A Room With a View

Page 27

Mr. Beebe poked at a crumb with his knife.

“But my feelings are of no importance. I know too well that I get on Lucy’s nerves. Our tour was a failure. She wanted to leave Florence, and when we got to Rome she did not want to be in Rome, and all the time I felt that I was spending her mother’s money—.”

“Let us keep to the future, though,” interrupted Mr. Beebe. “I want your advice.”

“Very well,” said Charlotte, with a choky abruptness that was new to him, though familiar to Lucy. “I for one will help her to go to Greece. Will you?”

Mr. Beebe considered.

“It is absolutely necessary,” she continued, lowering her veil and whispering through it with a passion, an intensity, that surprised him. “I know—I know.” The darkness was coming on, and he felt that this odd woman really did know. “She must not stop here a moment, and we must keep quiet till she goes. I trust that the servants know nothing. Afterwards—but I may have said too much already. Only, Lucy and I are helpless against Mrs. Honeychurch alone. If you help we may succeed. Otherwise—”

“Otherwise—?”

“Otherwise,” she repeated as if the word held finality.

“Yes, I will help her,” said the clergyman, setting his jaw firm. “Come, let us go back now, and settle the whole thing up.”

Miss Bartlett burst into florid gratitude. The tavern sign—a beehive trimmed evenly with bees—creaked in the wind outside as she thanked him. Mr. Beebe did not quite understand the situation; but then, he did not desire to understand it, nor to jump to the conclusion of “another man” that would have attracted a grosser mind. He only felt that Miss Bartlett knew of some vague influence from which the girl desired to be delivered, and which might well be clothed in the fleshly form. Its very vagueness spurred him into knight-errantry. His belief in celibacy, so reticent, so carefully concealed beneath his tolerance and culture, now came to the surface and expanded like some delicate flower. “They that marry do well, but they that refrain do better.” So ran his belief, and he never heard that an engagement was broken off but with a slight feeling of pleasure. In the case of Lucy, the feeling was intensified through dislike of Cecil; and he was willing to go further—to place her out of danger until she could confirm her resolution of virginity. The feeling was very subtle and quite undogmatic, and he never imparted it to any other of the characters in this entanglement. Yet it existed, and it alone explains his action subsequently, and his influence on the action of others. The compact that he made with Miss Bartlett in the tavern, was to help not only Lucy, but religion also.

They hurried home through a world of black and grey. He conversed on indifferent topics: the Emersons’ need of a housekeeper; servants; Italian servants; novels about Italy; novels with a purpose; could literature influence life? Windy Corner glimmered. In the garden, Mrs. Honeychurch, now helped by Freddy, still wrestled with the lives of her flowers.

“It gets too dark,” she said hopelessly. “This comes of putting off. We might have known the weather would break up soon; and now Lucy wants to go to Greece. I don’t know what the world’s coming to.”

“Mrs. Honeychurch,” he said, “go to Greece she must. Come up to the house and let’s talk it over. Do you, in the first place, mind her breaking with Vyse?”

“Mr. Beebe, I’m thankful—simply thankful.”

“So am I,” said Freddy.

“Good. Now come up to the house.”

They conferred in the dining-room for half an hour.

Lucy would never have carried the Greek scheme alone. It was expensive and dramatic—both qualities that her mother loathed. Nor would Charlotte have succeeded. The honours of the day rested with Mr. Beebe. By his tact and common sense, and by his influence as a clergyman—for a clergyman who was not a fool influenced Mrs. Honeychurch greatly—he bent her to their purpose, “I don’t see why Greece is necessary,” she said; “but as you do, I suppose it is all right. It must be something I can’t understand. Lucy! Let’s tell her. Lucy!”

“She is playing the piano,” Mr. Beebe said. He opened the door, and heard the words of a song:

“Look not thou on beauty’s charming.”

“I didn’t know that Miss Honeychurch sang, too.”

“Sit thou still when kings are arming,

Taste not when the wine-cup glistens—”

“It’s a song that Cecil gave her. How odd girls are!”

“What’s that?” called Lucy, stopping short.

“All right, dear,” said Mrs. Honeychurch kindly. She went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Beebe heard her kiss Lucy and say: “I am sorry I was so cross about Greece, but it came on the top of the dahlias.”

Rather a hard voice said: “Thank you, mother; that doesn’t matter a bit.”

“And you are right, too—Greece will be all right; you can go if the Miss Alans will have you.”

“Oh, splendid! Oh, thank you!”

Mr. Beebe followed. Lucy still sat at the piano with her hands over the keys. She was glad, but he had expected greater gladness. Her mother bent over her. Freddy, to whom she had been singing, reclined on the floor with his head against her, and an unlit pipe between his lips. Oddly enough, the group was beautiful. Mr. Beebe, who loved the art of the past, was reminded of a favourite theme, the Santa Conversazione, in which people who care for one another are painted chatting together about noble things—a theme neither sensual nor sensational, and therefore ignored by the art of to-day. Why should Lucy want either to marry or to travel when she had such friends at home?

“Taste not when the wine-cup glistens,

Speak not when the people listens,”

she continued.

“Here’s Mr. Beebe.”

“Mr. Beebe knows my rude ways.”

“It’s a beautiful song and a wise one,” said he. “Go on.”

“It isn’t very good,” she said listlessly. “I forget why—harmony or something.”

“I suspected it was unscholarly. It’s so beautiful.”

“The tune’s right enough,” said Freddy, “but the words are rotten. Why throw up the sponge?”

“How stupidly you talk!” said his sister. The Santa Conversazione was broken up. After all, there was no reason that Lucy should talk about Greece or thank him for persuading her mother, so he said good-bye.

Freddy lit his bicycle lamp for him in the porch, and with his usual felicity of phrase, said: “This has been a day and a half.”

“Stop thine ear against the singer—”

“Wait a minute; she is finishing.”

“From the red gold keep thy finger;

Vacant heart and hand and eye

Easy live and quiet die.”

“I love weather like this,” said Freddy.

Mr. Beebe passed into it.

The two main facts were clear. She had behaved splendidly, and he had helped her. He could not expect to master the details of so big a change in a girl’s life. If here and there he was dissatisfied or puzzled, he must acquiesce; she was choosing the better part.

“Vacant heart and hand and eye—”

Perhaps the song stated “the better part” rather too strongly. He half fancied that the soaring accompaniment—which he did not lose in the shout of the gale—really agreed with Freddy, and was gently criticizing the words that it adorned:

“Vacant heart and hand and eye

Easy live and quiet die.”

However, for the fourth time Windy Corner lay poised below him—now as a beacon in the roaring tides of darkness.

 

Chapter XIX: Lying to Mr. Emerson

The Miss Alans were found in their beloved temperance hotel near Bloomsbury—a clean, airless establishment much patronized by provincial England. They always perched there before crossing the great seas, and for a week or two would fidget gently over clothes, guide-books, mackintosh squares, digestive bread, and other Continental necessaries. That there are shops abroad, even in Athens, never occurred to them, for they regarded travel as a species of warfare, only to be undertaken by those who have been fully armed at the Haymarket Stores. Miss Honeychurch, they trusted, would take care to equip herself duly. Quinine could now be obtained in tabloids; paper soap was a great help towards freshening up one’s face in the train. Lucy promised, a little depressed.

“But, of course, you know all about these things, and you have Mr. Vyse to help you. A gentleman is such a stand-by.”

Mrs. Honeychurch, who had come up to town with her daughter, began to drum nervously upon her card-case.

“We think it so good of Mr. Vyse to spare you,” Miss Catharine continued. “It is not every young man who would be so unselfish. But perhaps he will come out and join you later on.”

“Or does his work keep him in London?” said Miss Teresa, the more acute and less kindly of the two sisters.

“However, we shall see him when he sees you off. I do so long to see him.”

“No one will see Lucy off,” interposed Mrs. Honeychurch. “She doesn’t like it.”

“No, I hate seeings-off,” said Lucy.

“Really? How funny! I should have thought that in this case—”

“Oh, Mrs. Honeychurch, you aren’t going? It is such a pleasure to have met you!”

They escaped, and Lucy said with relief: “That’s all right. We just got through that time.”

But her mother was annoyed. “I should be told, dear, that I am unsympathetic. But I cannot see why you didn’t tell your friends about Cecil and be done with it. There all the time we had to sit fencing, and almost telling lies, and be seen through, too, I dare say, which is most unpleasant.”

Lucy had plenty to say in reply. She described the Miss Alans’ character: they were such gossips, and if one told them, the news would be everywhere in no time.

“But why shouldn’t it be everywhere in no time?”

“Because I settled with Cecil not to announce it until I left England. I shall tell them then. It’s much pleasanter. How wet it is! Let’s turn in here.”

“Here” was the British Museum. Mrs. Honeychurch refused. If they must take shelter, let it be in a shop. Lucy felt contemptuous, for she was on the tack of caring for Greek sculpture, and had already borrowed a mythical dictionary from Mr. Beebe to get up the names of the goddesses and gods.

“Oh, well, let it be shop, then. Let’s go to Mudie’s. I’ll buy a guide-book.”

“You know, Lucy, you and Charlotte and Mr. Beebe all tell me I’m so stupid, so I suppose I am, but I shall never understand this hole-and-corner work. You’ve got rid of Cecil—well and good, and I’m thankful he’s gone, though I did feel angry for the minute. But why not announce it? Why this hushing up and tip-toeing?”

“It’s only for a few days.”

“But why at all?”

Lucy was silent. She was drifting away from her mother. It was quite easy to say, “Because George Emerson has been bothering me, and if he hears I’ve given up Cecil may begin again”—quite easy, and it had the incidental advantage of being true. But she could not say it. She disliked confidences, for they might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors—Light. Ever since that last evening at Florence she had deemed it unwise to reveal her soul.

Mrs. Honeychurch, too, was silent. She was thinking, “My daughter won’t answer me; she would rather be with those inquisitive old maids than with Freddy and me. Any rag, tag, and bobtail apparently does if she can leave her home.” And as in her case thoughts never remained unspoken long, she burst out with: “You’re tired of Windy Corner.”

This was perfectly true. Lucy had hoped to return to Windy Corner when she escaped from Cecil, but she discovered that her home existed no longer. It might exist for Freddy, who still lived and thought straight, but not for one who had deliberately warped the brain. She did not acknowledge that her brain was warped, for the brain itself must assist in that acknowledgment, and she was disordering the very instruments of life. She only felt, “I do not love George; I broke off my engagement because I did not love George; I must go to Greece because I do not love George; it is more important that I should look up gods in the dictionary than that I should help my mother; everyone else is behaving very badly.” She only felt irritable and petulant, and anxious to do what she was not expected to do, and in this spirit she proceeded with the conversation.