An end-of-the-century Narrative
(written with Florence Henniker)
I A certain March night of this present "waning age" had settled downupon the woods and the park and the parapets of Ambrose Towers. Theharsh stable-clock struck a quarter-to-ten.Thereupon a girl in light eveningattire and wraps came through the entrance-hall, opened the front door andthe small wrought-iron gate beyond it which led to the terrace, and steppedinto the moonlight.Such a person, such a night, and such a place wereunexceptionable materials for a scene in that poetical drama of two whichthe world has often beheld; which leads up to a contract that causes a slightsinking in the poetry, and a perceptible lack of interest in the play. She moved so quietly that the alert birds resting in the great cedartreenever stirred.Gliding across its funereal shadow over a smooth plush ofturf, as far as to the Grand Walk whose pebbles shone like the floor-stonesof the Apocalyptic City, she paused and looked back at the old brickwalls-red in the daytime, sable now-at the shrouded mullions, the silhouetteof 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 twohorses in their stalls surprised her by its distinctness and isolation.Theservants' offices were on the other side of the house, and the lady who, withthe exception of the girl on the terrace, was its only occupant, was restingon a sofa behind one of the curtained windows.So Rosalys went on her wayunseen, trod the margin of the lake, and plunged into the distantshrubberies. The clock had reached ten.As the last strokes of the hour rang out ayoung man scrambled down the sunk-fence bordering the pleasure-ground,leapt the iron railing within, and joined the girl who stood awaiting him.Inthe half-light he could not see how her full under-lip trembled, or the fire ofjoy that kindled in her eyes.But perhaps he guessed, from daylightexperiences, since he passed his arm round her shoulders with assurance,and kissed her ready mouth many times.Her head still resting against hisarm they walked towards a bench, the rough outlines of which were touchedat 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?Ithought you said your mother supposed you to be working at your Harmony,and would never imagine our meeting here?" The voice sounded just a triflehard for a lover's."No, she would not.And I still detest deceiving her.I would do it forno one but you, Jim.But what I meant was this: I feel that it can all lead tonothing.Mother is not a bit more worldly than most people, but shenaturally does not want her only child to marry a man who has nothing butthe pay of an officer in the Line to live upon.At her death (you know shehas only a life-interest here), I should have to go away unless my uncle, whosucceeds, chose to take me to stay with him. I have no fortune of my ownbeyond 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 wouldnít 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 spotby your ancestor when he came." "Dear, dear Jim, don't say those horrid things! As if I had ever eventhought 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 directproduct of a line of Paladins or hereditary Crusaders.He was tall, straight oflimb, with an aquiline nose, and a mouth fitfully scornful. Rosalys sat almostmotionless, watching him. There was no mistaking the ardour of herfeelings; her power over him seemed to be lessened by his consciousness ofhis influence upon the lower and weaker side of her nature. It gratified himas a man to feel it; and though she was beautiful enough to satisfy thesenses of the critical, there was perhaps something of contempt inwovenwith 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 Ican't come out here again! Mother will be downstairs to-morrow, and thenshe might take it into her head to look at any time into the schoolroom andsee how the Harmony gets on." "And you are going off to London soon?" said Jim, still speakinggloomily. "I am afraid so.But couldn't you come there too?I know your leaveis 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 roundhim. "I can't go away unless you will come to London when we do, Jim!""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 leanton the rustic bench with one hand, a trembling being apparent in hergarments. "You really-mean it, Jim darling?" He swore that he did; that life was quite unendurable to him as hethen experienced it.When she was once his wife nothing could comebetween them; but of course the marriage need not be known for atime-indeed must not.He could not take her abroad.The climate ofBurmah would be too trying for her; and, besides, they really would nothave enough to live upon. "Couldn't we get on as other people do?" said Rosalys, trying not tocry at these arguments."I am so tired of concealment, and I don't like tomarry privately!It seems to me, much as I love being with you, that thereis a sort of-well-vulgarity in our clandestine meetings, as we now enjoythem.Therefore how should I ever have strength enough to hide the fact ofmy being your wife, to face my mother day after day with the shadow of thissecret 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, hermouth quivering."Though I can be very dogged and obstinate too, Jim!Doyou know that all my governesses have said I was the most stubborn childthey ever came across?But then, in that case, my temper must be reallyaroused.You have never seen me as I am when angry.Perhaps, Jim, youwould 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!" declaredthe young man."How lovely you look, little Rosalys, with that onemoonbeam making your forehead like pure white marble. But time ispassing.You must go back, my darling, I'm afraid. And you won't fail me inLondon? I shall make all the plans. Good-bye-good-bye!" One clinging, intermittent kiss; and then from the shadow in which hestood Jim watched her light figure past the lake, and hurrying along in theshelter of the yew hedges towards the great house, asleep under thereaching deeps of sky, and the vacant gaze of the round white moon.
