In the Thick of the Fight/Matthew Gray's Wife
STORY I.—MATTHEW GRAY'S WIFE.
IT was the night of the weekly debate at the Vanguard Club for Women, when Matthew Gray determined to put his fortunes to the test. The subject of the debate this evening was “Woman,” and the opener was a man. When Matthew made his way into the crowded room the speaking had already begun. He was a young man of about twenty-six years of age, and had been a journalist from the time he was twenty. He had done well in journalism as he did in everything else he undertook, and six months ago had published his first novel. This novel had proved an unusual success—it had hit the caprice of the hour, being out of the common without being too much so—it appealed to popular taste, and soothed rather than irritated public opinion. Matthew suddenly found himself on the high road both to fame and opulence. Orders for future works began to pour in—fortune smiled brightly, in short, he felt himself entitled to try for the dearest wish of his life and to ask Diana Harrington to become his wife. She had invited him as a guest to the Vanguard Club, and he now listened to the fluent speech of the man who had opened the debate with a certain amused attention—he noticed the ill-concealed impatience of some of the audience—he observed that the speaker was giving forth a string of platitudes on the duties of wives and mothers—he agreed with all that was said, for in his heart of hearts he hated the so-called advanced woman, but wished that the matter might be put more concisely, and, if possible, with words more likely to arrest attention and demand respect. Matthew felt sure that he could have spoken better, he was elated and full of hope about everything to-night—his book was on the eve of going into a fifth edition—all the world therefore smiled upon him in short, his success almost intoxicated him. His bright eyes watched her as she sat with the rest of the committee—he quickly made up his mind that he would ask her the vital question before the night was over.
The speaker on the platform sat down at last amid murmurs other than those of applause. Directly he did so a slim girl, with dark hair and eyes, full of suppressed emotion, sprang to her feet. Matthew drew a step nearer and watched her attentively. She wore the simplest of dresses, slightly open at her neck and wrist—her hair was arranged low down on her neck, she looked the essence of all that was feminine—the young man's heart was stirred within him. Would Diana support the views of the last speaker? Her terse clear voice smote almost sharply on his ear. Diana was, without doubt, a vigorous fighter—she intended now to fight for her sisters and for herself. She spoke softly, scarcely raising her voice, but her eyes were full of fire, her voice rang with delicate scorn, and when her speech was finished the whole room was in an uproar of applause.
The debate came to an end, and Diana came straight up to where Gray was standing.
“I am so glad you were able to come,” she said, “did I do it well? What do you think of it all?”
“You looked splendid,” said Gray, smiling into her eyes.
“Oh! what did my looks matter?” she gave him a glance half of impatience. “Did I say anything to help the Woman's Cause?
“You are an earnest and true woman yourself,” he answered. “I don't quite agree with you—but forgive me, I don't want to go into that subject to-night. I am selfish, I wish to talk to you about myself.”
“Well, come down and have some coffee. Ah! there is Mr. Raymond—I must speak to him; and I should like to introduce you. He is the man who opened the debate.”
“Here you are,” she continued, as Raymond approached her side. “Let me introduce my friend Mr. Gray. Of course you know each other by repute,” she added, her bright eyes sparkling; “one edits the Hyde Park Gazette, the other has written a book.”
“I am delighted to make your acquaintance,” said Raymond to Gray. “I have just read your book—'The Shadow of the Duke'—it is about the most original thing which has appeared in the market for a long time, carrying one back into the Middle Ages, and yet having a delicious touch of modernity about it.”
Gray murmured something in response—it was nice to hear his book praised, but he did not want to lose sight of Diana.
“Come down, both of you,” she said, “and let me give you coffee.”
“You have not forgotten, Miss Harrington, that you are coming to supper with my sister and me to-night,” said Raymond.
“I was going to ask you to excuse me” she replied; “I have a stupid headache.”
There was quite a crush on the stairs, and Raymond was forced to go on in front.
“I want to say something to you; do give me a chance to-night,” said Gray in Diana's ears.
Something in his tone caused her to look at him; her eyes were full of a soft, beautiful light; they fell beneath his; the colour rose higher on her cheek.
“I know a corner in the coffee-room where we can be alone,” she said in a semi-whisper. “Ah! here we are at the door; let us make straight for it.”
They threaded their way through the crowded room, and at last found themselves standing behind a little table which screened them from the rest of the crowd. Several men were present, and the women of the club were all eagerly entertaining their guests.
“What a babel of sound!” said Gray. “Do you really come here every night?”
“Yes, I delight in it. I never enjoyed myself so much as since I joined the Vanguard.”
“But some of those women! See how they dress!” Gray glanced as he spoke in the direction of a tall lady with short hair, the upper part of whose figure could not have been told from that of a man.
“Oh! the dress happens to be her little weakness,” said Diana. “I detest that sort of dress myself, but she fancies it. Why should she be abused for it? You don't know what a noble soul she is. Shall I tell you her history?”
“Not now; I have something to say to you myself.”
“Yes,” she said, looking full up into his face.
“Something to say about myself and about you,” he continued, speaking in a husky voice. “Diana, you hold all my future in your hands. I consider myself at this moment successful, but I shall be the greatest failure that ever lived, if you refuse the request I am going to make to you.”
