Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter XIV
"Are you glad to see me?"
"I am not sure," was an answer she understood.
"I know you have been down here since Wednesday."
"You knew it! Then why didn't you come and see me? You are very inattentive."
"I knew you would send if you wanted me." Now he looked at her with surprised, almost grudging admiration. "Your change has agreed with you; you look thundering well."
"Thundering! What an absurdly incongruous word. Never mind, I always knew you were no stylist. Yes, I am quite well, although from morning till night I did almost everything you told me not to do. I was in a whirl of excitement, tiring and overtiring myself all the time."
"I suppose I was wrong then. It seems you need excitement." He spoke with less interest than he usually gave to her, almost perfunctorily, but she noticed no difference and went on:
"The fact is I have found the elixir of life. There is such a thing, the old necromancers knew more than we. The elixir is happiness."
"You have been so happy?"
She leaned back in her chair, her eyes sought not him but the horizon. The window was open and the air was scented with the coming summer, with the fecund beauty of growing things.
"So happy," she repeated. "Incredibly happy. And only on the threshold…" Then she looked away from the sky and toward him, smiled.
"Peter, Peter Kennedy, you are not to be sour nor gloomy, you are to be happy too, to rejoice with me. You say you love me." He drew a long breath.
"You will never know how much."
"Then be glad with me. My health has revived, my youth has come back, my wasted devastated youth. I am a girl again with this added glory of womanhood. Am I hurting you? I don't want to hurt you, I only want you to understand, I can speak freely, for you always knew I was not for you. Would you like me to be uncertain, delicate, despondent? Surely not."
"I want you to be happy," he said unevenly.
"Add to it a little." She held out her hand to him. "Stay and have tea with me. Afterwards we will go up to the music room, I will give you a last lesson. Have you been practising? Peter, are you glad or sorry that we ever met? I don't think I have harmed you. You admit I roused your ambition, and surely your music has improved, not only in execution, but your musical taste. Do you remember the first time you played and sang to me? 'Put Me Among the Girls!' was the name of the masterpiece you rolled out. I put my fingers to my ears, but afterwards you played without singing, and you listened to me without fidgetting. Peter, you won't play 'Put Me Among the Girls' this afternoon, will you? What will you play to me when tea is over and we go upstairs?"
Peter Kennedy, with that strange uneasiness or lambent agony in his eyes, eyes that all the time avoided hers, answered:
"I shall play you Beethoven's 'Adieu.'"
"Poor Peter!" she said softly.
She thought he was unhappy because he loved and was losing her, because she was going to be married next week and could not disguise that the crown of life was coming to her. She was very sweet to him all that afternoon, and sorry for him, fed him with little cress sandwiches and pretty speeches, spoke to him of his talents and pressed him to practise assiduously, make himself master of the classical musicians. She really thought she was elevating him and was conscious of how well she talked.
"Then as to your profession, I am sure you have a gift. No one who has ever attended me has done me more good. I want you to take your profession very, very seriously. If it is true that you have the gift of healing and the gift of music, and I think it is, you will not be unhappy, nor lonely long."
And the poor fellow, who was really thinking all that time of the bad news and how to break it, listened to her, hearing only half she said. He did not know how to break his news, that was the truth, yet dared not leave it unbroken.
"When is Mr. Stanton coming down?" he asked her.
"Why do you dwell upon it? You have this afternoon, make the best of the time. I should like to think you were glad, not sorry we met."
He broke into crude and confused speech then and told her all she had meant to him, what new views of life she had given to him.
