she was setting forth

It was the most interesting case I have ever had (wrote M.
Châtelard, in the third volume of his “Psychologie Féminine”),
and the most abnormal. The illness, caused by shock,
concussion—call it what you will—was benign, yet it was long.
There was a little fever, a little delirium: un petit délire
très doux, tout poétique, que, plongé dans mon vieux fauteuil de
chêne, au milieu du silence de cet antique manoir, j’écoutais
presqu’avec plaisir. Un gazouillement d’oiseau; une âme de
femme, errant comme Psyché elle-même, sur les fleurs dans les
jardins embaumés; délicates puerilitiés parfumées de la vie.
Jamais une note de passion. Jamais un cri de ce coeur si
profondement blessé….

And when later, by almost imperceptible steps, we drew the
gentle creature back to health, the singular phenomenon
persisted.

We physicians are, of course, accustomed in similar
circumstances, to find a strong distaste in the patient
suffering from shock to any effort of memory. Memory, indeed,
by one of those marvellous dispensations of nature, is reluctant
to bring back the events which have caused the mischief. But,
with the beautiful Lady G—— (it is always thus I must recall
her) there was something more than the mere recoil of
weakness….

On eût pu croire que cette âm ebrisée de passion, abreuvée de
douleur, s’était dit qu’elle n’en voulait plus; qu’elle n’en
pouvait plus. Co n’était pas, ici, les souvenirs, qui faisaient
défaut. Je l’ai trop observée pour m’y méprendre. En avait-elle
des souvenirs et d’assez poignants, mon Dieu! … But with a
strength of will which surprised me in her state, she put these
memories from her and deliberately lived in the present. Elle
goutait son présent, elle savourait la paix voluptueuse de sa
convalescence….

Je n’ai qu’à fermer les yeux, pour la revoir, sur son
lit—longue, blanche et belle. Je revois ce jeune
teint—divinement jeune sous cette grande chevelure d’argent; cet
air de lys au soleil, à la fois languissant et mystérieusement
heureux. Ces yeux noyés dans une pensée profonde. Ces lévres
entr’ouvertes par un léger sourire. A qui rêvaitelle—à quoi?
Cette belle bouche muette n’en soufflait jamais mot….

Of the three who had loved her, for whom was that smile?
Certes, not for the poor Sir! And of the other two? (I must
here frankly set down the humiliating admission, to me, that
woman was, and remains Sphynx—yes, Sphynx, even to me, her
physician, who beheld her, watched, tended her, through all
those moments of suffering, weakness, _défaillance_ where the
soul reveals itself.) Which of the two, then, reigned in her
secret dream? The sardonic Major, who had tracked her till she
could escape him no longer, whose love was merciless. There are
women, and many, who would never know passion but for defeat.
The husband? The reincarnated ghost? Well reincarnated, that
one!—The most virile type that I ever met. Nature of fire, born
lover, under all his reticence of English gentleman and soldier.
I have seen that face of his, half bronze, half marble, grow
crimson and white within the minute, as I spoke to him of the
woman, the while there would not be a tremble in the hand that
held this pipe. I will confess he had all my sympathy; he was
worthy of her. But she—why, to this day I ask myself: does the
man who possesses her know the secret of her heart?

The day after the damaged motor had carried away the poor
Governor—machine détraquée, clopin-clopant, symbole de cette vie
qui jusqu’ici semblait rouler en triomphe et qui, desormais, se
trainera si gauchement—the day following Sir G——’s departure, I
say, the Major B—— also left. It was the very least he could
have done. And after the astounding fact of his betrothal to the
pretty little Miss C——, I myself felt his presence
antipathetic…. Ah, but a strategist, that officer of Guides,
strategist of the first order! A masterly move, that betrothal,
to disarm any possible suspicion of his friend and keep the
while a footing in his beloved’s house! But the little one, she
deserved better … _delicieuse enfant_! With what innocent
eyes she looked at me when I told her that, above all things,
she must not whisper to my patient a word of her engagement.
“Understand well, Miss,” said I to her; and was ashamed of
myself thus to join with him who was deceiving her. “It is
because the least agitation, even a happy one, must be avoided.”
“Ah, that is why,” said she, “you will not let her poor husband
go to her?” “That is why,” I replied, dissembling, “above all
things, above all things, she must not be hurried.”

