The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 2 Chapter 1

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

It was generally admitted in the Family—and perhaps outside it— that if any one wanted to discuss the Family, or hear news of the Family, or give advice to the Family, or make laws for the Family, it was all to be done at Mrs. Golightly's over the tea. And the Family—as the Golightlys understood the term —was a large, unlimited body, not subject to arbitrary laws and conditions: any one might belong to it, provided only that the any one was in some way or other, whether by accident or necessity or marriage or any other mysterious cause, on speaking terms with the immediate representatives or distant connexions of the Golightly stock.

On one particular afternoon, therefore—a warm, bright afternoon in May—a small party was assembled in Mrs. Golightly's drawing-room. The party consisted of that lady herself, her husband, her step-son, Lady Hemingway, and Mrs. Godfrey Provence.

"Fancy!" said Lady Hemingway, "Grace has been married three years to-day."
"And where is Godfrey?" said George Golightly. Grace started a sigh, but checked it and smiled instead. The smile was both touching and interesting: touching because forced, interesting because it implied an arrière pensée. At least this was George's analysis of it. The rest were less observant, or rather more indifferent as to the subtle lights and shades of Grace's not too-varying expression.

"Godfrey is at the Museum," she said; "he will be there all day."

In appearance and manner she had certainly improved since her marriage. Her face—formerly too red and round—was thinner and merely pink: she had perfect self-possession: she talked better: she had lived with Godfrey long enough to catch his way of looking at things—that is to say, she had caught it as a trick—she knew the view he would be likely to take of anything; as for his way of getting it, of that she knew nothing. She avoided the labyrinth. So people called her original—not knowing her husband. But the really curious thing was this: her husband thought her original too, and often admired her wit. Unconscious victim of egoism! It was his own.

"I think," went on Grace, "he quite forgot it was the anniversary of our wedding-day: so like him, you know, and I hadn't the heart to remind him."

"Good gracious!" said her mother, "don't be sentimental! You can't expect a man who works with his head to remember every little household matter."

"I don't expect it," said Grace; "you misunderstand me. I didn't remind him because he looked so happy, for him, when he started for the Museum. If I had said anything, he might have thought that he ought to stay at home, or take me to a concert or something of the sort, like an ordinary husband. Next week I dare say he will remember and be awfully grieved about it. He will think he has neglected a duty, and then—well, whenever he feels that, I believe if I asked for the moon he would try to get it."

"You are lucky to have married such a man," said Lady Hemingway; "he's a most willing creature!"

"But she never asks for the moon," remarked George.

Grace said nothing. When she asked for anything, it was always within arm-reach after a certain amount of straining.

"By the bye," said Lady Hemingway, suddenly, "did you see in the paper yesterday morning that Sir Edward Cargill is dead. Typhoid fever. Such a pity ! And he only came into the title a month ago."

"Nice young fellow—inclined to be stout—twelve thousand a year, at least," said the Captain, rapidly. "Belonged to my club—rarely dined there—dined deuced well when he did. Knew him quite well—very civil. Quite cut up to hear of his death. Only seven-and-twenty. Shocking!"

"I just mentioned him," said Lady Hemingway, "because I thought that Godfrey was friendly with the Cargills at one time. Didn't he visit them in the country—or something?"

"Oh no," said Harriet;" he knew the Heathcotes very well, and one of them married the poor man who is just dead. That's all."

"Ah!" said Lady Hemingway, "is that it?" She waited, and then—"The Cargill woman is very good looking."

"So I've heard," said Harriet.

"Men over thirty rave about her," said Lady Hemingway. " Did Godfrey ever rave?"

Grace began to bristle at once. "Godfrey never raves about any one," she said, "but if he admires either of the Heathcote girls, it is Agatha, the eldest. He always says that she has the most regular features. I don't suppose he ever saw much of the other, for she must have been practically engaged to young Cargill the summer Godfrey was at Little Speenham."

"I see," said Lady Hemingway. She could not resist adding, however, "Clergymen's daughters are always so sly. You never know what they're up to. They usually catch the richest men in the parish."

"And play the devil with the others," added the good Captain.

"Precisely," said his sister.

"How dreadful!" murmured Harriet. Then she turned to Grace, who for some reason looked a little sulky. "How is little Elizabeth?" she said; "does she seem fond of her father?"

"Oh, yes," said Grace. "Of course she is only two—a baby really—but they get on very well."

"Does he want her to be extraordinary," said Captain Golightly—"learn metaphysics, and all that? Ugh!" He had an idea that metaphysic had something to do with medicine.

"No," said Grace, "he only wants her to be healthy. Health with him means a whole system of philosophy."

"Poor little beggar!" groaned the Captain; "and won't you have a doctor's bill—that's all."

"Clever men never have their children properly educated," said Lady Hemingway. "Grace will have to see that the child is brought up in a lady-like manner. Not that the bringing-up will matter much one way or the other—since she's a girl. If her looks are all right, one needn't worry about anything else—except to see that her clothes suit her. But there's plenty of time for that. You can't do much with her till she's out. Of course, take care of her complexion and keep her back straight. That's quite enough to keep any mother occupied."

"If I were only stronger!" said Grace. She was always a little uneasy when interest in herself threatened to spread to her child. She had, perhaps, the irritating half-suspicion that the child repaid interest better—might eventually end even in getting it all. She had seen this very nearly happen in the case of her husband. She was fond of little Elizabeth, too; she wanted her to be noticed: to have had a plain, stupid little girl whom nobody cared about—that would have been a thorn in the flesh, and a weariness; and yet—and yet—well, it was hard to get reflected glory from one's own child. The whole principle was wrong.

"If I were only stronger!" she repeated. George looked at her, and wondered why he had never remarked—before her marriage—the clear grey of her eyes, her well-proportioned form, and her restless, nervous mouth. Then he remembered how, for a long time, he had been gradually changing his opinion with regard to Grace—changing it so much, and so gradually, that to-day, when he found himself admiring her eyes and her figure, she seemed to possess all the novelty of a new acquaintance combined with the tried charm of the old. There is nothing more fascinating to a child than an old doll with a new head. The doll, in course of time, swells the dust- heap, but the sentiment is everlasting. It is like the worm which never dies. It overwhelmed George now. He looked at Grace again, and something in her air—a resigned, gentle melancholy—made him fear she was not happy. He felt sorry for her, and angry with Godfrey. "He doesn't understand her," he thought. "He means well, but he is too much wrapt up in his work. She wants sympathy and tenderness, and he takes her to a concert. What a stick!" The more he pondered it, the sadder he grew. "She is pining away under his neglect," he thought.

"You wish you were stronger!" said Lady Hemingway; "what is the matter with you? I wish I had a quarter of your health. Dr. Ives told me, the other day, he considered you quite the most robust woman he knows."

"Ah, well," said Grace, "I'm only too glad to hear it, I'm sure—only doctors don't know everything." Soon after that she kissed her mother and her aunt, said good-bye, and left. George Golightly took her home; he said he wanted to see Godfrey.

For a short time they walked in silence. It was Grace's suggestion that they should walk; she said she was fond of walking, but could very seldom find any one to walk with: Godfrey was a very early riser, and took his exercise before breakfast. Again she sighed, but added, "Dear Godfrey ! It is such happiness to see him so completely engrossed with his work."

"You're so unselfish," said George, gruffly.

"Oh no," said Grace, "don't say that. When a woman marries a gifted man like Godfrey, one of her first duties is surely self-effacement. You see, I regard it as a duty—not a virtue at all. I won't say that I fully realized this when I married. In those days I was very unreasonable, and hoped to keep him entirely to myself. I wanted his ideas to be given to me first, and then—well, then I thought there would be plenty of crumbs for the public. Wasn't I selfish? How could I have expected it? Of course, I soon saw how foolish I was. You know how silent he is—particularly about his writing—and then, when he has been working all day and is too tired to read, he likes to sit and think, or perhaps play with the child. If I only thought of myself, I might be tempted to wish he were a trifle more like other men, or one of those barristers who write a little. They are generally very agreeable, and just literary enough to be interesting. But I'm afraid all this sounds like grumbling—whereas I have everything to be thankful for."

"It seems to me you have a pretty dull time of it," said George.

"Well," said Grace, "doing one's duty is not the liveliest thing in life. But it is strengthening—morally if not physically. It is always comforting to feel that one is trying to do right."

"How much more noble women are than men," said George with enthusiasm, and thinking that a certain shade of brown looked awfully well with blonde hair.

"I cannot agree with you there," said Grace.

"Women, I know, have often noble impulses, but they fail in acting up to them. Suppose we put it this way—that women want to be noble, and some men are."

George reflected on the sweetness of fellow-feeling. "I think Godfrey's a thoroughly good sort, you know," he said suddenly, as a sort of propitiation to his conscience for a lapse he was not quite able, or did not want to explain.

"He has fine qualities," said Grace. And again they were both silent.

Grace had no doubt married for what she considered affection. It was not very deep nor very strong, but it was essentially respectful. Perhaps, too, it was more than half gratitude. Provence was the first man who had ever taken any marked interest in her as an individual; one or two had allowed her to play piano to their fiddle; here and there one had sent her a book "with the author's compliments"; dancing men, who dined at her mother's, usually asked her for a waltz and the Lancers—somewhere at the end of a programme; men who didn't dance talked to her on politics, the theatres, religion, and other grave matters, but not one of them had ever, like Godfrey, talked to her about Herself. Until she met him, she had bowed in humiliation and self-pity to her mother's dictum—"Grace was cut out to be a companion to an elderly lady, in exchange for a comfortable home—the sort of thing one reads in the Morning Post. She will never make a good marriage." He had given wings to a clay bird: as much gratitude as one could expect from clay, she gave in return.

"Yes," she repeated, "Godfrey has fine qualities. But I wish—though, of course, no one is perfect—he would not give way to his moods. It is very difficult sometimes to please him. He doesn't find fault, you know; but just looks—well, that very trying look of his. Not as if he thought himself better than other people—one could deal with an expression like that—but as though he felt grieved that other people were not better themselves. Do you understand? And can you imagine anything more irritating?"

"He was always like that," said George. "It's a manner that gives a lot of offence."

"Naturally it does," said Grace, "and yet I can't break him of it; in fact, I can't explain it to him. We are nearly home now," she went on. "It has been such a help to me, to be able to talk to you like this. I am so much alone with my own thoughts. I think it must be good for me to speak out sometimes."

"How is it we saw so little of each other—before you married?" said George. "I feel as though I had missed something."

Grace blushed, and stumbled a little as she walked.

"Take care," he said, and caught hold of her arm.

"Thank you," said Grace. " I think I trod on a piece of coal."

"These ruffians are not careful enough," said George, savagely.

"What a ridiculous idea it is to pour coal through a hole in the pavement." And then they both laughed a little uneasily.

As they reached the house, they saw Godfrey standing on the doorstep. George turned red, and felt guilty. He did not accept Godfrey's warm invitation to stay for dinner.

Provence was carrying an immense bunch of daffodils in his hand, which he held towards his wife after Golightly had left them.

"You see, Grace," he said, "I have not forgotten, after all."

Grace had no eye for the flowers; she saw only the amused grin on the face of a passing butcher-boy.

"My dear Godfrey," she said, "thanks awfully. But why didn't you have them sent up from the shop? It looks so odd to carry them through the streets—such a large bunch, too."

She gave them to the housemaid when she got into the house, and told her to "arrange" them for the dinner-table. Godfrey went into his study, and remembered miserably how he had once given Cynthia a field-poppy, and she had kissed it. Although he persuaded himself that she had probably thrown it into a ditch when his back was turned, he sighed. Why was transcendent virtue so much less charming in its methods than mere worldliness? It was small consolation to think that most men had wondered the same thing since the Fall of Adam; nor did it occur to him that the fault did not rest with virtue, but with what man is too apt to mistake for it.