Geoffrey’s Wife

Mary Cholmondeley

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Geoffrey’s Wife

“Oh, how this spring of love resembleth

Th’ uncertain glory of an April day.”

Every one felt an interest in them. The mob-capped servants hung over the banisters to watch them go downstairs. Alphonse reserved for them the little round table in the window, which commanded the best view of the court, with its dusty flower-pots grouped round an intermittent squirt of water. Even the landlord, Monsieur Leroux, found himself often in the gateway when they passed in or out, in order to bow and receive a merry word and glance.

Even the concierge, who dwelt retired, aloof from the contact of the outer world in his narrow, key-adorned shrine, even he unbent to them and smiled back when they smiled. It was a queer little old-fashioned hotel, rather out of the way. Nevertheless, young married couples had stayed there before. Their name, indeed, at certain periods of the year was Legion. There were other young married couples staying there at that very moment, but everybody felt that a peculiar interest attached to this young married couple. For one thing, they were so absurdly, so overwhelmingly happy. People, Monsieur Leroux himself, and others, had been happy in an early portion of their married lives, but not like this couple. People had had honeymoons before, but never one like this couple. Although they were English, they were so handsome and so sunny. And he was so well made and devoted, the chambermaids whispered. And, ah! how she was piquante, the waiters agreed.

They had a little sitting-room. It was not the best sitting-room, because they were not very rich; but Geoffrey (she considered Geoffrey such a lovely name, and so uncommon) thought it the most delightful little sitting-room in the world when she was in it. And Mrs Geoffrey also liked it very much; oh! very much indeed.

He had had hard work to win her. Sometimes, when he watched her tangling many-coloured wools over the mahogany back of one of the tight horsehair chairs, he could hardly believe that she was really his wife, that they were actually on that honeymoon for which he had toiled and waited so long. Beneath the gaiety and the elastic spirit of youth there was a depth of earnestness in Geoffrey which his little wife vaguely wondered at and valued as something beyond her ken, but infinitely heroic. He looked upon her with reverence and thanked God for her. He had never had much to do with womankind, and he felt a respectful tenderness for everything of hers, from her prim maid to her foolish little shoelace, which was never tired of coming undone, and which he was never tired of doing up. The awful responsibility of guarding such a treasure, and an overpowering sense of its fragility, were ever before his mind. He laughed and was gay with her, but in his heart of hearts there was an acute joy nigh to pain—a wonder that he should have been singled out from among the sons of men to have the one pearl of great price bestowed upon him.

They had come to Paris, and to Paris only, partly because it was the year of the Exhibition, and partly because she was not very strong, and was not to be dragged through snow and shaken in diligences like other ordinary brides. The bare idea of Eva in a diligence, or tramping in Switzerland, was not to be thought of. No; Geoffrey knew better than that. A quiet fortnight in Paris, the Opera, the Exhibition, Versailles, St Cloud, Notre Dame—these were dissipations calculated not to disturb the exquisite poise of a health of such inestimable value. He knew Paris well. He had seen it all in those foolish bachelor days, when he had rushed across the water with men companions, knowing no better, and enjoying himself in a way even then.

And so he took her to St Cloud, and showed her the wrecked palace; and they wandered by the fountains and bought gaufre cake, which he told her was called “plaisir,” only he was wrong—but what did that matter? And they went down to Versailles, and saw everything that every one else had seen, only they saw it glorified—at least he did. And they sat very quietly in Notre Dame, and listened to a half divine organ and a wholly divine choir, and Geoffrey looked at the sweet, awed face beside him, and wondered whether he could ever in all his life prove himself worthy of her. And though of course, being a Protestant, he did not like to pray in a Roman Catholic Church, still he came very near it, and was perhaps none the worse.

And now the fortnight was nearly over. Geoffrey reflected with pride that Eva was still quite well. Her mother, of whom he stood in great awe—her mother, who had an avowed disbelief in the moral qualities of second sons—even her mother would not be able to find any fault. Why, James himself, his eldest brother, whom she had always openly preferred, could not have done better than he had done. He who had so longed to take her away was now almost longing to take her back home, just for five minutes, to show her family how blooming she was, how trustworthy he had proved himself to be.

The fortnight was over on Saturday, but at the last moment they decided to stay till Monday. Was it not Sunday, the night of the great illuminations? suggested Alphonse reproachfully. Were not the Champs Elysées to present a spectacle? Were not fires of joy and artifice to mount from the Bois de Boulogne? Surely Monsieur and Madame would stay for the illuminations! Was not the stranger coming from unknown distances to witness the illuminations? Were not the illuminations in honour of the Exhibition? It could not be that Monsieur would suffer Madame to miss the illuminations.

