Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter XIII
Margaret was not a very good subject for morphia. True it relieved her pain, set her mind at rest, or deadened her nerve centres for the time. But when the immediate effect wore off she was intolerably restless, and although the bromide tided her over the night, she drowsed through an exhausted morning and woke to sickness and misery, to depression and a tendency towards tears. She was utterly unable to see her lover, she felt she could not face him, meet him, conceal or reveal what had happened. Dr. Kennedy came up and she told him exactly how she felt. She told him also that he must go to the station in her stead. She said she was too broken, too ill.
This unnerved and weakened Margaret distracted Peter, and he thought of every drug in the pharmacopœia in the way of a pick-me-up. He said that of course he would go to the station, go anywhere, do anything she asked him. But, he added gloomily, that he would probably blunder and make things worse.
"He would ever so much rather hear it from you if it must be told him," he urged. "He'll guess you are ill when you are not at the station. He'll rush up here and see you and everything will be all right. He has only got to see you."
Dr. Kennedy then begged her to go back to bed, but without effect. Fortunately the only drug to which he could ultimately persuade her was carbonate of soda! That and a strong cup of coffee helped to revive her. Stevens had the qualities of her defects and insisted later upon beef tea. Margaret, although still looking ill, was really almost normal when four o'clock came bringing Gabriel. Her plan of Peter Kennedy meeting him miscarried, and she need not have feared his anxiety when she was not at the station. Gabriel had caught an earlier train than usual. Ever since Tuesday his anxiety had been growing, notwithstanding her letters and reassurances.
He was dismayed at seeing Dr. Kennedy's hat in the hall. Little more so than Margaret was when she heard the wheels of the car on the gravel and learnt from Peter, at the window, that Gabriel was in it. They were unprepared for each other when he walked in. Yet if Peter had not been there all might still have been well. It was Dr. Kennedy's instinct to stand between her and trouble, and his misfortune to stand between her and Gabriel Stanton.
"You are ill?" and
"You are early?" came from each of them simultaneously. If the doctor had slipped out of the room they would perhaps have found more to say. But he stayed and joined in that short dialogue, thinking he was meeting her wishes.
"She has had an attack of angina, a pretty hot one at that. I gave her a morphia injection and it did not suit her. She is simply not fit for any emotion or excitement. As a matter of fact she ought not to be out of bed today."
"Has my coming by an earlier train distressed you?" Gabriel asked Margaret, perhaps a little coldly. Certainly not as he would have asked her had they been alone. Nor were matters improved when she answered faintly:
"Tell him, Peter."
Her lover wanted to hear nothing that Peter Kennedy might tell him. He was startled when she used his Christian name. He had a distaste at hearing his fiancée's health discussed, a sensitiveness not unnatural. From an older or more impersonal physician he might have minded it less; or from one who had not admitted to him, and gloried in the admission, that he was in love with his patient.
"I don't want to hear anything that Dr. Kennedy can tell me," was what he said, but it misrepresented his mind. It sounded sullen or ill-tempered, but was neither, only an inarticulate evidence of distress of mind.
"Surely, Margaret, your news can wait …" This was added in a lower tone. But Margaret was beyond, and Peter Kennedy impervious to hint. The only thing that softened the situation to Gabriel was that she made room for him on the sofa, by a gesture inviting him to seat himself there. Almost he pretended not to see it, he felt rigid and uncompromising. Nevertheless, after a moment's hesitation, he found himself beside her, listening to Dr. Kennedy's unwelcome voice.
"You knew, didn't you, that there had been a man hanging about the place, trying to get information from the servants? Margaret first heard of this last Tuesday …" Gabriel missed the next sentence. That the fellow should speak of her as "Margaret" made him see red. When his vision cleared Peter was still talking. There had been some allusion to or description of cook's weakness, and the discursiveness was a fresh offence.
"What she told him in her amorous moments we have no means of knowing, but that it included the information that you had stayed in the house there is not much reason to doubt. And down came this woman like a ton of bricks on Wednesday morning and flung a bomb on us in the shape of a demand for a thousand pounds."
"The man's employer. She had set him on to it."
