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


Vera Nugent, a brisk woman of the world, with a fondness for vivid clothing and a Spanish air which went oddly with it, took the trouble one fine day to tackle her brother. “Look here, Jimmy,” she said as they breasted a mountain pass, “are you quite sure what you are up to with these people?”

Urquhart’s eyes took a chill tinge a hard and pebbly stare. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Men always say that, especially when they know very well. Of course I mean the Macartneys. You didn’t suppose I was thinking of the Poplolly?” The Poplolly, I regret to say, was Francis Lingen, whom Vera abhorred. The term was opprobrious, and inexact.

But Urquhart shrouded himself in ice. “Perhaps you might explain yourself,” he said.

Vera was not at all sure that she would. “You make it almost impossible, you know.”

They were all out in a party, and were to meet the luncheon and the boys, who had gone round in the boat. As parties will have it, they had soon scattered. Lingen had taken Margery Dacre to himself, Lucy was with her husband. Urquhart, now he came to think of it, began to understand that the sceptre was out of his hands. The pass, worn out of the shelving rock by centuries of foot-work, wound itself about the breasting cliffs like a scarf; below them lay the silver fiord, and upon that, a mere speck, they could see the motor-boat, with a wake widening out behind her like parallel lines of railway.

Urquhart saw in his mind that he would be a fool to quarrel with Vera. She was not on his side, he could feel; but he didn’t despair of her. One way of putting her off him forever was to allow her to think him a fool. That he could not afford.

“Don’t turn against me for a mannerism, my dear,” he said.

“I turn against you, if at all, for a lack of mannerism,” said Vera briskly. “It’s too bad of you. Here I am as so much ballast for your party, and when I begin to make myself useful, you pretend I’m not there. But I am there, you know.”

“I was cross,” he said, “because I’m rather worried, and I thought you were going to worry me more.”

“Well, maybe that I am,” she admitted that. “But I don’t like to see a sharp-faced man make a donkey of himself. The credit of the family is at stake.”

He laughed. “I wouldn’t be the first of us and this wouldn’t be the first time. There’s whimsy in the blood. Well out with it. Let me know the worst.”

Vera stopped. “I intend to do it sitting. We’ve heaps of time. None of the others want us.”

Urquhart hit the rock with his staff. “That’s the point, my child. Do they or don’t they?”

“You believe,” Vera said, “that Lucy is in love with you.”

Urquhart replied, “I know that she was.”

“There you have the pull over me,” she answered. “I haven’t either your confidence or hers. All I can tell you is that now she isn’t.” Urquhart was all attention. “Do you mean, she has told you anything?”

“Good Heavens,” Vera scoffed, “what do you take me for? Do you think I don’t know by the looks of her? If you weren’t infatuated you’d know better than I do.”

“My dear girl,” Urquhart said, with a straight look at her, “the fact is, I am infatuated.”

“I’m sorry for you. You’ve made a mess of it. But I must say that I’m not at all sorry for her. Don’t you suppose that she is the sort to find the world well lost for your beaux yeux. Far from that. She’d wilt like a rose in a window-box.”

“I’d take her into fairy-land,” said Urquhart. “She should walk in the dawn. She wouldn’t feel her feet.”

“She would if they were damp,” said Vera, who could be as direct as you please. “If you think she’s a wood nymph in a cage, you’re very much mistaken. She’s very domestic.”

“I know,” said the infatuate, “that I touched her.” Vera tossed her head.

“I’ll be bound you did. You aren’t the first man to light a fire. That’s what you did. You lit a fire for Macartney to warm his hand at. She’s awfully in love with him.”

Urquhart grew red. “That’s not probable,” he said.

Vera said, “It’s certain. Perhaps you’ll take the trouble to satisfy yourself before you take tickets for fairy-land. It’s an expensive journey, I believe. Had you thought what you would be doing about Lancelot a very nice boy?”

“No details had been arranged,” said Urquhart, in his very annoying way.

“Not even that of the lady’s inclinations, it appears. Well, I’ve warned you. I’ve done it with the best intentions. I suppose even you won’t deny that I’m single-minded? I’m not on the side of your solicitor.” That made Urquhart very angry.

“I’m much obliged to you, my dear. We’ll leave my solicitor out of account for the moment.” But that nettled Vera, who flamed.

“Upon my word, Jimmy, you are too sublime. You can’t dispose of people quite like that. How are you to leave him out of account, when you brought his wife into it? If you ever supposed that Macartney was nothing but a solicitor, you were never more mistaken in your life except when you thought that Lucy was a possible law-breaker.”

At the moment, and from where they stood, the sea-scape and the coast-road stood revealed before and behind them for many a league. In front it descended by sharp spirals to a river-bed. Vera Nugent standing there, her chin upon her hands, her hands upon her staff, could see straight below her feet two absorbed couples, as it were on different grades of the scene. In the first the fair Margery Dacre leaned against a rock while Lingen, on his knees, tied her shoestring; at a lower level yet Macartney, having handed his Lucy over a torrent, stooped his head to receive his tribute. Vera, who had a grain of pity in her, hoped that Urquhart had been spared; but whether he was or not she never knew. No signs of disturbance were upon him at the ensuing picnic, unless his treatment of Macartney with a kind of humorous savagery betrayed him. They talked of the Folgefond, that mighty snow-field beyond the fiord which the three men intended to traverse in a day or two’s time.

“Brace yourself, my friend,” Urquhart said. “Hearts have been broken on that ground before now.”

James said that he had made his peace with God but Lucy looked full-eyed and serious.

“I never know when you are laughing at us,” she said to Urquhart.

“Be sure that I have never laughed at you in my life,” he said across the table-cloth.

“He laughs at me,” said James behind his eyeglass; “but I defy him. The man who can laugh at himself is the man I envy. Now I never could do that.”

“You’ve hit me in a vital spot,” Urquhart said. “That’s my little weakness; and that’s why I’ve never succeeded in anything even in breaking my neck.”

Lancelot nudged his friend Patrick. “Do you twig that?”

Patrick blinked, having his mouth too full to nod conveniently.

“Can’t drive a motor, I suppose! Can’t fly I don’t think.”

“As to breaking your neck,” said James, “there’s still a chance for you.”

“I shall make a mess of it,” Urquhart retorted.

“Is this going to be a neck-breaking expedition?” That was from Lingen, who now had an object in life.

“I never said so,” Urquhart told him. “I said heart-breaking a far simpler affair.”

“What is going to break your heart in it, please?” Lucy asked him. She saw that there lay something behind his rattle.

“Well,” said Urquhart, brazening it out, “it would break mine to get over the snow-field some eight miles of it, there are and to find that I couldn’t get down. That might easily happen.”

“And what would you do?”

James fixed her with his eyeglass. “That’s where the neck-breaking might intervene,” he said. “Jimmy would rather risk his neck any day.”

“Than his heart!”

“Heart!” said Vera. “No such thing. Quite another organ. It’s a case of dinner. He’d risk his neck for a dinner, and so would any man.”

“I believe you are right,” said James.

Lucy with very bright eyes looked from one to the other of her lovers. Each wore a mask. She determined to ask James to give up the Folgefond, discerning trouble in the air.

They went home by water, and Lancelot added his unconscious testimony. He was between Urquhart’s knees, his hand upon the tiller, his mood confidential.

“I say ” he began, and Urquhart encouraged him to say on.

“It’s slightly important, but I suppose I couldn’t do the Folgefond by any chance?”

“You are saying a good deal,” said Urquhart. “I’ll put it like this, that by some chance you might, but by no chance in the world could Patrick.”

“Hoo!” said Lancelot, “and why not, pray?”

“His mother would put her foot on it. Splosh! it would go like a cockroach.”

“I know,” said dreamy Lancelot. “That’s what would happen to me, I expect.” Then he added, “That’s what will happen to my father.”

“Good cockroach,” said Urquhart, looking ahead of him. “You think she won’t want him to go.”

Lancelot snorted. “Won’t want him! Why, she doesn’t already. And he’ll do what she wants, I’ll bet you.”

“Does he always?”

“He always does now. It’s the air, I fancy.”