Volume 3
Chapter XIV. On the Edge of a Future
 

At last the day of the wedding came, a beautiful September day, which may be more beautiful in uncertain England than anywhere else. Lali had been strangely quiet all the day before, and she had also seemed strangely delicate. Perhaps, or perhaps not, she felt the crisis was approaching. It is probable that when the mind has been strained for a long time, and the heart and body suffered much, one sees a calamity vaguely, and cannot define it; appreciates it, and does not know it. She came to Marion's room about a half-hour before they were to start for the church. Marion was already dressed and ready, save for the few final touches, which, though they have been given a dozen times, must still again be given just before the bride starts for the church. Such is the anxious mind of women on these occasions. The two stood and looked at each other a moment, each wondering what were the thoughts of the other. Lali was struck by that high, proud look over which lay a glamour of infinite satisfaction, of sweetness, which comes to every good woman's face when she goes to the altar in a marriage which is not contingent on the rise or fall in stocks, or a satisfactory settlement. Marion, looking, saw, as if it had been revealed to her all at once, the intense and miraculous change which had come over the young wife, even within the past two months. Indeed, she had changed as much within that time as within all the previous four years--that is, she had been brought to a certain point in her education and experience, where without a newer and deeper influence she could go no further. That newer and deeper influence had come, and the result thereof was a woman standing upon the verge of the real tragedy to her life, which was not in having married the man, but in facing that marriage with her new intelligence and a transformed soul. Men can face that sort of thing with a kind of philosophy, not because men are better or wiser, but because it really means less to them. They have resources of life, they can bury themselves in their ambitions good or bad, but a woman can only bury herself in her affections, unless her heart has been closed; and in that case she herself has lost much of what made her adorable. And while she may go on with the closed heart and become a saint, even saintship is hardly sufficient to compensate any man or woman for a half-lived life. The only thing worth doing in this world is to live life according to one's convictions--and one's heart. He or she who sells that fine independence for a mess of pottage, no matter if the mess be spiced, sells, as the Master said, the immortal part of him.

And so Lali, just here on the edge of Marion's future, looking into that mirror, was catching the reflection of her own life. When two women come so near that, like the lovers in the Tempest, they have changed eyes, in so far as to read each other's hearts, even indifferently, which is much where two women are concerned, there is only one resource, and that is to fall into each other's arms, and to weep if it be convenient, or to hold their tears for a more fitting occasion; and most people will admit that tears need not add to a bride's beauty.

Marion might, therefore, be pardoned if she had her tears in her throat and not in her eyes, and Lali, if they arose for a moment no higher than her heart. But they did fall into each other's arms despite veils and orange blossoms, and somehow Marion had the feeling for Lali that she had on that first day at Greyhope, four years ago, when standing on the bridge, the girl looked down into the water, tears dropping on her hands, and Marion said to her: "Poor girl! poor girl!" The situations were the same, because Lali had come to a new phase of her life, and what that phase would be who could tell-happiness or despair?

The usual person might think that Lali was placing herself and her wifely affection at a rather high price, but then it is about the only thing that a woman can place high, even though she be one-third a white woman and two-thirds an Indian. Here was a beautiful woman, who had run the gamut of a London season, who had played a pretty social part, admirably trained therefor by one of the best and most cultured families of England. Besides, why should any woman sell her affections even to her husband, bargain away her love, the one thing that sanctifies "what God hath joined let no man put asunder"? Lali was primitive, she was unlike so many in a trivial world, but she was right. She might suffer, she might die, but, after all, there are many things worse than that. Man is born in a day, and he dies in a day, and the thing is easily over; but to have a sick heart for three-fourths of one's lifetime is simply to have death renewed every morning; and life at that price is not worth living. In this sensitive age we are desperately anxious to save life, as if it was the really great thing in the world; but in the good, strong times of the earth--and in these times, indeed, when necessity knows its hour--men held their lives as lightly as a bird upon the housetop which any chance stone might drop.

It is possible that at this moment the two women understood each other better than they had ever done, and respected each other more. Lali, recovering herself, spoke a few soft words of congratulation, and then appeared to busy herself in putting little touches to Marion's dress, that soft persuasion of fingers which does so much to coax mere cloth into a sort of living harmony with the body.

