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

“But, Doctor, is there no hope that with care and time, she will be able to walk again?”

“I am sorry to say, none whatever. I am only thankful that my patient has survived at all. It was little short of a miracle, and you must be thankful for that.”

Mrs. Fullerton had always been an active woman, in spite of not being very robust, and a life passed on a couch had peculiar terrors for her. The nervous system had been wrecked, not by any one shock or event, but by the accumulated strains of a lifetime. The constitution was broken up, once and for all.

A cottage had been taken, as near as possible to the Red House, where the old couple were to settle for the rest of their days, within reach of their children and grandchildren. Every wish of the invalid must be respected, just or unjust. Absolute repose of mind and body was imperatively necessary, and this could only be attained for her by a complete surrender, on the part of her children, of any course of action that she seriously disapproved. The income was too limited to allow of Algitha’s returning to her parents; otherwise Mrs. Fullerton would have wished it. Algitha had now to provide for herself, as the allowance that her father had given her could not be continued. She had previously done her work for nothing, but now Mrs. Trevelyan, under whose care she had been living, offered her a paid post in a Convalescent Home in which she was interested.

“I am exceptionally fortunate,” said Algitha, “for Mrs. Trevelyan has arranged most kindly, so that I can get away to see mother and father at the end of every week.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton had taken it for granted that Hadria would remain at the Red House, and that Hubert would “forgive” her, as they put it.

Circumstances seemed to take it equally for granted. Mrs. Fullerton would now depend entirely on her children for every solace and pleasure. She would require cheering, amusing, helping, in a thousand ways. Algitha was to come down each week from Saturday till Monday, and the brothers when they could. During the rest of the week, the invalid would depend on her younger daughter. Hadria’s leaving home, and the rumour of a quarrel between her and Hubert, had conduced to her mother’s illness, perhaps had even caused it. Mrs. Fullerton had taken it bitterly to heart. It had become obvious that Hadria would have now to remain at the Red House, for her mother’s sake, and that being so, she and Hubert agreed that it was useless to discuss any other reasons for and against it. Hubert was only too glad of her return, for appearance’ sake. Neither of them thought, for a moment, of what Henriette called a “reconciliation.” What had passed before Hadria’s departure had revealed finally, the hopelessness of such an attempt. Matters settled down heavily and with an air of finality.

If only her mother’s declining years were happy and peaceful, that would be something of importance gained, but, alas! Mrs. Fullerton seemed anything but happy. Her helplessness was hard to bear, and she felt the worldly downfall, severely. All this, and the shattered state of her nerves tended to make her exacting and irritable; and as she had felt seriously aggrieved for so many years of her life, she now regarded the devotion of her children as a debt tardily paid, and the habit grew insensibly upon her of increasing her demands, as she found everyone so ready to submit to them. The possession of power had its usual effect. She knew no mercy in its use. Her daughters were made to feel that if they had been less headstrong and selfish in the past, she would have been a vigorous and active woman to this day. Obviously, the very least they could do, was to try by all means in their power, to lighten the burden they had laid upon her. Yet Mrs. Fullerton was, by nature, unselfish. She would have gladly sacrificed herself for her children’s good, as indeed she had persistently and doggedly sacrificed herself for them, during their childhood, but naturally she had her own view of what constituted their “good.” It did not consist in wasting one’s youth and looks among the slums of the East End, or in deserting one’s home to study music and mix in a set of second-rate people, in an out-of-the-way district of Paris. As for Hadria’s conduct about little Martha, Mrs. Fullerton could scarcely bring herself to speak about it. It terrified her. She thought it indicated some taint of madness in her daughter’s mind. Two charming children of her own and but Mrs. Fullerton, with a painful flush, would turn her mind from the subject. She had to believe her daughter either mad or bad, and that was terrible to her maternal pride. She could indeed scarcely believe that it had not all been a painful dream, for Hadria was now so good and dutiful, so tender and watchful; how could she have behaved so abominably, so crazily? Every day Hadria came to the cottage, generally with a bunch of fresh flowers to place by her mother’s couch, and then all the affairs of the household were talked over and arranged, the daughter doing what was needed in the way of ordering provisions or writing notes, for the invalid could now write only with the greatest difficulty. Then Mrs. Fullerton liked to have a chat, to hear what was in the papers, what was going on in the neighbourhood, and to discuss all sorts of dreary details, over and over again. Books that Hadria would sometimes bring were generally left unread, unless they were light novels of a rigidly conventional character. Mrs. Fullerton grew so excited in her condemnation of any other kind, that it was dangerous to put them before her. In the evenings, the old couple liked to have a rubber, and often Hubert and Hadria would make up the necessary quartett; four silent human beings, who sat like solemn children at their portentous play, while the clock on the mantel-piece recorded the moments of their lives that they dedicated to the mimic battle. Hours and hours were spent in this way. But Hadria found that she could not endure it every night, much to the surprise of her parents. The monotony, the incessant recurrence, had a disastrous effect on her nerves, suggesting wild and desperate impulses.

