MoboReader> Literature > Leonora

   Chapter 7 THE DEPARTURE

Leonora By Arnold Bennett Characters: 35070

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


As I approach the crisis in Leonora's life, I hesitate, fearing lest by an unfit phrase I should deprive her of your sympathies, and fearing also that this fear may incline me to set down less than the truth about her.

She was possessed by a mysterious sensation of content. She wished to lie supine-except in her domestic affairs-and to dream that all was well or would be well. It was as though she had determined that nothing could extinguish or even disturb the mild flame of happiness which burned placidly within her. And yet the anxieties of her existence were certainly increasing again. On the morning after the opera, John had departed on one of his sudden flying visits to London; these journeys, formerly frequent, had been in abeyance for a time, and their resumption seemed to point to some renewal of his difficulties. He had called at Church Street on his way to Knype, and Carpenter had brought back word that Miss Myatt was wonderfully better; but when Leonora herself called at Church Street later in the morning and at last saw Aunt Hannah, she was impressed by the change in the old creature, whose nervous system had the appearance of being utterly disorganised. Then there was the difficult case of Ethel and Fred Ryley, in which Leonora had done nothing whatever; and there was the case of Rose, whose alienation from the rest of the household became daily more marked. Finally there was the new and portentous case of Millicent, probably the most disconcerting of the three. Nevertheless, amid all these solicitudes, Leonora remained equable, optimistic, and quietly joyous. Her state of mind, so miraculously altered in a few hours, gave her no surprise. It seemed natural; everything seemed natural; she ceased for a period to waste emotion in the futile desire for her lost youth.

On the second day after the opera she was sitting at her Sheraton desk in the small nondescript room which opened off the dining-room. In front of her lay a large tablet with innumerable names of things printed on it in three columns; opposite each name a little hole had been drilled, and in many of the holes little sticks of wood stood upright. Leonora uprooted a stick, exiling it to a long horizontal row of holes at the top of the tablet, and then wrote in a pocket-book; she uprooted another stick and wrote again, so continuing till only a few sticks were left in the columns; these she spared. Then she rang the bell for the parlourmaid and relinquished to her the tablet; the peculiar rite was over.

'Is dinner ready?' she asked, looking at the small clock which she usually carried about with her from room to room.

'Yes 'm.'

'Then ring the gong. And tell Carpenter I shall want the trap at a quarter past two, for two. I'm going to shop in Hanbridge and then to meet Mr. Stanway at Knype. We shall be in before four. Have some tea ready. And don't forget the eclairs to-day, Bessie.' She smiled.

'No 'm. Did you think on to write about them new dog-biscuits, ma'am?'

'I'll write now,' said Leonora, and she turned to the desk.

The gong sounded; the dinner was brought in. Through the doorway between the two rooms-there was no door, only a portière-Leonora heard Ethel's rather heavy footsteps. 'I don't think mother will want you to wait to-day, Bessie,' Ethel's voice said. Then followed, after the maid's exit, the noise of a dish-cover being lifted and dropped, and Ethel's exclamation: 'Um!' And then the voices of Rose and Millicent approached, in altercation.

'Come along, mother,' Ethel called out.

'Coming,' answered Leonora, putting the note in an envelope.

'The idea!' said Rose's voice scornfully.

'Yes,' retorted Milly's voice. 'The idea.'

Leonora listened as she wrote the address.

'You always were a conceited thing, Milly, and since this wonderful opera you're positively ridiculous. I almost wish I'd gone to it now, just to see what you were like.'

'Ah well! You just didn't, and so you don't know.'

'No indeed! I'd got something better to do than watch a pack of amateurs--' There was a pause for silent contempt.

'Well? Keep it up, keep it up.'

'Anyhow I'm perfectly certain father won't let you go.'

'I shall go.'

'And besides, I want to go to London, and you may be absolutely certain, my child, that he won't let two of us go.'

