Julia Frankau.

Full swing online

. (page 25 of 27)
Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 25 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

will never leave you alone. But if you were my wife — when
you are my wife "

" Oh, Michael, don'ir— don't"

He' would have put his arms round her. She shrank from
him. He saw the revulsion in her face and her dilated eyes, her

" I — I didn't mean it," she faltered. Now Michael went
as pale as she.


"You said you wished to marry me to-day, as soon as

" I— I didn't think of— of-

Of kissing me ? " He went as red as he had been pale.
Is that it ? " He stood quite near her, but he did not touch
her. " You had not thought of that? "

" No."

" Yet it has to be thought of." He could only woo her in
his own way.

" I didn't think of that." She was panting, frightened,


" Think now."

" I couldn't— couldn't ''

" Bear me near you ? " He spoke low. His arms ached
for her, literally ached. His heart ached too, but to that he
was accustomed.

" You said you wished to marry me." He repeated it,
but he knew how long ago that seemed, how far away, that now
she could not bear him to touch her.

" I know. You'll never forgive me ; I know you can never
forgive me."

" It's not a question of forgiveness." And then he was
silent. " It is no question of forgiveness," he said again. " I
was there for you to use. I am here for you to use. I only
want you to be sure this time. You don't want me "

" I do want you."

She was ashamed of herself now, and sorry, very sorry for
Michael. She could not let him kiss her, she could not bear
his arms round her ; she could never care for Michael like that

never. She saw his eye-glass and smooth hair and bony

hands ; all her body shrank from him.

" Not for your husband ? " The crimson flooded her. the
blood beat in her temples.

" Oh, no, no ! " She said she was sorry, but his hurt went
deeper than she could know.

" Do forgive me," she asked again.

" It doesn't matter," he answered stiffly. He turned away
from her; he did not want her to see what it meant to him


that she shrank from liis touch, cowered away from his kiss
as if from a blow ; that to-day she could not even bear to think
of liim as her husband. " It doesn't matter." Then he pulled
himself together, speaking in a different tone. He had to face
the position, and face it so that she should not know the cost
to him. Yesterday she had cried on his shoulder; yesterday
she had asked his protection. Well, she had had it. And the
night had been his own. He had had that night of dreaming.

" Will you see your cousin ? " he asked, as if yesterday she
had not said she would never see him again. " He says he
comes from your aunt, bearing a message from her."

"Ought I to?"

" How should I know ? " He spoke roughly, but recollected
himself, and went on more quietly, " What is your own feel-
ing ? " She answered truthfully :

" Frightened. I am frightened."

" He has promised not to importune you." Her flush was

" You'll stay, won't you ? You'll stay here if I have to
see him ? "

" I shall do whatever you require."

"He is not to talk to me; he is only to give me tlje

" I will tell him."

Michael knew — he knew before he went to fetch Desmond
what she feared. It was herself. Eeaction had been succeeded
by reaction, and to-day she did not hate Desmond any more.
How could she, after those long years ? She was one burning
flush, inside and outside, when she thought of him, and that he
had been untrue to her. But she did not hate him.

Michael delivered her message accurately, and Desmond
gave the required promise. Eunice tried to be dignified when
he came in — dignified with Desmond ! She would not look at
him. Her eyes could not meet his, and his, too, were averted.

" You have a message ? " She meant her voice to be very
cold and dignified, but it was only faltering.

" From my mother."

"What is it?"


" She is much worse."

"Not— not ?"

" Dr. Eeid and Sir Simeon G-reenlees say so. She wants
you to come back — to come back at once with me. She wants
to say good-bye to you."

There was a break in his voice. Her quick tears rose, her
face paled, her voice stammered.

" You — you are sure I shall be in time ? "

" We must catch the two-five."

They were only conscious of each other. Eunice had a
faint disloyal doubt whether it was a ruse, a ruse to get her
back. But she wanted to go. Oh, how much she wanted to
go ! There, at Marley, was home. Here was Michael with his
reproachful face. Was it reproachful? She could not see
through the tears that gathered, when she said again :

"You are sure — ^you are sure that I shall be in time?"

" She was sure."

