It all became possible by the Walshinghams—it would seem at Coote’s instigation—deciding, after all, not to spend the holidays at Bruges. Instead they remained in Folkestone, and this happy chance gave Kipps just all those opportunities of which he stood in need.
His crowning day was at Lympne, and long before the summer warmth began to break, while, indeed, August still flamed on high. They had organised—no one seemed to know who suggested it first—a water party on the still reaches of the old military canal at Hythe, and they were to picnic by the brick bridge, and afterwards to clamber to Lympne Castle. The host of the gathering, it was understood very clearly, was Kipps.
They went a merry party. The canal was weedy, with only a few inches of water at the shallows, and so they went in three canoes. Kipps had learnt to paddle; it had been his first athletic accomplishment; and his second—with the last three or four of ten private lessons still to come—was to be cycling. But Kipps did not paddle at all badly; muscles hardened by lifting pieces of cretonne could cut a respectable figure by the side of Coote’s exertions, and the girl with the freckles, the girl who understood him, came in his canoe. They raced the Walshinghams, brother and sister; and Coote, in a liquefying state and blowing mightily, but still persistent, and always quite polite and considerate, toiled behind with Mrs. Walshingham. She could not be expected to paddle (though, of course, she ‘offered’), and she reclined upon specially adjusted cushions under a black-and-white sunshade, and watched Kipps and her daughter, and feared at intervals that Coote was getting hot.
They were all more or less in holiday costume; the eyes of the girls looked out under the shade of wide-brimmed hats; even the freckled girl was unexpectedly pretty, and Helen, swinging sunlight to her paddle, gave Kipps, almost for the first time, the suggestion of a graceful body. Kipps was arrayed in the completest boating costume, and when his fashionable Panama was discarded and his hair blown into disorder, he became, in his white flannels, as sightly as most young men. His complexion was a notable asset.
Things favoured him, the day favoured him, every one favoured him. Young Walshingham, the girl with the freckles, Coote, and Mrs. Walshingham, were playing up to him in the most benevolent way, and between the landing-place and Lympne, Fortune, to crown their efforts, had placed a small convenient field entirely at the disposal of an adolescent bull. Not a big, real, resolute bull but, on the other hand, no calf; a young bull, at the same stage of emotional development as Kipps, ‘where the brook and river meet.’ Detachedly our party drifted towards him.
When they landed, young Walshingham, with the simple directness of a brother, abandoned his sister to Kipps and secured the freckled girl, leaving Coote to carry Mrs. Walshingham’s light wool wrap. He started at once in order to put an effectual distance between himself and his companion on the one hand, and a certain pervasive chaperonage that went with Coote, on the other. Young Walshingham, I think I have said, was dark, with a Napoleonic profile, and it was natural for him therefore to be a bold thinker and an epigrammatic speaker, and he had long ago discovered great possibilities of appreciation in the freckled girl. He was in a very happy frame that day because he had just been entrusted with the management of Kipps’ affairs (old Bean inexplicably dismissed), and that was not a bad beginning for a solicitor of only a few months’ standing; and, moreover, he had been reading Nietzsche, and he thought that in all probability he was the Non-Moral Overman referred to by that writer. He wore fairly large-sized hats. He wanted to expand the theme of the Non-Moral Overman in the ear of the freckled girl, to say it over, so to speak, and in order to seclude his exposition they went aside from the direct path and trespassed through a coppice, avoiding the youthful bull. They escaped to these higher themes but narrowly, for Coote and Mrs. Walshingham, subtle chaperones both, and each indisposed, for excellent reasons, to encumber Kipps and Helen, were hot upon their heels. These two kept the direct route to the stile of the bull’s field, and the sight of the animal at once awakened Coote’s innate aversion to brutality in any shape or form. He said the stiles were too high, and that they could do better by going round by the hedge, and Mrs. Walshingham, nothing loath, agreed.
This left the way clear for Kipps and Helen, and they encountered the bull. Helen did not observe the bull; Kipps did; but that afternoon, at any rate, he was equal to facing a lion. And the bull really came at them. It was not an affair of the bull-ring exactly, no desperate rushes and gorings, but he came; he regarded them with a large, wicked, bluish eye, opened a mouth below his moistly glistening nose, and booed, at any rate, if he did not exactly bellow, and he shook his head wickedly, and showed that tossing was in his mind. Helen was frightened, without any loss of dignity, and Kipps went extremely white. But he was perfectly calm, and he seemed to her to have lost the last vestiges of his accent and his social shakiness. He directed her to walk quietly towards the stile, and made an oblique advance towards the bull.
