Their railway-carriage had been full when the train left Bologna; but at th_irst station beyond Milan their only remaining companion—a courtly person wh_te garlic out of a carpet-bag—had left his crumb-strewn seat with a bow.
Lydia's eye regretfully followed the shiny broadcloth of his retreating bac_ill it lost itself in the cloud of touts and cab-drivers hanging about th_tation; then she glanced across at Gannett and caught the same regret in hi_ook. They were both sorry to be alone.
"_Par-ten-za!_" shouted the guard. The train vibrated to a sudden slamming o_oors; a waiter ran along the platform with a tray of fossilized sandwiches; _elated porter flung a bundle of shawls and band-boxes into a third-clas_arriage; the guard snapped out a brief _Partensa!_ which indicated the purel_rnamental nature of his first shout; and the train swung out of the station.
The direction of the road had changed, and a shaft of sunlight struck acros_he dusty red velvet seats into Lydia's corner. Gannett did not notice it. H_ad returned to his _Revue de Paris,_ and she had to rise and lower the shad_f the farther window. Against the vast horizon of their leisure suc_ncidents stood out sharply.
Having lowered the shade, Lydia sat down, leaving the length of the carriag_etween herself and Gannett. At length he missed her and looked up.
"I moved out of the sun," she hastily explained.
He looked at her curiously: the sun was beating on her through the shade.
"Very well," he said pleasantly; adding, "You don't mind?" as he drew _igarette-case from his pocket.
It was a refreshing touch, relieving the tension of her spirit with th_uggestion that, after all, if he could _smoke_—! The relief was onl_omentary. Her experience of smokers was limited (her husband had disapprove_f the use of tobacco) but she knew from hearsay that men sometimes smoked t_et away from things; that a cigar might be the masculine equivalent o_arkened windows and a headache. Gannett, after a puff or two, returned to hi_eview.
It was just as she had foreseen; he feared to speak as much as she did. It wa_ne of the misfortunes of their situation that they were never busy enough t_ecessitate, or even to justify, the postponement of unpleasant discussions.
If they avoided a question it was obviously, unconcealably because th_uestion was disagreeable. They had unlimited leisure and an accumulation o_ental energy to devote to any subject that presented itself; new topics wer_n fact at a premium. Lydia sometimes had premonitions of a famine-stricke_eriod when there would he nothing left to talk about, and she had alread_aught herself doling out piecemeal what, in the first prodigality of thei_onfidences, she would have flung to him in a breath. Their silence therefor_ight simply mean that they had nothing to say; but it was anothe_isadvantage of their position that it allowed infinite opportunity for th_lassification of minute differences. Lydia had learned to distinguish betwee_eal and factitious silences; and under Gannett's she now detected a hum o_peech to which her own thoughts made breathless answer.
How could it be otherwise, with that thing between them? She glanced up at th_ack overhead. The thing was there, in her dressing-bag, symbolicall_uspended over her head and his. He was thinking of it now, just as she was; they had been thinking of it in unison ever since they had entered the train.
While the carriage had held other travellers they had screened her from hi_houghts; but now that he and she were alone she knew exactly what was passin_hrough his mind; she could almost hear him asking himself what he should sa_o her… .
The thing had come that morning, brought up to her in an innocent-lookin_nvelope with the rest of their letters, as they were leaving the hotel a_ologna. As she tore it open, she and Gannett were laughing over som_neptitude of the local guide-book—they had been driven, of late, to make th_ost of such incidental humors of travel. Even when she had unfolded th_ocument she took it for some unimportant business paper sent abroad for he_ignature, and her eye travelled inattentively over the curly Whereases of th_reamble until a word arrested her:—Divorce. There it stood, an impassabl_arrier, between her husband's name and hers.
She had been prepared for it, of course, as healthy people are said to b_repared for death, in the sense of knowing it must come without in the leas_xpecting that it will. She had known from the first that Tillotson meant t_ivorce her—but what did it matter? Nothing mattered, in those first days o_upreme deliverance, but the fact that she was free; and not so much (she ha_egun to be aware) that freedom had released her from Tillotson as that it ha_iven her to Gannett. This discovery had not been agreeable to her self- esteem. She had preferred to think that Tillotson had himself embodied all he_easons for leaving him; and those he represented had seemed cogent enough t_tand in no need of reinforcement. Yet she had not left him till she me_annett. It was her love for Gannett that had made life with Tillotson so poo_nd incomplete a business. If she had never, from the first, regarded he_arriage as a full cancelling of her claims upon life, she had at least, for _umber of years, accepted it as a provisional compensation,—she had made it
"do." Existence in the commodious Tillotson mansion in Fifth Avenue—with Mrs.
Tillotson senior commanding the approaches from the second-story fron_indows—had been reduced to a series of purely automatic acts. The mora_tmosphere of the Tillotson interior was as carefully screened and curtaine_s the house itself: Mrs. Tillotson senior dreaded ideas as much as a draugh_n her back. Prudent people liked an even temperature; and to do anythin_nexpected was as foolish as going out in the rain. One of the chie_dvantages of being rich was that one need not be exposed to unforesee_ontingencies: by the use of ordinary firmness and common sense one could mak_ure of doing exactly the same thing every day at the same hour. Thes_octrines, reverentially imbibed with his mother's milk, Tillotson (a mode_on who had never given his parents an hour's anxiety) complacently expounde_o his wife, testifying to his sense of their importance by the regularit_ith which he wore goloshes on damp days, his punctuality at meals, and hi_laborate precautions against burglars and contagious diseases. Lydia, comin_rom a smaller town, and entering New York life through the portals of th_illotson mansion, had mechanically accepted this point of view as inseparabl_rom having a front pew in church and a parterre box at the opera. All th_eople who came to the house revolved in the same small circle of prejudices.
It was the kind of society in which, after dinner, the ladies compared th_xorbitant charges of their children's teachers, and agreed that, even wit_he new duties on French clothes, it was cheaper in the end to get everythin_rom Worth; while the husbands, over their cigars, lamented municipa_orruption, and decided that the men to start a reform were those who had n_rivate interests at stake.
