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The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim


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Room with a View



Sicilian Romance

Villa Gardens

Eduardo's Gardens


Chapter 21- Now Frederick was not the man to hurt anything

Now Frederick was not the man to hurt anything if he could help it; besides, he was completely bewildered.  Not only was his wife here --here, of all places in the world--but she was clinging to him as she had not clung for years, and murmuring love, and welcoming him.  If she welcomed him she must have been expecting him.  Strange as this was, it was the only thing in the situation which was evident--that, and the softness of her cheek against his, and the long-forgotten sweet smell of her.

Frederick was bewildered.  But not being the man to hurt anything if he could help it he too put his arms round her, and having put them round her he also kissed her; and presently he was kissing her almost as tenderly as she was kissing him; and presently he was kissing her quite as tenderly; and again presently he was kissing her more tenderly, and just as if he had never left off.

He was bewildered, but he still could kiss.  It seemed curiously natural to be doing it.  It made him feel as if he were thirty again instead of forty, and Rose were his Rose of twenty, the Rose he had so much adored before she began to weigh what he did with her idea of right, and the balance went against him, and she had turned strange, and stony, and more and more shocked, and oh, so lamentable.  He couldn't get at her in those days at all; she wouldn't, she couldn't understand.  She kept on referring everything to what she called God's eyes--in God's eyes it couldn't be right, it wasn't right.  Her miserable face--whatever her principles did for her they didn't make her happy--her little miserable face, twisted with effort to be patient, had been at last more than he could bear to see, and he had kept away as much as he could.  She never ought to have been the daughter of a low-church rector--narrow devil; she was quite unfitted to stand up against such an upbringing.

What had happened, why she was here, why she was his Rose again, passed his comprehension; and meanwhile, and until such time as he understood, he still could kiss.  In fact he could not stop kissing; and it was he now who began to murmur, to say love things in her ear under the hair that smelt so sweet and tickled him just as he remembered it used to tickle him.

And as he held her close to his heart and her arms were soft round his neck, he felt stealing over him a delicious sense of--at first he didn't know what it was, this delicate, pervading warmth, and then he recognized it as security.  Yes; security.  No need now to be ashamed of his figure, and to make jokes about it so as to forestall other people's and show he didn't mind it; no need now to be ashamed of getting hot going up hills, or to torment himself with pictures of how he probably appeared to beautiful young women--how middle-aged, how absurd in his inability to keep away from them.  Rose cared nothing for such things.  With her he was safe.  To her he was her lover, as he used to be; and she would never notice or mind any of the ignoble changes that getting older had made in him and would go on making more and more.

Frederick continued, therefore, with greater and greater warmth and growing delight to kiss his wife, and the mere holding of her in his arms caused him to forget everything else.  How could he, for instance, remember or think of Lady Caroline, to mention only one of the complications with which his situation bristled, when here was his sweet wife, miraculously restored to him, whispering with her cheek against his in the dearest, most romantic words how much she loved him, how terribly she had missed him?  He did for one brief instant, for even in moments of love there were brief instants of lucid thought, recognize the immense power of the woman present and being actually held compared to that of the woman, however beautiful, who is somewhere else, but that is as far as he got towards remembering Scrap; no farther.  She was like a dream, fleeing before the morning light.

"When did you start?" murmured Rose, her mouth on his ear.  She couldn't let him go; not even to talk she couldn't let him go.

"Yesterday morning," murmured Frederick, holding her close.  He couldn't let her go either.

"Oh--the very instant then," murmured Rose.

This was cryptic, but Frederick said, "Yes, the very instant," and kissed her neck.

"How quickly my letter got to you," murmured Rose, whose eyes were shut in the excess of her happiness.

"Didn't it," said Frederick, who felt like shutting his eyes himself.

