“Oh, mother, what rubbish you talk! Of course I’m not tired of Windy Corner.”
“Then why not say so at once, instead of considering half an hour?”
She laughed faintly, “Half a minute would be nearer.”
“Perhaps you would like to stay away from your home altogether?”
“Hush, mother! People will hear you”; for they had entered Mudie’s. She bought Baedeker, and then continued: “Of course I want to live at home; but as we are talking about it, I may as well say that I shall want to be away in the future more than I have been. You see, I come into my money next year.”
Tears came into her mother’s eyes.
Driven by nameless bewilderment, by what is in older people termed “eccentricity,” Lucy determined to make this point clear. “I’ve seen the world so little—I felt so out of things in Italy. I have seen so little of life; one ought to come up to London more—not a cheap ticket like to-day, but to stop. I might even share a flat for a little with some other girl.”
“And mess with typewriters and latch-keys,” exploded Mrs. Honeychurch. “And agitate and scream, and be carried off kicking by the police. And call it a Mission—when no one wants you! And call it Duty—when it means that you can’t stand your own home! And call it Work—when thousands of men are starving with the competition as it is! And then to prepare yourself, find two doddering old ladies, and go abroad with them.”
“I want more independence,” said Lucy lamely; she knew that she wanted something, and independence is a useful cry; we can always say that we have not got it. She tried to remember her emotions in Florence: those had been sincere and passionate, and had suggested beauty rather than short skirts and latch-keys. But independence was certainly her cue.
“Very well. Take your independence and be gone. Rush up and down and round the world, and come back as thin as a lath with the bad food. Despise the house that your father built and the garden that he planted, and our dear view—and then share a flat with another girl.”
Lucy screwed up her mouth and said: “Perhaps I spoke hastily.”
“Oh, goodness!” her mother flashed. “How you do remind me of Charlotte Bartlett!”
“Charlotte!” flashed Lucy in her turn, pierced at last by a vivid pain.
“More every moment.”
“I don’t know what you mean, mother; Charlotte and I are not the very least alike.”
“Well, I see the likeness. The same eternal worrying, the same taking back of words. You and Charlotte trying to divide two apples among three people last night might be sisters.”
“What rubbish! And if you dislike Charlotte so, it’s rather a pity you asked her to stop. I warned you about her; I begged you, implored you not to, but of course it was not listened to.”
“There you go.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Charlotte again, my dear; that’s all; her very words.”
Lucy clenched her teeth. “My point is that you oughtn’t to have asked Charlotte to stop. I wish you would keep to the point.” And the conversation died off into a wrangle.
She and her mother shopped in silence, spoke little in the train, little again in the carriage, which met them at Dorking Station. It had poured all day and as they ascended through the deep Surrey lanes showers of water fell from the over-hanging beech-trees and rattled on the hood. Lucy complained that the hood was stuffy. Leaning forward, she looked out into the steaming dusk, and watched the carriage-lamp pass like a search-light over mud and leaves, and reveal nothing beautiful. “The crush when Charlotte gets in will be abominable,” she remarked. For they were to pick up Miss Bartlett at Summer Street, where she had been dropped as the carriage went down, to pay a call on Mr. Beebe’s old mother. “We shall have to sit three a side, because the trees drop, and yet it isn’t raining. Oh, for a little air!” Then she listened to the horse’s hoofs—”He has not told—he has not told.” That melody was blurred by the soft road. “CAN’T we have the hood down?” she demanded, and her mother, with sudden tenderness, said: “Very well, old lady, stop the horse.” And the horse was stopped, and Lucy and Powell wrestled with the hood, and squirted water down Mrs. Honeychurch’s neck. But now that the hood was down, she did see something that she would have missed—there were no lights in the windows of Cissie Villa, and round the garden gate she fancied she saw a padlock.
“Is that house to let again, Powell?” she called.
“Yes, miss,” he replied.
“Have they gone?”
“It is too far out of town for the young gentleman, and his father’s rheumatism has come on, so he can’t stop on alone, so they are trying to let furnished,” was the answer.
“They have gone, then?”
“Yes, miss, they have gone.”
Lucy sank back. The carriage stopped at the Rectory. She got out to call for Miss Bartlett. So the Emersons had gone, and all this bother about Greece had been unnecessary. Waste! That word seemed to sum up the whole of life. Wasted plans, wasted money, wasted love, and she had wounded her mother. Was it possible that she had muddled things away? Quite possible. Other people had. When the maid opened the door, she was unable to speak, and stared stupidly into the hall.
Miss Bartlett at once came forward, and after a long preamble asked a great favour: might she go to church? Mr. Beebe and his mother had already gone, but she had refused to start until she obtained her hostess’s full sanction, for it would mean keeping the horse waiting a good ten minutes more.
“Certainly,” said the hostess wearily. “I forgot it was Friday. Let’s all go. Powell can go round to the stables.”
“No church for me, thank you.”
A sigh, and they departed. The church was invisible, but up in the darkness to the left there was a hint of colour. This was a stained window, through which some feeble light was shining, and when the door opened Lucy heard Mr. Beebe’s voice running through the litany to a minute congregation. Even their church, built upon the slope of the hill so artfully, with its beautiful raised transept and its spire of silvery shingle—even their church had lost its charm; and the thing one never talked about—religion—was fading like all the other things.
She followed the maid into the Rectory.
Would she object to sitting in Mr. Beebe’s study? There was only that one fire.
She would not object.
Some one was there already, for Lucy heard the words: “A lady to wait, sir.”
Old Mr. Emerson was sitting by the fire, with his foot upon a gout-stool.
“Oh, Miss Honeychurch, that you should come!” he quavered; and Lucy saw an alteration in him since last Sunday.
Not a word would come to her lips. George she had faced, and could have faced again, but she had forgotten how to treat his father.
“Miss Honeychurch, dear, we are so sorry! George is so sorry! He thought he had a right to try. I cannot blame my boy, and yet I wish he had told me first. He ought not to have tried. I knew nothing about it at all.”
If only she could remember how to behave!
He held up his hand. “But you must not scold him.”
Lucy turned her back, and began to look at Mr. Beebe’s books.
“I taught him,” he quavered, “to trust in love. I said: ‘When love comes, that is reality.’ I said: ‘Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.'” He sighed: “True, everlastingly true, though my day is over, and though there is the result. Poor boy! He is so sorry! He said he knew it was madness when you brought your cousin in; that whatever you felt you did not mean. Yet”—his voice gathered strength: he spoke out to make certain—”Miss Honeychurch, do you remember Italy?”
Lucy selected a book—a volume of Old Testament commentaries. Holding it up to her eyes, she said: “I have no wish to discuss Italy or any subject connected with your son.”
“But you do remember it?”
“He has misbehaved himself from the first.”
“I only was told that he loved you last Sunday. I never could judge behaviour. I—I—suppose he has.”
Feeling a little steadier, she put the book back and turned round to him. His face was drooping and swollen, but his eyes, though they were sunken deep, gleamed with a child’s courage.
“Why, he has behaved abominably,” she said. “I am glad he is sorry. Do you know what he did?”
“Not ‘abominably,'” was the gentle correction. “He only tried when he should not have tried. You have all you want, Miss Honeychurch: you are going to marry the man you love. Do not go out of George’s life saying he is abominable.”
“No, of course,” said Lucy, ashamed at the reference to Cecil. “‘Abominable’ is much too strong. I am sorry I used it about your son. I think I will go to church, after all. My mother and my cousin have gone. I shall not be so very late—”
“Especially as he has gone under,” he said quietly.
“What was that?”
“Gone under naturally.” He beat his palms together in silence; his head fell on his chest.
“I don’t understand.”
“As his mother did.”
“But, Mr. Emerson—MR. EMERSON—what are you talking about?”
“When I wouldn’t have George baptized,” said he.
Lucy was frightened.
“And she agreed that baptism was nothing, but he caught that fever when he was twelve and she turned round. She thought it a judgement.” He shuddered. “Oh, horrible, when we had given up that sort of thing and broken away from her parents. Oh, horrible—worst of all—worse than death, when you have made a little clearing in the wilderness, planted your little garden, let in your sunlight, and then the weeds creep in again! A judgement! And our boy had typhoid because no clergyman had dropped water on him in church! Is it possible, Miss Honeychurch? Shall we slip back into the darkness for ever?”
“I don’t know,” gasped Lucy. “I don’t understand this sort of thing. I was not meant to understand it.”
“But Mr. Eager—he came when I was out, and acted according to his principles. I don’t blame him or any one… but by the time George was well she was ill. He made her think about sin, and she went under thinking about it.”
It was thus that Mr. Emerson had murdered his wife in the sight of God.
“Oh, how terrible!” said Lucy, forgetting her own affairs at last.
“He was not baptized,” said the old man. “I did hold firm.” And he looked with unwavering eyes at the rows of books, as if—at what cost!—he had won a victory over them. “My boy shall go back to the earth untouched.”
She asked whether young Mr. Emerson was ill.
“Oh—last Sunday.” He started into the present. “George last Sunday—no, not ill: just gone under. He is never ill. But he is his mother’s son. Her eyes were his, and she had that forehead that I think so beautiful, and he will not think it worth while to live. It was always touch and go. He will live; but he will not think it worth while to live. He will never think anything worth while. You remember that church at Florence?”
Lucy did remember, and how she had suggested that George should collect postage stamps.
“After you left Florence—horrible. Then we took the house here, and he goes bathing with your brother, and became better. You saw him bathing?”
“I am so sorry, but it is no good discussing this affair. I am deeply sorry about it.”
“Then there came something about a novel. I didn’t follow it at all; I had to hear so much, and he minded telling me; he finds me too old. Ah, well, one must have failures. George comes down to-morrow, and takes me up to his London rooms. He can’t bear to be about here, and I must be where he is.”
“Mr. Emerson,” cried the girl, “don’t leave at least, not on my account. I am going to Greece. Don’t leave your comfortable house.”
It was the first time her voice had been kind and he smiled. “How good everyone is! And look at Mr. Beebe housing me—came over this morning and heard I was going! Here I am so comfortable with a fire.”
“Yes, but you won’t go back to London. It’s absurd.”
“I must be with George; I must make him care to live, and down here he can’t. He says the thought of seeing you and of hearing about you—I am not justifying him: I am only saying what has happened.”