"You have been a perfect revelation to me. I had not dreamed a woman could be so sweet …" And then, stammeringly, he thanked her for everything. He was a little overcome because he was not sure this happiness of hers was going to last, that it would not be almost immediately eclipsed. He really did love her and in the best way, would have secured her happiness at the expense of his own, would have sacrificed everything he held dear to save her from what he feared was inevitable. He was miserably undecided, and could not throw off his depression. Not, as Margaret thought, because of his jealousy of Gabriel and ungratified love, but because he feared the wedding might never take place. He eat a great many hot cakes and sandwiches, drank two cups of tea. Afterwards in the music room he played Beethoven, and listened when she replied with Chopin. Or if he did not listen the pretence he made was good enough to satisfy her. She was secretly flattered, elated, at the effect she had produced, a little sorry for him, a little sentimental. "Why should a heart have been there in the way of a fair woman's foot?" she quoted to herself.
She sent him away before dinner. She had promised Gabriel she would keep early hours, rest, and rest, and rest until he came down on Saturday, and she meant to keep her promise. She gave Dr. Kennedy both her hands in farewell.
"I wish you did not look so woebegone. Say you are glad I am happy."
"Oh, my God!" he lost himself then, kissing the hands she gave him, speaking wildly. "If the fellow were not such a prig, if only your happiness would last …"
She drew her hands away, angry or offended.
"Last! of course it will last. Hush! don't say anything unworthy of you. Don't make me disappointed. I don't want to think I have made a mistake."
With something very like a groan he made a precipitate retreat. He could not tell her what he had come here to say, to consult her about, he would have to write, or wait until Stanton was there. He wanted her to have one more good night. He loved her radiance. She wronged him if she thought he was jealous of her happiness, or of Gabriel Stanton, although he wished so desperately and so ignorantly that her lover had been other than he was.
Margaret had her uninterrupted night, her last happy night. Peter Kennedy turned and tossed, and tossed and turned on his narrow bed, the sheets grew hot and crumpled and the pillow iron-hard, making his head ache. Towards morning he left his bed, abandoning his pursuit of the sleep that had played him false, and went for a long tramp. At six o'clock, the sun barely risen and the sea cold in a retreating tide, he tried a swim. At eight o'clock he was nevertheless no better, and no worse than he had been the day before, and the day before that. He breakfasted on husks; the bacon and eggs tasted little better. Then he read Mrs. Roope's letter for about the twentieth time and wished he had the doctoring of her!
Dear Dr. Kennedy:—
I am sorry to say that since I last saw you additional facts have come to my knowledge which in fairness to the purity which is part of the higher life I cannot ignore. That Mr. Gabriel Stanton had been visiting my cousin's wife during the six months in which she should have been penitently contemplating the errors and misdemeanours of her past, her failure in true wifeliness, I knew. That you had been passing many hours daily with her, and at unseemly hours, have also slept in her house, has only now come to my knowledge. I am nauseated by this looseness. Marriage should improve the human species, becoming a barrier against vice. This has not been so with the wife of my husband's cousin. As Mrs. Eddy so truly says "the joy of intercourse becomes the jest of sin." I return you the cheque you gave me and which becomes due next Wednesday. If neither you nor Mrs. Capel has any argument to advance that would cause me to alter my opinion I am constrained to lay the facts in my possession before the King's Proctor. Two co-respondents make the case more complicated, but my duty more simple.
Yours without any spiritual arrogance but conscious of rectitude,
"Damn her!" He had said it often, but it never forwarded matters. Time pressed, and he had done nothing, or almost nothing. He had received the letter Wednesday. On Friday before going up to Carbies he had wired, "Am consulting Mrs. C. wait result."
The early morning post came late to Pineland. Dr. Kennedy had to wait until nine o'clock for his letters. As he anticipated on Saturday morning there was another letter from the follower of Mrs. Eddy:
Dear Dr. Kennedy:—
It is my duty to let you know that I have an appointment with James Capel's lawyer for Monday the 29th inst.
In desperation he wired back, "Name terms, Kennedy," and paid reply. There were a few patients he was bound to see. The time had to be got through somehow. But at twelve o'clock he started for Carbies. Margaret had not expected to see him again. She had said good-bye to him, to the whole incident. Her "consciousness of rectitude," as far as Peter Kennedy was concerned, was as complete as Mrs. Roope's. She had found him little better than a country yokel, and now saw him with a future before him, a future she still vaguely meant to forward—only vaguely. Definitely all her thoughts were with Gabriel and the hours they would pass together. She was meeting him at the station at three o'clock. She remembered the first time she had met him at Pineland station, and smiled at the remembrance. He might cut himself shaving with impunity now, and the shape of his hat or his coat mattered not one jot.
