The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

Chapter Forty-two

That October there arose the first dark cloud. It drifted over to Paris from England, for Anna wrote, asking Stephen to Morton but with never a mention of Mary Llewellyn. Not that she ever did mention their friendship in her letters, indeed she completely ignored it; yet this invitation which excluded the girl seemed to Stephen an intentional slight upon Mary. A hot flush of anger spread up to her brow as she read and reread her mother’s brief letter:

‘I want to discuss some important points regarding the management of the estate. As the place will eventually come to you, I think we should try to keep more in touch . . . ’ Then a list of the points Anna wished to discuss; they seemed very trifling indeed to Stephen.

She put the letter away in a drawer and sat staring darkly out of the window. In the garden Mary was talking to David, persuading him not to retrieve the pigeons.

‘If my mother had invited her ten times over I’d never have taken her to Morton,’ Stephen muttered.

Oh, but she knew, and only too well, what it would mean should they be there together; the lies, the despicable subterfuges, as though they were little less than criminals. It would be: ‘Mary, don’t hang about my bedroom — be careful . . . of course while we’re here at Morton . . . it’s my mother, she can’t understand these things; to her they would seem an outrage, an insult . . . And then the guard set upon eyes and lips; the feeling of guilt at so much as a hand-touch; the pretence of a careless, quite usual friendship —‘Mary, don’t look at me as though you cared! you did this evening — remember my mother.’

Intolerable quagmire of lies and deceit! The degrading of all that to them was sacred — a very gross degrading of love, and through love a gross degrading of Mary, Mary . . . so loyal and as yet so gallant, but so pitifully untried in the war of existence. Warned only by words, the words of a lover, and what were mere words when it came to actions? And the ageing woman with the far-away eyes, eyes that could yet be so cruel, so accusing — that they might turn and rest with repugnance on Mary, even as once they had rested on Stephen: ‘I would rather see you dead at my feet . . . ’ A fearful saying, and yet she had meant it, that ageing woman with the far-away eyes — she had uttered it knowing herself to be a mother. But that at least should be hidden from Mary.

She began to consider the ageing woman who had scourged her but whom she had so deeply wounded, and as she did so the depth of that wound made her shrink in spite of her bitter anger, so that gradually the anger gave way to a slow and almost reluctant pity. Poor, ignorant, blind, unreasoning woman; herself a victim, having given her body for Nature’s most inexplicable whim. Yes, there had been two victims already — must there now be a third — and that one Mary? She trembled. At that moment she could not face it, she was weak, she was utterly undone by loving. Greedy she had grown for happiness, for the joys and the peace that their union had brought her. She would try to minimize the whole thing; she would say: ‘It will only be for ten days; I must just run over about this business,’ then Mary would probably think it quite natural that she had not been invited to Morton and would ask no questions — she never asked questions. But would Mary think such a slight was quite natural? Fear possessed her; she sat there terribly afraid of this cloud that had suddenly risen to menace — afraid yet determined not to submit, not to let it gain power through her own acquiescence.

There was only one weapon to keep it at bay. Getting up she opened the window: ‘Mary!’

All unconscious the girl hurried in with David: ‘Did you call?’

‘Yes — come close. Closer . . . closer, sweetheart . . .

2

Shaken and very greatly humbled, Mary had let Stephen go from her to Morton. She had not been deceived by Stephen’s glib words, and had now no illusions regarding Anna Gordon. Lady Anna, suspecting the truth about them, had not wished to meet her. It was all quite clear, cruelly clear if it came to that matter — but these thoughts she had mercifully hidden from Stephen.

She had seen Stephen off at the station with a smile: ‘I’ll write every day. Do put on your coat, darling; you don’t want to arrive at Morton with a chill. And mind you wire when you get to Dover.’

Yet now as she sat in the empty study, she must bury her face and cry a little because she was here and Stephen in England . . . and then of course, this was their first real parting.

David sat watching with luminous eyes in which were reflected her secret troubles; then he got up and planted a paw on the book, for he thought it high time to have done with this reading. He lacked the language that Raftery had known — the language of many small sounds and small movements — a clumsy and inarticulate fellow he was, but unrestrainedly loving. He nearly broke his own heart between love and the deep gratitude which he felt for Mary. At the moment he wanted to lay back his ears and howl with despair to see her unhappy. He wanted to make an enormous noise, the kind of noise wild folk make in the jungle — lions and tigers and other wild folk that David had heard about from his mother — his mother had been in Africa once a long time ago, with an old French colonel. But instead he abruptly licked Mary’s cheek — it tasted peculiar, he thought, like sea water.

