FOR MY CHILD’S SAKE

“I’ll look my dear boy in the face
In after years,
Without the shadow of disgrace
Or shameful tears.

“Oh, folly did I sin with you,
And cause him pain,
If hands are clean, and hearts are true,
His is the gain.

“Through future days of toil and fret,
Come dull or fair,
Dear God, ah, let him ne’er forget
His mother’s care!”

It was very dull down at Castle Grim, for even the bright sunshine of
summer could not lift the shadow which seemed to lower over the place.
Eustace amused himself as well as he could, strolling on the lonely
beach, reading his books, playing his piano, and occasionally visiting
at Errington Hall, which he did about three times a week.

Alizon was genuinely glad to see him, as in spite of her desire not to
do so she missed her husband more than she cared to say, and Gartney’s
bright, cheerful talk was a great pleasure to her. Besides, the child
was fond of him, and that counted for a great deal in the eyes of the
young mother, who was never tired of telling her complaisant visitor
about the pretty ways and infantile tricks of her treasure.

As a rule, he rode over in the afternoon and stayed to dinner, after
which, he returned to Castle Grim in the shadows of the summer
twilight. What long conversations they used to have on the terrace in
the gloaming, talks about books, and the burning questions of the day,
and travels in far distant lands. Eustace found his companion
singularly charming from an intellectual point of view, as, during her
lonely girlhood, she had read a great deal, and moreover, remembered
what she had read.

They never touched on the subject of their first conversation,
however, as Alizon entrenched herself within her reserve, and refused
to be drawn into further argument in the matter. Under these
circumstances, Eustace was unable to tell whether he had made any
impression upon her, and was forced to play the part of an ordinary
friend, a _rôle_ not at all to his liking.

After all, it was very questionable whether this platonism would
change to a warmer feeling, as the cold demeanour of Alizon entirely
forbade, in a tacit manner, any over-stepping of the limit of
friendship. Eustace, owing to his inherent cynicism, and peculiar mode
of life, had not much belief in woman, but this time he was obliged to
confess to himself that he had not entirely mastered the feminine sex.

He loved her devotedly–the actual woman this time–for the pale,
virginal vision which had haunted his brain during his travels in
Arabia had entirely vanished, and in place of this unsatisfying dream,
he adored the living, breathing woman herself. Doubtless he invested
the reality with many of the attributes of the ideal, but, at the same
time, he found in Alizon Errington the first companion of the other
sex, who satisfied his artistic eye and his intellectual desires.
Could he have married her, he would have been perfectly happy, and
forgotten the old, empty, aimless existence of the past, but, as it
was impossible, seeing she was the wife of another man, he could only
stand outside the gates of the Paradise he could never hope to enter,
and envy the impossible.

All idea that his passion was dishonourable had now vanished, and his
dearest hope was that she should divorce her present husband, in order
to become his wife. Although he did not understand the actual
circumstances of the case, he was well aware that Alizon considered
herself outraged by her husband’s companionship with Mrs. Veilsturm.
He knew that Guy had shown a marked preference for the society of
Cleopatra, and, as he had followed his charmer over to the Continent,
Eustace began to actually believe that Errington was in love with the
beautiful Creole.

“Small blame to him,” thought Eustace to himself as he drove over to
the Hall one evening. “She set her mind upon making a conquest of him,
and when a woman does that, a man may as well give in to the
inevitable with a good grace. At all events it’s not my fault. I never
spoke to Mrs. Veilsturm in any way. I never told his wife about the
affair, it’s Fate and nothing else, and seeing that he has forgotten
all a husband’s duties, they will never come together again, so I
don’t see why I should not profit by the occasion.”

In this way did Eustace pacify his conscience to his own satisfaction,
although at times he had an uneasy feeling that a good deal of hard,
bitter truth underlay all this sophistry. A good many weeks had gone
by, and Lady Errington had come to look upon him as a firm friend.
Still, not being satisfied with this, and suffering all the tortures
of a restless mind, he determined, as soon as possible, to find out if
she was prepared to divorce her husband for his infidelity, and, if
so, thought he would plead his own cause.

“If there’s a chance for me, I’ll stay in England and try my hardest,”
he said to himself as he alighted from the dog-cart at the Hall. “If
not, I’ll go out to Africa with Laxton.”

Javelrack drove the dog-cart off in the direction of the stables, and
Eustace, after one look at the opaline evening sky, in which glimmered
a pale star over the treetops, went inside, where Lady Errington was
expecting him to dinner.

She was in the little Dutch room, which was her favourite, and when
Eustace was announced by the servant, was standing by the table
tossing Sammy in the air, while Tasker, well pleased, waited to bear
off the young gentleman to bed.

“See my treasure?” she cried, as Gartney approached her, “he has come
to say good-night. Excuse me shaking hands, Eustace.”

“Certainly, I yield to stronger claims,” said Gartney, looking at the
laughing child, and at the happy young mother, in her long, white,
dinner-dress. “You ought to be in your nursery, you young scamp.”

“So he ought,” laughed Lady Errington, devouring the baby face with
kisses, “but he cried for me so much that Nurse had to bring him
down.”

“He hollered, sir,” confirmed Mrs. Tasker, placidly. “I never did see
sich a child for his mother.”

“The sweetest, dearest treasure in the world!” said Alizon taking
Sammy across to his nurse, “here, Nurse, take him–oh! he’s got my
flowers, naughty boy.”

And indeed, Master Errington, crowing with delight, carried off a
mangled geranium in triumph to his nursery, kicking vigorously in Mrs.
Tasker’s strong arms.

“How you idolize that child, Alizon,” said Eustace enviously.

“He is all I have in the world,” she replied with a sigh. “I don’t
know what I should do without him.”

“Don’t inspire the angels with envy,” murmured Gartney, a little
cruelly, “it might be dangerous for him.”

“Oh!”

She laid her hand on her heart with a cry, and a pallor over-spread
her face.

“It is cruel to talk like that,” she said hurriedly; “you don’t think
he looks ill, do you? He’s such a strong child. There’s no chance of
his dying. Oh, Eustace, you don’t think that, do you?”

“No! no! of course I don’t,” he replied, soothingly. “Don’t get these
foolish fancies into your head. Sammy will live to be a great trouble
to you I’ve no doubt.”

“He’ll never be that,” answered Lady Errington, recovering herself.
“Ah! there’s the gong.”

“Dinner is served, my lady,” announced a servant at the door, and
taking Gartney’s arm, she went with him into the dining-room.

It was “Alizon” and “Eustace” with them now, for after all, they were
cousins, if only by marriage, and it was so disagreeable to constantly
use the formality of titles. Still, there was always that indefinable
barrier between them, which kept Eustace within the limits of kindly
friendship, and on her part, Alizon never forgot her dignity as a
married woman.

“It’s very kind of you, Alizon, to take pity on a poor hermit,” said
Gartney, towards the end of the meal, “but I don’t know what the
county will say at this _tête-à-tête_ dinner.”

“The county can hardly complain, seeing we are cousins.”

“By marriage.”

“Yes, by marriage,” she assented, changing the conversation from such
a distasteful subject, which reminded her of Guy. “By the way,
Eustace, I want you to sing to me this evening.”

“I think I do that pretty nearly every time I come over,” replied
Eustace, smiling. “Is there anything special you want?”

“I remember your improvisation at Como about the fairy and the
nightingale. It was very charming.”

“Ah! you remember that?” he cried, his face lighting up. “It was too
delightful to forget.”

Eustace laughed a trifle disbelievingly.

“Is that genuine, or a society romance?”

“I always say what I mean,” she answered, with cold dignity.

“I’m glad everybody else does not,” retorted Gartney fervently. “What
a disagreeable world it would be, if that was the case.”

“A very honest world, at all events.”

“And therefore disagreeable–the two are inseparable.”

“Why should they be?”

“Ah! why shouldn’t they?” said Eustace meaningly. “If the truth was
pleasant, nobody would mind hearing it, but then the truth is not
always pleasant.”

“That is the fault of the person spoken of.”

“I daresay, but he doesn’t look at it in that philosophical light.”

“You are as cynical as ever,” she said with a sigh, as she arose to
leave the table.

“The fault of the world, as I said before,” he responded, opening the
door. “I would like to believe in my fellow-creatures, only they won’t
let me.”

When she had vanished, he returned to his wine, and began to ponder
over her words. He saw plainly enough that she did not care about him
at all, but with ingrained vanity and egotism would not admit the
coldness to himself.

“I’ll try what a song can do,” he thought, as he followed her to the
drawing-room. “I can say in a song what I dare not say in plain
words.”

Of course, Lady Errington had run up to the nursery to take a look at
the baby, but shortly afterwards came down with an apology, to find
Eustace seated at the piano.

Outside was the luminous twilight of July, with a pale, starlit sky,
arched over the prim Dutch garden. The windows were open, and a warm
breath of summer, heavy with the perfume of flowers, floated into the
room. The sombre trees stood black and dense against the clear sky,
the garden was filled with wavering shadows, and a nightingale was
singing deliciously in the heart of the still leaves as the bats
glided like ghosts through the air. Lady Errington established herself
in a comfortable chair near the open window, with a white wrap as a
protection against the falling dews, and Eustace, sitting at the
Erard, in the bright light of the lamp, ran his fingers delicately
over the keys.

