A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
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“You can’t; don’t you see that? Well, no matter. Will you wait until after lunch – until this evening? Then I will give you an answer.”
“My uncle is anxious to know you. He has been so good to us. We will repay him by being good to him. He needs it.”
“I know; I know.”
“Have you seen the Times?” asked the Member for Hackney, advancing with assurance and sitting down. The Times, he knew, was in the drawing-room; he had just put it down. He had also seen Paul Harvey’s face as he passed the window. Mr. Bolton had no particular feeling for Paul except that of wishing him out of the way. Harvey’s countenance looked as if he meant to go – somewhere. Such a resolution could only portend various developments with Mr. Wainbridge.
Mr. Bolton had just heard and seen in the Times, that he was beyond all doubt Lord Fairmouth.
Miss Cooper had hay fever for two days; no doubt this was due to the second crop of hay having just been cut. Her mother explained this at great length. Sylvia suffered intensely, and her eyes were very red. Everyone pitied her, and she stayed all day in her room; Mrs. Cooper could not stay with her for long, because hay fever is infectious.
“Poor Fairmouth is really dead,” said the Member for Hackney.
“And you are Lord Fairmouth now,” said Launa slowly.
She was thinking of something else; but it appeared to him as if her meditations were about him and his good fortune.
“Yes,” he replied.
Mr. Wainbridge left the room. The house was very quiet. He looked for Paul, but he could not find him. Paul had gone away in the canoe.
Mr. Wainbridge, therefore, was obliged to control the irresistible desire to confide in Paul, and in him only. Paul took such an interest in Launa, so did Lord Fairmouth, but Mr. Wainbridge did not fear him.
It was after dinner, during which meal Mrs. Cooper again discussed hay fever, and the depression consequent thereupon. Mr. Wainbridge was very silent. Lord Fairmouth recommended eucalyptus, and Launa looked pale, even anxious. Paul and the canoe had not returned, and it was growing dark, with a strong wind from the north-east. After dinner she was very restless and wandered about, then she began to play the piano.
Lord Fairmouth went away to write, and Mrs. Cooper retired to bed. She had old-fashioned ideas as to lovers, and regarded them as something almost indecent, requiring constant and frequent privacy.
Launa played on. The wind was shrieking, and then roaring through the tree tops. At last it gave a sudden scream and a yell. She jumped up, and her hands fell on the keys with a crash. A door banged, and a gust of wind clamoured against the window and howled outside.
“Where is Paul?”
She had been playing a Chopin study – number XI.
“Chopin is sometimes hysterical,” said Mr. Wainbridge.
“Here I am, Launa,” and Paul came in. “You were frightened. The wind is making a tremendous noise.When I opened the front door it was howling and shrieking, and nearly blew the lamps out.”
He took both her hands, and held them firmly. Her colour had come back, and she breathed quickly. There was a pause. Mr. Wainbridge strolled across the room.
“Launa, now is the time to tell Harvey your decision. When shall we be married?”
Paul let her hands go.
“When?” he asked. “Before I return to Canada? I am going soon.”
“In September,” said Mr. Wainbridge.
“Yes,” said Launa. “Paul, you have not forgotten your promise. You will give me away?”
Mr. Wainbridge gave a sigh of relieved tension. He had dreaded something different. The wind and the ?tude had affected his nerves also.
After he retired to his bed that night he remembered that Launa had said she was going to Canada. Paul had said so too. Had there been anything in this mutual resolve to go to Canada. Would he have lost her? The possibility – nay, the certainty – of this showed him his proposal for their marriage was only just in time. Her indifference was not the least of her attractions for him.
In two days Lord Wainbridge came to see her. They talked of the weather and of marriage, both of them changeable varieties, and of absorbing interest.
Lord Fairmouth went up to town, and as he went he remembered the Fisheries. Launa and he had talked very little about them. He had left the House of Commons, and she was going to be married.
Mrs. Herbert was unhappy. She clothed herself with discrimination, and drove frequently with Sir Ralph. She had given up her reputation, and cared nothing for what people thought or said, and they said all they could say. The subject of the behaviour of a woman whose husband is away, and who is continually (they said always) with another man, is inexhaustible. Sir Ralph was kind to her. His was the kindness of stupidity, and he did not mind her being very silent.
She despised herself. It would have been brave of her to have sent him away. Sir Ralph never kissed her, and he seldom stayed later than eleven o’clock. No one knew this, nor would they have believed it if she said so.
Lily bore the cold and indifferent greetings of her friends with an absence of notice which could only be attributed to guilt.
It was September. Mrs. Herbert was in town, with occasional days at the sea. She preferred to remain at her flat. Sir Ralph thought she stayed because town was empty, therefore a constant recognition of him and of her, when together, by their mutual friends was impossible, and they could meet in peace and in half secret.
This was not Mrs. Herbert’s real reason. She was waiting for her husband. She was always expecting him, always hoping that he might come back, and very often she seemed to hear his step on the stairs, to hear the click of his latch-key, and that was all. She feared to be away for long; he would perhaps come, and not finding her waiting would imagine things. She tolerated Sir Ralph while she slightly despised him. Love always bored her; he had told her he loved her. She had replied that love was a detail. He might love her if he liked; it kept him from mischief, no doubt.
“And you?” he asked.
“Oh, me! From suicide, perhaps.”
The day was fine. Mrs. Herbert put on her newest dress to drive and lunch and dine with Sir Ralph somewhere out of town.
“Have you seen the papers?” he asked, when they had shaken hands, and he had not kept the resolution, which he made every day, of kissing her. It was easy to resolve when he came up in the lift.
“I never read them in the morning. In the evening I do – advertisements and everything. Tell me the news.”
“Perhaps it would be as well for you not to drive to-day… It would not look well for one’s future wife to be seen even while there is any uncertainty. It would look as if you had no respect for the world’s arrangements. I will stay here with you. You may do as you like, but it is as well to respect etiquette.”
“What are you talking about? Tell me. Who is your future wife? Is she a nun?”
Sir Ralph handed her the Morning Post.
“ ‘Yacht gone down of Mr. Blakeley’s,’ ” she read. “Well? What has that to do with me? ‘All hands lost, and the names of the passengers.’ ”
“Read them! Read them!” he said.
And she read:
“Blakeley and his wife – together – lucky souls. Mrs. Grey, I never liked her. John Colquhoun – Herbert! – Herbert! What!” she exclaimed. “Jack – it can’t be – is it true? Jack… God! it is cruel, cruel, and I have waited – waited, believing he would come – believing, and he was only cruising about with Mrs. Grey. Go away,” she said, with sudden energy and anger. “Go now. I hate you, hate you, hate you! It is for you that he thinks I have given him up; fool – as if I would or could. Now, it is forever – why is it? Why is it? I must hurt something!” She picked up a yellow vase full of sweet peas, and threw it away from her. It crashed against the brass fender. “Jack loathed that vase, now it is broken – but the sweet peas are spilt. Help me to pick up the flowers – do help me. They look so red – they are bruised and half-dead – they seem human – they suffer. They are Jack’s favourite flower. Go! go – why don’t you go?”
“I cannot bear to leave you. Lily, think of me – a little – think of – ”
“Leave me. Go now, and never come back.”
She threw herself down on the floor, crushing her fresh dress and knocking down another vase, which broke. She lay there and could not cry – could only moan, long shuddering moans of sorrow. Alone, alone – always now, and forever, and he never would know that she had loved him – loved him! If only she had written to him!
Launa was busy with her clothes, and people were giving her teaspoons.
Paul had gone to Germany. He would return in time for her wedding. Hugh Wainbridge and Lord Wainbridge, who liked his future niece very much, had her all to themselves. Lady Wainbridge sent her volumes of sermons and books on the disappointments of the marriage state.
“I suppose it is wretched,” said Launa; “but people seem to bear it fairly well after a time.”
“I could,” said her lover, “with you. Don’t believe all you read in my aunt’s books.”
“Thank you,” she replied gaily.
They were alone in the music-room. The piano had vases of flowers, and a strip – a beautiful deadening strip – of velvet upon it. Launa’s piano had hitherto been bare.
Matrimony and music – more often matrimony and discord. She did not play very much, only little things for Lord Wainbridge; Chopin and ghosts went together.
“How do you like my dress?” she asked.
Mr. Wainbridge inspected her critically.
“It is too black,” he said.
It fell in long straight folds made of some soft black material. It was becoming and yet dreary, like the robe of a sister of charity.
“It suits you; but you look like a widow.”
“Death,” she said; “how unlucky of you to say that! I dreamed of a coffin last night – my own – and I was getting in and out of it to see if it fitted.”
“Dearest, you and I shall always be together.”
“Always?” she repeated, with a little shiver, as if some ghost of the past was near, “always.”
Already his mind did not answer hers. She did not want him always.
“It was a horrid dream. It frightened me.”
“You will never be frightened with me. Have you heard about Herbert?”
“I have heard nothing about him.”
“He was yachting with Blakeley in the Mediterranean, and the yacht went down. They were all drowned.”
“All? Mr. Herbert too?”
