Page images
PDF
EPUB

accounts of the weather, and of the doings of her friends at home. But now the time was at hand when she must prepare them for her marriage with Chiltern; for they would expect her in St. Louis, and she could not go there. And if she wrote them, they might try to stop the marriage, or at least to delay it for some years.

Was it possible that a lingering doubt remained in her mind that to postpone her happiness would perhaps be to lose it? In her exile she had learned enough to know that a divorced woman is like a rudderless ship at sea, at the mercy of wind and wave and current. She could not go back to her life in St. Louis: her situation there would be un. bearable: her friends would not be the same friends. No, she had crossed her Rubicon and destroyed the bridge: deep within her she felt that delay would be fatal, both to her and Chiltern. Long enough had the banner of their love been trailed in the dust.

Summer came again, with its anniversaries and its drag. ging, interminable weeks: demoralizing summer, when Mrs. Mayo quite frankly appeared at her side window in a dressing sacque, and Honora longed to do the same. But time never stands absolutely still, and the day arrived when Mr. Beckwith called in a carriage. Honora, with an audibly beating heart, got into it, and they drove down town, past the department store where Mr. Mayo spent his days, and new blocks of banks and business houses that flanked the wide street, where the roaring and clanging of the ubiquitous trolley cars resounded.

Honora could not define her sensations-excitement and shame and fear and hope and joy were so commingled. The colours of the red and yellow brick had never been so brilliant in the sunshine. They stopped before the new court-house and climbed the granite steps. In her sensi. tive state, Honora thought that some of the people paused to look after them, and that some were smiling. One woman, she thought, looked compassionate. Within, they crossed the marble pavement, the Honourable Dave handed her into an elevator, and when it stopped she followed him as in a

a

dream to an oak-panelled door marked with a legend she did not read. Within was an office, with leather chairs, a large oak desk, a spittoon, and portraits of grave legal gentlemen on the wall.

“This is Judge Whitman's office,” explained the Honourable Dave. "He'll let you stay here until the case is called."

“Is he the judge—before whom—the case is to be tried?” asked Honora.

“He surely is," answered the Honourable Dave. "Whitman's a good friend of mine. In fact, I may say, without exaggeration, I had something to do with his election. Now you mustn't get flustered,” he added. “It isn't any. thing like as bad as goin' to the dentist. It don't amount to shucks, as we used to say in Missouri.”

With these cheerful words of encouragement he slipped out of a side door into what was evidently the court room, for Honora heard a droning. After a long interval he reappeared and beckoned her with a crooked finger. She arose and followed him into the court room.

All was bustle and confusion there, and her counsel whispered that they were breaking up for the day. The judge was stretching himself; several men who must have been lawyers, and with whom Mr. Beckwith was exchanging amenities behind the railing, were arranging their books and papers; some of the people were leaving, and others talking in groups about the room. The Honourable Dave whispered to the judge, a tall, lank, cadaverous gentleman with iron-grey hair, who nodded. Honora was led forward. The Honourable Dave, standing very close to the judge and some distance from her, read in a low voice something that she could not catch-supposedly the petition. It was all quite as vague to Honora as the trial of the Jack of Hearts; the buzzing of the groups still continued around the court room, and nobody appeared in the least interested. This was a comfort, though it robbed the ceremony of all vestige of reality. It seemed incredible that the majestic and awful Institution of the ages could be dissolved with no smoke or fire, with such infinite indifference, and so much spitting. What was the use of all the pomp and circumstance and ceremony to tie the knot if it could be cut in the routine of a day's business?

The solemn fact that she was being put under oath meant nothing to her. This, too, was slurred and mumbled. She found herself, trembling, answering questions now from her counsel, now from the judge; and it is to be doubted to this day whether either heard her answers. Most convenient and considerate questions they were. When and where she was married, how long she had lived with her husband, what happened when they ceased to live together, and had he failed ever since to contribute to her support? Mercifully, Mr. Beckwith was in the habit of coaching his wards beforehand. A reputable citizen of Salomon City was produced to prove her residence, and somebody cried out something, not loudly, in which she heard the name of Spence mentioned twice. The judge said, “Take your decree,” and picked up a roll of papers and walked away. Her knees became weak, she looked around her dizzily, and beheld the triumphant professional smile of the Honourable Dave Beckwith.

“It didn't hurt much, did it?” he asked. “Allow me to congratulate you."

“Is it—is it all over?” she said, quite dazed. “Just like that,” he said. “You're free."

“Free!” The word rang in her ears as she drove back to the little house that had been her home. The Honourable Dave lifted his felt hat as he handed her out of the carriage, and said he would call again in the evening to see if he could do anything further for her. Mathilde, who had been watching from the window, opened the door, and led her mistress into the parlour.

“It's it's all over, Mathilde," she said.

"Mon dieu, madame,” said Mathilde. "C'est simple comme bonjour!”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XI
In Which It Is All Done Over Again
All

morning she had gazed on the shining reaches of the Hudson, their colour deepening to blue as she neared the sea. A gold-bound volume of Shelley, with his name on the fly-leaf, lay in her lap. And two lines she repeated softly to herself-two lines that held a vision:

"He was as the sun in his fierce youth,

As terrible and lovely as a tempest;" She summoned him out of the chaos of the past, and the past became the present, and he stood before her as though in the flesh. Nay, she heard his voice, his laugh, she even recognized again the smouldering flames in his eyes as he glanced into hers, and his characteristic manners and gestures. Honora wondered. In vain, during those long months of exile had she tried to reconstruct him thus the vision in its entirety would not come: rare, fleeting, partial, and tantalizing glimpses she had been vouchsafed, it is true. The whole of him had been withheld until this breathless hour before the dawn of her happiness.

Yet, though his own impatient spirit had fared forth to meet her with this premature gift of his attributes, she had to fight the growing fear within her. Now that the days of suffering were as they had not been, insistent questions dinned in her ears: was she entitled to the joys to come? What had she done to earn them? Had hers not been an attempt, on a gigantic scale, to cheat the fates? Nor could she say whether this feeling were a wholly natural failure to grasp a future too big, or the old sense of the unreality of events that had followed her so persistently.

The Hudson disappeared. Factories, bridges, beflagged week-end resorts, ramshackle houses, and blocks of new buildings were scattered here and there. The train was

[ocr errors]

running on a causeway between miles of tenements where women and children, overtaken by lassitude, hung out of the windows: then the blackness of the tunnel, and Honora closed her eyes. Four minutes, three minutes, two minutes.

The motion ceased. At the steps of the car a uniformed station porter seized her bag, and she started to walk down the long, narrow platform. Suddenly she halted.

“Drop anything, Miss ?” inquired the porter.

"No," answered Honora, faintly. He looked at her in concern, and she began to walk on again, more slowly.

It had suddenly come over her that the man she was going to meet she scarcely knew! Shyness seized her, a shyness that bordered on panic. And what was he really like, that she should put her whole trust in him? She glanced behind her: that way was closed: she had a mad desire to get away, to hide, to think. It must have been an obsession that had possessed her all these months. The porter was looking again, and he voiced her predicament.

“There's only one way out, Miss.”

And then, amongst the figures massed behind the exit in the grill, she saw him, his face red-bronze with the sea tan, his crisp, curly head bared, his eyes alight with a terrifying welcome; and a tremor of a fear akin to ecstasy ran through her: the fear of the women of days gone by whose courage carried them to the postern or the strand, and fainted there. She could have taken no step farther -and there was no need. New strength flowed from the hand she held that was to carry her on and on.

He spoke her name. He led her passive, obedient, through the press to the side street, and then he paused and looked into her burning face.

“I have you at last,” he said. “Are you happy?”

“I don't know," she faltered. “Oh, Hugh, it all seems so strange! I don't know what I have done."

“I know," he said exultantly; “but to save my soul I can't believe it."

She watched him, bewildered, while he put her maid into a cab, and by an effort roused herself.

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »