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HOME > Classical Novels > The Shuttle50 > CHAPTER 33 FOR LADY JANE
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 There is no one thing on earth of such interest as the study of the laws of temperament1, which impel2, support, or entrap3 into folly4 and danger the being they rule. As a child, not old enough to give a definite name to the thing she watched and pondered on, in child fashion, Bettina Vanderpoel had thought much on this subject. As she had grown older, she had never been ignorant of the workings of her own temperament, and she had looked on for years at the laws which had wrought5 in her father's being—the laws of strength, executive capacity, and that pleasure in great schemes, which is roused less by a desire for gain than for a strongly-felt necessity for action, resulting in success. She mentally followed other people on their way, sometimes asking herself how far the individual was to be praised or blamed for his treading of the path he seemed to choose. And now there was given her the opportunity to study the workings of the nature of Nigel Anstruthers, which was a curious thing.  
He was not an individual to be envied. Never was man more tormented7 by lack of power to control his special devil, at the right moment of time, and therefore, never was there one so inevitably8 his own frustration9. This Betty saw after the passing of but a few days, and wondered how far he was conscious or unconscious of the thing. At times it appeared to her that he was in a state of unrest—that he was as a man wavering between lines of action, swayed at one moment by one thought, at another by an idea quite different, and that he was harried11 because he could not hold his own with himself.
This was true. The ball at Dunholm Castle had been enlightening, and had wrought some changes in his points of view. Also other factors had influenced him. In the first place, the changed atmosphere of Stornham, the fitness and luxury of his surroundings, the new dignity given to his position by the altered aspect of things, rendered external amiability12 more easy. To ride about the country on a good horse, or drive in a smart phaeton, or suitable carriage, and to find that people who a year ago had passed him with the merest recognition, saluted14 him with polite intention, was, to a certain degree, stimulating15 to a vanity which had been long ill-fed. The power which produced these results should, of course, have been in his own hands—his money-making father-in-law should have seen that it was his affair to provide for that—but since he had not done so, it was rather entertaining that it should be, for the present, in the hands of this extraordinarily16 good-looking girl.
He had begun by merely thinking of her in this manner—as “this extraordinarily good-looking girl,” and had not, for a moment, hesitated before the edifying17 idea of its not being impossible to arrange a lively flirtation18 with her. She was at an age when, in his opinion, girlhood was poised19 for flight with adventure, and his tastes had not led him in the direction of youth which was fastidious. His Riviera episode had left his vanity blistered20 and requiring some soothing21 application. His life had worked evil with him, and he had fallen ill on the hands of a woman who had treated him as a shattered, useless thing whose day was done and with whom strength and bloom could not be burdened. He had kept his illness a hidden secret, on his return to Stornham, his one desire having been to forget—even to disbelieve in it, but dreams of its suggestion sometimes awakened22 him at night with shudders23 and cold sweat. He was hideously25 afraid of death and pain, and he had had monstrous26 pain—and while he had lain battling with it, upon his bed in the villa27 on the Mediterranean28, he had been able to hear, in the garden outside, the low voices and laughter of the Spanish dancer and the healthy, strong young fool who was her new adorer.
When he had found himself face to face with Betty in the avenue, after the first leap of annoyance29, which had suddenly died down into perversely30 interested curiosity, he could have laughed outright31 at the novelty and odd unexpectedness of the situation. The ill-mannered, impudently-staring, little New York beast had developed into THIS! Hang it! No man could guess what the embryo33 female creature might result in. His mere13 shakiness of physical condition added strength to her attraction. She was like a young goddess of health and life and fire; the very spring of her firm foot upon the moss34 beneath it was a stimulating thing to a man whose nerves sprung secret fears upon him. There were sparks between the sweep of her lashes35, but she managed to carry herself with the air of being as cool as a cucumber, which gave spice to the effort to “upset” her. If she did not prove suitably amenable36, there would be piquancy37 in getting the better of her—in stirring up unpleasant little things, which would make it easier for her to go away than remain on the spot—if one should end by choosing to get rid of her. But, for the moment, he had no desire to get rid of her. He wanted to see what she intended to do—to see the thing out, in fact. It amused him to hear that Mount Dunstan was on her track. There exists for persons of a certain type a pleasure full-fed by the mere sense of having “got even” with an opponent. Throughout his life he had made a point of “getting even” with those who had irritatingly crossed his path, or much disliked him. The working out of small or large plans to achieve this end had formed one of his most agreeable recreations. He had long owed Mount Dunstan a debt, which he had always meant to pay. He had not intended to forget the episode of the nice little village girl with whom Tenham and himself had been getting along so enormously well, when the raging young ass10 had found them out, and made an absurdly exaggerated scene, even going so far as threatening to smash the pair of them, marching off to the father and mother, and setting the vicar on, and then scratching together—God knows how—money enough to pack the lot off to America, where they had since done well. Why should a man forgive another who had made him look like a schoolboy and a fool? So, to find Mount Dunstan rushing down a steep hill into this thing, was edifying. You cannot take much out of a man if you never encounter him. If you meet him, you are provided by Heaven with opportunities. You can find out what he feels most sharply, and what he will suffer most by being deprived of. His impression was that there was a good deal to be got out of Mount Dunstan. He was an obstinate38, haughty39 devil, and just the fellow to conceal40 with a fury of pride a score of tender places in his hide.
