Read CHAPTER III - THE CALL of Leonora, free online book, by Arnold Bennett, on

It was the Trust Anniversary at the Sytch Chapel, and two sermons were to be delivered by the Reverend Dr. Simon Quain; during fifteen years none but he had preached the Trust sermons.  Even in the morning, when pillars of the church were often disinclined to assume the attitude proper to pillars, the fane was almost crowded.  For it was impossible to ignore the Doctor.  He was an expert geologist, a renowned lecturer, the friend of men of science and sometimes their foe, a contributor to the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ and the author of a book of travel.  He did not belong to the school of divines who annihilated Huxley by asking him, from the pulpit, to tell them, if protoplasm was the origin of all life, what was the origin of protoplasm.  Dr. Quain was a man of genuine attainments, at which the highest criticism could not sneer; and when he visited Bursley the facile agnostics of the town, the young and experienced who knew more than their elders, were forced to take cover.  Dr. Quain, whose learning exceeded even theirs ­so the elders sarcastically ventured to surmise ­was not ashamed to believe in the inspiration of the Old Testament; he could reconcile the chronology of the earth’s crust with the first chapter of Genesis; he had a satisfactory explanation of the Johannine gospel; and his mere existence was an impregnable fortress from which the adherents of the banner of belief could not be dislodged.  On this Sunday morning he offered a simple evangelical discourse, enhanced by those occasional references to palaeozoic and post-tertiary periods which were expected from him, and which he had enough of the wisdom of the serpent to supply.  His grave and assured utterances banished all doubts, fears, misgivings, apprehensions; and the timid waverers smiled their relief at being freed, by the confidence of this illustrious authority, from the distasteful exertion of thinking for themselves.

The collection was immense, and, in addition to being immense, it provided for the worshippers an agreeable and legitimate excitement of curiosity; for the plate usually entrusted to Meshach Myatt was passed from pew to pew, and afterwards carried to the communion rails, by a complete stranger, a man extremely self-possessed and well-attired, with a heavy moustache, a curious dimple in his chin, and melancholy eyes, a man obviously of considerable importance somewhere.  ‘Oh, mamma,’ whispered Milly to her mother, who was alone with her in the Stanway pew, ‘do look; that’s Mr. Twemlow.’  Several men in the congregation knew his identity, and one, a commercial traveller, had met him in New York.  Before the final hymn was given out, half the chapel had pronounced his name in surprise.  His overt act of assisting in the offertory was favourably regarded; it was thought to show a nice social feeling on his part; and he did it with such distinction!  The older people remembered that his father had always been a collector; they were constrained now to readjust their ideas concerning the son, and these ideas, rooted in the single phrase, ran away from home, and set fast by time, were difficult of adjustment.  The impressiveness of Dr. Quain’s sermon was impaired by this diversion of interest.

The members of the Stanway family, in order to avoid the crush in the aisles and portico, always remained in their pew after service, until the chapel had nearly emptied itself; and to-day Leonora chose to sit longer than usual.  John had been too fatigued to rise for breakfast; Rose was struck down by a sick headache; and Ethel had stayed at home to nurse Rose, so far as Rose would allow herself to be nursed.  Leonora felt no desire to hurry back to the somewhat perilous atmosphere of Sunday dinner, and moreover she shrank nervously from the possibility of having to make the acquaintance of Mr. Twemlow.  But when she and Milly at length reached the outer vestibule, a concourse of people still lingered there, and among them Arthur was just bidding good-bye to the Myatts.  Hannah, rather shortsighted, did not observe Leonora and Milly; Meshach gave them his curt quizzical nod, and the aged twain departed.  Then Millicent, proud of her acquaintance with the important stranger, and burning to be seen in converse with him, left her mother’s side and became an independent member of society.

‘How do you do, Mr. Twemlow?’ she chirped.

‘Ah!’ he replied, recognising her with a bow the sufficiency of which intoxicated the young girl.  ‘Not in such a hurry this morning?’

