A Room With a View

Page 25

“Because”—a phrase came to her, and she accepted it—”you’re the sort who can’t know any one intimately.”

A horrified look came into his eyes.

“I don’t mean exactly that. But you will question me, though I beg you not to, and I must say something. It is that, more or less. When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me.” Her voice swelled. “I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? A woman’s place! You despise my mother—I know you do—because she’s conventional and bothers over puddings; but, oh goodness!”—she rose to her feet—”conventional, Cecil, you’re that, for you may understand beautiful things, but you don’t know how to use them; and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won’t be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That’s why I break off my engagement. You were all right as long as you kept to things, but when you came to people—” She stopped.

There was a pause. Then Cecil said with great emotion:

“It is true.”

“True on the whole,” she corrected, full of some vague shame.

“True, every word. It is a revelation. It is—I.”

“Anyhow, those are my reasons for not being your wife.”

He repeated: “‘The sort that can know no one intimately.’ It is true. I fell to pieces the very first day we were engaged. I behaved like a cad to Beebe and to your brother. You are even greater than I thought.” She withdrew a step. “I’m not going to worry you. You are far too good to me. I shall never forget your insight; and, dear, I only blame you for this: you might have warned me in the early stages, before you felt you wouldn’t marry me, and so have given me a chance to improve. I have never known you till this evening. I have just used you as a peg for my silly notions of what a woman should be. But this evening you are a different person: new thoughts—even a new voice—”

“What do you mean by a new voice?” she asked, seized with incontrollable anger.

“I mean that a new person seems speaking through you,” said he.

Then she lost her balance. She cried: “If you think I am in love with some one else, you are very much mistaken.”

“Of course I don’t think that. You are not that kind, Lucy.”

“Oh, yes, you do think it. It’s your old idea, the idea that has kept Europe back—I mean the idea that women are always thinking of men. If a girl breaks off her engagement, everyone says: ‘Oh, she had someone else in her mind; she hopes to get someone else.’ It’s disgusting, brutal! As if a girl can’t break it off for the sake of freedom.”

He answered reverently: “I may have said that in the past. I shall never say it again. You have taught me better.”

She began to redden, and pretended to examine the windows again.

“Of course, there is no question of ‘someone else’ in this, no ‘jilting’ or any such nauseous stupidity. I beg your pardon most humbly if my words suggested that there was. I only meant that there was a force in you that I hadn’t known of up till now.”

“All right, Cecil, that will do. Don’t apologize to me. It was my mistake.”

“It is a question between ideals, yours and mine—pure abstract ideals, and yours are the nobler. I was bound up in the old vicious notions, and all the time you were splendid and new.” His voice broke. “I must actually thank you for what you have done—for showing me what I really am. Solemnly, I thank you for showing me a true woman. Will you shake hands?”

“Of course I will,” said Lucy, twisting up her other hand in the curtains. “Good-night, Cecil. Good-bye. That’s all right. I’m sorry about it. Thank you very much for your gentleness.”

“Let me light your candle, shall I?”

They went into the hall.

“Thank you. Good-night again. God bless you, Lucy!”

“Good-bye, Cecil.”

She watched him steal up-stairs, while the shadows from three banisters passed over her face like the beat of wings. On the landing he paused strong in his renunciation, and gave her a look of memorable beauty. For all his culture, Cecil was an ascetic at heart, and nothing in his love became him like the leaving of it.

She could never marry. In the tumult of her soul, that stood firm. Cecil believed in her; she must some day believe in herself. She must be one of the women whom she had praised so eloquently, who care for liberty and not for men; she must forget that George loved her, that George had been thinking through her and gained her this honourable release, that George had gone away into—what was it?—the darkness.

She put out the lamp.

It did not do to think, nor, for the matter of that, to feel. She gave up trying to understand herself, and joined the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety show cracks, their wit becomes cynicism, their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they go. They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any heavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged.

Lucy entered this army when she pretended to George that she did not love him, and pretended to Cecil that she loved no one. The night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before.

 

Chapter XVIII: Lying to Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, and The Servants

Windy Corner lay, not on the summit of the ridge, but a few hundred feet down the southern slope, at the springing of one of the great buttresses that supported the hill. On either side of it was a shallow ravine, filled with ferns and pine-trees, and down the ravine on the left ran the highway into the Weald.

Whenever Mr. Beebe crossed the ridge and caught sight of these noble dispositions of the earth, and, poised in the middle of them, Windy Corner,—he laughed. The situation was so glorious, the house so commonplace, not to say impertinent. The late Mr. Honeychurch had affected the cube, because it gave him the most accommodation for his money, and the only addition made by his widow had been a small turret, shaped like a rhinoceros’ horn, where she could sit in wet weather and watch the carts going up and down the road. So impertinent—and yet the house “did,” for it was the home of people who loved their surroundings honestly. Other houses in the neighborhood had been built by expensive architects, over others their inmates had fidgeted sedulously, yet all these suggested the accidental, the temporary; while Windy Corner seemed as inevitable as an ugliness of Nature’s own creation. One might laugh at the house, but one never shuddered. Mr. Beebe was bicycling over this Monday afternoon with a piece of gossip. He had heard from the Miss Alans. These admirable ladies, since they could not go to Cissie Villa, had changed their plans. They were going to Greece instead.

“Since Florence did my poor sister so much good,” wrote Miss Catharine, “we do not see why we should not try Athens this winter. Of course, Athens is a plunge, and the doctor has ordered her special digestive bread; but, after all, we can take that with us, and it is only getting first into a steamer and then into a train. But is there an English Church?” And the letter went on to say: “I do not expect we shall go any further than Athens, but if you knew of a really comfortable pension at Constantinople, we should be so grateful.”

Lucy would enjoy this letter, and the smile with which Mr. Beebe greeted Windy Corner was partly for her. She would see the fun of it, and some of its beauty, for she must see some beauty. Though she was hopeless about pictures, and though she dressed so unevenly—oh, that cerise frock yesterday at church!—she must see some beauty in life, or she could not play the piano as she did. He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood. This theory, had he known it, had possibly just been illustrated by facts. Ignorant of the events of yesterday he was only riding over to get some tea, to see his niece, and to observe whether Miss Honeychurch saw anything beautiful in the desire of two old ladies to visit Athens.

A carriage was drawn up outside Windy Corner, and just as he caught sight of the house it started, bowled up the drive, and stopped abruptly when it reached the main road. Therefore it must be the horse, who always expected people to walk up the hill in case they tired him. The door opened obediently, and two men emerged, whom Mr. Beebe recognized as Cecil and Freddy. They were an odd couple to go driving; but he saw a trunk beside the coachman’s legs. Cecil, who wore a bowler, must be going away, while Freddy (a cap)—was seeing him to the station. They walked rapidly, taking the short cuts, and reached the summit while the carriage was still pursuing the windings of the road.

They shook hands with the clergyman, but did not speak.

“So you’re off for a minute, Mr. Vyse?” he asked.

Cecil said, “Yes,” while Freddy edged away.

“I was coming to show you this delightful letter from those friends of Miss Honeychurch.” He quoted from it. “Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it romance? Most certainly they will go to Constantinople. They are taken in a snare that cannot fail. They will end by going round the world.”

Cecil listened civilly, and said he was sure that Lucy would be amused and interested.

“Isn’t Romance capricious! I never notice it in you young people; you do nothing but play lawn tennis, and say that romance is dead, while the Miss Alans are struggling with all the weapons of propriety against the terrible thing. ‘A really comfortable pension at Constantinople!’ So they call it out of decency, but in their hearts they want a pension with magic windows opening on the foam of perilous seas in fairyland forlorn! No ordinary view will content the Miss Alans. They want the Pension Keats.”

“I’m awfully sorry to interrupt, Mr. Beebe,” said Freddy, “but have you any matches?”

“I have,” said Cecil, and it did not escape Mr. Beebe’s notice that he spoke to the boy more kindly.

“You have never met these Miss Alans, have you, Mr. Vyse?”

“Never.”

“Then you don’t see the wonder of this Greek visit. I haven’t been to Greece myself, and don’t mean to go, and I can’t imagine any of my friends going. It is altogether too big for our little lot. Don’t you think so? Italy is just about as much as we can manage. Italy is heroic, but Greece is godlike or devilish—I am not sure which, and in either case absolutely out of our suburban focus. All right, Freddy—I am not being clever, upon my word I am not—I took the idea from another fellow; and give me those matches when you’ve done with them.” He lit a cigarette, and went on talking to the two young men. “I was saying, if our poor little Cockney lives must have a background, let it be Italian. Big enough in all conscience. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for me. There the contrast is just as much as I can realize. But not the Parthenon, not the frieze of Phidias at any price; and here comes the victoria.”

“You’re quite right,” said Cecil. “Greece is not for our little lot”; and he got in. Freddy followed, nodding to the clergyman, whom he trusted not to be pulling one’s leg, really. And before they had gone a dozen yards he jumped out, and came running back for Vyse’s match-box, which had not been returned. As he took it, he said: “I’m so glad you only talked about books. Cecil’s hard hit. Lucy won’t marry him. If you’d gone on about her, as you did about them, he might have broken down.”

“But when—”

“Late last night. I must go.”

“Perhaps they won’t want me down there.”

“No—go on. Good-bye.”

“Thank goodness!” exclaimed Mr. Beebe to himself, and struck the saddle of his bicycle approvingly, “It was the one foolish thing she ever did. Oh, what a glorious riddance!” And, after a little thought, he negotiated the slope into Windy Corner, light of heart. The house was again as it ought to be—cut off forever from Cecil’s pretentious world.

He would find Miss Minnie down in the garden.

In the drawing-room Lucy was tinkling at a Mozart Sonata. He hesitated a moment, but went down the garden as requested. There he found a mournful company. It was a blustering day, and the wind had taken and broken the dahlias. Mrs. Honeychurch, who looked cross, was tying them up, while Miss Bartlett, unsuitably dressed, impeded her with offers of assistance. At a little distance stood Minnie and the “garden-child,” a minute importation, each holding either end of a long piece of bass.

“Oh, how do you do, Mr. Beebe? Gracious what a mess everything is! Look at my scarlet pompoms, and the wind blowing your skirts about, and the ground so hard that not a prop will stick in, and then the carriage having to go out, when I had counted on having Powell, who—give everyone their due—does tie up dahlias properly.”

Evidently Mrs. Honeychurch was shattered.

“How do you do?” said Miss Bartlett, with a meaning glance, as though conveying that more than dahlias had been broken off by the autumn gales.

“Here, Lennie, the bass,” cried Mrs. Honeychurch. The garden-child, who did not know what bass was, stood rooted to the path with horror. Minnie slipped to her uncle and whispered that everyone was very disagreeable to-day, and that it was not her fault if dahlia-strings would tear longways instead of across.

“Come for a walk with me,” he told her. “You have worried them as much as they can stand. Mrs. Honeychurch, I only called in aimlessly. I shall take her up to tea at the Beehive Tavern, if I may.”

“Oh, must you? Yes do.—Not the scissors, thank you, Charlotte, when both my hands are full already—I’m perfectly certain that the orange cactus will go before I can get to it.”