They had no more words of confidence, but in the porch of the church, Marion, as she passed Lali, caught the slender fingers in her own and pressed them tenderly. Marion was giving comfort, and yet if she had been asked why she could not have told. She did not try to define it further than to say to herself that she herself was having almost too much happiness. The village was en fete, and peasants lined the street leading to the church, ready with their hearty God-bless-you's. Lali sat between her husband and Mrs. Armour, apparently impassive until there came the question: "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" and General Armour's voice came clear and strong: "I do." Then a soft little cry broke from her, and she shivered slightly. Mrs. Armour did not notice, but Frank and Mrs. Lambert heard and saw, and both were afterwards watchful and solicitous. Frank caught Mrs. Lambert's eye, and it said, to a little motion of the head: "Do not appear to notice."

Lali was as if in a dream. She never took her eyes from the group at the altar until the end, and the two, now man and wife, turned to go into the vestry. Then she appeared to sink away into herself for a moment, before she fell into conversation with the others, as they moved towards the vestry.

"It was beautiful, wasn't it?" ventured Edward Lambert.

"The most beautiful wedding I ever saw," she answered, with a little shadow of meaning; and Lambert guessed that it was the only one she had seen since she came to England.

"How well Vidall looked," said Frank, "and as proud as a sultan. Did you hear what he said, as Marion came up the aisle?"

"No," responded Lambert.

"He said, 'By Jove, isn't she fine!' He didn't seem conscious that other people were present."

"Well, if a man hasn't some inspirations on his wedding-day when is he to have them?" said Mrs. Lambert. "For my part, I think that the woman always does that sort of thing better than a man. It is her really great occasion, and she masters it--the comedy is all hers." They were just then entering the vestry.

"Or the tragedy, as the case may be," said Lali quietly, smiling at Marion. She had, as it were, recovered herself, and her words had come with that airy, impersonal tone which permits nothing of what is said in it to be taken seriously. Something said by the others had recalled her to herself, and she was now returned very suddenly to the old position of alertness and social finesse. Something icy seemed to pass over her, and she immediately lost all self-consciousness, and began to speak to her husband with less reserve than she had shown since he had come. But he was not deceived. He saw that at that very instant she was further away from him than she had ever been. He sighed, in spite of himself, as Lali, with well-turned words, said some loving greetings to Marion, and then talked a moment with Captain Vidall.

"Who can understand a woman?" said Lambert to his wife meaningly.

"Whoever will," she answered. "How do you mean?"

"Whoever will wait like the saint upon the pillar, will suffer like the traveller in the desert; serve like a slave, and demand like a king; have patience greater than Job; love ceaseless as a fountain in the hills; who sees in the darkness and is not afraid of light; who distrusts not, neither believes, but stands ready to be taught; who is prepared for a kiss this hour and a reproach the next; who turneth neither to right nor left at her words, but hath an unswerving eye--these shall understand a woman."

"I never knew you so philosophical. Where did you get this deliverance on the subject?"

"May not even a woman have a moment of inspiration?"

"I should expect that of my wife."

"And I should expect that of my husband. It is trite to say that men are vain; I shall remark that they sit so much in their own light that they are surprised if another being crosses their disc."

"You always were clever, my dear, and you always were twice too good for me."

"Well, every woman--worth the knowing--is a missionary."

"Where does Lali come in?"

"Can you ask? To justify the claims of womanhood in spite of race--and all."

"To bring one man to a sense of the duty of sex to sex, eh?"

"Truly. And is she not doing it well? See her now." They were now just leaving the church, and Lali had taken General Armour's arm, while Richard led his mother to the carriage.

Lali was moving with a little touch of grandeur in her manner and a more than ordinary deliberation. She had had a moment of great weakness, and then there had come the reaction--carried almost too far by the force of the will. She was indeed straining herself too far. Four years of tension were culminating.

"See her now, Edward," repeated Mrs. Lambert. "Yes, but if I'm not mistaken, my dear, she is doing so well that she's going to pieces. She's overstrung to-day. If it were you, you'd be in hysterics."

"I believe you are right," was the grave reply. "There will be an end to this comedy one way or another very soon."

A moment afterwards they were in a carriage rolling away to Greyhope.