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   Chapter 3 VINELAND

A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 05 By Winston Churchill Characters: 21911

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


It was a pleasant Newport to which Honora went early in June, a fair city shining in the midst of summer seas, a place to light the fires of imagination. It wore at once an air of age, and of a new and sparkling unreality. Honora found in the very atmosphere a certain magic which she did not try to define, but to the enjoyment of which she abandoned herself; and in those first days after her arrival she took a sheer delight in driving about the island. Narrow Thames Street, crowded with gay carriages, with its aspect of the eighteenth and it shops of the twentieth century; the whiffs of the sea; Bellevue Avenue, with its glorious serried ranks of trees, its erring perfumes from bright gardens, its massed flowering shrubs beckoning the eye, its lawns of a truly enchanted green. Through tree and hedge, as she drove, came ever changing glimpses of gleaming palace fronts; glimpses that made her turn and look again; that stimulated but did not satisfy, and left a pleasant longing for something on the seeming verge of fulfilment.

The very stillness and solitude that seemed to envelop these palaces suggested the enchanter's wand. To-morrow, perhaps, the perfect lawns where the robins hopped amidst the shrubbery would become again the rock-bound, windswept New England pasture above the sea, and screaming gulls circle where now the swallows hovered about the steep blue roof of a French chateau. Hundreds of years hence, would these great pleasure houses still be standing behind their screens and walls and hedges? or would, indeed, the shattered, vine-covered marble of a balustrade alone mark the crumbling terraces whence once the fabled owners scanned the sparkling waters of the ocean? Who could say?

The onward rush of our story between its canon walls compels us reluctantly to skip the narrative of the winter conquests of the lady who is our heroine. Popularity had not spoiled her, and the best proof of this lay in the comments of a world that is nothing if not critical. No beauty could have received with more modesty the triumph which had greeted her at Mrs. Grenfell's tableaux, in April, when she had appeared as Circe, in an architectural frame especially designed by Mr. Farwell himself. There had been a moment of hushed astonishment, followed by an acclaim that sent the curtain up twice again.

We must try to imagine, too, the logical continuation of that triumph in the Baiae of our modern republic and empire, Newport. Open, Sesame! seems, as ever, to be the countersign of her life. Even the palace gates swung wide to her: most of them with the more readiness because she had already passed through other gates-Mrs. Grainger's, for instance. Baiae, apparently, is a topsy-turvy world in which, if one alights upside down, it is difficult to become righted. To alight upside down, is to alight in a palace. The Graingers did not live in one, but in a garden that existed before the palaces were, and one that the palace owners could not copy: a garden that three generations of Graingers, somewhat assisted by a remarkable climate, had made with loving care. The box was priceless, the spreading trees in the miniature park no less so, and time, the unbribeable, alone could now have produced the wide, carefully cherished Victorian mansion. Likewise not purchasable by California gold was a grandfather whose name had been written large in the pages of American history. His library was now lined with English sporting prints; but these, too, were old and mellow and rare.

To reach Honora's cottage, you turned away from the pomp and glitter and noise of Bellevue Avenue into the inviting tunnel of a leafy lane that presently stopped of itself. As though to provide against the contingency of a stray excursionist, a purple-plumed guard of old lilac trees massed themselves before the house, and seemed to look down with contempt on the new brick wall across the lane. 'Odi profanum vulgus'. It was on account of the new brick wall, in fact, that Honora, through the intervention of Mrs. Grainger and Mrs. Shorter, had been able to obtain this most desirable of retreats, which belonged to a great-aunt of Miss Godfrey, Mrs. Forsythe.

Mr. Chamberlin, none other than he of whom we caught a glimpse some years ago in a castle near Silverdale, owned the wall and the grounds and the palace it enclosed. This gentleman was of those who arrive in Newport upside down; and was even now, with the somewhat doubtful assistance of his wife, making lavish and pathetic attempts to right himself. Newport had never forgiven him for the razing of a mansion and the felling of trees which had been landmarks, and for the driving out of Mrs. Forsythe. The mere sight of the modern wall had been too much for this lady-the lilacs and the leaves in the lane mercifully hid the palace-and after five and thirty peaceful summers she had moved out, and let the cottage. It was furnished with delightful old-fashioned things that seemed to express, at every turn, the aristocratic and uncompromising personality of the owner who had lived so long in their midst.

Mr. Chamberlin, who has nothing whatever to do with this chronicle except to have been the indirect means of Honora's installation, used to come through the wall once a week or so to sit for half an hour on her porch as long as he ever sat anywhere. He had reddish side-whiskers, and he reminded her of a buzzing toy locomotive wound up tight and suddenly taken from the floor. She caught glimpses of him sometimes in the mornings buzzing around his gardeners, his painters, his carpenters, and his grooms. He would buzz the rest of his life, but nothing short of a revolution could take his possessions away.

