A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
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Sir Ralph went home with her, but he did not go in, as she shook hands by the lift and thanked him in an absent-minded, perfunctory way. Then she went to her room and wept.
She was a fool. It was all too horrible. The next morning life was not worth living, it was black and dreary. Excitement and Sir Ralph were all she had left. She was jealous of the unknown, of Jack’s gladstone bag, and of his boots, of everything; and then she remembered Launa, and she was jealous of her. It was quite delightful to find a person to hurt, someone tangible at whom to throw speeches. Mrs. Herbert resolved to rise early, and go to see Launa.
Meanwhile Captain Carden’s remarks and suggestions had an effect. Mr. Wainbridge noticed it – men looked coldly or with a certain amount of curiosity at him – some women turned the other way, others were interested. He did not realise the meaning of this, until Mr. George brought it before him. Mr. George was by no means one of the crowd. He knew Launa well; it was doubtful whether she had refused him or not. He adored Sylvia now. He frequented Launa’s abode, scolded her when she appeared weary, and forbade her to sit up late. By this time people said that Miss Archer and Mr. Wainbridge had spent a week in Paris together, as Mr. and Mrs. Claude.
Mr. Wainbridge heard this tale in silence, and at the end he expressed himself as anxious to horsewhip the whole town. Mr. George reminded him that the town is large, and chiefly composed of women.
“Damn them,” said Mr. Wainbridge, briefly but expressively.
“That relieves your feelings,” said Mr. George, “and is of no other avail. You must be accepted or refused by Launa sooner than you meant to be.”
“But she will not do either – and if she hears or guesses – she will be hard to manage. Don’t you suppose I would have married her long ago, if she would have had me?”
“You have been prolonging the joys of uncertainty – an engagement is an uncertain certainty – marriage is a certain uncertainty. It has claims, sure and everlasting I know, but they are unattractive.”
Launa was rearranging her books when Mr. Wainbridge called to see her after this conversation.
“I feel particularly depressed to-day,” she said, “so I am clearing up. That will produce a halo of virtue. I have tidied my work basket, and arranged my music. Now I will play to you.”
She went to the piano and began to play. It was something strong and full of power – urging, urging what seems to be the search for happiness – on and on – like life – it went full of longings and regrets, until suddenly a clear still melody rang out, the Never Never country at last.
Mr. Wainbridge went over to her. The music thrilled him.
“How beautifully you play!”
He looked down at her. She was young, strong, beautiful, and a wild feeling for her swept over him; all the love and passion that was in the music seemed to be one with him. He loved her, loved her, loved her, and he had kept it down.It had never held full sway; not until this day had he felt quite powerless to control himself. She must be his. The longing of weeks and days engulfed him, and he tried to speak.
“Dearest – Launa. I love you. God forgive me, I love you more than my soul.”
He fell on his knees beside her, his head in his hands.
“Don’t,” she said, “don’t,” putting out her hand. There was aversion in her voice.
“What, don’t love you? That is impossible. I beg you, I pray you to give me your love. Trust me, help me.”
“My love. Oh! love – what is it? Listen, I cannot tell you what I feel… I do not love you. I am at peace when I am with you – I trust you; that is all.”
“And you will always.” He took her hand and kissed it. “My beautiful lady, you are mine, mine. How can I be glad enough?”
“Don’t be.. anything.”
“Do you love me?”
“I trust you. I do not want you to kiss me.”
He laughed a little.
“What is love?” she asked.
“Peace,” she replied.
“Yes, peace. Oh! my dearest, with you, peace.”
He rose from her side. She let her hands go over the keys, playing snatches of things. The prelude to tea appeared, the table and the cloth.
Mr. Wainbridge walked to the window, and Launa was playing “Warum.” “Das bange bittere Warum,” with its ceaseless unanswered questions. It was one of the things she had always played and felt she had not understood. Through what a century of emotions she had gone, and “Warum” brought her back. She understood it now as she never had done before.
She had been drifting down a rapid quiet stream, hurrying past the old landmarks, soothed by the swift dark water, lulled by its swirl, and rush, comforted by Mr. Wainbridge’s care of her and for her. Now she was out on the sea, the broad sea of love, with its indefiniteness. She had awakened with a start to find herself there; to know that he loved her and wanted to marry her, and she also knew that to turn back was impossible.
“I am so happy, my darling,” he said, turning round as he spoke. “I have loved you for so long, and I have feared.”
“I feared you. That you did not care, and you do not care as I do.”
“No,” she replied; “I do not, I cannot care as you do. Why is it? I want to, and I want to remember only you. Only I can’t, I can’t.”
“You do not want to remember the old life?”
“I want to forget everything, everyone. Listen, I must tell you – I don’t want to marry you, because I cannot bear it, because I’ve once loved – ” she stopped; he waited – “I once loved someone else. I think he is dead to me – but I know if he were to call me I would go, even if I married you and he came. I have forgotten him sometimes, but it all comes back again and again.”
