Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter IX
The early letters have already been transcribed. Also the description of when and how I first saw Margaret and Gabriel Stanton together, on the beach when she told him that his coming had been a disappointment.
Recalling the swift and painful writing of the story it would seem I saw them again two days later, and that she was occupied in making amends. They had talked and grown in intimacy, and now it was Sunday evening. They were in the music room at Carbies, and she had been playing to him while he sat spellbound, listening to and adoring her. She was in that grey silk dress with the white muslin fichu finished with a pink rose, her pale hair was parted in the middle and she wore her Saint Cecilia expression. She left off playing presently, came over to him with swift grace and sank on the footstool at his feet.
"What are you thinking about? You are not vexed with me still?"
"Was I ever vexed with you?"
"Yesterday afternoon, when I said I was disappointed in you."
"Not vexed, surely not vexed, only infinitely grieved, startled."
"Have you enjoyed your visit, notwithstanding that strange slow beginning? Tell me, have you been happy?"
"I don't know. I don't quite know. I have been so excited, restless. I have not wanted any one else. It is difficult for me to know myself. Are you still sorry for me, like you were in London?"
"My heart goes out to you. You have suffered, but you have great compensations; great gifts. I would sympathise with you, but you make me feel my own limitations. I fear to fail you. You have the happier nature, the wider vision ..."
"Then you have not been happy?"
"Yes, I have, inexpressibly happy. I wish I could tell you. But I matter so little in comparison with you."
"I don't want you to be humble."
"I am not humble, I am proud."
"Because you have taken me for your friend."
He never touched her whilst she sat there at his feet, but his eyes never left her and his voice was deep and tender. They talked of friendship, all the time, they only spoke of friendship. And he was unsure of himself, or of her, more deeply shy than she, and moved, though less able to express it. "Next week you will come again. Will it be the same between us?"
"I will come whenever you let me. With me it will always be the same, or more. Sometimes I cannot believe that it is to me this is happening. To me, Gabriel Stanton! What is it you find in me? Sometimes I think it is only your own sweet goodness; that what you expressed in seeing me this time you will find again and again disappointment; that I am not the man you think me, the man you need."
"Am I what you thought I would be? Are you satisfied with me?"
"I am overpowered with you."
She stole a look at him. His close and thin-lipped mouth had curves that were wholly new, his sunken eyes were lit up. She was secretly enraptured with him.
"I thought you very grave and severe when I first came to the office. What did you think of me?"
"What I do now, that you were wonderful. After you left I could not settle to work … but I have told you this."
"Tell me again. Why didn't you say something nice to me then ? You were short, sharp, non-committal. I went away quite downcast, I made sure you did not want my poor little book, that you would write and refuse it, in set businesslike terms." "I knew I would not. If George had said no, I should have fought him. I was determined upon that book of Staffordshire Pottery. Were you disappointed with my letter when it came?"
"I loved it. I have always loved your letters. You never disappoint me then."
Because they had grown more intimate he was able to say to her gently, but with unmistakable feeling:
"Dear, it hurts me so when you say that. I know I shall think of it when I am alone, wonder in what way I fail you, how I can alter or change. Can you help me, tell me? I came down with such confidence."
"But you had cut yourself shaving."
"Be a little serious, beloved. Tell me."
"You thought I cared for you … that we should begin in Pineland where we left off in London?"
"But I had run away from you!"
They smiled at each other.
"You will come again next week?" she asked him inconsistently.
"And if I should again disappoint you?"
"Then you must be patient with me, good to me until it is all right again. I am a strange creature, a woman of moods." She was silent a moment. "I have been through so much." He bent toward her. She rose abruptly, there had been little or no caressing between them. Now she spoke quickly:
"Don't hope too much… or… or expect anything. I am a megalomaniac: everything that happens to me seems larger, grander, finer, more wonderful than that which happens to any one else."
She paused a moment. "This… then, between us is friendship?" she went on tentatively. He answered her very steadily: "This, between us, is what you will." "You know how it has been with me?" Her voice was broken. He was deeply moved and answered:
"God gave it to me to comfort you." There was a long pause after that. It was getting late, and they must soon part. He kissed her hands when he went away, first one and then the other. "Until next week."
"Until next week, or any time you need me." Then there were letters between them, letters that have already been transcribed.
He came the next week and the next. A man of infinite culture, widely read and with a very real knowledge of every subject of which he spoke, it was not perhaps strange that she fell under the spell of his companionship, and found it ever more satisfying.
Her own education was American and superficial, but her intelligence was really of a high order and browsed eagerly upon his. The only other she was seeing at this time was Dr. Peter Kennedy, a man of very different calibre. Peter Kennedy, country born and bred, of a coarsening profession and provincial experience.