She did not reply, her eyes sought the ground, her firm, pretty delicately cut lips trembled slightly.
“You know, you must know, what I feel for you,” he said. “I love you with all my heart. Will you be my wife, Diana? I can afford to marry now. Will you say 'yes'?”
“Yes, Matthew,” she replied, looking full up into his face and speaking with simple directness; then she blushed, and her lips faltered. “I am not to be one of the million women left outside the pale of happy wives,” she said in a broken voice. “I am very glad.”
“I knew you were a true woman, my darling,” said Matthew; “you have made me the happiest man in the world.”
Raymond came up at that moment.
“Won't you offer me some coffee?” he said to Diana.
She controlled her emotion in an instant, and turned a bright smiling face towards him.
“How rude I am!” she said. “Have a cup, won't you? I don't know if we can find seats. How full the room is!”
“I wish you would reconsider your decision,” said Raymond, coming nearer to her; “surely this hot air is bad for your head. My carriage will be round directly, and Esther will be so disappointed.”
“Oh! I'll come if you wish,” she answered; she felt too happy at this moment to refuse any request made of her.
Matthew stood near, but did not speak—his cup of bliss was perfectly full—he was now quite indifferent to anything Raymond might happen to say to Diana.
A few moments later Miss Harrington found herself driving to Hugh Raymond's flat in Winsley Gardens in his perfectly appointed brougham.
“I thought Esther was with you,” she said, as she stepped into the carriage.
“No; she went on first and begged of us to follow; some other friends are coming, and she had one or two things to see to. The fact is,” he added, as the carriage rolled smoothly along, “I asked her to go; I wanted to see you for a moment by yourself.”
“Yes,” said Diana, turning round and glancing at him.
“You must know what has been in my heart for a long time, Miss Harrington,” he continued, speaking almost nervously; “I have the highest respect for women. I prove it by earnestly desiring to make one woman my wife. I have loved you for a long time, will you——?”
“Oh! don't,” said Diana.
“Why do you say that? Why do you interrupt me?”
“Because you have said too much, and I ought not to listen to you. Marriage without love would be impossible to me. I don't love you. I never should have loved you. I respect you, and you are kind, but love I could never give you.”
“Are you sure?” he interrupted her, bending forward and speaking with eagerness.
“You must hear me out,” she said; “there is something further to say. Half an hour ago I engaged myself to another man.”
Raymond suddenly subsided into his seat. “You need not tell me his name,” he said. “I know him.”
“Do you? You can only know him slightly. I introduced you to each other tonight. I am proud to tell you that I am now the affianced wife of Matthew Gray.”
“This is the second time that man has done me an injury,” muttered Raymond, speaking half under his breath, but Diana heard him.
A MONTH later Diana was married. There was no reason why her wedding should be delayed. Matthew could afford to take a nice little flat in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park. He could afford to furnish it daintily and to bring his bride to as pretty a set of rooms as any modern girl could desire. Matthew himself was intensely modern in his writing, and, as far as superficial observers could tell, in his opinions, but as regarded women—and in especial—married women, he was strictly conservative. Diana was to find that out by-and-by; she had little idea of it when she promised to be his wife. She was naturally a very affectionate, true-hearted girl, and the life which now opened before her seemed full of attractions. She made a beautiful bride, and on their honeymoon no couple could be happier than the Grays. It was on the night of their return home that the little rift be came perceptible. They were standing in their pretty, bright drawing-room, and Gray had his arm round his wife's slim waist.
“Now you will be as happy as the day is long,” he said.
“I am sure of it,” she answered; “my life will be full—full to the brim.”
“Of course it will, dearest. To tell you the truth, Diana, I could never have married a wife without intellect. You will help me immensely with my books—I mean to make you my proof reader, you will also be my most valued critic. We can do proof reading when we are at home in the evenings—but, of course, we will also go out together, I have several friends I want you to get acquainted with.”
“Yes, dear,” she answered, moving rather restlessly as she spoke. “Oh! by the way, I found a letter from Esther Raymond waiting for me amongst others in my sweet little boudoir—she wants to know if I will open a debate at the Vanguard to-morrow evening—the subject is to be 'Brave Women and Fair Men'—it is just like Esther to take up that modern note. Why, what is the matter, Matthew?—you have got quite an unbecoming frown between your brows.”
Gray smoothed away the obnoxious expression.
“I was wondering if you would do something for me, darling,” he said, after a pause.
“Why, of course—how can you ask in that doubtful sort of voice? You know I would do anything in the world for you.”
“Perhaps, Di, you won't quite like to do this. I want you to withdraw from the Vanguard Club.”
Diana opened her dark eyes very wide.
“My dear Matthew,” she exclaimed; “what in the world do you mean?”
“What I say, my love,” he stooped as he spoke and poked the fire irritably; “the fact is, Diana, I hate women's clubs—they may be necessary for some women, but surely a young wife need not mix herself up with such a set.”
“Such a set,” echoed Diana; “my noblest and warmest and best friends belong to it.”
“Well, darling, you can ask them here—anyone you like will be abundantly welcome here—but why go to the club now?”
“Only that I am deeply interested in it, Mat; my heart is with those women and with their cause; you do not surely mean what you say—you don't lay this on me as a command?”
“Not I—I won't command you in anything—it is a wish of mine, but if it troubles you I won't say anything more about it. I will leave it to your own good sense, darling.”
“Now, that is quite horrid of you. I would fifty times rather you blew me up. The fact is, my dear old boy, I do not feel it possible to gratify your wishes in this particular.”
“Very well, Diana—don't let us spoil our very first evening at home by talking any more on the matter.”
“Of course not,” she answered brightly, and yet with an obstinate line round her lips. “Ah! there's our supper gong—how delicious to have supper all alone with you in our own house.”
Gray said something nice, but he said it with an effort—there was a slight restraint between the pair as they sat down to their first meal at home.
Matthew went out early the next morning to see his publishers, and Diana was alone in her pretty new home. Instead of unpacking her things and making herself generally active and useful, she sat by the fire and with a frown between her pretty brows, drew a letter out of her pocket. The letter was from her dressmaker, with a request that Mrs. Gray would send her a cheque for the enclosed amount, at her very earliest convenience. Diana glanced at the sum total with a slight shiver. She had been running up bills with her dressmaker for some time previous to her engagement—she had a bill also with her milliner. In short, this apparently immaculate young lady was in debt to the tune of very nearly two hundred pounds. She could scarcely tell even now how the debts had begun, but she knew very well how they had crept up and up until she was frightened at their proportions—she knew how they weighed upon her spirits and alarmed her even in her happiest moments. When she was first engaged to Matthew she firmly resolved not to marry until the debts were paid, but it was impossible to be a bride without a trousseau, and although Diana's trousseau was an essentially modest one, it considerably increased her bills. Her modest earnings, for she had supported herself by journalistic work for two or three years, were quite inadequate to meet these heavy demands, and, in short, she became a bride with a secret which she dared not unburden to her husband.
“I will never tell my husband,” she said, speaking half aloud as was her wont. “I vow and declare that I will earn the money myself. I won't let my dear Matthew pay these horrid bills for dresses and capes and gloves and bonnets which I wore out and hated before he proposed to me, for all the world. Yes, I must find some way of earning the money. What shall I do. In the whirl of my brief engagement I almost forgot those odious debts, but now something must be sent to Madame Lefroy. I will write her a little note and enclose—let me see, how much have I in my purse?” Diana opened her pretty little sealskin purse—it contained something over five pounds.
“I will send her five pounds—that will keep her quiet for a month or so,” she thought.
She went to her desk and wrote a few lines, and then, putting on her hat, went to the nearest post office to get postal orders for the amount. These were enclosed to Madame Lefroy, and the young bride heaved a sigh of relief.
“She will wait at least for a month now,” she thought to herself, “and by that time I shall be earning something. How I wish Mr. Raymond would give me a post on the Hyde Park Gazette; he half promised to once, but I daren't ask him favours now. Dear old Matthew—to think of a man like Hugh Raymond presuming to ask me to marry him—and yet he is rich and Matthew is not really-rich; he is just successful, and we shall get along very nicely, but I could not ask him to give me two hundred pounds and to ask me no questions why I wanted it, and I do not fancy I should greatly mind asking Hugh Raymond for that modest little sum if I happened to be his wife. Hugh has not a high ideal of women—but Matthew! he thinks I am a princess—a white angel, somebody immaculate without even the stain of a passing weakness. He shall never, never know that I was vain enough to go in debt for pretty clothes. Dear old fellow, how much I love him—who would have supposed, though, that he was so narrow-minded? Fancy his wanting me to give up the Vanguard! That I can never do. I must bring him round to my views—that will be noble work— how splendidly Matthew could help the cause of woman, if only he would throw his soul into the matter.”
Diana's mind was now considerably relieved, and she spent the rest of the day happily enough. Her husband came home to lunch, and brought her good news from his publishers. His novel was still the rage of the season: it was rapidly passing from one edition to another; a cheap edition was now in contemplation, and certain corrections for this were necessary.
“I must do it to-night, Di,” said Matthew, “for the public must have the edition by next week, so I am greatly afraid I shall not be able to take you to the play as I promised, dearest.”
“Oh, it doesn't matter, Mat,” she answered, “for you know this is the night of the debate at the Vanguard; and although, acceding to your wish, I am not going to take an active part in the proceedings, I shall of course like to be there.”
“But you cannot come back alone.”
“I have done so hundreds of times already—why should I mind it to-night?”
“I will call for you, Diana, when the debate is over,” said Gray, speaking with a certain stiffness. “I cannot prevent my wife going to her own club, but I insist on her not walking through the streets of London alone after dusk.”
“Oh, Mat, Mat, how you will spoil me!” she replied. She spoke lightly, but she was conscious of a little sense of irritation—her silken chains began to fret her.
When Mrs. Gray, looking radiant in one of her pretty bridal dresses, appeared amongst the members of the committee that night at the Vanguard Club, she was received with quite a little ovation.
“So glad you are back again,” one member after another whispered to her.
“How well you look, and how happy!” said others; but others, again, twitted her on her state of slavery, and asked her what she now thought about the matrimonial condition.
“The best and happiest in the world,” was her quick response; and then gently freeing herself from her tormentors, she went down into the body of the room and sat by her friend, Esther Raymond.
“I am so delighted to see you again, Di,” whispered Esther. “I quite hoped you would be here to-night; but, my dear, why did you not lead the debate?—we were all so anxious to hear you.”
