“It’s not that. I think Mrs. Stormer as good as any man—only— only—”
“Not quite so good as you, eh?”
“A hundred times better, sir.”
Stormer smiled. Ironic beast!
“Lennan,” he said, “distrust hyperbole.”
“Of course, I know I’m no good at climbing,” the boy broke out again; “but—but—I thought where she was allowed to risk her life, I ought to be!”
“Good! I like that.” It was said so entirely without irony for once, that the boy was disconcerted.
“You are young, Brother Lennan,” his tutor went on. “Now, at what age do you consider men develop discretion? Because, there is just one thing always worth remembering—women have none of that better part of valour.”
“I think women are the best things in the world,” the boy blurted out.
“May you long have that opinion!” His tutor had risen, and was ironically surveying his knees. “A bit stiff!” he said. “Let me know when you change your views!”
“I never shall, sir.”
“Ah, ah! Never is a long word, Lennan. I am going to have some tea;” and gingerly he walked away, quizzing, as it were, with a smile, his own stiffness.
Lennan remained where he was, with burning cheeks. His tutor’s words again had seemed directed against her. How could a man say such things about women! If they were true, he did not want to know; if they were not true, it was wicked to say them. It must be awful never to have generous feelings; always to have to be satirical. Dreadful to be like the ‘English Grundys’; only different, of course, because, after all, old Stormer was much more interesting and intelligent—ever so much more; only, just as ‘superior.’ “Some never get away!” Had she meant—from that superiority? Just down below were a family of peasants scything and gathering in the grass. One could imagine her doing that, and looking beautiful, with a coloured handkerchief over her head; one could imagine her doing anything simple—one could not imagine old Stormer doing anything but what he did do. And suddenly the boy felt miserable, oppressed by these dim glimmerings of lives misplaced. And he resolved that he would not be like Stormer when he was old! No, he would rather be a regular beast than be like that! . . .
When he went to his room to change for dinner he saw in a glass of water a large clove carnation. Who had put it there? Who could have put it there—but she? It had the same scent as the mountain pinks she had dropped over him, but deeper, richer—a scent moving, dark, and sweet. He put his lips to it before he pinned it into his coat.