Two Stories

Two Stories

By

Frances E. Huntley

I—Points of View

WHENEVER she recalled that incredible moment, she was
conscious of a strange emotional excitement, that thrilled
her with an exquisite poignancy, that set blushes momentarily
flaming, that darkened her eyes, and parted her quick-breathing
lips. She felt a little ashamed of the sensation, so that she
wanted to put into words, to get somebody else's opinion on,
what had occurred the evening before in the seductive corridor,
where the lights were turned low nearly to extinction, and the
scent of flowers penetrated and grew, till it took that keen
metallic odour that seems almost tangible.

The scene, familiar to weariness, had held for her always a
repulsion no less than an attraction ; it seemed such a bid for
playing at passion, and yet—commonplaces were so invariable
there ! Talk of the decorations, the floor, the guests, perhaps, as
a rarer topic, the more or less uninteresting personality of her
partner, minutely investigated—these had been the associations of
the corridor : not that she had wished it otherwise, far from that ;
but . . . well ! the feeling had been inexplicable, a mixture of
relief and disappointment, that still there was so much to learn,
that still it remained unlearnt.

And

48 Two Stories

And the teacher ? For him, she had imagined herself fas-
tidious, critical of shades of manner, almost impossible to please ;
and now, this morning ! ... It had been a man whom she
hardly knew, but with whom she felt conicious of a strange
intimacy. He, too, repulsed and attracted her at once ; said
things to her that in any one else she would have passionately
resented, spoke to her with an almost obtrusive sans-gêne, did not
even especially amuse her, and yet—his attraction was invincible.
Directly she came into a ball-room where he was, she perceived
him, freshly disapproved of him, smiled at him, disarranged her
card to include his dances, and, the dance over, came to sit out, in
a corridor such as that last night, all voluptuousness and allurement.
. . . She raged at herself perpetually, and would talk, none the
less, her wittiest and brightest, and glance gaily into the eyes that
looked back at her with a somewhat posé cynicism.

Last night ! Over and over again the scene recalled itself, and
thrilled her with that curious tremor. . . . She longed for a
clearer view of it, a cool, unswayed opinion . . . yet to tell !
It would be schoolgirlish, typical almost of silly loquacious
womanhood ; that was her first thought, then came another : the
woman of the world—the half-cynical, half-tender type that
attracted her so strongly, that she had met with in one woman,
and loved so dearly. Would she have told ? Yes, she could
fancy her, in her bright allusive way, with her wide roguish gaze,
and enchanting suggestion of a brogue. . . . So, she would tell,
and then, she laughed to think how much she was making of it ;
it was such a little thing after all, wasn't it ? ... But she
wavered again. It would sound so crude, such a bald, almost
vulgar, statement. For, when all was said and done, what had
happened ? . . . In the moment that she felt her cheek tinge
itself again with that vivid pink, another memory came to her,

vaguely

49 By Frances E. Huntley

vaguely, as it seemed, unmeaningly—of a public ball she had once
gone to (a rare thing with her, she didn't care enough for dancing
to pay for it, she always said), a ball at which were to be seen
many people of whose manners and customs she was entirely
ignorant. A scene she had witnessed there ! . . . the remem-
brance possessed her, a kind of unconscious cerebration, for which
she could not account.

A corridor, once more almost deserted, save for herself and her
partner, and, at the farther end, another couple, people she had
never seen before ; the girl, flaunting, ill-dressed, in a gown of
insistently meagre insufficiency, her hair heaped into unmeaning
shapelessness, nowhere an outline, a severity, a grave dainty
coquetry ; the effect was almost pathetic in its dull, bold cheap-
ness. And the man !—hardly more, indeed, than a boy—he bore
the huddled indistinctness, the look of imperfect detachment from
the atmosphere, whose opposite we convey by the word " distinc-
tion."

So, in a glance, she had seen them ; and, with a kind of absent
curiosity, had watched them while she talked . . . Quite suddenly
the man slipped to the ground beside his partner's chair, and passed
his arm familiarly, jocosely, round her unreluctant waist. A
moment more and their faces touched, their lips met, in a kiss
. . . one which, it was abundantly evident, was not of deep
feeling, or even the expression of an instant's real emotion ; no,
there was an ineffable commonness, a painful coarsening of the
action, visible even to unaccustomed eyes ... it was " sport."
The girl had probably invited it ; the man, more than probably,
was not the first who had been privileged. . . .

She had felt revolted.

Her partner had made some contemptuous remark : " Can't
they do it in private ! If she likes being hugged—" The

mere

50 Two Stories

mere words had set her cheeks on fire, the careless, half-amused
scorn of his tone, the matter-of-course for which he had
taken it. She had rushed into one of her impetuous, heedless
speeches :

" I would rather have a girl who has the realness in her to do
something honestly wrong ! One can't call that 'wrong'—no,
too good a word. It's only futile, common. Oh, better the poor
girls whose weakness has something real in it, some—courage,
foolishness . . . But that sort ! "

The ring of her voice sounded in her ears when she recalled
the scene. It had stamped itself oddly on her memory, was always
coming back to her, haunting her. . . .

The clear, tender pink still lingered on her cheek ; for, once
more, the public ball forgotten, she had gone over that little
episode in the corridor last night—in the deserted, solitary corridor.
Why did it thrill her so ? She did not love the man who had
thus surprised her—love him ! Why, her acquaintance with him
was of the slightest ; and his feeling for her ? She could not
conceivably delude herself about that ; it was very much the same,
she divined, as hers for him . . . Then why was it ? He was
the first who had ever kissed her—could that be it ?

At the time she had felt angry, but more hurt than angry ;
hurt at his audacity ; it seemed as if he must have thought her a
girl who very lightly " took a fancy " for a man, a girl who was
easily attracted. . . . Some analogy was worrying her, something
like it that had happened before, something she had read perhaps.
. . . What could it be ? Why could she not remember ?

Great heaven ! the girl at the public ball, the girl who had let
a man kiss her for sport ! " That sort ! " . . .

Oh, no, no, there was no likeness, none, no analogy, no possible
comparison. She, with her pride, and refinement, and high-flown

romantic

51 By Frances E. Huntley

romantic idealism in her theory that anything real was better than
that futile fingering of edged tools. . . . And that wild-haired,
cheap tawdriness. . . .

She writhed in restless, rebellious shame, her hands covered her
face, where the soft rosiness was turning to thick suffusing scarlet.
. . . After all, if any one had seen, it must have looked quite the
same, quite, quite the same.

The thought was intolerable. What was she to do ? How
get some denial of this sickening suspicion. Tell her sister, ask
her what she thought ? Ah, no, no ; now she could never tell
. . . and, in the glass, it seemed to her that her eyes looked bold
and glittering, and her hair, with its carefully followed outlines
and burnished softly-curving richness, appeared shapeless, unkempt
unconsidered . . . Her ball-gown ! she tore it from the box where
it lay in its fragrant mistiness ... it was disgraceful, it was
immodest almost, she would never wear it again, never dance
again, never see that man again. . . .

And as she stood before the glass, with passionate quivering
lips, and eyes burning with stinging unfallen tears, the strange
delicious thrill stole through her once more, the roseate flickers
glowed on her cheek, the kiss seemed to touch her once more
with its lingering pressure. . . . Ah, surely there was a point of
view, surely there was a difference ?

She tasted in that moment something of the weakness of
womanhood—its pitiful groping artificiality, its keen passionate
realness.

I CAN

52 Two Stories

II—Lucille

I CAN hardly expect you to understand me, I fear—for, if the
truth be told, I understand myself not at all ; and of Lucille,
my comprehension is, at best, just not misapprehension : though
of that, even, I feel at times uncertain enough.

Well, after this morning, I suppose I need not think about it
any more. Need not ! must not would express it better : the
last word, so far as I am concerned in it, has been said ; the
curtain has rung down upon the little comedy-tragedy that I had
(I might say) written, or, at any rate, conceived, entirely by and
for myself ; and it has left me, the author, in a puzzlement that
is, to treat it lightly, extremely disconcerting. I can't help
having the preposterous feeling that it is partly my fault that it
has ended so, and of course, you know, it isn't, couldn't be !

If we will take our drama in real life, we must not expect the
unexpected, we must—strenuously—remember that we are author
and audience both, that we see the thing from the inside, that we
must be prepared for things actually happening, just as they seem
to be going to happen.

I suppose I thought I had thus reasoned it all out, but I see
now that my vision was irrevocably warped, that I was looking
out, with a playgoer's certainty of anticipation, for the unpre-
pared—for the unexpected. . . . But (I meant to have said
sooner) it occurs to me that, if I put it into words for you, if I
reduce it, so to speak, to black and white, we may contrive
between us to come to some sort of an understanding about it, to
unravel at least one or two of the threads, to get, in short, an
approximate idea of that slender humorous enigma whom we used
to call Lucille Silverdale.

So

53 By Frances E. Huntley

So now, if you are not alarmed at, repelled by, the prospect of a
riddle, a puzzle—oh, but a very charming puzzle in brown hair
and hazel eyes and sensitive contours . . . ?

Mrs. Silverdale, if she did not openly bemoan her fate, yet
intimated tolerably plainly her resentment at the trick which
nature had played upon her ; and, far from in sympathy though I
felt with her, I could not deny that, from her point of view, there
might be an excuse for her attitude. Her attitude ? But, in
truth, that is hardly the word ; it was more a resigned recog-
nition that there was no possible attitude to be taken up, a kind
of mental huddle, a backboneless disapproval, an appallingly silent
silence.

From the culprit herself, little aggression could be complained
of ; Lucille was, perhaps, as much ashamed of her inconvenience,
her inconvenance, as were the most robust-minded of her family ;
but (it seemed to me) this very modesty, this very agreement with
their envisagement of the situation, did but add an irritation the
more to her personality.

Strange enough it was, too ; one is used to see it taken so differ-
ently, that perfunctory law whereby the ages free themselves from
the muffling oblivion of mankind—that poking, freakish finger that
heredity sticks in our eyes, as we peer anxiously to see if the veil
be decorously thrown over all. The tears it brings—that mocking
inexorable finger—are not always of those that purify our mental
vision ; and of the Silverdales' sight, so far as that concerned itself
with this slender, humorous maiden, it had made miniature havoc.

That, after all these dear mediocre centuries, he should re-assert
himself—that ancestor, who in the days of Herrick and Suckling
had held his own wittily, gloriously, with the best of them !
One might have hoped that decades upon decades of ignoring,

of

54 Two Stories

of snubbing, would have quelled his ghostly essence, would have
taught his undying part that at any rate it was not wanted among
the posterity of his race. But (and the situation really had its
pathetic side) here it was, with the flair of these uncanny insub-
stantialities, finding a welcome at last (though not perhaps of the
most rapturous) in the great—great—oh, je vous le donne en mille !
—in the thousandth great-niece, Lucille Silverdale, daughter and
sister of, in abstract phrase, the Healthy Commonplace of the
British Nation. It was rare enough, as I said—that shrinking
from, that deprecation of, their sole title to distinction ; one longed
to trace it back to its source, to discover from what veil that
impish ringer had darted, whether, to add a quaintness the more,
he, the wit, the sweet singer of that honeyed age, had been as
unwelcome to his family circle as she, the somewhat unwilling
inheritress of his genius, was to hers. But of that bygone blazon
upon the Silverdale 'scutcheon, it would have been ill-advised,
perilous to speak ; to Lucille even the subject was painful, and
in the most impracticable sort of way.

She did say to me once, in a moment of acute dejection, that
in any other family she would probably have been the idol, in-
sufferably thrust for worship upon every new-comer. " But as
it is," she finished sadly, though with her unquenchable twinkle,
" I am a skeleton, rattling my impossible bones, not in a nice
musty hiding-place of my own, but in the comfortable, general
family-cupboard, which they can't open without seeing me. And
they have to open it every day—before visitors, too ! "

If I laughed somewhat oppressively at her analogy, I daresay
she divined part of the reason, and didn't wonder that her amazing
comicality should have filled my eyes with tears. . . .

Well, skeleton or idol, she was sufficiently lonely. They were
all so rudely healthy-minded, so full of the working-out of their

rosy-

55 By Frances E. Huntley

rosy-cheeked conception of the joie de vivre (if it set one wondering
and shuddering, that was one's own concern), so insistent in
exuberance and jollity, that it was no marvel if they had little
time, or inclination to make it, for a dreamer of dreams, a seer of
visions, a hearer of the music of the spheres. Not that any of
those would have been their definition of Lucille : to them, she
was a sentimentalist, a " mooney." Yet, apart from the unnatural-
nesses into which she would pathetically force herself, she had her
soft appealing wildnesses, her gay roguish outbreaks, her bright
apologetic materialnesses. . . .

Seeing it written there—apologetic—it comes to me with a
flash of annoyed divination that Lucille was an incarnate apology.
. . . I knew we should arrive at something, you and I ; and I
am proved right before I have really posed you my enigma. We
are coming to it now : Why could she not have had the courage
of her genius ? I'm sure we see it often enough, oftener than
enough, perhaps—the cocksure type of young man or woman,
who has the courage of his or her talent. The courage ! The
brazenness, more aptly ; don't we know them ? and they are
clever—oh, clever ! Then why couldn't she be something like
them, instead of being one desperate, appealing clutch at the
commonplace ? She would do violence to her most delicate feelings,
and look absolutely complacent over it. Sometimes it made me
swear, sometimes—for it had its humorous side, of course—it
wholly amused me.

Haven't I heard her twanging a banjo, and singing, in that
ethereal voice of hers, the last banalities ? Haven't I seen her
playing at hockey ? Seen her ! the smile she wore, the nervous
conciliatory smile ; the runs she took—of all futilities ; the hits
she made, or didn't make ! Lucille's hockey was a triumph of
failure. And she would say she liked it, afterwards : it was hard,

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. D

then,

56 Two Stories

then, to repress one's ironic impulse one felt that she deserved
something. . . . But it wasn't at all that I found it a degradation,
or even a derogation, for her to play hockey—that wasn't in the
least my feeling. It was more an irritated kind of pity for her
fatuity, her lack of humour.

Yet with humour she was otherwise fully equipped ; her eyes
caught your flying sparkle, and rayed it off into immensity of fun.
Her lips—they almost sparkled, too, so mobile, scarlet. Her very
hands dimpled sometimes with laughter of rosy finger-tips, and
suggestion. . . . In a mad moment, you might have imagined that
her feet twinkled, too, in their small jewelled slippers, enjoying
the joke like the rest ! . . .

And, after a scintillation like that, the girl would do or say
something so irritating, so painfully, insistently, commonplace. . .
It was incomprehensible, that attitude of hers : she was, as I have
told you, my Sphinx of every-day life.

An instance ? Oh, as to that, I could overwhelm you with
instances. . . . Well, to take the first that occurs . . . and, indeed,
it is typical enough, I suppose, for my purpose. . . .

I met them down the river one afternoon of last summer—all
of them, Mrs. Silverdale, Mamie, Bella, Lucille, and, I think, one
or two vague, familiar young men. Already I had divined that
one of these last (I could barely distinguish one from the other)
admired Lucille, and plumed himself hugely upon his good taste,
which, to him, indeed, one could imagine, reflected itself almost
as bad taste—the sort of bad taste that one implies in " caviare to
the general "—with a perfect understanding of the difficulties of
caviare.

This mental attitude of Lucille's admirer (I think his name
was Willie Ruthven) produced in his demeanour a mingling of
patronage, awe, and flippancy that formed an amazing whole. If

it

57 By Frances E. Huntley

it sometimes made me long to kick him, that was perhaps an
excess of my feeling of championship for the lovely duckling of
this complacently plain family . . . or perhaps it was that her
gentle graciousness towards him seemed to me part of that irritating
apology of hers. . . .

To-day, for example, she was sitting apart from the rest, learning,
with his assistance, a banjo-atrocity of the newest, and assuming
for histrionic completeness a parody of the vilest parody on
speech :

    " What I loiked about that party wos,

     They wos all of 'em so refoined."

She was chanting in that silvery thread of hers, while he held the
music-sheet before her. And that was Lucille Silverdale ! the
" L. S." of A Trial of Flight, that exquisite little sheaf of poems
which, like fairy-arrows, had stirred the wings of many a shy
emotion in our critical hearts—we of The Appreciator, most modern
of modernities, most connaissant of connoisseurs ! It was—well,
it was ridiculous, of course, but wasn't it painful, too, to see a
genius so belittle the gift of the most high gods ?—wasn't it almost
wicked, blasphemous ?

They were encamped in a mist of greenness, their boat fastened
to the long bough of a willow that pushed into the water ; it made
an ideal nook for happy lovers, and I wondered hotly if it realised
its present indignity, as, eagerly invited by the rest, I drew in my
canoe to their hiding-place. I hardly looked at Lucille and her
Companion of the Banjo, nor did she say anything by way of
welcome ; she was, I gathered, too deeply absorbed in her musical
studies. I hardly looked at her—but I saw her, more clearly than
I saw any of the others : a slender, hazel-eyed incarnation of
fragrant coolness, lying there, in white and yellow, among her
gleaming blue-green cushions, while the sunbeams glinted off

every

58 Two Stories

every part of the silver and polished wood of her banjo, and her
pretty fingers, too, caught the rays on their rings and their rosy
opalescent nail-tips. I could have shaken her where she lay : was
she enjoying herself, did she like it . . . ?

" Now, Miss Silverdale, you forgot your accent there ! " cor-
rected Willie Ruthven, in tones that subdued themselves to a
growling tenderness—more could not be demanded of his gruff
organ—and even while I inwardly blustered, I felt the humour of
the moment steal over me irresistibly. Modern love-making !
Should I do it for The Appreciator ? Love-making over that blatant
ditty to the poetess of A Trial of Flight !

But Mamie was claiming my attention.

" Mr. Transfield, are you good at riddles ? We have a book
of them here—come and help us to guess them, they are such
fun ! "

Riddles—and a book of them ! . . . Well, I went and listened
to these riddles ; of my help in guessing them, one can say little,
nor, indeed, was much opportunity for distinction afforded. Like
most posers of enigmas, Mamie had but one ambition : to give
you the answer. . . .

" And your sister, does she like riddles too ? "

I asked it almost involuntarily, annoyed at their persistent ignor-
ing of her (I don't know whether it was chivalry or—some other
feeling, that incensed me so with her exclusion, her isolation . . .) ;
and then, besides, a riddle—even of this kind—must remind me,
must so inevitably suggest her to me. . . . I have not guessed
that answer, either, and there was no Mamie to tell it me. . . .
Perhaps there isn't any ? Dieu sait ! . . .

" Lucille—oh, Lucille ! She never guesses anything, never
even tries or listens ; too much absorbed in intellectual pursuits ! "
" For instance ? " I queried, eyebrows irresistibly elevated in

my

59 By Frances E. Huntley

my glance at the couple in the bow . . . I caught her look for
an instant . . . it seemed to say something, hope something . . .
then her fingers swept over the strings, and once more she studied
the Cockney dialect. . . .

" Anything is better than talking to the rest of us," said Mrs.
Silverdale, crossly ; to such good purpose was the girl's martyr-
dom ! for martyrdom, I was sure of it, her eyes had but now
implied. My heart swelled, my cheek burned, as usual. . . .

Of the rest of the day it needs not to tell you ; an epitome of
it is there, in the banjo, the cushions, Willie Ruthven, the riddles,
and the increasing crossness of the others. For, to add a hope-
lessness the more, one could more than guess that Mamie desired
Willie for herself. . . . Bella, more fortunate, chattered inter-
mittently with the other familiar vagueness ; and in our ears the
strings incessantly tinkled, the Cockney dialect futilely twanged,
Willie's growling tendernesses reverberated. . . .

To Lucille I never once spoke.

But alone, all the way home, through the dusky gleaming of the
water, I seemed to catch again that shy elusive glance, that
appealing proud humility . . . that half-divined, wholly-lost
answer. . . .

Well, that is all ! I wonder if I thought right ? I wonder if, in
these halting half-apprehensions of mine, these unilluminative
side-lights, this one meaningless—or significant ?—instance, I
have succeeded in gaining, at least, your interest, your sympathy,
for my Sphinx of South Kensington ? I wonder if I have helped
you to an idea of her, at all corresponding to what she is ? And,
more than all, I wonder can you divine (for I cannot) where it is
that her weakness lies, what it is that makes her so spoil, so
desecrate herself ?

To

60 Two Stories

To me she is the riddle—shall I say, of my life ? I almost think
that, without exaggeration, without affectation, I may call her so,
for it is more than unlikely now that I shall ever know the answer.
Oh, of course, you may say that she has answered it herself, and in
the roughest black-and-white, the worst, the bluntest of type . . .
for you saw, no doubt, as I did, that announcement in the morn-
ing's paper, that hateful, incredible juxtaposition of names :
" Ruthven—Silverdale." . . .

But, you see, I can't get that look out of my thoughts, that
flutter of the wings of her strange, sweet, mistaken soul . . . and
I think, I can't help thinking, that Lucille has written out her
Apology to the last word. . . .

And, in the name of Reason, what was the meaning of it all ?
Oh, it sets my heart aching—but it makes me angry too . . . it
seems as if—as if—it seems (confound it !) as if I had had some-
thing given to me to do—and hadn't done it. . . .

What do you think ? I hardly hoped you would understand, you
know . . . but perhaps you do, and—do you think I could have
done anything ? do you feel as if it had been, in any way, my fault ?
It seems a preposterous, a presumptuous notion . . . but is there
anything in it, do you think ? . . . I suppose it is useless to
expect you to answer.





MLA citation: Huntley, Frances E. "Two Stories." The Yellow Book 8 (January 1896): 47-60. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2012. Web. [Date of access]. http://1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV8_huntley_two_stories.html