"Audrey Craven" by May Sinclair. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.
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Everybody knew that Miss Audrey Craven was the original of "Laura," the heroine of Langley Wyndham's masterpiece. She first attracted the attention of that student of human nature at Oxford, at a dinner given by her guardian, the Dean of St. Benedict's, ostensibly in honour of the new Master of Lazarus, in reality for his ward's entertainment and instruction in the bewildering art of life.
It was thunder-weather. Out of doors, a hot and sleepy air hung over the city; indoors, the forecast was no less heavy and depressing. Not so, however, to Miss Audrey Craven. The party was large and mixed; and to the fresh, untutored mind of a tyro, this in itself was promising. The Dean pursued the ruinous policy of being all things to all men; and to-night, together with nonentities and Oxonians of European renown, there was a sprinkling of celebrities from the outside world. Among these were Mr. Langley Wyndham, the eminent novelist, and his friend Mr. Percival Knowles, the critic who had helped him to his eminence. Having collected these discordant elements around him, the Dean withdrew from the unequal contest, and hovered, smiling ineffectually, on the outskirts of his little chaos. Perhaps he tried to find comfort in a conscience satisfied for a party spoiled. But for Audrey this wild confusion was rich in possibility. However baffling to those officially responsible, it offered a wider field for individual enterprise; and if she did not possess that fine flow of animal spirits which sometimes supports lesser minds under such circumstances, she had other qualities which stood her in good stead. Conspicuous amongst these was an indomitable moral courage. She prepared to hurl herself into the breach.
Wyndham was standing a little apart from the herd, leaning against the wall, as if overcome by an atmosphere too oppressive for endurance, when he saw his friend approaching him. Knowles was looking about him with eyes alert, and that furtive but uncontrollable smile which made ladies say, "Yes; but Mr. Knowles is so dreadfully cynical, you know."
"By the way, Wyndham—I don't want to startle you, but there is a lady here who particularly wants me to introduce you to her."
Wyndham turned on him a look terrible in its dignified reproach.
"Anything but that, my dear fellow. No more introductions to-night, please. I've just suffered torture from an unspeakable youth from Aberdeen, who expected me to rejoice with him because Oxford is at last recognising the 'exeestence of a metapheesical principle in the wur-r-ld and mon——'"
"I admit that the party is dull, from a mere worldling's point of view. But it's a glorious field for the student of human nature. And here's an opportunity for exceptional research—something quite off the beaten track. The admirer of you and all your works is the lovely Miss Craven, and I assure you she's creating a sensation at the other end of the room."
"Which is she?"
"There, the girl with the copper-coloured hair, talking to Broadbent."
"Ah, that one. No, thanks. I know what you're going to tell me—she writes."
"She doesn't, but she's pretty enough to do that or anything else she chooses. Scandal says she's looking for a religion. She must be a simple soul if she thinks she can pick up the article in Oxford."
"Oh, I don't know. Religions are cheap everywhere nowadays, the supply being so remarkably in excess of the demand, and Miss Craven's soul may be immortal (we'll give it the benefit of the doubt), but its simplicity is un grand peut-être. What's the matter?"
"It makes me ill to see the way these fellows go about leading captive silly women. Do look at Broadbent cramming his spiritual pabulum into that girl's mouth. Moral platitudes—all the old crusts he can lay his hands on, soaked in the milk-and-water of sentiment."
"And a little new wine—with the alcohol extracted by the latest process; no possible risk of injury to the bottles. Don't be uneasy; I've been watching her all evening, ever since I found her in a corner with the unspeakable youth, talking transcendentalism. A woman who can look you in the face and ask you if you have ever doubted your own existence, and if it isn't a very weird and unaccountable sensation, would be capable of anything. Five minutes afterwards she was complimenting Flaxman Reed on the splendid logic of the Roman Faith, and now I've no doubt she's contributing valuable material to Broadbent's great work on the Fourth Gospel."
He was wrong. At that moment the earnest seeker after truth was gazing abstractedly in his direction, and had left the Canon lecturing to empty benches, balancing himself on his toes, while he defined his theological position with convincing emphasis of finger and thumb. What he said is neither here nor there. Then Wyndham repented of his rudeness. He waited till Knowles was looking another way, and made for the Dean in a bee-line, approaching him from the rear to find him introducing a late arrival to his niece. He heard the name Mr. Jackson, and noted the faint shade of annoyance on the girl's face, as the interloper sat down beside her with a smile of dreamy content. It was enough to quench Wyndham's languid ardour. He was not going to take any more trouble to get an introduction to Miss Audrey Craven.
He saw her once more that evening as he turned to take leave of his host. She was still sitting beside Mr. Jackson, and Wyndham watched them furtively. Mr. Jackson was a heavy, flaxen-haired young man, with a large eye-glass and no profile to speak of. To judge by Miss Craven's expression, his conversation was not very interesting, though he was evidently exerting himself to give it a humorous turn. Wyndham smiled in spite of himself.
"Hard lines, wasn't it?" said Knowles at his elbow. "Brilliant idea of the Dean's, though—introduce the biggest bore in the county to the prettiest girl in the room."
The unconscious Mr. Jackson burst into laughter, and Audrey raised her eyebrows; she looked from Mr. Jackson to Wyndham, and from Wyndham to Mr. Jackson, and laughed a low musical laugh, without any humour in it, which echoed unmusically in the memory. Wyndham turned abruptly away, and Audrey looked after him as he turned. Her face was that of one who sees her last hope disappearing. Poor Audrey! Who would not have pitied her? After hovering all evening on the verge of an introduction to his Eminence, it was hard to bear the irony of this decline, unsustained by any sense of its comedy. He had avoided her in the most marked manner; but all the same, she wondered whether he was thinking about her, and if so, what he was thinking.
What he thought that night, and the next, and the next after that, was something like this: "My dear lady, you think yourself remarkably clever. But really there is nothing striking about you except the colour of your hair. Biggest bore in the county—prettiest girl in the room? If it weren't for your prettiness—well, as yet that may have saved you from being a bore." After that he laughed whenever he caught himself trying to piece together the image which his memory persistently presented to him in fragments: now an oval face tinged with a childlike bloom, now grey eyes ringed with black, under dark eyebrows and lashes; or a little Roman nose with a sensitive tip, or a mouth that to the best of his recollection curled up at the corners, making a perpetual dimple in each cheek. They were frivolous details, but for weeks he carried them about with him along with his more valuable property.
Scandal was mistaken. Miss Audrey Craven was not in search of a religion, but she had passed all her life looking for a revelation. She had no idea of the precise form it was to take, but had never wavered in her belief that it was there, waiting for her, as it were, round a dark corner. Hitherto the ideal had shown a provoking reticence; the perfectly unique sensation had failed to turn up at the critical moment. Audrey had reached the ripe age of ten before the death of her father and mother, and this event could not be expected to provide her with a wholly new emotion. She had been familiarised with sorrow through fine gradations of funereal tragedy, having witnessed the passing of her canary, her dormouse, and her rabbit. The end of these engaging creatures had been peculiarly distressing, hastened as it was by starvation, under most insanitary conditions.
The age of ten is the age of disenchantment—for those of us who can take a hint. For Audrey disenchantment never wholly came. She went on making the same extravagant demands, without a suspicion of the limited resources of life. It was the way of the Cravens. Up to the last her father never lost his blind confidence in a world which had provided him with a great deal of irregular amusement. But the late Mr. Craven could be wise for others, though not for himself, and he had taken a singular precaution with regard to his daughter. Not counting the wife whom he had too soon ceased to care for, he had a low opinion of all women, and he distrusted Audrey's temperament, judging it probably by his own and that of his more intimate acquaintance. By a special clause in his will, she had to wait for her majority four years longer than the term by law appointed. Further, until she reached her majority she was to spend six months of the year at Oxford, near her guardian, for the forming and informing of her mind—always supposing that she had a mind to form. And now, at the age of five-and-twenty, being the mistress of her own person, her own income, and her own house in Chelsea, she was still looking out for a revelation.