Not expecting Peter Kennedy, but Gabriel Stanton, she was already arrayed in one of her trousseau dresses, a simple walking-costume of blue serge, a shirt of fine cambric, and was spending a happy hour trying on hat after hat to decide not only which was most suitable but which was the most becoming. Hearing wheels on the gravel she looked out of the window. Seeing Peter she almost made up her mind not to go down. She had just decided on a toque of pansies … she might try the effect on Peter. She was a little disingenuous with herself, vanity was the real motive, although she sought for another as she went downstairs.
Peter was in the drawing-room, staring vacantly out of the window. He never noticed her new clothes. She saw that in his eyes, and it quenched any welcome there might have been in hers. It was her expression he answered with his impulsive:
"I had to come!"
"You mustn't be satirical," he said desperately. "Or be what you like, what does it matter? I'd rather have shot myself than come to you with such news …" Her sudden pallor shook him. "You can guess of course."
"No, I can't."
"That blasted woman!"
"She has written again. Sit down." She sank into the easy-chair. All her radiance was quenched, she looked piteous, pitiable. He could not look at her.
"I came up here yesterday afternoon, meaning to tell you. You were so damned happy I couldn't get it out."
"So damned happy!" she repeated after him, and the words were strange on her white lips, her laugh was stranger still and made him feel cold.
"You haven't got to take it like that; we'll find a way out. I suppose, after all, it's only a question of money …"
"I cannot give her more money."
"I've got some. I can get more. You know I haven't a thing in the world you are not welcome to, you've made a man of me."
"It is not because I haven't the money to give her." She spoke in a strange voice, it seemed to have shrunk somehow, there was no volume in it, it was small and colourless.
"I don't know how much she wants. I have wired her and paid a reply. I daresay her answer is there by now. I'll phone and ask if you like."
"What's the use?"
"Well, we'd better know."
"He said that is what would happen. That she would come again and yet again." She was taking things even worse than he expected. "He will never give in to her, never …" She collapsed fitfully, like an electric lamp with a broken wire. "Everything is over, everything."
"I don't see that."
She went on in that small colourless voice:
"I know. We don't see things the way Gabriel does. I promised to tell him, to consult him if she came again."
He hesitated, even stammered a little before he answered:
"He … he had better not be told of this."
She laughed again, that little incongruous hopeless laugh.
"I haven't any choice, I promised him."
"Promised him what?"
"To let him know if she came back again, if I heard anything more about it."
"This isn't exactly 'it.'" This is a fresh start altogether. I suppose you know how I hate what I am saying. The position can't be faced, it's got to be dodged. It's not only Gabriel Stanton she's got hold of …"
He did not want to go on, and she found some strange groundless hope in his hesitation.
"Not Gabriel Stanton?" she asked, and there seemed more tone in her voice, more interest. She leaned forward.
"Perhaps you'd like to see her letter." He gave it to her, then without a word went over to the other window, turned his face away from her. There was a long silence. Margaret's face was aflame, but her heart felt like ice. Peter Kennedy to be dragged in, to have to defend herself from such a charge! And Gabriel yet to be told! She covered her eyes, but was conscious presently that the man was standing beside her, speaking.
"Margaret!" His voice was as unhappy as hers, his face ravaged. "It is not my fault. I'd give my life it hadn't happened. That night you had the heart attack I did stay for hours, prowled about … then slept on the drawing-room sofa. Margaret …"
"Oh! hush! hush!"
