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Authors: D. E. Stevenson

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Chapter Sixteen
Waiting and Looking Back

I took Clementina to Hill House and left her there. I was all alone now in the big empty Manor, waiting for Garth's diary to arrive, so that I could start the book. I was used to being alone, but I was not used to idleness. I had always had as much to do as I could accomplish; ever since I was a small child my days had been full. In my parents' house I had helped old Martha to make beds and puddings, and when father grew older, a considerable amount of parish work had fallen quite naturally upon my shoulders. In London I had my job and small household tasks as well, and latterly Clementina had filled my days and occupied my mind. This was the first time in my life that I found myself a lady of leisure.

The Manor was now running on oiled wheels, it required little or no supervision—my housekeeping took me about an hour in the morning, and for the remainder of the day I was absolutely free. I spent as much time as possible in the rock garden, and I rode, of course, but the weather was too cold and wet to spend many hours out of doors, and the evenings were long and empty. It was then that the idea came to me that I should write the third part of my life story for you, Clare. To beguile the long winter evenings and to bring you here to keep me company and listen to my tale. I had the old schoolroom bureau brought down to the library—Garth's desk was too big and shiny, it took my mind off my work—and settled down to write the story of Clementina's father.

It is strange how the figure of Garth has dominated my life. He dominates this third part of my story—I see that quite clearly—even though he only appears in it at the very beginning. Garth is still here: death has not obliterated him; the house and garden are redolent of his personality. Perhaps it is because he loved his home so dearly that his spirit returns to watch over it and see that all's well; I don't know. But I do know that he is here. When I come into the library I have a feeling that Garth has just left the room, I can almost smell the sharp tang of smoke from his pipe, and the strange, peaty perfume of his Harris tweeds. When I work in the garden he is with me in spirit guiding my choice so that the rock garden which he planned shall be as he imagined it.

The thread of my life has been tangled with Garth's, and, even now, when he is dead, I cannot escape from him. Even now I am waiting for Garth, waiting for his diary to come, so that I may write his book—the task that he entrusted to me. Everything is prepared, and I am waiting impatiently to begin. How much of the real Garth shall I find in the diary, how much editing will the diary require?

Once before, long years ago, I waited for Garth to come. It was spring then, and the flowers put on their brightest colors to welcome him home; it is winter now, and the branches are bare—that is how it should be. I hope that the diary will not disappoint me, as Garth did, long ago. He would not be welcomed then; he had turned from me; his face had changed. That dreadful change in Garth's face still haunts me. I looked for love and found hatred; I found lines of cynicism where gentleness and kindness had been—it still haunts me. I shall never know, now, what changed him. I want to put the old Garth in the book that I am going to write—if the diary will let me—want to wash out the memory of that bitter, ruthless man who came home from the war, who looked upon the world through distorted lenses and would believe good of nobody. He tortured himself as well as others; he twisted his life out of shape. Why did he do this, why? Oh, Clare, I wish I could find the answer to that question! Even if it were a terrible answer—some dark secret that preyed upon his mind and changed his nature—I could face it better than the uncertainty; better than the possibilities conjured up in my imagination. The scales swing this way and that. One part of me argues that Garth would do nothing shameful, he was so straight, so clean; he detested lies and deceit with every fiber of his being. And then another part of me replies: “What was it that changed him then? It must have been something terrible to change a man like that. Men have temptations that we can never know.” So the scales swing this way and that, and I shall never know the answer to the question. The third part of my story is finished, and still the diary has not come. I shall read over all that I have written and put the papers together—with the first and second parts of my story—in the bottom drawer of the old bureau.

Part Four
Charlotte's Dream

Chapter One
Clare

The fourth and last part of this history is written solely for my own satisfaction. I feel that the thing is incomplete. Problems are set and left unsolved. There are half a dozen loose tags and ends to be drawn together and finished off. I can now elucidate the problems and collect the scattered threads, and that is what I have set out to do.

The first three parts of my story have lain for two years in the bottom drawer of the bureau waiting until I could find the time and the opportunity and the inclination to write the fourth part. The fourth part is not written for you, Clare, but only for myself—there is no need for me to write to you anymore.

I shall start this part from the moment when I left off writing the third part, from the very moment when I had finished writing and collected the loose sheets of paper to put away in the drawer. It was nearly time for tea, and I went upstairs to tidy my hair and wash my hands. I was still busy with my hair when the front doorbell rang, and, a few moments later, Barling came to say that Mrs. Felstead had called and was waiting in the library.

As I went downstairs I wondered what Mrs. Felstead would be like. We had so nearly met on several occasions. She had called on me, and I had called on her. I had been asked to Oldgarden and had been unable to go; it had almost seemed as if we were fated not to meet. It was natural that I should want to meet Mrs. Felstead; Clementina spoke of her with affection—she had been very kind to Clementina, she seemed to understand the child. I knew that only a very understanding sort of woman could possibly understand Clementina, therefore Mrs. Felstead must be an understanding sort of woman. I felt quite excited—would I find somebody congenial waiting for me in the library, a potential friend…

***

I found Clare. She was standing at the window gazing out at the darkening garden, and she turned toward me when she heard me come in. I saw at once that it was Clare. She was older than I had remembered her, and her face was thinner and sadder—she had been through a lot of trouble in the last year.

I stood there, gazing at her stupidly; I could not make up my mind whether she were a real woman of flesh and blood or a figment of my imagination.

“Oh, Miss Dean!” she began, and then she laughed and added, “Why, we have met before—do you remember?”

“Of course, I remember you,” I said slowly—she was real then. My imaginary Clare never called me Miss Dean, never asked me if I remembered her—

My first instinct was fear; fear lest I should be disappointed. Clare had been with me so long, and meant so much to me—would this woman take from me the Clare of my dreams?

“I have often thought about you,” she was saying, in that curiously deep voice which I remembered so well. “I have often cursed myself for being such a fool as not to ask your name. Perhaps you think it rather silly.”

“I wanted to ask yours,” I told her.

“Good,” she said, laughing at me with her eyes. “You felt it too—that we should understand each other I mean—then we needn't begin at the beginning. We are old friends.”

“Old friends,” I agreed.

I knew I was being stupid and gauche. I was leaving the whole thing to her, I was not even meeting her halfway. But I could not help it; I was dazed with the unexpectedness of our meeting—I was bewildered because my dream had become flesh. If I had started to say anything
then
I would have gone on and said too much. The woman would think me mad if I said one quarter of what I felt. I knew that. I must say nothing until my brain recovered and could choose my words calmly—I must not expose my dream.

I busied myself over the tea-things, inquiring about milk and sugar—my hand trembled foolishly. It seemed so extraordinary to be having tea with Clare, and the next moment it seemed quite natural. How often had we had tea together? Never. A thousand times. The two answers were both right and both wrong—my head whirled.

Clare was talking about Clementina now.

“I have always been interested in that child,” she was saying. “I don't know much about these complexes that people discuss nowadays, but if ever anybody had a complex Clem had. She was—she was
frustrated
by life, if you know what I mean. Always on guard before the portals of her soul—or nearly always. One caught a glimpse of the real Clem now and then, and the real Clem was worthwhile—always. What a difference there is in the child!”

“A difference?” I could do nothing but stupidly echo her words.

“Since you came,” Clare said, biting into a buttered crumpet with obvious enjoyment. “Clem is much more human now. She lets herself enjoy things…her guard is down…she does not hold herself apart. I see a great difference in the child.”

“I'm glad.”

“Yes, it was worth doing. I was very fond of Clem, even when she was so difficult, and I liked having her at Oldgarden. She and Violet are as different as can be. Clem so quiet and thoughtful and Violet as harum-scarum as they make 'em—at least she was, poor lamb. She hasn't much opportunity to be harum-scarum now—but she will be again—we shall have her tearing about again—someday.”

“I'm glad,” I said again.

“Yes, it's wonderful,” she said. “Sir Maxton Grant has almost promised—the few months that I had her away in the South of France improved her enormously.”

“You have had a terribly anxious time.”

“It has been—almost unbearable,” she said in a difficult voice. “But somehow one just—bears it. They told us at first that she would never walk again.”

I could say nothing, my heart was too full; I put my hand out and she took it.

“You understand,” she said in a surprised voice. “So few people understand, but I can feel that you do.”

“I do,” I said.

“It is strange how few people understand,” she said. “People say it was good of me to give up everything to be with Violet—good of me! That annoys me, makes me furious. Silly to be furious, of course, because the poor things can't help not understanding, can they? I would have given up anything,
everything
to have been able to ease Violet's pain. I would have given my own body to bear it for her gladly, eagerly. There is nothing wonderful or self-sacrificing about
that
; it would have been easier for me. When you see the child you love suffering…” She was silent for a moment and then she added in a lighter tone, “So there was nothing ‘good' in my giving up hunting to be with Violet because she wanted me near her all the time, because she felt a little easier when I was there and the pain was harder to bear when I was away. It was just pure selfishness…I don't know why on earth I am talking like this. I don't, as a rule.”

“Because you know I want to hear.”

“I believe you really do.”

“I do,” I said earnestly. “I'm stupid at saying things, but you have been so often in my thoughts all these years. I don't want the usual tea-table talk from you. It would be almost—almost an insult.”

“The first time we met we talked of real things,” she agreed thoughtfully.

“I know. We said so much…I seemed to know you…seemed to know exactly what you were like. It is difficult for you to understand because you have people to love and to care for, but I had nobody.”

I stopped suddenly, afraid that I had said too much. I had known that if I started to talk to her I would say too much.

Clare was stirring her tea, she did not look up. “I knew you were lonely,” she said in a low voice. “Your face haunted me. Not unpleasantly, but I could see you when I shut my eyes. I thought
there's
a woman who could see my jokes, and I've let her go!”

I laughed at that, she was so funny in her annoyance, and it relieved the tension.

“That was
not
a joke,” she said in mock disapproval. “So you have no business to laugh. It is very sad when people don't see your jokes—and lots of people can't, for the life of them, see mine. My jokes are either very subtle or very poor—I can't think which it can be.” She handed me her cup for more tea and continued, “You were very kind to Bob when I was away. It was good of you. He's a lonely person without his family.”

“We loved having him,” I said. “It was kind of him to come.”

She laughed. “Tea-table talk—we can't escape it.”

“Not on my side,” I told her quickly.

“I was only teasing you, Miss Dean,” she replied smiling. “No, I simply can't call you ‘Miss Dean.'”

“Charlotte would be much nicer.”

“Charlotte—a lovely, old-fashioned name! I'm Paula. Is this too rapid for you?”

“We have known each other a long time,” I told her. I tried to call her Paula, but I couldn't. It took me a little while to get used to her as Paula, she had always been Clare to me. Long afterward she told me that I had called her Clare that first day—it must have slipped out when I was not looking—and that she had wondered why I called her Clare. She had thought, perhaps, that it was the name of a friend, and that I had called her Clare by mistake; she told me that she had always liked the name.

“How does Clementina like school?” she asked. “Not much, I'm afraid. She's too much of an individualist. I think you were right to send her.”

“I hope so. I felt it was right. Clementina hated the idea.”

“It will do her good to mix with other girls. (Isn't it funny how different children are? Violet would love to go to school.) Don't worry about her not liking it at first. Things we dislike are often very good for us—horrid that it should be so.”

“Horrid,” I agreed. “But fortunately Clementina does not seem to hate it as much as she thought she would. Her letters are fairly happy. It is I who am to be pitied.”

“You feel at a loose end? But you will be busy when the diary comes. Bob told me about Mr. Wisdon's diary—that you are going to write the book.”

We talked about the book until Barling came and cleared away the tea-things, and then, somehow or other, the conversation veered back to the girls.

“They are so good for each other, those two,” she said. “They seem to bring out the best in each other—you know how some people do that?”

I nodded.

“You will let Clem come over
often
in the holidays, won't you? It is not all selfishness for Violet; she is as good for Clem as Clem is for her. I'm sure of that.”

“As often as you like. I want Clementina to have a real friend of her own age—I want it as much as you do.”

Paula Felstead hesitated for a few moments and then she said, “I was sorry when—when Mrs. Wisdon stopped Clem coming to Oldgarden—it was really my fault, in a way. Do you mind if we talk about the whole thing quite frankly? I didn't mean to,
yet
; but then I didn't know what old friends we were.”

“No, of course, I don't mind. I would rather,” I told her quickly.

“I knew Mrs. Wisdon fairly well,” she said slowly, choosing her words. “She was not the sort of person you could ever know
very
well, but I saw quite a lot of her. The children were great friends, and were constantly together—either here or at Oldgarden. Then a certain amount of talk started in the neighborhood and it came to my ears—I mean talk about Mrs. Wisdon. This all happened long before there was anything—anything definite…I'm telling this very badly, I'm afraid.”

“It's all right, I understand.”

“Well, I was worried. It was horrid talk and I was sure everything was all right. I was rather sorry for her being left alone so much when her husband was away. Anybody would get talked about under the circumstances—I made up my mind to speak to Mrs. Wisdon. (It was foolish of me, of course, but I like people to be straight with me and I resolved to be straight with her.) I came over and saw her and warned her about it. I told her that people were talking about her and Mr. Hamilton—there was nothing in it, of course, I said, but
there
it was, and she knew how people talked. I thought, myself, quite honestly, that there was nothing in it; I thought it was just carelessness on her part. She is a pleasure-loving woman. She didn't hunt—what else was there for her to do but entertain her friends?”

“Kitty was angry?”

“Very angry indeed. She told me to mind my own business. The County could say what it liked. It could go to the devil for all she cared—she raved on and I came away. I was sorry I had offended her, of course, but the thing I minded most was the children's friendship being spoiled. I swallowed a certain amount of pride and wrote to her quite pleasantly, saying that I was sorry, and asking her to allow the children to continue to meet. She never answered.”

“Kitty was—was like that,” I said difficultly. “She never considered other people's feelings. Only her own, always.”

“You talk as if she were dead!”

“She is dead,” I said.

I told her about Kitty's death, and she listened silently, and sympathetically.

“You must have felt very sad about all that happened,” she said. “There must have been so many happy things shared by you both, long ago, when you were children together. That is such a sad thing—to lose the child you played with when you were a child.”

“I had lost that child before.”

“That is sadder still. Death is not the saddest way to lose somebody you love.”

Before she left I took her into the conservatory to see the camellias. They were very fine—perfect waxen blooms, growing back to back among their dark green shiny foliage.

“How beautiful!” she said. “They remind me of a Victorian beauty dressed for a ball.”

“There is something old-fashioned about camellias,” I agreed.

I cut some for her and she smiled as I gave them to her. Somehow I knew that she was thinking of our first meeting, and the country flowers.

BOOK: The Young Clementina
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