Chapter XLII

BREAKFAST was late next morning at Monico Lodge, and the master of the house did not make his appearance. There were times when he simply haunted the place—being quite the closest approximation to a ghost the neighbourhood could produce. It might, however, be urged by the charitably inclined that his notions of day and night had been seriously upset by having spent most of his life at the antipodes—being thirty-one years of age when he left England six years previously.

‘I wrote my letter to your mother this morning, Stella—

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I want you just to look over it,’ said Ted, as they rose from the table.

Laurette was deep in arrangements for her ball, and left the young people to themselves in a little morning apartment off the breakfast-room.

‘And mind, Stella, directly after lunch we must go to see about your dresses,’ she said—an announcement which Stella received with incredulous amazement.

‘Stella, have you got a conscience?’ asked Ted, as she ensconced herself in an armchair behind a davenport by the window.

‘Yes, occasionally; but it's good to let sleeping dogs lie,’ said Stella; and then, seeing Ted's aggrieved face, she held out her hand to him. ‘You may kiss the little finger, Ted, who was a traitor on your side when there wasn't a cloud in the sky.’

‘But sooner or later, you know, Stella—’

‘Ah, later then! Now, what have you written?’


‘ “You will be glad to hear that Stella and I are fast engaged once more, and with your kind consent we must be married on the fifth of next month, so as to set sail for Europe on the sixteenth.” ’

‘You see, Stella, I cannot make it any sooner,’ said Ted, with a twinkle in his eyes—his line being to keep Stella literally to her mood of last night—‘that is, as you object to the French line. There is an extra boat to sail on the eighth.’

She sat staring at him as if she did not hear him. She was following in the wake of a ship that went on its remorseless way day and night, speeding every hour nearer to its goal. Did it bear hearts that beat joyfully at the thought?

‘I do not believe you hear what I say, Stella?’

‘Oh yes, I do. What makes you think my mother will be glad for me to leave her?’

‘I don't; a fellow must say something. But about the French boat?’

‘Do not speak of that line. There was only one little Christian boat among them all, and it went down in a frightful storm in mid-ocean—a long way off. But still at times I hear the cries of the drowning; and there is a

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woman's face. She does not sink, but she has lost everything!’

‘Stella, if you want to spin a yarn as you used to, do tell a jollier one than that thing. Anyone would think you saw it, and your eyes are getting larger than ever.’

She got up and looked at herself in a little plush-framed mirror near her.

He followed her, and put his arms round her.

‘For God's sake, don't!’ she cried, starting back as if she were stabbed. And then the next moment she turned on herself with fierce disdain.

She, whose whole frame had thrilled with rapture at the touch of lips whose kisses were forsworn, what right had she to repulse the honest love of a man who had been faithful to her from boyhood, to whom she had promised all her future life?

‘Forgive me, Ted,’ she said humbly; ‘but I am nervous lately, and you took me by surprise.’ She stroked his hand, and he flushed hotly under the touch.

‘All right, Stella. Now let's go on with this letter: “This hurry is partly because of business arrangements, and also because, being engaged before, and nothing came of it, it's better to avoid accidents. As for me, I have waited so long, and felt often so frightfully down on my luck, I would much sooner the wedding were to-morrow than any other day. You have always been so kind to me, I'm sure you won't say a word against this plan, for I know Stella couldn't bear to do anything against your wishes. It would be only foolish sort of jawing for me to say how much I love Stella. Long before I should be thinking of such things I made up my mind she should be my wife. Many a day since I thought this would never be. But it has come all right now. So hoping you will concur in the above,

  “I am, dear Mrs. Courtland,

  “Yours most respectfully,


“P.S.—As Stella can have everything she wants in Paris or elsewhere, it would be foolish for her to lay in a big stock of clothes. The dress she has on now would be the nicest of all for her to be married in. She will have a thousand a year for frills and things, and as much more as she likes.

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So it would be foolery for her to have an army of trunks full of things she can get where we are going.”—How will that do, Stella?’

‘Oh, very well, Ted; but are you sure that we are both awake? On the fifth of next month?’

‘Yes, fourteen long days. It's rather a shame, but I suppose we can't fix it earlier? You won't go back on the date, Stella? After all, you know, your mother has had you far longer than she should, if you hadn't gone back on the first racket. Now you write and back me up. You see, Cuth and Dora will be going back with you, and Tom engaged, and Allie soon to be married: they won't miss you, Stella. It's not as though your mother were a duck with one gosling.’

‘Oh, Ted, what names!’ and then Stella smiled.

‘Go on, Stella; write your letter. I want to post it, and then take you for a ride. Look at that young calf of a Dustiefoot, with his snout against the window looking at you. It floors me how he finds out so soon the room you are in.’

‘I need not write a separate letter. There is room on this half-sheet of yours.’

Stella took up a pen and wrote hastily.


‘Do not be too much taken by surprise. We had better keep to the time named by Ted, as we must get away on the sixteenth. We shall escape all the Apostle spoons and things every household should be without. I shall be married in a travelling-dress; and I really don't see what I want with any more things, I have been so extravagant this last year; and Tom has given me so many loans. I suppose he will throw an old shoe for good luck, but will it be necessary, when one has a thousand a year for frills? I kiss you all three times on the mouth.

  ‘Your loving


‘Don't you ever stop to think what you are going to say, Stella?’

‘Not when I write to say that we are to be married in fourteen days.’

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Ted read the lines Stella had written, and his face gleamed with joy.

‘Oh, that is splendid!’ he cried; ‘but should you put that in about the thousand a year? Shouldn't it be—“Will it be necessary, when we love each other so much?” ’

‘It is indifferent. One of the advantages of so much social superstition is that a good many things are taken for granted.’

Ted, notwithstanding, made the correction in his uncial, squarely legible writing. Then he dwelt on the last sentence, and looked reproachfully into the girl's face.

‘You kiss everyone at Fairacre three times on the mouth, but you don't kiss me once—and in two weeks you leave every man jack of them for my sake. Stella, do you call it decent, or according to God's holy ordinance, as it says in the Prayer-book?’

He bent over her, and she turned her cheek to him. But he took her in his arms and covered her face with burning kisses. She turned deadly pale and trembled, but remained as passive as if she had been drugged. Then after a little she fought down the crowding thoughts that made the present give place to what had been. Memory, like a rebel, betrayed her to a surging host of recollections that seemed to stamp this moment with a seal of infamy. But the keen pangs of wounded pride, of hopeless love, and jealousy, came to her aid. She conquered her shrinking shame, her instinctive revolt—reminding herself that it was less humiliating to be kissed by unloved lips than by those that were so dear to her.

‘Tell me, Stella, you are not sorry you gave me back your promise again yesterday,’ said Ted in a low voice.

‘Sorry? Oh no—I am glad,’ she replied, feeling for the time her words were true—so fiercely did she seek to trample out that smouldering jealousy which was ever ready to leap into consuming flame. He was more than content with the answer. Yet, after she disengaged herself from his arms, he tested her tardy, passionately longed-for submission a little farther.

‘Stella, come and kiss me on the mouth three times,’ he said, in a tremulous voice.

Almost to her own astonishment she obeyed. Yes, it was

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part of the bargain. It made this incredible transaction all the more irrevocable. It made those days she would give her right hand to sink in utter oblivion more remote—more impossible. From that day she did not even in thought go back from her approaching marriage. It was as though she had drunk of some opiate that deadened her moral nature. She seemed to escape all fears, all responsibility, and the envenomed darts of memory. She was so much occupied during the day, she danced so much at night, she was so bent on being amused all the time, that none but the closest observer would have doubted the real source of this abandonment to gaiety.

Once or twice Ted, in a clumsy but honest way, tried to speak seriously of his own felt unworthiness, being misled by the statement Laurette had once made as to Stella's suspicion of his failure in conduct. But Stella treated these attempts like jugglers’ plates—things to spin in the air, but not to let them down with a crash.

‘Have you any wives hidden away, Ted?’ she asked, arching her brows at him.

‘Oh, come, Stella, you know very well you shouldn't talk in that way.’ It was a fact that at this time her irresponsible levity sometimes wounded Ted's moral sense— chiefly because she was so unlike her former self.

‘Shouldn't I? Let me assure you people's wives do turn up when they ought to be dead. But you haven't got one at all, it seems. No doubt there was a time when you should have married some, but you didn't—so it is all right. Isn't it beautifully simple?’

It was unpardonable, and Ted, who felt in a dumb way that she was his higher conscience, began to think that after all he had no need to be so remorseful when he thought over the curious difference presented by the spotless record of Stella's life and his own. He supposed women of sense always understood that things were so, though, of course, a line must be drawn somewhere.

