Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter VI
As I said, I took two codein pills instead of one that night, and in an hour or so was conscious of the comfort and phantasmagoria of morphia. I was no longer in the bedroom of which I had tired, nor in the rough garden without trees or shade. I had escaped from these and in returning health was beside the sea, happily listening to the little waves breaking on the stones, no soul in sight but those two, Margaret Capel and Gabriel Stanton, in earnest talk that came to me as I sat with my back against a rock, the salt wind in my face. How it was they did not see me and moderate their voices I do not know, morphia gives one these little lapses and surprises.
Margaret looked extraordinarily sedate and yet perverse, her thin lips pink and eyes dancing. I saw the incandescent effect of which Peter Kennedy had told me. It was not only her eyes that were alight but the woman herself, the luminous fair skin and the fairness of her hair stirred and brightened by the sun and the sea-wind. She talked vividly, whilst he sat at her feet listening intently, offering her the homage of his softened angularities, his abandoned scholarship, his adoring eyes.
"Why did you come? I told you not to come. Of course I meant to wire in answer to your letter that you were to stay in London. What was the use of my running away?"
I saw that he fingered the hem of her skirt, and watched her all the time she spoke.
"Tomorrow I shall have no expectation in the post. I hate not to care whether my letters come or not. And Monday too. You have spoiled two mornings for me."
"I am not as satisfying as my letters to you." Even his voice was changed, the musical charming Stanton voice. His had deepened and there was the note of an organ in it. She looked at him critically or caressingly.
"Not quite, not yet. I understand your letters better than I do you. And you are never twice alike, not quite alike. We part as friends, intimates. Then we come together again and you are almost a stranger; we have to begin all over again."
"I am sorry." He looked perplexed. "How do I change or vary? I cannot bear to think that you should look upon me as a stranger."
"Only for a few moments."
"When you met me at the station today?"
"I was at the station early, and then was vexed I had come, looking about me to see if there were any one I knew or who knew me. I took refuge at the bookstall, found 'The Immoralists' among the two-shilling soiled." She left off abruptly, and her face clouded.
"Don't!" he whispered.
"How quick you are!" Now their hands met. She smiled and went on talking. "I heard a click and saw that the signals were down. The train rounded the curve and came in slowly. People descended; I was conscious of half a dozen, although I saw but one. No, I didn't see you, only your covert coat and felt hat. I felt a pang of disappointment." Their hands fell apart. I saw he was hurt. She may have seen it too, but made no sign.
"It was not your fault, you had done nothing... you just were not as I expected you. You had cut yourself shaving, for one thing." He put his hand to his chin involuntarily, there was barely a scratch. "As we walked back from the station my heart felt quite dead and cold. I hated the scratch on your cheek, the shape of your hat, everything." He turned pale. "I wondered how I was going to bear two whole days, what I should say to you."
"I know, but it was outside talk, forced, laboured. You remember, 'How warm the weather was in London'; and that the train was not too full for comfort. You had papers in your hand, the Saturday Review, the Spectator. You spoke of an article by Runciman in the first."
"You seemed interested."
"I was thinking how we were going to get through the two days. What I had ever seen in you, why I thought I liked you so much."
He was quite dumb by now, the sunken eyes were full of pain, the straight austere mouth was only a line; he no longer touched the hem of her dress.
"You left me in the garden of the hotel when you went to book a room, to leave your bag. I sat on a seat in the garden and looked at the sea, the blue wonder of the sea, the jagged coast-line, and one rock that stood out, then hills and always more hills, the sky so blue, spring in the air. Gabriel …" she leaned forward, touched him lightly on the shoulder. A deep flush came over his face, but he did not move nor put up his hand to take hers. "You were only gone ten minutes. I could not have borne for you to have been away longer. There were a thousand things I wanted to say to you, that I knew I could say to no one but you. About the spring and my heart hunger, what it meant."
"And when I came out I suppose all you remembered was that I had cut myself shaving?"
She seemed astonished at the bitterness of his tone.
"You are not angry with me, are you?"
"No! Not angry. How could I be?"
"When you came out and I felt rather than saw you were moving toward me across the grass I thought of nothing but that you were coming; that we were going to have tea together, on the ricketty iron table, that I should pour it out for you. That after that we should walk here together, and then you would go home with me, dine together at Carbies, talk and talk and talk. …"
He could not help taking her hand again, because she gave it to him, but his face was set and serious.
"Tell me, is it the same with you as it is with me? Am I a stranger to you sometimes? Different from what you expect? Do I disappoint you, and leave you cold, almost as if you disliked me? Don't answer. I expect, I know it is the same with you. You find me plain, gone off, you wonder what you ever saw in me."
He answered with a quiet yet passionate sincerity:
"When I see you after an interval my heart rushes out to you, my pulses leap. I feel myself growing pale. I am paralysed and devoid of words. Margaret! My very soul breathes Margaret, my wonderful Margaret. I cannot get my breath." Her eyes shone and exulted.
"It is not like that always?" she whispered, leaning towards him.
"It is like that always. But today it was more than that. I had not seen you for a week, a whole long week. Sometimes in that week I had not dared look forward."
"And then you saw me." She was hanging upon his words. He got up abruptly and walked a few paces away from her, to the edge of the sea. She smiled quietly to herself when he left her like that. He was suffering, he could not bear the contrast between what she had thought of him and he of her.
"Gabriel!" she called him back presently, called softly and he came swiftly.
"I had better go back to town by the next train. I disappoint you."
"Silly!" She was amazingly, alluringly smiling into his dour eyes, not satisfied until he smiled too. "It is my sense of style. I am like grammar; all moods and tenses. You want me to tell you everything, don't you?"
"Am I the man for you? that is what I want you to tell me. I don't know what you mean by that sense of strangeness—I cannot bear it."
"Don't you vary? wonder, doubt?"
"I always knew from the first afternoon when you were shown into my room in Greyfriars', your black fur framing your exquisite porcelain face, your eyes like wavering stars, that you were the only woman in the world. Since then the conviction of it grows deeper and deeper, more certain. You are never out of my mind. I know I am not good enough for you, too old and grave. But you have let me hope. Oh! you wonderful child." For still she was smiling at him in that dazzling alluring way. He was at her feet and the hem of her dress again against his lips. "Don't you understand, can't I make you understand? I adore you, I worship you. I want nothing from you except that you let me tell you so sometimes."
"It is so much nicer when you write it," she murmured.
"Don't." She cajoled him.
"I can't take it lightly," he burst out. "Pity me, forgive me, but don't laugh at me."
"I am not laughing."
"I know. You are an angel of sweetness, goodness. Margaret, let me love you!"
· · · · · · · · · ·
I was back again in bed, very drowsy and comfortable, wondering how I had got there, what had happened, what time it was. I took a drink of lemonade and thought what a bad night I was having. I remembered my dream; it had been very vivid, and I was sorry for Gabriel Stanton and tried to remember what had become of him, when I had heard of or seen him last; it must have been a long time ago. Margaret was a minx. If ever I wrote about them it would be to tell the truth, to analyse and expose the spirit and soul of a woman flirt. And again when I lay down I thought of what the critics would say of this fine and intimate study, this human document that I was to give the world. Phrases came to me, vivid lightning touches … I hoped I should be able to remember them, but hardly doubted it, for others came, even better than these, and then in consequence, sleep. …
Benham said in the morning:
"Whatever did you take another pill for? Was anything the matter with you? You could have called me up."
"But you might have argued with me."
"I am sure I don't know what good a nurse is to you at all!"
"You would be invaluable if you would only get it into your head that I am not a mental case. Don't you realise that I am a very clever woman, quite as clever as you?"
"I don't call it clever to retard your own recovery."
"Am I going to recover?" I asked quickly.
"Your beloved Dr. Kennedy says you are."
"By the way, is he coming to-day?"
"It isn't many days he misses."
"He comes to protect me from you, to see I have some few privileges and ameliorations of my condition, that my confinement is not too close, my gaoler too vigilant."
We understood each other better now, and I could chaff her without provoking anything but a difficult smile. I, of course, was a bad patient. I found it difficult to believe that I ought not to try and overcome my weakness and inertia, that it was my duty to leave off fighting and sink into invalidism as if it were a feather bed.
That afternoon she helped me to the writing-table in the drawing-room, and I sat there trying to recapture the conversation I had heard. But although I could remember every word I found it hard to write. I could lie back in the chair and look at the gorse, the distant hills, the sea, the dim wide horizon, but to lean forward, take pen in hand, dip it in the ink, write, was almost beyond that still slowly ebbing strength. I whipped myself with the thought of what weak women had done, and dying men. "My head is bloody but unbowed . . ." Mine was bowed then, quickly over the writing-table; tears of self-pity welled hot, but I would not let them fall. It was not because Death was coming to me. I swear that then nor ever have I feared Death. But I was leaving so much undone. I had a place, and it was to know me no more. And the world was so lovely, the promise of spring in the air. When I lifted my bowed head Peter Kennedy was there, very pitiful as I could see by his eyes, and with a new gift of silence. Silence as to essentials, at least. He did not ask what ailed me, but spoke of a breakdown to the motor, of the wonder of the April weather. I soon regained my self-possession.
"How soon after Margaret Capel came here did you make her acquaintance?" I asked him suddenly, and à propos of nothing either of us had said.
"It must have been a week or two, not more. I knew the house had been taken, but not by whom. And at first the name meant nothing to me. I am not a reading man; at least I don't read novels."
"Don't apologise. I have heard of the Sporting Times, Bell's Life."
"Go on, gibe away, I like it. She was just the same only kinder, much kinder."
"I knew she would be kind, and soft, and womanly. Didn't she say she was lonely?"
"And then say quickly: 'But of course you are quite right. Reading is a waste of time, living everything, and you are doing a fine work, a man's work in the world.' She said she envied you. I can hear her saying it." He looked ecstatic.
"So can I. Ella says the same thing."
"Why are you so bitter?"
I could not tell him it was because I had heard other women, many women, who were all things to all men, and that I despised, or perhaps envied them, lacking their gift and so having lived lonely save for Ella and Ella's love. Until now, when it was too late. And then I looked at him, at Dr. Kennedy, and laughed.
"Why do you laugh? You are so like and so unlike her. She would laugh for nothing, cry for nothing …"
"Tell me all about her from the beginning." It was an excuse to rest on the cushions in the easy-chair, to cease whipping my tired conscience.
"There is little or nothing to tell. It was about a week after she came here we had the first call. Urgent, the message said. So I got on my bicycle and spun away up here. I did not even wait to get out the car."
"What day of the week was it?" I asked, interrupting him.
"What day of the week?" he repeated in surprise.
"Yes, what day?"
"As a matter of fact it was on a Monday. What's the point? I remember because it happens to have been my Infirmary day. I had just come home, dog-tired, but of course when the call came I had to go. I actually thought what a bore it was as I pedalled up. It's nearly all uphill from our house to Carbies. The maid looked frightened when she opened the door."
"Oh, sir, I am so glad you are here. Will you please come into the drawing-room? Mrs. Capel, she fainted right away. Miss Stevens has tried hartshorn an' burnt feathers, everything we could think of."
"Everything that had a smell?"
"Yes, sir. I perceived it as I approached the drawing-room—this room. She was on the sofa," he looked over to it, "very pale and dishevelled, only partly conscious."
"Who was Miss Stevens?"
"Her maid. Quite a character. Something like your nurse, only more so."
"What did you do?"
"I felt her pulse, her heart, thought of strychnine."
"You are not a great doctor, are you?" I scoffed lightly.
"Oh! I know my work all right; it's simple enough. You try this drug or the other …"
"Or none, as in my case."
"And then if the patient does not get better or her relatives get restive, you call in some one else, who makes another shot." There was a twinkle in his eye. I always thought he knew more about medicine than he pretended. "And what did you do for Margaret?" I went on.
"Opened the window, and her dress; waited. The first thing she said was, 'Has he gone?' I did not know to whom she referred, but the maid told me primly: 'Mrs. Capel's publisher has been down for the week-end. He left this morning. She don't know what she's saying.' Margaret opened her eyes, her sweet eyes, dark-irised, the light in them wavered and grew strong. She seemed to recall herself with difficulty and slowly. 'Did I faint? I'm all right now. Is that you, Stevens? What happened?'
"'I came in to bring your afternoon tea and you were in a dead faint, at the writing-table, all in a heap. I rang for cook and we carried you to the sofa, and tried to bring you round. Then cook telephoned for Dr. Lansdowne.'
"'Are you Dr. Lansdowne?'
"'He was out. I'm his partner, Dr. Kennedy. How are you feeling?' I asked her.
"'Better. Stevens, you can go away. Bring me some more tea. Dr. Kennedy will have a cup with me.' She struggled into a sitting position and I helped her. Then she told me she had always been subject to these attacks, ever since she was a child, that she was to have been a pianist, had studied seriously. But the doctors forbade her practising. Now she wrote. She admitted that her own emotional scenes overcame her. Then we talked of the emotions. …"
Dr. Kennedy looked at me as if enquiringly.
"Do you want to hear any more?"
"You saw her often after that?"
"Nearly every day, all the time she was here."
"And talked about the emotions?"
"Sometimes. What are you implying? What are you trying to get at? Whatever it is, you are wrong. I was in her confidence, she liked talking to me. I did her good."
"With drugs or dogma?" I asked.
"With sympathy. She had suffered terribly, more than any woman should be allowed to suffer. And she was ultra-sensitive, her nerves were all exposed, inflamed. You have sometimes that elusive, strange resemblance to her. But she had neither strength nor courage and as for hardness … she did not know the meaning of the word."
"You are wrong. Last night I heard her talk to Gabriel Stanton."
"Did you?" His eyes lightened. "Tell me. But he was not the man for her, never the man for her. Not sufficiently flexible. He took her too seriously."
"Can a man take a woman too seriously?"
"An emotional, nervous, delicate woman. Yes. You've been through all the letters?"
"No. There are a few more."
They were on the table, and I put my hand on them. I was sure that no one but I must see them.
"The first two or three times that Gabriel Stanton came down he stayed at 'The King's Arms.' She was always ill after he left, always. She made a brave effort, poor girl. Day after day I have come in and seen her sitting as you are, paper before her, and ink. I don't think anything ever came of it. She would play too, for hours."
"You stayed away when he was here, I suppose?"
"No! Not always. I was sent for once or twice. She had those heart attacks."
"Heart attacks. He did not know how to treat or calm her."
"Poor Gabriel Stanton!"
"Poor Margaret Capel!" he retorted. "I wouldn't try to write the story if I were you. You misjudge her, I am sure you do. She was delicate-minded."
"Why did she have him down here at all? She knew the risk she ran. Why did she not wait until the decree was made absolute?" For by now, of course, I knew how the trouble came about.
"She was in love with him."
"She did not know the meaning of the word. She was philandering with you at the time." He grew red.
"She was not. I was her doctor."
"And are not doctors men?"
"Not with their patients."
I looked at him thoughtfully and remembered Ella. He answered as if he read my thoughts.
"You are not my patient, you are Lansdowne's." He gave a short uncertain laugh when he had said that. That seemed amusing to me, for I did not care whether he was a man or not, feeling ill and superlatively old and sexless, also that he lacked something, had played this game with Margaret, the game she had taught him, until his withers were all unwrung, until she had bereft him of reason, leaving him empty, as it were hollow, filled up with words, meaningless words that were part of the fine game, of which he had forgotten or never known the rules.
After he left I read her next letter, the one written after Gabriel Stanton had been to Pineland for the first time, and she had told him how she felt about him.
I have been writing to you and tearing up the letters ever since you left. I look back and cannot believe you were here only two days. The two days passed like two hours, but now it seems as if we must have been together for weeks. You told me so much and I . . . I exposed myself to you completely. You know everything about me, it is incredible but nevertheless true that I tried all I knew to show you the real woman on whom you are basing such high hopes. What are you thinking of me now, I wonder. That I am a little mad, not quite human? What is this genius that separates me from the world, from all my kind? My books, my little plays, my piano-playing! There is a little of it in all of them, is there not, my friend, my companion, the first person to whom I have ever spoken so frankly. Is it not true that I have a wider vision, intenser emotions than other women? Love me therefore better, and differently than any man has ever loved a woman. You say that you will, you do, that I am to pour myself out on you. I like that phrase of yours—you need never use it again, you have already used it twice.
"I shall remember while the light is yet,
It went through me, there is nowhere it has not permeated. And see, I obey you. I no longer feel a pariah and an outcast, with all the world pointing at me. The degradation of my marriage is only a nightmare, something, as you say, that never happened. I look out on the garden and the sea beyond, on the jagged coast-line and the green tree-clad hills, all bathed in sunshine, and forget that I have suffered. I am glad to know you so intimately that I can picture each hour what you are doing. You are not happy, and I am almost glad. What could I give you if you were happy? But as it is when you are bored and wearied, with your office work, depressed in your uncongenial home, I can send you my thoughts and they will flow in upon you like fresh water to a stagnant pool. I have at times so great a sense of strength and power. At others, as you know, I am faint and fearful. Nobody but you has ever understood that I am not inconsistent, only a different woman at different times. I know I see things that are hidden from other people, not mystic things, but the great Scheme unfolded, the scheme of the world, why some suffer and some enjoy, what God means by it all. In my visions it is blindingly brilliant and clear, and I understand God as no human being has ever understood Him before. I want to be His messenger, to show the interblending marvel. I know it is for that I am here. Then I write a short story that says nothing at all, or I sit at the piano and try to express, all alone by myself, that for which I cannot find words. Afterwards I go to bed and know I am a fool, and lie awake all night, miserable enough at my futility. I have always lived like this save during those frenzied months when I thought love was the expression for which I had waited, and with my eyes on the stars, blundered into a morass. Notwithstanding we have hardly spoken of it, you know the love I ask from you has nothing in common with the love ordinary men and women have for each other, nothing at all in common. The very thought of physical love makes me sick and ill. That is still a nightmare, nothing more nor less. I want my thoughts held, not my hands. How intimate we must be for me to write you like this, and the weeks we have known each other so few.
You won't read this in the office, you will take it home with you to the bookish and precise flat in Hampstead, and hoard it up until the little round-backed sister with her claim and her querulousness has left you in peace. She is part of that great scheme of things which evades me when I try to write it. Why should you sacrifice your freedom to make a home for her? Poor cripple, with her cramped small brain; your companion to whom you are tied like a sound man to a leper, and with whom you cannot converse and yet must sometimes talk. You cannot read or write very well in the atmosphere she creates for you, but must listen to gossip and answer fittingly, wasting the precious hours. Nevertheless you will find time to answer this letter. I shall not watch for the coming of the post and be disappointed. She does not care for you overmuch I fear, this poor sister of yours, only for herself. I am sorry she is hunchbacked and ailing. But I am sorrier still that she is your sister and burdens you. Life has given you so little. Your dreary orphaned childhood in your uncle's large hospitable family, of which you were always the one apart, you and that same suffering sister; your strenuous schooldays. You say you were happy at Oxford, but for the cramping certainty that there was no choice of a career; only the stool at Stanton's, and so repayment for all your uncle had done for you. My poor Gabriel, it seems to me your boyhood and your manhood have been spent. And now you have only me. Me! with hands without gifts and arid lips, an absorbing egotism, and only my passionate desire for expression. I don't want to live; I want to write, and even for that I am not strong enough! My message is too big for me. Hold me and enfold me, I want to rest in you; you are unlike all other men because you want to give and give and give, asking nothing. And therefore you are my mate, because I am unlike all other women, being a genius. You alone of all men or women I have ever known will not doubt that I have a message, although I may never prove it. You don't want to be proud of me, only to rest me.
Which reminds me—that book on Staffordshire Pottery will never be written. How will you explain it to your partners, and the wasted expense of the illustrations? I shall send you a business letter withdrawing; then I suppose you will say that you had better run down and discuss the matter with me. But, oh! it's so wonderful to know that you, you yourself will know without any explaining that I cannot write about pottery just now. I have written a few verses. I will send them to you when they are polished and the rhythm is perfect. There will be little else left by then!
Write and tell me that one day you will come again to Pineland. One day, but not yet. I could not bear it, not to think of you concretely here with me again, this week or next. I want you as a light in the distance, my eyes are too weak to see you more closely … I won't even erase that, although it will hurt you. Sometimes I feel I am not going to bring you happiness, only drain you of sympathy.
Church Row, Hampstead.
My dear, dear love, you wonderful, wonderful Margaret:—
I wish I could tell you, I wish I could begin to tell you all you mean to me, what our two days together meant to me. You ask me what I am thinking of you. If only I could let you know that, you would know everything. For your sufferings I love you, for your crucified gift and agonies. You say I am to love you better and differently than any man has ever loved woman. My angel child, I do. Can't you feel it? Tell me you do. That is all I want, that you tell me you do know how I worship you, that it means something to you, helps you a little.
What am I to answer to your next sentence? You say you ask of me a love that has nothing in common with the love ordinary men and women have for each other, that physical love makes you sick and ill. Beloved, everything shall be as you wish between us. I would not so much as kiss the hem of your dress if you forbade it by a look, nor your delicate white hands. I love your hands. You let me hold them, you must let me hold them sometimes. Dear generous one, I will never trouble you. I am for you to use as you will, that you use me at all is gift enough. This time will pass this trying dreadful time. Until then, and afterwards if you wish it, I will be only your comrade—your very faithful knight. I love your delicacy and reserve, all you withhold from me. I yearn to be your lover, your husband; all and everything to you. Don't hate and despise me. You say when radiant love came to you, your eyes were on the stars, and you blundered into a morass. But, sweetheart, darling, if I had been your lover—husband, do you think this would have happened? Think, think. I cannot bear that you should confuse any love with mine. I want to hold you in my arms, teach you. I can't write any more, not now. Thank you for your letter, for my sleepless nights, for my dreams, for everything. You are my whole world.
I fear I wrote you a stupid letter last night. I had had a long evening with my sister. She insisted on reading to me from a wonderful book she has just bought. It was on some new craze with the high-sounding name of Christian Science. The book was called "Science and Health." More utter piffle and balderdash I have never heard. There were whole sentences without meaning, and many calling themselves sentences were without verbs. I swallowed yawn after yawn. Then she left off reading and asked my opinion. I suggested the stuff might have emanated from Earlswood. She made me a dreadful scene. It seemed she had already consulted a prophetess of this new religion and had been promised she should be made whole if only she had sufficient faith! Now I was trying to "shake her faith and so retard her cure"; she sobbed. Poor woman! I tried reasoning with her, went over a few passages and asked her to note inconsistency after inconsistency, stupidity after stupidity, blasphemy and irrelevance. She cried more. Then my own unkindness struck me. She too had had a vision, seen the marvellous sun rise. To be made whole! She who had been thirty years a cripple and in pain always. I tried to withdraw all I had said, to find a strange and mystic sense and meaning in the stuff. I think I comforted her a little. I insisted she should go on with her induction, or initiation, or whatever they call it. There are paid healers; the prophets play the game for cash. I gave her money. I could not bear her thanks or to remember I had been unkind, I, with my own overwhelming happiness. If I were able I would make happiness for all the world. When at last I was alone I sat a long time with your letter in my hand, your dear, dear letter. I don't know what I wrote; dare not recall my words. Forgive me, whatever it was. If there was a word in my letter that should not have been there forgive me. Bear with me, dear. You don't know what you are to me, I am bewildered with the mystery.
About the book on Staffordshire Pottery. Don't give it another thought. I can arrange everything here without any trouble. You need not write. But if you do, and suggest, as you say, that I shall come down and discuss the matter with you, why then, then—will you write? I want to come. I promise not to cut myself shaving this time. Although is it not natural my hand should have been unsteady? It shakes now. I must come and discuss the pottery book or anything. Let me. It is much to ask, but I won't be in your way. I've some manuscripts to go through. I'll never leave the hotel. But I want to be in the same place.
For ever and ever,