“I was not prepared,” said Di, lightly. “I had such a jolly honeymoon that perhaps my weapons of repartee and sarcasm and argument have grown a little rusty.”
“Well, another time you shall do it. You certainly do look remarkably well. I told Hugh that you were likely to be here, and he said he would drop in.”
Esther looked markedly at Diana, who coloured faintly.
“He asked me to coax you to come back to supper,” continued Esther.
“Oh, I cannot do that,” replied Mrs. Gray, “my husband is coming for me.”
“Well, what of that? We shall be very pleased to see him also.”
“He is too busy, Esther; a cheap edition of 'The Shadow of the Duke' is coming out next week, and every moment of Matthew's time is occupied getting it through the press.”
“What it is to be famous!” said Esther; “I am sure I congratulate you; and certainly Mr. Gray is a very distinguished-looking man. I only hope he won't narrow your views, Diana; you must be very careful on that score.”
“Trust me,” answered Diana; “you know I am heart and soul in the cause.”
“What a pretty gown you are wearing,” said Esther; “where did you get it?”
“Madame Lefroy made it for me,” replied Mrs. Gray. Her brow fell as she spoke—she had forgotten that horrid nightmare of debt, but now it returned with overbearing force.
“By the way, Esther,” she said, “I am really glad your brother is coming, for I want to speak to him on a most particular subject.”
“Well, here he is; let us go to him before he is snapped up. Ah, he sees us.”
Hugh Raymond made his way across the room. A moment later his hand clasped Diana's with a slight lingering pressure, which in her heart of hearts she resented. The thought of her horrible debt, however, made her inclined to be friendly, and when Esther whispered to her tall brother that Mrs. Gray had something very special to say to him, she found herself the next moment walking by his side downstairs to coffee.
It seemed but yesterday that she had walked downstairs by Gray's side on the beautiful blissful night when he had asked her to be his wife. Now she was a wife, the wedding was over, the honeymoon was past, she was the happiest woman in the world; but why did her heart beat and her lips tremble as she looked up at Hugh Raymond's smooth, dark, somewhat sinister cast of face?
“You know I shall be only too pleased to do anything for you,” he said. “I am flattered at your wanting to confide in me—the fact of such a devoted young wife having confidences to make is in itself flattering—you may be quite sure that I shall not betray them.”
Diana found herself blushing uncomfortably.
“I want to ask you a great favour,” she said boldly. “You know that in my opinion both husband and wife should help to contribute to the common purse.”
“Come, that's rank heresy,” said Raymond. “I know for a fact those are not Gray's views.”
“That is just it,” said Diana; “dear old fellow, he is so chivalrous; but, Mr. Raymond, I want to earn money—I must earn money—and if—oh! if you could get me a post on the Hyde Park Gazette.”
“Now that is very strange,” said Raymond, “it was only this morning I was wondering who could take Miss Schofield's place on the woman's column.”
“Oh, is there a vacancy?” said Diana, eagerly. “If there is, and if——”
“If I give it to you will you be able to fill it ably?” asked Raymond, giving her a piercing glance.
“I think so—I believe so.”
“You have done good work, I know,” he said; for the moment he ceased to look at her with admiration and was the keen man of business. “The fact is, the Hyde Park Gazette likes to be a little bit scandalous, it rather builds its reputation on that; we like choice morsels and bits of out-of-the-way gossip—the woman's column has, in short, to get behind the scenes. I can afford to pay well for really valuable services. Here are two vacant seats, for a wonder; let us sit down and discuss the matter.”
The discussion was quickly over. When Gray arrived to fetch his wife home, she had accepted an engagement to write a weekly article for the Hyde Park Gazette, with a salary of two hundred pounds a year.
“You will tell your husband, of course?” said Raymond, as he parted from her.
“I—I don't know,” she answered, her eyes falling as she spoke.
“I only wanted to tell you that I will not mention it without your permission.”
“Thank you,” she said, but her heart was very low as she turned away.
HUGH RAYMOND was an unscrupulous and successful man. The Hyde Park Gazette was his own property—he had made it pay—it supplied a certain want, but by no means the highest want of human nature. His woman's column was a feature in itself—it required skilful manipulation, and although it was ostensibly the work of a woman, he always superintended it, and always supplied himself the most highly-seasoned pieces of gossip and scandal which it contained.
He was not a man of much affection, but he had fallen passionately in love with Diana Harrington. When she married Matthew Gray, his love for her underwent a subtle change, it turned into active hatred of the man who had supplanted him. Hatred in such a nature as his quickly thinks of revenge, and on the night when Raymond arranged with Mrs. Gray to supply the woman's column of his paper, he also thought out a very subtle mode of action, which would make the wife his instrument for putting the husband to open ridicule, and if possible spoiling his career.
