Part 1 out of 4
LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT
by ADA LEVERSON
First published London, 1916
(Book Three of THE LITTLE OTTLEYS)
An appalling crash, piercing shrieks, a loud, unequal quarrel on a
staircase, the sharp bang of a door....
Edith started up from her restful corner on the blue sofa by the fire,
where she had been thinking about her guest, and rushed to the door.
'Archie--Archie! Come here directly! What's that noise?'
A boy of ten came calmly into the room.
'It wasn't me that made the noise,' he said, 'it was Madame Frabelle.'
His mother looked at him. He was a handsome, fair boy with clear grey
eyes that looked you straight in the face without telling you anything
at all, long eyelashes that softened, but gave a sly humour to his
glance, a round face, a very large forehead, and smooth straw-coloured
hair. Already at this early age he had the expressionless reserve of the
public school where he was to be sent, with something of the suave
superiority of the university for which he was intended. Edith thought
he inherited both of these traits from her.
* * * * *
She gazed at him, wondering, as she had often wondered, at the
impossibility of guessing, even vaguely, what was really going on behind
that large brow. And he looked back observantly, but not expressively,
at her. She was a slim, fair, pretty woman, with more vividness and
character than usually goes with her type. Like the boy, she had
long-lashed grey eyes, and _blond-cendre_ hair: her mouth and chin were
of the Burne-Jones order, and her charm, which was great but
unintentional, and generally unconscious, appealed partly to the senses
and partly to the intellect. She was essentially not one of those women
who irritate all their own sex by their power (and still more by their
fixed determination) to attract men; she was really and unusually
indifferent to general admiration. Still, that she was not a cold woman,
not incapable of passionate feeling, was obvious to any physiognomist;
the fully curved lips showed her generous and pleasure-loving
temperament, while the softly glancing, intelligent, smiling eyes spoke
fastidiousness and discrimination. Her voice was low and soft, with a
vibrating sound in it, and she laughed often and easily, being very
ready to see and enjoy the amusing side of life. But observation and
emotion alike were instinctively veiled by a quiet, reposeful manner, so
that she made herself further popular by appearing retiring. Edith
Ottley might so easily have been the centre of any group, and yet--she
was not! Women were grateful to her, and in return admitted that she was
pretty, unaffected and charming. Today she was dressed very simply in
dark blue and might have passed for Archie's elder sister.
'It isn't anything. It wasn't my fault. It was her fault. Madame
Frabelle said _she_ would teach me to take away her mandolin and use it
for a cricket bat. She needn't teach me; I know already.'
'Now, Archie, you know perfectly well you've no right to go into her
room when she isn't there.'
'How can I go in when she is there?... She won't let me. Besides, I
don't want to.'
'It isn't nice of you; you ought not to go into her room without her
'It isn't her room; it's your room. At least, it's the spare room.'
'Have you done any harm to the mandolin?'
He paused a little, as he often did before answering, as if in absence
of mind, and then said, as though starting up from a reverie:
'Er--no. No harm.'
'Well, what have you done?'
'I can mend it,' he answered.
'Madame Frabelle has been very kind to you, Archie. I'm sorry you're not
behaving nicely to a guest in your mother's house. It isn't the act of a
'Oh. Well, there are a great many things in her room, Mother; some of
them are rather jolly.'
'Go and say you're sorry, Archie. And you mustn't do it again.'
'Will it be the act of a gentleman to say I'm sorry? It'll be the act of
a story-teller, you know.'
'What! Aren't you sorry to have bothered her?'
'I'm sorry she found it out,' he said, as he turned to the door.
'These perpetual scenes and quarrels between my son and my guest are
most painful to me,' Edith said, with assumed solemnity.
He looked grave. 'Well, she needn't have quarrelled.'
'But isn't she very kind to you?'
'Yes, she isn't bad sometimes. I like it when she tells me lies about
what her husband used to do--I mean stories. She's not a bad sort.... Is
she a homeless refugette, Mother?'
'Not exactly that. She's a widow, and she's staying with us, and we must
be nice to her. Now, you won't forget again, will you?'
'Right. But I can mend it.'
'I think I'd better go up and see her,' said Edith.
Archie politely opened the door for his mother.
'I shouldn't, if I were you,' he said.
Edith slowly went back to the fire.
'Well, I'll leave her a little while, perhaps. Now do go and do
'What, useful? Gracious! I haven't got much more of my holidays,
'That's no reason why you should spend your time in worrying everybody,
and smashing the musical instruments of guests that are under
He looked up at the ceiling and smiled, as if pleased at this way of
'I suppose she's very glad to have a roof to her mouth--I mean to her
head,' he hurriedly corrected. 'But, Mother, she isn't poor. She has an
amber necklace. Besides, she gave Dilly sixpence the other day for not
being frightened of a cow. If she can afford to give a little girl
sixpence for every animal she says she isn't afraid of!'...
'That only proves she's kind. And I didn't say she was poor; that's not
the point. We must be nice and considerate to anyone staying with
us--don't you see?'
He became absent-minded again for a minute.
'Well, I shouldn't be surprised if she'll be able to use it again,' he
said consolingly--'the mandolin, I mean. Besides, what's the good of it
anyway? I say, Mother, are all foreigners bad-tempered?'
'Madame Frabelle is not a foreigner.'
'I never said she was. But her husband was. He used to get into
frightful rages with her sometimes. She says he was a noble fellow. She
liked him awfully, but she says he never understood her. Do you suppose
she talked English to him?'
'That's enough, Archie. Go and find something to do.'
As he went out he turned round again and said:
'Does father like her?'
'Why, yes, of course he does.'
'How funny!' said Archie. 'Well, I'll say I'm sorry ... when I see her
Edith kissed him, a proceeding that he bore heroically. He was kissable,
but she seldom gave way to the temptation. Then she went back to the
sofa. She wanted to go on thinking about that mystery, her guest.
Madame Frabelle had arrived about a fortnight ago, with a letter of
introduction from Lady Conroy. Lady Conroy herself was a vague, amiable
Irishwoman, with a very large family of children. She and Edith, who
knew each other slightly before, had grown intimate when they met, the
previous summer, at a French watering-place. The letter asked Edith,
with urgent inconsequence, to be kind to Madame Frabelle, of whom Lady
Conroy said nothing except that she was of good family--she had been a
Miss Eglantine Pollard--and was the widow of a well-to-do French
She was described as a clever, interesting woman who wished to study
English life in her native land. It did not surprise Lady Conroy in the
least that an Englishwoman should wish to study English in England; but
she was a woman who was never surprised at anything except the obvious
and the inevitable.
Edith had not had the faintest idea of asking Madame Frabelle to stay at
her very small house in Sloane Street, for which invitation, indeed,
there seemed no possible need or occasion. Yet she found herself asking
her visitor to stay for a few days until a house or a hotel should be
found; and Bruce, who detested guests in the house, seconded the
invitation with warmth and enthusiasm. As Bruce was a subconscious snob,
he may have been slightly influenced by the letter from Lady Conroy, who
was the wife of an unprominent Cabinet Minister and, in a casual way,
rather _grande dame_, if not exactly smart. But this consideration could
not weigh with Edith, and its effect on Bruce must have long passed
away. Madame Frabelle accepted the invitation as a matter of course,
made use of it as a matter of convenience, and had remained ever since,
showing no sign of leaving. Edith was deeply interested in her.
* * * * *
And Bruce was more genuinely impressed and unconsciously bored by Madame
Frabelle than by any woman he had ever met. Yet she was not at all
extraordinary. She was a tall woman of about fifty, well bred without
being distinguished, who could never have been handsome but was
graceful, dignified, and pleasing. She was neither dark nor fair. She
had a broad, good-natured face, and a pale, clear complexion. She was
inclined to be fat; not locally, in the manner of a pincushion, but with
the generally diffused plumpness described in shops as stock size. She
was not the sort of modern woman of fifty, with a thin figure and a good
deal of rouge, who looks young from the back when dancing or walking,
and talks volubly and confidentially of her young men. She had, of
course, nothing of the middle-aged woman of the past, who at her age
would have been definitely on the shelf, doing wool-work or collecting
recipes there. Nor did she resemble the strong-minded type in perpetual
tailor-made clothes, with short grey hair and eye-glasses, who belongs
to clubs and talks chiefly of the franchise. Madame Frabelle was soft,
womanly, amiable, yet extremely outspoken, very firm, and inclined to
lay down the law. She was certainly charming, as Bruce and Edith agreed
every day (even now, when they were beginning to wonder when she was
going away!). She had an extraordinary amount of personal magnetism,
since she convinced both the Ottleys, as she had convinced Lady Conroy,
that she was wonderfully clever: in fact, that she knew everything.
A fortnight had passed, and Edith was beginning to grow doubtful. Was
she so clever? Did she know everything? Did she know anything at all?
Long arguments, that grew quite heated and excited at luncheon or
dinner, about the origin of a word, the author of a book, and various
debatable questions of the kind, invariably ended, after reference to a
dictionary or an encyclopaedia, in Madame Frabelle proving herself, with
an air of triumph, to be completely and entirely wrong. She was as
generally positive as she was fatally mistaken. Yet so intense a belief
had she in her intuition as well as in her own inaccurate information
that her hypnotised hosts were growing daily more and more under her
thumb. She took it for granted that everyone would take her for
granted--and everyone did.
