The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 2 Chapter 2

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Number one hundred and two, Curzon Street, Mayfair, was a house of mourning. That is to say, the blinds were pulled down and the servants crept about in new black dresses. In a small, brightly-furnished room at the back of the mansion the blinds were up, and the sun poured in on two ladies, one of whom was draped in crape and wore white muslin cuffs, as became the chief mourner. She was a little pale, a little subdued in her expression, extremely handsome. Her companion looked calm and dispassionate, slightly interested perhaps in a Court Gazette she was studying.

"For goodness' sake, Agatha, say something," said Cynthia, at last.

"Shall I read you this, dear? Can you bear it?" said Agatha. And then she proceeded to read aloud the following:—

"'The funeral of the late Sir Edward Cargill, Bart., of Northwold Hall, shire, and 102, Curzon Street, Mayfair, was largely attended by the deceased's many relatives and friends. The Marquis of Saltford, Lord Charles Friern, the Right Honourable Reginald Newbury, M.P., the Earl of Drumdrosset, and Lord Whetstone, who were unavoidably absent, sent their carriages. The service was most impressively conducted by the Very Rev. the Dean of Mudborough, who more than once was visibly affected. The floral tributes were numerous and costly. The costume worn on this melancholy occasion by Lady Cargill was composed off rich Indian cachemire and crépe, a most tasteful and appropriate confection from the atelier of Madame Adeline, 999, New Bond Street."

"That is too horrible," said Cynthia. "For once I did manage to rise above my dress. To have such things written about one is degrading. I won't stand it."

"You must think how much good it will do Madame Adeline," said Agatha, smoothly. "One ought not to be selfish in such matters."

"I am tired of living. Everything I touch turns to mud."

"Poor dear! I suppose you will go abroad. There is really nothing else for you to do. May is such an awkward month for a death—just at the beginning of the season."

"I shall remain where I am," said Cynthia. "Why should I run away?"

"You will stay in town! That is so like you, dear. You always want to do the most improper thing you can think of. Surely you must see that you cannot remain here—and be even a little bit cheerful. People would talk. Whereas abroad, so long as you wear mourning, you can do anything."

"I shall not leave London," said Cynthia, firmly.

"I have talked it over with Aunt Theodosia. She is coming to stop with me; and I shall take up some kind of study, and—and try to be a little more serious."

She began her speech defiantly enough, but towards the end her voice grew faint.

The spark of amusement in Agatha's eyes seemed struck out of flint stones.

"I can be serious," said Cynthia.

"I don't think it would suit you if you were," said her sister.

The desire to please, combined with a painful sensitiveness to anything approaching ridicule, from no matter how contemptible a critic, was the essential weakness in Cynthia's character. She had enough sense to be conscious of this, and the knowledge was gall and wormwood; for she liked to think herself proud and independent, with a mind above other people's opinions. But, as she told Lady Theodosia, in one of her rare bursts of confidence, "What is the use of despising their opinions when I am at the mercy of their giggles?" That morning Agatha's cold smile was almost more than she could bear. She was on the point of promising to go abroad, the next day if need be, when another powerful weakness—namely, obstinacy—came to the rescue. She got up and put on her bonnet.

"Where are you going?" said Agatha.

"I am going to the British Museum," said Cynthia, flushing a little. "I am not likely to meet any one I know there, and this veil is thick. I can't sit here all day."

"You had much better lie down and have some beef-tea," said Agatha. "But of course if you insist upon going, and don't feel yourself that it's the most extraordinary, unheard-of thing to do, in the circumstances, it isn't for me to interfere."

"I wish you wouldn't look meek, Agatha, when you know you want to be disagreeable."

The sorrowful reproach on Agatha's countenance—which meant plainly that, although Cynthia might forget herself, she (Agatha) could only offer her other cheek to be smitten—filled her sister with remorse.

"Would you like that hat-pin?" she said.

Agatha looked at the ornament, saw that it had pearls on it, and swallowed her indignation with a smile.

"Are you sure you don't want it yourself, dear?"