* * * * *

She must not be hurried!

“If she wants me?” had said Harry English to Dr. Châtelard, in that dawn
hour of dire omen.

“My dear sir,” had answered the other, “immediately, of course!”

Rosamond lay, restored to those that loved her, a pale rose among her
white tresses, and Harry English still waited her summons.

Still waiting!

* * * * *

“Above all,” repeated the genial physician, who had stood by them so
stoutly in their hour of trouble, as he took his reluctant departure
from a house where his presence was, obviously, no longer needed, and
where yet—unfortunate psychologist—he had failed to probe the story to
the core, “above all, she must not be hurried!”

These were his farewell instructions.

It seemed to him that the patient husband had a strange smile on hearing
this admonition.

“How much does he know?” asked Châtelard of himself, clinging with
characteristic pertinacity to his peculiar interpretation of events.
“How much does he suspect?”

Never before, perhaps, had the active-minded and gregarious Frenchman
found himself thus regretting the prospect of a return to the congenial
movement of his native city. But it was with a definite sense of
reluctance that, on this March morning, he drove away through the
budding orchard trees, leaving the Old Ancient House and all the
desolate moorland behind him. This lonely antique habitation still held
close the enigma of lives in which he had become deeply
interested—interested, not only with that vivid intelligence which was
ever eager to know, but with the warmth of a very excellent heart.

He would dearly have loved to know, true; but, above all, he would
dearly have loved to help.

“Eh, Dieu sait,” he sighed, as the fly jingled and bumbled over the
grass-grown avenue, “Dieu sait ce qui va se passer là-bas, maintenant
que je n’y suis plus!”

He gave a lingering look at the twisted chimney-stacks against the pale
sky, before setting his face for Paris, Ville Lumière, once more.

* * * * *

“She must not be hurried!—Until she asks for me; then,” had resolved
Harry English, “I will wait.”

And at first, indeed, it seemed as if the waiting could not be hard.
For with the young year had come new hopes to the Old Ancient House.
And with Rosamond turning to life in her room upstairs under the gables,
he who loved her could well afford to sit with patience below.

Yet time went by, and the summons came not.

Upon that first blessed morning, indeed, when after all these long days
she had awakened at last, and looked upon the world with seeing eyes
once more, Rosamond had whispered to Aspasia:

“Harry—is he here?”

The girl’s heart had leaped with joy.

“Yes,” came her eager answer. “Will you see him?”

Like a little Mercury, one foot poised, hand outstretched to grasp the
happy moment, Aspasia stood ready to take flight upon her errand of
comfort. But the pale woman in the bed shrank. The old shy withdrawal
from the thought of emotion—as once from sorrow, now from joy—seemed to
be upon her.

“Not yet,” she faintly sighed.

And, day by day, the singular little scene was re-enacted. In defiance
of doctor’s orders, Baby—with the sense of that other’s hungry
disappointment heavy upon her heart—would put her query ever more
pleadingly:

“Will you not see him? Can you not see him? May it not be for to-day?”

But ever would come the same reply, while the lids sank over the timid
eyes, and colour mounted slowly in the transparent face:

“Not yet.”

Then the woman would fall back into her secret dream, lying hours in
that quietude at which her physician marvelled, while he welcomed its
healing power. It was a pause in life. So the young mother may lie and
hold her infant in her languid arms and be happy because of its very
weakness and incompleteness; and deem it more safely her own that it has
yet no speech for her, no will to meet hers, even no power of love with
which to answer hers.

It is harder to be patient in happiness than in sorrow. These days of
waiting began to tell upon Harry English more than all the years had
done.

Yet it was idle to say: “She must not be hurried,” since time marches
with us all, whether we will or no; and with time, the events which
change our destiny. The most guarded being cannot escape the influence
of those lives with which Fate has thrown his fortune, and Rosamond was
destined at last to be shaken out of her dreams by the combined energies
of other fortunes.

M. Châtelard had been gone some time. The green buds were swelling over
the March land. The convalescent had been promoted to her armchair for
an hour or two daily, when a telegram summoned Harry English to London.

Bethune had undertaken all the preliminary official steps for his
friend. Now the moment could not be delayed when the missing officer
must give his personal explanations. The excuse of his wife’s danger
could no longer be maintained for his absence: he had to leave the Old
House without having seen her again.

For two mornings after his departure Baby entered her aunt’s room to
find her lying among a bower of flowers. The husband was pleading for
himself, wooing his love, for the third time. At first he sent no word
with his gift, but let these most gracious messengers speak in
fragrance. Aspasia was wise enough to hold her tongue upon the subject.
Even to her downright perceptions the silence which enwrapped the
invalid seemed stirred, palpitating with the awakening of emotions, just
as, all over the land, after her winter sleep, the earth was stirred,
palpitating, to the promise of spring.

The third morning the girl was unwontedly late in making her appearance.
But Rosamond did not seem to miss her. She rested, smiling among her
pillows, her diaphanous hand enfolding the letter that Mary had (with a
subdued look of triumph) brought her on top of an open box overflowing
with lily-of-the-valley.

Rosamond’s first love-letter had come to her blent with the same
perfume. The acrid sweetness rose like a greeting, an intangible
intermingling of past and present. It spoke more eloquently than even
his words. She drew the flowers slowly from their case. Below all,
nestling beneath the waxen bells, she found one deep-hearted dark
crimson rose.

She held it to her lips, the while she read his letter.

* * * * *

And so Baby’s presence was not missed. At mid-day she rushed into the
room and flung herself upon the bed with so much of her old impetuosity
that Rosamond sat up, startled at first, then smiling, shaken from her
languor.

“What is it, Baby? What a little face of blushes!”

In the midst of her own turmoil of emotion, Baby’s faithful heart leaped
with joy. Rosamond had not spoken with that natural air these months.

“What is it?” repeated the woman, smiling.

Aspasia edged along the bed till her hot cheeks were hidden on
Rosamond’s neck. Then she thrust out her left hand blindly for
inspection.

“Look!”

“What——?”

Yes, in very truth, Rosamond was laughing.

“What is it, Baby? … Ah——”

Baby moved her long musician fingers slowly one after the other and
finally stuck out the third.

“Ah,” cried Rosamond again, sharply.

“She has seen,” thought Aspasia, and was fain to raise her head to
behold the effect of the great surprise.

“Is it possible,” said the other, slowly, “or are you playing me some
trick?”

“A trick,” echoed Aspasia, indignantly. “No such thing!” She surveyed
the important hand, with head on one side and an air of great
complacency. Yet never had it appeared a more childish object. Upon
the pink out-thrust finger the wedding-ring seemed absurdly misplaced.

“Baby, Baby, how is it you have never told me? Major Bethune, of
course?”

“Yes,” said the bride, suddenly shy. “They would not let me tell you.
Idiots!”

The next instant the two women were clasped in each other’s arms—both
crying a little, as they kissed.

“There now,” cried the new wife, at last, awakening to the conviction
that she was hardly carrying out the doctor’s instructions; and, indeed,
it was evident that, left to her own devices, Aspasia had peculiar views
upon the art of breaking news. “There now, this won’t do. You lie
still, and I’ll tell you everything.”

Placidly enough to reassure a more anxious nurse, Rosamond obeyed, her
hand creeping down to her letter once more. This was but a surface
agitation, after all—there was only one in the world who had power to
stir the deeps.

Aspasia knelt down by the bed, and began to pour forth her story….
They had been engaged, oh, ever so long; but she never would have
dreamed of anything so preposterous as marriage, especially now—not for
ages, at least, but Raymond had ramped so….

It was only from the youthful Mrs. Bethune’s picturesque tongue that
such a description of Bethune’s reticent wooing could have fallen.

And then something had happened, out there, and his blessed leave was
curtailed, and, he had said, he positively would not go without her.
“And so,” said Baby, laughing and crying together, as pretty and absurd
a spring bride as it was possible to see; “so he came down from London
yesterday—with a special licence in his pocket—he went to the Inn, but
he came to see me last night. I don’t know how it happened, but we were
married this morning, at the little church—you know, your little church,
Aunt Rosamond…. Did you ever hear of such a thing? Without a
trousseau, without a present, without a lawyer, without a cake! And I
am going to Vienna for my honeymoon.”

She laughed a little wildly, and dabbed her wet cheeks with a corner of
the sheet. Then she stopped suddenly, abashed. Rosamond’s eyes were
lost in space; she was not even listening.

“I knew you did not want me,” said Aspasia—a very different quality of
tears welling up.

Rosamond started:

“I, not want you! Why, Baby, what makes you say that?”

“Oh,” cried the girl, with a swift change of mood, “how can you want me,
have you not got him? Dear Aunt Rosamond, darling Aunt Rosamond, don’t
keep him waiting any more!”

She was going to cast herself upon the bed in another fervent embrace,
when something in Rosamond’s look arrested her. Here were the deeps
astir! It was as if a flame enkindled in a fragile lamp, as if she could
see it tremble and burn.

She drew back before a mystery to which she vaguely felt she would never
have the key.

“You know, he will return to-day,” stammered she at last. “It’s all
right about his business. He is coming back.”

“I know,” answered Harry English’s wife, in a low vibrating voice. Then
she hesitated, and turned to look at the girl, a wistful inquiry in her
shadowed eyes.

“Have they told him?” she asked, under her breath, raising one of the
heavy white locks that lay across her breast.

“Oh,” exclaimed Aspasia, springing to her meaning, “but you are
beautiful with it, you are more beautiful than ever! No—I don’t know if
they’ve told him. Oh, darling,” she cried, melting all into tenderness,
pity, and amusement, as over a child, “it wasn’t for that, it could not
be for that, you wouldn’t see him?”

“For that!” said Rosamond. A flame seemed to pass over her again. She
quivered from head to foot, and a deep flush rose to the very roots of
her blanched hair. “Oh, Baby, no. How could you guess, how could you
understand—poor little bride of an hour?”

And, as once before, upon that crucial morning in the distant Indian
palace, she had taken all her golden hair to cover her face and hide its
misery from violating eyes, Rosamond now swept the silver veil across
the betrayal of her blood, that even Baby might not look upon the tumult
of her heart.

The scent of the dark rose, stronger even than the lilies, filled the
room.

* * * * *

Bethune carried off his bride unobtrusively—unromantically. Rosamond was
still upstairs. And that no farewells should take place between her and
Major Bethune fell out so naturally that even Baby scarcely commented
upon it. Rosamond had always held herself so much aloof. That this
procedure should have been planned by Bethune himself because he could
not trust himself in this good-bye, would have been the last thought to
enter the little wife’s head; her Raymond had always rather disliked
poor Aunt Rosamond than otherwise. Such was her conviction. He could
never forgive her for having been his friend’s forgetful widow.

She herself had shed torrents of easy tears of parting within the walls
of the panelled bedroom; and had subsequently driven away beside the man
of her choice (in the selfsame fly, smelling of straw, that had provoked
her enthusiasm at arrival, her modest luggage atop), petulantly reviling
her bridegroom for his inconsiderate hurry, the while nestling
comfortably into the hollow of his shoulder.

How far was she from guessing at the complex emotions that made the
heart, against which she leaned, beat so heavily; from guessing that
this very haste, this wilfully informal departure, this quick marriage
itself, were all part of the determined act of renunciation he had
sealed in his soul, with the touch of her lips on his! Renunciation, it
is true, of no more tangible passion than a thought. Yet, had she
known, she need not have feared, for he who can renounce the insidious
sweetness of a dream, need fear no overthrow from realities.

As for her, her marriage was the irresponsible mating of a little bird.
And she was setting forth with as airy a freedom, with as busy and
cheerful an importance, as any small winged lady of the woods on the
flight to choose a favourable aspect for her nest.

As the vehicle wheeled out of the noiseless grassy avenue upon the
moorland road, Bethune caught her to him, and kissed her with more of
ardour than he had ever shown.

“And so, Robin,” said he, “you are going to set all traditions at
defiance, and pipe your pretty songs in the morning land.”

Mrs. Bethune smiled importantly; she still chose to keep up the fiction
that in matrimony she by no means intended to give up her musical
career, that career, with a capital C, that she had so often flourished
defiantly in Sir Arthur’s face! But, in her heart, she knew very well
that when she had let love enter in, it had driven forth ambition.

A keen wind swept from the moor, shaking the sap of the drowsy orchard
trees, setting the daffodil buds in the sheltered corners dancing,
flecking the blue sky with sudden patches of cloud: a day typical of the
bright, cruel, energies of youth, scurrying old tired mother earth into
activity, ruthlessly eager to set her about her business and call up the
joys of spring.

Saltwoods seemed very quiet and empty, standing alone with its memories,
in the midst of this cheery bustle of the world without.

Rosamond wandered from room to room, restless alike from weakness and
the strain of her dear, wonderful expectation. How long must she wait
still? The opiate-effect of her languor had passed and it seemed to her
that the suspense of these hours she could not endure. And then, all at
once, behold, they had gone by!—The moment was at hand, and she was not
ready.

She stood before the mirror, looking wistfully upon her white tresses.
She wanted to appear beautiful in his eyes. But, alas! she had lost the
golden crown of her woman’s glory…. This grey dress that she had
chosen, because some such colour had she worn upon the gorse-gold shore
those many years ago, it was too pale, too cold, she thought, now that
the sunshine of her hair had vanished.

Then she fancied she heard wheels, and caught the rose from her breast
to thrust it haphazard into the waves that so strangely shaded in snow
the delicate bloom of her face. And then, with the piteous coquetry of
the woman who loves, she flung over that white head a scarf of lace,
that he might not see too soon, that she might first have made him think
her beautiful still, by a smile, a kiss.

But when she came to the door of the hall, there was no one. The wind
and her impatience had but made mock of her. The avenue of swaying
boughs was empty of all but the eager presence of the spring. She saw
how the long grass bent, and whitened, and shivered; how a little
unsuspected almond bush had burst into pink blossom among the hoary
apple-trees; how, in the gusts, the rosy petals were already scattered
abroad.

The panic that the heart knows in the absence of the beloved seized upon
her. It was surely long past the time! Oh, God, was the cup to be
dashed from their lips?

Frenzied with terror, she ran a pace or two down the avenue, to halt,
panting in weakness—pressing her hand to her leaping breast. For a
second everything swam before her. Then there came the moan of the gate
swinging, and all her senses, strained beyond human limits, echoed to a
distant footstep that yet made no sound upon the grass-grown way.

He came with great strides through the old ghost-like trees, whose
withered boughs still held the swelling promise of the year’s growth.
He caught her in his arms, without a word. But she, like a child,
clinging to him, cried, complaining:

“Oh, Harry, how late you are! Oh, how I have waited!”

“And I! …” he made answer, almost inaudibly. “Eight years!”

His lips were on her eyelids as he spoke.

At this she dropped her head upon his breast, hiding her face; but he
could see the crimson creep to the edge of the lace kerchief. There was
a slackening of her arms about him, almost as if she would have knelt at
his feet—there, in the lonely bare orchard.

He kept her close with his embrace; he had to stoop to hear her
stammered words:

“Forgive—I have been shamed.”

“Ah, hush!” cried he, quickly, his low voice vibrating with that
tenderness for which there is no utterance. “Need there be this between
us? Would I be here if I did not understand—if I did not know? … The
music is mine, at last—the music, Rosamond, that you kept silent, even
from me. It is mine, at last—this is our wedding-day—the rest is
nothing.”

He raised her quivering face and looked into her eyes, deep, deep. The
kerchief fell back from her white hair; the perfume from the fading rose
was wafted to his nostrils.

“Oh, my white rose!” he cried, and passionately kissed the blanched
head. “Oh, my red, red rose … your lips, at last, at last, Rose of
the World!”

Thus was fulfilled in the barren home orchard, Harry English’s Eastern
dream. And there was not a lichened bough that March day but bore him a
wealth of leaf and blossom.

THE END

PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.

* * * * * * * *

_*By Agnes & Egerton Castle*_

THE STAR DREAMER
THE PRIDE OF JENNICO
THE SECRET ORCHARD
THE BATH COMEDY
INCOMPARABLE BELLAIRS


_*By Egerton Castle*_

YOUNG APRIL
THE LIGHT OF SCARTHEY
CONSEQUENCES
MARSHFIELD _the_ OBSERVER
LA BELLA AND OTHERS

SCHOOLS AND MASTERS OF FENCE
ENGLISH BOOK-PLATES
THE JENNINGHAM LETTERS
LE ROMAN DU PRINCE OTHON