- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER IX
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ANGELINA was feeling irritably that she had not a word to say to Blanche. She did not even hate her as, when they were children, she often had. To hate would have been better; for that, at least, was active. To be bored to death was desolation; it was a wasting of your life. Admitting this, she would have six weeks cut sheer out of her existence, for it was settled that Blanche, with her three little girls, should stay at Normandy six weeks. At the end of this time she was handing them over to two maiden ladies at Bedford, who would mother them and teach them while they were little things, and, when they were old enough, send them daily to College.
"It is very dreadful to be parted from them," Blanche was saying to Angelina, "but I had to choose between them and Charlie; no Anglo-Indian woman can keep her children and her husband."
She sighed expansively.
"When they get big enough, they will come back to us in India, and they will marry early, of course. I think that Phillida will be a beauty, don't you? She is fair, like me. Helen is an odd-looking monkey. Those big eyes are just your eyes, Angelina, and she may turn out all right. Plain children very often do. Don't you remember"—her level voice and obtuse expression seemed to buzz and stare in the spacious, faintly-scented drawing-room—"what a queer little kid you were? It was me that everybody admired. I remember the married Miss Hopkins—Mrs. Bauble—twisting my curls round her finger." Blanche regarded herself complacently in the long mirror set between the long windows. "Some people might say, now, that you were the better looking of us two."
Angelina said passively, divining that some answer was expected, "They are dear little girls." But she had no real heart for children. Her passion was for herself and for men. It always would be, and she hoarded the memory of her own | | 205 baby merely as a poetic fragment. Blanche presently spoke of it.
"How sad, Angelina, that you have no children; and after nearly eight years, too. How unfortunate that your little boy died. Why was it? Didn't the nurse manage well?"
"I think so. Everybody managed well, but I did not." Angelina spoke indifferently.
She sat by one of the windows, and she was looking out at Normandy—looking down at the flagged, tree-shadowed pavement. There was no indifference in her glance, but a certain marked, expectant rapture. Blanche did not understand, yet she detected. She looked sulky, for she divined that Angelina was bored by her; and this is knowledge that never can be palatable. Yet she intended to stay her full time at Normandy, since it suited her. Antony ffinch was a nasty, sneering beast, but she saw very little of him—Antony saw to that! Angelina was her own flesh and blood, so, naturally, she was fond of her. Lady Johns was quite civil, and Leggatt Court was a lovely house to have the run of. Moreover, Lady Johns lent Angelina a carriage whenever she wanted it, or you could have, for the asking, a pony-cart for the children. Blanche had written gushingly to "dear old Charly-Warly" that she was in clover.
"What are you staring at?" she demanded, coming briskly to the window. She had been lying on the sofa, as she did after lunch. Blanche had grown fat.
"Nothing. Go and lie down again, dear." Angelina's voice, meant to soothe, was sharp, in spite of herself. "I was only watching the pretty patterns that the leaves make in the sunlight."
"What a baby you are! Fancy noticing that." Blanche returned to her cushions. "I thought"—she laughed not very pleasantly—"that you were on the look-out for Mr. Pole. He seems to live at the house. I wonder that Antony stands it. My hubby wouldn't. He's awfully jealous, but I like a man to be jealous. It shows he sets a value on you."
"Mr. Pole comes to talk to Antony, dear Blanche."
"Of course he does; they always do. I've seen so much of that kind of thing in India. The officers' wives are | | 206 awful." Blanche looked as if she meant to be shockingly confidential, and she continued:
"One woman I know, a captain's wife, kept another officer's photo under her pillow. Just fancy! Disgusting! The whole regiment was talking about it and laughing at her; for you know what men are when they get together. A lot of young fellows, too! Talk of women's scandal! It is nothing to the officers' mess."
Angelina did not answer. She was staring at the street. She was absorbed, so she said, by shadows. Blanche looked spiteful. Angelina was both cold-hearted and stupid. She had always been cold, but when she was a girl at the Misses Hopkins' she had done her lessons well. She had promised to be bright.
"And you three are going to that sale, aren't you?" she persisted; "I do call that queer. If it is to buy china why does Antony want you? And if it is to have a little giddy-go-round why does he want Mr. Pole?"
"It seems natural enough to us," her sister said flatly.
"We are not Anglo-Indians. I hope you won't be dull while I'm gone Blanche; that is the only thing."
"Bless the child," Blanche giggled, "I shall be all right. I've settled to see a good bit of Cicely Forbes. What a jolly girl she is! Full of go. I was like that when we were at Brighton. Do you remember the dear old Brighton days? I loved a lark, and you were always mooning—except that time when you fooled Freddy Jannaway. You know he's married? He wrote to Charlie."
"Yes. He is a friend, or rather his mother is a friend of Lady Johns."
"It was awful when I went to see Mamma," groaned Blanche. "Are you ever going?"
"Not if I can possibly help it."