"You must listen, we must think what is best to be done," he said desperately. "Let me go up to London and see her. I'm sure I can manage something. It's not … it's not as if there were anything in it." His tactlessness was innate, he meant so well but blundered hopelessly, even putting a hand on her knee in the intensity of his sympathy. She shook it off as if he had been the most obnoxious of insects. "Let me go up and see her," he pleaded. "Authorise me to act. May I see if there is an answer to my telegram? I sent it a little before nine. May I telephone?"
"Do what you like."
"You loathe me."
"I wish you had never been born."
He was gone ten minutes … a quarter of an hour perhaps. When he came back she had slipped on to the couch, was lying in a huddled-up position. For a moment, one awful moment, he thought she was dead, but when he lifted her he saw she had only fainted. He laid her very gently on the sofa and rang for help, glad of her momentary unconsciousness. He knew what he intended to do now, and to what he must try to persuade her. Stevens came and said, unsympathetically enough:
"She's drored her stays too tight. I told her so this morning." But she worked about her effectively and presently she struggled back, seeming to have forgotten for the moment what had stricken her.
"Have I had another heart attack?" she asked feebly.
"I told you you were lacing too tight. I knew what would happen with these new stays and things." She actually smiled at Stevens, a wan little smile.
"I feel rather seedy still."
Peter took the cushion from her, made her lie flat. Then she said in a puzzled way, her mind working slowly:
There was little time to be lost and he answered awkwardly, abruptly:
"I brought you bad news."
She shut her eyes and lay still thinking that over. She opened them and saw his working face and anxious eyes.
"About Mrs. Roope," he reminded her. They were alone, the impeccable Stevens had gone for a hot-water bottle.
"What is it exactly? Tell me all over again. I am feeling rather stupid. I thought we had settled and finished with her?"
"She has reopened the matter, dragged me in." She remembered now, and the flush in his face was reflected in hers. "But it is only a question of money. I've got her terms."
"We must not give her money. Gabriel says…"
He would not let her speak, interrupting her hurriedly, continuing to speak without pause.
"The sum isn't impossible. As a matter of fact I can find it myself, or almost the whole amount. Then there's Lansdowne, he's really not half a bad fellow when you know him. And he's as rich as Crœsus, he would gladly lend it to me."
"No. Nonsense! Don't be absurd." She was thinking, he could see that she was thinking whilst she spoke.
"It's my affair as much as yours," he pleaded. "There is my practice to consider."
She almost smiled:
"Then you actually have a practice?"
"I'm going to have. Quite a big one too. Haven't you told me so?" He was glad to get the talk down for one moment to another level. "It would be awfully bad for me if anything came out. I am only thinking of myself. I want to settle with her once for all."
Her faint had weakened her, she was just recovering from it. Physically she was more comfortable, mentally less alert, and satisfied it should be so.
"Perhaps I took it too tragically?" she said slowly." Perhaps as you say, in a way, it is your affair."
He answered her eagerly.
"That's right. My affair, and nothing to do with your promise to him. Then you'll leave it in my hands …"
"You go so fast," she complained.
"The time is so short; she can't have anything else up her sleeve. I funked telling you, I've left it so late." He showed more delicacy than one would have given him credit for and stumbled over the next sentences. "He would hate to think of me in this connection. You'd hate to tell him. Just give me leave to settle with her. I'll dash up to town."
"How much does she want?"
"Five hundred. I can find the money."
"Nonsense; it isn't the money. I wish I knew what I ought to do," she said indecisively. "If only I hadn't promised …"
"This is nothing to do with what you promised … this is a different thing altogether."
He was sophistical and insistent and she was weak, allowed herself to be persuaded. The money of course must be her affair, she could not allow him to be out of pocket.
They disputed about this and he had more arguments to bring forward. These she brushed aside impatiently. If the money was to be paid she would pay it, could afford it better than he.
"I'm sure I am doing wrong," she repeated when she wrote out the cheque, blotted and gave it to him.
"He'll never know. No one will ever know."
