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She did not speak until he had finished, standing silent by
the open window, looking at the moon-light pouring through
the orange leaves, and pointing with light, here and there,
great white buds of the sleeping flowers beneath.

"What a lovely night it is," she said softly, when he
had sealed up his letter and pushed his chair back. "Should
we go out and take a turn round the garden ? "

"No, I am dead tired and worn out. I am going to bed,"
he answered, rising and turning his coat off his shoulders.
"I suppose it's the damp and the heat, and getting nothing
to eat, that makes one feel so used up in these places."

She sat down on the foot of his bed and watched him
while he undressed. When he came up to the bed she rose
and stood in front of him, close to him. She had her loveliest
smile, her softest air.



270 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

"Eustace, will you not let me sleep in your arms to
night? I am so unhappy because we seem so estranged.
I need not disturb you. I get no sleep, by myself, in my
room, but I should fall asleep directly beside you. Your
presence, your proximity is all I need to make me perfectly
happy. Do let me stay."

She looked very lovely and her voice was very tender,
but to the man, nervously tired and exhausted, the vision
of her was only as the hot glow of sunlight is to wearied,
bloodshot eyes. He did not put his arms round her, as she
stood by him. They hung straight at his side. His face
was cold.

"I want complete rest and sleep. I must have them.
Good-night. I hope you will sleep well."

He bent and put his lips to her forehead. She was too
wise and far too sensitive to press the matter. She turned
from him and went back gently into her own room. But
she was not in a gentle mood, though her self-control pre-
vented her from showing any other, and her whole heart
flamed within her with resentment and passion. She crossed
to the window and sat down, looking out into the glory of
the night. She ached in every limb and muscle. She felt
ill and sick and feverish and sleepless, and she knew perfectly
well that all these feelings would vanish into one of perfect
rest and peaceful delight if she had been allowed to nestle
down beside him and lose for a time that frightful sense of
loneliness of body and mind that pressed upon her.

"He might sacrifice himself for me sometimes," she
thought bitterly, "and risk one sleepless night while I slept.
How many do I stay away from him for his sake!"

Then the consciousness of herself and what she was, and
how she had been loved, came over her, and she smiled at
her own thoughts. "Sacrifice! What a strange position
life has worked me into! how many men would give almost
all they had to be in his place, to be loved by me even one
tenth as much as I love him. Why do I stay with him ? It
is useless, absurd. Why do I stay?"



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 271

She looked out into the soft, delicious night, questioning
herself, but gained no answer. When she finally lay down,
feeling brimful of electricity that went round and round in
her body, forming a burning circle which consumed her,
neuralgia sprang upon her, and she tossed, sleepless and
tortured, till the early dawn.

After that night nearly every one was made hideous by
it as it tore and raged through the delicate nerves of head
and eyes and teeth. "Bernard's avenger" she used to call
it, as, maddened and beside herself with agony, she would
sit up and rock herself backwards and forwards, while Pel-
ham slept tranquilly on the other side of the door. Wine,
she found, did it good, but Pelham seemed to have an ex-
traordinary prejudice against her having wine, and seemed
unable to realise her agonies of pain when she told him of
them. There was always coldness if she asked for wine at
dinner, and sometimes it was positively refused. He sug-
gested she should drink mescal instead, which she tried to
do. The poor quality of it supplied at that place tasted
like methylated spirits, and made her feel sick, but it sufficed
sometimes to deaden the pain, when at its most terrible point.

"I can only suppose he has a craze for being cruel to me,"
she thought, when each morning, remorseless as the dawn
itself, Pelham came to her room at six o'clock and made her
get up, though she might only just have fallen to sleep. "Or
else he is so absorbed in himself he cannot understand an-
other's suffering."

The long, hot days, full of Pelham's abuse and fault-
finding, the nights of torture, the weakness induced by scanty
food and want of sleep, the crushing mental disappointment,
made this life with him, that had seemed to her so covetable,
so inviting, the wretchedest and most miserable of her exist-
ence. So does the window of Life's great shop deceive us.
One night, after Pelham had gone to bed, the waiter brought
her a letter. It was much stamped and had been redirected
several times, as it had followed them from place to place,
but the original address to the post-office, City of Mexico,



272 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

was in Bernard's handwriting. Lydia turned pale, and
trembled like a leaf as she took it and went, with weak steps,
to her own room. Low and wretched as she usually felt
now, any fresh wave of emotion seemed to unnerve her
utterly. She lighted a candle, locked the door, and then,
because all the chairs were covered, sat down on the floor and
opened the letter.

