- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER VI
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THERE followed for Lady Johns the five most perfect years in her life. She would have insisted, had the question been put, that her early married time had been more happy, but in reality it was not; for she had borne and lost her children then, and she had been young, unripened. Now it seemed as if she could lose nothing more and, beyond that, as if the lost gifts of the past had been given back, and in perfect form.
Angelina, putting her merely as a speculation, was quite successful, and as to her mother and Mrs. Chope, who might have proved difficult, she herself cut this Gordian knot by calmly refusing to see either of them any more. She wrote to her mother at Christmas for the first two years, then, this form of expression, becoming not difficult but impossible, she merely sent a Christmas card: in good taste, the most expensive that the Horsham shops could produce, and not in the least what Mrs. Peachey would have called Popish, and so condemned. Even Lady Johns thought this heartless, and said so. Angelina, with a queer smile, kissed her, saying:
"I am not heartless. We have never cared for each other, so why should the fact of her being my mother influence us. Bodily ties are nothing much."
In this, as in other matters, Angelina went farther than her guardian. Yet they were tenderly attached, and also, which was more important, they were soothing companions to each other. They never got upon each other's nerves; partly because Lady Johns was quite finically well-bred, and partly because Angelina, beneath her coldness had a well of sweetness. It was a well which she allowed few to draw from, and in those five years of her life, from eighteen to twenty-three, Lady Johns was the only one who ever ventured to lower the bucket.
So far, Angelina had been admired and not loved. More than one young man, impeccable in the eyes of the "county," had proposed to her and been rejected. In each case, had the | | 132 young man of the moment been candid with himself, he would have admitted relief. Angelina was magnificent; you longed to possess her, just for the glory of the thing, but she was too rare for the easy-going hunting young landowner to live comfortably with. She enslaved; yet neither hearts nor heads were broken on her account. Grandmamma Peachey's mantle—of the destructive coquette—might have fallen upon Angelina; yet she wore it invisibly for the present.
Antony, absorbed by silver and blue china, watched all this with a certain indolent affection. To his aunt's surprise, he had shown no signs of being in love with Angelina, and as to Gerald, he was still abroad. England, for a reason known to him, to Lady Johns, and one or two more intimates, was not a country that he inclined to. Gerald had been hard hit in England, and he took blows—of that sort—badly.
Angelina had been what may be called a cold success with county society, and, as for London, Lady Johns detested it. Two of her little boys had died there. She gave the girl a month or so's gaiety every spring, but they were always glad to get back to Leggatt Court. The large white house with its classic pillars and finely restrained ornament, with its undulating park and spacious apartments, was just the setting for Angelina and her rare air of perpetual snows. Snow with a red sunset nevertheless!
Antony had thought of this. He was slow, self indulgent, and, in his emotions, so far, attenuated. Yet he had begun to think seriously of Angelina, and in him, as in her, there might be much to find.
It was the Feast of the Annunciation; to Lady Johns a time for religiously attending what she called Morning Service; to many other people merely the day upon which rent is due, and upon which many household removals take place. Walking to church that morning she and Angelina had passed more than one furniture van drawn up outside some desolately open door and smelling dismally of straw and dirty matting. Lady Johns regarded them, and regarded the sorry jumble of furniture, with her fine, amused air, which was not meant to be either snobbish or unkind. It was merely inevitable. She had not known removals of this sort. Domestically, she had remained unruffled. Things had always been done for | | 133 her, hidden from her and made easy. She had moved through warm airs of perfect grace.
She remained in church that morning for Communion, Angelina went in to the town for some shopping, and they arranged to meet outside afterwards.
When Lady Johns, uplifted by religion, came along the flagged path from the church porch to the wide street, she saw Antony and Angelina talking at his open door. Those two were her dearest, and she stood still for a second and, unobserved, marking them. The whole scene was leisurely and charming; it suited her high-bred English sense of what life should be, and of what, to her, it always had been. She saw about her romance, good breeding and restrained opulence. The old street, with its dignified houses; gleaming tall lattices without, and lofty panelling within, was far enough removed from those other streets, mean and raw, where the furniture vans had stood this morning. You could not imagine a removal in Normandy. The March sun, a little garish, glittered from the hard, blue sky, and that buoyant wind which some love and others hate, was riding cock-horse through the town. Angelina still wore her winter coat of costly fur—her seventy pounds, from the Bayswater houses, did not go very far towards dressing her in these days! She had a large hat with feathers and a sweeping brim. She looked fashionable, yet not in the fashion and, just as Normandy was removed from the new streets on the outskirts of Horsham, so was Angelina delicately distant from little persons in the town, who looked into the drapers' shops for the latest novelty to wear at Easter.
Lady Johns advanced. She watched them, and she found that they were certainly talking with what she conceived to be a new manner. There was, if you put it that way, more body to it than usual. They appeared to have got hold of a living topic. They were awake at last. They were alert. Angelina's face was flushed, and this was rare. Antony looked really stirred. Directly they became aware of her, they shifted their mental attitude, and almost laughingly, as it seemed, they put on the everyday habit of careless, say cousinly, badinage. Lady Johns detected this and was pained. These two kept something hidden away. But her loving sense of beauty was stronger than anything else, and | | 134 she noticed warmly, as a man would, Angelina's perfection of face and form, and, more, her dignity. At twenty-three she already had, in its most charming expression, what people call a "presence." She was singled out for observance, and would be wherever she went, not so much by her height, although that was considerable, and not so much by her undoubted beauty, but by her easy air of complete distinction. Lady Johns thought of Mrs. Peachey and smiled; she thought of Mrs. Chope and shivered. Had Angelina really come out of such a household? It was very nearly incredible.
She looked from the girl to the man, and thought how fine a creature Antony might yet become, he with his big body and pleasantly plain face, if only some circumstance would pull him together. It was a great pity that these two had never fallen in love.
They had seen her and they came forward with a flow of easy, affectionate language, meant, as she felt, to disarm her. She looked into Antony's house, as they three stood at the foot of the broad steps leading to the big door. He had the best house in the street, he, a bachelor, drifting, as a straw, upon the stream. Lady Johns thought casually of those little houses in the new streets, where in every one were men and women and lots of children. It seemed, not unfair, she would never have allowed this, for as an idea it was both shallow and democratic. But it did seem a trifle absurd and disproportionate that one man should have so much space and other men so little. That was all. She snipped off social reform at this point.
