The first uncertain minute over, Mrs. Bellew’s eyes were as friendly as if she had been quite within her rights in all she had done; and Mrs. Pendyce could not help meeting friendliness halfway.
“Don’t be angry with me for coming. George doesn’t know. I felt I must come to see you. Do you think that you two quite know all you’re doing? It seems so dreadful, and it’s not only yourselves, is it?”
Mrs. Bellew’s smile vanished.
“Please don’t say ‘you two,’” she said.
Mrs. Pendyce stammered:
“I don’t understand.”
Mrs. Bellew looked her in the face and smiled; and as she smiled she seemed to become a little coarser.
“Well, I think it’s quite time you did! I don’t love your son. I did once, but I don’t now. I told him so yesterday, once for all.”
Mrs. Pendyce heard those words, which made so vast, so wonderful a difference—words which should have been like water in a wilderness —with a sort of horror, and all her spirit flamed up into her eyes.
“You don’t love him?” she cried.
She felt only a blind sense of insult and affront.
This woman tire of George? Tire of her son? She looked at Mrs. Bellew, on whose face was a kind of inquisitive compassion, with eyes that had never before held hatred.
“You have tired of him? You have given him up? Then the sooner I go to him the better! Give me the address of his rooms, please.”
Helen Bellew knelt down at the bureau and wrote on an envelope, and the grace of the woman pierced Mrs. Pendyce to the heart.
She took the paper. She had never learned the art of abuse, and no words could express what was in her heart, so she turned and went out.
Mrs. Bellew’s voice sounded quick and fierce behind her.
“How could I help getting tired? I am not you. Now go!”
Mrs. Pendyce wrenched open the outer door. Descending the stairs, she felt for the bannister. She had that awful sense of physical soreness and shrinking which violence, whether their own or others’, brings to gentle souls.
THE MOTHER AND THE SON
To Mrs. Pendyce, Chelsea was an unknown land, and to find her way to George’s rooms would have taken her long had she been by nature what she was by name, for Pendyces never asked their way to anything, or believed what they were told, but found out for themselves with much unnecessary trouble, of which they afterwards complained.
A policeman first, and then a young man with a beard, resembling an artist, guided her footsteps. The latter, who was leaning by a gate, opened it.
“In here,” he said; “the door in the corner on the right.”
Mrs. Pendyce walked down the little path, past the ruined fountain with its three stone frogs, and stood by the first green door and waited. And while she waited she struggled between fear and joy; for now that she was away from Mrs. Bellew she no longer felt a sense of insult. It was the actual sight of her that had aroused it, so personal is even the most gentle heart.