THE SHIVERING FIT
They were to start on the 8th of August,
and it was now the 5th. Packing had begun, and
Crewdson, as usual, was troublesome. He had the
habit of appearing before Lucy and presenting some
small deficiency as a final cause of ruin and defeat.
“I can’t find any of the Brown Polish,
ma’am. I don’t know what Mr. Macartney
will do without it.” This, or something
like it, had become a classic in the family. It
had always been part of the fun of going away.
But this year Lucy was fretted by it. She supposed
herself run down and whipped herself to work.
She found herself, too, lingering about the house,
with an affection for the familiar aspect of corners,
vistas, tricks of light and shadow, which she had
never thought to possess. She felt extremely
unwilling to leave it all. It was safety, it was
friendliness; it asked no effort of her. To turn
away from its lustrous and ordered elegance and face
the unknown gave her a pain in the heart. It was
odd to feel homesick before she had left home; but
that was the sum of it. She was homesick.
Urquhart was very much in her mind; a letter of his
was in her writing-table drawer, under lock and key;
but Urquhart seemed part of a vague menace now, while
James, though he did his unconscious utmost to defeat
himself, got his share of the sunset glow upon the
house. Fanciful, nervous, weary of it all as she
was, she devoted herself to her duties; and then,
on this fifth of August, in the afternoon, she had
a waking vision, perfectly distinct, and so vivid
that, disembodied and apart, she could see herself
enacting it. It was followed by a shivering fit
and depression; but that must tell its own tale.
The vision occurred while she was
on her knees, busied beside a trunk, turning over
garments of lace and fine linen and pale blue ribbons
which a maid, in the same fair attitude, was bestowing
as she received them. Lancelot was out for the
afternoon with Crewdson and a friend. They had
gone to the Zoological Gardens, and would not be back
till late. She had the house to herself; it was
cool and shadowed from the sun. The Square, muffled
in the heat, gave no disturbing sounds. Looking
up suddenly, for no apparent reason, she saw herself
with Jimmy Urquhart in a great empty, stony place,
and felt the dry wind which blew upon them both.
All but her own face was visible; of that she saw
nothing but the sharp outline of her cheek, which was
very white. She saw herself holding her hat,
bending sideways to the gale; she saw her skirt cling
about her legs, and flack to get free. She wondered
why she didn’t hold it down. The wind was
a hot one; she felt that it was so. It made her
head ache, and burned her cheek-bone. Urquhart
was quite visible. He looked into the teeth of
the wind, frowning and fretful. Why didn’t
she say something to him? She had a conviction
that it was useless. “There’s nothing
to say, nothing to say.” That rang in her
head, like a church bell. “Nothing to say,
nothing to say.” A sense of desolation and
total loss oppressed her. She had no hope.
The vacancy, the silence, the enormous dry emptiness
about her seemed to shut out all her landmarks.
Why didn’t she think of Lancelot? She wondered
why, but realised that Lancelot meant nothing out
there. She saw herself turn about. She cried
out, “James! James!” started up with
a sense of being caught, and saw the maid’s
face of scare. She was awake in a moment.
“What is it, ma’am? What is it?”
Lucy had recovered her faculties:
“Nothing, Emily; it’s nothing. I was
giddy.” But she was shivering and couldn’t
go on. “I think I’ll lie down for
a minute,” she said, and asked for the aspirin.
She took two tabloids and a sip of water, was covered
up and left to herself. Emily tiptoed away, full
of interest in the affair.
The shivering fit lasted the better
part of an hour. Lucy crouched and suffered,
open-eyed but without any consciousness. Something
had happened, was happening still; a storm was raging
overhead; she lay quaking and waited for it to pass.
She fell asleep, slept profoundly, and awoke slowly
to a sense of things. She had no doubt of what
lay immediately before her. Disrelish of the
Norwegian expedition was now a reasonable thing.
Either it must be given up, or the disaster reckoned
with. Advienne que pourra. But in either case
she must “have it out” with James.
What did that mean? Jimmy Urquhart would be thrown
over. He would go and she would not.
She lay, picturing rather than reasoning; saw him
superbly capable, directing everything. She felt
a pride in him, and in herself for discovering how
fine he was. His fineness, indeed, was a thing
shared. She felt a sinking of the heart to know
that she could not be there. But the mere thought
of that sickened her. Out of the question.