Was all this agreeable or otherwise? Edith thought it must be, or how
could they bear it at all? If it had not been extremely pleasant it
would have been simply impossible.
The fair, gentle, pretty Edith, who was more subtle than she appeared on
the surface, while apparently indolent, had a very active brain. Madame
Frabelle caused her to use it more than she had ever done before. Edith
was intensely curious and until she understood her visitor she could not
rest satisfied. She made her a psychological study.
For example, here was a curious little point. Madame Frabelle did not
look young for her age, nor did she seem in the least inclined to wish
to be admired, nor ever to have been a flirt. The word 'fast', for
example, would have been quite grotesque as associated with her, though
she was by no means prudish as to subjects of conversation, nor prim in
the middle-class way. Yet somehow it would not have seemed incongruous
or surprising if one had found out that there was even now some romance
in her life. But, doubtless, the most striking thing about her--and what
made her popular--was her intense interest in other people. It went so
far as to reach the very verge of being interference; but she was so
pleasant that one could scarcely resent it either as curiosity or
intrusion. Since she had stayed with the Ottleys, she appeared to think
of no-one and nothing else in the world. One would think that no-one
else existed for her. And, after all, such extreme interest is
flattering. Bruce, Archie, Edith, even Dilly's nurse, all had, in her,
an audience: interested, absorbed, enchanted. Who could help
* * * * *
Edith was still thinking about Madame Frabelle when a few minutes later,
Bruce came in.
Bruce also was fair, besides being tall, good-looking and well built.
Known by their friends for some reason as the little Ottleys, these two
were a rather fine-looking pair, and (at a casual glance) admirably
suited to one another. They appeared to be exactly like thousands of
other English married couples of the upper middle class between thirty
and forty; he looked as manly (through being sunburnt from knocking a
little ball over the links) as if he habitually went tiger-shooting;
but, though not without charm, he had much less distinction than his
wife. Most people smiled when Bruce's name was mentioned, and it was
usual for his intimates to clap him on the back and call him a silly
ass, which proves he was not unpopular. On the other hand, Edith was
described as a very pretty woman, or a nice little thing, and by the
more discriminating, jolly clever when you know her, and don't you
When Bruce told his wife that no-one had ever regretted consulting him
on a difficult, secret, and delicate matter, Edith had said she was
quite sure they hadn't. Perhaps she thought no-one had ever regretted
consulting him on such a subject, simply because no-one had ever tried.
'Oh, please don't move, Edith,' he said, in the tone which means, 'Oh,
please do move.' 'I like to see you comfortable.'
There was something in his manner that made her feel apologetic, and she
changed her position with the feeling of guilt about nothing, and a
tinge of shame for something she hadn't done, easily produced by an air
of self-sacrifice Bruce was apt to show at such moments.
'Your hair's coming down, Edith,' he said kindly, to add to her vague
As a matter of fact, a curl by the right ear was only about one-tenth of
an inch farther on the cheek than it was intended to be But, by this
observation, he got the advantage of her by giving the impression that
she looked wild, unkempt, and ruffled, though she was, in reality,
exactly as trim and neat as always.
'Well--about the delicate matter you were going to talk over with me,
'Oh yes. Oh, by the way,' he said, 'before we go into that, I wonder if
you could help me about something? You could do me a really great
service by helping me to find a certain book.'
'Why, of course, Bruce, with pleasure. What is the book?' asked the
amiable wife, looking alert.
Bruce looked at her with pity.
'What is the book? My dear Edith, don't you see I shouldn't have come to
you about it if I knew what the book was.'
'I beg your pardon, Bruce,' said Edith, now feeling thoroughly in the
wrong, and looking round the room. 'But if you can't give me the name of
the book I scarcely see how I can find it.'
'And if I knew its name I shouldn't want your assistance.'
It seemed a deadlock.
Going to the bookcase, Edith said:
'Can't you give me some idea of what it's like?'
'Certainly I can. I've seen it a hundred times in this very room; in
fact it's always here, except when it's wanted.'
Edith went down on her knees in front of the bookcase and
cross-questioned Bruce on the physiognomy of the volume. She asked
whether it was a novel, whether it was blue, whether it belonged to the
library, whether it was Stevenson, whether it was French, or if it was
suitable for the children.
To all of these questions he returned a negative.
'Suitable for the children?' he repeated. 'What a fantastic idea! Do you
think I should take all this trouble to come and request your assistance
and spend hours of valuable time looking for a book that's suitable for
'But, Bruce, if you request my assistance without having the slightest
idea of what book it is, how shall I possibly be able to help?'
'Quite so ... quite so. Never mind, Edith, don't trouble. If I say that
it's a pity there isn't more order in the house you won't regard it, I
hope, dear, as a reproach in any way. If there were a place for
everything, and everything in its place--However! Never mind. It's a
small matter, and it can't be helped. I know, Edith dear, you were not
brought up to be strictly orderly. Some people are not. I don't blame
you; not in the least. Still, when Dilly grows up I shall be sorry if--'
'Bruce, it's nothing to do with order. The room is perfectly tidy. It's
a question of your memory. You don't remember the name of the book.'
'Pardon me, it's not a question of remembering the name; that would be
nothing. Anyone can forget a name. That wouldn't matter.'
'Oh, then, you mean you don't even know in the least what you want?'
At this moment Bruce decided it was time to find the book, and suddenly
sprang, like a middle-aged fawn, at the writing-table, seizing a volume
'There it is--the whole time!' he said, 'staring at you while you are
helplessly looking for it. Oh, Edith, Edith!' he laughed amiably. 'How
like a woman that is! And the very book a few inches from your hand!
Well, well, never mind; it's found at last. I hope, dear, in the future
you will be more careful. We'll say no more about it now.'
Edith didn't point out to Bruce that the book was a novel; that it was
blue; that it belonged to the library, was French, and that it was still
suitable for the children.
'Well, well,' he said, sitting down with the book, which he had never
wanted at all, and had never even thought of when he came to the room
first, 'well, well, here it is! And now for the point I was going to
tell you when I came in.'
'Shall we have tea, dear?' said Edith.
'Tea? Oh, surely not. It's only just four. I don't think it's good for
the servants having tea half-an-hour earlier than usual. It's a little
thing--yes, I know that, but I don't believe in it. I like punctuality,
regularity--oh, well, of course, dear, if you wish it.'
'No, I don't at all! I thought you might.'
'Oh no. I like punctuality, er--and, as a matter of fact, I had tea at
Laughing, Edith rang the bell.
Bruce lighted a cigarette, first, with his usual courtesy, asking her
'I'll tell you about _that_ when Woodhouse has gone,' he said
'Oh, can't you tell me anything about it now? I wouldn't have ordered
tea if I'd known that!'
He enjoyed keeping her waiting, and was delighted at her interest. He
would have made it last longer, but was unable to bear his own suspense;
so he said:
'Before I say any more, tell me: where is Madame Frabelle?'
'Madame Frabelle's in her own room. She stays there a good deal, you
know. I fancy she does it out of tactfulness.' Edith spoke thoughtfully.
'What does she do there?' Bruce asked with low-toned curiosity, as he
stood up and looked in the glass.
'She says she goes there to read. She thinks it bores people to see a
visitor sitting reading about the house; she says it makes them get
tired of the sight of her.'
'But she can't be reading all those hours, surely?' and Bruce sat down,
satisfied with his appearance.
'One would think not. I used to think she was probably lying on the sofa
with cold cream on her face, or something of that sort. But she doesn't.
Once I went in,' Edith smiled, 'and found her doing Swedish exercises.'
'Good heavens! What a wonderful woman she is! Do you mean to say she's
learning Swedish, as well as all the other languages she knows?'
'No, no. I mean physical exercises. But go on, Bruce. I'm getting so
Bruce settled himself down comfortably, blew a ring of smoke, and then
'I never dreamt, Edith--'
'Oh, Bruce, are you going to tell me everything you never dreamt? We
shall take weeks getting to the point.'
'Don't be absurd. I'll get to the point at once then. Look here; I think
we ought to give a dinner for Madame Frabelle!'
'Oh, is that all? Of course! I've been wondering that you didn't wish to
do it long before now.'
'Have you? I'll tell you why. Thinking Madame Frabelle was a pal, er--a
friend--of the Conroys, it stood to reason, don't you see, that she knew
everyone in London; or could, if she liked--everyone worth knowing, I
mean. Under these circumstances there was no point in--well--in showing
off our friends to her. But I found out, only last night'--he lowered
his voice--'what do you think? She isn't an intimate friend of Lady
Conroy's at all! She only made her acquaintance in the drawing-room of
the Royal Hotel two days before she came to London!'
'How delightful! Then why on earth did Lady Conroy send her to us with a
letter of introduction? Why just us?'
'Because she likes you. Besides, it's just like her, isn't it? And she
never said she had known her all her life. We jumped to that conclusion.
It was our own idea.'
'And how did you find it out?'
'Why, when you went up to the children and left me alone with Madame
Frabelle yesterday evening, she told me herself; perfectly frankly, in
her usual way. She's always like that, so frank and open. Besides, she
hadn't the slightest idea we didn't know it.'
'I hope you didn't let her think--' Edith began.
