George Bernard Shaw.

The Irrational Knot Being the Second Novel of His Nonage online

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find you alone. I hope I have not disturbed you. I have something
rather important to say."

"You are the same as one of ourselves, of course, Sholto. But I believe
you delight in stiffness and ceremony. Will you not come upstairs?"

"I wish to speak to you privately. First, I have to apologize to you for
what passed last night."

"Pray dont, Sholto: it doesnt matter. I am afraid we were rude to you."

"Pardon me. It is I who am in fault. I never before made an apology to
any human being; and I should not do so now without a painful conviction
that I forgot what I owed to myself."

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself - I mean for never having
apologized before. I am quite sure you have not got through life without
having done at least one or two things that required an apology."

"I am sorry you hold that opinion of me."

"How is Brutus's paw?"

"Brutus!"

"Yes. That abrupt way of changing the subject is what Mrs. Fairfax calls
a display of tact. I know it is very annoying; so you may talk about
anything you please. But I really want to hear how the poor dog is."

"His paw is nearly healed."

"I'm so glad - poor old dear!"

"You are aware that I did not come here to speak of my mother's dog,
Marian?"

"I supposed not," said Marian, with a smile. "But now that you have made
your apology, wont you come upstairs? Nelly is there."

"I have something else to say - to you alone, Marian. I entreat you to
listen to it seriously." Marian looked as grave as she could. "I
confess that in some respects I do not understand you; and before you
enter upon another London season, through which I cannot be at your
side, I would obtain from you some assurance of the nature of your
regard for me. I do not wish to harass you with jealous importunity. You
have given me the most unequivocal tokens of a feeling different from
that which inspires the ordinary intercourse of a lady and gentleman in
society; but of late it has seemed to me that you maintain as little
reserve toward other men as toward me. I am not thinking of Marmaduke:
he is your cousin. But I observed that even the working man who sang at
the concert last night was received - I do not say intentionally - with a
cordiality which might have tempted a more humbly disposed person than
he seemed to be to forget - - " Here Douglas, seeing Marian's bearing
change suddenly, hesitated. Her beautiful gray eyes, always pleading for
peace like those of a good angel, were now full of reproach; and her
mouth, but for those eyes, would have suggested that she was at heart an
obstinate woman.

"Sholto," she said, "I dont know what to say to you. If this is
jealousy, it may be very flattering; but it is ridiculous. If it is a
lecture, seriously intended, it is - it is really most insulting. What
do you mean by my having given you unequivocal signs of regard? Of
course I think of you very differently from the chance acquaintances I
make in society. It would be strange if I did not, having known you so
long and been your mother's guest so often. But you talk almost as if I
had been making love to you."

"No," said Douglas, forgetting his ceremonious manner and speaking
angrily and naturally; "but you talk as though I had not been making
love to _you_."

"If you have, I never knew it. I never dreamt it."

"Then, since you are not the stupidest lady of my acquaintance, you must
be the most innocent."

"Tell me of one single occasion on which anything has passed between us
that justifies your speaking to me as you are doing now."

"Innumerable occasions. But since I cannot compel you to acknowledge
them, it would be useless to cite them."

"All I can say is that we have utterly misunderstood one another," she
said, after a pause.

He said nothing, but took up his hat, and looked down at it with angry
determination. Marian, too uneasy to endure silence, added:

"But I shall know better in future."

"True," said Douglas, hastily putting down his hat and advancing a step.
"You cannot plead misunderstanding now. Can you give me the assurance I
seek?"

"What assurance?"

Douglas shook his shoulders impatiently.

"You expect me to know everything by intuition," she said.

"Well, my declaration shall be definite enough, even for you. Do you
love me?"

"No, I dont think I do. In fact, I am quite sure I do not - in the way
you mean. I wish you would not talk like this, Sholto. We have all got
on so pleasantly together: you, and I, and Nelly, and Marmaduke, and my
father. And now you begin making love, and stuff of that kind. Pray let
us agree to forget all about it, and remain friends as before."

"You need not be anxious about our future relations: I shall not
embarrass you with my society again. I hoped to find you a woman capable
of appreciating a man's passion, even if you should be unable to respond
to it. But I perceive that you are only a girl, not yet aware of the
deeper life that underlies the ice of conventionality."

"That is a very good metaphor for your own case," said Marian,
interrupting him. "Your ordinary manner is all ice, hard and chilling.
One may suspect that there are depths beneath, but that is only an
additional inducement to keep on the surface."

