An old lady, in a high drawing-room, had had her chair moved close to the fire, where she sat knitting and warming her knees. She was dressed in deep mourning; her face had a faded nobleness, tempered, however, by the somewhat illiberal compression assumed by her lips in obedience to something that was passing in her mind. She was far from the lamp, but though her eyes were fixed upon her active needles she was not looking at them. What she really saw was quite another train of affairs. The room was spacious and dim; the thick London fog had oozed into it even through its superior defences. It was full of dusky, massive, valuable things. The old lady sat motionless save for the regularity of her clicking needles, which seemed as personal to her and as expressive as prolonged fingers. If she was thinking something out, she was thinking it thoroughly.
When she looked up, on the entrance of a girl of twenty, it might have been guessed that the appearance of this young lady was not an interruption of her meditation, but rather a contribution to it. The young lady, who was charming to behold, was also in deep mourning, which had a freshness, if mourning can be fresh, an air of having been lately put on. She went straight to the bell beside the chimney-piece and pulled it, while in her other hand she held a sealed and directed letter. Her companion glanced in silence at the letter; then she looked still harder at her work. The girl hovered near the fireplace, without speaking, and after a due, a dignified interval the butler appeared in response to the bell. The time had been sufficient to make the silence between the ladies seem long. The younger one asked the butler to see that her letter should be posted; and after he had gone out she moved vaguely about the room, as if to give her grandmother—for such was the elder personage—a chance to begin a colloquy of which she herself preferred not to strike the first note. As equally with herself her companion was on the face of it capable of holding out, the tension, though it was already late in the evening, might have lasted long. But the old lady after a little appeared to recognise, a trifle ungraciously, the girl’s superior resources.
“Have you written to your mother?”
“Yes, but only a few lines, to tell her I shall come and see her in the morning.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” asked the grandmother.
“I don’t quite know what you want me to say.”
“I want you to say that you’ve made up your mind.”
“Yes, I’ve done that, granny.”
“You intend to respect your father’s wishes?”
“It depends upon what you mean by respecting them. I do justice to the feelings by which they were dictated.”
“What do you mean by justice?” the old lady retorted.
The girl was silent a moment; then she said: “You’ll see my idea of it.”
“I see it already! You’ll go and live with her.”
“I shall talk the situation over with her to-morrow and tell her that I think that will be best.”
“Best for her, no doubt!”
“What’s best for her is best for me.”
“And for your brother and sister?” As the girl made no reply to this her grandmother went on: “What’s best for them is that you should acknowledge some responsibility in regard to them and, considering how young they are, try and do something for them.”
“They must do as I’ve done—they must act for themselves. They have their means now, and they’re free.”
“Free? They’re mere children.”
“Let me remind you that Eric is older than I.”
“He doesn’t like his mother,” said the old lady, as if that were an answer.
“I never said he did. And she adores him.”
“Oh, your mother’s adorations!”
“Don’t abuse her now,” the girl rejoined, after a pause.
The old lady forbore to abuse her, but she made up for it the next moment by saying: “It will be dreadful for Edith.”
“What will be dreadful?”
“Your desertion of her.”
“The desertion’s on her side.”
“Her consideration for her father does her honour.”
“Of course I’m a brute, n’en parlons plus,” said the girl. “We must go our respective ways,” she added, in a tone of extreme wisdom and philosophy.
Her grandmother straightened out her knitting and began to roll it up. “Be so good as to ring for my maid,” she said, after a minute. The young lady rang, and there was another wait and another conscious hush. Before the maid came her mistress remarked: “Of course then you’ll not come to me, you know.”
“What do you mean by ‘coming’ to you?”
“I can’t receive you on that footing.”
“She’ll not come with me, if you mean that.”
“I don’t mean that,” said the old lady, getting up as her maid came in. This attendant took her work from her, gave her an arm and helped her out of the room, while Rose Tramore, standing before the fire and looking into it, faced the idea that her grandmother’s door would now under all circumstances be closed to her. She lost no time however in brooding over this anomaly: it only added energy to her determination to act. All she could do to-night was to go to bed, for she felt utterly weary. She had been living, in imagination, in a prospective struggle, and it had left her as exhausted as a real fight. Moreover this was the culmination of a crisis, of weeks of suspense, of a long, hard strain. Her father had been laid in his grave five days before, and that morning his will had been read. In the afternoon she had got Edith off to St. Leonard’s with their aunt Julia, and then she had had a wretched talk with Eric. Lastly, she had made up her mind to act in opposition to the formidable will, to a clause which embodied if not exactly a provision, a recommendation singularly emphatic. She went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.
