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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 8
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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 8 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :3219

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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

Eileen became interested in Robert Maper, for the old books he opened up to her were quite new and enlarging. She had imagined the Church replacing Paganism as light replaced darkness. Now she felt that it was only as gas replaced candle-light. The darkness was less Egyptian than the nuns insinuated. Plato in particular was a veritable chandelier. It occurred to her suddenly that he might be on the black list. But she was afraid to ask her Confessor for fear of hearing her doubt confirmed. To tell the good father of the semi-secret meetings in the library would have been superfluous, since there was nothing to conceal even from Mrs. Maper, though that lady did not happen to know of them. Eileen did not even use the garden door. Besides, there was never a formal appointment, not infrequently, indeed, a disappointment, when the library held nothing but books. Robert Maper merely provided that possibility of an innocent double life, without which existence would have been too savourless for Eileen. Even a single line of railway always appeared dismal to her; she liked the great junctions with their bewildering intertanglements, their possibilities of collision. And now that Lieutenant Doherty had faded away into Afghanistan and silence--he did not even acknowledge the letter announcing her approaching marriage--Robert Maper proved a useful substitute.

One day Mr. Maper senior invited her to drive down with him and go over the factory, and as Mrs. Maper was not averse from impressing her employee by the sight of the other employes, she was permitted to go. Nothing, however, would induce Mrs. Maper to adventure herself in these scenes of her early life, touching which she professed a sovereign ignorance. "Machines are so clattery," she said. "My head wouldn't stand them. I once went to that exhibition in London and I said to myself, never no more for this gal."

"And you never did go _any more since you were a _girl_?" asked the companion, with professional pointedness.

"No, never no more," replied Mrs. Maper, serenely, "once is too often, as the gal said when the black man kissed her."

Eileen laughed dutifully at this quotation from the latest comic opera, and went off, delighted to companion the husband by way of change. He proved quite a new man, too, in his own element, bringing the most complicated machinery to the level of her understanding. Room after room they passed through, department after department full of tireless machinery, and tired men and women, who seemed slaves to the whims of fantastic iron monsters, all legs and arms and wheels. It took a morning to see everything, down to the pasting and drying and packing rooms, and as a last treat Mr. Maper took her to the engine-room, whence he said came the power that turned those myriad wheels, moved those myriad levers, in whatever department they might be and whatever their function. Eileen gazed long at the mighty engine, rapt in reverie. She could scarcely tear herself away, and when at last Mr. Maper brought her into the counting-house, she had forgotten that she must meet his son there. The white-browed clerk in corduroys did not, however, raise his eyes from his ledger, and Eileen was grateful to him for preserving the piquancy of their relation.

She did not find it so piquant, though, in the library next Sunday afternoon when he was clutching at her hand and asking her to be his wife. She awoke as from a dream to the perception of a solemn and grotesque fact.

"Oh, please!" and she tried to tear her hand away.

He clung on desperately. "Eileen--don't say you don't care at all."

"I'm not Eileen, and I particularly dislike you at this moment. Let me have my hand, please."

He dropped it like a stinging nettle. "I was hoping you'd let me keep it," he murmured.

"Why?" She was simple and pitiless. "Because we read Plato together? That was platonic enough, wasn't it?"

"You can jest about what breaks my heart?"

"I am very sorry. I like you."

His breathing changed, "like a fish thrown back into the water," Eileen thought. She hastened to add, "But it's not what a wife should feel."

"How do you know what a wife should feel?"

Eileen screwed up her forehead. "If I felt it, I should know, I suppose."

"No, you mightn't. You've liked to come here and talk to me."

"Because I like books. And you talk like a book."

"That was before I fell in love. I didn't talk like a book just now."

"When you took my hand! More like a book than ever. I've read it all--lots of times."

"Oh, Eil--Miss O'Keeffe--you are very cruel."

Eileen smiled. "I am not--I'm very kind--I threw you back into the water."

He gasped, as though out of it again. "Do you mean I am not grown enough?"

She flushed and improvised on his theme. "Not quite that. You hooked yourself, as you threatened to do. But suppose I had landed you. You know the next step--hot water. What a lot you would have got into, too!"

"You are thinking of my mother?"

"Yes, raising Cain, I think you said once. Oh, dear, swim about and be thankful." And a vision of Mrs. Maper's amazement twitched the corners of her lips and made them more enchanting.

"I'm not so cold-blooded as all that. But if you do throw me back, let it be with the promise to take me again, when I _am grown. I don't say it to tempt you, but you know I shall be very rich."

"Indigestible, do you mean?"

"Oh, please let us drop that metaphor! Metaphors can never go on all fours."

"Certainly not when they have fins."

"Don't jest, Eil--Miss O'Keeffe! Let me redeem you from your sordid life."

"Why is it sordid? You said work was divine."

"You can work in a higher sphere."

"And this is the Socialist! I really thought you'd want me to turn factory lass."

"You are laughing at me."

"I am perfectly serious. I won't drag you down from Socialism, and a head-shawl wouldn't become me."

"Why, you'd look sweet in it. Dear, dear, Miss O'Keeffe--"

"Good-by."

"No, you shan't go." He barred her way. Her airiness had given him new hope.

"If you don't behave sensibly, I'll go altogether--give notice."

"Then I'll follow you to your next place."

"No followers allowed. Seriously, I'll leave if you are foolish."

"Very well," he said abruptly. "Let's go on reading Plato," and he turned to the book.

"No, no more Dialogues, in or out of Plato."

She was smiling but stern. He opened the library door and bowed as she passed out.

"Remember," he said. "I will remain foolish for ever."

"You have too long an opinion of yourself," was Eileen's parting flash.

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CHAPTER IXThe next evening she sat in the drawing-room before dinner, softly playing an accompaniment to her thoughts. Why didn't she feel anything about Robert Maper except a mild irritation at the destruction of so truly platonic a converse? In a book, of which his proposal savoured, she would have found him quite a romantic person. In the actuality she felt as frigid as if his marble forehead was chilling her, and what she remembered most acutely was his fishlike gasping. Then, too, the contradictoriness of his social attitude, his desire to make her a rich drone, his shame at his
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CHAPTER VIIIn such a mood she was playing one Saturday evening in the interval before dinner, when she became aware that somebody was listening, and turning her head, she saw through the Irish mist a man's figure standing in the conservatory. The figure was vanishing when she cried out a whit huskily, "Oh, pray, don't let me drive you away." He stood still. "If I am not interrupting your music," he murmured. "Not at all," she said, breaking it off altogether. As the mist cleared she had a vivid impression of a tall, fair young man against a background of palms.
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