"What a queer old girl you are! Don't look so fierce. I don't suppose she wants you. I was always the pet. It is a vulgar house, Angelina, that place at Hurstpierpoint, and that man she's married isn't even a gentleman. He looks rather distinguished; auctioneers and those sort of half-and-half people often do. But when he speaks, he's got a shocking Cockney accent, it quite gives him away. She married him | | 207 in an awful hurry, just as if she were a young girl. And she has made great sacrifices. She has lost nearly all her money; it goes to Mr. Barber."
At the end of the sentence, Blanche dropped her voice and looked timidly at the closed door; it was dangerous to refer, even in the most distant way, to the paternal shop. She had never told Charlie.
"Papa made practically no provision for us," she continued. "He must have been a queer man. I think we were a queer lot, and I'm glad to be married and out of the family, aren't you? Charlie's people have always been swells and so have Antony's. How lucky you were to get adopted. It must be nice to be able to go back into your pedigree without grazing your nose against a shop window. Why do you let me do all the talking, Angelina? Why are you so mum?"
"I love to hear you talk, dearest Blanche," said the dispassionate voice from the open window, " and that last bit about grazing your nose was delightful."
"I don't think it was bad." Blanche's own pretty little snub nose wrinkled with delight at the compliment. "But about money, Angy. We shan't have a penny except the £7o a year we have already got, until Mamma dies. And even then it won't be much, now she has married the auctioneer. Papa"—her voice dropped again—"put the shop before his own flesh and blood. He must have been queer. But you can't wonder when you think of Grandmamma Peachey. She was a bad lot. Mamma told me. She hasn't told another single soul; not even Mrs. Chope. I went to see her too when I ran over to Brighton. She's mad with rage because Mamma has married; for she's turned out of house and home. She is in the cottage, living on twopence, and she's gone all to pieces in her looks. She's a regular rag-picker and looks a hundred. I suppose she can't afford the money for the paints and things. I'm certain"—Blanche sniggered, yet her eyes widened with horror—"that she isn't proper. She looks it; improper, you know—I mean that she was a bad lot once. She is thinking of selling her valuable furniture and sinking it, with a little more that she has saved, into an annuity. It must be awful to feel that your future is unsafe. I'm all right and so are you. Charlie | | 208 will have his pension and I suppose Antony has ample means. It looks as if he had. You've a lovely home, but there's too much china and silver and things like that. It's really rather like a curio shop, don't you think?"
"Antony loves to have it so," said Angelina, and her voice was quietly final.
"You do let him have his own way. Haven't you a will of your own? You give in to him in everything, and yet as a girl you were so high-spirited. Mamma could do nothing with you. Do you think, Angelina, that he'll accept the position Charlie could get for him? It would be splendid. It would do him all the good in the world. He is, if you don't mind my saying so, awfully heavy. He would bore me if I saw too much of him. Just to travel about with this young Rajah, with all expenses paid! It's the chance of a lifetime, and Charlie's influence could get him the job. They'll take any doctor that Charlie recommends. Do you think Antony will?"
Blanche looked keen. She had a business instinct and hated to see good things wasted.
Angelina twisted from the window, showing animation and interest.
"I hope he will," she said. "I am trying to persuade him, and Mumsie is trying too. I should like him to go."
Her voice was deeply earnest.
"It would be money in his pocket too." Blanche impatiently thumped her silk pillow and settled her curly, yellow head. "I don't want to offend you, Angelina, but his off-hand manner does put my back up. It is such a splendid chance of seeing the world, and for nothing. All expenses, and first-class, paid. To travel about with an Indian prince for three months! Thousands would jump at it. Of course you'll miss him, but when he comes back it will be jolly. You'll have a second honeymoon."
"I think he'll go," said Angelina.
She had turned back to the window. Julius Pole came slowly up the street. She lifted her hand as he, passing below, looked up. It was a signal. After a moment's pause, through which her heart plunged wildly, she said casually to Blanche:| | 209
"You generally have a nap about this time. I am going down to Antony."
She moved to the door. She kept her bright eyes fixed on that big, blonde body on the sofa. Blanche was decidedly buxom. She retreated from her own vehement feeling. She did not know where it was leading her. If Blanche had tried to stop her, or if she had suggested coming down also—well, it almost seemed as if she would strangle Blanche in order to keep her out of the way! To strangle Blanche! That was too extreme an idea and too vulgarly sensational altogether. She laughed at herself for the thought as she ran, on feet that were soft and fleet, light and timid—the feet of a mouse—downstairs.
Yet certainly she knew already that nothing and no one should come, even for a moment, between her and Julius Pole.
Antony was sitting in his study alone. It was not a bookish place, for where books should have been upon the shelves stood his blue china. The dainty tables, some of them glass-topped and all of them slim, that were ranged against the walls, gave a touch of effeminacy to the chamber. Angelina paused upon the threshold to absorb the lovely effect of delicate silver and mellowed blue. That man, so moody in the chair by the table, was too clumsy a touch.
He had the newspaper before him, but he was not reading. Behind him, on the wall, was a row of handsomely bound medical books. He never opened them. People forgot that he was a doctor, and he certainly ignored the fact himself.
That flabby look of his carefully kept hands, that downward pull of his mouth, how well she knew those signs! Once they had evoked anxiety, now she felt impatience. Yet her face, as she advanced, was pinched by concern and remorse.
She shut the door, sat down, and said to him lightly:
"I had to come away from Blanche. She talks incessantly. She's a piano-organ played too fast."
Speaking, her head sensitively inclined towards the door. She was listening.
Antony looked up. He smiled at her in the weary, fond way she knew: his smile of this unhappy mood!
"Your sister is like all sorts of things," he said scornfully.| | 210
"She is a protoplasm—a lump of jelly floating on the top of a rainwater tub. When, for mercy's sake, is the six weeks up?"
"Not yet. Poor Blanche! We must endure it. She is really so good-natured, and I hate myself because I hate her. She is my sister."
"Yes," Antony adopted his air of propriety, "it is dreadful not to love your own people. There is no doubt you are unnatural."
"I am," she was listening so acutely that she feared lest he should notice. "Yes, unnatural, heartless—all of it."
She laughed, adding:
"But I really came down to talk to you about this Indian offer. You must accept it."
Antony looked at her.
"It means leaving you alone for three months," he said slowly, "but you don't mind that."
As he said this there was a knock at the front door, then feet coming across the flagged hall. Angelina faltered up from her chair, then sat promptly down.
"It is Mr. Pole," she said with a fine, high carelessness.
The door opened and Pole came in.
"My wife already knows your footstep," said Antony, greeting him.
There was an emphasis upon that word "wife."
"I am grateful to Mrs. ffinch for granting me some measure of individuality," said Julius stiffly, and as if he had learned this sentence as the safe thing to say.
He shook hands with Angelina. They could not be natural. He was quivering; she was trembling. She let her eyes fall beneath the scrutiny of his.
"I want you, Mr. Pole," she said in a gabbling, bright way that copied Blanche, "to persuade Antony to travel about with Charlie Murray's rich young Rajah. They are both on board ship now and will soon be in England. Antony has only to lift his finger. Just think, Antony"—she leaned towards him, spreading her curved hands and half-bared arms upon the table—"what it would mean to you; travelling about Europe. Think of the art treasures."
"I do—and of my empty pockets. The Rajah"—he spoke | | 211 to Pole—"does not pay a penny. He simply clears all expenses. And he's delicate, this Indian, and may be a nuisance. That is why they insist upon a medical man."
"It is a good way of getting a holiday, isn't it? If I were a doctor I'd take it."
Julius, answering, blinked and turned from the window. His eyes were sensitive.
"Oh, no doubt I shall go. I will talk to Murray when I see him. What will you do, Angelina, while I'm away?"
"Mumsie wants me to shut up this house and stay with her. We might let the house, Antony, and make some money."
"Not if I know it!" He spoke violently. "Let the house! With all my treasures in it! You are always thinking of money-making."
"There is shop-keeper in my blood," she said quietly, and, smiling, twisted the rings on her fingers.
"I shall go, bless you. Don't be afraid." Antony adopted a tone of rough humour, he hunched his broad shoulders and hollowed his chest. "Now let us talk of the sale. That is what you came for, isn't it, Pole? We go on Thursday. What time shall we start?"
His face cleared. He pulled out the time-table and looking up quickly at Angelina, perhaps to intercept a glance; he said:
"You'd better not stay here any longer. I'm going to smoke a pipe, and you hate my tobacco."
She stood up instantly. Julius, near the door, opened it for her. He, who had been so fluent on the night of the dinner-party when first they met, had not a word to-day. They were dumb to each other so far. Silence, with its wonderful fabric, wove veils of silver and of gold to hang between these fated two. They were living through the veiled phase, as lovers do. They were content, since they knew that the day would come when, violently, all veils would be fluttered away: torn into radiant fragments, cast forth to float in the sun. They would be left naked of the spirit: and not ashamed, but very glad.
The three of them arrived late at night in the Derbyshire village where the sale was to be held. They put up at the | | 212 inn. Angelina and Antony had a big room, with a four-post bed and dour, woollen hangings; Julius went past their door and up a ladder-like stair to a bachelor room. It was an humble inn. Angelina heard him go. She did not wish it. She resented it, and, again, she was afraid of herself: for she could not see the way she trod.
Julius went up that stair before Antony came in to her. She was alone in the low-pitched grim country room, with its vast, fat bed. She was half-undressed and sitting at the toilet-table with her black head unbound. Suddenly she dropped it and, sinking her face into her hands, sobbed in a stealthy way. She was rapturous and afraid. For seven years she had lived with Antony and been, as it were, his wife. But she was more stirred than any maiden when she heard the feet of that man going upstairs.
