AFTER THE FIRE

Before daybreak next morning John Hatfield had taken Count Litvinoff’s
advice, and he and several others who had borne an active part in the
night’s work had shaken the dust of Thornsett off their feet and taken
their departure in various directions. Had they not been quite so
precipitate their leave-taking might have been more dignified and less
secret, for Litvinoff’s confidence in his own powers of diplomacy had
been more than justified. When, somewhat to his chagrin, his eloquence
failed to reconcile Roland Ferrier to the idea of taking no legal steps
to punish the intending incendiaries–for, in spite of the way in
which the Count had watered the story down, Roland had managed to get
a pretty accurate idea of the truth–he made a hasty journey over to
Aspinshaw. He found Miss Stanley in a state of great excitement about
the events of the night before, of which she had heard a very much
embroidered and highly-coloured version.
‘Oh, Count Litvinoff,’ she said, coming forward to meet him, ‘I am
so glad you have come. I have just sent two of the servants down to
Thornsett to find out who was hurt. Mr Clarke, of Thorpe, has just been
here, and told us that you saved so many lives last night.’
‘Saved so many lives last night!’ repeated Litvinoff. ‘They must have
been the lives of rats and mice, then.’ And he gave her a plain and
unvarnished account of the whole story, from the interview of the
deputation with Roland to his own visit to the man he had cut down. He
had the very rare faculty of telling the exact truth in a particularly
exciting way–any adventure in which he had been personally engaged he
always told from some point of view not his own–so that the hearer
saw him playing his part in the scene rather than heard the chief
adventurer recounting his adventures.
As he skilfully put before her the picture of the one man facing the
infuriated crowd, he could see her eyes sparkle with sympathy, and
could read interest and admiration in her face.
‘And so you were not hurt, after all?’ she said. ‘I am so glad. But
what of the men? Will they be punished? They’ve got themselves into
trouble, I’m afraid, poor fellows.’
‘Ah!’ he answered, meeting her questioning glance with an earnest
expression on his serious face. ‘It was about them I came to speak
to you. Our friend Ferrier is determined, not unnaturally perhaps,
to resent and to punish last night’s madness. I’ve done my utmost
to reason him out of his resolve to be avenged on these poor fools,
but he’s not in a humour to listen to reason. It will need something
stronger than that to induce him to let the men escape the natural
consequences of their folly.’
‘Oh, but Hatfield–surely he’d not punish him?’
‘Well, I advised Hatfield to make himself scarce, and I hope he’s done
it. It’s more on behalf of the other men that I’m here.’
‘Why, what can I do in the matter?’
‘Your word will have great weight with young Ferrier. I want you to go
to him and ask him to let the affair rest just where it is,’ he said
bluntly.
Clare coloured painfully. ‘I go to Mr Ferrier?’ she repeated. ‘Count
Litvinoff, you must know that that is quite impossible.’
‘I know that it is difficult, Miss Stanley, but I also know that it is
not impossible.’
‘It is out of the question for me–you ought to know,’ she hesitated,
‘to ask a favour of _him_.’
‘It would be an unpleasant thing for you to do, and two months ago I
would rather have cut my tongue out than have asked you. But I know
now–I have had it from your own lips–that you are a convert to our
great faith.’
She made a movement as though she would have spoken, but he went on
hurriedly:
‘You may remember that what impressed you most in my fellow-countryman
Petrovitch’s address was the self-abnegation which ran all through it.
My countryman was right. Self-abnegation is the note of the Revolution!
On the first day of this new year you honoured me by asking me what
good you could do. I tell you now. You can save many of these men from
prison, and their wives from harder fare than the prison’s, by humbling
your pride and asking what will not be refused. Forgive me if I speak
plainly, but it is not for my own sake I would ask you to do anything
now. It is for these men, and for the sake of the cause.’
There were a few moments of painful silence. Miss Stanley frowned
at the hearthrug, and Count Litvinoff sat looking at her with the
expression of one who has asked a question to which he knows there can
be but one answer. The answer came.
‘Very well,’ she said, ‘I will do what you wish, for the sake of these
men,’ she added, becoming unnecessarily explanatory.
‘I knew you would,’ he said.
‘But,’ she went on hurriedly, ‘there is one other thing I can do. I can
help to make this time a little less hard to them. Will you–‘
He interrupted her.
‘No, no, no; my part is played. Miss Stanley must deal with that other
matter by herself.’
Two hours later Clare Stanley called at Thornsett Edge, and, after a
brief conversation with Roland, passed on to the village, having done
the work she had set herself to do. It was, perhaps, the most painful
act of her whole life. But she had performed it successfully, and so it
came about that none of the men were punished, and that poor Isaac, who
was a pensioner on Miss Stanley for a good many months, was the only
one to suffer from that wild night’s work.
Clare felt a sense of elation when the disagreeable task was over. She
seemed herself to be making progress; and, though that day’s enterprise
had been suggested by Litvinoff, she knew that it would never have been
undertaken if she had not been present when the Cleon met to discuss
Socialism.

She had now an opportunity of using a little of her newly-acquired
wealth, and she availed herself of it. More than one family in the
village owed its salvation to her timely help, and when a week
later she left for London she left behind her a sum of money in the
hands of Mr Gates, to be used for the ex-mill hands–and a very
grateful remembrance of her pretty, gracious, kindly ways, and of her
substantial favours, too, in the hearts of these same hands and their
families.
So Mrs Stanley went to Yorkshire, and Clare to London, and Aspinshaw
was left desolate. Thornsett Edge was advertised as ‘To let,’ and
Roland and his aunt took up quiet housekeeping in Chelsea. Litvinoff,
by way of practising the economy which was growing more and more
necessary every day, took rooms in Maida Vale. The mill hands dispersed
far and wide, and the mill, the heart of Thornsett, having ceased to
beat, the whole place seemed to be dead, and, presently, to decay. No
one would live in the village. It was too far from any other work, and
the place took upon itself a haunted, ghostly air–as if forms in white
might be expected to walk its deserted streets at midnight, or to show
themselves through the broken, cobwebby panes of the windows which used
to be so trim and bright and clean. It was a ghastly change for the
houses that, poor as they were, had been, after all, _homes_ to so many
people for so many years.
* * * * *
When Alice Hatfield thought of her old home, she never thought of it
but as she had last seen it–neat and cheerful with the plants in pots
on the long window-ledge, and all the familiar furniture and household
effects in their old places. It was pain to think of it even like that.
It would have been agony to her could she have seen it naked and bare,
with its well-known rooms cold and empty, its hearths grey and fireless.
And she thought of her home a good deal during the weeks when she lay
ill in Mrs Toomey’s upper room; for the illness that had come upon her
on that Sunday when Mr Toomey had had tea with Petrovitch had been a
longer and more serious affair than any one had fancied it would be.
When she had first known that another life was bound up in her own,
the knowledge had been almost maddening; now, the terror, the misery,
and the fatigue which she had undergone when first she knew it, had
themselves put an end to what had caused them, and Alice was free from
the fear of the responsibility which had seemed so terrible to her. But
she was not glad. She was amazed at the contradiction in her own heart,
but as she lay thinking of all the past–of what she thought was her
own wrong-doing, and of the home she had left–it seemed to her that
what was lost to her was the only thing that could have reconciled her
to her life, with all its bitter memories. If only Litvinoff’s child
had lain on her arm–if she could have lived in the hope of seeing it
smile into her eyes–it seemed to her that she would not have wanted to
die so much. And with this inexplicable weakness Mrs Toomey, strange to
say, seemed to sympathise.
‘There’s no understanding women,’ as Toomey was wont to remark.
All the expenses of Alice’s illness were borne by Petrovitch, who bade
Mrs Toomey spare no expense in making ‘Mrs Litvinoff’ as comfortable
as might be. When at last Alice began to grow better he came to see
her very often, brought her books and flowers, and was as tenderly
thoughtful of her, as anxious to gratify her every possible wish, as a
brother could have been.
‘You are too good to me,’ she said one day, looking at him with wet
eyes as he stood by her sofa and put into her hand some delicate
snowdrops. ‘I do not deserve to have people so kind to me. Why is it?’
‘I told you,’ he answered gravely. ‘I was once your husband’s dearest
friend, and I have a right to do all for you that I can. How did you
like the book I sent you?’
Alice used to look forward to his coming. He always cheered her. He
never spoke of her or of himself, but always of some matter impersonal
and interesting. The books he lent her were the books that lead to
talking; and as she grew stronger in body her mind strengthened
too, and for the first time she tasted the delight of following and
understanding the larger questions of life. Every one, even her lover,
had always treated her somewhat as a child, and Petrovitch was the
first person who ever seemed to think it worth while to explain things
to her. She had not had the education which makes clear thinking easy;
but she was young, and had still youth’s faculty for learning quickly.
Her growing interest in outside matters tended–as Petrovitch had meant
it to do–to divert her mind from her own troubles; and when at last
she was able to take up the easier and lighter work he had found for
her, she was able to look at life
‘With larger, other eyes.’