THE SPECTRE OF THE REAL
An end-of-the-century Narrative
(co-written with Florence Henniker)
A certain March night of this
present "waning age" had settled down upon the woods and the park and
the parapets of
She moved so quietly that the alert birds resting in the great cedar tree never stirred. Gliding across its funereal shadow over a smooth plush of turf, as far as to the Grand Walk whose pebbles shone like the floor-stones of the Apocalyptic City, she paused and looked back at the old brick walls—red in the daytime, sable now—at the shrouded mullions, the silhouette of the tower; though listening rather than seeing seemed her object incoming to the pause. The clammy wings of a bat brushed past her face, startling her and making her shiver a little. The stamping of one or two horses in their stalls surprised her by its distinctness and isolation. The servants' offices were on the other side of the house, and the lady who, with the exception of the girl on the terrace, was its only occupant, was resting on a sofa behind one of the curtained windows. So Rosalys went on her way unseen, trod the margin of the lake, and plunged into the distant shrubberies.
The clock had reached ten. As the last strokes of the hour rang out a young man scrambled down the sunk-fence bordering the pleasure-ground, leapt the iron railing within, and joined the girl who stood awaiting him. In the half-light he could not see how her full under-lip trembled, or the fire of joy that kindled in her eyes. But perhaps he guessed, from daylight experiences, since he passed his arm round her shoulders with assurance, and kissed her ready mouth many times. Her head still resting against his arm they walked towards a bench, the rough outlines of which were touched at one end only by the moon-rays. At the dark end the pair sat down.
"I cannot come again" said the girl.
"Oh?" he vaguely returned. "This is new. What has happened? I thought you said your mother supposed you to be working at your Harmony, and would never imagine our meeting here?" The voice sounded just a trifle hard for a lover's.
"No, she would not. And I still detest deceiving her. I would do it for no one but you, Jim. But what I meant was this: I feel that it can all lead to nothing. Mother is not a bit more worldly than most people, but she naturally does not want her only child to marry a man who has nothing but the pay of an officer in the Line to live upon. At her death (you know she has only a life-interest here), I should have to go away unless my uncle, who succeeds, chose to take me to stay with him. I have no fortune of my own beyond a mere pittance. Two hundred a year."
Jim's reply was something like a sneer at the absent lady:
"You may as well add to the practical objection the sentimental one; that she wouldn’t allow you to change your fine old crusted name for mine, which is merely the older one of the little freeholder turned out of this spot by your ancestor when he came."
"Dear, dear Jim, don't say those horrid things! As if I had ever even thought of that for a moment!"
He shook her hand off impatiently, and walked out into the moonlight. Certainly as far as physical outline went he might have been the direct product of a line of Paladins or hereditary Crusaders. He was tall, straight of limb, with an aquiline nose, and a mouth fitfully scornful. Rosalys sat almost motionless, watching him. There was no mistaking the ardour of her feelings; her power over him seemed to be lessened by his consciousness of his influence upon the lower and weaker side of her nature. It gratified him as a man to feel it; and though she was beautiful enough to satisfy the senses of the critical, there was perhaps something of contempt inwoven with his love. His victory had been too easy, too complete.
"Dear Jim, you are not going to be vexed? It really isn't my fault that I can't come out here again! Mother will be downstairs to-morrow, and then she might take it into her head to look at any time into the schoolroom and see how the Harmony gets on."
"And you are going off to
"I am afraid so. But couldn't you come there too? I know your leave is not up for a great many weeks?"
He was silent for longer than she had ever known him at these times. Rosalys left her seat on the bench and threw her arms impulsively round him.
"I can't go away unless you
will come to
"I will; but on one condition."
"What condition? You frighten me!"
"That you will marry me when I do join you there."
The quick breath that heaved in Rosalys ebbed silently; and she leant on the rustic bench with one hand, a trembling being apparent in her garments.
"You really—mean it, Jim darling?"
He swore that he did; that life was quite unendurable to him as he then experienced it. When she was once his wife nothing could come between them; but of course the marriage need not be known for a time—indeed must not. He could not take her abroad. The climate of Burmah would be too trying for her; and, besides, they really would not have enough to live upon.
"Couldn't we get on as other people do?" said Rosalys, trying not to cry at these arguments. "I am so tired of concealment, and I don't like to marry privately! It seems to me, much as I love being with you, that there is a sort of—well—vulgarity in our clandestine meetings, as we now enjoy them. Therefore how should I ever have strength enough to hide the fact of my being your wife, to face my mother day after day with the shadow of this secret between us?"
For all answer Jim kissed her, and stroked her silky brown curls.
"I suppose I shall end in agreeing with you—I always do!" she said, her mouth quivering. "Though I can be very dogged and obstinate too, Jim! Do you know that all my governesses have said I was the most stubborn child they ever came across? But then, in that case, my temper must be really aroused. You have never seen me as I am when angry. Perhaps, Jim, you would get to hate me?" She looked at him wistfully with her wet eyes.
"I shall never cease to love
you desperately, as I do now!" declared the young man. "How lovely you look, little Rosalys,
with that one moonbeam making your forehead like pure white marble. But time is
passing. You must go back, my darling,
I'm afraid. And you won't fail me in
One clinging, intermittent kiss; and then from the shadow in which he stood Jim watched her light figure past the lake, and hurrying along in the shelter of the yew hedges towards the great house, asleep under the reaching deeps of sky, and the vacant gaze of the round white moon.