‘You be orf!’ he said—
When Helen was well over the stile, Kipps withdrew in good order. He got over the stile, under cover of a feint, and the thing was done—a small thing, no doubt, but just enough to remove from Helen’s mind an incorrect deduction that a man who was so terribly afraid of a teacup as Kipps must necessarily be abjectly afraid of everything else in the world. In her moment of reaction she went, perhaps too far in the opposite direction. Hitherto Kipps had always had a certain flimsiness of effect for her. Now, suddenly, he was discovered solid. He was discovered possible in many new ways. Here, after all, was the sort of back a woman can get behind! . . .
As they went past the turf-crowned mass of Portus Lemanus, up the steep slopes towards the castle on the crest, the thing was almost manifest in her eyes.
Every one who stays in Folkestone goes sooner or later to Lympne. The Castle became a farm-house, and the farm-house, itself now ripe and venerable, wears the walls of the castle as a little man wears a big man’s coat. The kindliest of farm ladies entertains a perpetual stream of visitors, and shows you her vast mangle and her big kitchen, and takes you out upon the sunniest little terrace-garden in all the world, and you look down the sheep-dotted slopes, to where, beside the canal and under the trees, the crumbled memories of Rome sleep for ever. One climbs the Keep, up a tortuous spiral of stone, worn to the pitch of perforation, and there one is lifted to the centre of far more than a hemisphere of view. Away below one’s feet, almost at the bottom of the hill, the Marsh begins and spreads and spreads in a mighty crescent that sweeps about the sea, the Marsh dotted with the church towers of forgotten mediaeval towns, and breaking at last into the low blue hills by Winchelsea and Hastings; east hangs France between the sea and sky; and round the north, bounding the wide perspectives of farms and houses and woods, the Downs, with their hangers and chalk-pits, sustain the passing shadows of the sailing clouds.
And here it was, high out of the world of every day, and in the presence of spacious beauty, that Kipps and Helen found themselves agreeably alone. All six, it had seemed, had been coming for the Keep; but Mrs. Walshingham had hesitated at the horrid little stairs, and then suddenly felt faint, and so she and the freckled girl had remained below, walking up and down in the shadow of the house; and Coote had remembered they were all out of cigarettes, and had taken off young Walshingham into the village. There had been shouting to explain between ground and parapet, and then Helen and Kipps turned again to the view and commended it, and fell silent.
Helen sat fearlessly in an embrasure, and Kipps stood beside her.
‘I’ve always been fond, of scenery,’ Kipps repeated, after an interval. Then he went off at a tangent. ‘D’you reely think that was right what Coote was saying?’
She looked interrogation.
‘About my name.’
‘Being really C-U-Y-P-S? I have my doubts. I thought at first—What makes Mr. Coote add an ‘S’ to Cuyp?’
‘I dunno,’ said Kipps, foiled. ‘I was jest thinking’ . . .
She shot one wary glance at him, and then turned her eyes to the sea.
Kipps was out for a space. He had intended to lead from this question to the general question of surnames and change of names; it had seemed a light and witty way of saying something he had in mind, and suddenly he perceived that this was an unutterably vulgar and silly project. The hitch about that ‘S’ had saved him. He regarded her profile for a moment, framed in weatherbeaten stone, and backed by the blue elements.
He dropped the question of his name out of existence, and spoke again of the view. ‘When I see scenery—and things that—that are beautiful, it makes me feel—’
She looked at him suddenly, and saw him fumbling for his words.
‘Silly like,’ he said.
She took him in with her glance, the old look of proprietorship it was, touched with a certain warmth. She spoke in a voice as unambiguous as her eyes. ‘You needn’t,’ she said. ‘You know, Mr. Kipps, you hold yourself too cheap.’
Her eyes and words smote him with amazement. He stared at her like a man who awakens. She looked down. ‘You mean—’ he said; and then, ‘Don’t you hold me cheap?’
She glanced up again and shook her head.
‘But—for instance—you don’t think of me—as an equal like.’
‘Oo! But, reely—’
His heart beat very fast.
‘If I thought—’ he said; and then, ‘You know so much.’
‘That’s nothing,’ she said.
Then for a long time, as it seemed to them, both kept silence—a silence that said and accomplished many things.
