- BOOK II THE JANNAWAY PERIOD
- CHAPTER XI
|<< chapter 10||< chapter 3|
"I'M glad I brought you here. To show you everything I saw as a child, to have nothing left unexpressed; that's what I want all the time," Julius was saying.
He and Angelina sat upon a flat beach of coarse shingle. There were no shells, and there was not much in the way of seaweed. Behind were no cliffs, but only flat and mead-like sand stretching to a line of hills. There was nothing to enchain the matter-of-fact mind. They were cutting hay in those meadows behind. You got the smell of the sea and the smell of the land together.
"We came here every year as children," Julius continued, "and it hasn't changed a bit. There is nothing, thank goodness, to occupy the cheerful tripper. He can do nothing when he gets here, so he never comes again. My mother swears by the air, and every July and August saw us on this beach. When my brother Bob was trying for hours to hit a particular post of a particular breakwater by shying pebbles, I was sitting there"—he jerked his head towards the land—" on the piles of timber which were always ready to make more breakwaters. We passed a heap just now, on the way down the lane. Nothing has changed."
He took Angelina's hand.
"I suppose," he continued, searching her beauty in his hungry, worshipping way, "that I must have been dreaming of you although I did not know it. Certainly I was a morbid chap and, properly speaking, wanted shaking first and dosing after. Can't you see me, Angelina? A little sallow boy in spectacles, with a fixed frown and a lower lip stuck well out?"
"Did you wear spectacles?"
She had been looking along the coast-line towards Brighton. Suddenly, she turned. Their eyes met. It was a glance of accomplished love and beautiful harmony. In hers there was also a sadness which, always, she strove to hide. In his, there was a certain anxiety, which had nothing to do | | 249 with her. So they both, sitting here in the sun and loving deeply, as they did, and being together, as they were and would be, had a skeleton and kept it close in hiding. For nothing grisly should touch their perfect passion. Each from the first moment had secretly decided this. Each had lived from day to day, taking the perfection afforded and neither daring nor caring to look along the broken line of their future. For they never lost their haunting sense of the temporary. It was three months since Angelina left Antony. She had been in Brittany with Julius, and now they had returned to England and were staying in this seaside hamlet, about twenty miles from Brighton. It was one of those sweet places that nobody has heard of, and it was happy in possessing no popular features.
"Yes"—a shadow crossed him, quivered his ugliness—a pleasing ugliness, however (for Julius would always be oddly charming)—" and I may again, for all I know. Sometimes this eye jumps about a bit." He put his hand up.
"I was glad," he continued, "to leave Brighton. There was an awful chalky glare. And yet I wanted to see the places where you had been as a child. I want to see everything while I can."
"I must take you to St. Paul's Churchyard. Then you will know me right through from the first."
"You shall. I'll buy something—a shaving brush—at your shop."
They laughed. Their hands were lying, clasped, upon the warm shingle. They sat looking out to sea. It was a little baby sea to-day, and so chalky that it seemed a wide bed of softly moving pearl.
"This perfect coast! this delicious picture which hardly anybody sees, or has eyes to see with!" Julius screwed his eyes to see it better. "I should like to live here with you always. Shall we? There are plenty of solemn old houses, inland a bit, to be had if we looked about us. I know them. I remember them. Built of flint, so beautifully aged that it has lost every hint of harshness. A garden with a high flint wall all round. Would you like that, if I could get a job that would fit in and allow us to live so far from London? Flint walls with wistaria against them blooming naked in the spring.| | 250
I seem to remember a house like that. I must have seen one about here when I was a small boy."
He looked at her intently. "When I come back and we are married," he said, "then we'll find just such a house—the job must and shall fit in—and live there happy ever after. It shall be like a German fairy tale, our life."
"When we are married! I wonder!"
She spoke with a quietly provoking coquetry: yet underlying was the deeper sense of a more awed speculation.
"I don't," he told her robustly. "I must and we will. You want commanding, my darling one. I shall go so"—he held up his hand in the air and snapped his fingers. "All your fantastic theories between my finger and thumb, Angelina, directly I come back from London."
"Must you go?"
"Love, I must. But I won't stay longer than I can help. Business"—he seemed to boggle at the word—"must be looked after. We spent a fair sum in Brittany; money has a way of slipping through my fingers, and I must get a job. I'm glad I'm not going abroad again. That nightmare's over. England is so sweet that even to be over there in Brittany"—he nodded to the calm Channel—" was a sort of exile. Yet we were happy. Have I made you happy?"
She was looking at him. Face and voice were utterly serene.
They were in the lovely mid-stage of their relation to each other. The first sweet fury and headlong impetus was past, the inevitable tragedy had not yet showed its roughly scored face.
They were girdled by complete beauty and only sometimes did they, each in secret, vaguely distrust the future. They seemed to tread all the while upon quicksand.
The tide went far out. The cooing of those little waves became faint. Smell from the hayfields was more warmly insistent, and the great sun dropped along the placid bosom of the August sky.
"We'll get back." Julius jumped up and gave her his | | 251 hand. "It must be nearly supper-time, and to-morrow I start early. I wish I hadn't got to go. Why must I?"
He spoke wistfully: as a little boy about to be punished.
"Of course. I'll write at once."
"And you won't be gone many days?"
"I can't say; but not an hour more than I can help. I must see—a—business—man. Angelina"—his voice seemed to wail, and after one glance along the quite deserted beach he pulled her into his arms, as they were standing there, outlined sharp against sky and sea—"do you suppose I'd go at all if I could help it?"
