Volume 3
Chapter X. Thou Knowest the Secrets of Our Hearts
 

And Lali? How had the night gone for her? When she rose from the child's cot, where her lips had caught the warmth that her husband had left on them, she stood for a moment bewildered in the middle of the room. She looked at the door out of which he had gone, her bosom beating hard, her heart throbbing so that it hurt her--that she could have cried out from mere physical pain. The wifedom in her was plundering the wild stores of her generous soul for the man, for--as Richard had said that day, that memorable day!--the father of her child. But the woman, the pure translated woman, who was born anew when this frail life in its pink and white glory crept out into the dazzling world, shrank back, as any girl might shrink that had not known marriage. This child had come--from what?--She shuddered now--how many times had she done so since she first waked to the vulgar sacrilege of her marriage? She knew now that every good mother, when her first child is born, takes it in her arms, and, all her agony gone, and the ineffable peace of delivered motherhood come, speaks the name of its father, and calls it his child. But--she remembered it now--when her child was born, this little waif, the fruit of a man's hot, malicious hour, she wrapped it in her arms, pressed its delicate flesh to the silken folds of her bosom, and weeping, whispered only: "My child, my little, little child!"

She had never, as many a wife far from her husband has done, talked to her child of its father, told it of his beauty and his virtues, arrayed it day by day in sweet linen and pretty adornments, as if he were just then knocking at her door; she had never imagined what he would say when he did come. What could such a father think of his child, born of a woman whose very life he had intended as an insult? No, she had loved it for father and mother also. She had tried to be good, a good mother, living a life unutterably lonely, hard in all that it involved of study, new duty, translation, and burial of primitive emotions. And with all the care and tearful watchfulness that had been needed, she had grown so proud, so exacting--exacting for her child, proud for herself.

How could she know now that this hasty declaration of affection was anything more than the mere man in him? Years ago she had not been able to judge between love and insult--what guarantee had she here? Did he think that she could believe in him? She was not the woman he had married, he was not the man she had married. He had deceived her basely --she had been a common chattel. She had been miserable enough--could she give herself over to his flying emotions again so suddenly?

She paced the room, her face now in her hands, her hands now clasping and wringing before her. Her wifely duty? She straightened to that. Duty! She was first and before all a good, unpolluted woman. No, no, it could not be. Love him? Again she shrank. Then came flooding on her that afternoon when she had flung herself on Richard's breast, and all those hundred days of happiness in Richard's company--Richard the considerate, the strong, who had stood so by his honour in an hour of peril.

Now as she thought of it a hot wave shivered through all her body, and tingled to her hair. Her face again dropped in her hands, and, as on that other day, she knelt beside the cot, and, bursting into tears, said through her sobs: "My baby, my own dear baby! Oh, that we could go away--away--and never come back again!"

She did not know how intense her sobs were. They waked the child from its delicate sleep; its blue eyes opened wide and wise all on the instant, its round soft arm ran up to its mother's neck, and it said: "Don't c'y! I want to s'eep wif you! I'se so s'eepy!"

She caught the child to her wet face, smiled at it through her tears, went with it to her own bed, put it away in the deep whiteness, kissed it, and fondled it away again into the heaven of sleep. When this was done she felt calmer. How she hungered over it! This--this could not be denied her. This, at least, was all hers, without clause or reservation, an absolute love, and an absolute right.

She disrobed and drew in beside the child, and its little dewy cheek touching her breast seemed to ease the ache in her soul.

But sleep would not come. All the past four years trooped by, with their thousand incidents magnified in the sharp, throbbing light of her mind, and at last she knew and saw clearly what was before her, what trials, what duty, and what honour demanded--her honour.

Richard? Once for all she gently put him away from her into that infinite distance of fine respect which a good woman can feel, who has known what she and Richard had known--and set aside. But he had made for her so high a standard, that for one to be measured thereby was a severe challenge.

Could Frank come even to that measure? She dared not try to answer the question. She feared, she shrank, she grew sick at heart. She did not reckon with that other thing, that powerful, infinite influence which ties a woman, she knows not how or why, to the man who led her to the world of motherhood. Through all the wrongs which she may suffer by him, there runs this cable of unhappy attraction, testified to by how many sorrowful lives!

But Lali was trying to think it out, not only to feel, and she did not count that subterranean force which must play its part in this new situation in her drama of life. Could she love him? She crept away out of the haven where her child was, put on her dressing-gown, went to the window, and looked out upon the night, all unconscious that her husband was looking at her from the Square below. Love him?--Love him?--Love him? Could she? Did he love her? Her eyes wandered over the Square. Nowhere else was there a light, but a chimney-flue was creaking somewhere. It jarred on her so that she shrank. Then all at once she smiled to think how she had changed. Four years ago she could have slept amid the hammers of a foundry. The noise ceased. Her eyes passed from the cloud of trees in the Square to the sky-all stars, and restful deep blue. That--that was the same. How she knew it! Orion and Ashtaroth, and Mars and the Pleiades, and the long trail of the Milky Way. As a little child hanging in the trees, or sprawled beside a tepee, she had made friends with them all, even as she learned and loved all the signs of the earth beneath--the twist of a blade of grass, the portent in the cry of a river-hen, the colour of a star, the smell of a wind. She had known Nature then, now she knew men. And knowing them, and having suffered, and sick at heart as she was, standing by this window in the dead of night, the cry that shook her softly was not of her new life, but of the old, primitive, child-like.

'Pasagathe, omarki kethose kolokani vorgantha pestorondikat Oni.'

"A spear hath pierced me, and the smart of the nettle is in my wound. Maker of the soft night, bind my wounds with sleep, lest I cry out and be a coward and unworthy."

Again and again, unconsciously, the words passed from her lips

'Vorganthe, pestorondikat Oni.'

At last she let down the blind, came to the bed, and once more gathered her child in her arms with an infinite hunger. This love was hers--rich, untrammelled, and so sacred. No matter what came, and she did not know what would come, she had the child. There was a kind of ecstasy in it, and she lay and trembled with the feeling, but at last fell into a troubled sleep.

She waked suddenly to hear footsteps passing her door. She listened. One footstep was heavier than the other--heavier and a little stumbling; she recognised them, Frank and Richard. In that moment her heart hardened. Frank Armour must tread a difficult road.