“YOUR young friend,” Rose commented, “is as affectionate as she’s pretty: sending her love to people she has never seen! ”
“She only meant the little girl. I think it’s rather nice of her,” said Mrs. Beever. “ My interest in these anxieties is always confined to the mamma. I thought we were going so straight.”
“I dare say we are,” Miss Armiger replied. “But Nurse told me an hour ago that I’m not to see her at all this morning. It will be the first morning for several days.”
Mrs. Beever was silent a little. “ You’ve enjoyed a privilege altogether denied to me.”
“Ah, you must remember,” said Rose, “that I’m Julia’s oldest friend. That’s always the way she treats me.”
Mrs. Beever assented. “ Familiarly, of course. Well, you’re not mine; but that’s the way I treat you too,” she went on. “ You must wait with me here for more news, and be as still as a mouse.”
“Dear Mrs. Beever,” the girl protested, “ I never made a noise in all my life! ”
“You will some day you’re so clever,” Mrs. Beever said.
“I’m clever enough to be quiet.” Then Rose added, less gaily: “ I’m the one thing of her own that dear Julia has ever had.”
Mrs. Beever raised her eyebrows. “ Don’t you count her husband? ”
“I count Tony immensely; but in another way.”
Again Mrs. Beever considered: she might have been wondering in what way even so expert a young person as this could count Anthony Bream except as a treasure to his wife. But what she presently articulated was: “Do you call him f Tony ‘ to himself?”
Miss Armiger met her question this time promptly. “He has asked me to and to do it even to Julia. Don’t be afraid! ” she exclaimed; “ I know my place and I shan’t go too far. Of course he’s everything to her now,” she continued, “ and the child is already almost as much; but what I mean is that if he counts for a great deal more, I, at least, go back a good deal further. Though I’m three years older we were brought together as girls by one of the strongest of all ties the tie of a common aversion.”
“Oh, I know your common aversion! ” Mrs. Beever spoke with her air of general competence. . “ Perhaps then you know that her detestable stepmother was, very little to my credit, my aunt. If her father, that is, was Mrs. Grantham’s second husband, my uncle, my mother’s brother, had been the first. Julia lost her mother; I lost both my mother and my father. Then Mrs. Grantham took me: she had shortly before made her second marriage.
She put me at the horrid school at Weymouth at which she had already put her step-daughter.”
“You ought to be obliged to her,” Mrs. Beever suggested, “ for having made you acquainted.”
“We are we’ve never ceased to be. It was as if she had made us sisters, with the delightful position for me of the elder, the protecting one. But it’s the only good turn she has ever done us.”
Mrs. Beever weighed this statement with her alternative, her business manner. “ Is she really then such a monster? ”
Rose Armiger had a melancholy headshake. “Don’t ask me about her I dislike her too much, perhaps, to be strictly fair. For me, however, I daresay, it didn’t matter so much that she was narrow and hard: I wasn’t an easy victim I could take care of myself, I could fight. But Julia bowed her head and suffered. Never was a mar riage more of a rescue.”
Mrs. Beever took this in with unsuspended criticism. “And yet Mrs. Grantham travelled all the way down from town the other day simply to make her a visit of a couple of hours.”
“That wasn’t a kindness,” the girl returned; “it was an injury, and I believe certainly Julia believes that it was a calculated one. Mrs. Grantham knew perfectly the effect she would have, and she triumphantly had it. She came, she said, at the particular crisis, to ‘make peace.’ Why couldn’t she let the poor dear alone? She only stirred up the wretched past and reopened old wounds.”
For answer to this Mrs. Beever remarked with some irrelevancy: “ She abused you a good deal, I think.”
Her companion smiled frankly. “ Shockingly, I believe; but that’s of no importance to me. She doesn’t touch me or reach me now.”
“Your description of her,” said Mrs. Beever, “ is a description of a monstrous bad woman. And yet she appears to have got two honourable men to give her the last proof of confidence.”
“My poor uncle utterly withdrew his confidence when he saw her as she was. She killed him he died of his horror of her. As for Julia’s father, he’s honourable if you like, but he’s a muff. He’s afraid of his wife.”
“And her ‘ taking ‘ you, as you say, who were no real relation to her her looking after you and put ting you at school: wasn’t that,” Mrs. Beever pro pounded, “ a kindness? ”
“She took me to torment me or at least to make me feel her hand. She has an absolute necessity to do that it was what brought her down here the other day.”