When clouds are iron-grey above the prim drab houses, and a hardeast 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 andromantic dwelling-spot than Eaton Place can hardly be experienced. But the Prince's daughter of the Canticles, emerging from her palace tosee the vine flourish and the pomegranates bud forth with her Beloved,could not have looked more unconscious of grime than Rosalys Ambrose asshe came down the steps of one of the tall houses in the aforesaid highlyrespectable place of residences. Her cheeks were hotly pink, her eyesshining, her lips parted. Having once made up her mind, "Qualms ofprudence, pride and pelf" had died within her passionate little heart.Afterto-day she would belong absolutely to Jim, be his alone, through all theeternities, as it seemed; and of what account was anything else in theworld?The entirely physical character of his affection for her, and perhapsof hers for him, was an unconjectured element herein which might notrender less transitory the most transitory of sweet things.Thus hopefullyshe stepped out of the commonplace home that would, in one sense, be hersno more. The raw wind whistled up the street, and deepened the colour in herface.She was plainly dressed in grey, and wore a rather thick veil, naturalto 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 totake her to the corner of the Embankment.In the midst of her pre-occupation she noticed as the cab turned thecorner out of Eaton Place that the bony chestnut-horse went lame.Rosalyswas superstitious as well as tender-hearted, and she deemed that somestroke of ill-luck might befall her if she drove to be married behind asuffering animal.She alighted and paid off the man, and in her excitementgave him three times his fare.Hurrying forward on foot she heard her namecalled, and received a cordial greeting from a tall man with grey whiskers, inwhom she recognized Mr Durrant, Jimís father.It occurred to her for asecond that he might have discovered the plot and have lain in wait toprevent it.However, he spoke in his usual half-respectful, half-friendlytones, not noticing her frightened face.Mr Durrant was a busy man. Besides holding several very important land-agencies in the county whereRosalys lived, he had business in the city to transact at times.He explainedto Miss Ambrose that some urgent affairs he was supervising for a client ofhis, Lord Parkhurst, had now brought him up to London for a few weeks. "Lord Parkhurst is away?" she asked, to say something. "I hear of himsometimes through his uncle Colonel Lacy." "Yes. A thorough sailor. Mostly afloat," Mr Durrant replied."Well-we'rerather out of the way in Porchester Terrace; otherwise, my wife would be sopleased if you would come to tea. Miss Ambrose?My son Jim, lazy youngbeggar, is up here now, too-going to plays and parties. Well, well, it's naturalhe should like to amuse himself before he leaves for Burmah, poor boy. Areyou looking for a hansom?Yes? Hi!" And he waved his stick. "Thank you so much" said Miss Ambrose. "And I will tell to Mammawhere 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 rapidlyaway. Rosalys felt her heart stand still when she drew up at the place ofmeeting. She saw Jim, very blooming and very well-dressed, awaiting her,outwardly calm, at any rate. He jumped into her vehicle and they drove oncity-wards. "You are only ten minutes late, dearest," he said. "Do you know, I washalf 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 keepengagements with me so honestly as you do. Good, brave, little Rosalys!" They moved on through the press of struggling omnibuses, giganticvans, covered carts, and foot-passengers who darted at imminent risk oftheir lives amid the medley of wheels, horses, and shouting drivers.Thenoise jarred Rosalys' head, and she began to be feverishly anxious. The church stood in the neighbourhood of a great meat-market, andthe pavement was crowded by men in blue linen blouses, their clothessprinkled 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'thave hearts like other men.... What a gloomy part of London this is to bemarried in, Jim!" "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 cursorythoughts of the part that he had played in this little excursion of a palpitatingpair into the unknown. "Jimmy darling; oughtn't you, or one of us, to have lived here forfifteen days?" she said as they entered the fine old Norman porch, to whichshe was quite blind in her pre-occupation. Durrant laughed."I have declared that I did," he answered coolly."Ihope, 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.Thegravity of the step she was about to take had begun to frighten her. They had some time to wait before the clergyman condescended tocome out of the vestry and perform the ceremony which was to unite her toJim.Two or three other couples were also in the church on the sameerrand: a haggard woman in a tawdry white bonnet, hanging on to the armof a short crimson-faced man, who had evidently been replenishing his insidewith gin to nerve himself to the required pitch for the ordeal: a girl with acoarse, hard face, accompanied by a slender youth in shabby black: a tallman, of refined aspect, in very poor clothes, whose hollow cough shook histhin shoulders and chest, and told his bride that her happiness, such as itwas, would probably last but the briefest space. Rosalys glanced absently at the beautiful building, with its Normanapse and transverse arches of horse-shoe form, and the massive curves andcushion-capitals that supported the tower-end; the whole impression left bythe church being one of singular harmony, loveliness, and above all,repose-which struck even her by its great contrast with her experiences justthen.As the clergyman emerged from the vestry a shaft of sunlight smotethe altar, touched the quaint tomb where the founder of the building lay inhis dreamless sleep, and quivered on the darned clothes of the consumptivebridegroom. Jim and Rosalys moved forward, and then the light shone for amoment, too, upon his yellow hair and handsome face.To the woman wholoved him it seemed that "From the crown of his head even to the sole of hisfoot 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 acutetooth-ache that his gaze was severe, and his reading spiritless.The four couples having duly contracted their inviolable unities, andslowly gone their ways through the porch, Jim and Rosalys adjourned to afashionable hotel on the Embankment, where in a room all to themselvesthey 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 orthree hours later on in the afternoon. "You must arrange all that, Jim. Somehow I feel so dreadfully sad andsinful 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 verylow, with a lump in her throat:"O my dear darling! I care for nothing in the whole wide world, nowthat I belong to you!"
The London weeks went by with all their commonplaces, all theirnovelties.Mr Durrant, senior, had finished his urgent business, and returnedto his square and uninteresting country-house.But Jim lingered on in town,although conscious of some subtle change in himself and his view of things. He and Rosalys met whenever it was possible, which was pretty frequently. Often they contrived to do so at hastily arranged luncheons and teas in theprivate rooms of hotels; sometimes, when Mrs Ambrose was suddenly calledaway, at Jim's own rooms.Sometimes they adventured to queer suburbanrestaurants. In the lapse of these weeks the twain began somehow to lose a little oftheir zest for each other's society.Jim himself was aware of it before he hadyet discovered that something of the same disappointment was dulling herheart too.On his own side it was the usual lowering of the fire-theslackening 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 ofbut little higher quality than his for her.She had thoroughly abandonedherself to his good looks, his recklessness, his eagerness; and, now that thesensuous part of her character was satisfied, her fervour also began to burnitself down.But beyond, above, this, the concealment of her marriage wasrepugnant to Rosalys. When the rapture of the early meetings had died awayshe began to loathe the sordid deceit which these involved: the secretlydespatched letters, the unavoidably brazen lies to her mother, who, if sheattached overmuch importance to money and birth, yet loved her daughterin all good faith and simplicity. Then once or twice Jim was late at theirinterviews. He seemed indifferent and preoccupied. His manner stungRosalys into impatient utterance at the end of a particular meeting in whichthis mood was unduly prominent. "You forget all I have given up for you!" she cried. "You make a fool ofme in allowing me to wait here for you. It is humiliating and vulgar! I hatemyself 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 hertears. But she took refuge in sullenness. "Unfortunately we can't undo our folly!" she murmured. "You will haveto make the best of it as well as I. I suppose the awakening to a sense ofour idiocy was bound to come sooner or later. But-I didn't think it wouldcome so soon! Jim, look at me! Are you really angry?Don't for God's sakego and leave me like this!" He was walking slowly towards the great iron gate leading out ofKensington Gardens; a dogged cast on his now familiar countenance. "Don't make a scene in public, for Heaven's sake, Rosalys!"Feelingthat he had spoken too brutally he suddenly paused, and changed: "I am sorry, little woman, if I was cross!But things have combined toharass 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 firmlycurved chin, at the lashes on either lid, and the glossy brown hair twisted incoils under her hat.But the sight of this loveliness, now all his own, failed toarouse the old emotions.He simply contemplatedher approvingly from anartistic 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 beFriday?""I am afraid I must go out of London on Thursday for a day or two.I'llwrite, dear. Let me call a hansom."She thanked him in a cold voice again, and with a last handshake anda smile that hovered on sorrow, left him and drove away towards Belgravia. Once or twice later on they met; the next interview being shorter andsadder 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 ofreproach, Rosalys. I don't know what has come over you." "It is you who have changed!" she cried, with a little stamp. "And youare by far the most to blame of us two. You forget that I should never havecontemplated 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 todisguise your weariness of me!" It was Jim's turn to lose his temper now. "You forget that you gave meconsiderable encouragement! Most girls would not have come out again andagain to surreptitious meetings with a man who was in love with them,-girlsbrought up as you have been!"She started as in a spasm. A momentary remorse seized him. Herealized that he had been betrayed into speaking as no man of kindlygood-feeling could speak.He made a tardy, scarcely gracious apology, andthey parted.A few days afterwards he wrote a letter full of penitence forhaving hurt her, and she answered almost affectionately.But each knewthat their short-lived romance was dead as the wind-flowers that hadblossomed at its untimely birth.
In August this pair of disappointed people met once more amid theirold surroundings. Perhaps their enforced absence from one another gave atfirst some zest to their reunion. Jim was at times tender, and like his formerself; Rosalys, if sad and subdued, less sullen and reproachful than she hadbeen in London. 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 wifewent for long strolls sometimes in the remoter nooks of the park, throughwinding walks in the distant shrubberies, and down paths hidden by highyew-hedges from intruding eyes that might look with suspicion on theirbeing together.On one especially beautiful August day they paced side by side, talkingat moments with something of their old tenderness. The sky above thedark-green barriers on either hand was a bottomless deep of blue. Theyew-boughs were covered in curious profusion by the handiwork of energeticspiders, who had woven their glistening webs in every variety of barbaricpattern. In shape some resembled hammocks, others ornamental purses,others deep bags, in the middle of which a large yellow insect remainedmotionless and watchful. "Shall we sit for a little while in the summer-house?" said Rosalys atlast, in flat accents, for a tete-a-tete with Jim had long ceased to give herany really strong beats of pleasure."I want to talk to you further aboutplans; how often we had better write, and so on." They sat down, in an arbour made of rustic logs, which overlooked themere.The wood-work had been left rough within, and dusty spider-webshung 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 whitefur.
"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 glitteringmargin of water was hardly perceptible between their interlacing twigs, andno visible hint of a human habitation was given, though the rustic shelterhad been originally built with the view of affording a picturesque glimpse ofthe handsome old brick house wherein the Ambroses had lived for somethree 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 forme. Besides, he is beginning to suspect that you and I are rather toointimate.And your mother knows, somehow or other that I have been uphere several times of late.We must be careful." "I suppose so," she answered absently, looking out under the log roofat a chaffinch swinging himself backwards and forwards on a larch bough.Asort of dreary indifference to her surroundings; a sense of being caged andtrapped had begun to take possession of Rosalys.The present was full ofperplexity, the future objectless.Now and then, when she looked at Jimíslithe figure, and healthy, virile face, she felt that perhaps she might havebeen able to love him still if only he had cared for her with a remnant of hisformer passionate devotion.But his indifference was even more palpablethan 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 thequick.She rose in anger, answered him with cold sarcasm, and hastenedaway down the little wood. He followed, a rather ominous light shining in hiseyes. "Your temper is really growing insufferable, Rosalys!" he cried, andclenched his hand roughly on her arm to detain her."How dare you!" said the girl. "For God's sake leave me, and don'tcome back again! I rejoice to think that in a few days it will not be in yourpower to insult me any more!" "Damn it-I am going to leave you, am I not! I only want to keep youhere for a moment to come to some understanding! ... Indeed you'll besurprised to find how very much I am going to leave you, when you hearwhat I mean! My ideas have grown considerably emancipated of late, andtherefore I tell you that there is no reason on earth why any soul shouldever know of that miserable mistake we made in the spring."She winced a little; it was an unexpected move; and her eyes lingereduneasily on a copper-coloured butterfly playing a game of hide-and-seekwith a little blue companion. "Who," he continued, "is ever going to search the register of that oldEast-London church? We must philosophically look on the marriage as anawkward fact in our lives, which won't prevent our loving elsewhere whenwe feel inclined. In my opinion this early error will carry one advantage withit-that we shall be unable to extinguish any love we may each feel foranother person by a sordid matrimonial knot-unless, indeed, after sevenyears of obliviousness to one another's existence." "I'll-try to-emancipate myself likewise," she said slowly. "It will be wellto forget this tragedy of our lives!And the most tragic part of it is-that weare 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-" "And yours!" She hastened on down the grass walk into the broad gravelled pathleading to the house.At the corner stood Mrs Ambrose, who was better, andhad come out for a stroll-assuming as an invalid the privilege of wearing asingular scarlet gown and a hat in which a number of black quills stoodstartlingly erect. "Ah-Rosy!" she cried."Oh, and Mr Durrant?What a colour you havegot, 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 thanever.But when he gets abroad he won't be as he is now.A few years ofIndia will change all that." And to carry on the idea of her unconcern sheturned to whistle to a bold robin that had flitted down from a larch tree,perched on the yew hedge, and looked inquiringly at her, answering herwhistle with his pathetic little pipe.
Durrant had come up behind."Yes," he said cynically."One neverknows how an enervating country may soften one's brains." He bade them a cool good-bye and left.She watched his retreatingfigure, the figure of the active, the strong, the handsome animal, who hadscarcely 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 fewmoments.Why had they been allowed-he and she-to love one another withthat eager, almost unholy, passion, and then to part with less interest ineach other than ordinary friends?She felt ashamed of having ceded herselfto him. If her mother had not been beside her she would have screamed outaloud 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 poutyour lip like that, Rosalys, I always know that you are in a bad frame ofmind.... 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!Whydo they put such simpletons into the churches!""Well-he says that people are chattering about you and that youngDurrant. And I must tell you that-that, from a marrying point of view, he isimpossible. 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 latelyas 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."
VSeven years and some months had passed since Rosalys spoke asabove-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 heras 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 hadtaken no steps to ascertain anything about him, though she had been awarefor years that he was no longer in the Army-list. Dead or alive he wascompletely cut off from the county in which he and she had lived, for hisfather had died a long time before this, his house and properties had beensold, 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 thesurprising literalness of her sex when they act upon advice at all. Mrs Ambrose, who had distinguished herself no whit during her fiftyyears of life saving by the fact of having brought a singularly beautiful girlinto the world, had passed quietly out of it.Rosalys' uncle had succeededhis sister-in-law in the possession of the old house with its red tower, andthe broad paths and garden-lands; he had been followed by anunsatisfactory son of his, last in the entail, and thus unexpectedly RosalysAmbrose found herself sole mistress of the spot of her birth. People marvelled somewhat that she continued to call herself MissAmbrose.Though a woman now getting on for thirty she was distinctlyattractive both in face and in figure, and could confront the sunlight as wellas the moonbeams still.In the manner of women who are yet sure of theircharms she was fond of representing herself as much older than she reallywas.Perhaps she would have been disappointed if her friends had notlaughed and contradicted her, and told her that she was still lovely andlooked like a girl.Lord Parkhurst, anyhow, was firmly of that contradictoryopinion; and perhaps she cared more for his views than for anyone else's atthe present time. That distinguished sailor had been but one of many suitors; but hestirred her heart as none of the others could do.It was not merely that bewas brave, and pleasing, and had returned from a late campaign in Egyptwith a hero's reputation; but that his chivalrous feelings towards women,originating perhaps in the fact that he knew very little about them, weresufficient to gratify the most exacting of the sex. His rigid notions of duty and honour, both towards them and fromthem, made the blood of Rosalys run cold when she thought of a certain littleepisode of her past life, notwithstanding that, or perhaps because, she lovedhim dearly. "He is not the least bit of a flirt, like most sailors," said Miss Ambroseto her cousin and companion, Miss Jennings, on a particular afternoon in thiseighth year of Jim Durrant's obliteration from her life. It was an afternoonwith an immense event immediately ahead of it; no less an event thanRosalys' marriage with Lord Parkhurst, which was to take place on the verynext day. The local newspaper had duly announced the coming wedding inproper terms as "the approaching nuptials of the beautiful and wealthy MissAmbrose of Ambrose Towers with a distinguished naval officer, the LordParkhurst." There followed an ornamental account of the future bridegroom'sheroic conduct during the late war. "The handsome face and figure of LordParkhurst," wound up the honest paragraphist, "are not altogether unknownto us in this vicinity, as he has recently been visiting his uncle, Colonel Lacy,High Sheriff of the County. We wish all prosperity to the happy couple, whohave doubtless a brilliant and cloudless future before them."This was the way in which her acceptance of Durrant's views hadworked themselves out. He had said; "After seven years of mutual oblivionwe can marry again if we choose." And she had chosen. Rosalys almost wished that Lord Parkhurst had been a flirt, or at leasthad won experience as the victim of one, or many, of those preciouscreatures, and had not so implicitly trusted her. It would have broughtthings more nearly to a level. "A flirt! I should think not," said Jane Jennings. "In fact, Rosalys, he isalmost alarmingly strict in his ideas. It is a mistake to believe that so manywomen are angels, as he does.He is too simple.He is bound to bedisappointed some day." Miss Ambrose sighed nervously."Yes," she said."I don't mean by you to-morrow!God forbid!" "No." Miss Ambrose sighed again, and a silence followed, during which, whilerecalling unutterable things of the past, Rosalys gazed absently out of thewindow at the lake, that some men were dredging, the mud left bare bydraining down the water being imprinted with hundreds of little footmarks ofplovers feeding there.Eight or nine herons stood further away, one or twocomposedly fishing, their grey figures reflected with unblurred clearness inthe mirror of the pool.Some little water-hens waddled with a fussy gaitacross the sodden ground in front of them, and a procession of wild geesecame through the sky, and passed on till they faded away into a row of blackdots. 