THE greatest of the parlourmaids came from the hall into the drawing-room at Eastmead the high, square temple of mahogany and tapestry in which, the last few years, Mrs. Beever had spent much time in rejoicing that she had never set up new gods. She had left it, from the first, as it was full of the old things that, on succeeding to her husband’s mother, she had been obliged, as a young woman of that period, to accept as dolefully different from the things thought beautiful by other young women whose views of drawing-rooms, all about her, had also been intensified by marriage. She had not unassistedly discovered the beauty of her heritage, and she had not from any such subtle suspicion kept her hands off it. She had never in her life taken any course with regard to any object for reasons that had so little to do with her duty. Everything in her house stood, at an angle of its own, on the solid rock of the discipline rt had cost her. She had therefore lived with mere dry wist-fulness through the age of rosewood, and had been rewarded by finding that, like those who sit still in runaway vehicles, she was the only person not thrown out. Her mahogany had never moved, but the way people talked about it had, and the people who talked were now eager to sit down with her on everything that both she and they had anciently thought plainest and poorest. It was Jean, above all, who had opened her eyes opened them in particular to the great wine-dark doors, polished and silver-hinged, with which the lady of Eastmead, arriving at the depressed formula that they were “gloomy,” had for thirty years, prudently on the whole, as she considered, shut out the question of taste. One of these doors Manning now softly closed, standing, however, with her hand on the knob and looking across, as if, in the stillness, to listen at another which exactly balanced with it on the opposite side of the room. The light of the long day had not wholly faded, but what remained of it was the glow of the western sky, which showed through the wide, high window that was still open to the garden. The sensible hush in which Man ning waited was broken after a moment by a movement, ever so gentle, of the other door. Mrs. Beever put her head out of the next room; then, seeing her servant, closed the door with precautions and came forward. Her face, hard but overcharged, had pressingly asked a question.
“Yes, ma’am Mr. Vidal. I showed him, as you told me, into the library.”
Mrs. Beever thought. “ It may be wanted. I’ll see him here.” But she checked the woman’s retreat. “ Mr. Beever’s in his room? ”
“No, ma’am he went out.”
“But a minute ago? ”
“Longer, ma’am. After he carried in ”
Mrs. Beever stayed the phrase on Manning’s lips and quickly supplied her own. “The dear little girl yes. He went to Mr. Bream? ”
“No, ma’am the other way.”
Mrs. Beever thought afresh. “ But Miss Armiger’s in?”
“Oh, yes in her room.”
“She went straight? ”
Manning, on her side, reflected. “Yes, ma’am. She always goes straight.”
“Not always,” said Mrs. Beever. “ But she’s quiet there? ”
“Then call Mr. Vidal.” While Manning obeyed she turned to the window and stared at the gather ing dusk. Then the door that had been left open closed again, and she faced about to Dennis Vidal.
“Something dreadful has happened?” he instantly asked.
“Something dreadful has happened. You’ve come from Bounds? ”
“As fast as I could run. I saw Doctor Ramage there.”
“And what did he tell you? ”
“That I must come straight here.”
“Nothing else? ”
“That you would tell me,” Dennis said. “ I saw the shock in his face.”
“But you didn’t ask? ”
“Nothing. Here I am,”
“Here you are, thank God!” Mrs. Beever gave a muffled moan.
She was going on, but, eagerly, he went before her. “ Can I help you? ”
“Yes if there is help. You can do so first by not asking me a question till I have put those I wish to yourself.”
“Put them put them!” he said impatiently.
At his peremptory note she quivered, showing him she was in the state in which every sound startles. She locked her lips and closed her eyes an instant; she held herself together with an effort. “I’m in great trouble, and I venture to believe that if you came back to me today it was because ”
He took her up shorter than before. “ Because I thought of you as a friend? For God’s sake, think of me as one! ”
She pressed to her lips while she looked at him the small tight knot into which her nerves had crumpled her pocket-handkerchief. She had no tears only a visible terror. “ I’ve never appealed to one,” she replied, “ as I shall appeal to you now. Effie Bream is dead.” Then as instant horror was in his eyes: “ She was found in the water.”
“The water?” Dennis gasped.
“Under the bridge at the other side. She had been caught, she was held, in the slow current by some obstruction, and by the pier. Don’t ask me how when I arrived, by the mercy of heaven, she had been brought to the bank. But she was gone.” With a movement of the head toward the room she had quitted, “ We carried her back here,” she went on. Vidal’s face, which was terrible in the intensity of its sudden vision, struck her apparently as for the instant an echo, wild but interrogative, of what she had last said; so she explained quickly: “ To think to get more time.” He turned straight away from her; he went, as she had done, to the window and, with his back presented, stood looking out in the mere rigour of dismay.
She was silent long enough to show a respect for the particular consternation that her manner of watching him betrayed her impression of having stirred; then she went on: “ How long were you at Bounds with Rose? ”
Dennis turned round without meeting her eyes or, at first, understanding her question. “ At Bounds? ”
“When, on your joining her, she went over with you.”
He thought a moment. “ She didn’t go over with me. I went alone after the child came out.”
“You were there when Manning brought her? ” Mrs. Beever wondered. “ Manning didn’t tell me that.”
“I found Rose on the lawn with Mr. Bream when I brought back your boat. He left us together after inviting me to Bounds and then the little girl arrived. Rose let me hold her, and I was with them till Miss Martle appeared. Then I rather uncivilly went off.”
“You went without Rose?” Mrs. Beever asked.
“Yes I left her with the little girl and Miss Martle.” The marked effect of this statement made him add: “ Was it your impression I didn’t? ”
His companion, before answering him, dropped into a seat and stared up at him; after which she articulated: “ I’ll tell you later. You left them,” she demanded, “ in the garden with the child? ”
“In the garden with the child.”
“Then you hadn’t taken her? ”
Dennis had for some seconds a failure either of memory or of courage; but whichever it was he completely overcame it. “By no means. She was in Rose’s arms.”
Mrs. Beever, at this image, lowered her eyes to the floor; after which, raising them again, she continued: “ You went to Bounds? ”
“No I turned off short. I was going, but if I had a great deal to think of,” Dennis pursued, “after I had learned from you she was here, the quantity wasn’t of course diminished by our personal en counter.” He hesitated. “ I had seen her with him.”
“Well?” said Mrs. Beever as he paused again.
“I asked you if she was in love with him.”
“And I bade you find out for yourself.”
“I’ve found out,” Dennis said.
“Well?” Mrs. Beever repeated.
It was evidently, even in this tighter tension, something of an ease to all his soreness to tell her. “ I’ve never seen anything like it and there’s not much I’ve not seen.”
“That’s exactly what the Doctor says! ”
Dennis stared, but after a moment, “And does the Doctor say Mr. Bream cares?” he somewhat artlessly inquired.
“Not a farthing.”
“Not a farthing. I’m bound to say I could see it for myself,” he declared, “that he has behaved very well.” Mrs. Beever, at this, turning in torment on her seat, gave a smothered wail which pulled him up so that he went on in surprise: “ Don’t you think that? ”
“I’ll tell you later,” she answered. “In the presence of this misery I don’t judge him.
“No more do I. But what I was going to say was that, all the same, the way he has with a woman, the way he had with her there, and his damned good looks and his great happiness
“His great happiness? God help him!” Mrs. Beever broke out, springing up again in her emotion. She stood before him with pleading hands. “ Where ivere you then? ”
“After I left the garden? I was upset, I was dissatisfied I didn’t go over. I lighted a cigar; I passed out of the gate by your little closed pavilion and kept on by the river.”
“By the river?” Mrs. Beever was blank. “Then why didn’t you see? ”
“What happened to the child? Because if it happened near the bridge I had left the bridge behind.”
“But you were in sight ”
“For five minutes,” Dennis said. “ I was in sight perhaps even for ten. I strolled there, I turned things over, I watched the stream and, finally just at the sharp bend I sat a little on the stile beyond that smart new boat-house.”
“It’s a horrid thing.” Mrs. Beever considered. “But you see the bridge from the boat-house.”
Dennis hesitated. “Yes it’s a good way, but you’ve a glimpse.”
“Which showed you nothing at all? ”
“Nothing at all?” his echo of the question was interrogative, and it carried him uneasily to the window, where he again, for a little, stared out. The pink of the sky had faded and dusk had begun in the room. At last he faced about. “No I saw something. But I’ll not tell you what it was, please, till I’ve myself asked you a thing or two.”
Mrs. Beever was silent at this: they stood face to face in the twilight. Then she slowly exhaled a throb of her anguish. “ I think you’ll be a help.”
“How much of one,” he bitterly demanded, “shall I be to myself?” But he continued before she could meet the question: “ I went back to the bridge, and as I approached it Miss Martle came down to it from your garden.”
Mrs. Beever grabbed his arm. “ Without the child?” He was silent so long that she repeated it: “Without the child?”
He finally spoke. “Without the child.”
She looked at him as she showed that she felt she had never looked at any man. “ On your sacred honour? ”
“On my sacred honour.”
She closed her eyes as she had closed them at the beginning of their talk, and the same defeated spasm passed over her face. “ You are a help,” she said.
“Well,” Dennis replied straightforwardly, “if it’s being one to let you know that she was with me from that moment
Breathless she caught him up. “ With you? till when? ”
“Till just now, when we again separated at the gate-house: I to go over to Bounds, as I had promised Mr. Bream, and Miss Martle
Again she snatched the words from him. “To come straight in? Oh, glory be to God! ”
Dennis showed some bewilderment. “She did come? ”
“Mercy, yes to meet this horror. She’s with Effie.” She returned to it, to have it again. “ She was with you? ”
“A quarter of an hour perhaps more.” At this Mrs. Beever dropped upon her sofa again and gave herself to the tears that had not sooner come. She sobbed softly, controlling them, and Dennis watched her with hard, haggard pity; after which he said: “As soon as I saw her I spoke to her I felt that I wanted her.”
“You wanted her?” in the clearer medium through which Mrs. Beever now could look up there were still obscurities.
He hesitated. “ For what she might say to me. I told you, when we spoke of Rose after my arrival, that I had not come to watch her. But while I was with them” he jerked his head at the garden “something remarkable took place.”
Mrs. Beever rose again. “ I know what took place.”
He seemed struck. “ You know it? ”
“She told Jean.”
Dennis stared. “ I think not.”
“Jean didn’t speak of it to you? ”
“Not a word.”
“She spoke of it to Paul,” said Mrs. Beever. Then, to be more specific: “Something highly re markable. I mean your engagement.”
Dennis was mute; but at last, in the gathered gloom, his voice was stranger than his silence. “My engagement? ”
“Didn’t you, on the spot, induce her to renew it?”
Again, for some time, he was dumb. “ Has she said so?” he then asked.
“To every one.”
Once more he waited. “ I should like to see her.”
“Here she is.”
The door from the hall had opened as he spoke: Rose Armiger stood there. She addressed him straight and as if she had not seen Mrs. Beever. “I knew you’d be here I must see you.”
Mrs. Beever passed quickly to the side of the room at which she had entered, where her fifty years of order abruptly came out to Dennis. “ Will you have lights? ”
It was Rose who replied. “No lights, thanks.” But she stayed her hostess. “ May I see her? ”
Mrs. Beever fixed a look through the dusk. “No!” And she slipped soundlessly away.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02