Read CHAPTER V of The Daughters of Danaus , free online book, by Mona Caird, on ReadCentral.com.

As Hadria drove over the winding upland road back to her home, her thoughts followed her sister into her new existence, and then turned wistfully backwards to the days that had been marked off into the past by Algitha’s departure. How bright and eager and hopeful they had all been, how full of enthusiasm and generous ambitions! Even as they talked of battle, they stretched forth their hands for the crown of victory.

At the last meeting of the Preposterous Society, Ernest had repeated a poem of his favourite Emerson, called Days, and the poem, which was familiar to Hadria, sounded in her memory, as the pony trotted merrily along the well-known homeward way.

“Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb, like barefoot Dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and faggots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.”

In spite of Hadria’s memorable lecture of a year ago, it was still the orthodox creed of the Society, that Circumstance is the handmaid of the Will; that one can demand of one’s days “bread, kingdoms, stars, or sky,” and that the Days will obediently produce the objects desired. If one has but the spirit that can soar high enough to really be resolved upon stars, or the ambition sufficiently vaulting to be determined on kingdoms, then so ran the dogma stars and kingdoms would be forthcoming, though obstacles were never so determined. No member except Hadria had ever dreamt of insinuating that one might have a very pronounced taste for stars and kingdoms nay, a taste so dominant that life would be worthless unless they were achieved yet might be forced, by the might of events, to forego them. Hadria’s own heresy had been of the head rather than of the heart. But to-day, feeling began to share the scepticism of the intellect.

What if one’s stars and kingdoms lay on the further side of a crime or a cruelty?

What then was left but to gather up one’s herbs and apples, and bear, as best one might, the scorn of the unjust Days?

Hadria cast about in her mind for a method of utilizing to the best advantage possible, the means at her disposal: to force circumstance to yield a harvest to her will. To be the family consolation meant no light task, for Mrs. Fullerton was exacting by nature: she had given much, and she expected much in return. Her logic was somewhat faulty, but that could not be gracefully pointed out to her by her daughter. Having allowed her own abilities to decay, Mrs. Fullerton had developed an extraordinary power of interfering with the employment of the abilities of others. Hadria had rather underrated than exaggerated this difficulty. Her mother would keep her for hours, discussing a trivial point of domestic business, giving elaborate directions about it, only to do it herself in the end. She spent her whole life in trifles of this kind, or over social matters. Everything was done cumbrously, with an incredible amount of toil and consideration, and without any noticeable results. Hadria, fighting against a multitude of harassing little difficulties, struggled to turn the long winter months to some use. But Mrs. Fullerton broke the good serviceable time into jagged fragments.

“I really can’t see,” said the mother, when the daughter proposed to set apart certain hours for household duties, and to have other portions of the day to herself, “I really can’t see why a girl’s little occupations should be treated with so much consideration. However, I have no wish for grudging assistance.”

Hadria’s temper was far indeed from perfect, and painful scenes often occurred. But as a rule, she would afterwards be seized with a fit of remorse, knowing that her mother was suffering bitterly from her keen disappointment about Algitha. The failure of a life-long hope must try the endurance of the bravest. Mrs. Fullerton, seeing that Hadria was more patient, quickly took advantage of the favourable moment, with a rapid instinct that had often done her good service in the management of a niggard destiny. The valuable mood must not be allowed to die fruitless. The elder girl’s defection thus became, to the mother, a sort of investment, bearing interest of docility in the younger. Because the heartless Algitha had left home, it seemed to Mrs. Fullerton that the very least that Hadria could do, was to carry out her mother’s lightest wish.

And so the weeks went by, in dreary, troublous fashion, cut into a hundred little barren segments. The mind had no space, or stretch, or solitude. It was incessantly harassed, and its impetus was perpetually checked. But Hadria hoped on. This could not last for ever. Some day, doubtless, if she sank not in spirit, the stars and the kingdoms would come.

Meanwhile, the position of affairs was decidedly ridiculous. She was here as the family consolation, and nobody seemed to be consoled! Her efforts had been sincere and even enthusiastic, but the boys only laughed at her, in this rôle, and nobody was apparently in the least gratified (except those imps of boys!).

For a long time, Mrs. Fullerton seemed to be oblivious of her daughter’s efforts, but one day, when they had been talking about Algitha, the mother said: “Your father and I now look to you, Hadria. I do think that you are beginning to feel a little what your duty is. If you also were to turn deserter in our old age, I think it would kill us.”

Hadria felt a thrill of horror. The network of Fate seemed to be fast closing round her. The temporary was to become fixed. She must act all her days according to the conviction of others, or her parents would die of grief!

When she went to the hills that afternoon, she felt as if she must walk on and on into the dreamy distance, away from all these toils and claims, away into the unknown world and never return. But, alas! the night descended and return she must. These wild impulses could never be followed.

