CONSCIOUS of the importance of not letting his nervousness show, he had no sooner pointlessly risen than he took possession of another chair. He dropped the question of Effie’s security, remembering there was a prior one as to which he had still to justify himself. He brought it back with an air of indulgence which scarcely disguised, however, its present air of irrelevance. “ I’ll gladly call you, my dear Rose, anything you like, but you mustn’t think I’ve been capricious or disloyal. I addressed you of old at the last in the way in which it seemed most natural to address so close a friend of my wife’s. But I somehow think of you here now rather as a friend of my own.”
“And that makes me so much more distant? ” Rose asked, twirling her parasol.
Tony, whose plea had been quite extemporised, felt a slight confusion, which his laugh but inadequately covered. “I seem to have uttered a betise but I haven’t. I only mean that a different title belongs, somehow, to a different character.”
“I don’t admit his character to be different,” Rose said; “ save perhaps in the sense of its having become a little intensified. If I was here before as
Julia’s friend, I’m here still more as Julia’s friend now.”
Tony meditated, with all his candour; then he gave a highly cordial, even if a slightly illogical assent. “ Of course you are from your own point of view.” He evidently only wanted to meet her as far on the way to a quiet life as he could manage. “Dear little Julia!” he exclaimed in a manner which, as soon as he had spoken, he felt to be such a fresh piece of pointlessness that, to carry it off, he got up again.
“Dear little Julia!” Rose echoed, speaking out loud and clear, but with an expression which, unlike Tony’s, would have left on the mind of an ignorant auditor no doubt of its conveying a reference to the un forgotten dead.
Tony strolled towards the hammock. “ May I smoke a cigarette?” She approved with a gesture,that was almost impatient, and while he lighted he pursued with genial gaiety: “ I’m not going to allow you to pretend that you doubt of my having dreamed for years of the pleasure of seeing you here again, or of the diabolical ingenuity that I exercised to enable your visit to take place in the way most convenient to both of us. You used to say the queen-mother disliked you. You see today how much! ”
“She has ended by finding me useful,” said Rose. “That brings me exactly to what I told you just now I wanted to say to you.”
Tony had gathered the loose net of the hammock into a single strand, and, while he smoked, had lowered himself upon it, sideways, in a posture which made him sit as in a swing. He looked sur prised and even slightly disconcerted, like a man asked to pay twice. “ Oh, it isn’t then what you did say? ”
“About your use of my name? No, it isn’t that it’s something quite different.” Rose waited; she stood before him as she had stood before her previous interlocutor. “ It’s to let you know the interest I take in Paul Beever. I take the very greatest.”
“You do?” said Tony approvingly. “ Well, you might go in for something worse! ”
He spoke with a cheerfulness that covered all the ground; but she repeated the words as if challenging their sense. “ I might ‘ go in ’? ”
Her accent struck a light from them, put in an idea that had not been Tony’s own. Thus pre sented, the idea seemed happy, and, in his incon-trollable restlessness, his face more vividly bright ening, he rose to it with a zeal that brought him for a third time to his feet. He smiled ever so kindly and, before he could measure his words or his manner, broke out: “ If you only really would, you know, my dear Rose! ”
In a quicker flash he became aware that, as if he had dealt her a blow in the face, her eyes had filled with tears. It made the taste of his joke too bad. “Are you gracefully suggesting that I shall carry Mr. Beever off?” she demanded.
“Not from me, my dear never!” Tony blushed and felt how much there was to rectify in some of his impulses. “ I think a lot of him and I want to keep my hand on him. But I speak of him frankly, always, as a prize, and I want something awfully good to happen to him. If you like him,” he hastened laughingly to add, “of course it does happen I see! ”
He attenuated his meaning, but he had already exposed it, and he could perceive that Rose, with a kind of tragic perversity, was determined to get the full benefit, whatever it might be, of her impression or her grievance. She quickly did her best to look collected. “ You think he’s safe then, and solid, and not so stupid as he strikes one at first? ”
“Stupid? not a bit. He’s a statue in the block he’s a sort of slumbering giant. The right sort of tact will call him to life, the right sort of hand will work him out of the stone.”
“And it escaped you just now, in a moment of unusual expansion, that the right sort are mine? ”
Tony puffed away at his cigarette, smiling at her resolutely through its light smoke. “You do in justice to my attitude about you. There isn’t an hour of the day that I don’t indulge in some tribute or other to your great ability.”
Again there came into the girl’s face her strange alternative look the look of being made by her passion so acquainted with pain that even in the midst of it she could flower into charity. Sadly and gently she shook her head. “ Poor Tony! ”
Then she added in quite a different tone: “What do you think of the difference of our ages? ”
“Yours and Paul’s? It isn’t worth speaking of!”
“That’s sweet of you considering that he’s only twenty-two. However, I’m not yet thirty,” she went on; “and, of course, to gain time, one might press the thing hard.” She hesitated again; after which she continued: “ It’s awfully vulgar, this way, to put the dots on the i’s, but as it was you, and not I, who began it, I may ask if you really believe that if one should make a bit of an effort?” And she invitingly paused, to leave
him to complete a question as to which it was natural she should feel a delicacy.
Tony’s face, for an initiated observer, would have shown that he was by this time watching for a trap; but it would also have shown that, after a moment’s further reflection, he didn’t particularly care if the trap should catch him. “ If you take such an interest in Paul,” he replied with no visible abatement of his preference for the stand point of pleasantry, “you can calculate better than I the natural results of drawing him out. But what I can assure you is that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you so happily ‘ estab lished,’ as they say so honourably married, so affec tionately surrounded and so thoroughly protected.”
“And all alongside of you here?” cried Rose.
Tony faltered, but he went on. “ It’s precisely your being ‘alongside’ of one that would enable one to see you.”
“It would enable one to see you it would have that particular merit,” said Rose. “ But my interest in Mr. Beever hasn’t at all been of a kind to prompt me to turn the possibility over for myself. You can readily imagine how far I should have been in that case from speaking of it to you. The defect of your charming picture,” she presently added, “is that an important figure is absent from it.”
“An important figure? ”
Tony looked at the tip of his cigarette. “You mean because there was at one time so much planning and plotting over the idea that she should make a match with Paul? ”
“At one time, my dear Tony?” Rose exclaimed. “There’s exactly as much as ever, and I’m already in these mere three weeks in the very thick of it! Did you think the question had been quite dropped?” she inquired.
Tony faced her serenely enough in part because he felt the extreme importance of so doing. “ I simply haven’t heard much about it. Mrs. Beever used to talk about it. But she hasn’t talked of late.”
“She talked, my good man, no more than half an hour ago!” Rose replied.
Tony winced; but he stood bravely up; his cigarettes were an extreme resource. “ Really? And what did she say to you? ”
“She said nothing to me but she said every thing to her son. She said to him, I mean, that she’ll never forgive him if she doesn’t hear from him an hour or two hence that he has at last successfully availed himself, with Miss Martle, of this auspicious day, as well as of the fact that he’s giving her, in honour of it, something remark ably beautiful.”
Tony listened with marked attention, but without meeting his companion’s eyes. He had again seated himself in the hammock, with his feet on the ground and his head thrown back; and he smoked freely, holding it with either hand. “What is he giving her?” he asked after a moment
Rose turned away; she mechanically did some thing at the table. “ Shouldn’t you think she’d show it to you?” she threw over her shoulder.
While this shoulder, sensibly cold for the instant, was presented, he watched her. “ I daresay if she accepts it.”
The girl faced him again. “And won’t she accept it? ”
“Only I should say if she accepts him”
“And won’t she do that? ”
Tony made a “ ring ” with his cigarette. “ The thing will be for him to get her to.”
“That’s exactly,” said Rose, “what I want you to do.”
“Me?” He now stared at her. “ How can I? ”
“I won’t undertake to tell you how I’ll leave that to your ingenuity. Wouldn’t it be a matter just an easy extension of existing relations? You saw just now that he appealed to her for his chance and that she consented to give it to him. What I wanted you to hear from me is that I feel how much interested you’ll be in learning that this chance is of the highest importance for him and that I know with how good a conscience you’ll throw your weight into the scale of his success.”
“My weight with the young lady? Don’t you rather exaggerate my weight?” Tony asked.
“That question can only be answered by your trying it. It’s a situation in which not to take an interest is well, not your duty, you know,” said Rose.
Tony gave a smile which he felt to be a little pale; but there was still good-humour in the tone in which he protestingly and portentously murmured: “ Oh, my ‘duty’!”
“Surely; if you see no objection to poor Mrs. Beever’s at last gathering the fruit of the tree she long ago so fondly and so carefully planted. Of course if you should frankly tell me you see one that I don’t know!” She looked ingenuous and hard. “ Do you, by chance, see one? ”
“None at all. I’ve never known a tree of Mrs. Beever’s of which the fruit hasn’t been sweet.”
“Well, in the present case sweet or bitter! it’s ready to fall. This is the hour the years have pointed to. You think highly of Paul ”
Tony Bream took her up. “ And I think highly of Jean, and therefore I must see them through? I
catch your meaning. But have you in a matter composed, after all, of ticklish elements thought of the danger of one’s meddling? ”
“A great deal.” A troubled vision of this danger dawned even now in Rose’s face. “ But I’ve thought still more of one’s possible prudence one’s occa sional tact.” Tony, for a moment, made no reply; he quitted the hammock and began to stroll about. Her anxious eyes followed him, and presently she brought out: “ Have you really been supposing that they’ve given it up? ”
Tony remained silent; but at last he stopped short, and there was an effect of returning from an absence in the way he abruptly demanded: “ That who have given up what? ”
“That Mrs. Beever and Paul have given up what we’re talking about the idea of his union with Jean.”
Tony hesitated. “ I haven’t been supposing any thing at all!” Rose recognised the words for the first he had ever uttered to her that expressed even a shade of irritation, and she was unable to conceal that she felt, on the spot, how memorable this fact was to make them. Tony’s immediate glance at her showed equally that he had instantly become aware of their so affecting her. He did, however, nothing to modify the impression: he only stood a moment looking across the river; after which he observed quietly: “ Here she is on the bridge.”
He had walked nearer to the stream, and Rose had moved back to the tea-table, from which the view of the bridge was obstructed. “ Has she brought the child?” she asked.
“I don’t make out she may have her by the hand.” He approached again, and as he came he said: “ Your idea is really that I should speak to her now? ”
“Before she sees Paul?” Rose met his eyes; there was a quick anguish of uncertainty in all her person. “ I leave that to you since you cast a doubt on the safety of your doing so. I leave it,” said Rose, “to your judgment I leave it to your honour.”
“To my honour?” Tony wondered with a showy jerk of his head what the deuce his honour had to do with it.
She went on without heeding him. “ My idea is only that, whether you speak to her or not, she shall accept him. Gracious heavens, she must!” Rose broke out with passion.
“You take an immense interest in it!” Tony laughed.
“Take the same, then, yourself, and the thing will come off.” They stood a minute looking at each other, and more passed between them than had ever passed before. The result of it was that Rose had a drop from her strenuous height to sudden and beautiful gentleness. “ Tony Bream, I trust you.”
She had uttered the word in a way that had the power to make him flush. He answered peaceably, however, laughing again: “ I hope so, my dear Rose!” Then in a moment he added: “ I will speak.” He glanced again at the circuitous path from the bridge, but Jean had not yet emerged from the shrubbery by which it was screened. “ If she brings Effie will you take her? ”
With her ominous face the girl considered. “ I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Tony gave a gesture of impatience. “ Good God, how you stand off from the poor little thing! ”
Jean at this moment came into sight without the child. “ I shall never take her from her!” And Rose Armiger turned away.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10