She could not spoil his work

When Sidney Ballinger was at Trinity, Dr. Atwood had a practice in
Cambridge. Mrs. Atwood was by way of being guide, philosopher, and
friend to a good many undergraduates, and in Sidney Ballinger’s case the
friendship had assumed proportions quite other than Platonic.

He was flattered and grateful, his feeling for her being a subtle
compound of inclination, gratified vanity, and a sort of pleased
surprise that he was such a devil of a fellow. For Sidney was not then
of much importance either in the world at large or in that smaller world
of University life. He was good in the schools and of no use whatever
in the athletic set. He did not speak at debates, nor act, nor perform
at any of the various Musical Societies; in fact, he was a hard-working,
rather simple-minded, inconspicuous young man until Mrs. Atwood got hold
of him and taught him to believe himself complex, unusual, and
misunderstood. She could not spoil his work, for he was shrewd enough in
some ways, but she did contrive to develop a great deal that was
artificial and petty in his character, whereas her feeling for him was
as nearly sincere as emotion ever is in a nature that continually poses,
as much to quicken its own spirit as to impress others.

They were both young and enthusiastic, but neither of them ever
contemplated any very vigorous flight in the faces of the conventional.
They saw each other constantly during term time, and often read
Swinburne together. In the vacations they wrote long letters, and
Sidney went about feeling very superior to the common herd of
undergraduates who merely fell in love with people’s unmarried sisters
during May week.

The Atwoods left Cambridge during Sidney’s fourth year there, which may
have accounted for his exceedingly good degree. After he was called to
the Bar he saw very little of Mrs. Atwood. As she put it, “they drifted
apart.” She did occasionally come to London, where they would meet, and
he listened sympathetically to her complaints as to the “hebetude” of
the inhabitants of Carlisle, but their letters were brief and few; in
fact, the whole affair would have died a natural death but for his
sudden and unexpected inheritance of his uncle’s property. In his case
all feeling for Mrs. Atwood, except a mildly reminiscent sort of
affectation, was dead, and being sincerely desirous of doing his duty in
the new station of life to which he had been called, he laid aside many
youthful follies and affections; in fact, he set himself seriously to
become the ideal landed proprietor.

On Mrs. Atwood, Sidney’s sudden accession to a considerable fortune had
quite another effect. Vistas of a hitherto undreamt-of possibility
stretched before her; she beheld in imagination the world well lost and
herself and Sidney fleeing to sunnier climes in a yacht she would help
him to choose. She was a good sailor. He was not, but this she did not
know.

Everything would arrange itself. Her “unloving, unloved” husband would
doubtless soon get over it and she– But it is fruitless to pursue Mrs.
Atwood’s reflections. She wrote many letters to Sidney. To some he
replied with matter-of-fact civility, but he left a great many
unanswered, especially of late.

Time had precisely opposite effects upon their respective temperaments.
The flame of Mrs. Atwood’s desire for Sidney burned stronger and
fiercer; while in him there remained but a few grey ashes upon the altar
of his love. Naturally tidy, he objected even to these frail reminders
of the past, and did his best to sweep them away. Then he met Lallie
and fell honestly and hopelessly in love. Mrs. Atwood’s very existence
became a rather annoying trifle–a pin-prick that only occasionally
smarted.

When Mrs. Atwood met the Chesters she was beginning to feel desperate.
Her last three letters to Sidney were unanswered. When she happened to
hear Mrs. Chester say he was to be their guest so shortly, she felt that
the hand of destiny was outstretched on her behalf. She promptly set to
work to extract an invitation from Mr. Chester, and having succeeded,
felt that all would happen as she had pictured. She was convinced that
they only needed to meet once more when their relations would be as they
had been in the past–only more so.

“Take ship, for happiness is somewhere to be had,” she quoted to
herself. She was sure that her happiness lay at Pinnels End, and
embarked upon her enterprise with a high heart.

By Saturday evening, the night of the Primrose meeting, the situation
was somewhat as follows: Mrs. Atwood, still striving vainly to secure a
few minutes alone with Sidney Ballinger; he, moving heaven and earth to
draw Lallie away from all the others, without success; Lallie, quite
aware of the tactics of both Ballinger and Mrs. Atwood and mischievously
delighting in the checkmate of each in turn. She infuriated Mrs. Atwood
by her extreme graciousness to Ballinger in public, and drove him to
desperation by her desire for Billy Chester’s society whenever he hoped
to get her to himself.

Mrs. Chester was furious with Mrs. Atwood. She invaded her husband’s
dressing-room just before dinner to voice her indignation.

“I have no patience with the woman,” she exclaimed; “she’s a regular
spoil-sport. Any one with half an eye or an ounce of sympathy can see
how the land lies between Lallie and young Ballinger, and yet she never
leaves them alone for an instant. She seems to me to follow them about
on purpose.”

“I think you’re a bit hard on her. She must go about with some one, you
couldn’t expect her to stop in her room; and after all, how can she
divine that Lallie and Ballinger are in love? They’re too well-bred to
show it if they are, and you have only your supposition to go on. I
think she has taken rather a fancy to Lallie, like the rest of us.”

“Fancy!” Mrs. Chester repeated scornfully. “If there is one person in
this house that Mrs. Atwood cordially dislikes, it’s Lallie. Mark my
words, she means mischief, though how or why I can’t tell; but I am
convinced that she got you to ask her here simply that she might meet
Sidney Ballinger–and I wish I’d never seen her.”

The Pinnels party went in an omnibus to the Primrose meeting in Fareham.
Ballinger secured a seat next Lallie, and under cover of the general
conversation demanded:

“Why will you never give me a minute alone? Why do you seem to avoid me
so?”

“Why, I’m with you all day long, it seems to me; and as I’ve nothing to
say to you that mightn’t be shouted from the housetops, why should
solitude be necessary?”

“I have a great deal to say to you that couldn’t possibly be shouted.
Will you come for a walk to-morrow afternoon? I’m sure you don’t sleep
all Sunday afternoon. Will you promise? And without that chap,
Chester, mind–just you and me.”

“What about your friend Mrs. Atwood? She may be fond of walking.”

“Confound her! Will you promise?”

“I can’t promise, but I’ll try; there! Only you must be amusing and
agreeable.”




“I’m only too afraid of being amusing. You generally seem to find me
that. I should like you to take me very seriously indeed–I beg your
pardon, Mrs. Atwood, what did you say?”

The Primrose meeting was well attended. A noble earl, chief landowner in
the neighbourhood, made a speech which mainly consisted of “hems” and
“ers” interspersed with platitudes about Empire and Tariff Reform. The
Unionist candidate spoke wittily and well, and certain local magnates
said the things local magnates usually do say. Then came the lighter
part of the evening’s business–songs and recitations. Lallie sang her
topical ditty with immense _flair_. She looked so small, and slim, and
young in her really beautiful French frock, with pearls in her hair and
round her slender throat, that the hearts of the audience went out to
her before she opened her mouth. But when she did begin to sing, when
the big rich voice rolled out the ridiculous words with the marvellously
clear articulation that was one great charm in Lallie’s singing, she
made every point with an archness that was delicious, that seemed to
take each member of the audience into her confidence, while that
confidence implied entire trust in their general shrewdness and
clear-sightedness.

At the triumphant conclusion the whole house rose at her and demanded an
encore with such noise and persistency that there was nothing for it but
to indulge them.

The organist of Fareham Church presided at the piano as accompanist, and
they saw him seemingly protest or expostulate at the song she gave him,
but Lallie was evidently peremptory, and it was to be that or nothing.
When she came forward to the front of the platform there was a sudden
silence as, without any prelude, very softly, every note clear and
poignantly sad, there fell upon the astonished ears of that comfortable
English company:

“Oh, Paddy, dear, and did you hear the news that’s
going round?”

Not one word could be missed or misunderstood.

“I met with Napper Tandy, and he tuk me by the hand,
And, says he, ’How’s poor old Ireland, and how does
she stand?’”

How, indeed? A little uncomfortable doubt as to their dealings with
that most distressful country assailed even the most cock-sure
politician in that audience.

“Oh, the wearing of the green,” sang Lallie, her heart in her voice.
The monotonous, melancholy tone, charged full in every measured cadence
with the sorrow of a people, held the good Fareham folk against their
wills.

The clever Conservative candidate sat forward in his chair on the
platform, his elbow on his knee, his hand shading his keen eyes as he
stared fixedly at the little figure who worked this strange miracle.

It was over.

Fareham took a long breath and ventured upon subdued applause. For a
moment there was a perceptible and uncomfortable pause. Then Billy
Chester leapt to his feet and saved the situation.

“He was glad,” he said, “that the lady who had just been delighting them
with her great gift of song had reminded them of Ireland and her wrongs.
One thing above all others was needed to right those wrongs; to set
Ireland in her place among the kingdoms of the Empire; to give her
prosperity, self-respect, and peace within her own borders. This remedy
they had in their hands if they would only use it–the institution of a
judicious system of Tariff Reform. For no part of the Empire would it
do so much as for Ireland.” Billy showed how it could be brought about.
He quoted statistics by the yard, he made jokes, he put Fareham on good
terms with itself again, and the meeting broke up with a special vote of
thanks to Miss Clonmell for her delightful music.

“Lallie, you horrid little Fenian, what on earth possessed you to sing
that song to-night of all nights?” Mrs. Chester demanded as they drove
home.

“It seemed to me,” Lallie replied grimly, “that there was an intolerable
deal of sack to very little bread throughout the proceedings. So I
thought I’d give them a little bread–black bread and bitter, but
wholesome.”

“But for Billy it might have been very awkward indeed,” Mrs. Chester
continued.

“Perhaps,” Mrs. Atwood suggested, “that natural instinct of the artist
to make a sensation at all costs was too strong for Miss Clonmell. She
certainly attained her object. The faces of the people were an
interesting study.”

No one spoke for a moment, but Mrs. Chester, who was sitting next
Lallie, suddenly felt for the girl’s hand under the rug and gave it an
affectionate squeeze.

“You’re a sad pickle,” she whispered, “you always were.”

“I must speak up for my country when I get the chance,” Lallie said
aloud. “It isn’t often I find myself upon a political platform, but I
really believe I could sway the multitude better than most of them. If
only I’d danced an Irish jig, I believe I could have got the whole of
them to vote for Home Rule.”