Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter VII

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Twilight by Julia Frankau
Chapter VII

CHAPTER VII


Of course she let him come. Not only that weekend but many others, until the early spring deepened into the late, the yellow gorse grew more golden, and the birds sang as they mated. It was the same time of year with me now, and I saw Margaret Capel and Gabriel Stanton often together in the house or garden, lying on the stones by the sea, walking toward the hills. My strength was always ebbing and I was glad to be alone, drowsily listening to or dreaming of the lovers, drugging myself with codein, seeing visions. I fancy Benham began to suspect me, counted the little silver pills that held my ease and entertainment. I circumvented her easily. Copied the prescription and sent it to my secretary in London to be made up, replaced each extra one I took. I was not getting better, although I wrote Ella in every letter of returning strength, and told her that I was again at work. My conscience had loosened a little, and I almost believed it to be true. Anyway I had the letters, and knew that when the time came it would be easy to transcribe them. Meanwhile I told myself disingenuously that I hoped to become better acquainted with my hero and heroine. I was wooing their confidence, learning their hearts. Now Gabriel's was clear, but Margaret's less distinct. I saw them sometimes as in a magic-lantern show, when the house was quiet, and I in the darkness of my bedroom. On the circle in the white sheet that hung then against the wall, I saw them walk and talk, he pleading, she coquetting. Whilst the slide was being changed Peter Kennedy acted as spokesman:

"Week-end after week-end Gabriel Stanton came down, and all the hours of the day they passed together. Four months of the waiting time had gone by and her freedom was in sight. Her nerves were taut and fretted. She often had fainting attacks. He never questioned me about her but once. I told him the truth, that she had suffered, was suffering more than any woman can endure, any young and delicate woman. And her love for him grew..."

I did not want to stop the show, the moving figures and changing slides, yet I called out from my swaying bed:

"No, no, she never loved him." And Peter Kennedy turned his eyes upon me, his surprised and questioning eyes.

"Why do you say that? Do you know a better way of loving?"

"Yes, many better ways."

"You have loved, then?"

"Read my books."

"The love-making in your novels? Is that all you know?" A coal fell from the fire; I frowned and said something sharply. He did not go on, and I may have slept a little. When I looked up again there was no more sheet nor Peter. Instead Margaret herself sat in the easy-chair and asked me how I was getting on with her story.

"Not very well. I don't understand why you took pleasure in making Gabriel miserable by your scenes and vapours. That first day now. What did you mean by telling him of your reaction on seeing him, that it might have been because he had cut himself shaving, or because of the shape of his hat; the hang of his coat disappointed you. Either you loved the man or you did not. Why hurt his feelings, deliberately, unnecessarily? Why did you tell him not to come and then telegraph him? Why should I write your story? I don't know the end of it, but already I am out of sympathy with you."

"You were that from the first," she answered unhappily. "Don't think I am ignorant of that. In a way, I suppose you are still jealous of me."

"I! jealous! And of you?"

"Why did you pretend you did not know my books, and send for them to the London Library? You knew them well enough and resented my reputation. The Spectator, the Saturday Review, the Quarterly; you were dismissed in a paragraph where I had a column and a turn."

"At least you never sold as well as I did." "That is where the trouble comes in, as you would say—although you are a little better in that way than you used to be. You wanted to 'serve God and Mammon,' to be applauded in the literary reviews whilst working up sentimental situations with which to draw tears from shopgirls..."

"I am conscious of being unfairly treated by the so-called literary papers," I argued. "I write of human beings, men and women; loving, suffering, living. You wrote of abstractions, making phrases. The sentences of one of your characters could have been put in the mouths of any of the others. Life, it was of life I wrote. Now that I am dying..."

"You are not dying, only drugged. And you are jealous again all the time. Jealous of Gabriel Stanton, who despised your work and could not recall your personality, however often he met you. Jealous of the literary critics who ignored you and praised me. And jealous of Peter, Peter Kennedy, who from the first would have laid down his great awkward body for me to tread upon."

