THE EXPLANATION

After the medley of emotions awakened by her meeting with her husband,
no solid foundation remained to Medora’s mind. Indeed, everything solid
seemed to crumble before the apparition of Ned so close; before all the
little familiar marks of him, his mannerisms, his vibrant voice, his
virility, the flushing colour on his cheeks, the masculine sound and
sight of him. Against that vision, which haunted her pillow at Priory
Farm, arose the spectacle of Kellock—the difference between a stout,
shadow-casting man and one himself a shadow. Kellock was a great hero
still (she clave to that), but none the less he had become something
spectral for her. Ned she knew—her recent meeting reminded her how
well; but Kellock she did not know, and from that long night of thought
there emerged one steadfast emotion: she began to cease to want to
know. Perception of this startling indifference frightened Medora. It
was half-past four o’clock in the morning, and an early thrush already
sang when she made this discovery. She shivered at such a sentiment,
set it down to hunger, and so arose and descended to the larder. She
ate and slept, and in the morning told her mother of the talk with
Dingle.

They walked together to Dene, and before Lydia went to the rag house,
she had heard disquieting things. It was not the facts that concerned
her, for they were to the good. That Ned wished to see Kellock and
had determined not to claim damages, comforted Mrs. Trivett, for that
argued an intention on Ned’s part to be done with the matter, and
take such steps as should enable her daughter to marry at the earliest
opportunity permitted by law; but it was Medora’s attitude to Dingle
that surprised her, and as she reached the Mill, she voiced her
astonishment.

“You’ll keep me ’mazed to my dying day, I reckon,” she said. “My own
daughter, and yet never, never do you do, or say, or look at things how
I should expect.”

“What’s the matter now then?”

“It’s right you should feel obliged to your late husband—I’m not
wondering at that. But now—just because you talked to him, and he
behaved like the man he is, and spoke sense and didn’t break your neck,
as some men might—just because of that, you seem to have turned round
and—and—well, to hear you this morning one would think you and Ned—”

Medora quite understood.

“Funny you should say that. I know just what you mean. It came over me
in the night. I got looking back a lot, and I couldn’t help feeling,
when he stood there talking to me in the old way—I couldn’t help
feeling that he’d got his side after all. I dare say I didn’t quite
understand his point of view, or how I looked from it. You’ve got to
be fair, mother. It was as if all that fearful time, when we drifted
apart, had been ruled out for the minute, and we were back at the
starting place. I took all he said in a very proper and patient spirit;
and if you ask him, he’ll tell you I did. And he didn’t mince words
either. And I very much wish for you to see him as soon as you can, and
tell him that I greatly value his advice, and that my eyes were opened
for the first time to my fatal conduct. And, being a fair woman, I’ve
got to admit that I used him badly, along of some weakness in myself
I never knew was there; and I think he was more kind about it than I
deserved. Please see he hears that.”

“And what price, Jordan?” asked Mrs. Trivett.

“This has nothing to do with Jordan. I’m going to see him now and
explain that he must visit Ned at once; and I hope he’ll feel properly
grateful to Ned for his goodness to me. He ought.”

Lydia’s head swam.

“Don’t you see, mother, that Ned is—?”

“I don’t see nothing,” answered Mrs. Trivett. “This is all beyond me.
You’re right to be obliged to him—well you may be; but, for God’s
sake, don’t go blowing Ned’s trumpet to your future husband, else—”

“I’m not going to be narrow-minded about Ned,” answered Medora calmly.
“You can leave it to me. I shall certainly tell Jordan the way I was
treated.”

As a matter of fact, Medora had quite forgotten the way she had been
treated. For reasons far beyond her power to explain—since it was her
quality to avoid directness at any cost—she ignored and put out of her
mind the very harsh things Mr. Dingle had said. She banished them, and
chose rather to dwell on what she regarded as the spirit and general
essence created by their meeting. Detail might be dismissed, and it was
very characteristic of Medora that when, presently, she met Jordan in
the dinner hour, and took him up the valley, and rested her eyes on the
spot beside the lake where she had listened to Mr. Dingle, she created
a suggestion of that interview for the benefit of Kellock amazingly
unlike the real thing.

The vatman ate his bread and cheese as he walked beside her and saw her
on the way homeward to her own meal.

“When are you coming back?” he asked. “I’ve got the lecture dead right
now, and I’d like to run it over once more. I’ve learned the typewriter
myself too, and can give you a start and a beating at it.”

