Miss Travers did not, after all, succeed in cornering Gladys at the garden-party, but she did contrive to get herself asked to stay later, and without much difficulty (she would probably have found it far more difficult to go with the rest — hostesses were tenacious of Miss Travers); and after dinner, when the ladies went off to the drawing-room, her stubborn waiting was at last rewarded.
Some other people had stayed to dinner also, in the same informal way, and among them one or two of Granville’s friends. These young men had come to the garden-party by no advice of Gran’s — in fact, those who chanced to have mentioned to him Lady Bligh’s invitation he had frankly told to stay away and not to be fools. But, having come, he insisted on their staying. ‘For,’ he said, ‘you deserve compensation, you fellows; and the Judge’s wine, though I say it, hasn’t a fault — unless it’s spoiling a man for his club’s.’
And while the young men put the truth of this statement to a more earnest test than could be applied before the ladies left the table, Miss Travers, in the drawing-room, at last had Gladys to herself. And Miss Travers was sadly disappointed — as, perhaps, she deserved to be. Gladys had very little to say to her. As a matter of fact, it was no less irksome to the Bride to listen than to talk herself. But they happened to be sitting close to the piano, and it was not long before a very happy thought struck Gladys, which she instantly expressed in the abrupt question:—
‘You sing, Miss Travers, don’t you?’
‘In a way.’
‘In a way! I’ve heard all about the way!’ Gladys smiled; Miss Travers thought the smile sadly changed since yesterday. ‘Sing now.’
‘You really want me to?’
‘Yes, really. And you must.’ Gladys opened the piano.
Miss Travers sang a little song that Gladys had never heard before, accompanying herself from memory. She sang very sweetly, very simply — in a word, uncommonly well. The voice, to begin with, was an exceptionally sound soprano, but the secret and charm of it all was, of course, in the way she used her voice. Gladys had asked for a song to escape from a chat, but she had forgotten her motive in asking — she had forgotten that she had asked for it — she had forgotten much that it had seemed impossible to forget, even thus, for one moment — before the song was half finished. Very possibly, with Gladys, who knew nothing of music, this was an appeal to the senses only; but it gave her some peaceful, painless moments when such were rare; and it left her, with everything coming back to her, it is true, but with a grateful heart. So grateful, indeed, was Gladys that she forgot to express her thanks until Miss Travers smilingly asked her how she liked that song; and then, instead of answering, she went over to where Lady Bligh was sitting, bent down, and asked a question, which was answered in a whisper.
Then Gladys came back to the piano. ‘Yes, I do like that song, very, very much; and I beg your pardon for not answering you, Miss Travers, but I was thinking of something else; and I want you, please, to sing Mendelssohn’s “Hear my Prayer!”’ These words came quickly — they were newly learnt from Lady Bligh.
Miss Travers could not repress a smile. ‘Do you know what you are asking me for?’
‘Yes; for what we heard in church last Sunday evening. That’s the name, because I’ve just asked Lady Bligh. I would rather you sang that than anything else in the world!’
‘But ——’ Miss Travers was puzzled by the Bride’s expression; she would have given anything not to refuse, yet what could she do? ‘But — it isn’t the sort of thing one can sit down and sing —really it isn’t. It wants a chorus, and it is very long and elaborate.’
‘Yes?’ Gladys seemed strangely disappointed. ‘But there was one part — the part I liked — where the chorus didn’t come in, I am sure. It was sung by a boy. You could do it so much better! It was about the wings of a dove, and the wilderness. You know, I come from the wilderness myself’— the Bride smiled faintly —‘and I thought I’d never heard anything half so lovely before; though of course I’ve heard very little.’
‘No matter how little you have heard, you will never hear anything much more beautiful than that,’ said Miss Travers, with sympathetic enthusiasm.
‘Since I cannot hear it now, however, there is an end of it.’
Gladys sighed, but her eyes pleaded still; it was impossible to look in them long and still resist. Miss Travers looked but for a moment, then, turning round to the keys, she softly touched a chord. ‘I will try the little bit you liked,’ she whispered, kindly, ‘whatever I make of it!’
What she did make of it is unimportant, except in its effect upon Gladys. This effect was very different from that produced a few minutes before by the song; this, at least, was no mere titillation of the senses by agreeable sounds. And it differed quite as much from the effect produced by the same thing in church on Sunday, when Gladys, after being surprised into listening, had listened only to the words. Then, indeed, the music had seemed sweet and sad, but to-night each note palpitated with a shivering, tremulous yearning, dropping into her soul a relief as deep as that of sorrow unbosomed, a comfort as soothing as the comfort of tears. And there was now an added infinity of meaning in the words; though it was the words that had thrilled her then — then, before she had brought all the present misery to pass.
O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
Far away, far away would I rove:
In the wilderness build me a nest,
And remain there for ever at rest.
It is only a few bars, the solo here; and at the point where the chorus catches up the refrain Miss Travers softly ceased. She turned round slowly on the stool, then rose up quickly in surprise. Her ardent listener was gone. And as Miss Travers stood by the piano, peering with raised eyebrows into every corner of the room, and out into the night through the open French window, the men entered the room in a body — she was surrounded.
But Gladys had stepped softly through the window on to the lawn, reentered the house by another way, and stolen swiftly up to her room. The last strains came to her through the open window of the drawing-room, and in at her own window, at which Gladys now knelt: and this short passage through the outer air brought them upward on the breath of the night, rarefied and softened as though from the lips of far-off angels: and so they reached her trembling ears.
The scent of roses was in the air. The moon was rising, and its rays spanned the river with a broad bridge of silver, against which some of the foliage at the garden-end stood out in fine filigree. It was a heavenly night; it was a sweet and tranquil place; but yet —
O for the wings of a dove!
