Chapter IX: Lucy As a Work of Art
A few days after the engagement was announced Mrs. Honeychurch made Lucy and her Fiasco come to a little garden-party in the neighbourhood, for naturally she wanted to show people that her daughter was marrying a presentable man.
Cecil was more than presentable; he looked distinguished, and it was very pleasant to see his slim figure keeping step with Lucy, and his long, fair face responding when Lucy spoke to him. People congratulated Mrs. Honeychurch, which is, I believe, a social blunder, but it pleased her, and she introduced Cecil rather indiscriminately to some stuffy dowagers.
At tea a misfortune took place: a cup of coffee was upset over Lucy's figured silk, and though Lucy feigned indifference, her mother feigned nothing of the sort but dragged her indoors to have the frock treated by a sympathetic maid. They were gone some time, and Cecil was left with the dowagers. When they returned he was not as pleasant as he had been.
"Do you go to much of this sort of thing?" he asked when they were driving home.
"Oh, now and then," said Lucy, who had rather enjoyed herself.
"Is it typical of country society?"
"I suppose so. Mother, would it be?"
"Plenty of society," said Mrs. Honeychurch, who was trying to remember the hang of one of the dresses.
Seeing that her thoughts were elsewhere, Cecil bent towards Lucy and said:
"To me it seemed perfectly appalling, disastrous, portentous."
"I am so sorry that you were stranded."
"Not that, but the congratulations. It is so disgusting, the way an engagement is regarded as public property--a kind of waste place where every outsider may shoot his vulgar sentiment. All those old women smirking!"
"One has to go through it, I suppose. They won't notice us so much next time."
"But my point is that their whole attitude is wrong. An engagement--horrid word in the first place--is a private matter, and should be treated as such."
Yet the smirking old women, however wrong individually, were racially correct. The spirit of the generations had smiled through them, rejoicing in the engagement of Cecil and Lucy because it promised the continuance of life on earth. To Cecil and Lucy it promised something quite different--personal love. Hence Cecil's irritation and Lucy's belief that his irritation was just.
"How tiresome!" she said. "Couldn't you have escaped to tennis?"
"I don't play tennis--at least, not in public. The neighbourhood is deprived of the romance of me being athletic. Such romance as I have is that of the Inglese Italianato."
"E un diavolo incarnato! You know the proverb?"
She did not. Nor did it seem applicable to a young man who had spent a quiet winter in Rome with his mother. But Cecil, since his engagement, had taken to affect a cosmopolitan naughtiness which he was far from possessing.
"Well," said he, "I cannot help it if they do disapprove of me. There are certain irremovable barriers between myself and them, and I must accept them."
"We all have our limitations, I suppose," said wise Lucy.
"Sometimes they are forced on us, though," said Cecil, who saw from her remark that she did not quite understand his position.
"It makes a difference doesn't it, whether we fully fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?"
She thought a moment, and agreed that it did make a difference.
"Difference?" cried Mrs. Honeychurch, suddenly alert. "I don't see any difference. Fences are fences, especially when they are in the same place."
"We were speaking of motives," said Cecil, on whom the interruption jarred.
"My dear Cecil, look here." She spread out her knees and perched her card-case on her lap. "This is me. That's Windy Corner. The rest of the pattern is the other people. Motives are all very well, but the fence comes here."
"We weren't talking of real fences," said Lucy, laughing.
"Oh, I see, dear--poetry."
She leant placidly back. Cecil wondered why Lucy had been amused.
"I tell you who has no 'fences,' as you call them," she said, "and that's Mr. Beebe."
"A parson fenceless would mean a parson defenceless."
Lucy was slow to follow what people said, but quick enough to detect what they meant. She missed Cecil's epigram, but grasped the feeling that prompted it.
"Don't you like Mr. Beebe?" she asked thoughtfully.
"I never said so!" he cried. "I consider him far above the average. I only denied--" And he swept off on the subject of fences again, and was brilliant.
"Now, a clergyman that I do hate," said she wanting to say something sympathetic, "a clergyman that does have fences, and the most dreadful ones, is Mr. Eager, the English chaplain at Florence. He was truly insincere--not merely the manner unfortunate. He was a snob, and so conceited, and he did say such unkind things."
"What sort of things?"
"There was an old man at the Bertolini whom he said had murdered his wife."
"Perhaps he had."
"He was such a nice old man, I'm sure."
Cecil laughed at her feminine inconsequence.
"Well, I did try to sift the thing. Mr. Eager would never come to the point. He prefers it vague--said the old man had 'practically' murdered his wife--had murdered her in the sight of God."
"Hush, dear!" said Mrs. Honeychurch absently. "But isn't it intolerable that a person whom we're told to imitate should go round spreading slander? It was, I believe, chiefly owing to him that the old man was dropped. People pretended he was vulgar, but he certainly wasn't that."
"Poor old man! What was his name?"
"Harris," said Lucy glibly.
"Let's hope that Mrs. Harris there warn't no sich person," said her mother.
Cecil nodded intelligently.
"Isn't Mr. Eager a parson of the cultured type?" he asked.
"I don't know. I hate him. I've heard him lecture on Giotto. I hate him. Nothing can hide a petty nature. I HATE him."
"My goodness gracious me, child!" said Mrs. Honeychurch. "You'll blow my head off! Whatever is there to shout over? I forbid you and Cecil to hate any more clergymen."
He smiled. There was indeed something rather incongruous in Lucy's moral outburst over Mr. Eager. It was as if one should see the Leonardo on the ceiling of the Sistine. He longed to hint to her that not here lay her vocation; that a woman's power and charm reside in mystery, not in muscular rant. But possibly rant is a sign of vitality: it mars the beautiful creature, but shows that she is alive. After a moment, he contemplated her flushed face and excited gestures with a certain approval. He forebore to repress the sources of youth.
Nature--simplest of topics, he thought--lay around them. He praised the pine-woods, the deep lasts of bracken, the crimson leaves that spotted the hurt-bushes, the serviceable beauty of the turnpike road. The outdoor world was not very familiar to him, and occasionally he went wrong in a question of fact. Mrs. Honeychurch's mouth twitched when he spoke of the perpetual green of the larch.
"I count myself a lucky person," he concluded, "When I'm in London I feel I could never live out of it. When I'm in the country I feel the same about the country. After all, I do believe that birds and trees and the sky are the most wonderful things in life, and that the people who live amongst them must be the best. It's true that in nine cases out of ten they don't seem to notice anything. The country gentleman and the country labourer are each in their way the most depressing of companions. Yet they may have a tacit sympathy with the workings of Nature which is denied to us of the town. Do you feel that, Mrs. Honeychurch?"
Mrs. Honeychurch started and smiled. She had not been attending. Cecil, who was rather crushed on the front seat of the victoria, felt irritable, and determined not to say anything interesting again.
Lucy had not attended either. Her brow was wrinkled, and she still looked furiously cross--the result, he concluded, of too much moral gymnastics. It was sad to see her thus blind to the beauties of an August wood.
"'Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height,'" he quoted, and touched her knee with his own.
She flushed again and said: "What height?"
"'Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height, What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang). In height and in the splendour of the hills?'
Let us take Mrs. Honeychurch's advice and hate clergymen no more. What's this place?"
"Summer Street, of course," said Lucy, and roused herself.
The woods had opened to leave space for a sloping triangular meadow. Pretty cottages lined it on two sides, and the upper and third side was occupied by a new stone church, expensively simple, a charming shingled spire. Mr. Beebe's house was near the church. In height it scarcely exceeded the cottages. Some great mansions were at hand, but they were hidden in the trees. The scene suggested a Swiss Alp rather than the shrine and centre of a leisured world, and was marred only by two ugly little villas-- the villas that had competed with Cecil's engagement, having been acquired by Sir Harry Otway the very afternoon that Lucy had been acquired by Cecil.
"Cissie" was the name of one of these villas, "Albert" of the other. These titles were not only picked out in shaded Gothic on the garden gates, but appeared a second time on the porches, where they followed the semicircular curve of the entrance arch in block capitals. "Albert" was inhabited. His tortured garden was bright with geraniums and lobelias and polished shells. His little windows were chastely swathed in Nottingham lace. "Cissie" was to let. Three notice-boards, belonging to Dorking agents, lolled on her fence and announced the not surprising fact. Her paths were already weedy; her pocket-handkerchief of a lawn was yellow with dandelions.
"The place is ruined!" said the ladies mechanically. "Summer Street will never be the same again."
As the carriage passed, "Cissie's" door opened, and a gentleman came out of her.
"Stop!" cried Mrs. Honeychurch, touching the coachman with her parasol. "Here's Sir Harry. Now we shall know. Sir Harry, pull those things down at once!"
Sir Harry Otway--who need not be described--came to the carriage and said "Mrs. Honeychurch, I meant to. I can't, I really can't turn out Miss Flack."
"Am I not always right? She ought to have gone before the contract was signed. Does she still live rent free, as she did in her nephew's time?"
"But what can I do?" He lowered his voice. "An old lady, so very vulgar, and almost bedridden."
"Turn her out," said Cecil bravely.
Sir Harry sighed, and looked at the villas mournfully. He had had full warning of Mr. Flack's intentions, and might have bought the plot before building commenced: but he was apathetic and dilatory. He had known Summer Street for so many years that he could not imagine it being spoilt. Not till Mrs. Flack had laid the foundation stone, and the apparition of red and cream brick began to rise did he take alarm. He called on Mr. Flack, the local builder,--a most reasonable and respectful man--who agreed that tiles would have made more artistic roof, but pointed out that slates were cheaper. He ventured to differ, however, about the Corinthian columns which were to cling like leeches to the frames of the bow windows, saying that, for his part, he liked to relieve the facade by a bit of decoration. Sir Harry hinted that a column, if possible, should be structural as well as decorative.
Mr. Flack replied that all the columns had been ordered, adding, "and all the capitals different--one with dragons in the foliage, another approaching to the Ionian style, another introducing Mrs. Flack's initials--every one different." For he had read his Ruskin. He built his villas according to his desire; and not until he had inserted an immovable aunt into one of them did Sir Harry buy.
This futile and unprofitable transaction filled the knight with sadness as he leant on Mrs. Honeychurch's carriage. He had failed in his duties to the country-side, and the country-side was laughing at him as well. He had spent money, and yet Summer Street was spoilt as much as ever. All he could do now was to find a desirable tenant for "Cissie"--some one really desirable.
"The rent is absurdly low," he told them, "and perhaps I am an easy landlord. But it is such an awkward size. It is too large for the peasant class and too small for any one the least like ourselves."
Cecil had been hesitating whether he should despise the villas or despise Sir Harry for despising them. The latter impulse seemed the more fruitful.
"You ought to find a tenant at once," he said maliciously. "It would be a perfect paradise for a bank clerk."
"Exactly!" said Sir Harry excitedly. "That is exactly what I fear, Mr. Vyse. It will attract the wrong type of people. The train service has improved--a fatal improvement, to my mind. And what are five miles from a station in these days of bicycles?"
"Rather a strenuous clerk it would be," said Lucy.
Cecil, who had his full share of mediaeval mischievousness, replied that the physique of the lower middle classes was improving at a most appalling rate. She saw that he was laughing at their harmless neighbour, and roused herself to stop him.
"Sir Harry!" she exclaimed, "I have an idea. How would you like spinsters?"
"My dear Lucy, it would be splendid. Do you know any such?"
"Yes; I met them abroad."
"Gentlewomen?" he asked tentatively.
"Yes, indeed, and at the present moment homeless. I heard from them last week--Miss Teresa and Miss Catharine Alan. I'm really not joking. They are quite the right people. Mr. Beebe knows them, too. May I tell them to write to you?"
"Indeed you may!" he cried. "Here we are with the difficulty solved already. How delightful it is! Extra facilities--please tell them they shall have extra facilities, for I shall have no agents' fees. Oh, the agents! The appalling people they have sent me! One woman, when I wrote--a tactful letter, you know--asking her to explain her social position to me, replied that she would pay the rent in advance. As if one cares about that! And several references I took up were most unsatisfactory--people swindlers, or not respectable. And oh, the deceit! I have seen a good deal of the seamy side this last week. The deceit of the most promising people. My dear Lucy, the deceit!"
"My advice," put in Mrs. Honeychurch, "is to have nothing to do with Lucy and her decayed gentlewomen at all. I know the type. Preserve me from people who have seen better days, and bring heirlooms with them that make the house smell stuffy. It's a sad thing, but I'd far rather let to some one who is going up in the world than to some one who has come down."
"I think I follow you," said Sir Harry; "but it is, as you say, a very sad thing."
"The Misses Alan aren't that!" cried Lucy.
"Yes, they are," said Cecil. "I haven't met them but I should say they were a highly unsuitable addition to the neighbourhood."
"Don't listen to him, Sir Harry--he's tiresome."
"It's I who am tiresome," he replied. "I oughtn't to come with my troubles to young people. But really I am so worried, and Lady Otway will only say that I cannot be too careful, which is quite true, but no real help."
"Then may I write to my Misses Alan?"
But his eye wavered when Mrs. Honeychurch exclaimed:
"Beware! They are certain to have canaries. Sir Harry, beware of canaries: they spit the seed out through the bars of the cages and then the mice come. Beware of women altogether. Only let to a man."
"Really--" he murmured gallantly, though he saw the wisdom of her remark.
"Men don't gossip over tea-cups. If they get drunk, there's an end of them--they lie down comfortably and sleep it off. If they're vulgar, they somehow keep it to themselves. It doesn't spread so. Give me a man--of course, provided he's clean."
Sir Harry blushed. Neither he nor Cecil enjoyed these open compliments to their sex. Even the exclusion of the dirty did not leave them much distinction. He suggested that Mrs. Honeychurch, if she had time, should descend from the carriage and inspect "Cissie" for herself. She was delighted. Nature had intended her to be poor and to live in such a house. Domestic arrangements always attracted her, especially when they were on a small scale.
Cecil pulled Lucy back as she followed her mother.
"Mrs. Honeychurch," he said, "what if we two walk home and leave you?"
"Certainly!" was her cordial reply.
Sir Harry likewise seemed almost too glad to get rid of them. He beamed at them knowingly, said, "Aha! young people, young people!" and then hastened to unlock the house.