When clouds are iron-grey above the prim drab houses, and a hard east wind blows flakes of dust, stable-straws, scraps of soiled newspaper, and sharp pieces of grit into the eyes of foot-passengers, a less inviting and romantic dwelling-spot than Eaton Place can hardly be experienced.
But the Prince's daughter of the Canticles, emerging from her palace to see the vine flourish and the pomegranates bud forth with her Beloved, could not have looked more unconscious of grime than Rosalys Ambrose as she came down the steps of one of the tall houses in the aforesaid highly respectable place of residences. Her cheeks were hotly pink, her eyes shining, her lips parted. Having once made up her mind, "Qualms of prudence, pride and pelf" had died within her passionate little heart. After to-day she would belong absolutely to Jim, be his alone, through all the eternities, as it seemed; and of what account was anything else in the world? The entirely physical character of his affection for her, and perhaps of hers for him, was an unconjectured element herein which might not render less transitory the most transitory of sweet things. Thus hopefully she stepped out of the commonplace home that would, in one sense, be hers no more.
The raw wind whistled up the street, and deepened the colour in her face. She was plainly dressed in grey, and wore a rather thick veil, natural to the dusty day: it could not however conceal the sparkle of her eyes: veils, even thick ones, happily, never do. Hailing a hansom she told the driver to take her to the corner of the Embankment.
In the midst of her
pre-occupation she noticed as the cab turned the corner out of
"Lord Parkhurst is away?" she asked, to say something. "I hear of him sometimes through his uncle Colonel Lacy."
"Yes. A thorough sailor. Mostly afloat," Mr Durrant replied. "Well—we're rather out of the way in Porchester Terrace; otherwise, my wife would be so pleased if you would come to tea. Miss Ambrose? My son Jim, lazy young beggar, is up here now, too—going to plays and parties. Well, well, it's natural he should like to amuse himself before he leaves for Burmah, poor boy. Are you looking for a hansom? Yes? Hi!" And he waved his stick.
"Thank you so much" said Miss Ambrose. "And I will tell to Mamma where you and Mrs Durrant are staying."
She was surprised at her own composure. Her unconscious father-in-law elect helped her into the cab, took off his hat, and walked rapidly away. Rosalys felt her heart stand still when she drew up at the place of meeting. She saw Jim, very blooming and very well-dressed, awaiting her, outwardly calm, at any rate. He jumped into her vehicle and they drove on city-wards.
"You are only ten minutes late, dearest," he said. "Do you know, I was half afraid you might have failed me at the last moment?"
"You don't believe it, Jim!"
"Well, I sometimes think I ought not to expect you to keep engagements with me so honestly as you do. Good, brave, little Rosalys!"
They moved on through the press of struggling omnibuses, gigantic vans, covered carts, and foot-passengers who darted at imminent risk of their lives amid the medley of wheels, horses, and shouting drivers. The noise jarred Rosalys' head, and she began to be feverishly anxious.
The church stood in the neighbourhood of a great meat-market, and the pavement was crowded by men in blue linen blouses, their clothes sprinkled with crimson stains. The young girl gave a shiver of disgust.
"How revolting it must be to
have a butcher for a husband! They can't
have hearts like other men. . . . What a gloomy part of
"Ah—yes! Everything looks gloomy with the east wind blowing. Now, here we are! jump out, little woman!"
He handed money to the driver, who went off with the most cursory thoughts of the part that he had played in this little excursion of a palpitating pair into the unknown.
"Jimmy darling; oughtn't you, or one of us, to have lived here for fifteen days?" she said as they entered the fine old Norman porch, to which she was quite blind in her pre-occupation.
Durrant laughed. "I have declared that I did," he answered coolly. "I hope, in the circumstances, that it's a forgivable lie. Cheer up, Rosalys; don't all of a sudden look so solemn!"
There were tears in her eyes. The gravity of the step she was about to take had begun to frighten her.
They had some time to wait before the clergyman condescended to come out of the vestry and perform the ceremony which was to unite her to Jim. Two or three other couples were also in the church on the same errand: a haggard woman in a tawdry white bonnet, hanging on to the arm of a short crimson-faced man, who had evidently been replenishing his inside with gin to nerve himself to the required pitch for the ordeal: a girl with a coarse, hard face, accompanied by a slender youth in shabby black: a tall man, of refined aspect, in very poor clothes, whose hollow cough shook his thin shoulders and chest, and told his bride that her happiness, such as it was, would probably last but the briefest space.
Rosalys glanced absently at the beautiful building, with its Norman apse and transverse arches of horse-shoe form, and the massive curves and cushion-capitals that supported the tower-end; the whole impression left by the church being one of singular harmony, loveliness, and above all, repose—which struck even her by its great contrast with her experiences just then. As the clergyman emerged from the vestry a shaft of sunlight smote the altar, touched the quaint tomb where the founder of the building lay in his dreamless sleep, and quivered on the darned clothes of the consumptive bridegroom.
