James hilton collected n.., p.8
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       James Hilton: Collected Novels, p.8
 

           James Hilton
Livia added quietly: “I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”

  “Well, then…I’m afraid that settles it.” He walked a few steps away, then turned again for a last appeal. “But what are you going to do?”

  “Stay here.”

  “But—but your father’s here.”

  “That’s all right.”

  “You mean you don’t mind?”

  “I mind my mother going away, but if she goes away I don’t mind anything else.”

  “Livia…I wish there were something I could…” She was moving towards the door. He continued, for he was not an entirely insensitive young man: “Livia, you want to see him? You’re sure of that?”

  “Where is he? Is he in bed?”

  “No…he’s been up all night. That’s why, if you’d like to think things over first…”

  “What is there to think over? Anything else?”

  The question was so direct, yet so free from irony, that he could only reply: “Maybe I’d better come in with you and—and—er—” It sounded idiotic to say “introduce you,” but for the life of him he could not think of another way to finish the sentence.

  “No, I’ll know where to go.”

  “In the drawing room, I think. That’s where he was.” Livia then went in without another word, while Mr. Standon, after staring at her retreating figure for a moment, slowly lit a cigarette and began to walk down the driveway towards the road, quickening his pace when he heard the horn a fourth time. He still felt extremely uncomfortable.

  The lights throughout the house were unlit, but a flickering glow, as of firelight, showed beneath the drawing-room door where the carpet had worn; everything else was dark, except the high window at the end of the corridor, which showed the dawn in a gray oblong. Livia turned the door handle and entered. Her eyes were dazzled at first by the firelight, but she was somehow aware of a person in the room.

  “I can’t see you,” she said—the first words she ever spoke to him.

  She saw then a tall shape striding across the floor to the light switch; next she saw his shoulders, a little stooping; then, when he turned, all such details as his gray thinning hair, wide forehead, and odd smile merged into a general first impression that he was tired.

  “Livia, isn’t it?”

  “Hello,” she answered; and they shook hands.

  When one is young, everything has a stereoscopic clarity, even if it is not properly understood; no hoard of experience both makes and compensates for a blurred background. To Livia as she shook hands with the stranger who was her father, it seemed that her life hinged in a new direction, terrifyingly new, puzzling, even shattering, yet somehow not to be feared. But for the moment she thought her mind would break with such a mixture of emotions as she began to feel: angry love for her mother, cold dislike for Mr. Standon, and a growing shock over the entire situation, as if her physical existence were coming out of numbness. I shall never be the same again, because nothing can ever be the same again, and I am not nothing—she reflected suddenly, remembering the first lesson in logic that had been almost the last thing she learned at Cheldean. But the frantic syllogism comforted her, all the more because it had not occurred to her till just that moment; and as she stared from the firelight to the tired face of the man standing before her, she repeated it to herself: Whatever happens, whatever they do to me, however much I am torn apart, I am not nothing.

  She saw that he was still smiling, waiting perhaps for her to speak. She wondered how long she had been silent—minutes or only seconds? But the words could come now; she began abruptly: “Are you hungry? I am.”

  He answered: “Not very. But don’t let me stop you—”

  “Wouldn’t you even like a cup of tea?”

  “Well…er…hadn’t we better wait till Sarah—”

  “Oh, I’ll make it. Let’s go into the kitchen.”

  “All right.”

  She made not only a cup of tea, but a substantial meal of eggs and bacon, which they both ate, talking of nothing in particular meanwhile—just the weather, and the sharp frost that morning, and how they liked their eggs done. It was beginning to be easier now—like the first morning of term when you go into a new class with a new teacher and you do not exactly expect to get on with her at first—in fact you pine for the old one all the time, though you would not, if the choice were given, stay down in the lower class just to escape the trials of newness.

  When he lit a pipe she commented: “They said you never used to smoke.”

  He did not ask who “they” were, or why the matter should ever have been mentioned. He answered lightly: “Oh yes, I have most bad habits.”

