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

Lady Johnstone was one of those perfectly frank and honest persons who take no trouble to conceal their anxieties.  From the fact that when she had met him on the way up to the hotel Brook had been walking alone with Clare Bowring, she had at once argued that a considerable intimacy existed between the two.  Her meeting with Clare’s mother, and her sudden fancy for the elder woman, had momentarily allayed her fears, but they revived when it became clear to her that Brook sought every possible opportunity of being alone with the young girl.  She was an eminently practical woman, as has been said, which perhaps accounted for her having made a good husband out of such a man as Adam Johnstone had been in his youth.  She had never seen Brook devote himself to a young girl before now.  She saw that Clare was good to look at, and she promptly concluded that Brook must be in love.  The conclusion was perfectly correct, and Lady Johnstone soon grew very nervous.  Brook was too young to marry, and even if he had been old enough his mother thought that he might have made a better choice.  At all events he should not entangle himself in an engagement with the girl; and she began systematically to interfere with his attempts to be alone with her.  Brook was as frank as herself.  He charged her with trying to keep him from Clare, and she did not deny that he was right.  This led to a discussion on the third day after the Johnstones’ arrival.

“You mustn’t make a fool of yourself, Brook, dear,” said Lady Johnstone.  “You are not old enough to marry.  Oh, I know, you are five-and-twenty, and ought to have come to years of discretion.  But you haven’t, dear boy.  Don’t forget that you are Adam Johnstone’s son, and that you may be expected to do all the things that he did before I married him.  And he did a good many things, you know.  I’m devoted to your father, and if he were in the room I should tell you just what I am telling you now.  Before I married him he had about a thousand flirtations, and he had been married too, and had gone off with an actress ­a shocking affair altogether!  And his wife had divorced him.  She must have been one of those horrible women who can’t forgive, you know.  Now, my dear boy, you aren’t a bit better than your father, and that pretty Clare Bowring looks as though she would never forgive anybody who did anything she didn’t like.  Have you asked her to marry you?”

“Good heavens, no!” cried Brook.  “She wouldn’t look at me!”

“Wouldn’t look at you?  That’s simply ridiculous, you know!  She’d marry you out of hand ­unless she’s perfectly idiotic.  And she doesn’t look that.  Leave her alone, Brook.  Talk to the mother.  She’s one of the most delightful women I ever met.  She has a dear, quiet way with her ­like a very thoroughbred white cat that’s been ill and wants to be petted.”

“What extraordinary ideas you have, mother!” laughed Brook.  “But on general principles I don’t see why I shouldn’t marry Miss Bowring, if she’ll have me.  Why not?  Her father was a gentleman, you like her mother, and as for herself ­”

“Oh, I’ve nothing against her.  It’s all against you, Brook dear.  You are such a dreadful flirt, you know!  You’ll get tired of the poor girl and make her miserable.  I’m sure she isn’t practical, as I am.  The very first time you look at some one else she’ll get on a tragic horse and charge the crockery ­and there will be a most awful smash!  It’s not easy to manage you Johnstones when you think you are in love.  I ought to know!”

“I say, mother,” said Brook, “has anybody been telling you stories about me lately?”

“Lately?  Let me see.  The last I heard was that Mrs. Crosby ­the one you all call Lady Fan ­was going to get a divorce so as to marry you.”

“Oh ­you heard that, did you?”

“Yes ­everybody was talking about it and asking me whether it was true.  It seems that she was with that party that brought you here.  She left them at Naples, and came home at once by land, and they said she was giving out that she meant to marry you.  I laughed, of course.  But people wouldn’t talk about you so much, dear boy, if there were not so much to talk about.  I know that you would never do anything so idiotic as that, and if Mrs. Crosby chooses to flirt with you, that’s her affair.  She’s older than you, and knows more about it.  But this is quite another thing.  This is serious.  You sha’n’t make love to that nice girl, Brook.  You sha’n’t!  I’ll do something dreadful, if you do.  I’ll tell her all about Mrs. Leo Cairngorm or somebody like that.  But you sha’n’t marry her and ruin her life.”

