- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER X
|<< chapter 9||< chapter 3||chapter 11 >|
"I THOUGHT at first," Angelina was saying steadily, "that I would write to you, and tell you about it, after you went away. But that seemed cowardly. I'm not that—a coward. And I purposely waited until Blanche left us."
She stood by the high, narrow fireplace in the panelled drawing-room of their house in Normandy. It was a dismantled room. Dust sheets were over the furniture, china was packed away, the curtains, of stiff damask, presented by Lady Johns when Antony (as she believed) got married, were turned up and tucked into calico bags.
The windows were open, sounds from the town came in, and sounds from the playing fields near the river. Antony was standing upon the other side of the fireplace. He had been smoking, but the cigarette fell from his limp hand. He could only stare at Angelina's face, which was so correctly lovely, and—at least to him—so incorrigibly cold. She did not care. She had no heart for any man. As for Julius! His day to be discarded would come. He said so, putting it with bitter extravagance:
"You'll go off with him. But you won't marry him, any more than you have married me. Your sort of woman never decently marries one man and sticks to him, as decent women do. You belong to the other order—to live with one man, two men, or three; or Heaven knows how many. I don't presume to count. You would break, the hearts of the lot in the end as you are breaking mine. Do you realise the sort of woman you are, Angelina'?"
"I don't realise much to-day, but I know that the women you call decent, as opposed to me, are generally merely insipid. They have neither courage nor desire."
"That is neat and you are clever, but it leaves me unmoved, unconvinced. I'm a plain man, and I've been tired for a long time of our discreditable connection."
He saw her wince and this rejoiced him, for his pride was | | 228 cut to the quick and he was merciless. She dared to desert him. Everybody would know.
He was feeling vindictive. He was furious and relentless. Yet, although his words were violent, he was calm of face and gesture. His bright, large eyes were even kind. He appeared as a respectable man whose canons of law and order were disturbed. He was a victim of discreditable caprice.
Angelina was relieved that he could take her admission of love for Julius with restraint and without visible heroics. So long as he contented himself with merely condemning her, without a paroxysm of sullen rage or without appealing to her pity, she could endure it. She could respect him and feel hopeful for his future. He would get over this, he would grow to forget her. She did not see beneath the danger of restraint which, in a nature such as Antony's, could never be anything but a seeming. He had been restrained and thwarted all his life, despite himself, and through the flaw of his nature. The results of this accumulated within him. By and by there would be an explosion, bodily or mental. But Angelina took things as she saw them. And she had no true knowledge of Antony.
That cold face of hers, so dispassionate, so airily haughty! It maddened him, yet his voice continued at a jog trot.
"You won't marry him. You don't mean," he laughed, " to be Mrs. Julius Pole, any more than you have been Mrs. Antony ffinch. You'll remain Angelina Peachey. On your death-bed you had better marry the last one, whoever it is orange peel in your hair—being long past the age for blossom."
He crossed the room and shut the window, muttering, "I can't stand all that racket outside. It gets on my nerves."
"If I don't marry him," a passing quiver quite distorted her beauty, but it was so brief that Antony never even saw it, "it will be for your sake. Don't think me extravagant. I know I sound like a fool, and that what I say is laughable. Yet I feel it all so solemnly. I mean that to really marry him would cut off my last chance of doing anything for you if you were ill or wanted me. I'm an idealist; I have no common sense. I'm of no use. I suppose I'm a curse really, and yet"—the quiver came again; it blanched and twisted her features—"I wouldn't hurt a single soul if I could help it."| | 229
"Curse idealism! It makes all the mischief. What's the use of it, Angelina? Do for goodness' sake marry one of us, and be done with it. Look here! If I get a licence will you marry me, and stick to me? We could get it over without any one being the wiser before I sail, and," his conclusion was quite playfully grim, "I should have enough time over to punch Julius Pole's head."
She nearly laughed, she nearly ran to him. This was so blunt and plain, so resolute and so utterly unlike Antony. Drearily she thought, "If only he could have talked like this before Julius loved me."
It was too late now. Antony could never lock the stable door until the horse was gone. She said so to him, with regretful passion.
"You decide too late. I'm lost to you, Antony. Our life together is over. It is like," she glanced round the room, "insuring the china. You'll take out a policy when the house is burned down?"
"You know very little of business," he spoke stupidly, "I couldn't."
He was regarding her face, the eyes down dropped, the mouth, at last, trembling with true feeling. It was lost to him, all that beauty. Let another man have it—so long as he could keep it!
