Winding Paths by Gertrude Page - HTML preview
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If Dudley Pritchard's imagination did not actual y picture the lurid and violent descent Hal suggested, it certainly did view with the utmost alarm his lively young sister's friendship with a ful y fledged actress.
As a matter of fact, Miss Walton's prognostications concerning his attitude to Lorraine Vivian, even as a schoolgirl, had been instantly confirmed upon their first meeting.
For no particular reason he disapproved of her. That was rather typical of Dudley. He disapproved of a good many things without quite knowing why, or being at any particular pains to find out.
Not that it made him bigoted. He could in fact be fairly tolerant; but as Hal affectionately observed, Dudley was so apt to pat himself on the back for his toleration towards things that it would never have occured to most persons needed tolerating.
She knew perfectly wel that he considered himself very tolerant towards much that was to be deprecated in her, but, far from resenting his attitude, she shaw chiefly the humorous side, and managed to glean a good deal of quiet amusement from it.
Considering the fifteen years' difference in their ages, and the fact that Dudley was a hard-working architect in London, seeing life on al sides, while Hal was stil a hoydenish schoolgirl, it was real y remarkable how thoroughly she grasped and understood his character, and a great deal concerning the world in general, while he seemed to remain at his first decisions concerning her and most things.
It was just perhaps the difference between the book-student and the life-student. Dudley had always had a passion for books and for his profession. His clever brain was a well of knowledge concerning ancient architectures and relics of antiquity. He studied them because he loved them, and, before al things else, to him they seemed worth while.
He loved his sister also - he loved her better than any one, but it would never have occured to him that she should be studied, or that there was anything in her to study. To him she was quite an ordinary girl, rather nice-looking when she was neat, but with a most unfortunate lack of the sedate dignity and discretion that he considered essential to the typical y admirable woman.
That there might be other traits in their place, equal y admirable, did not occur to him. They ware not at any rate the traits he most admired.
Hal, on the other hand, was different in every respect. She loated books, and learning, and what she cal ed "dead old bones and rubbish."
But she loved human nature, and studied in in every phase she could.
Left at a very tender age to Dudley's sole care and protection, she had to grow up without the enfolding, sympathetic love of a mother, or the gay companionship of brothers and sisters. Not in the least depressed, she started off at an early age in quest of adventure to see what the world was like outside the four wal s of their home.
Brought back, sometimes by a policeman, with whom she had already become on the friendliest terms, sometimes in a cab in which some one else had placed her, sometimes by a kindly stranger, she would yet slip away again on the first opportunity, into the crush of mankind.
Punishment and expostulation were alike useless; Hal was just as fascinated with people as Dudley was with books, and where her nature called she fearlessly fol owed.
Through this roving trait she picked up an amount of commonplace, everyday knowledge that would have dumbfoundered the clever young architect, had he been in the least able to comprehend it. But while he dipped enthusiastical y into bygone ages, and won letters and honours in his profession, she asked questions about life in the present, and grappled with the problem of everyday existence and the peculiarities of human nature, in a way that made her largely his superior, despite his letters and honours.
And best of al was her complete understanding of him. Dudley fondly imagined he was fulfil ing to the best possible endeavours his obligations of love and guardianship to his young sister. The young sister, with her tender, quizzical understanding, regarded him as a mere child, with a deliciously humorous way of always taking himself very seriously; a bril iant brain, an irritating fund of superiority, and something altogether apart that made him dearer than heaven and earth and al things therein to her.
Hal might be dearer than al else to Dudley, without finding herself loved in any way out of the ordinary, seeing how little he cared much about except his profession; but to be the beloved of al , to an eager, passionate, intense nature like hers, meant that in her heart she had placed him upon a pedestal, and, while fondly having her little smile over his shortcomings, yet loved him with an all-embracing love. He did not suspect it, and he would not have understood it if he had; being rather of the opinion that, considering al he had tried to be to her, she might have loved him enough in return to make a greater effort to please him.
Her obdurate resistance during the first stage of his disapproval of Lorraine Vivian increased this feeling considerably. He felt that if she really cared for him she should be wil ing to be guided by his judgment; and while perceiving, just as Miss Walton had done, that she meant to have her own way, he had less perspicacity to perceive also that nameless trait which, for want of a better word, we sometimes call grit, and which dimly proclaimed she might be trusted to follow her own strenght of character.
When, later, his attitude of displeasure increased a thousandfold.
He was not told of it just at first. Hal was then in the throes of convincing him that her particular talents lay in the direction of secretarial work and journalism, rather than governessing or idleness, and persuading him to make arrangements at once for her to learn shorthand and typewriting with a view to becoming the private secretary of a wel -known editor of one of the leading newspapers.
The editor in question was a distant connection, and quite willing to take her if she proved herself capable, recognising, through his skil at reading character, that she might eventual y prove invaluable in other ways than mere letter-writing.
Dudley, seeing no farther than the fact of the City office, set his face resolutely against it as long as he could; but, of course, in the end Hal carried the day. Then came the shock of the knowledge that Lorraine had gone on the stage; and if, as had been said before, he did not actual y picture the lurid exit to the lower regions Hal gave him credit for, he was sufficiently upset to have wakeful nights and many anxious, worried hours.
And to make it worse, Hal would not even be serious.
"Oh, don't look like that, Dudley!" she cried; "we real y are not in any immediate danger of selling our souls to the Prince of Darkness.
You dear old solemnsides! Just because Lorraine is going on the stage, I believe you already see me in spangles, jumping through a hoop. Or rather 'trying to', because it is a dead cert. I should miss the hoop, and do a sort of double somersault over the horse's tail."
Dudley shut his firm lips a little more tightly, and looked hard at his boots, without vouchsafing a reply.
"As a matter of fact," continued the incorrigible, "you ought to perceive how beautifully life balances things, by giving a dangerously attractive person like Lorraine a matter-of-fact, commonplace pal like myself to restrain her, and at the same time ward of possible dangers from various unoffending humans, who might fall hurtful y under her spel ."
"It is only the danger to you that I have anything to do with."
"Oh fie, Dudley! as if I mattered half as much as Humanity with a capital H."
"To me, personal y, you matter far more in this particular case."
"And yet, real y, the chief danger to me is that I might unconsciously catch some reflection of Lorraine's charm and become dangerously attractive myself, instead of just an outspoken hobbledehoy no one takes seriously."
"I am not afraid of that," he said, evoking a peal of laughter of which he could not even see the point; "but since you are quite determined to go into the City as a secretary, instead of procuring a nice comfortable home as a companion, or staying quietly here to improve your mind, I natural y feel you wil encounter quite enough dangers without getting mixed up in a theatrical set. Though, really," in a grumbling voice, "I can't see why you don't stay at home like any sensible girl. If I am not rich, I have at least enough for two."
"But if I stayed at home, and lived on you, Dudley, I should feel I had to improve my mind by way of making you some return; and you can't think how dreadful y my mind hates the idea of being improved. And if I went to some dear old lady as companion, she would be sure to die in an apoplectic fit in a month, and I should be charged with manslaughter. And I can't teach, because I don't know anything. The only serious danger I shall run as Mr. El iott's secretary wil be putting an occasional addition of my own to his letters, in a fit of exasperation, or driving his sub-editor mad; and he seems wil ing to risk that."
"You are likely to run greater dangers than that if you al ow yourself to be drawn into a theatrical circle."
"What sort of dangers?... Oh, my dear, saintly episcopal architect, what foundations of darkness are you building upon now, out of a little old-fashioned, out-of-date prejudice which you might have dug up from some of your studies in antiquity books? There are just as many dangers outside the theatrical world as in it, for the sort of woman dangers are attractive to; and little Sunday-school teachers have come to grief, while famous actresses have won through unscathed."
Dudley's face expressed both surprise and distaste.
"I wonder what you know about it anyway. I think you are talking at random. Certainly no dangers would come near you if you listened to my wishes and settled down quietly at home. If you don't care about living in Bloomsbury, I will take a smal house in the suburbs, and you can amuse yourself with the housekeeping, and tennis, and that sort of thing."
"And when you want to marry?"
"I shal not want to marry. I am wedded to my profession."
"O Dudley!... Dudley!..." She slipped off the table where she had been jauntily seated, and came and stood beside him, passing her arm through his. "Can't you see I'd just die of a little house in the suburbs, looking after the housekeeping: it's the most dreadful and awful thing on the face of the earth. I'm not a bit sorry for slaves, and prisoners, and shipwrecked sailors, and East-end starvelings; every bit of sympathy I've got is used up for the girls who've got to stay in hundrum homes, and be nothing, and do nothing, but just finished young ladies. Work is the finest thing in the world. It's just splendid to have something real to do, and be paid for it. Why, they can't even go to prison, or be hungry, or anything except possible wives for possible men who may or may not happen to want them."
"Of course you are talking arrant nonsense," Dudley replied frigidly.
"I don't know where in the world you get all your queer ideas. Woman's sphere is most decidedly the home; you seem to -" but a small hand was clapped vigorously over his mouth, and eyes of feigned horror searching his.
"Do you know, I'm half afraid you've lived in your musty old books so long, Dudley," with mock seriousness, "that you've lost al count of time. It is about a thousand years since sane and sensible men believed al that drivel about women's only sphere being the home, and since women were content to be mere chattels, stuck in with the rest of the furniture, to look after the children. Nowadays the jolly, sensible woman that a man likes for wife or pal, is very often a busy worker."
"Let her work busily at home, then!"
"Why, you'll want me to crochet antimacassars next, or cross-stitch a sampler! Just imagine the thing if I tried! It would have dreadful results, because I should be sure to use bad language - I couldn't help it; and the article I should concoct would make people faint, or turn cross-eyed or colour-blind. I shan't do nearly so much harm in the end as a City secretary with an actress pal."
"One thing is quite certain: you mean, as usual, to have your own way, and my feelings go for nothing at all."
He turned away from her, and took up his hat to go out.
"Your protestations of affection, Hal, are apt to seem both insincere and out of place."
The tears came swiftly to her eyes, and she took a quick step towards him, but he had gone, and closed the door after him before she could speak. She watched his retreating figure, with the tears stil lingering, and then suddenly she smiled.
"Anyhow, I haven't got to besweet and gentle and housekeepy," was her comforting reflection. "I'm going to be a real worker, earning real money, and have Lorraine for my pal as wel . Some day Dudley will see it is al right, and I'm only about half as black as he supposes, and that I love him better than anything else at heart. In the meantime, as I'm likely to get a biggish dose of dignified disapproval over this theatre business, I'd better ask Dick to come out to tea this afternoon to buck me up for what lies ahead. Goodness! what a boon a jol y cousin is when you happen to have been mated with your great-aunt for a brother."