English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian best known for such...
Marriage by H. G. Wells, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Two Proposals of Mr. Magnet
It was presently quite evident to Marjorie that Mr.-49- Magnet intended to propose marriage to her, and she did not even know whether she wanted him to do so.
She had met him first the previous summer while she had been staying with the Petley-Cresthams at High Windower, and it had been evident that he found her extremely attractive. She had never had a real grown man at her feet before, and she had found it amazingly entertaining. She had gone for a walk with him the morning before she came away—a frank and ingenuous proceeding that made Mrs. Petley-Crestham say the girl knew what she was about, and she had certainly coquetted with him in an extraordinary manner at golf-croquet. After that Oxbridge had swallowed her up, and though he had called once on her mother while Marjorie was in London during the Christmas vacation, he hadn't seen her again. He had written—which was exciting—a long friendly humorous letter about nothing in particular, with an air of its being quite the correct thing for him to do, and she had answered, and there had been other exchanges. But all sorts of things had happened in the interval, and Marjorie had let him get into quite a back place in her thoughts—the fact that he was a member of her father's club had seemed somehow to remove him from a great range of possibilities—until a drift in her mother's talk towards him and a letter from him with an indefinable change in tone towards intimacy, had restored him to importance.-50- Now here he was in the foreground of her world again, evidently more ardent than ever, and with a portentous air of being about to do something decisive at the very first opportunity. What was he going to do? What had her mother been hinting at? And what, in fact, did the whole thing amount to?
Marjorie was beginning to realize that this was going to be a very serious affair indeed for her—and that she was totally unprepared to meet it.
It had been very amusing, very amusing indeed, at the Petley-Cresthams', but there were moments now when she felt towards Mr. Magnet exactly as she would have felt if he had been one of the Oxbridge tradesmen hovering about her with a "little account," full of apparently exaggerated items....
Her thoughts and feelings were all in confusion about this business. Her mind was full of scraps, every sort of idea, every sort of attitude contributed something to that Twentieth Century jumble. For example, and so far as its value went among motives, it was by no means a trivial consideration; she wanted a proposal for its own sake. Daffy had had a proposal last year, and although it wasn't any sort of eligible proposal, still there it was, and she had given herself tremendous airs. But Marjorie would certainly have preferred some lighter kind of proposal than that which now threatened her. She felt that behind Mr. Magnet were sanctions; that she wasn't free to deal with this proposal as she liked. He was at Buryhamstreet almost with the air of being her parents' guest.
Less clear and more instinctive than her desire for a proposal was her inclination to see just all that Mr. Magnet was disposed to do, and hear all that he was disposed to say. She was curious. He didn't behave in the least as she had expected a lover to behave.-51- But then none of the boys, the "others" with whom she had at times stretched a hand towards the hem of emotion, had ever done that. She had an obscure feeling that perhaps presently Mr. Magnet must light up, be stirred and stirring. Even now his voice changed very interestingly when he was alone with her. His breath seemed to go—as though something had pricked his lung. If it hadn't been for that new, disconcerting realization of an official pressure behind him, I think she would have been quite ready to experiment extensively with his emotions....
But she perceived as she lay awake next morning that she wasn't free for experiments any longer. What she might say or do now would be taken up very conclusively. And she had no idea what she wanted to say or do.
Marriage regarded in the abstract—that is to say, with Mr. Magnet out of focus—was by no means an unattractive proposal to her. It was very much at the back of Marjorie's mind that after Oxbridge, unless she was prepared to face a very serious row indeed and go to teach in a school—and she didn't feel any call whatever to teach in a school—she would probably have to return to Hartstone Square and share Daffy's room again, and assist in the old collective, wearisome task of propitiating her father. The freedoms of Oxbridge had enlarged her imagination until that seemed an almost unendurably irksome prospect. She had tasted life as it could be in her father's absence, and she was beginning to realize just what an impossible person he was. Marriage was escape from all that; it meant not only respectful parents but a house of her very own, furniture of her choice, great freedom of movement, an authority, an importance. She had seen what it meant to be a-52- prosperously married young woman in the person of one or two resplendent old girls revisiting Bennett College, scattering invitations, offering protections and opportunities....
Of course there is love.
Marjorie told herself, as she had been trained to tell herself, to be sensible, but something within her repeated: there is love.
Of course she liked Mr. Magnet. She really did like Mr. Magnet very much. She had had her girlish dreams, had fallen in love with pictures of men and actors and a music master and a man who used to ride by as she went to school; but wasn't this desolating desire for self-abandonment rather silly?—something that one left behind with much else when it came to putting up one's hair and sensible living, something to blush secretly about and hide from every eye?
Among other discrepant views that lived together in her mind as cats and rats and parrots and squirrels and so forth used to live together in those Happy Family cages unseemly men in less well-regulated days were wont to steer about our streets, was one instilled by quite a large proportion of the novels she had read, that a girl was a sort of self-giving prize for high moral worth. Mr. Magnet she knew was good, was kind, was brave with that truer courage, moral courage, which goes with his type of physique; he was modest, unassuming, well off and famous, and very much in love with her. His True Self, as Mrs. Pope had pointed out several times, must be really very beautiful, and in some odd way a line of Shakespeare had washed up in her consciousness as being somehow effectual on his behalf:
"Love looks not with the eye but with the mind."
She felt she ought to look with the mind. Nice-53- people surely never looked in any other way. It seemed from this angle almost her duty to love him....
Perhaps she did love him, and mistook the symptoms. She did her best to mistake the symptoms. But if she did truly love him, would it seem so queer and important and antagonistic as it did that his hair was rather thin upon the crown of his head?
She wished she hadn't looked down on him....
Poor Marjorie! She was doing her best to be sensible, and she felt herself adrift above a clamorous abyss of feared and forbidden thoughts. Down there she knew well enough it wasn't thus that love must come. Deep in her soul, the richest thing in her life indeed and the best thing she had to give humanity, was a craving for beauty that at times became almost intolerable, a craving for something other than beauty and yet inseparably allied with it, a craving for deep excitement, for a sort of glory in adventure, for passion—for things akin to great music and heroic poems and bannered traditions of romance. She had hidden away in her an immense tumultuous appetite for life, an immense tumultuous capacity for living. To be loved beautifully was surely the crown and climax of her being.
She did not dare to listen to these deeps, yet these insurgent voices filled her. Even while she drove her little crocodile of primly sensible thoughts to their sane appointed conclusion, her blood and nerves and all her being were protesting that Mr. Magnet would not do, that whatever other worthiness was in him, regarded as a lover he was preposterous and flat and foolish and middle-aged, and that it were better never to have lived than to put the treasure of her life to his meagre lips and into his hungry, unattractive-54- arms. "The ugliness of it! The spiritless horror of it!" so dumbly and formlessly the rebel voices urged.
"One has to be sensible," said Marjorie to herself, suddenly putting down Shaw's book on Municipal Trading, which she imagined she had been reading....
(Perhaps all marriage was horrid, and one had to get over it.)
That was rather what her mother had conveyed to her.
Mr. Magnet made his first proposal in form three days later, after coming twice to tea and staying on to supper. He had played croquet with Mr. Pope, he had been beaten twelve times in spite of twinges in the sprained ankle—heroically borne—had had three victories lucidly explained away, and heard all the particulars of the East Purblow experiment three times over, first in relation to the new Labour Exchanges, then regarded at rather a different angle in relation to female betting, tally-men, and the sanctities of the home generally, and finally in a more exhaustive style, to show its full importance from every side and more particularly as demonstrating the gross injustice done to Mr. Pope by the neglect of its lessons, a neglect too systematic to be accidental, in the social reform literature of the time. Moreover, Mr. Magnet had been made to understand thoroughly how several later quasi-charitable attempts of a similar character had already become, or must inevitably become, unsatisfactory through their failure to follow exactly in the lines laid down by Mr. Pope.
Mr. Pope was really very anxious to be pleasant and agreeable to Mr. Magnet, and he could think of no surer way of doing so than by giving him an-55- unrestrained intimacy of conversation that prevented anything more than momentary intercourse between his daughter and her admirer. And not only did Mr. Magnet find it difficult to get away from Mr. Pope without offence, but whenever by any chance Mr. Pope was detached for a moment Mr. Magnet discovered that Marjorie either wasn't to be seen, or if she was she wasn't to be isolated by any device he could contrive, before the unappeasable return of Mr. Pope.
Mr. Magnet did not get his chance therefore until Lady Petchworth's little gathering at Summerhay Park.
Lady Petchworth was Mrs. Pope's oldest friend, and one of those brighter influences which save our English country-side from lassitude. She had been more fortunate than Mrs. Pope, for while Mr. Pope with that aptitude for disadvantage natural to his temperament had, he said, been tied to a business that never gave him a chance, Lady Petchworth's husband had been a reckless investor of exceptional good-luck. In particular, led by a dream, he had put most of his money into a series of nitrate deposits in caves in Saghalien haunted by benevolent penguins, and had been rewarded beyond the dreams of avarice. His foresight had received the fitting reward of a knighthood, and Sir Thomas, after restoring the Parish Church at Summerhay in a costly and destructive manner, spent his declining years in an enviable contentment with Lady Petchworth and the world at large, and died long before infirmity made him really troublesome.
Good fortune had brought out Lady Petchworth's social aptitudes. Summerhay Park was everything that a clever woman, inspired by that gardening literature which has been so abundant in the opening years of the twentieth century, could make it. It had-56- rosaries and rock gardens, sundials and yew hedges, pools and ponds, lead figures and stone urns, box borderings and wilderness corners and hundreds and hundreds of feet of prematurely-aged red-brick wall with broad herbaceous borders; the walks had primroses, primulas and cowslips in a quite disingenuous abundance, and in spring the whole extent of the park was gay, here with thousands of this sort of daffodil just bursting out and here with thousands of that sort of narcissus just past its prime, and every patch ready to pass itself off in its naturalized way as the accidental native flower of the field, if only it hadn't been for all the other different varieties coming on or wilting-off in adjacent patches....