Jim and Rosalys moved forward, and then the light shone for a moment, too, upon his yellow hair and handsome face. To the woman who loved him it seemed that "From the crown of his head even to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him."
The curate looked sharply at the four couples; angrily, Rosalys fancied, at her. But it was only because the cast-wind had given him an acute tooth-ache that his gaze was severe, and his reading spiritless.
The four couples having duly contracted their inviolable unities, and slowly gone their ways through the porch, Jim and Rosalys adjourned to a fashionable hotel on the Embankment, where in a room all to themselves they had luncheon, over which Rosalys presided with quite a housewifely air.
"When shall I see you again?" he said, as he put her into a cab two or three hours later on in the afternoon.
"You must arrange all that, Jim. Somehow I feel so dreadfully sad and sinful now, all of a sudden! Have I been wicked? I don't know!"
Her tone changed as she met his passionate gaze, and she said very low, with a lump in her throat:
"O my dear darling! I care for nothing in the whole wide world, now that I belong to you!"
In the lapse of these weeks the twain began somehow to lose a little of their zest for each other's society. Jim himself was aware of it before he had yet discovered that something of the same disappointment was dulling her heart too. On his own side it was the usual lowering of the fire—the slackening of a man's passion for a woman when she becomes his property. On hers it was a more mixed feeling. No doubt her love for Jim had been of but little higher quality than his for her. She had thoroughly abandoned herself to his good looks, his recklessness, his eagerness; and, now that the sensuous part of her character was satisfied, her fervour also began to burn itself down. But beyond, above, this, the concealment of her marriage was repugnant to Rosalys. When the rapture of the early meetings had died away she began to loathe the sordid deceit which these involved: the secretly despatched letters, the unavoidably brazen lies to her mother, who, if she attached overmuch importance to money and birth, yet loved her daughter in all good faith and simplicity. Then once or twice Jim was late at their interviews. He seemed indifferent and preoccupied. His manner stung Rosalys into impatient utterance at the end of a particular meeting in which this mood was unduly prominent.
"You forget all I have given up for you!" she cried. "You make a fool of me in allowing me to wait here for you. It is humiliating and vulgar! I hate myself for behaving as I do!"
"The renunciations are not all on your side," he answered caustically. "You forget all that the loss of his freedom means to a man!"
Her heart swelled, and she had great difficulty in keeping back her tears. But she took refuge in sullenness.
"Unfortunately we can't undo our folly!" she murmured. "You will have to make the best of it as well as I. I suppose the awakening to a sense of our idiocy was bound to come sooner or later. But—I didn't think it would come so soon! Jim, look at me! Are you really angry? Don't for God's sake go and leave me like this!"
He was walking slowly towards the
great iron gate leading out of
"Don't make a scene in public, for Heaven's sake, Rosalys!" Feeling that he had spoken too brutally he suddenly paused, and changed:
"I am sorry, little woman, if I was cross! But things have combined to harass me lately. Of course we won't part from one another in anger."
Jim glanced at her straight profile with its full under-lip and firmly curved chin, at the lashes on either lid, and the glossy brown hair twisted in coils under her hat. But the sight of this loveliness, now all his own, failed to arouse the old emotions. He simply contemplated her approvingly from an artistic point of view.
They had reached the gateway, and she placed her hand on his arm.
"Good-bye. When shall we next meet? To-day is Tuesday. Shall it be Friday?"
"I am afraid I must go out
She thanked him in a cold voice
again, and with a last handshake and a smile that hovered on sorrow, left him
and drove away towards
Once or twice later on they met; the next interview being shorter and sadder perhaps than the last. The one that followed it ended in bitterness.
"This had better be our long good-bye, I suppose?" said she.
"Perhaps it had. . . . You seem to be always looking out for causes of reproach, Rosalys. I don't know what has come over you."
"It is you who have changed!" she cried, with a little stamp. "And you are by far the most to blame of us two. You forget that I should never have contemplated marriage as a possibility! You have made me lie to my mother, do things of which I am desperately ashamed, and now you don't attempt to disguise your weariness of me!"
It was Jim's turn to lose his temper now. "You forget that you gave me considerable encouragement! Most girls would not have come out again and again to surreptitious meetings with a man who was in love with them,—girls brought up as you have been!"
She started as in a spasm. A momentary remorse seized him. He realized that he had been betrayed into speaking as no man of kindly good-feeling could speak. He made a tardy, scarcely gracious apology, and they parted. A few days afterwards he wrote a letter full of penitence for having hurt her, and she answered almost affectionately. But each knew that their short-lived romance was dead as the wind-flowers that had blossomed at its untimely birth.
In August this pair of
disappointed people met once more amid their old surroundings. Perhaps their
enforced absence from one another gave at first some zest to their reunion. Jim
was at times tender, and like his former self; Rosalys, if sad and subdued,
less sullen and reproachful than she had been in
Mrs Ambrose had fallen into delicate health, and her daughter was inconsequence able to dispose of her time outside the house as she wished. The moonlight meetings with Jim were discontinued, but husband and wife went for long strolls sometimes in the remoter nooks of the park, through winding walks in the distant shrubberies, and down paths hidden by high yew-hedges from intruding eyes that might look with suspicion on their being together.
On one especially beautiful August day they paced side by side, talking at moments with something of their old tenderness. The sky above the dark-green barriers on either hand was a bottomless deep of blue. The yew-boughs were covered in curious profusion by the handiwork of energetic spiders, who had woven their glistening webs in every variety of barbaric pattern. In shape some resembled hammocks, others ornamental purses, others deep bags, in the middle of which a large yellow insect remained motionless and watchful.
"Shall we sit for a little while in the summer-house?" said Rosalys at last, in flat accents, for a tete-a-tete with Jim had long ceased to give her any really strong beats of pleasure. "I want to talk to you further about plans; how often we had better write, and so on."
They sat down, in an arbour made of rustic logs, which overlooked the mere. The wood-work had been left rough within, and dusty spider-webs hung in the crevices; here and there the bark had fallen away in strips; above, on the roof, there were clumps of fungi, looking like tufts of white fur.
"This is a sunless, queer sort of place you have chosen," he said, looking round critically.
The boughs had grown so thickly in the foreground that the glittering margin of water was hardly perceptible between their interlacing twigs, and no visible hint of a human habitation was given, though the rustic shelter had been originally built with the view of affording a picturesque glimpse of the handsome old brick house wherein the Ambroses had lived for some three centuries.
"You might have found a more lively scene for what will be, perhaps, our last interview for years," Jim went on.
"Are you really going so soon?" she asked, passing over the complaint.
"Next week. And my father has made all sorts of arrangements for me. Besides, he is beginning to suspect that you and I are rather too intimate. And your mother knows, somehow or other that I have been up here several times of late. We must be careful."
"I suppose so," she answered absently, looking out under the log roof at a chaffinch swinging himself backwards and forwards on a larch bough. A sort of dreary indifference to her surroundings; a sense of being caged and trapped had begun to take possession of Rosalys. The present was full of perplexity, the future objectless. Now and then, when she looked at Jim’s lithe figure, and healthy, virile face, she felt that perhaps she might have been able to love him still if only he had cared for her with a remnant of his former passionate devotion. But his indifference was even more palpable than her own. They sat and talked on within the dim arbour for a little while. Then Jim made one of the unfortunate remarks that always galled her to the quick. She rose in anger, answered him with cold sarcasm, and hastened away down the little wood. He followed, a rather ominous light shining in his eyes.
"Your temper is really growing insufferable, Rosalys!" he cried, and clenched his hand roughly on her arm to detain her.
"How dare you!" said the girl. "For God's sake leave me, and don't come back again! I rejoice to think that in a few days it will not be in your power to insult me any more!"
"Damn it—I am going to leave you, am I not! I only want to keep you here for a moment to come to some understanding! . . . Indeed you'll be surprised to find how very much I am going to leave you, when you hear what I mean! My ideas have grown considerably emancipated of late, and therefore I tell you that there is no reason on earth why any soul should ever know of that miserable mistake we made in the spring."
She winced a little; it was an unexpected move; and her eyes lingered uneasily on a copper-coloured butterfly playing a game of hide-and-seek with a little blue companion.
"Who," he continued, "is ever going to search the register of that old East-London church? We must philosophically look on the marriage as an awkward fact in our lives, which won't prevent our loving elsewhere when we feel inclined. In my opinion this early error will carry one advantage with it—that we shall be unable to extinguish any love we may each feel for another person by a sordid matrimonial knot—unless, indeed, after seven years of obliviousness to one another's existence."
"I'll—try to—emancipate myself likewise," she said slowly. "It will be well to forget this tragedy of our lives! And the most tragic part of it is—that we are not even sorry that we don't love each other any more!"
"The truest words you ever spoke!"
"And the surest event that was ever to come, given your nature—"
She hastened on down the grass walk into the broad gravelled path leading to the house. At the corner stood Mrs Ambrose, who was better, and had come out for a stroll—assuming as an invalid the privilege of wearing a singular scarlet gown and a hat in which a number of black quills stood startlingly erect.
"Ah—Rosy!" she cried. "Oh, and Mr Durrant? What a colour you have got, child!"
"Yes. Mr Durrant and I have been having a furious
political discussion, mamma. I have
grown quite hot over it. He is more
unreasonable than ever. But when he gets
abroad he won't be as he is now. A few
Durrant had come up behind. "Yes," he said cynically. "One never knows how an enervating country may soften one's brains."
He bade them a cool good-bye and left. She watched his retreating figure, the figure of the active, the strong, the handsome animal, who had scarcely won the better side of her nature at all. He never turned his head. So this was the end!
The bewildering bitterness of it well-nigh paralysed Rosalys for a few moments. Why had they been allowed—he and she—to love one another with that eager, almost unholy, passion, and then to part with less interest in each other than ordinary friends? She felt ashamed of having ceded herself to him. If her mother had not been beside her she would have screamed out aloud in her exasperating pain.
Mrs Ambrose lifted up her voice. "What are you looking at, child? . . . My dear, I want a little word with you. Are you attending? When you pout your lip like that, Rosalys, I always know that you are in a bad frame of mind. . . . The vicar has been here; and he has made me a little unhappy."
"I should have thought he was too stupid to give anyone a pang! Why do they put such simpletons into the churches!"
