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THE HELPMATE

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

IT

' was four o'clock in the morning. Mrs. Walter

Majendie still lay on the extreme edge of the bed, with her face turned to the dim line of sea discernible through the open window of the hotel bedroom.

Since midnight, when she had gone to bed, she had lain in that uncomfortable position, motionless, irremediably awake. Mrs. Walter Majendie was thinking.

At first the night had gone by her unperceived, black and timeless. Now she could measure time by the dull progress of the dawn among the objects in the room. A slow, unhappy thing, born between featureless grey cloud and sea, it had travelled from the window, shimmered in the watery square of the looking-glass, and was feeling for the chair where her husband had laid his clothes down last night. He had thought she was asleep, and had gone through his undressing noiselessly, with movements of angelic and elaborate gentleness that wellnigh disarmed her thought. He was sleeping now. She tried not to hear the sound of his placid breathing. Only the other night, their wedding night, she had lain awake at this hour and heard it, and had turned her face towards him where he lay in the divine uncorisciousness of sleep. The childlike, huddled posture of the sleeper had then stirred her heart to an unimaginable tenderness.

Now she had got to think, to adjust a new and devastating idea to a beloved and divine belief.

Somewhere in the quiet town a church clock clanged to the dawn, and the sleeper stretched himself. The five hours' torture of her thinking wrung a low sob from the woman at his side.

He woke. His hand searched for her hand. At his touch she drew it away, and moved from under her cramped shoulder the thick, warm braid of her hair. It tossed a gleam of pale gold to the risen light. She felt his drowsy, affectionate fingers pressing and smoothing the springy bosses of the braid.

The caress kindled her dull thoughts to a point of flame. She sat up and twisted the offending braid into a rigid coil.

"Walter,” she said, "who is Lady Cayley?"
She noticed that the name waked him.
“Does it matter now? Can't you forget her?'

"Forget her? I know nothing about her. I want to know."

“Haven't you been told everything that was necessary ?"

"I've been told nothing. It was what I heard.”

There was a terrible stillness about him. Only his breath came and went unsteadily, shaken by the beating of his heart.

She quieted her own heart to listen to it; as if she could gather from such involuntary motions the thing she had to know.

"I know," she said, "I oughtn't to have heard it. And I can't believe it, I don't, really.”

“Poor child! What is it that you don't believe ?”
His calm, assured tones had the force of a denial.
“Walter—if you'd only say it isn't true--"
"What Edith told you?”

"Edith? Your sister ? No; about that woman—that you—that she"

"Why are you bringing all that up again, at this unearthly hour?"

"Then,” she said coldly, "it is true.”
His silence lay between them like a sword.

She had rehearsed this scene many times in the five hours; but she had not prepared herself for this. Her dread had been held captive by her belief, her triumphant anticipation of Majendie's denial.

Presently he spoke; and his voice was strange to her as the voice of another man.

“Anne,” he said, "didn't she tell you? It was before I knew you. And it was the only time.”

“Don't speak to me,” she cried with a sudden passion, and lay shuddering.

She rose, slipped from the bed, and went to a chair that stood by the open window. There she sat, with her back to the bed, and her eyes staring over the grey parade and out to the eastern sea.

Anne," said her husband, "what are you doing there?"

Anne made no answer.
"Come back to bed; you'll catch cold."
He waited.

“How long are you going to sit there in that draught?"

She sat on, upright, immovable, in her thin nightgown, raked by the keen air of the dawn. Majendie raised himself on his elbow. He could just see her where she glimmered, and her braid of hair, uncoiled, hanging to her waist. Up till now he had been profoundly unhappy and ashamed, but something in the unconquerable obstinacy of her attitude appealed to the devil that lived in him, a devil of untimely and disastrous humour. The right thing, he felt, was not to appear as angry as he was. He sat up on his pillow, and began to talk to her with genial informality.

"See here, I suppose you want an explanation. But don't you think we'd better wait until we're up? Up and dressed, I mean. I can't talk seriously before I've had a bath and-and brushed my hair. You see, you've taken rather an unfair advantage of me by getting out of bed.” (He paused for an answer, and still no answer came.) — "Don't imagine I'm ignobly lying down all the time, wrapped in a blanket. I'm sitting on my pillow. I know there's any amount to be said. But how do you suppose I'm going to say it if I've got to stay here, all curled up like a blessed Buddha, and you're planted away over there like a monument of all the Christian virtues ? Are you coming back to bed, or are you not?"

She shivered. To her mind his flippancy, appalling in the circumstances, sufficiently revealed the man he was. The man she had known and married had never existed. For she had married Walter Majendie believing him to be good. The belief had been so rooted in her that nothing but his own words or his own silence could have cast it out. She had loved Walter Majendie; but it was another man who called to her, and she would not listen to him. She felt that she could never go back to that man, never sit in the same room, or live in the same house with him again. She would have to make up her mind what she would do, eventually. Meanwhile, to get away from him, to sit there in the cold, inflexible, insensitive, to obtain a sort of spiritual divorce from him, while she martyrised her body which was wedded to him, that was the young, despotic instinct she obeyed.

"If you won't come,” he said, "I suppose it only remains for me to go.”

He got up, took Anne's cloak from the door where it hung, and put it tenderly about her shoulders.

"Whatever happens or unhappens,” he said, "we must be dressed.

He found her slippers, and thrust them on her passive feet. She lay back and closed her eyes. From the movements that she heard, she gathered that Walter was getting into his clothes. Once, as he struggled with an insufficiently subservient shirt, he laughed, from mere miserable nervousness. Anne, not recognising the utterance of his helpless humanity, put that laugh down to the account of the devil that had insulted her. Her heart

grew harder.

“I am clothed, and in my right mind,” said Majendie, standing before her with his hand on the window sill.

She looked up at him, at the face she knew, the face that (oddly, it seemed to her) had not changed to suit her new conception of him, that maintained its protest. She had loved everything about him, from the dark, curling hair of his head to his well-finished feet; she had loved his slender, virile body, and the clean red and brown of his face, the strong jaw and the mouth that, hidden under the short moustache, she divined only to be no less strong. More than these things she had loved his eyes, the dark, bright dwelling-places of the "goodness" she

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