Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
The big limousine was already at the door when Lady Gertrude and Isobel, clothed from head to foot in sombre black, descended from their respective rooms. Roger, also clad in the same funereal hue and wearing a black tie--and looking as though his garments afforded him the acme of mental discomfort--stood waiting for them, together with Nan, in the hall.
Lady Gertrude bestowed one of her chilly kisses upon her son's fiancée and stepped into the car, Isobel followed, and Roger, with a muttered: "Confound Great-aunt Rachel's fortune!" brought up the rear. A minute later the car and its black-garbed occupants disappeared down the drive.
Nan turned back into the house. There was a curiously lightened feeling in the atmosphere, she thought--as though someone had lifted the roof of a dungeon and let in the sunlight and fresh air. She stretched her arms luxuriously above her head and exhaled a long sigh of relief. Then, running like a child let out of school, she fled down the long hall to the telephone stand. Lifting the receiver, her fingers fairly danced upon the forked clip which had held it.
Her imperative summons was answered with a most unusual promptness by the exchange--it was going to be a lucky day altogether, she told herself. Demanding, "Trunks, please!" she gave the number of the Edenhall flat and prepared to possess her soul in patience till her call came through.
At lunch she was almost too excited to eat, and when finally Morton, entering quietly, announced: "You are wanted on the telephone, miss," she hardly waited to hear the end of the sentence but flew past him to the telephone stand and snatched up the instrument.
"Hello! Hello! That you, Penny? . . . Yes, of course it's Nan! Oh, my dear, I'm so glad you're back! Listen. I want to run up to town for a few days. . . . Yes. Roger's away. They're all away. . . . You can put me up? To-morrow? Thanks awfully, Penny. . . . Yes, Waterloo. At 4.16. Good-bye. Give my love to Ralph. . . . Good-bye."
She hung up the receiver and, returning to the dining-room, made a pretence of finishing her lunch. Afterwards, with as much composure as she could muster up--seeing that she wanted to dance and sing out of pure happiness--she informed Morton that she had been called away suddenly to London and would require the car early the next morning to take her to the station. Whatever curiosity Morton may have felt concerning this unexpected announcement, he concealed it admirably, merely replying with his usual imperturbability: "Very good, miss."
"I'm leaving a letter for Mr. Trenby--to explain. See that he has it as soon as he gets back to-morrow."
And once again Morton answered respectfully:
"Very good, miss."
The writing of the letter did not occupy much time. She reflected that she must take one of two courses. Either she must write him at length, explaining everything--and somehow she felt it would be impossible to explain to Roger her desperate need for flight, for a respite from things as they were--or she must leave a brief note merely stating that she had gone away. She decided on the latter and after several abortive attempts, which found their ultimate fate in the fire, she achieved the following telegraphic epistle:
"DEAR ROGER,--Have gone to town. Stopping with Penelope.--NAN."
Afterwards she packed with gleeful hands. It seemed too good to be true that in twenty-four hours she would actually find herself back in London--away from this gloomy, tree-girdled house with its depressing atmosphere both outside and in, away from Lady Gertrude's scathing tongue and Isobel's two-edged speeches, and, above all, secure for a time from Roger's tumultuous love-making and his unuttered demand for so much more than she could ever give him.
She craved for the rush and bustle of London, for the play that might keep her from thinking, the music which should minister to her soul, and, more than all, she longed to see the beloved familiar faces--to see Penelope and Ralph and Lord St. John. She felt as though for the last three months she had been dwelling in some dreadful unknown world, with only boy Sandy to cling to out of the whole unnerving chaos.
* * * * * * *
"You blessed child! I am glad to see you!"
Penelope, looking the happiest and most blooming of youthful matrons, was on the platform when the Cornish express steamed into Waterloo station and Nan alighted from it. The two girls embraced warmly.
"You can't--you can't possibly be as glad as I am, Penny mine," returned Nan. "Hmf!"--wrinkling up her nose. "How nice London smells!"
Penelope burst out laughing. Nan nodded at her seriously.
"I mean it. You've no idea how good that smoky, petrolly smell is after the innocuous breezes of the country. It's full of gorgeous suggestions of cars and people and theatres and--and life!"
They hurried to the other end of the platform where the porters were disinterring the luggage from the van and dumping it down on the platform with a splendid disregard for the longevity of the various trunks and suit-cases they handled. Nan's attendant porter quickly extricated her baggage from the motley pile, and very soon she and Penelope were speeding away from the station as fast as their chauffeur--whose apparent recklessness was fortunately counter-balanced by consummate skill--could take them.
"How nice and familiar it all looks," said Nan, as the car granted up the Haymarket. "And it's heavenly to be going back to the dear old flat. Whereabouts are you looking for a house, by the way?"
"Somewhere in Hampstead, we think, where the air--and the rents!--are more salubrious than nearer in."
"Of course." Nan nodded. "All singers live at Hampstead. You'd be quite unfashionable if you didn't. I suppose you and Ralph are frightfully busy?"
"Yes. But we're free to-night, luckily. So we can yarn to our hearts' content. To-morrow evening we're both singing at the Albert Hall. And, oh, in the afternoon we're going to tea at Maryon's studio. His new picture's on view--private, of course."
"What new picture?"
"His portrait of the famous American beauty, Mrs. T. Van Decken. I believe she paid a fabulous sum for it; Maryon's all the rage now, you know. So he asked us to come down and see it before it's shipped off to New York. By the way, he enquired after you in his letter--I've got it with me somewhere. Oh, yes, here it is! He says: 'What news have you of Nan? I've lost sight of her since her engagement. But now it seems likely I shall be seeing her again before any of you.' I can't think what he means by that."
"Nor I," said Nan, somewhat mystified. "But anyway," she added, smiling, "he will be seeing me even sooner than he anticipates. How has his marriage turned out?"
"Very much as one might have expected. They live most amicably--apart!"
"They've surely not quarrelled already?"
"Oh, no, they've not quarrelled. But of course they didn't fit into each other's scheme of life one bit, and they've re-arranged matters to suit their own convenience. She's in the south of France just now, and when she comes to town they'll meet quite happily and visit at each other's houses. She has a palatial sort of place in Mayfair, you know, while Maryon has a duck of a house in Westminster."
"How very modern!" commented Nan, smiling. "And--how like Maryon!"
"Just like him, isn't it? And"--drily--"it was just like him, too, to see that the marriage settlement arrangements were all quite water-tight. However, on the whole, it's a fair bargain between them. She rejoices in the honour and glory of being a well-known artist's wife, while he has rather more money than is good for him."
Ralph, broadened out a bit since his successful trip to America, was on the steps of the Mansions to welcome them, and the lift conveyed them all three up to the flat--the dear, home-like flat of which Nan felt she loved every inch.
"You're in your old room," Penelope told her, and Nan gave vent to a crow of delight.
Dinner was a delightful meal, full of the familiar gossip of the artistes' room, and the news of old friends, and fervent discussions on matters musical and artistic, with running through it all a ripple of humour and the cheery atmosphere of camaraderie and good-fellowship. When it was over, the three drew cosily together round the fire in Ralph's den. Nan sank into her chair with a blissful sigh.
"That's not a sigh of repletion, Penny," she explained. "Though really your cook might have earned it? . . . But oh! isn't this nice?" Inwardly she was reflecting that at just about this time Roger, together with Lady Gertrude and Isobel, would be returning from Great-aunt Rachel's funeral, only to learn of her own flight from Trenby Hall.
"Yes," agreed Penelope. "It really was angelic of Roger to spare you at a moment's notice."
Nan gave a grim little smile.
"You dear innocent! Roger--didn't know--I was coming."
"No, I just thought I'd come . . . and he--they were all away . . . and I came! I left a note behind, telling him I was going to stay with you. So he won't be anxious!"
"Roger didn't know you were coming!" repeated Penelope. "Nan"--a sudden light illuminating the dark places--"have you had a quarrel?"
"Yes"--shortly. "A sort of quarrel."
"And you came straight off here? . . . Oh, Nan, what a fool's trick! He will be furious!"
Once or twice Penelope had caught a glimpse of that hot-headed temper which lay hidden beneath Roger's somewhat blunt exterior.
"Lady Gertrude will be furious!" murmured Nan reminiscently.
"I think she'll have the right to be," answered Penelope, with quiet rebuke in her tones. "It really was abominable of you to run away like that."
Nan shrugged her shoulders, and Ralph looked across at her, smiling broadly.
"You're a very exasperating young person, Nan," he said. "If you were going to be my wife, I believe I should beat you."
"Well, that would at least break the monotony of things," she retorted. But her lips set themselves in a straight, hard, line at the remembrance of Roger's stormy threat: "I might even do that."
"Is it monotony you're suffering from?" asked Ralph quickly.
"I'm fed up with the country and its green fields--never anything but green fields! They're so eternally, damnably green!"
"Oh, Nan! And the scenery in Cornwall is perfectly lovely!" protested Penelope feebly.
"Man cannot live by bread alone, Penny--nor scenery either. I just yearned for London. So I came."
The next morning, much to Nan's surprise, brought neither letter nor telegram from Roger.
"I quite expected a wire: 'Return at once. All will be forgiven,'" she said frivolously, as lunch time came and still no message.
"Perhaps he isn't prepared to forgive you," suggested Ralph.
Nan stared at him without answering, her eyes dilating curiously. She had never even dreamed of such a possibility, and a sudden wild hope flamed up within her.
"It's rather a knock to a man's pride, you know, if the girl he's engaged to does a bolt the moment his back's turned," pursued Ralph.
"It was madness!" said Penelope with the calmness of despair.
Nan remained silent. Neither their praise nor blame would have affected her one iota at the moment. All that mattered was whether, without in the least intending to do it, she had cut the cords which bound her so irrevocably. Was it conceivable that Roger's pride would be so stung by her action in running away from Trenby Hall during his absence that he would never wish to see her again--far less make her his wife?
She had never contemplated the matter from that angle. But now, as Ralph put it before her, she realised that the attitude he indicated might reasonably be that of most men in similar circumstances.
Her heart beat deliriously at the very thought. If release came this way--by Roger's own decision--she would be free to take it! The price of the blunder she had made when she pledged herself to him--a price which was so much heavier than she could possibly have imagined--would be remitted.
And from the depths of her soul a fervent, disjointed prayer went up to heaven:
"God, God, please don't let him forgive me--don't let him ever forgive me!"
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.