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

ANTEROS

Macartney was no fool in his own world, where a perfectly clear idea of what you want to do combined with a nonchalant manner of “Take it or leave it” had always carried him through the intricacies of business. If he was a fool in supposing that precisely the same armoury would defend him at home, there is this excuse for him, that Lucy had encouraged him to suppose it. When she dashed from the room at this recent moment he sat for some time with his eyes fixed upon his foolscap; but presently found himself reading the same sentence over and over again without understanding one word in it. He dropped the document, rose and picked himself out a cigar, with deliberation and attention disproportionate to the business. He cut, stabbed and lighted the cigar, and stood by the mantelpiece, smoking and gazing out of window.

He had overdone it. He had stretched regime too far. There had been a snap. Now, just where had he failed? Was it with Francis Lingen? Perhaps. He must admit, though, that some good had come out of the trouble. He felt reassured about Francis Lingen, because, as he judged, women don’t get angry in cases of the kind unless the husband has nothing to be angry about. He felt very world-wise and shrewd as he propounded this. Women like their husbands to be jealous, especially if they are jealous with reason. Because, then, they say to themselves, “Well, anyhow, he loves me still. I have him to fall back upon, at all events.” Capital! He gave a short guffaw, and resumed his cigar. But Lucy was angry: obviously because he had wasted good jealousy on a mere fancy. Damn it, he had overdone it. The next thing if he didn’t look out would be that she would give him something to be jealous of. He must calm her there would be no difficulty in that, no loss of prestige.

Prestige: that was the thing you wanted to maintain. Discipline be jiggered that might do mischief if you drove it too hard. The fact was, he was a little too sharp with Lucy. She was a dear, gentle creature, and no doubt one fell into the habit of pushing a willing horse. He could see it all now perfectly. He had been put out when he arrived at the Marchants’ too early she was not there; and then that old fool Vane with his, “Saw your wife at the Chelsea thing, with Lingen. They looked very settled”; that had put the lid on. That was how it was; and he had been too sharp. Well, one must make mistakes

He wondered what she had meant about the Opera. Why had she harped upon that string? “You were there before Francis Lingen,” she had said well, and then she had been furious with him. He had said, “I know that I was,” and she, “If that is all your memory brings you ” and off she went. He smoked hard lifted his hand and dropped it smartly to his mantelpiece. No; that was a thing no man could fathom. A Lucyism quite clear to herself, no doubt. Well, he’d leave that alone. The more one tried to bottom those waters, the less one fished up. But he would make peace with her after dinner.

He heard, “Mrs. Macartney is not dining this evening; she has a bad headache, and doesn’t wish to be disturbed,” received it with a curt nod, and accepted it simply. Better to take women at their word. Her troubles would have simmered down by the morning, whereas if he were to go up now, one of two things: either she’d be angry enough to let him batter at the door to no purpose and feel an ass for his pains; or she would let him in, and make a fuss in which case he would feel still more of an ass. “Ask Mrs. Macartney if I can do anything,” he had said to Smithers, and was answered, “I think Mrs. Macartney is asleep, sir.” He hoped she was. That would do her a world of good.

Morning. In the breakfast-room he faced a Lucy self-possessed, with guarded eyes, and, if he could have seen it, with implied reproach stiffening every line of her. Her generosity gratified him, but should have touched him keenly. She came to him at once, and put up her face. “I’m sorry I was so cross, James.” His immediate feeling, I say, was one of gratification. That was all right. She had come in. To that succeeded a wave of kindness. He dropped his glass, and took her strongly in his arms. “Dearest, I behaved very badly. I’m truly sorry.” He kissed her, and for a moment she clung to him, but avoided his further kisses. Yet he had kissed her as a man should. She had nothing more to say, but he felt it her due that he should add something while yet he held her. “As for poor Francis I know that I was absurd I admit it frankly.” He felt her shake and guessed her indignation. “You’ll believe me, dear. You know I don’t like owning myself a fool.” Then she had looked up, still in his arms “Why should you be so stupid? How can you possibly be? You, of all people!” There she was again.

But he intended to make peace once and for all. “My dearest, I can’t be more abject, for the life of me. I have confessed that I was an abounding ass. Please to believe in me. Ask Francis Lingen to tea for a month of days and not a word from me!”

