Journey the First, 1760
THE cabriolet spun down the well-kept road between Versailles and Paris; two big Danish dogs ran in front to clear the way. the coachman flourished a long whip that sometimes flicked the ankles or shoulders of pedestrians who were not deft enough in leaping aside.
The cabriolet was so modish and elegant that everyone turned to gaze after it. It would certainly create a new fashion; it was closed, and the upper portion was pale lemon, the lower portion and the great wheels black. A gilt-and-scarlet coat-of-arms glittered on either door; the horse that so prancingly drew this delicate carriage was of a gleaming white colour in the May sunshine.
The one occupant carried such a large bouquet of pale lilac that the clusters of tiny blossoms blocked the windows, and she could not be seen.
With gay jauntiness the cabriolet swept into Versailles town and stopped before a flat-frond pink house with white pilasters and white swags of fruit. The little black page leapt from the box and let down the step.
Mademoiselle Hyacinthe de St. Hilaire descended, holding high the mass of lilac. It was tied with turquoise ribbons that fluttered behind her. Her dress of white lace was like a handful of foam, and her rosy hat was as a shell tilted on her loose curls. Friends came out of the house and admired the cabriolet. How exquisitely made it was! How finely upholstered with lemon-coloured velvet! How beautifully swung on the leathern straps! How commodious, fashionable, and elegant was the whole design!
Mademoiselle St. Hilaire went upstairs to her cool, beautiful room, where the glitter of all her gold and silver ware was dimmed by the shadow of the jasmine and roses that overhung her balcony, so that the blue damask-hung room was like a grotto beneath a pool, deliciously shaded by greenish and limpid darkness.
It was late afternoon. Beyond the balcony the garden was still under the radiance of a westering sun, banked with flowers, with a thicket at the end and tall Italian trees, with a fountain casting up delicate pearls of water.
Mademoiselle de St. Hilaire changed her frock. While she robed, she told Victorine, her maid, of her visit to her aunt in Paris, and her sitting to the Court painter, and how he was painting her as "Hebe" feeding an eagle from a golden platter.
“And, Victorine, I was thinking, the while he and Madame, my aunt, chattered, if only I could get on the back of the eagle and be carried far, far away!
“To England, Mademoiselle?” asked Victorine slyly.
The evening came, purple and joyous. There were lutes and violins in the house and in the garden nightingales. The stars are as brilliant as a great lady's jewels, save where the rising moon blots them from the sky.
Guests move about the house, that glitters in a thousand points, crystals, gildings, sequins from the soft reflections of a thousand candles, but Mademoiselle de St. Hilaire is in the garden with one who is no guest, but who has scaled the wall like a thief, and crouched hidden behind the syringa bushes and the tall plots of lilies. She had crept out in her cunning night-blue velvet, that hides her from all spies, and her black lace thrown over head and shoulders
Clasped close, wincing away from the encroaching ivory moonlight, they whisper their eternal love, their eternal woe—she the daughter of a peer of France, a proud, a cold, a hard man, he a young English esquire come to Paris in the train of an English Ambassador.
“Do you love me?” she said. “Do you love me?” And he could hardly distinguish her voice from that of the nightingale.
“Do I love you?” he answered. “Oh, my darling! Yet who am I to tell you that I love you, when your father’s lackeys cast me from his door?”
And they hid their young anguish among the lilies as the mounting moon discovered them. She clasped her frail hands round his strong, proud young neck, she clung to him with tender desperation.
“Take me away, oh, my love! Take me away, oh. my dear!” She pressed her face on the lace at his breast, she felt his pounding heart, and the nightingales sang mournfully to the distant lament of the lutes.
“Will you come with me to England?” he asked, and his voice quivered with hope. There was an English village where he was something. His mother, his brothers, his tenantry would stand by him. From English soil he could defy even the King of France himself.
In sighing whispers they made their mad plans, then dragged themselves apart, he to disappear in the darkness, she to return to the slow melody of the pavane which she trod gallantly with the man who was her destined husband and the object of her perfect hate.
A few days later the lemon-coloured cabriolet again set off on the Paris road; there was a string of diamonds in the coachman's pocket, and the black boy had been left behind. Mademoiselle de St. Hilaire had the rest of her mother's jewels sewn in her bodice, and a frivolous travelling-case and a pathetic-looking bundle on the scat beside her; and as the cabriolet neared Paris she trembled and prayed, and shivered and glowed.
The cabriolet flashed through poorer quarters than great ladies usually graced, and stopped before an inn called “Mon Plaisir,” where a likely young fellow in a travelling coat walked up and down, biting his handsome lip in agitation.
There were only a few loungers about, and these took no particular notice of a gallant springing into a modish cabriolet and drawing the blinds closely after him; and the black wheels spun round again and the elegant carriage rattled away over the cobbles.
As he drew the blinds she cast herself into his arms. “Is it true? Are we really going away together? Oh, my Edmund, answer me!”
Esquire Dockura took the little creature to his heart and strove to be manly and composed (they were neither of them twenty years old). He told her of the arrangements he had made—of the inn on the Calais road where his friend and his horses were to meet them, of all his hopes and schemes, and the dear, dear home ho had, and how they would all love her in England.
But she was not much concerned with this. It was joyous to have him beside her, to be thus closed away from the rest of the world, to loan against him. to trust him, to know they were driving away, away.
Swiftly went the cabriolet, when he wished to peep beneath the prudent blinds, but in accents of terror she implored him to be cautious. A man's hand at the window, a man’s face glancing out, and they were lost indeed!
The cabriolet stopped. “Are we there already?” cried the girl, and “What has happened?” exclaimed the youth.
The elegant door was pulled open by her father’s lackeys. The coachman, who had betrayed them, had driven them back to the flat pink-fronted house in Versailles with the white pilasters and white wreaths of flowers.
Upstairs waited the two Dukes, her father and her betrothed.
Journey the Second, 1793.
The Duchesse de Sangeaunis stood at her window, listening to a distant sound that was neither wind nor thunder, but had the threat and volume of each.
The room behind her was dark and empty, cold and cheerless: the heavy furniture cast deep pools of shadow, the heavy pictures looked blank in their frames.
As the room became darker, darker, as the fine bright sickle of the new moon rose above the dark house-tops opposite into the steely blueness of the December sky, the distant shouts faded into a far-off muttering, and Madame de Sangeaunis left the window and lit a candle. As she placed this on a low cabinet of tulip-wood, the faint beams fell on one of the portrait, and called forth from the shadows the sparkling likeness of a young girl in a white lace dress, carrying a bouquet of lilac tied with turquoise-coloured ribbons.
The pretty, smiling face gazed out from the canvas above the bowed head of the tall sad woman in the plain gown, whose white hands wore pressed above a brow where the grey threads mingled with the chestnut curls.
Through the silence the bell of the outer gates clanged. The Duchess instantly sprang up and put out the candle, and stood waiting, alerts in the folds of the long violet curtains.
A step sounded in the courtyard below. Ah, the gate had been open, then!
Madame de Sangeaunis moved from her hiding-place; her movement of concealment had been more instinctive than reasoned.
The footsteps halted; a man's tread, steady and sure; a firm blow was struck on the door.
The Duchess, with a proud shrug, opened te window and stepped on to the balcony.
“Eh, well, who is there?” she asked.
“Madame—good Heavens, it is the Duchess!” A masculine voice, eager and pleasant, speaking with a foreign accent, came strongly through the dusk. Are you alone. May I come up?”
“It is Richard Dockura,” she said quietly. “Now, what made you think of coming here?”
“I saw the candle. I heard you had all left Paris. I wondered——”
She went down and let him in. They came up the dark stairs to the dark room, and she again lit the candle, now drawing the heavy curtains across the windows. Once more the fair face of the portrait gazed out across the shadows.
“It must be three years,” she said, “since you were at the Hôtel Sangeaunis.”
“But I have never forgotten,” he replied.
She looked at his fine young strength, and her lids drooped over the weary eyes. “Are you safe?” she asked. “It is dangerous to be in Paris now.”
“As an Englishman I am safe. I have my passport. But you?”
“Ah, Mr. Dockura, I live here very quietly. When I can, I will get to Normandy, perhaps to England.”
