To be the admired of women--how Tommy had fought for it since first he drank of them in Pym's sparkling pages! To some it seems to be easy, but to him it was a labour of Sisyphus. Everything had been against him. But he concentrated. No labour was too Herculean; he was prepared, if necessary, to walk round the world to get to the other side of the wall across which some men can step. And he did take a roundabout way. It is my opinion, for instance, that he wrote his book in order to make a beginning with the ladies.
That as it may be, at all events he is on the right side of the wall now, and here is even Grizel looking wistfully at him. Had she admired him for something he was not (and a good many of them did that) he would have been ill satisfied. He wanted her to think him splendid because he was splendid, and the more he reflected the more clearly he saw that he had done a big thing. How many men would have had the courage to wrick their foot as he had done? (He shivered when he thought of it.) And even of these Spartans how many would have let the reward slip through their fingers rather than wound the feelings of a girl? These had not been his thoughts when he made confession; he had spoken on an impulse; but now that he could step out and have a look at himself, he saw that this made it a still bigger thing. He was modestly pleased that he had not only got Grizel's admiration, but earned it, and he was very kind to her when next she came to see him. No one could be more kind to them than he when they admired him. He had the most grateful heart, had our Tommy.
When next she came to see him! That was while his ankle still nailed him to the chair, a fortnight or so during which Tommy was at his best, sending gracious messages by Elspeth to the many who called to inquire, and writing hard at his new work, pad on knee, so like a brave soul whom no unmerited misfortune could subdue that it would have done you good merely to peep at him through the window. Grizel came several times, and the three talked very ordinary things, mostly reminiscences; she was as much a plain-spoken princess as ever, but often he found her eyes fixed on him wistfully, and he knew what they were saying; they spoke so eloquently that he was a little nervous lest Elspeth should notice. It was delicious to Tommy to feel that there was this little unspoken something between him and Grizel; he half regretted that the time could not be far distant when she must put it into words--as soon, say, as Elspeth left the room; an exquisite moment, no doubt, but it would be the plucking of the flower.
Don't think that Tommy conceived Grizel to be in love with him. On my sacred honour, that would have horrified him.
Curiously enough, she did not take the first opportunity Elspeth gave her of telling him in words how much she admired his brave confession. She was so honest that he expected her to begin the moment the door closed, and now that the artistic time had come for it, he wanted it; but no. He was not hurt, but he wondered at her shyness, and cast about for the reason. He cast far back into the past, and caught a little girl who had worn this same wistful face when she admired him most. He compared those two faces of the anxious girl and the serene woman, and in the wistfulness that sometimes lay on them both they looked alike. Was it possible that the fear of him which the years had driven out of the girl still lived a ghost's life to haunt the woman?
At once he overflowed with pity. As a boy he had exulted in Grizel's fear of him; as a man he could feel only the pain of it. There was no one, he thought, less to be dreaded of a woman than he; oh, so sure Tommy was of that! And he must lay this ghost; he gave his whole heart to the laying of it.
Few men, and never a woman, could do a fine thing so delicately as he; but of course it included a divergence from the truth, for to Tommy afloat on a generous scheme the truth was a buoy marking sunken rocks. She had feared him in her childhood, as he knew well; he therefore proceeded to prove to her that she had never feared him. She had thought him masterful, and all his reminiscences now went to show that it was she who had been the masterful one.
"You must often laugh now," he said, "to remember how I feared you. The memory of it makes me afraid of you still. I assure you, I joukit back, as Corp would say, that day I saw you in church. It was the instinct of self-preservation. 'Here comes Grizel to lord it over me again,' I heard something inside me saying. You called me masterful, and yet I had always to give in to you. That shows what a gentle, yielding girl you were, and what a masterful character I was!"
His intention, you see, was, without letting Grizel know what he was at, to make her think he had forgotten certain unpleasant incidents in their past, so that, seeing they were no longer anything to him, they might the sooner become nothing to her. And she believed that he had forgotten, and she was glad. She smiled when he told her to go on being masterful, for old acquaintance had made him like it. Hers, indeed, was a masterful nature; she could not help it; and if the time ever came when she must help it, the glee of living would be gone from her.
