I Fix My Eyes On You - Tommy Walker
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I Fix My Eyes On You - Tommy Walker
The words were, perhaps, not so arresting as the manner in which they were uttered. Norma Hardacre was startled. A little shutter in the back of her mind seemed to have flashed open for an elusive second, and revealed a prospect wide, generous, alive with free-blowing airs. Then all was dark again before she could realise the vision. She was disconcerted, and in a much more feminine way than was habitual with her she glanced at him again. This time she lost sight of the poor, untidy garments, and found a sudden interest in the man's kind, careworn face, and his eyes, wonderfully blue and bright, set far apart in the head, that seemed to look out on the world with a man's courage and a child's confidence. She was uncomfortably conscious of being in contact with a personality widely different from that of her usual masculine associates. This her training and habit of mind caused her to resent; despising the faint spiritual shock, she took refuge in flippancy.
But the destiny she had previously remarked upon seemed to be fulfilling itself. A day or two afterwards his familiar figure burst upon her at a Private View in a small picture-gallery. His eyes brightened as she withdrew from her mother, who was accompanying her, and extended her hand.
The idyllic hour was brought to a close by the return of Norma's parents. As Norma, shrinking from the vulgarity of the prearranged scene and intolerable maternal coaching in her part, had not informed them of her appointment with Morland, alleging as an excuse for not going to the opera a disinclination to be bored to tears by Aida, they were mildly surprised by his presence in the house at so late an hour. In a few words he acquainted them with what had taken place. He formally asked their consent. Mr. Hardacre wrung his hand fervently. Mrs. Hardacre's steel-grey eyes glittered welcome into her family. She turned to her dear child and expressed her heartfelt joy. Norma, submissive to conventional decencies, suffered herself to be kissed. Mother and daughter had given up kissing as a habit for some years past, though they practised it occasionally before strangers. Mr. Hardacre put his arm around her in a diffident way and patted her back, murmuring incoherent wishes for her happiness. Everything to be said and done was effected in a perfectly well-bred manner. Norma spoke very little, regarding the proceedings with an impersonal air of satiric interest. At last Mr. Hardacre suggested to Morland a chat over whisky and soda and a cigar in the library. In unsophisticated circles it is not unusual at such a conjuncture for a girl's friends and relations to afford the lovers some unblushing opportunity of bidding each other a private farewell. Norma, anticipating any such possible though improbable departure from sanity on the part of her parents, made good her escape after shaking hands in an ordinary way with Morland. Mrs. Hardacre followed her upstairs, eager to learn details, which were eventually given with some acidity by her daughter, and the two men retired below.
She took one of the notes, kissed him, and ran out of the studio, leaving Jimmie wondering why the female sex were so prone to weeping. The next day he saw a strange woman established at the dining-room table. He learned that it was a dressmaker. For the next week an air of mystery hung over the place. The girl, in her neat short frock and with her soft brown hair tied with a ribbon, went about her household duties as usual; but there was a subdued light in her eyes that Jimmie noticed, but could not understand. Occasionally he enquired about the new frock. It was progressing famously, said Aline. It was going to be a most beautiful frock. He would have seen nothing like it since he was born.
Tony leant back in his chair, dispirited, and began to protest. She laughed at his woeful face, and half yielding, questioned him about trains. He overwhelmed her with a rush of figures, then paused to give her time to recover. His eyes wandered to the breakfast-table, where lay Jimmie's unopened correspondence. One letter lay apart from the others. Tony took it up idly.
Aline escaped. Morland's air of health and prosperity overpowered her. She did not dare whisper detraction of him to Jimmie, in whose eyes he was incomparable, but to Tony Merewether she had made known her wish that he did not look always so provokingly clean, so eternally satisfied with himself. All the colour of his mind had gone into his face, was her uncharitable epigram. Aline, it will be observed, saw no advantage in a tongue perpetually tipped with honey.
His voice quavered a little; but Morland, turning round, saw nothing in Jimmie's eyes but the honest gladness he had taken for granted he should find there. The earnest scrutiny he missed. He laughed again.
