HE quickly remembered that he had not brought in his hat, and also, the next instant, that even to clap it on wouldn’t under the circumstances qualify him for immediate departure from Bounds. Just as it came over him that the obligation he had incurred must keep him at least for the day, he found himself in the presence of his host, who, while his back was turned, had precipitately reappeared and whose vision of the place had resulted in an instant question.
“Mrs. Beever has not come back? Julia wants her Julia must see her! ”
Dennis was separated by the width of the hall from the girl with whom he had just enjoyed such an opportunity of reunion, but there was for the moment no indication that Tony Bream, engrossed with a graver accident, found a betrayal in the space between them. He had, however, for Dennis the prompt effect of a reminder to take care: it was a consequence of the very nature of the man that to look at him was to recognise the value of appearances and that he couldn’t have dropped upon any scene, however disordered, without, by the simple fact, re establishing a superficial harmony. His new friend met him with a movement that might have been that of stepping in front of some object to hide it, while Rose, on her side, sounding out like a touched bell, was already alert with her response. “Ah,” said Dennis, to himself, “ it’s for them she cares! ”
“She has not come back, but if there’s a hurry ”
Rose was all there.
“There is a hurry. Some one must go for her.”
Dennis had a point to make that he must make on the spot. He spoke before Rose’s rejoinder. “ With your increasing anxieties, Mr. Bream, I’m quite ashamed to be quartered on you. Hadn’t I really better be at the inn? ”
“At the inn to go from here? My dear fellow, are you mad? ” Tony sociably scoffed; he wouldn’t hear of it. “ Don’t be afraid; we’ve plenty of use for you if only to keep this young woman quiet.”
“He can be of use this instant.” Rose looked at her suitor as if there were not the shadow of a cloud between them. “ The servants are getting luncheon. Will you go over for Mrs. Beever? ”
“Ah,” Tony demurred, laughing, “we mustn’t make him fetch and carry! ”
Dennis showed a momentary blankness and then, in his private discomposure, jumped at the idea of escaping from the house and into the air. “ Do employ me,” he pleaded. “ I want to stretch my legs I’ll do anything.”
“Since you’re so kind, then, and it’s so near,” Tony replied. “ Mrs. Beever’s our best friend, and always the friend of our friends, and she’s only across the river.”
“Just six minutes,” said Rose, “ by the short way. Bring her back with you.”
“The short way,” Tony pressingly explained, “ is through my garden and out of it by the gate on the river.”
“At the river you turn to the right the little foot-bridge is her bridge,” Rose went on.
“You pass the gatehouse empty and closed at the other side of it, and there you are,” said Tony.
“In her garden it’s lovely. Tell her it’s for Mrs. Bream and it’s important,” Rose added.
“My wife’s calling aloud for her! ” Tony laid his hand, with his flushed laugh, on the young man’s shoulder.
Dennis had listened earnestly, looking at his com panions in turn. “ It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know in the least who I am? ”
“She knows perfectly don’t be shy! ” Rose familiarly exclaimed.
Tony gave him a great pat on the back which sent him off. “ She has even something particular to say to you! She takes a great interest in his rela tions with you,” he continued to Rose as the door closed behind their visitor. Then meeting in her face a certain impatience of any supersession of the question of Julia’s state, he added, to justify his allusion, a word accompanied by the same excited laugh that had already broken from him. “ Mrs. Beever deprecates the idea of any further delay in your marriage and thinks you’ve got quite enough to ‘ set up ’ on. She pronounces your means remark ably adequate.”
“What does she know about our means? ” Rose coldly asked.
“No more, doubtless, than I! But that needn’t prevent her. It’s the wish that’s father to the thought. That’s the result of her general goodwill to you.”
“She has no goodwill of any sort to me. She doesn’t like me.” Rose spoke with marked dryness, in which moreover a certain surprise at the direction of her friend’s humour was visible. Tony was now completely out of his groove; they indeed both were, though Rose was for the moment more successful in concealing her emotion. Still vibrating with the immense effort of the morning and particularly of the last hour, she could yet hold herself hard and observe what was taking place in her companion. He had been through something that had made his nerves violently active, so that his measure of security, of reality almost, was merged in the mere sense of the unusual. It was precisely this evidence of what he had been through that helped the girl’s curiosity to preserve a waiting attitude the firm surface she had triumphantly presented to each of the persons whom, from an early hour, she had had to encounter. But Tony had now the air of not intending to reward her patience by a fresh communication; it was as if some new delicacy had operated and he had struck himself as too explicit. He had looked astonished at her judgment of the lady of Eastmead.
“My dear Rose,” he said, “ I think you’re greatly mistaken. Mrs. Beever much appreciates you.”
She was silent at first, showing him a face worn with the ingenuity of all that in her interview with Dennis Vidal she had had to keep out of it and put into it. “ My dear Tony,” she then blandly replied, “I’ve never known any one like you for not having two grains of observation. I’ve known people with only a little; but a little’s a poor affair. You’ve absolutely none at all, and that, for your character, is the right thing: it’s magnificent and perfect.”