"DEAR LYDIA, I have obtained a divorce against you,
as I believe this is the best and kindest thing to do for you.
Pelham can now marry you if he chooses, and I hope he
will. I say nothing of myself. You, who always studied
these things, will know how bitterly I must have suffered.
But I do not blame you altogether. I know there must
have been faults on my side too. I know that while I had
you, you were the dearest, most devoted wife a man could
have. I blame myself terribly for having lost you. The
child has died. There seems little to h've for, but I still go
on. Yours, BERNARD."

A great tide of ice-cold tears that came to her eyes made
her read this but slowly, then as the full sense of it broke
over the tender, sensitive heart, it seemed to her as if she
had had her death-blow. Stretched out on the floor, with
her face on this terrible letter terrible because so simple,
so unreproachful the tears streamed from her eyes, and
her soul, her life, seemed rushing away with them. All
night she lay there; she seemed literally unable to move.
It was as if a heavy wheel had gone over her, mind and body.
Prostrate, agonised, she lay motionless, oblivious of physical
sensation. Her mind was out, away, in the plains of the
past.

What immense sorrow to everyone her effort to change
her life had caused. How Bernard had suffered, how she
herself had done, and now there seemed nothing but one
great mass of discontentment and unhappiness she had got
into. Was Ihere some unrecognised law, that one cannot



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 273

change one's life, she wondered ? One must for ever go on
in the same ill-fitting harness of circumstance, though one's
self is always changing and altering. Could she go back
to Bernard console him for her error, return again to the
old groove her feet had once known? No. She felt that
iron, implacable "No" answer her. Whether it came from
outside or within she was unconscious, but she knew it for
an overwhelming truth. She could never go back. She
could not re-enter that placid, never- varying, silent circle of
quiet, empty, sunny days. Though she seemed wandering
now in a dark thicket where the thorns tore her flesh and
the boulders bruised her feet, yet she felt inevitably she must
struggle on, either through it or die in it. To turn back was
impossible. Nor could she ever rest in Bernard's arms, or
enjoy that simple, whole-hearted, open love again, even if
he could give it, after the curious, violent, dark and devious-
wayed passion she had known for Pelham.

The next morning the early light found her there, stiff
and chilled, upon the floor. She had had no sleep, only
been lost in a sort of wandering stupor. She got up and re-
dressed, and when she was ready for breakfast, beyond being
rather pale she showed no trace of the past night's suffering.
Youth can suffer much without disfigurement. A little
after eight she went into Pelham 's room, where breakfast
was generally laid on a table near the window, and when
they were seated, handed him the letter. Pelham took it
and read it, then laid it down on the table without any
comment.

"I am so very grieved about the child," she said in a very
low voice, stirring the coffee with a trembling hand.

"Well, it was a pity you left her. Why did you do it?"
answered Pelham, brutally.

Lydia looked at him across the little table: her face
was deadly pale, her eyes swam, her lips quivered.

"Why, indeed?" she murmured in a hardly audible
tone.

They had their breakfast in silence. Lydia ate nothing,
18



274 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

but she drank her coffee, and gazed through the window to
the lovely enchanting scene without of blue sky, and sway-
ing palm, and crystal air.

When Pelham rose and unfolded the paper for the day,
Lydia spoke. Her face was quite calm now.

"You see what Bernard says about the divorce and our
marriage, but I don't think you want to marry me, do you ?"

It was characteristic of Pelham that he never answered
any question direct. He always met it with an evasion or
an equivocation.

"I don't think I care about marrying anyone," he said.
"We do very well as we are."

