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8: The Wife who did not Love

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« on: April 11, 2023, 06:37:48 am »

MR. WARRELL, of the firm of Warrell & Bird, prided himself upon being a man of the world, and was wont to admit, in a mild spirit of boastfulness, in which even middle-aged and respectable gentlemen occasionally indulge, that he had been in some very awkward situations. He had inferred that he had escaped from those situations with some credit to himself.

Every stockbroker doing a popular and extensive business is confronted sooner or later with the delicate task of explaining to a rash and hazardous speculator exactly how rashly and at what hazard he has invested his money.

Mr. Warrell had had occasion before to break, as gently as it was possible to break, unpleasant news of Mrs. Cathcart’s unsuccess. But never before had he been face to face with at situation so full of possibilities for disagreeable consequences as this which now awaited him.

The impassive Cole admitted him, and the face of Cole fell, for he knew the significance of these visits, having learnt in that mysterious way which servants have of discovering the inward secrets of their masters’ and mistresses’ bosoms, that the arrival of Mr. Warrell was usually followed by a period of retrenchment economy and reform.

“Madam will see you at once,” was the message he returned with.

A few minutes later Mrs. Cathcart sailed into the drawing-room, a little harder of face than usual, thought Mr. Warrell, and wondered why.

“Well, Warrell,” she said briskly, “what machination of the devil has brought you here? Sit down, won’t you?”

He seated himself deliberately. He placed his hat upon the floor, and peeling his gloves, deposited them with unnecessary care in the satin-lined interior.

“What is it?” asked Mrs. Cathcart impatiently. “Are those Canadian Pacifics down again?”

“They are slightly up,” said Mr. Warrell, with a smile which was intended both to conciliate and to flatter. “I think your view on Canadian Pacifics is a very sound one.”

He knew that Mrs. Cathcart would ordinarily desire nothing better than a tribute to her judgment, but now she dismissed the compliment, realising that he had not come all the way from Throgmorton Street to say kindly things about her perspicacity.

“I will say all that is in my mind,” Mr. Warrell went on, choosing his words and endeavouring by the adoption of a pained smile to express in some tangible form his frankness. “You owe us some seven hundred pounds, Mrs. Cathcart.”

She nodded.

“You have ample security,” she said.

“That I realise,” he agreed, addressing the ceiling, “but the question is whether you are prepared to make good in actual cash the differences which are due to us.”

“There is no question at all about it,” she said brusquely, “so far as I am concerned, I cannot raise seven hundred shillings.”

“Suppose,” suggested Mr. Warrell, with his eyes still upraised, “suppose I could find somebody who would be willing to buy your necklace---I think that was the article you deposited with us---for a thousand pounds?”

“It is worth considerably more than that,” said Mrs. Cathcart sharply.

“Possibly,” said the other, “but I am anxious to keep things out of the paper.”

He had launched his bombshell.

“Exactly what do you mean?” she demanded, rising to her feet. She stood glowering down at him.

“Do not misunderstand me,” he said hastily. “I will explain in a sentence. Your diamond necklace has been stolen from my safe.”

“Stolen!”

She went white.

“Stolen,” said Mr. Warrell, “by a gang of burglars which has been engaged in its operations for the past twelve months in the City of London. You see, my dear Mrs. Cathcart,” he went on, “that it is a very embarrassing situation for both of us. I do not want my clients to know that I accept jewels from ladies as collateral security against differences, and you,” he was so rude as to point to emphasise his words, “do not, I imagine, desire your friends to know that it was necessary for you to deposit those jewels.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Of course, I could have reported the matter to the police, sent out a description of the necklace, and possibly recovered the loss from an insurance company, but that I do not wish to do.”

He might have added, this good business man, that his insurance policy would not have covered such a loss, for when premiums are adjusted to cover the risk of a stockbroker’s office, they do not as a rule foreshadow the possibility of a jewel robbery.

