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- Winding Paths - 70/78 -


Had she not always dealt him laughter and careless scorn where other women bowed down? Had she not, over and over, weighed him in the balance, in that quiet, direct way of hers, and seen the weak strain that had always been there? First the lack of purpose, the idle indifference, which, in a different guise, had led up to a memory which now tortured his mind - the memory of a mad week; of love that was not love, because his whole soul was not given with it - nay, worse, was actually given in unconsciousness elsewhere. If she ever knew of that, what must her indignation and scorn be then?... Would it not indeed separate them for ever?

And even if it did, could it make hi unlove her?... Why should it, since he had waited no encoouragement before he gave her all? If he knew why he loved her, it might.

But he did not even know that. It was a thing outside questioning; something he seemed to have had no free will about. It was just there - a strong, undeniable fact.

Why reason? It did not _need_ reasoning. He loved her. He would always love her - simply because she was Hal - and as Hal, to him, was the one woman who filled his heart.

No; Lorraine dit not know just what fire of repentance and self-condemnation and hopeless aching her recklessness had lit for him; but it was enough that his gravity grew and deepened, and she believed she could lighten it.

She made immediate plans; cancelled her present engagement at considerable monetary loss to herself, and almost before any of them realised it, had vanished to a little out-of-the-way spot in Brittany, alone with Jean.

Hal was quite unhappy that she could not go to her for her own summer holiday, but Dick Bruce's people were taking her to Norway with them, and she would not have a day to spare.

She made Alymer promise to run across and see how she was, if possible, and then departed without any suspicions or forebodings, with Dudley and Dick to join the rest of the party at Hull, whence they were to start for the Fiords.

When she returned early in September, Lorraine was still away, and her letters gave no hint of returning. Still a little anxious, she sought an interview with Alymer, asking him to meet her for tea the following day.

The instant they met, Hal saw the change in him, and exclaimed in surprise:

"Haven't you had a holiday? You don't look very grand."

Unable to meet her eyes, he turned away towards a small table.

"Oh yes, I've had a holiday. I've been in France studying the language. I can talk like a French froggy now."

"Then of course, you saw Lorraine?"

"Yes."

"I wanted to see you about Lorry," with direct, straight gaze.

He steadied his features with an effort.

"I guessed so."

"Well, what is the matter with her?"

"Nothing very much. She got thoroughly low I think, and is not pulling up very quickly."

"I don't understand it," with puzzled, doubtful eyes. "Lorry is not like that. She is quite strong really. She has only once before gone under like this, and then it was a mental strain. I wonder if it is anything the same again? Did you see much of her?"

"I saw her four or five times."

"And she didn't tell you anything?"

"Anything about what?"

"Well - about her husband, for instance. He isn't worrying her again, is he?"

"She did not speak of him at all."

"Then what is it?... I wish she had not gone so far away. I wish I could get to her. Did she say when she might be coming back?"

"Not at present. She likes being there. She does not want to come back."

"That's what I can't understand. Something odd seems to have changed her. Have you thought so."

"I don't think it odd in Lorraine to fancy a long spell of country life. She was always loved the country."

"Not alone," with decision, "except for a good reason. I feel there is a reason now, and I do not know it."

Suddenly she gave him another direct look.

"You are changed too. You are years older. Is it your advancing success, or what? ... I don't say it isn't becoming," with a dash of her old banter - "but it seems sudden."

He raised his eyes slowly and looked into her face with an expression that in some way hurt her. It was the look of a devoted dog, craving forgiveness.

She pushed her cup away impatiently, half laughing and half serious.

"Don't look at me like that, Baby," striving blindly to rally him - "you make me feel as if I had smacked you."

He laughed to reassure her, and changed the subject to Norway, trying to keep her mind from further questioning concerning himself and Lorraine.

After tea she left him to go down to Shoreditch with Dick, first meeting him and the forlorn "G" at the Cheshire Cheese for their usual high tea.

It had become quite an institution now that "G" should join them, and, as Hal had predicted, she and Dick were firm friends. It was the brightest spot of the music-teacher's life since Basil Hayward died, and neither of them would have disappointed her for the world if they could help it.

To-night Quin was there also, so Hal was able to get a few words privately with Dick.

"What in the world is the matter with Alymer?" she asked. "I had tea with him this afternoon. He seems awfully down on his luck."

"I don't know what it is," Dick answered. "He is certainly not very gay - yet that last case he won before the Law Courts closed should have put him in fine feather for the whole vacation. Did you ask him if anything was wrong?"

"Yes; but he would only prevaricate. He has been in France, you know, studying the language, and he saw Lorraine, but he says very little about her. I wish I had time to go over and see her. Why, in the name of goodness, is she not acting this winter?"

But Dick could not help her to any solution, and an accumulation of work kept her too busy to brood on the puzzle.

It was at the end of October the shock came.

Hal reached home before Dudley that evening, and found a foreign letter awaiting her, written in an unfamiliar handwriting, and bearing the post mark of the little village where Lorraine so obstinately remained. With an instant sense of apprehension, she tore open the envelope, and read its contents with incredulity, amazement, and anxiety struggling together in her face.

Then she sat down in the nearest chair with a gasp, and stared blankly at the window, as if she could not grasp the import of the bewildering news.

The letter was from Jean, partly in French, and partly in English. It informed Hal, in somewhat ambiguous phrases, that La Chère Madame was very ill, and daily growing weaker, and she, Jean, was very worried and unhappy about her. She thought if mademoiselle could possibly get away, she should come at once. It then went on to make a statement which took Hal's breath away.

"L'enfant!... l'enfant!..." she repeated in a gasping sort of undertone, and stared with bewildered eyes at the window.

What could have happened?... What dit it all mean?

Then with a rush all the full significance seemed to come to her. Lorraine, ill and alone in that little far-away village, and this incomprehensible thing coming upon her; no one but a paid, though devoted maid to take care of her; no friend to help er in the inevitable hours of dread, and perhaps painful memories and apprehensions.

All her quick, warm-hearted sympathy welled up and filled her soul. Of course she must go at once, to-night if possible, or early to-morrow.

Yet as she struggled to collect her thoughts and form plans, she was conscious of a dumb, nervous cry: "What will Dudley say?... What in the world will Dudley say?"

CHAPTER XLI

He came in while she was still trying to compose herself for the struggle she anticipated; and because she had not yet made any headway, he saw at once that something alarming had happened.


Winding Paths - 70/78

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