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   Chapter 4 THE VIKING

A Modern Chronicle -- Volume 05 By Winston Churchill Characters: 29706

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


She was returning on foot from the bank in Thames Street, where she had deposited her legacy, when she met him who had been the subject of her conversation with Mrs. Shorter. And the encounter seemed-and was-the most natural thing in the world. She did not stop to ask herself why it was so fitting that the Viking should be a part of Vineland: why his coming should have given it the one and final needful touch. For that designation of Reginald Farwell's had come back to her. Despite the fact that Hugh Chiltern had with such apparent resolution set his face towards literature and the tillage of the land, it was as the Viking still that her imagination pictured him. By these tokens we may perceive that this faculty of our heroine's has been at work, and her canvas already sketched in.

Whether by design or accident he was at the leafy entrance of her lane she was not to know. She spied him standing there; and in her leisurely approach a strange conceit of reincarnation possessed her, and she smiled at the contrast thus summoned up. Despite the jingling harnesses of Bellevue Avenue and the background of Mr. Chamberlin's palace wall; despite the straw hat and white trousers and blue double-breasted serge coat in which he was conventionally arrayed, he was the sea fighter still-of all the ages. M. Vipsanius Agrippa, who had won an empire for Augustus, had just such a head.

Their greeting, too, was conventional enough, and he turned and walked with her up the lane, and halted before the lilacs. "You have Mrs. Forsythe's house," he said. "How well I remember it! My mother used to bring me here years ago."

"Won't you come in?" asked Honora, gently.

He seemed to have forgotten her as they mounted in silence to the porch, and she watched him with curious feelings as he gazed about him, and peered through the windows into the drawing-room.

"It's just as it was," he said. "Even the furniture. I'm glad you haven't moved it. They used to sit over there in the corner, and have tea on the ebony table. And it was always dark-just as it is now. I can see them. They wore dresses with wide skirts and flounces, and queer low collars and bonnets. And they talked in subdued voices-unlike so many women in these days."

She was a little surprised, and moved, by the genuine feeling with which he spoke.

"I was most fortunate to get the house," she answered. "And I have grown to love it. Sometimes it seems as though I had always lived here."

"Then you don't envy that," he said, flinging his hand towards an opening in the shrubbery which revealed a glimpse of one of the pilasters of the palace across the way. The instinct of tradition which had been the cause of Mrs. Forsythe's departure was in him, too. He, likewise, seemed to belong to the little house as he took one of the wicker chairs.

"Not," said Honora, "when I can have this."

She was dressed in white, her background of lilac leaves. Seated on the railing, with the tip of one toe resting on the porch, she smiled down at him from under the shadows of her wide hat.

"I didn't think you would," he declared. "This place seems to suit you, as I imagined you. I have thought of you often since we first met last winter."

"Yes," she replied hastily, "I am very happy here. Mrs. Shorter tells me you are staying with then."

"When I saw you again last night," he continued, ignoring her attempt to divert the stream from his channel, I had a vivid impression as of having just left you. Have you ever felt that way about people?"

"Yes," she admitted, and poked the toe of her boot with her parasol.

"And then I find you in this house, which has so many associations for me. Harmoniously here," he added, "if you know what I mean. Not a newcomer, but some one who must always have been logically expected."

She glanced at him quickly, with parted lips. It was she who had done most of the talking at Mrs. Grainger's dinner; and the imaginative quality of mind he was now revealing was unlooked for. She was surprised not to find it out of character. It is a little difficult to know what she expected of him, since she did not know herself the methods, perhaps; of the Viking in Longfellow's poem. She was aware, at least, that she had attracted him, and she was beginning to realize it was not a thing that could be done lightly. This gave her a little flutter of fear.

"Are you going to be long in Newport?" she asked.

"I am leaving on Friday," he replied. "It seems strange to be here again after so many years. I find I've got out of touch with it. And I haven't a boat, although Farnham's been kind enough to offer me his."

"I can't imagine you, somehow, without a boat," she said, and added hastily: "Mrs. Shorter was speaking of you this morning, and said that you were always on the water when you were here. Newport must have been quite different then."