“What can I do against that immortal music?” he said absently,
alluding to the nightingale.

“Hark how the bursts come crowding through the trees.
What passion, and what pain.”

“You don’t know Matthew Arnold’s poems, I suppose, Lady Errington?”

“Ah! you are wrong there,” she replied quietly. “I am very fond of his
melancholy verse.”

“Very melancholy,” he answered musingly. “I agree with you there. I
wonder, if in the whole range of English literature, there is a more
bitterly true line than that famous one:

“‘We mortal millions live alone.'”

“That is not my favourite,” said Alizon dreamily, “I like that
couplet:

“‘And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb’d salt estranging sea.'”

“It means very much the same thing,” observed Eustace after a pause,
“and it’s in the same poem, I think. But how true it is! Lovers,
friends, married or single, we all live alone, isolated by the
‘estranging sea.’ No one really knows the heart of a fellow-creature.”

“But surely if a perfect harmony exists—-”

“There is always a something,” said Gartney decisively, “like the
perfume of a flower, the sigh of a wind, the throb of joy in the voice
of a bird, that escapes us utterly. It is felt, but cannot be
communicated.”

“A sad idea.”

“Very sad, but alas, very true.”

There was a silence between them for a few minutes, only broken by the
song of the hidden bird and the ripple of notes from the piano, and
then Eustace, with a deep sigh, shook off his sombre thoughts and
spoke cheerfully.

“I must sing you something, Lady Errington,” he said lightly, “all
this conversation will make you melancholy.”

“I like to feel melancholy. It’s suitable to the hour.”

“Then I must make my song the same,” he observed gaily, and thereupon
played a soft dreamy prelude, at the end of which his sweet,
sympathetic voice arose tenderly on the still air:

I.

“I love a star that shines above
When day is blending with the night,
Alas, what pain this foolish love,
Such worship brings but cold delight.
I cannot scale the twilight sky,
My love to tell in accents sweet;
It comes not down altho’ I sigh,
And So my star I ne’er can meet.

II.
“Oh foolish heart! oh cruel star!
Your love I dare not hope to gain;
Yet still you shine each night afar,
To mock my anguish and my pain
And yet thou art so sweet, so pure,
I may not–dare not thee forsake;
For tho’ this pain for aye endure
I’ll love thee–but my heart will break.”

“The story of an impossible love,” said Lady Errington when he ended.

“Yes! It is called ‘My Star in Heaven.'”

“As if any man loved so hopelessly and purely–absurd!”

“There are more varieties of the human race than you know of, Alizon.”

“No doubt. But I’m not particularly impressed with those I have met
with.”

“You are talking of me.”

“I am talking of my husband.”

Eustace left the piano and stepped outside into the beautiful still
night. The moon was looking over the fantastic gables of the hall, and
filled the garden with trembling shadows. It was exquisitely
beautiful, but human beings bring the prose of life into all the
poetry of Nature. Eustace did so now.

“May I smoke a cigarette, Alizon?”

“Certainly!”

He lighted a cigarette and leaned against the wall of the house,
watching the ghostly curls of smoke melting in the moonshine. Both
were silent for a few minutes, occupied with their own thoughts, and
then Eustace spoke.

“Why don’t you divorce your husband?”

Lady Errington started violently, for, strange to say, she was
thinking of the same thing. She felt inclined to resent Gartney’s
plain speaking, but the light from the lamp was striking full on his
grave face, and, seeing how much in earnest he was, she changed her
mind.

“I shall never do that,” she replied quietly, with a slight shiver. It
might have been the night air or the idea of divorce, but she shivered
as she spoke.

“Why not?”

“Can you ask? Think of the disgrace it would be to the child.”

It was all over. Eustace had an intuitive feeling that the last word
had been said on the subject. She would never divorce her husband, she
would never listen to his offers of affection, for the child was at
once her safeguard and her idol.

Had he been wise he would have said nothing more. Not being wise,
however, he did.

“You have been very kind to me, Alizon,” he said slowly, “very–very
kind, and I shall treasure your kindness in my heart when I leave
you.”

“Where are you going?” she asked in a startled tone.

“I am going to Africa.”

“Have you any reason?”

“The best of all possible reasons. I love you too well for my own
peace of mind.”

Lady Errington arose, with a slight cry, from her chair, and stood
looking at him with wild eyes.

“Are you mad?”

“I have been,” he answered sadly, “but I am mad no longer.”

She put out her hand to grasp the back of the chair and steady
herself, still looking at him in amazement. She was not indignant–she
was not angered–she was simply bewildered.

“I don’t understand you,” she said at length, in a dull tone. “What
are you saying to me? What do you mean?”

“I mean that I love you too well for my own peace of mind,” he said
steadily.

“Love me?–the wife of another man!”

“Will you sit down, Lady Errington?” observed Eustace, in a measured
tone; “I will tell you all.”

“I cannot listen. Such words from you are an insult.”

“You will not say so when you hear what I have to tell.”

Alizon sat down again in her chair, clasped her slender hands
together, then, looking steadily at his face, made a sign for him to
go on, but otherwise gave no token of emotion.

“When I met you at Como,” said Eustace, his usually slow enunciation
quickened by a powerful emotion, “I fell in love with you. Ah, you
need not make that gesture of indignation–the passion was none of my
seeking. The most virtuous woman could take no exception to such
unrequited homage. I always was a strange man in my likes and
dislikes, as you have no doubt heard. Never before had I met a woman I
cared about. They tired me with their falseness and follies, but in
you I saw for the first time an ideal which had been in my mind for
many years. I dared not speak, as you were the wife of my cousin, and
it would have been dishonourable, therefore I went away, and for many
months strove to forget. Nature, however, was stronger than I was, and
when I came back and saw you again, I found that I was more in love
than ever. Still I said nothing, and kept out of your presence as much
as I was able. Through the difference between yourself and Guy, I was
unavoidably forced to see you often. What could I do? A man’s passions
are not always under his control. All women are not as pure and cold
as you. I was afraid of myself, I was afraid of you, and in order to
solve the difficulty I did my best to bring you and Guy together. I
spoke to you–I spoke to Guy–but all was useless. He has gone back to
Mrs. Veilsturm, and forgets with her all his duties to you. I do not
say he is right, but I say he is much to be pitied. Still, whatever my
feelings may be towards him, the actual facts remain the same. He is
with another woman, and you are left alone in the world. I foolishly
dreamed that it might be my fate to release you from this unhappy
position. I thought you might divorce the husband who has wronged you,
but you refuse to do so, for the sake of the child. Ah, that is the
god of your idolatry–you care for nothing in the world save your
child. It is the selfish passion of motherhood–pure, good, elevating
–but still selfish. It is the child that came between you and your
husband–it is the child who comes now between you and me. My love
remains unaltered–it will always be the same–and had you been free I
might have spoken to you without dishonour. You refuse to loosen the
bonds of your loveless marriage, and as I cannot be your lover or your
husband, I dare not be your friend. Your husband is parted from
you–he will never return. I am going away on a perilous journey–I
will never return. Therefore you will be alone with what you love best
in the world–your child.”

With her clear eyes fixed steadily on his face she heard him to the
end of this long speech without a quiver of the eyelids–without the
trembling of her lip–and when he finished:

“So I am the married woman you said you loved?” she asked coldly.

“Yes! and you say—-”

“I say now what I said then,” she answered sternly, “no man can be a
true lover if he would wish to drag the woman he loves through the mud
of the world.”

Eustace flushed deeply.

“You misunderstand me,” he said hurriedly; “I do not want to drag you
down. I would not have spoken, only I thought a divorce—-”

“A divorce!” she echoed, rising to her feet, “and what is that but
dishonour to me and to the child?”

“Always the child,” he said sullenly.

“And why not? The only pure thing in the world I have to love. My
husband has deceived me. You have changed from a friend to a lover. I
cannot listen to you without dishonour. What you said was perfectly
true–my love for the child is the selfish passion of motherhood. I
pardon the words which you have spoken to me to-night, but we must
never meet again.”

“We will not,” he muttered hoarsely, “I leave England for ever.”

“Then we understand each other, and nothing now remains but to say
goodbye.”

“Have you no word of pity?”

“I am sorry for your foolish passion,” she said gently, “but can I say
more without lowering myself in your eyes?

“No–you are right. It is best for me to go. The star will never come
down from Heaven for me, but it will always shine there.”

He caught her hand and touched it with his hot lips.

“Goodbye, Alizon. God–God bless you, my dearest!”

Was it a fancy that a burning tear had fallen on her chill hand? She
looked, and lo! her hand was wet. The door had closed–she was alone
in the room, deserted both by husband and lover.

“Poor Eustace,” she said softly, “I am sorry for his madness; but if
he is unhappy I also am miserable. My husband and friend have both
left me, but I have always my child.”