Margaret was not made to live alone, for all her talk of resources, her piano and her books, her writing materials. The house, Carbies, was soon obnoxious to her. She had taken it for three months against the advice of her people, who feared solitude for her. She could not give in so soon, tell them they were right. But it was and remains ugly, ill-furnished, with its rough garden. She had some sort of heart attack the Monday after Gabriel Stanton's first visit, and it was then Dr. Kennedy told her about her house, wondered at her having taken it.
After he told her that it had been a nursing-home she began to dislike the place actively, said the rooms were haunted with the groans of people who had been operated upon, that she smelt ether and disinfectants. She did not tell Gabriel Stanton these things. To Gabriel, Carbies was enchanted ground, he came here as to a shrine, worshipping. He used to talk to her of the golden bloom of the gorse, and the purple of the distant sea, of the way the sun shone on his coming. When with him she made no mention of distaste. For five successive weeks that spring the weather held, and each week-end was lovelier than the last. From Friday to Monday she may have felt the charm of which he spoke. From Monday to Friday she lamented to her doctor about the groans and the smell of disinfectants, and he consoled her in his own way, which was not hers, and would not have been Gabriel's, but was the best he knew.
Peter Kennedy at this time was recently qualified, not very learned in his profession, nor in anything else for that matter. He became quickly infatuated with his new patient. She told him she had heart disease, and he looked up "Diseases of the Heart" in Ouain's "Dictionary of Medicine" and gave her all the prescribed remedies, one after another.
He heard of her reputation; chiefly from herself, probably. And that she was rich. Mr. and Mrs. Rysam came down once, with motors and maids, and made it clear; they told him what a precious charge he had. He took Edgar Rysam out golfing, golfing had been Peter Kennedy's chief interest in life until he met Margaret Capel. And Edgar found him very companionable and most considerate to a beginner. Edgar Rysam had taken to golf because he was putting on flesh, because his London doctor and some few stock-broking friends advised it. He had practised assiduously with a professional, learnt how to stand, but forgotten the lessons in approach and drive and putt. He had succeeded in acquiring a bag of fine clubs and some golfing jargon. He never knew there was any enjoyment in the game until Peter Kennedy walked round the Pineland course with him and handicapped him into winning a match. After that he wanted to play every day and always, talked of prolonging his stay, of coming down again. Margaret reproached Peter for what he had done.
"I did it to please you… I thought you wanted them to be amused."
"If that was all I wanted I would have stayed in London," she retorted. She was extraordinarily and almost contemptuously straightforward with Peter Kennedy. She knew that with a man of his limited experience it was unnecessary to be subtle. She may have sometimes encouraged his approaches, but the greater part of the time snubbed him unmercifully.
"You don't put yourself on the same level as Gabriel Stanton, do you?" she asked him scornfully one day when he was gloomily complaining that "a fellow never had a chance."
"If I were not more of a man than that I'd kick myself!"
"More of a man!"
"You wouldn't get me to stay at the hotel." She flushed and said:
"Well, you can go now. I've had enough of you, you tire me."
"You'll send for me to come back directly you are ill?"
"Very likely. That only means I like your drugs better than you."
He seized her hand, her waist, not for the first time, swore that he would kill himself if she despised and flouted him. Probably she liked the scenes he made her, for she often provoked them. They were mere rough animal scenes, acutely different from those she was able to bring about with Gabriel. But she did not do the only obvious and correct thing, which was to dismiss him and find another doctor.
In these strange days, waiting for her freedom, seeing Gabriel Stanton from Saturday to Monday and only Peter Kennedy all the long intervening week, she may have liked the excitement of being attended by a doctor who was madly in love with her. She excused herself to me on the ground that she was a novelist and he a strange and primitive creature of whom she was making a study. Also, curiously enough, he was genuinely musical. Something of an executant and an enthralled listener.
He himself suggested more than once that she should have other advice about her heart and he brought his partner to see her. But never repeated the experiment. Dr. Lansdowne purred and prodded her, talking all the time he used his stethoscope, smiling between whiles in a superior way as if he knew everything. Particularly when she tried to tell him her symptoms, or what other doctors had diagnosed.
"You have a nurse?" he asked her. "I had better see her nurse, Kennedy."
"A nurse, why should I have a nurse ? I have a maid."
"You ought never to be without a nurse. You ought never to be alone," he told her solemnly. "Now do, my dear child, be guided by me." He smiled and patted her. "I will tell Dr. Kennedy all about it, give him full instructions. I will see you again in a few days. Come, Kennedy, I can give you a lift; we will decide what is to be done." He smiled his farewell.
"See me again in a day or two! Not if I know it. Not in a day or two, or a week or two, or a month or two."
She was furious with him, and with Dr. Kennedy for having brought him. Peter Kennedy had acted well, according to his lights. He did not wish to turn his beloved patient over to his all-conquering partner, but the more infatuated he became about her the less he trusted his own knowledge.
"A bad case of angina, extensive valvular disease. Keep her as quiet as possible, she ought not to be contradicted. Get a nurse or a couple of nurses for her. Daughter of Edgar Rysam, the American millionaire, isn't she? Seems to have taken quite a fancy to you. Extraordinary creatures these so- called clever women! You ought to make a good thing out of the case."
Kennedy went back to Carbies after Dr. Lansdowne dropped him, made his way back as quickly as possible. Margaret had bidden him return to tell her what had been said.
"Not that I believe in him or in anything he may have told you. He did not even listen to my heart, he was so busy talking and grinning and reassuring me. What did he tell you? That he heard a murmur? I am so sick of that murmur. I have been hearing of it ever since I was a child."
Peter slurred over everything Lansdowne had said to him, except that she must be kept quiet; she must not allow herself to get excited. He implored her to keep very quiet. She laughed and asked whether he thought he had a calmative influence? He put his arms about her for all that she resisted him and blubbered over her like the great baby he was.
"I adore you, I want to take care of you, and you won't look at anybody but him."
She pushed him away, told him she could not bear to be touched.
"If it hadn't been for him? Tell me, if it hadn't been for Gabriel Stanton it would have been me, wouldn't it? You do like me a little, don't you?"
It was impossible to keep him at a proper distance.
"Like you! not particularly. Why should I? You are very troublesome and presumptuous."
She could not deal with him as she did with Gabriel. To this young country doctor, ten years before I knew him and he had acquired wisdom, men and women were just men and women, no more and no less. He had fallen headlong in love with Margaret, and when he saw he had, as he said, no chance, he could not be brought to believe that Gabriel Stanton was not her lover. He was demonstratively primitive, and many of his so-called medical visits she spent in fighting his advances. He knew that what she had to give she was giving to Gabriel Stanton, because she told him so, made no secret of it, but was for ever asking "If it hadn't been for him? If you'd met me first?" One would have thought that Margaret, Gabriel's "fair pale Margaret," would have resented or at least tired of this rough persistent wooing, but if this were so there was nothing in her conduct to show it.
She said or wrote to Gabriel Stanton: "the very thought of physical love is repugnant to me, horrible." Yet Peter kissed her hands, her feet, attempted her lips, made her fierce wild scenes. She called him a boy, but he was a year older than herself. Gabriel brought her books and the most reverent worship, was mindful of her slightest wish. He hoped that one day she would be his wife, but scarcely dared to say it, since once she put the matter aside, almost imploringly, growing pale, seeming afraid.
"Don't talk to me of marriage, not yet. How can you? At least, wait!"
She spoke of her sensitiveness. But her sensitiveness was as a mountain to a mist compared with his.
She would tell him her most intimate thoughts, sit with him by dying fire or in gathering twilight, holding herself aloof. If, because he was so different from Peter Kennedy, she did sometimes try her woman's wiles on him, she never moved him to depart from the programme or the principles she herself had laid down.
Another Sunday evening,—it was either the third or fourth of his coming,—sitting in the lamplight, after dinner, in the music room, after a long enervating day of mutual confidences and ever-growing intimacy, she tried to break through his defences. They had been talking of Nietzsche, not of his philosophy, but his life. She had been envying Nietzsche's devoted sister and her opportunities when, suddenly and disingenuously, she startled Gabriel by saying:
"You are not a bit interested in what I am saying, you are thinking of something else all the time."
"Of you … only of you!"
"Of the intellectual me or the physical me? Do I please you to-night?"
She nearly always wore grey, a ribbon or a flower, material or cut, diversified her wardrobe. To-night the grey material was the softest crepe de chine; and she wore one pink rose in a blue belt. This treatment gave value to her blonde cendré hair and fair complexion, she gave the impression of a most delicate, slightly faded, yet modern miniature.
"You always please me."
"Please, or excite you?"
"My dear one!"
He was startled, thought she did not know what it was she was saying. His blood leaped, but he had it under control. What was growing perfectly between them was love. She would soon be a free woman.
"I want to know. Sometimes I wonder if I were more beautiful …"
"You could not be more beautiful."
"More like other women, or perhaps if you were more like other men …"
"There is no difference between me and other men," he answered quickly. And then although he thought she did not know what she was implying, or where the conversation might carry them, he went on even more steadily: "I want to carry out your wishes. If I had the privilege of telling you all that is in my heart …"
"I am admiring your self-control."
It was true she hardly knew what was impelling her to this reckless mood. "My wishes! What are my wishes? Sometimes one thing and sometimes another. To-night for instance …"
He was in the corner of the sofa, she on the high fender stool in the firelight. There were only oil lamps in the room, and she and the fireside shone more brightly than they.
When she said softly, "To-night for instance," she got up; her eyes seemed to challenge him. He rose too, and would have taken her in his arms, but that she resisted.
"No, no, no, you don't really want to … talking is enough for you."
"You strange Margaret," he said tenderly.
"I sometimes wonder if you care for me or only for my talk," she said with a nervous laugh.
"If you only knew." His arms remained about her.
"If I only knew!" she exclaimed. "Tell me," she whispered coaxingly.
"How I long for this waiting time to be at an end. To woo you, win you. You say anything approaching physical love is hateful and abhorrent to you. Yet, if I thought … Margaret!"
She did not repel him, although his arms were around her. And now, reverently, softly, he sought and found her unreluctant lips. One of the lamps flickered and went out. His arms tightened about her; she had not thought to be so happy in any man's arms. Her heart beat very fast and the blood in her pulses rose.
"How much do you care for me?" she whispered; her voice trembled.
"More than for life itself," he whispered back.
"And I … I …" He felt her trembling in his arms as if with fear. He loved and hushed her with ineffable tenderness, his control keeping pace with his rising blood. "My love, my love, I will take care of you. Trust yourself to me. I love you perfectly, beloved."
He had an exquisite sense of honour and a complete ignorance of womanhood. A flash of electricity from him and all would have been aflame. But she had said once that until the decree was made absolute she did not look upon herself as a free woman.
"My little brave one, beloved. It will not be always like this between us. Tell me that it will not. I count the days and hours. You will take me for your husband?"
She could feel the beating of his pulses, her cheek lay against his coat. But her heart slowed down a little. How steadfast he was and reliable, the soul of honour. But she was a woman, difficult to satisfy. She had wanted from him this evening, this moment, something of that she won so easily from Peter Kennedy. The temperament she denied was alight and clamorous.
"Heart of my innermost heart."
"I am so lonely in this house."
"So lonely; it is haunted, I think. I can never sleep, I lie awake … for hours. Don't go"
Her own words shook and shocked her. She was still and supine in his encompassing arm. There was perhaps a relaxation of his moral fineness, a faint disintegration. But of only a moment's duration, and no man ever held a woman more reverently or more tenderly.
"My wife that will be … that will be soon. How I adore you."
Their hands were interlocked, they felt the dear sweetness of each other's breath; their hearts were beating fast.
Silence then, a long-drawn silence.
"It is not long now. I am counting the days, the hours. You won't say again I disappoint you, will you? You will bear with me?"
She clung closer to him. To-night he moved her strangely.
"You really do love me?" she whispered.
"I want to take care of you always. My dear, darling, how good you are to let me love you! One day I will be your husband! I dare hardly say the words. Promise me!" And again his lips sought hers." Your husband and your lover …"
An extraordinary chill came upon her. She could not herself say what had happened, the effect, but never the cause.
She disengaged herself from him. When he saw she wanted to go he made no effort to hold her.
"It is very late, isn't it?" He made no answer, and she repeated the question. "It's very late, isn't it?"
"I don't know."
"I wish you would look."
He took out his watch.
"Barely ten. You are tired?"
"Yes, a little."
"Margaret, you say you are lonely in this house, nervous. Would you feel better if I patrolled the garden, if you felt I was at hand?"
"Oh, no, no. I didn't know what I was saying."
All her mood had changed.
"I must have forgotten Stevens and the other maids."
Then she moved away from him, over to the round table where the dead lamp still gave an occasional flicker.
She tried it this way and that, but there was no flame, only flicker.
"You always take me so seriously, misunderstand me."
He came near her again.
"I don't think I misunderstand you," he said tenderly.
"I am sorry," she answered vaguely. "It was my fault."
"Fault! You have not a fault!"
"But now I want you to go."
His eyes questioned and caressed her.
"Until next week then."
He took her in his arms, but her lips were cold, unresponsive, it was almost an apology she made:
"I am really so tired."
When he had gone, lying among the pillows on the sofa, she said to herself:
"Greek roots! He is supposed to be more learned in Greek roots than any one in England. But the root word of this he missed entirely. REACTION. That is the root word. I don't know what came over me. Why is he so unlike other men? What if such a moment had come to me with Peter Kennedy!"
She smiled faintly all by herself in the firelight. How impossible it was that she should have played like this with Peter Kennedy. He moved her no more than a log of wood. Then she was suddenly ashamed, her cheeks dyed red in the darkness.