Read CHAPTER VII of Love and Lucy , free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on


There are two ways of encountering an anti-climax, an heroic, an unheroic. Lucy did her best to be a heroine, but her temperament was against her. Her imagination was very easily kindled, and her reasons much at the mercy of the flames. By how much she was exalted, by so much was she dashed. But she had a conscience too, a lively one with a forefinger mainly in evidence. It would be tedious to recount how often that wagged her into acquiescence with a James suddenly revealed freakish, and how often she relapsed into the despair of one sharply rebuffed when she found him sedately himself. However, or by means of her qualities, the time-cure worked its way; her inflammation wore itself out, and her life resumed its routine of dinner-parties, calls and callers, Francis Lingen’s purring, and letters to or from Lancelot with this difference, mind you, that far recessed in her mind there lay a grain, a grain of promise: that and a glamorous memory.

She was able to write her first letter to Lancelot in high spirits, then, to tell him her little bits of news and to remind him (really to remind herself) of good days in the past holiday-time. Something she may have said, or left unsaid, as the chance may be, drew the following reply. She always wrote to him on Friday, so that he might answer her on Sunday.

“Dear Mama,” he wrote, “I was third in weakly order which was rather good (I.d.t.). Mr. Tonks said if I go up so fast I shall brake the ceialing. Bad spelling I know but still. Last Wendesday a boy named Jenkinson swalowed a button-hook but recovered it practically as good as when bought (or perhaps a Xmas present). He was always called Bolter for a nickname, so it was jolly convene. For once he did the right thing. Mostly he is an utter ass. How is the polligamous pirate getting on with wives &c.? That comes from a Greek word polis, a city, so I suppose in the country they are too conventual. I like him awfully. He’s my sort (not Father’s though). Well, the term is waring away. Five days crost off on new diery. Where shall we go this time three months? Easter I mean. Wycross I hope, but suppose dreery Brighton, hope not. I must swot now Kings of Isereel and such-like so goodby now or so long as we say here LANCELOT.”

She thought that she must show the letter to Urquhart when next she saw him, and meantime, of course, showed it to James. The eyeglass grew abhorrent over the spelling. “This boy passes belief. Look at this, Lucy. C-e-i-a-ling!” “Oh, don’t you see?” she cried. “He had it perfectly: c-e-i. Well, and then a devil of doubt came in, and he tried an a. Oh, I can see it now, on his blotting-pad! Whichever he decided on, he must have forgotten to cross out the other. You shouldn’t be so hard on your own son. His first letter too.”

James felt compunction. “No, no, I won’t be hard. It’s all right, of course.” He read on. The polligamous pirate with wives &c. had to be explained. She told him the story. The eyeglass became a searchlight exploring her.

“Did Urquhart tell that tale? Upon my soul !”

“It was sheer nonsense, of course, but ”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said James. “You can’t tell with a man of that sort. He can be a March hare if he’s in the mood. He’d as soon shoot a Turk as a monkey, or keep two women as half a dozen. By the by, Lucy,” and the eyeglass went out like a falling star, “don’t let that sentimental idiot make too much of an ass of himself.”

Lucy’s eyes concentrated; they shone. “Who is your sentimental idiot? I haven’t the least notion what you mean.”

“I mean Francis Lingen, of course. You must admit Oh,” and he nipped her indignation in the bud, “I know you won’t misunderstand me. I am not at all a fool. You are kindness itself, generosity itself. But there it is. He’s an ass, and there’s really nothing more to say.”

Lucy was mollified. She was, indeed, amused after the first flash. Remembering the James of a week ago, the eager wooer of the dark, she was able to be playful with a little jealousy. But if he could have known or if she had cared to tell him what she had been thinking of on Sunday afternoon when Francis purred to her about himself and sought her advice how best to use his ten thousand of Urquhart’s pounds well, James would have understood, that’s all!

So she laughed. “Poor Francis Lingen! He is not very wise. But I must say that your honour is perfectly safe with me.”

“My dear child ” said James, frowning.

“No, no, I shall go on. It will do you good. There is one thing you may always be quite sure of, dear, and that is that the more Francis Lingen is a goose, the less likely I am to encourage him in goosery, if there is such a word.”

