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Nevertheless he was not able to persuade her to join him, with Lucy, in a trip abroad. She was tirelessly concerned to do and say everything she could that showed her deep sympathy with him in his loss—he had told her nothing beyond the bare fact, and she was not one to read about inquests—and her deep sense of obligation to him that he, labouring under so great a burden of sorrow of his own, should have helped them with such devotion and unselfishness in theirs; but she wouldn't go abroad. She was going, she said, to her little house in London with Lucy.
'What, in August?' exclaimed Wemyss.
Yes, they would be quiet there, and indeed they were both worn out and only wished for solitude.
'Then why not stay here?' asked Wemyss, who now considered Lucy's aunt selfish. 'This is solitary enough, in all conscience.'
No, they neither of them felt they could bear to stay in that house. Lucy must go to the place least connected in her mind with her father. Indeed, indeed it was best. She did so understand and appreciate Mr. Wemyss's wonderful and unselfish motives in suggesting the continent, but she and Lucy were in that state when the idea of an hotel and waiters and a band was simply impossible to them, and all they wished was to creep into the quiet and privacy of their own nest,—'Like wounded birds,' said poor Miss Entwhistle, looking up at him with much the piteous expression of a dog lifting an injured paw.
'It's very bad for Lucy to be encouraged to think she's a wounded bird,' said Wemyss, controlling his disappointment as best he could.
'You must come and see us in London and help us to feel heroic,' said Miss Entwhistle, with a watery smile.
'But I can come and see you much better and easier if you're here,' persisted Wemyss.
Miss Entwhistle, however, though watery, was determined. She refused to stay where she so conveniently was, and Wemyss now considered Lucy's aunt obstinate as well as selfish. Also he thought her very ungrateful. She had made use of him, and now was going to leave him, without apparently giving him a thought, in the lurch.
He was having a good deal of Miss Entwhistle, because during the two days that came after the funeral Lucy was practically invisible, engaged in collecting and packing her father's belongings. Wemyss hung about the garden, not knowing when these activities mightn't suddenly cease and not wishing to miss her if she did come out, and Miss Entwhistle, who couldn't help Lucy in this—no one could help her in the heart-breaking work—naturally joined him.
He found these two days long. Miss Entwhistle felt there was a great bond between herself and him, and Wemyss felt there wasn't. When she said there was he had difficulty in not contradicting her. Not only, Miss Entwhistle felt, and also explained, was there the bond of their dear Jim, whom both she and Mr. Wemyss had so much loved, but there was this communion of sorrow,—the loss of his wife, the loss of her brother, within the same fortnight.
Wemyss shut his mouth tight at this and said nothing.
How natural for her, feeling so sorry for him, feeling so grateful to him, when from a window during those two days she beheld him sitting solitary beneath the mulberry tree, to go down and sit there with him; how natural that, when he got up, made restless, she supposed, by his memories, and began to pace the lawn, she should get up and sympathetically pace it too. She could not let this kind, tender-hearted man—he must be that, or Jim wouldn't have been fond of him, besides she had seen it for herself in the way he had helped her and Lucy—she could not let him be alone with his sad thoughts. And he had a double burden of sad thoughts, a double loss to bear, for he had lost her dear brother as well as his poor wife.
All Entwhistles were compassionate, and as she and Wemyss sat together or together paced, she kept up a flow of gentle loving-kindness. Wemyss smoked his pipe in practically unbroken silence. This was his way when he was holding on to himself. Miss Entwhistle of course didn't know he was holding on to himself, and taking his silence for the inarticulateness of deep unhappiness was so much touched that she would have done anything for him, anything that might bring this poor, kind, suffering fellow-creature comfort—except go to Ostend. From that dreadful suggestion she continued to shudder away; nor, though he tried again, even after all arrangements for leaving Cornwall had been made, would she be persuaded to stay where she was.
Therefore Wemyss was forced to conclude that she was obstinate as well as selfish; and if it hadn't been for the brief moments at meals when Lucy appeared, and through her unhappiness—what she was doing was obviously depressing her very much—smiled faintly at him and always went and sat as near him as she could, he would have found these two days intolerable.
How atrocious, he thought, while he smoked in silence and held on to himself, that Lucy should be taken away from him by a mere maiden lady, an aunt, an unmarried aunt,—weakest and most negligible, surely, of all relatives. How atrocious that such a person should have any right to come between him and Lucy, to say she wouldn't do this, that, or the other that Wemyss proposed, and thus possess the power to make him unhappy. Miss Entwhistle was so little that he could have brushed her aside with the back of one hand; yet here again the strong monster public opinion stepped in and forced him to acquiesce in any plan she chose to make for Lucy, however desolate it left him, merely because she stood to her in the anĉmic relationship of aunt.
During two mortal days, as he waited about in that garden so grievously infested by Miss Entwhistle, sounds of boxes being moved and drawers being opened and shut came through the windows, but except at meals there was no Lucy. He could have borne it if he hadn't known they were the very last days he would be with her, but as things were it seemed cruel that he should be left like that to be miserable. Why should he be left like that to be miserable, just because of a lot of clothes and papers? he asked himself; and he felt he was getting thoroughly tired of Jim.
'Haven't you done yet?' he said at tea on the second afternoon of this sorting out and packing, when Lucy got up to go indoors again, leaving him with Miss Entwhistle, even before he had finished his second cup of tea.
'You've no idea what a lot there is,' she said, her voice sounding worn out; and she lingered a moment, her hand on the back of her aunt's chair. 'Father brought all his notes with him, and heaps and heaps of letters from people he was consulting, and I'm trying to get them straight—get them as he would have wished——'
Miss Entwhistle put up her hand and stroked Lucy's arm.
'If you weren't in this hurry to go away you'd have had more time and done it comfortably,' said Wemyss.
'Oh, but I don't want more time,' said Lucy quickly.
'Lucy means she couldn't bear it drawn out,' said Miss Entwhistle, leaning her thin cheek against Lucy's sleeve. 'These things—they tear one's heart. And nobody can help her. She has to go through with it alone.' And she drew Lucy's face down to hers and held it there a moment, gently stroking it, the tears brimming up again in the eyes of both.
Always tears, thought Wemyss. Yes, and there always would be tears as long as that aunt had hold of Lucy. She was the arch-wallower, he told himself, filling his pipe in silence after Lucy had gone in.
He got up and went out at the gate and crossed the road and stood staring at the evening sea. Should he hear steps coming after him and Miss Entwhistle were to follow him even beyond the garden, he would proceed without looking round down to the cove and to the inn, where she must needs leave him alone. He had had enough. That Miss Entwhistle should explain to him what Lucy meant, he considered to be the last straw of her behaviour. Barging in, he said indignantly to himself; barging in when nobody had asked her opinion or explanation of anything. And she had stroked Lucy's face as though Lucy and her face and everything about her belonged to her, merely because she happened to be her aunt. Fancy explaining to him what Lucy really meant, taking upon herself the functions of interpreter, of go-between, when for a whole day and a half before she appeared on the scene—and she had only appeared on it at all thanks to his telegram—Lucy and he had been in the closest fellowship, the closest communion....
Well, things couldn't go on like this. He was not the man to be dominated by a relative. If he had lived in those sensible ancient days when people behaved wholesomely, he would have flung Lucy over his shoulder and walked off with her to Ostend or Paris and laughed at such insects as aunts. He couldn't do that unfortunately, though where the harm would be in two mourners like himself and Lucy going together in search of relief he must say he was unable to see. Why should they be condemned to search for relief separately? Their sorrows, surely, would be their chaperone, especially his sorrow. Nobody would object to Lucy's nursing him, supposing he were dangerously ill; why should she not be equally beyond the reach of tongues if she nursed the bitter wounds of his spirit?
He heard steps coming down the garden path to the gate. There, he thought, was the aunt again, searching for him, and he stood squarely and firmly with his back to the road, smoking his pipe and staring at the sea. If he heard the gate open and she dared to come through it he would instantly walk away. In the garden he had to endure being joined by her, because there he was in the position of guest; but let her try to join him on the King's highway!
Nobody opened the gate, however, and, as he heard no retreating footsteps either, after a minute he began to want to look round. He struggled against this wish, because the moment Miss Entwhistle caught his eye she would come out to him, he felt sure. But Wemyss was not much good at struggling against his wishes,—he usually met with defeat; and after briefly doing so on this occasion he did look round. And what a good thing he did, for it was Lucy.
There she was, leaning on the gate just as she had been that first morning, but this time her eyes instead of being wide and blank were watching him with a deep and touching interest.
He got across the road in one stride. 'Lucy!' he exclaimed. 'You? Why didn't you call me? We've wasted half an hour——'
'About two minutes,' she said, smiling up at him as he, on the other side of the gate, folded both her hands in his just as he had done that first morning; and the relief it was to Wemyss to see her again alone, to see that smile of trust and—surely—content in getting back to him!
Then her face went grave again. 'I've finished father's things now,' she said, 'and so I came to look for you.'
'Lucy, how can you leave me,' was Wemyss's answer to that, his voice vibrating, 'how can you go away from me to-morrow and hand me over again to the torments—yes, torments, I was in before?'
'But I have to go,' she said, distressed. 'And you mustn't say that. You mustn't let yourself be like that again. You won't be, I know—you're so brave and strong.'
'Not without you. I'm nothing without you,' said Wemyss; and his eyes, as he searched hers, were full of tears.
At this Lucy flushed, and then, staring at him, her face went slowly white. These words of his, the way he said them, reminded her—oh no, it wasn't possible; he and she stood in a relationship to each other like none, she was sure, that had ever yet been. It was an intimacy arrived at at a bound, with no preliminary steps. It was a holy thing, based on mutual grief, protected from everything ordinary by the great wings of Death. He was her wonderful friend, big in his simplicity, all care for her and goodness, a very rock of refuge and shelter in the wilderness she had been flung into when he found her. And that he, bleeding as he was himself from the lacerations of the violent rending asunder from his wife to whom he had been, as he had told her, devoted, that he should—oh no, it wasn't possible; and she hung her head, shocked at her thoughts. For the way he had said those words, and the words themselves had reminded her—no, she could hardly bear to think it, but they had reminded her of the last time she had been proposed to. The man—he was a young man; she had never been proposed to by any one even approximately Wemyss's age—had said almost exactly that: Without you I am nothing. And just in that same deep, vibrating voice.
How dreadful thoughts could be, Lucy said to herself, overcome that such a one at such a moment should thrust itself into her mind. Hateful of her, hateful....
She hung her head in shame; and Wemyss, looking down at the little bobbed head with its bright, thick young hair bent over their folded hands as though it were saying its prayers,—Wemyss, not having his pipe in his mouth to protect him and help him to hold on to himself, for he had hastily stuffed it in his pocket, all alight as it was, when he saw her at the gate, and there at that moment it was burning holes,—Wemyss, after a brief struggle with his wishes, in which as usual he was defeated, stooped and began to kiss Lucy's hair. And having begun, he continued.
She was horrified. At the first kiss she started as if she had been hit, and then, clinging to the gate, she stood without moving, without being able to think or lift her head, in the same attitude bowed over his and her own hands, while this astonishing thing was being done to her hair. Death all round them, death pervading every corner of their lives, death in its blackest shape brooding over him, and—kisses. Her mind, if anything so gentle could be said to be in anything that sounds so loud, was in an uproar. She had had the complete, guileless trust in him of a child for a tender and sympathetic friend,—a friend, not a father, though he was old enough to be her father, because in a father, however much hidden by sweet comradeship as it had been in hers, there always at the back of everything was, after all, authority. And it had been even more than the trust of a child in its friend: it had been the trust of a child in a fellow-child hit by the same punishment,—a simple fellowship, a wordless understanding.
She hung on to the gate while her thoughts flew about in confusion within her. These kisses—and his wife just dead—and dead so terribly—how long would she have to stand there with this going on—she couldn't lift up her head, for then she felt it would only get worse—she couldn't turn and run into the house, because he was holding her hands. He oughtn't to have—oh, he oughtn't to have—it wasn't fair....
Then—what was he saying? She heard him say, in an absolutely broken voice, laying his head on hers, 'We two poor things—we two poor things'—and then he said and did nothing more, but kept his head like that, and presently, thick though her hair was, through it came wetness.
At that Lucy's thoughts suddenly stopped flying about and were quite still. Her heart went to wax within her, melted again into pity, into a great flood of pitiful understanding. The dreadfulness of lonely grief.... Was there anything in the world so blackly desolate as to be left alone in grief? This poor broken fellow-creature—and she herself, so lost, so lost in loneliness—they were two half-drowned things, clinging together in a shipwreck—how could she let him go, leave him to himself—how could she be let go, left to herself....
'Lucy,' he said, 'look at me——'
She lifted her head. He loosed her hands, and put his arms round her shoulders.
'Look at me,' he said; for though she had lifted her head she hadn't lifted her eyes.
She looked at him. Tears were on his face. When she saw them her mouth began to quiver and twitch. She couldn't bear that.
'Lucy——' he said again.
She shut her eyes. 'Yes'—she breathed, 'yes.' And with one hand she felt along up his coat till she reached his face, and shakingly tried to brush away its tears.
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