Her cousin, Mr. Vincent Hardy, believed that he had been providentially invented to supply it. But in the nature of things a cousin whom you have known familiarly from childhood cannot strike you as a revelation. He is really little better than a more or less animated platitude.
Vincent Hardy would have been unaffectedly surprised if you had told him so. To himself he seemed the very incarnation of distinguished paradox. This simply meant that he was one of those who innocently imagine that they can defy the minor conventions with a rarer grace than other men.
Certainly his was not exactly the sort of figure that convention expects to find in its drawing-rooms at nine o'clock in the evening. It was in Audrey's house in Chelsea, the little brown house with discreet white storm-shutters, that stands back from the Embankment, screened by the narrow strip of railed plantation known as Chelsea Gardens. Here or hereabouts Hardy was to be met with at any hour of the day; and late one July evening he had settled himself, as usual, near a certain "cosy corner" in the big drawing-room. His face, and especially his nose, was bronzed with recent exercise in sun and wind, his hair was limp with the steam of his own speed, and on his forehead his hat had left its mark in a deep red cincture. His loose shooting jacket, worn open, displayed a flannel shirt, white, but not too white. This much of Hardy was raised and supported on his elbow; the rest of him, encased in knickerbockers, stockings, and exceedingly muddy boots, sprawled with a naïve abandonment at the feet of the owner of the drawing-room. Lying in this easy attitude, he delivered himself of the following address—
"Life in London is a life for lunatics. And life in England generally is a glorious life for clergymen and counter-hoppers, but it's not the life for a man. It was all very well in the last century, you know, when Englishmen were men first, and lunatics, if they chose, or clergymen or counter-hoppers, afterwards. Ah! if that wasn't exactly our golden age, it was the age of our maturity, of our manhood. If you doubt it, read the literature of the eighteenth century. Take Fielding—no, don't take Fielding. Anyhow, since then we have added nothing to the fabric of life. To pile it on above, we've simply been digging away like mad from below, and at last our top-heavy civilisation is nodding to its fall; and its fall will sweep us all back into barbarism again. Then, when we are forced back into natural conditions, the new race will be born. No more of your big-headed, spindle-shanked manikins: we shall have a chance then of seeing a man—that is, a perfect animal. You may turn up your nose, my superfine lady: let me tell you that this glorious animalism means sanity, and sanity means strength, and strength means virtue. Vis—vir—virtus, ma'am."
Hardy sat up and caressed the calves of his legs with thoughtful emotion, as if he recognised them as the sources of the moral law within him. His cousin had not followed his precipitate logic. With woman's well-known aversion from the abstract, she was concentrating her attention on the concrete case, the glorious animal before her. Now it would be very wrong to suppose that Hardy was in the least tainted with socialism, anarchism, or any such pestilent heresies, or that he had read "Emile" and "Walden." He had never heard of either of these works, and had no desire whatever for the restoration of society on a primitive basis of animalism, modified by light literature, clothing, and the moral law. For all modern theories he had a withering contempt, his own simple creed being that in the beginning God made man a Tory squire. His quarrel with the social order was a purely private and particular one. In our modern mythology, Custom, Circumstance, and Heredity are the three Fates that weave the web of human life. Hardy did not wholly sympathise with this belief. He had too profound a respect for his own pedigree to lay his sins at his great-grandfather's door. As the nephew of a Tory squire, he was but two degrees removed from original righteousness. In spite of this consideration, he was wont to describe himself with engaging candour as a "bad hat." In doing so he recognised that he was a dependent part of a vast and complicated system. If he, Vincent Hardy, was a bad hat, who was to blame for it? Obviously, civilisation for providing him with temptation, and society for supplying encouragement. As a consequence he owed both civilisation and society a grudge.
"Therefore I say that a return to barbarism will be our salvation. You and I mayn't live to see the day, but——"
Here the impassioned orator, who had been making charges at his boots with the point of his walking-stick, succeeded in detaching a large cake of mud, which he immediately ground to powder on the carpet. Civilisation personified in Audrey Craven gazed at him in polite reproach.
