“WHY did you do that?” Dennis asked as soon as he was alone with Rose.
She had sunk into a seat at a distance from him, all spent with her great response to her sudden opportunity for justice. His challenge brought her flight to earth; and after waiting a moment she answered him with a question that betrayed her sense of coming down. “ Do you really care, after all this time, what I do or don’t do? ”
His rejoinder to this was in turn only another demand. “ What business is it of his that you may have done this or that to me? What has passed between us is still between us: nobody else has anything to do with it.”
Rose smiled at him as if to thank him for being again a trifle sharp with her. “ He wants me, as he said, to be kind to you.”
You mean he wants you to do that sort of thing?” His sharpness brought him step by step across the lawn and nearer to her. “ Do you care so very much what he wants? ”
Again she hesitated; then, with her pleased, patient smile, she tapped the empty place on the bench. “ Come and sit down beside me, and I’ll tell you how much I care.” He obeyed her, but not precipitately, approaching her with a deliberation which still held her off a little, made her objective to his inspection or his mistrust. He had said to Mrs. Beever that he had not come to watch her, but we are at liberty to wonder what Mrs. Beever might have called the attitude in which, before seating himself, he stopped before her with a silent stare. She met him at any rate with a face that told him there was no scrutiny she was now enough in the wrong to fear, a face that was all the promise of confession and submission and sacrifice. She tapped again upon her bench, and at this he sat down. Then she went on: “ When did you come back? ”
“To England? The other day I don’t remem ber which of them. I think you ought to answer my question,” Dennis said, “ before asking any more of your own.”
“No, no,” she replied, promptly but gently; “there’s an inquiry it seems to me I’ve a right to make of you before I admit yours to make any at all.” She looked at him as if to give him time either to assent or to object; but he only sat rather stiffly back and let her see how fine and firm the added years had hammered him. “ What are you really here for? Has it anything to do with me? ”
Dennis remained profoundly grave. “ I didn’t know you were here I had no reason to,” he at last replied.
“Then you simply desired the pleasure of renew ing your acquaintance with Mrs. Beever? ”
“I came to ask her about you.”
“How beautiful of you!” and Rose’s tone, untinged with irony, rang out as clear as the impulse it praised. “ Fancy your caring!” she added; after which she continued: “As I understand you, then, you’ve had your chance, you’ve talked with her? ”
“A very short time. I put her a question or two.”
“I won’t ask you what they were,” said Rose, “I’ll only say that, since I happen to be here, it may be a comfort to you not to have to content yourself with information at second-hand. Ask me what you like. I’ll tell you everything.”
Her companion considered. “ You might then begin by telling me what I’ve already asked.”
She took him up before he could go on. “ Oh, why I attached an importance to his hearing what I just now said? Yes, yes; you shall have it.” She turned it over as if with the sole thought of giving it to him with the utmost lucidity; then she was visibly struck with the help she should derive from knowing just one thing more. “ But first are you at all jealous of him? ”
Dennis Vidal broke into a laugh which might have been a tribute to her rare audacity, yet which somehow, at the same time, made him seem only more serious. “ That’s a thing for you to find out for yourself!”
“I see I see.” She looked at him with musing, indulgent eyes. “ It would be too wonderful. Yet otherwise, after all, why should you care? ”
“I don’t mind telling you frankly,” said Dennis, while, with two fingers softly playing upon her lower lip, she sat estimating the possibility she had named “ I don’t mind telling you frankly that I asked Mrs. Beever if you were still in love with him.”
She clasped her hands so eagerly that she almost clapped them. “ Then you do care? ”
He was looking beyond her now at something at the other end of the garden; and he made no other reply than to say: “ She didn’t give you away.”
“It was very good of her; but I would tell you myself, you know, perfectly, if I were.”
“You didn’t tell me perfectly four years ago,” Dennis returned.
Rose hesitated a minute; but this didn’t prevent her speaking with an effect of great promptitude. “Oh, four years ago I was the biggest fool in England! ”
Dennis, at this, met her eyes again. “ Then what I asked Mrs. Beever ”
“Isn’t true?” Rose caught him up. “ It’s an exquisite position,” she said, “ for a woman to be questioned as you question me, and to have to answer as I answer you. But it’s your revenge, and you’ve already seen that to your revenge I minister with a certain amount of resolution.” She let him look at her a minute; at last she said without flinching: “ I’m not in love with Anthony Bream.”
Dennis shook his head sadly. “ What does that do for my revenge? ”
Rose had another quick flush. “ It shows you what I consent to discuss with you,” she rather proudly replied.
He turned his eyes back to the quarter to which he had directed them before. “ You do consent? ”
“Can you ask after what I’ve done? ”
“Well, then, he no longer cares? ”
“For me?” said Rose. “ He never cared.”
“Upon your honour? ”
“Upon my honour.”
“But you had an idea?” Dennis bravely pursued.
Rose as dauntlessly met him. “ I had an idea.”
“And you’ve had to give it up? ”
“I’ve had to give it up.”
Dennis was silent; he slowly got upon his feet. “Well, that does something.”
“For your revenge?” She sounded a bitter laugh. “ I should think it might! What it does is magnificent! ”
He stood looking over her head till at last he exclaimed: “ So, apparently, is the child! ”
“She has come?” Rose sprang up to find that Effie had been borne toward them, across the grass, in the arms of the muscular Manning, who, having stooped to set her down and given her a vigorous impulsion from behind, recovered the military stature and posture.
“You’re to take her, miss, please from Mrs. Beever. And you’re to keep her.”
Rose had already greeted the little visitor. “Please assure Mrs. Beever that I will. She’s with Miss Martle? ”
“She is indeed, miss.”
Manning always spoke without emotion, and the effect of it on this occasion was to give her the air of speaking without pity.
Rose, however, didn’t mind that. “ She may trust me,” she said, while Manning saluted and retired. Then she stood before her old suitor with Effie blooming on her shoulder.
He frankly wondered and admired. “ She’s magnificent she’s magnificent!” he repeated.
“She’s magnificent!” Rose ardently echoed. “Aren’t you, my very own?” she demanded of the child, with a sudden passion of tenderness.
“What did he mean about her wanting the Doctor? She’ll see us all through every blessed one of us!” Dennis gave himself up to his serious interest, an odd, voracious manner of taking her in from top to toe.
“You look at her like an ogre!” Rose laughed, moving away from him with her burden and press ing to her lips as she went a little plump pink arm. She pretended to munch it; she covered it with kisses; she gave way to the joy of her renounced abstention. “ See us all through? I hope so!
Why shouldn’t you, darling, why shouldn’t you? You’ve got a real friend, you have, you duck; and she sees you know what you’ve got by the won derful way you look at her!” This was to attribute to the little girl’s solemn stare a vividness of mean ing which moved Dennis to hilarity; Rose’s pro fession of confidence made her immediately turn her round face over her friend’s shoulder to the gentleman who was strolling behind and whose public criticism, as well as his public mirth, appeared to arouse in her only a soft sense of superiority. Rose sat down again where she had sat before, keeping Effie in her lap and smoothing out her fine feathers. Then their companion, after a little more detached contemplation, also took his former place.
“She makes me remember!” he presently ob served.
“That extraordinary scene poor Julia’s mes sage? You can fancy whether I forget it! ”
Dennis was silent a little; after which he said quietly: “ You’ve more to keep it in mind.”
“I can assure you I’ve plenty!” Rose replied.
“And the young lady who was also present isn’t she the Miss Martle? ”
“Whom I spoke of to that woman? She’s the Miss Martle. What about her?” Rose asked with her cheek against the child’s.
“Does she also remember? ”
“Like you and me? I haven’t the least idea.”
Once more Dennis paused; his pauses were filled with his friendly gaze at their small companion. “She’s here again like you? ”
“And like you?” Rose smiled. “ No, not like either of us. She’s always here.”
“And it’s from her you’re to keep a certain little person? ”
“It’s from her.” Rose spoke with rich brevity.
Dennis hesitated. “Would you trust the little person to another little person? ”
“To you to hold?” Rose looked amused. “Without a pang!” The child, at this, profoundly meditative and imperturbably “ good,” submitted serenely to the transfer and to the prompt, long kiss which, as he gathered her to him, Dennis, in his turn, imprinted on her arm. “I’ll stay with you!” she declared with expression; on which he renewed, with finer relish, the freedom she per mitted, assuring her that this settled the question and that he was her appointed champion. Rose watched the scene between them, which was charm ing; then she brought out abruptly: “ What I said to Mr. Bream just now I didn’t say for Mr. Bream.”
Dennis had the little girl close to him; his arms were softly round her and, like Rose’s just before, his cheek, as he tenderly bent his head, was pressed against her cheek. His eyes were on their com panion. “You said it for Mr. Vidal? He liked it, all the same, better than I,” he replied in a moment.
“Of course he liked it! But it doesn’t matter what he likes,” Rose added. “As for you I don’t know that your ‘ liking ’ it was what I wanted.”
“What then did you want? ”
“That you should see me utterly abased and all the more utterly that it was in the cruel presence of another.”
Dennis had raised his head and sunk back into the angle of the bench, separated from her by such space as it yielded. His face, presented to her over Effie’s curls, was a combat of mystifications. “Why in the world should that give me pleasure? ”
“Why in the world shouldn’t it?” Rose asked. “What’s your revenge but pleasure?”
She had got up again in her dire restlessness; she glowed there in the perversity of her sacrifice. If he hadn’t come to Wilverley to watch her, his wonder-stricken air much wronged him. He shook his head again with his tired patience. “ Oh, damn pleasure!” he exclaimed.
“It’s nothing to you?” Rose cried. “ Then if it isn’t, perhaps you pity me?” She shone at him as if with the glimpse of a new hope.
He took it in, but he only, after a moment, echoed, ambiguously, her word. “ Pity you? ”
“I think you would, Dennis, if you under stood.”
He looked at her hard; he hesitated. At last he returned quietly, but relentingly: “ Well, Rose, I don’t understand.”
“Then I must go through it all I must empty the cup. Yes, I must tell you.”
She paused so long, however, beautiful, candid and tragic, looking in the face her necessity, but gathering herself for her effort, that, after waiting a while, he spoke. “ Tell me what? ”
“That I’m simply at your feet. That I’m yours to do what you will with to take or to cast away. Perhaps you’ll care a little for your triumph,” she said, “ when you see in it the grand opportunity I give you. It’s your turn to refuse now you can treat me exactly as you were treated! ”
A deep, motionless silence followed, between them, this speech, which left them confronted as if it had rather widened than bridged their separation. Before Dennis found his answer to it the sharp tension snapped in a clear, glad exclamation. The child threw out her arms and her voice: “ Auntie Jean, Auntie Jean! ”
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02