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HAT birds always sit facing the wind may be due to a dislike they have of ruffled plumage.
Wilmot Herraday was in this respect very much like a bird. To her-she was of Irish ancestry, hence her odd nameanything was better than that the smooth feathers of her mind should be disturbed. Hence her mental attitude which had always, in its apparent inconsistency to her personality, piqued my interest.
In a very beautiful woman, who, I knew, had throughout her girlhood been very much spoiled, her instant confronting of any difficult issue seemed somehow out of drawing. To me, as an ancient student of womankind, it was a source of never-failing surprise, and I had many opportunities of observing the phenomenon; for Herraday's affairs, apparently brilliant when he married, began to go wrong shortly afterward, and their fourth wedding anniversary was spent by him in the Bankruptcy Court. Long before this, of course, their horses had undergone the equine eclipse known as "putting down," the comfortable old house in Manchester Square left for a much smaller one near Buckingham Gate, and later Mrs. Herraday's beauty for some time illumined nothing more imposing than a flat off Victoria Street.
And in all these vicissitudes, I had seen that the bravery of which her friends made so much was not bravery at all, but a mental facing the wind. The poverty was bad enough to make her curl closely within her wings (to carry out the simile), but what would have been, to her, a real ruffling of her plumage was the pity and indignation of her friends, and this pity she had with much skill avoided by smiling into the very teeth of the gale. She it was who put down the carriage, who dismissed, in spirited and rapid succession, the butler, her own maid, and Herraday's valet.
She it was who, one rainy October day, inspected the little house near Buckingham Gate, and then, going on a 'bus to Waterloo Place, told the agents to prepare the lease. And once settled in her new sphere, she it was whose unspoken, but none the less spirited, declaration that the house suited her in some ways even better than the other, actually convinced many people that her come-down in life was to her more or less of a lark. When her baby died, people shook their humane heads. Evidently her loss was not an irreparable one; poor Herraday took it much more hardly than she.
Probably, of all those that knew her (and she would hardly, in these early
days, have called me a friend), I was the only one to guess that all she had of tenderness and softness she had given to the poor little girl who was so soon taken from her. She would not, I guessed, be pitied; far preferable to her was the stigma of heartlessness.
Blows of different kinds rained down on her henceforth in quick succession, and they were all faced in her own way. I, looking on, and gradually coming into the little place in her life that neither she nor I had made the slightest effort to create, as gradually learned to understand the peculiar quality of her courage. We never mentioned it, she and I, until the episode of the Clandon letters, which happened many years later, and which I have set out to relate.
But before this episode occurred many other things, none of them perhaps worthy of individual notice, yet each helping to construct the circumstances in which it, the episode, found us all. To name these small happenings, her beauty, even in her poverty, had proved too potent to allow her living in obscurity, and after a brief period of quiet, she again began going into the world, wearing, she told me, absurdly old frocks, and looking in them, I told her, absurdly lovely. She was never vain, and I really believe cared as little for her social furore as any woman could possibly have done. Her ambition lay in quite another direction.
Herraday was fairly well born, but not at all what he called a "swell." His use of the word, in a serious way, as if it were a degree of rank, explains him well enough. He was in the city, something connected with foreign commerce, but more or less a banking affair, and he knew many men of his own standing, as well, of course, as many slightly above his own position.
When Englishmen are forced to cease knowing those slightly above their own position, society in these isles will have ceased to be.
But as it happened, one of his sisters had married a baronet of great wealth and ancient name, and through these Powyses, Mrs. Herraday was known and admired by many people. During the middle period. of her social brilliance (of which Herraday was rather pleasingly proud) I saw little of them. But the period was a short
one, lasting only about two years. During that time they went for a week-end to the castle or hall of one of the most youthful dukes, and Herraday never forgot having his shooting-boots filled with turtlesoup by his host and others of the aristocracy. She was less impressed.
The brilliant period came to an untimely end through the suicide of Mrs. Herraday's only brother, and then it was my turn.
Herraday's affairs at the time seemed rather better, and in the summer we all went over to a small place on the French coast and swam and loafed together very comfortably, while I continued my studies of Mrs. Herraday's character.
It was while we were thus holidaying that I received my promotion to the use of her pretty Christian name.
"I can't very well call you Bill," she said, when in return I offered her the use of my unromantic baptismal gift, “but I will call you March, as Jim does."
My name is Marchington, so March is in my case a kind of nickname.
When the small house had in its turn to be given up, it was to me she turned to advise about the necessary flat, and it was I who with her explored what seemed miles of these home-substitutes, and finally found one that comparatively pleased her.
Poor Herraday was now too depressed to do more than put the reins entirely in her hands and allow her to drive whithersoe'er she would. The flat was horrible, of course, but it had a roof, and that, she said, laughing, was something. Herraday after a bit began to pick up again, but he would not make even a pretense of being glad to see people, and that being the case, it follows, of course, that people soon began to forget him.
It was a year, too, of several new beauties, so that after a few efforts on the part of her friends Wilmot was allowed to sink quietly into that limbo whither the unsuccessful inevitably drift. The Powyses were the first to accept her wish for neglect.
And still she turned her face to the wind.
I went to Australia the following winter, and one thing out there leading to another, I stayed on and on, drifting to India, and thence to Japan, and finally
reached London after more than two just two years before his death, so he was years' absence.
It was in November, and the first thing I did after a bath and a meal, was to telephone Wilmot Herraday to ask if I might come to see her.
An hour later I stood in her drawingroom,-now a very spacious and delightful one, in Queen Anne's Gate.
I had, of course, kept in touch with her during my absence, and I knew the main facts bearing on her life. She herself had written to me, over a year before, of Herraday's final smash and defalcation. The papers were more explicit, of course, and I had been very indignant at the misery into which his cowardice had plunged his brave wife. But I had not dared epistolarily, as I now did not verbally, to commiserate with her.
While I was in India, I had heard indirectly of his death, and my relief at his having been removed by an accident attributable apparently only to the hand of God, had been very decidedly mixed with satisfaction, as to his definite departure from a world where he had been such a failure.
Now, as Wilmot and I shook hands, I said simply, "I am so sorry for it all," and she answered with a little sigh of relief, “I know you are. Now-let me tell you about-this," waving her hand at her new splendors.
It was years before we mentioned Jim Herraday again, beyond an occasional reference, in relation to something long past, to poor old Jim.
I had no wish to ruffle her plumage.
But she was, I found, more talkative than of old, and gave me many details as to the death of an almost unknown uncle of Jim's who, a short time before, had left his very comforting fortune to her, "because she had been brave." There was a little place in Berkshire, I learned, as well as this house, and there was, besides, over two thousand a year, so that in a small way she was rich.
It was delightful hearing, and I was expressing my joy when the servant-maid ushered in, in a way that showed me that the visitor was not a rare one, "Mr. Clandon, Madame."
I had never seen him before, and I never saw him again, but I naturally remember him very well indeed. It was
fifty-two. Every one knows his face, if only from his pictures, but to me, the little bronze bust by Aileen Duncan is far more like him than any of his famous por. traits.
I studied his thin face carefully during the short half-hour I sat in reverential silence, watching him drink his tea-he took it, gourmets to the contrary, in despite, with both sugar and milk. He refused the cream I offered him, and then addressed his only remark to me.
'Nothing could improve Mrs. Herraday's tea," he said, with the little smile that revealed his lower teeth.
He and Wilmot were, I saw, on intimate terms, so I shortly took my leave. As I left the room I distinctly heard him say:
"Well, I have the new chapters for you—"
I went off, in my surprise, without my umbrella, and had to come back for it, as rain had set in.
Wilmot Herraday as Godfrey Clandon's Egeria! The idea was almost too much for my mental digestion. It was too amazing. Much as I liked her, much as I had always enjoyed her mind, it seemed to me almost ridiculous. I had long known her ambition, "to know worth-while people," but it had been ambition like that of a boy at the Zoo to know the lion behind the bars. Strong and high had been the bars, hitherto between even the smaller kings of the desert and Jim Herraday's wife-and yet, behold, here was the greatest roarer of them all, eating tea-cake from her hand! It was amazing.
I went to my club and going into the library got down several of his novels and looked into them. I suppose that no one now since his death, disputes his claim (made for, not by him-for the man never made any claim whatsoever) to being the greatest English novelist of his century. I had, of course, read all the books, and as I dipped into their pages that rainy evening in November, some of the phrases brought back to me with a poignancy that was nearly painful, the delight I had felt years ago when just making their acquain
"Beverley" is perhaps still my favorite because of the exquisite loveliness of its
heroine, Grace Powell, but there is in "The Valletorts" a splendor of style which, never degenerating into the ornate, has a peculiar charm for me, and then"Paola," - dear, naughty, sorry Paola, with her gray parrot and her twinkling brown feet!
And the man who wrote these things, the man who had been any time the last fifteen years England's greatest literary glory, had brought his new chapters to be read by-Wilmot Herraday!
"Hello, Marchington, what are you doing? Trying to read six-seven-books at once?"
I looked up. It was Kearney Blake, the stained-glass man.
"I have just met Clandon," I answered, amused by a little feeling of vanity that sprang up in my heart as I spoke, I was looking into his books again." "Wonderful chap, Clandon. Let me see, what was it I heard about him the other day? Oh, yes, going to marry somebody-who was it now? Oh, yes, I know, poor old Jim Herraday's widow."
He bustled out and I remained for some time nearly as still as if some one had had me skilfully stuffed for an ornament to the library. Clandon going to marry Wilmot Herraday!
No, I could not believe it.
I believed it so little that the very next day I asked her. To my surprise she did not answer at once but remained, after a little start, gazing at her folded hands.
At last she said, softly, "No, March, old friend, I am not going to marry Mr. Clandon."
She spoke in the gentlest way, yet I could not, somehow, say any more. Little by little, however, as time went on, I learned more about her friendship with the great man. She was naturally proud of it, and I liked her way of expressing her pride. She had met him at a tea or something at the Grafton Gallery, and then, a few days later, fate had thrown them together as they both came out of the Queen's Hall after an afternoon concert of some kind. It was pouring, a devastating rain that had emptied the streets of cabs so that the two were obliged to wait in the doorway for nearly ten minutes.
"Then only one came, so he drove me home-and that 's the beginning."
"But-did he take a great fancy to you, or was it-your literary tastes that drew you together?" I asked, not without secret malice.
She gazed at me, innocent of understanding. "I am not literary at all, March, as you ought to know. But I had read his books, and—”
"Told him which was your favorite, and why?"
At this she glanced suspiciously at me. "You are being nasty," she said, serenely. "No, I had no such-cheek. I will tell you the truth," she added, simply; "he just seemed to like me, and, of course, I did my very best to please him. is very fond of sweet things with his tea, and there is a French shop near Soho Square where one gets the loveliest puffy cakes filled with a kind of custard flavored with lemon. He eats any amount of them."
It was guile, but too instinctive to be disapproved; as well disapprove of the color of her hair.
"Then little by little," she went on, "he began talking of his work. He is not married, you know, --he lives in rooms in St. James's Place, and he likes to talk. I think, as he does so his own characters become more clear to him. And I—I never interrupt."
I went away flattering myself that I held the key to the enigma. She gave him the lemon cakes he loved and she let him talk shop, and--best of all, she never interrupted. terrupted. I made up my mind to see something of him, if I could. I, too, could listen and refrain from interruption. But it was only a month or so after this that he caught his now historic chill at Windsor, and, as every one knows, he was, after his subsequent illness, never again quite well.
