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Chapter 25 IN WHICH DAVID THRYNG VISITS HIS MOTHER

  • How wise was the advice of the old doctor to make short work of the confessio_o his mother, and to face the matter of his marriage bravely with his augus_riends and connections, David little knew. If his marriage had been rash i_ts haste, nothing in the future should be done rashly. Possibly he might b_bliged to return to America before he made a full revelation that a wif_waited him in that far and but dimly appreciated land. In his mind the matte_esolved itself into a question of time and careful adjustment.
  • Slowly as the boat ploughed through the never resting waters,—slowly as th_estern land with its dreams and realities drifted farther into the vapor_hat blended the line of the land and the sea,—so slowly the future unveile_tself and drew him on, into its new dreams, revealing, with the inevitabl_rogression of the hours, a life heretofore shrouded and only vaguel_magined, as a glowing reality filled with opportunity and power.
  • He felt his whole nature expand and become imbued with intoxicating ambitions, as if hereafter he would be swept onward to ride through life triumphant, eve_s the boat was riding the sea, surmounting its mysterious depths and takin_ts unerring way in spite of buffeting of winds and beating of waves.
  • Still young, with renewed vitality, his hopes turned to the future, recognizing the tremendous scope for his energies which his own particula_rospects presented. Often he stood alone in the prow, among the coils o_ope, and watched the distance unroll before him, while the salt breeze playe_ith his clustering hair and filled his lungs. He loved the long sweep of th_row, as it divided the water and cast it foaming on either side, in opalin_nd turquoise tints, shifting and falling into the indigo depths of th_astness around.
  • In thought he spanned the wide spaces and leaped still toward the future; before him the gray-haired mother who trembled to hold him once more in he_rms, behind him the young wife waiting his return, enclosing him serenely an_doringly in her heart.
  • Each day while on shipboard, David wrote to Cassandra, voluminously. He foun_t a pleasant way of passing the hours. He described his surroundings an_nfolded such of his anticipations as he felt she could best understand an_ith which she could sympathize, trying to explain to her what the years t_ome might hold for them both, and telling her always to wait with patienc_or his return. This could not be known definitely until he had looked int_he state of his uncle's affairs—which would hereafter be his own.
  • Sometimes his letter contained only a review of some of the happiest hour_hey had spent together, as if he were placing his thoughts of those blesse_ays on paper, that they might be for their mutual communing. Sometimes h_iscoursed of the calamity he had suffered, the uselessness of his brother'_eath, and the cruelty and wastefulness of war. At such times he was minded t_rite her of the opportunity now given him to serve his country, and the powe_e might some day attain to promote peace and avert rash legislation.
  • Never once did he allow an inadvertent word to slip from his pen, whereby sh_ould suspect that she, as his wife, might be a cause of embarrassment to him, or a clog in the wheel of the chariot which from now on was to bear hi_riumphantly among his social friends or political enemies. Never would h_isturb the sweet serenity that encompassed her. Yet well he knew what a_ncongruity she would appear should he present her now—as she had stood by he_oom, or in the ploughed field at his side—to the company he would find in hi_other's home.
  • Simple and direct as she was, she would walk over their conventions an_roprieties, and never know it. How strange many of those customs of their_ould appear to her, and how unnecessary! He feared for her most in her utte_gnorance of everything pertaining to the daily existence of the over- civilized circle to which the changed conditions of his life would bring her.
  • Much, he knew, would pass unseen by her, but soon she would begin t_nderstand, and to wince under their exclamations of "How extraordinary!" Th_asklike expression would steal over her face, her pride would encase he_pirit in the deep reserve he himself had found so hard to penetrate, and h_ould see her withdrawing more and more from all, until at last— Ah! it mus_ot be. He must manage very carefully, lest Doctor Hoyle's prophecy indeed b_ulfilled.
  • At last the lifting of the veil to the eastward revealed the bold promontor_f Land's End, and soon, beyond, the fair green slopes of his own beautifu_ld England. For all of the captious criticism he had fallen in the way o_estowing upon her, how he loved her! He felt as if he must throw up his arm_nd shout for joy. Suddenly she had become his, with a sense of possession ne_o him, and sweet to feel. The orderliness and stereotyped lines of her socia_ystem against which he had rebelled, and the iron bars of her customs whic_is soul had abhorred in the past,—against which his spirit had bruised an_eaten itself,—now lured him on as a security for things stable and fine. I_ubtile ways as yet unrealized, he was being drawn back into the cage fro_hich he had fled for freedom and life.
  • How quickly he had become accustomed to the air of deference in Mr. Stretton'_ontinual use of his newly acquired title—"my lord." Why not? It was hi_ight. The same laws which had held him subservient before, now gave him this, and he who a few months earlier had been proudly ploughing his first furrow_n his little leased farm on a mountain meadow, now walked with lifted head,
  • "to the manor born," along the platform, and entered the first-clas_ompartment with Mr. Stretton, where a few rich Americans had alread_nstalled themselves.
  • David noticed, with inward amusement, their surreptitious glances, when th_awyer addressed him; how they plumed themselves, yet tried to appea_onchalant and indifferent to the fact that they were riding in the sam_ompartment with a lord. In time he would cease to notice even suc_ncongruities as this tacit homage from a professedly title-scorning people.
  • David's mother had moved into the town house, whither his uncle had sent fo_er, when, stricken with grief, he had lain down for his last brief illness.
  • The old servants had all been retained, and David was ushered to his mother'_wn sitting-room by the same household dignitary who was wont to preside ther_hen, as a lad, he had been allowed rare visits to his cousins in the city.
  • How well he remembered his fine, punctilious old uncle, and the feeling of aw_empered by anticipation with which he used to enter those halls. He wa_verwhelmed with a sense of loss and disaster as he glanced up the grea_tairway where his cousins were wont to come bounding down to him, handsome, hearty, romping lads.
  • It had been a man's household, for his aunt had been dead many years—a man'_ousehold characterized by a man's sense of heavy order without the man_ouches of feminine occupation and arrangement which tend to soften a man'_alf military reign. As he was being led through the halls, he noticed _ubtile change which warmed his quick senses. Was it the presence of hi_other and Laura? His entrance interrupted an animated conversation which wa_eing held between the two as the manservant announced his name, and, i_nother instant, his mother was in his arms.
  • "Dear little mother! Dear little mother!" But she was not small. She was tal_nd dignified, and David had to stoop but little to bring his eyes level wit_ers.
  • "David, I'm here, too." A hand was laid on his arm, and he released his mothe_o turn and look into two warm brown eyes.
  • "And so the little sister is grown up," he said, embracing her, then holdin_er off at arm's-length. "Five years! When I look at you, mother, they don'_eem so long—but Laura here!"
  • "You didn't expect me to stay a little girl all my life, did you, David?"
  • "No, no." He took her by the shoulder and shook her a little and pinched he_heeks. "What roses! Why, sis, I say, you know, I'm proud of you. What hav_ou been up to, anyway?" He flung himself on the sofa and pulled her dow_eside him. "Give an account of yourself."
  • "I've gone in for athletics."
  • "Right."
  • "And— Oh! lots of things. You give an account of yourself."
  • David glanced at his mother. She was seated opposite them, regarding him wit_rimming eyes. No, he could not give an account of himself yet. He would wai_ntil he and his mother were alone. He lifted Laura's heavy hair, which, confined only by a great bow of black ribbon, hung streaming down her back, i_ dark mass that gave her a tousled, unkempt look, and which, taken togethe_ith her dead black dress, and her dark tanned skin, roughened by exposure t_ind and sun, greatly marred her beauty, in spite of her roses and the warmt_f her large dark eyes.
  • As David surveyed his sister, he thought of Cassandra, and was minded then an_here to describe her—to attempt to unveil the events of the past year, an_ake them see and know, as far as possible, what his life had been. He hel_his thought a moment, poised ready for utterance—a moment of hesitation as t_ow to begin, and then forever lost, as his mother began speaking.
  • "Laura hasn't come out yet. As events have turned, it is just as well, for he_hances, naturally, will be much better now than they would have been if w_ad had her coming out last year."
  • "I don't see how, mamma, with all this heavy black. I can't come out until _eave it off, and it will be so long to wait." Laura pouted a little, discontentedly, then flushed a disfiguring flush of shame under her dark skin, as she caught the look in her brother's eyes. "Not but what I shall keep o_ourning for Bob, as long as I live—he was such a dear," she added, her eye_illing with quick, impulsive tears. "But how you make out my chances will b_etter now, mamma, I can't see, really,—I look such a fright."
  • "Chances for what?" asked David, dryly.
  • "For matrimony—naturally," his sister flung out defiantly, half smilin_hrough her tears. "Don't you know that's all a girl of my age live_or—matrimony and a kennel? I mean to have one, now we will have our ow_reserves. It will be ripping, you know."
  • "Certainly, our own preserves," said David, still dryly, thinking ho_assandra would wonder what preserves were, and what she would say if tol_hat in preserves, wild harmless animals were kept from being killed by th_ommon people for food, in order that those of his own class might chase the_own and kill them for their amusement.
  • "Oh, David, I remember how you used to be always putting on a look like that, and thinking a lot of nasty things under your breath. I hoped you would com_ome vastly improved. Was it what I said about matrimony? Mamma knows it'_rue."
  • "Hardly as you put it, my child; there is much besides for a girl to thin_bout."
  • "You said 'chances' yourself, mamma."
  • "Certainly, but that is for me to consider. You must remember that it was yo_ho refused to have your coming out last year."
  • "I didn't want my good times cut short then, mamma, and have to take u_roprieties—or at least I would have had to be dreadfully proper for a while, anyway—and now—why I have to be naturally; and here I am unable to come ou_or another year yet and my hair streaming down my back all the time. I'm sur_ can't see how my chances are in the least improved by it all; and by tha_ime I shall be so old."
  • "Oh, you will be quite young enough," said David.
  • "You occupy a far different position now, child. To make your début as Lad_aura will give you quite another place in the world. Your headstron_ostponement, fortunately, will do no harm. It will make your introduction t_he circle where you are eventually to move, much simpler."
  • Laura lifted her eyebrows and glanced from her mother to her brother. "Ver_ell, mamma, but one thing you might as well know now. I shan't drop some o_y friends—if being Lady Laura lifts me above them as high as the moon. I lik_hem, and I don't care."
  • She whistled, and a beautiful, silken-haired setter crept from under the sof_hereon she had been sitting, and wriggled about after the manner of guilt_ogs.
  • "Laura, dear!"
  • "Yes, mamma, I've been hiding him with my skirts by sitting there. He was ba_nd followed me in. We've been out riding together." She stroked his silke_oat with her riding crop. "Mamma won't allow him in here, and he jolly wel_nows it. Bad Zip, bad, sir! Look at him. Isn't he clever? I must go and dres_or dinner. Mamma wants you to herself, I know, and Mr. Stretton will be her_oon. You can't think, David, how glad I am we have you back! You couldn'_hink it from my way—but I am—rather! It's been awful here—simply awful, sinc_he boys all left."
  • Again her eyes filled with quick tears, and she dashed out with the do_ounding about her and leaping up to thrust his great tongue in her face. "Yo_re too big for the house, Zip. Down, sir!" In an instant she was back, putting her tousled head in at the door.
  • "David, when mamma is finished with you, come out and see my dogs. I have fiv_lready, and Nancy is going to litter soon. Calkins is to take them into th_ountry to-morrow, for they are just cooped up here." She withdrew, and Davi_eard her heavy-soled shoes clatter down the long halls. He and his mothe_miled as they listened, looking into each other's eyes.
  • "She is a dear child, but life means only a good time to her as yet."
  • "Well, let it. She has splendid stuff in her and is bound to make a splendi_oman."
  • "She's right, David. It has been awful since your brother left." David sa_eside her and placed his hand on hers. Again it was in his mind to tell he_f Cassandra, and again he was stopped by the tenor of her next remark. "Yo_ee how it is, my son; Laura can't understand, but you will."
  • "I'm not sure that I do. Open your heart to me, mother; tell me what yo_ean."
  • "My dear son. I don't like to begin with worries. It is so sweet to have yo_ack in the home. May you always stay with us."
  • "I don't mind the worries, mother," he said tenderly; "I am here to help you.
  • What is it?
  • "It is only that, although we have inherited the title and estates, we are no_here. We will be received, of course, but at first only by those who hav_xes to grind. There are so many such, and it is hard to protect one's sel_rom them. For instance, there is Lady Willisbeck. Her own set have cut he_ompletely for—certain reasons—there is no need to retail unpleasan_ossip,—but she was one of the first to call. Her daughter, Lady Isabel, gav_aura that dog,—but all the more because Laura and Lady Isabel were in schoo_ogether, and were on the same hockey team, they will have that excuse fo_linging to us like burs.
  • "Lady Willisbeck would like very much now, for her daughter's sake, to wi_ack her place in society, although she did not seem to value it for herself.
  • Long before her mother's life became common talk,—because she was infatuate_ith your cousin Lyon, Lady Isabel chose Laura for her chum, and the two hav_orked up a very romantic situation out of the affair. You see I have caus_or anxiety, David."
  • He still held her hand, looking kindly in her face. "Is Lady Isabel the righ_ort?" he asked.
  • "What do you mean by 'the right sort,' David? She isn't like her mother, naturally, or I would have been more decided; but she is not the right sor_or us. Lady Willisbeck is ostracized, and it is a grave matter. Her daughte_ill be ostracized with her, unless she can find a chaperon of quality t_hampion her—to—to—well, you understand that Laura can't afford to make he_ébut handicapped with such a friendship. Not now."
  • "I fail to see until I know more of her friend."
  • "But, David, we can't be visionary now. We must be practical and face th_ifficulties of our situation. We are honorably entitled to all that th_nheritance implies, but it is another thing to avail ourselves of it. You_ncle led a most secluded life. He had no visitors, and was known only amon_en, and politically as a close conservative. His seat in the House meant onl_hat. So now we enter a circle in which we never moved before, and we are no_f it. For the present, our deep mourning is prohibitory, but it is als_aura's protection, although she does not know it." His mother paused. She wa_ot regarding him. She seemed to be looking into the future, and a littl_ine, which had formed during the years of David's absence, deepened in he_orehead.
  • "Be a little more explicit, mother. Protection from what?"
  • "From undesirable people, dear. We are very conspicuous; to be frank, we ar_ew. My own family connections are all good, but they will not be th_lightest help to Laura in maintaining her position. We have always lived i_he country, and know no one."
  • "You have refinement and good taste, mother."
  • "I know it; that and this inheritance and the title."
  • "Isn't that 'protection' enough? I really fail to see— Whatever would pleas_ou would be right. You may have what friendships you—"
  • "Not at all, David. Everything is iron-bound. They are simply watching lest w_ring a lot of common people in our train. Things grow worse and worse in tha_ay. There are so many rich tradespeople who are struggling to get in, an_linging desperately to the skirts of the poorer nobility. Of course, it al_oes to show what a tremendous thing good birth is, and the iron laws o_ustom are, after all, a proper safeguard and should be respected.
  • Nevertheless we, who are so new, must not allow ourselves to become stepping- stones. It is perfectly right.
  • "That is why I said this period of mourning is Laura's protection. She wil_ave time to know what friendships are best, and an opportunity to avoi_ndesirable ones. You have been away so long, David, where the class lines ar_ot so rigidly drawn, that you forget—or never knew. It is my duty, withou_ny foolish sentiment, to guard Laura and see to it that her coming out i_hat it should be. For one thing, she is so very plain. If she were a beauty, it would help, but her plainness must be compensated for in other ways. Sh_ill have a large settlement, Mr. Stretton thinks, if your uncle's interest_re not too much jeopardized in South Africa by this terrible war. That i_omething you will have to look into before you take your seat in the House."
  • "Oh, mother, mother! I can't—"
  • "My dear boy, your brother died for his country, and can you not give a littl_f your life for it? I can rely on you to be practically inclined, now tha_ou are placed at the head of such a family? I'm glad now you never cared fo_uriel Hunt. She could never have filled the position as her ladyship, you_ncle's wife, did. She was Lady Thomasia Harcourt Glendyne of Wales. Besid_er, Muriel would appear silly. It is most fortunate you have no suc_ntanglement now."
  • "Mother, mother! I am astounded! I never dreamed my dear, beautiful mothe_ould descend to such worldliness. You are changed, mother. There is somethin_undamentally wrong in all this."
  • She looked up at him, aghast at his vehemence.
  • "My son, my son! Let us have only love between us—only love. I am not changed.
  • I was content as I was, nor ever tried to enter a sphere above me. Now tha_his comes to me—forced on me by right of English law—I take it thankfully, with all it brings. I will fill the place as it should be filled, and Laur_hall do the same, and you also, my son. As for Muriel Hunt, I will mak_oncessions if—if your happiness demands it."
  • David groaned inwardly. "No, mother, no. It goes deeper than Muriel; it goe_eeper." They had both risen. She placed her hands on his shoulders and looke_evelly in his eyes, and her own lightened, through tears held bravely back.
  • "It may well go deeper than Muriel, and still not go very deep."
  • "And yet the time was when Muriel Hunt was thought quite deep enough," he sai_adly, still looking in his mother's eyes—but she only continued:—
  • "Never doubt for a moment, dear, that Laura's welfare and yours are dearer t_e than life. You are very weary; I see it in your eyes. Have you been to you_partment? Clark will show you." She kissed his brow and departed.