In a Shady Place
THE ten days glided swiftly away: and, the day before the great party was to take place, Arthur proposed that we should stroll down to the Hall, in time for afternoon-tea.
`Hadn't you better go alone?' I suggested. `Surely I shall be very much de trop?'
`Well, it'll be a kind of experiment,' he said. `Fiat experimentum in corpore vili!' he added, with a graceful bow of mock politeness towards the unfortunate victim. `You see I shall have to bear the sight, to-morrow night, of my lady-love making herself agreeable to everybody except the right person, and I shall bear the agony all the better if we have a dress-rehearsal beforehand!'
`My part in the play being, apparently, that of the sample wrong person?'
`Well, no,' Arthur said musingly, as we set forth: `there's no such part in a regular company. "Heavy Father"? That wo'n't do: that's filled already. "Singing Chambermaid"? Well, the "First Lady" doubles that part. "Comic Old Man"? You're not comic enough. After all, I'm afraid there's no part for you but the "Well- dressed Villain": only,' with a critical sideglance, `I'm a leetle uncertain about the dress!'
We found Lady Muriel alone, the Earl having gone out to make a call, and at once resumed old terms of intimacy, in the shady arbour where the tea-things seemed to be always waiting. The only novelty in the arrangements (one which Lady Muriel seemed to regard as entirely a matter of course), was that two of the chairs were placed quite close together, side by side. Strange to say, I was not invited to occupy either of them!
`We have been arranging, as we came along, about letter-writing,' Arthur began. `He will want to know how we're enjoying our Swiss tour: and of course we must pretend we are?'
`Of course,' she meekly assented.
`And the skeleton-in-the-cupboard--' I suggested.
`--is always a difficulty,' she quickly put in, `when you're travelling about, and when there are no cupboards in the hotels. However, ours is a very portable one; and will be neatly packed, in a nice leather case--'
`But please don't think about writing,' I said, `when you've anything more attractive on hand. I delight in reading letters, but I know well how tiring it is to write them.'
`It is, sometimes,' Arthur assented. `For instance, when you're very shy of the person you have to write to.'
`Does that show itself in the letter?' Lady Muriel enquired. `Of course, when I hear any one talking--you, for instance--I can see how desperately shy he is! But can you see that in a letter?'
`Well, of course, when you hear any one talk fluently--you, for instance--you can see how desperately un-shy she is--not to say saucy! But the shyest and most intermittent talker must seem fluent in letter- writing. He may have taken half-an-hour to compose his second sentence; but there it is, close after the first!'
`Then letters don't express all that they might express?'
`That's merely because our system of letter-writing is incomplete. A shy writer ought to be able to show that he is so. Why shouldn't he make pauses in writing, just as he would do in speaking? He might leave blank spaces--say half a page at a time. And a very shy girl--if there is such a thing--might write a sentence on the first sheet of her letter--then put in a couple of blank sheets--then a sentence on the fourth sheet: and so on.'
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