A Girl of the North. A Story of London and Canada
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Mrs. Herbert was at home. Her drawing-room had been crowded. Sir Ralph Egerton had paid his first visit, and was more admiring, more devoted than ever. Lily had increased in value in his eyes now that another man had appropriated her. Her desirability was greater because she was out of reach.
Lily was looking particularly well. Sir Ralph had brought her a wedding present and an invitation to go to the play with him. The guests had all left, and he had not succeeded in persuading her to come when Mr. Wainbridge came in, followed by Mr. Herbert.
“Sir Ralph wants me to go to the theatre to-night,” she said, turning to her husband. “You are not asked.”
“I shall be delighted if you will come,” said Sir Ralph politely.
“I cannot,” answered Mr. Herbert. “You have forgotten your engagement, Lily, to come with me.”
“So I have. Sir Ralph, will you dine here to-morrow night and we can go somewhere? I won’t ask you, dear,” she said to her husband, “for you would not be amused.”
“Many thanks, I will come at eight to-morrow,” said Sir Ralph. “Good-bye.”
“Tell me about yourself,” said Lily to Mr. Wainbridge. “How are you?”
Mr. Herbert left them alone.
“I am very well. I want you to help me.”
“To help you?”
“Will you try to get Miss Archer to come back to town? I cannot go to Derbyshire to see her.”
“You want to see her?”
“I will do what I can. You want to marry her?”
“Marriage is not peace – not always.”
“It is better than separation and distance,” he replied. “Where are you and your husband going?”
“Out – to the opera and then to supper somewhere.”
After he went away Lily wrote to Launa and then dressed and went out with her husband. They were so happy when they were together, and his absences, ordered by herself, were so trying – he was kind and strong, moreover he loved her. How terrible if he were to forget, to grow cold! She hardened her heart – her way was the best. She forgot that a day comes when passion must grow cooler; then it is that friendship seasoned by passion takes its place, and makes life rest and sweetness. She was torn with jealousy lest he might care for some other woman, for if he were to, he would not settle down to the dull, assured matrimonial existence when he grew used to her, and probably seek amusement elsewhere. This was her way of keeping his love. She let him see her seldom, not often alone. He heard of her flirtations from herself. She loved him absolutely, and she feared the force of her love might cause his to grow cold, therefore she kept him at a distance and hungered for a sign, for a caress from him, while she never betrayed her feelings.
The next day Launa received the following letter. She was starting for a long walk when it came, and read it on the way.
Launa went across the moor to the “Cat and Fiddle.” Only by long walks could she kill the restlessness which overcame her. She was longing to hear some music again, and Lily’s letter arrived at exactly the very best time for Mr. Wainbridge.
Mr. Wainbridge wrote almost every day. He sent her books, music, and flowers. He tried to induce her to come to town. He told her that he loved her with a love of the soul, that his one longing was to comfort her, to endeavour to make up for the grief and despair of the past. She thought of him with interest. He possessed the glamour of a lover for her without any of the disadvantages of being enamoured herself. This was an affection of the mind – a soul-love that he felt for her; it lulled her into security. She resolved to leave in a week for London, there to begin her music again.
As she walked home across the moor, she thought of the days at “Solitude” with her father – she felt old and sad. Work only was left; her aspirations on first coming to London seemed the foolish yearnings of a child for the moon. She would do something – play, work, and forget with her heart and soul, and also she would care for some person. This unsatisfied longing for the woods, for her father and the old life must be crushed, and speedily. How easy it was to label her longings! She did not add the desire for one word from Paul to them, and yet that was the greatest one of all. Lily’s suggestion that she might intend to go to Canada again filled her with loathing. How could she face “Solitude”?
And so she and her maid journeyed to Victoria Mansions. Lily came to welcome her, and expressed herself as being enchanted with life, though really Jack and she were starting on an unsatisfactory wild-goose chase. Occasionally they had a day together – sometimes he merely came to dine when she was having a party. Sir Ralph spent many and long days with her; they went about together, and Jack waited. He had a firm belief in his own future with her. She would tire of this life and be glad to rest, and know he would care always.
When Launa had set her house in order, and had the piano tuned, she began to take music lessons again.
Mr. Wainbridge came at once to see her. She wanted to take up their friendship where they had left it before their letter-writing; he had added the letters, the wishes and imaginings of their separation to it. At first this intentional game of cross-purposes amused him. She would not understand what any one might have seen.
She wanted friendship, only bounded by all the old opinions, with love-making confined to books. There was a grey shadow between her and love-making. Mr. Wainbridge saw it and was patient.
About this time Launa met the Coopers. Mrs. Cooper was a relic as well as a relict – her one daughter Sylvia was of the present day. They were very poor, and Sylvia worked very hard.
