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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Outcry - Book 1 - Chapter 5
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The Outcry - Book 1 - Chapter 5 Post by :dialisepalo Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :May 2012 Read :2294

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The Outcry - Book 1 - Chapter 5

BOOK FIRST. CHAPTER V.

"Your friend seems remarkably hot!" Lord John remarked to his young hostess as soon as they had been left together.

"He has cycled twenty miles. And indeed," she smiled, "he does appear to care for what he cares for!"

Her companion then, during a moment's silence, might have been noting the emphasis of her assent. "Have you known him long?"

"No--not long."

"Nor seen him often?"

"Only once--till now."

"Oh!" said Lord John with another pause. But he soon proceeded. "Let us leave him then to cool! I haven't cycled twenty miles, but I've motored forty very much in the hope of _this_, Lady Grace--the chance of being able to assure you that I too care very much for what I care for." To which he added on an easier note, as to carry off a slight awkwardness while she only waited: "You certainly mustn't let yourself--between us all--be worked to death."

"Oh, such days as this--I" She made light enough of her burden.

"They don't come often to _me at least, Lady Grace! I hadn't grasped in advance the scale of your fete," he went on; "but since I've the great luck to find you alone--!" He paused for breath, however, before the full sequence.

She helped him out as through common kindness, but it was a trifle colourless. "Alone or in company, Lord John, I'm always very glad to see you."

"Then that assurance helps me to wonder if you don't perhaps gently guess what it is I want to say." This time indeed she left him to his wonder, so that he had to support himself. "I've tried, all considerately--these three months--to let you see for yourself how I feel. I feel very strongly, Lady Grace; so that at last"--and his impatient sincerity took after another instant the jump--"well, I regularly worship you. You're my absolute ideal. I think of you the whole time."

She measured out consideration as if it had been a yard of pretty ribbon. "Are you sure you _know me enough?"

"I think I know a perfect woman when I see one!" Nothing now at least could have been more prompt, and while a decent pity for such a mistake showed in her smile he followed it up. "Isn't what you rather mean that you haven't cared sufficiently to know _me? If so, that can be little by little mended, Lady Grace." He was in fact altogether gallant about it. "I'm aware of the limits of what I have to show or to offer, but I defy you to find a limit to my possible devotion."

She deferred to that, but taking it in a lower key. "I believe you'd be very good to me."

"Well, isn't _that something to start with?"--he fairly pounced on it. "I'll do any blest thing in life you like, I'll accept any condition you impose, if you'll only tell me you see your way."

"Shouldn't I have a little more first to see yours?" she asked. "When you say you'll do anything in life I like, isn't there anything you yourself want strongly enough to do?"

He cast a stare about on the suggestions of the scene. "Anything that will make money, you mean?"

"Make money or make reputation--or even just make the time pass."

"Oh, what I have to look to in the way of a career?" If that was her meaning he could show after an instant that he didn't fear it. "Well, your father, dear delightful man, has been so good as to give me to understand that he backs me for a decent deserving creature; and I've noticed, as you doubtless yourself have, that when Lord Theign backs a fellow----!"

He left the obvious moral for her to take up--which she did, but all interrogatively. "The fellow at once comes in for something awfully good?"

"I don't in the least mind your laughing at me," Lord John returned, "for when I put him the question of the lift he'd give me by speaking to you first he bade me simply remember the complete personal liberty in which he leaves you, and yet which doesn't come--take my word!" said the young man sagely--"from his being at all indifferent."

"No," she answered--"father isn't indifferent. But father's 'great'"

"Great indeed!"--her friend took it as with full comprehension. This appeared not to prevent, however, a second and more anxious thought. "Too great for _you?_"

"Well, he makes me feel--even as his daughter--my extreme comparative smallness."

It was easy, Lord John indicated, to see what she meant "He's a _grand seigneur_, and a serious one--that's what he is: the very type and model of it, down to the ground. So you can imagine," the young man said, "what he makes me feel--most of all when he's so awfully good-natured to me. His being as 'great' as you say and yet backing me--such as I am!--doesn't _that strike you as a good note for me, the best you could possibly require? For he really _would like what I propose to you."

She might have been noting, while she thought, that he had risen to ingenuity, to fineness, on the wings of his argument; under the effect of which her reply had the air of a concession. "Yes--he would like it."

"Then he _has spoken to you?" her suitor eagerly asked.

"He hasn't needed--he has ways of letting one know."

"Yes, yes, he has ways; all his own--like everything else he has. He's wonderful."

She fully agreed. "He's wonderful."

The tone of it appeared somehow to shorten at once for Lord John the rest of his approach to a conclusion. "So you do see your way?"

"Ah--!" she said with a quick sad shrinkage.

"I mean," her visitor hastened to explain, "if he does put it to you as the very best idea he has for you. When he does that--as I believe him ready to do--will you really and fairly listen to him? I'm certain, honestly, that when you know me better--!" His confidence in short donned a bravery.

"I've been feeling this quarter of an hour," the girl returned, "that I do know you better."

"Then isn't that all I want?--unless indeed I ought perhaps to ask rather if it isn't all _you do! At any rate," said Lord John, "I may see you again here?"

She waited a moment. "You must have patience with me."

"I _am having it But _after your father's appeal."

"Well," she said, "that must come first."

"Then you won't dodge it?"

She looked at him straight "I don't dodge, Lord John."

He admired the manner of it "You look awfully handsome as you say so--and you see what _that does to me." As to attentuate a little the freedom of which he went on: "May I fondly hope that if Lady Imber too should wish to put in another word for me----?"

"Will I listen to her?"--it brought Lady Grace straight down. "No, Lord John, let me tell you at once that I'll do nothing of the sort Kitty's quite another affair, and I never listen to her a bit more than I can help."

Lord John appeared to feel, on this, that he mustn't too easily, in honour, abandon a person who had presented herself to him as an ally. "Ah, you strike me as a little hard on her. Your father himself--in his looser moments!--takes pleasure in what she says."

Our young woman's eyes, as they rested on him after this remark, had no mercy for its extreme feebleness. "If you mean that she's the most reckless rattle one knows, and that she never looks so beautiful as when she's at her worst, and that, always clever for where she makes out her interest, she has learnt to 'get round' him till he only sees through her eyes--if you mean _that I understand you perfectly. But even if you think me horrid for reflecting so on my nearest and dearest, it's not on the side on which he has most confidence in his elder daughter that his youngest is moved to have most confidence in _him_."

Lord John stared as if she had shaken some odd bright fluttering object in his face; but then recovering himself: "He hasn't perhaps an absolutely boundless confidence--"

"In any one in the world but himself?"--she had taken him straight up. "He hasn't indeed, and that's what we must come to; so that even if he likes you as much as you doubtless very justly feel, it won't be because you are right about your being nice, but because _he is!"

"You mean that if I were wrong about it he would still insist that he isn't?"

Lady Grace was indeed sure. "Absolutely--if he had begun so! He began so with Kitty--that is with allowing her everything."

Lord John appeared struck. "Yes--and he still allows her two thousand."

"I'm glad to hear it--she has never told me how much!" the girl undisguisedly smiled.

"Then perhaps I oughtn't!"--he glowed with the light of contrition.

"Well, you can't help it now," his companion remarked with amusement.

"You mean that he ought to allow _you as much?" Lord John inquired. "I'm sure you're right, and that he will," he continued quite as in good faith; "but I want you to understand that I don't care in the least what it may be!"

The subject of his suit took the longest look at him she had taken yet. "You're very good to say so!"

If this was ironic the touch fell short, thanks to his perception that they had practically just ceased to be alone. They were in presence of a third figure, who had arrived from the terrace, but whose approach to them was not so immediate as to deprive Lord John of time for another question. "Will you let _him tell you, at all events, how good he thinks me?--and then let me come back and have it from you again?"

Lady Grace's answer to this was to turn, as he drew nearer, to the person by whom they were now joined. "Lord John desires you should tell me, father, how good you think him."

"'Good,' my dear?--good for what?" said Lord Theign a trifle absurdly, but looking from one of them to the other.

"I feel I must ask _him to tell you."

"Then I shall give him a chance--as I should particularly like you to go back and deal with those overwhelming children."

"Ah, they don't overwhelm _you_, father!"--the girl put it with some point.

"If you mean to say I overwhelmed _them_, I dare say I did," he replied--"from my view of that vast collective gape of six hundred painfully plain and perfectly expressionless faces. But that was only for the time: I pumped advice--oh _such advice!--and they held the large bucket as still as my pet pointer, when I scratch him, holds his back. The bucket, under the stream--"

"Was bound to overflow?" Lady Grace suggested.

"Well, the strong recoil of the wave of intelligence has been not unnaturally followed by the formidable break. You must really," Lord Theign insisted, "go and deal with it."

His daughter's smile, for all this, was perceptibly cold. "You work people up, father, and then leave others to let them down."

"The two things," he promptly replied, "require different natures." To which he simply added, as with the habit of authority, though not of harshness, "Go!"

It was absolute and she yielded; only pausing an instant to look as with a certain gathered meaning from one of the men to the other. Faintly and resignedly sighing she passed away to the terrace and disappeared.

"The nature that _can let you down--I rather like it, you know!" Lord John threw off. Which, for an airy elegance in them, were perhaps just slightly rash words--his companion gave him so sharp a look as the two were left together.

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