Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter XI
Sunday morning the church bells were chiming against the blue sky in the clear air. Both invalids were better. The reports Gabriel received whilst he sat over his solitary breakfast were to the effect that Miss Stanton had slept well and was without headache, she sent word also of her intention to go to church if it were possible. Stevens herself told him that Mrs. Capel would be coming down at eleven o'clock or half-past, having had an excellent night. He was not to stay in for her.
"Can you tell me how far off is the nearest church?"
Stevens was fully informed on the matter. There were two almost within equal distance.
"Not more than a quarter of an hour to twenty minutes away. The nearest is the 'ighest.…" Stevens was a typical English maid, secretly devoted to her mistress, well up in her duties but with a perpetual grievance or list of grievances. "Not that I get there myself, not on Sunday mornings, since I've been here."
Gabriel was sympathetic. Contempt, however, was thrown upon his suggestion of the afternoon.
"Children's services and such-like, no thank you!"
As for the evenings Stevens said "they was mostly hymns." He detained her for a few minutes, for was she not Margaret's confidential maid, compensating her, too, for her lack of religious privileges. He told her to tell her mistress he would walk to church with his sister and then return, that he looked forward to seeing her if she were really better. Otherwise she was not to think of rising.
"She'll get up right enough. I'm to have her bath ready at 'alf-past ten."
When Anne came down he walked with her over the commonland, bright with gorse and broom that lay between Carbies and the higher of the two churches, heard how Anne had lain awake and then how she had slept, sure of the intervention of Mrs. Roope. Her headache had completely disappeared.
"You did send that telegram, didn't you?"
Gabriel assured her that the telegram had been duly despatched.
"She must have started on me at once. She is a good creature. I wish you were more sympathetic to it. You've never once been with me to a meeting."
"But I have not put anything in the way of your going."
"Oh, yes! I know how good you are. Which reminds me, Gabriel, about Mrs. Capel. We must talk things over when we get home. You must not do anything in a hurry. I heard about her fainting away last night. It is not only that she is a widow, and terribly delicate, her maid tells me, but she takes no care of herself, none at all.… What a rate you are walking at; I'm sure we have plenty of time, the bells are still going. I can't keep up with you." He slowed down. "As I was saying, I shouldn't like you to be more particular with her until we have talked things over together. Of course as far as her delicacy is concerned, we might persuade her to see Mrs. Roope."
"I have already asked Mrs. Capel if she will do me the honour of becoming my wife," her brother said in a tone she found curious, peculiar, not at all like himself.
"Oh, dear! how tiresome! You really are so impulsive. Of course I like her very much, very much indeed, but there are so many things to be thought of. How long has her husband been dead? You know she is more than half an American, she told me so herself, and such strange things do happen with American husbands."
"Mrs. Capel divorced her husband!" He spoke quickly, abruptly, hurrying her on toward the church, through the gate and up the path where a little stream of people was already before them, people carrying prayer-books, or holding by the hand a stiffly dressed unwilling child; one or two women with elderly husbands.
Anne gave a little subdued scream when Gabriel told her that Mrs. Capel had divorced her husband, a little gasp.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" It was impossible to say more under the circumstances, she could not make a scene here.
"You will be able to find your way back all right?" he asked her. The bells were clashing now almost above their heads, clashing slowly to the finish.
"I'm sure I don't know whether I am standing on my head or my heels."
"You will be all right when you are inside."
"I haven't even got my smelling-salts with me, I promised to leave off carrying them." She was almost crying with agitation.
"You will be all right," he said again. He waited until she had gone through the door, the little bent figure in its new coat and skirt and Victorian hat tied under the chin. Then he was free to return on swift feet to Carbies to await Margaret's coming. He walked so swiftly that although it had taken them twenty minutes to get there he was barely ten in coming back. He hurried faster when he saw there was a figure at the gate.
"It is too fine to be indoors this morning. I am going down to the sea. I yearn for the sea this morning. Go up to the house, will you? Fetch a cushion or so. Then we can be luxurious." He executed his commission quickly, and when he came up to her again had not only a cushion but a rug on his arm. She said quickly:
"What a wonderful morning! Isn't it a God-given morning?"
