Aspirations - Explanations
I had been telling Philippa March exactly how matters stood between Cousin Flo and myself.
"It's really a little awkward, you know," I ended, smiling.
"Awkward!" said Philippa, who had listened to me quite gravely. "Awkward, Mr. Vansittart? I call it disgusting." And her clear blue eyes flashed scorn.
Now I myself did not consider it exactly disgusting, so I said nothing more than,
"Perhaps I oughtn't to have mentioned it to you. But it seemed amusing in a way. Of course, it's a secret."
"Well, I suppose you wouldn't like it known," observed Philippa, with meaning.
I sat smoothing my hat and smiling.
"What are you smiling at?" she asked, sharply. "Oh, I wonder how you and people like you" (by which she meant Cousin Flo) "can make a jest of it as you do!" And she began to walk up and down.
"A jest of what. Miss March?"
"Why, of—of—of love and so on, Mr. Vansittart."
"Oh! of love?" said I, meditatively, as I deposited my hat on the table.
"That's serious, surely, if anything in the world is? And you make fun of it all!"
"Well, it makes a fool of me," I pleaded.
Philippa gave me a look and walked about.
"You're quite right," said I. "It's—it's uncommon bad form. I shall tell Flo that—"
"You were just as bad yourself—worse."
"You were the man. You began it. You encouraged her."
Flo does not give the impression of needing encouragement, but I let that pass. In fact, I was much interested in Philippa's opinion.
"You're right," I said again. "It is a serious thing."
"It's a holy thing," said Philippa, from the middle of the room.
"It is," I agreed, meeting her earnest gaze. "With the right person, it is; with the wrong—"
It's a desecration," interrupted Philippa.
"I'm so glad I talked to you about it, Miss March. You take such a jolly—I mean, such a splendidly high view of it. You elevate the whole thing so." And I rose and joined Philippa, who was now standing on the hearth-rug, where the sun caught her hair through the drawing-room window.
"Have you read this?" asked Philippa, suddenly, taking three volumes from the mantel-piece. "It's simply magnificent."
"I don't think I have. What is it?"
"‘Incomprehensa,’" answered Philippa. "By the author of 'Too Many by Half,' you know."
"What's it about?"
"A girl," said Philippa, with kindling eye, "who gave her whole life to— But what's the use of talking about it to you? You're laughing again."
"Upon my honor, I just screwed up my mouth because—because of the sun, you know."
"Gave her whole life to saving a man not in the least worthy of her."
"What a pity!" said I, trying to say the right thing.
"A pity! It's just that that's so splendid."
"Oh, yes, of course—in one point of view. Yes, it would be, Miss March."
"And he never understood her!"
"Liked some one else, did he?"
"Oh, no. He loved her—"
"Come, he had some good—"
"In his way," ended Philippa, with measureless disdain. "That made it worse."
I began to feel uncomfortable; yet I had another feeling. Philippa is wonderfully striking when she looks haughty and scornful.
"I shall read it," said I. "It's a fine idea. Pity things like that don't happen in real life! In real life nobody tries to help a fellow."
I think I achieved some pathos in this remark, for Philippa turned a softened glance upon me.
"He's just allowed," I continued, "to go on making an—making all sorts of blunders, I mean—and nobody cares enough to do anything."
"It's very hard to help some people," said Philippa, sadly.
"But what's her name—"
"Incomprehensa, Mr. Vansittart."
"Yes. Thanks. Incomprehensa tried, all the same."
"Yes, she did," said Philippa; and a pause followed.
"But a book's one thing and life's another," I observed, bitterly,
"It oughtn't to be," said Philippa, in a low voice; and she looked away towards the window. "I don't think if would be with—with everybody."
"A fellow feels, don't you know, Miss March, that he would be better if anybody took any interest in him, you know—I mean, sensibly—not all for a lark, as Flo does."
"She's not very serious herself, is she?" asked Philippa, with a slight, patient smile.
"That's the worst of it," said I. "So, of course, she's no use. I often feel that if I had some one to—well, at any rate, to talk to about such things—"
"What things, Mr. Vansittart?"
"Oh, well—oh, well— Come, you know what I mean, Miss March."
And Philippa said softly,
"Yes, I think I do, Mr. Vansittart."
"If," I resumed, "I might come and talk to you sometimes—"
"I—I'm often at home," murmured Philippa.
"And hear what you think about it, you know, and see your—I mean, hear your opinion."
"If you really think it would be any—"
"Oh, it would—no end, I assure you, Miss March. It would make me a different fellow—upon my word, it would. It would elevate me. I am sure it would elevate me like anything."
Philippa blushed—maybe only because I was implying a compliment to her moral worth. I continued to regard her with admiring eyes.
"It would make me very happy if I thought—" she said.
"And—and, Miss March," I interrupted, encouraged by her tone, "perhaps you might find there was some good in a chap, after all, and—"
"I'm sure I should, Mr. Vansittart."
"And then perhaps some day you might come to care for—"
I had got thus far (and, after all, it was most of the way) when Philippa suddenly drew back, and, flushing a fine color, asked in grand indignation,
"Have you forgotten your cousin, Mr. Vansittart?"
It was exactly what I had done. I had clean forgotten Flo.
"You must have, I think," she went on, "or you would hardly venture to hint to me—"
"Look here, Miss March," I broke in, "it's all nonsense about Flo, you know. She doesn't half mean it, and I don't—"
"I understood that you had asked—"
"Well, so I did," I admitted in desperation. "I say, Philippa—I mean, Miss March—if I can square it with—"
"If you can what?"
"If I can honorably—"
"Not another word, please, Mr. Vansittart! How can 1 listen while your cousin—?" She broke off, turning away. But I took a step after her.
"If my cousin were not—" I began, in low, persuasive tones.
"Not another word, please," whispered Philippa.
"There it is!" I cried tragically. "I'm left to myself. You won't hold a finder out to me!"
Philippa did not do what I suggested in a literal sense, but she allowed me to see her profile instead of the back of her head.
"Please go away now," said she.
"I'll go," said I, "if—"
"No, no; go, please!"
"If you'll say one word to me!"
"One word?" I just heard from Philippa, as I leant my head forward to catch it.
"Yes, one word. Then I shall have strength to—to tackle—I—I mean to go like an honest man to Flo and—and do it, you know."
There was a pause. I stood expectant. At last Philippa spoke.
"I never thought of this," she said.
"Of course, you didn't," said I. As a matter of fact, I had not thought of it myself.
"I—I do think there's some good in you—a little."
"Ah, you're too—"
"Just a little, which under good influences—"
"Yours would be angelic!"
"Say one word," I implored.
And Philippa, her profile—which is a most admirable one—still presented to me, spoke the one word I asked.
"Perhaps," said Philippa.
I gave a cry of joy.
"Now go," added Philippa.
As a gentleman I was bound to go, I took my hat and walked straight to the door, a smile of radiant happiness on my face. Just as I reached it, Philippa spoke again.
"You—you'll see your cousin soon?"
Somehow I felt less radiant, My smile vanished.
"Good-by," said Philippa.
"Good-by," said I, and I opened the door.
"Shall you see her to-night?" asked Philippa.
I paused a moment; then I said, "I'll try," and I shut the door.
I went downstairs whistling softly. Then I lit a cigarette. I wanted it. And I said, as I walked away,
"I wonder if I'm in a tight place."
For it seemed possible that I was. So I took the night to think it over.
IN the doorway I met Captain Worsley. The occurrence did not, at the moment, strike me as significant. I was engrossed with the prospects of the coming interview. How should I break to Flo that I had at last found my true haven, and that the nonsense between herself and me must end?
Flo was sitting on the sofa. I walked up to her with a shame-faced air.
"I've come to tell you something, Flo," aid I, in a grave tone.
"Oh, bother! I'm busy," said Flo.
"But it's important. When you hear it—"
"Won't to-morrow do, Dick?"
"No," said I. I was wound up; I should probably be incapable of it to-morrow. "I have come, Flo, to beg your pardon for—"
"Oh, I didn't mind. I knew it was only your nonsense, Dick."
"My nonsense?" said I. "Oh, I don't mean that. I mean since that, Flo, you remember—"
"Look here, my dear boy," interrupted Flo, "I'm thinking about something most important—something I've got to make up my mind about, and I can't listen to you."
Upon this, being somewhat annoyed, I sat down, crossed my legs, and observed calmly:
"Well, I only came to tell you that I was in love with Philippa March."
Flo turned on me swiftly, her pre-occupation entirely vanishing.
"I thought you'd listen," I observed, complacently. "Yes, and it's all right, if I can square you. Hullo, Flo, you've done your hair different to-day! I rather like it that way."
Flo was staring at me with wide-open eyes. (I don't know whether I've mentioned that her eyes are brown; they are.)
"It's all right if—?" she repeated, as though she had not heard aright.
"If I can square you, you know," said I. "Because, you see, in my rooms the other day—"
"And you told that March girl?"
"I think I must have, from what she said," I stammered, feeling rather guilty.
"And you came here by her advice—?"
"She thought it only fair to you," I said, hastily.
"To get rid of me?" ended Flo.
"Now, do be reasonable, there's a good girl," I urged, soothingly,
Flo rose to her feet and walked to the writing-table.
"Excuse me a moment," said she, sitting down and taking a pen.
"Glad she takes it so coolly," said I to myself, and I fell to watching her as she wrote. Certainly I liked the new way of doing her hair; in fact, I preferred it to Philippa's way; there was a coquetry about it; Philippa's hair was severe, A chap doesn't always want bracing up.
"Read that," said Flo, rising and sweeping down on me with a written note in her hand.
So I read it. It was short. "Yes——Florence." I turned it over in my hand.
"If," said Flo, with unlimited dignity, "you had not happened to call, I should have written to you in the course of this afternoon—"
"This note?" I asked, looking at it in a puzzled way,
"No, not that note. I should have written to release you from your promise to me."
"My dear Flo!" I said, radiant."Then that's all right. How confoundedly lucky! Why, I've been making myself beastly unhappy, and feeling like a brute, when all the time there was nothing in it! Philippa will be awfully glad." And I beamed upon Flo.
