Read CHAPTER XIII of Tutors' Lane , free online book, by Wilmarth Lewis, on

Tom telephoned to Mrs. Norris the next day to make certain that he might see her. He felt that she was an ally in the matter of Nancy, and it was important to get her advice.

He found her knitting by the yellow lamp in the library. “Well, Tommy dear,” she said, looking at him with a quizzical smile, “was the picnic a success?”

“Mrs. Norris, you are wonderful. When I think how much I owe to your generation. After all, I think a woman is loveliest at fifty.”

“Oh, flatterer!”

“But you know you cannot get that fine savoir vivre before.”

“Oh dear me, how much more savoir vivre I’ll have when I’m eighty. What an old charmer I’ll be then! Will you come to see me when I’m eighty, Tommy?”

“What a question!”

“Well, I hope you won’t take me off on any old wishing carpet and put me down in a damp, horrid place and give me tonsilitis.”

“Who has tonsilitis?”

“Nancy, of course, and you gave it to her, you bad thing.”

Tonsilitis! He remembered now the damp rug and also certain sniffles that had required, from time to time on the homeward trip, the administration of a diminutive handkerchief with a pretty “N” embroidered, he knew, in the corner. So that is the way he would look after her!

“What can I do about it?” It was true that Mrs. Norris was taking it very calmly.

“Do? Why, you can’t do anything but wait until she gets over it. You might go and see her when she begins to pick up.”

“I caught cold myself.” He had at least been true to that extent.

“Are you doing anything for it? Remind me when you go, and I’ll give you some Squim. It’s something new, and it did wonders for Mary.”

“Don’t you think it might be nice for me to send Nancy some?” asked Tom, laughing. Tonsilitis was seldom fatal, after all; and what an excellent excuse to visit her it would be when she was getting better!

“Tommy, dear, haven’t you something to tell me?”

“No, not really.”

“Not anything?”

“Well, hardly anything.” He was sitting near her, and now he leaned forward and whispered, “I asked her to be my wife, and she refused.” It was not said, however, in the tone one would expect for such an unhappy message. Mrs. Norris looked at him curiously. “She said she couldn’t answer me now, but as good as gave me permission to ask her again and when a girl talks that way, isn’t it as good as settled?”

It did look promising, certainly. But then, there was Henry. “What about Henry?” she asked. “How does he feel?”

“What has he to do with it?”

“Oh my, he has a lot to do with it. He’s more than just a brother, you know. He’s her father and mother.”

“And aunt, maiden aunt, as well.”

Mrs. Norris laughed. “Henry’s to be reckoned with, though, just like Marshal Ney or was it Cincinnatus? I never can remember.”

“But, Mrs. Norris, what am I to do?”

“Why, you must just be very nice and thoughtful to Nancy and as decent as you can be to Henry, and pray the Good Lord will help you.”

“Will you pray for me, too?” Tom had played too much baseball not to appreciate the value of organized cheering.

“Yes, I’ll pray for you.” And then Tom jumped up and planted a thoroughgoing kiss which was designed for the cheek, but which, upon her turning quickly, was delivered, in a manner that even Leofwin would have applauded upon her neck.

On the sixth day Nancy sat up for a while during Miss Albers’ hour and a half off. There was an abutment at one end of her room which overlooked the Whitman garden and carried the eye on down the hill until it rested on the factory in Whitmanville the factory which made the garden possible for her. There was a letter in her lap from Tom. It had come with his roses and it asked her to go with him to the boat race. There was also a book in her lap, but she made no effort to read it; it was so much easier just to gaze out of the window and let her mind wander where it would.

Henry knocked and entered. “Well, this is very nice. Do you really feel a lot better?”

“Ever so much, thank you. I think probably I’ll get up in a day or two.”

“I suppose you’ll want your tonsils out now, won’t you?” The question of a tonsilectomy had been a moot one for years. Nancy had always been anxious to have them out, having been told that it was merely a case of “snip, snip, and a day on ice cream.” Henry, who regarded tonsilectomy skeptically as a fad, and who knew, furthermore, that it was a major operation for adults and that old Mrs. Merton hadn’t walked straight since she had had hers out, was strongly opposed. This had, in fact, been an exceedingly sore point with them, and the amount of unhappiness engendered by it was considerably in excess of that which would have resulted from an operation when it was first suggested.

“I’ll have to wait, of course, until I get well over this. It isn’t like a rheumatism, you know.” Nancy had learned the jargon thoroughly.

Well, that subject was now disposed of, and Henry, with the directness of a trained economist, abruptly went into the main object of his call. There had been certain features about Nancy’s delirium which had astonished and annoyed him, and he had come with the express purpose of discussing them should he find Nancy strong enough. He now decided that she was strong enough. “Do you realize that when your fever was high you talked at a great rate?” he asked.

“I vaguely remember mumbling and grumbling.”

Henry did not relish his task, but he felt it to be his duty and Henry had never been one to shirk his duty. “You talked a great deal about this Tom Reynolds,” he said.

“Yes?” Nancy was aware that she coloured. She was aware also of a sudden sinking sensation, not dissimilar to the one that comes from a too rapid drop in an elevator. So Henry had come to her at the first possible moment to protest against “this Tom Reynolds.” “He has had a bad recitation,” she thought, “and now he is going to take it out on me,” and then she called her brother a hard and inelegant name, as people will when angry with their dearest relatives. Had Nancy been of a satirical nature she might have made something of her brother’s adoption of Freudian methods; but she was not, and she knew only direct-fire warfare.

“Nancy,” Henry went on, leaning towards her, “surely you are not in love with that man?”

Had Tom been a head hunter with tin cans in his ears, Nancy would have loved him at that moment.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

Henry stared at her. It was clear she meant what she said. Then he glanced at the letter and the book that lay in her lap, as people will notice small things at such times. He guessed in whose handwriting the letter was, and the book was Sonnets from the Portuguese! She had even taken to sentimental rubbish!

“Oh Nancy, can’t you see that he is not worthy of you? Who are his people? Where is he from? I wouldn’t give that for his future here. He’s lazy, and he’s filled you up on a lot of poetry. Nancy, think well of it before it’s too late.” She was gazing out the window, hardly hearing him. She had confessed aloud, before Henry, that she loved Tom. Henry was going on. “If you won’t think of yourself, perhaps you can think of Henry Third? What is to become of him if you go?”

Nancy turned to look at him. She felt giddy now, and she thought she was going to cry. It would not do, however, to make a scene, when up to this point she had acquitted herself so well. “You mean that I should give up my life to look after your son?”

“Please don’t be melodramatic. We know one another so well it isn’t necessary. I am not asking you to give up your life. I am asking you not to throw it away, and in the meantime you have certain definite obligations here. You are more than an aunt to Henry. Life here with him will be far better for you than being the wife of that uncertain boy.”

She allowed it to pass, but it gave the final flick to her anger. “You are the kind of person, Henry, who is so monumentally selfish that you think everybody who dares to cross you in any way is himself monumentally selfish too. Now you come to me in a protective rôle to save me from ‘this Tom Reynolds’ with a mass of ill-natured slander and lies because if I go to him you will have to get a new housekeeper.”

“Nancy ”

“Don’t interrupt me, please. It would be the same, no matter who came. You would find some dreadful fault in anyone. You always have been jealous of every man that ever came here and if you had your way you would keep me here for life.” Nancy paused, but her brother did not offer to speak. She had asked not to be interrupted, and he would be quite sure that she was through before he spoke again, but he could not conceal his anger. Nancy noticed it, and her own anger increased. “I don’t think I’d mind it so much, if you didn’t pretend that it was all for my good. That is nothing but rank hypocrisy. Just what have you ever done to make my life pleasant here? You are never interested in what I’m interested in, outside of Harry. This lecture business you just laughed and sneered at. I admit it was ridiculous, but you wouldn’t lift your finger to make it less so. I admit, also, that I would appreciate a little attention once in a while, but it would never occur to you to give me any pleasure unless you had to, to get some for yourself. When you really want to give me a good time you sit down and talk to me about your miserable old Labour class and what a wonderful lecture you gave them. Well, Henry, that time is past, and I am going to have my own life from now on.” And the tears which she had been fighting back were no longer to be denied.

Henry was entirely put out, and he awkwardly got up. Now was clearly not the time to renew the attack. Nothing that Nancy had said was of the slightest significance, except her lack of interest in his work. There, indeed, was a sorry confession of inability to forget herself in the greatest interest of her nearest relation. Poor wilful girl! Well, he had done his duty. No one could charge him with unbrotherliness.

Nancy had also got up. “Please go away,” she sobbed; and Henry, without further word, did so.

Nancy crawled back into bed and had her cry out. What a brute he was and what a god was Tom! What a miserable snob Henry was about family and then for him to say that Tom had no future! Had Tom been a member of his wretched old Grave, he would have had a very different view of it. That was the cause of nine-tenths of his dislike, anyway. Tom was in the rival club and Henry never could see any good in anyone connected with it. What a miserable, juvenile business! Had not Tom frankly confessed his need of help? Henry had never in any way indicated that she could be of service to him, except to order his meals and keep him comfortable. But Tom had thrown himself upon her. He “needed” her that had been his word. With her to help him he felt that he could do anything. What a career for a girl! That would be living indeed.

She thought of his unanswered letter and climbed out of bed at once. “Dear Tom,” she wrote, and again the tears came into her eyes, “Thank you so much for the lovely flowers. They are by my bed and I can enjoy them all day long. It is awfully nice of you to ask me to the Boat Race and I accept with pleasure. I don’t think there will be any question about my being able to make it. In two weeks I should be perfectly well again.

“It will be lovely to see you and I can do so at any time now.

“As ever,

The final draft of the letter was composed only after three preliminary ones. Nancy found it extremely difficult to get just the right tone. She couldn’t put too much warmth into it, and yet it mustn’t be too cold. So she sat at her desk, copying and recopying, and only succeeded in finishing it when Miss Albers returned.

“I’ve done it at last,” she announced proudly, her cheeks aflame. Miss Albers, fortunately one of the few surviving members of the Good Nurse family, saw the situation immediately.

“Why, I see you have,” she said. “Isn’t that fine! Now I think you are entitled to a nice nap.” And when Tom arrived, post-haste upon receipt of Nancy’s note, he was met at the front door with the news of her relapse.