"I know you wouldn't. "She tried to speak sensibly, yet the shadow of parting covered them both in. "And after all we are making a great fuss over a mere business interview."
"Yes, only a business interview. " Yet his face, and he turned it away, was queerly troubled. It was mysterious. It was dreadfully afraid.
He kissed her, then put her from him with a gesture which expressed despair, and silently they went up the shingle. Wet sand behind them was tender rose, and rose-coloured also were the little sand-banks along the top of which tamarisks waved,softly.
"The morbid kid I told you about, with the spectacles," Julius said, scorning his small dead self, "watched every mood of those tamarisks. They were mutable and for ever alluring. I was in love with the lot—and yet they were but one lady: that lady," he laughed, "you, my sweetest."
"When we are married, when we live here, in our house of stout and gentle flint, the house I'm going to find, we will come to the sea and I'll show you every mood of the tamarisks and every curl of every wave. I remember that one day I lay on the beach alone for hours; I slipped off from the rest. The tide was high, that day—and warm; it was a south-west gale. Spray drifted in a constant silver shower into the tamarisks, and my spectacles got so blurred. I was living in my own fairyland. You can do it: with spectacles, some imagination and a steady, salt spray."
He stooped down, picked up a bit of seaweed, pink and cream. He carried it in his hand.| | 252
"Am I too fanciful a fool for you? Do you get weary, Angelina—or giddy? I suppose I won't always bubble; but it's the first joy of getting you—of finding love and the true meaning of life. It's the joy also of getting away from my confoundedly arid occupation out there."
He pointed contemptuously to the Channel and beyond.
"I paid the penalty of being a youngster with no definite idea. They used to ask me, as grown-ups do, what I wanted to be when I was a man. I never knew. So they shipped me off to that berth with the rubber people. It was got by influence, and was a good berth. Nobody knew what I suffered. I suppose the governor did a bit. For we are alike and he always half understood. I'm sorry," he looked sad, "that I've alienated him."
"Yes!" Angelina pressed nearer. "I know his letter pained you."
"It did. It was a thorough casting off; and we loved each other in our grim, rather English way. For I only spout to you. I think aloud all the time, and it is such a blessed letting forth of the spirit."
"Yes, isn't it?" her glance responded, "and, Julius, although I don't talk so fast as you do——"
"You couldn't, dear. We should be love-birds making Babel."
"Yet, just by being with you, I seem to say all I've wanted to, without much speaking."
They stood looking at the rose-red, little sand-cliffs and the far-stretching, rose-red sands with their pearl fringe that was the sea.
"We have been happy," Angelina sounded delicately afraid, "whatever happens. Nothing can take away this three months that we have had."
"My dear!" his robust voice seemed to try violently to assure both his own soul and hers. "What should take it away? Who dare? And remember, we are only at the beginning. So far"—his defiant laugh rang out—"we've only had the scraping of the fiddles. We are tuning up for the lovely melody of our married life together. Years of it. Just peace and rapture."
His ugly brown face with the setting sun on it was wild | | 253 as he looked on her pallor: on that perfect poise of the head and proud curl of the thin lip.
She looked so icy and so unconquerably cold. He knew, how indubitably he knew, that she could be warmer than those crimson sands.
"I know, yes; peace and rapture, Julius. But we leave such a trail of slaughter behind. That sand to me to-night"—it was rarely that she spoke fancifully; she left that to him,is——"
"I know what you are going to say—blood. But it isn't. And if it were; well, even then. Love will have its way."
"That is why I rather shrink from love. Yet only"—her complete tenderness illumined her face—"because we have hurt so many. Your father——"
"He,after all, may understand a great deal more than he chooses to admit. I'm his son, and he has handed on a lot of himself."
"Poor mother!" Julius sounded lighter,"but she really is a dear old dragon. I'm sorry for him, because of her. I've darkened the family life. She will make everybody suffer for what she would call my misdeed."
"There is Lady Johns——"
"She is better in Sicily, Angelina. She is disenchanted and so is her brother. They have been for years. They are probably a great comfort to each other, and far happier, although they would not admit it, than they ever have been."
"And there is Antony. You never seem to feel any remorse about that."
"I don't. He had his chance."
Angelina walked on as he gave his answer. This was the first time that Antony's name had been mentioned. From afar off, wherever he was at this moment, he imposed the weight of his nature upon them—and properly so. For they had won no right to unbroken happiness. Angelina, dimly, had felt this from the first. Julius felt nothing of it, so far. He was masculine, and he was wonderfully in love.
Up the lane as they walked, yellow hay was tangled in the squat thorn-bushes.| | 254
Julius, to turn the uncomfortable topic, spoke of May trees as they would be soon, aflame with berries.
"I shall be back by then," he said.
His voice came through the dusk.
"Before then!" Angelina's voice, responding, rang with tender concern for him, and only him.
Julius was feeling this triumphantly. He had no remorse, no pity for Antony. He was an unbroken colt of the emotions. He loved Angelina, and he had her for his own. Let the world rock! This, so far, was his philosophy. And naked enough. Fate would adorn and deck it soon.
"Yes, yes, long before," he said soothingly. "Turn back, darling, look behind you, stand still a moment for our last look at the sea. Isn't it beautiful—the satin texture of slow wave and wet shore? I'm glad that dramatic crimson sun has left off."
He put his arm round her when they went on. That was the beauty of this place. There never was a soul to watch you make love. You could be rustic if you liked, at any time: positive, without nervous social shades.
"I shall start early to-morrow," he said. "I shan't wake you."
"But I want to see you off."
"No, no, don't do anything so sane, so sweetly matter-of-fact. You are not made, to my view of you, for anything mundane."
His voice was bitter. He had seen her doing useful things for Antony: for Antony she had fetched and carried. Julius was one to make a goddess of the woman he adored, yet never a fetish.
They were staying at a prim small house of yellow brick, fancifully clean both inside and out, and kept by a woman who had been a cook in good families. She had retired upon her savings and now took summer lodgers. Hers was one of the few new houses in the hamlet. Any attempt to make this place popular had so far mercifully failed.
Julius and Angelina went indoors to their delicately served supper. After supper, grim silence fell upon them, and sentences were thrillingly staccato and unrelated. They were glad when the evening was over. They were nearly bored.| | 255
Julius repeated at the last, "I shall not wake you in the morning."
But Angelina was awake when, soon after six, he stooped across the bed at the last, and silently kissed her good-bye. She lay still and he believed her asleep. She had that perfect love for him which foregoes its own desires. She stealthily watched him as he went to the door, and never had the outlines of him been more magnetically dear. He had instilled into that stolen, speechless embrace all their unexpressed yet perpetual sadness. He laid the shadow of this upon her white pillow.
She had allowed him the last luxury of silent adoration and wistful departure. His lips had pressed what he considered a sleeping cheek. As she watched him go, the implied tragedy of his pose struck at her heart and she longed to rush from the bed and to him: longed to prison him, hold him fast and keep him, hobble his two feet together with her warm arms.
She fell asleep. When she awoke, it was with that cold sense of pure terror which we feel upon the morning of a day following death in the house.
After breakfast, she went down to the sea in the sun. She had been lying on the warm shingle for over an hour when she heard steps and sat up. Breakwaters here were built close together, so that the beach was divided into narrow strips. They approximated to the arcade. Angelina looked up and saw another woman standing near. From each throat came a cry of surprise and embarrassment. This was Cicely Forbes, or Cicely Pole as she now was.
There was, on her part, the merest pause, instinctive in the respectable woman. Then she came to Angelina and sat down. There was something of positive drollery in her query.
Angelina returned, with no drollery at all, and with utter barrenness of idea.
Cicely burst out laughing.
"This is funny," she said. "There isn't room to turn in the world; that's about the bottom of it. We heard that you and Julius were in Brittany."| | 256
Linking Angelina openly with Julius, she slightly stiffened.
"We were in Brittany." Angelina's voice was cold and intensely weary.
"Then Bob and I have been following you round. We've just come from Brittany. I am staying at Brighton now with Mrs. Pole. She has been ill. Julius has a precious lot to answer for. Tell him so. Where is he?"
"Gone to London."
Cicely screwed up her hearty red mouth. "I suppose so. He'll have to get at some sort of grind. He won't get a penny from his father, and he can't take you back to live with niggers. The climate nearly killed him. I don't believe from what Bob let drop once that Julius will make old bones. You two have made a hash of things. Why did you do it, Angelina? I never thought you were that kind."
"Why do people—do it? Why did you marry Robert?"
Cicely looked almost as outraged as her mother-in-law might have done.
"Antony," she proceeded, "has been such a brick. He would do anything, still, to save a scandal. Why don't you go back to him when he returns to England?"
"He isn't back yet, then?"
"No, but he will be in a week or two. I hear now and then from Blanche. Captain Murray has forbidden her to speak of you."
"Charlie Murray! Has he?"
"Yes, and you don't seem to care about any of the lot. What's up? Have you and Julius had a row already."
Angelina said forlornly:
"No, we haven't had a row."
"Well, he's gone to London"—Cicely sounded impressive—"and now's your chance. In your place, I should cut and run. I should scuttle back; Antony'll have you. Not one in ten thousand would. Bob says"—Cicely sounded proud—"that he'd shoot any man who interfered with his wife. He'd get the sympathy of any British jury."| | 257
Angelina was listening. She was looking at Cicely's healthy, obtuse face.
"And Bob," continued this young matron generously, "speaks with feeling, for he was awfully gone on you himself. He is sorry for you, and he says that his brother Julius is a cad. I can't understand Julius, and I can't understand you. There can be no respect between you, and without respect there is no true love——"
She spoke as if the idea of her failing to understand any one was hard to grasp.
"Julius," she continued, "is queer. He isn't like the rest of the family. He'll chuck you in the end, Angelina. They always do. I don't see why they shouldn't. You'd better go back to Antony. He can't."
"Chuck you; not if he takes you back, and I'm sure he would."
"I can't go!" Angelina stood up suddenly, she looked vacantly round her: yellow of the shingle, blue of the sea.
This was a brilliantly optimistic August morning. She was feeling dim and weak, beyond all, yearningly alone. She experienced the feeling which is the almost constant portion of the woman who is loved by two men and protected by neither. Cicely also stood up and, in the sunshine, they were upright: close together and confronting. Angelina showed shrinking. Cicely perceived this, and thought it natural enough; for Angelina was no longer respectable. She spoke her thought; she had no thoughts which were not instantly translated into hearty speech.
