A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
And Launa was too late.
After an absence of one week she came back to London, crushed, weary, and heart-sick. Her life seemed to be over. She had seen him again, but he was dead. There was nothing she could do, it was all over. If only she had Paul! She could have screamed with the torture of fate. She realised the disappointment of life, that nothing could be as it had been. A new life might come to her, but she could never gather the old one together again. Perhaps some day she would be reminded of the past when she had forgotten. To be reminded it is necessary to have forgotten. But now she suffered – now she wanted everything she had not. She felt the torture of the vain longing for the impossible; a blister on her body would have been a relief; there was one on her soul. She wished she had told her father about Paul; she wished she could forget Paul; she wished he were there with her, and then she resolved again to forget him.
She wrote to Mr. Wainbridge and told him of her terrible trouble. It was a relief to pour out her mind to someone who understood, and to whom she could say mad things – whether he sympathised or not she did not care.
She was rich, and inundated with letters of sympathy. Each writer considered herself the one consoler Launa required. Men do not write that kind of letter; they merely leave cards.
Mrs. Carden sent pages of lamentation and exhortation, interspersed with demands for one interview, just one, with her dearest Launa.
Lily Herbert came up to town for the day. She was sorry for Launa when she could remember to be so. It was with great difficulty she could disguise the cheerful grin her countenance had assumed since her marriage. She could not understand Launa’s abandonment to grief. If Sir John had died Lily would have wept, when reflecting on her lonely position, and then have smiled over the patterns of new mourning.
Launa remained dumb to her and with her; Lily realised at last, with a certain sort of awe, that Launa was stricken; that she was full of sorrow which was not easily ended, and that she could not bear attempts at consolation, which were merely, and only could be, attempts. Who can raise the dead? Launa passed through the lonely dark valley of nevermore – of hunger for one face, for one word, which is so intense as to be torture, and to which was added the desire for the presence of a man whom she felt was unfaithful to her. Could she bear another man’s kisses? How could he then kiss another woman?
To stay in London was impossible for her, and so she chose to go to a little village in Derbyshire which her father had loved as a boy. The Black Country, with its barren moors and lonely stonewalled hills, attracted her; the warm valleys full of bracken and alder bushes, through which the rushing mountain streams tore, had a wild beauty and a lulling power. It was very lonely and bleak. She could walk for miles without seeing anyone, and the people she did meet were for the most part only villagers.Much as she longed to see “Solitude” again, she felt the impossibility of going there.
During all these long, long days of sorrow and direful longing, Mr. Wainbridge wrote to her. Almost every day a letter came, and she began to look for them and to answer them. At first she had only sent him scrawls, but he had gradually drifted into an intimate – a most intimate friend.
She often re-read his letters, and there was more in them than the actual words said. She gave him credit for an intuition which he did not possess. He loved her, and he divined that she did not love him; she could almost love him for that. Women usually love men for imaginary qualities. She thought him brave and pure; she fancied he loved what she did, instead of which he loved her. Her personality made life interesting; her playing made music an everlasting joy.
The day after she was settled at Fair View she had a long letter from him in answer to her first coherent one.
A course of these letters was very comforting. To be necessary to someone is what many women are obliged to be, instead of being loved.
The days were long and full of pain. She did not grow accustomed to it. The wound was as open and sore as at first. It was a relief to be alone, and to be allowed to be sorrowful. There was no peace, no joy anywhere.
Lily Herbert as Lily Phillips had realised the importance of keeping her husband’s love, not his toleration. Mr. Phillips had been affectionate always, and she had tolerated him. She remembered it all; she had been so relieved and glad when he was away from her, his kisses nauseated her.
With Herbert life was joy, and, had she not firmly believed it could not last, real happiness would have been hers.
Their honeymoon had lasted for three weeks, three weeks of absolute happiness, tempered only by her husband’s reflections of sorrow for Launa – for he admired Launa. Lily did likewise, and she feared her, too. Lily wondered whether she was to be the one who cared most; in all marriages one cares more than the other. She had always felt a contempt for women who show they care while their husbands seem indifferent. She blamed them; they were no longer desirable to their husbands; they were within reach. Someone must lead, so she took it: fear lest he should change or grow tired lent terror to all her ideas and movements.
They were staying in Surrey. The house was small, with a garden which was a bower of roses, with beautiful lawns and large cedar trees. They lived out of doors. Mr. Herbert did not work, and she took to embroidery. He told her she looked absolutely lovely when she sewed.
“There is something syren-like about you,” he said. “You will never grow old; you could not become unattractive.”
“Is that all – is that all you are going to say to me, only thank you?”
“All,” she said.
He came over by her.
“Your hands are so beautiful. I would like to live like this always.”
“It would not be always June and warm,” she said.
“I love you, love you absolutely – what can change it?”
“What?” she repeated, even while she feared. “Don’t ask, you will spoil it.”
“You never – will not often let me kiss you. Why is it?”
“I hate kissing.”
“I will kiss you,” he said masterfully. “You are mine, mine, mine. You are an enchantress, a witch. When I am with you, or away from you, I think of nothing but you. My life is all you.”
He took her in his arms gently. She remembered with a shudder those horrible embraces of her first marriage. He kissed her lips, those warm red lips which were one of her chief beauties; but it was all done so gently.
“You were afraid of me,” he said. “Heavens! here is someone coming to call.”
“And you have crushed my blouse,” she said reproachfully.
It was Lady Blake.
“How are you both?” she asked, as she rustled towards them, pretty, smiling, and glancing from one to the other.
“Very happy,” said Mr. Herbert. “The nightingales are still singing.”
“Ah,” said Lady Blake, as she seated herself in his chair, and accepted a cushion from him. “Happy – there is something subdued about happiness. I want you to come and stay with me.”
“When is your uncle coming home?” Lily said to her husband.
“In a week,” he replied.
“In a week then,” said Mrs. Herbert, “we would like to come to you.”
After Lady Blake left he said:
“And now it is over.”
“Not over,” she answered, “just beginning. We stay at Blake House for two weeks, and then papa wants us.”
Mr. Herbert acquiesced. He had given in to her conditions, and he knew what she did not or pretended not to believe, that he loved her with all his soul. He would go with cheerfulness to Lady Blake’s, anything to prolong the honeymoon, and he hoped Lily would forget her proposed arrangement when they returned to town. That oblivion might descend on her mind he prayed!
After their visits they went back to London.
They arrived one morning about twelve, and drove to her flat in Sloane Street, he had his luggage sent to his rooms which were two streets further on.
“I think we might take a larger flat,” he suggested. “It would be cheaper and less trouble.”
She laughed and answered:
“By and by. You remember our bargain? We are not to grow tired like other people or to see too much of each other – enough of each other.”
“And so one of us is to be always miserable,” he said.
“Isn’t it better?” she asked. “Isn’t anything better than for either of us to be tired?”
There were tears in her eyes.
“No, my beloved, it is not better. Will you not think it over? Will you – ” he held her hand. “We are so happy, we shall be always. It will last, I swear it will – ”
The cab stopped and she got out.
She gave herself a little shake as she went up in the lift. How perilously near giving in she had been! What would it be to her to lose the lover? A husband is a poor exchange. No, she would be firm.
The little flat looked very pretty, there were flowers everywhere. Her two maids welcomed her with smiles and blushes. Lunch was ready.
Mrs. Herbert went to take off her hat. Her own room was decorated with white flowers; it was a dear little white and green room.
“I should like to wash my hands,” said her husband meekly.
“Yes, you may. I will show you my room. Now that we are married I can show you everything. There is a delightful sensation of freedom as well as of bondage in matrimony.”
She took him into her room and left him there.
“That is my spare room,” she said, and pointed to a door. “It will be your room when I ask you to stay here.”
“There is something unusually novel in being asked to stay with one’s wife. It is as if you had me on approval.”
“Don’t say that,” she suggested. “No, you belong to me now.”
“I wish I did. You are like the angel with the drawn sword at the gate of the Garden of Eden. He was not placed there until after Eve had eaten the apple. I suppose I have had a bite of my apple.”