She looked into the beautifully proportioned and panelled hall, with its black and white flagged floor and the fragile tables on which Antony's blue pots stood. There were daffodils with great white trumpets blooming in the house. You could see them through the open windows of the drawing-room on the first floor. Antony might have been a woman, for he did things so well and made such a perfect god of his domestic possessions!
"I don't quite like," she said, continuing a thought, and translating it into speech, "the colour you've had the shutters painted."
There were heavy wooden outside shutters to the tall | | 135 windows, and they were painted a rich brown; far enough removed from any artistic shade—he abhorred the merest hint of an "artistic" house. Yet you could never insult them by calling them a coldly venomous chocolate. There was a golden touch of snuff to Antony's carefully chosen new paint.
"I'm sorry," he said, "for I took a lot of trouble. I thought that this particular shade, with the ivory of the walls, would make of the house a dark-eyed woman."
"A dark-eyed woman with the jaundice, my dearest boy. Your walls are not ivory, but yellow. And are you coming back with us to lunch?"
Lady Johns, speaking tartly—for Angelina's eyes were blue—looked from one to the other. She hoped that they might now betray themselves. Yet never did she suppose that they kept anything vital away from her. She did not conceive that the foundations of her happy life with Angelina were threatened. When we are happy we assume that we go on for ever. At the most, so she was pleasantly thinking, they were merely plotting a particular birthday present for her, or some impromptu social effect for that occasion. Her birthday would be soon; upon the first of May, which is also the Festival of SS. Philip and James. She was always glad to reflect that they had baptised her Philippa and not just a cheap May, as parents with less correct church training might have done.
"You will come back, Antony?" she asked him, as he stood irresolute upon his own doorstep.
She smiled, yet she sounded tart; for she really did dislike that flabbiness of his. Even now it was Angelina who answered for him. Could not he—at thirty-three—know his own mind?
"No," said Angelina firmly, "he won't come to-day. Good-morning, Antony."
She threw him a funny nod; so light, that in a lesser girl you might have employed the ridiculous word "saucy." She moved at once, along the pavement. Docilely, hardly knowing why she did, Lady Johns moved too. Antony eloquently watched them pass along, then, smiling, he entered his own house.| | 136
"What are you two plotting?" asked the elder woman of Angelina.
"I must tell you when we get home. I have wanted to for a long time, but Antony kept putting it off," was the answer.
Lady Johns looked startled; she turned round to stare. Angelina met the stare with another; it was frank, tender and concerned.
"We must go home to lunch, and then you must have your usual afternoon rest," she said. "I shall tell you at teatime. Let us hope that no one will call and interrupt us."
"I shall give orders that I am not at home," said Lady Johns, with what may be described as a feeble valiance. She was beginning to feel that something serious was coming.
"And we will talk of anything else now, please," Angelina was saying, firmly, yet with a quiver in her voice that certainly beseeched you. It provoked all love in Lady Johns.
"Very well, my dear; just as you wish," was her composed answer, and they turned into the narrow streets of the town.
Women were buying daffodils. Lady Johns, in passing, looked at them indulgently. This, to buy flowers for the house, was to her—with furniture vans—one of the inexperienced things. She certainly swam in some other firmament. She surveyed the harried looking ladies who were buying daffodils or peering into the drapers' shops. They were not a pretty set of women. It was absurd, she thought, to boast of the English complexion, for it went to pieces at once. Every face in the street looked pinched with east wind and hard sunlight. Angelina appeared to be the one woman who never had yellow cheeks and a red nose.
What a love and a blossom it was! She looked adoringly at her girl. They went on conversing inconsequently as they walked. Through lunch and after lunch they persisted in whipping up small talk into an even higher froth than usual. But Lady Johns looked oddly strained when at last she stood up to retire for her afternoon nap.
"I'm glad," she said, "that Gerald isn't meaning to come back to England. I should hate to be turned out of this house. It was my home as a child, and I always seem to see Mamma moving about this room."| | 137
She surveyed the handsomely plenished drawing-room, with the costly furniture of several periods; each piece looking as if it grew along the walls and had never been placed there with a conscious view to effect. These things were inherited and not bought. She looked through the French window at the lawns. They rippled beneath the rough east wind. They looked an intense blue-green. Beyond the lawns were the filmy trees, half clothed. In the park, and beyond everything else, was the charming line, vaporous in distance, of the South Downs.
"But he would never turn you out unless he got married," said Angelina.
"That is true; and Gerald will not marry. Did I ever tell you his story?"
Asking this, Lady Johns, who had been standing by the door, sat down; and they were both wondering why she chose the present moment for telling another person's story. For were they not both concerned with their own affairs this afternoon? It was not a time for old chronicles. Angelina was longing and dreading to tell; Lady Johns was longing and also, perhaps, dreading to listen. Yes, she was certainly dreading, for a disquieting idea had occurred to her. It came while she sat at lunch; it was at the fish course. Was it possible that the call of nature had reasserted itself after all these years? Did Angelina wish to return to her mother? It would be natural that she should confide in Antony and ask his advice. Lady Johns recalled the fact that they had been a great deal together lately.
"No, you never told me," said Angelina, listlessly.
She sat by the fire, shading her face with a painted screen, which trembled as she held it.
"Antony hasn't told you?"
Oh, no, he never mentioned his Uncle Gerald."
That was nice of Antony. Every one knew the story at the time. It was a cause celèbre, my dear, but these things are forgotten in a week, and then some other scandal comes on. It is very dreadful; all these divorce cases, I mean."
"I take an interest in them," admitted Angelina, with discouraging promptitude. "The curious thing is that even while you are reading the evidence, you barely absorb the | | 138 names of the people. It is the play that concerns you, not the actors."
"But I wish you would not read those cases. It seems so dreadful for a young girl to know anything of such matters."
"But, dearest, I am not so very young."
"Yes, you are; but we will say an unmarried woman instead, if you like."
"Unmarried women are the very ones who should read, surely. They are the more concerned. They have to learn to steer their ship, and the Divorce Court is their chart."
Angelina spoke lightly. Her tone might have been translated flippant; except that "flippant" and "saucy" were not words which could ever comprise her.
