The Woman Thou Gavest Me (Third Part: My Honeymoon)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The name Raa (of Celtic origin with many variations among Celtic races) is pronounced Rah in Ellan.
THIRD PART: MY HONEYMOON
WHEN the Bishop and Father Dan arrived, the bell was rung and we went in to breakfast.
We breakfasted in the new dining-room, which was now finished and being used for the first time.
It was a gorgeous chamber beblazoned with large candelabra, huge mirrors, and pictures in gold frames resembling the room it was intended to imitate, yet not resembling it, as a woman over-dressed resembles a well-dressed woman.
My father sat at the head of his table with the Bishop, Lady Margaret and Aunt Bridget on his right, and myself, my husband, Betsy Beauty and Mr. Eastcliff on his left. The lawyers and the trustee were midway down, Father Dan with Nessy MacLeod was at the end, and a large company of our friends and neighbours, wearing highly-coloured flowers on their breasts and in their buttonholes, sat between.
The meal was very long, and much of the food was very large – large fish, large roasts of venison, veal, beef and mutton, large puddings and large cheeses, all cut on the table and served by waiters from Blackwater. There were two long black lines of them a waiter behind the chair of nearly every other guest.
All through the breakfast the storm raged outside. More than once it drowned the voices of the people at the table, roaring like a wild beast in the great throat of the wide chimney, swirling about the lantern light, licking and lashing and leaping at the outsides of the walls like lofty waves breaking against a breakwater, and sending up a thunderous noise from the sea itself, where the big bell of St. Mary’s Rock was still tolling like a knell.
Somebody it must have been Aunt Bridget again said there had been nothing like it since the day of my birth, and it must be “fate.”
“Chut, woman!” said my father. “We’re living in the twentieth century. Who’s houlding with such ould wife’s wonders now?”
He was intensely excited, and, his excitement betrayed itself, as usual, in reversion to his native speech. Sometimes he surveyed in silence, with the old masterful lift of his eyebrows, his magnificent room and the great guests who were gathered within it; sometimes he whispered to the waiters to be smarter with the serving of the dishes; and sometimes he pitched his voice above the noises within and without and shouted, in country-fashion, to his friends at various points of the table to know how they were faring.
“How are you doing, Mr. Curphy, sir?”
“Doing well, sir. Are you doing well yourself, Mr. O’Neill, sir?”
“Lord-a-massy yes, sir. I ‘m always doing well, sir.”
Never had anybody in Ellan seen so strange a mixture of grandeur and country style. My husband seemed to be divided between amused contempt for it, and a sense of being compromised by its pretence. More than once I saw him, with his monocle in his eye, look round at his friend Eastcliff, but he helped himself frequently from a large decanter of brandy and drank healths with everybody.
There were the usual marriage pleasantries, facetious compliments and chaff, in which to my surprise (the solemnity of the service being still upon me) the Bishop permitted himself to join.
I was now very nervous, and yet I kept up a forced gaiety, though my heart was cold and sick. I remember that I had a preternatural power of hearing at the same time nearly every conversation that was going on at the table, and that I joined in nearly all the laughter.
At a more than usually loud burst of wind somebody said it would be a mercy if the storm did not lift the roof off.
“Chut, man!” cried my father. “Solid oak and wrought iron here. None of your mouldy old monuments that have enough to do to keep their tiles on.”
“Then nobody,” said my husband with a glance at his friend, “need be afraid of losing his head in your house, sir?”
“Not if he’s got one to come in with, sir.”
Betsy Beauty, sitting next to Mr. Eastcliff, was wondering
if he would do us the honour to visit the island oftener now
that his friend had married into it.
“But, my dear Betsy,” said my husband, “who would live in this God-forsaken place if he could help it?”
“God-forsaken, is it?” said my father. “Maybe so, sir but that’s what the cuckoo said after he had eaten the eggs out of the thrush’s nest and left a mess in it.”
Aunt Bridget was talking in doleful tones to Lady Margaret about my mother, saying she had promised her on her deathbed to take care of her child and had been as good as her word, always putting me before her own daughter, although her ladyship would admit that Betsy was a handsome girl, and, now that his lordship was married, there were few in the island that were fit for her.
“Why no, Mrs. MacLeod,” said my husband, after another significant glance at his friend, “I dare say you’ve not got many who can make enough to keep a carriage?”
“Truth enough, sir,” said my father. “We’ve got hundreds and tons that can make debts though.”
The breakfast came to an end at length, and almost before the last of the waiters had left the room my father rose to speak.
“Friends all,” he said, “the young married couple have to leave us for the afternoon steamer.”
“In this weather?” said somebody, pointing up to the lantern light through which the sky was now darkening.
“Chut! A puff of wind and a slant of rain, as I’ve been saying to my gel here. But my son-in-law, Lord Raa,” (loud cheers followed this description, with some laughter and much hammering on the table), “my son-in-law says he has to be in London to-morrow, and this morning my daughter has sworn obedience. . . . What’s that, Monsignor? Not obedience exactly? Something like it then, so she’s bound to go along with him. So fill up your glasses to the brim and drink to the bride and bridegroom.”
As soon as the noise made by the passing of decanters had died down my father spoke again.
“This is the proudest day of my life. It’s the day I’ve worked for and slaved for and saved for, and it’s come to pass at last.”
There was another chorus of applause.
“What’s that you were saying in church, Mr. Curphy, sir? Time brings in its revenges? It does too. Look at me.”
My father put his thumbs in the arm-pits of his waistcoat.
“You all know what I am, and where I come from.”
My husband put his monocle to his eye and looked up.
“I come from a mud cabin on the Curragh, not a hundred miles from here. My father was kill . . . but never mind about that now. “When he left us it was middling hard collar work, I can tell you what with me working the bit of a croft and the mother weeding for some of you some of your fathers I mane ninepence a day dry days, and sixpence all weathers. When I was a lump of a lad I was sworn at in the high road by a gentleman driving in his grand carriage, and the mother was lashed by his . . . but never mind about that neither. I guess I’ve hustled round considerable since then, and this morning I’ve married my daughter into the first family in the island.”
There was another burst of cheering at this, but it was almost drowned by the loud rattling of the rain which was now falling on the lantern light.
“Monsignor,” cried my father, pitching his voice still higher, “what’s that you were saying in Rome about the mills of God?”
Fumbling his jewelled cross and smiling blandly the Bishop gave my father the familiar quotation.
“Truth enough, too. The mills of God grind slowly but they’re grinding exceeding small. Nineteen years ago I thought I was as sure of what I wanted as when I got out of bed this morning. If my gel here had been born a boy, my son would have sat where his lordship is now sitting. But all’s well that ends well! If I haven’t got a son I’ve got a son-in-law, and when I get a grandson he’ll be the richest man that ever stepped into Castle Raa, and the uncrowned king of Ellan.”
At that there was a tempest of cheers, which, mingling with the clamour of the storm, made a deafening tumult.
“They’re saying a dale nowadays about fathers and children daughters being separate beings, and all to that. But show me the daughter that could do better for herself than my gel’s father has done for her. She has a big fortune, and her husband has a big name, and what more do they want in this world anyway?”
“Nothing at all,” came from various parts of the room.
“Neighbours,” said my father, looking round him with a satisfied smile, “I’m laving you dry as herrings in a hould, but before I call on you to drink this toast I’ll ask the Bishop to spake to you. He’s a grand man is the Bishop, and in fixing up this marriage I don’t in the world know what I could have done without him.”
The Bishop, still fingering his jewelled cross and smiling, spoke in his usual suave voice. He firmly believed that the Church had that morning blessed a most propitious and happy union. Something might be said against mixed marriages, but under proper circumstances the Church had never forbidden them and his lordship (this with a deep bow to my husband) had behaved with great liberality of mind.
As for what their genial and rugged host had said of certain foolish and dangerous notions about the relations of father and child, he was reminded that there were still more foolish and dangerous ones about the relations of husband and wife.
From the earliest ages of the Church, however, those relations had been exactly defined. “Let wives be subject to their husbands,” said the Epistle we had read this morning, and no less conclusive had been our closing prayer, asking that the wife keep true faith with her husband, being lovely in his eyes even as was Rachel, wise as was Rebecca, and dutiful as was Sara.
“Beautiful!” whispered Aunt Bridget to Lady Margaret. “It’s what I always was myself in the days of the dear Colonel.”
“And now,” said the Bishop, “before you drink this toast and call upon the noble bridegroom to respond to it,” (another deep bow to my husband), “I will ask for a few words from the two legal gentlemen who have carried out the admirably judicious financial arrangements without which this happy marriage would have been difficult if not impossible.”
Then my husband’s lawyer, with a supercilious smile on his clean-shaven face, said it had been an honour to him to assist in preparing the way for the “uncrowned king of Ellan.” (“It lies, sir,” cried my father in a loud voice which straightened the gentleman’s face instantly); and finally Mr. Curphy, speaking through his long beard, congratulated my father and my husband equally on the marriage, and gave it as his opinion that there could be no better use for wealth than to come to the rescue of an historic family which had fallen on evil times and only required a little money to set it on its feet again.
“The bride and bridegroom!” cried my father; and then everybody rose and there was much cheering, with cries of “His lordship,” “His lordship.”
All through the speech-making my husband had rolled uneasily in his chair. He had also helped himself frequently from the decanter, so that when he got up to reply he was scarcely sober.
In his drawling voice he thanked the Bishop, and said that having made up his mind to the marriage he had never dreamt of raising difficulties about religion. As to the modern notions about the relations of husband and wife, he did not think a girl brought up in a convent would give him much trouble on that subject.
“Not likely,” cried my father. “I’ll clear her of that anyway.”
“So I thank you for myself and for my family,” continued my husband, “and . . . Oh, yes, of course,” (this to Lady Margaret). “I thank you for my wife also, and . . . and that’s all.”
I felt sick and cold and ashamed. A rush of blood came under the skin of my face that must have made me red to the roots of my hair.
In all this speaking about my marriage there had not been one word about myself – myself really, a living soul with all her future happiness at stake. I cannot say what vague impulse took possession of me, but I remember that when my husband sat down I made a forced laugh, though I knew well that I wanted to cry.
In an agony of shame I was beginning to feel a wild desire to escape from the room and even from the house, that I might breathe in some of the free wind outside, when all at once I became aware that somebody else was speaking.
It was Father Dan. He had risen unannounced from his seat at the end of the table. I saw his sack coat which was much worn at the seams; I saw his round face which was flushed; I heard the vibrating note in his soft Irish voice which told me he was deeply moved; and then I dropped my head, for I knew what was coming.
“MR. O’NEILL,” said Father Dan, “may your parish priest take the liberty of speaking without being spoken to?”
My father made some response, and then a hush fell over the dining-room. Either the storm ceased for a time, or in my great agitation it seemed to do so, for I did not hear it.
“We have heard a great deal about the marriage we have celebrated to-day, but have we not forgotten something? What is marriage? Is it the execution of a contract! Is it the signing of a register? Is it even the taking of an oath before an altar? No. Marriage is the sacred covenant which two souls make with each other, the woman with the man, the man with the woman, when she chooses him from all other men, when he chooses her from all other women, to belong to each other for ever, so that no misfortune, no storm of life, no sin on either side shall ever put them apart. That’s what marriage is, and all we have been doing to-day is to call on God and man to bear witness to that holy bond.”
My heart was beating high. I raised my head, and I think my eyes must have been shining. I looked across at the Bishop. His face was showing signs of vexation.
“Mr. O’Neill, sir,” cried Father Dan, raising his trembling voice, “you say your daughter has a big fortune and her husband has a big name, and what more do they want in this world? I’ll tell you what they want, sir. They want love, love on both sides, if they are to be good and happy, and if they’ve got that they’ve got something which neither wealth nor rank can buy.”
I had dropped my head again, but under my eyelashes I could see that the company were sitting spell-bound. Only my husband was shuffling in his seat, and the Bishop was plucking at his gold chain.
“My Bishop,” said Father Dan, “has told us of the submission a wife owes to her husband, and of her duty to be lovely and wise and faithful in his eyes. But isn’t it the answering thought that the husband on his part owes something to the wife? Aren’t we told that he shall put away everything and everybody for her sake, and cleave to her and cling to her and they shall be one flesh? Isn’t that, too, a divine commandment?”
My heart was throbbing so loud by this time that the next words were lost to me. When I came to myself again Father Dan was saying:
“Think what marriage means to a woman a young girl especially. It means the breaking of old ties, the beginning of a new life, the setting out into an unknown world on a voyage from which there can be no return. In her weakness and her helplessness she leaves one dependency for another, the shelter of a father for the shelter of a husband. What does she bring to the man she marries? Herself, everything she is, everything she can be, to be made or marred by him, and never, never, never to be the same to any other man whatsoever as long as life shall last.”
More than ever now, but for other reasons, I wanted to fly from the room.
“Friends,” cried Father Dan, “we don’t know much of the bridegroom in this parish, but we know the bride. We’ve known her all her life. We know what she is. I do, anyway. If you are her father, Mr. O’Neill, sir, I am her father also. I was in this house when she was born. I baptized her. I took her out of the arms of the angel who bore her. So she’s my child too, God bless her . . . ”
His voice was breaking I was sobbing though he was speaking so loudly I could scarcely hear him I could scarcely see him I only knew that he was facing about in our direction and raising his trembling hand to my husband.
“She is my child, too, I say, and now that she is leaving us, now that you are taking her away from us, I charge you, my lord, to be good and faithful to her, as you will have to answer for her soul some day.”
What else he said I do not know. From that moment I was blind and deaf to everything. Nevertheless I was conscious that after Father Dan had ceased to speak there was a painful silence. I thought the company seemed to be startled and even a little annoyed by the emotion so suddenly shot into their midst. The Bishop looked vexed, my father looked uncomfortable, and my husband, who had been drinking glass after glass of brandy, was muttering something about “a sermon.”
It had been intended that Mr. Eastcliff should speak for the bridesmaids, and I was afterwards told by Betsy Beauty that he had prepared himself with many clever epigrams, but everybody felt there could be no more speaking of any kind now. After a few awkward moments my father looked at his watch and said it was about time for us to start if we were to catch the steamer, so I was hurried upstairs to change for our journey.
When I came down again, in my tailor-made travelling dress with sables, the whole company was in the hall and everybody seemed to be talking at the same time, making a noise like water in a weir.
I was taken possession of by each in turn. Nessy MacLeod told me in an aside what an excellent father I had. Betsy Beauty -whispered that Mr. Eastcliff was so handsome and their tastes were so similar that she hoped I would invite him to Castle Raa as soon as I came back. Aunt Bridget, surrounded by a group of sympathising ladies (including Lady Margaret, who was making an obvious effort to be gracious) was wiping her eyes and saying I had always been her favourite and she had faithfully done her duty by me.
“Mary, my love,” she said, catching my eye, “I’m just telling her ladyship I don’t know in the world what I’ll do when you are gone.”
My husband was there too, wearing a heavy overcoat with the collar up, and receiving from a group of insular gentlemen their cheerful prognostics of a bad passage.
“‘Deed, but I ‘m fearing it will be a dirty passage, my lord.”
“Chut!” said my father. “The wind’s from the southwest. They’ll soon get shelter.”
The first of our two cars came round and my husband’s valet went off in advance with our luggage. Then the second car arrived, and the time came for our departure. I think I kissed everybody. Everybody seemed to be crying everybody except myself, for my tears were all gone by this tune.
Just as we were about to start, the storm, which must certainly have fallen for a while, sprang up suddenly, and when Tommy the Mate (barely recognisable in borrowed black garments) opened the door the wind came rushing into the house with a long-drawn whirr.
I had said good-bye to the old man, and was stepping into the porch when I remembered Father Dan. He was standing in his shabby sack coat with a sorrowful face in a dark corner by the door, as if he had placed himself there to see the last of me. I wanted to put my arms around his neck, but I knew that would be wrong, so I dropped to my knees and kissed his hand and he gave me his blessing.
My husband, who was waiting by the side of the throbbing automobile, said impatiently:
“Come, come, dear, don’t keep me in the rain.”
I got into the landaulette, my husband got in after me, the car began to move, there were cries from within the house (“Good-bye!” “Good luck!”) which sounded like stifled shrieks as they were carried off by the wind without, and then we were under weigh.
As we turned the corner of the -drive something prompted me to look back at my mother’s window with its memories of my first going to school.
At the next moment we were crossing the bridge with its memories of Martin Conrad and William Rufus.
At the next we were on the road.
“THANK God, that’s over,” said my husband. Then, half apologetically, he added: “You didn’t seem to enjoy it any more than myself, my dear.”
At the entrance to our village a number of men stood firing guns; in the middle a group of girls were stretching a rope across the road; a number of small flags, torn by the wind and wet with the rain, were rattling on flagstaffs hung out from some of the window sills; a few women, with shawls over their heads, were sheltering on the weather side of their porches to see us pass.
My husband was impatient of our simple island customs. Once or twice he lowered the window of the car, threw out a handful of silver and at the same time urged the chauffeur to drive quicker. As soon as we were clear of the village he fell back in his seat, saying:
“Heavens, how sleepy I am! No wonder either! Late going to bed last night and up so early this morning.”
After a moment he began to yawn, and almost before he could have been aware of it he had closed his eyes. At the next moment he was asleep.
It was a painful, almost a hideous sleep. His cheeks swelled and sank; his lips parted, he was breathing heavily, and sometimes gaping like a carp out of water.
I could not detach my eyes from his face, which, without eyes to relieve it, seemed to be almost repulsive now. It would be difficult to describe my sensations. I felt dreadfully humiliated. Even my personal pride was wounded. I remembered what Father Dan had said about husband and wife being one flesh, and told myself that this was what I belonged to, what belonged to me this! Then I tried to reproach and reprove myself, but in order to do so I had to turn my eyes away.
Our road to Blackwater lay over the ridge of a hill much exposed to the wind from the south-west. When we reached this point the clouds seemed to roll up from the sea like tempestuous battalions. Torrential rain fell on the car and came dripping in from the juncture of the landaulette roof. Some of it fell on the sleeper and he awoke with a start.
He stopped, as if caught in guilt, and began to apologise again.
“Was I asleep? I really think I must have been. Stupid, isn’t it? Excuse me.”
He blinked his eyes as if to empty them of sleep, looked me over for a moment or two in silence, and then said with a smile which made me shudder:
“So you and I are man and wife, my dear!”
I made no answer, and, still looking fixedly at me, he said:
“Well, worse things might have happened after all what do you think?”
Still I did not answer him, feeling a certain shame, not to say disgust. Then he began to pay me some compliments on my appearance.
“Do you know you’re charming, my dear, really charming!”
That stung me, and made me shudder, I don’t know why, unless it was because the words gave me the sense of having been used before to other women. I turned my eyes away again.
“Don’t turn away, dear. Let me see those big black eyes of yours. I adore black eyes. They always pierce me like a gimlet.”
He reached forward as he spoke and drew me to him. I felt frightened and pushed him off.
“What’s this?” he said, as if surprised.
But after another moment he laughed, and in the tone of a man who had had much to do with women and thought he knew how to deal with them, he said:
“Wants to be coaxed, does she? They all do, bless them!”
Saying this he pulled me closer to him, putting his arm about my waist, but once more I drew and forcibly pushed him from me.
His face darkened for an instant, and then cleared again.
“Oh, I see,” he said. “Offended, is she? Paying me out for having paid so little court to her? Well, she’s right there too, bless her! But never mind! You’re a decidedly good-looking little woman, my dear, and if I have neglected you thus far, I intend to make up, for it during the honeymoon. So come, little gal, let’s be friends.”
Taking hold of me again, he tried to kiss me, putting at the same time his hand on the bosom of my dress, but I twisted my face aside and prevented him.
“Oh! Oh! Hurt her modesty, have I?” he said, laughing like a man who was quite sure both of himself and of me. “But my little nun will get over that by and by. “Wait awhile! “Wait awhile!”
By this time I was trembling with the shock of a terror that was entirely new to me. I could not explain to myself the nature of it, but it was there, and I could not escape from it.
Hitherto, when I had thought of my marriage to Lord Raa I had been troubled by the absence of love between us; and what I meant to myself by love the love of husband and wife was the kind of feeling I had for the Reverend Mother, heightened and deepened and spiritualised, as I believed, by the fact (with all its mysterious significance) that the one was a man and the other a woman.
But this was something quite different. Not having found in marriage what I had expected, I was finding something else, for there could be no mistaking my husband’s meaning when he looked at me with his passionate eyes and said, “Wait awhile!”
I saw what was before me, and in fear of it I found myself wishing that something might happen to save me. I was so frightened that if I could have escaped from the car I should have done so. The only thing I could hope for was that we should arrive at Blackwater too late for the steamer, or that the storm would prevent it from sailing. “What relief from my situation I should find in that, beyond the delay of one day, one night (in which I imagined I might be allowed to return home), I did not know. But none the less on that account I began to watch the clouds with a feverish interest.
They were wilder than ever now rolling up from the south-west in huge black whorls which enveloped the mountains and engulfed the valleys. The wind, too, was howling at intervals like a beast being slaughtered. It was terrible, but not so terrible as the thing I was thinking of. I was afraid of the storm, and yet I was fearfully, frightfully glad of it.
My husband, who, after my repulse, had dropped back into his own corner of the car, was very angry. He talked again of our “God-forsaken island,” and the folly of living in it, said our passage would be a long one in any case, and we might lose our connection to London.
“Damnably inconvenient if we do. I’ve special reasons for being there in the morning,” he said.
At a sharp turn of the road the wind smote the car as with an invisible wing. One of the windows was blown in, and to prevent the rain from driving on to us my husband had to hold up a cushion in the gap.
This occupied him until we ran into Blackwater, and then he dropped the cushion and put his head out, although the rain was falling heavily, to catch the first glimpse of the water in the bay.
It was in terrific turmoil. My heart leapt up at the sight of it. My husband swore.
“We drew up on the drenched and naked pier. My husband’s valet, in waterproofs, came to the sheltered side of the car, and, shouting above the noises of the wind in the rigging of the steamer, he said:
“Captain will not sail to-day, my lord Inshore wind. Says he couldn’t get safely out of the harbour.”
My husband swore violently. I was unused to oaths at that time and they cut me like whipcord, but all the same my pulse was bounding joyfully.
“Bad luck, my lord, but only one thing to do now,” shouted the valet.
“What’s that?” said my husband, growling.
“Sleep in Blackwater to-night, in hopes of weather mending in the morning.”
Anticipating this course, he had already engaged rooms for us at the “Fort George.”
My heart fell, and I waited for my husband’s answer. I was stifling.
“All right, Hobson. If it must be, it must,” he answered.
I wanted to speak, but I did not know what to say. There seemed to be nothing that I could say.
A quarter of an hour afterwards we arrived at the hotel, where the proprietor, attended by the manageress and the waiters, received us with rather familiar smiles.
WHEN I began to write I determined to tell the truth and the whole truth. But now I find that the whole truth will require that I should invade some of the most sacred intimacies of human experience. At this moment I feel as if I were on the threshold of one of the sanctuaries of a woman’s life, and I ask myself if it is necessary and inevitable that I should enter it.
I have concluded that it is necessary and inevitable necessary to the sequence of my narrative, inevitable for the motive with which I am writing it.
Four times already I have written what is to follow. In the first case I found that I had said too much. In the second I had said too little. In the third I was startled and shocked by the portrait I had presented of myself and could not believe it to be true. In the fourth I saw with a thrill of the heart that the portrait was not only true, but too true. Let me try again.
I entered our rooms at the hotel, my husband’s room and mine, with^a sense of fear, almost of shame. My sensations at that moment had nothing in common with the warm flood of feeling which comes to a woman when she finds herself alone for the first time with the man she loves, in a little room which holds everything that is of any account to her in the world. They were rather those of a young girl who, walking with a candle through the dark corridors- of an empty house at night, is suddenly confronted by a strange face. I was the young girl with the candle; the strange face was my husband ‘s.
We had three rooms, all communicating, a sitting-room in the middle with bedrooms right and left. The bedroom on the right was large and it contained a huge bed with a covered top and tail-boards. That on the left was small, and it had a plain brass and iron bedstead, which had evidently been meant for a lady ‘s maid. I had no maid yet. It was intended that I should engage a French one in London.
Almost immediately on entering the sitting-room my husband, who had not yet recovered from his disappointment, left me to go downstairs, saying with something like a growl that he had telegrams to send to London and instructions to give to his man Hobson.
Without taking off my outer things I stepped up to the windows, which were encrusted with salt from the flying spray. The hotel stood on a rocky ledge above the harbour, and the sound of the sea, beating on the outer side of the pier, came up with a deafening roar. The red-funnelled steamer we should have sailed by lay on the pier’s sheltered side, letting down steam, swaying to her creaking hawsers, and heaving to the foam that was surging against her bow.
I was so nervous, so flurried, so preoccupied by vague fears that I hardly saw or heard anything. Porters came up with our trunks and asked me where they were to place them, but I scarcely know how I answered them, although I was aware that everything both my husband’s luggage and mine was being taken into the large bedroom. A maid asked if she ought to put a light to the fire, and I said “Yes … no … yes,” and presently I heard the fire crackling.
After awhile my husband came back in a better temper and said:
“Confounded nuisance, but I suppose we must make the best of it.”
He laughed as he said this, and coming closer and looking me over with a smile which was at the same tune passionate and proud, he whispered:
“Dare say we’ll not find the tune long until to-morrow morning. What do you think, my little beauty?”
Something in his voice rather than in his question made my heart beat, and I could feel my face growing hot.
“Not taken off your things yet?” he said. “Come, let me help you.”
I drew out my hat-pins and removed my hat. At the same moment my husband removed my sables and cloak, and as he did so he put his arms about me, and held me close to him.
I shuddered. I tried not to, but I could not help it. My husband laughed again, and said:
“Not got over it yet, little woman? Perhaps that’s only because you are not quite used to me.”
Still laughing he pulled me still closer to him and putting one of his hands under my chin he kissed me on the mouth.
It will be difficult and perhaps it will be ridiculous to say how my husband’s first kiss shocked me. My mouth felt parched, I had a sense of intense disgust, and before I was quite aware of what I was doing I had put up both hands to push him off.
“Come, come, this is going too far,” he said, in a tone that was half playful, half serious. “It was all very well in the automobile; but here, in your own rooms, you know. . . .”
He broke off and laughed again, saying that if my modesty only meant that nobody had ever kissed me before it made me all the more charming for him.
I could not help feeling a little ashamed of my embarrassment, and crossing in front of my husband I seated myself in a chair before the fire. He looked after me with a smile that made my heart tremble, and then, coming behind my chair, he put his arms about my shoulders and kissed my neck.
A shiver ran through me. I felt as if I had suffered a kind of indecency. I got up and changed my place. My husband watched me with the look of a man who wanted to roar with laughter. It was the proud and insolent as well as passionate look of one who had never so much as contemplated resistance.
“Well, this is funny,” he said. “But we’ll see presently! We’ll see!”
A waiter came in for orders, and early as it was my husband asked for dinner to be served immediately. My heart was fluttering excitedly by this tune and I was glad of the relief which the presence of other people gave me.
While the table was being laid my husband talked of the doings of the day. He asked who was “the seedy old priest” who had given us “the sermon” at the wedding breakfast he had evidently forgotten that he had seen the Father before.
I told him the “seedy old priest” was Father Dan, and he was a saint if ever there was one.
“A saint, is he?” said my husband. “Wish saint were not synonymous with simpleton, though.”
Then he gave me his own views of “the holy state of matrimony.” By holding people together who ought to be apart it often caused more misery and degradation of character than a dozen entirely natural adulteries and desertions, which a man had sometimes to repair by marriage or else allow himself to be regarded as a seducer and a scoundrel.
I do not think my husband was conscious of the naive coarseness of all this, as spoken to a young girl who had only just become his wife. I am sure he was not aware that he was betraying himself to me in every word he uttered and making the repugnance I had begun to feel for him deepen into horror.
My palms became moist, and again and again I had to dry them with my handkerchief. I was feeling more frightened and more ashamed than I had ever felt before, but nevertheless when we sat down to dinner I tried to compose myself. Partly for the sake of appearance before the servants, and partly because I was taking myself to task for the repugnance I felt towards my husband, I found something to say, though my voice shook.
My husband ate ravenously and drank a good deal. Once or twice, when he insisted on pouring out champagne for me, I clinked glasses with him. Although every moment at table was increasing my fear and disgust, I sometimes allowed myself to laugh.
Encouraged by this he renewed his endearments even before the waiters had left the room, and when they had gone, with orders not to return until he rang, and the door was closed behind them, he switched off the lights, pushed a sofa in front of the fire, put me to sit on it, sat down beside me and redoubled his tenderness.
“How’s my demure little nun now?” he said. “Frightened, wasn’t she? They’re all frightened at first, bless them!”
I could smell the liquor he had been drinking. I could see by the firelight the prominent front tooth (partly hidden by his moustache) which I had noticed when I saw him first, and the down of soft hair which grew as low on his hands as his knuckles. Above all I thought I could feel the atmosphere of other women about him loose women, bad women as it seemed to me and my fear and disgust began to be mixed with a kind of physical horror.
For a little while I tried to fight against this feeling, but when he began to put his arms about me, calling me by endearing names, complaining of my coldness, telling me not to be afraid of him, reminding me that I belonged to him now, and must do as he wished, a faintness came over me, I trembled from head to foot and made some effort to rise.
“Let me go,” I said.
“Nonsense,” he said, laughing and holding me to my seat. “You bewitching little woman! You’re only teasing me. How they love to tease, these charming little women!”
The pupils of his eyes were glistening. I closed my own eyes in order to avoid his look. At the next moment I felt his hand stray down my body and in a fury of indignation I broke out of his arms and leapt to my feet.
“When I recovered my self-possession I was again looking out of the window, and my husband, who was behind me, was saying in a tone of anger and annoyance:
“What’s the matter with you? I can’t understand. What have I done? Good heavens, we are man and wife, aren’t we?”
I made no answer. My heart which had been hot with rage was becoming cold with dread. It seemed to me that I had suffered an outrage on my natural modesty as a human being, a sort of offence against my dignity as a woman.
It was now dark. “With my face to the window I could see nothing. The rain was beating against the glass. The sea was booming on the rocks. I wanted to fly, but I felt caged morally and physically caged.
My husband had lit a cigarette and was walking up and down the sitting-room, apparently trying to think things out. After awhile he approached me, put his hand on my shoulder and said:
“I see how it is. You’re tired, and no wonder. You’ve had a long and exhausting day. Better go to bed. We’ll have to be up early.”
Glad to escape from his presence I allowed him to lead me to the large bedroom. As I was crossing the threshold he told me to undress and get into bed, and after that he said something about waiting. Then he closed the door softly and I was alone.
THERE was a fire in the bedroom and I sat down in front of it. Many forces were warring within me. I was trying to fix my thoughts and found it difficult to do so.
Some time passed. My husband’s man came in with the noiseless step of all such persons, opened one of the portmanteaux and laid out his master’s combs and brushes on the dressing table and his sleeping suit on the bed. A maid of the hotel followed him, and taking my own sleeping things out of the top tray of my trunk she laid them out beside my husband ‘s.
“Good-night, my lady,” they said in their low voices as they went out on tiptoe.
I hardly heard them. My mind, at first numb, was now going at lightning speed. Brought face to face for the first time with one of the greatest facts of a woman’s life I was asking myself why I had not reckoned with it before.
I had not even thought of it. My whole soul had been so much occupied with one great spiritual issue that I did not love my husband (as I understood love), that my husband did not love me that I had never once plainly confronted, even in my own mind, the physical fact that is the first condition of matrimony, and nobody had mentioned it to me or even hinted at it.
I could not plead that I did not know of this condition. I was young but I was not a child. I had been brought up in a convent, but a convent is not a nursery. Then why had I not thought of it?
While sitting before the fire, gathering together these dark thoughts, I was in such fear that I was always conscious of my husband’s movements in the adjoining room. At one moment there was the jingling of his glass against the decanter, at another moment the smell of his cigarette smoke. From time to time he came to the door and called to me in a sort of husky whisper, asking if I was in bed.
“Don’t keep me long, little girl.”
I shuddered but made no reply.
At last he knocked softly and said he was coming in. I was still crouching over the fire as he came up behind me.
“Not in bed yet?” he said. “Then I must put you to bed.”
Before I could prevent him he had lifted me in his arms, dragged me on to his knee and was pulling down my hair, laughing as he did so, calling me by coarse endearing names and telling me not to fight and struggle.
But the next thing I knew I was back in the sitting-room, where I had switched up the lights, and my husband, whose face was distorted by passion, was blazing out at me.
“What do you mean?” he said. “I’m your husband, am I not? You are my wife, aren’t you? What did you marry for? Good heavens, can it be possible that you don’t know what the conditions of matrimony are? Is that what comes of being brought up in a convent? But has your father allowed you to marry without. . . . And your Aunt what in God’s name has the woman been doing?”
I crossed towards the smaller bedroom intending to enter it, but my husband intercepted me.
“Don’t be a fool,” he said, catching at my wrist. “Think of the servants. Think what they’d say. Think what the whole island would say. Do you want to make a laughing-stock of both of us?”
I returned and sat by the table. My husband lit another cigarette. Nervously flicking the ends off with the index finger of his left hand, and speaking quickly, as if the words scorched his lips, he told me I was mistaken if I supposed that he wanted a scene like this. He thought he could spend his time better. I was equally mistaken if I imagined that he had desired our marriage at all. Something quite different might have happened if he could have afforded to please himself.
He had made sacrifices to marry me, too. Perhaps I had not thought of that, but did I suppose a man of his class wanted a person like my father for his father-in-law. And then my Aunt and my cousins ugh!
The Bishop, too! Was it nothing that a man had been compelled to make all those ridiculous declarations? Children to be brought up Catholics! Wife not to be influenced! Even to keep an open mind himself to all the muss and mummery of the Church!
It wasn’t over either. That seedy old “saint” was probably my confessor. Did any rational man want another man to come between him and his wife knowing all he did and said, and everything about him?
I was heart-sick as I listened to all this. Apparently the moral of it was that if I had been allowed to marry without being instructed in the first conditions of married life my husband had suffered a gross and shocking injustice.
The disgust I felt was choking me. It was horribly humiliating and degrading to see my marriage from my husband’s point of view, and when I remembered that I was bound fast to the man who talked to me like this, and that he could claim rights in me, to-night, to-morrow, as long as I lived, until death parted us, a wild impulse of impotent anger at everybody and everything made me drop my head on to the table and burst into tears.
My husband misunderstood this, as he misunderstood every-
thing. Taking my crying for the last remnant of my resist-
ance he put his arms round my shoulders again and renewed
“Come, don’t let us have any more conjugal scenes,” he said. “The people of the hotel will hear us presently, and there will be all sorts of ridiculous rumours. If your family are rather common people you are a different pair of shoes altogether.”
He was laughing again, kissing my neck (in spite of my shuddering) and saying:
“You really please me very much, you do indeed, and if they’ve kept you in ignorance, what matter? Come now, my sweet little woman, we’ll soon repair that.”
I could bear no more. I must speak and I did. Leaping up and facing round on him I told him my side of the story how I had been married against my will, and had not wanted him any more than he had wanted me; how all my objections had been overruled, all my compunctions borne down; how everybody had been in a conspiracy to compel me, and I had been bought and sold like a slave.
“But you can’t go any farther than that,” I said. “Between you, you have forced me to marry you, but nobody can force me to obey you, because I won ‘t.”
I saw his face grow paler and paler as I spoke, and when I had finished it was ashen- white.
“So that’s how it is, is it?” he said, and for some minutes more he tramped about the room, muttering inaudible words, as if trying to account to himself for my conduct. At length he approached me again and said, in the tone of one who thought he was making peace:
“Look here, Mary. I think I understand you at last. You have some other attachment that’s it, I suppose. Oh, don’t think I ‘m blaming you. I may be in the same case myself for all you know to the contrary. But circumstances have been too strong for us and here we are. “Well, we’re in it, and we’ve got to make the best of it and why shouldn’t we? Lots of people in my class are in the same position, and yet they get along all right. Why can’t we do the same? I’ll not be too particular. Neither will you. For the rest of our lives let each of us go his and her own way. But that’s no reason why we should be strangers exactly. Not on our wedding-day at all events. You’re a damned pretty woman and I’m. . . . Well, I’m not an ogre, I suppose. We are man and wife, too. So look here, we won’t expect too much affection from each other but let’s stop this fooling and be good friends for a little while anyway. Come, now.”
Once more he took hold of me, as if to draw me back, kissing my hands as he did so, but his gross misinterpretation of my resistance and the immoral position he was putting me into were stifling me, and I cried:
“No, I will not. Don’t you see that I hate and loathe you?”
There could be no mistaking me this time. The truth had fallen on my husband with a shock. I think it was the last thing his pride had expected. His face became shockingly distorted. But after a moment, recovering himself with a cruel laugh that made my hot blood run cold, he said:
“Nevertheless, you shall do as I wish. You are my wife, and as such you belong to me. The law allows me to compel you and I will.”
The words went shrieking through and through me. He was coming towards me with outstretched arms, his teeth set, and his pupils fixed. In the drunkenness of his rage he was laughing brutally.
But all my fear had left me. I felt an almost murderous impulse. I wanted to strike him on the face.
“If you attempt to touch me I will throw myself out of the window,” I said.
“No fear of that,” he said, catching me quickly in his arms.
“If you do not take your hands off me I’ll shriek the house down,” I cried.
That was enough. He let me go and dropped back from me. At the next moment I was breathing with a sense of freedom. “Without resistance on my husband’s part I entered the little bedroom to the left and locked the door behind me.
SOME further time passed. I sat by the fireless grate with my chin in my hand. If the storm outside was still raging I did not hear it. I was listening to the confused sounds that came from the sitting-room.
My husband was pacing to and fro, muttering oaths, knocking against the furniture, breaking things. At one moment there was a crash of glass, as if he had helped himself to brandy and then in his ungovernable passion flung the decanter into the fire grate.
Somebody knocked at the sitting-room. It must have been a waiter, for through the wall I heard the muffled sound of a voice asking if there had been an accident. My husband swore at the man and sent him off. Hadn’t he told him not to come until he was rung for?
At length, after half an hour perhaps, my husband knocked at the door of my little room.
“Are you there?” he asked.
I made no answer.
“Open the door.”
I sat motionless.
“You needn’t be afraid. I’m not going to do anything. I’ve something to say.”
Still I made no reply. My husband went away for a moment and then came back.
“If you are determined not to open the door I must say what I’ve got to say from here. Are you listening?”
Sitting painfully rigid I answered that I was.
Then he told me that what I was doing would entitle him to annul our marriage in the eyes of the Church at all events.
If he thought that threat would intimidate me he was mistaken a wave of secret joy coursed through me.
“It won’t matter much to me I’ll take care it won’t but it will be a degrading business for you invalidity and all that. Are you prepared for it?”
I continued to sit silent and motionless.
“I daresay we shall both be laughed at, but I cannot help that. We can’t possibly live together on terms like these.”
Another wave of joy coursed through me.
“Anyhow I intend to know before I leave the island how things are to be. I ‘m not going to take you away until I get some satisfaction. You understand?”
I listened, almost without breathing, but I did not reply.
“I’m think of writing a letter to your father, and sending Hobson with it in the car immediately. Do you hear me?”
“Well, you know what your father is. Unless I’m much mistaken he’s not a man to have much patience with your semi-romantic, semi-religious sentiments. Are you quite satisfied?”
“Very well! That’s what I’ll do, then.”
After this there was a period of quiet in which I assumed that my husband was writing his letter. Then I heard a bell ring somewhere in the corridor, and shortly afterwards there was a second voice in the sitting-room, but I could not hear the words that were spoken. I suppose it was Hobson’s low voice, for after another short interval of silence there came the thrum and throb of a motorcar and the rumble of india-rubber wheels on the wet gravel of the courtyard in front of the hotel.
Then my husband knocked at my door again.
“I’ve written that letter and Hobson is waiting to take it. Your father will probably get it before he goes to bed. It will be a bad break on the festivities he was preparing for the village people. But you are still of the same mind, I suppose?”
I did not speak, but I rose and went over to the window. For some reason difficult to explain, that reference to the festivities had cut me to the quick.
My husband must have been fuming at my apparent indifference, and I felt as if I could see him looking at me, passionate and proud.
“Between the lot of you I think you’ve done me a great injustice. Have you nothing to say?”
Even then I did not answer.
“All right! As you please.”
A few minutes afterwards I heard the motor car turning and driving away.
The wind had fallen, the waves were rolling into the harbour with that monotonous moan which is the sea ‘s memory of a storm, and a full moon, like a white-robed queen, was riding through a troubled sky.
THE moon had died out; a new day had dawned; the sea was lying as quiet as a sleeping child; far out on the level horizon the sky was crimsoning before the rising sun, and clouds of white sea-gulls were swirling and jabbering above the rocks in the harbour below the house before I lay down to sleep.
I was awakened by a hurried knocking at my door, and by an impatient voice crying:
“Mary! Mary! Get up! Let me in!”
It was Aunt Bridget who had arrived in my husband’s automobile. When I opened the door to her she came sailing into the room with her new half-moon bonnet a little awry, as if she had put it on hurriedly in the dim light of early morning, and, looking at me with her cold grey eyes behind their gold-rimmed spectacles, she began to bombard me with mingled ridicule and indignant protest.
“Goodness me, girl, what’s all this fuss about? You little simpleton, tell me what has happened!”
She was laughing. I had hardly ever heard Aunt Bridget laugh before. But her vexation soon got the better of her merriment.
“His lordship’s letter arrived in the middle of the night and nearly frightened us out of our senses. Your father was for coming away straight, and it would have been worse for you if he had. But I said: ‘No, this is work for a woman, I’ll go,’ and here I am. And now tell me, what in the name of goodness does this ridiculous trouble mean?”
It was hard to say anything on such a subject under such circumstances, especially when so challenged, but Aunt Bridget, without waiting for my reply, proceeded to indicate the substance of my husband’s letter.
From this I gathered that he had chosen (probably to save his pride) to set down my resistance to ignorance of the first conditions of matrimony, and had charged my father first and Aunt Bridget afterwards with doing him a shocking injustice in permitting me to be married to him without telling me what every girl who becomes a wife ought to know.
“But, good gracious,” said my Aunt Bridget, “who would have imagined you didn’t know. I thought every girl in the world knew before she put up her hair and came out of short frocks. My Betsy did, I’m sure of that. And to think that you you whom we thought so cute, so cunning. . . .
Mary O’Neill, I’m ashamed of you. I really, really am! Why, you goose” (Aunt Bridget was again trying to laugh), “how did you suppose the world went on?”
The coarse ridicule of what was supposed to be my maidenly modesty cut me like a knife, but I could not permit myself to explain, so my Aunt Bridget ran on talking.
“I see how it has been. It’s the fault of that Reverend Mother at the convent. What sort of a woman is she? Is she a woman at all, I wonder, or only a piece of stucco that ought to be put up in a church corner! To think she could have you nine years and never say one word about. . . . Well, well! What has she been doing with you? Talking about the mysteries, I suppose prayers and retreats and novenas, and the spiritual bridegroom and the rest of it, while all the while. . . . But you must put the convent out of your head, my girl. You are a married woman now. You’ve got to think of your husband, and a husband isn’t a spiritual bridegroom I can tell you. He’s flesh and blood, that’s what a husband is, and you can’t expect him to spend his time talking about eternity and the rosary. Not on his wedding-day, anyway.”
I was hot in my absurd embarrassment, and I dare say my face was scarlet, but Aunt Bridget showed me no mercy.
“The way you have behaved is too silly for anything . . . It really is. A husband’s a husband, and a wife’s a wife. The wife has to obey her husband. Of course she has. Every wife has to. Some don’t like it. I can’t say that I liked it very much myself. But to think of anybody objecting. Why, it’s shocking! Nobody ever heard of such a thing.”
I must have flushed up to my forehead, for I became conscious that in my Aunt Bridget’s eyes there had been a kind of indecency in my conduct.
“But, come,” she said, “we must be sensible. It’s timidity, that’s what it is. I was a little timid myself when I was first married, but I soon got over it. Once get over your timidity and you will be all right. Sakes alive, yes, you’ll be as happy as the day is long, and before this time to-morrow you’ll wonder what on earth you made all this fuss about.”
I tried to say that what she predicted could never be, because I did not love my husband, and therefore . . . but my Aunt Bridget broke in on me, saying:
“Mary O’Neill, don’t be a fool. Your maiden days are over now, and you ought to know what your husband will do if you persist.”
I jumped at the thought that she meant he would annul our marriage, but that was not what she was thinking of.
“He’ll find somebody else that’s what he’ll do. Serve you right, too. You’ll only have yourself to blame for it. Perhaps you think you’ll be able to do the same, but you won’t. Women can’t. He’ll be happy enough, and you’ll be the only one to suffer, so don’t make a fool of yourself. Accept the situation. You may not like your husband too much. I can’t say I liked the Colonel particularly. He took snuff, and no woman in the world could keep him in clean pocket handkerchiefs. But when a sensible person has got something at stake, she puts up with things. And that’s what you must do. He who wants fresh eggs must raise his
own chickens, you know.”
Aunt Bridget ran on for some time longer, telling me of my father’s anger, which was not a matter for much surprise, seeing how he had built himself upon my marriage, and how he had expected that I should have a child, a son, to carry on the family.
“Do you mean lo disappoint him after all he has done for you? It would be too silly, too stupid. You’d be the laughing-stock of the whole island. So get up and get dressed and be ready and willing to go with his lordship when he sails by this afternoon’s steamer.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“You can’t? You mean you won’t?”
“Very well, Auntie, I won’t.”
At that Aunt Bridget stormed at me for several minutes, telling me that if my stubborn determination not to leave the island with my husband meant that I intended to return home she might inform me at once that I was not wanted there and I need not come.
“I’ve enough on my hands in that house already, what with Betsy unmarried, and your father doing nothing for her, and that nasty Nessy MacLeod making up to him. You ungrateful minx! You are ruining everything! After all I’ve done for you too! But no matter! If you will make your bed I shall take care that you lie on it.”
With that, and the peak of her half-moon bonnet almost dancing over her angry face, Aunt Bridget flounced out of my room.
Half an hour afterwards, when I went into the sitting-room, I found my father’s advocate, Mr. Curphy, waiting for me. He looked down at me with an indulgent and significant smile, which brought the colour rushing back to my face, put me to sit by his side, touched my arm with one of his large white clammy hands, stroked his long brown beard with the other, and then in the half-reproving tone which a Sunday-school teacher might have used to a wayward child, he began to tell me what the consequences would be if I persisted in my present conduct.
They would be serious. The law was very clear on marital rights. If a wife refused to live with her husband, except on a plea of cruelty or something equally plausible, he could apply to the court and compel her to do so; and if she declined, if she removed herself from his abode, or having removed, refused to return, the Court might punish her it might even imprison her.
“So you see, the man is the top dog in a case like this, my dear, and he can compel the woman to obey him.”
“Do you mean,” I said, “that he can use force to compel her?”
“Reasonable force, yes. I think that’s so. And quite right, too, when you come to think of it. The woman has entered into a serious contract, and it is the duty of the law to see that she fulfills the conditions of it.”
I remembered how little I had known of the conditions of the contract I had entered into, but I was too heart-sick and ashamed to say anything about that.
“Aw yes, that’s so,” said the advocate, “force, reasonable force! You may say it puts a woman in a worse position as a wife than she would be if she were a mistress. That’s true, but it’s the law, and once a woman has married a man, the only escape from this condition of submission is imprisonment.”
“Then I would rather that a thousand times rather,” I said, for I was hot with anger and indignation.
Again the advocate smiled indulgently, patted my arm, and answered me as if I were a child.
“Tut, tut, my dear, tut, tut! You’ve made a marriage that is founded on suitability of position, property and education, and everything will come right by and by. Don’t act on a fit of pique or spleen, and so destroy your happiness, and that of everybody about you. Think of your father. Remember what he has done to make this marriage. … I may tell you that he has paid forty thousand pounds to discharge your husband’s debts and undertaken responsibility for an allowance of six thousand a year beside. Do you want him to lose all that money?”
I was so sick with disgust at hearing this that I could not speak, and the advocate, who, in his different way, was as dead to my real feelings as my husband had been, went on to say:
“Come, be reasonable. You may have suffered some slight, some indignity. No doubt you have. Your husband is proud and he has peculiarities of temper which we have all to make allowances for. But even if you could establish a charge of cruelty against him and so secure a separation which you can’t what good would that do you? None at all worse than none! The financial arrangements would remain the same. Your father would be a frightful loser. And what would you be? A married widow! The worst condition in the world for a woman especially if she is young and attractive, and subject to temptations. Ask anybody who knows anybody.”
I felt as if I would suffocate with shame.
“Come now,” said the advocate in his superior way, taking my hand as if he were going to lead me like a child to my husband, “let us put an end to this little trouble. His lordship is downstairs and he has consented kindly and generously consented to wait an hour for your answer. But he must leave the island by the afternoon steamer, and if …”
“Then tell him he must leave it without me,” I said, as well as I could for the anger that was choking me.
The advocate looked steadily into my face. I think he understood the situation at last.
“You mean that really and truly mean it?” he asked.
“I do,” I answered, and unable to say or hear any more without breaking out on him altogether I left the room.
DOWN to this moment I had put on a brave front though my very heart had been trembling; but now I felt that all the weight of law, custom, parental authority and even religion was bearing me down, down, down, and unless help came I must submit in the long run.
I was back in the small bedroom, with my hot forehead against the cold glass of the window, looking out yet seeing nothing, when somebody knocked at the door, softly almost timidly. It was Father Dan, and the sight of his dear face, broken up with emotion, was the same to me as the last plank of a foundering ship to a sailor drowning at sea.
My heart was so full that, though I knew I ought not, I threw my arms about his neck and burst into a flood of tears. The good old priest did not put me away. He smoothed my drooping head and patted my shoulders and in his sweet and simple way he tried to comfort me.
“Don’t cry! Don’t worry! It will be all right in the end, my child.”
There was something almost grotesque in his appearance. Under his soft clerical outdoor hat he was wearing his faded old cassock, as if he had come away hurriedly at a sudden call. I could see what had happened my family had sent him to reprove me and remonstrate with me.
He sat on a chair by my bed and I knelt on the floor at his feet, just as my mother used to do when I was a child and she was making her confession. Perhaps he thought of that at the same moment as myself, for the golden light of my mother’s memory lay always about him. For some moments we did not speak. I think we were both weeping.
At length I tried to tell him what had happened hiding nothing, softening nothing, speaking the simple and naked truth. I found it impossible to do so. My odd-sounding voice was not like my own, and even my words seemed to be somebody else’s. But Father Dan understood everything.
“I know! I know!” he said, and then, to my great relief, interrupting my halting explanations, he gave his own interpretation of my husband’s letter.
There was a higher love and there was a lower love and both were necessary to God’s plans and purposes. But the higher love must come first, or else the lower one would seem to be cruel and gross and against nature.
Nature was kind to a young girl. Left to itself it awakened her sex very gently. First with love, which came to her like a whisper in a dream, like the touch of an angel on her sleeping eyelids, so that when she awoke to the laws of life the mysteries of sex did not startle or appal her.
But sex in me had been awakened rudely and ruthlessly. Married without love I had been suddenly confronted by the lower passion. “What wonder that I had found it brutal and barbarous?
“That’s it, my child! That’s it! I know! I know!”
Then he began to blame himself for everything, saying it was all his fault and that he should have held out longer. When he saw how things stood between me and my husband he should have said to my father, to the Bishop, and to the lawyers, notwithstanding all their bargainings: “This marriage must not go on. It will lead to disaster. It begins to end badly.”
“But now it is all over, my child, and there’s no help for it.”
‘I think the real strength of my resistance to Aunt Bridget’s coarse ridicule and the advocate’s callous remonstrance must have been the memory of my husband ‘s threat when he talked about the possible annulment of our marriage. The thought of that came back to me now, and half afraid, half ashamed, with a fluttering of the heart, I tried to mention it.
“Is there no way out?” I asked.
“What way can there be?” said Father Dan. “God knows I know what pressure was put upon you; but you are married, you have made your vows, you have given your promises.
That’s all the world sees or cares about, and in the eyes of the law and the Church you are responsible for all that has happened.”
With my head still buried in Father Dan’s cassock I got it out at last.
“But annulment! Isn’t that possible under the circumstances?” I asked.
The good old priest seemed to be too confused to speak for a moment. Then he explained that what I hoped for was quite out of the question.
“I don’t say that in the history of the Church marriages have not been annulled on equally uncertain grounds, but in this case the civil law would require proof something to justify nullity. Failing that there would have to be collusion either on one side or both, and that is not possible not to you, my child, not to the daughter of your mother, that dear saint who suffered so long and was silent.”
More than ever now I felt like a ship-broken man with the last plank sinking under him. The cold mysterious dread of my husband was creeping back, and the future of my life with him stood before me with startling vividness. In spite of all my struggling and fighting of the night before I saw myself that very night, the next night, and the next, and every night and day of my life thereafter, a victim of the same sickening terror.
“Must I submit, then?” I said.
Father Dan smoothed my head and told me in his soft voice that submission was the lot of all women. It always had been so in the history of the world, and perhaps it always would be.
“Remember the Epistle we read in church yesterday morning: ‘Wives submit yourselves to your husbands.”
With a choking sensation in my throat I asked if he thought I ought to go away with my husband when he left the island by the afternoon steamer.
“I see no escape from it, my poor child. They sent me to reprove you. I can’t do that, but neither can I encourage you to resist. It would be wrong. It would be cruel. It would only lead you into further trouble.”
My mouth felt parched, but I contrived to say:
“Then you can hold out no hope for me?”
“God knows I can’t.”
“Although I do not love this man I must live with him as his wife?”
“It is hard, very hard, but there seems to be no help for it.”
I rose to my feet, and -went back to the window. A wild impulse of rebellion was coming over me.
“I shall feel like a bad woman,” I said.
“Don’t say that,” said Father Dan. “You are married to the man anyway.”
“All the same I shall feel like my husband’s mistress his married mistress, his harlot.”
Father Dan was shocked, and the moment the words were out of my mouth I was more frightened than I had ever been before, for something within seemed to have forced them out of me.
When I recovered possession of my senses Father Dan, nervously fumbling with the silver cross that hung over his cassock, was talking of the supernatural effect of the sacrament of marriage. It was God Who joined people together, and whom God joined together no man might put asunder. No circumstances either, no trial or tribulation. Could it be thought that a bond so sacred, so indissoluble, was ever made without good effect? No, the Almighty had His own ways with His children, and this great mystery of holy wedlock was one of them.
“So don’t lose heart, my child. Who knows what may happen yet? God works miracles now just as He did in the old days. You may come . . . yes, you may come to love your husband, and then then all will be well.”
Suddenly out of my despair and my defiance a new thought came to me. It came with the memory of the emotion I had experienced during the marriage service, and it thrilled me through and through.
“Father Dan?” I said, with a nervous cry, for my heart was fluttering again.
“What is it, my child?”
It was hard to say what I was thinking about, but with a great effort I stammered it out at last. I should be willing to leave the island with my husband, and live under the same roof with him, and bear his name, so that there might be no trouble, or scandal, and nobody except ourselves might ever know that there was anything dividing us, any difference of any kind between us, if he, on his part, would promise firmly and faithfully promise that unless and until I came to love him he would never claim my submission as a wife.
While I spoke I hardly dared to look at Father Dan, fearing he would shake his head again, perhaps reprove me, perhaps laugh at me. But his eyes which had been moist began to sparkle and smile.
“You mean that?” he asked.
“And you will go away with him on that condition?”
“Then he must agree to it.”
The pure-minded old priest saw no difficulties, no dangers, no risks of breakdown in my girlish scheme. Already my husband had got all he had bargained for. He had got my father’s money in exchange for his noble name, and if he wanted more, if he wanted the love of his wife, let him earn it, let him win it.
“That’s only right, only fair. It will be worth winning, too better worth winning than all your father’s gold and silver ten times over. I can tell him that much anyway.”
He had risen to his feet in his excitement, the simple old priest with his pure heart and his beautiful faith in me.
“And you, my child, you’ll try to love him in return promise you will.”
A shiver ran through me when Father Dan said that a sense of the repugnance I felt for my husband almost stifled me.
“Promise me,” said Father Dan, and though my face must have been scarlet, I promised him
“That’s right. That alone will make him a better man. He may be all that people say, but who can measure the miraculous influence of a good woman?”
He was making for the door.
“I must go downstairs now and speak to your husband. But hell agree. “Why shouldn’t he? I know he’s afraid of a public scandal, and if he attempts to refuse I’ll tell him that . . . But no, that will be quite unnecessary. Good-bye, my child! If I don’t come back you’ll know that everything has been settled satisfactorily. You 11 be happy yet. I’m sure you will. Ah, what did I say about the mysterious power of that solemn and sacred sacrament? Good-bye!”
I meant what I had said. I meant to do what I had promised. God knows I did. But does a woman ever know her own heart? Or is heaven alone the judge of it?
At four o’clock that afternoon my husband left Ellan for England. I went with him.
HAVING made my bargain I set myself to fulfil the conditions of it. I had faithfully promised to try to love my husband and I prepared to do so.
Did not love require that a wife should look up to and respect and even reverence the man she had married? I made up my mind to do that by shutting my eyes to my husband’s obvious faults and seeing only his better qualities.
What disappointments were in store for me! What crushing and humiliating disillusionments!
On the night of our arrival in London we put up at a fashionable hotel in a quiet but well-known part of the West-end, which is inhabited chiefly by consulting physicians and celebrated surgeons. Here, to my surprise, we were immediately discovered, and lines of visitors waited upon my husband the following morning.
I thought they were his friends, and a ridiculous little spurt of pride came to me from heaven knows where with the idea that my husband must be a man of some importance in the metropolis.
But I discovered they were his creditors, money-lenders and bookmakers, to whom he owed debts of “honour” which he had been unable or unwilling to disclose to my father and his advocate.
One of my husband’s visitors was a pertinacious little man who came early and stayed late. He was a solicitor, and my husband was obviously in some fear of him. The interviews between them, while they were closeted together morning after morning in one of our two sitting-rooms, were long and apparently unpleasant, for more than once I caught the sound
of angry words on both sides, with oaths and heavy blows upon the table.
But towards the end of the week, my husband’s lawyer arrived in London, and after that the conversations became more pacific.
One morning, as I sat writing a letter in the adjoining room, I heard laughter, the popping of corks, the jingling of glasses, and the drinking of healths, and I judged that the difficult and disagreeable business had been concluded.
At the close of the interview I heard the door opened and my husband going into the outer corridor to see his visitors to the lift, and then something prompted me God alone knows what to step into the room they had just vacated.
It was thick with tobacco smoke. An empty bottle of champagne (with three empty wine glasses) was on the table, and on a desk by the window were various papers, including a sheet of foolscap which bore a seal and several signatures, and a thick packet of old letters bound together with a piece of purple ribbon.
Hardly had I had time to recognise these documents when my husband returned to the room, and by the dark expression of his face I saw instantly that he thought I had looked at them.
“No matter!” he said, without any preamble. “I might as well tell you at once and have done with it.”
He told me. The letters were his. They had been written to a woman whom he had promised to marry, and he had had to buy them back from her. Although for three years he had spent a fortune on the creature she had shown him no mercy. Through her solicitor, who was a scoundrel, she had threatened him, saying in plain words that if he married anybody else she would take proceedings against him immediately. That was why, in spite of the storm, we had to come up to London on the day after our wedding.
“Now you know,” said my husband. “Look here” (holding out the sheet of foolscap), “five thousand pounds that’s the price I’ve had to pay for marrying.”
I can give no idea of the proud imperiousness and the impression of injury with which my husband told his brutal story. But neither can I convey a sense of the crushing shame with which I listened to it. There was not a hint of any consciousness on his part of my side of the case. Not a suggestion of the clear fact that the woman he had promised to marry had been paid off by money which had come through me. Not a thought of the humiliation he had imposed upon his wife in dragging her up to London at the demand of his cast-off mistress.
“When my husband had finished speaking I could not utter a word. I was afraid that my voice would betray the anger that was boiling in me. But I was also degraded to the very dust in my own eyes, and to prevent an outburst of hysterical tears I ran back to my room and hid my face in my pillow.
What was the good of trying to make myself in love with a man who was separated from me by a moral chasm that could never be passed? What was the good? What was the good?
Bur next morning, having had time to think things out in my simple and ignorant way, I tried to reconcile myself to my position. Remembering what Aunt Bridget had said, both before my marriage and after it, about the different moralities of men and women, I told myself I had placed my standard too high.
Perhaps a husband was not a superior being, to be regarded with respect and reverence, but a sort of grown-up child whom it was the duty of a wife to comfort, coax, submit to and serve.
I determined to do this. Still clinging to the hope of falling in love with my husband, I set myself to please him by every means within my power, even to the length of simulating sentiments which I did not feel.
But what a task I was setting myself! What a steep and stony Calvary I was attempting to climb!
After the degrading business with the other woman had been concluded I thought we should have left England immediately on the honeymoon tour which my husband had mapped out for us, but he told me that would not be convenient and we must remain in London a little longer. We stayed six weeks altogether, and never did a young wife pass a more cheerless and weary time.
I had no friends of my own within reach, and to my deep if secret mortification no woman of my husband ‘s circle called upon me. But a few of his male friends were constantly with us, including Mr. Eastcliff, who had speedily followed us from Ellan, and a Mr. Vivian, who, though the brother of a Cabinet Minister, seemed to me a very vain and vapid person, with the eyes of a mole, a vacant smile, a stupid expression, an abrupt way of speaking through his teeth, and a shrill voice which gave the impression of screeching against the wind.
With these two men, and others of a similar kind, we passed many hours of nearly every day, lunching with them, dining with them, walking with them, driving with them, and above all playing bridge with them in one of our sitting rooms in the hotel.
I knew nothing of the game to begin with, never having touched a card in my life, but in accordance with the theories which I believed to be right and the duties I had imposed upon myself, I took a hand with my husband when he could find nobody better to be his partner.
The results were very disheartening. In spite of my desire to please I was slow to learn, and my husband’s impatience with my mistakes, which confused and intimidated me, led to some painful humiliations. First he laughed, next he sneered, then he snapped me up in the midst of my explanations and apologies, and finally, at a moment of loss, he broke out on me with brutal derision, saying he had never had much opinion of my intellect, but was now quite sure that I had no more brains than a rabbit and could not say Boo to a goose.
One day when we were alone, and he was lying on the couch with his vicious little terrier by his side, I offered to sing to him. Remembering how my voice had been praised, I thought it would be pleasant to my husband to see that there was something I really could do. But nine years in a convent had left me with next to no music but memories of the long-breathed harmonies of some of the beautiful masses of our Church, and hardly had I begun on these when my husband cried:
“Oh, stop, stop, for heaven’s sake stop, or I shall think we’re attending a funeral.”
Another day I offered to read to him. The Reverend Mother used to say I was the best reader she had ever heard, but perhaps it was not altogether my husband ‘s fault if he formed a different opinion. And indeed I cannot but think that the holy saints themselves would have laughed if they had heard me reading aloud, in the voice and intonation which I had assumed for the meditations of St. Francis of Assisi, the mystic allusions to “certs,” and “bookies,” and “punters,” and “evens,” and “scratchings,” which formed the substance of the sporting journals that were my husband’s only literature.
“Oh, stop it, stop it,” he cried again. “You read the ‘Winning Post’ as if it were the Book of Revelation.”
As time passed the gulf that separated me from my husband became still greater. If I could have entertained him with any kind of gossip we might have got on better. But I had no conversation that interested him, and he had little or none that I could pretend to understand. He loved the town; I loved the country; he loved the night and the blaze of electric lights; I loved the morning and the sweetness of the sun.
At the bottom of my heart I knew that his mind was common, low and narrow, and that his tastes were gross and vulgar, but I was determined to conquer the repulsion I felt for him.
It was impossible. If I could have struck one spark from the flint of his heart the relations between us might have been different. If his look could have met my look in a single glance of understanding I could have borne with his impatience and struggled on.
But nothing of this kind ever happened, and when one dreary night after grumbling at the servants, cursing his fate and abusing everybody and everything, he put on his hat and went out saying he had “better have married Lena [the other woman] after all,” for in that case he would have had “some sort of society anyway, ‘ ‘ the revulsion I had felt on the night of my marriage came sweeping over me like a wave of the sea, and I asked myself again, “What’s the good? What’s the good?”
NEVERTHELESS next day I found myself taking my husband’s side against myself.
If he had sacrificed anything in order to marry me it was my duty to make it up to him.
I resolved that I should make it up to him. I would study my husband ‘s likes and dislikes in every little thing. I would share in his pleasures and enter into his life. I would show him that a wife was something other and better than any hired woman in the world, and that when she cast in her lot
with her husband it was for his own sake only and not for any fortune he could spend on her.
“Yes, yes, that’s what I’ll do,” I thought, and I became more solicitous of my husband ‘s happiness than if I had really and truly loved him.
A woman would smile at the efforts which I made in my inexperience to make my husband forget his cast-off mistress, and indeed some of them were very childish.
The first was a ridiculous failure.
My husband’s birthday was approaching and I wished to make him a present. It was difficult to know what to select, for I knew little or nothing of his tastes or wants; but walking one day in a street off Oxford Street I saw, in the window of a shop for the sale of objects of ecclesiastical vertu, among crosses and crucifixes and rosaries, a little ivory ink-stand and paper-holder, which was surmounted by a figure of the Virgin.
I cannot for the life of me conceive why I thought this would be a suitable present for my husband, except that the face of Our Lady was so young, so sweet, so beautiful, and so exquisitely feminine that it seemed impossible that any man in the world should not love her. But however that might be I bought her, and carrying her home in a cab, I set her on my husband’s desk without a word, and then stood by, like the mother of Moses, to watch the result.
There was no result at first at all events. My husband was several hours in the room with my treasure without appearing to be aware of its presence. But towards evening his two principal friends came to play bridge with him, and then, from the ambush of my own apartments, I heard the screechy voice of Mr. Vivian saying:
“Dash it all, Jimmy, you don’t say you’re going to be a Pape?”
“Don’t fret yourself, old fellow,” replied my husband. “That’s my wife’s little flutter. Dare say the poor fool has had to promise her priest to make me a ‘vert.”
My next experiment was perhaps equally childish but certainly more successful.
Seeing that my husband was fond of flowers, and was rarely without a rose in his buttonhole, I conceived the idea of filling his room with them in honour of his birthday. With this view I got up very early, before anybody in the hotel was stirring, and hurried off to Covent Garden, through the empty and echoing streets, while the air of London was fresh with the breath of morning and the big city within its high-built walls seemed to dream of the green fields beyond.
I arrived at the busy and noisy square just as the waggons were rolling in from the country with huge crates of red and white roses, bright with the sunshine and sparkling with the dew. Then buying the largest and loveliest and costliest bunch of them (a great armful, as much as I could hold), I hurried back to the hotel and set them in vases and glasses in every part of my husband’s room his desk, his sideboard, his mantelpiece, and above all his table, which a waiter was laying for breakfast until the whole place was like a bridal bower.
“Ah, this is something like,” I heard my husband say as he came out of his bedroom an hour or two afterwards with his vicious terrier at his heels.
I heard no more until he had finished breakfast, and then, while drawing on his gloves for his morning walk, he said to the waiter, who was clearing the table.
“Tell your manageress I am much obliged to her for the charming flowers with which she has decorated my room this morning.”
“But it wasn’t the manageress, my lord,” said the waiter.
“Then who was it?”
“It was her . . . her ladyship,” said the waiter.
“O-oh!” said my husband in a softer, if more insinuating tone, and a few minutes afterwards he went out whistling.
God knows that was small reward for the trouble I had taken, but I was so uplifted by the success of my experiment that I determined to go farther, and when towards evening of the same day a group of my husband’s friends came to tell him that they had booked a box at a well-known musical comedy theatre, I begged to be permitted to join them.
“Nonsense, my dear! Brompton Oratory would suit you better,” said my husband, chucking me under the chin.
But I persisted in my importunities, and at length Mr. Eastcliff said:
“Let her come. Why shouldn’t she?”
“Very well,” said my husband, pinching my cheek. “As you please. But if you don’t like it don’t blame me.”
It did not escape me that as a result of my change of front my husband had risen in his own esteem, and that he was behaving towards me as one who thought he had conquered my first repugnance, or perhaps triumphantly ridden over it. But in my simplicity I was so fixed in my determination to make my husband forget the loss of his mistress that I had no fear of his familiarities and no misgivings about his mistakes.
All that was to come later, with a fresh access of revulsion and disgust.
I HAD seen enough of London by this time to know that the dresses which had been made for me at home were by no means the mode; but after I had put on the best-fitting of my simple quaker-like costumes with a string of the family pearls about my neck and another about my head, not all the teaching of the good women of the convent could prevent me from thinking that my husband and his friends would have no reason to be ashamed of me.
We were a party of six in all, whereof I was the only woman, and we occupied a large box on the first tier near the stage, a position of prominence which caused me a certain embarrassment, when, as happened at one moment of indefinable misery, the opera glasses of the people in the dress-circle and stalls were turned in our direction.
I cannot say that the theatre impressed me. Certainly the building itself did not do so, although it was beautifully decorated in white and gold, for I had seen the churches of Rome, and in my eyes they were much more gorgeous.
Neither did the audience impress me, for though I had never before seen so many well-dressed people in one place, I thought too many of the men, when past middle life, seemed fat and overfed, and too many of the women, with their plump arms and bare shoulders, looked as if they thought of nothing but what to eat and what to put on.
Nor did the performers impress me, for though when the curtain rose, disclosing the stage full of people, chiefly girls, in delicate and beautiful toilettes, I thought I had never before seen so many lovely and happy faces, after a while, when the faces fell into repose, I thought they were not really lovely and not really happy, but hard and strained and painful, as if life had been very cruel.
And, above all, I was not impressed by the play, for I thought, in my ignorance of such productions, that I had never heard anything so frivolous and foolish, and more than once I found myself wondering whether my good nuns, if they could have been present, would not have concluded that the whole company had taken leave of their senses.
There was, however, one thing which did impress me, and that was the leading actor. It was a woman, and when she first came on to the stage I thought I had never in my life seen anybody so beautiful, with her lovely soft round figure, her black eyes, her red lips, her pearly white teeth, and a smile so sunny that it had the effect of making everybody in the audience smile with her.
But the strange thing was I could not account for it that after a few minutes I thought her extremely ugly and repellent, for her face seemed to be distorted by malice and envy and hatred and nearly every other bad passion.
Nevertheless she was a general favourite, for not only was she applauded before she did anything, but everything she said, though it was sometimes very silly, was accompanied by a great deal of laughter, and everything she sang, though her voice was no great matter, was followed by a chorus of applause.
Seeing this, and feeling that her appearance had caused a flutter of interest in the box behind me, I laughed and applauded also, in accordance with the plan I had prepared for myself, of sharing my husband’s pleasures and entering into his life, although at the bottom of my heart I really thought the joy was not very joyful or the mirth very merry.
Thig went on for nearly an hour, and then a strange thing happened. I was leaning forward on the velvet barrier of the box in front of me, laughing and clapping my hands with the rest, when all at once I became aware that the lady had wheeled about, and, walking down the stage in the direction of our box, was looking boldly back at me.
I could not at first believe it to be so, and even now I cannot say whether it was something in her face, or something whispered at my back which flashed it upon my mind that this was the woman my husband ought to have married, the woman whose place I had taken, the woman of the foolscap document and the letters in the purple ribbon.
After that I could play my poor little part no longer, and though I continued to lean on the yellow velvet of the barrier in front of me I dropped my eyes as often as that woman was on the stage, and hoped and prayed for the end of the performance.
It came at length with a crash of instruments and voices, and a few minutes afterwards my husband and I were in the cab on our way back to the hotel.
I was choking with mingled anger and shame anger at my husband for permitting me to come to a place in which I could be exposed to a public affront from his cast-off mistress, shame at the memory of the pitiful scheme for entering into his life which had fallen to such a welter of wreck and ruin.
But my husband himself was only choking with laughter.
“It was as good as a play,” he said. “Upon my soul it was! I never saw anything funnier in the whole course of my life.”
That served him, repeated again and again, until we reached the hotel, when he ordered a bottle of wine to be sent upstairs, and then shook with suppressed laughter as we went up in the lift.
Coming to our floor I turned towards my bedroom, wishing to be alone with my outraged feelings, but my husband drew me into one of our sitting-rooms, telling me he had something to say.
He put me to sit in an arm-chair, threw off his overcoat, lit a cigarette, as well as he could for the spurts and gusts of his laughter, and then, standing back to the fire-place, with one hand in his pocket and his coat-tail over his arm. he told me the cause of his merriment.
“I don’t mind telling you that was Lena,” he said. “The good-looking girl in the scarlet dress and the big diamonds. She spotted me the moment she stepped on to the stage. Must have guessed who you were, too. Did you see how she looked at you? Thought I had brought you there to walk over her. I’m sure she did!”
There was another gust of laughter and then
“She’d been going about saying I had married an old frump for the sake of her fortune, and when she saw that you could wipe her off the face of the earth without a gown that was worth wearing, she was ready to die with fury.”
There was another gust of laughter through the smoke that was spurting from his mouth and then
“And you, too, my dear! Laughing and applauding! She thought you were trying to crow over her! On her own particular barn-door, too! Upon my soul, it was too amusing. I wonder she didn’t throw something at you. She’s like that when she’s in her tantrums.”
The waiter came in with the wine and my husband poured out a glass for me.
“Have a drink. No? Well, here’s to your health, my dear … I can’t get over it. I really can’t. Lena’s too funny for anything. “Why, what else do you think she’s been saying? She’s been saying I’ll come back to her yet. Yes, ‘I’ll give him six months to come crawling back to me,’ she said to Eastcliff and Vivian and some of the other fellows at the Club. Wonder if she thinks so now? . . . I wonder?”
He threw away his cigarette, drank another glass of the wine, came close up to me and said in a lower tone, which made my skin creep as with cold,
“Whether she’s right or wrong depends on you, though.”
“Why, yes, of course. That’s only natural. One may have all the goodwill in the world, but a man’s a man, you know.”
I felt my lips quivering with anger, and in an effort to control myself I rose to go, but my husband drew me back into my chair and sat on the arm of it.
“Don’t go yet. By the way, dear, I’ve never thanked you for the beautiful flowers with which you decorated my room this morning. Charming! But I always knew you would soon come round to it.”
“Come round to what?” I said, but it was just as if somebody else were speaking.
“You know. Of course you know. When that simple old priest proposed that ridiculous compact I agreed, but I knew quite well that it would soon break down. Not on my side, though. Why should it? A man can afford to wait. But I felt sure you would soon tire of your resistance. And you have, haven’t you? Oh, I’m not blind. I’ve seen what’s been going on, though I’ve said nothing about it.”
Again I tried to rise, and again my husband held me to my seat, saying:
“Don’t be ashamed. There’s no reason for that. You were rather hard on me, you know, but I ‘m going to forget all about it. Why shouldn’t I? I’ve got the loveliest little woman in the world, so I mean to meet her half way, and she’s going to get over her convent-bred ideas and be my dear little darling wife. Now isn’t she?”
I could have died of confusion and the utter degradation of shame. To think that my poor efforts to please him, my vain attempts to look up to him and reverence him, my bankrupt appeals to the spiritual woman in me that I might bring myself to love him, as I thought it was my duty to do, should have been perverted by his gross and vulgar mind into overtures to the animal man in him this was more than I could bear. I felt the tears gushing to my eyes, but I kept them back, for my self-pity was not so strong as my wrath.
I rose this time without being aware of his resistance.
“Let me go to bed,” I said.
“Certainly! Most certainly, my dear, but …”
“Let me go to bed,” I said again, and at the next moment I stepped into my room.
He did not attempt to follow me. I saw in a mirror in front what was taking place behind me.
My husband was standing where I had left him with a look first of amazement and then of rage.
“I can’t understand you,” he said. “Upon my soul I can’t! There isn’t a man in the world who could.”
After that he strode into his own bedroom and clashed the door after him.
“Oh, what’s the good?” I thought again.
It was impossible to make myself in love with my husband. It was no use trying.
I MUST leave it to those who know better than I do the way to read the deep mysteries of a woman’s heart, to explain how it came to pass that the only result of this incident was to make me sure that if we remained in London much longer my husband would go back to the other woman, and to say why (seeing that I did not love him) I should have become feverishly anxious to remove him from the range of this temptation.
Yet so it was, for the very next morning, I wrote to my father saying I had been unwell and begging him to use his influence with my husband to set out on the Egyptian trip without further delay.
My father’s answer was prompt. “What he had read between the lines of my letter I do not know; what he said was this
“Daughter Certainly! I am writing to son-in-law telling him to quit London quick. I guess you’ve been too long there already. And while you are away you can draw on me yourself for as much as you please, for where it is a matter of money you must never let nobody walk over you.
The letter to my husband produced an immediate result. Within twenty-four hours, the telephone was at work with inquiries about trains and berths on steamers; and within a week we were on our way to Marseilles to join the ship that was to take us to Port Said.
Our state-rooms were on the promenade deck of the steamer with a passage-way between them. This admitted of entirely separate existences, which was well, for knowing or guessing my share in our altered arrangements, my husband had become even more morose than before, and no conversation could be sustained between us.
He spent the greater part of his time in his state-room, grumbling at the steward, abusing his valet, beating his bad-tempered terrier and cursing the luck that had brought him on this senseless voyage.
More than ever now I felt the gulf that divided us. I could not pass one single hour with him in comfort. My life was becoming as cold as an empty house, and I was beginning to regret the eagerness with which I had removed my husband from a scene in which he had at least lived the life of a rational creature, when an unexpected event brought me a thrill of passing pleasure.
Our seats in the saloon were at the top of the doctor’s table, and the doctor himself was a young Irishman of three or four-and-twenty, as bright and breezy as a March morning and as racy of the soil as new-cut peat.
Hearing that I was from Ellan he started me by asking if by chance I knew Martin Conrad.
“Martin Conrad?” I repeated, feeling (I hardly knew why) as if a rosy veil were falling over my face and neck.
“Yes, Mart Conrad, as we call him. The young man who has gone out as doctor with Lieutenant . . . .’s expedition to the South Pole?”
A wave of tender feeling from my childhood came surging up to my throat and I said:
“He was the first of my boy friends in fact the only one.”
The young doctor’s eyes sparkled and he looked as if he wanted to throw down his soup-spoon, jump up, and grasp me by both hands.
“God bless me, is that so?” he said.
It turned out that Martin and he had been friends at Dublin University. They had worked together, “roomed” together, and taken their degrees at the same time.
“So you know Mart? Lord alive, the way things come out!”
It was easy to see that Martin was not only his friend but his hero. He talked of him with a passionate love and admiration with which men, whatever they feel, rarely speak of each other.
Martin was the salt of the earth. He was the finest fellow and the staunchest friend and the bravest-hearted chap that walked under the stars of God.
“The greatest chum I have in the world, too, and by the Holy Immaculate Mother I’m destroyed at being away from him.”
It was like music to hear him speak. A flood of joy went sweeping through me at every word of praise he gave to Martin. And yet I cannot explain why, unless it was the woman in me, the Irish-woman, or something like it but I began to depreciate Martin, in order to “hoosh” him on, so that he might say more on the same subject.
“Then he did take his degree,” I said. “He was never very clever at his lessons, I remember, and I heard that he was only just able to scrape through his examinations.”
The young doctor fell to my bait like a darling. With a flaming face and a nervous rush of racy words which made me think that if I closed my eyes I should be back on the steps of the church in Rome talking to Martin himself, he told me I was mistaken if I thought his friend was a numskull, for he had had “the biggest brain-pan in College Green,” and the way he could learn things when he wanted to was wonderful.
He might be a bit shaky in his spelling, and perhaps he couldn’t lick the world in Latin, but his heart was always in exploring, and the way he knew geography, especially the part of it they call the “Unknown,” the Arctic, and the Antarctic, and what Charcot had done there, and Biscoe and Bellamy and D ‘Urville and Greely and Nansen and Shackleton and Peary, was enough to make the provost and professors look like fools of the earth by the side of him.
“Why, what do you think?” said the doctor. “When he went to London to apply for his billet, the Lieutenant said to him; ‘You must have been down there before, young man.’ ‘No such luck,’ said Martin. ‘But you know as much about the Antarctic already as the whole boiling of us put together,’ said the Lieutenant. Yes, by St. Patrick and St. Thomas, he’s a geographer any way.”
I admitted that much, and to encourage the doctor to go on I told him where I had seen Martin last, and what he had said of his expedition.
“In Borne you say?” said the doctor, with a note of jealousy. “You beat me there then. I saw him off from London, though. A few of us Dublin boys, being in town at the time, went down to Tilbury to see him sail, and when they were lifting anchor and the tug was hitching on, we stood on the pier sixteen strong and set up some of our college songs. ‘Stop your noising, boys,’ said he, ‘the Lieutenant will be hearing you. ‘ But not a bit of it. We sang away as long as we could see him going out with the tide, and then we went back in the train, smoking our pipes like so many Vauxhall chimneys, and narra a word out of the one of us. . . . Yes, yes, there are some men like that. They come like the stars of night and go like the light of heaven. Same as there are some women who walk the world like the sun, and leave the grass growing green wherever their feet have trod.”
It was very ridiculous, I did not then understand why it should be so, but the tears came gushing into my eyes while the doctor spoke, and it was as much as I could do to preserve my composure.
What interpretation my husband put upon my emotion I do not know, but I saw that his face darkened, and when the doctor turned to him to ask if he also knew Martin he answered curtly and brusquely,
“Not I. No loss either, I should say.”
“No loss?” said the doctor. “Show me the man under the stars of God that’s fit to hold a candle to Martin Conrad, and by the angel Gabriel I’ll go fifty miles out of my way to put a sight on him.”
More than ever after this talk about Martin Conrad I was feeling defenceless, and at the mercy of my husband’s wishes and whims, when something happened which seemed to change his character altogether.
The third day out, on a bright and quiet morning, we called at Malta, and while my husband went ashore to visit some friends in the garrison, I sat on deck watching the life of the little port and looking at the big warships anchored in the bay.
A Maltese woman came on board to sell souvenirs of the island, and picking out of her tray a tiny twisted thing in coral, I asked what it was.
“That’s a charm, my lady,” said the woman.
“A charm for what?”
“To make my lady’s husband love her.”
I felt my face becoming crimson, but my heart was sore, so in my simplicity I bought the charm and was smuggling it into my bag when I became aware that one of my fellow-passengers, a lady, was looking down at me.
She was a tall, singularly handsome woman, fashionably and (although on shipboard) almost sumptuously dressed. A look in her face was haunting me with a memory I could not fix when she stooped and said:
“Aren’t you Mary O’Neill?”
The voice completed the identification, and I knew who it was. It was Alma Lier.
She was now about seven-and-twenty and in the prime of her young womanhood. Her beautiful auburn hair lay low over her broad forehead, almost descending to her long sable-coloured eyebrows. Her cheeks were very white, (rather beyond the whiteness of nature, I thought), and her lips were more than commonly red, with the upper one a little thin and the lower slightly set forward. But her eyes were still her distinguishing feature, being larger and blacker than before and having that vivid gaze that looked through and through you and made you feel that few women and no man in the world would have the power to resist her.
Her movements were almost noiseless, and as she sank into the chair by my side there was a certain over-sweetness in the soft succulent tones of the voice with which she began to tell me what had happened to her since I had seen her last.
It was a rather painful story. After two or three years in a girls ‘ college in her own country she had set out with her mother for a long tour of the European capitals. In Berlin, at what was falsely called a Charity Ball, she had met a young Russian Count who was understood to be rich and related to one of the Grand Ducal families. Against the protests of her father (a shrewd American banker), she had married the Count, and they had returned to New York, where her mother had social ambitions.
There they had suffered a serious shock. It turned out that her husband had deceived them, and that he was really a poor and quite nameless person, only remotely related to the family he claimed to belong to.
Nevertheless Alma had “won out” at last. By digging deep into her father’s treasury she got rid of her treacherous husband, and going “way out west,” she had been able, in due time, to divorce him.
Since then she had resumed her family name, being known as Madame Lier, and now she was on her way to Egypt to spend the season at Cairo.
“And you?” she said. “You stayed long at the convent yes?”
I answered that I had, and then in my fluttering voice (for some of the old spell of her presence had come sweeping back upon me) I replied one by one to the questions she asked about the Reverend Mother, the “Reverend Mother Mildred,” Sister Angela and Father Giovanni, not to speak of myself, whom she had always thought of as “Margaret Mary” because I had looked so innocent and nun-like.
“And now you are married!” she said. “Married so splendidly, too! We heard all about it. Mother was so interested. What a lucky girl you are! Everybody says your husband is so handsome and charming. He is, isn’t he? ”
I was doing my utmost to put the best face upon my condition without betraying the facts or simulating sentiments which I could not feel, when a boat from the shore pulled up at the ship’s side, and my husband stepped on to the deck.
In his usual morose manner he was about to pass without speaking on his way to his state-room, when his eyes fell on Alma sitting beside me. Then he stopped and looked at us, and, stepping up, he said, in a tone I had never heard from him before:
“Mary, my dear, will you not present me to your friend?”
I hesitated, and then with a quivering of the lips I did so. But something told me as I introduced my husband to Alma, and Alma to my husband, and they stood looking into each other’s eyes and holding each other’s hands (for Alma had risen and I was sitting between them), that this was the most momentous incident of my life thus far that for good or ill my hour had struck and I could almost hear the bell.
FROM that hour forward my husband was a changed man. His manner to me, so brusque before, became courteous, kind, almost affectionate. Every morning he would knock at the door of my state-room to ask if I had slept well, or if the movement of the steamer had disturbed me.
His manner to Alma was charming. He was up before breakfast every day, promenading the deck with her in the fresh salt air. I would slide back my window and hear their laughter as they passed, above the throb of the engines and the wash of the sea. Sometimes they would look in upon me and joke, and Alma would say:
“And how’s Margaret Mary this morning?”
Our seats in the saloon had been changed. Now we sat with Alma at the Captain’s table, and though I sorely missed the doctor’s racy talk about Martin Conrad I was charmed by Alma’s bright wit and the fund of her personal anecdotes. She seemed to know nearly everybody. My husband knew everybody also, and their conversation never flagged.
Something of the wonderful and worshipful feeling I had had for Alma at the Sacred Heart came back to me, and as for my husband it seemed to me that I was seeing him for the first time.
He persuaded the Captain to give a dance on our last night at sea, so the awnings were spread, the electric lights were turned on, and the deck of the ship became a scene of enchantment.
My husband and Alma led off. He danced beautifully and she was dressed to perfection. Not being a dancer myself I stood with the Captain in the darkness outside, looking in on them in the bright and dazzling circle, while the moon-rays were sweeping the waters like a silver fan and the little waves were beating the ship’s side with friendly pats.
I was almost happy. In my simplicity I was feeling grateful to Alma for having wrought this extraordinary change, so that when, on our arrival at Port Said, my husband said,
“Your friend Madame Lier has made no arrangements for her rooms at Cairo hadn’t I better telegraph to our hotel, dear?” I answered, “Yes,” and wondered why he had asked me.
Our hotel was an oriental building, situated on an island at the further side of the Nile. Formerly the palace of a dead Khedive, who had built it in honour of the visit of an Empress, it had a vast reception hall with a great staircase.
There, with separated rooms, as in London, we remained for three months. I was enthralled. Too young and inexperienced to be conscious of the darker side of the picture before me, I found everything beautiful. I was seeing fashionable life for the first time, and it was entrancing.
Lovely and richly-dressed ladies in silk, velvet, lace, and no limit of jewellery the dark French women, the blonde German women, the stately English women, and the American women with their flexuous grace. And then the British soldiers in their various uniforms, the semi-Turks in their red tarbooshes, and the diplomats of all nationalities, Italian, Austrian, French, German what a cosmopolitan world it was, what a meeting-place of all nations!
Every hour had its interest, but I liked best the hour of tea on the terrace, for that was the glorious hour of woman, when every condition invested her dress with added beauty and her smile with greater charm.
Such a blaze of colour in the sunshine! Such a sea of muslin, flowers, and feathers! Such lovely female figures in diaphanous clouds of toilettes, delicate as gossamer and varied as the colours in the rainbow! They were like a living bouquet, as they sat under the shade of the verandah, with the green lawns and the palm trees in front, the red-coated orchestra behind, and the noiseless forms of swarthy Bedouins and Nubians moving to and fro.
Although I had been brought up in such a different world altogether I could not help being carried away by all this beauty. My senses burgeoned out and my heart seemed to expand.
As for Alma and my husband, they seemed to belong to the scene of themselves. She would sit at one of the tea-tables, swishing away the buzzing flies with a little whip of cord and cowries, and making comments on the crowd in soft undertones which he alone seemed to catch. Her vivid and searching eyes, with their constant suggestion of laughter, seemed to be picking out absurdities on every side and finding nearly everybody funny.
She found me funny also. My innocence and my convent-bred ideas were a constant subject of jest with her.
“What does our dear little Margaret Mary think of that?” she would say with a significant smile, at sights that seemed to me quite harmless.
After a while I began to have a feeling of indefinable uneasiness about Alma. She was daily redoubling her cordiality, always calling me her “dearest sweetest girl,” and the oldest friend she had in the world.” But little by little I became conscious of a certain commerce between her and my husband in which I had no part. Sometimes I saw her eyes seeking his, and occasionally I heard them exchange a few words about me in French, which (because I did not speak it, being uncertain of my accent) they thought I did not understand.
Perhaps this helped to sharpen my wits, for I began to see that I had gone the wrong way to work with my husband. Instead of trying to make myself fall in love with my husband, I should have tried to make my husband fall in love with me.
When I asked myself how this was to be done I found one obvious answer I must become the sort of woman my husband admired and liked; in short I must imitate Alma.
I resolved to do this, and after all that has happened since I feel a little ashamed to tell of the efforts I made to play a part for which I was so ill-fitted by nature and education.
Some of them were silly enough perhaps, but some were almost pathetic, and I am not afraid that any good woman will laugh at the futile shifts I was put to, in my girlish ignorance, to make my husband love me.
“I must do it,” I thought. “I must, I must!”
HITHERTO I had attended to myself, but now I determined to have a maid. I found one without much difficulty. Her name was Price. She was a very plain woman of thirty, with piercing black eyes; and when I engaged her she seemed anxious above all else to make me understand that she “never saw anything.”
I soon discovered that she saw everything, especially the relations between myself and my husband, and that she put her own interpretation (not a very flattering one) on our separated apartments. She also saw the position, of Alma, and putting her own interpretation upon that also, she tortured me with many pin-pricks.
Under the guidance of my maid I began to haunt the shops of the dressmakers, the milliners and the jewellers. It did not require the memory of my father’s letter to make me spend his money I spent it like water. Feeling ashamed of my quaker-cut costumes (Alma had a costume for every day of the week, and wore a large gold snake on her arm), I bought the most costly toilettes, and loaded myself with bracelets, rings and necklaces.
I was dressing for my husband, and for him I did many things I had never dreamt of doing before. For him I filed my nails, put cream on my skin, perfume on my handkerchief, and even rouge on my lips. Although I did not allow myself to think of it so, I was running a race with Alma.
My maid knew that before I did, and the first night she put me into one of my uncomfortable new gowns she stood off from me and said:
“His lordship must be a strange gentleman if he can resist you now.”
I felt ashamed, yet pleased too, and went downstairs with a certain confidence.
The result was disappointing. My husband smiled rather condescendingly, and though Alma praised me beyond measure I saw that she was secretly laughing as she said:
“Our Margaret Mary is coming out, isn’t she?”
Nevertheless I persevered. Without too much preparation for so perilous an enterprise, I threw myself into the gaieties of Cairo, attending polo matches, race-meetings, picnics at the Pyramids, dances at the different hotels, and on the island of Roda, where according to tradition, Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the bulrushes.
I think I may say that I drew the eyes of other men upon me, particularly those of the colonel commanding on the Citadel, a fine type of Scotsman, who paid me the most worshipful attention. But I thought of nobody but my husband, being determined to make him forget Alma and fall
in love with me.
It was a hopeless task, and I had some heart-breaking hours. One day, calling at a jeweller’s to see a diamond necklace which I greatly coveted, I was told in confidence that my husband had been pricing it, but had had to give it up because it was a thousand francs too dear for him. I was foolish enough to pay the thousand francs myself, under a pledge of secrecy, and to tell the jeweller to send the necklace to my husband, feeling sure in my simplicity that it had been meant for me.
Next night I saw it on Alma’s neck, and could have died of mortification and shame.
I daresay it was all very weak and very childish, but I really think my last attempt, if rather ridiculous, was also very pitiful.
Towards the end of our stay the proprietors of the hotel gave a Cotillon. As this was the event of the season, and nearly every woman was giving a dinner in honour of it, I resolved that I too would give one, inviting the gayest of the gay acquaintances I had made in Cairo.
Feeling that it would be my last battle, and that so much depended upon it, I dressed myself with feverish care, in a soft white satin gown, which was cut lower than I had ever worn before, with slippers to match, a tight band of pearls about my throat and another about my head.
When Price had finished dressing me she said:
“Well, if his lordship prefers anybody else in the world to-night I shan’t know where he puts his eyes.”
The compliment was a crude one, but I had no time to think of that, for my heart was fluttering with hopes and fear, and I think any woman would forgive me under the circumstances if I told myself, as I passed the tall mirrors on the stairs, that I too was beautiful.
The dining-room was crowded when I entered it with my guests, and seeing that we were much observed it flashed upon me that my husband and I had become a subject of gossip. Partly for that reason I strangled the ugly thing that was writhing in my bosom, and put Alma (who had flown to me with affectionate rapture) next to my husband, and the colonel commanding on the Citadel in the seat beside me.
Throughout the dinner, which was very long, I was very nervous, and though I did my best to keep up conversation with the colonel, I knew quite well that I was listening to what was being said at the other side of my big round table, and as often as any mention was made of “Margaret Mary” I heard it.
More than once Alma lifted her glass with a gracious nod and smile, crying, “Mary dearest!” and then in another moment gave my husband one of her knowing glances which seemed to me to say, “Look at that foolish little wife of yours!”
By the time we returned to the hall for coffee we were rather a noisy party, and even the eyes of the ladies betrayed the fact that they had dined. The talk, which had grown louder, was also a little more free, and God forgive me, I joined in it, being feverishly anxious to outdo Alma, and be looked upon as a woman of the world.
Towards eleven o’clock, the red-coated orchestra began to play a waltz, and then the whole variegated company of ladies, soldiers, and diplomats stood up to dance, and the colonel asked me to join him.
I was ashamed to tell him that I had never danced except with a schoolgirl, so I took his hand and started. But hardly had we begun, when I made mistakes, which I thought everybody saw (I am sure Alma saw them), and before we had taken many turns my partner had to stop, whereupon I retired to my seat with a forced laugh and a sense of confusion.
It was nearly twelve when they began the Cotillon, which Alma and my husband led with supreme self-possession. As one of the hostesses I sat in the front row of the square, and when I was taken out I made further mistakes, which also Alma saw and communicated by smiles to my husband.
Before the Cotillon came to an end the night was far spent and then the company, which had become very boisterous, began to look for some new excitement, no matter how foolish. One or other started “turkey trot” and “grizzly bear” and finally Alma, with memories of the winter sports at St. Moritz, proposed that they should toboggan down the great staircase.
The suggestion was welcomed with a shout, and a broad board was immediately laid on the first long flight of stairs for people to slide on.
Soldiers went first, and then there were calls for the ladies, when Alma took her turn, tucking her dress under her at the top and alighting safely on her feet at the bottom. Other ladies followed her example, with similar good fortune, and then Alma, who had been saying “Such fun! Such lots of fun!” set up a cry of “Margaret Mary.”
I refused at first, feeling ashamed of even looking at such unwomanly folly, but something Alma said to my husband and something that was conveyed by my husband’s glance at me set my heart afire and, poor feverish and entangled fool that I was, I determined to defy them.
So running up to the top and seating myself on the toboggan I set it in motion. But hardly had I done so when it swayed, reeled, twisted and threw me off, with the result that I rolled downstairs to the bottom.
Of course there we’re shrieks of laughter, and if I had been in the spirit of the time and place I suppose I should have laughed too, and there would have been an end of the matter. But I had been playing a part, a tragic part, and feeling that I had failed and covered myself with ridicule, I was overwhelmed with confusion.
I thought my husband would be angry with me, and feel compromised by my foolishness, but he was not; he was amused, and when at last I saw his face it was running in rivulets from the laughter he could not restrain.
That was the end of all things, and when Alma came up to me, saying everything that was affectionate and insincere, about her “poor dear unfortunate Margaret Mary” (only women know how to wound each other so), I brushed her aside, went off to my bedroom, and lay face down on the sofa, feeling that I was utterly beaten and could fight no more.
Half an hour afterwards my husband came in, and though I did not look up I heard him say, in a tone of indulgent sympathy that cut me to the quick:
“You’ve been playing the wrong part, my child. A Madonna, yes, but a Venus, no! It’s not your metier.”
“What’s the good? What’s the good? What’s the good?” I asked myself.
I thought my heart was broken.
WITH inexpressible relief I heard the following day that we were to leave for Rome immediately.
Alma was to go with us, but that did not matter to me in the least. Outside the atmosphere of this place, so artificial, so unrelated to nature, her power over my husband would be gone. Once in the Holy City everything would be different. Alma would be different, I should be different, above all my husband would be different. I should take him to the churches and basilicas; I should show him the shrines and papal processions, and he would see me in my true “part” at last!
But what a deep disappointment awaited me!
On reaching Rome we put up at a fashionable hotel in the new quarter of the Ludovisi, and although that was only a few hundred yards from the spot on which I had spent nine happy years it seemed to belong to another world altogether. Instead of the church domes and the monastery bells, there were the harsh clang of electric trams, the thrum and throb of automobiles, the rattle of cars and the tramp of soldiers.
Then I realised that there were two Romes – an old Rome and a new one, and that the Rome we had come to hardly differed from the Cairo we had left behind.
There was the same varied company of people of all nations, English, Americans, French, German; the same nomad tribes of the rich and dissolute, pitching their tents season by season in the sunny resorts of Europe; the same aimless society, the same debauch of fashion, the same callous and wicked luxury, the same thirst for selfish pleasures, the same busy idleness, the same corruption of character and sex.
This made me very unhappy, but from first to last Alma was in the highest spirits. Everybody seemed to be in Rome that spring, and everybody seemed to be known either to her or to my husband. For Alma’s sake we were invited everywhere, and thus we saw not only the life of the foreign people of the hotels but that of a part (not the better part) of the Roman aristocracy.
Alma was a great success. She had the homage of all the men, and being understood to be rich, and having the gift of making every man believe he was her special favourite, she was rarely without a group of Italian noblemen about her chair.
With sharper eyes the Italian women saw that her real reckoning lay with my husband, but they seemed to think no worse of her for that. They seemed to think no worse of him either. It was nothing against him that, having married me (as everybody appeared to know) for the settlement of his financial difficulties, he had transferred his attentions, even on his honeymoon, to this brilliant and alluring creature.
As for me, I was made to realise that I was a person of a different class altogether. When people wished to be kind they called me spirituelle, and when they were tempted to be the reverse they voted me insipid.
As a result I became very miserable in this company, and I can well believe that I may have seemed awkward and shy and stupid when I was in some of their grey old palaces full of tapestry and bronze, for I sometimes found the talk there so free (especially among the women) that the poisoned jokes went quivering through me.
Things I had been taught to think sacred were so often derided that I had to ask myself if it could be Rome, my holy and beloved Rome this city of license and unbelief.
But Alma was entirely happy, especially when the talk turned on conjugal fidelity, and the faithful husband was held up to ridicule. This happened very often in one house we used to go to that of a Countess of ancient family who was said to have her husband and her lover at either side of her when she sat down to dinner.
She was a large and handsome person of middle age, with a great mass of fair hair, and she gave me the feeling that in her case the body of a woman was inhabited by the soul of a man.
She christened me her little Irish bambino, meaning her child; and one night in her drawing-room, after dinner, before the men had joined us, she called me to her side on the couch,, lit a cigarette, crossed her legs, and gave us with startling candour her views of the marriage bond.
“What can you except, you women?” she said. “You run after the men for their titles they’ve very little else, except debts, poor things and what is the result? The first result is that though you have bought them you belong to them. Yes, TOUT husband owns his beautiful woman, just as he owns his beautiful horse or his beautiful dog.”
This was so pointed that I felt my face growing crimson, but Alma and the other women only laughed, so the Countess went on:
“”What then? Once in a blue moon each goes his and her own way without sin. You agree to a sort of partnership for mutual advantage in which you live together in chastity under the same roof. “What a life! “What an ice-house!”
Again the other women laughed, but I felt myself blushing deeply.
“But in the majority of cases it is quite otherwise. The business purpose served, each is open to other emotions. The man becomes unfaithful, and the woman, if she has any spirit, pays him out tit for tat and why shouldn’t she?”
After that I could bear no more, and before I knew what I was saying I blurted out:
“But I find that wrong and wicked. Infidelity on the part of the man does not justify infidelity in the woman. The prayer-book says so.”
Alma burst out laughing, and the Countess smiled and continued:
“Once in a hundred years there comes a great passion Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, The woman meets the right man too late. What a tragedy! “What a daily and hourly crucifixion! Unless,” said the Countess with emphasis, “she is prepared to renounce the law and reject society and live a life of complete emancipation. But in a Catholic country, where there is no divorce, what woman can afford to do that? Nobody in the higher classes can especially if she has to sacrifice her title. So the wise woman avoids scandal, keeps her little affair with her lover to herself, and . . . and that’s marriage, my dears.”
A twitter of approval, led by Alma, came from the other women, but I was quivering with anger and I said:
“Then marriage is an hypocrisy and an imposture. If I found I loved somebody better than my husband, I should go to him in spite of the law, and society, and title and . . . and everything. ”
“Of course you would, my dear,” said the Countess, smiling at me as at a child, ‘ ‘ but that’s because you are such a sweet, simple, innocent little Irish bambino.”
It must have been a day or two after this that we were invited to the Roman Hunt. I had no wish to go, but Alma who had begun to use me in order to “save her face” in relation to my husband, induced me to drive them out in a motor-car to the place on the Campagna where they were to mount their horses.
“Dear sweet girl!” said Alma. “How could we possibly go without you?”
It was Sunday, and I sat between Alma in her riding habit and my husband in his riding breeches, while we ran through the Porta San Giovanni, and past the osterie where the pleasure-loving Italian people were playing under the pergolas with their children, until we came to the meeting-ground of the Hunt, by the Trappist monastery of Tre Fontane.
A large company of the Roman aristocracy were gathered there with their horses and hounds, and they received Alma and my husband with great cordiality. What they thought of me I do not know, except that I was a childish and complacent wife; and when at the sound of the horn the hunt began, and my husband and Alma went prancing off with the rest, without once looking back, I asked myself in my shame and distress if I could bear my humiliation much longer.
But then came a moment of unexpected pleasure. A cheerful voice on the other side of the car said:
“Good morning, Lady Raa.”
It was the young Irish doctor from the steamer. His ship had put into Naples for two days, and, like Martin Conrad before my marriage, he had run up to look at Rome.
“But have you heard the news?” he cried.
“About the South Pole Expedition they’re on their way home.”
“Yes, they reached New Zealand on Saturday was a week.”
“And . . . and . . . and Martin Conrad?”
“He’s well, and what’s better, he has distinguished himself.”
“I … I … I knew he would.”
“So did I! The way I was never fearing that if they gave Mart half a chance he would come out top! Do or die that was his watch- word.”
“I know! I know!”
His eyes were sparkling and so I suppose were mine, while with a joyous rush of racy words, (punctuated by me with “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes”) he told of a long despatch from the Lieutenant published by one of the London papers, in which Martin had been specially mentioned how he had been put in command of some difficult and perilous expedition, and had worked wonders.
“How splendid! How glorious! How perfectly magnificent!” I said.
“Isn’t it?” said the doctor, and for a few moments more we bandied quick questions and replies like children playing at battledore and shuttlecock. Then he said:
“But I’m after thinking it’s mortal strange I never heard him mention you. There was only one chum at home he used to talk about and that was a man a boy, I mean. Mally he was calling him that’s short for Maloney, I suppose.”
“For Mary,” I said.
“Mary, is it? Why, by the saints, so it is! Where in the name of St. Patrick has been the Irish head at me that I never thought of that before? And you were . . . Yes? Well, by the powers, ye’ve a right to be proud of him, for he was thinking pearls and diamonds of you. I was mortal jealous of Mally, I remember. ‘Mally ‘s a stunner,’ he used to say. ‘Follow you anywhere, if you wanted it, in spite of the devil and hell.'”
The sparkling eyes were growing misty by this time but the woman in me made me say I couldn’t help it
“I dare say he’s had many girl friends since my time, though?”
“Narra a one. The girls used to be putting a glime on him in Dublin they’re the queens of the world too, those Dublin girls but never a skute of the eye was he giving to the one of them. I used to think it was work, but maybe it wasn’t . . . maybe it was. . . .”
I dare not let him finish what I saw he was going to say I didn’t know what would happen to me if he did so I jumped in by telling him that, if he would step into the car, I would drive him back to Rome.
He did so, and all the way he talked of Martin, his courage and resource and the hardships he had gone through, until (with backward thoughts of Alma and my husband riding away over the Campagna) my heart, which had been leaping like a lamb, began to ache and ache.
We returned by the Old Appian Way, where the birds were building their nests among the crumbling tombs, through the Porta San Paolo, and past the grave of the “young English poet” of whom I have always thought it was not so sad that he died of consumption as in the bitterness of a broken heart.
All this time I was so much at home with the young Irish doctor, who was Martin’s friend, that it was not until I was putting him down at his hotel that I remembered I did not even know his name.
It was O’Sullivan.
EVERY day during our visit to Rome I had reminded myself of the Reverend Mother’s invitation to call on her, and a sense of moral taint had prevented me, but now I determined to see her at least by going to Benediction at her Convent church the very next day.
It happened, however, that this was the time when the Artists’ Club of Rome were giving a Veglione (a kind of fancy-dress ball), and as Alma and my husband desired to go to it, and were still in the way of using me to keep themselves in countenance, I consented to accompany them on condition that I did not dress or dance, and that they would go with me to Benediction the following day.
“Dear sweet girl!” said Alma. “We’ll do whatever you like. Of course we will.”
I wore my soft satin without any ornaments, and my husband merely put scarlet facings on the lapels of his evening coat, but Alma was clad in a gorgeous dress of old gold, with Oriental skirts which showed her limbs in front but had a long train behind, and made her look like a great vampire bat.
It was eleven o’clock before we reached the theatre, but already the auditorium was full, and so well had the artists done their work of decoration, making the air alive with floating specks of many-coloured lights, like the fire-flies at Nemi, that the scene was one of enchantment.
It was difficult to believe that on the other side of the walls was the street, with the clanging electric bells and people hurrying by with their collars up, for the night was cold, and it had begun to rain as we came in, and one poor woman, with a child under her shawl, was standing by the entrance trying to sell evening papers.
I sat alone in a box on the ground tier while Alma and my husband and their friends were below on the level of the poltroni (the stalls) that had been arranged for the dancing, which began immediately after we arrived and went on without a break until long after midnight.
Then there was supper on the stage, and those who did not eat drank a good deal until nearly everybody seemed to be under the influence of alcohol. As a consequence many of the people, especially some of the women (not good women I fear), seemed to lose all control of themselves, singing snatches of noisy songs, sipping out of the men’s glasses, taking the smoke of cigarettes out of the men’s mouths, sitting on the men’s knees, and even riding astride on the men’s arms and shoulders.
I bore these sights as long as I could, making many fruitless appeals to my husband to take me home; and I was just about to leave of myself, being sick of the degradation of my sex, when a kind of rostrum, with an empty chair on top of it, was carried in on the shoulders of a number of men.
This was for the enthronement of the Queen of Beauty, and as it passed round the arena, with the mock judges in paper coronets, walking ahead to make their choice, some of the women, lost to all sense of modesty, were shouting “Take me! Take me!”
I felt sure they would take Alma, so I reached forward to get a better view of her, where she stood below my box; but as they approached her, with the chair still empty, I saw her make a movement in my direction and say something to the judges about “the little nun,” which made my husband nod his head and then laugh uproariously.
At the next moment, before I knew what they were doing, six or seven men jumped into my box, lifted me on to the rostrum and placed me in the chair, whereupon the whole noisy company in the theatre broke into wild shouts of salutation and pelted me with flowers and confetti.
If there was any pride there was more mortification in the position to which Alma and my husband had exposed me, for as I was being carried round the arena, with the sea of foaming faces below me, all screaming out of their hot and open mouths, I heard the men cry:
“Not so serious, Mademoiselle!”
It would do no good to say what memories of other scenes flashed back on my mind as I was being borne along in the mad procession. I felt as if it would last for ever. But it came to an end at length, and as soon as I was released, I begged my husband again to take me home, and when he said, “Not yet; well all be going by-and-by,” I stole away by myself, found a cab, and drove back to the hotel.
The day was dawning as I passed through the stony streets, and when I reached my room, and pulled down my dark green blinds, the bell of the Capuchin monastery in the Via Veneto was ringing and the monks were saying the first of their offices.
I must have been some time in bed, hiding my hot face in the bed-clothes, when Price, my maid, came in to apologise for not having seen me come back alone. The pain of the woman’s scrutiny was more than I could bear at that moment, so I tried to dismiss her, but I could not get her to go, and at last she said:
“If you please, my lady, I want to say something.”
I gave her no encouragement, yet she continued.
“I daresay it’s as much as my place is worth, but I’m bound to say it.”
Still I said nothing, yet she went on:
“His Lordship and Madame have also arrived. . . . They came back half an hour ago. And just now … I saw his lordship . . . coming out of Madame ‘s room.”
“Go away, woman, go away,” I cried in the fierce agony of my shame, and she went out at last, closing the door noisily behind her.
We did not go next day to Benediction at the Reverend Mother’s church. But late the same night, when it was quite dark, I crept out of my room into the noisy streets, hardly knowing where my footsteps were leading me, until I found myself in the piazza of the Convent of the Sacred Heart.
It was quiet enough there. Only the Carabinieri were walking on the paved way with measured steps, and the bell of the Dominican monastery was slowly ringing under the silent stars. I could see the light on the Pope’s loggia at the Vatican and hear the clock of St. Peter’s striking nine.
There were lights in the windows of some of the dormitories also, and by that I knew that the younger children, the children of the “infant Jesus, were going to bed. There was a light too, in the large window of the church, and that told me that the bigger girls were saying their night prayers.
Creeping close to the convent wall I heard the girls’ voices rising and falling, and then through the closed door of the church came the muffled sound of their evening hymn –
“Ave maris stella
Dei Mater Alma”
I did not know why I was putting myself wilfully to this bitter pain the pain of remembering the happy years in which I myself was a girl singing so, and then telling myself that other girls were there now who knew nothing of me.
I thought of the Reverend Mother, and then of my own mother, my saint, my angel, who had told me to think of her when I sang that hymn; and then I remembered where I was and what had happened to me.
“Virgin of all virgins,
To thy shelter take me.”
I felt like an outcast. A stifling sensation came into my throat and I dropped to my knees in the darkness. I thought I was broken-hearted.
Nor long after that we left Italy on our return to England. “We were to reach home by easy stages so as to see some of the great capitals of Europe, but I had no interest in the journey
Our first stay was at Monte Carlo, that sweet garden of the Mediterranean which God seems to smile upon and man to curse.
If I had been allowed to contemplate the beautiful spectacle of nature I think I could have been content, but Alma, with her honeyed and insincere words, took me to the Casino on the usual plea of keeping her in countenance.
I hated the place from the first, with its stale air, its chink of louis d’or, its cry of the croupiers, its strained faces about the tables, and its general atmosphere of wasted hopes and fears and needless misery and despair.
As often as I could I crept out to look at the flower fetes in the streets, or to climb the hill of La Turbie and think I was on my native rocks with Martin Conrad, or even to sit in my room and watch the poor wounded pigeons from the pigeon-traps as they tumbled and ducked into the sea after the shots fired, by cruel and unsportsmanlike sportsmen, from the rifle-range below.
In Monte Carlo my husband’s vices seemed to me to grow rank and fast. The gambling fever took complete possession of him. At first he won and then he drank heavily, but afterwards he lost and then his nature became still more ugly and repulsive.
One evening towards eight o’clock, I was in my room, trying to comfort a broken-winged pigeon which had come floundering through the open window, when my husband entered with wild eyes.
“The red’s coming up at all the tables,” he cried breathlessly. “Give me some money, quick!”
I told him I had no money except the few gold pieces in my purse.
“You’ve a cheque book give me a cheque, then.”
I told him that even if I gave him a cheque he could not cash it that night, the banks being closed.
“The jewellers are open though, and you have jewels, haven’t you? Stop fooling with that creature, and let me have some of them to pawn.”
The situation was too abject for discussion, so I pointed to the drawer in which my jewels were kept, and he tore it open, took what he wanted and went out hurriedly without more words.
After that I saw no more of him for two days, when with black rings about his eyes he came in to say he must leave “this accursed place” immediately or we should all be ruined.
Our last stopping-place was Paris, and in my ignorance of the great French capital which has done so much for the world, I thought it must be the sink of every kind of corruption.
We put up at a well-known hotel in the Champs Elysees, and there (as well as in the cafes in the Bois and at the races at Longchamps on Sundays) we met the same people again, most of them English and Americans on their way home after the winter. It seemed to me strange that there should be so many men and women in the world with nothing to do, merely loafing round it like tramps the richest being the idlest, and the idlest the most immoral.
My husband knew many Frenchmen of the upper classes, and I think he spent several hours every day at their clubs, but (perhaps at Alma’s instigation) lie made us wallow through the filth of Paris by night.
“It will be lots of fun,” said Alma. “And then who is to know us in places like those?”
I tolerated this for a little while, and then refused to be dragged around any longer as a cloak for Alma’s pleasures. Telling myself that if I continued to share my husband’s habits of life, for any reason or under any pretext, I should become like him, and my soul would rot inch by inch, I resolved to be clean in my own eyes and to resist the contaminations of his company.
As a consequence, he became more and more reckless, and Alma made no efforts to restrain him, so that it came to pass at last that they went together to a scandalous entertainment which was for a while the talk of the society papers throughout Europe.
I know no more of this entertainment than I afterwards learned from those sources that it was given by a notorious woman, who was not shut out of society because she was “the good friend” of a King; that she did the honours with clever imitative elegance; that her salon that night was crowded with such male guests as one might see at the court of a queen princes, dukes, marquises, counts, English noblemen and members of parliament, as well as some reputable women of my own and other countries; that the tables were laid for supper at four o’clock with every delicacy of the season and wines of the rarest vintage; that after supper dancing was resumed with increased animation; and that the dazzling and improper spectacle terminated with a Chatne diabolique at seven in the morning, when the sun was streaming through the windows and the bells of the surrounding churches were ringing for early mass.
I had myself risen early that morning to go to communion at the Madeleine, and never shall I forget the effect of cleansing produced upon me by the sacred sacrament. From the moment when the priest standing at the foot of the altar the choir sang the Eyrie eleison, down to the solemn silence of the elevation, I had a sense of being washed from all the taint of the contaminating days since my marriage.
The music was Perosi’s, I remember, and the voices in the Gloria in excelsis, which I used to sing myself, seemed to carry up the cry of my sorrowful heart to the very feet of the Virgin whose gracious figure hung above me.
“Cleanse me and intercede for me, Mother of my God.”
It was as though our Blessed Lady did so, for as I walked out of the church and down the broad steps in front of it, I had a feeling of purity and lightness that I had never known since my time at the Sacred Heart.
It was a beautiful day, with all the freshness and fragrance of early morning in summer, when the white stone houses of Paris seem to blush in the sunrise; and as I walked up the Champs Elysees on my way back to the hotel. I met under the chestnut trees, which were then in bloom, a little company of young girls returning to school after their first communion.
How sweet they looked! In their white muslin frocks, white shoes and stockings and gloves, white veils and coronets of white flowers, they were twittering away as merrily as the little birds that were singing unseen in the leaves above them.
It made me feel like a child myself to look at their sweet faces; but turning into the hotel I felt like a woman too, for I thought the great and holy mystery, the sacrament of union and love, had given me such strength that I could meet any further wrong I might have to endure in my walk through the world with charity and forgiveness.
But how little a woman knows of her heart until it is tried in the fires of passion!
As I entered the salon which (as usual) divided my husband’s bedroom from mine, I came upon my maid, Price, listening intently at my husband’s closed door. This seemed to me so improper that I was beginning to reprove her, when she put her finger to her lip and coming over to me with her black eyes ablaze she said:
“I know you will pack me off for what I’m going to say, yet I can’t help that. You’ve stood too much already, my lady, but if you are a woman and have any pride in yourself as a wife, go and listen at that door and see if you can stand any more.”
With that she went out of the salon, and I tried to go to my own room, but I could not stir. Something held me to the spot on which I stood, and I found myself listening to the voices which I could distinctly hear in my husband’s bedroom.
There were two voices, one a man’s, loud and reckless, the other a woman’s soft and cautious.
There was no need to tell myself whose voices they were, and neither did I ask myself any questions. I did not put to my mind the pros and cons of the case for myself or the case for my husband. I only thought and felt and behaved as any other wife would think and feel and behave at such a moment. An ugly and depraved thing, which my pride or my self-respect had never hitherto permitted me to believe in, suddenly leapt into life.
I was outraged. I was a victim of the treachery, the duplicity, the disloyalty, and the smothered secrecy of husband and friend.
My heart and soul were aflame with a sense of wrong. All the sweetening and softening and purifying effects of the sacrament were gone in an instant, and, moving stealthily across the carpet towards my husband’s door, I swiftly turned the handle.
The door was locked.
I heard a movement inside the room and in a moment I hurried from the salon into the corridor, intending to enter by another door. As I was about to do so I heard the lock turned back by a cautious hand within. Then I swung the door open and boldly entered the room.
Nobody was there except my husband.
But I was just in time to catch the sound of rustling skirts in the adjoining apartment and to see a door closed gently behind them.
I looked around. Although the sun was shining, the blinds were down and the air was full of a rank odour of stale tobacco such as might have been brought back in people’s clothes from that shameless woman’s salon.
My husband, who had clearly been drinking, was looking at me with a half-senseless grin. His thin hair was a little disordered. His prominent front teeth showed hideously. I saw that he was trying to carry things off with an air.
“This is an unexpected pleasure. I think it must be the first time . . . the very first time that . . .”
I felt deadly cold; I almost swooned; I could scarcely breathe, but I said:
“Is that all you’ve got to say to me?”
“All? What else, my dear! I don’t understand . . .”
“You understand quite well,” I answered, and then looking towards the door of the adjoining apartment, I said, “both of you understand.”
My husband began to laugh a drunken, idiotic laugh.
“Oh, you mean that . . . perhaps you imagine that …”
“Listen,” I said. “This is the end of everything between you and me.”
“The end? Why, I thought that was long ago. In fact I thought everything ended before it began.”
“I mean …” I knew I was faltering … “I mean that I can no longer keep up the farce of being your wife.”
“Farce!” Again he laughed. “I congratulate you, my dear. Farce is exactly the word for it. Our relations have been a farce ever since the day we were married, and if anything has gone wrong you have only yourself to blame for it. What ‘s a man to do whose wife is no company for anybody but the saints and angels?”
His coarse ridicule cut me to the quick. I was humiliated by the thought that after all in his own gross way my husband had something to say for himself.
Knowing I was no match for him I wanted to crawl away without another word. But my silence or the helpless expression of my face must have been more powerful than my speech, for after a few seconds in which he went on saying in his drawling way that I had been no wife to him, and if anything had happened I had brought it on myself, he stopped, and neither of us spoke for a moment.
Then feeling that if I stayed any longer in that room I should faint, I turned to go, and he opened the door for me and bowed low, perhaps in mockery, as I passed out.
When I reached my own bedroom I was so weak that I almost dropped, and so cold that my maid had to give me brandy and put hot bottles to my feet.
And then the tears came and I cried like a child.
I WAS far from well next morning and Price wished to keep me in bed, but I got up immediately when I heard that my husband was talking of returning to London.
Our journey was quite uneventful. We three sat together in the railway carriage and in the private cabin on the steamer, with no other company than Bimbo, my husband’s terrier, and Prue, Alma’s Pekingese spaniel.
Although he made no apology for his conduct of the day before my husband was quiet and conciliatory, and being sober he looked almost afraid, as if telling himself that he might have to meet my father soon the one man in the world of whom he seemed to stand in fear.
Alma looked equally frightened, but she carried off her nervousness with a great show of affection, saying she was sorry I was feeling “badly,” that France and the South did not agree with me, and that I should be ever so much better when I was “way up north.”
“We put up at a well-known hotel near Trafalgar Square, the same that in our girlhood had been the subject of Alma’s dreams of future bliss, and I could not help observing that while my husband was selecting our rooms she made a rather ostentatious point of asking for an apartment on another floor.
It was late when we arrived, so I went to bed immediately, being also anxious to be alone that I might think out my course of action.
I was then firmly resolved that one way or other my life with my husband should come to an end; that I would no longer be befouled by the mire he had been dragging me through; that I should live a clean life and drink a pure draught, and oh, how my very soul seemed to thirst for it!
This was the mood in which I went to sleep, but when I awoke in the morning, almost before the dawn, the strength of my resolution ebbed away. I listened to the rumble of the rubber-bound wheels of the carriages and motor-cars that passed under my window and, remembering that I had not a friend in London, I felt small and helpless. What could I do alone? Where could I turn for assistance?
Instinctively I knew it would be of no use to appeal to my father, for though it was possible that he might knock my husband down, it was not conceivable that he would encourage me to separate from him.
In my loneliness and helplessness I felt like a ship-wrecked sailor, who, having broken away from the foundering vessel that would have sucked him under, is yet tossing on a raft with the threatening ocean on every side, and looking vainly for a sail.
At last I thought of Mr. Curphy, my father’s advocate, and decided to send a telegram to him asking for the name of some solicitor in London to whom I could apply for advice.
To carry out this intention I went down to the hall about nine o’clock, when people were passing into the breakfast-room, and visitors were calling at the bureau, and liveried page-boys were shouting names in the corridors.
There was a little writing-room at one side of the hall and I sat there to write my telegram. It ran
“Please send name and address reliable solicitor London whom I can consult on important business.”
I was holding the telegraph-form in my hand and reading my message again and again to make sure that it would lead to no mischief, when I began to think of Martin Conrad.
It seemed to me that some one had mentioned his name, but I told myself that must have been a mistake, that, being so helpless and so much in need of a friend at that moment, my heart and not my ears had heard it.
Nevertheless as I sat holding my telegraph-form I became conscious of somebody who was moving about me. It was a man, for I could smell the sweet peaty odour of his Harris tweeds.
At length with that thrill which only the human voice can bring to us when it is the voice of one from whom we have been long parted, I heard somebody say, from the other side of the desk:
“Mary, is it you?”
I looked up, the blood rushed to my face and a dazzling mist floated before my eyes, so that for a moment I could hardly see who was there. But I knew who it was it was Martin himself.
He came down on me like a breeze from the mountain, took me by both hands, telegram and all, and said:
“My goodness, this is stunning!”
I answered, as well as I could for the confusion that overwhelmed me.
“I’m so glad, so glad!”
“How well you are looking! A little thin, perhaps, but such a colour!”
“I’m so glad, so glad!” I repeated, though I knew I was
“When did you arrive?”
I told him, and he said:
“We came into port only yesterday. And to think that you and I should come to the same hotel and meet on the very first morning! It’s like a fate, as our people in the island say. But it’s stunning, perfectly stunning!”
A warm tide of joy was coursing through me and taking away my breath, but I managed to say:
“I’ve heard about your expedition. You had great hardships.”
“That was nothing! Just a little pleasure-trip down to the eighty-sixth latitude.”
“And great successes?”
“That was nothing either. The chief was jolly good, and the boys were bricks.”
“I’m so glad, so glad!” I said again, for a kind of dumb joy had taken possession of me, and I went on saying the same thing over and over again, as people do when they are very happy.
For two full minutes I felt happier than I had ever been in my life before; and then an icy chill came over me, for I remembered that I had been married since I saw Martin Conrad last and I did not know how I was to break the news to him.
Just then my husband and Alma came down the lift, and seeing me with a stranger, as they crossed the hall to go into the breakfast-room, they came up and spoke.
I had to introduce them and it was hard to do, for it was necessary to reveal everything in a word. I looked at Martin Conrad when I presented him to my husband and he did not move a muscle. Then I looked at my husband and under a very small bow his face grew dark.
I could not help seeing the difference between the two men as they stood together Martin with his sea-blue eyes and his look of splendid health, and my husband with his sallow cheeks and his appearance of wasted strength and somehow from some unsearchable depths of my soul the contrast humbled me.
When I introduced Alma she took Martin’s hand and held it while she gazed searchingly into his eyes from under her eyebrows, as she always did when she was being presented to a man; but I saw that in this instance her glance fell with no more effect on its object than a lighted vesta on a running stream.
After the usual banal phrases my husband inquired if Martin was staying in the house, and then asked if he would dine with us some dav.
“Certainly! Delighted! With all the pleasure in the world,” said Martin.
“Then.” said my husband with rather frigid politeness, “you will see more of your friend Mary.”
“Yes,” said Alma, in a way that meant much, “you will see more of your friend Mary.”
“Don’t you worry about that, ma’am. You bet I will,” said Martin, looking straight into Alma’s eyes; and though she laughed as she passed into the breakfast-room with my husband, I could see that for the first time in her life a man’s face had frightened her.
“Then you knew?” I said, when they were gone.
“Yes; a friend of mine who met you abroad came down to see us into port and he . . .”
“That’s the man! Isn’t he a boy? And, my gracious, the way he speaks of you! But now . . . now you must go to breakfast yourself, and I must be off about my business.”
“Don’t go yet,” I said.
“I’ll stay all day if you want me to; but I promised to meet the Lieutenant on the ship in half an hour, and . . . ”
“Then you must go.”
“Not yet. Sit down again. Five minutes will do no harm. And by the way, now that I look at you again, I ‘m not so sure that you . . . Italy, Egypt, there’s enough sun down there, but you’re pale … a little pale, aren’t you?”
I tried to make light of my pallor but Martin looked uneasy, and after a moment he asked:
“How long are you staying in London?”
I told him I did not know, whereupon he said:
“Well, I’m to be here a month, making charts and tables and reports for the Royal Geographical Society, but if you want me for anything … do you want me now?”
“No-o, no, not now,” I answered.
“Well, if you do want me for anything anything at all, mind, just pass the word and the charts and the tables and the reports and the Royal Geographical Society may go to the . . . Well, somewhere.”
I laughed and rose and told him he ought to go, though at the bottom of my heart I was wishing him to stay, and thinking how little and lonely I was, while here was a big brave man who could protect me from every danger.
We walked together to the door, and there I took his hand and held it, feeling, like a child, that if I let him go he might be lost in the human ocean outside and I should see no more of him.
At last, struggling hard with a lump that was gathering in my throat, I said:
“Martin, I have been so happy to see you. I’ve never been so happy to see anybody in my life. You’ll let me see you again, won’t you?”
“Won’t I? Bet your life I will,” he said, and then, as if seeing that my lip was trembling and my eyes were beginning to fill, he broke into a cheerful little burst of our native tongue, so as to give me a “heise” as we say in Ellan and to make me laugh at the last moment.
“Look here keep to-morrow for me, will yer if them ones” (my husband and Alma) “is afther axing ye to do anything else just tell them there’s an ould shipmate ashore, and he’s wanting ye to go ‘asploring.’ See? So-long!”
It had been like a dream, a beautiful dream, and as soon as I came to myself in the hall, with the visitors calling at the bureau and the page-boys shouting in the corridors, I found that my telegraph-form, crumpled and crushed, was still in the palm of my left hand.
I tore it up and went in to breakfast.
Nothing counted in the presence of our love. To be only we two together — that was everything. The world and the world’s laws, the Church and the Canons of the Church were blotted out, forgotten, lost.
Hall Caine’s 1913 novel about a conflict between marriage and love, The Woman Thou Gavest Me, is another of his great Manx novels, obvious even in spite of Caine’s attempt to veil the location through pseudonyms.
Having investigated the conflicts between passion, love and social mores in nearly all of his previous works, Caine used his last novel before the advent of World War One to investigate a topic sure to cause offence across wide sets of the public: marriage and the divorce laws. The plot centres on Mary O’Neill, who submissively agrees to the pressures of family and society to marry Lord Raa – an act that she regrets as he proves himself to be a cad, which is shown in stark contrast when Martin Conrad, her great love, returns into her life. The furore that was created upon the release of the novel was almost inevitable, but it only served to publicise the novel further and boost the sales of this best-selling novel.
Unlike his other works, The Woman Thou Gavest Me is startling in that Caine chooses the write the story in the first person, subtitling the novel: “The story of Mary O’Neill.” But for the extended section towards the close of The Deemster, no other Manx novel of Caine’s has a first-personal narrative. In addition to this, that he chose here to present the story in a woman’s voice is all the more startling. The effect is to give the novel a life and readability at times lacking in his other works, as it relieves some of the weight that his didacticism can sometimes cause.
This novel is often missed in surveys of Caine’s Manx novels due to there being no mention of the “Isle of Man” or anything “Manx” throughout. However, the names Caine substituted for the Isle of Man and its locations are so obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Island, its history and its language, it seems most unlikely that Caine could have expected anyone not to know where the novel was set. That it was on the island of Ellan, whose main town was Blackwater, where people affectionately refer to children as “bogh millish,” would not have fooled many, even off the Island. It is one of the book’s many pleasures today to decipher these Manx obscurities, although the novel itself deserves our attention in being another in the collection of great Manx novels written by Hall Caine, the Island’s greatest novelist.
Hall Caine is without a doubt the greatest novelist that the Isle of Man has ever known. He was the best-selling novelist on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 19th Century, writing novels such as The Manxman which grew comparisons to Tolstoy and earned him recognition from Royalty and Prime Ministers. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Hall Caine in the literary history of the Isle of Man.