MAN and WIFE
A Romantic Story of Quebec
C. W. STEPHENS
BUT he seemed very content with things as they were. She wished he were not so very conscientious about his word, that he were a little more masterful with her. A wise man only holds a very small part of a woman’s restrictions to be binding. Many of them are framed for the sheer pleasure of making them go down in a soul-cheering crash. She felt indeed that she might easily be in imminent danger of falling in love with her husband.
The return of the lake party put an end to her reflections, but when they had departed in the evening, and her parents had gone to bed, she resumed the discussion with herself in the privacy of her room. She was slipping—that she knew—slipping toward her man. She pictured him in the dusty, dingy room over his offices, for he stayed there much more than in his quarters at the hotel. The telephone stood invitingly near. She moved toward it, considered a few minutes, then called his office on the private wire he had installed for her. To her satisfaction he was still there.
“Hugh!” she called. “Yes—I wondei’ed if you were still up. It has been feai’fully dull all the evening. You know' I count so much on the little talks we have that I missed you tremendously to-day. I was all the more disappointed because just after you had gone everybody went out cn the lake, and I w’as here alone. I went into the morning room, the room in which I received you, you remember, when you came first to see me.
“I thought it all over again, and—I wondered if it hadn’t been all a great big mistake, and whether you did not think so. I know it is horribly selfish of me, but I get distressed by the thought that perhaps you don’t care as much as you seemed to that afternoon. Of course it ought not to matter whether you care or not, since that was not in the bargain, but, you know, a woman rarely wants to be fettered in a trade, she
wants to be on the gaining side all the time.....
Then you are not disappointed and you do care.....
Yes, you may say it all over again. There was nothing in the bargain, was there, forbidding you to say nice things to me, or make the least little bit of love? . . . . Of course I could not say this if you were not my real husband, and it is easier to say these things over the telephone. I am counting the hours till you come tomorrows Good-night, Hugh, dear. Did you catch what I threw after you this afternoon? Well, here is another one. Have you got it?”
She laughed and hung up the receiver.
Hugh Lyttleton, after a long struggle witn his old-established rival in the mining business in Quebec, Robert Campbell, gets so long a lead that Cahnpbell goes into bankruptcy. Lyttleton has fallen in love with Mary Campbell, his rival’s daughter, whom he has never met. On the day previous to the sheriff’s sale that will take awaV the Campbell home, Lyttleton calls upon Mary and proposes. He offers to pay her father’s debts, to re-establish his business and to settle a sum upon her sufficient to make her independent. She will not need to live with him and all he asks is the right to see her sometimes afid thus have the opportunity of winning her love. Mary consents finally and they are married. Her old dislike of Lyttleton turns to a warm friendship, even to a very high regard.
T T E came in the early afternoon of the following day.
They sped delightfully through the country villages to Levis, crossed the ferry, and dined delightfully on the heights of Old Quebec. In the waning sunlight and the soft, white shining of the moon they returned through the scented lanes, over steep hills, across broad valleys teeming with autumnal richness, past lakes of molten silver, feathered b> sweet, cool night winds.
“It has been the happiest afternoon and evening of my life,” she said, as she stood a moment in the open doorway of her home.
He came up to her, bringing her wraps, and laying them on the chair.
“In mine also. You must give me many more such afternoons,” he said. “Good-night, Mary!”
“Hugh!” she called him.
He came and stood on the step beneath her.
“Just another silly impulse,” she said with a nervous little laugh. She put her hands on his head and drew his lips to hers, then turned and hastened indoors.
He stood unsteadily, as one to whose brain the soul of wine has gone, then returned to his car and went
CHRISTMAS came and went. It was about the turn of the year that Mary noticed a change in her father. There was a return of his old moody spirit. He was an emotional man, either on the heights of exultation or deep in the sloughs of depression. She had attributed much of his irritability to the loss of occupation. There was little to do about the place to interest him. Daily he went into town, often calling to see Hugh, lunching at the hotel or with his friends the Williams’, returning home in time for dinner. She had supposed that his visits to her husband were but time-killers.
Latterly, however, he was curt in his references to Hugh, and it was evident that there had been some trouble. Whether because of this or not, Lyttleton had called more rarely at the house recently, and when he had been there, Campbell kept out of the way. Mary had resolved to speak to Hugh, but before she had opportunity of doing so, Campbell himself revealed the source of the dispute. He had been deceived, he said, grossly deceived by Lyttleton. The latter had known of the wealth of the Campbell mine. After doing a little cheap work he had founddeposits of great value, wfithin easy reach. The money Hugh had outlaid on their behalf had been the merest bagatelle in comparison with the value of the properties he had gained. It seemed that Williams and he had been in close association.
Now her father wanted his mine and mills brought under his own control. He would allow Lyttleton an interest in the working for his trouble and pains, and would permit the pits to be run under their present conditions, as part of the big Lyttleton plant, but he must be in control of the subsidiary company and the two Williams’, his old associates, would join him. He further stated that he had been advised that it was very doubtful whether the arrangements effected by his son-in-law would hold in law. The properties really should have been allowed to pass under the
sheriff’s hammer, to make any kind of satisfactory title. In a word Campbell claimed that he had been led into the trap by misrepresentations, and he had gone to Hugh demanding what he called his rights. They had been rather brusquely refused him.
Mary listened to him without comment of any kind. The uppermost thought in her mind was what Hugh could think of the family with whom he' had allied himself.
“I can see through it all now,” the angry man declared. “The artfully framed plot, the sympathy and philanthropy masking the grasping purpose! Even you were brought into the plot and your sympathies with your own people enlisted in order that you might save them from disaster. We might have known no good could come of such a bargain. It’s been suggested to me that it might be possible to have the marriage annulled. You have never lived together. You were trapped and cajoled into marrying the man. Williams is sure some such breaking of the bond could be effected.”
“I wish you would not discuss me or my relations with my husband, with the Williams’ or any other person,” Mary said. “I married Hugh with my eyes wide open, and have no desire whatever to go back on my bargain. I really wonder, father, what the world will thir.k of us, of you and me, I mean.”
“And you would side with this schemer, this interloper, against your own people?” he asked furiously.
“I think I should,” she answered. “Surely there can be a shred of commonest gratitude left to us.”
“There is Hugh himself coming up the drive,” said her mother, who was standing at the window.
TTE met her father with an open-handed cordiality -*■ that Campbell could not but reciprocate.
“I thought I would step down and talk that matter over with you, Mr. Campbell,” he said. “The best thing will be to send for Williams—or both of them if you wish—as they’ve been mixed up in the affair. I’m afraid it has troubled you all more than was necessary. But it can be all cleared up inside ten minutes. Perhaps Williams will come the more readily if you don’t tell him I’m here. He works best out of sight.”
Mary and he went out for a walk through the snowy grounds until they saw the two men arrive. Then they returned to the house. The visitors were surprised to find Lyttleton there.
“I’m sorry to be brought into what is really a family affair,” said the smooth elder Williams. “Mr. Campbell sought my advice, and it seemed to me, from all one heard, that it might be thàt he had possibly disposed of his property rather cheaply. Of course you, Mr. Lyttleton, could not be expected to know the value of the place before you had tested it. Still, it seems a matter for a little diplomacy and mutual accommodation.”
“Perhaps, as one who had some experience of the Campbell mine, I might put a few questions to Mr. Lyttleton that would simplify the situation. About the newly exposed veins, now—” interposed young Williams.
' “ You would simplify them most by keeping out of what does not concern you,” replied Hugh.
Thereupon Campbell began a lengthy recital of what he thought and had heard.
“I take it that you think you’ve been unfairly treated,” said Lyttleton, after the elder man had talked for some time. “I’m asked to grant an interest in the lately acquired property that means the surrender of it, so far as control and management are concerned. It would be run without my interference, and practically with my capital. I don’t know what the qualifications of the new managers are, unless, having run their concerns qn the rocks in the first attempt,
they want a second try. If the mine is as valuable as you say it is you have the chance of your lives. I will deed it back to Mr. Campbell for the money I have outlaid.”
“All you have outlaid?” asked the elder Williams.
“What do you mean?” demanded Hugh.
“I understand there was the purchase of the house and--” he began.
“We were speaking of the mine, not the private affairs of my wife and myself,” said Lyttleton sharply. “I have spent some $80,000 in clearing up the affairs of the company; Chaput, the notary, has all the papers and accounts. Give me this sum and take the mine. You'll have all the wealth for yourselves.”
“It would be a crippling load for Mr. Campbell to assume at the outset,” observed the elder Williams.
“Mr. Campbell may pay me any time,” Hugh answered. “If he wishes to take the mine he can have it to-day, and I’ll accept a mortgage to safeguard my interests.”
“I don’t know whether the financing could be managed,” reflected Williams.
“I know it couldn’t,” laughed Lyttleton. “You say I took the mine over cheaply, but when I offer it back on the same terms, you decline. Then I say that Mr. Campbell may have it without actual outlay, and that doesn’t suit you. As for the rumors of wealth, I haven’t taken a pound of mineral from the place. Everything has been outlay. I would suggest also, Mr. Campbell, that if there is any arrangement to make, any difficulty to clear up, you’ll find me ready to meet you justly, without the intervention of outsiders.”
I IE sat down at the table, and wrote his offers, leav-*• -*• ing them open for three months, handed the paper to Campbell, and rose to leave the room, Mary accompanying him. She stood silently near the door for a moment.
“I wonder what you think of us, Hugh?” she said.
“You mean what I think of you?” he replied. “I thought I made it quite clear long ago.”
“Is that true? Just the same?” she asked.
“A little more true, more satisfied,” he told her.
“You must go back?”
“It is not necessary. I wondered if we might take another holiday. The roads are good, it is not too cold, and I brought heaps of robes in the hope I might coax you. You look as if you had all the cares of the world on your head,” he said.
“Oh, I am tired of myself and the meanness that is in us,” she said impatiently.
“If you say that I shall be tempted to forget my promise,” he told her.
“Promise!” she repeated.
“I was not so much as to lay hands on you without your consent,” he laughed.
“And I have to ask,” she said, her face gay again. “But you mean that we are to have a holiday?”
“I am waiting.”
As she hurried her dressing she heard him call up the office and say that he would not be back that day. She ran into the room to tell her mother that she was leaving for the day with Hugh. The four watched them go down the drive,
Campbell and the elder Williams apart from the rest.
“You were mistaken.
Campbell,” the other said.
‘Mary is in love with her husband. He is winning out all round.”
T T was to Mary another day in Arcady. They drove fifty miles through the white, sunny country to a village nestling at the edge of the sea, a hamlet of Champlain's time, picturesque Brittany in the Nev -»World, a reminiscence >f the seventeenth c ^ ‘u r y brought up for \ ’ontemplative delig the
twentieth ; a lo ay
in a lover’s world, a day whose fragrance lasts as life, whose colors abide fadelessly on the canvas of memory.
“You are spoiling me, Hugh. I shall never be content to go back to the few hours on Sunday afternoon. You see what it means to encourage me, what the awful burden of a wife is!” she told him, as they lingered at the door on their return.
“My days are yours,” he laughed. “All you have to do is to call when you feel very' generously inclined toward me. They bring me a little nearer the end of the dream time.”
She stood a moment irresolutely, driven by an eager impulse to turn away from the door of her old home, re-enter the car, and bid him take her to their home. She glanced at him as he waited in the dim light of the hall lamp. If she had seen desire for her there, she would have stepped down to his side.
“Good-night, Mary! Is there no reward to-night?”
But she had fled within the house.
There was a smile on his face as he re-entered the car and drove away.
CHE watched the lights flit along the road till hidden from sight by the intervention of the hills. Long she sat in the darkness, and there the decision was made. Her place was no longer in the old house. It had held her heart at one time, but now her heart was in the Mine house, and there must she be. The few hours on Sunday, a holiday now and again would not satisfy the heart hunger. Where he was she must be, at his side, his mate, his wife. No longer should there be the prideful waiting for him to call her. She had made the bargain. The summons must be hers. She would not send the call; she would go to him, to his arms and home and tell him that she had come to be with him always.
To-morrow she decided she would go, at nightfall. She would surprise him in his loneliness.
Presently he called her on the telephone to say that he had reached home. They chatted for a little while, and then she put up the receiver with something like a glad sigh. That was the last time she would need it. It had become to her not the link of union, but the symbol of separation.
DURING the following morning she went from room to room of the old place, not with any sense of regret. She bade silent farewell to the old life. Long she lingered in the morning room, recalling their first interview. It seemed that she was only gradually fathoming the depth of his wonderful love for
her. She remembered her bitter word of contempt and his strong rebuking, she remembered it all with shame and yet gladness. Out of them love had been born. She had seen the man he was even then, though dimly. There had been a time when in her thought he had represented everything cruel, bitter, hateful, the destructive storm cloud on her skies; and out of the storm had come light and love. It had broken over her, not with destroying lightnings but the soft, mellow sunlight of a happiness hitherto unimagined.
Not till late in the afternoon did she speak to her mother of her decision. They were alone in Mrs. Campbell’s boudoir.
“Mother,” said Mary. “I am going away to-night. Going to Hugh. You know the arrangement we made when he spoke of marriage. He was to leave me here, and not come until I sent for him. I married him without love, without liking, because of his money and his promises to help us out of our troubles. Everything has changed from that day. He made me respect him. Then respect grew' to liking, and now liking is—is love. He is everything to me. I think I’m the happiest woman alive.
“I’ve hoped he would break his promise,” she went on, “not because I feared to tell him of the change, or was tco cow'ardly to send for him, but I thought sometimes that perhaps he didn’t care as much as he did at first. I was afraid my willingness to marry him for what he w'ould give had lowered me in his eyes and that his regard was just the chivalry of his heart. Now I know he still loves me and I’m going to him.” “I’ve been longing for you to make the decision,” said her mother. “I knew it would come.”
And together they sat in the darkness. They talked as mother and daughter close bound to each other by unusually intimate affection. Then the car was brought around, and Mary drove away.
SHE left it at the town garage, and set out to climb the hill to the offices over which Hugh had his rooms. The night was pitchy dark, and the way rough and lonely. At the top of the steep ascent she turned into the lane leading to the offices and mills. There was no w'ork going on. She could dimly see the tall derricks at the edges of the vast quarry deeps. No house was near. The lane was deep in snow with a narrow track made by the feet of the pitmen.
Presently she saw the light of the offices and hastened tow'ard them. She paused a little breathlessly when she came near to them, a smile on her face, great happiness in her heart. The big general office w'as
deserted, and she went on to the end of the building where Hugh had his private office, with a door opening into it from the side.
She hastened on, glancing through the window'. Then she suddenly stopped, and drew back into the shadows. Hugh was there, by the side of his closed desk, and seated near him was Alice Williams. The girl was talking in her wontedly vivacious manner, and Hugh was laughing with her. It seemed to Mary as if her world had suddenly slipped from under her feet. Her exultant dreams of happiness faded into empty blackness.
She turned and went swiftly down the dismal lane again. Before she reached the foot of the steep she had recovered possession of herself, but her bewilderment had Riven place to a fixed, settled calm. The storm of angry resentment had passed, and she was hard, placid, bitter. In the street she met Jack Williams.
“Are you going away, Mrs. Lyttleton?” he asked, noticing the small bag she carried.'5
“No. just returning
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home,” she replied. “It is late and I must get my ear.”
He walked with her to the garage. She thought he scanned her with unusual inquisitiveness.
“We don’t see much of you these days,” he said. “Alice was remarking the other day that you seem to have forgotten us. I told her that she must remember that you are no longer Mary Campbell but Mary Lyttleton. And Lyttleton, of course, has no great liking for us.”
“No, I have not been much in town lately,” she replied.
“Well don’t let connubial happiness take you away from old friends altogether,” he laughed.
She drove away. Her mother heard the sound of the car coming up the drive and went to the door.
“Why, Mary!” she exclaimed, as the girl came up the steps.
“My courage failed me,” Mary laughed. “I will wait for Hugh to come.”
Mrs. Campbell made no further comment on the change that had so suddenly taken place, but watched the girl closely as they sat together. She was a little suspicious of the unusually gay spirits Mary seemed to be in, but thought it best to make no further enquiries.
“You need not say anything to father of my project,” said Mary. “He would only laugh at me. He has not returned, has he?”
“No, he will be late,” replied her mother. “Don’t wait up for him.”
MARY presently went up to her room. As she passed the door and shut herself in, the bitterness all came back to her. She remembered the laughing warning Alice had given to her of her neglect of Hugh, and the danger there was of his being snapped up by some other woman. She knew something of the girl’s boastful unconventionalism ; but Hugh she had never doubted for an instant. Perhaps she bad been too sure of him. Reason then began to upbraid her for jumping too readily at conclusions. There might be an explanation of it all that would clear matters up. Still, it was not easy to frame any excuse for the girl being with Hugh at that hour in the lonely offices. She recalled the curious scrutiny to which she had been subjected by Jack Williams. Was it possible that he knew of what was going on, and had thought the knowledge of it had come to her? Later she was roused from her miserable contemplations by the ringing of her telephone bell.
None used the wire but Hugh and herself. She hesitated a moment. There came a second and longer ring. She slowly took down the instrument.
“I wondered if you’d gone to bed,” Hugh said. “I called up first of all to find out why you came to town without giving me the chance to see you. I heard a little time ago you had been up.”
“But I can’t call you away from your engagements whenever I have to do a little shopping. It was just the hastiest run in and back,” she replied.
“Not only you can, but you must,” he laughed. “When am I too busy to meet you? Take care it doesn’t happen again, Mrs. Lyttleton. But I really wanted to see you very, very specially to-night.
“Listen, Mary, I have to go away to New York to-night. I thought the trip wouldn’t have to be made for a couple of months or so, but a call came over the long distance a little time ago, and I must be in New York to-morrow. It may be an extended trip. I have matters to attend to in Philadelphia and Washington—contracts to close up with Government people for the supply of asbestos fibre, and it did occur to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a bit of holiday to the work. Florida would not be bad for February and March, and then we—we could get back in time for the rush of work that comes with Spring.”
She hesitated for some moments. The appeal was clear, and she wished to sweep the memory of the past two or three hours out of her mind. As she listened to his persuasive voice she half resolved to tell him of her walk to the mine, and get his explanation. Still, what right had she to question him? It was no matter of hers who his friends were, women or men, of what his relations with other women were. That was not in the bond. She had spoken to him of the flimsy insubstantiality of the marriage bond, its meaningless terms, its ancient make-believes. Moral sanctions counted for little, since the world had learned that morals are matters of climate, latitude, century—and there certainly was no moral element in her bargain with Hugh. She had not constituted herself censor of his conduct. He had kept his part of the agreement, letter and spirit. She had become Mrs. Lyttleton, he had paid for his whim. A man is faithful to a woman, not to a piece of paper signed by a clergyman and a couple of witnesses, without the woman faith is but an academic principle, and as soon as the other woman comes along, the giver, the fair-trader, the old paper bond is a mere harlequin’s hoop. She told herself now that she did not reproach Hugh. If the other woman had been more generous than the wife, that was the fault of the wife. If Hugh, banned by the woman he had married, had gone elsewhere for consolation and amusement, that was his own affair.
“I shall miss you very much,” she answered. “You will write? Bon voyage, Hugh!”
HE did not reply at once. She knew that the dry formality of her response had sui'prised, disappointed him. It was not her purpose to be pettish or indifferent, but she could not feign what she did not feel, no matter how much she wished to.
“What’s the matter, Mary?” he asked in quiet voice. “What has become of the girl of last night?”
There was something of appeal in his question that made her catch her breath with a sound like a half sob.
“Matter? Nothing. Of course, I don’t like to hear that you are going away. It is rather dull downi here. Still a week or two or a month or two, pass quickly.”
“Are you crying?” he asked. “Crying!” she laughed. “I’m afraid I am rudely sleepy, actually yawning.” “I would come down and make sure, if I had time. I believe I have.” She heard the snap of his watch. “There is a suspicion in my mind that you’re worried about something.”
“That’s your vanity, Hugh—the lone wife left pining behind. You have not time to come, and I am tired and awfully sleepy. I’ll hide my tears, and be sitting by the casement window looking for your return, as the romantic ladies, deserted by their husbands do— in poems and novels. Yes, I have your address. I’ll write, of course—perhaps every day, if there is anything to write about. Good-bye, dear, have the pleasantest trip.”
She put out the light, and watched the driveway in the dim light of the lamp over the gate. He might come and demand explanations. She hoped he would, and feared he might. Then she heard the whistle of the express engine, and saw the string of lighted cars wind along the cutting on the face of the hillside.
She was neither sorry nor penitent for her rebuff of Hugh. He might have two strings to his bow, but she did not propose to be one of them. With the Hugh of yesterday—her man—the prospect of a two months’ honeymoon, traveling hither and thither, seeing the world, idling by southern seas, would have been a dream idyll of Paradise. With Hugh as she now saw him it would have been a common, tawdry adventure that would have made her cheap and despicable in her own eyes.
To be Continued