LOVE AND LUCY
Author of "The Forest Lovers," "The Life and Death of Richard Yea and Nay," etc.
New York Dodd, Mead and Company 1916
Copyright, 1916 by Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
I ONSLOW SQUARE 1 II A DINNER PARTY 16 III IN THE DRAWING-ROOM 31 IV AFTER-TALK 41 V EROS STEPS IN 53 VI A LEAP OUTWARDS 74 VII PATIENCE AND PSYCHE 84 VIII AGAIN 102 IX SUNDRY ROMANTIC EPISODES 112 X AT A WORLD'S EDGE 121 XI ANTEROS 134 XII MARTLEY THICKET (1) 148 XIII MARTLEY THICKET (2) 162 XIV THE GREAT SCHEME 175 XV JAMES 188 XVI Amari Aliquid 196 XVII THE SHIVERING FIT 209 XVIII THE HARDANGER 227 XIX THE MOON-SPELL 235 XX FAIR WARNING 247 XXI THE DEPARTURE 256 XXII CATASTROPHE 268 XXIII JAMES AND JIMMY 280 XXIV URQUHART'S APOLOGY 292 EPILOGUE: Quid Plura? 306
LOVE AND LUCY
This is a romantic tale. So romantic is it that I shall be forced to pry into the coy recesses of the mind in order to exhibit a connected, reasonable affair, not only of a man and his wife prosperously seated in the mean of things, nel mezzo del cammin in space as well as time—for the Macartneys belonged to the middle class, and were well on to the middle of life themselves—, but of stript, quivering and winged souls tiptoe within them, tiptoe for flight into diviner spaces than any seemly bodies can afford them. As you peruse you may find it difficult to believe that Macartney himself—James Adolphus, that remarkable solicitor—could have possessed a quivering, winged soul fit to be stript, and have hidden it so deep. But he did though, and the inference is that everybody does. As for the lady, that is not so hard of belief. It very seldom is—with women. They sit so much at windows, that pretty soon their eyes become windows themselves—out of which the soul looks darkling, but preening; out of which it sometimes launches itself into the deep, wooed thereto or not by aubade or serena. But a man, with his vanity haunting him, pulls the blinds down or shuts the shutters, to have it decently to himself, and his looking-glass; and you are not to know what storm is enacting deeply within. Finally, I wish once for all to protest against the fallacy that piracy, brigandage, pearl-fishery and marooning are confined to the wilder parts of the habitable globe. Never was a greater, if more amiable, delusion fostered (to serve his simplicity) by Lord Byron and others. Because a man wears trousers, shall there be no more cakes and ale? Because a woman subscribes to the London Institution, desires the suffrage, or presides at a Committee, does the bocca baciata perde ventura? Believe me, no. There are at least two persons in each of us, one at least of which can course the starry spaces and inhabit where the other could hardly breathe for ten minutes. Such is my own experience, and such was the experience of the Macartney pair—and now I have done with exordial matter.
The Macartneys had a dinner-party on the twelfth of January. There were to be twelve people at it, in spite of the promised assistance of Lancelot at dessert, which Lucy comforted herself by deciding would only make twelve and a half, not thirteen. She told that to her husband, who fixed more firmly his eyeglass, and grunted, "I'm not superstitious, myself." He may not have been, but certainly, Lucy told herself, he wasn't very good at little jokes. Lancelot, on the other hand, was very good at them. "Twelve and a half!" he said, lifting one eyebrow, just like his father. "Why, I'm twelve and a half myself!" Then he propounded his little joke. "I say, Mamma, on the twelve and halfth of January—because the evening is exactly half the day—twelve and a half people have a dinner-party, and one of them is twelve and a half. Isn't that neat?"
Lucy encouraged her beloved. "It's very neat indeed," she said, and her grey eyes glowed, or seemed to glow.
"It's what we call an omen at school," said Lancelot. "It means—oh, well, it means lots of things, like you're bound to have it, and it's bound to be a frightful success, or an utter failure, or something of that kind." He thought about it. Developments crowded upon him. "I say, Mamma—" all this was at breakfast, Macartney shrouding himself in the Morning Post:
"It would be awfully good, awfully ingenious and all that, if one of the people was twice twelve and a half."
She agreed. "Yes, I should like that. Very likely one of them is."
Lancelot looked extremely serious. "Not Mr. Urquhart?" he said.
"No," said Lucy, "I am sure Mr. Urquhart is older than that. But there's Margery Dacre. She might do."
Lancelot had his own ideas as to whether women counted or not, in omens, but was too polite to express them.
"Is she twenty-five, do you think? She's rather thin." Lucy exploded, and had to kiss the unconscious humourist. "Do you think we grow fatter as we grow older? Then you must think me immense, because I'm much more than twenty-five," she said.
Here was a vital matter. It is impossible to do justice to Lancelot's seriousness, on the edge of truth. "How much more are you, really?" he asked her, trembling for the answer.
She looked heavenly pretty, with her drawn-back head and merry eyes. She was a dark-haired woman with a tender smile; but her eyes were her strong feature—of an intensely blue-grey iris, ringed with black. Poising to tantalise him, adoring the fun of it, suddenly she melted, leaned until her cheek touched his, and whispered the dreadful truth—"Thirty-one."
I wish I could do justice to his struggle, politeness tussling with pity for a fall, but tripping it up, and rising to the proper lightness of touch. "Are you really thirty-one? Oh, well, that's nothing." It was gallantly done. She kissed him again, and Lancelot changed the subject.
"There's Mr. Lingen, isn't there?" he asked, adding, "He's always here."
"Much more than twenty-five," said his mother, very much aware of Mr. Lingen's many appearances in Onslow Square. She made one more attempt at her husband, wishing, as she always did wish, to draw him into the company. It was not too successful. "Lingen? Oh, a stripling," he said lightly and rustled the Morning Post like an aspen tree.
"Father always talks as if he was a hundred himself," said Lancelot, who was not afraid of him. He had to be content with Miss Dacre after all. The others—the Judge and Lady Bliss, Aunt Mabel and Uncle Corbet, the Worthingtons, were out of the question. As for Miss Bacchus—oh, Miss Bacchus was, at least, five hundred, said Lancelot, and wished to add up all the ages to see if they came to a multiple of twelve and a half.
Meanwhile Mr. Macartney in his leisurely way had risen from the table, cigar in mouth, had smoothed his hair before the glass on the chimney-piece, looked at his boots, wriggled his toes in them with gratifying results, adjusted his coat-collar, collected his letters in a heap, and left the room. They saw no more of him. Half an hour later the front door shut upon him. He had gone to his office, or, as he always said, Chambers.
He was rather bleak, and knew it, reckoning it among his social assets. Reduced into a sentence, it may be said of Macartney that the Chief Good in his philosophy was to be, and to seem, successful without effort. What effort he may have made to conceal occasional strenuous effort is neither here nor there. The point is that, at forty-two, he found himself solidly and really successful. The husband of a very pretty wife, the father of a delightful and healthy son, the best-dressed solicitor in London, and therefore, you may fairly say, in the world, with an earned income of some three or four thousand a year, with money in the funds, two houses, and all the rest of it, a member of three very old-fashioned, most uncomfortable and absurdly exclusive clubs—if this is not success, what is? And all got smoothly, without a crease of the forehead, by means of an eyeglass, a cold manner and an impassivity which nothing foreign or domestic had ever disturbed. He had ability too, and great industry, but it was characteristic of him to reckon these as nothing in the scales against the eyeglass and the manner. They were his by the grace of God; but the others, he felt, were his own additions, and of the best. These sort of investments enabled a man to sleep; they assured one of completeness of effect. Nevertheless he was a much more acute and vigorous-minded man than he chose to appear.
He was a solicitor, it is true, and had once been called an attorney by a client in a rage; but he could afford to smile at that because he was quite a peculiar sort of solicitor, by no means everybody's money. Rather, he was a luxury, an appanage of the great. His office, which he called "Chambers," as if it was an old house in the country, was in Cork Street; his clients were landed gentry, bankers, peers and sons of peers. The superior clergy, too: he handled the affairs of a Bishop of Lukesboro', and those of no less than three Deans and Chapters. Tall, dark and trenchant, with a strong nose and chin, and clouded grey eyes, a handsome man with a fine air of arrogant comfort on him, he stood well, and you could not but see what good clothes he wore—to my taste, I confess, a little too good. His legs were a feature, and great play was made by wits with his trousers. He was said to have two hundred pairs, and to be aiming at three hundred and sixty-five. Certainly they had an edge, and must have been kept in order like razors; but the legend that they were stropped after every day's use is absurd. They used to say that they would cut paper easily, and every kind of cheese except Parmesan.
He wore an eyeglass, which, with the wry smile made necessary by its use, had the marked effect of intimidating his clients and driving them into indiscretions, admissions and intemperate discourse. Hypnotised by the unknown terrific of which the glitter of the blank surface, the writhen and antick smile were such formidable symbols, they thought that he knew all, and provided that he should by telling it him. To these engines of mastery he had added a third. He practised laconics, and carried them to the very breaking point. He had in his time—I repeat the tale—gone without his breakfast for three days running rather than say that he preferred his egg poached. His wife had been preoccupied at the time—it had been just before Lancelot was born, barely a year after marriage—and had not noticed that he left cup and platter untouched. She was very penitent afterwards, as he had intended she should be. The egg was poached—and even so she was afraid to ask him when the time was ripe to boil it again. It made her miserable; but he never spoke of it. Of course all that was old history. She was hardened by this time, but still dreadfully conscious of his comforts, or possible discomforts.
This was the manner of the man who, you may say, had quizzed, or mesmerised, Lucy Meade into marriage. She had been scarcely eighteen; I believe that she was just seventeen and a half when he presented himself, the second of three pretty, dark-haired and grey-eyed girls, the slimmest and, as I think, by far the prettiest. The Meades lived at Drem House, which is practically within Bushey Park. Here the girls saw much society, for the old Meades were hospitable, and the Mother Meade, a Scotchwoman, had a great idea of establishing her daughters. The sons she left to Father Meade and his competent money-bags. Here then James Adolphus Macartney presented himself, and here sat smiling bleakly, glaring through his glass, one eyebrow raised to enclose it safely—and waited for her to give herself away. Swaying beneath that shining disk, she did it infallibly; and he heard her out at leisure, and accepted her.
