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- Maurice Guest - 50/121 -
"Hm," said Mrs. Cayhill, without raising her eyes from the page. She heard Johanna, and was even vaguely distracted by her from the web of circumstance that was enveloping her hero; but she believed, from experience, that if she took no notice of her, Johanna would not persist. What the latter had to say would only be a reminder that it was mail-day, and no letters were ready; or that if she did not put on her bonnet and go out for a walk, she would be obliged to take another of her nerve-powders that night: and Mrs. Cayhill hated moral persuasion with all her heart.
"Put down your book, mother, please, and listen to me," continued Johanna, without any outward sign of impatience, and as she spoke, she drew another stocking over her hand.
"What IS the matter, Joan? I wish you would let me be," answered Mrs. Cayhill querulously, still without looking up.
"It's about Ephie, mother. But you can't hear me if you go on reading."
"I can hear well enough," said Mrs. Cayhill, and turning a page, she lost herself, to all appearance, in the next one. Johanna did not reply, and for some minutes there was silence, broken only by the turning of the leaves. Then, compelled by something that was stronger than herself, Mrs. Cayhill laid her book on her knee, gave a loud sigh, and glanced at Johanna's grave face.
"You are a nuisance, Joan. Well, make haste now--what is it?"
"It's Ephie, mother. I am not easy about her lately. I don't think she can be well. She is so unlike herself."
"Really, Joan," said Mrs. Cayhill, laughing with an exaggerated carelessness. "I think I should be the first to notice if she were sick. But you like to make yourself important, that's what it is, and to have a finger in every pie. There is nothing whatever the matter with the child."
"She's not well, I'm sure," persisted Johanna, without haste. "I have noticed it for some time now. I think the air here is not agreeing with her. I constantly hear it said that this is an enervating place. I believe it would be better for her if we went somewhere else for the winter--even if we returned home. Nothing binds us, and health is the first and chief----"
"Go home?" cried Mrs. Cayhill, and turned her book over on its face. "Really, Joan, you are absurd! Because Ephie finds it hard to settle down again, after such a long vacation--and that's all it is--you want to rush off to a fresh place, when . . . when we are just so comfortably fixed here for the winter, and where we have at last gotten us a few friends. As for going home, why, every one would suppose we'd gone crazy. We haven't been away six months yet--and when Mr. Cayhill is coming over to fetch us back--and . . . and everything."
She spoke with heat; for she knew from experience that what her elder daughter resolved on, was likely to be carried through.
"That is all very well, mother," continued Johanna unmoved. "But I don't think your arguments are sound if we find that Ephie is really sick, and needs a change."
"Arguments not sound! What big words you love to use, Joan! You let Ephie be. She grows prettier every day, and she's a favourite wherever she goes."
"That's another thing. Her head is being turned, and she will soon be quite spoilt. She begins to like the fuss and attention so well that----"
"You had your chances too, Joan. You needn't be jealous."
Johanna had heard this remark too often to be sensitive to it.
"When it comes to serious 'chances,' as you call them, no one will be more pleased for Ephie or more interested than I. But this is something different. You see that yourself, mother, I am sure. These young men who come about the house are so foolish, and immature, and they have such different ideas of things from ourselves. They think so. . . so"--Johanna hesitated for a word--"so laxly on earnest subjects. And it is telling on Ephie--Look, for instance, at Mr. Dove! I don't want to say anything against him, in particular. He is really more serious than the rest. But for some time now, he has been making himself ridiculous,"--Johanna had blushed for Dove on the occasion of his last visit. "No one could be more in earnest than he is; but Ephie only makes fun of him, in a heartless way. She won't see what a grave matter it is to him."
Mrs. Cayhill laughed, not at all displeased. "Young people will be young people. You can't put old heads on young shoulders, Joan, or shut them up in separate houses. Ephie is an extremely pretty girl, and it will be the same wherever we go.--As for young Dove, he knows well enough that nothing can come of it, and if he chooses to continue his attentions, why, he must take the consequences--that's all. Absurd!--a boy and girl flirtation, and to make so much of it! A mountain of a molehill, as usual. And half the time, you only imagine things, and don't see what is going on under your very nose. Anyone but you, I'm sure, would find more to object to in the way young Guest behaves than Dove."
"Maurice Guest?" said Johanna, and laid her hands with stocking and needle on the table.
"Yes, Maurice Guest," repeated Mrs. Cayhill, with complacent mockery. "Do you think no one has eyes but yourself?--No, Joan, you're not sharp enough. Just look at the way he went on last night! Every one but you could see what was the matter with him. Mrs. Tully told me about it afterwards. Why, he never took his eyes off her."
"Oh, I'm sure you are mistaken," said Johanna earnestly, and was silent from sheer surprise. "He has been here so seldom of late," she added after a pause, thinking aloud.
"Just for that very reason," replied Mrs. Cayhill, with the same air of wisdom. "A nice-minded young man stays away, if he sees that his feelings are not returned, or if he has no position to offer.--And another thing I'll tell you, Joan, though you do think yourself so clever. You don't need to worry if Ephie is odd and fidgety sometimes just now. At her age, it's only to be expected. You know very well what I mean. All girls go through the same thing. You did yourself."
After this, she took up her book again, having, she knew, successfully silenced her daughter, who, on matters of this nature, was extremely sensitive.
Johanna went methodically on with her darning; but the new idea which her mother had dropped into her mind, took root and grew. Strange that it had not occurred to her before! Dove's state of mind had been patent from the first; but she had had no suspicions of Maurice Guest. His manner with Ephie had hitherto been that of a brother: he had never behaved like the rest. Yet, when she looked back on his visit of the previous evening, she could not but be struck by the strangeness of his demeanour: his distracted silence, his efforts to speak to Ephie alone, and the expression with which he had watched her. And Ephie?--what of her? Now that Johanna thought of it, a change had also come over Ephie's mode of treating Maurice; the gay insouciance of the early days had given place to the pert flippancy which, only the night before, had so pained her sister. What had brought about this change? Was it pique? Was Ephie chafing, in secret, at his prolonged absences, and was she, girl-like, anxious to conceal it from him?
Johanna gathered up her work to go to her own room and think the matter out in private. In the passage, she ran into the arms of Mrs. Tully, whom she disliked; for, ever since coming to the PENSION, this lady had carried on a kind of cult with Ephie, which was distasteful in the extreme to Johanna.
"Oh, Miss Cayhill!" she now exclaimed. "I was just groping my way--it is indeed groping, is it not?--to your sitting-room. WHERE is your sister? I want SO much to ask her if she will have tea with me this afternoon. I am expecting a few friends, and should be so glad if she would join us."
"Ephie is practising, Mrs. Tully," said Johanna in her coolest tone. "And I cannot have her disturbed."
"She is so very, very diligent," said Mrs. Tully with enthusiasm. "I always remark to myself on hearing her, how very idle a life like mine is in comparison. I am able to do SO little; just a mere trifle here and there, a little atom of good, one might say. I have no talents.--And you, too, dear Miss Cayhill. So studious, so clever! I hear of you on every side," and, letting her eyes rest on Johanna's head, she wondered why the girl wore her hair so unbecomingly.
Johanna did not respond.
"If only you would let your hair grow, it would make such a difference to your appearance," said Mrs. Tully suddenly, with disconcerting outspokenness.
Johanna drew herself up.
"Thanks," she said. "I have always worn my hair like this, and at my age, have no intention of altering it," and leaving Mrs. Tully protesting vehemently at such false modesty, she went past her, into her own room, and shut the door.
She sat down by the window to sew. But her hands soon fell to her lap, and with her eyes on the backs of the neighbouring houses, she continued her interrupted reflections. First, though, she threw a quick, sarcastic side-glance on her mother and herself. As so often before, when she had wanted to pin her mother's attention to a subject, the centre of interest had shifted in spite of her efforts, and they had ended far from where they had begun: further, she, Johanna, had a way, when it came to the point, not of asking advice or of faithfully discussing a question, but of emphatically giving her opinion, or of stating what she considered to be the facts of the case.
From an odd mixture of experience and self-distrust, Johanna had, however, acquired a certain faith in her mother's opinions--these blind, instinctive hits and guesses, which often proved right where Johanna's carefully drawn conclusions failed. Here, once more, her mother's idea had broken in upon her like a flash of light, even though she could not immediately bring herself to accept it. Maurice and Ephie! She could not reconcile the one with the other. Yet what if the child were fretting? What if he did not care? A pang shot through her at the thought that any outsider should have the power to make Ephie suffer. Oh, she would make him care!--she would talk to him as he had never been talked to in his life before.
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