At the ball he had seen that the girl's effect had been of a kind which even money and good looks uncombined with another thing might not have produced. And she had the other thing—whatsoever it might be. He observed the way in which the Dunholms met and greeted her, he marked the glance of the royal personage, and his manner, when after her presentation he conversed41 with and detained her, he saw the turning of heads and exchange of remarks as she moved through the rooms. Most especially, he took in the bearing of the very grand old ladies, led by Lady Alanby of Dole42. Barriers had thrown themselves down, these portentous43, rigorous old pussycats admired her, even liked her.
“Upon my word,” he said to himself. “She has a way with her, you know. She is a combination of Ethel Newcome and Becky Sharp. But she is more level-headed than either of them, There's a touch of Trix Esmond, too.”
The sense of the success which followed her, and the gradually-growing excitement of looking on at her light whirls of dance, the carnation44 of her cheek, and the laughter and pleasure she drew about her, had affected45 him in a way by which he was secretly a little exhilarated. He was conscious of a rash desire to force his way through these laughing, vaunting young idiots, juggle46 or snatch their dances away from them, and seize on the girl himself. He had not for so long a time been impelled47 by such agreeable folly that he had sometimes felt the stab of the thought that he was past it. That it should rise in him again made him feel young. There was nothing which so irritated him against Mount Dunstan as his own rebelling recognition of the man's youth, the strength of his fine body, his high-held head and clear eye.
These things and others it was which swayed him, as was plain to Betty in the time which followed, to many changes of mood.
“Are you sorry for a man who is ill and depressed,” he asked one day, “or do you despise him?”
“I am sorry.”
“Then be sorry for me.”
He had come out of the house to her as she sat on the lawn, under a broad, level-branched tree, and had thrown himself upon a rug with his hands clasped behind his head.
“Are you ill?”
“When I was on the Riviera I had a fall.” He lied simply. “I strained some muscle or other, and it has left me rather lame6. Sometimes I have a good deal of pain.”
“I am very sorry,” said Betty. “Very.”
A woman who can be made sorry it is rarely impossible to manage. To dwell with pathetic patience on your grievances48, if she is weak and unintelligent, to deplore49, with honest regret, your faults and blunders, if she is strong, are not bad ideas.
He looked at her reflectively.
“Yes, you are capable of being sorry,” he decided50. For a few moments of silence his eyes rested upon the view spread before him. To give the expression of dignified51 reflection was not a bad idea either.
“Do you know,” he said at length, “that you produce an extraordinary effect upon me, Betty?”
She was occupying herself by adding a few stitches to one of Rosy52's ancient strips of embroidery53, and as she answered, she laid it flat upon her knee to consider its effect.
“Good or bad?” she inquired, with delicate abstraction.
He turned his face towards her again—this time quickly.
“Both,” he answered. “Both.”
His tone held the flash of a heat which he felt should have startled her slightly. But apparently54 it did not.
“I do not like 'both,'” with composed lightness. “If you had said that you felt yourself develop angelic qualities when you were near me, I should feel flattered, and swell55 with pride. But 'both' leaves me unsatisfied. It interferes56 with the happy little conceit57 that one is an all-pervading, beneficent power. One likes to contemplate58 a large picture of one's self—not plain, but coloured—as a wholesale59 reformer.”
“I see. Thank you,” stiffly and flushing. “You do not believe me.”
Her effect upon him was such that, for the moment, he found himself choosing to believe that he was in earnest. His desire to impress her with his mood had actually led to this result. She ought to have been rather moved—a little fluttered, perhaps, at hearing that she disturbed his equilibrium60.
“You set yourself against me, as a child, Betty,” he said. “And you set yourself against me now. You will not give me fair play. You might give me fair play.” He dropped his voice at the last sentence, and knew it was well done. A touch of hopelessness is not often lost on a woman.
“What would you consider fair play?” she inquired.
“It would be fair to listen to me without prejudice—to let me explain how it has happened that I have appeared to you a—a blackguard—I have no doubt you would call it—and a fool.” He threw out his hand in an impatient gesture—impatient of himself—his fate—the tricks of bad fortune which it implied had made of him a more erring61 mortal than he would have been if left to himself, and treated decently.
“Do not put it so strongly,” with conservative politeness.
“I don't refuse to admit that I am handicapped by a devil of a temperament. That is an inherited thing.”
“Ah!” said Betty. “One of the temperaments62 one reads about—for which no one is to be blamed but one's deceased relatives. After all, that is comparatively easy to deal with. One can just go on doing what one wants to do—and then condemn63 one's grandparents severely64.”
A repellent quality in her—which had also the trick of transforming itself into an exasperating65 attraction—was that she deprived him of the luxury he had been most tenacious66 of throughout his existence. If the injustice67 of fate has failed to bestow68 upon a man fortune, good looks or brilliance69, his exercise of the power to disturb, to enrage70 those who dare not resent, to wound and take the nonsense out of those about him, will, at all events, preclude71 the possibility of his being passed over as a factor not to be considered. If to charm and bestow gives the sense of power, to thwart72 and humiliate73 may be found not wholly unsatisfying.
But in her case the inadequacy74 of the usual methods had forced itself upon him. It was as if the dart75 being aimed at her, she caught it in her hand in its flight, broke off its point and threw it lightly aside without comment. Most women cannot resist the temptation to answer a speech containing a sting or a reproach. It was part of her abnormality that she could let such things go by in a detached silence, which did not express even the germ of comment or opinion upon them. This, he said, was the result of her beastly sense of security, which, in its turn, was the result of the atmosphere of wealth she had breathed since her birth. There had been no obstacle which could not be removed for her, no law of limitation had laid its rein76 on her neck. She had not been taught by her existence the importance of propitiating77 opinion. Under such conditions, how was fear to be learned? She had not learned it. But for the devil in the blue between her lashes, he realised that he should have broken loose long ago.
“I suppose I deserved that for making a stupid appeal to sympathy,” he remarked. “I will not do it again.”
If she had been the woman who can be gently goaded78 into reply, she would have made answer to this. But she allowed the observation to pass, giving it free flight into space, where it lost itself after the annoying manner of its kind.
“Have you any objection to telling me why you decided to come to England this year?” he inquired, with a casual air, after the pause which she did not fill in.
The bluntness of the question did not seem to disturb her. She was not sorry, in fact, that he had asked it. She let her work lie upon her knee, and leaned back in her low garden chair, her hands resting upon its wicker arms. She turned on him a clear unprejudiced gaze.
“I came to see Rosy. I have always been very fond of her. I did not believe that she had forgotten how much we had loved her, or how much she had loved us. I knew that if I could see her again I should understand why she had seemed to forget us.”
“And when you saw her, you, of course, decided that I had behaved, to quote my own words—like a blackguard and a fool.”
“It is, of course, very rude to say you have behaved like a fool, but—if you'll excuse my saying so—that is what has impressed me very much. Don't you know,” with a moderation, which singularly drove itself home, “that if you had been kind to her, and had made her happy, you could have had anything you wished for—without trouble?”
This was one of the unadorned facts which are like bullets. Disgustedly, he found himself veering79 towards an outlook which forced him to admit that there was probably truth in what she said, and he knew he heard more truth as she went on.
“She would have wanted only what you wanted, and she would not have asked much in return. She would not have asked as much as I should. What you did was not businesslike.” She paused a moment to give thought to it. “You paid too high a price for the luxury of indulging the inherited temperament. Your luxury was not to control it. But it was a bad investment.”
“The figure of speech is rather commercial,” coldly.
“It is curious that most things are, as a rule. There is always the parallel of profit and loss whether one sees it or not. The profits are happiness and friendship—enjoyment of life and approbation80. If the inherited temperament supplies one with all one wants of such things, it cannot be called a loss, of course.”
“You think, however, that mine has not brought me much?”
“I do not know. It is you who know.”
“Well,” viciously, “there HAS been a sort of luxury in it in lashing81 out with one's heels, and smashing things—and in knowing that people prefer to keep clear.”
She lifted her shoulders a little.
“Then perhaps it has paid.”
“No,” suddenly and fie............
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