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   Chapter 14 ON THE WINGS OF THE MORNING

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 19387

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"I cannot answer your long letter; to such correspondence there is no end. Come and spend a day here with us; I promise to listen patiently, and you shall hear how things are beginning to shape themselves in my mind, now I have had leisure to reflect. Cecily sends a line. Do come. Take the early boat on Monday; Spence will give you all particulars, and see you off at Santa Lucia. We really have some very sober plans, not unapproved by Mrs. Lessingham. Will meet you at the Marina."

Miriam received this on Sunday morning, and went to her own room to read it. The few lines of Cecily's writing which were enclosed, she glanced over with careless eye; yet not with mere carelessness either, but as if something of aversion disinclined her to peruse them attentively. That sheet she at once laid aside; Reuben's note she still held in her hand, and kept re-reading it.

She went to the window and looked over towards Capri. A slight mist softened its outlines this morning; it seemed very far away, on the dim borders of sea and sky. For a long time she had felt the luring charm of that island, always before her eyes, yet never more than a blue mountainous shape. Lately she had been reading of it, and her fancy, new to such picturings, was possessed by the mysterious dread of its history in old time, the grandeur of its cliffs, the loveliness of its green hollows, and the wonder of its sea-caves. Her childhood had known nothing of fairyland, and now, in this tardy awakening of the imaginative part of her nature, she thought sometimes of Capri much as a child is wont to think of the enchanted countries, nameless, regionless, in books of fable.

What thoughts for Sunday! But Miriam was far on the way of those who recognize themselves as overmastered by temptation, and grow almost reckless in the sins they cannot resist. So long it was since she had been able to attend the accustomed public worship, and now its substitute in the privacy of her room had become irksome. She blushed to be practising hypocrisy; the Spences were careful to refrain from interfering with her to-day, and here, withdrawn from their sight, she passed the hours in wearisome idleness-in worse than that.

She could not look again at Cecily's letter. More; she could not let her eyes turn to Raphael's picture. But before the mirrors she paused often and long, losing herself in self regard.

Early on the morrow, she drove down with Spence to Santa Lucia, and went on board the Capri boat. There were few passengers, a handful of Germans and an English family-father, mother, two daughters, and two sons Sitting apart, Miriam cast many glances at her country people, and not without envy. They were comely folk, in the best English health, refined in bearing, full of enjoyment. Now and then a few words of their talk fell upon her ears, and it was merry, kindly, intimate talk, the fruit of a lifetime of domestic happiness. It made her think again of what her own home-life had been. Such companionship of parents and children was inconceivable in her experience. The girls observed her, and, she believed, spoke of her. Must she not look strange in their eyes? Probably they felt sorry for her, as an invalid whose countenance was darkened by recent pain.

The boat made first of all for Sorrento, where a few more persons came on board. Miriam was by this time enjoying the view of the coast. From this point she kept her gaze fixed on Capri. One more delay on the voyage; the steamer stopped near the Blue Grotto, that such of the passengers as wished might visit it before landing. Miriam kept her place, and for the present was content to watch the little boats, as they rocked for a few moments at the foot of the huge cliff and then suddenly disappeared through the entrance to the cavern. When the English family returned, she listened to their eager, wondering conversation. A few minutes more, and she was landing at the Marina, where Reuben awaited her.

He had a carriage ready for the drive up the serpent road to the hotel where Mrs. Lessingham and her niece were staying. His own quarters were elsewhere-at the Pagano, dear to artists.

"Well, have you enjoyed the voyage? What did you think of Sorrento? We watched the steamer across from there; we were up on the road to Anacapri, yonder. You don't look so well as when I saw you last-nothing like."

He waited for no reply to his questions, and talked with nervous brokenness. Seated in the carriage, he could not keep still from one moment to the next. His eyes had the unquiet of long-continued agitation, the look that results from intense excitement when it has become the habit of day after day.

"Mallard has been talking to you," he said suddenly.

"Why do you say that?"

"I know he has, from your letter.-Look at the views!"

"What plans did you speak of?"

"Oh, we'll talk about it afterwards. But Mallard has been talking you over?"

Miriam had no resolve by which to guide herself. She knew not distinctly why she had come to Capri. Her familiar self-reliance and cold disregard of anything but a few plain rules in regulating her conduct, were things of the past. She felt herself idly swayed by conflicting influences, unable even to debate what course she should take; the one emotion of which she was clearly conscious was of so strange and disturbing a kind that, so far from impelling her to act, it seemed merely to destroy all her customary motives and leave her subject to the will of others. It was the return of weakness such as had possessed her mind when she lay ill, when she was ceaselessly troubled with a desire for she knew not what, and, unable to utter it had no choice but to admit the suggestions and biddings of those who cared for her. She could not even resent this language of Reuben's, to which formerly she would have opposed her unyielding pride; his proximity infected her with nervousness, but at the same time made her flaccid before his energy.

"He came and spoke to me about you," she admitted. "But he left me to do as I saw fit."

"After putting the case against me as strongly as it could be put. I know; you needn't tell me anything about the conversation. Let us leave it till afterwards.-You see how this road winds, so that the incline may be gentle enough for carriages. There are stony little paths, just like the beds of mountain streams, going straight down to the Marina. I lost myself again and again yesterday among the gardens and vineyards. Look back over the bay to Naples!"

But in a minute or two the other subject was resumed, again with a suddenness that told of inability to keep from speaking his thoughts.

"You understand, I dare say, why Mallard is making such a fuss?"

"How could I help understanding?"

"But do you understand?"

"What do you mean?" she asked irritably.

"Does he speak like a man who is disinterested?"

"It is not my business to discuss Mr. Mallard's motives."

"It certainly is mine-and yours too, if you care anything for me."

They reached the hotel without further debate of this subject. It was not much after one o'clock; all lunched together in private, talking only of Capri. Later they walked to the villa of Tiberius. Elgar kept up an appearance of light-hearted enjoyment; Cecily was less able to disguise her preoccupation. Mrs. Lessingham seemed to have accepted the inevitable. Her first annoyance having passed, she was submitting to that personal charm in Elgar which all women sooner or later confessed; her behaviour to him was indulgent, and marked only with a very gentle reserve when he talked too much paradox.

Elgar went to his hotel for dinner, and left the others to themselves through the evening. The next day was given to wandering about the island. On the return at sunset, Miriam and Reuben had a long talk together, in which it was made manifest that the "plans" were just as vague as ever. Reuben had revived the mention of literary work, that was all, and proposed to make his head-quarters in Paris, in order that he might not be too far from Cecily, who would, it was presumed, remain on the Continent. This evening he dined with the ladies. Afterwards Cecily played. When Miriam and Mrs. Lessingham chanced to be conversing together, Elgar stepped up to the piano, and murmured:

"Will you come out into the garden for a few minutes? There's a full moon; it's magnificent."

Cecily let her fingers idle upon the keys, then rose and went to where her aunt was sitting. There was an exchange of words in a low tone, and she left the room. Elgar at once approached Mrs. Lessingham to take leave of her.

"The Grotta Azzurra to-morrow," he said gaily. "Perhaps you won't care to go again? My grave sister will make a very proper chaperon."

"Let us discuss that when to-morrow comes. Please to limit your moon-gazing to five minutes."

"At the utmost."

From the hotel garden opened a clear prospect towards Naples, which lay as a long track of lights beyond the expanse of deep blue. The coast was distinctly outlined against the far sky glowed intermittently the fire of Vesuvius. Above the trees of the garden shone white crags, unsubstantial, unearthly in the divine moonlight. There was no sound, yet to intense listening the air became full of sea-music. It was the night of Homer, the island-charm of the Odyssey.

"Answer me quickly, Cecily; we have only a few minutes, and I want to say a great deal. You have talked with Miriam?"

"Yes."

"You know that she repeats what Mallard has instructed her to say? Their one object now is to get me at a distance from you. You see how your aunt has changed-in appearance; her polic

y is to make me think that she will be my friend when I am away. I can speak with certainty after observing her for so long; in reality she is as firm against me as ever. Don't you notice, too, something strange in Miriam's behaviour?"

"She is not like herself."

"As unlike as could be. Mallard has influenced her strongly. Who knows what he told her?"

"Of you?

"Perhaps of himself."

"Dear, he could not speak to her in that way!"

"A man in love-and in love with Cecily Doran-can do anything. The Spences are his close friends; they too have been working on Miriam."

"But why, why do you return to this? We have spoken of the worst they can do. To fear anything from their' persuasions is to distrust me."

"Cecily, I don't distrust you, but I can't live away from you. I might have gone straight from Naples, but I can't go now; every hour with you has helped to make it impossible. In talking to your aunt and to Miriam, I have been consciously false. Come further this way, into the shadow. Who is over there?"

"Some one we don't know."

Her voice had sunk to a whisper. Elgar led her by the hand into a further recess of the garden; the hand was almost crushed between his own as he continued:

"You must come with me, Cecily. We will go away together, and be married at once."

She panted rather than breathed.

"You must! I can't leave you! I had rather throw myself from these Capri rocks than go away with more than two years of solitude before me."

Cecily made no answer.

"If you think, you will see this is best in every way. It will be kindest to poor Mallard, putting an end at once to any hopes he may have."

"We can't be married without his consent," Cecily whispered.

"Oh yes; I can manage that. I have already thought of everything. Be up early to-morrow morning, and leave the hotel at half-past seven, as if you were going for a walk. Neither your aunt nor Miriam will be stirring by then. Go down the road as far as beyond the next turning, and I will be there with a carriage. At the Marina I will have a boat ready to take us over to Sorrento; we will drive to Castellamare, and there take train direct for Caserta and onwards, so missing Naples altogether. You shall travel as my sister. We will go to London, and be married there. Of course you can't bring luggage, but what does that matter? We can stop anywhere and buy what things you need. I have quite enough money for the present."

"But think of the shock to them all!" she pleaded, trembling through her frame. "How ill I should seem to repay their long kindness! I can't do this, my dearest; oh, I can't do this! I will see Mr. Mallard, as I wished-"

"You shall not see him!" he interrupted violently. "I couldn't bear it. How do I know-"

"How cruel to speak like that to me!"

"Of your own cruelty you never think. You have made me mad with love of you, and have no right to refuse to marry me when I show you the way. If I didn't love you so much, I could bear well enough to let you speak with any one. Your love is very different from mine, or you couldn't hesitate a moment."

"Let me think! I can't answer you to-night."

"To-night, or never!-Oh yes, I understand well enough, all your reasons for hesitating. It would mean relinquishing the wedding-dress and the carriages and all the rest of the show that delights women. You are afraid of Mrs. Grundy crying shame when it is known that you have travelled across Europe with me. You feel it will be difficult to resume your friendships afterwards. I grant all these things, but I didn't think they would have meant so much to Cecily."

"You know well that none of these reasons have any weight with me. It is only in joking that you can speak of them. But the unkindness to them all, dear! Think of it!"

"Why say 'to them all'? Wouldn't it be simpler to say 'the unkindness to Mallard'?"

She looked up into his face.

"Why does love make a man speak so bitterly and untruthfully? Nothing could make me do you such a wrong."

"Because you are so pure of heart and mind that nothing but truth can be upon your lips. If I were not very near madness, I could never speak so to you. My own dear love, think only of what I suffer day after day! And what folly is it that would keep us apart! Suppose they had none but conscientious motives; in that case, these people take upon themselves to say what is good for us, what we may be allowed and what not; they treat us as children. Of course, it is all for your protection. I am not fit to be your husband, my beautiful girl! Tell me-who knows me better, Mallard or yourself?"

"No one knows you as I do, dearest, nor ever will."

"And do you think me too vile a creature to call you my wife?"

"I need not answer that. You are as much nobler than I am as your strength is greater than mine."

"But they would remind you that you are an heiress. I have not made so good a use of my own money as I might have done, and the likelihood is that I shall squander yours, bring you to beggary. Do you believe that?"

"I know it is not true."

"Then what else can they oppose to our wish? Here are all the objections, and all seem to be worthless. Yet there might be one more. You are very young-how I rejoice in knowing it, sweet flower!-perhaps your love of me is a mere illusion. It ought to be tested by time; very likely it may die away, and give place to something truer."

"If so let me die myself sooner than survive such happiness!"

"Why, then what have they to say for themselves? Their opposition is mistake, stubborn error. And are we to sacrifice two whole years, the best time of our lives, to such obstinacy? Either of us may die, Cecily. Suppose it to be my lot, what would be your thoughts then?"

His head bent to hers, and their faces touched.

"Dare you risk that, my love?"

"I dare not."

Her answer trembled upon his hearing as though it came upon the night air from the sea.

"You will come with me to-morrow?"

"I will."

He sought her offered lips, and for a few instants their whispering in the shadow ceased. Then he repeated rapidly the directions he had already given her.

"Put on your warmest cloak; it will be cold on the water. Now I can say good-night. Kiss me once more, and once more promise."

She pressed her arms about him.

"I am giving you my life. If I had more, I would give it. Be faithful to me!"

"Then, you do doubt me?"

"Never! But say it to-night, to give me strength."

"I will be faithful to you whilst I have life."

She issued from shadows into broad moonlight, looked once round, once at the gleaming crags, and passed again into gloom.

"I think it very unlikely," Mrs. Lessingham was saying to Miriam, in her pleasantest voice of confidence, "that Mr. Mallard will insist on the whole term."

"No doubt that will much depend on the next year," Miriam replied, trying to seem impartial.

"No doubt whatever. I am glad we came here. They are both much quieter and more sensible. In a few days I think your brother will have made up his mind."

"I hope so."

"Cecily lost her head a little at first, but I see that her influence is now in the sober direction, as one would have anticipated. When Mr. Elgar has left us, no doubt Mr. Mallard will come over, and we shall have quiet talk, What an odd man he is! How distinctly I could have foreseen his action in these circumstances! And I know just how it will be, as soon as things have got into a regular course again. Mr. Mallard hates disturbance and agitation. Of course he has avoided seeing Cecily as yet; imagine his exasperated face if he became involved in a 'scene'!"

And Mrs. Lessingham laughed urbanely.

A short and troubled sleep at night's heaviest; then long waiting for the first glimmer of dawn. How unreal the world seemed to her! She tried to link this present morning with the former days, but her life had lost its continuity; the past was past in a sense she had never known; and as for the future, it was like gazing into darkness that throbbed and flashed. It meant nothing to her to say that this was Capri-that the blue waves and the wind of morning would presently bear her to Sorrento; the familiar had no longer a significance; her consciousness was but a point in space and eternity. She had no regret of her undertaking, no fear of what lay before her, but a profound sadness, as though the burden of all mortal sorrows were laid upon her soul.

At seven o'clock she was ready. A very few things that could be easily carried she would take with her; her cloak would hide them. Now she must wait for the appointed moment. It seemed to be very cold; she shivered.

A minute or two before the half-hour, she left her room silently. On the stairs a servant passed her, and looked surprised in giving the "Buon giorno." She walked quickly through the garden, and was on the firm road. At the place indicated stood Elgar beside the carriage, and without exchanging a word they took their seats.

At the Marina, they had but to step from the carriage to the boat. Elgar's luggage was thrown on board, and the men pushed off from the quay.

Bitterly cold, but what a glorious sunrise! Against the flushed sky, those limestone heights of Capri caught the golden radiance and shone wondrously. The green water, gently swelling but unbroken, was like some rarer element, too limpid for this world's shores. With laughter and merry talk between themselves, the boatmen hoisted their sail.

And the gods sent a fair breeze from the west, and it smote upon the sail, and the prow cleft its track of foam, and on they sped over the back of the barren sea.

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