That's poetry of course. Really, it came near to that. He had said to her at a garden-party, in his easiest, airiest manner, "You can't help knowing that I am in love with you. Now, don't you think that we should be a happy couple? I do. What do you say, Lucy? Shall we have a shot?" He had taken her hand—they were alone under a cedar tree—and she had not known how to take it away. She was then kissed, and had lost any opportunity there might have been. That was what really happened, and as she told her sister Mabel some time afterwards, when the engagement had been made public and there could be no question of going back, "You know, Mabel, he seemed to expect it, and I couldn't help feeling at the time that he was justified." Mabel, tossing her head up, had protested, "Oh, my dear, nobody knows whether he was justified but yourself;" and Lucy, "No, of course not." "The question," Mabel went on, "is whether you encouraged him or not." Lucy was clear about that: "No, not the least in the world. He—encouraged himself. I felt that I simply had to do something."
I suspect that that is perfectly true. I am sure that he did just as I said he always did, and bluffed her into marriage with an eyeglass and smile awry. Whether or no he bluffed himself into it too, tempted by the power of his magic apparatus, is precisely the matter which I am to determine. It may have been so—but anyhow the facts show you how successful he was in doing what had to be done. Cosa fatta capo ha, as the proverb says. The thing done, whether wisely or not, was smoothly done. Everything was of a piece with that. He pulled off whatever he tried for, without any apparent effort. People used to say that he was like a river, smoothly flowing, very deep, rippling, constant in mutability, husbanding and guiding his eddies. It's not a bad figure of him. He liked it himself, and smiled more askew and peered more blandly when he heard it.
Small things betray men. Here is one. His signature was invariably in full: "Yours very truly, James Adolphus Macartney." It was as if he knew that Adolphus was rather comic opera, but wouldn't stoop to disguise it. Why bother? He crowded it upon the Bishop, upon the Dean and Chapter of Mells, upon old Lord Drake. He said, "Why conceal the fact that my sponsors made a faux pas? There it is, and have done with it. Such things have only to be faced to be seen as nothings. What! are we reasonable beings?"
Now when Lucy Meade, practically a child for all her sedateness and serious eyes, married him, two things terrified her on the day. One was her husband and the other lest her friends should discover it. They never did, and in time her panic wore off. She fought it in the watches of the night and in the glare of her lonely days. Not a soul, not her mother, not even Mabel, knew her secret. James never became comic to her; she never saw him a figure of fun; but she was able to treat him as a human being. Lancelot's arrival made all the difference in the world to that matter as to all her other matters, for even Lucy herself could not help seeing how absurdly jealous James was of his offspring. For a time he was thrown clean out of the saddle and as near falling in his own esteem as ever in life. But he recovered his balance, and though he never regained his old ascendency, which had been that of a Ju-ju, he was able to feel himself, as he said, "Master in his own house," with a very real reserve of terrorism—if it should be wanted. The great thing, Macartney thought, was discipline, constant, watchful discipline. A man must bend everything to that. Women have to learn the virtue of giving up, as well as of giving. Giving is easy; any woman knows that; but giving up. Let that be seen as a subtle, a sublimated form of giving, and the lesson is learned. But practice makes perfect. You must never relax the rein. He never did. There was all the ingenuity and patience of a woman about him.
By this time, after twelve years and more of marriage, they were very good friends; or, why not say, old acquaintances? There are two kinds of crystallisation in love affairs, with all respect to M. de Stendhal. One kind hardens the surfaces without any decorative effect. There are no facets visible, no angles to catch the light. In the case of the Macartney marriage I suspect this to have been the only kind—a kind of callosity, protective and numbing. The less they were thrown together, she found, the better friends they were. At home they were really no more than neighbours; abroad she was Mrs. Macartney, and never would dine out without him. She was old-fashioned; her friends called her a prude. But she was not at all unhappy. She liked to think of Lancelot, she said, and to be quiet. And really, as Miss Bacchus (a terrible old woman) once said, Lucy was so little of a married woman that she was perfectly innocent.
But she was one-and-thirty, and as sweet and pretty a woman as you would wish to see. She had the tender, dragging smile of a Luini Madonna; grave, twilight eyes, full of compassionate understanding; very dark eyebrows, very long lashes, like the fringe of rain over a moorland landscape. She had a virginal shape, and liked her clothes to cling about her knees. Long fingers, longish, thin feet. But her humorous sense was acute and very delightful, and all children loved her. Such charms as these must have been as obvious to herself as they were to everybody else. She had a modest little court of her own. Francis Lingen was almost admittedly in love with her; one of Macartney's friends. But she accepted her riches soberly, and did not fret that they must be so hoarded. If, by moments, as she saw herself, or looked at herself, in the glass, a grain of bitterness surged up in her throat, that all this fair seeming could not be put out to usury—! well, she put it to herself very differently, not at all in words, but in narrowed scrutinising eyes, half-turns of the pretty head, a sigh and lips pressed together. There had been—nay, there was—Lancelot, her darling. That was usufruct; but usury was a different thing. There had never been what you would call, or Miss Bacchus would certainly call, usury. That, indeed! She would raise her fine brows, compress her lips, and turn to her bed, then put out the light. Lying awake very often, she might hear James chain the front door, trumpet through his nose on the mat, and slowly mount the stairs to his own room. She thought resolutely of Lancelot pursuing his panting quests at school, or of her garden in mid-June, or of the gorse afire on Wycross Common,—and so to sleep.
A long chapter, but you will know the Macartney pair by means of it.
A DINNER PARTY
This was not to be one of Macartney's grand full-dress dinner-parties, the sort where you might have two lords, and would be sure to have one with his lady; or a Cabinet Minister in a morning-coat and greenish tie; or a squire and squiress from Northumberland up for a month of the season; or the Dean of Mells. No, nor was it to be one which Lucy had to give to her visiting-list, and at which, as Macartney rarely failed to remark, there was bound to be a clergyman, and some lean woman with straw-coloured hair interested in a Settlement. It was to be a particular kind of dinner-party, this one, of which the first object was to bring Urquhart in touch with Lingen. It could have been done at a club, no doubt. Macartney admitted it. "Yes, I know, I know,"—he used his most tired voice, as if he had been combating the suggestion all along. "You are perfectly right. It might—if it had not happened to be exactly what I didn't want. Jimmy Urquhart is rather a queer fish. He is apt to shy off if one is not careful. It don't suit me to bring them together explicitly, do you see? I want them to happen on each other. They can do that better here than anywhere. Do you see?"
Lucy saw, or saw enough. She never enquired into James's law affairs. "Shall I like Mr. Urquhart, do you think?" she asked him.
The eyeglass focussed upon the cornice, and glared at a fly which found itself belated there. "Oh, I think so. Why not?"
"Well, you see, I don't know why not—or why I should. Have I ever seen him?"
James was bored. "No doubt you have. He's very much about."
"Yes," said Lucy, "but I am not."
James left the fly, and fixed her—apparently with horror. Then he looked at his boots and moved his toes up and down. "He looks like a naval officer," he said; "you instinctively seek the cuffs of his coat. Beef-coloured face, blue eyes, a square-jawed chap. Yes, you might like him. He might amuse you. He's a great liar." Lucy thought that she might like Mr. Urquhart.
On those lines the party was arranged: the Blisses because "we owe them a dinner; and I think the Judge will be amused by Jimmy;" the Worthingtons—make-weights; but "She's a soft pink woman, like a Persian kitten."
"Does Mr. Urquhart like that?" Lucy asked, but James, who didn't like his jokes to be capped, said drily, "I don't know."
Then Lucy's favourite sister Mabel was to be allowed because James rather liked Corbet. He thought him good style. Now we wanted two women. One must be Miss Bacchus—"hideous, of course," said James; "a kind of crime, but very smart." He meant that she mixed with the aristocracy, which was true, though nobody knew why. The last was to be Margery Dacre, a very pretty girl. Lucy put her forward, and James thought her over, gazing out of window. "I like her name," he said—so Lucy knew that she was admitted.
That was all. The rest was her care, and he washed his mind of it, very sure that she would see to it. He wished the two men to meet for a particular reason in a haphazard way, because it was better to drift Urquhart into a thing than to lead him up to it. Moreover, it was not at all disagreeable to him that Urquhart, a club and office acquaintance, should see how comfortably placed he was, how well appointed with wife and child, with manservant and maidservant and everything that was his. Urquhart was a rich man, and to know that his lawyer was rich was no bad thing. It inspired confidence. Now the particular thing to be done with the two men, Francis Lingen and Urquhart, was this. Francis Lingen, who might be a baronet some day and well to do, was at the moment, as at most moments hitherto, very short of money. Urquhart always had plenty. Macartney's idea was that he might get Urquhart to fill Francis Lingen's pockets, on terms which could easily be arranged. There was ample security, of course. Francis Lingen could have gone to the Jews, or the bank, but if the thing could be done in a gentlemanly way through one's lawyer, who also happened to be a gentleman, in one's own set, and so on—well, why not?
Hence the little dinner, over whose setting forth Lucy puckered her brows with Mrs. Jenkins, her admirable cook, and wrote many notes on little slips of paper which she kept for the purpose. She knew quite well when James was "particular" about a party. He said less than usual when he was "particular." Over this one he said practically nothing. So she toiled, and made a success of it.
The drawing-room looked charming, and she herself in black over white, with her pearls, the most charming thing in it. It wanted a week of Lancelot's day for school; he was to come in to dessert—that was understood. But the possible danger of a thirteenth was removed by their being two tables of six each. James had suddenly ordered this variation of practice—he did not say why—and so it was to be. Crewdson, the invaluable butler-valet of the house, who presided over a zenana of maids, and seemed to carry his whiskers into the fray like an oriflamme, was visibly perturbed at this new notion. "Mr. Macartney has his reason, we know. But how is one gentleman's servant to split himself in halves? And where does he stand, Mrs. Jenkins? With tables dotted about—like a cafe—or an archumpelygo?" He knew that it was done in the highest places, but he knew his own place best. "We are not what you call the smart set," he said. "We are not Park Lane or Brook Street. But we are solid—the professions—the land and the church. No jinks in this house. And small tables is jinks. Not a dinner, but a kick-up." So Crewdson thought, and so he looked, but his master was flint.