'I shall speak to him first.'

'Oh no, you won't.'

'Shan't I? You'll see.'

'No, you won't. Because it just happens that I spoke to him the night before last. And he's making inquiries and he'll tell me to-night. So what do you think of that?'

Leonora drew aside the portière.

'My dear girls!' she protested benevolently, standing there.

The feud, always apt thus to leap into a perfectly Corsican fury of bitterness, sank back at once to its ordinary level of passive mutual repudiation. Rose and Millicent were not bereft of the finer feelings which distinguish humanity from the beasts of the jungle; sometimes they could be almost affectionate. There were, however, moments when to all appearance they hated each other with a tigerish and crouching hatred such as may be found only between two opposing feminine temperaments linked together by the family tie.

'What's this about your going to London, Rosie?' Leonora asked in a voice soothing but surprised, when the meal had begun.

'You know, mamma. I mentioned it to you the other day.' The girl's tone implied that what she had said to Leonora perhaps went in at one ear and out at the other.

Leonora remembered. Rose had in fact casually told her that a school friend in Oldcastle who was studying for the same examination as herself had gone to London for six weeks' final coaching under what Rose called a 'lady-crammer.'

'But you didn't tell me that you wanted to go as well,' Leonora said.

'Yes, mother, I did,' Rose affirmed with calm. 'You forget. I'm sure I shan't pass if I don't go. So I asked father while you were all at this opera affair.'

'And what did he say?' Ethel demanded.

'He said he would make inquiries this morning and see.'

Ethel gave a laugh of good-natured derision. 'Yes,' she exclaimed, 'and you'll see, too!'

In response to this oracular utterance, Rose merely bent lower over her plate.

Millicent, conscious of a brilliant vocation and of an impassioned resolve, refrained from the discussion, and the sense of her ineffable superiority bore hard on that lithe, mercurial youthfulness. The 'Signal,' in praising Millicent's performance at the opera, had predicted for her a career, and had thoughtfully quoted instances of well-born amateurs who had become professionals and made great names on the stage. Millicent knew that all Bursley was talking about her. And yet the family life was unaltered; no one at home seemed to be much impressed, not even Ethel, though Ethel's sympathy could be depended upon; Milly was still Milly, the youngest, the least important, the chit of a thing. At times it appeared to her as though the triumph of that ecstatic and glorious night was after all nothing but an illusion, and that only the interminable dailiness of family life was real. Then the ruthless and calculating minx in her shut tight those pretty lips and coldly determined that nothing should stand against ambition.

'I do hope you will pass,' said Leonora cordially to Rose. 'You certainly deserve to.'

'I know I shan't, unless I get some outside help. My brain isn't that sort of brain. It's another sort. Only one has to knuckle down to these wretched exams first.'

Leonora did not understand her daughter. She knew, however, that there was not the slightest chance of Rose being allowed to go to London alone for any lengthened period, and she wondered that Rose could be so blind as not to perceive this. As for Millicent's vague notions, which the child had furtively broached during her father's absence, the more Leonora thought upon them, the more fantastically impossible they seemed. She changed the subject.

The repast, which had commenced with due ceremony, degenerated into a feminine mess, hasty, informal, counterfeit. That elaborate and irksome pretence that a man is present, with which women when they are alone always begin to eat, was gradually dropped, and the meal ended abruptly, inconclusively, like a bad play.

'Let's go for a walk,' said Ethel.

'Yes,' said Milly, 'let's.'

* * *

'Mamma!' Milly called from the drawing-room window.

Leonora was walking about the misty garden, where little now remained that was green, save the yews, the cypresses, and the rhododendrons; Bran, his white-and-fawn coat glittering with minute drops of water, plodded heavily and content by her side along the narrow damp paths. She was dressed for driving, and awaited Carpenter with the trap.

