The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 2 Chapter 3

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

III.

George Golightly was a barrister, of the kind known as rising. He was considered extremely safe for a safe case; to employ him for the defence meant professionally and to those who knew, that if one had fallen there was very little to prove it. To employ him for the prosecution meant that one was in possession of strong evidence, perhaps injured, not impossibly respectable. He worked hard and regularly: he made a good income: he dined with his banker—when he had no better engagement: the Lord Chief Justice called him Golightly: the wives of the Queen's Counsels gave him at least a fortnight's notice when they asked him to dinner. In Lady Hemingway's phrase—he held a position. To be rising is in many respects more agreeable than to have risen. In one case it is all looking forward, in the other it is all looking back—and looking back is not the joyfullest work in the world. Lot's wife was an allegory. George, therefore, was happy as mortals go. One morning, however, he awoke and was not happy—on the contrary, feverish, worried, and with no head for business. He had been dreaming of his cousin's wife. He tried to eat—he tried to read: he thanked God—being orthodox—that it was Sunday and he could be stupid without causing comment. He started for a walk and found himself making towards Bloomsbury: he turned back when he was in sight of Montague Street and Grace's window and walked back almost as far as Regent Circus. Then he hailed a hansom and went to Montague Street again. This time he went into the house.

Grace was at the piano when he was shown into the drawing-room.

"Godfrey is out," she said, and blushed a little.

"If he won't be long I can wait," said George; "but don't stop playing on my account, unless you are tired. I have had rather a bad night. Some music is just what I want."

"I did not sleep very well either," said Grace. "I suppose it's the weather—the sudden change."

"I dare say it is," said George, but they each avoided the other's eyes.

"What shall I play?" said Grace, hurriedly.

He began to turn over the loose music by her side.

"What is this?" he said. "Gounod and Shelley. 'The fountains mingle with the river.' I should like that."

"I will sing it," said Grace. She had a clear, rather melodious voice, and it had been well-trained. On that particular day she sang even better than usual, and managed to throw something which passed for passion into the song. But the song itself easily passes for passion, on paper.

When she had finished, George cast about him for something to say. "That is Art," he got out at last, "the real thing. Thank you."

"It is a man's song really," said Grace.

"Why?"

"Well, I think a man ought to sing it. Of course it is a man speaking. A woman wouldn't make love quite—quite that way. She wouldn't like to. You see it is rather—you know—rather—"

"Oh, yes, of course, it is rather—"

"It is very like Shelley, in fact."

"One can't help thinking," said George, after another long pause, "that Shelley knew what he was writing about. It's awfully true, what he says."

"Is it?" said Grace, playing Gounod's accompaniment very softly to fill the gaps in the conversation.

"Well, isn't it?"

"I don't know. It doesn't sound much like Godfrey, for instance."

"Oh! … Godfrey. Poor dear old Godfrey—hardly! He's an awfully good sort, but really—you know—he's got no more poetry about him than—than a whale."

"You shall not make me laugh!" and then she began a series of rather musical giggles. George noticed that she had a dimple in her cheek.

"You must admit it's the truth," he said; "he is a stick, isn't he? Bless him!"

"How can you? He's a kind, excellent husband—mama says so." At this she laughed till the tears came. A cold-blooded observer would have said she was inclined to be hysterical.

"I like to see a man with some passion about him," said George.

"What is passion, really?" said Grace. "I always associate it with bad temper." Her expression was that of a mild-eyed saint—in a glass window. Saints in real life are made of sterner stuff.

"Passion is—is Shelley and that sort of thing," said George, largely.

"I see. That explains what mama meant once when she told me never to mention it. She said it was a man's expression: that ladies never spoke of it. I was very young and inexperienced at the time, and I didn't understand her. But I don't think that girls ought to read poetry. It only fills their heads with ideas, and perhaps hopes, which can never be realized. Mama was right."

"Why do you say 'never realized' so sadly?"

"Was I sad?"

"Very."

She played a wrong note. "One cannot help thinking," she said.

"Thinking what, Grace?"

"Of things," she said.

"I, too, think of things," he said, eagerly. "I think how different they might have been."

"It is too late now," she murmured, "we mustn't."

"I suppose we mustn't."

"We ought not," said Grace, severely.

"Thoughts will come," said George; "they're the very devil for coming."

"We won't talk about it," said Grace.

"I'm not sure that it isn't better to face facts and thresh them out," said George, who was pacing the floor.

"It requires so much courage, and I dare not."

George knelt by her side and took both her hands.

"You dare not? Then, Grace, you do—"

"Yes, I do—" Her face was so near and so pink he thought it was folly not to kiss her.

"That was wrong," said Grace; "there is Godfrey and little Elizabeth—"

"Where?" said George, springing to his feet.

"—to be considered," said Grace.

"Confound little Elizabeth!"

"How can you? And I'm her mother."

"But Godfrey is her father," said George. "I have to take that into account. Why on earth did you marry him?"

"Don't be cruel to me, George. I—I didn't know any better." George could not help thinking how very unpleasant she would seem, if he didn't happen to be in love with her. As it was, an indefinable fear began to creep over him. He wished he had never seen her; and kissed her again. This reassured him to a certain extent. It was absurd to be afraid of a woman he could kiss—and so easily.

"I should never consider the child before you," said Grace—"you are first. I would not like to take her away from Godfrey; he's so fond of her."

"Take her away!" stammered George; "of course not."

"You know I never did care for the world," continued Grace, softly; "the world is nothing to me. I have often thought of this day; I knew it would have to come sooner or later. But now it has come, you must give me time to think, before I decide on any definite step."

"Of course," said George, feeling something like dislike for her.

"I cannot endure my life as it is," she went on.

"We could begin a new life—together in Italy."

"Do you mean—we could run away?"

She nodded her head. "There is nothing else to do." She was tired of Montague Street, tired of her child, tired of Godfrey, tired of herself—above all, tired of being poor. "There is nothing else to do," she repeated, "is there? As you say, it is best to face facts. People would talk a little at first, no doubt, but they would soon get used to it. You see we can marry afterwards. That will make it all right."

George could only think of himself as a rabbit caught in a trap. He had nibbled the lettuce, and now he felt the iron teeth.

"We—perhaps we ought not to forget—everybody, Godfrey and your mother—"

"We must not judge them by our selves. They have not so much feeling as we have, you must remember. Besides, Godfrey could get damages."

George started as though he had been stung.

"Damages! Oh! he would never get damages."

"Husbands always do, dear," she said, sweetly.

Then she pointed to the window. "See the rain!" she cried. "It will not be like this in Italy."

Then she put one of her arms round his neck and leaned her head against his breast. She looked, somehow, simple enough and rather piteous. She was a little woman—he towered above her, and she had said that she loved him. He felt like a pillar of strength. Could he be harsh to a clinging, pathetic creature, with long eye-lashes? He put aside any consideration as to his loving her, and resolved to make the best of it.

"You will be kind to me, George," she whispered. "Remember that I am giving up everything for you!"

He ordered champagne with his dinner that evening and drank far too much of it, hoping it would make him feel happy. He explained to the brother barrister who shared his chambers—an amiable man who knew any amount about Gregorian Music, and tippled—that it was the funeral banquet to his career.

"My dear old chap," said his friend, "for God's sake, don't you take to the bottle as well. See what it has made of me."

"There are worse things than the bottle," said George, wildly.

"You don't mean to say it's a woman."

The unhappy young man hung his head.

"Shoot her!" cried his friend; "shoot her! A rope round your neck is a trifle compared to a woman, and hanging is quick."

George hid his face in the sofa cushions and sobbed.

"You've been drinking," said the friend, "and your nerves are queer. But shoot her! She's carrion already."