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MARIETTA'S MARRIAGE

[Bv W. E. Norris.] [Copyright.] CHAPTER XXXIX — (Continued ) Lionel walked up an 1 down the room, with his hands in his pockets. “ Marietta,” he said at las% “ will you think me a brute if I ask you something?” She opened her half-closed eyes and looked faintly surprised. “I don’t suppose I shall,” she replied; “you are not much given to brutality. But of course ono doesn’t know until one hears.” “ Well, I am afraid it may sound rather ' brutal to ask whether it is only your poor father’s death that is making you so wretched. That is sufficient to make you wretched, I know ; but sometimes I fancy that you may have some other trouble; and if that is so “ What then ?’’ she inquired, glancing up at him, as he came to a standstill before her. “Then it might relieve you, I should think, to cell somebody what was the matter. I’m not asking for your confidence—that is for you to grant or withhold, as you please—only, when all’s said, I suppose your husband is the person in whom you might naturally bo expected to confide, if you confided in anybody.” Marietta’s short, uumirtbful laugh jarred upon his ears and made him conscious of having said a somewhat silly thing. “ Oh, of course, it doesn’t follow,” he made haste to add. “ Only sotting aside cheap cynicisms and commonplaces—the fact remains that a woman’s husband is the human being who ought to stand nearest to her.” She laughed again ; she was struck for an instant by the quaintness of the notion that a woman might, find relief in confessing to an unsympathetic husband that she was, or had been, or had imagined herself to be, in love with somebody else. Yet she would perhaps have done that very thing had his appeal been a little more felicitously phrased. As it was, she merely remarked : “A good many things aren’t what they ought to bs, and ought to be what they aren’t. The most dutiful wife in the world would have to keep a few secrets from her husband if she only spoke French and he didn’t kuow a word of anything bat Gorman.” “ Well, if you chose to put it in that way —but—come, Marietta, is there any trouble that I don’t know of ? I dare say I am a little dull of comprehension ; but probably 1 am not quite so dull as you make me out.” She shrugged her shoulders. “There is perpetual, permanent trouble of being what one is,” she replied. “ I don’t quite understand what you mean,” said Lionel, “Of course you don’t. Didn’t I tell you that we don’t speak the same language, you and I? You are an Englishman, whereas I am, for all practical purposes, a foreigner. Perhaps that explains everything. At any rale, I can’t find any other explanation of ray. being unintelligible, and really I haven’t any confessions to make, except that I haven’t money enough left to pay my dressmaker.” Lionel’s brow cleared. It that was all, the dressmaker should at once be paid, and, as he happened to have his cheque hook in his pocket, it only took him a minute to provide his wife with a larger sum than she required. He hoped that she would never allow herself to be worried about money matters, he said. She took the slip of paper from him with a word or two of thanks and an inward ejaculation to tho effect that he was too utterly impossible ! She had given him—so she said to herself—a chance of winning her confidence, and his answer was to raise her wages! Well might he describe himself as being a little dull of comprehension ! More impartial critics may be of op’nion that Lionel was scarcely to blame for Ida alleged dulnoss, and that it would have taken a very clever man indeed to discover that Marietta wished him to persist with his queries. Anyhow, he remained under the impression that that was exactly what she did not wish, and he regulated his conduct accordingly. Not without hesitation ho had asked a question which he had more than once before refrained from asking, and he had been snubbed for his piins ; ho was not likely to court a second rebuff. The move to Ludworth was duly accomplished soon afterwards, but this brought about no improvement in his wife’s spirits, nor did he again suggest any mitigation c-f the solitude which she apparently preferred. For his own part, he submitted uncomplainingly to that solitude, shot partridges, transacted county business, corresponded at intervals with Scotland Yard, and kept awake as long as ho could after dinner. If he was a little bit bored, and if he could not help yawning sometimes, he may surely be fo:given. As a matter of fact, however, he was not forgiven. Marietta, who herself soon became so cruelly bored that it was simply a necessity for her to condemn somebody, felt that anything would be better than a prolongation of this manner of life, and had little difficulty in concluding that she owed no consideration to a man who treated her as virtually non-existent. And so it came to pass that on a rainy day, when she was quite alone—Lionel having absented himself for forty-eight hours to joiu a shooting party on the other side of the country—she sat down to her writing table and fulfilled the anticipations of an absent friend. “ You asked me,” she wrote, “ to let you know if you could be of service to me in any way, and I am taking you at your word. You would do me a very real service if you

would come down here and stay with us for a short time. What monarch was it who used to open a conversation with one of his courtiers by saying politely: ‘ Ennuyonsnous unpeu ensemble, monsieur ? As I have nothing but the direct ennui to offer you, this invitation may count as a compliment; for it proves at least that I believe in your sincerity.

“ We have nobody with us, and are not asking anybody. Since you left Middlewood I literally have not spoken to a civilised being except my husband ; so I leave you to imagiuo how entertaining you are likely to find mo. On the other hand, you won’t find mo hard to entertain! You are sure to have plenty of news to give me ; but even if you are driven to fall back upon things which you have told me already I shall uot grumble—l am not as exacting as I was.”

Having got so far Marietta laid down her pen. Was it worth while to adopt that tone of rather feeble and labored jocularity ? Would not her correspondent understand perfectly well what she meant, and smile at her attempts to disguise her real meaning ? Why not blurt out the truth and say: “ Came to mo !—I can’t live without you, and I can endure my husband no longer ! ” But perhaps, after all, that was not the truth ; and certainly, if it was, reticence was more likely to bring about what she wished for than surrender. For the rest she did not know with any sort of accuracy what she wished for; she did hot trust Strahan, and whether she loved him or not was a question which might be answered, and hid been answered, negatively or affirmatively, in accordance with her varying moods. Upon one point alone she was quite clear ; her present solicitude d deux must be put an end to by somebody, or she would go mad. So she wound up her letter in much the same fashion as that in which she had begun it, saying to herself that its recipient would most likely bo able to read between the lines. And then it would always remain open to her to assure him that he had read amiss.

When Lionel returned from his shooting party the next day she said, carelessly : “I wrote to Mr Strahan yesterday, asking him to run down and stay a short time with us, if he had nothing better to do. I suppose you won’t mind ?” Lionel looked a good deal surprised. “ Not at all,” he answered. “On the contrary I shall be very glad to see Strahan. But I thought you did not want to bo troubled with visitors. Have you asked anybody else ?’’ “ Oh, no ; it was only a sudden fancy of mine. He may have heard something, you see. Ho promised to do all ho could ; and I cai.’„ help thinking that ho is far cleverer than those solemn, mysterious detectives of yours. Do you know whether be is in London ?”

Lionel believed not, but could not say for certain. He had hoard of Strahan, not long aim, as staying with people somewhere in tho West of England. “But, of course, letters will be forwarded to him from London, and I am ;ure he will be glad to accept your invitation, unless he is otherwise engaged. I am afraid he will have no news to give you, though ; if there were any, I should have been told.”

“ I suppose you would, and I daresay he will be otherwise engaged. It won’t matter much if he is,” said Marietta listlessly. “ Where did you say that he was staying ?” “I really can’t remember. I think it must have been Betty who mentioned in one of her letters that she had met him. She and granny are making a sort of visitation of the counties of Devon and Somerset, you know.” Marietta made no rejoinder ; but she took a mental note of the circumstance that Mr Strahan appeared to be upon her sister-in-law’s track. She had spoken almost with sincerity the minute before in saying that it would not much matter if he should fail to respond to her summons; but this trifle caused her to change her ever-changing mind. She was resolved now that Strahan should come to Ludworth with his will or against it. CHAPTER XL, STRAHAN' LOOKS MATTERS IN* THE FACS. It was at a certain picturesque old house in North Devon, where he bad been staying for nearly a week, that Marietta’s letter reached Strahan, to whom the sight of her handwriting was not altogether welcome. Ha did not at once tear open the envelope which lay on the top of a little heap of others beside his plate at the breakfast table, but hastily shifted its position. Lady Maria Halsted, or Miss Mallet, both of whom were temporary inmates of the establishment, might catch sight of and recognise the superscription—which ho was not particularly anxious that they should do. The latter of these two ladies, indeed, who presently cure in and seated herself beside him (whether by accident or by design, she had generally been placed by his sine of late, he had noticed), diser needed him a little by asking him whether he had heard from Marietta. “ From Lady Middlewood?” was his faintly surprised rejoinder. Betty nodded. “I have had a line from Lionel, who says they want yon to go and slay with them at Ludworth. Ho is afraid you will find it horribly slow ; but he thinks you may bo willing to perform an act of charity. Are you willing ? ” Scrahan hardly knew whether he was or not. “ Well,” ho replied, “we are all going on to Worthy Manor tho day after tomorrow, aren’t we ? ” “Granny and I arV’ said Betty; “I didn’t know about you.”

“ Ob, I’m going too ; I have been asked. Afterwards I may be obliged- to run up to London ; I can’t very well say as yet. Do you and Lady Maria return home from Wortley?” Betty believed so. “ Unless they want us at Ludworth, as perhaps they may,” she added.

After breakfast Scrahan gathered up his correspondence and made for a sheltered bench in the garden that he knew of. Although the season was far advanced, it was still warm enough to sit out of doors in , that mill! climate, and he wanted to be alone. The contents of Marietta’s missive, which it did not take him long to master, rendered it imperative upon him, he felt, to come to some decision, and sundry business nommunications which he subsequently perused with a wrinkled brow inclined him to decide against accepting her invitation. “ Let us look mattera in the face,” he ended by saying to himself, “ The Company is not pro-periug ; it won’t and can’t prosper for some time to come, while it may quite possibly collapse altogether within the next few months. * Nothing can bo more evident than that I ought to have a second string to my bow, and really it seems to me that I should be the very biggest fool in England to turn my back upon a charming heiress who shows rather marked preference for my humble person. Just look at the alternative !—who but a born lunatic would ever think twice of it? Yet Ido think of it, and I shall always think of it, and I shall always adore her, I suppose—ridiculous though it is of me. But surely I shall not be quite mad enough to adopt it ?” Nobody is so mad as a sensible, hardheaded man, when ones he has reached the point of doubling whether common sense and hardness of head are worth while. Strahan had scarcely reached that point yet; still there hvi been momenta when he had been perilously near it. An elopement?—well, yes; it would have to be that or nothing. Ridiculous again, of course ; but—Marietta being what she was—practically unavoidable, An elopement, then, to be followed (possibly) by the dawn of a new life in a new world, by the pursuit of ambitions which need not necessarily be abandoned, and by a happiness which was at least as likely to prove lasting as the happiness of any newlymarried pair can be. That was the possibility ; probability, no doubt, pointed to the usual regrets, mutual disenchantment, weariness, ruin, and ultimate separation. “And to crown all,” muttered Strahan, “ there is the ugly circumstance of my having killed her father. Oh, no ; it’s a thing to dream about, it isn’t a thing to do. I wonder whether tho other is a thing to dost least, I wonder whether it is a thing that can bo done. Not very easily, I suspect. Midcllewood won’t like it, and as for Marietta—by Jovo ! if I know anything of Marietta, she’ll stop it. As most likely she can by simply letting her sister-in-law know what has passed between us. At the same time, the girl is her own mistress, and the old woman, for some reason best known to herself, is disposed to smile upon me. She evidently thinks that I am going to be a great man—and so, perhaps, I am—but slu is an old goose to imagine that her granddaughter’s value in the matrimonial market has really been depreciated by a little adventure which is already almost forgotten.” The sound of a slowly approaching footstep upon the gravel caused him to look up, and in another moment ho was brought face to face with tho lady to whom he had just applied an unflattering but not undeserved designation. It was not undeserved ; for Lady Maria really did think that there might now be difficulty in arranging a good match for Betty, and had also formed a somewhat exaggerated estimate of Strahan’s prospective importance. Misled by the extreme affability with which that clever manipulator of shares was treated in high quarters, and apprehensive lest the unmanageable Betty should at any moment be guilty of an irremediable coup de tele, she had made up her mind to give an invitation which she had trotted out into the garden for the express purpose of delivering, and it was in her most gracious manner that she asked ;

“ What do you think of doing after you leave the Wortleya, Mr Strahan?” Strahan replied that he had no very definite plans. “ Oh, haven’t you,” said tho old lady. “ Well, louly asked because I shall be having afewpaopleatCheUon next week, and if you cared to join our dull little party we should be delighted to have you. I can’t offer you much in the way of attraction, but you would get a few days’ shooting, and you would help to amuse my gjanddaughter, who has had less amusement this autumn than I should have liked to give her, poor child 1 ”

Strahan saw at once that the offer was not one to be refused. To accept it would commit him to nothing, and would enable him to effect a sort of compromise, since he could easily run over to Ludworth from Ohelton for a few hours and ascertain what Marietta’s dispositions were. In all probability she would prove hostile ; yet there was just the chance—with women, and especially with such a woman as she, there are always all manner of chances—that she would set him free. On the occasion of their lastinterview, indeed, she had rather pointedly given him to understand that he had nothing beyond friendship to expect from her. So he told Lady Maria, that bo would be only too charmed to avail himself of her very kind hospitality, to which she rejoined briskly : “ That’s all right. Then we may as well travel north together. By the way, what is

this I see in the papers about more gold having beemput into your mines than will ever come out of them ?” .

; Strahan shrugged, his shoulders. “ Some mines have turned, out a failure,” he answered T " that was - sure to 'happen. Strictly speaking, they do not belong to us; still wo are indirectly liable, and no doubt oar shares will have a temporary fall. But there is not the slightest cause for alarm, la fact, - if I ever ventured to offer financial advice to my friends I should tell them that now was their time to buy.” While studiously refraining from offering any such advice to Lady Maria (for in truth he did not think too well of the immediate outlook, and naturally did not wish that the old lady should Ipse money through him) he nevertheless contrived to eat her mind com pietely at rest, after which- he returned to the house and composed a diplomatic reply to Lady Middlewood. “ I wish with all my heart that I could obey ycur summons,” he wrote ; “ but, alas ! I am booked to stay a few days with some other people in the same county when I leave this, and then I am’to go,-1 believe, to. Lady Maria, Halsted, who has kindly invited me. At Chelton, however, I shall be within reach of you, and perhaps you will allow me to look you up one day. I am sorry to hear of ennui, and would gladly b-lieve, if I could .that it might be relieved in ever so small a degree by my society; but unhappily I have nothing fresh to say about the sad subject which I fear is the only one that interests you now. lam sure I need not add that it has by no means ceased to interest me, and Ido not even yet despair of ultimately hitting upon some clue to the mystery; but for the moment I am bound to confess that I am as completely baffled as the police.”

That was Strahan’a idea of a diplomatic missive. But then, as has been said before, he was better qualified to deal with his own than with the other sex, and it did not occur to him that no woman on earth could read those words and doubt his disinclination to respond to her appeal. At luncheon he found himself again seated beside Betty Mallet, to whom he remarked:

“ Your grandmother has been paying me a great eomplimenb. She wants me to go down to Derbyshire with you and spend a short time at Chelton.”.

Betty’s evident surprise showed that this suggestion had not originated with her. “ Granny, doesn’t pay such compliments to everybody,” said she. “ Are you, by any chance, an authority on matters of ritual ? Or is it that you cau put her in the way of making investments which combine excitement with profit ? ” Strahan did not think that he had won Lady Maria’s favor by either of the methods specified. Certainly not by the former ; as for the latter, he could only say that if he knew how to make investments at once exciting and profitable he would not now be as poor as he regretted to be. “ Then,” observed Betty, “ that crafty old thing must have some other motive. I wonder what it can be ! ”

Her blue eyes, with an amused sparkle in them, met those of her neighbor, who was a little puzzled. His impression (which was not a mistaken one) was that the girl liked him, but whether she had thought of him or had the smallest idea of accepting him as her future husband was another question. And he did hot at all know how to make love to her. The art of making love was one which he had never thought it worth bis while to study, nor perhaps could he have attained to proficiency in it, seeing that his was anything but an amorous temperament. Every now and again in the course of his busy life he had been casually fascinated by some woman or other, and had achieved sundry easy victories ; he was now, for the first time, genuinely in love with a woman whom every consideration of prudence warned„ him to avoid, and he had gone,the length of telling her so. For Betty Mallet, in spite of her being very pretty, very attractive, and capital company, it was oat of his power to entertain any such sentiment—which was unfortunate, since every consideration of prudence urged him to pay court to her. However, he did his best, and was so far successful that she understood perfectly well what he was driving at. “You don’t go to Ludworth, then?” she said interrogatively.^ And he really thought that he was making a rather neat rejoinder when he replied : “ How can I—with the alternative of going to Chelton before me ?”

It may have been a shrewd estimate of what Mr Stratum's admiration was worth, or it may have been (as he hoped it was) mere juvenile coquetry that caused Mias Betty from that moment to hold her would-be suitor at arm’s length. In any case, his suit made no progress until the change of quarters to Wortley Manor, a neighboring mansion, brought about, for some reason or other, a change of demeanor on the young lady’s part. Round the dinner-table at Wortley Manor there was a fresh set of faces, including one which never had much clurrn for Strahan, and which, indeed, was apt to assume an unbecoming scowl as often as te looked at it. Mr and Mrs Wortley happened to be old friends of St. Quintin’s, so that he had every right to be where he was ; but _ that did not prevent Strahan from cursing the pertinacity with which the fellow turned up everywhere ; nor did the lady to whom Mr St. Qaintin had been requested to give his arm show any pleasure at an encounter which she might have—and, in fact, had—anticipated. “ What are you doing down in these parts?” Betty inquired. “Nothing particular,” answered the young

! man, meekly. “I heard that you were to bi here this-week,’’ be added, leaving her to ) decide whether or not that statement was to j be taken as an explanation. “We have been paying a lot of visits, and I meeting a lot of stupid people,” Betty remarked. “I am very glad that we are now on our way home—especially as Mr ; Strahan, who can’t be called stupid, is to ! accompany us.” “Do you mean that he is-going to stay with you?'’ asked St. Quintin, in unconcealed surprise and displeasure. “If you have no objection. Bat 1 notice that you make a point of objecting to all my friends. _ However, as you won’t be in the house with him this time, it doesn’t matter.” St. Qaintin sighed. “I didn’t know that Strahan was a friend of yours,” said he. She took some trouble that evening, and during the next few days, to convince him that she entertained a sincere regard for thu gentleman in question. Had he imagined that she was taking trouble in order to do so, he would doubtless have felt somewhat >reaasured; but, of course, he suspected nothing of the kind. He only saw that Strahan’a assiduous attentions were received with every apparent encouragement; and ho said to himscif that Lady Maria, who was complacently looking on, must have lost her senses. Better a thousand times Charlie Jocelyn than such an unscrupulous miscreant as he believed this man to be !

As, however, no words of his were likely -to bring Lady Maria back to her senses, and as he felt that it would be worse than useless to remonstrate with Betty, he was fain to hold his peace while a flirtation which everybody noticed was carried on vigorously under his_ nose. “I came here for the sake of seeing her,” he. told himself, “and, having got what I came for, I can’t complain. All the same, I wish I hadn’t been such an idiot as to imagine that seeing her would make me any happier.” On the concluding day of his stay Betty, who had scarcely spoken to him all the time, offered him her sympathetic congratulations. “How glad you will be to get out of this ! ” she remarked. “ I don’t know when I have seen anyone look so bored. And yet I should have said that we had been rather a jolly party on the whole. A much jollier one than we shall be at Chelton, anyhow.” “Yon are not looking forward to that?” asked St. Quintin, with a faint, foolish hope that she was not.

“To entertaining a select circle of aged frumps ? ‘Well, no ; not exactly. To be sure, there will be Mr Strahan, which is an unspeakable blessing. Bub I think you said that you disapproved of our showing any hospitality to Mr Strahan.” “ Excuse me, I never said that. I haven’t the right to disapprove of anybody whom you and Lady Maria may delight to honor.” “And if you had that right?” “ Well—then I should exorcise it by disapproving of Strahan. I suppose.” “Why'?” This was almost more than St. Quintin could boar. “Do you really wish me to tell you? ” he asked.

Betty assured him that she really did, so he drew a long breath and came out bluntly with: “Because I am afraid ho wants to marry you.”

“Oh,” said Betty, composedly, “is that it? But there wouldn’t he any particular harm in his wanting, would there?” “ There would if he had a chance of getting what he wanted.”

“You think, perhaps, that I might do better ? Well, I don’t know ; I have a tarnished reputation, you see.” “For heaven’s sake, don’t say such things!” exclaimed St. Qaintin, aghast. • “I don’t make a habit of saying them. To you it doesn’t matter what I say, for you are ia possession of the melancholy facts, and you can’t be more shocked at me than you are already. You don’t happen to like Mr S .rahau; hut for my own part I don’t see why he shouldn’t do as. well as another. He ia clever, and a good sportsman, and a gentleman. Or would you deny that he is a gentleman ?”

St. Qaintin felt justified in replying that he would. “ For anything that I know to the contrary, Strahan’s parentage may be all right; but bis conduct hasn’t always been what' I should call that of a gentleman. Besides which, I don’t believe that he would look twice at you if you were a portionless nobody.”

“Many thanks,” said Betty, laughing. “Very likely you are right; bub then, again, it is just possible that you may be wrong ; and such is my vanity That I quite hope you are.”

This terminated the colloquy, and St. Quintin was dismissed with a mournful conviction that the girl he loved was bent upon moral suicide. ( To he continued.)

Five signs by which to detect the school to which a pa’nter belongs—l. If he paints the sky grey and the grass green, he belongs to the good old classic il school. 2. If he paints the sky blue and the grass green, he is a realist. 3, If he paints the sky green and the grass blue, he is an impressionist. 4 If he paints the sky yellow and the grass puip’e, he is a colorist. 5. If he paints the sky black and the grass red, he shows the possession of great decorative talent. There are 4,854 patents for the manufacture of furniture. Patent needles and pins are made to the number of 175 different varieties. The manufacture of sugar and salt is carried on by the aid of 2,401 inventions. The necessity of preparing tobacco for the consumer has developed 2,247 patents.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18971023.2.40.2

Bibliographic details

MARIETTA'S MARRIAGE, Issue 10452, 23 October 1897, Supplement

Word Count
4,871

MARIETTA'S MARRIAGE Issue 10452, 23 October 1897, Supplement

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