The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Bundle of Life/Chapter 2

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II.


Arden Lodge in Mertfordshire is a large, white building surrounded by beautiful grounds, and facing the finest scenery in the county. This is saying a great deal, for although Mertford is flat and not at all wild or what is called romantic, its rivers and fields, gardens and woods, toy-like farms and shady parks are, for their kind, the prettiest in the world. And one can only find such peculiar prettiness in England; it is so well-disposed, calm and unsuggestive—inspiring neither passionate sentiments, nor unearthly music, nor flaming words, but what, in some opinions, may be better than all these—a dreamless, ineffable drowsiness.

On the morning after the dinner-party, a lady and gentleman were strolling on the Terrace which led by wide steps on to the lawn of Lord Twacorbie's residence. The lady was Miss Warcop: her escort was Sidney Wiche.

Teresa was no longer in her first youth, and she had never been pretty: her oval face was colourless, heavy black eyebrows overhung her hazel eyes; mouth, nose, and chin were too obviously mouth, nose, and chin. She was remarkable, however, and only needed a reputation for wickedness to make her considered curiously fascinating.

As these two came down the steps, they were commenting on the weather, the unusual warmth

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seeing it was but Easter, and the freshness of the air. When they reached the lawn, they walked in silence to a seat, sat down and stared at the landscape. They were evidently old friends.

"Well," said Wiche, at last, "is the most practical woman in the world, dreaming?"

"I was thinking of you," she answered, looking at him with such frank, unclouded affection that he blushed to think how little he deserved it. He might have made some answer, but as she spoke they both heard the rustle of silk skirts: the sound grew nearer: at last a lady, charmingly attired in a gown which suggested grey vapour and sunlight, approached them. She presented a strange effect ol brilliance, fragility, and mistiness: her features were soft, and her head in profile seemed rather a shadow in the air than something real or human. But the shadow was plainly womanish—one could never have mistaken it for an angel's. Her skin was fair, her hair light brown, her eyes blue, sapphirine, deep, a little troubled: she gazed at Wiche, he gazed at her; Teresa watched the meeting with some uneasiness.

"I did not know that the glare was so great," she said, faintly; "I should have brought my parasol."

"Let me fetch it!" said Wiche. She thanked him as, with an admirable semblance of good humour, he left them.

"You met Mr. Wiche some ears ago, did you not?" Teresa asked, turning to Lady Mallinger: "did you know him at all well?"

"That would depend on what vou call well? said the younger woman. Her voice was strangely melodious: to hear it was to think of the fabulous singing of fabulous sirens. If she babbled of brick-dust, one thought only of lute-strings. For this reason she was never quoted accurately.

"I mean," said Teresa, "were you great friends?"

"I should not say that."

"I thought I saw him looking at you rather often during dinner last evening."

"Did he?" said Lady Mallinger. "I hope my hair was dressed properly. My maid is in love just at present, and she makes me quite frightful. It is not that she is malicious, but Love is so distracting." Smiling sweetly, she looked first at the trees, then at the grass, and finally at Teresa. "In some ways," she went on, "I am rather sorry to renew Mr. Wiche's acquaintance: we have nothing in common—absolutely nothing. He has the instincts of a Turk: he does not believe in a woman's intellect. Sometimes I wish I really was stupid and lived in a harem!"

"My dear!" said Teresa.

"I do, indeed: women were not made to struggle and strive. They ought only to be fed and clothed and petted. But I thought otherwise once. Before my marriage I was anxious to work out a career: I wanted to be artistic: I thought I might become a famous actress. Ah, to think of those days when I was hoping and dreaming, when my thoughts were my achievements, when the future seemed so far and the present so eternal! "Her voice trembled, she flushed and then grew pale: one could imagine that she was struggling in a very hurricane of lost possibilities. "But when work began in earnest," she continued, "when art became a task, and dreaming, waste of time, I confess I grew sick of ambition. I only wanted to sit idle in the market-place. And so I married, and danced, and dressed, and chattered: I gave up thinking—it made me too miserable." Teresa had an extraordinary power of winning confidences: perhaps because she rarely talked.

"A woman's mission is to play the fool, "continued Lady Mallinger, "and that is why she can only lead a man so long as she does not love him. On the instant she loves, she must be honest or die: she loses all discretion: she quarrels when she should cajole, smiles when she should frown, utters ugly truths when she should tell pretty lies: she cannot flatter, she cannot pretend—in fact, she can do nothing but love—and that beyond sense." Commanding was not the word for Lady Mallinger's manner: yet there was that in her air which insisted, which brooked no denial, which said plainly enough: "What I think must be, because I not born to be disappointed!"

"I do not agree with you," Said Teresa, "because if I loved a man I would have no desire to lead him. I could only pray that I might not prove his stumbling-block, and that we might help each other to do right rightly. Life is so hard to live alone."

"Oh, if I only dared to be natural," exclaimed Lady Mallinger; "if I only dared to tell all I think, and feel, and know. If I could only drop this tedious gossiping and grinning! I am not tired of living, but I am tired of my body—of this mummy-case. When I was a child, I felt old; now I am a woman, I feel young. I want to go back to the youth of the world: I want the time when love was the only happiness, and folly the highest wisdom!"

"Did you ever talk like this to Mr. Wiche?" said Teresa.

"Of course not," said Lady Mallinger. "I only talk nonsense to men!"

"Dear me! Yet I daresay they like it. But I promised to show Mr. Wiche the primrose path. As you do not care for him, I will meet him half-way. See! he is coming now." She rose from her seat and hastened across the lawn in the direction of the house. Lady Mallinger sat smiling to herself: she had never suffered from jealousy, and she thought it the drollest of passions. She was on the verge of laughter when Captain Rookes appeared on the Terrace. He was undeniably handsome: his features had that harmonious irregularity which is so much more like truth than beauty, so much more life-like, sinner-like, and love-like than perfection. His eyes flashed fire and sentiment—youth lacking either is dull—melancholy had added a force to their magic.

"Are you sure," he said, anxiously, as he approached Lady Mallinger, "are you sure that it is discreet to meet here where every one can see us?"

"Of course," said her ladyship, whose whole bearing and manner changed, and who now assumed an infantile, prattling, and pouting simplicity; "of course, I hate out-of-the-way corners."

"Speak a little lower, darling," said Saville, "there may be some gardeners about."

"That would not matter."

"Not matter? My dear Lilian, you do not know the world. If the world knew how much we loved each other, it would grow suspicious."

"Why? Numbers of people love each other."

"Yes," said the Captain, "but we are not like other people. I love vou too well to ask you to marry me and so drag you down to a miserable shabby-genteel existence."

"I do not mind being poor, Saville," said Lady Mallinger, eagerly."Before my marriage, Papa only allowed me sixty pounds a year for my clothes, and every one said how well I managed. That, I know, was as a girl, and, of course, a married woman has to dress more—in a sense—but a handsome mantle goes a long way. Lady Twacorbie has worn that satin and lace thing at least four seasons: she has had the sleeves altered, and it has been re-lined with a different colour, but it is the same cloak! And I am tired of marrying for money: it is not as though I had not tried it. No one can say that I gave the least trouble when they married me to Charles—although I never did admire red hair, and he was the worst dancer in his regiment. I know he was most civil to poor Papa, but after all he was not rich as they thought him, and it would have been wiser, perhaps, if I had remained single a little longer. But you, Saville, I could be poor with you: you are so sympathetic, and you wrote me such a beautiful letter when Charles died. I am sure, too, that he would have been pleased with that lovely wreath! And—and I cannot forget the old days when we made toffee together in the schoolroom at home. Do you remember?"

Saville tried to look as though the toffee episode had for him thoughts too deep for utterance. He flung cautious glances about the scene and then hastily pressed her hand.

"How can you ask?" he said: "But believe me, dearest Lilian, our only duty is renunciation. I mean, we must forget our love, and if we can, each other. I have been waiting months to find words for all this: it seemed unutterable. Truth is difficult, and the less one speaks it the harder it grows. I have lied when I pretended to be happy. I find it easier after all to admit that I am in despair. Yet not despair—because I feel that honour is still dearer to me than your society. The thought is hackneyed, but so are the commandments. Some day you will meet some excellent, well-meaning man who will have a fortune worth offering you. Perhaps he will not be much to look at and he may not be polished in his manners. I daresay, too, that he will often say and do much which will jar on your refined taste. But polish is not everything!"

"I cannot live," cried Lady Mallinger, "in an unpolished atmosphere!"

"You see, my darling, we all have to endure disagreeable things in this life; money and love never seem to go together."

"We should have fifteen hundred a year," whimpered Lilian.

"What is that, my dear child?" said Saville.

"Two thousand is the lowest income I can conceive myself marrying on. As I have said, if I cared for you in the ordinary, vulgar way, I might risk everything and urge you to ruin my whole life—and perhaps your own as well. So, darling, is it fair to tempt me?"

"I do not want to tempt you," said Lady Mallinger. "I only want to talk sensibly. Please, please, dear

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Saville, do not say that I am tempting you. I would not be so wicked, for I am sure you only want to do right, and men know much more about honour and incomes and things like that than women do!"

Sweet, submissive, believing, unassertive Lilian, of a type all but extinct! Where would he find such another? He rose from his seat in agitation, feeling, for the moment, that he might in an emergency show the splendid indiscretion of a hero. But the mood passed, and with it a great deal of Lady Mallinger's folly. Something else, indefinable, chilling, deadly, took its place in her soul. She, too, stood up, and in silence they surveyed a far-distant and sleeping cow.

"You see, Lilian," Saville stammered at last.

"I see it all clearly," she replied. " I only wonder why I did not see it before. It would be the greatest mistake in the world for us to marry!"

This remark cut him to the heart: he flushed, his whole aspect suffered.

"No woman," he said, "could say such a thing to a man she loved. You cannot care for me."

"I do indeed care for you, Saville," she said, "please believe me."

Rookes, happily, did not need much persuasion to convince him. "This world is a beastly place," he burst forth. "It has everything to make one happy except happiness. Look at us! We are young, we love each other, we have the same tastes, and we are in the same set. How we could enjoy life! But we cannot afford it."

"It is hard," said Lilian, "terribly hard. I daresay, though, that it is all for the best."

"I must go away," said Saville: "I see too much of you; it is too tantalizing! But hush! here comes Felicia."

"How well you know her step!" exclaimed Lilian.