It was Saturday forenoon, and everything was ready for the departure of Gladys. Moreover, the moment had come. Garrod was at the door with the carriage; the phlegmatic stable-boy, having performed feats of unsuspected strength with the luggage, had retired into his own peculiar shell, and lurked in sullen humility at the far side of the horse; while Mr Dix figured imposingly in the hall. Alfred was here too, waiting for Gladys to come down. But Gladys was upstairs saying good-bye to Lady Bligh, and lingering over the parting somewhat strangely, for one who was going away for a week only.
‘If I hear any more such absurd talk,’ Lady Bligh said at last, and with some impatience, ‘about forgiveness and the like, I shall punish you by not allowing you to leave me at all.’
‘It is too late to do that,’ Gladys hastily put in. ‘But oh, Lady Bligh! if only you knew how happy you have made me — how happily I go away, having your forgiveness for everything, for everything ——’
‘Except for what you are saying now. How wildly you do talk, child! One would think you were going for ever.’
‘Who knows, Lady Bligh? There are accidents every day. That’s why I’m thankful to be leaving like this.’
Lady Bligh hated sentimentality. Only the intense earnestness of the girl’s voice and manner restrained her from laughing; sentimentality was only fit to be laughed at; but this was sentimentality of a puzzling kind.
A minute later, with passionate kisses and incoherent expressions, out of all proportion to the occasion, and fairly bewildering to poor Lady Bligh, Gladys was gone.
Alfred scanned her narrowly as they drove to the station. By the way she kept turning round to gaze backward, you would have thought her anxious to ‘see the last of’ things, as small boys are when the holidays are over, and bigger boys when they go finally out into the world. Alfred was going with her to Liverpool Street. She had refused to go at all if he took her (as he wanted to) all the way into Suffolk, to return himself by the next train.
‘Gladdie,’ he said, after watching her closely, ‘you look cut up; is it from saying good-bye to the mater?’
‘I suppose it must be-if I really look like that.’
‘There is still, perhaps, some soreness ——’
‘No, there is none now,’ said Gladys, quickly.
‘Then what is it?’
‘Only that it is so dreadful, saying good-bye!’
‘My darling! — by the way you talk you might be going for good and all. And it is only for a week.’
She did not answer, but pressed the hand that closed over her own.
During the half-hour’s run to Waterloo he continued to glance furtively, and not without apprehension, at her face. It was unusually pale; dark rings encircled the eyes, and the eyes were unusually brilliant.
They had a compartment to themselves. He held her hand all the way, and she his, like a pair of moonstruck young lovers; and, for the most part, they were as silent.
‘You have not been yourself these last few days,’ he said at length; ‘I am glad you are going.’
‘And I am glad of that,’ she answered.
Her tone was odd.
‘But I shall be wretched while you are gone,’ he quickly added.
She made no reply to this; it seemed to her an afterthought. But, if it was, it grew upon him with swift and miserable effect as the minutes remaining to them gradually diminished. When they drove up to Liverpool Street he was in the depths of dejection.
It was their first parting.
She insisted on sending the necessary telegram to the Barringtons herself. His depression made him absent, and even remiss. He stood listlessly by while she filled in the form; at any other time he would have done this for her, or at least looked over her shoulder — humorously to check the spelling; but this afternoon he was less attentive in little things than she had ever known him, because she had never known him so depressed.
It was their first parting.
He had got her a compartment to herself, but only at her earnest insistence; he had spoken for a carriage full of people, or the one reserved for ladies — anything but solitary confinement. It was the Cambridge train; there were few stoppages and no changes.
Gladys was ensconced in her corner. For the moment, her husband sat facing her. Four minutes were left them.
‘You have a Don in the next carriage to you; an ancient and wonderfully amiable one, I should say,’ observed Alfred, with a sickly attempt at levity. ‘I wish you were under his wing, my dear!’
Gladys made a respondent effort, an infinitely harder one. ‘No, thanks,’ she said; ‘not me!’
‘Come, I say! Is it nervousness or vanity?’
‘It is neither.’
‘Yet you look nervous, Gladdie, joking apart — and, honestly, I never felt less like joking in my life. And you are pale, my darling; and your hand is so cold!’
She withdrew the hand.
But one more minute was left. ‘Better get out, sir,’ said the guard, ‘and I’ll lock the lady in.’
Gladys felt a shiver pass through her entire frame. With a supreme effort she controlled herself. They kissed and clasped hands. Then Alfred stepped down heavily on to the platform.
The minute was a long one; these minutes always are. It was an age in passing, a flash to look back upon. These minutes are among the strangest accomplishments of the sorcerer Time.
‘It is dreadful to let you go alone, darling, like this,’ he said, standing on the foot-board and leaning in. ‘At least you ought to have had Bunn with you. You might have given way in that, Gladdie.’
‘No,’ she whispered tremulously; ‘I— I like going alone.’
‘You must write at once, Gladdie.’
‘To-morrow; but you could only get it latish on Monday.’
The bell was ringing. You know the clangour of a station bell; of all sounds the last that it resembles is that of the funeral knell; yet this was its echo in the heart of Gladys.
‘Well, it’s only for a week, after all, isn’t it, Gladdie? It will be the weariest week of my life, I know. But I shan’t mind — after all, it’s my own doing — if only you come back with a better colour. You have been so pale, Gladdie, these last few days — pale and excitable. But it’s only a week, my darling, eh?’
She could not answer.
The guard blew his whistle. There was an end of the minute at last.
‘Stand back,’ she whispered: her voice was stifled with tears.
‘Back?’— Alfred peered up into her face, and a sudden pallor spread upon his own —‘with your dear eyes full of tears, where I never yet saw tears before? Back? — God forgive me for thinking of it, I’ll come with you yet!’
He made as though to dive headlong through the window; but, looking him full in the eyes through her tears, his girl-wife laid a strong hand on each of his shoulders and forced him back. He staggered as the platform came under his feet. The train was already moving. He stood and gazed.
Gladys was waving to him, and smiling through her tears. So she continued until she could see him no more. Then she fell back upon the cushions, and, for a time, consciousness left her.
It was their first parting.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55