She did continue to be masterful--to a greater extent than Tommy, thus nobly behaving, was prepared for; and his shock came to him at the very moment when he was modestly expecting to receive the prize. She had called when Elspeth happened to be out; and though now able to move about the room with the help of a staff, he was still an interesting object. He saw that she thought so, and perhaps it made him hobble slightly more, not vaingloriously, but because he was such an artist. He ceased to be an artist suddenly, however, when Grizel made this unexpected remark:
"How vain you are!"
Tommy sat down, quite pale. "Did you come here to say that to me, Grizel?" he inquired, and she nodded frankly over her high collar of fur. He knew it was true as Grizel said it, but though taken aback, he could bear it, for she was looking wistfully at him, and he knew well what Grizel's wistful look meant; so long as women admired him Tommy could bear anything from them. "God knows I have little to be vain of," he said humbly.
"Those are the people who are most vain," she replied; and he laughed a short laugh, which surprised her, she was so very serious.
"Your methods are so direct," he explained. "But of what am I vain, Grizel? Is it my book?"
"No," she answered, "not about your book, but about meaner things. What else could have made you dislocate your ankle rather than admit that you had been rather silly?"
Now "silly" is no word to apply to a gentleman, and, despite his forgiving nature, Tommy was a little disappointed in Grizel.
"I suppose it was a silly thing to do," he said, with just a touch of stiffness.
"It was an ignoble thing," said she, sadly.
"I see. And I myself am the meaner thing than the book, am I?"
"Are you not?" she asked, so eagerly that he laughed again.
"It is the first compliment you have paid my book," he pointed out.
"I like the book very much," she answered gravely. "No one can be more proud of your fame than I. You are hurting me very much by pretending to think that it is a pleasure to me to find fault with you." There was no getting past the honesty of her, and he was touched by it. Besides, she did admire him, and that, after all, is the great thing.
"Then why say such things, Grizel?" he replied good-naturedly.
"But if they are true?"
"Still let us avoid them," said he; and at that she was most distressed.
"It is so like what you used to say when you were a boy!" she cried.
"You are so anxious to have me grow up," he replied, with proper dolefulness. "If you like the book, Grizel, you must have patience with the kind of thing that produced it. That night in the Den, when I won your scorn, I was in the preliminary stages of composition. At such times an author should be locked up; but I had got out, you see. I was so enamoured of my little fancies that I forgot I was with you. No wonder you were angry."
"I was not angry with you for forgetting me," she said sharply. (There was no catching Grizel, however artful you were.) "But you were sighing to yourself, you were looking as tragic as if some dreadful calamity had occurred--"
"The idea that had suddenly come to me was a touching one," he said.
"But you looked triumphant, too."
"That was because I saw I could make something of it." "Why did you walk as if you were lame?"
"The man I was thinking of," Tommy explained, "had broken his leg. I don't mind telling you that it was Corp."
He ought to have minded telling her, for it could only add to her indignation; but he was too conceited to give weight to that.
"Corp's leg was not broken," said practical Grizel.
"I broke it for him," replied Tommy; and when he had explained, her eyes accused him of heartlessness.
"If it had been my own," he said, in self-defence, "it should have gone crack just the same."
"Poor Gavinia! Had you no feeling for her?"
"Gavinia was not there," Tommy replied triumphantly. "She had run off with a soldier."
"You dared to conceive that?"
Grizel stamped her foot. "You could take away dear Gavinia's character with a smile!"
"On the contrary," said Tommy, "my heart bled for her. Did you not notice that I was crying?" But he could not make Grizel smile; so, to please her, he said, with a smile that was not very sincere: "I wish I were different, but that is how ideas come to me--at least, all those that are of any value."
"Surely you could fight against them and drive them away?"
This to Tommy, who held out sugar to them to lure them to him! But still he treated her with consideration.
"That would mean my giving up writing altogether, Grizel," he said kindly.
"Then why not give it up?"
Really! But she admired him, and still he bore with her.
"I don't like the book," she said, "if it is written at such a cost."
"People say the book has done them good, Grizel."
"What does that matter, if it does you harm?" In her eagerness to persuade him, her words came pell-mell. "If writing makes you live in such an unreal world, it must do you harm. I see now what Mr. Cathro meant, long ago, when he called you Senti----"
Tommy winced. "I remember what Mr. Cathro called me," he said, with surprising hauteur for such a good-natured man. "But he does not call me that now. No one calls me that now, except you, Grizel."
"What does that matter," she replied distressfully, "if it is true? In the definition of sentimentality in the dictionary--"
He rose indignantly. "You have been looking me up in the dictionary, have you, Grizel?"
"Yes, the night you told me you had hurt your ankle intentionally."
He laughed, without mirth now. "I thought you had put that down to vanity."
"I think," she said, "it was vanity that gave you the courage to do it." And he liked one word in this remark.
"Then you do give me credit for a little courage?"
"I think you could do the most courageous things," she told him, "so long as there was no real reason why you should do them."
It was a shot that rang the bell. Oh, our Tommy heard it ringing. But, to do him justice, he bore no malice; he was proud, rather, of Grizel's marksmanship. "At least," he said meekly, "it was courageous of me to tell you the truth in the end?" But, to his surprise, she shook her head.
"No," she replied; "it was sweet of you. You did it impulsively, because you were sorry for me, and I think it was sweet. But impulse is not courage."
So now Tommy knew all about it. His plain-spoken critic had been examining him with a candle, and had paid particular attention to his defects; but against them she set the fact that he had done something chivalrous for her, and it held her heart, though the others were in possession of the head. "How like a woman!" he thought, with a pleased smile. He knew them!
Still he was chagrined that she made so little of his courage, and it was to stab her that he said, with subdued bitterness: "I always had a suspicion that I was that sort of person, and it is pleasant to have it pointed out by one's oldest friend. No one will ever accuse you of want of courage, Grizel."
She was looking straight at him, and her eyes did not drop, but they looked still more wistful. Tommy did not understand the courage that made her say what she had said, but he knew he was hurting her; he knew that if she was too plain-spoken it was out of loyalty, and that to wound Grizel because she had to speak her mind was a shame--yes, he always knew that.
But he could do it; he could even go on: "And it is satisfactory that you have thought me out so thoroughly, because you will not need to think me out any more. You know me now, Grizel, and can have no more fear of me."
"When was I ever afraid of you?" she demanded. She was looking at him suspiciously now.
"Never as a girl?" he asked. It jumped out of him. He was sorry as soon as he had said it.
There was a long pause. "So you remembered it all the time," she said quietly. "You have been making pretence--again!" He asked her to forgive him, and she nodded her head at once. "But why did you pretend to have forgotten?"
"I thought it would please you, Grizel."
"Why should pretence please me?" She rose suddenly, in a white heat. "You don't mean to say that you think I am afraid of you still?"
He said No a moment too late. He knew it was too late.
"Don't be angry with me, Grizel," he begged her, earnestly. "I am so glad I was mistaken. It made me miserable. I have been a terrible blunderer, but I mean well; I misread your eyes."
"They have always seemed to be watching me, and often there was such a wistful look in them--it reminded me of the past."
"You thought I was still afraid of you! Say it," said Grizel, stamping her foot. But he would not say it. It was not merely fear that he thought he had seen in her eyes, you remember. This was still his comfort, and, I suppose, it gave the touch of complacency to his face that made Grizel merciless. She did not mean to be merciless, but only to tell the truth. If some of her words were scornful, there was sadness in her voice all the time, instead of triumph. "For years and years," she said, standing straight as an elvint, "I have been able to laugh at all the ignorant fears of my childhood; and if you don't know why I have watched you and been unable to help watching you since you came back, I shall tell you. But I think you might have guessed, you who write books about women. It is because I liked you when you were a boy. You were often horrid, but you were my first friend when every other person was against me. You let me play with you when no other boy or girl would let me play. And so, all the time you have been away, I have been hoping that you were growing into a noble man; and when you came back, I watched to see whether you were the noble man I wanted you so much to be, and you are not. Do you see now why my eyes look wistful? It is because I wanted to admire you, and I can't."
She went away, and the great authority on women raged about the room. Oh, but he was galled! There had been five feet nine of him, but he was shrinking. By and by the red light came into his eyes.
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