Слике страница
PDF
ePub

seemed so normal, so peaceful. Hermione's happy face under her white veil had been reassuring too. There seemed comfort in the fact that this life of prayer and effort and special consecration was entwined in the life of the town. Its austere happiness seemed to testify to the reality of that supernatural region which is so vague and unbelievable even to virtuous matrons like Christina. She apprehended that day the reality of religion, but she realized, as she looked at Hermione, that it was yet outside her own life. She had little beyond an ethical sense and an inherited code of piety.

Then her thoughts wandered to her son, and to Lucilla. Should she warn him, or should she be wise and forbear?

That evening her chance for decision occurred in the garden. She had gone out to water the parched sweet peas, and Laurence joined her. She was conscious, as she had been for some time, of a vague restraint between them. They were both inclined to talk eagerly of trivial matters, as if to cover up some subject of which each thought constantly.

Christina, tending her flowers, showed no signs of moral combat, but yet the decision to warn her son cost her troubled heart-beats, and a strong effort. The effort made her manner abrupt, and not quite natural.

“Dear,” she said, "sometimes chivalry leads a man ... and a woman too into false positions. One's got to be careful.”

Laurence's face set into hard lines. Before he answered he walked to the wall and looked into the Brown's garden. There was no pitcher either of long or short ears to hear him, so he came back to the sweet pea hedge.

“Now, mother, what does that mean exactly?"

Christina's heart failed her. Laurence's voice was cold, and he looked

at her unsmilingly. He seemed not her son, but some alien severe man who resented her interference. “I mean," she said hesitating, “that it is rather dangerous for a man to befriend a woman."

“So I perceive,” he said bitterly.

“Oh! my dear, I know how you've meant it, but people don't understand and they talk ... and that's not good for a girl."

"Exactly! Mrs. Grundy is a model of British charity, isn't she?”

“No, dear, she's not charitable, but she has her uses, and at my age one sees it."

“When one gets old one accepts conventions more readily I suppose,' said Laurence; “it's not worth fighting. But to come to facts, you mean that ... that Lucilla Brown is being talked about, and that I'm the cause?

“Yes. Unfortunately, poor girl, her history makes her likely to be criticised the more. I don't mean that you shouldn't be nice to her, dear, I know your motives, but ..."

"But a lot of cats are wagging their whiskers at us? Who are they? One never runs these stories to earth. I suppose this picnic story is going the rounds?"

“I don't know.”

"I know it is. Oh! it's hateful. They drive people into false positions. Do you consider I've ... that I've compromised Lucilla over that train business?"

“No, dear, of course not," Christina answered hastily, "things like that die out soon. New stories go round, old ones are forgotten. No, of course no one thinks any real harm of either of you. It was only a word of caution, dear."

“I see."
Laurence looked sternly before him.

“Thank you,” he added doubtfully. “I know you meant it kindly."

Christina had an anxious night. She often slept badly, and the sense that she had spoken rashly troubled her thoughts.

But the next day brought startling news not surprising to the world that knew him. Mr. Warwick Brown had, in his capacity as stock-broker, been speculating with trust money, and he had lost both money and honor so heavily that an immediate journey across the Atlantic was imperative. For the second time his name was the cause of scandal in Westhampton. The town was full of it. Christina and Rosa, as they took their afternoon tea, talked of it together,

"Well!” said Rosa, “that'll be an end of the Warwick Browns, for of course they'll go. They've relations in Jamaica, quadroons you may be sure. I shall be glad to see the last of them. I wouldn't trust Laurence not to make a fool of himself. Lucilla is pretty and ...oh! yes, she makes us all look dull and dowdy, I know it; perhaps it's jealousy that makes me dislike her.”

"Perhaps it is, dear. One has horrid subconscious reasons for things. But ... yes, I shall be glad when they go, Rosa. They're dangerous sort of people. I don't know poor Lucilla, indeed, I pity the girl, but somehow I'm afraid of her. Laurence has a future-I believe it—with the right wife and a good chance. He is clever. They all say so at the office. But he's erratic too. If he gets a chance to plan a cathedral he may do wonders."

Rosa sighed and went on with her sewing. She was making toilet covers for her Canadian home. Already she felt matronly and responsible, and, perhaps, a little patronizing to the unmarried and disengaged community.

"Laurence is young for his age," she said. "He's easily influenced. It'll be far better when Lucilla goes. Out of sight, out of mind.”

"Yes," Christina agreed, and she

sighed with pity for the fever that is youth.

The two women felt tranquilly domesticated as they took their tea. The French window into the garden was open. The afternoon sun shone kindly on the silver teapot and sugar bowl. Theresa had made a ginger cake, and it showed a generous angular hole where Rosa had cut it. This seemed one of those moments when life is so tranquil that one expects it to continue thus till eternity. Change seems remote, and action an affair of fiction and the newspaper. Christina had, at such moments, the habit of inarticulate thanksgiving. Like many women she never trusted her happiness.

At the close of the moment there came a man's step on the flagged path and the small rattle of the latchkey. Christina's face grew bright as it had done for a man's return home on most evenings of her life.

“That's Laurence,” she said; "the tea is hot still, and he'll like the cake.”

Laurence came in. He squeezed round the table and kissed his mother according to invariable custom.

"Well, darling, I'm sure you're hot,” said Christina. “You're out early today.”

“Yes, I got leave."

Laurence stood with his back to the wall, his face flushed and a little defiant.

"Mother, I've news for you ... and for Rosa, too. You'd better hear it now."

The two women were silent, watching his face. Rosa with her cake poised between mouth and plate, Christina with her hand on the teapot handle.

"It's this," Laurence blurted out, "I proposed to Lucilla Brown an hour ago and she accepted me.”

Rosa said “Oh!" and then bit her cake.

Christina flushed to the roots of her that if I had been in Lucilla's place." gray hair.

"But," Laurence continued, "I've "Well, dear, I congratulate you loved her since I first met her-before then. May you both be happy. You I think, because I was sorry. I know will bring me a dear daughter, I she has faults, Rosa; who hasn't? know."

But they're faults of environment. Laurence's eyes filled with tears. When she's away from her people, His lip quivered and he bit it to you'll see she'll be mother's daughter." steady it. These family crises are Christina smiled at him. always a little bit ludicrous. Neither “No, dear, not that, we must give her heart nor face conforms to high personality room. She won't grow drama. He went to his mother and like us, why should she? We must hid his face in her neck, and in a show ourselveg sympathetic to her. moment her arms were about him and I fear we shall seem a little dowdy and she too had tears in her eyes.

out of things to her. Have you told Rosa, having no audience to con- her what a dull, old, unfashionable sider, dissolved unbecomingly into mother you have?" tears of sympathy. She stood up and “I've told her a lot, but not that." threw her arms round her brother's Laurence gripped the hand he held. hent shoulders.

"I do want to be a nice mother-in"Dear old Laurie," she murmured, law,” said Christina. “I know the of course we congratulate you, and dangers so well. Laurence, you must we'll welcome Lucilla like a sister- bring her soon, or shall I go to her, dear, indeed we will."

tomorrow morning?" Laurence disengaged an arm and "No, you couldn't meet the mother: clasped his sister too. How he loved she is impossible." them, these kindly familiar women of "I wouldn't mind." his household. His excitement made "No. I'll bring Lucilla here." this old tie reveal its substantial Theresa came in to clear away the worth. All his sympathies and emo- tea things. She, as one of the family, tions were quickened. Convention friend as only faithful servant can be, had been broken and they clung had to hear the news. Theresa seized together weeping, laughing. kissing Laurence's hand and kissed it. The each other; a fond, foolish family, young man hugged her affectionately. conscious that Fate was. perhaps, to “Not that, Tessy, not to me," he destroy their unity.

said; "why, you've spanked me, haven't At last Laurence disengaged himself you, in my babyhood?”

wn. He rubbed his eyes "Never, Master Laurence! Now

of his hand, and became God bless the day an' that we're all

peech. "You see," he alive! And you that the mistress hand, as I had no intention of speaking

dn't warn you before and I rared and saved from the grave

ntention of speaking 80 soon. This trouble of theirs forcedbe

with scarlatina. To think you should

with scarlatina. my hand.

marrying too-and I had to speak now

why w

I indeed?". can stand by them better now, and So the news that the three women at least I can offer Lucilla my father's had dreaded was outwardly welcomed. honorable name."

Christina went to her room with a His mother's band stole out to his strange dizzy sense of fatality. She along the table.

had to keep herself in check. "Your father would have done just

That all-prevailing duty steadied her. Wom

coherent of speech.

"You see," he

[ocr errors]

an's essential virtue, self-control, was the growth of many years with her. It was almost instinctive now. But alone in her room her face relaxed into an expression of blank dismay. All her little dreams of the life that she and this treasured son would lead were shattered, and a cold loneliness seemed to engulf her. She was face to face too with love's evil familiar, jealousy. Who would love her best now? The little girl who had put her first was wholly given to another, and the son, who more than any other in the world had been soul of her soul, had found another woman to be his comforter and friend. No one now would want her very much she thought. It was natural for youth to choose youth, and it was her place to withdraw and to leave lovers to each other, but bitterness of spirit surged over her. She seemed to see the rest of her life as a vista of barren days unmarked by aught but her failing powers and diminishing pleasures. She was a woman who, according to the proverb, had put all her eggs into one basket, and now the basket was to be emptied. Christina looked out into the little suburban road, and the chill of old age crept about her heart. Then suddenly there was a knock at the door, and to her “Come in” entered Laurence. He sat down on the bed and began at once to speak. “I want to tell you all about it, mater,” he said. “I couldn't bear you to think me underhand, or to think that I'd jumped into this without means to support it. You see I got that rise this morning. Of course I'm still as poor as a church mouse, but some income is better than none. I hadn't meant to propose to Lucilla yet, or without consulting you.” Christina turned grateful eyes upon him.

