The Translation of A Savage by Gilbert Parker
Chapter IV. In the Name of the Family
The journey from Liverpool to Greyhope was passed in comparative silence. The Armours had a compartment to themselves, and they made the Indian girl as comfortable as possible without self-consciousness, without any artificial politeness. So far, what they had done was a matter of duty, not of will; but they had done their duty naturally all their lives, and it was natural to them now. They had no personal feelings towards the girl one way or another, as yet. It was trying to them that people stared into the compartment at different stations. It presently dawned upon General Armour that it might also be trying to their charge. Neither he nor his wife had taken into account the possibility of the girl having feelings to be hurt. But he had noticed Lali shrink visibly and flush slightly when some one stared harder than usual, and this troubled him. It opened up a possibility. He began indefinitely to see that they were not the only factors in the equation. He was probably a little vexed that he had not seen it before; for he wished to be a just man. He was wont to quote with more or less austerity--chiefly the result of his professional life--this:
"For justice, all place a temple, and all season summer."
And, man of war as he was, he had another saying which was much in his mouth; and he lived up to it with considerable sincerity:
"Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace, To silence envious tongues."
He whispered to his wife. It would have been hard to tell from her look what she thought of the matter, but presently she changed seats with her husband, that he might, by holding his newspaper at a certain angle, shield the girl from intrusive gazers.
At every station the same scene was enacted. And inquisitive people must have been surprised to see how monotonously ordinary was the manner of the three white people in the compartment. Suddenly, at a station near London, General Armour gave a start, and used a strong expression under his breath. Glancing at the "Marriage" column, he saw a notice to the effect that on a certain day of a certain month, Francis Gilbert, the son of General Joseph Armour, C.B., of Greyhope, Hertfordshire, and Cavendish Square, was married to Lali, the daughter of Eye-of-the-Moon, chief of the Bloods, at her father's lodge in the Saskatchewan Valley. This had been inserted by Frank Armour's solicitor, according to his instructions, on the day that the Aphrodite was due at Liverpool. General Armour did not at first intend to show this to his wife, but on second thought he did, because he knew she would eventually come to know of it, and also because she saw that something had moved him. She silently reached out her hand for the paper. He handed it to her, pointing to the notice.
Mrs. Armour was unhappy, but her self-possession was admirable, and she said nothing. She turned her face to the window, and sat for a long time looking out. She did not turn to the others, for her eyes were full of tears, and she did not dare to wipe them away, nor yet to let them be seen. She let them dry there. She was thinking of her son, her favourite son, for whom she had been so ambitious, and for whom, so far as she could, and retain her self-respect, she had delicately intrigued, that he might happily and befittingly marry. She knew that in the matter of his engagement she had not done what was best for him, but how could she have guessed that this would be the result? She also was sure that when the first flush of his anger and disappointment had passed, and he came to view this thing with cooler mind, he would repent deeply--for a whole lifetime. She was convinced that he had not married this savage for anything which could make marriage endurable. Under the weight of the thought she was likely to forget that the young alien wife might have lost terribly in the event also.
The arrival at Euston and the departure from St. Pancras were rather painful all round, for, though there was no waiting at either place, the appearance of an Indian girl in native costume was uncommon enough, even in cosmopolitan London, to draw much attention. Besides, the placards of the evening papers were blazoned with such announcements as this:
A RED INDIAN GIRL MARRIED INTO AN ENGLISH COUNTY FAMILY.
Some one had telegraphed particulars--distorted particulars--over from Liverpool, and all the evening sheets had their portion of extravagance and sensation. General Armour became a little more erect and austere as he caught sight of these placards, and Mrs. Armour groaned inwardly; but their faces were inscrutable, and they quietly conducted their charge, minus her blanket, to the train which was to take them to St. Albans, and were soon wheeling homeward.
At Euston they parted with Lambert and Mrs. Townley, who quite simply and conventionally bade good-bye to them and their Indian daughter-in-law. Lali had grown to like Mrs. Townley, and when they parted she spoke a few words quickly in her own tongue, and then immediately was confused, because she remembered that she could not be understood. But presently she said in halting English that the face of her white friend was good, and she hoped that she would come one time and sit beside her in her wigwam, for she would be sad till her husband travelled to her.
Mrs. Townley made some polite reply in simple English, pressed the girl's hand sympathetically, and hurried away. Before she parted from Mr. Lambert, however, she said, with a pretty touch of cynicism: "I think I see Marion Armour listening to her sister-in-law issue invitations to her wigwam. I am afraid I should be rather depressed myself if I had to be sisterly to a wigwam lady."
"But I say, Mrs. Townley," rejoined Lambert seriously, as he loitered at the steps of her carriage, "I shouldn't be surprised if my Lady Wigwam-- a rather apt and striking title, by the way--turned out better than we think. She carried herself rippingly without the blanket, and I never saw a more beautiful hand in my life--but one," he added, as his fingers at that moment closed on hers, and held them tightly, in spite of the indignant little effort at withdrawal. "She may yet be able to give them all points in dignity and that kind of thing, and pay Master Frank back in his own coin. I do not see, after all, that he is the martyr."
