The Translation of A Savage by Gilbert Parker
Chapter V. An Awkward Half-Hour
It is just as well, perhaps, that the matter had become notorious. Otherwise the Armours had lived in that unpleasant condition of being constantly "discovered." It was simply a case of aiming at absolute secrecy, which had been frustrated by Frank himself, or bold and unembarrassed acknowledgment and an attempt to carry things off with a high hand. The latter course was the only one possible. It had originally been Richard's idea, appropriated by General Armour, and accepted by Mrs. Armour and Marion with what grace was possible. The publication of the event prepared their friends, and precluded the necessity for reserve. What the friends did not know was whether they ought or ought not to commiserate the Armours. It was a difficult position. A death, an accident, a lost reputation, would have been easy to them; concerning these there could be no doubt. But an Indian daughter-in-law, a person in moccasins, was scarcely a thing to be congratulated upon; and yet sympathy and consolation might be much misplaced; no one could tell how the Armours would take it. For even their closest acquaintances knew what kind of delicate hauteur was possible to them. Even the "'centric" Richard, who visited the cottages of the poor, carrying soup and luxuries of many kinds, accompanying them with the most wholesome advice a single man ever gave to families and the heads of families, whose laugh was so cheery and spontaneous,--and face so uncommonly grave and sad at times,--had a faculty for manner. With astonishing suddenness he could raise insurmountable barriers; and people, not of his order, who occasionally presumed on his simplicity of life and habits, found themselves put distinctly ill at ease by a quiet, curious look in his eye. No man was ever more the recluse and at the same time the man of the world. He had had his bitter little comedy of life, but it was different from that of his brother Frank. It was buried very deep; not one of his family knew of it: Edward Lambert, and one or two others who had good reason never to speak of it, were the only persons possessing his secret.
But all England knew of Frank's mesalliance. And the question was, What would people do? They very properly did nothing at first. They waited to see how the Armours would act: they did not congratulate; they did not console; that was left to those papers which chanced to resent General Armour's politics, and those others which were emotional and sensational on every subject--particularly so where women were concerned.
It was the beginning of the season, but the Armours had decided that they would not go to town. That is, the general and his wife were not going. They felt that they ought to be at Greyhope with their daughter-in-law --which was to their credit. Regarding Marion they had nothing to say. Mrs. Armour inclined to her going to town for the season, to visit Mrs. Townley, who had thoughtfully written to her, saying that she was very lonely, and begging Mrs. Armour to let her come, if she would. She said that of course Marion would see much of her people in town just the same. Mrs. Townley was a very clever and tactful woman.
She guessed that General Armour and his wife were not likely to come to town, but that must not appear, and the invitation should be on a different basis--as it was.
It is probable that Marion saw through the delicate plot, but that did not make her like Mrs. Townley less. These little pieces of art make life possible, these tender fictions!
Marion was, however, not in good humour; she was nervous and a little petulant. She had a high-strung temperament, a sensitive perception of the fitness of things, and a horror of what was gauche; and she would, in brief, make a rather austere person if the lines of life did not run in her favour. She had something of Frank's impulsiveness and temper; it would have been a great blessing to her if she had had a portion of Richard's philosophical humour also. She was at a point of tension--her mother and Richard could see that. She was anxious--though for the world she would not have had it thought so--regarding Captain Vidall. She had never cared for anybody but him; it was possible she never would. But he did not know this, and she was not absolutely sure that his evident but as yet informal love would stand this strain--which shows how people very honourable and perfect-minded in themselves may allow a large margin to other people who are presumably honourable and perfect-minded also. There was no engagement between them, and he was not bound in any way, and could, therefore, without slashing the hem of the code, retire without any apology; but they had had that unspoken understanding which most people who love each other show even before a word of declaration has passed their lips. If he withdrew because of this scandal there might be some awkward hours for Frank Armour's wife at Greyhope; but, more than that, there would be a very hard-hearted young lady to play her part in the deceitful world; she would be as merciless as she could be. Naturally, being young, she exaggerated the importance of the event, and brooded on it. It was different with her father and mother. They were shocked and indignant at first, but when the first scene had been faced they began to make the best of things all round. That is, they proceeded at once to turn the North American Indian into a European--a matter of no little difficulty. A governess was discussed; but General Armour did not like the idea, and Richard opposed it heartily. She must be taught English and educated, and made possible in "Christian clothing," as Mrs. Armour put it. Of the education they almost despaired--all save Richard; time, instruction, vanity, and a dressmaker might do much as to the other.
The evening of her arrival, Lali would not, with any urging, put on clothes of Marion's which had been sent in to her. And the next morning it was still the same.