Her garden was only the beginning of Lady Petchworth's activities. She had a model dairy, and all her poultry was white, and so far as she was able to manage it she made Summerhay a model village. She overflowed with activities, it was astonishing in one so plump and blonde, and meeting followed meeting in the artistic little red-brick and green-stained timber village hall she had erected. Now it was the National Theatre and now it was the National Mourning; now it was the Break Up of the Poor Law, and now the Majority Report, now the Mothers' Union, and now Socialism, and now Individualism, but always something progressive and beneficial. She did her best to revive the old village life, and brought her very considerable powers of compulsion to make the men dance in simple old Morris dances, dressed up in costumes they secretly abominated, and to induce the mothers to dress their children in art-coloured smocks instead of the prints and blue serge frocks they preferred. She did not despair, she said, of creating a spontaneous peasant art movement in the district, springing from the people-57- and expressing the people, but so far it had been necessary to import not only instructors and material, but workers to keep the thing going, so sluggish had the spontaneity of our English countryside become.
Her little gatherings were quite distinctive of her. They were a sort of garden party extending from mid-day to six or seven; there would be a nucleus of house guests, and the highways and byeways on every hand would be raided to supply persons and interests. She had told her friend to "bring the girls over for the day," and flung an invitation to Mr. Pope, who had at once excused himself on the score of his ankle. Mr. Pope was one of those men who shun social gatherings—ostensibly because of a sterling simplicity of taste, but really because his intolerable egotism made him feel slighted and neglected on these occasions. He told his wife he would be far happier with a book at home, exhorted her not to be late, and was seen composing himself to read the "Vicar of Wakefield"—whenever they published a new book Mr. Pope pretended to read an old one—as the hired waggonette took the rest of his family—Theodore very unhappy in buff silk and a wide Stuart collar—down the avenue.
They found a long lunch table laid on the lawn beneath the chestnuts, and in full view of the poppies and forget-me-nots around the stone obelisk, a butler and three men servants with brass buttons and red and white striped waistcoats gave dignity to the scene, and beyond, on the terrace amidst abundance of deckchairs, cane chairs, rugs, and cushions, a miscellaneous and increasing company seethed under Lady Petchworth's plump but entertaining hand. There were, of course, Mr. Magnet, and his friend Mr. Wintersloan—Lady Petchworth had been given-58- to understand how the land lay; and there was Mr. Bunford Paradise the musician, who was doing his best to teach a sullen holiday class in the village schoolroom to sing the artless old folk songs of Surrey again, in spite of the invincible persuasion of everybody in the class that the songs were rather indelicate and extremely silly; there were the Rev. Jopling Baynes, and two Cambridge undergraduates in flannels, and a Doctor something or other from London. There was also the Hon. Charles Muskett, Lord Pottinger's cousin and estate agent, in tweeds and very helpful. The ladies included Mrs. Raff, the well-known fashion writer, in a wonderful costume, the anonymous doctor's wife, three or four neighbouring mothers with an undistinguished daughter or so, and two quiet-mannered middle-aged ladies, whose names Marjorie could not catch, and whom Lady Petchworth, in that well-controlled voice of hers, addressed as Kate and Julia, and seemed on the whole disposed to treat as humorous. There was also Fraulein Schmidt in charge of Lady Petchworth's three tall and already abundant children, Prunella, Prudence, and Mary, and a young, newly-married couple of cousins, who addressed each other in soft undertones and sat apart. These were the chief items that became distinctive in Marjorie's survey; but there were a number of other people who seemed to come and go, split up, fuse, change their appearance slightly, and behave in the way inadequately apprehended people do behave on these occasions.
Marjorie very speedily found her disposition to take a detached and amused view of the entertainment in conflict with more urgent demands. From the outset Mr. Magnet loomed upon her—he loomed nearer and nearer. He turned his eye upon her as-59- she came up to the wealthy expanse of Lady Petchworth's presence, like some sort of obsolescent iron-clad turning a dull-grey, respectful, loving searchlight upon a fugitive torpedo boat, and thereafter he seemed to her to be looking at her without intermission, relentlessly, and urging himself towards her. She wished he wouldn't. She hadn't at all thought he would on this occasion.
At first she relied upon her natural powers of evasion, and the presence of a large company. Then gradually it became apparent that Lady Petchworth and her mother, yes—and the party generally, and the gardens and the weather and the stars in their courses were of a mind to co-operate in giving opportunity for Mr. Magnet's unmistakable intentions.
And Marjorie with that instability of her sex which has been a theme for masculine humour in all ages, suddenly and with an extraordinary violence didn't want to make up her mind about Mr. Magnet. She didn't want to accept him; and as distinctly she didn't want to refuse him. She didn't even want to be thought about as making up her mind about him—which was, so to speak, an enlargement of her previous indisposition. She didn't even want to seem to avoid him, or to be thinking about him, or aware of his existence.
After the greeting of Lady Petchworth she had succeeded very clumsily in not seeing Mr. Magnet, and had addressed herself to Mr. Wintersloan, who was standing a little apart, looking under his hand, with one eye shut, at the view between the tree stems towards Buryhamstreet. He told her that he thought he had found something "pooty" that hadn't been done, and she did her best to share his artistic interests with a vivid sense of Mr. Magnet's tentative incessant approach behind her.
He joined them, and she made a desperate attempt-60- to entangle Mr. Wintersloan in a three-cornered talk in vain. He turned away at the first possible opportunity, and left her to an embarrassed and eloquently silent tête-à-tête. Mr. Magnet's professional wit had deserted him. "It's nice to see you again," he said after an immense interval. "Shall we go and look at the aviary?"
"I hate to see birds in cages," said Marjorie, "and it's frightfully jolly just here. Do you think Mr. Wintersloan will paint this? He does paint, doesn't he?"
"I know him best in black and white," said Mr. Magnet.
Marjorie embarked on entirely insincere praises of Mr. Wintersloan's manner and personal effect; Magnet replied tepidly, with an air of reserving himself to grapple with the first conversational opportunity.
"It's a splendid day for tennis," said Marjorie. "I think I shall play tennis all the afternoon."
"I don't play well enough for this publicity."
"It's glorious exercise," said Marjorie. "Almost as good as dancing," and she decided to stick to that resolution. "I never lose a chance of tennis if I can help it."
She glanced round and detected a widening space between themselves and the next adjacent group.
"They're looking at the goldfish," she said. "Let us join them."
Everyone moved away as they came up to the little round pond, but then Marjorie had luck, and captured Prunella, and got her to hold hands and talk, until Fraulein Schmidt called the child away. And then Marjorie forced Mr. Magnet to introduce her to Mr. Bunford Paradise. She had a bright idea-61- of sitting between Prunella and Mary at the lunch table, but a higher providence had assigned her to a seat at the end between Julia—or was it Kate?—and Mr. Magnet. However, one of the undergraduates was opposite, and she saved herself from undertones by talking across to him boldly about Newnham, though she hadn't an idea of his name or college. From that she came to tennis. To her inflamed imagination he behaved as if she was under a Taboo, but she was desperate, and had pledged him and his friend to a foursome before the meal was over.
"Don't you play?" said the undergraduate to Mr. Magnet.
"Very little," said Mr. Magnet. "Very little—"
At the end of an hour she was conspicuously and publicly shepherded from the tennis court by Mrs. Pope.
"Other people want to play," said her mother in a clear little undertone.
Mr. Magnet fielded her neatly as she came off the court.
"You play tennis like—a wild bird," he said, taking possession of her.
Only Marjorie's entire freedom from Irish blood saved him from a vindictive repartee.
"Shall we go and look at the aviary?" said Mr. Magnet, reverting to a favourite idea of his, and then remembered she did not like to see caged birds.
"Perhaps we might see the Water Garden?" he said. "The Water Garden is really very delightful indeed—anyhow. You ought to see that."
On the spur of the moment, Marjorie could think of no objection to the Water Garden, and he led her off.
"I often think of that jolly walk we had last-62- summer," said Mr. Magnet, "and how you talked about your work at Oxbridge."
Marjorie fell into a sudden rapture of admiration for a butterfly.
Twice more was Mr. Magnet baffled, and then they came to the little pool of water lilies with its miniature cascade of escape at the head and source of the Water Garden. "One of Lady Petchworth's great successes," said Mr. Magnet.
"I suppose the lotus is like the water-lily," said Marjorie, with no hope of staving off the inevitable——
She stood very still by the little pool, and in spite of her pensive regard of the floating blossoms, stiffly and intensely aware of his relentless regard.
"Marjorie," came his voice at last, strangely softened. "There is something I want to say to you."
She made no reply.
"Ever since we met last summer——"
A clear cold little resolution not to stand this, had established itself in Marjorie's mind. If she must decide, she would decide. He had brought it upon himself.
"Marjorie," said Mr. Magnet, "I love you."
She lifted a clear unhesitating eye to his face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Magnet," she said.
"I wanted to ask you to marry me," he said.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Magnet," she repeated.
They looked at one another. She felt a sort of scared exultation at having done it; her mother might say what she liked.
"I love you very much," he said, at a loss.
"I'm sorry," she repeated obstinately.
"I thought you cared for me a little."
She left that unanswered. She had a curious-63- feeling that there was no getting away from this splashing, babbling pool, that she was fixed there until Mr. Magnet chose to release her, and that he didn't mean to release her yet. In which case she would go on refusing.
"I'm disappointed," he said.
Marjorie could only think that she was sorry again, but as she had already said that three times, she remained awkwardly silent.
"Is it because——" he began and stopped.
"It isn't because of anything. Please let's go back to the others, Mr. Magnet. I'm sorry if I'm disappointing."
And by a great effort she turned about.
Mr. Magnet remained regarding her—I can only compare it to the searching preliminary gaze of an artistic photographer. For a crucial minute in his life Marjorie hated him. "I don't understand," he said at last.
Then with a sort of naturalness that ought to have touched her he said: "Is it possible, Marjorie—that I might hope?—that I have been inopportune?"
She answered at once with absolute conviction.
"I don't think so, Mr. Magnet."
"I'm sorry," he said, "to have bothered you."
"I'm sorry," said Marjorie.
A long silence followed.
"I'm sorry too," he said.
They said no more, but began to retrace their steps. It was over. Abruptly, Mr. Magnet's bearing had become despondent—conspicuously despondent. "I had hoped," he said, and sighed.
With a thrill of horror Marjorie perceived he meant to look rejected, let every one see he had been rejected—after encouragement.
