The Wedding Eve
THE WEDDING EVE.
ILLUSTRATED BY HAL HURST.
"I SHALL be only gone two months, dear,and then——"
She lowered her eyes so that he could not see her face. But he kissed the back of her neck which was tinted just then with rose.
"And two months is sixty days—Ethel, how many hours?"
"Dear, the hours will be long. You will write often?"
"And you won't be able to get my letters travelling so fast and going to so many places. I wish there was no such thing as business."
"You can write every day, and I will read them all when I come back. You can give me one every morning of our honeymoon. But I shan't read them. I shall only kiss you. Dear, it grows late, it must be good-bye."
She rose from her chair and laid her head on his shoulder.
"Teddie, dear, you won't see any beautiful Spanish or Italian woman you will like better?"
"Dear child, I haven't seen any woman at all since I loved you. Good-bye. Good-bye."
And Teddie Lane broke away, and went out half blind. In an hour he was in the night mail for Paris. He buried himself in his corner, and wrapped himself in his rug, and thought of Ethel until the dawn. It was only two months, and he loved her greatly; and she loved him. And she had blood in her veins. He knew that. God bless her warm heart, and might he deserve her.
He transacted some business at Paris and then went to Marseilles.
Ethel wrote to him, and missed him every time. Only once he got a letter at Naples dated a fortnight after his departure. Then he went into Greece, and depending on telegrams for his instructions he had such a time that he never even looked for a letter, knowing she could not tell where he was. His route lay from Greece to Malta and Tripoli, Tangiers, and home through Spain. He knew as he entered France again that he had done good work and justified the opinion that those who were his employers, and would be his partners, had always held of him.
From Madrid, being then two days under two months from home, he took a through ticket to London and crawled in a continental express to Paris, That seemed so near London, that his heart beat and passion flushed up in him eagerly He was strong, and brave, and happy. It was blowing worse than a gale at Calais, and the boat was delayed. He swore and fumed, and fretted, and wished he could swim the most accursed silver streak. He would have voted for a Channel Tunnel against his most patriotic convictions. But at last, at last, he reached London. It was ten in the morning when he arrived at Victoria, and the skies outside made him wonder how people could live there. Only Ethel could reconcile him to the reeky abominations of a commonly good day after the sunshine of the Peninsula and the Continent. But after all, what did it matter? for this day was his wedding eve; he should sing instead of being depressed.
So his cab rattled towards Kensington. Go to the office at once? No, not for his perpetual choice of climates. He had heard nothing from England for a whole month. Even his firm had not known his address during the last three weeks.
He would go to Addison Gardens first, or die upon the way.
It was curious, he said, how slow London cabs were. Yet his horse passed many others. He had a great hatred of whipping the poor animals, but he never lifted the trap to remonstrate with this driver. He had a notion that driving was a waste or time. He could have walked as fast.
As he got away from Victoria and into the Hammersmith Road the day cleared a little and the sun shone, dropping splashes of gold upon the wet and muddy way. The people seemed more cheerful: his own spirits rose again. Everything was beautiful, the whole world was glad, and he went round into Addison Road.
Suddenly, without any reason save that bis heart was beating so that he could hear it above the rattle of the cab, he changed his directions and ordered the man to drive to his own rooms near Addison Road Station. He would walk the rest of the way. He was too agitated to meet Ethel. The half-mile walk would do him good.
So at half-past ten he got into her street. At the end of it he saw a line of carriages heading the other way. At first he thought it was a wedding but then he noticed that in front of the procession was a more melancholy vehicle.
Some poor chap was dead, said the lover. Or some woman. And here he was, full of health, and strength, and hope. He was very sorry for anyone who was dead and unable to love or be loved, past the joy of life, even past the struggle by which comes victory, and so he walked slower and slower yet.
The funeral procession began to move off before he came within fifty yards. When he saw it move, another thought came to him. Whose house was it? It must, yes it must, be one of three. And one of the three belonged to Ethel's father. To-morrow it would cease to be Ethel's. He quickened his pace for a moment, and then suddenly stopped. He turned very pale. It would cease to be Ethel's home to-morrow. He repeated that twice. For he knew now which house it was. The last carriage was just ahead of that one house. The door was open and inside were the servants dressed in black. He stopped again and caught hold of the railings.
But surely, he said, he was a fool. There was Ethel's father, and her mother, and her brothers, and her younger sisters to die. So he plucked up heart, and ran into the house door. One of the girls there knew him, and screamed.
"Good God! Mr. Lane!" she said and the others fell back.
"Who's dead?" asked Ted, with dry lips and an ashy face. And they did not answer. He prayed it might be all the world but one.
"Who's dead, damn you?" said he, and caught the servant by the wrist.
And he knew before she answered.
"Oh sir, sir, it's poor Miss Ethel." And he ran out into the road after the funeral procession.
He came up ahead of the hearse and dropped in the muddy road insensible. They took him back into the house, which had ceased to be his love's home five bitter days before this home-coming.
And all that he had of her was a pile of letters. The last was only two words. "Good-bye, my dear, my dear." It was scrawled an hour before she died.