Richard Reynolds and Justus Miles Forman
"Faire naitre un désir, le nourrir, le développer, le grandir, le satisfaire, c'est un poeme tout entier."
Richard Reynolds and Justus Miles Forman
"Faire naitre un désir, le nourrir, le développer, le grandir, le satisfaire, c'est un poeme tout entier."
"No. The chemises aren't cut out. I haven't had time. There are enough shirts to go on with, aren't there, Mrs. James?" said Betty.
"We can make do for this afternoon, Miss, but the men they're getting blowed out with shirts. It's the children's shifts as we can't make shift without much longer." Mrs. James, habitually doleful, punctuated her speech with sniffs.
"That's a joke, Mrs. James," said Betty. "How clever you are!"
"I try to be what's fitting," said Mrs. James, complacently.
"Talk of fitting," said Betty, "If you like I'll fit on that black bodice for you, Mrs. Symes. If the other ladies don't mind waiting for the reading a little bit."
"I'd as lief talk as read, myself," said a red-faced sandy-haired woman; "books ain't what they was in my young days."
"If it's the same to you, Miss," said Mrs. Symes in a thick rich voice, "I'll not be tried on afore a room full. If we are poor we can all be clean's what I say, and I keeps my unders as I keeps my outside. But not before persons as has real imitation lace on their petticoat bodies. I see them when I was a-nursing her with her fourth. No, Miss, and thanking you kindly, but begging your pardon all the same."
"Don't mention it," said Betty absently. "Oh, Mrs. Smith, you can't have lost your thimble already. Why what's that you've got in your mouth?"
"So it is!" Mrs. Smith's face beamed at the gratifying coincidence. "It always was my habit, from a child, to put things there for safety."
"These cheap thimbles ain't fit to put in your mouth, no more than coppers," said Mrs. James, her mouth full of pins.
"Oh, nothing hurts you if you like it," said Betty recklessly. She had been reading the works of Mr. G.K. Chesterton.
A shocked murmur arose.
"Oh, Miss, what about the publy kows?" said Mrs. Symes heavily. The others nodded acquiescence.
"Don't you think we might have a window open?" said Betty. The May sunshine beat on the schoolroom windows. The room, crowded with the stout members of the "Mother's Meeting and Mutual Clothing Club," was stuffy, unbearable.
A murmur arose far more shocked than the first.
"I was just a-goin' to say why not close the door, that being what doors is made for, after all," said Mrs. Symes. "I feel a sort of draught a-creeping up my legs as it is."
The door was shut.
"You can't be too careful," said the red-faced woman; "we never know what a chill mayn't bring forth. My cousin's sister-in-law, she had twins, and her aunt come in and says she, 'You're a bit stuffy here, ain't you?' and with that she opens the window a crack,—not meaning no harm, Miss,—as it might be you. And within a year that poor unfortunate woman she popped off, when least expected. Gas ulsters, the doctor said. Which it's what you call chills, if you're a doctor and can't speak plain."
"My poor grandmother come to her end the same way," said Mrs. Smith, "only with her it was the Bible reader as didn't shut the door through being so set on shewing off her reading. And my granny, a clot of blood went to her brain, and her brain went to her head and she was a corpse inside of fifty minutes."
Every woman in the room was waiting, feverishly alert, for the pause that should allow her to begin her own detailed narrative of disease.
Mrs. James was easily first in the competition.
"Them quick deaths," she said, "is sometimes a blessing in disguise to both parties concerned. My poor husband—years upon years he lingered, and he had a bad leg—talk of bad legs, I wish you could all have seen it," she added generously.
"Was it the kind that keeps all on a-breaking out?" asked Mrs. Symes hastily, "because my youngest brother had a leg that nothing couldn't stop. Break out it would do what they might. I'm sure the bandages I've took off him in a morning—"
Betty clapped her hands.
It was the signal that the reading was going to begin, and the matrons looked at her resentfully. What call had people to start reading when the talk was flowing so free and pleasant?
Betty, rather pale, began: "This is a story about a little boy called Wee Willie Winkie."