"Hopeless vulgarian!" exclaimed Cecil, almost before they were out of earshot,
"I can't help it. It would be wrong not to loathe that man."
"He isn't clever, but really he is nice."
"No, Lucy, he stands for all that is bad in country life. In London he would keep his place. He would belong to a brainless club, and his wife would give brainless dinner parties. But down here he acts the little god with his gentility, and his patronage, and his sham aesthetics, and every one--even your mother--is taken in."
"All that you say is quite true," said Lucy, though she felt discouraged. "I wonder whether--whether it matters so very much."
"It matters supremely. Sir Harry is the essence of that garden-party. Oh, goodness, how cross I feel! How I do hope he'll get some vulgar tenant in that villa--some woman so really vulgar that he'll notice it. GENTLEFOLKS! Ugh! with his bald head and retreating chin! But let's forget him."
This Lucy was glad enough to do. If Cecil disliked Sir Harry Otway and Mr. Beebe, what guarantee was there that the people who really mattered to her would escape? For instance, Freddy. Freddy was neither clever, nor subtle, nor beautiful, and what prevented Cecil from saying, any minute, "It would be wrong not to loathe Freddy"? And what would she reply? Further than Freddy she did not go, but he gave her anxiety enough. She could only assure herself that Cecil had known Freddy some time, and that they had always got on pleasantly, except, perhaps, during the last few days, which was an accident, perhaps.
"Which way shall we go?" she asked him.
Nature--simplest of topics, she thought--was around them. Summer Street lay deep in the woods, and she had stopped where a footpath diverged from the highroad.
"Are there two ways?"
"Perhaps the road is more sensible, as we're got up smart."
"I'd rather go through the wood," said Cecil, With that subdued irritation that she had noticed in him all the afternoon. "Why is it, Lucy, that you always say the road? Do you know that you have never once been with me in the fields or the wood since we were engaged?"
"Haven't I? The wood, then," said Lucy, startled at his queerness, but pretty sure that he would explain later; it was not his habit to leave her in doubt as to his meaning.
She led the way into the whispering pines, and sure enough he did explain before they had gone a dozen yards.
"I had got an idea--I dare say wrongly--that you feel more at home with me in a room."
"A room?" she echoed, hopelessly bewildered.
"Yes. Or, at the most, in a garden, or on a road. Never in the real country like this."
"Oh, Cecil, whatever do you mean? I have never felt anything of the sort. You talk as if I was a kind of poetess sort of person."
"I don't know that you aren't. I connect you with a view--a certain type of view. Why shouldn't you connect me with a room?"
She reflected a moment, and then said, laughing:
"Do you know that you're right? I do. I must be a poetess after all. When I think of you it's always as in a room. How funny!"
To her surprise, he seemed annoyed.
"A drawing-room, pray? With no view?"
"Yes, with no view, I fancy. Why not?"
"I'd rather," he said reproachfully, "that connected me with the open air."
She said again, "Oh, Cecil, whatever do you mean?"
As no explanation was forthcoming, she shook off the subject as too difficult for a girl, and led him further into the wood, pausing every now and then at some particularly beautiful or familiar combination of the trees. She had known the wood between Summer Street and Windy Corner ever since she could walk alone; she had played at losing Freddy in it, when Freddy was a purple-faced baby; and though she had been to Italy, it had lost none of its charm.
Presently they came to a little clearing among the pines--another tiny green alp, solitary this time, and holding in its bosom a shallow pool.
She exclamed, "The Sacred Lake!"
"Why do you call it that?"
"I can't remember why. I suppose it comes out of some book. It's only a puddle now, but you see that stream going through it? Well, a good deal of water comes down after heavy rains, and can't get away at once, and the pool becomes quite large and beautiful. Then Freddy used to bathe there. He is very fond of it."
He meant, "Are you fond of it?" But she answered dreamily, "I bathed here, too, till I was found out. Then there was a row."
At another time he might have been shocked, for he had depths of prudishness within him. But now? with his momentary cult of the fresh air, he was delighted at her admirable simplicity. He looked at her as she stood by the pool's edge. She was got up smart, as she phrased it, and she reminded him of some brilliant flower that has no leaves of its own, but blooms abruptly out of a world of green.
"Who found you out?"
"Charlotte," she murmured. "She was stopping with us. Charlotte-- Charlotte."
She smiled gravely. A certain scheme, from which hitherto he had shrank, now appeared practical.
"Yes, I suppose we ought to be going," was her reply.
"Lucy, I want to ask something of you that I have never asked before."
At the serious note in his voice she stepped frankly and kindly towards him.
"Hitherto never--not even that day on the lawn when you agreed to marry me--"
He became self-conscious and kept glancing round to see if they were observed. His courage had gone.
"Up to now I have never kissed you."
She was as scarlet as if he had put the thing most indelicately.
"No--more you have," she stammered.
"Then I ask you--may I now?"
"Of course, you may, Cecil. You might before. I can't run at you, you know."
At that supreme moment he was conscious of nothing but absurdities. Her reply was inadequate. She gave such a business-like lift to her veil. As he approached her he found time to wish that he could recoil. As he touched her, his gold pince-nez became dislodged and was flattened between them.
Such was the embrace. He considered, with truth, that it had been a failure. Passion should believe itself irresistible. It should forget civility and consideration and all the other curses of a refined nature. Above all, it should never ask for leave where there is a right of way. Why could he not do as any labourer or navvy--nay, as any young man behind the counter would have done? He recast the scene. Lucy was standing flowerlike by the water, he rushed up and took her in his arms; she rebuked him, permitted him and revered him ever after for his manliness. For he believed that women revere men for their manliness.
They left the pool in silence, after this one salutation. He waited for her to make some remark which should show him her inmost thoughts. At last she spoke, and with fitting gravity.
"Emerson was the name, not Harris."
"The old man's."
"What old man?"
"That old man I told you about. The one Mr. Eager was so unkind to."
He could not know that this was the most intimate conversation they had ever had.
Chapter X: Cecil as a Humourist
The society out of which Cecil proposed to rescue Lucy was perhaps no very splendid affair, yet it was more splendid than her antecedents entitled her to. Her father, a prosperous local solicitor, had built Windy Corner, as a speculation at the time the district was opening up, and, falling in love with his own creation, had ended by living there himself. Soon after his marriage the social atmosphere began to alter. Other houses were built on the brow of that steep southern slope and others, again, among the pine-trees behind, and northward on the chalk barrier of the downs. Most of these houses were larger than Windy Corner, and were filled by people who came, not from the district, but from London, and who mistook the Honeychurches for the remnants of an indigenous aristocracy. He was inclined to be frightened, but his wife accepted the situation without either pride or humility. "I cannot think what people are doing," she would say, "but it is extremely fortunate for the children." She called everywhere; her calls were returned with enthusiasm, and by the time people found out that she was not exactly of their milieu, they liked her, and it did not seem to matter. When Mr. Honeychurch died, he had the satisfaction--which few honest solicitors despise--of leaving his family rooted in the best society obtainable.
The best obtainable. Certainly many of the immigrants were rather dull, and Lucy realized this more vividly since her return from Italy. Hitherto she had accepted their ideals without questioning --their kindly affluence, their inexplosive religion, their dislike of paper-bags, orange-peel, and broken bottles. A Radical out and out, she learnt to speak with horror of Suburbia. Life, so far as she troubled to conceive it, was a circle of rich, pleasant people, with identical interests and identical foes. In this circle, one thought, married, and died. Outside it were poverty and vulgarity for ever trying to enter, just as the London fog tries to enter the pine-woods pouring through the gaps in the northern hills. But, in Italy, where any one who chooses may warm himself in equality, as in the sun, this conception of life vanished. Her senses expanded; she felt that there was no one whom she might not get to like, that social barriers were irremovable, doubtless, but not particularly high. You jump over them just as you jump into a peasant's olive-yard in the Apennines, and he is glad to see you. She returned with new eyes.
So did Cecil; but Italy had quickened Cecil, not to tolerance, but to irritation. He saw that the local society was narrow, but, instead of saying, "Does that very much matter?" he rebelled, and tried to substitute for it the society he called broad. He did not realize that Lucy had consecrated her environment by the thousand little civilities that create a tenderness in time, and that though her eyes saw its defects, her heart refused to despise it entirely. Nor did he realize a more important point-- that if she was too great for this society, she was too great for all society, and had reached the stage where personal intercourse would alone satisfy her. A rebel she was, but not of the kind he understood--a rebel who desired, not a wider dwelling-room, but equality beside the man she loved. For Italy was offering her the most priceless of all possessions--her own soul.
Playing bumble-puppy with Minnie Beebe, niece to the rector, and aged thirteen--an ancient and most honourable game, which consists in striking tennis-balls high into the air, so that they fall over the net and immoderately bounce; some hit Mrs. Honeychurch; others are lost. The sentence is confused, but the better illustrates Lucy's state of mind, for she was trying to talk to Mr. Beebe at the same time.
"Oh, it has been such a nuisance--first he, then they--no one knowing what they wanted, and every one so tiresome."
"But they really are coming now," said Mr. Beebe. "I wrote to Miss Teresa a few days ago--she was wondering how often the butcher called, and my reply of once a month must have impressed her favourably. They are coming. I heard from them this morning.
"I shall hate those Miss Alans!" Mrs. Honeychurch cried. "Just because they're old and silly one's expected to say 'How sweet!' I hate their 'if'-ing and 'but'-ing and 'and'-ing. And poor Lucy --serve her right--worn to a shadow."
Mr. Beebe watched the shadow springing and shouting over the tennis-court. Cecil was absent--one did not play bumble-puppy when he was there.
"Well, if they are coming-- No, Minnie, not Saturn." Saturn was a tennis-ball whose skin was partially unsewn. When in motion his orb was encircled by a ring. "If they are coming, Sir Harry will let them move in before the twenty-ninth, and he will cross out the clause about whitewashing the ceilings, because it made them nervous, and put in the fair wear and tear one.--That doesn't count. I told you not Saturn."
"Saturn's all right for bumble-puppy," cried Freddy, joining them. "Minnie, don't you listen to her."
"Saturn doesn't bounce."
"Saturn bounces enough."
"No, he doesn't."
"Well; he bounces better than the Beautiful White Devil."
"Hush, dear," said Mrs. Honeychurch.
"But look at Lucy--complaining of Saturn, and all the time's got the Beautiful White Devil in her hand, ready to plug it in. That's right, Minnie, go for her--get her over the shins with the racquet--get her over the shins!"
Lucy fell, the Beautiful White Devil rolled from her hand.
Mr. Beebe picked it up, and said: "The name of this ball is Vittoria Corombona, please." But his correction passed unheeded.
Freddy possessed to a high degree the power of lashing little girls to fury, and in half a minute he had transformed Minnie from a well-mannered child into a howling wilderness. Up in the house Cecil heard them, and, though he was full of entertaining news, he did not come down to impart it, in case he got hurt. He was not a coward and bore necessary pain as well as any man. But he hated the physical violence of the young. How right it was! Sure enough it ended in a cry.
"I wish the Miss Alans could see this," observed Mr. Beebe, just as Lucy, who was nursing the injured Minnie, was in turn lifted off her feet by her brother.
"Who are the Miss Alans?" Freddy panted.
"They have taken Cissie Villa."
"That wasn't the name--"
Here his foot slipped, and they all fell most agreeably on to the grass. An interval elapses.
"Wasn't what name?" asked Lucy, with her brother's head in her lap.
"Alan wasn't the name of the people Sir Harry's let to."
"Nonsense, Freddy! You know nothing about it."
"Nonsense yourself! I've this minute seen him. He said to me: 'Ahem! Honeychurch,'"--Freddy was an indifferent mimic--"'ahem! ahem! I have at last procured really dee-sire-rebel tenants.' I said, 'ooray, old boy!' and slapped him on the back."
"Exactly. The Miss Alans?"
"Rather not. More like Anderson."
"Oh, good gracious, there isn't going to be another muddle!" Mrs. Honeychurch exclaimed. "Do you notice, Lucy, I'm always right? I said don't interfere with Cissie Villa. I'm always right. I'm quite uneasy at being always right so often."
"It's only another muddle of Freddy's. Freddy doesn't even know the name of the people he pretends have taken it instead."
"Yes, I do. I've got it. Emerson."
"Emerson. I'll bet you anything you like."
"What a weathercock Sir Harry is," said Lucy quietly. "I wish I had never bothered over it at all."
Then she lay on her back and gazed at the cloudless sky. Mr. Beebe, whose opinion of her rose daily, whispered to his niece that THAT was the proper way to behave if any little thing went wrong.
Meanwhile the name of the new tenants had diverted Mrs. Honeychurch from the contemplation of her own abilities.
"Emerson, Freddy? Do you know what Emersons they are?"
"I don't know whether they're any Emersons," retorted Freddy, who was democratic. Like his sister and like most young people, he was naturally attracted by the idea of equality, and the undeniable fact that there are different kinds of Emersons annoyed him beyond measure.
"I trust they are the right sort of person. All right, Lucy"--she was sitting up again--"I see you looking down your nose and thinking your mother's a snob. But there is a right sort and a wrong sort, and it's affectation to pretend there isn't."
"Emerson's a common enough name," Lucy remarked.
She was gazing sideways. Seated on a promontory herself, she could see the pine-clad promontories descending one beyond another into the Weald. The further one descended the garden, the more glorious was this lateral view.
"I was merely going to remark, Freddy, that I trusted they were no relations of Emerson the philosopher, a most trying man. Pray, does that satisfy you?"
"Oh, yes," he grumbled. "And you will be satisfied, too, for they're friends of Cecil; so--elaborate irony--"you and the other country families will be able to call in perfect safety."
"CECIL?" exclaimed Lucy.
"Don't be rude, dear," said his mother placidly. "Lucy, don't screech. It's a new bad habit you're getting into."
"But has Cecil--"
"Friends of Cecil's," he repeated, "'and so really dee-sire- rebel. Ahem! Honeychurch, I have just telegraphed to them.'"
She got up from the grass.
It was hard on Lucy. Mr. Beebe sympathized with her very much. While she believed that her snub about the Miss Alans came from Sir Harry Otway, she had borne it like a good girl. She might well "screech" when she heard that it came partly from her lover. Mr. Vyse was a tease--something worse than a tease: he took a malicious pleasure in thwarting people. The clergyman, knowing this, looked at Miss Honeychurch with more than his usual kindness.
When she exclaimed, "But Cecil's Emersons--they can't possibly be the same ones--there is that--" he did not consider that the exclamation was strange, but saw in it an opportunity of diverting the conversation while she recovered her composure. He diverted it as follows:
"The Emersons who were at Florence, do you mean? No, I don't suppose it will prove to be them. It is probably a long cry from them to friends of Mr. Vyse's. Oh, Mrs. Honeychurch, the oddest people! The queerest people! For our part we liked them, didn't we?" He appealed to Lucy. "There was a great scene over some violets. They picked violets and filled all the vases in the room of these very Miss Alans who have failed to come to Cissie Villa. Poor little ladies! So shocked and so pleased. It used to be one of Miss Catharine's great stories. 'My dear sister loves flowers,' it began. They found the whole room a mass of blue --vases and jugs--and the story ends with 'So ungentlemanly and yet so beautiful.' It is all very difficult. Yes, I always connect those Florentine Emersons with violets."
"Fiasco's done you this time," remarked Freddy, not seeing that his sister's face was very red. She could not recover herself. Mr. Beebe saw it, and continued to divert the conversation.
"These particular Emersons consisted of a father and a son--the son a goodly, if not a good young man; not a fool, I fancy, but very immature--pessimism, et cetera. Our special joy was the father--such a sentimental darling, and people declared he had murdered his wife."
In his normal state Mr. Beebe would never have repeated such gossip, but he was trying to shelter Lucy in her little trouble. He repeated any rubbish that came into his head.
"Murdered his wife?" said Mrs. Honeychurch. "Lucy, don't desert us--go on playing bumble-puppy. Really, the Pension Bertolini must have been the oddest place. That's the second murderer I've heard of as being there. Whatever was Charlotte doing to stop? By-the-by, we really must ask Charlotte here some time."
Mr. Beebe could recall no second murderer. He suggested that his hostess was mistaken. At the hint of opposition she warmed. She was perfectly sure that there had been a second tourist of whom the same story had been told. The name escaped her. What was the name? Oh, what was the name? She clasped her knees for the name. Something in Thackeray. She struck her matronly forehead.
Lucy asked her brother whether Cecil was in.
"Oh, don't go!" he cried, and tried to catch her by the ankles.
"I must go," she said gravely. "Don't be silly. You always overdo it when you play."
As she left them her mother's shout of "Harris!" shivered the tranquil air, and reminded her that she had told a lie and had never put it right. Such a senseless lie, too, yet it shattered her nerves and made her connect these Emersons, friends of Cecil's, with a pair of nondescript tourists. Hitherto truth had come to her naturally. She saw that for the future she must be more vigilant, and be--absolutely truthful? Well, at all events, she must not tell lies. She hurried up the garden, still flushed with shame. A word from Cecil would soothe her, she was sure.
"Hullo!" he called, and leant out of the smoking-room window. He seemed in high spirits. "I was hoping you'd come. I heard you all bear-gardening, but there's better fun up here. I, even I, have won a great victory for the Comic Muse. George Meredith's right-- the cause of Comedy and the cause of Truth are really the same; and I, even I, have found tenants for the distressful Cissie Villa. Don't be angry! Don't be angry! You'll forgive me when you hear it all."
He looked very attractive when his face was bright, and he dispelled her ridiculous forebodings at once.
"I have heard," she said. "Freddy has told us. Naughty Cecil! I suppose I must forgive you. Just think of all the trouble I took for nothing! Certainly the Miss Alans are a little tiresome, and I'd rather have nice friends of yours. But you oughtn't to tease one so."
"Friends of mine?" he laughed. "But, Lucy, the whole joke is to come! Come here." But she remained standing where she was. "Do you know where I met these desirable tenants? In the National Gallery, when I was up to see my mother last week."
"What an odd place to meet people!" she said nervously. "I don't quite understand."
"In the Umbrian Room. Absolute strangers. They were admiring Luca Signorelli--of course, quite stupidly. However, we got talking, and they refreshed me not--a little. They had been to Italy."
"But, Cecil--" proceeded hilariously.
"In the course of conversation they said that they wanted a country cottage--the father to live there, the son to run down for week-ends. I thought, 'What a chance of scoring off Sir Harry!' and I took their address and a London reference, found they weren't actual blackguards--it was great sport--and wrote to him, making out--"
"Cecil! No, it's not fair. I've probably met them before--"
He bore her down.
"Perfectly fair. Anything is fair that punishes a snob. That old man will do the neighbourhood a world of good. Sir Harry is too disgusting with his 'decayed gentlewomen.' I meant to read him a lesson some time. No, Lucy, the classes ought to mix, and before long you'll agree with me. There ought to be intermarriage--all sorts of things. I believe in democracy--"
"No, you don't," she snapped. "You don't know what the word means."
He stared at her, and felt again that she had failed to be Leonardesque. "No, you don't!"
Her face was inartistic--that of a peevish virago.
"It isn't fair, Cecil. I blame you--I blame you very much indeed. You had no business to undo my work about the Miss Alans, and make me look ridiculous. You call it scoring off Sir Harry, but do you realize that it is all at my expense? I consider it most disloyal of you."
She left him.
"Temper!" he thought, raising his eyebrows.
No, it was worse than temper--snobbishness. As long as Lucy thought that his own smart friends were supplanting the Miss Alans, she had not minded. He perceived that these new tenants might be of value educationally. He would tolerate the father and draw out the son, who was silent. In the interests of the Comic Muse and of Truth, he would bring them to Windy Corner.
Chapter XI: In Mrs. Vyse's Well-Appointed Flat
The Comic Muse, though able to look after her own interests, did not disdain the assistance of Mr. Vyse. His idea of bringing the Emersons to Windy Corner struck her as decidedly good, and she carried through the negotiations without a hitch. Sir Harry Otway signed the agreement, met Mr. Emerson, who was duly disillusioned. The Miss Alans were duly offended, and wrote a dignified letter to Lucy, whom they held responsible for the failure. Mr. Beebe planned pleasant moments for the new-comers, and told Mrs. Honeychurch that Freddy must call on them as soon as they arrived. Indeed, so ample was the Muse's equipment that she permitted Mr. Harris, never a very robust criminal, to droop his head, to be forgotten, and to die.
Lucy--to descend from bright heaven to earth, whereon there are shadows because there are hills--Lucy was at first plunged into despair, but settled after a little thought that it did not matter the very least. Now that she was engaged, the Emersons would scarcely insult her and were welcome into the neighbourhood. And Cecil was welcome to bring whom he would into the neighbourhood. Therefore Cecil was welcome to bring the Emersons into the neighbourhood. But, as I say, this took a little thinking, and--so illogical are girls--the event remained rather greater and rather more dreadful than it should have done. She was glad that a visit to Mrs. Vyse now fell due; the tenants moved into Cissie Villa while she was safe in the London flat.
"Cecil--Cecil darling," she whispered the evening she arrived, and crept into his arms.
Cecil, too, became demonstrative. He saw that the needful fire had been kindled in Lucy. At last she longed for attention, as a woman should, and looked up to him because he was a man.
"So you do love me, little thing?" he murmured.
"Oh, Cecil, I do, I do! I don't know what I should do without you."
Several days passed. Then she had a letter from Miss Bartlett. A coolness had sprung up between the two cousins, and they had not corresponded since they parted in August. The coolness dated from what Charlotte would call "the flight to Rome," and in Rome it had increased amazingly. For the companion who is merely uncongenial in the mediaeval world becomes exasperating in the classical. Charlotte, unselfish in the Forum, would have tried a sweeter temper than Lucy's, and once, in the Baths of Caracalla, they had doubted whether they could continue their tour. Lucy had said she would join the Vyses--Mrs. Vyse was an acquaintance of her mother, so there was no impropriety in the plan and Miss Bartlett had replied that she was quite used to being abandoned suddenly. Finally nothing happened; but the coolness remained, and, for Lucy, was even increased when she opened the letter and read as follows. It had been forwarded from Windy Corner.
"I have news of you at last! Miss Lavish has been bicycling in your parts, but was not sure whether a call would be welcome. Puncturing her tire near Summer Street, and it being mended while she sat very woebegone in that pretty churchyard, she saw to her astonishment, a door open opposite and the younger Emerson man come out. He said his father had just taken the house. He SAID he did not know that you lived in the neighbourhood (?). He never suggested giving Eleanor a cup of tea. Dear Lucy, I am much worried, and I advise you to make a clean breast of his past behaviour to your mother, Freddy, and Mr. Vyse, who will forbid him to enter the house, etc. That was a great misfortune, and I dare say you have told them already. Mr. Vyse is so sensitive. I remember how I used to get on his nerves at Rome. I am very sorry about it all, and should not feel easy unless I warned you.
"Your anxious and loving cousin,
Lucy was much annoyed, and replied as follows:
"Beauchamp Mansions, S.W.
"Many thanks for your warning. When Mr. Emerson forgot himself on the mountain, you made me promise not to tell mother, because you said she would blame you for not being always with me. I have kept that promise, and cannot possibly tell her now. I have said both to her and Cecil that I met the Emersons at Florence, and that they are respectable people--which I do think--and the reason that he offered Miss Lavish no tea was probably that he had none himself. She should have tried at the Rectory. I cannot begin making a fuss at this stage. You must see that it would be too absurd. If the Emersons heard I had complained of them, they would think themselves of importance, which is exactly what they are not. I like the old father, and look forward to seeing him again. As for the son, I am sorry for him when we meet, rather than for myself. They are known to Cecil, who is very well and spoke of you the other day. We expect to be married in January.
"Miss Lavish cannot have told you much about me, for I am not at Windy Corner at all, but here. Please do not put 'Private' outside your envelope again. No one opens my letters.
"L. M. Honeychurch."
Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not. Were Lucy and her cousin closeted with a great thing which would destroy Cecil's life if he discovered it, or with a little thing which he would laugh at? Miss Bartlett suggested the former. Perhaps she was right. It had become a great thing now. Left to herself, Lucy would have told her mother and her lover ingenuously, and it would have remained a little thing. "Emerson, not Harris"; it was only that a few weeks ago. She tried to tell Cecil even now when they were laughing about some beautiful lady who had smitten his heart at school. But her body behaved so ridiculously that she stopped.
She and her secret stayed ten days longer in the deserted Metropolis visiting the scenes they were to know so well later on. It did her no harm, Cecil thought, to learn the framework of society, while society itself was absent on the golf-links or the moors. The weather was cool, and it did her no harm. In spite of the season, Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner-party consisting entirely of the grandchildren of famous people. The food was poor, but the talk had a witty weariness that impressed the girl. One was tired of everything, it seemed. One launched into enthusiasms only to collapse gracefully, and pick oneself up amid sympathetic laughter. In this atmosphere the Pension Bertolini and Windy Corner appeared equally crude, and Lucy saw that her London career would estrange her a little from all that she had loved in the past.
The grandchildren asked her to play the piano.
She played Schumann. "Now some Beethoven" called Cecil, when the querulous beauty of the music had died. She shook her head and played Schumann again. The melody rose, unprofitably magical. It broke; it was resumed broken, not marching once from the cradle to the grave. The sadness of the incomplete--the sadness that is often Life, but should never be Art--throbbed in its disjected phrases, and made the nerves of the audience throb. Not thus had she played on the little draped piano at the Bertolini, and "Too much Schumann" was not the remark that Mr. Beebe had passed to himself when she returned.
When the guests were gone, and Lucy had gone to bed, Mrs. Vyse paced up and down the drawing-room, discussing her little party with her son. Mrs. Vyse was a nice woman, but her personality, like many another's, had been swamped by London, for it needs a strong head to live among many people. The too vast orb of her fate had crushed her; and she had seen too many seasons, too many cities, too many men, for her abilities, and even with Cecil she was mechanical, and behaved as if he was not one son, but, so to speak, a filial crowd.
"Make Lucy one of us," she said, looking round intelligently at the end of each sentence, and straining her lips apart until she spoke again. "Lucy is becoming wonderful--wonderful."
"Her music always was wonderful."
"Yes, but she is purging off the Honeychurch taint, most excellent Honeychurches, but you know what I mean. She is not always quoting servants, or asking one how the pudding is made."
"Italy has done it."
"Perhaps," she murmured, thinking of the museum that represented Italy to her. "It is just possible. Cecil, mind you marry her next January. She is one of us already."
"But her music!" he exclaimed. "The style of her! How she kept to Schumann when, like an idiot, I wanted Beethoven. Schumann was right for this evening. Schumann was the thing. Do you know, mother, I shall have our children educated just like Lucy. Bring them up among honest country folks for freshness, send them to Italy for subtlety, and then--not till then--let them come to London. I don't believe in these London educations--" He broke off, remembering that he had had one himself, and concluded, "At all events, not for women."
"Make her one of us," repeated Mrs. Vyse, and processed to bed.
As she was dozing off, a cry--the cry of nightmare--rang from Lucy's room. Lucy could ring for the maid if she liked but Mrs. Vyse thought it kind to go herself. She found the girl sitting upright with her hand on her cheek.
"I am so sorry, Mrs. Vyse--it is these dreams."
The elder lady smiled and kissed her, saying very distinctly: "You should have heard us talking about you, dear. He admires you more than ever. Dream of that."
Lucy returned the kiss, still covering one cheek with her hand. Mrs. Vyse recessed to bed. Cecil, whom the cry had not awoke, snored. Darkness enveloped the flat.
Chapter XII: Twelfth Chapter
It was a Saturday afternoon, gay and brilliant after abundant rains, and the spirit of youth dwelt in it, though the season was now autumn. All that was gracious triumphed. As the motorcars passed through Summer Street they raised only a little dust, and their stench was soon dispersed by the wind and replaced by the scent of the wet birches or of the pines. Mr. Beebe, at leisure for life's amenities, leant over his Rectory gate. Freddy leant by him, smoking a pendant pipe.
"Suppose we go and hinder those new people opposite for a little."
"They might amuse you."
Freddy, whom his fellow-creatures never amused, suggested that the new people might be feeling a bit busy, and so on, since they had only just moved in.
"I suggested we should hinder them," said Mr. Beebe. "They are worth it." Unlatching the gate, he sauntered over the triangular green to Cissie Villa. "Hullo!" he cried, shouting in at the open door, through which much squalor was visible.
A grave voice replied, "Hullo!"
"I've brought some one to see you."
"I'll be down in a minute."
The passage was blocked by a wardrobe, which the removal men had failed to carry up the stairs. Mr. Beebe edged round it with difficulty. The sitting-room itself was blocked with books.
"Are these people great readers?" Freddy whispered. "Are they that sort?"
"I fancy they know how to read--a rare accomplishment. What have they got? Byron. Exactly. A Shropshire Lad. Never heard of it. The Way of All Flesh. Never heard of it. Gibbon. Hullo! dear George reads German. Um--um--Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and so we go on. Well, I suppose your generation knows its own business, Honeychurch."
"Mr. Beebe, look at that," said Freddy in awestruck tones.
On the cornice of the wardrobe, the hand of an amateur had painted this inscription: "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes."
"I know. Isn't it jolly? I like that. I'm certain that's the old man's doing."
"How very odd of him!"
"Surely you agree?"
But Freddy was his mother's son and felt that one ought not to go on spoiling the furniture.
"Pictures!" the clergyman continued, scrambling about the room. "Giotto--they got that at Florence, I'll be bound."
"The same as Lucy's got."
"Oh, by-the-by, did Miss Honeychurch enjoy London?"
"She came back yesterday."
"I suppose she had a good time?"
"Yes, very," said Freddy, taking up a book. "She and Cecil are thicker than ever."
"That's good hearing."
"I wish I wasn't such a fool, Mr. Beebe."
Mr. Beebe ignored the remark.
"Lucy used to be nearly as stupid as I am, but it'll be very different now, mother thinks. She will read all kinds of books."
"So will you."
"Only medical books. Not books that you can talk about afterwards. Cecil is teaching Lucy Italian, and he says her playing is wonderful. There are all kinds of things in it that we have never noticed. Cecil says--"
"What on earth are those people doing upstairs? Emerson--we think we'll come another time."
George ran down-stairs and pushed them into the room without speaking.
"Let me introduce Mr. Honeychurch, a neighbour."
Then Freddy hurled one of the thunderbolts of youth. Perhaps he was shy, perhaps he was friendly, or perhaps he thought that George's face wanted washing. At all events he greeted him with, "How d'ye do? Come and have a bathe."
"Oh, all right," said George, impassive.
Mr. Beebe was highly entertained.
"'How d'ye do? how d'ye do? Come and have a bathe,'" he chuckled. "That's the best conversational opening I've ever heard. But I'm afraid it will only act between men. Can you picture a lady who has been introduced to another lady by a third lady opening civilities with 'How do you do? Come and have a bathe'? And yet you will tell me that the sexes are equal."
"I tell you that they shall be," said Mr. Emerson, who had been slowly descending the stairs. "Good afternoon, Mr. Beebe. I tell you they shall be comrades, and George thinks the same."
"We are to raise ladies to our level?" the clergyman inquired.
"The Garden of Eden," pursued Mr. Emerson, still descending, "which you place in the past, is really yet to come. We shall enter it when we no longer despise our bodies."
Mr. Beebe disclaimed placing the Garden of Eden anywhere.
"In this--not in other things--we men are ahead. We despise the body less than women do. But not until we are comrades shall we enter the garden."
"I say, what about this bathe?" murmured Freddy, appalled at the mass of philosophy that was approaching him.
"I believed in a return to Nature once. But how can we return to Nature when we have never been with her? To-day, I believe that we must discover Nature. After many conquests we shall attain simplicity. It is our heritage."
"Let me introduce Mr. Honeychurch, whose sister you will remember at Florence."
"How do you do? Very glad to see you, and that you are taking George for a bathe. Very glad to hear that your sister is going to marry. Marriage is a duty. I am sure that she will be happy, for we know Mr. Vyse, too. He has been most kind. He met us by chance in the National Gallery, and arranged everything about this delightful house. Though I hope I have not vexed Sir Harry Otway. I have met so few Liberal landowners, and I was anxious to compare his attitude towards the game laws with the Conservative attitude. Ah, this wind! You do well to bathe. Yours is a glorious country, Honeychurch!"
"Not a bit!" mumbled Freddy. "I must--that is to say, I have to-- have the pleasure of calling on you later on, my mother says, I hope."
"CALL, my lad? Who taught us that drawing-room twaddle? Call on your grandmother! Listen to the wind among the pines! Yours is a glorious country."
Mr. Beebe came to the rescue.
"Mr. Emerson, he will call, I shall call; you or your son will return our calls before ten days have elapsed. I trust that you have realized about the ten days' interval. It does not count that I helped you with the stair-eyes yesterday. It does not count that they are going to bathe this afternoon."
"Yes, go and bathe, George. Why do you dawdle talking? Bring them back to tea. Bring back some milk, cakes, honey. The change will do you good. George has been working very hard at his office. I can't believe he's well."
George bowed his head, dusty and sombre, exhaling the peculiar smell of one who has handled furniture.
"Do you really want this bathe?" Freddy asked him. "It is only a pond, don't you know. I dare say you are used to something better."
"Yes--I have said 'Yes' already."
Mr. Beebe felt bound to assist his young friend, and led the way out of the house and into the pine-woods. How glorious it was! For a little time the voice of old Mr. Emerson pursued them dispensing good wishes and philosophy. It ceased, and they only heard the fair wind blowing the bracken and the trees. Mr. Beebe, who could be silent, but who could not bear silence, was compelled to chatter, since the expedition looked like a failure, and neither of his companions would utter a word. He spoke of Florence. George attended gravely, assenting or dissenting with slight but determined gestures that were as inexplicable as the motions of the tree-tops above their heads.
And what a coincidence that you should meet Mr. Vyse! Did you realize that you would find all the Pension Bertolini down here?"
"I did not. Miss Lavish told me."
"When I was a young man, I always meant to write a 'History of Coincidence.'"
"Though, as a matter of fact, coincidences are much rarer than we suppose. For example, it isn't purely coincidentally that you are here now, when one comes to reflect."
To his relief, George began to talk.
"It is. I have reflected. It is Fate. Everything is Fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate--flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us--we settle nothing--"
"You have not reflected at all," rapped the clergyman. "Let me give you a useful tip, Emerson: attribute nothing to Fate. Don't say, 'I didn't do this,' for you did it, ten to one. Now I'll cross-question you. Where did you first meet Miss Honeychurch and myself?"
"And where did you meet Mr. Vyse, who is going to marry Miss Honeychurch?"
"Looking at Italian art. There you are, and yet you talk of coincidence and Fate. You naturally seek out things Italian, and so do we and our friends. This narrows the field immeasurably we meet again in it."
"It is Fate that I am here," persisted George. "But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."
Mr. Beebe slid away from such heavy treatment of the subject. But he was infinitely tolerant of the young, and had no desire to snub George.
"And so for this and for other reasons my "'History of Coincidence' is still to write."
Wishing to round off the episode, he added; "We are all so glad that you have come."
"Here we are!" called Freddy.
"Oh, good!" exclaimed Mr. Beebe, mopping his brow.
"In there's the pond. I wish it was bigger," he added apologetically.
They climbed down a slippery bank of pine-needles. There lay the pond, set in its little alp of green--only a pond, but large enough to contain the human body, and pure enough to reflect the sky. On account of the rains, the waters had flooded the surrounding grass, which showed like a beautiful emerald path, tempting these feet towards the central pool.
"It's distinctly successful, as ponds go," said Mr. Beebe. "No apologies are necessary for the pond."
George sat down where the ground was dry, and drearily unlaced his boots.
"Aren't those masses of willow-herb splendid? I love willow-herb in seed. What's the name of this aromatic plant?"
No one knew, or seemed to care.
"These abrupt changes of vegetation--this little spongeous tract of water plants, and on either side of it all the growths are tough or brittle--heather, bracken, hurts, pines. Very charming, very charming.
"Mr. Beebe, aren't you bathing?" called Freddy, as he stripped himself.
Mr. Beebe thought he was not.
"Water's wonderful!" cried Freddy, prancing in.
"Water's water," murmured George. Wetting his hair first--a sure sign of apathy--he followed Freddy into the divine, as indifferent as if he were a statue and the pond a pail of soapsuds. It was necessary to use his muscles. It was necessary to keep clean. Mr. Beebe watched them, and watched the seeds of the willow-herb dance chorically above their heads.
"Apooshoo, apooshoo, apooshoo," went Freddy, swimming for two strokes in either direction, and then becoming involved in reeds or mud.
"Is it worth it?" asked the other, Michelangelesque on the flooded margin.
The bank broke away, and he fell into the pool before he had weighed the question properly.
"Hee-poof--I've swallowed a pollywog, Mr. Beebe, water's wonderful, water's simply ripping."
"Water's not so bad," said George, reappearing from his plunge, and sputtering at the sun.
"Water's wonderful. Mr. Beebe, do."
Mr. Beebe, who was hot, and who always acquiesced where possible, looked around him. He could detect no parishioners except the pine-trees, rising up steeply on all sides, and gesturing to each other against the blue. How glorious it was! The world of motor-cars and rural Deans receded inimitably. Water, sky, evergreens, a wind--these things not even the seasons can touch, and surely they lie beyond the intrusion of man?
"I may as well wash too"; and soon his garments made a third little pile on the sward, and he too asserted the wonder of the water.
It was ordinary water, nor was there very much of it, and, as Freddy said, it reminded one of swimming in a salad. The three gentlemen rotated in the pool breast high, after the fashion of the nymphs in Gotterdammerung. But either because the rains had given a freshness or because the sun was shedding a most glorious heat, or because two of the gentlemen were young in years and the third young in spirit--for some reason or other a change came over them, and they forgot Italy and Botany and Fate. They began to play. Mr. Beebe and Freddy splashed each other. A little deferentially, they splashed George. He was quiet: they feared they had offended him. Then all the forces of youth burst out. He smiled, flung himself at them, splashed them, ducked them, kicked them, muddied them, and drove them out of the pool.
"Race you round it, then," cried Freddy, and they raced in the sunshine, and George took a short cut and dirtied his shins, and had to bathe a second time. Then Mr. Beebe consented to run--a memorable sight.
They ran to get dry, they bathed to get cool, they played at being Indians in the willow-herbs and in the bracken, they bathed to get clean. And all the time three little bundles lay discreetly on the sward, proclaiming:
"No. We are what matters. Without us shall no enterprise begin. To us shall all flesh turn in the end."
"A try! A try!" yelled Freddy, snatching up George's bundle and placing it beside an imaginary goal-post.
"Socker rules," George retorted, scattering Freddy's bundle with a kick.
"Take care my watch!" cried Mr. Beebe.
Clothes flew in all directions.
"Take care my hat! No, that's enough, Freddy. Dress now. No, I say!"
But the two young men were delirious. Away they twinkled into the trees, Freddy with a clerical waistcoat under his arm, George with a wide-awake hat on his dripping hair.
"That'll do!" shouted Mr. Beebe, remembering that after all he was in his own parish. Then his voice changed as if every pine-tree was a Rural Dean. "Hi! Steady on! I see people coming you fellows!"
Yells, and widening circles over the dappled earth.
"Hi! hi! LADIES!"
Neither George nor Freddy was truly refined. Still, they did not hear Mr. Beebe's last warning or they would have avoided Mrs. Honeychurch, Cecil, and Lucy, who were walking down to call on old Mrs. Butterworth. Freddy dropped the waistcoat at their feet, and dashed into some bracken. George whooped in their faces, turned and scudded away down the path to the pond, still clad in Mr. Beebe's hat.
"Gracious alive!" cried Mrs. Honeychurch. "Whoever were those unfortunate people? Oh, dears, look away! And poor Mr. Beebe, too! Whatever has happened?"
"Come this way immediately," commanded Cecil, who always felt that he must lead women, though knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what. He led them now towards the bracken where Freddy sat concealed.
"Oh, poor Mr. Beebe! Was that his waistcoat we left in the path? Cecil, Mr. Beebe's waistcoat--"
No business of ours, said Cecil, glancing at Lucy, who was all parasol and evidently "minded."
"I fancy Mr. Beebe jumped back into the pond."
"This way, please, Mrs. Honeychurch, this way."
They followed him up the bank attempting the tense yet nonchalant expression that is suitable for ladies on such occasions.
"Well, I can't help it," said a voice close ahead, and Freddy reared a freckled face and a pair of snowy shoulders out of the fronds. "I can't be trodden on, can I?"
"Good gracious me, dear; so it's you! What miserable management! Why not have a comfortable bath at home, with hot and cold laid on?"
"Look here, mother, a fellow must wash, and a fellow's got to dry, and if another fellow--"
"Dear, no doubt you're right as usual, but you are in no position to argue. Come, Lucy." They turned. "Oh, look--don't look! Oh, poor Mr. Beebe! How unfortunate again--"
For Mr. Beebe was just crawling out of the pond, On whose surface garments of an intimate nature did float; while George, the world-weary George, shouted to Freddy that he had hooked a fish.
"And me, I've swallowed one," answered he of the bracken. "I've swallowed a pollywog. It wriggleth in my tummy. I shall die-- Emerson you beast, you've got on my bags."
"Hush, dears," said Mrs. Honeychurch, who found it impossible to remain shocked. "And do be sure you dry yourselves thoroughly first. All these colds come of not drying thoroughly."
"Mother, do come away," said Lucy. "Oh for goodness' sake, do come."
"Hullo!" cried George, so that again the ladies stopped.
He regarded himself as dressed. Barefoot, bare-chested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods, he called:
"Hullo, Miss Honeychurch! Hullo!"
"Bow, Lucy; better bow. Whoever is it? I shall bow."
Miss Honeychurch bowed.
That evening and all that night the water ran away. On the morrow the pool had shrunk to its old size and lost its glory. It had been a call to the blood and to the relaxed will, a passing benediction whose influence did not pass, a holiness, a spell, a momentary chalice for youth.