A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Paul spent the evening talking to Sylvia. He left early. Mr. George and she were alone.
“Why are you so silent?” he asked at last.
“Am I? I was thinking.”
“Of what I said at dinner?”
“What did you say?”
“Now you are offended.”
“I am very fond of dark blue serge,” said Sylvia, “very, and it is so becoming.”
“What has that to do with what I said at dinner?”
“How can I tell what you said at dinner? Did you know I have a sister, Mr. George? She lives in Eaton Square and is very respectable, which means she does not work for her living, and is never in an omnibus after four. I seldom visit her; the Square and her surroundings satisfy her.”
“And you told me this?” asked Mr. George.
“To interest you.”
“I see, I understand,” he answered.
“We need not decide yet what we shall do,” said Lady Blake.
“Nor do it,” said Mrs. Herbert. “I hate doing things.”
“Still it is necessary for someone to take notice of Miss Archer’s behaviour, now that she is engaged to Mr. Wainbridge.”
“They do not talk of being married,” said Lily, with a laugh.
Lady Blake was having tea with her, it was hot and June. They were both dressed in crepon and muslin. Lady Blake’s hat was a flower garden.
Mrs. Herbert looked bored. The heat was excessive, and she was weary.
Jack wrote to her occasionally, but he did not return, and she was tired of Sir Ralph. Other people were also afflicted in the same way, and Mrs. Herbert was often left out where before she had been first.
Women said her first husband had been an angel, and died to continue one, and her second went to Cairo.
Sir Ralph was beginning to take too much for granted, and he had no mind – pink books and papers of a light and airy kind were his literature. Mrs. Herbert had been intellectual when desirous of attracting Jack, and, after her long acquaintance with Sir Ralph, she told him that old families are becoming ignorant and corrupt.
“Have you seen Launa’s voyageur?” asked Lady Blake.
“Who is he? Have I seen him?”
“An indefinite relation of hers. Have you read the Signal this week? I have not.”
“Here it is. Look at it now.”
“Listen, listen,” said Lady Blake. “ ‘At the Duchess of Oldharris’ small evening party Miss Archer looked particularly well in white and black. She delighted everyone with her playing of ‘Warum.’ She has been in mourning for some time for her father, and has been much missed by society!’ ”
Lady Blake put down the paper with slow concern.
“The Duchess of Oldharris, the Duchess,” she said. “My musical party next week! When does your husband return?”
“I do not know.”
“Soon? I cannot think that it is good for you – or for him – to stay away so long.”
“Probably not,” said Lily. “Do you always do what is good for you? I have no doubt Cairo disagrees with him intensely.”
“I would go out to him if I were you,” said Lady Blake.“Your honeymoon was in that Surrey garden. How blissful it was that day I called upon you, but how short a time it lasted! You were sewing; you never sew now. Not even a little shirt like Becky Sharp.”
“The days are no longer perfect, as they were during my honeymoon,” said Mrs. Herbert, “though it is June.”
“You must have been misinformed,” said Lady Blake.
“Oh, no, it was June, I assure you. One does not forget that.”
“I mean about Launa. The Duchess is so particular, and it happened so long ago. Good-bye, dear.”
She rustled away to call at the House for her husband.
Next day Launa received an invitation for the musical party – she was even asked to play. She refused that honour.
Sylvia had become necessary to Launa, who had at first used her as a screen, for Mr. Wainbridge was there always, and with Sylvia present naturally there were no demonstrations.
Paul made his appearance only a degree less frequently – Launa did not mind being alone with him. He was waiting in London for her wedding day, for which no date was appointed, and Paul was not anxious to arrange this.
Sylvia talked to Paul when Mr. Wainbridge was in possession, and it occurred to Launa that Sylvia was very attractive – probably Paul thought this also.
In these days Launa felt that meditation and thought were unprofitable; she turned to Sylvia for something, not for protection, but for companionship. Sylvia was restless, Launa was restless also; the days were unsatisfactory if one hour were unoccupied. A day of inaction was Launa’s present idea of torment. Sylvia and she agreed on this subject.
One night Launa had come in very tired; too tired to eat. She drank some chocolate, and sat in the music-room.
Mr. Wainbridge appeared. It was late, and he had been at his uncle’s. The room was full of poppies; the heavy odour was oppressive, and the flowers were falling – slowly, slowly they tumbled down every few minutes.
“They are the ghosts of the past,” said Launa at last, as one or two flowers fell simultaneously, and yet as it were with reluctance. “Do you hear the slow sound they make as they fall? I am very tired.”
“Your tea-gown is like moonlight, and you look divine.”
“And unearthly? I would rather be human.”
“You are lovely.”
“Tell me something new,” she replied, with a laugh of confidence, and a look – “something that I do not already know.”