“I am willing to stand the loss myself,” he continued, “that is to say, I am willing to make good a reasonable amount out of my own pocket, as much for your sake as for mine. On the other hand, if you do not agree to my suggestion, I have no other alternative than to report the matter very, very fully, very fully,” he repeated with emphasis, “to the police and to the press. Now, what do you think?”

Mrs. Cathcart might have said in truth that she did not know what to think.

The necklace was a valuable one, and there were other considerations.

Mr. Warrell was evidently thinking of its sentimental value, for he went on----

“But for the fact that jewels of this kind have associations I might suggest that your new son-in-law would possibly replace your loss.”

She turned upon him with a hard smile.

“My new son-in-law!” she scoffed. “Good Lord!”

Warrell knew Standerton, and regarded him as one of Fortune’s favourites, and was in no doubt as to his financial stability.

The contempt in the woman’s tone shocked him as only a City man can be shocked by a whisper against the credit of gilt-edged stock.

For the moment he forgot the object of his visit.

He would have liked to have asked for an explanation, but he felt that it did not lie within the province of Mrs. Cathcart’s broker to demand information upon her domestic affairs.

“It is a pretty rotten mess you have got me into, Warrell,” she said, and got up.

He rose with her, picked up his hat, and exhumed his buried gloves.

“It is very awkward indeed,” he said, “tremendously awkward for you, and tremendously awkward for me my dear Mrs. Cathcart. I am sure you will pity me in my embarrassment.”

“I am too busy pitying myself,” she said shortly.

She sat in the drawing-room alone after the broker’s departure.

What should she do? For what Warrell did not know was that the necklace was not hers. It had been one which the old Colonel had had reset for his daughter, and which had been bequeathed to the girl in her father’s will.

A family circle which consists of a mother and a daughter exercises communal rights over property which may appear curious to families more extensive in point of number. Though Edith had known the jewel was hers, she had not demurred when her mother had worn it, and had never even hinted that she would prefer to include it amongst the meagre stock of jewellery in her own case.

Yet it had always been known as “Edith’s necklace.”

Mrs. Cathcart had referred to it herself in these terms, and an uncomfortable feature of their estrangement had been the question of the necklace and its retention by the broker.

Mrs. Cathcart shrugged her shoulders. There was nothing to be done; she must trust to luck. She could not imagine that Edith would ever feel the need of the jewel; yet if her husband was poor, and she was obsessed with this absurd sense of loyalty to the man who had deceived her, there might be a remote possibility that from a sheer quixotic desire to help her husband, she would make inquiries as to the whereabouts of the necklace.

Edith was not like that, thought Mrs. Cathcart. It was a comforting thought as she made her way up the stairs to her room.

She stopped half-way up to allow the maid to overtake her with the letters which had arrived at that moment. With a little start she recognised upon the first of these the handwriting of her daughter, and tore open the envelope. The letter was brief:---

“Dear Mother,” it ran,

“Would you please arrange for me to have the necklace which father left to me. I feel now that I must make some sort of display if only for my husband’s sake.”

The letter dropped from Mrs. Cathcart’s hand. She stood on the stairs transfixed.

---

Edith Standerton was superintending the arrangement of the lunch table when her husband came in. Life had become curiously systematised in the St. John’s Wood house.

To neither of the young people had it seemed possible that they could live together as now they did, in perfect harmony, in sympathy, yet with apparently no sign of love or demonstration of affection on either side.

To liken them to brother and sister would be hardly descriptive of their friendship. They lacked the mutual knowledge of things, and the common interest which brother and sister would have. They wanted, too, an appreciation of one another’s faults and virtues.

They were strangers, and every day taught each something about the other. Gilbert learnt that this quiet girl, whose sad grey eyes had hinted at tragedy, had a sense of humour, could laugh on little provocation, and was immensely shrewd in her appraisement of humanity.

She, for her part, had found a force she had not reckoned on, a vitality and a doggedness of purpose which she had never seen before their marriage. He could be entertaining, too, in the rare intervals when they were alone together. He was a traveller, had visited Persia, Arabia, and the less known countries of Eastern Asia.

She never referred again to the events of that terrible marriage night. Here, perhaps, her judgment was at fault. She had seen a player with a face of extraordinary beauty, and had given perhaps too much attention to this minor circumstance. Somewhere in her husband’s heart was a secret, what that secret was she could only guess. She guessed that it was associated in some way with a woman---therein the woman in her spoke.

She had no feeling of resentment either towards her husband or to the unknown who had sent a message through the trembling strings of her violin upon that wedding night.

Only, she told herself, it was “curious.” She wanted to know what it was all about. She had the healthy curiosity of the young. The revelation might shock her, might fill her with undying contempt for the man whose name she bore, but she wanted to know.

It piqued her too, after a while, that he should have any secrets from her---a strange condition of mind, remembering the remarkable relationship in which they stood, and yet one quite understandable.

Though they had not achieved the friendly and peculiar relationship of man and wife, there had grown up between them a friendship which the girl told herself (and did her best to believe) was of a more enduring character than that which marriage qua marriage could produce. It was a comradeship in which much was taken for granted; she took for granted that he loved her, and entered into the marriage with no other object. That was a comforting basis for friendship with any woman.

For his part, he took it for granted that she had a soul above deception, that she was frank even though in her frankness she wounded him almost to death. He detected in that an unusual respect for himself, though in his more logical mood he argued she would have acted as honourably to any man.

She herself wove into the friendship a peculiar sexless variety of romance---sexless since she thought she saw in it an accomplished ideal towards which the youth of all ages have aspired without any conspicuous success.

There is no man or woman in the world who does not think that the chance in a million may be his or hers; there is no human creature so diffident that it does not imagine in its favour is created exception to evident and universal rules.

Plato may have stopped dead in his conduct of other friendships, his philosophies may have frizzled hopelessly and helplessly, and have been evaporated to thin vapour before the fire of natural love. A thousand witnesses may rise to testify to the futility of friendship in two people of opposite sex, but there always is the “you” and the “me” in the world, who defies experience, and comes with sublime faith to show how different will be the result to that which has attended all previous experiments.

As she told herself, if there had been the slightest spark of love in her bosom for this young man who had come into her life with some suddenness, and had gone out in a sense so violently, only to return in another guise, if there had been the veriest smouldering ember of the thing called love in her heart, she would have been jealous, just a little jealous, of the interests which drew him away from her every night, and often brought him home when the grey dawn was staining the blue of the East.

She had watched him once from her window, and had wondered vaguely what he found to do at night.

Was he seeking relaxation from an intolerable position? He never gave her the impression that it was intolerable. There was comfort in that thought.

Was there---somebody else?

Here was a question to make her knit her brows, this loveless wife.

Once she found herself, to her intense amazement, on the verge of tears at the thought. She went through all the stages of doubt and decision, of anger and contrition, which a young wife more happily circumstanced might have experienced.

Who was the violin player with the beautiful face? What part had she taken in Gilbert’s life?

One thing she did know, her husband was gambling on the Stock Exchange. At first she did not realise that he could be so commonplace. She had always regarded him as a man to whom vulgar money-grabbing would be repugnant. He had surrendered his position at the Foreign Office; he was now engaged in some business which neither discussed. She thought many things, but until she discovered the contract note of a broker upon his desk, she had never suspected success on the Stock Exchange as the goal of his ambition.

This transaction seemed an enormous one to her.

There were tens of thousands of shares detailed upon the note. She knew very little about the Stock Exchange, except that there had been mornings when her mother had been unbearable as a result of her losses. Then it occurred to her, if he were in business---a vague term which meant anything---she might do something more than sit at home and direct his servants.

She might help him also in another way. Business men have expedient dinners, give tactful theatre parties. And many men have succeeded because they have wives who are wise in their generation.

It was a good thought. She held a grand review of her wardrobe, and posted the letter which so completely destroyed her mother’s peace of mind.

Gilbert had been out all the morning, and he came back from the City looking rather tired.

An exchange of smiles, a little strained and a little hard on one side, a little wistful and a little sad on the other, had become the conventional greeting between the two, so too had the inquiry, “Did you sleep well?” which was the legitimate property of whosoever thought first of this original question.

They were in the midst of lunch when she asked suddenly----

“Would you like me to give a dinner party?”

He looked up with a start.

“A dinner party!” he said incredulously, then, seeing her face drop, and realising something of the sacrifice which she might be making, he added, “I think it is an excellent idea. Whom would you like to invite?”

“Any friends you have,” she said, “that rather nice man Mr. Frankfort, and----Who else?” she asked.

He smiled a little grimly.

“I think that rather nice man Mr. Frankfort about exhausts the sum of my friends,” he said with a little laugh. “We might ask Warrell.”

“Who is Warrell? Oh, I know,” she said quickly, “he is mother’s broker.”

He looked at her curiously.

“Your mother’s broker,” he repeated slowly, “is he really?”

“Why?” she asked.

“Why what?” he evaded.

“Why did you say that so queerly?”

“I did not know that I did,” he said carelessly, “only somehow one doesn’t associate your mother with a broker. Yet I suppose she finds an agent necessary in these days. You see, he is my broker too.”

“Who else?” she asked.

“On my side of the family,” he said with mock solemnity, “I can think of nobody. What about your mother?”

“I could ask one or two nice people,” she went on, ignoring the suggestion.

“What about your mother?” he said again.

She looked up, her eyes filled with tears.

“Please do not be horrid,” she said. “You know that is impossible.”

“Not at all,” he answered cheerfully. “I made the suggestion in all good faith; I think it is a good one. After all, there is no reason why this absurd quarrel should go on. I admit I felt very sore with her; but then I even felt sore with you!”

He looked at her not unkindly.

“The soreness is gradually wearing away,” he said.

He spoke half to himself, though he looked at the girl. It seemed to her that he was trying to convince himself of something in which he did not wholly believe.

“It is extraordinary,” he said, “how little things, little worries, and petty causes for unhappiness disappear in the face of a really great trouble.”

“What is your great trouble?” she asked, quick to seize the advantage which he had given her in that unguarded moment.

“None,” he said. His tone was a little louder than usual, it was almost defiant. “I am speaking hypothetically.

“I have no trouble save the very obvious troubles of life,” he went on. “You were a trouble to me for quite a little time, but you are not any more.”

“I am glad you said that,” she said softly. “I want to be really good friends with you, Gilbert---I want to be a really good friend to you. I have made rather a hash of your life, I’m afraid.”

She had risen from the table and stood looking down at him.

He shook his head.

“I do not think you have,” he said, “not the hash that you imagine. Other circumstances have conspired to disfigure what was a pleasant outlook. It is unfortunate that our marriage has not proved to be all that I dreamt it would be, but then dreams are very unstable foundations to the fabric of life. You would not think that I was a dreamer, would you?” he said quickly with that ready smile of his, those eyes that creased into little lines at the corners. “You would not imagine me as a romancist, though I am afraid I was.”

“You are, you mean,” she corrected.

He made no reply to that.

The question of the dinner came up later, when he was preparing to go out.

“You would not like to stay and talk it over, I suppose,” she suggested a little timidly.

He hesitated.

“There is nothing I should like better,” he said, “but”---he looked at his watch.

She pressed her lips together, and for one moment felt a wave of unreasoning anger sweeping over her. It was absurd, of course, he always went out at this time, and there was really no reason why he should stay in.

“We can discuss it another time,” she said coldly, and left him without a further word.

He waited until he heard the door close in her room above, and then he went out with a little smile in which there were tears almost, but in which there was no merriment.

He left the house at a propitious moment; had he waited another five minutes he would have met his mother-in-law.

Mrs. Cathcart had made up her mind to “own up” and had come in person to make the confession. It was a merciful providence, so she told herself, that had taken Gilbert out of the way; that he had gone out she discovered before she had been in the house four minutes, and she discovered it by the very simple process of demanding from Gilbert’s servant whether his master was at home.

Edith heard of her mother’s arrival without surprise. She supposed that Mrs. Cathcart had come to hand the necklace to its lawful owner. She felt some pricking of conscience as she came down the stairs to meet her mother; had she not been unnecessarily brusque in her demand! She was a tender soul, and had a proper and natural affection for the elder woman. The fear that she might have hurt her feelings, and that that hurt might be expressed at the interview gave her a little qualm as she opened the drawing-room door.

Mrs. Cathcart was coolness itself. You might have thought that never a scene had occurred between these two women which could be remembered with unkindliness. No reference was made to the past, and Edith was glad.

It was not her desire that she should live on bad terms with her mother. She understood her too well, which was unfortunate for both, and it would be all the happier for them if they could maintain some pretence of friendship.

Mrs. Cathcart came straight to the point.

“I suppose you know why I have called,” she said, after the first exchange.

“I suppose you have brought the necklace,” said the girl with a smile. “You do not think I am horrid to ask for it, but I feel I ought to do something for Gilbert.”

“I think you might have chosen another subject for your first letter,” said the elder woman grimly, “but still----”

Edith made no reply. It was useless to argue with her mother. Mrs. Cathcart had a quality which is by no means rare in the total of human possessions, the quality of putting other people in the wrong.

“I am more sorry,” Mrs. Cathcart resumed, “because I am not in a position to give you your necklace.”

The girl stared at her mother in wonder.

“Why! Whatever do you mean, mother?” she asked.

Mrs. Cathcart carefully avoided her eyes.

“I have had losses on the Stock Exchange,” she said. “I suppose you know that your father left us just sufficient to starve on, and whatever luxury and whatever comfort you have had has been due to my own individual efforts? I have lost a lot of money over Canadian Pacifics,” she said bluntly.

“Well?” asked the girl, wondering what was coming next, and fearing the worst.

“I made a loss of seven hundred pounds with a firm of stockbrokers,” Mrs. Cathcart continued, “and I deposited your necklace with the firm as security.” The girl gasped. “I intended, of course, redeeming it, but an unfortunate thing happened---the safe was burgled and the necklace was stolen.”

Edith Standerton stared at the other.

The question of the necklace did not greatly worry her, yet she realised now that she had depended rather more upon it than she had thought. It was a little nest-egg against a bad time, which, if Gilbert spoke the truth, might come at any moment.

“It cannot be helped,” she said.

She did not criticise her mother or offer any opinion upon the impropriety of offering as security for debt articles which are the property of somebody else.

Such criticism would have been wasted, and the effort would have been entirely superfluous.

“Well,” asked Mrs. Cathcart, “what have you got to say?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

“What can I say, mother? The thing is lost, and there is an end to it. Do the firm offer any compensation?”

She asked the question innocently: it occurred to her as a wandering thought that possibly something might be saved from the wreck.

Mrs. Cathcart shot a swift glance at her.

Had that infernal Warrell been communicating with her? She knew that Warrell was a friend of Edith’s husband. It would be iniquitous of him if he had.

“Some compensation was offered,” she answered carelessly, “quite inadequate; the matter is not settled yet, but I will let you know how it develops.”

“What compensation do they offer?” asked Edith.

Mrs. Cathcart hesitated.

“A thousand pounds,” she said reluctantly.

“A thousand pounds!”

The girl was startled, she had no idea the necklace was of that value.

“That means, of course,” Mrs. Cathcart hastened to explain, “seven hundred pounds out of my pocket and three hundred pounds from the broker.”

