The Man and the Moment by Elinor Glyn - HTML preview
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WHEN Lord Fordyce found himself alone, it felt as if life itself must leave him, the agony of pain was so great, the fiendish irony of circumstances. It almost seemed that each time he had intended to do a good thing, he had been punished. He had left Arranstoun for the best motive, and so had not seen Sabine and thus saved himself from future pain; he had taken Michael to Héronac out of kindly friendship, and this had robbed him of his happiness. But, awful as the discovery was now, it was not half so terrible as it would have been if the truth had only come to him later, when Sabine had become his wife. He must be thankful for that. Things had always been inevitable; it was plain to be understood that she had loved Michael all along, and nothing he personally could have done with all his devotion could have changed this fact. He ought to have known that it was hopeless and that he was only living in a fool's paradise. Never once had he seen the light in her eyes for himself which sprang there even at the mention of Michael's name. What was this tremendous power this man possessed to so deeply affect women, to so greatly charm every one? Was it just "it," as the Princess had said? Anguish now fell upon Henry; there was no consolation anywhere to be found.
He went over again all the details of the story he had heard, and himself filled up the links in the chain. How brutal it was of Michael to have induced her to stay—even if she remained of her own accord—and then the frightful thoughtless recklessness of letting her go off afterwards just because he was angry! Wild fury blazed up against his old friend. The poor darling little girl to be left to suffer all alone! Oh! how tender and passionately devoted he would have been under the same circumstances. Would Michael ever make her happy or take proper care of her? He paced his room, his mind racked with pain. Every single turn of events came back to him, and his own incredible blindness. How had he been so unseeing? How, to begin with, had he not recalled the name of Sabine as being the one he had read long ago in the paper as that of the girl whom Michael had gone through the ceremony of marriage with? It had faded completely from his memory. Everything seemed to have combined to lead him on to predestined disaster and misery—even in Sabine's and Michael's combining to keep the matter secret from him not to cause him pain—all had augmented the suffering now. If—but there was no good in contemplating ifs—what he had to do was to think clearly as to what would be the wisest course to secure his darling's happiness. That must be his first consideration. After that, he must face his own cruel fate with what courage he could command.
Her happiness could only come through the divorce proceedings being stopped at once, and in her being free to go back to the man whom she loved. Then the aspect that Michael had been willing to do a really fine thing for the sake of friendship struck him— perhaps he was worthy of Sabine, after all; and they were young and absolutely suited to one another. No, the wickedness would have been if he, whose youth had passed, had claimed her and come between. He was only now going through the same agony his friend must have done, and he had a stronger motive to help him, in the wish to secure the joy of this adored woman, whereas Michael knew he was condemning her to sorrow as well as himself, and had been strong enough to do it simply from honor and friendship. No, he had no right to think of him as brutal or not fine; and now it was for him, Henry, to bring back happiness to his darling and to his old friend.
He sat down in a chair beside the fire and set himself to think. To have to take some decided course came as a relief. He would go out into the village and telegraph to Michael to come to Héronac at once. He was in Paris, staying at the Ritz, he knew; he could be there to-morrow—on Christmas Day! Surely that was well, when peace and good-will towards men should be over all the earth—and he, Henry, would meet him at the house of the Père Anselme and explain all to him, and then take him back to Sabine. He would not see her again until then.
He found telegraph forms on his writing-table and rapidly wrote out his message. "Come immediately by first train, meet me at house of Père Anselme, a matter of gravest importance to you and Sabine," and he signed it "Fordyce." Then he firmly controlled himself and went off with it into the night.
The cold air struck his face and confronted him with its fierceness; the wind was getting up; to-morrow the waves would again be rough.
The village was not far away, and he soon had reached his goal and sent the telegram. Then he stopped at the presbytère. He must speak once more to the priest. The Père Anselme led him in to his bare little parlor and drew him to the warm china stove. It was only two hours since they had parted, but Lord Fordyce looked like an old man.
"I have come to tell you, my Father," he said, "that I know all of the story now, and it is terrible enough; but I want you to help me to secure her happiness. Michael Arranstoun is her husband, as you supposed, and she loves him." The old priest nodded his head comprehendingly, and Henry went on. "They only parted to save me pain. It was a tremendous sacrifice which, of course, I cannot accept. So now I have sent for him, and I want you to let me meet him here at your house, and explain everything to him tomorrow before he sees her. I hope, if he gets my telegram in time, he will catch the train from Paris at midnight to-night; it gets in about nine in the morning. Then they can be happy on Christmas Day."