‘I know what I am,’ he said at length . . . ‘If I thought it was possible . . . If I thought you. . . . I believe I could do anything—’
He stopped, and she sat downcast and strikingly still.
‘Miss Walshingham,’ he said, ‘is it possible that you . . . could care for me enough to—to ’elp me? Miss Walshingham, do you care for me at all?’
It seemed she was never going to answer. She looked up at him. ‘I think,’ she said, ‘you are the most generous—look at what you have done for my brother!—the most generous and the most modest of—men. And this afternoon—I thought you were the bravest.’
She turned her head, glanced down, waved her hand to some one on the terrace below, and stood up. ‘Mother is signalling,’ she said. ‘We must go down.’
Kipps became polite and deferential by habit, but his mind was a tumult that had nothing to do with that. He moved before her towards the little door that opened on the winding stairs—‘always precede a lady down or up stairs’—and then, on the second step, he turned resolutely ‘But—’ he said, looking up out of the shadow, flannel clad and singularly like a man.
She looked down on him, with her hand upon the stone lintel.
He held out his hand as if to help her. ‘Can you tell me?’ he said. ‘You must know—’
‘If you care for me?’
She did not answer for a long time. It was as if every thing in the world was drawn to the breaking-point, and in a minute must certainly break. ‘Yes,’ she said at last. ‘I know.’
Abruptly, by some impalpable sign, he knew what the answer would be, and he remained still.
She bent down over him and softened to her wonderful smile.
‘Promise me,’ she insisted.
He promised with his still face.
‘If I do not hold you cheap, you will never hold yourself cheap.’
‘If you do not hold me cheap! You mean?’
She bent down quite close to him. ‘I hold you,’ she said, and then whispered, ‘dear.’
She laughed aloud.
He was astonished beyond measure. He stipulated lest there might yet be some misconception. ‘You will marry me?’
She was laughing, inundated by the sense of bountiful power, of possession and success. He looked quite a nice little man to have. ‘Yes,’ she laughed. ‘What else could I mean?’ and, ‘Yes.’
He felt as a praying hermit might have felt, snatched from the midst of his quiet devotions, his modest sackcloth and ashes, and hurled neck and crop over the glittering gates of Paradise, smack among the iridescent wings, the bright-eyed Cherubim. He felt like some lowly and righteous man dynamited into Bliss . . .
His hand tightened on the rope that steadies one upon the stairs of stone. He was for kissing her hand and did not.
He said not a word more. He turned about, and, with something very like a scared expression on his face, led the way into the obscurity of their descent . . .
Every one seemed to understand. Nothing was said, nothing was explained; the merest touch of the eyes sufficed. As they clustered in the castle gateway, Coote, Kipps remembered afterwards, laid hold of his arm as if by chance, and pressed it. It was quite evident he knew. His eyes, his nose, shone with benevolent congratulation; shone, too, with the sense of a good thing conducted to its climax. Mrs. Walshingham, who had seemed a little fatigued by the hill, recovered, and was even obviously stirred by affection for her daughter. There was in passing a motherly caress. She asked Kipps to give her his arm in walking down the steep. Kipps in a sort of dream obeyed. He found himself trying to attend to her, and soon he was attending.
She and Kipps talked like sober, responsible people and went slowly, while the others drifted down the hill together, a loose little group of four. He wondered momentarily what they would talk about, and then sank into his conversation with Mrs. Walshingham. He conversed, as it were, out of his superficial personality, and his inner self lay stunned in unsuspected depths within. It had an air of being an interesting and friendly talk, almost their first long talk together. Hitherto he had had a sort of fear of Mrs. Walshingham, as of a person possibly satirical, but she proved a soul of sense and sentiment, and Kipps, for all his abstraction, got on with her unexpectedly well. They talked a little upon scenery and the inevitable melancholy attaching to old ruins and the thought of vanished generations.
‘Perhaps they jousted here,’ said Mrs. Walshingham.
‘They was up to all sorts of things,’ said Kipps; and then the two came round to Helen. She spoke of her daughter’s literary ambitions. ‘She will do something, I feel sure. You know, Mr. Kipps, it’s a great responsibility to a mother to feel her daughter is—exceptionally clever.’
‘I dessay it is,’ said Kipps. ‘There’s no mistake about that.’
She spoke, too, of her son—almost like Helen’s twin—alike yet different. She made Kipps feel quite fatherly.
‘They are so quick, so artistic,’ she said, ‘so full of ideas. Almost they frighten me. One feels they need opportunities—as other people need air.’
She spoke of Helen’s writing. ‘Even when she was quite a little tot she wrote verse.’
‘Her father had just the same tastes—’ Mrs. Walshingham turned a little beam of half-pathetic reminiscence on the past. ‘He was more artist than business man. That was the trouble . . . He was misled by his partner, and when the crash came every one blamed him . . . Well, it doesn’t do to dwell on horrid things . . . especially to-day. There are bright days, Mr. Kipps, and dark days. And mine have not always been bright.’
Kipps presented a face of Coote-like sympathy.
She diverged to talk of flowers, and Kipps’ mind was filled with the picture of Helen bending down towards him in the Keep . . .
They spread the tea under the trees before the little inn, and at a certain moment Kipps became aware that every one in the party was simultaneously and furtively glancing at him. There might have been a certain tension had it not been first of all for Coote and his tact, and afterwards for a number of wasps. Coote was resolved to make this memorable day pass off well, and displayed an almost boisterous sense of fun. Then young Walshingham began talking of the Roman remains below Lympne, intending to lead up to the Overman. ‘These old Roman chaps—’ he said; and then the wasps arrived. They killed three in the jam alone.
Kipps killed wasps, as it were in a dream, and handed things to the wrong people, and maintained a thin surface of ordinary intelligence with the utmost difficulty. At times he became aware—aware with an extraordinary vividness—of Helen. Helen was carefully not looking at him, and behaving with amazing coolness and ease. But just for that one time there was the faintest suggestion of pink beneath the ivory of her cheeks . . .
Tacitly the others conceded to Kipps the right to paddle back with Helen; he helped her into the canoe and took his paddle and, paddling slowly, dropped behind the others. And now his inner self stirred again. He said nothing to her. How could he ever say anything to her again? She spoke to him at rare intervals about reflections and flowers and the trees, and he nodded in reply. But his mind moved very slowly forward now from the point at which it had fallen stunned in the Lympne Keep, moving forward to the beginnings of realisation. As yet he did not say even in the recesses of his heart that she was his! But he perceived that the goddess had come from her altar, amazingly, and had taken him by the hand!
The sky was a vast splendour, and then close to them were the dark protecting trees, and the shining, smooth still water.
He was an erect black outline to her; he plied his paddle with no unskilful gesture; the water broke to snaky silver and glittered far behind his strokes. Indeed, he did not seem so bad to her. Youth calls to youth the wide world through, and her soul rose in triumph over his subjection. And behind him was money and opportunity, freedom, and London, a great background of seductively indistinct hopes. To him her face was a warm dimness. In truth he could not see her eyes, but it seemed to his love-witched brain he did, and that they shone out at him like dusky stars.
All the world that evening was no more than a shadowy frame of darkling sky and water and dipping boughs about Helen. He seemed to see through things with an extraordinary clearness; she was revealed to him certainly as the cause and essence of it all.
He was, indeed, at his Heart’s Desire. It was one of those times when there seems to be no future, when Time has stopped and we are at the end. Kipps that evening could not have imagined a to-morrow; all that his imagination had pointed towards was attained. His mind stood still, and took the moments as they came.
About nine that night Coote came round to Kipps’ new apartment in the Upper Sandgate Road—the house on the Leas had been let furnished and Kipps made an effort towards realisation. He was discovered sitting at the open window and without a lamp—quite still. Coote was deeply moved, and he pressed Kipps’ palm and laid a knobby white hand on his shoulder, and displayed the sort of tenderness becoming in a crisis. Kipps, too, was moved that night and treated Coote like a very dear brother.
‘She’s splendid,’ said Coote, coming to it abruptly.
‘Isn’t she?’ said Kipps.
‘I couldn’t help noticing her face,’ said Coote . . . ‘You know, my dear Kipps, this is better than a legacy.’
‘I don’t deserve it,’ said Kipps.
‘You can’t say that.’
‘I don’t. I can’t ’ardly believe it. I can’t believe it at all. No!’
There followed an expressive stillness.
‘It’s wonderful,’ said Kipps. ‘It takes me like that.’
Coote made a faint blowing noise, and so again they came for a time on silence.
‘And it began—before your money?’
‘When I was in ’er class,’ said Kipps solemnly.
Coote speaking out of a darkness which he was illuminating strangely with efforts to strike a match, said it was beautiful. He could not have wished Kipps a better fortune.
