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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 37. Cicely Makes Her Choice
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The Survivor - Chapter 37. Cicely Makes Her Choice Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2379

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The Survivor - Chapter 37. Cicely Makes Her Choice

CHAPTER XXXVII. CICELY MAKES HER CHOICE

Society, over whose borders Douglas had once before passed under the tutelage of Emily de Reuss, opened her doors to him now freely, and Douglas, convinced that here was a solitude which the four walls of his chambers in Adam Street, peopled as they were with memories, could never offer, passed willingly inside. For a week or two he accepted recklessly whatever hospitalities were offered him, always with an unacknowledged hope that chance might offer him at least a glimpse of the woman who was destined to be the one great influence of his life. He frequented the houses where the possibilities of meeting her seemed best, and he listened continually and with ill-suppressed eagerness for any mention of her name. It chanced, however, that even the latter faint consolation was denied to him, and he neither saw anything of her at the houses of her friends, nor came across her name in the papers which, as a rule, never failed to chronicle her doings. At the club they chaffed him mercilessly--a rabid tuft-hunter, or had he political ambitions? He chaffed back again and held his own as usual, but not a soul, save perhaps Drexley, understood him in those days. Then there came to him one day a sudden fear. She was surely ill--or she had disappeared. He caught up his hat and coat and walked swiftly to Grosvenor Square.

He reached the house and stopped short in front of it. It seemed to him to have a gloomy, almost an uninhabited appearance. For a few moments he struggled with himself--with his pride, a vague sense of alarm every moment growing stronger as the dismantled aspect of the house became more apparent to him. Then he walked up the steps and rang the bell.

A servant in plain clothes answered it after a delay which was in itself significant. He appeared surprised at Douglas's inquiry, knowing him well as a frequent visitor at the house. The Countess had left for abroad several days since--he believed for Russia, and for a considerable time. The servants were all discharged and the house "to let," he himself remained only as caretaker. Douglas walked back again into the streets with a heart like lead and a mist before his eyes. She had taken him at his word then--he had lost her. After all it was the inevitable.

Mechanically at first, and afterwards with a purpose, he turned southwards to the tiny fiat where Cicely had established herself. A trim little maid-servant showed him into her room, and she welcomed him with outstretched hands. Yet he saw in the dim lamplight that her cheeks were pale and there was some measure of restraint in her greeting.

"You have come at last, then," she said, gaily enough. "Now you must let me give you some tea and afterwards you must tell me what you think of my rooms. Of course, I haven't finished furnishing yet, but they're nice, aren't they?"

He looked round approvingly. Everything was very simple but dainty and comfortable. A vase of beautiful chrysanthemums stood upon her writing-table, amber and pink and drooping white, they seemed to diffuse an almost illuminating glow. A tiny tea-table was drawn up before a bright fire. As he sat down by her side there swept over him once more a desire, keen, passionate, to escape from the turmoil of the last few months. Here at least was rest. The very homeliness of the little scene awoke in him the domestic instinct--heritage of his middle-class ancestors. Cicely chattered gaily to him. She was very charming in her dark red dress, and she had so much to say about this sudden fame which had come to him--so well deserved, so brilliantly won. Her face was aglow with pleasure, a wave of tenderness swept over him. He felt that it would be very pleasant to take her into his arms, to forget, with her little hands in his, those days of madness when he had yielded himself up to wild and passionate dreams of things impossible. Better to bury them, to take such measure of happiness as would at least ensure content. Life would surely be a sweeter and an easier thing lived out to the light music of the violins, than played to the deep storm throbbings of the great orchestra. So he broke in upon her laughing congratulations and faced her gravely.

"You had my letter, Cicely?" Her face changed, her eyes sought his nervously. "Yes." "You have thought about it?" "Of nothing else," she answered. "Well?"

She leaned over towards him. "It made me at first very angry," she said. He glanced at her quickly. She held up her hand.

"Now I am going to explain," she said. "You see, Douglas, when you asked me to be your wife I believed that you cared for me, well--altogether--and that you wanted it very much indeed. If I had known then what your letter has since told me, what do you think that I should have said to you?"

"I do want it very much," he repeated softly, "and I have always cared for you."

"I believe that you have," she answered, "but in the same way that I have always cared for you. You do not care for me as you do for Emily de Reuss, nor do you want me so much as the woman whom you cannot have. I want to be honest, dear. Perhaps if I loved you and felt that there was no one else in this world whom I could care for, this might be enough. I might be content with the chance that the rest would come, although no woman, Douglas, likes to think herself a makeshift--to be offered anything less than the whole. You see it is for life, isn't it? When you asked me, I never dreamed but that so long as you wanted me at all, you wanted me more than any one else in the world. Now I know that this was not so. I am only an insignificant little thing, Douglas, and not fit to be your companion in many ways. But I could not marry you to think that there would be moments when you and I would stand apart, that there would be another woman living, whose coming might quicken your heart, and make the world a more beautiful place for you. Can you understand that, I wonder?"

"No," he answered fiercely. "I asked you then, I beg of you now, as an honest man. If you will have me I will pluck out from my heart every other memory by the roots--there shall not live in this world any other woman for me. Nay, it is done already. She has gone for ever."

"Douglas," she said gently, "there are some things which a woman knows more about than a man. Listen, and answer truthfully. If she and I stood before you here, both free, both with our hands stretched out towards you--ah, I need not go any further, need I? You think that you have lost her, and you want me to help you to forget. It is too dangerous an experiment, Douglas. We will leave it alone."

"I thought," he said slowly, "that you cared for me."

"As a very, very dear friend and comrade I do indeed," she answered. "As anything else I might have learnt to--but not now."

There was a short silence between them. It was not until then, that he realised how dear during these last few months her companionship had been to him. He looked into the fire with sad, listless eyes. After all, what was success worth? He had grasped at the shadow, and Cicely with her charming little ways, her glorious companionableness and her dainty prettiness, was lost to him for ever. He had too much self-restraint to indulge in anything in the nature of recrimination. In his heart he felt that Drexley had taken his place--and whose the fault save his own? A sense of intolerable weariness swept over him as he rose to bid her good-by. Yet he was man enough to show a brave front.

"I believe you are right, Cicely," he said. "What I wished for after all was selfish. Your friendship I know that I may keep."

"Always," she answered, giving him both her hands.

On the stairs he passed Drexley with a bunch of violets in his coat and a new light in his face. A. sudden impulse of anger seized him. The second cup on the teatray upstairs, the glowing chrysanthemums, the change in Cicely--here was the meaning of these things. But for him, she would have been content with what he had to give her.

"Damn you, Drexley," he muttered . . . but at the foot of the stairs he looked up. It was only a momentary impulse. It was not in his nature to grudge any man his salvation.

"Sorry, old chap," he called up. "Good luck to you."

He walked down the street with the echo of Drexley's cheerful reply still in his ears.

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