Gray had not only supplanted Raymond with regard to his wife, but years ago, when a young man, had secured a good post on one of the great dailies, which, but for his sudden appearance on the scene, would have been given to Raymond. Gray was now a leader writer on this same journal, but this fact was known only to a few. His caustic and brilliant writing was much admired, but even Diana herself had not the faintest idea that her husband wrote the words which she read morning after morning with sparkling eyes, sometimes of indignation, sometimes of admiration at their undoubted power. It was Gray's pleasure to keep this secret of his journalistic work even from his wife—his novel writing apparently occupied all his time, and Diana never questioned him about mysterious absences which took place almost nightly. He blessed her for this, not caring to appear before the public in a double capacity, and glad for many reasons to keep his incognito. He said to himself that he was the lucky possessor of a wife who was not cursed with Eve's curiosity—he did not guess, however, the true reason for Diana's apparent want of interest in the long hours which he spent from home. She was equally busy on her own account. Not for worlds would she let her husband know what she did day by day at the Vanguard Club. It was there she collected those choice morsels which so delighted Raymond, and so tickled the fancy of his many readers. It was there she worked up her articles into sprightly and readable English. It was from the Vanguard Club that she posted them weekly to the office of the Hyde Park Gazette. As a rule, she never read them in print. Had she done so she would not have recognised these papers for her own. With her many faults, and she had plenty, Diana's real nature was sweet and whole—she could not put on paper the venomous things which appeared week by week in the Gazette—this was Raymond's own office, it was he who turned the witty and brilliant article each week into gall. The gall was none too bitter for his readers, however, and Diana suspected nothing. She received her salary, and had the pleasure of feeling that her debts were sensibly diminishing.
One day, about six months after Diana had undertaken the post of editor of the woman's column on the Hyde Park Gazette, Raymond sent her a note asking her to call early at his office. It came by special messenger, and Gray happened to be with his wife when she received it. She coloured crimson and then grew deadly white.
“Anything wrong?” he asked of her in some surprise.
“No,” she answered, “not exactly,” then she looked boldly into his face. Come, what would, she could not lie to him.
“This is a note from Mr. Raymond,” she said; “he begs of me to call at the Hyde Park Gazette this morning—you know I used to write paragraphs for his paper.”
“So I have heard,” answered Gray; “but if he wants you to begin anything of the kind again, Diana, you must say 'no.' I am earning more than enough for us both, and I do not choose you to do journalistic work.”
“Why so?” she asked timidly. “The fact is I am particularly fond of writing.”
“You may write a novel if you like, but paragraph writing is beneath you, and I cannot countenance it.”
“All right,” she said, after a pause; “but I think I will call, as Mr. Raymond has particularly requested me to do so.”
“Certainly,” answered Gray. “It is possible, Di, that I shall not be home until the small hours—if that is so, do not stay up for me.”
She murmured something which he could not quite catch, and a moment later left the room.
In half an hour's time, Diana was ushered into the sanctum of the editor of the Hyde Park Gazette.
“Welcome,” he said, when he saw her. “Now I want you to do something special for me. You have not begun your article for this week yet?”
“No; I generally collect my material on the first two days of the week and write my article in hot haste on Wednesday—it seems to come better so.”
“Your papers are excellent,” said Raymond, “you are a born journalist—you have caught the swing of the thing. This week, however, your woman's article must treat on a new topic. Have you observed these leaders in the Morning Gazette?”
“Oh! yes,” said Diana, we take the Morning Gazette—do you mean the second leader—it seems to me to be always from the same pen.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Raymond; “the fact is I happen to know the writer.”
“Do you? He must be a very clever man.”
“He is, but——” Raymond bent forward, lowered his voice and said something in a semi-whisper.
“Impossible!” said Diana, reddening and starting back.
“It is true; the man is a confounded hypocrite;. see the stand he takes; he is against all progress; he even quotes the highest sentiments. I know for a fact what I am telling you,” he lowered his voice again and whispered some further scandal. “Mrs. Gray,” he said suddenly, “we must show him up.”
“I hate hypocrites,” said Diana.
“I know you do—I have always observed your uncompromising attitude towards the faintest touch of deceit. Now I will give you materials. Our column this week will surprise some people, or I am vastly mistaken. Make these leaders, which are attracting a great amount of public attention, your main subject—your one subject. Here, and here, and here” (he placed some newspaper cuttings in her hand), “use these, bring them in delicately with a woman's wit; let me have your article by to-night.”
“You are sure of your statements, Mr. Raymond?” said Diana.
“Positive—but we must not implicate ourselves—we must only suggest. Oh! no one can do this better than you can. Now I think you quite understand.”
Diana rose—she went as far as the door. As she did so a sudden remembrance of Gray's splendid face and upright figure rose before her; she remembered the look in his eyes when he said that he did not want her to do journalistic work. What would he feel if he ever knew the weekly work in which she was engaged?
“After all,” she said, faltering; “I do not know that I much like this office—of course, if the man is what you say, it is only right to show him up, but why must I do it?—it is surely not my woman's mission.”
“It is if you love your sisters and would advance your cause,” said Raymond. “Such a case as I have just spoken of is enough to deaden all true woman's work in England. Hypocrites must be shown up if we are to achieve anything.”
“Still the work is not quite mine,” objected Diana.
“Very well, Mrs. Gray—perhaps you are tired of writing for the Gazette, if so——”
“Oh! no,” said Diana hastily—she could not afford to lose her weekly salary—those dreadful debts must be cleared off first. Afterwards—“Afterwards I will summon courage and tell Matthew the whole truth,” thought the unhappy girl.