‘Oh! no!’ she agreed with smiling effusion, and they both glanced with furtive embarrassed swiftness at Leonora.  ’Mamma, this is Mr. Twemlow.  Mr. Twemlow my mother.’  The dashing modish air of the child was adorable.  Having concluded her scene she retired from the centre of the stage in a glow.

Arthur Twemlow’s manner altered at once as he took Leonora’s hand and saw the sudden generous miracle which happened in her calm face when she smiled.  He was impressed by her beautiful maturity, by the elegance born of a restrained but powerful instinct transmitted to her through generations of ancestors.  His respect for Meshach rose higher.  And she, as she faced the self-possessed admiration in Arthur’s eyes, was conscious of her finished beauty, even of the piquancy of the angle of her hat, and the smooth immaculate whiteness of her gloves; and she was proud, too, of Millicent’s gracile, restless charm.  They walked down the steps side by side, Leonora in the middle, watched curiously from above and below by little knots of people who still lingered in front of the chapel.

‘You soon got to work here, Mr. Twemlow,’ said Leonora lightly.

He laughed.  ’I guess you mean that collecting box.  That was Mr. Myatt’s game.  He didn’t do me right, you know.  He got me into his pew, and then put the plate on to me.’

Leonora liked his Americanism of accent and phrase; it seemed romantic to her; it seemed to signify the quick alertness, the vivacious and surprising turns, of existence in New York, where the unexpected and the extraordinary gave a zest to every day.

‘Well, you collected perfectly,’ she remarked.

‘Oh, yes you did, really, Mr. Twemlow,’ echoed Millicent.

‘Did I?’ he said, accepting the tribute with frank satisfaction.  ’I used to collect once at Talmage’s Church in Brooklyn ­you’ve heard Talmage over here of course.’  He faintly indicated contempt for Talmage.  ’And after my first collection he sent for me into the church parlour, and he said to me:  “Mr. Twemlow, next time you collect, put some snap into it; don’t go shuffling along as if you were dead.”  So you see this morning, although I haven’t collected for years, I thought of that and tried to put some snap into it.’

Milly laughed obstreperously, Leonora smiled.

At the corner they could see Mrs. Burgess’s carriage waiting at the vestry door in Mount Street.  The geologist, escorted by Harry Burgess, got into the carriage, where Mrs. Burgess already sat; Harry followed him, and the stately equipage drove off.  Dr. Quain had married a cousin of Mrs. Burgess’s late husband, and he invariably stayed at her house.  All this had to be explained to Arthur Twemlow, who made a point of being curious.  By the time they had reached the top of Oldcastle Street, Leonora felt an impulse to ask him without ceremony to walk up to Hillport and have dinner with them.  She knew that she and Milly were pleasing him, and this assurance flattered her.  But she could not summon the enterprise necessary for such an unusual invitation; her lips would not utter the words, she could not force them to utter the words.

He hesitated, as if to leave them; and quite automatically, without being able to do otherwise, Leonora held her hand to bid good-bye; he took it with reluctance.  The moment was passing, and she had not even asked him where he was staying:  she had learnt nothing of the man of whom Meshach had warned her husband to beware.

‘Good morning,’ he said, ‘I’m very glad to have met you.  Perhaps ­’

‘Won’t you come and see us this afternoon, if you aren’t engaged?’ she suggested quickly.  ‘My husband will be anxious to meet you, I know.’

He appeared to vacillate.

‘Oh, do, Mr. Twemlow!’ urged Milly, enchanted.

‘It’s very good of you,’ he said, ’I shall be delighted to call.  It’s quite a considerable time since I saw Mr. Stanway.’  He laughed.  This was his first reference to John.

‘I’m so glad you asked him, ma,’ said Milly, as they walked down Oldcastle Street.

‘Your father said we must be polite to Mr. Twemlow,’ her mother replied coldly.

‘He’s frightfully rich, I’m sure,’ Milly observed.

At dinner Leonora told John that Arthur Twemlow was coming.

‘Oh, good!’ he said:  nothing more.

In the afternoon the mother and her eldest and youngest, supine and exanimate in the drawing-room, were surprised into expectancy by the sound of the front-door bell before three o’clock.

