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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 38. In The Universe
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 38. In The Universe Post by :rucanunes Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3160

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 38. In The Universe

CHAPTER XXXVIII. IN THE UNIVERSE

When Audrey, having been put ashore in execution of a plan arranged with those naturally endowed strategists, Aguilar and Jane Foley, arrived at the Hard by way of the sea-wall, Mr. Hurley was still in parley with Mr. Gilman under the Maltese cross of electric lights. From the distance Mr. Gilman had an air of being somewhat intimidated by the Irishman, but as soon as he distinguished the figure of Audrey at the shore end of the gangway his muscles became mysteriously taut, and his voice charged with defiance.

"I have already told you, sir," Audrey heard him say, "there is no such person aboard the yacht. And I most certainly will not allow you to search. You have no right whatever to search, and you know it. You have my word. My name is Gilman. You may have heard of me. I'm chairman of the Board of Foodstuffs, Limited. Gilman, sir. And I shall feel obliged if you will leave my decks."

"Are you sailing to-night?" asked Mr. Hurley placidly.

"What the devil has that got to do with you, sir?" replied Mr. Gilman gloriously.

Audrey, standing behind the detective and unseen by him, observed the gloriousness of Mr. Gilman's demeanour and also Mr. Gilman's desire that she should note the same and appreciate it. She nodded violently several times to Mr. Gilman, to urge him to answer the detective in the affirmative.

"Ye-es, sir. Since you are so confoundedly inquisitive, I am sailing to-night. I shall sail as soon as the tide serves," said Mr. Gilman hurriedly and fiercely, and then glanced again at Audrey for further approval.

"Where for?" Mr. Hurley demanded.

"Where I please, sir," Mr. Gilman snorted. By this time he evidently imagined that he was furious, and was taking pleasure in his fury.

Mr. Hurley, having given a little ironic bow, turned to leave and found himself fronting Audrey, who stiffly ignored his salute. The detective gone, Mr. Gilman walked to and fro, breathing more loudly than ever, and unsuccessfully pretending to a scattered audience, which consisted of the skipper, Mr. Price, Dr. Cromarty, and sundry deck-hands, that he had done nothing in particular and was not a hero. As Audrey approached him he seemed to lay all his glory with humble pride at her feet.

"Well, he brought that on himself!" said Audrey, smiling.

"He did," Mr. Gilman concurred, gazing at the Hard with inimical scorn.

"She can't come--now," said Audrey. "It wouldn't be safe. He means to stay on the Hard till we're gone. He's a very suspicious man."

Mr. Hurley was indeed lingering just beyond the immediate range of the _Ariadne's lamps.

"Can't come! What a pity! What a pity!" murmured Mr. Gilman, with an accent that was not a bit sincere. The news was the best he had heard for hours. "But I suppose," he added, "we'd better sail just the same, as I've said we should?" He did not want to run the risk of getting Jane Foley after all.

"Oh! Do!" Audrey exclaimed. "It will be lovely! If it doesn't rain--and even if it does rain! We all like sailing at night.... Are the others in the saloon? I'll run down."

"Mr. Wyatt," the owner sternly accosted the captain. "When can we get off?"

"Oh! About midnight," Audrey answered quickly, before Mr. Wyatt could compose his lips.

The men gazed at each other surprised by this show of technical knowledge in a young widow. By the time Mr. Wyatt had replied, Audrey was descending into the saloon. It was Aguilar who, having ascertained the _Ariadne's draught, had made the calculation as to the earliest possible hour of departure.

And in the saloon Musa was, as it were, being enveloped and kept comfortable in the admiring sympathy of Madame Piriac and Miss Thompkins. Mr. Gilman's violin lay across his knees--perhaps he had been tuning it--and the women inclined towards him, one on either side. It was a sight that somewhat annoyed Audrey, who told herself that she considered it silly. Admitting that Musa had genius, she could not understand this soft flattery of genius. She never flattered genius herself, and she did not approve of others doing so. Certainly Musa was now being treated on the yacht as a celebrity of the first order, and Audrey could find no explanation of the steady growth in the height and splendour of his throne. Her arrival dissolved the spectacle. Within one minute, somehow, the saloon was empty and everybody on deck again.