I half woke up, raised myself on my arm, and drank a little water, looked over to where Margaret sat, but she was no longer there. I did not want to go to sleep again, and lay on my back thinking of what had been told me. "Jealous!" Why should I be jealous of Margaret Capel's dead fame, of her dying memory? But perhaps it was true. I had a large public, made a large income, but had no recognition, no real reputation, was never in the "Literary Review of the Year," was not jeered at as other popular writers, but only ignored. Well, I did not overrate my work. I never succeeded in pleasing myself. I began every book with unextinguishable hope, and every one fell short of my expectations. People wrote to me and told me I had made them laugh or cry, helped them through convalescence, cheered their toilsome day.

"I love your 'Flash of the Footlights.'"

To repletion I had had such letters, requests for autographs, praise, and always : "I love your 'Flash of the Footlights.'" Fifty-eight thousand copies had been sold in the six-shilling edition. I wonder what were the figures of Margaret Capel's biggest seller. Under four thousand I knew. Little Billie Black told me, cherubic Billie, the publisher, with his girlish complexion and his bald head, who knew everybody and everything and told us even more.

I was getting drowsy again, figures, confused and confusing, passing over the surface of my mind. Billie Black and Sir George Stanton, Gabriel, then Ella, a dim glance of my long-lost husband, Dennis, a smiling flash in the foreground; my eyes were hot with tears because of this short glad sight of him. Then Peter Kennedy again; awkward in his tweed cutaway morning coat. What did she mean by saying I was jealous of Peter Kennedy? I smiled in my deepening somnolence. Then there was an organ and children dancing, a monkey, a policeman, and the end of a string of absurdities in a long narrow vista. Sleep and unconsciousness at the end.

I observed Dr. Kennedy with more interest the next few times he came to see me. A personable man without self-consciousness, some few years younger than myself, the light in his eyes was strange and fitful, and he talked abruptly. He was not well-read, ignorant of many things familiar to me, yet there was nothing of the village idiot about him such as I have found in many country apothecaries. He looked at me too long and too often, but at these times I knew he was thinking of Margaret Capel, comparing me with her. And I did not resent it, she was at least fourteen years younger than I, and I never had any pretensions to beauty. Dr. Kennedy had good hands, long-fingered, muscular; dark hair interspersed with grey covered his big head.

"What are you thinking about me?" he asked.

"What sort of doctor you are!" I answered with a fair amount of candour. "Here have I been without any one else for three or is it five weeks? You don't write me prescriptions, nor tell me how I shall live, what to eat, drink, or avoid. You call constantly."

"Not as often as I should like," he put in promptly. Then he smiled at me. "You don't mind my coming?"

"Have you found out what is the matter with me?"

"I know what is the matter with you!"

"Do you know I get weaker instead of stronger?"

"I thought you would."

"Tell me the truth. Is there no hope for me?"

"Patients ask so often for the truth. But they never want it."

"I am not like other patients. Haven't I got a dog's chance?" He shook his head.

"How long?"

"Months. Very likely years. No one can tell. You are full of vitality. If you live in the right way..."

"Like this?"

"More or less."

"And nothing more can be done for me?"

"Rest, open air, occupation for the mind." I thought over what he had just told me. I had known or guessed it before, but put into words it seemed different, more definite. "Not a dog's chance."

"You think Margaret Capel and Gabriel Stanton will do me good? They are part of your treatment?" I asked him.

"They and I," he said. I was silent after that, silent for quite a long time. He was sitting beside me and put his shapely hand on mine. I did not withdraw it, my thoughts were fully occupied. "You know I shall do everything I can for you; you are a reincarnation." He spoke with some emotion. "Some day I shall want to ask you something; you will know more about me soon. You are in touch with her."

"Do you really believe it?" I asked him. We were in the upstairs room. Today I had not adventured the stairs.

"May I play?" he asked. It was not the first time he had played to me. I rather think he played well, but I know nothing of music. If he were talking to me through the keys he was talking to a deaf mute. I lay on the sofa and thought how tired I was, may even have slept. I was taking six grains of codein in the twenty-four hours when the prescription said two, and often fell asleep in the daytime without preparation or expectation.

"I will tell you why I would do anything on earth for you," he said, turning round abruptly on the piano stool. "If you want to know." I was wide-awake now and surprised, for I had forgotten of what we had talked before I went off. "It is because you are so brave and uncomplaining."

"It isn't true. Ask Ella. She has had an awful time with me, grumbling and ungrateful."

"Your sister adores you, thinks there is no one like you."

"That is merely her idiosyncrasy."

"Well! there is another reason. You asked for it and you are going to be told. The love of my life was Margaret Capel." He stared at me when he said it. "You remind me of her all the time." I shut my eyes. When I opened them again his back was all I saw and he was again playing softly; talking at the same time. "When I came here, the first time, the first day, and saw you sitting in her chair, at her table, in her attitude, as I said, it was a reincarnation." He got up from the music stool and came over to me. He said, without preliminary or excuse," You are taking opium in some form or other."

"I am taking my medicine."

"I am not blaming you. You've read De Quincey, haven't you? You know his theory?"

"Some of it."

"Never mind; perhaps you've missed it, better if you have. In those days it was often thought that opium cured consumption."

"Then it is consumption?"

"What does it matter what we call it ? Pleurisy, as you have had it, generally means tubercle. But you will hang on a long time. The life of Margaret Capel must be written and by you. She always wanted it written. From what you tell me she still wants it. I poured my life at her feet those few months she was here, but she never gave me a thought, not until the end. Then, then at the last, I held her eyes, her thoughts, her bewildered questioning eyes. Bewildered or grateful? Shall I ever know ? Will you tell me, I wonder, hear it from her, reassure me…" He stopped. "I suppose you think I am mad?"

"I have never thought you quite sane. But," I added consolingly, "that is better than being merely stupid, like most doctors. So you regard me," I could not help my tone being bitter, "as a clairvoyante, expectantly…"

"Does any man ever care for a woman except expectantly, or retrospectively?"

"How should I know?" He sat down by my side.

"No one should know better. Tell me more about yourself, I have only heard from Mrs. Lovegrove."

"She told you, I suppose, that I had a great and growing reputation, had faithful lovers sighing for me, that I was thirty-eight…"

"She told me a great deal more than that."

"I have no doubt. Well! in the first place I am not thirty-eight, but forty-two. My books sell, but the literary papers ignore them. I make enough for myself and Dennis."

"Denis?" His tone was surprised.

"Ella never mentioned Dennis to you?"

"No."

I did not want to talk about Dennis. Since he had left me I never wanted to talk of him. His long absence had meant pain from the first, then agony. Afterwards the agony became physical, and they called it neuritis. Now it has pierced some vital part and I don't even know what they call it. Decline, consumption, tuberculosis? What does it matter? In the two years he had been away my heart had bled to death. That was the truth and the whole truth. No one knew my trouble and I had spoken of it to nobody save once, in early days, to Ella. Ella indignantly had said the boy was selfish to leave me, and so closed my confidence. It is natural our children should wish to leave us, they make their trial flights, like the birds, joyously. My son wanted to see the world, escape from thraldom, try his wings. But I had only this one. And it seemed to me from his letters that he was never out of danger, now with malaria, and in Australia with smallpox. The last time I heard he had been caught in a typhoon. After that my health declined rapidly. But it was not his fault.

"And Dennis?"

"Since you know so much you can hear the rest. I married at eighteen. I forget what my husband was like. I've no recollection of his ever having interested me particularly. Married life itself I abhorred, I abhor. But it gave me Dennis. My husband died when I was two-and-twenty. Ever since Ella has been trying to remarry me. But when one writes, and has a son——" I could talk no more.

"You are tired now."

"I am always tired. Why do you say years? You mean months, surely?"

"You will write one more book."

"Still harping on Margaret?"

"Let me carry you into your room; I have so often carried her."

"Physically at least I am a bigger woman than she was."

"A little heavier, not much."

"Well, give me your arm, help me. I don't need to be carried." I leaned on his arm. "We will talk more about your Margaret another day. I dare-say I shall write her story. Not using all the letters, people are bored with letters. I am myself. And I am not sure about the copyright acts!"

"You will give them back to me when you have done with them?"

"Why not?"

Benham bullied him for having let me sit up so late. My illness was deepening upon me so quietly, so imperceptibly that I had forgotten I once resented her overbearing ways. Now I depended on her for many things. Suzanne had gone, finding the house too triste, and seeing no possibility of further emolument from my neglected wardrobe. Benham did everything for me; yawningly at night, but willingly in the day.