"I call that a silly sort of name," whispered Mrs. Smith.
"Did he make a good end, Miss?" asked Mrs. James plaintively.
"You'll see," said Betty.
"I like it best when they dies forgiving of everybody and singing hymns to the last."
"And when they says, 'Mother, I shall meet you 'ereafter in the better land'—that's what makes you cry so pleasant."
"Do you want me to read or not?" asked Betty in desperation.
"Yes, Miss, yes," hummed the voices heavy and shrill.
"It's her hobby, poor young thing," whispered Mrs. Smith, "we all 'as 'em. My own is a light cake to my tea, and always was. Ush."
When the mothers had wordily gone, she threw open the windows, propped the door wide with a chair, and went to tea. She had it alone.
"Your Pa's out a-parishing," said Letitia, bumping down the tray in front of her.
"That's a let-off anyhow," said Betty to herself, and she propped up a Stevenson against the tea-pot.
After tea parishioners strolled up by ones and twos and threes to change their books at the Vicarage lending library. The books were covered with black calico, and smelt of rooms whose windows were never opened.
When she had washed the smell of the books off, she did her hair very carefully in a new way that seemed becoming, and went down to supper.
Her step-father only spoke once during the meal; he was luxuriating in the thought of the Summa Theologiae of Aquinas in leather still brown and beautiful, which he had providentially discovered in the wash-house of an ailing Parishioner. When he did speak he said:
"How extremely untidy your hair is, Lizzie. I wish you would take more pains with your appearance."
When he had withdrawn to his books she covered three new volumes for the library: the black came off on her hands, but anyway it was clean dirt.
She went to bed early.
"And that's my life," she said as she blew out the candle.
Said Mrs. James to Mrs. Symes over the last and strongest cup of tea:
"Miss Betty's ailing a bit, I fancy. Looked a bit peaky, it seemed to me. I shouldn't wonder if she was to go off in a decline like her father did."
"It wasn't no decline," said Mrs. Symes, dropping her thick voice, "'e was cut off in the midst of his wicked courses. A judgment if ever there was one."
Betty's blameless father had been killed in the hunting field.
"I daresay she takes after him, only being a female it all turns to her being pernickety in her food and allus wanting the windows open. And mark my words, it may turn into a decline yet, Mrs. Symes, my dear."
Mrs. Symes laughed fatly. "That ain't no decline," she said, "you take it from me. What Miss Betty wants is a young man. It is but nature after all, and what we must all come to, gentle or simple. Give her a young man to walk out with and you'll see the difference. Decline indeed! A young man's what she wants. And if I know anything of gells and their ways she'll get one, no matter how close the old chap keeps her."
Mrs. Symes was not so wrong as the delicate minded may suppose.
Betty did indeed desire to fall in love. In all the story books the main interest of the heroine's career began with that event. Not that she voiced the desire to herself. Only once she voiced it in her prayers.
"Oh, God," she said, "do please let something happen!"
That was all. A girl had her little reticences, even with herself, even with her Creator.
Next morning she planned to go sketching; but no, there were three more detestable books to be put into nasty little black cotton coats, the drawing-room to be dusted—all the hateful china—the peas to be shelled for dinner.
She shelled the peas in the garden. It was a beautiful green garden, and lovers could have walked very happily down the lilac-bordered paths.
"Oh, how sick I am of it all!" said Betty. She would not say, even to herself, that what she hated was the frame without the picture.
As she carried in the peas she passed the open window of the study where, among shelves of dull books and dusty pamphlets, her step-father had as usual forgotten his sermon in a chain of references to the Fathers. Betty saw his thin white hairs, his hard narrow face and tight mouth, the hands yellow and claw-like that gripped the thin vellum folio.
"I suppose even he was young once," she said, "but I'm sure he doesn't remember it."
He saw her go by, young and alert in the sunshine, and the May air stirred the curtains. He looked vaguely about him, unlocked a drawer in his writing-table, and took out a leather case. He gazed long at the face within, a young bright face with long ringlets above the formal bodice and sloping shoulders of the sixties.
