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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBeyond The Rocks: A Love Story - Chapter 3
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Beyond The Rocks: A Love Story - Chapter 3 Post by :goldberg Category :Long Stories Author :Elinor Glyn Date :May 2012 Read :2951

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Beyond The Rocks: A Love Story - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

Josiah Brown cut the top off his _oeuf a la coque with a knife at his _premier dejeuner next day. The knife grated on the shell in a determined way, and Theodora felt her heart sink at the prospect of broaching the subject of the breakfast at the Cafe Henry.

"I am so glad the rain has stopped," she said, nervously. "It was raining when I woke this morning."

"Indeed," replied Josiah. "And what kind of an evening did you pass with that father of yours?"

"A very pleasant one," said Theodora, crumbling her roll. "Papa met some old friends, and we all dined together at the Ritz. I wish you had been able to come, it might have done you good, it was so gay!"

"I am not fit for gayety," said her husband, peevishly, scooping out spoonfuls of yolk. "And who were the party, pray?"

Theodora obediently enumerated them all, and the high-sounding title of the Russian Prince, to say nothing of the English lord and lady, had a mollifying effect on Josiah Brown. He even remembered the name of Bracondale--had he not been a grocer's assistant in the small town of Bracondale for a whole year in his apprenticeship days?

"Papa wants us to breakfast to-day with him at Henry's for you to meet some of them," Theodora said, with more confidence.

Josiah had taken a second egg and his frown was gone.

"We'll see about it, we'll see about it," he grunted; but his wife felt more hopeful, and was even unusually solicitous of his wants in the way of coffee and marmalade and cream. Josiah was shrewd if he did happen to be deeply self-absorbed in his health, and he noticed that Theodora's eyes were brighter and her step more elastic than usual.

He knew he had bought "one of them there aristocrats," as his old aunt, who had kept a public-house at New Norton, would have said. Bought her with solid gold--he had no illusions on this subject, and he quite realized if the solid gold had not been amassed out of England, so that to her family he could be represented as "something from the colonies--rather rough, but such a good fellow"--even Captain Fitzgerald's impecuniosity and rapacity would not have risen to his bait.

He was also grateful to Theodora--she had been so meek always, and such a kind and unselfish nurse. With his impaired constitution and delicate chest he had given up all hopes of looking on her as a wife again, just yet; but, as a nurse and an ornament--a peg to hang the evidences of his wealth upon--she was little short of perfection. He could have been frantically in love with her if she had only been the girl from the station bar in Melbourne. Josiah Brown was not a bad fellow.

By the time Mr. Toplington advanced in his dignified way with the accurately measured tonic on a silver tray and the single acid drop to remove the taste, Josiah Brown had decided to go and partake food with his father-in-law at Henry's. If he had been good enough to entertain the Governor of Australia, he was quite good enough for Russian princes or English lords, he told himself. Thus it was that Captain Fitzgerald, who came in person in a few minutes to indorse his invitation, found an unusually cordial reception awaiting him.

"I am too delighted, my dear Josiah," he said, "that you have decided to come out of your shell. Moping would kill a cat; and I shall order you the plainest chicken and souffle aux fraises."

"Josiah can eat almost anything, papa. I don't think you need worry about that," said Theodora, who hoped to make her husband enjoy himself. And then Captain Fitzgerald left to meet his widow.

All the morning, while she walked up and down under the trees in the Avenue du Bois beside her husband, who leaned upon her arm, Theodora's thoughts were miles away. She felt stimulated, excited, intensely interested in the hour, afraid they would be late. Twice she answered at random, and Josiah got quite cross.

"I asked you which you considered would do me most good when we return to England, to continue seeing Sir Baldwin once a week or to have Dr. Wilton permanently in the house with us, and you answer that you quite agree with me! Agree with what? Agree with which? You are talking nonsense, girl!"

Theodora apologized gently, and her white velvet cheeks became tinged with wild roses. It seemed as if the victoria, with its high-steppers, would never come and pick them up; and it must be at least quarter of an hour's drive to Henry's. She did not understand where it was exactly, but papa had said the coachman would know.

If some one had told her, as Clementine certainly would have done had she been there, that she was simply thus interested and excited because she wished to see again Lord Bracondale, she would have been horrified. She never had analyzed sensations herself, and the day had not yet arrived when she would begin to do so.

At last they were rolling down the Champs-Elysees. The mass of chestnut blooms in full glory, the tender green still fresh and springlike, the sky as blue as blue, and every creature in the street with an air of gayety--that Paris alone seems to inspire in the human race. It entered into her blood, this rush of spring and hope and laughter and life, and a radiant creature got out of the carriage at Henry's door.

The two men were waiting for them--Lord Bracondale and the French Count--her father and Mrs. McBride had not yet appeared.

Theodora introduced them to her husband, and Lord Bracondale said:

"Mrs. McBride is always late. I have found out which is your father's table; don't you think we might go and sit down?"

And they did. Theodora got well into the corner of the velvet sofa, the Count on one side and Lord Bracondale on the other, with Josiah beyond the Count.

They made conversation. The Frenchman was voluble and agreeable, and the next ten minutes passed without incident.

Josiah, not quite at ease, perhaps, but on the whole not ill-pleased with his situation. The Count took all ups and downs as of the day's work, sure of a good breakfast, sooner or later, unpaid for by himself. And Lord Bracondale's thoughts ran somewhat thus:

"She is even more beautiful in daylight than at night. She can't be more than twenty--what a skin! like a white gardenia petal--and, good Lord, what a husband! How revolting, how infamous! I suppose that old schemer, her father, sold her to him. Her eyes remind one of forgotten fairy tales of angels. Can anything be so sweet as that little nose and those baby-red lips. She has a soul, too, peeping out of the blue when she looks up at one. She reminds me of Praxiteles' Psyche when she looks down. Why did I not meet her long ago? I believe I ought not to stay now--something tells me I shall fall deeply into this. And what a voice!--as gentle and caressing as a tender dove. A man would give his soul for such a woman. As guileless as an infant saint, too--and sensitive and human and understanding. I wish to God I had the strength of mind to get up and go this minute--but I haven't--it is fate."

"Oh, how naughty of papa," said Theodora, "to be so late! Are you very hungry, Josiah? Shall we begin without them?"

But at that moment, with rustling silks and delicate perfume, the widow and Captain Fitzgerald came in at the door and joined the party.

"I am just too sorry," the lady said, gayly. "It is all Captain Fitzgerald's fault--he would try to restrain me from buying what I wanted, and so it made me obstinate and I had to stay right there and order half the shop."

"How I understand you!" sympathized Lord Bracondale. "I know just that feeling of wanting forbidden fruit. It makes the zest of life."

He had foreseen the disposition of the party, and by sitting in the outside corner seat at the end knew he would have Theodora almost _en tete-a-tete_, once they were all seated along the velvet sofa beyond Josiah Brown.

"What do you do with yourself all the time here?" he asked, lowering his voice to that deep note which only carries to the ear it is intended for. "May one ever see you again except at a chance meal like this?"

"I don't know," said Theodora. "I walk up and down in the side allees of the Bois in the morning with my husband, and when he has had his sleep, after dejeuner, we drive nearly all the afternoon, and we have tea, at the Pre Catalan and drive again until about seven, and then we come in and dine, and I go to bed very early. Josiah is not strong enough yet for late hours or theatres."

"It sounds supernaturally gay for Paris!" said Lord Bracondale; and then he felt a brute when he saw the cloud in the blue eyes.

"No, it is not gay," she said, simply. "But the flowers are beautiful, and the green trees and the chestnut blossoms and the fine air here, and there is a little stream among the trees which laughs to itself as it runs, and all these things say something to me."

He felt rebuked--rebuked and interested.

"I would like to see them all with you," he said.

That was one of his charms--directness. He did not insinuate often; he stated facts.

"You would find it all much too monotonous," she answered. "You would tire of them after the first time. And you could if you liked, too, because I suppose you are free, being a man, and can choose your own life," and she sighed unconsciously.

And there came to Hector Bracondale the picture of her life--sacrificed, no doubt, to others' needs. He seemed to see the long years tied to Josiah Brown, the cramping of her soul, the dreary desolation of it. Then a tenderness came over him, a chivalrous tenderness unfelt by him towards women now for many a long day.

"I wonder if I can choose my life," he said, and he looked into her eyes.

"Why can you not?" She hesitated. "And may I ask you, too, what you do with yourself here?"

He evaded the question; he suddenly realized that his days were not more amusing than hers, although they were filled up with racing and varied employments--while the thought of his nights sickened him.

"I think I am going to make an immense change and learn to take pleasure in the running brooks," he said. "Will you help me?"

"I know so little, and you know so much," and her sweet eyes became soft and dreamy. "I could not help you in any way, I fear."

"Yes, you could--you could teach me to see all things with fresh eyes. You could open the door into a new world."

"Do you know," she said, irrelevantly, "Sarah--my eldest sister--Sarah told me it was unwise ever to talk to strangers except in the abstract--and here are you and I conversing about our own interests and feelings--are not we foolish!" She laughed a little nervously.

"No, we are not foolish because we are not strangers--we never were--and we never will be."

"Are not strangers--?"

"No--do you not feel that sometimes in life one's friendships begin by antipathy--sometimes by indifference--and sometimes by that sudden magnetism of sympathy as if in some former life we had been very near and dear, and were only picking up the threads again, and to such two souls there is no feeling that they are strangers."

Theodora was too entirely unsophisticated to remain unmoved by this reasoning. She felt a little thrill--she longed to continue the subject, and yet dared not. She turned hesitatingly to the Count, and for the next ten minutes Lord Bracondale only saw the soft outline of her cheek.

He wondered if he had been too sudden. She was quite the youngest person he had ever met--he realized that, and perhaps he had acted with too much precipitation. He would change his tactics.

The Count was only too pleased to engage the attention of Theodora. He was voluble; she had very little to reply. Things went smoothly. Josiah was appreciating an exceedingly good breakfast, and the playful sallies of the fair widow. All, in fact, was _couleur de rose_.

"Won't you talk to me any more?" Lord Bracondale said, after about a quarter of an hour. He felt that was ample time for her to have become calm, and, beautiful as the outline of her cheek was, he preferred her full face.

"But of course," said Theodora. She had not heard more than half what the Count had been saying; she wished vaguely that she might continue the subject of friendship, but she dared not.

"Do you ever go to Versailles?" he asked. This, at least, was a safe subject.

"I have been there--but not since--not this time," she answered. "I loved it: so full of memories and sentiment, and Old-World charm."

"It would give me much pleasure to take you to see it again," he said, with grave politeness. "I must devise some plan--that is, if you wish to go."

She smiled.

"It is a favorite spot of mine, and there are some allees in the park more full of the story of spring than your Bois even."

"I do not see how we can go," said Theodora. "Josiah would find it too long a day."

"I must discuss it with your father; one can generally arrange what one wishes," said Lord Bracondale.

At this moment Mrs. McBride leaned over and spoke to Theodora. She had, she said, quite converted Mr. Brown. He only wanted a little cheering up to be perfectly well, and she had got him to promise to dine that evening at Armenonville and listen to the Tziganes. It was going to be a glorious night, but if they felt cold they could have their table inside out of the draught. What did Theodora think about it?

Theodora thought it would be a delicious plan. What else could she think?

"I have a large party coming," Mrs. McBride said, "and among them a compatriot of mine who saw you last night and is dying to meet you."

"Really," said Theodora, unmoved.

Lord Bracondale experienced a sensation of annoyance.

"I shall not ask you, Bracondale," the widow continued, playfully. "Just to assert British superiority, you would try to monopolize Mrs. Brown, and my poor Herryman Hoggenwater would have to come in a long, long second!"

Josiah felt a rush of pride. This brilliant woman was making much of his meek little wife.

Lord Bracondale smiled the most genial smile, with rage in his heart.

"I could not have accepted in any case, dear lady," he said, "as I have some people dining with me, and, oddly enough, they rather suggested they wanted Armenonville too, so perhaps I shall have the pleasure of looking at you from the distance."

The conversation then became general, and soon after this coffee arrived, and eventually the adieux were said.

Mrs. McBride insisted upon Theodora accompanying her in her smart automobile.

"You leave your wife to me for an hour," she said, imperiously, to Josiah, "and go and see the world with Captain Fitzgerald. He knows Paris."

"My dear, you are just the sweetest thing I have come across this side of the Atlantic," she said, when they were whizzing along in her car. "But you look as if you wanted cheering too. I expect your husband's illness has worried you a good deal."

Theodora froze a little. Then she glanced at the widow's face and its honest kindliness melted her.

"Yes, I have been anxious about him," she said, simply, "but he is nearly well now, and we shall soon be going to England."

Mrs. McBride had not taken a companion on this drive for nothing, and she obtained all the information she wanted during their tour in the Bois. How Josiah Brown had bought a colossal place in the eastern counties, and intended to have parties and shoot there in the autumn. How Theodora hoped to see more of her sisters than she had done since her marriage. The question of these sisters interested Mrs. McBride a good deal.

For a man to have two unmarried daughters was rather an undertaking.

What were their ages--their habits--their ambitions? Theodora told her simply. She guessed why she was being interrogated. She wished to assist her father, and to say the truth seemed to her the best way. Sarah was kind and humorous, while Clementine had the brains.

"And they are both dears," she said, lovingly, "and have always been so good to me."

Mrs. McBride was a shrewd woman, full of American quickness, lightning deduction, and a phenomenal insight into character. Theodora seemed to her to be too tender a flower for this world of east wind. She felt sure she only thought good of every one, and how could one get on in life if one took that view habitually! The appallingly hard knocks fate would give one if one was so trusting! But as the drive went on that gentle something that seemed to emanate from Theodora, the something of pure sweetness and light, affected her, too, as it affected other people. She felt she was looking into a deep pool of crystal water, so deep that she could see no bottom or fathom the distance of it, but which reflected in brilliant blue God's sky and the sun.

"And she is by no means stupid," the widow summed up to herself. "Her mind is as bright as an American's! And she is just too pretty and sweet to be eaten up by these wolves of men she will meet in England, with that unromantic, unattractive husband along. I must do what I can for her."

By the time she had dropped Theodora at her hotel the situation was quite clear. Of course the girl had been sacrificed to Josiah Brown; she was sound asleep in the great forces of life; she was bound to be hideously unhappy, and it was all an abominable shame, and ought to have been prevented.

But Mrs. McBride never cried over spilled milk.

"If I decide to marry her father," she thought, as she drove off, "I shall keep my eye on her, and meanwhile I can make her life smile a little perhaps!"

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CHAPTER VIIAt twelve o'clock punctually Lord Bracondale was ushered into Mrs. McBride's sitting-room at the Ritz, the day after her dinner-party at Armenonville. He expected she would not be ready to receive him for at least half an hour; having said twelve he might have known she meant half-past, but he was in a mood of impatience, and felt obliged to be punctual. He was suffering more or less from a reaction. He had begun towards morning to realize the manner in which he had spent the evening was not altogether wise. Not that he had the least intention of not
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CHAPTER IIIt was a year later before Theodora saw her family again. A very severe attack of bronchitis, complicated by internal catarrh, prostrated Josiah Brown in the first days of their marriage, and had turned her into a superintendent nurse for the next three months; by that time a winter at Hyeres was recommended by the best physicians, and off they started. Hyeres, with a semi-invalid, a hospital nurse, and quantities of medicine bottles and draught-protectors, is not the ideal place one reads of in guide-books. Theodora grew to hate the sky and the blue Mediterranean. She used to sit on
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