The day had been peculiarly harassing and cut up; some neighbours had been to afternoon tea and tennis, and the sight of their faces and the sound of their talk had caused, in Hadria, an unutterable depression. The light, conventional phrases rang in her ears still, the expression of the faces haunted her, and into her heart crept a chill that benumbed every wish and hope and faith that she had ever cherished.

She sat up late into the night. Since freedom and solitude could not be had by day, the nights were often her sole opportunity. At such times she would work out her musical ideas, which in the dead silence of the house were brought forth plentifully. These, from her point of view, were the fruitful hours of the twenty-four. Thoughts would throng the darkness like swarms of living things.

Hadria’s mood found expression to-night in a singular and most melancholy composition. She called it Futility.

It was unlike anything that she had ever done before, and she felt that it shewed an access of musical power.

She dreamt an absurd dream: That she was herself one of those girls with the high pattering accents, playing tennis without ceasing and with apparent cheerfulness; talking just as they had talked, and about just the same things; and all the time, a vast circle of shadowy forms stood watching, beckoning, and exhorting and warning, and turning away, at last, in sorrowful contempt, because she preferred to spend her youth eternally in futilities. And then they all slowly drifted by with sad eyes fixed on her, and she was still left playing, playing. And it seemed as if whole weeks passed in that way, and she grew mortally tired, but some power prevented her from resting. The evil spell held her enthralled. Always cheerful, always polite and agreeable, she continued her task, finding herself growing accustomed to it at last, and duly resigned to the necessity, wearisome though it was. Then all hope that the game would ever cease went away, and she played on, mechanically, but always with that same polite cheerfulness, as of afternoon calls. She would not for the world admit that she was tired. But she was so tired that existence became a torture to her, and her heart seemed about to break with the intolerable strain when she woke up with a start, and found herself lying in a constrained attitude, half-choked by the bed-clothes.

She did not see the comic side of the dream till next morning, when she told it at breakfast for the benefit of the family.

As Hadria was an ardent tennis-player, it struck her brethren as a particularly inappropriate form of nightmare.

Hadria, at this time, went frequently with her father on his farming walks, as he liked to have one or more of the family with him. She enjoyed these walks, for Mr. Fullerton would talk about philosophy and science, often of the most abstruse and entrancing kind. His children were devoted to him. During these expeditions, they always vied with one another to ferret out the most absurd story to tell him, he being held as conqueror who made their father laugh most heartily. Sometimes they all went in a body, armed with wild stories; and occasionally, across the open fields, a row of eccentric-looking figures might be seen, struggling in the grip of hilarious paroxysms; Mr. Fullerton doubled up in the middle of a turnip-field, perhaps, with his family in contortions round him. The air of the hills seemed to run to their heads, like wine. Roulades of laughter, hearty guffaws, might have been heard for surprising distances, much to the astonishment of the sober labourers bending over their toil.

Ernest had to go back to college; Fred and Austin to school. The house seemed very quiet and sad after the boys left, and Hadria missed her sister more and more, as time went on.

Algitha wrote most happily.

“With all its drawbacks, this existence of hard work (yet not too hard) suits me exactly. It uses up my energies; yet, in spite of the really busy life I lead, I literally have more leisure than I used to have at home, where all through the day, there was some little detail to be attended to, some call to make, some convention to offer incense to, some prejudice to respect. Here, once my day’s work is over, it is over, and I have good solid hours of leisure. I feel that I have earned those hours when they come; also that I have earned a right to my keep, as Wilfrid Burton, the socialist, puts it somewhat crudely. When I go to bed at night, I can say: ’Because of me, this day, heavy hearts have been made a little lighter.’ I hear all sorts of opinions, and see all sorts of people. I never was so happy in my life.”

It was Hadria’s habit still to take solitary rambles over the country. A passionate lover of Nature, she found endless pleasure in its ever-changing aspects. Yet of late, a new feeling had begun to mutter angrily within her: a resentment against these familiar sights and sounds, because they were the boundaries of her horizon. She hated the line of the round breezy hills where the row of fir-trees stood against the sky, because that was the edge of her world, and she wanted to see what was beyond. She must and would see what was beyond, some day. Her hope was always vague; for if she dared to wonder how the curtain of life was to be lifted, she had to face the fact that there was no reasonable prospect of such a lifting. Still, the utter horror of living on always, in this fashion, seemed to prove it impossible.

On one dim afternoon, when the sun was descending, Hadria’s solitary figure was noticed by a white-haired lady, presumably a tourist, who had stopped to ask a question of some farm labourers, working in a field. She ceased to listen to the information, on the subject of Dunaghee, that was given to her in a broad Scottish dialect. The whole scene, which an instant before had impressed her as one of beauty and peace, suddenly focussed itself round the dark figure, and grew sinister in its aspect. At that moment, nothing would have persuaded the onlooker that the hastening figure was not hastening towards misfortune.

A woman of impulse, she set off in purposeless pursuit. Hadria’s pace was very rapid; she was trying to outrun thought. It was impossible to live without hope, yet hope, in this forlorn land, was growing faint and tired.

Her pursuer was a remarkable-looking woman, no longer young, with her prematurely white hair drawn up from her brow with a proud sweep that suited well her sharply defined features and her air of defiance. She was carelessly dressed after the prevailing fashion, and gave the impression of not having her life successfully in hand, but rather of being driven by it, as by a blustering wind, against her inclination.

The impression which had seized her, a moment ago, deepened as she went. Something in the scene and the hastening figure roused a sense of dread. With her, an impression was like a spark to gunpowder. Her imagination blazed up. Life, in its most tragic aspect, seemed before her in the lonely scene, with the lonely figure, moving, as if in pursuit of a lost hope, towards the setting sun.

If Hadria had not paused on the brow of the hill, it is unlikely that she would have been overtaken, but that pause decided the matter. The stranger seemed suddenly to hesitate, wondering, apparently, what she had done this eccentric thing for.

Hadria, feeling a presence behind her, turned nervously round and gave a slight start.

It was so rare to meet anybody on these lonely hills, that the apparition of a striking-looking woman with white hair, dark eyes, and a strange exalted sort of expression, gave a shock of surprise.

As the lady had stopped short, Hadria supposed that she had lost her way, and wished to make some enquiries.

“Can I direct you, or give you any assistance?” she asked, after a second’s pause.

“Oh, thank you, you are very kind. I have come over from Ballochcoil to explore the country. I have been trying to find out the history of the old houses of the district. Could you tell me, by the way, anything about that house with the square tower at the end; I have been loitering round it half the afternoon. And I would have given anything to know its history, and what it is like inside.”

“Well, I can help you there, for that old house is my home. If you have time to come with me now, I will show you all over it,” said Hadria, impulsively.

“That is too tempting an offer. And yet I really don’t like to intrude in this way. I am a perfect stranger to you and your parents I suppose?”

“They will be delighted,” Hadria assured her new acquaintance, somewhat imprudently.

“Well, I can’t resist the temptation,” said the latter, and they walked on together.

Hadria related what she knew about the history of the house. Very scanty records had survived. It had obviously been one of the old Scottish strongholds, built in the lawless days when the country was plunged in feuds and chieftains lived on plunder. A few traditions lingered about it: among them that of a chief who had carried off, by force, the daughter of his bitterest enemy, in revenge for some deed of treachery. He had tortured her with insolent courtship, and then starved her to death in a garret in the tower, while her father and his followers assaulted its thick walls in vain.

“The tradition is, that on stormy nights one can still hear the sound of the attack, the shouts of the men and the father’s imprecations.”

“A horrible story!”

“When people say the world has not progressed, I always think of that story, and remember that such crimes were common in those days,” Hadria remarked.

“I doubt if we are really less ferocious to-day,” the other said; “our ferocity is directed against the weakest, now as then, but there are happily not so many weak, so we get the credit of being juster, without expense. As a matter of fact, our opportunities are less, and so we make a virtue of necessity with a vengeance!”

Hadria looked at her companion with startled interest. “Will you tell me to whom I have the pleasure of speaking?” the lady asked.

“My name is Fullerton Hadria Fullerton.”

“Thank you. And here is my card, at least I think it is. Oh, no, that is a friend’s card! How very tiresome! I am reduced to pronouncing my own name Miss Du Prel, Valeria Du Prel; you may know it.”

Hadria came to a sudden standstill. She might know it! she might indeed. Valeria Du Prel had long been to her a name to swear by.

“Miss Du Prel! Is that are you may I ask, are you the writer of those wonderful books?”

Miss Du Prel gave a gratified smile. “I am glad they please you.”

“Ah! if you could guess how I have longed to know you. I simply can’t believe it.”

“And so my work has really given you pleasure?”

“Pleasure! It has given me hope, it has given me courage, it has given me faith in all that is worth living for. It was an epoch in my life when I first read your Parthenia.”

Miss Du Prel seemed so genuinely pleased by this enthusiasm that Hadria was surprised.

“I have plenty of compliments, but very seldom a word that makes me feel that I have spoken to the heart. I feel as if I had called in the darkness and had no response, or like one who has cried from the house-tops to a city of the dead.”

“And I so often thought of writing to you, but did not like to intrude,” cried Hadria.

“Ah! if you only had written to me!” Miss Du Prel exclaimed.

Hadria gazed incredulously at the familiar scene, as they approached the back of the house, with its round tower and its confusion of picturesque, lichen-covered roofs. An irregular circle of stately trees stood as sentinels round the stronghold.

After all, something did happen, once in a while, in this remote corner of the universe, whose name, Hadria used to think, had been erased from the book of Destiny. She was perhaps vaguely disappointed to find that the author of Parthenia wore ordinary human serge, and a cape cut after the fashion of any other person’s cape. Still, she had no idea what supersensuous material she could reasonably have demanded of her heroine (unless it were the mythic “bombazine” that Ernest used to talk about, in his ignorant efforts to describe female apparel), or what transcendental form of cape would have satisfied her imagination.

“You have a lovely home,” said Valeria Du Prel, “you must be very happy here.”

“Would you be happy here?”

“Well, of course that would depend. I am, I fear, too roving by nature to care to stay long in one place. Still I envy girls their home-life in the country; it is so healthy and free.”

Hadria, without answering, led her companion round the flank of the tower, and up to the front door. It was situated in the angle of the wings, a sheltered nook, hospitably careful of the guest, whom the winds of the uplands were disposed to treat but roughly.

Hadria and her companion entered a little panelled hall, whence a flight of broad stairs with stout wooden balusters, of quaint design, led to the first floor.

The visitor was charmed with the quiet old rooms, especially with Hadria’s bedroom in the tower, whose windows were so deep-set that they had to be approached through a little tunnel cut out of the thickness of the wall. The windows looked on to the orchard at the back, and in front over the hills. Miss Du Prel was taken to see the scene of the tragedy, and the meeting-room of the Preposterous Society.

“You must see the drawing-room,” said Hadria.

She opened a door as she spoke, and ushered her visitor into a large, finely-proportioned room with three tall windows of stately form, divided into oblong panes, against which vagrant sprays of ivy were gently tapping.

This room was also panelled with painted wood; its character was quiet and stately and reposeful. Yet one felt that many human lives had been lived in it. It was full of the sentiment of the past, from the old prints and portraits on the walls, to the delicate outlines of the wooden mantel-piece, with its finely wrought urns and garlands.

Before this mantel-piece, with the firelight flickering in her face, sat Mrs. Fullerton, working at a large piece of embroidery.

For the first time, Hadria hesitated. “Mother,” she said, “this is Miss Du Prel. We met out on the hills this afternoon, and I have brought her home to see the house, which she admires very much.”

Mrs. Fullerton had looked up in astonishment, at this incursion into her very sanctuary, of a stranger met at haphazard on the hills. Hadria wheeled up an easy-chair for the visitor.

“I fear Miss Du Prel will not find much to see in the old house,” said Mrs. Fullerton, whose manner had grown rigid, partly because she was shy, partly because she was annoyed with Hadria for her impulsive conduct, and largely because she disliked the idea of a literary acquaintance for her daughter, who was quite extraordinary enough as it was.

“We have been all over the house,” said Hadria hastily, with an anxious glance at Miss Du Prel, whom she half expected to rise and walk out of the room. It must surely be the first time in her life that her presence had not been received as an honour!

“It is all very old and shabby,” said Mrs. Fullerton. “I hope you will take some tea; if you have walked far to-day, you must be cold and in need of something to eat.”

“Oh no, no, thank you,” returned the visitor; “I ought to be getting back to Ballochcoil to-night.”

“To Ballochcoil!” exclaimed mother and daughter in simultaneous dismay. “But it is nearly seven miles off, and the sun is down. You can’t get back to-night on foot.”

“Dear me, can I not? I suppose I forgot all about getting back, in the interest of the scenery.”

“What an extraordinary person!” thought Mrs. Fullerton.

Miss Du Prel glanced helplessly at Hadria; rising then and looking out of the window at the dusk, which had come on so rapidly. “Dear me, how dark it has grown! Still I think I can walk it, or perhaps I can get a fly at some inn on the way.”

“Can we offer you a carriage?” asked Mrs. Fullerton.

“Oh no, thank you; that is quite unnecessary. I have already intruded far too long; I shall wend my way back, or what might perhaps be better, I could get a lodging at the farmhouse down the road. I am told that they put travellers up sometimes.”

Miss Du Prel hurried off, evidently chilled by Mrs. Fullerton’s freezing courtesy. Hadria, disregarding her mother’s glance of admonition, accompanied the visitor to the farm of Craw Gill, having first given directions to old Maggie to put together a few things that Miss Du Prel would require for the night. Hadria’s popularity at the farm, secured her new friend a welcome. Mrs. McEwen was a fine example of the best type of Scottish character; warm of heart, honest of purpose, and full of a certain unconscious poetry, and a dignity that lingers still in districts where the railway whistle is not too often heard. Miss Du Prel seemed to nestle up to the good woman, as a child to its mother after some scaring adventure. Mrs. McEwen was recommending a hot water-bottle and gruel in case of a chill, when Hadria wended her way homeward to brave her mother’s wrath.