The servants at Dempster’s felt some surprise when the morning, noon, and evening of Saturday had passed, and still their mistress did not reappear.
‘It’s very odd,’ said Kitty, the housemaid, as she trimmed her next week’s cap, while Betty, the middle-aged cook, looked on with folded arms. ‘Do you think as Mrs. Raynor was ill, and sent for the missis afore we was up?’
‘O,’ said Betty, ‘if it had been that, she’d ha’ been back’ards an’ for’ards three or four times afore now; leastways, she’d ha’ sent little Ann to let us know.’
‘There’s summat up more nor usual between her an’ the master, that you may depend on,’ said Kitty. ‘I know those clothes as was lying i’ the drawing-room yesterday, when the company was come, meant summat. I shouldn’t wonder if that was what they’ve had a fresh row about. She’s p’raps gone away, an’s made up her mind not to come back again.’
‘An’ i’ the right on’t, too,’ said Betty. ‘I’d ha’ overrun him long afore now, if it had been me. I wouldn’t stan’ bein’ mauled as she is by no husband, not if he was the biggest lord i’ the land. It’s poor work bein’ a wife at that price: I’d sooner be a cook wi’out perkises, an’ hev roast, an’ boil, an’ fry, an’ bake, all to mind at once. She may well do as she does. I know I’m glad enough of a drop o’ summat myself when I’m plagued. I feel very low, like, tonight; I think I shall put my beer i’ the saucepan an’ warm it.’
‘What a one you are for warmin’ your beer, Betty! I couldn’t abide it — nasty bitter stuff!’
‘It’s fine talkin’; if you was a cook you’d know what belongs to bein’ a cook. It’s none so nice to hev a sinkin’ at your stomach, I can tell you. You wouldn’t think so much o’ fine ribbins i’ your cap then.’
‘Well, well, Betty, don’t be grumpy. Liza Thomson, as is at Phipps’s, said to me last Sunday, “I wonder you’ll stay at Dempster’s,” she says, “such goins-on as there is.” But I says, “There’s things to put up wi’ in ivery place, an’ you may change, an’ change, an’ not better yourself when all’s said an’ done.” Lors! why, Liza told me herself as Mrs. Phipps was as skinny as skinny i’ the kitchen, for all they keep so much company; and as for follyers, she’s as cross as a turkey-cock if she finds ’em out. There’s nothin’ o’ that sort i’ the missis. How pretty she come an’ spoke to Job last Sunday! There isn’t a good-natur’der woman i’ the world, that’s my belief — an’ hansome too. I al’ys think there’s nobody looks half so well as the missis when she’s got her ‘air done nice. Lors! I wish I’d got long ‘air like her — my ‘air’s a-comin’ off dreadful.’
‘There’ll be fine work tomorrow, I expect,’ said Betty, ‘when the master comes home, an’ Dawes a-swearin’ as he’ll niver do a stroke o’ work for him again. It’ll be good fun if he sets the justice on him for cuttin’ him wi’ the whip; the master’ll p’raps get his comb cut for once in his life!’
‘Why, he was in a temper like a fiend this morning,’ said Kitty. ‘I daresay it was along o’ what had happened wi’ the missis. We shall hev a pretty house wi’ him if she doesn’t come back — he’ll want to be leatherin’ us, I shouldn’t wonder. He must hev somethin’ t’ ill-use when he’s in a passion.’
‘I’d tek care he didn’t leather me — no, not if he was my husban’ ten times o’er; I’d pour hot drippin’ on him sooner. But the missis hasn’t a sperrit like me. He’ll mek her come back, you’ll see; he’ll come round her somehow. There’s no likelihood of her coming hack to-night, though; so I should think we might fasten the doors and go to bed when we like.’
On Sunday morning, however, Kitty’s mind became disturbed by more definite and alarming conjectures about her mistress. While Betty, encouraged by the prospect of unwonted leisure, was sitting down to continue a letter which had long lain unfinished between the leaves of her Bible, Kitty came running into the kitchen and said — ‘Lor! Betty, I’m all of a tremble; you might knock me down wi’ a feather. I’ve just looked into the missis’s wardrobe, an’ there’s both her bonnets. She must ha’ gone wi’out her bonnet. An’ then I remember as her night-clothes wasn’t on the bed yisterday mornin’; I thought she’d put ’em away to be washed; but she hedn’t, for I’ve been lookin’. It’s my belief he’s murdered her, and shut her up i’ that closet as he keeps locked al’ys. He’s capible on’t.’
‘Lors-ha’-massy, why you’d better run to Mrs. Raynor’s an’ see if she’s there, arter all. It was p’raps all a lie.’
Mrs. Raynor had returned home to give directions to her little maiden, when Kitty, with the elaborate manifestation of alarm which servants delight in, rushed in without knocking, and, holding her hands on her heart as if the consequences to that organ were likely to be very serious, said — ‘If you please ‘m, is the missis here?’
‘No, Kitty; why are you come to ask?’
‘Because ‘m, she’s niver been at home since yesterday mornin’, since afore we was up; an’ we thought somethin’ must ha’ happened to her.’
‘No, don’t be frightened, Kitty. Your mistress is quite safe; I know where she is. Is your master at home?’
‘No ‘m; he went out yesterday mornin’, an’ said he shouldn’t be back afore to-night.’
‘Well, Kitty, there’s nothing the matter with your mistress. You needn’t say anything to any one about her being away from home. I shall call presently and fetch her gown and bonnet. She wants them to put on.’