“You make out a wonderful case,” said Mrs. Beever, “ and if ever I’m put on my trial for a crime say for muddling the affairs of the Bank I hope I shall be defended by some one with your gift and your manner. I don’t wonder,” she blandly pursued, “ that your friends, even the blameless ones, like this dear pair, cling to you as they do.”
“If you mean you don’t wonder I stay on here so long,” said Rose good-humouredly, “ I’m greatly obliged to you for your sympathy. Julia’s the one thing I have of my own.”
“You make light of our husbands and lovers! ” laughed Mrs. Beever. “ Haven’t I had the pleasure of hearing of a gentleman to whom you’re soon to be married? ”
Rose Armiger opened her eyes there was perhaps a slight affectation in it. She looked, at any rate, as if she had to make a certain effort to meet the allusion. “ Dennis Vidal? ” she then asked.
“Lord, are there more than one? ” Mrs. Beever cried; after which, as the girl, who had coloured a little, hesitated in a way that almost suggested alternatives, she added: “ Isn’t it a definite engage ment?”
Rose Armiger looked round at the clock. “ Mr. Vidal will be here this morning. Ask him how he considers it.”
One of the doors of the hall at this moment opened, and Mrs. Beever exclaimed with some eagerness: “ Here he is, perhaps!” Her eagerness was characteristic; it was part of a comprehensive vision in which the pieces had already fallen into sharp adjustment to each other. The young lady she had been talking with had in these few minutes, for some reason, struck her more forcibly than ever before as a possible object of interest to a youth of a candour greater even than any it was incumbent on a respectable mother to cultivate. Miss Armiger had just given her a glimpse of the way she could handle honest gentlemen as “ muffs.” She was decidedly too unusual to be left out of account. If there was the least danger of Paul’s falling in love with her it ought somehow to be arranged that her marriage should encounter no difficulty.
The person now appearing, however, proved to be only Doctor Ramage, who, having a substantial wife of his own, was peculiarly unfitted to promise relief to Mrs. Beever’s anxiety. He was a little man who moved, with a warning air, on tiptoe, as if he were playing some drawing-room game of surprises, and who had a face so candid and circular that it sug gested a large white pill. Mrs. Beever had once said with regard to sending for him: “ It isn’t to take his medicine, it’s to take him. I take him twice a week in a cup of tea.” It was his tone that did her good. He had in his hand a sheet of note-paper, one side of which was covered with writing and with which he immediately addressed himself to Miss Armiger. It was a prescription to be made up, and he begged her to see that it was carried on the spot to the chemist’s, mentioning that on leaving Mrs. Bream’s room he had gone straight to the library to think it out. Rose, who appeared to recognise at a glance its nature, replied that as she was fidgety and wanted a walk she would perform the errand herself. Her bonnet and jacket were there; she had put them on to go to church, and then, on second thoughts, seeing Mr. Bream give it up, had taken them off.
“Excellent for you to go yourself,” said the Doctor. He had an instruction to add, to which, lucid and prompt, already equipped, she gave full attention. As she took the paper from him he subjoined: “ You’re a very nice, sharp, obliging person.”
“She knows what she’s about! ” said Mrs. Beever with much expression. “ But what in the world is Julia about? ”
“I’ll tell you when I know, my dear lady.”
“Is there really anything wrong? ”
“I’m waiting to find out.”
Miss Armiger, before leaving them, was waiting too. She had been checked on the way to the door by Mrs. Beever’s question, and she stood there with her intensely clear eyes on Doctor Ramage’s face.
Mrs. Beever continued to study it as earnestly. “Then you’re not going yet? ”
“By no means, though I’ve another pressing call. I must have that thing from you first,” he said to Rose.
She went to the door, but there again she paused. “Is Mr. Bream still with her? ”
“Very much with her that’s why I’m here. She made a particular request to be left for five minutes alone with him.”
“So Nurse isn’t there either? ” Rose asked.
“Nurse has embraced the occasion to pop down for her lunch. Mrs. Bream has taken it into her head that she has something very important to say.”
Mrs. Beever firmly seated herself. “ And pray what may that be? ”
“She turned me out of the room precisely so that I shouldn’t learn.”
“I think I know what it is,” their companion, at the door, put in.
“Then what is it?” Mrs. Beever demanded.
“Oh, I wouldn’t tell you for the world! ” And with this Rose Armiger departed.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02