“It’s wonderful to me how you can fasten on a thing like that, while
all my future hangs in the balance,” she said. “I’ve got a bit of
startling news, Jordan. I ran on top of Mr. Dingle yesterday. I was
just picking a bunch of flowers and wondering when something would
happen when—there he was.”

“D’you mean he stopped you?”

“He did. I was shrinking past the man; but that wouldn’t do. He spoke,
and I couldn’t believe my ears, for I’d got to think he was my black
angel, naturally enough. But instead of anything like that, he let the
dead past bury the past in a very gentlemanly manner.”

“Did he?”

“Yes, and I stood in a dream to hear his familiar voice, just friendly
and kind.”

“‘Friendly and kind!’” exclaimed Kellock. “When was he ever friendly
and kind to you?”

“Before—before we fell out. It was like going back to the old, old
days, before he turned on me and drove me to you.”

“He’s learned his lesson then. That’s to the good. But what had he to
say to you? It’s for us to talk to him now. And it’s for him to act,
not to talk.”

“He knows all that. Anything like the reasonableness of the man you
never heard. I couldn’t believe my ears. He’s not going to do anything
wrong—far from it. He wants to see you on Monday evening at half-past
eight, please.”

“Does he?”

“Yes. He’s turned it all over in his mind, and seen his mistakes and
regrets the sad past.”

“How do you know he does?”

“He said so, and, with all his faults, he’s quite as truthful as you
are, Jordan. And to show it, he’s not going to do anything about
damages. He feels that wouldn’t be right. He’s a very just man. He
didn’t only say things I was glad to hear either. He told me some
bitter truths. He said that I’d never be the right wife for you,
Jordan.”

“And you let him?”

“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t going to hear that, of course. But he’s got
a brain—more than we thought—and he said that to a man of your
disposition—but if I’m going to vex you, I’ll leave that alone. Only
don’t think he spoke unkindly. And when you consider what it meant to
him my leaving him—”

“What did he say about my disposition?” interrupted Kellock. “I’ve a
right to know that before I see him, Medora.”

“He said that you’ve got a mind far above women—that a wife to you
would be less than what a wife is to an ordinary man. Because you’re
all intellect and great thoughts for the welfare of everybody, so that
the welfare of one, even your own wife, would be a small thing by
comparison.”

“How little he knows!”

“So I told him.”

She proceeded and surprised Kellock further.

“D’you mean,” he asked presently, “that he could stop you in the open
road and talk like this and say all these wise things, as if he was
your brother? It’s contrary to nature, and I don’t understand it.”

“More did I,” she answered. “I felt in a dream about it. He might have
been a brother. That’s the very word. And last night, as I lay and
thought, it came into my head in a very curious way that between you
and him as things are, I’ve got two brothers and no husband at all. And
God knows, Jordan, if it wouldn’t be better to leave it at that, and
let me go free. For if I could win the respect of two such men as you
and him by stopping as I am and being wife of neither, it might turn
out a lot better for all three of us.”

He stared in deep amazement. He flung away the remains of his meal and
stood still with his mouth open.

“Are all women like you?” he said. “Upon my soul, I wonder
sometimes—but this—it’s all so unlike what goes on in a man’s
mind—where are we? Where are we? You always seem to leave me
guessing.”

“I don’t suppose I can make you see, dear Jordan. I’ve had hours and
hours to think about it. You come to it fresh. Of course, it sounds
strange to you for the minute. You must allow for the surprise. I’m
only a woman, and, what with one thing and another, I’ve been that
driven and harried lately that my mind is all in a whirl. It’ll come
right no doubt. He’s not going to claim damages. That’s one certainty,
and that ought to comfort you. And I think when you see him, at his
orders—”

“‘His orders’?”

“Well, my dear man, do be reasonable. You jump down my throat so! It’s
no good questioning every word I say. It makes me despair. I haven’t
got your flow of language, and if I can’t pick my words, you needn’t
quarrel about them.”

“I’m not picking a quarrel, Medora; I’m only saying there’s no question
of his orders. I’ll see him certainly.”

“And thank him, I should hope. I dare say he’d have had a lot of money
out of you.”

“As to thanking him—however, it’s no good arguing. Leave that for the
present. You can trust me to take the right line with Mr. Dingle. When
are you coming back? They’re going to meet me about the house if I can
take it for three years.”

“Three years is a long time, Jordan. You might want to go to London
before that. I dare say your lecture will get you into notice.”

His eye brightened. Here at last was solid ground.

“You’ll be back at the inn before then. There’s a pretty good lot
coming. I rather want to rehearse it to you and a man or two from the
Mill one evening.”

“I’ll come back, of course, the minute I can; but—I want to tell you,
Jordan, I’m not coming to the lecture. I’ve got my reasons.”

Again he was left without foothold.

“Not coming to my lecture, Medora?”

“No. You always said we must help and not hinder each other, and that
marriage is a co-operation, or nothing. And I’m sure it’s better, where
we don’t think alike, to respect each other’s opinions and go our own
way.”

“What d’you mean? You’ve said you see eye to eye with me in everything.
You’ve never questioned the substance of the lecture.”

“It wasn’t for me to question it. But I don’t agree with a lot of it.”

“Since when?”

“Since first I heard it. I wasn’t brought up to feel everybody’s equal,
and I don’t believe they are.”

“I don’t say they are. What I say is—”

“I know what you say, Jordan. It’s no good arguing. You’d hate me if I
was false and pretended anything.”

“Where do you disagree then?”

“Oh, I don’t believe in fighting and taking their money from people.
I want peace. If you could see what my life is in this storm of doubt
and uncertainty, if you could sympathise with a woman in my position
who has given up so much, then you’d surely understand that I’ve got no
heart for all these theories and ideas at present.”

“You’re getting away from the point,” he said. “I can’t argue with
you because you won’t stick to the subject. I do sympathise—all the
time—every minute; but my lecture doesn’t belong to our private
affairs. It doesn’t alter them, or delay them. I’m going on with that
as quick as Dingle will let me. But I want you to come to the lecture.
I ask it, and I expect it.”

“You haven’t any right to do that. I don’t ask you to come to church,
so you oughtn’t to ask me to come to your lecture. We must be
ourselves, and where we don’t agree, we mustn’t be afraid to say so.”

“This is their work at the farm,” he declared. “Your uncle’s a
benighted, ignorant man, and my ideas terrify him, and so he’s tried to
influence you. And I’m sorry to find he has succeeded.”

“Not at all. Uncle Tom would influence nobody; and if you think he’d
influence me, that shows you don’t respect me as you ought, or give me
credit for my brains—though you’ve praised them often enough.”

“I give you credit for everything. You’re half my life, and the best
half, I should hope. And I trust you to change your mind about this,
Medora. It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I think
if you turn it over, you’ll see you ought to be there.”

“I thought I was the biggest thing that had ever happened to you.
However—”

“Leave it—don’t decide yet. I’m proud. I wouldn’t have you come,
of course, if it’s not going to interest you. Whether you agree, or
whether you don’t, I should have thought my first public appearance
would mean a lot to you—me being what I am to you.”

“It does mean a lot—so much that I’d be so cruel nervous that—”

“But you said the reason—”

“Oh dear,” she said, “if you knew how you’re making my head ache,
Jordan. Leave it alone, for God’s sake. I’ll come, of course, if you’re
going to make it a personal thing.”

“Not if you don’t feel it a personal thing. Come back to me soon, and
we’ll have a good long talk about it. There mustn’t be any difference
between us. We’re too much to each other for anything like that. And
don’t see Mr. Dingle again, please, Medora, till I have.”

“I’m not likely to see him again.”

They had walked round to the top of the “Corkscrew” by this time, and
now the bell sounded below that told the dinner hour was ended.

“I must be gone,” he said. “Fix your day for coming back, Medora, and
Mrs. Trivett will tell me to-morrow. The sooner the better.”

“I want to come as quickly as they’ll let me,” she answered.

Doubt and care were in the young man’s eyes. A rare emotion touched
him, and there was something yearning in his voice as he stood and held
her hands.

“Don’t let any shadow rise between us,” he begged.

“Of course not; why should it?”

He put his arms round her, and to her surprise kissed her.

“Good-bye—take care of yourself and come back quickly. I won’t bother
you about the lecture any more,” he promised.

Then he ran down the hill, and Medora watched him go. She was
regretting the kiss. When she had hungered for kisses, they did not
come. Such a thing now was insipid—fruit over-ripe, doubtful as a
delicacy past its season. She believed that she had frightened him into
this display of emotion. His promise not to trouble her again about the
lecture was also a sign of weakness. She thawed, and felt almost sorry
for him. Jordan was growing fainter, it seemed to her. His outlines
began to blur even after a few days’ absence from him. An overpowering
desire to see Ned again oppressed her.

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