“You are anticipating. You are borrowing trouble. Wash your hands and come to lunch.”
He looked into the next room. It was yellow and white, and dainty and fresh. A row of his boots would disfigure it. His bachelor quarters seemed so dull in comparison. The faint smell of violets came from her clothes, he used her hair brush, and looked at her shoes lingeringly.
They ate their lunch and smoked afterwards.
“This is lovely!” he said, with a sigh.
“And how unlike matrimony. The average husband likes to use his authority at first, and says he will have the pictures altered, and he cannot sleep in a bed which runs from east to west, or from north to south or – ”
He looked at her rather sadly.
“You are not an average wife, and I am little more than a bachelor even now.”
“You are a very nice one.”
“Will you come and see my abode? You have seen my sitting-room, but Mrs. Grant has it all done up, and so you must pay me a visit.”
“Do you remember one day when I went to have tea with you, and Mrs. Carson disappointed us? How terrified I was that someone might see me, though you told the minion to say you were out. Every time the bell rang I thought it was a man who would force his way in; do you remember?”
“Do I not remember? Put on your hat.”
“I will change my dress. You will wait?”
“For ever,” with a smile and a glance.
So far they both felt matrimony a success; desire had not failed. When would it?
Joy was clouded by apprehension in her mind; in his there was no doubt, no fear. He knew himself better than she did. They walked together to his rooms. He showed her all over them. His housekeeper, Mrs. Grant, welcomed her. She too had arranged flowers in plenty.
“How will you have this room furnished?” he asked, as he threw open the door. It was a large room, the best one in a set of four. It had been his work-room, but he had given it up for another, and a dark one.
“This is to be your room when you come to stay.”
She smiled. There was a touch of genius in his suggestion – more a touch of impropriety – which appealed to her.
“You will ask me to stay?”
“Sometimes,” he replied. “Not too often, lest you grow weary of me and find fault with the housekeeping.”
“Pale pink would be pretty for the room decorations, and also be becoming. I would come more frequently if it were becoming.” She turned to look at his pictures. “Oh! here is a photograph of Launa. She gave it to you?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“She is beautiful, and what a queer girl! I had no idea her father’s death would make her so wretched. She was perfectly crushed. She behaved as if he were her lover.”
“He was very fond of her.”
“He was devoted to her. I cannot quite make her out. She is – there is a history somewhere. I did not know she had given you her photograph. I suppose she gave them to everyone. She did not keep them only for people she cared for. I am glad,” she said suddenly, “that I have enough money to do without yours.”
“I can give you presents.”
“And ask me to stay.”
“For always. I ask you now,” he said. “I beg you. Will you stay always with me? Not in these rooms, but we can have one flat together.”
“You promised,” she answered, with a slightly unsteady voice. “You promised – don’t.”
To remind a man of his promise when he wants to break it, frequently means the woman would not mind if he did, and if he insists she will give in. It betrays weakness. He put his arms round her and said nothing, but he gave no orders for the immediate furnishing of one large flat. Her experiment should be tried. He had no desire or intention of forcing her to give in nor of being master; just then she would have liked him to be master, but how can a man know these things?
They went back to her rooms for dinner. She put on a creamy gown trimmed with lace; he gave her some pale pink roses and fastened them on. He never forgot her flowers.
In the evening they sat in the big window and looked out at the moon – it rose, a big round shining moon. They were silent. At last she said:
“The stars are larger than the moon, but how faint beside it. The moon is nearer.”
“That is what one feels sometimes,” he answered. “One loves the stars, but the moon is nearer.”
“Yes, it is nearer. Would you feel so? Am I the moon or a star? Of what are you thinking?”
“Of me. Think of something nice.”
“You are not nice. You are original, and that is never nice. How lonely I shall be to-night!”
Here Mr. George walked in.
“I have come,” he said, “to condole with you both on being married.”
“How kind of you!” said Lily.
“And to ask you, Mrs. Herbert, whether the bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? There were two in your bush. Do gratify my desire – my ardent desire – for information.”
“I will,” she replied. “First I must give you some coffee and ask you to look at the moon.”