The Graingers and the Grenfells and the Stranges might move mountains, but not Mr. Chamberlin's house. Whatever heart-burnings he may have had because certain people refused to come to his balls, he was in Newport to remain. He would sit under the battlements until the crack of doom; or rather-and more appropriate in Mr. Chamberlin's case-walk around them and around, blowing trumpets until they capitulated.

Honora magically found herself within them, and without a siege. Behold her at last in the setting for which we always felt she was destined. Why is it, in this world, that realization is so difficult a thing? Now that she is there, how shall we proceed to give the joys of her Elysium their full value? Not, certainly, by repeating the word pleasure over and over again: not by describing the palaces at which she lunched and danced and dined, or the bright waters in which she bathed, or the yachts in which she sailed. During the week, indeed, she moved untrammelled in a world with which she found herself in perfect harmony: it was new, it was dazzling, it was unexplored. During the week it possessed still another and more valuable attribute-it was real. And she, Honora Leffingwell Spence, was part and parcel of its permanence. The life relationships of the people by whom she was surrounded became her own. She had little time for thought-during the week.

We are dealing, now, in emotions as delicate as cloud shadows, and these drew on as Saturday approached. On Saturdays and Sundays the quality and texture of life seemed to undergo a change. Who does not recall the Monday mornings of the school days of youth, and the indefinite feeling betwixt sleep and waking that to-day would not be as yesterday or the day before? On Saturday mornings, when she went downstairs, she was wont to find the porch littered with newspapers and her husband lounging in a wicker chair behind the disapproving lilacs. Although they had long ceased to bloom, their colour was purple-his was pink.

Honora did not at first analyze or define these emotions, and was conscious only of a stirring within her, and a change. Reality became unreality. The house in which she lived, and for which she felt a passion of ownership, was for two days a rented house. Other women in Newport had week-end guests in the guise of husbands, and some of them went so far as to bewail the fact. Some had got rid of them. Honora kissed hers dutifully, and picked up the newspapers, drove him to the beach, and took him out to dinner, where he talked oracularly of finance. On Sunday night he departed, without visible regrets, for New York.

One Monday morning a storm was raging over Newport. Seized by a sudden whim, she rang her bell, breakfasted at an unusual hour, and nine o'clock found her, with her skirts flying, on the road above the cliffs that leads to the Fort. The wind had increased to a gale, and as she stood on the rocks the harbour below her was full of tossing white yachts straining at their anchors. Serene in the midst of all this hubbub lay a great grey battleship.

Presently, however, her thoughts were distracted by the sight of something moving rapidly across her line of vision. A sloop yacht, with a ridiculously shortened sail, was coming in from the Narrows, scudding before the wind like a frightened bird. She watched its approach in a sort of fascination, for of late she had been upon the water enough to realize that the feat of which she was witness was not without its difficulties. As the sloop drew nearer she made out a bare-headed figure bent tensely at the wheel, and four others clinging to the yellow deck. In a flash the boat had rounded to, the mainsail fell, and a veil of spray hid the actors of her drama. When it cleared the yacht was tugging like a wild thing at its anchor.

That night was Mrs. Grenfell's ball, and many times in later years has the scene come back to Honora. It was not a large ball, by no means on the scale of Mr. Chamberlin's, for instance. The great room reminded one of the gallery of a royal French chateau, with its dished ceiling, in the oval of which the colours of a pastoral fresco glowed in the ruby lights of the heavy chandeliers; its grey panelling, hidden here and there by tapestries, and its series of deep, arched windows that gave glimpses of a lantern-hung terrace. Out there, beyond a marble balustrade, the lights of fishing schooners tossed on a blue-black ocean. The same ocean on which she had looked that morning, and which she heard now, in the intervals of talk and laughter, crashing against the cliffs,-although the wind had gone down. Like a woman stirred to the depths of her being, its bosom was heaving still at the memory of the passion of the morning.

This night after the storm was capriciously mild, the velvet gown of heaven sewn with stars. The music had ceased, and supper was being served at little tables on the terrace. The conversation was desultory.

"Who is that with Reggie Farwell?" Ethel Wing asked.

"It's the Farrenden girl," replied Mr. Cuthbert, whose business it was to know everybody. "Chicago wheat. She looks like Ceres, doesn't she? Quite becoming to Reggie's dark beauty. She was sixteen, they tell me,

when the old gentleman emerged from the pit, and they packed her off to a convent by the next steamer. Reggie may have the blissful experience of living in one of his own houses if he marries her."

The fourth at the table was Ned Carrington, who had been first secretary at an Embassy, and he had many stories to tell of ambassadors who spoke commercial American and asked royalties after their wives. Some one had said about him that he was the only edition of the Almanach de Gotha that included the United States. He somewhat resembled a golden seal emerging from a cold bath, and from time to time screwed an eyeglass into his eye and made a careful survey of Mrs. Grenfell's guests.

"By George!" he exclaimed. "Isn't that Hugh Chiltern?"

Honora started, and followed the direction of Mr. Carrington's glance. At sight of him, a vivid memory of the man's personality possessed her.

"Yes," Cuthbert was saying, "that's Chiltern sure enough. He came in on

Dicky Farnham's yacht this morning from New York."

"This morning!" said Ethel Wing. "Surely not! No yacht could have come in this morning."

"Nobody but Chiltern would have brought one in, you mean," he corrected her. "He sailed her. They say Dicky was half dead with fright, and wanted to put in anywhere. Chiltern sent him below and kept right on. He has a devil in him, I believe. By the way, that's Dicky Farnham's ex-wife he's talking to-Adele. She keeps her good looks, doesn't she? What's happened to Rindge?"

"Left him on the other side, I hear," said Carrington. "Perhaps she'll take Chiltern next. She looked as though she were ready to. And they say it's easier every time."

"C'est le second mari qui coute," paraphrased Cuthbert, tossing his cigar over the balustrade. The strains of a waltz floated out of the windows, the groups at the tables broke up, and the cotillon began.

As Honora danced, Chiltern remained in the back of her mind, or rather an indefinite impression was there which in flashes she connected with him. She wondered, at times, what had become of him, and once or twice she caught herself scanning the bewildering, shifting sheen of gowns and jewels for his face. At last she saw him by the windows, holding a favour in his hand, coming in her direction. She looked away, towards the red uniforms of the Hungarian band on the raised platform at the end of the room. He was standing beside her.

"Do you remember me, Mrs. Spence?" he asked.

She glanced up at him and smiled. He was not a person one would be likely to forget, but she did not say so.

"I met you at Mrs. Granger's," was what she said.

He handed her the favour. She placed it amongst the collection at the back of her chair and rose, and they danced. Was it dancing? The music throbbed; nay, the musicians seemed suddenly to have been carried out of themselves, and played as they had not played before. Her veins were filled with pulsing fire as she was swung, guided, carried out of herself by the extraordinary virility of the man who held her. She had tasted mastery.

"Thank you," she faltered, as they came around the second time to her seat.

He released her.

"I stayed to dance with you," he said. "I had to await my opportunity."

"It was kind of you to remember me," she replied, as she went off with

Mr. Carrington.

A moment later she saw him bidding good night to his hostess. His face, she thought, had not lost that strange look of determination that she recalled. And yet-how account for his recklessness?

"Rum chap, Chiltern," remarked Carrington. "He might be almost anything, if he only knew it."

In the morning, when she awoke, her eye fell on the cotillon favours scattered over the lounge. One amongst them stood out-a silver-mounted pin-cushion. Honora arose, picked it up contemplatively, stared at it awhile, and smiled. Then she turned to her window, breathing in the perfumes, gazing out through the horse-chestnut leaves at the green, shadow-dappled lawn below.

On her breakfast tray, amidst some invitations, was a letter from her. uncle. This she opened first.

"Dear Honora," he wrote, "amongst your father's papers, which have been in my possession since his death, was a certificate for three hundred shares in a land company. He bought them for very little, and I had always thought them worthless. It turns out that these holdings are in a part of the state of Texas that is now being developed; on the advice of Mr. Isham and others I have accepted an offer of thirty dollars a share, and I enclose a draft on New York for nine thousand dollars. I need not dwell upon the pleasure it is for me to send you this legacy from your father. And I shall only add the counsel of an old uncle, to invest this money by your husband's advice in some safe securities." . . .

Honora put down the letter, and sat staring at the cheque in her hand. Nine thousand dollars-and her own! Her first impulse was to send it back to her uncle. But that would be, she knew, to hurt his feelings-he had taken such a pride in handing her this inheritance. She read the letter again, and resolved that she would not ask Howard to invest the money. This, at least, should be her very own, and she made up her mind to take it to a bank in Thames Street that morning.

While she was still under the influence of the excitement aroused by the unexpected legacy, Mrs. Shorter came in, a lady with whom Honora's intimacy had been of steady growth. The tie between them might perhaps have been described as intellectual, for Elsie Shorter professed only to like people who were "worth while." She lent Honora French plays, discussed them with her, and likewise a wider range of literature, including certain brightly bound books on evolution and sociology.

