When Saturday came it was evident that the hours of the day must be more strictly organised than they had been. St. John offered his services; he said that he had nothing to do, and that he might as well spend the day at the villa if he could be of use. As if they were starting on a difficult expedition together, they parcelled out their duties between them, writing out an elaborate scheme of hours upon a large sheet of paper which was pinned to the drawing-room door. Their distance from the town, and the difficulty of procuring rare things with unknown names from the most unexpected places, made it necessary to think very carefully, and they found it unexpectedly difficult to do the simple but practical things that were required of them, as if they, being very tall, were asked to stoop down and arrange minute grains of sand in a pattern on the ground.
It was St. John’s duty to fetch what was needed from the town, so that Terence would sit all through the long hot hours alone in the drawing-room, near the open door, listening for any movement upstairs, or call from Helen. He always forgot to pull down the blinds, so that he sat in bright sunshine, which worried him without his knowing what was the cause of it. The room was terribly stiff and uncomfortable. There were hats in the chairs, and medicine bottles among the books. He tried to read, but good books were too good, and bad books were too bad, and the only thing he could tolerate was the newspaper, which with its news of London, and the movements of real people who were giving dinner-parties and making speeches, seemed to give a little background of reality to what was otherwise mere nightmare. Then, just as his attention was fixed on the print, a soft call would come from Helen, or Mrs. Chailey would bring in something which was wanted upstairs, and he would run up very quietly in his socks, and put the jug on the little table which stood crowded with jugs and cups outside the bedroom door; or if he could catch Helen for a moment he would ask, How is she?
She tried to force herself to say, “Has to be proposed to you?” but the question was too tremendous, and in another moment Evelyn was saying that the finest men were like women, and women were nobler than men–for example, one couldn’t imagine a woman like Lillah Harrison thinking a mean thing or having anything base about her.
She was becoming much calmer, and her cheeks were now quite dry. Her eyes had regained their usual expression of keen vitality, and she seemed to have forgotten Alfred and Sinclair and her emotion. “Lillah runs a home for inebriate women in the Deptford Road,” she continued. “She started it, managed it, did everything off her own bat, and it’s now the biggest of its kind in England. You can’t think what those women are like–and their homes. But she goes among them at all hours of the day and night. I’ve often been with her. . . . That’s what’s the matter with us. . . . We don’t _do_ things. What do you _do_?” she demanded, looking at Rachel with a slightly ironical smile. Rachel had scarcely listened to any of this, and her expression was vacant and unhappy. She had conceived an equal dislike for Lillah Harrison and her work in the Deptford Road, and for Evelyn M. and her profusion of love affairs.
That’s about it!” Evelyn laughed. “We none of us do anything but play. And that’s why women like Lillah Harrison, who’s worth twenty of you and me, have to work themselves to the bone. But I’m tired of playing,” she went on, lying flat on the bed, and raising her arms above her head. Thus stretched out, she looked more diminutive than ever.
Aunt Clara carves the neck of lamb, Rachel continued. She fixed her gaze upon the pebbles. “There’s a very ugly yellow china stand in front of me, called a dumb waiter, on which are three dishes, one for biscuits, one for butter, and one for cheese. There’s a pot of ferns. Then there’s Blanche the maid, who snuffles because of her nose. We talk–oh yes, it’s Aunt Lucy’s afternoon at Walworth, so we’re rather quick over luncheon. She goes off. She has a purple bag, and a black notebook. Aunt Clara has what they call a G.F.S. meeting in the drawing-room on Wednesday, so I take the dogs out. I go up Richmond Hill, along the terrace, into the park. It’s the 18th of April–the same day as it is here. It’s spring in England. The ground is rather damp. However, I cross the road and get on to the grass and we walk along, and I sing as I always do when I’m alone, until we come to the open place where you can see the whole of London beneath you on a clear day. Hampstead Church spire there, Westminster Cathedral over there, and factory chimneys about here. There’s generally a haze over the low parts of London; but it’s often blue over the park when London’s in a mist. It’s the open place that the balloons cross going over to Hurlingham. They’re pale yellow. Well, then, it smells very good, particularly if they happen to be burning wood in the keeper’s lodge which is there. I could tell you now how to get from place to place, and exactly what trees you’d pass, and where you’d cross the roads. You see, I played there when I was small. Spring is good, but it’s best in the autumn when the deer are barking; then it gets dusky, and I go back through the streets, and you can’t see people properly; they come past very quick, you just see their faces and then they’re gone–that’s what I like–and no one knows in the least what you’re doing.