“What have you been doing to-day?” he asked, feeling the commonplace safe.
“I went with Sylvia to see a woman who is dying – and yet it is not certain she will die – to die is peace.”
“She was suffering. Why did you go, dearest? It is not fit for you to see such things.”
“That is the cry of the whole world,” she replied, getting up and moving the flowers near her. “Why go? Why see it? Peace, peace, and there is no peace.”
“You cannot help her.”
“You are right, I am powerless, and I have promised to send her jelly. Ridiculous! Jelly!”
“Who is she?”
“Her name was Bertram. She was once pretty and sang well. Sylvia knew her. Some man made love to her, and promised her the usual things. She left her work for him, and because of him, and he left her alone. She has starved, frozen, and been half-murdered, yet she lives.”
“I cannot help thinking, dear, that it was her fault, too. A woman does not – should not yield.”
“A woman wants to love and to be loved… Then,” she added, “I could never love a man who would promise and never keep it.”
“To promise,” he repeated. “What is a promise? It is an impossibility. I promise to love someone for ever. You will some day – may it be soon? – promise to cleave to me only. I cease to love someone – the promise is broken. I am not responsible. Who is? You promised me once you would not go out alone when it is dark, and you do not keep it.”
“What is love? When I cannot keep my promise of cleaving to you, will you blame me? You say the keeping of promises is impossible. I never promised to love you.”
“Blame you? No. You love me – do you love me? – and women, thank God, are mostly constant.”
“Thank God,” she repeated.
She did not answer his question – to seek to acquire information was most simple.
“Love is all things – the joy of life – the sting of death,” he said.
“Friendship is a joy, too. It is like autumn after the midsummer heat is over. Do you not know the peace and stillness of a clear autumn day? There is a blue sky, and merely a suspicion of cold in the air. You know the air on a lake coming over a long sweep of country.”
“There is a chill about autumn – a suspicion of indifference.”
“No, no,” she answered quickly. “What is the most perfect relationship in this world? Which is the happiest?”
“Who can tell? To me it is you; to you it is – I wish I could feel sure the stone of happiness you seek for is my love.”
She did not answer immediately.
“The stone of happiness when one finds it is still a stone. How can a stone bring happiness?”
“Your ring – to see the sapphire brings me happiness,” he answered.
He felt of late an intangible something between them – as if he were fighting with the powers of the air, with unknown forces – would he win, or they? The dead are quiet for ever, and yet something seemed to come between him and Launa. Do the dead watch over those they love? Mr. Wainbridge shivered; he was sometimes superstitious.
Paul was not an acquiescent lover, and since his day in the canoe with Launa he had pondered long and frequently. Was she happy? No; nor was he.
One afternoon when with her, like an inspiration it came to him that he was master. He would not give in, he loved her; love was power, and she did not love Mr. Wainbridge, of that he was sure.
Launa was alone.
They talked for some moments, the conversation was led by her to Newfoundland, but he took no interest in that.
“When are you going to be married?” he asked.
“When? I know not. Talk of something else.”
“I will talk about you. It is of no use for you to change the subject. I love you, love you, and you are mine. You have no right to marry anyone but me. You belong to me.”
Paul was as a god, knowing not merely good and evil, but love and light.
“It is my kisses you will long and hunger for, my arms which should be round you, not his.”
He looked at her. She had started when he began.
“His never are,” she said, while she longed to ask how he knew this, but she felt to acknowledge he knew was to acknowledge him right.
“You won’t let him now, but his arms will be round you. There is no escape from them once you are married. Think how you will feel when he is with you always, and you can never get away. You will see my face when his is close to you, you will feel – ”
“You would like to say, ‘Why persecutest thou me?’ They say girls often marry from ignorance and wish they had not. Launa, you will not be ignorant. Without love marriage is a loathsome Hell; with it, darling, it is Heaven. Such a Heaven! You are mine, as much mine as if five priests had read hundreds of words over us. Give him up! give him up!”
“I wish I could die, knowing you love me.”
“I would rather see you dead than his wife.”
“Paul, I love you.”
She held out her hands.
“My darling; my darling. How I love you. And you will give him up?”
She stood still, her eyes raised to his; hers were full of trouble, his full of love. He would face the world and count the loss of all things nothing for her. His was a love worth having, and he was brave and true, worthy of love. He came nearer. He had not touched her.
“Come to me, Launa.”
She turned and let him fold her in his arms, such strong arms.
“You take away my individuality. You are a brute, Paul. Let me look into your eyes; they are true. It is your eyes I see when I talk to him, your voice I hear, your kisses I feel… Paul, don’t tempt me. I have degraded myself enough. Leave me – go. I am wicked, I am wrong.”
“Tempt you? My God, Launa! Am I not tempted?”