Lady Johns, sitting by the door and looking unusually perturbed, was plainly shocked. She was of the old school, and she showed it in her next speech.
"I wish," she said vigorously, "that divorce could be abolished entirely, but I suppose that is too much to hope for in this rationalistic age. I remember hearing my mother quite frequently quote Queen Victoria, who said at the passing of the Divorce Bill, that in future the daily paper would be unfit to be laid upon the family breakfast table. Mamma agreed. She was most happily married; people were in those days."
"Only because they were more simple; they asked for less."
"But I was happily married, too, and we were not simple," said Lady Johns, who had absorbed the modern failing—of wishing to be considered complex.
"Oh, no, you were privileged," returned Angelina, and her voice now sounded as if it had been compressed into sympathy and respect. "But tell me about your brother Gerald."
"Yes, I will, but I really don't know why I mentioned it at all, and to-day of all days. He was divorced, my dear. It was truly dreadful, Angelina. Such a charming girl; good family, carefully brought up, and the very last woman in the world that you would ever suspect of depravity. But she left him at the end of six weeks. She ran away from this very house, and from that day to this poor Gerald has not only | | 139 detested Leggatt Court, but even his native country. She went off with a musician, a person of that rank. She had been in love with him, but her poor mother thought, quite naturally, that a suitable marriage would soon cure any nonsense of that sort."
Lady Johns spoke calmly of the matron's sane hypothesis. It was her own. She was—with furniture vans and the sixpenny bunch of daffodils bought upon the pavement!—utterly ouside [sic] this experience. The idea of any woman falling in love with a person beneath her in rank was even more than immodest; it was incredible.
Angelina said frankly, and she looked positively indignant: a queer, new look! (everything, so Lady Johns was thinking wretchedly, was novel to-day and most disturbing):
"You can talk like that! And yet you have told me over and over again of your own perfect marriage. You referred to it just now."
"Perfect, my dear, perfect."
"Then why shouldn't Gerald's bride have been perfectly happy with her music master, had only her mother allowed them to marry at the start."
"My dear, dear Angelina, the position is entirely different, and indeed I doubt if he was even a music master; with private pupils, you know. That might have been a little better. But he merely played, I believe—yes, I am certain of it—in some seaside orchestra."
"She loved him——" said Angelina.
Such an ejaculation! Entirely new to Lady Johns!
"You couldn't love such a person. It is comic," she spoke imperiously from her chair by the door. She was very nearly angry.
"Oh, I agree," Angelina relapsed into languor, "that your sense of humour might suffer, but, fortunately when you are far enough in love, there is no sense of humour. And I never have much at any time."
Lady Johns stood up suddenly:
"My darling girl," she spoke with implied reproof, "you are talking in quite a new fashion to-day. I hardly understand you, and I certainly do not approve. Perhaps I ought not to have mentioned poor Gerald's affair. I will go and lie | | 140 down, Angelina. At tea-time you shall tell me your little secret."
She turned away—purposely implying that, so far as she proposed to admit, Angelina and Antony would merely confess to some affectionate birthday plotting. She dissimulated, to Angelina, with herself, until the very last.
Angelina, left alone, walked first to the window, and then, after allowing a pause long enough for Lady Johns to get safely upstairs and away, went to her own room.
Safely in there, she once more walked to a window and looked across the park to the hills. They were far enough away to make you cross with them. They were unreachable. She had the child's sense of fairy-wonder about hills. Upon the other side of hills dwelt the unattainable ideal.
From the window she went to a drawer, unlocked it and took out the shell box which Kitty, the parlour-maid, had given her. Inside was the letter written long ago to St. Mary of Egypt. At first she thought she would take this letter out and read it; but she shrank, as we do, from regarding her dead self. She merely held the gay box to her cheek, saying as the shells, cold and smooth, touched her flesh:
"St. Mary of Egypt! If I could only believe in you still, and trust you as I did."
Her voice was hollow. It rang with disenchantment. She put the box away, locked the drawer, and returning to the window, sat thinking and staring at the coquettishly veiled Downs.
When the tea bell rang, she went to the glass and studied her own face with a curious dispassionate glance. It looked anxious and almost haggard, for she was going to wound Lady Johns. The knife was going in so far and the wound might prove fatal. Angelina, for all her cool exterior, shrank from wounding. As she looked at herself in the glass, revelation seemed to show itself, and, faintly, she divined that in the future she might hurt many people: hating to do it, flinching always from the frightful task. Yet the impulse would be sternly imperious. She would each time obey.
This prophecy, or something rather like it, she seemed to read in the glass.
Then she went singing very softly down the great staircase.| | 141
She sang when she was stirred, and so in her most tragic moments gave the surface impression of frivolity.
She went down the stairs, her feet sinking into the deep carpet. She had become accustomed to wealth; she had absorbed it. But suddenly there came the sharp memory of her childhood in the old City house, and she saw the wide staircase there and smelled the faint perfume of drugs and sweetness that would steal up from the shop.
She remembered St. Valentine's day, when she huddled up in her nightgown on those stairs. And she remembered Kitty, who had so adored the dead Patrick. Perhaps Patrick was merely faithless. This cynical theory had accrued to Angelina now that she was grown up. In childhood you were trustful, and the stated fact stood before you sharply outlined.
She had promised Kitty and had vowed to St. Mary of Egypt that she would never marry without love. Marriage was a sacrament. It was certainly indissoluble. She had kept that vow, so far. She was meaning to keep it for all her life.
She went into the drawing-room. Lady Johns was already there; looking rested, 'yet rigid.
"Well, Bundy darling, tell me what it is."
Lady Johns said this at last; but it was after they had finished their tea. For Angelina, with every reason, was postponing confidence, and Lady Johns subtly dreaded it, since she felt sure that something was meaning to intervene and spoil her perfect life with this dear adopted daughter.
She called Angelina—Bundy; and then she looked oddly ashamed; for, in truth, this name was most unsuitable, and through the five years she had rarely employed it. Bundy was an absurd appellation; it was positively doggy, and there was nothing of the curled poodle about Angelina.