‘He’s here!’ exclaimed Milly, who was sitting near Leonora on the long Chesterfield.  Ethel, her face flushed by the fire, lay like a curving wisp of straw in John’s vast arm-chair.  Leonora was reading; she put down the magazine and glanced briefly at Ethel, then at the aspect of the room.  In silence she wished that Ethel’s characteristic attitudes could be a little more demure and sophisticated.  She wondered how often this apparently artless girl had surreptitiously seen Fred Ryley since the midnight meeting on Thursday, and she was amazed that a child of hers, so kindly disposed, could be so naughty and deceitful.  The door opened and Ethel sat up with a bound.

‘Mr. Burgess,’ the parlourmaid announced.  The three women sank back, disappointed and yet relieved.

Harry Burgess, though barely of age, was one of the acknowledged dandies of Hillport.  Slim and fair, with a frank, rather simple countenance, he supported his stylistic apparel with a natural grace that attracted sympathy.  Just at present he was achieving a spirited effect by always wearing an austere black necktie fastened with a small gold safety-pin; he wore this necktie for weeks to a bewildering variety of suits, and then plunged into a wild polychromatic debauch of neckties.  Upon all the niceties of masculine dress, the details of costume proper to a particular form of industry or recreation or ceremonial, he was a genuine authority.  His cricketing flannels ­he was a fine cricketer and lawn-tennis player of the sinuous oriental sort ­were the despair of other dandies and the scorn of the sloven; he caused the material, before it was made up, to be boiled for many hours by the Burgess charwoman under his own superintendence.  He had extraordinary aptitudes for drawing corks, lacing boots, putting ferrules on walking-sticks, opening latched windows from the outside, and rolling cigarettes; he could make a cigarette with one hand, and not another man in the Five Towns, it was said, could do that.  His slender convex silver cigarette-case invariably contained the only cigarettes worthy of the palate of a connoisseur, as his pipes were invariably the only pipes fit for the combustion of truly high-class tobacco.  Old women, especially charwomen, adored him, and even municipal seigniors admitted that Harry was a smart-looking youth.  Fatherless, he was the heir to a tolerable fortune, the bulk of which, during his mother’s life, he could not touch save with her consent; but his mother and his sister seemed to exist chiefly for his convenience.  His fair hair and his facile smile vanquished them, and vanquished most other people also; and already, when he happened to be crossed, there would appear on his winning face the pouting, hard, resentful lines of the man who has learnt to accept compliance as a right.  He had small intellectual power, and no ambition at all.  A considerable part of his prospective fortune was invested in the admirable shares of the Birmingham, Sheffield and District Bank, and it pleased him to sit on a stool in the Bursley branch of this bank, since he wanted, pro tempore, a dignified avocation without either the anxieties of trade or the competitive tests of a profession.  He was a beautiful bank clerk; but he had once thrown a bundle of cheques into the office fire while aiming at a basket on the mantelpiece; the whole banking world would have been agitated and disorganised had not another clerk snatched the bundle from peril at the expense of his own fingers:  the incident, still legendary behind the counter of the establishment at the top of St. Luke’s Square, kept Harry awake to the seriousness of life for several weeks.

‘Well, Harry,’ said Leonora with languid good nature.  He paid his homage in form to the mistress of the house; raised his eyebrows at Milly, who returned the gesture; smiled upon Ethel, who feebly waved a hand as if too exhausted to do more; and then sat down on the piano-stool, carefully easing the strain on his trousers at the knees and exposing an inch of fine wool socks above his American boots.  He was a familiar of the house, and had had the unconditional entree since he and the Stanway girls first went to the High Schools at Oldcastle.

‘I hope I haven’t disturbed your beauty sleep ­any of you,’ was his opening remark.

‘Yes, you have,’ said Ethel.

He continued:  ’I just came in to seek a little temporary relief from the excellent Quain.  Quain at breakfast, Quain at chapel, Quain at dinner....  I got him to slumber on one side of the hearth and mother on the other, and then I slipped away in case they awoke.  If they do, I’ve told Cissie to say that I’ve gone out to take a tract to a sick friend ­back in five minutes.’