She came into the breakfast-room dressed still in buckskin and moccasins, and though the grease had been taken out of her hair it was still combed flat. Mrs. Armour had tried to influence her through Mackenzie, but to no purpose. She was placidly stubborn.
It had been unwisely told her by Mackenzie that they were Marion's clothes. They scarcely took in the fact that the girl had pride, that she was the daughter of a chief, and a chieftainess herself, and that it was far from happy to offer her Marion's clothes to wear.
Now, Richard, when he was a lad, had been on a journey to the South Seas, and had learned some of the peculiarities of the native mind, and he did not suppose that American Indians differed very much from certain well- bred Polynesians in little matters of form and good taste. When his mother told him what had occurred before Lali entered the breakfast-room, he went directly to what he believed was the cause, and advised tact with conciliation. He also pointed out that Lali was something taller than Marion, and that she might be possessed of that general trait of humanity-vanity. Mrs. Armour had not yet got used to thinking of the girl in another manner than an intrusive being of a lower order, who was there to try their patience, but also to do their bidding. She had yet to grasp the fact that, being her son's wife, she must have, therefore, a position in the house, exercising a certain authority over the servants, who, to Mrs. Armour, at first seemed of superior stuff. But Richard said to her: "Mother, I fancy you don't quite grasp the position. The girl is the daughter of a chief, and the descendant of a family of chiefs, perhaps through many generations. In her own land she has been used to respect, and has been looked up to pretty generally. Her garments are, I fancy, considered very smart in the Hudson's Bay country; and a finely decorated blanket like hers is expensive up there. You see, we have to take the thing by comparison; so please give the girl a chance."
And Mrs. Armour answered wearily, "I suppose you are right, Richard; you generally are in the end, though why you should be I do not know, for you never see anything of the world any more, and you moon about among the cottagers. I suppose it's your native sense and the books you read."
Richard laughed softly, but there was a queer ring in the laugh, and he came over stumblingly and put his arm round his mother's shoulder. "Never mind how I get such sense as I have, mother; I have so much time to think, it would be a wonder if I hadn't some. But I think we had better try to study her, and coax her along, and not fob her off as a very inferior person, or we shall have our hands full in earnest. My opinion is, she has got that which will save her and us too--a very high spirit, which only needs opportunity to develop into a remarkable thing; and, take my word for it, mother, if we treat her as a chieftainess, or princess, or whatever she is, and not simply as a dusky person, we shall come off better and she will come off better in the long run. She is not darker than a Spaniard, anyhow." At this point Marion entered the room, and her mother rehearsed briefly to her what their talk had been. Marion had had little sleep, and she only lifted her eyebrows at them at first. She was in little mood for conciliation. She remembered all at once that at supper the evening before her sister-in-law had said How! to the butler, and had eaten the mayonnaise with a dessert spoon. But presently, because she saw they waited for her to speak, she said, with a little flutter of maliciousness: "Wouldn't it be well for Richard- -he has plenty of time, and we are also likely to have it now --to put us all through a course of instruction for the training of chieftainesses? And when do you think she will be ready for a drawing- room--Her Majesty Queen Victoria's, or ours?"
"Marion!" said Mrs. Armour severely; but Richard came round to her, and, with his fresh, child-like humour, put his arm round her waist and added "Marion, I'd be willing to bet--if I were in the habit of betting--my shaky old pins here against a lock of your hair that you may present her at any drawing-room--ours or Queen Victoria's--in two years, if we go at it right; and it would serve Master Frank very well if we turned her out something, after all."
To which Mrs. Armour responded almost eagerly: "I wish it were only possible, Richard. And what you say is true, I suppose, that she is of rank in her own country, whatever value that may have."
Richard saw his advantage. "Well, mother," he said, "a chieftainess is a chieftainess, and I don't know but to announce her as such, and--"
"And be proud of it, as it were," put in Marion, "and pose her, and make her a prize--a Pocahontas, wasn't it?--and go on pretending world without end!" Marion's voice was still slightly grating, but there was in it too a faint sound of hope. "Perhaps," she said to herself, "Richard is right."
At this point the door opened and Lali entered, shown in by Colvin, her newly-appointed maid, and followed by Mackenzie, and, as we said, dressed still in her heathenish garments. She had a strong sense of dignity, for she stood still and waited. Perhaps nothing could have impressed Marion more. Had Lali been subservient simply, an entirely passive, unintelligent creature, she would probably have tyrannised over her in a soft, persistent fashion, and despised her generally. But Mrs. Armour and Marion saw that this stranger might become very troublesome indeed, if her temper were to have play. They were aware of capacities for passion in those dark eyes, so musing yet so active in expression, which moved swiftly from one object to another and then suddenly became resolute.