"Yes, I will tell you, I must," she said now, sitting up erect behind the silver equipage—Angelina always poured:
"But," she added, showing unusual caprice, "I could do it better out of doors. Such a perfect afternoon! The wind has dropped, and there is only sun. Do you think you would mind walking down to the lake? There is," she laughed, "something that makes easy about water. I should have a flow of talk, just as the water flows, if we went to the lake. Do."| | 142
She sounded anxious.
"Very well, my dear." Lady Johns was composed and graceful, but her tone quivered nevertheless, and her face, distinguished and dark, undubitably ugly, seemed to flicker.
"I will go where you like, Angelina," she added, almost humbly, "only don't keep me in suspense much longer, or I shall begin to feel really anxious. Ring for Simmons to bring me a hat and cloak."
They walked through the park to the water and sat down in a little half-draped wood that grew to the edge. Primroses were thickly yellow to the foot, bunches of bright green spike gave a royal promise of bluebells. Upon the water were two white, haughty swans. The whole scene was beautiful, yet perhaps too conscious.
It was guarded and elegant, it bestowed all that you had any right to expect, it was a landscape overflowing with accredited satisfaction. Sheltered and lovely, a little circumscribed, it exactly expressed the life setting of Lady Johns. The graceful, indolent swan that swam towards them might have been her token.
Angelina said, taking her adopted mother's bare hands.
"When you were married you were very happy?"
"Very, very," the proud look the elder woman allowed to drift across the water was mute with pain, yet of the gentlest sort, for Arthur had resolved into a mere heavenly dream; he had been dead so long.
"And yet you did not have a long engagement? You were married quickly."
"We had to be. His regiment was going abroad. I declare," Lady Johns softly laughed, "that Arthur and I barely knew each other. In those days parents were stricter than they are now, and I think they were wiser, for the average marriage was a great success, and nowadays it is more often a modified failure. Arthur and I were never left alone, from the day when he proposed to the day he wedded me.
"What a daring experiment. Nowadays we haven't the courage.
"My dear, when a good man loves her, a good woman can settle down."| | 143
Lady Johns, so to speak, flung down this card upon the table; defying every player at life to challenge it.
Angelina looked at her with banter, with scoffing, with wonder. She was thinking, "Oh, these elderly women who have been wives and mothers, and who have been bereft, they know nothing at all." She expressed something of her thought:
"Darling," she said, patting the backs of the ringed hands, "you have bloomed under glass. I don't know why on earth you are sitting here in a wild wood now, and with a wild creature."
"Nonsense, Bundy, you are not wild."
Again Lady Johns employed the silly pet name of her own dead child, and again she looked startled and self-affronted. Angelina, in a queer mood herself, appeared to be impressing it. Moreover, so far, she had confided nothing. She was just delicately playing about with a topic. What was the matter with Angelina to-day? She was peculiar. She was unusual. She assaulted Lady Johns' exact sense of good breeding.
"But I am wild," she insisted; "more than you know, more than I know myself, and I feel sure that my Grandmamma Peachey must be listening behind some tree and grinning spitefully in the way she often did. I remember. I have told you about her."
"Yes," Lady Johns spoke stiffly, and her hands moved beneath Angelina's cool palms. "You have told me everything; at least, I trust that you have."
She experienced a scornful shrinking from Angelina's commercial family—fine lady and spoiled woman that she was!
"I hated her," pursued Angelina, gazing at the lordly swan who swam up, "yet, just as I know I am like her to look at, so, I'm afraid, I am like her inside."
"Well, yes; she wasn't wholly satisfactory, so far as I could understand."
"Angelina! Why will you not tell me what you are keeping back? Is it this? Have you at last accepted an offer? I know that Percy Lascelles has asked you twice. But I would rather you married Robert Pole."| | 144
"I will tell you, but it must be in my own time. When you know, you will be glad. I want, just for a little while, to talk about love-making, and you must indulge me, although I know that you think such analysis indelicate."
"I do think that there are certain things we may surmise, but not discuss," said Lady Johns neatly.
"There I differ. Love has been a study with me on all its sides. It has been a sort of hobby, as china is with Antony. When I was a child at Brighton I used to watch the little couples on the pier or along the sea-front. On Bank Holidays, you know, or upon Sunday afternoons. They interested me. They went along cuddled up close to each other—am I shocking you? Some were coy, some were triumphant, some looked as if love-making really hurt, some were merely friendly—and that was melancholy. It was sinister."
"Not at all, my dearest girl. Mutual respect and a friendly feeling should make very good foundation for matrimony."
"At the oyster level, perhaps. Forgive me, but I must just talk as I feel to-day," returned Angelina, feverishly.
"And I never told you why I broke my engagement with Freddy Jannaway. It was hardly an engagement," she shivered. "He proposed to me in the cab and he kissed me in the cab. I bundled out—anyhow; and ran up to Mamma and Mrs. Chope to insist that they should break it off for me."
She looked pale. Lady Johns, also pale, was also looking horrified. Any other woman in the world, save Angelina, would have completely alienated her by such frank speaking. But the worst was to come!
"The next time a man kissed me," the coolly quivering voice went on, "I shut my eyes. It helps to shut your eyes, until you get used to it. I shut my eyes and I felt—' that is rather nice. You may go on.'"
She laughed, hysterically, so Lady Johns was silently insisting. That malady, hysteria, covered so many sins and made so many allowances. It was merciful and all comprehensive. She was old-fashioned enough to have a medicine chest, and she was privately meditating a dose of the febrifuge variety for Angelina at bed-time to-night.
"That man," Angelina twisted round impressively on the | | 145 rustic bench where they were sitting by the waters' edge, "was Antony. Now you know what I have been trying to tell you."
Antony had kissed her. Antony was going to marry her. Lady Johns sat transfixed.
She was transfixed, yet, much more, most uncomfortable. She was outraged by a sense of complete unsuitability. All her ethics were for harmony, and she felt that Angelina was discordantly unworthy of herself to-day. She talked as any little flighty blonde might have done; as her sister Blanche might have done. Lady Johns had taken an intense aversion to Blanche; from everything she had heard, and from the photograph that she had seen. It had always been a relief to her to feel that Mrs. Charles Murray and her husband were safely in India. Any little pert girl might have talked as Angelina was doing. She, who was of a type for coldness and queenly reserves! Lady Johns applauded a frigid woman, if she was also beautiful. Men, so she argued, were the exponents of feeling.
