A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He returned in an hour. The High Commissioner had been gracious. It was said that Paul knew too much about him to allow of his being anything else. There were episodes; the lady was happily married, and the Commissioner was High. The news was confirmed – Lord Fairmouth was dead.
“I must tell her,” said Launa.
Paul went down to the cottage to inspect it and to order it to be immediately prepared for them.
In all this they had quite forgotten Mrs. Cooper.
The Member for Hackney arrived before tea. His business engagements were many, but he was in need of refreshment.
He found Launa in the music-room. He took her hand with sympathy. He knew how to express his emotion with the ease of a ladies’ doctor. Some people said he had no real emotions, only fictitious ones.
“What a charming room!” he said, as he viewed it and her with admiration. He changed his tone as he added, “How is she to-day?”
“Ah! In what way?” His experience had not provided him with any symptoms of such a thing. “The defeat of a measure,” he began, when Launa interrupted him.
“Oh, Mr. Bolton, does anyone know? Did the other man tell of what happened last night?”
Fear of discovery is a woman’s broken heart, he made a note of it, while he answered:
“No one knows. You may be quite sure of that. I arranged it with my friend. You may tell Miss Cooper I am glad I can set her – mind at rest.”
He meant at first to say heart.
“She does not care, she does not think of that,” she answered. “She has not seen him for six months.. she loves him, he loved her.. she made him leave her.”
“It is terrible to hear her. She does not cry, she merely moans… You will have some tea?”
“I would like some tea,” he answered. “I am very tired.”
He felt much refreshed. Miss Archer had discrimination, and evidently was a good housekeeper.
“You stay in town for some time?” he asked. “Miss Archer, are you not the hansom girl? Mr. George told me about it, I remember. It applies to you both with and without a ‘d’.”
She smiled, and did not thank him.
“I have taken a house at Shelton, and as Miss Cooper is so wretched I intend to take her there.”
“She is related to you?”
“No; I am sorry for her. She is my friend.”
“Ah, that is better. Will you not be sorry for me? I, too, am alone, and sometimes lonely.”
She had never associated any frivolity with the Member for Hackney. He was one of those mysterious men who assisted in the governing of the country, and as such beyond much emotion. She looked at him.
“Do you need my sorrow?”
“I want it.”
“We often want what we do not need. I want more tea, it is not good for me, I do not need it.”
“Can I do anything to help you?”
“If you would. I had forgotten Mrs. Cooper, her mother. You could interview her for me. She may hear Sylvia is ill. I do not want her to come to see her daughter.Mrs. Cooper would believe you. She is an old lady who believes in a man’s opinion.”
“ ‘Man was made in the image of God.’ She believes it still?”
“Yes,” said Launa, “and she accepts with thankfulness ideas from any man.”
“If she were a young woman this might be attractive and new. I will go to see this Adamite. What must I say?”
“Headache and weariness for disease; absolute quiet and rest for the remedies,” he replied. “I quite understand. May I come again? Above all I would like to be with you at Shelton.”
“Do come. I should be so glad.”
“I could wish you would not – could not express it so easily. Where does this lady live?”
“In the Fulham Road.”
He sighed. The prospect of the long drive did not cheer him.
“You will take my brougham. I have ordered it for you.”
“Thank you,” he replied, and let his glance say more.
The Colonies were interesting. It was the year of new fishery arrangements with America and France. The Member for Hackney made a point of knowing all about them. He intended to ask Launa for information; he felt singularly elated at the prospect of seeing her again.
He was not particularly fond of fishing nor of bills, but information on all subjects was acceptable to him. He prided himself on knowing the views of the people for whom he was legislating.
Shelton cannot be described; it lay along the river, near heavenly back waters, where reeds rustled, and the rushes sighed softly, and it was within reach of the woods.
They all went there, each one hiding their real feelings from the others, except Mrs. Cooper. Her feelings were described by the word blissful; she derived much satisfaction from the donning of her best dress every day. It was made of silk; in her youth a lady was dressed in nothing but silk. Driving every day with a footman, and having a maid to button her boots, completed her happiness. She never noticed her daughter’s depression. Sylvia had recovered. She was more silent, just as good-looking, and Mr. George hovered about her with sympathy in his eye and with sorrowful attentions.
Mr. Wainbridge, Paul, and the Member for Hackney each felt the inhabitants of the cottage were under his special protection, and each one frowned at the frequent visits of the others.
Paul had received and accepted his invitation before he had told Launa to give up Mr. Wainbridge, and he came to Shelton. All was not yet lost. Mr. Wainbridge was obviously nervous. Launa looked unhappy. To her life in the country was a relief. Of late the strain on her mind had been trying. Paul’s presence was a comfort to her, with an underlying feeling of torture, of the intolerableness of fate, life, destiny.
