Chapter XVII: Lying to Cecil
He was bewildered. He had nothing to say. He was not even angry, but stood, with a glass of whiskey between his hands, trying to think what had led her to such a conclusion.
She had chosen the moment before bed, when, in accordance with their bourgeois habit, she always dispensed drinks to the men. Freddy and Mr. Floyd were sure to retire with their glasses, while Cecil invariably lingered, sipping at his while she locked up the sideboard.
"I am very sorry about it," she said; "I have carefully thought things over. We are too different. I must ask you to release me, and try to forget that there ever was such a foolish girl."
It was a suitable speech, but she was more angry than sorry, and her voice showed it.
"I haven't had a really good education, for one thing," she continued, still on her knees by the sideboard. "My Italian trip came too late, and I am forgetting all that I learnt there. I shall never be able to talk to your friends, or behave as a wife of yours should."
"I don't understand you. You aren't like yourself. You're tired, Lucy."
"Tired!" she retorted, kindling at once. "That is exactly like you. You always think women don't mean what they say."
"Well, you sound tired, as if something has worried you."
"What if I do? It doesn't prevent me from realizing the truth. I can't marry you, and you will thank me for saying so some day."
"You had that bad headache yesterday--All right"--for she had exclaimed indignantly: "I see it's much more than headaches. But give me a moment's time." He closed his eyes. "You must excuse me if I say stupid things, but my brain has gone to pieces. Part of it lives three minutes back, when I was sure that you loved me, and the other part--I find it difficult--I am likely to say the wrong thing."
It struck her that he was not behaving so badly, and her irritation increased. She again desired a struggle, not a discussion. To bring on the crisis, she said:
"There are days when one sees clearly, and this is one of them. Things must come to a breaking-point some time, and it happens to be to-day. If you want to know, quite a little thing decided me to speak to you--when you wouldn't play tennis with Freddy."
"I never do play tennis," said Cecil, painfully bewildered; "I never could play. I don't understand a word you say."
"You can play well enough to make up a four. I thought it abominably selfish of you."
"No, I can't--well, never mind the tennis. Why couldn't you--couldn't you have warned me if you felt anything wrong? You talked of our wedding at lunch--at least, you let me talk."
"I knew you wouldn't understand," said Lucy quite crossly. "I might have known there would have been these dreadful explanations. Of course, it isn't the tennis--that was only the last straw to all I have been feeling for weeks. Surely it was better not to speak until I felt certain." She developed this position. "Often before I have wondered if I was fitted for your wife--for instance, in London; and are you fitted to be my husband? I don't think so. You don't like Freddy, nor my mother. There was always a lot against our engagement, Cecil, but all our relations seemed pleased, and we met so often, and it was no good mentioning it until--well, until all things came to a point. They have to-day. I see clearly. I must speak. That's all."
"I cannot think you were right," said Cecil gently. "I cannot tell why, but though all that you say sounds true, I feel that you are not treating me fairly. It's all too horrible."
"What's the good of a scene?"
"No good. But surely I have a right to hear a little more."
He put down his glass and opened the window. From where she knelt, jangling her keys, she could see a slit of darkness, and, peering into it, as if it would tell him that "little more," his long, thoughtful face.
"Don't open the window; and you'd better draw the curtain, too; Freddy or any one might be outside." He obeyed. "I really think we had better go to bed, if you don't mind. I shall only say things that will make me unhappy afterwards. As you say it is all too horrible, and it is no good talking."
But to Cecil, now that he was about to lose her, she seemed each moment more desirable. He looked at her, instead of through her, for the first time since they were engaged. From a Leonardo she had become a living woman, with mysteries and forces of her own, with qualities that even eluded art. His brain recovered from the shock, and, in a burst of genuine devotion, he cried: "But I love you, and I did think you loved me!"
"I did not," she said. "I thought I did at first. I am sorry, and ought to have refused you this last time, too."
He began to walk up and down the room, and she grew more and more vexed at his dignified behaviour. She had counted on his being petty. It would have made things easier for her. By a cruel irony she was drawing out all that was finest in his disposition.
"You don't love me, evidently. I dare say you are right not to. But it would hurt a little less if I knew why."
"Because"--a phrase came to her, and she accepted it--"you're the sort who can't know any one intimately."
A horrified look came into his eyes.
"I don't mean exactly that. But you will question me, though I beg you not to, and I must say something. It is that, more or less. When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you're always protecting me." Her voice swelled. "I won't be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can't I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? A woman's place! You despise my mother--I know you do--because she's conventional and bothers over puddings; but, oh goodness!"--she rose to her feet--"conventional, Cecil, you're that, for you may understand beautiful things, but you don't know how to use them; and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won't be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That's why I break off my engagement. You were all right as long as you kept to things, but when you came to people--" She stopped.
There was a pause. Then Cecil said with great emotion:
"It is true."
"True on the whole," she corrected, full of some vague shame.
"True, every word. It is a revelation. It is--I."
"Anyhow, those are my reasons for not being your wife."
He repeated: "'The sort that can know no one intimately.' It is true. I fell to pieces the very first day we were engaged. I behaved like a cad to Beebe and to your brother. You are even greater than I thought." She withdrew a step. "I'm not going to worry you. You are far too good to me. I shall never forget your insight; and, dear, I only blame you for this: you might have warned me in the early stages, before you felt you wouldn't marry me, and so have given me a chance to improve. I have never known you till this evening. I have just used you as a peg for my silly notions of what a woman should be. But this evening you are a different person: new thoughts--even a new voice--"
"What do you mean by a new voice?" she asked, seized with incontrollable anger.
"I mean that a new person seems speaking through you," said he.
Then she lost her balance. She cried: "If you think I am in love with some one else, you are very much mistaken."
"Of course I don't think that. You are not that kind, Lucy."
"Oh, yes, you do think it. It's your old idea, the idea that has kept Europe back--I mean the idea that women are always thinking of men. If a girl breaks off her engagement, every one says: 'Oh, she had some one else in her mind; she hopes to get some one else.' It's disgusting, brutal! As if a girl can't break it off for the sake of freedom."
He answered reverently: "I may have said that in the past. I shall never say it again. You have taught me better."
She began to redden, and pretended to examine the windows again. "Of course, there is no question of 'some one else' in this, no 'jilting' or any such nauseous stupidity. I beg your pardon most humbly if my words suggested that there was. I only meant that there was a force in you that I hadn't known of up till now."
"All right, Cecil, that will do. Don't apologize to me. It was my mistake."
"It is a question between ideals, yours and mine--pure abstract ideals, and yours are the nobler. I was bound up in the old vicious notions, and all the time you were splendid and new." His voice broke. "I must actually thank you for what you have done-- for showing me what I really am. Solemnly, I thank you for showing me a true woman. Will you shake hands?"
"Of course I will," said Lucy, twisting up her other hand in the curtains. "Good-night, Cecil. Good-bye. That's all right. I'm sorry about it. Thank you very much for your gentleness."
"Let me light your candle, shall I?"
They went into the hall.
"Thank you. Good-night again. God bless you, Lucy!"
She watched him steal up-stairs, while the shadows from three banisters passed over her face like the beat of wings. On the landing he paused strong in his renunciation, and gave her a look of memorable beauty. For all his culture, Cecil was an ascetic at heart, and nothing in his love became him like the leaving of it.
She could never marry. In the tumult of her soul, that stood firm. Cecil believed in her; she must some day believe in herself. She must be one of the women whom she had praised so eloquently, who care for liberty and not for men; she must forget that George loved her, that George had been thinking through her and gained her this honourable release, that George had gone away into--what was it?--the darkness.
She put out the lamp.
It did not do to think, nor, for the matter of that to feel. She gave up trying to understand herself, and the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters--the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism, their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they go. They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any heavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged.
Lucy entered this army when she pretended to George that she did not love him, and pretended to Cecil that she loved no one. The night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before.
Chapter XVIII: Lying to Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, and The Servants
Windy Corner lay, not on the summit of the ridge, but a few hundred feet down the southern slope, at the springing of one of the great buttresses that supported the hill. On either side of it was a shallow ravine, filled with ferns and pine-trees, and down the ravine on the left ran the highway into the Weald.
Whenever Mr. Beebe crossed the ridge and caught sight of these noble dispositions of the earth, and, poised in the middle of them, Windy Corner,--he laughed. The situation was so glorious, the house so commonplace, not to say impertinent. The late Mr. Honeychurch had affected the cube, because it gave him the most accommodation for his money, and the only addition made by his widow had been a small turret, shaped like a rhinoceros' horn, where she could sit in wet weather and watch the carts going up and down the road. So impertinent--and yet the house "did," for it was the home of people who loved their surroundings honestly. Other houses in the neighborhood had been built by expensive architects, over others their inmates had fidgeted sedulously, yet all these suggested the accidental, the temporary; while Windy Corner seemed as inevitable as an ugliness of Nature's own creation. One might laugh at the house, but one never shuddered. Mr. Beebe was bicycling over this Monday afternoon with a piece of gossip. He had heard from the Miss Alans. These admirable ladies, since they could not go to Cissie Villa, had changed their plans. They were going to Greece instead.
"Since Florence did my poor sister so much good," wrote Miss Catharine, "we do not see why we should not try Athens this winter. Of course, Athens is a plunge, and the doctor has ordered her special digestive bread; but, after all, we can take that with us, and it is only getting first into a steamer and then into a train. But is there an English Church?" And the letter went on to say: "I do not expect we shall go any further than Athens, but if you knew of a really comfortable pension at Constantinople, we should be so grateful."
Lucy would enjoy this letter, and the smile with which Mr. Beebe greeted Windy Corner was partly for her. She would see the fun of it, and some of its beauty, for she must see some beauty. Though she was hopeless about pictures, and though she dressed so unevenly--oh, that cerise frock yesterday at church!--she must see some beauty in life, or she could not play the piano as she did. He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood. This theory, had he known it, had possibly just been illustrated by facts. Ignorant of the events of yesterday he was only riding over to get some tea, to see his niece, and to observe whether Miss Honeychurch saw anything beautiful in the desire of two old ladies to visit Athens.
A carriage was drawn up outside Windy Corner, and just as he caught sight of the house it started, bowled up the drive, and stopped abruptly when it reached the main road. Therefore it must be the horse, who always expected people to walk up the hill in case they tired him. The door opened obediently, and two men emerged, whom Mr. Beebe recognized as Cecil and Freddy. They were an odd couple to go driving; but he saw a trunk beside the coachman's legs. Cecil, who wore a bowler, must be going away, while Freddy (a cap)--was seeing him to the station. They walked rapidly, taking the short cuts, and reached the summit while the carriage was still pursuing the windings of the road.
They shook hands with the clergyman, but did not speak.
"So you're off for a minute, Mr. Vyse?" he asked.
Cecil said, "Yes," while Freddy edged away.
"I was coming to show you this delightful letter from those friends of Miss Honeychurch. He quoted from it. "Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it romance? most certainly they will go to Constantinople. They are taken in a snare that cannot fail. They will end by going round the world."
Cecil listened civilly, and said he was sure that Lucy would be amused and interested.
"Isn't Romance capricious! I never notice it in you young people; you do nothing but play lawn tennis, and say that romance is dead, while the Miss Alans are struggling with all the weapons of propriety against the terrible thing. 'A really comfortable pension at Constantinople!' So they call it out of decency, but in their hearts they want a pension with magic windows opening on the foam of perilous seas in fairyland forlorn! No ordinary view will content the Miss Alans. They want the Pension Keats."
"I'm awfully sorry to interrupt, Mr. Beebe," said Freddy, "but have you any matches?"
"I have," said Cecil, and it did not escape Mr. Beebe's notice that he spoke to the boy more kindly.
"You have never met these Miss Alans, have you, Mr. Vyse?"
"Then you don't see the wonder of this Greek visit. I haven't been to Greece myself, and don't mean to go, and I can't imagine any of my friends going. It is altogether too big for our little lot. Don't you think so? Italy is just about as much as we can manage. Italy is heroic, but Greece is godlike or devilish--I am not sure which, and in either case absolutely out of our suburban focus. All right, Freddy--I am not being clever, upon my word I am not--I took the idea from another fellow; and give me those matches when you've done with them." He lit a cigarette, and went on talking to the two young men. "I was saying, if our poor little Cockney lives must have a background, let it be Italian. Big enough in all conscience. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for me. There the contrast is just as much as I can realize. But not the Parthenon, not the frieze of Phidias at any price; and here comes the victoria."
"You're quite right," said Cecil. "Greece is not for our little lot"; and he got in. Freddy followed, nodding to the clergyman, whom he trusted not to be pulling one's leg, really. And before they had gone a dozen yards he jumped out, and came running back for Vyse's match-box, which had not been returned. As he took it, he said: "I'm so glad you only talked about books. Cecil's hard hit. Lucy won't marry him. If you'd gone on about her, as you did about them, he might have broken down."
"Late last night. I must go."
"Perhaps they won't want me down there."
"No--go on. Good-bye."
"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Mr. Beebe to himself, and struck the saddle of his bicycle approvingly, "It was the one foolish thing she ever did. Oh, what a glorious riddance!" And, after a little thought, he negotiated the slope into Windy Corner, light of heart. The house was again as it ought to be--cut off forever from Cecil's pretentious world.
He would find Miss Minnie down in the garden.
In the drawing-room Lucy was tinkling at a Mozart Sonata. He hesitated a moment, but went down the garden as requested. There he found a mournful company. It was a blustering day, and the wind had taken and broken the dahlias. Mrs. Honeychurch, who looked cross, was tying them up, while Miss Bartlett, unsuitably dressed, impeded her with offers of assistance. At a little distance stood Minnie and the "garden-child," a minute importation, each holding either end of a long piece of bass.
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Beebe? Gracious what a mess everything is! Look at my scarlet pompons, and the wind blowing your skirts about, and the ground so hard that not a prop will stick in, and then the carriage having to go out, when I had counted on having Powell, who--give every one their due--does tie up dahlias properly."
Evidently Mrs. Honeychurch was shattered.
"How do you do?" said Miss Bartlett, with a meaning glance, as though conveying that more than dahlias had been broken off by the autumn gales.
"Here, Lennie, the bass," cried Mrs. Honeychurch. The garden-child, who did not know what bass was, stood rooted to the path with horror. Minnie slipped to her uncle and whispered that every one was very disagreeable to-day, and that it was not her fault if dahlia-strings would tear longways instead of across.
"Come for a walk with me," he told her. "You have worried them as much as they can stand. Mrs. Honeychurch, I only called in aimlessly. I shall take her up to tea at the Beehive Tavern, if I may."
"Oh, must you? Yes do.--Not the scissors, thank you, Charlotte, when both my hands are full already--I'm perfectly certain that the orange cactus will go before I can get to it."
Mr. Beebe, who was an adept at relieving situations, invited Miss Bartlett to accompany them to this mild festivity.
"Yes, Charlotte, I don't want you--do go; there's nothing to stop about for, either in the house or out of it."
Miss Bartlett said that her duty lay in the dahlia bed, but when she had exasperated every one, except Minnie, by a refusal, she turned round and exasperated Minnie by an acceptance. As they walked up the garden, the orange cactus fell, and Mr. Beebe's last vision was of the garden-child clasping it like a lover, his dark head buried in a wealth of blossom.