She now said, almost helplessly, as if the ornamental water and the swan swam round with her:
"You are affianced to Antony?"
'I am married to Antony," was the answer; swift, almost sullen.
"Yes, I knew you would say just that—Angelina! And with a world of pain in it. I have hurt you. I am sorry. Can you wonder that I put off the topic and played about and shocked you and teased you so long?"
"But—married! I don't comprehend, my dear. You must explain yourself."
There was virtuous retreat implied in Lady John's voice, for Angelina's conduct bordered upon the positively irregular. She had very nearly done the unforgivable thing; a secret marriage was perilously near to no marriage at all, in the placidly ordered mind of Lady Johns.
"I don't comprehend," she repeated, hopelessly floundering in disapproval and perplexity.
"I am amazed at Antony," she added after a grave pause. "He ought to be ashamed of himself."| | 146
"For getting married, and to me? I thought you'd be so pleased."
"Nonsense, Angelina! You knew I would be angry. A secret marriage. What on earth will people think? What explanation can we give? It is like," Lady Johns flushed a deeper scarlet than her cheek had known for many a year, "the lower classes."
Her voice implied more than she would ever have essayed to express in words. There were no words for such a position—as applied to Angelina and to Antony.
Her hot blush washed right over her.
"Why did you do it? "she asked in a voice that wailed. "When did you do it?"
"Dearest, don't be so distressed. What is it, after all? Just a quiet wedding in place of a noisy one."
"Euphemisms don't improve the position. When was it, and why? I insist upon knowing everything."
"Well," Angelina seemed to painfully choose her words, " we have imagined for a long time that we were in love, and—oh, it was just this—Antony is shy and I am impulsive, although you would never suppose it. Do you remember that day, just after the New Year, when he took me up to London?"
"Yes, you said you wanted to see a pantomime. And I believed it. You both deceived me"
"Not wholly. We did go the pantomime, but we got married first. A special licence, you know, Antony saw to it."
"I should imagine that he did;" the wind changed into an entirely different quarter with Lady Johns; she was just a woman, valiant for a woman, and permanently irritated with a weak man.
She had always wished Antony to be strong. Perhaps, after all, a secret marriage was a sign of strength. This seemed a problem worth regarding. She would set it out upon the tables of her mind and solve it if she could.
"You have made me very tired to-day," she said, looking vaguely at the moving, lovely water.
Her life was so exquisitely measured, so rhythmically monotonous, that it seemed to her as if she had lived whole | | 147 agitating weeks since that calm moment when she took Communion this morning at the Parish Church.
Her transparent sense of perfect truth was violated. Trust in Angelina, trust in Antony would never be quite the same again. Fate had been kind to her; she had been enabled to breathe continually the clear air of perfect candour. Her code was rigid and pure. It was finely narrow, tapering to a point at Truth. She could make no excuse for any lie, nor for the wan ghosts of lies.
Moreover, the woman and the mother in her was cheated of orange blossoms and white satin for her cherished Angelina. She felt more sad than angry. She was childishly pained over this lack of a ceremony.
"What did you wear?" she asked, plaintively.
Angelina nearly laughed. She looked encouraged, she was obtuse. This dear woman had already forgiven them. So far, she had forgiven. But there might come a day and a time when forgiveness was out of the question. Lady Johns had her limits, and she lived up close to them.
"What did I wear? Let me see, it was a foggy day; silver mist even here and as black as death in London!"
"What a wedding, Angelina!"
"But the most correct lovers cannot control the climate. I wore my fur coat and a fur cap. It was a cold day, too," Angelina quaveringly laughed. "I might have been equipped for an Arctic expedition."
"You don't want to know what he wore?"
"No, no," Lady Johns laughed too.
She turned on the rustic bench and pulled down Angelina's tall head to her own level. She kissed her solemnly.
"Oh, my dear, I love you so, and you have pained me. I won't deny that it is a shock and a disillusion. But I must bear it. I must get used to the idea."
"But you are glad I married him. You didn't want me to have that bullet-headed Percy Lascelles or Robert Pole, or—Why should I Make them divisible? It is all one body and quite alike. These landed gentlemen go in bundles, just like the wood that town housemaids lay the fire with."
"You say such extravagant things to-day, Angelina. They | | 148 are startling enough to be vulgar. You are unlike yourself. I don't know my girl. I have lost her."
"No, no; nonsense. Perhaps I am a little hectic. Were you," Angelina laughed and bitterly, "when you got married?"
"It was altogether different," said Lady Johns, speaking promptly, with primness and with what sounded like patronage.
Angelina knew that, already, she had descended a step in estimation. But she looked out logically, not callously, at the prospect—remote perhaps, yet always there in distance—of stepping down more: of falling or being flung headlong, down the whole flight.
"Antony should have told me himself. That is just like him, to slide the whole burden on to you. I am angry with him. And where does he get his horrible lassitude from? My sister Maria was a most spirited girl."
"But surely he has redeemed himself from lassitude in your eyes?" Angelina spoke lightly, yet you detected already the wife's note—of loyalty and zeal.
That was well.
Lady Johns, marking it, was mollified.
"Antony is a knight-errant," the girl added, "and," she swiftly turned her head, "here he comes through the trees."
"Did you two arrange this? To bring me out here and tell me? For him to join us?" asked Lady Johns shrewdly.
She had large eyes, well opened and bright, beneath finely level brows. Eyes and brows were the arresting points in her plain face. She could quell you with that glance when she chose, and she could infuse a coldness that shrivelled most people. Angelina was never one to shrivel, yet she plainly flinched now.
"I'm afraid we did," she said contritely. "Don't be cross with Antony. He wanted to tell you at once, but I wouldn't let him do it then. It was only later on that he shrank. And I knew that you would take it better from me. Women understand each other and they have the words."
Antony approached. He came up to the bench and stood looking down for a moment at them. He was feeling indulgently—"These two dear women, who mean so much to me."| | 149
A Frenchman, or any man of a more limpid and theatrical temper, might have dropped upon one knee, kissed their hands, and effectually said so. Antony only looked sheepish—he looked very nearly furtive. His aunt said reprovingly, as if he were a little boy:
He returned, almost sullenly, just as Angelina, at one point, had seemed sullen.
"She has told you?"
"Yes, Yes," Lady Johns was speaking wearily and looking down.
Angelina was very rigid, she stared straight in front of her. The white swan, with no bits of bread in prospect, moved majestically across the water. His stately shadow was reflected in it.
"I suppose we were foolish; but lovers are supposed to be," Antony said, each word concise and very neat, so that his speech was a newly-clipped hedge. "We all consider," he continued, with the same suave deliberation, "that our own case is a singular one, and with a right to privilege. Egregious, no doubt, yet fairly universal."
"But I can't think why in the world you did it?" Lady Johns spoke with heart-rending irritability. "There was no need."
"I told you, Mumsie," Angelina never turned her head. "Antony was shy and I was impulsive."
"That was it," he repeated the words and he looked fixedly at Angelina's coldly perfect profile. "I was shy and she was impulsive. Given those two qualities, you are bound in the end to get a fusion."
"Well!" Lady Johns gathered her cloak around her, "it has been revolutionary for me—and my mind, as you are aware, Antony, is monarchical. It has," she nearly giggled, "disturbed my constitution."
She smiled on them; a little wide, a little wintry, perhaps. But her sense of breeding and her aristocratic shrinking from anything like the vulgarity of a scene lent her self-control. She was angry, she was shocked, and, why she did not know, she was vaguely uneasy for Angelina. Feeling all this, she merely strove to save the situation by a bad joke.| | 150
Why should you be uneasy because Antony had married her? She could not answer this question. She wanted to be alone to think it out. Her head was aching. She was like a child oppressed with some long lesson that it cannot learn. She stood up.
"I will go back to the house, and I'll go alone," she said. "You must dine here to-night, of course, Antony. Go home to dress and be back a little before eight. Be sure you are punctual; sometimes you are not;" she looked away from him through the half-bare trees with their delicate, leafy suggestions. "I could not bear," she added vigorously, "any little extra touch to-night. If you were late for dinner, if you kept the soup waiting for only ten minutes, I should scream, I should make a positive scene. Days like this"—she looked away from the trees and into the upturned faces of her nephew and his wife—" make one understand the common women, who stand shouting and scolding in little doorways. Their nerves are kept always upon edge, poor creatures."
She moved away from them.
"She is learning things and looking at them," said Angelina, softly. "She has been kept in a scented casket."
Her face was tender and ashamed. Antony sat down and very close to her. He also turned his head, and when Lady Johns had become softly enfolded by the trees, he put his arm round Angelina.
"Did she take it well?" he asked. "She looks forlorn, going away alone. Was it very hard telling, my darling?"
"It was, very. Telling lies is," was the succinct answer. "And a successful lie hurts more than anything. If they don't believe what you say, then you get angry and grow to imagine that you are telling the truth. That relieves you. It absolves you, in a fashion."
Antony's face had not lifted. It still looked sullen. Angelina was pondering. Evidently he was one of those who could caress you and employ the caressing words when he was out of temper.
"It was not my wish that either of us should be driven to tell lies," he said stiffly. ''I hate the whole thing."
"I know you do, clear," she turned on him her suddenly | | 151 tender face—and it could sweeten to great tenderness. "Blame me for everything, Antony."
He had already by implication done this; for his sulky face was saying all the time, "The woman tempted me." This, of Angelina, and their case was most certainly true. Yet he had a tendency to blame.
"But we can only be staunch to our own ideals," she proceeded, and with the faintest soupçon of priggishness. "Mine is a high standard of marriage. I was not sure, I am not sure yet, whether I love you enough for an indissoluble partnership; something that will last not only in this world, but in the next. Such a golden linking and yet a little ghastly, Antony, don't you think?"
"I never did think upon this matter, until you forced me to. I took the fact of people getting married for granted," he returned languidly, and his arm pressed her closer.
His head inclined to her.
His face lifted, he was beginning to feel the magic of her.
"Don't kiss me now," she said suddenly, and, as he fastidiously felt, bluntly; "I'm not in the mood. We must talk. We must arrange things before we go up to the house for dinner. We must be very careful, Antony. It would kill her if she knew the truth."
"The whole thing is hare-brained, dearest, and I can't think why I indulged you."
"I can;" Angelina was caustic. "It was your only way of getting me. I will live with you, Antony, and I will pretend before the world to be your wife. I will be your wife in all essentials. But I will not for the present go through any ceremony with you. We must prove ourselves. What would be the good of marrying you and then running away if I met any one——"
"That you loved better. That is putting it rather low down, isn't it?"
"Not at all, and not any one that I loved better, but that I loved once and utterly. To-day, I think that I love you and only you. But how can I feel sure? I believe that you do only love once. Kitty used to say of Patrick——"
"Oh, do spare me the ecstatic opinions of your parlour-maid, my darling."| | 152
"Now you make me angry, you are talking as Mumsie sometimes does. Kitty was a woman, so am I. No possible difference between us. You two haven't any sense of Humanity."
"Not a touch. I think it most destructive."
"Only of humour," agreed Angelina. "And perhaps we place too high a value upon that. We have drifted," she laughed, "from the man that some day I may love better than I now love you. How impossible it sounds! Oh no, Antony"—her tongue went suddenly limping, her face was shy—"it could never happen. We are only talking abstractions. Don't be pained."
Her wide, pale eyes were fully open. They beseeched and assured.
"You do pain me all along the line," he said. "Why won't you marry me and be done with it, Angelina? Why live this lie?"
"To spare ourselves other possible lies and bigger ones and ones that hurt more, in the future;" she hid her face on his shoulder and he held her. "We only want time, to be sure, to find ourselves fully out. It may not take so very long."
"Will you, sitting here now, promise me one thing?" Antony was dreamily kissing the heavy, glossy hair—so black It just escaped her ear; stooping to it, curling back from it, flowing at the last into the sea of that great knot at her neck.
Promise me," his voice dropped a cadence, "that if we are going to have a child at any time, you'll marry me then—and before. You understand?"
"Yes," was the answer, yet given not too quickly. "I promise you that—and I understand."
There was a thrilling pause. Then she sat up and drew away from him. He held her hand. He looked at her devouringly. She was quite the rarest treasure that, so far, he had collected.
Angelina said something of this. Her next words were playful; and to cover confusion:
"Are you looking for my marks? But are not sometimes the best bits of china without any mark at all?"