“You’re going in for philanthropy, mother,” said Brook, growing red.  “It’s something new.  You never made a fuss before.”

“No, of course not.  You never were so foolish before, my dear boy.  I’m not bad myself, I believe.  But you are, every one of you, and I love you all, and the only way to do anything with you is to let you run wild a little first.  It’s the only practical, sensible way.  And you’ve only just begun ­how in the world do you dare to think of marrying?  Upon my word, it’s too bad.  I won’t wait.  I’ll frighten the girl to death with stories about you, until she refuses to speak to you!  But I’ve taken a fancy to her mother, and you sha’n’t make the child miserable.  You sha’n’t, Brook.  Oh, I’ve made up my mind!  You sha’n’t.  I’ll tell the mother too.  I’ll frighten them all, till they can’t bear the sight of you.”

Lady Johnstone was energetic, as well as original, in spite of her abnormal size, and Brook knew that she was quite capable of carrying out her threat, and more also.

“I may be like my father in some ways,” he answered.  “But I’m a good deal like you too, mother.  I’m rather apt to stick to what I like, you know.  Besides, I don’t believe you would do anything of the kind.  And she isn’t inclined to like me, as it is.  I believe she must have heard some story or other.  Don’t make things any worse than they are.”

“Then don’t lose your head and ask her to marry you after a fortnight’s acquaintance, Brook, because she’ll accept you, and you will make her perfectly wretched.”

He saw that it was not always possible to argue with his mother, and he said nothing more.  But he reflected upon her point of view, and he saw that it was not altogether unjust, as she knew him.  She could not possibly understand that what he felt for Clare Bowring bore not the slightest resemblance to what he had felt for Lady Fan, if, indeed, he had felt anything at all, which he considered doubtful now that it was over, though he would have been angry enough at the suggestion a month earlier.  To tell the truth, he felt quite sure of himself at the present time, though all his sensations were more or less new to him.  And his mother’s sudden and rather eccentric opposition unexpectedly strengthened his determination.  He might laugh at what he called her originality, but he could not afford to jest at the prospect of her giving Clare an account of his life.  She was quite capable of it, and would probably do it.

These preoccupations, however, were as nothing compared with the main point ­the certainty that Clare would refuse him, if he offered himself to her, and when he left his mother he was in a very undetermined state of mind.  If he should ask Clare to marry him now, she would refuse him.  But if his mother interfered, it would be much worse a week hence.

At last, as ill-luck would have it, he came upon her unexpectedly in the corridor, as he came out, and they almost ran against each other.

“Won’t you come out for a bit?” he asked quickly and in a low voice.

“Thanks ­I have some letters to write,” answered the young girl.  “Besides, it’s much too hot.  There isn’t a breath of air.”

“Oh, it’s not really hot, you know,” said Brook, persuasively.

“Then it’s making a very good pretence!” laughed Clare.

“It’s ever so much cooler out of doors.  If you’ll only come out for one minute, you’ll see.  Really ­I’m in earnest.”

“But why should I go out if I don’t want to?” asked the young girl.

“Because I asked you to ­”

“Oh, that isn’t a reason, you know,” she laughed again.

“Well, then, because you really would, if I hadn’t asked you, and you only refuse out of a spirit of opposition,” suggested Brook.

“Oh ­do you think so?  Do you think I generally do just the contrary of what I’m asked to do?”

“Of course, everybody knows that, who knows you.”  Brook seemed amused at the idea.

“If you think that ­well, I’ll come, just for a minute, if it’s only to show you that you are quite wrong.”

“Thanks, awfully.  Sha’n’t we go for the little walk that was interrupted when my people came the other day?”

“No ­it’s too hot, really.  I’ll walk as far as the end of the terrace and back ­once.  Do you mind telling me why you are so tremendously anxious to have me come out this very minute?”