Antony was cross next morning; because he was so visibly excited. Everything got upon his nerves. He had passed a bad night because there was a carillon peal at the church opposite. Did not Angelina hear it? Oh! she heard nothing. Had not Julius heard it? Come, now! He was as bad. Antony wished that they had not settled to stay a second night.
After breakfast they started off in the warm May mist. It was half a mile to the cottage where the sale was, and the short cut to it lay through the wood. The lovely mist was metallic; it was like blurred white metal: dim, yet not wet as the sea mist is, and leaving no tonic salt upon your lip. It was joyous and gently voluptuous; it was silver, yet with the subtlest hint of pure gold. Without a doubt it was dangerous. The little way along the road, before you came to the wood, ran between orchards. Grass was ultra-green, the white trees bowed themselves with blossom. Julius gave one magic look at Angelina, and her eyes responded. They were seeing together all the tender marvel of this. It was their own delight, for Antony was walking slowly and with the catalogue open in his hand. He was marking the particular lots that he meant to bid for.
They came to the cottage where the sale was going to be, and all the poor furniture was stacked in a cramped, untidy garden. It was a new, yellow cottage, and the furniture was | | 213 new. A few women were walking about, treading down the garden and holding up sheets and blankets to the light, spying out holes, stealthily poking in their fingers at the worn places. Angelina looked disgusted, and Julius seemed amazed, but Antony hopefully walked all round to the house until he came upon a kitchen table, upon which was stacked the china. He handled it dotingly, piece by piece, and he said to Julius in an awed voice:
"Some of this is rare, and I must have it at any price. I can't think how it got here. Yes, I must have it."
His voice trembled.
I've never seen so much silver lustre, and all of it perfectly genuine and without a flaw. It is one of the romances of a sale—that it should be here, with all this!"
Disdainfully he indicated, waving the open catalogue about, the poor bedding and coarse furniture.
People were staring at the trio and staring most at Angelina, with her cold face, so sharply, whitely beautiful. She was dressed in what, to them, was a wonderful way. For this was an obscure village.
"There are no dealers here yet," whispered Antony, "but there will be. They will come in shoals unless they are fools. I'm sorry that it is such a fine morning, confound it."
He scowled at the innocently radiant sunshine, and at all the smiling trees.
Two red spots high upon his cheeks made his blue eyes almost madly brilliant. He was in the hold of the only enthusiasm he knew. He would have a tremendous reaction. Angelina knew that. When he had bought the china, for of course he meant to have it; when he had arranged it and looked at it and gloated over it for a few days, then he would be aghast at the money he had spent and for which he could see no return. For he would starve rather than sell it.
He was touching it, piece by piece, his fingers sensitively twitching.
"The blue isn't up to much," he said thoughtfully, "but I may as well have that too."
"When does the sale begin?" asked Julius. "We can't stand about for hours. Shall we come back later on?"
Antony turned on him incredulously:| | 214
"Go away! Come back!" he said. "My dear fellow!"
He looked at Angelina. She smiled at him in that soft, kind way that very often he resented; for it looked as if she patronised him. But she merely meant that she understood.
He surveyed all her high beauty and the arrogant, careful finish of the clothes she wore.
"You will ruin everything," he said peevishly. "People will think that I am made of money when they see you and realise that you belong to me or"—he shot a look at Pole—"to one of us. Dealers will run things up. I shall either lose or be ruined. Why on earth couldn't you be shabby just for once, Angelina?"
"Dearest, these are my very oldest clothes. I am sorry."
"Are they? It is the way you hold your head or something. Well, anyhow, you must go away before the sale begins. Take her away, Pole. I wish you would. Can't you two go and sit in the wood? Take the luncheon-basket. Fortunately"—he turned over his catalogue—"the china comes fairly early. I'll join you when I've got what I want. Save me something to eat."
He turned away. The sharp hunch of his big shoulder was sufficient dismissal. It said more than many words. Angelina, speaking to Pole, but not looking at him, said:
"We must go away. He does not want us. Look at him! He has already forgotten us."
Antony had pushed through the people. He had taken up his position. He was sitting patiently upon a tub turned upside down, in a corner of the garden and away from the china. Porters were moving about. They brought a chair and stood it upon a table as a rostrum for the auctioneer. The people began to gather eloquently together. A motorcar stopped at the mean gate, first one and presently another. Antony regarded them savagely.
Julius Pole and Angelina walked away. They went from the road and the house and the people into the wood, casting a last look back.
They saw drifting blossom and a carpet of crassly green grass. This was their last impression of the open world.
Within the wood, stretching wide, was a glade. It was wholly blue and oppressively fragrant. Above were the | | 215 freshly-decked trees; below, here, for their feet and their noses, were bluebells.
It was a wonderful sight; a surpassing richness coyly hidden. Angelina involuntarily stretched her hand. Julius caught and held it captive.
"I never saw anything like this," she said faintly. "What a show of bluebells! We did not come this way with Antony. We have taken a different path. I hope he will find us when the sale is over. Such blue! Better than his!"