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 uptheir flail-like legs, and flapped themselves away.Something had disturbedthem; 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, leaningback on the cushions.And do see if my gown is all right at the back-it neverdid fit well." The butler flung open the folding-doors and announced in the voice ofa man who felt that it was quite time for this nonsense of calling to be put anend to by the more compact arrangement of the morrow: "Lord Parkhurst!" 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 tookthe little hand of his hostess in his own with the air of one verging onproprietorship of the same, and said: "Now, darling; about what we have tosettle before the morning! I have come entirely on business, as youperceive!" Rosalys tenderly smiled up at him. Miss Jennings left the room, andRosalys' sailor silently kissed and admired his betrothed, till he continued: "Ah-my beautiful one! I have nothing to give you in return for theimmeasurable gift you are about to bestow on me-excepting such love as noman ever felt before! I almost wish you were not quite so good and perfectand innocent as you are! And I wish you were a poorer woman-as poor asI-and had no lovely home such as this.To think you have kept yourself fromall other men for such an unworthy fellow as me!" Rosalys looked away from him along the green vistas of chestnut andbeeches stretching far down outside the windows. "Oswald-I know how much you care for me: and that is why I-hopeyou won't be disappointed-after you have taken me to-morrow for good andall! I wonder if I shall hinder and hamper you in your profession. Perhapsyou ought to marry a girl much younger than yourself-your nature is soyoung-not a maturing woman like me." For all answer he smiled at her with the confiding, fearless gaze thatshe loved. Lord Parkhurst stayed on through a paradisical hour till Miss Jenningscame to tell them that tea was in the library. Presently they were remindedby the same faithful relative and dependent that on that evening of allevenings they had promised to drive across to the house of Colonel Lacy,Lord Parkhurst's uncle, and one of Rosalys, near neighbours, and dine therequietly with two or three intimate friends.
When Rosalys entered Colonel Lacy's drawing-room before dinner, theeyes of the few guests assembled there were naturally enough fixed uponher. "By Jove, she's better looking than ever-though she's not more than ayear or two under thirty!" whispered young Lacy to a man standing in theshadow 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 towardshim. "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 MissAmbrose.Isn't she lovely? O, how stupid I am!Of course you grew up inthis neighbourhood, and must have known all about her as a girl." Jim Durrant it was, in the flesh; once the soldier, now the "travellerand explorer" of the little known interiors of Asiatic countries; to use thewords in which he described himself.His foreign-looking and sun-dried facewas rather pale and set as he walked last into the dining-room with youngLacy.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, andasked to dinner off-hand. Smiling, and apparently unconscious, he sat down on the left side ofhis hostess, talking calmly to her and across the table to the one or two heknew. Rosalys heard his voice as the phantom of a dead sound mingling withthe usual trivial words and light laughter of the rest, Lord Parkhurst'sconversation about Egyptian finance, and Mrs Lacy's platitudes about theHome-Rule question, as if she were living through a curiously incoherentdream. Suddenly during the progress of the dinner Mrs Lacy looked acrosswith a glance of solicitude towards the other end of the table, and said in alow voice:"I am afraid Miss Ambrose is rather overstrained-as she may naturallybe? She looks so white and tired. Do you think, Parkhurst, that she finds thisroom too hot? I will have the window opened at the top." "She does look pale," Lord Parkhurst murmured, and as he spokeglanced anxiously and tenderly towards his betrothed. "I think too, she has alittle over-taxed herself-she don't usually get so white as this. " Rosalys felt his eyes upon her, looked across at him, and smiledstrangely.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 andthe largest cushions the house afforded. It seemed to Rosalys as if hourshad elapsed before the men joined the ladies and there came that generalmoving of places like the shuffling of a pack of cards.She heard Jimís voicespeaking 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 Ambrose Towerswhile the stable-clock is striking twelve to-night. Be there to meet me. I'llnot detain you long. We must have an understanding." "For God's sake how do you come here?" "I saw in the newspapers that you were going to marry. What could Ido 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 willbe such an agonising disturbance that-" "Of course I shan't. Be there." This was all they could say. Lord Parkhurst came forward, andobserving to Durrant, "They are wanting you for bezique," sat down besideRosalys. She had intended to go home early: and went even earlier than shehad planned. At half-past ten she found herself in her own hall, not knowinghow she had got there, or