She hurried off to the club, and went upstairs to the silence room—it was in this sanctum she generally wrote her papers. She carried in her portfolio that morning's copy of the Morning Gazette, she spread the cuttings from other newspapers before her and read them eagerly; soon her heart beat with anger. If this thing were true, if the man who dared to appear before the public using lofty words and trying to crush some of the most popular of the woman's movements was really what Raymond thought him?
“I will show him up,” thought Diana; “after all, my work is noble enough.”
She wrote with spirit—never in her whole life had she written better—each word told. Her writing was almost epigrammatic in its force and terseness, she insinuated without condemning; she laid bare what looked like a nasty scandal without apparently lifting more than the outermost edge of the curtain. She spent the greater part of the day over her work, and before she went home to dinner it was finished and posted to the office of the Hyde Park Gazette. Raymond received it by the first post the following morning. He read it with sardonic glee, and, having emphasised and strengthened the more delicate insinuations, having, in short, boldly lifted the curtain which Diana had partly uncovered, he sent the article—in all a trenchant and remarkable one—to press.
“That will do my business,” he said to himself. “Was ever revenge more delicately planned than mine?”
THE article caught on: it immediately excited public attention, and was quoted in the evening papers; the next day letters appeared about it, and the scandal grew and grew. On all hands people asked who was the man about whom these ugly things were whispered that he was a great journalist, everyone knew; others had heard that he also wrote novels. Most of the members of the Vanguard Club knew that Diana wrote for the Hyde Park Gazette—they questioned her eagerly with regard to the subject of her article. When she said she did not know the name of the man she had maligned, the other women looked at her as if they did not believe her. The real truth, however, for the first day or two, was known to no one at the club.
Amongst Diana's friends was a certain Mrs. Musgrave—a very fine-natured woman, who supported herself and her three children by journalism—she read the article in the Hyde Park Gazette, but shook her head over it.
“I do not like it,” she said, addressing one or two of her friends. “Mrs. Gray is too fine a woman, and has too noble a husband herself, to stoop to this sort of thing—she ought not to do it, and I wonder Mr. Gray allows her.”
“Oh, come; if a woman cannot do what she pleases, she ought not to belong to the Vanguard Club,” said the member who was addressed.
Mrs. Musgrave sighed.
“It was my delight to obey my noble husband when I had him,” she said; then she added, quickly suppressing herself, “but I wonder who this scandal is really about?”
She was soon to find out.
One morning, two or three days after the article had appeared, Gray came down to breakfast with a worried expression on his face.
“Is anything the matter?” Diana asked of him.
“Nothing, really,” he replied, “I am only bothered about a stupid thing which has got into the papers.”
“Into the papers?” said Diana, opening her eyes wide; “surely nothing against you, Matthew?”
“Yes, my love: a scandalous falsehood has been circulated about me—of course, it is the work of an enemy. I have just the ghost of a suspicion from what quarter it may arise, and intend to crush it in the bud. Don't you fret yourself about it, darling.”
“But no one could say evil of you, Matthew,” she answered.
“All men have their enemies,” he replied. “By the way, Di, it is just possible that I may have to go to Paris to-night.”
“What for?” she asked.
“Some business in connection with my work. If I go I will send you a telegram. Now, good-bye.”
He left her; she felt restless and uneasy, she could not tell why.
Late in the afternoon she went to the club. No telegram had yet been received from Matthew, and she hoped that he would not be obliged to go to Paris. Some ladies were sitting in the drawing-room, and Diana went there intending to take up a book and try to distract her thoughts. The moment she was seen, however, her friends surrounded her, and began to talk about her article in the Hyde Park Gazette.
“You are certainly on your way to fame,” said one girl.
“Mr. Raymond ought to double your salary,” said another.
“You will be asked to supply one of the great dailies after this,” said a third.
Diana scarcely listened to the congratulations which poured in upon her; an unaccountable misery kept assuming larger and larger proportions in her heart.
“But who can the scandal be about? what is the real name of the hypocrite?” said a bright-faced young girl who had only lately joined the Vanguard.
“I cannot tell you,” answered Diana. She buried her face in her book—she was sick of this eternal query.
By-and-by she found herself alone in the drawing room. Should she go home on the chance of Matthew returning earlier than usual? No. She was sick of being alone in her lonely flat—she would dine at the club.
Towards the end of dinner a lady sat down not far from her. She raised her eyes and saw her friend, Mrs. Musgrave.
“How do you do?” she said in her cordial voice.
“Oh! I did not see you, Mrs. Gray,” said Mrs. Musgrave. She gave her a very icy bow, and turning to her neighbour, began to talk to her.
“What can be the matter?” thought Diana; “have I done anything to offend her? How queer of her to be so stiff to me.”
She took the first opportunity to touch her neighbour on the arm, and asked her simply why her manner had changed.
In reply, that lady gave her a very direct and very earnest glance.
“Is it possible you do not know?” she said.
When she spoke, all the other women in the room put down their knives and forks and looked at Diana. She observed, for the first time, a hostile expression in all their eyes.
“But you must know, Mrs. Gray,” said Mrs. Musgrave; “it is impossible that you cannot.”
“I have not the least idea what you mean,” said Diana proudly. “I am conscious of having done nothing wrong; your manner to me implies that I am guilty of some fault.”
