Sir Tom Part 31
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This interview had an agitating and painful effect upon Lucy, though she could not tell why. It was not what she expected or feared--neither in one sense nor the other. He had neither distressed her by opposing her proceedings, nor accepted her beneficence towards the Contessa with levity and satisfaction, both of which dangers she had been prepared for. Instead, however, of agitating her by the reception he gave to her proposal, it was he who was agitated by something which in entire unconsciousness she had said. But what that could be Lucy could not divine. She had said nothing that could affect him personally so far as she knew. She went over every word of the conversation without being able to discover what could have had this effect. But she could find nothing, there was no clue anywhere that her unconscious mind could discover. She concluded finally with much compunction that it was the implied reproach that he had taken away all pleasure in what she did by opposing her, that had so disturbed her husband. He was so kind. He had not been able to bear even the possibility that his opposition had been a source of pain. "I think I will never oppose you any more." In an answering burst of generosity Lucy said to herself that she did not desire this; that she preferred that he should find fault and object when he disapproved, not consent to everything. But the reflection of the disturbance she had seen in her husband's countenance was in her mind all day; she could not shake it off; and he was so grave that every look she cast at him strengthened the impression. He did not approach the circle in which the Contessa sat all the evening, but stood apart, silent, taking little notice of anybody until Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter secured his ear, when Sir Tom, instead of his usual genial laugh at MTutor's solemnities, discharged little caustic criticisms which astonished his companion. Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter was going away next day, and he, too, was preoccupied. After that conversation with Sir Tom, he betook himself to Lucy, who was very silent too, and doing little for the entertainment of her guests. He made her sundry pretty speeches, such as are appropriate from a departing guest.
"Jock has made up his mind to stay behind," he said. "I am sorry, but I am not surprised. I shall lose a most agreeable travelling companion; but, perhaps, home influences are best for the young."
"I don't know why Jock has changed his mind, Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter. He wanted very much to go."
"He would say that here's metal more attractive," said the tutor with an offended smile; and then he paused, and, clearing his throat, asked in a still more evident tone of offence--"Does not your young friend the Signorina appear again? I thought from her appearance last night that she was making her _debut_."
"Yes, it was like it," said Lucy. "The Contessa is not like one of us,"
she added after a moment. "She has her own ways--and, perhaps, I don't know--that may be the Italian fas.h.i.+on."
"Not at all," Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter said promptly. He was an authority upon national usages. "But I am afraid it was very transparent what the Contessa meant," he said, after a pause.
To this Lucy made no reply, and the tutor, who was sensitive, especially as to bad taste, reddened at his inappropriate observation. He went on hastily; "The Signorina--or should I say Mademoiselle di Forno-Populo?--has a great deal of charm. I do not know if she is so beautiful as her mother----"
"Oh, not her mother," cried Lucy quickly, with a smile at the mistake.
"Is she not her mother? The young lady's face indeed is different. It is of a higher order--it is full of thought. It is n.o.ble in repose. She does not seem made for these scenes of festivity, if you will pardon me, Lady Randolph, but for the higher retirements----"
"Oh, she is very fond of seeing people," said Lucy. "You must not suppose she is too serious for her age. She enjoyed herself last night."
"There is no age," said Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter, "at which one can be too serious--and especially in youth, when all the world is before one, when one cannot tell what effect a careless step may have one way or another.
It is just that sweet gravity that charms me. I think she was quite out of her element, excuse me for saying so, Lady Randolph, last night."
"Do you think so? Oh, I am afraid not. I am afraid she liked it," said Lucy. "Jock, don't you think Bice liked it. I should much rather think not, but I am afraid--I am afraid----"
"She couldn't like that little cad," said Jock, who had drawn near with an instinctive sense that something was going on which concerned him.
"But she's never solemn either," added the boy.
"Is that for me, Jock?" said MTutor, with a pensive gentleness of reproach. "Well, never mind. We must all put up with little misunderstandings from the younger generation. Some time or other you will judge differently. I should like to have had an opportunity again of such music as we heard last night; but I suppose I must not hope for it."