'Edith! As if I would! Well, that being so'--he lit another
cigarette--'and under the circumstances, I want to ask some people to
meet her. See?'
'She seems very happy with us alone, doesn't she? Not as if she cared
much for going out.'
'Yes, I know; that's all very well. But I don't want her to think we
don't know anyone. And it seems a bit selfish, too, keeping her all to
ourselves like this.'
'Who do you want her to meet, dear?'
'I want her to meet the Mitchells,' said Bruce. 'It's only a chance, of
course, that she hasn't met them already here, and I've told Mitchell at
the Foreign Office a good deal about her. He's very keen to know her.
Very keen indeed,' he added thoughtfully.
'And then the Mitchells will ask her to their house, of course?'
'I know they will,' said Bruce, rather jealously. 'Well, I shan't mind
her going there--once or twice--it's a very pleasant house, you know,
Edith. And she likes celebrities, and clever people, and that sort
'Mrs Mitchell will count her as one, no doubt.'
'I daresay! What does that matter? So she is.'
'I know she is, in a way; but, Bruce, don't you wonder why she stays
here so long? I mean, there's no question of its not being for--well,
for, say, interested reasons. I happen to know for a fact that she has a
far larger income for herself alone than we have altogether. She showed
me her bank-book one day.'
'I don't know. She's so confidential, and perhaps she wanted me to know
how she was placed. And--she's not that sort of person--she's generous
and liberal, rather extravagant I should say.'
'Quite so. Still, it's comfortable here, and saves trouble--and she
Bruce again looked up toward the mirror, though he couldn't see it now.
'Well, I don't mind her being here; it's a nice change, but it seems odd
she hasn't said a word about going. Well, about the dinner. Who else
shall we have, Edith? Let it be a small, intimate, distinguished sort of
dinner. She hates stiffness and ceremony. She likes to have a chance
'She does, indeed. All right, you can leave it to me, Bruce. I'll make
it all right. We'll have about eight people, shall we?'
'She must sit next to me, on my left,' Bruce observed. 'And not lilies
of the valley--she doesn't like the scent.'
Madame Frabelle was usually designated between them by the personal
'All right. But what was the delicate, difficult matter that someone
consulted you about, Bruce?'
'Ah, I was just coining to that.... Hush!'
The door opened. Madame Frabelle came in, dressed in a violet tea-gown.
'Tea?' said Edith, holding out a cup.
'Yes, indeed! I'm always ready for tea, and you have such delightful
tea, Edith dear!' (They had already reached the point of Christian
names, though Edith always found Eglantine a little difficult to say.)
'It's nice to see you back so early, Mr Ottley.'
'Wouldn't you like a slice of lemon?' said Bruce.
To offer her a slice of lemon with tea was, from Bruce, a tribute to the
'Oh no! Cream and sugar, please.'
Madame Frabelle was looking very pleasant and very much at her ease as
she sat down comfortably, taking the largest chair.
'I'm afraid that Archie has been bothering you today,' Edith said, as
she poured out tea.
'What!' exclaimed Bruce, with a start of horror.
'Oh no, no, no! Not the least in the world, Mr Ottley! He's a most
delightful boy. We were only having some fun together--about my
mandolin; that was all!'
(Edith thought of the sounds she had heard on the stairs.)
'I'm afraid I got a little cross. A thing I very seldom do.' Madame
Frabelle looked apologetically at Edith. 'But we've quite made it up
now! Oh, and by the way, I want to speak to you both rather seriously
about your boy,' she went on earnestly. She had a rather powerful,
clear, penetrating voice, and spoke with authority, decision, and the
sort of voluble fluency generally known as not letting anyone else get a
word in edgeways.
'About our boy?' said Bruce, handing the toast to her invitingly, while
Edith put a cushion behind her back, for which Madame Frabelle gave a
little gracious smile.
'About your boy. Do you know, I have a very curious gift, Mr Ottley. I
can always see in children what they're going to make a success of in
life. Without boasting, I know you, Edith, are kind enough to believe
that I'm an extraordinary judge of character. Oh, I've always been like
that. I can't help it. I'll tell you now what you must make of your
boy,' she pursued. 'He is a born musician!'
'A musician!' exclaimed both his parents at once, in great astonishment.
Madame Frabelle nodded. 'That boy is a born composer! He has genius for
music. Look at his broad forehead! Those grey eyes, so wide apart! I
know, just at first one thinks too much from the worldly point of view
of the success of one's son in life. But why go against nature? The
boy's a genius!'
'But,' ventured Edith, 'Archie hasn't the slightest ear for music!'
'He dislikes music intensely,' said Bruce. 'Simply loathes it.'
'He cried so much over his piano lessons that we were obliged to let him
give them up. It used to make him quite ill--and his music mistress
too,' Edith said. 'I remember she left the last time in hysterics.'
'Yes, by Jove, I remember too. Pretty girl she was. She had a nervous
breakdown afterwards,' said Bruce rather proudly.
'No, dear; you're thinking of the other one--the woman who began to
teach him the violin.'
'Oh, am I?'
Madame Frabelle nodded her head with a smile.
'Nothing on earth to do with it, my dear! The boy's a born composer all
the same. With that face he must be a musician!'
'Really! Funny he hates it so,' said Bruce thoughtfully. 'But still, I
have no doubt--'
'Believe me, you can't go by his not liking his lessons,' assured Madame
Frabelle, as she ate a muffin. 'That has nothing to do with it at all.
The young Mozart--'
'Mozart? I thought he played the piano when he was only three?'
'Handel, I mean--or was it Meyerbeer? At any rate you'll see I'm right.'
'You really think we ought to force him against his will to study music
seriously, with the idea of his being a composer when he grows up,
though he detests it?' asked his mother.
Madame Frabelle turned to Edith.
'Won't you feel proud when you see your son conducting his own opera, to
the applause of thousands? Won't it be something to be the mother of the
greatest English composer of the twentieth century?'
'It would be rather fun.'
'We shan't hear quite so much about Strauss, Elgar, Debussy and all
those people when Archie Ottley grows up,' declared Madame Frabelle.
'I hear very little about them now,' said Bruce.
'Well, how should you at the Foreign Office, or the golf-links, or the
club?' asked Edith.
Bruce ignored Edith, and went on: 'Perhaps he'll turn out to be a Lionel
Monckton or a Paul Rubens. Perhaps he'll write comic opera revues or
'Oh dear, no,' said their guest, shaking her head decidedly. 'It will be
the very highest class, the top of the tree! The real thing!'
'Madame Frabelle _may_ be right, you know,' said Bruce.
She leant back, smiling.
'I _know_ I'm right! There's simply no question about it.'
'Well, what do you think we ought to do about it?' said Edith. 'He goes
to a preparatory school now where they don't have any music lessons
'All the better,' she answered. 'The sort of lessons he would get at a
school would be no use to him.'
'So I should think,' murmured Edith.
'Leave it, say, for the moment, and when he comes back for his next
holidays put him under a good teacher--a really great man. And
'I daresay we shall,' said Bruce, considerably relieved at the
postponement. 'Funny though, isn't it, his not knowing one tune from
another, when he's a born musician?'
It flashed across Edith what an immense bond of sympathy it was between
Bruce and Madame Frabelle that neither of them was burdened with the
slightest sense of humour.
When he presently went out (each of them preferred talking to Her alone,
and She also enjoyed a _tête-à-tête_ most) Madame Frabelle drew up her
chair nearer to Edith and said:
'My dear, I'm going to tell you something. Don't be angry with me, or
think me impertinent, but you've been very kind to me, and I look upon
you as a real friend.'
'It's very sweet of you,' said Edith, feeling hypnotised, and as if she
would gladly devote her life to Madame Frabelle.
'Well, I can see something. You are not quite happy.'
'Not happy!' exclaimed Edith.
'No. You have a trouble, and I'd give anything to take it away.'
Madame Frabelle looked at her with sympathy, pressed her hand, then
Edith knew she was looking away out of delicacy. Delicacy about what? It
was an effort not to laugh; but, oddly enough, it was also an effort not
to feel secretly miserable. She wondered, though, what she was unhappy
about. She need not have troubled, for Madame Frabelle was quite willing
to tell her. She was, indeed, willing to tell anyone anything. Perhaps
that was the secret of her charm.
It was utterly impossible, literally out of the question, that Madame
Frabelle could know anything about the one trouble, the one danger, that
so narrowly escaped being almost a tragedy, in Edith's life.
It was three years since Bruce, always inclined to vague, mild
flirtations, had been positively carried off his feet, and literally
taken away by a determined young art student, with red hair, who had
failed to marry a friend of his. While Edith, with the children, was
passing the summer holidays at Westgate, Bruce had sent her the
strangest of letters, informing her that he and Mavis Argles could not
live without one another, and had gone to Australia together, and
imploring her to divorce him. The complication was increased by the fact
that at that particular moment the most charming man Edith had ever met,
Aylmer Ross, that eloquent and brilliant barrister, had fallen in love
with her, and she had become considerably attracted to him. Her pride
had been hurt at Bruce's conduct, but she had certainly felt it less
bitterly, in one way, because she was herself so much fascinated by
Aylmer and his devotion.
* * * * *
But Edith had behaved with cool courage and real unselfishness. She felt
certain that Brace's mania would not last, and that if it did he would
be miserable. Strangely, then, she had declined to divorce him, and
waited. Her prophecy turned out correct, and by the time they arrived at
their journey's end the red-haired lady was engaged to a commercial
traveller whom she met on the boat. By then Bruce and she were equally
convinced that in going to Australia they had decidedly gone too far.
* * * * *
So Brace came back, and Edith forgave him. She made one condition only
(which was also her one revenge), that he should never speak about it,
never mention the subject again.
Aylmer Ross, who had taken his romance seriously to heart, refused to be
kept as _l'ami de la maison,_ and as a platonic admirer. Deeply
disappointed--for he was prepared to give his life to Edith and her
children (he was a widower of independent means)--he had left England;
she had never seen him since.
All this had been a real event, a real break in Edith's life. For the
first few months after she suffered, missing the excitement of Aylmer's
controlled passion, and his congenial society. Gradually she made
herself--not forget it--but put aside, ignore the whole incident. It
gave her genuine satisfaction to know that she had made a sacrifice for
Bruce's sake. She was aware that he could not exist really
satisfactorily without her, though perhaps he didn't know it. He needed
her. At first she had endeavoured to remain separated from him, while
apparently living together, from who knows what feeling of romantic
fidelity to Aylmer, or pique at the slight shown her by her husband.
Then she found that impossible. It would make him more liable to other
complications and the whole situation too full of general difficulties.
So now, for the last three years, they had been on much the same terms
as they were before. Bruce had become, perhaps, less patronising, more
respectful to her, and she a shade more gentle and considerate to him,
as to a child. For she was generous and did not forgive by halves. There
were moments of nervous irritation, of course, and of sentimental
regret. On the whole, though, Edith was glad she had acted as she did.
But if occasionally she felt her life a little dull and flat, if she
missed some of the excitement of that eventful year, it was impossible
for anyone to see it by her manner.
What could Madame Frabelle possibly know about it? What did that lady
really suppose was the matter?
* * * * *
'What do you think I'm unhappy about?' Edith repeated.
Madame Frabelle, as has been mentioned, was willing to tell her. She
told her, as usual, with fluency and inaccuracy.
Edith was much amused to find how strangely mistaken was this
authoritative lady as to her intuitions, how inevitably _à faux_ with
her penetrations and her instinctive guesses. Madame Frabelle said that
she believed Edith was beginning to feel the dawn of love for someone,
and was struggling against it. (The struggle of course in reality had
long been over.)
Who was the person?
'I haven't met him yet,' Madame Frabelle said; 'but isn't there a name I
hear very often? Your husband is always talking about him; he told me I
was to make the acquaintance of this great friend of his. Something
tells me it is he. I shall know as soon as I see him. You can't hide
it from me!'
Who was the person Bruce was always mentioning to Madame Frabelle?
Certainly not Aylmer Ross--he had apparently forgotten his existence.
'Are you referring to--?'
Madame Frabelle looked out of the window and nodded.
Edith started, and a smile curved her lips.
'It's always the husband's great friend, unfortunately,' sighed
Eglantine. 'Oh, my dear' (with the usual cheap, ready-made knowingness
of the cynic), 'I've seen so much of that. Now I'm going to help you.
I'm determined to leave you two dear, charming people without a cloud,
when I go.'
'You're not thinking of going?'
'Not yet ... no. Not while you let me stay here, dear. I've friends in
London, and in the country, but I haven't looked them up, or written to
them, or done anything since I've been here. I've been too happy. I
couldn't be bothered. I am so interested in you! Another thing--may I
say?--for I feel as if I'd known you for years. You think your husband
doesn't know it. You are wrong.'
'Am I really?'
'Quite. Last night a certain look when he spoke of the Mitchells showed
me that Bruce is terribly jealous. He doesn't show it, but he is.'
'But--Mrs Mitchell?' suggested Edith. 'She's one of our best friends--a
dear thing. By the way, we're asking them to dine with us on Tuesday.'
'I'm delighted to hear it. I shall understand everything then. Isn't it
curious--without even seeing them--that I know all about it? I think
I've a touch of second sight.'
'But, Eglantine, aren't you going a little far? Hadn't you better wait
until you've seen them, at least. You've no idea how well the
Mitchells get on.'
'I've no doubt of it,' she replied, 'and, of course, I don't know that
he--Mr Mitchell, I mean--even realises what you are to him. But _I_ do!'
Edith was really impressed at the dash with which Madame Frabelle so
broadly handled this vague theme.
'Wait till you do see them,' she said, rather mischievously, declining
to deny her friend's suggestion altogether.
'Odd I should have guessed it, isn't it?' Madame Frabelle was evidently
pleased. 'You'll admit this, Edith, from what your husband says I gather
you see each other continually, don't you?'
'Bruce and he are together at the Foreign Office. Bruce thinks much of
him, and admires him. With it all I notice now and then a tinge of
bitterness in the way he speaks. He was describing their fancy-dress
ball to me the other day, and really his description of Mr Mitchell's
costume would have been almost spiteful in any other man.'
'Well, but Mr Mitchell is over sixty. And he was got up as a black
'Yes; quite so. But he's a fine-looking man, isn't he? And very pleasant
'Oh yes, of course.'
'On your birthday last week that magnificent basket of flowers came from
Mr Mitchell,' stated Eglantine.
'Certainly; from the Mitchells rather. But, really, that's nothing. I
think you'll be a little disappointed if you think he's at all of the
'I didn't think that,' she answered, though of course she had; 'but
something told me--I don't know why--that there's some strange
attraction.... I never saw a more perfect wife than you, nor a more
perfect mother. But these things should be nipped in the bud, dear. They
get hold of you sometimes before you know where you are. And think,' she
went on with relish, 'how terrible it would be practically to break up
'Oh, really, I must stop you there,' cried Edith. 'You don't think of
elopements, do you?'
'I don't say that, necessarily. But I've seen a great deal of life. I've
lived everywhere, and just the very households--_ménages,_ as we say
abroad--that seem most calm and peaceful, sometimes--It would be,
anyhow, very dreadful, wouldn't it--to live a double life?'
Edith thought her friend rather enjoyed the idea, but she said:
'You don't imagine, I hope, that there's anything in the nature of an
intrigue going on between me and Mr Mitchell?'
'No, no, no--not now--not yet--but you don't quite know, Edith, how one
can be carried away. As I was sitting up in my room--thinking--'
'You think too much,' interrupted Edith.
'Perhaps so--but it came to me like this. I mean to be the one to put
things right again, if I can. My dear child, a woman of the world like
myself sees things. You two ought to be ideally happy. You're meant for
one another--I mean you and Bruce.'
'Do you think so?'
'Absolutely. But this--what shall I say?--this fascination is coming
between you, and, though you don't realise it, it's saddening Bruce's
life; it will sadden yours too. At first, no doubt, at the stage you're
in, dear, it seems all romance and excitement. But later on--Now, Edith,
promise me you won't be angry with me for what I've said? It's a
terrible freedom that I've taken, I know. Really a liberty. But if I
were your'--she glanced at the mirror--'elder sister, I couldn't be
fonder of you. Don't think I'm a horrid, interfering old thing,
'Indeed I don't; you're a dear.'
'Well, we won't speak of it any more till after Tuesday,' said Madame
Frabelle, 'and take my advice: throw yourself into other things.'
She glanced round the room.
'It's a splendid idea to divert your thoughts; why don't you refurnish
Edith had often noticed the strange lack in Eglantine of any sense of
decoration. She dressed charmingly, but with regard to surroundings she
was entirely devoid of taste. She had the curious provincialism so often
seen in cosmopolitans who have lived most of their lives in hotels,
without apparently noticing or caring about their surroundings.
Edith made rather a hobby of decoration, and she had a cultured and
quiet taste, and much knowledge on the subject. She guessed Madame
Frabelle thought her rooms too plain, too colourless. Instead of the
dull greys and blues, and surfaces without design, she felt sure her
friend would have preferred gorgeous patterns, and even a good deal of
gilt. Probably at heart Madame Frabelle's ideal was the crimson plush
and stamped leather and fancy ceilings of the lounge in a foreign hotel.
'I rather like my room, you know,' said Edith.
'And so do I. It's very charming. But a change, dear--a change of
_entourage_, as we say abroad, would do you good.'
'Well, we must really think that out,' said Edith.
'That's right. And you're not cross?'
'Cross? I don't know when I've enjoyed a conversation so much,' said
Edith, speaking with perfect truth.
The Ottleys and Madame Frabelle were in the drawing-room awaiting their
guests. (I say advisedly their guests, for no-one could help regarding
Madame Frabelle as essentially the hostess, and queen of the evening.)
One would fancy that instead of entertaining more or less for the last
twelve years the young couple had never given a dinner before; so much
suppressed excitement was in the air. Bruce was quiet and subdued now
from combined nervousness and pride, but for the few days previous he
had been terribly trying to his unfortunate wife; nothing, according to
him, could be good enough for the purpose of impressing Madame Frabelle,
and he appeared to have lost all his confidence in Edith's undeniable
gift for receiving.
The flowers, the menu, the arrangement of the eight people--for the
dinner was still small, intimate and distinguished, as he had first
suggested--had been subjected to continual and maddening changes in its
scheme. Everyone had been disengaged and everyone had accepted--then he
wished he had asked other people instead.