"You are making me suffer," he went on, "but the time will come when you'll suffer yourself, and if not in this world, then in the next."
"Do you suppose I haven't suffered from the very first moment that I met Julius? It has been conflict all through, and will be."
"Well, go off with him, and as soon as you like. That is the only consistent thing to do. The next time that you and I meet it will be before the judgment seat of God."
Antony spoke in a matter-of-fact way; he might have referred to the Marble Arch.
"You are inconsistent," Angelina told him. "You have always said you don't believe in God. I do, and that makes me unhappy, for I never know whether I am doing right or wrong."
"You would know, if you'd keep to the line of action which | | 230 all decent people have declared to be the right one. But you are so devilishly proud; you will be a law to yourself, and you'll end on the rocks. You'll be wrecked, dissolute, disgraced. As to what I believe," Antony seemed to collapse, and then quickly controlled himself, "it doesn't matter. But I think I'm learning that conventionality stands for righteousness. The social code is religion. I ought to have observed it years ago. I ought either to have married you or left you alone. If we'd gone through the usual ceremony over there," he pointed through the windows towards the church, "things would have panned out better. A white satin frock for you; a frock coat, light trousers and a button-hole for me; confetti and spring flowers flung at our feet—all that would have assured' us. By now," he looked vague and drearily sad; he looked grimly frivolous, "we should have settled down into the comfortably commonplace. We should have had children; jolly, noisy little beggars. I should have had to work hard to keep them in shoes and schooling. But we've spoiled and missed; at least, I have. And I always shall. As for you, I can't see the end of anything; but it's a botch for us both. I can't do any more."
He turned away; desolation described in his very back. Angelina said, with her first thrilling note of tragedy:
"My heart is breaking. I shall always love you, do believe that. You will always have your place."
"I never liked a crowd," he said, shrugging those sharp broad shoulders of his.
"Don't be flippant; oh, my dear, be sorry for me, as I'm immensely sorry for you."
She stood still. The tears ran down her cheeks. Antony came and solemnly took her hands.
"Do you really mean that you love him best? Is it true? Or are you simply in a bad dream, from which it is my duty to wake you? For you are an odd woman, Angelina, and you want protecting from yourself. I've always known it."
She looked up. The instant tenderness on her face—and not for him—convinced Antony, alienated and broke him. She saw his pain in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said faintly. "My face told tales."| | 231
"It told more than your tongue ever would. I won't try to keep you." He walked back to the window.
There he stood, looking out. She surveyed him with dramatic eyes.
That broad, dejected back, that big head, the very pose of which suggested the utter breaking up of the man's life, made her frantically pitiful for him—yet it was no mere simple feeling of remorse, for the whole position was too laboriously diffuse. She had not loved him and betrayed him in the usual way of the guilty woman. There was not a single shallow in the still pool of her whole nature.
She was longing to do, as in the past she had so often done, enfold that poor gloomy head in her warm arms. She yearned to embosom him. But it was impossible; the last caress had passed between them. She loved Julius and had never really loved any one else. He fulfilled her. Yet the instinctive naturalness and delight of her passion for him did not destroy her exquisitely mournful feeling for Antony. They—to her—never cut across each other, those two men. They never could or would. In a way, she wanted both. She said after a long pause:
"Shall I go away?"
He returned after an equal pause:
"Yes, go away. I can't bear it."
Indeed he could not. He was feeling this as he miserably looked down at the placid, flagged pavement of Normandy. Angelina's face had expressed whole volumes, and he knew now that another man had aroused a feeling which he had failed to arouse. Another man in a few months had done what he had failed to do in as many—in more—years. Another man had played upon that cold heart and charmed it into music.
It was hard to forgive; as to recovery, that was impossible. Yet he was not so angry with Julius as with Angelina. He blamed her for everything. She was magnetic and did what she chose.
He heard her move, in a lagging way, across the room towards the door. Her feet actually shuffled—this graceful woman! The sound got upon his nerves.
He called her sharply back;| | 232
She said this, and he could feel—he would not look—that she came up to him. She was close behind.
"Don't touch me, don't expect me to turn round," he said, in a nervous, fretful agony. "But there are some things we must talk about and decide. Where are you going when you leave here?"
"Never mind the name of the place. You didn't suppose I'd call," he laughed like a madman—it was really a horrible cackle; animal and threatening.
"You have," he went on, "saved yourself all through. You've got it all arranged. Has he been writing to you? And to my house?"
"He only wrote once. As to my arranging things, have I not always settled and arranged?"
"Oh, I've no doubt you'll stage-manage us both beautifully, but never mind that. I repeat, Angelina, that you have played your own hand from the first, and you will. You refused to marry me, yet you saved your name to the world. If I tell people the truth now, they will all blame me. They will call me your betrayer. I shall be blamed and laughed at. I suppose I must keep up this farce of your really being my wife, but then certain people, such as Lascelles, will ask why I don't divorce you? I can't," his voice broke," do anything. You even have the effrontery to tell me where you are going to with him."
"Dear Antony, you asked me."
"I asked you, I asked you! Very likely I did. But a man doesn't expect an answer to every question."
"I had better go," she said, and he heard her feet behind him again. "I am sorry, but I can't help all this. I have struggled and—well, it is hopeless."
"No," Antony after silence spoke more moderately; he seemed to reclaim and confine himself. "I don't suppose you can. None of us can help anything. These things are settled from the first, for us. It is according to the verdict.| | 233
Whatever happens in the end, to you, to me, to Pole, we can't help it. God knows what the future does hold. I rather wish I knew what the end of the three would be. I can't believe," he half turned round, then turned back with quite a feminine flounce, "that when you go out of that door it will be good-bye between you and me. We have been man and wife for eight years. It has been man and wife. Hang ceremonies! And now you are going away. Everything falls from me, I lose and fail."
Leaning forward, he pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the long window.
"For God's sake give me another chance, Angelina."
She stood trembling. The glad memory of Julius and that kiss in the wood cut across her agony. It all seemed far off, childish and light. Yet she knew that she would work through this appalling darkness into the light of that. Julius would again kiss her. He would be hers and she would be his. It was idle to strive against the position.
"You must let me go, my dear," her voice quavered. "Don't try to keep me. It would not last."
"Oh, go—yes. Why don't you? You'll have a delirious honeymoon, no doubt, but you'll suffer after."
"I see nothing but suffering upon my horizon, Antony, and I've a long vision."
"It will serve me right," she concluded in a more commonplace voice. "I must go away. This is killing us both, and it does no good."
"Wait a moment. You realise, no doubt, that this will kill Aunt Philippa. Never mind me; you haven't minded. But think of her."
"I do think, but, again, I can't help it, I can't stop. I must sort of sweep on, I can't study anybody. Do you suppose I haven't thought of Mumsie? But she is no real influence. There is only, only—oh, why do you make me stand here and nearly say things that will hurt you horribly?"
"Have you told her anything?"
"Of course not. I could not. I leave it to you. Tell her what you like after I am gone. Or tell her nothing. Why need she know? Why can't we manufacture some little plot?| | 234
Let her think I'm with you and the young Rajah. Yes, that is it," her flat, miserable voice lifted now that she was dealing with a living, creative idea. "She may think that I have gone to London shopping for a day or two, and will join you at Southampton. You go on Saturday anyhow, and this is Wednesday. She doesn't know the Rajah. She will credit him with any caprice. It will seem quite natural that I go too. Shall I write a note? Yes, let me. I do want to save Mumsie as long as I can."
"You can tell as many lies as you like, and you seem to be fairly adept," said Antony, in a surly way, "but I shan't support them. Lies have never been in my line, although for your sake, to please and to possess you, I've lived a lie for eight years. I shall tell the truth to everybody directly your back is turned. Don't look to me to save you from scandal or to keep your good name."
"You are right," her voice fell into the level again." She would find out in the end, and that would hurt her more."
She went to the door and turned the handle. Antony felt that she stood there for a second, regarding him, dwelling upon all the charming domestic plenishings which had been hers for so long. Perhaps he dolefully hoped—and almost prayed—that these might hold her where he could not. She had been a queen in this spacious, fair house for eight years. She was walking out of it without, so he fully believed, a single pang.
Antony had persistently called her a nun—since he had failed to rouse her. He now called her a sensualist.
She turned the handle. She said to him steadily:
"I leave here at half-past four."
As she said it, the mellow church clock chimed the quarter to. She stood still, framed in the door. Her proud, agonised eyes darted swiftly all over the room, marking everything. She had loved it. She was leaving it. Through that moment, structure—the pretty proportions of the place, expressing dignity, permanence and rectitude—tried to charm and hold her. Cajoling, too, were the blue pots and jugs and dishes; the lovely silver candlesticks and silver toys. Most of this was locked away; it stood in cabinets behind glass doors of delicate tracery.| | 235
Last, her glance dwelt upon that dark, big body by the window, blocking the happy light. She tried to speak, but her mouth was suddenly dry. She faltered through the open door and shut it after her. She wavered across the landing to the stairs and sat upon the bottom step to recover herself. She had looked her last at Antony.
It was heart-rending, it was destructive; to her soul, to his. She wondered if all the other women who went off suffered in this way.
And you had to go. You could not stop. Departure was inevitable. Something pulled you. She went up to her bedroom; to finish packing and put on her hat.
Antony was sprawling in a big chair by the cold summerdecked hearth when, two hours later, Lady Johns came in. It was one of those high-backed old chairs with wings. They make for effective attitudes, and they demand that you should sit upright. They express the age, of restraint and grace, in which they were made. Antony, however, slouched as much as the construction allowed. He was sitting sideways, with his long legs sticking out. He stared vacantly at the bright bars of the delicate steel grate, and at an earthen pot full of rambler roses, which only yesterday he had seen Angelina stand upon the hearthstone.
"What does it mean, Antony? They tell me that Angelina has gone, and with lots of luggage. Have you forgotten, did she forget, that you were to dine with me to-night?"
He looked at his aunt blankly. Then his eyes cleared and gladdened. He was immensely pleased to see her. For hours, ever since Angelina left him (he stood at the window watching the cab drive, top heavy, down street) he had remained, stricken, in this big chair to which he afterwards wandered. The plain face of his Aunt Philippa was such an extraordinary comfort after Angelina's perfect beauty. You could, putting it absurdly, rest upon that face. You could trust those steady eyes; good, honest, doggy eyes under nicely arched brows—and this was all the beauty that Lady Johns could boast. He was soothed by her pose of homely dignity. He knew also that her point of view upon all things was a final one. She never speculated nor experimented. She was content to take her philosophy of life from the experience of those who had | | 236 passed through the world before her. This sort of woman would never let a man down as he, cruelly, devilishly, had been let down to-day. Antony was feeling this. He said, at the end of a minute, through which minute Lady Johns patiently waited, looking composed, yet standing rather rigidly in the middle of the room:
"I am half inclined to say what Angelina suggested I should say. Shall I? No—I won't. Yes—I will."
He spoke jerkily. That was a funny grin upon his face. She sat suddenly down and near to him, upon a short settee.
"My dearest Antony, what does all this mean? Do tell me the truth and as briefly as you can, for you must realise that I am anxious. Have you two quarrelled? But that is impossible. You are a model pair."
She was taking off her gloves deliberately, straightening the fingers and looking reflectively at her delicate hands as she bared them.
"We haven't quarrelled. There would be remedy in that. She has gone off with Julius Pole. She wanted me, at the last, to pretend to you that there was some new arrangement, and that she was to travel with me and this confounded Rajah. She wanted to screen herself as long as she could. But I've told lies enough. You must have the truth, dear, much as it hurts you. She has gone to live with Julius Pole."
"Why doesn't your tongue say what your eyes are saying?" asked Antony, acutely. "You think that I am mad or that I've been drinking. Neither, I assure you. And do," he sounded like a child about to cry, "speak with your lips only. I've had quite enough this afternoon of tell-tale, dumb expressions of the eye from Angelina. Yes! She has gone."
"It is really true? You mean it? You are not in a bad dream?" she gasped.
"The very thing I asked Angelina. I thought she might be in a bad dream, and that I might wake her up before she took to sleep-walking. But it is a grim, wide-awake fact, dear Aunt Philippa. She loves Julius, that is, she has a mad passion for him. She has always been a sensualist, but she had not, until now, found the supreme object."| | 237
He spoke calmly and without spite. He fully believed what he said.
Lady Johns grew instantly hard around the mouth. Antony was bluntly showing forth a side of human nature, which, although she did not dispute it, she chose to ignore. Sensualism was a quality peculiar to low-bred or degenerate people. This, she insisted, did not approach correct society. That particular -expression, " a sensualist," had never comprised any one, man or woman, with whom she had come in contact. Antony had applied it to Bundy; his own wife and her adopted daughter.
She shivered and looked ashamed, just as if she sat in bodily nakedness upon the settee.
"There must be some mistake," she said faintly, and stared at him.
It was a piercing glance; she sought for the tokens of heredity. She half believed that the moment she had dreaded, of her nephew's mental collapse, had come. It would not have surprised her exceedingly had Angelina walked calmly into the room. She very much wished that Angelina would; then they could have taken loving counsel together over him. For the present, she simply could not believe that her darling, her,almost daughter, had put herself outside the pale of honourable women, and had become a person to whom you would not speak, of whom you would not speak, and of whom you would not even think if you could help it. The idea was incredible.
"There is no mistake, and I am perfectly sane, perfectly sober," Antony said.
He spoke piteously, adding
"Do for goodness' sake believe me. Isn't it hard enough for me as it is, dearest, without your penetrating glances of the mental expert!"
Lady Johns caught hold of both his hands and squeezed them. They were very cold, there was a certain limp pathos about the faint pressure he returned. She was warm with affection, family and personal, she began to bristle for the family dignity, and yet, through it all, she was impatient with Antony, as so very often she was.
Why had he not been a man, and strong? She looked at | | 238 the inert figure and fine head. That big fellow! Why had he not put a stop to all this before it was too late? Women expected the men of the family to save it, at any cost, from scandal. There would be a divorce, as there had been in poor Gerald's case. She had a very pregnant letter from her brother Gerald in her pocket. She had come to Normandy to discuss it with Antony and his wife.
"I believe you," she said, "I take what you say quite literally. Angelina has eloped with Julius Pole. Is that it?"
"They are going to Brittany," he said.
"But I can't," she was actually betrayed into a hectic gesture; it scattered, yet only for a second, her restful constitutional calm, "although I believe it, quite comprehend. Julius is so charming, and Angelina is so unimpeachable. She is charming too. Neither of them is that sort of person."
"It very often is that sort of person," Antony said. "One thing goes with the other; the animal attraction and the——"
"We won't discuss that, if you please, dear Antony. What are you going to do? Divorce her?"
"I was waiting for that question. Every one will ask me that," his face grew violent." No, I shan't divorce her. I shall do nothing. On Saturday I sail off with the Rajah for three months, and after that I don't see a step. If I ever come back to England I shall take up my profession seriously. This affair, after all," he set back his shoulders—they were becoming chronically hunched by long habit—"may be the making of me. Angelina has been an irritating influence. She seemed to destroy by her very presence my active faculty."
"You must not say that, Antony. Be just, even in your injury and pain. It was a very happy marriage."
"It was not," he insisted, "and surely I ought to know. I was always hungry. Do you understand?"
"I don't think it helpful to discuss the emotional subtleties of any marriage," she said stiffly.
"Still, you may as well understand," persisted Antony. "It was always hit and miss between us. She would talk when I wanted to be silent; that sort of thing. We had a | | 239 different standard of delights. Very often Angelina got in my way. That won't happen again, and it is a comfort."
He looked at Lady Johns; it was a pleading, obstinate glance. She smiled softly back at him; all her deep affection was in that return glance of hers. She said nothing. As if he were a poor little timid boy, afraid of the dark, or of any nursery bogey, she patted his hands, which still she was holding.
She said nothing more to stop, divert, or restrain him. He must be allowed to express and relieve himself, whatever he said. She perceived this. Perfect candour might be his only safety, and she must listen.
"When I was reading the newspaper one day a few years back (you see how I remember), she came and shoved a rose under my nose and said that one rose was worth all the politics on earth. I was angry; it tickled and. irritated me."
"I might have been angry too," Lady Johns agreed; "for I dislike freakish impulse, and it doesn't sound like Bundy."
This pet name, Bundy; silly, and with such delightful tradition, slipped out, despite her. She tightened her lips. Never would she employ that name again. Angelina, already out of consideration, must be put clean out of recollection also.
"It was not like her. You are quite right. Yet now and again she did these capricious things. Perhaps that was her real nature; and her life with me was a pose. There are plenty of roses about now. She may pick them for Pole."
Antony, saying this, shot out his foot and kicked over the earthen pot of ramblers.
"Oh, Antony," Lady Johns was domestic at once. "What a pity! Such a mess! Ring for them to clear it up."
"Indeed I won't. It is only clean water after all, and I'm going off on Saturday. Let it dry in. Do you really suppose that I want to see a servant with her sleekly impudent face just now? No doubt they are already talking me over downstairs. No doubt they know a great deal more about Pole's love-making than I do."
"My dear boy, I do implore you——"
"Let me say what I've got to say, darling," his fingers closed round hers, asking for tenderness. "I won't again. Those roses remind me of her, you know. Everything will until I | | 240 get out of the country. She knew I loved white roses, and one day after I'd been a brute, for I was very often, she put on my study table just two; the very biggest that the garden grew, and the tiniest Scotch rose she could find. Wasn't that gracious?"
His expression lifted, and he looked positively handsome.
"It was pretty, but, dearest Antony, it doesn't help to remember those things now. If she has gone, if you don't mean to try and reclaim her, then forget that she exists. What did you do with the roses?"
"Threw them away. She never knew I kissed them. She never knew, and never will know how I love her."
"But you've lost her that way. You threw them aside? It was fatal."
"No doubt. But I couldn't help that, or many things that I did. There's a kink in me somewhere. Julius will never throw away, and he'll keep her consequently. Yet only for a little longer than I have kept her, not for good. She is incapable of constancy. She is not inherently virtuous, and never has been."
"You are shocking and puzzling me beyond any expression. I must say it, Antony."
"I know I am, and I'm not through yet, unfortunately."
When he said this, he looked covert, and he was thinking that he would tell his Aunt Philippa everything. She should know the lot. She should know that Angelina had never been his wife at all. Meanwhile, Lady Johns was saying, with such perfect faith in the fact of his marriage:
"I think that, for her own sake, you must divorce her. If she really loves Mr. Pole, the only restitution that he can make is to marry her. But are you sure that you are right, Antony? Have they really gone away together? I never was for a moment aware of anything wrong in their relationship, and I saw them frequently."
"Must I keep reiterating that I am sure? They fell in love from the first moment; if you can call such a very elementary impulse by the name of love. I saw it. They never threw dust in my eyes."
Lady Johns flinched afresh. Antony spoke with disgustful calm. And he was perfectly sincere. He saw no psychology | | 241 in the emotions of Angelina and Julius. Perhaps he was right. The inevitable impulse to mate is the first note that true love sounds; all the finished orchestral music, properly scored, comes afterwards.
"When we three went to Derbyshire, that marked the climax," he continued. "I sent them away from the sale. You remember that I went to buy china. Angelina's appearance would have sent the bidding up. I distrusted that wood when I saw them walk into it. He kissed her there. She has told me everything. She was baldly candid; never has Angelina spared my feelings. There were things I would have chosen not to know. Then he had the decency or the cowardice, whichever you like, to feel he couldn't meet me, and he went off, leaving her to make the excuse. I found her in the wood alone, and she had it pat. She said he'd been wired for from London."
"He is in London. His brother Robert told me so. That's true. He is coming down for the wedding, next week."
"No, he won't. Do not for a moment believe that. Tell Cicely so from me."
Antony gave his grating laugh:
"When we came home," he said, "she talked about him in her sleep. Isn't that enough for any husband?"
When he said the word husband, he laughed more than ever.
Lady Johns said, rising and trying to pull him up from the chair:
"You must not stay here alone. Come back with me. It is all most stupendously disgraceful; it breaks up your life and mine, my dear."
She looked deadly pale and woefully stricken. But all her softness was for him. She had dismissed Angelina. She would without scruple dismiss any one who offended against the fixed canons.
She had lost Angelina. Her own daughter she had lost by death, and her adopted one by the more heartrending method of disgrace. Henceforth, there was but one Bundy in her mind, and she lay in the grave. She had died at sixteen.
"No, I won't come," he resisted her. "There are things to be done here, before I go for good. I must stay here until Saturday."| | 242
He looked round the room at his treasures; the choicest of them were prisoned behind the glass doors of beautiful cabinets. Lady Johns looked too.
"Angelina could leave all this——" she murmured incredulously.
"Leave it! Like a shot! Not a single look back," snapped Antony. "I hope the place will be all right while I am gone. I've got, Angelina got, a very reliable woman as caretaker. She is a widow with one daughter: a queerlooking creature and an epileptic."
"The widow! That will never do."
"No, the daughter. It doesn't matter, the mother will look after her. She is a very careful woman, most trustworthy and with the highest references. Angelina got her through old Mrs. Pole."
"Oh, well, if Madeline Pole recommends her she must be excellent," said Lady Johns, with approval and acerbity. She respected Madeline Pole and disliked her intensely.
The tension of her plain, high-bred face relaxed a little. She was relieved at the matter-of-fact turn which the conversation had suddenly taken.
To her, all emotion was ill-bred.
"When I return, for of course I must return," Antony said, "I shall sell all this by auction and leave off buying. That will give me capital, which I'm greatly in need of. I shall, as I said, take up my profession. You may yet," he looked wistful, "live to feel proud of me."
"Dear, dearest boy," Lady Johns flushed warmly, "don't you think there may yet be a hope of getting Angelina back before it is too late? You understand what I mean? Go after her, Antony, now; many a man has gone after his wife and saved her, in spite of herself. I will," she hesitated perceptibly, and then continued, "forgive her this fault. I will look after her until you come home. Yes," she was certainly pondering, and her face expressed a just woman's outrage at another's lapse. "I think I can promise you that."
Antony said, looking at her steadily: an undeviating, queer look, as she uncomfortably felt:
"What would be the good of that, if she no longer wants me? What right have I, if she loves Julius?"| | 243
"Every right. You are her husband."
"But if she doesn't want me? If she wants another man?"
"I simply cannot discuss the matter on such a plane," his aunt said vigorously. "To me such ethics are unpalatable and altogether too modern. She is your wife, and you have the sole claim. Everything else is sin."
"If she were my wife I should hardly agree with you, but as she isn't——"
"Antony! What do you mean? I really feel to-day as if both you and I were losing our senses. It is all too distracting."
"I am very sorry. I warned you that the truth would hurt. No, she is not my wife. She never would marry me. When the child was coming I certainly thought that she would; I had her promise for that, from the first."
He was rambling on, not looking at his aunt, but with his head turned back to the empty fireplace, and his eyes regarding the cunning intricacies of the Queen Anne grate. Lady Johns sat bolt upright and trying hard to convince herself that she was quite incredulous of all this. Yet she knew that Antony was telling her the plain, the brutal facts of the case.
"But one day," he continued, "I was in a bad temper, and I suppose that I nagged and bullied her past endurance. It was just before her illness. She threatened to leave me. She reminded me that she had a perfect right to do it at any time. She rubbed in the unpalatable fact that I had no claim. That was understood from the first. It formed our basis. I struck her—nothing much—I boxed her ears. I said' why the devil don't you go?' After that, she would never hear of marriage."
"You struck her! And at that time! You swore at her!"
"Yes," Antony merely shrugged. "I told you," he turned round, looking wretched and most appealing, "that I was a bad lot. You have never seemed to believe it. There are things in me that are hidden from you."
"She never said a word to me!" breathed Lady Johns. "She never even hinted that you had insulted her; yes—and almost beyond forgiveness."
"She wouldn't. She was perfectly loyal to me so long as she remained with me. She was splendid in many ways. And | | 244 she will be loyal, she will be splendid, to Julius: so long as she stays! When she is through with him, as she is through with me, she will leave him, without a single pang, and perhaps for somebody else. Angelina always finds the flaw. I don't think anything would finally content and hold her."
"But you must explain more fully, if you please, Antony," Lady Johns' voice came from the polar. "Why did you not marry her? I understand that she isn't your wife, and never has been? Is she really only your——"
"Yes, that's it. Any word you like to use; the mildest or the most severe. All of them would express her. I tell you that I implored her to marry me, and she wouldn't. She talked a lot of fudge about not loving me enough. She, is full of strained ideas."
"So you took advantage of her, you——"
"My dear Aunt Philippa, she was not the village maid, nor I the wicked squire."
"It was exactly the same, Antony, neither more nor less. I don't discriminate, and I am heartily ashamed of you both. I see nothing to choose between you. I dismiss you, equally, from my heart. I shall try to forget you. I shall do my best."
She stood up. Her sad voice was inflexible. Antony knew that she meant what she said. It might break her heart to keep her word in its entirety; yet keep it she most certainly would. If Philippa Johns were on leer death-bed she would not send either for Antony or Angelina. They were beyond the pale.
"I have a letter from my brother Gerald in my pocket," she said. "It is a beautiful letter, and I wanted to read it to you both. But that is out of the question."
Her voice, her attitude, her little gesture of the hand, as she said this, signalled a calm and an utter casting off. She did not sound angry. She was mild and cold. She found the whole thing very simple. For her there could never be any argument over this matter of sex; no argument, no compromise, no palliation. People were married or they were not. If they were not married, you could not possibly know them.
"My brother has sold Leggatt Court and also the town | | 245 house, Antony. He does not feel, in view of the tragic circumstances of his life, that he could bear any return to England. He has taken a villa in Sicily, and asks me to join him, and to make my permanent home with him. I shall do this. We shall live and die out there, a couple of utterly disillusioned people, certainly. You will not hear from me again. Goodbye."
She walked to the door and went out, not even looking at him.
Antony watched her go, as he had watched Angelina go. When he heard the street door shut he went gently to the window, and again he pressed his brow to the cold glass. Lady Johns turned up the street towards the church. He knew she would. He watched her slip through the porch and out of sight. Then he returned to the high-backed chair by the dead hearth and the overturned pot of roses.
The bell was ringing for Evensong. He heard it. She would go in there and pray. She would not justify herself, since she saw no need for justification. She would soothe herself. There, in the pew, she would be like a bird upon a bough. She would smooth her disturbed feathers. That was all. He knew that it would never, for the rest of her life, occur to her that there could be any case either for him or for Angelina. Yet she was not pitiless. She was merely narrow.
She was kneeling in the church as he surmised, and thinking only of her own heart, with its intolerable dull ache.
Life had failed her, as it had failed Gerald.
But she was certainly comforted and assured by the decorous airs of this large church. There were about half-a-dozen women in the Lady Chapel, where the priest was saying the Office. She kneeled at the back in the main aisle and little by little, phrase by phrase, the unfailing philosophy of the Psalms steadied her.
To-night, the 27th day of the month, the Psalms were unusually soothing. They seemed to fit her case. They usually do; this fitness to the particular case is the charm, the secret and the cunning of the Psalms. Very seldom do they fail to fit.
"Turn our captivity, O Lord, as the rivers in the south," intoned the priest up there in the Lady Chapel.| | 246
"They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy," murmured Philippa Johns alone, at the back of the church.
When he, so to speak, rang back at her the golden bell of the next verse, she was refreshingly weeping.
"He that now goeth on his way weeping and beareth good seed, shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him."
When Lady Johns, the service over, walked down Normandy she once more felt a gentlewoman: of good birth and high instincts. She was reinstated in her own opinion. Antony's revelation, Angelina's flight, had flung her headlong from the pedestal upon which (as it were), she had breathed since she was born. For only the accredited facts of sorrow and of drama had touched her. All her emotions had been duly docketed. You may say that every feeling she had felt had first been presented at Court. There was simply no space in her map of life for the truly discreditable.
As she walked down Normandy, she did nut look across the road at that fine house where Antony and Angelina had lived for more than seven years in sin. No wonder that they never went to church. She understood that now; she understood many things that had faintly perplexed her from time to time. She could now comprehend Antony's odd manner on that day when she had told him she would leave her money to his wife.
His wife! Neither of them would get a penny from her. She was not vindictive in the least, as, walking down Normandy, she reflected upon this. She was merely what she would have called logical. Poor logic! A quality which we all bend and twist about. The three of them, at this juncture, were considering themselves logical: Antony left alone in that house over there, Angelina on her tumultuous way to Julius, Lady Johns in her stately passage from the church.
They should not have a penny. Let Gerald be quixotic if he chose, and give half his fortune to his divorced wife and her children. Gerald had always been peculiar. He had always been dangerously liberal in his ideas. When they settled down in Sicily she must make one rule and beg him to observe it. He must not talk to her about his former wife. Lady Johns pensively hoped that there would be a good | | 247 English church not far from their villa. The services of the English church, restrained and sonorous, perfectly sincere, and, touching at times a very high level of saintliness, made a strong appeal to her nature, which was correct and luminous. Certainly this was the form of Catholic expression for her, and no other.
She walked down Normandy thinking of Gerald and of Sicily, dismissing Antony and Angelina. She was possessed by a certain fine, disdainful weariness of life. This is very often the attitude of the refined mind in middle age. Life had failed her. Those that she had loved were mostly dead, and some, here was the bitterness and the disenchantment, were worse than dead.
She was a tender-hearted woman. Yet beyond this and far out-weighing her other qualities, was Respectability. She abode by the shrinking, undeviating ethics of her grandmother. Morally, socially, and politically, she was merely her grandmother over again. You stood or fell according to your literal observance of the ten commandments. Mystic interpretation she did not admit, for it merely muddled the mind. It was casuistry, called by another name.
She still loved Angelina. She still loved Antony. She looked forward, with a certain broken-hearted eagerness, to meeting them in the next world. But they had turned into people that, in this world, you did not meet. You could not. They had become impossible.
She moved in her gracious way down street. Antony, again at the window, watched.
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