Read CHAPTER VIII of Adam Johnstone's Son , free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on ReadCentral.com.

In obedience to Clare’s expressed wish, Johnstone made no mention that evening of the rather serious adventure on the Salerno road.  They had fallen into the habit of shaking hands when they bade each other good-night.  When it was time, and the two ladies rose to withdraw, Johnstone suddenly wished that Clare would make some little sign to him ­the least thing to show that this particular evening was not precisely what all the other evenings had been, that they were drawn a little closer together, that perhaps she would change her mind and not dislike him any more for that unknown reason at which he could not even guess.

They joined hands, and his eyes met hers.  But there was no unusual pressure ­no little acknowledgment of a common danger past.  The blue eyes looked at him straight and proudly, without softening, and the fresh lips calmly said good-night.  Johnstone remained alone, and in a singularly bad humour for such a good-tempered man.  He was angry with Clare for being so cold and indifferent, and he was ashamed of himself for wishing that she would admire him a little for having knocked down a tipsy carter.  It was not much of an exploit.  What she had done had been very much more remarkable.  The man would not have killed him, of course, but he might have given him a very dangerous wound with that ugly clasp-knife.  Clare’s frock was cut to pieces on one side, and it was a wonder that she had escaped without a scratch.  He had no right to expect any praise for what he had done, when she had done so much more.

To tell the truth, it was not praise that he wanted, but a sign that she was not indifferent to him, or at least that she no longer disliked him.  He was ashamed to own to himself that he was half in love with a young girl who had told him that she did not like him and would never even be his friend.  Women had not usually treated him in that way, so far.  But the fact remained, that she had got possession of his thoughts, and made him think about his actions when she was present.  It took a good deal to disturb Brook Johnstone’s young sleep, but he did not sleep well that night.

As for Clare, when she was alone, she regretted that she had not just nodded kindly to him, and nothing more, when she had said good-night.  She knew perfectly well that he expected something of the sort, and that it would have been natural, and quite harmless, without any possibility of consequence.  She consoled herself by repeating that she had done quite right, as the vision of Lady Fan rose distinctly before her in a flood of memory’s moonlight.  Then it struck her, as the vision faded, that her position was a very odd one.  Personally, she liked the man.  Impersonally, she hated and despised him.  At least she believed that she did, and that she should, for the sake of all women.  To her, as she had known him, he was brave, kind, gentle in manner and speech, boyishly frank.  As she had seen him that once, she had thought him heartless, cowardly, and cynical.  She could not reconcile the two, and therefore, in her thoughts, she unconsciously divided him into two individualities ­her Mr. Johnstone and Lady Fan’s Brook.  There was very little resemblance between them.  Oddly enough, she felt a sort of pang for him, that he could ever have been the other man whom she had first seen.  She was getting into a very complicated frame of mind.

They met in the morning and exchanged greetings with unusual coldness.  Brook asked whether she were tired; she said that she had done nothing to tire her, as though she resented the question; he said nothing in answer, and they both looked at the sea and thought it extremely dull.  Presently Johnstone went off for a walk alone, and Clare buried herself in a book for the morning.  She did not wish to think, because her thoughts were so very contradictory.  It was easier to try and follow some one else’s ideas.  She found that almost worse than thinking, but, being very tenacious, she stuck to it and tried to read.

At the midday meal they exchanged commonplaces, and neither looked at the other.  Just as they left the dining-room a heavy thunderstorm broke overhead with a deluge of rain.  Clare said that the thunder made her head ache, and she disappeared on pretence of lying down.  Mrs. Bowring went to write letters, and Johnstone hung about the reading-room, and smoked a pipe in the long corridor, till he was sick of the sound of his own footsteps.  Amalfi was all very well in fine weather, he reflected, but when it rained it was as dismal as penny whist, Sunday in London, or a volume of sermons ­or all three together, he added viciously, in his thoughts.  The German family had fallen back upon the guide book, Mommsen’s History of Rome, and the Gartenlaube.  The Russian invalid was presumably in his room, with a teapot, and the two English old maids were reading a violently sensational novel aloud to each other by turns in the hotel drawing-room.  They stopped reading and got very red, when Johnstone looked in.

It was a dreary afternoon, and he wished that something would happen.  The fight on the preceding day had stirred his blood ­and other things perhaps had contributed to his restless state of mind.  He thought of Clare’s torn frock, and he wished he had killed the carter outright.  He reflected that, as the man was attacking him with a knife, he himself would have been acquitted.

Late in the afternoon the sky cleared and the red light of the lowering sun struck the crests of the higher hills to eastward.  Brook went out and smelled the earth-scented air, and the damp odour of the orange-blossoms.  But that did not please him either, so he turned back and went through the long corridor to the platform at the back of the hotel.  To his surprise he came face to face with Clare, who was walking briskly backwards and forwards, and saw him just as he emerged from the door.  They both stood still and looked at each other with an odd little constraint, almost like anxiety, in their faces.  There was a short, awkward silence.

“Well?” said Clare, interrogatively, and raising her eyebrows a very little, as though wondering why he did not speak.

“Nothing,” Johnstone answered, turning his face seaward.  “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Oh! ­you looked as though you were.”

“No,” he said.  “I came out to get a breath of air, that’s all.”

“So did I. I ­I think I’ve been out long enough.  I’ll go in.”  And she made a step towards the door.

“Oh, please, don’t!” he cried suddenly.  “Can’t we walk together a little bit?  That is, if you are not tired.”

“Oh no!  I’m not tired,” answered the young girl with a cold little laugh.  “I’ll stay if you like ­just a few minutes.”

“Thanks, awfully,” said Brook in a shy, jerky way.

They began to walk up and down, much less quickly than Clare had been walking when alone.  They seemed to have nothing to say to each other.  Johnstone remarked that he thought it would not rain again just then, and after some minutes of reflection Clare said that she remembered having seen two thunderstorms within an hour, with a clear sky between, not long ago.  Johnstone also thought the matter over for some time before he answered, and then said that he supposed the clouds must have been somewhere in the meantime ­an observation which did not strike either Clare or even himself as particularly intelligent.

“I don’t think you know much about thunderstorms,” said Clare, after another silence.

“I?  No ­why should I?”

“I don’t know.  It’s supposed to be just as well to know about things, isn’t it?”

“I dare say,” answered Brook, indifferently.  “But science isn’t exactly in my line, if I have any line.”

They recrossed the platform in silence.

“What is your line ­if you have any?” Clare asked, looking at the ground as she walked, and perfectly indifferent as to his answer.

“It ought to be beer,” answered Brook, gravely.  “But then, you know how it is ­one has all sorts of experts, and one ends by taking their word for granted about it.  I don’t believe I have any line ­unless it’s in the way of out-of-door things.  I’m fond of shooting, and I can ride fairly, you know, like anybody else.”

“Yes,” said Clare, “you were telling me so the other day, you know.”

“Yes,” Johnstone murmured thoughtfully, “that’s true.  Please excuse me.  I’m always repeating myself.”

“I didn’t mean that.”  Her tone changed a little.  “You can be very amusing when you like, you know.”

“Thanks, awfully.  I should like to be amusing now, for instance, but I can’t.”

“Now?  Why now?”

“Because I’m boring you to madness, little by little, and I’m awfully sorry too, for I want you to like me ­though you say you never will ­and of course you can’t like a bore, can you?  I say, Miss Bowring, don’t you think we could strike some sort of friendly agreement ­to be friends without ‘liking,’ somehow?  I’m beginning to hate the word.  I believe it’s the colour of my hair or my coat ­or something ­that you dislike so.  I wish you’d tell me.  It would be much kinder.  I’d go to work and change it ­”

“Dye your hair?” Clare laughed, glad that the ice was broken again.

“Oh yes ­if you like,” he answered, laughing too.  “Anything to please you.”

“Anything ’in reason’ ­as you proposed yesterday.”

“No ­anything in reason or out of it.  I’m getting desperate!” He laughed again, but in his laughter there was a little note of something new to the young girl, a sort of understreak of earnestness.

“It isn’t anything you can change,” said Clare, after a moment’s hesitation.  “And it certainly has nothing to do with your appearance, or your manners, or your tailor,” she added.

“Oh well, then, it’s evidently something I’ve done, or said,” Brook murmured, looking at her.

But she did not return his glance, as they walked side by side; indeed, she turned her face from him a little, and she said nothing, for she was far too truthful to deny his assertion.

“Then I’m right,” he said, with an interrogation, after a long pause.

“Don’t ask me, please!  It’s of no importance after all.  Talk of something else.”

“I don’t agree with you,” Brook answered.  “It is very important to me.”

“Oh, nonsense!” Clare tried to laugh.  “What difference can it make to you, whether I like you or not?”

“Don’t say that.  It makes a great difference ­more than I thought it could, in fact.  One ­one doesn’t like to be misjudged by one’s friends, you know.”

“But I’m not your friend.”

“I want you to be.”

“I can’t.”

“You won’t,” said Brook, in a lower tone, and almost angrily.  “You’ve made up your mind against me, on account of something you’ve guessed at, and you won’t tell me what it is, so I can’t possibly defend myself.  I haven’t the least idea what it can be.  I never did anything particularly bad, I believe, and I never did anything I should be ashamed of owning.  I don’t like to say that sort of thing, you know, about myself, but you drive me to it.  It isn’t fair.  Upon my word, it’s not fair play.  You tell a man he’s a bad lot, like that, in the air, and then you refuse to say why you think so.  Or else the whole thing is a sort of joke you’ve invented ­if it is, it’s awfully one-sided, it seems to me.”

“Do you really think me capable of anything so silly?” asked Clare.

“No, I don’t.  That makes it all the worse, because it proves that you have ­or think you have ­something against me.  I don’t know much about law, but it strikes me as something tremendously like libel.  Don’t you think so yourself?”

“Oh no!  Indeed I don’t.  Libel means saying things against people, doesn’t it?  I haven’t done that ­”

“Indeed you have!  I mean, I beg your pardon for contradicting you like that ­”

“Rather flatly,” observed Clare, as they turned in their walk, and their eyes met.

“Well, I’m sorry, but since we are talking about it, I’ve got to say what I think.  After all, I’m the person attacked.  I have a right to defend myself.”

“I haven’t attacked you,” answered the young girl, gravely.

“I won’t be rude, if I can help it,” said Brook, half roughly.  “But I asked you if you disliked me for something I had done or said, and you couldn’t deny it.  That means that I have done or said something bad enough to make you say that you will never be my friend ­and that must be something very bad indeed.”

“Then you think I’m not squeamish?  It would have to be something very, very bad.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.  Well, I thought it very bad.  Anybody would, I should fancy.”

“I never did anything very, very bad, so you must be mistaken,” answered Johnstone, exasperated.

Clare said nothing, but walked along with her head rather high, looking straight before her.  It had all happened before her eyes, on the very ground under her feet, on that platform.  Johnstone knew that he had spoken roughly.

“I say,” he began, “was I rude?  I’m awfully sorry.”  Clare stopped and stood still.

“Mr. Johnstone, we sha’n’t agree.  I will never tell you, and you will never be satisfied unless I do.  So it’s a dead-lock.”

“You are horribly unjust,” answered Brook, very much in earnest, and fixing his bright eyes on hers.  “You seem to take a delight in tormenting me with this imaginary secret.  After all, if it’s something you saw me do, or heard me say, I must know of it and remember it, so there’s no earthly reason why we shouldn’t discuss it.”

There was again that fascination in his eyes, and she felt herself yielding.

“I’ll say one thing,” she said.  “I wish you hadn’t done it!”

She felt that she could not look away from him, and that he was getting her into his power.  The colour rose in her face.

“Please don’t look at me!” she said suddenly, gazing helplessly into his eyes, but his steady look did not change.

“Please ­oh, please look away!” she cried, half-frightened and growing pale again.

He turned from her, surprised at her manner.

“I’m afraid you’re not in earnest about this, after all,” he said, thoughtfully.  “If you meant what you said, why shouldn’t you look at me?”

She blushed scarlet again.

“It’s very rude to stare like that!” she said, in an offended tone.  “You know that you’ve got something ­I don’t know what to call it ­one can’t look away when you look at one.  Of course you know it, and you ought not to do it.  It isn’t nice.”

“I didn’t know there was anything peculiar about my eyes,” said Brook.  “Indeed I didn’t!  Nobody ever told me so, I’m sure.  By Jove!” he exclaimed, “I believe it’s that!  I’ve probably done it before ­and that’s why you ­” he stopped.

“Please don’t think me so silly,” answered Clare, recovering her composure.  “It’s nothing of the sort.  As for that ­that way you have of looking ­I dare say I’m nervous since my illness.  Besides ­” she hesitated, and then smiled.  “Besides, do you know?  If you had looked at me a moment longer I should have told you the whole thing, and then we should both have been sorry.”

“I should not, I’m sure,” said Brook, with conviction.  “But I don’t understand about my looking at you.  I never tried to mesmerise any one ­”

“There is no such thing as mesmerism.  It’s all hypnotism, you know.”

“I don’t know what they call it.  You know what I mean.  But I’m sure it’s your imagination.”

“Oh yes, I dare say,” answered the young girl with affected carelessness.  “It’s merely because I’m nervous.”

“Well, so far as I’m concerned, it’s quite unconscious.  I don’t know ­I suppose I wanted to see in your eyes what you were thinking about.  Besides, when one likes a person, one doesn’t think it so dreadfully rude to look at them ­at him ­I mean, at you ­when one is in earnest about something ­does one?”

“I don’t know,” said Clare.  “But please don’t do it to me.  It makes me feel awfully uncomfortable somehow.  You won’t, will you?” she asked, with a sort of appeal.  “You would make me tell you everything ­and then I should hate myself.”

“But I shouldn’t hate you.”

“Oh yes, you would!  You would hate me for knowing.”

“By Jove!  It’s too bad!” cried Brook.  “But as for that,” he added humbly, “nothing would make me hate you.”

“Nothing?  You don’t know!”

“Yes, I do!  You couldn’t make me change my mind about you.  I’ve grown to ­to like you a great deal too much for that in this short time ­a great deal more than is good for me, I believe,” he added, with a sort of rough impulsiveness.  “Not that I’m at all surprised, you know,” he continued with an attempt at a laugh.  “One can’t see a person like you, most of the day, for ten days or a fortnight, without ­well, you know, admiring you most tremendously ­can one?  I dare say you think that might be put into better English.  But it’s true all the same.”

A silence followed.  The warm blood mantled softly in the girl’s fair cheeks.  She was taken by surprise with an odd little breath of happiness, as it were, suddenly blowing upon her, whence she knew not.  It was so utterly new that she wondered at it, and was not conscious of the faint blush that answered it.

“One gets awfully intimate in a few days,” observed Brook, as though he had discovered something quite new.

She nodded, but said nothing, and they still walked up and down.  Then his words made her think of that sudden intimacy which had probably sprung up between him and Lady Fan on board the yacht, and her heart was hardened again.

“It isn’t worth while to be intimate, as you call it,” she said at last, with a little sudden sharpness.  “People ought never to be intimate, unless they have to live together ­in the same place, you know.  Then they can’t exactly help it, I suppose.”

“Why should they?  One can’t exactly intrench oneself behind a wall with pistols and say ‘Be my friend if you dare.’  Life would be very uncomfortable, I should think.”

“Oh, you know what I mean!  Don’t be so awfully literal.”

“I was trying to understand,” said Johnstone, with unusual meekness.  “I won’t, if you don’t want me to.  But I don’t agree with you a bit.  I think it’s very jolly to be intimate ­in this sort of way ­or perhaps a little more so.”

“Intimate enemies?  Enemies can be just as intimate as friends, you know.”

“I’d rather have you for my intimate enemy than not know you at all,” said Brook.

“That’s saying a great deal, Mr. Johnstone.”

Again she was pleased in a new way by what he said.  And a temptation came upon her unawares.  It was perfectly clear that he was beginning to make love to her.  She thought of her reflections after she had seen him alone with Lady Fan, and of how she had wished that she could break his heart, and pay him back with suffering for the pain he had given another woman.  The possibility seemed nearer now than then.  At least, she could easily let him believe that she believed him, and then laugh at him and his acting.  For of course it was acting.  How could such a man be earnest?  All at once the thought that he should respect her so little as to pretend to make love to her incensed her.

“What an extraordinary idea!” she exclaimed rather scornfully.  “You would rather be hated, than not known!”

“I wasn’t talking generalities ­I was speaking of you.  Please don’t misunderstand me on purpose.  It isn’t kind.”

“Are you in need of kindness just now?  You don’t exactly strike one in that way, you know.  But your people will be coming in a day or two, I suppose.  I’ve no doubt they’ll be kind to you, as you call it ­whatever that may mean.  One speaks of being kind to animals and servants, you know ­that sort of thing.”

Nothing can outdo the brutality of a perfectly unaffected young girl under certain circumstances.

“I don’t class myself with either, thank you,” said Brook, justly offended.  “You certainly manage to put things in a new light sometimes.  I feel rather like that mule we saw yesterday.”

“Oh ­I thought you didn’t class yourself with animals!” she laughed.

“Have you any particular reason for saying horridly disagreeable things?” asked Brook coldly.

There was a pause.

“I didn’t mean to be disagreeable ­at least not so disagreeable as all that,” said Clare at last.  “I don’t know why it is, but you have a talent for making me seem rude.”

“Force of example,” suggested Johnstone.

“No, I’ll say that for you ­you have very good manners.”

“Thanks, awfully.  Considering the provocation, you know, that’s an immense compliment.”

“I thought I would be ‘kind’ for a change.  By the bye, what are we quarrelling about?” She laughed.  “You began by saying something very nice to me, and then I told you that you were like the mule, didn’t I?  It’s very odd!  I believe you hypnotise me, after all.”

“At all events, if we were not intimate, you couldn’t possibly say the things you do,” observed Brook, already pacified.

“And I suppose you would not take the things I say, so meekly, would you?”

“I told you I was a very mild person,” said Johnstone.  “We were talking about it yesterday, do you remember?”

“Oh yes!  And then you illustrated your idea of meekness by knocking down the first man we met.”

“It was your fault,” retorted Brook.  “You told me to stop his beating the mule.  So I did.  Fortunately you stopped him from sticking a knife into me.  Do you know?  You have awfully good nerves.  Most women would have screamed and run up a tree ­or something.  They would have got out of the way, at all events.”

“I think most women would have done precisely what I did,” said Clare.  “Why should you say that most women are cowards?”

“I didn’t,” answered Brook.  “But I refuse to quarrel about it.  I meant to say that I admired you ­I mean, what you did ­well, more than anything.”

“That’s a sweeping sort of compliment.  Am I to return it?” She glanced at him and smiled.

“You couldn’t, with truth.”

“Of course I could.  I don’t remember ever seeing anything of that sort before, but I don’t believe that anybody could have done it better.  I admired you more than anything just then, you know.”  She laughed once more as she added the last words.

“Oh, I don’t expect you to go on admiring me.  I’m quite satisfied, and grateful, and all that.”

“I’m glad you’re so easily satisfied.  Couldn’t we talk seriously about something or other?  It seems to me that we’ve been chaffing for half an hour, haven’t we?”

“It hasn’t been all chaff, Miss Bowring,” said Johnstone.  “At least, not on my side.”

“Then I’m sorry,” Clare answered.  They relapsed into silence, as they walked their beat, to and fro.  The sun had gone down, and it was already twilight on that side of the mountains.  The rain had cooled the air, and the far land to southward was darkly distinct beyond the purple water.  It was very chilly, and Clare was without a shawl, and Johnstone was hatless, but neither of them noticed that it was cool.  Johnstone was the first to speak.

“Is this sort of thing to go on for ever, Miss Bowring?” he asked gravely.

“What?” But she knew very well what he meant.

“This ­this very odd footing we are on, you and I ­are we never going to get past it?”

“Oh ­I hope not,” answered Clare, cheerfully.  “I think it’s very pleasant, don’t you?  And most original.  We are intimate enough to say all sorts of things, and I’m your enemy, and you say you are my friend.  I can’t imagine any better arrangement.  We shall always laugh when we think of it ­even years hence.  You will be going away in a few days, and we shall stay here into the summer and we shall never see each other again, in all probability.  We shall always look back on this time ­as something quite odd, you know.”

“You are quite mistaken if you think that we shall never meet again,” said Johnstone.

“I mean that it’s very unlikely.  You see we don’t go home very often, and when we do we stop with friends in the country.  We don’t go much into society.  And the rest of the time we generally live in Florence.”

“There is nothing to prevent me from coming to Florence ­or living there, if I choose.”

“Oh no ­I suppose not.  Except that you would be bored to death.  It’s not very amusing, unless you happen to be fond of pictures, and you never said you were.”

“I should go to see you.”

“Oh ­yes ­you could call, and of course if we were at home we should be very glad to see you.  But that would only occupy about half an hour of one day.  That isn’t much.”

“I mean that I should go to Florence simply for the sake of seeing you, and seeing you often ­all the time, in fact.”

“Dear me!  That would be a great deal, wouldn’t it?  I thought you meant just to call, don’t you know?”

“I’m in earnest, though it sounds very funny, I dare say,” said Johnstone.

“It sounds rather mad,” answered Clare, laughing a little.  “I hope you won’t do anything of the kind, because I wouldn’t see you more than once or twice.  I’d have headaches and colds and concerts ­all the things one has when one isn’t at home to people.  But my mother would be delighted.  She likes you tremendously, you know, and you could go about to galleries together and read Ruskin and Browning ­do you know the Statue and the Bust?  And you could go and see Casa Guidi, where the Brownings lived, and you could drive up to San Miniato, and then, you know, you could drive up again and read more Browning and more Ruskin.  I’m sure you would enjoy it to any extent.  But I should have to go through a terrific siege of colds and headaches.  It would be rather hard on me.”

“And harder on me,” observed Brook, “and quite fearful for Mrs. Bowring.”

“Oh no!  She would enjoy every minute of it.  You forget that she likes you.”

“You are afraid I should forget that you don’t.”

“I almost ­oh, a long way from quite!  I almost liked you yesterday when you thrashed the carter and tied him up so neatly.  It was beautifully done ­all those knots!  I suppose you learned them on board of the yacht, didn’t you?”

“I’ve yachted a good deal,” said Brook.

“Generally with that party?” inquired Clare.

“No.  That was the first time.  My father has an old tub he goes about in, and we sometimes go together.”

“Is he coming here in his ’old tub’?”

“Oh no ­he’s lent her to a fellow who has taken her off to Japan, I believe.”

“Japan!  Is it safe?  In an ’old tub’!”

“Oh, well ­that’s a way of talking, you know.  She’s a good enough boat, you know.  My father went to New York in her, last year.  She’s a steamer, you know.  I hate steamers.  They are such dirty noisy things!  But of course if you are going a long way, they are the only things.”

He spoke in a jerky way, annoyed and discomfited by her forcing the conversation off the track.  Though he was aware that he had gone further than he intended, when he proposed to spend the winter in Florence.  Moreover, he was very tenacious by nature, and had rarely been seriously opposed during his short life.  Her persistent refusal to tell him the cause of her deep-rooted dislike exasperated him, while her frank and careless manner and good-fellowship fascinated him more and more.

“Tell me all about the yacht,” she said.  “I’m sure she is a beauty, though you call her an old tub.”

“I don’t want to talk about yachts,” he answered, returning to the attack in spite of her.  “I want to talk about the chances of seeing you after we part here.”

“There aren’t any,” replied the young girl carelessly.  “What is the name of the yacht?”

“Very commonplace ­’Lucy,’ that’s all.  I’ll make chances if there are none ­”

“You mustn’t say that ‘Lucy’ is commonplace.  That’s my mother’s name.”

“I beg your pardon.  I couldn’t know that.  It always struck me that it wasn’t much of a name for a yacht, you know.  That was all I meant.  He’s a queer old bird, my father; he always says he took it from the Bride of Lammermoor, Heaven knows why.  But please ­I really can’t go away and feel that I’m not to see you again soon.  You seem to think that I’m chaffing.  I’m not.  I’m very serious.  I like you very much, and I don’t see why one should just meet and then go off, and let that be the end ­do you?”

“I don’t see why not,” exclaimed Clare, hating the unexpected longing she felt to agree with him, and tell him to come and stay in Florence as much as he pleased.  “Come ­it’s too cold here.  I must be going in.”