Peter Kennedy was only glad she had yielded. He had, of course, no thought of himself in the matter. Why should he? In losing her he lost everything that mattered, that really mattered. And he had never had a chance, not an earthly chance. He believed her happiness was only to be secured by this marriage, and he dreaded the effect upon her health of any disappointment or prolonged anxiety. "Once you are married it doesn't matter a hang what she says or does," he said gloomily or consolingly when she had given him the cheque.
"Suppose … suppose … Gabriel were to get to know?" she asked with distended eyes. Some reassurance she found for herself after Peter Kennedy had gone, taking with him the cheque that was the price of her deliverance.
Would Gabriel be so inflexible, seeing what was at stake? The last fortnight in a way had drawn them so much closer to each other. They must live together in that house within the Sanctuary at Westminster. Must. Oh! if only life would stand still until next Wednesday! The next hour or two crushed heavily over her. She knew she had done wrong, that she had promised and broken her promise. No sophistry really helped her. But, whatever happened, she must have this afternoon and a long Sunday, alone with him, growing more necessary to him. Finally she succeeded in convincing herself that he would never know, or that he would forgive her when he did know, at the right time, when the time came to tell him.
She forced herself to a pretence at lunch. Then went slowly upstairs to complete her interrupted toilette. Looking in the glass now she saw a pale and distraught face that ill-fitted the pansy toque. She changed into something darker, more suitable, with a cock's feather. All her desire was that Gabriel should be pleased with her appearance, to give Gabriel pleasure.
"I haven't any rouge, have I, Stevens?"
"I should 'ope not."
"I don't want Mr. Stanton to find me looking ill."
"You look well enough, considering. He won't notice nothing. The carriage is here." Stevens gave her gloves and a handkerchief.
Now she was bowling along the quiet country road, on the way to meet him. The sky was as blue, the air as sweet as she had anticipated. On the surface she was all throbbing expectation. She was going to meet her lover, nothing had come between them, could come between them.
But in her subconsciousness she was suffering acutely. It seemed she must faint again when the train drew in and she saw him on the platform, but the feeling passed. Never had she seen him look so completely happy. There was no hint or suggestion of austerity about him, or asceticism. The porter swung his bag to the coachman. Gabriel took his place beside her in the carriage. A greeting passed between them, only a smile of mutual understanding, content. Nothing had happened since they parted, she told herself passionately, else he had not looked so happy, so content.
"We'll drop the bag at the hotel, if you don't mind."
"Like we did the first time you came," Margaret answered. His hand lay near hers and he pressed it, keeping it in his.
"We might have tea there, on that iron table, as we did that day," he said.
"And hear the sea, watch the waves," she murmured in response.
"You like me better than you did that day."
"I know you better." She found it difficult to talk.
"Everything is better now," he said with a sigh of satisfaction. It was twenty minutes' drive from the station to the hotel. He was telling her of an old oak bureau he had seen, of the way the workmen were progressing, of a Spode dinner service George was going to give them. Once when they were between green hedges in a green solitude, he raised the hand he held to his lips and said:
"Only three days more."
She was in a dream from which she had no wish to wake.
"You don't usually wear a veil, do you?" he asked. "There is something different about you today …"
"It is my new trousseau," she answered, not without inward agitation, but lightly withal. "The latest fashion. Don't you like it? "Now they had left the sheltering hedges and were within sight of the white painted hostelry.
"The hat and dress and everything are lovely. But your own loveliness is obscured by the veil. It makes you look ethereal; I cannot see you so clearly through it. Beloved, you are quite well, are you not?" There was a note of sudden anxiety in his voice. "It is the veil, isn't it? You are not pale?" She shook her head.
"No, it is the veil." They pulled up at the door of the hotel. There was another fly there, but empty, the horse with a nose-bag, feeding, the coachman not on the box.
"The carriage is to wait. You can take the bag up to my room," he said to the porter. Then turned to help Margaret.
"Send out tea for two as quickly as you can. The table is not occupied, is it?"
"There is a lady walking about," the man said. "I don't know as she 'as ordered tea. She's been here some time, seems to be waiting for some one."
"Oh! we don't want any one but ourselves," Margaret exclaimed, still with that breathless strange agitation.
"I'll see to that, milady." He touched his cap.
When they walked down the path to where, on the terrace overlooking the sea, the iron table and two chairs awaited them, Margaret said reminiscently:
"I sat and waited for you here whilst you saw your room, washed your hands …"
"And today I cannot leave you even to wash my hands."
The deep tenderness in his voice penetrated, shook her heart. He remembered what they had for tea last time, and ordered it again when the waiter came to them: Strawberry jam in a little glass dish, clotted cream, brown and white bread and butter. "The sea is calmer than it was on that day," he said when the waiter went to execute the order.
"The sky is not less blue," Margaret answered, and it seemed as if they were talking in symbols.
"How wonderful it all is!" That was his exclamation, not hers. She was unusually silent, but was glad of the tea when it came, ministering to him and spreading the jam on the bread and butter.
"Let me do it."
"No," she answered. When she drew her veil up a little way to drink her tea one could see that her lips were a little tremulous, not as pink as usual. Gabriel, however, was too supremely happy and content to notice anything. He poured out all his news, all that had happened since she left, little things, chiefly details of paper and paint and the protection of their property from her father and stepmother's destructive generosity.
"It will be all right. I had a chat with Travers." Travers was the foreman of the painters. "He will do nothing but with direct orders from us. The concrete in the basement won't affect the general appearance, we can put back the old boards over it. But I think that might be a mistake although the boards are very interesting, about four times as thick as the modern ones, worm or rat eaten through. They will make the pipes for the bath as little obtrusive as possible. The electric wire casings will go behind the ceiling mouldings. They are not really mouldings, but carved wood, fallen to pieces in many places. But I am having them replaced. Margaret, are you listening?"
She had been. But some one had come out of the hotel. Far off as they were she heard that turkey gobble and impedimented speech.
"You can tell Dr. Kennedy that I would not wait any longer. Tell him I have gone straight up to Carbies. I shall see Mrs. Capel."
"The lady from Carbies is here, ma'am; having tea on the terrace, that's her carriage."
Gabriel had not heard, he was so intent on Margaret and his news. The sea was breaking on the shingle, and to that sound, so agreeable to him, he was also listening idly, in the intervals of his talk. The strange voice in the distance escaped him. The familiar impediment was not familiar to him. Margaret was cold in the innermost centre of her unevenly beating heart.
"Are you listening?" he asked her, and the face she turned on him was white through the obscuring veil.
"I am listening, Gabriel."
"I will go down and speak to her," Mrs. Roope was saying to the waiter. "No, you need not go in advance."
Margaret's heart stood still, the space of a second, and then thundered on, irregularly. She had no plan ready, her quick brain was numbed.
Gabriel looked up and saw a tall woman conspicuously dressed as nun or nursing sister, in blue flowing cloak and bonnet. A woman with irregular features, large nose and coarse complexion. When she had said "Mrs. Capel" Margaret cringed, a shiver went through her, she seemed to shrink into the corner of the chair. "You know me. I wrote to Dr. Kennedy Wednesday and the letter required an immediate answer. Now I've come for it."
"He went up to London to see you," she got out.
"I shall have to be sure you are telling me the truth."
"You can ask at the station."
Gabriel looked from one to the other perplexedly. But his perplexity was of short duration, the turkey gobble and St. Vitus twist it was impossible to mistake. He intervened sharply:
"You are Mrs. Roope, my sister's so-called 'healer.' When Mrs. Capel assures you of anything you have not to doubt it." He spoke haughtily. "Why are you here?"
"You know that well enough, Gabriel Stanton."
"This is the woman who blackmailed you?" The "yes" seemed wrung from her unwillingly. His voice was low and tender when he questioned Margaret, quite a different voice to the one in which he spoke again to the Christian Scientist.
"How dare you present yourself again? You ought to have been given in charge the first time. Are you aware that blackmailing is a criminal offence?"
"I am aware of everything I wish. If you care for publicity my motive can stand the light of day."
"You ought to be in gaol."
"It would not harm me. There is no sensation in matter."
"You would be able to test your faith."
"Are you sure of yours?"
Margaret caught hold of his sleeve:
"Don't bandy words with her, Gabriel. She says things without meaning. Let her go. I will send her away." She got up and spoke quickly. "Dr. Kennedy has gone up to town to see you. To … take you what you asked. When he does not find you in London he will come straight back here. They will have told him, I suppose, where you have gone? He has the money with him."
"What are you saying, Margaret?" Gabriel rose too, stood beside her.
"Wait a minute. Leave me alone, I have to make her understand."
Margaret was in an agony of anxiety that the woman should know her claims had been met, that she should say nothing more before Gabriel. She did not realise what she was admitting, did not see the change in his face, the petrifaction.
"Why don't you go up to his house, wait for him there?" Then she said to Gabriel quickly and unconvincingly:
"This is Dr. Kennedy's affair. It was Dr. Kennedy for whom you were asking, wasn't it?" Mrs. Roope's cunning was equal to the occasion.
"It is Dr. Kennedy I have got to see," she said slowly.
"If he misses you in London he will get back as quickly as possible." Margaret's strained anxiety was easy to read. Afterwards Gabriel followed her, as she moved quickly toward the hotel.
"What has she got to do with Dr. Kennedy or he with her?" he asked then. Margaret spoke hastily:
"She sent back the post-dated cheque. It is all settled only they missed each other. Peter went up to town to find her and she misunderstood and came after him. He has the other cheque with him."
She was purposely incoherent, meaning him to misunderstand, hoping against hope that he would show no curiosity. Mrs. Roope came after them, planted herself heavily in their path.
"I'll give him until the last train."
"Telephone to your own house and you will find he has been there," Margaret said desperately. "Let me pass."
"You may go."
"Insolence!" But Margaret hurried on and he could not let her go alone.
"I will go into the drawing-room. Get the carriage up. We mustn't stay here …" She spoke breathlessly.
"You are not frightened of her?" He hardly knew what to think, that Margaret was concealing anything from him was unbelievable, unbearable.
"Frightened? No. But I want to be away from her presence, vicinity. She makes me feel ill…"
Margaret thought the danger was averted, or would be if she could get away without any more explanation. She had obscured the issue. Peter Kennedy would come back and pay all that was asked. Gabriel would never know that it was the second and not the first attempt at blackmailing from which they were suffering. But she underrated his intelligence, he was not at all so easily put off. He got the carriage round and put her in it, enwrapping her with the same care as always. He was very silent, however, as they drove homeward and his expression was inscrutable. She questioned his face but without result, put out her hand and he held it.
"We are not still thinking of Mrs. Roope, Gabriel?"
"Have you seen her since I was here last?" he asked.
"Not until she came up to us this afternoon." She was glad to be able to answer that truthfully, breathed more freely.
"Nor heard from her?"
"Nor heard from her."
"How did you know Dr. Kennedy had gone up to town to see her?"
"He told me so this morning. I . . . I advised him to go."
"Was this morning the first time you saw him?"
"No, I saw him yesterday. Am I under cross-examination?" She tried to smile, speak lightly, but Gabriel sat up by her side without response. His face was set in harsh lines. She loved him greatly but feared him a little too, and put forth her powers, talking lightly and of light things. He came back to the subject and persisted:
"Why did she send back the post-dated cheque? Had she another given her?"
"I . . . I suppose so."
"I don't like the way you are talking to me." She pouted, and he relapsed into silence.
When they got back to Carbies she said she must go up and change her dress. She was very shaken by his attitude: she thought his self-control hid incredulity or anger, found herself unable to face either.
He detained her a moment, pleaded with her.
"Margaret, if there is anything behind this … anything you want to tell me…" She escaped from his detaining arm.
"I don't like my word doubted."
"You have not given me your word. This is not a second attempt, is it? Why did she force herself upon you? I shall see Kennedy myself tomorrow, find out what is going on."
"Why should there be anything going on? You are conjuring up ghosts …" Then she weakened, changed. "Gabriel, don't be so hard, so unlike yourself. I don't know what has come over you."
He put his arms about her and spoke hoarsely:
"My darling, my more than treasure. I can't doubt you, and yet I am riven with doubt. Forgive me, but how can you forgive me if I am wrong? Tell me again, tell me once and for always that nothing has been going on of which I have been kept in ignorance, that you would not, could not have broken your word to me. You look ill, scared … I know now that from the moment I came you have not been yourself, your beautiful candid self. Margaret, crown of my life, sweetheart; darling, speak, tell me. Is there anything I ought to know?" He spoke with ineffable tenderness.
He was bending over her, holding her, her heart beat against his heart; she would have answered had she been able. But when her words came they were no answer to his.
"Darling, how strange you are! There is certainly nothing you ought to know. Let me go and get my things off. How strange that you should doubt me, that you should rather believe that dreadful woman. I have never seen her since you were down here last, nor heard from her. …"
Her cheeks flamed and were hidden against his coat, she hated her own disingenuousness. It had been difficult to tell him, now it was impossible. "Let me go."
He released her and she went over to the looking-glass, adjusted her veil. She had burnt her boats, now there was nothing for it but denial and more denial. Thoughts went in and out of her aching head like forked lightning. He would never know. Peter would arrange, Peter would manage. It was a dreadful thing she had done, dreadful. But she had been driven to it. If the time would come over again … but time never does come over again. She must play her part and play it boldly. She was trembling inside, but outwardly he saw her preening herself before the glass as she talked to him.
"I think we have had enough of Mrs. Roope. You haven't half admired my frock. I have a great mind not to wear my new teagown tonight. I should resent it being ignored. We ought to go out again until dinner, the afternoon is lovely. I can't sit on the beach in this, but I need only slip on an old skirt. Shall I put on another skirt? Do you feel in the humour for the beach? I've a thousand questions to ask you. I seem to have been down here by myself for an age. I have actually started a book! What do you say to that? I want to tell you about it. What has been decided about the door-plates? What did the parents say when they heard I'd fled?"
"I didn't see them until the next day."
"Had they recovered?"
"They were resigned. I promised to bring you back with me on Monday."
"And now you don't want to?"
"How can you say that?"
"Did I say it? My mood is frivolous, you mustn't take me too seriously. The beach. . . you haven't answered about the beach. Perhaps you'd rather walk. I don't mind adventuring this skirt if we walk."
"You are not too tired?"
Something had come between them, some summer cloud or thunderstorm. Try as they would during the remainder of the day they could not break through or see each other as clearly as before. Margaret talked frivolously, or seriously, rallied, jested with him. He struggled to keep up with her, to take his tone from hers, to be natural. But both of them were acutely aware of failure, of artificiality. The walk, the dinner, the short evening failed to better the situation. When they bade each other good-night he made one more effort.
"You find it impossible to forgive me?"
"There is nothing I would not forgive you. That's the essential difference between us," she answered lightly.
"There is no essential difference; don't say it."
"The day has been something of a failure, don't you think? But then so was the day when you cut yourself shaving." She maintained the flippant tone. "That came right. Perhaps tomorrow when we meet we shall find each other wholly adorable again." She would not be serious, was light, frivolous to the last. "Good-night. Don't paint devils, don't see ghosts. Tomorrow everything may be as before. Kiss me good-night. Sleep well!" He kissed her, hesitated, kept her in the shelter of his arms:
"Margaret. . ." She freed herself:
"No. I know that tone. It means more questions. You ought to have lived in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Don't you wish you could put me on the rack? There is a touch of the inquisitor about you. I never noticed it before … Good-night!"