- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER VIII
|<< chapter 7||< chapter 3||chapter 9 >||chapter 11 >>|
ANGELINA looked hungrily round the dining-room. Hunger, putting it mentally, was her own word for her emotional state. Certainly she was not hungry, in the usual way. Antony, since her illness, had furbished up his medical manner and prescribed tonics in order that she should have a better appetite. She flagged.
She had been content enough with her life at the house in Normandy and with him, until the advent of the poor baby. It had lived a few hours, and she, helpless in the bed, had only for a moment or so girdled the tragic bundle in her arms and looked into the queer face. Yet he had accomplished something for his mother—this sprite-like child of such a woefully short stay upon earth. He had enlightened and dissatisfied her. He had not disenchanted, since there had never been any veil of magic to tear away. But he had given her a throb of the heart: he had hinted at what the life of wife and mother might be. Before he made his brief, tempestuous entry, she had been lulled by a scheme of measured elegance, and if, as she capriciously said to Antony, their alliance was not ideal enough to consecrate by a marriage ceremony, it had sufficed. She had considered that it would last out their life. It was, to all intents and purposes, a permanent union. But now she was restless. She appeared to be merely waiting.
And she bestowed scant attention upon her neighbour at the dinner-table, who happened to be Robert Pole's father.
He admired Mrs. ffinch immensely, did this old gentleman. He had admired her as Miss Peachey, and except for the accidental fact of having a wife, he would have wooed her himself. He bluntly considered his son Bob a fool not to have won her, and he looked disapprovingly down the table from Angelina, with her cloud-like pallor and haughty airs, to Cicely Forbes, who seemed to be all noisy laughter and rough elbows. The elder Pole was an old gentleman of odd idealisms.| | 180
You did not except such a quality in the country squire. Robert had said many times to Angelina in the past:
"The dear old governor is a queer card, and Julius takes after him. It seems odd to think of Julius grilling abroad out there and bossing niggers; for he's a romantic chap."
Angelina's listless glance comprised those things that she had been accustomed to since she was eighteen, and now she was nearly thirty-one. She had sat through so many parties in this sumptuously furnished dining-room; at first as Lady Johns' ward, and, for the last seven years, as Antony's wife. Now and then the playful impropriety of the position had vaguely tickled her. For she was not Antony's wife, and she now began to realise that she had never meant to be. She looked across the table at Antony, handsome in his evening dress; for he could look handsome, and he could also look both ugly and coarse. She looked at Lady Johns, who was invariably very plain and composedly elegant. Nothing could ruffle her, since nothing ever had. Even through her sorrows she had walked upon a crimson carpet.
Then there were the neighbours: people she knew so well. They were incapable of giving a new impression. You waited in vain for the galvanic shock.
She looked at Cicely, who resembled a peasant; in that she could not be happy without looking horrid. She was laughing too widely. Her eyes, snapping yet languishing, sought Robert's too often. And the outdoor life she led was unbecoming; east winds and hot suns seemed to have burned and bitten through her very clothing. That bare neck and those bare arms were not only red, they were scaly. She looked well as a horsewoman; as belle in full toilette she was grotesque.
Looking down the long table, Angelina saw men who in the past had made love to her: Percy Lascelles with his knowing air—since despairing of lawful love it was rumoured that he took upon him more elastic bonds! There were the others—one or two—but their presence really conveyed no more to her than the menservants standing behind their chairs. Everything was much too accustomed. It was effete. Those menservants had been with Lady Johns for years.| | 181
Certainly, this she admitted to herself, she was waiting for a sensation, and what should it be? She was neither thrilled nor self-reproachful. She was merely watchful. She remained mild.
Old Mr. Pole said:
"It is too bad of Julius to be late. He had to go to London but he promised his mother he'd return in good time. I want you to see him. Queer boy, a dear boy, Julius, Mrs. ffinch."
He spoke with complacence, as you do of a child who resembles you. His next words emphasised this:
"Just like me as a young man; not a touch of his mother. Robert is her boy."
When you have made a lean marriage, you resent the strain of your partner to show itself in the children. Mysteriously, the elder Pole was feeling this, and he was looking at Angelina's arched profile, and regretting not only that Robert did not win her, but that she had made herself impossible for Julius by marrying that prosy muff, Antony ffinch. There was no getting her into the family!
"Ah, here he comes!" he said a moment later. "Now have a stare. But nothing to look at, mind you, nothing to look at. Julius is ugly. So am I. He has quality, and when I was a young man I fancied myself as a character with quality."
He looked at his favourite son. With the air of a culprit, he smiled at him, and nobody else was smiling. Lady Johns was visibly annoyed by a late arrival, and the guests took on the tinge of their hostess.
"I am very sorry," said Julius, ostensibly to Lady Johns, but really to his mother. He was frightened of her.
She was an imposing dowager, and when she was angry (Cicely had said this!) you imagined an enraged feline tail swelling and lashing beneath her skirts.
Her future mother-in-law was the only person of whom Cicely stood slightly in awe; and her very impertinences were said in undertones. Mrs. Pole combined the person and mien of a Roman empress with a mid-Victorian tendency to hysteria.
When Julius had said that he was sorry, he sat down in place appointed. It was opposite Angelina. She was from | | 182 the first attracted: by his voice and by a lovingly humble intonation.
