Part 2 out of 4
'I've got a bit of sunburn, I think,' said Bruce, popping up to look in
the glass. 'Funny how I do catch the sun. I asked Dr Pollock about
it one day.'
'Really--did you consult him about your sunburn?'
'Yes. What are you smiling at, He said it's caused by the extreme
delicacy of the mucous membrane; nothing to be anxious about.'
'I don't think I am anxious; not particularly. And don't worry, my dear
boy; it's very becoming,' said Edith.
Bruce patted her head, and gave her a kiss, smiling.
'We're lunching with the Mitchells today,' said Edith.
'Oh yes. I remember. I'm looking forward to it,' graciously said Madame
Frabelle. 'It's a pity your husband can't come, isn't it? Ah, you
naughty girl, I don't believe you think so!' Madame Frabelle, archly
shook her finger at Edith.
'Eglantine, have you really seriously talked yourself into thinking that
Mr Mitchell is anything to me?'
'I don't say, dear,' said Madame Frabelle, sitting down comfortably, and
bringing out her knitting, 'that you yourself are aware of it. I don't
say that you're in love with him, but that he is devoted to you anyone
with half-an-eye can see. And some day,' she shook her head, 'some day
your interest in him may take you by surprise.'
'It is _your_ interest in him that surprises me,' said Edith. 'He's a
good friend, and we like him very much. But for anything else!--'
'If so, it's really rather wonderful,' mused Eglantine, 'that you've
never had a thought, even the merest dream, beyond your husband; that it
has never even occurred to you that anyone else might have suited your
Edith dropped her book, and picked it up again. Her friend thought she
saw, whether through stooping or what not, an increase of colour in
'It isn't everyone,' continued Madame Frabelle, 'who would appreciate
your husband as you do. To me he is a very charming man. I can
understand his inspiring a feeling almost of motherly interest. I even
feel sometimes,' she laughed, 'as if it would be a pleasure to look
after him, take care of him. I think it would not have been a bad thing
for him to have married a woman a little older than himself. But you,
Edith, you're so young. You see, you might have made a mistake when you
married him. You were a mere girl, and I could imagine some of his ways
might irritate a very young woman.'
After a moment she went on: 'I suppose Bruce was very handsome when you
'Yes, he was. But he hasn't altered much.'
'Yet, as I told you before, Edith, though I think you an ideal wife, you
don't give me the impression of being in love with him. I hope you don't
take this as an impertinence, my dear?'
'Not at all. And I'm not sure that I am.'
'Yet your mother-in-law told me the other day that you had been such a
marvellous wife to him. That you had even made sacrifices. You have
never had anything to forgive, surely?'
'Oh no, never,' hastily said Edith, fearing that Mrs Ottley was a little
inclined to be indiscreet.
'She told me that Bruce had been occasionally attracted--only very
slightly--by other women, but that you were the only person he really
'Oh, I doubt if he ever thinks much of anyone else,' said Edith.
* * * * *
A characteristic of the Mitchells' entertainments was that one always
met there the people they had met, even for the first time, at one's own
house. Here were the Conistons, and Landi, whom Edith was always
delighted to see.
It was a large and gay lunch. Edith was placed some distance from Mr
Mitchell. Of course there was also a novelty--some lion or other was
always at the Mitchells'. Today it consisted of a certain clergyman,
called the Rev. Byrne Fraser, of whom Mrs Mitchell and her circle were
making much. He was a handsome, weary-looking man of whom more was
supposed than could conveniently be said. His wife, who adored him,
admitted that though he was an excellent husband, he suffered from
rheumatism and religious doubts, which made him occasionally rather
trying. There had been some story about him--nobody knew what it was.
Madame Frabelle instantly took his side, and said she was sure he had
been ill-treated, though she knew nothing whatever about it. She was
placed next to him at table and began immediately on what she thought
was his special subject.
'I understand that you're very modern in your views,' she said, smiling.
'I!' he exclaimed in some surprise. 'Really you are quite mistaken. I
don't think I am at all.'
'Really? Oh, I'm so glad--I've such a worship myself for tradition. I'm
so thankful that you have, too.'
'I don't know that I have,' he said.
'It's true, then, what I heard--I felt it was the moment I looked at
you, Mr Fraser--I mean, that you're an atheist.'
'A _what_?' he exclaimed, turning pale with horror. 'Good heavens,
Madame, do you know what my profession is?'
He seemed utterly puzzled by her. She managed, all the same, somehow or
other to lure him into a conversation in which she _heartily_ took his
side. By the end of lunch they were getting on splendidly, though
neither of them knew what they were talking about.
And this was one of the curious characteristics of Madame Frabelle.
Nobody made so many gaffes, yet no-one got out of them so well. To use
the lawyer's phrase, she used so many words that she managed to engulf
her own and her interlocutor's ideas. No-one, perhaps, had ever talked
so much nonsense seriously as she did that day, but the Rev. Byrne
Fraser said she was a remarkable woman, who had read and thought deeply.
Also he was enchanted with her interest in him, as everybody always was.
Edith thought she had heard Mr Mitchell saying something to the others
that interested her. She managed to get near him when the gentlemen
joined them in the studio, as they called the large room where there was
a stage, a piano, a parquet floor, and every possible arrangement for
amusement. Madame Frabelle moved quickly away, supposing that Edith
wished to speak to him for his sake, whereas really it was in order to
have repeated something she thought she had heard at lunch.
'Did I hear you saying anything about your old friend, Aylmer Ross?' she
'Yes, indeed. Haven't you heard? The poor fellow has been wounded. He
was taken into hospital at once, fortunately, and he's getting better,
and is going to be brought home almost immediately, to the same old
house in Jermyn Street. I think his son is to meet him at the station
today. We must all go and see him. Capital chap, Aylmer. I always liked
him. He's travelled so much that--even before the war--I hadn't seen him
for three years.'
'Was the wound serious?' asked Edith, who had turned pale.
'They were anxious at first. Now he's out of danger. But, poor chap, I'm
afraid he won't be able to move for a good while. His leg is broken. I
hear he's got to be kept lying down two or three months.'
'Qu'est ce qu'il y a, Edith?' asked Landi, who joined her.
'I've just heard some bad news,' she said, 'but don't speak about it.'
She told him.
'Bien. Du calme, mon enfant; du calme!'
'But, I'm anxious, Landi.'
'Ca se voit!'
'Do you think--'
'Ce ne sera rien. It's the best thing that could happen to him. He'll be
all right.... I suppose you want to see him, Edith?'
'He may not wish to see me,' said Edith.
'Oh yes, he will. You were the first person he thought of,' answered
Landi. 'Why, my dear, you forget you treated him badly!'
'Then, if he'd treated _me_ badly he wouldn't care to see me again, you
'C'est probable,' said Landi, selecting with care a very large cigar
from a box that was being handed round. 'Now, be quite tranquil. I shall
go and see him directly I leave here, and I'll let you hear every
detail. Will that do?'
'Thanks, dear Landi!... But even if he wishes to see me, ought I to
'That I don't know. But you will.'
He lighted the long cigar.
Next morning Edith, who always came down to breakfast, though somewhat
late, found on her plate a letter from Lady Conroy, that most vague and
forgetful of all charming Irishwomen. It said:
'My DEAR MRS OTTLEY,
Do excuse my troubling you, but could you give me a little information?
Someone has asked me about Madame Frabelle. I know that she is a friend
of yours, and is staying with you, and I said so; also I have a sort of
idea that she was, in some way, connected with you by marriage or
relationship, but of that I was not quite sure. I fancy that it is due
to you that I have the pleasure of knowing her, anyhow.
'Could you tell me who she was before she married? What her husband was,
and anything else about her? That she is most charming and a very clever
woman I know, of course, already. To say she is a friend of yours is
enough to say that, but the rest I forget.
'Hoping you will forgive my troubling you, and that you are all very
well, I remain, yours most sincerely.
'P.S.--I began to take some lessons in nursing when I came across a most
charming and delightful girl, called Dulcie Clay. Do you happen to know
her at all? Her father married again and she was not happy at home, and,
having no money, she went in for nursing, seriously (not as I did), but
I'm afraid she is not strong enough for the profession. Remember me to
Edith passed the letter to Bruce.
'Isn't this too delightful?' she said; 'and exactly like her? She sends
Madame Frabelle to me with a letter of introduction, and then asks me
who she is!'
'Well,' said Bruce, who saw nothing of the absurdity of the situation,
'Lady Conroy is a most charming person. It looks almost as if she wanted
to decline responsibility. I wouldn't annoy her for the world. You must
give her all the information she wants, of course.'
'But all I know I only know from her.'
'Exactly. Well, tell her what she told you. Madame Frabelle told us
candidly she made her acquaintance at the hotel! But it's absurd to tell
Lady Conroy that back! We can't!'
Edith found the original letter of introduction, after some searching,
and wrote to Lady Conroy to say that she understood Madame Frabelle, who
was no connection of hers, was a clever, interesting woman, who wished
to study English life in her native land. She was '_of good family; she
had been a Miss Eglantine Pollard, and was the widow of a well-to-do
French wine merchant_.' (This was word for word what Lady Conroy had
told her.) She went on to say that she '_believed Madame Frabelle had
several friends and connections in London_.'
'The Mitchells, for instance,' suggested Bruce.
'Yes, that's a good idea. "_She knows the Mitchells very well_,"' Edith
went on writing. '"_I think you know them also; they are very great
friends of ours. Mr Mitchell is in the Foreign Office_."'
'And the Conistons?' suggested Bruce.
'Yes. "_She knows the Conistons; the nice young brother and sister we
are so fond of. She has other friends in London, I believe, but she has
not troubled to look them up. The more one sees of her the more one
likes her. She is most charming and amiable and makes friends wherever
she goes. I don't think I know anything more than this, dear Lady
Conroy. Yours very sincerely, Edith Ottley. P.S.--I have not met Miss
Bruce was satisfied with this letter. Edith herself thought it the most
amusing letter she had ever written.
'The clergyman whom she met at lunch yesterday, by the way,' said Bruce,
'wouldn't it sound well to mention him?'
Edith good-naturedly laughed, and added to the letter: '"_The Rev. Byrne
Fraser knows our friend also, and seems to like her_."'
'The only thing is,' said Bruce, after a moment's pause, 'perhaps that
might do her harm with Lady Conroy, although he's a clergyman. There
have been some funny stories about the Rev. Byrne Fraser.'
'He certainly liked her,' said Edith. 'He wrote her a long letter last
night, after meeting her at lunch, to go on with their argument, or
conversation, or whatever it was, and she's going to hear him preach
'Do you feel she would wish Lady Conroy to know that she's a friend of
the Rev. Byrne Fraser?' asked Bruce.
'Oh, I think so; or I wouldn't have said it.'
Edith was really growing more and more loyal in her friendship. There
certainly was something about Madame Frabelle that everybody, clever and
stupid alike, seemed to be attracted by.
Later Edith received a telephone call from Landi. He told her that he
had seen Aylmer, who was going on well, that he had begged to see her,
and had been allowed by his doctor and nurse to receive a visit from her
on Saturday next. He said that Aylmer had been agitated because his boy
was going almost immediately to the front. He seemed very pleased at the
idea of seeing her again.
Edith looked forward with a certain excitement to Saturday.
* * * * *
A day or two later Edith received a letter from Lady Conroy, saying:
'MY DEAR EDITH,
Thank you so much for your nice letter. I remember now, of course,
Madame Frabelle was a friend of the Mitchells, whom I know so well, and
like so much. What dears they are! Please remember me to them. I knew
that she had a friend who was a clergyman, but I wasn't quite sure who
it was. I suppose it must have been this Mr Fraser. She was a Miss
Pollard, you know, a very good family, and, as I always understood, the
more one knows of her the better one likes her.
'Thanks again for your note. I am longing to see you, and shall call
directly I come to London. Ever yours,
'P.S.--Madame F's husband was a French wine merchant, and a very
charming man, I believe. By the way, also, she knows the Conistons, I
believe, and no doubt several people we both know. Miss Clay has gone to
London with one of her patients.'
Bruce didn't understand why Edith was so much amused by this letter, nor
why she said that she should soon write and ask Lady Conroy who Madame
Frabelle was, and that she would probably answer that she was a great
friend of Edith's and of the Mitchells, and the Rev. Byrne Fraser.
'She seems a little doubtful about Fraser, doesn't she?' Bruce said.
'I mean Lady Conroy. Certainly she's got rather a funny memory; she
doesn't seem to have the slightest idea that she sent her to you with a
letter of introduction. Now we've taken all the responsibility on
'Well, really I don't mind,' said Edith. 'What does it matter? There's
obviously no harm in Madame Frabelle, and never could have been.'
'She's a very clever woman,' said Bruce. 'I'm always interested when I
hear what she has to say about people. I don't mind telling you that I'm
nearly always guided by it.'
'So am I,' said Edith.
Indeed Edith did sincerely regard her opinion as very valuable. She
found her so invariably wrong that she was quite a useful guide. She was
never quite sure of her own judgement until Madame Frabelle had
* * * * *
When Edith went to call on Aylmer in the little brown house in Jermyn
Street, she was shown first into the dining-room.
In a few minutes a young girl dressed as a nurse came in to speak to
She seemed very shy and spoke in a soft voice.
'I'm Miss Clay,' she said. 'I've been nursing for the last six months,
but I'm not very strong and was afraid I would have to give it up when I
met Mr Ross at Boulogne. He was getting on so well that I came back to
look after him and I shall stay until he is quite well, I think.'
Evidently this was the Dulcie Clay Lady Conroy had mentioned. Edith was
much struck by her. She was a really beautiful girl, with but one slight
defect, which some people perhaps, would have rather admired--her skin
was rather too dark, and a curious contrast to her beautiful blue eyes.
As a rule the combination of blue eyes and dark hair goes with a fair
complexion. Dulcie Clay had a brown skin, clear and pale, such as
usually goes with the Spanish type of brunette. But for this curious
darkness, which showed up her dazzling white teeth, she was quite
lovely. It was a sweet, sensitive face, and her blue eyes, with long
eyelashes like little feathers, were charming in their soft expression.
Her smile was very sweet, though she had a look of melancholy. There was
something touching about her.
She was below the usual height, slight and graceful. Her hair, parted in
the middle, was arranged in the Madonna style in two thick natural waves
each side of her face.
She had none of the bustling self-confidence of the lady nurse, but was
very gentle and diffident. Surely Aylmer must be in love with her,
Then Miss Clay said, in her low voice:
'You are Mrs Ottley, aren't you? I knew you at once.'
'Did you? How was that?'
A little colour came into the pale, dark face.
'Mr Ross has a little photograph of you,' she said, 'and once when he
was very ill he gave me your name and address and asked me to send it to
you if anything happened.'
As she said that her eyes filled with tears.
'Oh, but he'll be all right now, won't he?' asked Edith, with a feeling
of sympathy for Miss Clay, and a desire to cheer the girl.
'Yes, I think he'll be all right now,' she said. 'Do come up.'
It was a curious thing about Madame Frabelle that, though she was
perfectly at ease in any society, and really had seen a good deal of the
world, all her notions of life were taken from the stage. She looked
upon existence from the theatrical point of view. Everyone was to her a
hero or a heroine, a villain or a victim. To her a death was a
_dénouement_; a marriage a happy ending. Had she known the exact
circumstances in which Edith went to see the wounded hero, Madame
Frabelle's dramatic remarks, the obvious observations which she would
have showered on her friend, would have been quite unendurable.
Therefore Edith chose to say merely that she was going to see an old
friend, so as not to excite her friend's irritable imagination by any
hint of sentiment or romance on the subject.
During her absence in the afternoon, it happened that Mrs Mitchell had
called, with a lady whom she had known intimately since Tuesday, so she
was quite an old friend. Madame Frabelle had received them together in
Edith's place. On her return Madame Frabelle was full of the stranger.
She had, it seemed been dressed in bright violet, and did nothing but
laugh. Whether it was that everything amused her, or merely that
laughter was the only mode she knew of expressing all her sentiments,
impressions and feelings, Madame Frabelle was not quite sure. Her name
was Miss Radford, and she was thirty-eight. She had very red cheeks, and
curly black hair. She had screamed with laughter from disappointment at
hearing Mrs Ottley was out; and shrieked at hearing that Madame Frabelle
had been deputed to receive them in her place. Mrs Mitchell had
whispered that she was a most interesting person, and Madame Frabelle
thought she certainly was. It appeared that Mrs Mitchell had sent the
motor somewhere during their visit, and by some mistake it was a long
time coming back. This had caused peals of laughter from Miss Radford,
and just as they had made up their minds to walk home the motor arrived,
so she went away with Mrs Mitchell, giggling so much she could
Miss Radford also had been highly amused by the charming way the boudoir
was furnished, and had laughed most heartily at the curtains and the
pictures. Edith was sorry to have missed her. She was evidently a
valuable discovery, one of their new treasures, a rare _trouvaille_ of
Madame Frabelle then told Edith and Bruce that she had promised to dine
with the Mitchells one day next week. Edith was pleased to find that
Eglantine, and also Bruce, who had by now returned home, were so full of
Mrs Mitchell's visit and invitation, that neither of them asked her a
single question about Aylmer, and appeared to have completely forgotten
all about him.
* * * * *
As Madame Frabelle left them for a moment, Edith observed a cloud of
gloom over Bruce's expressive countenance. He said:
'Well, really! Upon my word! This is a bit too much! Mind you, I'm not
at all surprised. In fact, I always expected it. But it is a bit of a
shock, isn't it, when you find old friends throwing you over like this?'
He walked up and down, much agitated, repeating the same thing in
different words: that he had never been so surprised in his life; that
it was what he had always known would happen; that it was a great shock,
and he had always expected it.
At last Edith said: 'I don't see anything so strange about it, Bruce.
It's natural enough they should have asked her.'
'Oh, is it? How would they ever have known her but for us?'
'How could they ask her without knowing her? Besides we went there last.
We lunched with them only the other day.'
'That's not the point. You have missed the point entirely.
Unfortunately, you generally do. You have, in the most marked way, a
woman's weakness, Edith. You're incapable of arguing logically. I
consider it a downright slight; no, not so much a slight as an
insult--perhaps injury is the _mot juste_--to take away our guest and
not ask us. Not that I should have gone. I shouldn't have dreamed of
going, in any case. For one thing we were there last; we lunched there
only the other day. Besides, we're engaged to dine with my mother.'
'Mrs Mitchell knew that; that's why she asked Madame Frabelle because
she would be alone.'
'Oh, how like you, Edith! Always miss the point--always stick up for
everyone but me! You invariably take the other side. However, perhaps it
is all for the best; it's just as well. Nothing would have induced me to
have gone--even if I hadn't been engaged, I mean. I'm getting a bit
tired of the Mitchells; sick of them. Their tone is frivolous. And if
they'd pressed me ever so much, nothing in the world would have made me
break my promise to my mother.'
'Well, then, it's all right. Why complain?'
Bruce continued, however, in deep depression till they received a
message from the Mitchells, asking Edith if she and her husband couldn't
manage to come, all the same, if they were not afraid of offending the
elder Mrs Ottley. They could go to Bruce's mother at any time, and the
Mitchells particularly wanted them to meet some people tomorrow night--a
small party, unexpectedly got up.
'Of course you won't go,' said Edith to Bruce from the telephone. 'You
said you wouldn't under any circumstances. I'll refuse, shall I?'
'No--no, don't! Certainly not! Of course I shall go. Accept immediately.
They're quite right, it is perfectly true we can go to my mother any
other day. Besides, I don't think it's quite fair to old friends like
the Mitchells to throw them over when they particularly want us and ask
us as a special favour to them, like this.'
'You don't think, perhaps, that somebody else has disappointed them, and
they asked us at the last minute, to fill up?' suggested Edith, to whom
this was perfectly obvious.
Bruce was furious at this suggestion.
'Certainly not!' he exclaimed. 'The idea of such a thing. As if they
would treat me like that! Decidedly we will go.'
'All right,' she said, 'just as you wish. But your mother will be
Bruce insisted. Of course the invitation was accepted, and once again he
* * * * *
And at last Edith was able to be alone, and to think over her meeting
with Aylmer. A dramatic meeting under romantic circumstances between two
people of the Anglo-Saxon race always appears to fall a little flat;
words are difficult to find. When she went in, to find him looking thin
and weak, pale under his sunburn, changed and worn, she was deeply
thrilled and touched. It brought close to her the simple, heroic manner
in which so many men are calmly risking their lives, taking it as a
matter of course, and as she knew for a fact that he was forty-two and
had gone into the New Army at the very beginning of the war, she was
aware he must have strained a point in order to join. She admired
him for it.
He greeted her with that bright expression in his eyes and with the
smile that she had always liked so much, which lighted up like a ray of
sunshine the lean, brown, somewhat hard, face.
She sat down by his side, and all she could think of to say was: 'Well,
He answered: 'Well, Edith! Here you are.'
He took her hand, and she left it in his. Then they sat in silence,
occasionally broken by an obvious remark.
* * * * *
When he had left three years ago both had parted in love, and Aylmer in
anger. He had meant never to see her again, never to forgive her for her
refusal to use Bruce's escapade as a means of freeing herself, to marry
him. Yet now, when they met they spoke the merest commonplaces. And
afterwards neither of them could ever remember what had passed between
them during the visit. She knew it was short, and that it had left an
impression that calmed her. Somehow she had thought of him so much that
when she actually saw him again her affection seemed cooler. Had she
worn out the passion by dint of constancy? That must be strange.
Unaccountably, touched as she was at his wishing to see her just after
he had nearly died, the feeling now seemed to be more like a warm
friendship, and less like love.
The little nurse had seen her out. Edith saw that she had been crying.
Evidently she was quite devoted to Aylmer, and, poor girl, she probably
regarded Edith as a rival. But Edith would not be one, of that she was
determined. She wondered whether their meeting had had the same effect
on Aylmer. She thought he had shown more emotion than she had.
'He will be better now,' Dulcie Clay had said to her at the door.
'Please come again, Mrs Ottley.'
Edith thought that generous.
It seemed to her that Dulcie was as frank and open as a child. Edith, at
any rate, could read her like a book. It made her feel sorry for the
girl. As Edith analysed her own feelings she wondered why she had felt
no jealousy of her--only gratitude for her goodness to Aylmer.
All her sensations were confused. Only one resolution was firm in her
mind. Whether he wished it or not, they should never be on the terms
they were before. It could only lead to the same ending--to unhappiness.
No; after all these years of separation, Edith would be his friend, and
only his friend. Of that she was resolved.
'Lady Conroy,' said Bruce thoughtfully, at breakfast next day, 'is a
very strict Roman Catholic.'
Bruce was addicted to volunteering information, and making unanswerable
Madame Frabelle said to Edith in a low, earnest tone:
'Pass me the butter, dear,' and looked attentively at Bruce.
'I sometimes think I shouldn't mind being one myself,' Bruce continued;
'I should rather like to eat fish on Fridays.'
'But you like eating fish on Thursdays,' said Edith.
'And Mr Ottley never seems to care very much for meat.'
'Unless it's particularly well cooked--in a particular way,' said Edith.
'Fasts,' said Madame Frabelle rather pompously, 'are meant for people
who like feasts.'
'How true!' He gave her an admiring glance.
'I should not mind confessing, either,' continued Bruce, 'I think I
should rather like it.'
(He thought he was having a religious discussion.)
'But you always do confess,' said Edith, 'not to priests, perhaps, but
to friends; to acquaintances, at clubs, to girls you take in to dinner.
You don't call it confessing, you call it telling them a curious thing
that you happen to remember.'
'He calls it conversing,' said Madame Frabelle. She then gave a slight
flippant giggle, afterwards correcting it by a thoughtful sigh.
'The Rev. Byrne Fraser, of course, is very High Church,' Bruce said. 'I
understood he was Anglican. By the way, was Aylmer Ross a Roman
'I think he is.'
Bruce having mentioned his name, Edith now told him the news about her
visit to their friend. Bruce liked good news--more, perhaps, because it
was news than because it was good--yet the incident seemed to put him in
a rather bad temper. He was sorry for Aylmer's illness, glad he was
better, proud of knowing him, or, indeed, of knowing anyone who had been
publicly mentioned; and jealous of the admiration visible in both Edith
and Madame Frabelle. This medley of feeling resulted in his taking up a
book and saying:
'Good heavens! Again I've found you've dog's-eared my book, Edith!'
'I only turned down a page,' she said gently.
'No, you haven't; you've dog's-eared it. It's frightfully irritating,
dear, how you take no notice of my rebukes or my comments. Upon my word,
what I say to you seems to go in at one ear and out at the other, just
like water on a duck's back.'
'How does the water on a duck's back get into the dog's ears?--I mean
the duck's ears. Oh, I'm sorry. I won't do it again.'
Bruce sighed, flattened out the folded page and left the room with quiet
dignity, but caught his foot in the mat. Both ladies ignored
When he had gone, Madame Frabelle said:
'Bruce is only a little tidy,' said Edith.
'I know. My husband was dreadfully untidy, which is much worse.'
'I suppose they have their faults.'
'Oh, men are all alike!' exclaimed Madame Frabelle cynically.
'Only some men,' said Edith. 'Besides, to a woman--I mean, a nice
woman--there is no such thing as men. There is a man; and either she is
so fond of him that she can talk of nothing else, however unfavourably,
or so much in love with him that she never mentions his name.'
'Men often say women are all alike,' said Madame Frabelle.
'When a man says that, he means there is only one woman in the world,
and he's in love with her, and she is not in love with him.'
'Men are not so faithful as women,' remarked Madame Frabelle, with the
air of a discovery.
'Perhaps not. And yet--well, I think the difference is that a man is
often more in love with the woman he is unfaithful to than with the
woman he is unfaithful with. With us it is different.... Madame
Frabelle, I think I'll take Archie with me today to see Aylmer Ross.
Tell Bruce so, casually; and will you come with me another day?'
'With the greatest pleasure,' said Madame Frabelle darkly, and with an
expressive look. (Neither she nor Edith had any idea what it expressed.)
Edith found Aylmer wonderfully better. The pretty little nurse with the
dark face and pale blue eyes told her he had had a peaceful night and
had bucked up tremendously. He was seated in an arm-chair with one leg
on another chair, and with him was Arthur Coniston, a great admirer
It was characteristic of Aylmer, the moment he was able, to see as many
friends as he was allowed. Aylmer was a very gregarious person,
though--or perhaps because--he detested parties. He liked company, but
hated society. Arthur Coniston, who always did his best to attract
attention by his modest, self-effacing manner, was sitting with his
handsome young head quite on one side from intense respect for his host,
whom he regarded with the greatest admiration as a man of culture, and a
judge of art. He rejoiced to be one of the first to see him, just
returned after three years' absence from England, and having spent the
last three months at the front.
Arthur Coniston (also in khaki), who was a born interviewer, was anxious
to know Aylmer's impression of certain things over here, after his
'I should so very much like to know,' he said, 'what your view is of the
attitude to life of the Post-Impressionists.'
Aylmer smiled. He said: 'I think their attitude to life, as you call it,
is best expressed in some of Lear's Nonsense Rhymes: "_His Aunt Jobiska
said, 'Everyone knows that a pobble is better without his toes_.'"'
Archie looked up in smiling recognition of these lines, and Edith
'Excuse me, but I don't quite follow you,' said young Coniston gravely.
'Why, don't you see? Of course, Lear is the spirit they express. A
portrait by a post-Impressionist is sure to be "A Dong with a luminous
nose." And don't you remember, "_The owl and the pussycat went to sea in
a beautiful pea-green boat_"? Wouldn't a boat painted by a
Post-Impressionist be pea-green?'
'Perfectly. I see that. But--why the pobble without its toes?'
'Why, the sculptor always surrenders colour, and the painted form. Each
has to give up something for the limitation of art. But the more modern
artist gives up much more--likeness, beauty, a few features here and
there--a limb now and then.'
'Ah yes. I quite see what you mean. Like the statuary of Rodin or
Epstein. One sees really only half the form, as if growing out of the
sketchy sculpture. And then there's another thing--I hope I'm not
'No, indeed. It's great fun: such a change to hear about this sort of
'The Futurists?' asked Arthur. 'What is your view of them?'
'Well, of course, they are already past, They always were. But I should
say their attitude to life is that of the man who is looking at the moon
reflected in a lake, but can't see it; he sees the reflection of a
'Ah yes. They see things wrong, you mean. They're not so real, not so
logical, as the Post-Impressionists.'
'Yes, the Futurist is off the rails entirely, and he seems to see hardly
anything but railways. But all that noisy nonsense of the Futurists
always bored me frightfully,' Aylmer said. 'Affectation for affectation,
I prefer the pose of depression and pessimism to that of bullying and
high spirits. When the affected young poet pretended to be used up and
worn out, one knew there was vitality under it all. But when I see a
cheerful young man shrieking about how full of life he is, banging on a
drum, and blowing on a tin trumpet, and speaking of his good spirits, it
depresses me, since naturally it gives the contrary impression. It can't
be real. It ought to be but it isn't. If the noisy person meant what he
said, he wouldn't say it.'
'I see. The modern _poseurs_ aren't so good as the old ones. Odle is not
so clever as Beardsley.'
'Of course not. Beardsley had the gift of line--though he didn't always
know where to draw it--but his illustrations to Wilde's work were
unsuitable, because Beardsley wanted everything down in black and white,
and Wilde wanted everything in purple and gold. But both had their
restraints, and their pose was reserve, not flamboyance.'
'I think you mean that if people are so sickening as to have an
affectation at all, you would rather they kept it quiet,' said Edith.
'Exactly! At least, it brings a smile to one's lips to see a very young
man pretend he is bored with life. I have often wondered what the answer
would be from one of these chaps, and what he would actually say, if you
held a loaded pistol to his head--I mean the man who says he doesn't
think life worth living.'
'What do you think he would say?' asked Coniston.
'He would scream: "Good heavens! What are you doing? Put that down!"'
'She's right,' said Aylmer. 'She always is.'
Dulcie came in and brought tea.
'I hope we're not tiring him,' Edith asked her.
'Oh no. I think it does him good. He enjoys it.'
She sat down with Archie and talked to him gently in the corner.
'After living so much among real things,' Coniston was saying, 'one
feels half ashamed to discuss our old subjects.'
However, he and Aylmer continued to talk over books and pictures,
Coniston hanging on his lips as though afraid of missing or forgetting a
word he said.
Presently Edith told Aylmer about their new friend, Madame Frabelle. He
was very curious to see her.
'What is she like?' he asked. 'I can't imagine her living with you. Is
she a skeleton at the feast?'
'A skeleton!' exclaimed Coniston. 'Good heavens--no! Quite the
'A skeleton who was always feasting would hardly remain one long,'
'Anyhow,' said Aylmer, 'the cupboard is the proper place for a
Archie had joined the group round Aylmer. Edith sat in a corner for some
time, chatting with Dulcie. They arranged that Bruce was to call the
next day, and Edith and Madame Frabelle the day after.
When they went away Archie, who had listened very closely to the
'What a lot of manners Mr Coniston has! What did he mean by saying that
Spanish painters painted a man in a gramophone?'
Edith racked her brain to remember the sentence. Then she said, with a
'Oh yes, I know! Mr Coniston said: "The Spanish artists painted--to a
man--in monochrome." I can't explain it, Archie. It doesn't matter. Why
did you leave Miss Clay and come back to us?'
'Why, I like her all right, but you get tired of talking to women. I get
bored with Dilly sometimes.'
'Then you're looking forward to going back to school?'
'I shall like the society of boys of my own sex again,' he said grandly.
'You're not always very nice to Dilly, Archie. I've noticed when
anything is given to her, you always snatch at it. You must remember
'Yes, that's all very well. But then Dilly takes it all, and only gives
me what's left.'
Archie looked solemn.
'Edith,' said Bruce, next morning, with some importance of manner, 'I've
had a letter from Aylmer--Aylmer Ross, you know--asking me, _most_
particularly, to call on him.'
'Oh, really,' said Edith, who knew it already, as she had asked him to
write to Bruce.
'He wants me to come at half-past four,' said Bruce, looking over the
letter pompously. 'Four-thirty, to the minute. I shall certainly do it.
I shan't lose a minute.'
'I'm afraid you'll have to lose a few minutes,' said Edith. 'It's only
Bruce stared at her, folded up the letter, and put it in his pocket. He
thought it would be a suitable punishment for her not to see it.
Obviously he was not in the best of humours. Not being sure what was
wrong, Edith adopted the simple plan of asking what he meant.
'What do I mean!' exclaimed Bruce, who, when his grievances, were vague,
relied on such echoes for his most cutting effects. 'You ask me what I
mean? Mean, indeed!' He took some toast and repeated bitterly: 'Ah! You
may well ask me what I mean!'
'May I? Well, what were the observations you didn't approve of?'
'Why ... what you said. About several minutes being lost before
'Oh, Bruce dear, I didn't mean any harm by it.'
'Harm, indeed!' repeated Bruce. 'Harm! It isn't a question of actual
harm. I don't say that you meant to injure me, nor even, perhaps, to
hurt my feelings. But it's a way of speaking--a tone--that I think
extremely _déplacé_, from you to me. Do you follow me, Edith? From
_you_ to _me_.'
'That's a dark saying. Well, whatever I said I take it back, if you
don't like it. Will that do?'
Bruce was mollified, but wouldn't show it at once.
'Ah,' he said, 'that's all very well. These sort of things are not so
easily taken back. You should think before you speak. Prevention is
better than cure.'
'Yes, and a stitch in time saves nine--though it doesn't rhyme. And it's
no good crying over spilt milk, and two heads are better than one. But,
really, Bruce, I didn't mean it.'
'What didn't you mean?'
'Good heavens, I really don't know by now! I'm afraid I've utterly
forgotten what we were talking about,' said Edith, looking at the door
with some anxiety.
She was hoping that Madame Frabelle would soon come down and cause a
'Look here, Edith,' said Bruce, 'when an old friend, an old friend of
yours and mine, and at one time a very intimate friend--next door to a
brother--when such a friend as that has been wounded at the front,
fighting for our country--and, mind you, he behaved with remarkable
gallantry, for it wasn't really necessary for him to go, as he was
beyond the age--well, when a friend does a thing like that, and comes
back wounded, and writes, with his own hand, asking me to go and see
him--well, I think it's the least I can do! I don't know what _you_
think. It seems to _me_ the right thing. If you disagree with me I'm
very sorry. But, frankly, it appears to me that I ought to go.'
'Who could doubt it?'
'Read the letter for yourself,' said Bruce, suddenly taking it out of
his pocket and giving it to her. 'There, you see. "Dear Ottley,"
Here Bruce went to her side of the table and leant over her, reading the
letter aloud to her over her shoulder, while she was reading it
'"DEAR OTTLEY,--If you could look in tomorrow about half-past four, I
should be very glad to see you. Yours sincerely, AYLMER ROSS." Fairly
cordial, I think, isn't it? Or not? Perhaps you think it cold. Would you
call it a formal letter?'
Bruce took the letter out of her hand and read it over again to himself.
'Very nice, dear,' said Edith.
'So I thought.' He put it away with a triumphant air.
Edith was thinking that the writing was growing stronger. Aylmer must be
'I say, I hope it isn't a sign he's not so well, that he wants to see
me. I don't call it a good sign. He's depressed. He thinks I'll
cheer him up.'
'And I'm sure you will. Ah, here's Madame Frabelle.'
'I'm afraid I'm a little late,' said their guest, with her amiable
'Oh dear, no--not at all, not at all,' said Bruce, who was really much
annoyed at her unpunctuality. 'Of course, if you'd been a minute later I
shouldn't have had the pleasure of seeing you at all before I went to
the office--that's all. And what does that matter? Good heavens,
_that's_ of no importance! Good gracious, this is Liberty Hall, I
hope--isn't it? I should be very sorry for my guests to feel tied in any
way--bound to be down at any particular time. Will you have some coffee?
Edith, give Madame Frabelle a cup of coffee. Late? Oh dear, no;
certainly not!' He gave a short, ironical laugh.
'Well, I think I'm generally fairly punctual,' said Madame Frabelle,
beginning her breakfast without appearing to feel this sarcasm. 'What
made me late this morning was that Archie and Dilly came into my room
and asked me to settle a kind of dispute they were having.'
'They regard you quite as a magistrate,' said Edith. 'But it was too bad
of them to come and bother you so early.'
'Oh no. Not at all. I assure you I enjoy it. And, besides, a boy with
Archie's musical talents is bound to have the artistic temperament, you
know, and--well--of course, we all know what that leads to--excitement;
and finally a quarrel sometimes.'
'If he were really musical I should have thought he ought to be more
harmonious,' Edith said.
'Oh, by the way, Edith, did you consult Landi about him?' Bruce
inquired. 'You said you intended to.'
'Oh yes, I did. Landi can see no sign of musical genius yet.'
'Dear, dear!' said Bruce.
'Ah, but I am convinced he's wrong. Wait a few years and you'll find
he'll agree with me yet,' said Madame Frabelle. 'I'm not at all sure,
either, that a composer like Landi is necessarily the right person to
judge of youthful genius.'
'Perhaps not. And yet you'd think he'd know a bit about it, too! I mean
to say, they wouldn't have made him a baronet if he didn't understand
his profession. Excuse my saying so, won't you?'
'Not at all,' she answered. 'It doesn't follow. I mean it doesn't follow
that he's right about Archie. Did he try the boy's voice?' she
'Well, he asked Archie to sing a few notes.'
'And did he?'
'Yes, he did. But they weren't the notes Landi asked him to sing.'
'Then Landi played him two tunes, and found he didn't know one from the
'Well, what of that?'
'Nothing at all. Except that it showed he had no ear, as well as no
voice. That is all.'
Madame Frabelle would never own she was beaten.
'Ah, well, well,' she said, shaking her head in an oracular way. 'You
'Certainly. I shall.'
'By the way, I may be a little late for dinner tonight. I'm going to see
an old friend who's been wounded in the war,' Bruce told Madame
It had always been something of an ordeal to Edith when she knew that
Aylmer and Bruce were alone together. It was a curious feeling, combined
of loyalty to Bruce (she hated him to make himself ridiculous), loyalty
to Aylmer, and an indescribable sense of being lowered in her own eyes.
When they seemed friendly together it pained her self-respect. Most
women will understand the sensation. However, she knew it had to be, and
would be glad when it was over.
The next evening Bruce came in, holding himself very straight, with a
slightly military manner. When he saw his wife he just stopped himself
'That's a man!' he exclaimed. 'That's a splendid fellow.'
Edith didn't answer.
'You don't appreciate him. In my opinion Aylmer Ross is a hero.'
'I hope he's better?'
'Better! He would say so, anyhow. Ah, he's a wonderful chap!' Bruce
hummed Tipperary below his breath.
Edith was surprised to find herself suffering no less mental discomfort
and irritation while Bruce talked about Aylmer and praised him than she
used to feel years ago. It seemed as if three years had passed and
altered nothing. She answered coldly. Bruce became more enthusiastic. He
declared that she didn't know how to value such a fine character.
'Women,' he repeated, 'don't know a hero when they see one.'
Evidently if Bruce had had his way Aylmer would have been covered with
DSO's and VC's; nothing was good enough for him.
On the other hand, if Edith had praised Aylmer, Bruce would have been
the first to _debiner_ his actions, undervalue his gifts, and crab him
Edith was not one of those women, far more common than is supposed, who
consider themselves aggrieved and injured when a discarded lover
consoles himself with someone else. Nor was she one of the numerous
people who will not throw away what they no longer want for fear someone
else will pick it up. She had such a strong sympathy for Dulcie Clay
that she had said to herself several times she would like to see her
perfectly happy. Edith was convinced that the nurse adored her patient,
but she was not at all sure that he returned the admiration. Edith
herself had only seen him alone once, and on that occasion they had said
hardly anything to each other. He had been constrained and she had been
embarrassed. The day that Arthur Coniston was there and they talked of
pictures, Aylmer had given her, by a look, to understand that he would
like to see her again alone, and she knew perfectly well, even without
that, that he was longing for another _tête-à-tête_.
However, the next day Edith went with Madame Frabelle.
This was a strangely unsatisfactory visit. Edith knew his looks and
every tone of his voice so well that she could see that Aylmer, unlike
everybody else, was not in the least charmed with Madame Frabelle. She
bored him; he saw nothing in her.
Madame Frabelle was still more disappointed. She had been told he was
brilliant; he said nothing put commonplaces. He was supposed to be
witty; he answered everything she said literally. He was said to be a
man of encyclopaedic information; but when Madame Frabelle questioned him
on such subjects his answers were dry and short; and when she tried to
draw him out about the war, he changed the subject in a manner that was
not very far from being positively rude.
Leaving them for a moment, Edith went to talk to Dulcie.
'How do you think he's getting on?' she said.
'He's getting well; gradually. He seems a little nervous the last day or
'Do you think he's been seeing too many people?'
'He hasn't seen more than the doctor has allowed. But, do you know, Mrs.
Ottley, I think it depends a great deal who the people are.'
She waited a moment and then went on in a low voice:
'You do him more good than anyone. You see, he's known you so long,' she
added gently, 'and so intimately. It's no strain--I mean he hasn't got
to make conversation.'
'Yes, I see,' said Edith.
'Mr. Ross hasn't any near relations--no mother or sister. You seem to
take their place--if you understand what I mean.'
Edith thought it charmingly tactful of her to put it like that.
'I'm sure _you_ take their place,' Edith said.
Dulcie looked down.
'Oh, of course, he hasn't to make any effort with me. But then _I_ don't
amuse him, and he wants amusement, and change. It's a great bore for a
man like that--so active mentally, and in every way--to have to lie
perfectly still, especially when he has no companion but me. I'm rather
dull in some ways. Besides, I don't know anything about the subjects
he's interested in.'
'Don't talk nonsense,' said Edith, smiling. 'I should imagine that just
to look at you would be sufficient.'
'Oh, Mrs. Ottley! How can you?'
She turned away as if rather pained than pleased at the compliment.
'I haven't very high spirits,' she said. 'I'm not sure that I don't
sometimes depress him.'
'On the contrary; I'm sure he wouldn't like a breezy, restless person
bouncing about the room and roaring with laughter,' Edith said.
She smiled. 'Perhaps not. But there might be something between. He will
be able to go for a drive in a week or two. I wondered whether, perhaps,
you could take him out?'
'Oh yes; I dare say that could be arranged.'
'I have to go out all tomorrow afternoon. I wondered whether you would
come and sit with him, Mrs. Ottley?'
'Certainly I will, if you like.'
'Oh, please do! I know he's worrying much more about his son than
anybody thinks. You see, the boy's really very young, and I'm not sure
'I suppose neither of them told the truth about their age,' said Edith.
'It reminds one of the joke in _Punch_: "Where do you expect to go if
you tell lies? To the front."'
Miss Clay gave a little laugh. Then she started. A bell was heard
ringing rather loudly.
'I'll tell him you're coming tomorrow, then,' she said.
They returned to Aylmer's room.
He was looking a little sulky. He said as Edith came in:
'I thought you'd gone without saying good-bye. What on earth were you
'Only talking to Miss Clay,' said Edith, sitting down by him. 'How sweet
'Charming,' said Madame Frabelle. 'Wonderfully pretty, too.'
'She's a good nurse,' said Aylmer briefly. 'She's been awfully good to
me. But I do hope I shan't need her much longer.' He spoke with
'Oh, Mr Ross!' exclaimed Madame Frabelle. 'I'm sure if I were a young
man I should be very sorry when she had to leave me!'
'Possibly. However, you're not a young man. Neither am I.'
There was a moment's silence. This was really an exceptional thing when
Madame Frabelle was present. Edith could not recall one occasion when
Eglantine had had nothing to say. Aylmer must have been excessively
snubbing. Extraordinary I Wonder of wonders! He had actually silenced
All Aylmer's natural politeness and amiability returned when they rose
to take their leave. He suddenly became cordial, cheery and charming.
Evidently he was so delighted the visitor was going that it quite raised
his spirits. When they left he gave Edith a little reproachful look. He
did not ask her to come again. He was afraid she would bring
'Well, Edith, I thoroughly understand your husband's hero-worship for
that man,' said Madame Frabelle (meaning she thoroughly misunderstood
it). 'I've been studying his character all this afternoon.'
'Do tell me what you think of him!'
'Edith, I'm sorry to say it, but it's a hard, cold, cruel nature.'
'Is it really?'
'Mr Aylmer Ross doesn't know what it is to feel emotion, sentiment, or
tenderness. Principle he has, perhaps, and no doubt he thinks he has
great self-control, but that's only because he's absolutely incapable of
passion of any kind.'
'I see you're amused at my being right again. It is an odd thing about
me, I must own. I never make a mistake,' said Madame Frabelle
As they walked home, she continued to discourse eloquently on the
subject of Aylmer. She explained him almost entirely away.
There was nothing Madame Frabelle fancied herself more on than
physiognomy. She pointed out to Edith how the brow showed a narrow mind,
the mouth bitterness. (How extraordinarily bored Aylmer must have been
to give that impression of all others, thought her listener.) And the
eyes, particularly, gave away his chief characteristic, the thing that
one missed most in his personality.
'And what is that?'
'Can't you see?'
'No, I don't think I can.'
'He has no sense of humour!' said Madame Frabelle triumphantly.
After a few moment's pause, Edith said:
'What do you think of Miss Clay?'
'She's very pretty--extremely pretty. But I don't quite like to say what
I think of her. I'd rather not. Don't ask me. It doesn't concern me.'
'As bad as that? Oh, do tell me. You're so interesting about character,
'Dear Edith, how kind of you. Well, she's very, very clever, of course.
Most intellectual. A remarkable brain, I should say. But she's deep and
scheming; it's a sly, treacherous face.'
'Really, I can't see that.'
Madame Frabelle put her hand on Edith's shoulder. They had just reached
'Ah, you don't know so much of life as I do, my dear.'
'I should have said she is certainly not at all above the average in
cleverness, and I think her particularly simple and frank.'
'Ah, but that's all put on. You'll see I'm right some day. However, it
doesn't matter. No doubt she's a very good nurse.'
'Don't abuse her to Bruce,' said Edith, as they went in.
'Certainly not. But why do you mind?'
'I don't know; I suppose I like her.'
Madame Frabelle laughed. 'How strange you are!'
She lowered her voice as they walked upstairs, and said:
'To tell the real truth, she gave me a shiver down the spine. I believe
that girl capable of anything. That dark skin with those pale blue eyes!
I strongly suspect she has a touch of the tarbrush.'
'My dear! Nonsense. You can't have looked at her fine little features
and her white hands.'
'Why is she so dark?'
'There may have been Italian or Spanish blood in her family,' said
Edith, laughing. 'It's not a symptom of crime.'
'There may, indeed,' replied Madame Frabelle in a tone of deep meaning,
as they reached the door of her room. 'But, mark my words, Edith, that's
a dangerous woman!'
* * * * *
An event had occurred in the Ottley household during their absence.
Archie had brought home a dog and implored his mother to let him
'What sort of dog is it?' asked Edith.
'Come and look at it. It isn't any particular _sort_. It's just a dog.'
'But, my dear boy, you're going to school the day after tomorrow, and
you can't take it with you.'
'I know; but I'll teach Dilly to look after it.'
It was a queer, rough, untidy-looking creature; it seemed harmless
enough; a sort of Dobbin in _Vanity Fair_ in the canine world.
'It's an inconsistent dog. Its face is like a terrier's, and its tail
like a sort of spaniel,' said Archie. 'But I think it might be trained
to a bloodhound.'
'You do, do you? What use would a bloodhound be to Dilly?'
'Well, you never know. It might be very useful.'
'I'm afraid there's not room in the house for it.'
'Oh, Mother!' both the children cried together. 'We _must_ keep it!'
'Was it lost?' she asked.
Archie frowned at Dilly, who was beginning to say, 'Not exactly.'
'Tell me how you got it.'
'It was just walking along, and I took its chain. The chain was dragging
on the ground.'
'You stole it,' said Dilly.
Archie flew at her, but Edith kept him back.
'Stole it! I didn't! Its master had walked on and evidently didn't care
a bit about it, poor thing. That's not stealing.'
'If Master Archie wants to keep a lot of dogs, he had better take them
with him to school,' said the nurse. 'I don't want nothing to do with no
dogs, not in this nursery.'
'There's only one thing to be done, Archie; you must take care of it for
the next day or two, and I shall advertise in the paper for its master.'
'Don't you see it isn't even honest to keep it?'
Archie was bitterly disappointed, but consoled at the idea of seeing the
advertisement in the paper.
'How can we advertise it? We don't know what name it answers to.'
'It would certainly be difficult to describe,' said Edith.
They had tried every name they had ever heard of, and Dilly declared it
had answered to them all, if answering meant jumping rather wildly round
them and barking as if in the very highest spirits, it certainly had.
'It'll be fun to see my name in the paper,' said Archie thoughtfully.
'Indeed you won't see your name in the paper.'
'Well, I found it,' said Archie rather sulkily.
'Yes; but you had no right to find it, and still less to bring it home.
I don't know what your father will say.'
Bruce at once said that it must be taken to Scotland Yard. Dilly cried
bitterly, and said she wanted it to eat out of her hand, and save her
life in a snowstorm.
'It's not a St Bernard, you utter little fool,' said her brother.
'Well, it might save me from drowning,' said Dilly.
She had once seen a picture, which she longed to realise, of a dog
swimming, holding a child in its mouth. She thought it ought to be
called Faithful or Rover.
All these romantic visions had to be given up. Madame Frabelle said the
only thing to do was to take it at once to the Battersea Dogs' Home,
where it would be 'happy with companions of its own age'. Immediately
after dinner her suggestion was carried out, to the great relief of most
of the household. The nurse said when it had gone that she had 'known
all along it was mad, but didn't like to say so.'
'But it took such a fancy to me,' said Archie.
'Perhaps that was why,' said Dilly.
* * * * *
The children were separated by force.
For a woman who was warm-hearted, sensitive and thoughtful, Edith had a
singularly happy disposition. First, she was good-tempered; not touchy,
not easily offended about trifles. Such vanity as she had was not in an
uneasy condition; she cared very little for general admiration, and had
no feeling for competition. She was without ambition to be superior to
others. Then, though she saw more deeply into things than the generality
of women, she was not fond of dwelling on the sad side of life. Very
small things pleased her, while trifles did not annoy her. Hers was not
the placidity of the stupid, fat, contented person who never troubles
about other people.
She was rather of a philosophical turn, and her philosophy tended to
seeing the brighter side. Where she was singularly fortunate was that
though she felt pleasure deeply--a temperament that feels pain in
proportion--her suffering, though acute, seldom lasted long. There was
an elasticity in her disposition that made her rebound quickly from
Her affections were intense, but she did not suffer the usual penalty of
love--a continual dread of losing the loved object. If she adored her
children and was thankful for their health and beauty, she was not
exactly what is called an anxious mother. She thought much about them,
and was very determined to have her own way in anything concerning them.
That, indeed, was a subject on which she would give way to no-one. But
as she had so far succeeded in directing them according to her own
ideas, she was satisfied. And she was very hopeful. She could look
forward to happiness, but troubles she dealt with as they arose.
Certainly, after the first few months of their marriage, Bruce had
turned out a disappointment. But now that she knew him, knew the worst
of him, she did not think bad. He had an irritating personality. But
most people had to live with someone who was a little irritating; and
she was so accustomed to his various ways and weaknesses that she could
deal with them unmoved, almost mechanically. She did not take him
seriously. She would greatly have preferred, of course, that he should
understand her, that she could look up to him and lean on him. But as
this was not so, she made the best of it, and managed to be contented
enough. Three years ago she had not even known she could be deeply
She had loved Aylmer Ross. But even at that time, when Bruce gave her
the opportunity, by his wild escapade with Miss Argles, to free herself
and marry Aylmer--her ideal of divine happiness at the time--somehow she
could not do it. She had a curious sense of responsibility towards
Bruce, which came in the way.
Often since then she had had regrets; she had even felt it had been a
mistake to throw away such a chance. But she reflected that she would
have regrets anyhow. It would have worried her to know that Bruce needed
her. For all that, she knew he did, if unconsciously. So she had made up
her mind to content herself with a life which, though peaceful, was
certainly, to her temperament, decidedly incomplete.
Edith had other sources of happiness more acute than that of the
average. She took an intense and keen enjoyment in life itself.
Everything interested her, amused her. She was never bored. She so much
enjoyed the mere spectacle of life that she never required to be the
central figure. When she had to play the part of a mere spectator it
didn't depress her; she could delight in society and in character as if
at a theatre. On the other hand, as she had a good deal of initiative
and a strong personality, she could also revel in action, in playing a
principal part. Under a quiet manner her courage was daring and her
spirit high. Unless someone or something was actively tormenting her, to
an extent quite insupportable, she was contented, even gay.
Her past romance with Aylmer had naturally opened to her a source of
delight that she knew nothing of before.
Since she had seen him again she scarcely knew how she felt about it.
This day she was to see him again alone, because he wished it, and
because Dulcie Clay had begged her to gratify the wish.
Why was it, she asked herself, that the little nurse desired they should
be alone together? It was perfectly clear, to a woman with Edith's
penetration, that Dulcie was in love with Aylmer. Also, she was equally
sure that the girl believed Aylmer to be devoted to her, Edith. Then it
must be the purest unselfishness. Dulcie probably, she thought, loved
him with a kind of hopeless worship. She had seen him ill and weak, she
pitied him, she wanted him to be happy. In return for this generosity
Edith felt a generous kindness for her, a sympathy that she would never
have believed she could feel at seeing such a beautiful girl on those
rather intimate terms with Aylmer.
It must mean, simply, that Edith knew Aylmer cared for her still. A look
was enough to convince her that at least he still took a great and deep
interest in her. And she wanted to come to an understanding with him, or
she could have avoided a _tête-à-tête_.
During the three years he had been away the feeling had calmed down, but
the ideal was still there, and the memory. Whenever Bruce was
maddening--which was fairly often--when she heard music, when she saw
beautiful scenery, when she was reading a romantic book, when any other
man admired her, Aylmer was always in her thoughts.
When Edith saw him again she was not sure that she had not worn out her
passion by dwelling on it. But that might easily be caused by the mere
_gêne_ of the first two or three meetings. There is a shyness, a sort of
coldness, in meeting again a person one has passionately loved. To see
the dream in flesh and blood, the thought made concrete, once more
brings poetry down to prose. Then the terms they met on now were
changed. He was playing such a different part. Instead of the strong,
determined man who had voluntarily left her, refusing to know her as a
friend, and reproaching her bitterly for playing with him, as he called
it, here was a broken invalid, a pathetic figure who appealed to
entirely different sentiments. There is naturally something maternal in
a woman's feeling to a sick man. There was also the halo that surrounds
the wounded hero. He was not ill through weakness, but through strength
She found herself thinking of him day and night, but it was in a
different way. It might be because he had not yet referred to their past
Edith dressed with unusual care to go and see him today. Even if a woman
wishes to discourage or to break off all relations with a man, she
doesn't, after all, wish to leave a disagreeable impression.
Her prettiness and charm--of which she was modestly but confidently
aware, by her experience of its effect--was a great satisfaction. It was
remarkably noticeable today. In front of the glass Edith hesitated
between her favourite plain sailor hat and a new black velvet toque,
which shaded her eyes, contrasting with the fair hair of which very
little showed, and giving her an aspect of dashing yet discreet
coquetry. She looked younger in the other sailor hat (so she decided
when she put it on again) and more as she used to look. Which was the
more attractive? She decided on novelty, and went out, finally, in
Of course only another woman could have appreciated the remarkable fact
that she could wear at thirty-five such a small hat and yet look fresh.
Certainly a brim was more flattering to most women of her age, but the
contour of Edith's face was still as youthful as ever; she had one of
those clearly shaped oval faces that are not disposed to growing thick
and broad, or to haggardness. The oval might be a shade wider than it
was three years ago; that was all the more becoming; did it not make the
features look smaller?
* * * * *
As she went out she laughed at herself for giving so much thought to her
appearance. It was as though she believed she was going to play an
important part in the chief scene of a play.
Once dressed, as usual she lost all self-consciousness, and thought of
Miss Clay was out, as she had told Edith she would be, and the servant
showed her in.
She saw at once that Aylmer, also, had been looking forward to this
moment with some excitement. He, too, had dressed with special care; and
she knew, without being told, that orders had been given to receive no
He was sitting in an arm-chair, with the bandaged leg on the other
chair, a small table by his side laid for tea. Even a kettle was boiling
(no doubt to avoid interruption). It was his old brown library, where
she had occasionally seen him with others in the old days. But this was
literally the first time she had seen him in his own house alone.
It was essentially a man's room. Comfortable, but not exactly luxurious;
very little was sacrificed to decoration.
There were a few very old dark pictures on the walls. The room was
crammed with books in long, low bookcases. On the mantelpiece was a
pewter vase of cerise-coloured carnations.
An uncut _English Review_ was in his hand, but he threw it on the floor
with a characteristic gesture as she came in.
'You look very comfortable,' said Edith, as she took her seat in the
arm-chair placed for her.
He answered gravely, speaking in his direct, quick way, with his sincere
'It was very good of you to come.'
'Shall I pour out your tea?'
'Yes. Let's have tea and get it over.'
She laughed, took off her gloves, and he watched her fingers as they
occupied themselves with the china, as though he were impatient for the
ceremony to be finished.
While she poured it out and handed it to him he said not a word. She saw
that he looked pale and seemed rather nervous. Each tried to put the
other at ease, more by looks than words. Edith saw it would worry him to
make conversation. They knew each other well enough to exchange ideas
He had something to say and she would not postpone it. That would
'There,' said Aylmer, giving a little push to the table. 'Do you want
any more tea?'
'Well--do you mind coming a little nearer?'
She lifted the little table, put it farther behind his chair, placed the
arm-chair closer to him by the fire, and sat down again. He looked at
her for some time with a serious expression. Then he said, rather
abruptly and unexpectedly:
'What a jolly hat!'
'Oh, I _am_ glad you like it!' exclaimed Edith. 'I was afraid you'd hate
For the first time they were talking in their old tone, she reflected.
'No, I like it--I love it.' He lowered his voice to say this.
'I'm glad,' she repeated.
'And I love you,' said Aylmer as abruptly, and in a still lower voice.
She didn't answer.
'Look here, Edith. I want to ask you something.'
He seemed to have some difficulty in speaking. He was agitated.
'Have you forgotten me?'
'You can see I haven't, or I wouldn't be here,' she answered.
'Don't fence with me. I mean, really. Are you the same as when I went
'Aylmer, do you think we had better talk about it?'
'We must. I must. I can't endure the torture of seeing you just like
anybody else. You know I told you--' He stopped a moment.
'You told me you'd never be a mere friend,' she said. 'But everything's
so different now!'
'It isn't different; that's where you're wrong. You're just the same,
and so am I. Except that I care for you far more than I ever did.'
'When I thought I was dying I showed your little photograph to Miss
Clay. I told her all about it. I suppose I was rather mad. It was just
after an operation. It doesn't matter a bit; she wouldn't ever say
'I'm sure she wouldn't.'
'I had to confide in somebody,' he went on. 'I told her to send you back
the photograph, and I told her that my greatest wish was to see
'Well, my dear boy, we have met again! Do change your mind from what you
said last! I mean when you went away.' She spoke in an imploring tone.
'Do you wish to be friends, then?'
She hesitated a moment, then said: 'Yes, I do.'
After a moment's pause he said: 'You say everything's changed. In a way
it is. I look at things differently--I regard them differently. When
you've been up against it, and seen life and death pretty close, you
realise what utter rot it is to live so much for the world.'
Edith stared. 'But ... doesn't it make you feel all the more the
importance of principle--goodness and religion, and all that sort of
thing? I expected it would, with you.'
'Frankly, no; it doesn't. Now, let us look at the situation quietly.'
After an agitated pause he went on:
'As far as I make out, you're sacrificing yourself to Bruce. When he ran
away with that girl, and begged you to divorce him, you could have done
it. You cared for me. Everything would have been right, even before the
world. No-one would have blamed you. Yet you wouldn't.'
'But that _wasn't_ for the world, Aylmer; you don't understand. It was
for myself. Something in me, which I can't help. I felt Bruce needed me
and would go wrong without me--'
'Why should you care? Did he consider you?'
'That isn't the point, dear boy. I felt as if he was my son, so to
speak--a sort of feeling of responsibility.'
'Yes, quite. It was quixotic rubbish. That's my opinion. There!'
Edith said nothing, remembering he was still ill.
'Well,' he went on, 'now, he _hasn't_ run away from you. He's stayed
with you for three years; utterly incapable of appreciating you, as I
know he is, bothering you to death.'
'Don't I know him? You're wasting and frittering yourself away for
'Don't you think I'd have looked after the children better than he?'
'Yes, I do, Aylmer. But he _is_ their father. They may keep him
'I consider you're utterly wasted,' he said. 'Well! He's stuck to you,
apparently, for these last three years (as far as you know), and now I'm
going to ask you something entirely different, for the last time. When I
was dying, or thought I was, things showed themselves clearly enough, I
can tell you. And I made up my mind if I lived to see you, to say this.
Leave Bruce, with me!'
She stared at him.
'In six weeks, when he's tired of telling his friends at the club about
it, he'll make up his mind, I suppose, if you insist, or even without,
to divorce you. But do you suppose he'll keep the children? No, my dear
of course he won't. You'll never have to leave them. I would never ask
you that. Now listen!' He put his hand over hers, not caressingly, but
to keep her quiet. 'He'll want to marry again, won't he?'
'Very likely,' she answered.
'Probably already he's in love with that woman What's-her-name--Madame
Frabelle--who's staying with you.'
Edith gave a little laugh.
'Perhaps he's in love with her already,' continued Aylmer.
'Quite impossible!' said Edith calmly.
'She's a very good sort. She's not a fool, like the girl. She'd look
after Bruce very well.'
'So she would,' answered Edith.
'Bruce will adore her, be under her thumb, and keep perfectly
'straight', as you call it--as straight as he ever would. Won't he?'
She was silent.
'You'll get the children then, don't you see?'
'Yes. With a bad reputation, with a cloud on my life, to bring up
He sighed impatiently, and said: 'You see, you don't see things as they
really are, even now. How could you ever possibly hurt Dilly? You're
only thinking of what the world says, now.
'Hear me out,' he went on. 'Is this the only country? After the war,
won't everything be different? Thank goodness, I'm well provided for.
You needn't take a farthing. Leave even your own income to Bruce if you
like. You know I've five thousand a year now, Edith?'
'I didn't know it. But that has nothing on earth to do with it,' she
'Bosh! It has a great deal to do with it. I can afford to bring your
children up as well as Teddy, my boy. We can marry. And in a year or two
no one would think any more about it.'
'You bewilder me,' said Edith.
'I want to. Think it over. Don't be weak. I'm sorry, dear, to ask you to
take the blame on your side. It's unfair; but after all, perhaps, it's
straighter than waiting for an opportunity (which you could easily get
in time) of finding Bruce in the wrong.'
Her face expressed intense determination and disagreement with his
'Don't answer me,' he said, 'think--'
'My dear boy, you must let me answer you. Will you listen to me?'
'Go on, Edith. I'll always listen to you.'
'You don't realise it, but you're not well,' she said.
He gave an impatient gesture.
'How like a woman! As soon as I talk sense you say I'm not well. A
broken leg doesn't affect the brain, remember.'
'No, Aylmer; I don't mean that. But you've been thinking this over till
you've lost your bearings, your sense of proportion....'
'Rot! I've just got it! That's what you mean. It comes to this, my dear
girl'--he spoke gently. 'Of course, if you don't care for me, my
suggestion would be perfectly mad. Perhaps you don't. Probably you
regard our romance as a pretty little story to look back on.'
'No, I don't, unless--'
'I won't ask you straight out,' he said. 'I don't suppose you know
yourself. But, if you care for me, as I do for you'--he spoke
steadily--'you'll do as I ask.'
'I might love you quite as much, and yet not do it.'
'I know it's a big thing. It's a sacrifice, in a way. But don't you see,
Edith, that if you still like me, your present life is a long, slow
sacrifice to convention, or (as you say) to a morbid sense of
She looked away with a startled expression.
'Well, do you love me?' he said rather impatiently, but yet with his old
charm of tenderness and sincerity. 'I have never changed. As you know,
after the operation, when they thought I was practically done in--it may
seem a bit mad, but I was really more sane than I have ever been--I told
Dulcie Clay all about it.'
She stopped him. 'I know you did, my dear, and I don't blame you a bit.
She's absolutely loyal. But now, listen. Has nothing occurred to you
'Nothing, except that I'm hoping to get rid of her as soon as possible.'
'She's madly in love with you, Aylmer.'
He looked contemptuous.
'She's a dear girl,' said Edith. 'I feel quite fond of her.'
'Really, I don't see how she comes in. You are perverse, Edith!'
'I'm not perverse. I see things.'
'She's never shown the slightest sign of it,' said Aylmer. 'I think it's
your imagination. But even if it's not, it isn't my business,
'I think it is, a little.'
'If you talk like that, I'll send her away today.'
'Oh, Aylmer! how ungrateful of you to say such a thing! She's been an
He spoke wearily. 'I don't want _angels_! I want _you_!' He suddenly
leant forward and took her hands.
She laughed nervously. 'What a compliment.'
Then she disengaged herself and stood up.
Aylmer sighed. 'Now you're going to say, Ought you to talk so much? What
is your temperature? Oh, women _are_ irritating, even the nicest,
Edith was unable to help laughing.
'I'm afraid I _was_ going to say something like that.'
'Now, are you going to say you won't answer me for fear it will excite
'Don't talk nonsense,' said Edith. '_I_ take you seriously enough. Don't
He looked delighted.
'Thank heaven! Most women treat a wounded man as if he were a sick child
or a lunatic. It's the greatest rot. I'm nearly well.'
Edith looked round for his tonic, but stopped herself.
'Are you going now?' he asked.
'No, Aylmer. I thought of stopping a few minutes, if you don't mind.'
'Shall we talk of something else,' said Aylmer satirically, 'to divert
my thoughts? Hasn't it been lovely weather lately?'
She smiled and sat down again.
'Would you like to know how soon the war will be over?' he went on.
'Oddly enough, I really don't know!'
'Are you going back when you've recovered?' she asked abruptly.
'Of course I'm going back; and I want to go back with your promise.'
Then he looked a little conscience-stricken. 'Dear Edith, I don't want
to rush you. Forgive me.'
They both sat in dead silence for five minutes. He was looking at the
black velvet toque on the fair hair, over the soft eyes. She was staring
across at the cherry-coloured carnations in the pewter vase on the
As has been said, they often exchanged ideas without words.
He remarked, as she glanced at a book: 'Yes, I have read _A Life of
Slavery_. Have you? Do you think it good?'
'Splendid,' Edith answered; 'it's a labour of hate.'
'Quite true. One can't call it a labour of love, though it was written
to please the writer--not the public.'
'I wonder you could read it,' said Edith, 'after what you've been
'It took my thoughts off life,' he said.
'Why? Isn't it life?'
'Of course it is. Literary life.'
Edith looked at the clock.
'When am I going to see you again?' he asked in a rather exhausted
'Whenever you like. What about taking you out for a drive next week?'
'I'll think over what you said,' said Edith casually as she stood up.
'What a funny little speech. You're _impayable_! Oh, you are a jolly
'"Jolly" girl,' repeated Edith, not apparently pleased. 'I'm
thirty-five, with a boy at school and a growing girl of seven!'
'You think too much of the almanac. I'm forty-one, with a son at the
'How on earth did you get your commissions?'
'In the usual way. Teddy and I told lies. He said he was eighteen and I
said I was thirty-nine.'
'I see. Of course.'
He rang the bell.
'Will you write to me, dear Edith?'
'No. I'll come and see you, Aylmer.'
'Are you going to bring Archie, Bruce, or Madame Frabelle?'
'Do leave Madame Frabelle at home.'
'Though you don't like her, you might pronounce her name right! She's
such a clever woman.'
'She's an utter fool,' said Aylmer.