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."
"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.
"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.