Chapter V: Possibilities of a Pleasant Outing
It was a family saying that "you never knew which way Charlotte Bartlett would turn." She was perfectly pleasant and sensible over Lucy's adventure, found the abridged account of it quite adequate, and paid suitable tribute to the courtesy of Mr. George Emerson. She and Miss Lavish had had an adventure also. They had been stopped at the Dazio coming back, and the young officials there, who seemed impudent and desoeuvre, had tried to search their reticules for provisions. It might have been most unpleasant. Fortunately Miss Lavish was a match for any one.
For good or for evil, Lucy was left to face her problem alone. None of her friends had seen her, either in the Piazza or, later on, by the embankment. Mr. Beebe, indeed, noticing her startled eyes at dinner-time, had again passed to himself the remark of "Too much Beethoven." But he only supposed that she was ready for an adventure, not that she had encountered it. This solitude oppressed her; she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted; it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.
At breakfast next morning she took decisive action. There were two plans between which she had to choose. Mr. Beebe was walking up to the Torre del Gallo with the Emersons and some American ladies. Would Miss Bartlett and Miss Honeychurch join the party? Charlotte declined for herself; she had been there in the rain the previous afternoon. But she thought it an admirable idea for Lucy, who hated shopping, changing money, fetching letters, and other irksome duties--all of which Miss Bartlett must accomplish this morning and could easily accomplish alone.
"No, Charlotte!" cried the girl, with real warmth. "It's very kind of Mr. Beebe, but I am certainly coming with you. I had much rather."
"Very well, dear," said Miss Bartlett, with a faint flush of pleasure that called forth a deep flush of shame on the cheeks of Lucy. How abominably she behaved to Charlotte, now as always! But now she should alter. All morning she would be really nice to her.
She slipped her arm into her cousin's, and they started off along the Lung' Arno. The river was a lion that morning in strength, voice, and colour. Miss Bartlett insisted on leaning over the parapet to look at it. She then made her usual remark, which was "How I do wish Freddy and your mother could see this, too!"
Lucy fidgeted; it was tiresome of Charlotte to have stopped exactly where she did.
"Look, Lucia! Oh, you are watching for the Torre del Gallo party. I feared you would repent you of your choice."
Serious as the choice had been, Lucy did not repent. Yesterday had been a muddle--queer and odd, the kind of thing one could not write down easily on paper--but she had a feeling that Charlotte and her shopping were preferable to George Emerson and the summit of the Torre del Gallo. Since she could not unravel the tangle, she must take care not to re-enter it. She could protest sincerely against Miss Bartlett's insinuations.
But though she had avoided the chief actor, the scenery unfortunately remained. Charlotte, with the complacency of fate, led her from the river to the Piazza Signoria. She could not have believed that stones, a Loggia, a fountain, a palace tower, would have such significance. For a moment she understood the nature of ghosts.
The exact site of the murder was occupied, not by a ghost, but by Miss Lavish, who had the morning newspaper in her hand. She hailed them briskly. The dreadful catastrophe of the previous day had given her an idea which she thought would work up into a book.
"Oh, let me congratulate you!" said Miss Bartlett. "After your despair of yesterday! What a fortunate thing!"
"Aha! Miss Honeychurch, come you here I am in luck. Now, you are to tell me absolutely everything that you saw from the beginning." Lucy poked at the ground with her parasol.
"But perhaps you would rather not?"
"I'm sorry--if you could manage without it, I think I would rather not."
The elder ladies exchanged glances, not of disapproval; it is suitable that a girl should feel deeply.
"It is I who am sorry," said Miss Lavish. "literary hacks are shameless creatures. I believe there's no secret of the human heart into which we wouldn't pry."
She marched cheerfully to the fountain and back, and did a few calculations in realism. Then she said that she had been in the Piazza since eight o'clock collecting material. A good deal of it was unsuitable, but of course one always had to adapt. The two men had quarrelled over a five-franc note. For the five-franc note she should substitute a young lady, which would raise the tone of the tragedy, and at the same time furnish an excellent plot.
"What is the heroine's name?" asked Miss Bartlett.
"Leonora," said Miss Lavish; her own name was Eleanor.
"I do hope she's nice."
That desideratum would not be omitted.
"And what is the plot?"
Love, murder, abduction, revenge, was the plot. But it all came while the fountain plashed to the satyrs in the morning sun.
"I hope you will excuse me for boring on like this," Miss Lavish concluded. "It is so tempting to talk to really sympathetic people. Of course, this is the barest outline. There will be a deal of local colouring, descriptions of Florence and the neighbourhood, and I shall also introduce some humorous characters. And let me give you all fair warning: I intend to be unmerciful to the British tourist."
"Oh, you wicked woman," cried Miss Bartlett. "I am sure you are thinking of the Emersons."
Miss Lavish gave a Machiavellian smile.
"I confess that in Italy my sympathies are not with my own countrymen. It is the neglected Italians who attract me, and whose lives I am going to paint so far as I can. For I repeat and I insist, and I have always held most strongly, that a tragedy such as yesterday's is not the less tragic because it happened in humble life."
There was a fitting silence when Miss Lavish had concluded. Then the cousins wished success to her labours, and walked slowly away across the square.
"She is my idea of a really clever woman," said Miss Bartlett. "That last remark struck me as so particularly true. It should be a most pathetic novel."
Lucy assented. At present her great aim was not to get put into it. Her perceptions this morning were curiously keen, and she believed that Miss Lavish had her on trial for an ingenue.
"She is emancipated, but only in the very best sense of the word," continued Miss Bartlett slowly. "None but the superficial would be shocked at her. We had a long talk yesterday. She believes in justice and truth and human interest. She told me also that she has a high opinion of the destiny of woman--Mr. Eager! Why, how nice! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Ah, not for me," said the chaplain blandly, "for I have been watching you and Miss Honeychurch for quite a little time."
"We were chatting to Miss Lavish."
His brow contracted.
"So I saw. Were you indeed? Andate via! sono occupato!" The last remark was made to a vender of panoramic photographs who was approaching with a courteous smile. "I am about to venture a suggestion. Would you and Miss Honeychurch be disposed to join me in a drive some day this week--a drive in the hills? We might go up by Fiesole and back by Settignano. There is a point on that road where we could get down and have an hour's ramble on the hillside. The view thence of Florence is most beautiful--far better than the hackneyed view of Fiesole. It is the view that Alessio Baldovinetti is fond of introducing into his pictures. That man had a decided feeling for landscape. Decidedly. But who looks at it to-day? Ah, the world is too much for us."
Miss Bartlett had not heard of Alessio Baldovinetti, but she knew that Mr. Eager was no commonplace chaplain. He was a member of the residential colony who had made Florence their home. He knew the people who never walked about with Baedekers, who had learnt to take a siesta after lunch, who took drives the pension tourists had never heard of, and saw by private influence galleries which were closed to them. Living in delicate seclusion, some in furnished flats, others in Renaissance villas on Fiesole's slope, they read, wrote, studied, and exchanged ideas, thus attaining to that intimate knowledge, or rather perception, of Florence which is denied to all who carry in their pockets the coupons of Cook.
Therefore an invitation from the chaplain was something to be proud of. Between the two sections of his flock he was often the only link, and it was his avowed custom to select those of his migratory sheep who seemed worthy, and give them a few hours in the pastures of the permanent. Tea at a Renaissance villa? Nothing had been said about it yet. But if it did come to that-- how Lucy would enjoy it!
A few days ago and Lucy would have felt the same. But the joys of life were grouping themselves anew. A drive in the hills with Mr. Eager and Miss Bartlett--even if culminating in a residential tea-party--was no longer the greatest of them. She echoed the raptures of Charlotte somewhat faintly. Only when she heard that Mr. Beebe was also coming did her thanks become more sincere.
"So we shall be a partie carree," said the chaplain. "In these days of toil and tumult one has great needs of the country and its message of purity. Andate via! andate presto, presto! Ah, the town! Beautiful as it is, it is the town."
"This very square--so I am told--witnessed yesterday the most sordid of tragedies. To one who loves the Florence of Dante and Savonarola there is something portentous in such desecration-- portentous and humiliating."
"Humiliating indeed," said Miss Bartlett. "Miss Honeychurch happened to be passing through as it happened. She can hardly bear to speak of it." She glanced at Lucy proudly.
"And how came we to have you here?" asked the chaplain paternally.
Miss Bartlett's recent liberalism oozed away at the question. "Do not blame her, please, Mr. Eager. The fault is mine: I left her unchaperoned."
"So you were here alone, Miss Honeychurch?" His voice suggested sympathetic reproof but at the same time indicated that a few harrowing details would not be unacceptable. His dark, handsome face drooped mournfully towards her to catch her reply.
"One of our pension acquaintances kindly brought her home," said Miss Bartlett, adroitly concealing the sex of the preserver.
"For her also it must have been a terrible experience. I trust that neither of you was at all--that it was not in your immediate proximity?"
Of the many things Lucy was noticing to-day, not the least remarkable was this: the ghoulish fashion in which respectable people will nibble after blood. George Emerson had kept the subject strangely pure.
"He died by the fountain, I believe," was her reply.
"And you and your friend--"
"Were over at the Loggia."
