Lying to Mr. Emerson
The Miss Alans were found in their beloved temperance hotel near Bloomsbury—a clean, airless establishment much patronized by provincial England. They always perched there before crossing the great seas, and for a week or two would fidget gently over clothes, guide-books, mackintosh squares, digestive bread, and other Continental necessaries. That there are shops abroad, even in Athens, never occurred to them, for they regarded travel as a species of warfare, only to be undertaken by those who have been fully armed at the Haymarket Stores. Miss Honeychurch, they trusted, would take care to equip herself duly. Quinine could now be obtained in tabloids; paper soap was a great help towards freshening up one’s face in the train. Lucy promised, a little depressed.
“But, of course, you know all about these things, and you have Mr. Vyse to help you. A gentleman is such a stand-by.”
Mrs. Honeychurch, who had come up to town with her daughter, began to drum nervously upon her card-case.
“We think it so good of Mr. Vyse to spare you,” Miss Catharine continued. “It is not every young man who would be so unselfish. But perhaps he will come out and join you later on.”
“Or does his work keep him in London?” said Miss Teresa, the more acute and less kindly of the two sisters.
“However, we shall see him when he sees you off. I do so long to see him.”
“No one will see Lucy off,” interposed Mrs. Honeychurch. “She doesn’t like it.”
“No, I hate seeings-off,” said Lucy.
“Really? How funny! I should have thought that in this case—”
“Oh, Mrs. Honeychurch, you aren’t going? It is such a pleasure to have met you!”
They escaped, and Lucy said with relief: “That’s all right. We just got through that time.”
But her mother was annoyed. “I should be told, dear, that I am unsympathetic. But I cannot see why you didn’t tell your friends about Cecil and be done with it. There all the time we had to sit fencing, and almost telling lies, and be seen through, too, I dare say, which is most unpleasant.”
Lucy had plenty to say in reply. She described the Miss Alans’ character: they were such gossips, and if one told them, the news would be everywhere in no time.
“But why shouldn’t it be everywhere in no time?”
“Because I settled with Cecil not to announce it until I left England. I shall tell them then. It’s much pleasanter. How wet it is! Let’s turn in here.”
“Here” was the British Museum. Mrs. Honeychurch refused. If they must take shelter, let it be in a shop. Lucy felt contemptuous, for she was on the tack of caring for Greek sculpture, and had already borrowed a mythical dictionary from Mr. Beebe to get up the names of the goddesses and gods.
“Oh, well, let it be shop, then. Let’s go to Mudie’s. I’ll buy a guide-book.”
“You know, Lucy, you and Charlotte and Mr. Beebe all tell me I’m so stupid, so I suppose I am, but I shall never understand this hole-and-corner work. You’ve got rid of Cecil—well and good, and I’m thankful he’s gone, though I did feel angry for the minute. But why not announce it? Why this hushing up and tip-toeing?”
“It’s only for a few days.”
“But why at all?”
Lucy was silent. She was drifting away from her mother. It was quite easy to say, “Because George Emerson has been bothering me, and if he hears I’ve given up Cecil may begin again”—quite easy, and it had the incidental advantage of being true. But she could not say it. She disliked confidences, for they might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors—Light. Ever since that last evening at Florence she had deemed it unwise to reveal her soul.
Mrs. Honeychurch, too, was silent. She was thinking, “My daughter won’t answer me; she would rather be with those inquisitive old maids than with Freddy and me. Any rag, tag, and bobtail apparently does if she can leave her home.” And as in her case thoughts never remained unspoken long, she burst out with: “You’re tired of Windy Corner.”
This was perfectly true. Lucy had hoped to return to Windy Corner when she escaped from Cecil, but she discovered that her home existed no longer. It might exist for Freddy, who still lived and thought straight, but not for one who had deliberately warped the brain. She did not acknowledge that her brain was warped, for the brain itself must assist in that acknowledgment, and she was disordering the very instruments of life. She only felt, “I do not love George; I broke off my engagement because I did not love George; I must go to Greece because I do not love George; it is more important that I should look up gods in the dictionary than that I should help my mother; everyone else is behaving very badly.” She only felt irritable and petulant, and anxious to do what she was not expected to do, and in this spirit she proceeded with the conversation.
“Oh, mother, what rubbish you talk! Of course I’m not tired of Windy Corner.”
“Then why not say so at once, instead of considering half an hour?”
She laughed faintly, “Half a minute would be nearer.”
“Perhaps you would like to stay away from your home altogether?”
“Hush, mother! People will hear you”; for they had entered Mudie’s. She bought Baedeker, and then continued: “Of course I want to live at home; but as we are talking about it, I may as well say that I shall want to be away in the future more than I have been. You see, I come into my money next year.”
Tears came into her mother’s eyes.
Driven by nameless bewilderment, by what is in older people termed “eccentricity,” Lucy determined to make this point clear. “I’ve seen the world so little—I felt so out of things in Italy. I have seen so little of life; one ought to come up to London more—not a cheap ticket like to-day, but to stop. I might even share a flat for a little with some other girl.”
“And mess with typewriters and latch-keys,” exploded Mrs. Honeychurch. “And agitate and scream, and be carried off kicking by the police. And call it a Mission—when no one wants you! And call it Duty—when it means that you can’t stand your own home! And call it Work—when thousands of men are starving with the competition as it is! And then to prepare yourself, find two doddering old ladies, and go abroad with them.”
“I want more independence,” said Lucy lamely; she knew that she wanted something, and independence is a useful cry; we can always say that we have not got it. She tried to remember her emotions in Florence: those had been sincere and passionate, and had suggested beauty rather than short skirts and latch-keys. But independence was certainly her cue.
“Very well. Take your independence and be gone. Rush up and down and round the world, and come back as thin as a lath with the bad food. Despise the house that your father built and the garden that he planted, and our dear view—and then share a flat with another girl.”
Lucy screwed up her mouth and said: “Perhaps I spoke hastily.”
“Oh, goodness!” her mother flashed. “How you do remind me of Charlotte Bartlett!”
“Charlotte?” flashed Lucy in her turn, pierced at last by a vivid pain.
“More every moment.”
“I don’t know what you mean, mother; Charlotte and I are not the very least alike.”
“Well, I see the likeness. The same eternal worrying, the same taking back of words. You and Charlotte trying to divide two apples among three people last night might be sisters.”
“What rubbish! And if you dislike Charlotte so, it’s rather a pity you asked her to stop. I warned you about her; I begged you, implored you not to, but of course it was not listened to.”
“There you go.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Charlotte again, my dear; that’s all; her very words.”
Lucy clenched her teeth. “My point is that you oughtn’t to have asked Charlotte to stop. I wish you would keep to the point.” And the conversation died off into a wrangle.
She and her mother shopped in silence, spoke little in the train, little again in the carriage, which met them at Dorking Station. It had poured all day and as they ascended through the deep Surrey lanes showers of water fell from the over-hanging beech-trees and rattled on the hood. Lucy complained that the hood was stuffy. Leaning forward, she looked out into the steaming dusk, and watched the carriage-lamp pass like a search-light over mud and leaves, and reveal nothing beautiful. “The crush when Charlotte gets in will be abominable,” she remarked. For they were to pick up Miss Bartlett at Summer Street, where she had been dropped as the carriage went down, to pay a call on Mr. Beebe’s old mother. “We shall have to sit three a side, because the trees drop, and yet it isn’t raining. Oh, for a little air!” Then she listened to the horse’s hoofs—“He has not told—he has not told.” That melody was blurred by the soft road. “Can’t we have the hood down?” she demanded, and her mother, with sudden tenderness, said: “Very well, old lady, stop the horse.” And the horse was stopped, and Lucy and Powell wrestled with the hood, and squirted water down Mrs. Honeychurch’s neck. But now that the hood was down, she did see something that she would have missed—there were no lights in the windows of Cissie Villa, and round the garden gate she fancied she saw a padlock.
“Is that house to let again, Powell?” she called.
“Yes, miss,” he replied.
“Have they gone?”
“It is too far out of town for the young gentleman, and his father’s rheumatism has come on, so he can’t stop on alone, so they are trying to let furnished,” was the answer.
“They have gone, then?”
“Yes, miss, they have gone.”
Lucy sank back. The carriage stopped at the Rectory. She got out to call for Miss Bartlett. So the Emersons had gone, and all this bother about Greece had been unnecessary. Waste! That word seemed to sum up the whole of life. Wasted plans, wasted money, wasted love, and she had wounded her mother. Was it possible that she had muddled things away? Quite possible. Other people had. When the maid opened the door, she was unable to speak, and stared stupidly into the hall.
Miss Bartlett at once came forward, and after a long preamble asked a great favour: might she go to church? Mr. Beebe and his mother had already gone, but she had refused to start until she obtained her hostess’s full sanction, for it would mean keeping the horse waiting a good ten minutes more.
“Certainly,” said the hostess wearily. “I forgot it was Friday. Let’s all go. Powell can go round to the stables.”
“No church for me, thank you.”
A sigh, and they departed. The church was invisible, but up in the darkness to the left there was a hint of colour. This was a stained window, through which some feeble light was shining, and when the door opened Lucy heard Mr. Beebe’s voice running through the litany to a minute congregation. Even their church, built upon the slope of the hill so artfully, with its beautiful raised transept and its spire of silvery shingle—even their church had lost its charm; and the thing one never talked about—religion—was fading like all the other things.
She followed the maid into the Rectory.
Would she object to sitting in Mr. Beebe’s study? There was only that one fire.
She would not object.
Some one was there already, for Lucy heard the words: “A lady to wait, sir.”
Old Mr. Emerson was sitting by the fire, with his foot upon a gout-stool.
“Oh, Miss Honeychurch, that you should come!” he quavered; and Lucy saw an alteration in him since last Sunday.
Not a word would come to her lips. George she had faced, and could have faced again, but she had forgotten how to treat his father.
“Miss Honeychurch, dear, we are so sorry! George is so sorry! He thought he had a right to try. I cannot blame my boy, and yet I wish he had told me first. He ought not to have tried. I knew nothing about it at all.”
If only she could remember how to behave!
He held up his hand. “But you must not scold him.”
Lucy turned her back, and began to look at Mr. Beebe’s books.
“I taught him,” he quavered, “to trust in love. I said: ‘When love comes, that is reality.’ I said: ‘Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.’” He sighed: “True, everlastingly true, though my day is over, and though there is the result. Poor boy! He is so sorry! He said he knew it was madness when you brought your cousin in; that whatever you felt you did not mean. Yet”—his voice gathered strength: he spoke out to make certain—“Miss Honeychurch, do you remember Italy?”
Lucy selected a book—a volume of Old Testament commentaries. Holding it up to her eyes, she said: “I have no wish to discuss Italy or any subject connected with your son.”
“But you do remember it?”
“He has misbehaved himself from the first.”
“I only was told that he loved you last Sunday. I never could judge behaviour. I—I—suppose he has.”
Feeling a little steadier, she put the book back and turned round to him. His face was drooping and swollen, but his eyes, though they were sunken deep, gleamed with a child’s courage.
“Why, he has behaved abominably,” she said. “I am glad he is sorry. Do you know what he did?”
“Not ‘abominably,’” was the gentle correction. “He only tried when he should not have tried. You have all you want, Miss Honeychurch: you are going to marry the man you love. Do not go out of George’s life saying he is abominable.”
