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   Chapter 37 TO FORGET IT ALL

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 22538

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


When Philippa read the announcement in the Times, she held her breath for a space. It was at breakfast. Her father was reading the news; she was looking through that column which interests us all more than any other. Her eye fell upon her cousin's name. She read, she changed colour, she read again. Her self-control returned. She laid down the paper. 'Here,' she said, 'is a very astonishing announcement!' A very astonishing announcement indeed!

* * *

An hour later she called upon Armorel at her rooms.

'You are left quite alone in consequence of this-this amazing revelation?'

'Quite. Not that I mind being alone. And Effie Wilmot is coming.'

'Nothing in the world,' said Philippa, 'could have astonished me more. It is not so much the fact of the marriage-indeed, my cousin's name was mentioned at one time a good deal in connection with hers-but the dreadful duplicity. He sent her to you-she came to us-as a widow. And for three years they have been married! Is it possible?'

'Indeed,' said Armorel, 'I know nothing. She left me without a cause, and now I hear of her marriage. That is all.'

'My dear, the thing reflects upon us. It is my cousin who has brought this trouble upon you.'

'Oh! no, Philippa! As if you could be held responsible for his actions! And, indeed, you must not speak of trouble. I have had none. My companion was never my friend in any sense: we had nothing in common: we must have parted company very soon: she irritated me in many ways, especially in her blind praise of the man who now turns out to be her husband. I really feel much happier now that she has gone.'

'But you have no companion-no chaperon.'

'I don't want any chaperon, I assure you.'

'But you cannot go into society alone.'

'I never do go into society. You know that nobody ever called upon Mrs. Elstree-or Mrs. Feilding, as we must now call her. There are only two houses in the whole of this great London into which I have found an entrance-yours and Mr. Jagenal's.'

'Yes; I know now. And most disgraceful it is that you should have been so sacrificed. That also is my cousin's doing. He represented his wife-it seems difficult to believe that he has got a wife-as a person belonging to a wide and very desirable circle of friends. Not a soul called upon her! The world cannot continue to know a woman who has disappeared bodily for three long years, during which she was reported to have been seen on the stage of a country theatre. What has she been doing? Why has she been in hiding? It was culpable negligence in Mr. Jagenal not to make inquiries. What it must be called in my cousin others may determine. As for you, Armorel, you have been most disgracefully and shamefully treated.'

'I suppose I ought to have had a companion who was recognised by society. But it seems to matter very little. I have made one or two new friends, and I have found an old friend.'

'It is not too late, of course, even for this season. Now, my dear Armorel, I am charged with a mission. It is to bring you back with me-to get you to stay with us for the season and, at least, until the summer holidays. That is, if you would be satisfied with our friends.'

'Thank you, Philippa, a thousand times. I do not think I can accept your kindness, however, because I feel as if I must go away somewhere. I have had a great deal of anxiety and worry. It has been wretched to feel-as I have been made to feel-that I was in the midst of intrigues and designs, the nature of which I hardly understood. I must go away out of the atmosphere. I will return to London when I have forgotten this time. I cannot tell you all that has been going on, except that I have discovered one deception after another--'

'She is an abominable woman,' said Philippa.

'On the island of Samson, at least, there will be no wives who call themselves widows, and no men who call themselves'-painters and poets, she was going to say, but she checked herself-'call themselves,' she substituted, 'single men, when they are already married.'

'But, surely you will not go away now-just at the very beginning of the season?'

'The season is nothing at all to me.'

'Oh! But, Armorel-think. You ought to belong to society. You are wealthy: you are a most beautiful girl: you are quite young: and you have so many gifts and accomplishments. My dear cousin, you might do so well, so very well. There is no position to which you could not aspire.'

Armorel laughed. 'Not in that way,' she said. 'I have already told you, dear Philippa, that I am not able to think of things in that way.'

'Always that dream of girlhood, dear? Well, then, come and show yourself, if only to make the men go mad with love and the women with envy. Stay with us. Or, if you prefer it, I will find you a companion who really does belong to the world.'

'No, no; for the present I have had enough of companions. I want nothing more than to go home and rest. I feel just a little battered. My first experience of London has not been, you see, quite what I expected. Let me go away, and come back when I feel more charitable towards my fellow-creatures.'

'You have had a most horrid experience,' said Philippa. 'I trembled for you when I learned who your companion was. I was at school with her, and-well, I do not love her. But what could I do? Mr. Jagenal said she had been most strongly recommended-I could not interfere: it was too late: and besides, after what had happened, years before, it would have looked vindictive. And then she has been rich and is now poor, and perhaps, I thought, she wanted money: and when one has quarrelled it is best to say nothing against your enemy. Besides, I knew nothing definite against her. She said she was a widow-my cousin Alec said that he had been an old friend of her husband: he spoke of having helped him. Oh! he made up quite a long and touching story about his dead friend. So, you see, I refrained, and if I could say nothing good, I would say nothing bad.'