In reply to Leonora's gesture of attention, Milly, instead of speaking from the window, ran quickly to her across the sodden lawn. And Milly's running was so girlish, simple, and unaffected, that Leonora seemed by means of it to have found her daughter again, the daughter who had disappeared in the adroit and impudent creature of the footlights. She was glad of the reassurance.

'Here's Mr. Twemlow, mamma,' said Milly, with a rather embarrassed air; and they looked at each other, while Bran frowned in glancing upwards.

At the same moment, Arthur Twemlow and Ethel entered the garden together. The social atmosphere was rendered bracing by this invasion of the masculine; every personality awoke and became vigilantly itself.

'We met Mr. Twemlow on the marsh, mother, walking from Oldcastle to Bursley,' said Ethel, after the ritual of greeting, 'and so we brought him in.'

As Leonora was on the point of leaving the house, the situation was somewhat awkward, and a slight hesitation on her part showed this.

'You're going out?' he said.

'Oh, mamma,' Milly cried quickly, 'do let me go and meet father instead of you. I want to.'

'What, alone?' Leonora exclaimed in a kind of dream.

'I'll go too,' said Ethel.

'And suppose you have the horse down?'

'Well then, we'll take Carpenter,' Milly suggested. 'I'll run and tell him to put his overcoat on and put the back-seat in.' And she scampered off.

Twemlow was fondling the dog with an air of detachment.

In the fraction of an instant, a thousand wild and disturbing thoughts swept through Leonora's brain. Was it possible that Arthur Twemlow had suggested this change of plan to the girls? Or had the girls already noticed with the keen eyes of youth that she and Arthur Twemlow enjoyed each other's society, and na?vely wished to give her pleasure? Would Arthur Twemlow, but for the accidental encounter on the Marsh, have passed by her home without calling? If she remained, what conclusion could not be drawn? If she persisted in going, might not he want to come with her? She was ashamed of the preposterous inward turmoil.

'And my shopping?' she smiled, blushing.

'Give me the list, mater,' said Ethel, and took the morocco book out of her hand.

Never before had Leonora felt so helpless in the sudden clutch of fate. She knew she was a willing prey. She wished to remain, and politeness to Arthur Twemlow demanded that this wish should not be disguised. Yet what would she not have given even to have felt herself able to disguise it?

'How incredibly stupid I am!' she thought.

No sooner had the two girls departed than Twemlow began to laugh.

'I must tell you,' he said, with candid amusement, 'that this is a plant. Those two daughters of yours calculated to leave you and me here alone together.'

'Yes?' she murmured, still constrained.

'Miss Milly wants me to talk you round about her going in for the stage. When I met them on the Marsh, of course I began to pay her compliments, and I just happened to say I thought she was a born comédienne, and before I knew it T was blindfolded, handcuffed, and carried off, so to speak.'

This was the simple, innocent explanation! 'Oh, how incredibly stupid, stupid, stupid, I was!' she thought again, and a feeling of exquisite relief surged into her being. Mingled with that relief was the deep joy of realising that Ethel and Milly fully shared her instinctive predilection for Arthur Twemlow. Here indeed was the supreme security.

'I must say my daughters get more and more surprising every day,' she remarked, impelled to offer some sort of conventional apology for her children's unconventional behaviour.

'They are charming girls,' he said briefly.

On the surface of her profound relief and joy there played like a flying fish the thought: 'Was he meaning to call in any case? Was he on his way here?'

They talked about Aunt Hannah, whom Twemlow had seen that morning and who was improving rapidly. But he agreed with Leonora that the old lady's vitality had been irretrievably shattered. Then there was a pause, followed by some remarks on the weather, and then another pause. Bran, after watching them attentively for a few moments as they stood side by side near the French window, rose up from off his haunches, and walked gloomily away.

'Bran, Bran!' Twemlow cried.

'It's no use,' she laughed. 'He's vexed. He thinks he's being neglected. He'll go to his kennel and nothing will bring him out of it, except food. Come into the house. It's going to rain again.'

* * *

'Well,' the visitor exclaimed familiarly.

They were seated by the fire in the drawing-room. Leonora was removing her gloves.

'Well?' she repeated. 'And so you still think Milly ought to be allowed to go on the stage?'

'I think she will go on the stage,' he said.

'You can't imagine how it upsets me even to think of it.' Leonora seemed to appeal for his sympathy.

'Oh, yes, I can,' he replied. 'Didn't I tell you the other night that I knew exactly how you felt? But you've got to get over that, I guess. You've got to get on to yourself. Mr. Myatt told me what he said to you--'

'So Uncle Meshach has been talking about it too?' she interrupted.

'Why, yes, certainly. Of course he's quite right. Milly's bound to go her own way. Why not make up your mind to it, and help her, and straighten things out for her?'

'But--'

'Look here, Mrs. Stanway,' he leaned forward; 'will you tell me just why it upsets you to think of your daughter going on the stage?'

'I don't know. I can't explain. But it does.'

She smiled at him, smoothing out her gloves one after the other on her lap.

'It's nothing but superstition, you know,' he said gently, returning her smile.

'Yes,' she admitted. 'I suppose it is.'

He was silent for a moment, as if undecided what to say next. She glanced at him surreptitiously, and took in all the details of his attire-the high white collar, the dark tweed suit obviously of American origin, the thin silver chain that emerged from beneath his waistcoat and disappeared on a curve into the hip pocket of his trousers, the boots with their long pointed toes. His heavy moustache, and the smooth bluish chin, struck her as ideally masculine.

'No parents,' he burst out, 'no parents can see things from their children's point of view.'

'Oh!' she protested. 'There are times when I feel so like my daughters that I am them.'

He nodded. 'Yes,' he said, abandoning his position at once, 'I can believe that. You're an exception. If I hadn't sort of known all the time that you were, I wouldn't be here now talking like this.'

'It's so accidental, the whole business,' she remarked, branching off to another aspect of the case in order to mask the confusion caused by the sincere flattery in his voice. 'It was only by chance that Milly had that particular part at all. Suppose she hadn't had it. What then?'

'Everything's accidental,' he replied. 'Everything that ever happened is accidental, in a way-in another it isn't. If you look at your own life, for instance, you'll find it's been simply a series of coincidences. I'm sure mine has been. Sheer chance from beginning to end.'

'Yes,' she said thoughtfully, and put her chin in the palm of her left hand.

'And as for the stage, why, nearly every one goes on the stage by chance. It just occurs, that's all. And moreover I guarantee that the parents of fifty per cent. of all the actresses now on the boards began by thinking what a terrible blow it was to them that their daughters should want to do that. Can't you see what I mean?' He emphasised his words more and more. 'I'm certain you can.'

She signified assent. It seemed to her, as he continued to talk, that for the first time she was listening to natural convincing common sense in that home of hers, where existence was governed by precedent and by conventional ideas and by the profound parental instinct which meets all requests with a refusal. It seemed to her that her children, though to outward semblance they had much freedom, had never listened to anything but 'No,' 'No, dear,' 'Of course you can't,' 'I think you had better not,' and 'Once for all, I forbid it.' She wondered why this should have been so, and why its strangeness had not impressed her before. She had a distant fleeting vision of a household in which parents and children behaved like free and sensible human beings, instead of like the virtuous and the martyrised puppets of a terrible system called 'acting for the best.' And she thought again what an extraordinary man Arthur Twemlow was, strong-minded, clear-headed, sympathetic, and delightful. She enjoyed intensely the sensation of their

intimacy.

'Jack will never agree,' she said, when she could say nothing else.

'Ah! "Jack!"' He slightly imitated her tone. 'Well, that remains to be seen.'

'Why do you take all this trouble for Milly?' she asked him. 'It's very good of you.'

