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   Chapter 6 No.6

Overlooked By Maurice Baring Characters: 10570

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The day after Rudd dined with me I was summoned by telegram to London. My favourite sister, who is married and whom I seldom see, was seriously ill. She wanted to see me. I started at once for London and found matters better than I expected, but still rather serious. I stayed with my sister nearly a month, by which time she was convalescent. Kennaway insisted on my going back to Haréville to finish my cure.

When I got back, I found all the members of the group to which I had become semi-attached still there, and I made a new acquaintance: Mrs. Summer, who had just come back from the Lakes. I know little about her. I can only guess at her appearance. I know that she is married and that she cannot be very young and that is all. On the other hand, I feel now that I know a great deal about her.

We sat after dinner in the park. She is a friend of Miss Brandon's. We talked of her. Mrs. Summer said:

"The air here has done her such a lot of good."

She meant to say: "She is looking much better than she did when she arrived," but she did not want to talk about looks to me.

I said: "She must get tired of coming here year after year."

Mrs. Summer said that Miss Brandon hated London almost as much.

I said: "You have known her a long time?"

She said: "All her life. Ever since she was tiny."

I asked what her father was like.

"He was very selfish, violent-tempered, and rather original. When he dined out he always took his champagne with him in a pail and in a four-wheeler. He lived in an old house in the south of Ireland. He was not really Irish. He had been a soldier. He played picquet with Jean every evening. He went up to London two months every year-not in the summer. He liked seeing the Christmas pantomime. He was devoted to Jean, but tyrannized over her. He never let her out of his sight.

"When he died he left nothing. The house in Ireland was sold, and the house in London, a house in Bedford Square. I think there were illegitimate children. In Ireland he entertained the neighbours, talked politics, and shouted at his guests, and quarrelled with everyone."

I presumed he was not a Radical. I was right.

I said I supposed Miss Brandon could never escape.

She had been engaged to be married once, but money-the want of it-made the marriage impossible. Even if there had been money she doubted.

"Because of the father?" I said.

"Yes, she would never have left him. She couldn't have left him."

"Did the father like the young man?"

"Yes, he liked him, but regarded him as quite impossible, quite out of the question as a husband."

I said I supposed he would have thought anyone else equally out of the question.

"Of course," she said. "It was pure selfishness--"

I asked what had happened to the young man.

He was in the army, but left it because it was too expensive. He went out to the Colonies-South Africa-as A.D.C. He was there now.

"Still unmarried?" I asked.

Mrs. Summer said he would never marry anyone else. He had never looked at anyone else. He was supposed, at one time, to have liked an Italian lady, but that was all nonsense.

She felt I did not believe this.

"You don't believe me," she said. "But I promise you it's true. He is that kind of man-terribly faithful; faithful and constant. You see, Jean isn't an ordinary girl. If one once loved her it would be difficult to love anyone else. She was just the same when he knew her as she is now."

"Except younger."

"She is just as beautiful now, at least she could be--"

"If someone told her so."

"Yes, if someone thought so. Telling wouldn't be necessary."

"Perhaps someone will."

Mrs. Summer said it was extremely unlikely she would ever meet anyone abroad who would be the kind of man.

I said I thought life was a play in which every entrance and exit was arranged beforehand, and the momentous entrance and the scène à faire might quite as well happen at Haréville as anywhere else.

Mrs. Summer made no comment. I thought to myself: "She knows about Kranitski and doesn't want to discuss it."

"The man who marries Jean would be very lucky," she said. "Jean is-well-there is no one like her. She's more than rare. She's introuvable."

I said that Rudd thought she would never marry anyone.

"Perhaps not," she said, "but if Mr. Rudd is right about her he will be right for the wrong reasons. Sometimes the people who see everything wrong are right. It is very irritating."

I asked her if she thought Rudd was always wrong.

"I don't know," she said, "but he would be wrong about Jean. Wrong about you. Wrong about me. Wrong about Princess Kouragine, and wrongest of all about Netty Lennox. Perhaps his instincts as an artist are right. I think people's books are sometimes written by someone else, a kind of planchette. All the authors I have met have been so utterly and completely wrong about everything that stared them in the face."

I asked whether she liked his books.

Yes, she liked them, but she thought they were written by a familiar spirit. She couldn't fit him into his books.