“I will make you love me – he is dead; he will never come. You will marry me, you will? Promise – you can’t draw back now.”
“I promise to marry you? I cannot forget so soon – ”
“Yes. Now you will have tea?”
“Mrs. Herbert,” said the maid.
“How are you?” cried Launa, with joy. An interruption just then was most convenient. “You have not been here for so long.”
Mr. Wainbridge could have borne a longer absence with philosophy. He gave Mrs. Herbert one glance, and looked again. She was looking handsome and flushed, yet the emotion which plainly affected her savoured not of joy nor of peace.
“I have not been here since you – how long is it since you were away?” said Mrs. Herbert. “Did you enjoy yourself? What were you doing? Skating?”
“It seems so long ago,” said Launa. “To-day has been so warm. Who could believe we have ever skated?”
“Yes, who?” inquired Mrs. Herbert. “The ice has gone, and the skate-marks are melted; there is no track on the water.”
“I hear Herbert has gone to Cairo,” said Mr. Wainbridge.
“Has he?” asked Launa. “How horrible for you.”
It is a wife’s duty to feel horribly something at her husband’s departure for Egypt or Hong-Kong, and Launa expressed the proper sympathy in her voice.
“He did not tell you?” asked Mrs. Herbert.
“No,” answered Launa.
“He did,” said Mrs. Herbert, with some excitement.
She had refused tea.
There was silence. Mr. Wainbridge glanced at Launa. His look infuriated Mrs. Herbert, whose anger threatened to become quite beyond her power of control.
“I came to-day, Launa, to tell you that I will no longer know you. You have poisoned my husband’s mind against me, and a girl who goes to the country and stays alone there with a man, under his name, as his – well, I leave the name to you.”
Mr. Wainbridge jumped up. Launa grew scarlet – bright, flaming red, up, up, into her hair. Mrs. Herbert was mad with anger; she wanted a whip, to hear it lashed, to make a noise with it, and hurt somebody. She clenched her hands violently.
“Miss Archer has just promised to be my wife,” said Mr. Wainbridge, “and she would prefer you left us. As for me, I hope you will never come into her house again; you certainly never shall enter mine.”
He rang the bell.
“Bah!” said Mrs. Herbert. “Virtue is not always triumphant. You made him love you – you took him from me!”
“Open the door for Mrs. Herbert,” said Mr. Wainbridge to the maid.
Mrs. Herbert rose.
“Your announcement is rather late. You may as well marry her – now.”
“What does she mean?” asked Launa, in a bewildered way. She had risen and stood in front of Mr. Wainbridge, her eyes on his face. “Do they say things about me? Do they?”
He did not answer her question. He had nothing to say.
Launa heard a step and turned round quickly to see if Mrs. Herbert were returning.
“Paul! Paul!” she cried. There was joy in her voice which Mr. Wainbridge had never heard in it before. “Oh, Paul!” She moved quickly towards him and gave him her hand. “I am so glad, so glad. When did you come? Why did you not come long ago?”
Mr. Wainbridge inspected Paul Harvey during this crisis. He was brown, strong, and lithe; standing by him Mr. Wainbridge appeared weak, effeminate.
“This is Mr. Wainbridge,” said Launa.
She wished him just then at Cairo or anywhere else.
“How do you do?” said both men.
“Miss Archer has just promised to marry me.”
He wore an air of ownership and went nearer Launa. There was a slight degree of defiance in his attitude.
“I congratulate you,” said Paul; “you are very lucky. The most fortunate of men.”
“Sit down,” said Launa, with a smile at Paul which Mr. Wainbridge endeavoured to imagine was merely kind. Launa assured herself that hers was the smile of a married woman to some brother of whom she is fond. “Tell me about home, about ‘Solitude,’ about the canoe, and the rivers.”
They talked, while Mr. Wainbridge listened, not uninterested, but surprised. Launa was new, different. Paul had introduced another element into the game – an element of doubt.
“But I shall win,” thought Mr. Wainbridge; “she has promised.”
“I have known Paul for years,” said Launa, turning to Mr. Wainbridge, as if to explain the situation, and he knows all about the land I dwelt in and my old home.”
This explanation was as much for Paul as for Mr. Wainbridge, and also for herself. She was convinced now of good reasons for her joy.
The returned traveller’s welcome was delightful to Paul more than he had dared hope for, less than that for which he longed, though to be received as the friend of the family was not his only aspiration. It was the stone instead of the bread, the hand of fellowship instead of the kiss of passion. He left Mr. Wainbridge with Launa, no doubt waiting for his kiss. Paul winced at the idea, and he was dining with the Canadian Commissioner.
