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CHAPTER VIII

By the side of little Ann, Barbara sat leaning back amongst the
cushions of the car. In spite of being already launched into high-
caste life which brings with it an early knowledge of the world, she
had still some of the eagerness in her face which makes children
lovable. Yet she looked negligently enough at the citizens of
Bucklandbury, being already a little conscious of the strange mixture
of sentiment peculiar to her countrymen in presence of herself--that
curious expression on their faces resulting from the continual
attempt to look down their noses while slanting their eyes upwards.
Yes, she was already alive to that mysterious glance which had built
the national house and insured it afterwards--foe to cynicism,
pessimism, and anything French or Russian; parent of all the national
virtues, and all the national vices; of idealism and muddle-
headedness, of independence and servility; fosterer of conduct,
murderer of speculation; looking up, and looking down, but never
straight at anything; most high, most deep, most queer; and ever
bubbling-up from the essential Well of Emulation.

Surrounded by that glance, waiting for Courtier, Barbara, not less
British than her neighbours, was secretly slanting her own eyes up
and down over the absent figure of her new acquaintance. She too
wanted something she could look up to, and at the same time see
damned first. And in this knight-errant it seemed to her that she
had got it.

He was a creature from another world. She had met many men, but not
as yet one quite of this sort. It was rather nice to be with a
clever man, who had none the less done so many outdoor things, been
through so many bodily adventures. The mere writers, or even the
'Bohemians,' whom she occasionally met, were after all only
'chaplains to the Court,' necessary to keep aristocracy in touch with
the latest developments of literature and art. But this Mr. Courtier
was a man of action; he could not be looked on with the amused,
admiring toleration suited to men remarkable only for ideas, and the
way they put them into paint or ink. He had used, and could use, the
sword, even in the cause of Peace. He could love, had loved, or so
they said: If Barbara had been a girl of twenty in another class, she
would probably never have heard of this, and if she had heard, it
might very well have dismayed or shocked her. But she had heard, and
without shock, because she had already learned that men were like
that, and women too sometimes.

It was with quite a little pang of concern that she saw him hobbling
down the street towards her; and when he was once more seated, she
told the chauffeur: "To the station, Frith. Quick, please!" and
began:

"You are not to be trusted a bit. What were you doing?"

But Courtier smiled grimly over the head of Ann, in silence.

At this, almost the first time she had ever yet encountered a
distinct rebuff, Barbara quivered, as though she had been touched
lightly with a whip. Her lips closed firmly, her eyes began to
dance. "Very well, my dear," she thought. But presently stealing a
look at him, she became aware of such a queer expression on his face,
that she forgot she was offended.

"Is anything wrong, Mr. Courtier?"

"Yes, Lady Barbara, something is very wrong--that miserable mean
thing, the human tongue."

Barbara had an intuitive knowledge of how to handle things, a kind of
moral sangfroid, drawn in from the faces she had watched, the talk
she had heard, from her youth up. She trusted those intuitions, and
letting her eyes conspire with his over Ann's brown hair, she said:

"Anything to do with Mrs. N-----?" Seeing "Yes" in his eyes, she
added quickly: "And M-----?")

Courtier nodded.

"I thought that was coming. Let them babble! Who cares?"

She caught an approving glance, and the word, "Good!"

But the car had drawn up at Bucklandbury Station.

The little grey figure of Lady Casterley, coming out of the station
doorway, showed but slight sign of her long travel. She stopped to
take the car in, from chauffeur to Courtier.

"Well, Frith!--Mr. Courtier, is it? I know your book, and I don't
approve of you; you're a dangerous man--How do you do? I must have
those two bags. The cart can bring the rest.... Randle, get up in
front, and don't get dusty. Ann!" But Ann was already beside the
chauffeur, having long planned this improvement. "H'm! So you've
hurt your leg, sir? Keep still! We can sit three.... Now, my dear,
I can kiss you! You've grown!"

Lady Casterley's kiss, once received, was never forgotten; neither
perhaps was Barbara's. Yet they were different. For, in the case of
Lady Casterley, the old eyes, bright and investigating, could be seen
deciding the exact spot for the lips to touch; then the face with its
firm chin was darted forward; the lips paused a second, as though to
make quite certain, then suddenly dug hard and dry into the middle of
the cheek, quavered for the fraction of a second as if trying to
remember to be soft, and were relaxed like the elastic of a catapult.
And in the case of Barbara, first a sort of light came into her eyes,
then her chin tilted a little, then her lips pouted a little, her
body quivered, as if it were getting a size larger, her hair
breathed, there was a small sweet sound; it was over.

Thus kissing her grandmother, Barbara resumed her seat, and looked at
Courtier. 'Sitting three' as they were, he was touching her, and it
seemed to her somehow that he did not mind.

The wind had risen, blowing from the West, and sunshine was flying on
it. The call of the cuckoos--a little sharpened--followed the swift-
travelling car. And that essential sweetness of the moor, born of
the heather roots and the South-West wind, was stealing out from
under the young ferns.

With her thin nostrils distended to this scent, Lady Casterley bore a
distinct resemblance to a small, fine game-bird.

"You smell nice down here," she said. "Now, Mr. Courtier, before I
forget--who is this Mrs. Lees Noel that I hear so much of?"

At that question, Barbara could not help sliding her eyes round. How
would he stand up to Granny? It was the moment to see what he was
made of. Granny was terrific!

"A very charming woman, Lady Casterley."

"No doubt; but I am tired of hearing that. What is her story?"

"Has she one?"

"Ha!" said Lady Casterley.

Ever so slightly Barbara let her arm press against Courtiers. It was
so delicious to hear Granny getting no forwarder.

"I may take it she has a past, then?"

"Not from me, Lady Casterley."

Again Barbara gave him that imperceptible and flattering touch.

"Well, this is all very mysterious. I shall find out for myself.
You know her, my dear. You must take me to see her."

"Dear Granny! If people hadn't pasts, they wouldn't have futures."

Lady Casterley let her little claw-like hand descend on her grand-
daughter's thigh.

"Don't talk nonsense, and don't stretch like that!" she said; "you're
too large already...."

At dinner that night they were all in possession of the news. Sir
William had been informed by the local agent at Staverton, where Lord
Harbinger's speech had suffered from some rude interruptions. The
Hon. Geoffrey Winlow; having sent his wife on, had flown over in his
biplane from Winkleigh, and brought a copy of 'the rag' with him.
The one member of the small house-party who had not heard the report
before dinner was Lord Dennis Fitz-Harold, Lady Casterley's brother.

Little, of course, was said. But after the ladies had withdrawn,
Harbinger, with that plain-spoken spontaneity which was so
unexpected, perhaps a little intentionally so, in connection with his
almost classically formed face, uttered words to the effect that, if
they did not fundamentally kick that rumour, it was all up with
Miltoun. Really this was serious! And the beggars knew it, and they
were going to work it. And Miltoun had gone up to Town, no one knew
what for. It was the devil of a mess!

In all the conversation of this young man there was that peculiar
brand of voice, which seems ever rebutting an accusation of being
serious--a brand of voice and manner warranted against anything save
ridicule; and in the face of ridicule apt to disappear. The words,
just a little satirically spoken: "What is, my dear young man?"
stopped him at once.

Looking for the complement and counterpart of Lady Casterley, one
would perhaps have singled out her brother. All her abrupt decision
was negated in his profound, ironical urbanity. His voice and look
and manner were like his velvet coat, which had here and there a
whitish sheen, as if it had been touched by moonlight. His hair too
had that sheen. His very delicate features were framed in a white
beard and moustache of Elizabethan shape. His eyes, hazel and still
clear, looked out very straight, with a certain dry kindliness. His
face, though unweathered and unseamed, and much too fine and thin in
texture, had a curious affinity to the faces of old sailors or
fishermen who have lived a simple, practical life in the light of an
overmastering tradition. It was the face of a man with a very set
creed, and inclined to be satiric towards innovations, examined by
him and rejected full fifty years ago. One felt that a brain not
devoid either of subtlety or aesthetic quality had long given up all
attempts to interfere with conduct; that all shrewdness of
speculation had given place to shrewdness of practical judgment based
on very definite experience. Owing to lack of advertising power,
natural to one so conscious of his dignity as to have lost all care
for it, and to his devotion to a certain lady, only closed by death,
his life had been lived, as it were, in shadow. Still, he possessed
a peculiar influence in Society, because it was known to be
impossible to get him to look at things in a complicated way. He was
regarded rather as a last resort, however. "Bad as that? Well,
there's old Fitz-Harold! Try him! He won't advise you, but he'll
say something."

And in the heart of that irreverent young man, Harbinger, there
stirred a sort of misgiving. Had he expressed himself too freely?
Had he said anything too thick? He had forgotten the old boy!
Stirring Bertie up with his foot, he murmured "Forgot you didn't
know, sir. Bertie will explain."

Thus called on, Bertie, opening his lips a very little way, and
fixing his half-closed eyes on his great-uncle, explained. There was
a lady at the cottage--a nice woman--Mr. Courtier knew her--old
Miltoun went there sometimes--rather late the other evening--these
devils were making the most of it--suggesting--lose him the election,
if they didn't look out. Perfect rot, of course!

In his opinion, old Miltoun, though as steady as Time, had been a
flat to let the woman come out with him on to the Green, showing
clearly where he had been, when he ran to Courtier's rescue. You
couldn't play about with women who had no form that anyone knew
anything of, however promising they might look.

Then, out of a silence Winlow asked: What was to be done? Should
Miltoun be wired for? A thing like this spread like wildfire! Sir
William--a man not accustomed to underrate difficulties--was afraid
it was going to be troublesome. Harbinger expressed the opinion that
the editor ought to be kicked. Did anybody know what Courtier had
done when he heard of it. Where was he--dining in his room? Bertie
suggested that if Miltoun was at Valleys House, it mightn't be too
late to wire to him. The thing ought to be stemmed at once! And in
all this concern about the situation there kept cropping out quaint
little outbursts of desire to disregard the whole thing as infernal
insolence, and metaphorically to punch the beggars' heads, natural to
young men of breeding.

Then, out of another silence came the voice of Lord Dennis:

"I am thinking of this poor lady."

Turning a little abruptly towards that dry suave voice, and
recovering the self-possession which seldom deserted him, Harbinger
murmured:

"Quite so, sir; of course!"




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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