"Oh, do you mean Lord Montjoie's song?" cried one of the young ladies in blue, who had drawn near. "Wasn't it fun? Of course I know it wasn't to be compared to the Contessa; but I've no musical taste. I always confess it--that's Edith's line. But Lord Montjoie _was_ fun. Don't you think so, dear Lady Randolph," Miss Minnie said.
Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter gave her one glance, and retired, Jock following.
"Perhaps that's your opinion too," he said, "that Lord Montjoie's was fun?"
"He's a scug," said Jock, laconically, "that's all I think about him."
Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter took the lad's arm. "And yet," he said, "Jock, though you and I consider ourselves his superiors, that is the fellow that will carry off the prize. Beauty and genius are for him. He must have the best that humanity can produce. You ought to be too young to have any feeling on the subject; but it is a humiliating thought."
"Bice will have nothing to say to him," said Jock, with straightforward application of the abstract description; but MTutor shook his head.
"How can we tell the persecutions to which Woman is subject?" he said.
"You and I, Jock, are in a very different position. But we should try to realise, though it is difficult, those dangers to which she is subject.
Kept indoors," said MTutor, with pathos in his voice, "debarred from all knowledge of the world, with all the authorities about her leading one way. How can we tell what is said to her? with a host of petty maxims preaching down a daughter's heart--strange!" cried Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter, with a closer pressure of the boy's arm, "that the most lovely existence should thus continually be led to link itself with the basest. We must not blame Woman; we must keep her idea sacred, whatever happens in our own experience."
"It always sets one right to talk to you," cried Jock, full of emotion.
"I was a beast to say that."
"My boy, don't you think I understand the disturbance in your mind?"
with a sigh, MTutor said.
They had left the drawing-room during the course of this conversation, and were crossing the hall on the way to the library, when some one suddenly drew back with a startled movement from the pa.s.sage which led to Sir Tom's den. Then there followed a laugh, and "Oh, is it only you!"
after which there came forth a slim shadow, as unlike as possible to the siren of the previous night. "We have met before, and I don't mind. Is there any one else coming?" Bice said.
"Why do you hide and skulk in corners?" cried Jock. "Why shouldn't you meet any one? Have you done something wrong?"
This made Bice laugh still more. "You don't understand," she said.
"Signorina," said Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter (who was somewhat proud of having remembered this good abstract t.i.tle to give to the mysterious girl), "I am going away to-morrow, and perhaps I shall never hear you again. Your voice seemed to open the heavenly gates. Why, since you are so good as to consider us different from the others, won't you sing to us once more?"
"Sing?" said Bice, with a little surprise; "but by myself my voice is not much----"
"It is like a voice out of heaven," Mr. Derwent.w.a.ter said fervently.
"Do you really, really think so?" she said with a wondering look. She was surprised, but pleased too. "I don't think you would care for it without the Contessa's; but, perhaps----" Then she looked round her with a reflective look. "What can I do? There is no piano, and then these people would hear." After this a sudden idea struck her. She laughed aloud like a child with sudden glee. "I don't suppose it would be any harm! You belong to the house--and then there is Marietta. Yes! Come!"
she cried suddenly, rus.h.i.+ng up the great staircase and waving her hand impatiently, beckoning them to follow. "Come quick, quick," she cried; "I hear some one coming," and flew upstairs. They followed her, Mr.
Derwent.w.a.ter pa.s.sing Jock, who hung back a little, and did not know what to think of this adventure. "Come quick," she cried, darting along the dimly-lighted corridor with a laugh that rang lightly along like the music to which her steps were set. "Oh, come in, come in. They will hear, but they will not know where it comes from." The young men stupefied, hesitating, followed her. They found themselves among all the curiosities and luxuries of the Contessa's boudoir. And in a moment Bice had placed herself at the little piano which was placed across one of the corners, its back covered with a wonderful piece of Eastern embroidery which would have invited Derwent.w.a.ter's attention had he been able to fix that upon anything but Bice. As it was, he gave a half regard to these treasures. He would have examined them all with the devotion of a connoisseur but for her presence, which exercised a spell still more subtle than that of art.
The sound of the singing penetrated vaguely even into the drawing-room, where the Contessa, startled, rose from her seat much earlier than usual. Lucy, who attended her dutifully upstairs according to her usual custom, was dismayed beyond measure by seeing Jock and his tutor issue from that door. Bice came with them, with an air of excitement and triumphant satisfaction. She had been singing, and the inspiration and applause had gone to her head. She met the ladies not with the air of a culprit, but in all the boldness of innocence. "They like to hear me, even by myself," she cried; "they have listened, as if I had been an angel." And she clapped her hands with almost childish pleasure.
"Perhaps they think you are," said the Contessa, who shook her head, yet smiled with sympathy. "You must not say to these messieurs below that you have been in my room. Oh, I know the confidences of a smoking-room!
You must not brag, _mes amis_. For Bice does not understand the _convenances_, nor remember that this is England, where people meet only in the drawing-room."
"Divine forgetfulness!" murmured Derwent.w.a.ter. Jock, for his part, turned his back with a certain sense of shame. He had liked it, but he had not thought it right. The room altogether, with its draperies and mysteries, had conveyed to him a certain intoxication as of wrong-doing.
Something that was dangerous was in the air of it. It was seductive, it was fascinating; he had felt like a man banished when Bice had started from the piano and bidden them "Go away; go away!" in the same laughing tone in which she had bidden them come. But the moment he was outside the threshold his impulse was to escape--to rush out of sight--and obliterate even from his own mind the sense that he had been there. To meet the Contessa, and still more his sister, full in the face, was a shock to all his susceptibilities. He turned his back upon them, and but that his fellow-culprit made a momentary stand, would have fled away.
Lucy partook of Jock's feeling. It wounded her to see him at that door.
She gave him a glance of mingled reproach and pity; a vague sense that these were siren-women dangerous to all mankind stole into her heart.
But Lucy was destined to a still greater shock. The party from the smoking-room was late in breaking up. The sound of their steps and voices as they came upstairs roused Lady Randolph, not from sleep--for she had been unable to sleep--but from the confused maze of recollections and efforts to think which distracted her placid soul. She was not made for these agitations. The const.i.tution of her mind was overset altogether. The moment that suspicion and distrust came in there was no further strength in her. She was lying not thinking so much as remembering stray words and looks which drifted across her memory as across a dim mirror, with a meaning in them which she did not grasp. She was not clever. She could not put this and that together with the dolorous skill which some women possess. It is a skill which does not promote the happiness of the possessor, but perhaps it is scarcely more happy to stand in the midst of a vague ma.s.s of suggestions without being able to make out what they mean, which was Lucy's case. She did not understand her husband's sudden excitement; what it had to do with Bice, with the Contessa, with her own resolution and plans she could not tell, but felt vaguely that many things deeply concerning her were in the air, and was unhappy in the confusion of her thoughts. For a long time after the sounds of various persons coming upstairs had died away, Lucy lay silent waiting for her husband's appearance--but at last unable to bear the vague wretchedness of her thoughts any longer, got up and put on a dressing-gown and stole out into the dark gallery to go to the nursery to look at her boy asleep, which was her best anodyne. The lights were all extinguished except the faint ray that came from the nursery door, and Lucy went softly towards that, anxious to disturb little Tom by no sound. As she did so a door suddenly opened, sending a glare of light into the dark corridor. It was the door of the Contessa's room, and with the light came Sir Tom, the Contessa herself appearing after him on the threshold. She was still in her dinner dress, and her appearance remained long impressed upon Lucy's imagination like a photograph without colour, in shadow and light. She gave Sir Tom a little packet apparently of letters, and then she held out both hands to him, which he took in his. Something seemed to flash through Lucy's heart like a knife, quivering like the "pale death" of the poet, in sight and sense.
The sudden surprise and pang of it was such for a moment that she seemed turned into stone, and stood gazing like a spectre in her white flowing dress, her face more white, her eyes and mouth open in the misery and trouble of the moment. Then she stole back softly into her room--her head throbbing, her heart beating--and buried her face in her pillow and closed her eyes. Even baby could not soothe her in this unlooked-for pang. And then she heard his step come slowly along the gallery. How was she to look at him? how listen to him in the shock of such an extraordinary discovery? She took refuge in a semblance of sleep.
When it happens to an innocent and simple soul to find out suddenly at a stroke the falsehood of some one upon whose truth the whole universe depends, the effect is such as perhaps has never been put forth by any attempt at psychological investigation. When it happens to a great mind, we have Hamlet with all the world in ruins round him--all other thoughts as of revenge or ambition are but secondary and spasmodic, since neither revenge nor advancement can put together again the works of life or make man delight him, or woman either. But Lady Randolph was not a Hamlet. She had no genius, nor even a great intellect to be unhinged--scarcely mind enough to understand how it was that the glory had paled out of earth and sky, and all the world seemed different when she rose from her uneasy bed next morning, pale, after a night without sleep, in which she had not been able to have even the relief of restlessness, but had lain motionless, without even a sigh or tear, so crushed by the unexpected blow that she could neither fathom nor understand what had happened to her. She was too pure herself to jump at any thought of gross infidelity. She felt she knew not what--that the world had gone to pieces--that she did not know how to shape it again into anything--that she could not look into her husband's face, or command her voice to speak to him, for shame of the thought that he had failed in truth. Lucy felt somehow as if she were the culprit. She was ashamed to look him in the face. She made an early visit to the nursery, and stayed there pretending various little occupations until she heard Sir Tom go down stairs. He had returned so much to the old ways, and now that the house was full, and there were other people to occupy the Contessa, had shown so clearly (as Lucy had thought) that he was pleased to be liberated from his attendance upon her, that the cloud that had risen between them had melted away; and indeed, for some time back, it had been Lucy who was the Contessa's stay and support, a change at which Sir Tom had sometimes laughed. All had been well between the husband and wife during the early part of the season parliamentary, the beginning of their life in London. Sir Tom had been much engrossed with the cares of public life, but he had been delightful to Lucy, whose faith in him and his new occupations was great. And it was exhilarating to think that the Contessa had secured that little house in Mayfair for her own campaign, and that something like a new honeymoon was about to begin for the pair, whose happiness had seemed for a moment to tremble in the balance. Lucy had been looking forward to the return to London with a more bright and conscious antic.i.p.ation of well-being than she had ever experienced. In the first outset of life happiness seems a necessary of existence. It is calculated upon without misgiving; it is simple nature, beyond question.
But when the natural "of course" has once been broken, it is with a warmer glow of content that we see the prospect once more stretching before us bright as at first and more a.s.sured. This is how Lucy had been regarding her life. It was not so simple, so easy as it once had been, but the happiness to which she was looking forward, and which she had already partially entered into possession of, was all the more sweet and dear, that she had known, or fancied herself about to know, the loss and absence of it. Now, in a moment, all that fair prospect, that blessed certainty, was gone. The earth was cut away from under her feet; she felt everything to be tottering, falling round her, and nothing in all the universe to lay hold of to prop herself up; for when the pillars of the world are thus unrooted the heaving of the earthquake and the falling of the ruins impart a certain vertigo and giddy instability even to heaven.
Fletcher, Lucy's maid, who was usually discreet enough, waited upon her mistress that morning with a certain air of importance, and of knowing something which she was bursting with eagerness to tell, such as must have attracted Lady Randolph's attention in any other circ.u.mstances. But Lucy was far too much occupied with what was in her own mind to observe the perturbation of the maid, who consequently had no resource, since her mistress would not question her, than to introduce herself the subject on which she was so anxious to utter her mind. She began by inquiring if her ladys.h.i.+p had heard the music last night. "The music?"
Sir Tom Part 31
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Sir Tom Part 31 summary
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