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   Chapter 12 ON THE HEIGHTS

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 15067

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


In vain, at each meal, did Clifford Marsh await Cecily's appearance. A trifling indisposition kept her to her room, was Mrs. Lessingham's reply to sympathetic inquiries. Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, who were seriously making their preparations for journeying northward, held private talk concerning the young lady, and felt they would like to stay a week longer, just to see if their suspicions would be confirmed. Mrs. Denyer found it difficult to assume the becoming air when she put civil questions to Mrs. Lessingham, for she was now assured that to Miss Doran was attributable the alarming state of things between Clifford and Madeline; Marsh would never have been so intractable but for this new element in the situation. Madeline herself on the other hand, was a model of magnanimity; in Clifford's very hearing, she spoke of Cecily with tender concern, and then walked past her recreant admirer with her fair head in a pose of conscious grace.

Even Mr. Musselwhite, at the close of the second day, grew aware that the table lacked one of its ornaments. It was his habit now-a new habit came as a blessing of Providence to Mr. Musselwhite-on passing into the drawing-room after dinner, to glance towards a certain corner, and, after slow, undecided "tackings," to settle in that direction. There sat Barbara Denyer. Her study at present was one of the less-known works of Silvio Pellico, and as Mr. Musselwhite approached, she looked up with an air of absorption. He was wont to begin conversation with the remark, flatteringly toned, "Reading Italian as usual, Miss Denyer?" but this evening a new subject had been suggested to him.

"I hope Miss Doran is not seriously unwell, Miss Denyer?"

"Oh, I think not."

Mr. Musselwhite reflected, stroking his whiskers in a gentlemanly way.

"One misses her," was his next remark.

"Yes, so much. She is so charming-don't you think, Mr. Musselwhite?"

"Very." He now plucked at the whiskers uneasily. "Oh yes, very."

Barbara smiled and turned her attention to the book, as though she could spare no more time. Mr. Musselwhite, dimly feeling that this topic demanded no further treatment, racked his brains for something else to say. He was far towards Lincolnshire when a rustle of the pages under Barbara's finger gave him a happy inspiration.

"I don't know whether you would care to see English papers now and then, Miss Denyer? I always have quite a number. The Field, for instance, and-"

"You are very kind, I don't read much English, but I shall be glad to see anything you like to bring me."

Mrs. Denyer was not wholly without consolation in her troubles about Clifford Marsh.

On the following morning, as she and her daughters were going out, they came face to face with a gentleman who was announcing to the servant his wish to see Miss Doran. Naturally they all glanced at him. Would he be admitted? With much presence of mind, Madeline exclaimed,-

"Oh dear, mamma! I have forgotten that letter. Please wait for me; I won't be a minute."

And she disappeared, the others moving out on to the staircase. When Madeline rejoined them, it was with the intelligence that the visitor had been admitted.

"Who can he be?"

"Rather a strange-looking person."

"Miss Doran cannot be ill. She has no brother. What an odd thing!"

They walked on, close serried, murmuring to each other discreetly....

For several minutes there had been perfect stillness in the room, a hush after the music of low, impassioned voices. It was broken, yet scarcely broken, by the sound of lips touching lips-touching to part sweetly, touching again to part more slowly, more sweetly still.

"They will not influence you against me?"

"Never! never!"

"They will try, Cecily. You will hear endless things to my disadvantage-things that I cannot contradict if you ask me."

"I care for nothing, Reuben. I am yours for ever and ever, hear what I may, happen what may!"

"Don't call me by my hateful name, dearest. We will find some other, if I must have a name for you."

"Why, that is like Romeo!"

"So it is; I wish I had no worse than Romeo's reason. I had rather have had the vulgarest Anglo-Saxon name than this Jewish one. Happily, I need have no fear in telling you that; you are no Puritan."

"As little as a girl could be." She laughed in her happiness. "Have you the same dislike for your sister's name?"

"Just the same. I believe it partly explains her life."

"She will not be against us, though?"

"Neither for nor against, I am afraid. Yet I have to thank her for the meeting with you at Pompeii. Why haven't you asked me how I came there?"

"I never thought to ask. It seemed so natural. I longed for you, and you stood before me. I could almost believe that my longing had power to bring you, so strong it was. But tell me."

He did so, and again they lost themselves in rapturous dreamland.

"Do you think Mr. Mallard will wish to see me?" she asked timidly.

"I can't be sure. I half think not."

"Yet I half wish he would. I should find it strange and a little difficult, but he couldn't be harsh with me. I think it might do good if he came to see me-in a day or two."

"On what terms have you always been with him? How does he behave to you?"

"Oh, you know him. He still looks upon me rather too much as a child, and he seems to have a pleasure in saying odd, half-rude things; but we are excellent friends-or have been. Such a delightful day as we had at Baiae! I have always liked him."

"At Baiae? You didn't go alone with him?"

"No; Miriam was there and Mr. Spence. We found him dreaming at Pozzuoli, and carried him off in the boat with us."

"He never thought much of me, and now he hates me."

"No; that is impossible."

"If you had heard him speaking to me last night, you would think differently. He makes it a crime that I should love you."

"I don't understand it."

"What's more, he has feared this ever since I came; I feel sure of it. When I was coming back from Pompeii, he took me with him to Amalfi all but by force. He dreaded my returning and seeing you."

"But why should he think of such a thing?"

"Why?"

Elgar led her a few paces, until they stood before a mirror.

"Don't look at me. The other face, which is a little paler than it should be."

She hid it against him.

"But you don't love me for my face only? You will see others who have more beauty."

"Perhaps so. Mallard hopes so, in the long time we shall have to wait."

She fixed startled eyes on him.

"He cannot wish me so ill-he cannot! That would be unlike him."

"He wishes you no ill, be sure of it."

"Oh, you haven't spoken to him as you should! You haven't made him understand you. Let me speak to him for you."

"Cecily."

"Dearest?"

"Suppose he doesn't wish to understand me. Have you never thought, when he has pretended to treat you as a child, that there might be some reason for it? Did it never occur to you that, if he spoke too roughly, it might be because he was afraid of being too gentle?"

"Never! That thought has never approached my mind. You don't speak in earnest?"

Why could he not command his tongue? Why have suggested this to her imagination? He did not wholly mean to say it, even to the last moment; but unwisdom, as so often, overcame him. It was a way of defending himself; he wished to imply that Mallard had a powerful reason for assailing his character. He had been convinced since last night that Mallard was embittered by jealousy, and h

e half credited the fear lest jealousy might urge to the use of any weapons against him; he was tempted by the satisfaction of putting Cecily on her guard against interested motives. But he should not have troubled her soul with such suspicions. He read on her face how she was pained, and her next word proved his folly.

"If you are right, I can never speak to him as I might have done. It alters everything; it makes everything harder. You are mistaken."

"I may be. Let us hope I am."

"How I wish I had never seen that possibility! I cannot believe it; yet it will prevent me from looking honestly in his face, as I always have done."

"Forget it. Let us speak only of ourselves."

But she was troubled, and Elgar, angry with himself, spoke impatiently.

"In pity for him, you would love me less. I see that."

"You are not yet satisfied? You find new ways of forcing me to say that I love you. Seem to distrust me, that I may say it over and over; make me believe you really doubt if I can be constant, just that I may hear what my heart says in its distress, and repeat it all to you. Be a little unkind to me, that I may show how your unkindness would wound me, and may entreat you back into your own true self. You can do nothing, say nothing, but I will make it afford new proofs of hew I love you."

"I had rather you made yourself less dear to me. The time will be so long. How can I live through it?"

"Will it not help you a little to help me? To know that you are unhappy would make it so much longer to me, my love."

"It will be hell to live away from you! I cannot make myself another man. If you knew what I have suffered only in these two days!"

"There was uncertainty."

"Uncertainty? Then what certainty could I ever have? Every hour spent at a distance from you will be full of hideous misgivings. Remember that every one will be doing the utmost to part us."

"Let them do the utmost twice over! You must have faith in me. Look into my eyes. Is there no assurance, no strength for you? Do they look too happy? That is because you are still here; time enough for sadness when you are gone. Oh, you think too humbly of yourself! Having loved you, and known your love, what else can the world offer me to live for?"

"Wherever you are, I must come often."

"Indeed you must, or for me too the burden will be heavier than I can bear."

