they were obliged to eat heartily, for fear of giving pain to Uncle Meshach; to drink much was not essential, but nothing could have excused abstention from the solid fare. The repast, actively conducted by the mourning host, was not finished until nearly half-past four. Then Twemlow and the doctor said that they must leave.

'Nay, nay,' Meshach complained. 'There's the will to be read. It's right and proper as all the guests should hear the will, and it'll take nobbut a few minutes.'

The enfeebled old man talked more and more the dialect which his father and mother had talked over his cradle.

'Better without us, old friend!' the doctor said jauntily. 'Besides, my patients!' And by dint of blithe obstinacy he managed to get away, and also to cover the retreat of Twemlow.

'I shall call in a day or two,' said Arthur to Uncle Meshach as they shook hands.

'Ay! call and see th' old ruin!' Meshach replied, and dropping back into his chair, 'Now, Dain!' he ordered.

David Dain drew a long white envelope from his breast pocket.

'"This is the last will and testament of me, Hannah Margaret Myatt,"' the lawyer began to read quickly in his thick voice, '"of Church Street, Bursley, in the county of Stafford, spinster. I commit my body to the grave and my soul to God in the sure hope of a blessed resurrection through my Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ. I bequeath ten pounds each to my dear nephew John Stanway, and to his wife Leonora, to purchase mourning at my decease, and five pounds each for the same purpose to my dear great-nephew Frederick Wellington Ryley, and to my great-nieces Ethel, Rosalys, and Millicent Stanway, and to any other children of the said John and Leonora Stanway should they have such, and should such children survive me." This will is dated twelve years ago,' the lawyer stopped to explain. He continued: '"I further bequeath to my great-nephew Frederick Wellington Ryley the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds."'

'Something for you there, Frederick Wellington Ryley!' exclaimed Stanway in a frigid tone, biting his thumb and looking up at the ceiling.

Ryley blushed. He had scarcely spoken during the meal, and he did not break his silence now.

With much verbiage the will proceeded to state that the testatrix left the residue of her private savings to Meshach, 'to dispose of absolutely according to his own discretion,' in case he should survive her; and that in case she should survive him she left her private savings and the whole of the estate of which she and Meshach were joint tenants to John Stanway.

'There is a short codicil,' Dain added, 'which revokes the legacy of two hundred and fifty pounds to Mr. Ryley in case Mr. Myatt should survive the testatrix. It is dated some six months ago.'

'Kindly read it,' said Stanway coldly.

'With pleasure,' the lawyer agreed, and he read it.

'Then, as it turns out,' Stanway remarked, looking defiantly at his uncle, 'Ryley gets nothing but five pounds under this will.'

'Under this will, nephew,' the old man assented.

'And may one inquire,' Stanway persisted, 'the nature of your intentions in regard to aunt's savings which she leaves you to dispose of according to your discretion?'

'What dost mean, nephew?'

Leonora saw with anxiety that her husband, while intending to be calm, pompous, and superior, was, in fact, losing control of himself.

'I mean,' said John, 'are you going to distribute them?'

'No, nephew. They're well enough where they lie. I shall none touch 'em.'

Stanway gave the sigh of a martyr who has sufficient spirit to be disdainful. Throwing his serviette on the disordered table, he pushed back his chair and stood up. 'You'll excuse me now, uncle,' he said, bitterly polite, 'I must be off to the works. Ryley, I shall want you.' And without another word he left the room and the house.

* * * * *

Leonora was the last to go. Meshach would not allow her to stay after the tea-things were washed up. He declined firmly every offer of help or companionship, and since the middle-aged servant made no objection to being alone with her convalescent master, Leonora could only submit to his wishes.

When she was gone he lighted his pipe. At seven o'clock, the servant came into the parlour and found him dozing in the dark; his pipe hung loosely from his teeth.

'Eh, mester,' she cried, lighting the gas. 'Hadn't ye better go to bed? Ye've had a worriting day.'

'Happen I'd better,' he answered deliberately, taking hold of the pipe and adjusting his spectacles.

'Can ye undress yeself?' she asked him.

'Ay,' he said, 'I can do that, wench. My candle!'

And he went carefully up to bed.

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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 10. In The Garden Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 10. In The Garden

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