Kitty, perceiving there was a mystery she was not to inquire into, returned to Orchard Street, really glad to know that her mistress was safe, but disappointed nevertheless at being told that she was not to be frightened. She was soon followed by Mrs. Raynor in quest of the gown and bonnet. The good mother, on learning that Dempster was not at home, had at once thought that she could gratify Janet’s wish to go to Paddiford Church.
‘See, my dear,’ she said, as she entered Mrs. Pettifer’s parlour; ‘I’ve brought you your black clothes. Robert’s not at home, and is not coming till this evening. I couldn’t find your best black gown, but this will do. I wouldn’t bring anything else, you know; but there can’t be any objection to my fetching clothes to cover you. You can go to Paddiford Church, now, if you like; and I will go with you.’
‘That’s a dear mother! Then we’ll all three go together. Come and help me to get ready. Good little Mrs. Crewe! It will vex her sadly that I should go to hear Mr. Tryan. But I must kiss her, and make it up with her.’
Many eyes were turned on Janet with a look of surprise as she walked up the aisle of Paddiford Church. She felt a little tremor at the notice she knew she was exciting, but it was a strong satisfaction to her that she had been able at once to take a step that would let her neighbours know her change of feeling towards Mr. Tryan: she had left herself now no room for proud reluctance or weak hesitation. The walk through the sweet spring air had stimulated all her fresh hopes, all her yearning desires after purity, strength, and peace. She thought she should find a new meaning in the prayers this morning; her full heart, like an overflowing river, wanted those ready-made channels to pour itself into; and then she should hear Mr. Tryan again, and his words would fall on her like precious balm, as they had done last night. There was a liquid brightness in her eyes as they rested on the mere walls, the pews, the weavers and colliers in their Sunday clothes. The commonest things seemed to touch the spring of love within her, just as, when we are suddenly released from an acute absorbing bodily pain, our heart and senses leap out in new freedom; we think even the noise of streets harmonious, and are ready to hug the tradesman who is wrapping up our change. A door had been opened in Janet’s cold dark prison of self-despair, and the golden light of morning was pouring in its slanting beams through the blessed opening. There was sunlight in the world; there was a divine love caring for her; it had given her an earnest of good things: it had been preparing comfort for her in the very moment when she had thought herself most forsaken.
Mr. Tryan might well rejoice when his eye rested on her as he entered his desk; but he rejoiced with trembling. He could not look at the sweet hopeful face without remembering its yesterday’s look of agony; and there was the possibility that that look might return.
Janet’s appearance at church was greeted not only by wondering eyes, but by kind hearts, and after the service several of Mr. Tryan’s hearers with whom she had been on cold terms of late, contrived to come up to her and take her by the hand.
‘Mother,’ said Miss Linnet, ‘do let us go and speak to Mrs. Dempster I’m sure there’s a great change in her mind towards Mr. Tryan. I noticed how eagerly she listened to the sermon, and she’s come with Mrs. Pettifer, you see. We ought to go and give her a welcome among us.’
‘Why, my dear, we’ve never spoke friendly these five year. You know she’s been as haughty as anything since I quarrelled with her husband. However, let bygones be bygones: I’ve no grudge again’ the poor thing, more particular as she must ha’ flew in her husband’s face to come an’ hear Mr. Tryan. Yes, let us go an’ speak to her.’
The friendly words and looks touched Janet a little too keenly, and Mrs. Pettifer wisely hurried her home by the least-frequented road. When they reached home, a violent fit of weeping, followed by continuous lassitude, showed that the emotions of the morning had overstrained her nerves. She was suffering, too, from the absence of the long-accustomed stimulus which she had promised Mr. Tryan not to touch again. The poor thing was conscious of this, and dreaded her own weakness, as the victim of intermittent insanity dreads the oncoming of the old illusion.
‘Mother,’ she whispered, when Mrs. Raynor urged her to lie down and rest all the afternoon, that she might be the better prepared to see Mr. Tryan in the evening ‘mother, don’t let me have anything if I ask for it.’
In the mother’s mind there was the same anxiety, and in her it was mingled with another fear — the fear lest Janet, in her present excited state of mind, should take some premature step in relation to her husband, which might lead back to all the former troubles. The hint she had thrown out in the morning of her wish to return to him after a time, showed a new eagerness for difficult duties, that only made the long-saddened sober mother tremble. But as evening approached, Janet’s morning heroism all forsook her: her imagination influenced by physical depression as well as by mental habits, was haunted by the vision of her husband’s return home, and she began to shudder with the yesterday’s dread. She heard him calling her, she saw him going to her mother’s to look for her, she felt sure he would find her out, and burst in upon her.
‘Pray, pray, don’t leave me, don’t go to church,’ she said to Mrs. Pettifer. ‘You and mother both stay with me till Mr. Tryan comes.’
At twenty minutes past six the church bells were ringing for the evening service, and soon the congregation was streaming along Orchard Street in the mellow sunset. The street opened toward the west. The red half-sunken sun shed a solemn splendour on the everyday houses, and crimsoned the windows of Dempster’s projecting upper storey.
Suddenly a loud murmur arose and spread along the stream of church-goers, and one group after another paused and looked backward. At the far end of the street, men, accompanied by a miscellaneous group of onlookers, were slowly carrying something — a body stretched on a door. Slowly they passed along the middle of the street, lined all the way with awe-struck faces, till they turned aside and paused in the red sunlight before Dempster’s door.
It was Dempster’s body. No one knew whether he was alive or dead.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54