Authors: Grace Livingston Hill
Â© 2014 by Grace Livingston Hill
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All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
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hristobel got out of the car and went into the house alone. She had asked them to let her out. She did not want to go to the station with her stepmother's parents and was glad that her father had not insisted upon it.
It had been all she could stand to drive from the cemetery with them. It had made her feel like screaming. They were a pair of incompetent, weak-faced jellyfish, she reflected as she slowly mounted the marble steps to her father's pretentious home. It was all wrong, people like that being mixed up in any relationship with her wonderful father! How did it ever happen that he had got into such a mess? She tried to think back to the days when her father first met her stepmother, but it was all very vague, an indefinite part of her childhood, although she distinctly remembered her own mother, and the soft feel of her kisses, and her arms hugging her close.
These aliens, her stepmother's parents, angered her. What right had they to come into a family affair and demand to be thought about and planned for and taken to the station just when the dreadful, ostentatious funeral service was at an end?
Of course, they were Charmian's parents. That had to be considered. And as one looked at their shallow old faces, one could see resemblances to the vivid beauty that had been Charmian. Charmian! What a name to give a woman who had to at least pretend to be a mother. Yet that old woman's face made it perfectly natural that her daughter should have been named Charmian. Just a silly, weak woman with a pouting bottom lip and a slightly retreating chin; she had never grown up, though her body was withering like an old garden hose that was turning brown at the edges. Light hair, bleached to a yellow gray. Weak blue eyes that took in everything, even from behind her impressive black veil.
She didn't miss a thing, even with tears in her eyes
, thought Christobel grimly.
I suppose she did feel bad, maybe. Charmian was her own daughter, after all. Still, she hadn't seen much of her for several years. Charmian's death couldn't weigh on her very heavily. I don't believe anything ever weighed on her but herself anyway. She looks selfish!
Would Charmian have looked like her mother if she had lived to be an old wrinkled woman like that?
Christobel went on idly meditating as she hunted in her handbag for her key.
Charmian had been very vivid, gorgeous, even in her coffin. It had seemed as if she were playing a part. There was that affected smile she always wore when in company, her lips delicately pursed, her eyebrows placid, the long lashes lying on rose-petal cheeks. Christobel could vaguely understand why her father had married her.
Yet looking at her as she lay there, almost smothered in those heaps of flowers, Christobel had not been able to forget the look of those coral lips when they had told her that she was to go away to school; the lifting of those exquisite eyebrows in haughty disapproval at Randall, her young brother, when he made a noise; the unloving, prideful expression of the spoiled beauty who had become her mother in the early days of her sorrow over the loss of her own precious mother.
Seated in the car opposite this Charmian-mother's mother, Christobel had found herself tracing the same selfish lines exposed in the old face that she had never been able to forget in the face of the daughter. Oh, it was plain to be seen why the dead woman had grown up silly and petted and spoiled.
And the old father. He had a weak chin and watery eyes that had looked around on the strange city streets with an indifferent air. If he had any character of his own, he had long ago taken the easiest way out and given it to his peevish wife. Yes, it was easy to see Charmian in the two of them.
Christobel drew a long breath and tried to wipe them out of her memory. They were not her grandparents, anyway. She had always been eager for grandparents and had looked forward with some interest and not a little curiosity to their coming to the funeral. But these shallow old people had merely explained her stepmother, set her into her true background, and confirmed the feeling that Christobel had always secretly had about her, even at the first when she was trying to obey her father's earnest request to love this strange, too-giddy mother that he had found to fill the empty place.
Oh, well, that was that, she reflected as she fitted her key into the lock and opened the huge door with its bronze fittings.
Christobel didn't like that door, nor the big stone lions that crouched on either side of the entrance. They seemed too ostentatious. She didn't like the big house with its high ceilings and modernistic furniture. It had nothing of home about it. It had been her stepmother's choice. Christobel wondered if her father helped pick it out, whether he liked it.
Every vacation when she had come home for a few days to receive a new outfit and be hustled off to some girls' camp, or get ready to go back to school again, the house had seemed less and less like a home, and more like a furniture display in a huge department store. There wasn't a thing in it that one could feel like loving and keeping.
Christobel closed the door softly, as one should a door whose mistress had gone out of it, never to return, and went and stood in the great doorway of the reception room on the right.
She stepped softly, within the heavy hangings of the silver cloth backed with velvety black and took in the whole barbaric effect of silver and black and startling splashes of scarlet that made the room look like some strange, alien, fantastic world. Weird lights in odd places; angular, pyramid-shaped mirrors like flashes of bright sabers; boxlike furniture that gave one the odd sense of being in a dream and finding the world upside down. It was not like a home at all, this great uncanny room.
This was the place that Charmian had created herself, a world of unrealities, and now she was gone out of it all! Here were the things she had brought together, but she had had to leave them all and lie in a bed of roses and be put away under the ground.
Where was she now? Was this all that was left of her?
Some of the teachers at school had openly said that there was no other life than this. But Christobel had never been willing to accept that theory. She had always thought of her own mother as being somewhere, in some definite place, watching her perhaps, and surely waiting for her to come someday when she was an old woman.
But now, this other woman, who was not in any sense a mother, who had insisted upon being called Charmian by the children of her husband, who had packed them off to a school in almost babyhood and made a strange alien world of home, where was she now that she was gone out of life?
Was there anyone for her to be with? Or was she all alone? Did she have to wait somewhere for that unpleasant old weak-chinned father and mother whom she had never noticed much on earth? Oh, life was an odd tangle! A problem that could never be solved till one went out of it.
Of course, there were people who could throw all that off and just not think about it. Eat, drink, and be merry. Most of her classmates were like that. They laughed at her when she asked serious questions. They said, “Why worry? You can only be alive once!” and danced merrily on.
But Christobel had never been able to do that. She had made merry with the rest, had been fairly feverish in trying to have every minute filled with something bright and cheerful so that she would not have time to think. But underneath there had always been that question, that wonder, that hope that would not be stilled; yes, and that fear, too, that this life was not all that she ought to be doing about it, though she had not an idea in the world what it was that she might do. Nobody else seemed to be worrying about it. Not even death seemed to stir many of them seriously. They hurried to get the funeral over with and get back to life, merry, bright, breath-taking life! Charmian had been that way, too. She had hated funerals. She had hated even the very mention of funerals.
Though Christobel had spent very little time with her stepmother in the ten or eleven years Charmian had been married to her father, she knew a great deal about Charmian's likes and dislikes, her fears and contempts. Every contact with the handsome stepmother seemed graven deep into her sensitive heart. For instance, she would never forget the bored drawl of Charmian's voice the night she crept from her lonely little bed, put to sleep unkissed. Christobel had come weeping to find her father, who had always remembered the good-nights before, only to discover he and Charmian in the midst of the discussion about sending Christobel and her brother Randall off to school.
“But they are only babies yet,” she heard her father say in a shocked voice.
“That's it,” Charmian had drawled insolently. “I can't be bored with babies, certainly not some other woman's babies. That wasn't what I married you for.”
In the midst of the awful silence that had followed those words, Christobel had crept trembling to her little bed and wept herself to sleep. But she had never forgotten Charmian's voice, nor the white angry look on her father's face.
Another time later, when Christobel was at home for a few days, Charmian had revealed a great fear. The cook had been sick, terribly sick, and the doctor had sent for Charmian, telling her the servant was dying. Charmian had looked at Christobel, then only about thirteen, and wrung her hands together and cried out:
“Oh, I can't go, Chrissie! It would make me ill. I never could bear sickness, and I'm afraid of death. You go, that's a good girl.”