Isabel Clarendon, Vol. II (of II) / In Two Volumes
Vincent Lacour rose at eleven these dark mornings; by half-past twelve he had breakfasted and was at leisure. To begin the day with an elastic interval of leisure seemed to him a primary condition of tolerable existence. From his bedroom windows he had a glimpse of a very busy street, along which, as he hummed at his toilet, he could see heavily-laden omnibuses hastening Citywards; he thought with contemptuous pity of the poor wretches who had to present themselves at bank, or office, or shop by a certain hour. “Under no circumstances whatever,” he often said to himself with conviction, “would I support life in that way. If it comes to the worst, there are always the backwoods. Hard enough, no doubt, but that would be in the order of things. If I stick in the midst of civilisation, I live the life of a civilised man.” A mode of looking at things wherein Vincent was probably rational enough.
On the present morning, about the middle of January, no sight of dolorous traffic had disturbed his soul. When he raised his blind, the gas had merely reflected itself against the window-panes; outside was Stygian darkness, vaguely lurid in one or two directions; the day was blinded with foul vapour. He shrugged his shoulders, and went through the operation of dressing in a dispirited way. In his sitting-room things were a trifle better; with a blazing fire and drawn curtains, it was just possible to counterfeit the cheerful end of day. The odour of coffee and cutlets aided him in forgetfulness of external miseries.
“I suppose,” Vincent mused, as he propped the newspaper against the coffee-pot, “they go to business even such mornings as this. Great heavens!”
When the woman who waited upon him in his chambers had cleared the table and betaken herself to other quarters where her services were in request, Lacour placed himself in a deep chair, extended his limbs, and lit a cigarette from the box which stood on a little round table at his elbow. He was still in his dressing-gown; and, as he let his head fall back and puffed up thin streams of smoke, the picture of civilised leisure was complete. His fine hair, suffered to grow rather long, and at present brushed carelessly into place till it should have dried in the warmth of the room, relieved the delicate tints of his complexion; his throat was charmingly white against the dark velvet collar of the gown. The only detail not in harmony with his attitude and surroundings was the pronounced melancholy of his expression, the habitual phase of his countenance whenever, as now, he lost self-consciousness in reverie. The look one bears at such times is wont to be a truthful representation of the inner man, not merely of the moment’s mood but of personality itself.
When he had reposed thus for half-an-hour, he went to his writing-table, took from a drawer an unfinished letter, and, with the help of a blotting-pad, resumed the writing of it in his chair by the fireside.
“.... I am still waiting for an answer from Mrs. Clarendon to my last letter; no doubt she merely delays till she can tell me on what day she will be in London. I have told her with all emphasis that we would neither of us think of taking any steps until her health is completely restored and all her arrangements made; but she has assured me several times that it is her wish for our marriage to take place as soon as possible.
“There is a point, my dear Ada, which I have not hitherto ventured to mention to you; if I do so now, I feel sure I shall find that your ideas are precisely the same as my own. You know, of course, what Mrs. Clarendon’s circumstances will be when her guardianship comes to an end, and you feel, as I do, that such a state of things is not practically possible. There can be no doubt of the truth of what I hear from several people, that she has refused an offer of marriage from Lord Winterset; it is astonishing, but the source of the statement is, I am told, the Earl himself. Well, you will see what I hint at; I know you have from the first had the same wish. Personally I shall have nothing to do with money matters; they are hateful to me, and, besides, are not your desires supreme? Whatever proposal you make will, doubt not, meet with my approval. Write to me in your own charming way of these matters; my words are blunt and rude.
“I am glad you share my dislike to settling down at once either at Knightswell or in London. My idea is that we should spend at least a year in travelling. We will go to the East. I believe Oriental modes of life will exactly suit my temperament. I dislike activity; to dream away days in some delightful spot within view of the Bosphorus, with a hookah near at hand, and you reading poetry to me—I think I could make that last a long time. You will educate me. I have all sorts of rudimentary capacities, which will never develop by my own efforts, but with you to learn from as we chat at our ease among orange-groves, I may hope to get some of the culture which I do indeed desire. I–”
The flow of first personal pronouns was checked by a knock at the outer door, the knock of a visitor. With some surprise Lacour rose and went to open. With yet more surprise he admitted a young lady, whose face, though it was half-hidden with a shawl, he knew well enough.
“Are you alone?” she asked in a muffled voice. “Can I speak to you?”
“Yes, I am alone. Pray come in.”
When the shawl was thrown aside, Rhoda Meres stood looking nervously about the room. She was visibly in great agitation, and her appearance seemed to show that she had dressed hurriedly to come out. Lacour offered a chair by the fire, but she held at a distance, and at length sat on the couch which was near her as she entered. Clearly it was powerlessness to stand that made her seek the support. She held the shawl lightly across her lap; shame and misery goaded her, and she could neither raise her eyes nor speak.
“If you will allow me,” said Vincent, whose lips had been moving curiously as he regarded her, “I will just make a little change in my costume. Do come nearer to the fire. I won’t be a minute.”
Left alone she began to cry quietly, and this gave her a measure of relief. Before Lacour returned, she had time to dry her eyes and survey the room again. Her prettiness was of the kind which suffers rather from the signs of distress; she knew it, and it was a fresh source of trouble. She still did not look up when Lacour, conventionally attired, took his stand before the fire-place.
“It’s a hideous morning,” he began, with as much ease of manner as he could command. “Whatever can have brought you out in such weather?”
“Is it true what father has just told me?” broke from her lips; “is it true that you are going to marry Ada Warren?”
“Yes,” replied Lacour with gravity, “it is true. I supposed you knew long since.”
“Oh, it is cruel of you!” cried the girl passionately. “How can you speak to me in that way?”
She hid her face upon the head of the sofa and wept unrestrainedly. Lacour was uncomfortable. He took up a paper-knife and played with it, then seated himself by the table, rested his elbow on it and watched her, his own features a good deal troubled.
“Miss Meres–,” he began, but her smothered voice interrupted him.
“You did not call me that the last time we were together,” she sobbed. “Why do you try to put a distance between us in that way? It is not three months since that day when I met you—you asked me to—at South Kensington, and you speak as if it was years ago. You must have gone straight from me to—to her!”
Lacour had an eye for the quiet irony of circumstances; it almost amused him to reflect how literally true her words were. None the less he was troubled by her distress.
“Rhoda,” he said, leaning forward and speaking with calm reproof, “this is altogether unworthy of you. I thought you so perfectly understood; I thought it had all been made clear between us. Now do give up crying, there’s a good girl, and come to the fire. You look wretchedly cold. Take your hat off—won’t СКАЧАТЬ