"And to inform you," she continued, in the same cold voice, "of my engagement—"
"Hullo!" I cried, sitting straight up.
"To Captain Worsley."
"Although you're my cousin, Richard, you have hardly the right—"
But I was not in the mood to listen. I was walking up and down the room. And I laughed bitterly.
"That's a girl all over! " said I. "You encourage me—hang it, you accept me—yes, you did practically; and then, without a word to me, you go and take a sweep like—"
"Well, and what did you do with Philippa March?" cried Flo, facing me in anger.
"I have come here, like a man, to—to—"
"Square me," suggested Flo.
"To arrive at an understanding with you. If you had claimed the fulfilment of my promise, I should have—I should have considered the matter, Florence."
"You're very good," said Flo, her nose in the air. "But, as you see, I don't claim it."
I looked at Flo. It was all over between us. I did not wish to part bad friends.
"You seem to have no regrets, Flo," I observed, a little ruefully.
"Really, I don't see why I should," said Flo.
"Oh, I know I'm not much of a chap," I confessed, humbly; "but with a girl who let me down easy, and didn't expect too much of me, you know—"
"Is that why you went to Philippa March?" asked Flo, suddenly.
"Who made allowances for me," I pursued, not noticing the interruption; "and didn't ask perfection of me—"
"Just what Philippa March would do," observed Flo, with conviction.
I paused in my walk, Flo sat down on the sofa. I sat down on the sofa.
There was a long silence, I was the first to break it.
"Well, I'm sure I hope you'll be happy with that fellow. He seems a glum sort of a dog, though."
"But he's so good, Dick!"
"I must say he's not over-amusing, Flo."
"There are better things than that, Dick."
"I mean one wouldn't call him clever."
"N—no. Perhaps not clever, Dick."
I turned round towards Flo.
"But, of course, all that's nothing if you love him," I observed.
"And you, of course, don't notice the little faults I see in Miss March?"
"Of course not."
"Yes—of course not."
After an interval, Flo said, laying a hand on my arm, "I'm so glad we're parting—"
"It's all for the best," said I, gently touching Flo's hand.
"Parting friends, I was going to say, Dick. We shouldn't have got on well together."
"I expect we should have quarrelled, Flo."
"Of course, we should have had some good times—"
"Trotting about together, and staying on the river—"
"And running over to Paris—"
"And—and I don't think Percival—Captain Worsley—cares much about that sort of thing."
"I know it's poison to Phil—to Miss March."
There was a silence longer than any of the previous ones.
Then I said—and I must observe that I am not in the habit of doing it before ladies—I said:
"Dick!" cried Flo,
I rose. I pointed to Flo's note, which lay on the table.
"Let's have it over," said I, sternly. "Put the beastly thing in an envelope."
Flo went to the writing-table.
"Address the beastly thing," I commanded.
Flo took quite a long while addressing it; for it must have been a full minute before she asked:
"Dick, is Jermyn Street W. or S. W.? I—I—I don't know."
"S. W.," said I, in gloomy and tragic tones.
"Thank you, Dick. I've done it now."
"Done it! I should think you have," I groaned. "So have I!"
"Will you post it?" asked Flo, and she stretched her hand out behind her, with the letter between her finger and thumb. But she kept her head the other way, and appeared to be studying the blotting-paper.
Well, I went and took the note, and I stole back to the hearth-rug,
Flo did not move.
"What a strange lottery is life!" I mused. "Who would have thought of Worsley being your husband! "
"Or Philippa March your wife!" came from the writing-table.
"It seems incredible," I murmured.
"Almost," came from the writing-table.
There was a nice bright fire in the grate. I stood and watched the jumping flame. Flo rose from the writing-table, and, crossing, stood by me; and we both watched the jumping flame.
"Do you remember," asked Flo presently, "how we used to tell fortunes from the fire?"
"Yes; and to see faces there?"
"Yes. I remember, Dick. I don't see anything there now."
"I should like to see something," said I.
"Would you? What?" asked Flo.
Now, as we happened to be standing, my hand, which held the captain's letter, was in immediate proximity to Flo's hand, which, as I chanced to observe, held her handkerchief.
"Very much indeed," said I, and I touched Flo's hand with the corner of the letter.
"Oh!" gasped Flo.
I advanced my hand (which, as I say, contained the letter) slowly towards the fire. Flo watched it with a fascinated gaze; she did not move. My hand hovered over the fire; a bright, sudden flash of flame blazed up triumphantly.
"Look, look! Now!" I cried. "What do you see there now?"
Flo turned to me with a swift smile under moist eyes.
"Why, you're—!" I cried,
"There's an eyelash in my eye," said Flo. "And, Dick, how silly you are! I shall have to write it again!"
There was yet another pause.
"I suppose," Flo then observed, "that nobody ever writes a letter twice in quite the same words, do they, Dick?"
I said they did not.
I went downstairs the happiest man alive. And, I pledge my word, it was not till I reached the corner of the street that the thought struck me, and I cried aloud, in dismay:
"By Jove, I haven't done it!"
In the course of talk one is so apt to forget things.