“One can scarcely speak of what you have done as a mere fault,” said Mrs. Musgrave—“it is,” she paused—“it is, in my opinion, a very great and very terrible crime. But stay,” she added, seeing that Diana had suddenly become ghastly white, “I see I must speak to you alone; come with me into the next room.”
Diana went with her, trembling as she did so.
The moment they found themselves alone, Mrs. Musgrave spoke.
“A few minutes ago,” she said, “I had made up my mind never to address a word to you again, but on consideration it is but fair to tell you of what we all accuse you.”
“You accuse me of something!” said Diana; “come, this is too much!”
“I am afraid it is no use your putting on these innocent airs, Mrs. Gray,” said the other lady; “we women will do much for our cause, but there are limits, and you have transgressed them.”
“What can you be talking about? Do speak out!”
“I allude to the article which has just appeared in the Hyde Park Gazette.”
“I am sick of that article—what about it?”
“We have at last found out the name of the man whom you have maligned.”
“And who is he?” said Diana; “I am sure I don't know.”
“Do you really mean to tell me that you deliberately wrote lies about a person whose name you did not even know?”
“They were not lies, Mrs. Musgrave—they were the truth. Hugh Raymond gave me particulars; he desired me to write; he gave me my subject. I did not ask the name.”
“I wonder if this is true,” said Mrs. Musgrave, in a thoughtful voice. “Hugh Raymond is capable of a good deal. I never trusted him.”
She looked steadily at the agitated woman beside her.
“Speak out, or you will drive me mad,” said Diana.
“You did wrong ever to put yourself into the power of a man like Mr. Raymond; you have done a very dreadful thing, and, innocent or guilty, your case is a terrible one. We have reason to believe that there is not a word of truth in the scandal which has got abroad with regard to the reputation of a good and brave man. You have put that scandal into words, Mrs. Gray, and those words have been printed and are now circulated over the length and breadth of England. The name of the man is——”
“Yes,” said Diana, “yes. The name, quick,” she panted.
“The man's name is Matthew Gray.”
Diana fell back as if someone had shot her.
She did not utter a single word, but she suddenly caught the rung of a chair which stood near to support herself—her face turned ghastly.
“Sit down, my dear. I am afraid I have given you a shock,” said Mrs. Musgrave; but her words never reached Diana's ears.
“After all, poor girl, she could not have known it,” thought the good woman to herself; “what is it you are saying, Mrs. Gray?”
“Will someone fetch a cab?” said Diana, in a faint voice..
“Yes, come downstairs with me and we will get one immediately. I will put you into it. After all, I believe you are innocent. What a scoundrel Hugh Raymond is; but he shall suffer for this!”
“I want a cab; I must go home at once,” said Diana vaguely—she was shaking all over now. Mrs. Musgrave put her arm round her waist and led her downstairs. A passing hansom was hailed, and a moment later the unhappy wife found herself driving back to Carlisle Street.
Would she be in time? She had a dim idea through the tumultuous beating in her heart that Matthew was going away. Would she be in time to see him before he went? She had something to say to him, she was not quite sure what it was—she had something horrible to confess, but she was not certain what the horrible thing consisted of.
The cab drew up at the flat in Carlisle Street. Diana sprang out, paid her fare, and ran upstairs. The servant who let her in told her that Gray had returned half-an-hour ago, had put some things hastily into a bag, had scribbled a note for her and gone away.
“Where is the note? Give me the note—quick,” said Mrs. Gray.
In wonder, the girl placed it in her mistress's hands. Diana opened it; it ran as follows: “I am leaving for Paris by the night mail—do not know when I shall return. Matthew Gray.” The note had no beginning. It was written in haste, of course, but why not a single word of affection?
“He knows,” thought Diana; “I have not told him, but he has found out. I must follow him; if I don't find him I shall go quite mad.”
“Can I do anything for you, ma'am? How bad you look!” said the maid.
“Yes, fetch me a cab,” said Diana, “I am going out.”
“Out again, ma'am? You do look bad.”
“Fetch me a cab, and don't talk,” said Mrs. Gray, stamping her foot with impatience, “I am going to Victoria. I want to see my husband—it is a quarter to eight, the mail for Paris does not leave until eight o'clock. I may be in time. What are you staring at me for, Alice? Fetch a cab immediately.”
The girl rushed away.
Diana pressed both her hands to her throbbing bewildered head. A few minutes later she was driving to Victoria; she had only ten minutes in which to catch the train. As she stepped into the hansom she promised the driver ten shillings if he got her to Victoria in time for the mail train to Paris.
The man whipped his horse to foam, and Diana lay back in the cab. She was over powered by a queer sense of bewilderment and uncertainty, hammers seemed to be beating on her brain; she clasped her hands tightly and made vehement efforts to remember what had really occurred. The one and only thought, however, on which her strained and overwrought brain could rest was the thought of Matthew; to be with him, at his feet—on her knees at his feet—that was all she needed now, all she could hope for.
A minute before the train started her hansom drew up at the Chatham and Dover terminus.
“Quick,” said Diana, putting her purse into a porter's hands, “get me a ticket for Paris, I must catch this train.”
He looked at her in bewilderment.
“Help me into the train, for God's sake!” she said, staring at him.
