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   Chapter 23 SEPARATION

A Great Man By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6355

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Henry's astonishment at finding himself so suddenly betrothed to the finest woman in the world began to fade and perish in three days or so. As he looked into the past with that searching eye of his, he thought he could see that his relations with Geraldine had never ceased to develop since their commencement, even when they had not been precisely cordial and sincere. He remembered strange things that he had read about love in books, things which had previously struck him as being absurd, but which now became explanatory commentaries on the puzzling text of the episode in the cab. It was not long before he decided that the episode in the cab was almost a normal episode.

He was very proud and happy, and full of sad superior pity for all young men who, through incorrect views concerning women, had neglected to plight themselves.

He imagined that he was going to settle down and live for ever in a state of bliss with the finest woman in the world, rich, famous, honoured; and that life held for him no other experience, and especially no disconcerting, dismaying experience. But in this supposition he was mistaken.

One afternoon he had escorted Tom to Chenies Street, in order that Tom might formally meet Geraldine. It was rather nervous work, having regard to Tom's share in the disaster at Lowndes Square; and the more so because Geraldine's visit to Dawes Road had not been a dazzling success. Geraldine in Dawes Road had somehow the air, the brazen air, of an orchid in a clump of violets; the violets, by their mere quality of being violets, rebuked the orchid, and the orchid could not have flourished for any extended period in that temperature. Still, Mrs. Knight and Aunt Annie said to Henry afterwards that Geraldine was very clever and nice; and Geraldine said to Henry afterwards that his mother and aunt were delightful old ladies. The ordeal for Geraldine was now quite a different one. Henry hoped for the best. It did not follow, because Geraldine had not roused the enthusiasm of Dawes Road, that she would leave Tom cold. In fact, Henry could not see how Tom could fail to be enchanted.

A minor question which troubled Henry, as they ascended the stone stairs at Chenies Street, was this: Should he kiss Geraldine in front of Tom? He decided that it was not only his right, but his duty, to kiss her in the privacy of her own flat, with none but a relative present. 'Kiss her I will!' his thought ran. And kiss her he did. Nothing untoward occurred. 'Why, of course!' he reflected. 'What on earth was I worrying about?' He was conscious of glory. And he soon saw that Tom really was impressed by Geraldine. Tom's eyes said to him: 'You're not such a fool as you might have been.'

Geraldine scolded Tom for his behaviour at Mrs. Ashton Portway's, and Tom replied in Tom's manner; and then, when they were all at ease, she turned to Henry.

'My poor friend,' she said, 'I've got bad news.'

She handed him a letter from her brother in Leicester, from which it appeared that the brother's two elder children were down with scarlatina, while the youngest, three days old, and the mother, were in a condition to cause a certain anxiet

y ... and could Geraldine come to the rescue?

'Shall you go?' Henry asked.

'Oh yes,' she said. 'I've arranged with Mr. Snyder, and wired Teddy that I'll arrive early to-morrow.'

She spoke in an extremely matter-of-fact tone, as though there were no such things as love and ecstasy in the world, as though to indicate that in her opinion life was no joke, after all.

'And what about me?' said Henry. He thought: 'My shrewd, capable girl has to sacrifice herself-and me-in order to look after incompetent persons who can't look after themselves!'

'You'll be all right,' said she, still in the same tone.

'Can't I run down and see you?' he suggested.

She laughed briefly, as at a pleasantry, and so Henry laughed too.

'With four sick people on my hands!' she exclaimed.

'How long shall you be away?' he inquired.

'My dear-can I tell?'

'You'd better come back to Paris with me for a week or so, my son,' said Tom. 'I shall leave the day after to-morrow.'

And now Henry laughed, as at a pleasantry. But, to his surprise, Geraldine said:

'Yes, do. What a good idea! I should like you to enjoy yourself, and Paris is so jolly. You've been, haven't you, dearest?'

'No,' Henry replied. 'I've never been abroad at all.'

'Never? Oh, that settles it. You must go.'

Henry had neither the slightest desire nor the slightest intention to go to Paris. The idea of him being in Paris, of all places, while Geraldine was nursing the sick night and day, was not a pleasant one.

'You really ought to go, you know,' Tom resumed. 'You, a novelist ... can't see too much! The monuments of Paris, the genius of the French nation! And there's notepaper and envelopes and stamps, just the same as in London. Letters posted in Paris before six o'clock will arrive in Leicester on the following afternoon. Am I not right, Miss Foster?'

Geraldine smiled.

'No,' said Henry. 'I'm not going to Paris-not me!'

'But I wish it,' Geraldine remarked calmly.

And he saw, amazed, that she did wish it. Pursuing his researches into the nature of women, he perceived vaguely that she would find pleasure in martyrizing herself in Leicester while he was gadding about Paris; and pleasure also in the thought of his uncomfortable thought of her martyrizing herself in Leicester while he was gadding about Paris.

But he said to himself that he did not mean to yield to womanish whims-he, a man.

'And my work?' he questioned lightly.

'Your work will be all the better,' said Geraldine with a firm accent.

And then it seemed to be borne in upon him that womanish whims needed delicate handling. And why not yield this once? It would please her. And he could have been firm had he chosen.

Hence it was arranged.

'I'm only going to please you,' he said to her when he was mournfully seeing her off at St. Pancras the next morning.

'Yes, I know,' she answered, 'and it's sweet of you. But you want someone to make you move, dearest.'

'Oh, do I?' he thought; 'do I?'

His mother and Aunt Annie were politely surprised at the excursion. But they succeeded in conveying to him that they had decided to be prepared for anything now.

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