From behind the tulip tree Constance saw all: Philip laughing with Sarah, that hint of unqualified energy in both of them, unwatchfully themselves, rather more unusual in public, in Sarah, but always there behind the thumb-sucking. They kissed lightly but definitely. Sarah's silvery head thrown back, her beautiful mouth and nose distorted with laughing so much and the kiss.
Philip kissing Sarah was nothing complicated. Or, at least, you could say it had been happening for years. More unexpected - this was Sarah kissing Philip, for she had put out her long thin arms and pulled his face down to her mouth. Everyone doing it, kissing Philip, these days, public and private. Philip had not sneezed at this capture, of course, but it was the laughing and talking that counted; that, and Sarah examining his coat buttons; the intimacy of it and the way it carried Sarah out of herself.
Sarah had already walked off still laughing, swanking, very like Frances, with her bottom wagging, when Constance saw Camilla watching. Philip, absentminded once more, had kicked the old deflated football flying. Constance knew, sadly at last, he did not want girls. Constance hurried to catch Sarah up, as if Sarah, having suddenly joined in proceedings, had now become vulnerable.
"That'll give Camilla something to sulk about," said Sarah pleasantly. Constance construed that. That was: one, taking Philip and his sister seriously as lovers; two, attempting to admit impediment between them; three, completely overlooking the position, expectations and possible rights going back now many, many months, of Frances in the question of Philip Harisonn's mature embraces; four, being totally ignorant of how things had proceeded, had seemed to proceed, as between Philip and Constance; five, underestimating the new Philip into the bargain. Constance had a thrilling shock of pure isolation; one sees not what another sees, even though this one was her sister Sarah, and she, Constance and all her cohorts, had her by the invulnerable arm.
"Philip's got a new girl-friend, I think" said Sarah.
For one delirious moment, Constance thought Sarah must be referring to her. "Ah! Look who comes. I thought he would." Sarah, standing stock-still, waited.
Dr. Gerald Streeter joined them, a smooth and substantial man, with such a weary look. Gerald never moved fast if slow would do, never answered quickly if an answer could be suspended while silence took place. But it was deceitful of him because in the matter of a quick answer his thought-processes seemed well above average, and in the matter of questioning you, he could give you the impression you had been suddenly seized by a lie-detector. Constance was wary of Dr. Streeter. Not old. Extremely well-dressed, in that quiet way doctors favour. Straight grey eyes, clean-shape, doctor, friend. At least, Constance had the impression that he occasionally noticed her.
"Hello," said Sarah, and sucked her thumb. "Gerald, when are you going to find that old case for me? My paints will exactly fit it." Sarah whined and sounded about ten years old, took Gerald's hand, and went on sucking her thumb.
Constance was seeing something having to do with the fact that she herself could greet Gerald Streeter only far more gravely and, this afternoon, as it happened, meltingly, for she was tired of being unnoticed and Gerald had looked searchingly at her when she smiled at him.
This time, however, she was disconcerted with being so melted. She rushed off through the rose-hedge, round the rose-hedge, and back into the drawing-room diving between Matthew and Molly on their way out.
She flopped into a puffy chair, conscious of behaving in a ridiculous manner for her age, and disappointed. All this rushing about was not how she felt. She discarded, as being all too likely to succeed, the idea of going home unnoticed, and substituted for it the idea of going out and getting thoroughly run over by a lorry. From where she sat she could see Philip in the garden having a well-deserved bad time with Frances. They were quarrelling were they? Tom, who now couldn't leave Philip alone, or perhaps it was Frances in Philip's company he couldn't leave alone, was at that moment approaching them with his father. Dull old Matthew. Frances, recovering her glances from the trees and restraining certain admonitory gestures, instantly held court. The Evanwoods had arrived out there, Sarah embraced Mervyn and ignored his father, John Evanwood, MP., to whom she had not spoken for years. Constance envied her sisters their self-possession in the presence of men.
But then, had either of them ever been, for instance, in the hands of a priest who for years had been feeling the cockles of their bottom on Wimbledon Common? That little worrying secret had not yet come out. It might and it might not. What would Frances do in such a situation? Constance would think up no circumstance which would find Frances wanting at least a word or gesture exactly appropriate to that circumstance's place in time, space and world thought. Frances would have hit him perhaps? Father Horbark, confessor, friend, and neighbour? Nothing to Frances. Minimally, you could say Frances would know exactly what she, Frances, thought. Constance did not know what she, Constance, thought. She had tried to be nice to Father Horbark at the same time as keeping him at arm's length and well out of the thickets on the Common through which for several years he had insisted on carrying her. Until one day she simply couldn't help laughing. Her great legs sticking out of his old puffing belly, his beard buried in her stomach. Being nice to him was still especially difficult because on these occasions he was such a bore. On, and on, and on, the same question: ought she to be punished for being such a naughty girl? On and on. Only to change it, when she would not answer to: if so, how? Hand, brush, or ruler? Always the same. Why not lightning, fire, or boils? For he was an intelligent and kindly man and a very interesting theologian despite his sadism. The green and the yellow were always rinsed out of those afternoons, turning them grey all over with the boredom of all that thoughtful pain politely suffered. Indifference without rudeness, very difficult. Just as friendliness without sexual desires seemed rather difficult this afternoon. Constance, with resignation, remembered that Father Horbark would want to take her out for a walk tomorrow afternoon after Sunday-school, and Aunt Molly would say how nice of course she must go, and extraordinarily, she would go, politely, unable to disappoint him. As if she owed him something.
Sarah had disappeared once more. Lucky old Sarah. Constance always missed her when Sarah followed her luck. One could be quite sure that Sarah would come out of a Father Horbark encounter smiling. Sarah would never get into it, of course. Really, she seemed to have the most complete sense of self-preservation Constance had ever known. Sarah had a self such as nothing in the world, with the exception perhaps of Gerald Streeter, could qualify against Sarah's will.
Tom, deprived of a further private conversation with Philip, or, as it may be, Frances, was on his way in from the garden. He stopped at the doorway.
"And another thing," he called to his father and Aunt Molly behind, "you have to bear in mind that in another five years or so you're going to fall into the hands of a generation who want something different, who didn't go to the wars at all, and won't go, and who don't care for all this living in the gallant past... "
Tom's imitation of living in the gallant past, with that hair and those fat hips and lips wobbling and swaggering was ludicrous. Constance burst out laughing. He looked at her very sternly and winked.
"If you, dear Tom, are an example of those you refer to, I trust we shall all be dead," Aunt Molly said coming in as Tom and Philip left the room again. "He's right, of course," she said, "and one welcomes it. Freshness and zest."
"But we are not to cramp their style, are we, by too ready an accommodation?" Laekia followed on. Molly Absecond, who believed in the subversion of society under cover of manners and the conventions, beamed appreciatively. Her two little soft chins, her little beak of a nose and her bright eyes. She's like a sweet shiny little bird today, Constance thought. It was reassuring. Constance dozed.
Laekia laughed and shook, and her bangles shook and tinkled. Constance woke up. "No, no, no. I insist, you are a nation of worriers," Laekia said. "That is my most useful sense of you. Conscience-mongers," she added a little more tartly and with amusement to see them pay attention. "Two sides to every question. But rarely three, or seven, or seventeen sides. Just two. Good and bad, right and wrong, for and against, public and private, life and death, and never the twain to meet. And those who do not work at their opinions monopolise one side of every question just the same. Oh no, excuse me Geoffrey, pragmatists or not, you British are rarely free to celebrate your twenty-five experienced selves. You have crumbs on your chin, Geoffrey."
"Laekia, I shall miss you," Molly said.
"East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet," chanted Mrs. Penny Evanwood, bending her young bulk stiffly from the waist to secure a lonely cucumber sandwich from a low table.
I don't know about that, Constance thought, sleepy and disgruntled, watching Camilla now on Philip's arm; oh, I don't know.
"The North Korean Army crossed the parallel last Saturday the twenty-fourth of June," Geoffrey gulped his whisky ferociously, saying what apparently had to be said, was expected to be said, pleasant little gathering or no, to Molly Absecond who could not agree with him. The aggressors, she said were the South Koreans.
Mrs. Sage entered noisily with refillings of water and a new brew. Constance opened one eye. How did Mrs. Sage figure as a British worrier? She was a worrier, of course. She was a British worrier of the class who worry about who they can get to do their worrying for them effectively; as though Mrs. Sage did not feel herself, somehow, fully-fledged in her rights in the worrying respect.
Sarah was back softly playing the piano, beautifully playing the Scarlatti Pastorale, despite Mrs. Penny Evanwood's weighty presence on the piano, her unsynchronized foot-tapping work. Sarah paused in what seemed a flawless phrase, rearranged an emphasis, frowned ...
"Ah! You know, you should take it up seriously. Oh no, I quite mean what I say, you should take it up seriously. Oh no, please, I must say what I think, I think you should take the piano up seriously, take music up seriously." Mrs. Evanwood beamed on Sarah, who sat dumbly looking at her. "You're a shy modest child. I know. And I know how well your teachers think of you, I've been talking to your Aunt, and you must overcome your reluctance. You play divinely."
"I don't play divinely. I play seriously."
"Naughty child," Penny Evanwood cooed, fluttering her fingers under Sarah's nose. "You must make an effort. Effort! I know you young people. You're all lazy. Like my pretty one, Shirley. Going in for nursing. If she only took it seriously as she ought, she could be a doctor."
"This piano is out of tune," Sarah said in a straight-eyed way that caused Mrs. Evanwood to place her point solely on one more flutter of her fingers and a bleat: "Naughty girls. Naughty girls." Sarah excused herself and went back into the garden.
Geoffrey Harisonn was explaining to Molly what a typical Hate Week in China was like. Molly Absecond, on behalf, apparently, of the Chinese was resisting him. Constance looked at them balefully.
"What's the matter with you?" Matthew bent down. "Off your food? Fallen in love? I haven't seen a single smile the whole afternoon." Matthew had just planted an avuncular rub on Constance's head when Camilla that tall and bronze young woman, not much older than Frances, came over to her mother bringing, very subvertly, Gerald Streeter's attention with her. Constance was unmistakably excited and envious about that. Leaving Camilla to take on her duties, Laekia came round the table to start leave-taking of her guests. She asked first for news of Matthew's Patricia. Constance sat by their standing figures with her eyes closed.
"Patricia has taken a real fancy to Ludlow. She's there now. She means to renovate it. I think I shall have to inhibit one or two of her more ambitious schemes," Matthew laughed, in a way most loving of Patricia and himself. "It's needed a woman there for years. I can't tell you how delighted I am."
Ludlow! Just the very name made her heart stop beating for a moment. Arden. Arcadia. It was a loss very hard to bear and more powerful, for a moment, than the memory of the kisses Philip had given and forgotten. She put her hands in her face. Where the hell was Sarah?