"All mornings are wonderful and God-given that bring me to you," he answered little less soberly, walking by her side. "Won't you lean a little on me, take my arm?"
"Do I look decrepit?" She laughed, walking on light feet. Spring was everywhere, in the soft air, and the throats of courting birds, in the breeze and both their hearts. They went down to the sea and he arranged the cushions against that very rock behind which I had once sat and heard them talk. She said now she must face the sea, the winds that blew from it.
"Not too cold?" he asked her.
"Not too anything. You may sit on the rug too, there is a bit to spare for you. What book have you in your pocket?"
"No book today. I carried Anne's prayer-book."
"'Science and Health'?"
She was full of merriment and laughter.
"No; the ordinary Church Service. There was nothing else available."
"Oh, yes, there was. I sent for a copy of Mrs. Eddy's lucubrations."
"Of course I did. I had to make myself acquainted with a subject on which I should be compelled to talk."
"What a wonderful woman you are."
"Not at all. If she had been a South Sea Islander I'd have welcomed her with shells or beads. Tell me, have I made a success? Will she give her consent?"
"Have you given yours, have you really given yours? You have never said so in so many words."
"Well, the implication must have been fairly obvious." The eyes she turned on him were full of happy laughter, almost girlish. Since yesterday she had had this new strange bloom of youth. "Don't tell me your sister has not guessed."
"I told her."
"You told her! Well! I never! as Stevens would say. And you were pretending not to know!"
"I only said you had never put it into words. Say it now, Margaret, out here, this wonderful Sunday."
"What am I to say?"
"Put your little hand in mine, your sweet flower of a hand." He took it.
"Not a flower, a weed. See how brown they have got since I've been here." He kissed the weed or flower of her hand.
"Say, 'Gabriel, you shall be my husband. I will marry you the very first day I am free!' Her brows knitted, she took her hand away a little pettishly.
"I am free. Why do you remind me?"
"Say, 'I will marry you on the last day in May, in six weeks from today.'"
"May marriages are unlucky."
"Ours could not be."
"Oh, yes! it could. I am a woman of moods."
"Every one more lovely than the last."
"Impatient and irritable."
"You shall have no time to be impatient. Anything you want I will rush to obtain for you. If you are irritable I will soothe you."
"And then I want hours to myself."
"I'll wait outside your door, on the mat, to keep interruptions from you."
"I want to write … to play the piano, to rest a great deal."
"Give me your odd half-hours." She gave him back her hand instead.
"Let's pretend. We are to sail away into the unknown; to be happy ever afterwards. Where shall we go, Gabriel? Can we have a yacht?"
"I am not rich."
"Pretend you are. Where shall we go? To Greece, where every stone is hallowed ground to you. All the white new buildings shall be blotted out and you may turn your back on the museum…"
"I shall only want to look at you."
"No, on rocks and the blue Ægean Sea. No, we won't go to Greece at all. You will be so learned, know so much more than I about everything. I shall feel small, insignificant."
"Never. Bigger than the Pantheon."
"We will go to Sicily instead, go down among the tombs."
"I bar the tombs."
"Contradicting me already. How dare you, sir?"
So the time passed in happy fooling, but often their hands met, the under-currents between them ran swift and strong, deep too. Then it was time for lunch. It was Margaret who suggested they would be in time to meet Anne, walk up to the house with her. Nothing had been said about Dr. Kennedy. Gabriel had meant to broach the subject, only touch it lightly, suggest if she still needed medical attendance some one older, less interested might perhaps be advisable.