"That must have saved you much. You have not, of course, seen the disgraceful illustrations which the gutter Press-- This man is a public nuisance; he knows that I am a resident perfectly well, and yet he goes on worrying me to buy his vulgar views."
Surely the vendor of photographs was in league with Lucy--in the eternal league of Italy with youth. He had suddenly extended his book before Miss Bartlett and Mr. Eager, binding their hands together by a long glossy ribbon of churches, pictures, and views.
"This is too much!" cried the chaplain, striking petulantly at one of Fra Angelico's angels. She tore. A shrill cry rose from the vendor. The book it seemed, was more valuable than one would have supposed.
"Willingly would I purchase--" began Miss Bartlett.
"Ignore him," said Mr. Eager sharply, and they all walked rapidly away from the square.
But an Italian can never be ignored, least of all when he has a grievance. His mysterious persecution of Mr. Eager became relentless; the air rang with his threats and lamentations. He appealed to Lucy; would not she intercede? He was poor--he sheltered a family--the tax on bread. He waited, he gibbered, he was recompensed, he was dissatisfied, he did not leave them until he had swept their minds clean of all thoughts whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Shopping was the topic that now ensued. Under the chaplain's guidance they selected many hideous presents and mementoes-- florid little picture-frames that seemed fashioned in gilded pastry; other little frames, more severe, that stood on little easels, and were carven out of oak; a blotting book of vellum; a Dante of the same material; cheap mosaic brooches, which the maids, next Christmas, would never tell from real; pins, pots, heraldic saucers, brown art-photographs; Eros and Psyche in alabaster; St. Peter to match--all of which would have cost less in London.
This successful morning left no pleasant impressions on Lucy. She had been a little frightened, both by Miss Lavish and by Mr. Eager, she knew not why. And as they frightened her, she had, strangely enough, ceased to respect them. She doubted that Miss Lavish was a great artist. She doubted that Mr. Eager was as full of spirituality and culture as she had been led to suppose. They were tried by some new test, and they were found wanting. As for Charlotte--as for Charlotte she was exactly the same. It might be possible to be nice to her; it was impossible to love her.
"The son of a labourer; I happen to know it for a fact. A mechanic of some sort himself when he was young; then he took to writing for the Socialistic Press. I came across him at Brixton."
They were talking about the Emersons.
"How wonderfully people rise in these days!" sighed Miss Bartlett, fingering a model of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
"Generally," replied Mr. Eager, "one has only sympathy for their success. The desire for education and for social advance--in these things there is something not wholly vile. There are some working men whom one would be very willing to see out here in Florence--little as they would make of it."
"Is he a journalist now?" Miss Bartlett asked, "He is not; he made an advantageous marriage."
He uttered this remark with a voice full of meaning, and ended with a sigh.
"Oh, so he has a wife."
"Dead, Miss Bartlett, dead. I wonder--yes I wonder how he has the effrontery to look me in the face, to dare to claim acquaintance with me. He was in my London parish long ago. The other day in Santa Croce, when he was with Miss Honeychurch, I snubbed him. Let him beware that he does not get more than a snub."
"What?" cried Lucy, flushing.
"Exposure!" hissed Mr. Eager.
He tried to change the subject; but in scoring a dramatic point he had interested his audience more than he had intended. Miss Bartlett was full of very natural curiosity. Lucy, though she wished never to see the Emersons again, was not disposed to condemn them on a single word.
"Do you mean," she asked, "that he is an irreligious man? We know that already."
"Lucy, dear--" said Miss Bartlett, gently reproving her cousin's penetration.
"I should be astonished if you knew all. The boy--an innocent child at the time--I will exclude. God knows what his education and his inherited qualities may have made him."
"Perhaps," said Miss Bartlett, "it is something that we had better not hear."
"To speak plainly," said Mr. Eager, "it is. I will say no more." For the first time Lucy's rebellious thoughts swept out in words--for the first time in her life.
"You have said very little."
"It was my intention to say very little," was his frigid reply.
He gazed indignantly at the girl, who met him with equal indignation. She turned towards him from the shop counter; her breast heaved quickly. He observed her brow, and the sudden strength of her lips. It was intolerable that she should disbelieve him.
"Murder, if you want to know," he cried angrily. "That man murdered his wife!"
"How?" she retorted.
"To all intents and purposes he murdered her. That day in Santa Croce--did they say anything against me?"
"Not a word, Mr. Eager--not a single word."
"Oh, I thought they had been libelling me to you. But I suppose it is only their personal charms that makes you defend them."
"I'm not defending them," said Lucy, losing her courage, and relapsing into the old chaotic methods. "They're nothing to me."
"How could you think she was defending them?" said Miss Bartlett, much discomfited by the unpleasant scene. The shopman was possibly listening.
"She will find it difficult. For that man has murdered his wife in the sight of God."
The addition of God was striking. But the chaplain was really trying to qualify a rash remark. A silence followed which might have been impressive, but was merely awkward. Then Miss Bartlett hastily purchased the Leaning Tower, and led the way into the street.
"I must be going," said he, shutting his eyes and taking out his watch.
Miss Bartlett thanked him for his kindness, and spoke with enthusiasm of the approaching drive.
"Drive? Oh, is our drive to come off?"
Lucy was recalled to her manners, and after a little exertion the complacency of Mr. Eager was restored.
"Bother the drive!" exclaimed the girl, as soon as he had departed. "It is just the drive we had arranged with Mr. Beebe without any fuss at all. Why should he invite us in that absurd manner? We might as well invite him. We are each paying for ourselves."
Miss Bartlett, who had intended to lament over the Emersons, was launched by this remark into unexpected thoughts.
"If that is so, dear--if the drive we and Mr. Beebe are going with Mr. Eager is really the same as the one we are going with Mr. Beebe, then I foresee a sad kettle of fish."
"Because Mr. Beebe has asked Eleanor Lavish to come, too."
"That will mean another carriage."
"Far worse. Mr. Eager does not like Eleanor. She knows it herself. The truth must be told; she is too unconventional for him."
They were now in the newspaper-room at the English bank. Lucy stood by the central table, heedless of Punch and the Graphic, trying to answer, or at all events to formulate the questions rioting in her brain. The well-known world had broken up, and there emerged Florence, a magic city where people thought and did the most extraordinary things. Murder, accusations of murder, A lady clinging to one man and being rude to another--were these the daily incidents of her streets? Was there more in her frank beauty than met the eye--the power, perhaps, to evoke passions, good and bad, and to bring them speedily to a fulfillment?
Happy Charlotte, who, though greatly troubled over things that did not matter, seemed oblivious to things that did; who could conjecture with admirable delicacy "where things might lead to," but apparently lost sight of the goal as she approached it. Now she was crouching in the corner trying to extract a circular note from a kind of linen nose-bag which hung in chaste concealment round her neck. She had been told that this was the only safe way to carry money in Italy; it must only be broached within the walls of the English bank. As she groped she murmured: "Whether it is Mr. Beebe who forgot to tell Mr. Eager, or Mr. Eager who forgot when he told us, or whether they have decided to leave Eleanor out altogether--which they could scarcely do--but in any case we must be prepared. It is you they really want; I am only asked for appearances. You shall go with the two gentlemen, and I and Eleanor will follow behind. A one-horse carriage would do for us. Yet how difficult it is!"
"It is indeed," replied the girl, with a gravity that sounded sympathetic.
"What do you think about it?" asked Miss Bartlett, flushed from the struggle, and buttoning up her dress.
"I don't know what I think, nor what I want."
"Oh, dear, Lucy! I do hope Florence isn't boring you. Speak the word, and, as you know, I would take you to the ends of the earth to-morrow."
"Thank you, Charlotte," said Lucy, and pondered over the offer.
There were letters for her at the bureau--one from her brother, full of athletics and biology; one from her mother, delightful as only her mother's letters could be. She had read in it of the crocuses which had been bought for yellow and were coming up puce, of the new parlour-maid, who had watered the ferns with essence of lemonade, of the semi-detached cottages which were ruining Summer Street, and breaking the heart of Sir Harry Otway. She recalled the free, pleasant life of her home, where she was allowed to do everything, and where nothing ever happened to her. The road up through the pine-woods, the clean drawing-room, the view over the Sussex Weald--all hung before her bright and distinct, but pathetic as the pictures in a gallery to which, after much experience, a traveller returns.
"And the news?" asked Miss Bartlett.
"Mrs. Vyse and her son have gone to Rome," said Lucy, giving the news that interested her least. "Do you know the Vyses?"
"Oh, not that way back. We can never have too much of the dear Piazza Signoria."
"They're nice people, the Vyses. So clever--my idea of what's really clever. Don't you long to be in Rome?"
"I die for it!"
The Piazza Signoria is too stony to be brilliant. It has no grass, no flowers, no frescoes, no glittering walls of marble or comforting patches of ruddy brick. By an odd chance--unless we believe in a presiding genius of places--the statues that relieve its severity suggest, not the innocence of childhood, nor the glorious bewilderment of youth, but the conscious achievements of maturity. Perseus and Judith, Hercules and Thusnelda, they have done or suffered something, and though they are immortal, immortality has come to them after experience, not before. Here, not only in the solitude of Nature, might a hero meet a goddess, or a heroine a god.