Mabel came the first, the lively and successful Mabel, two years younger than Lucy—she and Laurence: he was Laurence Corbet, Esq., of Peltry Park, Wavertree, and Roehampton, S.W., a hunting man and retired soldier, as neatly groomed as a man may be. He was jolly, and adored his Mabel. He was county, and approved by James. Lucy used to say of him that his smile could cure a toothache. Lancelot pounced upon the pair instantly and retired with them to the conservatory to show off his orange-tree, whose pip had been plunged on his first birthday. But before long a suspicious sliding of the feet and a shout from Corbet of "Goal!" betrayed the orange-tree's eclipse.
Next plunged Miss Bacchus, with her front hair and front teeth, and air of digging you in the ribs. She explained that she made a point of being early lest she should be taken for an actress, and forestalled Macartney's assurance that she never would be—which annoyed him. The Worthingtons—she like an autumn flower-bed, and he pale and sleek—and Francis Lingen came in together: Lingen, a very elegant, pale pink and frail young man with a straw-coloured moustache, who bowed when he shook your hand as if he was going to kiss it but remembered just in time that he was in England. He lowered his voice when he spoke to women, and most of them liked it. Lucy wasn't sure whether she did or not. It made her self-conscious and perverse at once. She found herself wondering (a) whether he was going to make love to her, (b) when he was going to begin, and (c) how she might best cut him out. All this was bewildering, made her feel stupid, and annoyed her. But she really liked Francis Lingen, and had been amused to discover how much he was "Francis" in her private mind. Certainly he was very elegant. He had an outside pocket to his dress coat, and a handkerchief which you could have plugged your tooth with.
He had just said to Lucy, "I'm so glad to see you. It's more than a week since we met—and I want your advice—" when Crewdson, like a priest, announced Sir Matthew and Lady Bliss. The Judge and his dame were before Lucy—the lady had a motherly soul in crimson satin and paste, the gentleman square and solid, like a pillar-box with a bald head. That is a pretty exact description of him. The Judge was very square-headed, very shiny and very plain; but he was solid, and he was useful. Macartney used to say that he had a face like a bad egg. Certainly he was curdled—but he shone and looked healthy.
Lucy allowed herself to be mothered, and in the meantime murmured the Judge's name and Miss Bacchus's.
"Everybody knows Miss Bacchus," said the gallant man, and Miss Bacchus briskly rejoined, "More people know Tom Fool—" After that they got on excellently. Then she heard from the door, "Mr. Urquhart" and had time to turn Francis Lingen over to Lady Bliss before she faced the ruddy and blue-eyed stranger. Her first thought, the only one she had time for, was "What very blue eyes, what a very white shirt-front!" when she shook hands.
"How d'ye do? You won't know who I am," he said at once.
"Oh, but I do," she assured him. "James described you to me."
He blinked. "Oh, did he? I suppose he told you I was a great liar?"
James's very words. She nodded without speaking, but laughter flickered over her face like summer lightning.
"Well," said Urquhart, "I am—to him. I've known Macartney for years—long before you did. I like him, but I think he gives himself airs. Now you can't, you know, when the man with you is a liar. You never know where to have a liar, or whether you have him or not. And then you get in a fright whether he's not having you. Macartney, saving your presence, doesn't like being had."
Lucy laughed, and turned to wave her hand to Lancelot in the entry of the conservatory.
"That your boy?" Urquhart asked. "But of course. He's like you—with his father's tricks." That was perfectly true. "And that's your sister, of course. Pretty woman. Like you too—you in a sunset." Perfect unconsciousness robbed this open commentary of sting.
Upon him drifted Mrs. Worthington, like a peony in the tideway. Urquhart bowed. "Your servant, ma'am."
She cried, "Hullo, Jimmy, you here?"
"Why, I thought you were in Switzerland."
"So I was," he said. "All among the curates. But I came back—because they didn't." He turned to Lucy. "And because I was asked here."
She asked him, "Were you ski-ing? Lancelot will grudge you that."
He told her, "I was not. No lonely death for me. I was bobbing it. You are swept off by dozens at a time there—by fifties in a cave. It's more cheerful." Then he seemed to remark something which he thought she ought to know. "Jimmy. You heard her? Now Macartney and I are both called James. But who ever made a Jimmy of him?" She was annoyed with him—the man seemed to suppose she could be pleased by crabbing James—and glad of Margery Dacre, a mermaid in sea-green, who swam in with apologies—due to Macartney's abhorrent eyeglass upon her. And then they all went in to their archumpelygo, where Crewdson and his ladies were waiting for them, rari nautes.
Lucy's table—she was between the Judge and Urquhart and had Mabel, Worthington and Miss Bacchus before her—at once took the mastery. Urquhart fixed Crewdson with his eye and thenceforward commanded him. James's eyeglass, speechless with horror over Lady Bliss's shoulder, glared like a frosty moon.
Miss Bacchus, it seems, was his old acquaintance. She too called him Jimmy, and drove at him with vigour. He charged her not to rally him, and being between the two sisters, talked to both of them at once, or rather started them off, as a music-hall singer starts the gallery, and then let them go on over his head.
They talked of Wycross, Lucy's house in the country, compared it with Peltry, which Mabel deprecated as a barrack, and came to hear of Urquhart's house in the New Forest. It was called Martley Thicket. Urquhart said it was a good sort of place. "I've made an immense lake," he said, with his eyes so very wide that Miss Bacchus said, "You're making two, now." He described Martley and the immense lake. "House stands high in beech woods, but is cut out to the south. It heads a valley—lawns on three sides, smooth as billiard tables—then the lake with a marble lip—and steps—broad and low steps, in flights of eight. Very good, you know. You shall see it."
Lucy wanted to know, "How big was the lake, really."
Urquhart said, "It looked a mile—but that's the art of the thing. Really, it's two hundred and fifty yards. Much better than a jab in the eye with a blunt stick. I did it by drainage, and a dam. Took a year to get the water up. When a hunted stag took to it and swam across, I felt that I'd done something. Fishing? I should think so. And a bathing-house in a wooded corner—in a cane-brake of bamboos. You'll like it."
Miss Bacchus said, "I don't believe a word of it;" but he seemed not to hear her.
"When will you come and see it?" he asked Lucy.
She agreed that see it she must, if only to settle whether it existed or not. "You see that Miss Bacchus has no doubts."
Urquhart said, "She never has—about anything. She is fixed in certainty like a bee in amber. A dull life."
"Bless you, Jimmy," she said, "I thrive on it—and you'll never thrive."
"Pooh!" said Urquhart, "what you call thriving I call degradation. What! you snuggle in there out of the draughts—and then somebody comes along and rubs you, and picks up bits of paper with you." His good spirits made the thing go—and James's eyeglass prevailed not against it.
But Urquhart's real triumph was at dessert—Lancelot sedately by his mother; between her and the Judge, who briskly made way for him. Lancelot in his Eton jacket took on an air of precocious, meditative wisdom infinitely diverting to a man who reflects upon boys—and, no doubt, infinitely provocative.
His coming broke up the talk and made one of those momentous pauses which are sometimes paralysing to a table. This one was so, and even threatened the neighbouring island. Upon it broke the voice of Urquhart talking to Mabel Corbet.
"I was out in Corfu in 1906," he was heard to say; "I was in fact in the bath, when one of my wives came to the door, and said that there was a Turk in the almond-tree. I got a duck-gun which I had and went out—" Lancelot's eyes, fixed and pulsing, interdicted him. They held up the monologue. In his hand was a robust apple; but that was forgotten.
"I say," he said, "have you got two wives?"
Urquhart's eyes met his with an extenuating look. "It was some time ago, you see," he said; and then, passing it off, "There are as many as you like out there. Dozens."
Lancelot absorbed this explanation through the eyes. You could see them at it, chewing it like a cud. He was engrossed in it—Lucy watched him. "I say—two wives!" and then, giving it up, with a savage attack he bit into his apple and became incoherent. One cheek bulged dangerously and required all his present attention. Finally, after a time of high tension, Urquhart's wives and the apple were bolted together, and given over to the alimentary juices. The Turk in the almond-tree was lost sight of, and no one knows why he was there, or how he was got out—if indeed he ever was. For all that, Urquhart finished his story to his two ladies; but Lucy paid him divided attention, being more interested in her Lancelot than in Urquhart's Turk.
Francis Lingen, at the other table, kept a cold eye upon the easy man who was to provide him with ready money, as he hoped. He admired ease as much as anybody, and believed that he had it. But he was very much in love with Lucy, and felt the highest disapproval of Urquhart's kind of spread-eagle hardihood. He bent over his plate like the willow-tree upon one. His eyelids glimmered, he was rather pink, and used his napkin to his lips. To his neighbour of the left, who was Lady Bliss, he spoke sotto voce of "our variegated friend," and felt that he had disposed of him. But that "one of his wives" filled him with a sullen despair. What were you to do with that sort of man? Macartney saw all this and was dreadfully bored. "Damn Jimmy Urquhart," he said to himself. "Now I shall have to work for my living—which I hate, after dinner."
But he did it. "We'll go and talk to the Judge," he said to his company, and led the way. Urquhart settled down to claret, and was taciturn. He answered Linden's tentative openings in monosyllables. But he and the Judge got on very well.
IN THE DRAWING-ROOM
After dinner, when the men came into the drawing-room, Francis Lingen went directly to Lucy and began to talk to her. Lancelot fidgeted for Urquhart who, however, was in easy converse with the Judge and his host—looking at the water-colours as the talk went on, and cutting in as a thought struck him. Lucy, seeing that all her guests were reasonably occupied, lent herself to Lingen's murmured conversation, and felt for it just so much tolerance, so much compassion, you may say, as to be able to brave Mabel's quizzing looks from across the room. Mabel always had a gibe for Francis Lingen. She called him the Ewe Lamb, and that kind of thing. It was plain that she scorned him. Lucy, on the other hand, pitied him without knowing it, which was even more desperate for the young man. It had never entered Lingen's head, however, that anybody could pity him. True, he was poor; but then he was very expensive. He liked good things; he liked them choice. And they must have distinction; above all, they must be rare. He had some things which were unique: a chair in ivory and bronze, one of a set made for Mme. de Lamballe, and two of Horace Walpole's snuff-boxes. He had a private printing-press, and did his own poems, on vellum. He had turned off a poem to Lucy while she was inspecting the appareil once. "To L. M. from the Fount." "Sonnets while you wait," said Mabel, curving her upper lip; but there was nothing in it, because many ladies had received the same tribute. He had borrowed that too from Horace Walpole, and only wanted notice. Now you don't pity a man who can do these things, even if he has got no money; and for what else but want of money could you pity a man of taste?
