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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNot George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 15. Eva Eversleigh
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Not George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 15. Eva Eversleigh Post by :glider Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :May 2012 Read :3418

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Not George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 15. Eva Eversleigh

_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)

With my system thus in full swing I experienced the intoxication of assured freedom. To say I was elated does not describe it. I walked on air. This was my state of mind when I determined to pay a visit to the Gunton-Cresswells. I had known them in my college days, but since I had been engaged in literature I had sedulously avoided them because I remembered that Margaret had once told me they were her friends.

But now there was no need for me to fear them on that account, and thinking that the solid comfort of their house in Kensington would be far from disagreeable, thither, one afternoon in spring, I made my way. It is wonderful how friendly Convention is to Art when Art does not appear to want to borrow money.

No. 5, Kensington Lane, W., is the stronghold of British respectability. It is more respectable than the most respectable suburb. Its attitude to Mayfair is that of a mother to a daughter who has gone on the stage and made a success. Kensington Lane is almost tolerant of Mayfair. But not quite. It admits the success, but shakes its head.

Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell took an early opportunity of drawing me aside, and began gently to pump me. After I had responded with sufficient docility to her leads, she reiterated her delight at seeing me again. I had concluded my replies with the words, "I am a struggling journalist, Mrs. Cresswell." I accompanied the phrase with a half-smile which she took to mean--as I intended she should--that I was amusing myself by dabbling in literature, backed by a small, but adequate, private income.

"Oh, come, James," she said, smiling approvingly, "you know you will make a quite too dreadfully clever success. How dare you try to deceive me like that? A struggling journalist, indeed."

But I knew she liked that "struggling journalist" immensely. She would couple me and my own epithet together before her friends. She would enjoy unconsciously an imperceptible, but exquisite, sensation of patronage by having me at her house. Even if she discussed me with Margaret I was safe. For Margaret would give an altogether different interpretation of the smile with which I described myself as struggling. My smile would be mentally catalogued by her as "brave"; for it must not be forgotten that as suddenly as my name had achieved a little publicity, just so suddenly had it utterly disappeared.

* * * * *

Towards the end of May, it happened that Julian dropped into my rooms about three o'clock, and found me gazing critically at a top-hat.

"I've seen you," he remarked, "rather often in that get-up lately."

"It _is_, perhaps, losing its first gloss," I answered, inspecting my hat closely. I cared not a bit for Julian's sneers; for the smell of the flesh-pots of Kensington had laid hold of my soul, and I was resolved to make the most of the respite which my system gave me.

"What salon is to have the honour today?" he asked, spreading himself on my sofa.

"I'm going to the Gunton-Cresswells," I replied.

Julian slowly sat up.

"Ah?" he said conversationally.

"I've been asked to meet their niece, a Miss Eversleigh, whom they've invited to stop with them. Funny, by the way, that her name should be the same as yours."

"Not particularly," said Julian shortly; "she's my cousin. My cousin Eva."

This was startling. There was a pause. Presently Julian said, "Do you know, Jimmy, that if I were not the philosopher I am, I'd curse this awful indolence of mine."

I saw it in a flash, and went up to him holding out my hand in sympathy. "Thanks," he said, gripping it; "but don't speak of it. I couldn't endure that, even from you, James. It's too hard for talking. If it was only myself whose life I'd spoilt--if it was only myself----"

He broke off. And then, "Hers too. She's true as steel."

I had heard no more bitter cry than that.

I began to busy myself amongst some manuscripts to give Julian time to compose himself. And so an hour passed. At a quarter past four I got up to go out. Julian lay recumbent. It seemed terrible to leave him brooding alone over his misery.

A closer inspection, however, showed me he was asleep.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Eva Eversleigh and I became firm friends. Of her person I need simply say that it was the most beautiful that Nature ever created. Pressed as to details, I should add that she was _petite_, dark, had brown hair, very big blue eyes, a _retrousse nose, and a rather wide mouth.

Julian had said she was "true as steel." Therefore, I felt no diffidence in manoeuvring myself into her society on every conceivable occasion. Sometimes she spoke to me of Julian, whom I admitted I knew, and, with feminine courage, she hid her hopeless, all-devouring affection for her cousin under the cloak of ingenuous levity. She laughed nearly every time his name was mentioned.

About this time the Gunton-Cresswells gave a dance.

I looked forward to it with almost painful pleasure. I had not been to a dance since my last May-week at Cambridge. Also No. 5, Kensington Lane had completely usurped the position I had previously assigned to Paradise. To waltz with Julian's cousin--that was the ambition which now dwarfed my former hankering for the fame of authorship or a habitation in Bohemia.

Mrs. Goodwin once said that happiness consists in anticipating an impossible future. Be that as it may, I certainly thought my sensations were pleasant enough when at length my hansom pulled up jerkily beside the red-carpeted steps of No. 5, Kensington Lane. As I paid the fare, I could hear the murmur from within of a waltz tune--and I kept repeating to myself that Eva had promised me the privilege of taking her in to supper, and had given me the last two waltzes and the first two extras.

I went to pay my _devoirs to my hostess. She was supinely gamesome. "Ah," she said, showing her excellent teeth, "Genius attendant at the revels of Terpsichore."

"Where Beauty, Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell," I responded, cutting it, as though mutton, thick, "teaches e'en the humblest visitor the reigning Muse's art."

"You may have this one, if you like," said Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell simply.

Supper came at last, and, with supper, Eva.

I must now write it down that she was not a type of English beauty. She was not, I mean, queenly, impassive, never-anything-but-her-cool-calm- self. Tonight, for instance, her eyes were as I had never seen them. There danced in them the merriest glitter, which was more than a mere glorification of the ordinary merry glitter--which scores of girls possess at every ball. To begin with, there was a diabolical abandon in Eva's glitter, which raised it instantly above the common herd's. And behind it all was that very misty mist. I don't know whether all men have seen that mist; but I am sure that no man has seen it more than once; and, from what I've seen of the average man, I doubt if most of them have ever seen it at all. Well, there it was for me to see in Eva Eversleigh's eyes that night at supper. It made me think of things unspeakable. I felt a rush of classic aestheticism: Arcadia, Helen of Troy, the happy valleys of the early Greeks. Supper: I believe I gave her oyster _pates_. But I was far away. Deep, deep, deep in Eva's eyes I saw a craft sighting, 'neath a cloudless azure sky, the dark blue Symplegades; heard in my ears the jargon, loud and near me, of the sailors; and faintly o'er the distance of the dead-calm sea rose intermittently the sound of brine-foam at the clashing rocks....

As we sat there _tete-a-tete_, she smiled across the table at me with such perfect friendliness, it seemed as though a magic barrier separated our two selves from all the chattering, rustling crowd around us. When she spoke, a little quiver of feeling blended adorably with the low, sweet tones of her voice. We talked, indeed, of trifles, but with just that charming hint of intimacy which men friends have who may have known one another from birth, and may know one another for a lifetime, but never become bores, never change. Only when it comes between a woman and a man, it is incomparably finer. It is the talk, of course, of lovers who have not realised they are in love.

"The two last waltzes," I murmured, when parting with her. She nodded. I roamed the Gunton-Cresswells's rooms awaiting them.

She danced those two last waltzes with strangers.

The thing was utterly beyond me at the time. Looking back, I am still amazed to what lengths deliberate coquetry can go.

She actually took pains to elude me, and gave those waltzes to strangers.

From being comfortably rocked in the dark blue waters of a Grecian sea, I was suddenly transported to the realities of the ballroom. My theoretical love for Eva was now a substantial truth. I was in an agony of desire, in a frenzy of jealousy. I wanted to hurl the two strangers to opposite corners of the ballroom, but civilisation forbade it.

I was now in an altogether indescribable state of nerves and suspense. Had she definitely and for some unfathomable reason decided to cut me? The first extra drew languorously to a close, couples swept from the room to the grounds, the gallery or the conservatory. I tried to steady my whirling head with a cigarette and a whisky-and-soda in the smoking-room.

The orchestra, like a train starting tentatively on a long run, launched itself mildly into the preliminary bars of _Tout Passe_. I sought the ballroom blinded by my feelings. Pulling myself together with an effort, I saw her standing alone. It struck me for the first time that she was clothed in cream. Her skin gleamed shining white. She stood erect, her arms by her sides. Behind her was a huge, black velvet _portiere of many folds, supported by two dull brazen columns.

As I advanced towards her, two or three men bowed and spoke to her. She smiled and dismissed them, and, still smiling pleasantly, her glance traversed the crowd and rested upon me. I was drawing now quite near. Her eyes met mine; nor did she avert them, and stooping a little to address her, I heard her sigh.

"You're tired," I said, forgetting my two last dances, forgetting everything but that I loved her.

"Perhaps I am," she said, taking my arm. We turned in silence to the _portiere and found ourselves in the hall. The doors were opened. Some servants were there. At the bottom of the steps I chanced to see a yellow light.

"Find out if that cab's engaged," I said to a footman.

"The cool air----" I said to Eva.

"The cab is not engaged, sir," said the footman, returning.

"Yes," said Eva, in answer to my glance.

"Drive to the corner of Sloane Street, by way of the Park," I told the driver.

I have said that I had forgotten everything except that I loved her. Could it help remembrance now that we two sped alone through empty streets, her warm, palpitating body touching mine?

Julian, his friendship for me, his love for Eva; Margaret and her love for me; my own honour--these things were blotted from my brain.

"Eva!" I murmured; and I took her hand.


Her wonderful eyes met mine. The mist in them seemed to turn to dew.

"My darling," she whispered, very low. And, the road being deserted, I drew her face to mine and kissed her.

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_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued) Is any man really honourable? I wonder. Hundreds, thousands go triumphantly through life with that reputation. But how far is this due to absence of temptation? Life, which is like cricket in so many ways, resembles the game in this also. A batsman makes a century, and, having made it, is bowled by a ball which he is utterly unable to play. What if that ball had come at the beginning of his innings instead of at the end of it? Men go through life without a stain on their honour. I wonder if it simply

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_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued) There only remained now my serious verse, of which I turned out an enormous quantity. It won a ready acceptance in many quarters, notably the _St. Stephen's Gazette_. Already I was beginning to oust from their positions on that excellent journal the old crusted poetesses who had supplied it from its foundation with verse. The prices they paid on the _St. Stephen's were in excellent taste. In the musical world, too, I was making way rapidly. Lyrics of the tea-and-muffin type streamed from my pen. "Sleep whilst I Sing, Love," had brought me in an astonishing