[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

VII

 

SHE met him on the hill slope with a cry of joy, and kissed him. It came into his mind to draw away, but he could not, and he kissed her back. Then she linked her arm in his, and they turned down the beach.

"I'm glad you've come," he began.

"Did you ever dream I wouldn't?" she said. Her face was a smile, her voice was an eager whisper.

"I have something to say to you, Kate-it is something serious."

" Is it so ? " she said. " So very serious ? "

She was laughing and blushing together. Didn't she know what he was going to say? Didn't she guess what this serious something must be? To prolong the delicious suspense before hearing it, she pretended to be absorbed in the things about her. She looked aside at the sea, and up at the banks, and down at the little dubbs of salt water as she skipped across them, crying out at sight of the sea-holly, the anemone, and the sea-mouse shining like fire, but still holding to Philip's arm and bounding and throbbing on it.

" You must be quiet, dear, and listen," he said.

"Oh, I'll be good-so very good," she said. "But look ! only look at the white horses out yonder-far out beyond the steamer. Davy's putting on the coppers for the parson, eh?"

She caught the grave expression of Philip's face, and drew her. self up with pretended severity, saying, "Be quiet, Katey. Behave yourself. Philip wants to talk to you-seriously-very seriously." Then, leaning forward with head aside to look up into his face, she said, "Well, sir, why don't you begin ? Perhaps you think I'll cry out. I won't promise you I won't."

But she grew uneasy at the settled gravity of his face, and the joy gradually died off her own. When Philip spoke, his voice was like a cracked echo of itself.

"You remember what you said, Kate, when I brought you that last letter from Kimberley-that: if next morning you found it was a mistake "

" Is it a mistake?" she asked. "Be calm, Kate."

"I am quite calm, dear. I remember I said it would kill me. But I was very foolish. I should not say so now. Is Pete alive?" She spoke without a tremor; and he answered in a husky, whisper, " Yes."

Then, in a breaking voice, he said, " We were very foolish, Kate -jumping so hastily to a conclusion was very foolish-it was worse than foolish, it was wicked. I half doubted the letter at the time, but, God forgive me, I wanted to believe it, and so-"

" I am glad Pete is living," she said quietly.

He was aghast at her calmness. The irregular lines in his face showed the disordered state of his soul, but she walked by his side without the quiver of an eyelid, or a tinge of colour more than usual. Had she understood?

" Look ! " he said, and he drew Pete's telegram from his pocket and gave it to her.

She opened it easily, and he watched her while she read it, prepared for a cry, and ready to put his arms about her if she fell. But there was not a movement save the motion of her fingers, not a sound except the crinking of the thin paper. He turned his head away. The sun was shining; there was a steely light on the firs, and here and there a white breaker was rising like a sea-bird out of the blue surface of the sea.

Well ? " she said.

"Kate, you astonish me," said Philip. "This comes on us like athundercloud, and you seem. not to realise it."

She put her arms about his neck, and the paper rustled on his shoulder. "My darling," she said, "do you love me still?"

"You know I love you, but-"

"Then there is no thundercloud in heaven for me now," she said. The simple grandeur of the girl's love shamed him. Its trust, its confidence, its indifference to all the evil chance of life only he loved her still, this had been beyond him. But he disengaged her arms and said, "We must not live in a fool's paradise, Kate. You promised yourself to Pete

But, Philip," she said, " that was when I was a child. It was only a half promise then, and I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know what love was. All that came later, dearest, much later-you know when."

"To Pete it is the same thing, Kate," said Philip. "He is coming home to claim you-"

She stopped him by getting in front of him and saying, with face down, smoothing his sleeve as she spoke, "You are a man, Philip, and you cannot understand. How can you, and how can I tell you ?

When a girl is not a woman, but only a child, she is a different person. She can't love anybody then-not really-not to say love, and the promises she makes can't count. It was not I that promised myself to Pete-if I did promise. It was my little sister-the little sister that was me long, long ago, but is now gone-put to sleep inside me somewhere. Is that very foolish, darling?"

But think of Pete," said Philip; "think of him going away for k love of you, living five years abroad, toiling, slaving, saving, encountering privations, perhaps perils, and all for you, all for love of you. Then think of him coming home with his heart full of you, buoyed up with the hope of you, thirsting, starving, and yearning for you, and finding you lost to him, dead to him, worse than dead-it will kill him, Kate."

She was unmoved by the picture. " I am very sorry, but I do not love him," she said quietly. "I am sorry-what else can a girl be when she does not love a young man ? "

He left me to take care of you, too, and you see-you see by the s telegram-he is coming home with faith in my loyalty. How can I tell him that I have broken my trust ? How can I meet him and explain "

"I-know, Philip. Say we heard he was dead and

"No, it would be too wretched. It's only three weeks since the letter came-and it would not be true, Kate it would revolt me." She lifted her eyes in a fond look of shame-faced love, and said again, " " I know, then-lay the blame on me, Philip. What do I care? Say it was all my fault, and I made you love me. I shan't care for anybody's talk. And it's true, isn't it ? Partly true, eh?" "If I talked to Pete of temptation I should despise myself," said Philip; and then she threw her head up and said proudly-

" Very well, tell the truth itself-the simple truth, Philip. Say we tried to be faithful and loyal, and all that, and could not, because we loved each other, and there was no help for it."

'" If I tell him the truth I shall die Of shame," said Philip, "Oh, there is no way out of this miserable tangle. Whether I cover myself with deceit, or strip myself of evasion, I shall stain my soul for ever. I shall become a base man, and year by year sink lower and lower in the mire of lies and deceit."

She listened with her eyes fixed on his quivering face, and her eyelids fluttered, and her fond looks began to be afraid.

" Say that we married," he continued; " we should never forget that you had broken your promise and I my trust. That memory would haunt us as long as we lived. We should never know one moment's happiness or one moment's peace. Pete. would be a broken-hearted man, perhaps a wreck, perhaps-who knows?-dead of his own hand. He would be the ghost between us always."

"And do you think I should be afraid of that?" she said. "Indeed, no. If you were with me, Philip, and loved me still, I should not care for all the spirits of heaven itself."

Her face was as pale as death now, but her great eyes were shining.

" Our love would fail us, Kate," said Philip. " The sense of our guilt would kill it. How could we go on loving each other with a thing like that about us all day and all night-sitting at our table-listening to our talk-standing by our bed? Oh, merciful God ! " The terror of his vision mastered him, and he covered his face with both hands. She drew them down again and held them in a tight lock in her fingers. But the stony light of his eyes was more fearful to look upon, and she said in a troubled voice, "Do you mean, Philip, that we-could-not marry-now?"

He did not answer, and she repeated the question, looking up into his face like a criminal waiting for his sentence-her head bent forward and her mouth open.

"We cannot," he muttered. "God help us, we dare not," he said; and then he tried to show her again how their marriage was impossible, now that Pete had come, without treason and shame and misery. But his words frayed off into silence. He caught the look of her eyes, and it was like the piteous look of the lamb under the hands of the butcher.

"Is that what you came to tell me?" she asked.

His reply died in his throat. She divined rather than heard it.

Her doom had fallen on her, but she did not cry out. She did not yet realise in all its fulness what had happened. It was like a bullet-wound in battle; first a sense of air, almost of relief, then a pang, and then overwhelming agony.

They had been walking again, but she slid in front of him as she had done before. Her arms crept up his breast with a caressing touch, and linked themselves behind his neck.

"This is only a jest, dearest," she said, "some test of my love, perhaps. You wished to make sure of me-quite, quite sure-now that Pete is alive and coming home. But, you see, I want only one to love me, only one, dear. Come, now, confess. Don't be afraid to say you have been playing with me. I shan't be angry with you. Come, speak to me."

He could not utter a word, and she let her arms fall from his neck; and they walked on side by side, both staring out to sea. The English mountains were black by this time. A tempest was raging on the other shore, though the air on this side was as soft as human breath.

Presently she stopped, her feet scraped the gravel, and she exclaimed in a husky tone, "I know what it is. It is not Pete. I am in your way. That's it. You can't get on with me about you. I am not fit for you. The distance between us is too great."

He struggled to deny it, but he could not. It was part of the truth. He knew too well how near to being the whole truth it was. Pete bad come at the last moment to cover up his conscience, but Kate was stripping it naked and showing him the skeleton.

"It's all very well for you," she cried, " but where am I ? Why didn't you leave me alone ? Why did you encourage me? Yes, indeed, encourage me ! Didn't you say, though a woman couldn't raise herself in life, a man could lift her up if he only loved her? And didn't you tell me there was neither below nor above where there was true liking, and that i a woman belonged to some one, and some one belonged. to her, it was God's sign that they were equal, and everything else was nothing-pride was nothing and position was nothing and the whole world was nothing? But now I know different. The world is between us. It always has been between us, and you can never belong to me. You will go on and rise up, and I will be left behind."

Then she broke into frightful laughter. " Oh, I have been a fool ! How I dreamt of being happy ! I knew I was only a poor ignorant thing, but I saw myself lifted up by the one I loved. And now I am to be left alone. Oh, it is awful ! Why did you deceive me ? Yes, deceive me! Isn't that deceiving me? You deceived me when you led me to think that you loved me more than all the world. You don't! It is the world itself you love, and Pete is only your excuse."

As she spoke she clutched at his arms, his hands, his breast, and at her own throat, as if something were strangling her. He did not answer her reproaches, for be knew well what they were. They were the bitter cry of her great love, her great. misery, and her great jealousy of the world-the merciless and mysterious power that was luring him away. After awhile his silence touched her, and she came up to him, full of remorse, and said, "No, no, Philip, you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You did not deceive me at all. I deceived myself. It was my own fault. I led you on-I know that. And yet I've been saying these cruel things. You'll forgive me, though, will you not? A girl can't help it some times, Philip. Are you crying? You are not crying, are you ! Kiss me, Philip, and forgive me. You can do that, can't you !"

She asked like a child, with her face up and her lips apart. He was about to yield, and was reaching forward to touch her forehead, when suddenly the child became the woman, and she leapt upon his breast, and held him fervently, her blood surging, her bosom exulting, her eyes flaming, and her passionate voice crying, " Philip, you are mine. No, I will not release you. I don't care -about your plans-you shall give them up. I don't Gare =about your trust-yell shall break it. I don't care about Pete coming-let him vonte. The world an do without you-I cannot. You are mine, Philip, and I am yours, and nobody else's, and never will be. You nuast come back to me, sooner or later, if you go away. I know it, I feel it, it's in my heart. But I'll never let you go. I can't, I can't, Haven't I a right to you ? Yes, I have a right. Don't you remember 7 . . . Can you ever forget? . . . my husband 7 "

The last word came muffled from his breast, where she had buried her head in the convulsions olf her trembling at the moment when her modesty went down in 'the fierce battle with a higher pain. But the plea which seemed to give her the right to sling the closer made the man to draw apart. It was the old deep tragedy of human love-the ancient inequality in the bond of man and. woman. What she had thought her conquest bail been her.vanquishmeat. I could not help it-her last word had killed everything. " Ob, God;" he groaned,; "I that is the worst of all."

"Philip," she cried, " what do you mean?"

" I mean that neither can I marry you, nor can you marry Pete. You would carry to hid your love 'of me, and bit by bit he would find it out, and it would kill him. It would kill you, too, for you have called me your husband, and you could never, never, never forget it."

"I don't want to marry Pete," she said. "If I'm not to marry you, I don't want to marry any one. But do you mean that I must not marry at all-that I never can now that-"

The word failed her, and his answer carne thick and indistinct-Yes.'"

"And you, Philip l What about yourself ?"

As there is no other man for you, Kate," he said, '"so #liege is no other woman for me. We must go through the world alone." "Is this my punishment !".

"It is the punishment of both, Kate, the punishment of both alike."

Kate stopped her breathing. Her clenched hands' slackened away From his neck, and she stepped back from him, shuddering with remorse, and despair, and shame. She saw herself now for the first time a fallen woman. Never before had her sin touched her soul. It was at that moment she fell.

They had come up to the cave by this time, and she sat on the stone at the mouth of it in a great outburst of weeping. It tore his heart to hear her. The voice of her weeping was like the distressful cry of the slaughtered lamb. He had to wrestle with himself not to take her in his arms and comfort her. The fit of tears spent itself at length, and after a time she drew a great breath and was quiet. Then she, lifted her face, and the last gleam of the autumn sun smote her. colourless lips and swollen eyes. When she spoke again, it was like one speaking in her sleep, or under the spell of somebody who had magnetised her.

" It is wrong of me to think so much of myself; as if that were everything. I ought to feel sorry for you too. You must be driven to it, or you could never be so cruel."

With his face to the sea, he mumbled something about Pete, and she caught up the name and said, " Yes, and Pete too. As you think it would be wrong to Pete, I will not hold to you. Oh, it will be wrong to me as well! But I will not give you the pain of turning a deaf ear to my troubles any More."

She was struggling with a pitiless hope that perhaps she might regain him after all. " If I give him up," she thought, " he will love me for it; " and then; with a sad rihg in her voice, she said, " You will go on and be a great man now, for you'll not have me to hold you back."

" For pity's sake, say no more of that," he said, but she paid no heed.

" I used to think it a wonderful thing to be loved by a great man. I don't now. It is terrible. If I could only have you to myself ! If you could only be nothing to anybody else ! You would be everything to me, and what should I care then ?

Between torture and love he bad almost broken down at that, but he gripped his breast and turned half aside, for his eyes were streaming. She came up to him and touched with the tips of her fingers the band that hung by his side, and said in a voice like a child's, " Fancy ! this is the end of everything, and when we part now we are to meet no more. Not the same way at all-not as we have met. You will be like anybody else to me, and I will be like anybody else to you. Miss Cregeen, that will be my name, and you will be Mr. Christian. When you see me you'll say to yourself, 'Yes, poor thing; long ago, when she was a girl, I made her love me. Nobody ever loved 1e like thaw And fanny I when

you pass me in the street, you will not even look my way. You won't, will you? No-no, it will be better no Good-bye! "

Her simple tenderness almost stifled him. He had to hold his under lip with his teeth to keep back the cry that was bursting from his tongue. At last he could bear it no longer, and he broke out, " Would to God we had never loved each other ! Would to God we had never met !"

But she answered with the same childish sweetness, "Don't say that, Philip. We have had some happy hours together. I would rather be parted from you like this, though it is so hard, so cruel, than never to have met you at all. Isn't it something for me to think of, that the truest, cleverest, noblest man in all the world has loved me? . . . Good-bye ! . . . Good-bye! "

His heart bled, his heart cried, but he uttered no sound. They were side by side. She let his hand slip from the tips of her fingers, and drew silently away. At three paces apart she paused, but he gave no sign. She climbed the low brow of the hill slowly, very slowly, trying to command her throat, which was fluttering, and looking back through her tears as she went. Philip heard the shingle slip under her feet while she toiled up the cliff, and when she reached the top the soft tbud on the turf seemed to beat on his heart. She stood there a moment against the sky, waiting for a sound from the shore, a cry, a word, the lifting of a hand, a- sob, a sigh, her own name, "Kate," and she was ready to fly back even then, wounded and humiliated as she was, a poor torn bird that had been struggling in the lime. But no; he was silent and motionless, and she disappeared behind the hill. He saw her go, and all the light of heaven went with her.


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