"Not many of your women-friends would speak to you at all, but I am broad-minded. Mrs. Pole said to me yesterday: 'If ever you should meet Angelina, mind you cut her dead.' "
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I'm younger than she is, and because I've got a heart and she's got a block of fishmonger's ice. She's an old cat, but I put up with her for Bob's sake. He's a jolly good sort."
She squeezed Angelina's hand and giggled uncomfortably.
"Do go back to Antony," she said. "You'll go to the devil if you don't. Women always do; and you are so jolly | | 258 good looking. The men will never leave you alone, and once you've given an opening to one——Don't you see"——Cicely blushed violently—"what I'm driving at?"
"Of course I do. But you don't understand."
"I do understand. I'm married; we both are. So there is no difference. If Antony would divorce you that would be another pair of shoes. But he won't. You could marry Julius, and most people would know you. The very strict ones might make a wry face, but you could do without them. They are making divorce so jolly easy that in six months' time you forget who was the guilty one and who the innocent. It's a regular mix up. Can't say I like it"—Cicely wrinkled her nose—"but Antony won't divorce you; there's the rub. He and Charlie Murray had a regular row about it. Blanche wrote and told me. The Murrays think that it is the only thing to do. Yet Antony won't. Poor old chap! I never cottoned to him, but I do admire him now."
She looked good-tempered and friendly, and honestly puzzled.
"I can't think," she said, "what on earth you see in Julius?"
"What does anybody see in anybody?" asked Angelina. She started walking towards the land. Cicely clumped at her side.
"I won't go beyond the beach with you," she said; "Mrs. Pole is sitting in the churchyard waiting for me. We drove over from Brighton. She used to bring the kids here when they were young. She was talking of coming here to stay."
"She'd better not. Julius and I are staying on for some weeks, unless his business interferes."
"But what can he do for a living? What's his game? Hasn't he told you?"
"No. His plans are vague. We have discussed nothing. But I feel sure that he will find something. Julius never fails."
Angelina's note was warmer; she was betrayed into something approaching confidence and avowal. Cicely looked at her shrewdly with those honest, intelligent eyes behind which nothing was lying. Cicely's goods were all in the window.| | 259
"How do you know he won't fail you? How can you trust him?" she asked candidly. "Don't be hurt, old girl, at what I'm going to say, but when a man has ruined one woman, he very often doesn't stop. Julius"—her clear voice sounded disgust—" is a rotter. Bob's going to knock him down if he comes across him. He doesn't care if it's a police-court affair. Bob "—she looked uncomfortably at Angelina's set face—" would do Antony's dirty work for him. He'd rather enjoy the job."
She put out her bare hand: a hard, brown paw that was always playing games.
"Think over what I say, Angelina. Cut and run. Give Julius the slip before he gets sick of you. They've always had enough in time—those sort of men."
She savoured her coarseness with a sage look.
Angelina looked at her blankly. She left her hand lying in the hard, brown palm until Cicely dropped it, saying: Mrs. Pole may get tired of the tombstones and come down to the sea. There would be a shindy if you two met. I must get back to her. Give me a start up the lane, in case she's coming down it."
She gave a last look of bewildered affection at that thin, wild face, and then went striding off: a well-developed, thickset and sun-tanned young woman. She was wholly healthy, utterly unimaginative and intensely complacent. She was saturated with slang—her very thoughts were in slang. She was utterly shallow and absolutely happy.
Angelina sat upon the white breakwater and watched her go. Life was not going to give Cicely any trouble at all. She would die at the same stage of emotional development in which she was born. She had been in love with Robert before she married him. Now that she had married him, being in love was heartily out of the question, and he was just a jolly good sort. If he died first, she would, after some decent interval for mourning, marry any man who offered, and who was sufficiently like him; for the Cicely's of the world never wish for a new phase; they propose to continue the old. Whatever happened, she would be content and active and noisy. She would go to her grave stolidly wondering what half the heartaches of the world were all about. | | 260 People—Cicely might express it so—were "silly." They had no "control."
Angelina, on the breakwater, was swept by disgust and despair. As waves these moods broke over her: the romantic colour of her idyllic life with Julius this last three months was soaked through and washed pale by the brine of these two feelings: disgust, despair. She flinched from Cicely's code, being fully aware that it was merely the code of the common world. It would never comprise Julius. Yet her despair was born of this code. She felt an outcast. This fact was rudely thrust in her face.
Yet there was a grim humour in the affair. Cicely, in counselling her to "chuck" Julius and return to Antony, had been gloriously unaware that she was not Antony's wife.
She was no man's wife. So far, she seemed merely to have developed the fatal quality of making a fool of herself.
She went up the lane in the sun, listening to that cradlesong rhythm of the sea. When she reached the lodgings she found a telegram from Julius. He was in London and would write that night. She went to bed early, feeling desolate and oddly afraid. Yet she knew that his dear letter in the morning would not only reassure, but reinstate her. There was no one on this earth but Julius.
It was in the nature of a knell to go down to breakfast next day and find no letter. He had missed the post. That was quite understandable, and she tried to persuade herself of it. But Cicely had skinned her alive and she smarted all over. She sat by the window, afraid to go out for fear of meeting Cicely again. The thought of the sea nearly drew her forth, and then, quizzically, she considered that although salt was good for the usual wounds, it was altogether too drastic as a remedy for hers. She was light headed with misery, perplexity and perhaps some subtle distrust. Cicely's awful word "respect," that word so often upon the lip of the conventionally virtuous—it is the text of every sermon that the Pharisee preaches—obsessed her. If Julius had lost respect for himself, he had also lost it for her. They were lost souls and must come to some speedy ruin.