"Well, well," he said, "well, well," locked it away, and went back to De Poenis Parvulorum.
"I will go out," said Betty, as she parted with the peas. "I don't care!"
It was not worth while to change one's frock. Even when one was properly dressed, at rare local garden-party or flower-show, one never met anyone that mattered.
She fetched her sketching things. At eighteen one does so pathetically try to feed the burgeoning life with the husks of polite accomplishment. She insisted on withholding from the clutches of the Parish the time to practise Beethoven and Sullivan for an hour daily. Daily, for half an hour, she read an improving book. Just now it was The French Revolution, and Betty thought it would last till she was sixty. She tried to read French and German—Télémaque and Maria Stuart. She fully intended to become all that a cultured young woman should be. But self-improvement is a dull game when there is no one to applaud your score.
What the gardener called the gravel path was black earth, moss-grown. Very pretty, but Betty thought it shabby.
It was soft and cool, though, to the feet, and the dust of the white road sparkled like diamond dust in the sunlight.
She crossed the road and passed through the swing gate into the park, where the grass was up for hay, with red sorrel and buttercups and tall daisies and feathery flowered grasses, their colours all tangled and blended together like ravelled ends of silk on the wrong side of some great square of tapestry. Here and there in the wide sweep of tall growing things stood a tree—a may-tree shining like silver, a laburnum like fine gold. There were horse-chestnuts whose spires of blossom shewed like fat candles on a Christmas tree for giant children. And the sun was warm and the tree shadows black on the grass.
Betty told herself that she hated it all. She took the narrow path—the grasses met above her feet—crossed the park, and reached the rabbit warren, where the chalk breaks through the thin dry turf, and the wild thyme grows thick.
A may bush, overhanging a little precipice of chalk, caught her eye. A wild rose was tangled round it. It was, without doubt, the most difficult composition within sight.
"I will sketch that," said Eighteen, confidently.
For half an hour she busily blotted and washed and niggled. Then she became aware that she no longer had the rabbit warren to herself.
"And he's an artist, too!" said Betty. "How awfully interesting! I wish I could see his face."
But this his slouched Panama forbade. He was in white, the sleeve and breast of his painting jacket smeared with many colours; he had a camp-stool and an easel and looked, she could not help feeling, much more like a real artist than she did, hunched up as she was on a little mound of turf, in her shabby pink gown and that hateful garden hat with last year's dusty flattened roses in it.
She went on sketching with feverish unskilled fingers, and a pulse that had actually quickened its beat.
She cast little glances at him as often as she dared. He was certainly a real artist. She could tell that by the very way he held his palette. Was he staying with people about there? Should she meet him? Would they ever be introduced to each other?
"Oh, what a pity," said Betty from the heart, "that we aren't introduced now!"
Her sketch grew worse and worse.
"It's no good," she said. "I can't do anything with it."
She glanced at him. He had pushed back the hat. She saw quite plainly that he was smiling—a very little, but he was smiling. Also he was looking at her, and across the fifteen yards of gray turf their eyes met. And she knew that he knew that this was not her first glance at him.
She paled with fury.
"He has been watching me all the time! He is making fun of me. He knows I can't sketch. Of course he can see it by the silly way I hold everything." She ran her knife around her sketch, detached it, and tore it across and across.
The stranger raised his hat and called eagerly.
"I say—please don't move for a minute. Do you mind? I've just got your pink gown. It's coming beautifully. Between brother artists—Do, please! Do sit still and go on sketching—Ah, do!"
Betty's attitude petrified instantly. She held a brush in her hand, and she looked down at her block. But she did not go on sketching. She sat rigid and three delicious words rang in her ears: "Between brother artists!" How very nice of him! He hadn't been making fun, after all. But wasn't it rather impertinent of him to put her in his picture without asking her? Well, it wasn't she but her pink gown he wanted. And "between brother artists!" Betty drew a long breath.
"It's no use," he called; "don't bother any more. The pose is gone."
She rose to her feet and he came towards her.
"Let me see the sketch," he said. "Why did you tear it up?" He fitted the pieces together. "Why, it's quite good. You ought to study in Paris," he added idly.
She took the torn papers from his hand with a bow, and turned to go.
"Don't go," he said. "You're not going? Don't you want to look at my picture?"
Now Betty knew as well as you do that you musn't speak to people unless you've been introduced to them. But the phrase "brother artists" had played ninepins with her little conventions.
"Thank you. I should like to very much," said Betty. "I don't care," she said to herself, "and besides, it's not as if he were a young man, or a tourist, or anything. He must be ever so old—thirty; I shouldn't wonder if he was thirty-five."
When she saw the picture she merely said, "Oh," and stood at gaze. For it was a picture—a picture that, seen in foreign lands, might well make one sick with longing for the dry turf and the pale dog violets that love the chalk, for the hum of the bees and the scent of the thyme. He had chosen the bold sweep of the brown upland against the sky, and low to the left, where the line broke, the dim violet of the Kentish hills. In the green foreground the pink figure, just roughly blocked in, was blocked in by a hand that knew its trade, and was artist to the tips of its fingers.
"Oh!" said Betty again.
"Yes," said he, "I think I've got it this time. I think it'll make a hole in the wall, eh? Yes; it is good!"
"Yes," said Betty; "oh, yes."
"Do you often go a-sketching?" he asked.
"How modest he is," thought Betty; "he changes the subject so as not to seem to want to be praised."
Aloud she answered with shy fluttered earnestness: "Yes—no. I don't know. Sometimes."
His lips were grave, but there was the light behind his eyes that goes with a smile.
"What unnecessary agitation!" he was thinking. "Poor little thing, I suppose she's never seen a man before. Oh, these country girls!" Aloud he was saying: "This is such a perfect country. You ought to sketch every day."
"I've no one to teach me," said Betty, innocently phrasing a long-felt want.
The man raised his eyebrows. "Well, after that, here goes!" he said to himself. "I wish you'd let me teach you," he said to her, beginning to put his traps together.
"Oh, I didn't mean that," said Betty in real distress. What would he think of her? How greedy and grasping she must seem! "I didn't mean that at all!"
"No; but I do," he said.
"But you're a great artist," said Betty, watching him with clasped hands. "I suppose it would be—I mean—don't you know, we're not rich, and I suppose your lessons are worth pounds and pounds."
"I don't give lessons for money," his lips tightened—"only for love."
"That means nothing, doesn't it?" she said, and flushed to find herself on the defensive feebly against—nothing.
"At tennis, yes," he said, and to himself he added: "Vieux jeu, my dear, but you did it very prettily."
"But I couldn't let you give me lessons for nothing."
"Why not?" he asked. And his calmness made Betty feel ashamed and sordid.
"I don't know," she answered tremulously, but I don't think my step-father would want me to."
"You think it would annoy him?"
"I'm sure it would, if he knew about it."
Betty was thinking how little her step-father had ever cared to know of her and her interests. But the man caught the ball as he saw it.
"Then why let him know?" was the next move; and it seemed to him that Betty's move of rejoinder came with a readiness born of some practice at the game.
"Oh," she said innocently, "I never thought of that! But wouldn't it be wrong?"
"She's got the whole thing stereotyped. But it's dainty type anyhow," he thought. "Of course it wouldn't be wrong," he said. "It wouldn't hurt him. Don't you know that nothing's wrong unless it hurts somebody?"
"Yes," she said eagerly, "that's what I think. But all the same it doesn't seem fair that you should take all that trouble for me and get nothing in return."
"Well played! We're getting on!" he thought, and added aloud: "But perhaps I shan't get nothing in return?"
Her eyes dropped over the wonderful thought that perhaps she might do something for him. But what? She looked straight at him, and the innocent appeal sent a tiny thorn of doubt through his armour of complacency. Was she—after all? No, no novice could play the game so well. And yet—
"I would do anything I could, you know," she said eagerly, "because it is so awfully kind of you, and I do so want to be able to paint. What can I do?"
"What can you do?" he asked, and brought his face a little nearer to the pretty flushed freckled face under the shabby hat. Her eyes met his. He felt a quick relenting, and drew back.
"Well, for one thing you could let me paint your portrait."
Betty was silent.
"Come, play up, you little duffer," he urged inwardly.
When she spoke her voice trembled.
"I don't know how to thank you," she said.
"And you will?"
"Oh, I will; indeed I will!"
"How good and sweet you are," he said. Then there was a silence.
Betty tightened the strap of her sketching things and said:
"I think I ought to go home now."
He had the appropriate counter ready.
"Ah, don't go yet!" he said; "let us sit down; see, that bank is quite in the shade now, and tell me—"
"Tell you what?" she asked, for he had made the artistic pause.
"Oh, anything—anything about yourself."
Betty was as incapable of flight as any bird on a limed twig.
She walked beside him to the bank, and sat down at his bidding, and he lay at her feet, looking up into her eyes. He asked idle questions: she answered them with a conscientious tremulous truthfulness that showed to him as the most finished art. And it seemed to him a very fortunate accident that he should have found here, in this unlikely spot, so accomplished a player at his favorite game. Yet it was the variety of his game for which he cared least. He did not greatly relish a skilled adversary. Betty told him nervously and in words ill-chosen everything that he asked to know, but all the while the undercurrent of questions rang strong within her—"When is he to teach me? Where? How?"—so that when at last there was left but the bare fifteen minutes needed to get one home in time for the midday dinner she said abruptly:
"And when shall I see you again?"
"You take the words out of my mouth," said he. And indeed she had. "She has no finesse yet," he told himself. "She might have left that move to me."
"The lessons, you know," said Betty, "and, and the picture, if you really do want to do it."
"If I want to do it!—You know I want to do it. Yes. It's like the nursery game. How, when and where? Well, as to the how—I can paint and you can learn. The where—there's a circle of pines in the wood here. You know it? A sort of giant fairy ring?"
She did know it.
"Now for the when—and that's the most important. I should like to paint you in the early morning when the day is young and innocent and beautiful—like—like—" He was careful to break off in a most natural seeming embarrassment. "That's a bit thick, but she'll swallow it all right. Gone down? Right!" he told himself.
"I could come out at six if you liked, or—or five," said Betty, humbly anxious to do her part.
He was almost shocked. "My good child," he told her silently, "someone really ought to teach you not to do all the running. You don't give a man a chance."
"Then will you meet me here to-morrow at six?" he said. "You won't disappoint me, will you?" he added tenderly.
"No," said downright Betty, "I'll be sure to come. But not to-morrow," she added with undisguised regret; "to-morrow's Sunday."
"Monday then," said he, "and good-bye."
"Good-bye, and—oh, I don't know how to thank you!"
"I'm very much mistaken if you don't," he said as he stood bareheaded, watching the pink gown out of sight.
"Well, adventures to the adventurous! A clergyman's daughter, too! I might have known it."
Betty had to run all the way home, and then she was late for dinner. Her step-father's dry face and dusty clothes, the solid comfort of the mahogany furnished dining room, the warm wet scent of mutton,—these seemed needed to wake her from what was, when she had awakened, a dream—the open sky, the sweet air of the May fields and Him. Already the stranger was Him to Betty. But, then, she did not know his name.
She slipped into her place at the foot of the long white dining table, a table built to serve a dozen guests, and where no guests ever sat, save rarely a curate or two, and more rarely even, an aunt.
"You are late again, Lizzie," said her step-father.
"Yes, Father," said she, trying to hide her hands and the fact that she had not had time to wash them. A long streak of burnt sienna marked one finger, and her nails had little slices of various colours in them. Her paint-box was always hard to open.
Usually Mr. Underwood saw nothing. But when he saw anything he saw everything. His eye was caught by the green smudge on her pink sleeve.
"I wish you would contrive to keep yourself clean, or else wear a pinafore," he said.
Betty flushed scarlet.
"I'm very sorry," she said, "but it's only water colour. It will wash out."
"You are nearly twenty, are you not?" the Vicar inquired with the dry smile that always infuriated his step-daughter. How was she to know that it was the only smile he knew, and that smiles of any sort had long grown difficult to him?
"Eighteen," she said.
"It is almost time you began to think about being a lady."
This was badinage. No failures had taught the Reverend Cecil that his step-daughter had an ideal of him in which badinage had no place. She merely supposed that he wished to be disagreeable.
She kept a mutinous silence. The old man sighed. It is one's duty to correct the faults of one's child, but it is not pleasant. The Reverend Cecil had not the habit of shirking any duty because he happened to dislike it.
The mutton was taken away.
Betty, her whole being transfigured by the emotions of the morning, stirred the stewed rhubarb on her plate. She felt rising in her a sort of wild forlorn courage. Why shouldn't she speak out? Her step-father couldn't hate her more than he did, whatever she said. He might even be glad to be rid of her. She spoke suddenly and rather loudly before she knew that she had meant to speak at all.
"Father," she said, "I wish you'd let me go to Paris and study art. Not now," she hurriedly explained with a sudden vision of being taken at her word and packed off to France before six o'clock on Monday morning, "not now, but later. In the autumn perhaps. I would work very hard. I wish you'd let me."
He put on his spectacles and looked at her with wistful kindness. She read in his glance only a frozen contempt.
"No, my child," he said. Paris is a sink of iniquity. I passed a week there once, many years ago. It was at the time of the Great Exhibition. You are growing discontented, Lizzie. Work is the cure for that. Mrs. Symes tells me that the chemises for the Mother's sewing meetings are not cut out yet."
"I'll cut them out to-day. They haven't finished the shirts yet, anyway," said Betty; "but I do wish you'd just think about Paris, or even London."
"You can have lessons at home if you like. I believe there are excellent drawing-mistresses in Sevenoaks. Mrs. Symes was recommending one of them to me only the other day. With certificates from the High School I seem to remember her saying."
"But that's not what I want," said Betty with a courage that surprised her as much as it surprised him. "Don't you see, Father? One gets older every day, and presently I shall be quite old, and I shan't have been anywhere or seen anything."
He thought he laughed indulgently at the folly of youth. She thought his laugh the most contemptuous, the cruelest sound in the world. "He doesn't deserve that I should tell him about Him," she thought, "and I won't. I don't care!"
"No, no," he said, "no, no, no. The home is the place for girls. The safe quiet shelter of the home. Perhaps some day your husband will take you abroad for a fortnight now and then. If you manage to get a husband, that is."
He had seen, through his spectacles, her flushed prettiness, and old as he was he remembered well enough how a face like hers would seem to a young man's eyes. Of course she would get a husband? So he spoke in kindly irony. And she hated him for a wanton insult.
"Try to do your duty in that state of life to which you are called," he went on: "occupy yourself with music and books and the details of housekeeping. No, don't have my study turned out," he added in haste, remembering how his advice about household details had been followed when last he gave it. "Don't be a discontented child. Go and cut out the nice little chemises." This seemed to him almost a touch of kindly humour, and he went back to Augustine, pleased with himself.
Betty set her teeth and went, black rage in her heart, to cut out the hateful little chemises.
She dragged the great roll of evil smelling grayish unbleached calico from the schoolroom cupboard and heaved it on to the table. It was very heavy. The scissors were blunt and left deep red-blue indentations on finger and thumb. She was rather pleased that the scissors hurt so much.
"Father doesn't care a single bit, he hates me," she said, "and I hate him. Oh, I do."
She would not think of the morning. Not now, with this fire of impotent resentment burning in her, would she take out those memories and look at them. Those were not thoughts to be dragged through the litter of unbleached cotton cuttings. She worked on doggedly, completed the tale of hot heavy little garments, gathered up the pieces into the waste-paper basket and put away the roll.
Not till the paint had been washed from her hands, and the crumbled print dress exchanged for a quite respectable muslin did she consciously allow the morning's memories to come out and meet her eyes. Then she went down to the arbour where she had shelled peas only that morning.
"It seems years and years ago," she said. And sitting there, she slowly and carefully went over everything. What he had said, what she had said. There were some things she could not quite remember. But she remembered enough. "Brother artists" were the words she said oftenest to herself, but the words that sank themselves were, "young and innocent and beautiful like—like—"
"But he couldn't have meant me, of course," she told herself.
And on Monday she would see him again,—and he would give her a lesson!
Sunday was incredibly wearisome. Her Sunday-school class had never been so tiresome nor so soaked in hair-oil. In church she was shocked to find herself watching, from her pew in the chancel, the entry of late comers—of whom He was not one. No afternoon had ever been half so long. She wrote up her diary. Thursday and Friday were quickly chronicled. At "Saturday" she paused long, pen in hand, and then wrote very quickly: "I went out sketching and met a gentleman, an artist. He was very kind and is going to teach me to paint and he is going to paint my portrait. I do not like him particularly. He is rather old, and not really good-looking. I shall not tell father, because he is simply hateful to me. I am going to meet this artist at 6 to-morrow. It will be dreadful having to get up so early. I almost wish I hadn't said I would go. It will be such a bother."
Then she hid the diary in a drawer, under her confirmation dress and veil, and locked the drawer carefully.
He was not at church in the evening either. He had thought of it, but decided that it was too much trouble to get into decent clothes.
"I shall see her soon enough," he thought, "curse my impulsive generosity! Six o'clock, forsooth, and all to please a clergyman's daughter."
She came back from church with tired steps.
"I do hope I'm not going to be ill," she said. "I feel so odd, just as if I hadn't had anything to eat for days,—and yet I'm not a bit hungry either. I daresay I shan't wake up in time to get there by six."
She was awake before five.
She woke with a flutter of the heart. What was it? Had anything happened? Was anyone ill? Then she recognized that she was not unhappy. And she felt more than ever as though it were days since she had had anything to eat.
"Oh, dear," said Betty, jumping out of bed. "I'm going out, to meet Him, and have a drawing-lesson!"
She dressed quickly. It was too soon to start. Not for anything must she be first at the rendezvous, even though it were only for a drawing-lesson. That "only" pulled her up sharply.
When she was dressed she dug out the diary and wrote:
"This is terrible. Is it possible that I have fallen in love with him? I don't know. 'Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?' It is a most frightful tragedy to happen to one, and at my age too. What a long life of loneliness stretches in front of me! For of course he could never care for me. And if this is love—well, it will be once and forever with me, I know.
"That's my nature, I'm afraid. But I'm not,—I can't be. But I never felt so unlike myself. I feel a sort of calm exultation, as if something very wonderful was very near me. Dear Diary, what a comfort it is to have you to tell everything to!"
It seemed to her that she must certainly be late. She had to creep down the front stairs so very slowly and softly in order that she might not awaken her step-father. She had so carefully and silently to unfasten a window and creep out, to close the window again, without noise, lest the maids should hear and come running to see why their young mistress was out of her bed at that hour. She had to go on tiptoe through the shrubbery and out through the church yard. One could climb its wall, and get into the Park that way, so as not to meet labourers on the road who would stare to see her alone so early and perhaps follow her.
Once in the park she was safe. Her shoes and her skirts were wet with dew. She made haste. She did not want to keep him waiting.
But she was first at the rendezvous, after all.
She sat down on the carpet of pine needles. How pretty the early morning was. The sunlight was quite different from the evening sunlight, so much lighter and brighter. And the shadows were different. She tried to settle on a point of view for her sketch, the sketch he was to help her with.
Her thoughts went back to what she had written in her diary. If that should be true she must be very, very careful. He must never guess it, never. She would be very cold and distant and polite. Not hail-fellow well-met with a "brother artist," like she had been yesterday. It was all very difficult indeed. Even if it really did turn out to be true, if the wonderful thing had happened to her, if she really was in love she would not try a bit to make him like her. That would be forward and "horrid." She would never try to attract any man. Those things must come of themselves or not at all.
She arranged her skirt in more effective folds, and wondered how it would look as one came up the woodland path. She thought it would look rather picturesque. It was a nice heliotrope colour. It would look like a giant Parma violet against the dark green background. She hoped her hair was tidy. And that her hat was not very crooked. However little one desires to attract, one may at least wish one's hat to be straight.
She looked for the twentieth time at her watch, the serviceable silver watch that had been her mother's. Half-past six, and he had not come.
Well, when he did come she would pretend she had only just got there. Or how would it be if she gave up being a Parma violet and went a little way down the path and then turned back when she heard him coming? She walked away a dozen yards and stood waiting. But he did not come. Was it possible that he was not coming? Was he ill—lying uncared for at the Peal of Bells in the village, with no one to smooth his pillow or put eau-de-cologne on his head?
She walked a hundred yards or so towards the village on the spur of this thought.
Or perhaps he had come by another way to the trysting place? That thought drove her back. He was not there.
Well, she would not stay any longer. She would just go away, and come back ever so much later, and let him have a taste of waiting. She had had her share, she told herself, as she almost ran from the spot. She stopped suddenly. But suppose he did not wait? She went slowly back.
She sat down again, schooled herself to patience.
What an idiot she had been! Like any school-girl. Of course he had never meant to come. Why should he? That page in her diary called out to her to come home and burn it. Care for him indeed! Not she! Why she hadn't exchanged ten words with the man!
"But I knew it was all nonsense when I wrote it," she said. "I only just put it down to see what it would look like."
Mr. Eustace Vernon roused himself, and yawned.
"It's got to be done, I suppose. Buck up,—you'll feel better after your bath! Jove! Seven o'clock. Will she have waited? She's a keen player if she has. It's just worth trying, I suppose."
The church clock struck the half-hour as he turned into the wood. Something palely violet came towards him.
"So you are here," he said. "Where's the pink frock?"
"It's—it's going to the wash," said a stiff and stifled voice. "I'm sorry I couldn't get here at six. I hope you didn't wait long?"
"Not very long," he said, smiling; "but—Great Heavens, what on earth is the matter?"
"Nothing," she said.
"But you've been—you are—"
"I'm not," she said defiantly,—"besides, I've got neuralgia. It always makes me look like that."
"My Aunt!" he thought. "Then she was here at six and—she's been crying because I wasn't and—oh, where are we?" "I'm so sorry you've got neuralgia," he said gently, "but I'm awfully glad you didn't get here at six. Because my watch was wrong and I've only just got here, and I should never have forgiven myself if you'd waited for me a single minute. Is the neuralgia better now?"
"Yes," she said, smiling faintly, "much better. It was rather sharp while it lasted, though."
"Yes," he said, "I see it was. I am so glad you did come. But I was so certain you wouldn't that I didn't bring any of my traps. So we can't begin the picture to-day. Will you start a sketch, or is your neuralgia too bad?"
He knew it would be: and it was.
So they merely sat on the pine carpet and talked till it was time for her to go back to the late Rectory breakfast. They told each other their names that day. Betty talked very carefully. It was most important that he should think well of her. Her manner had changed, as she had promised herself it should do if she found she cared for him. Now she was with him she knew, of course, that she did not care at all. What had made her so wretched—no, so angry that she had actually cried, was simply the idea that she had been made a fool of. That she had kept the tryst and he hadn't. Now he had come she was quite calm. She did not care in the least.
He was saying to himself: "I'm not often wrong, but I was off the line yesterday. All that doesn't count. We take a fresh deal and start fair. She doesn't know the game, mais elle a des moyens. She's never played the game before. And she cried because I didn't turn up. And so I'm the first—think of it, if you please—absolutely the first one! Well: it doesn't detract from the interest of the game. It's quite a different game and requires more skill. But not more than I have, perhaps."
They parted with another tryst set for the next morning. The brother artist note had been skilfully kept vibrating.
Betty was sure that she should never have any feeling for him but mere friendliness. She was glad of that. It must be dreadful to be really in love. So unsettling.