"He comes every week, every Thursday to dinner, and stays till half-past eleven," Mrs. Herraday informed me; "but only on one condition: that no one else shall be let in."
So I was done for.
Only once, and that once a year later, on his return from Majorca, where he vainly believed himself to have recaptured his lost health, did he consent to meet some of her friends at dinner. I was asked, and I believe her pleasure in my pleasure to have been keen, but the very
morning of the great event I slipped over a dust-pan on my landing and broke a small bone in my instep, a mishap that laid me up for weeks.
Mrs. Herraday came to see me, bringing a pot of hyacinths (a flower I detest), and told me about the dinner. Apparently it had been an occasion of great brilliancy.
"He talked-oh, March, he talked all the time," she declared, a spot of red in either cheek, "and every one listened as if he had been-well, I don't know what!"
"How does he look?"
"Oh, well, very delicate. And I fear he's not so well as he had hoped, for he has written to say he can't come to-night -it's Thursday, you know. sorry you were n't there."
I am so
"What did you wear?" I queried, trying not to smell the hyacinths, which really produce a queer little pain in my nose.
She laughed, raising her beautifully clear black eyebrows. "How funny! Well, I wore white. A new frock, very smart, and-violets that Mr. Clandon sent me."
"Instead of my roses," I said, exaggerating the slight peevishness I really felt.
"Ah, well-but, March, he was there and you were n't! Besides," she added, truthfully, "I was so proud of the violets."
As the spring-the second after my return home-went the way of all lovely things, Clandon's condition gave more and more cause for alarm. He took a house on the Norfolk coast and did not come to town till the following October.
Wilmot wrote me three times from Hereford Head, where she was apparently installed indefinitely, and her letters were very sad, though very important.
It appeared that a sister of Clandon's was there, and a couple of hospital nurses. "I am not allowed to be very useful," she said, "but he likes me to be there, and I read to him and sometimes sing. He is very weak."
Another time she told me, "He has let me see many of his unpublished manuscripts. Some of them are very wonderful, and should certainly be published."
This amused me. That she should be the judge as to which of Godfrey Clandon's works deserved publication caused
me a mirth that I fear was not altogether kindly.
I saw her a few days after their return, and I at once became aware that she had now identified herself with the moribund lion to a quite remarkable degree.
"We have come to see Sir Wilfred Pye"; "We are staying only a few days"; "We have to see Clinton and Protheroe." These were some of her phrases-Clinton and Protheroe being, of course, Clandon's publishers. But before they could get
away to the south of France, death came, as all the world knows, very quietly, and the partnership, so incomprehensible to me, was dissolved.
I was in Paris at the time, and drew my information about the funeral, from the press.
The fuss about whether or no he should be buried in Westminster Abbey, where, to my mind, such distinguished ashes certainly should have been placed was, of course, cut short by the declaration of Miss Clandon, his only surviving relative, that by his own wish he was to be buried at Breezing-under-Hill in Essex, where he was born.
So to Breezing-under-Hill he was carried and laid to rest. I am told, that on the strength of this fact, three new inns have been built, and have prospered in that remote village.
I know that Mrs. Herraday went to the funeral with Miss Clandon, and that His Majesty's representative was Sir Claude Witherspoon; that the Prime Minister went in person; that wreaths were sent from several hundred distinguished people, including a very fine one from the French Academy.
I also read Swinburne's splendid swinging ode and Kipling's rough, spirited, neat verses that appeared in the "Times," and thrilled to the marrow (in the way that is a secret of Kipling's) every one who read them.
The nation really mourned her great man and her mourning was, whether it is so as a rule, or not, dignified and timely.
But to me, Wilmot Herraday was naturally of the greatest interest, and I was, on my return to town, extremely disappointed to find that she had left England for an extended stay in Sicily with Miss Clandon.
"Mrs. James Herraday," one of the