Read CHAPTER III of Love and Lucy , free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on ReadCentral.com.

IN THE DRAWING-ROOM

After dinner, when the men came into the drawing-room, Francis Lingen went directly to Lucy and began to talk to her. Lancelot fidgeted for Urquhart who, however, was in easy converse with the Judge and his host looking at the water-colours as the talk went on, and cutting in as a thought struck him. Lucy, seeing that all her guests were reasonably occupied, lent herself to Lingen’s murmured conversation, and felt for it just so much tolerance, so much compassion, you may say, as to be able to brave Mabel’s quizzing looks from across the room. Mabel always had a gibe for Francis Lingen. She called him the Ewe Lamb, and that kind of thing. It was plain that she scorned him. Lucy, on the other hand, pitied him without knowing it, which was even more desperate for the young man. It had never entered Lingen’s head, however, that anybody could pity him. True, he was poor; but then he was very expensive. He liked good things; he liked them choice. And they must have distinction; above all, they must be rare. He had some things which were unique: a chair in ivory and bronze, one of a set made for Mme. de Lamballe, and two of Horace Walpole’s snuff-boxes. He had a private printing-press, and did his own poems, on vellum. He had turned off a poem to Lucy while she was inspecting the appareil once. “To L. M. from the Fount.” “Sonnets while you wait,” said Mabel, curving her upper lip; but there was nothing in it, because many ladies had received the same tribute. He had borrowed that too from Horace Walpole, and only wanted notice. Now you don’t pity a man who can do these things, even if he has got no money; and for what else but want of money could you pity a man of taste?

I believe myself that both Mabel and Lucy overrated Francis Lingen’s attentions. I don’t think that they amounted to much more than providing himself with a sounding-board, and occasional looking-glass. He loved to talk, and to know himself listened to; he loved to look and to know himself looked at. You learned a lot about yourself that way. You saw how your things were taken. A poet for he called himself poet, and had once so described himself in a hotel visitors’ book a poet can only practise his art by exerting it, and only learn its effect by studying his hearers. He preferred ladies for audience, and one lady at a time: there were obvious reasons for that. Men never like other men’s poetry. Wordsworth, we know, avowedly read but his own.

But Mabel, and Lucy too, read all sorts of implications. His lowered tones, his frequency, his persistence “My dear, he caresses you with his eyes. You know he does,” Mabel used to say. Lucy wondered whether he really did, and ended by supposing it.

Just now, therefore, Francis Lingen flowed murmuring on his way, like a purling brook, rippling, fluctuant, carrying insignificant straws, insects of the hour, on his course, never jamming, or heaving up, monotonous but soothing. And as for implications ! Good Heavens, he was stuffed with them like a Michaelmas goose.... “I do so wish that you could talk with her. You could do so much to straighten things out for the poor child. You are so wise. There’s a kind of balm in your touch upon life, something that’s aromatic and healing at once. Sainfoin, the healing herb that should be your emblem. I have always thought so. By the by, have you an emblem? I wish you’d let me find you one. Old Gerrard will give it me and I will give it to you. Some patient, nimble-fingered good soul has coloured my copy. You shall have it faithfully rendered; and it shall be framed by Le Notre of Vigo Street do you know his work? You must and stand on your writing-table.... I see you are shaping a protest. Frugality? Another of your shining qualities. Not of mine? No, no. I admire it in you. It is not a manly virtue. A ‘frugal swain’ means a harassed wife. Now, confess. Would you have me board? I believe I would do it if you asked me....” Not very exciting, all this; but if you want implications !

It was while this was going on that Lancelot, hovering and full of purpose, annexed Urquhart. The Judge, suddenly aware of him between them, put a hand upon his head as you might fondle the top of a pedestal which Lancelot, intent upon his prey, endured. Then his moment came, a decent subsidence of anecdotes, and his upturned eyes caught Urquhart’s.

“I say, will you come and see my orange-tree? It’s just over there, in the conservatory. It’s rather interesting to me, you know.”

Urquhart considered the proposition. “Yes,” he said, “I’ll do that.” And they went off, Lancelot on tiptoe. Lucy’s attention strayed.

The orange-tree was exhibited, made the most of; its history was related. There was nothing more to say about it. Lancelot, his purpose growing, gave a nervous laugh.

“No Turk could hide in that, I expect,” he said, and trembled. Urquhart gazed at the weedy little growth.

“No,” he said, “he couldn’t yet. But a ladybird could.” He picked out a dormant specimen. But Lancelot was now committed to action beyond recall. The words burned his lips. “I say,” he said, twiddling a leaf of his orange-tree, “I expect you’ve been a pirate?”

The Judge had wandered in, and was surveying the pair, his hands deep in his trousers-pockets.

Urquhart nodded. “You’ve bit it,” he said.

Lancelot had been certain of it. Good Lord! The questions crowded upon him. “What kind of a ship was yours?”

“She was a brigantine. Fifteen hundred tons.”

“Oh! I say ” with the air of, You needn’t tell me if you’d rather not “was she a good one?”

“She was a clipper.”

“What name?”

“The Dog Star.”

This was beyond everything. “Oh good. Did you ever hang fellows?”

“We did.”

“Many?”

“Some.”

He had expected that too. He felt that he was being too obvious. The man of the world in him came into use. “For treachery, I suppose, and that kind of thing?”

“Yes,” said Urquhart, “and for fun, of course.”

Lancelot nodded gloomily. “I know,” he said.

“So does Sir Matthew, now,” he said. “You’ve led me into admissions, you know.”

“You are up to the neck,” said the Judge. For a moment Lancelot looked shrewdly from one to the other. Was it possible that ? No, no. He settled all that. “It’s all right. He’s a guest, you see the same as you are.”

Urquhart was looking about him. “I should smoke a cigarette, if I had one,” he said.

Lancelot’s hospitality was awake. “Come into Father’s room. He has tons.” He led the way for his two friends. They pierced the conservatory and entered another open glass door. They were now in James’s private room.

On the threshold Lancelot paused to exhibit what he said was a jolly convenient arrangement. These were two bay windows, with two glass doors. Between them stretched the conservatory. “Jolly convenient,” said Lancelot. “What, for burglars?” the Judge asked. “Yes, for burglars, and policemen, and Father, you know ... I don’t think,” said the terse Lancelot. “Why don’t you think, my friend?” says the Judge, and Lancelot became cautious. “Oh, Father won’t come into the drawing-room if he can possibly help it. He says it’s Mamma’s province but I expect he’s afraid of meeting women, I mean ladies.” Urquhart blinked at him. “‘Never be afraid of any one’ will do for you and me,” he said; and Lancelot said deeply, “Rather not.” Then they went into the misogynist’s study. The Judge and Urquhart were accommodated with cigarettes, and Lancelot entertained them. But he did not pry any further into Urquhart’s past. A hint had been enough.

Conversation was easy. Lancelot talked freely of his father. “Father will be awfully waxy with me for not going to bed. He might easily come in here hope he won’t, all the same. But do you know what he likes? He likes the same things to happen at the same time every day. Now Mamma and I don’t agree with him, you see. So it’s rather pink sometimes.”

“I expect it is,” Urquhart said.

“Mamma of course likes to be quiet a bit. She doesn’t like ructions hay, and all that. So I keep myself pretty close.”

“Quite right,” said the Judge.

“I know,” Lancelot said, dreamily, and then with great briskness, “Beastly grind, all the same.” The Judge had a fit of coughing, and Urquhart got up and looked about. Then the Judge said that he too should catch it if he didn’t go back and make himself polite.

Lancelot led the way back, but at the entry of the drawing-room, where the talk was buzzing like bees in a lime-tree, he put his hand on the switch, and showed the whites of his eyes. “Shall I dare you to switch it off?” he said to Urquhart, who replied, “Don’t, or I shall do it.” Lancelot and he entered the room; but before the Judge followed there was a momentary flicker of the lights. Lancelot nudged Urquhart. “He’s all right,” he said out of one corner of his mouth. “Oh, he’s all right,” Urquhart agreed.

They both went to Lucy, and Lingen looked mildly round, interrupted in his flow. Lancelot’s greeting was, “Darling, you really must go to bed.” He knew it. It was so obvious the abhorrent eyeglass apart that he didn’t even try the pathetic “Only a week before school.”

He got up, enquiring of his mother if she would swear to come up presently. “Well, good-bye,” he said to Urquhart, and held out his hand.

“Good night to you,” said Urquhart. “Anyhow, you know the worst.”

But Lancelot shook his cautious head. “No,” he said, “not the worst” and then with a deep chuckle, “but the best. Hoho! Two wives!” With that he went.

“Jolly chap,” said Urquhart, and sat himself down by Lucy, to Lingen’s inexpressible weariness. She warmed to his praise, but denied him, her conscience at work. “No, you mustn’t sit down. I shall take you to talk to Lady Bliss. You’ll like her.”

“No, I shan’t,” he said. “I can see that. And she’ll think I’ve corrupted her husband.” But he had to go. Lingen, also, she recruited for service. He had had a good innings and found himself able to be enthusiastic about Urquhart. He could bear to discuss him in possible relations with himself, of course. Miss Bacchus sized him up aloud, according to her habit. “Jimmy Urquhart a good man? Yes, he’s a live man. No flies on Jimmy Urquhart. Been everywhere, had a bit of most things. Why, I suppose Jimmy has eaten more things than you’ve ever read about.”

“I’ve read Brillat-Savarin,” said Lingen modestly.

“I dare say Jimmy’s had a notch out of him,” said Miss Bacchus. “He’s what I call a blade.”

Lingen didn’t ask her what she called him.