She had laughed, rather scornfully, and tried to free herself. He kissed her again before he let her go. Almost immediately he resumed his habits eyeglass, Morning Post, and scraps of comment. He made an effort and succeeded, he thought, in being himself. “Johnny Mallet gives another party at the Bachelors to-day. I believe I go. Has he asked you? He means to. He’s a tufthunter but he gets tufts.... I see that the Fathers in God are raving about the Tithe Bill. I shall have Jasper Mellen at me and the Dean too. Do you remember did you ever hear, I wonder, of Box and Cox? They have a knack of coming to me on the same day. Once they met on the doorstep, and each of them turned and fled away. It must have been very comic....” Lucy busied herself with her letters and her coffee-cups. She wished that she did not feel so ruffled, but a walk would do her good. She would go into the Park presently, and look at the tulips and lilacs. It was horrid to feel so stuffy on such a perfect day. How long to Whitsuntide? That was to be heavenly if James didn’t get inspired by the dark! Something would have to be prepared for that. In her eyes, sedate though they were, there lurked a gleam: the beacon-fire of a woman beleaguered. Certainly Jimmy Urquhart liked her. He had said that she liked him. Well, and so she did. Very much indeed.

James went, forgiven, to his Bishops and Deans, and to lunch with his Johnny Mallet and the tufted. Lucy, her household duties done, arrayed herself for the tulips of the Park.

The grey watches of the night with their ache and moments of panic, the fever and fret, the wearing down of rage and emptying of wonder and dismay, the broken snatches of dream-sleep, and the heavy slumber which exhaustion finally gave her all this had brought downstairs, to be kissed, embraced and forgiven, a Lucy disillusioned and tired to death, but schooled to patience. Her conclusion of the whole matter now was that it was James who had indeed loved her in the dark, with an access of passion which he had never shown before and could drop apparently as fitfully as he won to it, and also with a fulness of satisfaction to himself which she did not pretend to understand. It was James and no other, simply because any other was unthinkable. Such things were not done. Jimmy Urquhart and what other could she imagine it? was out of the question. She had finally brushed him out as a girl flecks the mirror in a cotillon. It was James; but why he had been so moved, how moved, how so lightly satisfied, how his conduct at other times could be fitted in really, it didn’t matter two straws. It meant nothing but a moment’s silliness, it led to nothing, it mended nothing and it broke nothing. Her soul was her own, her heart was her own. It was amiable of him, she dared say, but had become rather a bore. She conceived of a time at hand when she might have to be careful that he shouldn’t. But just now she wouldn’t make a fuss. Anything but that. He was within his rights, she supposed; and let it rest at that. So arrayed, she faced him, and, to let nothing be omitted on her part, she herself apologised for what had been his absurd fault, and so won as much from him as he could ever have given anybody. As for Francis Lingen she had not once given him a thought.

Now, however, James away to his Bishops, she arrayed herself anew, and went out, fraîche et dispose, into the Park, intending that she should see Urquhart. And so she did. He was on horseback and dismounted the moment he saw her. He was glad to see her, she could tell, but did not insist upon his gladness. He admired her, she could see, but took his admiration as a matter of course. She wore champagne-colour. She had snakeskin shoes, a black hat. She was excited, and had colour; her eyes shone.

“Well,” he said, “here you are then. That’s a good thing. I began to give you up.”

“How did you know ?” She stopped, and bit her lip.

“I didn’t. But I’m very glad to see you. You look very well. Where are you going?”

She nodded her direction. “Tulips. Just over there. I always pilgrimise them.”

“All right. Let us pilgrimise them. Tulips are like a drug. A little is exquisite, and you are led on. Excess brings no more enchantment, only nausea. You buy a million and plant your woodland, and the result is horror. A hundred would have been heavenly. That’s what I find.”

She had mockery in her look, gleams of it shot with happiness to be there. “Is that what you’ve done at Martley? I shan’t praise you when I see it. I hate too-muchness.”

“So do I, but always too late. I ought to learn from you, whose frugality is part of your charm. One can’t imagine too much Lucy.”

“Ah, don’t be sure,” she cautioned him. “Ask James.”

“I shall. I’m quite equal to that. I’ll ask him to-day. He’s to be at an idiotic luncheon, to which I’m fool enough to be going. Marchionesses and all the rest of it.”

“How can you go to such things when you might be flying?”

“Earning your displeasure? Oh, I know, I know. I didn’t know how to refuse Mallet. He seemed to want me. I was flattered. As a matter of fact I have flown.”

“Alone?”

“Good Lord, no. I had an expert there. He let me have the levers. I had an illusion. But I always do.”

“Do tell me your illusion.”

“I thought that I could sing.”

“You did sing, I’m sure.”

“I might have. One miracle the more. As for the machine it wasn’t a machine, it was a living spirit.”

“A male spirit or a female spirit?”

“Female, I think. Anyhow I addressed it as such.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I said, ‘You darling.’”

That startled her, if you like! She looked frightened, then coloured deeply. Urquhart seemed full of his own thoughts.

“How’s Lancelot?” he asked her.

That helped her. “Oh, he delights me. Another ‘living spirit.’ He never fails to ask after you.”

“Stout chap.”

“He harps on your story. The first you ever told us. This time he put in his postscript, ‘How is Wives and Co?’”

He nodded. “Very good. I begat an immortal. That tale will never die.
He’ll tell it to his grandchildren.”

They stood, or strolled at ease, by the railings, she within them, he holding his horse outside them. The tulips were adjudged, names taken, colours approved.

“You’ll see mine,” he said, “in ten days. Do you realise that?”

She was radiant. “I should think so. That has simply got to happen. Are you going to have other people there?”

“Vera,” he said, “and her man, and I rather think Considine, her man’s brother. Fat and friendly, with a beard, and knows a good deal about machines, one way and another. I want his advice about hydroplanes, among other things. You’ll like him.”

“Why shall I like him?”

“Because he’s himself. He has no manners at all, only feelings. Nice feelings. That’s much better than manners.”

“Yes, I dare say they are.” She thought about it. “There’s a difference between manner and manners.”

“Oh, rather. The more manner you have the less manners.”

“Yes, I meant that. But even manners don’t imply feelings, do they?”

“I was going to say, Never. But that wouldn’t be true. You have charming manners: your feelings’ clothes and a jolly good fit.”

“How kind you are.” She was very pleased. “Now, you what shall I say?”

“You might say that I have no manners, and not offend me. I have no use for them. But I have feelings, sometimes nice, sometimes horrid.”

“I am sure that you couldn’t be horrid.”

“Don’t be sure,” he said gravely. “I had rather you weren’t. I have done amiss in my day, much amiss; and I shall do it again.”

She looked gently at him; her mouth showed the Luini compassion, long-drawn and long-suffering, because it understood. “Don’t say that. I don’t think you mean it.”

He shook his head, but did not cease to watch her. “Oh, but I mean it. When I want a thing, I try to get it. When I see my way, I follow it. It seems like a law of Nature. And I suppose it is one. What else is instinct?”

“Yes,” she said, “but I suppose we have feelings in us so that we may realise that other people have them too.”

“Yes, yes or that we may give them to those who haven’t got any of their own.”

They had become grave, and he, at least, moody. Lucy dared not push enquiry. She had the ardent desire to help and the instinct to make things comfortable on the surface, which all women have, and which makes nurses of them. But she discerned trouble ahead. Urquhart’s startling frankness had alarmed her before, and she didn’t trust herself to pass it off if it flashed once too often. Flashes like that lit up the soul, and not of the lamp-holder only.

They parted, with unwillingness on both sides, at Prince’s Gate, and Lucy sped homewards with feet that flew as fast as her winged thoughts. That “You darling” was almost proof positive. And yet he had been at Peltry that night; and yet he couldn’t have dared! Now even as she uttered that last objection she faltered; for when daring came into question, what might he not dare? Remained the first. He had been at Peltry, she knew, because she had been asked to meet him there and had refused on the opera’s account. Besides, she had heard about his riding horses as if they were motors, and Here she stood still; and found herself shaking. That letter in that letter of Mabel’s about his visit to Peltry, had there not been something of a call to London, and return late for dinner? And the opera began at half-past six. What was the date of his call to London? Could she find that letter? And should she hunt for it, or leave it vague? And then she thought of Martley. And then she blushed.