“When you hold me I am strong. A woman loves a man who has a strong arm for her.”
He bent down and kissed her face, then her lips, a long, long kiss.
“Launa, can you marry any other man? Be true, dear.”
“Sit down, Paul, by me. Let me hold your hand. I feel so weak and so afraid. And when you have gone and I am alone with him… You know I love you… But I have promised myself to him. I cannot break my word. I can ask him to give me up. I will do that.”
“You must tell him you cannot marry him. Why should one man insist on making three people miserable? For he will not be happy. I shall not leave you now until you have promised to marry me. I kiss you, I hold you, I take you.”
He lifted her in his arms and carried her to a sofa.
He put pillows under her head and knelt beside her.
“You cannot get up. I will not let you go – you must rest.”
He kissed her.
“Launa, if you could know, could guess how I hunger for you. How I dream of you and long for you until the day is a long dreary reality, and night is life when I see you and hear your voice – gentle and soft – I love your voice. In my dreams I hold you in my arms.”
“Paul, you forget that I have promised. I have given myself to him.”
“My word to him. How can I take it back?”
“Easily; by not keeping it.”
They both laughed, and so Mr. Wainbridge found them when he entered the room.
“Is Launa ill?” he asked, in well-bred tones of surprise.
She felt she hated him; his upper lip was too long, his manner too unctuous, and his shoulders were so round.
He glanced from Paul to Launa, and it seemed to him as if his appearance were just what was required to turn the scale in his own favour. She sat up. Paul put a cushion behind her and kissed her hand. Mr. Wainbridge advanced with disapproval and another cushion, which Launa refused with mild gratitude.
The men glared at each other. Mr. Wainbridge was uneasy, Paul triumphant.
“Shall I stay, Launa?” said Paul.
“No; I have a headache,” she said.
Paul left the room, and Mr. Wainbridge waited in silence.
“I hope you are better,” he said, at last.
“I have something to tell you.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“You must hear it.”
“Look here, Launa, I know what you are going to say. You are going to say.. what you will regret. Something about Mr. Harvey. I mean to marry you; you have promised. That is all.”
“You do not consider me responsible for my feelings; you have said it.”
“For your feelings, no; but for your promises, yes.”
“Suppose I have changed?”
“Suppose you never felt what you promised; suppose it was merely a refuge from loneliness, from – ”
“Well, suppose it was,” she answered. “But I never promised to feel anything – simply to marry you.”
“What do you want me to do now?” he asked.
“I want you to set me free.”
“Never, never. To do that would be ruin for me.”
They faced each other; she was excited, flushed – with a new look of a half-born, half-understood joy. He was sullen.
“Why – tell me why? You could not hold me to my bargain – unwillingly.”
“It would be ruin for me to release you. My uncle would cut me off – leave me nothing, and give me nothing, if you or I break off our engagement. He has heard several things about me – things which – well, I have told you enough. Darling, you would not, you could not ruin me. I love you so intensely. Think of my life, my prospects, without you!”
“To live without me.”
“What could I do?”
The joy had left her face – the flush was gone. She was pale, and her face looked haggard.
“Go, go. I will not ruin your prospects and devastate your life – go. But you must leave me alone now. Yes, I hate you.”
He went to his Club. On the way he meditated writing a novel or a play – his inventive powers were so great. He had impressed Launa – she believed him. He had constructed the first chapter when he reached his Club.
Launa went for a long drive.
Paul was defeated. That night he received this note.
Lady Blake had started evening receptions, and once a fortnight she was at home. She had some idea of founding a salon, but her ignorance of the necessary steps was appalling. She thought it would have something to do with school-books and asking questions on abstruse subjects.
Launa went frequently, and took Sylvia with her, who was now second leading lady in the new play “Some Cabbages and a Weed.” The interview in the Signal had been of much assistance to her career. Formerly she had an existence – now she had a career. Mr. George devoted himself to her. This evening they met at Lady Blake’s. Launa was quickly surrounded by her friends, by her enemies, and people who could be either, had they known her. She was charming – the self-possession of a duchess, combined with the amiability and cleverness of the unknown woman wishing to be successful.
Mr. George was amusing them by relating the triumphs of the interviewer.
He had been the one to hear the aims and aspirations of the newest “Lady Temperance Lecturer.”
“Is she a Lady Temperance Lecturer?” he asked, “or a Temperance Lady Lecturer? The last way sounds as if one might suspect her of imbibing, and a Lady Temperance Lecturer does not sound – well, is nice the word? Women like that word; it expresses untold things to them, daintinesses and pretty undergarments. To a man it means a woman does not bore him. He does not call his best beloved ‘nice’ merely – angels are not nice.”
“Tell me about the Temperate Lady,” said Launa.
“I think Temperate Lady Lecturer would be a good name,” said Sylvia. “She might have an idea when to stop.”
“It was late,” said Mr. George, “when I interviewed her. She had been lecturing. Her window blinds were not down, and the moon shone in. There appeared to be much temperance in her mansion. We observed the moon with attention and in silence. After she had told me several details of her own life, ‘There is no water in the moon,’ she said, with a solemn air, ‘and nothing to drink. The people in the moon have nothing to drink.’ This whole sentence was in the largest of italics. I suggested that our best astronomers are in doubt as to the fact of human beings living in the moon. ‘Such a beautifully mountainous world,’ she said, ‘must be inhabited. Think of their Switzerland and of their Himalayas! They never have typhoid, for there is no water.’
“ ‘No drinks,’ I said. ‘Nothing to drink,’ she replied. ‘Not even the sea to bathe in, to picnic by in summer,’ I suggested. I won’t publish it all. I asked if the moon were fruitful, and she said, ‘Undoubtedly.’ Then I replied, ‘They are obliged to drink their brandy raw. If it is fruitful there must be grapes, if grapes, brandy’ – you see the connection? ‘There is no water to make brandy,’ she observed. ‘Pardon me,’ I said, ‘you do not require water to make brandy only to dilute it, if you have temperance yearnings.’ She gasped, and I left her.”
“How glad she must have been,” said Launa, moving as she spoke to talk to Mr. Wainbridge’s cousin.
The rooms were becoming empty. Sylvia, Launa, Mr. Wainbridge, and Mr. George were standing together. The Member for Hackney joined Launa. He had developed an affection, nay, an inclination towards her. He was too cold for affection; he admired her.
The Under-Secretary for the Home Department came up behind them.
“Bolton, have you heard?” he asked, and kept his eyes fixed on Launa. He might have kept his information to himself had not Mr. Bolton been occupied with her.
“What?” asked the Member for Hackney. He did not desire to know anything further. His interest in the Colonies, as exemplified by Launa, was absorbing.
She smiled at the Under-Secretary, who wondered if Mr. Bolton would leave her when he heard the news.
“There has been a skirmish somewhere in Africa, and Fairmouth is, the telegram says, dead. You are Lord Fairmouth. I thought you would like to hear it.”
He waited. Sylvia gave a sort of moan and put out her hands.
“I loved him,” she said.
The Member for Hackney started, and Launa said:
“Miss Cooper and I must go home. Mr. George, will you give her your arm? Hugh, you will get us our carriage?”
Mr. Bolton stayed by Launa; the Under-Secretary had vanished.
“So that is the girl,” he said; “I have heard of her. That was somewhat dramatic. May I not be of some use to you, Miss Archer? Shall I take you to Lady Blake? You will want to say good-night to her.”
He offered her his arm, and they found the hostess. Launa apologised for Sylvia. The Member for Hackney said she looked quite pale. Lady Blake suggested sal volatile, and expressed her great concern.
“I will come and see you to-morrow,” said the Member for Hackney, as he held Launa’s hand at parting. “I am much interested in the Colonies and in the New World.”
Mr. George stared after their carriage, then he lighted a cigarette. Mr. Wainbridge had disappeared.
“She has a blister on now,” said Mr. George, “I wonder if it will ever heal.”
Mr. Bolton nodded and said:
“Miss Archer is engaged to Mr. Wainbridge?”
“Yes,” replied George.
They walked away together.
“Sylvia, don’t try to talk,” said Launa, as they drove home.
“Let me alone,” she moaned. “I am a fool to break down. You cannot tell what a joy it has been to me to feel to be sure of his love. It was all I had – all – ”
Launa left her alone, after giving her a brandy and soda.
Fortunately “Some Cabbages and a Weed” was over, and the theatre shut up. It would open with a new play in September. Sylvia had her part to study and could rest, but not with her mother.
Mrs. Cooper could not have believed her daughter was in trouble – trouble which she should not share. A mother’s heart is the resting and the confiding-place for her daughter. She forgot a mother’s tongue often prevents confidences. She would have labelled her daughter “lost” had she known.
Launa had decided on taking a house by the river – a cottage with drains and hot water, as well as roses!
Mrs. Cooper and Sylvia would come too. Launa hoped Mr. Bolton would not talk of this accident and betray Sylvia. She waited with apprehension for the morrow and the Member for Hackney.
Sylvia besought her to find out the circumstances.
“Find out if he is dead. How he died: when and where. Oh, God! It is torture! Torture! Find out all about him.”
Mr. Wainbridge, Mr. George, and Paul came next day. Launa dispatched them for particulars. There was nothing in the paper. Mr. Wainbridge went to the Club, Mr. George to his newspaper, and Paul to the High Commissioner for Canada. This was his first meeting with Launa since their day of confession. He asked for no further explanation and she gave none.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî