Chapter 160165098

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIII
Chapter TitleMEA CULPA.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160165098
Full Date1882-12-23
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count1516
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleCadenabbia
article text

CHAPTER, m.

MBA CULPA.

Uenevieve Jjaa an opportunity or noticing the same expression on ner friend'e face onoe or twice the next day—a lurking smile round the corners of the taoutlvanamused look in the eyes, which'," when "they" met "(Jen's, was at once replaced bya glance of solemn enquiry that plainly indicated) she meant 'to Btand on the defensive' if she . were charged with any concealed sources of,:comedy. "Clarice is thinking out a storwin which what she calls the perversity of Providence prevents an artistic ending," thought Gen, amused.in her turn. -

Mr. Algernon Westlake was away at one of his Northern stations for a week,. so that

the two friends had abundant opportunities of recalling the old days in which their girlish fancies had swept the very stars, and the future lay before them vague and beautiful as the tremulous dawn when it comeB stealing over the tops of quiet mountains whose vast. calm is broken only by perpetual streamlets, by haunting echoes, ana the cries of God's wandering dumb creatures. Clarice main tained that she had "crossed life's fervid line," that she was too much in the green room to be greatly moved by the pantomime any longer—that now she was "like Simon, whose beBt aids to history and an everlasting life were so fatally disturbed."

""Do you mean the renegade Simon of the New Testament?"

" No; don't you remember his namesake in the memoirs of Schnabelowopski ? The poor little man could not hear one to touch any thing in his room—be was unhappy even if one took up the snuffers. His furniture and other effects served him as mnemonic helps to fix historic dates or jihilosophic matter in his memory. Once, in his absence, the house maid turned out a chest of stockings, <tc., and when he came back he was inconsolable, as he affirmed that he now knew nothing of Assyrian history, and his proofs of the immortality of the soul, which he had so syste matically arranged, had bees given to the washerwoman." 1

" Were you building a text on that parable when yon looked so mischievous a little while •go?"

Clarice would have received a clear solution of this question had she overheard a conver sation which took place a day afterwards when Westlake returned home, accompanied by a friend and sanatter neighbour from the

North—a Mr. George Hardinge.' Genevi&ve had gone on a twodays' visit to Mrs. Morton, an old ancestral friend who lived a few miles from Cadenabbia.

" Why Clary, you are really looking a little

like your old self again," said her husband the evening of his return.

"Ah, yes," returned the wife, "that,my poor old hoy. is the irony of fate. No matter how dreadfully malignant nature has been in the first instance, we always persist in keep ing a strong likeness to her original impres

sion."

" The irony of fate you call it, Mrs. West lake? I never before knew that expression meant a charming fidelity to what we best like," said Mr. Hardinge.

Clarice turned and looked at the young man with an air of serio-comic compassion.

" I wonder which is the best way of break ing the news ?" she murmured softly.

"Good heavens, what news, Clarice?" cried her husband, an accent of real alarm in his

voice.

"Oh, it entirely concerns this unhappy young man, Algv. Yon remember vividly, no doubt, the confession he made in this very room lees than a month ago 7"

He has made so many confessions, my dear. Which one do you mean ?"

" Really, this is getting very tropical," said Hardinge, laughing merrily, as he noticed the lugubrious expression with which Mr. Westlake regarded him.

" Well, the particular confession I mean is that oreof your escapade in Sydney

" What! nave you come to know anything of the lady?" cried Hardinge, starting up with a quick flush rising in his sun-browned

face.

There can be no question that Mrs. West lake enjoyed the suspense—the mingled delight and apprehension which strove for mastery in the young man's face.

" Be calm, my friend, if it is not a decayed superstition to imagine that a young man of the present day can be agitated."

" Come, Clary, he merciful 1 don't you see hew anxious poor old George is? As for myself, I am really devoured with curiosity to'hear your news."

"Then, know," said Mrs. Westake, ad dressing her husband, "that the young lady who was imposed upon by an arch deceiver in the guise of a cabman was none other than Geneviive Gray."

" By Jove! you don't mean that, cried Westlake, his face growing suddenly grave.

"Is Miss Gray here now?" asked Har dinge, in a voice that betrayed unmistakable

emotion.

"No,George, she is not. When old Mrs. MortonyesterdaycameclaimingGen'spromise to visit them soon after she came to me, in stead of discovering that we had unavoidable engagements which would prevent her leaving here for some weeks to come, I at once said— ' My dear Gen, I cannot stand in the way when you have a solemn duty to perform.' Yon see I had that morning got Algy's note, and I wanted time to eollect my thoughts, to ascertain in what capacity you would prefer again to renew her acquaintanceship. Wei could send Thomas away for a holiday, ycm

know, Algv."

" Oh! Mrs. Westlake have pity on me,"

goaned Hardinge, " do tell me about Misa

ray—how is she ? What—how name you to

know f"

" My dear boy—prav ask only twelve ques tions at a breath. Tim v, orst form of ennui I know—the form that encompasses us Britons so often like a grey imponderable mist, is brought on by minute details of unimportant matters. All I can tell you is that Miss Gray —my dearest, most intimate friend, and the lady upon whom you imposed in the guise of a cabman, are one and the same; that she was with me yesterday, and will be here again 'tbe day after tomorro.v. If you suppose that 1 can discourse of her as. if I were ?haunted by a Cupid—a ridiculous little figure with a bow and a bunch of arrows, such as one sees on au antique seal or reads of in an old-fashioDed poem—and dilate with rapture on the droop of her eyelash, the curve of her throat, &c.; all I can say is— -excuse me, it is impossible."

There was a moment's silence, broken only by tbe waving of Mrs. Westlake's Oriental fan and the distant tick of the great clock in the hall. Westlake looked at his wife with -an expression of intense amusement, and said nothing. Hardinge looked disturbed, morti fied, perplexed. At last he said, with a touching look of liumiiity—

"Look here, Mrs. Westlakejust say what you think I ought to 'do, and Til do it at •once. I fully appreciate your kindness in ?allowing Miss Gray to get out of the way to save me and her any embarrassment that might arise out of my past idiotic conduct. No" doubt I acted like a fool. Well, I am •quite prepared to take the punishment. I , shall leave here to-morrow after breakfast." j

" Indeed, sir, you shall do nothing of the kind," answered Mrs. Westlake, letting her fan close with a crash and sitting upright •energetically. Westlake laughed softly under his moustache, and pretended to be absorbed in contemplating the Corot which has already

been referred to.

" Then what am I to do ?" asked Hardinge, -standing before his hostess still with the "utmost humility of voice and mein.

" Do ? Why, have you not yet learnt that ?all the mischief of life almost comes from doing ? Do nothing at all; simply stay here -as long as you at first promised, and leave the

rest to fate."

" Thank you; thank you a thousand times Mrs. Westlake. But add one more favour to the many you have bestowed on me—let me leave the rest, not to fate, but to you."

" What! make myself into a spurious kind of imitation of Providence? Impos sible. George."

" But. dear Mrs. Westlake, pray consider." " Kow, not another word. You are basely calculating ou my giving in and doing what is of least trouble. If I took a high moral tack and said I disapproved of regulating my life any longer by consulting my ease, you would be quite justified in Baying in your slang phrase I had 'gone in' for American humour. Enough that I am bored by always doing what is easiest. I shall, therefore, resist your entreaties, whatever they may be. I shall absolutely decline lifting a finger in this matter. I have forewarned you and I forbid you to curtail your visit—that is all."

There was a ring at the hall door.

" Why, Algy, this is your whist night," said Mrs. Westlake, and gathering up her fan and Daudet's latest picture of Parisian ignobleness, the imperious little woman dis appeared.