Lady Athlyne/Chapter 14

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New York: Paul R. Reynolds, pages 179–193


On this occasion Athlyne did not continue to sit out on the lawn. Now that he wished to overtake Joy unawares he was as careful to hide his presence from her as he had previously hidden it from her father. He had hardly ensconced himself in his usual cover when Joy came out on the steps. Her maid was with her and together they stood on the steps speaking. As she turned to come down the steps Joy said:

"Perhaps I had better arrange to come back after a short walk; there might be some telegram from father to be attended to. If there is not, I can then go for a real, long walk." She did not say more but moved briskly down the roadway without ever turning her head. Athlyne slipped through the gate of the garden, following at such distance that he could easily keep out of view in case she should turn. When she had cleared the straggling houses which made the outskirts of the little town she walked slowly, and then more slowly still. Finally she sat on a low wall by the roadside with her back partially turned to Ambleside and looked long at the beautiful view before her where, between the patches of trees which here shut out the houses altogether and heightened the air of privacy of the bye road, the mountain slopes rose before her.

This was the opportunity for which Athlyne was waiting. He had hardly dared to hope that it woud be in a spot so well adapted to his wishes. Dear simple soul! he never imagined that it had been already chosen—marked down by a keener intellect than his own, and that intellect a woman's!

Joy knew that he was coming; that he was drawing closer; that he was at hand. It was not needed that she had now and again thrown a half glance behind her at favourable moments as she went. There was at work a subtler sense than any dealing with mere optics; a sense that can float on ether waves as surely as can any other potent force. Nay, may it not be the same sense specialised. The sense that makes soul known to soul, sex to sex; that tells of the presence of danger; that calls kind to kind, and race to race, from the highest of creation to the lowest. And so she was prepared and waited, calm after the manner of her sex. For when woman waits for the coming of man her whole being is in suspense. Though in secret her heart beat painfully Joy did not look round, made no movement till the spoken words reached her:

"Miss Ogilvie is it not!"

Slowly she turned, as to a voice but partly heard or partly remembered. Athlyne felt his heart sink down, down as he saw the slowness of the movement and realised the absence of that quick response which he had by long and continuous thinking since last night encouraged himself to expect. The quick gleam of pleasure in the face as she turned, the light in her marvellous grey eyes, the gentle blush which despite herself passed like an Alpenglow from forehead to neck did not altogether restore his equanimity or even encourage him sufficiently to try to regain that pinnacle of complacent hope on which up to then he had stood.

"Why Mr. Hardy," she said warmly as she rose quickly to her feet. "This is real nice. I was afraid we were not going to see you whilst we were in England."

It was beautifully done; no wonder that some women can on the stage carry a whole audience with them, when off it so many can deceive intellects more powerful than their own. And yet it was not all acting. She did not intend it as such; not for a moment did she wish or intend to deceive. It was only the habit of obedience to convention which was guiding natural impulse into safe channels. For who shall say where nature—the raw, primeval crude article—ends or where convention, which is the artfulness necessitated by the eaboration of organised society, begins. A man well known in New York used to say: "All men are equal after the fish!" Kipling put the same idea in another way: … "the Colonel's Lady an' Judy O'Grady are sisters under their skins!"

When Athlyne looked into Joy's eyes—and there was full opportunity for so doing—all his intentions of reserve went from him. He was lover all over; nothing but lover, with wild desire to be one with her he loved. His eyes began to glow, his knees to tremble, then every muscle of his body became braced; and when he spoke his voice at once deepened and had a masterful ring which seemed to draw Joy's very soul out towards him. Well it was for her main purpose that her instinct had given that first chill of self-possession; had the man been able to go on from where he had first started nothing that she knew of reserve or self-restraint could have prevented her from throwing herself straightway into his arms. Had Athlyne not begun with that same chill, which to him took the measure of a repulse, he would have caught her to him with all the passions of many kinds which were beginning to surge in him.

But what neither of them could effect alone, together they did. The pause of the fraction of a second in the springing of their passion made further restraint possible. There is no fly-wheel in the mechanism of humanity to carry the movement of the crank beyond its level. Such machinery was not invented at the time of the organisation of Eden.

"I have longed for this moment more than I can say; more than words can tell!" His voice vibrated with the very intensity of his truth. Joy's eyes, despite her efforts to keep them fixed, fell. Her bosom rose and fell quickly and heavily with the stress of her breathing. Her knees trembled and a slow pallor took the place of the flush on her face. Seemingly unconsciously she murmured so faintly that only a lover's ear could hear or follow it:

"I have longed for it too—oh so much!" The words dropped from her lips like faint music. Instinctively she put her hand on the wall beside her to steady herself; she feared she was going to faint.