But Mr. Wainbridge did not kiss Launa – he left her alone. She threw herself down on the sofa. The idea of marriage had appealed to her as a narcotic. Paul’s coming had changed it into a scourge. He was here; perhaps the girl was dead! She flushed with joy, then hid her face with shame. Perhaps he did not love her, had never loved her, and she belonged to Mr. Wainbridge. Paul had found her – and it was too late.
The winter passed quickly – spring came, a soft, slow, gentle coming. Paul Harvey was a constant visitor at Victoria Mansions.
Sometimes he was there when Mr. Wainbridge was not, and then that was a “white day.”
Mr. Wainbridge found Paul’s appreciation of Launa gave life a zest – it added uncertainty and attractiveness, though he intended to win. A man can appropriate another man’s wife for walks and talks with much greater ease than he can the girl the other man is going to marry. But Mr. Wainbridge was enduring an amount of worry and annoyance about his uncle’s affairs, and he was not free, while Paul was. Mr. Wainbridge never connected him with the someone Launa had loved – was he not dead? Had she not implied as much, more than once?
Paul had promised to remain in England until Launa’s marriage; the indefinite prolongation was therefore borne by him with a placid demeanour. He also had been requested to give her away – there is a certain amount of excitement in giving “this woman to this man,” when longing to keep her oneself, a form of death on the battlefield. Paul liked it as well as a man can like anything he dreads and detests, and yet with the feeling that he would not like another man to do it.
The April day was lovely. Paul was at Victoria Mansions, ready to do what Launa wanted, hoping Mr. Wainbridge might not come.
“I want to go out,” she said; “to go far away, where I can paddle and see the catkins on the trees and listen to the sound of the river. I cannot stay at home and practise or do anything. I must go out.”
“ ‘Let me taste the old immortal indolence of life once more,’ ” he quoted.
“Come,” she said.
They drove to Paddington, and then went by train.
The river was looking lovely – ruffled and irregular – the trees wore a wind-swept fluffy look. The grass was fresh and green; it was spring, and all was new.
“This is glorious,” she said, as she paddled up the stream.
The movements of her lithe body were beautiful to him – to her the motion and spring of the canoe were splendid, as it answered every stroke and went through the rippling water with a hiss and a rush.
“The lift of the long red swan,” he said.
“Don’t,” she replied. “How he loved it! How he loved that life!”
“And will you never come back to it?”
“I do not know. Afterwards, perhaps – yet no, never.”
“The Indians miss you. Mrs. Abram and Mrs. John often ask me about you. In the winter there is no one to be good to them.”
“I sent them money and blankets,” she answered. “I did all I could.”
“They want you. Mrs. Andrew gave me a charm to bring you back. ‘A little medicine yer know – a love potion of herbs.’ ”
“Is life here successful?” he asked. “Do you like it?”
“Yes, for some things I do. I came full of plans, and I have learned and worked. Now I am going to be married.”
“You have, then, been successful?”
“I have learned that life is cruel.”
“They, my friends, believed evil of me. Did you hear it?”
“I heard it.”
“Don’t ask me such questions,” he replied. “You know I could not believe them. I think you – well, I think you the purest, best woman in the world.”
“That is not what you were going to say. You began and you changed it.”
“You were cruel once, but you are the one woman – for me.”
“Tell me about the lakes and the woods; I long to see them, to feel the air, and to smell the pines,” she said quietly.
They paddled on and on, sometimes talking; and it seemed like a triumphal journey into a far-away world, with the sun and the rippling water, glorious movement and peace, and, above all, it was perfect because they were alone together, and away from the rest of the world.
Paul made no pretence to himself of not knowing why he was happy and why he was miserable – happy while with Launa, miserable when away from her – while the knowledge that she belonged to someone else was always obtruding itself.
And Launa? To her Paul meant the old life (so she assured herself with great frequency), her father, the Indians, the woods – everything she loved. She was glad to have Paul with her. It was a good ending to the chapter of singleness. And though perhaps it was not quite as she would have liked to have planned things, perhaps all would be for the best. The present was full of joy, the future – she could not bear to think of it – would be blank.
“How long have you been in England?” she inquired at last.
It was odd she had never asked this question before.
“I spent two months here in the summer, then I had to go home. My cousin, Jim Harvey – you remember him?”
“I never heard of him.”
“I thought you knew all about him. He got himself mixed up in some row with the Indians, and so I went back. There was an Indian girl, too; he should have married her.”
“And his name was Harvey?”
“Yes, Jim Harvey. He has married the girl. The worst of it is she is far too good for him, and he will lead her a terrible life; but I suppose it is best. You saw her once at that picnic at Paradise that night I shot the horse. Do you remember?”
“I remember. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you knew. I thought that was what you meant – ”
“No,” she answered. “I meant – never mind now what I meant.”