'Because I'm a fool, a meddling ass,' he replied lightly, standing up and stroking his clothes.

'You aren't,' her eyes said, 'you are a dear.'

'No,' he went on, in a serious tone, 'Milly just wanted me to speak to you, and after all I didn't see why I shouldn't. It's no earthly business of mine, but-oh, well! Good-bye, I must be getting along.'

'Have you got an appointment to keep?' she questioned him.

'No-not an appointment.'

'Well then, you will stay a little longer. The trap will be back quite soon.' Her voice seemed playfully to indicate that, as she had submitted to his domination, so he must submit now to hers. 'And if you will excuse me one moment, I will go and take off this thick jacket.'

Up in the bedroom, as she removed her coat in front of the pier-glass, she smiled at her image timorously, yet in full content. Milly's prospects did not appear to her to have been practically improved, nor could she piece out of Arthur Twemlow's conversation a definite argument; nevertheless she felt that he had made her see something more clearly than heretofore, that he had induced in her, not by logic but by persuasiveness, a mood towards her children which was brighter, more sanguine, and even more loving, than any in her previous experience. She was glad that she had left him alone for a minute, because such familiar treatment of him somehow established definitely his status as a friend of the house.

'Listen, Twemlow,' said Stanway loudly, 'I meant to run down to the office for an hour this afternoon, but if you'll stay, I'll stay. That's a bargain, eh?'

* * *

John had returned from London blusterously cheerful, and Twemlow stood in the centre of his vehement noisy hospitality as in the centre of a typhoon. He consented to stay, because the two girls, with hair blown and still in their wet macintoshes, took him by the arm and said he must. He was not the first guest in that house whom the apparent heartiness of the host had failed to convince. Always there was something sinister, insincere, and bullying in the invitations which John gave, and in his reception of visitors. Hence it was, perhaps, that visitors did not abound under his roof, despite the richness of the table and the ordered elegance of every appointment. Women paid calls; the girls, unlike Leonora, had their intimates, including Harry; but men seldom came; and it was not often that the principal meals of the day were shared by an outsider of either sex.

Arthur's presence on a second occasion was therefore the more stimulating. It affected the whole house, even to the kitchen, which, indeed, usually vibrates in sympathy with the drawing-room. In Bessie's vivacious demeanour as she served the high-tea at six o'clock might be observed the symptoms of the agreeable excitation which all felt. Even Rose unbent, and Leonora thought how attractive the girl could be when she chose. But towards the end of the meal, it became evident that Rose was preoccupied. Leonora, Ethel, and Millicent passed into the drawing-room. John pulled out his immense cigar-case, and the two men began to smoke.

'Come along,' said Stanway, speaking thickly with the cigar in his mouth.

'Papa,' said Rose ominously, just as he was following Twemlow out of the door. She spoke with quiet, cold distinctness.

'What is it?'

'Did you inquire about that?'

He paused. 'Oh yes, Rose,' he answered rapidly.' I inquired. She seemed a very clever woman, I must say. But I've been thinking it over, and I've come to the conclusion that it won't do for you to go. I don't like the idea of it-you in London for six weeks or more alone. You must do what you can here. And if you fail this time you must try again.'

'But I can stay in the same lodgings as Sarah Fuge. The house is kept by her cousin or some relation.'

'And then there's the expense,' he proceeded.

'Father, I told you the other night I didn't want to put you to any expense. I've got thirty-seven pounds of my own, and I will pay; I prefer to pay.'

'Oh, no, no!' he exclaimed.

'Well, why can't I go?' she demanded bluntly.

'I'll think it over again-but I don't like it, Rose, I don't like it.'

'But there isn't a day to waste, father!' she complained.

Bessie entered to clear the table.

'Hum! Well! I'll think it over again.' He breathed out smoke, and departed. Rose set her lips hard. She was seen no more that evening.

In the drawing-room, Stanway found Twemlow and Millicent talking in low voices on the hearthrug. Ethel lounged on the sofa. Leonora was not present, but she came in immediately.

'Let's have a game at solo,' John suggested. And because five was a convenient number they all played. Twemlow and Milly were the best performers; Milly's gift for card-playing was notorious in the family.

'Do you ever play poker?' Twemlow asked, when the other three had been beggared of counters.

'No,' said John, cautiously. 'Not here.'

'It's lots of fun,' Twemlow went on, looking at the girls.

'Oh, Mr. Twemlow,' Milly cried. 'It's awfully gambly, isn't it? Do teach us.'

In a quarter of an hour Milly was bluffing her father with success. She said that in future she should never want to play at any other game. As for Leonora, though she lost and gained counters with happy equanimity, she did not like the game; it frightened her. When Milly had shown a straight flush and scooped the kitty she sent the child out of the room with a message to the kitchen concerning coffee and sandwiches.

'Won't Milly sing?' Twemlow asked.

'Certainly, if you wish,' Leonora responded.

'Ay! Let's have something,' said Stanway, lazily.

And when Millicent returned, she was told that she must sing before eating. She sang 'Love is a Plaintive Song,' to Ethel's inert accompaniment, and she gave it exactly as though she had been on the stage, with all the dramatic action, all the freedom, all the allurements, which she had lavished on the audience in the Town Hall.

'Very good,' said her father. 'I like that. It's very pretty. I didn't hear it the other night.' Twemlow merely thanked the artist. Leonora was silently uncomfortable.

After coffee both the girls disappeared. Twemlow looked round, and then spoke to Stanway.

'I've been very much impressed by your daughter's talent,' he said. His tone was extremely serious. It implied that, now the children were gone, the adults could talk with freedom.

Stanway was a little startled, and more than a little flattered.

'Really?' he questioned.

'Really,' said Twemlow, emphasising still further his seriousness. 'Has she ever been taught?'

'Only by a local teacher up here at Hillport,' Leonora told him.

'She ought to have lessons from a first-class master.'

'Why?' asked Stanway abruptly.

'Well,' Twemlow said, 'you never know--'

'You honestly think her voice is worth cultivating?' John demanded, impelled to participate in Twemlow's gravity.

'I do. And not only her voice--'

'Ah,' Stanway mused, 'there's no first-class masters in this district.'

'Why, I met a man from Manchester at the Five Towns Hotel last night,' said Twemlow, 'who comes down to Knype once a week to give lessons. He used to sing in opera. They say he's the best man about, and that he's taught a lot of good people. I forget his name.'

'I expect you mean Cecil Corfe,' Leonora said cheerfully. She had been amazed at the compliance of John's attitude.

'Yes, that's it.'

At the same moment there was a faint noise at the French window. John went to investigate. As soon as his back was turned, Twemlow glanced at Leonora with eyes full of a private amusement which he invited her to share. 'Can't I just handle him?' he seemed to say. She smiled, but cautiously, less she should disclose too fully her intense appreciation of his personality.

'Why, it's the dog!' Stanway proclaimed, 'and wet through! What's he doing loose? It's raining like the devil.'

'I'm afraid I didn't fasten him up this afternoon. I forgot,' said Leonora. 'Oh! my new rug!'

Bran plunged into the room with a glad deafening bark, his tail thwacking the furniture like the flat of a sword.

'Get out, you great brute!' Stanway ordered, and then, on the step, he shouted into the darkness for Carpenter.

Twemlow rose to look on.

'I can't let you walk to the station to-night, Twemlow,' said Stanway, still outside the room. 'Carpenter shall drive you. Yes, he shall, so don't argue. And while he's about it he may as well take you straight to Knype. You can go in the buggy-there's a hood to it.'

When the time came for departure, John insisted on lending to Twemlow a large driving overcoat. They stood in the hall together, while Twemlow fumbled with the complicated apparatus of buttons. Stanway whistled.

'By the way,' he said, 'when are you coming in to look through those old accounts?'

'Oh, I don't know,' Twemlow answered, somewhat taken by surprise.

'I tell you what I'll do-I'll send you copies of them, eh?'

'I think you needn't trouble,' said Twemlow, carelessly. 'I guess I shall write to my sister, and tell her I can't see any use in trying to worry out the old man's finances at this time of day.'

'However,' Stan way repeated, 'I'll send you the copies all the same. And when you write to your sister, will you give her my kindest regards?'

The whole family, except Rose, came into the porch to bid him good-night. In the darkness and the heavy rain could dimly be seen the rounded form of the buggy; the cob's flanks shone in the glittering ray of the lamps; Carpenter was hidden under the hood; his mysterious hand raised the apron, and Twemlow stepped quickly in.

'Good-night,' said Ethel.

'Good-night, Mr. Twemlow,' said Milly. 'Be good.'

'You'll see us again before you leave, Twemlow?' said John's imperious voice.

'You aren't going back to America just yet, are you?' Leonora asked, from the back.

No reply came from within the hood.

'Mother says you aren't going back to America just yet, are you, Mr. Twemlow?' Milly screamed in her treble.

Arthur Twemlow showed his face. 'No, not yet, I think,' he called. 'See you again, certainly.... And thanks once more.'

'Tchick!' said Carpenter.

* * *

The next evening, after tea, John, Leonora, and Rose were in the drawing-room. Milly had run down to see her friend Cissie Burgess, having with fine cruelty chosen that particular night because she happened to know that Harry would be out. Ethel was invisible. Rose had returned with bitter persistence to the siege of her father's obstinacy.

'I should have six weeks clear,' she was saying.

John consulted his pocket-calendar.

'No,' he corrected her, 'you would only have a month. It isn't worth while.'

'I should have six weeks,' she repeated. 'The exam isn't till January the seventh.'

'But Christmas, what about Christmas? You must be here for Christmas.'

'Why?' demanded Rose.

'Oh, Rosie!' Leonora protested.' You can't be away for Christmas!'

'Why not?' the girl demanded again, coldly.

Both parents paused.

'Because you can't,' said John angrily. 'The idea's absurd.'

'I don't see it,' Rose persevered.

'Well, I do,' John delivered himself. 'And let that suffice.'

Rose's face indicated the near approach of tears.

It was at this juncture that Bessie opened the door and announced Mr. Twemlow.

'I just called to bring back that magnificent great-coat,' he said. 'It's hanging up on its proper hook in the hall.'

Then he turned specially to Leonora, who sat isolated near the fire. She was not surprised to see him, because she had felt sure that he would at once return the overcoat in person; she had counted on him doing so. As he came towards her she languorously lifted her arm, without rising, and the two bangles which she wore slipped tinkling down the wide sleeve. They shook hands in silence, smiling.

'I hope you didn't take cold last night?' she said at length.

'Not I,' he replied, sitting down by her side.

He was quick to detect the disturbance in the social atmosphere, and though he tried to appear unconscious of it, he did not succeed in the impossible. Moreover, Rose had evidently decided that despite his presence she would finish what she had begun.

'Very well, father,' she said. 'If you'll let me go at once I'll come down for two days at Christmas.'

'Yes,' John grumbled, 'that's all very well. But who's to take you? You can't go alone. And you know perfectly well that I only came back yesterday.' He recited this fact precisely as though it constituted a grievance against Rose.

'As if I couldn't go alone!' Rose exclaimed.

'If it's London you're talking about,' Twemlow said, 'I will be going up to-morrow by the midday flyer, and could look after any lady that happened to be on that train and would accept my services.' He glanced pleasantly at Rose.

'Oh, Mr. Twemlow!' the girl murmured. It was a ludicrously inadequate expression of her profound passionate gratitude to this knight; but she could say no more.