"Then even your amiability is a delusion! Or is it that you are amiable
to the rest of the world, and reserve taunts of coldness and treachery
for me?"

"No, no," she said, angelic again. "You have taken me up wrongly. I did
not mean to taunt you."

"You conceal your meaning as skilfully as - according to you - I have
concealed mine. Good-morning."

"Are you going already?"

"Do you care one bit for me, Marian?"

"I do indeed. Believe me, you are one of my special friends."

"I do not want to be _one_ of your friends. Will you be my wife?"

"Sholto!"

"Will you be my wife?"

"No. I - - "

"Pardon me. That is quite sufficient. Good-morning."

The moment he interrupted her, a change in her face shewed she had a
temper. She did not move a muscle until she heard the house door close
behind him. Then she ran upstairs to the drawing-room, where Miss
McQuinch was still practising.

"Oh, Nelly," she cried, throwing herself into an easy chair, and
covering her face with her hands. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" She opened her
fingers and looked whimsically at her cousin, who, despising this stage
business, said, impatiently:

"Well?"

"Do you know what Sholto came for?"

"To propose to you."

"Stop, Nelly. You do not know what horrible things one may say in jest.
He _has_ proposed."

"When will the wedding be?"

"Dont joke about it, please. I scarcely know how I have behaved, or what
the meaning of the whole scene is, yet. Listen. Did you ever suspect
that he was - what shall I say? - _courting_ me?"

"I saw that he was trying to be tender in his own conceited way. I fully
expected he would propose some day, if he could once reconcile himself
to a wife who was not afraid of him."

"And you never told me."

"I thought you saw it for yourself; particularly as you encouraged him."

"There! The very thing he has been accusing me of! He said I had given
him unequivocal tokens - yes, unequivocal tokens - that I was madly in
love with him."

"What did you say? - if I may ask."

"I tried to explain things to him; but he persisted in asking me would I
be his wife; and when I refused he would not listen to anything else,
and went off in a rage."

"Yes, I can imagine Sholto's feelings on discovering that he had
humbled himself in vain. Why did you refuse him?"

"Why! Fancy being Sholto's wife! I would as soon think of marrying
Marmaduke. But I cannot forget what he said about my flirting with him.
Nelly: will you promise to tell me whenever you think I am behaving in a
way that might lead anybody on to - like Sholto, you know?"

"Nonsense! If men choose to make fools of themselves, you cannot prevent
them. Hush! I hear someone coming upstairs. It is Marmaduke, I think."

"Marmaduke would never come up so slowly. He generally comes up three
steps at a time."

"Sulky after last night, no doubt. I suppose he wont speak to me."

Marmaduke entered listlessly. "Good morning, Marian," he said, sitting
down on an uncomfortable chair. "Good morrow, Nell."

Elinor, surprised at the courtesy, looked up and saluted him snappishly.

"Is there anything the matter, Duke?" said Marian. "Are you ill?"

"No, I'm all right. Rather busy: thats all."

"Busy!" said Elinor. "There must be something even more unusual than
that, when you are too low spirited to keep up a quarrel with me. Why
dont you sit on the easy chair, or sprawl on the ottoman, after your
manner?"

"Anything for a quiet life," he replied, moving to the ottoman.

"You must be hungry," said Marian, puzzled by his obedience. "Let me get
you something."

"No, thank you," said Marmaduke. "I couldnt eat. Just had lunch. Ive
come to pack up a few things of mine that you have here."

"We have your banjo."

"Oh, I dont want that. You may keep it, or put it in the fire, for all I
care. I want some clothes I left behind me when we had the theatricals."

"Are you leaving London?"

"Yes. I am getting tired of loafing about here. I think I ought to go
home for a while. My mother wants me to."

Miss McQuinch, by a subdued but expressive snort, conveyed the most
entire scepticism as to his solicitude about his mother. She then turned
to the piano calmly, observing, "You have probably eaten something that
disagrees with you."

"What a shame!" said Marian. "Come, Duke: I have plenty of good news for
you. Nelly and I are invited to Carbury Park for the autumn; and there
will be no visitors but us three. We shall have the whole place to
ourselves."

"Time enough to think of the autumn yet awhile," said Marmaduke,
gloomily.

"Well," said Miss McQuinch, "here is some better news for you.
Constance - _Lady_ Constance - will be in town next week."

Marmaduke muttered something.

"I beg your pardon?" said Elinor, quickly.

"I didnt say anything."

"I may be wrong; but I thought I heard you say 'Hang Lady Constance!'."

"Oh, Marmaduke!" cried Marian, affectedly. "How dare you speak so of
your betrothed, sir?"

"Who says she is my betrothed?" he said, turning on her angrily.

"Why, everybody. Even Constance admits it."

"She ought to have the manners to wait until I ask her," he said,
subsiding. "I'm not betrothed to her; and I dont intend to become so in
a hurry, if I can help it. But you neednt tell your father I said so. It
might get round to my governor; and then there would be a row."

"You _must_ marry her some day, you know," said Elinor, maliciously.

"_Must_ I? I shant marry at all. I've had enough of women."

"Indeed? Perhaps they have had enough of you." Marmaduke reddened. "You
seem to have exhausted the joys of this world since the concert last
night. Are you jealous of Mr. Conolly's success?"

"Your by-play when you found how early it was at the end of the concert
was not lost on us," said Marian demurely. "You were going somewhere,
were you not?"

"Since you are so jolly curious," said Marmaduke, unreasonably annoyed,
"I went to the theatre with Connolly; and my by-play, as you call it,
simply meant my delight at finding that we could get rid of you in time
to enjoy the evening."

"With Conolly!" said Marian, interested. What kind of man is he?"

"He is nothing particular. You saw him yourself."

"Yes. But is he well educated, and - and so forth?"

"Dont know, I'm sure. We didnt talk about mathematics and classics."

"Well; but - do you like him?"

"I tell you I dont care a damn about him one way or the other," said
Marmaduke, rising and walking away to the window. His cousins,
astonished, exchanged looks.

"Very well, Marmaduke," said Marian softly, after a pause: "I wont tease
you any more. Dont be angry."

"You havnt teased me," said he, coming back somewhat shamefacedly from
the window. "I feel savage to-day, though there is no reason why I
should not be as jolly as a shrimp. Perhaps Nelly will play some Chopin,
just to soothe me. I should like to hear that polonaise again."

"I should enjoy nothing better than taking you at your word," said
Elinor. "But I heard Mr. Lind come in, a moment ago; and he is not so
fond of Chopin as you and I."

Mr. Lind entered whilst she was speaking. He was a dignified gentleman,
with delicately chiselled features and portly figure. His silky light
brown hair curled naturally about his brow and set it off imposingly.
His hands were white and small, with tapering fingers, and small thumbs.

"How do you do, sir?" said Marmaduke, blushing.

"Thank you: I am better than I have been."

Marmaduke murmured congratulations, and looked at his watch as if
pressed for time. "I must be off now," he said, rising. "I was just
going when you came in."

"So soon! Well, I must not detain you, Marmaduke. I heard from your
father this morning. He is very anxious to see you settled in life."

"I suppose I shall shake down some day, sir."

"You have very good opportunities - very exceptional opportunities. Has
Marian told you that Constance is expected to arrive in town next week?"

"Yes: we told him," said Marian.

"He thought it too good to be true, and would hardly believe us," added
Elinor.

Mr. Lind smiled at his nephew, happily forgetful, worldly wise as he
was, of the inevitable conspiracy of youth against age. They smiled too,
except Marmaduke, who, being under observation, kept his countenance
like the Man in the Iron Mask. "It is quite true, my boy," said the
uncle, kindly. "But before she arrives, I should like to have a talk
with you. When can you come to breakfast with me?"

"Any day you choose to name, sir. I shall be very glad."

"Let us say to-morrow morning. Will that be too soon?"

"Not at all. It will suit me quite well. Good evening, sir."

"Good evening to you."

When Marmaduke was in the street, he stood for a while considering which
way to go. Before the arrival of his uncle, he had intended to spend the
afternoon with his cousins. He was now at a loss for a means of killing
time. On one point he was determined. There was a rehearsal that day at
the Bijou Theatre; and thither, at least, he would not go. He drove to
Charing Cross, and drifted back to Leicester Square. He turned away from
the theatre, and wandered down Piccadilly. Then he thought he would
return as far as the Criterion, and drink. Finally he arrived at the
stage door of the Bijou Theatre, and inquired whether the rehearsal was
over.

"Theyve bin at it since eleven this mornin, and will be pretty nigh til
the stage is wanted for to-night," said the janitor. "I'd as lief youd
wait here as go up, if you dont mind, sir. The guvnor is above; and he
aint in the best o' tempers. I'll send word up."

Marmaduke looked round irresolutely. A great noise of tramping and
singing began.

"Thats the new procession," continued the doorkeeper. "Sixteen hextras
took on for it. It's Miss Virtue's chance for lunch, sir: you wont have
long to wait now."

