Read CHAPTER VI of Amabel Channice , free online book, by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, on

An hour ago Augustine had found his mother in tears; now he found her beyond them. He gave her his arm, and, outside in the hall, prepared to mount the stairs with her; but, shaking her head, trying, with miserable unsuccess, to smile, she pointed him back to the drawing-room and to his duties of host.

“Ah, she is very tired. She does not look well,” said Lady Elliston. “I am glad to see that you take good care of her.”

“She is usually very well,” said Augustine, standing over the tea-tray that had been put on the table between him and Lady Elliston. “Let’s see: what do you have? Sugar? milk?”

“No sugar; milk, please. It’s such a great pleasure to me to meet your mother again.”

Augustine made no reply to this, handing her her cup and the plate of bread and butter.

“She was one of the loveliest girls I have ever seen,” Lady Elliston went on, helping herself. “She looked like a Madonna and a cowslip. And she looks like that more than ever.” She had paused for a moment as an uncomfortable recollection came to her. It was Paul Quentin who had said that: at her house.

“Yes,” Augustine assented, pleased, “she does look like a cowslip; she is so pale and golden and tranquil. It’s funny you should say so,” he went on, “for I’ve often thought it; but with me it’s an association of ideas, too. Those meadows over there, beyond our lawn, are full of cowslips in Spring and ever since I can remember we have picked them there together.”

“How sweet”; Lady Elliston was still a little confused, by her blunder, and by his words. “What a happy life you and your mother must have had, cloistered here. I’ve been telling your mother that it’s like a cloister. I’ve been scolding her a little for shutting herself up in it. And now that I have this chance of talking to you I do very much want to say that I hope you will bring her out a little more.”

“Bring her out? Where?” Augustine inquired.

“Into the world the world she is so fitted to adorn. It’s ridiculous this this fad of hers,” said Lady Elliston.

“Is it a fad?” Augustine asked, but with at once a lightness and distance of manner.

“Of course. And it is bad for anyone to be immured.”

“I don’t think it has been bad for her. Perhaps this is more the world than you think.”

“I only mean bad in the sense of sad.”

“Isn’t the world sad?”

“What a strange young man you are. Do you really mean to say that you like to see your mother your beautiful, lovely mother imprisoned in this gloomy place and meeting nobody from one year’s end to the other?”

“I have said nothing at all about my likes,” said Augustine, smiling.

Lady Elliston gazed at him. He startled her almost as much as his mother had done. What a strange young man, indeed; what strange echoes of his father and mother in him. But she had to grope for the resemblances to Paul Quentin; they were there; she felt them; but they were difficult to see; while it was easy to see the resemblances to Amabel. His father was like a force, a fierceness in him, controlled and guided by an influence that was his mother. And where had he found, at nineteen, that assurance, an assurance without his father’s vanity or his mother’s selflessness? Paul Quentin had been assured because he was so absolutely sure of his own value; Amabel was assured because, in her own eyes, she was valueless; this young man seemed to be without self-reference or self-effacement; but he was quite self-assured. Had he some mental talisman by which he accurately gauged all values, his own included? He seemed at once so oddly above yet of the world. She pulled herself together to remember that he was, only, nineteen, and that she had had motives in coming, and that if these motives had been good they were now better.

“You have said nothing; but I am going to ask you to say something”; she smiled back at him. “I am going to ask you to say that you will take me on trust. I am your friend and your mother’s friend.”

“Since when, my mother’s?” Augustine asked. His amiability of aspect remained constant.

“Since twenty years.”

“Twenty years in which you have not seen your friend.”

“I know that that looks strange. But when one shuts oneself away into a cloister one shuts out friends.”

“Does one?”

“You won’t trust me?”

“I don’t know anything about you, except that you have made my mother ill and that you want something of me.”

“My dear young man I, at all events, know one thing about you very clearly, and that is that I trust you.”

“I want nothing of you,” said Augustine, but he still smiled, so that his words did not seem discourteous.

“Nothing? Really nothing? I am your mother’s friend, and you want nothing of me? I have sought her out; I came today to see and understand; I have not made her ill; she was nearly crying when we came into the room, you and I, a little while ago. What I see and understand makes me sad and angry. And I believe that you, too, see and understand; I believe that you, too, are sad and angry. And I want to help you. I want you, when you come into the world, as you must, to bring your mother. I’ll be waiting there for you both. I am a sort of fairy-godmother. I want to see justice done.”

“I suppose you mean that you are angry with my father and want to see justice done on him,” said Augustine after a pause.

Again Lady Elliston sat suddenly still, as if another, an unexpected bullet, had whizzed past her. “What makes you say that?” she asked after a moment.

“What you have said and what you have seen. He had been making her cry,” said Augustine. He was still calm, but now, under the calm, she heard, like the thunder of the sea in caverns deep beneath a placid headland, the muffled sound of a hidden, a dark indignation.

“Yes,” she said, looking into his eyes; “that made me angry; and that he should take all her money from her, as I am sure he does, and leave her to live like this.”

Augustine’s colour rose. He turned away his eyes and seemed to ponder.

“I do want something of you, after all; the answer to one question,” he said at last. “Is it because of him that she is cloistered here?”

In a flash Lady Elliston had risen to her emergency, her opportunity. She was grave, she was ready, and she was very careful.

“It was her own choice,” she said.

Augustine pondered again. He, too, was grave and careful She saw how, making use of her proffered help, he yet held her at a distance. “That does not answer my question,” he said. “I will put it in another way. Is it because of some evil in his life that she is cloistered?”

Lady Elliston sat before him in one of the high-backed chairs; the light was behind her: the delicate oval of her face maintained its steady attitude: in the twilit room Augustine could see her eyes fixed very strangely upon him. She, too, was perhaps pondering. When at last she spoke, she rose in speaking, as if her answer must put an end to their encounter, as if he must feel, as well as she, that after her answer there could be no further question.

“Not altogether, for that,” she said; “but, yes, in part it is because of what you would call an evil in his life that she is cloistered.”

Augustine walked with her to the door and down the stone passage outside, where a strip of faded carpet hardly kept one’s feet from the cold. He was nearer to her in this curious moment of their parting than he had been at all. He liked Lady Elliston in her last response; it was not the wish to see justice wreaked that had made it; it was mere truth.

When they had reached the hall door, he opened it for her and in the fading light he saw that she was very pale. The Grey’s dog-cart was going slowly round and round the gravel drive. Lady Elliston did not look at him. She stood waiting for the groom to see her.

“What you asked me was asked in confidence,” she said; “and what I have told you is told in confidence.”

“It wasn’t new to me; I had guessed it,” said Augustine. “But your confirmation of what I guessed is in confidence.”

“I have been your father’s life-long friend,” said Lady Elliston; “He is not an evil man.”

“I understand. I don’t misjudge him.”

“I don’t want to see justice done on him,” said Lady Elliston. The groom had seen her and the dog-cart, with a brisk rattle of wheels, drew up to the door. “It isn’t a question of that; I only want to see justice done for her.”

All through she had been steady; now she was sweet again. “I want to free her. I want you to free her. And whenever you do I shall be waiting to give her to the world again.”

They looked at each other now and Augustine could answer, with another smile; “You are the world, I suppose.”

“Yes; I am the world,” she accepted. “The actual fairy-godmother, with a magic wand that can turn pumpkins into coaches and put Cinderellas into their proper places.”

Augustine had handed her up to her seat beside the groom. He tucked her rug about her. If he had laid aside anything to meet her on her own ground, he, too, had regained it now.

“But does the world always know what is the proper place?” was his final remark as she drove off.

She did not know that she could have found an answer to it.