The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 19

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CHAPTER XIX


ON THE LAKE


IN making love, as in every other branch of life consistency is the quality most to be aimed at. To hedge is fatal. A man must choose the line of action that he judges to be best suited to his temperament, and hold to it without deviation. If Lochinvar snatches the maiden up on his saddlebow, he must continue in that vein. He must not fancy that, having accomplished the feat, he can resume the episode on lines of devotional humility. Prehistoric man, who conducted his courtship with a club, never fell into the error of apologizing when his bride complained of headache.

Jimmy did not apologize. The idea did not enter his mind. He was feeling prehistoric. His heart was beating fast, and his mind was in a whirl, but the one definite thought that came to him during the first few seconds of the journey was that he ought to have done this earlier. This was the right way. Pick her up and carry her off, and leave uncles and fathers and butter-haired peers of the realm to look after themselves. This was the way. Alone together in their own little world of water, with nobody to interrupt and nobody to overhear! He should have done it before. He had wasted precious, golden time, hanging about while futile men chattered to her of things that could not possibly be of interest. But he had done the right thing at last. He had got her. She must listen to him now. She could not help listening. They were the only inhabitants of this new world.

He looked back over his shoulder at the world they had left. The last of the Dreevers had rounded the clump of laurels, and was standing at the edge of the water, gazing perplexedly after the retreating canoe.

"These poets put a thing very neatly sometimes," said Jimmy reflectively, as he dug the paddle into the water. "The man who said, 'Distance lends enchantment to the view,' for instance. Dreever looks quite nice when you see him as far away as this, with a good strip of water in between."

Molly, gazing over the side of the boat into the lake, abstained from feasting her eyes on the picturesque spectacle.

"Why did you do it?" she said, in a low voice.

Jimmy shipped the paddle, and allowed the canoe to drift. The ripple of the water against the prow sounded clear and thin in the stillness. The world seemed asleep. The sun blazed down, turning the water to flame. The air was hot, with the damp electrical heat that heralds a thunderstorm. Molly's face looked small and cool in the shade of her big hat. Jimmy, as he watched her, felt that he had done well. This was, indeed, the way.

"Why did you do it?" she said again.

"I had to."

"Take me back."

"No."

He took up the paddle, and placed a broader strip of water between the two worlds; then paused once more.

"I have something to say to you first," he said.

She did not answer. He looked over his shoulder again. His lordship had disappeared.

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

She nodded. He filled his pipe carefully, and lighted it. The smoke moved sluggishly up through the still air. There was a long silence. A fish jumped close by, falling back in a shower of silver drops. Molly started at the sound, and half-turned.

"That was a fish," she said, as a child might have done.

Jimmy knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"What made you do it?" he asked abruptly, echoing her own question.

She drew her fingers slowly through the water without speaking.

"You know what I mean. Dreever told me."

She looked up with a flash of spirit, which died away as she spoke.

"What right?" She stopped, and looked away again.

"None," said Jimmy. "But I wish you would tell me."

She hung her head. Jimmy bent forward, and touched her hand.

"Don't" he said; "for God's sake, don't! You mustn't."

"I must," she said, miserably.

"You sha'n't. It's wicked."

"I must. It's no good talking about it. It's too late."

"It's not. You must break it off to-day."

She shook her head. Her fingers still dabbled mechanically in the water. The sun was hidden now behind a gray veil, which deepened into a sullen black over the hill behind the castle. The heat had grown more oppressive, with a threat of coming storm.

"What made you do it?" he asked again.

"Don't let's talk about it … Please!"

He had a momentary glimpse of her face. There were tears in her eyes. At the sight, his self-control snapped.

"You sha'n't," he cried. "It's ghastly. I won't let you. You must understand now. You must know what you are to me. Do you think I shall let you—?"

A low growl of thunder rumbled through the stillness, like the muttering of a sleepy giant. The black cloud that had hung over the hill had crept closer. The heat was stifling. In the middle of the lake, some fifty yards distant, lay the island, cool and mysterious in the gathering darkness.

Jimmy broke off, and seized the paddle.

On this side of the island was a boathouse, a little creek covered over with boards and capable of sheltering an ordinary rowboat. He ran the canoe in just as the storm began, and turned her broadside on, so that they could watch the rain, which was sweeping over the lake in sheets.

He began to speak again, more slowly now.

"I think I loved you from the first day I saw you on the ship. And, then, I lost you. I found you again by a miracle, and lost you again. I found you here by another miracle, but this time I am not going to lose you. Do you think I'm going to stand by and see you taken from me by—by—"

He took her hand.

"Molly, you can't love him. It isn't possible. If I thought you did, I wouldn't try to spoil your happiness. I'd go away. But you don't. You can't. He's nothing. Molly!"

The canoe rocked as he leaned toward her.

"Molly!"

She said nothing; but, for the first time, her eyes met his, clear and unwavering. He could read fear in them, fear—not of himself, of something vague, something he could not guess at. But they shone with a light that conquered the fear as the sun conquers fire; and he drew her to him, and kissed her again and again, murmuring incoherently.

Suddenly, she wrenched herself away, struggling like some wild thing. The boat plunged.

"I can't," she cried in a choking voice. "I mustn't. Oh, I can't!"

He stretched out a hand, and clutched at the rail than ran along the wall. The plunging ceased. He turned. She had hidden her face, and was sobbing, quietly, with the forlorn hopelessness of a lost child.

He made a movement toward her, but drew back. He felt dazed.

The rain thudded and splashed on the wooden roof. A few drops trickled through a crack in the boards. He took off his coat, and placed it gently over her shoulders.

"Molly!"

She looked up with wet eyes.

"Molly, dear, what is it?"

"I mustn't. It isn't right."

"I don't understand."

"I mustn't, Jimmy."

He moved cautiously forward, holding the rail, till he was at her side, and took her in his arms.

"What is it, dear? Tell me."

She clung to him without speaking.

"You aren't worrying about him, are you—about Dreever? There's nothing to worry about. It'll be quite easy and simple. I'll tell him, if you like. He knows you don't care for him; and, besides, there's a girl in London that he—"

"No, no. It's not that."

"What is it, dear? What's troubling you?"

"Jimmy—" She stopped.

He waited.

"Yes?"

"Jimmy, my father wouldn't—father—father doesn't—"

"Doesn't like me?"

She nodded miserably.

A great wave of relief swept over Jimmy. He had imagined—he hardly knew what he had imagined: some vast, insuperable obstacle; some tremendous catastrophe, whirling them asunder. He could have laughed aloud in his happiness. So, this was it, this was the cloud that brooded over them—that Mr. McEachern did not like him! The angel, guarding Eden with a fiery sword, had changed into a policeman with a truncheon.

"He must learn to love me," he said, lightly.

She looked at him hopelessly. He could not see; he could not understand. And how could she tell him? Her father's words rang in her brain. He was "crooked." He was "here on some game." He was being watched. But she loved him, she loved him! Oh, how could she make him understand?

She clung tighter to him, trembling. He became serious again.

"Dear, you mustn't worry," he said. "It can't be helped. He'll come round. Once we're married—"

"No, no. Oh, can't you understand? I couldn't, I couldn't!"

Jimmy's face whitened. He looked at her anxiously.

"But, dear!" he said. "You can't—do you mean to say—will that—" he searched for a word—"stop you?" he concluded.

"It must," she whispered.

A cold hand clutched at his heart. His world was falling to pieces, crumbling under his eyes.

"But—but you love me," he said, slowly. It was as if he were trying to find the key to a puzzle. "I—don't see."

"You couldn't. You can't. You're a man. You don't know. It's so different for a man! He's brought up all his life with the idea of leaving home. He goes away naturally."

"But, dear, you couldn't live at home all your life. Whoever you married—"

"But this would be different. Father would never speak to me again. I should never see him again. He would go right out of my life. Jimmy, I couldn't. A girl can't cut away twenty years of her life, and start fresh like that. I should be haunted. I should make you miserable. Every day, a hundred little things would remind me of him, and I shouldn't be strong enough to resist them. You don't know how fond he is of me, how good he has always been. Ever since I can remember, we've been such friends. You've only seen the outside of him, and I know how different that is from what he really is. All his life he has thought only of me. He has told me things about himself which nobody else dreams of, and I know that all these years he has been working just for me. Jimmy, you don't hate me for saying this, do you?"

"Go on," he said, drawing her closer to him.

"I can't remember my mother. She died when I was quite little. So, he and I have been the only ones—till you came."

Memories of those early days crowded her mind as she spoke, making her voice tremble; half-forgotten trifles, many of them, fraught with the glamour and fragrance of past happiness.

"We have always been together. He trusted me, and I trusted him, and we saw things through together. When I was ill, he used to sit up all night with me, night after night. Once—I'd only got a little fever, really, but I thought I was terribly bad—I heard him come in late, and called out to him, and he came straight in, and sat and held my hand all through the night; and it was only by accident I found out later that it had been raining and that he was soaked through. It might have killed him. We were partners, Jimmy, dear. I couldn't do anything to hurt him now, could I? It wouldn't be square."

Jimmy had turned away his head, for fear his face might betray what he was feeling. He was in a hell of unreasoning jealousy. He wanted her, body and soul, and every word she said bit like a raw wound. A moment before, and he had felt that she belonged to him. Now, in the first shock of reaction, he saw himself a stranger, an intruder, a trespasser on holy ground.

She saw the movement, and her intuition put her in touch with his thoughts.

"No, no," she cried; "no, Jimmy, not that!"

Their eyes met, and he was satisfied.

They sat there, silent. The rain had lessened its force, and was falling now in a gentle shower. A strip of blue sky, pale and watery, showed through the gray over the hills. On the island close behind them, a thrush had begun to sing.

"What are we to do?" she said, at last. "What can we do?"

"We must wait," he said. "It will all come right. It must. Nothing can stop us now."

The rain had ceased. The blue had routed the gray, and driven it from the sky. The sun, low down in the west, shone out bravely over the lake. The air was cool and fresh.

Jimmy's spirits rose with a bound. He accepted the omen. This was the world as it really was, smiling and friendly, not gray, as he had fancied it. He had won. Nothing could alter that. What remained to be done was trivial. He wondered how he could ever have allowed it to weigh upon him.

After awhile, he pushed the boat out of its shelter on to the glittering water, and seized the paddle.

"We must be getting back," he said. "I wonder what the time is. I wish we could stay out forever. But it must be late. Molly!"

"Yes?"

"Whatever happens, you'll break off this engagement with Dreever? Shall I tell him? I will if you like."

"No, I will. I'll write him a note, if I don't see him before dinner."

Jimmy paddled on a few strokes.

"It's no good," he said suddenly, "I can't keep it in. Molly, do you mind if I sing a bar or two? I've got a beastly voice, but I'm feeling rather happy. I'll stop as soon as I can."

He raised his voice discordantly.

Covertly, from beneath the shade of her big hat, Molly watched him with troubled eyes. The sun had gone down behind the hills, and the water had ceased to glitter. There was a suggestion of chill in the air. The great mass of the castle frowned down upon them, dark and forbidding in the dim light.

She shivered.