To Lydia this view of life had become a matter of course, just as lumberin_bout in her mother-in-law's landau had come to seem the only possible mean_f locomotion, and listening every Sunday to a fashionable Presbyterian divin_he inevitable atonement for having thought oneself bored on the other si_ays of the week. Before she met Gannett her life had seemed merely dull: hi_oming made it appear like one of those dismal Cruikshank prints in which th_eople are all ugly and all engaged in occupations that are either vulgar o_tupid.
It was natural that Tillotson should be the chief sufferer from thi_eadjustment of focus. Gannett's nearness had made her husband ridiculous, an_ part of the ridicule had been reflected on herself. Her tolerance laid he_pen to a suspicion of obtuseness from which she must, at all costs, clea_erself in Gannett's eyes.
She did not understand this until afterwards. At the time she fancied that sh_ad merely reached the limits of endurance. In so large a charter of libertie_s the mere act of leaving Tillotson seemed to confer, the small question o_ivorce or no divorce did not count. It was when she saw that she had left he_usband only to be with Gannett that she perceived the significance o_nything affecting their relations. Her husband, in casting her off, ha_irtually flung her at Gannett: it was thus that the world viewed it. Th_easure of alacrity with which Gannett would receive her would be the subjec_f curious speculation over afternoon-tea tables and in club corners. She kne_hat would be said—she had heard it so often of others! The recollectio_athed her in misery. The men would probably back Gannett to "do the decen_hing"; but the ladies' eye-brows would emphasize the worthlessness of suc_nforced fidelity; and after all, they would be right. She had put herself i_ position where Gannett "owed" her something; where, as a gentleman, he wa_ound to "stand the damage." The idea of accepting such compensation had neve_rossed her mind; the so-called rehabilitation of such a marriage had alway_eemed to her the only real disgrace. What she dreaded was the necessity o_aving to explain herself; of having to combat his arguments; of calculating, in spite of herself, the exact measure of insistence with which he presse_hem. She knew not whether she most shrank from his insisting too much or to_ittle. In such a case the nicest sense of proportion might be at fault; an_ow easy to fall into the error of taking her resistance for a test of hi_incerity! Whichever way she turned, an ironical implication confronted her: she had the exasperated sense of having walked into the trap of some stupi_ractical joke.
Beneath all these preoccupations lurked the dread of what he was thinking.
Sooner or later, of course, he would have to speak; but that, in the meantime, he should think, even for a moment, that there was any use in speaking, seeme_o her simply unendurable. Her sensitiveness on this point was aggravated b_nother fear, as yet barely on the level of consciousness; the fear o_nwillingly involving Gannett in the trammels of her dependence. To look upo_im as the instrument of her liberation; to resist in herself the leas_endency to a wifely taking possession of his future; had seemed to Lydia th_ne way of maintaining the dignity of their relation. Her view had no_hanged, but she was aware of a growing inability to keep her thoughts fixe_n the essential point—the point of parting with Gannett. It was easy to fac_s long as she kept it sufficiently far off: but what was this act of menta_ostponement but a gradual encroachment on his future? What was needful wa_he courage to recognize the moment when, by some word or look, thei_oluntary fellowship should be transformed into a bondage the more wearin_hat it was based on none of those common obligations which make the mos_mperfect marriage in some sort a centre of gravity.
When the porter, at the next station, threw the door open, Lydia drew back, making way for the hoped-for intruder; but none came, and the train took u_ts leisurely progress through the spring wheat-fields and budding copses. Sh_ow began to hope that Gannett would speak before the next station. Sh_atched him furtively, half-disposed to return to the seat opposite his, bu_here was an artificiality about his absorption that restrained her. She ha_ever before seen him read with so conspicuous an air of warding of_nterruption. What could he be thinking of? Why should he be afraid to speak?
Or was it her answer that he dreaded?
The train paused for the passing of an express, and he put down his book an_eaned out of the window. Presently he turned to her with a smile. "There's _olly old villa out here," he said.
His easy tone relieved her, and she smiled back at him as she crossed over t_is corner.
Beyond the embankment, through the opening in a mossy wall, she caught sigh_f the villa, with its broken balustrades, its stagnant fountains, and th_tone satyr closing the perspective of a dusky grass-walk.
"How should you like to live there?" he asked as the train moved on.
"In some such place, I mean. One might do worse, don't you think so? Ther_ust be at least two centuries of solitude under those yew-trees. Shouldn'_ou like it?"
"I—I don't know," she faltered. She knew now that he meant to speak.
He lit another cigarette. "We shall have to live somewhere, you know," he sai_s he bent above the match.
Lydia tried to speak carelessly. "_Je n'en vois pas la nécessité!_ Why no_ive everywhere, as we have been doing?"
"But we can't travel forever, can we?"
"Oh, forever's a long word," she objected, picking up the review he had throw_side.
"For the rest of our lives then," he said, moving nearer.
She made a slight gesture which caused his hand to slip from hers.
"Why should we make plans? I thought you agreed with me that it's pleasante_o drift."
He looked at her hesitatingly. "It's been pleasant, certainly; but I suppose _hall have to get at my work again some day. You know I haven't written a lin_ince—all this time," he hastily emended.
She flamed with sympathy and self-reproach. "Oh, if you mean _that_—if yo_ant to write—of course we must settle down. How stupid of me not to hav_hought of it sooner! Where shall we go? Where do you think you could wor_est? We oughtn't to lose any more time."
He hesitated again. "I had thought of a villa in these parts. It's quiet; w_houldn't be bothered. Should you like it?"
"Of course I should like it." She paused and looked away. "But I thought— _emember your telling me once that your best work had been done in a crowd—i_ig cities. Why should you shut yourself up in a desert?"
Gannett, for a moment, made no reply. At length he said, avoiding her eye a_arefully as she avoided his: "It might be different now; I can't tell, o_ourse, till I try. A writer ought not to be dependent on his _milieu_; it's _istake to humor oneself in that way; and I thought that just at first yo_ight prefer to be—"
She faced him. "To be what?"
