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Undine. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 175
page: 176



THE summer had come and the little cottage looked like a monster nosegay in its sheath of climbing roses. In the great tree that stood before the door the birds had built their nests and sang there all day long, and the blossoms in the garden had turned to fruit and the tender green leaves had grown dark and strong.

Undine had sat below them, working a little, dozing a little, all day. She was glad the blossoms were gone, for their smell made her heart heavy.

“Lor'! Miss Undine, you'll catch your death of cold; the dew's a-falling already, and there's a gentleman in the parlour a-wanting to see you,” said the good Nancy, bursting with desire to give an account of the visitor's appearance, with her ideas thereon appended.

Undine, however, asked no questions, but, rising, walked towards the house.

The little parlour was almost dark when she entered it, and the man was sitting with his back to the window. Instantly she recognized the bald crown and tuft of hair belonging to George Blair.

page: 177

“This is indeed a great and unexpected pleasure,” he said, rising and taking her hand into his own fat and flabby palm, “a great and most unexpected pleasure. I have been in the neighbourhood for some days, engaged in inspecting a large estate I have just purchased, and it was by the merest chance that I heard of your being here.”

Then he launched forth into strong and vehement denunciations against the roads and inns of the neighbourhood, directing his remarks principally to her grandmother. At last the old lady rose to order candles, and Undine and her visitor were left alone.

“Have you been to Greenwood lately?” she inquired.

“Not since the autumn.” Then, after a moment's pause, “I have been hoping continually to hear from you since that time, but have been always disappointed hitherto.”

This remark eliciting no response, he went on, drawing his chair a little nearer to hers.

“I trust I need hardly tell you, my dear Miss Bock, that in the months that have passed I have not changed in my feelings or wishes. What I then asked, I still most earnestly and truly desire.”

The timely entrance at this moment of Nancy, bearing candles, saved Undine from the necessity of making him any reply. She asked him where his sons were.

“I know nothing of Master Harry's whereabouts,” page: 178 he replied; “and as for his brother, I will know nothing. He has gone in for all manner of mad speculations without my knowledge or advise, and of course has got into trouble and expects my help now. He shall not have it, though. I shall have as little to do with him as with his brother for the future. If he wants help he may go to his aristocratic relations, who, if they were sold up, blue blood and all, could not raise the sum he wants. I could let him have the money and never miss it,” said the old man, very complacently, “but he has seen the shine of my cash for the last time, I can assure him.”

A fat, disagreeable-looking old man, her grandmother, though not generally very discerning or critical, thought him, when she reëntered the room at the end of his speech.

Undine soon made an excuse for leaving them and went out at the front door and stood before the house. The evening air was cool and balmy and the smell of the cluster roses that covered the cottage was sweet, but she only dragged a bunch from its stem and crushed it in her hand till the thorns pierced it. The time had come, and come so soon, when she could serve him. Once or twice she paced up and down the length of the house; then she reëntered the little parlour.

She asked her grandmother to leave them alone for a few moments; and the old man looked at her in some astonishment as she stood before him pale page: 179 and eager. Surely she was beautiful, this woman, with a beauty deeper than that of form and colour; and if she were so fair in her rough, careless dress, what should she not look like in the velvet and damask he might give her!

She crushed the flower in her hand till the blood fell in a crimson drop on her crumpled white dress; and, standing straight before him, said: “You asked me once long ago to become your wife. I told you then that it could never be; but I am willing now if you will give me what I want.” There was something so strange in her manner and look that the old man, not knowing how to answer, sat still, and she went on:

“If you will settle on me, before our marriage, fifty thousand pounds in cash, to be mine absolutely, to do exactly as I please with, then I will marry you as soon as you wish. I do not love you, but I will be a good wife to you.”

She looked at him and the old man looked at her. Many women had sold themselves to him before that night, but not the most abandoned in a more open and barefaced manner than this: “I do not love you, but you will have no reason to repent marrying me if you are willing to do so on my terms.”

He hesitated for a moment, but his mind was soon made up. That she should consent to marry him for anything except his money he had never dreamed, and, whether the bargain were expressed in words page: 180 or tacitly understood, where was the difference? So he answered her:

“Not only what you ask, but everything I have, shall be yours; though of course if you wish it, an arrangement such as that which you mention shall be made.”

He stayed a little longer, and when he had kissed his wife that was to be, upon the lips, he left her.

They were pretty lips and he did not repent his bargain when he thought it over at leisure. They had answered him scornfully once; he might do what he would with them now. His son had coveted them once, but gold had won when youth and learning had failed.

So it must always be, he thought, as he rolled his fat joints into bed. Youth and learning and love, they are all convertible into terms of cash, and have their equivalents.