“How terrible! I am so sorry for Lily, and I liked him very much. What will she do? She loves him, I am sure of that. It is terrible.”
“Darling you feel for all women. But for her – she has Sir Ralph.”
“Yes, but she does not love him. I must go to her. I may as well go now.”
“Now? It is tea-time.”
“Well, why not? With her it is probably no time, simply a long, dreary future through which she must exist. I will change my dress; ring for tea, and then you can come with me – in a hansom.”
“Mrs. Herbert has said vile things about you and me. She said you were – ”
“I know. But now she is in trouble, and I am sorry for her. I can forget what she has said. She was once my friend, and so I will go to her.”
She dressed quickly, and they drove to Mrs. Herbert’s.
Launa did not ask whether Lily would see her. She sent him away and went in alone. A bewildered maid, whose eyes were red with weeping, led the way to the drawing-room.
Mrs. Herbert lay, face downwards, on the big sofa. She had stayed on the floor until the maids lifted her on to it.
In her mind was a galloping medley of thoughts and regrets, of ungratified desires; a repetition of words she had not said, and now could never say, hurried through her brain with torturing reiteration.
Launa kneeled by her.
“I have come to you to try and comfort you.”
Mrs. Herbert moaned – and then started.
“You! you! Oh Launa, I am so wretched. He is dead – dead without knowing how I love him… He will never know. Is it really you, Launa? I was a brute to you; I was jealous of you. Can you forgive me? I am alone, alone. I thought he was fond of you.”
“He used to talk of you,” said Launa.
“Help me!” said the other. “It is all over.”
For some days Launa stayed with her. Lily was more than miserable; she was crushed, and could not bear to be alone.
There was so much inaction, none of those details which have to be fulfilled when anyone dies at home, no work was to be done except the purchasing of black, no beautiful flowers to arrange, no farewell look, painful, yet a comfort, for in the last sleep the wayfarer appears at peace. There was nothing, only a dumb hideous sorrow and remorse, endless torment, weary reflection on a dreadful past, which she would have blotted out if she could, and the tears of repentance wash away nothing.
Some days had passed since the dreadful tidings.
Mrs. Herbert went exhausted to bed, and Launa left her to go home.
Hugh Wainbridge had come to fetch her, and stayed until after tea. Launa was resting when Sylvia came in.
She wandered about the room touching everything until Launa said:
“Sit down, Sylvia, unless you desire to be slain.”
Sylvia obediently sat down.
She had grown morose and variable. She no longer took an interest in Mr. George and his frivolities, and she worked very hard.
Launa talked a little about Lily.
“I know,” said Sylvia, “that she is miserable now, and yet I envy her. They were together for a time, he loved her and she loved him. She can remember it all. What is the use of goodness? Good women live and die without knowing love, mad real love. Men marry them, but – why didn’t I do as he wanted me to do? He loved me, he asked me over and over again to belong to him absolutely, and I refused. He promised to settle all he had on me, and no one need have known. I loved him – how I do still love him! I thought I was doing right, and I believed that God would reward us – us mind – I believed that. I was sure that together we should be rewarded. He would never have died if I had gone, and people could have called me bad, but I would have been gloriously happy with him.”
“It is awful,” said Launa, “the apparent futility of all things.”
“I have never lived, never had any life, nor joy, nothing except empty applause at the theatre… I am so wretched, so wretched. I will go to see Mrs. Herbert and tell her I envy her. He has held her in his arms, he has kissed her, and I ache for the touch of those arms I shall never feel, I hunger for the kisses I shall never have.”
“Ah, never,” said Launa softly.
“I shall be sorry to-morrow when I remember all I have said. You are lucky, you are happy, and I – She is better off; I wish I had had her chances – if I had lived with him he would never have left me. Will he ever know how I love him? Will he, Launa? Say something. Don’t stare at me. Will he? Do you believe it?”
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor death, nor parting, nor marriage, nor anything.”
“No,” said Sylvia, “nor marriage. He was married to a devil. A reputation never brought a woman comfort. You never say to yourself ‘I am respectable!’ You do not feel as if respectability were a new frock in which to rejoice. Would you, Launa, have received me if I had been – what would my label be?”
“There are no men, there is no man, who is worthy of a woman giving up everything for him.”
“There is love, love, love. I will go to see Mrs. Herbert to-morrow. It is so easy to call men unworthy, but life is dreary when one tries to be good.”
Lily Herbert had accepted her fate – one must, no matter how rebellious the heart may be. The days were long and black and endless; the nights were worse, and full of spectres. The path of life behind her shone with the brilliancy of past happiness, which is often imaginary; before her the path was dark, with the gloom of hopelessness and despair.