She put down her paddle.
“I am tired. You can paddle back,” she said wearily. “It is time to go home. Sylvia is coming to dinner, and so is Mr. George.”
She was kneeling in the bow with her back to him.
“Launa, will you move? You will be more comfortable if you do, and I will keep her steady,” he said. “We shall soon get back.”
“I cannot move, I am so tired.”
She almost gave a sob. Suddenly she felt impotent and weary. His explanation had made it worse, and she ached with the hopelessness of it all.
He paddled into the bank, got out, and pulled the canoe in sideways; then he arranged the cushions for her in the middle.
“Now, get out while I hold the canoe, and sit there where I can see you. Light of my eyes,” he added in a whisper, but she heard it.
He gave her a hand, put a rug over her, and asked:
“Are you comfy?”
But she could not speak, and they started again.
The lift and sweep of the paddle, and the smooth regularity thereof, were soothing.
“Oh, the sorrow of the world!” she said. “It is unavailing. The awful mistakes, the terrible partings – it is too dreadful. When did you come back to London?”
“Why did you not come to see me before – in the summer?”
“Because I did not know your address – is that reason enough? – and I was rather afraid of you. I could not come.”
“Sylvia is my only woman friend.”
“You imagine that.”
“I do not imagine it; but I do not care.”
At dinner that night they were an uneven number.
“We must all go in together,” said Launa. “Sylvia, come with me.”
She put her hand on Sylvia’s arm and they went first.
Mr. Wainbridge came last; he wore depression ostentatiously until after the soup, and asked if they believed in ghosts.
“In ghosts,” inquired Mr. George. “In some ghosts. Do you believe in them?”
“Launa does,” said Mr. Wainbridge.
“I wish I could,” she answered.
“Did you ever see one?” asked Paul.
“One Sunday – it was a hot Sunday in July,” related Mr. Wainbridge, “we were going to Lady Blake’s, and Launa said she saw one.”
“One what?” asked Paul.
“What did she do?”
“She said it was dead. Are ghosts ‘it’?” inquired Mr. Wainbridge.
“When people die they become ‘it,’ ” said Mr. George. “They cannot – do not love. A man or a woman is neuter when love is over – when it is impossible.”
“They are maligning you, Launa,” said Sylvia, with a smile. A poet had written lines on her smile and called it divine. “Contradict them.”
“I did see a ghost,” she answered.
“Ghosts are indigestion,” said Mr. George slowly. “Have you read the new book, Miss Cooper?”
“Whose new book?”
“It is by an unknown author who writes of the love of a married man for some other woman. We know so much now, everyone writes of life’s miseries; if they would only write of happiness.”
“How wrong for a man to love the other woman,” said Sylvia.
“Wrong,” repeated Mr. George; “not at all; how unavoidable!”
“How did they end it or begin it?” asked Sylvia.
“I hate a man who does nothing,” said Launa. “Love is either a secondary consideration or the passion of a moment to them. We are merely adjuncts – minor adjuncts.”
“Chromatic scales,” said Mr. George.
Paul ate his dinner with resolution. Launa was flushed – no doubt by the breeze on the river, and it was very becoming. She was not a minor adjunct.
Sylvia had grown grey looking.
She pushed away her plate quickly, and when Launa with her was leaving the room, Launa said:
“Do not hurry into us. We are so happy together and have so much to say.”
The men talked with indifference. They were anxious to go to the drawing-room. Mr. George at last said impatiently:
“Come on. I am tired of sport.”
With a conversation thereupon had they concealed their anxiety to be gone. Sport is absorbing.
In the drawing-room Sylvia, Paul Harvey, and Mr. George entertained each other.
Launa sat by the window and was talked to by Mr. Wainbridge.
“Paul and Sylvia. Paul and Sylvia. Paul and Sylvia,” sounded with dreadful monotony in her brain. She went to the piano and played “Warum.”
“How you have changed!” said Mr. Wainbridge. “Sometimes I feel as if I did not know you.”
“Are you tired of me?”
“Launa darling! tired – no, never. You are more uncertain in your moods – you are more fascinating. I never know what you will do next. To-day has been long without you.”
“Women take an age to learn that game killing would have no attraction for men if the game walked up to be killed willingly.”
“Where have you been to-day, my dearest?” he asked, taking no notice of her speech.
“On the river with Paul. And you?”
“I have been very busy and worried.”
“I am sorry. Worry is detestable.”
“Yes,” he replied, “and never ending.”
“Your aunt is still odd?”
“Very odd. She is terrible sometimes. Talk of to-morrow, dear.”
“I am going to see Sylvia.”
Mr. Wainbridge looked at her.
“Did you mind what I said about the ghosts? There are none between you and me?”
“Ghosts? no, none.”
“And so I may not come here to-morrow?”
“No. The next day you may.”
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