‘Oh, Harry, you are silly!’ Millicent laughed.  Every one, including the narrator, was amused by this elaborate fiction of the managing of those two impressive persons, Mrs. Burgess and the venerable Christian geologist, by a kind, indulgent, bored Harry.  Leonora, who had resumed her magazine, looked up and smiled the guarded smile of the mother.

‘I’m afraid you’re getting worse,’ she murmured, and his candid seductive face told her that while he was on no account not to be regarded as a gay dog, and a sad dog, and a worldly dog, yet nevertheless he and she thoroughly appreciated and understood each other.  She did indeed like him, and she found pleasure in his presence; he gratified the eye.

‘I wish you’d sing something, Milly,’ he began again after a pause.

‘No,’ said Milly, ‘I’m not going to sing now.’

‘But do.  Can’t she, Mrs. Stanway?’

‘Well, what do you want me to sing?’

‘Sing “Love is a plaintive song,” out of the second act.’

Harry was the newly appointed secretary of the Bursley Amateur Operatic Society, of which both Ethel and Millicent were members.  In a few weeks’ time the Society was to render Patience in the Town Hall for the benefit of local charities, and rehearsals were occurring frequently.

‘Oh!  I’m not Patience,’ Milly objected stiffly; she was only Ella.  ‘Besides, I mayn’t, may I, mamma?’

‘Your father might not like it,’ said Leonora.

‘The dad has taken Bran out for a walk, so it won’t trouble him,’ Ethel interjected sleepily under her breath.

‘Well, but look here, Mrs. Stanway,’ said Harry conclusively, ’the organist at the Wesleyan chapel actually plays the sextet from Patience for a voluntary.  What about that?  If there’s no harm in that ­’ Leonora surrendered.  ‘Come on, Mill,’ he commanded.  ’I shall have to return to my muttons directly,’ and he opened the piano.

‘But I tell you I’m not Patience.’

’Come on!  You know the music all right.  Then we’ll try Ella’s bit in the first act.  I’ll play.’

Millicent arose, shook her hair, and walked to the piano with the mien of a prima donna who has the capitals of Europe at her feet, exultant in her youth, her charm, her voice, revelling unconsciously in the vivacity of her blood, and consciously in her power over Harry, which Harry strove in vain to conceal under an assumed equanimity.

And as Millicent sang the ballad Leonora was beguiled, by her singing, into a mood of vague but overpowering melancholy.  It seemed tragic that that fresh and pure voice, that innocent vanity, and that untested self-confidence should change and fade as maturity succeeded adolescence and decay succeeded maturity; it seemed intolerable that the ineffable charm of the girl’s youth must be slowly filched away by the thefts of time.  ‘I was like that once!  And Jack too!’ she thought, as she gazed absently at the pair in front of the piano.  And it appeared incredible to her that she was the mother of that tall womanly creature, that the little morsel of a child which she had borne one night had become a daughter of Eve, with a magic to mesmerise errant glances and desires.  She had a glimpse of the significance of Nature’s eternal iterance.  Then her mood developed a bitterness against Millicent.  She thought cruelly that Millicent’s magic was no part of the girl’s soul, no talent acquired by loving exertion, but something extrinsic, unavoidable, and unmeritorious.  Why was it so?  Why should fate treat Milly like a godchild?  Why should she have prettiness, and adorableness, and the lyric gift, and such abounding confident youth?  Why should circumstances fall out so that she could meet her unacknowledged lover openly at all seasons?  Leonora’s eyes wandered to the figure of Ethel reclining with shut eyes in the arm-chair.  Ethel in her graver and more diffident beauty had already begun to taste the sadness of the world.  Ethel might not stand victoriously by her lover in the midst of the drawing-room, nor joyously flip his ear when he struck a wrong note on the piano.  Ethel, far more passionate than the active Milly, could only dream of her lover, and see him by stealth.  Leonora grieved for Ethel, and envied her too, for her dreams, and for her solitude assuaged by clandestine trysts.  Those trysts lay heavy on Leonora’s mind; although she had discovered them, she had done nothing to prevent them; from day to day she had put off the definite parental act of censure and interdiction.  She was appalled by the serene duplicity of her girls.  Yet what could she say?  Words were so trivial, so conventional.  And though she objected to the match, wishing with ardour that Ethel might marry far more brilliantly, she believed as fully in the honest warm kindliness of Fred Ryley as in that of Ethel.  ‘And what else matters after all?’ she tried to think....  Her reverie shifted to Rose, unfortunate Rose, victim of peculiar ambitions, of a weak digestion, and of a harsh temperament that repelled the sympathy it craved but was too proud to invite.  She felt that she ought to go upstairs and talk to the prostrate Rose in the curt matter-of-fact tone that Rose ostensibly preferred, but she did not wish to talk to Rose.  ‘Ah well!’ she reflected finally with an inward sigh, as though to whisper the last word and free herself of this preoccupation, ‘they will all be as old as me one day.’