"Well—quiet. I mean—"
"What do you mean by 'at first'?" she interrupted.
He paused again. "I mean after we are married."
She thrust up her chin and turned toward the window. "Thank you!" she tosse_ack at him.
"Lydia!" he exclaimed blankly; and she felt in every fibre of her averte_erson that he had made the inconceivable, the unpardonable mistake o_nticipating her acquiescence.
The train rattled on and he groped for a third cigarette. Lydia remaine_ilent.
"I haven't offended you?" he ventured at length, in the tone of a man wh_eels his way.
She shook her head with a sigh. "I thought you understood," she moaned. Thei_yes met and she moved back to his side.
"Do you want to know how not to offend me? By taking it for granted, once fo_ll, that you've said your say on this odious question and that I've sai_ine, and that we stand just where we did this morning before that— tha_ateful paper came to spoil everything between us!"
"To spoil everything between us? What on earth do you mean? Aren't you glad t_e free?"
"I was free before."
"Not to marry me," he suggested.
"But I don't want to marry you!" she cried.
She saw that he turned pale. "I'm obtuse, I suppose," he said slowly. "_onfess I don't see what you're driving at. Are you tired of the whol_usiness? Or was I simply a—an excuse for getting away? Perhaps you didn'_are to travel alone? Was that it? And now you want to chuck me?" His voic_ad grown harsh. "You owe me a straight answer, you know; don't be tender- hearted!"
Her eyes swam as she leaned to him. "Don't you see it's because I care— because I care so much? Oh, Ralph! Can't you see how it would humiliate me?
Try to feel it as a woman would! Don't you see the misery of being made you_ife in this way? If I'd known you as a girl—that would have been a rea_arriage! But now—this vulgar fraud upon society—and upon a society w_espised and laughed at—this sneaking back into a position that we'v_oluntarily forfeited: don't you see what a cheap compromise it is? We neithe_f us believe in the abstract 'sacredness' of marriage; we both know that n_eremony is needed to consecrate our love for each other; what object can w_ave in marrying, except the secret fear of each that the other may escape, o_he secret longing to work our way back gradually—oh, very gradually—into th_steem of the people whose conventional morality we have always ridiculed an_ated? And the very fact that, after a decent interval, these same peopl_ould come and dine with us—the women who talk about the indissolubility o_arriage, and who would let me die in a gutter to-day because I am 'leading _ife of sin'— doesn't that disgust you more than their turning their backs o_s now? I can stand being cut by them, but I couldn't stand their coming t_all and asking what I meant to do about visiting that unfortunate Mrs. So- and-so!"
She paused, and Gannett maintained a perplexed silence.
"You judge things too theoretically," he said at length, slowly. "Life is mad_p of compromises."
"The life we ran away from—yes! If we had been willing to accept them"— sh_lushed—"we might have gone on meeting each other at Mrs. Tillotson'_inners."
He smiled slightly. "I didn't know that we ran away to found a new system o_thics. I supposed it was because we loved each other."
"Life is complex, of course; isn't it the very recognition of that fact tha_eparates us from the people who see it _tout d'une pièce?_ If they ar_ight—if marriage is sacred in itself and the individual must always b_acrificed to the family—then there can be no real marriage between us, sinc_ur—our being together is a protest against the sacrifice of the individual t_he family." She interrupted herself with a laugh. "You'll say now that I'_iving you a lecture on sociology! Of course one acts as one can—as one must, perhaps—pulled by all sorts of invisible threads; but at least one needn'_retend, for social advantages, to subscribe to a creed that ignores th_omplexity of human motives—that classifies people by arbitrary signs, an_uts it in everybody's reach to be on Mrs. Tillotson's visiting-list. It ma_e necessary that the world should be ruled by conventions—but if we believe_n them, why did we break through them? And if we don't believe in them, is i_onest to take advantage of the protection they afford?"
Gannett hesitated. "One may believe in them or not; but as long as they d_ule the world it is only by taking advantage of their protection that one ca_ind a _modus vivendi."_
"Do outlaws need a _modus vivendi?"_
He looked at her hopelessly. Nothing is more perplexing to man than the menta_rocess of a woman who reasons her emotions.
She thought she had scored a point and followed it up passionately. "You d_nderstand, don't you? You see how the very thought of the thing humiliate_e! We are together to-day because we choose to be—don't let us look an_arther than that!" She caught his hands. "Promise me you'll never speak of i_gain; promise me you'll never think of it even," she implored, with a tearfu_rodigality of italics.
Through what followed—his protests, his arguments, his final unconvince_ubmission to her wishes—she had a sense of his but half-discerning all that, for her, had made the moment so tumultuous. They had reached that memorabl_oint in every heart-history when, for the first time, the man seems obtus_nd the woman irrational. It was the abundance of his intentions that console_er, on reflection, for what they lacked in quality. After all, it would hav_een worse, incalculably worse, to have detected any over-readiness t_nderstand her.
When the train at night-fall brought them to their journey's end at the edg_f one of the lakes, Lydia was glad that they were not, as usual, to pass fro_ne solitude to another. Their wanderings during the year had indeed been lik_he flight of outlaws: through Sicily, Dalmatia, Transylvania and Souther_taly they had persisted in their tacit avoidance of their kind. Isolation, a_irst, had deepened the flavor of their happiness, as night intensifies th_cent of certain flowers; but in the new phase on which they were entering, Lydia's chief wish was that they should be less abnormally exposed to th_ction of each other's thoughts.
She shrank, nevertheless, as the brightly-looming bulk of the fashionabl_nglo-American hotel on the water's brink began to radiate toward thei_dvancing boat its vivid suggestion of social order, visitors' lists, Churc_ervices, and the bland inquisition of the _table-d'hôte_. The mere fact tha_n a moment or two she must take her place on the hotel register as Mrs.
Gannett seemed to weaken the springs of her resistance.
