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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdam Johnstone's Son - Chapter 6
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Adam Johnstone's Son - Chapter 6 Post by :karma69_us Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2012 Read :763

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Adam Johnstone's Son - Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

The first sign that two people no longer stand to each other in the relation of mere acquaintances is generally that the tones of their voices change, while they feel a slight and unaccountable constraint when they happen to be left alone together.

Two days passed after the little incident which had occurred at dinner before Clare and Johnstone were momentarily face to face out of Mrs. Bowring's sight. At first Clare had not been aware that her mother was taking pains to be always present when the young man was about, but when she noticed the fact she at once began to resent it. Such constant watchfulness was unlike her mother, un-English, and almost unnatural. When they were all seated together on the terrace, if Mrs. Bowring wished to go indoors to write a letter or to get something she invented some excuse for making her daughter go with her, and stay with her till she came out again. A French or Italian mother could not have been more particular or careful, but a French or Italian girl would have been accustomed to such treatment, and would not have seen anything unusual in it. But Mrs. Bowring had never acted in such a way before now, and it irritated the young girl extremely. She felt that she was being treated like a child, and that Johnstone must see it and think it ridiculous. At last Clare made an attempt at resistance, out of sheer contrariety.

"I don't want to write letters!" she answered impatiently. "I wrote two yesterday. It is hot indoors, and I would much rather stay here!"

Mrs. Bowring went as far as the parapet, and looked down at the sea for a moment. Then she came back and sat down again.

"It's quite true," she said. "It is hot indoors. I don't think I shall write, after all."

Brook Johnstone could not help smiling a little, though he turned away his face to hide his amusement. It was so perfectly evident that Mrs. Bowring was determined not to leave Clare alone with him that he must have been blind not to see it. Clare saw the smile, and was angry. She was nineteen years old, she had been out in the world, the terrace was a public place, Johnstone was a gentleman, and the whole thing was absurd. She took up her work and closed her lips tightly.

Johnstone felt the awkwardness, rose suddenly, and said he would go for a walk. Clare raised her eyes and nodded as he lifted his hat. He was still smiling, and her resentment deepened. A moment later, mother and daughter were alone. Clare did not lay down her work, nor look up when she spoke.

"Really, mother, it's too absurd!" she exclaimed, and a little colour came to her cheeks.

"What is absurd, my dear?" asked Mrs. Bowring, affecting not to understand.

"Your abject fear of leaving me for five minutes with Mr. Johnstone. I'm not a baby. He was laughing. I was positively ashamed! What do you suppose could have happened, if you had gone in and written your letters and left us quietly here? And it happens every day, you know! If you want a glass of water, I have to go in with you."

"My dear! What an exaggeration!"

"It's not an exaggeration, mother--really. You know that you wouldn't leave me with him for five minutes, for anything in the world."

"Do you wish to be left alone with him, my dear?" asked Mrs. Bowring, rather abruptly.

Clare was indignant.

"Wish it? No! Certainly not! But if it should happen naturally, by accident, I should not get up and run away. I'm not afraid of the man, as you seem to be. What can he do to me? And you have no idea how strangely you behave, and what ridiculous excuses you invent for me. The other day you insisted on my going in to look for a train in the time-tables when you know we haven't the slightest intention of going away for ever so long. Really--you're turning into a perfect duenna. I wish you would behave naturally, as you always used to do."

"I think you exaggerate," said Mrs. Bowring. "I never leave you alone with men you hardly know--"

"You can't exactly say that we hardly know Mr. Johnstone, when he has been with us, morning, noon, and night, for nearly a week, mother."

"My dear, we know nothing about him--"

"If you are so anxious to know his father's Christian name, ask him. It wouldn't seem at all odd. I will, if you like."

"Don't!" cried Mrs. Bowring, with unusual energy. "I mean," she added in a lower tone and looking away, "it would be very rude--he would think it very strange. In fact, it is merely idle curiosity on my part--really, I would much rather not know."

Clare looked at her mother in surprise.

"How oddly you talk!" she exclaimed. Then her tone changed. "Mother dear--is anything the matter? You don't seem quite--what shall I say? Are you suffering, dearest? Has anything happened?"

