Published in 'The Theatre' - January 1892, (UK).
I have been asked by the editor to write a story for THE THEATRE ANNUAL, a thing I have never done in my whole life. But the experience of my old friend Margaret Woodford has always appeared to me of such a pathetic nature, that it is possible it may be of interest to my other good friend, the public, and I have accordingly attempted to recount it. I crave all the indulgence the festive season may inspire my readers with for the faults with which my first literary effort doubtless abounds.
Margaret Woodford and I had been inseparable once. We had acted together, travelled together, and lived together; and then she had obtained an engagement up North, and I had remained in London. From that time we had drifted apart, till at last our correspondence ceased entirely, and I heard nothing of her for some years. One day by the merest chance I found that she was living in London and had left the stage; so I seized the very first opportunity and went to see her, feeling, in spite of the long silence, almost sure of a hearty welcome. Well, I was not disappointed in that; but she, poor girl, was frightfully changed, and at last I asked her, for the sake of the old days when we had shared all our secrets with each other, to tell me what trouble had made her leave the profession, when I knew that her whole heart had been set upon making a name in it. And lifting her pathetic eyes to mine, she said,
"It was in this way: I met Richard Stafford when I was playing at Manchester, and in a very short time we were engaged, and he was urging a speedy marriage. He was so good and kind to me. I cannot tell you how quietly happy I was, for I did love him yes I did, though I hardly knew how much till afterwards. The time passed very quickly, and every day I grew to value him more; and in a month we were to be married, and I was to say good-bye to the stage for ever. He came to see me one morning with his usual offering of flowers. After he had gone I opened the box, and for a moment I turned sick and faint as I saw the dewy clusters of fragrant violets that lay within.
I hated them, for they brought to my memory what I had tried with all my might to torget that night when Charlie Rosslyn and I played together for the last time. You remember, too, don't you? I wore violets then, and their fragrance overpowered me when we said good-bye. And even as I so thought the door opened, and the servant announced 'Mr. Rosslyn.' I could not speak; I could only stand there silently with the violets tightly clasped in my trembling hands, and look and look again at the beautiful face I had once loved so madly, but which now seemed somehow to have changed entirely.
Then he spoke, and for a moment with the sound of his musical voice the old fascination was upon me again, and I forgot everything save that we had once loved each other, and that we were together again. 'Have you no word of welcome for me,' he said softly, 'after all these years.'
I tried to speak, but the words would not come, and he took a step forward and caught my hands. The violets fell in a shower to the ground, and once again, as his hasty feet crushed them, their overpowering fragrance came to me, and stole away my senses. As in a dream I felt his arms about me, his passionate kisses on my eyes, his words of love in my ears and then through it all, piercing my numbed senses, like a sword-thrust through quivering flesh, came a cry, hardly human, in a voice that I seemed to know. I turned sharply, and there behind me I saw oh, my God! not Dick, surely not Dick, this man with the drawn white face and the cruel lips and eyes! I called out his name in agony. I flew to his side, and tried to clasp his arms, but he who had always been so gentle with me flung my clinging hands away with almost brutal force.
Then, suddenly, he tore the diamond ring from my left hand, and threw it far from him with a mocking laugh. 'Now go to your new or your old love, whichever he may be, and kiss and fool him as you have kissed and fooled me. I have done with you!'
Then he was gone. And I, who had so suddenly lost the one good and precious thing that made life worth living, I could make no moan or cry, for just then I could hardly understand; but this I knew, that I hated the man who had worked this mischief, and must have him out of my sight then at once. I turned on him with a passion I hardly recognised 'You can go now,' I cried. 'When I loved you, you left me; and now, after all these years, you, to serve your own ends, come back to me, and ruin my life. I tell you I love that man whom you have driven away, and you I hate you, who dared to take advantage of my weak surprise, as only a coward could!'
Perhaps I was too hard - he said I was but he went, and I was left alone to think. I found my ring, that was the first thing, and put it away tenderly and carefully. No one but Dick himself should place it on my hand again. He would come back soon, I thought. Love such as his could not be killed with one stroke, and I would tell him all the truth, and he could not but forgive me. And so a week passed, a week of weariest waiting; for I, poor girl, was too proud to write. 'He might have trusted me more,' I said to myself, 'for I would not have judged him so hardly' and the next day he would surely come. And still there was no word. He had left his home, that I had found out, and each day seemed longer than the last, for I missed him sorely. Then my engagement at the theatre came to an end, and the day that was to have been our wedding-day drew on apace. I could bear it no longer, and I wrote to him just a few lines asking him, for the sake of all we had been to each other, and because I had always loved him, and him alone, to come back to me. For five days I lived I know not how. Each morning I put on the dress he liked best, of clinging yellow stuff with a cluster of tea-roses at my throat - he must not find that I was not as pretty as I used to be, I thought.
I did no work. I could not read, only all day I listened and waited, and each night I said, 'Tomorrow he will come.' And on the sixth day, just as the twilight was merging into the dusky blackness of night, they brought me a letter. I opened it listlessly, wearily and took out the note I had sent to my lover one week before, opened, the original address scored out, and redirected many times. And then with blinded eyes that could hardly see, I read the few curt words of some stranger who regretted to inform me that Mr. Stafford had died the day before my communication arrived.
Dead, believing me false! Dead, not knowing that I loved him with all my soul! dead, my lover Dick! I shrieked out the words till my parched tongue could speak no more. Then, after a short space of most merciful oblivion, came a time when always I was striving to reach Dick, who stood just beyond the touch of my longing hands, and I could never reach him, never, though I cried out in sorest pain.
After all, I did not die. I came back to life again, though I had prayed to have done with it, for what could it ever be to me save one long regret? I have no heart to act, so I live on very quietly alone. And see, I wear Dick's ring always, and somehow I think he knows now."
BY KATE JAMES.