There was nothing cumbrous about Julius, nor was there ever any bluster. There was ease and airiness. With a twinge, Angelina had already realised that he was directly opposed to Antony, and there sprung the source of her interest! He had the quality of humility, which is the most charming of qualities if rightly understood. Most of us, just swimming upon the surface of human understanding call humility cringing. We pull down the most luminous of Christian qualities to our own murky level.
First his voice and next his figure drew her and diverted her. Last came his face. The set of a shoulder as he sat opposite, the turn of a leg as he came into the room, made more demand than either features or expression.
He was short, thick-set and swarthy, and—again differing from Antony—he wore evening clothes badly: she divined what Antony would say of this. As he had lately returned from a dark land, thickly peopled with what his brother Bob inclusively described as "niggers," he clearly shrank from social things, evidently finding them thin to sharpness; this dinner-party, neighbourly as it was, nevertheless had a razor edge for him; it was a blade reaching to his bone!
Angelina was thinking this, or part of it; for her brain became eloquent. She was conscious of an air of command about this clumsy-looking, short, dark man, Julius Pole. It was simply worn, yet constantly, and, becoming agonisingly personal in her reflections, she considered that this man would never allow her to sway him as she swayed Antony. Julius Pole showed a manner, of knowing just what he wanted and going straight for it without much emotional palaver. He would be, in any sort of fight—a love-fight or otherwise—merely a bull at a gate. He would perceive the one thing and go blindly for that, treading down all obstacles—or being slain by them. Before any sign of strength and of unfailing resolve she must capitulate, since she had been wearied by inherent weakness of character; choked by it, held captive by it. At the end of seven years, Angelina was exhausted by being forever compelled to decide, in simple matters or grave, for Antony. She had not suspected | | 183 that she was exhausted or even a little tired until Julius Pole came in and sat at the table—until, looking casually across it, their eyes met. His were dark and beady: not much in the way of eyes—to the world!
When dinner was over, she was' stirred by the fact that he came into the drawing-room before the other men. This filled her with queer delight and cunning. Before long, he came over to where she was sitting: and she knew that she had been merely waiting for him to come, just as he, without doubt, had been scheming to come. They were both conscious of bewildering intrigue. Yet there was not any guilt in it. From the first moment of meeting there was never anything tentative about Angelina's relation with Julius Pole; just as never throughout their whole conjunction could there be any roughness. It was perfect. Common words of condemnation could not touch it.
He sat down by her. They did not see the road that stretched before them; the long road that bitterly they must tread. Had they seen, it could have made no difference. He sat beside her on one of those well-stuffed and slightly grotesque double settees. They disposed themselves slightly sideways, shoulder inclining to shoulder. Such seats have gone out of fashion, but Lady Johns had nothing but hereditary furniture. Regally, she moved above the zone of mere fashion. Had Gerald's bride ever reigned in this house, the drawing-room would have been vastly different. Lady Johns, living wistfully and draped by veils of the past, was merely a ruler by proxy.
Julius Pole sat by Angelina, in her skimpy, shining silk skirt of unassailable fashion: just as dandies of the 'fifties and 'sixties, men with side-whiskers, had sat beside women in swimming tarlatan and swelling crinolines. Certainly, a curl from Angelina's shoulder should have inclined modestly to his: for they held the secrets of modest victory, those belles of the past! As it was, her lovely black hair was plaited high. It twined about her head and crowned it.
She was cool. He loved that. Emotional coolness, to him, became climatic—and inexpressibly soothing. He had been baked dry for years by foreign suns.
"So you are Antony's wife?" he said, smiling. "I never | | 184 thought that he would marry anything warmer than a Nankin bowl."
Neither smile nor words were usual; nor were they pleasing; in the correct social sense. There was, perhaps, an implied sneer at Antony. Yet Julius had charm, and you knew, instinctively, that there was nothing mean or ugly in him. He might imply unkindness, he might do dastardly acts: yet you acquitted him.
Ugly to look at! Oh, certainly! Angelina was admitting this. She looked at the little eyes and domed head. Already that head was getting slightly bald.
"I have been married," she said, smiling back and speaking with an implied enigma of tone and glance and twist of the mouth, "seven years to Antony."
She said this weightily, and why she never knew. She appeared to lay it down as an indisputable proposition: a sort of settled scientific fact that no amount of investigation could ever disprove. She was Antony's wife. Her heart was beating very oddly. It had not beat so fast since the night of the soirée at Miss Hopkins's, when she was a child. Blanche had come up to her then, across the lighted, dancing-room, to say that Arthur Rogers was dying.
"Antony and I," Julius continued, "used to fight. We always should fight. Even now, to-night, I mean, we politely fell out because I would not talk shop and tell him about my job abroad. I hate to talk about that. I am on a holiday, and want to forget my hard labour. Perhaps that is the reason, no, it was only part of the reason, why I got over here to you in this corner as soon as I could. I felt soothingly certain that you would not ask me to make landscape pictures for you, give you local colour—that sort of thing."
He smiled again. He had one good point, and that was a set of white teeth. Yet they were not good enough to look like false ones, nor had they that square shape and flashing whiteness which reminds you of an animal.