"It is terrible, this havoc among the flowers," he remarked.
"It is always terrible when the promise of months is destroyed in a moment," enunciated Miss Bartlett.
"Perhaps we ought to send Miss Honeychurch down to her mother. Or will she come with us?"
"I think we had better leave Lucy to herself, and to her own pursuits."
"They're angry with Miss Honeychurch because she was late for breakfast," whispered Minnie, "and Floyd has gone, and Mr. Vyse has gone, and Freddy won't play with me. In fact, Uncle Arthur, the house is not AT ALL what it was yesterday."
"Don't be a prig," said her Uncle Arthur. "Go and put on your boots."
He stepped into the drawing-room, where Lucy was still attentively pursuing the Sonatas of Mozart. She stopped when he entered.
"How do you do? Miss Bartlett and Minnie are coming with me to tea at the Beehive. Would you come too?"
"I don't think I will, thank you."
"No, I didn't suppose you would care to much."
Lucy turned to the piano and struck a few chords.
"How delicate those Sonatas are!" said Mr. Beebe, though at the bottom of his heart, he thought them silly little things.
Lucy passed into Schumann.
"I met them on the hill. Your brother told me."
"Oh he did?" She sounded annoyed. Mr. Beebe felt hurt, for he had thought that she would like him to be told.
"I needn't say that it will go no further."
"Mother, Charlotte, Cecil, Freddy, you," said Lucy, playing a note for each person who knew, and then playing a sixth note.
"If you'll let me say so, I am very glad, and I am certain that you have done the right thing."
"So I hoped other people would think, but they don't seem to."
"I could see that Miss Bartlett thought it unwise."
"So does mother. Mother minds dreadfully."
"I am very sorry for that," said Mr. Beebe with feeling.
Mrs. Honeychurch, who hated all changes, did mind, but not nearly as much as her daughter pretended, and only for the minute. It was really a ruse of Lucy's to justify her despondency--a ruse of which she was not herself conscious, for she was marching in the armies of darkness.
"And Freddy minds."
"Still, Freddy never hit it off with Vyse much, did he? I gathered that he disliked the engagement, and felt it might separate him from you."
"Boys are so odd."
Minnie could be heard arguing with Miss Bartlett through the floor. Tea at the Beehive apparently involved a complete change of apparel. Mr. Beebe saw that Lucy--very properly--did not wish to discuss her action, so after a sincere expression of sympathy, he said, "I have had an absurd letter from Miss Alan. That was really what brought me over. I thought it might amuse you all."
"How delightful!" said Lucy, in a dull voice.
For the sake of something to do, he began to read her the letter. After a few words her eyes grew alert, and soon she interrupted him with "Going abroad? When do they start?"
"Next week, I gather."
"Did Freddy say whether he was driving straight back?"
"No, he didn't."
"Because I do hope he won't go gossiping."
So she did want to talk about her broken engagement. Always complaisant, he put the letter away. But she, at once exclaimed in a high voice, "Oh, do tell me more about the Miss Alans! How perfectly splendid of them to go abroad!"
"I want them to start from Venice, and go in a cargo steamer down the Illyrian coast!"
She laughed heartily. "Oh, delightful! I wish they'd take me."
"Has Italy filled you with the fever of travel? Perhaps George Emerson is right. He says that 'Italy is only an euphuism for Fate.'"
"Oh, not Italy, but Constantinople. I have always longed to go to Constantinople. Constantinople is practically Asia, isn't it?"
Mr. Beebe reminded her that Constantinople was still unlikely, and that the Miss Alans only aimed at Athens, "with Delphi, perhaps, if the roads are safe." But this made no difference to her enthusiasm. She had always longed to go to Greece even more, it seemed. He saw, to his surprise, that she was apparently serious.
"I didn't realize that you and the Miss Alans were still such friends, after Cissie Villa."
"Oh, that's nothing; I assure you Cissie Villa's nothing to me; I would give anything to go with them."
"Would your mother spare you again so soon? You have scarcely been home three months."
"She MUST spare me!" cried Lucy, in growing excitement. "I simply MUST go away. I have to." She ran her fingers hysterically through her hair. "Don't you see that I HAVE to go away? I didn't realize at the time--and of course I want to see Constantinople so particularly."
"You mean that since you have broken off your engagement you feel--"
"Yes, yes. I knew you'd understand."
Mr. Beebe did not quite understand. Why could not Miss Honeychurch repose in the bosom of her family? Cecil had evidently taken up the dignified line, and was not going to annoy her. Then it struck him that her family itself might be annoying. He hinted this to her, and she accepted the hint eagerly.
"Yes, of course; to go to Constantinople until they are used to the idea and everything has calmed down."
"I am afraid it has been a bothersome business," he said gently.
"No, not at all. Cecil was very kind indeed; only--I had better tell you the whole truth, since you have heard a little--it was that he is so masterful. I found that he wouldn't let me go my own way. He would improve me in places where I can't be improved. Cecil won't let a woman decide for herself--in fact, he daren't. What nonsense I do talk! but that is the kind of thing."
"It is what I gathered from my own observation of Mr. Vyse; it is what I gather from all that I have known of you. I do sympathize and agree most profoundly. I agree so much that you must let me make one little criticism: Is it worth while rushing off to Greece?"
"But I must go somewhere!" she cried. "I have been worrying all the morning, and here comes the very thing." She struck her knees with clenched fists, and repeated: "I must! And the time I shall have with mother, and all the money she spent on me last spring. You all think much too highly of me. I wish you weren't so kind." At this moment Miss Bartlett entered, and her nervousness increased. "I must get away, ever so far. I must know my own mind and where I want to go."
"Come along; tea, tea, tea," said Mr. Beebe, and bustled his guests out of the front-door. He hustled them so quickly that he forgot his hat. When he returned for it he heard, to his relief and surprise, the tinkling of a Mozart Sonata.
"She is playing again," he said to Miss Bartlett.
"Lucy can always play," was the acid reply.
"One is very thankful that she has such a resource. She is evidently much worried, as, of course, she ought to be. I know all about it. The marriage was so near that it must have been a hard struggle before she could wind herself up to speak."
Miss Bartlett gave a kind of wriggle, and he prepared for a discussion. He had never fathomed Miss Bartlett. As he had put it to himself at Florence, "she might yet reveal depths of strangeness, if not of meaning." But she was so unsympathetic that she must be reliable. He assumed that much, and he had no hesitation in discussing Lucy with her. Minnie was fortunately collecting ferns.
She opened the discussion with: "We had much better let the matter drop."
"It is of the highest importance that there should be no gossip in Summer Street. It would be DEATH to gossip about Mr. Vyse's dismissal at the present moment."
Mr. Beebe raised his eyebrows. Death is a strong word--surely too strong. There was no question of tragedy. He said: "Of course, Miss Honeychurch will make the fact public in her own way, and when she chooses. Freddy only told me because he knew she would not mind."
"I know," said Miss Bartlett civilly. "Yet Freddy ought not to have told even you. One cannot be too careful."
"I do implore absolute secrecy. A chance word to a chattering friend, and--"
"Exactly." He was used to these nervous old maids and to the exaggerated importance that they attach to words. A rector lives in a web of petty secrets, and confidences and warnings, and the wiser he is the less he will regard them. He will change the subject, as did Mr. Beebe, saying cheerfully: "Have you heard from any Bertolini people lately? I believe you keep up with Miss Lavish. It is odd how we of that pension, who seemed such a fortuitous collection, have been working into one another's lives. Two, three, four, six of us--no, eight; I had forgotten the Emersons--have kept more or less in touch. We must really give the Signora a testimonial."
And, Miss Bartlett not favouring the scheme, they walked up the hill in a silence which was only broken by the rector naming some fern. On the summit they paused. The sky had grown wilder since he stood there last hour, giving to the land a tragic greatness that is rare in Surrey. Grey clouds were charging across tissues of white, which stretched and shredded and tore slowly, until through their final layers there gleamed a hint of the disappearing blue. Summer was retreating. The wind roared, the trees groaned, yet the noise seemed insufficient for those vast operations in heaven. The weather was breaking up, breaking, broken, and it is a sense of the fit rather than of the supernatural that equips such crises with the salvos of angelic artillery. Mr. Beebe's eyes rested on Windy Corner, where Lucy sat, practising Mozart. No smile came to his lips, and, changing the subject again, he said: "We shan't have rain, but we shall have darkness, so let us hurry on. The darkness last night was appalling."
They reached the Beehive Tavern at about five o'clock. That amiable hostelry possesses a verandah, in which the young and the unwise do dearly love to sit, while guests of more mature years seek a pleasant sanded room, and have tea at a table comfortably. Mr. Beebe saw that Miss Bartlett would be cold if she sat out, and that Minnie would be dull if she sat in, so he proposed a division of forces. They would hand the child her food through the window. Thus he was incidentally enabled to discuss the fortunes of Lucy.
"I have been thinking, Miss Bartlett," he said, "and, unless you very much object, I would like to reopen that discussion." She bowed. "Nothing about the past. I know little and care less about that; I am absolutely certain that it is to your cousin's credit. She has acted loftily and rightly, and it is like her gentle modesty to say that we think too highly of her. But the future. Seriously, what do you think of this Greek plan?" He pulled out the letter again. "I don't know whether you overheard, but she wants to join the Miss Alans in their mad career. It's all--I can't explain--it's wrong."
Miss Bartlett read the letter in silence, laid it down, seemed to hesitate, and then read it again.
"I can't see the point of it myself."
To his astonishment, she replied: "There I cannot agree with you. In it I spy Lucy's salvation."
"Really. Now, why?"
"She wanted to leave Windy Corner."
"I know--but it seems so odd, so unlike her, so--I was going to say--selfish."
"It is natural, surely--after such painful scenes--that she should desire a change."
Here, apparently, was one of those points that the male intellect misses. Mr. Beebe exclaimed: "So she says herself, and since another lady agrees with her, I must own that I am partially convinced. Perhaps she must have a change. I have no sisters or-- and I don't understand these things. But why need she go as far as Greece?"
"You may well ask that," replied Miss Bartlett, who was evidently interested, and had almost dropped her evasive manner. "Why Greece? (What is it, Minnie dear--jam?) Why not Tunbridge Wells? Oh, Mr. Beebe! I had a long and most unsatisfactory interview with dear Lucy this morning. I cannot help her. I will say no more. Perhaps I have already said too much. I am not to talk. I wanted her to spend six months with me at Tunbridge Wells, and she refused."
Mr. Beebe poked at a crumb with his knife.
"But my feelings are of no importance. I know too well that I get on Lucy's nerves. Our tour was a failure. She wanted to leave Florence, and when we got to Rome she did not want to be in Rome, and all the time I felt that I was spending her mother's money--."
"Let us keep to the future, though," interrupted Mr. Beebe. "I want your advice."
"Very well," said Charlotte, with a choky abruptness that was new to him, though familiar to Lucy. "I for one will help her to go to Greece. Will you?"
Mr. Beebe considered.
"It is absolutely necessary," she continued, lowering her veil and whispering through it with a passion, an intensity, that surprised him. "I know--I know." The darkness was coming on, and he felt that this odd woman really did know. "She must not stop here a moment, and we must keep quiet till she goes. I trust that the servants know nothing. Afterwards--but I may have said too much already. Only, Lucy and I are helpless against Mrs. Honeychurch alone. If you help we may succeed. Otherwise--"
"Otherwise," she repeated as if the word held finality.
"Yes, I will help her," said the clergyman, setting his jaw firm. "Come, let us go back now, and settle the whole thing up."
Miss Bartlett burst into florid gratitude. The tavern sign--a beehive trimmed evenly with bees--creaked in the wind outside as she thanked him. Mr. Beebe did not quite understand the situation; but then, he did not desire to understand it, nor to jump to the conclusion of "another man" that would have attracted a grosser mind. He only felt that Miss Bartlett knew of some vague influence from which the girl desired to be delivered, and which might well be clothed in the fleshly form. Its very vagueness spurred him into knight-errantry. His belief in celibacy, so reticent, so carefully concealed beneath his tolerance and culture, now came to the surface and expanded like some delicate flower. "They that marry do well, but they that refrain do better." So ran his belief, and he never heard that an engagement was broken off but with a slight feeling of pleasure. In the case of Lucy, the feeling was intensified through dislike of Cecil; and he was willing to go further--to place her out of danger until she could confirm her resolution of virginity. The feeling was very subtle and quite undogmatic, and he never imparted it to any other of the characters in this entanglement. Yet it existed, and it alone explains his action subsequently, and his influence on the action of others. The compact that he made with Miss Bartlett in the tavern, was to help not only Lucy, but religion also.
They hurried home through a world of black and grey. He conversed on indifferent topics: the Emersons' need of a housekeeper; servants; Italian servants; novels about Italy; novels with a purpose; could literature influence life? Windy Corner glimmered. In the garden, Mrs. Honeychurch, now helped by Freddy, still wrestled with the lives of her flowers.
"It gets too dark," she said hopelesly. "This comes of putting off. We might have known the weather would break up soon; and now Lucy wants to go to Greece. I don't know what the world's coming to."
"Mrs. Honeychurch," he said, "go to Greece she must. Come up to the house and let's talk it over. Do you, in the first place, mind her breaking with Vyse?"
"Mr. Beebe, I'm thankful--simply thankful."
"So am I," said Freddy.
"Good. Now come up to the house."
They conferred in the dining-room for half an hour.
Lucy would never have carried the Greek scheme alone. It was expensive and dramatic--both qualities that her mother loathed. Nor would Charlotte have succeeded. The honours of the day rested with Mr. Beebe. By his tact and common sense, and by his influence as a clergyman--for a clergyman who was not a fool influenced Mrs. Honeychurch greatly--he bent her to their purpose, "I don't see why Greece is necessary," she said; "but as you do, I suppose it is all right. It must be something I can't understand. Lucy! Let's tell her. Lucy!"
"She is playing the piano," Mr. Beebe said. He opened the door, and heard the words of a song:
"Look not thou on beauty's charming."
"I didn't know that Miss Honeychurch sang, too."
"Sit thou still when kings are arming,
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens--"
"It's a song that Cecil gave her. How odd girls are!"
"What's that?" called Lucy, stopping short.
"All right, dear," said Mrs. Honeychurch kindly. She went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Beebe heard her kiss Lucy and say: "I am sorry I was so cross about Greece, but it came on the top of the dahlias."
Rather a hard voice said: "Thank you, mother; that doesn't matter a bit."
"And you are right, too--Greece will be all right; you can go if the Miss Alans will have you."
"Oh, splendid! Oh, thank you!"
Mr. Beebe followed. Lucy still sat at the piano with her hands over the keys. She was glad, but he had expected greater gladness. Her mother bent over her. Freddy, to whom she had been singing, reclined on the floor with his head against her, and an unlit pipe between his lips. Oddly enough, the group was beautiful. Mr. Beebe, who loved the art of the past, was reminded of a favourite theme, the Santa Conversazione, in which people who care for one another are painted chatting together about noble things--a theme neither sensual nor sensational, and therefore ignored by the art of to-day. Why should Lucy want either to marry or to travel when she had such friends at home?
"Taste not when the wine-cup glistens,
Speak not when the people listens,"
"Here's Mr. Beebe."
"Mr. Beebe knows my rude ways."
"It's a beautiful song and a wise one," said he. "Go on."
"It isn't very good," she said listlessly. "I forget why--harmony or something."
"I suspected it was unscholarly. It's so beautiful."
"The tune's right enough," said Freddy, "but the words are rotten. Why throw up the sponge?"
"How stupidly you talk!" said his sister. The Santa Conversazione was broken up. After all, there was no reason that Lucy should talk about Greece or thank him for persuading her mother, so he said good-bye.
Freddy lit his bicycle lamp for him in the porch, and with his usual felicity of phrase, said: "This has been a day and a half."
"Stop thine ear against the singer--"
"Wait a minute; she is finishing."
"From the red gold keep thy finger;
Vacant heart and hand and eye
Easy live and quiet die."
"I love weather like this," said Freddy.
Mr. Beebe passed into it.
The two main facts were clear. She had behaved splendidly, and he had helped her. He could not expect to master the details of so big a change in a girl's life. If here and there he was dissatisfied or puzzled, he must acquiesce; she was choosing the better part.
"Vacant heart and hand and eye--"
Perhaps the song stated "the better part" rather too strongly. He half fancied that the soaring accompaniment--which he did not lose in the shout of the gale--really agreed with Freddy, and was gently criticizing the words that it adorned:
"Vacant heart and hand and eye
Easy live and quiet die."
However, for the fourth time Windy Corner lay poised below him-- now as a beacon in the roaring tides of darkness.
Chapter XIX: Lying to Mr. Emerson
The Miss Alans were found in their beloved temperance hotel near Bloomsbury--a clean, airless establishment much patronized by provincial England. They always perched there before crossing the great seas, and for a week or two would fidget gently over clothes, guide-books, mackintosh squares, digestive bread, and other Continental necessaries. That there are shops abroad, even in Athens, never occurred to them, for they regarded travel as a species of warfare, only to be undertaken by those who have been fully armed at the Haymarket Stores. Miss Honeychurch, they trusted, would take care to equip herself duly. Quinine could now be obtained in tabloids; paper soap was a great help towards freshening up one's face in the train. Lucy promised, a little depressed.
"But, of course, you know all about these things, and you have Mr. Vyse to help you. A gentleman is such a stand-by."
Mrs. Honeychurch, who had come up to town with her daughter, began to drum nervously upon her card-case.
"We think it so good of Mr. Vyse to spare you," Miss Catharine continued. "It is not every young man who would be so unselfish. But perhaps he will come out and join you later on."
"Or does his work keep him in London?" said Miss Teresa, the more acute and less kindly of the two sisters.
"However, we shall see him when he sees you off. I do so long to see him."
"No one will see Lucy off," interposed Mrs. Honeychurch. "She doesn't like it."
"No, I hate seeings-off," said Lucy.
"Really? How funny! I should have thought that in this case--"
"Oh, Mrs. Honeychurch, you aren't going? It is such a pleasure to have met you!"
They escaped, and Lucy said with relief: "That's all right. We just got through that time."
But her mother was annoyed. "I should be told, dear, that I am unsympathetic. But I cannot see why you didn't tell your friends about Cecil and be done with it. There all the time we had to sit fencing, and almost telling lies, and be seen through, too, I dare say, which is most unpleasant."
Lucy had plenty to say in reply. She described the Miss Alans' character: they were such gossips, and if one told them, the news would be everywhere in no time.
"But why shouldn't it be everywhere in no time?"
"Because I settled with Cecil not to announce it until I left England. I shall tell them then. It's much pleasanter. How wet it is! Let's turn in here."
"Here" was the British Museum. Mrs. Honeychurch refused. If they must take shelter, let it be in a shop. Lucy felt contemptuous, for she was on the tack of caring for Greek sculpture, and had already borrowed a mythical dictionary from Mr. Beebe to get up the names of the goddesses and gods.
"Oh, well, let it be shop, then. Let's go to Mudie's. I'll buy a guide-book."
"You know, Lucy, you and Charlotte and Mr. Beebe all tell me I'm so stupid, so I suppose I am, but I shall never understand this hole-and-corner work. You've got rid of Cecil--well and good, and I'm thankful he's gone, though I did feel angry for the minute. But why not announce it? Why this hushing up and tip-toeing?"
"It's only for a few days."
"But why at all?"
Lucy was silent. She was drifting away from her mother. It was quite easy to say, "Because George Emerson has been bothering me, and if he hears I've given up Cecil may begin again"--quite easy, and it had the incidental advantage of being true. But she could not say it. She disliked confidences, for they might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors--Light. Ever since that last evening at Florence she had deemed it unwise to reveal her soul.
Mrs. Honeychurch, too, was silent. She was thinking, "My daughter won't answer me; she would rather be with those inquisitive old maids than with Freddy and me. Any rag, tag, and bobtail apparently does if she can leave her home." And as in her case thoughts never remained unspoken long, she burst out with: "You're tired of Windy Corner."
This was perfectly true. Lucy had hoped to return to Windy Corner when she escaped from Cecil, but she discovered that her home existed no longer. It might exist for Freddy, who still lived and thought straight, but not for one who had deliberately warped the brain. She did not acknowledge that her brain was warped, for the brain itself must assist in that acknowledgment, and she was disordering the very instruments of life. She only felt, "I do not love George; I broke off my engagement because I did not love George; I must go to Greece because I do not love George; it is more important that I should look up gods in the dictionary than that I should help my mother; every one else is behaving very badly." She only felt irritable and petulant, and anxious to do what she was not expected to do, and in this spirit she proceeded with the conversation.
"Oh, mother, what rubbish you talk! Of course I'm not tired of Windy Corner."
"Then why not say so at once, instead of considering half an hour?"
She laughed faintly, "Half a minute would be nearer."
"Perhaps you would like to stay away from your home altogether?"
"Hush, mother! People will hear you"; for they had entered Mudie's. She bought Baedeker, and then continued: "Of course I want to live at home; but as we are talking about it, I may as well say that I shall want to be away in the future more than I have been. You see, I come into my money next year."
Tears came into her mother's eyes.
Driven by nameless bewilderment, by what is in older people termed "eccentricity," Lucy determined to make this point clear. "I've seen the world so little--I felt so out of things in Italy. I have seen so little of life; one ought to come up to London more--not a cheap ticket like to-day, but to stop. I might even share a flat for a little with some other girl."
"And mess with typewriters and latch-keys," exploded Mrs. Honeychurch. "And agitate and scream, and be carried off kicking by the police. And call it a Mission--when no one wants you! And call it Duty--when it means that you can't stand your own home! And call it Work--when thousands of men are starving with the competition as it is! And then to prepare yourself, find two doddering old ladies, and go abroad with them."
"I want more independence," said Lucy lamely; she knew that she wanted something, and independence is a useful cry; we can always say that we have not got it. She tried to remember her emotions in Florence: those had been sincere and passionate, and had suggested beauty rather than short skirts and latch-keys. But independence was certainly her cue.
"Very well. Take your independence and be gone. Rush up and down and round the world, and come back as thin as a lath with the bad food. Despise the house that your father built and the garden that he planted, and our dear view--and then share a flat with another girl."
Lucy screwed up her mouth and said: "Perhaps I spoke hastily."
"Oh, goodness!" her mother flashed. "How you do remind me of Charlotte Bartlett!"
"Charlotte!" flashed Lucy in her turn, pierced at last by a vivid pain.
"More every moment."
"I don't know what you mean, mother; Charlotte and I are not the very least alike."
"Well, I see the likeness. The same eternal worrying, the same taking back of words. You and Charlotte trying to divide two apples among three people last night might be sisters."
"What rubbish! And if you dislike Charlotte so, it's rather a pity you asked her to stop. I warned you about her; I begged you, implored you not to, but of course it was not listened to."
"There you go."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Charlotte again, my dear; that's all; her very words."
Lucy clenched her teeth. "My point is that you oughtn't to have asked Charlotte to stop. I wish you would keep to the point." And the conversation died off into a wrangle.
She and her mother shopped in silence, spoke little in the train, little again in the carriage, which met them at Dorking Station. It had poured all day and as they ascended through the deep Surrey lanes showers of water fell from the over-hanging beech-trees and rattled on the hood. Lucy complained that the hood was stuffy. Leaning forward, she looked out into the steaming dusk, and watched the carriage-lamp pass like a search-light over mud and leaves, and reveal nothing beautiful. "The crush when Charlotte gets in will be abominable," she remarked. For they were to pick up Miss Bartlett at Summer Street, where she had been dropped as the carriage went down, to pay a call on Mr. Beebe's old mother. "We shall have to sit three a side, because the trees drop, and yet it isn't raining. Oh, for a little air!" Then she listened to the horse's hoofs--"He has not told--he has not told." That melody was blurred by the soft road. "CAN'T we have the hood down?" she demanded, and her mother, with sudden tenderness, said: "Very well, old lady, stop the horse." And the horse was stopped, and Lucy and Powell wrestled with the hood, and squirted water down Mrs. Honeychurch's neck. But now that the hood was down, she did see something that she would have missed--there were no lights in the windows of Cissie Villa, and round the garden gate she fancied she saw a padlock.
"Is that house to let again, Powell?" she called.
"Yes, miss," he replied.
"Have they gone?"
"It is too far out of town for the young gentleman, and his father's rheumatism has come on, so he can't stop on alone, so they are trying to let furnished," was the answer.
"They have gone, then?"
"Yes, miss, they have gone."
Lucy sank back. The carriage stopped at the Rectory. She got out to call for Miss Bartlett. So the Emersons had gone, and all this bother about Greece had been unnecessary. Waste! That word seemed to sum up the whole of life. Wasted plans, wasted money, wasted love, and she had wounded her mother. Was it possible that she had muddled things away? Quite possible. Other people had. When the maid opened the door, she was unable to speak, and stared stupidly into the hall.
Miss Bartlett at once came forward, and after a long preamble asked a great favour: might she go to church? Mr. Beebe and his mother had already gone, but she had refused to start until she obtained her hostess's full sanction, for it would mean keeping the horse waiting a good ten minutes more.
"Certainly," said the hostess wearily. "I forgot it was Friday. Let's all go. Powell can go round to the stables."
"No church for me, thank you."
A sigh, and they departed. The church was invisible, but up in the darkness to the left there was a hint of colour. This was a stained window, through which some feeble light was shining, and when the door opened Lucy heard Mr. Beebe's voice running through the litany to a minute congregation. Even their church, built upon the slope of the hill so artfully, with its beautiful raised transept and its spire of silvery shingle--even their church had lost its charm; and the thing one never talked about--religion-- was fading like all the other things.
She followed the maid into the Rectory.
Would she object to sitting in Mr. Beebe's study? There was only that one fire.
She would not object.
Some one was there already, for Lucy heard the words: "A lady to wait, sir."
Old Mr. Emerson was sitting by the fire, with his foot upon a gout-stool.
"Oh, Miss Honeychurch, that you should come!" he quavered; and Lucy saw an alteration in him since last Sunday.
Not a word would come to her lips. George she had faced, and could have faced again, but she had forgotten how to treat his father.
"Miss Honeychurch, dear, we are so sorry! George is so sorry! He thought he had a right to try. I cannot blame my boy, and yet I wish he had told me first. He ought not to have tried. I knew nothing about it at all."
If only she could remember how to behave!
He held up his hand. "But you must not scold him."
Lucy turned her back, and began to look at Mr. Beebe's books.
"I taught him," he quavered, "to trust in love. I said: 'When love comes, that is reality.' I said: 'Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.'" He sighed: "True, everlastingly true, though my day is over, and though there is the result. Poor boy! He is so sorry! He said he knew it was madness when you brought your cousin in; that whatever you felt you did not mean. Yet"--his voice gathered strength: he spoke out to make certain--"Miss Honeychurch, do you remember Italy?"
Lucy selected a book--a volume of Old Testament commentaries. Holding it up to her eyes, she said: "I have no wish to discuss Italy or any subject connected with your son."
"But you do remember it?"
"He has misbehaved himself from the first."
"I only was told that he loved you last Sunday. I never could judge behaviour. I--I--suppose he has."
Feeling a little steadier, she put the book back and turned round to him. His face was drooping and swollen, but his eyes, though they were sunken deep, gleamed with a child's courage.
"Why, he has behaved abominably," she said. "I am glad he is sorry. Do you know what he did?"
"Not 'abominably,'" was the gentle correction. "He only tried when he should not have tried. You have all you want, Miss Honeychurch: you are going to marry the man you love. Do not go out of George's life saying he is abominable."
"No, of course," said Lucy, ashamed at the reference to Cecil. "'Abominable' is much too strong. I am sorry I used it about your son. I think I will go to church, after all. My mother and my cousin have gone. I shall not be so very late--"
"Especially as he has gone under," he said quietly.
"What was that?"
"Gone under naturally." He beat his palms together in silence; his head fell on his chest.
"I don't understand."
"As his mother did."
"But, Mr. Emerson--MR. EMERSON--what are you talking about?"
"When I wouldn't have George baptized," said he.
Lucy was frightened.
"And she agreed that baptism was nothing, but he caught that fever when he was twelve and she turned round. She thought it a judgment." He shuddered. "Oh, horrible, when we had given up that sort of thing and broken away from her parents. Oh, horrible-- worst of all--worse than death, when you have made a little clearing in the wilderness, planted your little garden, let in your sunlight, and then the weeds creep in again! A judgment! And our boy had typhoid because no clergyman had dropped water on him in church! Is it possible, Miss Honeychurch? Shall we slip back into the darkness for ever?"
"I don't know," gasped Lucy. "I don't understand this sort of thing. I was not meant to understand it."
"But Mr. Eager--he came when I was out, and acted according to his principles. I don't blame him or any one... but by the time George was well she was ill. He made her think about sin, and she went under thinking about it."
It was thus that Mr. Emerson had murdered his wife in the sight of God.
"Oh, how terrible!" said Lucy, forgetting her own affairs at last.
"He was not baptized," said the old man. "I did hold firm." And he looked with unwavering eyes at the rows of books, as if--at what cost!--he had won a victory over them. "My boy shall go back to the earth untouched."
She asked whether young Mr. Emerson was ill.
"Oh--last Sunday." He started into the present. "George last Sunday--no, not ill: just gone under. He is never ill. But he is his mother's son. Her eyes were his, and she had that forehead that I think so beautiful, and he will not think it worth while to live. It was always touch and go. He will live; but he will not think it worth while to live. He will never think anything worth while. You remember that church at Florence?"
Lucy did remember, and how she had suggested that George should collect postage stamps.
"After you left Florence--horrible. Then we took the house here, and he goes bathing with your brother, and became better. You saw him bathing?"
"I am so sorry, but it is no good discussing this affair. I am deeply sorry about it."
"Then there came something about a novel. I didn't follow it at all; I had to hear so much, and he minded telling me; he finds me too old. Ah, well, one must have failures. George comes down to-morrow, and takes me up to his London rooms. He can't bear to be about here, and I must be where he is."
"Mr. Emerson," cried the girl, "don't leave at least, not on my account. I am going to Greece. Don't leave your comfortable house."
It was the first time her voice had been kind and he smiled. "How good every one is! And look at Mr. Beebe housing me--came over this morning and heard I was going! Here I am so comfortable with a fire."
"Yes, but you won't go back to London. It's absurd."
"I must be with George; I must make him care to live, and down here he can't. He says the thought of seeing you and of hearing about you--I am not justifying him: I am only saying what has happened."
"Oh, Mr. Emerson"--she took hold of his hand-- "you mustn't. I've been bother enough to the world by now. I can't have you moving out of your house when you like it, and perhaps losing money through it--all on my account. You must stop! I am just going to Greece."
"All the way to Greece?"
Her manner altered.
"So you must stop. You won't talk about this business, I know. I can trust you both."
"Certainly you can. We either have you in our lives, or leave you to the life that you have chosen."
"I shouldn't want--"
"I suppose Mr. Vyse is very angry with George? No, it was wrong of George to try. We have pushed our beliefs too far. I fancy that we deserve sorrow."
She looked at the books again--black, brown, and that acrid theological blue. They surrounded the visitors on every side; they were piled on the tables, they pressed against the very ceiling. To Lucy who could not see that Mr. Emerson was profoundly religious, and differed from Mr. Beebe chiefly by his acknowledgment of passion--it seemed dreadful that the old man should crawl into such a sanctum, when he was unhappy, and be dependent on the bounty of a clergyman.
More certain than ever that she was tired, he offered her his chair.
"No, please sit still. I think I will sit in the carriage."
"Miss Honeychurch, you do sound tired."
"Not a bit," said Lucy, with trembling lips.
"But you are, and there's a look of George about you. And what were you saying about going abroad?"
She was silent.
"Greece"--and she saw that he was thinking the word over-- "Greece; but you were to be married this year, I thought."
"Not till January, it wasn't," said Lucy, clasping her hands. Would she tell an actual lie when it came to the point?
"I suppose that Mr. Vyse is going with you. I hope--it isn't because George spoke that you are both going?"
"I hope that you will enjoy Greece with Mr. Vyse."
At that moment Mr. Beebe came back from church. His cassock was covered with rain. "That's all right," he said kindly. "I counted on you two keeping each other company. It's pouring again. The entire congregation, which consists of your cousin, your mother, and my mother, stands waiting in the church, till the carriage fetches it. Did Powell go round?"
"I think so; I'll see."
"No--of course, I'll see. How are the Miss Alans?"
"Very well, thank you."
"Did you tell Mr. Emerson about Greece?"
"Don't you think it very plucky of her, Mr. Emerson, to undertake the two Miss Alans? Now, Miss Honeychurch, go back--keep warm. I think three is such a courageous number to go travelling." And he hurried off to the stables.
"He is not going," she said hoarsely. "I made a slip. Mr. Vyse does stop behind in England."
Somehow it was impossible to cheat this old man. To George, to Cecil, she would have lied again; but he seemed so near the end of things, so dignified in his approach to the gulf, of which he gave one account, and the books that surrounded him another, so mild to the rough paths that he had traversed, that the true chivalry--not the worn-out chivalry of sex, but the true chivalry that all the young may show to all the old--awoke in her, and, at whatever risk, she told him that Cecil was not her companion to Greece. And she spoke so seriously that the risk became a certainty, and he, lifting his eyes, said: "You are leaving him? You are leaving the man you love?"
"I--I had to."
"Why, Miss Honeychurch, why?"
Terror came over her, and she lied again. She made the long, convincing speech that she had made to Mr. Beebe, and intended to make to the world when she announced that her engagement was no more. He heard her in silence, and then said: "My dear, I am worried about you. It seems to me"--dreamily; she was not alarmed--"that you are in a muddle."
She shook her head.
"Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror--on the things that I might have avoided. We can help one another but little. I used to think I could teach young people the whole of life, but I know better now, and all my teaching of George has come down to this: beware of muddle. Do you remember in that church, when you pretended to be annoyed with me and weren't? Do you remember before, when you refused the room with the view? Those were muddles--little, but ominous--and I am fearing that you are in one now." She was silent. "Don't trust me, Miss Honeychurch. Though life is very glorious, it is difficult." She was still silent. "'Life' wrote a friend of mine, 'is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.' I think he puts it well. Man has to pick up the use of his functions as he goes along--especially the function of Love." Then he burst out excitedly; "That's it; that's what I mean. You love George!" And after his long preamble, the three words burst against Lucy like waves from the open sea.
"But you do," he went on, not waiting for contradiction. "You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it. You won't marry the other man for his sake."
"How dare you!" gasped Lucy, with the roaring of waters in her ears. "Oh, how like a man!--I mean, to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man."
"But you are."
She summoned physical disgust.
"You're shocked, but I mean to shock you. It's the only hope at times. I can reach you no other way. You must marry, or your life will be wasted. You have gone too far to retreat. I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already part of you. Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."
Lucy began to cry with anger, and though her anger passed away soon, her tears remained.
"I only wish poets would say this, too: love is of the body; not the body, but of the body. Ah! the misery that would be saved if we confessed that! Ah! for a little directness to liberate the soul! Your soul, dear Lucy! I hate the word now, because of all the cant with which superstition has wrapped it round. But we have souls. I cannot say how they came nor whither they go, but we have them, and I see you ruining yours. I cannot bear it. It is again the darkness creeping in; it is hell." Then he checked himself. "What nonsense I have talked--how abstract and remote! And I have made you cry! Dear girl, forgive my prosiness; marry my boy. When I think what life is, and how seldom love is answered by love--Marry him; it is one of the moments for which the world was made."
She could not understand him; the words were indeed remote. Yet as he spoke the darkness was withdrawn, veil after veil, and she saw to the bottom of her soul.
"You've frightened me," she moaned. "Cecil--Mr. Beebe--the ticket's bought--everything." She fell sobbing into the chair. "I'm caught in the tangle. I must suffer and grow old away from him. I cannot break the whole of life for his sake. They trusted me."
A carriage drew up at the front-door.
"Give George my love--once only. Tell him 'muddle.'" Then she arranged her veil, while the tears poured over her cheeks inside.
"No--they are in the hall--oh, please not, Mr. Emerson--they trust me--"
"But why should they, when you have deceived them?"
Mr. Beebe opened the door, saying: "Here's my mother."
"You're not worthy of their trust."
"What's that?" said Mr. Beebe sharply.
"I was saying, why should you trust her when she deceived you?"
"One minute, mother." He came in and shut the door.
"I don't follow you, Mr. Emerson. To whom do you refer? Trust whom?"
"I mean she has pretended to you that she did not love George. They have loved one another all along."
Mr. Beebe looked at the sobbing girl. He was very quiet, and his white face, with its ruddy whiskers, seemed suddenly inhuman. A long black column, he stood and awaited her reply.
"I shall never marry him," quavered Lucy.
A look of contempt came over him, and he said, "Why not?"
"Mr. Beebe--I have misled you--I have misled myself--"
"Oh, rubbish, Miss Honeychurch!"
"It is not rubbish!" said the old man hotly. "It's the part of people that you don't understand."
Mr. Beebe laid his hand on the old man's shoulder pleasantly.
"Lucy! Lucy!" called voices from the carriage.
"Mr. Beebe, could you help me?"
He looked amazed at the request, and said in a low, stern voice: "I am more grieved than I can possibly express. It is lamentable, lamentable--incredible."
"What's wrong with the boy?" fired up the other again.
"Nothing, Mr. Emerson, except that he no longer interests me. Marry George, Miss Honeychurch. He will do admirably."
He walked out and left them. They heard him guiding his mother up-stairs.
"Lucy!" the voices called.
She turned to Mr. Emerson in despair. But his face revived her. It was the face of a saint who understood.
"Now it is all dark. Now Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. I know. But remember the mountains over Florence and the view. Ah, dear, if I were George, and gave you one kiss, it would make you brave. You have to go cold into a battle that needs warmth, out into the muddle that you have made yourself; and your mother and all your friends will despise you, oh, my darling, and rightly, if it is ever right to despise. George still dark, all the tussle and the misery without a word from him. Am I justified?" Into his own eyes tears came. "Yes, for we fight for more than Love or Pleasure; there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count."
"You kiss me," said the girl. "You kiss me. I will try."
He gave her a sense of deities reconciled, a feeling that, in gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world. Throughout the squalor of her homeward drive--she spoke at once--his salutation remained. He had robbed the body of its taint, the world's taunts of their sting; he had shown her the holiness of direct desire. She "never exactly understood," she would say in after years, "how he managed to strengthen her. It was as if he had made her see the whole of everything at once."
Chapter XX: The End of the Middle Ages
The Miss Alans did go to Greece, but they went by themselves. They alone of this little company will double Malea and plough the waters of the Saronic gulf. They alone will visit Athens and Delphi, and either shrine of intellectual song--that upon the Acropolis, encircled by blue seas; that under Parnassus, where the eagles build and the bronze charioteer drives undismayed towards infinity. Trembling, anxious, cumbered with much digestive bread, they did proceed to Constantinople, they did go round the world. The rest of us must be contented with a fair, but a less arduous, goal. Italiam petimus: we return to the Pension Bertolini.
George said it was his old room.
"No, it isn't," said Lucy; "because it is the room I had, and I had your father's room. I forget why; Charlotte made me, for some reason."
He knelt on the tiled floor, and laid his face in her lap.
"George, you baby, get up."
"Why shouldn't I be a baby?" murmured George.
Unable to answer this question, she put down his sock, which she was trying to mend, and gazed out through the window. It was evening and again the spring.
"Oh, bother Charlotte," she said thoughtfully. "What can such people be made of?"
"Same stuff as parsons are made of."
"Quite right. It is nonsense."
"Now you get up off the cold floor, or you'll be starting rheumatism next, and you stop laughing and being so silly."
"Why shouldn't I laugh?" he asked, pinning her with his elbows, and advancing his face to hers. "What's there to cry at? Kiss me here." He indicated the spot where a kiss would be welcome.
He was a boy after all. When it came to the point, it was she who remembered the past, she into whose soul the iron had entered, she who knew whose room this had been last year. It endeared him to her strangely that he should be sometimes wrong.
"Any letters?" he asked.
"Just a line from Freddy."
"Now kiss me here; then here."
Then, threatened again with rheumatism, he strolled to the window, opened it (as the English will), and leant out. There was the parapet, there the river, there to the left the beginnings of the hills. The cab-driver, who at once saluted him with the hiss of a serpent, might be that very Phaethon who had set this happiness in motion twelve months ago. A passion of gratitude-- all feelings grow to passions in the South--came over the husband, and he blessed the people and the things who had taken so much trouble about a young fool. He had helped himself, it is true, but how stupidly!
All the fighting that mattered had been done by others--by Italy, by his father, by his wife.
"Lucy, you come and look at the cypresses; and the church, whatever its name is, still shows."
"San Miniato. I'll just finish your sock."
"Signorino, domani faremo uno giro," called the cabman, with engaging certainty.
George told him that he was mistaken; they had no money to throw away on driving.
And the people who had not meant to help--the Miss Lavishes, the Cecils, the Miss Bartletts! Ever prone to magnify Fate, George counted up the forces that had swept him into this contentment.
"Anything good in Freddy's letter?"
His own content was absolute, but hers held bitterness: the Honeychurches had not forgiven them; they were disgusted at her past hypocrisy; she had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever.
"What does he say?"
"Silly boy! He thinks he's being dignified. He knew we should go off in the spring--he has known it for six months--that if mother wouldn't give her consent we should take the thing into our own hands. They had fair warning, and now he calls it an elopement. Ridiculous boy--"
"Signorino, domani faremo uno giro--"
"But it will all come right in the end. He has to build us both up from the beginning again. I wish, though, that Cecil had not turned so cynical about women. He has, for the second time, quite altered. Why will men have theories about women? I haven't any about men. I wish, too, that Mr. Beebe--"
"You may well wish that."
"He will never forgive us--I mean, he will never be interested in us again. I wish that he did not influence them so much at Windy Corner. I wish he hadn't-- But if we act the truth, the people who really love us are sure to come back to us in the long run."
"Perhaps." Then he said more gently: "Well, I acted the truth-- the only thing I did do--and you came back to me. So possibly you know." He turned back into the room. "Nonsense with that sock." He carried her to the window, so that she, too, saw all the view. They sank upon their knees, invisible from the road, they hoped, and began to whisper one another's names. Ah! it was worth while; it was the great joy that they had expected, and countless little joys of which they had never dreamt. They were silent.
"Signorino, domani faremo--"
"Oh, bother that man!"
But Lucy remembered the vendor of photographs and said, "No, don't be rude to him." Then with a catching of her breath, she murmured: "Mr. Eager and Charlotte, dreadful frozen Charlotte. How cruel she would be to a man like that!"
"Look at the lights going over the bridge."
"But this room reminds me of Charlotte. How horrible to grow old in Charlotte's way! To think that evening at the rectory that she shouldn't have heard your father was in the house. For she would have stopped me going in, and he was the only person alive who could have made me see sense. You couldn't have made me. When I am very happy"--she kissed him--"I remember on how little it all hangs. If Charlotte had only known, she would have stopped me going in, and I should have gone to silly Greece, and become different for ever."
"But she did know," said George; "she did see my father, surely. He said so."
"Oh, no, she didn't see him. She was upstairs with old Mrs. Beebe, don't you remember, and then went straight to the church. She said so."
George was obstinate again. "My father," said he, "saw her, and I prefer his word. He was dozing by the study fire, and he opened his eyes, and there was Miss Bartlett. A few minutes before you came in. She was turning to go as he woke up. He didn't speak to her."
Then they spoke of other things--the desultory talk of those who have been fighting to reach one another, and whose reward is to rest quietly in each other's arms. It was long ere they returned to Miss Bartlett, but when they did her behaviour seemed more interesting. George, who disliked any darkness, said: "It's clear that she knew. Then, why did she risk the meeting? She knew he was there, and yet she went to church."
They tried to piece the thing together.
As they talked, an incredible solution came into Lucy's mind. She rejected it, and said: "How like Charlotte to undo her work by a feeble muddle at the last moment." But something in the dying evening, in the roar of the river, in their very embrace warned them that her words fell short of life, and George whispered: "Or did she mean it?"
"Signorino, domani faremo uno giro--"
Lucy bent forward and said with gentleness: "Lascia, prego, lascia. Siamo sposati."
"Scusi tanto, signora," he replied in tones as gentle and whipped up his horse.
"Buona sera--e grazie."
The cabman drove away singing.
"Mean what, George?"
He whispered: "Is it this? Is this possible? I'll put a marvel to you. That your cousin has always hoped. That from the very first moment we met, she hoped, far down in her mind, that we should be like this--of course, very far down. That she fought us on the surface, and yet she hoped. I can't explain her any other way. Can you? Look how she kept me alive in you all the summer; how she gave you no peace; how month after month she became more eccentric and unreliable. The sight of us haunted her--or she couldn't have described us as she did to her friend. There are details--it burnt. I read the book afterwards. She is not frozen, Lucy, she is not withered up all through. She tore us apart twice, but in the rectory that evening she was given one more chance to make us happy. We can never make friends with her or thank her. But I do believe that, far down in her heart, far below all speech and behaviour, she is glad."
"It is impossible," murmured Lucy, and then, remembering the experiences of her own heart, she said: "No--it is just possible."
Youth enwrapped them; the song of Phaethon announced passion requited, love attained. But they were conscious of a love more mysterious than this. The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean.