12. To-Morrow, And To-Morrow, And To-Morrow
Eleanor is superintending her packing, when Giddy Mounteagle enters her room.
"I called and ran straight up, dear," she says, "knowing you were busy. What! are you only taking so small a trunk into the country?"
"Yes, no finery, only two stuff dresses and a felt hat. I want to forget there is such a thing as Society or 'toilettes.' I am going to have a good time with all the farm people, and the school children, and be just as I was before I married. There are some of my clothes still hanging up in my old room, I shall put them on, and grub in the garden, rake, weed, and mow. Our poor machine was dreadfully cranky before I left; I should think it has fallen to pieces by now, but I mean to have a try. Mother's bit of front lawn is the pride of her heart. Black Bess will meet me at the station, and Rover--dear affectionate dog. I shall swing on the gate and whistle, and----"
But Eleanor's prattle breaks off shortly, for her throat feels strangled, and the misery that Giddy clearly sees beneath her smiles overmasters her.
"I think I have got a cold," she falters; "my eyes water so, and I have a little husk here when I speak."
But Giddy knows it is the coldness of desolation that brings the raindrops to shine on Eleanor's lashes.
"Do put in a few dainty gowns, dearest," she implores. "It would be such fun to show them off and astonish the natives. Say that hat from 'Louise,' in case you tea with the vicar's spouse, of whom I have often heard."
Eleanor is too weary to object, and lets Giddy order Sarah hither and thither till the room is in a litter and her head in a whirl.
"Go and fetch me Mrs. Roche's Roumanian jacket, the one from Liberty," says Giddy to Sarah. "I want to borrow it as a pattern. I am sure that nice little dressmaker at Twickenham could make me one exactly like it," turning to Eleanor, as Sarah quits the room. "You don't mind, dear?"
"Did I tell you I met Lady MacDonald yesterday, and she actually asked after you? I was quite surprised. She is in great trouble, poor thing, having lost her favourite maid--a regular right hand in the household. The woman had a very good figure, and has gone to the Empire, and gets £4 a week for standing in the front row of a ballet or chorus or something. Lady MacDonald feels sure she must have been in the trade before she entered her service. She gets that excellent pay because she just matches another girl, like a horse, you know. It must be vastly more entertaining than fastening Lady MacDonald's back hooks. The worst of it is she will
tell all the other servants about it, and make them envious. The scullery maid, who is short and broad, and stout, is fired to go, and dreams of nothing else."
"I wonder the beautiful Lady MacDonald has time to trouble about the dreams of a menial," says Eleanor, with the touch of sarcasm that always accompanies any mention of Giddy's friend.
Sarah returns, and the subject drops.
"Is it not a pity Philip is dreadfully busy this week, or he was to have come with me to-day," continues Eleanor. "I doubt now if he will be able to get to Copthorne at all."
"How like a husband to be busy when you want him. I am sure you are much too young and pretty to travel alone."
"Shall we leave Sarah to finish the packing, and come down? I must have an early lunch."
Giddy follows her to the dining-room.
"I saw Carol Quinton yesterday," she says. "I told him you were going away, but was true to my word, and did not divulge the address."
"I wish you had said nothing about my movements," replies Eleanor uneasily, starting at the sound of Carol's name.
"I could not help it, he asked me all about you directly; he never talks of anything else, which seems rather absurd to another woman."
"Yes, you must grow horribly tired of the subject."
"You remember that dance at the 'Star and Garter' that you didn't go to? Well, I only heard the other day from those 'Bennett-Jones' girls that he asked them if you would be there, and they said 'yes,' just because they wanted him to make their party complete; they took three men and three girls. They knew really that you had a previous engagement, but kept buoying him up all the evening by expecting your momentary appearance. Later on, Addie, the eldest, broke it to him that you had never intended going. He was so offended he went straight home, and has not called on them since. It was rather mean you know to lure him there under false pretences."
"When did they tell you that?"
"Oh! the next day Addie called about ten in the morning, before I was down. She was really quite funny about it."
Eleanor bites her lips.
"It seems that my name is coupled with Mr. Quinton's," she mutters.
"Well, people will talk, whatever you do. Little Mrs. Hope saw you walking with him in the park one day, and she told Addie, and Addie told----"
"Oh! don't," cries Eleanor impatiently, putting her hands to her racking head, and stamping her foot impatiently. "I would rather not hear. It is all so petty, so stupid, so mean. What have I or Carol Quinton to do with them?"