"My new carpet will certainly not live to see it. It may be part of the detestable social order, but it is not responsible for it, any more than I am."
"Never mind, Audrey. It's honest Hertfordshire mud—clean from the country as God made it, if I hadn't had to cross your filthy London in order to get here."
Audrey smiled, though she knew that brown streaks of the honest Hertfordshire mud marked the hero's passage from the doorway to her feet. She was naturally long-suffering, and seldom repulsed any one, save a few of the more impertinent of her own sex. She lay back in her cosy corner, outwardly contemplating the unusual length of muscular humanity extended before her, inwardly admiring her own smile, a smile of indulgent lips and arch eyebrows, in which the eyes preserved a languid neutrality.
Being thus pleasantly preoccupied, she may be supposed ignorant of her cousin's broad gaze of unreflecting admiration, and totally unprepared for his rapid change of theme.
"Audrey," he began, with alarming suddenness, "some people would lead up to the subject cautiously. That would only waste time, and time's everything now. Is Miss Craven at home?"
"Miss Craven is always at home when I am. Would you like to see her?"
"See her? Good heavens, no! Do you know positively where she is secreting herself, or must I lock the door?"
"That is unnecessary. She will not come in—she never does."
A suspicious look darted from the corners of Hardy's eyes.
"Except when I ask her," added Audrey, sweetly.
"Well, then, if you can ensure me against the sort of interruption that annoyed me before, we will return to the question we were discussing when——"
"Please don't go over any old ground. That would bore me."
"It would bore me. I will begin where we left off. The problem, if you remember, was this—to put it baldly—do you care for me, or do you not?"
"Didn't we get any farther than that?"
"No, we didn't."
"Do I—or—do I not? Really I cannot tell you, Vincent, for I don't know myself."
"Nonsense! there's no logical dilemma. You can't go on for ever treating it as an open question."
"Well—you draw such absurdly hard-and-fast lines."
"Audrey, do you honestly suppose that I've walked here thirty miles, parboiled between sun and rain, in order to be made a fool of?" (in his excitement Hardy forgot that twenty miles was the precise distance, and that he had much better have taken the train). "How much longer are you going to keep up this fiendish cat-and-mouse sort of game?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that ten years is a devil of a time to keep a man waiting for his answer."
"Ten years?—ten days, you mean."
"Excuse me, I broached this subject for the first time ten years ago."
"Oh, I daresay, when we were both children."
"We are neither of us children now, Audrey."
"Speak for yourself. I was an infant in the eyes of the law till the other day."
"You are—let me see—five-and-twenty. If you have any mind at all, you must have made it up by this time."
"The case would be much easier if you were not such a mass of inconsistency yourself."
"I've been consistent enough in one respect. Do you remember the first time you stayed with us at Woodford, when you weren't much higher than that table, and how you and I set off together for Wanstead Woods?"
"Yes—before breakfast. I have never forgotten it."
"Nor I. You did rile me that day, Audrey. You waited till we came within a stone's-throw of the woods, and then you sat down in a turnip field and cried because you couldn't go any farther."
"After running at your heels for two miles, like a dog."
"Yes—and, with the irresponsibility of the inferior animal, eating up the whole of the cake I provided for us both."
"It was perfectly fair; you dragged me out against my will."
"So you argued at the time, but I couldn't follow your reasoning. Perhaps you have forgotten how I carried you on my back to Woodford, and then gave the milkman sixpence to drive us the rest of the way home. And you were such a contemptible little snob that you cried again because you had to sit next the milkman."
"I remember perfectly. You only carried me as far as Red Bridge, in a position the most comfortable for yourself and the most undignified for me. You borrowed that sixpence from me and never paid me again; and we were both punished with dry bread for breakfast, because we were seen in the milk-cart."
"The abominable injustice of my parents was of a piece with the whole system I complain of. You will observe that we were punished, not for disobedience, but for riding in a milk-cart, and not so much for being in it as for being seen in it."
"Exactly, otherwise the reminiscence would be slightly irrelevant."
"Not at all. It illustrates my thorough-going consistency. I loved you then, in spite of your detestable conduct in the matter of that cake, and I have loved you ever since in spite of your other faults."
"I suppose you would prefer some hypocrite who told you that you had none?"
"On the contrary, I enjoy being told of my faults."
This was true. If it came to the point, Audrey would boldly offer her own character for dissection rather than suffer conversation to be diverted to a less interesting topic. Hardy had rather neglected these opportunities for psychological study, and herein lay the secret of his failure. He continued, adopting a more practical line of argument suggested by the episode of the sixpence—
"It's not as if you were a millionaire and I a grovelling pauper. I shall have Lavernac and two thousand a-year when my uncle, Sir Theophilus Parker, dies." Hardy rolled out the title with a certain proprietary unction; his cousin had no share in this enviable relationship. "I give the old bird five years at the very worst, and it's a moral impossibility that he should leave me in the lurch. But I don't count on that. My own property has kept me idle all my life; but I've sold it at last, and, as I said just now, I am going out to Canada to farm."
Audrey blushed, and punished her blush with a frown. If she had been playing the amusing game that Hardy suggested, it was one thing to give the mouse a little run in order to renew the pleasures of the chase, another thing to let him escape altogether from her paws. Hardy saw his advantage and followed it up.
"When I told you that I had done with civilisation, I suppose you thought it was a joke?"
"I did. Only I couldn't see the point."
"The point is this, that I'm going down to Liverpool to-morrow, and shall sail for Canada this day week. I can't stand it any longer. I can't breathe here. Town or country, it's all the same—the air chokes me, it's teeming with moral bacilli. You never thought I was so particular? No more did I——". He paused, knitting his brows. "I admit frankly that I'm a bad hat. This place has been my ruin, as it has of many a better man than me. Perhaps, if it hadn't been for you, Audrey—but I won't press that point; it wouldn't be generous, however just. Anyhow, whatever my past has been, my future lies in your hands. I would say your love was life or death to me, but that wouldn't be anywhere near the truth. It's not so much a question of death as a question of damnation."
Hardy was desperately in earnest, but not so much so as to be careless of rhetorical effect. In his desire to represent himself as a fallen angel he had done himself no little injustice, as well as grossly exaggerated the power of Audrey's regenerative influence.
She was evidently moved. She took no pains to restrain the trembling of her lips, more than was necessary to preserve their delicate outline. Hardy had paid homage to her as the superior being.
It marked an epoch in the history of his passion.
He rose to his feet and looked down on her as from a height. A fallen angel is not without his epic sublimity.
The lady hesitated. She pulled out the tremolo stop, and then spoke.
"You say that if it hadn't been for me—I don't quite understand you, but you are mistaken if you think I never cared for you—never cared, I mean to say, for your good." She also rose, with an air of having made a statement as final as it was clear and convincing. He laid his hand on her shoulder and looked steadily in her face. There was no evasion in her eyes, but her eyelids quivered.
"It's all right, Audrey; you never have denied that you love me, and you can't for the life of you deny it now."
She did not attempt to; for the entrance of the footman with coffee made denial indecent at the moment, if not impossible. That deus ex machina from below the stage retired, unconscious of the imminent catastrophe he had averted. But he had brought into the little drama a certain prosaic element. Coffee and romantic passion do not go hand in hand.
Then it seemed to Audrey that the welcome interval of commonplace lapsed into a dream, in which Hardy's voice went sounding on in interminable monologue.
"I shall hear the wind, Audrey, rushing over prairies infinite as the sea; I shall see the great wall of the Rockies rising sky-high. And England will seem like a little piece of patchwork, with a pattern of mole-hills for mountains, and brooks for rivers. And when I've set our Canadian farm going, I shall hunt big game. And when I've exterminated the last bison off the face of the boundless prairie, I shall devote myself to literature."
"Literature?" she echoed faintly. It was all so grotesquely strange that even this announcement brought only a dreamlike surprise.
"Yes, literature. Do you think literature is only produced by the miserable noodles who sit in their studies at home, till their muscles wither and their hearts get flabby? My book will be a man's book, with a man's blood and a man's brains in it. It will be a book that will make posterity sit up. And when you have enjoyed the fame of it a little, we'll go out again together. In Canada we shall find a new heaven and a new earth."
She sat silent and passive. The situation had a charm which she was powerless to break. It seemed as if the mere brute force through which Hardy had dominated her intellect hitherto, had become refined by some extraordinary process, and was exerting a moral influence over her. In order to assert herself against the intolerable fascination she rose hastily and crossed the room to where her piano stood open in the corner.
She played loud and long,—wild Polish music, alive with the beating pulses of love and frenzy and despair. It would have roused another man to sublime enthusiasm or delirious rapture.
It sent Hardy to sleep.
Stretched on the hearthrug, with slackened jaw, and great chest heaving with regular rise and fall, he slept like a tired dog. She played on, and as she played he dreamed that he stood with her in the midst of the burning prairie, they two on a little ring of charred black earth, an island in a roaring sea of fire. The ring grew smaller and smaller, till they could only find standing-room by clinging close together. As he turned to her she thrust him from her into the sea of fire, crying, "It's perfectly fair, Vincent, for you dragged me here against my will!"
He woke with a snort as the music suddenly ceased. It was midnight. He had to start from home early next morning, and if he delayed longer he would lose the last train out.
He parted from Audrey as only the traveller outward bound parts from his betrothed. In fact, as she remarked afterwards, "For the fuss he made about it he might have been going to the North Pole with his life in his hands. So like Vincent!" As for Hardy, he felt already the wind of the new heaven and the sweetness of the new earth.
Audrey was staring abstractedly into the looking-glass, when she heard the front-door shut with a violent bang, and the sound of his quick footsteps on the pavement below. She came to herself with a cold shiver.
What had she done? Surely she had not gone and engaged herself to Vincent? bound herself in the first year of her liberty to a man she had known all her life, and her own cousin too?
It was impossible; for, you see, it would have argued great weakness of mind and a total want of originality.
Whether Audrey did or did not understand herself, she was a mystery to all about her, and to none more than her father's cousin and her own chaperon, Miss Craven. This unfortunate lady, under stress of circumstances, had accepted the charge of Audrey after her parents' death, and had never ceased to watch her movements with bewildered interest and surprise. The most familiar phenomena are often the least understood, and Miss Craven's intelligence was daily baffled by the problem of Audrey. Daily she renewed her researches, with enthusiasm which would have done credit to a natural philosopher, but hitherto she had found no hypothesis to cover all the facts. The girl was either a rule for herself, or the exception that proved other people's rules; and Miss Craven was obliged to rest satisfied in the vague conclusion that she had a great deal of "character." Strange to say, that is how Audrey struck most of her acquaintance, though as yet no one had been known to venture on further definition. Miss Craven was repaid for her affectionate solicitude by an indifference none the less galling because evidently unstudied. Audrey rather liked her chaperon than otherwise. The "poor old thing," as she called her, never got in her way, never questioned her will, and made no claims whatsoever on her valuable time; besides relieving her of all those little duties that make us wonder whether life be worth living.
Under the present dispensation chaperons were a necessary evil; and Audrey was not one to fly heedlessly in the face of her Providence, Society.
All the same, Miss Craven had her drawbacks. If you, being young and vivacious, take a highly nervous old lady and keep her in a state of perpetual repression, shutting her out from all your little confidences, you will find that the curiosity so natural to her age will be sure to burst out, after such bottling, in alarming effervescence. As soon as Hardy's unmistakable footsteps were heard on the stairs, she had left the drawing-room on a hint from Audrey. In her room above she had heard the alternate booming and buzzing of their voices prolonged far into the night, but could make out no intelligible sounds. To ears tingling with prophetic apprehension the provocation was intense.