Mrs. Cooper knew how to dress in silk or satin, decorated with lace; but to adapt herself to serge was quite beyond her capabilities. She was a woman who could only order a dinner of an era which is passing away. Clear soup, turbot, or cod-fish, with thick sauce, roast beef, a heavy pudding, plum or cabinet – no savoury – and for dessert candied fruit and oranges. Dainty dinners and economy were unknown to her. Sylvia did the housekeeping, and Mrs. Cooper wept. Her husband had been angelic, with a decided turn for unpunctuality, which is the prerogative of angels. This was a daily cross to his wife, and her husband bore her revilings with a saintly and irritating fortitude. Sylvia Cooper was pretty. She was small and pale, with browny green eyes and brown hair. She met Mr. George at Victoria Mansions; he had vainly tried to get introduced to her. He went to the editor of the Signal, the new paper which was to be the signal for every one’s opinions – lords and ladies, ballet girls, actresses and actors, all wrote for it; only managers did not write for it, and they disliked it. The notoriety the publication of opinions brought was not always agreeable.
Mr. George thought of interviewing Miss Cooper, as she sang in the chorus of the newest and most dull opera.
The editor of the Signal said if she were pretty he would have her photograph, and if she had broken any of the commandments, he would allow the interview to be published.
Mr. George said she was pretty, and as for the commandments, Miss Cooper looked as if she had never heard of them. So he started for the Fulham Road, where she lived.
First he saw Mrs. Cooper. She received him with the graciousness his clothes and boots deserved. When he explained his errand she gasped with horror.
Fortunately at this moment Sylvia entered and the tragic situation ended. Mr. George asked questions and obtained her photograph for the paper.
“I will not repeat any of the opinions you confide in me,” he said. “If I did, and you said you preferred fine days to rainy ones, you would see in all the papers that Miss Cooper owns to a fondness for fine days, but she need not imagine that Heaven will be gracious to her at the expense of the farmers.”
“Or cab drivers,” said Sylvia. “Showery weather must be their harvest time. Still no paper will notice my opinions. Why did you come to interview me? I am nobody.”
“I want to get your ideas on chorus work.”
“Yes? Well, you shall have them by and by. We need not talk of my feelings or of my preferences – but will you have some tea?”
He owned to being a friend of Launa’s and a cousin of Sir Anthony Howard’s. Mrs. Cooper forgave everything then, and found his visit of over an hour too short. As soon as he left he drove to Victoria Mansions.
Launa had just come in. She had lunched at the Herberts’. Mr. Wainbridge as usual was with her.
“You will never guess where I have been,” said Mr. George, with complacency, accepting a third cup of tea. Launa’s tea was always good; at Sylvia’s there was no cream. “I suppose,” he reflected, “there are lives without cream.”
“Tell me where you have been.”
“Interviewing Miss Cooper for the Signal, and here is her photograph.”
“Not really,” said Launa, with interest. “How naughty of you when I refused to introduce you to her, for I do not approve of you.”
“Now, Miss Launa, you are real mean, as you Yankees say.”
“I am a Canadian.”
“I know it. Haven’t I kept your secret? Did I ever tell Mr. Wainbridge how you fell violently in love with me and told me so, and how you would hold my hand? And how I did stroke yours? I was obliged to that night of the Fulton’s ball. The night you cried – you had just been dancing with Mr. Wainbridge – you said you were tired – you said – ”
“It is nothing new for Miss Archer to be tired,” interrupted Mr. Wainbridge. “Did she see a ghost? She saw one, I remember, on a Sunday afternoon.”
“And you are base,” said Launa. “I will not invite you to any of my parties to meet Sylvia. You have thus betrayed my tenderest feelings and my tears. For what paper was your interview?”
“The Signal, I told you. Now, don’t roll your eyes, Launa; you are not shocked, I know. What could I do? You see you would not introduce me to her; Wainbridge said he could not; Mrs. Herbert is so much married ? la mode, that I, a young and innocent young man, cannot risk my slender reputation in her company. Then I thought of the Signal. Their leave was easily procured; they have no intention of paying me, and they will publish her photograph some day. Her mother was alarmed when she heard why I had come. I trotted out my cousin, Sir Anthony, and you, Launa. We had tea, and I am going again soon; perhaps they may come with me some Sunday afternoon somewhere.”
“Indefinite,” said Mr. Wainbridge, “but convincing of your affection for her. Take care.”
“Tell me about Sylvia,” said Mr. George. “Wainbridge, you know her well. Isn’t there a story attached to her?”
“Tell us,” said Launa. “Do.”
“When the Coopers were well off, only two years ago, Sylvia met Lord Fairmouth. He is in Africa, or somewhere.”
“Go on,” said Launa.
“You are quite safe, I know; but that young ruffian, will he tell?”
“Tell,” repeated Mr. George. “I long to kick you down the stairs, Mr. Wainbridge. Go on.”
“Sylvia did not know he was married, and they met every day. He loved her. His wife was a woman who – ”
“Who belonged to every and any man as well as to him,” suggested Mr. George.
“Sylvia, then,” continued Mr. Wainbridge, “was very religious. She did not believe in marriage after divorce. Fairmouth could easily have got rid of his wife; but Sylvia was firm, so he left her and then went away. She probably sent him.”
“How terrible!” said Launa. “Could they not have met sometimes? Might not his love have been a comfort to her?”
“Moralists say not,” said Mr. Wainbridge.
“Such love cannot be real,” said Launa. “I used to think love was immortal.”
“It would be immortal,” said Mr. George. “Too pure for this earth.”
The two men looked at her.
“Almost thou persuadest me that such things can be,” said Mr. George.
“I have learned such a lot,” she said, “in London. Love is marriage and an end.”
“I am not going to murmur marriage to Sylvia,” said Mr. George. “I have left it out altogether in my new book, the difficulty was to dispose of my man and woman. I overcame that by saying, ‘The end is the usual one.’ To return to Sylvia. I am not afraid of a breach of promise, but nowadays marriage is labelled a ‘question,’ and the reviewers are so tired of it; they are all married. I fear I must leave you now, Miss Launa. Good-bye.”
“Be a good boy! Don’t chase the cat or – Good-bye.”
“Suppose you were situated as they were,” said Mr. Wainbridge, “would you have sent him away? Would you have been afraid?”
“Afraid?” she repeated, with a contempt for fear. “No, I would have loved him – forever and ever. Why, because a man is bound to a vile woman, need he make the woman he loves vile because he loves her, or because he is bound?”
She looked at him, flushed with excitement, and doing battle for truth, and he realised that to some women love does not mean temptation because they are usually ignorant – at first. It would be difficult to explain this to Launa.
“I know not,” he whispered.
“I often wish,” she said, half to herself, “that we knew more of what will happen after death, if we were only told – should we try more? There is such temptation to become lethargic – to drown remembrance in the waters of Lethe.”
“You have no temptation. Do you want a reward? That is the lowest type of religion.”
“I do not want crowns, and vast seas of gold have no charm for me. Do you not suppose that Sylvia often wonders whether she will meet and know the man she loves again?”
“Certainly she does, and she will see him and know him here. He won’t be able to stay away.”
“You don’t believe in a future anywhere?”
“I believe in another world,” he said, “in another life where a verdict of temporary insanity as regards the foolishness of man’s doings in this life will be given with frequency. Most of us are not responsible for what we do. You know if a man or a woman kills his or herself the jury usually call it suicide while temporarily insane. Many of us commit self-murder for this life, but, in the eyes of the higher jury, if it exist at all, we are temporarily insane.”
“Don’t say if it exist; it must, else it were never worth one’s while to give up anything.”
“Is giving up worth it? Is it?” he asked. “Why not take all one can get? it is little enough. I love you,” he added softly, and put one arm round her.
“Don’t,” she said sharply, “don’t; I cannot bear being touched.”
“You love me?”
“No, I love no one. I like you, we are friends. You like what I do. You must not spoil it by loving me.”
“What did George mean when he said you had cried one night after dancing with me?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“I did not offend you?”
“No; oh, no. It had nothing to do with you personally. Can’t we be as we were?”
“I have always loved you. I long to help and comfort you, to make you happy. Do you think that impossible?”
“Why ask inconvenient questions?”
“Is it inconvenient? My dearest, I did not mean it.”
“Because she cares for me she was afraid happiness was never coming,” he thought.
A man always attributes a woman’s refusing to tell him how much she cares to her being too shy to talk of it; never to her not caring enough. “Yet does she care?” he wondered. That he might still doubt, and not be obliged to think of settlements and the wedding ring was satisfactory, it left an element of uncertainty in their relations; he could dare to be tender, yet not too loving. Men marry because there is nothing else to do, he thought. They know all about their future wives, their affection is returned, it is satiating – there is nothing new.
Ten minutes afterwards Launa was singing Darkey songs for him, and laughing as if her quest for happiness were over – successfully.
As he bade her good-bye, she gave him her hand.
“Is that all?”
“Yes; all. Next time I shall not shake hands, between friends it is unnecessary.”
“I can wait.”
“Do,” she replied. “You could not well do anything else.”
He could not feel sure that it was time even to think a wedding ring would ever be required.
London and December – fogs and fires – cosy rooms and misery, side by side.
Lily came to breakfast, and found her husband waiting with her letters.
“Good-morning,” she said politely.
“Bad-morning,” returned he morosely.
“Why have you come? I said neither of us was to disturb the other when either was ill.”
“I am not ill. I have arrived because you chose me for better, for worse, and now you let me have my breakfast alone. I hate breakfast, and I love you. You do not greet me with joy.”