James pished, but she pursued him. Mabel was announced, up from the country to dine and sleep. The Parthian shot was delivered actually on the way to Mabel’s embrace. “But I’m flattered to see you jealous please understand that. I should like you to be jealous of the chair I sit on.”

James was hurt and uncomfortable. He thought all this rank form. And Mabel the bright and incisive Mabel with her high hunting colour made it much worse. “What! Is James jealous? Oh, how perfectly splendid! Is he going to give secret orders to Crewdson not to admit Mr. ? As they do in plays at the St. James’s? Oh, James, do tell me whom you darkly suspect? Caesar’s wife! My dear and injured man ” James writhed, but he was in the trap. You may be too trenchant, it would seem, and your cleaver stick fast in the block.

It behooved him to take a strong line. This kind of raillery must be stopped. He must steer between the serious and the flippant. He hated to be pert; on the other hand, to be solemn would be offensive to Lucy which he would not be. For James was a gentleman. “Mabel, my dear, you stretch the privileges of a guest ” a promising beginning, he thought; but Lucy pitied him plunging there, and cut all short by a way of her own. “Oh, Mabel, you are a goose. Come and take your things off, and tell me all about Peltry, and the hunting, and the new horse. Mr. Urquhart told me he was going to stay with you. Is he? I’m so glad you like him. Lancelot and I highly approve. I must show you Lancelot’s letter about him. He calls him the polligamous pirate with two l’s of course.”

“Yes,” said James, who had recovered his composure, “yes, my dear; but he gives you the accent in polis.”

“Does he though? I’m afraid that was beyond me.” She paused to beam at James. “That pleases you?”

“It’s a sign of grace, certainly.” So the squall blew over.

James was dining out somewhere, so the sisters had a short dinner and a very long evening by the fire. Lucy dallied with her great news until Crewdson had served the coffee then out it came, with inordinate and delightful delicacy of approach. Mabel’s eyes throughout were fixed upon her face.... “And of course, naturally ” Here Lucy turned away her own. “But nothing not a sign. Neither then nor since. I “; she stopped, bit her lip, then broke forth. “I shall never understand it. Oh, I do think it extraordinary!”

Mabel said at once, “It’s not at all extraordinary. It would be with any one else; but not with James.”

Lucy lifted her head. “What do you mean, Mabel?”

“Well, it’s difficult to explain. You are so odd about James. He is either the sort of being you name in a whisper or makes you edgy all over like a slate-pencil. But James I dare say you haven’t noticed it: you think he’s a clever man, and so he may be; but really he has never grown up.”

Lucy’s foot began to rock. “My dear girl, really ”

“Oh, I know. I know. Of course you’re annoyed, especially after such a queer experience. We won’t discuss it it will be useless. But that’s my opinion, you know. I think that he was completely successful, according to his own ideas.” The battle raged; I need not add that the mystery, far from being undiscussed, was driven up and down the field of possibility till a late hour; nor that Mabel held to her position, in high disparagement, as Lucy felt, of Lancelot, deeply involved.

An upshot, and a shrewd one, was Mabel’s abrupt, “Well, what are you going to do now? I mean, supposing he does it again?”

Lucy mused. “I don’t somehow think he will, for a long time.” She added naively, “I wish he would. I like it.”

Mabel understood her. “You mean that you like him for doing it.” And dreamy Lucy nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I do, awfully.”

Mabel here kissed Lucy. “Dearest, you’re wonderfully sweet. You would love anybody who loved you.”

“I don’t think I would,” Lucy said, “but I should certainly have loved James more if he had ever seemed to love me. And I can’t possibly doubt that he did that day that Lancelot went back. What bothers me is that he stopped there.” And so, to it again, in the manner of women, tireless in speculation about what is not to be understood.

James, restored in tone, was affable, and even considerate, in the morning. Mabel, studying him with new eyes, had to admire his flawless surface, though her conviction of the shallow depth of him was firmlier rooted than before. “He is he really is a tremendous donkey, poor James,” she thought to herself as he gave out playful sarcasms at her expense, and was incisive without loss of urbanity. Mabel was urgent with her sister to join the party at Peltry when Urquhart was there. “I do wish you would. He’s rather afraid of you, I think, and that will throw him upon me which is what is wanted.” That was how she put it.