‘Do you want a walk, David?’ she asked him gently.

And as well as he could, David nodded his head by wagging his tail which was shaped like a sickle. Then he capered, thumping the ground with his paws; after which he barked twice in an effort to amuse her, for such things had seemed funny to her in the past, although now she appeared not to notice his capers. However, she had put on her hat and coat; so, still barking, he followed her through the courtyard.

They wandered along the Quai Voltaire, Mary pausing to look at the misty river.

‘Shall I dive in and bring you a rat?’ inquired David by lunging wildly backwards and forwards.

She shook her head. ‘Do stop, David; be good!’ Then she sighed again and stared at the river; so David stared too, but he stared at Mary.

Quite suddenly Paris had lost its charm for her. After all, what was it? Just a big, foreign city — a city that belonged to a stranger people who cared nothing for Stephen and nothing for Mary. They were exiles. She turned the word over in her mind — exiles; it sounded unwanted, lonely. But why had Stephen become an exile? Why had she exiled herself from Morton? Strange that she, Mary, had never asked her — had never wanted to until this moment.

She walked on not caring very much where she went. It grew dusk, and the dusk brought with it great longing — the longing to see, to hear, to touch — almost a physical pain it was, this longing to feel the nearness of Stephen. But Stephen had left her to go to Morton . . . Morton that was surely Stephen’s real home, and in that real home there was no place for Mary.

She was not resentful. She did not condemn either the world, or herself, or Stephen. Hers was no mind to wrestle with problems, to demand either justice or explanation; she only knew that her heart felt bruised so that all manner of little things hurt her. It hurt her to think of Stephen surrounded by objects that she had never seen — tables, chairs, pictures, all old friends of Stephen’s, all dear and familiar, yet strangers to Mary. It hurt her to think of the unknown bedroom in which Stephen had slept since the days of her childhood; of the unknown schoolroom where Stephen had worked; of the stables, the lakes and the gardens of Morton. It hurt her to think of the two unknown women who must now be awaiting Stephen’s arrival — Puddle, whom Stephen loved and respected; Lady Anna, of whom she spoke very seldom, and who, Mary felt, could never have loved her. And it came upon Mary with a little shock that a long span of Stephen’s life was hidden; years and years of that life had come and gone before they two had finally found each other. How could she hope to link up with a past that belonged to a home which she might not enter? Then, being a woman, she suddenly ached for the quiet, pleasant things that a home will stand for — security, peace, respect and honour, the kindness of parents, the goodwill of neighbours; happiness that can be shared with friends, love that is proud to proclaim its existence. All that Stephen most craved for the creature she loved, that creature must now quite suddenly ache for.

And as though some mysterious cord stretched between them, Stephen’s heart was troubled at that very moment; intolerably troubled because of Morton, the real home which might not be shared with Mary. Ashamed because of shame laid on another, compassionate and suffering because of her compassion, she was thinking of the girl left alone in Paris — the girl who should have come with her to England, who should have been welcomed and honoured at Morton. Then she suddenly remembered some words from the past, very terrible words: ‘Could you marry me, Stephen?’

Mary turned and walked back to the Rue Jacob. Disheartened and anxious, David lagged beside her. He had done all he could to distract her mind from whatever it was that lay heavy upon it. He had made a pretence of chasing a pigeon, he had barked himself hoarse at a terrified beggar, he had brought her a stick and implored her to throw it, he had caught at her skirt and tugged it politely; in the end he had nearly got run over by a taxi in his desperate efforts to gain her attention. This last attempt had certainly roused her: she had put on his lead — poor, misunderstood David.

3

Mary went into Stephen’s study and sat down at the spacious writing-table, for now all of a sudden she had only one ache, and that was the ache of her love for Stephen. And because of her love she wished to comfort, since in every fond woman there is much of the mother. That letter was full of many things which a less privileged pen had best left unwritten — loyalty, faith, consolation, devotion; all this and much more she wrote to Stephen. As she sat there, her heart seemed to swell within her as though in response to some mighty challenge.

Thus it was that Mary met and defeated the world’s first tentative onslaught upon them.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51