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- Winding Paths - 5/78 -


And in this way she came to chose cross-roads which had to decide her future.

Before she had been a week in the house, Frank Raynor deserted his housekeeper altogether, and fell in love with the housekeeper's daughter. Within a fortnight he had laid all his possessions a Lorraine's feet, promising her not only wealth and devotion, but the brilliant career she so coveted.

The man was generous, but he was no saint. Give him herself, and she would have the world at her feet if he could bring it there. Give any less, and he would have no more to say to her whatsoever.

It was the cross-roads.

Lorrain struggled manfully for a month. She hated the idea of marrying a man better suited in every way to her mother. She dreaded and hated the thought of what had perhaps been between them; yet she was afraid to ask any question that might corroborate her worst fears.

All that was best in her of delicate and refined sensitiveness surged upward, and she longed to run away to some remote island far removed from the harsh realities of life.

Yet, how could she? Without money, without influence, without rich friends, what did the world at large hold for her?

How much easier to go with the tide - seize her opportunity - and dare Fate to do her worst.

At the last there was a bitter scene between mother and daughter.

"If you refuse Frank Raynor now, you ruin the two of us," was Mrs. Vivian's angry indictment. "What can we expect from him any more? How are you ever going to get another such chance to make a hit?"

"And what if it ruins my life to marry him?" Lorraine asked.

"Such nonsense! The man can give you everything. What in the world more do you want? He is good enough looking; he could pass as a gentleman, and he is rich."

A sudden nauseous spasm at all the ugliness of life shook Lorraine. She turned on her mother swiftly, scarcely knowing what she said, and asked:

"You are anxious enough to sell me to him. What is he to you anyway? What has he ever been to you?"

Mrs. Vivian blanched before the suddenness of the attack, but she held her ground.

"You absurd child, what in the world could he be to me? It is easy enough to see he has no eyes for any one but you."

"And before I came?"

Lorraine took a step forward, and for a moment the two women faced each other squarely. The eyes of each were a little hard, the expressions a little flinty; but behind the older woman's was a scornful, unscrupulous indifference to any moral aspect; behind the younger's a hunted, rather pitiful hopelessness. The ugly things of life had caught the one in their talons and held her there for good and all, more or less a willing slave, the soul of the younger was still alive, still conscious, still capable of distinguishing the good and desiring it.

The mother turned away at last with a little harsh laugh.

"Before you came he was nothing to me. He never has been anything."

Without waiting for Lorraine to speak, she turned again, and added:

"If you weren't a fool, you would perceive he is treating you better than ninety-nine men in a hundred. He has suggested marriage. The others might not have done."

"Oh! I'm not a fool in that way," came the bitter reply, "but I've wondered once or twice what your attitude would have been, supposing - er - he had been one of the ninety-nine!"

Mrs. Vivian was saved replying by the unexpected appearance of Frank Raynor himself. Entering the room with a quick step, he suddenly stopped short and looked from one to the other. Something in their expressions told him what had transpired. He turned sharply on the mother.

"You've been speaking to Lorraine about me. I told you I wouldn't have it. I know your bullying ways, and I said she was to be left to decide for herself."

Lorraine saw an angry retort on her mother's lips, and hurriedly left the room. She put on her hat and slipped away into the Park. What was she to do?... where, oh where was Hal!

Within three months the short cut was taken. Lorraine was engaged to play a leading part at the Greenway Theatre, and she was the wife of Frank Raynor.

CHAPTER IV

When Hal came back from America and heard about Lorraine's marriage, it was a great shock to her. At first she could hardly bring herself to believe it at all. Nothing thoroughly convinced her until she stood in the pretty Kensington house and beheld Mrs. Vivian's pronounced air of triumph, and Lorraine's somewhat forced attempts at joyousness.

It was one of the few occasions in her life when Lorraine was nervous. She did not want Hal to know the sordid facts; and she did not believe she would be able to hide them from her.

When Hal, from a mass of somewhat jerky, contradictory information, had gleaned that the new leading part at the London theatre had been gained through the middle-aged bridegroom's influence, her comment was sufficiently direct.

"Oh, that's why you did it, is it? Well, I only hope you don't hate the sight of him already."

"How absurd you are, Hal!... Of course I don't hate the sight of him. He's a dear. He gives me everything in the world I want, if he possibly can."

"How dull. It's much more fun getting a few things for oneself. And when the only thing in all the world you want is your freedom, do you imagine he'll give you that?"

Lorraine got up suddenly, thrusting her hands out before her, as if to ward off some vague fear.

"Hal, you are brutal to-day. What is the use of talking like that now?... Why did you go to America?... Perhaps if you hadn't gone _"

"Give me a cigarette," said Hal, with a little catch in her voice, "I want soothing. At the present moment you're a greater strain than Dudley talking down at me from a pyramid of worn-out prejudices. I don't know why my two Best-Belovèds should both be cast in a mould to weigh so heavily on my shoulders."

Sitting on the table as usual, she puffed vigorously at her cigarette, blowing clouds of smoke, through which Lorraine could not see that her eyes were dim with tears. For Hal's unerring instinct told her that, at a critical moment, Lorraine had taken a wrong path.

Lorraine, however, was not looking in Hal's direction. She had moved to the window, and stood with her back to the room, gazing across the Park, hiding likewise misty, tell-tale eyes.

Suddenly, as Hal continued silent, she turned to her with a swift movement of half-expressed protest.

"Hal! you shan't condemn me, you shan't even judge me. Probably you can't understand, because your life is so different - always has been so different; but at least you can try to be the same. What difference has it made between you and me anyhow?... What difference need it make? I have got my chance now, and I am going to be a brilliant success, instead of a struggling beginner. What does the rest matter between you and me?"

"It doesn't matter between you and me. But it matters to you. I feel I'd give my right hand if you hadn't done it."

"How could I help doing it? Oh, I can't explain; it's no use. We all have to fight our own battles in the long run - friends or no friends. Only the friends worth having stick to one, even when it has been a nasty, unpleasant sort of battle."

That hard look, with the hopelessness behind it, was coming back into Lorraine's eyes. She was too loyal to tell even Hal what her mother had been like the last few months before the critical moment came, and at the critical moment itself. She could not explain just how many difficulties her marriage had seemed a way out from.

There had been other men who had not proposed marriage. There had been insistent creditors - her mother's as well as her own. There had been that deep hunger for something approaching a real home, and for a sense of security, in a life necessarily full of insecurities.

Obdurate, difficult theatre managers, powerful, jealous fellow-actresses, ill health, bad luck! Behind the glamour and the glitter of the stage, what a world of carking care, of littleness, meanness, jealousy, and intrigue she had found herself called upon to do battle with.

And now, if only her husband proved amenable, proved livable with, how different everything would be? But in any case Hal must be there. Somehow nothing of all this showed in her face as she fronted the smoker, still blowing clouds of smoke before her eyes.

"What has become of Rod?" Hal asked suddenly.

Lorraine winced a little, but held her ground steadily.

"Rod had to go. What could Rod and I have done with £500 a year?"


Winding Paths - 5/78

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