Lydia said nothing. He settled himself in a cane chair
to read the paper. She waited a moment by the window,
then went away to her own room, shutting the door noise-
lessly behind her. She crossed over and moving some
dresses from a chair, drew it to the window and sat down
where the soft air came in upon her face. She felt very tired
and broken; a sort of drowsy sadness seemed to envelop
her in lethargy. "It is quite natural that he should dislike
to see me grieved about the death of my child by another
man, "she mused, thinking over Pelham 's answer. "As to the
marriage, it doesn't really matter. In this world, where
all is so transitory, what is the use of any arrangement that
aims at permanency ? We float and drift, from day to day,
like the surf on the tide, lifted by one wave, depressed by
another, now clinging round this rock, now round that:
then we disappear altogether: nothing matters."

Her eyes closed: she ceased to think clearly. But in
spite of what she had told herself she knew that in her breast
there was a passionate joy contained in the idea of marriage
with Pelham, a joy that was the child of her great and devoted
passion for him. The thought of being linked to him,
bound to him in the abstract, gave her the same delight as
to have been bound to him actually. Every manner and form
of contact, of proximity, of linking to the loved one, is an
ecstasy to the one who truly loves.



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 275

Lulled by the dreamy contemplation of this rosy joy she
did not ever hope to obtain, she passed gradually into a gentle
sleep, that sweet tranquil stream where the burdens of joy
and pain alike float from one and leave one free. Half an
hour later she was roughly roused by someone shaking her
arm. She looked up suddenly and saw Pelham's cross and
handsome face above her.

"I have just decided to go on to Aguas Calientes to-day
instead of to-morrow. It's too hot to make any expeditions
and I am tired of this hotel. We have just hah* an hour to
get to the station. I've packed all my things. I never
thought you were in here, doing nothing all this time. I can't
think why you want to go to sleep when you've only just gotup."

Dazed and confused, and feeling very stiff, and rather
sick from nervous exhaustion, Lydia rose to her feet.

"Do you think you can be ready?" Pelham inquired
harshly.

"Yes, I think so. I will try," she answered as Pelham
disappeared. She looked round the room hopelessly. It
was littered and crowded. All these things to be packed
and her dress changed, for she was not in travelling costume,
in less than half an hour! It seemed impossible. Her
head was swimming, and she felt unutterably tired. But
her nerve and force of will were splendid, though Pelham
never gave her credit for either, and she forced herself to the
work and accomplished it, so that when he came back, in
twenty minutes, she was ready. All her things had been
mercilessly thrown in, but her trunks were strapped, and
she was dressed, waiting. He did not smile or seem pleased,
as she had hoped. "I don't know now whether we shall
catch the train, but it only takes five minutes to drive to the
station. Of course, one can't expect to accomplish much
in travelling if you want to sleep all the time."

Lydia felt inclined to reply that had she not been sleeping
she would not have been preparing for a journey he had
not told her he intended making, but she remained silent.
Nothing seemed to matter.



276 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

They reached the station in time, and after a hot, dusty,
and all day journey, came into Aguas Calientes in the cool
of a delicious evening, when the sky was glowing a soft rose
colour, behind the delicate palms in the little Plaza.

"How lovely," thought Lydia, stepping from the heated
carriage on to the station platform, and drinking in the
exquisite clear air. "How happy I should be, arriving at
a place like this, if I only had a nice companion who seemed
pleased and happy too."

Aguas is one of the most charming places in Mexico,
famed for its hot springs and its beautiful women. Its
climate seems made to go with its boiling wells and medi-
cinal baths. It is hot, still, damp, yet delightfully fresh,
sweet-scented, tropical. Pelham seemed to have no time
to notice the beauty of air and light. He was annoyed with
the porters for smashing some of his luggage, and still more
annoyed to find, when they reached the hotel, that owing
to a fair being in progress in the town they could have only
one room. The place was quite full. It was a great distress
to the girl to note how much the fact that they had to occupy
this small space together seemed to anger him. When the
door was shut, and he was still complaining of the misfortune,
she said,

"Still, Eustace, it is not so small as the tiny little tent,
with its couch of pine branches, we were so happy in when I
first came to you."

"All things are different in their beginnings," returned
Pelham, savagely, pushing one of his portmanteaux under
the bed.

