FATHER AND DAUGHTER
IT was morning before Cartwright reached his home. A few hours sleep sufficed him, and by the middle of the morning he was in his library looking over his letters. Laura came in as his breakfast was served. He greeted her genially. Her flowing white morning dress, with its quantities of lace, enhanced her beauty—the treasure of his house, not to be surrendered lightly!
"Papa," she said.
"Yes, dear? How well you look this morning!"
"Thank you. Don't be nice, I want to scold you. I heard what time you came in last night."
"I couldn't help it, Laura, it was necessary. A young man made a speech, and I had to reply to it."
"But if a young woman makes a speech you won't find anything to say; you know you are very naughty, Papa; you ought to have left him severely alone, like you do me. Why there's a letter from Harold." Had he written to ask her father to let her go with him?
Mr. Cartwright slowly opened and read Harold's letter.
"What is it about?"
"A little matter of business connected with the Colony," he replied, putting the letter in his pocket and reaching for another. "Tiresome business," she said, sitting on his knee as she used to do as a child. He was a patient man. He knew perfectly well that she put her head on his shoulder because Harold's letter was in his breast pocket, yet he gave no sign of irritation.
"You have grown up so rapidly, Laura," he said, "that I almost forget it isn't a little irresponsible girl I am talking to. When I was your age I denied myself all pleasure and gratifications—it was all work. I don't mean to say that I lived the life of a hermit, but I chose my friends and' associates amongst those who had the same ideas and ambitions as myself. You would have found our talk interesting. We studied hard; we wanted to do something for our country, we were bent on preparing ourselves for the position we felt we should some day occupy. Don't imagine I'm reproaching you, Laura, I like you gay and happy, and I delight in all your friendships; but I want you to think of something else as well. You should come oftener and talk to your old father, and let him tell you of the things he is planning. A daughter should enter into her father's life and then, my little girl, you would find it useful, for some day, you know, you will marry a man who, like me, has the cares of state upon him. I don't want you merely to be his relaxation, but the companion of his graver hours as well."
Laura's heart sank and sank. She had come in intending to say something to her father—she did not know what—but now the fountain of words dried up in her.
Circumstances, circumstances! We are the creatures of circumstances, and it is natural when we realise our impotence in the face of them, to scan these circumstances closely.
Laura had led a life of unthinking happiness, loving to please. The slight traces her education had left were all swept away by the demands of the opulent society she moved in, exacting in its women, first of all, a delight in things—for things they could give in profusion and without number—exacting also a vivacious interest in the trifles of the moment, quickness and subtle responsiveness, and the charm and beauty and grace that comes of not being centred in themselves.
Swept on in the current that bore her, Laura might never have realised how out of herself it was, how passively she floated, how she was made and placed and treated, loved and led as a part of the world's human furniture, had she not, wayward and questioning, gazed on a man who, as it were, stood steady and strong on the bank, not borne along in the gaily eddying stream.
But the bowstring had twanged, the arrow had sped, and, with the coming of the humbly entrant monarch, all changed—the streams of fetes and talk, the occupations, interests and people of her life all seemed somehow different, all were circumstances on which she gazed with new inquiry. Her father held her, her life held her, a dark unspeaking distant parting man held her; bound and helpless, she looked on circumstances the masters of us all, and, looking on them, was seized by a sudden passionate craving to look deeper within them.
Is love a limited passion of one for another that surges and ebbs and dies? Ah, no!
Hardly a venture of the spirit, hardly a glimpse into the unseen but is to be traced in the origin of it to this same love cruelly entreated. For it is of its nature undying, and the loved one removed, its unstaying wings beat on. The unknown, the mysterious horizon, all that lies beyond the confines of thought; that, all that, is entrancing and of irresistible enticement to the hapless lover.
And Laura found the happy light laughter of her cavaliers, and the showered bouquets and the smiling courtesies all unmeaning now. Somehow she turned to graver men and women, seeking that which, the wide world over, hangs above the unfulfilment of a destiny.