Five Times Cecil Dismissed Freddy from his Mind...
1. Man proposes
"I say, Cecil, old chap, you're sitting on my bone."
One did make an effort. One had to, simply and illimitably, with the Honeychurches. To think that only yesterday, one had bent so far from one's Michelangelesque level of vision – almost bent double, if truth be told – to compliment young Freddy on his stamp collection. And what had this promising youth said, when told that his five-shilling Victoria was the very shade once called azurite by the Renaissance painters? "Crikey! I'll say it's all right – got it from a fellow at school, and he had three gos at my tuck box before he even let me see it. I bet your fellows never had to trade off their sponge cakes."
He's just a boy, Cecil told himself as he stood up, steadied his pince-nez, lifted a sofa cushion (roses, of course, the size of cauliflowers – trust Honeychurch mère to confuse interior display and agricultural show) and retrieved the miscreant bone between his thunb and finger.
"Well, well. I won't ask you to consider it now as –" He'd meant to say "a bone of contention", but the incorrigible Freddy was too quick for him.
This time, Cecil nearly walked out of the room.
But there was a certain something in young Honeychurch that made it difficult to take that firm first step and mean it. Some boyish gusto, that broke out in the quick-fox smile, the brown twinkle, or the oblivious show of petite white teeth. It reminded Cecil of a little faun he'd taken a fancy to in Rome, not in a gallery or private collection for once, but in the open, brilliant afternoon air. The faunlet, all curls and marble cheek, had been part of a fountain that stood quite close to their hotel, so that walk after walk had cemented an invisible connection between them. And while he could hardly point it out to Lucy or Mother (the faun, like Freddy's bone, tended to, ahem. Stick out, quite out of place), Cecil had found the little imp rather charming.
Of course, there was no earthly hope to turn Freddy Honeychurch, he of the bones and sponge cakes, into an art object. Not one mortal hope, neither in this life or the next. But for the sake of his his Roman lucky charm, that had been the prelude to his romance with Lucy, he, Cecil Aloysius Vyse – would sit down again.
"I say! You're not mad at me, Cecil, are you? I really didn't mean to rile you, cross my heart. You've been such a pal these days, helping me out with Latin, and chosing the right ties, and all that. You're a topping fellow. What was it you wanted to ask me?"
"Well..." Cecil touched a finger to one trim half-moustache to rally his spirits. He didn't know why, but he was suddenly feeling an onrush of self-consciousness. "My purpose, I dare say, would surprise many, but you and I know better than to heed the sham standards of the vulgus pecum, be they the rustic crème de la crème."
"That's cream of cream, isn't it?" asked a puzzled Freddy. "Tea-time –"
"No, no," Cecil hastened on, aware that the dreary sponge cake was probably next on line. "What I mean, Freddy, is that we're both above the trite conventions of age and class. To quote your own refreshing words, we are, ah. Topping fellows."
"And, if I may make so bold as to borrow another of your sayings, jolly good pals."
Freddy still looked a little bewildered, but gave the saying a nod.
"Jolly good pals," Cecil repeated unflinchingly. « Well, Freddy, I am now indulging the hope that we might end up a trifle closer. »
Freddy's mouth fell open, while his hair, on each side of their meticulous parting, bounced with extra gusto. It made him look less like Pan's son and heir and more like a grasshopper with two very mobile feelers, but Cecil bestowed his kindest smile upon him.
"You mean... » Freddy was out of speech, a not unusual occurence in the Freddies of this world. « You have something in mind? A special something?"
"Positively unique. And, to me, most delightful – if I can persuade you to approve it."
"Oh, well... I mean, it's a bit of a shock and all that, old chap, but I'm flattered. I mean, really, I am."
Excellent. Cecil channelled his inner Machiavelli. "I'm very glad to hear it. And quite certain that you have your sister's best interests at heart."
« ...Lucy? Lucy? Lucy? » Young Freddy was rapidly being demoted from grasshopper to budgerigar. "What d'you mean, Lucy's interests? "
« Come, come. Surely, she must have told you I've asked twice for her hand in Rome? Jamais deux sans trois, and no, that's not French for jam and crumpets. All you have to do is give me your permission, and, presto! All for the best in the best of all possible Corners. Your lady mother is in her parlour, eating bread and honey and rehearsing her benediction speech, and — »
« No! »
The word, launched forth with all of of Freddy's vim and lungs, nearly flattened Cecil's pince-nez back against his delicate orb of forehead.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said no."
"But surely "
"Golly! Can't a chap get a word in with you? Or a girl? I said no and she said no, so there. No permission. You can go into the garden and thrash it out with her, if you like. And I know what jamais deux means." Freddy stood up. He now looked very pink, yet oddly dignified. « It means - it means 'never two', and you didn't have to rub it in, a chap can take a hint. And now, if you don't mind, I'll have my bone. And my tea."
Only when the door boomed them apart did Cecil's mind alert Cecil to the fact that his mouth still hung open. Frowning, he remedied quickly to this sad state of affairs. Then he braced his shoulders, letting his Imperial stiff collar encompass him once more and point him to the path of aesthetic rectitude. Lucy was in her garden, all was well in the world.
And yet he lingered on.
He's just a boy, he told himself, a very green boy. I'm probably everything he hates. It will pass.
Such words helped, and Cecil soon forgot all about Freddy, looking down into Lucy's happy, demure eyes. The boy shook his hand decently enough and seemed ready to forgive his sister for deserting him. Their little tiff was over, and Cecil smiled benignly on the whole family, lighting a cigarette.
But when Mr Beebe waddled in, and he sidled up to him, the first thing he noticed was the gigantic bone, lying atop a small chiffonier. Mr Beebe joked, and he joked back, and the jocular mood tided them over to the customary clerical blessing. But all that time, the bone stood there, white and glaring.
The bone, it seemed, had not forgotten.