So there had been a letter.  Soon, no doubt, light would be vouchsafed him, and meanwhile this was so strangely, touchingly sweet, this holding his Rose to his heart again after all the years, that he couldn't bother to try to guess anything.  Oh, he had been happy during these years, because it was not in him to be unhappy; besides, how many interests life had had to offer him, how many friends, how much success, how many women only too willing to help him to blot out the thought of the altered, petrified, pitiful little wife at home who wouldn't spend his money, who was appalled by his books, who drifted away and away from him, and always if he tried to have it out with her asked him with patient obstinacy what he thought the things he wrote and lived by looked in the eyes of God.  "No one," she said once, "should ever write a book God wouldn't like to read.  That is the test, Frederick."  And he had laughed hysterically, burst into a great shriek of laughter, and rushed out of the house, away from her solemn little face--away from her pathetic, solemn little face. . .

But this Rose was his youth again, the best part of his life, the part of it that had had all the visions in it and all the hopes.  How they had dreamed together, he and she, before he struck that vein of memoirs; how they had planned, and laughed and loved.  They had lived for a while in the very heart of poetry.  After the happy days came the happy nights, the happy, happy nights, with her asleep close against his heart, with her when he woke in the morning still close against his heart, for they hardly moved in their deep, happy sleep.  It was wonderful to have it all come back to him at the touch of her, at the feel of her face against his--wonderful that she should be able to give him back his youth.

"Sweetheart--sweetheart," he murmured, overcome by remembrance, clinging to her now in his turn.

"Beloved husband," she breathed--the bliss of it--the sheer bliss . . .

Briggs, coming in a few minutes before the gong went on the chance that Lady Caroline might be there, was much astonished.  He had supposed Rose Arbuthnot was a widow, and he still supposed it; so that he was much astonished.

"Well I'm damned," thought Briggs, quite clearly and distinctly, for the shock of what he saw in the window startled him so much that for a moment he was shaken free of his own confused absorption.

Aloud he said, very red, "Oh I say--I beg your pardon"--and then stood hesitating, and wondering whether he oughtn't to go back to his bedroom again.

If he had said nothing they would not have noticed he was there, but when he begged their pardon Rose turned and looked at him as one looks who is trying to remember, and Frederick looked at him too without at first quite seeing him.

They didn't seem, thought Briggs, to mind or to be at all embarrassed.  He couldn't be her brother; no brother ever brought that look into a woman's face.  It was very awkward.  If they didn't mind, he did.  It upset him to come across his Madonna forgetting herself.

"Is this one of your friends?" Frederick was able after an instant to ask Rose, who made no attempt to introduce the young man standing awkwardly in front of them but continued to gaze at him with a kind of abstracted, radiant goodwill.

"It's Mr. Briggs," said Rose, recognizing him.  "This is my husband," she added.

And Briggs, shaking hands, just had time to think how surprising it was to have a husband when you were a widow before the gong sounded, and Lady Caroline would be there in a minute, and he ceased to be able to think at all, and merely became a thing with its eyes fixed on the door.

Through the door immediately entered, in what seemed to him an endless procession, first Mrs. Fisher, very stately in her evening lace shawl and brooch, who when she saw him at once relaxed into smiles and benignity, only to stiffen, however, when she caught sight of the stranger; then Mr. Wilkins, cleaner and neater and more carefully dressed and brushed than any man on earth; and then, tying something hurriedly as she came, Mrs. Wilkins; and then nobody.

Lady Caroline was late.  Where was she?  Had she heard the gong?  Oughtn't it to be beaten again?  Suppose she didn't come to dinner after all. . .

Briggs went cold.

"Introduce me," said Frederick on Mrs. Fisher's entrance, touching Rose's elbow.

"My husband," said Rose, holding him by the hand, her face exquisite.

"This," thought Mrs. Fisher, "must now be the last of the husbands, unless Lady Caroline produces one from up her sleeve."

But she received him graciously, for he certainly looked exactly like a husband, not at all like one of those people who go about abroad pretending they are husbands when they are not, and said she supposed he had come to accompany his wife home at the end of the month, and remarked that now the house would be completely full.  "So that," she added, smiling at Briggs, "we shall at last really be getting our money's worth."

Briggs grinned automatically, because he was just able to realize that somebody was being playful with him, but he had not heard her and he did not look at her.  Not only were his eyes fixed on the door but his whole body was concentrated on it.

Introduced in his turn, Mr. Wilkins was most hospitable and called Frederick "sir."

"Well, sir," said Mr. Wilkins heartily, "here we are, here we are"--and having gripped his hand with an understanding that only wasn't mutual because Arbuthnot did not yet know what he was in for in the way of trouble, he looked at him as a man should, squarely in the eyes, and allowed his look to convey as plainly as a look can that in him would be found staunchness, integrity, reliability--in fact a friend in need.  Mrs. Arbuthnot was very much flushed, Mr. Wilkins noticed.  He had not seen her flushed like that before.  "Well, I'm their man," he thought.

Lotty's greeting was effusive.  It was done with both hands. "Didn't I tell you?" she laughed to Rose over her shoulder while Frederick was shaking her hands in both his.

"What did you tell her?" asked Frederick, in order to say something.  The way they were all welcoming him was confusing.  They had evidently all expected him, not only Rose.

The sandy but agreeable young woman didn't answer his question, but looked extraordinarily pleased to see him.  Why should she be extraordinarily pleased to see him?

"What a delightful place this is," said Frederick, confused, and making the first remark that occurred to him.

"It's a tub of love," said the sandy young woman earnestly; which confused him more than ever.

And his confusion became excessive at the next words he heard-- spoken, these, by the old lady, who said:  "We won't wait.  Lady Caroline is always late"--for he only then, on hearing her name, really and properly remembered Lady Caroline, and the thought of her confused him to excess.

He went into the dining-room like a man in a dream.  He had come out to this place to see Lady Caroline, and had told her so.  He had even told her in his fatuousness--it was true, but how fatuous--that he hadn't been able to help coming.  She didn't know he was married.  She thought his name was Arundel.  Everybody in London thought his name was Arundel.  He had used it and written under it so long that he almost thought it was himself.  In the short time since she had left him on the seat in the garden, where he told her he had come because he couldn't help it, he had found Rose again, had passionately embraced and been embraced, and had forgotten Lady Caroline.  It would be an extraordinary piece of good fortune if Lady Caroline's being late meant she was tired or bored and would not come to dinner at all.  Then he could--no, he couldn't.  He turned a deeper red even than usual, he being a man of full habit and red anyhow, at the thought of such cowardice.  No, he couldn't go away after dinner and catch his train and disappear to Rome; not unless, that is, Rose came with him.  But even so, what a running away.  No, he couldn't.

When they got to the dining-room Mrs. Fisher went to the head of the table--was this Mrs. Fisher's house?  He asked himself.  He didn't know; he didn't know anything--and Rose, who in her earlier day of defying Mrs. Fisher had taken the other end as her place, for after all no one could say by looking at a table which was its top and which its bottom, led Frederick to the seat next to her.  If only, he thought, he could have been alone with Rose; just five minutes more alone with Rose, so that he could have asked her--

But probably he wouldn't have asked her anything, and only gone on kissing her.

He looked round.  The sandy young woman was telling the man they called Briggs to go and sit beside Mrs. Fisher--was the house, then, the sandy young woman's and not Mrs. Fisher's?  He didn't know; he didn't know anything--and she herself sat down on Rose's other side, so that she was opposite him, Frederick, and next to the genial man who had said "Here we are," when it was only too evident that there they were indeed.

Next to Frederick, and between him and Briggs, was an empty chair:  Lady Caroline's.  No more than Lady Caroline knew of the presence in Frederick's life of Rose was Rose aware of the presence in Frederick's life of Lady Caroline.  What would each think?  He didn't know; he didn't know anything.  Yes, he did know something, and that was that his wife had made it up with him--suddenly, miraculously, unaccountably, and divinely.  Beyond that he knew nothing.  The situation was one with which he felt he could not cope.  It must lead him whither it would.  He could only drift.

In silence Frederick ate his soup, and the eyes, the large expressive eyes of the young woman opposite, were on him, he could feel, with a growing look in them of inquiry.  They were, he could see, very intelligent and attractive eyes, and full, apart from the inquiry of goodwill.  Probably she thought he ought to talk--but if she knew everything she wouldn't think so.  Briggs didn't talk either.  Briggs seemed uneasy.  What was the matter with Briggs?  And Rose too didn't talk, but then that was natural.  She never had been a talker.  She had the loveliest expression on her face.  How long would it be on it after Lady Caroline's entrance?  He didn't know; he didn't know anything.

But the genial man on Mrs. Fisher's left was talking enough for everybody.  That fellow ought to have been a parson.  Pulpits were the place for a voice like his; it would get him a bishopric in six months.  He was explaining to Briggs, who shuffled about in his seat--why did Briggs shuffle about in his seat?--that he must have come out by the same train as Arbuthnot, and when Briggs, who said nothing, wriggled in apparent dissent, he undertook to prove it to him, and did prove it to him in long clear sentences.

"Who's the man with the voice?" Frederick asked Rose in a whisper; and the young woman opposite, whose ears appeared to have the quickness of hearing of wild creatures, answered, "He's my husband."

"Then by all the rules," said Frederick pleasantly, pulling himself together, "you oughtn't to be sitting next to him."

"But I want to.  I like sitting next to him.  I didn't before I came here."

"Frederick could think of nothing to say to this, so he only smiled generally.

"It's this place," she said, nodding at him.  "It makes one understand.  You've no idea what a lot you'll understand before you've done here."

"I'm sure I hope so," said Frederick with real fervour.

The soup was taken away, and the fish was brought.  Briggs, on the other side of the empty chair, seemed more uneasy than ever.  What was the matter with Briggs?  Didn't he like fish?

Frederick wondered what Briggs would do in the way of fidgets if he were in his own situation.  Frederick kept on wiping his moustache, and was not able to look up from his plate, but that was as much as he showed of what he was feeling.

Though he didn't look up he felt the eyes of the young woman opposite raking him like searchlights, and Rose's eyes were on him too, he knew, but they rested on him unquestioningly, beautifully, like a benediction.  How long would they go on doing that once Lady Caroline was there?  He didn't know; he didn't know anything.

He wiped his moustache for the twentieth unnecessary time, and could not quite keep his hand steady, and the young woman opposite saw his hand not being quite steady, and her eyes raked him persistently.  Why did her eyes rake him persistently?  He didn't know; he didn't know anything.

Then Briggs leapt to his feet.  What was the matter with Briggs?  Oh--yes--quite: she had come.

Frederick wiped his moustache and got up too.  He was in for it now.  Absurd, fantastic situation.  Well, whatever happened he could only drift--drift, and look like an ass to Lady Caroline, the most absolute as well as deceitful ass--an ass who was also a reptile, for she might well think he had been mocking her out in the garden when he said, no doubt in a shaking voice--fool and ass--that he had come because he couldn't help it; while as for what he would look like to his Rose--when Lady Caroline introduced him to her--when Lady Caroline introduced him as her friend whom she had invited in to dinner--well, God alone knew that.

He, therefore, as he got up wiped his moustache for the last time before the catastrophe.

But he was reckoning without Scrap.

That accomplished and experienced young woman slipped into the chair Briggs was holding for her, and on Lotty's leaning across eagerly, and saying before any one else could get a word in, "Just fancy, Caroline, how quickly Rose's husband has got here!" turned to him without so much as the faintest shadow of surprise on her face, and held out her hand, and smiled like a young angel, and said, "and me late your very first evening."

The daughter of the Droitwiches. . .

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - It began in a Woman's Club

Chapter 2 - Of course Mrs. Arbuthnot was not miserable

Chapter 3 - The owner of the mediaeval castle

Chapter 4 - It had been arranged

Chapter 5 - It was cloudy in Italy

Chapter 6 - When Mrs. Wilkins woke next morning

Chapter 7 - Their eyes followed her admiringly

Chapter 8 - Presently

Chapter 9 - That one of the two sitting-rooms

Chapter 10 - There was no way of getting into or out of the top garden

Chapter 11 - The sweet smells that were everywhere

Chapter 12 - At the evening meal

Chapter 13 - The uneventful days

Chapter 14 - That first week the wisteria began to fade

Chapter 15 - The strange effect of this incidence

Chapter 16 - And so the second week began

Chapter 17 - On the first day of the third week

Chapter 18 - They had a very pleasant walk

Chapter 19 - And then when she spoke

Chapter 20 - Scrap wanted to know so much about her mother

Chapter 21 - Now Frederick was not the man to hurt anything

Chapter 22 - That evening was the evening of the full moon