On the flags of a London square, some days later, Ruth repeated the sigh that had succeeded on Gallow Hill, and once more Christina asked her what was the matter.
“I was thinking,” said Ruth with a confidence born of the former occasion, “that one day all this, too, would have been more or less yours.”
“All what, pray?”
“Every brick and slate that you can see! All this is part of the Dromard estate; they own every inch hereabouts.”
Christina’s next remark was a perfectly pleasant one in itself, only it referred to a totally different matter. And thus she treated poor Ruth. At other times she would herself rush into the subject without warning, and out of it the moment it wearied or annoyed her; to follow her closely in and out required a nimble tact indeed. Nor was it easy to know always the right thing to say, or at all delightful to feel that the right thing today might be the wrong thing tomorrow. But into this one subject Ruth was as ready to enter at a hint from Tiny as she was now contented to quit it at her caprice. The elder sister’s patience and good temper were alike wonderful, but still more wonderful was her faith. Instinctively she felt that all was not over between Tiny and Lord Manister, and like many people who do not pretend to be clever, and are fond of saying so, she believed immensely in her instincts. It must not, however, be forgotten that her wishes for Tiny were the very best she could conceive; and it should be remembered that she had nobody but Tiny to watch over and care for, to think about and make plans for, during the long days when Erskine was in the City. This was the great excuse for Ruth, which never occurred to her husband, and was unknown even to herself. Christina was her baby, and a very troublesome, bad baby it was.
But what could you expect? The girl was sufficiently worried and unsettled; she was suffering from those upsetting fluctuations of mind which few of her kind entirely escape, but which are violent in characters that have grown with the emotional side to the sun and the intellectual side to the wall. In such a case the mind remains hard and green, while the emotions ripen earlier than need be; and the fault is the gardener’s, and the gardener is the girl’s mother. Now Mrs. Luttrell was a soulless but ladylike nonentity, with an eye naturally blind to the soul in her girls. All she herself had taught them was an unaffected manner and the necessity of becoming married. So Ruth had married both early and well by the favor of the gods, and Christina had restored the average by committing more follies of all sizes than would appear possible in the time. That in which Lord Manister was concerned had doubtless been the most important of the series, but its sting lay greatly in its notoriety. It had caused a light-hearted girl to see herself suddenly in the pupils of many eyes, and to recoil in shame from her own littleness. It had made her hate both herself and the owners of all those eyes, but men especially, of whom she had seen far too much in a short space of time. What she had done in England only heightened her poor opinion of herself now that it was done. She had seen her way to an incredibly sweet revenge, only to find it incredibly bitter. In striking hard she had hurt herself most, as Erskine had divined; instead of satisfying her naturally vindictive feeling toward Lord Manister that blow had killed it. Now she forgave him freely, but found it impossible to forgive herself; and so the generosity that was in a disordered heart asserted itself, because she had omitted to allow for it, not knowing it was there. Worse things asserted themselves too, such as the very solid attractions of the position which might have been hers; to these she could not help being fully alive, though this was one more reason why she hated herself. Her first judgment on herself, if a mere reaction at the beginning, became ratified and hardened as time went on. She became what she had never been before, even when notoriety had made her reckless — an introspective girl. And that made her twisty and queer and unaccountable; for, to be introspective with equanimity, you must have a bluff belief in yourself, which is not necessarily conceit, but Tiny was not blessed with it.
“She has lost her sense of fun — that’s the worst part of the whole business!” exclaimed Erskine, one night when Christina had gone early to bed, as she always would now. “She has ceased to be amusing or easily amused. The empty town is boring her to the bone, and if I don’t fix up our Lisbon trip we shall have her wanting to go back to Australia. However, I am bound to be in Lisbon by the end of next month, and I’m keener than ever on having you two with me. I know the ropes out there, and I could promise you both a good time — but that depends on Tiny. Let us hope the bay will blow the cobwebs out of her head; she wasn’t made to be sentimental. I only wish I could get her to jeer at things as she used before we went to Essingham and while we were there!”
“Don’t you think it’s rather a good thing she has dropped that?” Ruth asked. “She had no respect for anything in those days.”
“And her humor saved her! Pray what does she respect now?”
“Two or three people that I know of — my lord and master for one, and another person who is only a lord.”
“Look here, Ruth, I don’t believe it,” cried Erskine, who by this time was pacing his study floor. “Why, she hasn’t set eyes on him since the day she refused him — with variations.”
“I know — but she’s had time to reflect.”
“Then I hope and pray she may never have the opportunity to recant!”
“Well, I won’t deny that I hope differently,” replied Ruth quietly; “but I’ve no reason to suppose there’s any chance of it; and whatever happens, Erskine, you needn’t be afraid of my — of my meddling any more.”
“My dear girl, I know that,” said he cordially enough; “but of course you tell her you’re sorry for this, and you wish that. It’s only natural that you should.”
“Ah, I daren’t say as much to her as you think,” said Ruth, with a nod and a smile, for she was glad to know more than he did, here and there. “You needn’t be afraid of me; I have little enough influence over her. She has only once opened her heart to me — once, and that’s all.”
Which was perfectly true, at the time.
But a few days later the restless girl was seized with a sudden desire to spend her money (which is really a good thing to do when you are troubled, if, like Christina, you have the money to spend), and as her most irregular desires were sure to be gratified by Ruth when they were not quite impossible, this whim was immediately indulged. It was rather late in the afternoon, but, on the other hand, the afternoon was extremely fine; and it was a Thursday, when men stay late in Lombard Street on account of next day’s outward mails. Consequently there was no occasion for hurry; and so fascinated was Christina with the attractions and temptations of several well-known establishments, and last, as well as most of all, with those of the stores, that it was golden evening before they breathed again the comparatively fresh air of Victoria Street. It was like Christina to wish, at that hour, to walk home, and “through as many parks as possible”; it was even more like her to be extravagantly delighted with the first of these, and to insist on “shouting” Ruth a penny chair overlooking the ornamental water in St. James’ Park.
Glad as she was to meet her sister’s wishes, when she would only express them, which she was doing with inconvenient freedom this afternoon, Ruth did take exception to the penny chairs. Her feeling was that for the two of them to sit down solemnly on two of those chairs was not an entirely nice thing to do, and certainly not a thing that she would care to be seen doing. Knowing, however, that this would be no argument with Tiny, she merely said that it would make them too late in getting home; and that happened to be worse than none.
“Erskine said he wouldn’t be home till eight o’clock; and he told us not to dress, as plain as he could speak,” Tiny reminded her. “The other parks won’t beat this; and you shall not be late, because I’ll shout a hansom, too.”
So Ruth made no more objections, though she felt a sufficient number; and they sat down with their eyes toward the pale traces of a gentle, undemonstrative September sunset, and were silent. Already the lamps were lighted in the Mall, where the trees were tanned and tattered by the change and fall of the leaf; at each end of the bridge, too, the lamps were lighted, and reflected below in palpitating pillars of fire; and every moment all the lights burnt brighter. Eastward a bluish haze mellowed trees and chimneys, making them seem more distant than they were; the noise of the traffic seemed more distant still, but it floated inward from the four corners, like the breaking of waves upon an islet; and here in the midst of it the stillness was strange, and certainly charming; only Tiny was immoderately charmed. She sat so long without speaking that Ruth leant back and watched her curiously. Her face was raised to the pale pink sky, with wide-opened eyes and tight-shut lips, as though the desires of her soul were written out in the tinted haze, as you may scratch with your finger in the bloom of a plum. She never spoke until the next quarter rang out from Westminster and was lingering in the quiet air, when she said, “Why have we never done this before, Ruth?”
“Well,” answered Ruth, “I never did it myself before today; and I must own I think it’s rather an odd thing to do.”
“Ah, well, heaven may be odd — I hope it is!”
Ruth began to laugh. “My dear Tiny, you don’t mean to say you call this heavenly?”
“It’s near enough,” said the young girl.
“But, my dear child, what stuff! The couples keep it sufficiently earthly, I should say — and the smell of bad tobacco, and that child’s trumpet, and the midges and gnats — but principally ‘Arry and ‘Arriet.”
“Now I just like to see them,” said Christina, for once the serious person of the two, “they’re so awfully happy.”
“Awfully, indeed!” cried Ruth, with a superior little laugh. “Very vulgarly happy, I should say!” And Tiny did not immediately reply, but her eyes had fallen as far as the fretwork of the shabby foliage in the Mall, over which the sky still glowed; and when she spoke her words were the words of youthful speculation. She seemed, indeed, to be thinking aloud, and not at all sure of the sense of her thoughts.
“Very vulgarly happy!” she repeated, so long after the words had been spoken that it took Ruth some moments to recall them. “I am trying to decide whether there isn’t something rather vulgar about all happiness of that kind — from the highest to the lowest. Forgive me, dear — I don’t mean anything the least bit personal — I find I don’t mean a word I’ve said! I wasn’t thinking of the happiness itself so much, but of the desire for it. Oh, there must be something better for a girl to long for! There is something, if one only knew what it was; but nobody has ever shown me, for instance. Still there must be something between misery and marriage — something higher.”