So peace was restored.

Apart from the fact that her husband had been dead little more than a fortnight, and conventionality demanded that she should retire more or less from the public view for the present, or, as Agatha suggested, go abroad, Cynthia's visit to the Museum did not fill Lady Theodosia, nor the Dowager Lady Cargill, with any great surprise. Cynthia went to the Museum frequently; so frequently, in fact, that Lady Cargill—prepared for the heathenish always in the case of her daughter-in-law—almost feared that she went there for the purpose of worshipping the Pagan gods. Lady Theodosia simply explained it as a "fancy." Agatha called it affectation. Cynthia, herself, said it was a rest.

If they had seen her that particular morning, wandering through the long galleries like some uneasy spirit, they would have thought that her idea of rest was somewhat inadequate. Her unusual height and grace, her deep mourning, and what her maid called "her way of putting on her clothes," attracted considerable attention from the intelligent public, who were scattered in thin groups through the various rooms. One man, who happened to be entering as she crossed the front hall, felt his heart leap at the sight of her. Then she turned her head in his direction. She stopped short, caught her breath, and cried "Godfrey!" By the time he reached her she had regained her self-command. "What a mercy it is," she said, "that people are eating their luncheon! They would have stared. But—you surprised me."

When a man loses his head it generally takes him some time to find it again. He feels as though he has to recognize it among a lot of other lost heads; for the moment he is not at all certain which is the right one—his own. Woman, more dexterous, catches it on the rebound.

"I too was surprised," said Godfrey. For the rest he could only remember that he had not seen her for more than three years: that she was the same Cynthia, that he was the same Provence: that they could no longer be the same to each other.

"I just came here for a change—I often do," said Cynthia. "I am not studying anything or going in for anything," she hastened to explain. "I suppose it's a fad."

"Have you seen the new mummy?" said Godfrey.

Cynthia laughed softly. "On the stage," she said, "we should have slow music for this situation, and then we should say appropriate things. What a help slow music would be in real life! But, since we have not got it, let us hunt for the mummy." So they started blindly down the gallery nearest them.

"I read the notice in The Times" said Godfrey. "I am sorry."

Cynthia reproached herself for having forgotten—in the first joy of seeing Provence again—a grief which it was certainly her duty to remember. Before she had married Edward she had something like affection for him: as her husband she had found him intolerable; when he was dead the old affection, half-pitying and protective, came back; his faults, seen through the mist of a crape veil, seemed pathetic weaknesses calling for compassion rather than blame: his virtues could be counted. There were tears in her eyes when she answered Provence. "I cannot tell you all about that yet," she said. "It was terrible that he should die. He liked to live. Life was never dull to him: he thought it jolly, never anything else—only jolly. You won't think that's an absurd way for me to put it—you will understand. He, who thought this, is dead, whilst others———" She paused. She was not sure that life seemed so utterly worthless to her at that moment as it had—say, before she left Curzon Street for the Museum.

"You have changed a little since I last I saw you," she said, abruptly. She did not like to add that he looked many years older. "Do you like success better than you thought you would?"

"I must have changed more than a little, to have you ask that," he answered. "Is conceit the usual accompaniment of wrinkles?"

"I did not say you were wrinkled," said Cynthia. "If you fly at me like that, for nothing, I shall soon know that you have not changed at all."

"Cynthia!"

"Yes, I mean it. And I think it would be a pity to quarrel, just yet, because there are a lot of things we might like to tell each other. Or—" then she stopped quite still and looked at him swiftly and coldly; he knew the glance well—"perhaps you would rather not talk to me at all and I am taking too much for granted."

For answer he also gave a look which she, too, apparently knew well. Words would have been poor in comparison.

"Oh, my dearest!" she said, "why did you not write to me, that time? We have lost three years." For once in her life she spoke to him from her heart, and he caught a glimpse of the real woman. As an actress she was dangerously good: her art was more convincing than the average woman's nature: now she was natural it seemed to, in comparison, as though a queen had been playing beggar-maid. But, as a man may wake from rosy dreams to find himself staring at a mud wall, she threw on her rags again before he could answer.

"I am getting sentimental," she said, hurriedly; "when I'm sentimental I'm tedious. You do the talking now. You haven't told me... Oh, Godfrey, I've just remembered!—you've got a wife."

He had never been more conscious, more completely, hopelessly conscious of this fact, almost to the exclusion of all other facts, in his life. He saw that if farcical comedy became personal it might cease to be amusing.

"Yes," he said, "there is Grace."

"Is that her name? I don't dislike it. It sounds like the good heroine in a novel—the patient, forgiving one who has a sweet expression. Is that being rude?"

"She isn't a woman you can sum up in a phrase. She has a great deal of quiet reserved force, and she doesn't get to one point and stick there. She developes. I have the highest possible regard for her," he added; with an absence, however, of spontaneity.

"Oh!" said Cynthia.

"She had everything against her, as a girl," he went on; "her mother was a very worldly woman and she lived in a worldly set. Yet with it all Grace managed to assert her own individuality and keep her interests centred in better things."

"I see," said Cynthia. "What were the better things?"

"Oh, well, I couldn't catalogue them. I gathered from what she said that the life she was leading did not satisfy her, and—that—well, with—with different surroundings and with people—or even one person—who could understand her, she might realize her better self. It was stunted, you know, situated as she was."

"Yes, I know," said Cynthia.

"That's really all," he said. "She didn't mind marrying me, and I thought, as I could never be happy myself, I might at least try to make some one else less miserable."

"Is she pretty?" said Cynthia, at once.

"She has charm, but she is not a beautiful woman—that is, as I understand beauty. But then, beauty is not everything."

"Oh no, it isn't everything, only—it's rather nice to have about."

"I think," he said, "we ought to go up these stairs—if we want to find the mummy."

"I am not particularly anxious to see the mummy," said she; "are you?"

"Oh, Cynthia, you are just the same."

"You can't see very much through this thick veil."

"I was not thinking of your face."

"Oh!... Have I grown dreadfully plain?" She seized this opportunity to lift her veil up.

"No, you haven't," he said.

"I wish I were different," she sighed. " I should probably be better looking if my mind were nicer. I really do want to be more useful—I have got money now. Don't you think I might take an interest in hospitals and things?"

"By all means. I should send one of them a big cheque or found a Cargill Ward. The Cargill Ward, I think, might sound better, and really would not be any more trouble. I don't know, however, whether it would alter the shape of your nose or change the colour of your hair."

"You needn't be so brutal. You always make the worst of me."

"I wish I could think that I did. It is so disheartening to see a woman with any amount of honesty about her wilfully and deliberately contorting it all into something very different."

"Love me for my faults and not my virtues, dearest, and then I shall never disappoint you. I can always live up to them. Again that tantalizing glimpse of the real Cynthia. Not to defy the codes of polite society, not to kiss her at once, not to forget mummies and Grace—for at least one moment—required some self-restraint. Let any man imagine himself similarly situated. Godfrey dared not trust his tongue. So he said nothing.

Cynthia continued: "Of course, I can't change myself and not love you, just because you are married. There is no etiquette about loving. I shall always love you—always—always. I would tell your wife so." This idea seemed to please her. "I should be proud to tell her; but perhaps she wouldn't like it. It's a very strange thing, but although a woman may love a man herself, she can rarely forgive another woman for loving him."

"That wouldn't apply to Grace," he said, quickly; "love was a question we never raised."

"Then she doesn't love you?" said Cynthia.

"Certainly not."

"Then she ought. I've no patience with her."

"But I don't love her" said Provence; "have you no patience with me?"

"That's quite a different thing. She probably isn't lovable... I don't think I like Grace very much."

"You're both so utterly unlike. You wouldn't understand each other."

"I think we should understand each other well enough—if it comes to that. I'm sure I don't want to say uncharitable things, but it certainly wasn't nice of her to marry you when she didn't love you. I can't forgive that."

"But, Cynthia———" He did not like to remind her of her own marriage. She saw, however, what was in his mind.

"There is no comparison between her case and mine," she said. "I was in a temper. You had certainly tried me very much. You know, Godfrey, you can be very trying indeed when you like."

"Trying! That is one of Grace's words."

"Is it? I will never use it again.... And what does she mean by calling you trying
you, of all men in the world? Trying, indeed! She must be very bad-tempered and
how dare she say such a thing?"

"She is not at all bad-tempered—on the contrary, she is considered extremely amiable. I think she is, myself."

"Who couldn't be—with you? She can't help herself."

"But you were just saying how I once put you in a temper."

Cynthia's eyes darkened with reproach.

"I loved you. That made it another matter—and besides, it was all my fault. There! Have I not suffered enough for it?"

"Has no one else suffered?"

"Well, yes," said Cynthia. "I dare say poor Edward had rather a life of it."

He had no answer for that.

"Did you ever wonder what we should say to each other, if we met again?" said Cynthia. " I have, often. I used to think I should say, 'How do you do, Mr. Provence? How is your wife, and the baby? Isn't it a curious day?' and then I thought we should shake hands very stiffly, and perhaps you might introduce me to your wife and—and—"

"And what?"

"And that I should hate her with all my might, and go home and say what a hideous gown she had on and—howl. It only shows that things never happen the way you think they will. To begin with, I knew, the moment I saw you, that it would be quite, quite impossible to call you Mr. Provence. Then I knew that if your wife had been with you I would not have spoken to you for five kingdoms, and then, I felt all over that in spite of the three years and Grace and Edward, after all, we still loved each other just as much, perhaps more, than we ever did—and—and it only proves that love is immortal, and tempers and things and whole centuries have nothing whatever to do with it. I know now that, even if we should never see each other again, it will be the same always."

"But I shall see you again," said Godfrey, who did not care for the "if."

"Will you come to Curzon Street—not to-morrow perhaps, but the next day—about four? Aunt Theodosia is with me, and I shall make her stay with me a long time. Agatha and Lady Cargill go back to Speenham this evening. Agatha came up for the funeral—and her summer clothes."

"So Agatha is not married?"

"She is waiting for Sir Galahad. I think she deserves him; but—if he does come—I dare say she will wonder whether he deserves her.... I suppose I ought to go home now. I don't want to go."

"I suppose you must," said Godfrey, just beginning to realize with despair that they would have to grow accustomed to partings.

"You will come the day after to-morrow?"

"I will come," he said.

She did not shake hands with him when they parted, but pinched his coat-sleeve. When she got into her hansom she kissed the fingers which had touched him. "Good-bye," she said, and drove off.

Although his regard for Grace was still the highest possible, he did not think it a pity that Cynthia was so extremely unlike her. Lady Theodosia was very much struck by her niece's altered appearance at dinner that evening. Her cheeks were red, and her eyes seemed lit by a hundred fires, and all of them blazing. Following her invariable policy, Lady Theodosia asked no questions, but talked soberly and appropriately of solicitors, travelling-bags, and quinine. Her discretion, however, was not rewarded until she announced her intention, after a very slow evening, of going to bed.

"Don't go yet," said Cynthia. "I've got something to tell you."

"I know," said Lady Theodosia, "you've seen him."

"How did you guess?"

"You look as though you had," said her aunt, drily.

"He is just the same," said Cynthia; "there is no one like him."

"My dear! Surely his wife isn't dead."

"Don't speak of her, she's detestable."

"Wives always are detestable," murmured Lady Theodosia. "'Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife, he would have written sonnets all his life?' Byron said that, and he was a married man. But wives and cats have nine lives."

"I don't want anything to happen to the creature," said Cynthia. "I only want to ignore her. Oh, what a mistake—what a fatal mistake he made when he married, and what a designing thing she must have been!"

"Did he say so?"

"Of course not—as if he would! You know he didn't. No, he said she hated the world and wanted better things, which he couldn't catalogue, and was extremely amiable and developed; and she has charm, and he has the highest possible regard for her. Isn't that quite enough to show that she must be horrid? He will be certain to find her out sooner or later, that's one comfort. I don't believe in these women who revere their husbands, and these husbands who regard their wives—that is to say if their reverence and regard are worth having. If a man and a woman are constantly together, they must either dislike each other frankly or like each other frankly, without any beating about the bush with respect and the rest of it: that's common sense, and if they don't, one's deceitful and the other———"

"Is a fool?" said Lady Theodosia.

"No—an angel."

"Are more men than women angels?"

"All the angels we know anything about are men," said Cynthia. "Godfrey is coming to see me the day after to-morrow," she added, presently.

"There will be trouble," said Lady Theodosia, shaking her head. " Be advised by me—don't see him again. This is infatuation—the most dangerous disease in the world."

"Disease!" said Cynthia. "Infatuation may be disease—love is life."

"Lady Theodosia turned even pale." I never heard anything like it," she said. "Who would have guessed you had it in you? Can't you see that you're talking in a highly disgraceful manner? It's positively indecent. Edward not cold in his grave, and Provence with a wife! I see nothing in the future but the Divorce Court."

"Is that the trouble you mean?" said Cynthia.

"Do you suppose for one moment that love like ours takes people to the Divorce Court? How little you must know about it!"

"It is so easy to talk like that at the beginning. Human nature is human nature."

"But human nature isn't love," said Cynthia.

Lady Theodosia shifted her ground. "But the look of the thing—how will it look? He will be coming here continually, and people will talk; perhaps his wife will hear of it. You may put it any way you like, the outlook is unpleasant."

"He is not the kind of man people could say things about. You have only to look in his face to see that."

"We are not all Cynthias in love. Besides, physiognomy doesn't go for much in a scandal. I will admit that I think he could be trusted. So far as evil—of one sort—goes, I don't really fear for either of you much. The Drumdrosset women, with all their faults, have no mud on their petticoats. What I am trying to urge upon you is this—that whenever there is a wife or a husband to be ignored, there is mischief."

"If that is all, I won't ignore her. I will go and see her and say, 'Madam, I love the very ground under your husband's feet!' What could she do?"

"First, she would think you mad; then, that in any circumstances you would be a very dangerous acquaintance for her husband. Heaven only knows what she would do."

"I suppose you are right. Only very dangerous people tell the truth about themselves: the wise try to tell it about other people; the discreet avoid it altogether."

"It is useless to talk reason to you in your present mood. At the same time I don't see how you can expect me to take you seriously. Here is a man you have not seen for three years; when you last saw him you jilted him—"

"I did not see him, I wrote; if I had seen him it would never have happened."

"I can't go into all that; at all events, he was jilted. Now you see him again, and come home and tell me that you love the ground under his feet. If I were asked the reason, I should say—"

"Well? What would you say?"

"I should say it was simply because he is out of your reach—or ought to be."

"He was mine first—he is still mine. He does not love the other woman."

"My dear Cynthia, you forget. You are the other woman—she is his wife."

"I don't believe that God thinks she is his wife!"

"People are so fond of quoting God, when the Law is inconvenient! And when God is inconvenient, they quote the Law."

"There is no law, either of God or man, to forbid my loving Godfrey. You may cut off your hand or pluck out your eye: but love is the very soul of you—you can't touch it."

"Dear! dear!" said Lady Theodosia; "if women once begin to talk about their souls they're done for. I must say I always thought there was none of that nonsense about you."

"I never thought so either," said Cynthia; "that's the delightful part of it all. You know the story of the Sleeping Princess."

"If I remember the story," said Lady Theodosia, "for one Princess asleep there was a palace full of snoring bores. And that just illustrates what I'm driving at. It is only now and then that a woman has a soul, and she generally happens in poetry and is always improper. Look at Haīdee."

"You make Don Juan your gospel! How could a creature with any self-respect—quite apart from a soul—care for a Don Juan?"

"My dear Cynthia, it does not matter in the least what a man is—everything depends on what a woman thinks him to be."

"I am not mistaken in Godfrey," said Cynthia, quickly.

"Did I say you were? I should say he was far more likely to be mistaken in you."

"Don't you think there is anything decent about me?" said Cynthia, passionately. "Is he the one human being in the world who has faith in me?"

"And you jilted him!" said Lady Theodosia.

"I did—I did. And to think that in spite of that, he can still call me honest—do you suppose that makes me care for him less? If I am worthless—if you are all right and he is all wrong—what then? Shall I not love him better for the mistake? After all, my love is real enough: there is no mistake about that."

" You have been a long time finding it out."

"You mean it has stood the test of time."

"Ah! You see, you didn't marry Godfrey."

"How can I expect you to understand my feelings?"

"I understand too well, and fear."

"Fear!" said Cynthia, scornfully. "What is fear? Fear is for cowards."

"And for lookers on," said Lady Theodosia.

"If people talked, what could they say?" said Cynthia, after a very long silence. "Surely he can call here sometimes. There is no harm in that."

"It isn't as though you were his wife's most intimate friend," said Lady Theodosia.

"What vile minds people must have! Let them say what they like about me."

"May they say what they like about him? Do you want to see him pointed at? I dare say you are right and they won't be able to say much—but it will be enough. You must remember he is a well-known man. Any little bit of gossip about literary people and artists and all that set is always pounced on and exaggerated. It makes them more interesting, in a low sense. You may tell me that love is stronger than death—than destruction—than the world. You will soon see that it is not stronger than scandal. Your love will bring him nothing but evil. You will be his stumbling-block."

"If I thought that, I would kill myself," said Cynthia.

Lady Theodosia waved her hand impatiently. " I thought you prided yourself on your courage. Meet your folly and conquer it. You will tell me that Godfrey is a man not easily influenced; that he of his own free will loved you, and always will love you; that he never has loved and never will love any one else. I grant all that. But all men are very much what women make them: their wills may be iron, but women don't attack them through their wills. They throw spells over their judgment. Sometimes the spell works for good—more often for evil; for women as a rule are meaner than men—though men are mean enough, Heaven knows."

"Do you think that my influence over Godfrey would be mean?" said Cynthia.

"No," said her aunt, speaking more gently, "if you were his wife it would only be for good. I used not to think so—now I feel sure of it. But as you are not his wife, your influence is only—can only be—dangerous. I don't pretend to be a good woman: you are much better, much stronger than I am really, and I want you to be always better. I—once—had an influence; I did not use it well. When I thought I was most proving my love, I was most thinking of myself."

Cynthia coloured painfully and began to tremble.

"Sometimes," said Lady Theodosia, "a woman can best show her love for a man by leaving him. In some cases it is the only thing she can do. Be brave, Cynthia."

"I will do what is best for him," said Cynthia. "As for me—without him there can be no best." Again there was a long silence. "I am asking so little," said Cynthia, at last, "so very little. Only to see him sometimes. It isn't much."

"Each time you see him it will be harder to say good-bye. Remember that."

"I am used to hard things. Have I not suffered enough these three long years—without him? And all that time I have never even mentioned his name: I have only thought of him—thought of him always."

"I am not asking you to forget him. But it is your duty to help him to forget you. Any woman can give up the world for a man—that is easy enough. When it comes to giving him up, for his own sake, it is another matter. If a woman can do that, it should atone for many sins."

Cynthia drew a long breath which sounded rather like a sob; then she went up to her bedroom. She came down half an hour later with a letter in her hand. Lady Theodosia saw that it was addressed to Godfrey. Cynthia posted it herself, as she had posted another letter nearly four years before. When she returned from the post it seemed as though she had lost her beauty. She was like one changed to stone.

"I have done it," she said to her aunt; "he will hate me when he reads it. When do you think I shall be able to cry?"

"I have not cried for twenty years," said Lady Theodosia—at which they both laughed. And yet it is said that women have no sense of humour.