She laughed hysterically.
"Oh, blue china! Bother!" returned Julius.
He had been staring with dark, fierce fire in his eyes at the bluebells. Suddenly he switched Angelina to him, and wordless—and for the first time—she was in his arms: speechless, their lips met and clung. Silence, sweetness, the birds above, the swaying blossoms: all of this drove them mad, and confession was inevitable.
He held her. She knew at last what it was to be prisoned in a strong embrace. It was riotous, reckless—ruinous as like as not. But there were no half measures.
She knew now what it was to be kissed.
"My darling," he spouted, "we are alone. The world is ours and our life. Such a world! Such perfume! Stronger than any wine! I'm glad, yes, glad I've kissed you! glad that you know I love you. Do you know? I wonder! Will you ever know how dear you are to me and have been from the first? All that you touch or come near is precious, and the moments when I am away are simply marking time for our next meeting. Didn't you guess why I came to Normandy so often? Most dear one, I was compelled to: against prudence, against honour, against it all. I was driven on. I could not help it. Lovers never can. Darling, this is love, and only two out of ten thousand really find it."
His head fell sideways to her shoulder, and he was silent.
She put up one bare hand and touched him.
"Dearest, you meet me half-way. You know what I want you to do," he muttered confusedly. "Ours is a love without language."
Almost without conscious volition he drew her down and they sat against a great beech trunk. The lovely blue | | 216 flower that had made their scented destruction spired up all around them. Angelina said, turning her head right away and withdrawing herself:
"It was these, the bluebells, that made you kiss me." There was shyness in her voice, the inevitable maidenly confusion and strangeness, but there was no remorse; there was no touch of the stealthy and the ugly. Hers was a manner of honourable wooing. Julius, by now aware and knowing that he had made love to a wife—and his friend's wife—was sensible of this, and mystified. He began to wonder. He put his thought into rueful words. He looked miserable and ashamed. The great, big, natural joy of declaration ebbed in its tide with him. She was Antony's wife and he had kissed her. He had sinned against his highest code. Yet to kiss her! What was that? What would it mean to light people and a light feeling? It would mean little or nothing. It would be merely foolish and ugly, cheap and. unworthy; a common jest of which you would be ashamed—and there might be mutual distaste and tacit avoidance afterwards. But he loved Angelina, and he had never loved a woman before. She loved him. Nature, from the first, had urged them on to this. Yet the fact remained that she was Antony's wife.
"I am ashamed. Forgive me, my dear, my own. But oh, I love you and always shall! Every beat of my heart is a caress to you and must be," he said.
He stared gloomily down that glade of surpassing blue; to him, the wood had grown dark: and not only dark but painfully confused. He rubbed his eyes, and, apart from Angelina, he felt anxious, for, latterly, his eyes had troubled him. They played pranks. He was so anxious that he had said not a word to anybody, for it was too deep a dread to cackle about. He had gone to an oculist, who made light of his terrors and told him to come again later on.
"There is nothing to forgive," said Angelina, speaking coldly, "I am not Antony's wife."
Julius knew her so well, by instinctive harmony, that her cold voice merely expressed to him the underlying fire. Her coating of ice had been beautifully transparent to him from the first; he saw the rosy flames below. He knew the true | | 217 woman of her: passionate, tender and generous. But her actual words he could not pretend to fathom.
"Not Antony's wife!" he repeated.
She was almost amused by the implied sensitive retreat in his voice. These men were so illogical. Julius seemed actually affronted. He was shocked. She remembered her many talks with Antony before their union, when he was urging her to marry him in the usual way. Antony had no religious belief, he participated in the easy agnosticism of his period. Yet when it came to getting married he talked as a Catholic would have talked. He confused sociology with idealism.
Julius already had failed her half-way. These men did. He would not follow out either his acts or his opinions to their inevitable conclusion. In this way, he and Antony were identical.
"And so," she continued smoothly, "your loving me breaks no link for it is understood between me and Antony that our relation depends entirely upon what may happen to either of us."
"You make me rub my eyes," said Julius, and he said it almost comically.
Moreover, he rubbed his eyes to clear them; for they went on playing tricks, and he considered that perhaps those masses of softly swaying flowers beneath and those intricate tracings of boughs above might dazzle and confuse quite normal sight. He tried to persuade himself.
"I've talked it over and argued it so much with Antony," Angelina said, and started picking the flowers round her to make into a bunch, "that to tell it again seems trite. Yet you do not know, of course, so I must explain. I would not marry him because I felt I did not love him enough. To me marriage should be beautiful and indissoluble; not only of the body and the visible bond, but of the heart."
"Yes, it would have been that if I had married you. We know it," said Julius.
He was staring at the lovely profile, and, reverently this time, with a gesture of muted, pathetic passion, he prisoned that restless hand as it was picking bluebells. He stilled it in his own. Angelina looked round, and her eyes were full of | | 218 sudden tears. Julius also appeared sad: so, already, there had come into their poor love for each other that tragedy which seems to be the necessary part.
She went on picking, snapping the flowers, throwing them into her lap.
"You see," she proceeded, with a manner of weary narrative, "grandmother was a Catholic and so was her maid Kitty, who talked to me about the Saints and beautiful beliefs. I absorbed it all; it is in me, Julius, this sense of a mystic religion. It will absorb me in the end."
She said his name for the first time, with supreme tenderness yet with no fluttering note of novelty, since their love, although fresh told, was never new. It was instinctive and readily acceptable. There was all to express, yet nothing to learn.
"When I was about seventeen I was engaged, but only for a few minutes really, to Freddy Jannaway. Your people know him and so does Lady Johns. He was a friend, too, of Charles Murray, my sister Blanche's husband. When he kissed me it was horrible, horrible," she dragged her hand away from Julius and half-flung herself into the bluebells, crushing them. "I made a sort of vow then to my Patron Saint that I would never marry anybody unless I loved him utterly. Well, you see"—she shrugged; he knew and adored that dismissing gesture—"I loved Antony, yet not enough. He wore me out by asking me so often, and other men asked me too, and Lady Johns, although she said nothing, implied that every young woman ought to marry. All that is nearly eight years ago, and Antony has constantly bothered me to get married but I would not, although I had promised him I would if we had a child. Something kept me back. I could not quite understand it myself. But now I know," she turned to him her suffused face. "It was because you, my fate, my joy were coming." She laughed and leaned to him.
Then he took her in his arms again and they sat breathless, in the breathless wood, while Antony, only a few yards away, was bidding for the cold, blue china.
They did not think of Antony. They sat silent. The luncheon-basket, mundane enough, yet not to be ignored, was cast at Angelina's side. Pole said at last, half-laughingly:| | 219
"I know that you are hungry;" he reached for it. "Even queens eat, and so perhaps do angels. You are both. Certainly you looked a queen in the cottage garden. You were radiant, you pierced that cloud of work-a-day women."
He opened the basket and looked up at the trees:
"That clean, young green drives me mad," he said, and, over the delicate food that had been packed for them at the inn, sandwiches and fruit, he kissed her.
They caressed, they laughed; yet their eyes were furtive; for they knew that pain for everybody was well upon the way. They sat capriciously eating their lunch under the gentle, swelling branches of the beech. At every sound of a twig at every note of a bird, they looked at each other: first with terror and then with reprieve. They expected Antony to come back and they dreaded him. Angelina said abruptly:
"You can't meet Antony. The three of us! It is impossible."
"My dear, yes, I've been thinking that. But how can I go?"
"Leave it to me;" she spoke with a tired scorn of herself; "the woman always tells the lies in these cases. Go away, Julius. Leave it to me. I will tell one lie, but I won't keep on telling them. I can't. If you stay, if you and Antony meet again, I, know exactly what will happen. We shall sink into intrigue."
"Our delicate love; new, yet ageless and indestructible—no, we couldn't endure that! You are right. I will go."
He looked at his watch; Angelina, with a kindred practicality, shut the lunch-basket. In each case, hands twitched and fumbled.
"ffinch can't be back yet, for that china he's after is a late lot. I will go in half an hour: our last half-hour for the present, and I won't make love to you all the time, my darling. We will talk what the world calls sense, and the world"—Julius frowned into the artless wealth of those blue flowers which his feet down-pressed—"would call me a villain. Although you are not legally married to him—I can't quite grasp it yet, however—you are in honour his wife. I have diverted you, stolen you away. But there are times when a man must | | 220 thieve. I shall walk out of this wood as you wish; the odium and the ingenuity of the reason given I leave to you. But it is the last time, that I swear, that you shall drop to any deception. I shall write to you once at Normandy and tell you where I am. Write back and say where and when you'll join me, sweetest. Then our true life begins. For"—he indulged in a petulant gesture—"what has my life been so far? A younger son, chucked out to make his own position. Bob will have the money and there won't be much. My brother Robert wanted to marry you, by the way, and that seems odd. I've been out in that beastly climate looking after blacks, making money hard and spending it like a fool; imperilling my health. But I've got a few hundreds saved, and when that's gone I must look round for some job at home. We'll go to Brittany, love of my heart, to begin with."
She was looking at him, in a transfixed, rapt stare. Those eyes of hers were according subtly with the blossoms all about. She loved him. This was love, and the first time. It was a stupendous fact, and she could not absorb it yet. She was thinking quaintly of the several little boys and big ones in whom, throughout her life, she had been interested and who had made love to her. So far this topic, of Love, she found more interesting than any other, and, although she was enamoured of Julius, possessed by him, she could pause to dissect. She could maintain the cold pose and be abstract. She thought of them all: from Arthur Rogers and Master Meech to Robert Pole and Antony. There had been Freddy Jannaway, too, and that had been active repulsion, just as this was a forceful impetus. Antony came midway; she had endured him, she had been sorry for him. She was fond of him still. She had affection and regret. But what was that? It seemed as if her love for Timothy Peachey had been the foreshowing of her love for Julius Pole.
She looked at him, half-lying as he was in the sharply green grass and the deeply blue flower of the wild hyacinths. An ugly, small, dark man, with a funny trick of blinking his eyes! The world would sum him so; she did, too, for she could see as the world saw when she chose. But he was everything to her; he comprised all that she had | | 221 wanted. He would rest her and satisfy her, enrich and comprise her. To live with him, to be his wife, that was life. She looked beyond this wood and beyond this native land of England to the other land, across the blue Channel, which should mark the beginning of their true existence.
He jumped up:
"I'm going," he said, and stood over her looking her master. She knew he was already, if he cared to maintain the office. It was mastery that she had longed for, this eight years and more, yet hardly knowing the nature of her longing. She wished Julius always to appear as he did now, the tender conqueror. With her gift of penetration, which brought her constant sadness, since it made her see sharp and showed the inevitable imperfection of all earthly states, she knew that he would not. He would end by merely adoring and not vanquishing. He was her master, yes, she knew that; yet he would refuse to take the whip and judiciously use it. These men were beguiling, each in his way. But they were weak And devious; circumstance would always make her lead where she only asked to follow.
Stooping, he gripped her wrists and pulled her easily to her feet. He was strong. This delighted her.
"My own!" He enfolded her. "Is it possible," he said, with his lips at her neck, "that yesterday I had not kissed you at all in actuality. In spirit our lips met before they looked, my dearest dear."
After kissing, he took her round the waist as if she were a cherished doll and he a careful little girl. He set her beautifully under the beech tree, with a gay air implying "Stay still till I come back."
And he did say:
"I should like you to sit, so, not varying, until I came and picked you up again and tried to put you in my pocket. But you are so regally tall. Not really taller than I am myself, yet looking it. It is the consummate evil and humbug of a woman's petticoats that lessens man. I defy you to prove an extra half-inch. We will measure some day when I get you again, when I have you for ever and all to myself, with time to play pranks."
He lifted her shaking, cold hand and kissed it.| | 222
"I can't think," he said, "where I get these courtly airs; to kiss your hand quite à la Watteau, to say these neatly, worshipful things to you and find the pretty love-words all at once. I suppose it is a language and a pose which lies within each one of us, only waiting the chance to come out. Darling Angelina, good-bye. This is our last"—he kissed between the widely opened eyes. "I will write to you. And you'll come to me? That's a promise. But why do I seek to bind up where there has never been a fracture?"
"I'll come to you, yes; when Antony goes away with the young Rajah," said Angelina stupidly, and leaning her head at the trunk of the beech tree. She could not see him clearly—she was crying. She was stirred, delighted, newborn and in tremor. She found the woman's natural refuge, tears! Julius, for his part, saw his divinity both dimmed and fugitive. Going out of the wood and into the sane sunlight he rubbed his eyes gain.
He walked back to the inn where last night they had slept, all three. The carillon! Hadn't he heard it also and turned about in his narrow bed!
Angelina was sitting in her usual way, aloof, friendly, passive, when Antony came into the wood. For his part, he looked both fretful and jubilant. She read that look; he had bought the china—yet paid the price. She would hear a great deal in the brief future that was left to them, of unpaid bills, duns and the rest. He said, regarding her with what may be called a fond scowl, a disapproving preference:
"Sometimes I get tired of your too-perfect features. I'd rather have a snub nose and a crooked mouth—if they'd change about a bit. Where's Julius?"
She returned, with a forced smile and a fixed stare:
"Gone—and to London I think. A telegraph boy met him as we were walking towards the wood. He took the next train back."
"But how could any telegram reach him? Nobody knew where he was."
"He is in constant touch with certain business people in London. He told me so. He wired to them last night after we arrived."
"Did he? Yes, come to think of it, he did go for a prowl | | 223 alone before supper." Antony looked puzzled and yet assured; he added:
"What a queer, secretive fellow he is, and I don't call it quite friendly. He ought not to go off when we are on a holiday. He breaks up the affair. I should like to get back to Horsham to-night."
"I would rather if we can. Sit down and have some lunch while I look up the trains."
"Got a time-table with you? Was that for me, or Pole?"
Antony took the sandwiches she unpacked, and between hungry bites he grumbled on:
"It was hardly worth coming here, for you can't pick up any bargains. I foresee the time when collectors won't have a chance; the dealers miss nothing. We were the usual crew, one or two fellows like me, then a bunch of dealers, then the village people, and then the usual queer lot of women, ladies some of them, who attend sales and never seem to buy a blessed thing. They sit close up to the auctioneer; mark the prices in their catalogues, and eat their lunch between whiles. Can we get back?"
He watched her turn the leaves of the time-table.
"No"—she spoke after a pause for investigation—"the trains don't fit. I'm sorry, perhaps more than you are."
"I'm not surprised at that," he grinned queerly. "Don't look so angry, Angelina. Let me have my rather elementary form of humour."
"Dearest Antony, I am not angry. Just now, you were wishing my face would change."
She spoke with placid tenderness, and she knew that this manner, of courtesy, would be her prevailing manner now.
When he came into the wood, when she looked up at him, she had been instantly burned to a real pain, by a flame of distaste. She resented their past and wished to disclaim it. She resented the claim, not legal yet certainly honourable, which this man still had upon her. He always would have a claim, for she was of the nature to observe it. She was more faithful to him and more enchained than most wives are to legal husbands, for she was sensitive and scrupulous. Already, although Pole's caresses hung upon her lip | | 224 and set their seal between her eyes, she knew that the future held little but sadness.
"I'm a grumpy brute, my dear girl," Antony spoke penitently, "but you'll soon be rid of me. I did not tell you before we left home, for I wanted to have this little holiday—a perfect trip, but Julius has spoilt it, confound him! I have settled up with the Indian. I wrote to Charles Murray and I had his answer just before we came off yesterday. I start in three weeks and for three months at least. It may be longer. I am not sure that I won't, afterwards, take up my profession seriously, for I'm sick of living upon a woman. It amounts to that almost. Aunt Philippa finances us heavily."
"In three weeks," echoed Angelina-and the wood danced before her eyes, twirling its blue and green skirts.
She knew that those eyes were glad. She rejoiced, for she would be going to Julius and giving herself to him entirely. Just as, shyly, she had turned her head away from him, so now, cautiously, she turned it from Antony. But he put his hands on her shoulders and drew her round.
"Are you sorry?" he asked.
That grim expression came into his eyes: the look that she had seen in their bedroom on that night when she first met Julius. Something that Lady Johns had once said returned to her now: "Don't cross or upset Antony whatever you do, my dear, for he cannot bear it."
She had spoken with emphasis and cryptically. She had implied, "I won't answer for the consequences if you do upset him."
"No"—Angelina was looking at him steadily—"I am glad, because it will give you a new interest. Shall we go back to the inn? You look fagged. Sales always excite you too much. Is the china nice?"
She stood up.
"Oh, it's all right. It isn't china I want, but you."
"You've had me, seven years."
"No I haven't; not for seven minutes, or you'd have married me."
He moved forward, and, she at his side, they passed through the magic of the wood. But it had all turned moody; it was | | 225 dark. That was Antony's way—to infuse an all-comprehensive despair. Angelina thought:
"He is exhausting me. It is not fair that one human being should drag so hard at another."
Yet she was patiently smiling and patiently replying to his ejaculatory grumbles of curio dealers and of Pole.
She was carrying the empty luncheon basket. Antony never noticed that. It was not his way to notice. He absorbed, yet gave nothing. They returned in a mood, unexpressed, of mental dislocation. When they got to the inn, Antony locked himself in his bedroom on the score of a headache. This was feminine and just like him. Angelina kept fighting that devilish resentment against him which was rising, a lava flood and destructive in her soul. She was afraid of herself. She felt alone in the world, and a great sinner. With a passion of desire that was at once grievous and sweet, she projected herself in spirit to that time when she would be at peace in Brittany with Julius.
She, looked to him and to love for salvation, and all the while she cynically knew that this could never be. Contentment, for her, lay not along that road. No man could give it, not even Julius.
Antony, although he had a headache—what a puling complaint for a great big man!—was pacing nervously overhead. She sat alone in the low-pitched parlour of the inn. Geraniums were on the window-ledge. The furniture was of that pleasing ugliness, half-ancient and half a forlorn attempt at the modern, which distinguishes old country inns.
She was longing to get home to the dignified house which, very soon, she meant to barter.
This deceit, this telling of lies, was horrible. It was better for them all three that Antony should know the truth at once.
He had no right to be angry. He would be inconsistent if he betrayed pain: yet she knew that you cannot safeguard yourself against wounds of the heart by any coldly prepared system of philosophy. The love of man and woman is never on a business basis.
When Antony came down, he sat by her side in the dusk. The big man, she could see him in shadow, dimmed and yet | | 226 magnified, seemed to be imploring: seemed to ask her for constancy. They were both subtly distraught, and the cruel airs of her proposed declaration pinched and withered them. Angelina could have flung herself weeping upon his breast. He said strangely and after a long silence
"Would you mind if I slept to-night in that room which Julius had? My head aches abominably. Up there I might not hear the carillon so much, for doesn't his room face the other way?
"Yes, sleep there," she said softly, and, dilating her nose, she drew in all the scents of the country garden. Those tall May tulips nodded like mad in the south-west breeze.
She heard Antony go upstairs, just as only last night she had listened to Julius. When he shut his door she experienced a throb of complete and joyful freedom. She was her own to dispose herself as she chose.
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