Here there was a rapid pattering of feet down the staircase. Marmaduke
started, and stood biting his lips as Mademoiselle Lalage, busy, hungry,
and in haste, hurried towards the door.

"Come! Come on," she said impatiently to him, as she went out. "Go and
get a cab, will you. I must have something to eat; and I have to get
back sharp. Do be qu - - there goes a hansom. Hi!" She whistled shrilly,
and waved her umbrella. The cab came, and was directed by Marmaduke to a
restaurant in Regent Street.

"I am absolutely starving," she said as they drove off. "I have been in
since eleven this morning; and of course they only called the band for
half-past. They are such damned fools: they drive me mad."

"Why dont you walk out of the theatre, and make them arrange it properly
for next day?"

"Oh yes! And throw the whole day after the half, and lose my rehearsal.
It is bad enough to lose my temper. I swore, I can tell you."

"I have no doubt you did."

"This horse thinks he's at a funeral. What o'clock is it?"

"It's only eight minutes past four. There is plenty of time."

When they alighted, Lalage hurried into the restaurant; scrutinized the
tables; and selected the best lighted one. The waiter, a decorous
elderly man, approached with some severity of manner, and handed a bill
of fare to Marmaduke. She snatched it from him, and addressed the waiter
sharply.

"Bring me some thin soup; and get me a steak to follow. Let it be a
thick juicy one. If its purple and raw I wont have it; and if its done
to a cinder, I wont have it: it must be red. And get me some spring
cabbage and potatoes, and a pint of dry champagne - the decentest you
have. And be quick."

"And what for you, sir?" said the waiter, turning to Marmaduke.

"Never mind him," interrupted Susanna. "Go and attend to me."

The waiter bowed and retired.

"Old stick-in-the-mud!" muttered Miss Lalage. "Is it half-past four
yet?"

"No. It's only quarter past. There's lots of time."

Mademoiselle Lalage ate until the soup, a good deal of bread, the steak,
the vegetables, and the pint of champagne - less a glassful taken by her
companion - had disappeared. Marmaduke watched her meanwhile, and
consumed two ices.

"Have an ice to finish up with?" he said.

"No. I cant work on sweets," she replied. "But I am beginning to feel
alive again and comfortable. Whats the time?"

"Confound the time!" said Marmaduke. "It's twenty minutes to five."

"Well, I'll drive back to the theatre. I neednt start for quarter of an
hour yet."

"Thank heaven!" said Marmaduke. "I was afraid I should not be able to
get a word with you."

"That reminds me of a crow I have to pluck with you, Mr. Marmaduke Lind.
What did you mean by telling me your name was Sharp?"

"It's the name of a cousin of mine," said Marmaduke, attempting to
dismiss the subject with a laugh.

"It may be your cousin's name; but it's not yours. By the bye, is that
the cousin youre engaged to?"

"What cousin? I'm not engaged to anybody."

"That's a lie, like your denial of your name. Come, come, Master
Marmaduke: you cant humbug me. Youre too young. Hallo! What do _you_
want?"

It was the waiter, removing some plates, and placing a bill on the
table. Marmaduke put his hand into his pocket.

"Just wait a minute, please," said Susanna. The waiter retired.

"Now then," she resumed, placing her elbows on the table, "let us have
no more nonsense. What is your little game? Are you going to pay that
bill or am I?"

"I am, of course."

"There is no of course in it - not yet, anyhow. What are you hanging
about the theatre after me for? Tell me that. Dont stop to think."

Marmaduke looked foolish, and then sulky. Finally he brightened, and
said, "Look here. Youre angry with me for bringing your brother last
night. But upon my soul I had no idea - "

"That's not what I mean at all. You are dodging a plain question. When
you came to the theatre, I thought you were a nice fellow; and I made
friends with you. Now I find you have been telling me lies about
yourself, and trying to play fast and loose. You must either give that
up or give me up. I wont have you pass that stage door again if you only
want to amuse yourself like other lounging cads about town."

"What do you mean by playing fast and loose, and being a cad about
town?" said Marmaduke angrily.

"I hope youre not going to make a row here in public."

"No; but I have you where _you_ cant make a row; and I intend to have it
out with you once and for all. If you quarrel now, so help me Heaven
I'll never speak to you again!"

"It is you who are quarrelling."

"Very well," said Susanna, opening her purse as though the matter were
decided. "Waiter."

"I am going to pay."

"So you can - for what you had yourself. I dont take dinners from strange
men, nor pay for their ices."

Marmaduke did not reply. He took out his purse determinedly; glanced
angrily at her; and muttered, "I never thought you were that sort of
woman."

"What sort of woman?" demanded Susanna, in a tone that made the other
occupants of the room turn and stare.

"Never mind," said Marmaduke. She was about to retort, when she saw him
looking into his purse with an expression of dismay. The waiter came.
Susanna, instead of attempting to be beforehand in proffering the money,
changed her mind, and waited. Marmaduke searched his pockets. Finding
nothing, he muttered an imprecation, and, fingering his watch chain,
glanced doubtfully at the waiter, who looked stolidly at the tablecloth.

"There," said Susanna, putting down a sovereign.

Marmaduke looked on helplessly whilst the waiter changed the coin and
thanked Susanna for her gratuity. Then he said, "You must let me settle
with you for this to-night. Ive left nearly all my cash in the pocket of
another waistcoat."

"You will not have the chance of settling with me, either to-night or
any other night. I am done with you." And she rose and left the
restaurant. Marmaduke sat doggedly for quarter of a minute. Then he went
out, and ran along Regent Street, anxiously looking from face to face in
search of her. At last he saw her walking at a great pace a little
distance ahead of him. He made a dash and overtook her.

"Look here, Lalage," he said, keeping up with her as she walked: "this
is all rot. I didnt mean to offend you. I dont know what you mean, or
what you want me to do. Dont be so unreasonable."

No answer.

"I can stand a good deal from you; but it's too much to be kept at your
heels as if I were a beggar or a troublesome dog. _Lalage_." She took no
notice of him; and he stopped, trying to compose his features, which
were distorted by rage. She walked on, turning into Glasshouse Street.
When she had gone twenty yards, she heard him striding behind her.

"If you wont stop and talk to me," he said, "I'll make you. If anybody
interferes with me I'll smash him into jelly. It would serve you right
if I did the same to you."

He put his hand on her arm; and she instantly turned and struck him
across the face, knocking off his hat. He, who a moment before had been
excited, red, and almost in tears, was appalled. There was a crowd in a
moment; and a cabman drew up close to the kerb with a calm conviction
that his hansom would be wanted presently.

"How dare you put your hand on me, you coward?" she exclaimed, with
remarkable crispness of utterance and energy of style. "Who are you? I
dont know you. Where are the police?" She paused for a reply; and a
bracelet, broken by the blow she had given him, dropped on the pavement,
and was officiously picked up and handed to her by a battered old woman
who shewed in every wrinkle her burning sympathy with Woman turning at
bay against Man. Susanna looked at the broken bracelet, and tears of
vexation sprang to her eyes. "Look at what youve done!" she cried,
holding out the bracelet in her left hand and shewing a scrape which had
drawn blood on her right wrist. "For two pins I'd knock your head off!"

Marmaduke, quite out of countenance, and yet sullenly very angry,
vacillated for a moment between his conflicting impulses to knock her
down and to fly to the utmost ends of the earth. If he had been ten
years older he would probably have knocked her down: as it was, he
signed to the cabman, who gathered up the reins and held them clear of
his fare's damaged hat with the gratification of a man whose judgment in
a delicate matter had just been signally confirmed by events.

As they started, Susanna made a dash at the cab, which was pulled up,
amid a shout from the crowd, just in time to prevent an accident. Then,
holding on to the rail and standing on the step, she addressed herself
to the cabman, and, sacrificing all propriety of language to intensity
of vituperation, demanded whether he wanted to run his cab over her body
and kill her. He, with undisturbed foresight, answered not a word, but
again shifted the reins so as to make way for her bonnet. Acknowledging
the attention with one more epithet, she seated herself in the cab, from
which Marmaduke at once indignantly rose to escape. But the hardiest
Grasmere wrestler, stooping under the hood of a hansom, could not resist
a vigorous pull at his coat tails; and Marmaduke was presently back in
his seat again, with Susanna clinging to him and half sobbing:

"Oh, Bob, youve killed me. How could you?" Then, with a suspiciously
sudden recovery of energy, she screamed "Bijou Theatre. Drive on, will
you" up at the cabman, who was looking down through the trapdoor. The
horse plunged forward, and, with the jolt, she was fawning on
Marmaduke's arm again, saying, "Dont be brutal to me any more, Bob. I



Online LibraryGeorge Bernard ShawThe Irrational Knot Being the Second Novel of His Nonage → online text (page 5 of 27)