"Well—he says that people are chattering about you and that young Durrant. And I must tell you that—that, from a marrying point of view, he is impossible. You know that. And I don't want him to make up to you. Now, Rosalys, my darling, tell me honestly—I feel I have not looked after you lately as I ought to have done—tell me honestly: Is he in love with you?"
"He is not, mother, to my certain knowledge."
"Are you with him?"
"No. That I swear."
Seven years and some months had passed since Rosalys spoke as above-written. And never a sound of Jim.
As she had mentally matured under the touch of the gliding seasons, Miss Ambrose had determined to act upon the hint Jim had thrown out to her as to the practical nullity of their marriage-contract if they simply kept indifferent hemispheres without a word. She had never written to him a line; and he had never written a line to her.
He might be dead for all that she knew: he possibly was dead. She had taken no steps to ascertain anything about him, though she had been aware for years that he was no longer in the Army-list. Dead or alive he was completely cut off from the county in which he and she had lived, for his father had died a long time before this, his house and properties had been sold, and not a scion of the line of Durrant remained in that part of England.
Rosalys had readily imbibed his ideas of their mutual independence; and now, after the lapse of all these years, had acted upon them with the surprising literalness of her sex when they act upon advice at all.
Mrs Ambrose, who had distinguished herself no whit during her fifty years of life saving by the fact of having brought a singularly beautiful girl into the world, had passed quietly out of it. Rosalys' uncle had succeeded his sister-in-law in the possession of the old house with its red tower, and the broad paths and garden-lands; he had been followed by an unsatisfactory son of his, last in the entail, and thus unexpectedly Rosalys Ambrose found herself sole mistress of the spot of her birth.
People marvelled somewhat that she continued to call herself Miss Ambrose. Though a woman now getting on for thirty she was distinctly attractive both in face and in figure, and could confront the sunlight as well as the moonbeams still. In the manner of women who are yet sure of their charms she was fond of representing herself as much older than she really was. Perhaps she would have been disappointed if her friends had not laughed and contradicted her, and told her that she was still lovely and looked like a girl. Lord Parkhurst, anyhow, was firmly of that contradictory opinion; and perhaps she cared more for his views than for anyone else's at the present time.
That distinguished sailor had been but one of many suitors; but he stirred her heart as none of the others could do. It was not merely that be was brave, and pleasing, and had returned from a late campaign in Egypt with a hero's reputation; but that his chivalrous feelings towards women, originating perhaps in the fact that he knew very little about them, were sufficient to gratify the most exacting of the sex.
His rigid notions of duty and honour, both towards them and from them, made the blood of Rosalys run cold when she thought of a certain little episode of her past life, notwithstanding that, or perhaps because, she loved him dearly.
"He is not the least bit of a flirt, like most sailors," said Miss Ambrose to her cousin and companion, Miss Jennings, on a particular afternoon in this eighth year of Jim Durrant's obliteration from her life. It was an afternoon with an immense event immediately ahead of it; no less an event than Rosalys' marriage with Lord Parkhurst, which was to take place on the very next day.
The local newspaper had duly
announced the coming wedding in proper terms as "the approaching nuptials
of the beautiful and wealthy Miss Ambrose of
This was the way in which her acceptance of Durrant's views had worked themselves out. He had said; "After seven years of mutual oblivion we can marry again if we choose."
And she had chosen.
Rosalys almost wished that Lord Parkhurst had been a flirt, or at least had won experience as the victim of one, or many, of those precious creatures, and had not so implicitly trusted her. It would have brought things more nearly to a level.
"A flirt! I should think not," said Jane Jennings. "In fact, Rosalys, he is almost alarmingly strict in his ideas. It is a mistake to believe that so many women are angels, as he does. He is too simple. He is bound to be disappointed some day."
Miss Ambrose sighed nervously. "Yes," she said.
"I don't mean by you to-morrow! God forbid!"
Miss Ambrose sighed again, and a silence followed, during which, while recalling unutterable things of the past, Rosalys gazed absently out of the window at the lake, that some men were dredging, the mud left bare by draining down the water being imprinted with hundreds of little footmarks of plovers feeding there. Eight or nine herons stood further away, one or two composedly fishing, their grey figures reflected with unblurred clearness in the mirror of the pool. Some little water-hens waddled with a fussy gait across the sodden ground in front of them, and a procession of wild geese came through the sky, and passed on till they faded away into a row of black dots.
Suddenly the plovers rose into the air, uttering their customary wails, and dispersing like a group of stars from a rocket; and the herons drew up their flail-like legs, and flapped themselves away. Something had disturbed them; a carriage, sweeping round to the other side of the house.
"There's the door-bell!" Rosalys exclaimed, with a start. "That's he, for certain! Is my hair untidy Jane? I've been rumpling it awfully, leaning back on the cushions. And do see if my gown is all right at the back—it never did fit well."
The butler flung open the folding-doors and announced in the voice of a man who felt that it was quite time for this nonsense of calling to be put an end to by the more compact arrangement of the morrow:
A man of middle size, with a fair and pleasant face, and a short beard, entered the room. His blue eyes smiled rather more than his lips as he took the little hand of his hostess in his own with the air of one verging on proprietorship of the same, and said: "Now, darling; about what we have to settle before the morning! I have come entirely on business, as you perceive!"