  “You mean you drink too?”

  “Well… I have been known to touch a drop.”

  She laughed, because the phrase “touch a drop” had amused her when she was a child; it was so funny to touch a drop, if you ever went to the trouble of doing it, and she had often in those days puzzled over why old Mr. Felsby should boast so much about never having done it in his life.

  “I don’t suppose there’s anything here,” she went on. “I think Watson takes whisky, though—on the sly. Perhaps he keeps a bottle somewhere—I can ask him—”

  He smiled again. “Don’t worry—I never did drink at breakfast. For that matter, I never drank much at any time. Not to excess, that is.”

  “Then it’s not a bad habit.”

  “All right—so long as you don’t think too well of me.”

  They talked on, as unimportantly as that. She did not ask him any direct questions, nor he her, but by the time the first rays of sunshine poured in through the kitchen window they knew a few things about each other—such as, for instance, that they had both arrived at Stoneclough before their time; she from school, having run away, he from prison, having been released a few months earlier than he had counted on, owing to a technicality in the reckoning. She gathered also that his arrival had led to other events in which her mother and Mr. Standon were involved. He did not tell her much about that, but said it was an odd coincidence that she should have come that morning, an odd and perhaps an awkward one, but not so awkward as if she had come a few hours sooner.

  “I don’t know why she didn’t tell me everything before,” he added, as if thinking aloud. “It would have been all right I wouldn’t have blamed her…I don’t blame her now, for that matter. She just couldn’t face facts—never could…

  Oh well, give me another cup of tea.”

  While Livia did so he puffed at his pipe and went on: “Things never turn out quite how you expect, do they?”

  She knew that he was addressing her as an adult, either deliberately or absent-mindedly, and in order not to break the spell she said nothing in reply. But he relapsed into silence, and presently, still under the spell herself, she said brightly: “Don’t I make good tea?”

  He seemed to wake himself up. “You certainly do.” Then he yawned. “Very good.”

  “I expect you’re tired.”

  “Yes. Dead tired. I was up all night.”

  “So was I—in the train.”

  “Perhaps we’d both better get some sleep.”

  She nodded. “Sarah knows you’re here, of course?”

  “Oh yes. And Miss Fortescue and Watson. We’ll meet at dinner, then.”

  He walked out of the kitchen and a few seconds later she heard him climbing the stairs. It was odd to reflect that he knew his way about the house.

  She slept soundly most of the day and was wakened during the afternoon by the sound of commotion in the yard. When she ran to the window, with almost every possibility in mind, she saw it was only Miss Fortescue driving off in a cab. Somehow it did not seem to matter what Miss Fortescue did, but it gave her something to begin the conversation with when she went down to the dinner table that evening.

  “She left,” he said, “because the whole situation was revolting to her sensibilities.”

  Again he was talking to her as to an adult; and she knew what he meant, if not all
the individual words. Throughout the rest of the meal he veered between more trivial gossip and silence, but when Sarah had left the room for good he said: “I don’t know what your plans are, Livia….”

  “Plans? I haven’t any.”

  “I mean—what are you going to do?”

  “I’m not going to go back to Cheldean.”

  “Well…” And he began to light his pipe. “Some other school, perhaps?”

  “You mean you don’t want me here?”

  “Livia…it isn’t that. It hasn’t much to do with what I want. Let’s not discuss it yet, though. All kinds of things can happen.”

  Which was the kind of world that Livia dreamed of—one in which all kinds of things could happen.

  She said cheerfully: “The school holidays begin next week,

  so I’d have been here soon anyway.”

  He smiled. “Naturally…and—er—while you are here, there’s another thing…you mustn’t feel you have to entertain me. I don’t want to interrupt any of your habits…What do you usually do after dinner?”

  “Sometimes I take a walk in the garden, but I think it’s already begun to rain. Sometimes I read, or play records.”

  “Then please do just what you like—as usual.”