They sat on the bench by the stately water; he with his heavily intellectual face and rather wearily drooping lids; his | | 153 big limbs that knew of athletics nothing—though they should have done; Angelina with her classic profile and startlingly pure contrast of colouring. She was dead whites, and brilliant blues and deepest blacks.
They looked calmly aristocratic. They looked conventional; they stood for all the accomplished social facts. Certainly they did not look like a young couple who meant to masquerade before their world as married when they were not married.
Angelina was content with the position, since she had imposed it. Antony would never be content. He was a man, he was in love, and he was painfully conventional. Again, there was a free side, coarse if you like, to Antony. There were words which men of the world might, in the future, apply to Angelina, if only they knew the uncomfortable truth. He very nearly wavered in his own respect for Angelina; he was crude enough for that. As for reverencing her, he did not know the meaning of that word as applied to Woman. He only knew that she was extraordinarily good-looking, and that she had aroused in him a dozen feelings that made him wild to possess her. Limp as he was, he could be untiring in the pursuit of the coveted object. He had proved this—with china and with silver toys.
He wanted Angelina and he had only half won her. He had her, so to speak, upon approval. Any one at any time might come along and make a higher bid—of the emotions! He made the mistake of supposing that legalised marriage would safeguard him against this. He did not know that the heart is free and fleet, nothing ensures you: not tangible chains; nor the priestly imposition of a lasting vow. You may hold the body, but the soul has flown.
He was scheming now upon the rustic bench, looking at this perfect, lovely girl who was already half his; scheming to obtain her—quite! And it was no instinct of valour and cherishing that made him wish this. He wished it for himself, and he wished it for the opinion of the world. He could not bear to think, for the sake of his own respect, that all the words which would presently apply to Angelina should continue fo comprehend her. Blink the fact as you might, she proposed to form one of a sorry enough feminine company. She was, | | 154 putting it plainly, not going to be his wife. She was only prepared to be his mistress. There was still time to draw back, but he looked at her and could not. Yet he foresaw that the position might be insupportable; if not to her, a least to him. But—he assured himself with this jaunty speculation—the time would come and probably quite soon, when Angelina must capitulate and gladly. She would be his wife. They would go off and have a quiet marriage at some obscure country church. Or they might do it in London, which is so much more obscure. Then they would laugh at their odd beginnings. At least, Angelina would laugh. But he would always feel affronted; he was stiffly correct, and h was also of a certain experience. Angelina had a wild drop in her somewhere; she was lawless and she was completely innocent. She would hug her little secret—feeling it soft at her bosom. But it would always be a hair shirt to him. Now Antony was for fine linen!
"When did you tell her that—we did?" he asked at last,and awkwardly.
"Get married? Oh, I said in London; a special licence and on the day of the pantomime. You remember we arranged this morning, when she was in church, that I should say this."
"I know we did, and I hate it."
"So do I," agreed Angelina, but more calmly. "It will soon be over and it had to be, since you wanted me."
She smiled on him; he smiled eloquently back.
"I want you," he said with soft meaning. "But how is it all to be arranged? We must be ready with some sort of a programme at the dinner-table to-night."
"Of course we must, but it is so simple," was the assured answer he got. "Mumsie and I will go to London. Fortunately, it is just about the time we do go up as a rule to the house in Pont Street."
"Uncle Gerald's house," interpolated Antony. "His luckless marriage certainly proved fortunate for his sister Philippa. She hasn't much money of her own."
"She told me about that marriage this afternoon. And yet you wonder, with such alarming instances in plenty, that I hesitate."| | 155
Angelina turned her head to look at him. There was affection in her glance, but also, perhaps, a flick of scorn. Antony inspired these two feelings.
"And when we get to London," she pursued, "you will join us there, as you usually do. It may be Gerald's house"—the lazy, loving scorn for him increased—"but you also reap the advantage."
"I certainly do. Aunt Philippa is most generous, and I am an undeserving pauper. It comes hard on her. She had ambitions for me, and she dimly realises that they are in vain."
He spoke without self-reproach, and he added more briskly:
"When I come to London, what then? For I want you, Angelina, and you have been putting me off with vague promises, and, forgive me dearest, crack-brained schemes, for many months."
"Once you are there, we shall write, all of us, to our different correspondents and announce our approaching marriage, and say that we wish it to be quiet. That is all."
"Yes, it sounds easy," Antony spoke dubiously, and he added, "How skilful you are!"
"Am I? But other thoughts are running through your head. You hate me to tell lies."
"But I would gladly tell a little lie to save a larger issue."
"That sounds glib enough, my darling girl. It is a silvery, smooth little sentence—and I don't quite know what it means. You are a Jesuit, Angelina. It is merely trite to call you that."
"Yes. Poor Jesuits! Now do you understand?"
"I think," he said, "that I have learned my lesson, taken my physic—any image you choose. Yet I make a wry face."
His mouth was wry now, and his mind more so. Apart from lies, he was vaguely disquieted by Angelina's cool decision, severe logic and passionless sanity. He felt dissatisfied—apart from lies—for it was more subtle than that. Yet he hardly knew why. Had he been a skilled lover and a lover born, which he was not and never would become, he would have known, by her utter lack of the headlong quality, that she was not really his, although she believed herself to | | 156 be and was prepared, within limits of her own placing, to give herself to him utterly.
They thought, sitting here by the lake, watched scornfully by the cold swan, that they held the end of Love, and that, years placidly passing, they would wind at this wonderful coil, and make a golden ball of it, holding it, secure, in their tenderly-clasped hands. Angelina presently said something of this. She expressed their mutual surety.
"Perhaps I made a mistake in not marrying you, just in the usual way and without fuss. Perhaps I am merely hysterical. Just now I talked to Mumsie in a way that shocked her and startled me. I know that she thought me hysterical, and that may account, after all, for a great deal of fuss that women make. Why are you not strong with me, Antony? Why don't you make me marry you? For I love you. I have never cared for any one else."
"Dear one, I have implored you. I implore you now."
The words were passionate, yet his hands, suddenly clasping hers, were not compelling. It was merely the wordy, surface violence of a weak man and she felt it. She shook her head.
"No," she said, tragically. "You have not used the right words that will convince me. Perhaps they are not in you to say."