He, too, quite well remembered the tent and the pine
branch couch, and the intense joy he had felt in the close
physical contact with this woman, but then at any moment
he had thought she might be torn from him; at any moment
Bernard, with a loaded pistol, might have appeared, drag-
ging back the tent flap, calling him out to combat, perhaps
to death. There was an excitement in that that roused and
pleased his whole savage, jealous, courageous nature, but



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 277

now that fierce excitement was taking its toll. It was over,
and he felt he wanted, not pleasure but rest. She could
give one and not the other. The very sweet seduction
about her prevented it. So in a sort of self-defence, for fear
he should yield to her influence, he hedged himself about
with cruelty, with spiked words and thorny looks and manner.

The girl took off her hat and sat down in the far corner
of the room. It appealed to her, this Mexican room, so
unlike anything European. How high it was! with a
vaulted, groined ceiling, painted blue, and stencilled in rude
design, bare stone walls all washed over with bright pink,
a massive oak door arched at the top, a large high window
with vertical iron bars before it, an uneven red brick floor
with felt carpeting over the centre. The two door casements
of the window stood open to the soft, still night, the blind
was drawn down, through it came the conversation of some
natives seated on the sill outside. Against one wall stood
a large fourpost bed, all draped in pink pink curtains and
quilts and valance and mosquito curtains to match the
walls. A round table, covered with a pink cloth, and on
which stood the powerful lamp that lighted them, was on
the other side of the room before a very large and comfortable
easy chair; a high and artistic screen intervened between
the table and the oak door; the centre of the room was left
free. Other chairs, and a high oak chest, stood against the
walls, and two little wire stands for washing at, occupied
the corners. She could not tell why she liked the room.
If he had seemed content she would have felt quite happy.

In Mexican country inns the meals for each person are
served in the private rooms, and after a minute the fat Mexi-
can servant brought in their supper tray, setting it by the
lamp on the pink table. A band was playing gaily in the
Plaza not far from the hotel. The conversation on the sill
outside dropped to whispers, interspersed with low laughter.
"Two lovers talking, I expect." thought Lydia, sadly.

They had their supper almost in silence. Pelham
looked pale, cross and tired, as usual. The girl was afraid



278 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

he was feeling ill, and beyond answering any remark he
made with a bright smile, said nothing. Her own fatigue
had passed off and she felt well, in spite of sleeplessness and
long journeys, with the irrepressible "wellness" of youth.
The soft, romantic air of the place delighted her. Oh, to
have had a companion pleased like herself, receptive to the
joys of climate, and scene, and change! to have gone out
under the palms and orange trees and heard words of love
murmured in her ear, an under-current to the wild Spanish
music.

After supper Pelham threw off his clothes and went to
bed.

"I should like you to put out the lamp as soon as you
can," he remarked, and Lydia extinguished the light and
went to bed too. Pelham was asleep in a moment but she
lay wide awake. Her neuralgia did not come to her that
night. She lay listening to the low love-conversation and
love-laughter coming from the sill without, and her eyes
were wide open and full of tears.

Their stay at Aguas, intended to be of a few days only,
was lengthened into three months, for Pelham was struck
down there suddenly with typhoid fever, the seeds of which
he had probably taken with him from the city of Mexico,
which is full of it.

When Lydia realised the illness and its true nature, and
the first cold terror we all feel when a beloved object is
attacked had passed over, her whole nature rose to grapple
with the situation. She felt sure she could save him, and
she welcomed this opportunity to prove her love to him.
"Let me turn an evil into a good," she thought to herself,
"and make this illness a link of union between us." She
was indefatigable, devoted beyond all belief, and her whole
mind, soul and will bent to the one single effort of giving him
back his health. This attitude of a nurse, of a constant
companion in sickness, who shall say how far-reaching its
effect on the patient, in itself, may be ? Very little do we
know of the forces of hypnotism and telepathy, and it may



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 279

well be difficult to die in an atmosphere charged with the
electricity of another determined we shall live. Lydia ob-
tained the best doctor the place afforded, and had his drugs
carefully made up and regularly administered, but she did
not put her trust in him, nor in them, but in herself, in her
constant attendance on her patient, in her noting of every
sign and symptom, anticipating of every want, combating
every little rise in temperature, every unfavourable tendency,
as soon as it appeared, saving every degree of strength gained,
and, through all, intensely willing him to live. Excitement
and terror lent her new physical strength. She slept by
snatches when she could, between the hours for giving food
and medicine. She hardly, in all that time, left that one
room. The days of soft sweet air and sunlight went gaily on
outside, the band played in the Plaza, the Mexicans sat and
giggled, evening after evening, on the sill outside, and within
that one room the lonely girl fought desperately, hour by
hour, day and night, with death for three months, and
conquered.

One great surprise came to her during this time, a joy
that bloomed suddenly like a rose in the desert; she found
that Eustace, so hard and cruel while well and independent,
dereloped in illness a patience and gentleness that seemed
to her amazing, and woke in her a still stronger passion of
affection. He never spoke crossly or harshly to her now,
and hardly ever complained. That consideration which
he had never showed while they were both well he displayed
now amidst his own sufferings to an unusual degree. He
never called to her or broke her rest when she lay at his feet
in one of her short slumbers. Whatever he wanted he
would never awaken her: as he grew better he begged her
to go out, to get air and exercise, to leave him to a nurse.
His overbearing ill-temper had entirely vanished. As a
patient he was one in a thousand, and Lydia felt it instinc-
tively. Such patient resignation and gentle consideration
under the stress of great physical suffering she knew were
not usual. Studied psychologically this attitude of Pelham's



280 LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW

was not really surprising, nor at variance with his character,
but was the natural outcome of it. It was his nature to be
hard towards those beneath him, in his power, or dependent
on him. To those independent of him, or on whom he in
any way depended, it was natural to him to show his best
side. In illness, feeling as he felt now, absolutely helpless
and prostrate, it never occurred to him to misuse, ill-treat, or
in any way alienate the only being who stood between him
and destruction, in whose power he found himself. It was
not in any way with him cunning or cowardice that led him
to change his way of conduct. The change came about
naturally. This girl, with her health, strength and activity,
her ability to abandon him if she chose, became for the time
being superior to him stretched helpless on a sick bed, and he
admired what was superior to himself, out of his sphere of
influence, above his power. Gratitude to her that she was
so faithful, so devoted to him, and the knowledge that came
to him in his helplessness of how comforting this warm,
ardent love was to lean upon, gave him strength and resolu-
tion to restrain all selfishness and impatience, and to lighten
the load for her that she carried so well. Those days, full
though they were of stress and strain and terror-stricken
anxiety, yet were made light to her, blessed by the relief
from his unkindness, easier than the preceding ones had
been. At the end of one afternoon shortly after Pelham
had been declared out of all danger, and was already pro-
gressing rapidly in convalescence, Lydia, feeling a great
fatigue sweeping over her, threw herself into the large arm-
chair beneath the window and leant back in it. The warm
sunset glow was filling the whole room with rose-coloured
light, the drooping boughs of an accacia, just outside the
window, swayed in it. All was very still. On the bed at
the other side of the room Pelham lay silent. She thought
he was sleeping. Very tired indeed she felt, very thin, she
seemed to herself as if made of paper. Her lids fell a little,
she was sinking to sleep, when a call from the bed roused her.



LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW 981

She started up and crossed the room, expecting some request
for water, or medicine, or food. When she reached the
bedside she saw Pelham lying there wide-eyed, a curiously
intense expression on his expressive face. He stretched out
both arms to her. In an instant she saw that he wanted
nothing but herself, her caresses, and bent over and kissed
him. He folded his arms tightly round her, and mur-
mured into the little ear, as she laid her head down on his
breast,

"I have been lying here a long time, thinking only of
you, how good you have been to me all this long time, of all
I owe to you. My little girl, but for you I should not be here.
You have given me back my life."

The tones of the voice she loved were so exquisitely
tender, so tense with feeling, the hand he put on her hair
was so gentle, so full of the electricity of love and passion,
that for those few moments the gates of heaven swung wide,
the girl was lifted into it, and anything she might have suffered
seemed as nothing vanished, gone, lost in joy. For the
moment she could not answer at all, and then the tears
came with her words.



Online LibraryVictoria CrossLife's shop window → online text (page 22 of 30)