She dropped her work, and leaned forward, her hand on her mother's, and gazing into her face with a look of anxiety.

"No, dear," answered Mrs. Bowring. "No, no--it's nothing. Perhaps I'm a little nervous--that's all."

"I believe the air of this place doesn't suit you. Why shouldn't we go away at once?"

Mrs. Bowring shook her head and protested energetically.

"No--oh no! I wouldn't go away for anything. I like the place immensely, and we are both getting perfectly well here. Oh no! I wouldn't think of going away."

Clare leaned back in her seat again. She was devotedly fond of her mother, and she could not but see that something was wrong. In spite of what she said, Mrs. Bowring was certainly not growing stronger, though she was not exactly ill. The pale face was paler, and there was a worn and restless look in the long-suffering, almost colourless eyes.

"I'm sorry I made such a fuss about Mr. Johnstone," said Clare softly, after a short pause.

"No, darling," answered her mother instantly. "I dare say I have been a little over careful. I don't know--I had a sort of presentiment that you might take a fancy to him."

"I know. You said so the first day. But I sha'n't, mother. You need not be at all afraid. He is not at all the sort of man to whom I should ever take a fancy, as you call it."

"I don't see why not," said Mrs. Bowring thoughtfully.

"Of course--it's hard to explain." Clare smiled. "But if that is what you are afraid of, you can leave us alone all day. My 'fancy' would be quite, quite different."

"Very well, darling. At all events, I'll try not to turn into a duenna."

Johnstone did not appear again until dinner, and then he was unusually silent, only exchanging a remark with Clare now and then, and not once leaning forward to say a few words to Mrs. Bowring as he generally did. The latter had at first thought of exchanging places with her daughter, but had reflected that it would be almost a rudeness to make such a change after the second day.

They went out upon the terrace, and had their coffee there. Several of the other people did the same, and walked slowly up and down under the vines. Mrs. Bowring, wishing to destroy as soon as possible the unpleasant impression she had created, left the two together, saying that she would get something to put over her shoulders, as the air was cool.

Clare and Johnstone stood by the parapet and looked at each other. Then Clare leaned with her elbows on the wall and stared in silence at the little lights on the beach below, trying to make out the shapes of the boats which were hauled up in a long row. Neither spoke for a long time, and Clare, at least, felt unpleasantly the constraint of the unusual silence.

"It is a beautiful place, isn't it?" observed Johnstone at last, for the sake of hearing his own voice.

"Oh yes, quite beautiful," answered the young girl in a half-indifferent, half-discontented tone, and the words ended with a sort of girlish sniff.

Again there was silence. Johnstone, standing up beside her, looked towards the hotel, to see whether Mrs. Bowring were coming back. But she was anxious to appear indifferent to their being together, and was in no hurry to return. Johnstone sat down upon the wall, while Clare leaned over it.

"Miss Bowring!" he said suddenly, to call her attention.

"Yes?" She did not look up; but to her own amazement she felt a queer little thrill at the sound of his voice, for it had not its usual tone.

"Don't you think I had better go to Naples?" he asked.

Clare felt herself start a little, and she waited a moment before she said anything in reply. She did not wish to betray any astonishment in her voice. Johnstone had asked the question under a sudden impulse; but a far wiser and more skilful man than himself could not have hit upon one better calculated to precipitate intimacy. Clare, on her side, was woman enough to know that she had a choice of answers, and to see that the answer she should choose must make a difference hereafter. At the same time, she had been surprised, and when she thought of it afterwards it seemed to her that the question itself had been an impertinent one, merely because it forced her to make an answer of some sort. She decided in favour of making everything as clear as possible.

"Why?" she asked, without looking round.

At all events she would throw the burden of an elucidation upon him. He was not afraid of taking it up.

"It's this," he answered. "I've rather thrust my acquaintance upon you, and, if I stay here until my people come, I can't exactly change my seat and go and sit at the other end of the table, nor pretend to be busy all day, and never come out here and sit with you, after telling you repeatedly that I have nothing on earth to do. Can I?"

"Why should you?"

"Because Mrs. Bowring doesn't like me."

Clare rose from her elbows and stood up, resting her hands upon the wall, but still looking down at the lights on the beach.

"I assure you, you're quite mistaken," she answered, with quiet emphasis. "My mother thinks you're very nice."

"Then why--" Johnstone checked himself, and crumbled little bits of mortar from the rough wall with his thumbs.

"Why what?"

"I don't know whether I know you well enough to ask the question, Miss Bowring."

"Let's assume that you do--for the sake of argument," said Clare, with a short laugh, as she glanced at his face, dimly visible in the falling darkness.

"Thanks awfully," he answered, but he did not laugh with her. "It isn't exactly an easy thing to say, is it? Only--I couldn't help noticing--I hope you'll forgive me, if you think I'm rude, won't you? I couldn't help noticing that your mother was most awfully afraid of leaving us alone for a minute, you know--as though she thought I were a suspicious character, don't you know? Something of that sort. So, of course, I thought she didn't like me. Do you see? Tremendously cheeky of me to talk in this way, isn't it?"

"Do you know? It is, rather." Clare was more inclined to laugh than before, but she only smiled in the dark.

"Well, it would be, of course, if I didn't happen to be so painfully respectable."

"Painfully respectable! What an expression!" This time, Clare laughed aloud.

"Yes. That's just it. Well, I couldn't exactly tell Mrs. Bowring that, could I? Besides, one isn't vain of being respectable. I couldn't say, Please, Mrs. Bowring, my father is Mr. Smith, and my mother was a Miss Brown, of very good family, and we've got five hundred a year in Consols, and we're not in trade, and I've been to a good school, and am not at all dangerous. It would have sounded so--so uncalled for, don't you know? Wouldn't it?"

"Very. But now that you've explained it to me, I suppose I may tell my mother, mayn't I? Let me see. Your father is Mr. Smith, and your mother was a Miss Brown--"

"Oh, please--no!" interrupted Johnstone. "I didn't mean it so very literally. But it is just about that sort of thing--just like anybody else. Only about our not being in trade, I'm not so sure of that. My father is a brewer. Brewing is not a profession, so I suppose it must be a trade, isn't it?"

"You might call it a manufacture," suggested Clare.

"Yes. It sounds better. But that isn't the question, you know. You'll see my people when they come, and then you'll understand what I mean--they really are tremendously respectable."

"Of course!" assented the young girl. "Like the party you came with on the yacht. That kind of people."

"Oh dear no!" exclaimed Johnstone. "Not at all those kind of people. They wouldn't like it at all, if you said so."

"Ah! indeed!" Clare was inclined to laugh again.

"The party I came with belong rather to a gay set. Awfully nice, you know," he hastened to add, "and quite the people one knows at home. But my father and mother--oh no! they are quite different--the difference between whist and baccarat, you know, if you understand that sort of thing--old port and brandy and soda--both very good in their way, but quite different."

"I should think so."

"Then--" Johnstone hesitated again. "Then, Miss Bowring--you don't think that your mother really dislikes me, after all?"

"Oh dear no! Not in the least. I've heard her say all sorts of nice things about you."

"Really? Then I think I'll stay here. I didn't want to be a nuisance, you know--always in the way."

"You're not in the way," answered Clare.

Mrs. Bowring came back with her shawl, and the rest of the evening passed off as usual. Later, when she was alone, the young girl remembered all the conversation, and she saw that it had been in her power to make Johnstone leave Amalfi. While she was wondering why she had not done so, since she hated him for what she knew of him, she fell asleep, and the question remained unanswered. In the morning she told the substance of it all to her mother, and ended by telling her that Johnstone's father was a brewer.

"Of course," answered Mrs. Bowring absently. "I know that." Then she realised what she had said, and glanced at Clare with an odd, scared look.

Clare uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"Mother! Why, then--you knew all about him! Why didn't you tell me?"

A long silence followed, during which Mrs. Bowring sat with her face turned from her daughter. Then she raised her hand and passed it slowly over her forehead, as though trying to collect her thoughts.

"One comes across very strange things in life, my dear," she said at last. "I am not sure that we had not better go away, after all. I'll think about it."

Beyond this Clare could get no information, nor any explanation of the fact that Mrs. Bowring should have known something about Brook Johnstone's father. The girl made a guess, of course. The elder Johnstone must be a relation of her mother's first husband; though, considering that Mrs. Bowring had never seen Brook before now, and that the latter had never told her anything about his father, it was hard to see how she could be so sure of the fact. Possibly, Brook strongly resembled his father's family. That, indeed, was the only admissible theory. But all that Clare knew and could put together into reasonable shape could not explain why her mother so much disliked leaving her alone with the man, even for five minutes.

In this, however, Mrs. Bowring changed suddenly, after the first evening when she had left them on the terrace. She either took a totally different view of the situation, or else she was ashamed of seeming to watch them all the time, and the consequence was that during the next three or four days they were very often together without her.

Johnstone enjoyed the young girl's society, and did not pretend to deny the fact in his own thoughts. Whatever mischief he might have been in while on the yacht, his natural instincts were simple and honest. In a certain way, Clare was a revelation to him of something to which he had never been accustomed, and which he had most carefully avoided. He had no sisters, and as a boy he had not been thrown with girls. He was an only son, and his mother, a very practical woman, had warned him as he grew up that he was a great match, and had better avoid young girls altogether until he saw one whom he should like to marry, though how he was to see that particular one, if he avoided all alike, was a question into which his mother did not choose to enter. Having first gone into society upon this principle, however, and having been at once taken up and made much of by an extremely fashionable young woman afflicted with an elderly and eccentric husband, it was not likely that Brook would return to the threshold of the schoolroom for women's society. He went on as he had begun in his first "salad" days, and at five-and-twenty he had the reputation of having done more damage than any of his young contemporaries, while he had never once shown the slightest inclination to marry. His mother, always a practical woman, did not press the question of marriage, deeming that with his disposition he would stand a better chance of married peace when he had expended a good deal of what she called his vivacity; and his father, who came of very long-lived people, always said that no man should take a wife before he was thirty. As Brook did not gamble immoderately, nor start a racing stable, nor propose to manage an opera troupe, the practical lady felt that he was really a very good young man. His father liked him for his own sake; but as Adam Johnstone had been gay in his youth, in spite of his sober Scotch blood, even beyond the bounds of ordinary "fastness," the fact of his being fond of Brook was not of itself a guarantee that the latter was such a very good young man as his mother said that he was. Somehow or other Brook had hitherto managed to keep clear of any entanglement which could hamper his life, probably by virtue of that hardness which he had shown to poor Lady Fan, and which had so strongly prejudiced Clare Bowring against him. His father said cynically that the lad was canny. Hitherto he had certainly shown that he could be selfish; and perhaps there is less difference between the meanings of the Scotch and English words than most people suppose.

Daily and almost hourly intercourse with such a young girl as Clare was a totally new experience to Brook Johnstone, and there were moments when he hardly recognised himself for the man who had landed from the yacht ten days earlier, and who had said good-bye to Lady Fan on the platform behind the hotel.

Hitherto he had always known in a day or two whether he was inclined to make love to a woman or not. An inclination to make love and the satisfaction of it had been, so far, his nearest approach to being in love at all. Nor, when he had felt the inclination, had he ever hesitated. Like a certain great English statesman of similar disposition, he had sometimes been repulsed, but he never remembered having given offence. For he possessed that tactful intuition which guides some men through life in their intercourse with women. He rarely spoke the first word too soon, and if he were going to speak at all he never spoke too late--which error is, of the two, by far the greater. He was young, perhaps, to have had such experience; but in the social world of to-day it is especially the fashion for men to be extremely young, even to youthfulness, and lack of years is no longer the atrocious crime which Pitt would neither attempt to palliate or deny. We have just emerged from a period of wrinkles and paint, during which we were told that age knew everything and youth nothing. The explosion into nonsense of nine tenths of all we were taught at school and college has given our children a terrible weapon against us; and women, who are all practical in their own way, prefer the blundering whole-heartedness of youth to the skilful tactics and over-effective effects of the middle-aged love-actor. In this direction, at least, the breeze that goes before the dawn of a new century is already blowing. Perhaps it is a good sign--but a sign of some sort it certainly is.