They had meant to stay for a night only, on their way to a lofty village amon_he glaciers of Monte Rosa; but after the first plunge into publicity, whe_hey entered the dining-room, Lydia felt the relief of being lost in a crowd, of ceasing for a moment to be the centre of Gannett's scrutiny; and in hi_ace she caught the reflection of her feeling. After dinner, when she wen_pstairs, he strolled into the smoking-room, and an hour or two later, sittin_n the darkness of her window, she heard his voice below and saw him walkin_p and down the terrace with a companion cigar at his side. When he came up h_old her he had been talking to the hotel chaplain—a very good sort of fellow.
"Queer little microcosms, these hotels! Most of these people live here al_ummer and then migrate to Italy or the Riviera. The English are the onl_eople who can lead that kind of life with dignity—those soft-voiced ol_adies in Shetland shawls somehow carry the British Empire under their caps.
Civis Romanus sum. It's a curious study—there might be some good things t_ork up here."
He stood before her with the vivid preoccupied stare of the novelist on th_rail of a "subject." With a relief that was half painful she noticed that, for the first time since they had been together, he was hardly aware of he_resence. "Do you think you could write here?"
"Here? I don't know." His stare dropped. "After being out of things so lon_ne's first impressions are bound to be tremendously vivid, you know. I see _ozen threads already that one might follow—"
He broke off with a touch of embarrassment.
"Then follow them. We'll stay," she said with sudden decision.
"Stay here?" He glanced at her in surprise, and then, walking to the window, looked out upon the dusky slumber of the garden.
"Why not?" she said at length, in a tone of veiled irritation.
"The place is full of old cats in caps who gossip with the chaplain. Shall yo_ike—I mean, it would be different if—"
She flamed up.
"Do you suppose I care? It's none of their business."
"Of course not; but you won't get them to think so."
"They may think what they please."
He looked at her doubtfully.
"It's for you to decide."
"We'll stay," she repeated.
Gannett, before they met, had made himself known as a successful writer o_hort stories and of a novel which had achieved the distinction of bein_idely discussed. The reviewers called him "promising," and Lydia now accuse_erself of having too long interfered with the fulfilment of his promise.
There was a special irony in the fact, since his passionate assurances tha_nly the stimulus of her companionship could bring out his latent faculty ha_lmost given the dignity of a "vocation" to her course: there had been moment_hen she had felt unable to assume, before posterity, the responsibility o_hwarting his career. And, after all, he had not written a line since they ha_een together: his first desire to write had come from renewed contact wit_he world! Was it all a mistake then? Must the most intelligent choice wor_ore disastrously than the blundering combinations of chance? Or was there _till more humiliating answer to her perplexities? His sudden impulse o_ctivity so exactly coincided with her own wish to withdraw, for a time, fro_he range of his observation, that she wondered if he too were not seekin_anctuary from intolerable problems.
"You must begin to-morrow!" she cried, hiding a tremor under the laugh wit_hich she added, "I wonder if there's any ink in the inkstand?"
Whatever else they had at the Hotel Bellosguardo, they had, as Miss Pinsen_aid, "a certain tone." It was to Lady Susan Condit that they owed thi_nestimable benefit; an advantage ranking in Miss Pinsent's opinion above eve_he lawn tennis courts and the resident chaplain. It was the fact of Lad_usan's annual visit that made the hotel what it was. Miss Pinsent wa_ertainly the last to underrate such a privilege:—"It's so important, my dear, forming as we do a little family, that there should be some one to give _th_one_; and no one could do it better than Lady Susan—an earl's daughter and _erson of such determination. Dear Mrs. Ainger now—who really ought, you know, when Lady Susan's away— absolutely refuses to assert herself." Miss Pinsen_niffed derisively. "A bishop's niece!—my dear, I saw her once actually giv_n to some South Americans—and before us all. She gave up her seat at table t_blige them—such a lack of dignity! Lady Susan spoke to her very plainly abou_t afterwards."
Miss Pinsent glanced across the lake and adjusted her auburn front.
"But of course I don't deny that the stand Lady Susan takes is not always eas_o live up to—for the rest of us, I mean. Monsieur Grossart, our goo_roprietor, finds it trying at times, I know—he has said as much, privately, to Mrs. Ainger and me. After all, the poor man is not to blame for wanting t_ill his hotel, is he? And Lady Susan is so difficult—so very difficult—abou_ew people. One might almost say that she disapproves of them beforehand, o_rinciple. And yet she's had warnings— she very nearly made a dreadful mistak_nce with the Duchess of Levens, who dyed her hair and—well, swore and smoked.
One would have thought that might have been a lesson to Lady Susan." Mis_insent resumed her knitting with a sigh. "There are exceptions, of course.
She took at once to you and Mr. Gannett—it was quite remarkable, really. Oh, _on't mean that either—of course not! It was perfectly natural—we all though_ou so charming and interesting from the first day—we knew at once that Mr.
Gannett was intellectual, by the magazines you took in; but you know what _ean. Lady Susan is so very—well, I won't say prejudiced, as Mrs. Ainge_oes—but so prepared not to like new people, that her taking to you in tha_ay was a surprise to us all, I confess."
Miss Pinsent sent a significant glance down the long laurustinus alley fro_he other end of which two people—a lady and gentleman—were strolling towar_hem through the smiling neglect of the garden.
"In this case, of course, it's very different; that I'm willing to admit.
Their looks are against them; but, as Mrs. Ainger says, one can't exactly tel_hem so."
"She's very handsome," Lydia ventured, with her eyes on the lady, who showed, under the dome of a vivid sunshade, the hour-glass figure and superlativ_oloring of a Christmas chromo.
"That's the worst of it. She's too handsome."
"Well, after all, she can't help that."
"Other people manage to," said Miss Pinsent skeptically.
"But isn't it rather unfair of Lady Susan—considering that nothing is know_bout them?"
"But, my dear, that's the very thing that's against them. It's infinitel_orse than any actual knowledge."
Lydia mentally agreed that, in the case of Mrs. Linton, it possibly might be.
"I wonder why they came here?" she mused.
"That's against them too. It's always a bad sign when loud people come to _uiet place. And they've brought van-loads of boxes—her maid told Mrs.
Ainger's that they meant to stop indefinitely."
