Cleo The Magnificent Part 30

"Well," she said enigmatically, and the enigma was repeated in the accompanying shrug of her shoulders.

He seemed, however, to pierce beyond the smiling placidity of her expression, and to be aware of something that chilled him, of something that seemed to say: "There are such things as broken hearts."

"You've never had the life you deserved to have, Helen," he cried.

"There have been those who have envied me. My biography would read like a record of every earthly happiness. I am the daughter of a rich country gentleman with whom I have always been on the best of terms, only agriculture bores me rather. I was presented to my sovereign at seventeen. I danced and rode and flirted and was supposed to be having a good time, and a Baronet thought he fell in love with me, and did really marry me. I have always had a big house, a big income, a position in society. What more can a woman want? Well, all these things do not const.i.tute the personal life. The remembrance of the whole course of my personal life is a vivid one to me, and it seems to have run through all these things like a thin thread of silver through a ma.s.s of stuff. Looking back, this swirl of the social world, its functions, its movements, the acquaintanceships it brought me, seem to me all strangely unreal. I seem to be aware of a large, swarming vision, amid which I have lived. But nothing of it has ever in-mingled with my real sense of happiness or misery. Fortune, society--these are not the essentials. The essentials are the same for all ranks, and it is on those that personal happiness depends. Up to the age of twenty-five even a clever girl may delude herself into thinking that the hearty fun and enjoyment she may be extracting from her circ.u.mstances and her position in the world are really what make happiness, but if she have real brains, a clear vision and quick sympathies, she will inevitably stifle in her atmosphere of mere pleasure. She will not continue to set store on her material advantages, on the stage accessories by which she may be surrounded.

She will long for something else--and most often not get it. If I had only been penniless and had loved and married a man who had all his fighting to do yet! I should have lived beside him, conscious of being helpful, of being valued for what my companionship meant to him, with a sense of my dignity and worth as a human being. Instead, I was born rich, I married a man who had no fighting to do, and so I was a mere mate to him. I was but a child and there was no one to warn me.

Everybody about me was stupid, enslaved to ideas that are rotten at the core! We dangle baubles before our children and poison the fresh, pure fount of humanity. Thus it is I have been a waste and useless force in the world. If it had only been decreed to me to have children of my own, I feel sure I should have been a better woman than I am."

Her voice died away in a strange sweet murmur. In her face there came a look as of holy meditation; her eyes shone with a light of yearning.

"I am tired of England," she resumed in a moment. "I shall be going away before long. I want to find some secluded spot near a lovely Italian lake, where I may stay and rest indefinitely. Perhaps for years, for I am very tired. I shall wait till I see your happiness completed, Morgan, even though this may be our last meeting. Till then I dare not go; you are not to be trusted to take the happiness that is within your grasp. You know I claim to be a connoisseur of women, and I am perfectly satisfied that you shall marry your Margaret. That is the highest compliment I could pay her. There is that indefinable, unseizable something in her face which reveals the whole personality, and it won me immediately. We have met three or four times now, but, of course, I do not figure sufficiently in her consciousness that she should mention me specially to you. One thing I am grateful to you for, that you are respecting my wish that she should not know we have ever been friends. After all, I am only a sort of imaginary figure to whom you come and talk, and I haven't really counted in your life. You know I have a weakness for mysticism, and I like to think of myself as a sort of phantom that just accompanied you on your way a little and perhaps helped you a little at a critical moment and then disappeared.

So promise me Margaret shall never, never know."

"She knows everything but that," he replied. "It hurts me to make the promise, but I understand why you wish me to. Besides, I must look on this one reservation from her as the penalty--the lingering symbol of the past. But there is now one thing I should like to mention, Helen, and that is, I want to recur to that money, the five hundred pounds I borrowed of you. You see I have tasted blood."

"When you feel you can spare the money, dear Morgan, I should wish you to do some good work with it. Seek out those who may need it--a struggling student, a starving poet, a brave orphaned boy or girl toiling to support the younger children. Save some human being from despair, and restore his faith and hope. That is the best repayment you could make me. And now there is one thing I should like to ask you. Do you think----"

She hesitated. His look bade her continue.

"Well," she continued, smiling a little. "I was going to ask you to kiss me--a real kiss--if you thought your Margaret could spare me one.

You have never given me a real kiss, Morgan, and it would be for the last time."

She looked down almost demurely. For sole reply he took her in his arms and their lips came together. Gently she disengaged herself at length; and, as the hot tears fell from his eyes, he felt impelled to fall on his knees and cover his face with his hands.

When he looked up again he was alone in the room. His sobs broke forth afresh as he divined why she had left him.

A moment later he stole from the house.


The bell rang again and the pa.s.sengers' gangway was hauled up on to the pier. Morgan leaned against the deck-rail and looked westwards towards a point where the Dover cliff rose highest and then swept round. It was at that spot had begun the new ordering of his life which had at last culminated in the great happiness of to-day.

On a deck-chair close by his elbow sat Margaret. As he shifted his position a little his eye caught sight of a dainty ear and a soft cheek, gleaming exquisite through her veil against the golden brown of her large velvet hat and of the stretch of velvet mantle.

"Morgan, dear," she said, pulling him playfully by the sleeve, "brides are supposed to be too excited to eat on their wedding day. So I was when I woke up, and I didn't eat any breakfast. And now the fresh air makes me as hungry as a hunter. Do get me something nice, please."

When he came back, the mails and luggage had been got on board. The water began to seethe and foam away from the paddle-wheels, and, with a pleasant hoot, the boat steamed away. And then, as Morgan leaned against the side, he fell a-musing on many things, all woven in a web of wonder at his happiness. Different parts of his life flashed at him, all out of order and irrelevantly. How near, too, had he just pa.s.sed to the Ketterings! Cleo's father rose before him again with his greying hair and his good face, bent, ap.r.o.ned, and in corduroys, just as he was wont to stand in the Dover workshop. He remembered the kindly invitation the old man had given him when they parted, and he felt touched as he now called to mind the letter he had received from him on his ceasing to be his son-in-law. "I am glad to know you are free from her, and hope you won't think me an unnatural father; but she never tried to win my affections, whereas you won them without trying. I do hope that at no distant day you will marry a true lady, who will make up to you for the past. I know what you must have suffered."

He had been concerned about Cleo, and had so overflowed with pity for her that he had scarce had the strength to take the step that had made his happiness possible. But he knew that she was quite well and happy, living at the same house where he had first seen her, and that it had been perfectly indifferent to her whether she were tied to him or not.

And now his old fancy came to him again that he could trace a distinct unity in his life, as though it had been moulded by a guiding Power.

As Helen had said, the inner spring of his life had been its own good fairy.

And as he looked at Margaret again, the dream that had sometimes come to him did not now seem so unrealisable as it had in the old days when he had been cut off from her. The burning of his old ma.n.u.scripts had marked his sense that his ambition was utterly dead. But he had never regretted the burning. And now he even rejoiced at it. For, by toil and discipline and facing the fulness of the living world, he had attained to a clear sanity, to a just sense of values; the romantic blur of his early poetic vision clarifying into the strong definiteness of the Real. a.s.suredly he could now no longer write those nebulous, elusive word-harmonies. Nor for him the mere aesthetic toying, the dainty piece of colour-work; but poetry that should throb with vitality and humanness. From dream poetry he had pa.s.sed to dream life. Now that he had won his way to true life, was he not, too, to win his way to true song?

To be a voice whose enchantment should echo down the ages, whose never-dying melody should accompany the generations on their toilsome way, ever fresh, ever sweet for human hearts!

So did he dare to aspire again, and in his fancy it was Margaret's spirit that floated on and on for ever, her fragrance immanent in the songs he should sing!

The sea was radiant with sunlight. A soft wind breathed in his face.

The dwindling town nestled lazily in its valley, and the line of white cliffs stretched on either hand. And as Margaret's voice spoke to him again, something of her sweetness seemed to rise and rest on the spring world.


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