He accepted the topic, and during the remainder of his visit she succeeded in keeping the conversation in the middle ground, although she had a sense of the ultimate futility of the effort; a sense of pressure being exerted, no matter what she said. She presently discovered, however, that the taste for literature attributed to him which had seemed so incongruous-existed. He spoke with a new fire when she led him that way, albeit she suspected that some of the fuel was derived from the revelation that she shared his liking for books. As the extent of his reading became gradually disclosed, however, her feeling of inadequacy grew, and she resolved in the future to make better use of her odd moments. On her table, in two green volumes, was the life of a Massachusetts statesman that Mrs. Shorter had lent her. She picked it up after Chiltern had gone. He had praised it.

He left behind him a blurred portrait on her mind, as that of two men superimposed. And only that morning he had had such a distinct impression of one. It was from a consideration of this strange phenomenon, with her book lying open in her lap, that her maid aroused her to go to Mrs. Pryor's. This was Tuesday.

Some of the modern inventions we deem most marvellous have been fitted for ages to man and woman. Woman, particularly, possesses for instance a kind of submarine bell; and, if she listens, she can at times hear it tinkling faintly. And the following morning, Wednesday, Honora heard hers when she received an invitation to lunch at Mrs. Shorter's. After a struggle, she refused, but Mrs. Shorter called her up over the telephone, and she yielded.

"I've got Alfred Dewing for myself," said Elsie Shorter, as she greeted Honora in the hall. "He writes those very clever things-you've read them. And Hugh for you," she added significantly.

The Shorter cottage, though commodious, was simplicity itself. From the vine-covered pergola where they lunched they beheld the distant sea like a lavender haze across the flats. And Honora wondered whether there were not an element of truth in what Mr. Dewing said of their hostess-that she thought nothing immoral except novels with happy endings. Chiltern did not talk much: he looked at Honora.

"Hugh has got so serious," said Elsie Shorter, "that sometimes I'm actually afraid of him. You ought to have done something to be as serious as that, Hugh."

"Done something!"

"Written the 'Origin of Species,' or founded a new political party, or executed a coup d'etat. Half the time I'm under the delusion that I'm entertaining a celebrity under my roof, and I wake up and it's only Hugh."

"It's because he looks as though he might do any of those things," suggested Mr. Deming. "Perhaps he may."

"Oh," said Elsie Shorter, "the men who do them are usually little wobbly specimens."

Honora was silent, watching Chiltern. At times the completeness of her understanding of him gave her an uncanny sensation; and again she failed to comprehend him at all. She felt his anger go to a white heat, but the others seemed blissfully unaware of the fact. The arrival of coffee made a diversion.

"You and Hugh may have the pergola, Honora. I'll take Mr. Deming into the garden."

"I really ought to go in a few minutes, Elsie," said Honora.

"What nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Shorter. "If it's bridge at the

Playfairs', I'll telephone and get you out of it."

"No-"

"Then I don't see where you can be going," declared Mrs. Shorter, and departed with her cavalier.

"Why are you so anxious to get away?" asked Chiltern, abruptly.

Honora coloured.

"Oh-did I seem so? Elsie has such a mania for pairing people off-sometimes it's quite embarrassing."

"She was a little rash in assuming that you'd rather talk to me," he said, smiling.

"You were not consulted, either."

"I was consulted before lunch," he replied.

"You mean-?"

"I mean that I wanted you," he said. She had known it, of course. The submarine bell had told her. And he could have found no woman in Newport who would have brought more enthusiasm to his aid than Elsie Shorter.

"And you usually-get what you want," she retorted with a spark of rebellion.

"Yes," he admitted. "Only hitherto I haven't wanted very desirable things."

She laughed, but her curiosity got the better of her.

"Hitherto," she said, "you have just taken what you desired."

From the smouldering fires in his eyes darted an arrowpoint of flame.

"What kind of a man are you?" she asked, throwing the impersonal to the winds. "Somebody called you a Viking once."

"Who?" he demanded.

"It doesn't matter. I'm beginning to think the name singularly appropriate. It wouldn't be the first time one landed in Newport, according to legend," she added.

