Chapter XIII: How Miss Bartlett's Boiler Was So Tiresome
How often had Lucy rehearsed this bow, this interview! But she had always rehearsed them indoors, and with certain accessories, which surely we have a right to assume. Who could foretell that she and George would meet in the rout of a civilization, amidst an army of coats and collars and boots that lay wounded over the sunlit earth? She had imagined a young Mr. Emerson, who might be shy or morbid or indifferent or furtively impudent. She was prepared for all of these. But she had never imagined one who would be happy and greet her with the shout of the morning star.
Indoors herself, partaking of tea with old Mrs. Butterworth, she reflected that it is impossible to foretell the future with any degree of accuracy, that it is impossible to rehearse life. A fault in the scenery, a face in the audience, an irruption of the audience on to the stage, and all our carefully planned gestures mean nothing, or mean too much. "I will bow," she had thought. "I will not shake hands with him. That will be just the proper thing." She had bowed--but to whom? To gods, to heroes, to the nonsense of school-girls! She had bowed across the rubbish that cumbers the world.
So ran her thoughts, while her faculties were busy with Cecil. It was another of those dreadful engagement calls. Mrs. Butterworth had wanted to see him, and he did not want to be seen. He did not want to hear about hydrangeas, why they change their colour at the seaside. He did not want to join the C. O. S. When cross he was always elaborate, and made long, clever answers where "Yes" or "No" would have done. Lucy soothed him and tinkered at the conversation in a way that promised well for their married peace. No one is perfect, and surely it is wiser to discover the imperfections before wedlock. Miss Bartlett, indeed, though not in word, had taught the girl that this our life contains nothing satisfactory. Lucy, though she disliked the teacher, regarded the teaching as profound, and applied it to her lover.
"Lucy," said her mother, when they got home, "is anything the matter with Cecil?"
The question was ominous; up till now Mrs. Honeychurch had behaved with charity and restraint.
"No, I don't think so, mother; Cecil's all right."
"Perhaps he's tired."
Lucy compromised: perhaps Cecil was a little tired.
"Because otherwise"--she pulled out her bonnet-pins with gathering displeasure--"because otherwise I cannot account for him."
"I do think Mrs. Butterworth is rather tiresome, if you mean that."
"Cecil has told you to think so. You were devoted to her as a little girl, and nothing will describe her goodness to you through the typhoid fever. No--it is just the same thing everywhere."
"Let me just put your bonnet away, may I?"
"Surely he could answer her civilly for one half-hour?"
"Cecil has a very high standard for people," faltered Lucy, seeing trouble ahead. "It's part of his ideals--it is really that that makes him sometimes seem--"
"Oh, rubbish! If high ideals make a young man rude, the sooner he gets rid of them the better," said Mrs. Honeychurch, handing her the bonnet.
"Now, mother! I've seen you cross with Mrs. Butterworth yourself!"
"Not in that way. At times I could wring her neck. But not in that way. No. It is the same with Cecil all over."
"By-the-by--I never told you. I had a letter from Charlotte while I was away in London."
This attempt to divert the conversation was too puerile, and Mrs. Honeychurch resented it.
"Since Cecil came back from London, nothing appears to please him. Whenever I speak he winces;--I see him, Lucy; it is useless to contradict me. No doubt I am neither artistic nor literary nor intellectual nor musical, but I cannot help the drawing-room furniture; your father bought it and we must put up with it, will Cecil kindly remember."
"I--I see what you mean, and certainly Cecil oughtn't to. But he does not mean to be uncivil--he once explained--it is the things that upset him--he is easily upset by ugly things--he is not uncivil to PEOPLE."
"Is it a thing or a person when Freddy sings?"
"You can't expect a really musical person to enjoy comic songs as we do."
"Then why didn't he leave the room? Why sit wriggling and sneering and spoiling everyone's pleasure?"
"We mustn't be unjust to people," faltered Lucy. Something had enfeebled her, and the case for Cecil, which she had mastered so perfectly in London, would not come forth in an effective form. The two civilizations had clashed--Cecil hinted that they might-- and she was dazzled and bewildered, as though the radiance that lies behind all civilization had blinded her eyes. Good taste and bad taste were only catchwords, garments of diverse cut; and music itself dissolved to a whisper through pine-trees, where the song is not distinguishable from the comic song.
She remained in much embarrassment, while Mrs. Honeychurch changed her frock for dinner; and every now and then she said a word, and made things no better. There was no concealing the fact, Cecil had meant to be supercilious, and he had succeeded. And Lucy--she knew not why--wished that the trouble could have come at any other time.
"Go and dress, dear; you'll be late."
"All right, mother--"
"Don't say 'All right' and stop. Go."
She obeyed, but loitered disconsolately at the landing window. It faced north, so there was little view, and no view of the sky. Now, as in the winter, the pine-trees hung close to her eyes. One connected the landing window with depression. No definite problem menaced her, but she sighed to herself, "Oh, dear, what shall I do, what shall I do?" It seemed to her that every one else was behaving very badly. And she ought not to have mentioned Miss Bartlett's letter. She must be more careful; her mother was rather inquisitive, and might have asked what it was about. Oh, dear, should she do?--and then Freddy came bounding up-stairs, and joined the ranks of the ill-behaved.
"I say, those are topping people."
"My dear baby, how tiresome you've been! You have no business to take them bathing in the Sacred it's much too public. It was all right for you but most awkward for every one else. Do be more careful. You forget the place is growing half suburban."
"I say, is anything on to-morrow week?"
"Not that I know of."
"Then I want to ask the Emersons up to Sunday tennis."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that, Freddy, I wouldn't do that with all this muddle."
"What's wrong with the court? They won't mind a bump or two, and I've ordered new balls."
"I meant it's better not. I really mean it."
He seized her by the elbows and humorously danced her up and down the passage. She pretended not to mind, but she could have screamed with temper. Cecil glanced at them as he proceeded to his toilet and they impeded Mary with her brood of hot-water cans. Then Mrs. Honeychurch opened her door and said: "Lucy, what a noise you're making! I have something to say to you. Did you say you had had a letter from Charlotte?" and Freddy ran away.
"Yes. I really can't stop. I must dress too."
The unfortunate girl returned.
"You've a bad habit of hurrying away in the middle of one's sentences. Did Charlotte mention her boiler?"
"Don't you remember that her boiler was to be had out in October, and her bath cistern cleaned out, and all kinds of terrible to-doings?"
"I can't remember all Charlotte's worries," said Lucy bitterly. "I shall have enough of my own, now that you are not pleased with Cecil."
Mrs. Honeychurch might have flamed out. She did not. She said: "Come here, old lady--thank you for putting away my bonnet--kiss me." And, though nothing is perfect, Lucy felt for the moment that her mother and Windy Corner and the Weald in the declining sun were perfect.
So the grittiness went out of life. It generally did at Windy Corner. At the last minute, when the social machine was clogged hopelessly, one member or other of the family poured in a drop of oil. Cecil despised their methods--perhaps rightly. At a11 events, they were not his own.
Dinner was at half-past seven. Freddy gabbled the grace, and they drew up their heavy chairs and fell to. Fortunately, the men were hungry. Nothing untoward occurred until the pudding. Then Freddy said:
"Lucy, what's Emerson like?"
"I saw him in Florence," said Lucy, hoping that this would pass for a reply.
"Is he the clever sort, or is he a decent chap?"
"Ask Cecil; it is Cecil who brought him here."
"He is the clever sort, like myself," said Cecil.
Freddy looked at him doubtfully.
"How well did you know them at the Bertolini?" asked Mrs. Honeychurch.
"Oh, very slightly. I mean, Charlotte knew them even less than I did."
"Oh, that reminds me--you never told me what Charlotte said in her letter."
"One thing and another," said Lucy, wondering whether she would get through the meal without a lie. "Among other things, that an awful friend of hers had been bicycling through Summer Street, wondered if she'd come up and see us, and mercifully didn't."
"Lucy, I do call the way you talk unkind."
"She was a novelist," said Lucy craftily. The remark was a happy one, for nothing roused Mrs. Honeychurch so much as literature in the hands of females. She would abandon every topic to inveigh against those women who (instead of minding their houses and their children) seek notoriety by print. Her attitude was: "If books must be written, let them be written by men"; and she de- veloped it at great length, while Cecil yawned and Freddy played at "This year, next year, now, never," with his plum-stones, and Lucy artfully fed the flames of her mother's wrath. But soon the conflagration died down, and the ghosts began to gather in the darkness. There were too many ghosts about. The original ghost-- that touch of lips on her cheek--had surely been laid long ago; it could be nothing to her that a man had kissed her on a mountain once. But it had begotten a spectral family--Mr. Harris, Miss Bartlett's letter, Mr. Beebe's memories of violets--and one or other of these was bound to haunt her before Cecil's very eyes. It was Miss Bartlett who returned now, and with appalling vividness.
"I have been thinking, Lucy, of that letter of Charlotte's. How is she?"
"I tore the thing up."
"Didn't she say how she was? How does she sound? Cheerful?"
"Oh, yes I suppose so--no--not very cheerful, I suppose."
"Then, depend upon it, it IS the boiler. I know myself how water preys upon one's mind. I would rather anything else--even a misfortune with the meat."
Cecil laid his hand over his eyes.
"So would I," asserted Freddy, backing his mother up--backing up the spirit of her remark rather than the substance.
"And I have been thinking," she added rather nervously, "surely we could squeeze Charlotte in here next week, and give her a nice holiday while plumbers at Tunbridge Wells finish. I have not seen poor Charlotte for so long."
It was more than her nerves could stand. And she could not
protest violently after her mother's goodness to her upstairs.
"Mother, no!" she pleaded. "It's impossible. We can't have Charlotte on the top of the other things; we're squeezed to death as it is. Freddy's got a friend coming Tuesday, there's Cecil, and you've promised to take in Minnie Beebe because of the diphtheria scare. It simply can't be done."
"Nonsense! It can."
"If Minnie sleeps in the bath. Not otherwise."
"Minnie can sleep with you."
"I won't have her."
"Then, if you're so selfish, Mr. Floyd must share a room with Freddy."
"Miss Bartlett, Miss Bartlett, Miss Bartlett," moaned Cecil, again laying his hand over his eyes.
"It's impossible," repeated Lucy. "I don't want to make difficulties, but it really isn't fair on the maids to fill up the house so."
"The truth is, dear, you don't like Charlotte."
"No, I don't. And no more does Cecil. She gets on our nerves. You haven't seen her lately, and don't realize how tiresome she can be, though so good. So please, mother, don't worry us this last summer; but spoil us by not asking her to come."
"Hear, hear!" said Cecil.
Mrs. Honeychurch, with more gravity than usual, and with more feeling than she usually permitted herself, replied: "This isn't very kind of you two. You have each other and all these woods to walk in, so full of beautiful things; and poor Charlotte has only the water turned off and plumbers. You are young, dears, and however clever young people are, and however many books they read, they will never guess what it feels like to grow old."
Cecil crumbled his bread.
"I must say Cousin Charlotte was very kind to me that year I called on my bike," put in Freddy. "She thanked me for coming till I felt like such a fool, and fussed round no end to get an egg boiled for my tea just right."
"I know, dear. She is kind to every one, and yet Lucy makes this difficulty when we try to give her some little return."
But Lucy hardened her heart. It was no good being kind to Miss Bartlett. She had tried herself too often and too recently. One might lay up treasure in heaven by the attempt, but one enriched neither Miss Bartlett nor any one else upon earth. She was reduced to saying: "I can't help it, mother. I don't like Charlotte. I admit it's horrid of me."
"From your own account, you told her as much."
"Well, she would leave Florence so stupidly. She flurried--"
The ghosts were returning; they filled Italy, they were even usurping the places she had known as a child. The Sacred Lake would never be the same again, and, on Sunday week, something would even happen to Windy Corner. How would she fight against ghosts? For a moment the visible world faded away, and memories and emotions alone seemed real.
"I suppose Miss Bartlett must come, since she boils eggs so well," said Cecil, who was in rather a happier frame of mind, thanks to the admirable cooking.
"I didn't mean the egg was WELL boiled," corrected Freddy, "because in point of fact she forgot to take it off, and as a matter of fact I don't care for eggs. I only meant how jolly kind she seemed."
Cecil frowned again. Oh, these Honeychurches! Eggs, boilers, hydrangeas, maids--of such were their lives compact. "May me and Lucy get down from our chairs?" he asked, with scarcely veiled insolence. "We don't want no dessert."
Chapter XIV : How Lucy Faced the External Situation Bravely
0f course Miss Bartlett accepted. And, equally of course, she felt sure that she would prove a nuisance, and begged to be given an inferior spare room--something with no view, anything. Her love to Lucy. And, equally of course, George Emerson could come to tennis on the Sunday week.
Lucy faced the situation bravely, though, like most of us, she only faced the situation that encompassed her. She never gazed inwards. If at times strange images rose from the depths, she put them down to nerves. When Cecil brought the Emersons to Summer Street, it had upset her nerves. Charlotte would burnish up past foolishness, and this might upset her nerves. She was nervous at night. When she talked to George--they met again almost immediately at the Rectory--his voice moved her deeply, and she wished to remain near him. How dreadful if she really wished to remain near him! Of course, the wish was due to nerves, which love to play such perverse tricks upon us. Once she had suffered from "things that came out of nothing and meant she didn't know what." Now Cecil had explained psychology to her one wet afternoon, and all the troubles of youth in an unknown world could be dismissed.
It is obvious enough for the reader to conclude, "She loves young Emerson." A reader in Lucy's place would not find it obvious. Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice, and we welcome "nerves" or any other shibboleth that will cloak our personal desire. She loved Cecil; George made her nervous; will the reader explain to her that the phrases should have been reversed?
But the external situation--she will face that bravely.
The meeting at the Rectory had passed off well enough. Standing between Mr. Beebe and Cecil, she had made a few temperate allusions to Italy, and George had replied. She was anxious to show that she was not shy, and was glad that he did not seem shy either.
"A nice fellow," said Mr. Beebe afterwards "He will work off his crudities in time. I rather mistrust young men who slip into life gracefully."
Lucy said, "He seems in better spirits. He laughs more."
"Yes," replied the clergyman. "He is waking up."
That was all. But, as the week wore on, more of her defences fell, and she entertained an image that had physical beauty. In spite of the clearest directions, Miss Bartlett contrived to bungle her arrival. She was due at the South-Eastern station at Dorking, whither Mrs. Honeychurch drove to meet her. She arrived at the London and Brighton station, and had to hire a cab up. No one was at home except Freddy and his friend, who had to stop their tennis and to entertain her for a solid hour. Cecil and Lucy turned up at four o'clock, and these, with little Minnie Beebe, made a somewhat lugubrious sextette upon the upper lawn for tea.
"I shall never forgive myself," said Miss Bartlett, who kept on rising from her seat, and had to be begged by the united company to remain. "I have upset everything. Bursting in on young people! But I insist on paying for my cab up. Grant that, at any rate."
"Our visitors never do such dreadful things," said Lucy, while her brother, in whose memory the boiled egg had already grown unsubstantial, exclaimed in irritable tones: "Just what I've been trying to convince Cousin Charlotte of, Lucy, for the last half hour."
"I do not feel myself an ordinary visitor," said Miss Bartlett, and looked at her frayed glove
"All right, if you'd really rather. Five shillings, and I gave a bob to the driver."
Miss Bartlett looked in her purse. Only sovereigns and pennies. Could any one give her change? Freddy had half a quid and his friend had four half-crowns. Miss Bartlett accepted their moneys and then said: "But who am I to give the sovereign to?"
"Let's leave it all till mother comes back," suggested Lucy.
"No, dear; your mother may take quite a long drive now that she is not hampered with me. We all have our little foibles, and mine is the prompt settling of accounts."
Here Freddy's friend, Mr. Floyd, made the one remark of his that need be quoted: he offered to toss Freddy for Miss Bartlett's quid. A solution seemed in sight, and even Cecil, who had been ostentatiously drinking his tea at the view, felt the eternal attraction of Chance, and turned round.
But this did not do, either.
"Please--please--I know I am a sad spoilsport, but it would make me wretched. I should practically be robbing the one who lost."
"Freddy owes me fifteen shillings," interposed Cecil. "So it will work out right if you give the pound to me."
"Fifteen shillings," said Miss Bartlett dubiously. "How is that, Mr. Vyse?"
"Because, don't you see, Freddy paid your cab. Give me the pound, and we shall avoid this deplorable gambling."
Miss Bartlett, who was poor at figures, became bewildered and rendered up the sovereign, amidst the suppressed gurgles of the other youths. For a moment Cecil was happy. He was playing at nonsense among his peers. Then he glanced at Lucy, in whose face petty anxieties had marred the smiles. In January he would rescue his Leonardo from this stupefying twaddle.
"But I don't see that!" exclaimed Minnie Beebe who had narrowly watched the iniquitous transaction. "I don't see why Mr. Vyse is to have the quid."
"Because of the fifteen shillings and the five," they said solemnly. "Fifteen shillings and five shillings make one pound, you see."
"But I don't see--"
They tried to stifle her with cake.
"No, thank you. I'm done. I don't see why--Freddy, don't poke me. Miss Honeychurch, your brother's hurting me. Ow! What about Mr. Floyd's ten shillings? Ow! No, I don't see and I never shall see why Miss What's-her-name shouldn't pay that bob for the driver."'
"I had forgotten the driver," said Miss Bartlett, reddening. "Thank you, dear, for reminding me. A shilling was it? Can any one give me change for half a crown?"
"I'll get it," said the young hostess, rising with decision.
"Cecil, give me that sovereign. No, give me up that sovereign. I'll get Euphemia to change it, and we'll start the whole thing again from the beginning."
"Lucy--Lucy--what a nuisance I am!" protested Miss Bartlett, and followed her across the lawn. Lucy tripped ahead, simulating hilarity. When they were out of earshot Miss Bartlett stopped her wails and said quite briskly: "Have you told him about him yet?"
"No, I haven't," replied Lucy, and then could have bitten her tongue for understanding so quickly what her cousin meant. "Let me see--a sovereign's worth of silver."
She escaped into the kitchen. Miss Bartlett's sudden transitions were too uncanny. It sometimes seemed as if she planned every word she spoke or caused to be spoken; as if all this worry about cabs and change had been a ruse to surprise the soul.
"No, I haven't told Cecil or any one," she remarked, when she returned. "I promised you I shouldn't. Here is your money--all shillings, except two half-crowns. Would you count it? You can settle your debt nicely now."
Miss Bartlett was in the drawing-room, gazing at the photograph of St. John ascending, which had been framed.
"How dreadful!" she murmured, "how more than dreadful, if Mr. Vyse should come to hear of it from some other source."
"Oh, no, Charlotte," said the girl, entering the battle. "George Emerson is all right, and what other source is there?"
Miss Bartlett considered. "For instance, the driver. I saw him looking through the bushes at you, remember he had a violet between his teeth."
Lucy shuddered a little. "We shall get the silly affair on our nerves if we aren't careful. How could a Florentine cab-driver ever get hold of Cecil?"
"We must think of every possibility."
"Oh, it's all right."
"Or perhaps old Mr. Emerson knows. In fact, he is certain to know."
"I don't care if he does. I was grateful to you for your letter, but even if the news does get round, I think I can trust Cecil to laugh at it."
"To contradict it?"
"No, to laugh at it." But she knew in her heart that she could not trust him, for he desired her untouched.
"Very well, dear, you know best. Perhaps gentlemen are different to what they were when I was young. Ladies are certainly different."
"Now, Charlotte!" She struck at her playfully. "You kind, anxious thing. What WOULD you have me do? First you say 'Don't tell'; and then you say, 'Tell'. Which is it to be? Quick!"
Miss Bartlett sighed "I am no match for you in conversation, dearest. I blush when I think how I interfered at Florence, and you so well able to look after yourself, and so much cleverer in all ways than I am. You will never forgive me."