But he never did broach the subject, it had been impossible on such a morning as this, she in such a mood, he in such accord with her. Anne, when they met her, dashed them both a little. She twittered away about the service and the sermon, but it was nervous and disjointed twitter, and her eyes were red. She responded awkwardly to all Margaret's kind speeches, her enquiries after her headache; she was even guilty of the heinous offence, heinous in her own eyes when she remembered it afterwards, of saying nothing of the other's faintness. Her landmarks had been swept away, the ground yawned under her feet. Divorce! She did not think she could live in the house with a divorced person. She knew that some clergymen would not even marry divorced people, nor give them the sacrament. She was miserably distressed, and longing to be at home. She felt she was assisting at something indecorous, if not worse; she thought she ought not to have waited for the sermon, she ought not to have left them so long alone together. All her mingled emotions made her feel ill again. She told Gabriel crossly that he was walking too fast.
"Perhaps Mrs. Capel likes fast walking? Don't mind me if you do," she said to Margaret, "I can manage by myself."
When they had adapted their pace to hers she was little better satisfied; querulous, and as Margaret had pictured her before they met. Luncheon was a miserable meal, or would have been but that nothing could have really damped the spirits of these other two. First Anne found herself in a draught, and then too hot. She never eat eggs, and explained about her digestion, the asparagus tops could not tempt her. A lobster mayonnaise was a fresh offence or disappointment. And she could not disguise her disapproval. After all she prided herself she did know something about housekeeping.
"I never give Gabriel eggs except for breakfast."
"I do hope I have not upset your liver." Margaret's eyes were full of laughter when she questioned him.
"In my young days, in my papa's house, nor for the matter of that in my uncle's either, did we ever have lobster salad except for a supper dish."
Gabriel suggested gently that the whole art of eating had altered in England.
"Cod and egg sauce," put in Margaret.
"Nectar and ambrosia."
"We never gave either of them," said poor hungry Anne.
Fortunately a spatchcock with mushrooms was produced, and the mousse of jambon, although it seemed "odd," was very light.
"Why didn't I have boiled mutton and rice pudding?" Margaret lamented in an aside to Gabriel when the omelette au rhum was most decisively declined. Cream cheese and gingerbread proved the last straw. Anne admitted it made her feel ill to see the others eat these in combination.
"I should like to get back to town as early as possible this afternoon," she said. " I am sure I don't know what has come over me, I felt well before I came. The place cannot agree with me. I hope you don't think me very rude, but if we can have a fly for the first train…"
Gabriel was full of consternation and remonstrated with her. Margaret whispered to him it was better so. Nothing was to be gained by detaining her against her will.
"We have next week…"
"All the weeks," he whispered back.
Margaret offered Stevens' services, but Anne said she preferred to pack for herself, then she knew just where everything was. The lovers had an hour to themselves whilst she was engaged in this congenial occupation. She reminded Gabriel that he too must put his things together, and he agreed. She thought this made matters safe.
"Stevens will do them for you," Margaret said softly. He did not care how they were jumbled in, or what left behind, so that he secured this precious hour.
"Something has upset her, it was not only the lunch," Margaret said sapiently. He did not wish to enlighten her.
"Has she worried you, beloved one?"
"Not very much, not as much as she ought to perhaps. I was selfish with her, left her too much alone. I shall know better another time. But at least we had yesterday afternoon, and this morning … oh! and part of the evening, too. Did I frighten you very much?" she asked him.
"Before I had time to be frightened you smiled, something of your colour came back. Margaret, that reminds me. Do you mind if I suggest to you that if you were really seedy Dr. Kennedy is comparatively a young man …" She laughed.
"But look how devoted he is!"
"That is why." He spoke a little gravely, and she put her hand in his.
"Jealous!" Her voice was very soft.
"The whole world loves you."
"I don't love the whole world." And when she said this her voice was no longer only soft, it was tenderness itself.
"Thank God!" He kissed her hand.
But returned to his text as a man will. "No, I am not jealous. How could I be? You have honoured me, dowered me beyond all other men. But you are so precious, so supremely and unutterably precious. Margaret, my heart is suddenly shaken. Tell me again. You are not ill, not really ill? When this trying time is over, when I can be with you always…"
"How about those hours I want to myself?" she interrupted.
