SHE waited compassionately for his nervousness to pass, dropping again, during the pause, upon the sofa she had just occupied with her visitor. At last as, while she watched him, his silence continued, she put him a question. “ Does she at any rate still maintain that she shan’t get well? ”
Tony removed his hands from his face. “ With the utmost assurance or rather with the utmost serenity. But she treats that now as a mere detail.”
Rose wondered. “You mean she’s really con vinced that she’s sinking? ”
“So she says.”
“But is she, good heavens? Such a thing isn’t a matter of opinion: it’s a fact or it’s not a fact.”
“It’s not a fact,” said Tony Bream. “ How can it be when one has only to see that her strength hasn’t failed? She of course says it . has, but she has a remarkable deal of it to show. What’s the vehemence with which she expresses herself but a sign of increasing life? It’s excitement, of course partly; but it’s also striking energy.”
“Excitement? ” Rose repeated. “ I thought you ust said she was ‘ serene.’ ”
Tony hesitated, but he was perfectly clear. “She’s calm about what she calls leaving me, bless her heart; she seems to have accepted that prospect with the strangest resignation. What she’s uneasy, what she’s in fact still more strangely tormented and exalted about, is another matter.”
“I see the thing you just mentioned.”
“She takes an interest,” Tony went on, “ she asks questions, she sends messages, she speaks out with all her voice. She’s delighted to know that Mr. Vidal has at last come to you, and she told me to tell you so from her, and to tell him so to tell you both, in fact, how she rejoices that what you’ve so long waited for is now so close at hand.”
Rose took this in with lowered eyes. “ How dear of her! ” she murmured.
“She asked me particularly about Mr. Vidal,” Tony continued “ how he looks, how he strikes me, how you met. She gave me indeed a private message for him.”
Rose faintly smiled. “ A private one? ”
“Oh, only to spare your modesty: a word to the effect that she answers for you.”
“In what way? ” Rose asked.
“Why, as the charmingest, cleverest, handsomest, in every way most wonderful wife that ever any man will have had.”
“She is wound up! ” Rose laughed. Then she said: “ And all the while what does Nurse think? I don’t mean,” she added with the same slight irony, “ of whether I shall do for Dennis.”
“Of Julia’s condition? She wants Ramage to come back.”
Rose thought a moment. “ She’s rather a goose, I think she loses her head.”
“So I’ve taken the liberty of telling her.” Tony sat forward, his eyes on the floor, his elbows on his knees and his hands nervously rubbing each other. Presently he rose with a jerk. “ What do you suppose she wants me to do? ”
Rose tried to suppose. “ Nurse wants you? ”
“No that ridiculous girl.” Nodding back at his wife’s room, he came and stood before the sofa.
Half reclining again, Rose turned it over, raising her eyes to him. “ Do you really mean something ridiculous? ”
“Under the circumstances grotesque.”
“Well,” Rose suggested, smiling, “she wants you to allow her to name her successor.”
“Just the contrary! ” Tony seated himself where Dennis Vidal had sat. “ She wants me to promise her she shall have no successor.”
His companion looked at him hard; with her surprise at something in his tone she had just visibly coloured. “ I see.” She was at a momentary loss. “Do you call that grotesque? ”
Tony, for an instant, was evidently struck by her surprise; then seeing the reason of it and blushing too a little, “ Not the idea, my dear Rose God forbid! ” he exclaimed. “ What I’m speaking of is the mistake of giving that amount of colour to her insistence meeting her as if one accepted the situation as she represents it and were really taking leave of her.
Rose appeared to understand and even to be impressed. “You think that will make her worse? ”
“Why, arranging everything as if she’s going to die! ” Tony sprang up afresh; his trouble was obvious and he fell into the restless pacing that had been his resource all the morning.
His interlocutress watched his agitation. “Mayn’t it be that if you do just that she’ll, on the contrary, immediately find herself better? ”
Tony wandered, again scratching his head. “From the spirit of contradiction? I’ll do anything in life that will make her happy, or just simply make her quiet: I’ll treat her demand as intensely reasonable even, if it isn’t better to treat it as an ado about nothing. But it stuck in my crop to lend myself, that way, to a death-bed solemnity. Heaven deliver us! ” Half irritated and half anxious, suffer ing from his tenderness a twofold effect, he dropped into another seat with his hands in his pockets and his long legs thrust out
“Does she wish it very solemn? ” Rose asked.
“She’s in dead earnest, poor darling. She wants a promise on my sacred honour a vow of the most portentous kind.”
Rose was silent a little. “ You didn’t give it? ”
“I turned it off I refused to take any such discussion seriously. I said: ‘ My own darling, how can I meet you on so hateful a basis? Wait till you are dying! ‘ ” He lost himself an instant; then he was again on his feet. “ How in the world can she dream I’m capable? ” He hadn’t
patience even to finish his phrase.
Rose, however, finished it. “ Of taking a second wife? Ah, that’s another affair! ” she sadly exclaimed. “ We’ve nothing to do with that,” she added. “ Ot course you understand poor Julia’s feeling.”
“Her feeling? ” Tony once more stood in front of her.
“Why, what’s at the bottom of her dread of your marrying again.”
“Assuredly I do! Mrs, Grantham naturally she’s at the bottom. She has filled Julia with the vision of my perhaps giving our child a step mother.”
“Precisely,” Rose said, “ and if you had known, as I knew it, Julia’s girlhood, you would do justice to the force of that horror. It possesses her whole being she would prefer that the child should die.”
Tony Bream, musing, shook his head with dark decision. “Well, I would prefer that they neither of them should! ”
“The simplest thing, then, is to give her your word.”
“My ‘ word ‘ isn’t enough,” Tony said: “ she wants mystic rites and spells! The simplest thing, moreover, was exactly what I desired to do. My objection to the performance she demands was that this was just what it seemed to me not to be.”
“Try it,” said Rose, smiling.
“To bring her round? ”
“Before the Doctor returns. When he comes, you know, he won’t let you go back to her.”
“Then I’ll go now,” said Tony, already at the door.
Rose had risen from the sofa. “ Be very brief but be very strong.”
“I’ll swear by all the gods that or any other nonsense.” Rose stood there opposite to him with a fine, rich urgency which operated as a detention. “I see you’re right,” he declared. “ You always are, and I’m always indebted to you.” Then as he opened the door: “ Is there anything else? ”
“Any thing else?”
“I mean that you advise.”
She thought a moment. “ Nothing but that for you to seem to enter thoroughly into her idea, to show her you understand it as she understands it herself.”
Tony looked vague. “As she does? ”
“Why, for the lifetime of your daughter.” As he appeared still not fully to apprehend, she risked: “ If you should lose Effie the reason would fail.”
Tony, at this, jerked back his head with a flush. “My dear Rose, you don’t imagine that it’s as a needed vow ”
“That you would give it? ” she broke in. “ Certainly I don’t, any more than I suppose the degree of your fidelity to be the ground on which we’re talking. But the thing is to convince Julia, and I said that only because she’ll be more convinced if you strike her as really looking at what you subscribe to.”
Tony gave his nervous laugh. “ Don’t you know I always ‘put down my name’ especially to ‘appeals’ in the most reckless way? ” Then abruptly, in a different tone, as if with a pas sionate need to make it plain, “ I shall never, never, never,” he protested, “ so much as look at another woman! ”
The girl approved with an eager gesture. “You’ve got it, my dear Tony. Say it to her that way! ” But he had already gone, and, turning, she found herself face to face with her lover, who had come back as she spoke.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02