What would they think? How would they look?-64- What conceivably might they not say? Something of the importance of the thing she had done, became manifest to her. She felt first intimations of regret. They would all be watching, Mother, Daffy, Lady Petchworth. She would reappear with this victim visibly suffering beside her. What could she say to straighten his back and lift his chin? She could think of nothing. Ahead at the end of the shaded path she could see the copious white form, the agitated fair wig and red sunshade of Lady Petchworth——
Mrs. Pope's eye was relentless; nothing seemed hidden from it; nothing indeed was hidden from it; Mr. Magnet's back was diagrammatic. Marjorie was a little flushed and bright-eyed, and professed herself eager, with an unnatural enthusiasm, to play golf-croquet. It was eloquently significant that Mr. Magnet did not share her eagerness, declined to play, and yet when she had started with the Rev. Jopling Baynes as partner, stood regarding the game with a sort of tender melancholy from the shade of the big chestnut-tree.
Mrs. Pope joined him unobtrusively.
"You're not playing, Mr. Magnet," she remarked.
"I'm a looker-on, this time," he said with a sigh.
"Marjorie's winning, I think," said Mrs. Pope.
He made no answer for some seconds.
"She looks so charming in that blue dress," he remarked at last, and sighed from the lowest deeps.
"That bird's-egg blue suits her," said Mrs. Pope, ignoring the sigh. "She's clever in her girlish way,-65- she chooses all her own dresses,—colours, material, everything."
(And also, though Mrs. Pope had not remarked it, she concealed her bills.)
There came a still longer interval, which Mrs. Pope ended with the slightest of shivers. She perceived Mr. Magnet was heavy for sympathy and ripe to confide. "I think," she said, "it's a little cool here. Shall we walk to the Water Garden, and see if there are any white lilies?"
"There are," said Mr. Magnet sorrowfully, "and they are very beautiful—quite beautiful."
He turned to the path along which he had so recently led Marjorie.
He glanced back as they went along between Lady Petchworth's herbaceous border and the poppy beds. "She's so full of life," he said, with a sigh in his voice.
Mrs. Pope knew she must keep silent.
"I asked her to marry me this afternoon," Mr. Magnet blurted out. "I couldn't help it."
Mrs. Pope made her silence very impressive.
"I know I ought not to have done so without consulting you"—he went on lamely; "I'm very much in love with her. It's——It's done no harm."
Mrs. Pope's voice was soft and low. "I had no idea, Mr. Magnet.... You know she is very young. Twenty. A mother——"
"I know," said Magnet. "I can quite understand. But I've done no harm. She refused me. I shall go away to-morrow. Go right away for ever.... I'm sorry."
Another long silence.
"To me, of course, she's just a child," Mrs. Pope said at last. "She is only a child, Mr. Magnet. She-66- could have had no idea that anything of the sort was in your mind——"
Her words floated away into the stillness.
For a time they said no more. The lilies came into sight, dreaming under a rich green shade on a limpid pool of brown water, water that slept and brimmed over as it were, unconsciously into a cool splash and ripple of escape. "How beautiful!" cried Mrs. Pope, for a moment genuine.
"I spoke to her here," said Mr. Magnet.
The fountains of his confidence were unloosed.
"Now I've spoken to you about it, Mrs. Pope," he said, "I can tell you just how I—oh, it's the only word—adore her. She seems so sweet and easy—so graceful——"
Mrs. Pope turned on him abruptly, and grasped his hands; she was deeply moved. "I can't tell you," she said, "what it means to a mother to hear such things——"
Words failed her, and for some moments they engaged in a mutual pressure.
"Ah!" said Mr. Magnet, and had a queer wish it was the mother he had to deal with.
"Are you sure, Mr. Magnet," Mrs. Pope went on as their emotions subsided, "that she really meant what she said? Girls are very strange creatures——"
"She seems so clear and positive."
"Her manner is always clear and positive."
"Yes. I know."
"I know she has cared for you."
"A mother sees. When your name used to be mentioned——. But these are not things to talk about. There is something—something sacred——"
"Yes," he said. "Yes. Only——Of course, one thing——"
Mrs. Pope seemed lost in the contemplation of-67- water-lilies.
"I wondered," said Mr. Magnet, and paused again.
Then, almost breathlessly, "I wondered if there should be perhaps—some one else?"
She shook her head slowly. "I should know," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"I know I should know."
"I am sure I should know. A mother's intuition——"
Memories possessed her for awhile. "A girl of twenty is a mass of contradictions. I can remember myself as if it was yesterday. Often one says no, or yes—out of sheer nervousness.... I am sure there is no other attachment——"
It occurred to her that she had said enough. "What a dignity that old gold-fish has!" she remarked. "He waves his tail—as if he were a beadle waving little boys out of church."
Mrs. Pope astonished Marjorie by saying nothing about the all too obvious event of the day for some time, but her manner to her second daughter on their way home was strangely gentle. It was as if she had realized for the first time that regret and unhappiness might come into that young life. After supper, however, she spoke. They had all gone out just before the children went to bed to look for the new moon; Daffy was showing the pseudo-twins the old moon in the new moon's arms, and Marjorie found herself standing by her mother's side. "I hope-68- dear," said Mrs. Pope, "that it's all for the best—and that you've done wisely, dear."
Marjorie was astonished and moved by her mother's tone.
"It's so difficult to know what is for the best," Mrs. Pope went on.
"I had to do—as I did," said Marjorie.
"I only hope you may never find you have made a Great Mistake, dear. He cares for you very, very much."
"Oh! we see it now!" cried Rom, "we see it now! Mummy, have you seen it? Like a little old round ghost being nursed!"
When Marjorie said "Good-night," Mrs. Pope kissed her with an unaccustomed effusion.
It occurred to Marjorie that after all her mother had no selfish end to serve in this affair.
The idea that perhaps after all she had made a Great Mistake, the Mistake of her Life it might be, was quite firmly established in its place among all the other ideas in Marjorie's mind by the time she had dressed next morning. Subsequent events greatly intensified this persuasion. A pair of new stockings she had trusted sprang a bad hole as she put them on. She found two unmistakable bills from Oxbridge beside her plate, and her father was "horrid" at breakfast.
Her father, it appeared, had bought the ordinary shares of a Cuban railway very extensively, on the distinct understanding that they would improve. In a decent universe, with a proper respect for meritorious gentlemen, these shares would have improved accordingly, but the weather had seen fit to shatter the wisdom of Mr. Pope altogether. The sugar crop had collapsed, the bears were at work, and every-69- morning now saw his nominal capital diminished by a dozen pounds or so. I do not know what Mr. Pope would have done if he had not had his family to help him bear his trouble. As it was he relieved his tension by sending Theodore from the table for dropping a knife, telling Rom when she turned the plate round to pick the largest banana that she hadn't the self-respect of a child of five, and remarking sharply from behind the Times when Daffy asked Marjorie if she was going to sketch: "Oh, for God's sake don't whisper!" Then when Mrs. Pope came round the table and tried to take his coffee cup softly to refill it without troubling him, he snatched at it, wrenched it roughly out of her hand, and said with his mouth full, and strangely in the manner of a snarling beast: "No' ready yet. Half foo'."
Marjorie wanted to know why every one didn't get up and leave the room. She glanced at her mother and came near to speaking.
And very soon she would have to come home and live in the midst of this again—indefinitely!
After breakfast she went to the tumbledown summer-house by the duckpond, and contemplated the bills she had not dared to open at table. One was boots, nearly three pounds, the other books, over seven. "I know that's wrong," said Marjorie, and rested her chin on her hand, knitted her brows and tried to remember the details of orders and deliveries....
Marjorie had fallen into the net prepared for our sons and daughters by the delicate modesty of the Oxbridge authorities in money matters, and she was, for her circumstances, rather heavily in debt. But I must admit that in Marjorie's nature the Oxbridge conditions had found an eager and adventurous streak that rendered her particularly apt to these temptations.
I doubt if reticence is really a virtue in a teacher.-70- But this is a fearful world, and the majority of those who instruct our youth have the painful sensitiveness of the cloistered soul to this spirit of terror in things. The young need particularly to be told truthfully and fully all we know of three fundamental things: the first of which is God, the next their duty towards their neighbours in the matter of work and money, and the third Sex. These things, and the adequate why of them, and some sort of adequate how, make all that matters in education. But all three are obscure and deeply moving topics, topics for which the donnish mind has a kind of special ineptitude, and which it evades with the utmost skill and delicacy. The middle part of this evaded triad was now being taken up in Marjorie's case by the Oxbridge tradespeople.
The Oxbridge shopkeeper is peculiar among shopkeepers in the fact that he has to do very largely with shy and immature customers with an extreme and distinctive ignorance of most commercial things. They are for the most part short of cash, but with vague and often large probabilities of credit behind them, for most people, even quite straitened people, will pull their sons and daughters out of altogether unreasonable debts at the end of their university career; and so the Oxbridge shopkeeper becomes a sort of propagandist of the charms and advantages of insolvency. Alone among retailers he dislikes the sight of cash, declines it, affects to regard it as a coarse ignorant truncation of a budding relationship, begs to be permitted to wait. So the youngster just up from home discovers that money may stay in the pocket, be used for cab and train fares and light refreshments; all the rest may be had for the asking. Marjorie, with her innate hunger for good-71- fine things, with her quite insufficient pocket-money, and the irregular habits of expenditure a spasmodically financed, hard-up home is apt to engender, fell very readily into this new, delightful custom of having it put down (whatever it happened to be). She had all sorts of things put down. She and the elder Carmel girl used to go shopping together, having things put down. She brightened her rooms with colour-prints and engravings, got herself pretty and becoming clothes, acquired a fitted dressing-bag already noted in this story, and one or two other trifles of the sort, revised her foot-wear, created a very nice little bookshelf, and although at times she felt a little astonished and scared at herself, resolutely refused to estimate the total of accumulated debt she had attained. Indeed until the bills came in it was impossible to do that, because, following the splendid example of the Carmel girl, she hadn't even inquired the price of quite a number of things....
She didn't dare think now of the total. She lied even to herself about that. She had fixed on fifty pounds as the unendurable maximum. "It is less than fifty pounds," she said, and added: "must be." But something in her below the threshold of consciousness knew that it was more.