“Thank you, dear. But I never want to interfere with my children. You are independent beings now with your own lives to work out. You didn't ask to be born. I chose life for you, so I must give it to you unhandicapped. “Well, it was this way—” Laurence did not heed maternal philosophy over much. He wanted to tell his story. “It was this way. When all the scandal about Warwick Brown came out, I felt I must go and see Lucilla, ask if I could help and so on. I got leave to go out this afternoon, and I went to the house. I found old Mamma Brown in the drawing-room. Jove! she did look a disheveled old hag, but more natural and so more pitiable than I’ve seen her yet. She began to cry, she said it was for Lucilla's sake; that she would go out to America and join her husband, but that Lucilla hated that life. Then she said how cruel people were in remembering scandals, and that her sin was visited on Lucilla, and that everyone was ready to throw mud at an innocent girl. That's true and I said so. She told me then how that silly affair of our missing the train after the picnic had got about the town, and that it was exaggerated, that some beast said we didn't turn up till next morning.” Christina flaming eyes. “Laurence! she invented it. a trap to catch you.” “Perhaps. Anyway Isaid I wanted to marry Lucilla. So I do.” “Do you, Laurence, truly, or is it just chivalry? If it is I'll go and see the woman myself and tell her that my son can't be caught by wiles of that sort.” Christina was flushed and angry. The maternal protective instinct was aroused. She longed to set her son

looked at him with

It was

free. Gentle as she was, she could have She hated the idea of a rough and met a virago and not quailed.

tumble life abroad. She's willing to Laurence looked away.

be very poor ... with me. Mother! “Oh! yes, I want to marry her," she's adorable when she's sad." he said, "nothing else will satisfy me. "But, dear, the test of love is in the It may be a sort of fever, the sort that state of commonplace cheerfulness." Lizzie felt for the fruit in Goblin “She is always lovely." Market, but I should never care for "Very well, Laurence. There! anyone else now.”

That's the gong.". "But, my son, if the fever dies “Mater, I told Lucilla that of course out?

you would live with us.” "Well, I shall have had my day.” “No, my son, not that."

"Laurence, I was not in love with “But you must, you must. I can't your father, but I loved him-still imagine home without you. Lucilla love him dearly.”.

is young, she'll want your advice, and “You were a Victorian, mother." your home is my home, you ..."

“Yes," sighed Christina. “So then Christina put her arm through his you saw Lucilla?" he asked.

and turned him gently towards the "I did. Lucilla was in their sitting- door. room. Oh! she was miserable, mother. “We'll discuss it later," she said.

(To be continued.)

THE RETURN OF RELIGION.

Be our cast of thought favorable to Faith or Unfaith, no one who reflects ever so little on the issues which this World-War has raised can imagine that it will leave Religion where the twentieth century found it. If we stand at the "consummation of the age" then Christianity does so too, and in the foremost line. Dimly the people even outside all Churches, discern so much; and they accept the strange word Armageddon as denoting not only the field of strife but its significance in history. Now, Armaged don is called in the Apocalypse of St. John, “the battle of that great day of God Almighty. And we can be sure that the God here spoken of was not the same with him celebrated by a late eloquent professor as “the ancient, mighty deity of all the Teutonic kindred," Odin the War-God, supposed to be “looking serenely down upon his favorite children, the English and the Germans, locked in a death-strug

gle.” He is not Odin, for the simple reason that He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the English have not lifted on high the dragonflag of Ragnar Lodbrog, first cousin to the Prussian Black Eagle, but the Red Cross of St. John of Jerusalem. Our British and now American armies deserve to be named-it is an entirely right description of their aims and objects—the ambulance corps of Humanity. They are marching to its aid, so that if they win the Germans themselves will be saved. I have no hesitation in affirming that the Allies, however divided in points of dogma, nay, though some among them profess to have done with Religion altogether are yet in fact fighting for the very heart and essence of the Gospel. If that be so, Christianity is returning and will return. We may look forward to a new, a more glorious period of the reign of Christ.

Fully to comprehend what is hap

« ПретходнаНастави »