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Tea? Oh yes. Five o’clock. Then I say what I’ve done, and my aunts say what they’ve done, and perhaps some one comes in: Mrs. Hunt, let’s suppose. She’s an old lady with a lame leg. She has or she once had eight children; so we ask after them. They’re all over the world; so we ask where they are, and sometimes they’re ill, or they’re stationed in a cholera district, or in some place where it only rains once in five months. Mrs. Hunt,” she said with a smile, “had a son who was hugged to death by a bear.
Any one can be interested!” she cried impatiently. “Your friend Mr. Hirst’s interested, I daresay however, I do believe in you. You look as if you’d got a nice sister, somehow.” She paused, picking at some sequins on her knees, and then, as if she had made up her mind, she started off, “Anyhow, I’m going to ask your advice. D’you ever get into a state where you don’t know your own mind? That’s the state I’m in now. You see, last night at the dance Raymond Oliver,–he’s the tall dark boy who looks as if he had Indian blood in him, but he says he’s not really,–well, we were sitting out together, and he told me all about himself, how unhappy he is at home, and how he hates being out here. They’ve put him into some beastly mining business. He says it’s beastly–I should like it, I know, but that’s neither here nor there. And I felt awfully sorry for him, one couldn’t help being sorry for him, and when he asked me to let him kiss me, I did. I don’t see any harm in that, do you? And then this morning he said he’d thought I meant something more, and I wasn’t the sort to let any one kiss me. And we talked and talked. I daresay I was very silly, but one can’t help liking people when one’s sorry for them. I do like him most awfully–” She paused. “So I gave him half a promise, and then, you see, there’s Alfred Perrott.
His eyes were dazed, his hands very cold, and his brain excited and yet half asleep. Inside the door everything was as he had left it except that the hall was now empty. There were the chairs turning in towards each other where people had sat talking, and the empty glasses on little tables, and the newspapers scattered on the floor. As he shut the door he felt as if he were enclosed in a square box, and instantly shrivelled up. It was all very bright and very small. He stopped for a minute by the long table to find a paper which he had meant to read, but he was still too much under the influence of the dark and the fresh air to consider carefully which paper it was or where he had seen it.
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True,” said Willoughby when she had done. “The social conditions are bound to be primitive. I should be out a good deal. I agreed because she wished it. And of course I have complete confidence in you. . . . You see, Helen,” he continued, becoming confidential, “I want to bring her up as her mother would have wished. I don’t hold with these modern views–any more than you do, eh? She’s a nice quiet girl, devoted to her music–a little less of _that_ would do no harm. Still, it’s kept her happy, and we lead a very quiet life at Richmond. I should like her to begin to see more people. I want to take her about with me when I get home. I’ve half a mind to rent a house in London, leaving my sisters at Richmond, and take her to see one or two people who’d be kind to her for my sake. I’m beginning to realise,” he continued, stretching himself out, “that all this is tending to Parliament, Helen. It’s the only way to get things done as one wants them done. I talked to Dalloway about it. In that case, of course, I should want Rachel to be able to take more part in things. A certain amount of entertaining would be necessary–dinners, an occasional evening party. One’s constituents like to be fed, I believe. In all these ways Rachel could be of great help to me. So,” he wound up, “I should be very glad, if we arrange this visit (which must be upon a business footing, mind), if you could see your way to helping my girl, bringing her out–she’s a little shy now,–making a woman of her, the kind of woman her mother would have liked her to be,” he ended, jerking his head at the photograph.
Willoughby’s selfishness, though consistent as Helen saw with real affection for his daughter, made her determined to have the girl to stay with her, even if she had to promise a complete course of instruction in the feminine graces. She could not help laughing at the notion of it–Rachel a Tory hostess!–and marvelling as she left him at the astonishing ignorance of a father.
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By this time, some months had passed since our interview on the bank of the river with Martha. I had never seen her since, but she had communicated with Mr. Peggotty on several occasions. Nothing had come of her zealous intervention; nor could I infer, from what he told me, that any clue had been obtained, for a moment, to Emily’s fate. I confess that I began to despair of her recovery, and gradually to sink deeper and deeper into the belief that she was dead.
His conviction remained unchanged. So far as I know – and I believe his honest heart was transparent to me – he never wavered again, in his solemn certainty of finding her. His patience never tired. And, although I trembled for the agony it might one day be to him to have his strong assurance shivered at a blow, there was something so religious in it, so affectingly expressive of its anchor being in the purest depths of his fine nature, that the respect and honour in which I held him were exalted every day.
His was not a lazy trustfulness that hoped, and did no more. He had been a man of sturdy action all his life, and he knew that in all things wherein he wanted help he must do his own part faithfully, and help himself. I have known him set out in the night, on a misgiving that the light might not be, by some accident, in the window of the old boat, and walk to Yarmouth. I have known him, on reading something in the newspaper that might apply to her, take up his stick, and go forth on a journey of three- or four-score miles. He made his way by sea to Naples, and back, after hearing the narrative to which Miss Dartle had assisted me. All his journeys were ruggedly performed; for he was always steadfast in a purpose of saving money for Emily’s sake, when she should be found. In all this long pursuit, I never heard him repine; I never heard him say he was fatigued, or out of heart.
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‘I am not so unreasonable as to expect,’ said Agnes, resuming her usual tone, after a little while, ‘that you will, or that you can, at once, change any sentiment that has become a conviction to you; least of all a sentiment that is rooted in your trusting disposition. You ought not hastily to do that. I only ask you, Trotwood, if you ever think of me – I mean,’ with a quiet smile, for I was going to interrupt her, and she knew why, ‘as often as you think of me – to think of what I have said. Do you forgive me for all this?’
She would have dismissed the subject so, but I was too full of it to allow that, and insisted on telling her how it happened that I had disgraced myself, and what chain of accidental circumstances had had the theatre for its final link. It was a great relief to me to do this, and to enlarge on the obligation that I owed to Steerforth for his care of me when I was unable to take care of myself.
Agnes laughed again at her own penetration, and told me that if I were faithful to her in my confidence she thought she should keep a little register of my violent attachments, with the date, duration, and termination of each, like the table of the reigns of the kings and queens, in the History of England. Then she asked me if I had seen Uriah.
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Steerforth not yet appearing, which induced me to apprehend that he must be ill, I left the Commons early on the third day, and walked out to Highgate. Mrs. Steerforth was very glad to see me, and said that he had gone away with one of his Oxford friends to see another who lived near St. Albans, but that she expected him to return tomorrow. I was so fond of him, that I felt quite jealous of his Oxford friends.
As she pressed me to stay to dinner, I remained, and I believe we talked about nothing but him all day. I told her how much the people liked him at Yarmouth, and what a delightful companion he had been. Miss Dartle was full of hints and mysterious questions, but took a great interest in all our proceedings there, and said, ‘Was it really though?’ and so forth, so often, that she got everything out of me she wanted to know. Her appearance was exactly what I have described it, when I first saw her; but the society of the two ladies was so agreeable, and came so natural to me, that I felt myself falling a little in love with her. I could not help thinking, several times in the course of the evening, and particularly when I walked home at night, what delightful company she would be in Buckingham Street.
I was taking my coffee and roll in the morning, before going to the Commons – and I may observe in this place that it is surprising how much coffee Mrs. Crupp used, and how weak it was, considering – when Steerforth himself walked in, to my unbounded joy.
The first exclamation sounded like a question put to both of us, and the second like a question put to Steerforth only. She seemed to have found no answer to either, but continued to rub, with her head on one side and her eye turned up, as if she were looking for an answer in the air and were confident of its appearing presently.
‘Well said!’ cried Steerforth. ‘Hear, hear, hear! Now I’ll quench the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy, by leaving her nothing to guess at. She is at present apprenticed, Miss Mowcher, or articled, or whatever it may be, to Omer and Joram, Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in this town. Do you observe? Omer and Joram. The promise of which my friend has spoken, is made and entered into with her cousin; Christian name, Ham; surname, Peggotty; occupation, boat-builder; also of this town. She lives with a relative; Christian name, unknown; surname, Peggotty; occupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the prettiest and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire her – as my friend does – exceedingly. If it were not that I might appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend would not like, I would add, buy real viagra cheap that to me she seems to be throwing herself away; that I am sure she might do better; and that I swear she was born to be a lady.’
Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very slowly and distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and her eye in the air as if she were still looking for that answer. When he ceased she became brisk again in an instant, and rattled away with surprising volubility.