"I haven't read the poem since childhood," said Chiltern, looking at her fixedly, "but he became-domesticated, if I remember rightly."

"Yes," she admitted, "the impossible happened to him, as it usually does in books. And then, circumstances helped. There were no other women."

"When the lady died," said Chiltern, "he fell upon his spear."

"The final argument for my theory," declared Honora.

"On the contrary," he maintained, smiling, "it proves there is always one woman for every man-if he cars find her. If this man had lived in modern times, he would probably have changed from a Captain Kidd into a useful citizen of the kind you once said you admired."

"Is a woman necessary," she asked, "for the transformation?"

He looked at her so intently that she blushed to the hair clustering at her temples. She had not meant that her badinage should go so deep.

"It was not a woman," he said slowly, "that brought me back to America."

"Oh," she exclaimed, suffused, "I hope you won't think that curiosity" -and got no farther.

He was silent a moment, and when she ventured to glance up at him one of those enigmatical changes had taken place. He was looking at her gravely, though intently, and the Viking had disappeared.

"I wanted you to know," he answered. "You must have heard more or less about me. People talk. Naturally these things haven't been repeated to me, but I dare say many of them are true. I haven't been a saint, and I don't pretend to be now. I've never taken the trouble to deceive any one. And I've never cared, I'm sorry to say, what was said. But I'd like you to believe that when I agreed with with the sentiments you expressed the first time I saw you, I was sincere. And I am still sincere."

"Indeed, I do believe it!" cried Honora.

His face lighted.

"You seemed different from the other women I had known-of my generation, at least," he went on steadily. "None of them could have spoken as you did. I had just landed that morning, and I should have gone direct to Grenoble, but there was some necessary business to be attended to in New York. I didn't want to go to Bessie's dinner, but she insisted. She was short of a man. I went. I sat next to you, and you interpreted my mind. It seemed too extraordinary not to have had a significance."

Honora did not reply. She felt instinctively that he was a man who was not wont ordinarily to talk about his affairs. Beneath his speech was an undercurrent-or undertow, perhaps-carrying her swiftly, easily, helpless into the deep waters of intimacy. For the moment she let herself go without a struggle. Her silence was of a breathless quality which he must have felt.

"And I am going to tell you why I came home," he said. "I have spoken of it to nobody, but I wish you to know that it had nothing to do with any ordinary complication these people may invent. Nor was there anything supernatural about it: what happened to me, I suppose, is as old a story as civilization itself. I'd been knocking about the world for a good many years, and I'd had time to think. One day I found myself in the interior of China with a few coolies and a man who I suspect was a ticket-of-leave Englishman. I can see the place now the yellow fog, the sand piled up against the wall like yellow snow. Desolation was a mild name for it. I think I began with a consideration of the Englishman who was asleep in the shadow of a tower. There was something inconceivably hopeless in his face in that ochre light. Then the place where I was born and brought up came to me with a startling completeness, and I began to go over my own life, step by step. To make a long story short, I perceived that what my father had tried to teach me, in his own way, had some reason in it. He was a good deal of a man. I made up my mind I'd come home and start in where I belonged. But I didn't do so right away-I finished the trip first, and lent the Englishman a thousand pounds to buy into a firm in Shanghai. I suppose," he added, "that is what is called suggestion. In my case it was merely the cumulative result of many reflections in waste places."

"And since then?"

"Since then I have been at Grenoble, making repairs and trying to learn something about agriculture. I've never been as happy in my life."

"And you're going back on Friday," she said.

He glanced at her quickly. He had detected the note in her speech: though lightly uttered, it was unmistakably a command. She tried to soften its effect in her next sentence.

"I can't express how much I appreciate your telling me this," she said. "I'll confess to you I wished to think that something of that kind had happened. I wished to believe that-that you had made this determination alone. When I met you that night there was something about you I couldn't account for. I haven't been able to account for it until now."

She paused, confused, fearful that she had gone too far. A moment later she was sure of it. A look came into his eyes that frightened her.

"You've thought of me?" he said.

"You must know," she replied, "that you have an unusual personality-a striking one. I can go so far as to say that I reme

mbered you when you reappeared at Mrs. Grenfell's-" she hesitated.

He rose, and walked to the far end of the tiled pavement of the pergola, and stood for a moment looking out over the sea. Then he turned to her.

"I either like a person or I don't," he said. "And I tell you frankly I have never met a woman whom I cared for as I do you. I hope you're not going to insist upon a probationary period of months before you decide whether you can reciprocate."

Here indeed was a speech in his other character, and she seemed to see, in a flash, his whole life in it. There was a touch of boyishness that appealed, a touch of insistent masterfulness that alarmed. She recalled that Mrs. Shorter had said of him that he had never had to besiege a fortress-the white flag had always appeared too quickly. Of course there was the mystery of Mrs. Maitland-still to be cleared up. It was plain, at least, that resistance merely made him unmanageable. She smiled.

"It seems to me," she said, "that in two days we have become astonishingly intimate."

"Why shouldn't we?" he demanded.

But she was not to be led into casuistry.

"I've been reading the biography you recommended," she said.

He continued to look at her a moment, and laughed as he sat down beside her. Later he walked home with her. A dinner and bridge followed, and it was after midnight when she returned. As her maid unfastened her gown she perceived that her pincushion had been replaced by the one she had received at the ball.

"Did you put that there, Mathilde?" she asked.

Mathilde had. She had seen it on madame's bureau, and thought madame wished it there. She would replace the old one at once.

"No," said Honora, "you may leave it, now."

"Bien, madame," said the maid, and glanced at her mistress, who appeared to have fallen into a revery.

It had seemed strange to her to hear people talking about him at the dinner that night, and once or twice her soul had sprung to arms to champion him, only to remember that her knowledge was special. She alone of all of them understood, and she found herself exulting in the superiority. The amazed comment when the heir to the Chiltern fortune had returned to the soil of his ancestors had been revived on his arrival in Newport. Ned Carrington, amid much laughter, had quoted the lines about Prince Hal:

"To mock the expectations of the world,

To frustrate prophecies."

Honora disliked Mr. Carrington.

Perhaps the events of Thursday, would better be left in the confusion in which they remained in Honora's mind. She was awakened by penetrating, persistent, and mournful notes which for some time she could not identify, although they sounded oddly familiar; and it was not until she felt the dampness of the coverlet and looked at the white square of her open windows that she realized there was a fog. And it had not lifted when Chiltern came in the afternoon. They discussed literature-but the book had fallen to the floor. 'Absit omen'! If printing had then been invented, undoubtedly there would have been a book instead of an apple in the third chapter of Genesis. He confided to her his plan of collecting his father's letters and of writing the General's life. Honora, too, would enjoy writing a book. Perhaps the thought of the pleasure of collaboration occurred to them both at once; it was Chiltern who wished that he might have her help in the difficult places; she had, he felt, the literary instinct. It was not the Viking who was talking now. And then, at last, he had risen reluctantly to leave. The afternoon had flown. She held out her hand with a frank smile.

"Good-by," she said. "Good-by, and good luck."

"But I may not go," he replied.

She stood dismayed.

"I thought you told me you were going on Friday-to-morrow."

"I merely set that as a probable date. I have changed my mind. There is no immediate necessity. Do you wish me to go?" he demanded.

She had turned away, and was straightening the books on the table.

"Why should I?" she said.

"You wouldn't object to my remaining a few days more?" He had reached the doorway.

"What have I to do with your staying?" she asked.

"Everything," he answered-and was gone.

She stood still. The feeling that possessed her now was rebellion, and akin to hate.

Her conduct, therefore, becomes all the more incomprehensible when we find her accepting, the next afternoon, his invitation to sail on Mr. Farnham's yacht, the 'Folly'. It is true that the gods will not exonerate Mrs. Shorter. That lady, who had been bribed with Alfred Dewing, used her persuasive powers; she might be likened to a skilful artisan who blew wonderful rainbow fabrics out of glass without breaking it; she blew the tender passion into a thousand shapes, and admired every one. Her criminal culpability consisted in forgetting the fact that it could not be trusted with children.