when she had bidden adieu to Lord Parkhurst, orwhat 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 anadventurous life since they had parted, and had come back to see if shewere 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 toLord Parkhurst.To write that was an imperative duty before she slept.Itneed not be said that awful indeed to her was its object, the letting LordParkhurst know that she had a husband, and had seen him that day. But shecould not shape a single line, and the visioned aspect that she would wear inhis eyes as soon as he discovered this truth of her history, was so terrible toher that she burst into hysterical sobbing over the paper as she sat. The clock crept on to twelve before Rosalys had written a word.Thelabour seemed Herculean-insuperable. Why had she not told him face toface? Twelve o'clock it was; and nothing done; and controlling herself aswomen can, when they must, she went down to the door. Softly opening it alittle way she saw against the iron gate immediately without it the form ofher husband, Jim Durrant-upon the whole much the same form that she hadknown 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 andtouched 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 commitbigamy! 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 callto-morrow morning?" "O no, no- let me do it!" she implored. "I love him so well, and it willbreak his poor heart if it is not done gently! O God-if I could only dieto-night, while he still believes in me! You don't know what affection I havefelt for him!" she continued miserably, not caring what Jim thought."He hasbeen my whole world!And he-he believes me to be so good!He has all theold-fashioned ideas of marriage that people of your fast sets smile at!Heknows nothing of any kind of former acquaintance between you and me.Iought not to have done it-kept him in the dark!I tried not to.But I was sofearfully lonely!And now I've lost him! ... If I could only have got at thatregister in that City church, how I would have torn out the leaf." she addedvehemently. "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 youwere coming back any more; and you yourself suggested that I might beable to re-marry!" "You'd better do it-I shan't tell.And if anybody else did, thepunishment is not heavy nowadays.The judges are beginning todiscountenance informers on previous marriages, if the new-assorted partiesthemselves are satisfied to forget them." "Don't insult me so.You've not forgotten how to do that in all theseyears!" There was a silence, in which she regarded with passive gloom thefamiliar scene before her.The inquisitive jays, the pensive wooddoves, thatlodged at their ease thereabout, as if knowing that their proprietor was agunless woman, all slept calmly; and not a creature was conscious of thepresence of these two but a little squirrel they had disturbed in a beech nearthe shady wall.Durrant remained gazing at her; then he spoke, in achanged and richer voice: "Rosalys!" She looked vaguely at his face without answering. "How pretty you look in this star-light-much as you did when we usedto meet out here nine or ten years ago!" "Ah! But-" The sentence was broken by his abrupt movement forward. He seizedher firmly in his arms, and kissed her repeatedly before she was aware. "Don't-don'tl" she said, struggling. "Why?" "I don't like you-I don't like you!" "What rot! Yes, you do! Come-damn you, dear-put up your face as youused to! Now, I'm not going off in a huff-I'm determined I won't; nor shallyou either! ... Let me sit down in your hall, or somewhere, Rosalys! I'vecome 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! Theservants 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 thesquirrel saw nothing more.
It was three-hours-and-half later when they re-appeared.The lawnwas as silent as when they had left it, though the sleep of things hadweakened to a certain precarious slightness; and round the corner of thehouse a low line of light showed the dawn."Now, good-bye, dear," said her husband, lightly."You'll let him knowat once?" "Of course." "And send to me directly after?" "Yes." "And now for my walk across the fields to the hotel. These boots arethin, but I know the old way well enough. By Jove, I wonder what Melanie-" "Who?" "O-what Melanie will think, I was going to say. It slipped out-I didn'tmean to hurt your feelings at all." "Melanie-who is she?" "Well-she's a French lady. You know, of course, Rosalys, that I thoughtyou were perhaps dead-and-so this lady passes as Mrs Durrant. " Rosalys started. "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 gotback, 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 London. O, it will be all right-I shall see hersafely back to Paris, and make a little provision for her.Nobody in Englandknows anything of her existence." "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 agonizedface. "Now why should you take on like this! There's nothing in it.People dothese things. Living in a prim society here you don't know how the worldgoes 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 thesituation, and vented a momentary chuckle. "Well, it is rather funny that Ishould 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 youall my history. There-I'm gone! Au revoir!" He disappeared under the trees. Rosalys, rousing herself, closed thegate and fastened the door, and sat down in one of the hall chairs, her teethshut tight, and her little hands clenched. When she had passed this mood,and returned upstairs, she regarded the state of her room sadly, and bentagain over her writing-table, murmuring "O, how