'But can you be ready, my dear?' Leonora inquired.

'I am ready,' said Rose.

'It's understood then,' Twemlow said later. 'We shall meet at the dep?t. I can't stop another moment now. I've got a cab waiting outside.'

Leonora wished to ask him whether, notwithstanding his partial assurance of the previous evening, his journey would really end at Euston, or whether he was not taking London en route for New York. But she could not bring herself to put the question. She hoped that John might put it; John, however, was taciturn.

'We shall see Rose off to-morrow, of course,' was her last utterance to Twemlow.

* * *

Leonora and her three daughters stood in the crowd on the platform of Knype railway station, waiting for Arthur Twemlow and for the London express. John had brought them to the station in the waggonette, had kissed Rose and purchased her ticket, and had then driven off to a creditors' meeting at Hanbridge. All the women felt rather mournful amid that bustle and confusion. Leonora had said to herself again and again that it was absurd to regard this absence of Rose for a few weeks as a break in the family existence. Yet the phrase, 'the first break, the first break,' ran continually in her mind. The gentle sadness of her mood noticeably affected the girls. It was as though they had all suddenly discovered a mutual unsuspected tenderness. Milly put her hand on Rose's shoulder, and Rose did not resent the artless gesture.

'I hope Mr. Twemlow isn't going to miss it,' said Ethel, voicing the secret apprehension of all.

'I shan't miss it, anyhow,' Rose remarked defiantly.

Scarcely a minute before the train was due, Milly descried Twemlow coming out of the booking office. They pressed through the crowd towards him.

'Ah!' he exclaimed genially. 'Here you are! Baggage labelled?'

'We thought you weren't coming, Mr. Twemlow,' Milly said.

'You did? I was kept quite a few minutes at the hotel. You see I only had to walk across the road.'

'We didn't really think any such thing,' said Leonora.

The conversation fell to pieces.

Then the express, with its two engines, its gilded luncheon-cars, and its post-office van, thundered in, shaking the platform, and seeming to occupy the entire station. It had the air of pausing nonchalantly, disdainfully, in its mighty rush from one distant land of romance to another, in order to suffer for a brief moment the assault of a puny and needlessly excited multitude.

'First stop Willesden,' yelled the porters.

'Say, conductor,' said Twemlow sharply, catching the luncheon-car attendant by the sleeve, 'you've got two seats reserved for me-Twemlow?'

'Twemlow? Yes, sir.'

'Come along,' he said, 'come along.'

The girls kissed at the steps of the car: 'Good-bye.'

'Well, good-bye all!' said Twemlow. 'I hope to see you again some time. Say next fall.'

'You surely aren't--' Leonora began.

'Yes,' he resumed quickly, 'I sail Saturday. Must get back.'

'Oh, Mr. Twemlow!' Ethel and Milly complained together.

Rose was standing on the steps. Leonora leaned and kissed the pale girl madly, pressing her lips into Rose's cheek. Then she shook hands with Arthur Twemlow.

'Good-bye!' she murmured.

'I guess I shall write to you,' he said jauntily, addressing all three of them; and Ethel and Milly enthusiastically replied: 'Oh, do!'

The travellers penetrated into the car, and reappeared at a window, one on either side of a table covered with a white cloth and laid for two persons.

'Oh, don't I wish I was going!' Milly exclaimed, perceiving them.

Rose was now flushed with triumph. She looked at Twemlow, her lips moved, she smiled. She was a woman in the world. Then they nodded and waved hands.

The guard unfurled his green flag, the engine gave a curt, scornful whistle, and lo! the luncheon-car was gliding away from Leonora, Ethel, and Milly! Lo! the station was empty!

'I wonder what he will talk to her about,' thought Leonora.

They had to cross the station by the under-ground passage and wait twenty minutes for a squalid, shambling local train which took them to Shawport, at the foot of the rise to Hillport.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares