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

The morning had passed as usual, but household arrangements at the Cottage had required much adjustment, one of the maids being ill. She had been sent away for a rest, and the difficulty was to find another. Mary went from the Red House as substitute, in the mean time, and the Red House became disorganised.

“You look distracted with these little worries, Hadria. I should have said that some desperate crisis was hanging over you, instead of merely a domestic disturbance.” Valeria was established on the lawn, with a book.

“I am going to seek serenity in the churchyard,” explained Hadria.

“But I thought Professor Theobald said something about calling.”

“I leave you to entertain him, if he comes,” Hadria returned, and hastened away. She stopped at Martha’s cottage for the child. Ah! What would become of her if it were not for Martha? The two sauntered together along the Craddock road.

All night long, Hadria had been trying to decide when and how to speak to Professor Theobald. Should she send for him? Should she write to him? Should she trust to chance for an opportunity of speaking? But, no, she could not endure to see him again in the presence of others, before she had spoken! Yesterday’s experience had been too terrible. She had brought pencil and paper with her, in order to be able to write to him, if she decided on that course. There were plenty of retired nooks under the shade of the yew-trees in the churchyard, where one could write. The thick hedges made it perfectly secluded, and at this hour, it was always solitary. Little Martha was gathering wild-flowers in the hedges. She used to pluck them to lay on her mother’s grave. She had but a vague idea of that unknown mother, but Hadria had tried to make the dead woman live again, in the child’s mind, as a gentle and tender image. The little offering was made each time that they took their walk in the direction of Craddock. The grave looked fresh and sweet in the summer sunshine, with the ivy creeping up the tomb-stone and half obliterating the name. A rose-tree that Hadria and Martha had planted together, was laden with rich red blooms.

The two figures stood, hand in hand, by the grave. The child stooped to place her little tribute of flowers at the head of the green mound. Neither of them noticed a tall figure at the wicket gate. He stood outside, looking up the path, absolutely motionless. Martha let go Hadria’s hand, and ran off after a gorgeous butterfly that had fluttered over the headstone: a symbol of the soul; fragile, beautiful, helpless thing that any rough hand may crush and ruin. Hadria turned to watch the graceful, joyous movement of the child, and her delight in the beauty of the rich brown wings, with their enamelled spots of sapphire.

“Hadria!”

She gave a little gasping cry, and turned sharply. Professor Theobald looked at her with an intent, triumphant expression. She stood before him, for the moment, as if paralysed. It was by no means the first time that this look had crossed his face, but she had been blind, and had not fully understood it. He interpreted her cry and her paleness, as signs of the fullness of his power over her. This pleased him immeasurably. His self-love basked and purred. He felt that his moment of triumph had come. Contrasting this meeting with the last occasion when they had stood together beside this grave, had he not ground for self-applause? He remembered so well that unpleasant episode. It was Hadria who stood then in the more powerful position. He had actually feared to meet her eye. He remembered how bitterly she had spoken, of her passion for revenge, of the relentless feud between man and woman. They had discussed the question of vengeance; he had pointed out its futility, and Hadria had set her teeth and desired it none the less. Lady Engleton had reminded her of a woman’s helplessness if she places herself in opposition to a man, for whom all things are ordered in the society that he governs; her only chance of striking a telling blow being through his passions. If he were in love with her, then there might be some hope of making him wince. And Hadria, with a fierce swiftness had accepted the condition, with a mixture of confidence in her own power of rousing emotion, if she willed, and of scorn for the creature who could be appealed to through his passions, but not through his sense of justice. That she might herself be in that vulnerable condition, had not appeared to strike her as possible. It was a challenge that he could not but accept. She attracted him irresistibly. From the first moment of meeting, he had felt her power, and recognized, at the same time, the strange spirit of enmity that she seemed to feel towards him, and to arouse in him against her. He felt the savage in him awake, the desire of mere conquest. Long had he waited and watched, and at last he had seen her flush and tremble at his approach; and as if to make his victory more complete and insolent, it was at this grave that she was to confess herself ready to lose the world for his sake! Yes; and she should understand the position of affairs to the full, and consent nevertheless!

Her adoption of the child had added to his triumph. He could not think of it without a sense of something humourous in the relation of events. If ever Fate was ironical, this was the occasion! He felt so sure of Hadria to-day, that he was swayed by an overpowering temptation to reveal to her the almost comic situation. It appealed to his sense of the absurd, and to the savagery that lurked, like a beast of prey, at the foundation of his nature. Her evident emotion when he arrived yesterday afternoon and all through his visit, her agitation to-day, at the mere sound of his voice, assured him that his hold over her was secure. He must be a fool indeed if he could not keep it, in spite of revelations. To offer himself to her threatened vengeance of his own accord, and to see her turned away disarmed, because she loved him; that would be the climax of his victory!

There was something of their old antagonism, in the attitude in which they stood facing one another by the side of the grave, looking straight into one another’s eyes. The sound of the child’s happy laughter floated back to them across the spot where its mother lay at rest. Whether Theobald’s intense consciousness of the situation had, in some way, affected Hadria, or whether his expression had given a clue, it would be difficult to say, but suddenly, as a whiff of scent invades the senses, she became aware of a new and horrible fact which had wandered into her mind, she knew not how; and she took a step backwards, as if stunned, breathing shortly and quickly. Again he interpreted this as a sign of intense feeling.

“Hadria,” he said bending towards her, “you do love me?” He did not wait for her answer, so confident did he feel. “You love me for myself, not for my virtues or qualities, for I have but few of those, alas!” She tried to speak, but he interrupted her. “I want to make a confession to you. I can never forget what you said that day of Marion Fenwick’s wedding, at the side of this very grave; you said that you wanted to take vengeance on the man who had brought such misery to this poor woman. You threatened at least, it amounted to a threat to make him fall in love with you, if ever you should meet him, and to render him miserable through his passion. I loved you and I trembled, but I thought to myself, ’What if I could make her return my love? Where would the vengeance be then?’”

Hadria had remained, for a second, perfectly still, and then turned abruptly away.

“I knew it would be a shock to you. I did not dare to tell you before. Think what depended on it for me. Had I told you at that moment, I knew all hope for me would be at an end. But now, it seems to me my duty to tell you. If you wish for vengeance still, here I am at your mercy take it.” He stretched out his arms and stood waiting before her. But she was silent. He was not surprised. Such a revelation, at such a moment, must, of necessity, stun her.

“Hadria, pronounce my fate. Do you wish for vengeance still? You have only to take it, if you do. Only for heaven’s sake, don’t keep me in suspense. Tell me your decision.”

Still silence.

“Do you want to take revenge on me now?” he repeated.

“No;” she said abruptly, “of what use would it be? No, no, wait, wait a moment. I want no vengeance. It is useless for women to try to fight against men; they can only hate them!”

The Professor started, as if he had been struck.

They stood looking at one another.

“In heaven’s name, what is the meaning of this? Am I to be hated for a sin committed years ago, and long since repented? Have you no breadth of sympathy, no tolerance for erring humanity? Am I never to be forgiven? Oh, Hadria, Hadria, this is more than I can bear!”

She was standing very still and very calm. Her tones were clear and deliberate.

“If vengeance is futile, so is forgiveness. It undoes no wrong. It is not a question of forgiveness or of vengeance. I think, after all, if I were to attempt the impossible by trying to avenge women whom men have injured, I should begin with the wives. In this case” (she turned to the grave), “the tragedy is more obvious, but I believe the everyday tragedy of the docile wife and mother is even more profound.”

“You speak as coldly, as bitterly, as if you regarded me as your worst enemy I who love you.” He came forward a step, and she drew back hurriedly.

“All that is over. I too have a confession to make.”

“Good heavens, what is it? Are you not what I thought you? Have you some history, some stain ? Don’t for pity’s sake tell me that!”

Hadria looked at him, with a cold miserable smile. “That is really amusing!” she cried; “I should not hold myself responsible to you, for my past, in any case. My confession relates to the present. I came up here with this pencil and paper, half resolved to write to you I wanted to tell you that that I find I find my feelings towards you have changed

He gave a hoarse, inarticulate cry, and turned sharply round. His hands went up to his head. Then he veered suddenly, and went fiercely up to her.

“Then you are in earnest? You do hate me! for a sin dead and buried? Good God! could one have believed it? Because I was honest with you, where another man would have kept the matter dark, I am to be thrown over without a word, without a chance. Lord, and this is what a woman calls love!”

He broke into a laugh that sounded ghastly and cruel, in the serene calm of the churchyard. The laugh seemed to get the better of him. He had lost self-control. He put his hands on his hips and went on laughing harshly, yet sometimes with a real mirth, as if by that means only could he express the fierce emotions that had been roused in him. Mortified and furious as he was, he derived genuine and cynical amusement from the incident.

“And the devotion that we have professed think of it! and the union of souls ha, ha, ha! and the common interests and the deep sympathy it is screaming! Almost worth the price I pay, for the sake of the rattling good joke! And by this grave! Great heavens, how humourous is destiny!” He leant his arms on the tomb-stone and laughed on softly, his big form shaking, his strange sinister face appearing over the stone, irradiated with merriment. In the dusk, among the graves, the grinning face looked like that of some mocking demon, some gargoyle come to life, to cast a spell of evil over the place.

“Ah, me, life has its comic moments!” His eyes were streaming. “I fear I must seem to you flippant, but you will admit the ludicrous side of the situation. I am none the less ready to cut my throat ha, ha, ha! Admit, my dear Hadria Mrs. Temperley that it appeals also to your sense of humour. A common sense of humour, you know, was one of our bonds of union. What more appropriate than that we should part with shaking sides? Oh, Lord! oh, Lord! what am I to do? One can’t live on a good joke for ever.”

He grasped his head in his hands; then suddenly, he broke out into another paroxysm. “The feminine nature always the same, always, always; infinitely charming and infinitely volatile. Delicious, and oh how instructive!”

He slowly recovered calmness, and remained leaning on the gravestone.

“May I ask when this little change began to occur!” he asked presently.

“If you will ask in a less insolent fashion.”

He drew himself up from his leaning attitude, and repeated the question, in different words.

Hadria answered it, briefly.

“Oh, I see,” he said, the savage gleam coming back to his eyes. “The change in your feelings began when Fortescue appeared?”

Hadria flushed.

“It was when he appeared that I became definitely aware of that which I had been struggling with all my might and main to hide from myself, for a long time.”

“And that was ?”

“That there was something in you that made me well, why should I not say it? that made me shrink.”

He set his lips.

“You have not mentioned the mysterious something.”

“An element that I have been conscious of from the first day I saw you.”

“Something that I had, and Fortescue had not, it would seem.”

“Yes.”

“And so, on account of this diaphanous, indescribable, exquisite something, I am to be calmly thrown over; calmly told to go about my business!” He began to walk up and down the pathway, with feverish steps, talking rapidly, and representing Hadria’s conduct in different lights, each one making it appear more absurd and more unjust than the last.

“I have no defence to make,” she said, “I know I have behaved contemptibly; self-deception is no excuse. I can explain but not justify myself. I wanted to escape from my eternal self; I was tired of fighting and always in vain. I wanted to throw myself into the life and hopes of somebody else, somebody who had some chance of a real and effective existence. Then other elements of attraction and temptation came; your own memory will tell how many there were. You knew so well how to surround me with these. Everything conspired to tempt me. It seemed as if, in you, I had found a refuge from myself. You have no little power over the emotions, as you are aware. My feeling has been genuine, heaven knows! but, always, always, through it all, I have been aware of this element that repels me; and I have distrusted you.”

“I knew you distrusted me,” he said gloomily.

“It is useless to say I bitterly regret it all. Naturally, I regret it far more bitterly than you can do. And if my conduct towards you rankles in your heart, you can remember that I have to contend with what is far worse than any sense of being badly treated: the sense of having treated someone badly.”

He walked up and down, with bent head and furrowed brows. He looked like some restless wild animal pacing its cage. Intense mortification gave him a strange, malicious expression. He seemed to be casting about for a means of returning the stunning blow that he had received, just at the moment of expected triumph.

“Damn!” he exclaimed with sudden vehemence, and stood still, looking down into Hadria’s face, with cruel, glittering eyes.

He glanced furtively around. There was no one in sight. Even little Martha was making mud-pies by the church door. The thick yew trees shut in the churchyard from the village. There was not a sound, far or near, to break the sense of seclusion.

“And you mean to tell me we are to part? You mean to tell me that this is your final decision?”

She bowed her head. With a sudden strong movement, he flung his arms round her and clasped her in an embrace, as fierce and revengeful as the sweep of the wind which sends great trees crashing to the ground, and ships to the bottom of the sea.

“You don’t love me?” he enquired.

“Let me go, let me go coward madman!”

“You don’t love me?” he repeated.

“I hate you let me go!”

“If this is the last time

“I wish I could kill you!”

“Ah, that is the sort of woman I like!”

“You make me know what it is to feel like a murderess!”

“And to look like one, by heaven!”

She wrenched herself away, with a furious effort.

“Coward!” she cried. “I did right to mistrust you!”

Little Martha ran up and offered her a wild heartsease which she had found on one of the graves. Hadria, trembling and white, stooped instinctively to take the flower, and as she did so, the whole significance of the afternoon’s revelation broke over her, with fresh intensity. His child!

He stood watching her, with malice in his eyes.

“Come, come, Martha, let us go, let us go,” she cried, feverishly.

He moved backwards along the path, as they advanced.

“I have to thank you for bestowing a mother’s care on my poor child. You can suppose what a joy the thought has been to me all along.”

Hadria flushed.

“You need not thank me,” she answered. “As you know, I did it first for her mother’s sake, and out of hatred to you, unknown as you then were to me. Now I will do it for her own sake, and out of hatred to you, bitterer than ever.”

She stooped to take the child’s hand.

“You are most kind, but I could not think of troubling you any longer. I think of taking the little one myself. She will be a comfort to me, and will cheer my lonely home. And besides you see, duty, Mrs. Temperley, duty

Hadria caught her breath, and stopped short.

“You are going to take her away from me? You are going to revenge yourself like that?”

“You have made me feel my responsibilities towards my child, as I fear I did not feel them before. I am powerless, of course, to make up for the evil I have done her, but I can make some reparation. I can take her to live with me; I can give her care and attention, I can give her a good education. I have made up my mind.”

Hadria stood before him, white as the gravestone.

“You said that vengeance was futile. So it is. Leave the child to me. She shall she shall want for nothing. Only leave her to me.”

“Duty must be our first consideration,” he answered suavely.

“I can give her all she needs. Leave her to me.”

But the Professor shook his head.

“How do I know you have told me the truth?” Hadria exclaimed, with a flash of fury.

“Do you mean to dispute it?” he asked.

She was silent.

“I think you would find that a mistaken policy,” he said, watching her face.

“I don’t believe you can take her away!” cried Hadria. “I am acting for her mother, and her mother, not having made herself into your legal property, has some legal right to her own child. I don’t believe you can make me give her up.”

The Professor looked at her calmly.

“I think you will find that the law has infinite respect for a father’s holiest feelings. Would you have it interfere with his awakening aspirations to do his duty towards his child? What a dreadful thought! And then, I think you have some special views on the education of the little one which I cannot entirely approve. After all, a woman has probably to be a wife and mother, on the good old terms that have served the world for a fair number of centuries, when one comes to consider it: it is a pity to allow her to grow up without those dogmas and sentiments that may help to make the position tolerable, if not always satisfactory, to her. Though, as a philosopher, one may see the absurdity of popular prejudices, yet as a practical man, one feels the inexpediency of disturbing the ideas upon which the system depends, and thus adding to the number of malcontents. All very well for those who think things out for themselves; but the education of a girl should be on the old lines, believe me. You will not believe me, I know, so I think it better, for this as well as for other reasons, to take my daughter under my own care. I am extremely sorry that you should have had all this trouble and responsibility for nothing. And I am grieved that your educational idea should be so frustrated, but what am I to do? My duty is obvious!”

“I regret that you did not become a devotee to duty, either a little sooner or a little later,” Hadria returned. “For the present, I suppose Martha will remain with Hannah, until your conscience decides what course you will take, and until I see whether you can carry out your threat.”

“Certainly, certainly! I don’t wish to give you any unnecessary pain.”

“You are consideration itself.” Hadria stooped to take the child’s hand. The little fingers nestled confidingly in her palm.

“Will you say good-bye, Martha?” asked the Professor, stooping to kiss her. Martha drew away, and struck her father a sturdy blow on the face. She had apparently a vague idea that he had been unkind to her protectress, and that he was an enemy.

“Oh, cruel, cruel! What if I don’t bring her any more toys?” Martha threatened tears.

“Will you allow us to pass?” said Hadria. The Professor stood aside, and the two went, hand in hand, down the narrow path, and through the wicket gate out of the churchyard. Hadria carried still the drooping yellow heartsease that the little girl had given her.