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- Winding Paths - 4/78 -


CHAPTER III

For a few years after that particular disagreement nothing of special note happened. Hal got quickly through her course of shorthand and typewriting and became Mr. Elliott's private secretary and general factotum, which last included an occasional flight into journalism as a reporter. Naturally, since this sometimes took her to out-of-the-way places, and brought her in contact with human oddities, she loved it beyond all things, and was ever ready for a jaunt, no matter whither it took her.

Brother Dudley was discreetly left a little in the dark about it, because nothing in the world would ever have persuaded him that a girl of Hal's age could run promiscuously about London unmolested. Hal knew better. She was perfectly well able to acquire a stony stare that baffled the most dauntless of impertinent intruders; and se had, moreover, an upright, grenadier-like carriage, and an air of business-like energy that were safeguards in themselves.

A great deal of persuasive tact was necessary, however, to win Dudley's consent to a year in America, whither Mr. Elliott had to go on business; but on Mrs. Elliott calling upon him herself to explain that she also was going, and would take care of Hal, he reluctantly consented.

Curiously enough, it was that year in a great measure that changed the current of Lorraine's life. She came to the cross-roads, and took the wrong turn.

Perhaps Miss Walton, with her knowledge of girls, could have foretold it. She might have said, in that enigmatical way of hers, "If Lorraine comes to the cross-roads, where life offers a short cut to fame, instead of a long, wearisome drudgery, she will probably take it. Hal will score off her own bat, or not at all. Lorraine will only care about gaining her end."

Anyhow the cross-roads came, and Hal, the stronger, was not there. As a matter of fact, for some little time the two had not seen much of each other. Lorraine was touring in the provinces, and rarely had time to come to London. Hal was tied by her work, and could not spare the time to go to Lorraine.

There was for a little while a cessation of intercourse. Neither was the least bit less fond, but circumstances kept them apart, and they could only wait until opportunity brought them together again. Both were too busy for lengthy correspondence, and only wrote short letters occasionally, just to assure each other the friendship held firm, and absence made no real difference.

Then Hal went off to America, and while she was away Lorraine came to her cross-roads.

It is hardly necessary to review in detail what her life had been since she joined the theatrical profession. It is mostly hard work and disillusion and disappointment for all in the beginning, and only a very small percentage ever win through to the forefront.

But for Lorraine, on the top of all the rest, was a mercenary, unscrupulous, intriguing mother, who added tenfold to what must inevitably have been a heavy burden and strain - a mother who taxed her utmost powers of endurance, and brought her shame as well as endless worry; and yet to whom, let it be noted down now, to her everlasting credit, no matter in what other way she may have erred, she never turned a deaf ear nor treated with the smallest unkindness.

It would be impossible to gauge just what Lorraine had to go through in her first few years on the stage. She seemed to make no headway at all, and at the end of the third year she felt herself as far as ever from getting her chance.

That she was brilliantly clever and brilliantly attractive had not so far weighed the balance to her side. There were many others also clever and attractive. She felt she had practically everything except the one thing needed - influence.

Thus her spirits were at a very low ebb. She was still touring the provinces, and heartily sick of all the discomfort involved. Dingy lodgings, hurried train journeys, much bickering and jealousy in the company with which she was acting, and a great deal of domestic worry over that handsome, extravagant mother, who had once taken her, in company with the so-called uncle, to the select seminary of the Misses Walton.

How her mother managed to live and dress as if she were rich had puzzled Lorraine many times in those days; but when she left the shelter of those narrow, restricting walls, where windows were whitewashed so that even boys might not be seen passing by, she learnt many things all too quickly.

She learnt something about the uncles too. One of them was at great pains to try and teach her, but with hideous shapes and suggestions trying to crowd her mind, the thought of Hal's freshness still acted as a sort of protection and kept her untainted.

A little later, after she had commenced to earn a salary, she found that directly the family purse was empty, and creditors objectionably insistent, she herself had to come to the rescue.

There were some miserable days then. It was useless to upbraid her mother. She always posed as the injured one, and could not see that in robbing her child of a real home she was strewing her path with dangers as well, by placing her in an ambiguous, comfortless position, from which any relief seemed worth while.

Then at last came the welcome news that Mrs. Vivian had procured a post as lady-housekeeper to a rich stockbroker in Kensington, who had also a large interest in a West-end theatre.

Lorraine read the glowing terms in which her mother described her new home and employer with a deep sense of relief, seeing in the new venture a probable escape for herself from those relentless demands upon her own scanty purse. A month later came the paragraph, in a voluminous epistle:

"Mr. Raynor says you are to make his house your home whenever you are free. He insists upon giving you a floor all to yourself, like a little flat, where you can receive your friends undisturbed, and feel you have a little home of your own. I am quite certain also that he will try to help you in your career through his interest in the Greenway Theatre."

If Lorraine wondered at all concerning this unknown man's interest in her welfare she kept it to herself.

A home instead of the dingy lodgings she had grown to hate, and the prospect of influential help, were sufficiently alluring to drown all other reflections.

When the tour was over she went direct to Kensington, to make her home with her mother until her next engagement. She was already too much a woman of the world not to notice at once that her mother and her host's relations seemed scarcely those of employee and employer, and there was a little passage of arms between herself and Mrs. Vivian the next morning.

In reply to a long harangue, in which that lady set forth the advantages Lorraine was to gain from her mother's perspicacity in obtaining such a post, she asked rather shortly:

"And why in the world should Mr. Raynor do all this for me, simply because you are his housekeeper?"

A red spot burned in Mrs. Vivian's cheek as she replied: "He does it because he wants me to stay; and I have told him I cannot do so unless he makes it possible for me to give you a comfortable, happy home here."

Lorraine's lips curled with a scorn she did not attempt to conceal, but she only stood silently gazing across the Park.

She had already decided to make the best of her mother's deficiencies, seeing she was almost the only relative she possessed, but she had a natural loathing of hypocrisy, and wished she would leave facts alone instead of attempting to gloss them over. Ever since she left school she had been obliged to live in lodgings, because her mother would not take the trouble to try and provide anything more of a home.

It was a little too much, therefore, that she should now allude to her maternal solicitude because it happened to suit her purpose. She felt herself growing hard and callous and bitter under the strain of the early struggle to succeed, handicapped as she was; and because of one or two ugly experiences that came in the path of such a warfare. She was losing heart also, and feeling bitterly the stinging whip of circumstances. As she stood gazing across the Park, some girls about her own age rode past, returning from their morning gallop, talking and laughing gaily together.

Lorraine found herself wondering what life would be like with her beauty and talent if there were no vulgarly extravagant, unprincipled mother in the background, no insistent need to earn money, no gnawing ambition for a fame she already began to feel might prove an empty joy.

She had not seen Hal for a year, and she felt an ache for her. In the shifting, unreliable, soul-numbing atmosphere of her stage career, she still looked upon Hal as a City of Refuge; and when she had not seen her for some time she felt herself drifting towards unknown shoals and quicksands.

And, unfortunately, Hal was away in America, with the editor to whom she was secretary and typist, and not very likely to be back for three months.

No; there was nothing for it but to make te best of her mother's explanation and the comfortable home at her feet.

As for Mr. Raynor himself, though he seemed to Lorraine vulgarly proud of his self-made position, vulgarly ostentatious of his wealth, and vulgarly familiar with both herself and her mother, she could not actually lay any offence to his charge. And in any case, he undoubtedly could help her, if he chose, to procure at last the coveted part in a London theatre. With this end in view, she laid herself out to please him and to make the most of her opportunity.


Winding Paths - 4/78

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