Both mother and daughter came forward, and held out their hands, wishing her a pleasant good-morning, and were followed by Richard, and immediately by General Armour, who had entered soon after her. She had been keen enough to read (if a little vaguely) behind the scenes, and her mind was wakening slowly to the peculiarity of the position she occupied. The place awed her, and had broken her rest by perplexing her mind, and she sat down to the breakfast-table with a strange hunted look in her face. But opposite to her was a window opening to the ground, and beyond it were the limes and beeches and a wide perfect sward and far away a little lake, on which swans and wild fowl fluttered. Presently, as she sat silent, eating little, her eyes lifted to the window. They flashed instantly, her face lighted up with a weird kind of charm, and suddenly she got to her feet with Indian exclamations on her lips, and, as if unconscious of them all, went swiftly to the window and out of it, waving her hands up and down once or twice to the trees and the sunlight.
"What did she say?" said Mrs. Armour, rising with the others.
"She said," replied Mackenzie, as she hurried towards the window, "that they were her beautiful woods, and there were wild birds flying and swimming in the water, as in her own country."
By this time all were at the window, Richard arriving last, and the Indian girl turned on them, her body all quivering with excitement, laughed a low, bird-like laugh, and then, clapping her hands above her head, she swung round and ran like a deer towards the lake, shaking her head back as an animal does when fleeing from his pursuers. She would scarcely have been recognised as the same placid, speechless woman in a blanket who sat with folded hands day after day on the Aphrodite.
The watchers turned and looked at each other in wonder. Truly, their task of civilising a savage would not lack in interest. The old general was better pleased, however, at this display of activity and excitement than at yesterday's taciturnity. He loved spirit, even if it had to be subdued, and he thought on the instant that he might possibly come to look upon the fair savage as an actual and not a nominal daughter-in-law. He had a keen appreciation of courage, and he thought he saw in her face, as she turned upon them, a look of defiance or daring, and nothing could have got at his nature quicker. If the case had not been so near to his own hearthstone he would have chuckled. As it was, he said good- humouredly that Mackenzie and Marion should go and bring her back. But Mackenzie was already at that duty. Mrs. Armour had had the presence of mind to send for Colvin; but presently, when the general spoke, she thought it better that Marion should go, and counselled returning to breakfast and not making the matter of too much importance. This they did, Richard very reluctantly; while Marion, rather pleased than not at the spirit shown by the strange girl, ran away over the grass towards the lake, where Lali had now stopped. There was a little bridge at one point where the lake narrowed, and Lali, evidently seeing it all at once, went towards it, and ran up on it, standing poised above the water about the middle of it. For an instant an unpleasant possibility came into Marion's mind: suppose the excited girl intended suicide! She shivered as she thought of it, and yet--! She put that horribly cruel and selfish thought away from her with an indignant word at herself. She had passed Mackenzie, and came first to the lake. Here she slackened, and waved her hand playfully to the girl, so as not to frighten her; and then with a forced laugh came up panting on the bridge, and was presently by Lali's side. Lali eyed her a little furtively, but, seeing that Marion was much inclined to be pleasant, she nodded to her, said some Indian words hastily, and spread out her hands towards the water. As she did so, Marion noticed again the beauty of those hands and the graceful character of the gesture, so much so that she forgot the flat hair and the unstayed body, and the rather broad feet, and the delicate duskiness, which had so worked upon her in imagination and in fact the evening before. She put her hand kindly on that long slim hand stretched out beside her, and, because she knew not what else to speak, and because the tongue is very perverse at times,--saying the opposite of what is expected,--she herself blundered out, "How! How! Lali."
Perhaps Lali was as much surprised at the remark as Marion herself, and certainly very much more delighted. The sound of those familiar words, spoken by accident as they were, opened the way to a better understanding, as nothing else could possibly have done. Marion was annoyed with herself, and yet amused too. If her mind had been perfectly assured regarding Captain Vidall, it is probable that then and there a peculiar, a genial, comradeship would have been formed. As it was, Marion found this little event more endurable than she expected. She also found that Lali, when she laughed in pleasant acknowledgment of that How! had remarkably white and regular teeth. Indeed, Marion Armour began to discover some estimable points in the appearance of her savage sister-in-law. Marion remarked to herself that Lali might be a rather striking person, if she were dressed, as her mother said, in Christian garments, could speak the English language well--and was somebody else's sister-in-law.