Her eyes had not fallen, but they shone with tears.
“I don’t know anything higher than marrying the man you love,” said Ruth honestly.
“Ah, if you love him! There is no need for you to know a higher happiness, even if one were possible in your case. But look at me!”
“You must marry, too,” said Ruth with facility.
“As I probably shall; but to be happy, as you are happy, one ought to be fond of the person first, as you were; and — well, I don’t think I have ever in my life felt as you felt.”
“Stuff!” said Ruth, but with as much tenderness as the word would carry.
“I wish it were,” returned Christina sadly; “it’s the shameful truth. I have been going over things lately, and that’s never a very cheerful employment in my case, but I think it has taught me my own heart this time. And I know now that I have never cared for anyone so much as for myself — much less for Lord Manister! If I had ever really cared for him I couldn’t have treated him as I have done — no, not if he had behaved fifty times worse in the beginning. I was flattered by him, but I think I liked him, though I know I was dazzled by — the different things. I would have married him; I never loved him — nor any of the others!”
“Ah, well, Tiny, I am quite sure he loves you.”
“Not very deeply, I hope; I can’t altogether believe in him, and I don’t much want to. It is bad enough to have one of them in deadly earnest,” added Christina after a pause, but with a laugh.
“Is one of them — I mean another one?” asked Ruth, correcting herself quickly.
Tiny nodded. She would not say who it was. “I don’t care for him either — not enough,” she, however, vouchsafed.
“Then you don’t think of marrying him, I hope?”
“No, not the man I mean”— she shook her head sadly at trees and sky —“I like him too much to marry him unless I loved him. Only if anyone else asked me — someone I didn’t perhaps care a scrap for — I don’t know what mightn’t happen. I feel so reckless sometimes, and so sick of everything! This comes of having played at it so often that one is incapable of the real thing; more than all, it comes of growing up with no higher ideal than a happy marriage. And there must be something so much nobler — if one only knew what!”
Very wistfully her eyes wandered over the fading sky. The thin, floating clouds, fast disappearing in the darkness, were not less vague than her desires, and not more lofty. Her soul was tugging at a chain that had been too seldom taut.
“I know of nothing — unless you’re a bluestocking,” suggested poor Ruth, “or go in for Woman’s Rights!”
Then the sights and sounds of the place came suddenly home to Christina, and her eyes fell. A child rattled by with an iron hoop. A pleasure boat, villainously rowed, passed with hoarse shouts through the pillar of fire below the bridge and left it writhing. Her eyes as she lowered them were greeted with the smarting smoke of a cigar, and her nostrils with the smell that priced it. The smoker took a neighboring chair, or rather two, for he was not without his companion.
Christina was the first to rise.
“I have been talking utter nonsense to you, Ruth,” she whispered as they walked away; “but it was kind of you to let me go on and on. One has sometimes to say a lot more than one means to get out a little that one does mean; you must try to separate the little from the lot. I’ve been talking on tiptoe — it was good of you not to push me over!”
They crossed the bridge, throbbing beneath the tread of many feet; in the Mall, under the half-clothed trees, they hailed a hansom, and Ruth greeted her reflection in the side mirror with a sigh of relief.
“We should never have done this if we hadn’t been Australians,” she remarked, as though exceedingly ashamed of what they had done, as indeed she was.
“Then that’s one more good reason for thanking Heaven we are Australians!” answered Tiny, with some of her old spirit. “You may think differently, Ruth, but for my part that’s the one point on which I have still some lingering shreds of pride.”
And that was how Tiny Luttrell opened her heart a second time to Ruth, her sister, who was of less comfort to her even than before, because now her open heart was also the cradle of a waking soul. More things than one need name, for they must be obvious, had of late worked together toward this awakening, until now the soul tossed and struggled within a frivolous heart, and its cries were imperious, though ever inarticulate. To Ruth they were but faint echoes of the unintelligible; scarce hearing, she was contented not to try to understand. When Tiny said she had been “talking on tiptoe,” to Ruth’s mind that merely expressed a queer mood queerly. She did not see how accurately it figured the young soul straining upward; indeed the accuracy was unconscious, and Christina herself did not see this.
Queer as it may have been, her mood had made for nobility, and was, therefore, memorable among the follies and worse of which, unhappily, she was still in the thick. It passed from her not to return, yet to lodge, perhaps, where all that is good in our lives and hearts must surely gather and remain until the spirit itself goes to complete and to inhabit a new temple, and we stand built afresh in the better image of God.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:16