“Oh, my dear, how charming! I must take another house!” It was in these words that her mother responded to the announcement Rose had just formally made and with which she had vaguely expected to produce a certain dignity of effect. In the way of emotion there was apparently no effect at all, and the girl was wise enough to know that this was not simply on account of the general line of non-allusion taken by the extremely pretty woman before her, who looked like her elder sister. Mrs. Tramore had never manifested, to her daughter, the slightest consciousness that her position was peculiar; but the recollection of something more than that fine policy was required to explain such a failure, to appreciate Rose’s sacrifice. It was simply a fresh reminder that she had never appreciated anything, that she was nothing but a tinted and stippled surface. Her situation was peculiar indeed. She had been the heroine of a scandal which had grown dim only because, in the eyes of the London world, it paled in the lurid light of the contemporaneous. That attention had been fixed on it for several days, fifteen years before; there had been a high relish of the vivid evidence as to his wife’s misconduct with which, in the divorce-court, Charles Tramore had judged well to regale a cynical public. The case was pronounced awfully bad, and he obtained his decree. The folly of the wife had been inconceivable, in spite of other examples: she had quitted her children, she had followed the “other fellow” abroad. The other fellow hadn’t married her, not having had time: he had lost his life in the Mediterranean by the capsizing of a boat, before the prohibitory term had expired.
Mrs. Tramore had striven to extract from this accident something of the austerity of widowhood; but her mourning only made her deviation more public, she was a widow whose husband was awkwardly alive. She had not prowled about the Continent on the classic lines; she had come back to London to take her chance. But London would give her no chance, would have nothing to say to her; as many persons had remarked, you could never tell how London would behave. It would not receive Mrs. Tramore again on any terms, and when she was spoken of, which now was not often, it was inveterately said of her that she went nowhere. Apparently she had not the qualities for which London compounds; though in the cases in which it does compound you may often wonder what these qualities are. She had not at any rate been successful: her lover was dead, her husband was liked and her children were pitied, for in payment for a topic London will parenthetically pity. It was thought interesting and magnanimous that Charles Tramore had not married again. The disadvantage to his children of the miserable story was thus left uncorrected, and this, rather oddly, was counted as his sacrifice. His mother, whose arrangements were elaborate, looked after them a great deal, and they enjoyed a mixture of laxity and discipline under the roof of their aunt, Miss Tramore, who was independent, having, for reasons that the two ladies had exhaustively discussed, determined to lead her own life. She had set up a home at St. Leonard’s, and that contracted shore had played a considerable part in the upbringing of the little Tramores. They knew about their mother, as the phrase was, but they didn’t know her; which was naturally deemed more pathetic for them than for her. She had a house in Chester Square and an income and a victoria—it served all purposes, as she never went out in the evening—and flowers on her window-sills, and a remarkable appearance of youth. The income was supposed to be in part the result of a bequest from the man for whose sake she had committed the error of her life, and in the appearance of youth there was a slightly impertinent implication that it was a sort of afterglow of the same connection.
Her children, as they grew older, fortunately showed signs of some individuality of disposition. Edith, the second girl, clung to her aunt Julia; Eric, the son, clung frantically to polo; while Rose, the elder daughter, appeared to cling mainly to herself. Collectively, of course, they clung to their father, whose attitude in the family group, however, was casual and intermittent. He was charming and vague; he was like a clever actor who often didn’t come to rehearsal. Fortune, which but for that one stroke had been generous to him, had provided him with deputies and trouble-takers, as well as with whimsical opinions, and a reputation for excellent taste, and whist at his club, and perpetual cigars on morocco sofas, and a beautiful absence of purpose. Nature had thrown in a remarkably fine hand, which he sometimes passed over his children’s heads when they were glossy from the nursery brush. On Rose’s eighteenth birthday he said to her that she might go to see her mother, on condition that her visits should be limited to an hour each time and to four in the year. She was to go alone; the other children were not included in the arrangement. This was the result of a visit that he himself had paid his repudiated wife at her urgent request, their only encounter during the fifteen years. The girl knew as much as this from her aunt Julia, who was full of tell-tale secrecies. She availed herself eagerly of the license, and in course of the period that elapsed before her father’s death she spent with Mrs. Tramore exactly eight hours by the watch. Her father, who was as inconsistent and disappointing as he was amiable, spoke to her of her mother only once afterwards. This occasion had been the sequel of her first visit, and he had made no use of it to ask what she thought of the personality in Chester Square or how she liked it. He had only said “Did she take you out?” and when Rose answered “Yes, she put me straight into a carriage and drove me up and down Bond Street,” had rejoined sharply “See that that never occurs again.” It never did, but once was enough, every one they knew having happened to be in Bond Street at that particular hour.
After this the periodical interview took place in private, in Mrs. Tramore’s beautiful little wasted drawing-room. Rose knew that, rare as these occasions were, her mother would not have kept her “all to herself” had there been anybody she could have shown her to. But in the poor lady’s social void there was no one; she had after all her own correctness and she consistently preferred isolation to inferior contacts. So her daughter was subjected only to the maternal; it was not necessary to be definite in qualifying that. The girl had by this time a collection of ideas, gathered by impenetrable processes; she had tasted, in the ostracism of her ambiguous parent, of the acrid fruit of the tree of knowledge. She not only had an approximate vision of what every one had done, but she had a private judgment for each case. She had a particular vision of her father, which did not interfere with his being dear to her, but which was directly concerned in her resolution, after his death, to do the special thing he had expressed the wish she should not do. In the general estimate her grandmother and her grandmother’s money had their place, and the strong probability that any enjoyment of the latter commodity would now be withheld from her. It included Edith’s marked inclination to receive the law, and doubtless eventually a more substantial memento, from Miss Tramore, and opened the question whether her own course might not contribute to make her sister’s appear heartless. The answer to this question however would depend on the success that might attend her own, which would very possibly be small. Eric’s attitude was eminently simple; he didn’t care to know people who didn’t know his people. If his mother should ever get back into society perhaps he would take her up. Rose Tramore had decided to do what she could to bring this consummation about; and strangely enough—so mixed were her superstitions and her heresies—a large part of her motive lay in the value she attached to such a consecration.
Of her mother intrinsically she thought very little now, and if her eyes were fixed on a special achievement it was much more for the sake of that achievement and to satisfy a latent energy that was in her than because her heart was wrung by this sufferer. Her heart had not been wrung at all, though she had quite held it out for the experience. Her purpose was a pious game, but it was still essentially a game. Among the ideas I have mentioned she had her idea of triumph. She had caught the inevitable note, the pitch, on her very first visit to Chester Square. She had arrived there in intense excitement, and her excitement was left on her hands in a manner that reminded her of a difficult air she had once heard sung at the opera when no one applauded the performer. That flatness had made her sick, and so did this, in another way. A part of her agitation proceeded from the fact that her aunt Julia had told her, in the manner of a burst of confidence, something she was not to repeat, that she was in appearance the very image of the lady in Chester Square. The motive that prompted this declaration was between aunt Julia and her conscience; but it was a great emotion to the girl to find her entertainer so beautiful. She was tall and exquisitely slim; she had hair more exactly to Rose Tramore’s taste than any other she had ever seen, even to every detail in the way it was dressed, and a complexion and a figure of the kind that are always spoken of as “lovely.” Her eyes were irresistible, and so were her clothes, though the clothes were perhaps a little more precisely the right thing than the eyes. Her appearance was marked to her daughter’s sense by the highest distinction; though it may be mentioned that this had never been the opinion of all the world. It was a revelation to Rose that she herself might look a little like that. She knew however that aunt Julia had not seen her deposed sister-in-law for a long time, and she had a general impression that Mrs. Tramore was to-day a more complete production—for instance as regarded her air of youth—than she had ever been. There was no excitement on her side—that was all her visitor’s; there was no emotion—that was excluded by the plan, to say nothing of conditions more primal. Rose had from the first a glimpse of her mother’s plan. It was to mention nothing and imply nothing, neither to acknowledge, to explain nor to extenuate. She would leave everything to her child; with her child she was secure. She only wanted to get back into society; she would leave even that to her child, whom she treated not as a high-strung and heroic daughter, a creature of exaltation, of devotion, but as a new, charming, clever, useful friend, a little younger than herself. Already on that first day she had talked about dressmakers. Of course, poor thing, it was to be remembered that in her circumstances there were not many things she could talk about. “She wants to go out again; that’s the only thing in the wide world she wants,” Rose had promptly, compendiously said to herself. There had been a sequel to this observation, uttered, in intense engrossment, in her own room half an hour before she had, on the important evening, made known her decision to her grandmother: “Then I’ll take her out!”
“She’ll drag you down, she’ll drag you down!” Julia Tramore permitted herself to remark to her niece, the next day, in a tone of feverish prophecy.
As the girl’s own theory was that all the dragging there might be would be upward, and moreover administered by herself, she could look at her aunt with a cold and inscrutable eye.
“Very well, then, I shall be out of your sight, from the pinnacle you occupy, and I sha’n’t trouble you.”
“Do you reproach me for my disinterested exertions, for the way I’ve toiled over you, the way I’ve lived for you?” Miss Tramore demanded.
“Don’t reproach me for being kind to my mother and I won’t reproach you for anything.”
“She’ll keep you out of everything—she’ll make you miss everything,” Miss Tramore continued.
“Then she’ll make me miss a great deal that’s odious,” said the girl.
“You’re too young for such extravagances,” her aunt declared.
“And yet Edith, who is younger than I, seems to be too old for them: how do you arrange that? My mother’s society will make me older,” Rose replied.
“Don’t speak to me of your mother; you have no mother.”
“Then if I’m an orphan I must settle things for myself.”
“Do you justify her, do you approve of her?” cried Miss Tramore, who was inferior to her niece in capacity for retort and whose limitations made the girl appear pert.
Rose looked at her a moment in silence; then she said, turning away: “I think she’s charming.”
“And do you propose to become charming in the same manner?”
“Her manner is perfect; it would be an excellent model. But I can’t discuss my mother with you.”
“You’ll have to discuss her with some other people!” Miss Tramore proclaimed, going out of the room.
Rose wondered whether this were a general or a particular vaticination. There was something her aunt might have meant by it, but her aunt rarely meant the best thing she might have meant. Miss Tramore had come up from St. Leonard’s in response to a telegram from her own parent, for an occasion like the present brought with it, for a few hours, a certain relaxation of their dissent. “Do what you can to stop her,” the old lady had said; but her daughter found that the most she could do was not much. They both had a baffled sense that Rose had thought the question out a good deal further than they; and this was particularly irritating to Mrs. Tramore, as consciously the cleverer of the two. A question thought out as far as she could think it had always appeared to her to have performed its human uses; she had never encountered a ghost emerging from that extinction. Their great contention was that Rose would cut herself off; and certainly if she wasn’t afraid of that she wasn’t afraid of anything. Julia Tramore could only tell her mother how little the girl was afraid. She was already prepared to leave the house, taking with her the possessions, or her share of them, that had accumulated there during her father’s illness. There had been a going and coming of her maid, a thumping about of boxes, an ordering of four-wheelers; it appeared to old Mrs. Tramore that something of the objectionableness, the indecency, of her granddaughter’s prospective connection had already gathered about the place. It was a violation of the decorum of bereavement which was still fresh there, and from the indignant gloom of the mistress of the house you might have inferred not so much that the daughter was about to depart as that the mother was about to arrive. There had been no conversation on the dreadful subject at luncheon; for at luncheon at Mrs. Tramore’s (her son never came to it) there were always, even after funerals and other miseries, stray guests of both sexes whose policy it was to be cheerful and superficial. Rose had sat down as if nothing had happened—nothing worse, that is, than her father’s death; but no one had spoken of anything that any one else was thinking of.
Before she left the house a servant brought her a message from her grandmother—the old lady desired to see her in the drawing-room. She had on her bonnet, and she went down as if she were about to step into her cab. Mrs. Tramore sat there with her eternal knitting, from which she forebore even to raise her eyes as, after a silence that seemed to express the fulness of her reprobation, while Rose stood motionless, she began: “I wonder if you really understand what you’re doing.”
“I think so. I’m not so stupid.”
“I never thought you were; but I don’t know what to make of you now. You’re giving up everything.”
The girl was tempted to inquire whether her grandmother called herself “everything”; but she checked this question, answering instead that she knew she was giving up much.
“You’re taking a step of which you will feel the effect to the end of your days,” Mrs. Tramore went on.
“In a good conscience, I heartily hope,” said Rose.
“Your father’s conscience was good enough for his mother; it ought to be good enough for his daughter.”
Rose sat down—she could afford to—as if she wished to be very attentive and were still accessible to argument. But this demonstration only ushered in, after a moment, the surprising words “I don’t think papa had any conscience.”
“What in the name of all that’s unnatural do you mean?” Mrs. Tramore cried, over her glasses. “The dearest and best creature that ever lived!”
“He was kind, he had charming impulses, he was delightful. But he never reflected.”
Mrs. Tramore stared, as if at a language she had never heard, a farrago, a galimatias. Her life was made up of items, but she had never had to deal, intellectually, with a fine shade. Then while her needles, which had paused an instant, began to fly again, she rejoined: “Do you know what you are, my dear? You’re a dreadful little prig. Where do you pick up such talk?”
“Of course I don’t mean to judge between them,” Rose pursued. “I can only judge between my mother and myself. Papa couldn’t judge for me.” And with this she got up.
“One would think you were horrid. I never thought so before.”
“Thank you for that.”
“You’re embarking on a struggle with society,” continued Mrs. Tramore, indulging in an unusual flight of oratory. “Society will put you in your place.”
“Hasn’t it too many other things to do?” asked the girl.
This question had an ingenuity which led her grandmother to meet it with a merely provisional and somewhat sketchy answer. “Your ignorance would be melancholy if your behaviour were not so insane.”
“Oh, no; I know perfectly what she’ll do!” Rose replied, almost gaily. “She’ll drag me down.”
“She won’t even do that,” the old lady declared contradictiously. “She’ll keep you forever in the same dull hole.”
“I shall come and see you, granny, when I want something more lively.”
“You may come if you like, but you’ll come no further than the door. If you leave this house now you don’t enter it again.”
Rose hesitated a moment. “Do you really mean that?”
“You may judge whether I choose such a time to joke.”
“Good-bye, then,” said the girl.
Rose quitted the room successfully enough; but on the other side of the door, on the landing, she sank into a chair and buried her face in her hands. She had burst into tears, and she sobbed there for a moment, trying hard to recover herself, so as to go downstairs without showing any traces of emotion, passing before the servants and again perhaps before aunt Julia. Mrs. Tramore was too old to cry; she could only drop her knitting and, for a long time, sit with her head bowed and her eyes closed.
Rose had reckoned justly with her aunt Julia; there were no footmen, but this vigilant virgin was posted at the foot of the stairs. She offered no challenge however; she only said: “There’s some one in the parlour who wants to see you.” The girl demanded a name, but Miss Tramore only mouthed inaudibly and winked and waved. Rose instantly reflected that there was only one man in the world her aunt would look such deep things about. “Captain Jay?” her own eyes asked, while Miss Tramore’s were those of a conspirator: they were, for a moment, the only embarrassed eyes Rose had encountered that day. They contributed to make aunt Julia’s further response evasive, after her niece inquired if she had communicated in advance with this visitor. Miss Tramore merely said that he had been upstairs with her mother—hadn’t she mentioned it?—and had been waiting for her. She thought herself acute in not putting the question of the girl’s seeing him before her as a favour to him or to herself; she presented it as a duty, and wound up with the proposition: “It’s not fair to him, it’s not kind, not to let him speak to you before you go.”
“What does he want to say?” Rose demanded.
“Go in and find out.”
She really knew, for she had found out before; but after standing uncertain an instant she went in. “The parlour” was the name that had always been borne by a spacious sitting-room downstairs, an apartment occupied by her father during his frequent phases of residence in Hill Street—episodes increasingly frequent after his house in the country had, in consequence, as Rose perfectly knew, of his spending too much money, been disposed of at a sacrifice which he always characterised as horrid. He had been left with the place in Hertfordshire and his mother with the London house, on the general understanding that they would change about; but during the last years the community had grown more rigid, mainly at his mother’s expense. The parlour was full of his memory and his habits and his things—his books and pictures and bibelots, objects that belonged now to Eric. Rose had sat in it for hours since his death; it was the place in which she could still be nearest to him. But she felt far from him as Captain Jay rose erect on her opening the door. This was a very different presence. He had not liked Captain Jay. She herself had, but not enough to make a great complication of her father’s coldness. This afternoon however she foresaw complications. At the very outset for instance she was not pleased with his having arranged such a surprise for her with her grandmother and her aunt. It was probably aunt Julia who had sent for him; her grandmother wouldn’t have done it. It placed him immediately on their side, and Rose was almost as disappointed at this as if she had not known it was quite where he would naturally be. He had never paid her a special visit, but if that was what he wished to do why shouldn’t he have waited till she should be under her mother’s roof? She knew the reason, but she had an angry prospect of enjoyment in making him express it. She liked him enough, after all, if it were measured by the idea of what she could make him do.
In Bertram Jay the elements were surprisingly mingled; you would have gone astray, in reading him, if you had counted on finding the complements of some of his qualities. He would not however have struck you in the least as incomplete, for in every case in which you didn’t find the complement you would have found the contradiction. He was in the Royal Engineers, and was tall, lean and high-shouldered. He looked every inch a soldier, yet there were people who considered that he had missed his vocation in not becoming a parson. He took a public interest in the spiritual life of the army. Other persons still, on closer observation, would have felt that his most appropriate field was neither the army nor the church, but simply the world—the social, successful, worldly world. If he had a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other he had a Court Guide concealed somewhere about his person. His profile was hard and handsome, his eyes were both cold and kind, his dark straight hair was imperturbably smooth and prematurely streaked with grey. There was nothing in existence that he didn’t take seriously. He had a first-rate power of work and an ambition as minutely organised as a German plan of invasion. His only real recreation was to go to church, but he went to parties when he had time. If he was in love with Rose Tramore this was distracting to him only in the same sense as his religion, and it was included in that department of his extremely sub-divided life. His religion indeed was of an encroaching, annexing sort. Seen from in front he looked diffident and blank, but he was capable of exposing himself in a way (to speak only of the paths of peace) wholly inconsistent with shyness. He had a passion for instance for open-air speaking, but was not thought on the whole to excel in it unless he could help himself out with a hymn. In conversation he kept his eyes on you with a kind of colourless candour, as if he had not understood what you were saying and, in a fashion that made many people turn red, waited before answering. This was only because he was considering their remarks in more relations than they had intended. He had in his face no expression whatever save the one just mentioned, and was, in his profession, already very distinguished.
He had seen Rose Tramore for the first time on a Sunday of the previous March, at a house in the country at which she was staying with her father, and five weeks later he had made her, by letter, an offer of marriage. She showed her father the letter of course, and he told her that it would give him great pleasure that she should send Captain Jay about his business. “My dear child,” he said, “we must really have some one who will be better fun than that.” Rose had declined the honour, very considerately and kindly, but not simply because her father wished it. She didn’t herself wish to detach this flower from the stem, though when the young man wrote again, to express the hope that he might hope—so long was he willing to wait—and ask if he might not still sometimes see her, she answered even more indulgently than at first. She had shown her father her former letter, but she didn’t show him this one; she only told him what it contained, submitting to him also that of her correspondent. Captain Jay moreover wrote to Mr. Tramore, who replied sociably, but so vaguely that he almost neglected the subject under discussion—a communication that made poor Bertram ponder long. He could never get to the bottom of the superficial, and all the proprieties and conventions of life were profound to him. Fortunately for him old Mrs. Tramore liked him, he was satisfactory to her long-sightedness; so that a relation was established under cover of which he still occasionally presented himself in Hill Street—presented himself nominally to the mistress of the house. He had had scruples about the veracity of his visits, but he had disposed of them; he had scruples about so many things that he had had to invent a general way, to dig a central drain. Julia Tramore happened to meet him when she came up to town, and she took a view of him more benevolent than her usual estimate of people encouraged by her mother. The fear of agreeing with that lady was a motive, but there was a stronger one, in this particular case, in the fear of agreeing with her niece, who had rejected him. His situation might be held to have improved when Mr. Tramore was taken so gravely ill that with regard to his recovery those about him left their eyes to speak for their lips; and in the light of the poor gentleman’s recent death it was doubtless better than it had ever been.
He was only a quarter of an hour with the girl, but this gave him time to take the measure of it. After he had spoken to her about her bereavement, very much as an especially mild missionary might have spoken to a beautiful Polynesian, he let her know that he had learned from her companions the very strong step she was about to take. This led to their spending together ten minutes which, to her mind, threw more light on his character than anything that had ever passed between them. She had always felt with him as if she were standing on an edge, looking down into something decidedly deep. To-day the impression of the perpendicular shaft was there, but it was rather an abyss of confusion and disorder than the large bright space in which she had figured everything as ranged and pigeon-holed, presenting the appearance of the labelled shelves and drawers at a chemist’s. He discussed without an invitation to discuss, he appealed without a right to appeal. He was nothing but a suitor tolerated after dismissal, but he took strangely for granted a participation in her affairs. He assumed all sorts of things that made her draw back. He implied that there was everything now to assist them in arriving at an agreement, since she had never informed him that he was positively objectionable; but that this symmetry would be spoiled if she should not be willing to take a little longer to think of certain consequences. She was greatly disconcerted when she saw what consequences he meant and at his reminding her of them. What on earth was the use of a lover if he was to speak only like one’s grandmother and one’s aunt? He struck her as much in love with her and as particularly careful at the same time as to what he might say. He never mentioned her mother; he only alluded, indirectly but earnestly, to the “step.” He disapproved of it altogether, took an unexpectedly prudent, politic view of it. He evidently also believed that she would be dragged down; in other words that she would not be asked out. It was his idea that her mother would contaminate her, so that he should find himself interested in a young person discredited and virtually unmarriageable. All this was more obvious to him than the consideration that a daughter should be merciful. Where was his religion if he understood mercy so little, and where were his talent and his courage if he were so miserably afraid of trumpery social penalties? Rose’s heart sank when she reflected that a man supposed to be first-rate hadn’t guessed that rather than not do what she could for her mother she would give up all the Engineers in the world. She became aware that she probably would have been moved to place her hand in his on the spot if he had come to her saying “Your idea is the right one; put it through at every cost.” She couldn’t discuss this with him, though he impressed her as having too much at stake for her to treat him with mere disdain. She sickened at the revelation that a gentleman could see so much in mere vulgarities of opinion, and though she uttered as few words as possible, conversing only in sad smiles and headshakes and in intercepted movements toward the door, she happened, in some unguarded lapse from her reticence, to use the expression that she was disappointed in him. He caught at it and, seeming to drop his field-glass, pressed upon her with nearer, tenderer eyes.
“Can I be so happy as to believe, then, that you had thought of me with some confidence, with some faith?”
“If you didn’t suppose so, what is the sense of this visit?” Rose asked.
“One can be faithful without reciprocity,” said the young man. “I regard you in a light which makes me want to protect you even if I have nothing to gain by it.”
“Yet you speak as if you thought you might keep me for yourself.”
“For yourself. I don’t want you to suffer.”
“Nor to suffer yourself by my doing so,” said Rose, looking down.
“Ah, if you would only marry me next month!” he broke out inconsequently.
“And give up going to mamma?” Rose waited to see if he would say “What need that matter? Can’t your mother come to us?” But he said nothing of the sort; he only answered—
“She surely would be sorry to interfere with the exercise of any other affection which I might have the bliss of believing that you are now free, in however small a degree, to entertain.”
Rose knew that her mother wouldn’t be sorry at all; but she contented herself with rejoining, her hand on the door: “Good-bye. I sha’n’t suffer. I’m not afraid.”
“You don’t know how terrible, how cruel, the world can be.”
“Yes, I do know. I know everything!”
The declaration sprang from her lips in a tone which made him look at her as he had never looked before, as if he saw something new in her face, as if he had never yet known her. He hadn’t displeased her so much but that she would like to give him that impression, and since she felt that she was doing so she lingered an instant for the purpose. It enabled her to see, further, that he turned red; then to become aware that a carriage had stopped at the door. Captain Jay’s eyes, from where he stood, fell upon this arrival, and the nature of their glance made Rose step forward to look. Her mother sat there, brilliant, conspicuous, in the eternal victoria, and the footman was already sounding the knocker. It had been no part of the arrangement that she should come to fetch her; it had been out of the question—a stroke in such bad taste as would have put Rose in the wrong. The girl had never dreamed of it, but somehow, suddenly, perversely, she was glad of it now; she even hoped that her grandmother and her aunt were looking out upstairs.
“My mother has come for me. Good-bye,” she repeated; but this time her visitor had got between her and the door.
“Listen to me before you go. I will give you a life’s devotion,” the young man pleaded. He really barred the way.
She wondered whether her grandmother had told him that if her flight were not prevented she would forfeit money. Then, vividly, it came over her that this would be what he was occupied with. “I shall never think of you—let me go!” she cried, with passion.
Captain Jay opened the door, but Rose didn’t see his face, and in a moment she was out of the house. Aunt Julia, who was sure to have been hovering, had taken flight before the profanity of the knock.
“Heavens, dear, where did you get your mourning?” the lady in the victoria asked of her daughter as they drove away.
Gracias por leer!
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