"Shall we go out, then. They will smash all the china if we don't."
For the air rang with the shrieks of Minnie, who was being scalped with a teaspoon.
"Dear, one moment--we may not have this chance for a chat again. Have you seen the young one yet?"
"Yes, I have."
"We met at the Rectory."
"What line is he taking up?"
"No line. He talked about Italy, like any other person. It is really all right. What advantage would he get from being a cad, to put it bluntly? I do wish I could make you see it my way. He really won't be any nuisance, Charlotte."
"Once a cad, always a cad. That is my poor opinion."
Lucy paused. "Cecil said one day--and I thought it so profound--that there are two kinds of cads--the conscious and the subconscious." She paused again, to be sure of doing justice to Cecil's profundity. Through the window she saw Cecil himself, turning over the pages of a novel. It was a new one from Smith's library. Her mother must have returned from the station.
"Once a cad, always a cad," droned Miss Bartlett.
"What I mean by subconscious is that Emerson lost his head. I fell into all those violets, and he was silly and surprised. I don't think we ought to blame him very much. It makes such a difference when you see a person with beautiful things behind him unexpectedly. It really does; it makes an enormous difference, and he lost his head: he doesn't admire me, or any of that nonsense, one straw. Freddy rather likes him, and has asked him up here on Sunday, so you can judge for yourself. He has improved; he doesn't always look as if he's going to burst into tears. He is a clerk in the General Manager's office at one of the big railways--not a porter! and runs down to his father for week-ends. Papa was to do with journalism, but is rheumatic and has retired. There! Now for the garden." She took hold of her guest by the arm. "Suppose we don't talk about this silly Italian business any more. We want you to have a nice restful visit at Windy Corner, with no worriting."
Lucy thought this rather a good speech. The reader may have detected an unfortunate slip in it. Whether Miss Bartlett detected the slip one cannot say, for it is impossible to penetrate into the minds of elderly people. She might have spoken further, but they were interrupted by the entrance of her hostess. Explanations took place, and in the midst of them Lucy escaped, the images throbbing a little more vividly in her brain.
Chapter XV: The Disaster Within
The Sunday after Miss Bartlett's arrival was a glorious day, like most of the days of that year. In the Weald, autumn approached, breaking up the green monotony of summer, touching the parks with the grey bloom of mist, the beech-trees with russet, the oak-trees with gold. Up on the heights, battalions of black pines witnessed the change, themselves unchangeable. Either country was spanned by a cloudless sky, and in either arose the tinkle of church bells.
The garden of Windy Corners was deserted except for a red book, which lay sunning itself upon the gravel path. From the house came incoherent sounds, as of females preparing for worship. "The men say they won't go"-- "Well, I don't blame them"-- Minnie says, need she go?"-- "Tell her, no nonsense"-- "Anne! Mary! Hook me behind!"-- "Dearest Lucia, may I trespass upon you for a pin?" For Miss Bartlett had announced that she at all events was one for church.
The sun rose higher on its journey, guided, not by Phaethon, but by Apollo, competent, unswerving, divine. Its rays fell on the ladies whenever they advanced towards the bedroom windows; on Mr. Beebe down at Summer Street as he smiled over a letter from Miss Catharine Alan; on George Emerson cleaning his father's boots; and lastly, to complete the catalogue of memorable things, on the red book mentioned previously. The ladies move, Mr. Beebe moves, George moves, and movement may engender shadow. But this book lies motionless, to be caressed all the morning by the sun and to raise its covers slightly, as though acknowledging the caress.
Presently Lucy steps out of the drawing-room window. Her new cerise dress has been a failure, and makes her look tawdry and wan. At her throat is a garnet brooch, on her finger a ring set with rubies--an engagement ring. Her eyes are bent to the Weald. She frowns a little--not in anger, but as a brave child frowns when he is trying not to cry. In all that expanse no human eye is looking at her, and she may frown unrebuked and measure the spaces that yet survive between Apollo and the western hills.
"Lucy! Lucy! What's that book? Who's been taking a book out of the shelf and leaving it about to spoil?"
"It's only the library book that Cecil's been reading."
"But pick it up, and don't stand idling there like a flamingo."
Lucy picked up the book and glanced at the title listlessly, Under a Loggia. She no longer read novels herself, devoting all her spare time to solid literature in the hope of catching Cecil up. It was dreadful how little she knew, and even when she thought she knew a thing, like the Italian painters, she found she had forgotten it. Only this morning she had confused Francesco Francia with Piero della Francesca, and Cecil had said, "What! you aren't forgetting your Italy already?" And this too had lent anxiety to her eyes when she saluted the dear view and the dear garden in the foreground, and above them, scarcely conceivable elsewhere, the dear sun.
"Lucy--have you a sixpence for Minnie and a shilling for yourself?"
She hastened in to her mother, who was rapidly working herself into a Sunday fluster.
"It's a special collection--I forget what for. I do beg, no vulgar clinking in the plate with halfpennies; see that Minnie has a nice bright sixpence. Where is the child? Minnie! That book's all warped. (Gracious, how plain you look!) Put it under the Atlas to press. Minnie!"
"Oh, Mrs. Honeychurch--" from the upper regions.
"Minnie, don't be late. Here comes the horse" --it was always the horse, never the carriage. "Where's Charlotte? Run up and hurry her. Why is she so long? She had nothing to do. She never brings anything but blouses. Poor Charlotte-- How I do detest blouses! Minnie!"
Paganism is infectious--more infectious than diphtheria or piety --and the Rector's niece was taken to church protesting. As usual, she didn't see why. Why shouldn't she sit in the sun with the young men? The young men, who had now appeared, mocked her with ungenerous words. Mrs. Honeychurch defended orthodoxy, and in the midst of the confusion Miss Bartlett, dressed in the very height of the fashion, came strolling down the stairs.
"Dear Marian, I am very sorry, but I have no small change-- nothing but sovereigns and half crowns. Could any one give me--"
"Yes, easily. Jump in. Gracious me, how smart you look! What a lovely frock! You put us all to shame."
"If I did not wear my best rags and tatters now, when should I wear them?" said Miss Bartlett reproachfully. She got into the victoria and placed herself with her back to the horse. The necessary roar ensued, and then they drove off.
"Good-bye! Be good!" called out Cecil.
Lucy bit her lip, for the tone was sneering. On the subject of "church and so on" they had had rather an unsatisfactory conversation. He had said that people ought to overhaul themselves, and she did not want to overhaul herself; she did not know it was done. Honest orthodoxy Cecil respected, but he always assumed that honesty is the result of a spiritual crisis; he could not imagine it as a natural birthright, that might grow heavenward like flowers. All that he said on this subject pained her, though he exuded tolerance from every pore; somehow the Emersons were different.
She saw the Emersons after church. There was a line of carriages down the road, and the Honeychurch vehicle happened to be opposite Cissie Villa. To save time, they walked over the green to it, and found father and son smoking in the garden.
"Introduce me," said her mother. "Unless the young man considers that he knows me already."
He probably did; but Lucy ignored the Sacred Lake and introduced them formally. Old Mr. Emerson claimed her with much warmth, and said how glad he was that she was going to be married. She said yes, she was glad too; and then, as Miss Bartlett and Minnie were lingering behind with Mr. Beebe, she turned the conversation to a less disturbing topic, and asked him how he liked his new house.
"Very much," he replied, but there was a note of offence in his voice; she had never known him offended before. He added: "We find, though, that the Miss Alans were coming, and that we have turned them out. Women mind such a thing. I am very much upset about it."
"I believe that there was some misunderstanding," said Mrs. Honeychurch uneasily.
"Our landlord was told that we should be a different type of person," said George, who seemed disposed to carry the matter further. "He thought we should be artistic. He is disappointed."
"And I wonder whether we ought to write to the Miss Alans and offer to give it up. What do you think?" He appealed to Lucy.
"Oh, stop now you have come," said Lucy lightly. She must avoid censuring Cecil. For it was on Cecil that the little episode turned, though his name was never mentioned.
"So George says. He says that the Miss Alans must go to the wall. Yet it does seem so unkind."
"There is only a certain amount of kindness in the world," said George, watching the sunlight flash on the panels of the passing carriages.
"Yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Honeychurch. "That's exactly what I say. Why all this twiddling and twaddling over two Miss Alans?"
"There is a certain amount of kindness, just as there is a certain amount of light," he continued in measured tones. "We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm--yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."
"Oh, Mr. Emerson, I see you're clever!"
"I see you're going to be clever. I hope you didn't go behaving like that to poor Freddy."
George's eyes laughed, and Lucy suspected that he and her mother would get on rather well.
"No, I didn't," he said. "He behaved that way to me. It is his philosophy. Only he starts life with it; and I have tried the Note of Interrogation first."
"What DO you mean? No, never mind what you mean. Don't explain. He looks forward to seeing you this afternoon. Do you play tennis? Do you mind tennis on Sunday--?"
"George mind tennis on Sunday! George, after his education, distinguish between Sunday--"
"Very well, George doesn't mind tennis on Sunday. No more do I. That's settled. Mr. Emerson, if you could come with your son we should be so pleased."
He thanked her, but the walk sounded rather far; he could only potter about in these days.
She turned to George: "And then he wants to give up his house to the Miss Alans."
"I know," said George, and put his arm round his father's neck. The kindness that Mr. Beebe and Lucy had always known to exist in him came out suddenly, like sunlight touching a vast landscape--a touch of the morning sun? She remembered that in all his perversities he had never spoken against affection.
Miss Bartlett approached.
"You know our cousin, Miss Bartlett," said Mrs. Honeychurch pleasantly. "You met her with my daughter in Florence."
"Yes, indeed!" said the old man, and made as if he would come out of the garden to meet the lady. Miss Bartlett promptly got into the victoria. Thus entrenched, she emitted a formal bow. It was the pension Bertolini again, the dining-table with the decanters of water and wine. It was the old, old battle of the room with the view.
George did not respond to the bow. Like any boy, he blushed and was ashamed; he knew that the chaperon remembered. He said: "I-- I'll come up to tennis if I can manage it," and went into the house. Perhaps anything that he did would have pleased Lucy, but his awkwardness went straight to her heart; men were not gods after all, but as human and as clumsy as girls; even men might suffer from unexplained desires, and need help. To one of her upbringing, and of her destination, the weakness of men was a truth unfamiliar, but she had surmised it at Florence, when George threw her photographs into the River Arno.
"George, don't go," cried his father, who thought it a great treat for people if his son would talk to them. "George has been in such good spirits today, and I am sure he will end by coming up this afternoon."
Lucy caught her cousin's eye. Something in its mute appeal made her reckless. "Yes," she said, raising her voice, "I do hope he will." Then she went to the carriage and murmured, "The old man hasn't been told; I knew it was all right." Mrs. Honeychurch followed her, and they drove away.
Satisfactory that Mr. Emerson had not been told of the Florence escapade; yet Lucy's spirits should not have leapt up as if she had sighted the ramparts of heaven. Satisfactory; yet surely she greeted it with disproportionate joy. All the way home the horses' hoofs sang a tune to her: "He has not told, he has not told." Her brain expanded the melody: "He has not told his father--to whom he tells all things. It was not an exploit. He did not laugh at me when I had gone." She raised her hand to her cheek. "He does not love me. No. How terrible if he did! But he has not told. He will not tell."
She longed to shout the words: "It is all right. It's a secret between us two for ever. Cecil will never hear." She was even glad that Miss Bartlett had made her promise secrecy, that last dark evening at Florence, when they had knelt packing in his room. The secret, big or little, was guarded.
Only three English people knew of it in the world. Thus she interpreted her joy. She greeted Cecil with unusual radiance, because she felt so safe. As he helped her out of the carriage, she said:
"The Emersons have been so nice. George Emerson has improved enormously."
"How are my proteges?" asked Cecil, who took no real interest in them, and had long since forgotten his resolution to bring them to Windy Corner for educational purposes.
"Proteges!" she exclaimed with some warmth. For the only relationship which Cecil conceived was feudal: that of protector and protected. He had no glimpse of the comradeship after which the girl's soul yearned.
"You shall see for yourself how your proteges are. George Emerson is coming up this afternoon. He is a most interesting man to talk to. Only don't--" She nearly said, "Don't protect him." But the bell was ringing for lunch, and, as often happened, Cecil had paid no great attention to her remarks. Charm, not argument, was to be her forte.
Lunch was a cheerful meal. Generally Lucy was depressed at meals. Some one had to be soothed--either Cecil or Miss Bartlett or a Being not visible to the mortal eye--a Being who whispered to her soul: "It will not last, this cheerfulness. In January you must go to London to entertain the grandchildren of celebrated men." But to-day she felt she had received a guarantee. Her mother would always sit there, her brother here. The sun, though it had moved a little since the morning, would never be hidden behind the western hills. After luncheon they asked her to play. She had seen Gluck's Armide that year, and played from memory the music of the enchanted garden--the music to which Renaud approaches, beneath the light of an eternal dawn, the music that never gains, never wanes, but ripples for ever like the tideless seas of fairyland. Such music is not for the piano, and her audience began to get restive, and Cecil, sharing the discontent, called out: "Now play us the other garden--the one in Parsifal."
She closed the instrument.
"Not very dutiful," said her mother's voice.
Fearing that she had offended Cecil, she turned quickly round. There George was. He had crept in without interrupting her.
"Oh, I had no idea!" she exclaimed, getting very red; and then, without a word of greeting, she reopened the piano. Cecil should have the Parsifal, and anything else that he liked.
"Our performer has changed her mind," said Miss Bartlett, perhaps implying, she will play the music to Mr. Emerson. Lucy did not know what to do nor even what she wanted to do. She played a few bars of the Flower Maidens' song very badly and then she stopped.
"I vote tennis," said Freddy, disgusted at the scrappy entertainment.
"Yes, so do I." Once more she closed the unfortunate piano. "I vote you have a men's four."
"Not for me, thank you," said Cecil. "I will not spoil the set." He never realized that it may be an act of kindness in a bad player to make up a fourth.
"Oh, come along Cecil. I'm bad, Floyd's rotten, and so I dare say's Emerson."
George corrected him: "I am not bad."
One looked down one's nose at this. "Then certainly I won't play," said Cecil, while Miss Bartlett, under the impression that she was snubbing George, added: "I agree with you, Mr. Vyse. You had much better not play. Much better not."
Minnie, rushing in where Cecil feared to tread, announced that she would play. "I shall miss every ball anyway, so what does it matter?" But Sunday intervened and stamped heavily upon the kindly suggestion.
"Then it will have to be Lucy," said Mrs. Honeychurch; "you must fall back on Lucy. There is no other way out of it. Lucy, go and change your frock."
Lucy's Sabbath was generally of this amphibious nature. She kept it without hypocrisy in the morning, and broke it without reluctance in the afternoon. As she changed her frock, she wondered whether Cecil was sneering at her; really she must overhaul herself and settle everything up before she married him.
Mr. Floyd was her partner. She liked music, but how much better tennis seemed. How much better to run about in comfortable clothes than to sit at the piano and feel girt under the arms. Once more music appeared to her the employment of a child. George served, and surprised her by his anxiety to win. She remembered how he had sighed among the tombs at Santa Croce because things wouldn't fit; how after the death of that obscure Italian he had leant over the parapet by the Arno and said to her: "I shall want to live, I tell you," He wanted to live now, to win at tennis, to stand for all he was worth in the sun--the sun which had begun to decline and was shining in her eyes; and he did win.
Ah, how beautiful the Weald looked! The hills stood out above its radiance, as Fiesole stands above the Tuscan Plain, and the South Downs, if one chose, were the mountains of Carrara. She might be forgetting her Italy, but she was noticing more things in her England. One could play a new game with the view, and try to find in its innumerable folds some town or village that would do for Florence. Ah, how beautiful the Weald looked!
But now Cecil claimed her. He chanced to be in a lucid critical mood, and would not sympathize with exaltation. He had been rather a nuisance all through the tennis, for the novel that he was reading was so bad that he was obliged to read it aloud to others. He would stroll round the precincts of the court and call out: "I say, listen to this, Lucy. Three split infinitives."
"Dreadful!" said Lucy, and missed her stroke. When they had finished their set, he still went on reading; there was some murder scene, and really every one must listen to it. Freddy and Mr. Floyd were obliged to hunt for a lost ball in the laurels, but the other two acquiesced.
"The scene is laid in Florence."
"What fun, Cecil! Read away. Come, Mr. Emerson, sit down after all your energy." She had "forgiven" George, as she put it, and she made a point of being pleasant to him.
He jumped over the net and sat down at her feet asking: "You--and are you tired?"
"Of course I'm not!"
"Do you mind being beaten?"
She was going to answer, "No," when it struck her that she did mind, so she answered, "Yes." She added merrily, "I don't see you're such a splendid player, though. The light was behind you, and it was in my eyes."
"I never said I was."
"Why, you did!"
"You didn't attend."
"You said--oh, don't go in for accuracy at this house. We all exaggerate, and we get very angry with people who don't."
"'The scene is laid in Florence,'" repeated Cecil, with an upward note.
Lucy recollected herself.
"'Sunset. Leonora was speeding--'"
Lucy interrupted. "Leonora? Is Leonora the heroine? Who's the book by?"
"Joseph Emery Prank. 'Sunset. Leonora speeding across the square. Pray the saints she might not arrive too late. Sunset--the sunset of Italy. Under Orcagna's Loggia--the Loggia de' Lanzi, as we sometimes call it now--'"
Lucy burst into laughter. "'Joseph Emery Prank' indeed! Why it's Miss Lavish! It's Miss Lavish's novel, and she's publishing it under somebody else's name."
"Who may Miss Lavish be?"
"Oh, a dreadful person--Mr. Emerson, you remember Miss Lavish?"
Excited by her pleasant afternoon, she clapped her hands.
George looked up. "Of course I do. I saw her the day I arrived at Summer Street. It was she who told me that you lived here."
"Weren't you pleased?" She meant "to see Miss Lavish," but when he bent down to the grass without replying, it struck her that she could mean something else. She watched his head, which was almost resting against her knee, and she thought that the ears were reddening. "No wonder the novel's bad," she added. "I never liked Miss Lavish. But I suppose one ought to read it as one's met her."
"All modern books are bad," said Cecil, who was annoyed at her inattention, and vented his annoyance on literature. "Every one writes for money in these days."
"It is so. I will inflict Joseph Emery Prank on you no longer."
Cecil, this afternoon seemed such a twittering sparrow. The ups and downs in his voice were noticeable, but they did not affect her. She had dwelt amongst melody and movement, and her nerves refused to answer to the clang of his. Leaving him to be annoyed, she gazed at the black head again. She did not want to stroke it, but she saw herself wanting to stroke it; the sensation was curious.
"How do you like this view of ours, Mr. Emerson?"
"I never notice much difference in views."
"What do you mean?"
"Because they're all alike. Because all that matters in them is distance and air."
"H'm!" said Cecil, uncertain whether the remark was striking or not.
"My father"--he looked up at her (and he was a little flushed)-- "says that there is only one perfect view--the view of the sky straight over our heads, and that all these views on earth are but bungled copies of it."
"I expect your father has been reading Dante," said Cecil, fingering the novel, which alone permitted him to lead the conversation.
"He told us another day that views are really crowds--crowds of trees and houses and hills--and are bound to resemble each other, like human crowds--and that the power they have over us is sometimes supernatural, for the same reason."
Lucy's lips parted.
"For a crowd is more than the people who make it up. Something gets added to it--no one knows how--just as something has got added to those hills."
He pointed with his racquet to the South Downs.
"What a splendid idea!" she murmured. "I shall enjoy hearing your father talk again. I'm so sorry he's not so well."
"No, he isn't well."
"There's an absurd account of a view in this book," said Cecil. "Also that men fall into two classes--those who forget views and those who remember them, even in small rooms."
"Mr. Emerson, have you any brothers or sisters?"
"You spoke of 'us.'"
"My mother, I was meaning."
Cecil closed the novel with a bang.
"Oh, Cecil--how you made me jump!"
"I will inflict Joseph Emery Prank on you no longer."
"I can just remember us all three going into the country for the day and seeing as far as Hindhead. It is the first thing that I remember."
Cecil got up; the man was ill-bred--he hadn't put on his coat after tennis--he didn't do. He would have strolled away if Lucy had not stopped him.
"Cecil, do read the thing about the view."
"Not while Mr. Emerson is here to entertain us."
"No--read away. I think nothing's funnier than to hear silly things read out loud. If Mr. Emerson thinks us frivolous, he can go."
This struck Cecil as subtle, and pleased him. It put their visitor in the position of a prig. Somewhat mollified, he sat down again.
"Mr. Emerson, go and find tennis balls." She opened the book. Cecil must have his reading and anything else that he liked. But her attention wandered to George's mother, who--according to Mr. Eager--had been murdered in the sight of God according to her son--had seen as far as Hindhead.
"Am I really to go?" asked George.
"No, of course not really," she answered.
"Chapter two," said Cecil, yawning. "Find me chapter two, if it isn't bothering you."
Chapter two was found, and she glanced at its opening sentences.
She thought she had gone mad.
"Here--hand me the book."
She heard her voice saying: "It isn't worth reading--it's too silly to read--I never saw such rubbish--it oughtn't to be allowed to be printed."
He took the book from her.
"'Leonora,'" he read, "'sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.'"
Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.
"'A golden haze,'" he read. He read: "'Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved Antonio stole up behind her--'"
Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George and saw his face.
He read: "'There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.'"
"This isn't the passage I wanted," he informed them. "there is another much funnier, further on." He turned over the leaves.
"Should we go in to tea?" said Lucy, whose voice remained steady.
She led the way up the garden, Cecil following her, George last. She thought a disaster was averted. But when they entered the shrubbery it came. The book, as if it had not worked mischief enough, had been forgotten, and Cecil must go back for it; and George, who loved passionately, must blunder against her in the narrow path.
"No--" she gasped, and, for the second time, was kissed by him.
As if no more was possible, he slipped back; Cecil rejoined her; they reached the upper lawn alone.
Chapter XVI: Lying to George
But Lucy had developed since the spring. That is to say, she was now better able to stifle the emotions of which the conventions and the world disapprove. Though the danger was greater, she was not shaken by deep sobs. She said to Cecil, "I am not coming in to tea--tell mother--I must write some letters," and went up to her room. Then she prepared for action. Love felt and returned, love which our bodies exact and our hearts have transfigured, love which is the most real thing that we shall ever meet, reappeared now as the world's enemy, and she must stifle it.
She sent for Miss Bartlett.
The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended, and Lucy's first aim was to defeat herself. As her brain clouded over, as the memory of the views grew dim and the words of the book died away, she returned to her old shibboleth of nerves. She "conquered her breakdown." Tampering with the truth, she forgot that the truth had ever been. Remembering that she was engaged to Cecil, she compelled herself to confused remembrances of George; he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him. The armour of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul. In a few moments Lucy was equipped for battle.
"Something too awful has happened," she began, as soon as her cousin arrived. "Do you know anything about Miss Lavish's novel?"
Miss Bartlett looked surprised, and said that she had not read the book, nor known that it was published; Eleanor was a reticent woman at heart.
"There is a scene in it. The hero and heroine make love. Do you know about that?"
"Do you know about it, please?" she repeated. "They are on a hillside, and Florence is in the distance."
"My good Lucia, I am all at sea. I know nothing about it whatever."
"There are violets. I cannot believe it is a coincidence. Charlotte, Charlotte, how could you have told her? I have thought before speaking; it must be you."
"Told her what?" she asked, with growing agitation.
"About that dreadful afternoon in February."
Miss Bartlett was genuinely moved. "Oh, Lucy, dearest girl--she hasn't put that in her book?"
"Not so that one could recognize it. Yes."
"Then never--never--never more shall Eleanor Lavish be a friend of mine."
"So you did tell?"
"I did just happen--when I had tea with her at Rome--in the course of conversation--"
"But Charlotte--what about the promise you gave me when we were packing? Why did you tell Miss Lavish, when you wouldn't even let me tell mother?"
"I will never forgive Eleanor. She has betrayed my confidence."
"Why did you tell her, though? This is a most serious thing."
Why does any one tell anything? The question is eternal, and it was not surprising that Miss Bartlett should only sigh faintly in response. She had done wrong--she admitted it, she only hoped that she had not done harm; she had told Eleanor in the strictest confidence.
Lucy stamped with irritation.
"Cecil happened to read out the passage aloud to me and to Mr. Emerson; it upset Mr. Emerson and he insulted me again. Behind Cecil's back. Ugh! Is it possible that men are such brutes? Behind Cecil's back as we were walking up the garden."
Miss Bartlett burst into self-accusations and regrets.
"What is to be done now? Can you tell me?"
"Oh, Lucy--I shall never forgive myself, never to my dying day. Fancy if your prospects--"
"I know," said Lucy, wincing at the word. "I see now why you wanted me to tell Cecil, and what you meant by 'some other source.' You knew that you had told Miss Lavish, and that she was not reliable.
It was Miss Bartlett's turn to wince. "However," said the girl, despising her cousin's shiftiness, "What's done's done. You have put me in a most awkward position. How am I to get out of it?"
Miss Bartlett could not think. The days of her energy were over. She was a visitor, not a chaperon, and a discredited visitor at that. She stood with clasped hands while the girl worked herself into the necessary rage.
"He must--that man must have such a setting down that he won't forget. And who's to give it him? I can't tell mother now--owing to you. Nor Cecil, Charlotte, owing to you. I am caught up every way. I think I shall go mad. I have no one to help me. That's why I've sent for you. What's wanted is a man with a whip."
Miss Bartlett agreed: one wanted a man with a whip.
"Yes--but it's no good agreeing. What's to be DONE. We women go maundering on. What DOES a girl do when she comes across a cad?"
"I always said he was a cad, dear. Give me credit for that, at all events. From the very first moment--when he said his father was having a bath."
"Oh, bother the credit and who's been right or wrong! We've both made a muddle of it. George Emerson is still down the garden there, and is he to be left unpunished, or isn't he? I want to know."
Miss Bartlett was absolutely helpless. Her own exposure had unnerved her, and thoughts were colliding painfully in her brain. She moved feebly to the window, and tried to detect the cad's white flannels among the laurels.
"You were ready enough at the Bertolini when you rushed me off to Rome. Can't you speak again to him now?"
"Willingly would I move heaven and earth--"
"I want something more definite," said Lucy contemptuously. "Will you speak to him? It is the least you can do, surely, considering it all happened because you broke your word."
"Never again shall Eleanor Lavish be a friend of mine."
Really, Charlotte was outdoing herself.
"Yes or no, please; yes or no."
"It is the kind of thing that only a gentleman can settle." George Emerson was coming up the garden with a tennis ball in his hand.
"Very well," said Lucy, with an angry gesture. "No one will help me. I will speak to him myself." And immediately she realized that this was what her cousin had intended all along.
"Hullo, Emerson!" called Freddy from below. "Found the lost ball? Good man! Want any tea?" And there was an irruption from the house on to the terrace.
"Oh, Lucy, but that is brave of you! I admire you--"
They had gathered round George, who beckoned, she felt, over the rubbish, the sloppy thoughts, the furtive yearnings that were beginning to cumber her soul. Her anger faded at the sight of him. Ah! The Emersons were fine people in their way. She had to subdue a rush in her blood before saying:
"Freddy has taken him into the dining-room. The others are going down the garden. Come. Let us get this over quickly. Come. I want you in the room, of course."
"Lucy, do you mind doing it?"
"How can you ask such a ridiculous question?"
"Poor Lucy--" She stretched out her hand. "I seem to bring nothing but misfortune wherever I go." Lucy nodded. She remembered their last evening at Florence--the packing, the candle, the shadow of Miss Bartlett's toque on the door. She was not to be trapped by pathos a second time. Eluding her cousin's caress, she led the way downstairs.
"Try the jam," Freddy was saying. "The jam's jolly good."
George, looking big and dishevelled, was pacing up and down the dining-room. As she entered he stopped, and said:
"No--nothing to eat."
"You go down to the others," said Lucy; "Charlotte and I will give Mr. Emerson all he wants. Where's mother?"
"She's started on her Sunday writing. She's in the drawing-room."
"That's all right. You go away."
He went off singing.
Lucy sat down at the table. Miss Bartlett, who was thoroughly frightened, took up a book and pretended to read.
She would not be drawn into an elaborate speech. She just said: "I can't have it, Mr. Emerson. I cannot even talk to you. Go out of this house, and never come into it again as long as I live here--" flushing as she spoke and pointing to the door. "I hate a row. Go please."
"But I can't--"
She shook her head. "Go, please. I do not want to call in Mr. Vyse."
"You don't mean," he said, absolutely ignoring Miss Bartlett-- "you don't mean that you are going to marry that man?"
The line was unexpected.
She shrugged her shoulders, as if his vulgarity wearied her. "You are merely ridiculous," she said quietly.
Then his words rose gravely over hers: "You cannot live with Vyse. He's only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman."
It was a new light on Cecil's character.
"Have you ever talked to Vyse without feeling tired?"
"I can scarcely discuss--"
"No, but have you ever? He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things--books, pictures--but kill when they come to people. That's why I'll speak out through all this muddle even now. It's shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would never have let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over--playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for YOU to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren't let a woman decide. He's the type who's kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it has been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore --not 'therefore I kissed you,' because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I'm not ashamed. I don't apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore-- therefore I settled to fight him."
Lucy thought of a very good remark.
"You say Mr. Vyse wants me to listen to him, Mr. Emerson. Pardon me for suggesting that you have caught the habit."
And he took the shoddy reproof and touched it into immortality. He said:
"Yes, I have," and sank down as if suddenly weary. "I'm the same kind of brute at bottom. This desire to govern a woman--it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together before they shall enter the garden. But I do love you surely in a better way than he does." He thought. "Yes--really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms," He stretched them towards her. "Lucy, be quick--there's no time for us to talk now--come to me as you came in the spring, and afterwards I will be gentle and explain. I have cared for you since that man died. I cannot live without you, 'No good,' I thought; 'she is marrying some one else'; but I meet you again when all the world is glorious water and sun. As you came through the wood I saw that nothing else mattered. I called. I wanted to live and have my chance of joy."
"And Mr. Vyse?" said Lucy, who kept commendably calm. "Does he not matter? That I love Cecil and shall be his wife shortly? A detail of no importance, I suppose?"
But he stretched his arms over the table towards her.
"May I ask what you intend to gain by this exhibition?"
He said: "It is our last chance. I shall do all that I can." And as if he had done all else, he turned to Miss Bartlett, who sat like some portent against the skies of the evening. "You wouldn't stop us this second time if you understood," he said. "I have been into the dark, and I am going back into it, unless you will try to understand."
Her long, narrow head drove backwards and forwards, as though demolishing some invisible obstacle. She did not answer.
"It is being young," he said quietly, picking up his racquet from the floor and preparing to go. "It is being certain that Lucy cares for me really. It is that love and youth matter intellectually."
In silence the two women watched him. His last remark, they knew, was nonsense, but was he going after it or not? Would not he, the cad, the charlatan, attempt a more dramatic finish? No. He was apparently content. He left them, carefully closing the front door; and when they looked through the hall window, they saw him go up the drive and begin to climb the slopes of withered fern behind the house. Their tongues were loosed, and they burst into stealthy rejoicings.
"Oh, Lucia--come back here--oh, what an awful man!"
Lucy had no reaction--at least, not yet. "Well, he amuses me," she said. "Either I'm mad, or else he is, and I'm inclined to think it's the latter. One more fuss through with you, Charlotte. Many thanks. I think, though, that this is the last. My admirer will hardly trouble me again."
And Miss Bartlett, too, essayed the roguish:
"Well, it isn't every one who could boast such a conquest, dearest, is it? Oh, one oughtn't to laugh, really. It might have been very serious. But you were so sensible and brave--so unlike the girls of my day."
"Let's go down to them."
But, once in the open air, she paused. Some emotion--pity, terror, love, but the emotion was strong--seized her, and she was aware of autumn. Summer was ending, and the evening brought her odours of decay, the more pathetic because they were reminiscent of spring. That something or other mattered intellectually? A leaf, violently agitated, danced past her, while other leaves lay motionless. That the earth was hastening to re-enter darkness, and the shadows of those trees over Windy Corner?
"Hullo, Lucy! There's still light enough for another set, if you two'll hurry."
"Mr. Emerson has had to go."
"What a nuisance! That spoils the four. I say, Cecil, do play, do, there's a good chap. It's Floyd's last day. Do play tennis with us, just this once."
Cecil's voice came: "My dear Freddy, I am no athlete. As you well remarked this very morning, 'There are some chaps who are no good for anything but books'; I plead guilty to being such a chap, and will not inflict myself on you."
The scales fell from Lucy's eyes. How had she stood Cecil for a moment? He was absolutely intolerable, and the same evening she broke off her engagement.