I believe myself that both Mabel and Lucy overrated Francis Lingen's attentions. I don't think that they amounted to much more than providing himself with a sounding-board, and occasional looking-glass. He loved to talk, and to know himself listened to; he loved to look and to know himself looked at. You learned a lot about yourself that way. You saw how your things were taken. A poet—for he called himself poet, and had once so described himself in a hotel visitors' book—a poet can only practise his art by exerting it, and only learn its effect by studying his hearers. He preferred ladies for audience, and one lady at a time: there were obvious reasons for that. Men never like other men's poetry. Wordsworth, we know, avowedly read but his own.
But Mabel, and Lucy too, read all sorts of implications. His lowered tones, his frequency, his persistence—"My dear, he caresses you with his eyes. You know he does," Mabel used to say. Lucy wondered whether he really did, and ended by supposing it.
Just now, therefore, Francis Lingen flowed murmuring on his way, like a purling brook, rippling, fluctuant, carrying insignificant straws, insects of the hour, on his course, never jamming, or heaving up, monotonous but soothing. And as for implications—! Good Heavens, he was stuffed with them like a Michaelmas goose.... "I do so wish that you could talk with her. You could do so much to straighten things out for the poor child. You are so wise. There's a kind of balm in your touch upon life, something that's aromatic and healing at once. Sainfoin, the healing herb—that should be your emblem. I have always thought so. By the by, have you an emblem? I wish you'd let me find you one. Old Gerrard will give it me—and I will give it to you. Some patient, nimble-fingered good soul has coloured my copy. You shall have it faithfully rendered; and it shall be framed by Le Notre of Vigo Street—do you know his work? You must—and stand on your writing-table.... I see you are shaping a protest. Frugality? Another of your shining qualities. Not of mine? No, no. I admire it in you. It is not a manly virtue. A 'frugal swain' means a harassed wife. Now, confess. Would you have me board? I believe I would do it if you asked me...." Not very exciting, all this; but if you want implications—!
It was while this was going on that Lancelot, hovering and full of purpose, annexed Urquhart. The Judge, suddenly aware of him between them, put a hand upon his head as you might fondle the top of a pedestal—which Lancelot, intent upon his prey, endured. Then his moment came, a decent subsidence of anecdotes, and his upturned eyes caught Urquhart's.
"I say, will you come and see my orange-tree? It's just over there, in the conservatory. It's rather interesting—to me, you know."
Urquhart considered the proposition. "Yes," he said, "I'll do that." And they went off, Lancelot on tiptoe. Lucy's attention strayed.
The orange-tree was exhibited, made the most of; its history was related. There was nothing more to say about it. Lancelot, his purpose growing, gave a nervous laugh.
"No Turk could hide in that, I expect," he said, and trembled. Urquhart gazed at the weedy little growth.
"No," he said, "he couldn't—yet. But a ladybird could." He picked out a dormant specimen. But Lancelot was now committed to action beyond recall. The words burned his lips. "I say," he said, twiddling a leaf of his orange-tree, "I expect you've been a pirate?"
The Judge had wandered in, and was surveying the pair, his hands deep in his trousers-pockets.
Urquhart nodded. "You've bit it," he said.
Lancelot had been certain of it. Good Lord! The questions crowded upon him. "What kind of a ship was yours?"
"She was a brigantine. Fifteen hundred tons."
"Oh! I say—" with the air of, You needn't tell me if you'd rather not—"was she a good one?"
"She was a clipper."
"The Dog Star."
This was beyond everything. "Oh—good. Did you ever hang fellows?"
He had expected that too. He felt that he was being too obvious. The man of the world in him came into use. "For treachery, I suppose, and that kind of thing?"
"Yes," said Urquhart, "and for fun, of course."
Lancelot nodded gloomily. "I know," he said.
"So does Sir Matthew, now," he said. "You've led me into admissions, you know."
"You are up to the neck," said the Judge. For a moment Lancelot looked shrewdly from one to the other. Was it possible that—? No, no. He settled all that. "It's all right. He's a guest, you see—the same as you are."
Urquhart was looking about him. "I should smoke a cigarette, if I had one," he said.
Lancelot's hospitality was awake. "Come into Father's room. He has tons." He led the way for his two friends. They pierced the conservatory and entered another open glass door. They were now in James's private room.
On the threshold Lancelot paused to exhibit what he said was a jolly convenient arrangement. These were two bay windows, with two glass doors. Between them stretched the conservatory. "Jolly convenient," said Lancelot. "What, for burglars?" the Judge asked. "Yes, for burglars, and policemen, and Father, you know ... I don't think," said the terse Lancelot. "Why don't you think, my friend?" says the Judge, and Lancelot became cautious. "Oh, Father won't come into the drawing-room if he can possibly help it. He says it's Mamma's province—but I expect he's afraid of meeting women, I mean ladies." Urquhart blinked at him. "'Never be afraid of any one' will do for you and me," he said; and Lancelot said deeply, "Rather not." Then they went into the misogynist's study. The Judge and Urquhart were accommodated with cigarettes, and Lancelot entertained them. But he did not pry any further into Urquhart's past. A hint had been enough.
Conversation was easy. Lancelot talked freely of his father. "Father will be awfully waxy with me for not going to bed. He might easily come in here—hope he won't, all the same. But do you know what he likes? He likes the same things to happen at the same time every day. Now Mamma and I don't agree with him, you see. So it's rather pink sometimes."
"I expect it is," Urquhart said.
"Mamma of course likes to be quiet a bit. She doesn't like ructions—hay, and all that. So I keep myself pretty close."
"Quite right," said the Judge.
"I know," Lancelot said, dreamily, and then with great briskness, "Beastly grind, all the same." The Judge had a fit of coughing, and Urquhart got up and looked about. Then the Judge said that he too should catch it if he didn't go back and make himself polite.
Lancelot led the way back, but at the entry of the drawing-room, where the talk was buzzing like bees in a lime-tree, he put his hand on the switch, and showed the whites of his eyes. "Shall I dare you to switch it off?" he said to Urquhart, who replied, "Don't, or I shall do it." Lancelot and he entered the room; but before the Judge followed there was a momentary flicker of the lights. Lancelot nudged Urquhart. "He's all right," he said out of one corner of his mouth. "Oh, he's all right," Urquhart agreed.
They both went to Lucy, and Lingen looked mildly round, interrupted in his flow. Lancelot's greeting was, "Darling, you really must go to bed." He knew it. It was so obvious—the abhorrent eyeglass apart—that he didn't even try the pathetic "Only a week before school."
He got up, enquiring of his mother if she would swear to come up presently. "Well, good-bye," he said to Urquhart, and held out his hand.
"Good night to you," said Urquhart. "Anyhow, you know the worst."
But Lancelot shook his cautious head. "No," he said, "not the worst"—and then with a deep chuckle, "but the best. Hoho! Two wives!" With that he went.
"Jolly chap," said Urquhart, and sat himself down by Lucy, to Lingen's inexpressible weariness. She warmed to his praise, but denied him, her conscience at work. "No, you mustn't sit down. I shall take you to talk to Lady Bliss. You'll like her."
"No, I shan't," he said. "I can see that. And she'll think I've corrupted her husband." But he had to go. Lingen, also, she recruited for service. He had had a good innings and found himself able to be enthusiastic about Urquhart. He could bear to discuss him—in possible relations with himself, of course. Miss Bacchus sized him up aloud, according to her habit. "Jimmy Urquhart—a good man? Yes, he's a live man. No flies on Jimmy Urquhart. Been everywhere, had a bit of most things. Why, I suppose Jimmy has eaten more things than you've ever read about."
"I've read Brillat-Savarin," said Lingen modestly.
"I dare say Jimmy's had a notch out of him," said Miss Bacchus. "He's what I call a blade."
Lingen didn't ask her what she called him.
Nevertheless the two men talked down to Knightsbridge together, and Lingen did most of the talking. He chose to expand upon Macartney, the nearest he dared get to the subject of his thoughts. "Now Macartney, you know, is a very self-contained man. No doubt you've noticed how he shies at expression. Chilling at times. Good in a lawyer, no doubt. You get the idea of large reserves. But perhaps as a—well, as a father, for instance— That bright boy of theirs now. You may have noticed how little there is between them. What do you think of the Spartan parent—in these days?"
"Oh, I think Mr. Lancelot can hold his own," said Urquhart. "He'll do—with his mother to help. I don't suppose the Spartan boy differed very much from any other kind of boy. Mostly they haven't time to notice anything; but they are sharp as razors when they do."
An eager note could be detected in Francis Lingen's voice, almost a crow. "Ah, you've noticed then! The mother, I mean. Mrs. Macartney. Now, there again, I think our friend overdoes the repression business. A sympathetic attitude means so much to women."
"She'll get it, somewhere," said Urquhart shortly.
"Well," said Lingen, "yes, I suppose so. But there are the qualifications of the martyr in Mrs. Macartney."
"Greensickness," Urquhart proposed; "is that what you mean?"
Lingen stared. "It had not occurred to me. But now you mention it—well, a congestion of the faculties, eh?"
"I don't know anything about it," said Urquhart. "She seemed to me a fond mother, and very properly. Do you mean that Macartney neglects her?"
Lingen was timid by nature. "Perhaps I went further than I should. I think that he takes a great deal for granted."
"I always thought he was a supercilious ass," said Urquhart, "but I didn't know that he was a damned fool."
"I say,"—Lingen was alarmed. "I say, I hope I haven't made mischief." Urquhart relieved him. "Bless you, not with me. I use a lawyer for law. He's no fool there."
"No, indeed," Lingen said eagerly. "I've found him most useful. In fact, I trust him further than any man I know."
"He's a good man," Urquhart said, "and he's perfectly honest. He'd sooner put you off than on, any day. That's very sound in a lawyer. But if he carries it into wedlock he's a damned fool, in my opinion."
They parted on very good terms, Lingen for the Albany, Urquhart elsewhere.