When Edith was dressed Bruce put the last touch to his irritating
caprices by asking Edith to take out of her hair a bandeau of blue that
he had first asked her to put in. Every woman will know what agony that
must have caused. The pretty fair hair was waved and arranged specially
for this ornament, and when she took it out the whole scheme seemed to
her wrong. However, she looked very pretty, dressed in vaporous tulle of
a shade of blue which only a faultless complexion can bear.
Edith's complexion was her strong point. When she was a little flushed
she looked all the better for it, and when she was pale it seemed to
suit her none the worse. Hers was the sort of skin with a satiny texture
that improves under bright sunshine or electric light; in fact the more
brilliantly it was lighted the better it looked.
Madame Frabelle (of course) was dressed in black, _décolletée,_ and with
a good deal of jet. A black aigrette, like a lightning conductor, stood
up defiantly in her hair. Though it did not harmonise well with the
somewhat square and _bourgeois_ shape of her head and face, and
appeared to have dropped on her by accident, yet as a symbol of
smartness it gave her a kind of distinction. It appeared to have fallen
from the skies; it was put on in the wrong place, and it did not nestle,
as it should do, and appear to grow out of the hair, since that glory of
womanhood, in her case of a dull brown, going slightly grey, was smooth,
scarce and plainly parted. Madame Frabelle really would have looked her
best in a cap of the fashion of the sixties. But she could carry off
anything; and some people said that she did.
Edith had been allowed by her husband _carte blanche_ in the decoration
of their house.
This was fortunate, as _mise-en-scène_ was a great gift of hers; no-one
had such a sense as Edith for arranging a room. She had struck the happy
mean between the eccentric and the conventional. Anything that seemed
unusual did not appear to be a pose, or a strained attempt at being
different from others, but seemed to have a reason of its own. For
example, she greatly disliked the usual gorgeous _endimanché_
drawing-room and dark conventional dining-room. The room in which she
received her guests was soft and subdued in colour and not dazzling with
that blaze of light that is so trying to strangers just arrived and not
knowing their way about a house (or certain of how they are looking).
The room seemed to receive them kindly; make them comfortable, and at
their ease, hoping they looked their best. The shaded lights, not dim
enough to be depressing, were kind to those past youth and gave
confidence to the shy. There was nothing ceremonious, nothing chilly,
about the drawing-room; it was essentially at once comfortable and
becoming, and the lights shone like shaded sunshine from the dull pink
corners of the room.
On the other hand, the dining-room helped conversation by its
stimulating gaiety and daintiness.
The feminine curves of the furniture, such as is usually kept for the
drawing-room, were all pure Louis-Quinze. It was deliriously pretty in
its pink and white and pale green.
In the drawing-room the hosts stood by one of those large, old-fashioned
oaken fireplaces so supremely helpful to conversation and
_tête-à-têtes_. In Edith's house there was never any general
conversation except at dinner. People simply made friends, flirted, and
As the clock struck eight the Mitchells were announced. Edith could
scarcely control a laugh as Mr Mitchell came in, he looked so utterly
unlike the dangerous lover Madame Frabelle had conjured up. He was
immensely tall, broad, loosely built, large-shouldered, with a red
beard, a twinkle in his eye, and the merriest of laughs. He was a
delightful man, but there was no romance about him. Besides, Edith
remembered him as a black poodle.
* * * * *
Mrs. Mitchell struck a useful note, and seemed a perfect complement to
her husband, the ideal wife for him. She was about forty-five, but being
slim, animated, and well dressed (though entirely without _chic_), she
seemed a good deal younger.
Mr. Mitchell might have been any age between sixty and sixty-five, and
had the high spirits and vitality of a boy.
It was impossible to help liking this delightful couple; they fully
deserved their popularity. In the enormous house at Hampstead, arranged
like a country mansion, where they lived, Mr. Mitchell made it the
object of his life to collect Bohemians as other people collect Venetian
glass, from pure love of the material. His wife, with a silly woman's
subtlety, having rather lower ideals--that is to say, a touch of the
very human vulgarity known as social ambition--made use of his
Bohemianism to help her on in her mundane success. This was the
principle of the thing. If things were well done--and they always were
at her house--would not a duke, if he were musical, go anywhere to hear
the greatest tenor in Europe? And would not all the greatest celebrities
go anywhere to meet a duke?
* * * * *
Next the two young Conistons were announced.
Miss Coniston was a thin, amiable, artistic girl, who did tooling in
leather, made her own dresses, recited, and had a pale, good-looking,
too well-dressed, disquieting young brother of twenty-two, who seemed to
be always going out when other people came in, but was rather useful in
society, being musical and very polite. The music that he chose
generally gave his audience a shock. Being so young, so pale, and so
contemporary, one expected him to sing thin, elusive music by Debussy,
Fauré, or Ravel. He seemed never to have heard of these composers, but
sang instead threatening songs, such as, 'I'll sing thee Songs of
Araby!' or defiant, teetotal melodies, like 'Drink to Me only with thine
Eyes!' His voice was good, and louder and deeper than one would expect.
He accompanied himself and his sister everywhere. She, by the way, to
add to the interest about her, was said to be privately engaged to a
celebrity who was never there. Alice and Guy Coniston were orphans, and
lived alone in a tiny flat in Pelham Gardens. He had been reading for
the Bar, but when the war broke out he joined the New Army, and was
now in khaki.
* * * * *
But the _clou_ and great interest of the evening was the arrival of Sir
Tito Landi, that most popular of all Italian composers. With his white
moustache, pink and white complexion, and large bright blue eyes, his
dandified dress, his eyeglass and buttonhole, he had the fresh, fair
look of an Englishman, the dry brilliance of a Parisian, the _naïveté_
of a genius, the manners of a courtier, and behind it all the diabolic
humour of the Neapolitan. He was small, thin and slight, with a curious
dignity of movement.
* * * * *
'Ah, Tito,' cried Bruce cordially. 'Here you are!'
The dinner was bright and gay from the very beginning, even before the
first glass of champagne. It began with an optimistic view of the war,
then, dropping the grave subject, they talked of people, theatres,
books, and general gossip. In all these things Madame Frabelle took the
lead. Indeed, she had begun at once laying down the law in a musical
voice but with a determined manner that gave those who knew her to
understand only too well that she intended to go steadily on, and
certainly not to stop to breathe before the ices.
Sir Tito Landi, fixing his eyeglass in his bright blue eye, took in
Madame Frabelle in one long look, and smiled at her sympathetically.
'What do you think of her?' murmured Edith to Landi.
Hypnotised and slightly puzzled as she was by her guest, she was
particularly curious for his opinion, as she knew him to be the best
judge of character of her acquaintance. He had some of the
capriciousness of the spoilt, successful artist, which showed itself,
except to those whom he regarded as real friends, in odd variations of
manner, so that Edith could not tell at all by his being extremely
charming to Madame Frabelle that he liked her, or by his being abrupt
and satirical that he didn't. An old friend and a favourite, she could
rely on what he told her.
'C'est une bonne vieille,' he said. 'Bonne, mais bête!'
'Really?' Edith asked, surprised.
Landi laughed. 'Bête comme ses pieds, ma chère!'
Returning to decent language and conventional tone, he went on with a
story he was telling about an incident that had happened when he was
staying with some royalties. His stories were short, new, amusing, and
invariably suited to his audience. Anything about the Court he saw, at a
glance, would genuinely interest Madame Frabelle. Edith was amused as
she saw that lady becoming more and more convinced of Landi's
importance, and of his respectful admiration.
* * * * *
Long before dinner was over there was no doubt that everyone was
delighted with Madame Frabelle. She talked so well, suited herself to
everyone, and simply charmed them all. Yet why? Edith was still
wondering, but by the time she rose to go upstairs she thought she began
to understand her friend's secret. People were not charmed with
Eglantine because she herself was charming, but because she was charmed.
Madame Frabelle was really as much interested in everyone to whom she
spoke as she appeared to be; the interest was not assumed. A few little
pretences and affectations she might have, such as that of knowing a
great deal about every subject under the sun--of having read everything,
and been everywhere, but her interest in other people was real. That was
what made people like her.
Young Coniston, shy, sensitive and reserved as he was, had nevertheless
told her all about his training at Braintree, the boredom of getting up
early, the dampness of the tents, and how much he wanted to be sent to
the front. She admired his valour, was interested in his music, and at
her persuasion he promised to sing her songs of Araby after dinner.
When the ladies were alone Eglantine's universal fascination was even
more remarkable. Mrs. Mitchell, at her desire, gave her the address of
the little dressmaker who ran up Mrs. Mitchell's blouses and skirts.
This was an honour for Mrs. Mitchell; nothing pleased her so much as to
be asked for the address of her dressmaker by a woman with a
As to Miss Coniston, she was enraptured with Eglantine. Madame Frabelle
arranged to go and see her little exhibition of tooled leather, and
coaxed out of the shy girl various details about the celebrity, who at
present had an ambulance in France. She adored reciting, and Miss
Coniston, to gratify her, offered to recite a poem by Emile Cammaerts
on the spot.
As to Mr. Mitchell, Madame Frabelle drew him out with more care and
caution. With the obstinacy of the mistaken she still saw in Mr.
Mitchell's friendly looks at his hostess a passion for Edith, and shook
her grey head over the blindness of the poor dear wife.
Bruce hung on her words and was open-mouthed while she spoke, so
impressed was he at her wonderful cleverness, and at her evident success
with his friends.
Later on Landi, sitting in the ingle-nook with Edith, said, as he puffed
'Tiens, ma chère Edith, tu ne vois pas quelque chose?'
He always talked French, as a middle course between Italian and English,
and Edith spoke her own language to him.
'Elle. La Mère Frabelle,' he laughed to himself. 'Elle est folle de ton
'Oh, really, Landi! That's your fancy!'
He mimicked her. 'Farncy! Farncy! Je me suis monté l'imagination,
peut-être! J'ai un rien de fièvre, sans doute! C'est une idée que j'ai,
comme ça. Eh bien! Non! Nous verrons. Je te dis qu'elle est amoureuse
'He is very devoted to her, I know,' said Edith, 'and I daresay he's a
little in love with her--in a way. But she--'
'C'est tout le contraire, chère. Lui, c'est moins; il est flatté. Il la
trouve une femme intelligente,' he laughed. 'Mais elle! Tu est folle de
ne pas voir ça, Edith. Enfin! Si ça l'amuse?'
With a laugh he got up, to loud applause, and went to the little white
enamelled piano. There, with a long cigar in his mouth, he struck a few
notes, and at once magnetised his audience. The mere touch of his
fingers on the piano thrilled everyone present.
He sang a composition of his own, which even the piano-organ had never
succeeded in making hackneyed, 'Adieu, Hiver,' and melodious as only
Italian music can be. Blue beams flashed from his eyes; he seemed in a
dream. Suddenly in the most impassioned part, which he was singing in a
composer's voice, that is, hardly any voice, but with perfect art, he
caught Madame Frabelle's eye, and gave her a solemn wink. She burst out
laughing. He then went on singing with sentiment and grace.
All the women present imagined that he was making love to them, while
each man felt that he, personally, was making love to his ideal woman.
Such was the effect of Landi's music. It made the most material, even
the most unmusical, remember some little romance, some _tendresse_, some
sentiment of the past; Landi seemed to get at the soft spot in
everybody's heart. All the audience looked dreamy. Edith was thinking of
Aylmer Ross. Where was he now? Would she ever see him again? Had she
been wise to throw away her happiness like that? She tried to put the
thought aside, but she observed, with a smile, that Madame Frabelle
looked--and not when he was looking at her--a shade tenderly at Bruce.
Edith remembered what Landi had said: 'Si ça l'amuse?' She found an
opportunity to tell him that Madame Frabelle believed in her own
intuitions, and had got it into her head that she and Mr. Mitchell were
attached to one another.
'Naturellement. Elle veut s'excuser; la pauvre.'
'But she really believes it.'
'Elle voit double, alors!' exclaimed Landi.
Edith and Madame Frabelle had long talks next day over the little
dinner-party, and the people of their intimate circle whom she had met.
She was delighted with Landi, though a little frightened of him, as most
people were when they first knew him, unless he really liked them
She impressed on Edith to beware of Mr. Mitchell.
Bruce, for once, had really been satisfied with his own entertainment,
and declared to Edith that Madame Frabelle had made it go off
Edith was growing to like her more and more. In a house where Bruce
lived it was certainly a wonderful help to have a third person often
present--if it was the right person. The absurd irritations and scenes
of fault-finding that she had become inured to, but which were always
trying, were now shorter, milder, or given up altogether. Bruce's temper
was perennially good, and got better. Then the constant illnesses that
he used to suffer from--he was unable to pass the military examination
and go to the front on account of a neurotic heart--these illnesses were
either omitted entirely or talked over with Madame Frabelle, whose
advice turned out more successful than that of a dozen specialists.
'An extraordinary woman she is, you know, Edith,' he said. 'You know
that really peculiar feeling I sometimes have?'
'You know that sort of emptiness in the feet, and heaviness in the head,
and that curious kind of twitching of the eyelids that I get?'
'Yes, I know. Well, dear?'
'Well, Madame Frabelle has given me a complete cure for it. It seems her
husband (by the way, what a brute he must have been, and what a life
that poor woman led! However, never mind that now) had something very
much of the same kind, only not quite so bad.'
'How do you mean "Which"? Which what?'
'Which peculiar feeling?'
'What peculiar feeling are we talking about?'
'I said, which peculiar feeling did Mr. Frabelle have?'
'What are you trying to get at, Edith?' He looked at her suspiciously.
'Was it the heaviness in the feet, or the lightness in the head, or was
it the twitching of the eyelid which Mr. Frabelle used to suffer from?'
'Oh, ah! Yes, I see what you mean. It seemed he had a little of them
all. But what do you think she used to do?'
'I haven't the slightest idea.'
'There's some stuff called Tisane--have you ever heard of it?' Bruce
asked. 'It's a simple remedy, but a very good thing. Well, he used to
'Did he bathe his eye with it?'
'Oh, my dear Edith, you're wool-gathering. Do pull yourself together. He
drank it, that's what he did, and that's what I'm going to do.
Eg--Madame Frabelle would go straight down into the kitchen and show you
how to make it if you like.'
'I don't mind, if cook doesn't,' said Edith.
'Oh, we'll see about that. Anyway she's going to show me how to get it
'Then there's another thing Madame Frabelle suggested. She's got an idea
it would do me a world of good to spend a day in the country.'
'Oh, really? Sounds a good idea.'
'Yes. Say, on the river. She's not been there for years it seems. She
thinks she would rather enjoy it.'
'I should think it would be a capital plan,' said Edith.
'Well, how about next Saturday?' said Bruce, thinking he was concealing
his eagerness and satisfaction.
'Saturday? Oh yes, certainly. Saturday, by all means, if it's fine. What
time shall we start?'
He started at once, but was silent.
'Saturday, yes,' Edith went on, after a glance at him. 'Only, I promised
to take the two children to an afternoon performance.'
'Did you though?' Bruce brightened up. 'Rather hard luck on them to
disappoint them. Mind you, Edith, I don't believe in spoiling children.
I don't think their parents should be absolute slaves to them; but, on
the other hand, I don't think it's good for them to disappoint them
quite so much as that; and, after all--well, a promise to a child!' He
shook his head sentimentally. 'Perhaps it's a fad of mine; I daresay it
is; but I don't like the idea of breaking a promise to a child!'
'It does seem a shame. Too bad.'
'You agree with me? I knew you would. I've heard you say the same
yourself. Well then, look here, Edith; suppose we do it--suppose you do
it, I mean. Suppose you go with Archie and Dilly. They're to lunch with
my mother, aren't they?'
'Yes, dear. But we were to have fetched them from there and then taken
them on to the theatre!'
'Well, do it, then, my dear girl! Stick to your plan. Don't let me spoil
your afternoon! Gracious heaven! I--I--why, I can quite well take Madame
Frabelle myself.' He looked at the barometer. 'The glass is going up,'
he said, giving it first a tap and then a slight shake to encourage it
to go up higher and to look sharp about it. 'So that's settled, then,
dear. That's fixed up. I'll take her on the river. I don't mind in the
very least. I shall be only too pleased--delighted. Oh, don't thank me,
my dear girl; I know one ought to put oneself out for a guest,
especially a widow ... under these circumstances over in England ...
during the war too ... hang it, it's the least one can do.'... Bruce's
murmurings were interrupted by the entrance of the lady in question. He
made the suggestion, and explained the arrangement. She consented
immediately with much graciousness.
'I dote on the river, and haven't been for years.'
'Now where would you like to go?' he asked. 'What part of the river do
you like? How about Maidenhead?'
'Oh, any part. Don't ask me! Anything you suggest is sure to be right.
You know far more about these things than I do. But Maidenhead--isn't it
just a little commonplace? A little noisy and crowded, even now?'
'By jove, yes, you're quite right. Madame Frabelle's perfectly right,
Edith, you know. Well, what about Shepperton?'
'Shepperton? Oh, charming! Dear little town. But it isn't exactly what I
call the river, if you know what I mean. I mean to say--'
'Well, could you suggest a place?' said Bruce.
'Oh, I'm the worst person in the world for suggesting anything,' said
Madame Frabelle. 'And I know so little of the river. But how about
'Kingston? Oh, capital. That would be charming.'
'Kyngestown, as it used to be called' (Madame Frabelle hastened to show
her knowledge) 'in the days when Saxon kings were crowned there. Am I
wrong or not? Oh, surely yes.... Wasn't it Kingston? Didn't great Caesar
cross the river there? And the Roman legions camp upon the
Bruce gasped. 'You know everything!' he exclaimed.
'Oh no. I remember a little about the history,' she said modestly, 'Ah,
poor, weak King Edwy!'
'Yes, indeed,' said Bruce, though he had no recollection of having heard
the gentleman mentioned before. 'Poor chap!'
'Too bad,' murmured Edith.
'How he must have hated that place!' said Madame Frabelle.
'Rather. I should think so indeed.'
'However, _you_ won't,' said Edith adroitly changing the subject, seeing
her husband getting deeper out of his depth.
Most of the evening Madame Frabelle read up Baedeker, to the immense
astonishment of Bruce, who had never before thought of regarding the
river from the historical and geographical point of view.
The next day, which was fine, if not warm, the two started off with a
certain amount of bustle and a bundle of rugs, Madame Frabelle in a
short skirt with a maritime touch about the collar and what she called a
suitable hat and a dark blue motor veil. She carried off the whole
costume to admiration.
Archie seemed rather bewildered and annoyed at this division of the
'But, Mother, we're going out to lunch with grandmother.'
'I know, darling. I'll come and fetch you from there.'
Conventional and restrained as Archie usually was, he sometimes said
Edith saw by his dreamy expression he was going to say one now.
He looked at her for a little while after his father's departure and
'Is Madame Frabelle a nice little friend for father?'
Edith knew he had often heard her and the nurse or the governess
discussing whether certain children were nice little friends for him
'Oh yes, dear, very nice.'
The cook came in for orders.
'You're going to lunch all alone then, aren't you, Mother?'
'Yes, I suppose I must. I don't mind. I've got a nice book.'
Archie walked slowly to the door, then said in a tone of envious
admiration which contained a note of regret:
'I suppose you'll order a delicious pudding?'
* * * * *
She went to fetch the children, who were excited at the prospect of a
theatre. The elder Mrs Ottley was a pleasant woman, who understood and
was utterly devoted to her daughter-in-law. Fond as she was of her son,
she marvelled at Edith's patience and loved her as much as she loved
Bruce. Though she had never been told, for she was the sort of woman who
does not require to be told things in order to know them, she knew every
detail of the sacrifice Edith had once made. She had been almost as
charmed by Aylmer Ross as her daughter-in-law was, and she had
considered Edith's action nearly sublime. But she had never believed
Edith was at that time really in love with Aylmer. She had said, after
Bruce's return: 'It mustn't happen again, you know, Edith.'
'Don't spoil Bruce. You've made it almost too easy for him. Don't let
him think he can always be running away and coming back!'
'No, never again,' Edith had answered, with a laugh.
Now they never spoke of the subject. It was a painful one to Mrs Ottley.
Today that lady seemed inclined to detain Edith, and make her--as Archie
feared--late for the rising of the curtain.
'You really like Madame Frabelle so much, dear?'
'Really I do,' said Edith. 'The more I know her, the more I like her.
She's the most good-natured, jolly, kind woman I've ever seen. Landi
likes her too. That's a good sign.'
'And she keeps Bruce in a good temper?' said Mrs Ottley slyly.
'Well, why shouldn't she? I'm not afraid of Madame Frabelle,' Edith
said, laughing. 'After all, Bruce may be thirty-seven, but she's fifty.'
'She's a wonderful woman,' admitted Mrs. Ottley, who had at first
disliked her, but had come round, like everyone else. 'Very very nice;
and really I do like her. But you know my old-fashioned ideas. I never
approve of a third person living with a married couple.'
'Oh--living! She's only been with us about a month.'
'But you don't think she's going away before the end of the season?'
'You can't call it a season. And she can't easily settle down just now,
on account of the war. Many of her relations are abroad, and some in the
country. She hasn't made up her mind where to live yet. She has never
had a house of her own since her husband died.'
'Yes, I see.'
'Do come, Mother!' urged Archie.
'All right, darling.'
'Will I have to take my hat off?' pouted Dilly, who had on a new hat
with daisies round it, in which she looked like a baby angel. She had a
great objection to removing it.
'Yes, dear. Why should you mind?'
'My hair will be all anyhow if I have to take it off in the theatre,'
'Don't be a silly little ass,' Archie murmured to his sister. 'Why, in
some countries women would be sent to prison unless they took their hats
off at a play!'
The three reached the theatre in what even Archie called good time. This
meant to be alone in the dark, gloomy theatre for at least twenty
minutes, no-one present as yet, except two or three people eating
oranges in the gallery. He liked to be the first and the last.
Edith was fancying to herself how Madame Frabelle would lay down the law
about the history of Kingston, and read portions of the guide-book
aloud, while Bruce was pointing out the scenery.
The entertainment, which was all odds and ends, entertained the
children, but rather bored her. Archie was learning by heart--which was
a way he had--the words of a favourite song now being sung--
'Kitty, Kitty, isn't it a pity,
In the city you work so hard,--
With your one, two, three, four, five,
Six, three, seven, five, Cerrard?
Kitty, Kitty, isn't it a pity,
That you're wasting so much time?
With your lips close to the telephone,
When they might be close to mine_!'
When Edith's eye was suddenly attracted by the appearance of a boy in
khakis, who was in a box to her right. He looked about seventeen and was
tall and good-looking; but what struck her about him was his remarkable
likeness in appearance and in movement to Aylmer Ross. Even his back
reminded her strongly of her hero. There was something familiar in the
thick, broad shoulders, in the cool ease of manner, and in the
expression of the face. But could that young man--why, of course, it was
three years ago when she parted with Aylmer Ross, Teddy was fourteen;
these years made a great difference and of course all plans had been
changed on account of the war. Aylmer, she thought, was too old to have
been at the front. The boy must be in the New Army.
She watched him perpetually; she felt a longing to go and speak to him.
After a while, as though attracted by her interest, he turned round and
looked her straight in the face. How thrilled she felt at this
likeness.... They were the very last to go out, and Edith contrived to
be near the party in the box. She dropped something and the young man
picked it up. She had never seen him, and yet she felt she knew him.
When he smiled she could not resist speaking to him.
'Thank you. Excuse me. Are you the son of Mr. Aylmer Ross?'
'I am. And I know you quite well by your photograph,' he said in exactly
Aylmer's pleasant, casual voice. 'You were a great friend of my
father's, weren't you?'
'Yes. Where are you now?'
He was at Aldershot, but was in town on leave.
'And where's your father?'
'Didn't you know? My father's at the front. He's coming over on leave,
too, in a fortnight.'
'Really? And are you still at Jermyn Street?'
'Oh yes. Father let his house for three years, but we've come back
again. Jolly little house, isn't it?'
'Very. And I hope we shall see you both,' said Edith conventionally.
The boy bowed, smiled and walked away so quickly that Archie had no time
for the salute he had prepared.
He was wonderfully like Aylmer.
Edith was curiously pleased and excited about this little incident.
Madame Frabelle and Bruce arrived at Waterloo in good time for the 11.10
train, which Bruce had discovered in the ABC.
They wished to know where it started, but nobody appeared interested in
the subject. Guards and porters, of whom they inquired, seemed surprised
at their questions and behaved as if they regarded them as signs of
vulgar and impertinent curiosity. At Waterloo no-one seems to know when
a train is going to start, where it is starting from, or where it is
going to. Madame Frabelle unconsciously assumed an air of embarrassment,
as though she had no responsibility for the queries and excited manner
of her companion. She seemed, indeed, surprised when Bruce asked to see
the station-master. Here things came to a head. There was no train for
Kingston at 11.10; the one at that hour was the Southampton Express; and
it was worse than useless for Bruce and Madame Frabelle.
'Then the ABC and Bradshaw must both be wrong,' said Bruce reproachfully
to Madame Frabelle.
An idea occurred to that resourceful lady. 'Perhaps the 11.10 was only
to start on other days, not on Saturdays.'
She turned out to be right. However, they discovered a train at twenty
minutes to twelve, which would take them where they wanted, though it
was not mentioned, apparently, in any timetable, and could only be
discovered by accident by someone who was looking for something else.
They hung about the station until it arrived, feeling awkward and
uncomfortable, as people do when they have arrived too early for a
train. Meanwhile they abused Bradshaw, and discussed the weather. Bruce
said how wonderful it was how some people always knew what sort of
weather it was going to be. Madame Frabelle, who was getting
sufficiently irritable to be epigrammatic, said that she never cared to
know what the weather was going to be; the weather in England was
generally bad enough when it came without the added misery of knowing
about it beforehand.
Bruce complained that she was too Continental. He very nearly said that
if she didn't like England he wondered she hadn't remained in France,
but he stopped himself.
At last the train arrived. Bruce had settled his companion with her back
to the engine in a corner of a first-class carriage, and placed her rugs
in the rack above. As they will on certain days, every little thing went
wrong, and the bundle promptly fell off. As she moved to catch it, it
tumbled on to her hat, nearly crushing the crown. Unconsciously assuming
the expression of a Christian martyr, Madame Frabelle said it didn't
matter. Bruce had given her _The Gentlewoman_, _The World_, _The Field_,
_Punch_, and _The London Mail_ to occupy the twenty-five minutes or so
while they waited for the train to start. The journey itself was much
shorter than this interval. Knowing her varied interests, he felt sure
that these journals would pretty well cover the ground, but he was
rather surprised, as he took the seat opposite her, to see that she read
first, in fact instantly started, with apparent interest, on _The London
Mail_. With a quick glance he saw that she was enjoying 'What Everybody
Wants to Know'--'Why the Earl of Blank looked so surprised when he met
the pretty little blonde lady who had been said to be the friend of his
wife walking in Bond Street with a certain dark gentleman who until now
he had always understood to be her _bête noire_,' and so forth.