Gladys had been home-sick before; she had been miserable and desperate for many, many hours; but at this moment it seemed as though hitherto she had never known what it was to pant and pray in real earnest for her old life and her own country. She was almost as a weak woman in the transports of spiritual fervour, her vision riveted upon some material mental picture, the soul for one ecstatic instant separated from the flesh — only Gladys missed the ecstasy.
There was no light in the room; and the girl remained so entirely motionless, as she knelt, that her glossy head, just raised above the level of the sill, would have seemed in the moonlight a mere inanimate accessory, if it had been seen at all. But only the bats could have seen Gladys, and they did not; at all events, it was the touch of a bat’s wing upon the forehead that recalled her to herself, making her aware of voices within earshot, immediately below her window. Her room was over the dining-room. The voices were men’s voices, and the scent of cigars reached her as well. She could hear distinctly, but she never would have listened had she not heard her own name spoken; and then — the weakness of the moment prevented her from rising.
‘No,’ said one of the voices, ‘not a bit of it; oh dear, no! Gladys has her good points; and, frankly, I am getting rather to like her. But she is impossible in her position. The whole thing was a fearful mistake, which poor old Alfred will live to repent.’
The voice was unmistakable; it was Granville’s.
‘But’— and the other voice was that of Granville’s most intimate friend, whom he had introduced to Gladys during the course of the afternoon —‘doesn’t he repent it already, think you?’
‘Upon my word, I’m not sure that he doesn’t,’ said Granville.
‘If you ask me,’ said his friend, ‘I should say there isn’t a doubt of it. I’ve been watching him pretty closely. Mark my words, he’s a miserable man!’
‘Well, I’m half inclined to agree with you,’ said Granville. ‘I didn’t think so two or three days since, but now I do. You see, there are camels’ backs and there are last straws (though I wish there were no proverbs); and there never was a heavier straw than yesterday’s —‘gad! ’twas as heavy as the rest of the load! I mean the perfectly awful scene in the Park, which you know about, and the whole town knows about, and the low papers will publish, confound them! Yes, I believe you’re right; he can’t get over this.’
‘Poor chap!’ said Granville’s friend.
‘You may well say that. Alfred is no genius’— Granville was, apparently —‘but he has position; he has money — luckily for him; he means to settle down in the country somewhere, and, no doubt, he’d like to be somebody in the county. But how could he? Look at his wife!’
‘There ought to be a separation,’ said the friend, feelingly.
‘Well, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as that,’ said Granville, wearing ship. ‘Anyway, there never will be one; you may trust her for that. And, I must own, I don’t think it’s all the main chance with her, either; they’re sufficiently spooney. Why, she will not even leave him for a week on a visit, though, as I understand, he’s doing his best to persuade her to.’
Gladys’s hands tightened upon the woodwork of the window-frame.
‘Can’t persuade her to?’ cried the friend. ‘What did I tell you? Why, Lord love you, he wants to get rid of her already!’
This was rather strong, even for an intimate friend, and even though the intimate friend had drunk a good deal of wine. Granville’s tone cooled suddenly.
‘We’ll drop the subject, I think. My cigar’s done, and you’ve smoked as much as is good for you. You can do as you like, but I’m going inside.’
Their footsteps sounded down the gravel-path; then the sound ceased; they had gone in by the drawing-room window.
Gladys had never once altered her position; she did not alter it now. The moon rose high in the purple sky, and touched her head with threads of silver. It was as though gray hairs had come upon her while she knelt. The sudden turning of the door-handle, and a quick step upon the threshold, aroused her. It was Alfred come for an easier coat. The people were gone.
‘What —Gladys!’ he cried. She rose stiffly to her feet, and confronted him with her back to the moonlight. ‘Up here — alone?’
‘You didn’t miss me, then?’ Her tone was low and hoarse — the words ran into one another in their hurried, eager utterance.
‘Why, no,’ cried Alfred; ‘to tell you the truth, I didn’t.’
He seemed to her in better spirits than he had been all day; his voice was full and cheery, and his manner brisk. Why? Evidently the evening had gone off very agreeably. Why? Was it because he had got rid of her for an hour? Was it, then, true that he was doing his best to get rid of her for a week — that he would be only too glad to get rid of her for ever? It was as though a poniard were being held to her breast. She paused, and nerved herself to speak calmly, before, as it were, baring her bosom to the steel.
‘Alfred,’ she said at length, with slow distinctness, but not with the manner of one who is consciously asking a question of life or death, ‘I have been thinking it over, about the Barringtons; and I think I should like to go to them on Saturday after all. May I go?’
‘May you?’ Alfred fairly shouted. ‘I am only too delighted, Gladdie! Of course you may.’
The poniard went in-to the hilt.
So delighted was Alfred that he caught her in his arms and kissed her. Her cheek was quite cold, her frame all limp. Though she reeled on her feet, she seemed to shrink instinctively from his support.
‘What’s the matter, Gladdie?’ he cried, in sudden alarm. ‘What’s wrong — are you ill? Stop, I’ll fetch ——’
She interrupted him in a whisper.
‘Fetch no one.’ She dropped one hand upon the dressing-table, leant her weight upon it, and motioned him back with the other. ‘I am not ill; I only was faint, just for a moment. I am all right now. There, that’s a long breath; I can speak quite properly again. You see, it was only a passing faintness. I must have fallen asleep by the window. I was enjoying the lovely night, and that must have done it. There, I am only tired now, and want — sleep!’
That acid had been applied, and not in drops. Its work was complete.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51