At this point Mackenzie came breathlessly to the bridge, and called out a little sharply to Lali, rebuking her. In this Mackenzie made a mistake; for not only did Lali draw herself up with considerable dignity, but Marion, noticing the masterful nature of the tone, instantly said: "Mackenzie, you must remember that you are speaking to Mrs. Francis Armour, and that her position in General Armour's house is the same as mine. I hope it is not necessary to say anything more, Mackenzie."
Mackenzie flushed. She was a sensible woman, she knew that she had done wrong, and she said very promptly: "I am very sorry, miss. I was flustered, and I expect I haven't got used to speaking to--to Mrs. Armour as I'll be sure to do in the future."
As she spoke, two or three deer came trotting out of the beeches down to the lake side. If Lali was pleased and excited before, she was overwhelmed now. Her breath came in quick little gasps; she laughed; she tossed her hands; she seemed to become dizzy with delight; and presently, as if this new link with, and reminder of, her past, had moved her as one little expects a savage heart to be moved, two tears gathered in her eyes, then slid down her cheek unheeded, and dried there in the sunlight, as she still gazed at the deer. Marion, at first surprised, was now touched, as she could not have thought it possible concerning this wild creature, and her hand went out and caught Lali's gently. At this genuine act of sympathy, instinctively felt by Lali, the stranger in a strange land, husbanded and yet a widow, there came a flood of tears, and, dropping on her knees, she leaned against the low railing of the bridge and wept silently. So passionless was her grief it seemed the more pathetic, and Marion dropped on her knees beside her, put her arm round her shoulder, and said: "Poor girl! Poor girl!"
At that Lali caught her hand, and held it, repeating after her the words: "Poor girl! Poor girl!"
She did not quite understand them, but she remembered that once just before she parted from her husband at the Great Lakes he had said those very words. If the fates had apparently given things into Frank Armour's hands when he sacrificed this girl to his revenge, they were evidently inclined to play a game which would eventually defeat his purpose, wicked as it had been in effect if not in absolute motive. What the end of this attempt to engraft the Indian girl upon the strictest convention of English social life would have been had her introduction not been at Greyhope, where faint likenesses to her past surrounded her, it is hard to conjecture. But, from present appearances, it would seem that Richard Armour was not wholly a false prophet; for the savage had shown herself that morning to possess, in their crudeness, some striking qualities of character. Given character, many things are possible, even to those who are not of the elect.
This was the beginning of better things. Lali seemed to the Armours not quite so impossible now. Had she been of the very common order of Indian "pure and simple," the task had resolved itself into making a common savage into a very common European. But, whatever Lali was, it was abundantly evident that she must be reckoned with at all points, and that she was more likely to become a very startling figure in the Armour household than a mere encumbrance to be blushed for, whose eternal absence were preferable to her company.
Years after that first morning Marion caught herself shuddering at the thought that came to her when she saw Lali hovering on the bridge. Whatever Marion's faults were, she had a fine dislike of anything that seemed unfair. She had not ridden to hounds for nothing. She had at heart the sportsman's instinct. It was upon this basis, indeed, that Richard appealed to her in the first trying days of Lali's life among them. To oppose your will to Marion on the basis of superior knowledge was only to turn her into a rebel; and a very effective rebel she made; for she had a pretty gift at the retort courteous, and she could take as much, and as well, as she gave. She rebelled at first at assisting in Lali's education, though by fits and starts she would teach her English words, and help her to form long sentences, and was, on the whole, quite patient. But Lali's real instructors were Mrs. Armour and Richard--, her best, Richard.
The first few days she made but little progress, for everything was strange to her, and things made her giddy--the servants, the formal routine, the handsome furnishings, Marion's music, the great house, the many precise personal duties set for her, to be got through at stated times; and Mrs. Armour's rather grand manner. But there was the relief to this, else the girl had pined terribly for her native woods and prairies; this was the park, the deer, the lake, the hares, and birds. While she sat saying over after Mrs. Armour words and phrases in English, or was being shown how she must put on and wear the clothes which a dressmaker from Regent Street had been brought to make, her eyes would wander dreamily to the trees and the lake and the grass. They soon discovered that she would pay no attention and was straightway difficult to teach if she was not placed where she could look out on the park. They had no choice, for though her resistance was never active it was nevertheless effective.
Presently she got on very swiftly with Richard. For he, with instinct worthy of a woman, turned their lessons upon her own country and Frank. This cost him something, but it had its reward. There was no more listlessness. Previously Frank's name had scarcely been spoken to her. Mrs. Armour would have hours of hesitation and impotent regret before she brought herself to speak of her son to his Indian wife. Marion tried to do it a few times and failed; the general did it with rather a forced voice and manner, because he saw that his wife was very tender upon the point. But Richard, who never knew self-consciousness, spoke freely of Frank when he spoke at all; and it was seeing Lali's eyes brighten and her look earnestly fixed on him when he chanced to mention Frank's name, that determined him on his new method of instruction. It had its dangers, but he had calculated them all. The girl must be educated at all costs. The sooner that occurred the sooner would she see her own position and try to adapt herself to her responsibilities, and face the real state of her husband's attitude towards her.
He succeeded admirably. Striving to tell him about her past life, and ready to talk endlessly about her husband, of his prowess in the hunt, of his strength and beauty, she also strove to find English words for the purpose, and Richard supplied them with uncommon willingness. He humoured her so far as to learn many Indian words and phrases, but he was chary of his use of them, and tried hard to make her appreciative of her new life and surroundings. He watched her waking slowly to an understanding of the life, and of all that it involved. It gave him a kind of fear, too, because she was sensitive, and there was the possible danger of her growing disheartened or desperate, and doing some mad thing in the hour that she wakened to the secret behind her marriage.
His apprehensions were not without cause. For slowly there came into Lali's mind the element of comparison. She became conscious of it one day when some neighbouring people called at Greyhope. Mrs. Armour, in her sense of duty, which she had rigidly set before her, introduced Lali into the drawing-room. The visitors veiled their curiosity and said some pleasant casual things to the young wife, but she saw the half-curious, half-furtive glances, she caught a sidelong glance and smile, and when they were gone she took to looking at herself in a mirror, a thing she could scarcely be persuaded to do before. She saw the difference between her carriage and theirs, her manner of wearing her clothes and theirs, her complexion and theirs. She exaggerated the difference. She brooded on it. Now she sat downcast and timid, and hunted in face, as on the first evening she came; now she appeared restless and excited.
If Mrs. Armour was not exactly sympathetic with her, she was quiet and forbearing, and General Armour, like Richard, tried to draw her out--but not on the same subjects. He dwelt upon what she did; the walks she took in the park, those hours in the afternoon when, with Mackenzie or Colvin, she vanished into the beeches, making friends with the birds and deer and swans. But most of all she loved to go to the stables. She was, however, asked not to go unless Richard or General Armour was with her. She loved horses, and these were a wonder to her. She had never known any but the wild, ungroomed Indian pony, on which she had ridden in every fashion and over every kind of country. Mrs. Armour sent for a riding- master, and had riding-costumes made for her. It was intended that she should ride every day as soon as she seemed sufficiently presentable. This did not appear so very far off, for she improved daily in appearance. Her hair was growing finer, and was made up in the modest prevailing fashion; her skin, no longer exposed to an inclement climate, and subject to the utmost care, was smoother and fairer; her feet, encased in fine, well-made boots, looked much smaller; her waist was shaped to fashion, and she was very straight and lissom. So many things she did jarred on her relatives, that they were not fully aware of the great improvement in her appearance. Even Richard admitted her trying at times.
Marion went up to town to stay with Mrs. Townley, and there had to face a good deal of curiosity. People looked at her sometimes as if it was she and not Lali that was an Indian. But she carried things off bravely enough, and answered those kind inquiries, which one's friends make when we are in embarrassing situations, with answers so calm and pleasant that people did not know what to think.
"Yes," she said, in reply to Lady Balwood, "her sister-in-law might be in town later in the year, perhaps before the season was over: she could not tell. She was tired after her long voyage, and she preferred the quiet of Greyhope; she was fond of riding and country-life; but still she would come to town for a time." And so on.
"Ah, dear me, how charming! And doesn't she resent her husband's absence--during the honeymoon? or did the honeymoon occur before she came over to England?" And Lady Balwood tried to say it all playfully, and certainly said it something loudly. She had daughters.
But Marion was perfectly prepared. Her face did not change expression. "Yes, they had had their honeymoon on the prairies; Frank was so fascinated with the life and the people. He had not come home at once, because he was making she did not know how great a fortune over there in investments, and so Mrs. Armour came on before him, and, of course, as soon as he could get away from his business, he would follow his wife."
And though Marion smiled, her heart was very hot, and she could have slain Lady Balwood in her tracks. Lady Balwood then nodded a little patronisingly, and babbled that "she hoped so much to see Mrs. Francis Armour. She must be so very interesting, the papers said so much about her."