Rosalys tenderly smiled up at him. Miss Jennings left the room, and Rosalys' sailor silently kissed and admired his betrothed, till he continued:
"Ah—my beautiful one! I have nothing to give you in return for the immeasurable gift you are about to bestow on me—excepting such love as no man ever felt before! I almost wish you were not quite so good and perfect and innocent as you are! And I wish you were a poorer woman—as poor as I—and had no lovely home such as this. To think you have kept yourself from all other men for such an unworthy fellow as me!"
Rosalys looked away from him along the green vistas of chestnut and beeches stretching far down outside the windows.
"Oswald—I know how much you care for me: and that is why I—hope you won't be disappointed—after you have taken me to-morrow for good and all! I wonder if I shall hinder and hamper you in your profession. Perhaps you ought to marry a girl much younger than yourself—your nature is so young—not a maturing woman like me."
For all answer he smiled at her with the confiding, fearless gaze that she loved.
Lord Parkhurst stayed on through a paradisical hour till Miss Jennings came to tell them that tea was in the library. Presently they were reminded by the same faithful relative and dependent that on that evening of all evenings they had promised to drive across to the house of Colonel Lacy, Lord Parkhurst's uncle, and one of Rosalys, near neighbours, and dine there quietly with two or three intimate friends.
When Rosalys entered Colonel Lacy's drawing-room before dinner, the eyes of the few guests assembled there were naturally enough fixed upon her.
"By Jove, she's better looking than ever—though she's not more than a year or two under thirty!" whispered young Lacy to a man standing in the shadow behind a high lamp.
The person addressed started, and did not answer for a moment. Then he laughed and said forcedly,
"Yes, wonderful for her age, she certainly is."
As he spoke his hostess, a fat and genial lady, came blandly towards him.
"Mr Durrant, I'm so sorry we've no lady for you to take in to-night. One or two people have thrown us over. I want to introduce you to Miss Ambrose. Isn't she lovely? O, how stupid I am! Of course you grew up in this neighbourhood, and must have known all about her as a girl."
Jim Durrant it was, in the flesh; once the soldier, now the "traveler and explorer" of the little known interiors of Asiatic countries; to use the words in which he described himself. His foreign-looking and sun-dried face was rather pale and set as he walked last into the dining-room with young Lacy. He had only arrived on that day at an hotel in the nearest town, where he had been accidentally met and recognized by that young man, and asked to dinner off-hand.
Smiling, and apparently unconscious, he sat down on the left side of his hostess, talking calmly to her and across the table to the one or two he knew. Rosalys heard his voice as the phantom of a dead sound mingling with the usual trivial words and light laughter of the rest, Lord Parkhurst's conversation about Egyptian finance, and Mrs Lacy's platitudes about the Home-Rule question, as if she were living through a curiously incoherent dream.
Suddenly during the progress of the dinner Mrs Lacy looked across with a glance of solicitude towards the other end of the table, and said in a low voice:
"I am afraid Miss Ambrose is rather overstrained—as she may naturally be? She looks so white and tired. Do you think, Parkhurst, that she finds this room too hot? I will have the window opened at the top."
"She does look pale," Lord Parkhurst murmured, and as he spoke glanced anxiously and tenderly towards his betrothed. "I think too, she has a little over-taxed herself—she don't usually get so white as this."
Rosalys felt his eyes upon her, looked across at him, and smiled strangely.
When dinner was ended Rosalys still seemed not quite herself, whereupon she was taken in hand by her good and fussy hostess; sal-volatile was brought, and she was given the most comfortable chair and the largest cushions the house afforded. It seemed to Rosalys as if hours had elapsed before the men joined the ladies and there came that general moving of places like the shuffling of a pack of cards. She heard Jim’s voice speaking close to her ear:
"I want to have a word with you."
"I can't!" she faltered,
"Did you get my letter?"
"No!" said she.
"I wonder how that was! Well—I'll
be at the door of
"For God's sake how do you come here?"
"I saw in the newspapers that you were going to marry. What could I do otherwise than let you know I was alive?"
"O, you might have done it less cruelly!"
"Will you be at the door?"
"I must, I suppose! . . . Don't tell him here—before these people! It will be such an agonising disturbance that—"
"Of course I shan't. Be there."
This was all they could say. Lord Parkhurst came forward, and observing to Durrant, "They are wanting you for bezique," sat down beside Rosalys.
She had intended to go home early: and went even earlier than she had planned. At half-past ten she found herself in her own hall, not knowing how she had got there, or when she had bidden adieu to Lord Parkhurst, or what she had said to him.
Jim's letter was lying on the table awaiting her.
As soon as she had got upstairs and slipped into her dressing-gown, had dispatched her maid, and ascertained that all the household had retired, she read her husband's note, which briefly informed her that he had led an adventurous life since they had parted, and had come back to see if she were living, when he suddenly heard that she was going to be married. Then Rosalys sat down at her writing-table to begin somehow a letter to Lord Parkhurst. To write that was an imperative duty before she slept. It need not be said that awful indeed to her was its object, the letting Lord Parkhurst know that she had a husband, and had seen him that day. But she could not shape a single line, and the visioned aspect that she would wear in his eyes as soon as he discovered this truth of her history, was so terrible to her that she burst into hysterical sobbing over the paper as she sat.
