Master of Men Part 9

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He drew near to her. The struggle of the last few months seemed lined into his face.

"Listen," he said. "I want to be honest--to you. I can't see it any way but this. There's the woman and all the great underneath millions I wanted to help on one side--and on the other--you."

"No," she interrupted. "Your life's work was never meant to be in Gascester. It is your domestic duty, or what you imagine to be your domestic duty, against your duty to your fellow-creatures. You can leave me out. Be a man. Free yourself--make use of your powers. The world is a great place for such as you. Strike off your shackles."

"There will be no more--Lord Sydenhams?" he asked breathlessly.

She smiled upon him--a transforming, transfiguring smile. It was the woman who looked out upon him from those soft, clear eyes.

"I am not anxious," she said, "to be married at all. Only, one must do something. And lately London has been very dull. Is that you, Sydenham? I am quite ready. I am afraid that you must be tired of waiting."

Lord Sydenham had entered almost noiselessly. He looked from one to the other doubtfully.

"I am not interrupting anything in the nature of a conspiracy, I trust?" he inquired, with a faint note of sarcasm.

Lady Malingcourt smiled.

"I am endeavoring to make Mr. Strone repent of his hasty decision,"

she said. "I believe that I have succeeded."

The next morning Strone walked in his grounds before breakfast, his hands behind his back, his face anxious with thought. He had all the sensations of an executioner. Milly had to be faced--his decision made known to her. All through the night this thing had been before him, had hung around his pillow like an ugly nightmare. Now, in the clear morning sunlight, the brutality of it seemed to be staring him in the face. She was settling down so eagerly into this new life, so proud of her home and belongings, so timidly anxious to avoid any of those small lapses which kindled Strone's irritability.

Of course she could continue exactly as she was. There would be no difficulty about her income--she could go on her way making friends, become even a power in the small social world whose recognition had given her such unqualified delight. But Strone was not a man to deceive himself, and he knew very well that under the good-natured, vulgar exterior there remained the woman, passionate, jealous, hypersensitive. He remembered that last night in Marlow Crescent.

He had saved her then, only to fling her back into the abyss! He tried hard to reason with himself. There was a world open to him of which she could not possibly become a denizen. Her presence by his side would hamper his career--would place him continually in a false position, would be a serious drawback to him in the great struggle on behalf of those suffering millions into which he was longing to throw himself. For Strone, at least, was honest in this. His personal ambition was a small thing. He was an enthusiast in a great and unselfish cause. The favor of Lord Sydenham, the social recognition which Lady Malingcourt was able to secure for him, he welcomed only as important means toward his great end. He was shrewd enough to see their importance, but for society as a thing by itself he had no predilection whatever.

"Enoch!"

She came out to him across the lawn. He turned and watched her thoughtfully. She wore a loose, white morning wrapper, simply made and absolutely inoffensive, and he noticed, too, that the fringe against which he had made several ineffectual protests was brushed back, greatly to the improvement of her appearance. She was pale, and her eyes watched him anxiously. Almost it seemed to him that she might in some way have divined what was in store for her.

"Enoch," she exclaimed. "You are home, then?"

"Yes," he answered. "I came in so late last night that I did not disturb you. Is breakfast ready?"

"Waiting."

She led the way, and he followed her. She asked him no questions as to his unexplained absence yesterday, and she made several attempts at conversation, to which he returned only vague answers. Toward the close of the meal, he looked up at her.

"I want to have a few words with you, Milly, before I go," he said.

"Will you come into the study when we have finished?"

She nodded.

"Come into my workroom," she said. "I've got something to say to you.

I--I had a visitor yesterday."

Even when they were alone and the door was shut, he shrank from his task. He looked around, surprised at the evidences of industry.

"Are you making your own dresses?" he asked. "I didn't think that was in your line."

"No, but there is plenty of work to do," she answered hurriedly.

"Enoch, I had a visitor yesterday."

"You get a good many, don't you?" he answered indifferently.

"This one was different. It was Mr. Martinghoe." He was surprised.

"Did he come to see you?"

"No, he came to see you," she answered. "He had been to the works, but you were not there. He stayed for a long time, and we had a talk."

"Well?"

She got up, and stood leaning with her elbow on the mantelpiece. For the first time a certain fragility in her appearance struck him. He had always considered her the personification of coarse, good health.

She spoke, too, without her usual bluntness, with unusual choice of words, and some nervousness. Strone awoke to the fact that there was a change in her.

"Enoch," she said, "Mr. Martinghoe brought some news. You'll hear it when you get to the works, for he will be there to meet you. Somehow, though, I'm glad to be the first to tell you. They want you to stand for Parliament for the Northern Division of Gascestershire." He stared at her.

"What?"

"It is the Conservatives. There's a deputation of 'em coming. Mr.

Martinghoe doesn't say much, but I think it's through him." Strone was amazed.

"A rural constituency," he remarked, half to himself. "It wouldn't do at all. Besides----"

"Please, I want to go on," Milly interrupted. "Enoch, there's Mellborough in the division. That's quite a large town now." He nodded.

"Well?"

"Enoch, I want you to do me a great, great favor," she said earnestly.

"I want you to accept this offer. Don't interrupt. I know that it will take you back into the life you gave up for me. I don't care. I've been thinking about that lately, and I reckon I've been a selfish beast. I made you give up the things you liked, and you might have become a great man but for me. Enoch, I'm all right now. I'll swear it. There's never no more fear about me. I'll live in London with you, or here, and you can come down when you can spare a bit of time.

I ain't going to be a bit jealous of anything or anybody. I ain't, indeed. And, Enoch, I want to be a better wife to you," she added, with a little tearful break in her tone, "if I can. I ain't the wife you ought to have married, dear. I know that. I ought to have been clever, and known how to dress and talk nicely, and all sorts of things. I'm going to try and improve. It's too late for you to choose again, Enoch, but you've been real good to me, and I ain't going to give you any more trouble."

A transformation. Something had found its way into Milly's heart and stirred up all the good that was there into vigorous life. In her eager, tear-dimmed eyes he saw something shining which altered forever his point of view. He was bewildered. What was this thing which he had had in his mind! Yesterday seemed far away; the thought of it made him shudder. But what had come to Milly? He reached out his hand. Their eyes met, and he understood. A new sense of humanity brought man and woman into a wonderful kinship. He opened his arms, and Milly crept into them with a little sob of content.

Master of Men Part 9

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Master of Men Part 9 summary

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