The brightening of Jimmie's eyes gave token of a heart keenly touched. Deeply rooted indeed must be the affection that could have impelled Morland to so unusual a demonstration of feeling. His nature was as responsive as a harp set in the wind. His counterpart in woman would have felt the tears well into her eyes. A man is allowed but a breath, a moisture, that makes the eyes bright. Morland had said the final word of sentiment; equally, utterly true of himself. Morland was equally a part of his life. It were folly to discuss the reasons. Loyal friendships between men are often the divinest of paradoxes.
Jimmie watched him disappear through the gate and turned back towards the groups. The pallid man was still sitting on his bench; a few children hung round and scanned him idly. Presently he rose and tucked his bench under his arm, and walked slowly away from the scene of his oratory. His burning eyes fixed themselves on Jimmie as he passed by. Jimmie accosted him.
The Duchess of Wiltshire was a mighty personage in the Hardacres' part of the county. She made social laws and abrogated them. She gave and she took away the brevet of county rank. She made and unmade marriages. To fall under the ban of her displeasure was to be disgraced indeed. She held a double sway in that the duke, her husband, had delegated to her his authority in sublunary matters, he being a severe mathematician and a dry astronomer, who looked at the world out of dull eyes, and regarded it with indifference as a mass of indistinguishable atoms forming a nebula, a sort of Milky Way, concerning which philosophic minds had from time to time theorised. He lived icily remote from society; the duchess, on the contrary, was warmly interested in its doings. In the county she reigned absolute; but in London, recognising the fact that there were other duchesses scattered about Mayfair and Belgravia, she was high-minded enough to modify her claims to despotic government. She felt it, however, her duty to decree that her last reception should mark the end of the London season.
Norma turned with him. She was glad it was her birthright and her marriage-right. The vast state ballroom, lit as with full daylight by rows of electric lamps cunningly hidden behind the cornices and the ground-glass panels of the ceiling, stately with its Corinthian pilasters and classic frieze, its walls adorned with priceless pictures, notably four full-length cavaliers of Vandyck, smiling down in their high-bred way upon this assembly of their descendants, its atmosphere glittering with jewels, radiant with colour, contained all the magnificence, all the aristocracy, all the ambitions, all the ideals that she had been trained to worship, to set before her as the lodestars of her life's destiny. Here and there from amid the indistinguishable mass of diamonds, the white flesh of women's shoulders, the black and white chequer and brilliant uniforms of men, flashed out the familiar features of some possessor of an historic name, some woman of world-famed beauty, some great personage whose name was on the lips of Europe. There, by the wall, lonely for the moment, stood the Chinese Ambassador, in loose maroon silk, and horse-tail plumed cap, his yellow, wizened face rendered more sardonic by the thin drooping grey moustache and thin grey imperial, looking through horn spectacles, expressionless, impassive, inhumanly indifferent, at one of the most splendid scenes a despised civilisation could set before him. There, in the centre of a group of envious and unembarrassed ladies, an Indian potentate blazed in diamonds and emeralds, and rolled his dusky eyes on charms which (most oddly to his Oriental conceptions) belonged to other men. Here a Turk's red fez, a Knight of the Garter's broad blue sash, an ambassador's sparkle of stars and orders; and there the sweet, fresh rosebud beauty of a girl caught for a moment and lost in the moving press. And there, at the end of the vast, living hall, a dimly seen haggard woman, with a diamond tiara on her grey hair, surrounded by a little court of the elect, sat Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Herren-Rothbeck, sister to a reigning monarch, and bosom friend, despite the pretty quarrel, of Her Grace the Duchess of Wiltshire.
He rattled on, highly pleased with himself. Norma cast a malicious glance at her mother, who perceptibly winced. They were shining in the duchess's eyes in a light borrowed from Morland. They were taken up with the ox and the ass and the remainder of Morland's live-stock. That was the reason, then, of the exceptional marks of favour bestowed on them by Her Grace. Mrs. Hardacre kept the muscles of her lips at the smile, but her steely eyes grew hard. Norma, on the contrary, was enjoying herself. Charlie Sandys was unconscious of the little comedy.
Enjoyment of this display of worldcraft was still in her eyes when she came across Morland a little later; but she only told him of her recommendation of Jimmie to paint the princess's portrait. He professed delight. How had she come to think of it? 041b061a72