A room with a view by E.M. Foster - HTML preview
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"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 71
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 lan-guidly. "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 en-lightened 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, contempt-ible 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 prerog-atives 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 76
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 77
kicked the drawing-room door. Mr. Beebe chirruped. Freddy was at his wittiest, referring to Cecil as the "Fiasco"—family honoured pun on fi-ance. 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 worship-pers should, for the disclosure of some holier shrine of joy.
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 ra-cially 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 de-prived 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 fore-bore 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 spot-ted the hurt-bushes, the serviceable beauty of the turnpike road. The out-door 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 mead-ow. 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 Not-tingham 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 83
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 appari-tion 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: 85
"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 compli-ments 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 di-verged 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—
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.
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 en-titled 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 90
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 favour-ably. 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 91
in before the twenty-ninth, and he will cross out the clause about white-washing 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."