"Charlotte!" cried the girl suddenly. "Here's an idea. What if we popped off to Rome to-morrow--straight to the Vyses' hotel? For I do know what I want. I'm sick of Florence. No, you said you'd go to the ends of the earth! Do! Do!"
Miss Bartlett, with equal vivacity, replied:
"Oh, you droll person! Pray, what would become of your drive in the hills?"
They passed together through the gaunt beauty of the square, laughing over the unpractical suggestion.
Chapter VI: The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them.
It was Phaethon who drove them to Fiesole that memorable day, a youth all irresponsibility and fire, recklessly urging his master's horses up the stony hill. Mr. Beebe recognized him at once. Neither the Ages of Faith nor the Age of Doubt had touched him; he was Phaethon in Tuscany driving a cab. And it was Persephone whom he asked leave to pick up on the way, saying that she was his sister--Persephone, tall and slender and pale, returning with the Spring to her mother's cottage, and still shading her eyes from the unaccustomed light. To her Mr. Eager objected, saying that here was the thin edge of the wedge, and one must guard against imposition. But the ladies interceded, and when it had been made clear that it was a very great favour, the goddess was allowed to mount beside the god.
Phaethon at once slipped the left rein over her head, thus enabling himself to drive with his arm round her waist. She did not mind. Mr. Eager, who sat with his back to the horses, saw nothing of the indecorous proceeding, and continued his conversation with Lucy. The other two occupants of the carriage were old Mr. Emerson and Miss Lavish. For a dreadful thing had happened: Mr. Beebe, without consulting Mr. Eager, had doubled the size of the party. And though Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish had planned all the morning how the people were to sit, at the critical moment when the carriages came round they lost their heads, and Miss Lavish got in with Lucy, while Miss Bartlett, with George Emerson and Mr. Beebe, followed on behind.
It was hard on the poor chaplain to have his partie carree thus transformed. Tea at a Renaissance villa, if he had ever meditated it, was now impossible. Lucy and Miss Bartlett had a certain style about them, and Mr. Beebe, though unreliable, was a man of parts. But a shoddy lady writer and a journalist who had murdered his wife in the sight of God--they should enter no villa at his introduction.
Lucy, elegantly dressed in white, sat erect and nervous amid these explosive ingredients, attentive to Mr. Eager, repressive towards Miss Lavish, watchful of old Mr. Emerson, hitherto fortunately asleep, thanks to a heavy lunch and the drowsy atmosphere of Spring. She looked on the expedition as the work of Fate. But for it she would have avoided George Emerson successfully. In an open manner he had shown that he wished to continue their intimacy. She had refused, not because she disliked him, but because she did not know what had happened, and suspected that he did know. And this frightened her.
For the real event--whatever it was--had taken place, not in the Loggia, but by the river. To behave wildly at the sight of death is pardonable. But to discuss it afterwards, to pass from discussion into silence, and through silence into sympathy, that is an error, not of a startled emotion, but of the whole fabric. There was really something blameworthy (she thought) in their joint contemplation of the shadowy stream, in the common impulse which had turned them to the house without the passing of a look or word. This sense of wickedness had been slight at first. She had nearly joined the party to the Torre del Gallo. But each time that she avoided George it became more imperative that she should avoid him again. And now celestial irony, working through her cousin and two clergymen, did not suffer her to leave Florence till she had made this expedition with him through the hills.
Meanwhile Mr. Eager held her in civil converse; their little tiff was over.
"So, Miss Honeychurch, you are travelling? As a student of art?"
"Oh, dear me, no--oh, no!"
"Perhaps as a student of human nature," interposed Miss Lavish, "like myself?"
"Oh, no. I am here as a tourist."
"Oh, indeed," said Mr. Eager. "Are you indeed? If you will not think me rude, we residents sometimes pity you poor tourists not a little--handed about like a parcel of goods from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, living herded together in pensions or hotels, quite unconscious of anything that is outside Baedeker, their one anxiety to get 'done' or 'through' and go on somewhere else. The result is, they mix up towns, rivers, palaces in one inextricable whirl. You know the American girl in Punch who says: 'Say, poppa, what did we see at Rome?' And the father replies: 'Why, guess Rome was the place where we saw the yaller dog.' There's travelling for you. Ha! ha! ha!"
"I quite agree," said Miss Lavish, who had several times tried to interrupt his mordant wit. "The narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo-Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace."
"Quite so. Now, the English colony at Florence, Miss Honeychurch --and it is of considerable size, though, of course, not all equally--a few are here for trade, for example. But the greater part are students. Lady Helen Laverstock is at present busy over Fra Angelico. I mention her name because we are passing her villa on the left. No, you can only see it if you stand--no, do not stand; you will fall. She is very proud of that thick hedge. Inside, perfect seclusion. One might have gone back six hundred years. Some critics believe that her garden was the scene of The Decameron, which lends it an additional interest, does it not?"
"It does indeed!" cried Miss Lavish. "Tell me, where do they place the scene of that wonderful seventh day?"
But Mr. Eager proceeded to tell Miss Honeychurch that on the right lived Mr. Someone Something, an American of the best type --so rare!--and that the Somebody Elses were farther down the hill. "Doubtless you know her monographs in the series of 'Mediaeval Byways'? He is working at Gemistus Pletho. Sometimes as I take tea in their beautiful grounds I hear, over the wall, the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot, dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to 'do' Fiesole in an hour in order that they may say they have been there, and I think--think--I think how little they think what lies so near them."
During this speech the two figures on the box were sporting with each other disgracefully. Lucy had a spasm of envy. Granted that they wished to misbehave, it was pleasant for them to be able to do so. They were probably the only people enjoying the expedition. The carriage swept with agonizing jolts up through the Piazza of Fiesole and into the Settignano road.
"Piano! piano!" said Mr. Eager, elegantly waving his hand over his head.
"Va bene, signore, va bene, va bene," crooned the driver, and whipped his horses up again.
Now Mr. Eager and Miss Lavish began to talk against each other on the subject of Alessio Baldovinetti. Was he a cause of the Renaissance, or was he one of its manifestations? The other carriage was left behind. As the pace increased to a gallop the large, slumbering form of Mr. Emerson was thrown against the chaplain with the regularity of a machine.
"Piano! piano!" said he, with a martyred look at Lucy.
An extra lurch made him turn angrily in his seat. Phaethon, who for some time had been endeavouring to kiss Persephone, had just succeeded.
A little scene ensued, which, as Miss Bartlett said afterwards, was most unpleasant. The horses were stopped, the lovers were ordered to disentangle themselves, the boy was to lose his pourboire, the girl was immediately to get down.
"She is my sister," said he, turning round on them with piteous eyes.
Mr. Eager took the trouble to tell him that he was a liar.
Phaethon hung down his head, not at the matter of the accusation, but at its manner. At this point Mr. Emerson, whom the shock of stopping had awoke, declared that the lovers must on no account be separated, and patted them on the back to signify his approval. And Miss Lavish, though unwilling to ally him, felt bound to support the cause of Bohemianism.
"Most certainly I would let them be," she cried. "But I dare say I shall receive scant support. I have always flown in the face of the conventions all my life. This is what I call an adventure."
"We must not submit," said Mr. Eager. "I knew he was trying it on. He is treating us as if we were a party of Cook's tourists."
"Surely no!" said Miss Lavish, her ardour visibly decreasing.
The other carriage had drawn up behind, and sensible Mr. Beebe called out that after this warning the couple would be sure to behave themselves properly.
"Leave them alone," Mr. Emerson begged the chaplain, of whom he stood in no awe. "Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there? To be driven by lovers-- A king might envy us, and if we part them it's more like sacrilege than anything I know."
Here the voice of Miss Bartlett was heard saying that a crowd had begun to collect.
Mr. Eager, who suffered from an over-fluent tongue rather than a resolute will, was determined to make himself heard. He addressed the driver again. Italian in the mouth of Italians is a deep-voiced stream, with unexpected cataracts and boulders to preserve it from monotony. In Mr. Eager's mouth it resembled nothing so much as an acid whistling fountain which played ever higher and higher, and quicker and quicker, and more and more shrilly, till abruptly it was turned off with a click.
"Signorina!" said the man to Lucy, when the display had ceased. Why should he appeal to Lucy?
"Signorina!" echoed Persephone in her glorious contralto. She pointed at the other carriage. Why?
For a moment the two girls looked at each other. Then Persephone got down from the box.
"Victory at last!" said Mr. Eager, smiting his hands together as the carriages started again.
"It is not victory," said Mr. Emerson. "It is defeat. You have parted two people who were happy."
Mr. Eager shut his eyes. He was obliged to sit next to Mr. Emerson, but he would not speak to him. The old man was refreshed by sleep, and took up the matter warmly. He commanded Lucy to agree with him; he shouted for support to his son.
"We have tried to buy what cannot be bought with money. He has bargained to drive us, and he is doing it. We have no rights over his soul."
Miss Lavish frowned. It is hard when a person you have classed as typically British speaks out of his character.
He was not driving us well," she said. "He jolted us."
"That I deny. It was as restful as sleeping. Aha! he is jolting us now. Can you wonder? He would like to throw us out, and most certainly he is justified. And if I were superstitious I'd be frightened of the girl, too. It doesn't do to injure young people. Have you ever heard of Lorenzo de Medici?"
Miss Lavish bristled.
"Most certainly I have. Do you refer to Lorenzo il Magnifico, or to Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, or to Lorenzo surnamed Lorenzino on account of his diminutive stature?"
"The Lord knows. Possibly he does know, for I refer to Lorenzo the poet. He wrote a line--so I heard yesterday--which runs like this: 'Don't go fighting against the Spring.'"
Mr. Eager could not resist the opportunity for erudition.
"Non fate guerra al Maggio," he murmured. "'War not with the May' would render a correct meaning."
"The point is, we have warred with it. Look." He pointed to the Val d'Arno, which was visible far below them, through the budding trees. "Fifty miles of Spring, and we've come up to admire them. Do you suppose there's any difference between Spring in nature and Spring in man? But there we go, praising the one and condemning the other as improper, ashamed that the same work eternally through both."
No one encouraged him to talk. Presently Mr. Eager gave a signal for the carriages to stop and marshalled the party for their ramble on the hill. A hollow like a great amphitheatre, full of terraced steps and misty olives, now lay between them and the heights of Fiesole, and the road, still following its curve, was about to sweep on to a promontory which stood out in the plain. It was this promontory, uncultivated, wet, covered with bushes and occasional trees, which had caught the fancy of Alessio Baldovinetti nearly five hundred years before. He had ascended it, that diligent and rather obscure master, possibly with an eye to business, possibly for the joy of ascending. Standing there, he had seen that view of the Val d'Arno and distant Florence, which he afterwards had introduced not very effectively into his work. But where exactly had he stood? That was the question which Mr. Eager hoped to solve now. And Miss Lavish, whose nature was attracted by anything problematical, had become equally enthusiastic.
But it is not easy to carry the pictures of Alessio Baldovinetti in your head, even if you have remembered to look at them before starting. And the haze in the valley increased the difficulty of the quest.
The party sprang about from tuft to tuft of grass, their anxiety to keep together being only equalled by their desire to go different directions. Finally they split into groups. Lucy clung to Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish; the Emersons returned to hold laborious converse with the drivers; while the two clergymen, who were expected to have topics in common, were left to each other.
The two elder ladies soon threw off the mask. In the audible whisper that was now so familiar to Lucy they began to discuss, not Alessio Baldovinetti, but the drive. Miss Bartlett had asked Mr. George Emerson what his profession was, and he had answered "the railway." She was very sorry that she had asked him. She had no idea that it would be such a dreadful answer, or she would not have asked him. Mr. Beebe had turned the conversation so cleverly, and she hoped that the young man was not very much hurt at her asking him
"The railway!" gasped Miss Lavish. "Oh, but I shall die! Of course it was the railway!" She could not control her mirth. "He is the image of a porter--on, on the South-Eastern."
"Eleanor, be quiet," plucking at her vivacious companion. "Hush! They'll hear--the Emersons--"
"I can't stop. Let me go my wicked way. A porter--"
"I'm sure it's all right," put in Lucy. "The Emersons won't hear, and they wouldn't mind if they did."
Miss Lavish did not seem pleased at this.
"Miss Honeychurch listening!" she said rather crossly. "Pouf! Wouf! You naughty girl! Go away!"
"Oh, Lucy, you ought to be with Mr. Eager, I'm sure."
"I can't find them now, and I don't want to either."
"Mr. Eager will be offended. It is your party."
"Please, I'd rather stop here with you."
"No, I agree," said Miss Lavish. "It's like a school feast; the boys have got separated from the girls. Miss Lucy, you are to go. We wish to converse on high topics unsuited for your ear."
The girl was stubborn. As her time at Florence drew to its close she was only at ease amongst those to whom she felt indifferent. Such a one was Miss Lavish, and such for the moment was Charlotte. She wished she had not called attention to herself; they were both annoyed at her remark and seemed determined to get rid of her.
"How tired one gets," said Miss Bartlett. "Oh, I do wish Freddy and your mother could be here."
Unselfishness with Miss Bartlett had entirely usurped the functions of enthusiasm. Lucy did not look at the view either. She would not enjoy anything till she was safe at Rome.
"Then sit you down," said Miss Lavish. "Observe my foresight."
With many a smile she produced two of those mackintosh squares that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?
"Lucy; without a moment's doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me. Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother's feelings if I let you sit in the wet in your white linen." She sat down heavily where the ground looked particularly moist. "Here we are, all settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish; you don't assert yourself enough." She cleared her throat. "Now don't be alarmed; this isn't a cold. It's the tiniest cough, and I have had it three days. It's nothing to do with sitting here at all."
There was only one way of treating the situation. At the end of five minutes Lucy departed in search of Mr. Beebe and Mr. Eager, vanquished by the mackintosh square.
She addressed herself to the drivers, who were sprawling in the carriages, perfuming the cushions with cigars. The miscreant, a bony young man scorched black by the sun, rose to greet her with the courtesy of a host and the assurance of a relative.
"Dove?" said Lucy, after much anxious thought.
His face lit up. Of course he knew where, Not so far either. His arm swept three-fourths of the horizon. He should just think he did know where. He pressed his finger-tips to his forehead and then pushed them towards her, as if oozing with visible extract of knowledge.
More seemed necessary. What was the Italian for "clergyman"?
"Dove buoni uomini?" said she at last.
Good? Scarcely the adjective for those noble beings! He showed her his cigar.
"Uno--piu--piccolo," was her next remark, implying "Has the cigar been given to you by Mr. Beebe, the smaller of the two good men?"
She was correct as usual. He tied the horse to a tree, kicked it to make it stay quiet, dusted the carriage, arranged his hair, remoulded his hat, encouraged his moustache, and in rather less than a quarter of a minute was ready to conduct her. Italians are born knowing the way. It would seem that the whole earth lay before them, not as a map, but as a chess-board, whereon they continually behold the changing pieces as well as the squares. Any one can find places, but the finding of people is a gift from God.
He only stopped once, to pick her some great blue violets. She thanked him with real pleasure. In the company of this common man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt the influence of Spring. His arm swept the horizon gracefully; violets, like other things, existed in great profusion there; would she like to see them?"
"Ma buoni uomini."
He bowed. Certainly. Good men first, violets afterwards. They proceeded briskly through the undergrowth, which became thicker and thicker. They were nearing the edge of the promontory, and the view was stealing round them, but the brown network of the bushes shattered it into countless pieces. He was occupied in his cigar, and in holding back the pliant boughs. She was rejoicing in her escape from dullness. Not a step, not a twig, was unimportant to her.
"What is that?"
There was a voice in the wood, in the distance behind them. The voice of Mr. Eager? He shrugged his shoulders. An Italian's ignorance is sometimes more remarkable than his knowledge. She could not make him understand that perhaps they had missed the clergymen. The view was forming at last; she could discern the river, the golden plain, other hills.
"Eccolo!" he exclaimed.
At the same moment the ground gave way, and with a cry she fell out of the wood. Light and beauty enveloped her. She had fallen on to a little open terrace, which was covered with violets from end to end.
"Courage!" cried her companion, now standing some six feet above. "Courage and love."
She did not answer. From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.
Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone.
George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.
Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice called, "Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!" The silence of life had been broken by Miss Bartlett who stood brown against the view.
Chapter VII: They Return
Some complicated game had been playing up and down the hillside all the afternoon. What it was and exactly how the players had sided, Lucy was slow to discover. Mr. Eager had met them with a questioning eye. Charlotte had repulsed him with much small talk. Mr. Emerson, seeking his son, was told whereabouts to find him. Mr. Beebe, who wore the heated aspect of a neutral, was bidden to collect the factions for the return home. There was a general sense of groping and bewilderment. Pan had been amongst them--not the great god Pan, who has been buried these two thousand years, but the little god Pan, who presides over social contretemps and unsuccessful picnics. Mr. Beebe had lost every one, and had consumed in solitude the tea-basket which he had brought up as a pleasant surprise. Miss Lavish had lost Miss Bartlett. Lucy had lost Mr. Eager. Mr. Emerson had lost George. Miss Bartlett had lost a mackintosh square. Phaethon had lost the game.
That last fact was undeniable. He climbed on to the box shivering, with his collar up, prophesying the swift approach of bad weather. "Let us go immediately," he told them. "The signorino will walk."
"All the way? He will be hours," said Mr. Beebe.
"Apparently. I told him it was unwise." He would look no one in the face; perhaps defeat was particularly mortifying for him. He alone had played skilfully, using the whole of his instinct, while the others had used scraps of their intelligence. He alone had divined what things were, and what he wished them to be. He alone had interpreted the message that Lucy had received five days before from the lips of a dying man. Persephone, who spends half her life in the grave--she could interpret it also. Not so these English. They gain knowledge slowly, and perhaps too late.
The thoughts of a cab-driver, however just, seldom affect the lives of his employers. He was the most competent of Miss Bartlett's opponents, but infinitely the least dangerous. Once back in the town, he and his insight and his knowledge would trouble English ladies no more. Of course, it was most unpleasant; she had seen his black head in the bushes; he might make a tavern story out of it. But after all, what have we to do with taverns? Real menace belongs to the drawing-room. It was of drawing-room people that Miss Bartlett thought as she journeyed downwards towards the fading sun. Lucy sat beside her; Mr. Eager sat opposite, trying to catch her eye; he was vaguely suspicious. They spoke of Alessio Baldovinetti.