The girl smiled inwardly. “Seven hundred pounds from my pocket” meant, “if you ask for the full value you will rob me.”

“And there is three hundred pounds due. I think I had better have that.”

“Wait a little,” said Mrs. Cathcart, “they may recover the necklace, anyway; they want me to give a description of it. What do you think?”

The girl shook her head.

“I do not think I should like that,” she said quietly. “Questions might be asked, and I should not like people to know either that the necklace was mine, or that my mother had deposited it as security against her debts.”

Here was the new Edith with a vengeance. Mrs. Cathcart stared at her.

“Edith,” she said severely, “that sounds a little impertinent.”

“I dare say it does, mother,” said the girl, “but what am I to do? What am I to say? There are the facts fairly apparent to you and to me; the necklace is stolen, and it may possibly never be recovered, and I am not going to expose either my loss or your weakness on the remote possibility of getting back an article of jewellery which probably by this time is in the meltingpot and the stones dispersed.”

“You know a great deal about jewels and jewel-robbers,” said her mother with a little sneer. “Has Gilbert been enlarging your education?”

“Curiously enough, he has,” said her daughter calmly; “we discuss many queer things.”

“You must have very pleasant evenings,” said the elder woman dryly. She rose to go, looking at her watch. “I am sorry I cannot stay,” she said, “but I am dining with some people. I suppose you would not like to come along? It is quite an informal affair; as a matter of fact, the invitation included you.”

“And Gilbert?” asked the girl.

The woman smiled.

“No, it did not exactly include Gilbert,” she said. “I have made it pretty clear that invitations to me are acceptable only so long as the party does not include your husband.”

The girl drew herself up stiffly, and the elder woman saw a storm gathering in her eyes.

“I do not quite understand you. Do you mean that you have gone round London talking unkindly about my husband?”

“Of course I have,” said Mrs. Cathcart virtuously. “I do not know about having gone round London, but I have told those people who are intimate friends of mine, and who are naturally interested in my affairs.”

“You have no right to speak,” said the girl angrily, “it is disgraceful of you. You have made your mistake, and you must abide by the consequence. I also have made a mistake, and I cheerfully accept my lot. If it hurts you that I am married to a man who despises me, how much more do you think it hurts me?”

Mrs. Cathcart laughed.

“I assure you,” she smiled, “that though many thoughts disturb my nights, the thought that your husband has no particular love for you is not one of them; what does wake me up with a horrid feeling is the knowledge that so far from being the rich man I thought he was, he is practically penniless. What madness induced him to give up his work at the Foreign Office?”

“You had better ask him,” said the girl with malice, “he will be in in a few moments.”

It needed only this to hasten Mrs. Cathcart’s departure, and Edith was left alone.

---

Edith dined alone that night.

At first she had welcomed with a sense of infinite relief these solitary dinners. She was a woman of considerable intelligence, and she had faced the future without illusion.

She realised that there might come a time when she and Gilbert would live together in perfect harmony, though without the essential sympathies which husband and wife should mutually possess. She was willing to undergo the years of probation, and it made it all the easier for her if business or pleasure kept them apart during the embarrassing hours between dinner and bed-time.

But to-night, for the first time, she was lonely.

She felt the need of him, the desire for his society, the cheer and the vitality of him.

There were moments when he was bright and happy and flippant, as she had known him at his best. There were other moments too, terrible and depressing moments, when she never saw him, when he shut himself in his study and she only caught a glimpse of his face by accident. She went through her dinner alternately reading and thinking.

A book lay upon the table by her side, but she did not turn one page. The maid was clearing the entrée when Edith Standerton looked up with a start.

“What is it?” she said.

“What, madam?” asked the girl.

Outside the window Edith could hear the sound of music, a gentle, soft cadence of sound, a tiny wail of melodious tragedy.

She rose from the table, walked across to the window and pulled aside the blinds. Outside a girl was playing a violin. In the light which a street lamp afforded Edith recognised the player of the “Melody in F.”
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