In the cab on the way to the station she stole a glance at
Desmond, and saw his eyes were swollen. She wanted to put
her hand in his ; they had always comforted each other. But
she refrained, remembering that he had deceived her, and that
there had been another woman and a baby. In the railway
carriage, on the way to Marley, they hardly spoke' to each
other, or spoke as strangers. It was so unusual, like some-
thing that could not be happening. She pretended to look
at the pictures in the illustrated papers, and he looked out
of the window. Only as they neared Marley, when they were
within a minute or two of the station and the speed was
already slackening, he spoke :

" You said I wasn't to speak to you, but you've got to hear
this. They — she," he blurted it out, " Biddy and the baby are
at the Co^^^t. My mother does not know, and it is to be kept
from her. I suppose that will make your coming back worse
than ever. I can't help it — I can't turn them away." His
voice lowered. "I suppose you hate to be under the same roof
with her, that you hate the very thought of her." His voice
was not only lowered, but broken.


" I don't hate her, I don't want her to .be anywhere else.
She has the right to be at Marley."

" If nothing had happened, it is you who would have had
to decide who should or should not be at Marley. We should
have been married by now. And if mother was too ill to say
what was to be done, you'd have had to say it."

Her heart fluttered; that Desmond should be speaking to
her like this was unreal. Desmond ! Whenever he had been
in disgrace or distress she had comforted him, helped him.
Now, when he looked more unhappy than ever he had done
before, she had nothing comforting to say to him.

" I never thought of hating the baby. Of course, it ought
to be there," she said violently, and then stopped, flushed.
" I'll never forgive you for not having told me," she went on
vehemently. " I wish you wouldn't speak to me; I don't want
to talk to you. I had to come back because you said she wanted
to say good-bye to me. . . ."

" You don't seem to care how unhappy I am."

" It's your own fault."

" Do you think you need remind me ? "

'^ I don't want to remind you. I don't want to speak to
you." He opened his mouth as if to remonstrate or plead,
but thought better of it. He had promised not to importune
or hurry her, she was coming back to the Court, it was impos-
sible to think of her as being like this wnth him always.

In an unnatural silence they completed their journey,
driving to the Court as they had driven to Paddington, without
words, but acutely conscious of each other's proximity.


But once she was back at the Court it was as if she had never
left; they all combined to make her feel it. Michael's father
met them at the lodge gate and praised her, saying slie was a
good girl to come. Desmond, before she went np to her aunt's
room, contrived to say:

" I'll keep out of your way as much as possible."

Lady G-rindelay's first words were :

" Was the train late ? " as if she had been watching and
wearying for her. There was no allusion that day to the
reason for her going nor the necessity for her return.

An operation might have hastened the end. Without
it the patient lingered. Andrew went back to town, but came
down every evening, sleeping in the house, at Agatha's request.
There were a few days when she suffered intensely, and every-
one, even the nurses, hoped the agony would not be prolonged.

" Such a long passage, such a long and difficult passage,"
she was heard to murmur. Death came slowly; she was very
brave, but she did complain sometimes that it came slowly.

The question of the operation was raised again, but she
was steady in refusing it, and in saying that she would die a
natural death. Dr. Eeid and his son Jack, who were both in
attendance now, took different views. Dr. Eeid upheld her,
Jack argued all the time. He thought nothing was being done
that ought to be done. A dozen new scientific experiments
occurred to him; he was idtra-modem, up to date. The old
man knew that when the fiat has gone forth neither drugs nor
the surgeon's knife can avail.

" Leave her in peace, cease arguing with her," he told Jack.
" Is it worth while to give her a few weeks longer, or even
months ? She is beyond cure."

Jack thought differently. He was seven-and-twenty, and
had learnt everything the London and Paris hospitals could
teach him, he had also been to Berlin and Vienna. Death



seemed almost an incredible thing to .him ; there were so many
new weapons with which to fight it.

Jack had another patient in the house just now. Biddy
and the baby remained, and Jack tried many of his experi-
ments on the baby. If it thrived it was in spite of them.

Lady Grindelay knew now of these strange inmates in her
house. How she came to know was difficult to decide. But
one day she said :

" It is that woman's child I hear, I suppose ! Is it because
of her you will not marry Desmond ? "

Startled, Eunice answered quickly:

" Yes."

But it was not true. If it had been it was so no longer.
She had heard Desmond's story by now. Living in the same
house, often in the sick room together, where Lady Grindelay
summoned them in her intervals of consciousness, it had been
impossible to avoid him. They both cared for this old woman
who lay dying. They cried about her sometimes, thinking
it terrible she should have to suffer so cruelly. Their tears
brought them together.

" Poor auntie," Eunice would say pitifully,

" Isn't it awful ? " Desmond would reply, his eyes wet.

" Can't anything more be done for her ? When I see her
so brave, and then hear her moan, I'm beside -myself. I
sometimes think I've only just got to care about her, to
understand her."

Eunice had to comfort him. Just as he had to try and
explain the past to her, for all she had told him she did not
want to hear. He could not tell his story very well, nor
convincingly, but haltingly and lamely. How could he ex-
plain Nurse Eadlett to the girl ? He could not explain her to
himself, nor how he had fallen.

" She is married now, anyway. I shall never see or hear
from her again. She wrote that to the McKays, and that I
was welcome to the child. Don't yooi think it awful when
a baby has neither a father nor a mother — only Biddy? I
suppose I ought not to be mentioning her to you at all. I
wish you didn't feel so badly about her," he said unhappily.


Nobody knew, least of all Desmond, that Eunice did not
feel badly abont the baby nor resent her presence.

Often, so often, without Desmond or anyone knowing
of it, she had stopped at the nursery door, gone in, seen the
baby girlie lying on a rug, crowing or trying to talk ; so often
she had taken it into her arms ! All her instincts should have
been against the child, but they were not, they yearned to
her in tearful tenderness. But in secret, always in secret.
She was for ever telling herself that she was no longer in love
with Desmond, he had deceived her, kept things from her. But
now her anger had died down, and she believed her aunt was
responsible for his reticence. She did not allow her mind to
dwell upon the woman, married now and out of his life. In
secret, and half ashamedly, she haunted the nursery, found
herself unable to keep away, crying over the baby sometimes
because it was motherless and without anyone to love it. Such
a darling baby, too, so small and sweet, a cuddly baby. It
learnt to know her, held out appealing arms, gurgled at her.
When she held the little one in her arms it was difficult to
put her down again.

There are born mothers in the world as there are born
poets, and Eunice was one of these. Day by day this baby
found a way into her heart. Many and many a time when
she stole into the room to see the child undressed, she forgot
everything concerning her except that she was a baby, soft to
touch and sweet to hold. Eeynolds as well as Biddy knew of
these stolen visits of the girl. No one else, not Desmond,
nor, of course, the dying woman.

There came a day when there was a cessation in Lady
Grindelay's constant pain, some new era or change took place
in the disease. The great weight of disaster was lifted tem-
porarily from the home, the head of the household was not
going to die, she was getting better. We have all seen such
deathbed revivals, and only the young and inexperienced take
hope from them. Eunice and Desmond were both. Lady


Grindelay, although she knew hotter, led them on. She
crowed over nurses and doctors.

"Didn'^t I tell you so?" she said. "Didn't I tell you I
was not going to die yet ? "

The improvement in her health had its inevitable conse-
quence. The reins had slipped, not fallen, and now she was
for gathering them up again.

" How are matters between you and Eunice ? " she asked
Desmond when he was alone with her.

" In a way we are friends," he answered hesitatingly.
He was sure and unsure. She avoided him, ran from him,
but he had once made her admit tliat she did beliefve he
had never cared for anybody else. " It is only the child that
is between us," he told his mother.

" I must see you married before I die. You can be married
here, by my bedside, you can wait for your honeymoon until
I'm gone. I want to see you happy."

"You'll never persuade her, I fear. If you only could ! "

After that it was easy to see the dying woman thought of
nothing else. It was wonderful how her brain still worked
in her tortured body, how nothing counted with her now but
her son's happiness.

" You shall neither see nor hear of the child. Of course
it ought never to have been brought here — would not have
been but for my illness. I will provide for her. Do not be
obstinate, Eunice. Desmond has done nothing to excuse you
behaving so badly to him. Every man has some such history
in his life. My poor boy must not suffer because there are
bad women in the world, and one met him when he was weak,
a Delilah against whom he was never warned. I ought to
have warned him. I sent him away from me without a safe-
guard. He must have a wife, I understand that now. You
must not think only of yourself."

" I'm not thinking only of myself."

" The child will be provided for."

" I don't care for Desmond as I used.''

" I can't leave him in loneliness."

" I don't want to marry him."


Lady Grindelay deemed that was of little consequence,
one has to remember she had been a long time under drugs.
She told Desmond to get a special licence, she thought the
opportunity for using it would come. Her whole mind was
set upon how to bring about the marriage.

The last time Eunice told her aunt she would not marry
Desmond, that nothing would induce her to, that she did
not care for him any more, was the day when the revival of
Lady Grindelay was at its height, and even Reynolds began
to think a miracle might be wrought. Desmond was full
of hope, his spirits rose unconsciously. He talked with his
mother, in her new and strange recrudescence, about what
was to be done with Biddy and the child. Whatever it was to
be, must be done quickly. He would not forget his obligations,
but both he and Lady Grindelay agreed that it must be sent
from Marley, away for the moment from the girl's sight.

" She must be brought to forget it. When you have the
licence I will make the opportunity for you to use it. She
will not disregard my last wish, my dying wish."

" But you are getting better.'' He was sitting by the bed,
and he put his head on the pillow beside her own. " You
don't know how bad it wasi when you were in pain, mother;
you'll get well now? Everything will come right if you get

To have him lying there, his handsome curly head so near,
his loving words in her ear, was wonderful to her, a happiness
she must deserve.

" I will get well if I can. There are so many things I
want to say to you. You came to me when I was already old,
I knew so little about boys and men. And men ! I have never
cared for any man but you. Other women are not like that,
and I ... I found it out too late. Lying here, I see
so many of my mistakes. Andrew was right; I ought never
to have tried to stand alone. I want to put everything right
before I go, I want to see you married."

"Dear old mother ! "

" You must have someone to care for you when I am gone.


There are women who sliould never marry. I was one of
them, but Eunice is different."

" If you had never married there would never have been
me. Say you are glad I am here."

" I am only thinking how I can make up to you for all
you have missed."

" I haven't missed anything."

" Only a mother," she said rather pitifully, her old lips
aquiver. " But I will give you a wife. Go and talk to her
now. I want to be alono "

When he found her, he began gingerly. Eunice was not
as even-tempered as she had been; she flamed out on slight
provocation. She who had once been content to fetch and
carry for him, now eluded and evaded him, would sometimes
speak to him and sometimes not, keeping him humble.

"Will you come and see the orchid with me? Mother
wants us to report upon it to her. Sanders sent up word to
say that all the spikes are in bloom."

Eunice made one excuse or another, said she had to go
to the town, she did not want to go out, that it was not neces-
sary they should visit the orchid house together. But when
he met excuse after excuse and persisted, she yielded, not
with a good grace, but impulsively, becoming silent after
she had agreed to go with him.

When they were going towards the hot-house he said
tentatively :

" She is going to sleep until four ; Reynolds is darkening
the room ; she wants to be alone. When we've seen the orchid
we might go into the woods."

" I don't want to go into the woods/' she answered hastily,
"not with you."


" Never ! " She quickened her step.

There was no doubt about the orchid or the correctness
of Sanders' report. From the glass roof of the steaming
house there hung down great masses and clusters of bloom.


shy, still in their sheath of green, but giving rare promise.
They gazed at it in wonder, it was a thing for anyone to
wonder at. Fifty years it had hung there, dry and arid, then
green, but never like this.

" If she could only have seen it ! "

When they spoke of Lady Grindelay, and the improbability
of her seeing it, their hearts grew tender. She had been such
a force about them, her influence the most dominating thing
in their lives, her kindness unending. They began to talk
of her illness, to say she might yet see the flowers, to remind
each other that a week ago she could hardly talk to .them, was
always under morphia, but that to-day she had sat up in bed.

Talking, they moved out of the steaming house. Now they
were in the air again, feeling the slight chill. But the sun
shone, the afternoon sun.

" We've got to face it," he began suddenly, a little des-
perately perhaps. " Look here, Eunice. What's the good of
going on like this, hiding our heads? We've got to talk it


" I don't know what you mean." But she did. " I'm going

back to the house."

" No, you're not," he caught hold of her arm.

" You're hurting me."

"And don't you think you're hurting me? What do you
imagine I'm feeling day after day, when you hardly look at
me? I thought we'd made it up."

Made it up! The old childish phrase. How dared he?
She shook herself free from him, or she would have done, but
he held her fast.

" I'm not going to let you go just yet. I'm not a criminal
You may not care for me any more, but I am not a criminal."

Her heart was water and ran to him, but her words were
hail and M\ upon him. He could not see her heart; he sur-
mised, but could not see it.

" I don't care what you are, you are nothing to me." Her
flush belied her words. " What is the use of pretending we
are intimaies, or friends? I should always feel now that you
were keeping things from me."


" No, you don't, you know I'm not, that I never would
again. Come into the woods."

" I don't want to talk to you."

" I know, but you must ; we must do something, arrange
something. She talks of nothing else, nothing but you and
me together here. She wants me to get a special licence, that
we should be married by her bedside."

" She doesn't know what I feel about it ; neither do you,
I believe. When I think about marrying you, or she speaks
about it to me, I — I can't bear it." There was an indignant
sob in her throat. " I get hot and angry, I can't say the words
I mean. You know yourself it's impossible."

" No, I don't. I've never cared for anyone else."

" Not even for your poor little baby ? "

" You think of her all the time, brood upon her."

" I don't brood upon her."

"You're first with me, you'll always be first. I can't
argue with you. Come into the woods, let us talk. You and
I can't go on like this, half -strangers ; when it used to be so
beautiful between us. I want to know all you are thinking,
everything that is in your heart about me."

She went with him ultimately, feigning reluctance, per-
sisting that she had nothing to say to him. He led her, not
without design, perhaps, to that oasis in the woods where
reigned the giant oak whose leaves had rustled above them the
first time that he told her it was not as a sister he loved her.
He could not guess how often she had sat there since, her heart
full of him. Here she had dreamed her dreams, wept for his
wounds, sat agonised when there came no news of him, felt
his presence when he was not beside her. This was his tree
and hers, always she had thought of it so..

" Eunice," his voice pleaded, " how often we've played
here. You haven't forgotten it, have you? You don't really
hate-me ? You can't. We could not feel differently about each
other — not really differently. However bad you thought me
you'd always remember our good days together."

Tears were rising, not in her eyes, but in her heart.


" You used to love me, not like I did you, but so sweetly.
And I meant to teach you better."

How well she had loved him, a thousand times more than
he could ever have loved her. The tears began to fall.

" Let me look at you, don't turn your face from me."
But she leaned against the tree, and he never saw her tears.
" Well, look away if you like, but you've got to hear what I
say; I'm almost at the end of my tether. We ought to have
been married three weeks ago, we should have been married
if it had not been for this. I should have told you every-
thing, I should have told you on our wedding-night. Now I'm
desperate and half afraid ; but you've got to hear it." There
was a pause, and then he began again. " I was little more
than a boy, I'd been ill, was feeling neglected ; you both stayed
away, although I was at death's door. The thing one must
not say, that I ought not to say, I am going to say to you,
because" — his voice faltered — "because you were so nearly
my wife."

" But she was — she was quite your wife."

" That's cruel, don't be cruel, Eunice, it isn't like you.
I can't sleep and I can't eat; you can see it for yourself. I
act before my mother, but I can't go on acting much longer,
and besides, she knows how it is with me. What I am telling
you now is what no man should tell anyone, except, perhaps,
his wife. And I'm not sure he ought to tell her. She . . .
she offered herself to me."

His voice fell, his face and eyes flushed.

" I ought not to say it, but I must, I — of course I ought
to have resisted; I did resist at first. I was only a boy —
Eunice, my love, my sweetheart, my little innocent. Oh,
God ! how can I make you understand ? " There were beads
of perspiration on his forehead. " I was only nineteen. She
came to me "

He broke off, he could not go on. But presently she found

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 25 27

Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 25 of 27)