I was desperately homesick for Ella this evening. I wondered what she would say when she knew what Dr. Kennedy had told me. I cried again a little because he said I had not a dog's chance, but was quickly ashamed. Why should I cry? I was so hopelessly tired. The restfulness of Death began to appeal to me. Not to have to get up and go to bed, dress and undress daily, drag myself from room to room. I had not done all my work, but like an idle child I wanted to be excused from doing any more. I was in bed and my mind wandered a little. Why was not Ella here? It seemed cruel she should have left me at such a time. But of course she did not know that I was going to die. Well! I would tell her, then she would come, would stay with me to the end. I forgot Margaret and Gabriel Stanton, two ghosts who walked at night. No extra codein for me any more. I no longer wanted to dream, only to face what was before me with courage. My writing-block was by my side and pencils, one of Ella's last gifts, and I drew them toward me. I had to break to her that if she would be lonely in the world without me, then it was time for her to prepare for loneliness. I wanted to break it to her gently, but for the life of me I could not think, with pencil in my hand and writing-block before me, of any other way than that of the man who, bidden to break gently to a woman that her husband was dead, had called up to the window from the garden: "Good-morning, Widow Brown." So I started my farewell letter to Ella :

"Good-morning, Widow Lovegrove."

I never got any further. The haemorrhage broke out again and I rang for Benham. She came yawning, buttoning up her dressing-gown, pushing back her undressed hair, but when she saw what was happening her whole note changed. This time I was neither alarmed nor confused, even watching her with interest. She rang for more help, got ice, gave rapid instructions about telephoning for a doctor.

"Will you wait for an injection until he comes, or would you like me to give it to you?"

"You."

"Very well, lie quite quiet, I shan't be a minute."

I lay as quietly as circumstances would allow whilst she brewed her witches' broth.

"What dreams may come."

"Hush, do keep quiet."

" Mind you give me enough."

" I shall give you the same dose he does, a quarter of a grain."

" It won't stop it this time."

"Oh, yes! it will."

She gave the injection as well, or better than Dr. Kennedy. I hardly felt the prick, and when she rubbed the place, so cleverly and gently, she almost made a suffragist of me. Women who did things so well deserved the vote.

"Do you want the vote?" I asked her feebly.

"I want you to lie quite still," was her inappropriate answer. I seemed to be wasting words. The room was slowly filling with the scent of flowers. When I shut my eyes I saw growing pots of hyacinth, then lilies, floating in deep glass bowls, afterwards Suzanne came in, and began folding up my clothes, in her fat lethargic way.

"I thought Suzanne went away."

"So she did."

"Who is in the room, then?"

"No one. Only you and I."

"And Dr. Kennedy?"

"No."

"You have sent for him?"

"I thought you wouldn't care for me to give you a morphia injection."

"Why not ? You give it better than he does. I want to see him when he comes."

"You may be asleep."

"No! I shan't. Morphia keeps me awake, comfortably awake. De Quincey used to go to the opera when he was full up with it."

Peter Kennedy came in, and I followed the line of my own thoughts. I was feeling drowsy.

"I don't want you to play for me," I said, a little pettishly perhaps." I should never have gone to the opera."

"All right, I won't." He asked nurse in a low voice, "How much did you give her? "

"A quarter of a grain, the same as before." The bleeding had not left off. Benham straightened me amongst the pillows and fed me with ice.

"I shall give her another quarter," he said abruptly after watching for a few minutes. I smiled gratefully at him. Benham made no comment, but got more hot water. He made the injection carefully enough, but I preferred nurse's manipulation.

"For Margaret?" I asked him.

"Partly," he answered. "You will dream tonight."

"I shall die tonight. I want to die tonight. Give me something to hurry things, be kind. I don't mind dying, but all this!"

"Don't. I can't. Not again. For God's sake don't ask me!" There was more than sympathy in his voice. There was agitation, even tears. "You will get better from this."

"And then worse again, always worse. I want it ended. Give me something."

"Oh! God! I can't bear this. Margaret!"

"Don't call me Margaret. My name is Jane. What is that stuff that criminals take in the dock? Italian poisoners keep it in a ring. I see one now, with pointed beard, melancholy eyes, a great ruby in the ring. Is anything the matter with my eyes? I can't see."

"Shut them. Be perfectly quiet. The Italian poisoner will pass."

"You will give me something?"

"Not this time."

I must have slept. When I woke he was still there. I was very comfortable and pleased to see him. "Why am I not asleep?"

"You are, but you don't know it."

"You won't tell Ella?"

"Not unless you wish it."

"I've written to her. See it goes." I heard afterwards he searched for a letter, but could only find four words "Good-morning, Widow Lovegrove..." which held no meaning for him.

"Don't let me wake again. I want to go."

"Not yet, not yet..."

There followed another week of morphia dreams and complete content. I was roused with difficulty, and reluctantly, to drink milk from a feeding-cup, to have my temperature taken, my hands and face washed, my sheets changed. There was neither morning nor evening, only these disturbances and Ella's eyes and voice in the clouded distance, vague yet comforting.

"You will soon be better, your temperature is going down. Don't speak. Only nod your head. Shall I cable for Dennis?"

I shook it, went on slowly shaking it, I liked the motion, turning from side to side on the pillow, continuing it. Ella, frightened, begged me to leave off, summoned nurse, who took my cheeks gently between her hands. That did not stop it, at least I recollect being angry at the slight compulsion and making up my mind, my poor lost feeble mind that I should do what I liked, that I would never leave off moving my head from side to side.

That night I dreamed of water, great masses of black water, heaving; too deep for sound or foam. Upon them I was borne backwards and forwards until I turned giddy and sick, very cold. The Gates of Silence were beyond, but I was too weak to get there, the bar was between us. I saw the Gates, but could not reach them. The waters were cold and ever rising. Sometimes, submerged, my lips tasted their dank saltness and I knew that my strength was all spent. Soon I should sink deeper. I wished it was over.

Then One came, when I was past help, or hope, drowning in the dark waters, and said:

"Now I will take you with me." We were going rapidly through air currents, soft warm air-currents and amazing space, a swift journey, over plains and mountains. At last to the North, and there I saw snow-mountains and at the foot the cold sea, frozen and blue, heaving slowly. Swimming in that slow frozen sea, I saw a seal, brown and beautiful, swimming calmly, with happy handsome eyes. They met mine. One who was beside me said :

"That is your sister Julia. See how happy she looks, and content..."

Then everything was gone and I woke up in my quiet bedroom, the fire burning low and Ella in the chair by my side.

"Do you want anything?" She leaned over me for the answer.

"I have just seen Julia."

She hushed me, tears were in her reddened eyes. Our sister Julia had been dead two years, to our unextinguishable sorrow.

"Don't cry, she is very happy."

I told her my dream. She said it was a beautiful dream, and I was to try and sleep again.

"Why are you sitting up?" I asked her.

"It is not late," was her evasive reply.

Many nights after that I saw her sitting there, I forgot even to ask her why, I was too far gone, or perhaps only selfish. I did not know for a long time whether it was night or day. I always asked the time when I woke, but forgot or did not hear the answer, drank obediently through the feeding-cup, the feeding-cup was always there; enormously large, unnaturally white, holding little or nothing, unsatisfactory. Once I remember I decided upon remaining awake to tell poor Ella how much better I felt...

I told it to Margaret instead, and she had no interest in the news, none at all.

"I knew you were not going to die yet. Not until you had written my story."

"It seems not to matter," I answered feebly, "to be small and trivial."

"Work whilst ye have the light" she quoted. The words were in the room, in the air.

"It is not light, not very light," I pleaded.

"There has been no biography of me. How would you like it if it had been you? And all the critics said I would live..."

"Must I stay for that?"

"You promised, you know."

"Did I? I had forgotten."

"No, no. You could not forget, not even you. And you will make your readers cry."

"But if I make myself cry too? "

"Write."

And I wrote, sick with exhaustion, without conscious volition or the power to stop. I wonder whether any other writer has ever had this experience. I could not stop writing although my arm swelled to an unnatural size and my side ached. I covered ream after ream of paper. I never stopped nor halted for word or thought. I was wearied, aching from head to foot, shaking and even crying with fatigue and the pain in my swollen arm or side, but never ceasing to write, like a galley slave at his oar. Sometimes in swimming semi-consciousness I thought this was my eternal punishment, that because I had swept so much aside that I might write, and yet had written badly, now I must write for ever and for ever, words and scenes and sentences that would be obliterated, that would not stand. I knew in these semi-conscious moments that I was writing in water and not in ink. But I was driven on, and on, relentlessly.