Nature seems to delight in contrasts. As though to atone for the fog she sent a dazzling day out of the northwest, and the summer world was stained in new colours. The yachts were whiter, the water bluer, the grass greener; the stern grey rocks themselves flushed with purple. The wharves were gay, and dark clustering foliage hid an enchanted city as the Folly glided between dancing buoys. Honora, with a frightened glance upward at the great sail, caught her breath. And she felt rather than saw the man beside her guiding her seaward.

A discreet expanse of striped yellow deck separated them from the wicker chairs where Mrs. Shorter and Mr. Dewing were already established. She glanced at the profile of the Viking, and allowed her mind to dwell for an instant upon the sensations of that other woman who had been snatched up and carried across the ocean. Which was the quality in him that attracted her? his lawlessness, or his intellect and ambition? Never, she knew, had he appealed to her more than at this moment, when he stood, a stern figure at the wheel, and vouchsafed her nothing but commonplaces. This, surely, was his element.

Presently, however, the yacht slid out from the infolding land into an open sea that stretched before them to a silver-lined horizon. And he turned to her with a disconcerting directness, as though taking for granted a subtle understanding between them.

"How well you sail," she said, hurriedly.

"I ought to be able to do that, at least," he declared.

"I saw you when you came in the other day, although I didn't know who it was until afterwards. I was standing on the rocks near the Fort, and my heart was in my mouth."

He answered that the Dolly was a good sea boat.

"So you decided to forgive me," he said.

"For what?"

"For staying in Newport."

Before accepting the invitation she had formulated a policy, cheerfully confident in her ability to carry it out. For his decision not to leave Newport had had an opposite effect upon her than that she had anticipated; it had oddly relieved the pressure. It had given her a chance to rally her forces; to smile, indeed, at an onslaught that had so disturbed her; to examine the matter in a more rational light. It had been a cause for self-congratulation that she had scarcely thought of him the night before. And to-day, in her blue veil and blue serge gown, she had boarded the 'Folly' with her wits about her. She forgot that it was he who, so to speak, had the choice of ground and weapons.

"I have forgiven you. Why shouldn't I, when you have so royally atoned."

But he obstinately refused to fence. There was nothing apologetic in this man, no indirectness in his method of attack. Parry adroitly as she might, he beat down her guard. As the afternoon wore on there were silences, when Honora, by staring over the waters, tried to collect her thoughts. But the sea was his ally, and she turned her face appealingly toward the receding land. Fascination and fear struggled within her as she had listened to his onslaughts, and she was conscious of being moved by what he was, not by what he said. Vainly she glanced at the two representatives of an ironically satisfied convention, only to realize that they were absorbed in a milder but no less entrancing aspect of the same topic, and would not thank her for an interruption.

"Do you wish me to go away?" he asked at last abruptly, almost rudely.

"Surely," she said, "your work, your future isn't in Newport."

"You haven't answered my question."

"It's because I have no right to answer it," she replied. "Although we have known each other so short a time, I am your friend. You must realize that. I am not conventional. I have lived long enough to understand that the people one likes best are not necessarily those one has known longest. You interest me-I admit it frankly-I speak to you sincerely. I am even concerned that you shall find happiness, and I feel that you have the power to make something of yourself. What more can I say? It seems to me a little strange," she added, "that under the circumstances I should say so much. I can give no higher proof of my friendship."

He did not reply, but gave a sharp order to the crew. The sheet was shortened, and the Folly obediently headed westward against the swell, flinging rainbows from her bows as she ran. Mrs. Shorter and Dewing returned at this moment from the cabin, where they had been on a tour of inspection.

"Where are you taking us, Hugh?" said Mrs. Shorter. "Nowhere in particular," he replied.

"Please don't forget that I am having people to dinner to-night. That's all I ask. What have you done to him, Honora, to put him in such a humour?"

Honora laughed.

"I hadn't noticed anything peculiar about him," she answered.

"This boat reminds me of Adele," said Mrs. Shorter. "She loved it. I can see how she could get a divorce from Dicky-but the 'Folly'! She told me yesterday that the sight of it made her homesick, and Eustace Rindge won't leave Paris."

It suddenly occurred to Honora, as she glanced around the yacht, that

Mrs. Rindge rather haunted her.

"So that is your answer," said Chiltern, when they were alone again.

"What other can I give you?"

"Is it because you are married?" he demanded.

She grew crimson.

"Isn't that an unnecessary question?"

"No," he declared. "It concerns me vitally to understand you. You were good enough to wish that I should find happiness. I have found the possibility of it-in you."

"Oh," she cried, "don't say such things!"

"Have you found happiness?" he asked.

She turned her face from him towards their shining wake. But he had seen that her eyes were filled with sudden tears.

"Forgive me," he pleaded; "I did not mean to be brutal. I said that because I felt as I have never in my life felt before. As I did not know I could feel. I can't account for it, but I ask you to believe me."

"I can account for it," she answered presently, with a strange gentleness. "It is because you met me at a critical time. Such-coincidences often occur in life. I happened to be a woman; and, I confess it, a woman who was interested. I could not have been interested if you had been less real, less sincere. But I saw that you were going through a crisis; that you might, with your powers, build up your life into a splendid and useful thing. And, womanlike, my instinct was to help you. I should not have allowed you to go on, but-but it all happened so quickly that I was bewildered. I-I do not understand it myself."

He listened hungrily, and yet at times with evident impatience.

"No," he said, "I cannot believe that it was an accident. It was you-"

She stopped him with an imploring gesture.

"Please," she said, "please let us go in."

Without an instant's hesitation he brought the sloop about and headed her for the light-ship on Brenton's reef, and they sailed in silence. Awhile she watched the sapphire waters break to dazzling whiteness under the westerning sun. Then, in an ecstasy she did not seek to question, she closed her eyes to feel more keenly the swift motion of their flight. Why not? The sea, the winds of heaven, had aided others since the dawn of history. Legend was eternally true. On these very shores happiness had awaited those who had dared to face primeval things.

She looked again, this time towards an unpeopled shore. No sentinel guarded the uncharted reefs, and the very skies were smiling, after the storm, at the scudding fates.

It was not until they were landlocked once more, and the Folly was reluctantly beating back through the Narrows, that he spoke again.

"So you wish me to go away?"

"I cannot see any use in your staying," she replied, "after what you have said. I-cannot see," she added in a low voice, "that for you to remain would be to promote the happiness of-either of us. You should have gone to-day."

"You care!" he exclaimed.

"It is because I do not wish to care that I tell you to go-"

"And you refuse happiness?"

"It could be happiness for neither of us," said Honora. "The situation would be impossible. You are not a man who would be satisfied with moderation. You would insist upon having all. And you do not know what you are asking."

"I know that I want you," he said, "and that my life is won or lost with or without you."

You have no right to say such a thing."

"We have each of us but one life to live."

"And one life to ruin," she answered. "See, you are running on the rocks!"

He swung the boat around.

"Others have rebuilt upon ruins," he declared.

She smiled at him.

"But you are taking my ruins for granted," she said. "You would make them first."

He relapsed into silence again. The Folly needed watching. Once he turned and spoke her name, and she did not rebuke him.

"Women have a clearer vision of the future than men," she began presently, "and I know you better than you know yourself. What-what you desire would not mend your life, but break it utterly. I am speaking plainly. As I have told you, you interest me; so far that is the extent of my feelings. I do not know whether they would go any farther, but on your account as well as my own I will not take the risk. We have come to an impasse. I am sorry. I wish we might have been friends, but what you have said makes it impossible. There is only one thing to do, and that is for you to go away."

He eased off his sheet, rounded the fort, and set a course for the moorings. The sun hung red above the silhouetted roofs of Conanicut, and a quaint tower in the shape of a minaret stood forth to cap the illusions of a day.

The wind was falling, the harbour quieting for the night, and across the waters, to the tones of a trumpet, the red bars of the battleship's flag fluttered to the deck. The Folly, making a wide circle, shot into the breeze, and ended by gliding gently up to the buoy.

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