“I should go out of my mind, if I had no breaks,” she said at last, after trying it for some months. “In the interests of future rubbers, I must leave off, now and then. He that plays and runs away, will live to play another day.”

Mrs. Fullerton thought it strange that Hadria could not do even this little thing for her parents, without grumbling, but she did not wish to make a martyr of her. They must try and find some one else to take her place occasionally.

Sometimes Joseph Fleming would accept the post, sometimes Lord Engleton, and often Ernest or Fred, whose comparatively well-ordered minds were not sent off their balance so easily as Hadria’s. In this fashion, the time went by, and the new state of affairs already seemed a hundred years old. Paris was a clear, but far-off dream. An occasional letter from Madame Vauchelet or Jouffroy, who mourned and wailed over Hadria’s surrender of her work, served to remind her that it had once been actual and living. There still existed a Paris far away beyond the hills, brilliant, vivid, exquisite, inspiring, and at this very moment the people were coming and going, the river was flowing, the little steamers plying, but how hard it was to realise!

The family was charmed with the position of affairs.

“It is such a mercy things have happened as they have!” was the verdict, delivered with much wise shaking of heads. “There can be no more mad or disgraceful behaviour on the part of Hubert’s wife, that is one comfort. She can’t murder her mother outright, though she has not been far off it!”

From the first, Hadria had understood what the future must be. These circumstances could not be overcome by any deed that she could bring herself to do. Even Valeria was baffled. Her theories would not quite work. Hadria looked things straight in the face. That which was strongest and most essential in her must starve; there was no help for it, and no one was directly to blame, not even herself. Fate, chance, Providence, the devil, or whatever it was, had determined against her particular impulses and her particular view of things. After all, it would have been rather strange if these powers had happened exactly to agree with her. She was not so ridiculous (she told herself) as to feel personally aggrieved, but so long as fate, chance, Providence, or the devil, gave her emotions and desires and talent and will, it was impossible not to suffer. She might fully recognise that the suffering was of absolutely no importance in the great scheme of things, but that did not make the suffering less. If it must be, it must be, and there was an end to it. Should someone gain by it, that was highly satisfactory, and more than could be said of most suffering, which exists, it would seem, only to increase and multiply after the manner of some dire disease. This was what Hadria dreaded in her own case: that the loss would not end with her. The children, Martha, everyone who came under her influence, must share in it.

Henriette irritated her by an approving sweetness of demeanour, carefully avoiding any look of triumph, or rather triumphing by that air which said: “I wouldn’t crow over you for the world!”

She was evidently brimming over with satisfaction. A great peril, she felt, had been averted. The family and its reputation were saved.

“You appear to think that the eyes of Europe are riveted on the Temperley family,” said Hadria; “an august race, I know, but there are one or two other branches of the human stock in existence.”

“One must consider what people say,” said Henriette.

Hadria’s time now was filled more and more with detail, since there were two households instead of one to manage. The new charge was particularly difficult, because she had not a free hand.

Without entirely abandoning her music, it had, perforce, to fall into abeyance. Progress was scarcely possible. But as Henriette pointed out it gave so much pleasure to others when Hadria avoided music that was too severely classical.

At Craddock Place, one evening, she was taken in to dinner by a callow youth, who found a fertile subject for his wit, in the follies and excesses of what he called the “new womanhood.” It was so delightful, he said, to come to the country, where women were still charming in the good old way. He knew that this new womanhood business was only a phase, don’t you know, but upon his word, he was getting tired of it. Not that he had any objection to women being well educated (Hadria was glad of that), but he could not stand it when they went out of their sphere, and put themselves forward and tried to be emancipated, and all that sort of nonsense.

Hadria was not surprised that he could not stand it.

There had been a scathing article, the youth said, in one of the evening papers. He wondered how the “New Woman” felt after reading it! It simply made mincemeat of her.

“Wretched creature!” Hadria exclaimed.

The youth wished that women would really do something, instead of making all this fuss.

Hadria agreed that it was a pity they were so inactive. Could not one or two of the more favoured sex manage to inspire them with a little initiative?

The youth considered that women were, by nature, passive and reflective, not original.

Hadria thought the novelty of that idea not the least of its charms.

The youth allowed that, in her own way, and in her own sphere, woman was charming and singularly intelligent. He had no objection to her developing as much as she pleased, in proper directions. (Hadria felt really encouraged.) But it was so absurd to pretend that women could do work that was peculiar to men. (Hadria agreed, with a chuckle.) When had they written one of Shakespeare’s dramas? (When indeed? History was ominously silent on that point.)

“Hadria, what is amusing you?” enquired her hostess, across the table.

“Oh, well only the discouraging fact that no woman, as Mr. St. George convincingly points out, has ever written one of Shakespeare’s dramas!”

“Oh,” said Lady Engleton with a broad smile, “but you know, Mr. St. George, we really haven’t had quite the same chances, have we?”

Perhaps not quite, as far as literature went, the youth admitted tolerantly, but there was failure in original work in every direction. This was no blame to women; they were not made that way, but facts had to be recognised. Women’s strength lay in a different domain in the home. It was of no use to try to fight against Nature. Look at music for instance; one required no particular liberty to pursue that art, yet where were the women-composers? If there was so much buried talent among women, why didn’t they arise and bring out operas and oratorios?

Hadria couldn’t understand it; especially as the domestic life was arranged, one might almost say, with a special view to promoting musical talent in the mistress of the household. Yet where were those oratorios? She shook her head. Mr. St. George, she thought, had clearly proved that the inherent nature of women was passive and imitative, while that of man, even in the least remarkable examples of the sex, was always powerful and original to the verge of the perilous!

“I think we had better go to the drawing-room,” said Lady Engleton, discreetly. The youth twirled his moustaches thoughtfully, as the ladies filed out.

Hadria’s happiest hours were now those that she spent with little Martha, who was growing rapidly in stature and intelligence. The child’s lovable nature blossomed sweetly under the influence of Hadria’s tenderness. When wearied, and sad at heart, an hour in the Priory garden, or a saunter along the roadside with little Martha, was like the touch of a fresh breeze after the oppression of a heated room. Hadria’s attachment to the child had grown and grown, until it had become almost a passion. How was the child to be saved from the usual fate of womanhood? Hadria often felt a thrill of terror, when the beautiful blue eyes looked out, large and fearless, into the world that was just unfolding before them, in its mysterious loveliness.

The little girl gave promise of beauty. Even now there were elements that suggested a moving, attracting nature. “At her peril,” thought Hadria, “a woman moves and attracts. If I can only save her!”

Hadria had not seen Professor Fortescue since her return from Paris. She felt that he, and he alone, could give her courage, that he and he alone could save her from utter despondency. If only he would come! For the first time in her life, she thought of writing to ask him for personal help and advice. Before she had carried out this idea, the news came that he was ill, that the doctor wished him to go abroad, but that he was forced to remain in England, for another three months, to complete some work, and to set some of his affairs in order. Hadria, in desperation, was thinking of throwing minor considerations to the winds, and going to see for herself the state of affairs (it could be managed without her mother’s knowledge, and so would not endanger her health or life), when the two boys were sent back hastily from school, where scarlet fever had broken out. They must have caught the infection before leaving, for they were both taken ill.

Valeria came down to Craddock Dene, for the day. She seemed almost distraught. Hadria could see her only at intervals. The sick children required all her attention. Valeria wished to visit them. She had brought the poor boys each a little gift.

“But you may take the fever,” Hadria remonstrated.

Valeria gave a scornful snort.

“Are you tired of life?”

“I? Yes. It is absurd. I have no place in it, no tie, nothing to bind me to my fellows or my race. What do they care for a faded, fretful woman?”

“You know how your friends care for you, Valeria. You know, for instance, what you have been in my life.”

“Ah, my dear, I don’t know! I have a wretched longing for some strong, absorbing affection, something paramount, satisfying. I envy you your devotion to that poor little child; you can shew it, you can express it, and you have the child’s love in return. But I, who want much more than that, shall never get even that. I threw away the chance when I had it, and now I shall end my days, starving.”

Hadria was silent. She felt that these words covered something more than their ostensible meaning.

“I fear Professor Fortescue is very ill,” said Valeria restlessly.

Her face was flushed, and her eyes burnt.

“I fear he is,” said Hadria sadly.

“If if he were to die ” Hadria gave a low, horrified exclamation.

“Surely there is no danger of that!”

“Of course there is: he told me that he did not expect to recover.”

Valeria was crouching before the fire, with a look of blank despair. Hadria, pale to the lips, took her hand gently and held it between her own. Valeria’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “Ah, Hadria, you will understand, you will not despise me you will only be sorry for me why should I not tell you? It is eating my heart out have you never suspected, never guessed ?”

Hadria, with a startled look, paused to consider, and then, stroking back the beautiful white hair with light touch, she said, “I think I have known without knowing that I knew. It wanted just these words of yours to light up the knowledge. Oh, Valeria, have you carried this burden for all these years?”

“Ever since I first met him, which was just before he met his wife. I knew, from the first, that it was hopeless. He introduced her to me shortly after his engagement. He was wrapped up in her. With him, it was once and for all. He is not the man to fall in love and out of it, over and over again. We were alike in that. With me, too, it was once for all. Oh, the irony of life!” Valeria went on with an outburst of energy, “I was doomed to doom others to similar loss; others have felt for me, in vain, what I, in vain, felt for him! I sent them all away, because I could not bring myself to endure the thought of marrying any other man, and so I pass my days alone a waif and stray, without anything or anyone to live for.”

“At least you have your work to live for, which is to live for many, instead of for one or two.”

“Ah, that does not satisfy the heart.”

“What does?” Hadria exclaimed.

Anxiety about Professor Fortescue now made a gloomy background to the responsibilities of Hadria’s present life. Valeria’s occasional visits were its bright spots. She looked forward to them, with pathetic eagerness. The friendship became closer than it had ever been before, since Valeria had confided her sad secret.

“Yet, Valeria, I envy you.”

“Envy me?” she repeated blankly.

“I have never known what a great passion like that means; I have never felt what you feel, and surely to live one’s life with all its pettiness and pain, yet never to know its extreme experiences, is sadder than to have those experiences and suffer through them.”

“Ah, yes, you are right,” Valeria admitted. “I would not be without it if I could.”

The thought of what she had missed was beginning to take a hold upon Hadria. Her life was passing, passing, and the supreme gifts would never be hers. She must for ever stand outside, and be satisfied with shadows and echoes.

“Are you very miserable, Hadria?” Valeria asked, one day.

“I am benumbed a little now,” Hadria replied. “That must be, if one is to go on at all. It is a provision of nature, I suppose. All that was threatening before I went to Paris, is now being fulfilled. I can scarcely realize how I could ever have had the hopefulness to make that attempt. I might have known I could not succeed, as things are. How could I? But I am glad of the memory. It pains me sometimes, when all the acute delight and charm return, at the call of some sound or scent, some vivid word; but I would not be without the memory and the dream my little illusion.”

“Supposing,” said Valeria after a long pause, “that you could live your life over again, what would you do?”

“I don’t know. It is my impression that in my life, as in the lives of most women, all roads lead to Rome. Whether one does this or that, one finds oneself in pretty much the same position at the end. It doesn’t answer to rebel against the recognized condition of things, and it doesn’t answer to submit. Only generally one must, as in my case. A choice of calamities is not always permitted.”

“It is so difficult to know which is the least,” said Valeria.

“I don’t believe there is a ‘least.’ They are both unbearable. It is a question which best fits one’s temperament, which leads soonest to resignation.”

“Oh, Hadria, you would never achieve resignation!” cried Valeria.

“Oh, some day, perhaps!”

Valeria shook her head. She had no belief in Hadria’s powers in that direction. Hopelessness was her nearest approach to that condition of cheerful acquiescence which, Hadria had herself said, profound faith or profound stupidity can perhaps equally inspire.

“At least,” said Valeria, “you know that you are useful and helpful to those around you. You make your mother happy.”

“No, my mother is not happy. My work is negative. I just manage to prevent her dying of grief. One must not be too ambitious in this stern world. One can’t make people happy merely by reducing oneself, morally, to a jelly. Sometimes, by that means, one can dodge battle and murder and sudden death.”

“It is terrible!” cried Valeria.

“But meanwhile one lays the seed of future calamities, to avoid which some other future woman will have to become jelly. The process always reminds me of the old practice of the Anglo-Saxon kings, who used to buy off the Danes when they threatened invasion, and so pampered the enemy whom their successors would afterwards have to buy off at a still more ruinous cost. I am buying off the Danes, Valeria.”