A Room With a View

Page 4

The lecturer was a clergyman, and his audience must be also his flock, for they held prayer-books as well as guide-books in their hands. They filed out of the chapel in silence. Amongst them were the two little old ladies of the Pension Bertolini—Miss Teresa and Miss Catherine Alan.

“Stop!” cried Mr. Emerson. “There’s plenty of room for us all. Stop!”

The procession disappeared without a word.

Soon the lecturer could be heard in the next chapel, describing the life of St. Francis.

“George, I do believe that clergyman is the Brixton curate.”

George went into the next chapel and returned, saying “Perhaps he is. I don’t remember.”

“Then I had better speak to him and remind him who I am. It’s that Mr. Eager. Why did he go? Did we talk too loud? How vexatious. I shall go and say we are sorry. Hadn’t I better? Then perhaps he will come back.”

“He will not come back,” said George.

But Mr. Emerson, contrite and unhappy, hurried away to apologize to the Rev. Cuthbert Eager. Lucy, apparently absorbed in a lunette, could hear the lecture again interrupted, the anxious, aggressive voice of the old man, the curt, injured replies of his opponent. The son, who took every little contretemps as if it were a tragedy, was listening also.

“My father has that effect on nearly everyone,” he informed her. “He will try to be kind.”

“I hope we all try,” said she, smiling nervously.

“Because we think it improves our characters. But he is kind to people because he loves them; and they find him out, and are offended, or frightened.”

“How silly of them!” said Lucy, though in her heart she sympathized; “I think that a kind action done tactfully—”

“Tact!”

He threw up his head in disdain. Apparently she had given the wrong answer. She watched the singular creature pace up and down the chapel. For a young man his face was rugged, and—until the shadows fell upon it—hard. Enshadowed, it sprang into tenderness. She saw him once again at Rome, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, carrying a burden of acorns. Healthy and muscular, he yet gave her the feeling of greyness, of tragedy that might only find solution in the night. The feeling soon passed; it was unlike her to have entertained anything so subtle. Born of silence and of unknown emotion, it passed when Mr. Emerson returned, and she could re-enter the world of rapid talk, which was alone familiar to her.

“Were you snubbed?” asked his son tranquilly.

“But we have spoilt the pleasure of I don’t know how many people. They won’t come back.”

“…full of innate sympathy…quickness to perceive good in others…vision of the brotherhood of man…” Scraps of the lecture on St. Francis came floating round the partition wall.

“Don’t let us spoil yours,” he continued to Lucy. “Have you looked at those saints?”

“Yes,” said Lucy. “They are lovely. Do you know which is the tombstone that is praised in Ruskin?”

He did not know, and suggested that they should try to guess it. George, rather to her relief, refused to move, and she and the old man wandered not unpleasantly about Santa Croce, which, though it is like a barn, has harvested many beautiful things inside its walls. There were also beggars to avoid and guides to dodge round the pillars, and an old lady with her dog, and here and there a priest modestly edging to his Mass through the groups of tourists. But Mr. Emerson was only half interested. He watched the lecturer, whose success he believed he had impaired, and then he anxiously watched his son.

“Why will he look at that fresco?” he said uneasily. “I saw nothing in it.”

“I like Giotto,” she replied. “It is so wonderful what they say about his tactile values. Though I like things like the Della Robbia babies better.”

“So you ought. A baby is worth a dozen saints. And my baby’s worth the whole of Paradise, and as far as I can see he lives in Hell.”

Lucy again felt that this did not do.

“In Hell,” he repeated. “He’s unhappy.”

“Oh, dear!” said Lucy.

“How can he be unhappy when he is strong and alive? What more is one to give him? And think how he has been brought up—free from all the superstition and ignorance that lead men to hate one another in the name of God. With such an education as that, I thought he was bound to grow up happy.”

She was no theologian, but she felt that here was a very foolish old man, as well as a very irreligious one. She also felt that her mother might not like her talking to that kind of person, and that Charlotte would object most strongly.

“What are we to do with him?” he asked. “He comes out for his holiday to Italy, and behaves—like that; like the little child who ought to have been playing, and who hurt himself upon the tombstone. Eh? What did you say?”

Lucy had made no suggestion. Suddenly he said:

“Now don’t be stupid over this. I don’t require you to fall in love with my boy, but I do think you might try and understand him. You are nearer his age, and if you let yourself go I am sure you are sensible. You might help me. He has known so few women, and you have the time. You stop here several weeks, I suppose? But let yourself go. You are inclined to get muddled, if I may judge from last night. Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them. By understanding George you may learn to understand yourself. It will be good for both of you.”

To this extraordinary speech Lucy found no answer.

“I only know what it is that’s wrong with him; not why it is.”

“And what is it?” asked Lucy fearfully, expecting some harrowing tale.

“The old trouble; things won’t fit.”

“What things?”

“The things of the universe. It is quite true. They don’t.”

“Oh, Mr. Emerson, whatever do you mean?”

In his ordinary voice, so that she scarcely realized he was quoting poetry, he said:

“‘From far, from eve and morning,

And yon twelve-winded sky,

The stuff of life to knit me

Blew hither: here am I’

George and I both know this, but why does it distress him? We know that we come from the winds, and that we shall return to them; that all life is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smoothness. But why should this make us unhappy? Let us rather love one another, and work and rejoice. I don’t believe in this world sorrow.”

Miss Honeychurch assented.

“Then make my boy think like us. Make him realize that by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes—a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes.”

Suddenly she laughed; surely one ought to laugh. A young man melancholy because the universe wouldn’t fit, because life was a tangle or a wind, or a Yes, or something!

“I’m very sorry,” she cried. “You’ll think me unfeeling, but—but—” Then she became matronly. “Oh, but your son wants employment. Has he no particular hobby? Why, I myself have worries, but I can generally forget them at the piano; and collecting stamps did no end of good for my brother. Perhaps Italy bores him; you ought to try the Alps or the Lakes.”

The old man’s face saddened, and he touched her gently with his hand. This did not alarm her; she thought that her advice had impressed him and that he was thanking her for it. Indeed, he no longer alarmed her at all; she regarded him as a kind thing, but quite silly. Her feelings were as inflated spiritually as they had been an hour ago esthetically, before she lost Baedeker. The dear George, now striding towards them over the tombstones, seemed both pitiable and absurd. He approached, his face in the shadow. He said:

“Miss Bartlett.”

“Oh, good gracious me!” said Lucy, suddenly collapsing and again seeing the whole of life in a new perspective. “Where? Where?”

“In the nave.”

“I see. Those gossiping little Miss Alans must have—” She checked herself.

“Poor girl!” exploded Mr. Emerson. “Poor girl!”

She could not let this pass, for it was just what she was feeling herself.

“Poor girl? I fail to understand the point of that remark. I think myself a very fortunate girl, I assure you. I’m thoroughly happy, and having a splendid time. Pray don’t waste time mourning over me. There’s enough sorrow in the world, isn’t there, without trying to invent it. Good-bye. Thank you both so much for all your kindness. Ah, yes! there does come my cousin. A delightful morning! Santa Croce is a wonderful church.”

She joined her cousin.
Chapter III: Music, Violets, and the Letter “S”

It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave. The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. Lucy had done so never.

She was no dazzling executante; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer’s evening with the window open. Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style. And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph.

A very wet afternoon at the Bertolini permitted her to do the thing she really liked, and after lunch she opened the little draped piano. A few people lingered round and praised her playing, but finding that she made no reply, dispersed to their rooms to write up their diaries or to sleep. She took no notice of Mr. Emerson looking for his son, nor of Miss Bartlett looking for Miss Lavish, nor of Miss Lavish looking for her cigarette-case. Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.

Mr. Beebe, sitting unnoticed in the window, pondered this illogical element in Miss Honeychurch, and recalled the occasion at Tunbridge Wells when he had discovered it. It was at one of those entertainments where the upper classes entertain the lower. The seats were filled with a respectful audience, and the ladies and gentlemen of the parish, under the auspices of their vicar, sang, or recited, or imitated the drawing of a champagne cork. Among the promised items was “Miss Honeychurch. Piano. Beethoven,” and Mr. Beebe was wondering whether it would be Adelaida, or the march of The Ruins of Athens, when his composure was disturbed by the opening bars of Opus III. He was in suspense all through the introduction, for not until the pace quickens does one know what the performer intends. With the roar of the opening theme he knew that things were going extraordinarily; in the chords that herald the conclusion he heard the hammer strokes of victory. He was glad that she only played the first movement, for he could have paid no attention to the winding intricacies of the measures of nine-sixteen. The audience clapped, no less respectful. It was Mr. Beebe who started the stamping; it was all that one could do.

“Who is she?” he asked the vicar afterwards.

“Cousin of one of my parishioners. I do not consider her choice of a piece happy. Beethoven is so usually simple and direct in his appeal that it is sheer perversity to choose a thing like that, which, if anything, disturbs.”

“Introduce me.”

“She will be delighted. She and Miss Bartlett are full of the praises of your sermon.”

“My sermon?” cried Mr. Beebe. “Why ever did she listen to it?”

When he was introduced he understood why, for Miss Honeychurch, disjoined from her music stool, was only a young lady with a quantity of dark hair and a very pretty, pale, undeveloped face. She loved going to concerts, she loved stopping with her cousin, she loved iced coffee and meringues. He did not doubt that she loved his sermon also. But before he left Tunbridge Wells he made a remark to the vicar, which he now made to Lucy herself when she closed the little piano and moved dreamily towards him:

“If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.”