James, quite the secure, backed her up. “I should go if I were you,” he said to Lucy from behind the Morning Post. “It will do you a great deal of good. You always choose February to moult in, and you will have to be feathered down there. Besides, it’s evident you can be useful to Mabel.” Lucy went so far as to get out her engagement book, and to turn up the date, not very seriously. What she found confirmed her. “I can’t,” she said; “it’s out of the question.”

“Why, what is happening?” Mabel must know.

“It’s an Opera night,” said Lucy. “The Walkuere is happening.”

“Oh, are they? H’m. Yes, I suppose I can’t expect you.”

Lucy was scornfully clear. “I should think not indeed. Not for a wilderness of Urquharts!”

“Not all the peltry of Siberia ” said James, rather sharply, as he thought; and dismissed the subject in favour of his own neatly-spatted foot. “Wagner!” he said. “I am free to confess that, apart from the glory of the thing, I had rather ”

“Marry one of Mr. Urquhart’s wives,” said the hardy Mabel.

“Two,” said James, quite ready for her.

Mabel rattled away to her Essex and left her sister all the better for the astringent she had imparted. Lucy did not agree with her by any means; it made her hot with annoyance to realise that anybody could so think of James. At the same time she felt that she must steady herself. After all, a man might kiss his wife if he pleased, and he might do it how he pleased. It was undignified to speculate about it. She tried very hard to drive that home to herself, and she did succeed in imposing it upon her conduct. But she was not convinced. She was too deeply romantic for conviction by any such specious reasoning. That affair in the dark had been the real thing; it implied oh, everything. Let come what might, let be what was, that was the true truth of the mystery. And to be loved like that was oh, everything!

But she dismissed it from her thoughts with an effort of will, and relations with James resumed their old position. They became formal, they were tinged now and again with the old asperity; they were rather dreary. Lancelot’s star rose as James’s sank in the heavens. His letters became her chief preoccupation. But James’s star, fallen low though it were, still showed a faint hue of rose-colour.

Some little time after this somewhere in early February, she met Urquhart at a luncheon party, and was glad to see him. He shook hands in his usual detached way, as if her gladness and their acquaintance were matters of course. He sat next to her without ceremony, removing another man’s name-card for the purpose, and after a few short, snapped phrases about anything or nothing, they drifted into easy talk. Lucy’s simplicity made her a delightful companion, when she was sure of her footing. She told him that she had been saving up Lancelot’s letter to show him. “Good,” he said. “I want it.”

But it was not here, as it happened. So she wrote out from memory the sentence about Urquhart: the polligamous pirate, with wives &c. “Aren’t you flattered?” she asked him, radiant with mirthful malice. He frowned approval. He was pleased, but, like all those who make laughter, he had none of his own. “That shot told. I got him with the first barrel. Trust a boy to love a law-breaker. He’ll never forget me that. He’s my friend for life.” He added, as if to himself, “Hope so, anyhow.”

Lucy at this, had she been a cat, would have purred and kneaded the carpet. As it was, her contentment emboldened her to flights. She was much more bird than cat. “I wonder if you are really a law-breaker,” she said. “I don’t think I should be surprised to know it of you.”

He frowned again. “No, I should say that the ground had been prepared for that. You wouldn’t be surprised but would you be disturbed? That’s what I want to know before I tell you.”

This had to be considered. What did she in her private mind think of law-breakers? One thing was quite clear to her. Whatever she might think of them, she was not prepared to tell him.

“I’m a lawyer’s wife, you know.”

“That tells me nothing,” he said. “That would only give you the position of an expert. It doesn’t commit you to a line. I’ll tell you this it may encourage you to a similar confidence. If I wanted to break a law very badly, I shouldn’t do it on reflection perhaps; but I could never resist a sudden impulse. If somebody told me that it would be desirable in all sorts of ways to break a man’s head I shouldn’t do it, because I should be bothering myself with all the possibilities of the thing how desirable it might be, or how undesirable. But if, happening to be in his company, I saw his head in a breakable aspect splosh! I should land him a nasty one. That’s a certainty. Now, what should you say to that? It happens that I want to know.” It was evident to her that he really did.

Lucy gave him one of her kind, compassionate looks, which always made her seem beautiful, and said, “I should forgive you. I should tell you that you were too young for your years; but I should forgive you, I’m sure.”

“That’s what I wanted to know,” said Urquhart, and remained silent for a while. When he resumed it was abruptly, on a totally new matter. “I shall bring my sister over to you after this. She’s here. I don’t know whether you’ll like her. She’ll like you.”

“Where is she?” Lucy asked, rather curious.

“She’s over there, by our hostess. That big black hat is hers. She’s underneath it.” Lucy saw a spry, black-haired youngish woman, very vivacious but what she herself called “good.” James would have said, “Smart.” Not at all like her brother, she thought, and said so. “She’s not such a scoundrel,” Urquhart admitted, “but she takes a line of her own. Her husband’s name is Nugent. He is South Irish, where we are North. That boy who went with us to the play is her son. He is a lively breed so it hasn’t turned out amiss. She’s not at all your sort, but as you know the worst of us you may as well know what we can do when we exert ourselves.” He added, “My old father, now with Beelzebub, was a terror.”

“Do tell me about him.”

“It would take too long. He was very old-fashioned in most ways. They used to call him King Urquhart in Donegal. The worst of it was that he knew good claret and could shoot. That makes a bad combination. He used to sit on a hogshead of it in his front yard and challenge all and sundry to mortal combat. He really did. Duels he used to call them. He said, ‘Me honour’s involved, d’ye see?’ and believed it. But they were really murders, because he was infallible with a revolver. He adored my mother, but she couldn’t do anything with him. ’Tush, me dear,’ he used to say, ‘I wouldn’t hurt a hair of his bald head.’ And then he’d have to bolt over to France for a bit and keep quiet. But everybody liked him, I’m sorry to say. They gave him a public funeral when he died. They took him out of the hearse imagine the great sooty plumes of it and carried him to the chapel half a mile away.” Lucy didn’t know how much of this to believe, which made it none the worse.

“He was a Catholic?”

“He was.”

“And so are you?”

He looked up. “Eh? I suppose I am if any.”

“What do you mean?” she insisted.

“Well,” he said. “It’s there, I expect. You don’t get rid of it.” She considered this to herself.

Mrs. Nugent the Honourable Mrs. Nugent, as it afterwards appeared made herself very amiable. “We both like boys,” she said, “which makes everything easy. I hope you liked my Pat you met him, I know. Yours seems to be an unconscious humourist. Jimmy is always chuckling over him. Mine takes after the Urquharts; rather grim, but quite sound when you know them. My husband is really Irish. He might say ‘Begorra’ at any minute. The Urquharts are a mixed lot. Jimmy says we’re Eurasians when he’s cross with us which means with himself. I suppose we were border thieves once, like the Turnbulls and Pringles. But James I planted us in Ireland, and there have been James Urquharts ever since. I don’t know why that seems satisfactory, but it does.”

“I saw what Jimmy was saying, you know,” she said presently. “He began upon me, and then slid off to our deplorable father. An inexhaustible subject to Jimmy, who really admires that kind of thing.”

Lucy smilingly deprecated the criticism.

“Oh, but he does. If he could be like that, he would be. But he wants two qualities he can’t laugh, and he can’t cry. Father could only laugh internally. He used to get crimson, and swallow hard. That was his way. Jimmy can’t laugh at all, that’s the mischief of it. And crying too. Father could cry rivers. One of the best things I remember of him was his crying before Mother. ‘Damn it all, Meg, I missed him!’ he said, choking with grief. Mother knew exactly what to say. ’You’ll get him next time, Jimmy. Come and change your stockings now.’ Well, our Jimmy couldn’t do that. To begin with, of course, he wouldn’t have ‘missed him.’”

“No,” said Lucy, reflecting, “I don’t think he would miss unless he was in too much of a hurry to hit.”

Mrs. Nugent looked quickly at her. “That is very clever of you. You have touched on his great difference from Father. He is awfully impatient.”

All this did Lucy a great deal of good. James thought that she had better call on Mrs. Nugent. He knew all about her.