Sylvia’s sympathy was a light to her. They frequently talked about Launa. How happy she was! How fortunate! Loved by the gods and by men. The love of men they put last; it was first in both their minds. The love of the gods is death, the love of man life. They had both wilfully thrown it away.
“Once he told me I should live with him as his sister,” said Sylvia. “I hated him for it. I would have been his mistress, but not his sister. He was too good, and I was willing to risk all for him. He gave me credit for so much goodness.”
“Why did you not try it?” asked Lily. “Men do not care for the brotherly pose very long. Their resolutions are momentary.”
Sylvia looked at her. Then she had felt sure men mean what they say after they have said it, as well as while they are saying it – she had changed her mind now.
“I see,” she replied, “and it is too late.”
There was a pause for some moments. Each woman was thinking of those things which usually intrude only at night, and which we push into their corner and avoid contemplating as much as possible.
“Launa is an angel,” said Lily. “She has been so good to me.”
“She has never loved any one,” said Sylvia.
“She would probably have married the other man for money, if she had,” said Lily.
“Her well-regulated affection for Mr. Wainbridge is like her engagement ring. A diamond between two sapphires – neat and even. Have you ever seen my locket?”
“No. I cannot help thinking, Sylvia, he meant to come back. He sent me a present on my birthday, a little locket of pearls. He would not have sent pearls if he thought me – bad – would he? Oh, Sylvia, how lovely!”
Sylvia had unbuttoned her dress and pulled out a locket. It was an opal in the shape of a heart, surrounded by diamonds. It gleamed and glowed with an unearthly radiance. It seemed a living thing emitting sparks of fire.
“How lovely!” repeated Lily.
Sylvia hid it again.
“It knew when he was dying, and grew so dull and pale. Now it burns brighter than ever.”
Then they parted. Sylvia went to the theatre, Lily sat by the fire. The day was cold and dark. She had cocoa instead of dinner, that was an ordeal she could not face alone. She sat and thought; she shut her eyes until she imagined he was there, she could almost feel his kisses, till a shuddering sob of the cold reality recalled her mind to the present. About nine o’clock her parlourmaid came in and told her Captain Carden wished to see her on important business.
“Very well,” said Lily, “I will see him.”
She disliked him – indifferently – and regarded a visit from him as she would one from the cabinet-maker or the plumber, so he was admitted, when to Mr. George or Sir Ralph she would have said “Not at home.”
Captain Carden’s face was red, he appeared excited.
“I have good news,” he said. “You dislike Launa almost as much as I do?”
“No, no, Launa and I are friends. She is one of the noblest women I have ever met.”
“You have changed. Would you not be glad to hear something which will give her trouble, which will be a blow to her? Women often are glad when such things happen.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you are telling me the truth I will not tell you what I mean. Are you not trying to deceive me by a pretence of virtue and friendship with Launa? You are slightly under a cloud now, will she know what gloom means soon?”
“I shall not tell you. I am waiting until – what day is she to be married to Wainbridge? On which day are they to be joined together, and never put asunder by man? When he can kiss her, touch her, and hold her – that is what men do.”
“Go away. Go at once, you have had too much to drink.”
“You do not want to hear? You do not – ?”
Left alone, Mrs. Herbert thought it all over. Captain Carden was mad with rage and jealousy.
Reflection during the night watches made her write to him, asking him to tea, and mentioning that she had changed her mind.
Captain Carden came. He spent the afternoon with her, and left in a rage because he had not been invited to Launa’s wedding on the 25th. He sent her a present – a chain supposed to possess power against the evil eye.
After this Carden visited Mrs. Herbert frequently. Launa spent the time in receiving presents, and trying on dresses, and in suffering the embraces of her future lord, who had grown more ardent and more reckless in his love-making. Paul came back from Norway, and Mr. George ordered a new frock-coat, and admired Sylvia more fervently in black than in any colour. He went every available night to see her act, and wished for Sunday evening performances in London, for on that evening they seldom met, and he had not the satisfaction of gazing at her. Launa announced her intention of going, soon after her marriage, to Norway, where her father was buried.
Mr. Wainbridge was jealous – jealous of the dead man.
He agreed to go. He reminded himself when he promised that he was merely a lover – when the promise was to be carried out he would be a husband. There is a difference between the doings of lovers and husbands; few people – especially women – realise this beforehand.
It was the twenty-sixth of October, and very cold. Launa had been for a long walk; the suspicion of frost was quite Canadian and exhilarating while it wearied her. She was staying at Shelton.
It was barely six. She was reading. She heard a carriage drive up and wondered who it could be.
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