"It was just," he pursued, as Angelina sat refreshingly silent, "that I have been in a hot place, overlooking black men, getting very tired of it, being paid highly for my trouble—and rightly, for the climate kills most men. I wish people would not ask so many questions. My dear mother over- | | 185 whelmed me on the very day that I landed. I said to her"—his black eyes twinkled and danced upon the burned plain of his face—" 'dear mother, don't ask too intimately. You may regret it. I have simply come home to buy smart outfits for my wives. I shall take in Paris on my way back.' She half-believed it. She threatened hysteria, and we are afraid of that: for it wrecks family life, and family life is a trump card. People at Horsham, now that I return after so many years, seem to have a fearful thirst for information. Some of them knew me as a little boy, and take what they benevolently call 'an interest' in me."
"I shan't ask you even the name of the place from which you come," said Angelina.
Her eyes, bright, but very cold—a coldness made by pale colour and sharp black pupil—looked straight in front of her, comprising the rich room, dotted elegantly with politely grouped women. Old Mrs. Pole was regarding her frigidly. She had never approved of Angelina. How could a mother approve of any woman who, repeatedly, had refused to marry her son? And Robert was a thousand times better looking and far better off than that flabby, effeminate Antony ffinch, to whom she had chosen to ally herself.
"I feel sure you will not, and neither will Antony; once I have convinced him that we have no rare china in the place I come from," said Julius. "I'm fond of Antony, although we fought as boys and spar as men. As boys we fell out because I bragged of our direct descent as a family from the great Cardinal."
"An assault; Cardinals are never family men," said Angelina flippantly.
As she spoke, she seemed to see Kitty the parlourmaid's ugly face, and seemed to hear her talking of Patrick and talking of marriage and warning her, the little listening absorbed girl, of its sanctity and its seriousness. Kitty had made a lasting impression.
The time for Kitty, as a memory; the time for St. Mary of Egypt, as an influence, seemed to be now. They were renewed. Angelina stood upon a new shore. It was firm. Clean and lovely white sands had this new land! Hitherto, so she chose to picture it, your feet had sunk in. Sands had been | | 186 treacherous. That shore she once trod with Antony: the sea had swallowed it up!
"Family men! No, never," Julius laughed, and then over each face passed a look of self-disapproval; for, rigidly, they felt that banter was not for them, either to-night or at any time. They were committed to the completely serious. They experienced the awe-inspiring and helpless feeling of being dragged along by the hand. Fate is a harsh nursemaid.
"Antony," Julius continued, "bragged of being a ffinch—evidently holding to the pious opinion that two small letters more than equal one large one. I told him then, I told him again-to-night, when he chose to twit me with Cardinal Pole, that I believe the small letters signify merely some swagger freak on the part of an ancestor. He traces clear and with unfailing little ff's to his great-grandfather. I have heard of ffaringdons and ffoulkeses, but never of ffinches."
Then he and she laughed; clearly and together; for, always, they would be in unison.
How can you explain these instinctive harmonies? Certainly you can never bring discord into such perfect natural melody!
"ffinches, ffoulkeses, ffaringdons! It is an aviary," said Angelina.
The drawing-room door, down there at the other end of the great room, opened, and the rest of the men came in.
She singled out Antony at once. He looked handsome—yes, a very solidly built and handsome stranger!
Antony came over to them. He looked brighter than usual; more urbane and less bored. This return of Julius from a distant land seemed to have infused life. Lady Johns noticed this, for she loved Antony and was uneasy for him. Angelina, in a mood to notice, observed also the brief cloud of positive jealousy which crossed his plain face as he advanced. It sailed fast and away, that cloud! Chased by a perfect east wind of more genial emotions, it was probably seen by no one. But she knew him, and that look conveyed to her his thought, which was: "What were they talking about? Were they daring to discuss me?"
Antony was jealous and suspicious; his was an unhappy nature, and in perpetual conflict; for he could never settle | | 187 down to the completely ignoble, nor could he rise clear above it.
He pulled a chair up to the settee and asked Julius how long he would be in England.
"Six months and more," was the glad answer. "I shall see October through. That's my pet month of them all."
"We must go about a bit, if you have leisure," Antony said, and he added with a quiver of rapture in his voice—that abstract quiver which is peculiar to the collector:
"There is a sale up in Derbyshire the week after next. I have a catalogue. It is quite a small place, a cottage, but they have apparently some wonderful silver lustre. Can't think how it got there. Silver lustre"—he was looking his most pleasing and best—"is my strongest magnet, for, in a sense, it is china and metal in one to me. I collect both."
He regarded Angelina
"Supposing Pole can go," he said, "would you like to come too? We could have a regular little spree," he laughed his nice laugh—for he had two laughs. "It is a long way, but we could spend the night at some inn and get back to Horsham next day."
His glance, from one to the other, was oddly appealing. Angelina uncannily felt that his affectionate eyes were saying to her in particular, "I am doing this for you." She felt more fond of him than she had done for ever so long. She admired him more. She was proud of this big man with the bright blue eyes and curling, warmly brown beard. Yet he was no longer hers, nor was she his. Her heart had begun to ache—the long, dull ache that must last for years.
"I should like that," said Julius. "Let me know the day and I'll keep it open."
He did not look at Angelina. She sat helpless and amazingly stirred upon the settee: beside Julius and with Antony bending forward in the chair until his knee possessively brushed at her skirt. Although they did not know it themselves, these two were beginning to fight for her. Already, she felt the contemptuous fine pity of the complex women for such a mere brute struggle. It had got to be, however. She knew that by instinct. And she was not triumphant. She frantically deplored.| | 188
"It is the 17th of May; this is the third week of April," Antony was saying.
He looked at his watch and stared down the room, suddenly betraying that restless manner of wanting to get away—the manner that Angelina knew so well, and was so weary with; the manner that made Lady Johns, with her knowledge and her deep affection, afraid for him.
"I think," he said, standing up, "that Aunt Philippa won't mind a bit if we slip off a little before the rest. Come along, Angelina."
His attitude was apparently firm; masculine and decisive—but this was merely surface and his next words revealed it, "Shall we go?" he asked her, and looked moodily down at the seat of the chair from which he had risen.
"Yes, if you like, dear," was the meltingly gentle answer. And she arose at once.
She could not be too touchingly tender towards Antony, for—in all the essentials—she had betrayed him. Her heart was flown already.
"You come too," he said to Julius, quite impetuously. "Drive back with us and see my china. Don't say you'll come to-morrow, for I want to show you to-night. It is quite early."
"I should like to come," said Julius.
They all three went as softly as they could to Lady Johns, bade her farewell and slipped out. Angelina whispered as she went: "Antony is keen to show Mr. Pole the blue china. We won't disappoint him."
The elder woman, kissing her, whispered back:
"Darling, not for worlds. It is so nice to see Antony keen at all."
They laughed: as women laugh when they love a man.
Lady Johns caught Angelina's wrist as she moved, adding, caressingly:
"You are looking more beautiful than ever, but dreadfully pale. It is your first little social function since you were ill. Has it tired you?"
"Not a bit. Come and see me to-morrow," was the answer. Angelina spoke more crisply than usual, and she looked almost wildly across the macaw brilliance of the big room, with its | | 189 well-bred, calm airs, its great gilded mirrors and splashes of silk frocks. Inside of herself she was saying forlornly, "I am only passing through all this."
And really it seemed so; but whether she would, of her own volition, quit the cage, or whether the other macaws would peck her out of it, with screamings and savage dartings, because she had transgressed the canons of life, she could not feel sure. It did not matter yet. She was not going to enrage them yet.
She was silent as they drove back in the closed warm carriage to Normandy. Antony was talking with animation. Julius did not say much.
The April night had a lovely moon. when the carriage stopped Antony opened the door and said:
"Thank Heaven that horrible east wind has gone. It has been blowing for a week. I hate the spring, perhaps because my mother was consumptive."
He pulled up the silk handkerchief round his neck.
"She, poor thing, hated the bright sun and bitter wind, with every reason."
Angelina was the last to get out. She remained motionless for a fraction of time, framed by the open door, and regarding with sheer delight the moon-flooded street, with its wide flagged pavements and stately houses terminating at the church. Behind was peaceful water, with the moon enfolded to its bosom. She looked out at the church and the water, then up at the pear tree in their own garden. It was in full bloom and was a great tree. Because you associated pear blossom in your mind with a background of leaden storm sky, it was superlatively lovely to-night to see moonlight behind blossom. She was happy while she looked at all of this; just wavering on the carriage step while the two men stood ready for her upon the clear pavement She forgot, in this sweet draught of Nature, the other draught that she must drink: of perplexity and many pains. Looking at the moon and the snowy, laden pear tree, looking at the church and the exquisite green water of the stream behind it, she was living her last moment of peace. A return to the past was impossible. She was violently awake and all in vain was any wooing to re-capture that drowsiness of the past seven years. She | | 190 looked from Julius to Antony, and she resented Antony. She wished him away. This was a new feeling. The wild desire came—to be alone in the whole world with Julius. It was the first of many feelings that she must learn. She trod the road of Knowledge to-night; taking her first staggering, stumbling steps.
"Come along," said Antony. "What is it, Angelina? Why do you stand there?"
"I was looking at the moon, and I've got tangled up in my skirt," she returned foolishly, and laughed in quite a silly way.
She put out her hand. It was Julius who took it, and looking at him in the moonshine she found him certainly ugly, yet strangely attractive. When he touched her she forgot that there were any other men.
He helped her out, and, more eloquent than any polite helping, was that mysterious, instinctive pull of his hand to hers.
They looked at each other. Angelina was trembling as she crossed the pavement. Antony took out his latch-key and they all three filed into the beautiful house, with its beautiful possessions.
She said at the foot of the stairs:
"I am going straight up to bed. I'm dead tired."
She spoke with a piteous falter and stared down at the checked paving of the hall. She lifted her lids to look at neither of them. Antony lightly kissed her cheek. He seemed relieved.
"Yes, you get up to bed," he said. "I was afraid a dinner party would be too much for you. I said so."
She put out her hand to Julius, and he shook it.
"Good-night, Mr. Pole," she said coldly, and he returned with grave indifference:
"Good-night, Mrs. ffinch."
As Angelina went upstairs she heard them go along to Antony's study, she heard him say, with an air of confidence, with the husband's air:
"She is not very strong just yet."
