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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHelen With The High Hand (2nd Ed.) - Chapter 22. Confessional
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Helen With The High Hand (2nd Ed.) - Chapter 22. Confessional Post by :wisebiz Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1177

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Helen With The High Hand (2nd Ed.) - Chapter 22. Confessional


"What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter?" Helen asked; meaning, what were the implied faults of Emanuel Prockter.

There was defiance in her tone. She had risen from the table, and she had sat down again, and she seemed by her pose to indicate that she had sat down again with a definite purpose, a purpose to do grievous harm to the soul's peace of anybody who differed from the statements which she was about to enunciate, or who gave the wrong sort of answers to her catechism. She was wearing her black mousseline dress (theoretically "done with"), which in its younger days always had the effect of rousing the _grande dame in her. She laid her ringless hands, lightly clasped, on a small, heavy, round mahogany table which stood in the middle of the little drawing-room, and she looked over James's shoulder into the vistas of the great drawing-room. The sombre, fading magnificence of the Wilbrahams--a magnificence of dark woods, tasselled curtains, reps, and gilt--was her theatre, and the theatre suited her mood.

Still, Jimmy Ollerenshaw, somewhat embittered by the catastrophe of the afternoon, conceived that he was not going to be brow-beaten.

"What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter," said he, "is as he's probably gotten a cold by this."

"Yes, and you're glad!" Helen retorted. "You think he looked a fool after he'd been in the water. And you were glad."

"I dunna think," said James, "I'm sure."

"But why should you be glad? That's what I want to know."

James could not sagaciously reply to this query. He merely scratched his head, tilting one of his Turkish caps to that end.

"The fact is," she cried, with a grammatical carelessness which was shocking in a woman who had professed to teach everything, "every one has got their knives into Emanuel Prockter. And it's simply because he's good-looking and well-dressed and sings beautifully."

"Good-looking!" murmured James.

"Well, isn't he?"

"He's pretty," said James.

"No one ever said he had a lot of brains--"

"I never did," James put in.

"But what does that matter? He _is polite. He does know how to behave himself in polite society. If Andrew Dean pushed him into the water, that wasn't his fault. Andrew is stronger than he is, but that's no credit to Andrew Dean. It's to his discredit. Andrew Dean is nothing but a bully--we all know that. He might have pushed you into the water, or me."

"He might," James admitted, "if I'd been silly enough to get between the water and him."

"And I should like to know who looked a fool when Andrew Dean fell off those steps. And just listen to the language the man used. I will say this for Emanuel Prockter--I never heard him swear."

"No," said James. "He wears gloves. He even wears 'em when he takes his bath of a November afternoon."

"I don't care who knows it," Helen observed, hotly, "I like Emanuel Prockter."

"There's nobody as dunna' know it," said James. "It's the talk of Bosley as you've set your cap at him."

"I don't wear caps," said Helen. "I'm not a servant."

"Hat, then," James corrected himself. "Ye'll not deny as you wear hats, I reckon. I've seen ye in forty."

"I know who started that tale," Helen exploded. "Andrew Dean started that tale."

"No," said James. "It was Mrs. Prockter, I'm thinking."

"Has Mrs. Prockter spoken to you about me and--and Emanuel?"

James hesitated. But the devil-may-care, agreeably vicious Ollerenshaw impulses were afoot in him, and he did not hesitate long.

"Her has," said he.

"What a ridiculous, fat old woman she is, with her fancies!"

Frankly, James did not like this. He was in a mind to resent it, and then a certain instinct of self-preservation prompted him to seek cover in silence. But in any battle of the sexes silence is no cover to the male, as he ought to have known.

Helen pursued him behind his cover. "I wonder who _she's setting her cap at! I suppose you'll not deny that _she wears a cap?"

It was quite a long time since James Ollerenshaw had blushed; but he blushed at these words. Nothing could have been more foolish, inept, on his part. Why should he blush because Helen expressed a vague, hostile curiosity as to the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap? What had the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap to do with him? Yet blush he did. He grew angry, not--curiously enough--with Helen, but with himself and with Mrs. Prockter. His anger had the strange effect of making him an arrant coward. He got up from his chair, having pushed away his cup towards the centre of the table. As tea was over he was within his rights in doing so.

"I mun be getting to work again," he muttered.

"Please do wait a minute, uncle," she said, imperiously. "Can't you see I want to talk to you? Can't you see I've got something on my mind?"

Deliberately challenged in this way, the formidable James was no more than a sheep to the shearer. Until he met Helen, he had perhaps never received deliberate, audacious challenges, and even now he was far from being accustomed to them. So he just stood foolishly near his chair.

"I can't talk to you while you're standing up," she said.

So he sat down. How simple it ought to have been for him to exert authority over Helen, to tell her fiercely that he had no intention of being talked to like that, and that if she persisted in such tactics the front door was at her entire disposal! She had no claim on him. Yet he ate his humble pie and sat down.

"So they are saying that there is something between Emanuel Prockter and me, are they?" she recommenced, in a new, mollified voice, a voice that waved the white flag over her head.

"It wouldna' surprise me to hear as they were," said James.

"And supposing there _was something between us, uncle, should you mind?"

"I don't know as I should mind," said he. "And I don't know as it 'ud matter a brass button if I did mind."

"What should you do, uncle?"

"I should do as I've always done," said he; "eat and sleep and take my walks abroad. Them as wants to marry will marry, and they will marry what suits 'em. But I shall tak' my meat and drink as usual."

"Would you come to the wedding?"

"I've only got a funeral suit," said he. "But I'd buy me some togs if Emanuel 'ud tak' this place off my hands at what I gave."

"Would you give me a wedding-present?"

"I'd give thee some advice. It's what thou'rt most in need of."

His tone was gloomy and resigned.

She slipped round the table and sat on the arm of his chair.

"You are a horrid old thing," she told him--not for the first time. "I _am in need of advice. And there's no one can give it me but you."

"Nay, nay!" he recoiled. "There's Sarah Swetnam. You're as thick as thieves."

"She's the very last person I can go to," said Helen.

"And why?"

"Why! Because Andrew is engaged to her sister, of course. That's the awful part of it."

"Ay?" he questioned.

"Yes. Because, you see, it's Andrew Dean that I'm in love with."

She said it in very pert and airy accents. And then the next moment she put James into terrible consternation by crying, and clutching his arm. He saw that she was serious. Light beat down upon him. He had to blink and collect himself.

"I' thy place, lass," he said, "I should keep that to mysen."

"But I can't, uncle. That is, I haven't done. Andrew knows. You don't understand how much I'm in love with him. I've--he's--"

"Thou'st not kissed him?"

"Not exactly--but--"

"He's been kissing you in mistake for his other young woman?"

Helen nodded.

"Helen, what 'ud thy mother say?"

"It was because of Andrew Dean that I came to live in Bursley," said she. "I knew I shouldn't see him often enough if I stayed in Longshaw. So I came here. You know we had always liked each other, I _think_, ever since he spent two years at Longshaw at Spitz Brothers'. Then I didn't see him for some time. You know how rude and awkward he is. Well, there was a coolness. And then we didn't see each other for another long time. And then when I next saw him I knew I really _was in love with him. (Of course, I never said anything to mother. One doesn't, you know. And she was so taken up with her own affairs, poor dear!) And I thought he was really fond of me. I thought so because he was so cross and queer. He's like that, you know. And, after all, it was not that that made him cross and queer. It was just because he was as good as engaged to Lilian, and he didn't like to tell me. And I never knew. How could I guess? I'd never heard there was anything between him and Lilian. And besides, although he was cross and queer, he said things to me that he oughtn't to have said, considering how he was carrying on with Lilian. It was then that I settled on coming to Bursley. There was no _reason why I should stay in Longshaw. I saw him again in Longshaw, _after he was engaged to Lilian, and yet he never told me! And then, when I come here, the first thing I hear is that he's engaged to Lilian. It was that afternoon when Sarah called; do you remember, uncle?"

He remembered.

"I saw Mr. Dean that night, and somehow I told him what I thought of him. I don't know how it began; but I did. He said he couldn't help being engaged to Lilian. He said it was one of those engagements that go on by themselves, and you can't stop them. He wanted to stop it. But he was engaged before he knew where he was--so he says. He said he preferred me, and if he'd known--So of course I was obliged to be very angry with him. That was why I didn't speak to him at first at Mrs. Prockter's; at least, that was partly why. The other reason was that he had accused me of running after Emanuel--of all people! I had been, you know. But what had that got to do with Andrew, seeing that he was engaged to Lilian? Besides, I'd been doing it on purpose. And he was so _insolent_. And then, to crown all, Mrs. Prockter makes me dance with him. No wonder I fainted! He is the rudest, _rudest_, crudest man I ever knew."

She wiped her eyes.

"H'm!" mused James.

"He'll simply kill poor little Lilian!" She sobbed.

"What's that got to do with you, if you and Emanuel has got nothing to do with him? It isn't you as'll be hung when Lilian's murdered."

"Can't you see he mustn't marry Lilian?" Helen burst out. "Silly little thing! How can she understand him? She's miles beneath him."

"Is there anybody as does understand him?" James asked.

"I do," said she. "And that's flat. And I've got to marry him, and you must help me. I wanted to tell you, and now I've told you. Don't you think I've done right in being quite open with you? Most girls are so foolish in these things. But I'm not. Aren't you glad, uncle?"

"Glad inna' the word," said he.

"_You must help me_," she repeated.

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