'I am sure that no one can possibly blame you in the matter, Philippa.'

'Yet I blame myself. For if I had caused a few questions to be asked at first, all the lies about the widowhood might have been avoided.'

'Others would have been invented.'

'Perhaps. Well-she is married, and I don't suppose her stay here will have done you any real harm. As for her, to go masquerading as a widow and to tell a thousand lies daily can hardly do any woman much good. Have you made up your mind how you will treat her if you should meet?'

'She has settled that question. She wrote me a letter saying that she has behaved so badly that she wishes never to see me again. And if we should meet she begs that it will be as perfect strangers.'

'Really-after all that has been done-that is the very least--'

'So we are to meet as strangers. I suppose that will be best. It would be impossible to ask for explanations. Poor Zoe! One does not know all her history. She told me once that she had been very unhappy. I have heard her crying in her room at night. Perhaps, she is to be more pitied than blamed. It is her husband whom I find it difficult to forgive and to forget. He is like a nightmare: he cannot be put so easily out of my mind.'

'Unfortunately, no. I, who have thought of him all my life, must continue to think of him.'

'You will forgive him, Philippa. You must. Besides, you have less to forgive. He has never offered his hand and heart to you.'

Philippa blushed a rosy red, and confusion gathered to her eyes, because there had, in fact, been many occasions when things were said which-- Armorel was sorry that she had said this.

'You mean, Armorel, that he actually-did this-to you?'

'Yes. It was only the other day-the morning after we read the play. He came to the National Gallery, where I often go in the morning, and, in one of the rooms, he told me how much he loved me-words, however, go for nothing in such things-and kindly said that marriage with me would complete his happiness.'

'Oh! He is a villain-a villain indeed!' Her voice rose and her cheeks flushed. 'Forgive him, Armorel? Never!'

'Considering that it was only a day or two before he was going to announce in the paper the fact that he had been married for three years, it does seem pretty bad, doesn't it?'

'And you, Armorel?'

'Fortunately, I was able to dismiss him unmistakably.'

'Oh!' Philippa cried in exasperation. 'My cousin has been guilty of many treacherous and base actions; but this is quite the worst thing that I have heard of him-worse even than sending you his own wife, under a false name and disguised with a lying story on her lips. No, Armorel; I will never forgive him. Never!' Her eyes gleamed and her lips trembled. She meant what she said. 'Never! It is the worst, the most wicked thing he has ever done-because he might have succeeded.'

'I suppose he meant to get something by the pretence.'

'He wanted, I suppose, to have it reported that he was going to marry a rich girl. I had heard that he was continually seen with you. And I had also heard that he had confessed to an engagement which was not to be announced. My father has found out that his affairs are in great confusion.'

'But what good would an engagement of twenty-four hours do for him?'

'Indeed, I do not understand. Perhaps, after all, he had allowed himself to fall in love-but I do not know. Men sometimes seem to behave like mad creatures, with no reason or rule of self-control-as if there was no such thing as consequence and no such thing as the morrow. I do not understand anything about him. Why are his affairs in confusion? He had, to begin with, a fortune of more than twelve thousand pounds from his mother; his pictures latterly commanded a good price. And his paper is supposed to be doing well. To be sure he keeps horses and goes a great deal into society. And, perhaps, his wife has been a source of expense to him. But it is no use trying to explain or to find out things. Meantime, to you, his conduct has been simply outrageous. A man who sends his own wife as companion to a girl, and then makes love to her, is-my dear, there is no other word-he is a Wretch. I will never forgive him.' Armorel felt that she would keep her word. This pale, calm, self-contained Philippa could be moved to anger. And again she heard her companion's soft voice murmuring, 'My dear, the woman shows that she loves him still.'

'Fortunately for me,' said Armorel, 'my heart has remained untouched. I was never attracted by him; and latterly, when I had learned certain things, it became impossible for me to regard him with common kindliness. And, besides, his pretence and affectation of love were too transparent to deceive anybody. He was like the worst actor you ever saw on any stage-wooden, unreal-incapable of impressing anyone with the idea that he meant what he said.'

'I wonder how far Zoe-his wife-knew of this?'

'I would rather not consider the question, Philippa. But, indeed, one cannot help, just at first, thinking about it, and I am compelled to believe that she was his servant and his agent throughout. I believe she was instigated to get money from me if she could, and I believe she knew his intentions as regards me,

and that she consented. She must have known, and she must have consented.'

'She would excuse herself on the ground of being his wife. For their husbands some women will do anything. Perhaps she worships him. His genius, very likely, overshadows and awes her.' Armorel smiled, but made no objection to this conjecture. 'Some women worship the genius in a man as if it was the man himself. Some women worship the man quite apart from his genius. I used to worship Alec long before he was discovered to be a genius at all. When I was a school-girl, Alec was my knight-my Galahad-purest-hearted and bravest of all the knights. There was no one in the world-no living man, and very few dead men-Bayard, Sidney, Charles the First, and two or three more only-who could stand beside him. He was so handsome, so brave, so great, and so good, that other men seemed small beside him. Well, my hero passed through Cambridge without the least distinction: I thought it was because he was too proud to show other men how easily he could beat them. Then he was called to the Bar, but he did not immediately show his eloquence and his abilities: that was because he wanted an opportunity. And then I went out into the world, and made the discovery that my hero was in reality quite an ordinary young man-rather big and good-looking, perhaps-with, as we all thought then, no very great abilities. And he certainly was always-and he is still-heavy in conversation. But he was still my cousin, though he ceased to be my hero. He was more than a cousin-he was almost my brother; and brothers, as you do not know, perhaps, Armorel, sometimes do things which require vast quantities of patience and forgiveness. I am sure no girl's brother ever wanted forgiveness more than my cousin Alec.'

Her face, cold and pale, had, in fact, the sisterly expression. Philippa's enemies always declared that in the composition and making of her the goddess Venus, who presumably takes a large personal interest in the feminine department, had no lot or part at all. Yet certain words-the late companion's words-kept ringing in Armorel's ears: 'My dear, the woman loves him still. She has never ceased to love him.'

'There was nothing to forgive at first,' she went on: 'on the contrary, everything to admire. Yet his career has been throughout so unexpected as to puzzle and bewilder us. Consider, Armorel. Here was a young man who had never in boyhood, or later, shown the least love or leaning towards Art or the least tinge of poetical feeling, or the smallest power as a raconteur, or any charm of writing-suddenly becoming a fine painter-a really fine painter-a respectable poet, and an admirable story-teller. When he began with the first picture there grew up in my head a very imaginative and certain set of ideas connecting the painter's mind with his Art. I saw a grave mind dwelling gravely and earnestly on the interpretation of nature. It seemed impossible that one who should so paint sea and shore should be otherwise than grave and serious.'

'Impossible,' said Armorel.

'What we had called, in our stupidity, dulness, now became only seriousness. He took his Art seriously. But then he began to write verses, and then I found that there was a new mind-not a part of the old mind, but a new mind altogether. It was a mind with a light vein of fancy and merriment: it was affectionate, sympathetic, and happy: and it seemed distinctly a feminine mind. I cannot tell you how difficult it was to fit that mind to my cousin Alec-it was like dressing him up in an ill-fitting woman's riding-habit. And then he began those stories of his-and, behold, another mind altogether!-this time a worldly mind-cynical, sarcastic, distrustful, epigrammatic, and heartless-not at all a pleasant mind. So that you see I had four different minds all going about in the same set of bones-the original Alec Feilding, handsome and commonplace, but a man of honour: the serious student of Art: the light and gay-hearted poet, sparkling in his verses like a glass of champagne: and the cynical man of the world, who does not believe that there are any men of honour or any good women. Why, how can one man be at the same time four men? It is impossible. And now we have a fifth development of Alec. He has become-at the same time-a creature who marries a wife secretly-no one knows why: and hides her away for three years and then suddenly produces her-no one knows why. What does he hide her away for? Why does she consent to be hidden away? Then, the very day before he has got to produce his wife for all the world to see-I am perfectly certain that she herself forced him to take that step-he makes love to a young lady, and formally asks her to marry him. Reconcile, if you can, all these contradictions.'

'They cannot possibly be reconciled.'

'We have heard of seven devils entering into one man; but never of angels and devils mixed, my dear. Such a man cannot be explained, any more than the Lady Melusina herself.'

'Do not let us try. As for me, I am going to forget the existence of Mr. Alec Feilding if I can. In order to do this the quicker I mean to go home and stay there. Come and see me on the island of Samson, Philippa. But you must not bring your father, or he may be disappointed at the loss of his ancestral hall. To you I shall not mind showing the little house where your ancestors lived.'

'I should like very much-above all things-to see the place.'

'I will bribe you to come. I have got a great silver punch-bowl-old silver, such as you love-for you. You shall have a choice of rings, a choice of snuff-boxes. There is a roll of lace put away in the cupboard that would make you a lovely dress. It will be like the receiving of presents which we read of in the old books.'

'I will try to come, Armorel, after the season.'

Armorel laughed.

'There is the difference between us, Philippa. You belong to the world, and I do not. Oh! I will come back again some day and look at it again. But it will always be a strange land to me. You will leave London after the season; I am leaving it before the season. Come, however, when you can. Scilly is never too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. Instead of a carriage you shall have a boat, and instead of a coachman you shall have my boy Peter. We will sail about and visit the Islands: we will carry our midday dinner with us: and in the evening we will play and sing. Nobody will call upon you there: there are no dinner-parties, and you need not bring an evening dress. The only audience to our music will be my old servants, Justinian and Dorcas his wife, and Chessun, and Peter the boy.'

There were no preparations to make: there was nothing to prevent Armorel from going away immediately. She asked Effie to go with her. She opened the subject in the evening, when she and her brother and Roland were all sitting together in her drawing-room by the light of the fire alone, which she loved. They were thoughtful and rather silent, conscious of recent events.

'While we were in Regent Street this afternoon, Effie,' said Armorel, 'I was thinking of the many happy faces that we met. The street seemed filled with happiness. I was wondering if it was all real. Are they all as happy as they seem? Is there no falsehood in their lives? The streets are filled with happy people. The theatres are filled with happy faces: society shows none but happy faces. It ought to be the happiest of worlds. Have we, alone, fallen among pretenders and intriguers?'

'They are gone from you, Armorel. Can you not forget them?' Effie murmured.

'I seem to hear the murmuring voice of my companion always. She whispers in her caressing voice, "Oh! my dear, he is so good and great! He is so full of truth and honour. Will you lend him a thousand pounds? He thinks so highly of you. A thousand pounds-two thousand pounds. If I had it to lay at the feet of so much genius!" And all the time she is his wife. And in my thoughts I am always hearing his voice, which I learned to hate, laying down a commonplace. And in my dreams I awake with a start, because he is making love to me while Zoe listens at the door.'

'You must go away somewhere,' said Roland.

'I shall go home-to my own place. Effie, will you come with me?'

'Go with you? Oh! To Scilly?'

'To the land of Lyonesse. I have arranged it all, dear. Archie shall have these rooms of mine to live in: you shall come with me. It is two years since you have been out of London: your cheeks are pale: you want our sea-breezes and our upland downs. Will you come with me, Effie?'

She held out her hand. 'I will go with you,' said the girl, 'round the whole world, if you order me.'

'Then that is settled. Archie, you must stay because your future demands it. I met Mr. Stephenson yesterday. He told me that he is in great hopes about the play, and that, meantime, he will be able to put some work into your hands.'

'You are always thinking about me,' said Archie.

'Come to us in the summer. Take your holiday on Samson. Oh! Effie, we will be perfectly happy. We will forget London, and everything that has happened. Thank Heaven, the rubies are gone! I will send a piano there: we will carry with us loads of books and music. We will have a perfectly lovely time, with no one but ourselves. Roland will tell you how we will live. You will do nothing for a time, while you are drinking in the fresh air and getting strong. Then-then-you shall have ideas-great and glorious ideas-and you shall write far, far better poetry than any you have attempted yet.'

'And, meantime-we who have to remain behind?' asked Roland. 'What shall we do when you are gone?'

* * *

It takes longer to get to Penzance than to Edinburgh, because the train ceases to run and begins to crawl as soon as it leaves Plymouth. The best way is to take the nine o'clock train and to travel all night. Then you will probably sleep from Reading to Bristol: from Bristol to Exeter: and from Exeter to Plymouth. After that you will keep awake.

In this way and by this train Armorel and Effie travelled to Penzance. Effie fell asleep very soon, and remained asleep all night long, waking up somewhere between Lostwithiel and Marazion. Armorel sat up wakeful the whole night through, yet was not tired in the morning. Partly, she was thinking of her stay in London, the crowning of her apprenticeship five years long. Nothing had happened as she had expected. Nothing, in this life, ever does. She had found the hero of her dreams defeated and fallen, a pitiable object. But he stood erect again, better armed and in better heart, his face turned upwards.

Partly, another thing filled her heart and made her wakeful.

Roland and Archie came with them to the station.

'Shall I ever be permitted to visit again the Land of Lyonesse?' whispered the former at the window just before the guard's whistle gave the signal for the train to start.

She gave him her hand. 'Good-bye, Roland. You will come to Scilly-when you please-as soon as you can.'

He held her hand.

'I live only in that hope,' he replied.

The train began to move. He bent and kissed her fingers.

She leaned forward. 'Roland,' she said, 'I also live only in that hope.'

* * *

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