As an example to her he took up _The New Statist_ and read a serious
When they arrived it was fine and sunny, and they looked at once for a
It had not occurred to him before that there would be any difficulty in
getting one. He imagined a smart new boat all ready for him, with fresh,
gay cushions, and everything complete and suitable to himself and his
companion. He was rather irritated when he found instead that the best
they could do for him was to give him a broken-down, battered-looking
thing like an old chest, which was to be charged rather heavily for the
time they meant to spend on the river. It looked far from safe, but it
was all they could do. So they got in. Bruce meant to show his powers as
an oarsman. He said Madame Frabelle must steer and asked her to trim
In obedience to his order she sat down with a bang, so heavily that
Bruce was nearly shot up into the air. Amiable as she always was, and
respectfully devoted as Bruce was to her, he found that being on the
river has a mysterious power of bringing out any defects of temper that
people have concealed when on dry ground. He said to her:
'Don't do that again. Do you mind?' as politely as he could.
She looked up, surprised.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Ottley?'
'Don't do that again.'
'Don't do what? What did I do?'
'Why, I asked you to trim the boat.'
'What did I do? I merely sat down.'
He didn't like to say that she shouldn't sit down with a bump, and took
'If you like,' she said graciously, 'I'll relieve you there, presently.'
'How do you mean--relieve me?'
'I mean I'll row--I'll sit in the stern--row!'
'Perhaps you've forgotten the names of the different parts of a boat.
'Oh, I think not, Mr Ottley. It's a good while since I was on the river,
but it's not the sort of thing one forgets, and I'm supposed to have
rather a good memory.'
'I'm sure you have--a wonderful memory--still, where I'm sitting is not
There was a somewhat sulky silence. They admired the scenery of the
river. Madame Frabelle said she loved the distant glimpses of the grey
old palace of the Tudors, and asked him if he could imagine what it was
like when it was gay all day with the clanking of steel and prancing
horses and things.
'How I love Hampton Court!' she said. 'It looks so quiet and peaceful. I
think I should like to live there. Think of the evenings in that
wonderful old place, with its panelled walls, and the echo of feet that
are no longer there, down the cold, stone corridors--'
Bruce gave a slight laugh.
'Echo of feet that are no longer there? But how could that be? Dear me,
how poetical you are, Madame Frabelle!'
'I mean the imaginary echo.'
'Imaginary--ah, yes. You're very imaginative, aren't you, Madame
Frabelle? Well, I don't know whether it's imagination or not, but, do
you know, I fancy that queer feeling of mine seems to be coming
'What queer feeling?'
'I told you about it, and you were very sympathetic the other night,
before dinner. A kind of emptiness in the feet, and a hollowness in the
head, the feeling almost, but not quite, of faintness.'
'It's nearly two o'clock. Perhaps you're hungry,' said Madame Frabelle.
Bruce thought this was not fair, putting all the hunger on to him, as if
she had never felt anything so prosaic. Madame Frabelle always behaved
as if she were superior to the weaknesses of hunger or sleep, and denied
ever suffering from either.
'It may be. I had no breakfast,' said Bruce untruthfully, as though it
were necessary to apologise for requiring food to sustain life.
'Nor did I,' said Madame Frabelle hastily.
'Well, don't you feel that you would like a little lunch?'
'Oh no--oh dear, no. Still, I dare say some food would do you good, Mr
Ottley--keep you up. I'll come and watch you.'
'But you must have something too.'
'Must I? Oh, very well, just to keep you company.'
They got out very briskly, and, leaving their battered-looking coffin
(called ironically the _Belle of the River_), they walked with quick
steps to the nearest hotel. Here they found a selection of large,
raw-looking cold beef, damp, tired-looking ham, bread, cheese, celery,
and dessert in the form of dry apples, oranges, and Brazil nuts that had
long left their native land.
Bruce decided that the right thing to drink was shandy-gaff, but, to
keep up her Continental reputation, Madame Frabelle said she would like
a little light wine of the country.
'Red, white, or blue?' asked Bruce, whose spirits were rising.
She laughed very heartily, and decided on a little red.
They had an adequate, if not exquisite, lunch, then Madame Frabelle said
she would like to go over Hampton Court. A tedious guide offered to go
with them, but Madame Frabelle said she knew all about the place better
than he did, so they wandered through the beautiful old palace.
'Oh, to think of King Charles II's beauties living there--those lovely,
languid ladies--how charming they were!' exclaimed Madame Frabelle.
'They wore very low dresses,' said Bruce, who felt rather sleepy and
stupid, and as if he didn't quite know what he was saying.
Madame Frabelle modestly looked away from the pictures.
'How exquisite the garden is.'
He agreed, and they went out and sat, somewhat awkwardly, on an
uncomfortable stone seat.
There was a delicious half-hour of real summer sun--'One of those April
days that seem a forecast of June,' as Madame Frabelle said.
'How much better it is to be here in the beautiful fresh air than
squeezed into a stuffy theatre,' remarked Bruce, who was really feeling
a shade jealous of Edith for seeing the revue that he had wished to see.
'Yes, indeed. There's nothing like England, I think,' she said rather
'How exactly our tastes agree.'
Her hand was on the edge of the seat. Somehow or other Bruce's had gone
over it. She didn't appear to notice it.
'What small hands you have!' he remarked.
'Oh no! I take sixes,' said the lady, whose size was really
three-quarters more than that.
He insisted on looking at the grey suède glove, and then examined her
'I suppose these rings have--er--associations for you, Madame Frabelle?'
'Ah!' she said, shaking her head. 'This one--yes, this one--the sapphire
recalls old memories.' She sighed; she had bought it in the
'A present from your husband, I suppose?' said Bruce, with a tinge of
'Ah!' she answered.
She thought he was getting a little sentimental, too early in the day,
and, with an effort at energy, she said:
'Let's go back to the river.'
They went back, and now Bruce began to show off his rowing powers. He
had not practised for a long time, and didn't get along very quickly.
She admired his athletic talents, as though he had been a winner of the
'If I'd stuck to it, you know,' he said, rather apologetically, 'I'd
have done well in the rowing line. At one time--a good while ago--I
thought of going in for Henley, in the Regatta, you know. But with that
beastly Foreign Office one can't keep up anything of that sort.'
'I suppose not.'
'My muscle,' said Bruce, sticking out his arm, and hitting it rather
hard, 'is fairly good, you know. Not bad for a London man who never has
'My arm was about seventeen inches round just below the elbow at one
time,' Bruce said, 'a few years ago.'
'Just fancy! Splendid!' said Madame Frabelle, who remembered that her
waist was not much more a good while ago.
He told her a good many anecdotes of his prowess in the past, until
Madame Frabelle depended greatly on tea; anything else she could do
without. But a cup of tea in the afternoon was necessary to her
well-being, and her animation. She became rather drowsy and absent by
Bruce again suggested their landing and leaving the _Belle of the
River_, as they had not thought of bringing a tea-basket.
After tea, which was a great success, they became very cheery and jolly.
They went for a walk and then back to their boat.
This was the happiest time of the day.
When they reached the station, about half-past six, they found a
disagreeable crowd, pushing, screaming, and singing martial songs. As
they got into their first-class carriage about a dozen third-class
passengers sprang in, just as the train started. Bruce was furious, but
nothing could be done, and the journey back to town was taken with
Madame Frabelle very nearly pushed on to his knee by a rude young man
who practically sat on hers, smoking a bad cigarette in her face.
They tacitly agreed to say nothing about this, and got home in time for
dinner, declaring the day to have been a great success.
Bruce had really enjoyed it. Madame Frabelle said she had; though she
had a certain little tenderness, half of a motherly kind, for Bruce, she
far preferred his society in a comfortable house. She didn't really
think he was the ideal companion for the open air. And he was struck, as
he had often been before, by her curious way of contradicting herself in
conversation. She took any side and argued in favour of it so long as it
was striking or romantic. At one moment she would say with the greatest
earnestness, for instance, that divorce should not be allowed. Marriage
should be for ever, or not at all. At another moment she would argue in
favour of that absurd contradiction in terms known as free love,
_forgetting_ that she had completely changed round since earlier in the
conversation. This was irritating, but he was still impressed with her
infallibility, and Edith remarked more every day how curious that
infallibility was, and how safe it was to trust. Whenever Madame
Frabelle knew that something was going to happen, it didn't, and
whenever she had an intuition that something was going to occur, _then_
it was pretty safe. It never would. In the same way she had only to look
at a person to see them as they were not. This was so invariable it was
really very convenient to have her in the house, for whatever she said
was always wrong. One had _merely_ to go by contraries and her
prophecies were most useful.
'It's been jolly for you,' Bruce said to Edith, 'having a ripping time
in town while I'm taking your visitors about to show them England.'
'You wouldn't have cared for the theatre,' she said. 'But, fancy, I met
Aylmer's son there--Aylmer Ross, you know. Aylmer himself is at the
front. They have taken their old house again. He means to come
'Well, I really can't help it,' said Bruce rather fretfully. '_I_ should
be at the front if it weren't for my neurotic heart. The doctor wouldn't
hear of passing me--at least one wouldn't. Any fellow who would have
done so would be--not a careful man. However, I don't know that it
wouldn't have been just as good to die for my country, and get some
glory, as to die of heart trouble here.' He sighed.
'Oh no, you won't,' said Edith reassuringly; 'you look the picture of