Now, while this conversation was going on, some one stood not far behind Marion, who seemed much interested in her and what she said. But Marion did not see this person. She was startled presently, however, to hear a strong voice say softly over her shoulder: "What a charming woman Lady Balwood is! And so ingenuous!"
She was grateful, tremulous, proud. Why had he--Captain Vidall--kept out of the way all these weeks, just when she needed him most, just when he should have played the part of a man? Then she was feeling twinges at the heart, too. She had seen Lady Agnes Martling that afternoon, and had noticed how the news had worn on her. She felt how much better it had been had Frank come quietly home and married her, instead of doing the wild, scandalous thing that was making so many heart-burnings. A few minutes ago she had longed for a chance to say something delicately acid to Lady Haldwell, once Julia Sherwood, who was there. Now there was a chance to give her bitter spirit tongue. She was glad--she dared not think how glad--to hear that voice again; but she was angry too, and he should suffer for it--the more so because she recognised in the tone, and afterwards in his face, that he was still absorbingly interested in her. There was a little burst of thanksgiving in her heart, and then she prepared a very notable commination service in her mind.
This meeting had been deftly arranged by Mrs. Townley, with the help of Edward Lambert, who now held her fingers with a kind of vanity of possession whenever he bade her good-bye or met her. Captain Vidall had, in fact, been out of the country, had only been back a week, and had only heard of Frank Armour's mesalliance from Lambert at an At Home forty- eight hours before. Mrs. Townley guessed what was really at the bottom of Marion's occasional bitterness, and, piecing together many little things dropped casually by her friend, had come to the conclusion that the happiness of two people was at stake.
When Marion shook hands with Captain Vidall she had herself exceedingly well under control. She looked at him in slight surprise, and casually remarked that they had not chanced to meet lately in the run of small- and-earlies. She appeared to be unconscious that he had been out of the country, and also that she had been till very recently indeed at Greyhope. He hastened to assure her that he had been away, and to lay siege to this unexpected barrier. He knew all about Frank's affair, and, though it troubled him, he did not see why it should make any difference in his regard for Frank's sister. Fastidious as he was in all things, he was fastidiously deferential. Not an exquisite, he had all that vanity as to appearance so usual with the military man; himself of the most perfect temper and sweetness of manner and conduct, the unusual disturbed him. Not possessed of a vivid imagination, he could scarcely conjure up this Indian bride at Greyhope.
But face to face with Marion Armour he saw what troubled his mind, and he determined he would not meet her irony with irony, her assumed indifference with indifference. He had learned one of the most important lessons of life--never to quarrel with a woman. Whoever has so far erred has been foolish indeed. It is the worst of policy, to say nothing of its being the worst of art; and life should never be without art. It is absurd to be perfectly natural; anything, anybody can be that. Well, Captain Hume Vidall was something of an artist, more, however, in principle than by temperament. He refused to recognise the rather malicious adroitness with which Marion turned his remarks again upon himself, twisted out of all semblance. He was very patient. He inquired quietly, and as if honestly interested, about Frank, and said--because he thought it safest as well as most reasonable--that, naturally, they must have been surprised at his marrying a native; but he himself had seen some such marriages turn out very well--in Japan, India, the South Sea Islands, and Canada. He assumed that Marion's sister-in-law was beautiful, and then disarmed Marion by saying that he thought of going down to Greyhope immediately, to call on General Armour and Mrs. Armour, and wondered if she was going back before the end of the season.
Quick as Marion was, this was said so quietly that she did not quite see the drift of it. She had intended staying in London to the end of the season, not because she enjoyed it, but because she was determined to face Frank's marriage at every quarter, and have it over, once for all, so far as herself was concerned. But now, taken slightly aback, she said, almost without thinking, that she would probably go back soon--she was not quite sure; but certainly her father and mother would be glad to see Captain Vidall at any time.
Then, without any apparent relevancy, he asked her if Mrs. Frank Armour still wore her Indian costume. In any one else the question had seemed impertinent; in him it had a touch of confidence, of the privilege of close friendship. Then he said, with a meditative look and a very calm, retrospective voice, that he was once very much in love with a native girl in India, and might have become permanently devoted to her, were it not for the accident of his being ordered back to England summarily.
This was a piece of news which cut two ways. In the first place it lessened the extraordinary character of Frank's marriage, and it roused in her an immediate curiosity--which a woman always feels in the past "affairs" of her lover, or possible lover. Vidall did not take pains to impress her with the fact that the matter occurred when he was almost a boy; and it was when her earnest inquisition had drawn from him, bit by bit, the circumstances of the case, and she had forgotten many parts of her commination service and to preserve an effective neutrality in tone, that she became aware he was speaking ancient history. Then it was too late to draw back.