The clock crept on to twelve before Rosalys had written a word. The labour seemed Herculean—insuperable. Why had she not told him face to face?
it was; and nothing done; and controlling herself as women can, when they must, she went down to the door. Softly opening it a little way she saw against the iron gate immediately without it the form of her husband, Jim Durrant—upon the whole much the same form that she had known eight years ago.
"Here I am," said he.
"Yes," said she.
"Open this iron thing."
A momentary feeling of aversion caused her to hesitate.
"Do you hear—do you mean to say—Rosalys!" he began.
"No—no. Of course I will!" She opened the grille and he came up and touched her hand lightly.
"Kissing not allowed, I suppose," he observed, with mock solemnity, "in view of the fact that you are to be married to-morrow?"
"You know better!" she said. "Of course I'm not going to commit bigamy! The wedding is not to be."
"Have you explained to him?"
"N-no—not yet. I was just writing it when—"
"Ha—you haven't! Good. Woman's way. Shall I give him a friendly call to-morrow morning?"
"O no, no—let me do it!" she implored. "I love him so well, and it will break his poor heart if it is not done gently! O God—if I could only die to-night, while he still believes in me! You don't know what affection I have felt for him!" she continued miserably, not caring what Jim thought. "He has been my whole world! And he—he believes me to be so good! He has all the old-fashioned ideas of marriage that people of your fast sets smile at! He knows nothing of any kind of former acquaintance between you and me. I ought not to have done it—kept him in the dark! I tried not to. But I was so fearfully lonely! And now I've lost him! . . . If I could only have got at that register in that City church, how I would have torn out the leaf." she added vehemently.
"That's a pleasant remark to make to a husband!"
"Well—that was my feeling; I may as well be honest! I didn't know you were coming back any more; and you yourself suggested that I might be able to re-marry!"
"You'd better do it—I shan't tell. And if anybody else did, the punishment is not heavy nowadays. The judges are beginning to discountenance informers on previous marriages, if the new-assorted parties themselves are satisfied to forget them."
"Don't insult me so. You've not forgotten how to do that in all these years!"
There was a silence, in which she regarded with passive gloom the familiar scene before her. The inquisitive jays, the pensive wood doves, that lodged at their ease thereabout, as if knowing that their proprietor was a gunless woman, all slept calmly; and not a creature was conscious of the presence of these two but a little squirrel they had disturbed in a beech near the shady wall. Durrant remained gazing at her; then he spoke, in a changed and richer voice:
She looked vaguely at his face without answering.
"How pretty you look in this star-light—much as you did when we used to meet out here nine or ten years ago!"
The sentence was broken by his abrupt movement forward. He seized her firmly in his arms, and kissed her repeatedly before she was aware.
"Don't—don't!" she said, struggling.
"I don't like you—I don't like you!"
"What rot! Yes, you do! Come—damn you, dear—put up your face as you used to! Now, I'm not going off in a huff—I'm determined I won't; nor shall you either! . . . Let me sit down in your hall, or somewhere, Rosalys! I've come a long way to-day, and I'm tired. And after eight years!"
"I don't know what to say to it—there's no light downstairs! The servants may hear us too—it is not so very late!"
"We can whisper. And suppose they do? They must know to-morrow!"
She gasped a sigh, and preceded him in through the door; and the squirrel saw nothing more.
It was three-hours-and-half later when they re-appeared. The lawn was as silent as when they had left it, though the sleep of things had weakened to a certain precarious slightness; and round the corner of the house a low line of light showed the dawn.
"Now, good-bye, dear," said her husband, lightly. "You'll let him know at once?"
"And send to me directly after?"
"And now for my walk across the fields to the hotel. These boots are thin, but I know the old way well enough. By Jove, I wonder what Melanie—"
"O—what Melanie will think, I was going to say. It slipped out—I didn't mean to hurt your feelings at all."
"Melanie—who is she?"
"Well—she's a French lady. You know, of course, Rosalys, that I thought you were perhaps dead—and—so this lady passes as Mrs Durrant. "
"In fact I found her in the East, and took pity upon her—that's all." Though if it had happened that you had not been living now I have got back, I should of course, have married her at once."
"Is—she, then, here with you at the hotel?"
"O no—I wouldn't bring her on here till I knew how things were."
"Then where is she?"
"I left her at my rooms in
"When—did you part from her?"
"Well, of course, at breakfast-time."
Rosalys bowed herself against the doorway. "O—O—what have I done! What a fool—what a weak fool!" she moaned. "Go away from me—go away!"
Jim was almost distressed when he saw the distortion of her agonized face.
"Now why should you take on like this! There's nothing in it. People do these things. Living in a prim society here you don't know how the world goes on!"
"O, but to think it didn't occur to me that the sort of man—"
Jim, though anxious, seemed to awaken to something humorous in the situation, and vented a momentary chuckle. "Well, it is rather funny that I should have let it out. But still—"
"Don't make a deep wrong deeper by cruel levity! Go away!"
"You'll be in a better mood to-morrow, mark me, and then I'll tell you all my history. There—I'm gone! Au revoir!"
