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


They were to start on the 8th of August, and it was now the 5th. Packing had begun, and Crewdson, as usual, was troublesome. He had the habit of appearing before Lucy and presenting some small deficiency as a final cause of ruin and defeat. “I can’t find any of the Brown Polish, ma’am. I don’t know what Mr. Macartney will do without it.” This, or something like it, had become a classic in the family. It had always been part of the fun of going away. But this year Lucy was fretted by it. She supposed herself run down and whipped herself to work. She found herself, too, lingering about the house, with an affection for the familiar aspect of corners, vistas, tricks of light and shadow, which she had never thought to possess. She felt extremely unwilling to leave it all. It was safety, it was friendliness; it asked no effort of her. To turn away from its lustrous and ordered elegance and face the unknown gave her a pain in the heart. It was odd to feel homesick before she had left home; but that was the sum of it. She was homesick. Urquhart was very much in her mind; a letter of his was in her writing-table drawer, under lock and key; but Urquhart seemed part of a vague menace now, while James, though he did his unconscious utmost to defeat himself, got his share of the sunset glow upon the house. Fanciful, nervous, weary of it all as she was, she devoted herself to her duties; and then, on this fifth of August, in the afternoon, she had a waking vision, perfectly distinct, and so vivid that, disembodied and apart, she could see herself enacting it. It was followed by a shivering fit and depression; but that must tell its own tale.

The vision occurred while she was on her knees, busied beside a trunk, turning over garments of lace and fine linen and pale blue ribbons which a maid, in the same fair attitude, was bestowing as she received them. Lancelot was out for the afternoon with Crewdson and a friend. They had gone to the Zoological Gardens, and would not be back till late. She had the house to herself; it was cool and shadowed from the sun. The Square, muffled in the heat, gave no disturbing sounds. Looking up suddenly, for no apparent reason, she saw herself with Jimmy Urquhart in a great empty, stony place, and felt the dry wind which blew upon them both. All but her own face was visible; of that she saw nothing but the sharp outline of her cheek, which was very white. She saw herself holding her hat, bending sideways to the gale; she saw her skirt cling about her legs, and flack to get free. She wondered why she didn’t hold it down. The wind was a hot one; she felt that it was so. It made her head ache, and burned her cheek-bone. Urquhart was quite visible. He looked into the teeth of the wind, frowning and fretful. Why didn’t she say something to him? She had a conviction that it was useless. “There’s nothing to say, nothing to say.” That rang in her head, like a church bell. “Nothing to say, nothing to say.” A sense of desolation and total loss oppressed her. She had no hope. The vacancy, the silence, the enormous dry emptiness about her seemed to shut out all her landmarks. Why didn’t she think of Lancelot? She wondered why, but realised that Lancelot meant nothing out there. She saw herself turn about. She cried out, “James! James!” started up with a sense of being caught, and saw the maid’s face of scare. She was awake in a moment. “What is it, ma’am? What is it?”

Lucy had recovered her faculties: “Nothing, Emily; it’s nothing. I was giddy.” But she was shivering and couldn’t go on. “I think I’ll lie down for a minute,” she said, and asked for the aspirin. She took two tabloids and a sip of water, was covered up and left to herself. Emily tiptoed away, full of interest in the affair.

The shivering fit lasted the better part of an hour. Lucy crouched and suffered, open-eyed but without any consciousness. Something had happened, was happening still; a storm was raging overhead; she lay quaking and waited for it to pass. She fell asleep, slept profoundly, and awoke slowly to a sense of things. She had no doubt of what lay immediately before her. Disrelish of the Norwegian expedition was now a reasonable thing. Either it must be given up, or the disaster reckoned with. Advienne que pourra. But in either case she must “have it out” with James. What did that mean? Jimmy Urquhart would be thrown over. He would go and she would not. She lay, picturing rather than reasoning; saw him superbly capable, directing everything. She felt a pride in him, and in herself for discovering how fine he was. His fineness, indeed, was a thing shared. She felt a sinking of the heart to know that she could not be there. But the mere thought of that sickened her. Out of the question.