"You have flirted with him, my dear, so openly at the Richmond parties, you can scarcely expect to escape observation."
"I hate the people here--I hate everybody!" declares Eleanor passionately. "I shall be thankful to get away. There are no gossiping fools to drive me crazy at Copthorne."
"How delightful! Fancy wandering about with a cow for your chaperon and the birds for critics, a rural pasture for your ball-room, a buttercup meadow for your lounge! How long shall you stay in 'Happy Arcadia'?"
"As long as I can," replies Eleanor. "I should like never to come back, and when I do I will take good care I am not seen with Mr. Quinton. It is all this silly girls' talk that eventually reaches Philip's ears, and makes our home unbearable."
"Yes, Eleanor. The breath of scandal permeates through the stolidest walls, or perhaps it comes in by the keyhole. It is a germ that is spread by chattering tongues, like some deadly disease. It nearly ruined my life when I was young."
"What a pity it cannot be taxed," sighs Eleanor. "By the way, the last thing I heard was that you had broken your engagement with Bertie. Of course, I did not believe it."
"Which was distinctly wrong of you under the circumstances. I am disappointed in him. We have decided to go our separate paths--apart."
"Oh! Giddy, I am so sorry. But why?"
"When I marry (which I shall do some day again), I want a rising man, clever, pushing, ambitious, like Lord MacDonald, in fact. Someone who will improve my position, lift me, instead of being a burden. Bertie's intellect was very weak, and I do hate a fool!"
"I should have thought that would be rather an advantage in a husband," remarks Eleanor.
"Really Bertie was too expensive, he wanted so much pocket money, I could not afford the luxury of a fiancé
on his terms. Of course, he is broken-hearted, dear boy, and naturally I wept a few poetical tears, and said I should always think of him as a friend."
"The carriage is at the door," she replies, "they are getting the luggage down."
Eleanor and Giddy go into the hall together.
As Sarah carries the dressing bag out, it flies open, and something falls at Mrs. Mounteagle's feet.
She picks it up.
It is a photograph of Carol Quinton.
"You must have that lock secured," she says laughing, "or buy a strap."
Eleanor colours, and hides the photograph in her muff.
"Take care of yourself, my sweet," returning Eleanor's caress. "I have no doubt it will be very merry and jolly in the country," with a little grimace that means it won't.
But Mrs. Roche cares not to what corner of the globe she is travelling as the train bears her to Copthorne. She is too utterly miserable to notice places or seasons. She just sits by the window, and stares at the picture she has drawn from her muff, from which the eyes of Carol Quinton look pleadingly in hers.
"I wish I could bury myself," she thinks, her mind turning to Africa--America--Asia--any of the far-off worlds she has read of in geography books and fiction. "I wish I were someone else, or even the old Eleanor that Philip stole from Copthorne Farm. Why did he not leave me there? It would have been far better for us both!"
An elderly woman seated opposite glances at Eleanor over her paper, struck by the strange pallor of the young face, the nervous twitching of the mouth, and tear-dimmed eyes.
The stranger leans forward suddenly with an abrupt question:
"May I see that photograph?"
"May I see that photograph?"
Eleanor starts in trepidation; her thoughts have been so far away that they are brought back to the present with an effort.
She sees before her a face lined more deeply with sorrow than time, a woman who might still have considerable beauty had she not dyed her hair in her youth and ruined her complexion with cosmetics.
The request does not offend Eleanor, for Mrs. Roche is easily won by a kind look or a smile.
She hands the photograph across, watching the stranger's expression.
"What a handsome face!" she exclaims, with a little gasp of admiration.
"Yes," sighs Eleanor.
"I never saw such mesmeric eyes, and yet they are soft, though powerful. I should say that man must have broken many a heart with those eyes."
She looks shrewdly at Mrs. Roche as she speaks.
"If he loves you
," she continues, "he will be true."
Eleanor's head droops.
"You love him," said the stranger, reading the tell-tale blush. "Are you going to marry him, my dear?"
"No," falters Eleanor, "I wish I could."
"Ah! I thought so. Forgive me for my curiosity, but your face interested me, and I am not conventional. I always speak if I wish, though it offends some people. To me the fashion of introducing seems absurd. Here we are all jumbled up together in the same little world, yet everyone is a mass of reserve, a mind in armour, they never say what they mean, seldom speak from the heart. One is in the dust, and another on the throne, and they all die in like manner, to be buried most probably by a man they would not have dared address without an introduction, measured by an undertaker they could not have been seen walking with in the street, and to mix with thousands of spirits whose ancestors and pedigree are unknown."
Eleanor listens in surprise.
"Are you uncertain about your future?" the stranger asks.
"A little," falters Eleanor nervously.
"Then let me look at your hand, I may be able to help you. No, the left hand please," as Mrs. Roche tremblingly unbuttons her right glove. "Ah!" as the gold wedding-ring is revealed, "I was afraid so. I see it all now; this (pointing to the photograph) is not
Eleanor tries to speak, but her throat is parched, and dry. She only bends her head and gazes at the lines in her pink palm.
"You are going on a journey very soon," vouchsafes the stranger. "I wish it could be prevented, for it brings more pain than pleasure--misery, desolation."
Eleanor snatches away her hand.
"I don't want to know any more," she says, almost fiercely, pulling on her glove.
"I did not mean to frighten you," replies the woman penitently. "But I want to warn you. Whatever you do wrong in this world, my friend, is always repaid. There may be a heaven and a hell in the hereafter, I know not, I am not in a position to say, but of one thing I am certain, there is the hell here on earth, which measures out the allotted punishment to its victims."
"I don't understand you," exclaims Eleanor, "You talk to me as if I were a criminal."
"No," shaking her head sadly; "only as to a young and beautiful wife, who dreams and cries over another man's picture. You have the fatal, dangerous gift of fascination, Mrs. Roche."
"How did you know my name?"
"It is by me on the label of your bag."
Eleanor is silent. She waits for the stranger to continue.
"In my youth, Mrs. Roche, I was as fair as you--I was unhappily married. I looked lightly on the bonds that meant so much until they fettered me--held me down, as I then imagined. Between me and my husband the sentiment of camaraderie
never existed. When I was not coquetting with him I was quarrelling. I tell you this because I shall never see you again. You do not know me--or care. I may be dead to-morrow--you would never hear. We are only just passing in life, and have paused to speak. The man I married was by necessity a preoccupied breadwinner, and during his daily absences in hot pursuit of the staff of life I met--well, we will say this man," taking up the photograph of Carol Quinton.
Eleanor snatches it from her.
"Ah! yes, just what I should have done then. I was hot-headed, and reckless, I had a good life in my hands and I ruined, spoiled, destroyed it! The cruel thongs of public opinion lashed my quivering flesh, the galling retribution broke my spirit, I cried to God, but He hid his face, I was an outcast, lost, I could only lie and moan for death which never came."
The stranger covers her face with her hands, and shudders visibly.
The wedding-ring to which she has no right is still on her wasted fingers, hot tears, forced from her eyes through recollection, pour down her drawn cheeks, making little rivulets through some coarse powder of the cheaper kind.
Eleanor's ever-ready pity rises up to crush the anger previously felt, for she sees now the effort that this brief confession has cost her fellow traveller. She knows, too, the reason for which these words were spoken, and horror stops the beating of her heart, it checks her throbbing pulses.
Mrs. Roche leans forward, and takes the stranger's hands.
"Thank you," she murmurs simply.
The woman clasps the little fingers gratefully.
"You understand?" she asks.
Eleanor whispers, "Yes."
"Do you know what I saw in your eyes?"
"Three long words that kept repeating themselves. All the same words, and the worst, the most heartbreaking. 'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow!' They will drive a soul to perdition quicker than any in the English language. I am going to have them engraved on my tombstone, because I can only conquer them in death."
"You are right. I was looking on, living in fancy the worthless days and hours."
"Crush that tendency, Mrs. Roche. Think of me when your life seems worthless, and remember all that I have lost. Your face is so sweet, so pure, so beautiful, it was made for the good love that crowns spotless womanhood. But this is my station, and I shall never know what you do with your future."
"Shall I show you?" says Eleanor hastily, for she is easily swayed, and the stranger has worked upon her emotion.
"See!" and the soft, enticing eyes of Carol Quinton are torn asunder--the photograph is reduced to a handful of scraps scattered on the carriage cushion.
"You are a good woman," says the other, rising and looking down tenderly, lovingly at Eleanor.
Again they clasp hands, then a cloud of towzled hair under a black crape bonnet vanishes down the platform, and Mrs. Roche is left alone, with the pieces of torn cardboard and the scent of patchouli on the opposite seat.