The old lady passed a restless night, and came down to breakfast the next morning quivering with suppressed excitement. Audrey's face did not inspire confidence; and it was not until she had touched lightly on the state of the weather, and other topics of general interest, that Miss Craven darted irrelevantly to her point.
"My dear, is there anything between you and your—er—cousin Mr. Hardy?"
The awful question hung in the air without a context, while Audrey went on making tea. This she did with a graceful and deliberate precision, completing the delicate operation before answering.
"Yes, there is a great deal between me and my cousin Mr. Hardy, which neither of us can get over."
There was a freezing finality in the manner of the reply, in spite of the smile which accompanied it; and even Miss Craven could not fail to understand. She bridled a little, wrapping herself closer in her soft shawl as in an impenetrable husk of reserve, and began nervously buttering toast. The whole thing was very odd; but then the ways of Audrey were inscrutable.
Audrey herself felt an unspeakable relief after that question and her own inspired answer. Last night she had possibly been ambiguous; to-day, at any rate, her words had a trenchant force which severed one of the thousand little threads that bound her to Hardy. After all, when it came to the point, there was an immense amount of decision in her character. And as the days went on, and Hardy with them, leaving league after league of the Atlantic behind him, the load at her heart grew lighter; and when at last the letter came which told her that he had crossed the Rocky Mountains, she felt with a little tremor of delight that she was a free woman once more. Her world was all before her, vaguely alluring, as it had been a month ago.
The letters which Hardy sent from time to time had no power to destroy this agreeable illusion; for of course letters were bound to come, and she answered them all with cousinly affection, as she would have answered them in any case. At last one came which roused her from her indifference, for it had a postscript:—
"By the way, there's a Miss Katherine Haviland living near you, at 12 Devon Street, Pimlico. She's a sort of little half-sister of mine, so I'd be glad if you'd go and look her up some day and be kind to her. There's a brother knocking about somewhere, but he doesn't count, he's only a baby. Ripping sport—shot a moose and two wapiti this morning."
Audrey read the letter with languid attention. She was not in the least interested to hear that he had taken up land and put it into the hands of an agent to farm. She was tired of the long highly-coloured descriptions of Canadian scenery and the tales of Vincent's adventures, and she had got into the way of skipping his vain repetitions of all the absurd things he had said to her on the night of his departure; but the postscript stirred strange feelings in her breast. His mother was married a second time, but to Audrey's certain knowledge Vincent had no little half-sisters; it followed that for some reason he had used a figure of speech. She was not in the least in love with him, but at the same time she felt all the dignity of her position as empress of his heart, and could bear no little half-sisters near the throne. She would certainly look Miss Haviland up. She would go and be kind to her that afternoon; and she put on her best clothes for the occasion.
A few minutes' walk brought her to No. 12 Devon Street, one of a row of gloomy little houses—"full of dreadful city clerks and dressmakers," she said to herself in a flight of imagination.
She lifted the knocker gingerly in her white gloved hand, and felt by no means reassured when she was shown in, and followed the servant up the narrow staircases to the attics. As she neared the top she heard a voice above her sounding in passionate remonstrance.
"Three baths in the one blessed dy, a-splashin' and a-sloogin' somethin' orful—'e didn't ought for to do it, m'm, not if it was ever so!"
Here the voice was cut short by a mingled roar and ripple of laughter, and Miss Audrey Craven paused before announcing herself. Through the half-open doorway she saw a girl standing before an easel. She had laid down her palette and brushes, and with bold sure strokes of the pencil was sketching against time, leaning a little backwards, with her head in a critically observant pose. The voice reasserted itself in crushing peroration—
"I tell you wot it is, Mr. 'Aviland—you're no gentleman."
And Audrey's entrance coincided with the retreat of a stout woman, moving slowly with an unnatural calm.
The girl doubled back her sketch-book and came forward, apologising for the confusion. Face to face with the object of her curiosity, Audrey's first feeling was one of surprised and reluctant admiration. Miss Haviland was dark, and pale, and thin; she was also a little too tall, and Audrey did not know whether she quite liked the airy masses of black hair that curled high up from her forehead and low down on it, in crisp tendrils like fine wire. Yet, but for her nose, which was a shade too long, a thought too retroussé, Miss Haviland would have been beautiful after the Greek type. (Audrey's own type, as she had once described it in a moment of introspection, was the "Roman piquante," therefore she made that admission the more readily.) There was a touch of classic grace, too, in the girl's figure and her dress. She had rolled up the sleeves of her long blue overall, and bound it below her breasts and waist with a girdle of tape—not for the sake of effect, as Audrey supposed, but to give her greater freedom as she worked and moved about the studio. At this point Audrey found out that all Miss Haviland's beauty lay in the shape of her head and neck. With "that nose" she might be "interesting," but could never be beautiful; in fact, her mouth was too firm and her chin stuck out too much even for moderate prettiness.
Audrey did not arrive at these conclusions in the gradual manner here set forth. The total impression was photographed on her sensitive feminine brain by the instantaneous process; and with the same comprehensive rapidity she began to take in the details of her surroundings. The attic was long, and had one window to the west, and another to the north under the roof, looking over the leads. At the far end were a plain square table and a corner cupboard. That was the dining-room and the pantry. Before the fireplace were a small Persian rug bounded by a revolving book-case, a bamboo couch, a palm fern, a tea-table. That was the library and drawing-room. All the remaining space was the studio; and amongst easels, stacks of canvases, draperies, and general litter, a few life-size casts from the antique gleamed from their corners.
From these rapid observations Audrey concluded that Miss Haviland was poor.
"You were busy when I came in?" she asked sweetly.
"No; I was only taking a hurried sketch from the life. It's not often that our landlady exhibits herself in that sublime mood; so I seized the opportunity."
"And I interrupted you."
"No; you interrupted Mrs. Rogers, for which we were much obliged—she might have sat for us longer than we liked. I am very pleased to see you."
Certainly Audrey was a pleasant sight. There was no critical afterthought in the admiring look which Miss Haviland turned on her visitor, and Audrey felt to her finger-tips this large-hearted feminine homage. To compel another woman to admire you is always a triumph; besides, Miss Haviland was an artist, and her admiration was worth something—it was like having the opinion of an expert. Audrey pondered for a moment, with her head at a becoming angle, for she had not yet accounted for herself.
"My cousin Vincent Hardy asked me to call on you. I believe he is a very old friend of yours?"
"Yes; we have known each other since we were children."
"What do you think of his going out to Canada to farm?"
"I didn't know he had gone."
(Then Vincent had not thought it worth while to say good-bye to his "little half-sister." So far, so good.)
"Oh, didn't you? He went six weeks ago."
"I never heard. It's an unlikely thing for him to do, but that's the sort of thing he always did do."
"He hated going, poor fellow. He came to say good-bye to me the night before he went, and he was in a dreadful state. I've heard from him every week since he sailed, and he's promised to send me some bearskins. Isn't it nice of him?" ("She won't like that!")
Miss Haviland assented gravely, but her eyes smiled.
"I suppose you've seen a good deal of Vincent? He wrote to me about you from the Rocky Mountains."
"Did he? We used to be a good deal together when we were little. Since then we have been the best of friends, which means that we ignore each other's existence with the most perfect understanding in the world. I always liked Vincent."
„Ich bin wirklich begeistert. Auch die Möglichkeit des zusätzlichen eReaders im Abo finde ich persönlich toll.”
„Die Auswahl von Legimi ist großartig.”
„Der Leser findet seine E-Books/Hörbücher sehr schnell und sie lassen sich, ob mit oder ohne Internetverbindung problemlos öffnen.”
Wurm sucht Buch
„Ich finde das Angebot von Legimi richtig toll.”
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Miss Foxy Reads
„Ich muss sagen, dass ich von dem E-Reader mehr als positiv überrascht bin.”
„Das ist wirklich eine großartige Idee und mal was ganz Anderes.”
Mikka liest das Leben...
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