Lambert's voice got softer, for he still held Mrs. Townley's fingers, the footman not having the matter in his eye,--and then he spoke still more seriously on sentimental affairs of his own, in which he evidently hoped she would take some interest. Indeed, it is hard to tell how far the case might have been pushed if she had not suddenly looked a little forbidding and imperious. For even people of no notable height, with soft features, dark brown eyes, and a delightful little laugh, may appear rather regal at times. Lambert did not quite understand why she should take this attitude. If he had been as keen regarding his own affairs of the affections as in the case of Frank Armour and his Indian bride, he had known that every woman has in her mind the occasion when she should and when she should not be wooed, and nothing disappoints her more than a declaration at a time which is not her time. If it does not fall out as she wishes it, retrospect, a dear thing to a woman, is spoiled. Many a man has been sent to the right-about because he has ventured his proposal at the wrong time. What would have occurred to Lambert it is hard to tell; but he saw that something was wrong, and stopped in time.
When General Armour and his party reached Greyhope it was late in the evening. The girl seemed tired and confused by the events of the day, and did as she was directed, indifferently, limply. But when they entered the gates of Greyhope and travelled up the long avenue of limes, she looked round her somewhat eagerly, and drew a long sigh, maybe of relief or pleasure. She presently stretched out a hand almost caressingly to the thick trees and the grass, and said aloud: "Oh, the beautiful trees and the long grass!" There was a whirr of birds' wings among the branches, and then, presently, there rose from a distance the sweet, gurgling whistle of the nightingale. A smile as of reminiscence crossed her face. Then she said, as if to herself: "It is the same. I shall not die. I hear the birds' wings, and one is singing. It is pleasant to sleep in the long grass when the nights are summer, and to hang your cradle in the trees."
She had asked for her own blanket, refusing a rug, when they left St. Albans, and it had been given to her. She drew it about her now with a feeling of comfort, and seemed to lose the horrible sense of strangeness which had almost convulsed her when she was put into the carriage at the railway station. Her reserve had hidden much of what she really felt; but the drive through the limes had shown General Armour and his wife that they had to do with a nature having capacities for sensitive feeling; which, it is sometimes thought, is only the prerogative of certain well-bred civilisations.
But it was impossible that they should yet, or for many a day, feel any sense of kinship with this aboriginal girl. Presently the carriage drew up to the doorway, which was instantly opened to them. A broad belt of light streamed out upon the stone steps. Far back in the hall stood Marion, one hand upon the balustrade of the staircase, the other tightly held at her side, as if to nerve herself for the meeting. The eyes of the Indian girl pierced the light, and, as if by a strange instinct, found those of Marion, even before she left the carriage. Lali felt vaguely that here was her possible enemy. As she stepped out of the carriage, General Armour's hand under her elbow to assist her, she drew her blanket something more closely about her, and so proceeded up the steps. The composure of the servants was, in the circumstances, remarkable. It needed to have been, for the courage displayed by Lali's two new guardians during the day almost faltered at the threshold of their own home. Any sign of surprise or amusement on the part of the domestics would have given them some painful moments subsequently. But all was perfectly decorous. Marion still stood motionless, almost dazed, The group advanced into the hall, and there paused, as if waiting for her.
At that moment Richard came out of the study at her right hand, took her arm, and said quietly: "Come along, Marion. Let us be as brave as our father and mother."
She gave a hard little gasp and seemed to awake as from a dream. She quickly glided forwards ahead of him, kissed her mother and father almost abruptly, then turned to the young wife with a scrutinising eye. "Marion," said her father, "this is your sister." Marion stood hesitating, confused.
"Marion, dear," repeated her mother ceremoniously, "this is your brother's wife.--Lali, this is your husband's sister, Marion."
Mackenzie translated the words swiftly to the girl, and her eyes flashed wide. Then in a low voice she said in English: "Yes, Marion, How!"
It is probable that neither Marion nor any one present knew quite the meaning of 'How', save Richard, and he could not suppress a smile, it sounded so absurd and aboriginal. But at this exclamation Marion once more came to herself. She could not possibly go so far as her mother did at the dock and kiss this savage, but, with a rather sudden grasp of the hand, she said, a little hysterically, for her brain was going round like a wheel,--"Wo-won't you let me take your blanket?" and forthwith laid hold of it with tremulous politeness.
The question sounded, for the instant, so ludicrous to Richard that, in spite of the distressing situation, he had to choke back a laugh. Years afterwards, if he wished for any momentary revenge upon Marion (and he had a keen sense of wordy retaliation), he simply said: "Wo-won't you let me take your blanket?"
Of course the Indian girl did not understand, but she submitted to the removal of this uncommon mantle, and stood forth a less trying sight to Marion's eyes; for, as we said before, her buckskin costume set off softly the good outlines of her form.
The Indian girl's eyes wandered from Marion to Richard. They wandered from anxiety, doubt, and a bitter kind of reserve, to cordiality, sympathy, and a grave kind of humour. Instantly the girl knew that she had in eccentric Richard Armour a frank friend. Unlike as he was to his brother, there was still in their eyes the same friendliness and humanity. That is, it was the same look that Frank carried when he first came to her father's lodge.
Richard held out his hand with a cordial little laugh and said: "Ah, ah, very glad, very glad! Just in time for supper. Come along. How is Frank, eh? how is Frank? Just so; just so. Pleasant journey, I suppose?" He shook her hand warmly three or four times, and, as he held it, placed his left hand over it and patted it patriarchally, as was his custom with all the children and all the old ladies that he knew.
"Richard," said his mother, in a studiously neutral voice, "you might see about the wine."
Then Richard appeared to recover himself, and did as he was requested, but not until his brother's wife had said to him in English, as they courteously drew her towards the staircase: "Oh, my brother Richard, How!"
But the first strain and suspense were now over for the family, and it is probable that never had they felt such relief as when they sat down behind closed doors in their own rooms for a short respite, while the Indian girl was closeted alone with Mackenzie and a trusted maid, in what she called her wigwam.