A Room With a View

Page 22

“Oh, Mr. Emerson, I see you’re clever!”

“Eh—?”

“I see you’re going to be clever. I hope you didn’t go behaving like that to poor Freddy.”

George’s eyes laughed, and Lucy suspected that he and her mother would get on rather well.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “He behaved that way to me. It is his philosophy. Only he starts life with it; and I have tried the Note of Interrogation first.”

“What DO you mean? No, never mind what you mean. Don’t explain. He looks forward to seeing you this afternoon. Do you play tennis? Do you mind tennis on Sunday—?”

“George mind tennis on Sunday! George, after his education, distinguish between Sunday—”

“Very well, George doesn’t mind tennis on Sunday. No more do I. That’s settled. Mr. Emerson, if you could come with your son we should be so pleased.”

He thanked her, but the walk sounded rather far; he could only potter about in these days.

She turned to George: “And then he wants to give up his house to the Miss Alans.”

“I know,” said George, and put his arm round his father’s neck. The kindness that Mr. Beebe and Lucy had always known to exist in him came out suddenly, like sunlight touching a vast landscape—a touch of the morning sun? She remembered that in all his perversities he had never spoken against affection.

Miss Bartlett approached.

“You know our cousin, Miss Bartlett,” said Mrs. Honeychurch pleasantly. “You met her with my daughter in Florence.”

“Yes, indeed!” said the old man, and made as if he would come out of the garden to meet the lady. Miss Bartlett promptly got into the victoria. Thus entrenched, she emitted a formal bow. It was the pension Bertolini again, the dining-table with the decanters of water and wine. It was the old, old battle of the room with the view.

George did not respond to the bow. Like any boy, he blushed and was ashamed; he knew that the chaperon remembered. He said: “I—I’ll come up to tennis if I can manage it,” and went into the house. Perhaps anything that he did would have pleased Lucy, but his awkwardness went straight to her heart; men were not gods after all, but as human and as clumsy as girls; even men might suffer from unexplained desires, and need help. To one of her upbringing, and of her destination, the weakness of men was a truth unfamiliar, but she had surmised it at Florence, when George threw her photographs into the River Arno.

“George, don’t go,” cried his father, who thought it a great treat for people if his son would talk to them. “George has been in such good spirits today, and I am sure he will end by coming up this afternoon.”

Lucy caught her cousin’s eye. Something in its mute appeal made her reckless. “Yes,” she said, raising her voice, “I do hope he will.” Then she went to the carriage and murmured, “The old man hasn’t been told; I knew it was all right.” Mrs. Honeychurch followed her, and they drove away.

Satisfactory that Mr. Emerson had not been told of the Florence escapade; yet Lucy’s spirits should not have leapt up as if she had sighted the ramparts of heaven. Satisfactory; yet surely she greeted it with disproportionate joy. All the way home the horses’ hoofs sang a tune to her: “He has not told, he has not told.” Her brain expanded the melody: “He has not told his father—to whom he tells all things. It was not an exploit. He did not laugh at me when I had gone.” She raised her hand to her cheek. “He does not love me. No. How terrible if he did! But he has not told. He will not tell.”

She longed to shout the words: “It is all right. It’s a secret between us two for ever. Cecil will never hear.” She was even glad that Miss Bartlett had made her promise secrecy, that last dark evening at Florence, when they had knelt packing in his room. The secret, big or little, was guarded.

Only three English people knew of it in the world. Thus she interpreted her joy. She greeted Cecil with unusual radiance, because she felt so safe. As he helped her out of the carriage, she said:

“The Emersons have been so nice. George Emerson has improved enormously.”

“How are my proteges?” asked Cecil, who took no real interest in them, and had long since forgotten his resolution to bring them to Windy Corner for educational purposes.

“Proteges!” she exclaimed with some warmth. For the only relationship which Cecil conceived was feudal: that of protector and protected. He had no glimpse of the comradeship after which the girl’s soul yearned.

“You shall see for yourself how your proteges are. George Emerson is coming up this afternoon. He is a most interesting man to talk to. Only don’t—” She nearly said, “Don’t protect him.” But the bell was ringing for lunch, and, as often happened, Cecil had paid no great attention to her remarks. Charm, not argument, was to be her forte.

Lunch was a cheerful meal. Generally Lucy was depressed at meals. Some one had to be soothed—either Cecil or Miss Bartlett or a Being not visible to the mortal eye—a Being who whispered to her soul: “It will not last, this cheerfulness. In January you must go to London to entertain the grandchildren of celebrated men.” But to-day she felt she had received a guarantee. Her mother would always sit there, her brother here. The sun, though it had moved a little since the morning, would never be hidden behind the western hills. After luncheon they asked her to play. She had seen Gluck’s Armide that year, and played from memory the music of the enchanted garden—the music to which Renaud approaches, beneath the light of an eternal dawn, the music that never gains, never wanes, but ripples for ever like the tideless seas of fairyland. Such music is not for the piano, and her audience began to get restive, and Cecil, sharing the discontent, called out: “Now play us the other garden—the one in Parsifal.”

She closed the instrument.

“Not very dutiful,” said her mother’s voice.

Fearing that she had offended Cecil, she turned quickly round. There George was. He had crept in without interrupting her.

“Oh, I had no idea!” she exclaimed, getting very red; and then, without a word of greeting, she reopened the piano. Cecil should have the Parsifal, and anything else that he liked.

“Our performer has changed her mind,” said Miss Bartlett, perhaps implying, she will play the music to Mr. Emerson. Lucy did not know what to do nor even what she wanted to do. She played a few bars of the Flower Maidens’ song very badly and then she stopped.

“I vote tennis,” said Freddy, disgusted at the scrappy entertainment.

“Yes, so do I.” Once more she closed the unfortunate piano. “I vote you have a men’s four.”

“All right.”

“Not for me, thank you,” said Cecil. “I will not spoil the set.” He never realized that it may be an act of kindness in a bad player to make up a fourth.

“Oh, come along Cecil. I’m bad, Floyd’s rotten, and so I dare say’s Emerson.”

George corrected him: “I am not bad.”

One looked down one’s nose at this. “Then certainly I won’t play,” said Cecil, while Miss Bartlett, under the impression that she was snubbing George, added: “I agree with you, Mr. Vyse. You had much better not play. Much better not.”

Minnie, rushing in where Cecil feared to tread, announced that she would play. “I shall miss every ball anyway, so what does it matter?” But Sunday intervened and stamped heavily upon the kindly suggestion.

“Then it will have to be Lucy,” said Mrs. Honeychurch; “you must fall back on Lucy. There is no other way out of it. Lucy, go and change your frock.”

Lucy’s Sabbath was generally of this amphibious nature. She kept it without hypocrisy in the morning, and broke it without reluctance in the afternoon. As she changed her frock, she wondered whether Cecil was sneering at her; really she must overhaul herself and settle everything up before she married him.

Mr. Floyd was her partner. She liked music, but how much better tennis seemed. How much better to run about in comfortable clothes than to sit at the piano and feel girt under the arms. Once more music appeared to her the employment of a child. George served, and surprised her by his anxiety to win. She remembered how he had sighed among the tombs at Santa Croce because things wouldn’t fit; how after the death of that obscure Italian he had leant over the parapet by the Arno and said to her: “I shall want to live, I tell you.” He wanted to live now, to win at tennis, to stand for all he was worth in the sun—the sun which had begun to decline and was shining in her eyes; and he did win.

Ah, how beautiful the Weald looked! The hills stood out above its radiance, as Fiesole stands above the Tuscan Plain, and the South Downs, if one chose, were the mountains of Carrara. She might be forgetting her Italy, but she was noticing more things in her England. One could play a new game with the view, and try to find in its innumerable folds some town or village that would do for Florence. Ah, how beautiful the Weald looked!

But now Cecil claimed her. He chanced to be in a lucid critical mood, and would not sympathize with exaltation. He had been rather a nuisance all through the tennis, for the novel that he was reading was so bad that he was obliged to read it aloud to others. He would stroll round the precincts of the court and call out: “I say, listen to this, Lucy. Three split infinitives.”

“Dreadful!” said Lucy, and missed her stroke. When they had finished their set, he still went on reading; there was some murder scene, and really everyone must listen to it. Freddy and Mr. Floyd were obliged to hunt for a lost ball in the laurels, but the other two acquiesced.

“The scene is laid in Florence.”

“What fun, Cecil! Read away. Come, Mr. Emerson, sit down after all your energy.” She had “forgiven” George, as she put it, and she made a point of being pleasant to him.

He jumped over the net and sat down at her feet asking: “You—and are you tired?”

“Of course I’m not!”

“Do you mind being beaten?”

She was going to answer, “No,” when it struck her that she did mind, so she answered, “Yes.” She added merrily, “I don’t see you’re such a splendid player, though. The light was behind you, and it was in my eyes.”

“I never said I was.”

“Why, you did!”

“You didn’t attend.”

“You said—oh, don’t go in for accuracy at this house. We all exaggerate, and we get very angry with people who don’t.”

“‘The scene is laid in Florence,'” repeated Cecil, with an upward note.

Lucy recollected herself.

“‘Sunset. Leonora was speeding—'”

Lucy interrupted. “Leonora? Is Leonora the heroine? Who’s the book by?”

“Joseph Emery Prank. ‘Sunset. Leonora speeding across the square. Pray the saints she might not arrive too late. Sunset—the sunset of Italy. Under Orcagna’s Loggia—the Loggia de’ Lanzi, as we sometimes call it now—'”

Lucy burst into laughter. “‘Joseph Emery Prank’ indeed! Why it’s Miss Lavish! It’s Miss Lavish’s novel, and she’s publishing it under somebody else’s name.”

“Who may Miss Lavish be?”

“Oh, a dreadful person—Mr. Emerson, you remember Miss Lavish?”

Excited by her pleasant afternoon, she clapped her hands.

George looked up. “Of course I do. I saw her the day I arrived at Summer Street. It was she who told me that you lived here.”

“Weren’t you pleased?” She meant “to see Miss Lavish,” but when he bent down to the grass without replying, it struck her that she could mean something else. She watched his head, which was almost resting against her knee, and she thought that the ears were reddening. “No wonder the novel’s bad,” she added. “I never liked Miss Lavish. But I suppose one ought to read it as one’s met her.”

“All modern books are bad,” said Cecil, who was annoyed at her inattention, and vented his annoyance on literature. “Every one writes for money in these days.”

“Oh, Cecil—!”

“It is so. I will inflict Joseph Emery Prank on you no longer.”

Cecil, this afternoon seemed such a twittering sparrow. The ups and downs in his voice were noticeable, but they did not affect her. She had dwelt amongst melody and movement, and her nerves refused to answer to the clang of his. Leaving him to be annoyed, she gazed at the black head again. She did not want to stroke it, but she saw herself wanting to stroke it; the sensation was curious.

“How do you like this view of ours, Mr. Emerson?”

“I never notice much difference in views.”

“What do you mean?”

“Because they’re all alike. Because all that matters in them is distance and air.”

“H’m!” said Cecil, uncertain whether the remark was striking or not.

“My father”—he looked up at her (and he was a little flushed)—”says that there is only one perfect view—the view of the sky straight over our heads, and that all these views on earth are but bungled copies of it.”

“I expect your father has been reading Dante,” said Cecil, fingering the novel, which alone permitted him to lead the conversation.