"And Lady Susan actually turned her back on her in the _salon?_"
"My dear, she said it was for our sakes: that makes it so unanswerable! Bu_oor Grossart is in a way! The Lintons have taken his most expensive suite, you know—the yellow damask drawing-room above the portico—and they hav_hampagne with every meal!"
They were silent as Mr. and Mrs. Linton sauntered by; the lady wit_empestuous brows and challenging chin; the gentleman, a blond stripling, trailing after her, head downward, like a reluctant child dragged by hi_urse.
"What does your husband think of them, my dear?" Miss Pinsent whispered a_hey passed out of earshot.
Lydia stooped to pick a violet in the border.
"He hasn't told me."
"Of your speaking to them, I mean. Would he approve of that? I know how ver_articular nice Americans are. I think your action might make a difference; i_ould certainly carry weight with Lady Susan."
"Dear Miss Pinsent, you flatter me!"
Lydia rose and gathered up her book and sunshade.
"Well, if you're asked for an opinion—if Lady Susan asks you for one—I thin_ou ought to be prepared," Miss Pinsent admonished her as she moved away.
Lady Susan held her own. She ignored the Lintons, and her little family, a_iss Pinsent phrased it, followed suit. Even Mrs. Ainger agreed that it wa_bligatory. If Lady Susan owed it to the others not to speak to the Lintons, the others clearly owed it to Lady Susan to back her up. It was generall_ound expedient, at the Hotel Bellosguardo, to adopt this form of reasoning.
Whatever effect this combined action may have had upon the Lintons, it did no_t least have that of driving them away. Monsieur Grossart, after a few day_f suspense, had the satisfaction of seeing them settle down in his yello_amask premier with what looked like a permanent installation of palm-tree_nd silk sofa-cushions, and a gratifying continuance in the consumption o_hampagne. Mrs. Linton trailed her Doucet draperies up and down the garde_ith the same challenging air, while her husband, smoking innumerabl_igarettes, dragged himself dejectedly in her wake; but neither of them, afte_he first encounter with Lady Susan, made any attempt to extend thei_cquaintance. They simply ignored their ignorers. As Miss Pinsent resentfull_bserved, they behaved exactly as though the hotel were empty.
It was therefore a matter of surprise, as well as of displeasure, to Lydia, t_ind, on glancing up one day from her seat in the garden, that the shado_hich had fallen across her book was that of the enigmatic Mrs. Linton.
"I want to speak to you," that lady said, in a rich hard voice that seemed th_udible expression of her gown and her complexion.
Lydia started. She certainly did not want to speak to Mrs. Linton.
"Shall I sit down here?" the latter continued, fixing her intensely-shade_yes on Lydia's face, "or are you afraid of being seen with me?"
"Afraid?" Lydia colored. "Sit down, please. What is it that you wish to say?"
Mrs. Linton, with a smile, drew up a garden-chair and crossed one open- wor_nkle above the other.
"I want you to tell me what my husband said to your husband last night."
Lydia turned pale.
"My husband—to yours?" she faltered, staring at the other.
"Didn't you know they were closeted together for hours in the smoking-roo_fter you went upstairs? My man didn't get to bed until nearly two o'clock an_hen he did I couldn't get a word out of him. When he wants to be aggravatin_'ll back him against anybody living!" Her teeth and eyes flashed persuasivel_pon Lydia. "But you'll tell me what they were talking about, won't you? _now I can trust you—you look so awfully kind. And it's for his own good. He'_uch a precious donkey and I'm so afraid he's got into some beastly scrape o_ther. If he'd only trust his own old woman! But they're always writing to hi_nd setting him against me. And I've got nobody to turn to." She laid her han_n Lydia's with a rattle of bracelets. "You'll help me, won't you?"
Lydia drew back from the smiling fierceness of her brows.
"I'm sorry—but I don't think I understand. My husband has said nothing to m_f—of yours."
The great black crescents above Mrs. Linton's eyes met angrily.
"I say—is that true?" she demanded.
Lydia rose from her seat.
"Oh, look here, I didn't mean that, you know—you mustn't take one up so! Can'_ou see how rattled I am?"
Lydia saw that, in fact, her beautiful mouth was quivering beneath softene_yes.
"I'm beside myself!" the splendid creature wailed, dropping into her seat.
"I'm so sorry," Lydia repeated, forcing herself to speak kindly; "but how ca_ help you?"
Mrs. Linton raised her head sharply.
"By finding out—there's a darling!"
"Finding what out?"
"What Trevenna told him."
"Trevenna—?" Lydia echoed in bewilderment.
Mrs. Linton clapped her hand to her mouth.
"Oh, Lord—there, it's out! What a fool I am! But I supposed of course yo_new; I supposed everybody knew." She dried her eyes and bridled. "Didn't yo_now that he's Lord Trevenna? I'm Mrs. Cope."
Lydia recognized the names. They had figured in a flamboyant elopement whic_ad thrilled fashionable London some six months earlier.
"Now you see how it is—you understand, don't you?" Mrs. Cope continued on _ote of appeal. "I knew you would—that's the reason I came to you. I suppos_e felt the same thing about your husband; he's not spoken to another soul i_he place." Her face grew anxious again. "He's awfully sensitive, generally—h_eels our position, he says—as if it wasn't my place to feel that! But when h_oes get talking there's no knowing what he'll say. I know he's been broodin_ver something lately, and I must find out what it is—it's to his interes_hat I should. I always tell him that I think only of his interest; if he'_nly trust me! But he's been so odd lately—I can't think what he's plotting.
You will help me, dear?"
Lydia, who had remained standing, looked away uncomfortably.
"If you mean by finding out what Lord Trevenna has told my husband, I'm afrai_t's impossible."
"Because I infer that it was told in confidence."
Mrs. Cope stared incredulously.
"Well, what of that? Your husband looks such a dear—any one can see he'_wfully gone on you. What's to prevent your getting it out of him?"
"I'm not a spy!" she exclaimed.
"A spy—a spy? How dare you?" Mrs. Cope flamed out. "Oh, I don't mean tha_ither! Don't be angry with me—I'm so miserable." She essayed a softer note.
"Do you call that spying—for one woman to help out another? I do need help s_readfully! I'm at my wits' end with Trevenna, I am indeed. He's such a boy—_ere baby, you know; he's only two-and-twenty." She dropped her orbed lids.
"He's younger than me—only fancy! a few months younger. I tell him he ought t_isten to me as if I was his mother; oughtn't he now? But he won't, he won't!
All his people are at him, you see—oh, I know their little game! Trying to ge_im away from me before I can get my divorce—that's what they're up to. A_irst he wouldn't listen to them; he used to toss their letters over to me t_ead; but now he reads them himself, and answers 'em too, I fancy; he's alway_hut up in his room, writing. If I only knew what his plan is I could stop hi_ast enough—he's such a simpleton. But he's dreadfully deep too—at times _an't make him out. But I know he's told your husband everything—I knew tha_ast night the minute I laid eyes on him. And I must find out—you must hel_e—I've got no one else to turn to!"
She caught Lydia's fingers in a stormy pressure.
"Say you'll help me—you and your husband."
Lydia tried to free herself.
"What you ask is impossible; you must see that it is. No one could interfer_n—in the way you ask."
Mrs. Cope's clutch tightened.
"You won't, then? You won't?"
"Certainly not. Let me go, please."
Mrs. Cope released her with a laugh.
"Oh, go by all means—pray don't let me detain you! Shall you go and tell Lad_usan Condit that there's a pair of us—or shall I save you the trouble o_nlightening her?"
Lydia stood still in the middle of the path, seeing her antagonist through _ist of terror. Mrs. Cope was still laughing.
"Oh, I'm not spiteful by nature, my dear; but you're a little more than fles_nd blood can stand! It's impossible, is it? Let you go, indeed! You're to_ood to be mixed up in my affairs, are you? Why, you little fool, the firs_ay I laid eyes on you I saw that you and I were both in the same box—that'_he reason I spoke to you."
She stepped nearer, her smile dilating on Lydia like a lamp through a fog.
"You can take your choice, you know; I always play fair. If you'll tell I'l_romise not to. Now then, which is it to be?"
Lydia, involuntarily, had begun to move away from the pelting storm of words; but at this she turned and sat down again.
"You may go," she said simply. "I shall stay here."
She stayed there for a long time, in the hypnotized contemplation, not of Mrs.
Cope's present, but of her own past. Gannett, early that morning, had gone of_n a long walk—he had fallen into the habit of taking these mountain-tramp_ith various fellow-lodgers; but even had he been within reach she could no_ave gone to him just then. She had to deal with herself first. She wa_urprised to find how, in the last months, she had lost the habit o_ntrospection. Since their coming to the Hotel Bellosguardo she and Gannet_ad tacitly avoided themselves and each other.
She was aroused by the whistle of the three o'clock steamboat as it neared th_anding just beyond the hotel gates. Three o'clock! Then Gannett would soon b_ack—he had told her to expect him before four. She rose hurriedly, her fac_verted from the inquisitorial facade of the hotel. She could not see him jus_et; she could not go indoors. She slipped through one of the overgrow_arden-alleys and climbed a steep path to the hills.
It was dark when she opened their sitting-room door. Gannett was sitting o_he window-ledge smoking a cigarette. Cigarettes were now his chief resource: he had not written a line during the two months they had spent at the Hote_ellosguardo. In that respect, it had turned out not to be the right milie_fter all.
He started up at Lydia's entrance.
"Where have you been? I was getting anxious."
She sat down in a chair near the door.
"Up the mountain," she said wearily.
Gannett threw away his cigarette: the sound of her voice made him want to se_er face.
"Shall we have a little light?" he suggested.
She made no answer and he lifted the globe from the lamp and put a match t_he wick. Then he looked at her.
"Anything wrong? You look done up."
She sat glancing vaguely about the little sitting-room, dimly lit by th_allid-globed lamp, which left in twilight the outlines of the furniture, o_is writing-table heaped with books and papers, of the tea-roses and jasmin_rooping on the mantel-piece. How like home it had all grown—how like home!
"Lydia, what is wrong?" he repeated.
She moved away from him, feeling for her hatpins and turning to lay her ha_nd sunshade on the table.
Suddenly she said: "That woman has been talking to me."
"That woman? What woman?"
"Mrs. Linton—Mrs. Cope."
He gave a start of annoyance, still, as she perceived, not grasping the ful_mport of her words.
"The deuce! She told you—?"
"She told me everything."
Gannett looked at her anxiously.
"What impudence! I'm so sorry that you should have been exposed to this, dear."
"Exposed!" Lydia laughed.
Gannett's brow clouded and they looked away from each other.
"Do you know why she told me? She had the best of reasons. The first time sh_aid eyes on me she saw that we were both in the same box."
"So it was natural, of course, that she should turn to me in a difficulty."
"It seems she has reason to think that Lord Trevenna's people are trying t_et him away from her before she gets her divorce—"
"And she fancied he had been consulting with you last night as to—as to th_est way of escaping from her."
Gannett stood up with an angry forehead.
"Well—what concern of yours was all this dirty business? Why should she go t_ou?"
"Don't you see? It's so simple. I was to wheedle his secret out of you."
"To oblige that woman?"
"Yes; or, if I was unwilling to oblige her, then to protect myself."
"To protect yourself? Against whom?"
"Against her telling every one in the hotel that she and I are in the sam_ox."
"She threatened that?"
"She left me the choice of telling it myself or of doing it for me."
There was a long silence. Lydia had seated herself on the sofa, beyond th_adius of the lamp, and he leaned against the window. His next questio_urprised her.
"When did this happen? At what time, I mean?" She looked at him vaguely.
"I don't know—after luncheon, I think. Yes, I remember; it must have been a_bout three o'clock."
He stepped into the middle of the room and as he approached the light she sa_hat his brow had cleared.
"Why do you ask?" she said.
"Because when I came in, at about half-past three, the mail was just bein_istributed, and Mrs. Cope was waiting as usual to pounce on her letters; yo_now she was always watching for the postman. She was standing so close to m_hat I couldn't help seeing a big official-looking envelope that was handed t_er. She tore it open, gave one look at the inside, and rushed off upstair_ike a whirlwind, with the director shouting after her that she had left al_er other letters behind. I don't believe she ever thought of you again afte_hat paper was put into her hand."
"Because she was too busy. I was sitting in the window, watching for you, whe_he five o'clock boat left, and who should go on board, bag and baggage, vale_nd maid, dressing-bags and poodle, but Mrs. Cope and Trevenna. Just an hou_nd a half to pack up in! And you should have seen her when they started. Sh_as radiant—shaking hands with everybody— waving her handkerchief from th_eck—distributing bows and smiles like an empress. If ever a woman got wha_he wanted just in the nick of time that woman did. She'll be Lady Trevenn_ithin a week, I'll wager."
"You think she has her divorce?"
"I'm sure of it. And she must have got it just after her talk with you."
Lydia was silent.
At length she said, with a kind of reluctance, "She was horribly angry whe_he left me. It wouldn't have taken long to tell Lady Susan Condit."
"Lady Susan Condit has not been told."
"How do you know?"
"Because when I went downstairs half an hour ago I met Lady Susan on the way—"
He stopped, half smiling.
"And she stopped to ask if I thought you would act as patroness to a charit_oncert she is getting up."
In spite of themselves they both broke into a laugh. Lydia's ended in sobs an_he sank down with her face hidden. Gannett bent over her, seeking her hands.
"That vile woman—I ought to have warned you to keep away from her; I can'_orgive myself! But he spoke to me in confidence; and I never dreamed—well, it's all over now."
Lydia lifted her head.
"Not for me. It's only just beginning."
"What do you mean?"
She put him gently aside and moved in her turn to the window. Then she wen_n, with her face turned toward the shimmering blackness of the lake, "You se_f course that it might happen again at any moment."
"This—this risk of being found out. And we could hardly count again on such _ucky combination of chances, could we?"
He sat down with a groan.
Still keeping her face toward the darkness, she said, "I want you to go an_ell Lady Susan—and the others."
Gannett, who had moved towards her, paused a few feet off.
"Why do you wish me to do this?" he said at length, with less surprise in hi_oice than she had been prepared for.
"Because I've behaved basely, abominably, since we came here: letting thes_eople believe we were married—lying with every breath I drew—"
"Yes, I've felt that too," Gannett exclaimed with sudden energy.
The words shook her like a tempest: all her thoughts seemed to fall about he_n ruins.
"You—you've felt so?"
"Of course I have." He spoke with low-voiced vehemence. "Do you suppose I lik_laying the sneak any better than you do? It's damnable."
He had dropped on the arm of a chair, and they stared at each other like blin_eople who suddenly see.
"But you have liked it here," she faltered.
"Oh, I've liked it—I've liked it." He moved impatiently. "Haven't you?"
"Yes," she burst out; "that's the worst of it—that's what I can't bear. _ancied it was for your sake that I insisted on staying—because you though_ou could write here; and perhaps just at first that really was the reason.
But afterwards I wanted to stay myself—I loved it." She broke into a laugh.
"Oh, do you see the full derision of it? These people—the very prototypes o_he bores you took me away from, with the same fenced— in view of life, th_ame keep-off-the-grass morality, the same little cautious virtues and th_ame little frightened vices—well, I've clung to them, I've delighted in them, I've done my best to please them. I've toadied Lady Susan, I've gossiped wit_iss Pinsent, I've pretended to be shocked with Mrs. Ainger. Respectability!
It was the one thing in life that I was sure I didn't care about, and it'_rown so precious to me that I've stolen it because I couldn't get it in an_ther way."
She moved across the room and returned to his side with another laugh.
"I who used to fancy myself unconventional! I must have been born with a card- case in my hand. You should have seen me with that poor woman in the garden.
She came to me for help, poor creature, because she fancied that, having
'sinned,' as they call it, I might feel some pity for others who had bee_empted in the same way. Not I! She didn't know me. Lady Susan would have bee_inder, because Lady Susan wouldn't have been afraid. I hated the woman—my on_hought was not to be seen with her—I could have killed her for guessing m_ecret. The one thing that mattered to me at that moment was my standing wit_ady Susan!"
Gannett did not speak.
"And you—you've felt it too!" she broke out accusingly. "You've enjoyed bein_ith these people as much as I have; you've let the chaplain talk to you b_he hour about 'The Reign of Law' and Professor Drummond. When they asked yo_o hand the plate in church I was watching you—_you wanted to accept."_
She stepped close, laying her hand on his arm.
"Do you know, I begin to see what marriage is for. It's to keep people awa_rom each other. Sometimes I think that two people who love each other can b_aved from madness only by the things that come between them—children, duties, visits, bores, relations—the things that protect married people from eac_ther. We've been too close together—that has been our sin. We've seen th_akedness of each other's souls."
She sank again on the sofa, hiding her face in her hands.
Gannett stood above her perplexedly: he felt as though she were being swep_way by some implacable current while he stood helpless on its bank.
At length he said, "Lydia, don't think me a brute—but don't you see yoursel_hat it won't do?"
"Yes, I see it won't do," she said without raising her head.
His face cleared.
"Then we'll go to-morrow."
"To Paris; to be married."
For a long time she made no answer; then she asked slowly, "Would they have u_ere if we were married?"
"Have us here?"
"I mean Lady Susan—and the others."
"Have us here? Of course they would."
"Not if they knew—at least, not unless they could pretend not to know."
He made an impatient gesture.
"We shouldn't come back here, of course; and other people needn't know—no on_eed know."
She sighed. "Then it's only another form of deception and a meaner one. Don'_ou see that?"
"I see that we're not accountable to any Lady Susans on earth!"
"Then why are you ashamed of what we are doing here?"
"Because I'm sick of pretending that you're my wife when you're not—when yo_on't be."
She looked at him sadly.
"If I were your wife you'd have to go on pretending. You'd have to preten_hat I'd never been—anything else. And our friends would have to pretend tha_hey believed what you pretended."
Gannett pulled off the sofa-tassel and flung it away.
"You're impossible," he groaned.
"It's not I—it's our being together that's impossible. I only want you to se_hat marriage won't help it."
"What will help it then?"
She raised her head.
"My leaving you."
"Your leaving me?" He sat motionless, staring at the tassel which lay at th_ther end of the room. At length some impulse of retaliation for the pain sh_as inflicting made him say deliberately:
"And where would you go if you left me?"
"Oh!" she cried.
He was at her side in an instant.
"Lydia—Lydia—you know I didn't mean it; I couldn't mean it! But you've drive_e out of my senses; I don't know what I'm saying. Can't you get out of thi_abyrinth of self-torture? It's destroying us both."
"That's why I must leave you."
"How easily you say it!" He drew her hands down and made her face him. "You'r_ery scrupulous about yourself—and others. But have you thought of me? Yo_ave no right to leave me unless you've ceased to care—"
"It's because I care—"
"Then I have a right to be heard. If you love me you can't leave me."
Her eyes defied him.
He dropped her hands and rose from her side.
"Can you?" he said sadly.
The hour was late and the lamp flickered and sank. She stood up with a shive_nd turned toward the door of her room.
At daylight a sound in Lydia's room woke Gannett from a troubled sleep. He sa_p and listened. She was moving about softly, as though fearful of disturbin_im. He heard her push back one of the creaking shutters; then there was _oment's silence, which seemed to indicate that she was waiting to see if th_oise had roused him.
Presently she began to move again. She had spent a sleepless night, probably, and was dressing to go down to the garden for a breath of air. Gannett ros_lso; but some undefinable instinct made his movements as cautious as hers. H_tole to his window and looked out through the slats of the shutter.
It had rained in the night and the dawn was gray and lifeless. The cloud- muffled hills across the lake were reflected in its surface as in a tarnishe_irror. In the garden, the birds were beginning to shake the drops from th_otionless laurustinus-boughs.
An immense pity for Lydia filled Gannett's soul. Her seeming intellectua_ndependence had blinded him for a time to the feminine cast of her mind. H_ad never thought of her as a woman who wept and clung: there was a lucidit_n her intuitions that made them appear to be the result of reasoning. Now h_aw the cruelty he had committed in detaching her from the normal condition_f life; he felt, too, the insight with which she had hit upon the real caus_f their suffering. Their life was "impossible," as she had said—and its wors_enalty was that it had made any other life impossible for them. Even had hi_ove lessened, he was bound to her now by a hundred ties of pity and self- reproach; and she, poor child! must turn back to him as Latude returned to hi_ell… .
A new sound startled him: it was the stealthy closing of Lydia's door. H_rept to his own and heard her footsteps passing down the corridor. Then h_ent back to the window and looked out.
A minute or two later he saw her go down the steps of the porch and enter th_arden. From his post of observation her face was invisible, but somethin_bout her appearance struck him. She wore a long travelling cloak and unde_ts folds he detected the outline of a bag or bundle. He drew a deep breat_nd stood watching her.
She walked quickly down the laurustinus alley toward the gate; there sh_aused a moment, glancing about the little shady square. The stone benche_nder the trees were empty, and she seemed to gather resolution from th_olitude about her, for she crossed the square to the steam-boat landing, an_e saw her pause before the ticket-office at the head of the wharf. Now sh_as buying her ticket. Gannett turned his head a moment to look at the clock: the boat was due in five minutes. He had time to jump into his clothes an_vertake her—
He made no attempt to move; an obscure reluctance restrained him. If an_hought emerged from the tumult of his sensations, it was that he must let he_o if she wished it. He had spoken last night of his rights: what were they?
At the last issue, he and she were two separate beings, not made one by th_iracle of common forbearances, duties, abnegations, but bound together in _oyade of passion that left them resisting yet clinging as they went down.
After buying her ticket, Lydia had stood for a moment looking out across th_ake; then he saw her seat herself on one of the benches near the landing. H_nd she, at that moment, were both listening for the same sound: the whistl_f the boat as it rounded the nearest promontory. Gannett turned again t_lance at the clock: the boat was due now.
Where would she go? What would her life be when she had left him? She had n_ear relations and few friends. There was money enough … but she asked so muc_f life, in ways so complex and immaterial. He thought of her as walking bare- footed through a stony waste. No one would understand her—no one would pit_er—and he, who did both, was powerless to come to her aid… .
He saw that she had risen from the bench and walked toward the edge of th_ake. She stood looking in the direction from which the steamboat was to come; then she turned to the ticket-office, doubtless to ask the cause of the delay.
After that she went back to the bench and sat down with bent head. What wa_he thinking of?
The whistle sounded; she started up, and Gannett involuntarily made a movemen_oward the door. But he turned back and continued to watch her. She stoo_otionless, her eyes on the trail of smoke that preceded the appearance of th_oat. Then the little craft rounded the point, a dead- white object on th_eaden water: a minute later it was puffing and backing at the wharf.
The few passengers who were waiting—two or three peasants and a snuff_riest—were clustered near the ticket-office. Lydia stood apart under th_rees.
The boat lay alongside now; the gang-plank was run out and the peasants wen_n board with their baskets of vegetables, followed by the priest. Still Lydi_id not move. A bell began to ring querulously; there was a shriek of steam, and some one must have called to her that she would be late, for she starte_orward, as though in answer to a summons. She moved waveringly, and at th_dge of the wharf she paused. Gannett saw a sailor beckon to her; the bel_ang again and she stepped upon the gang-plank.
Half-way down the short incline to the deck she stopped again; then she turne_nd ran back to the land. The gang-plank was drawn in, the bell ceased t_ing, and the boat backed out into the lake. Lydia, with slow steps, wa_alking toward the garden… .
As she approached the hotel she looked up furtively and Gannett drew back int_he room. He sat down beside a table; a Bradshaw lay at his elbow, an_echanically, without knowing what he did, he began looking out the trains t_aris… .