And now she was in her third year, and the Oxbridge tradesman, generally satisfied with the dimensions of her account, and no longer anxious to see it grow, was displaying the less obsequious side of his character. He wrote remarks at the bottom of his account, remarks about settlement, about having a bill to meet, about having something to go on with. He asked her to give the matter her "early attention." She had a disagreeable persuasion that if she wanted many more things anywhere she would have to pay ready money for them. She was particularly-72- short of stockings. She had overlooked stockings recently.
Daffy, unfortunately, was also short of stockings.
And now, back with her family again, everything conspired to remind Marjorie of the old stringent habits from which she had had so delightful an interlude. She saw Daffy eye her possessions, reflect. This morning something of the awfulness of her position came to her....
At Oxbridge she had made rather a joke of her debts.
"I'd swear I haven't had three pairs of house shoes," said Marjorie. "But what can one do?"
And about the whole position the question was, "what can one do?"
She proceeded with tense nervous movements to tear these two distasteful demands into very minute pieces. Then she collected them all together in the hollow of her hand, and buried them in the loose mould in a corner of the summer-house.
"Madge," said Theodore, appearing in the sunshine of the doorway. "Aunt Plessington's coming! She's sent a wire. Someone's got to meet her by the twelve-forty train."
Aunt Plessington's descent was due to her sudden discovery that Buryhamstreet was in close proximity to Summerhay Park, indeed only three miles away. She had promised a lecture on her movement for Lady Petchworth's village room in Summerhay, and she found that with a slight readjustment of dates she could combine this engagement with her promised visit to her husband's sister, and an evening or so of influence for her little Madge. So she had sent Hubert to telegraph at once, and "here," she said-73- triumphantly on the platform, after a hard kiss at Marjorie's cheek, "we are again."
There, at any rate, she was, and Uncle Hubert was up the platform seeing after the luggage, in his small anxious way.
Aunt Plessington was a tall lean woman, with firm features, a high colour and a bright eye, who wore hats to show she despised them, and carefully dishevelled hair. Her dress was always good, but extremely old and grubby, and she commanded respect chiefly by her voice. Her voice was the true governing-class voice, a strangulated contralto, abundant and authoritative; it made everything she said clear and important, so that if she said it was a fine morning it was like leaded print in the Times, and she had over her large front teeth lips that closed quietly and with a slight effort after her speeches, as if the words she spoke tasted well and left a peaceful, secure sensation in the mouth.
Uncle Hubert was a less distinguished figure, and just a little reminiscent of the small attached husbands one finds among the lower crustacea: he was much shorter and rounder than his wife, and if he had been left to himself, he would probably have been comfortably fat in his quiet little way. But Aunt Plessington had made him a Haigite, which is one of the fiercer kinds of hygienist, just in the nick of time. He had round shoulders, a large nose, and glasses that made him look astonished—and she said he had a great gift for practical things, and made him see after everything in that line while she did the lecturing. His directions to the porter finished, he came up to his niece. "Hello, Marjorie!" he said, in a peculiar voice that sounded as though his mouth was-74- full (though of course, poor dear, it wasn't), "how's the First Class?"
"A second's good enough for me, Uncle Hubert," said Marjorie, and asked if they would rather walk or go in the donkey cart, which was waiting outside with Daffy. Aunt Plessington, with an air of great bonhomie said she'd ride in the donkey cart, and they did. But no pseudo-twins or Theodore came to meet this arrival, as both uncle and aunt had a way of asking how the lessons were getting on that they found extremely disagreeable. Also, their aunt measured them, and incited them with loud encouraging noises to grow one against the other in an urgent, disturbing fashion.
Aunt Plessington's being was consumed by thoughts of getting on. She was like Bernard Shaw's life force, and she really did not seem to think there was anything in existence but shoving. She had no idea what a lark life can be, and occasionally how beautiful it can be when you do not shove, if only, which becomes increasingly hard each year, you can get away from the shovers. She was one of an energetic family of eight sisters who had maintained themselves against a mutual pressure by the use of their elbows from the cradle. They had all married against each other, all sorts of people; two had driven their husbands into bishoprics and made quite typical bishop's wives, one got a leading barrister, one a high war-office official, and one a rich Jew, and Aunt Plessington, after spending some years in just missing a rich and only slightly demented baronet, had pounced—it's the only word for it—on Uncle Hubert. "A woman is nothing without a husband," she said, and took him. He was a fairly comfortable Oxford don in his furtive way, and bringing him out and using him as a basis, she specialized in intellectual-75- philanthropy and evolved her Movement. It was quite remarkable how rapidly she overhauled her sisters again.
What the Movement was, varied considerably from time to time, but it was always aggressively beneficial towards the lower strata of the community. Among its central ideas was her belief that these lower strata can no more be trusted to eat than they can to drink, and that the licensing monopoly which has made the poor man's beer thick, lukewarm and discreditable, and so greatly minimized its consumption, should be extended to the solid side of his dietary. She wanted to place considerable restrictions upon the sale of all sorts of meat, upon groceries and the less hygienic and more palatable forms of bread (which do not sufficiently stimulate the coatings of the stomach), to increase the present difficulties in the way of tobacco purchasers, and to put an end to that wanton and deleterious consumption of sweets which has so bad an effect upon the enamel of the teeth of the younger generation. Closely interwoven with these proposals was an adoption of the principle of the East Purblow Experiment, the principle of Payment in Kind. She was quite in agreement with Mr. Pope that poor people, when they had money, frittered it away, and so she proposed very extensive changes in the Truck Act, which could enable employers, under suitable safeguards, and with the advice of a small body of spinster inspectors, to supply hygienic housing, approved clothing of moral and wholesome sort, various forms of insurance, edifying rations, cuisine, medical aid and educational facilities as circumstances seemed to justify, in lieu of the wages the employees handled so ill....
As no people in England will ever admit they-76- belong to the lower strata of society, Aunt Plessington's Movement attracted adherents from every class in the community.
She now, as they drove slowly to the vicarage, recounted to Marjorie—she had the utmost contempt for Daffy because of her irregular teeth and a general lack of progressive activity—the steady growth of the Movement, and the increasing respect shown for her and Hubert in the world of politico-social reform. Some of the meetings she had addressed had been quite full, various people had made various remarks about her, hostile for the most part and yet insidiously flattering, and everybody seemed quite glad to come to the little dinners she gave in order, she said, to gather social support for her reforms. She had been staying with the Mastersteins, who were keenly interested, and after she had polished off Lady Petchworth she was to visit Lady Rosenbaum. It was all going on swimmingly, these newer English gentry were eager to learn all she had to teach in the art of breaking in the Anglo-Saxon villagers, and now, how was Marjorie going on, and what was she going to do in the world?
Marjorie said she was working for her final.
"And what then?" asked Aunt Plessington.
"Not very clear, Aunt, yet."
"Looking around for something to take up?"
"Well, you've time yet. And it's just as well to see how the land lies before you begin. It saves going back. You'll have to come up to London with me for a little while, and see things, and be seen a little."
"I should love to."
"I'll give you a good time," said Aunt Plessington,-77- nodding promisingly. "Theodore getting on in school?"
"He's had his remove."
"And how's Sydney getting on with the music?"
"And Rom. Rom getting on?"
Marjorie indicated a more restrained success.
"And what's Daffy doing?"
"Oh! get on!" said Daffy and suddenly whacked the donkey rather hard. "I beg your pardon, Aunt?"
"I asked what you were up to, Daffy?"
"Dusting, Aunt—and the virtues," said Daffy.
"You ought to find something better than that."
"Father tells me a lot about the East Purblow Experiment," said Daffy after a perceptible interval.
"Ah!" cried Aunt Plessington with a loud encouraging note, but evidently making the best of it, "that's better. Sociological observation."
"Yes, Aunt," said Daffy, and negotiated a corner with exceptional care.
Mrs. Pope, who had an instinctive disposition to pad when Aunt Plessington was about, had secured the presence at lunch of Mr. Magnet (who was after all staying on in Buryhamstreet) and the Rev. Jopling Baynes. Aunt Plessington liked to meet the clergy, and would always if she could win them over to an interest in the Movement. She opened the meal with a brisk attack upon him. "Come, Mr. Baynes," she said, "what do your people eat here? Hubert and I are making a study of the gluttonous side of village life, and we find that no one knows so much of that as the vicar—not even the doctor."
The Reverend Jopling Baynes was a clergyman-78- of the evasive type with a quite distinguished voice. He pursed his lips and made his eyes round. "Well, Mrs. Plessington," he said and fingered his glass, "it's the usual dietary. The usual dietary."
"Too much and too rich, badly cooked and eaten too fast," said Aunt Plessington. "And what do you think is the remedy?"
"We make an Effort," said the Rev. Jopling Baynes, "we make an Effort. A Hint here, a Word there."
"No," said the Rev. Jopling Baynes, and shook his head with a kind of resignation.
"We are going to alter all that," said Aunt Plessington briskly, and went on to expound the Movement and the diverse way in which it might be possible to control and improve the domestic expenditure of the working classes.
The Rev. Jopling Baynes listened sympathetically across the table and tried to satisfy a healthy appetite with as abstemious an air as possible while he did so. Aunt Plessington passed rapidly from general principles, to a sketch of the success of the movement, and Hubert, who had hitherto been busy with his lunch, became audible from behind the exceptionally large floral trophy that concealed him from his wife, bubbling confirmatory details. She was very bright and convincing as she told of this prominent man met and subdued, that leading antagonist confuted, and how the Bishops were coming in. She made it clear in her swift way that an intelligent cleric resolved to get on in this world en route for a better one hereafter, might do worse than take up her Movement. And this touched in, she turned her mind to Mr. Magnet.
(That floral trophy, I should explain, by the by,-79- was exceptionally large because of Mrs. Pope's firm conviction that Aunt Plessington starved her husband. Accordingly, she masked him, and so was able to heap second and third helpings upon his plate without Aunt Plessington discovering his lapse. The avidity with which Hubert ate confirmed her worst suspicions and evinced, so far as anything ever did evince, his gratitude.)
"Well, Mr. Magnet," she said, "I wish I had your sense of humour."
"I wish you had," said Mr. Magnet.
"I should write tracts," said Aunt Plessington.
"I knew it was good for something," said Mr. Magnet, and Daffy laughed in a tentative way.
"I mean it," said Aunt Plessington brightly. "Think if we had a Dickens—and you are the nearest man alive to Dickens—on the side of social reform to-day!"
Mr. Magnet's light manner deserted him. "We do what we can, Mrs. Plessington," he said.
"How much more might be done," said Aunt Plessington, "if humour could be organized."
"Hear, hear!" said Mr. Pope.
"If all the humorists of England could be induced to laugh at something together."
"They do—at times," said Mr. Magnet, but the atmosphere was too serious for his light touch.
"They could laugh it out of existence," said Aunt Plessington.
It was evident Mr. Magnet was struck by the idea.
"Of course," he said, "in Punch, to which I happen to be an obscure occasional contributor——"
Mrs. Pope was understood to protest that he should not say such things.
"We do remember just what we can do either in-80- the way of advertising or injury. I don't think you'll find us up against any really solid institutions."
"But do you think, Mr. Magnet, you are sufficiently kind to the New?" Aunt Plessington persisted.
"I think we are all grateful to Punch," said the Rev. Jopling Baynes suddenly and sonorously, "for its steady determination to direct our mirth into the proper channels. I do not think that any one can accuse its editor of being unmindful of his great responsibilities——"
Marjorie found it a very interesting conversation.
She always met her aunt again with a renewal of a kind of admiration. That loud authoritative rudeness, that bold thrusting forward of the Movement until it became the sole criterion of worth or success, this annihilation by disregard of all that Aunt Plessington wasn't and didn't and couldn't, always in the intervals seemed too good to be true. Of course this really was the way people got on and made a mark, but she felt it must be almost as trying to the nerves as aeronautics. Suppose, somewhere up there your engine stopped! How Aunt Plessington dominated the table! Marjorie tried not to catch Daffy's eye. Daffy was unostentatiously keeping things going, watching the mustard, rescuing the butter, restraining Theodore, and I am afraid not listening very carefully to Aunt Plessington. The children were marvellously silent and jumpily well-behaved, and Mr. Pope, in a very unusual state of subdued amiability, sat at the end of the table with the East Purblow experiment on the tip of his tongue. He liked Aunt Plessington, and she was good for him. They had the same inherent distrust of the intelligence and good intentions of their fellow creatures, and she-81- had the knack of making him feel that he too was getting on, that she was saying things on his behalf in influential quarters, and in spite of the almost universal conspiracy (based on jealousy) to ignore his stern old-world virtues, he might still be able to battle his way to the floor of the House of Commons and there deliver himself before he died of a few sorely needed home-truths about motor cars, decadence and frivolity generally....
After lunch Aunt Plessington took her little Madge for an energetic walk, and showed herself far more observant than the egotism of her conversation at that meal might have led one to suppose. Or perhaps she was only better informed. Aunt Plessington loved a good hard walk in the afternoon; and if she could get any one else to accompany her, then Hubert stayed at home, and curled up into a ball on a sofa somewhere, and took a little siesta that made him all the brighter for the intellectual activities of the evening. The thought of a young life, new, untarnished, just at the outset, just addressing itself to the task of getting on, always stimulated her mind extremely, and she talked to Marjorie with a very real and effectual desire to help her to the utmost of her ability.
She talked of a start in life, and the sort of start she had had. She showed how many people who began with great advantages did not shove sufficiently, and so dropped out of things and weren't seen and mentioned. She defended herself for marrying Hubert, and showed what a clever shoving thing it had been to do. It startled people a little, and made them realize that here was a woman who wanted something more in a man than a handsome organ-grinder. She-82- made it clear that she thought a clever marriage, if not a startlingly brilliant one, the first duty of a girl. It was a girl's normal gambit. She branched off to the things single women might do, in order to justify this view. She did not think single women could do very much. They might perhaps shove as suffragettes, but even there a husband helped tremendously—if only by refusing to bail you out. She ran over the cases of a number of prominent single women.
"And what," said Aunt Plessington, "do they all amount to? A girl is so hampered and an old maid is so neglected," said Aunt Plessington.
"Why don't you up and marry Mr. Magnet, Marjorie?" she said, with her most brilliant flash.
"It takes two to make a marriage, aunt," said Marjorie after a slight hesitation.
"My dear child! he worships the ground you tread on!" said Aunt Plessington.
"He's rather—grown up," said Marjorie.
"Not a bit of it. He's not forty. He's just the age."
"I'm afraid it's a little impossible."
"You see I've refused him, aunt."
"Naturally—the first time! But I wouldn't send him packing the second."
There was an interval.
Marjorie decided on a blunt question. "Do you really think, aunt, I should do well to marry Mr. Magnet?"
"He'd give you everything a clever woman needs," said Aunt Plessington. "Everything."
With swift capable touches she indicated the sort of life the future Mrs. Magnet might enjoy. "He's-83- evidently a man who wants helping to a position," she said. "Of course his farces and things, I'm told, make no end of money, but he's just a crude gift by himself. Money like that is nothing. With a clever wife he might be all sorts of things. Without one he'll just subside—you know the sort of thing this sort of man does. A rather eccentric humorous house in the country, golf, croquet, horse-riding, rose-growing, queer hats."
"Isn't that rather what he would like to do, aunt?" said Marjorie.
"That's not our business, Madge," said Aunt Plessington with humorous emphasis.
She began to sketch out a different and altogether smarter future for the fortunate humorist. There would be a house in a good central position in London where Marjorie would have bright successful lunches and dinners, very unpretending and very good, and tempt the clever smart with the lure of the interestingly clever; there would be a bright little country cottage in some pretty accessible place to which Aunt and Uncle Plessington and able and influential people generally could be invited for gaily recreative and yet extremely talkative and helpful week-ends. Both places could be made centres of intrigue; conspiracies for getting on and helping and exchanging help could be organized, people could be warned against people whose getting-on was undesirable. In the midst of it all, dressed with all the natural wit she had and an enlarging experience, would be Marjorie, shining like a rising planet. It wouldn't be long, if she did things well, before she had permanent officials and young cabinet ministers mingling with her salad of writers and humorists and the Plessington connexion.
"Then," said Aunt Plessington with a joyous lift in her voice, "you'll begin to weed a little."
For a time the girl's mind resisted her.-84-
But Marjorie was of the impressionable sex at an impressionable age, and there was something overwhelming in the undeviating conviction of her aunt, in the clear assurance of her voice, that this life which interested her was the real life, the only possible successful life. The world reformed itself in Marjorie's fluent mind, until it was all a scheme of influence and effort and ambition and triumphs. Dinner-parties and receptions, men wearing orders, cabinet ministers more than a little in love asking her advice, beautiful robes, a great blaze of lights; why! she might be, said Aunt Plessington rising to enthusiasm, "another Marcella." The life was not without its adventurous side; it wasn't in any way dull. Aunt Plessington to illustrate that point told amusing anecdotes of how two almost impudent invitations on her part had succeeded, and how she had once scored off her elder sister by getting a coveted celebrity through their close family resemblance. "After accepting he couldn't very well refuse because I wasn't somebody else," she ended gleefully. "So he came—and stayed as long as anybody."
What else was there for Marjorie to contemplate? If she didn't take this by no means unattractive line, what was the alternative? Some sort of employment after a battle with her father, a parsimonious life, and even then the Oxbridge tradesmen and their immortal bills....
Aunt Plessington was so intent upon her theme that she heeded nothing of the delightful little flowers she trampled under foot across the down, nor the jolly squirrel with an artistic temperament who saw fit to give an uninvited opinion upon her personal appearance from the security of a beech-tree in the-85- wood. But Marjorie, noting quite a number of such things with the corner of her mind, and being now well under the Plessington sway, wished she had more concentration....
In the evening after supper the customary games were suspended, and Mr. and Mrs. Plessington talked about getting on, and work and efficiency generally, and explained how so-and-so had spoilt his chances in life, and why so-and-so was sure to achieve nothing, and how this man ate too much and that man drank too much, and on the contrary what promising and capable people the latest adherents of and subscribers to the Movement were, until two glasses of hot water came—Aunt Plessington had been told it was good for her digestion and she thought it just as well that Hubert should have some too—and it was time for every one to go to bed.
Next morning an atmosphere of getting on and strenuosity generally prevailed throughout the vicarage. The Plessingtons were preparing a memorandum on their movement for the "Reformer's Year Book," every word was of importance and might win or lose adherents and subscribers, and they secured the undisturbed possession of the drawing-room, from which the higher notes of Aunt Plessington's voice explaining the whole thing to Hubert, who had to write it out, reached, a spur to effort, into every part of the house.
Their influence touched every one.
Marjorie, struck by the idea that she was not perhaps getting on at Oxbridge so fast as she ought to do, went into the summer-house with Marshall's "Principles of Economics," read for two hours, and did not think about her bills for more than a quarter-86- of the time. Rom, who had already got up early and read through about a third of "Aurora Leigh," now set herself with dogged determination to finish that great poem. Syd practised an extra ten minutes—for Aunt Plessington didn't mind practice so long as there wasn't a tune. Mrs. Pope went into the kitchen and made a long-needed fuss about the waste of rice. Mr. Pope began the pamphlet he had had in contemplation for some time upon the advantages to public order of Payment in Kind. Theodore, who had washed behind his ears and laced his boots in all the holes, went into the yard before breakfast and hit a tennis ball against the wall and back, five hundred and twenty-two times—a record. He would have resumed this after breakfast, but his father came round the corner of the house with a pen in his mouth, and asked him indistinctly, but fiercely, what the devil he was doing. So he went away, and after a fretful interval set himself to revise his Latin irregular verbs. By twelve he had done wonders.
Later in the day the widening circle of aggressive urgency reached the kitchen, and at two the cook gave notice in order, she said, to better herself.
Lunch, unconscious of this impending shadow, was characterized by a virtuous cheerfulness, and Aunt Plessington told in detail how her seven and twenty nephews and nieces, the children of her various sisters, were all getting on. On the whole, they were not getting on so brilliantly as they might have done (which indeed is apt to be the case with the children of people who have loved not well but too wisely), and it was borne in upon the mind of the respectfully listening Marjorie that, to borrow an easy colloquialism of her aunt's, she might "take the shine out of the lot of them" with a very little zeal and effort—and of course Mr. Magnet.
The lecture in the evening at Summerhay was a-87- great success.
The chair was taken by the Rev. Jopling Baynes, Lady Petchworth was enthroned behind the table, Hubert was in charge of his wife's notes—if notes should be needed—and Mr. Pope, expectant of an invitation at the end to say a few words about the East Purblow experiment, also occupied a chair on the platform. Lady Petchworth, with her abundant soft blond hair, brightly blond still in spite of her fifty-five years, her delicate features, her plump hands, her numerous chins and her entirely inaudible voice, made a pleasing contrast with Aunt Plessington's resolute personality. She had perhaps an even greater assurance of authority, but it was a quiet assurance; you felt that she knew that if she spoke in her sleep she would be obeyed, that it was quite unnecessary to make herself heard. The two women, indeed, the one so assertive, the other so established, were at the opposite poles of authoritative British womanhood, and harmonized charmingly. The little room struck the note of a well-regulated brightness at every point, it had been decorated in a Keltic but entirely respectful style by one of Lady Petchworth's artistic discoveries, it was lit by paraffin lamps that smelt hardly at all, and it was gay with colour prints illustrating the growth of the British Empire from the battle of Ethandune to the surrender of Cronje. The hall was fairly full. Few could afford to absent themselves from these brightening occasions, but there was a tendency on the part of the younger and the less thoughtful section of the village manhood to accumulate at the extreme back and rumble in what appeared to be a slightly ironical spirit, so far as it had any spirit, with its feet.
The Rev. Jopling Baynes opened proceedings-88- with a few well-chosen remarks, in which he complimented every one present either singly or collectively according to their rank and importance, and then Aunt Plessington came forward to the centre of the platform amidst a hectic flush of applause, and said "Haw!" in a loud clear ringing tone.
She spoke without resorting to the notes in Hubert's little fist, very freely and easily. Her strangulated contralto went into every corner of the room and positively seemed to look for and challenge inattentive auditors. She had come over, she said, and she had been very glad to come over and talk to them that night, because it meant not only seeing them but meeting her very dear delightful friend Lady Petchworth (loud applause) and staying for a day or so with her brother-in-law Mr. Pope (unsupported outburst of applause from Mr. Magnet), to whom she and social reform generally owed so much. She had come to talk to them that night about the National Good Habits Movement, which was attracting so much attention and which bore so closely on our National Life and Character; she happened to be—here Aunt Plessington smiled as she spoke—a humble person connected with that movement, just a mere woman connected with it; she was going to explain to them as well as she could in her womanly way and in the time at her disposal just what it was and just what it was for, and just what means it adopted and just what ends it had in view. Well, they all knew what Habits were, and that there were Good Habits and Bad Habits, and she supposed that the difference between a good man and a bad man was just that the good man had good habits and the bad one had bad habits. Everybody she supposed wanted to get on. If a man had good habits he got-89- on, and if he had bad habits he didn't get on, and she supposed it was the same with a country, if its people had good habits they got on, and if its people had bad habits they didn't get on. For her own part she and her husband (Hubert gave a little self-conscious jump) had always cultivated good habits, and she had to thank him with all her heart for his help in doing so. (Applause from the front seats.) Now, the whole idea of her movement was to ask, how can we raise the standard of the national habits? how can we get rid of bad habits and cultivate good ones?... (Here there was a slight interruption due to some one being suddenly pushed off the end of a form at the back, and coming to the floor with audible violence, after which a choked and obstructed tittering continued intermittently for some time.)
Some of her audience, she remarked, had not yet acquired the habit of sitting still.
(Laughter, and a coarse vulgar voice: "Good old Billy Punt!")
Well, to resume, she and her husband had made a special and careful study of habits; they had consulted all sorts of people and collected all sorts of statistics, in fact they had devoted themselves to this question, and the conclusion to which they came was this, that Good Habits were acquired by Training and Bad Habits came from neglect and carelessness and leaving people, who weren't fit for such freedom, to run about and do just whatever they liked. And so, she went on with a note of complete demonstration, the problem resolved itself into the question of how far they could get more Training into the national life, and how they could check extravagant and unruly and wasteful and unwise ways of living. (Hear, hear! from Mr. Pope.) And this was the problem she and her husband had set themselves to solve.
(Scuffle, and a boy's voice at the back, saying:-90- "Oh, shut it, Nuts! Shut it!")
Well, she and her husband had worked the thing out, and they had come to the conclusion that what was the matter with the great mass of English people was first that they had rather too much loose money, and secondly that they had rather too much loose time. (A voice: "What O!" and the Rev. Jopling Baynes suddenly extended his neck, knitted his brows, and became observant of the interrupter.) She did not say they had too much money (a second voice: "Not Arf!"), but too much loose money. She did not say they had too much time but too much loose time, that is to say, they had money and time they did not know how to spend properly. And so they got into mischief. A great number of people in this country, she maintained, and this was especially true of the lower classes, did not know how to spend either money or time; they bought themselves wasteful things and injurious things, and they frittered away their hours in all sorts of foolish, unprofitable ways. And, after the most careful and scientific study of this problem, she and her husband had come to the conclusion that two main principles must underlie any remedial measures that were attempted, the first of which was the Principle of Payment in Kind, which had already had so interesting a trial at the great carriage works of East Purblow, and the second, the Principle of Continuous Occupation, which had been recognized long ago in popular wisdom by that admirable proverb—or rather quotation—she believed it was a quotation, though she gave, she feared, very little time to poetry ("Better employed," from Mr. Pope)—
"Satan finds some mischief stillFor idle hands to do."-91-
(Irrepressible outbreak of wild and sustained applause from the back seats, and in a sudden lull a female voice asking in a flattened, thwarted tone: "Ain't there to be no lantern then?")
The lecturer went on to explain what was meant by either member of what perhaps they would permit her to call this double-barrelled social remedy.
It was an admirable piece of lucid exposition. Slowly the picture of a better, happier, more disciplined England grew upon the minds of the meeting. First she showed the new sort of employer her movement would evoke, an employer paternal, philanthropic, vaguely responsible for the social order of all his dependants. (Lady Petchworth was seen to nod her head slowly at this.) Only in the last resort, and when he was satisfied that his worker and his worker's family were properly housed, hygienically clothed and fed, attending suitable courses of instruction and free from any vicious inclinations, would he pay wages in cash. In the discharge of the duties of payment he would have the assistance of expert advice, and the stimulus of voluntary inspectors of his own class. He would be the natural clan-master, the captain and leader, adviser and caretaker of his banded employees. Responsibility would stimulate him, and if responsibility did not stimulate him, inspectors (both men and women inspectors) would. The worker, on the other hand, would be enormously more healthy and efficient under the new régime. His home, designed by qualified and officially recognized architects, would be prettier as well as more convenient and elevating to his taste, his children admirably trained and dressed in the new and more beautiful clothing with which Lady Petchworth (applause) had done so much to make them familiar, his vital statistics compared with current-92- results would be astonishingly good, his mind free from any anxiety but the proper anxiety of a man in his position, to get his work done properly and earn recognition from those competent and duly authorized to judge it. Of all this she spoke with the inspiring note of absolute conviction. All this would follow Payment in Kind and Continuous Occupation as days follow sunrise. And there would always,—and here Aunt Plessington's voice seemed to brighten—be something for the worker to get on with, something for him to do; lectures, classes, reading-rooms, improving entertainments. His time would be filled. The proper authorities would see that it was filled—and filled in the right way. Never for a moment need he be bored. He would never have an excuse for being bored. That was the second great idea, the complementary idea to the first. "And here it is," she said, turning a large encouraging smile on Lady Petchworth, "that the work of a National Theatre, instructive, stimulating, well regulated, and morally sustaining, would come in." He wouldn't, of course, be compelled to go, but there would be his seat, part of his payment in kind, and the public-house would be shut, most other temptations would be removed....
The lecture reached its end at last with only one other interruption. Some would-be humorist suddenly inquired, à propos of nothing: "What's the fare to America, Billy?" and a voice, presumably Billy's, answered him: "Mor'n you'll ev 'av in you' pocket."
The Rev. Jopling Baynes, before he called upon Mr. Pope for his promised utterance about East Purblow, could not refrain from pointing out how silly "in every sense of the word" these wanton interruptions were. What, he asked, had English social reform to do with the fare to America?—and-93- having roused the meeting to an alert silence by the length of his pause, answered in a voice of ringing contempt: "Nothing—whatsoever." Then Mr. Pope made his few remarks about East Purblow with the ease and finish that comes from long practice; much, he said, had to be omitted "in view of" the restricted time at his disposal, but he did not grudge that, the time had been better filled. ("No, no," from Aunt Plessington.) Yes, yes,—by the lucid and delightful lecture they had all enjoyed, and he not least among them. (Applause.)...
They came out into a luminous blue night, with a crescent young moon high overhead. It was so fine that the Popes and the Plessingtons and Mr. Magnet declined Lady Petchworth's proffered car, and walked back to Buryhamstreet across the park through a sleeping pallid cornfield, and along by the edge of the pine woods. Mr. Pope would have liked to walk with Mr. Magnet and explain all that the pressure on his time had caused him to omit from his speech, and why it was he had seen fit to omit this part and include that. Some occult power, however, baffled this intention, and he found himself going home in the company of his brother-in-law and Daffy, with Aunt Plessington and his wife like a barrier between him and his desire. Marjorie, on the other hand, found Mr. Magnet's proximity inevitable. They fell a little behind and were together again for the first time since her refusal.
He behaved, she thought, with very great restraint, and indeed he left her a little doubtful on that occasion whether he had not decided to take-94- her decision as final. He talked chiefly about the lecture, which had impressed him very deeply. Mrs. Plessington, he said, was so splendid—made him feel trivial. He felt stirred up by her, wanted to help in this social work, this picking up of helpless people from the muddle in which they wallowed.
He seemed not only extraordinarily modest but extraordinarily gentle that night, and the warm moonshine gave his face a shadowed earnestness it lacked in more emphatic lights. She felt the profound change in her feelings towards him that had followed her rejection of him. It had cleared away his effect of oppression upon her. She had no longer any sense of entanglement and pursuit, and all the virtues his courtship had obscured shone clear again. He was kindly, he was patient—and she felt something about him a woman is said always to respect, he gave her an impression of ability. After all, he could banish the trouble that crushed and overwhelmed her with a movement of his little finger. Of all her load of debt he could earn the payment in a day.
"Your aunt goes to-morrow?" he said.
Marjorie admitted it.
"I wish I could talk to her more. She's so inspiring."
"You know of our little excursion for Friday?" he asked after a pause.
She had not heard. Friday was Theodore's birthday; she knew it only too well because she had had to part with her stamp collection—which very luckily had chanced to get packed and come to Buryhamstreet—to meet its demand. Mr. Magnet explained he had thought it might be fun to give a picnic in honour of the anniversary.
"How jolly of you!" said Marjorie.-95-
"There's a pretty bit of river between Wamping and Friston Hanger—I've wanted you to see it for a long time, and Friston Hanger church has the prettiest view. The tower gets the bend of the river."
He told her all he meant to do as if he submitted his plans for her approval. They would drive to Wamping and get a very comfortable little steam launch one could hire there. Wintersloan was coming down again; an idle day of this kind just suited his temperament. Theodore would like it, wouldn't he?
"Theodore will think he is King of Surrey!"
"I'll have a rod and line if he wants to fish. I don't want to forget anything. I want it to be his day really and truly."
The slightest touch upon the pathetic note? She could not tell.
But that evening brought Marjorie nearer to loving Magnet than she had ever been. Before she went to sleep that night she had decided he was quite a tolerable person again; she had been too nervous and unjust with him. After all, his urgency and awkwardness had been just a part of his sincerity. Perhaps the faint doubt whether he would make his request again gave the zest of uncertainty to his devotion. Of course, she told herself, he would ask again. And then the blissful air of limitless means she might breathe. The blessed release....
She was suddenly fast asleep.
Friday was after all not so much Theodore's day as Mr. Magnet's.
Until she found herself committed there was no-96- shadow of doubt in Marjorie's mind of what she meant to do. "Before I see you again," said Aunt Plessington at the parting kiss, "I hope you'll have something to tell me." She might have been Hymen thinly disguised as an aunt, waving from the departing train. She continued by vigorous gestures and unstinted display of teeth and a fluttering handkerchief to encourage Marjorie to marry Mr. Magnet, until the curve of the cutting hid her from view....
Fortune favoured Mr. Magnet with a beautiful day, and the excursion was bright and successful from the outset. It was done well, and what perhaps was more calculated to impress Marjorie, it was done with lavish generosity. From the outset she turned a smiling countenance upon her host. She did her utmost to suppress a reviving irrational qualm in her being, to maintain clearly and simply her overnight decision, that he should propose again and that she should accept him.
Yet the festival was just a little dreamlike in its quality to her perceptions. She found she could not focus clearly on its details.
Two waggonettes came from Wamping; there was room for everybody and to spare, and Wamping revealed itself a pleasant small country town with stocks under the market hall, and just that tint of green paint and that loafing touch the presence of a boating river gives.
The launch was brilliantly smart with abundant crimson cushions and a tasselled awning, and away to the left was a fine old bridge that dated in its essentials from Plantagenet times.
They started with much whistling and circling,-97- and went away up river under overhanging trees that sometimes swished the funnel, splashing the meadow path and making the reeds and bulrushes dance with their wash. They went through a reluctant lock, steamed up a long reach, they passed the queerly painted Potwell Inn with its picturesque group of poplars and its absurd new notice-board of "Omlets." ... Theodore was five stone of active happiness; he and the pseudo-twins, strictly under his orders as the universal etiquette of birthdays prescribes, clambered round and round the boat, clutching the awning rail and hanging over the water in an entirely secure and perilous looking manner. No one, unless his father happened to be upset by something, would check him, he knew, on this auspicious day. Mr. Magnet sat with the grey eye on Marjorie and listened a little abstractedly to Mr. Pope, who was telling very fully what he would say if the Liberal party were to ask his advice at the present juncture. Mrs. Pope attended discreetly, and Daffy and Marjorie with a less restrained interest, to Mr. Wintersloan, who showed them how to make faces out of a fist tied up in a pocket-handkerchief, how to ventriloquize, how to conjure with halfpence—which he did very amusingly—and what the buttons on a man's sleeve were for; Theodore clambering at his back discovered what he was at, and by right of birthday made him do all the faces and tricks over again. Then Mr. Wintersloan told stories of all the rivers along which, he said, he had travelled in steamboats; the Rhine, the Danube, the Hoogly and the Fall River, and particularly how he had been bitten by a very young crocodile. "It's the smell of the oil brings it all back to me," he said. "And the kind of sway it gives you."
He made sinuous movements of his hand, and-98- looked at Marjorie with that wooden yet expressive smile.
Friston Hanger proved to be even better than Wamping. It had a character of its own because it was built very largely of a warm buff coloured local rock instead of the usual brick, and the outhouses at least of the little inn at which they landed were thatched. Most of the cottages had casement windows with diamond panes, and the streets were cobbled and very up-and-down hill. The place ran to high walls richly suggestive of hidden gardens, overhung by big trees and pierced by secretive important looking doors. And over it all rose an unusually big church, with a tall buttressed tower surmounted by a lantern of pierced stone.
"We'll go through the town and look at the ruins of the old castle beyond the church," said Mr. Magnet to Marjorie, "and then I want you to see the view from the church tower."
And as they went through the street, he called her attention again to the church tower in a voice that seemed to her to be inexplicably charged with significance. "I want you to go up there," he said.
"How about something to eat, Mr. Magnet?" remarked Theodore suddenly, and everybody felt a little surprised when Mr. Magnet answered: "Who wants things to eat on your birthday, Theodore?"
But they saw the joke of that when they reached the castle ruins and found in the old tilting yard, with its ivy-covered arch framing a view of the town and stream, a table spread with a white cloth that shone in the sunshine, glittering with glass and silver and gay with a bowl of salad and flowers and cold pies and a jug of claret-cup and an ice pail—a silver pail! containing two promising looking bottles, in the charge of two real live waiters, in evening dress as-99- waiters should be, but with straw hats to protect them from the sun and weather. "Oh!" cried Mrs. Pope, "what a splendid idea, Mr. Magnet," when the destination of the feast was perfectly clear, and even Theodore seemed a little overawed—almost as if he felt his birthday was being carried too far and might provoke a judgment later. Manifestly Mr. Magnet must have ordered this in London, and have had it sent down, waiters and all! Theodore knew he was a very wonderful little boy in spite of the acute criticism of four devoted sisters, and Mr. Magnet had noticed him before at times, but this was, well, rather immense! "Look at the pie-crusts, old man!" And on the pie-crusts, and on the icing of the cake, their munificent host had caused to be done in little raised letters of dough and chocolate the word "Theodore."
"Oh, Mr. Magnet!" said Marjorie—his eye so obviously invited her to say something. Mr. Pope tried a nebulous joke about "groaning boards of Frisky Hanger," and only Mr. Wintersloan restrained his astonishment and admiration. "You could have got those chaps in livery," he said—unheeded. The lunch was as a matter of fact his idea; he had refused to come unless it was provided, and he had somehow counted on blue coats, brass buttons, and yellow waistcoats—but everybody else of course ascribed the whole invention to Mr. Magnet.
"Well," said Mr. Pope with a fine air of epigram, "the only thing I can say is—to eat it," and prepared to sit down.
"Melon," cried Mr. Magnet to the waiters, "we'll begin with the melon. Have you ever tried melon with pepper and salt, Mrs. Pope?"
"You put salt in everything," admired Mr. Pope.-100- "Salt from those attics of yours—Attic salt."
"Or there's ginger!" said Mr. Magnet, after a whisper from the waiter.
Mr. Pope said something classical about "ginger hot in the mouth."
"Some of these days," said Mr. Wintersloan, "when I have exhausted all other sensations, I mean to try melon and mustard."
Rom made a wonderful face at him.
"I can think of worse things than that," said Mr. Wintersloan with a hard brightness.
"Not till after lunch, Mr. Wintersloan!" said Rom heartily.
"The claret cup's all right for Theodore, Mrs. Pope," said Magnet. "It's a special twelve year old brand." (He thought of everything!)
"Mummy," said Mr. Pope. "You'd better carve this pie, I think."
"I want very much," said Mr. Magnet in Marjorie's ear and very confidentially, "to show you the view from the church tower. I think—it will appeal to you."
"Rom!" said Theodore, uncontrollably, in a tremendous stage whisper. "There's peaches!... There! on the hamper!"
"Champagne, m'am?" said the waiter suddenly in Mrs. Pope's ear, wiping ice-water from the bottle.
(But what could it have cost him?)
Marjorie would have preferred that Mr. Magnet should not have decided with such relentless determination to make his second proposal on the church tower. His purpose was luminously clear to her from-101- the beginning of lunch onward, and she could feel her nerves going under the strain of that long expectation. She tried to pull herself together, tried not to think about it, tried to be amused by the high spirits and nonsense of Mr. Wintersloan and Syd and Rom and Theodore; but Mr. Magnet was very pervasive, and her mother didn't ever look at her, looked past her and away from her and all round her, in a profoundly observant manner. Marjorie felt chiefly anxious to get to the top of that predestinate tower and have the whole thing over, and it was with a start that she was just able to prevent one of the assiduous waiters filling her glass with champagne for the third time.
