The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 1 Chapter 5

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V.

There was never a Rachel who had not lurking possibilities of the Jezebel, nor a Jezebel who had nothing of the Rachel—in weak moments. Cynthia had no sooner gained her point with Provence, when she began to have misgivings. She was not at all sure that she had been right. She should have waited a little longer : she should have remembered that if genius has an infinite capacity for taking pains it has also the tendency to dream—a process which the practical onlooker is apt to mistake for dawdling. At first she reproached herself bitterly for her want of judgment: she had been betrayed into vulgarity: she wondered—the thought was unbearable—if Provence had a sorrowful contempt for her views on art and the artistic life. But she had always her boundless self-appreciation to come to the rescue in hours like this: when there was no longer any doubt in her mind that a mistake had been made, it did not take long to decide that Provence himself had been entirely to blame. He ought to have shown more firmness : he had given up his most cherished convictions because of some idle words she had spoken in a fit of caprice. The phrase " idle words," which her ingenious conscience had given her at less than a nod, she pounced on and worked up into a whole theory of justification. The case stood thus:—She could not in reason be expected to marry a man whose career as yet was all promise and no execution: she was not a servant-maid nor a Rachel, to wait for her lover while he served his time: she had, in her love for him and in her anxiety to find some practical basis for their engagement, no doubt urged him to take the vulgar and tangible in preference to the aesthetic and visionary: her error was that she had spoken under the pressure of the moment, without due thought and against her own true instincts; he, being the man and the one whose career was in question, should have stood his ground and refused to be influenced. Then, how she would have respected him! She was thinking all this when the postbag arrived and in it a letter from Provence. This was the letter:—

"I cannot keep the promise I made you. I cannot say yes to Dobbs—I would rather slice ham in a cook- shop. Dearest, dearest, do understand this and give me a little time.—G. P."

She read this, trembled with anger, and was perhaps more truly in love with him than she had ever been in her life. Unfortunately, however, she did not know this, but rushed to Lady Theodosia, who was sitting alone in the drawing-room knitting charity comforters for the poor.

"That is the way he treats me," she said, giving her aunt the letter. "I am tired of him. What does he want me to do? Men are so selfish. I was a fool to listen to him in the beginning."

"Geniuses are never practical," said Lady Theodosia.

"The fact of the matter is this," said Cynthia, "the artistic temperament ought not to marry"

Lady Theodosia looked her perfect agreement, but said nothing.

Cynthia began to march up and down the room.

"The whole thing has been a mistake," she said; "I must put an end to it. I was not destined for a villa and a dinner of herbs."

"Some herbs are so richly gravied they might very well pass for ox," said her aunt. "If an author does get on, he gets on very well indeed."

"But how if he doesn't?" said Cynthia.

"That's the point," said Lady Theodosia ; "do you feel like taking the risk?"

Cynthia looked out of the window. It was a singularly clear, bright day; in the distance she could see the clock-tower of Northwold Hall.

"No," she said, slowly, "I do not feel like taking the risk."

Lady Theodosia gave two short sighs—one for Godfrey, one for human nature—and then smiled at her niece.

"A wise decision," she said.

"Although I have been a fool," said Cynthia, "thank goodness I have not had the folly to parade about the country with my fiancé tacked on to my skirts. As it is, nobody knows anything about it."

"I hope he will not do anything absurd when you tell him," said Lady Theodosia.

"I shall write it," said Cynthia.

"Writing is dangerous," said her aunt.

"Not anything that I write," said Cynthia.

And then—was it fate or accident?—the door opened and Edward Cargill was announced.

"That is the man for Cynthia," thought Lady Theodosia at once; "he would be very kind to her and keep her in comfort."

"How awfully jolly to find you in!" exclaimed that amiable gentleman. "Mother sent a lot of messages, but I forget every one of them. I hope you don't mind," and he settled down in a chair with the comfortable air of a man who has determined to be happy for, at least, an hour.

"We won't mind if you can tell us something more exciting than the messages," said Cynthia.