“I’ll tell you ­at least, I don’t know that I can ­wait till we are outside.  I should like to be out with you all the time, you know ­and I thought you might come, so I asked you.”

“You seem rather confused,” said Clare gravely.

“Well, you know,” Brook answered as they walked along towards the dazzling green light that filled the door, “to tell the truth, between one thing and another ­” He did not complete the sentence.

“Yes?” said Clare, sweetly.  “Between one thing and another ­what were you going to say?”

Brook did not answer as they went out into the hot, blossom-scented air, under the spreading vines.

“Do you mean to say it’s cooler here than indoors?” asked the young girl in a tone of resignation.

“Oh, it’s much cooler!  There’s a breeze at the end of the walk.”

“The sea is like oil,” observed Clare.  “There isn’t the least breath.”

“Well,” said Brook, “it can’t be really hot, because it’s only the first week in June after all.”

“This isn’t Scotland.  It’s positively boiling, and I wish I hadn’t come out.  Beware of first impulses ­they are always right!”

But she glanced sideways at his face, for she knew that something was in the air.  She was not sure what to expect of him just then, but she knew that there was something to expect.  Her instinct told her that he meant to speak and to say more than he had yet said.  It told her that he was going to ask her to marry him, then and there, in the blazing noon, under the vines, but her modesty scouted the thought as savouring of vanity.  At all events she would prevent him from doing it if she could.

“Lady Johnstone seems to like this place,” she said, with a sudden effort at conversation.  “She says that she means to make all sorts of expeditions.”

“Of course she will,” answered Brook, in a half-impatient tone.  “But, please ­I don’t want to talk about my mother or the landscape.  I really did want to speak to you, because I can’t stand this sort of thing any longer, you know.”

“What sort of thing?” asked Clare innocently, raising her eyes to his, as they reached the end of the walk.

It was very hot and still.  Not a breath stirred the young vine-leaves overhead, and the scent of the last orange-blossoms hung in the motionless air.  The heat rose quivering from the sea to southward, and the water lay flat as a mirror under the glory of the first summer’s day.

They stood still.  Clare felt nervous, and tried to think of something to say which might keep him from speaking, and destroy the effect of her last question.  But it was too late now.  He was pale, for him, and his eyes were very bright.

“I can’t live without you ­it comes to that.  Can’t you see?”

The short plain words shook oddly as they fell from his lips.  The two stood quite still, each looking into the other’s face.  Brook grew paler still, but the colour rose in Clare’s cheeks.  She tried to meet his eyes steadily, without feeling that he could control her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m very sorry.”

“You sha’n’t say that,” he answered, cutting her words with his, and sharply.  “I’m tired of hearing it.  I’m glad I love you, whatever you do to me; and you must get to like me.  You must.  I tell you I can’t live without you.”

“But if I can’t ­” Clare tried to say.

“You can ­you must ­you shall!” broke in Brook, hoarsely, his eyes growing brighter and fiercer.  “I didn’t know what it was to love anybody, and now that I know, I can’t live without it, and I won’t.”

“But if ­”

“There is no ‘if,’” he cried, in his low strong voice, fixing her eyes with his.  “There’s no question of my going mad, or dying, or anything half so weak, because I won’t take no.  Oh, you may say it a hundred times, but it won’t help you.  I tell you I love you.  Do you understand what that means?  I’m in God’s own earnest.  I’ll give you my life, but I won’t give you up.  I’ll take you somehow, whether you will or not, and I’ll hide you somewhere, but you sha’n’t get away from me as long as you live.”

“You must be mad!” exclaimed the young girl, scarcely above her breath, half-frightened, and unable to loose her eyes from the fascination of his.

“No, I’m not mad; only you’ve never seen any one in earnest before, and you’ve been condemning me without evidence all along.  But it must stop now.  You must tell me what it is, for I have a right to know.  Tell me what it all is.  I will know ­I will.  Look at me; you can’t look away till you tell me.”

Clare felt his power, and felt that his eyes were dazzling her, and that if she did not escape from them she must yield and tell him.  She tried, and her eyelids quivered.  Then she raised her hand to cover her own eyes, in a desperate attempt to keep her secret.  He caught it and held it, and still looked.  She turned pale suddenly.  Then her words came mechanically.

“I was out there when you said ‘good-bye’ to Lady Fan.  I heard everything, from first to last.”

He started in surprise, and the colour rose suddenly to his face.  He did not look away yet, but Clare saw the blush of shame in his face, and felt that his power diminished, while hers grew all at once, to overmaster him in turn.

“It’s scarcely a fortnight since you betrayed her,” she said, slowly and distinctly, “and you expect me to like you and to believe that you are in earnest.”

His shame turned quickly to anger.

“So you listened!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, I listened,” she answered, and her words came easily, then, in self-defence ­for she had thought of it all very often.  “I didn’t know who you were.  My mother and I had been sitting beside the cross in the shadow of the cave, and she went in to finish a letter, leaving me there.  Then you two came out talking.  Before I knew what was happening you had said too much.  I felt that if I had been in Lady Fan’s place I would far rather never know that a stranger was listening.  So I sat still, and I could not help hearing.  How was I to know that you meant to stay here until I heard you say so to her?  And I heard everything.  You are ashamed now that you know that I know.  Do you wonder that I disliked you from the first?”

“I don’t see why you should,” answered Brook stubbornly.  “If you do ­you do.  That doesn’t change matters ­”

“You betrayed her!” cried Clare indignantly.  “You forgot that I heard all you said ­how you promised to marry her if she could get a divorce.  It was horrible, and I never dreamt of such things, but I heard it.  And then you were tired of her, I suppose, and you changed your mind, and calmly told her that it was all a mistake.  Do you expect any woman, who has seen another treated in that way, to forget?  Oh, I saw her face, and I heard her sob.  You broke her heart for your amusement.  And it was only a fortnight ago!”

She had the upper hand now, and she turned from him with a last scornful glance, and looked over the low wall at the sea, wondering how he could have held her with his eyes a moment earlier.  Brook stood motionless beside her, and there was silence.  He might have found much in self-defence, but there was not one word of it which he could tell her.  Perhaps she might find out some day what sort of person Lady Fan was, but his own lips were closed.  That was his view of what honour meant.

Clare felt that her breath came quickly, and that the colour was deep in her cheeks as she gazed at the flat, hot sea.  For a moment she felt a woman’s enormous satisfaction in being absolutely unanswerable.  Then, all at once, she had a strong sensation of sickness, and a quick pain shot sharply through her just below the heart.  She steadied herself by the wall with her hands, and shut her lips tightly.

She had refused him as well as accused him.  He would go away in a few moments, and never try to be alone with her again.  Perhaps he would leave Amalfi that very day.  It was impossible that she should really care for him, and yet, if she did not care, she would not ask the next question.  Then he spoke to her.  His voice was changed and very quiet now.

“I’m sorry you heard all that,” he said.  “I don’t wonder that you’ve got a bad opinion of me, and I suppose I can’t say anything just now to make you change it.  You heard, and you think you have a right to judge.  Perhaps I shouldn’t even say this ­you heard me then, and you have heard me now.  There’s a difference, you’ll admit.  But all that you heard then, and all that you have told me now, can’t change the truth, and you can’t make me love you less, whatever you do.  I don’t believe I’m that sort of man.”

“I should have thought you were,” said Clare bitterly, and regretting the words as soon as they were spoken.

“It’s natural that you should think so.  At the same time, it doesn’t follow that because a man doesn’t love one woman he can’t possibly love another.”

“That’s simply brutal!” exclaimed the young girl, angry with him unreasonably because the argument was good.