‘Mr. Twemlow,’ said the parlourmaid.

Milly deliberately lengthened a high full note and then stopped and turned towards the door.

‘Bravo!’ Arthur Twemlow answered at once the challenge of her whole figure; but he seemed to ignore the fact that he had caused an interruption, and there was something in his voice that piqued the cantatrice, something that sent her back to the days of short frocks.  She glanced nervously aside at Harry, who had struck a few notes and then dropped his hands from the keyboard.  Twemlow’s demeanour towards the blushing Ethel when Leonora brought her forward was much more decorous and simple.  As for Harry, to whom his arrival was a surprise, at first rather annoying, Twemlow treated the young buck as one man of the world should treat another, and Harry’s private verdict upon him was extremely favourable.  Nevertheless Leonora noticed that the three young ones seemed now to shrink into themselves, to become passive instead of active, and by a common instinct to assume the character of mere spectators.

‘May I choose this place?’ said Twemlow, and sat down by Leonora in the other corner of the Chesterfield and looked round.  She could see that he was admiring the spacious room and herself in her beautiful afternoon dress, and the pensive and the sprightly comeliness of her daughters.  His wandering eyes returned to hers, and their appreciation pleased her and increased her charm.

‘I am expecting my husband every minute,’ she said.

‘Papa’s gone out for a walk with Bran,’ Milly added.

‘Oh!  Bran!’ He repeated the word in a voice that humorously appealed for further elucidation, and both Ethel and Harry laughed.

‘The St. Bernard, you know,’ Milly explained, annoyed.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a St. Bernard out there,’ he said pointing to the French window.  ’What a fine fellow!  And what a fine garden!’

Bran was to be seen nosing low down at the window; and alternately lifting two huge white paws in his futile anxiety to enter the room.

‘Then I dare say John is in the garden,’ Leonora exclaimed, with sudden animation, glad to be able to dismiss the faint uneasy suspicion which had begun to form in her mind that John meant after all to avoid Arthur Twemlow.  ‘Would you like to look at the garden?’ she demanded, half rising, and lifting her brows to a pretty invitation.

‘Very much indeed,’ he replied, and he jumped up with the impulsiveness of a boy.

‘It’s quite warm,’ she said, and thanked Harry for opening the window for them.

‘A fine severe garden!’ he remarked enthusiastically outside, after he had descanted to Bran on Bran’s amazing perfections, and the dog had greeted his mistress.  ‘A fine severe garden!’ he repeated.

‘Yes,’ she said, lifting her skirt to cross the lawn.  ’I know what you mean.  I wouldn’t have it altered for anything, but many people think it’s too formal.  My husband does.’

’Why!  It’s just English.  And that old wall! and the yew trees!  I tell you ­’

She expanded once more to his appreciation, which she took to herself; for none but she, and the gardener who was also the groom, and worked under her, was responsible for the garden.  But as she displayed the African marigolds and the late roses and the hardy outdoor chrysanthemums, and as she patted Bran, who dawdled under her hand, she looked furtively about for John.  She hoped he might be at the stables, and when in their tour of the grounds they reached the stables and he was not there, she hoped they would find him in the drawing-room on their return.  Her suspicion reasserted itself, and it was strengthened, against her reason, by the fact that Arthur Twemlow made no comment on John’s invisibility.  In the dusk of the spruce stable, where an enamelled name-plate over the manger of a loose box announced that ‘Prince’ was its pampered tenant, she opened the cornbin, and, entering the loose-box, offered the cob a handful of crushed oats.  And when she stood by the cob, Twemlow looking through the grill of the door at this picture which suggested a beast-tamer in the cage, she was aware of her beauty and the beauty of the animal as he curved his neck to her jewelled hand, and of the ravishing effect of an elegant woman seen in a stable.  She smiled proudly and yet sadly at Twemlow, who was pulling his heavy moustache.  Then they could hear an ungoverned burst of Milly’s light laughter from the drawing-room, and presently Milly resumed her interrupted song.  Opposite the outer door of the stable was the window of the kitchen, whence issued, like an undertone to the song, the subdued rattle of cups and saucers; and the glow of the kitchen fire could be distinguished.  And over all this complex domestic organism, attractive and efficient in its every manifestation, and vigorously alive now in the smooth calm of the English Sunday, she was queen; and hers was the brain that ruled it while feigning an aloof quiescence.  ’He is a romantic man; he understands all that,’ she felt with the certainty of intuition.  Aloud she said she must fasten up the dog.

When they returned to the drawing-room there was no sign of John.

‘Hasn’t your father come in?’ she asked Ethel in a low voice; Milly was still singing.

‘No, mother, I thought he was with you in the garden.’  The girl seemed to respond to Leonora’s inquietude.

Milly finished her song, and Twemlow, who had stationed himself behind her to look at the music, nodded an austere approval.

‘You have an excellent voice,’ he remarked, ‘and you can use it.’  To Leonora this judgment seemed weighty and decisive.

‘Mr. Twemlow,’ said the girl, smiling her satisfaction, ’excuse me asking, but are you married?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘are you?’

Mr. Twemlow!’ she giggled, and turning to Ethel, who in anticipation blushed once again:  ‘There!  I told you.’

‘You girls are very curious,’ Leonora said perfunctorily.

Bessy came in and set a Moorish stool before the Chesterfield, on the stool an inlaid Sheraton tray with china and a copper kettle droning over a lamp, and near it a cakestand in three storeys.  And Leonora, manoeuvring her bangles, commenced the ritual of refection with Harry as acolyte.  ‘If he doesn’t come ­well, he doesn’t come,’ she thought of her husband, as she smiled interrogatively at Arthur Twemlow, holding a lump of sugar aloft in the tongs.

‘The Reverend Simon Quain asked who you were, at dinner to-day,’ said Harry.  During the absence of Leonora and her guest, Harry had evidently acquired information concerning Arthur.

‘Oh, Mr. Twemlow!’ Milly appealed quickly, ’do tell Harry and Ethel what Dr. Talmage said to you.  I think it’s so funny ­I can’t do the accent.’

‘What accent?’ he laughed.

She hesitated, caught.  ‘Yours,’ she replied boldly.

‘Very amusing!’ Harry said judicially, after the episode of the Brooklyn collection had been related.  ’Talmage must be a caution....  I suppose you’re staying at the Five Towns Hotel?’ he inquired, with an implication in his voice that there was no other hotel in the district fit for the patronage of a man of the world.  Twemlow nodded.

‘What!  At Knype?’ Leonora exclaimed.  ‘Then where did you dine to-day?’

‘I had dinner at the Tiger, and not a bad dinner either,’ he said.

‘Oh dear!’ Harry murmured, indicating an august sympathy for Arthur Twemlow in affliction.

’If I had only known ­I don’t know what I was thinking of not to ask you to come here for dinner,’ said Leonora.  ’I made sure you would be engaged somewhere.’

‘Fancy you eating all alone at the Tiger, on Sunday too!’ remarked Milly.

‘Tut! tut!’ Twemlow protested, with a farcical exactness of pronunciation; and Ethel laughed.

‘What are you laughing at, my dear?’ Leonora asked mildly.

‘I don’t know, mother ­really I don’t.’  Whereupon they all laughed together and a state of absolute intimacy was established.

