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- Winding Paths - 6/78 -


"My own" - from the blunt-speaking one - "it surely seems as if you might have thought of that before you allowed Rod to run all over the country after you, and get 'gated', and very nearly 'sent down', and spend a year or two's income ahead in trying to give you pleasure."

Lorraine flung herself down on the sofa with a callous air, and beat her foot on the ground impatiently. The parting with Rod was another thing she did not propose to describe to Hal. It had hurt too badly, for one thing.

"When you moralise, Hal, you are detestable. Besides, it's so cheap. Any one can sit on a table and hurl sarcasm about. I daresay in my place you would have married Rod, from a sense of duty or something, and ruined all the rest of his life. Or perhaps, after gently breaking the news, you'd have let him come dangling round to be 'mothered'. Well, I don't say I haven't been a bit of a brute to him; but anyhow I tried to do the square thing in the end. I cut the whole affair dead off. I told him I would not see him nor write to him again. I've since sent two letters back unopened, and though you mightn't think it, I was just eating my heart out for a sight of him. But what's the good! He's got to follow in the footsteps of whole centuries of highly respectable, complacent, fat old bankers. His father and mother would have a fit if he didn't develop into the traditional fat old banker himself, and beget another of the same ilk to follow on.

"I daresay with me he would have developed a little more soul, and a little less stomach - but what of it? -" with a graceful shrug. "For the good of his country it is written that he shall acquire weight and stolidity, instead of an ideal soul, and for the benefit of posterity I sentenced him to speedy rotundity, and dull respectability, and the begetting of future bankers. He will presently marry some one named Alice or Annie, and invite me to the first christening in a spirit of Christian forgiveness."

Hal smiled more soberly than was her wont.

"And what of you?"

"What of me?... Oh, I don't come into that sort of scheme. I never ought to have been there at all. Still, I'm glad I showed him he'd got something in himself beside the stale accumulations of many banker ancestors; if it's only for the sake of the next litte banker, who may want to lay claim to an individual soul."

"But it hurt, Lorraine?... don't tell me it didn't hurt after... after - "

"Oh yes, it hurt," with a low, bitter laugh; "but what of that eiter? It's generally the woman who gets hurt; but I suppose I knew I was riding for a fall."

"I don't suppose you are any more hurt than he is. You know he worshipped you."

"Yes; only presently it will be easy for him to get back into the old, orthodox groove with 'Alice', and persuade himself that I was only a youthful infatuation, whereas I - Oh, what does it matter, Hal! Come out of that 'great-aunt' mood, and let's be joly while we can. I'll ring for coffee and liqueurs, and then we'll make lots of ripping plans to see everything in England worth seeing - until I can find time to go abroad."

Hal sprang off het table.

"Oh, very well," she rejoined, "Let's get rowdy and sing the song 'Love may go hang.' When I've got it over with Dudley, we'll just go straight on, keeping a good look out for the next fence. You'd better tell me something abouth this paternal husband of yours, just to prepare me for our meeting. He doesn't put his knife in his mouth, and that sort of thing, does he?"

"No; not quite so bad. His worst offence at present, I think, is to call me 'wifey'."

"Wifey!" in accents of horror. "Lorraine, how awful!"

"Yes; but I'm breaking him of it by degrees: that and his fondness for a soft felt hat."

They sat on chatting together with apparent gayness, but Hal's heart was no lighter after she had duly been presented to the paternal husband, as she called him, and she journeyed solemnly home on a bus, feeling rather as if she had been to a funeral. She tried at first to hide her feelings from Dudley - no difficult matter at all, since he usually contributed little but a slightly absent "yes" and "no" to the conversation, and if the conversation languished he took small notice.

However, he had to be told, and Hal rarely troubled to do much beating about the bush, so, in order to rouse him speedily and thoroughly, just as he was settling down to his newspaper she hurled the news at his head without any preliminary preparation.

"What do you think Lorraine has done now? Been and gone and married a man old enough to be her father!"

"Married!... Lorraine Vivian married!"

Dudley's newspaper went down suddenly on to his knee.

Hal had squatted on the hearthrug, tailor fashion, before the fire, and she gave a little swaying movement backward and forward, to signify the affirmative. He looked at her a moment as if to make sure she was not joking, and then said, with sarcastic lips:

"A man old enough to be her father? ... then it isn't even Rod Burrell!"

"No; it isn't even Rod Burrell."

"Some one with more money and influence, I suppose? Well, I don't know that Burrell needs any one's condolences."

"He does, badly."

"He won't for long. The Burrells are a sensible lot, and no sensible man frets over a hearless woman."

"Lorraine is not a heartless woman. She has too much heart."

"She is certainly very generous with it."

"I don't know which is the more detestable, a sarcastic man or a sensible one." Hal shut her lips tightly, and stared at the fire.

"I imagine you hardly expect any sort of man to admire Miss Vivian's action."

"It doesn't matter in the least what 'any sort of man' thinks. I am only concerned with the possibility that she will weary of matrimony quickly and be miserable. I told you, because I wanted you to hear it from me instead of from a newspaper."

Dudley suddenly grew more serious, as he realised how it must in a measure affect Hal also.

"Who is he?

"He is a stockbroker, named Frank Raynor, aged fifty."

"And of course she married him for his money ?

"I suppose so. Also he partly owns the Greenway Theatre."

"Pshaw . . . it's a mere bargain."

Hal was silent. She had rested her chin on her hands, and was now gazing steadily at the embers.

"Of course if he is not a gentleman, you will have to leave off seeing so much of her."

"Not at all. She would need me all the more.

"That is quite possible," drily; "but you owe something to yourself and me."

"I couldn't owe failing a friend to any one. But he is a gentleman almost - a self-made one, and he doesn't let you forget it."

"Then you've seen him?"

"Yes, to-day." Her lips suddenly twitched with irresistible humour. "He called me 'Hal' and Lorraine 'wifey' We bore it bravely."

"What business had he to call you by your Christian name?"

"None. I suppose he just felt like it. He also alluded to my new hat as a bonnet. Also he used to be an office-boy or something. He seemed inordinately proud of it."

"I loathe a self-made man who is always cramming it down one's throat. I don't see how you can have much in common with either of them any more."

Hal got up, as if she did not want to pursue the subject.

"It won't make the smallest difference to Lorraine and me," she said.

Dudley knit his forehead in vexation and perplexity, remarking:

"Of course you mean to be obstinate about it."

"No," with a little laugh; "only firm."

She came round to his chair and leant over the back it.

"Dear old long-face, don't look so worried. None of the dreadful things have happened yet that you expected to come of my friendship with Lorraine. The nearest approach to them was the celebrated young author I interviewed, who asked me to go to Paris with him for a fortnight, and he was a clergyman's son who hadn't even heard of Lorraine. Next, I think, was the old gentleman who offered to take me to the White City. IL don't seem much the worse for either encounter, do I ? and it's silly to meet trouble half way.

She bent her head and kissed him on the forehead.

"Dudley," she finished mischievously, "what are you going to give Lorraine for a wedding-present?"

"I might buy her the book, 'Row to be Happy though Married,'" he said


Winding Paths - 6/78

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