None of these feelings had torn at her through the seven years of her life with Antony. She was not married to him | | 261 either; yet the world had not suspected, and—still more cogent reason—she had not loved Antony. She loved Julius, and, in consequence, every dramatic force was at work within her.
About noon there was a small bustle at the little gate and she looked down the path. She had been by the window, listlessly regarding her spread out hands and smiling cynically at that finger with the wedding-ring. There should be two, or none!
Out in the road was a cab. The driver got down from the box and opened the gate, which squeaked miserably as the new iron gates of villas do.
Angelina stood up. She was rigid and frightened out of her life, for she thought this was Mrs. Pole and Cicely. They had come to protest and condemn; they sought to influence for her own good. Where was the use, when her mind was made! She would fly anywhere away from these two women. She stared through the shut window. This morning she had been so wretched that she had withdrawn from sweet air and the sound of the sea. She sought for silence and would have preferred dark to daylight.
The cab door opened and a stout woman, closely wrapped, got out with difficulty. She was followed by a hospital nurse carrying invalid bundles. Angelina's collapse into the nearest chair was like the falling of a house of cards. This woman was fat and old. Even through her wrappings she distilled some air of the hopelessly common. Mrs. Pole was lean and distinguished.
She listened to the door knocker and to the landlady's feet along the passage. The door shut, the cab waited. This was some one come to look at the drawing-room floor. So far, she and Julius had been the only lodgers.
She settled back into leer hopeless attitude and drifted towards drearily speculative thought of leer own affairs.
She was startled afresh by the slow opening of the door and the sound of a voice, certainly familiar, saying, in the genteel tone that, for state occasions, is vestment to vulgarity:
"Mrs. Julius Pole is a friend of mine. What a very strange coincidence!"
Angelina turned and saw, in the frame of the door, and | | 262 backed by the landlady and the nurse, her mother's friend, and her own music mistress, Mrs. Chope.
"My dear Angelina," the ponderous lady bore down upon her, without scruple or warning. She kissed her soundly,
"This is a bit of luck for me."
Her caress fell upon Angelina's cheek as Cicely's respectable platitudes had struck upon her heart. It glanced off, yet, left some scratch. Angelina began to feel herself submerged by the commonplace and the undesirable. Julius with his poetic worship, unconsciously braggadocio, went farther out of sight. He thinned to vanishment. Here, by the sea, you must take a salt image, and she thought of him as a ship that became enshrouded in cold mists. She no longer perceived the brilliant rose shade of his swelling sails.
Mrs. Chope was holding her hands, and, in a silly jocular way, shaking them up and down. She said, speaking to the landlady:
"Light a fire in my settin'-room, Mrs. Bridger."
To the nurse she added:
"Unpack our things and lay out my tea gown."
Angelina was amazed into utter silence. One thing was happening on top of the other in feverish confusion. She had yet to learn that the coincident in life is always crowded. Mrs. Chope spoke of a "settin'-room" and told the nurse to lay out her tea gown. These words and this accent revived the Brighton life of long ago; so that Antony, in company with Julius, dipped over the edge of the horizon. They sailed in twin ships and probably in amity. Angelina's face expressed docility and dislike. She had reverted to the manner of her girlish days.
Mrs. Chope pulled her along to the horsehair sofa and they at down.
"Well, I never, Angy," she said in a voice of boisterous affection. "That I should find you here, of all one-eyed places. The woman was recommended to me by a lady friend as a very good cook, for I've been ill," she wheezed and grew red, "I'm ordered to a quiet place, with sea air."
"There is sea air at Brighton," said Angelina, speaking in a voice that felt its words.
"Yes, of course, but too bracing for me, so I let my | | 263 cottage and a good let—what a godsend that cottage has been!—and drove over here to look at the rooms. When the woman said that there was only a young married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Julius Pole, on the dining-room floor, I nearly had a fit. You must tell me about it. I'm dying to know. I've thought of you so often, my dear. I nearly wrote."
She squeezed Angelina's hand significantly and from her sunken eyes shot a faded leer. She spoke with vivacity and relish. She looked an aged woman and horrible.
She looked very ill. Angelina regarded the same brightly golden hair, the same tiny feet in pointed shoes and fanciful stockings; the same powdered face—powder lay, blue, in the shallows of those fallen cheeks! She had the same sweet voice and jolly melodious laugh, the same repellant air of a past impropriety, the same unquenchable vulgar good nature.
Angelina sat upon the sofa looking just a girl; quelled and perhaps oddly fascinated.
"Yes, you can trust me, "Mrs. Chope's ancient eyelids showed a true wink of comprehension; "but what made you runaway from your husband? That is always a mistake, Angelina. And Mr. flinch won't divorce you. I never liked the man. I always knew him for one of the cold-blooded, spiteful sort. I should like to see a photo of your second choice, Mr. Pole. Your mother says he is as ugly as sin. Blanche told her so."
The smell of Mrs. Chope's patchouli, for she had kept faithful to this eloquent perfume, the sight of her powder, and the sound of her painful breathing were arousing in Angelina some wild futile alarm. She seemed to be feeling through absolute darkness of soul for Julius and his clear, clean poetry of expression. It would have purged and redeemed her.