‘I hadn’t the least notion of being at Bursley to-day,’ Twemlow explained.  ’But I thought that Knype wasn’t much of a place ­I always did think that, being a native of Bursley.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve noticed, Mrs. Stanway, how all the five Five Towns kind of sit and sniff at each other.  Well, I felt dull after breakfast, and when I saw the advertisement of Dr. Quain at the old chapel, I came right away.  And that’s all, except that I’m going to sup with a man at Knype to-night.’

There were sounds in the hall, and the door of the drawing-room opened; but it was only Bessie coming to light the gas.

‘Is that your master just come in?’ Leonora asked her.

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘At last,’ said Leonora, and they waited.  With noiseless precision Bessie lit the gas, made the fire, drew the curtains, and departed.  Then they could hear John’s heavy footsteps overhead.

Leonora began nervously to talk about Rose, and Twemlow showed a polite interest in Rose’s private trials; Ethel said that she had just visited the patient, who slept.  Harry asseverated that to remain a moment longer away from his mother’s house would mean utter ruin for him, and with extraordinary suddenness he made his adieux and went, followed to the front door by Millicent.  The conversation in the room dwindled to disconnected remarks, and was kept alive by a series of separate little efforts.  Footsteps were no longer audible overhead.  The clock on the mantelpiece struck five, emphasising a silence, and amid growing constraint several minutes passed.  Leonora wanted to suggest that John, having lost the dog, must have been delayed by looking for him, but she felt that she could not infuse sufficient conviction into the remark, and so said nothing.  A thousand fears and misgivings took possession of her, and, not for the first time, she seemed to discern in the gloom of the future some great catastrophe which would swallow up all that was precious to her.

At length John came in, hurried, fidgetty, nervous, and Ethel slipped out of the room.

‘Ah!  Twemlow!’ he broke forth, ’how d’ye do?  How d’ye do?  Glad to see you.  Hadn’t given me up, had you?  How d’ye do?’

‘Not quite,’ said Twemlow gravely as they shook hands.

Leonora took the water-jug from the tray and went to a chrysanthemum in the farthest corner of the room, where she remained listening, and pretending to be busy with the plant.  The men talked freely but vapidly with the most careful politeness, and it seemed to her that Twemlow was annoyed, while Stanway was determined to offer no explanation of his absence from tea.  Once, in a pause, John turned to Leonora and said that he had been upstairs to see Rose.  Leonora was surprised at the change in Twemlow’s demeanour.  It was as though the pair were fighting a duel and Twemlow wore a coat of mail.  ’And these two have not seen each other for twenty-five years!’ she thought.  ‘And they talk like this!’ She knew then that something lay between them; she could tell from a peculiar well-known look in her husband’s eyes.

When she summoned decision to approach them where they stood side by side on the hearthrug, both tall, big, formal, and preoccupied, Twemlow at once said that unfortunately he must go; Stanway made none but the merest perfunctory attempt to detain him.  He thanked Leonora stiffly for her hospitality, and said good-bye with scarcely a smile.  But as John opened the door for him to pass out, he turned to glance at her, and smiled brightly, kindly, bowing a final adieu, to which she responded.  She who never in her life till then had condescended to such a device softly stepped to the unlatched door and listened.

‘This one yours?’ she heard John say, and then the sound of a hat bouncing on the tiled floor.

‘My fault entirely,’ said Twemlow’s voice.  ’By the way, I guess I can see you at your office one day soon?’

‘Yes, certainly,’ John answered with false glib lightness.  ’What about?  Some business?’

‘Well, yes ­business,’ drawled Twemlow.

They walked away towards the outer hall, and she heard no more, except the indistinct murmur of a sudden brief dialogue between the visitor and the two girls, who must have come in from the garden.  Then the front door banged heavily.  He was gone.  The vast and arid tedium of her life closed in upon her again; she seemed to exist in a colourless void peopled only by ominous dim elusive shapes of disaster.

But as involuntarily she clenched her hands the formidable thought swept through her brain that Arthur Twemlow was not so calm, nor so impassive, nor so set apart, but that her spell over him, if she chose to exert it, might be a shield to the devious man her husband.