A Room With a View

Page 23

“He told us another day that views are really crowds—crowds of trees and houses and hills—and are bound to resemble each other, like human crowds—and that the power they have over us is sometimes supernatural, for the same reason.”

Lucy’s lips parted.

“For a crowd is more than the people who make it up. Something gets added to it—no one knows how—just as something has got added to those hills.”

He pointed with his racquet to the South Downs.

“What a splendid idea!” she murmured. “I shall enjoy hearing your father talk again. I’m so sorry he’s not so well.”

“No, he isn’t well.”

“There’s an absurd account of a view in this book,” said Cecil. “Also that men fall into two classes—those who forget views and those who remember them, even in small rooms.”

“Mr. Emerson, have you any brothers or sisters?”

“None. Why?”

“You spoke of ‘us.'”

“My mother, I was meaning.”

Cecil closed the novel with a bang.

“Oh, Cecil—how you made me jump!”

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

“I can just remember us all three going into the country for the day and seeing as far as Hindhead. It is the first thing that I remember.”

Cecil got up; the man was ill-bred—he hadn’t put on his coat after tennis—he didn’t do. He would have strolled away if Lucy had not stopped him.

“Cecil, do read the thing about the view.”

“Not while Mr. Emerson is here to entertain us.”

“No—read away. I think nothing’s funnier than to hear silly things read out loud. If Mr. Emerson thinks us frivolous, he can go.”

This struck Cecil as subtle, and pleased him. It put their visitor in the position of a prig. Somewhat mollified, he sat down again.

“Mr. Emerson, go and find tennis balls.” She opened the book. Cecil must have his reading and anything else that he liked. But her attention wandered to George’s mother, who—according to Mr. Eager—had been murdered in the sight of God and—according to her son—had seen as far as Hindhead.

“Am I really to go?” asked George.

“No, of course not really,” she answered.

“Chapter two,” said Cecil, yawning. “Find me chapter two, if it isn’t bothering you.”

Chapter two was found, and she glanced at its opening sentences.

She thought she had gone mad.

“Here—hand me the book.”

She heard her voice saying: “It isn’t worth reading—it’s too silly to read—I never saw such rubbish—it oughtn’t to be allowed to be printed.”

He took the book from her.

“‘Leonora,'” he read, “‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.'”

Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

“‘A golden haze,'” he read. He read: “‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved Antonio stole up behind her—'”

Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George and saw his face.

He read: “‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.'”

“This isn’t the passage I wanted,” he informed them, “there is another much funnier, further on.” He turned over the leaves.

“Should we go in to tea?” said Lucy, whose voice remained steady.

She led the way up the garden, Cecil following her, George last. She thought a disaster was averted. But when they entered the shrubbery it came. The book, as if it had not worked mischief enough, had been forgotten, and Cecil must go back for it; and George, who loved passionately, must blunder against her in the narrow path.

“No—” she gasped, and, for the second time, was kissed by him.

As if no more was possible, he slipped back; Cecil rejoined her; they reached the upper lawn alone.

 

Chapter XVI: Lying to George

But Lucy had developed since the spring. That is to say, she was now better able to stifle the emotions of which the conventions and the world disapprove. Though the danger was greater, she was not shaken by deep sobs. She said to Cecil, “I am not coming in to tea—tell mother—I must write some letters,” and went up to her room. Then she prepared for action. Love felt and returned, love which our bodies exact and our hearts have transfigured, love which is the most real thing that we shall ever meet, reappeared now as the world’s enemy, and she must stifle it.

She sent for Miss Bartlett.

The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended, and Lucy’s first aim was to defeat herself. As her brain clouded over, as the memory of the views grew dim and the words of the book died away, she returned to her old shibboleth of nerves. She “conquered her breakdown.” Tampering with the truth, she forgot that the truth had ever been. Remembering that she was engaged to Cecil, she compelled herself to confused remembrances of George; he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him. The armour of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul. In a few moments Lucy was equipped for battle.

“Something too awful has happened,” she began, as soon as her cousin arrived. “Do you know anything about Miss Lavish’s novel?”

Miss Bartlett looked surprised, and said that she had not read the book, nor known that it was published; Eleanor was a reticent woman at heart.

“There is a scene in it. The hero and heroine make love. Do you know about that?”

“Dear—?”

“Do you know about it, please?” she repeated. “They are on a hillside, and Florence is in the distance.”

“My good Lucia, I am all at sea. I know nothing about it whatever.”

“There are violets. I cannot believe it is a coincidence. Charlotte, Charlotte, how could you have told her? I have thought before speaking; it must be you.”

“Told her what?” she asked, with growing agitation.

“About that dreadful afternoon in February.”

Miss Bartlett was genuinely moved. “Oh, Lucy, dearest girl—she hasn’t put that in her book?”

Lucy nodded.

“Not so that one could recognize it. Yes.”

“Then never—never—never more shall Eleanor Lavish be a friend of mine.”

“So you did tell?”

“I did just happen—when I had tea with her at Rome—in the course of conversation—”

“But Charlotte—what about the promise you gave me when we were packing? Why did you tell Miss Lavish, when you wouldn’t even let me tell mother?”

“I will never forgive Eleanor. She has betrayed my confidence.”

“Why did you tell her, though? This is a most serious thing.”

Why does any one tell anything? The question is eternal, and it was not surprising that Miss Bartlett should only sigh faintly in response. She had done wrong—she admitted it, she only hoped that she had not done harm; she had told Eleanor in the strictest confidence.

Lucy stamped with irritation.

“Cecil happened to read out the passage aloud to me and to Mr. Emerson; it upset Mr. Emerson and he insulted me again. Behind Cecil’s back. Ugh! Is it possible that men are such brutes? Behind Cecil’s back as we were walking up the garden.”

Miss Bartlett burst into self-accusations and regrets.

“What is to be done now? Can you tell me?”

“Oh, Lucy—I shall never forgive myself, never to my dying day. Fancy if your prospects—”

“I know,” said Lucy, wincing at the word. “I see now why you wanted me to tell Cecil, and what you meant by ‘some other source.’ You knew that you had told Miss Lavish, and that she was not reliable.”

It was Miss Bartlett’s turn to wince. “However,” said the girl, despising her cousin’s shiftiness, “What’s done’s done. You have put me in a most awkward position. How am I to get out of it?”

Miss Bartlett could not think. The days of her energy were over. She was a visitor, not a chaperon, and a discredited visitor at that. She stood with clasped hands while the girl worked herself into the necessary rage.

“He must—that man must have such a setting down that he won’t forget. And who’s to give it him? I can’t tell mother now—owing to you. Nor Cecil, Charlotte, owing to you. I am caught up every way. I think I shall go mad. I have no one to help me. That’s why I’ve sent for you. What’s wanted is a man with a whip.”

Miss Bartlett agreed: one wanted a man with a whip.

“Yes—but it’s no good agreeing. What’s to be DONE. We women go maundering on. What DOES a girl do when she comes across a cad?”

“I always said he was a cad, dear. Give me credit for that, at all events. From the very first moment—when he said his father was having a bath.”

“Oh, bother the credit and who’s been right or wrong! We’ve both made a muddle of it. George Emerson is still down the garden there, and is he to be left unpunished, or isn’t he? I want to know.”

Miss Bartlett was absolutely helpless. Her own exposure had unnerved her, and thoughts were colliding painfully in her brain. She moved feebly to the window, and tried to detect the cad’s white flannels among the laurels.

“You were ready enough at the Bertolini when you rushed me off to Rome. Can’t you speak again to him now?”

“Willingly would I move heaven and earth—”

“I want something more definite,” said Lucy contemptuously. “Will you speak to him? It is the least you can do, surely, considering it all happened because you broke your word.”

“Never again shall Eleanor Lavish be a friend of mine.”

Really, Charlotte was outdoing herself.

“Yes or no, please; yes or no.”

“It is the kind of thing that only a gentleman can settle.” George Emerson was coming up the garden with a tennis ball in his hand.

“Very well,” said Lucy, with an angry gesture. “No one will help me. I will speak to him myself.” And immediately she realized that this was what her cousin had intended all along.

“Hullo, Emerson!” called Freddy from below. “Found the lost ball? Good man! Want any tea?” And there was an irruption from the house on to the terrace.

“Oh, Lucy, but that is brave of you! I admire you—”

They had gathered round George, who beckoned, she felt, over the rubbish, the sloppy thoughts, the furtive yearnings that were beginning to cumber her soul. Her anger faded at the sight of him. Ah! The Emersons were fine people in their way. She had to subdue a rush in her blood before saying:

“Freddy has taken him into the dining-room. The others are going down the garden. Come. Let us get this over quickly. Come. I want you in the room, of course.”

“Lucy, do you mind doing it?”

“How can you ask such a ridiculous question?”