"Then," I said, "supposing he wrote a book about Miss Brandon, however wrong he might be about her, the book might turn out to be true."

She didn't agree. She thought if he wrote a b

ook about an imaginary Miss Jones it might turn out to be right in some ways about Jean Brandon, and in some ways about a hundred other people; but if he set out to write a book about Jean it would be wrong.

"You mean," I said, "he is imaginative and not observant?"

"I mean," she said, "that he writes by instinct, as good actors act."

She said there was a Frenchman at the hotel who had told her that he had seen a rehearsal of a complicated play, in which a great actress was acting. The author was there. He explained to the actress what he wanted done. She said: "Yes, I see this, and this, and this." Everything she said was terribly wide of the mark, the opposite of what he had meant. He saw she hadn't understood a word he had said. Then the actress got on to the stage and acted it exactly as if she understood everything.

"I think," she said, "that Mr. Rudd is like that."

I asked Mrs. Summer if she knew Kranitski.

"Just a little," she said. "What do you think about him?"

I said I liked him.

"He's very quick and easy to get on with," she said.

"Like all Russians."

"Like all Russians, but I don't think he's quite like all Russians, at least not the kind of Russians one meets."

"No, more like the Russians one doesn't meet."

"Tolstoi's Russians. Yes. It's a pity they have such a genius for unhappiness."

I said I thought Kranitski did not seem unhappy.

"No, but more as if he had just recovered than if he was quite well."

I said I thought he gave one the impression that he was capable of being very happy. There was nothing gloomy about him.

"All people who are unhappy are generally very happy, too," she said, "at least they are often very...."

"Gay?" I suggested.

She agreed.

I said I thought he was more than an unhappy person with high spirits, which one saw often enough. He gave me the impression of a person capable of solid happiness, the kind of business-like happiness that comes from a fundamental goodness.

"Yes, he might, be like that," she said, "only one doesn't know quite what his life has been and is."

She meant she knew all too well that his life had not been one in which happiness was possible.

I agreed.

"One knows so little about other people."

"Nothing," I said. "Perhaps he is miserable. He ought to marry. I feel he is very domestic."

"I sometimes think," she said, "that the people who marry-the men I mean-are those who want the help and support of a woman, women are so far stronger and braver than men; and that those who don't marry are sometimes those who are strong enough to face life without this help. Of course, there are others who aren't either strong enough or weak enough to need it, but they don't matter."

I said I supposed she thought Kranitski would be strong enough to do without marriage.

"I think so," she said, "but then, I hardly know him."

"Does your theory apply to women, too?" I asked. "Are there some women who are strong enough to face life alone?"

She said women were strong enough to do either. In either case life was for them just as difficult.

I asked if she thought Miss Brandon would be happier married or not married.

"Jean would never marry unless she married the right person, the man she wanted to marry," she said.

"Would the person she wanted to marry," I said, "necessarily be the right person?"

"He would be more right for her, whatever the drawbacks, than anyone else."

I said I supposed nearly everyone thought they were marrying the right person, and yet how strangely most marriages turned out.

"Nothing better than marriage has been invented, all the same," she said, "and if people marry when they are old enough...."

"To know better," I said.

"Yes, it doesn't then turn out so very badly as a rule."

I said that as things were at present Miss Brandon's life seemed to me completely wasted.

"So it is, but it might be worse. It might be a tragedy. Supposing she married someone who became fond of someone else."

"She would mind," I said.

"She would mind terribly."

I said I thought people always got what they wanted in the long run. If she wanted a marriage of a definite kind she would probably end by getting it.

Mrs. Summer agreed in the main, but she thought that although one often did get what one wanted in the long run, it often came either too late or not quite at the moment when one wanted it, or one found when one had got it that it was after all not quite what one had wanted.

"Then," I said, "you think it is no use wanting anything?"

"No use," she said, "no use whatever."

"You are a pessimist."

"I am old enough to have no illusions."

"But you want other people to have illusions?"

"I think there is such a thing as happiness in the world, and that when you see someone who might be happy, missing the chance of it, it's a pity. That's all."

Then I said:

"You want other people to want things."

"Other people? Yes," she said. "Quite dreadfully I want it."

At that moment Mrs. Lennox came up to us and said:

"I have won five hundred francs, and I had the courage to leave the Casino. I can't think what has happened to Jean. I have been looking for her the whole evening." I left them and went into the hotel.

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