In the eighteenth century, Mrs. Shorter would have had a title and a salon in the Faubourg: in the twentieth, she was the wife of a most fashionable and successful real estate agent in New York, and was aware of no incongruity. Bourgeoise was the last thing that could be said of her; she was as ready as a George Sand to discuss the whole range of human emotions; which she did many times a week with certain gentlemen of intellectual bent who had the habit of calling on her. She had never, to the knowledge of her acquaintances, been shocked. But while she believed that a great love carried, mysteriously concealed in its flame, its own pardon, she had through some fifteen years of married life remained faithful to Jerry Shorter: who was not, to say the least, a Lochinvar or a Roland. Although she had had nervous prostration and was thirty-four, she was undeniably pretty. She was of the suggestive, and not the strong-minded type, and the secret of her strength with the other sex was that she was in the habit of submitting her opinions for their approval.

"My dear," she said to Honora, "you may thank heaven that you are still young enough to look beautiful in negligee. How far have you got? Have you guessed of which woman Vivarce was the lover? And isn't it the most exciting play you've ever read? Ned Carrington saw it in Paris, and declares it frightened him into being good for a whole week!"

"Oh, Elsie," exclaimed Honora, apologetically, "I haven't read a word of it."

Mrs. Shorter glanced at the pile of favours.

"How was the dance?" she asked. "I was too tired to go. Hugh Chiltern offered to take me."

"I saw Mr. Chiltern there. I met him last winter at the Graingers'."

"He's staying with us," said Mrs. Shorter; "you know he's a sort of cousin of Jerry's, and devoted to him. He turned up yesterday morning on Dicky Farnham's yacht, in the midst of all that storm. It appears that Dicky met him in New York, and Hugh said he was coming up here, and Dicky offered to sail him up. When the storm broke they were just outside, and all on board lost their heads, and Hugh took charge and sailed in. Dicky told me that himself."

"Then it wasn't-recklessness," said Honora, involuntarily. But Mrs.

Shorter did not appear to be surprised by the remark.

"That's what everybody thinks, of course," she answered. "They say that he had a chance to run in somewhere, and browbeat Dicky into keeping on for Newport at the risk of their lives. They do Hugh an injustice. He might have done that some years ago, but he's changed."

Curiosity got the better of Honora.

"Changed?" she repeated.

"Of course you didn't know him in the old days, Honora," said Mrs. Shorter. "You wouldn't recognize him now. I've seen a good deal of men, but he is the most interesting and astounding transformation I've ever known."

"How?" asked Honora. She was sitting before the glass, with her hand raised to her hair.

Mrs. Shorter appeared puzzled.

"That's what interests me," she said. "My dear, don't you think life tremendously interesting? I do. I wish I could write a novel. Between ourselves, I've tried. I had Mr. Dewing send it to a publisher, who said it was clever, but had no plot. If I only could get a plot!"

Honora laughed.

"How would I The Transformation of Mr. Chiltern' do, Elsie?"

"If I only knew what's happened to him, and how he's going to end!" sighed Mrs. Shorter.

"You were saying," said Honora, for her friend seemed to have relapsed into a contemplation of this problem, "you were saying that he had changed."

"He goes away for seven years, and he suddenly turns up filled with ambition and a purpose in life, something he had never dreamed of. He's been at Grenoble, where the Chiltern estate is, making improvements and preparing to settle down there. And he's actually getting ready to write a life of his father, the General-that's the most surprising thing! They never met but to strike fire while the General was alive. It appears that Jerry and Cecil Grainger and one or two other people have some of the old gentleman's letters, and that's the reason why Hugh's come to Newport. And the strangest thing about it, my dear," added Mrs. Shorter, inconsequently, "is that I don't think it's a love affair."

Honora laughed again. It was the first time she had ever heard Mrs. Shorter attribute unusual human phenomena to any other source. "He wrote Jerry that he was coming back to live on the estate,-from England. And he wasn't there a week. I can't think where he's seen any women-that is," Mrs. Shorter corrected herself hastily, "of his own class. He's been in the jungle-India, Africa, Cores. That was after Sally Harrington broke the engagement. And I'm positive he's not still in love with Sally. She lunched with me yesterday, and I watched him. Oh, I should have known it. But Sally hasn't got over it. It wasn't a grand passion with Hugh. I don't believe he's ever had such a thing. Not that he isn't capable of it-on the contrary, he's one of the few men I can think of who is."

At this point in the conversation Honora thought that her curiosity had gone far enough.

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