He lit a cigarette, and Kipps was moved to the same, with a sacramental expression.
Presently speech flowed more freely.
Coote began to praise Helen, and her mother and brother; he talked of when ‘it’ might be; he presented the thing as concrete and credible. ‘It’s a county family, you know,’ he said. ‘She is connected, you know, with the Beauprés family—you know Lord Beauprés.’
‘No!’ said Kipps, ‘reely!’
‘Distantly, of course,’ said Coote. ‘Still—’ He smiled a smile that glimmered in the twilight.
‘It’s too much,’ said Kipps, overcome. ‘It’s so all like that.’
Coote exhaled. For a time Kipps listened to Helen’s praises and matured a point of view.
‘I say, Coote,’ he said. ‘What ought I to do now?’
‘What do you mean?’ said Coote.
‘I mean about calling on ’er and all that.’
He reflected. ‘Naturally I want to do it all right.’
‘Of course,’ said Coote.
‘It would be awful to go and do something now—all wrong.’
Coote’s cigarette glowed as he meditated. ‘You must call, of course,’ he decided. ‘You’ll have to speak to Mrs. Walshingham.’
‘’Ow?’ said Kipps.
‘Tell her you mean to marry her daughter.’
‘I dessay she knows,’ said Kipps, with defensive penetration.
Coote’s head was visible, shaking itself judicially.
‘Then there’s the ring,’ said Kipps. ‘What ’ave I to do about that?’
‘What ring do you mean?’
‘’Ngagement Ring. There isn’t anything at all about that in Manners and Rules of Good Society—not a word.’
‘Of course you must get something—tasteful. Yes.’
‘What sort of ring?’
‘Something nace. They’ll show you in the shop.’
‘O’ course. I s’pose I got to take it to ’er, eh? Put it on ’er finger.’
‘Oh, no! Send it. Much better.’
‘Ah!’ said Kipps for the first time with a note of relief. ‘Then ’ow about this call?—on Mrs. Walshingham, I mean. ’Ow ought one to go?’
‘Rather a ceremonial occasion,’ reflected Coote.
‘Wadyer mean? Frock coat?’
‘I think so,’ said Coote, with discrimination. ‘Light trousers, and all that?’
‘I think it might run to a buttonhole.’
The curtain that hung over the future became less opaque to the eyes of Kipps. To-morrow, and then other days, became perceptible at least as existing. Frock coat, silk hat, and a rose! With a certain solemnity he contemplated himself in the process of slow ‘transformation into an English gentleman.’ Arthur Cuyps, frock-coated on occasions of ceremony, the familiar acquaintance of Lady Punnet, the recognised wooer of a distant connection of the Earl of Beauprés.
Something like awe at the magnitude of his own fortunes came upon him. He felt the world was opening out like a magic flower in a transformation scene at the touch of this wand of gold. And Helen, nestling beautiful in the red heart of the flower. Only ten weeks ago he had been no more than the shabbiest of improvers and shamefully dismissed for dissipation, the mere soil-buried seed, as it were, of these glories. He resolved the engagement ring should be of impressively excessive quality and appearance, in fact the very best they had.
‘Ought I to send ’er flowers?’ he speculated.
‘Not necessarily,’ said Coote. ‘Though, of course, it’s an attention’ . . .
Kipps meditated on flowers.
‘When you see her,’ said Coote, ‘you’ll have to ask her to name the day.’
Kipps started. ‘That won’t be just yet a bit, will it?’
‘Don’t know any reason for delay.’
‘Oo, but—a year say.’
‘Rather a long taime,’ said Coote.
‘Is it?’ said Kipps, turning his head sharply. ‘But—’
There was quite a long pause.
‘I say!’ he said at last, and in an altered voice, ‘you’ll ’ave to ’elp me about the wedding.’
‘Only too happy!’ said Coote.
‘O’ course,’ said Kipps. ‘I didn’t think—’ He changed his line of thought. ‘Coote,’ he asked, ‘wot’s a ‘tate-eh-tate’?’
‘A ‘tate-ah-tate,’ said Coote improvingly, ‘is a conversation alone together.’
‘Lor!’ said Kipps, ‘but I thought—It says strictly we oughtn’t to enjoy a tater-tay, not sit together, walk together, or meet during any part of the day. That don’t leave much time for meeting, does it?’
‘The book says that?’ asked Coote.
‘I jest learn it by ’eart before you came. I thought that was a bit rum, but I ‘spose it’s all right.’
‘You won’t find Mrs. Walshingham so strict as all that,’ said Coote. ‘I think that’s a bit extreme. They’d only do that now in very strict old aristocratic families. Besides, the Walshinghams are so modern—advanced you might say. I expect you’ll get plenty of chances of talking together.’
‘There’s a tremendous lot to think about,’ said Kipps, blowing a profound sigh. ‘D’you mean—p’raps we might be married in a few months or so?’
‘You’ll have to be,’ said Coote. ‘Why not?’ . . .
Midnight found Kipps alone, looking a little tired, and turning over the leaves of the red-covered text-book with a studious expression. He paused for a moment at page 233, his eye caught by the words:
‘For an uncle or aunt by marriage the period is six weeks black with jet trimmings.’
‘No,’ said Kipps, after a vigorous mental effort, ‘That’s not it.’ The pages rustled again. He stopped and flattened out the little book decisively at the beginning of the chapter on ‘Weddings.
‘He became pensive. He stared at the lamp-wick. ‘I suppose I ought to go over and tell them,’ he said at last.
Kipps called on Mrs. Walshingham attired in the proper costume for Ceremonial Occasions in the Day. He carried a silk hat, and he wore a deep-skirted frock-coat; his boots were patent leather, and his trousers a dark gray. He had generous white cuffs with gold links, and his gray gloves, one thumb of which had burst when he put them on, he held loosely in his hand. He carried a small umbrella, rolled to an exquisite tightness. A sense of singular correctness pervaded his being and warred with the enormity of the occasion for possession of his soul. Anon he touched his silk cravat. The world smelt of his rosebud.
He seated himself on a newly re-covered chintz armchair, and stuck out the elbow of the arm that held his hat.
‘I know,’ said Mrs. Walshingham, ‘I know everything,’ and helped him out most amazingly. She deepened the impression he had already received of her sense and refinement. She displayed an amount of tenderness that touched him.
‘This is a great thing,’ she said, ‘to a mother,’ and her hand rested for a moment on his impeccable coat-sleeve.
‘A daughter, Arthur,’ she exclaimed, ‘is so much more than a son.’
Marriage, she said, was a lottery, and without love and toleration—there was much unhappiness. Her life had not always been bright—there had been dark days and bright days. She smiled rather sweetly. ‘This is a bright one,’ she said.
She said very kind and flattering things to Kipps, and she thanked him for his goodness to her son. (‘That wasn’t anything,’ said Kipps.) And then she expanded upon the theme of her two children. ‘Both so accomplished,’ she said, ‘so clever. I call them my Twin Jewels.’
She was repeating a remark she had made at Lympne that she always said her children needed opportunities as other people needed air, when she was abruptly arrested by the entry of Helen. They hung on a pause, Helen perhaps surprised by Kipps’ week-day magnificence. Then she advanced with outstretched hand.
Both the young people were shy. ‘I jest called round,’ began Kipps, and became uncertain how to end.
‘Won’t you have some tea?’ asked Helen.
She walked to the window, looked at the familiar outporter’s barrow, turned, surveyed Kipps for a moment ambiguously, said, ‘I will get some tea,’ and so departed again.
Mrs. Walshingham and Kipps looked at one another, and the lady smiled indulgently. ‘You two young people mustn’t be shy of each other,’ said Mrs. Walshingham, which damaged Kipps considerably.
She was explaining how sensitive Helen always had been, even about quite little things, when the servant appeared with the tea-things; and then Helen followed, and, taking up a secure position behind the little bamboo tea-table, broke the ice with officious teacup clattering. Then she introduced the topic of a forth-coming open-air performance of As You Like It, and steered past the worst of the awkwardness. They discussed stage illusion. ‘I mus’ say,’ said Kipps, ‘I don’t quite like a play in a theayter. It seems sort of unreal some’ow.’
‘But most plays are written for the stage,’ said Helen, looking at the sugar.
‘I know,’ admitted Kipps.
They got through tea. ‘Well,’ said Kipps, and rose.
‘You mustn’t go yet,’ said Mrs. Walshingham, rising and taking his hand. ‘I’m sure you two must have heaps to say to each other’; and so she escaped towards the door.
Among other projects that seemed almost equally correct to Kipps at that exalted moment was one of embracing Helen with ardour so soon as the door closed behind her mother, and one of headlong flight through the open window. Then he remembered he ought to hold the door open for Mrs. Walshingham, and turned from that duty to find Helen still standing, beautifully inaccessible, behind the tea-things. He closed the door and advanced towards her with his arms akimbo and his hands upon his coat skirts. Then feeling angular, he moved his right hand to his moustache. Anyhow, he was dressed all right. Somewhere at the back of his mind, dim and mingled with doubt and surprise, appeared the perception that he felt now quite differently towards her, that something between them had been blown from Lympne Keep to the four winds of heaven—
She regarded him with an eye of critical proprietorship.
‘Mother has been making up to you,’ she said, smiling slightly.
She added, ‘It was nice of you to come round to see her.’
They stood through a brief pause, as though each had expected something different in the other, and was a little perplexed at its not being there. Kipps found he was at the corner of the brown-covered table, and he picked up a little flexible book that lay upon it to occupy his mind.
‘I bought you a ring to-day,’ he said, bending the book and speaking for the sake of saying something, and then he moved to genuine speech. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I can’t ’ardly believe it.’
Her face relaxed slightly again. ‘No?’ she said, and may have breathed, ‘Nor I.’
‘No,’ he went on. ‘It’s as though everything ’ad changed. More even than when I got that money. ’Ere we are going to marry. It’s like being someone else. What I feel is—’
He turned a flushed and earnest face to her. He seemed to come alive to her with one natural gesture. ‘I don’t know things. I’m not good enough. I’m not refined. The more you see of me, the more you’ll find me out.’
‘But I’m going to help you.’
‘You’ll ’ave to ’elp me a fearful lot.’
She walked to the window, glanced out of it, made up her mind, turned and came towards him, with her hands clasped behind her back.
‘All these things that trouble you are very little things. If you don’t mind—if you will let me tell you things—’
‘I wish you would.’
‘Then I will.’
‘They’re little things to you, but they aren’t to me.’
‘It all depends, if you don’t mind being told.’
‘I don’t expect you to be told by strangers.’
‘Oo!’ said Kipps, expressing much.
‘You know, there are just a few little things—For instance, you know, you are careless with your pronunciation . . . You don’t mind my telling you?’
‘I like it,’ said Kipps.
‘I know,’ said Kipps, and then endorsingly, ‘I been told. Fact is, I know a chap, a Nacter, he’s told me. He’s told me, and he’s going to give me a lesson or so.’
‘I’m glad of that. It only requires a little care.’
‘Of course, on the stage they got to look out. They take regular lessons.’
‘Of course,’ said Helen, a little absently.
‘I dessay I shall soon get into it,’ said Kipps.
‘And then there’s dress,’ said Helen, taking up her thread again.
Kipps became pink, but he remained respectfully attentive.
‘You don’t mind?’ she said.
‘You mustn’t be too—too dressy. It’s possible to be over conventional, over elaborate. It makes you look like a shop . . . like a common well-off person. There’s a sort of easiness that is better. A real gentleman looks right, without looking as though he had tried to be right.’
‘Jest as though ’e’d put on what came first?’ said the pupil in a faded voice.
‘Not exactly that, but a sort of ease.’
Kipps nodded his head intelligently. In his heart he was kicking his silk hat about the room in an ecstasy of disappointment.
‘And you must accustom yourself to be more at your ease when you are with people,’ said Helen. ‘You’ve only got to forget yourself a little and not be anxious—’
‘I’ll try,’ said Kipps, looking rather hard at the tea-pot. ‘I’ll do my best to try.’
‘I know you will,’ she said; and laid a hand for an instant upon his shoulder and withdrew it.
He did not perceive her caress. ‘One has to learn,’ he said. His attention was distracted by the strenuous efforts that were going on in the back of his head to translate, ‘I say, didn’t you ought to name the day?’ into easy as well as elegant English, a struggle that was still undecided when the time came for them to part . . .
He sat for a long time at the open window of his sitting-room with an intent face, recapitulating that interview. His eyes rested at last almost reproachfully on the silk hat beside him. ‘’Ow is one to know?’ he asked. His attention was caught by a rubbed place in the nap, and, still thoughtful, he rolled up his handkerchief skilfully into a soft ball and began to smooth this down.
‘’Ow the Juice is one to know?’ he said, putting down the hat with some emphasis.
He rose up, went across the room to the sideboard, and, standing there, opened and began to read in Manners and Rules.