"How came you to know?" she asked in a low, queer voice.
Mrs. Chope's laugh ran, a cascade of piano notes high in the treble, round the room.
"Everybody knows, and everybody is pitying Mr. flinch. He holds the trump cards; the husband does. But I never judge any woman, for who is to know what goes on between married | | 265 noble. Yet only for a moment did she remain upon this pedestal. The next, she fell!
"Now tell me all the little ins and outs of your affair," she said, sidling closer. "It's better than a novel. I always knew there was something spicy in you, and I shan't live to read the last chapter."
Looking hard at Angelina she seemed to turn over pages. Her eyes moved fast.
"You are a handsome girl," she said. " I hope you'll fall upon your feet. I think you will. Some do. I did. Even now, with the little I've saved, and with the rent I'm getting for the cottage, there is enough to pay for my keep and my nurse and to give me a decent funeral. I was going to sell up everything and buy an annuity. I'm glad I didn't, now we've met. I shall leave my furniture to you, Angelina, for we are of the same kidney and the time may come when you'll want it."
She was ghastly and appealing; ghastly in that coarsened face, with its shadowed eyes and loosely pouched cheeks, appealing, in her obvious affection, in her loneliness and flippancy, in her near approach to death.
Angelina could only sit silent, looking softer and sometimes slightly moving her fingers in some compassionate gesture. Mrs. Chope's hold upon her hands grew desperate. She was clinging to what, so unexpectedly, she had found.
"You've heard," she said, "that Freddy Jannaway has come into his title? That makes your mother more bitter than ever. She won't see that there are some men a woman can't——"
"Don't let us talk about him," interrupted Angelina.
"We won't, or I shall make you sick of men, and what's the good of that at your age! When you are as old as I am, or when you get ill as I am, you'll find that they don't matter to a woman. Not one of them is worth what we go through to get them. Remember that, Angelina. You'll think of it often, my dear, years after I'm gone. Yet," she laughed—shattered the crazy sound, painful, yet still in a way musical, shattered Angelina—" we can't help ourselves. All sorts of things are waiting round the corner for you, I'll bet."
She was growing whiter. How ghastly that true pallor looked against the powder!| | 266
"You have talked too much." Angelina slipped her hands from their capture and went to the bell. "I'll ring for the nurse."
"Yes do, dear. I am done for. But I shall be better after a dose. When's Mr. Pole coming back?"
"I don't know. He is away on important business."
Mrs. Chope looked shrewdly across the room. She seemed half fainting, yet warning and affectionate caution shone in her dim glance.
"I wouldn't let him out of my sight too often, dear. You've got no hold on him. And a man that once plays a shabby trick will play it twice."
Angelina wanted to scream out.
"stop! Cicely said that too."
Fortunately the nurse came in.
She was once more left alone; feeling sullied and permanently shaken. The dual interview of the morning, with Cicely, with Mrs. Chope, had affected her feeling for Julius. It was, if not imperilled, at least diverted. She had that queer longing which women do experience—of wishing to be utterly free from men.
The prospect of loneliness made its first appeal. The promptings of a celibate life stirred within her. She was actually perturbed at the prospect of a letter from Julius. He would re-arouse her.| | 267
DEAR ST. MARY OF EGYPT,
LETTER TO ST. MARY OF EGYPT
To you I can talk and find my tongue. Usually, I do not. There was once a time, before I pretended to get married to Antony, when I talked to him and to Mumsie, until I was distrustful; and I could see by the way they looked at me that they also distrusted and considered I was feverish. In the years that came afterwards, those seven quiet years; unrippled, stagnant perhaps, it was Antony who talked—if either of us did. He had fits of sullen eloquence; speech torn from him. I never fathomed him.
Julius, through the blessed, beautiful three months that we were together, poured words over me in a flood of silver. It was delicate, white, and gleaming. How it flashed! Worship well drawn out! Julius is a poet. He is also an anachronism: not of his own time.
Now they are both gone. I am alone; silence covers me fold upon fold; dim and pale, as the robe of some Eastern, begging priest. This robe I wear and ask no other any more. Why do people pity lonely women? I am exaltedly happy!
I sit here writing to you in this small house near the sea. Words gather in my head, making companies. They pass in military procession through the narrow defile of the pen. They mass themselves upon this paper, showing a great army. To tell you everything; all the facts that have been, all the feelings I have felt—it is the biggest relief that my soul knows. It is prayer, in a sense, and yet, I hardly know, sitting here to-day, if I even believe in your existence, to say nothing of your powers. Once I believed so utterly. Antony spoke of my sense of spells. Perhaps Belief has gone, perhaps it never was, perhaps—again I theorise—it may be just lying perdu, gathering strength for a last effect. It may, in the end, softly impress me to some convent. Would I find rest there? Did you, in the desert, find rest? St. Mary of | | 268 Egypt, when I was a child, I loved you and trusted in you, I showed you my little heart. Can you read it now?
Just now I opened the box that Kitty gave me long ago and I read the letter that I wrote you then. A fever to write to you again came over me, so here I sit in the November day, alone. I can see the desperately waving tamarisk trees and the great blue waves when I look out of the window. There is a gale blowing. This morning I went down to the sea. Sun was shining, the tide was right up and the south-west wind filled me with hope, with colour, and a sense of life—the life between a man and a woman when they love. I remembered Julius; the things he had said, his gestures, his caresses. And I picked a bouquet, tamarisk branches and seaweed, pink and cream. How he would have loved it! But as to sending it, I do not even know where to find him, nor do I know if he wants it. I lay on the low sand bank, face downwards, propping it on my palms, and looking out to sea; down through the wild branches, down through the waving grass at the water beneath.
I walked back here and changed my dress and went to Mrs. Chope's funeral. The nurse and I went—nobody else. And to-night the nurse returns to the Nursing Home in Brighton which she came from. I shall be here alone.
Mrs. Chope and I were together a great deal towards the last; my affection for her and my disgust for her seemed to grow side by side. They were twins and exactly of the same height. She was a wise woman and corrupt; those words express her. There was something pitiful about her, yet there was nothing fine, and I am glad she is dead, for that underlying coarseness would have spoiled her for me in the end.
She talked incessantly of Antony and of Julius. She knew about them, because I had told her. She was absorbed by my story. I was the last novel that she read—and she died before she got to the last chapter. That was her main regret in dying, and she was fascinated by my future, making different endings for me. She was infinitely more interested than I am, for something in me—my sense of drama, my sense of spells (what is it?) has dropped down dead. It is lying to-day in a deeper grave than Mrs. Chope's.| | 269
She would say to me more than once, and every day, "you will live on to be an old woman." If she was right, and if I do live on to be old, it is a bleak prospect. I shall be alone. This I have decided, for men get between your body and your soul. Yet does there lie for me, beyond this, and while I am still upon earth, some calmly righteous life, the life for which I am destined, a life that shall approximate to yours in the desert! Perhaps my phase, of loving men, of belonging to men, was the fiery novitiate. Perhaps I am merely at the beginning. When I have cast out what is the Grandmamma Peachey part of me, I shall, for the first time, be a wholly happy woman, because I shall be a good one.
Mrs. Chope said:
"There is no peace for you, Angelina, until one of those men, or, better, both of those men, die. And they will; for the woman lives on."
She said this, and, poor soul, she had lived on and knew what she was talking about. Her experiences were certainly ghastly. In her case, more than two men lay dead. I don't think that she remembered any of them, nor did she care; in fact, I doubt if she discriminated between one and the other. They amalgamated in her mind. They became simply one Idea, and to herself she had ceased to be an improper woman, but was only an ineffably weary one.
Did you, St. Mary, so long ago in the desert at the last, regard men in this way: as she regarded them—as I am beginning to?
They seem to pass through your life, leaving no vital mark, giving no perfect satisfaction.
As I came up from the sea this morning in the sweet, high gale, foam was blowing, blossom-wise. It drifted and flew across the green fields among the calm cows. The sky was so blue and the air so clear that May trees in their last burning glory were better than ever they had been. I thought of Julius, who had spoken of the May trees in berry. He is not here to see them. Yet I hardly regretted that; for the beauty of the world seemed to be the one thing my heart wanted. Men tear you to pieces. I elect to keep quiet.
Yet I cannot complain. And, as I wrote that word "complain," you see I make a blot upon the paper; it is as if the | | 270 pen laughed cynically at me with my immense egoism! Neither Antony nor Julius write to me. I am withdrawn and perhaps forgotten. Yet, if they did write, I know exactly what each letter would be: Antony vituperative, coarse and certainly brutal; Julius adoring, with almost too much worship, with perhaps too many words—and yet at the back of both letters would merely be that male craving to possess and enslave. They haven't got very far, these men. I sit here writing and feeling very superior. Did you? Alone in the desert so long, you must have thought things out as I am thinking now. Yet we were different; for you had a definite religion, and with me, so far, it is merely speculative. That shifts the point of view entirely. You, perhaps, were merely ashamed of your much experience.
The other day, when I was extra lonely and when I was feeling positively sick by long association with Mrs. Chope, I went to Brighton, to spiritually wash myself.
I went to the big church, St. Bartholomew's, where I used to go as a girl and before there was a Freddy Jannaway. I date things from then; I make a Jannaway Period; for he woke me up and warned me, with a kiss. He made me see that your body is your own as well as your soul. It is ethereal, in equal part, and no vow can wholly solidify it: not the vow of the law, not even the vow of love—if you outgrow love. The ideal of what a marriage should be, which Kitty had impressed upon me, was beaten into me by that silly Jannaway. It flowed with my blood and became part of me. Except for him, I might have married Antony or Percy Lascelles or Robert Pole, and I should certainly have married Julius. For he was the love of my life, yet, even with him, I felt afraid of any permanent tie: not because I was coarse, but because Kitty had made me too fine. You will believe that, although Antony never will and Julius could never understand.
I do not want either of those men. I must belong to myself. I love them both and yet love neither. I love myself, and, beyond myself, that vague extraordinary ideal which you loved and which is the Catholic religion. Yet I have not reached the point that you reached and perhaps I never shall.
I went to St. Bartholomew's the other day, as I said. The | | 271 priest was in the church at the altar. He was an old, humpy-backed, bottle-nosed man, yet undeniably fine. It was a Martyr's Festival, and he wore rose-coloured vestments. An old sacristan moved about the body of the church as I kneeled there. Light was falling upon his polished, grey-fringed head, and upon the shiny seat and elbows of his shabby cassock.
Why do I tell you this? Why do I find my tongue and talk to you, as I never have before, as I never shall again!
When I look at all this paper scattered round me, this long, long letter to you, I hardly recognise either the writing or the words. I am beside myself. No doubt these queer moods come to people who are in conflict.