“The Duke?” he asked.
She was the child and the partner of a loveless marriage; she looked away.
“He has joined the Austrians. He thinks me safe. My brothers, my father, my cousins—all killed.”
“And you live here—alone?” There was horror in his tone.
“No, I live in the very quiet rooms with Annette, my old bonne, but I came back to-night to fetch some—papers—I don’t know——” she finished listlessly.
“The people are sacking empty houses to-night,” said Mr, Dockura.
“I know. That is not news.”
“You must let me take you away.”
She did not answer.
The man's eyes went to the portrait.
“How alive that looks to-night!”
“My poor mother? Yes. She looks so happy. And I, somehow never remember her as happy.”
“It is a lovely face.”
“I was very young when she died,” said the Duchess, gazing at the painted face, “but she told me—what do you think? That the year that portrait was painted, when she was still Hyacinthe de St. Claire, she was in love with an Englishman.”
He laughed uneasily.
“Then there is some bond between us, Madame. My father fell in the war when I was a little lad, but he always loved France. I have inherited that.”
“Some bond,” repeated the Duchess.
She rose. They were standing very close together; the fluttering candle-light picked them out of the vast dark room.
“How strange,” she murmured, “that you of all men should come here to-night!”
“How strange that you, of all women, should be here to-night!”
They stared at each other.
“Let us go,” he said, and she: “I feel as if all this had happened before.”
She took some jewels out of the desk and put them in the bodice of her dress, she fastened her cloak and quenched the candle. The portrait of Hyacinthe de St. Hilaire was absorbed in darkness.
As they traversed the wintry streets, he told her that this was her best chance of leaving Paris. He had friends at one of the barricades, and he would smuggle her through as—ah, they must think of some disguise!—and there were friends again, and English, waiting for him to join them at the first halt on the Calais road.
“My daughter,” said the Duchess, “is already in England; she arrived safely with her aunt. You remember her?”
“That little child! Like your mother, too, Madame.”
“Yes. I have named her, you know, Hyacinthe.”
At Mr. Dockura’s inn his servant was impatiently waiting; they had missed the stage, and a coach had been difficult to find. However, Jaspar, knowing his master was resolved to leave Paris as soon as possible, had contrived to hire a cabriolet from a posting stables.
And there it stood waiting for them, elegant, jaunty, lemon-yellow and black, only a little out of fashion, only slightly cracked and dusty, worn and battered.
Mr. Dockura explained the Duchess to Jaspar, who climbed on the box, and the cabriolet rattled towards the gates of Paris. On the shabby velvet cushions the woman leant back, clasping her heart.
“All this I seem to remember,” she murmured, “the motion—you and I together in a lemon-coloured cabriolet. Mon Dieu, what am I saying?”
“I don't know," he answered, with a kind of soft violence. “I recall something—thwarted, ended suddenly——”
He took her cold hands; in the intermittent glare of the street-lamps they gazed into each other's faces.
“Oh, my love, my love, in the happy days I did not dare!”
“Oh, my love, my love, I have thought of nothing but you since you left me!”
“I was but one of your acquaintances, an obscure figure in your sparkling salon.
“No, all the world, all the world!”
“Tell me your name, my darling!”
“Do you not know my name?” she smiled. “It is Edmée.”
“Edmée! That makes me think of my father Edmund, and Edmund is my name, too, Richard Edmund.”
Away sped the cabriolet, the worn leathers swinging, the chipped wheels swinging round and round, while the lovers sat with clasped hands, amazed, radiant, incredulous.
At the barrier, the first hitch. Camille Dunois, on whom Mr. Dockura relied, was not there—in fact, he was already in La Force.
“And you, Citizen Dockura, who is this woman of whom there is no mention in your passport?”
Lantern and flambeaux cast angry flares on them, the crowd hem closely round the gay sides of the little cabriolet. One of the citizens, sharp-eyed, sees traces of a coat-of-arms under the first coat of lemon paint; he is for smashing the cabriolet as an aristocrat, the citizen-owner, driving, fiercely protests. There is a scuffle, oaths, shouting.
Then in the pale face of the woman so coldly facing her enemies someone recognises a suspect.
“Edmée de Sangeaunis, wife of an emigré.”
As they try to drag her out, Mr. Dockura fires, and someone else fires, and Edmée falls at his feet. As they drag him off raving, as they pull away Jaspar, battling like a bull, the citizen-owner is angrily mopping up the blood that is staining the faded yellow seat.
Journey the Third, 1860.
“Mamma, I vow and declare that he is paying attention to the governess! You may not believe it——”
“It is indeed incredible,” said Mrs. Hilton, looking round at her three blooming daughters, as they stood ready, in bonnets and cashmere shawls, for the croquet party at the Hall.
“Everyone says so,” added Miss Amelia.
“He his eyes for no one else!” cried Miss Adelaide.
“I think she has bewitched him,” said Miss Amy, with a half sob.
Mrs. Hilton did not trust herself to speak; she, too, had seen awful, not-to-be-ignored signs that the young Squire, the best match for miles around, was really fascinated by the plain middle-aged governess at the Rectory. And a year ago, before this lady made her appearance, Mrs. Hilton could have sworn that the coveted prize would really fall to the lot of one of her girls.
“It is indelicate to be discussing such things,” she remarked at last serenely.
“Yes, mamma,” said all three girls together.
She marshalled them before her into the big family carriage; they lowered veils over their bonnets and put up tiny parasols against the heat of the August sun.
Thomas Dockura was so charming to his mother’s guests that even Mrs. Hilton began to think that it must be a mistake about the governess and that, after all, dear Amy. . .
It was Amy who found the heat excessive for games and who had to be entertained in the house. With infantile simplicity she turned the conversation to France.
“Would you not greatly like to go to Paris, Mrs. Dockura? I understand it is a city both instructive and amusing.”
“A trip to Paris would hardly be a diversion suitable for one of my years, my love,” smiled Mrs. Dockura, “and my husband had such an aversion to the city that I never went there in my youth. You see, his father had been in La Force during the Revolution of 1789, and never recovered from the experience, I believe.”
“Oh!” said Miss Amy. “And were not Mademoiselle Vesey's grandparents killed in that same Revolution?”
“And who, my love," demanded the elder lady, with her sweetness. “is Mademoiselle Vesey?”
“The governess at the Rectory,” replied the girl, blushing.
“Ah, my memory is bad for the names of that kind of person.”
“She is quite superior. She was formerly with Lady Meugham.”
“I hope,” said Mrs. Dockura darkly, “Lady Meugham was satisfied. But really, my pet, we are getting upon low topics.”
When the croquet party was over, Thomas Dockura wandered across the summer fields towards the Rectory. At the end of the Rector's orchard he paused.
She was there to meet him—a figure very erect and fragile in her ugly heavy gown, with her close-banded hair and massive brooch, and hands—he thought—the colour and texture of hawthorn blossoms.
“I have only an hour,” she said in a low voice.
“This slavery!” exclaimed the young man angrily.
They turned together, two sombre, bowed figures, across the flowering fields, where the meadowsweet was waist-high and the poppies were beginning to redden the corn.
“This must be the last time we come for these walks,” said Mademoiselle Vesey at length. Her English was pure, but her accent markedly foreign. “I should have stopped them before if I had not been weak, Mr. Dockura.”
“Is it all being made so difficult for you?” he asked miserably.
“Very difficult. These good people take me for a sort of servant, and they think a great presumption for me to be friends with you.” Her dark eyes looked at his confused countenance; she was pale in the depths of her shabby bonnet. “And you,” she added, with a smiling pride, “know very little about me, except that I must earn my living. And I suppose you will have heard queer stories—about me.”
“Never! Never would anyone dare——”
Mademoiselle Vesey continued smoothly, as if he had not interrupted.
“My father was the Comte de Vesey, who made his living as a dancing master, my mother was the daughter of the Duc de Sangeaunis—both he and his wife were killed in the Revolution of 1780—on each side, you see, emigrés of a family now extinct, save to me, and in me, penniless and very obscure.”
“You are better born than any of us,” he said quickly. “I guessed as much—your look, your carriage——”
“The women hate me,” she said simply. “I cannot stay here—better in London, where there are other poor foreigners I may meet.”
The man was silent. He thought of her as mistress of the Hall. How gracious and lovely she would be! How he wanted her! How he yearned for her! But he was afraid. He thought of his family, of his neighbours, and he was afraid. To conceal his heart he made uneasy conversation.
“My grandfather was in Paris during the Revolution, was even thrown into La Force. He was a very sombre, taciturn man, and never spoke of his experiences.”
“One would not,” said Mademoiselle Vesey simply.
They had made a circle through the fields, and now came out on to the sunny high-road near the white-fronted inn. A little cabriolet stood at the door, a poor dilapidated old cabriolet, patched and mended and clumsily repainted.
“This is a queer little carriage,” said the lady. “Do you know it gives me a curious feeling when I see it?”
“I believe it is French,” replied Mr. Dockura. “My grandfather is supposed to have brought it from Paris; but he never used it, and it became so old-fashioned that my father gave it to the inn, and they find it convenient to hire to the rustics for their merry-makings.”
“Poor little cabriolet!” said Mademoiselle Vesey wistfully. “Think of who may have sat in that, Mr. Dockura!”
She paused and placed her hand on the yellow side. “I should like to ride in it—just once,” she pleaded. She looked over her shoulder as she said this, and for a second Mr. Dockura had an impression of a woman radiantly lovely, adored, exquisitely dressed, looking at him with love in her eyes.
“We will ride in it together,” he said quickly. He spoke to the ostler, and told him to drive them to Darley, where there was a fair. “I will buy you a fairing,” he added, as he handed her into the cabriolet.
It was lined with coarse brown cloth, the cushions were burst and hard, the windows rattled, and the new springs were clumsy, but gallantly and gaily it rattled down the long, peaceful, dusty English road.
“My ancestors rode in carriages such as this,” said the lady. “I have the names of two of them—Edmée, my grandmother, and Hyacinthe, her mother.”
Thomas Dockura looked at her wildly; he was oppressed by a sense of loss and desolation, of yearning and frustration. “I remember so much,” he murmured, “that never happened to me.”
“I do also,” she said quietly. “I've been here before—with you—do you remember?—lilacs—and then—— Mon Dieu, what happened?”
“Each time we lost each other,” he answered under his breath. “I lost something twice.”
They sat side by side, close together, their dropped hands fell into each other's palms, and they did not know it. Thomas Dockura lost sense of time and place; he could not have told where the cabriolet was bearing them so swiftly, who was the woman by his side. The summer sunshine that fell athwart the windows filled him with a sense of poignant sadness that was almost unbearable, but the presence of the woman whose hand he touched stirred him to great depths of joy yet blurred by unfathomable yearnings.
They reached Darley and stopped at the entrance to the fair, where the gay pennons of the booths fluttered against the golden blue sky of late summer afternoon, and knots and clusters of gay and happy people wandered among the ropes and pegs of the tents that disfigured the worn grass, and joked with the battered clowns, and fed the piebald ponies with sugar and carrots.
Mr. Dockura and Mademoiselle Vesey descended from the cabriolet and walked slowly, as if drugged by enchantment, through the sweet summer air rent by the cries of charlatans and jugglers. The woman was the first to recover herself.
“That ride,” she said, “made me forget many things. I think it took me back to very long ago. I thought all the time of Paris and beautiful troubles. But now I must remember what I came to tell you, Mr. Dockura.”
They wandered apart from the noise, at the back of the tents, where the children of the strolling players rolled about with the performing animals.
The man looked keenly and wistfully at his companion. How graceful she was, charming, how desirable, even with her faded youth, her ugly clothes!
“I am leaving the Rectory,” she added, “and returning to London.”
His handsome face grew troubled.
“There is a gentleman,” continued Mademoiselle Vesey, “who is willing to marry me—a M. Franchion, one of our little colony. He has a great gift for glass-making and earns a comfortable income with his tiny factory.”
“But you do not love him?” asked Mr. Dockura.
“I respect him very much,” she answered, “He is old—a friend of my poor father.”
It was his chance. Why should he let her go? Surely long tiresome years had brought them together—surely they belonged one to the other with deep ties and strong bonds.
He turned to take her hands and ask her to be his wife, when he saw through the tents the laughing, sneering face of Jack, Amy’s brother, who was lounging about with a couple of companions.
Thomas Dockura at once saw his behaviour as it would appear in the eyes of his own class. This woman was a foreigner, neither young nor pretty, an adventuress, for all he knew. They would, of course, laugh. And he had taken that ridiculous cabriolet from the inn. Of course they had seen him. He flushed deeply, and his words choked in his throat.
“Let us go home,” said Mademoiselle Vesey swiftly. “Let us go home.”
Stiff and embarrassed, he conducted her to the entrance to the field. “I must really go and see some friends of mine——” he began.
She looked at him tenderly, as if she understood and pitied his cowardice, his denial, his betrayal.
“I will go alone,” she interrupted. “It is better vis-à-vis your friends.”
“The cabriolet,” he said awkwardly, “that will take you——”
“Oh, no!” She shrank away. “Somehow—oh, I don't know—it seemed perfumed with blood!”
The Halt, 1923.
“I hope the man's some good, Riggles,” said Nancy; “the last two architects were both duds.”
“I'm sure I can't see why you don’t leave the place as it is,” retorted Riggles, furiously knitting a primrose silk jumper. “I find it quite comfortable.”
Nancy lit another cigarette. “But your pose, Riggles dear, is to be decorously old-fashioned. I happen to want a covered tennis court, a swimming bath, a ballroom, and a few little things like that.”
“Why didn’t you think of that when you bought the place?”
“You know how it appealed to me,” replied the girl reproachfully. “I felt as if I was meant to be the mistress here but of course, it is too small.”
“You've too much money,” said Riggles severely.
“Well, you’re not a pauper,” responded Nancy
“When does your architect arrive?” asked Riggles, shaking out her jumper.
“Now, I hope—the feast waits.” She glanced at the opulent tea-table. “I hope they’ll send the senior partner, not some wretched articled clerk.”
The man-servant showed in a tall young man, announcing: “Mr. Dockura.”
Nancy, a slim creature in a white slip of a tennis frock, put down her cigarette and held out a cool hand.
“How d’you do? This is my aunt, Miss March. I'm Nancy Franchion—Franchion's glass works. I've got a lot of money, so you’re safe to do what you like with the old place. I bought it three years ago. Rather fancy it, but there's lots to do to it. You're the junior partner? Have some tea?”
She finished with a dazzling smile, slid into a cushioned seat behind the frail tea-table, and began to pour out the sparkling tea.
The young man smiled also. “Yes, I’m the junior partner,” he said. “I generally get this sort of job.”
“You’re pretty good?” queried Nancy.
“Extraordinarily good,” he said.
They all laughed.
“You see,” remarked Miss March, “how spoilt, rude, ill-bred and tiresome Nancy is. I'm sorry for you, Mr. Dockura.”
“I see,” he replied, “but I’m interested in the house.”
“Are you really? I am, too, though it is ugly, isn't it?”
Nancy handed him opulent cakes.
“It belonged to my family,” said the young man.
“To your family?” she exclaimed. “But I bought it from a Mrs. Grant.”
“Oh, it has changed hands frequently during the last forty years. My grandfather sold it. His wife was a Miss Amy Hilton, of Hilton's Bank that crashed, and the old boy had all his money in it. Of course I shall find it awful fun pottering about the old place.”
“But I don't want any pottering,” said Nancy. “I’m extremely efficient.”
“Portrait of a modern young woman,” remarked Riggles.
“So am I,” said Mr. Dockura, eating macaroons. “I say, it’s jolly being here. I suppose you've got lots of the old lumber, too?”
“Lots,” replied Nancy, swinging her jade chain. “Ancestors and such-like atrocities. We're a decent family, aren't we, Riggles? But, being glass-works, father thought he'd like a place that would give us ton.”
“My ancestors?” asked Mr. Dockura.
“Lots,” replied the lady again. “I've got no pictures of mine, so I fill the gallery with yours. We're self-made.”
“But we can trot out a duchess and duke or two,” said Riggles. “French Revolution, horrid fate, guillotine, powder, minuet, you know the recipe—like the kind of play you go to see, but wish you hadn’t.”
“I’m awfully keen on the French Revolution,” announced Mr. Dockura. “And you’re really French, then, Miss Franchion?”
“My grandmother was—she used to be a governess in this village. Can you conceive it? At the Rectory. Somewhere about 1860. Poor as a rat. Her mother was Mademoiselle de Sangeaunis, the daughter of the Duchess of that name, who was, or ought to have been, I’ve no doubt, guillotined. We simply went to bits. Father's side, too, but grandfather, when he was shockingly old, began to make a success of the glass-works——”
She stopped suddenly and, dropping her flippant manner, added: “I wonder why I am telling you this?”
“I'm wondering, too,” said Riggles. “Such a snobbish display I’ve never heard you guilty of before.”
But the two young people were looking at each other.
“It’s awfully funny,” he said, “but you’re just like an old print I’ve got at home. I bought it in the Charing Cross Road for twopence—a kind of a French eighteenth-century thing.”
“Who is it?” asked Nancy almost sharply.
“I don’t know,” he admitted ruefully. “There is no name on it. It’s just a girl with a bunch of lilac tied with long ribbons, and a little hat——”
“And like me,” finished Nancy. “Perhaps an ancestress—who knows?”
He had been there a week before his sketches were anywhere near in order, or the first rough plans anywhere near indicated, but what he had done pleased the wilful young woman, so early orphaned, so grotesquely wealthy, very much. She had been meaning to fill the house with visitors before Easter, but she put them off and devoted herself to considering the additions the architect proposed to the Hall.
She showed him, rather forlorn in the attics, his ancestors, ugly old paintings of no value. One was named Edmund.
“We had a tradition in our family about that name,” she added. “Some far-away grandmother was in love with an Edmund—I believe an Englishman—and she made some kind of a vow to have the name perpetuated in the family. Why, even I am called Edmée, but no one could stand it, so I'm Nancy.”
One day she stood beside him as he was examining the old stables. “Do you simply hate this?” she asked bluntly. “Doing this work for a stranger on a place that used to be yours?”
He looked at her with a frank smile on his pleasant face. “Of course I feel friendly to the old place,” he said, “but it went before I was born, and I'm happier as I am than tied up with this—nowadays.”
They walked together across the spring fields as Thomas Dockura had walked with Mademoiselle Vesey, with Amy Hilton, years before, and as one day they skirted some disused barns by some hopfields, he pointed out a queer-looking object by a pond.
It was a battered old wreck of a cabriolet without shafts, with the wheels fallen flat either side, with the hood in tatters, with the paint flaked away and the woodwork cracked.
“That poor old cab,” said Nancy, “it used to be kept in the inn stables. I suppose it wasn’t worth houseroom, so they’ve just turned it out.”
“It looks jolly old!” he exclaimed. “Look at the shape of the thing—like a sedan chair, now it’s without wheels. I wonder how it ever got to a place like this?”
They crossed the summer grass and walked round the miserable derelict.
“It’s full of bogies, I expect,” said Nancy.
“It makes me think of my girl with the lilacs,” he remarked, “think of her in this——”
He pulled open the rotting door and gazed into the tattered, mildewed interior. There was a smell of decay, of damp, of death, but the decay, the damp, the death of flowers, of beauty, of love.
The girl peeped over his broad shoulders. She shivered slightly, the manners of her little moment vanished from her; she was just a woman, like Hyacinthe St. Hilaire, like Edmée de Sangeaunis, like Claire Edmée Hyacinthe de Vesey.
“Look at the old velvet rags on the seat,” she said in a low voice, “the under-lining. Ah, stained, too!”
She stepped aside and looked at him through the broken window.
“Like that,” he said, “like that, with the flowers under your face.”
She sank back on the ragged seat, frightened. “I've been here before,” she whispered. “Do you remember——”
But she could not remember herself; her mind became confused, and she gazed blankly.
“Isn’t your name Edmund?” she asked, with a puzzled frown.
“Of course, and yours Edmée?”
The wheel came full circle as the yellow cabriolet at last sheltered their complete, their free, their happy kiss.