She must “have it out” with James. That might be rather dreadful; it might take her where she must refuse to go but on the whole, she didn’t think it need. The certainty that she couldn’t go to Norway, that James must be made to see it, was a moral buttress. Timidity of James would not prevail against it. Besides that, deeply within herself, lay the conviction that James was kind if you took him the right way. He was irritable, and very annoying when he was sarcastic; but he was good at heart. And it was odd, she thought, that directly she got into an awkward place with a flirtation, her first impulse was to go to James to get her out. In her dream she had called to him, though Urquhart had been there. Why was that?

She was thinking now like a child, which indeed she was where such matters were concerned. She was not really contrite for what she had done, neither regretted that she had done it, nor that it was done with. She wanted to discharge her bosom of perilous stuff. James would forgive her. He must not know, of course, what he was forgiving; but yes, he would forgive her.

At six or thereabouts, listening for it, she heard the motor bring James home; she heard his latch-key, and the shutting of the door behind him. Her heart beat high, but she did not falter. He was reading a letter in the hall when she came downstairs; he was very much aware of her, but pretended not to be. She stood on the bottom stair looking at him with wide and fixed eyes; but he would not look up. He was not just then in a mood either to make advances or to receive them. His grievance was heavy upon him.

“James,” said Lucy, “I’ve been listening for you.”

“Too good,” said he, and went on with his letter.

“I wanted to tell you that I don’t think that I don’t much want to go to Norway.”

Then he did look up, keenly, with a drawn appearance about his mouth, showing his teeth. “Eh?” he said. “Oh, absurd.” He occupied himself with his letter, folding it for its envelope, while she watched him with a pale intensity which ought to have told him, and perhaps did tell him, what she was suffering.

“I don’t think you should call me absurd,” she said. “I was never very certain of it.”

“But, my dearest child, you made me certain, at any rate,” he told her. “You made everybody certain. So much so that I have the tickets in my pocket at this moment.”

“I’m very sorry. I could pay for mine, of course and I’m sure Vera would look after Lancelot. I wouldn’t disappoint him for the world.”

“What are you going to tell Urquhart?” said James. Her eyes paled.

“I believe that he would take it very simply,” she said. James plunged his hands into his pockets. He thought that they were on the edge of the gulf.

“Look here, Lucy,” he said; “hadn’t you better tell me something more about this? Perhaps you will come into the library for a few minutes.” He led the way without waiting for her, and she stood quaking where she was.

She was making matters worse: she saw that now. Naturally she couldn’t tell James the real state of the case, because that would involve her in history. James would have to understand that he had been believed to have wooed her when he had done nothing of the kind. That was a thing which nothing in the world would bring her to reveal to him. And if she left that out and confined herself to her own feelings for Urquhart how was all that to be explained? Was it fair to herself, or to Urquhart, to isolate the flowering of an affair unless you could show the germinating of it? Certainly it wasn’t fair to herself as for Urquhart, it may be that he didn’t deserve any generous treatment. She knew that there was no defence for him, though plenty of excuse possibly. No she must go through with the Norway business. Meantime James was waiting for her.

She stood by the library table while James, back to the fireplace, lifted his head and watched her through cigar-smoke. He had no mercy for her at this moment. Suspicions thronged his darkened mind. But nothing of her rueful beauty escaped him. The flush of sleep was upon her, and her eyes were full of trouble.

“It isn’t that I have any reason which would appeal to you,” she told him. She faltered her tale. “I think I have been foolish I know that I’m very tired and worried; but I have had presentiments.”

James clicked his tongue, which he need not have done as he knew very well. But he had not often been arbiter of late.

“My child,” he said, “really ” and annoyed her.

“Of course you are impatient. I can’t help it, all the same. I am telling you the truth. I don’t know what is going to happen. I feel afraid of something I don’t know what ”

“Run down,” said James, looking keenly at her, but kindly; “end of the season. Two days at sea will do the job for you. Anyhow, my dear, we go.” He threw himself in his deep chair, stretched his legs out and looked at Lucy.

She was deeply disappointed; she had pictured it so differently. He would have understood her, she had thought. But he seemed to be in his worst mood. She stood, the picture of distressful uncertainty, hot and wavering; her head hung, her hand moving a book about on the table. To his surprise and great discomfort he now discerned that she was silently crying. Tears were falling, she made no effort to stop them, nor to conceal them. Her weakness and dismay were too much for her. She accepted the relief, and neither knew nor cared whether he saw it.

James was not hard-hearted unless his vanity was hurt. This was the way to touch him, as he was prepared to be touched. “My child,” he said, “why, what’s the matter with you?” She shook her head, tried to speak, failed, and went on crying.

“Lucy,” said James, “come here to me.” She obeyed him at once.

Something about her attitude moved him to something more than pity. Her pretty frock and her refusal to be comforted by it; her youthful act for Lucy had never yet cried before him; her flushed cheeks, her tremulous lips what? If I could answer the question I should resolve the problem of the flight of souls. He looked at her and knew that he desired her above all things. A Lucy in tears was a new Lucy; a James who could afford to let his want be seen was a new James. That which stirred him pity, need, desire, kindness vibrated in his tones. To hear was to obey.

He took her two hands and drew her down to his knee. He made her sit there, embraced her with his arm. “There, my girl, there,” he said; “now let me know all about it. Upon my soul, you are a baffling young woman. You will, and you won’t; and then you cry, and I become sentimental. I shall end by falling in love with you.”

At these strange words she broke down altogether, and sobbed her soul out upon his shoulder. Again he assured himself that he had never seen her cry before. He was immensely touched by it, and immensely at his ease too. His moral status was restored to him. He knew now what he wanted. “You poor little darling, I can’t bear to see you cry so. There then cry away, if it does you good. What does me good is to have you here. Now what made you so meek as to come when I called you? And why weren’t you afraid that I should eat you up? So I might, Lucy, you know; for you’ve made me madly in love with you.”

It seemed to her beating heart that indeed he was. He held her very close, kissed her wet cheeks, her wet eyes and her lips. She struggled in his embrace, but not for long. She yielded, and returned his kisses. So they clung together, and in the silence, while time seemed to stand still, it really did nothing of the kind; for if he gained experience she lost it.

He must have grown more experienced, for he was able to return without embarrassment to the affairs so strangely interrupted. She must have grown less so, because she answered him simply, like a child. He asked her what had upset her, and she told him, a dream. A dream? Had she been asleep? No, it was a waking dream. She told him exactly what it was. She was with Mr. Urquhart in a horrible place a dry, sandy place with great rocks in it. “And where did I come in?” “You didn’t come in. That was why I called you.” “You called for me, did you? But Urquhart was there?” “Yes, I suppose he was still there. I didn’t look.” “Why did you call for me, Lucy?” “Because I was frightened.” “I’m grateful to you for that. That’s good news to me,” he said; and then when he kissed her again, she opened her eyes very wide, and said, “Oh, James, I thought you didn’t care for me any more.”

James, master of himself, smiled grimly. “I thought as much,” he said; “and so you became interested in somebody else?”

Lucy sat up. “No,” she said, “I became interested in you first.”

That beat him. “You became interested in me? Why? Because I didn’t care for you?”

“No,” she said sharply; “no! Because I thought that you did.”

James felt rather faint. “I can’t follow you. You thought that I didn’t, you said?” Lucy was now excited, and full of her wrongs.

“How extraordinary! Surely you see? I had reason to think that you cared for me very much oh, very much indeed; and then I found out that you didn’t care a bit more than usual; and then well, then ” James, who was too apt to undervalue people, did not attempt to pursue the embroilment. But he valued her in this melting mood. He held her very close.

“Well,” he said, “and now you find that I do care and what then?”

She looked at him, divinely shy. “Oh, if you really care ”

This would have made any man care. “Well, if I really do ?”

“Ah!” She hid her face on his shoulder. “I shall love to be in Norway.”

James felt very triumphant; but true to type, he sent her upstairs to dress with the needless injunction to make herself look pretty.

Presently, however, he stood up and stared hard at the ground. “Good Lord!” he said. “I wonder what the devil ” Then he raised his eyebrows to their height. “This is rather interesting.”

The instinct was strong in him to make her confess for clearly there was something to be known. But against that several things worked. One was his scorn of the world at large. He felt that it was beneath him to enquire what that might be endeavouring against his honour or peace. Another and a very new feeling to him was one of compassion. The poor girl had cried before him hidden her face on his shoulder and cried. To use strength, male strength, upon that helplessness; to break a butterfly on a wheel upon his soul, he thought he couldn’t do it.

And after all whether it was Lingen or Urquhart he was safe. He knew he was safe because he wanted her. He knew that he could not want what was not for him. That was against Nature. True to type again, he laughed at himself, but owned it. She had been gone but five or ten minutes, but he wanted to see her again now. He craved the sight of that charming diffidence of the woman who knows herself desired. He became embarrassed as he thought of it, but did not cease to desire. Should he yield to the whim or hold himself...?

At that moment Lancelot was admitted. He heard him race upstairs calling, “Mamma, Mamma! frightfully important!” That decided the thing. He opened his door, listening to what followed. He heard Lucy’s voice, “I’m here. You can come in....” and was amazed. Was that Lucy’s voice? She was happy, then. He knew that by her tone. There was a lift in it, a timbre. Was it just possible, by some chance, that he had been a damned fool? He walked the room in some agitation, then went hastily upstairs to dress.

Whether to a new James or not, dinner had a new Lucy to reveal; a Lucy full of what he called “feminine charm”; a Lucy who appealed to him across the table for support against a positive Lancelot; who brought him in at all points; who was concerned for his opinion; who gave him shy glances, who could even afford to be pert. He, being essentially a fair-weather man, was able to meet her half-way no more than that, because he was what he was, always his own detective. The discipline which he had taught himself to preserve was for himself first of all.

Lancelot noticed his father. “I say,” he said, when he and Lucy were in the drawing-room, “Father’s awfully on the spot, isn’t he? It’s Norway, I expect. Bucks him up.”

“Norway is enough to excite anybody,” Lucy said “even me.”

“Oh, you!” Lancelot was scornful. “Anything would excite you. Look at Mr. Urquhart.”

Lucy flickered. “How do you mean?” Lancelot was warm for his absent friend.

“Why, you used to take a great interest in all his adventures you know you did.”

This must be faced. “Of course I did. Well ?”

“Well,” said Lancelot, very acutely, “now they seem rather ordinary rather chronic.” Chronic was a word of Crewdson’s, used as an augmentive. Lucy laughed, but faintly.

“Yes, I expect they are chronic. But I think Mr. Urquhart is very nice.”

“He’s ripping,” said Lancelot, in a stare.

James in the drawing-room that evening was studiously himself, and Lucy fought with her restlessness, and prevailed against it. He was shy, and spun webs of talk to conceal his preoccupations. Lucy watched him guardedly, but with intense interest. It was when she went upstairs that the amazing thing happened.

She stood by him, her hand once more upon his shoulder. He had his book in his hand.

“I’m going,” she said. “You have been very sweet to me. I don’t deserve it, you know.”

He looked up at her, quizzing her through the detested glass. “You darling,” he said calmly, and she thrilled. Where had she heard that phrase? At the Walkuere!

“You darling,” he said; “who could help it?”

“Oh, but ” she pouted now. “Oh, but you can help it often if you like.”

“But, you see, I don’t like. I should hate myself if I thought that I could.”

“Do let me take your glass away for one minute.”

“You may do what you please with it, or me.”

The glass in eclipse, she looked down at him, considering, hesitating, choosing, poised. “Oh, I was right. You look much nicer without it. Some day I’ll tell you.”

He took her hand and kept it. “Some day you shall tell me a number of things.”

She did not cease to look at him, but he saw fear in her eyes. “Some day, perhaps, but not yet.”

“No,” said he, “not yet perhaps.”

“Will you trust me?”

“I always have.”

She sighed. “Oh, you are good. I didn’t know how good.” Then she turned to go. “I told you I was going and I am. Good night.”

He put his book down. She let his eyeglass fall. He drew her to his knee, and looked at her.

“It’s not good night,” he said. “That’s to come.”

She gave him a startled, wide look, and then her lips, before she fled.