Eva was all eagerness to stay. Two more nights in Paris. To go out in the summer evening, and see Paris en fête! Delightful! Geoffrey was not to say a single word! He did not want to! Well, never mind, he was not to say one; and she was going instantly, that very moment, to stop Grabham packing up, and he was to go instantly, that very moment, to let Monsieur Leroux know they intended to stay on.

And they both went instantly, that very moment, and they stayed on. And he was very severe in consequence, and refused to allow her to tire herself on Saturday, and insisted on her resting all Sunday afternoon, as a preparation for the dissipation of the evening. They had met some English friends on Sunday morning, who had invited them to their house in the Champ Elysées in the course of the evening to see the illuminations from their balcony. And then towards night Geoffrey became more autocratic than ever, and insisted on a woollen gown instead of a muslin, because he felt certain that it would not be so hot towards the middle of the night as it then was. She said a great many very unkind things to him, and they sallied forth together at nine o’clock as happy as two pleasure-seeking children.

“You will not be of return till the early morning. I see it well,” said Monsieur Leroux, bowing to them. “Monsieur does well to take the little châle for Madame for fear later she should feel herself fresh. But as for rain, will not Madame leave her umbrella with the concierge? No? Monsieur prefers? Eh bien! Bon soir!

It was a perfect night. It had been fiercely hot all day, but it was cooler now. The streets were already full of people, all bearing the same way toward the Champ Elysées. With some difficulty Geoffrey procured a little carriage, and in a few minutes they were swept into the chattering, idle, busy throng, and slowly making their way toward the Langtons’ house. Every building was gay with coloured lanterns. The Place de la Concorde shone afar like a belt of jewelled light. The great stone lions glowed upon their pedestals. Clear as in noonday sunshine, the rocking sea of merry faces met Eva’s delighted gaze; she beaming with the rest.

And now they were driving down the Champs Elysées. The fountains leaped in coloured flame. The Palais de l’Industrie gleamed from roof to basement, built in fire. The Arc de Triomphe, crowned with light, stood out against the dark of the moonless sky, flecked by its insignificant stars.

“Beautiful! Beautiful!” and Eva clapped her hands and laughed.

And now it was the painful, the desolating duty of the driver to tell them he could take them no further. Carriages were not allowed beyond a certain hour, and either he must take them back or put them down. Geoffrey demurred. Not so Mrs Geoffrey. In a moment she had sprung out of the carriage, and was laughing at the novel idea of walking in a crowd. Geoffrey paid his man and followed. There was plenty of room to walk in comfort, and Eva, on her husband’s arm, wished the Langtons’ house miles away, instead of a few hundred yards. She said she must and would walk home. Geoffrey must relent a little, or she on her side might not be so agreeable as she had hitherto shown herself. She was quite certain that she should catch a cold if she drove home in the night air in an open carriage. What was that he was mumbling? That if he had known that he would not have brought her? But she was equally certain that it would not hurt her to walk home. Walking was a very different thing from driving in open carriages late at night. An ignorant creature like him might not think so, but her mother would not have allowed her to do such a thing for an instant. Geoffrey quailed, and gave utterance to that sure forerunner of masculine defeat, that “he would see.”

It was very delightful on the Langtons’ balcony, with its constellation of swinging Chinese lanterns. Eva leaned over and watched the people, and chatted to her friends, and was altogether enchanting—at least Geoffrey thought so.

The night is darkening now. The streets blaze bright and brighter. The crowd below rocks and thickens and shifts without ceasing. Long lines of flame burn red along the Seine, and mark its windings as with a hand of fire. The great electric light from the Trocadéro casts heavy shadows against the sky. Jets of fire and wild vagaries of leaping stars rush up out of the Bois de Boulogne.

And now there is a contrary motion in the crowd, and a low murmur swells, and echoes, and dies, and rises again. The torchlight procession is coming. That square of fire, moving slowly down from the Arc de Triomphe through the heart of the crowd, is a troop of mounted soldiers carrying torches. Hark! Listen to the low, sullen growl of the multitude, like a wild beast half aroused.

The army is very unpopular in Paris just now. See, as the soldiers come nearer, how the crowd sweeps and presses round them, tossing like an angry sea. Look how the soldiers rear their horses against the people to keep them back. Hark again to that fierce roar that rises to the balcony and makes little Eva tremble; the inarticulate voice of a great multitude raised in anger.

They have passed now, and the crowd moves with them. Look down the Champs Elysées, right down to the cobweb of light which is the Place de la Concorde. One moving mass of heads! Look up toward the Arc de Triomphe. They are pouring down from it on their way back from the Bois in one continuous black stream, good-humoured and light-hearted again as ever, now the soldiers have passed.

It is long past midnight. Ices and lemonade and sugared cakes have played their part. It is time to go home. The summer night is soft and warm, without a touch of chill. The other guests on the Langtons’ balcony are beginning to disperse. The Langtons look as if they would like to go to bed. The crowd below is melting away every moment. The play is over.

Eva is charmed when she hears that a carriage is not to be had in all Paris for love or money. To walk home through the lighted streets with Geoffrey! Delightful! A few cheerful leave-takings, and they are in the street again, with another English couple who are going part of the way with them.

“Come, wife, arm-inarm,” says the elder man; adding to Geoffrey, “I advise you to do the same. The crowd is as harmless as an infant, but it will probably have a little animal spirits to get rid of, and it won’t do to be separated.”

So arm-inarm they went, walking with the multitude, which was not dense enough to hamper them. From time to time little groups of gamins would wave their hats in front of magisterial buildings and sing the prohibited Marseillaise, while other bands of gamins, equally good-humoured, but more hot-headed, would charge through the crowd with Chinese lanterns and drums and whistles.

“Not tired?” asked Geoffrey regularly every five minutes, drawing the little hand further through his arm.

Not a bit tired, and Geoffrey was a foolish, tiresome creature to be always thinking of such things. She should say she was tired next time if he did not take care. In fact, now she came to think of it, she was rather tired by having to walk in such a heavy woollen gown.

“Don’t say that, for Heaven’s sake, if it is not true!” said the long-suffering husband, “for we have a mile in front of us yet.”

The other couple wished them good-night and turned off down a side street. Everywhere the houses were putting out their lights. Night was gaining the upper hand at last. As they entered the Place de la Concorde, Geoffrey saw a small body of mounted soldiers crossing the Place. Instantly there was a hastening and pushing in the crowd, and the low, deep growl arose again, more ominous than ever. Geoffrey caught a glimpse of a sudden upraised arm, he heard a cry of defiance, and then—in a moment there was a roar and shout from a thousand tongues, and an infuriated mob was pressing in from every quarter, was elbowing past, was struggling to the front. In another second the whole Place de la Concorde was one seething mass of excited people, one hoarse jangle of tongues, one frantic effort to push in the direction the soldiers had taken.

Geoffrey, a tall, athletic Englishman, looked over the surging sea of French heads, and looked in vain for a quarter to which he could beat a retreat. He had not room to put his arm round his wife. She had given a little laugh, but she was frightened, he knew, for she trembled in the grasp he tightened on her arm. One rapid glance showed him there was no escape. The very lions at the corners were covered with human figures. They were in the heart of the crowd. Its faint, sickening smell was in their nostrils.

“No, Eva,” he said, answering her imploring glance, “we can’t get out of this yet. We must just move quietly, with the rest, and wait till we get a chance of edging off. Lean on me as much as you can.”

She was frightened and silent, and nestled close to him, being very small and slight of stature, and by nature timid.

Another deep roar, and a sudden rush from behind, which sent them all forward. How the people pushed and elbowed! Bah! The smell of a crowd! Who that has been in one has ever forgotten it?

This was a dreadful ordeal for his hothouse flower.

“How are you getting on?” he asked with a sharp anxiety, which he vainly imagined did not betray itself in his voice.

She was getting on very well, only—only could not they get out?

Geoffrey looked round yet again in despair. Would it be possible to edge a little to the left, to the right, anywhere? He looked in vain. A vague, undefined fear took hold on him. “We must have patience, little one,” he said. “Lean on me, and be brave.”

His voice was cheerful, but he felt a sudden horrible sinking of the heart. How should he ever get her out of this jostling, angry crowd before she was quite tired out? What mad folly it had been to think of walking home! Poor Geoffrey forgot that there had been no other way of getting home, and that even his mother-in-law could not hold him responsible for a disagreement between the soldiers and the citizens.

Another ten minutes! Geoffrey cursed within himself the illumination and the soldiers and his own folly, and the rough men and rougher women, whom, do what he would, he could not prevent pressing upon her.

She did not speak again for some time, only held fast by his arm. Suddenly her little hands tightened convulsively on it, and a face pale to the lips was raised to his.

“Geoffrey, I’m very sorry,” with a half sob, “but I’m afraid I’m going to faint.”

The words came like a blow, and drove the blood from his face. The vague undefined fear had suddenly become a hideous reality. He steadied his voice and spoke quietly, almost sternly.

“Listen to me, Eva,” he said. “Make an effort and attend, and do as I tell you. The crowd will move again in a moment. I see a movement in front already. Directly the move comes the press will loosen for an instant. I shall push in front of you and stoop down. You will instantly get on my back. I insist upon it. I will do my best to help you up, but I can’t get hold of you in any other way. The faintness will pass off directly you are higher up and can get a breath of air. Now do you understand?”

She did not answer, but nodded.

There was a moment’s pause, and the movement came. Geoffrey flung down his stick, drew his wife firmly behind him, and pressing suddenly with all his might upon those in front, made room to stoop down. Two nervous hands were laid on his coat. Good God! she hesitated. A moment more, and the crowd behind would force him down, and they would both be lost. “Quick! Quick!” he shouted; but before the words had left his lips the trembling arms were clasped convulsively round his neck, and with a supreme effort he was on his legs again, shaking like a leaf with the long horror of that moment’s suspense.

But the tight clasp of the hands round his neck, the burden on his strong shoulders, nerved him afresh. He felt all his vitality and resolution return tenfold. He could endure anything which he had to endure alone, now that horrible anxiety for her was over. He could no longer tell where he was. He was bent too much to endeavour to do anything except keep on his feet. A long wait! Would the crowd never disperse? Moving, stopping, pushing, pressing, stopping again. Another pause, which seemed as if it would never end. A contrary motion now, and he had not room to turn! No. Thank Heaven! A tremor through the crowd, and then a fierce snarl and a rush. A violent push from behind. A plunge. Down on one knee. Good God! A blow on the mouth from some one’s elbow. A wild struggle. A foot on his hand. Another blow. Up again. Up, only to strike his foot against a curbstone, and to throw all his weight away from a sudden pool of water on his left, into which he is being edged.

The great drops are on his brow, and his breath comes short and thick. He staggers again. The weight on him and his fall are beginning to tell. But as his strength wanes a dogged determination takes its place. He steels his nerves and pulls himself together. It is only a question of time. He will and must hold out. His whole soul is centred on one thing, to keep his feet. Once down—and—he clenches his teeth. He will not suffer himself to think. He is bruised and aching in every limb with the friction of the crowd. Drums begin to beat in his temples, and his mouth is bleeding. There is a mist of blood and dust before his eyes. But he holds on with the fierce energy of despair. Another push. God in Heaven! almost down again! He can see nothing. A frantic struggle in the dark. The arms round his neck tremble, and he hears a sharp-drawn gasp of terror. Hands from out of the darkness clutch him up, and he regains his footing once more. “Courage, Monsieur,” says a kind voice, and the hands are swept out of his. He tries to move his lips in thanks, but no words come. There is a noise in the crowd, but it is as a feeble murmur to the roar and sweep and tumult of many waters that is sounding in his ears. He cannot last much longer now. He is spent. But the crowd is thinning. If he can only keep his feet a few minutes more! The crowd is thinning. He catches a glimpse of ground in front of him. But it sways before him like the waves of the sea. One moment more. He stumbles aside where he feels there is space about him.

There is a sudden hush and absence of pressure. He is out of the crowd. He is faintly conscious that the tramp of many feet is passing but not following him. The pavement suddenly rises up and strikes him down upon it. He cannot rise again. But it matters little, it matters little. It is all over. The fight is won, and she is safe. He tries to lift his leaden hand to unloose the locked fingers that hurt his neck. At his touch they unclasp, trembling. She has not fainted then. He almost thought she had. He raises himself on his elbow, and tries to wipe the red mist from his eyes that he may see her the more clearly. She slips to the ground, and he draws her to him with his nerveless arms. The street lamps gleam dull and yellow in the first wan light of dawn, and as his haggard eyes look into hers, her face becomes clear even to his darkening vision—and—it is another woman! Another woman! A poor creature with a tawdry hat and paint upon her cheek, who tries to laugh, and then, dimly conscious of the sudden agony of the gray, blood-stained face, whimpers for mercy, and limps away into a doorway, to shiver and hide her worn face from the growing light.

It was one of the English acquaintances of the night before who found him later in the day, still seeking, still wandering from street to street.

His old friend Langton came to him and took him away from the hotel to his own house. Alphonse wept and the concierge could not restrain a tear.

“And have they found her yet?” asked Mrs Langton that night of her husband when he came in late.

His face was very white.

“Yes,” he said, and turned his head away. “I’ve been to—I’ve seen—no one could have told—you would not have known who it was. And all her little things, her watch and rings—they were all gone. But the maid knew by the dress. And—and I wanted to save a lock of hair, but”—his voice broke down.—“So I got one of the little gloves for him. It was the only thing I could.”

He pulled out a half-worn tan glove, cut and dusty with the tramp of many feet, which the new wedding ring had worn ever so slightly on the third finger. He laid it reverently on the table and hid his face in his hands.

“If he could only break down,” he said at last. “He sits and sits, and never speaks or looks up.”

“Take him the little glove,” said his wife softly. And Langton took it.

The sharpness of death had cut too deep for tears, but Geoffrey kept the little glove, and—he has it still.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005