She must “have it out”
with James. That might be rather dreadful; it
might take her where she must refuse to go but
on the whole, she didn’t think it need.
The certainty that she couldn’t go to Norway,
that James must be made to see it, was a moral buttress.
Timidity of James would not prevail against it.
Besides that, deeply within herself, lay the conviction
that James was kind if you took him the right way.
He was irritable, and very annoying when he was sarcastic;
but he was good at heart. And it was odd, she
thought, that directly she got into an awkward place
with a flirtation, her first impulse was to go to
James to get her out. In her dream she had called
to him, though Urquhart had been there. Why was
She was thinking now like a child,
which indeed she was where such matters were concerned.
She was not really contrite for what she had done,
neither regretted that she had done it, nor that it
was done with. She wanted to discharge her bosom
of perilous stuff. James would forgive her.
He must not know, of course, what he was forgiving;
but yes, he would forgive her.
At six or thereabouts, listening for
it, she heard the motor bring James home; she heard
his latch-key, and the shutting of the door behind
him. Her heart beat high, but she did not falter.
He was reading a letter in the hall when she came
downstairs; he was very much aware of her, but pretended
not to be. She stood on the bottom stair looking
at him with wide and fixed eyes; but he would not look
up. He was not just then in a mood either to make
advances or to receive them. His grievance was
heavy upon him.
“James,” said Lucy, “I’ve
been listening for you.”
“Too good,” said he, and went on with
“I wanted to tell you that I
don’t think that I don’t much
want to go to Norway.”
Then he did look up, keenly, with
a drawn appearance about his mouth, showing his teeth.
“Eh?” he said. “Oh, absurd.”
He occupied himself with his letter, folding it for
its envelope, while she watched him with a pale intensity
which ought to have told him, and perhaps did tell
him, what she was suffering.
“I don’t think you should
call me absurd,” she said. “I was
never very certain of it.”
“But, my dearest child, you
made me certain, at any rate,” he told her.
“You made everybody certain. So much so
that I have the tickets in my pocket at this moment.”
“I’m very sorry.
I could pay for mine, of course and I’m
sure Vera would look after Lancelot. I wouldn’t
disappoint him for the world.”
“What are you going to tell
Urquhart?” said James. Her eyes paled.
“I believe that he would take
it very simply,” she said. James plunged
his hands into his pockets. He thought that they
were on the edge of the gulf.
“Look here, Lucy,” he
said; “hadn’t you better tell me something
more about this? Perhaps you will come into the
library for a few minutes.” He led the
way without waiting for her, and she stood quaking
where she was.
She was making matters worse:
she saw that now. Naturally she couldn’t
tell James the real state of the case, because that
would involve her in history. James would have
to understand that he had been believed to have wooed
her when he had done nothing of the kind. That
was a thing which nothing in the world would bring
her to reveal to him. And if she left that out
and confined herself to her own feelings for Urquhart how
was all that to be explained? Was it fair to herself,
or to Urquhart, to isolate the flowering of an affair
unless you could show the germinating of it?
Certainly it wasn’t fair to herself as
for Urquhart, it may be that he didn’t deserve
any generous treatment. She knew that there was
no defence for him, though plenty of excuse possibly.
No she must go through with the Norway business.
Meantime James was waiting for her.
She stood by the library table while
James, back to the fireplace, lifted his head and
watched her through cigar-smoke. He had no mercy
for her at this moment. Suspicions thronged his
darkened mind. But nothing of her rueful beauty
escaped him. The flush of sleep was upon her,
and her eyes were full of trouble.
“It isn’t that I have
any reason which would appeal to you,” she told
him. She faltered her tale. “I think
I have been foolish I know that I’m
very tired and worried; but I have had presentiments.”
James clicked his tongue, which he
need not have done as he knew very well.
But he had not often been arbiter of late.
“My child,” he said, “really ”
and annoyed her.
“Of course you are impatient.
I can’t help it, all the same. I am telling
you the truth. I don’t know what is going
to happen. I feel afraid of something I
don’t know what ”
“Run down,” said James,
looking keenly at her, but kindly; “end of the
season. Two days at sea will do the job for you.
Anyhow, my dear, we go.” He threw himself
in his deep chair, stretched his legs out and looked
She was deeply disappointed; she had
pictured it so differently. He would have understood
her, she had thought. But he seemed to be in his
worst mood. She stood, the picture of distressful
uncertainty, hot and wavering; her head hung, her
hand moving a book about on the table. To his
surprise and great discomfort he now discerned that
she was silently crying. Tears were falling,
she made no effort to stop them, nor to conceal them.
Her weakness and dismay were too much for her.
She accepted the relief, and neither knew nor cared
whether he saw it.
James was not hard-hearted unless
his vanity was hurt. This was the way to touch
him, as he was prepared to be touched. “My
child,” he said, “why, what’s the
matter with you?” She shook her head, tried to
speak, failed, and went on crying.
“Lucy,” said James, “come
here to me.” She obeyed him at once.
Something about her attitude moved
him to something more than pity. Her pretty frock
and her refusal to be comforted by it; her youthful
act for Lucy had never yet cried before
him; her flushed cheeks, her tremulous lips what?
If I could answer the question I should resolve the
problem of the flight of souls. He looked at her
and knew that he desired her above all things.
A Lucy in tears was a new Lucy; a James who could
afford to let his want be seen was a new James.
That which stirred him pity, need, desire,
kindness vibrated in his tones. To
hear was to obey.
He took her two hands and drew her
down to his knee. He made her sit there, embraced
her with his arm. “There, my girl, there,”
he said; “now let me know all about it.
Upon my soul, you are a baffling young woman.
You will, and you won’t; and then you cry, and
I become sentimental. I shall end by falling
in love with you.”
At these strange words she broke down
altogether, and sobbed her soul out upon his shoulder.
Again he assured himself that he had never seen her
cry before. He was immensely touched by it, and
immensely at his ease too. His moral status was
restored to him. He knew now what he wanted.
“You poor little darling, I can’t bear
to see you cry so. There then cry
away, if it does you good. What does me good is
to have you here. Now what made you so meek as
to come when I called you? And why weren’t
you afraid that I should eat you up? So I might,
Lucy, you know; for you’ve made me madly in
love with you.”
It seemed to her beating heart that
indeed he was. He held her very close, kissed
her wet cheeks, her wet eyes and her lips. She
struggled in his embrace, but not for long. She
yielded, and returned his kisses. So they clung
together, and in the silence, while time seemed to
stand still, it really did nothing of the kind; for
if he gained experience she lost it.
He must have grown more experienced,
for he was able to return without embarrassment to
the affairs so strangely interrupted. She must
have grown less so, because she answered him simply,
like a child. He asked her what had upset her,
and she told him, a dream. A dream? Had she
been asleep? No, it was a waking dream. She
told him exactly what it was. She was with Mr.
Urquhart in a horrible place a dry, sandy
place with great rocks in it. “And where
did I come in?” “You didn’t come
in. That was why I called you.” “You
called for me, did you? But Urquhart was there?”
“Yes, I suppose he was still there. I didn’t
look.” “Why did you call for me, Lucy?”
“Because I was frightened.” “I’m
grateful to you for that. That’s good news
to me,” he said; and then when he kissed her
again, she opened her eyes very wide, and said, “Oh,
James, I thought you didn’t care for me any more.”
James, master of himself, smiled grimly.
“I thought as much,” he said; “and
so you became interested in somebody else?”
Lucy sat up. “No,”
she said, “I became interested in you first.”
That beat him. “You became
interested in me? Why? Because I didn’t
care for you?”
“No,” she said sharply;
“no! Because I thought that you did.”
James felt rather faint. “I
can’t follow you. You thought that I didn’t,
you said?” Lucy was now excited, and full of
“How extraordinary! Surely
you see? I had reason to think that you cared
for me very much oh, very much indeed; and
then I found out that you didn’t care a bit
more than usual; and then well, then ”
James, who was too apt to undervalue people, did not
attempt to pursue the embroilment. But he valued
her in this melting mood. He held her very close.
“Well,” he said, “and
now you find that I do care and what then?”
She looked at him, divinely shy.
“Oh, if you really care ”
This would have made any man care.
“Well, if I really do ?”
“Ah!” She hid her face
on his shoulder. “I shall love to be in
James felt very triumphant; but true
to type, he sent her upstairs to dress with the needless
injunction to make herself look pretty.
Presently, however, he stood up and
stared hard at the ground. “Good Lord!”
he said. “I wonder what the devil ”
Then he raised his eyebrows to their height.
“This is rather interesting.”
The instinct was strong in him to
make her confess for clearly there was
something to be known. But against that several
things worked. One was his scorn of the world
at large. He felt that it was beneath him to
enquire what that might be endeavouring against his
honour or peace. Another and a very
new feeling to him was one of compassion.
The poor girl had cried before him hidden
her face on his shoulder and cried. To use strength,
male strength, upon that helplessness; to break a
butterfly on a wheel upon his soul, he thought
he couldn’t do it.
And after all whether it
was Lingen or Urquhart he was safe.
He knew he was safe because he wanted her. He
knew that he could not want what was not for
him. That was against Nature. True to type
again, he laughed at himself, but owned it. She
had been gone but five or ten minutes, but he wanted
to see her again now. He craved the
sight of that charming diffidence of the woman who
knows herself desired. He became embarrassed
as he thought of it, but did not cease to desire.
Should he yield to the whim or hold himself...?
At that moment Lancelot was admitted.
He heard him race upstairs calling, “Mamma,
Mamma! frightfully important!” That decided the
thing. He opened his door, listening to what followed.
He heard Lucy’s voice, “I’m here.
You can come in....” and was amazed. Was
that Lucy’s voice? She was happy, then.
He knew that by her tone. There was a lift in
it, a timbre. Was it just possible, by
some chance, that he had been a damned fool?
He walked the room in some agitation, then went hastily
upstairs to dress.
Whether to a new James or not, dinner
had a new Lucy to reveal; a Lucy full of what he called
“feminine charm”; a Lucy who appealed to
him across the table for support against a positive
Lancelot; who brought him in at all points; who was
concerned for his opinion; who gave him shy glances,
who could even afford to be pert. He, being essentially
a fair-weather man, was able to meet her half-way no
more than that, because he was what he was, always
his own detective. The discipline which he had
taught himself to preserve was for himself first of
Lancelot noticed his father.
“I say,” he said, when he and Lucy were
in the drawing-room, “Father’s awfully
on the spot, isn’t he? It’s Norway,
I expect. Bucks him up.”
“Norway is enough to excite
anybody,” Lucy said “even me.”
“Oh, you!” Lancelot was
scornful. “Anything would excite you.
Look at Mr. Urquhart.”
Lucy flickered. “How do
you mean?” Lancelot was warm for his absent
“Why, you used to take a great
interest in all his adventures you know
This must be faced. “Of course I did.
“Well,” said Lancelot,
very acutely, “now they seem rather ordinary rather
chronic.” Chronic was a word of Crewdson’s,
used as an augmentive. Lucy laughed, but faintly.
“Yes, I expect they are chronic.
But I think Mr. Urquhart is very nice.”
“He’s ripping,” said Lancelot, in
James in the drawing-room that evening
was studiously himself, and Lucy fought with her restlessness,
and prevailed against it. He was shy, and spun
webs of talk to conceal his preoccupations. Lucy
watched him guardedly, but with intense interest.
It was when she went upstairs that the amazing thing
She stood by him, her hand once more
upon his shoulder. He had his book in his hand.
“I’m going,” she
said. “You have been very sweet to me.
I don’t deserve it, you know.”
He looked up at her, quizzing her
through the detested glass. “You darling,”
he said calmly, and she thrilled. Where had she
heard that phrase? At the Walkuere!
“You darling,” he said; “who could
“Oh, but ”
she pouted now. “Oh, but you can help it
often if you like.”
“But, you see, I don’t
like. I should hate myself if I thought that I
“Do let me take your glass away for one minute.”
“You may do what you please with it, or me.”
The glass in eclipse, she looked down
at him, considering, hesitating, choosing, poised.
“Oh, I was right. You look much nicer without
it. Some day I’ll tell you.”
He took her hand and kept it.
“Some day you shall tell me a number of things.”
She did not cease to look at him,
but he saw fear in her eyes. “Some day,
perhaps, but not yet.”
“No,” said he, “not yet perhaps.”
“Will you trust me?”
“I always have.”
She sighed. “Oh, you are
good. I didn’t know how good.”
Then she turned to go. “I told you I was
going and I am. Good night.”
He put his book down. She let
his eyeglass fall. He drew her to his knee, and
looked at her.
“It’s not good night,” he said.
“That’s to come.”
She gave him a startled, wide look,
and then her lips, before she fled.