She could imagine him shaking his head as he spoke, and looking eloquent. She resented it all.| | 191
She went upstairs to their bedroom and shut the door. The room was warmly luxurious, the fire burning in a low, sweet blaze, nothing but a handful of dull, scarlet blossom. Warm light fell upon the Davenport ware on the washstand, for Antony was thorough clean through, and in all the bed-rooms they had beautiful blue ware of enchanting shapes and for daily use; a perfect orgie of the bandy and the gently bowed! Angelina stared at the wide lips of her blue jugs, at a roomy soap dish with a domed cover, at shallow trays for tooth brushes; all of it printed in that tender old blue, which somehow to-day we can never hope to repeat.
She presently transferred her blank gaze to her dressing-table, which was strewn with things of silver and carved ivory. Antony delighted to pick up trifles that were mellow with age and costly to get. He would travel far, simply for an old box in which Angelina might keep pins.
After a time she took off her evening frock and filmy petticoat, hanging them up in the wardrobe thoughtfully, and wondering how long she would have such eclectic things. Although Antony's income was small,Lady Johns always saw to it that her adopted child was exquisitely dressed. Angelina was her French doll.
Angelina now, to-night, was feeling that the craft of her social life was rocking and might be wrecked; she would find herself upon the shoals of penury. It was really absurd! And all because you had met a man who magnetised you. She put on her dressing-gown and slowly unplaited the gleaming tails of her black hair. When Julius Pole had gone back to—wherever it was!—then she would marry Antony, and put every lawless fancy aside. She was afraid of herself, and she wished that Julius would go back to-morrow to—was it Penang? Had not Robert said Penang? She sat brushing her amazing black hair as it fell, a vestment of sheer satin, to her knees. She thought of Robert and Cicely. They were blunt, and, consequently, would be blest. Simplicity of nature, shallowness, if you like; that was a woman's safeguard, and perhaps a man's. Her sister Blanche was happy also. There had never been a shadow of any sort between her and Charles Murray. Blanche wrote letters bubbling with merry vulgarities. She was coming home soon to put her | | 192 three children into the care of some English lady, to be educated.
Angelina must have sat brushing her hair for nearly an hour. The fire went out, and Antony started when he came in and found her still sitting there. He stood watching the rhythmic movement of that brush with the carved ivory back. He delighted in its fine, yellowed complexities.
Angelina had not even heard him come in. The look of sullen suspicion, always ready to cross his face, crossed it now, and banging the door behind him, he asked:
"Why are you not in bed? It is more than an hour since you came upstairs."
"Is it?" she smiled at him abstractedly, pushed the hair from her eyes and let the brush fall into her lap. "I've been thinking."
"Lots of people. Robert and Cicely."
"Robert? You've been wondering if he's got over it."
"Got over being in love with me? What nonsense, Antony. He never took it to heart. I only hurt his pride by refusing him and," her head moved arrogantly, "I should never have any compassion for people who were hurt through their pride. Robert did not care. He merely admired me."
"Plenty of men have."
"Plenty. And you," Angelina laughed, hesitated and then, rising, kissed his sullen face upon the cheek, " have admired me too. I wonder if you have ever got beyond admiration. If I were ugly and coarse or crippled or blind, would you care as much?"
"My dear girl," he looked more amiable, for caresses were rare from her, "I never thought of anything so horrible. Don't talk of being crippled or paralysed. It frightens me. Who else have you been thinking of?"
"Of my sister Blanche," Angelina parted her hair and started to plait it into one great tail for the night. "She will be home in a few weeks, and I suppose she will want to stay here. You don't mind?"
"No good minding. She is your sister, and must come. But she'll bore me."
"She won't make you ashamed. She is not impossible, as | | 193 Mamma is. I can take Blanche about and introduce her. Mamma flays you alive by her gentilities."
"Angelina!" he hated Mrs. Peachey, yet, nevertheless, he was inconsequently shocked. "How can you speak of your own mother like that? Sometimes I think you have no heart. Sometimes I am afraid that you are as cold as you look. In that case," his mouth dropped at the corners and he looked childish, silly almost, "I shall have a hard time if anything happens. If I get ill or a pauper, I mean. If I have a stroke, as my father did."
"I'm not a bit heartless, Antony. I am merely logical, and I've said that so often to you that I stand in danger of becoming a perfect parrot. You never have courage to go far enough. You detest my mother, and quite naturally; yet you won't admit it. If you are ill or a pauper, though why you should be I can't see, it would make me all the more fond of you. I need," she sighed, "sadness and tragedy to bring out my best points. Do believe that. Trust me, my dear."
She looked at him; the big, bright-eyed man standing there with his broad, hunched-up shoulders and slightly sunk chest. She was thinking that if, suddenly, he had some grave illness, that would mean their salvation; for she would at once dismiss Julius Pole both from consideration and memory. She would devote herself to Antony; marry him and rejoice in renunciation. Tradition was strong with her. She had not known until to-night how strong it was, and, already, it was becoming a component part of her torture. With Antony she had seven years of tradition; those calm years, a little turgid, constantly greyed over by his morbidity. Yet already she was beginning to romanticise them, since they were sailing out of sight. She remembered now, with queer, quick anguish, that when Antony saw her, lying in that very bed behind them, at their first meeting after the birth and the death of their child, he had burst into tears. He had cried, she had not; for to do the expected things was hard with her. They seemed comic. Mrs. Peachey had also cried when she came, and cried copiously. She had said to her daughter, who lay dry-eyed and smiling:
"My dear, I must say it, even now, when you are in such | | 194 trouble. You were always cold-hearted, from a child, Angelina. And now you are a woman, you don't seem to care a bit."
She finished plaiting her hair, tossed the tail over her shoulder, and leaning forward, spreading her knees gently and holding out her hands, she seemed to implore this man, who was, to all intent, her husband, and had been for seven unbroken years. Mutely, she was asking him to hold her tight and keep her. But she knew that he could not. The lassitude of Antony would prevent him here.
She was looking more fragile and more lovely than he had ever seen her. She was only so recently recovered from all her sickness and sadness. Since she had borne a child she had become ennobled, and her expression, still cold, was certainly more responsive.
Perhaps Angelina had a heart, and was human after all. He had never believed it, and one of his most frequent utterances to her through these seven years had been, "You are a nun." She had been to him merely one more beautiful possession. Delight in her had remained abstract.
He said this about the nun, pettishly, for there was a very human strain in Antony, some might have called it a coarse strain. Without doubt she starved him, for never did she betray any demonstrativeness. He had hungered for it since the Antony that Angelina knew, and that his Aunt Philippa knew, was not the whole of the man. He was hardly as cold as his china.
He looked at Angelina now as she sat, seeming soft and appealing, in the chair. He dropped down on his knees and girdled hers with his two big hands:
"Why won't you marry me?" he asked brokenly. "Why didn't you keep your promise and marry me before the child was born?"
He put his head into her lap. She sat looking down at the brightly curling chestnut hair. After a pause, after making what was certainly an effort, she touched that hair. Her eyes, looking at the wall, were blank.
"Marry you! I can't," she said, in a muffled way—and desperately she hoped that he would not lift his face and look into hers. For she was certain it told tales.| | 195
"The moment is past, or it hasn't come," she went on swiftly, "I do not know which. You should have forced me, Antony, at the first. Why didn't you? A woman expects that of a man. Never leave decision to a woman. Never demand it. That's the highest cruelty. We wreck ourselves and you."
"Thank you," he was speaking with the stiff pride that really amused her, and that, emphatically, belittled him. "I don't care to force any woman. And it is rather mean to lay all blame for this discredit at my door."
"Before the child was born; that was the time," said Angelina. "You should have taken me then. But you were cruel instead. I can't forget."
She laughed unhappily.
"Now that it is dead," she continued, "there is no reason for marriage; I certainly refuse. The very death of the child seems to prove the flaw in our relation. The very fact that we had no children—oh——" she broke off and switched up her hands to her face, "why don't you stop me, for I am talking at random. You know how afraid I am of emotions."
"It has never been any good for me to try and influence you," he said, sounding wretched and touching her heart almost beyond bearing.
"You will always go your own way, Angelina, you will be your own worst enemy. I have always known it."
His head was still lying weakly upon her lap; the bright head of this big man.
"My darling," he spoke more tempestuously than she had ever heard him speak, "the day will come when I can't save you, when I can do no more."
"Save me! Do no more!"
Angelina knew not how or where they were drifting: together, yet divided, they seemed to be sailing into some terrifying future. Antony had a gift of prophesy. To-night he saw visions, and, translating them to her, through his passionate voice and prone head, he brought fear to them. For the first time she saw him break through his limpness and gentleness. He discarded his mildly sullen temper. She was in terror of him, and certainly she respected him. As | | 196 to loving him, wholly and utterly—ah, that was too late: even if the chance, for him, had ever been.
After she had echoed his wild words—and they could have no meaning—she sat staring at that chestnut head, her white hands maternally touched his curling hair: she remembered with a bitter touch of reminiscence, the red-gold tendrils of hair on that little head which they had laid so swiftly in its coffin.
They sat stiffly silent for some eloquent while, until at last Antony lifted his face and looked at her. She saw an expression which she did not understand—his Aunt Philippa with her heavy burden of family tradition would have understood at once and shuddered. Lady Johns knew what her sister Maria had suffered with Antony's father.
Angelina stared at this man, who had been in essence for seven years her husband. She saw a distraught face looking up from her warm lap. She felt terror, not at Antony, but for him. She was filled with a sense of horror, perplexity and mystery. Those darkened blue eyes held whole histories of dumb pain. She could not imagine what lay behind them. She only knew that it was a look she could never hope to forget, and her heart, which beneath its cold wrapping was more tender than most, ached for him, lying there at her feet as he was, and fast in the grip of some strange mood, some nameless agony. She did not tremble, as Lady Johns might have done, for his reason. Antony's aunt had never trusted the sanity of his father. She was certainly afraid of some hereditary taint, and she could not feel sure what form it would take. This dread she had kept to herself, and it made one of the several vague burdens she bore.
Even while Angelina, transfixed and in sympathetic agony, was staring, Antony's face changed, and it really seemed as if some tangible mist cleared from his eyes, leaving them peaceful and protected by the proper control which we all have to safeguard our secrets of the soul.
"I'm a miserable chap," he said, starting up. Awkwardly, his long legs getting in the way, he scrambled to his feet.
"I was a sullen little boy—Pole and I were talking of that to-night—and I'm a morbid man. But never mind me and my moods. How do you like Julius Pole? Be quick."| | 197
"Mr. Pole!" with the woman's involuntary artfulness she composed her mouth and chilled her glance. "I hardly know him. He isn't," she picked at the folds of her white dressing-gown, re-arranging her lap, "unusual in any way, is he?"
"I think he is," Antony was standing languidly by the dressing-table fingering his loved ivory toys. " For one thing he has unusual capacity. That's a splendid position he's got. The only drawback is, he was saying that to-night, it doesn't carry a pension. But then he only has himself to provide for."
"Until he marries."
When Angelina said this, her voice, to her, sounded a long way off, and she looked at Antony with apprehension. But he had observed nothing. He was regarding the back glass, and rapturously tracing the carved ivory with his gloating forefinger.
"Don't suppose he will marry," he returned lightly. " He's not a man to strike you that way, somehow. I shouldn't suppose women would care for him. But he ought to save, and he tells me he doesn't. He gets so bored by the life with these beastly black chaps that he goes off now and then, to the nearest civilisation, and gambles, just because he must have some excitement. And he always loses; that's the trouble. He was telling me about it to-night while I showed him the Spode. He has about as much respect for china as a bull."
Antony spoke indulgently and with sweetness. He was disposed to be tolerant with Julius. His next words expressed this:
"But he's a nice fellow, thoroughly nice, and he doesn't get on my nerves. That will be a nice trip into Derbyshire. You'll come?"
"I'll come," said Angelina, trying not to sound impressive and staring hard.
"He hasn't saved a penny piece," Antony put the glass down and wheeled round quickly; he looked at Angelina's white face: she had leaned her head back upon the cushion:
"I am keeping you up too long," he said. "I'll go."
"There's no hurry. Why hasn't he saved?"| | 198
"I told you just now—gambling. He's a fool, but I suppose we all are in one way or the other. My aunt was scolding me while you were ill, because I'm not insured, and if the china got burnt, there goes my capital."
"You ought to be. I've said so many times. I'm glad that Mumsie rated you."
"She made no impression. I don't mean to do it. But she was seriously angry, nevertheless, and she is going to leave her money to you when she dies; to me, not sixpence. She is leaving it to my wife."
He came brusquely across to the low chair where Angelina half lay, her head flung back, her feet stretched out.
"You know what that means?" he asked her, laughing uncomfortably. "You are not my wife, so neither of us will get a penny. You must marry me, Angelina."
She returned haughtily, and in her most icy way—by Jove, and she could be cold, thought Antony, whipping himself into fury:
"That would never make me marry you. It would be a sale, not a ceremony. There is quite another name for that sort of bargain."
The contemptuous words, the haughty gesture of her hand, the fine curl of her lip—all that infernal arrogance of hers!—it enraged him.
For who was she? He, unworthily, conned over in his mind, those words—of the vulgar—that might comprise her. There were ugly names, upon the world's lip, for Angelina. did the world know.
He was so angry with her that he could have called her anything. She beat into him the certain fact of his own inferiority. Yes, that was it, his point of view in these matters lay below hers.
"Some day," he said icily, and with the ugliest sneer she had seen, "I may refuse to marry you. The day may come when you will cringe to me."
"Dearest," she answered placably, "you know that I am never influenced by melodrama. And we do seem to be melodramatic to-night. I would rather talk of money than of what you would call morals."
Those pale, bright eyes of hers were gentle; her voice was | | 199 gentle also; and both were aloof. They were superior. They stung him, where they essayed to appease.
"Money's a most uncomfortable topic, Angelina, I assure you," he said. "Have you never realised how hard up we are? Most of my capital is tied up in china, and I can't stop buying."
"I know;" she was looking not only grave, but alertly business-like. "If you would only sell! With your knowledge and your enthusiasm you could buy and sell and make a profit. We should be richer instead of poorer."
"Sell!" his mouth curled and he went back to the delicate ivory on the dressing-table. "Can't. It isn't in my blood."
"It is in mine, as you imply."
"My dear girl, forgive me. I didn't mean to be discourteous."
"I don't see why you should mind being truthful. And you know that I am proud of my shop. When I went to London last time, I went to St. Paul's Churchyard—it seemed so far away from everywhere. Yet once I believed it almost the whole of London. I went to look at my dear shop. It is not altered. Papa's name is still over the door. I went in and bought some face cream. Mr. Barber served me. He did not know me."
"I should hope he didn't."
"You are very like Mamma, Antony," she said, with indifference and yet disdain.
Antony, at this, opened his mouth to emit his satirical "Thank you, Angelina," but Angelina, dismissing comment with a quick movement of the hand, flowed on:
"She would think it low-born of me to go back to the shop. She does not even know that I have told you there is one. She adheres to the fiction of Papa's scientific pursuits and chemical experiments. Mrs. Chope thought of all that; she is clever, the Chope. I went to Evensong at the Cathedral afterwards. I thought of Kitty and of my saint, St. Mary of Egypt. It all came back."
She was looking at him wistfully, wishing to share her past with him. But Antony did not love her that way:
"I may be a fool," he said, with a quick turn of the topic, "but I did a good thing the other day with what money I have | | 200 got left. I put it into a South African mine. Lascelles put me up to it."
"Lascelles!" she looked disturbed. "I don't care for Percy Lascelles, for he has no principle."
"Do you propose a pun on your former admirer?"
"Principle! Interest! Yes, that isn't bad—because it is so bad; as the good pun should be, Antony. But why do you harp upon my admirer, and why were you influenced by him? He is not to be trusted. Has he put any money in himself?"
"My good child, he is one of the directors. I took Pole into my confidence just now, and he seems to think it is all right. He went so far as to say he'd put money in himself if he had any. I am to get eight per cent., Angelina. That, with what Aunt Philippa does, will enable us to live. This is a big house and an expensive garden, but I couldn't bear to leave Normandy, could you?"
"I love Normandy," she said, after a pause.
After another pause, she added:
"I am very tired to-night. Go away, now."
"Yes, I will go away as I always do when you have done with me," he retorted, and coming over, kissed her.
It was an icy caress. His face, again, was dark. She watched him go. He only went through into the dressingroom, where he had a bed, but he locked the door between them. This he had done before, and it signalised an odd mood. She knew that mood. She had too much dignity, and too much common sense ever to comment upon this. In the past it had hurt her; it had suggested a definite sundering, and had chilled her. When she realised, as now she did, that to-night it was a positive relief to hear him turn that lock so coldly, she clapped her hands up to her face and strangled her crying, still-born.
Yes, already, it had come to that. She was rejoiced to be parted from Antony.
She heard him undressing, clumping about, flinging his things down, opening and shutting drawers.
This already, to hear him in there so close, seemed indecorous—for was he not a stranger!| | 201
She was cold and weary. Hurriedly, noiselessly, she got ready for bed; longing to hug the darkness and so be utterly alone. She craved for the solitude that only darkness gives you.
She was feeling actually faint, and the tears ran down her cheeks. Her legs trembled when she walked.
She was heart-broken, for she knew that she stood upon some awful edge of her life; she was going to hurt Antony. It would be irremediable, and yet she could not help it.
She could feel Julius Pole's fingers round her wrists as he helped her from the carriage in the bright moonlight. That had been to her a new birth. She did not pause to wonder at what he was feeling at this moment, for instinctively she knew that he was feeling very much as she did: more victorious perhaps, and not tearful—for that was the way of a man. He was not suffering; it was to the woman, all the suffering! So far, he would be merely uplifted.
Already, there were no half shades in their relation. They knew each other hardly at all, and yet there was perfect, most soothing knowledge. So this was being mated. This was finding your mate. It was primitive and it was inexorable. Yet it was too late. For did not Antony lie there just through the wall, and was he not, on other nights, sleeping by her side?
She knew that Antony loved her, or, putting it more exactly, that he needed her. He blindly adored her: he worshipped and punished. She was his fetish, and this was the key to their relation. He came to her simply and as a savage, in all his troubles and in his too infrequent joys. When things were right he hung votive offerings about her. When things were wrong he banged her head against a tree or he flung her from him. He might fling her away in a pet, but he very soon wanted to pick her up again. If she deserted Antony she would deprive him of everything; she was all that he had—of the real and the ideal. She was his pride and his religion. She was his most costly and most rare possession. She was not more than blue china, perhaps, but she was the most precious piece in the collection. His reputation was staked upon her.
Putting him either as savage with a fetish or as | | 202 cultivated man with an elegant hobby, she was essentially necessary. Health, his modicum of happiness, perhaps even his life and sanity, depended on her. She knew this, and knew it without vanity or palliation; for she always went straight through to the heart of a circumstance.
Antony's fate hung upon her action. It was a terrific responsibility. When she was in bed and lying straight; feeling very cold, she allowed herself to float out from the sheer horror of all this and lave herself in the stream of Julius Pole's preference.
It would never be necessary for him to say he loved her. Yet she knew that the intoxicating moment of confession must come. He, when he loved—ah, but he did already!—would love her for her intrinsic self. He would search to the soul of her and take that.
Antony only loved her for the delight she gave. The hold she had upon him was dependant upon her beauty and her brains. Of her eternal part he knew nothing. Women divine and endure everything before the time comes. They die a thousand deaths. She smiled to herself in the dark; an anguished enough twist of the lip! One of these men, and perhaps both of them, were already asleep: these men for whom she suffered and would continue to suffer.
She saw the dawn come. She was in sharpest conflict, for she knew, in a sense, what the future held. Details she could not see; only Time could fill in the canvas; but the composition of this dramatic picture—her coming life—she already knew.
She lay there cold and weak, and, as it seemed, permanently awake. She was trying to persuade herself that when choice came, then she would choose correctly and as the world wished. Every woman, riven of heart, supposes this. She thinks that she can choose and that her choice shall be what the world calls honour.
When the day for choosing comes, the great day of the last wrestling, the classic day of final choice, then it is that Love wins. The woman is pulled, and a righteous victory, to the strongest side! When the time came for Angelina, she knew that she would choose the man who provoked in her; the sweetest and the best.| | 203
She was still awake at seven in the morning when Antony, fully dressed and haggard, looked in:
"I have slept badly," he said shortly; coming to her, as he invariably did, in everything.
"Have you had a good night? Are you coming down to breakfast?"
"Yes, I shall come down, of course," she returned with a cheerfulness which deceived him, because he was mournfully absorbed in himself.
Nevertheless, her voice was emphatically ghastly.
When he went away she arose and dressed; feeling tremulous and anticipant.
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