Tony greeted this with real hilarity. “I like a good square one between the eyes! ”
“You can’t like it as much as I like you for being just as you are. Observation’s a second-rate thing; it’s only a precaution the refuge of the small and the timid. It protects our own ridicules and props up our defences. You may have ridicules I don’t say so; but you’ve no suspicions and no fears and no doubts; you’re natural and generous and easy ”
“And beautifully, exquisitely stupid! ” Tony broke in. “ ‘ Natural ’ thank you I Oh, the horrible people who are natural! What you mean only you’re too charming to say it is that I’m so utterly taken up with my own interests and feelings that I pipe about them like a canary in a cage. Not to have the things you mention, and above all not to have imagination, is simply not to have tact, than which nothing is more unforgivable and more loath some. What lovelier proof of my selfishness could I be face to face with than the fact which I imme diately afterwards blushed for that, coming in to you here a while ago, in the midst of something so important to you, I hadn’t the manners to ask you so much as a question about it?”
“Do you mean about Mr. Vidal after he had gone to his room? You did ask me a question,” Rose said; “ but you had a subject much more interesting to speak of.” She waited an instant before adding: “ You spoke of something I haven’t ceased to think of.” This gave Tony a chance for reference to his discharge of the injunction she had then laid upon him; as a reminder of which Rose further observed: “ There’s plenty of time for Mr. Vidal.”
“I hope indeed he’s going to stay. I like his looks immensely,” Tony responded. “ I like his type; it matches so with what you’ve told me of him. It’s the real thing I wish we had him here.” Rose, at this, gave a small, confused cry, and her host went on: “Upon my honour I do I know a man when I see him. He’s just the sort of fellow I personally should have liked to be.”
“You mean you’re not the real thing? ” Rose asked.
It was a question of a kind that Tony’s good nature, shining out almost splendidly even through trouble, could always meet with princely extrava gance. “ Not a bit! I’m bolstered up with all sorts of little appearances and accidents. Your friend there has his feet on the rock.” This picture of her friend’s position moved Rose to another vague sound the effect of which, in turn, was to make Ton}’ look at her more sharply. But he appeared not to impute to her any doubt of his assertion, and after an instant he reverted, with a jump, to a matter that he evidently wished not to drop. “ You must really, you know, do justice to Mrs. Beever. When she dislikes one it’s not a question of shades or degrees. She’s not an underhand enemy she very soon lets one know it.”
“You mean by something she says or does? ”
Tony considered a moment. “ I mean she gives you her reasons she’s eminently direct. And I’m sure she has never lifted a finger against you.”
“Perhaps not. But she will,” said Rose. “ You yourself just gave me the proof.”
Tony wondered. “ What proof? ”
“Why, in telling Dennis that she had told you she has something special to say to him.”
Tony recalled it it had already passed out of his mind. “ What she has to say is only what I myself have already said for the rest of us that she hopes with all her heart things are now smooth for his marriage.”
“Well, what could be more horrid than that? ”
“More horrid? ” Tony stared.
“What has she to do with his marriage? Her interference is in execrable taste.”
The girl’s tone was startling, and her companion’s surprise augmented, showing itself in his lighted eyes and deepened colour. “ My dear Rose, isn’t that sort of thing, in a little circle like ours, a permitted joke a friendly compliment? We’re all so with you.”
She had turned away from him. She went on, as if she had not heard him, with a sudden tremor in her voice the tremor of a deep upheaval: “ Why does she give opinions that nobody wants or asks her for? What does she know of our relations or of what difficulties and mysteries she touches? Why can’t she leave us alone at least for the first hour?”
Embarrassment was in Tony’s gasp the unex pected had sprung up before him. He could only stammer after her as she moved away: “ Bless my soul, my dear child you don’t mean to say there are difficulties? Of course it’s no one’s business but one hoped you were in quiet waters.” Across her interval, as he spoke, she suddenly faced round, and his view of her, with this, made him smite his forehead in his penitent, expressive way. “ What a brute I am not to have seen you’re not quite happy, and not to have noticed that he! ” Tony caught himself up; the face offered him was the convulsed face that had not been offered Dennis Vidal. Rose literally glared at him; she stood there with her two hands on her heaving breast and something in all her aspect that was like the first shock of a great accident. What he saw, without understanding it, was the final snap of her tremendous tension, the end of her wonderful false calm. He misunderstood it in fact, as he saw it give way before him: he sprang at the idea that the poor girl had received a blow a blow which her self-control up to within a moment only presented as more touchingly borne. Vidal’s absence was there as a part of it: the situa tion flashed into vividness. “His eagerness to leave you surprised me,” he exclaimed, “and yours to make him go! ” Tony thought again, and before he spoke his thought her eyes seemed to glitter it back. “He has not brought you bad news he has not failed of what we hoped? ” He went to her with compassion and tenderness: “You don’t mean to say, my poor girl, that he doesn’t meet you as you supposed he would? ” Rose dropped, as he came, into a chair; she had burst into passionate tears. She threw herself upon a small table, burying her head in her arms, while Tony, all wonder and pity, stood above her and felt helpless as she sobbed. She seemed to have sunk under her wrong and to quiver with her pain. Her host, with his own re current pang, could scarcely bear it: he felt a sharp need of making some one pay. “ You don’t mean to say Mr. Vidal doesn’t keep faith? ”
“Oh, God! oh, God! oh, God!” Rose Armiger wailed.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02