Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 821
An unnamed, bare-legged young woman, who later turns out to be Emma, is driving rapidly south, alone, on an Irish road. She pulls into a “Do Not Park” space in order to make a long-distance call from a hotel. She has a brief conversation with an unnamed man, who is...
(The entire section contains 821 words.)
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An unnamed, bare-legged young woman, who later turns out to be Emma, is driving rapidly south, alone, on an Irish road. She pulls into a “Do Not Park” space in order to make a long-distance call from a hotel. She has a brief conversation with an unnamed man, who is later called Robinson. He cautions her not to drive too fast in the treacherous light because they have the whole night before them, and he inquires about the Major, Emma’s husband.
Robinson, having hung up rather abruptly, returns smiling slightly to the two guests in his living room: a pretty, middle-aged, deaf woman named Queenie Cavey, and her brother, Justin Cavey, who, because of the war in Europe, is spending his vacation visiting his sister in their native town. Tonight for the first time they have taken up Robinson’s invitation to call at Bellevue any evening. Queenie sits by the window drinking tea and enjoying the view of the distant beeches of the old feudal domain while Justin discourses on the war, life, identity, and love, and Robinson keeps glancing at the clock. Robinson is a factory manager who arrived in town only three years ago and does not socialize with the townspeople. The local ladies, having discovered that he is a married man living apart from his wife and that he frequently disappears for the weekend, whisper that Bellevue is a Bluebeard’s castle. Suddenly Justin asks: “What’s love like?” Robinson utters a short, temporizing, and unnaturally loud laugh that reaches Queenie.
Justin is angered, and Robinson apologizes; to change the subject, he asks if Queenie is fond of children. “You mean why did she not marry? There was some fellow once . . . ” Justin answers. Robinson takes photos of his two sons over to Queenie, who says that it is a wonder that he has no little girl. He returns for a third photo, passes his hand “as though sadly expunging something, backwards and forwards across the glass.” He does not know how to tell Queenie that the child is dead.
Without transition, the Major is introduced in his orchard sixty miles away: a tall, unmilitary-looking man with a stoop, whose frown has intensified in the last months. He is called to the phone by Aunt Fran. Emma has rung up ostensibly to say goodnight. He asks if the people with whom she is going to stay will be waiting up for her. Aunt Fran protests that Emma said goodnight before she left and comments that she seemed undecided about going all afternoon.
The Major goes up to the bedroom of his daughters, Di and Vivie: The latter is a miniature of his wife. Di reports that Aunt Fran is frightened that something will happen. Vivie says that her mother likes things to happen and was whistling all the time she was packing. She suggests that her mother may not come back.
When Di is asleep, Vivie prowls through the house naked, her body covered with chalk drawings of stars and snakes. Her bouncing on the bed in her mother’s room causes the chandelier in the drawing room to tinkle. Aunt Fran insists on investigating. Told to kneel and pray, Vivie objects: “In my skin?” Aunt Fran rolls Vivie up like a great sausage in the pink taffeta eiderdown.
Again with no transition, the reader is back at Bellevue, where Justin and Queenie are taking their leave. At this moment a car pulls up at the gate and its lights go off. Emma has arrived.
Robinson is very much at ease, while Emma is nervous and asks for a drink. This is her first visit to Bellevue. She says that the friends expecting her have no phone and that he will have to think of something that went wrong with her car. She remarks that she hardly knows Robinson and asks if she was wrong to come. During a visit to his garden, Emma is intrigued by the domain in the distance and its destroyed castle. When Robinson observes that they do not want to stay outdoors all night, Emma becomes frightened by his experienced delicacy on the subject of love. He has ruined her fairy tale.
On his return to the hotel, Justin writes a lengthy, accusatory letter to Robinson and adds that he prefers they should not meet again. “Justin, trembling, smote a stamp on this letter,” and walks toward Bellevue to post it. “On his way back he still heard the drunken woman sobbing against the telegraph pole.”
Queenie happily undresses in the dark. “This was the night she knew she would find again. On just such a summer night, once only, she had walked with a lover in the demesne. . . . That had been twenty years ago, till to-night when it was now. To-night it was Robinson who, guided by Queenie down leaf tunnels, took the place on the stone seat by the lake.”