"When I can be within sound of you, taking care of you all the time, you will be well then?" Now she put a hand on his knee. "Your little fairy hand!" he exclaimed, capturing it.
"I want you to listen," she began. She did not know or believe herself that she was seriously ill, but remembered what Dr. Lansdowne had said and shivered over it a little.
"Suppose I am really ill, that it is heart disease with me as the German doctors and Lansdowne told me? Not only heart weakness as the others say, would you be afraid? Do you think I ought not to… to marry?"
"My darling, it is impossible, your beautiful vitality makes it impossible. But if it were true, incredibly true, then all the more reason that we should be married as quickly as possible. I must snatch you up, carry you away." There was an interlude. "You want petting …" He was a little awkward at it nevertheless, inexperienced.
"Isn't there some great man you could see, and who would reassure you, some specialist?"
"The Roopes?" She laughed, and her short fit of seriousness was over.
"I will find out who is the best man, the head of the profession. No one but the best is good enough for my Margaret. You will let me take you to him?"
"Perhaps. When I come back to London; if I am not well by then."
"You like this place, don't you?" he asked. "You don't think it is the place?"
"Pineland and Carbies? I am not sure. If I had not taken it for three months I believe I'd go back today or tomorrow. I ran away from you . . . and social guns. I'm armed now." He thanked her for that mutely. "Do you really love this ill-fixed house?"
"How should I not? But what does that matter? Leave it empty if it doesn't suit you. There is Queen Anne's Gate."
"I know, but we should never be alone."
"Nothing matters but that you should be well, happy. I'd take my vacation now, stay down, only I want at least six weeks in June. I could not do with less than six weeks." And this time the interlude was longer, more silent. Margaret recovered herself first.
"About Peter Kennedy. He really suits me better than any of the other doctors here. Lansdowne is a soft-soapy grinning pessimist, with an all-conquering air. He tells you how ill you are as if it doesn't matter since he has warned you, and will come constantly to remind you. There is a Dr. Lushington who, I believe, knows more than all of them put together, but he is a delicate man himself, overburdened with children, and cramped with small means. He gives me fresh heartache, I am so sorry for him all the time he is with me. Lansdowne and Lushington have each young partners or assistants, straight from London hospitals, smelling of iodoform, talking in abstruse medical or surgical terms, nosing for operations, as dogs for truffles. You don't want me to have any of these, do you?"
"I want you to do what you please, now and always."
"Even if it pleases me that Peter Kennedy should medicine and make love to me?"
"Even that. Does he make love to you?"
"What did he tell you?"
"That he adored you—that you treated him like a dog."
"He gives me amyl, bromide. He was only a country practitioner when I first knew him, with a gift for music, but not for diagnosis."
"He has done more reading, medical reading, since I have been here than in all his life before. Treatises on the heart; all that have ever been written. He is really studying, he intends to take a higher degree. In music too, I have given him an impetus."
Gabriel was obviously, nevertheless, not quite satisfied, started a tentative "but," and would perhaps have enquired whether ultimately it would he for Peter Kennedy's good that she had done so much for him. Anne, however, intervened, coming down dressed for the journey, very agitated at finding the two together. She gave him no opportunity for further conversation, monopolising the attention of the whole household, in searching for something she had mislaid, which it was eventually decided had possibly been left in Hampstead! Her conscience reproached her for her behaviour over lunch, and she found the cup of tea which Margaret pressed upon her before she left "delicious."
"I do so much like this Chinese tea, ever so much better than the Indian. You remember, Gabriel, don't you, that rough tea we used to have from Pounds? …" And she told a wholly irrelevant anecdote of rival grocers and their wares.
She betrayed altogether in the last ten minutes an uneasy semi-consciousness that her visit had not been a great success and talked quickly in belated apology.
"You've been so kind to me. I am afraid I have not responded as I ought. My silly headache, which of course I never exactly had … you know what I mean, don't you? And I did no credit to your beautiful lunch."
Margaret succeeded in assuring her that she had behaved exactly as a guest should, whilst Gabriel stood by silently.
