Read CHAPTER V of The Belfry, free online book, by May Sinclair, on ReadCentral.com.

The next day I went back to Bruges to release Jevons from his parole.

I found him sitting tight in his hotel in the Market-Place, waiting my return with composure.

He had recovered in my absence and had been making the best of his internment.  He had written a series of articles on “The Old Cities of Flanders.”  He worked them up afterwards into that little masterpiece of his, “My Flemish Journal,” which gave him his European celebrity (it must have made delightful reading for the Thesigers).  There was no delay, no reverse, no calamity that Jevons couldn’t turn into use and profit as it came.  Yes, I know, and into charm and beauty.  Viola Thesiger lives in his “Flemish Journal” with an enduring beauty and charm.

I said I was sorry for keeping him shut up in Bruges so long.  He said it didn’t matter a bit.  He had been very busy.

I thought it was his articles and his book (he had been dreaming of it) that had made Jevons so happy.  But I was mistaken.

We spent half the night in talking, sitting up in my big room on the first floor for the sake of space and air.

Jevons went straight to the point by asking me how I had got on at Canterbury.

I felt that I owed him a perfect frankness in return for the liberties I had taken with him, so I told him how I had got on.

He said, “I’m not going to pretend to be astonished.  But you can’t say I didn’t play fair.  I gave you your innings, didn’t I?”

I said I’d had them, anyhow.  We’d leave it at that.

He said, No.  We couldn’t leave it at that.  He’d given me my innings.  He could have stopped my having them any minute, but he’d made up his mind I should have them.  So that nobody should say afterwards he hadn’t played fair.

I remember perfectly everything that Jevons said to me that night.  I am putting it all down so that it may be clear that what the Thesigers called the beauty of my behaviour was nothing to the beauty of his.  Think of him, shut up there in his hotel in Bruges, giving me my innings, when he could have struck in and won the game without waiting those horrible ten days.

Well, I suppose he knew that he had it in his hands all the time.

“You see,” he went on, “I knew you’d got one chance, and I meant you to have it.  I meant you to make the most of it.  There are things, Furnival, I haven’t got the hang of ­yet ­little, little things like breeding and good looks, where you might get the pull of me still if you had a free hand.

“Well, I gave you a free hand.

“You needn’t thank me.  I wasn’t thinking of you so much.  I was thinking of Viola.  I wanted to be perfectly fair to her.  If there was a chance of her liking you better than she liked me, and being happier with you, I wanted her to have her chance.  I wanted, you see, to be rather more than fair.  If I was going to win this game I was going to win it hands over, not just to sneak in on a doubtful point.  I wanted Viola to know what she was doing.  I wanted her to see exactly what she was giving up if she married me ­to go home and see it all over again in case she had forgotten.

“And of course I was thinking of myself too.  I’m an egoist.  For my own sake I wanted her to be quite sure she hadn’t any sort of hankering after you.”

I said if it was any comfort to him he could be.  Viola hadn’t any hankering after me at all.  This ­if he cared to know it ­was the third time that I had proposed to her and been turned down.

He said he did care to know it, very much.  It was most important.

“I,” he said, “have never proposed to her at all.

“That,” he went on, “is just the one risk I wouldn’t take.

“And there,” he explained, “is where I’ve scored.  I knew that Viola is obstinate, and that if she starts by turning you down she’ll keep it up out of sheer cussedness.

“So I never let her start.  Women,” he generalized, “admire success.  If I were to give you your innings all over again, Furnival ­and I will if you like ­you couldn’t make anything of them with those three howlers to your account.  There isn’t any record of failure against me.  Good God!  D’you suppose I’d be such a damn fool as to muff it three times with the same woman?  Not me!”

I said he needn’t rub it in.

He said he was rubbing it in for my good, so that I shouldn’t go and do the same thing next time.

“Because ­now we’re coming to the point ­there will be a next time for you, Furnival.  That’s why I don’t even pretend to be sorry for you.  There’ll be other women.  But there aren’t any next times for me, and there aren’t any other women.  This ­I mean she ­was my one chance.  It was pretty jumpy work, I can tell you, sitting tight and gambling with it for ten blasted days.  Any other man would have gone clean off his chump with worrying over it.  There’ve been times when I’ve felt like it myself.  It was infernal ­when you think what I stood to lose.”

I said that was all rot.  It was his beastly egoism.  He didn’t stand to lose more than I did.

He said it wasn’t a question of more or less.  And it wasn’t his egoism.  It was his sweetness and his heart-rending humility.  He’d stood to lose everything.  He’d be done for if Viola wouldn’t have him.  He couldn’t look at any other woman after her.  And he put it to me:  What other woman would look at him?  Whereas my resources were practically inexhaustible.  Almost any nice woman would know that I would give her what she wanted.  And almost any nice woman would give me what I wanted, too.  When I insisted that I didn’t see it, he said I’d see it shortly.  He gave me six months.

Viola, he declared, would never have given me what I wanted.  I could never give her what she wanted.  And he could.

He said he admitted that it was odd that he should be able to succeed where I failed; but so it was, and he went on to expound to me all the reasons for my failure.

“To begin with, you’re not her sort; or, rather, you’re too much her sort.  You with your integrity are one of the beautiful works of God, and she’s been used to that sort of beauty all her life and she’s tired of it.  But she isn’t used to me.  She never will be.  She’s never seen anything in the least like me before, and she never will see anything quite like me again as long as she lives.  I’m the queer, unexpected thing she wants and always will want.

“But let that pass.

“You couldn’t get her because you didn’t give your mind to it.  You didn’t know how to get her and you didn’t try to find out.  You set about it the wrong way.  I told you ages ago that a man’s a fool if he wants a thing and doesn’t find out how to get it.  You should have begun by trying to find out something about her.  But you didn’t try.  With all your opportunities you haven’t found out anything.  You don’t know the least thing about her.  You don’t know what she wants, you don’t know what she’s thinking, or what she’s feeling, or what she’ll do ­how she’ll behave if you propose to her three times running.  She’s told you things and you haven’t understood them or tried to understand.  Because the whole blessed time you were thinking about yourself, or what she was thinking about you, or was going to think.  Whereas I haven’t been thinking about anything but her ­I’ve been studying her straight on end for ten months and I’ve found out a little bit about her.  At any rate, I jolly well know what she wants and I jolly well know how to give it her.

“You see, I was determined to get her, and I left no stone unturned.  I took trouble.”

I suggested that I’d taken trouble enough in all conscience.  He laughed.

You only took trouble to get her away, old man, when she wanted to be here with me.  What do you suppose I brought her here for?  Would you have ever thought of letting her come with you?  Of giving her what she wanted to that extent?  Not you!  You’d only have thought of shutting her up and protecting her for your own wretched sake ­which was the last thing she wanted.  She’d had about enough of that.”

I replied that certainly I should have thought of protecting a young girl before everything else; that it never would have occurred to me to compromise her in order to marry her ­even if I did find I couldn’t marry her in any other way.

I had hit him there.  He was quiet for a little while after it.  I didn’t look at him ­I didn’t want to look at him ­but I could feel him there, breathing hard from the shock of it, with his mouth a little open.

Presently he took the thing up again.  He went on, placably, quietly explaining.  “I thought of protecting her too.  Only I wasn’t such an idiot as to think of it before everything else.”

“No.  You were clever enough to think of it afterwards ­when you’d got what you wanted.  When you had compromised her.”

“I suppose you mean there was only one thing I wanted?  There, Furnival, you lie.”

I said I only meant that she was compromised.  At any rate, that was what it looked like to her people and to everybody to whom it mattered.

“If you will persist in taking the ugliest view of it, of course it’ll look like that.  I can’t help how it looks to a set of old ladies and clergymen in Canterbury.  Come to that, it matters a damned sight more to me than it can to any of you people.”

I said he wouldn’t say so if he knew how he had made them suffer.

He laughed out at that.

“Suffer?  They haven’t suffered a quarter as much as I have.  Not a hundredth part as much.  They’ve suffered thinking of themselves ­of their precious respectability.  I’ve suffered thinking of her.

“Suffer?  I’ve been through all that.  It wasn’t right, Furnival, it wasn’t right for anybody to have to go through what I did.  But I’ve come out of it.  You’ve been pretty hard on me with your infernal virtue; but if you think you can make me suffer more, you can’t.  I’m past it.”

I said I was sorry if I seemed too hard on him.  But it would be well if he tried to look at his really very outrageous behaviour as it was bound to appear to other people.

“You admit, then,” he said, “that it appears more outrageous than it is?”

I said, “You see, my dear fellow, I don’t yet know what it is.”

He asked me if I’d like to know what it was?  And I told him that, certainly, some sort of an account was owing and that he’d better perhaps make a clean breast of it while he was about it.

Well ­he made his clean breast.

He confessed that the sting of a great deal that I had said to him was in its truth.  I needn’t be frightened.  Nothing had happened.  Nothing beyond what I knew.  But ­there was a point, he said, when everything might have.  When he had meant that it should happen.

He hadn’t meant it at first.  Nothing had been further from him when he let her come to Bruges.  He had meant nothing ­nothing beyond looking at the Belfry.  He had thought ­as she did ­that it would be quite possible to be content with looking at the Belfry.  That was where the damned folly of the thing had come in.  They began to be aware of the folly when they found themselves going together to Antwerp.  He wasn’t aware even then of what he meant.  But he knew what he meant when he left Antwerp and took her to Ghent.

Because he did take her there.  He meant ­then ­exactly what Viola’s father and her brother and her uncles and her male cousins would mean if they took a woman to Ghent.

“I meant,” he said, “to compromise her.  But ­here’s where you went wrong ­I didn’t mean to compromise her in order to marry her.  I didn’t mean to marry her at all.  There was a moment when I thought that marrying me ­tying herself up to me for ever ­was a risk I ought not to let her take.  I thought ­I thought I could make her happy without all that awful risk.  It seemed to me that after the risk we had taken we had a right to happiness.  Certainly she had.  And I thought she thought the same.

“So I took her to Ghent.

“I say I thought she knew what I meant when I took her.

“I ought to tell you that we did have rooms in the same hotel in Antwerp and Ghent.  There weren’t any English there that mattered ­nobody that either of us knew.

“But when I’d got her to Ghent I couldn’t ­I don’t know how it was ­but it came over me that I couldn’t ­I hadn’t the courage.  I think I found out that she was afraid or something.  We’d taken rooms in that hotel you were in in the Place d’Armes.  We were sitting together in the lounge ­you know that big lounge on the first floor with the glass partition in it along the staircase ­you can see people through it going up and down stairs.  She’d got up suddenly and stuck out her hand and said good night.  And there was a look in her eyes ­Fright, a sort of fright.

“I saw her through the glass going up the stair.  When she got to the landing I saw her turn her head over her shoulder and look down into the lounge, to make sure I was still there.

“She looked so helpless somehow ­and so pretty ­that for the life of me I couldn’t.

“No.

“I took her back to Bruges the next morning and put her in the pension with those women.”

I thought of the irony of it.

If Jevons had really been the blackguard he seemed we could have hushed it up.  If he hadn’t repented, if he hadn’t taken her back to Bruges and put her in the pension with those women, ten to one Withers wouldn’t have seen them and General Thesiger’s friends wouldn’t have heard of them.  I should have got her quietly away from Ghent without Canterbury being a bit the wiser.

But I didn’t tell Jevons that.  I hadn’t the heart to.

We stayed three days longer in Bruges.  There were still some odd corners of the city that he hadn’t had time to look up.

Jevons was very kind to me all those three days.

After we got back to England Jevons’s affairs picked up and went forward with a rush.  His novel came out at the end of May.  In June he was made sub-editor of Sport, and thus acquired a settled income.  And one morning in July I got a letter from Viola written at Quimpol in Brittany: 

“MY DEAR WALTER: 

“I married Jimmy five days ago.  Nobody but Norah knew anything about it till it was all over.  But I wrote and told Daddy before we left England.  I’m afraid he’s had a sore throat ever since.  I wish you’d go down to Canterbury and tell them that it’s all right and that I’m ever so happy.  There really isn’t any reason why Daddy shouldn’t sing.

“As Norah says:  ‘It’s his not singing that gives the show away.’  Yours ever,

“V.  J.”