When Mass was over I waited in the church and spoke to the sacristan. He sent the funny-looking old priest to me and I made my confession. I told him everything; all that I am telling you and more, all that I shall presently tell you. Yet he never touched me, he left me unimpressed, and, kneeling there, I was merely studying him, I was in no way penitent. I remained outside his mood. I could see that he was interested in my story and anxious for my soul. Yet he was illogical, as they are. He was a man and I am weary. He asked me if my life with Antony had not been one long penance., because I was not married to him. How could it be? Antony believed nothing, and I—I believed in myself. My faith in myself is undeviating, my conceit consummate.
I came out of the church cold, amused perhaps. Am I a devil with no heart? Or am I just a victim of my nature?
All those who have gone to build me up and make me, Grandmamma Peachey and the rest, they must be faintly laughing at me, as I laughed at the old priest; with his bibulous cheeks and his lovely old eves—Faith shining clear in them.
He said I was to return to Antony and ask, what he called, the ''blessing of the church upon our union." I was to marry Antony. I told him, however, that I loved Julius, if I loved at all. He was stern and plainly shocked. He spoke of Julius as a "person who incited me to sin."
With that point of view I cannot join issue. Perhaps the day will come when I shall.| | 272
And, again, the pen laughs! For how can I marry any one? Antony does not write and will not. Why should he? Julius has disappeared. He went to London upon business—so he said. Perhaps, even at the time, I hardly believed this, for between us is some queer tradition of distrust.
He wrote a week afterwards begging me to believe in him, insisting that he would return to me here, but saying that, for a reason which later on I would know, he could not write for six weeks.
That six weeks is past. Not a whisper of him comes. He is hurdled off from me. I look at the wattled walls which they build round the sheep in the fields about here. I am a sheep, a silly sheep, and alone. I am a silly sheep because I have followed two shepherds. I cannot see over the hurdle which Julius has put up. And I am glad to be away, forever, from te emasculating influence of men. They exhaust you, they steal away your life; it becomes theirs and there is nothing left for yourself. They smother you with flowers or with bitter herbs. I have had both.
I feel that in his letter Julius lied to me, just as, after he had kissed me in the wood on the day of the Derbyshire sale, I lied for him to Antony. He went safely away. I stayed behind to tell lies. They were smooth and clever; I despise myself and marvel at myself sometimes; and certainly the Angelina that the world knows and that I myself know is not the woman who sits here writing. St. Mary of Egypt, you draw out of me a quality whose existence I did not suspect. It was my suggestion that Julius should go out of the wood that day, that I should stay; yet he should never have indulged me. The man who is a perfect mate would guide the woman. We need rule. I doubt if, even yet, I have found my true mate. If I have not, then I hope I never shall; for there has been complexity enough. A woman does not know how much Vice and how much Virtue she has still left in her; as a sex, we seem inexhaustible.
There was a tincture of falsity between Julius and me from the first—so all the liquid is bitter! I love him entirely, so far as I can love. I trust him not at all. I would rather trust Antony with his lumbering home truths. He only said pretty things to his Aunt Philippa. Antony was tact- | | 273 less, he was selfish and unsparing. Yet he told the truth. It seems trivial, and yet I often sit and merely wonder who is darning Antony's socks and looking after his linen. All my suffering and perplexity thins to just that—who darns his socks and sees that his shirts are aired! He was so helpless. It was a quality sometimes irritating but more often lovable; in such a great, big fellow. With Julius I had no such tradition—for how can you sit and darn socks in a rose-coloured cloud? Julius wove me all about with heavenly worship; he bound my hands. There was nothing domestic. It seemed, while I was with him, that his adoration was all—comprehensive. There was nothing for either of us, behind or before, but our great instinctive love. I was feeling this through the cool agony of my last talk with Antony in the house at Normandy, when I cast him off and left him. The dear dignity of that house! I think of it—and then I look round at the grotesquely papered walls of this room where I sit alone.
When Julius left me, Cicely Pole, by her ghastly vulgarities, dragged everything down: stars were lying in the dust! She said to me of Julius, "he'll chuck you. I should cut and run." These words I cannot forget. We stood upon the beach together, and her face was good-humoured, coarsely contemptuous, and prettily snub-nosed. She is like thousands of other women. I wonder if it pays to defy this commonplace horde or if indeed you dare defy them.
I looked down from the altitude of all my faithlessness and failing and of my secret anguish; my glance fell to her complacent face, it beat at the fast-shut door of her shallow eye.
She has nothing behind that door. She and Mrs. Chope sandwiched me between two vulgarities; they were alike although they were so different. One is dead and one is gone away, and I have only you; to whom I confide, to whom I nearly pray. And yet I cannot feel sure if you are simply a charming shadow or a strong and still living personality.
Suddenly—as suddenly as I began to write—so the impulse to write leaves me.
I haven't a word more, and looking over these sheets they seem silly. If I had a fire I would burn them, but down here it is mild, and in the autumn you never need a fire until the late afternoon. The landlady will light my fire when she lays | | 274 the cloth for my dinner, and by that time I shall have changed my mind. Whenever she comes into the room she gossips and I answer at random. She is upset because there has been a death in her house.
I shall lock this letter away with the one I wrote to you when I was a child, and, although I hardly believe in you, I shall write here at the bottom,
"St. Mary of Egypt pray for me."ANGELINA PEACHEY.
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