Athlyne, seeing and hearing, thrilled through to the very marrow of his bones. His great love controlled, compelled him. He made no movement towards her but looked with eyes of rapture. Such a moment was beyond personal satisfaction; it was of the gods, not of men. And so they stood.

Then the tears welled over in Joy's eyes beneath the fallen lids. They hung on the dark, curly lashes and rolled like silver beads down the softness of her cheeks. Still Athlyne made no sign; he felt that the time had not yet come. The woman was his own now, he felt instinctively; and it was his duty—his sacred privilege to protect her. Unthinkingly he moved a step back on the road he had come. Instinctively Joy did the same. It was without thought or intention on the part of either; all instinctive, all natural. The usage of the primeval squaw to follow her master outlives races.

Then he paused. She came up to him and they walked level. Not another word had been spoken; but there are silences that speak more than can be written in ponderous tomes. These two—this man and this woman—knew. They had in their hearts in those glorious moments all the wisdom won by joy and suffering through all the countless ages since the Lord rested on that first Sabbath eve and felt that His finished work was good.

When, keeping even step, they had taken a few quiet paces, Athlyne spoke in a soft whisper that thrilled:

"Joy, look at me!"

Without question or doubt of any kind she raised her shining eyes to his. And then, slowly and together as though in obedience to some divine command, their lips met in a long, loving kiss in which their very souls went out each to the other.

When their mouths parted, with a mutual sigh, each gave a quick glance up and down the road; neither had thought of it before.

The tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not die in Eden bower. It flourishes still in even the most unlikely places all the wide world over. And they who taste its fruit must look with newly-opened eyes on the world around them.

Together, still keeping step, not holding each other, not touching except by the chance of movement, they walked to where the bye-road joined the main one. As yet they had spoken between them less than threescore words. They wondered later in the day when they talked together how so much as they had thought and felt and conveyed had been packed into such compass. Now, as they paused at the joining of the roads, Athlyne said—and strange to say it was in an ordinary commonplace voice:

"Joy won't you come with me for a ride. I have my motor here, and we can go alone. There is much I want to say to you—much to tell you, and the speed will help us. I want to rush along—to fly. Earth is too prosaic for me—now!" Joy looking softly up caught the lightning that flashed from his eyes, and her own fell. A tide of red swept her face; this passed in a moment, however, leaving a divine pink like summer sunset on snowy heights. Her voice was low and thrilling as she answered with eyes still cast down.

"I'll go with you where you will—to the end of the world—or Heaven or Hell if you wish—now!"

And then as if compelled by a force beyond control she raised her eyes to his.

"Shall you come with me to the car; or shall I bring it to the hotel?" He spoke once more in something like his ordinary voice.

"Neither!" she answered with her eyes still fixed on his unflinchingly. He felt their witchery run through him like fire now; his blood seemed to boil as it rushed through his veins. Love and passion were awake and at one.

"I must go back to see if there is any wire from Daddy, and to leave word that I am going for a drive. I shall tell my maid that I shall return in good time. Father and Mother and Aunt Judy are to arrive at Windermere at five o'clock uness we hear to the contrary. You bring up the motor to—to there where we met." Her eyes burned through him as without taking them from his she raised an arm and pointed gracefully up the bye-road, towards where they had sat.

"Don't come with me," she said as he moved with her. "It will be sweeter to keep our secret to ourselves."

And so, he raising his cap as he stood aside, she passed on after sending one flashing look of love right through him.

At the hotel she found a wire from her father to the effect that they would not be able to leave Euston at 11.30 as intended but that they hoped to reach Windermere at 7.05. This pleased her, for it gave her another two hours for that motor drive to which she looked forward with beating heart. She told her maid that she would be out till late in the afternoon as she was going motoring with a friend; and that she, Eugenie, could please herself as to how she would pass the time. When the maid asked her what she wished as to lunch she answered:

"I shall not want any lunch; but if we feel hungry we can easily get some on the way."

"Which way shall you be going, Miss, in case any one should ask."

"I really don't know Eugenie. I just said I would join in the drive. I daresay it is up somewhere amongst the lakes. That is where the fine scenery is."

"And what about wraps, miss? You will want something warm for motoring. That dress you have on is rather thin for the purpose."

"Oh dear; oh dear!" she answered with chagrin. "This will do well enough, I think. We shall not, I expect, be going very far. If I find I want a wrap I can borrow one." And off she set for the rendezvous.

In the meantime Athlyne had found the car, and had given instructions to the chauffeur to remain at an inn at Ambleside which he had already noted for the purpose and where a telegram would find him in case it might be necessary to give any instructions. He had made sure that the luncheon basket which he had ordered at Bowness was in its place. Then he had driven back to the bye-road and waited with what patience he could for the coming of Joy.

She came up the bye-road walking fast enough. Up to that point she had walked leisurely, but when she saw the great car all flaming magnificently in scarlet and gold she forgot everything in the way of demureness, and hurried forward. She had also seen Mr. Hardy. That morning he had put on his motor clothes, for he knew he had to look forward to a long spell of hard work before him—work of a kind which needs special equipment. More than ever did he look tall and lithe and elegant in his well-fitting suit of soft dark leather. When he caught sight of Joy and saw that she was still in her pretty white frock he began to lift from the bottom of the tonneau a pile of wraps which he spread on the side. Joy did not notice the things at first; her eyes were all for him. He stepped forward to meet her and, after a quick glance round to see that they were alone, took her in his arms and kissed her. She received the kiss in the most natural way—as if it was a matter of course, and returned it. It is surprising what an easy art to learn kissing is, and how soon even the most bashful of lovers become reconciled to its exacting rules!

Then she began to admire his car, partly to please him, partly because it was really a splendid machine admirably wrought to its special purpose—speed. He lifted a couple of coats and asked:

"Which will you wear?

"Must I wear one? It is warm enough isn't it without a coat?"

"At present, yes! But when our friend here" he slapped the car affectionately "wakes up and knows who he has the honour of carrying you'll want it. You have no idea what a difference a fifty or sixty mile breeze makes."

"I'll take this one, please," she said without another word; a ready acquiescence to his advice which made him glow afresh. One after another she took all the articles which his loving forethought had provided, and put them on prettily. She felt, and he felt too, that each fresh adornment was something after the manner of an embrace. At the last he lifted the motor cap and held it out to her. She took it with a smile and a blush.

"I really quite forgot my hat," she said. "'Tis funny how your memory goes when you're very eager!" This little speech, unconsciously uttered, sent a wave of sweet passion through the man. "Very Eager!" She went on:

"But where on earth am I to put it? I think I had almost better hide it here behind the hedge and retrieve it when we get back!" Athlyne smiled superiorly—that sort of affectionate tolerant superiority which a woman admires in a man she loves and which the least sentimental man employs unconsciously at times. He stooped into the tonneau and from under one of the seats drew out a leather bonnet-box which ran in and out on a slide. As he touched a spring this flew open, showing space and equipment for several hats and a tiny dressing bag.

"Why, dear, there is everything in the world in your wonderful car."

How he was thrilled by her using the word—the first time her lips had used it to him. It was none the less sweet because spoken without thought. She herself had something of the same feeling. She quivered in a languorous ecstasy. But she did not even blush at the thought; it had been but the natural expression of her feeling and she was glad she had said it. Their eyes searched each other and told their own eloquent tale.

"Darling!" he said, and bending over kissed again the rosy mouth that was pouted to meet him.

In silence he opened the door of the tonneau. She drew back.

"Must I go in there—alone?"

"I can't go with you, darling. I must sit in the seat to drive. Unless you would rather we had the chauffeur!"

"You stupid old … dear!" this in a whisper. "I want to sit beside you—as close as I can … darling!" She sank readily into the arms which instinctively opened.

True love makes its own laws, its own etiquettes. When lovers judge harshly each the conduct of the other it is time for the interference or the verdict of strangers. But not till then.

Athlyne took the wheel, feeling in a sort of triumphant glory; in every way other than he had expected. He thought that he would be ardent and demonstrative; he was protective. The very trustfulness of her reception of his caresses and her responsiveness to them made for a certain intellectual quietude.

Joy too was in a sort of ecstatic calm. There was such completeness about her happiness that all thought of self disappeared. She did not want anything to be changed in the whole universe. She did not want time to fly betwixt now and her union with the man she loved. That might—would—come later; but in the meanwhile happiness was so complete as to transcend ambition, hope, time.

Athlyne, who had made up his mind as to the direction of the drive, came down on the high road and drove at moderate speed to Ambleside; he thought that it would be wise to go slowly so as not to be too conspicuous. He had given Joy a dust-veil but she had not yet adjusted it. The present pace did not require such protection, and the idea of concealing her identity did not even enter into her head. When they were passing the post-office a sudden recollection came to Athlyne, and he stopped the car suddenly. Joy for an instant was a little alarmed and looked towards him inquiringly.

"Only a letter which I want to post!" he said in reply as he stepped down on the pavement. He opened his jacket and took from his pocket a letter which he placed in the box. Joy surmised afresh about the letter; she vaguely wondered if it was the same that she had seen him close and put into his pocketbook. The thought was, however, only a passing one. She had something else than other people's letters to think about at present.

Just as he was turning back from the post box Eugenie, who was taking advantage of her freedom, passed along the pavement. She stopped to admire the tall chauffeur whom she thought the handsomest man she had ever seen. She did not know him. Her service with Miss Ogilvie had only commenced with the visit to London: up to the time of her leaving Italy Mrs. Ogilvie's maid had attended to Joy. She stood back and pretended to be looking in at a window as she did not care to be seen staring openly at him. Then she saw that he was no ordinary chauffeur. It was with a sigh that she said to herself:

"Voila! Un vrai Monsieur!" Her eyes following him as he turned the starting handle and took his seat behind the wheel, she saw that his companion was her mistress. Not wishing to appear as if prying on her either, she instinctively turned away.

As Athlyne was arranging himself to his driving work he said quietly to Joy:

"Sorry for delaying, but it was a most important letter, which I want to be delivered to-night. It might be late if it was not posted till Carlisle." This was the first knowledge Joy had of the direction of the journey. Eugenie heard only the last word as the car moved off.

The pace was comparatively slow until the outskirts of Ambleside had been passed; then he told Joy to put on her spectacles and donned his own. When they were both ready he increased the pace, and they flew up to the shores of Rydal Water. At Joy's request they slowed down whilst the lake was in sight; but raced again till the road ran close to the peaceful water of Grasmere. But when Grasmere with its old church and Coleridge's tomb lay away to their left they flew again up the steep road to Thirlmere. Athlyne was a careful driver and the car was a good hill climber. It was only when the road was quite free ahead that they went at great speed. They kept steadily on amongst the rising mountains, only slackening as they passed to Thirlmere and dropped down to Keswick. They did not stop here, but passing by the top of Derwentwater drew up for a few minutes to look down the lake whose wooded islands add so much to the loveliness of the view. Then on again full speed by the borders of Bassenthwaite Lake and on amongst the frowning hills to Cockermouth.

Joy was in a transport of delight the whole time. Her soul seemed to be lifted by the ever-varying beauty of the panorama as they swept along; and the rushing speed stirred her blood. She was silent, save at ecstatic moments when she was quite unable to control herself. Athlyne was silent too. He had been over the ground already, and besides such driving required constant care and attention. He was more than ever careful in his work, for was not Joy—his Joy!—his passenger.

They did not stop at Cockermouth but turned into the main road and, passing Bride-kirk—and Bothel, flew up to Carlisle. As he slowed down at the city wall Athlyne looking at his watch said quietly:

"An hour and a half and some fifty miles. Let us go on and eat our lunch in Scotland."

"Oh do! Go on! Go on—darling! I forgot to tell you that I have had a wire; they don't get in till seven; so we have two more hours," cried Joy enthusiastically. This time she used the word of endearment instinctively and without a pause. Practice makes perfect" says the old saw.

Athlyne controlled himself and went at quiet pace through the Cumberland capital. He would like to have put the engine at full speed; the last word had fired him afresh. However, he did not want to get into police trouble. When he came out on the Northern road and climbed the steep hill to Stanwix he felt freer. The road was almost a dead level and there was little traffic, only a stray cart here and there. Then he let go, and the car jumped forward like an eager horse. Athlyne felt proud of it, just as though it had an intention of its own—that it wanted to show Joy how it loved to carry her. Joy almost held her breath as they swept along here. The wind whistled around her head and she had to keep her neck stiff against the pressure of the fifty-mile breeze. They slowed at the forking of the road beyond Kingstown; and at the Esk bridge and its approaches; otherwise they went at terrific speed till they reached the border where the road crossed the Sark. Then, keeping the Lochberie road to the right, they rushed away through Annan towards Dumfries.

Joy did not know that at that turning off to Annan they were almost in touch with Gretna Green. Athlyne did not think of it at the time. Had the knowledge or the thought of either been engaged on the subject the temptation it would have brought might have been too much for lovers in their rapturous condition … and the course of this history might have been different.

The run to the outskirts of Dumfries, where the traffic increased, was another wild rush which wrought both the occupants of the car to a high pitch of excitement.

To Joy it seemed a sort of realisation. On the drive to Carlisle, and from that on over the Border, the fringing hills of the Solway had been a dim and mystery-provoking outline. But now the hills were at hand, before them and to the north; whilst far across the waste of banks and shoals of Solway Frith rose the Cumberland mountains, a mighty piling mass of serrated blue haze. It was a convincing recognition of the situation; this was Scotland, and England was far behind! Instinctively she leaned closer to her companion at the thought.

Between Dumfries and Castle Douglas was a long hill to climb within a stretch of seven miles. But the Delaunay-Belleville breasted it nobly and went up with unyielding energy. Then, when the summit at Crocketford was reached, she ran down the hill to Urr Water with a mighty rush which seemed to carry her over the lesser hill to Castle Douglas. From thence the road to Dairy was magnificent for scenery. At Crossmicheal it came close to the Ken whose left bank it followed right up by Parton to "St. John's Town of Dairy" where it crossed the river. Athlyne had intended to rest a while somewhere about here; but the old coach road, winding with the curves of the river, looked so inviting that he ran a few miles up north towards Carsphairn. Coming to a bye-road where grew many fine trees of beech and stone pine which gave welcome shade, he ran up a few hundred yards to where the road curved a little. Here was an ideal spot for a picnic, and especially for a picnic of two like the present.

The curving of the road made an open space, which the spreading trees above shaded. Deep grass was on the wide margin of the flat road which presently dipped to cross a shallow rill of bright water which fell from a little rocky ledge, tinkling happily through the hum of summer insect life. Wildflowers grew everywhere. It was idyllic and delightful and beautiful in every way, even to where, towering high above a Druidic ruin in the foreground, the lofty hills of Carsphairn rose far away between them and the western sky. In itself the scene wanted for absolute perfection some figures in the foreground. And presently it had them in a very perfect form. Joy clapped her hands with delight like a happy child as she glanced around her. Athlyne drew up sharp, and jumping from his seat held out his hand to Joy who sprang beside him on the road. As they stood together when Joy's wrap had been removed they made a handsome couple. Both tall and slim and elegant and strong. Both straight as lances; both bright and eager; with the light of love and happiness shining on them more notably than even the flicker of sunlight between the great stems and branches of the trees. His brown hair seemed to match her black; the brown eyes and the grey both were lit with a "light that never came from land or sea!" Joy's eyes fell under the burning glances of her lover; the time had not yet come for that absolutely fearless recognition which, being a man's unconscious demand, a woman instinctively resists. Athlyne recognised the delicacy and acquiesced. All this without a single spoken word. Then he spoke:

"Was there ever such a magnificent run in the world. More than a hundred miles on end without a break or pause. And every moment a lifetime of bliss—to me at all events—Darling!"

"And to me!" Joy's eyes flashed grey lightning as she raised them for a moment to his, and held them there. Athlyne's knees trembled with delight; his voice quivered also as he spoke:

"And all the time I never left my duty once for an instant. I think I ought to get a medal!"

"You should indeed, darling. And I never once distracted you from it did I?"

"Unhappily, no!" His eyes danced.

"So I ought to get more than a medal!"

"What? What should you get—now?" His voice was a little hoarse. He drew closer to her. She made no answer in words; but her eyes were more eloquent. With a mutual movement she was in his arms and their mouths met.

"And now for lunch!" he said as after a few entrancing seconds she drew her face away. "I am sure you must be starving."

I am hungry!" she confessed. Her face was still flushed and her eyes were like stars. She bustled about to help him. He took the seats and cushions from the tonneau and made a comfortable nest for her, with a seat for himself close, very close beside her. He lifted off the luncheon basket and unstrapped it. Whilst she took out the plates and packets and spread the cloth he put a bottle of champagne and one of fizzy water in the cool of the running stream.

They may have had some delightful picnics on Olympus in the days of the old gods who were so human and who loved so much—and so often. But surely there was none so absolutely divine as on that day that under the trees, looking over at the grey piling summits of the mountains of Carsphairn. The food was a dream, the wine was nectar. The hearts of the two young people beat as one heart. Love surely was so triumpahnt that there never could come a cloud into the sky which hung over them like a blue canopy. Life and nature and happiness and beauty and love took hands and danced around them fairylike as they sat together, losing themselves and their very souls in the depths of each other's eyes.