“Moon,” repeated Mr. George. “There are many moons; this is the old moon, not your kind, and this one is lovely. Was your moon full of honey?”
“No,” replied Mr. Herbert, lighting a cigarette, “ours was without anything sickly or monotonous.”
“Exactly,” answered Mr. Herbert.
“Tell me now, Mrs. Herbert, about the bush. Is it not better to have two in the bush than the bird in your hand?”
“Are you asking merely as a journalist, Mr. George? Or do you honestly desire information?”
“I desire honest information and information honestly.”
“Two in the bush,” she repeated.
“Sir Ralph and Mr. Buxton,” suggested the inquirer softly. “Perhaps you prefer the bird in your hand as well as the two in the bush, for they are still there. They have returned to town, and are looking more cheerful than they appeared at your wedding. If you remember, they left that festive scene early, before your departure for the desert of matrimony.”
“The bird in the hand is enough for me,” said Lily, “enough now.”
“Ah!” said her husband, with an air of abstraction, “now.”
“Yes, now,” she said defiantly.
“Now,” repeated Mr. George, with exaggerated emphasis. “Why are we all talking of now? Tell me about Launa, Mrs. Herbert? Where is she?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Herbert, “where is she?”
“I will make you both a present of her address,” said Lily. “She will not see you; you can both write volumes to her, and you, Mr. George, will at once rush by the night or the morning train to see her.”
“No, time and distance will merely mellow her affection for me. I am very fond of her, too fond, for I love her.”
“Dear me,” said Lily. “In what way do you love her? Hopelessly, madly, platonically, or matrimonially?”
“Not matrimonially, because I could never tire of her; not platonically, platonic people are too clever and enjoy their experiences too much to be indifferent, but they never want to kiss each other. I might – ”
“These are revelations,” said Mr. Herbert.
“Go on,” commanded Lily.
“I can’t. Launa is perfect. I fear she does not love me. When I call her Launa, her eyelids never quiver. Did you ever quiver, Mrs. Herbert?”
“You are intellectual. I am going to write a book and call it ‘Marriage.’ There will be various assortments in it. Platonic matrimony is interesting.”
“Very,” said Lily.
She went away to get the address for him.
“Wainbridge is very fond of Miss Archer,” said George, when he was alone with Herbert.
“She looked ill when I last saw her. I am going to write to her.”
“Tell her – ”
“Tell her what?” asked Lily, returning as he spoke.
“That we are perfectly, indefinitely happy.”
“How unlucky of you, Jack. You never should boast about happiness. It will go. How dreadful of you. I know something will go wrong.”
“You have no nerve,” said Mr. Herbert.
“These connubial differences so early in your matrimonial career are most embarrassing,” said Mr. George. “Later you will seldom or never differ, or differ altogether. Thus do the early quarrels of husband and wife evolve themselves. I must go.”
“Shall we ever become indifferent?” she asked. “Shall we ever grow old and cold and – ?”
“Grey,” interrupted Herbert. “The moon will change and not shine.”
They gazed at each other as if appalled by their remarks.
“Anyway the moon does not shine solely for you,” said Mr. George. “Farewell.”
Mr. Herbert accompanied him to the door, and when he came back to her, Lily said:
“Good-night, you must go home.”
“It is so late for me to be out, and I want to stay with you.”
“No. You must go,” she said.
“May I come to breakfast?”
“At a quarter-past nine.”
“Good-night, my darling, my – good-night.”
He lingered. He was loath to go, and she almost said, “Stay, never go;” but she did not say it, and so he left her.
She missed him. He had gone away indifferently, and had not seemed to mind. She had ordered a special breakfast for him next day. Where had he gone after leaving her? The moon and the star comparison returned to her mind. Then she wrote to Sir Ralph Egerton, telling him to come to see her. Had Jack borne their first parting with indifference?
It was part of the plan that the wife should not worry whether her husband suffered indifference or any other malady. Worry causes sleepless nights and wrinkles. Mrs. Herbert went to bed, but the moon shone in and she could not sleep. She hoped he could not; nor did he.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî