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

As if it had all been ingeniously planned, the minutest incidents and conditions of Hadria’s life conspired towards the event that was to decide its drift for ever.

Often, in the dim afternoon, she would sit by the window and watch the rain sweeping across the country, longing then for Temperley’s music, which used to make the wild scene so unspeakably beautiful. Now there was no music, no music anywhere, only this fierce and mournful rush of the wind, which seemed as if it were trying to utter some universal grief. At sunset, braving the cold, she would mount the creaking staircase, pass along the silent upper corridors, and on through the empty rooms to the garret in the tower. The solitude was a relief; the strangeness of the scene appealed to some wild instinct, and to the intense melancholy that lurks in the Celtic nature.

Even at night, she did not shrink from braving the glooms and silences of the deserted upper floor, nor the solitude of the garret, which appeared the deeper, from the many memories of happy evenings that it evoked. She wished Ernest would come home. It was so long since she had seen her favourite brother. She could not bear the thought of his drifting away from her. What talks they had had in this old garret!

These nights in the tower, among the winds, soothed the trouble of her spirit as nothing else had power to do. The mystery of life, the thrill of existence, touched her with a strange joy that ran perilously near to pain. What vast dim possibilities lurked out there, in the hollows of the hills! What inspiration thundered in the voice of the prophet wind!

Once, she had gone downstairs and out, alone, in a tearing storm, to wander across the bleak pastures, wrapt round by the wind as by a flame; at one with the desperate elemental thing.

The wanderer felt herself caught into the heart of some vast unknown power, of which the wind was but a thrall, until she became, for a moment, consciously part of that which was universal. Her personality grew dim; she stood, as it seemed, face to face with Nature, divided from the ultimate truth by only a thin veil, to temper the splendour and the terror. Then the tension of personal feeling was loosened. She saw how entirely vain and futile were the things of life that we grieve and struggle over.

It was not a side, an aspect of existence, but the whole of it that seemed to storm round her, in the darkness. No wonder, when the wind was let loose among the mountains, that the old Highland people thought that their dead were about them. All night long, after Hadria returned to her room in the keep, the wind kept up its cannonade against the walls, hooting in the chimneys with derisive voices, and flinging itself, in mad revolt, against the old-established hills and the stable earth, which changed its forms only in slow obedience to the persuadings of the elements, in the passing of centuries. It cared nothing for the passion of a single storm.

And then came reaction, doubt. After all, humanity was a puny production of the Ages. Men and women were like the struggling animalculae that her father had so often shewn the boys, in a drop of magnified ditch-water; yet not quite like those microscopic insects, for the stupendous processes of life had at last created a widening consciousness, a mind which could perceive the bewildering vastness of Nature and its own smallness, which could, in some measure, get outside its own particular ditch, and the strife and struggle of it, groping upwards for larger realities

“Over us stars and under us graves.”

To go down next morning to breakfast; to meet the usual homely events, was bewildering after such a night. Which was dream: this or that? So solid and convincing seemed, at times, the interests and objects of every day, that Hadria would veer round to a sudden conviction that these things, or what they symbolized, were indeed the solid facts of human life, and that all other impressions arose from the disorderly working of overcharged brain-cells. It was a little ailment of youth and would pass off. Had it been possible to describe to her father the impressions made upon her by the world and Nature, as they had presented themselves to her imagination from her childhood, he would have prescribed change of air and gymnastics. Perhaps that was the really rational view of the matter. But what if these hygienic measures cured her of the haunting consciousness of mystery and vastness; what if she became convinced of the essential importance of the Gordon pedigree, or of the amount of social consideration due to the family who had taken Clarenoc? Would that alter the bewildering truths of which she would have ceased to think?

No; it would only mean that the animalcule had returned to the occupations of its ditch, while the worlds and the peoples went spinning to their destiny.

“Do the duty that lies nearest thee,” counselled everybody: people of all kinds, books of all kinds. “Cheap, well-sounding advice,” thought Hadria, “sure of popularity! Continue to wriggle industriously, O animalcule, in that particular ditch wherein it has pleased heaven to place thee; seek not the flowing stream and the salt ocean; and if, some clear night, a star finds room to mirror itself in thy little stagnant world, shining through the fat weeds and slime that almost shut out the heavens, pray be careful not to pay too much heed to the high-born luminary. Look to your wriggling; that is your proper business. An animalcule that does not wriggle must be morbid or peculiar. All will tender, in different forms of varying elegance, the safe and simple admonition: ‘Wriggle and be damned to you!’”

It was at this somewhat fevered moment, that Hubert Temperley appeared, once more, upon the scene. Hadria was with her mother, taking tea at Drumgarren, when Mrs. Gordon, catching the sounds of carriage wheels, announced that she was expecting Hubert and his sister for a visit. In another second, the travellers were in the drawing-room.

Hubert’s self-possession was equal to the occasion. He introduced his sister to Mrs. Fullerton and Hadria. Miss Temperley was his junior by a year; a slight, neatly-built young woman, with a sort of tact that went on brilliantly up to a certain point, and then suddenly collapsed altogether. She had her brother’s self-complacency, and an air of encouragement which Mrs. Gordon seemed to find most gratifying.

She dressed perfectly, in quiet Parisian fashion. Hadria saw that her brother had taken her into his confidence, or she concluded so from something in Miss Temperley’s manner. The latter treated Hadria with a certain familiarity, as if she had known her for some time, and she had a way of seeming to take her apart, when addressing her, as if there were a sort of understanding between them. It was here that her instinct failed her; for she seemed unaware that this assumption of an intimacy that did not exist was liable to be resented, and that it might be unpleasant to be expected to catch special remarks sent over the heads of the others, although ostensibly for the common weal.

Hadria thought that she had never seen so strange a contrast as this young woman’s behaviour, within and without the circle of her perceptions. It was the more remarkable, since her mind was bent upon the details and niceties of conduct, and the nuances of existence.

“I shall come and see you as soon as I can,” she promised, when Mrs. Fullerton rose to leave.

Miss Temperley kept her word. She was charmed with the old house, praising authoritatively.

“This is an excellent piece of carving; far superior to the one in the dining-room. Ah, yes, that is charming; so well arranged. You ought to have a touch of blue there to make it perfect.”

Hubert shewed good taste in keeping away from Dunaghee, except to pay his call on Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton.

“Hadria,” said his sister, “I am going to call you by your pretty Christian name, and I want you to call me Henriette. I feel I have known you much longer than ten days, because Hubert has told me so much about you, and your music. You play charmingly. So much native talent. You want good training, of course; but you really might become a brilliant performer. Hubert is quite distressed that you should not enjoy more advantages. I should like so much if you could come and stay with us in town, and have some good lessons. Do think of it.”

Hadria flushed. “Oh, thank you, I could not do that I

“I understand you, dear Hadria,” said Henriette, drawing her chair closer to the fire. “You know, Hubert can never keep anything of great importance from me.” She looked arch.

Hadria muttered something that might have discouraged a less persistent spirit, but Miss Temperley paid no attention.

“Poor Hubert! I have had to be a ministering angel to him during these last months.”

“Why do you open up this subject, Miss Temperley?”

Henriette, if you please,” cried that young woman, with the air of a playful potentate who has requested a favoured courtier to drop the ceremonious “Your Majesty” in private conversation.

“It was I who made him accept Mrs. Gordon’s invitation. He very nearly refused it. He feared that it would be unpleasant for you. But I insisted on his coming. Why should he not? He would like so much to come here more often, but again he fears to displease you. He is not a Temperley for nothing. They are not of the race of fools who rush in where angels fear to tread.”

“Are they not?” asked Hadria absently.

“We both see your difficulty,” Miss Temperley went on. “Hubert would not so misunderstand you the dear fellow is full of delicacy and I should dearly love to hear him play to your accompaniment; he used to enjoy those practices so much. Would you think him intrusive if he brought his ’cello some afternoon?”

Hadria, not without an uneasy qualm, agreed to the suggestion, though by no means cordially.

Accordingly brother and sister arrived, one afternoon, for the practice. Henriette took the leadership, visibly employed tact and judgment, talked a great deal, and was surprisingly delicate, as beseemed a Temperley. Hadria found the occasion somewhat trying nevertheless, and Hubert stumbled, at first, in his playing. In a few minutes, however, both musicians became possessed by the music, and then all went well. Henriette sat in an easy chair and listened critically. Now and then she would call out “bravo,” or “admirable,” and when the performance was over, she was warm in her congratulations.

Hadria was flushed with the effort and pleasure of the performance.

“I never heard Hubert’s playing to such advantage,” said his sister. “I seem to hear it for the first time. You really ought to practise together often.” Another afternoon was appointed; Henriette left Hadria almost no choice.

After the next meeting, the constraint had a little worn off, and the temptation to continue the practising was very strong. Henriette’s presence was reassuring. And then Hubert seemed so reasonable, and had apparently put the past out of his mind altogether.

After the practice, brother and sister would linger a little in the drawing-room, chatting. Hubert appeared to advantage in his sister’s society. She had a way of striking his best vein. Her own talent ran with his, appealed to it, and created the conditions for its display. Her presence and inspiration seemed to produce, on his ability, a sort of cumulative effect. Henriette set all the familiar machinery in motion; pressed the right button, and her brother became brilliant.

A slight touch of diffidence in his manner softened the effect of his usual complacency. Hadria liked him better than she had liked him on his previous visit. His innate refinement appealed to her powerfully. Moreover, he was cultivated and well-read, and his society was agreeable. Oh, why did this everlasting matrimonial idea come in and spoil everything? Why could not men and women have interests in common, without wishing instantly to plunge into a condition of things which hampered and crippled them so miserably?

Hadria was disposed to underrate all defects, and to make the most of all virtues in Hubert, at the present moment. He had come at just the right time to make a favourable impression upon her; for the loneliness of her life had begun to leave its mark, and to render her extremely sensitive to influence.

She was an alien among the people of her circle; and she felt vaguely guilty in failing to share their ideas and ambitions. Their glances, their silences, conveyed a world of cold surprise and condemnation.

Hubert was tolerance itself compared with the majority of her associates. She felt almost as if he had done her a personal kindness when he omitted to look astonished at her remarks, or to ignore them as “awkward.”

Yet she felt uneasy about this renewal of the practices, and tried to avoid them as often as possible, though sorely against her inclination. They were so great a relief and enjoyment. Her inexperience, and her carelessness of conventional standards, put her somewhat off her guard. Hubert showed no signs of even remembering the interview of last year, that had been cut short by her father’s entrance. Why should she insist on keeping it in mind? It was foolish. Moreover she had been expressly given to understand, in a most pointed manner, that her conduct would not be misinterpreted if she allowed him to come occasionally.

From several remarks that Temperley made, she saw that he too regarded the ordinary domestic existence with distaste. It offended his fastidiousness. He was fastidious to his finger-tips. It amused Hadria to note the contrast between him and Mr. Gordon, who was a typical father of a family; limited in his interests to that circle; an amiable ruler of a tiny, somewhat absurd little world, pompous and important and inconceivably dull.

The bourgeois side of this life was evidently displeasing to Hubert. Good taste was his fetish. From his remarks about women, Hadria was led to observe how subtly critical he was with regard to feminine qualities, and wondered if his preference for herself ought to be regarded as a great compliment.

Henriette congratulated her on having been admired by the fastidious Hubert.

“Let us hope it speaks well for me,” Hadria replied with a cynical smile, “but I have so often noticed that men who are very difficult to please, choose for the domestic hearth the most dreary and unattractive woman of their acquaintance! I sometimes doubt if men ever do marry the women they most admire.”

“They do, when they can win them,” said Henriette.