Meantime Lancelot, wriggling in his bed, was discussing Urquhart. "I say, Mamma," he said—a leading question—"do you think Mr. Urquhart really had two wives?"
"No, darling, I really don't. I think he was pulling our legs."
That was bad. "All our legs?"
"All that were pullable. Certainly your two."
"Perhaps he was." Lancelot sighed. "Oh, what happened to the Turk? I forgot him, thinking of his wives.... He said, 'one of my wives,' you know. He might have had six then.... I say, perhaps Mr. Urquhart is a Turk in disguise. What do you think?"
Lucy was sleepy, and covered a yawn. "I don't think, darling. I can't. I'm going to bed, and you are going to sleep. Aren't you now?"
"Yes, of course, yes, of course. Did I tell you about the pirate part? His ship was a brigantine ... called the Dog Star."
"Oh, was it?"
"Yes, it was. And he used to hang the chaps, sometimes for treachery, and sometimes for fun."
"How horrid!" said Lucy. "Good night."
"Oh, well," came through the blankets, "of course you don't understand, but I do. Good night." And he was asleep at the turn of that minute.
James had disappeared into his room, so she took herself off to bed. Surely he might have said a word! It had all gone off so well. Mr. Urquhart had been such a success, and she really liked him very much. And how the Judge had taken to him! And how Lancelot! At the first stair she stopped, in three quarters of a mind to go in and screw a sentence out of him. But no! She feared the angry blank of the eyeglass. Trailing up to bed, she thought that she could date the crumbling of her married estate by the ascendency of the eyeglass. And to think, only to think, that when she was engaged to James she used to play with it, to try it in her eye, to hide it from him! Well, she had Lancelot—her darling boy. That brought to mind that, a week to-night, she would be orphaned of him. The day she dreaded was coming again—and the blank weeks and months which followed it.
True to his ideas of "discipline," of the value of doing a thing well for its own sake, Macartney was dry about the merits of the dinner-party when they met at breakfast. "Eh? Oh, yes, I thought it went quite reasonably. Urquhart talked too much, I thought."
"My dear James,"—she was nettled—"you really are—"
He looked up; the eyeglass hovered in his hand. "Plait-il?"
"Nothing. I only thought that you were hard to please."
"Really? Because I think a man too vivacious?"
Lancelot said to his porridge-bowl, over the spoon, "I think he's ripping."
"You've hit it," said his father. "He'd rip up anybody."
Lucy, piqued upon her tender part, was provoked into what she always avoided if she could—acrimony at breakfast.
"I was hostess, you see; and I must say that the more people talk the more I am obliged to them. I suppose that you asked Mr. Urquhart so that he might be amusing...."
James's head lifted again. You could see it over the Morning Post. "I asked Urquhart for quite other reasons, you remember."
"I don't know what they were," said Lucy. "My own reason was that he should make things go. 'A party in a parlour...'" She bit her lip. The Morning Post quivered but recovered itself.
"What was the party in a parlour, Mamma? Do tell me." That was Lancelot, with a flair for mischief.
"It was 'all silent and all damned,'" said Lucy.
"Jolly party," said Lancelot. "Not like yours, though." The Morning Post clacked like a bellying sail, then bore forward over an even keel. Lucy, beckoning Lancelot, left the breakfast-room.
She was ruffled, and so much so that Lancelot noticed it, and, being the very soul of tact where she was concerned, spoke neither of his father nor of Urquhart all the morning. In the afternoon the weather seemed more settled, and he allowed himself more play. He would like to see Mr. Urquhart on horseback, in a battle, he thought. He expected he'd be like Henry of Navarre. Lucy thought that he might be. Would he wear a white plume though? Much head-shaking over this. "Bareheaded, I bet you. He's just that sort. Dashing about! Absolutely reckless!—frightfully dangerous!—a smoking sword!—going like one o'clock! Oh, I bet you what you like." Then with startling conviction, "Father doesn't like him. Feels scored off, I expect. He wasn't though, but he might be, all the same ... I think Father always expects he's going to be scored off, don't you? At any minute." Lucy set herself to combat this hazard, which was very amusing and by no means a bad shot. Poor James! What a pity it was that he couldn't let himself like anybody. It was true—it was quite true—he was afraid of being scored off. She husbanded a sigh. "Poor James!"
To pity James was a new experience. She felt all the better for it, and was able to afford a lighter hand when they met at dinner. It may even be that James himself had thought the time come for a little relaxation of askesis, or he may have had something to forestall: he seldom spoke of his affairs without design. At any rate, he told her that Francis Lingen had been with him, and that Urquhart was likely to be of use. "I've written to him, anyhow. He will do as he thinks well. Urquhart is a sharp man of business."
Lucy said, "He struck me so. I thought that he could never have any doubt of his own mind."
James wriggled his eyeglass, to wedge it more firmly. "Ah, you noticed that? Very acute of you, Lucy. We may have a meeting before long—to arrange the whole thing.... It's a lot of money ... ten thousand pounds.... Your Francis is an expensive young man ... or let's say ci-devant jeune homme."
"Why do you call him 'my' Francis?" she asked—rather mischievous than artless.
The eyeglass dropped with a click and had to be sought. "Well, I can hardly call him mine, could I?"
"I don't see why he should be anybody's," said Lucy, "except his own."
"My dear girl," said Macartney, "himself is the last person he belongs to. Francis Lingen will always belong to somebody. I must say that he has chosen very wisely. You do him a great deal of good."
"That's very nice of you," she said. "I own that I like Francis Lingen. He's very gentle, not too foolish, and good to look at. You must own that he's extremely elegant."
"Oh," said James, tossing up his foot, "elegant! He is what his good Horace would have called 'a very pretty fellow'—and what I call 'a nice girl.'"
"I'm sure he isn't worth so much savagery," Lucy said. "You are like Ugolino—and poor Francis is your fiero pasto."
James instantly corrected himself. "My besetting sin, Lucy. But I must observe—" He applied his glazed eye to her feet—"the colour of your stockings, my friend. Ha! a tinge of blue, upon my oath!" So it passed off, and that night when, after his half-hour with the evening paper in the drawing-room, he prepared to leave her, she held out her hand to him, and said good night. He took it, waved it; and then stooped to her offered cheek and pecked it delicately. The good girl felt quite elate. She did so like people to be kind to her.
Half an hour later yet, in her evening post was a letter from Urquhart. He proposed for herself and Lancelot to go to the play with him. The play, Raffles, "which ought to meet the case," he said. He added, "I don't include Macartney in this jaunt, partly because he won't want to come, but mainly because there won't be room for him. I am taking a nephew, one Bob Nugent, an Osborne boy, but very gracious to poor civilians like Lancelot and me." He signed himself, "Yours to command."
Lucy was pleased, and accepted promptly; and Lancelot was pleased when he heard of it. His hackles were up at the graciousness of the Osborne kid. He honked over it like a heron. "Ho! I expect you'll tell him that I'm R. E., or going to be," he said, which meant that he himself certainly would. The event, with subsequent modifications on the telephone, proved to be the kind of evening that Lancelot's philosophy had never dreamed of. They dined at the Cafe Royal, where Urquhart pointed out famous Anarchists and their wives to his young guests; they went on to the theatre in what he called a 'bus, but Lancelot saw to be a mighty motor which rumbled like a volcano at rest, and proceeded by a series of violent rushes, accompanied by explosions of a very dangerous kind. The whole desperate passage, short as it was, had the right feeling of law-breaking about it. Policemen looked reproachfully at them as they fled on. Lancelot, as guest of honour, sat in front, and wagged his hand like a semaphore at all times and in all faces; he felt part policeman and part malefactor, which was just right. Then they thrilled at the smooth and accomplished villainy of Mr. Du Maurier, lost not one line of his faultless clothes, nor one syllable of his easy utterance, "like treacle off a spoon," said Urquhart; and then they tore back through the starry night to Onslow Square, leaving in their wake the wrecks and salvage of a hundred frail taxis; finally, from the doorstep waved the Destroyer, as the boys agreed she should be called, upon her ruthless course, listened to the short and fierce bursts of her wrath until she was lost in the great sea of sound; and then—replete to speechlessness—Lancelot looked up to his mother and squeezed her hand. She saw that his eyes were full. "Well, darling?" she said. "You liked all that?" Lancelot had recovered himself. He let go her hand. His reply was majestic. "Not bad," he said. Lucy immediately hugged him.
Now that was exactly what James would have said, mutatis mutandis. Yet she would not have hugged James for it, nor have loved him because of it. "These are our crosses, Mr. Wesley!" Reflecting on the jaunt, she warmed to the thought of Urquhart, who had, she felt, the knack of making you at ease. What had he done, or how done it? Well, he seemed to be interested in what you said. He looked at you, and waited for it; then he answered, still looking at you. Now, so many men looked at their toes when they answered you. James always did. Yet Mr. Urquhart did not look too much: there were men who did that. No, not too much.
EROS STEPS IN
When she was told that Francis Lingen and Urquhart were coming on the nineteenth, not to dine, Lucy said, "Oh, what a bore!" and seeing the mild shock inflicted on the eyeglass by her remark, explained that it was Lancelot's day for going to school, and that she was always depressed at such times. The eyeglass dropped, and its master stretched out his fine long legs, with a great display of black speckled sock. "My dear, absurd as it may seem, they are coming to see Me. I know your little way. You shan't be disturbed, if I may be indulged so far as to contrive that the house hold us both. I had thought that it would be only civil to bring them in to you for a minute or two, when they've done. But that is for you to decide."
She was immediately penitent. "Oh, do, of course. I daresay they will be useful. I'm very foolish to miss him so much." The eyeglass ruefully stared at the fire.
"Urquhart consents," said James, "and Lingen will have his money. More snuff-boxes, you'll find. But he's had to work for it. Insured his life—and a letter from Sir Giles, which must have cost him something." Sir Giles Lingen was the uncle of Francis, a childless veteran. He turned his disk upon her for a moment. "You like Urquhart?"
"Yes," Lucy said, "I do. I like him—because he likes Lancelot."
"Ah," said James, who thought her weak where the boy was concerned. He added, "Urquhart gets on with children. He's a child himself."
"Why do you call him that?" she asked, with a tinge of offence in her voice. James could raise the fine hairs at the back of her neck by a mere inflection.
He accepted battle. "Because he only thinks of one thing at a time. Because to get what he wants he'll sacrifice every mortal thing—very often the thing itself which he's after."
But Lucy had heard all that before, and wasn't impressed. "All men are like that," she said. "I could give you a much better reason."
James and his eyeglass both smiled. "Your exquisite reason?"
"He is like a child," said Lucy, "because he doesn't know that anybody is looking at him, and wouldn't care if anybody was."
James clasped his shin. "Not bad," he said, "not at all bad. But the test of that is the length to which you can carry it. Would he wear a pot hat with a frock-coat?—that's the crux."
It really was, to James, as she knew very well. She perused the glowing fire with its blue salt flames. Perhaps to most men. Probably also to Mr. Urquhart. But she felt that she would be lowering a generous ideal if she probed any further: so James was left to his triumph.
* * * * *
The fatal week wore on apace; one of the few remaining days was wholly occupied with preparations for the last. A final jaunt together was charged with a poignancy of unavailing regrets which made it a harder trial than the supreme moment. Never, never, had she thought this bright and intense living thing which she had made, so beautiful and so dear. Nor did it make a straw's worth of difference to the passion with which she was burdened that she felt precisely the same thing every time he left her. As for Lancelot, he took her obvious trouble like the gentleman he was. He regretted it, made no attempt to conceal that, but was full of little comfortable suggestions which made her want to cry. "You'll have no more sapping upstairs directly after dinner, I suppose!" was one of them; another was, "No more draughty adventures by the Round Pond." Lucy thought that she would have stood like Jane Shore by the Round Pond, in a blizzard, for another week of him. But she adored him for his intention, and was also braced by it. Her sister Mabel, who had three boys, did not conceal her satisfaction at the approaching release—but Mabel spent Christmas at Peltry; and the hunting was a serious matter.
The worst of her troubles was over when they were at Victoria. Lancelot immediately became one of a herd. And so did she: one of a herd of hens at the pond's edge. Business was business. Lancelot remained kind to her, but he was inflexible. This was no place for tears. He even deprecated the last hug, the lingering of the last kiss. He leaned nonchalantly at the window, he kept his eye on her; she dared not have a tear. The train moved; he lifted one hand. "So long," he said, and turned to his high affairs. She was almost aghast to realise how very small, how very pale, how atomy he looked—to confront a howling world! And so to listen to the comfortable words of Mrs. Furnivall-Briggs. "My dear, they've no use for us. The utmost we can do is to see that they have good food. And warm socks. I am untiring about warm socks. That is what I am always girding my committee about. I tell the Vicar, 'My dear sir, I will give you their souls, if you leave me their soles.' Do you see? He is so much amused. But he is a very human person. Except at the altar. There he's every inch the priest. Well, good-bye. I thought Lancelot looked delightful. He's taller than my Geoff. But I must fly. I have a meeting of workers at four-fifteen. Bless me, I had no idea it was four o'clock. The parish-room, Alphonse." A Spartan mother.
Lucy paid two calls, on people who were out, and indulged herself with shopping in Sloane Street. Lancelot had recently remarked on her gloves. "You have jolly thin hands," he had said. "It's having good gloves, I expect." The memory of such delightful sayings encouraged her to be extravagant. She thought that perhaps he would find her ankles worth a moment—if she took pains with them. Anyhow, he was worth dressing for. James never noticed anything—or if he did, his ambiguity was two-edged. "Extraordinary hat," he might say, and drop his eyeglass, which always gave an air of finality to comments of the sort. But her shopping done, for Lancelot's sake, life stretched before her a grey waste. She went back to tea, to a novel, to a weekly paper full of photographs of other people's houses, dogs, children and motor-cars. It was dark, she was bored as well as child-sick, dissatisfied with herself as well as heart-hungry. She must get herself something to do, she said. Who was the Vicar of Onslow Square? She didn't know. Somehow, religion, to her, had always seemed such a very private affair. Not a soul must be near her when she said her prayers—except Lancelot, of course. When he was at home she always said them while he said his. Last night—ah, she had not been able to say anything last night. All her faculties had been bent to watching him at it. Was it bravery in him—or insensibility? She remembered Mr. Urquhart had talked about it. "All boys are born stoics," he said, "and all girls Epicureans. That's the instinct. They change places when they grow up." Was James an Epicurean?
It was six o'clock. They would be at their meeting in James's room. Surely they wouldn't want tea? Apparently Crewdson thought that they might, otherwise—well, she would leave it to Crewdson. James never seemed to care for anything done by anybody except Crewdson. Sometimes he seemed to resent it. "Have we no servants then?" the eyeglass seemed to inquire. She wondered if James knew for how much his eyeglass was answerable. How could one like to be kissed, with that glaring disk coming nearer and nearer? And if it dropped just at the moment—well, it seemed simply to change all one's feelings. Oh, to have her arms round Lancelot's salient young body, and hear him murmur, "Oh, I say!" as she kissed his neck!...
At this moment, being very near to tears, the light was switched off. She seemed to be drowning in dark. That was a favourite trick of Lancelot's, who had no business, as a matter of fact, in his father's room. It gave her a moment of tender joy, and for another she played with the thought of him, tiptoeing towards her. Suddenly, all in the dark, she felt a man's arms about her, and a man's lips upon hers. To wild alarm succeeded warm gratitude. Lucy sobbed ever so lightly; her head fell back before the ardent advance; her eyes closed. With parted lips she drank deep of a new consolation: her heart drummed a tune to which, as it seemed, her wings throbbed the answer. The kiss was a long one—perhaps a full thirty seconds—but she was released all too soon. He left her as he had come, on silent feet. The light was turned up; everything looked as it had been, but everything was not. She was not. She found herself an Ariadne, in a drawing-room, still lax from Theseus' arms. Yes, but Theseus was next door, and would come back to her.
To say that she was touched is to say little. She was more elated than touched, and more interested than either. How utterly romantic, how perfectly sweet, how thoughtful, how ardent of James! James, of all people in the world! Her husband, of course: but who knew better than she what that office had implied—and who less than she what it must have hidden? Really, was it true? Could it be true?
For some time she sat luxurious where she had been left, gloating (the word is fairly used) over this new treasure. But then she jumped up and looked at herself in the glass, curiously, quizzingly, and even perhaps shamefaced. Next she laughed, richly and from a full heart. "My dear girl, it's not hard to see what has happened to you. You've been—" Not even in her thoughts did she care to end the sentence. But those shining dark eyes, that air of floating, of winged feet—"Ha, my dear, upon my word! At thirty-one, my child. Really, it becomes you uncommonly."
She found herself now walking swiftly up and down the room, clasping and unclasping her hands. To think that James—the last man in the world—had kept this up his coat-sleeve for years—and at last—! And how like the dear thing to turn the light out! To save his own face, of course, for he must have known, even he must have known, that she wouldn't have cared. She would have liked the light—to see his eyes! There had been no eyeglass this time, anyhow. But that was it. That was a man's romance. In Cupid and Psyche, it had been Psyche who had wanted to know, to see. Women were like that. Such realists. And, as Psyche was, they were always sorry for it afterwards. Well, bless him, he should love her in the dark, or how he pleased.
She stopped again—again in front of the glass. What had he seen—what new thing had he seen to make him—want to kiss her like that? Was she pretty? She supposed that she really was. She fingered the crinkled whiteness at her neck; touched herself here and there; turned her head sideways, and patted her hair, lifting her chin. Now, was there anything she could put on—something she could put in—for dinner? Her thoughts were now turned to serious matters—this and that possibility flashed across her mind. They were serious matters, because James had made them so by his most extraordinary, most romantic, most beautiful action. Then she stretched out her hands, the palms upward, and sighed out her heart. "Oh, what a load is lightened. Oh, days to come!"
Voices in the conservatory suddenly made her heart beat violently. He was coming! She heard James say—oh, the rogue!—"Yes, it's rather nice. We put it up directly we came. Lucy's idea. Mind the little step at the door, though." Urquhart, Francis Lingen were in the room—Francis' topknot stood up like a bottle-brush. Then came the hero of the evening, James, the unknown Eros. She beamed into the shining disk. Sweet old spyglass, she would never abuse it again. All the same, he had pocketed it for the occasion the last time he had been in the room!
Urquhart refused tea. "Tea at seven o'clock at night!" All her eyes were for James, who had sought her in love and given her heart again. The eyeglass expressed its horror of tea at seven o'clock. "God forbid," said James, dear, ridiculous creature.
Mr. Urquhart talked at once of Lancelot. "Well, he's off with all the rest of them. They love it, you know. It's movement—it's towards the unknown, the not impossible—the 'anything might turn up at any minute.' Now, we don't feel so sure about the minutes, do we?"
Oh, don't we though? She laughed and tilted her chin. "We feel, anyhow, for their minutes, bless them," she said, and Urquhart looked at her with narrowed eyes.
"'He for God only, she for God in him,'" he said. He added, "I like that boy of yours. I think he understands me"—and pleased her.
There were a few minutes' desultory talk, in the course of which Lucy gravitated towards James, and finally put her hand in his arm. You should have seen the effect of this simple caress upon the eyeglass. Like a wounded snake it lifted its head to ask, "Who has struck me?" It wavered and wagged. But Lucy was glass-proof now.
Urquhart said that he was going away shortly, at least he supposed he should. A man he knew wanted to try a new motor. They were to rush down to Biarritz, and possibly over the frontier to Pampluna. But nothing was arranged. Here he looked scrutinising and half quizzical at her. "Are you adventurously inclined? Will you try my monster? It's a dragon."
She was very adventurously inclined—as James might know! but not with a Mr. Urquhart necessarily: therefore she hesitated. "Oh, I don't really know—" Urquhart laughed. "Be bold—be bold—be not too bold. Well, there it is. I start for the Newmarket road at eleven to-morrow—but I'll fetch you for twopence. Ask him." He jerked his head forward towards James, on whose arm her hand rested. Lucy looked up at her romantic lord—a look which might have made a man proud. But James may have been proud enough already. At any rate, he didn't see her look, but was genial to Urquhart—over whom he considered that he had triumphed in the library.
"Sooner her than me," he said. "I know that she likes it and so advise her to go. But I should die a thousand deaths."
"She won't," said Urquhart; and then to Lucy, "Well, ma'am?"
Her eyes assented before she did. "Very well, I'll come. I dare say it will be delightful."
"Oh, it will," he said.
Still he rambled on—plain, grumbling, easy, familiar talk, while Lucy fumed and fidgeted to be alone with her joy and pride. "Your handsome sister has asked me to hunt in Essex. Don't like hunting, but I do like her—and there's a great deal waiting to be done at Martley. I don't know. We'll talk about it to-morrow." Then he asked her, "Would she come and look at Martley?" It seemed she had half promised.
She said, "Oh, yes, of course." Nothing of that kind seemed very important. But James here looked down at her, which made it different. "We might go at Whitsuntide," he said.
She looked deeply up—deeply into him, so to speak. "Very well, we will. If you'll come."
"Oh, he'll come," Urquhart said; and James, "I should like it." So that was settled. Heavens, how she wished these people would go. She could see that Francis Lingen wanted to be asked to stay to dine, but she didn't mean to have that. So when Urquhart held out his hand with a blunt "Good night to you," she let hers hover about Francis as if his was waiting for it—which it wasn't, but had to be. "Oh, good night," said the embarrassed exquisite, and forgot to be tender.
James picked up the evening paper and was flickering his eye over the leading articles, like a searchlight. Lucy, for her part, hovered quick-footed in his neighbourhood. This was her hour of triumph, and she played with it. She peeped at the paper over his shoulder till he said, "Please," and moved it. Her fingers itched to touch his hair, but very prudently refrained. She was too restless to settle to anything, and too happy to wish it. If she had been a singing-bird she would have trilled to the piano; but she had not a note of music. The dressing-gong gave her direction. There was plenty to be done. "The gong! I'm going to make myself smart, James. Quite smart. Are you coming up?"
James had the paper open in the middle. "Eh? Oh, there's lots of time—run away. I'm rather busy."
"You're not a bit busy. But I'll go." And she went with hardly a perceptible hang-back at the door. Upstairs she rejected her usual choice with a curled lip. "No, no, too stuffy." "Oh, Smithers, I couldn't. It makes me look a hundred." No doubt she was absurd; but she had been starved. Such a thing as this had not happened to her since her days of betrothal, and then but seldom. When she had satisfied herself she had a panic. Suppose he said, "Comic Opera!"
He said nothing at all. He was in a thoughtful mood, and talked mostly of Urquhart's proposal for Whitsuntide. "I believe it's rather remarkable. Quite a place to be seen. Jimmy does things well, you know. He's really a rich man."
"As rich as you?" Lucy asked, not at all interested in Urquhart just now.
The eyeglass was pained. "My dear soul! You don't know what you're saying!" She quizzed him with a saucy look. "I didn't say anything, dear. I asked something."
If eyeglasses shiver, so did James's. "Well, well—you quibble. I dare say Urquhart has fifteen thousand a year, and even you will know that I haven't half as much."
She quenched her eyes, and looked meek. "No, dear, I know. All right, he's quite rich. Now what does he do with it?"
"Do with it?" James tilted his head and scratched his neck vigorously, but not elegantly. "Very often nothing at all. There will be years when he won't spend a hundred above his running expenses. Then he'll get a kind of maggot in the brain, and squander every sixpence he can lay hands on. Or he may see reason good, and drop ten thousand in a lap like Lingen's. Why does he do it? God knows, Who made him. He's made like that."
Lucy said it was very interesting, but only because she thought James would be pleased.
Then she remembered, with a pang of doubt, that she was to be driven by this wild man to-morrow. But James—would he—? He had never been really jealous, and just now she didn't suppose he could possibly be so; but you can't tell with men. So she said, "James dear," very softly, and he looked over the table at her. "If you don't think it—sensible, I could easily telephone."
"Eh? What about?—to whom?—how? I don't follow you."
"I mean to Mr. Urquhart, about his motor to-morrow. I don't care about it in the least. In fact—"
"Oh," said James, "the motor? Ah, I had forgotten. Oh, I think you might go. Urquhart's been very reasonable about this business of Lingen's. I had a little trouble, of course—it's a lot of money, even for him. Oh, yes, I should go if I were you. Why, he might want me to go, you know—which would bore me to extinction. But I know you like that sort of thing." He nodded at her. "Yes, I should go."
She pouted, and showed storm in her eyes—all for his benefit. But he declined benefit. A strange, dear, bleak soul.
"Very well. If it saves you anything, I'll do it," she said. James was gratified; as he was also by the peeling of walnuts and service of them in a sherry glass, which she briskly performed, as if she liked it. Further than that she was too shy to go; but in the drawing-room, before it might be too late, she was unable to forbear her new tenderness.
She stood behind him; her hand fell upon his shoulder, and rested there, like a leaf. He could not but be conscious of it—he was very conscious of it, and accepted it, as a tribute. Such a tribute was gratifying. Lucy was a charming woman. She did pretty things in a pretty way, as a man's wife should, but too seldom did. How many men's wives—after fourteen years of it—would stand as she was standing now? No—the luck held. He had a tradition of Success—success without visible effort. The luck held! Like a steady wind, filling a sail.
Discipline, however; gentle but firm! He went on reading, but said, most kindly, "Well, Luce, well—" adding, on an afterthought, "How can I serve you?"
Her eyes were luminous, dilating her gentle mood, downcast towards his smooth black hair. She sighed, "Serve me? Oh, you serve me well. I'm happy just now—that's all."
"Not fretting after the boy?"
"No, no. Not now. Bless him, all the same."
"To be sure." Whereon, at a closer touch of her hand, he looked comically up. Her head moved, ever so slightly, towards him. He dropped his eyeglass with a smart click and kissed her cheek. She shivered, and started back. A blank dismay fell upon her; her heart seemed to stop. Good Heavens! Not so, not at all so, had James kissed her in the dark.
There wasn't a doubt about that—not the shade of a doubt. Here had been a brush on the cheek; here the cold point of his nose had pecked a little above. She had felt that distinctly, more distinctly than the touch of his lips. Whereas that other, that full-charged message of hope and promise—oh, that had been put upon her mouth, soft and close, and long. She recalled how her head had fallen back and back, how her laden heart had sighed, how she had been touched, comforted, contented. Good God, how strange men were! How entirely outside her philosophy!
She strayed about her drawing-room, touching things here and there, while he complacently fingered his Punch, flacking over the leaves with brisk slaps of the hand. At this moment he was as comfortably-minded a householder as any in London, engaged solely in digestion, at peace at home and abroad, so unconscious of the fretting, straining, passionate lost soul in the room with him, hovering, flicking about it like a white moth, as to be supremely ridiculous—to any one but Lucy. It is difficult to hit off her state of mind in a word, or in two. She was fretted; yes, but she was provoked too. She was provoked, but she was incredulous. It could not continue; it was too much. Men were not made so. And yet—and yet—James was a possible Eros, an Eros (bless him!) with an eyeglass: and Eros loved in the dark.
She comforted herself with this thought, which seemed to her a bright solution of the puzzle, and saw James rise and stretch his length without mutiny. She received the taps on the cheek of his rolled Punch, allowed, nay, procured, another chilly peck, with no pouting lips, no reproachful eyes. Then came a jar, and her puzzlement renewed. "Shall you be late?" "Oh, my dear soul, how can I possibly say? I brought papers home with me—and you know what that means! It's an interesting case. We have Merridew for us. I am settling the brief." Alas, for her. The infatuate even stayed to detail points of the cause. Much, it appeared, depended upon the Chancellor of the diocese: a very shaky witness. He had a passion for qualification, and might tie himself into as many knots as an eel on a night-line. Oh, might he indeed? And this, this was in the scales against her pride and joy! She was left—alone on Naxos now—while James went sharply to his papers.
There I must leave her, till the hour when she could bear the room no more. She had fought with beasts there, and had prevailed. Yet unreason (as she had made herself call it) lifted a bruised head at the last. Papers! Papers, after such a kiss! Oh, the folly of the wise! Caught up she knew not whence, harboured in the mind she knew not how, the bitter words of an old Scots song tasted salt upon her lips:
There dwelt a man into the West, And O gin he was cruel; For on his bridal night at e'en He up and grat for gruel.
They brought him in a gude sheepshead, A bason and a towel. "Gar take thae whimwhams far frae me, I winna want my gruel!"
Standing in the hall while these words were ringing in her head, she stayed after they were done, a rueful figure of indecision. Instinct fought instinct, and the acquired beat down the innate. She regarded the shut door, with wise and tender eyes, without reproach; then bent her head and went swiftly upstairs.
A LEAP OUTWARDS
She arose, a disillusioned bride, with scarcely spirit enough to cling to hope, and with less taste for Urquhart's motor than she had ever had for any duller task-work. Nothing in the house tended to her comfort. James was preoccupied and speechless; the coffee was wrong, the letters late and stupid. She felt herself at cross-purposes with her foolish little world. If James had resought her love overnight, it had been a passing whim. She told herself that love so desired was almost an insult.
Nevertheless at eleven o'clock the motor was there, and Urquhart in the hall held out his hand. "She can sprint," he said; "so much I've learned already. I think you'll be amused."
Lucy hoped so. She owned herself very dull that morning. Well, said Urquhart, he could promise her that she should not be that. She might cry for mercy, he told her, or stifle screams; but she wouldn't stifle yawns. "Macartney," he said, "would sooner see himself led out by a firing-party than in such an engine as I have out there." She smiled at her memory. "James is not of the adventurous," she said—but wasn't he? "Shall I be cold?"
"Put on everything you have," he bade her, "and then everything else. She can do sixty."
"You are trying to terrify me," she said, "but you won't succeed. I don't know why, but I feel that you can drive. I think I have caught Lancelot's complaint."
"Perhaps so. I know that I impose upon the young and insipient."
"And which am I, pray?"
He looked at her. "Don't try me too far."
She came forth finally to see Crewdson and her own chauffeur grouped with Urquhart. The bonnet was open; shining coils, mighty cylinders were in view, and a great copper feed-pipe like a burnished boa-constrictor. The chauffeur, a beady-eyed Swiss, stared approval; Crewdson, rubbing his chin, offered a deft blend of the deferential butler and the wary man of the world. She was tucked in; the Swiss started the monster; they were off with a bound.
They slashed along Knightsbridge, won Piccadilly Circus by a series of short rushes; avoided the City, and further East found a broad road and slow traffic. Soon they were in the semi-urban fringe, among villa gardens, over-glazed public-houses, pollarded trees and country glimpses in between. There was floating ice on the ponds, a violet rime traversed with dun wheelmarks in the shady parts of the way. After that a smooth white road, deep green fields, much frozen water, ducks looking strangely yellow, and the low blue hills of Essex.
Urquhart was a sensitive driver; she noticed that. The farseeing eye was instantly known in the controlling foot. He used very little brake; when he pushed his car there was no mark upon him of urgency. Success without effort! The Gospel of James! Urquhart accepted it as a commonplace, and sought his gospel elsewhere.
He began to talk without any palpable beginning, and drifted into reminiscence. "I remember being run away with by a mule train in Ronda ... the first I had ever handled. They got out of hand—it was a nasty gorge with a bend in it where you turn on to the bridge. I got round that with a well-directed stone which caught the off-side leader exactly at the root of his wicked ear. He had only one ear, so you couldn't mistake it. He ducked his head and up with his heels. He went over, and the next pair on top of him. We pulled up, not much the worse. Well, the point of that story is that the pace of that old coach and six mokes, I assure you, has always seemed to me faster than any motor I've ever driven. It was nothing to be compared with it, of course; but the effort of those six mad animals, the elan of the thing, the rumbling and swaying about, heeling over that infernal gorge of stone—! You can't conceive the whirl and rush of it. Now we're doing fifty, yet you don't know it. Wind-screen: yes, that's very much; but the concealment of effort is more."
"You've had a life of adventure," she said. "Lancelot may have been right."
"He wasn't far wrong," Urquhart said. "As a fact, I have never been a pirate; but I have smuggled tobacco in the Black Sea, and that's as near as you need go. I excuse myself by saying that it was a long time ago—twenty years I dare say; that I was young at the time; that I was very hard up, and that I liked the fun. Lovely country, you know, that strip of shore. You never saw such oleanders in your life. And sand like crumbled crystal. We used to land the stuff at midnight, up to our armpits in water sometimes; and a man would stand up afterwards shining with phosphorus, like a golden statue. Romantic! No poet could relate it. They used to cross and recross in the starlight—all the gleaming figures. Like a ballet done for a Sultan in the Arabian Nights. I was at that for a couple of years, and then the gunboats got too sharp for us and the game didn't pay."
She had forgotten her spleen. Her eyes were wide at the enlarging landscape. "And what did you do next—or what had you done before? Tell me anything."
"I really don't know what I did before. I went out to the Chersonese from Naples. I remember that well. I had been knocking about Vesuvius for a bit, keeping very bad company, which, nevertheless, behaved very well to me. But finally there was a row with knives, which rather sickened me of the Vesuvians; so I shipped for Constantinople and fell in with a very nice old chap on board. He took me on at his contraband job. I didn't get very much money, but I got some, and saw a deal of life. When it was over I went to Greece. I like the Greeks. They are a fine people."
"What did you do in Greece?" she insisted, not interested in the fineness of the people.
"Blasting, first," he said. "They were making the railway from Larissa through Tempe. That was a dangerous job, because the rock breaks so queerly. You never know when it has finished. I had seen a good deal of it in South America, so I butted in, and was taken on. Then I did some mining at Lavrion, and captained a steamer that carried mails among the islands. That was the best time I had. You see, I like responsibility, and I got it. Everything else was tame—out there, I mean....
"I got into Government service at Corfu and stopped there six years or more ... I was all sorts of things—lighthouse-keeper, inspector of marine works, harbour-master ... And then my wicked old father (I must tell you about him some day. You could write a book about him) up and died—in his bed of all places in the world, and left me a good deal of money. That was the ruin of me. I really might have done something if it hadn't been for that. Strange thing! He turned me out of the house in a rage one day, and had neither seen me nor written me a letter from my seventeenth to my thirtieth birthday, when he died—or thereabouts. But at the last, when he was on his bed of death, he rolled himself over and said to the priest, 'There's Jimmy out at his devilry among the haythen Turks,' he says. 'Begob, that was a fine boy, and I'll leave him a plum.' And so he did. I wish he hadn't. I was making my hundred and fifty in Corfu and was the richest man in the place. And I liked the life."
"That was where you had so many wives," she reminded him.
"So it was. Well, perhaps I needn't assure you that the number has been exaggerated. I've very nearly had some wives, but there was always something at the last minute. There was a girl at Valletta, I remember—a splendid girl with the figure of a young Venus, and a tragic face and great eyes that seemed to drown you in dark. Lady Macbeth as a child might have been like that—or Antigone with the doom on her, or perhaps Elektra. No, I expect Elektra took after her mother: red-haired girl, I fancy. But there you are. She was a lovely, solemn, deep-eyed, hag-ridden goose. Not a word to say—thought mostly of pudding. I found that out by supposing that she thought of me. Then I was piqued, and we parted. I suppose she's vast now, and glued to an upper window-ledge with her great eyes peering through a slat in the shutter. Living in a bed-gown. Imagine a wife who lives in a bed-gown!"
They were lunching at Colchester when these amorous chapters were reached. Lucy was quite at her ease with her companion. "A wife who was always at the dressmaker's would suit you no better. But I don't know that mixed marriages often answer. After all, so dreadfully much can never be opened between you."
"That's quite true," he said, "and by no means only of mixed marriages. How much can your average husband and wife open between them? Practically nothing, since they choose to live by speech."
"But what else have we?"
"I would choose to live by touch," he said. "If two people can't communicate fully and sufficiently by the feelers they are not in the same sphere and have no common language. But speech is absurd. Why, every phrase, and nearly every word, has a conventional value."
By touch! She was set dreaming by that. So she and James—a James she had had no conception of—had communicated not four-and-twenty hours ago. Certainly subsequent speech had not advanced the intelligence then conveyed.
But she resumed Urquhart's affairs. "And do you despair of finding a woman with whom you can hold communion?"
"No," he said, looking at the bread which he broke. "I don't despair at all. I think that I shall find her." And then he looked steadily at her, and she felt a little uncomfortable. But it was over in a minute.
She feared to provoke that again, so made no fishing comment; but she was abundantly curious of what his choice would be. Meantime he mused aloud.
"What you want for a successful marriage is—a layer of esteem, without which you will infallibly, if you are a man, over-reach yourself and be disgusted; then a liberal layer of animal passion—and I only shrink from a stronger word for fear of being misunderstood—which you won't have unless you have (a) vitality, (b) imagination; thirdly, for a crown, respect. You must know your due, and your duty, and fear to omit the one or excuse the other. Everything follows from those three."
"And how do you know when you have found them?"
He looked up and out into the country. "A sudden glory," he said, "a flare of insight. There's no mistake possible."
"Who was the man," she asked him, rather mischievously, "who saw a girl at a ball, and said, 'That's a fine girl; I'll marry her'—and did it—and was miserable?"
He twinkled as he answered, "That was Savage Landor; but it was his own fault. He could never make concessions." She thought him a very interesting companion.
On the way home he talked more fitfully, with intervals of brooding silence. But he was not morose in his fits, and when he excused himself for sulking, she warmly denied that he did any such thing. "I expect you are studying the motor," she said; and he laughed. "I'm very capable of that."
Altogether, a successful day. She returned braced to her duties, her James, and his hidden-up Eros. To go home to James had become an exciting thing to do.
PATIENCE AND PSYCHE
There are two ways of encountering an anti-climax, an heroic, an unheroic. Lucy did her best to be a heroine, but her temperament was against her. Her imagination was very easily kindled, and her reasons much at the mercy of the flames. By how much she was exalted, by so much was she dashed. But she had a conscience too, a lively one with a forefinger mainly in evidence. It would be tedious to recount how often that wagged her into acquiescence with a James suddenly revealed freakish, and how often she relapsed into the despair of one sharply rebuffed when she found him sedately himself. However, or by means of her qualities, the time-cure worked its way; her inflammation wore itself out, and her life resumed its routine of dinner-parties, calls and callers, Francis Lingen's purring, and letters to or from Lancelot—with this difference, mind you, that far recessed in her mind there lay a grain, a grain of promise: that and a glamorous memory.
She was able to write her first letter to Lancelot in high spirits, then, to tell him her little bits of news and to remind him (really to remind herself) of good days in the past holiday-time. Something she may have said, or left unsaid, as the chance may be, drew the following reply. She always wrote to him on Friday, so that he might answer her on Sunday.
"Dear Mama," he wrote, "I was third in weakly order which was rather good (I.d.t.)*. Mr. Tonks said if I go up so fast I shall brake the ceialing. Bad spelling I know but still. Last Wendesday a boy named Jenkinson swalowed a button-hook but recovered it practically as good as when bought (or perhaps a Xmas present). He was always called Bolter for a nickname, so it was jolly convene. For once he did the right thing. Mostly he is an utter ass. How is the polligamous pirate getting on with wives &c.? That comes from a Greek word polis, a city, so I suppose in the country they are too conventual. I like him awfully. He's my sort (not Father's though). Well, the term is waring away. Five days crost off on new diery. Where shall we go this time three months? Easter I mean. Wycross I hope, but suppose dreery Brighton, hope not. I must swot now Kings of Isereel and such-like so goodby now or so long as we say here—LANCELOT."
She thought that she must show the letter to Urquhart when next she saw him, and meantime, of course, showed it to James. The eyeglass grew abhorrent over the spelling. "This boy passes belief. Look at this, Lucy. C-e-i-a-ling!" "Oh, don't you see?" she cried. "He had it perfectly: c-e-i. Well, and then a devil of doubt came in, and he tried an a. Oh, I can see it now, on his blotting-pad! Whichever he decided on, he must have forgotten to cross out the other. You shouldn't be so hard on your own son. His first letter too."
James felt compunction. "No, no, I won't be hard. It's all right, of course." He read on. The polligamous pirate with wives &c. had to be explained. She told him the story. The eyeglass became a searchlight exploring her.
"Did Urquhart tell that tale? Upon my soul—!"
"It was sheer nonsense, of course, but—"
"Oh, I don't know," said James. "You can't tell with a man of that sort. He can be a March hare if he's in the mood. He'd as soon shoot a Turk as a monkey, or keep two women as half a dozen. By the by, Lucy," and the eyeglass went out like a falling star, "don't let that sentimental idiot make too much of an ass of himself."