Stella was, in truth, passing through that phase of deterioration in which some men gamble and drink deep so as to escape from themselves. She succeeded by ignoring all her better aspirations, all the higher capacities of her mind, in drowning thought, and numbing her sense of what was right to a strange degree. She had a strong will, and the

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unusual mental discipline through which she had passed early in life had given her a rare power of controlling her thoughts. She exercised both faculties to the utmost degree in casting from her memory the immediate past. But this was so woven into the deepest fibres of her being that to accomplish this object was to become, to a certain degree, morally callous. It was one of those remedies infinitely more injurious to the soul than the original disease.

Laurette was amazed at the change which had come over Stella. She was, at the same time, a little afraid of the element of inconsequence bound up with this alteration. It was all very well as long as nothing in particular happened, but everyone knows that life is full of accidents. It is not easy for women to deceive one another. This is one reason why their strictures on each other often strike men as being malicious. Laurette had a very definite idea that her future sister-in-law was changed—not because she had grown indifferent to Langdale, but because she cared too much. The last night of Stella's stay in Melbourne they had been at a Government House ball, and on their return they sat chatting for some little time.

‘I suppose you will really live very little at Strathhaye, Stella, when you return,’ said Laurette, who was an adept at leading up to what she wanted to say by beginning a long way off.

‘I have hardly considered the matter,’ replied Stella, playing with the brilliant diamond hoop which was her engagement-ring.

‘You take so kindly to Melbourne life now; and I must say you are likely to be rather spoiled. You will be very popular. What story of yours sent the old Marchioness Lismore into such roars of laughter?’

‘Oh, a rather hideous anecdote about an old aboriginal, who wanted to be baptized while he carried the remains of an enemy in his hair till he should kill the next-of-kin as well. The old dame was talking quite seriously about the possibility of Christianizing our natives, and I felt bound to support her views.’

‘Well, she laughed like a regiment—and what a wig she wears, to be sure! The more one reads the society papers and sees of the English aristocracy, the less one is impressed by them. Considering all it takes to keep them

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going, they should be a little more different from the common herd. I suppose the Marchioness invited you to visit them when you go to England?’

‘Yes; but I remembered the fate of your friends the Jorans, and I did not commit myself. Besides, I don't want to go to England much now.’

‘But of course you will go with Ted to see Uncle Matthew —and then there are your own friends and relations.’

‘I don't know. Claude's wife declares that family circles there get upon one's nerves dreadfully. That, at any rate, is one striking advantage of an aristocracy. They are not formal, and squeezy, and peering timorously at other people to see how they behave.’

‘How long do you think you'll be away?’

‘Laurette, don't turn into a catechism without the answers. As long as it is quite amusing.’

‘You have decided upon Berlin for the winter?’

‘Oh yes; we go direct there from Brindisi.’

‘Well, Stella, you are certainly a very fortunate girl— nearly as fortunate as Ted.’

‘Call no man fortunate till he is dead, and no woman till she is buried.’

‘Oh, of course, I don't at all mean to say that, like everyone else, you won't have your own trials. Men are pretty much alike in many ways. A girl may marry the greatest milksop alive, but after all she is bound to find herself hopelessly behind the scenes.’

‘Don't you think, Larry, you might be a little more entertaining? You remind one a little of a vivisector, who for certain experiments makes a lesion in the neck of a guinea-pig, and then pinches its nose to throw it into convulsions. I don't mind so much about my neck, but I am rather sensitive about my nose.’

‘Well, Stella dear, you must forgive something to the weakness of a loving sister. I can't help seeing that lately you are more brilliant and somehow harder. In the midst of my joy on Ted's account, I sometimes ask myself, “Does Stella really love him enough? Will she be able to over-look his faults, and help him, and lead him?” ’

‘Oh, Laurette, what have you been reading?’ cried Stella, and she laughed outright, looking on with an animated face, as though she were witnessing a comedy.

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But not a muscle of Laurette's face moved, either in mirth or anger.

‘Ah, my dear, when you have my maturity of experience as a wife and mother, you will better understand my anxieties. If I thought that you did not really love Ted, I would say to you, even now, “Pause before it is too late!” ’

It was inexpressibly comic. Only the play of daily life is often marred by the fact that we generally see—not the whole gem, but merely one or two facets. Yet, on the other hand, to see comedy in its more intimate bearings, as it affects ourselves, might frequently mean that all sense of fun would be merged in that of tragic irony.

Stella sat with such undisguised amusement on her face, waiting for this to go on, that Laurette instantly took up a fresh cue.

‘But of course it is only my fears. And what makes it so very safe for you, is having been friends ever since you were babies, I may say. But it's just one of the things we women have to face—to take the world as we find it. To do that in married life, one must start with a good stock of affection. Where should I have been without it? We soon discover that our fairy tales and imaginations have been raised far enough away from reality. Many people were of opinion that if your sister Esther, for instance, had not been so horrified and scornful when she found Raymond went a little into queer society—my dear, why do you stare so? I mean among the péches à quinze sous; now that you are to be married, one may mention speckled fruit before you—affairs between them might have turned out differently. I dare say she forgave him at intervals; but if a man must forgive his brother seventy times seven, how often must a woman forgive her husband? It's not put in the Bible, partly, I think, because there is not enough arithmetic going to make it up. And it's not only forgiving, but making light of it in a way. To do that, one must really enjoy one's self—and that's what you have the power of doing. You have to come down a cropper or two in your ideals, but you will soon find that a young married woman in a good position, with plenty of money and some brains, has more advantages, is more perfectly independent, than any other creature in the world. You will get on with all sorts of people. You can have a salon if you try, and succeed

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better than poor Mrs. Anstey-Hobbs. If no one else says smart things, you will yourself. And then, of course, you will be sure to have enemies, and they are often far more useful in amusing one than any friends. … What could be more diverting than to watch people come to you, their faces covered with smiles, their hearts on their lips, so to speak, as they stretch out their hands to you? … And yet you know all the time they never say a true word of you behind your back, unless you are ugly or stupid. … I expect you will bring back heaps of lovely things; and of course you will go to Worth as you are coming home. Of course, too, you will go to visit the Lillimore family. Talbot said the other day his mother would be perfectly charmed to know you. There are three unmarried sisters—unfortunately none of them under thirty-three, and none of them very sweet-tempered; but how can you wonder? They are very poor, and their letters are always like Jeremiah's scroll —tenantless lands and mortgages.

‘If ever Talbot succeeds to the title, I shall be at my wits’ ends; for what would be the use of being swallowed up in London society, and passing your time scheming how to make ends meet, etc.? They do not even give me any of those little details one longs for so. They write sometimes about the “sausage people,” and the “screw-makers,” and the “Jew money-lenders,” meaning those who have made their money by these articles. But, after all, what is the good of trying to throw names at people about the way their money has been made? Land is going down and down in England. They can't grow wool much, nor wine, nor cotton, and the farmers are going to places where they can make more money, and become gentry on their own account. And there's no class in all the world that need money so constantly in large sums as an aristocracy. They want to be always well amused, and well fed, and well dressed—the dearest things in all the world—and, on top of it all, to do no work, which is dearer than all the rest put together—to be, in fact, almond tumblers, whose beaks are so soft they must be fed out of a spoon, which is no doubt very genteel, as long as you can get people to feed you. But the Middle Ages are long over. Why, even here, in a properly democratic country, how soon everyone conspires to make you feel your poverty! I have often thought

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if one continued hopelessly poor all one's life, one would have to take to the love of God—there would be nothing else left.’

‘Surely you are not threatened with such destitution, Larry?’ said Stella, smiling. ‘Why, Ted has more money than he knows what to do with; he must give you some.’

‘My dear, that is very sweet and good of you! but you know how absurdly awkward one feels about taking money; and, of course, our poverty, after all, is comparative. It consists largely in having to fall back on second-rate trades-people—not but what that is a bitter cross in itself: they are more flattered by your patronage, but they charge nearly as much; indeed, they leave out nothing but the style—like Surah, Muslin, and Company, who descend to the paltriest details if you have a dress made at their establishment—even putting the eyelet-holes down as an extra—and then put in sundries one pound fifteen shillings. And there is hardly anything in life more tiresome than a dressmaker who is not quite chic. Her fingers are always cold, and she will touch your skin, and stick pins in you, and hold things in her mouth, and say in a gushing way, “Yes, madam, it will be a most be-au-ti-ful fit,” and then take a cheerful snip out of your arms with her scissors. Stella, you will never know anything of these small miseries. … Well, I wish it were possible for me to come to your wedding; but Talbot cannot leave town, as I said, and I must not go without him. But you are to stay with us the few days you are in Melbourne before leaving. What a charming idea that is of Ted's, to drive you in his new drag four-in-hand from Adelaide to Strathhaye!’

Laurette found everything in Stella's lot all the more charming just then by reason of Ted's action in presenting her only that morning with a cheque for two thousand pounds.