weak, how weak was I!" But in a few minutes she found herself nerved to an unexpected andpassionate vigour of action; and began writing her letter to Lord Parkhurstwith 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 agroom and dispatched by hand as soon as the morning was a little furtheradvanced. With cold feet and a burning head she flung herself upon the bed justas she was, and waited for the day without the power to sleep.When shehad lain nearly two hours, and the morning had crept in, and she could hearfrom the direction of the stables that the men were astir, she rang for hermaid, and taking the letter in her hand stood with it in an attitude ofsuspense 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 lodgeto call for help quite early; and Benton and Peters went as soon as they weredressed.A gentleman drowned-yes-it's Mr James Durrant-the son of old MrDurrant who died some years ago. He came home only yesterday, afterhaving been heard nothing of for years and years.He left Mrs Durrant, whothey say is a French lady, somewhere in London, but they have telegraphedand found her, and she's coming.They say she's quite distracted.The poorgentleman left the Three Lions last night and went out to dinner, saying hewould walk home, as it was a fine night and not very far: and it is supposedhe took the old short cut across the moor where there used to be a pathwhen he was a lad at home, crossing the big river by a plank.There is onlya rail now, and he must have tried to get across upon it, for it was broken intwo, and his body found in the water-weeds just below." "Is he dead?" "O yes.They had a great trouble to get him out.The men have justcome in from carrying him to the hotel.It will be sad for his poor wife whenshe gets there!" "His poor wife-yes." "Travelling all the way from London on such a call!" Rosalys had allowed the hand in which she held the letter to LordParkhurst to drop to her side: she now put it in the pocket of herdressing-gown. "I was wishing to send somewhere," she said. "But I think I will waittill 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 onwith the bride. When Miss Jennings saw her cousin's agitation she said shelooked ill, and insisted upon sending for the doctor. He, who was the localpractitioner, arrived at breakfast time; very proud to attend such animportant lady, who mostly got doctored in London. He said Rosalys certainlywas not quite in her usual state of health; prescribed a tonic, and declaredthat she would be all right in an hour or two. He then informed her that hehad been suddenly called up that morning to the case of which they hadpossibly heard-the drowning of Mr Durrant."And you could do nothing?" asked Rosalys. "O no. He'd been under water too long for any human aid. Dead andstiff... It was not so very far down from here.... Yes, I remember him quiteas a boy. But he has had no relations hereabout for years past-old Durrant'sproperty was sold to pay his debts, if you recollect; and nobody expected tosee the son again. I think he has lived in the East Indies a good deal. Muchbetter for him if he had not come-poor fellowl" When the doctor had left Rosalys went to the window, and remainedfor some time thinking. There was the lake from which the water had floweddown the river that had drowned Jim after visiting her last night-as a mereinterlude in his continuous life of caresses with the Frenchwoman Melanie. She turned, took from her dressing-gown pocket the renunciatory letter toher 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 asthe morning wore on Rosalys felt increasing strength, mental and physical. The doctor's dose had been a powerful one: the image of "Melanie", too, hadmuch 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 bemarried as if it were a mere shopping expedition; most of all, she loved LordParkhurst; he was the man among all men she desired.Rosalys allowedthings to take their course. Soon the dressing began; and she sat through it quite calmly.WhenLord Parkhurst rode across for a short visit that day he only noticed that sheseemed strung-up, nervous, and that the flush of love which mantled hercheek died away to pale rather quickly. On the way to church the road skirted the low-lying ground where theriver was, and about a dozen men were seen in the bright green Meadow,standing beside the deep central stream, and looking intently at a brokenrail. "Who are those men?" said the bride. "O-they are the coroner's jury, I think," said Miss Jennings; "come toview the place where that unfortunate Mr Durrant lost his life last night.Itwas curious that, by the merest accident, he should have been at Mrs Lacy'sdinner,-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 kneelingagainst the altar-railings, with Lord Parkhurst on her right hand. The wedding was by no means a gay one, and there were few peopleinvited, Rosalys, for one thing, having hardly any relations. The newly unitedpair got away from the house very soon after the ceremony. When theydrove off there was a group of people round the door, and some among thebystanders asked how far they were going that day. "To Dover. They cross the Channel to-morrow, I believe."To-morrow came, and those who had gathered together at thewedding went about their usual duties and amusements, Colonel Lacy amongthe rest. As he and his wife were returning home by the late afternoon trainafter a short journey up the line, he bought a copy of an evening paper, andglanced 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 0 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."
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