He came over to put his arm round her.
“After breakfast. It is too early for anything except tea.”
“That cup which does not inebriate. I wish to Heaven it would or could inebriate you. You might be less cold, less – ”
“You speak as though you expected this – as though this phase of ours is not new to you. Is it a phase?”
“I do not know. I fear – oh, Jack, why is it?”
This cry for information was at least human.
“It is this detestable flat system. Let us go and live in a house – with stairs,” said Jack.
“How amusing. The stairs would not make me – or you – different.”
“I am tired of being alone.”
“I thought you were going to say of being married. Loneliness is the philosopher’s joy.”
“I am a man, not a philosopher.”
“And my husband.”
“Yes, your husband.”
“Why do you sigh?”
“Did I sigh?”
“Have some more tea.”
“I will. I do feel cheered. Perhaps if I stayed here all day, and you made tea for me, I should feel contented.”
“You have not yet told me why you came.”
“Hans Breitmann gib ein barty. Where is that barty now?”
“Who is going to ‘gib ein barty’?”
“I am,” he replied.
“Am I to be invited?”
“If you are good.”
“I am always good. I am not always happy.”
“And the pious books say, if you were the one you would be the other. Bertie’s play is to come off on the 16th. He has got me a box. You want to see it?”
“Yes. It is said to be clever.”
“Bertie isn’t,” said Herbert.
“He did not write it, Miss Fisher did. She will get half the profits. But who are the ‘barty’?”
“You and I, Sylvia, George, Wainbridge, and Launa.”
“Too respectable, married and dull. We are to do wedded felicity, while they seek to imitate us. They are known to be desirous of so doing.”
“Who else can I ask?”
“Sir Ralph, Lady Hastings. Leave out Launa and Mr. Wainbridge. Sylvia and Mr. George will do, if she can come. She is still moon-struck, or lord-struck, or virtue-struck. Why did she send him away? She will never marry Mr. George.”
“I thought Launa was your friend?”
“So she is.”
“I do not advise anyone to marry, do you? It is an uncertain, disquieting bondage, even our way.”
“Even our way,” she repeated.
Jack thought he detected a sign of disappointment in her acquiescence. It is all very well to abuse oneself while seeking contradiction, but to have one’s husband call the joy of matrimony uncertain – that brings uneasiness into the mind of the wife.
Lily ate some toast, and felt disappointed. He did not love her more because of her inaccessibility.
“You will come to see the play with me? We shall have supper at the Savoy.”
“Very well. You will ask Sir Ralph and Lady Hastings?”
“I think not.”
“Sir Ralph is very fond of me.”
“So am I.”
“Are you? I want to sit next to him at supper.”
“You can sit by me, dear.”
“Why not call me ‘my love’? That is what a husband usually calls his wife, ‘my love’ – it is a sort of mockery – ‘my love’ when it is dead and gone.”
“My love is not dead nor gone.”
“Yet you will not please me about Sir Ralph. If we gave up this detestable flat system, the inviting and arranging of parties would be left to me, my lord.”
“You may ask all the people you like, dear. You may give a ball, if you will, only live in a house with stairs.”
“Not yet, dear.”
“I must go now, and leave you. Every time I leave you it grows harder. Why must it be?”
“I will come to your party on the 16th, and I will bring Sir Ralph.”
“I do not want him.”
“Yes, you do. Did you get my gloves?”
“They will come to-day. Good-bye.”
Quickly he put his arm round her and rapidly kissed her.
“Go home,” she replied. “Matrimonial endearments thus early in the morning are unusual and uncomfortable.”
Then she sat down and read her letters.
“He won’t ask Sir Ralph,” she thought. “Shall I go? I am tired of Sir Ralph, and Jack never bores me.”
She ordered her husband’s favourite pudding for lunch, and arranged the flowers, but he did not come. He was afraid of wearying her, and sat in his rooms, wanting to go to what he called the Haven, but not daring. A drawn sword hovered over his Paradise. After lunch Lily wrote to him.
After writing this she went to call on her husband’s aunts. They as usual reduced her to a state of irritability, and she walked home full of reflections upon boredom. This was rapidly dispersed by Sir Ralph, who was waiting for her with a new book. Tea restored her mind to its normal balance, and conversation, with a cigarette, brought back her belief in herself. That morning she had been singularly near leaning on Jack. Sir Ralph amused her, he was so easily hurt, and in such open bondage to her. While talking with him, the impossibility of a grande passion in these days manifested itself to her. She got up and went to her writing-table – in a drawer was her letter to Jack. She had intended to send it to him after dinner; it would have brought him to her at once. For one night anyway she would have experienced exquisite happiness. She shut her eyes, remembering the perfect joy; it was almost pain to think of her love for him. Then she hurriedly tore up the letter, and burned it.
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