They had threaded their way through the crowd into the conservatory, where they were quite alone, and there, with only a little pyramid of hydrangeas between them, which she could not help but notice chimed well with the colour of her dress, he dropped his voice a little lower, and then suddenly said, his eyes hard on her: "I want your permission to go to Greyhope."
The tone drew her eyes hastily to his, and, seeing, she dropped them again. Vidall had a strong will, and, what is of more consequence, a peculiarly attractive voice. It had a vibration which made some of his words organ-like in sound. She felt the influence of it. She said a little faintly, her fingers toying with a hydrangea: "I am afraid I do not understand. There is no reason why you should not go to Greyhope without my permission."
"I cannot go without it," he persisted. "I am waiting for my commission from you."
She dropped her hand from the flower with a little impatient motion. She was tired, her head ached, she wanted to be alone. "Why are you enigmatical?" she said. Then quickly: "I wish I knew what is in your mind. You play with words so."
She scarcely knew what she said. A woman who loves a man very much is not quick to take in the absolute declaration of that man's love on the instant; it is too wonderful for her. He felt his check flush with hers, he drew her look again to his. "Marion! Marion!" he said. That was all.
"Oh, hush, some one is coming!" was her quick, throbbing reply. When they parted a half-hour later, he said to her: "Will you give me my commission to go to Greyhope?"
"Oh no, I cannot," she said very gravely; "but come to Greyhope-when I go back."
"And when will that be?" he said, smiling, yet a little ruefully too.
"Please ask Mrs. Townley," she replied; "she is coming also."
Marion, knew what that commission to go to Greyhope meant. But she determined that he should see Lali first, before anything irrevocable was done. She still looked upon Frank's marriage as a scandal. Well, Captain Vidall should face it in all its crudeness. So, in a week or less, Marion and Mrs. Townley were in Greyhope.
Two months had gone since Lali arrived in England, and yet no letter had come to her, or to any of them, from Frank. Frank's solicitor in London had written him fully of her arrival, and he had had a reply, with further instructions regarding money to be placed to General Armour's credit for the benefit of his wife. Lali, as she became Europeanised, also awoke to the forms and ceremonies of her new life. She had overheard Frank's father and mother wondering, and fretting as they wondered, why they had not received any word from him. General Armour had even called him a scoundrel, which sent Frank's mother into tears. Then Lali had questioned Mackenzie and Colvin, for she had increasing shrewdness, and she began to feel her actual position. She resented General Armour's imputation, but in her heart she began to pine and wonder. At times, too, she was fitful, and was not to be drawn out. But she went on improving in personal appearance and manner and in learning the English language. Mrs. Townley's appearance marked a change in her. When they met she suddenly stood still and trembled. When Mrs. Townley came to her and took her hand and kissed her, she shivered, and then caught her about the shoulders lightly, but was silent. After a little she said: "Come--come to my wigwam, and talk with me."
She said it with a strange little smile, for now she recognised that the word wigwam was not to be used in her new life. But Mrs. Townley whispered: "Ask Marion to come too."
Lali hesitated, and then said, a little maliciously: "Marion, will you come to my wigwam?"
Marion ran to her, caught her about the waist, and replied gaily: "Yes, we will have a pow-wow--is that right--is pow-wow right?"
The Indian girl shook her head with a pretty vagueness, and vanished with them. General Armour walked up and down the room briskly, then turned on his wife and said: "Wife, it was a brutal thing: Frank doesn't deserve to be--the father of her child."
But Lali had moods--singular moods. She indulged in one three days after the arrival of Marion and Mrs. Townley. She had learned to ride with the side-saddle, and wore her riding-dress admirably. Nowhere did she show to better advantage. She had taken to riding now with General Armour on the country roads. On this day Captain Vidall was expected, he having written to ask that he might come. What trouble Lali had with one of the servants that morning was never thoroughly explained, but certain it is, she came to have a crude notion of why Frank Armour married her. The servant was dismissed duly, but that was after the contre-temps.
It was late afternoon. Everybody had been busy, because one or two other guests were expected besides Captain Vidall. Lali had kept to herself, sending word through Richard that she would not "be English," as she vaguely put it, that day. She had sent Mackenzie on some mission. She sat on the floor of her room, as she used to sit on the ground in her father's lodge. Her head was bowed in her hands, and her arms rested on her knees. Her body swayed to and fro. Presently all motion ceased. She became perfectly still. She looked before her as if studying something.