"You are sarcastic," said Edward; "it's tremendously hard on a fellow to expect him to be interesting when he comes from a dull place like ours. I don't know why it is, but houses are always the liveliest and all that sort of thing when the woman isn't one of these awfully good housekeepers. Mother is such a splendid manager," he added.

"That is a very happy remark," said Lady Theodosia, "and just reminds me that I am due at a committee-meeting in half an hour. Perhaps I shall find you here when I come back. I sha'n't be long."

"Thanks awfully," said Edward, "perhaps you will—if Miss Heathcote can stand me."

"He is really a very ingenuous, simple-hearted creature," thought Lady Theodosia as she hurried down the corridor." He would be so grateful to Cynthia for marrying him."

When the door closed on Lady Theodosia, Edward leant forward in his chair and began to flick imaginary specks of dust off his boots with his riding-whip. Cynthia understood the movement well—it was a habit of Edward's when he was labouring under mental excitement. Among her stronger qualities, resignation to the inevitable was perhaps the foremost. "He is now going to make a bigger fool of himself than usual," she thought.

"I like Lady Theodosia very much," he began, "but I'm not sorry she's gone."

"That's very rude."

"No, it isn't—at least, it isn't rude to tell you. It always seems so natural to tell you everything I think."

"You regard me as a kind of indulgent grandmother, in fact."

"Cynthia, how can you?"

"Don't look so tragic; it doesn't suit you."

"I don't believe you ever cared about any one in your life; I don't believe you could."

"I never tried. How should I set to work?"

"Well, you ought to let yourself go more—you must let yourself go if you want to fall in love. As it is now, I am sure you could argue yourself out of anything."

"Mustn't one argue if one is in love?"

"No; it's ever so much nicer to keep quiet and just go on loving."

"I call that very weak," said Cynthia. "I don't believe in falling in love, as you call it, to begin with; but if I felt that there was any—person—for whom I felt more—respect—than others, I should have to satisfy myself that the—person—could bear criticism."

"But if you love any one," said Edward, eagerly, "you don't want to criticise them. Don't you remember in ' Fifine at the Fair ' the husband tells his wife to see herself in his soul, and not bother so much about her actual personal appearance? and of course the same would apply to a character. Browning doesn't express it quite that way," he added, "but that is what it comes to. I got a fellow to explain it to me."

"I should have hated that husband," said Cynthia.

"How I should respect a man who had the strength of character to say, 'Cynthia, if there is anything in your style, I don't admire it. You are too tall, and I don't like the colour of your hair. However—' and so on. That would be treating me like a rational being."

"My experience of women is—" said Edward; and then he blushed. "I mean," he said, "all women like to be appreciated. Anyhow," he added, desperately, "if a woman is awfully beautiful, I don't see any harm in telling her so."

"If she is—awfully beautiful—perhaps not. You see, she would probably know it."

"I don't believe you know how beautiful you are."

"How you take one's breath away! I know I am—not exactly repulsive."

"You are lovely."

"These compliments are very noisy, and—and you have no right to say them."

"No right! When you know I love the very ground under your feet."

"Well! I don't know anything of the kind, and—I wish you wouldn't."

"I can't help it."

"I should think you would have more self-respect."

"Damn my self-respect."

"Do you mistake me for your brown mare?"

"I beg your pardon—but I will damn anything or anybody that comes between us."

"How dare you talk of things coming between us? I don't understand you. You are nothing to me whatever. And as for this display of temper, I should say you had no self-respect to damn. You see I don't mince words when I speak my mind."

"Why should you—to me? You can pitch things at me, if you like."

"This conversation does not promise to end satisfactorily to either of us."

"Cynthia, will you marry me?"

"Can you presume to ask such a question—now?"

"When a man's in earnest he doesn't think of opportunities and occasions. I must know to-day whether I am to blow my brains out or not."

"Don't do anything rash, but ride home and devour an immense dinner first. I hope, too, you will sleep well after it. How can you make yourself so ridiculous?"

"You will see that I am in earnest—too late. Cynthia, once more—will you marry me?"

"I will not marry you nor any other man."

"I shall shoot myself."

"If you particularly wish, I won't stand in your way."

"Have you no heart? Are you made of stone? You know I have loved you for years—all my life— from the first time I saw you. I remember how you looked quite well. Your nurse was curling your hair round a stick, and you were keeping as quiet as a mouse. You were five and a half. And you can tell me I am nothing to you!"

"She never curled my hair; it always curled naturally! As for saying you are nothing to me, I was angry—then. I don't dislike you—in your proper place."

"Then will you marry me?"

"I will see."

"Oh, Cynthia ! "

"Don't touch me, please. We are not Hodge and Betsy. And let me warn you, if you want to make me angry—so angry that I will never speak to you again—try to kiss me, or something unpleasant of that sort."

"You would soon get accustomed to it. After all, it's the most usual and natural thing to do—when one's engaged."

"Then engage yourself to some one who is usual and natural, for I am neither."

"May I tell them we are engaged?"

"Tell them we are engaged! What are you talking about?"

"You have promised to marry me, and I shall run up to town and buy you a diamond and sapphire ring. Do you like sapphires?"

"They're not bad—when they're a good colour."

"They shall be the finest."

"I prefer one—very nice one—set in diamonds. And, Edward, I want more than anything—if you want to be charming—a diamond pin for my hair."

"If I may kiss your little finger, you shall have two."

"Do you think I can be bribed by diamonds? Besides, two pins would look vulgar; I only want one."

"You have made me so happy!" and then, as he stood by her, he ventured to touch a loose piece of hair which had strayed on her forehead.

For some reason the movement reminded her of Provence. In an instant she sprang to her feet. "How dare you?" she said. "I told you not to touch me. That is what people call caressing. I hate it."

"I will never do it again."

Then, to his dismay, she burst into tears. He had never seen her in tears before.

"I won't have the diamonds," she said, passionately.

"Why did you talk about them? I ought to wear sackcloth and ashes for the rest of my life."

"Dear Cynthia, I did not mean to make you angry. Forgive me."

"Will you leave me, then, for to-day? I want to think. My head aches; I am not myself." She looked at him for once—appealingly.

"You are not angry with me? You have forgiven me?"

"Yes—only go. If I seem disagreeable, I am sorry." It is not so hard as one might think to be magnanimous to a beautiful woman. Edward rode home in high spirits.

When he had gone, Cynthia went to her own room and wrote a letter to Provence:

"Dear Mr.Provence,

"From your note to-day I fear you have misconstrued some remarks of mine. It would be painful to me to point out where the mistake has arisen. Should I have said painful to both of us?

In the circumstances, however, I feel I ought to tell you that Mr. Cargill has asked me to be his wife and I have accepted him. The engagement is not yet publicly announced, and will not be until we have fixed a date for the wedding.

"Believe me,

"Yours very truly,

"Cynthia Creighton Heathcote."

She posted this herself, to make sure that it went that evening. It had no sooner left her hands than she wished it back.

The path of wisdom is almost as thorny as the path of grace—even though it may lead to diamonds, and those the finest in Bond Street. Three months later, Cynthia returned to London from her honeymoon. Lady Theodosia thought that she looked handsomer than ever; as a work of art she seemed more finished. Parisian dressmakers are certainly clever; and what picture does not look better for a tasteful frame? Her expression, however, was scarcely contented.

"Are you disappointed in Edward?" Lady Theodosia ventured to say one day, when Cynthia seemed in a talking mood.

" How could I be disappointed in him?" said the bride; "is he a man who leads one to expect much?"

"Is he kind? " said Lady Theodosia.

Cynthia smiled. "He is manageable."

"Well," said her aunt, "that is something. I hope he is generous."

"There is Scotch blood in the family, you know," said Cynthia.

"Still, you don't regret the marriage? " said Lady Theodosia; "you don't think you could have done better? "

"I make it a rule never to regret anything," said Cynthia; "regret is a bore. I prefer to call my mistakes experience."

"I don't think you would have been happier with—a poor man," said her aunt, after a pause.