Mr. Wainbridge made continual demands on her feelings – demands which sometimes were hard, impossible to fulfil, especially that she should love him.
He was quite aware that he frequently asked for the impossible and obtruded himself in a way which was foolish, and before Paul he was often reckless. A mad joy because of his possession of Launa filled his mind, for he knew a mad anguish filled the breast of Paul Harvey.
To Launa Mr. Bolton was like an invigorating breeze after a hot day. He knew that she was appropriated. He expected scars from an intimacy with her, but they were worth it. He was waiting for news from Africa before formally becoming Lord Fairmouth. Meanwhile he forgot ambition and wandered about the fields with her, looking for mushrooms which he never saw, because he found her so much more delightful. She was original and charming, her voice was soft and low. Had it a sound of sadness or of joy? One day one thing, the next another. What was she – heart-whole, heart-divided, or only a woman without a heart?
Mr. Bolton found some amusement from the comedy – or was it a tragedy? – that was being played. He had no fear for his own emotions: they were pretty much the same as those possessed by the other two, and he kept them under excellent control. He sometimes wondered if ambition had any part in Miss Archer’s plans. Would he, as Lord Fairmouth, have any chance? He enjoyed most of her society. Mr. Wainbridge’s visits were uncertain, and whenever Paul and Mr. Bolton were there, Paul took Sylvia out in the canoe.
Mrs. Cooper fortunately discovered an ancient enemy living four miles away, and she drove with frequency and glory, because of the footman, to discuss the past and its joys. The enemy’s joys were present ones. Together they found argument unconvincing and therefore agreeable.
It was Sunday.
They were all walking across the fields coming from church. Launa and Mr. Bolton were first; Mr. Wainbridge had been detained by his uncle at the church door. He caught up to Mrs. Cooper, who insisted on discussing the sermon – which was on “Eternal Damnation.”
The preacher was staying at the Court – Lord Wainbridge’s place – and was specially favoured by her ladyship, who had nodded with frequency and approval at each point to which he gave utterance, and which she considered reduced her husband to ashes here, and to flames hereafter. In her theology there was nothing so quiet and peaceful as ashes afterwards. But Lord Wainbridge had not observed these signs of approval. He regarded his nephew with attention, and Miss Archer with admiration. He looked at his wife – a faded unhealthy specimen of an aristocratic worn-out family, in black bombazine and a dowdy bonnet, and he thought of the other woman and of Launa. He observed her intently; her head well carried, and her hair well dressed, her pretty soft throat – he could not see her face, but she was certainly desirable, and he had never met her. So he stopped his nephew on his way to join Miss Archer, and suggested that Hugh should come over to the Court that afternoon.
Mr. Wainbridge listened to Mrs. Cooper’s remarks in silence. He did not care about the sermon, but he did care for Launa’s society, and she would spend the afternoon with Mr. Bolton or Mr. Harvey. He regretted he had not refused his uncle’s invitation, but that gentleman had appeared so sad, so old, and Lady Wainbridge sniffed with such depressing regularity, that to have refused would have been cruel.
“I dislike that church,” said Launa to Mr. Bolton. “It already makes me feel as if religion were contemptible and as if it were merely useful to occupy old women. I am sorry I went to it to-day.”
“It would be very wrong and very radical of you to neglect your own church. A good Conservative always supports the institutions of his country,” he said.
“That is the good of being women,” she answered, looking at him with a mixture of friendship and mischief. “We are not allowed to vote, and we need not be a Conservative or anything, and as for the institutions of the country, I am not sure that I like them, or even know what they are.”
“Marriage is one.”
“With or without love? For love is not an institution.”
“Sometimes; well, you know as well as I do that we can get on without love.”
“Love,” said Launa, “is the thing in life, it is – ”
“What do you love?”
“Whom? What? I love life and movement – the wind and the sea. The being alive to-day is joy. Look at the grass, the river, the water! If I could only be at ‘Solitude,’ to smell the air as it comes across that sweep of woods!”
“To smell it alone?”
“Alone,” she replied.
“You arrange life on a basis of love.” He laughed. “It is not always fine. In winter the wind is cold and it shrieks unpleasantly; it is not warm like love – real love – and then there is success. Not to-day, nor to-morrow, but in a month or a year you would, I think, grow weary of your paradise alone.”
“Why did you laugh?”
“At myself and your basis of love.”
His philosophy kept him amused, because he was aware of his own foolishness. If there was a certain amount of pain in the laughter no one noticed it. The others caught up to them.
“I do not like that preacher,” said Mrs. Cooper.
“He is one of my aunt’s favourites,” answered Mr. Wainbridge. “She says his descriptions of hell are so reviving for the sinner.”
“So is lunch,” said Launa, “and I am hungry.”
After lunch Mr. Wainbridge followed Launa to her own sitting-room. He intended to conduct a parting. Emotions brighten the desert of life.
He put his arms round her.
“I like your necktie and your pin,” she said.
“I will give you the pin.”
He took it out and handed it to her.
“Now go and sit there. It is too hot for – ”
“You never kiss me or let me kiss you.”
“I hate kissing – indiscriminate kissing.”
“You will not always hate it,” he answered. “I must go, I want to settle things with my uncle. You will accept their invitation to stay there?”
He found it best to forget the day she had asked him to set her free. She remembered it and his confession always.
“Not yet. I could not leave here until Mrs. Cooper and Sylvia go.”
“You will have me with you there all day – it will be perfect.”
“Nothing is perfect,” she answered. “You will be back – when?”
“After dinner. How I wish I could stay here now, but my uncle is so lonely. Good-bye.”
He put his arms round her gently and she let him – he stifled her, while he protected her. To suffer any embrace was unusual for her. He was still, glad to hold her. She was sorry he was leaving her; with him near, certain things were impossible – he was an anchor. But there was the rest of the afternoon and Paul.
“Institutions are good sometimes,” she said.
“That is obscure to me. Good-bye.”
And Launa sang a little song to herself:
As it was the fashion to observe love critically, with unbelief, she would do it too.
Paul came in at the window. He had a book in his hand.
“I am lonely,” he said. “May I stay? I never see you alone now, Launa.”
“Are the others all right? We will talk about the war. Where is Mrs. Cooper?”
“They are all asleep, Sylvia too. Bolton is writing letters, answering the bundle he got this morning. Wainbridge, thank Heaven, has gone to see his uncle.”
“Probably to arrange about our marriage.”
She seated herself opposite him and said this rather defiantly. She wanted to remember Mr. Wainbridge and her marriage.
“You are not married yet… To-day is ours.”
“What shall we do now? You and I?”
“You and I,” he repeated, with joy. “Talk. Be glad we are together.”
“And can talk – about Canada.”
“Yes, about Canada,” he replied. “The products or the people?”
“The people,” she answered slowly.
“We will talk of the women.”
“Yes,” she said.
“About you, for you are a woman.”
“I wish I were not.”
“Because – because men have so much the best of it… Do men like independent women? No, men like them clinging. What does a clinging woman do?”
“I don’t take the faintest interest in inscrutable women,” he replied. “Come out and sit among the pine trees and think of ‘Solitude’ and the lake – ”
“And forget everything except now which is ours?” she said.
“Come then – come.”
The Court, the ancestral home of the Wainbridges, was purchased by the present owner’s father (with the furniture and the portraits) from a family whose possessions consisted of a very ancient title and many debts. Common sense was not included in their inheritance. That they could ever live with a plain cook and a house-parlourmaid and pay their debts never occurred to them.
The Court was built in a circular shape, with what Lady Wainbridge called “heathen pillars,” and a long flight of steps led up to the door. The gardens were beautiful and the flowers took prizes at shows. The house was dreary and not clean. The servants were celebrated for their piety, therefore other virtues were not required; most of them were “reclaimed.”
Lord Wainbridge was in the garden when his nephew arrived. Lady Wainbridge considered fresh air on Sunday a sin, except what little was imbibed when going to and from church in a brougham at eleven o’clock. She held a “Gospel Reunion” in the drawing-room after lunch, which her husband refused to attend.
For some time the two men admired the roses; they were late ones, and a new kind.
“I did not come to see Miss Archer,” said the elder man, “because you never asked me to do so. You made no formal announcement of your engagement to me.”
“Launa has been in mourning for her father. Nothing is settled – yet.”
“It will be soon? I am tired of this life,” said Lord Wainbridge. “I want to be free. I am going to make this place over to you, Hugh.”
His nephew started.
“To me? I cannot express my sense of your goodness to me.”
“Get married soon,” answered his uncle; “when there is an heir I shall feel happy. Your aunt dislikes the Court, and after you marry I shall not feel the need of being even respectable. I can live as I like.”
“You are too good to me. I cannot tell you what I feel.”
He felt his thanks were poor, stilted, and feeble, but he did not know how to express himself better.
“I should like to come and see Miss Archer.”
“Call her Launa,” said his nephew… “You believe in marriage?”
“I believe in yours, of course, and in my own – we all believe in what is. Marriage exists – is it a failure? For individuals sometimes, for the many – no, I suppose not, for they still marry. You will be happy.”
“I hope so.”
“I admired Miss Archer – she is a living girl. Your aunt will also go to see her – I believe this week is a week of solitude and seclusion with your aunt, but afterwards she will go. You must prepare Miss Archer for some disagreeableness and loud prayers. Your aunt is afflicted in that way on these interesting occasions.”
“Yes,” said the other.
“I should like to have Launa here to stay for a few days; but I fear she might not be very happy. What is your opinion?”
“I will tell her. I am sure she will be grateful to you for all your kindness to us both, but – she is uncertain, and aunt Jane’s remarks might affect her.”
“Uncertain! She loves you? I felt sure when I saw her that it was love. Why is she uncertain?”
“I do not know.. perhaps I am wrong. Girls often are.. odd.”
“Sometimes I have hoped you would marry someone with a title, but I like that girl. I received the announcement of your engagement with indifference – it seemed to be only the binding of another man; but now – ”
“You wish my marriage to take place soon? You feel as if it would leave you freer – ”
“It would make you happier, and me also. I should not be backward about settlements.”
“My aunt may die, and you probably will marry again – ”
Lord Wainbridge shook his head.
“No. I shall settle two thousand a year on Miss Archer. She has money, also, I understand?”
“You really desire my marriage?”
“Then I will arrange it as quickly as possible.”
“And I may come and see Launa?”
“My dear uncle, do not ask if you may. I am so grateful, more than grateful to you. I hope, and I am sure Launa will feel as I do, that you will make a second home with us.”
And so they parted.
For some days after his conversation with his uncle Mr. Wainbridge found that solitary discourse with his beloved was impossible. She eluded him, and his news grew stale and lost its power of delighting him. Launa had killed his triumph. She let him kiss her forehead sometimes, but they had no twilight walks and no talks.
Any reminder of their approaching marriage was received by her in silence, and he discovered that whereas formerly his love for a woman always cooled at the idea of the approach of matrimony – his pre-matrimonial love was but a star which paled before the heat and light of the rising hymeneal sun. Now his love was the sun, hot sun, which dried up and withered everything; it made his life one intense longing for her. His passion mastered him; everything was subservient to it. He was possessed by one idea, and longed to marry her and soon. He wanted her for his own – absolutely – body and soul. She did not love as he loved; he would kiss her into it – kiss her to know nothing but his love for her. Oh, God, that it should take so long, and need so much patience!
If Launa were only alone! There were Harvey and Bolton – and Paul he feared most of all. He was a prey to uncomfortably apprehensive thoughts, and all day long he had to talk of the garden or of croquet, while the sun of desire was burning him up, and the days were a weariness.
One day Launa was writing letters.
He came in.
“Allein,” he quoted, “zum ersten mal allein.”
She rose hurriedly and glanced at the door which he had shut. It was raining; the windows were closed.
“I am seriously thinking of looking after my affairs in Canada. It would be a long journey,” she said.
“In Canada?” he repeated. “What about your promise to me? Our marriage?”
“I thought you had forgotten about marriage. It is some time since we talked of love – we have talked very little about marriage.”
She undid her scent bottle on her chatelaine.
“Dearest,” he murmured, taking her hand while his heart beat tumultuously. He thought she was jealous, even though he knew she did not love him as he loved her, yet he believed, with the invincible belief of man, that she could be jealous of him. “You must not go to Canada alone. We will go there on our honeymoon!”
This proposition, sweet as it appeared to him, evidently did not raise any feeling of exhilaration in her.
“Canada is too far away for a honeymoon. You would have nothing to do there.”
“We will go to Paris.”
“Very well,” she replied.
Her calmness maddened him.
“Launa, darling, try to love me. I care for you so much; you are all the world to me. I love you – I love you!”
He took her in his arms, and it had all the appearance of a passionate, willing embrace. Paul was just going to open the window to come in. Launa did not see him – he turned round and walked away, and Mr. Wainbridge let her go.
“Don’t do that,” she said. “I hate it, loathe it, and if it were not for you and my pity – my pity, do you hear? I would.. Sit there and talk rationally. I am a cold stone. I hate love-making, and you are going to be my husband. Have you forgotten the conversation you and I had at Victoria Mansions?”
He sat down by her, and did not answer her question. Instead, he told her all that Lord Wainbridge had said.
“Darling! my beloved! May I tell him it will be soon? Our marriage.”
“Soon?” she repeated drawing away her hand… “I am so lonely, and you are no help. I wish I had someone to help me.”
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî