Maud Diver.

Awakening; a study in possibilities online

. (page 19 of 30)
Online LibraryMaud DiverAwakening; a study in possibilities → online text (page 19 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wing, sprang and outspread the gracious symmetry of their
trunks and limbs, grey and dull silver, dappled with mosaic
of pale lichens, robed and crowned with satin-bright cas-
cades of a million leaves. In May their emerald carpet
was alight with sheets of bluebells; in early autumn brown
with beech-mast, flecked with scarlet of moss-cups and fungi ;
and at all times patterned with every conceivable shade of
green. Temple and storehouse of squirrels, song-birds,
pigeons, and pheasants — religiously preserved by Sir George
— the noble wood stretched on and up a bold sweep of
rising ground; ending, as the pine plantation ended, in
wind-swept spaces of heather, gorse, and broom.

And it was his own: all his own. Magic words that no
democratic zest for parcelling out the earth in snippets will
ever rob of their deep significance. But for Nevil Sinclair
the legitimate joy of ownership was marred by revelations
brought to light during a long morning with Reynolds, the
family lawyer. He had taken his client through Sir

Digitized by VjOOQIC


George's papers the day after the funeral and had made the
whole situation painfully clear to the new baronet, whose
heritage was but a fraction of the well-ordered estate left
by his grandfather, Sir Robert ; an early Victorian politician
of simple tastes and rigid sense of duty.

Hard not to censure the dead while those revelations
were in progress. Not that Sir George had been wilfully
extravagant or careless of the old place, that was nearer and
dearer to him than his God. But the Sinclairs had never
been men of wealth; and from early days of possession
" things " had gone against him ; a phrase conveniently
comprehensive and vague. Blind to moral and spiritual
values — with the complacent blindness of a certain sturdy
British type, that sees life in clear-cut unlinked fragments —
he had determined that his sons should not be " hampered "
by the pinch that makes character. Their allowances had
been more liberal than the estate could afford. Nevil, in
particular, with his artist hobbies and zest for travel, had
been a costly item. But from year to year, pride and gener-
osity combined had withheld Sir George from telling the
truth. Then, in the loneliness following upon his wife's
death, had come the temptation — inspiration he had deemed
it then — to mend matters by gambling discreetly on the big
scale. It was the one weak point in a shrewd, level-headed,
if limited, nature. Secretly indulged in, it had exacted
penalty to the uttermost, and poisoned the whole.

Pitiful beyond speech, it seemed to Nevil — and to Jane,
the crowning irony — that the poor old man should have lost
his life in straining after a fortune for which the son cared
little; while the heritage, for which he did care, was flung
on his hands shorn of its immemorial dignity: one-third
heavily mortgaged; the rest a costly burden hard to main-
tain on the dwindled income left to him out of the wreck.
There remained, also, his. pictures, and Martino's prophecy
of leaping into fame. How wise, beyond expecting, had

Digitized by VjOOQIC


been his undudful 'decision! Jane herself must admit that;
if not now, at least by the summer's end, when the
Ramayana series would be near completion. A special ex-
hibition of them, should the subject happen to " catch on,"
would at least help towards paying ofiE the mortgage that
withheld him from full mastery of his own.

But here a fresh dilemma tripped him up. Clearly it
seemed his duty to remain at home for the present, to in-
augurate in person the new regime* And behind the sense
of duty lurked a natural longing to share this new possession
with Lilamani, to install her here as Queen. Yet he had
given his word to her, and to her father, that this more
critical phase of her transplanting should not be hastily
carried out; and well he knew that the time was not yet
ripe for her, or for Jane, the unappeased; possibly the un-

For although the public ordeal was over, the private
ordeal had yet to come. Not imtil this morning had she
reverted to the subject of his marriage. Throughout the
week he had discerned a touch of sisterly fellow-feeling be-
neath her chain-mail. But the revelation in her father's
last letter rankled sore; and this morning, when she re-
quested a word or two with Nevil after breakfast, there
could be no mistaking the repressed hostility in her tone.
She supposed that since he had married to please himself,
and was thoroughly satisfied with the arrangement, he
would now see fit to announce the fact. Distressing though
it was, to conceal it any longer might give a bad impression ;
and it had occurred to her that this afternoon, when they
would all be together for tea in the large hall, would be a
suitable time.

" A detailed confession of what you are pleased to con-
sider my delinquency, in full family conclave? Is that the
programme?" he asked, frowning, and looking out across

Digitized by VjOOQIC


the lawn where a soh'tary blackbird pranced and piped,
serenely indifiFerent to everything but worms.

" Put it that way, if you like," she answered with com-
posure. " I merely meant it would be as well that you
should tell your news in person, before the boys and Uncle
Bob go away. I haven't even mentioned it yet to Ned."

" Very considerate of you I " said Nevil in an even tone.
*' Ned " was Lord Roscoe, a milder, less formidable person
than his wife; and Nevil, seeing her determination to make
things hard for him, denied her the satisfaction of knowing
how well she was succeeding.

"Fm quite ready, when they are," he had concluded
casually, as he left her.

And now — he knew that they were ready; very much
ready — and that he was not.

They had been marshalled into the large hall, nine of
them; for the Sinclairs were a clannish family, and those
who did not live in or near London had stayed on a few
days at Jane's request. While he flagrantly kept them
waiting, Nevil pictured them all discussing him in subdued
tones; mildly curious; and thankful, in secret, for some-
thing fresh to think of; though none but Christina would
honestly have confessed the fact.

From all save her he anticipated disapproval, if not
hostility. She and he had sat up till midnight in the study
one evening and had talked it all out. He had shown her
the big carbon photo of his portrait and converted her into
a hot partisan. But of the rest there was little hope: his
two brothers, well-groomed, conventional types of the pro-
fessions they adorned; George's fiancee, Phillippa Weston
— commonly called Phil; Miss Julia Sinclair, cultured,
within due limits, and devoted to good works; Sir Robert
Sinclair, a leading light of the Foreign Office, lately retired,
and his wife. Lady Margaret, daughter of a Scottish peer,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


mannered, suave, unimpeachably correct. Beyond these re-
mained only Jane herself, Lord Roscoe — a sound Conserva-
tive, though too purely a student and a philosopher to ap-
prove his wife's vehement party-spirit; and JeflErey Moss,
Vicar of Bramleigh, a second cousin once removed. For
the Bramleigh living was in the Sinclairs' gift, and it be-
hoved them to "keep it in the family." Nevil suspected
that Sunday's casual invitation for Tuesday had been given
with this event in view ; a suspicion that did not allay his re-
pressed irritation or facilitate the task in hand.

Not all his loyalty to Lilamani could make so public a
confession, other than distasteful to a man of Nevil's tem-
perament. His very insight put him at a disadvantage.
He understood these Sinclairs far better than they under-
stood him. He could see the thing through their eyes;
could gauge to a nicety their half-nervous, half-resentful
attitude towards the abnormal, more especially when that
particular devil entered into a pillar of the house.

He drew out his watch and whistled softly. In common
decency he could keep away no longer; and passing
through the great domed conservatory, he entered the large

Sir Robert — thick-set and slightly convex, with clipped
beard and pince-nez perched at an inquiring angle —
dominated the hearth-rug, by instinct, though no fire justi-
fied his attitude. The rest made dismal black patches about
the room; and Jane stood at the heavy gate-leg table, dis-
pensing tea. Her eyes challenged Nevil's as he entered.
He returned her look without flinching; greeted the Vicar
and joined Sir Robert on the hearth-rug.

"Well, my lad, we've been wondering what had come
to you," said the leading light of the Foreign OflSce; and a
heavy hand on Nevil's shoulder, acutely reminiscent of Sir
George, sent a pang through his son's heart. "Where've
you been — eh?"

Digitized by VjOOQIC


"Strolling round the place. Taking things in," Ncvil
answered in a level tone, so unusual with him that Christina
looked up; and Sir Robert remarked, as one who makes a
discovery :

" A goodly heritage, boy."

His nephew nodded absently, one hand stroking and
twisting his moustache, a gesture Christina knew of

"Tea, Nevil?" from Jane.


He roused himself; fetched it, and made room for his
cup among a crowd of small bronzes on the mantelpiece:
pheasants, dogs, foxes, and others. They had been a weak-
ness of his father's; and most of them were his own boyish

While he displaced them thoughtfully, an under-current
of talk revived between Lord Roscoe and the Vicar, George
and Miss Weston.

Then fell the question he dreaded. It was Sir Robert
again: Chairman of the C(Hiimittee, thought his disrespect-
ful nephew, in half-amused irritation.

" Well, Nevil, what's the great secret you've got up your
sleeve? Jane's been making us curious. Good news, I
hope. We need it."

" The best possible news, so far as I'm concerned," Nevil
answered, not without a hint of defiance. Dread confession
as he might ; to apologize, even remotely, for Lilamani, was
an insult nothing should induce him to offer her. "The
fact is — while I was abroad I got married."

" The devil you did ! " Sir Robert's amazement rippled
round the room in a broken murmur. "That's news in-
deed! Nothing like marriage to check your craze for con-
tinental life. Money — I hope? The Place calls for it.
But what have you done with the lady? She ought to be

Digitized by VjOOQIC


''She ougjit; I admit; if the circumstances were normal.
But — they're not."

" Eh — what's that ? Not normal ? " Sir Robert peered
distressfully over his nippers at the two girls. " What the
deuce have you been up to now, Nevil? Don't tell me
you've married a variety actress, or a foreigner? "

" I suppose you want the truth," Nevil said, sipping his
tea. " My wife happens to be an Indian girl; a Hindu of
very good family, cultivated, Wutiful "

"But — but — good Lord! A native I Good Lord!"
Sir Robert broke in testily, his dismay echoed by minor ex-
plosions from Harold and George; while Miss Sinclair
dropped her knitting with a gasp. She rather prided herself
on being broad-minded ; had lately called on two Romanists
in her neighbourhood, and found them ''really quite

estimable people — up to their li^ts " But a Hindu!

And poor George's son !

"Perhaps — a converted Hindu, dear Nevil?" she ven-
tured, dreading an outburst from her hot-tempered brother
at a moment when even raised voices jarred her sense of
fitness and decorum.

" No. She's not converted. Nor likely to be," Nevil
answered bluntly.

"But, dear boy, surely it would be possible to ?

Our good Jeffrey is so convincing; and Hindus, I have
always heard, are remarkably intelligent and open to
reason ^"

" Yes, Aunt Julia. My wife is quite remarkably intelli-
gent" A spark of the Sinclair temper flashed in Nevil's
eyes, and lent an edge to his quiet tone. " She knows the
Bible better than some of us do; and religion means a great
deal more to her than to the average Christian "

" Come, come, Nevil ! No blasphemy " Sir Robert

interposed with repressed heat.

"BlaH>hemy, Uncle? I am stating a fact; and I want

Digitized by VjOOQIC


to make it clear that there will not be any call for Jeffrey's
good offices, when I do see fit to bring my wife home."

"You mean to bring her here, then? A heathen Lady
Sinclair, under your father's roof? "

"Certainly. In time. What else?"

"The devil knows what else! Thank Grod George has
been spared thisf* he added, lowering his voice. Then he
swung roimd sharply. "What do you think of your
brother's madness, Jane? "

" I have told Nevil quite frankly what I think," said she.
" Outside his own infatuation, there can be no two opinions
on the subject"

But such arrogant assumption of certainty was too much
for Christina, who, for Nevil's sake, had repressed herself
valiantly so far. Now she leaned forward, defiance in her

"There can be two opinions, outside infatuation. Be-
cause there's mine. I don't want to seem impertinent, but
I never thought you would all be so narrow-minded, so in-
sular "

" Be quiet. Kit," sharply, from Jane. " You are imper-
tinent; and your opinion goes for nothing."

"Doesn't it, indeed? I'm not so sure," quoth the nine-
teenth-century rebel, less easily quenched than her of the

In vain she tried to catch Nevil's eye. He had half
turned his back, and was rearranging the small bronzes,
seemingly indifferent to the tea-cup tempest. But Christina
knew better. She longed to hit out furiously at them all;
or to get up and throw her arms round his neck. But again
she knew better.

"More tea, George?" came the voice of Jane, the in-

Captain Sinclair handed his cup, and Lord Roscoe went
quietly out. As a peace-loving man, family dissensions

Digitized by VjOOQIC


offended his taste, and a certain look in Jane's eyes was
always a signal for retreat. A glance over his shoulder
drew the Vicar after him. Lady Margaret, bored and a
little disgusted, followed in their wake. Phillippa glanced
tentatively at her lover, who was scowling into his tea-cup ;
and she, being young and curious, kept her seat.

Then Sir Robert — seeing that nothing remained but to
accept the lamentable fact — said with less heat: "Well,
Nevil, your minor eccentricities have been a joke to this
one. But since you've tied yourself for life to an Asiatic,
there's no more to be said. A civil marriage, I suppose? "


"And may we be allowed to know your immediate

"I must return to Italy as soon as things are more or
less in order. Probably the end of this week."

" And shut up the Beeches? "

" Why not ? But as George is on leave, he might as well
put in his time here and see to things a bit. Jane, I know,
considers him a good deal fitter for that sort of thing than

"Thanks, old chap. Awfully good of you." George's
tone suggested sarcasm. "Leave you free to devote your-
self to the enchantress — eh ? "

" I'm hard at work on a series of pictures," Nevil an-
swered, addressing his uncle and ignoring the thrust. " I
hope to exhibit them this winter. I've done one since my
marriage of which Signor Martino thinks very highly."

"The picture you wrote of?" asked Jane.

" No. That was her portrait. I gave it to her father."
ti m.

This was more than Christina could stand. " He's got
a ripping big photo of it upstairs," she broke out eagerly.
" You ought to see it. Nevil, really they ought. Mayn't I
fetch it?"

Digitized by VjOOQIC


"Yes, if you like," he answered indifferently, chilled to
disgust by their reception of his news.

Miss Sinclair glanced up, mildly expectant:

" Dear Nevil, I am xo glad there is a picture " De-
votion to the entire family tree, even unto the remotest tips
of its many branches, was a part of her creed. Hindu or
no, by some means she must manage to assimilate this new

Christina reappeared in no time, lifting her trophy high,
for all to see, and a murmur of reluctant admiration went
roimd the room.

Miss Sinclair held out a hand. " Let me look at it closer,
dear. My sight is not what it was."

She looked closer and her brown eyes grew wide. " Why,
Nevil, she is really beautiful ! And this is your work ? "


" No wonder your Italian friend thinks well of it. Re-
markable. Look, Robert."

" H'm. Very good-looking. Quite life-like. YouVe come
on extraordinarily, Nevil, I must say."

" Yes. Thanks to my wife. Leseppes, the great French
painter and critic, expects me to make a name. Lucky — as
things stand — that I did take up art seriously. Bramleigh
Beeches needs the shekels, eh, Jane? "

"Very much so. If they ever come in," she answered,
her gaze fixed searchingly on the new Lady Sinclair's face.
"This IS promising. Very. It's your staying power I

Without further comment, she passed the picture on to
George; who glanced at it half in disdain; then whistled

"My word, but she's a beauty! Trust Nevil! What
age, old chap?"

" Eighteen," said Nevil, jarred by a savour of the stable
in his brother's tone. But George, serenely unobservant,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


added, with the experienced sagacity of four years' service
in India: " M*, yes. From seventeen to twenty native
girls are about as alluring as they make 'em, even the com-
moner sort. The deuce of it is they're middle-aged by
thirty. R\m to flesh, and "

" Damn you, shut up 1 " Nevil flashed out, losing con-
trol of himself at last.

" Nevil — dear! '* she protested in dismay ; and Christina,
snatching away the photo, muttered wrathfully: "Upon
my word, George ! You are a beast ! "

"Sorry, Nevil," the delinquent remarked grudgingly.
" I was only telling you the truth."

" It's not the truth — altogether. The — the premature
ageing is chiefly the country; their feeding; their way of
life. It doesn't follow that Lilamani "

"Lila — which?" from Harold, who had been more
amused than otherwise by what he privately dubbed "a
family scrap."

" Lilamani," Nevil repeated with quiet emphasis, and was
thankful that just then Sir Robert emerged abruptly from
his reflections.

" Look here, my dear boy. Fm still in a fog. You
haven't told us yet how this incredible affair came to pass."

"Another time, Uncle Bob," replied Nevil, unfeigned
weariness in his tone. "I've had about all I can put up
with at a sitting."

At that Jane rose, decision in every square inch of her.

" If you don't mind, I'll ask jrou to go now. Nevil and
I must finish talking this out alone."

"Quite so, my dear; quite so," fussily, from Sir Robert.
" Whatever you think best."

And they went.

Then Jane turned to her brother,

"Now, Nevil."

"WcU? What?''

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Both spoke quietly; yet it was as if a pair of duellists had
unsheathed swords.

" How can you talk calmly of returning to Italy this
week, when you know quite well that your rightful place is

" Of course it Is. If there were not very good reasons for
my being elsewhere — just now. My ri^tful place, if it
comet to that, is — with my wife."

"And she refuses ?"

Nevil smiled, in spite of himself.

" If you knew her, even slightly, you wouldn't ask such
an absurd question. It is / who refuse to bring her here —
yet In the first place, if Martino isn't quite misguided, the
set of pictures I am working at should be worth more to
Bramleigh Beeches than my presence here this summer; and
I want to get them done, or nearly done, in the right at-
mosphere. Then " he hesitated. "You may as well

have it straight. I refuse point-blank to bring my wife to
her future home till I have clear proof that she will be
decently received by you and all the rest of them."

It was Jane's turn to hesitate.

"What — precisely do you mean by that?" she asked
without looking at him.

" I mean kindly, affectionately. Just as you would re-
ceive Miss Weston if George were in my place."

" My dear Nevil, there's a difference ! You ask a good
deal ^"

" I don't ask. I am stating conditions."

"And suppose the conditions — fail to satisfy you?"

" I am supposing," he answered coldly, " that my rela-
tives, even if narrow and prejudiced, are at least human
beings ; that they will — later, if not now — give the woman,
who is to fill my mother's place, a fair chance of proving

that she too is himian, lovable, admirable Good Lord,

Jane," he broke out, maddened past endurance by her chill

Digitized by VjOOQIC


antagonism. " If Fd married a Hottentot or an American
negro, I could excuse you. But I presume even you will
acknowledge that there's some racial connection between
Indians and Europeans, which makes all the difference in
the world."

Jane drew herself up.

" Of course I see that, Nevil. I may be prejudiced.
Fm not ignorant. It's quite bad enough, in any case* But
after all — we gain nothing by recriminations. And as this
child of eighteen will be virtually the head of the family,
we can but make the best of her."

" Make her feel welcome** Nevil corrected, with em-
phasis. " Write to her before she comes."

"Yes. If you wish it. One can say the usual polite
things. Kit, at least, can say them honestly. Does she read
English with ease?"

" She's as well-read as Christina." He drew out his let-
ter-case and handed her — not without reluctance — Lila-
mani's June Love-Song. " She wrote that."

Jane read it, with raised brows: evidently impressed;
though so unrestrained an outpouring of " sentiment " was,
in her view, almost indecent.

"Talented. And very devoted," she said in a changed
tone, handing it back. " I'll write to her, Nevil — later
on, as nicely as I can."

But her brother, though mollified, was still sore from the
afternoon's ordeal, which was her doing.

" It's just as well you should write her a decent letter or
two, Jane," said he with a direct look, not to be misread.
"Considering all things, you owe that much, at least, to
her — and to me."

For once in her life Jane Roscoe was quite put out of
countenance; and before she could recover herself — Nevil
was gone. Four days later he left for Italy: for Lilamani,
and the Ramayan pictures — and peace.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


"In two little rooms my heart divides,
Joy, wide awake, in one resides,
"^^^e slumbering Sorrow in the other hides.
Oh, Joy, sing gently in thy glee,
Lest Sorrow wake through hearing thee."


npHE Lake of Como in July is only for the native boni;
^ or for banished Lilamanis, who rejoice alike in the
heat and the absence of vagrant humanity. But for all Sir
Lakshman's fatherly indulgence, that fortnight had seemed
to the bird with one wing the longest two weeks in her

While irate and bewildered Sinclairs were passing their
parochial, though not unnatural judgment upon her, she
lay alone in the night, wondering sore whether "That
Terrible " were tr3ring to wean her lord from his " foolish
passion beyond control of reason." His letters were full of
tender devotion: but when night came, the spirit of Jane
prevailed. That haunting sentence pricked her like a thorn
left imder the skin, and would continue so to do till time
should prove things definitely one way or another. But
by day she smiled bravely, because her father must not
guess; and, as often happens, in sowing courage, she reaped
happiness — of a kind.

Sir Lakshman, intent on distracting her thou^ts, had
lured her into excursions up and down the Lake, and even
across to Lugano. Then, in the quiet of their chalet, they
had enjoyed an informal reversion to the " studies " of early
days, peculiarly welcome to the man, who by rights,


Digitized by VjOOQIC


should have been back in India weeks aga But the lure
of the West, that grew in him with the years, was inten-
sified now by the wish to remain within reach of his child*
Stifling the voice of conscience, therefore, he had secured
leave for a longer stay, and had written smooth things to
Mataji, who tyrannized triumphantly in his absence, 3ret
hated, with a vitriolic hate, the unseen power that took him
oftener and oftener from her side. And, in a sense, she was
justified of her hate: she — mother of his sons, controller of
his household, guardian of his immortal soul, whose after-
fate he imperilled year upon year by these futile journeys
across the " black water," with its mysterious power to

Online LibraryMaud DiverAwakening; a study in possibilities → online text (page 19 of 30)