“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 he 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.
Chapter XIII: How Miss Bartlett’s Boiler Was So Tiresome
How often had Lucy rehearsed this bow, this interview! But she had always rehearsed them indoors, and with certain accessories, which surely we have a right to assume. Who could foretell that she and George would meet in the rout of a civilization, amidst an army of coats and collars and boots that lay wounded over the sunlit earth? She had imagined a young Mr. Emerson, who might be shy or morbid or indifferent or furtively impudent. She was prepared for all of these. But she had never imagined one who would be happy and greet her with the shout of the morning star.
Indoors herself, partaking of tea with old Mrs. Butterworth, she reflected that it is impossible to foretell the future with any degree of accuracy, that it is impossible to rehearse life. A fault in the scenery, a face in the audience, an irruption of the audience on to the stage, and all our carefully planned gestures mean nothing, or mean too much. “I will bow,” she had thought. “I will not shake hands with him. That will be just the proper thing.” She had bowed—but to whom? To gods, to heroes, to the nonsense of school-girls! She had bowed across the rubbish that cumbers the world.
So ran her thoughts, while her faculties were busy with Cecil. It was another of those dreadful engagement calls. Mrs. Butterworth had wanted to see him, and he did not want to be seen. He did not want to hear about hydrangeas, why they change their colour at the seaside. He did not want to join the C. O. S. When cross he was always elaborate, and made long, clever answers where “Yes” or “No” would have done. Lucy soothed him and tinkered at the conversation in a way that promised well for their married peace. No one is perfect, and surely it is wiser to discover the imperfections before wedlock. Miss Bartlett, indeed, though not in word, had taught the girl that this our life contains nothing satisfactory. Lucy, though she disliked the teacher, regarded the teaching as profound, and applied it to her lover.
“Lucy,” said her mother, when they got home, “is anything the matter with Cecil?”
The question was ominous; up till now Mrs. Honeychurch had behaved with charity and restraint.
“No, I don’t think so, mother; Cecil’s all right.”
“Perhaps he’s tired.”
Lucy compromised: perhaps Cecil was a little tired.
“Because otherwise”—she pulled out her bonnet-pins with gathering displeasure—”because otherwise I cannot account for him.”
“I do think Mrs. Butterworth is rather tiresome, if you mean that.”
“Cecil has told you to think so. You were devoted to her as a little girl, and nothing will describe her goodness to you through the typhoid fever. No—it is just the same thing everywhere.”
“Let me just put your bonnet away, may I?”
“Surely he could answer her civilly for one half-hour?”
“Cecil has a very high standard for people,” faltered Lucy, seeing trouble ahead. “It’s part of his ideals—it is really that that makes him sometimes seem—”
“Oh, rubbish! If high ideals make a young man rude, the sooner he gets rid of them the better,” said Mrs. Honeychurch, handing her the bonnet.
“Now, mother! I’ve seen you cross with Mrs. Butterworth yourself!”
“Not in that way. At times I could wring her neck. But not in that way. No. It is the same with Cecil all over.”
“By-the-by—I never told you. I had a letter from Charlotte while I was away in London.”
This attempt to divert the conversation was too puerile, and Mrs. Honeychurch resented it.
“Since Cecil came back from London, nothing appears to please him. Whenever I speak he winces;—I see him, Lucy; it is useless to contradict me. No doubt I am neither artistic nor literary nor intellectual nor musical, but I cannot help the drawing-room furniture; your father bought it and we must put up with it, will Cecil kindly remember.”
“I—I see what you mean, and certainly Cecil oughtn’t to. But he does not mean to be uncivil—he once explained—it is the things that upset him—he is easily upset by ugly things—he is not uncivil to PEOPLE.”
“Is it a thing or a person when Freddy sings?”
“You can’t expect a really musical person to enjoy comic songs as we do.”
“Then why didn’t he leave the room? Why sit wriggling and sneering and spoiling everyone’s pleasure?”
“We mustn’t be unjust to people,” faltered Lucy. Something had enfeebled her, and the case for Cecil, which she had mastered so perfectly in London, would not come forth in an effective form. The two civilizations had clashed—Cecil hinted that they might—and she was dazzled and bewildered, as though the radiance that lies behind all civilization had blinded her eyes. Good taste and bad taste were only catchwords, garments of diverse cut; and music itself dissolved to a whisper through pine-trees, where the song is not distinguishable from the comic song.
She remained in much embarrassment, while Mrs. Honeychurch changed her frock for dinner; and every now and then she said a word, and made things no better. There was no concealing the fact, Cecil had meant to be supercilious, and he had succeeded. And Lucy—she knew not why—wished that the trouble could have come at any other time.
“Go and dress, dear; you’ll be late.”
“All right, mother—”
“Don’t say ‘All right’ and stop. Go.”
She obeyed, but loitered disconsolately at the landing window. It faced north, so there was little view, and no view of the sky. Now, as in the winter, the pine-trees hung close to her eyes. One connected the landing window with depression. No definite problem menaced her, but she sighed to herself, “Oh, dear, what shall I do, what shall I do?” It seemed to her that everyone else was behaving very badly. And she ought not to have mentioned Miss Bartlett’s letter. She must be more careful; her mother was rather inquisitive, and might have asked what it was about. Oh, dear, what should she do?—and then Freddy came bounding upstairs, and joined the ranks of the ill-behaved.
“I say, those are topping people.”
“My dear baby, how tiresome you’ve been! You have no business to take them bathing in the Sacred Lake; it’s much too public. It was all right for you but most awkward for everyone else. Do be more careful. You forget the place is growing half suburban.”
“I say, is anything on to-morrow week?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then I want to ask the Emersons up to Sunday tennis.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that, Freddy, I wouldn’t do that with all this muddle.”
“What’s wrong with the court? They won’t mind a bump or two, and I’ve ordered new balls.”
“I meant it’s better not. I really mean it.”
He seized her by the elbows and humorously danced her up and down the passage. She pretended not to mind, but she could have screamed with temper. Cecil glanced at them as he proceeded to his toilet and they impeded Mary with her brood of hot-water cans. Then Mrs. Honeychurch opened her door and said: “Lucy, what a noise you’re making! I have something to say to you. Did you say you had had a letter from Charlotte?” and Freddy ran away.
“Yes. I really can’t stop. I must dress too.”
The unfortunate girl returned.
“You’ve a bad habit of hurrying away in the middle of one’s sentences. Did Charlotte mention her boiler?”
“Don’t you remember that her boiler was to be had out in October, and her bath cistern cleaned out, and all kinds of terrible to-doings?”
“I can’t remember all Charlotte’s worries,” said Lucy bitterly. “I shall have enough of my own, now that you are not pleased with Cecil.”