There was a little awkwardness in dispersing after lunch. Mr. Pope, his heart warmed by the champagne and mellowed by a subsequent excellent cigar, wanted very much to crack what he called a "postprandial jest" or so with the great humorist, while Theodore also, deeply impressed with the discovery that there was more in Mr. Magnet than he had supposed, displayed a strong disposition to attach himself more closely than he had hitherto done to this remarkable person, and study his quiet but enormous possibilities with greater attention. Mrs. Pope with a still alertness did her best to get people adjusted, but Syd and Rom had conceived a base and unnatural desire to subjugate the affections of the youngest waiter, and wouldn't listen to her proposal that they should take Theodore away into the town; Mr. Wintersloan displayed extraordinary cunning and resource in evading a tête-à-tête with Mr. Pope that would have released Mr. Magnet. Now Mrs. Pope came to think of it, Mr. Wintersloan never had had the delights of a good talk with Mr. Pope, he knew practically nothing about the East-102- Purblow experiment except for what Mr. Magnet might have retailed to him, and she was very greatly puzzled to account for his almost manifest reluctance to go into things thoroughly. Daffy remained on hand, available but useless, and Mrs. Pope, smiling at the landscape and a prey to Management within, was suddenly inspired to take her eldest daughter into her confidence. "Daffy," she said, with a guileful finger extended and pointing to the lower sky as though she was pointing out the less obvious and more atmospheric beauties of Surrey, "get Theodore away from Mr. Magnet if you can. He wants to talk to Marjorie."
Daffy looked round. "Shall I call him?" she said.
"No," said Mrs. Pope, "do it—just—quietly."
"I'll try," said Daffy and stared at her task, and Mrs. Pope, feeling that this might or might not succeed but that anyhow she had done what she could, strolled across to her husband and laid a connubial touch upon his shoulder. "All the young people," she said, "are burning to climb the church tower. I never can understand this activity after lunch."
"Not me," said Mr. Pope. "Eh, Magnet?"
"I'm game," said Theodore. "Come along, Mr. Magnet."
"I think," said Mr. Magnet looking at Marjorie, "I shall go up. I want to show Marjorie the view."
"We'll stay here, Mummy, eh?" said Mr. Pope, with a quite unusual geniality, and suddenly put his arm round Mrs. Pope's waist. Her motherly eye sought Daffy's, and indicated her mission. "I'll come with you, Theodore," said Daffy. "There isn't room for everyone at once up that tower."
"I'll go with Mr. Magnet," said Theodore, relying firmly on the privileges of the day....
For a time they played for position, with the-103- intentions of Mr. Magnet showing more and more starkly through the moves of the game. At last Theodore was lured down a side street by the sight of a huge dummy fish dangling outside a tackle and bait shop, and Mr. Magnet and Marjorie, already with a dreadful feeling of complicity, made a movement so rapid it seemed to her almost a bolt for the church tower. Whatever Mr. Magnet desired to say, and whatever elasticity his mind had once possessed with regard to it, there can be no doubt that it had now become so rigid as to be sayable only in that one precise position, and in the exact order he had determined upon. But when at last they got to that high serenity, Mr. Magnet was far too hot and far too much out of breath to say anything at all for a time except an almost explosive gust or so of approbation of the scenery. "Shor' breath!" he said, "win'ey stairs always—that 'fect on me—buful sceny—Suwy—like it always."
Marjorie found herself violently disposed to laugh; indeed she had never before been so near the verge of hysterics.
"It's a perfectly lovely view," she said. "No wonder you wanted me to see it."
"Naturally," said Mr. Magnet, "wanted you to see it."
Marjorie, with a skill her mother might have envied, wriggled into a half-sitting position in an embrasure and concentrated herself upon the broad wooded undulations that went about the horizon, and Mr. Magnet mopped his face with surreptitious gestures, and took deep restoring breaths.
"I've always wanted to bring you here," he said, "ever since I found it in the spring."-104-
"It was very kind of you, Mr. Magnet," said Marjorie.
"You see," he explained, "whenever I see anything fine or rich or splendid or beautiful now, I seem to want it for you." His voice quickened as though he were repeating something that had been long in his mind. "I wish I could give you all this country. I wish I could put all that is beautiful in the world at your feet."
He watched the effect of this upon her for a moment.
"Marjorie," he said, "did you really mean what you told me the other day, that there was indeed no hope for me? I have a sort of feeling I bothered you that day, that perhaps you didn't mean all——"
He stopped short.
"I don't think I knew what I meant," said Marjorie, and Magnet gave a queer sound of relief at her words. "I don't think I know what I mean now. I don't think I can say I love you, Mr. Magnet. I would if I could. I like you very much indeed, I think you are awfully kind, you're more kind and generous than anyone I have ever known...."
Saying he was kind and generous made her through some obscure association of ideas feel that he must have understanding. She had an impulse to put her whole case before him frankly. "I wonder," she said, "if you can understand what it is to be a girl."
Then she saw the absurdity of her idea, of any such miracle of sympathy. He was entirely concentrated upon the appeal he had come prepared to make.
"Marjorie," he said, "I don't ask you to love me yet. All I ask is that you shouldn't decide not to love me."
Marjorie became aware of Theodore, hotly followed-105- by Daffy, in the churchyard below. "I know he's up there," Theodore was manifestly saying.
Marjorie faced her lover gravely.
"Mr. Magnet," she said, "I will certainly promise you that."
"I would rather be your servant, rather live for your happiness, than do anything else in all the world," said Mr. Magnet. "If you would trust your life to me, if you would deign—." He paused to recover his thread. "If you would deign to let me make life what it should be for you, take every care from your shoulders, face every responsibility——"
Marjorie felt she had to hurry. She could almost feel the feet of Theodore coming up that tower.
"Mr. Magnet," she said, "you don't understand. You don't realize what I am. You don't know how unworthy I am—what a mere ignorant child——"
"Let me be judge of that!" cried Mr. Magnet.
They paused almost like two actors who listen for the prompter. It was only too obvious that both were aware of a little medley of imperfectly subdued noises below. Theodore had got to the ladder that made the last part of the ascent, and there Daffy had collared him. "My birthday," said Theodore. "Come down! You shan't go up there!" said Daffy. "You mustn't, Theodore!" "Why not?" There was something like a scuffle, and whispers. Then it would seem Theodore went—reluctantly and with protests. But the conflict receded.
"Marjorie!" said Mr. Magnet, as though there had been no pause, "if you would consent only to make an experiment, if you would try to love me. Suppose you tried an engagement. I do not care how long I waited...."
He paused. "Will you try?" he urged upon her-106- distressed silence.
She felt as though she forced the word. "Yes!" she said in a very low voice.
Then it seemed to her that Mr. Magnet leapt upon her. She felt herself pulled almost roughly from the embrasure, and he had kissed her. She struggled in his embrace. "Mr. Magnet!" she said. He lifted her face and kissed her lips. "Marjorie!" he said, and she had partly released herself.
"Oh don't kiss me," she cried, "don't kiss me yet!"
"But a kiss!"
"I don't like it."
"I beg your pardon!" he said. "I forgot——. But you.... You.... I couldn't help it."
She was suddenly wildly sorry for what she had done. She felt she was going to cry, to behave absurdly.
"I want to go down," she said.
"Marjorie, you have made me the happiest of men! All my life, all my strength I will spend in showing you that you have made no mistake in trusting me——"
"Yes," she said, "yes," and wondered what she could say or do. It seemed to him that her shrinking pose was the most tenderly modest thing he had ever seen.
"Oh my dear!" he said, and restrained himself and took her passive hand and kissed it.
"I want to go down to them!" she insisted.
He paused on the topmost rungs of the ladder, looking unspeakable things at her. Then he turned to go down, and for the second time in her life she saw that incipient thinness....
"I am sure you will never be sorry," he said....
They found Mr. and Mrs. Pope in the churchyard.-107- Mr. Pope was reading with amusement for the third time an epitaph that had caught his fancy—
"Lands ever bright, days ever fair,And yet we weep that he is there."
he read. "You know that's really Good. That ought to be printed somewhere."
Mrs. Pope glanced sharply at her daughter's white face, and found an enigma. Then she looked at Mr. Magnet.
There was no mistake about Mr. Magnet. Marjorie had accepted him, whatever else she had felt or done.
Marjorie's feelings for the rest of the day are only to be accounted for on the supposition that she was overwrought. She had a preposterous reaction. She had done this thing with her eyes open after days of deliberation, and now she felt as though she was caught in a trap. The clearest thing in her mind was that Mr. Magnet had taken hold of her and kissed her, kissed her on the lips, and that presently he would do it again. And also she was asking herself with futile reiteration why she had got into debt at Oxbridge? Why she had got into debt? For such silly little things too!
Nothing definite was said in her hearing about the engagement, but everybody seemed to understand. Mr. Pope was the most demonstrative, he took occasion to rap her hard upon the back, his face crinkled with a resolute kindliness. "Ah!" he said, "Sly Maggots!"
He also administered several resounding blows-108- to Magnet's shoulder blades, and irradiated the party with a glow of benevolent waggery. Marjorie submitted without an answer to these paternal intimations. Mrs. Pope did no more than watch her daughter. Invisible but overwhelming forces were busy in bringing Marjorie and her glowing lover alone together again. It happened at last, as he was departing; she was almost to her inflamed imagination thrust out upon him, had to take him to the gate; and there in the shadows of the trees he kissed her "good night" with passionate effusion.
"Madge," he said, "Madge!"
She made no answer. She submitted passively to his embrace, and then suddenly and dexterously disengaged herself from him, ran in, and without saying good-night to anyone went to her room to bed.
Mr. Pope was greatly amused by this departure from the customary routine of life, and noted it archly.
When Daffy came up Marjorie was ostentatiously going to sleep....
As she herself was dropping off Daffy became aware of an odd sound, somehow familiar, and yet surprising and disconcerting.
Suddenly wide awake again, she started up. Yes there was no mistake about it! And yet it was very odd.
"Madge, what's up?"
"I say! you aren't crying, Madge, are you?"
Then after a long interval: "Madge!"
An answer came in a muffled voice, almost as if Marjorie had something in her mouth. "Oh shut it, old Daffy."
"But Madge?" said Daffy after reflection.-109-
"Shut it. Do shut it! Leave me alone, I say! Can't you leave me alone? Oh!"—and for a moment she let her sobs have way with her—"Daffy, don't worry me. Old Daffy! Please!"
Daffy sat up for a long time in the stifled silence that ensued, and then like a sensible sister gave it up, and composed herself again to slumber....
Outside watching the window in a state of nebulous ecstasy, was Mr. Magnet, moonlit and dewy. It was a high serene night with a growing moon and a scattered company of major stars, and if no choir of nightingales sang there was at least a very active nightjar. "More than I hoped," whispered Mr. Magnet, "more than I dared to hope." He was very sleepy, but it seemed to him improper to go to bed on such a night—on such an occasion.
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