He disappeared under the trees. Rosalys, rousing herself, closed the gate and fastened the door, and sat down in one of the hall chairs, her teeth shut tight, and her little hands clenched. When she had passed this mood, and returned upstairs, she regarded the state of her room sadly, and bent again over her writing-table, murmuring "O, how weak, how weak was I!"
But in a few minutes she found herself nerved to an unexpected and passionate vigour of action; and began writing her letter to Lord Parkhurst with great rapidity. Sheet after sheet she filled, and, having read them over, she sealed up the letter and placed it on the mantelpiece to be given to a groom and dispatched by hand as soon as the morning was a little further advanced.
With cold feet and a burning head she flung herself upon the bed just as she was, and waited for the day without the power to sleep. When she had lain nearly two hours, and the morning had crept in, and she could hear from the direction of the stables that the men were astir, she rang for her maid, and taking the letter in her hand stood with it in an attitude of suspense as the woman entered. The latter looked full of intelligence.
"Are any of the men about?" asked Rosalys.
"O yes, ma'am. There've been such an accident in the meads
this past night—about half-a-mile down the river—and Jones ran up from the
lodge to call for help quite early; and Benton and Peters went as soon as they
were dressed. A gentleman drowned—yes—it's
Mr James Durrant—the son of old Mr Durrant who died some years ago. He came
home only yesterday, after having been heard nothing of for years and
years. He left Mrs Durrant, who they say
is a French lady, somewhere in
"Is he dead?"
"O yes. They had a great trouble to get him out. The men have just come in from carrying him to the hotel. It will be sad for his poor wife when she gets there!"
"His poor wife—yes."
"Travelling all the way from
Rosalys had allowed the hand in which she held the letter to Lord Parkhurst to drop to her side: she now put it in the pocket of her dressing-gown.
"I was wishing to send somewhere," she said. "But I think I will wait till later."
The house was astir betimes on
account of the wedding, and Rosalys' companion in particular, who was not sad
because she was going to live on with the bride. When Miss Jennings saw her
cousin's agitation she said she looked ill, and insisted upon sending for the
doctor. He, who was the local practitioner, arrived at breakfast time; very
proud to attend such an important lady, who mostly got doctored in
"And you could do nothing?" asked Rosalys.
"O no. He'd been under water
too long for any human aid. Dead and stiff... It was not so very far down from
here.... Yes, I remember him quite as a boy. But he has had no relations
hereabout for years past—old Durrant's property was sold to pay his debts, if
you recollect; and nobody expected to see the son again. I think he has lived
When the doctor had left Rosalys went to the window, and remained for some time thinking. There was the lake from which the water had flowed down the river that had drowned Jim after visiting her last night—as a mere interlude in his continuous life of caresses with the Frenchwoman Melanie. She turned, took from her dressing-gown pocket the renunciatory letter to her intended husband Lord Parkhurst, thrust it through the bars of the grate, and watched it till it was entirely consumed.
The wedding had been fixed for an early hour in the afternoon, and as the morning wore on Rosalys felt increasing strength, mental and physical. The doctor's dose had been a powerful one: the image of "Melanie", too, had much to do with her recuperative mood; more still, Rosalys' innate qualities; the nerve of the woman who nine years earlier had gone to the city to be married as if it were a mere shopping expedition; most of all, she loved Lord Parkhurst; he was the man among all men she desired. Rosalys allowed things to take their course.
Soon the dressing began; and she sat through it quite calmly. When Lord Parkhurst rode across for a short visit that day he only noticed that she seemed strung-up, nervous, and that the flush of love which mantled her cheek died away to pale rather quickly.
On the way to church the road skirted the low-lying ground where the river was, and about a dozen men were seen in the bright green Meadow, standing beside the deep central stream, and looking intently at a broken rail.
"Who are those men?" said the bride.
"O—they are the coroner's jury, I think," said Miss Jennings; "come to view the place where that unfortunate Mr Durrant lost his life last night. It was curious that, by the merest accident, he should have been at Mrs Lacy's dinner,—since they hardly know him at all."
"It was—I saw him there," said Rosalys.
They had reached the church. Ten minutes later she was kneeling against the altar-railings, with Lord Parkhurst on her right hand. The wedding was by no means a gay one, and there were few people invited, Rosalys, for one thing, having hardly any relations. The newly united pair got away from the house very soon after the ceremony. When they drove off there was a group of people round the door, and some among the bystanders asked how far they were going that day.
To-morrow came, and those who had gathered together at the wedding went about their usual duties and amusements, Colonel Lacy among the rest. As he and his wife were returning home by the late afternoon train after a short journey up the line, he bought a copy of an evening paper, and glanced at the latest telegrams.
"My good God!" he cried.
"What?" said she, starting towards him.
He tried to read—then handed the paper; and she read for herself—.
"D O V E R.—DEATH OF LORD PARKHURST, R.N.—
"We regret to announce that this distinguished nobleman and heroic naval officer, who arrived with Lady Parkhurst last evening at the Lord Chamberlain Hotel in this town, preparatory to starting on their wedding-tour, entered his dressing-room very early this morning, and shot himself through the head with a revolver. The report was heard shortly after dawn, none of the inmates of the hotel being astir at the time. No reason can be assigned for the rash act.