And then, drawing her away, Musa murmured to Audrey in a disconcerting tone that he must speak to her on a matter of urgency, and that in order that he might do so, they must go ashore and walk seawards, far from interruption. She consented, for she was determined to prove to him at close quarters that she was a different creature from the other two. They moved to the gangway amid discreet manifestations from the doctor and the secretary--manifestations directed chiefly to Musa and indicative of his importance as a notability. Audrey was puzzled. For her, Musa was more than ever just Musa, and less than ever a personage.

"I shall not return to the yacht," he said, with an excited bitterness, after they had walked some distance along one of the paths leading past low bushes into the wilderness of the marsh land that bounded the estuary to the south. The sky was still invisible, but there was now a certain amount of diffused light, and the pale path could easily be distinguished amid the sombreness of green. The yacht was hidden behind one of the knolls. No sound could be heard. The breeze had died. That which was around them--on either hand, above, below--was the universe. They knew that they stood still in the universe, and this idea gave their youth the sensation of being very important.

"What is that which you say?" Audrey demanded sharply in French, as Musa had begun in French. She was aware, not for the first time with Musa, of the sudden possibilities of drama in a human being. She could scarcely make out his face, but she knew that he was in a mood for high follies; she knew that danger was gathering; she knew that the shape of the future was immediately to be moulded by her and him, and chiefly by herself. She liked it. The sensation of her importance was reinforced.

"I say I shall never return to the yacht," he repeated.

She thought compassionately:

"Poor foolish thing!"

She was incalculably older and wiser than this irrational boy. She was the essence of wisdom.

She said, with acid detachment:

"But your luggage, your belongings? What an idea to leave in this manner! It is so polite, so sensible!"

"I shall not return."

"Of course," she said, "I do not at all understand why you are going. But what does that matter? You are going." Her indifference was superb. It was so superb that it might have driven some men to destroy her on the spot.

"Yes, you understand! I told you last night," said Musa, overflowing with emotion.

"Oh! You told me? I forget."

"Naturally Monsieur Gilman is rich. I am not rich, though I shall be. But you can't wait," Musa sneered.

"I do not know what you mean," said Audrey.

"Ah!" said Musa. "Once I told you that Tommy and Nick lent me the money with which to live. For me, since then, you have never been the same being. How stupid I was to tell you! You could not comprehend such a thing. Your soul is too low to comprehend it. Permit me to say that I have already repaid Nick. And at the first moment I shall repay Tommy. My position is secure. I have only to wait. But you will not wait. You are a bourgeoise of the most terrible sort. Opulence fascinates you. Mr. Gilman has opulence. He has nothing else. But he has opulence, and for you that is all."

In an instant her indifference, self-control, wisdom vanished. It was a sad exhibition of frailty; but she enjoyed it, she revelled in it, giving play to everything in herself that was barbaric. The marsh around them was probably as it had been before the vikings had sailed into it, and Audrey rushed back with inconceivable speed into the past and became the primeval woman of twenty centuries earlier. Like almost all women she possessed this wondrous and affrighting faculty.

"You are telling a wicked untruth!" she exploded in English. "And what's more, you know you are. You disgust me. You know as well as I do I don't care anything for money--anything. Only you're a horrid, spoilt beast. You think you can upset me, but you can't. I won't have it, either from you or from anybody else. It's a shame, that's what it is. Now you've got to apologise to me. I absolutely insist on it. You aren't going to bully me, even if you think you are. I'll soon show you the sort of girl I am, and you make no mistake! Are you going to apologise or aren't you?"

The indecorous creature was breathing as loudly as Mr. Gilman himself.

"I admit it," said Musa yielding.

"Ah!"

"I demand your pardon. I knew that what I said was not true. I am outside myself. But what would you? It is stronger than I. This existence is terrible, on the yacht. I cannot support it. I shall become mad. I am ruined. My jealousy is intolerable."

"It is!" said Audrey, using French again, more calmly, having returned to the twentieth century.

"It is intolerable to me." Then Musa's voice changed and grew persuasive, rather like a child's. "I cannot live without you. That is the truth. I am an artist, and you are necessary to me and to my career." He lifted his head. "And I can offer you everything that is most brilliant."

"And what about my career?" Audrey questioned inimically.

"Your career?" He seemed at a loss.

"Yes. My career. It has possibly not occurred to you that I also may have a career."

Musa became appealing.

"You understand me," he said. "I told you you do not comprehend, but you comprehend everything. It is that which enrages me. You have had experience. You know what men are. You could teach me so much. I hate young girls. I have always hated them. They are so tasteless, so insufferably innocent. I could not talk to a young girl as I talk to you. It would be absurd. Now as to my career--what I said----"

"Musa," she interrupted him, with a sinister quietude, "I want to tell you something. But you must promise to keep it secret. Will you?"

He assented, impatient.

"It is not possible!" he exclaimed, when she had told him that she belonged to precisely the category of human beings whom he hated and despised.

"Isn't it?" said she. "Now I hope you see how little you know, really, about women." She laughed.

"It is not possible!" he repeated. And then he said with deliberate ingenuousness: "I am so content. I am so happy. I could not have hoped for it. It is overwhelming. I am everything you like of the most idiotic, blind, stupid. But now I am happy. Could I ever have borne that you had loved before I knew you? I doubt if I could have borne it. Your innocence is exquisite. It is intoxicating to me."

"Musa," she remarked dryly; "I wish you would remember that you are in England. People do not talk in that way in England. It simply is not done. And I will not listen to it." Her voice grew a little tender. "Why can we not just be friends?"

"It is folly," said he, with sudden disgust. "And it would kill me."

"Well, then," she replied, receding. "You're entitled to die."

He advanced towards her. She kept him away with a gesture.

"You want me to marry you?" she questioned.

"It is essential," he said, very seriously. "I adore you. I can't do anything because of you. I can't think of anything but you. You are more marvellous than anyone can be. You cannot appreciate what you are to me!"

"And suppose you are nothing to me?"

"But it is necessary that you should love me!"

"Why? I see no necessity. You want me--because you want me. That's all. I can't help it if you're mad. Your attitude is insulting. You have not given one thought to my feelings. And if I said 'yes' to you, you'd marry me whatever my feelings were. You think only of yourself. It is the old attitude. And when I offer you my friendship, you instantly decline it. That shows how horribly French you are. Frenchmen can't understand the idea of friendship between a man and a girl. They sneer at it. It shows what brutes you all are. Why should I marry you? I should have nothing to gain by it. You'll be famous. Well, what do I care? Do you think it would be very amusing for me to be the wife of a famous man that was run after by every silly creature in Paris or London or New York? Not quite! And I don't see myself. You don't like young girls. I don't like young men. They're rude and selfish and conceited. They're like babies."

"The fact is," Musa broke in, "you are in love with the old Gilman."

"He is not old!" cried Audrey. "In some ways he is much less worn out than you are. And supposing I am in love with Mr. Gilman? Does it regard you? Do not be rude. Mr. Gilman is at any rate polite. He is not capricious. He is reliable. You aren't reliable. You want someone upon whom you can rely. How nice for your wife! You play the violin. True. You are a genius. But you cannot always be on the platform. And when you are not on the platform...! Heavens! If I wish to hear you play I can buy a seat and come and hear you and go away again. But your wife, responsible for your career--she will never be free. Her life will be unbearable. What anxiety! Misery, I should say rather! You would have the lion's share of everything. Now for myself I intend to have the lion's share. And why shouldn't I? Isn't it about time some woman had it? You can't have the lion's share if you are not free. I mean to be free. If I marry I shall want a husband that is not a prison.... Thank goodness I've got money.... Without that----!"

"Then," said Musa, "you have no feeling for me."

"Love?" she laughed exasperatingly.

"Yes," he said.

"Not that much!" She snapped her fingers. "But"--in a changed tone--"I _should like to like you. I shall be very disgusted if your concerts are not a tremendous success. And they will not be if you don't keep control over yourself and practise properly. And it will be your fault."

"Then, good-bye!" he said, coldly ignoring all her maternal suggestions. And turned away.

"Where are you going to?"

He stopped.

"I do not know. But if I do not deceive myself I have already informed you that in certain circumstances I should not return to the yacht."

"You are worse than a schoolboy."

"It is possible."

"Anyway, _I shan't explain on the yacht. I shall tell them that I know nothing about it."

"But no one will believe you," he retorted maliciously over his shoulder. And then he was gone.

She at any rate was no longer surrounded by the largeness of the universe. He might still be, but she was not. She was in mind already on the yacht trying to act a surprise equal to the surprise of the others when Musa failed to reappear. She was very angry with him, not because he had been a rude schoolboy and was entirely impossible as a human being, but because she had allowed herself to leave the yacht with him and would therefore be compelled sooner or later to answer questions about him. She seriously feared that Mr. Gilman might refuse to sail unless she confessed to him her positive knowledge that Musa would not be seen again, and that thus she might have to choose between the failure of her plans for Jane Foley and her own personal discomfiture.

Instead of being in the mighty universe she was struggling amid the tiresome littleness of society on a yacht. She hated yachts for their very cosiness and their quality of keeping people close together who wanted to be far apart. And as she watched the figure of Musa growing fainter she was more than ever impressed by the queerness of men. Women seemed to be so logical, so realistic, so understandable, so calculable, whereas men were enigmas of waywardness and unreason. At just that moment her feet reminded her that they had been wetted by the adventure in the punt, and she said to herself sagely that she must take precautions against a chill.

And then she thought she detected some unusual phenomenon behind a clump of bushes to the right which hid a plank-bridge across a waterway. She would have been frightened if she had not been very excited. And in her excitement she marched straight up to the clump, and found Mr. Hurley in a crouching posture. She started, and recovered.

"I might have known!" she said disdainfully.

"We all make mistakes," said Mr. Hurley defensively. "We all make mistakes. I knew I'd made a mistake as soon as I got here, but I couldn't get away quietly enough. And you talked so loud. Ye'll admit I had just cause for suspicion. And being a very agreeable lady ye'll pardon me."

She blushed, and then ceased blushing because it was too dark for him to perceive the blush, and she passed on without a word. When, across the waste, she had come within sight of the yacht again, she heard footsteps behind her, and turned to withstand the detective. But the overtaker was Musa.

"It is necessary that I should return to the yacht," he said savagely. "The thought of you and Monsieur Gilman together, without me.... No! I did not know myself. ... I did not know myself.... It is impossible for me to leave."

She made no answer. They boarded the yacht as though they had been for a stroll. Few could have guessed that they had come back from the universe terribly scathed. Accepting deferential greetings as a right, Musa vanished rapidly to his cabin.

Several hours later Audrey and Mr. Gilman, alone among the passengers, were standing together, both tarpaulined, on the starboard bow, gazing seaward as the yacht cautiously felt her way down Mozewater. Captain Wyatt, and not Mr. Gilman, was at the binnacle. A little rain was falling and the night was rather thick but not impenetrable.

"There's the light!" said Audrey excitedly.

"What sharp eyes you have!" said Mr. Gilman. "I can see it, too." He spoke a word to the skipper, and the skipper spoke, and then the engine went still more slowly.

The yacht approached the Flank buoy dead slow, scarcely stemming the tide. The Moze punt was tied up to the buoy, and Aguilar held a lantern on a boathook, while Jane Foley, very wet, was doing a spell of baling. Aguilar dropped the boathook and, casting off, brought the punt alongside the yacht. The steps were lowered and Jane Foley, with laughing, rain-sprinkled face, climbed up. Aguilar handed her bag which contained nearly everything she possessed on earth. She and Audrey kissed calmly, and Audrey presented Mr. Gilman to a suddenly shy Jane. In the punt Miss Foley had been seen to take an affectionate leave of Aguilar. She now leaned over the rail.

"Good-bye!" she said, with warmth. "Thanks ever so much. It's been splendid. I do hope you won't be too wet. Can you row all the way home?" She shivered.

"I shall go back on the tide, Miss Foley," answered Aguilar.

He touched his cap to Audrey, mumbled gloomily a salutation, and loosed his hold on the yacht; and at once the punt felt the tide and began to glide away in the darkness towards Moze. The yacht's engine quickened. Flank buoy faded.

Mr. Gilman and the two girls made a group.

"You're wonderful! You really are!" said Mr. Gilman, addressing apparently the pair of them. He was enthusiastic. ... He added with grandeur, "And now for France!"

"I do hope Mr. Hurley is still hanging about Moze," said Audrey. "Mr. Gilman, shall I show Miss Foley her cabin? She's rather wet."

"Oh, do! Oh, do, please! But don't forget that we are to have supper together. I insist on supper."

And Audrey thought: "How agreeable he is! How kind-hearted! He hasn't got any 'career' to worry about, and I adore him, and he's as simple as knitting."

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