Her face showed him that there was something wrong the matter; or was this distracted-looking woman insane?—anyhow, it was his duty to help her. He pushed her into a first-class compartment where she found herself alone; and rushing off to the booking-office, got a ticket for her. He gave it to her, with her purse, as the train was steaming out of the station.
“In time, in time,” she murmured, “thank God, in time. Shall I get out at Herne Hill, and try to discover in what carriage Matthew is? No, I won't stir; I will wait until I meet him on board the boat. I am glad I am alone; I can collect my thoughts a little now. Oh! Matthew, Matthew! what have I done to you?”
She pressed her hands to her head; there was a dreadful buzzing noise in her ears, as if a swarm of bees had attacked her. The train dashed through different stations and the light hurt her eyes. She closed them involuntarily; she felt giddy; she could not help swaying from side to side.
“Oh, God! what is the matter with me?” she cried presently, in a voice of almost terror. “Where am I? why does my head feel so queer? where am I flying to? I know; I am flying away from my sin. I have sinned past forgiveness; and against whom? Against my own husband, against Matthew! Oh! I am frightened! I wish I was not alone in the carriage. I wish I could hold someone's hand. Mrs. Musgrave said some thing awful to me a short time ago; she said—I remember her words—'the man whom you have injured is your own husband, Matthew Gray.' Yes, something snapped in my brain then. My own husband, my own Matthew; the one I love, reverence, esteem. No. She could not have said that; I must be imagining it all! Where am I? In my dear little home. Yes, yes; I am at home: I am waiting for Matthew, he promised to come home early to-night; we arranged to go to the play together. No! Of course I am not at home, I am at the Vanguard, and I cannot get that article written. What is the subject to-night? Oh! I know: gossip, gossip, scandal, scandal; it is all odious, and I would not tell Matthew for all the wide world. What would he think of me? could he ever forgive me if he knew? He said—I must not write paragraphs—bless him!—what would lie think of the articles I do write? Oh! Hugh Raymond, how I hate you! why will you give me this nasty, this loathsome work to do—scandal, scandal? Rut the debts must be paid, and Matthew must not know; six months more and I shall be free. Where am I? I am not at the club, I am flying through space! Oh! I know now what has happened. Matthew Gray was the man—my husband, Matthew Gray—and it was a lie from beginning to end. But I wrote it—I, his own wife! Where am I? Oh! of course, I know now. Matthew and I are in the same train. How fast we are going; how queer my head feels. Why, surely no train ever bumped like this before—oh! I shall be shaken to pieces!—oh, this is fearful!—my back, my spine! What is the matter? Oh! that crashing roar! Oh! my God, my God!”
Diana's wild surging thoughts were drowned in oblivion—there was a sense of exquisite pain, of having the very life crushed out of her, and then all was darkness—the club train had swung off the lines, and the end of the carriage in which she had seated herself was completely wrecked.
Matthew Gray leapt out of the compartment in which he was hurrying to Dover, wholly unhurt. A porter came up to him.
“You are unhurt, are you, sir?”
“Yes, yes,” he answered; “are many injured?”
“Several passengers at the further end,” was the reply, “and one poor lady in a compartment all by herself. I fear she is killed—she is crushed under one of the seats. Perhaps you would help me, sir?”
Matthew hurried with the man down the line. All was awful hurry and confusion: the wounded and dead were being carried hastily into the best shelter that could be found, one or two doctors who happened to be in the train were bending over the sufferers. But no one, with the exception of this porter, had yet noticed the solitary passenger who lay like one dead in a compartment by herself.
It was thus Matthew Gray found his wife. Between them he and the porter soon released her, and carried the unconscious woman across the lines.
Restoratives were brought, and all that medical aid could do was immediately applied; and, two long hours afterwards, Diana opened her eyes to find those of her husband's looking into hers.
“Am I in another world? and do you know everything, Matthew?” she said in the faintest, the very faintest, of whispers.
“I know that you are alive, my darling,” he whispered in her ear.
She closed her eyes again, too faint to move—too faint even to think.
Both her legs were fearfully injured, and the doctor thought she could never walk again. Towards morning the violent pain which she was suffering brought back consciousness. She grew restless and feverish.
“I shall die,” she said to herself; “but I must tell him with my own lips before I die.
“Matthew,” she said in her feeble voice.
He bent over her.
“You must not speak, Diana,” he said.
“Yes,” she answered, fever now getting into her voice; “I must. I was following you to tell you.”
“I know what you would tell me,” he said in a gentle firm voice. “I heard the whole truth yesterday. I suspected the origin of the scandal, and I went straight to see Hugh Raymond. I forced the exact truth from him under pain of an action for libel; he confessed his whole diabolical plot; he dragged you into it in order to punish me more severely. My darling, you never meant to injure me; you did what you did in ignorance. I will ask you, when you are better, why you ever kept a secret from me, Diana.”
“Oh! I will tell you now,” she said. “I will tell you now.”
“No, you must not speak; rest assured that I forgive you completely. I was angry for a little, but my anger has passed. You must live for my sake.”
Matthew knelt by her and held her hand. She was too ill and exhausted to keep her eyes open, the lids dropped over the feverish eyes—she slept.
Diana did not die, but the marks of that fearful accident will remain with her to the day of her death, and the awful lesson of that hour will also abide with her. But Matthew Gray has quite forgiven his wife, and that, after all, is the main thing.