Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter XXXVII

Le nombre des êtres qui veulent voir vrai est extraordinairement petit. Ce qui domine los hommes, c’est la peur de la vérité, à moins que la vérité ne leur soit utile.

AMIEL.

LADY NEWHAVEN insisted on attending the funeral, a little boy in either hand. Rachel had implored that she would spare the children, knowing how annoyed their father would have been, but Lady Newhaven was obdurate.

“No,” she said. “He may not have cared much about them, but that is no reason why they should forget he is their father.”

So Teddy and Pauly stared with round eyes at the crowd, and at the coffin, and the wealth of flowers, and the deep grave in which their old friend and playfellow was laid. Perhaps they did not understand. They did not cry.

“They are like their father. They have not much heart,” Lady Newhaven said to Rachel.

Dick, who was at the funeral, looked at them, winking his hawk eyes a little, and afterwards he came back boldly to the silent house, and obtained leave to take them away for the afternoon. He brought them back towards bedtime, with a dancing doll he had made for them, and a man’s face cut out of cork. They met Rachel and the governess in the garden on their return, and flew to them with their trophies.

Dick waited a moment after the others had gone in.

“It seems hard on him to have left it all,” he said. “His wife and the little chaps, and his nice home and everything.”

Rachel could say nothing.

“He was very fond of the boys,” he went on. “He would have done anything for them.”

“He did what he could,” said Rachel almost inaudibly, and then added. “He was very fond of you.”

“He was a good friend,” said Dick, his crooked mouth twitching a little, “and a good enemy. That was why I liked him. He was hard to make a friend of or an enemy, but when he once did either he never let go.”

Rachel shivered. The frost was settling white upon the grass.

“I must go in,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Are you staying much longer?” said Dick, keeping it in his.

“I leave to-morrow morning very early.”

“You will be in London perhaps.”

“I think so for the present.”

“May I come and see you?”

The expression of Dick’s eyes was unmistakable. In the dusk he seemed all eyes and hand.

“Dear Mr. Dick, it’s no use.”

“I like plain speaking,” said Dick. “I can’t think why it’s considered such a luxury. You are quite right to say that, and I should be quite wrong if I did not say that I mean to keep on till you are actually married.”

He released her hand with difficulty. It was too dark to see his face. She hesitated a moment, and then fled into the house.

It is a well-known fact that after the funeral the strictest etiquette permits, nay, encourages, certain slight relaxations on the part of the bereaved.

Lady Newhaven lay on the sofa in her morning-room in her long black draperies, her small hands folded. They were exquisite, little blue-veined hands. There were no rings on them except a wedding-ring. Her maid, who had been living in an atmosphere of pleasurable excitement since Lord New- haven’s death, glanced with enthusiastic admiration at her mistress. Lady Newhaven was a fickle, inconsiderate mistress, but at this moment her behaviour was perfect. She, Angélique, knew what her own part should be, and played it with effusion. She suffered no one to come into the room. She, who would never do a hand’s turn for the English servants, put on coal with her own hands. She took the lamps from the footman at the door. Presently she brought in a little tray with food and wine, and softly besought “Miladi” to eat. Perhaps the mistress and maid understood each other. Lady Newhaven impatiently shook her head, and Angélique wrung her hands. In the end Angélique prevailed.

“Have they all gone?” Lady Newhaven asked after the little meal was finished and, with much coaxing, she had drunk a glass of champagne.

Angélique assured her they were all gone, the relations who had come to the funeral —“Milor Windham and l’Honorable Carson” were the last. They were dining with Miss West, and they were leaving immediately after dinner by the evening express.

“Ask Miss West to come to me as soon as they have gone,” she said.

Angélique hung about the room, and was finally dismissed.

Lady Newhaven lay quite still, watching the fire. A great peace had descended upon that much tossed soul. The dreadful restlessness of the last weeks was gone. The long suspense, prolonged beyond its time, was over. The shock of its ending which shattered her at first, was over too. She was beginning to breathe again, to take comfort once more: not the comfort that Rachel had tried so hard to give her, but the comfort of feeling that happiness and ease were in store for her once more; that these five hideous months were to be wiped out, and not her own past, to which she still secretly clung, out of which she was already building her future.

“It is December now. Hugh and I shall be married next December, D.V., not before. We will be married quietly in London and go abroad. I shall have a few tailor-made gowns from Vernon, but I shall wait for my other things till I am in Paris on my way back. The boys will be at school by then. Pauly is rather young, but they had better go together, and they need not come home for the holidays just at first. I don’t think Hugh would care to have the boys always about. I won’t keep my title. I hate everything to do with him“—(Lord Newhaven was still him)—“and I know the Queen does not like it. I will be presented as Mrs. Scarlett, and we will live at his place in Shropshire, and at last we shall be happy. Hugh will never turn against me as he did.”

Lady Newhaven’s thoughts travelled back in spite of herself to her marriage with Lord Newhaven, and the humble, boundless admiration which she had accepted as a matter of course, which had been extinguished so entirely, so inexplicably, soon after marriage, which had been succeeded by still more inexplicable paroxysms of bitterness and contempt. Other men, Lady Newhaven reflected, respected and loved their wives even after they lost their complexions, and — she had kept hers. Why had he been different from others? It was impossible to account for men and their ways. And how he had sneered at her when she talked gravely to him, especially on religious subjects. Decidedly, Edward had been very difficult, until he settled down into the sarcastic indifference that had marked all his intercourse with her after the first year.

“Hugh will never be like that,” she said to herself, “and he will never laugh at me for being religious. He understands me as Edward never did. And I will be married in a pale shade of violet velvet trimmed with ermine, as it will be a winter wedding. And my bouquet shall be of Neapolitan violets to match my name.”

“May I come in?” said Rachel’s voice.

“Do,” said Lady Newhaven, but without enthusiasm.

She no longer needed Rachel. The crisis during which she had clung to her was past. What shipwrecked seaman casts a second thought after his rescue to the log which supported him upon a mountainous sea. Rachel interrupted pleasant thoughts. Lady Newhaven observed that her friend’s face had grown unbecomingly thin, and that what little colour there was in it was faded. “She is the same age as I am, but she looks much older,” said Lady Newhaven to herself, adding aloud:

“Dear Rachel!”

“Every one has gone,” said Rachel, “and I have had a telegram from Lady Trentham. She has reached Paris, and will be here to-morrow afternoon.”

“Dearest mamma,” said Lady Newhaven.

“So now,” said Rachel, sitting down near the sofa with a set countenance, “I shall feel quite happy about leaving you.”

“Must you go?”

“I must. I have arranged to leave by the seven-thirty to-morrow morning. I think it will be better if we say good-bye over night.”

“I shall miss you dreadfully.” Lady Newhaven perceived suddenly, and with resentment, that Rachel was anxious to go.

“I do not think you will miss me.”

“I don’t know why you say that. You have been so dear and sympathetic. You understand me much better than mamma. And then mamma was always so fond of Edward. She cried for joy when I was engaged to him. She said her only fear was that I should not appreciate him. She never could see that he was in fault. I must say he was kind to her. I do wish I was not obliged to have her now. I know she will do nothing but talk of him. Now I come to think of it, do stay, Rachel.”

“There is a reason why I can’t stay, and why you won’t wish me to stay when I tell it you.”

“Oh, Mr. Vernon! I saw you and him holding hands in the dusk. But I don’t mind if you marry him, Rachel. I believe he is a good sort of young man — not the kind I could ever have looked at, but what does that matter? I am afraid it has rankled in your mind that I once warned you against him. But, after all, it is your affair, not mine.”

“I was not going to speak of Mr. Vernon.”

Lady Newhaven sighed impatiently. She did not want to talk of Rachel’s affairs. She wanted, now the funeral was over, to talk of her own. She often said there were few people with less curiosity about others than herself.

Rachel pulled herself together.

“Violet,” she said, “we have known each other five months, haven’t we?”

“Yes, exactly. The first time you came to my house was that dreadful night of the drawing of lots. I always thought Edward drew the short lighter. It was so like him to turn it off with a laugh.”

“I want you to remember, if ever you think hardly of me, that during those five months I did try to be a friend. I may have failed, but — I did my best.”

“But you did not fail. You have been a real friend, and you will always be so, dear Rachel. And when Hugh and I are married you will often come and stay with us.”

A great compassion flooded Rachel’s heart for this poor creature, with its house of cards. Then her face became fixed as a surgeon’s who gets out his knife.

“I think I ought to tell you — you ought to know — that I care for Mr. Scarlett.”

“He is mine,” said Lady Newhaven instantly, her blue eyes dilating.

“He is unmarried and I am unmarried,” said Rachel hoarsely. “I don’t know how it came about, but I have gradually become attached to him.”

“He is not unmarried. It is false. He is my husband in the sight of heaven. I have always through everything looked upon him as such.

This seemed more probable than that heaven had so regarded him. Rachel did not answer. She had confided her love to no one, not even to Hester; and to speak of it to Lady Newhaven had been like tearing the words out of herself with hot pincers.

“I knew he was poor, but I did not know he was as poor as that,” said Lady Newhaven after a pause.

Rachel got up suddenly, and moved away to the fireplace. She felt it would be horribly easy to strangle that voice.

“And you came down here pretending to be my friend while all the time you were stealing his heart from me.”

Still Rachel did not answer. Her forehead was pressed against the mantelshelf. She prayed urgently that she might stay upon the hearthrug, that whatever happened she might not go near the sofa.

“And you think he is in love with you?

“I do.”

“Are you not rather credulous? But I suppose he has told you over and over again that he cares for you yourself alone. Is the wedding-day fixed?”

“No, he has not asked me to marry him yet. I wanted to tell you before it happened.”

Lady Newhaven threw herself back on the sofa. She laughed softly. A little mirror hung tilted at an angle which allowed her to see herself as she lay. She saw a very beautiful woman, and then she turned and looked at Rachel, who had no beauty as she understood it, and laughed again.

“My poor dear,” she said, in a voice that made Rachel wince, “Hugh is no better than the worst. He has made love to you pour passer le temps, and you have taken him seriously, like the dear simple woman you are. But he will never marry you. You own he has not proposed. Of course not. Men are like that. It is hateful of them, but they will do it. They are the vainest creatures in the world. Don’t you see that the reason he has not asked you is because he knew that Edward had to — and that I should soon be free to marry him. And Rachel, you need not feel the least little bit humiliated, for I shan’t tell a soul, and, after all, he loved me first.”

Lady Newhaven was quite reassured. It had been a horrible moment, but it was past.

“Why do I always make trouble?” she said, with plaintive self-complacency. “Rachel, you must not be jealous of me. I can’t help it.”

Rachel tried to say “I am not,” but the words would not come. She was jealous, jealous of the past, cut to the heart every time she noticed that Lady Newhaven’s hair waved over her ears, and that she had taper fingers.

“I think it is no use talking of this any more,” Rachel said. “Perhaps I was wrong to speak of it at all. I did as I would be done by. As I am starting early I think I will say good-night and good-bye.”

“Good-night, dear Rachel, and perhaps, as you say, it had better be good-bye. You may remain quite easy in your mind that I shall never breathe a word of what you have said to any living soul — except Hugh,” she added to herself as Rachel left the room.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37