Rain and darkness came on together. The two ladies huddled together under an inadequate parasol. There was a lightning flash, and Miss Lavish who was nervous, screamed from the carriage in front. At the next flash, Lucy screamed also. Mr. Eager addressed her professionally:
"Courage, Miss Honeychurch, courage and faith. If I might say so, there is something almost blasphemous in this horror of the elements. Are we seriously to suppose that all these clouds, all this immense electrical display, is simply called into existence to extinguish you or me?"
"Even from the scientific standpoint the chances against our being struck are enormous. The steel knives, the only articles which might attract the current, are in the other carriage. And, in any case, we are infinitely safer than if we were walking. Courage--courage and faith."
Under the rug, Lucy felt the kindly pressure of her cousin's hand. At times our need for a sympathetic gesture is so great that we care not what exactly it signifies or how much we may have to pay for it afterwards. Miss Bartlett, by this timely exercise of her muscles, gained more than she would have got in hours of preaching or cross examination.
She renewed it when the two carriages stopped, half into Florence.
"Mr. Eager!" called Mr. Beebe. "We want your assistance. Will you interpret for us?"
"George!" cried Mr. Emerson. "Ask your driver which way George went. The boy may lose his way. He may be killed."
"Go, Mr. Eager," said Miss Bartlett. don't ask our driver; our driver is no help. Go and support poor Mr. Beebe--, he is nearly demented."
"He may be killed!" cried the old man. "He may be killed!"
"Typical behaviour," said the chaplain, as he quitted the carriage. "In the presence of reality that kind of person invariably breaks down."
"What does he know?" whispered Lucy as soon as they were alone. "Charlotte, how much does Mr. Eager know?"
"Nothing, dearest; he knows nothing. But--" she pointed at the driver-"HE knows everything. Dearest, had we better? Shall I?" She took out her purse. "It is dreadful to be entangled with low-class people. He saw it all." Tapping Phaethon's back with her guide-book, she said, "Silenzio!" and offered him a franc.
"Va bene," he replied, and accepted it. As well this ending to his day as any. But Lucy, a mortal maid, was disappointed in him.
There was an explosion up the road. The storm had struck the overhead wire of the tramline, and one of the great supports had fallen. If they had not stopped perhaps they might have been hurt. They chose to regard it as a miraculous preservation, and the floods of love and sincerity, which fructify every hour of life, burst forth in tumult. They descended from the carriages; they embraced each other. It was as joyful to be forgiven past unworthinesses as to forgive them. For a moment they realized vast possibilities of good.
The older people recovered quickly. In the very height of their emotion they knew it to be unmanly or unladylike. Miss Lavish calculated that, even if they had continued, they would not have been caught in the accident. Mr. Eager mumbled a temperate prayer. But the drivers, through miles of dark squalid road, poured out their souls to the dryads and the saints, and Lucy poured out hers to her cousin.
"Charlotte, dear Charlotte, kiss me. Kiss me again. Only you can understand me. You warned me to be careful. And I--I thought I was developing."
"Do not cry, dearest. Take your time."
"I have been obstinate and silly--worse than you know, far worse. Once by the river--Oh, but he isn't killed--he wouldn't be killed, would he?"
The thought disturbed her repentance. As a matter of fact, the storm was worst along the road; but she had been near danger, and so she thought it must be near to every one.
"I trust not. One would always pray against that."
"He is really--I think he was taken by surprise, just as I was before. But this time I'm not to blame; I want you to believe that. I simply slipped into those violets. No, I want to be really truthful. I am a little to blame. I had silly thoughts. The sky, you know, was gold, and the ground all blue, and for a moment he looked like some one in a book."
"In a book?"
"Heroes--gods--the nonsense of schoolgirls."
"But, Charlotte, you know what happened then."
Miss Bartlett was silent. Indeed, she had little more to learn. With a certain amount of insight she drew her young cousin affectionately to her. All the way back Lucy's body was shaken by deep sighs, which nothing could repress.
"I want to be truthful," she whispered. "It is so hard to be absolutely truthful."
"Don't be troubled, dearest. Wait till you are calmer. We will talk it over before bed-time in my room."
So they re-entered the city with hands clasped. It was a shock to the girl to find how far emotion had ebbed in others. The storm had ceased, and Mr. Emerson was easier about his son. Mr. Beebe had regained good humour, and Mr. Eager was already snubbing Miss Lavish. Charlotte alone she was sure of--Charlotte, whose exterior concealed so much insight and love.
The luxury of self-exposure kept her almost happy through the long evening. She thought not so much of what had happened as of how she should describe it. All her sensations, her spasms of courage, her moments of unreasonable joy, her mysterious discontent, should be carefully laid before her cousin. And together in divine confidence they would disentangle and interpret them all.
"At last," thought she, "I shall understand myself. I shan't again be troubled by things that come out of nothing, and mean I don't know what."
Miss Alan asked her to play. She refused vehemently. Music seemed to her the employment of a child. She sat close to her cousin, who, with commendable patience, was listening to a long story about lost luggage. When it was over she capped it by a story of her own. Lucy became rather hysterical with the delay. In vain she tried to check, or at all events to accelerate, the tale. It was not till a late hour that Miss Bartlett had recovered her luggage and could say in her usual tone of gentle reproach:
"Well, dear, I at all events am ready for Bedfordshire. Come into my room, and I will give a good brush to your hair."
With some solemnity the door was shut, and a cane chair placed for the girl. Then Miss Bartlett said "So what is to be done?"
She was unprepared for the question. It had not occurred to her that she would have to do anything. A detailed exhibition of her emotions was all that she had counted upon.
"What is to be done? A point, dearest, which you alone can settle."
The rain was streaming down the black windows, and the great room felt damp and chilly, One candle burnt trembling on the chest of drawers close to Miss Bartlett's toque, which cast monstrous and fantastic shadows on the bolted door. A tram roared by in the dark, and Lucy felt unaccountably sad, though she had long since dried her eyes. She lifted them to the ceiling, where the griffins and bassoons were colourless and vague, the very ghosts of joy.
"It has been raining for nearly four hours," she said at last.
Miss Bartlett ignored the remark.
"How do you propose to silence him?"
"My dear girl, no; Mr. George Emerson."
Lucy began to pace up and down the room.
"I don't understand," she said at last.
She understood very well, but she no longer wished to be absolutely truthful.
"How are you going to stop him talking about it?"
"I have a feeling that talk is a thing he will never do."
"I, too, intend to judge him charitably. But unfortunately I have met the type before. They seldom keep their exploits to themselves."
"Exploits?" cried Lucy, wincing under the horrible plural.
"My poor dear, did you suppose that this was his first? Come here and listen to me. I am only gathering it from his own remarks. Do you remember that day at lunch when he argued with Miss Alan that liking one person is an extra reason for liking another?"
"Yes," said Lucy, whom at the time the argument had pleased.
"Well, I am no prude. There is no need to call him a wicked young man, but obviously he is thoroughly unrefined. Let us put it down to his deplorable antecedents and education, if you wish. But we are no farther on with our question. What do you propose to do?"
An idea rushed across Lucy's brain, which, had she thought of it sooner and made it part of her, might have proved victorious.
"I propose to speak to him," said she.
Miss Bartlett uttered a cry of genuine alarm.
"You see, Charlotte, your kindness--I shall never forget it. But--as you said--it is my affair. Mine and his."
"And you are going to IMPLORE him, to BEG him to keep silence?"
"Certainly not. There would be no difficulty. Whatever you ask him he answers, yes or no; then it is over. I have been frightened of him. But now I am not one little bit."
"But we fear him for you, dear. You are so young and inexperienced, you have lived among such nice people, that you cannot realize what men can be--how they can take a brutal pleasure in insulting a woman whom her sex does not protect and rally round. This afternoon, for example, if I had not arrived, what would have happened?"
"I can't think," said Lucy gravely.
Something in her voice made Miss Bartlett repeat her question, intoning it more vigorously.
"What would have happened if I hadn't arrived?"
"I can't think," said Lucy again.
"When he insulted you, how would you have replied?"
"I hadn't time to think. You came."
"Yes, but won't you tell me now what you would have done?"
"I should have--" She checked herself, and broke the sentence off. She went up to the dripping window and strained her eyes into the darkness. She could not think what she would have done.
"Come away from the window, dear," said Miss Bartlett. "You will be seen from the road."
Lucy obeyed. She was in her cousin's power. She could not modulate out the key of self-abasement in which she had started. Neither of them referred again to her suggestion that she should speak to George and settle the matter, whatever it was, with him.
Miss Bartlett became plaintive.
"Oh, for a real man! We are only two women, you and I. Mr. Beebe is hopeless. There is Mr. Eager, but you do not trust him. Oh, for your brother! He is young, but I know that his sister's insult would rouse in him a very lion. Thank God, chivalry is not yet dead. There are still left some men who can reverence woman."
As she spoke, she pulled off her rings, of which she wore several, and ranged them upon the pin cushion. Then she blew into her gloves and said:
"It will be a push to catch the morning train, but we must try."
"The train to Rome." She looked at her gloves critically.
The girl received the announcement as easily as it had been given.
"When does the train to Rome go?"
"Signora Bertolini would be upset."
"We must face that," said Miss Bartlett, not liking to say that she had given notice already.
"She will make us pay for a whole week's pension."
"I expect she will. However, we shall be much more comfortable at the Vyses' hotel. Isn't afternoon tea given there for nothing?"
"Yes, but they pay extra for wine." After this remark she remained motionless and silent. To her tired eyes Charlotte throbbed and swelled like a ghostly figure in a dream.
They began to sort their clothes for packing, for there was no time to lose, if they were to catch the train to Rome. Lucy, when admonished, began to move to and fro between the rooms, more conscious of the discomforts of packing by candlelight than of a subtler ill. Charlotte, who was practical without ability, knelt by the side of an empty trunk, vainly endeavouring to pave it with books of varying thickness and size. She gave two or three sighs, for the stooping posture hurt her back, and, for all her diplomacy, she felt that she was growing old. The girl heard her as she entered the room, and was seized with one of those emotional impulses to which she could never attribute a cause. She only felt that the candle would burn better, the packing go easier, the world be happier, if she could give and receive some human love. The impulse had come before to-day, but never so strongly. She knelt down by her cousin's side and took her in her arms.
Miss Bartlett returned the embrace with tenderness and warmth. But she was not a stupid woman, and she knew perfectly well that Lucy did not love her, but needed her to love. For it was in ominous tones that she said, after a long pause:
"Dearest Lucy, how will you ever forgive me?"
Lucy was on her guard at once, knowing by bitter experience what forgiving Miss Bartlett meant. Her emotion relaxed, she modified her embrace a little, and she said:
"Charlotte dear, what do you mean? As if I have anything to forgive!"
"You have a great deal, and I have a very great deal to forgive myself, too. I know well how much I vex you at every turn."
Miss Bartlett assumed her favourite role, that of the prematurely aged martyr.
"Ah, but yes! I feel that our tour together is hardly the success I had hoped. I might have known it would not do. You want some one younger and stronger and more in sympathy with you. I am too uninteresting and old-fashioned--only fit to pack and unpack your things."
"My only consolation was that you found people more to your taste, and were often able to leave me at home. I had my own poor ideas of what a lady ought to do, but I hope I did not inflict them on you more than was necessary. You had your own way about these rooms, at all events."
"You mustn't say these things," said Lucy softly.
She still clung to the hope that she and Charlotte loved each other, heart and soul. They continued to pack in silence.
"I have been a failure," said Miss Bartlett, as she struggled with the straps of Lucy's trunk instead of strapping her own. "Failed to make you happy; failed in my duty to your mother. She has been so generous to me; I shall never face her again after this disaster."
"But mother will understand. It is not your fault, this trouble, and it isn't a disaster either."
"It is my fault, it is a disaster. She will never forgive me, and rightly. Fur instance, what right had I to make friends with Miss Lavish?"
"When I was here for your sake? If I have vexed you it is equally true that I have neglected you. Your mother will see this as clearly as I do, when you tell her."
Lucy, from a cowardly wish to improve the situation, said:
"Why need mother hear of it?"
"But you tell her everything?"
"I suppose I do generally."
"I dare not break your confidence. There is something sacred in it. Unless you feel that it is a thing you could not tell her."
The girl would not be degraded to this.
"Naturally I should have told her. But in case she should blame you in any way, I promise I will not, I am very willing not to. I will never speak of it either to her or to any one."
Her promise brought the long-drawn interview to a sudden close. Miss Bartlett pecked her smartly on both cheeks, wished her good-night, and sent her to her own room.
For a moment the original trouble was in the background. George would seem to have behaved like a cad throughout; perhaps that was the view which one would take eventually. At present she neither acquitted nor condemned him; she did not pass judgment. At the moment when she was about to judge him her cousin's voice had intervened, and, ever since, it was Miss Bartlett who had dominated; Miss Bartlett who, even now, could be heard sighing into a crack in the partition wall; Miss Bartlett, who had really been neither pliable nor humble nor inconsistent. She had worked like a great artist; for a time--indeed, for years--she had been meaningless, but at the end there was presented to the girl the complete picture of a cheerless, loveless world in which the young rush to destruction until they learn better--a shamefaced world of precautions and barriers which may avert evil, but which do not seem to bring good, if we may judge from those who have used them most.
Lucy was suffering from the most grievous wrong which this world has yet discovered: diplomatic advantage had been taken of her sincerity, of her craving for sympathy and love. Such a wrong is not easily forgotten. Never again did she expose herself without due consideration and precaution against rebuff. And such a wrong may react disastrously upon the soul.
The door-bell rang, and she started to the shutters. Before she reached them she hesitated, turned, and blew out the candle. Thus it was that, though she saw some one standing in the wet below, he, though he looked up, did not see her.
To reach his room he had to go by hers. She was still dressed. It struck her that she might slip into the passage and just say that she would be gone before he was up, and that their extraordinary intercourse was over.
Whether she would have dared to do this was never proved. At the critical moment Miss Bartlett opened her own door, and her voice said:
"I wish one word with you in the drawing-room, Mr. Emerson, please."
Soon their footsteps returned, and Miss Bartlett said: "Good-night, Mr. Emerson."
His heavy, tired breathing was the only reply; the chaperon had done her work.
Lucy cried aloud: "It isn't true. It can't all be true. I want not to be muddled. I want to grow older quickly."
Miss Bartlett tapped on the wall.
"Go to bed at once, dear. You need all the rest you can get."
In the morning they left for Rome.
Chapter VIII: Medieval
The drawing-room curtains at Windy Corner had been pulled to meet, for the carpet was new and deserved protection from the August sun. They were heavy curtains, reaching almost to the ground, and the light that filtered through them was subdued and varied. A poet--none was present--might have quoted, "Life like a dome of many coloured glass," or might have compared the curtains to sluice-gates, lowered against the intolerable tides of heaven. Without was poured a sea of radiance; within, the glory, though visible, was tempered to the capacities of man.
Two pleasant people sat in the room. One--a boy of nineteen--was studying a small manual of anatomy, and peering occasionally at a bone which lay upon the piano. From time to time he bounced in his chair and puffed and groaned, for the day was hot and the print small, and the human frame fearfully made; and his mother, who was writing a letter, did continually read out to him what she had written. And continually did she rise from her seat and part the curtains so that a rivulet of light fell across the carpet, and make the remark that they were still there.
"Where aren't they?" said the boy, who was Freddy, Lucy's brother. "I tell you I'm getting fairly sick."
"For goodness' sake go out of my drawing-room, then?" cried Mrs. Honeychurch, who hoped to cure her children of slang by taking it literally.
Freddy did not move or reply.
"I think things are coming to a head," she observed, rather wanting her son's opinion on the situation if she could obtain it without undue supplication.
"Time they did."
"I am glad that Cecil is asking her this once more."
"It's his third go, isn't it?"
"Freddy I do call the way you talk unkind."
"I didn't mean to be unkind." Then he added: "But I do think Lucy might have got this off her chest in Italy. I don't know how girls manage things, but she can't have said 'No' properly before, or she wouldn't have to say it again now. Over the whole thing--I can't explain--I do feel so uncomfortable."
"Do you indeed, dear? How interesting!"
"I feel--never mind."
He returned to his work.
"Just listen to what I have written to Mrs. Vyse. I said: 'Dear Mrs. Vyse.'"
"Yes, mother, you told me. A jolly good letter."
"I said: 'Dear Mrs. Vyse, Cecil has just asked my permission about it, and I should be delighted, if Lucy wishes it. But--'" She stopped reading, "I was rather amused at Cecil asking my permission at all. He has always gone in for unconventionality, and parents nowhere, and so forth. When it comes to the point, he can't get on without me."
"What do you mean?"
"He asked me for my permission also."
She exclaimed: "How very odd of him!"
"Why so?" asked the son and heir. "Why shouldn't my permission be asked?"
"What do you know about Lucy or girls or anything? What ever did you say?"
"I said to Cecil, 'Take her or leave her; it's no business of mine!'"
"What a helpful answer!" But her own answer, though more normal in its wording, had been to the same effect.
"The bother is this," began Freddy.
Then he took up his work again, too shy to say what the bother was. Mrs. Honeychurch went back to the window.
"Freddy, you must come. There they still are!"
"I don't see you ought to go peeping like that."
"Peeping like that! Can't I look out of my own window?"
But she returned to the writing-table, observing, as she passed her son, "Still page 322?" Freddy snorted, and turned over two leaves. For a brief space they were silent. Close by, beyond the curtains, the gentle murmur of a long conversation had never ceased.
"The bother is this: I have put my foot in it with Cecil most awfully." He gave a nervous gulp. "Not content with 'permission', which I did give--that is to say, I said, 'I don't mind'--well, not content with that, he wanted to know whether I wasn't off my head with joy. He practically put it like this: Wasn't it a splendid thing for Lucy and for Windy Corner generally if he married her? And he would have an answer--he said it would strengthen his hand."
"I hope you gave a careful answer, dear."
"I answered 'No'" said the boy, grinding his teeth. "There! Fly into a stew! I can't help it--had to say it. I had to say no. He ought never to have asked me."
"Ridiculous child!" cried his mother. "You think you're so holy and truthful, but really it's only abominable conceit. Do you suppose that a man like Cecil would take the slightest notice of anything you say? I hope he boxed your ears. How dare you say no?"
"Oh, do keep quiet, mother! I had to say no when I couldn't say yes. I tried to laugh as if I didn't mean what I said, and, as Cecil laughed too, and went away, it may be all right. But I feel my foot's in it. Oh, do keep quiet, though, and let a man do some work."
"No," said Mrs. Honeychurch, with the air of one who has considered the subject, "I shall not keep quiet. You know all that has passed between them in Rome; you know why he is down here, and yet you deliberately insult him, and try to turn him out of my house."
"Not a bit!" he pleaded. "I only let out I didn't like him. I don't hate him, but I don't like him. What I mind is that he'll tell Lucy."
He glanced at the curtains dismally.
"Well, I like him," said Mrs. Honeychurch. "I know his mother; he's good, he's clever, he's rich, he's well connected--Oh, you needn't kick the piano! He's well connected--I'll say it again if you like: he's well connected." She paused, as if rehearsing her eulogy, but her face remained dissatisfied. She added: "And he has beautiful manners."
"I liked him till just now. I suppose it's having him spoiling Lucy's first week at home; and it's also something that Mr. Beebe said, not knowing."
"Mr. Beebe?" said his mother, trying to conceal her interest. "I don't see how Mr. Beebe comes in."
"You know Mr. Beebe's funny way, when you never quite know what he means. He said: 'Mr. Vyse is an ideal bachelor.' I was very cute, I asked him what he meant. He said 'Oh, he's like me-- better detached.' I couldn't make him say any more, but it set me thinking. Since Cecil has come after Lucy he hasn't been so pleasant, at least--I can't explain."
"You never can, dear. But I can. You are jealous of Cecil because he may stop Lucy knitting you silk ties."
The explanation seemed plausible, and Freddy tried to accept it. But at the back of his brain there lurked a dim mistrust. Cecil praised one too much for being athletic. Was that it? Cecil made one talk in one's own way. This tired one. Was that it? And Cecil was the kind of fellow who would never wear another fellow's cap. Unaware of his own profundity, Freddy checked himself. He must be jealous, or he would not dislike a man for such foolish reasons.
"Will this do?" called his mother. "'Dear Mrs. Vyse,--Cecil has just asked my permission about it, and I should be delighted if Lucy wishes it.' Then I put in at the top, 'and I have told Lucy so.' I must write the letter out again--'and I have told Lucy so. But Lucy seems very uncertain, and in these days young people must decide for themselves.' I said that because I didn't want Mrs. Vyse to think us old-fashioned. She goes in for lectures and improving her mind, and all the time a thick layer of flue under the beds, and the maid's dirty thumb-marks where you turn on the electric light. She keeps that flat abominably--"
"Suppose Lucy marries Cecil, would she live in a flat, or in the country?"
"Don't interrupt so foolishly. Where was I? Oh yes--'Young people must decide for themselves. I know that Lucy likes your son, because she tells me everything, and she wrote to me from Rome when he asked her first.' No, I'll cross that last bit out--it looks patronizing. I'll stop at 'because she tells me everything.' Or shall I cross that out, too?"
"Cross it out, too," said Freddy.
Mrs. Honeychurch left it in.
"Then the whole thing runs: 'Dear Mrs. Vyse.--Cecil has just asked my permission about it, and I should be delighted if Lucy wishes it, and I have told Lucy so. But Lucy seems very uncertain, and in these days young people must decide for themselves. I know that Lucy likes your son, because she tells me everything. But I do not know--'"
"Look out!" cried Freddy.
The curtains parted.
Cecil's first movement was one of irritation. He couldn't bear the Honeychurch habit of sitting in the dark to save the furniture. Instinctively he give the curtains a twitch, and sent them swinging down their poles. Light entered. There was revealed a terrace, such as is owned by many villas with trees each side of it, and on it a little rustic seat, and two flower-beds. But it was transfigured by the view beyond, for Windy Corner was built on the range that overlooks the Sussex Weald. Lucy, who was in the little seat, seemed on the edge of a green magic carpet which hovered in the air above the tremulous world.
Appearing thus late in the story, Cecil must be at once described. He was medieval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of the will, and a head that was tilted a little higher than the usual level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral. Well educated, well endowed, and not deficient physically, he remained in the grip of a certain devil whom the modern world knows as self-consciousness, and whom the medieval, with dimmer vision, worshipped as asceticism. A Gothic statue implies celibacy, just as a Greek statue implies fruition, and perhaps this was what Mr. Beebe meant. And Freddy, who ignored history and art, perhaps meant the same when he failed to imagine Cecil wearing another fellow's cap.
Mrs. Honeychurch left her letter on the writing table and moved towards her young acquaintance.
"Oh, Cecil!" she exclaimed--"oh, Cecil, do tell me!"
"I promessi sposi," said he.
They stared at him anxiously.
"She has accepted me," he said, and the sound of the thing in English made him flush and smile with pleasure, and look more human.
"I am so glad," said Mrs. Honeychurch, while Freddy proffered a hand that was yellow with chemicals. They wished that they also knew Italian, for our phrases of approval and of amazement are so connected with little occasions that we fear to use them on great ones. We are obliged to become vaguely poetic, or to take refuge in Scriptural reminiscences.
"Welcome as one of the family!" said Mrs. Honeychurch, waving her hand at the furniture. "This is indeed a joyous day! I feel sure that you will make our dear Lucy happy."
"I hope so," replied the young man, shifting his eyes to the ceiling.
"We mothers--" simpered Mrs. Honeychurch, and then realized that she was affected, sentimental, bombastic--all the things she hated most. Why could she not be Freddy, who stood stiff in the middle of the room; looking very cross and almost handsome?
"I say, Lucy!" called Cecil, for conversation seemed to flag.
Lucy rose from the seat. She moved across the lawn and smiled in at them, just as if she was going to ask them to play tennis. Then she saw her brother's face. Her lips parted, and she took him in her arms. He said, "Steady on!"
"Not a kiss for me?" asked her mother.
Lucy kissed her also.
"Would you take them into the garden and tell Mrs. Honeychurch all about it?" Cecil suggested. "And I'd stop here and tell my mother."
"We go with Lucy?" said Freddy, as if taking orders.
"Yes, you go with Lucy."
They passed into the sunlight. Cecil watched them cross the terrace, and descend out of sight by the steps. They would descend--he knew their ways--past the shrubbery, and past the tennis-lawn and the dahlia-bed, until they reached the kitchen garden, and there, in the presence of the potatoes and the peas, the great event would be discussed.
Smiling indulgently, he lit a cigarette, and rehearsed the events that had led to such a happy conclusion.
He had known Lucy for several years, but only as a commonplace girl who happened to be musical. He could still remember his depression that afternoon at Rome, when she and her terrible cousin fell on him out of the blue, and demanded to be taken to St. Peter's. That day she had seemed a typical tourist--shrill, crude, and gaunt with travel. But Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, and--which he held more precious--it gave her shadow. Soon he detected in her a wonderful reticence. She was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci's, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us, The things are assuredly not of this life; no woman of Leonardo's could have anything so vulgar as a "story." She did develop most wonderfully day by day.
So it happened that from patronizing civility he had slowly passed if not to passion, at least to a profound uneasiness. Already at Rome he had hinted to her that they might be suitable for each other. It had touched him greatly that she had not broken away at the suggestion. Her refusal had been clear and gentle; after it--as the horrid phrase went--she had been exactly the same to him as before. Three months later, on the margin of Italy, among the flower-clad Alps, he had asked her again in bald, traditional language. She reminded him of a Leonardo more than ever; her sunburnt features were shadowed by fantastic rock; at his words she had turned and stood between him and the light with immeasurable plains behind her. He walked home with her unashamed, feeling not at all like a rejected suitor. The things that really mattered were unshaken.
So now he had asked her once more, and, clear and gentle as ever, she had accepted him, giving no coy reasons for her delay, but simply saying that she loved him and would do her best to make him happy. His mother, too, would be pleased; she had counselled the step; he must write her a long account.
Glancing at his hand, in case any of Freddy's chemicals had come off on it, he moved to the writing table. There he saw "Dear Mrs. Vyse," followed by many erasures. He recoiled without reading any more, and after a little hesitation sat down elsewhere, and pencilled a note on his knee.
Then he lit another cigarette, which did not seem quite as divine as the first, and considered what might be done to make Windy Corner drawing-room more distinctive. With that outlook it should have been a successful room, but the trail of Tottenham Court Road was upon it; he could almost visualize the motor-vans of Messrs. Shoolbred and Messrs. Maple arriving at the door and depositing this chair, those varnished book-cases, that writing-table. The table recalled Mrs. Honeychurch's letter. He did not want to read that letter--his temptations never lay in that direction; but he worried about it none the less. It was his own fault that she was discussing him with his mother; he had wanted her support in his third attempt to win Lucy; he wanted to feel that others, no matter who they were, agreed with him, and so he had asked their permission. Mrs. Honeychurch had been civil, but obtuse in essentials, while as for Freddy--"He is only a boy," he reflected. "I represent all that he despises. Why should he want me for a brother-in-law?"
The Honeychurches were a worthy family, but he began to realize that Lucy was of another clay; and perhaps--he did not put it very definitely--he ought to introduce her into more congenial circles as soon as possible.
"Mr. Beebe!" said the maid, and the new rector of Summer Street was shown in; he had at once started on friendly relations, owing to Lucy's praise of him in her letters from Florence.
Cecil greeted him rather critically.
"I've come for tea, Mr. Vyse. Do you suppose that I shall get it?"
"I should say so. Food is the thing one does get here--Don't sit in that chair; young Honeychurch has left a bone in it."
"I know," said Cecil. "I know. I can't think why Mrs. Honeychurch allows it."
For Cecil considered the bone and the Maples' furniture separately; he did not realize that, taken together, they kindled the room into the life that he desired.
"I've come for tea and for gossip. Isn't this news?"
"News? I don't understand you," said Cecil. "News?"
Mr. Beebe, whose news was of a very different nature, prattled forward.
"I met Sir Harry Otway as I came up; I have every reason to hope that I am first in the field. He has bought Cissie and Albert from Mr. Flack!"
"Has he indeed?" said Cecil, trying to recover himself. Into what a grotesque mistake had he fallen! Was it likely that a clergyman and a gentleman would refer to his engagement in a manner so flippant? But his stiffness remained, and, though he asked who Cissie and Albert might be, he still thought Mr. Beebe rather a bounder.
"Unpardonable question! To have stopped a week at Windy Corner and not to have met Cissie and Albert, the semi-detached villas that have been run up opposite the church! I'll set Mrs. Honeychurch after you."
"I'm shockingly stupid over local affairs," said the young man languidly. "I can't even remember the difference between a Parish Council and a Local Government Board. Perhaps there is no difference, or perhaps those aren't the right names. I only go into the country to see my friends and to enjoy the scenery. It is very remiss of me. Italy and London are the only places where I don't feel to exist on sufferance."
Mr. Beebe, distressed at this heavy reception of Cissie and Albert, determined to shift the subject.
"Let me see, Mr. Vyse--I forget--what is your profession?"
"I have no profession," said Cecil. "It is another example of my decadence. My attitude quite an indefensible one--is that so long as I am no trouble to any one I have a right to do as I like. I know I ought to be getting money out of people, or devoting myself to things I don't care a straw about, but somehow, I've not been able to begin."
"You are very fortunate," said Mr. Beebe. "It is a wonderful opportunity, the possession of leisure."
His voice was rather parochial, but he did not quite see his way to answering naturally. He felt, as all who have regular occupation must feel, that others should have it also.
"I am glad that you approve. I daren't face the healthy person-- for example, Freddy Honeychurch."
"Oh, Freddy's a good sort, isn't he?"
"Admirable. The sort who has made England what she is."
Cecil wondered at himself. Why, on this day of all others, was he so hopelessly contrary? He tried to get right by inquiring effusively after Mr. Beebe's mother, an old lady for whom he had no particular regard. Then he flattered the clergyman, praised his liberal-mindedness, his enlightened attitude towards philosophy and science.
"Where are the others?" said Mr. Beebe at last, "I insist on extracting tea before evening service."
"I suppose Anne never told them you were here. In this house one is so coached in the servants the day one arrives. The fault of Anne is that she begs your pardon when she hears you perfectly, and kicks the chair-legs with her feet. The faults of Mary-- I forget the faults of Mary, but they are very grave. Shall we look in the garden?"
"I know the faults of Mary. She leaves the dust-pans standing on the stairs."
"The fault of Euphemia is that she will not, simply will not, chop the suet sufficiently small."
They both laughed, and things began to go better.
"The faults of Freddy--" Cecil continued.
"Ah, he has too many. No one but his mother can remember the faults of Freddy. Try the faults of Miss Honeychurch; they are not innumerable."
"She has none," said the young man, with grave sincerity.
"I quite agree. At present she has none."
"I'm not cynical. I'm only thinking of my pet theory about Miss Honeychurch. Does it seem reasonable that she should play so wonderfully, and live so quietly? I suspect that one day she will be wonderful in both. The water-tight compartments in her will break down, and music and life will mingle. Then we shall have her heroically good, heroically bad--too heroic, perhaps, to be good or bad."
Cecil found his companion interesting.
"And at present you think her not wonderful as far as life goes?"
"Well, I must say I've only seen her at Tunbridge Wells, where she was not wonderful, and at Florence. Since I came to Summer Street she has been away. You saw her, didn't you, at Rome and in the Alps. Oh, I forgot; of course, you knew her before. No, she wasn't wonderful in Florence either, but I kept on expecting that she would be."
"In what way?"
Conversation had become agreeable to them, and they were pacing up and down the terrace.
"I could as easily tell you what tune she'll play next. There was simply the sense that she had found wings, and meant to use them. I can show you a beautiful picture in my Italian diary: Miss Honeychurch as a kite, Miss Bartlett holding the string. Picture number two: the string breaks."
The sketch was in his diary, but it had been made afterwards, when he viewed things artistically. At the time he had given surreptitious tugs to the string himself.
"But the string never broke?"
"No. I mightn't have seen Miss Honeychurch rise, but I should certainly have heard Miss Bartlett fall."
"It has broken now," said the young man in low, vibrating tones.
Immediately he realized that of all the conceited, ludicrous, contemptible ways of announcing an engagement this was the worst. He cursed his love of metaphor; had he suggested that he was a star and that Lucy was soaring up to reach him?
"Broken? What do you mean?"
"I meant," said Cecil stiffly, "that she is going to marry me."
The clergyman was conscious of some bitter disappointment which he could not keep out of his voice.
"I am sorry; I must apologize. I had no idea you were intimate with her, or I should never have talked in this flippant, superficial way. Mr. Vyse, you ought to have stopped me." And down the garden he saw Lucy herself; yes, he was disappointed.
Cecil, who naturally preferred congratulations to apologies, drew down his mouth at the corners. Was this the reception his action would get from the world? Of course, he despised the world as a whole; every thoughtful man should; it is almost a test of refinement. But he was sensitive to the successive particles of it which he encountered.
Occasionally he could be quite crude.
"I am sorry I have given you a shock," he said dryly. "I fear that Lucy's choice does not meet with your approval."
"Not that. But you ought to have stopped me. I know Miss Honeychurch only a little as time goes. Perhaps I oughtn't to have discussed her so freely with any one; certainly not with you."
"You are conscious of having said something indiscreet?"
Mr. Beebe pulled himself together. Really, Mr. Vyse had the art of placing one in the most tiresome positions. He was driven to use the prerogatives of his profession.
"No, I have said nothing indiscreet. I foresaw at Florence that her quiet, uneventful childhood must end, and it has ended. I realized dimly enough that she might take some momentous step. She has taken it. She has learnt--you will let me talk freely, as I have begun freely--she has learnt what it is to love: the greatest lesson, some people will tell you, that our earthly life provides." It was now time for him to wave his hat at the approaching trio. He did not omit to do so. "She has learnt through you," and if his voice was still clerical, it was now also sincere; "let it be your care that her knowledge is profitable to her."
"Grazie tante!" said Cecil, who did not like parsons.
"Have you heard?" shouted Mrs. Honeychurch as she toiled up the sloping garden. "Oh, Mr. Beebe, have you heard the news?"
Freddy, now full of geniality, whistled the wedding march. Youth seldom criticizes the accomplished fact.
"Indeed I have!" he cried. He looked at Lucy. In her presence he could not act the parson any longer--at all events not without apology. "Mrs. Honeychurch, I'm going to do what I am always supposed to do, but generally I'm too shy. I want to invoke every kind of blessing on them, grave and gay, great and small. I want them all their lives to be supremely good and supremely happy as husband and wife, as father and mother. And now I want my tea."
"You only asked for it just in time," the lady retorted. "How dare you be serious at Windy Corner?"
He took his tone from her. There was no more heavy beneficence, no more attempts to dignify the situation with poetry or the Scriptures. None of them dared or was able to be serious any more.
An engagement is so potent a thing that sooner or later it reduces all who speak of it to this state of cheerful awe. Away from it, in the solitude of their rooms, Mr. Beebe, and even Freddy, might again be critical. But in its presence and in the presence of each other they were sincerely hilarious. It has a strange power, for it compels not only the lips, but the very heart. The chief parallel to compare one great thing with another--is the power over us of a temple of some alien creed. Standing outside, we deride or oppose it, or at the most feel sentimental. Inside, though the saints and gods are not ours, we become true believers, in case any true believer should be present.
So it was that after the gropings and the misgivings of the afternoon they pulled themselves together and settled down to a very pleasant tea-party. If they were hypocrites they did not know it, and their hypocrisy had every chance of setting and of becoming true. Anne, putting down each plate as if it were a wedding present, stimulated them greatly. They could not lag behind that smile of hers which she gave them ere she kicked the drawing-room door. Mr. Beebe chirruped. Freddy was at his wittiest, referring to Cecil as the "Fiasco"--family honoured pun on fiance. Mrs. Honeychurch, amusing and portly, promised well as a mother-in-law. As for Lucy and Cecil, for whom the temple had been built, they also joined in the merry ritual, but waited, as earnest worshippers should, for the disclosure of some holier shrine of joy.