“It’s true, at all events.  I didn’t love Mrs. Crosby, and I told her so.  You may think me a brute if you like, but you heard me say it, if you heard anything, so I suppose I may quote myself.  I do love you, and I have told you so ­the fact that I can’t say it in choice language doesn’t make it a lie.  I’m not a man in a book, and I’m in earnest.”

“Please stop,” said Clare, as she heard the hoarse strength coming back in his voice.

“Yes ­I know.  I’ve said it before, and you don’t care to hear it again.  You can’t kill it by making me hold my tongue, you know.  It only makes it worse.  You’ll see that I’m in earnest in time ­then you’ll change your mind.  But I can’t change mine.  I can’t live without you, whatever you may think of me now.”

It was a strange wooing, very unlike anything she had ever dreamt of, if she had allowed herself to dream of such things.  She asked herself whether this could be the same man who had calmly and cynically told Lady Fan that he did not love her and could not think of marrying her.  He had been cool and quiet enough then.  That gave strength to the argument he used now.  She had seen him with another woman, and now she saw him with herself and heard him.  She was surprised and almost taken from her feet by his rough vehemence.  He surely did not speak as a man choosing his words, certainly not as one trying to produce an effect.  But then, on that evening at the Acropolis ­the thought of that scene pursued her ­he had doubtless spoken just as roughly and vehemently to Lady Fan, and had seemed just as much in earnest.  And suddenly Lady Fan was hateful to her, and she almost ceased to pity her at all.  But for Lady Fan ­well, it might have been different.  She should not have blamed herself for liking him, for loving him perhaps, and his words would have had another ring.

He still stood beside her, watching her, and she was afraid to turn to him lest he should see something in her face which she meant to hide.  But she could speak quietly enough, resting her hands on the wall and looking out to sea.  It would be best to be a little formal, she thought.  The sound of his own name spoken distinctly and coldly would perhaps warn him not to go too far.

“Mr. Johnstone,” she said, steadying her voice, “this can’t go on.  I never meant to tell you what I knew, but you have forced me to it.  I don’t love you ­I don’t like a man who can do such things, and I never could.  And I can’t let you talk to me in this way any more.  If we must meet, you must behave just as usual.  If you can’t, I shall persuade my mother to go away at once.”

“I shall follow you,” said Brook.  “I told you so the other day.  You can’t possibly go to any place where I can’t go too.”

“Do you mean to persecute me, Mr. Johnstone?” she asked.

“I love you.”

“I hate you!”

“Yes, but you won’t always.  Even if you do, I shall always love you just as much.”

Her eyes fell before his.

“Do you mean to say that you can really love a woman who hates you?” she asked, looking at one of her hands as it rested on the wall.

“Of course.  Why not?  What has that to do with it?”

The question was asked so simply and with such honest surprise that Clare looked up again.  He was smiling a little sadly.

“But ­I don’t understand ­” she hesitated.

“Do you think it’s like a bargain?” he asked quietly.  “Do you think it’s a matter of exchange ­’I will love you if you’ll love me’?  Oh no!  It’s not that.  I can’t help it.  I’m not my own master.  I’ve got to love you, whether I like it or not.  But since I do ­well, I’ve said the rest, and I won’t repeat it.  I’ve told you that I’m in earnest, and you haven’t believed me.  I’ve told you that I love you, and you won’t even believe that ­”

“No ­I can believe that, well enough, now.  You do to-day, perhaps.  At least you think you do.”

“Well ­you don’t believe it, then.  What’s the use of repeating it?  If I could talk well, it would be different, but I’m not much of a talker, at best, and just now I can’t put two words together.  But I ­I mean lots of things that I can’t say, and perhaps wouldn’t say, you know.  At least, not just now.”

He turned from her and began to walk up and down across the narrow terrace, towards her and away from her, his hands in his pockets, and his head a little bent.  She watched him in silence for some time.  Perhaps if she had hated him as much as she said that she did, she would have left him then and gone into the house.  Something, good or evil, tempted her to speak.

“What do you mean, that you wouldn’t say now?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered gruffly, still walking up and down, ten steps each way.  “Don’t ask me ­I told you one thing.  I shall follow you wherever you go.”

“And then?” asked Clare, still prompted by some genius, good or bad.

“And then?” Brook stopped and stared at her rather wildly.  “And then?  If I can’t get you in any other way ­well, I’ll take you, that’s all!  It’s not a very pretty thing to say, is it?”

“It doesn’t sound a very probable thing to do, either,” answered Clare.  “I’m afraid you are out of your mind, Mr. Johnstone.”

“You’ve driven most things out of it since I loved you,” answered Brook, beginning to walk again.  “You’ve made me say things that I shouldn’t have dreamed of saying to any woman, much less to you.  And you’ve made me think of doing things that looked perfectly mad a week ago.”  He stopped before her.  “Can’t you see?  Can’t you understand?  Can’t you feel how I love you?”

“Don’t ­please don’t!” she said, beginning to be frightened at his manner again.

“Don’t what?  Don’t love you?  Don’t live, then ­don’t exist ­don’t anything!  What would it all matter, if I didn’t love you?  Meanwhile, I do, and by the ­no!  What’s the use of talking?  You might laugh.  You’d make a fool of me, if you hadn’t killed the fool out of me with too much earnest ­and what’s left can’t talk, though it can do something better worth while than a lot of talking.”

Clare began to think that the heat had hurt his head.  And all the time, in a secret, shame-faced way, she was listening to his incoherent sentences and rough exclamations, and remembering them one by one, and every one.  And she looked at his pale face, and saw the queer light in his blue eyes, and the squaring of his jaw ­and then and long afterwards the whole picture, with its memory of words, hot, broken, and confused, meant earnest love in her thoughts.  No man in his senses, wishing to play a part and produce an impression upon a woman, would have acted as he did, and she knew it.  It was the rough, real thing ­the raw strength of an honest man’s uncontrolled passion that she saw ­and it told her more of love in a few minutes than all she had heard or read in her whole life.  But while it was before her, alive and throbbing and incoherent of speech, it frightened her.

“Come,” she said nervously, “we mustn’t stay out here any longer, talking in this way.”

He stopped again, close before her, and his eyes looked dangerous for an instant.  Then he straightened himself, and seemed to swallow something with an effort.

“All right,” he answered.  “I don’t want to keep you out here in the heat.”

He faced about, and they walked slowly towards the house.  When they reached the door he stood aside.  She saw that he did not mean to go in, and she paused an instant on the threshold, looked at him gravely, and nodded before she entered.  Again he bent his head, and said nothing.  She left him standing there, and went straight to her room.

Then she sat down before a little table on which she wrote her letters, near the window, and she tried to think.  But it was not easy, and everything was terribly confused.  She rested her elbows upon the small desk and pressed her fingers to her eyes, as though to drive away the sight that would come back.  Then she dropped her hands suddenly and opened her eyes wide, and stared at the wall-paper before her.  And it came back very vividly between her and the white plaster, and she heard his voice again ­but she was smiling now.

She started violently, for she felt two hands laid unexpectedly upon her shoulders, and some one kissed her hair.  She had not heard her mother’s footstep, nor the opening and shutting of the door, nor anything but Brook Johnstone’s voice.

“What is it, my darling?” asked the elder woman, bending down over her daughter’s shoulder.  “Has anything happened?”

Clare hesitated a moment, and then spoke, for the habit of her confidence was strong.  “He has asked me to marry him, mother ­”

In her turn Mrs. Bowring started, and then rested one hand on the table.

“You?  You?” she repeated, in a low and troubled voice.  “You marry Adam Johnstone’s son?”

“No, mother ­never,” answered the young girl.

“Thank God!”

And Mrs. Bowring sank into a chair, shivering as though she were cold.