She turned aside her head. Her profile was dreadfully sad.
"And I won't, no, I won't, marry you," she went on more impetuously, "I would not whatever you said. There are. all the shocks of my early life to shake me. I have told you about them. Grandmamma Peachey, who was a wicked wife, so far as I could understand, and my own mother who was worse—for she was cold and viperish and narrow. I told you about that morning on the stairs—St. Valentine's Day."
Antony nodded rather curtly. He wriggled on the seat, in his restless way—the way that meant he was in danger of being bored. To tell the truth, he was rather impatient with youthful reminiscence. He did not love deeply enough to treasure every crumb of his darling's past. His passion did not feverishly demand the whole loaf of life. He wanted to-day's slice and all the other slices that were going to be cut—only this. Again, with Lady Johns, he finically shrank from Angelina's commercial strain, and the dignified shop which she | | 157 so tenderly poetised, was to him merely a shop. Angelina's father had been what he disdainfully called "a counter-jumper."
"Then there was Kitty and the lovely way she worshipped Patrick. That was love if you like. Her sandy face would light up. She was just one wistful radiance when she spoke of Patrick, and I think it quite likely that he was not drowned in the floods at all, but lived to marry some one else. Then there is my vow to St. Mary of Egypt. Do I believe in the Saints?" she asked this question bitterly, of reflected white swan and trembling water. "I don't know. Perhaps I do not believe any more than you do, Antony?"
"You can't," he said bluntly, "or you would not propose to embark upon a life of what the Church would certainly call mortal sin. Think of that."
"I do, and to tell the truth, it doesn't frighten me. I feel that sins have been neatly sorted out into mortal and venial by very godly men of the past who were also very narrow-minded. No, we won't marry. We won't discuss it any more; unless," she threw him a melting look, "you wish me to refuse altogether."
"Do I wish that?"
He returned that look. They trembled and were shy.
"Some day, when I love you enough, when you love me enough; when our mutual passion is something marvellous, then we will marry and make a Sacrament of it," said Angelina glowingly. "Our marriage shall be, when it comes, what all marriages ought to be, and so very seldom are. Then"—the scarlet colour went out of her voice, leaving it more wistful and more mysteriously charming—"I shall be happy at last. I never have been yet. I shall have you, I shall have religion, and I shall know"—she let out a quavering small laugh—"that I am neither puzzling nor grieving the blessed Saints. Although I believe that my dear St. Mary of Egypt would understand most things.
"There's a sense of spells in your blood, and you are an idealist; which means that you will never be happy," said Antony. He was regarding her with a tender, puzzled air. Patronage and protection showed in his manner.
"A sense of spells. Very likely. And I think you must | | 158 have said that before, or somebody else did, or perhaps thought of it myself. Anyhow, whatever I do, I can't g away from the Catholic religion. It keeps on softly pulling It will keep on pulling. I'm cold,"she stood up abruptly. "Take me back to the house and then go to Normandy an dress. Don't be late, remember, and be sure you know your lesson."
She looked at him and laughed. It was a pretty laugh—proud and low, silvery—with a touch of the bird. Antony thought, for every lover can be fanciful, of blackbirds singing in the early March mornings, long before the mob of sparrows and finches begin. And he thought, too, of that most pensive merry song of them all: the robin singing through an autumn dusk, while the wet leaves fall and October airs are very gentle.
She laughed. How beautiful she was and musical! She was a love and she was his—almost. He did not care how many lies she told or what quaint delusions she harboured as to saints and spells. He wanted her. He said, putting his arms round her, kissing her again—for he expressed himself volcanically by sudden, quick kisses that were almost savage, and that came strangely from him.
"You baffle me, Angelina, all the time. Sometimes you puzzle me, but you never bore me."
"I do, now and then;" she spoke gently, letting her head lie upon that broad, sure ledge, his shoulder.
"Get out of the way of being bored, dear Antony."
She spoke anxiously, and not merely for him, but certainly for herself, since Angelina must always hold the personal point of view. Already he, in moments, bored her. Antony could not help it. His atmosphere was heavy, and those who came close enough were enveloped in his density. They felt their way out into more shimmering airs. A girl who knew him very well, Cicely Forbes, a neighbour, once said that Antony was like the Underground Railway: he made you smart and choke and splutter. Those were the days of the sooty Underground.
It was a little unkind to Antony and a simile too overweighted. Yet he was certainly not clear air. Lady Johns had suffered with his atmosphere years before, and had specu- | | 159 lated privately upon the effect it might have on his wife when he got one. Her simile had been different. Cicely Forbes had thought of the Underground Railway: his Aunt Philippa, in a homely way, had imagined sleeping under too many bed-clothes. Whichever way you chose to express it, this was the effect of Antony. He smothered and emasculated you.
Angelina, so far, merely felt that he was elderly in his point of view, and she was irritated by his lymphatic manner and his trick of leaving things entirely to her. This was not born of devotion, or she would have adored it—what woman would not? It was merely lassitude. He had his parents to blame, for he had set out upon life with a low enough store of vitality.
"I shall never be bored when I have you," he said, and sighed.
It was a heavy sigh, and his face was sad, just as hers had been a little while back. Sadness, portent, maybe, vaguely enveloped them both.
They went through the copse towards the ghost-white house. They could see it through thin trees. The trees, in this wan light, and with their dainty promise of foliage, seemed to wear gowns of prune and silver.
He left her at the lighted portico. He looked at her strangely. Dusk and the early spring sweetness of the earth fired them both.
"Soon," he said, and in a steadier voice than she had ever heard from him, "I shall have you. I shall take you. I'd swim through any sea of lies for that."
"Not a sea, the merest brook and clear. We can look at every pretty pebble lying in the bottom," she assured him. "You can't use that harsh word 'lie' for a fiction that hurts nobody, and that is born of conscience. For I declare, Antony, that my conscience is involved."
She laughed again—that blackbird-and-robin note of hers.
He saw that she was trembling. The magic of the night was on them both. He walked away through the park with her lighted eyes flickering before him, tempting and delighting him. China-blue eyes! But she certainly was more priceless than any china. Yet as he walked, he cooled and he thought of his beautiful porcelain at the house in Normandy. He was going to have both: Oriental china and Angelina.
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