The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/The Sinner's Comedy/Chapter 8

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VIII.

After Sacheverell had left the Vallences', Emily's whole manner changed. Her gaiety was astonishing. To Carlotta's dispassionate mind it seemed rather hysterical; her laugh was so much merrier than her eyes; her wit had the saltness of tears. Carlotta could not think she was unhappy. Every circumstance forbade the suspicion. As for Emily herself, she tried to believe—and to a certain extent succeeded in believing—that she was supremely contented. To be pretty, to be rich, to have a devoted lover—could she ask for more ? To Go as much as one could, and Think as little as one might, was the secret of happiness.

"Thought should be unconscious," said Sir Richard; "it is a natural process like digestion."

"Perhaps you are right," sighed Emily.

She was too impressionable, too quick with her sympathy and too imaginative to be rigidly faithful to any one creed or any one creature. She could weave fairy garments for the ugliest scarecrow; if Ferdinand were absent she would find something to adore in the present Caliban. Was Sacheverell right, she wondered, was work and suffering the good part; or was Sir Richard—with his laws of Nature, and that Nature a smiling goddess—right?

"At one time," said Carlotta to her one day, "I thought you liked the Dean. He has not such charming manners as Sir Richard, but one can hardly compare them."

"Hyperion to a Satyr" said Emily.

"What!" Carlotta's eyes opened wide.

"I—I did not mean Sir Richard by Hyperion."

"Emily, I'm afraid you are fickle."

"Perhaps I am."

"But if you liked the Dean——"

"I didn't exactly like him. I might have, but—— you see, I know quite well he despises me."

"How could he?"

Emily remembered the last look he gave her. "Well, I suppose he is more sorry for me than anything. It was so unpleasant, you know—he happened to come into the music-room when that stupid Richard was kissing my hand. I couldn't explain that it really wasn't my fault. I don't suppose I shall ever see him again. I don't care a bit—only—it isn't nice to know that he has got quite a wrong impression of me."

"One of these days," said Carlotta, "your flirting will bring you unhappiness. Sir Richard is not a man who will stand nonsense."

"Don't frighten me," said Emily, who was trembling already. Carlotta's words only confirmed her own fear.

"Do you love him?" said Carlotta.

"I don't know," said Emily. "I suppose I do—in a way. I am afraid of him. He is so determined."

"I wish you had never met him!" said Carlotta, prime instigator of their meetings.

"So do I," said Emily, with a sort of whimper.

"Have you promised to marry him?"

"He thinks I have. It comes to the same thing. Oh dear!"

"My dear Emily, this is too ridiculous."

"It's dreadful. But what can I do? I was never so worried in my life. We are going to Egypt. Egypt is newer than Paris. And a quiet wedding—just in my going-away dress. Do you think that a pale shade of grey trimmed with sable tails———"

"Why can't you be honest and admit that you are in love with him?"

"Well, he is very nice. You should hear him read Herrick. He feels every word of it, and it is not as though he were a man who had been in love a hundred times. I am the only one. Just think—out of all the women he has met. We must be happy."

"You can't command the future," said Carlotta, stonily.

"Let me think I can," said Emily, "that's half the battle," and (she was spending a few days with Carlotta) she went out of the room singing.

Nevertheless when she found herself in her own bedroom, with the door locked, she cried. She herself could have given no cause for her tears: that was the worst of it. It was an unsatisfactory misery in every sense — without beginning, or middle, or end, or reason, or hope. She paused once in her weeping to wonder what she could wear down to dinner. There was the velvet with point de Flandres. Sacheverell hated velvet, but Sacheverell was not there to see. The sobbing continued. To be loved was better than loving—much better. She would marry Sir Richard, who worshipped her, andforget——— There was no one to forget.

At dinner that evening she was dazzling. Sir Richard was there.

In the drawing-room, afterwards, Mrs. Molle and Carlotta sat by the fireplace and discussed bronchitis. Digby was confined to his room with neuralgia—and an adverse criticism. Sir Richard saw his chance. There was a window-seat some distance from the fire. Would Emily sit there and watch the stars? He knew a little about astronomy.

"This is our last night here—for some time," he said, in a low voice, "it is never so nice at Hurst Place."

"This is certainly very pleasant," said Emily. "What is the name of that star?"

"Do you remember what you promised?"

"I have promised ever so many things, haven't I? I hope I shall be able to keep some of them."

"You must keep one."

"That wasn't a promise—exactly. And I forget. What was it about?"

"You do not forget."

"Do take care! They will see you. You are hurting my hand. I suppose I do remember. How you tease! Besides—I was in fun."

"I was not."

"Well, what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to marry me."

"Marriage is so dull, Richard. There would be no more Herrick. . . . We are so happy as we are. Why spoil it? Men are never satisfied!"

"Yes, they are. If it were not for that Molle person and Carlotta! Shall we ever be alone together—ever able to talk except five yards apart, with our eyes on the door or some old woman? I am sick of it. This is the sort of thing that drives people into matrimony. Don't laugh at me—it is. Emily, meet me in town on Monday. Let us be married quietly—by special license. We won't tell any one about it. You need only regard it as a form of engagement—if you like. I only want to know that you belong to me—that whatever happens, you are my wife. Is that much to ask—when I love you as I do?"

"Wouldn't it seem odd? What would people say?" The idea, however, appealed to her. Though it spelt a marriage certificate, it sounded like throwing her cap over the windmill. Irresistible witchcraft! Her eyes sparkled.

"What fun!" she said.

Everything, he saw, depended on his self-restraint. A movement, an expression, a word too much or too little, and his case would be ruined. That she was a nice problem in diplomatics was not the least considerable of her fascinations: he could never be sure of her. She was not a woman one could woo dozing. He looked round. Mrs. Molle and Carlotta had gone into the little boudoir which led off from the drawing-room. He could hear their voices: they were searching for a mislaid letter. Swiftly and boldly he caught Emily in his arms and—did not kiss her. He just put his lips to her ear and said, "You are so beautiful!" Badly managed, the thing would have been a hug. Unspeakable vulgarity! As he did it, however, it was a movement of much grace indicative of passion.

Emily said nothing.

"Dearest, you will come on Monday?"

She lifted up her face to say "No." It somehow got mixed on the way with a "Yes" from Sir Richard. The combination was no syllable.

They were married, however, by a Bishop, assisted by an Archdeacon. Everyone agreed that it was even grander than her first wedding.