Brook Johnstone felt that he was in an unfamiliar position, and he tried to analyse his own feelings. He was perfectly honest about it, but he had very little talent for analysis. On the other hand, he had a very keen sense of what we roughly call honour. Clare was not Lady Fan, and would probably never get into that category. Clare belonged amongst the women whom he respected, and he respected them all, with all his heart. They included all young girls, and his mother, and all young women who were happily married. It will be admitted that, for a man who made no pretence to higher virtues, Brook was no worse than his contemporaries, and was better than a great many.

Be that as it may, in lack of any finer means of discrimination, he tried to define his own position with regard to Clare Bowring very simply and honestly. Either he was falling in love, or he was not. Secondly, Clare was either the kind of girl whom he should like to marry, spoken of by his practical mother--or she was not.

So far, all was extremely plain. The trouble was that he could not find any answers to the questions. He could not in the least be sure that he was falling in love, because he knew that he had never really been in love in his life. And as for saying at once that Clare was, or was not, the girl whom he should like to marry, how in the world could he tell that, unless he fell in love with her? Of course he did not wish to marry her unless he loved her. But he conceived it possible that he might fall in love with her and then not wish to marry her after all, which, in his simple opinion, would have been entirely despicable. If there were any chance of that, he ought to go away at once. But he did not know whether there were any chance of it or not. He could go away in any case, in order to be on the safe side; but then, there was no reason in the world why he should not marry her, if he should love her, and if she would marry him. The question became very badly mixed, and under the circumstances he told himself that he was splitting hairs on the mountains he had made of his molehills. He determined to stay where he was. At all events, judging from all signs with which he was acquainted, Clare was very far indeed from being in love with him, so that in this respect his sense of honour was perfectly safe and undisturbed.

Having set his mind at rest in this way, he allowed himself to talk with her as he pleased. There was no reason why he should hamper himself in conversation, so long as he said nothing calculated to make an impression--nothing which could come under the general head of "making love." The result was that he was much more agreeable than he supposed. Clare's innocent eyes watched him, and her mind was divided about him.

She was utterly young and inexperienced, but she was a woman, and she believed him to be false, faithless, and designing. She had no idea of the broad distinction he drew between all good and innocent women like herself, and all the rest whom he considered lawful prey. She concluded therefore, very rashly, that he was simply pursuing his usual tactics, a main part of which consisted in seeming perfectly unaffected and natural while only waiting for a faint sign of encouragement in order then to play the part of the passionate lover.

The generalisations of youth are terrible. What has failed once is despicably damned for ever. What is true to-day is true enough to-morrow to kill all other truths outright. The man whose hand has shaken once is a coward; he who has fought one battle is to be the hero of seventy. Life is a forest of inverted pyramids, for the young; upon every point is balanced a gigantic weight of top-heavy ideals, spreading base-upwards.

To Clare, everything Johnstone said or did was the working of a faithless intention towards its end. It was clear enough that he sought her and stayed with her as long as he could, day by day. Therefore he intended to make love to her, sooner or later, and then, when he was tired, he would say good-bye to her just as he had said good-bye to Lady Fan, and break her heart, and have one story more to laugh over when he was alone. It was quite clear that he could not mean anything else, after what she had seen.

All the same, he pleased her when he was with her, and attracted her oddly. She told herself that unless he had some unusual qualities he could not possibly break hearts for pastime, as he undoubtedly did, from year's end to year's end. She studied the question, and reached the conclusion that his strength was in his eyes. They were the most frank, brave, good-humoured, clear, unaffected eyes she had ever seen, but she could not look at them long. There was no reason why she should, indeed, but she hated to feel that she could not, if she chose. Whenever she tried, she at once had the feeling that he had power over her, to make her do things she did not wish to do. That was probably the way in which he had influenced Lady Fan and the other women, probably a dozen, thought Clare. If they were really as honest as they seemed, she thought she should have been able to meet them without the least sensation of nervousness.

One day she caught herself wishing that he had never done the thing she so hated. She was too honest to attribute to him outward defects which he did not possess, and she could not help thinking what a fine fellow he would be if he were not so bad. She might have liked him very much, then. But as it was, it was impossible that she should ever not hate him. Then she smiled to herself, as she thought how surprised he would be if he could guess what she thought of him.

But there was no probability of that, for she felt that she had no right to know what she knew, and so she treated him always, as she thought, with the same even, indifferent civility. But not seldom she knew that she was wickedly wishing that he might really fall in love with her and find out that men could break their hearts as well as women. She should like to fight with him, with his own weapons, for the glory of all her sex, and make him thoroughly miserable for his sins. It could not be wrong to wish that, after what she had seen, but it would be very wrong to try and make him fall in love, just with that intention. That would be almost as bad as what he had done; not quite so bad, of course, because it would serve him right, but yet a deed which she might be ashamed to remember.

She herself felt perfectly safe. She was neither sentimental nor susceptible, for if she had been one or the other she must by this time have had some "experience," as she vaguely called it. But she had not. She had never even liked any man so much as she liked this man whom she hated. This was not a contradiction of facts, which, as Euclid teaches us, is impossible. She liked him for what she saw, and she hated him for what she knew.

One day, when Mrs. Bowring was present, the conversation turned upon a recent novel in which the hero, after making love to a woman, found that he had made a mistake, and promptly made love to her sister, whom he married in the end.

"I despise that sort of man!" cried Clare, rather vehemently, and flashing her eyes upon Johnstone.

For a moment she had thought that she could surprise him, that he would look away, or change colour, or in some way betray his most guilty conscience. But he did not seem in the least disturbed, and met her glance as calmly as ever.

"Do you?" he asked with an indifferent laugh. "Why? The fellow was honest, at all events. He found that he didn't love the one to whom he was engaged, and that he did love the other. So he set things straight before it was too late, and married the right one. He was a very sensible man, and it must have taken courage to be so honest about it."

"Courage!" exclaimed the young girl in high scorn. "He was a brute and a coward!"

"Dear me!" laughed Brook. "Don't you admit that a man may ever make a mistake?"

"When a man makes a mistake of that sort, he should either cut his throat, or else keep his word to the woman and try to make her happy."

"That's a violent view--really! It seems to me that when a man has made a mistake the best thing to do is to go and say so. The bigger the mistake, the harder it is to acknowledge it, and the more courage it needs. Don't you think so, Mrs. Bowring?"

"The mistake of all mistakes is a mistake in marriage," said the elder woman, looking away. "There is no remedy for that, but death."

"Yes," answered Clare. "But don't you think that I'm right? It's what you say, after all--"

"Not exactly, my dear. No man who doesn't love a woman can make her happy for long."

"Well--a man who makes a woman think that he loves her, and then leaves her for some one else, is a brute, and a beast, and a coward, and a wretch, and a villain--and I hate him, and so do all women!"

"That's categorical!" observed Brook, with a laugh. "But I dare say you are quite right in theory, only practice is so awfully different, you know. And a woman doesn't thank a man for pretending to love her."

Clare's eyes flashed almost savagely, and her lip curled in scorn.

"There's only one right," she said. "I don't know how many wrongs there are--and I don't want to know!"

"No," answered Brook, gravely enough. "And there is no reason why you ever should."

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CHAPTER VII"You seemed to be most tremendously in earnest yesterday, when we were talking about that book," observed Brook on the following afternoon. "Of course I was," answered Clare. "I said just what I thought." They were walking together along the high road which leads from Amalfi towards Salerno. It is certainly one of the most beautiful roads in Europe, and in the whole world. The chain of rocky heights dashes with wild abruptness from its five thousand feet straight to the dark-blue sea, bristling with sharp needles and spikes of stone, rough with a chaos of brown boulders, cracked from
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CHAPTER VBrook Johnstone's people did not come on the next day, nor on the day after that, but he expressed no surprise at the delay, and did not again say that it was a bore to have to wait for them. Meanwhile he spent a great deal of his time with the Bowrings, and the acquaintance ripened quickly towards intimacy, without passing near friendship, as such acquaintance sometimes will, when it springs up suddenly in the shallow ground of an out-of-the-way hotel on the Continent. "For Heaven's sake don't let that man fall in love with you, Clare!" said Mrs. Bowring
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