"I hope you will come again," she said, and Anne replied nervously, noncommittal. "That would be nice, wouldn't it? But I am always so busy, and now that I have my treatment it is so much more difficult to get away …"
A kiss was avoided. Margaret went to the hall door with them, but not to the station. Gabriel had asked her not to do so.
"You ought to rest after yesterday."
"Yes, of course she ought to rest," Anne chorussed. There was a certain awkwardness in the farewells, somewhat mitigated by the luggage that occupied, so to speak, the foreground of the picture. As they drove away Anne nodded her head, threw a kiss. But neither Margaret nor Gabriel was conscious of her condescension, only of how long it was from now until next Friday.
"I am glad that is over," Anne said complacently, as the carriage turned through the gates. "It was very trying, very trying indeed. In many ways she is quite a nice person. But not suited to us, in our quiet lives. Divorced too! I thought there was something last night. So … so overdressed and peculiar. I am glad I came down before things had gone any further …"
"Further than what?" Gabriel asked her, waking up, if a little slowly, to the position. "Margaret and I are to be married in about a month's time. You shall stay on in the flat if you wish. I think I shall be able to arrange … Have you thought about any one you would like to share it with you?"
"Any one I should like! Share it with me?"
She was very shrill and he hushed her, although there was no one to hear but the flyman, who flicked at the trotting horse and wheezed indifferently. They got to the station long before Anne had taken in the fact that Gabriel was telling her his intention, not asking her advice. In the train; after they got home; and for many weary days she showed her unreasoning and ineffective opposition. It was not worth recording, or would not be but for the sympathetic interest taken by the Roopes, when Anne, reluctantly and under pressure, gave her brother's approaching marriage as a reason for her own impaired health, and the failure of their ministrations. Anne felt it her duty to tell them this, and Mrs. Roope no less hers to make further enquiries; the results being more far-reaching than either of them could have anticipated. James Capel was a relation of the Roopes and it was natural they should be interested in the wife who had so flagrantly divorced him.
Ten days after Anne's unlucky visit to Carbies, Gabriel received a bewildering telegram. He had been down once in the interval, but had found it unnecessary to speak of Anne, her vagaries or vapours. He stayed at Carbies because once having done so it seemed absurd that his room should remain empty. The very contrast between this visit and the last accentuated its intimate charm. Anne was not there, and Peter Kennedy's services not being required, he had the good sense or taste to keep away. Margaret, closely questioned, admitted to having stayed a couple of days in bed, after the last week-end, admitted to weakness, but not illness.
"I have always been like that ever since I was a child. What is called, I believe, 'a little delicate.' I get very easily over-tired. Then if I don't pull up and recuperate with bed and Benger, I get an attack of pain …"
"Of pain! My poor darling!"
"Unbearable. I mean I can't bear it. Gabriel, don't you think you are doing a very foolish thing, taking this half-broken life of mine?"
"If only the time were here!"
"Sometimes I think it will never come," she sighed. "I am clairvoyante in a way. I don't see myself in harbour."
"Only three weeks more, then you shall be as clairvoyante as you like." He laughed happily, holding her to him.
On this visit she seemed glad of his love, to depend upon and need him. He always had that for which to be glad. In truth that weakness of which she spoke, and which was the cause, or perhaps the effect, of two unmistakable heart attacks, had left her in the mood for Gabriel Stanton, his serious tenderness, and deep, almost overwhelming devotion. She was a whimsical, strange little creature, genius as she called herself, and for the moment had ceased to act.
The weather changed, it rained almost continuously from Saturday night until Monday morning. They spent the time between the music room and the uncongenial dining-room where they had their meals. On the sofa, she lay practically in his arms, she sheltered there. She had been frightened by her own agitation and uncertainty; the attacks that followed. And now believed that all she needed was calm; happy certainty; Gabriel Stanton.
"Don't make me care for you too much," she said on one of these days. "I want you to rest me, not to get excited over you, to keep calm."
"I am here only for you to use. Think of me as refuge, sanctuary, what you will."
"A sort of cathedral?"
"You may laugh at me. I like you to laugh at me. Why not as a cathedral, cool and restful?"
"Cool and restful," she repeated. "Yes, you are like that. But suppose I want to wander outside, restless creature that I am; suppose nothing you do satisfies me?"
"I'll do more."
"And after that?"
There were no scenes between them; Gabriel was not the man for scenes, he was deeply happy, humbly happy, not knowing his own worth, much more careful of her than any woman could have been, and gentle beyond speech. Even in those days she wondered how it would be with her if she were well, robust, whether all these little cares would not irritate her, whether this was indeed the lover for her. There was something donnish and Oxonian about him.
"I'm not sure I look upon you as a cathedral, whether it isn't more as a college."
When he could not follow her he remained silent.
"Think of me any way you want so long as you do think of me," he said, after a pause.
"I thought you would say that."
"Was it what you wanted me to say?"
"I only want to hear you say you adore me. You say it so nicely too."
"Do I? I don't know what I have done to deserve you."
"Just loved me," she said dreamily.
"Any man would do that."
"Not in the same way."
"As long as my way pleases you I am the most fortunate of men."
"Even if I never wrote another line?"
"As if it mattered which way you express yourself, by writing or simply living."
"Such love is enervating. Are you not ambitious for me?"
"You've done enough."
"I am capable of doing much better work."
"You are capable of anything."
"Except of that book on Staffordshire Pottery."
"That was only to have been a stop-gap. You replaced that with me, darling that you are!"
"What will Sir George say when he knows?"
"He will say 'Lucky fellow' and envy me. Margaret, about how we shall live, and where?"
He told her again he was not rich. There was Anne, a certain portion of his income must be put aside for Anne.
"You are quite rich enough. For the matter of that I have still my marriage settlement. Father would give me more if we needed it. James had thousands from him."
Then they both coloured, she in shame that this ineffable James had ever called her wife. He, because the idea that any of her comforts or luxuries should emanate from her father or from any one but himself was repellent to him. He would have talked ways and means, considered the advantages of house or flat, spoken of furniture, but that at first she was wayward and said it was unlucky to "count chickens before they were boiled, or was it a watched pot?" She would only banter and say things that were without meaning or for which he could not find the meaning. Presumably, however, she allowed him to lead her back to the subject.
"I have in my mind sometimes a little old house in Westminster, built in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, with panelled walls and uneven floors. And hunting for furniture in old curiosity shops. It mustn't be earlier than the eighteenth century, by the way. Not too early in that; or my Staffordshire won't look well. In the living-room with the eighteenth-century chintz I see all little rosebuds and green leaves. A few colour prints on the walls."
Gabriel had spoken of his collection of old prints. He said he would set about looking for the house at once. He told her there were a few such still standing, they were snapped up so eagerly.
Soon, quite excitedly they were both planning, talking of old oak, James I. silver, William and Mary walnut. Of all their happy hours this I think was the happiest they ever spent. Their tastes were so congenial, Gabriel's knowledge so far beyond her own; the home they would build so essentially suited to them. There Margaret would write and play, hold something of a salon. He would see that all her surroundings were appropriate, dignified, congenial. She would be the centre of an ascending chorus of admiration. He would, as it were, conduct the band. With adoring eyes he would watch her effects, temper this or straighten that, setting the stage and noting the audience; all for her glorification.
When they parted on that Sunday night they could scarcely tear themselves asunder. Three weeks seemed so long, so desperately long. Margaret, woman of moods, suddenly launched at him that they would have no honeymoon at all. He was to look for the house at once, to find it without difficulty.
"Then I'll come up and confirm; set the painters to work, begin to look for things."
Gabriel pleaded for his honeymoon.
"But it will all be honeymoon."
"I want you all to myself; for at least a little time. I won't be selfish, but for a little while, just you and I …"
He must have pleaded well, for though she made him no promise in words he knew she had answered "yes" by her eyes downcast, and breath that came a little quicker, by the clinging hands, by finding her in his arms, her undenying lips.