"You have done nobly, my son," and the Père Anselme lifted his hand in blessing. "It is very merciful that this has been in time. You will not be permitted to suffer beyond your strength since you have done well. The good God is beyond all things, just. My home is at your service—And how is she, our dear Dame d'Héronac? Does she know that her husband will come?"
"She knows nothing. I told her we should settle all questions to-morrow. She offered to keep her word to me, the dear child."
"And she told you the whole story? She had the courage? Yes? That was fine of her, because she has never spoken of all her sorrows directly, even to me."
"She told me everything, Father. There are no secrets any more; and her story is a pitiful one, because she was so young."
"It is possible it has been well for them," the priest said meditatively, looking into the glowing fire in the stove whose door he had opened. "They were too young and undisciplined at first for happiness—they have come through so much suffering now they will cling to each other and joy and not let it slip from their hands. She is more suited to such a one as the Seigneur of Arranstoun than any other—there is a vigor of youth in her which must find expression. And it is something to be of noble blood, after all." Here he turned and looked contemplatively at Henry. "It makes one able to surmount anguish and remain a gentleman with manners, even at such a cruel crisis as this. You have all my deep understanding and sympathy, my son. I, too, have passed that way, and know your pain. But consolation will come. I find it here in the cure of souls—you will find it in your England, leading your fellow countrymen to finer ends. It is not for all of us, the glory of the dawn or the meridian, but we can all secure a sunset of blessed peace if we will." And then, as Henry wrung his thin old hand, he muttered with tenderness, "Goodnight, and pax vobiscum," while a moisture glistened in his keen black eyes.
And when the door was closed upon his guest he turned back into his little room, this thought going on with him:
"A great gentleman—though my Dame d'Héronac will be happier with the fierce one. Youth must have its day, and all is well."
But Henry, striding in the dark with the sound of the rushing sea for company, found no consolation.
When he got back to the château and was going up the chief staircase to his room, he met Moravia coming down. She had just left Sabine and knew the outlines of what had happened. Her astonishment and distress had been great, but underneath, as she was only human, there was some sense of personal upliftment; she could try to comfort the disconsolate lover at least. Sabine had given her to understand that nothing was finally settled between herself and Henry, but Moravia felt there could be only one end; she knew he was too unselfish to hold Sabine for an instant, once he understood that she would rather be free; so it was in the character of fond friend that she put out her hand and grasped his in silent sympathy.
"Henry," she whispered with tears in her usually merry eyes, "my heart is breaking for you. Can I do anything?"
He would rather that she had not spoken of his sorrow at all, being a singularly reticent person, but he was touched by the love and solicitude in her face, and took and held her white fingers.
"You are always so good to me. But there is nothing to be done."
She slid her other hand into his arm and drew him on into the little sitting-room which was always set apart for her, close to her room.
"I am going to take care of you for the next hour, anyway—you look frozen," she told him. "I shall make you sit in the big chair by the fire while I give you something to drink. It is only half-past six."
Then with fond severity she pushed him into a comfortable bergère, and, leaving him, gave an order to her maid in the next room to bring some brandy. But before it came Moravia went back again, and drawing a low stool sat down almost at Henry's feet.
The fire and her gentleness were soothing to him, as he lay there huddled in the chair. The physical reaction was upon him from the shock and he felt almost as though he were going to faint.
Moravia watched him anxiously for some time without speaking—he was so very pale. Then she got up quickly when the maid brought in the tray, and pouring him out some brandy she brought it over and knelt down by his side.
"Drink this," she commanded kindly. "I shall not stir until you do."
Henry took the glass with nerveless fingers and gulped down the liquid as he was bid, but although she took the glass from him she did not get off her knees; indeed, when she had pushed it on to the tray near her, she came closer still and laid her cheek against his coat, taking his right hand and chafing it between her own to bring back some life into him, while she kept up a murmured flow of sweet sympathy—as one would talk to an unhappy child.
Henry was not actually listening to her, but the warmth and the great vibrations of love coming from her began to affect him unconsciously, so that he slipped his arm round her and drew her to his side.
"Henry," she whispered with a little gasp in her breath, "I would take all pain away from you, dear, if I could, but I can't do anything, only just pet and love you into feeling better. After all, everything passes in time. I thought I should never get over the death of my husband, Girolamo, and now I don't care a bit—in fact, I only care about you and want to make you less unhappy."
The Princess thoroughly believed in La Rochefoucauld's maxim with the advice that people were more likely to take to a new passion when still agitated by the rests of the old one than if they were completely cured. She intended, now that she was released from all honor to her friend, to do her very uttermost to draw Henry to herself, and thought it much wiser to begin to strike when the iron was hot.
Henry did not answer her; he merely pressed her hand, while he thought how un-English, her action was, and how very kind. She was certainly the dearest woman he had ever met—beyond Sabine.
Moravia was not at all discouraged, but continued to rub his hands, first one and then the other, while he remained passive under her touch.
"Sabine is perfectly crushed with all this," she went on. "I have just left her. She does not know what you mean to do, but I am sure I can guess. You mean to give her back to Mr. Arranstoun—and it will be much better. She has always been in love with him, I believe, and would never have agreed to try to arrange for a divorce if she had not been awfully jealous about Daisy Van der Horn. I remember now telling her quite innocently of the reports about them in Paris before we went to England, and now that I come to think of it, I noticed she was rather spiteful over it at the time."
Henry did not answer, so she continued, in a frank, matter-of-fact way:
"You can imagine what a strange character Sabine has when I tell you, in all these years of our intimate friendship she never has told me a word of her story until just now. She was keeping it all in to herself—I can't think why."
Henry did speak at last, but his words came slowly. "She wanted to forget, poor little girl, and that was the best way to bury it all out of sight."
"There you are quite wrong," returned Moravia, now seated upon her footstool again, very close, with her elbows propped on Henry's knees, while she still held his hands and intermittently caressed them with her cheek. "That is the way to keep hurts burning and paining forever, fostering them all in the dark—it is much better to speak about them and let the sun get in on them and take all their sorrow away. That is why I would not let you be by yourself now, dear friend, as I suppose one of your reserved countrymen would have done. I just determined to make you talk about it, and to realize that there are lots of lovely other things to comfort you, and that you are not all alone."
Henry was strangely touched at her kind common sense; he already felt better and not so utterly crushed out with despair. He told her how sweet and good she was and what a true, unselfish woman—but Moravia shook her head.
"I am not a bit; it is purely interested, because I am so awfully fond of you myself. I love to pet you—there!" and she laughed softly, so happy to see that she had been able even to make this slight effect, for she saw the color had come back in a measure to his face, and her keen brain told her that this was the right tack to go upon—not to be too serious or show any sentiment, but just to use a sharp knife and cut round all the wound and then pour honey and balm into it herself.
"You and Sabine would never really have been happy together," she now told him. "You were much too subservient to her and let her order you about. She would have grown into a bully. Now, Mr. Arranstoun won't stand a scrap of nonsense, I am sure; he would make any woman obey him—if necessary by using brute force! They are perfectly suited to one another, and very soon you will realize it and won't care. Do you remember how we talked at dinner that night at Ebbsworth about women having to go through a stage in their lives sooner or later when they adored just strength in a man and wanted a master? Well, I wondered then if Sabine had passed hers, but I was afraid of hurting you, so I would not say that I rather thought she had not."
"Oh, I wish you had!" Henry spoke at last. "And yet, no—the whole thing has been inevitable from the first, I see it plainly. The only thing is, if I had found it out sooner it might have saved Sabine pain. But it is not too late, thank God—the divorce proceedings can be quashed; it would have been a little ironical if she had had to marry him again."
"Yes," Moravia agreed. "Now, if we could only get him to come here immediately, we could explain it all to him and make him wire to his lawyers at once."
"I have already sent for him—I think he will arrive to-morrow at nine."
"How glorious! It was just the dear, splendid thing you would do, Henry," Moravia cried, getting up from her knees. "But we won't tell Sabine; we will just let her mope there up in her room, feeling as miserable as she deserves to be for not knowing her own mind. We will all have a nice dinner—no, that won't be it—you and I will dine alone here, up in this room, and Papa can talk to Madame Imogen. In this house, thank goodness, we can all do what we like, and I am not going to leave you, Henry, until we have got to say goodnight. I don't care whether you want me or not—I have just taken charge of you, and I mean you to do what I wish—there!"
And she crept closer to him again and laid her face upon his breast, so that his cheek was resting upon her soft dark hair. Great waves of comfort flowed to Henry. This sweet woman loved him, at all events. So he put his arm round her again, while he assured her he did want her, and that she was an angel, and other such terms. And by the time she allowed him to go to his room to dress for dinner, a great measure of his usual nerve and balance was restored. She had not given him a moment to think, even shaking her finger at him and saying that if he was more than twenty minutes dressing, she would herself come and fetch him and bring him back to her room.
Then, when he had left her, this true daughter of Eve, after ordering dinner to be served to them, proceeded to make herself as beautiful as possible for the next scene. She felt radiant. It was enormous what she had done.
"Why, he was on the verge of suicide!" she said to herself, "and now he is almost ready to smile. Before the evening is over I shall have made him kiss me—and before a month is past we shall be engaged. What perfect nonsense to have silly mawkish sentiment over anything! The thing to do is to win one's game."