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CHAPTER XXV

In that mood of rebellious mortification she fell asleep. And,
curiously enough, dreamed not of him whom she had in mind been so
furiously defending, but of Harbinger. She fancied herself in
prison, lying in a cell fashioned like the drawing-room at Sea house;
and in the next cell, into which she could somehow look, Harbinger
was digging at the wall with his nails. She could distinctly see the
hair on the back of his hands, and hear him breathing. The hole he
was making grew larger and larger. Her heart began to beat
furiously; she awoke.

She rose with a new and malicious resolution to show no sign of
rebellion, to go through the day as if nothing had happened, to
deceive them all, and then--! Exactly what 'and then' meant, she did
not explain even to herself.

In accordance with this plan of action she presented an untroubled
front at breakfast, went out riding with little Ann, and shopping
with her mother afterwards. Owing to this news of Miltoun the
journey to Scotland had been postponed. She parried with cool
ingenuity each attempt made by Lady Valleys to draw her into
conversation on the subject of that meeting at Gustard's, nor would
she talk of her brother; in every other way she was her usual self.
In the afternoon she even volunteered to accompany her mother to old
Lady Harbinger's in the neighbourhood of Prince's Gate. She knew
that Harbinger would be there, and with the thought of meeting that
other at 'five o'clock,' had a cynical pleasure in thus encountering
him. It was so complete a blind to them all! Then, feeling that she
was accomplishing a masterstroke; she even told him, in her mother's
hearing, that she would walk home, and he might come if he cared. He
did care.

But when once she had begun to swing along in the mellow afternoon,
under the mellow trees, where the air was sweetened by the South-West
wind, all that mutinous, reckless mood of hers vanished, she felt
suddenly happy and kind, glad to be walking with him. To-day too he
was cheerful, as if determined not to spoil her gaiety; and she was
grateful for this. Once or twice she even put her hand up and
touched his sleeve, calling his attention to birds or trees,
friendly, and glad, after all those hours of bitter feelings, to be
giving happiness. When they parted at the door of Valleys House, she
looked back at him with a queer, half-rueful smile. For, now the
hour had come!

In a little unfrequented ante-room, all white panels and polish, she
sat down to wait. The entrance drive was visible from here; and she
meant to encounter Courtier casually in the hall. She was excited,
and a little scornful of her own excitement. She had expected him to
be punctual, but it was already past five; and soon she began to feel
uneasy, almost ridiculous, sitting in this room where no one ever
came. Going to the window, she looked out.

A sudden voice behind her, said:

"Auntie Babs!".

Turning, she saw little Ann regarding her with those wide, frank,
hazel eyes. A shiver of nerves passed through Barbara.

"Is this your room? It's a nice room, isn't it?"

She answered:

"Quite a nice room, Ann."

"Yes. I've never been in here before. There's somebody just come,
so I must go now."

Barbara involuntarily put her hands up to her cheeks, and quickly
passed with her niece into the hall. At the very door the footman
William handed her a note. She looked at the superscription. It was
from Courtier. She went back into the room. Through its half-closed
door the figure of little Ann could be seen, with her legs rather
wide apart, and her hands clasped on her low-down belt, pointing up
at William her sudden little nose. Barbara shut the door abruptly,
broke the seal, and read:


"DEAR LADY BARBARA,

"I am sorry to say my interview with your brother was fruitless.

"I happened to be sitting in the Park just now, and I want to wish
you every happiness before I go. It has been the greatest pleasure
to know you. I shall never have a thought of you that will not be my
pride; nor a memory that will not help me to believe that life is
good. If I am tempted to feel that things are dark, I shall remember
that you are breathing this same mortal air. And to beauty and joy'
I shall take off my hat with the greater reverence, that once I was
permitted to walk and talk, with you. And so, good-bye, and God
bless you.
Your faithful servant,
"CHARLES COURTIER."


Her cheeks burned, quick sighs escaped her lips; she read the letter
again, but before getting to the end could not see the words for
mist. If in that letter there had been a word of complaint or even
of regret! She could not let him go like this, without good-bye,
without any explanation at all. He should not think of her as a
cold, stony flirt, who had been merely stealing a few weeks'
amusement out of him. She would explain to him at all events that it
had not been that. She would make him understand that it was not
what he thought--that something in her wanted--wanted----! Her mind
was all confused. "What was it?" she thought: "What did I do?" And
sore with anger at herself, she screwed the letter up in her glove,
and ran out. She walked swiftly down to Piccadilly, and crossed into
the Green Park. There she passed Lord Malvezin and a friend
strolling up towards Hyde Park Corner, and gave them a very faint
bow. The composure of those two precise and well-groomed figures
sickened her just then. She wanted to run, to fly to this meeting
that should remove from him the odious feelings he must have, that
she, Barbara Caradoc, was a vulgar enchantress, a common traitress
and coquette! And his letter--without a syllable of reproach! Her
cheeks burned so, that she could not help trying to hide them from
people who passed.

As she drew nearer to his rooms she walked slower, forcing herself to
think what she should do, what she should let him do! But she
continued resolutely forward. She would not shrink now--whatever
came of it! Her heart fluttered, seemed to stop beating, fluttered
again. She set her teeth; a sort of desperate hilarity rose in her.
It was an adventure! Then she was gripped by the feeling that had
come to her on the roof. The whole thing was bizarre, ridiculous!
She stopped, and drew the letter from her glove. It might be
ridiculous, but it was due from her; and closing her lips very tight,
she walked on. In thought she was already standing close to him, her
eyes shut, waiting, with her heart beating wildly, to know what she
would feel when his lips had spoken, perhaps touched her face or
hand. And she had a sort of mirage vision of herself, with eyelashes
resting on her cheeks, lips a little parted, arms helpless at her
sides. Yet, incomprehensibly, his figure was invisible. She
discovered then that she was standing before his door.

She rang the bell calmly, but instead of dropping her hand, pressed
the little bare patch of palm left open by the glove to her face, to
see whether it was indeed her own cheek flaming so.

The door had been opened by some unseen agency, disclosing a passage
and flight of stairs covered by a red carpet, at the foot of which
lay an old, tangled, brown-white dog full of fleas and sorrow.
Unreasoning terror seized on Barbara; her body remained rigid, but
her spirit began flying back across the Green Park, to the very hall
of Valleys House. Then she saw coming towards her a youngish woman
in a blue apron, with mild, reddened eyes.

"Is this where Mr. Courtier lives?"

"Yes, miss." The teeth of the young woman were few in number and
rather black; and Barbara could only stand there saying nothing, as
if her body had been deserted between the sunlight and this dim red
passage, which led to-what?

The woman spoke again:

"I'm sorry if you was wanting him, miss, he's just gone away."

Barbara felt a movement in her heart, like the twang and quiver of an
elastic band, suddenly relaxed. She bent to stroke the head of the
old dog, who was smelling her shoes. The woman said:

"And, of course, I can't give you his address, because he's gone to
foreign parts."

With a murmur, of whose sense she knew nothing, Barbara hurried out
into the sunshine. Was she glad? Was she sorry? At the corner of
the street she turned and looked back; the two heads, of the woman
and the dog, were there still, poked out through the doorway.

A horrible inclination to laugh seized her, followed by as horrible a
desire to cry.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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