Patience and sweetness of disposition may not only be driven beyond endurance; they may be knocked outside in, knocked into their own antitheses. And one need not go to crime or even to sin to find offences which no amount of abstract angelicalness could readily forgive or ever forget. It is a sufficiently bad offence, if not an actual iniquity, to bring well-to-do people into public derision through an act of flagrant thoughtlessness and unparalleled social barbarity. But if the people are not only well-to-do, but well and honourably known, and relatives by your marriage, who have been more than kind to you, you could scarcely expect a facile pardon. Sincerity apart, they would be more than mortal if they so much as pretended to forgive you out of hand, and little less than divine if they did not tell you at once what they thought of you, and thereafter ignore you until time healed their wounds.
Woman of infinite sweetness though she was, Lady Bligh was mortal, not divine; and she showed her clay by speaking very plainly indeed, as the carriage swept out of the Park, and by speaking no more (to Gladys) that day. A good deal of cant is current about people whose anger is violent (‘while it lasts’), but short-lived (‘he gets over it in a moment’); but it is difficult to believe in those people. If there be just cause for wrath, with or without violence, it is not in reason that you can be in a rollicking good humour the next minute. That is theatrical anger, the anger of the heavy father. Lady Bligh, with all her virtues, could nurse the genuine passion — an infant that thrives at the breast. Indeed, it is probable that before the end of the silent drive to Twickenham (Alfred never opened his clenched teeth all the way) this thoroughly good woman positively detested the daughter whom she had just learnt to love. For it is a fallacy to suppose that the pepper-and-salt emotion of love and hatred in equal parts is the prerogative of lovers; you will find it oftener in the family.
What penitence Gladys had expressed had been lame — crippled by an excuse. Moreover, her tone had lacked complete contrition. Indeed, if not actually defiant, her manner was at least repellent. She had been spoken to hotly; some of the heat was reflected; it was a hot moment.
As for her excuse, it, of course, was ridiculous —qua excuse.
She had seen her oldest — indeed, her only — girl friend, Ada Barrington. Ada (Gladys pronounced it ‘Ida’) was another squatter’s daughter; their fathers had been neighbours, more or less, for many years; but Ada’s father owned more stations than one, was a wealthy man — in fact, a ‘woollen king.’ Gladys had known they were in Europe, but that was all. And she had seen Ada cantering past, but Ada had not seen her. So she had ‘coo-ee’d.’ What else was there to be done? Gladys did not exactly ask this question, but she implied it plainly. As it happened, if she had not ‘coo-ee’d,’ she never would have seen Ada again, to a certainty; for the Barringtons had taken a place in Suffolk, and were going down there the very next day. That was all. Perhaps it was too much.
Silence ensued, and outlasted the long drive. What afterwards passed between the young husband and wife did not, of course, transpire. There was no further expression of regret than the very equivocal and diluted apology comprehended in the Bride’s excuses; indeed, Lady Bligh and her daughter-in-law never spoke that night; nor did Alfred attempt to mediate between them. As a matter of fact, his wife had told him — with a recklessness that cut him to the heart — that, this time, she neither expected nor deserved, nor so much as desired, any one’s forgiveness; that now she knew what she had feared before, that she was hopeless; that — but the rest was wild talk.
Next morning, however, Alfred went to Lady Bligh with a letter, one that Gladys had received by the early post. It was an invitation from the Barringtons, the wording of which was sufficiently impulsive and ill-considered. Ada besought her darling Gladys to go stay with them in Suffolk immediately, on the following Saturday, and for as many days as she could and would; and the invitation included the darling’s husband in a postscript.
‘An extraordinary kind of invitation!’ observed Lady Bligh, handing back the letter.
‘Ignorance,’ said Alfred laconically.
‘Did you meet the people out there?’
‘Only this girl’s brother; the others had been in Europe some time. I thought him a very pleasant fellow, I remember, though his contempt for me and for all “home” birds was magnificent.’
‘Well,’ said Lady Bligh, ‘it is hardly the kind of invitation that Gladys can accept. Is it?’
‘She refuses to think of it,’ Alfred answered, with a frown that rather puzzled Lady Bligh. ‘But I hope she will change her mind. I wish her to go.’
His mother was silent for more than a minute. ‘Does the letter say Saturday?’ she then inquired.
‘Yes.’ Alfred gazed steadily in his mother’s face as though he would search her inmost thoughts. ‘Yes, it says Saturday. And it is on Saturday that the Lord Chief is coming down to stay over Sunday, is it not? I thought so. I very much wish I could induce her to go.’
‘Not on that account, my boy, I hope?’ Lady Bligh seemed slightly embarrassed.
‘Partly,’ said Alfred, speaking firmly and distinctly, but not without an effort; ‘partly on that account, but by no means altogether.’
‘She could not go without you,’ remarked Lady Bligh; ‘and they do not ask you civilly, to say the least of it.’
‘She could go without me,’ returned Alfred emphatically. ‘What’s more, I want her to. It’s she that won’t hear of it. These are quite old and intimate friends of Gladys and her father. She might easily spend a week with them alone, without me. Mother — I think she would like it so, if only she would go! They are probably free-and-easy, roughish folks, and it would do her good, a week with them. There would be no restraints — nay, she has observed none here, God knows! — but there there might be none to observe. She could do and say what she liked. She would hurt no one’s feelings. She would scandalise no one. And — do you know what, mother? — I have got it into my head that when she came back she would see the difference, and appreciate your ways here more than she ever might otherwise. I have got it into my head that one week of that kind, just now, would open her eyes for good and all. And I think — there might be no more relapses! Yes, I thought that before; but I was wrong, you see — after yesterday! Besides, this week would bring us within a few weeks of Scotland; and, after Scotland, we shall have our own little place to go to — I have almost settled upon one. But if I went with her, restraint would go with her too.’
His voice had broken more than once with emotion. He commanded it with difficulty, and it became hard and unnatural. In this tone he added:—
‘Besides — it would be more comfortable for every one if she were not here with the Lord Chief Justice.’
‘Do not say that — do not think that!’ said Lady Bligh; but faintly, because her heart echoed his sentiment.
‘Oh, there’s no disguising it — my wife’s dynamite!’ said Alfred, with a short, harsh laugh. ‘Only an explosion is worse at one time than at another.’ He went hastily from the room, neither of them having referred more directly to the scandalous scene in the Park.
He went straight to his wife, to try once more to coax her into accepting the Barringtons’ invitation. But it was of no use. She would not listen to him. She would go nowhere without her husband; she should write that to Ada plainly.
Later in the morning, Lady Bligh, of her own deliberate design, came in contact with her daughter-in-law. Gladys attempted escape. Lady Bligh caught her by the hand.
‘You are angry, Gladys!’
Gladys said nothing.
‘I don’t think you are the one to be angry,’ Lady Bligh said, nettled by the other’s sullen manner.
Gladys raised her eyes swiftly from the ground; they were filled with bitterness. ‘Haven’t I a right to be what I like with myself?’ she cried. ‘I am angry with no one else. But I shall never forgive myself — no, nor I won’t be forgiven either; I am hopeless! I feared it before; now I know it. Let me go, Lady Bligh!’
She broke away, and found a quiet spot, by-and-by, among the trees by the river.
‘If only I were in there!’ cried Gladys, out of the tumult of shame and rebellion within her. ‘In there — or else back in the Bush! And one is possible and easy; and the other is neither!’
By a single grotesque act she had brought her happiness, and not hers alone, to wreck and ruin!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55