"This blackmailing person."
The "us" tightened Gabriel's thin lips and hardened his deep-set eyes. Had they been alone he might have remembered what Margaret must have suffered, what a dreadful thing this visit must have been to her. As it was, and for the moment, he thought of nothing but of Peter Kennedy's intervention, interference.
"Why did you see her?" he asked Margaret.
"I thought she came from Anne," she faltered.
"She is the Christian Science woman," Peter explained.
And now indeed the full force of the blow struck him.
"Mrs. Roope?" he got out.
"No other," Peter answered. "Crammed choke-full of extracts from Mrs. Eddy. James Capel is her husband's cousin. At least so she says. And that he never wanted to be divorced from his wife, and would welcome a chance of stopping the decree from being made absolute. She said the higher morality bade her go to him. 'Husband and wife should never separate if there is no Christian demand for it,' she quoted. But help toward the Christian Science Church, or movement, she would construe as 'a Christian demand.' She asked for a thousand pounds! Mrs. Capel," this time for some unknown reason he said "Mrs. Capel" and Gabriel heard better, "was quite overwhelmed, knocked to pieces by her impudence. That's when I came on the scene. I told the woman what I thought of her; you may bet I didn't mince matters. And then I offered her a hundred..."
Gabriel got up suddenly, abruptly, his face flushed.
"You... you offered her a hundred pounds?"
"Well! there was not a bit of good trying for less. It was a round sum."
"You allowed Mrs. Capel to be blackmailed!"
"What would you have done? Of course I did."
"It was disgraceful, indefensible."
"Gabriel." She called him by his name, she wanted him to sit down by her, but he remained standing. "There was no time to send for any one, ask for advice..."
"It was a case of 'your money or your life.' The woman put a pistol to our heads. 'Pay up or I'll take my tale to James Capel' was the beginning and end of what she said. I got her down finally to £250.'
"You gave the woman, this infamous, blackmailing person, £250?"
"And cheap enough too. Wait a bit. I can guess what you are thinking. I'm not such a fool as you take me for. She only had a hundred in cash, the other is a post-dated cheque, not due until the decree is made absolute. Then I ran her out of the house."
"Who wrote those cheques?" The flush deepened, Gabriel could hardly control his voice.
"I wrote them and Mrs. Capel signed them. She was absolutely bowled over, it was as much as she could do to sign her name."
Gabriel was beside himself or he would not have spoken as he did.
"You did an infamous thing, sir, an infamous thing. You should have guarded this lady, since I was not here, sheltered her innocence. To allow oneself to be blackmailed is an admission of guilt. The way you sheltered her innocence was to advise her practically to admit guilt." He was choked with anger.
"Gabriel," she pleaded.
"My dear," never had he spoken to her in such a way, he seemed hardly to remember she was there, "I acquit you entirely. You did not know what you were doing, could not be expected to know. But this fellow, this blackguard …" He actually advanced a step or two toward him, threateningly. "Her good name was at stake, mine as well as hers, was and is at stake."
"And I saved it for you, for both of you. I've shut Mrs. Roope's mouth. You'll never hear a word more …"
"Not hear more?" Gabriel was deeply contemptuous. "Did you ever know a blackmailer who was satisfied with the first blood? You have opened the door wide to her exactions …"
"You are taking an entirely wrong view, you are prejudiced. Because you don't like me you blame me whether I am right or wrong."
"You don't know the difference between right and wrong."
"I wasn't going to have my patient upset," he said obstinately.
"Gabriel, listen to me, hear me. Don't be so angry with Peter. I wanted the woman paid to keep quiet. I insisted upon her being paid." And then under her breath she said, "There is such a little time more."
"There is all our lives," Gabriel answered in that deep outraged voice. "All our lives it will be a stain that money was paid. As if we had something to conceal."
His point of view was not theirs, neither Peter's nor Margaret's. They argued and protested, justifying themselves and each other. But it seemed to Gabriel there was no argument. When Margaret pleaded he had to listen, to hold himself in hand, to say as little as possible. Toward Peter Kennedy he was irreconcilable. "A man ought to have known," he said doggedly.
"He wanted to ward off an attack."
Dr. Kennedy went away ultimately, he had that amount of sense. By this time he was at least as antagonistic to Gabriel Stanton as Gabriel to him.
"Stiff-necked blighter! He'd talk ethics if she were dying. What does it matter whether it was right or wrong? Anyway, I got rid of the woman for her, set her mind at rest. I bet my way was as good as any he'd have found! Now I suppose he'll argue her round until she looks upon me as the villain of the play." In which, as the sequel shows, he wronged his lady love. "Insufferable prig!" And with that and a few more muttered epithets he went off to endure a hideous few days, fearing for her all the time, in the hands of such a man as Gabriel Stanton, whom he deemed hard and self-righteous.
But he need not have feared. The two men were poles apart in temperament, education, and environment. Circumstances aided in making them intolerant of each other. Their judgment was biased. Margaret saw them both more clearly than they saw each other. Her lover was the stronger, finer man, had the higher standard. And he was right, right this time, as always. Yet she thought sympathetically of the other and the weakness that led him to compromise. The Christian Scientist should not have been paid, she should have been prosecuted. Margaret saw it now,—she, too, had not seen it at the moment. She confessed herself a coward.
"But our happiness was at stake, our whole happiness. In less than three weeks now …"
Now that they were alone Gabriel could show his quality. The thing she had done was indefensible. And he had hardly a hope that it would achieve its object. He, himself, would not have done evil that good might come of it, submitted, admitted … the blood rushed to his face and he could not trust himself even to think of what had practically been admitted. But she had done it for love of him to secure their happiness together. What man but would be moved by such an admission, what lover? He could not hold out against her, nor continue to express his doubts.
"Must we talk any more about it? I can't bear your reproaches. Gabriel, don't reproach me any more." She was nestling in the shelter of his arms. "You know why I did it. I wish you would be glad."
"My darling, I wish I could be. It was not your fault. I ought to have come down. You ought not to have been left alone, or with an unscrupulous person like this doctor."
"Peter acted according to his lights. He did it for the best, he thought only of me."
"His lights are darkness, his best outrageous. Never mind, I will not say another word, only you must promise me faithfully, swear to me that if you do hear any more of this woman, or of the circumstance, from this or any other quarter, you will do nothing without consulting me, you will send for me at once…"
Margaret promised, Margaret swore.
"I want to lean upon your strength. I have so altered I don't know myself. Love has loosened, weakened me. I am no longer as I was, proud, self-reliant. Gabriel, don't let me be sorry that I love you. I am startled by myself, by this new self. What have you done to me? Is this what love means—weakness?"
When she said she needed to lean upon his strength his heart ran like water to her. When she pleaded to him for forgiveness because she had allowed herself to be blackmailed rather than delay their happiness together, his tenderness overflowed and flooded the rock of his logic, of his clear judgment. His arms tightened about her.
"I ought to have come to you whether you said yes or no. I knew you were in trouble."
"Not any longer." She nestled to him.
He thrust aside his misgivings later and gave himself up to soothing and nursing her. Peter Kennedy need have had no fear, but then of course this was a Gabriel Stanton he did not know.
Gabriel would not hear of Margaret coming down to dinner nor into the drawing-room. She was to stay on the sofa in the music room, to have her dinner served to her there. He said he would carve for her, not be ten minutes away.
"All this trouble has made me forget that I have something to tell you. No, no! Not now, not until you have rested."
"I can't wait, I can't wait. Tell me now, at once. But I know. I know by your face. It is about our little house. You have seen a house—our house!"
"Not until after dinner. I must not tell you anything until you have rested, had something to eat. You have been too agitated. Dear love, you have been through so much. Yes, I have seen the house that seems to have been built for us. Don't urge me to tell you now. This has been the first cloud that has come between us. It will never happen again. You will keep nothing from me."
"Haven't I promised? Sworn?"
"Sweetheart!" And as he held her she whispered:
"You will never be angry with me again?"
"I was not angry with you. How could I be?"
She smiled. She was quite happy again now, and content.
"It looked like anger."
"You focussed it wrongly," he answered.
After they had dined; she on her sofa from a tray he supervised and sent up to her, he in solitary state in the dining-room, hurrying through the food that had no flavour to him in her absence: he told her about the little house in Westminster that he had seen, and that seemed to fit all their requirements. It was very early eighteenth-century, every brick of it had been laid before Robert Adam and his brother went to Portland Place, the walls were panelled and the mantelpieces untouched. They were of carved wood in the drawing-room, painted alabaster in the library and bedrooms, marble in the dining-room only. It was almost within the precincts of the Abbey and there was a tiny courtyard or garden. Margaret immediately envisaged it tiled and Dutch. Gabriel left it stone and defended his opinion. There was a lead figure with the pretence of a fountain.
"I could hardly believe my good luck when first I saw the place. I saw you there at once. It was just as you had described, as we had hoped for, unique and perfect in its way, a real home. It needs very careful furnishing, nothing must be large, nor handsome, nor on an elaborate scale. I shall find out the history, when it was built and for whom. A clergy house, I think."
She was full of enthusiasm and pressed for detail. Gabriel had to admit he did not know how it was lit, nor if electric light had been installed. He fancied not. Then there was the question of bathroom. Here too there was a lapse in his memory. But that there was space for one he was sure. There was a powder room off the drawing-room.
"In a clergy house?"
"I am not sure it was a clergy house."
"Or that there is a powder room!"
"It may have been meant for books.' Anyway, there is one like it on the next floor."
"Where a bath could be put?"
"Yes, I think so. I am not sure. You will have to see it yourself. Nurse yourself for a few days and then come up."
"For a few days! That is good. Why, I am all right now, tonight. There, feel my pulse." She put her hand in his and he held it; her hand, not her pulse.
"Isn't it quite calm?"
"I don't know…I am not."
"I shall go up with you on Monday morning, or by the next train."
He argued with her, tried to dissuade her, said she was still pale, fatigued. But the words had no effect. She said that he was too careful of her, and he replied that it was impossible.
" When a man has been given a treasure into his keeping…" She hushed him.
They were very happy tonight. Gabriel may still have had a misgiving. He knew money ought never to have been paid as blackmail. That the trouble should have come through Anne, Anne and her mad religion, was more than painful to him. But true to promise he said no further word. He had Margaret's promise that if anything more was heard he would be advised, sent for.
When he went back to the hotel that night he comforted himself with that, tried to think that nothing further would be heard. Peter Kennedy's name had not been mentioned again between them. He meant to persuade her, use all his influence that she should select another doctor. That would be for another time. Tonight she needed only care.
He had taken no real alarm at her delicate looks, he had lived all his life with an invalid. As for Margaret, there were times when she was quite well, in exuberant health and spirits. She was under the spell of her nerves, excitable, she had the artistic temperament in excelsis. So he thought, and although he felt no uneasiness he was full of consideration. Before he had left her tonight, at ten o'clock for instance, and notwithstanding she wished him to stay, he begged her to rest late in the morning, said he would be quite content to sit downstairs and await her coming, to read or only sit still and think of her. She urged the completeness of her recovery, but he persisted in treating her as an invalid.
"You are an invalid tonight, my poor little invalid, you must go to bed early. Tomorrow you are to be convalescent, and we will go down to the sea, walk, or drive. I will wrap you up and take care of you. Monday ..."
"Monday I have quite decided to go up to town."
"We shall see how you are. I am not going to allow you to take any risks."
Such a different Gabriel Stanton from the one Peter Kennedy knew! One would have thought there was not a hard spot in him. Margaret was sure of it ... almost sure.
The morphia that had failed her last night put out its latent power and helped her through this one. The dreams that came to her were all pleasant, tinged with romance, filled with brocade and patches, with fair women and gallant men in powder and knee-breeches. No man was more gallant than hers. She saw Gabriel that night idealised, as King's man and soldier, poet, lover, on the stairs of that house of romance.
The next day was superb, spring merging into summer, a soft breeze, blue sky flecked with white, sea that fell on the shore with convoluted waves, foam-edged, but without force. Everything in Nature was fresh and renewed, not calm, but with a bursting undergrowth, and one would have thought Margaret had never been ill. She laughed and even lilted into light song when Gabriel feared the piano for her. Her eyes were filled with love and laughter, and her skin seemed to have upon it a new and childish bloom, lightly tinged with rose, clear pale and exquisite. Today one would have said she was more child than woman, and that life had hardly touched her. Not touched to soil. Yet beneath her lightness now and again Gabriel glimpsed a shadow, or a silence, rare and quickly passing. This he placed to his own failure of temper yesterday, and set himself to assuage it. He felt deeply that he was responsible for her happiness. As she said, she had altered greatly since they first met. In a way she had grown younger. This was not her first passion, but it was her first surrender. That there was an unknown in him, an uncompromising rectitude, had as it were buttressed her love. She had pride in him now and pride in her love for him. For the first and only time in her life self was in the background. He was her lover and was soon to be her husband. Today they hardly held each other's hand, or kissed. Margaret held herself lightly aloof from him and his delicacy understood and responded. Their hour was so near. There had been different vibrations and uneasy moments between them, but now they had grown steady in love.
Margaret went up to town with Gabriel on Monday. She forgot all about Peter Kennedy eating his heart out and wondering just how harsh and dogmatic Gabriel Stanton was being with her. They were going first to see the house."I must show it you myself." "We must see it together first."
They were agreed about that. Afterwards Margaret had decided to go alone to Queen Anne's Gate and make full confession. She had wired, announcing herself for lunch, asking that they should be alone. Then, later on in the day, Gabriel was to see her father. In a fortnight they could be married. Neither of them contemplated delay. The marriage was to be of the quietest possible description. She no longer insisted upon the yacht. Gabriel should arrange their honeymoon. They were not to go abroad at all, there were places in England, historic, quite unknown to her where he meant to take her. The main point was that they would be together . . . alone.
The first part of the programme was carried out. The house more than fulfilled expectations. They found in it a thousand new and unexpected beauties; leaded windows and eaves with gargoyles, a flagged path to the kitchen with grass growing between the flags, a green patine on the Pan, which Margaret declared was the central figure in her group of musicians. Enlarged and piping solitary, but the same figure; an almost miraculous coincidence. A momentary fright she had lest it was all too good to be true, lest some one had forestalled them, would forestall them even as they stood here talking, mentally placing print and pottery, carpeting the irregular steps and slanting floors. That was Gabriel's moment of triumph. He had been so sure, he felt he knew her taste sufficiently that he need not hesitate. The day he had seen the house he had secured it. Nothing but formalities remained to be concluded. She praised him for his promptitude and he wore her praise proudly, as if it had been the Victoria Cross. A spasm of doubt may have crossed her mind as to whether her father and stepmother would view it with the same eyes, or would point out the lack of later-day luxuries or necessities; light, baths, sanitation. Gabriel said everything could be added, they had but to be careful not to interfere with the main features of the little place, not to disturb its amenities. Margaret was insistent that nothing at all should be done.
"We don't want glaring electric light. We shall use wax candles …" He put her into a cab before the important matter was decided. Privately he thought one bath at least was desirable, but he found himself unable to argue with her. Not just now, not at this minute when they came out of the home they would make together. Such a home as it would mean!
Mrs. Rysam was less reticent and Margaret persuadable, but that came later. Her father and stepmother were alone to lunch as she had asked them. And she broke her news without delay. She was going to marry Gabriel Stanton. There followed exclamation and surprise, but in the end a real satisfaction. The house of Stanton was a great one. More than a hundred years had gone to its upbuilding. Sir George was the doyen of the profession of publisher. He was the fifth of his line. Gabriel, although a cousin, was his partner and would be his successor. And he himself was a man of mark. He had edited, or was editing the Union Classics, and had contributed valuable matter to the Compendium on which the whole strength of the house had been employed for the last fifteen years, and which had already Royal recognition in the shape of the baronetcy conferred on the head of the firm.
"Of course it should have been given to Gabriel," Margaret said when she had explained or reminded them of his position. Naturally she thought this. They consoled her by predicting a similar honour for him in the future. Margaret said she did not care one way or the other. She did not unbare her heart, but she gave them more than a glimpse of it. That this time she was marrying wisely and that happiness awaited her was sufficient for them. Edgar B. looked forward to seeing Gabriel and telling him so. He promised himself that he would find a way of forwarding that happiness he foresaw for her. Giving was his self-expression. Already before lunch was over he was thinking of settlements. Mrs. Rysam, a little disappointed about the wedding, which Margaret insisted was to be of the quietest description, was compensated by talk about the house. Margaret might arrange, but her stepmother made up her mind that she would superintend the improvements. Then there were clothes. However quiet the wedding might be a trousseau was essential. From the time the divorce had been decided upon until now Margaret had had no heart for clothes. Her wardrobe was at the lowest possible ebb. Father and stepmother agreed she was to grudge herself nothing. And there was no time to lose, this very afternoon they must start purchasing, also installing workmen in The Close, for so the little house was named. A tremendous programme. Margaret of course must not go back to Pineland, but must stay at Queen Anne's Gate for the fortnight that was to elapse before the wedding. Margaret demurred at this, but thought it best to avoid argument. It was not that she had grown fond of Pineland, or that Carbies suited her any better than it did. But the atmosphere of Queen Anne's Gate was not a romantic one, and her mood was attuned to romance. Father and stepmother were material. Mr. Rysam gave her a cheque for five hundred pounds and told her to fit herself out properly. Mrs. Rysam promised house linen. Margaret could not but be grateful although the one spoke too much and shrilly, and the other too little and to the point.
"What is his income?" Edgar B. asked.
"That's what I've got to learn and see what's to be added to it to make you really comfortable."
"We shall want so little, Gabriel doesn't care a bit about money," Margaret put in hastily.
"I daresay not."
"And neither do I," she was quick to add. Edgar B. with a twinkle in his eye suggested she might not care for money but she liked what money could buy. He was less original than most Americans in his expressions, but unvaryingly true to type in his outlook.
What an afternoon they had, Margaret and her stepmother! The big car took them to Westminster and the West End and back again. They were making appointments, purchasing wildly, discussing endlessly. Or so it seemed to Margaret, who, exhilarated at first, became conscious towards the end of the day of nothing but an overmastering fatigue. She had ordered several dozens of underwear, tea-gowns, dressing-gowns, whitewash, a china bath, and electric lights! They appeared and disappeared incongruously in her bewildered brain. She had protected her panels, yet yielded to the necessity for drains. Her head was in a whirl and Gabriel himself temporarily eclipsed. Her stepmother was indefatigable, the greater the rush the greater her enjoyment. She would even have started furnishing but that Margaret was firm in refusing to visit either of the emporiums she suggested.
"Gabriel and I have our own ideas, we know exactly what we want. The glib fluency of the shopmen takes my breath away."
Mrs. Rysam urged their expert knowledge. Whatever her private opinion of the house, its size or position, she fell in easily with Margaret's enthusiasm.
"You must not risk making any mistake. Messrs. Rye & Gilgat or Maturin's, that place in Albemarle Street, they all have experts who have the periods at their fingers' ends. You've only got to tell them the year, and they'll set to work and get you chintzes and brocades and everything suitable from a coal scuttle to a cabinet.…"
Margaret, however, although over-tired, was not to be persuaded to put herself and her little house unreservedly into any one's hands. She was not capable of effort, only of resistance. Tea at Rumpelmayer's was an interregnum and not a rest. More clothes became a nightmare, she begged to be taken home, was alarmed when Mrs. Rysam offered to go on alone, and begged her to desist. When the car took them back to Queen Anne's Gate, Gabriel had already left after a most satisfactory interview with her father. Edgar B., seeing his daughter's exhaustion and pallor, had the grace not to insist on explaining the word "satisfactory." He insisted instead that she should rest, sleep till dinner-time. The inexhaustible stepmother heard that Gabriel had been pleased with everything Margaret's father had suggested. He would settle house and furniture, make provision for the future. Whatever was done for Margaret or her children was to be done for her alone, he wanted nothing but the dear privilege of caring for her. Edgar appreciated his attitude and it did not make him feel less liberal.
"And the house? How about this house they've seen in Westminster? Is it good enough? big enough? He said it was a little house, but why so small?"
"They are just dead set on it. Small or large you won't get them to look at another. It's just something out of the way and quaint, such as Margaret would go crazy on. No bathroom, no drains, but a paved courtyard and a lead figure …"
"Well, well! each man to his taste, and woman too. She knows what she wants, that's one thing. She made a mistake last time and it has cost her eight years' suffering. She's made none this time and everything has come right. He's a fine fellow, this Gabriel Stanton, a white man all through. One might have wished him a few years younger, he said that himself. He's going on for forty."
"What's forty! Margaret is twenty-eight, herself."
"Well! bless her, there's a lifetime of happiness before her and I'll gild it."
"The drawing-room will take a grand piano."
"And I've settled to give her the house linen myself."
"No place for a car, I suppose. In an out-of-the-way place like that she'll need a car."
So they planned for her; having suffered in her suffering and eclipse, and eager now to make up to her for them, as indeed they had always been. Only in the bitter past it proved difficult because her sensitiveness had baffled them. It was that which had kept her bound so long. All that could be done had been done, to arrange a divorce via lawyers through Edgar B.'s cheque-book. But James Capel, when it came to the end, proved that he cared less for money than for limelight, and had defended the suit recklessly with the help of an unscrupulous attorney. The nightmare of the case was soon over, but the shadow of it had darkened many of their days. This wedding was really the end and would put the coping stone on their content.
Neither Edgar B. nor his wife heard anything of the attempt at blackmail. Gabriel, of course, did not tell them. Margaret, strange as it may sound, had forgotten all about it! Something had given an impetus to her feeling for Gabriel: and now it was at its flood tide. She had written once, "Men do not love good women, they have a high opinion of them." She would not have written it now, she herself had found goodness lovable. Gabriel Stanton was a better man than she had ever met. He was totally unlike an American, and had scruples even about making money.
Her father and he, discoursing one evening upon commercial morality, she found that they spoke different languages, and could arrive at no understanding. But she discovered in herself a linguistic gift and so saw through her father's subtlety into Gabriel's simplicity. She knew then that the man who enthralled her was the type of which she had read with interest, and written with enthusiasm, but never before encountered. An English gentleman! With this in her consciousness she could permit herself to revel in all his other attractions, his lean vigour and easy movements, shapely hands and deep-set eyes under the thin straight brows. His mouth was an inflexible line when his face was in repose. When he smiled at her the asceticism vanished. He smiled at her very often in these strange full days. The days hurried past, there was little time for private conversation, an orgy of buying held them.
Margaret, yielding to pressure and inclination, stayed on and on until the week passed and the next one was broken in upon. Now it was Tuesday and there was only one more week. One more week! Sometimes it seemed incredible. Always it seemed as if the sun was shining and the light growing more intense, blinding. She moved toward it unsteadily. This semi-American atmosphere into which she and her lover had become absorbed was an atmosphere of hustle, kaleidoscopic, shifting.
"If they had only given me time to think I should have known that the clothes and the house-linen, the carpets and curtains, the piano and the choice of a car, could all wait until we came back, could wait even after that. But they tear along and carry us after them in a whirlwind of tempestuous good-nature," Margaret said ruefully in the five minutes they secured together before dinner that Tuesday evening.
"You are doing too much, exhausting your energy, using up your strength. And we have not found time for even one prowl after old furniture in our own way, that we spoke of at Carbies."
"They are spoiling the house with the talk of preserving it. To-day Father told me it was absolutely necessary the floors should be levelled ..."
"I know. And he wants the kitchen concreted. Some wretched person with the lips of a day-labourer and the soul of an iconoclast told him the place was swarming with rats ..."
"We wanted to hear mysterious noises behind the wainscot."
They were half-laughing, but there was an undercurrent of seriousness in their complaining. They and their house were caught in the torpedo-netting of the parental Rysams' strong common sense. Confronted and caught they had to admit there was little glamour in rats and none at all in black beetles. Still…concrete! To yield to it was weakness, to deny it, folly.
"I have lost sight of logic and forgotten how to argue. There is nothing for it but to run away again. Gabriel, I have quite made up my mind. Tomorrow, I am going back to Carbies. There are things to settle up there, arrange. Stevens is coming back with me, and we are going before anybody is up. Every day I have said that I must go, and each time Father and Mother have answered breathlessly that it was impossible, interposed the most cogent arguments. Now I am going without telling them."
"I am sure there is nothing else to be done. And stay until next week. Let me come down Saturday. We need quiet. I feel as if I had been in a machine room the last few days."
"'All day the wheels keep turning,'" she quoted.
"Yes, that expresses it perfectly. Run away and let me run after you. Saturday afternoon and Sunday we will be on the beach, listen to the sea, and forget the use of speech."
"The use and abuse of speech. I'll wear my oldest clothes. No! I won't. You shall have a treat. I really have some most exquisite things. I'll take them all down; change every hour or two, give you a private view…"
"You are lovely in everything you wear. You need never trouble to change. Think what a fatigue it will be. I want you to rest."
"How serious you are! I was not in earnest, not quite in earnest. But I can't wait to show you a teagown, all lacy and transparent, made of chiffon and mist…"
"I love you in grey."
"You have had no opportunity of loving me in any other colour. Not indoors at least. But you will. I could not have a one-coloured trousseau. I've a wonderful beige walking-dress; one in blue serge, lined with chiffon…"
"Tell me of your wedding-dress. Only a week today…" Before she had told him her stepmother bustled in, her arms full of parcels that Margaret must unpack, investigate, try on immediately after dinner, or before. Dinner could wait. Margaret had already been tried on and tried on until her head swam. She yielded again and Gabriel and her father waited for dinner.
Nothing was as they had planned it. So, although they were too happy to complain, and too grateful to resent what was being done for them, the scheme that Margaret should return to Carbies without again announcing her intention was hurriedly confirmed between them and carried out.
This time Margaret did not complain that the place was remote, the garden desolate, the furniture ill-sorted and ill-suited. She was glad to find herself anchored as it were in a quiet back-water, out of the hurly-burly, able to hear herself breathe. Wednesday she spent in resting, dreaming. She went to bed early.
Thursday found her at her writing-desk, sorting, re-sorting, reading those early letters of hers, and of his; recapturing a mood. She recognised that in those early days she had not been quite genuine, that her letters did not ring as true as his. She saw there was a literary quality in them that detracted from their value. Yet, taking herself seriously, as always, and remembering the Brownings, she put them all in orderly sequence, made attempts at a title, in the event of their ever being published, wrote up her disingenuous diary. All that day, all Thursday and part of Friday, she rediscovered her fine style, her gift of phrase. The thing that held her was her own wonderful and beautiful love story. And it was of that she wrote. She knew she would make her mark upon the literature of the nineteenth century, had no doubt of it at all. She had done much already. She rated highly her three or four novels, her two plays. Unhappiness had dulled her gift, but today she felt how wondrously it would be revived. There are epigrams among her MS. notes.
"All his life he had kept his emotions soldered up in tin boxes, now he was surprised that they were like little fish, compressed and without life." This was tried in half a dozen ways but never seemed to please her.
"Happiness, true happiness, holds the senses in solution, it requires matrimony to diffuse them."
It seemed extraordinary now that she should have found content in these futilities. But it was nevertheless true. She came down to Carbies on Wednesday and it was Friday before she even remembered Peter Kennedy's existence, and that it would be only polite to let him know she was here, greatly improved in health, on the eve of marriage. Friday morning she telephoned for him. When he came she was sitting at her writing-table, with that inner radiance about her of which he spoke so often, her soft lips in smiling curves, her eyes agleam.
Peter had known she was there, known it since the hour she came. He had bad news for her and would not hurry to tell her, not now, when she had sent for him. In the presence of that radiance he found it difficult to speak. He could not bear to think it would be blurred or obscured. If the cruellest of necessities had not impelled him he would have kept silence for always.