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- Denzil Quarrier - 50/53 -
"To me," remarked Mrs. Mumbray, with an air of great responsibility, "the mystery is too plain. I don't hint at _the worst_--it would be uncharitable--but the poor creature had undoubtedly made some discovery in that woman's house which drove her to despair."
Mrs. Tenterden gave a start.
"You really think so? That has occurred to me. Mrs. Wade's fainting when she gave her evidence--oh dear, oh dear! I'm afraid there can be only one explanation."
"That is our _honourable_ member, my dear!" threw out Mrs. Mumbray. "These are Radical principles--in man and woman. Why, I am told that scarcely a day passed without Mrs. Wade calling at the house."
"And they tell me that _he_ was frequently at _hers_!"
"That poor young wife! Oh, it is shameful! The matter oughtn't to end here. Something ought to be done. If that man is allowed to keep his seat"----
Many were the conjectures put forward and discussed throughout the day, but this of Mrs. Mumbray's--started of course in several quarters--found readiest acceptance in Conservative circles. Mrs. Wade was obviously the cause of what had happened--no wonder she fainted at the inquest; no wonder she hid herself in her cottage! When she ventured to come out, virtuous Polterham would let her know its mind. Quarrier shared in the condemnation, but not even political animosity dealt so severely with him as social opinion did with Mrs. Wade.
Mr. Chown--who would on no account have been seen in a place of worship--went about all day among his congenial gossips, and scornfully contested the rumour that Quarrier's relations with Mrs. Wade would not bear looking into. At the house of Mr. Murgatroyd, the Radical dentist, he found two or three friends who were very anxious not to think evil of their victorious leader, but felt wholly at a loss for satisfactory explanations. Mr. Vawdrey, the coal-merchant, talked with gruff discontent.
"I don't believe there's been anything wrong; I couldn't think it-- neither of him nor her. But I do say it's a lesson to you men who go in for Female Suffrage Now, this is just the kind of thing that 'ud always be happening. If there isn't wrong-doing, there'll be wrong-speaking. Women have no business in politics, that's the plain moral of it. Let them keep at home and do their duty."
"Humbug!" cried Mr. Chown, who cared little for the graces of dialogue. "A political principle is not to be at the mercy of party scandal. I, for my part, have never maintained that women were ripe for public duties but Radicalism involves the certainty that they some day will be. The fact of the matter is that Mrs. Quarrier was a woman of unusually feeble physique. We all know--those of us, at all events, who keep up with the science of the day--that the mind is entirely dependent upon the body--entirely!" He looked round, daring his friends to contradict this. "Mrs. Quarrier had overtaxed her strength, and it's just possible--I say its just possible-- that her husband was not very prudent m sending her for necessary repose to the house of a woman so active-minded and so excitable as Mrs. Wade We must remember the peculiar state of her health. As far as _I_ am concerned, Dr. Jenkins's evidence is final, and entirely satisfactory. As for the dirty calumnies of dirty-minded reactionists, _I_ am not the man to give ear to them!"
One man there was who might have been expected to credit such charges, yet surprised his acquaintances by what seemed an unwonted exercise of charity. Mr. Scatchard Vialls, hitherto active in defamation of Quarrier, with amiable inconsistency refused to believe him guilty of conduct which had driven his wife to suicide. It was some days before the rumour reached his ears. Since the passage of arms with Serena, he had held aloof from Mrs. Mumbray's drawing-room, and his personality did not invite the confidence of ordinary scandal-mongers. When at length his curate hinted to him what was being said, he had so clearly formulated his own theory of Mrs. Quarrier's death that only the strongest evidence would have led him to reconsider it. Obstinacy and intellectual conceit forbade him to indulge his disposition to paint an enemy's character in the darkest colours.
"No, Mr. Blenkinsop," he replied to the submissive curate, standing on his hearth-rug at full height and regarding the cornice as his habit was when he began to monologize--"no, I find it impossible to entertain such an accusation. I have little reason to think well of Mr. Quarrier; he is intemperate, in many senses of the word, and intemperance, it is true, connects closely with the most odious crimes. But in this case censure has been too quick to interpret suspicious circumstances--suspicious, I admit. Far be it from me to speak in defence of such a person as Mrs. Wade; I think she is a source of incalculable harm to all who are on friendly terms with her--especially young and impressionable women; but you must trust my judgment in this instance: I am convinced she is not guilty. Her agitation in the coroner's court has no special significance. No; the solution of the mystery is not so simple; it involves wider issues--calls for a more profound interpretation of character and motives. Mrs. Quarrier--pray attend to this, Mr. Blenkinsop-- represents a type of woman becoming, I have reason to think, only too common in our time, women who cultivate the intellect at the expense of the moral nature, who abandon religion and think they have found a substitute for it in the so-called humanitarianism of the day. Strong-minded women, you will hear them called; in truth, they are the weakest of their sex. Let their energies be submitted to any unusual strain, let their nerves (they are always morbid) be overwrought, and they snap!" He illustrated the catastrophe with his hands. "Unaided by religion, the female nature is irresponsible, unaccountable." Mr. Vialls had been severe of late in his judgment of women. "Mrs. Quarrier, poor creature, was the victim of immoderate zeal for worldly ends. She was abetted by her husband and by Mrs. Wade; they excited her to the point of frenzy, and in the last moment she--snapped! Mrs. Wade's hysterical display is but another illustration of the same thing. These women have no support outside themselves--they have deliberately cast away everything of the kind."
"Let me exhibit my meaning from another point of view. Consider, Mr. Blenkinsop"----
Quarrier, in the meantime, was very far from suspecting the accusation which hostile ingenuity had brought against him. Decency would in any ease have necessitated his withdrawal for the present from public affairs, and, in truth, he was stricken down by his calamity. The Liversedges had brought him to their house; he transacted no business, and saw no one beyond the family circle. At the funeral people had thought him strangely unmoved; pride forbade him to make an exhibition of grief, but in secret he suffered as only a strong man can. His love for Lilian was the deepest his life would know. Till now, he had not understood how unspeakably precious she was to him; for the most part he had treated her with playful good-humour, seldom, if ever, striking the note of passion in his speech. With this defect he reproached himself. Lilian had not learnt to trust him sufficiently; she feared the result upon him of such a blow as Northway had it in his power to inflict. It was thus he interpreted her suicide, for Mrs. Wade had told him that Lilian believed disaster to be imminent. Surely he was to blame for it that, at such a pass, she had fled _away_ from him instead of hastening to his side. How perfectly had their characters harmonized! He could recall no moment of mutual dissatisfaction, and that in spite of conditions which, with most women, would have made life very difficult. He revered her purity; her intellect he esteemed far subtler and nobler than his own. With such a woman for companion, he might have done great things; robbed for ever of her beloved presence, he felt lame, purposeless, indifferent to all but the irrecoverable past.
In a day or two he was to leave Polterham. Whether Northway would be satisfied with the result of his machinations remained to be seen; as yet nothing more had been heard of him. The fellow was perhaps capable of demanding more hush-money, of threatening the memory of the woman he had killed. Quarrier hoped more earnestly than ever that the secret would not he betrayed; he scorned vulgar opinion, so far as it affected himself, but could not bear the thought of Lilian's grave being defiled by curiosity and reprobation. The public proceedings had brought to light nothing whatever that seemed in conflict with medical evidence and the finding of the coroner's jury. One dangerous witness had necessarily come forward--Mrs. Wade's servant; but the girl made no kind of allusion to Northway's visit--didn't, in her own mind, connect it with Mrs. Quarrier's behaviour. She was merely asked to describe in what way the unfortunate lady had left the house. In Glazzard and Mrs. Wade, Denzil of course reposed perfect confidence. Northway, if need were, could and should be bought off.
Toby Liversedge got wind of the scandal in circulation, and his rage knew no bounds. Lest his wife should somehow make the discovery, he felt obliged to speak to her--representing the change in its mildest form.
"There's a vile story going about that Lilian was jealous of Mrs. Wade's influence with Denzil; that the two quarrelled that day at the cottage, and the poor girl drowned herself in despair."
Mary looked shocked, but was silent.
"I suppose," added her husband, "we must be prepared for all sorts of rumours. The thing is unintelligible to people in general. Any one who knew her, and saw her those last days, can understand it only too well."
"Yes," murmured Mrs. Liversedge, with sad thought fulness.
She would not speak further on the subject, and Toby concluded that the mere suggestion gave her offence.
On the day after Denzil departed, leaving by a night train for London.
He was in town for a week, then took a voyage to Madeira, where he remained until there was only time enough to get back for the opening of Parliament. The natural plea of shaken health excused him to his constituents, many of whom favoured him with their unsolicited correspondence. (He had three or four long letters from Mr. Chown, who thought it necessary to keep the borough member posted in the course of English politics.) From Glazzard he heard twice, with cheerful news. "How it happened," he had written to his newly-married friend, in telling of Lilian's death, "I will explain some day; I cannot speak of it yet." Glazzard's response was full of manly sympathy. "I don't pretend," wrote the connoisseur, "that I am ideally mated, but my wife is a good girl, and I understand enough of happiness in marriage to appreciate to the full how terrible is your loss. Let confidences be for the future; if they do not come naturally, be assured I shall never pain you by a question."
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