“THE great cake has at last arrived, dear lady! ” Rose gaily announced to Mrs. Beever, who waited, before acknowledging the news, long enough to suggest to her son that she was perhaps about to act on his advice.
“I’m much obliged to you for having gone to see about it ” was, however, what, after a moment, Miss Armiger’s hostess instructed herself to reply.
“It was an irresistible service. I shouldn’t have got over on such a day as this,” said Rose, “the least little disappointment to dear little Jean.”
“To say nothing, of course, of dear little Effie,” Mrs. Beever promptly rejoined.
“It comes to the same thing the occasion so mixes them up. They’re interlaced on the cake with their initials and their candles. There are plenty of candles for each,” Rose laughed, “ for their years have been added together. It makes a very pretty number!”
“It must also make a very big cake,” said Mrs. Beever.
“Too big to be brought out? ”
The girl considered. “Not so big, you know,”
she archly replied, “as if the candles had to be yours and mine!” Then holding up the “ orna ment ” to Paul, she said: “ I surrender you my trust. Catch!” she added with decision, making a movement to toss him a small case in red morocco, which, the next moment, in its flight through the air, without altering his attitude, he intercepted with one hand.
Mrs. Beever’s excited mistrust dropped at the mere audacity of this: there was something per ceptibly superior in the girl who could meet hall way, so cleverly, a suspicion she was quite con scious of and much desired to dissipate. The lady of Eastmead looked at her hard, reading her desire in the look she gave back. “ Trust me, trust me,” her eyes seemed to plead; “ don’t at all events think me capable of any self-seeking that’s stupid or poor. I may be dangerous to myself, but I’m not so to others; least of all am I so to you.” She had a presence that was, in its way, like Tony Bream’s: it made, simply and directly, a difference in any personal question exposed to, it. Under its action, at all events, Mrs. Beever found herself suddenly feeling that she could after all trust Rose if she could only trust Paul. She glanced at that young man as he lay in the hammock, and saw that in spite of the familiarity of his posture which indeed might have been assumed with a misleading purpose his diminished pupils, fixed upon their visitor, still had the expression imparted to them by her own last address. She hesitated; but while she did so Rose came straight up to her and kissed her. It was the very first time, and Mrs. Beever blushed as if one of her secrets had been surprised. Rose explained her impulse only with a smile; but the smile said vividly: “ I’ll polish him off! ”
This brought a response to his mother’s lips. “I’ll go and inspect the cake! ”
Mrs. Beever took her way to the house, and as soon as her back was turned her son got out of the hammock. An observer of the scene would not have failed to divine that, with some profundity of calculation, he had taken refuge there as a mute protest against any frustration of his interview with Rose. This young lady herself laughed out as she saw him rise, and her laugh would have been, for the same observer, a tribute to the natural art that was mingled with his obvious simplicity. Paul himself recognised its bearing and, as he came and stood at the tea-table, acknowledged her criticism by saying quietly: “ I was afraid dear mamma would take me away.”
“On the contrary; she has formally surrendered you.”
“Then you must let me perform her office and help you to some tea.”
He spoke with a rigid courtesy that was not without its grace, and in the rich shade of her umbrella, which she twirled repeatedly on her shoulder, she looked down with detachment at the table. “ I’ll do it for myself, thank you; and I should like you to return to your hammock,”
“I left it on purpose,” the young man said. “Flat on my back, that way, I’m at a sort of disadvantage in talking with you.”
“That’s precisely why I made the request. I wish you to be flat on your back and to have nothing whatever to reply.” Paul immediately re traced his steps, but before again extending himself he asked her, with the same grave consideration, where in this case she would be seated. “ I sha’n’t be seated at all,” she answered; “Til walk about and stand over you and bully you.” He tumbled into his net, sitting up rather more than before; and, coming close to it, she put out her hand. “ Let me see that object again.” He had in his lap the little box he had received from her, and at this he passed it back. She opened it, pressing on the spring, and, inclining her head to one side, considered afresh the mounted jewel that nestled in the white velvet. Then, closing the case with a loud snap, she restored it to him. “ Yes, it’s very good; it’s a wonderful stone, and she knows. But that alone, my dear, won’t do it.” She leaned, facing him, against the tense ropes of the hammock, and he looked up at her. “You take too much for granted.”
For a moment Paul answered nothing, but at last he brought out: “ That’s just what I said to my mother you had already said when she said just the same.”
Rose stared an instant; then she smiled again. “It’s complicated, but I follow you! She has been waking you up.”
“She knows,” said her companion, “that you advise me in the same sense as herself.”
“She believes it at last her leaving us together was a sign of that. I have at heart perfectly to justify her confidence, for hitherto she has been so blind to her own interest as to suppose that, in these three weeks, you had been so tiresome as to fall in love with me.”
“I particularly told her I haven’t at all.”
Paul’s tone had at moments of highest gravit}’ the gift of moving almost any interlocutor to mirth. “I hope you’ll be more convincing than that if you ever particularly tell any one you have at all!” the girl exclaimed. She gave a slight push to the hammock, turning away, ajnd he swung there gently a minute.
“You mustn’t ask too much of me, you know,” he finally said, watching her as she went to the table and poured out a cup of tea.
She drank a little and then, putting down the cup, came back to him. “ I should be asking too much of you only if you were asking too much of her. You’re so far from that, and your position’s so perfect. It’s too beautiful, you know, what you offer.”
“I know what I offer and I know what I don’t,” Paul returned; “ and the person we speak of knows exactly as well. All the elements are before her, and if my position’s so fine it’s there for her to see it quite as well as for you. I agree that I’m a decent sort, and that, as things are going, my business, my prospects, my guarantees of one kind and another, are substantial. But just these things, for years, have been made familiar to her, and nothing, without a risk of greatly boring her, can very well be added to the account. You and my mother say I take too much for granted; but I take only that.” This was a long speech for our young man, and his want of accent, his passionless pauses, made it seem a trifle longer. It had a visible effect on Rose Armiger, whom he held there with widen ing eyes as he talked. There was an intensity in her face, a bright sweetness that, when he stopped, seemed to give itself out to him as if to encourage him to go on. But he went on only to the extent of adding; “ All I mean is that if I’m good enough for her she has only to take me.”
“You’re good enough for the best girl in the world,” Rose said with the tremor of sincerity. “You’re honest and kind; you’re generous and wise.” She looked at him with a sort of intelligent pleasure, that of a mind fine enough to be touched by an exhibition of beauty even the most occult. “You’re so sound you’re so safe that it makes any relation with you a real luxury and a thing to be grateful for.” She shed on him her sociable approval, treating him as a happy product, speaking of him as of another person. “ I shall always be glad and proud that you’ve been, if only for an hour, my friend! ”
Paul’s response to this demonstration consisted in getting slowly and heavily to his feet. “Do you think I like what you do to me?” he abruptly demanded.
It was a sudden new note, but it found her quite ready. “ I don’t care whether you like it or not! It’s my duty, and it’s yours it’s the right thing.”
He stood there in his tall awkwardness; he spoke as if he had not heard her. “ It’s too strange to have to take it from you.”
“Everything’s strange and the truest things are the strangest. Besides, it isn’t so extraordinary as that comes to. It isn’t as if you had an objection to her; it isn’t as if she weren’t beautiful and good really cultivated and altogether charming. It isn’t as if, since I first saw her here, she hadn’t developed in the most admirable way, and also hadn’t, by her father’s death, come into three thousand a year and into an opportunity for looking, with the red gold of her hair, in the deepest, daintiest, freshest mourning, lovelier far, my dear boy, than, with all respect, any girl who can ever have strayed before, or ever will again, into any Wilverley bank. It isn’t as if, granting you do care for me, there were the smallest chance, should you try to make too much of it, of my ever doing anything but listen to you with a pained ‘ Oh, dear! ’ pat you affectionately on the back and push you promptly out of the room.” Paul Beever, when she thus encountered him, quitted his place, moving slowly outside the wide cluster of chairs, while Rose, within it, turned as he turned, pressing him with deeper earnestness. He stopped behind one of the chairs, holding its high back and now meeting her eyes. “ If you do care for me,” she went on with her warm voice, “ there’s a magnificent way you can show it. You can show it by putting into your appeal to Miss Martle something that she can’t resist.”
“And what may she not be able to resist?” Paul inquired, keeping his voice steady, but shaking his chair a little.
“Why, you if you’ll only be a bit personal, a bit passionate, have some appearance of really desiring her, some that your happiness really depends on her.” Paul looked as if he were taking a lesson, and she gave it with growing assurance. “ Show her some tenderness, some eloquence, try some touch of the sort that goes home. Speak to her, for God’s sake, the words that women like. We all like them, and we all feel them, and you can do nothing good without them. Keep well in sight that what you must absolutely do is please her.”
Paul seemed to fix his little eyes on this remote aim. “ Please her and please you,”
“It sounds odd, yes, lumping us together. But that doesn’t matter,” said Rose. “The effect of your success will be that you’ll unspeakably help and comfort me. It’s difficult to talk about it — my grounds are so deep, deep down.” She hesitated, casting about her, asking herself how far she might go. Then she decided, growing a little pale with the effort. “ I’ve an idea that has become a passion with me. There’s a right I must see done — there’s a wrong I must make impossible. There’s a loyalty
I must cherish there’s a memory I must protect. That’s all I can say.” She stood there in her vivid meaning like the priestess of a threatened altar. “ If that girl becomes your wife why then I’m at last at rest! ”
“You get, by my achievement, what you want I see. And, please, what do I get?” Paul presently asked.
“You?” The blood rushed back to her face with the shock of this question. “Why, you get Jean Martle!” He turned away without a word, and at the same moment, in the distance, she saw the person whose name she had just uttered descend the great square steps. She hereupon slipped through the circle of chairs and rapidly met her companion, who stopped short as she approached. Rose looked him straight in the eyes. “ If you give me the peace I pray for, I’ll do anything for you in life!” She left him staring and passed down to the river, where, on the little bridge, Tony Bream was in sight, waving his hat to her as he came from the other house.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02