As the Denyers were coming home, it surprised them to pass, at a little distance from the house, Clifford Marsh in conversation with the gentleman who had called upon Miss Doran. Madeline, exercising her new privilege of perfect sang-froid, took an opportunity not long after to speak to Clifford in the drawing-room.

"Who was the gentleman we saw you with?"

"I met him at Pompeii, but didn't know his name till today. He's asked me to dine with him."

"He is a friend of Miss Doran's, I believe?"

"I believe so."

"You accepted his invitation?"

"Yes; I am always willing to make a new acquaintance."

"A liberal frame of mind. Did he give you news of Miss Doran's health?"

"No."

He smiled mysteriously, only to appear at his ease; and Madeline, smiling also, turned away.

Cecily reappeared this evening at the dinner-table. She was changed; Mrs. Gluck and her guests were not again to behold the vision to which their eyes had become accustomed; that supremacy of simple charm which some of them had recognized as English girlhood at its best, had given place to something less intelligible, less instant in its attractiveness. Perhaps the climate of Naples was proving not well suited to her.

After dinner, she and Mrs. Lessingham at once went to their private room. Cecily sat down to write a letter. When she moved, as if the letter were finished, her aunt looked up from a newspaper.

"I've been thinking, Cecily. Suppose we go over to Capri for a change?"

"I am quite willing, aunt."

"I think Mr. Elgar has not been there yet. He might accompany us."

Unprepared for this, Cecily murmured an assent.

"Do you know how much longer he thinks of staying in Italy?"

"We haven't spoken of it."

"Has he given up his literary projects?"

"I'm afraid we didn't speak of that either."

"Shall you be satisfied if he continues to live quite without occupation?"

"I don't for a moment think he purposes that."

"And yet it will certainly be the ease as long as he remains here-or wherever else we happen to be living."

Mrs. Lessingham allowed her to ponder this for a few minutes. Then she resumed the train of thought.

"Have you had leisure yet to ask yourself, my dear, what use you will make of the great influence you have acquired over Mr. Elgar's mind?"

"That is not quite the form my thoughts would naturally take, aunt," Cecily replied, with gentleness.

"Yet may it not be the form they should? You are accustomed to think for yourself to a greater extent than girls whose education has been more ordinary; you cannot take it ill if I remind you now of certain remarks I have made on Mr. Elgar lately, and remind you also that I am not alone in my view of him. Don't fear that I shall say anything unkind; but if you feel equal to a woman's responsibilities, you must surely exercise a woman's good sense. Let us say nothing more than that Mr. Elgar has fallen into habits of excessive indolence; doesn't it seem to you that you might help him out of them?"

"I think he may not need help as you understand it, now."

"My dear, he needs it perhaps five hundred times more than he did before. If you decline to believe me, I shall be only too much justified by your experience hereafter."

"What would you have me do?"

"What must very soon occur to your own excellent wits, Cecily-for I won't give up all my pride in you. Mr. Elgar should, of course, go back to England, and do something that becomes him; he must decide what. Let him have a few days with us in Capri; then go, and so far recommend himself in our eyes. No one can make him see that this is what his dignity-if nothing else-demands, except yourself. Think of it, dear."

Cecily did think of it, long and anxiously. Thanks to Elgar, her meditations had a dark background such as her own fancy would never have supplied.

He knew not how sadly the image of him had been blurred in Cecily's mind, the man who lay that night in his room overlooking the port. Whether such ignorance were for his aid or his disadvantage, who shall venture to say?

To a certain point, we may follow with philosophic curiosity, step by step, the progress of mental anguish, but when that point is passed, analysis loses its interest; the vocabulary of pain has exhausted itself, the phenomena already noted do but repeat themselves with more rapidity, with more intensity-detail is lost in the mere sense of throes. Perchance the mind is capable of suffering worse than the fiercest pangs of hopeless love combined with jealousy; one would not pretend to put a limit to the possibilities of human woe; but for Mallard, at all events this night did the black flood of misery reach high-water mark.

What joy in the world that does not represent a counter-balance of sorrow? What blessedness poured upon one head but some other must therefore lie down under malediction? We know that with the uttermost of happiness there is wont to come a sudden blending of troublous humour. May it not be that the soul has conceived a subtle sympathy with that hapless one but for whose sacrifice its own elation were impossible?

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