Her eyes immediately flashed. She rose quickly to her feet, went to her wardrobe, and took out her Indian costume and blanket, with which she could never be induced to part. Almost feverishly she took off the clothes she wore and hastily threw them from her. Then she put on the buckskin clothes in which she had journeyed to England, drew down her hair as she used to wear it, fastened round her waist a long red sash which had been given her by a governor of the Hudson's Bay Company when he had visited her father's country, threw her blanket round her shoulders, and then eyed herself in the great mirror in the room. What she saw evidently did not please her perfectly, for she stretched out her hands and looked at them; she shook her head at herself and put her hand to her cheeks and pinched them, they were not so brown as they once were, then she thrust out her foot. She drew it back quickly in disdain. Immediately she caught the fashionable slippers from her feet and threw them among the discarded garments. She looked at herself again. Still she was not satisfied, but she threw up her arms, as with a sense of pleasure and freedom, and laughed at herself. She pushed out her moccasined foot, tapped the floor with it, nodded towards it, and said a word or two in her own language. She heard some one in the next room, possibly Mackenzie. She stepped to the door leading into the hall, opened it, went out, travelled its length, ran down a back hallway, out into the park, towards the stables, her blanket, as her hair, flying behind her.
She entered the stables, made for a horse that she had ridden much, put a bridle on him, led him out before any one had seen her, and, catching him by the mane, suddenly threw herself on him at a bound, and, giving him a tap with a short whip she had caught up in the stable, headed him for the main avenue and the open road. Then a stableman saw her and ran after, but he might as well have tried to follow the wind. He forthwith proceeded to saddle another horse. Boulter also saw her as she passed the house, and, running in, told Mrs. Armour and the general. They both ran to the window and saw dashing down the avenue--a picture out of Fenimore Cooper; a saddleless horse with a rider whose fingers merely touched the bridle, riding as on a journey of life and death.
"My God, it's Lali! She's mad--she's mad! She is striking that horse! It will bolt! It will kill her!" cried the general.
Then he rushed for a horse to follow her. Mrs. Armour's hands clasped painfully. For an instant she had almost the same thought as had Marion on the first morning of Lali's coming; but that passed, and left her gazing helplessly after the horse-woman. The flying blanket had frightened the blooded horse, and he made desperate efforts to fulfil the general's predictions.
Lali soon found that she had miscalculated. She was not riding an Indian pony, but a crazed, high-strung horse. As they flew, she sitting superbly and tugging at the bridle, the party coming from the railway station entered the great gate, accompanied by Richard and Marion. In a moment they sighted this wild pair bearing down upon them with a terrible swiftness.
As Marion recognised Lali she turned pale and cried out, rising in her seat. Instinctively Captain Vidall knew who it was, though he could not guess the cause of the singular circumstance. He saw that the horse had bolted, but also that the rider seemed entirely fearless. "Why, in Heaven's name," he said between his teeth, "doesn't she let go that blanket!"
At that moment Lali did let it go, and the horse dashed by them, making hard for the gate. "Turn the horses round and follow her," said Vidall to the driver. While this was doing, Marion caught sight of her father riding hard down the avenue. He passed them, and called to them to hurry on after him.
Lali had not the slightest sense of fear, but she knew that the horse had gone mad. When they passed through the gate and swerved into the road, a less practised rider would have been thrown. She sat like wax. The pace was incredible for a mile, and though General Armour rode well, he was far behind.
Suddenly a trap appeared in the road in front of them, and the driver, seeing the runaway, set his horses at right angles to the road. It served the purpose only to provide another danger. Not far from where the trap was drawn, and between it and the runaway, was a lane, which ended at a farmyard in a cul-de-sac. The horse swerved into it, not slacking its pace, and in the fraction of a minute came to the farmyard.
But now the fever was in Lali's blood. She did not care whether she lived or died. A high hedge formed the cul-de-sac. When she saw the horse slacking she cut it savagely across the head twice with a whip, and drove him at the green wall. He was of too good make to refuse it, stiff as it was. He rose to it magnificently, and cleared it; but almost as he struck the ground squarely, he staggered and fell--the girl beneath him. He had burst a blood-vessel. The ground was soft and wet; the weight of the horse prevented her from getting free. She felt its hoof striking in its death-struggles, and once her shoulder was struck. Instinctively she buried her face in the mud, and her arms covered her head.
And then she knew no more.
When she came to, she was in the carriage within the gates of Greyhope, and Marion was bending over her. She suddenly tried to lift herself, but could not. Presently she saw another face--that of General Armour. It was stern, and yet his eyes were swimming as he looked at her.
"How!" she said to him--"How!" and fainted again.