  Without another word she went to the phonograph and put on Mozart; after it finished she closed the instrument and called from the doorway: “Good night.” When he gave no answer she went back to his chair and saw that he was asleep, so she took the warm pipe out of his hand in case it set fire to something; then she laid another cob of coal on the reddened embers in the grate.

  It was all very easy the next morning, so far as Livia was concerned. But as the day proceeded it became clear that other people were bent on making difficulties. First there arrived Richard Felsby, and a somewhat stormy scene took place from which Livia was excluded, though she tried to listen at the door and gathered that the old man was just as shocked as Miss Fortescue. She was also vaguely aware that matters of importance were being arranged over her head, and decided there and then to insert her own personal clause into whatever plans were being concocted. And that was simply that she would not, in any circumstances, go back to Cheldean. As soon as the chance came she reiterated this. “And if you send me,” she added, “I’ll run away again.” Neither she nor her father knew that Miss Williams would not have had

  her back in any event; it would have saved them an argument. “Very well,” he said at length, “I’ll see about somewhere else.” But it was already too late for the girl to begin the new term at any other school.

  And the sensation of John Channing’s return, combined with the scandal of Emily Channing’s departure, raged like a hurricane through Browdley and neighborhood for several weeks, then slowly sank to the dimensions of a zephyr.

  They became good friends. It was not that Livia liked him instantly, still less was she aware of any submerged filial emotions, nor was there any conscious effort to like him; but a moment came, quite a casual one, when she realized that she had already been liking him a good deal for some time.

  She did not call him “Father.” It was hard to begin, and since she did not begin soon enough, it became impossible to begin. Eventually, since she had to call him something, she asked if he would mind “Martin.”

  “Martin? Why Martin?”

  “I like the name. I used to have a friend at school called Martin…Joan Martin.”

  “Used to have? It’s not so long ago.” He was rather relieved to find she had had a friend, after what Dr. Whiteside had said when they met a few days before. “Don’t you keep in touch with her?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because she thinks I stole her watch.”

  The answer was devastating, and out of it came the story of the Cheldean incident. After she had given him the somewhat curious details he said quizzically: “And did you?”

  “Good heavens, no—what do you think I am?”

  “Well, what do you think I am?”

  She pondered gravely for a moment, whereupon he laughed, not because there was anything to laugh at, but because he had at last found a way of introducing a matter which he wanted to clear up once and for all. “You see, Livia, I don’t wish you to get any false ideas. Don’t think up excuses for me. Don’t dramatize me innocent, for instance, as you dramatized yourself guilty…On the other hand—don’t believe everything you read about me in the papers…Know what I mean?”

  She nodded and he knew she did.

  She added hastily: “I must tell you something else though…I didn’t steal her watch, but I did steal her money afterwards.”

  “What?”

  Then more explanations. He finally laughed again and said: “That’s all right. Perhaps we’re neither of us quite as bad as we’re painted—or as good as we ought to be. And I still think you ought to keep in touch with Joan. Mustn’t center yourself on Stoneclough altogether…Get out more. Meet people. What did you think of doing this afternoon, for instance?”

  “Nothing in particular.”

  “There’s a farm sale I’m going to. Watson said he wanted more tools for the garden and I thought I might pick up a few bargains…Come with me if you like.”

  “Oh yes, Martin…I can call you that? You don’t mind?”

  “Not a bit…On the contrary, you’ve settled what name I give if I bid for anything.”

  It wasn’t only his name, however, so far as Browdley itself was concerned. He was recognized by many in the town, despite the long interval, and one day, after he had called on Dr. Whiteside at his house in Shawgate, a stranger accosted him in the street and made offensive remarks. After that he never visited Browdley again, but in the other direction, at a somewhat greater distance, lay country towns and villages where no one knew him by sight; and here he liked to take Livia with him on casual expeditions—to that farm sale, for instance (at which he bought some spades and hoes, and quietly said “Martin” to the auctioneer); or on other occasions to an agricultural show, or a cricket match, or a local fair. He liked outdoor scenes and functions—the smell of moist, well-trodden earth, the hum of rural voices blown full and then faint on a veering wind, the pageantry of flags and bunting against low-scudding clouds. Frankly he did not much care whether Livia enjoyed every moment of these occasions or not; she took the chance when she agreed to accompany him, and if she were bored, that was her lookout. Sometimes she admitted afterwards that she had been. “But I don’t mind being bored, with you, Martin.” To which she added quickly: “I mean I don’t mind being bored when I’m with you…no, no, not even that exactly—what I really mean is, I don’t mind being bored provided I’m with you.”

  Of the schools to which he wrote, all declared they had no vacancies. Whether they had received unsatisfactory reports from Miss Williams, or whether the newspaper scandal had scared them off, was hard to determine; they gave no such reasons, of course, but after the same kind of letter had arrived from half a dozen headmistresses he felt there was not much use continuing. Perhaps there were schools in France or Switzerland; he would have to look the matter up. He did not tell Livia of his lack of success so far, preferring her to think he had merely dropped the matter; which she did, without much delay and with great satisfaction.

  For it was very pleasant to be at Stoneclough as the seasons rounded and another spring brought new green to the trees. After the battles and scandals of the previous year, peace seemed to have descended on the house and its occupants; even Sarah, shrill-voiced as she shared the domestic work with Livia, nagged less if only for the prosaic reason that she was getting deaf and could hear less. She too had made her truce, whether of God or of the Devil; without giving up one jot of her religious scruples, which were of the strictest kind, she nevertheless contrived to mate them with an old conviction that a Channing could do no wrong. He could, and had done, obviously; and yet, in another sense, it was not so. Surely that was no harder to believe than some of the things she heard,
and with relish, from her favorite pulpit every Sunday? She was a devout attender at one of the Browdley Methodist chapels, where, as deafness slowly gained on unobtrusiveness over a period of years, she had worked her way up to the front pew immediately beneath the preacher’s oratory. She liked the preacher in a grim, prim way—the same way that she liked Mr. Felsby. She had never liked Emily, or Miss Fortescue, or Watson, or anyone at Stoneclough who was not a Channing. And she only half-liked Livia, who was only half a Channing. Livia wrangled with her, tolerated her, and thought her at times insufferable—which she was. She was also stupid, hard-working, not very clean, and intensely loyal.

  Whereas Watson was not so loyal, rather lazy, and occasionally drunk. But he had a knack with plants and machines, and an affection for the place he worked at rather than for the people he worked for. He liked his employer well enough, did not much care for Livia, whom he thought arrogant, and hated Sarah, who had once floored him with a saucepan when he came into her kitchen tipsy.

  And yet, out of these strains and stresses, a queer equilibrium emerged—a fadeless sea in which all the storms were in teacups. It was Browdley, that almost foreign land five miles away, where rancors increased as trade worsened and mill after mill closed down. Even Mr. Felsby was rumored to be losing a small part of his fortune; one could not be sure, however, since he forbore to come up the hill and grumble about it. And Dr. Whiteside, his closest friend, gradually absented himself also, though he was cordial enough with Livia when they met, as they sometimes did, in the streets of the town.

  Livia shopped, kept house, and helped with the cooking; while Martin (since he may as well be called that) spent hours in the garden, turning wasteland into vegetable patches, thinning trees, repairing terraces and fences. There was much to be done after so many years of Watson’s neglect and Emily’s indifference.

  One day he told her she was to go to a school in Switzerland, and that she would like it very much because Geneva was a very beautiful city. Livia was surprised and disappointed; she had hoped that the whole idea of school might be dropped, but of course it was quite exciting to be going abroad for the first time, and doubtless a Swiss school would be nothing like Cheldean. So there followed a great scurry of preparation—travel tickets had to be obtained, clothes to be bought, and the old Cheldean trunk taken down from the attic over the stables. Martin, who had visited Geneva in his youth, told her what she would see and what she must on no account miss, and that part of the value of being at a foreign school was merely to be living in a foreign country.

 
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