“No, of course,” said Lucy, ashamed at the reference to Cecil. “‘Abominable’ is much too strong. I am sorry I used it about your son. I think I will go to church, after all. My mother and my cousin have gone. I shall not be so very late—”
“Especially as he has gone under,” he said quietly.
“What was that?”
“Gone under naturally.” He beat his palms together in silence; his head fell on his chest.
“I don’t understand.”
“As his mother did.”
“But, Mr. Emerson—Mr. Emerson—what are you talking about?”
“When I wouldn’t have George baptized,” said he.
Lucy was frightened.
“And she agreed that baptism was nothing, but he caught that fever when he was twelve and she turned round. She thought it a judgement.” He shuddered. “Oh, horrible, when we had given up that sort of thing and broken away from her parents. Oh, horrible—worst of all—worse than death, when you have made a little clearing in the wilderness, planted your little garden, let in your sunlight, and then the weeds creep in again! A judgement! And our boy had typhoid because no clergyman had dropped water on him in church! Is it possible, Miss Honeychurch? Shall we slip back into the darkness for ever?”
“I don’t know,” gasped Lucy. “I don’t understand this sort of thing. I was not meant to understand it.”
“But Mr. Eager—he came when I was out, and acted according to his principles. I don’t blame him or any one... but by the time George was well she was ill. He made her think about sin, and she went under thinking about it.”
It was thus that Mr. Emerson had murdered his wife in the sight of God.
“Oh, how terrible!” said Lucy, forgetting her own affairs at last.
“He was not baptized,” said the old man. “I did hold firm.” And he looked with unwavering eyes at the rows of books, as if—at what cost!—he had won a victory over them. “My boy shall go back to the earth untouched.”
She asked whether young Mr. Emerson was ill.
“Oh—last Sunday.” He started into the present. “George last Sunday—no, not ill: just gone under. He is never ill. But he is his mother’s son. Her eyes were his, and she had that forehead that I think so beautiful, and he will not think it worth while to live. It was always touch and go. He will live; but he will not think it worth while to live. He will never think anything worth while. You remember that church at Florence?”
Lucy did remember, and how she had suggested that George should collect postage stamps.
“After you left Florence—horrible. Then we took the house here, and he goes bathing with your brother, and became better. You saw him bathing?”
“I am so sorry, but it is no good discussing this affair. I am deeply sorry about it.”
“Then there came something about a novel. I didn’t follow it at all; I had to hear so much, and he minded telling me; he finds me too old. Ah, well, one must have failures. George comes down to-morrow, and takes me up to his London rooms. He can’t bear to be about here, and I must be where he is.”
“Mr. Emerson,” cried the girl, “don’t leave at least, not on my account. I am going to Greece. Don’t leave your comfortable house.”
It was the first time her voice had been kind and he smiled. “How good everyone is! And look at Mr. Beebe housing me—came over this morning and heard I was going! Here I am so comfortable with a fire.”
“Yes, but you won’t go back to London. It’s absurd.”
“I must be with George; I must make him care to live, and down here he can’t. He says the thought of seeing you and of hearing about you—I am not justifying him: I am only saying what has happened.”
“Oh, Mr. Emerson”—she took hold of his hand—“you mustn’t. I’ve been bother enough to the world by now. I can’t have you moving out of your house when you like it, and perhaps losing money through it—all on my account. You must stop! I am just going to Greece.”
“All the way to Greece?”
Her manner altered.
“So you must stop. You won’t talk about this business, I know. I can trust you both.”
“Certainly you can. We either have you in our lives, or leave you to the life that you have chosen.”
“I shouldn’t want—”
“I suppose Mr. Vyse is very angry with George? No, it was wrong of George to try. We have pushed our beliefs too far. I fancy that we deserve sorrow.”
She looked at the books again—black, brown, and that acrid theological blue. They surrounded the visitors on every side; they were piled on the tables, they pressed against the very ceiling. To Lucy who could not see that Mr. Emerson was profoundly religious, and differed from Mr. Beebe chiefly by his acknowledgment of passion—it seemed dreadful that the old man should crawl into such a sanctum, when he was unhappy, and be dependent on the bounty of a clergyman.
More certain than ever that she was tired, he offered her his chair.
“No, please sit still. I think I will sit in the carriage.”
“Miss Honeychurch, you do sound tired.”
“Not a bit,” said Lucy, with trembling lips.
“But you are, and there’s a look of George about you. And what were you saying about going abroad?”
She was silent.
“Greece”—and she saw that he was thinking the word over—“Greece; but you were to be married this year, I thought.”
“Not till January, it wasn’t,” said Lucy, clasping her hands. Would she tell an actual lie when it came to the point?
“I suppose that Mr. Vyse is going with you. I hope—it isn’t because George spoke that you are both going?”
“I hope that you will enjoy Greece with Mr. Vyse.”
At that moment Mr. Beebe came back from church. His cassock was covered with rain. “That’s all right,” he said kindly. “I counted on you two keeping each other company. It’s pouring again. The entire congregation, which consists of your cousin, your mother, and my mother, stands waiting in the church, till the carriage fetches it. Did Powell go round?”
“I think so; I’ll see.”
“No—of course, I’ll see. How are the Miss Alans?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“Did you tell Mr. Emerson about Greece?”
“Don’t you think it very plucky of her, Mr. Emerson, to undertake the two Miss Alans? Now, Miss Honeychurch, go back—keep warm. I think three is such a courageous number to go travelling.” And he hurried off to the stables.
“He is not going,” she said hoarsely. “I made a slip. Mr. Vyse does stop behind in England.”
Somehow it was impossible to cheat this old man. To George, to Cecil, she would have lied again; but he seemed so near the end of things, so dignified in his approach to the gulf, of which he gave one account, and the books that surrounded him another, so mild to the rough paths that he had traversed, that the true chivalry—not the worn-out chivalry of sex, but the true chivalry that all the young may show to all the old—awoke in her, and, at whatever risk, she told him that Cecil was not her companion to Greece. And she spoke so seriously that the risk became a certainty, and he, lifting his eyes, said: “You are leaving him? You are leaving the man you love?”
“I—I had to.”
“Why, Miss Honeychurch, why?”
Terror came over her, and she lied again. She made the long, convincing speech that she had made to Mr. Beebe, and intended to make to the world when she announced that her engagement was no more. He heard her in silence, and then said: “My dear, I am worried about you. It seems to me”—dreamily; she was not alarmed—“that you are in a muddle.”
She shook her head.
“Take an old man’s word; there’s nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror—on the things that I might have avoided. We can help one another but little. I used to think I could teach young people the whole of life, but I know better now, and all my teaching of George has come down to this: beware of muddle. Do you remember in that church, when you pretended to be annoyed with me and weren’t? Do you remember before, when you refused the room with the view? Those were muddles—little, but ominous—and I am fearing that you are in one now.” She was silent. “Don’t trust me, Miss Honeychurch. Though life is very glorious, it is difficult.” She was still silent. “‘Life’ wrote a friend of mine, ‘is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.’ I think he puts it well. Man has to pick up the use of his functions as he goes along—especially the function of Love.” Then he burst out excitedly; “That’s it; that’s what I mean. You love George!” And after his long preamble, the three words burst against Lucy like waves from the open sea.
“But you do,” he went on, not waiting for contradiction. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it. You won’t marry the other man for his sake.”
“How dare you!” gasped Lucy, with the roaring of waters in her ears. “Oh, how like a man!—I mean, to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man.”
“But you are.”
She summoned physical disgust.
“You’re shocked, but I mean to shock you. It’s the only hope at times. I can reach you no other way. You must marry, or your life will be wasted. You have gone too far to retreat. I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already part of you. Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”
Lucy began to cry with anger, and though her anger passed away soon, her tears remained.
“I only wish poets would say this, too: love is of the body; not the body, but of the body. Ah! the misery that would be saved if we confessed that! Ah! for a little directness to liberate the soul! Your soul, dear Lucy! I hate the word now, because of all the cant with which superstition has wrapped it round. But we have souls. I cannot say how they came nor whither they go, but we have them, and I see you ruining yours. I cannot bear it. It is again the darkness creeping in; it is hell.” Then he checked himself. “What nonsense I have talked—how abstract and remote! And I have made you cry! Dear girl, forgive my prosiness; marry my boy. When I think what life is, and how seldom love is answered by love—Marry him; it is one of the moments for which the world was made.”
She could not understand him; the words were indeed remote. Yet as he spoke the darkness was withdrawn, veil after veil, and she saw to the bottom of her soul.
“You’ve frightened me,” she moaned. “Cecil—Mr. Beebe—the ticket’s bought—everything.” She fell sobbing into the chair. “I’m caught in the tangle. I must suffer and grow old away from him. I cannot break the whole of life for his sake. They trusted me.”
A carriage drew up at the front-door.
“Give George my love—once only. Tell him ‘muddle.’” Then she arranged her veil, while the tears poured over her cheeks inside.
“No—they are in the hall—oh, please not, Mr. Emerson—they trust me—”
“But why should they, when you have deceived them?”
Mr. Beebe opened the door, saying: “Here’s my mother.”
“You’re not worthy of their trust.”
“What’s that?” said Mr. Beebe sharply.
“I was saying, why should you trust her when she deceived you?”
“One minute, mother.” He came in and shut the door.
“I don’t follow you, Mr. Emerson. To whom do you refer? Trust whom?”
“I mean she has pretended to you that she did not love George. They have loved one another all along.”
Mr. Beebe looked at the sobbing girl. He was very quiet, and his white face, with its ruddy whiskers, seemed suddenly inhuman. A long black column, he stood and awaited her reply.
“I shall never marry him,” quavered Lucy.
A look of contempt came over him, and he said, “Why not?”
“Mr. Beebe—I have misled you—I have misled myself—”
“Oh, rubbish, Miss Honeychurch!”
“It is not rubbish!” said the old man hotly. “It’s the part of people that you don’t understand.”
Mr. Beebe laid his hand on the old man’s shoulder pleasantly.
“Lucy! Lucy!” called voices from the carriage.
“Mr. Beebe, could you help me?”
He looked amazed at the request, and said in a low, stern voice: “I am more grieved than I can possibly express. It is lamentable, lamentable—incredible.”
“What’s wrong with the boy?” fired up the other again.
“Nothing, Mr. Emerson, except that he no longer interests me. Marry George, Miss Honeychurch. He will do admirably.”
He walked out and left them. They heard him guiding his mother up-stairs.
“Lucy!” the voices called.
She turned to Mr. Emerson in despair. But his face revived her. It was the face of a saint who understood.
“Now it is all dark. Now Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. I know. But remember the mountains over Florence and the view. Ah, dear, if I were George, and gave you one kiss, it would make you brave. You have to go cold into a battle that needs warmth, out into the muddle that you have made yourself; and your mother and all your friends will despise you, oh, my darling, and rightly, if it is ever right to despise. George still dark, all the tussle and the misery without a word from him. Am I justified?” Into his own eyes tears came. “Yes, for we fight for more than Love or Pleasure; there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count.”
“You kiss me,” said the girl. “You kiss me. I will try.”
He gave her a sense of deities reconciled, a feeling that, in gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world. Throughout the squalor of her homeward drive—she spoke at once—his salutation remained. He had robbed the body of its taint, the world’s taunts of their sting; he had shown her the holiness of direct desire. She “never exactly understood,” she would say in after years, “how he managed to strengthen her. It was as if he had made her see the whole of everything at once.”