Part 3 out of 4
'Same thing, very often,' said Edith. 'Don't worry. Good-bye.'
She went away, leaving him perfectly happy and very hungry.
* * * * *
Hardly had she gone when Miss Clay came in and brought him some beef-tea
on a tray.
To Edith's joy, as they entered the Mitchell's huge, familiar
drawing-room, the first person she saw was her beloved confidant, Sir
Tito Landi. This was the friend of all others whom she most longed to
see at this particular moment.
The extraordinary confidence and friendship between the successful
Italian composer and Edith Ottley needs, perhaps, a word of explanation.
He was adored equally in the artistic and the social worlds, and was at
once the most cynical of Don Juans and the most unworldly of Don
Quixotes. He was a devoted and grateful friend, and a contemptuous but
not unforgetful enemy.
It was not since his celebrity that Edith had first met him; she had
known him intimately all her life. From her earliest childhood she had,
so to speak, been brought up on Landi; on Landi's music and Landi's
views of life. He had been her mother's music teacher soon after he
first made a name in London; and long before he was the star whose
singing or accompanying was a rare favour, and whose presence gave a
cachet to any entertainment.
How many poor Italians--yes, and many people of other nationalities--had
reason to bless his acquaintance! How kind, how warm-hearted, how
foolishly extravagant on others was Landi! His brilliant cleverness,
which made him received almost as an Englishman among English people,
was not, however, the cleverness of the _arriviste_. Although he had
succeeded, and success was his object, no one could be less
self-interested, less pushing, less scheming. In many things he was a
child. He would as soon dine at Pagani's with a poor sculptor, or a poor
and plain woman who was struggling to give lessons in Italian, as with
the most brilliant hostess in London. And he always found fashion and
ceremony a bore. He was so great a favourite in England that he had been
given that most English of titles, a knighthood, just as though he were
very rich, or political, or a popular actor. In a childish way it amused
him, and he was pleased with it. But though he was remarkable for his
courtly tact, he loved most of all to be absolutely free and Bohemian,
to be quite natural among really sympathetic, witty, or beautiful
friends. He liked to say what he thought, to go where he wished, and to
make love when he chose, not when other people chose. He had long been a
man with an assured position, but he had changed little since he was
twenty-one, and arrived from Naples with only his talent, his bright
blue eyes, his fair complexion, his small, dignified figure and his
daring humour. Yet the music he wrote indicated his sensitive and deeply
feeling nature, and though his conversation could hardly be called other
than cynical, nor his jokes puritanical, there was always in him a vein
of genuine--not sentimental, but perhaps romantic--love and admiration
for everything good; good in music, good in art, good in character. He
laid down no rules of what was good. 'Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner'
was perhaps his motto. But he was very unexpected; that was one of his
charms. He would pass over the most extraordinary things--envious
slights, small injuries, things another man would never forgive. On the
other hand, he retained a bitter memory, not at all without its
inclination for repayment, for other trifles that many would disregard.
* * * * *
Ever since she was a child Edith had been his special favourite. He
loved the privilege of calling her Edith, of listening to her
confidences, of treating her with loving familiarity. It was a joke
between them that, while he used formerly to say, 'Cette enfant! Je l'ai
vue en jupe courte, vous savez!' he had gradually reached the point of
declaring, 'Je l'ai vue naître!' almost with tears in his eyes.
This explains why Landi was the only creature to whom Edith could tell
everything, and did. Must not all nice people have a confidant? And no
girl or woman friend--much as they might like her, and she them--could
ever take the place of Landi, the wise and ever-sympathetic.
There was something in his mental attitude that was not unfeminine,
direct and assertive as he was. He had what is generally known as
feminine intuition, a quality perhaps even rarer in women than in men.
* * * * *
Tonight the persistently hospitable Mrs Mitchell had a large party.
Dressed in grey, she was receiving her guests in the big room on the
ground floor, and tactfully directing the conversation of a crowd of
various and more or less interesting persons.
It was one of those parties that had been described as a Russian Salad,
where one ran an equal risk--or took an equal chance--of being taken to
dinner by Charlie Chaplin or Winston Churchill, and where society and
the stage were equally well represented. Young officers on leave and a
few pretty girls filled the vacancies.
As Bruce, Edith and Madame Frabelle came in together, Landi went
straight to Edith's side.
Looking at her through his eyeglass, he said, as if to himself, in an
'Elle a quelquechose, cette enfant; oui, elle a quelquechose,' and as
the last guest had not arrived he sat down thoughtfully by her on the
'Yes, Landi, there is something the matter. I'm longing to tell you
about it. I want your advice,' said Edith, smiling.
'Tout se sait; tout se fait; tout s'arrange,' sententiously remarked
Landi, who was not above talking oracular commonplaces at times.
'Oh, it isn't one of those things, Landi.'
'Not? Are you sure? Don't be sad, Edith. Be cheerful. Tiens! Tiens!
Tiens! How excited you are,' he went on, as she looked at him with
'You will think I have reason to be excited when I tell you.'
He smiled in an experienced way.
'I'll sit next to you at dinner and you shall tell me everything. Tiens!
La vieille qui voit double!' He bowed politely as Madame Frabelle
'Dear Sir Tito, _what_ a pleasure to see you again! Your lovely songs
have been ringing in my ears ever since I heard them!'
'Where did you hear them? On a piano-organ?' he asked.
'You're too bad! Isn't he naughty? No, when you sang here last.'
Mr Mitchell came up, and Madame Frabelle turned away.
'Dieu merci! La pauvre! Elle me donne sur les nerfs ce soir,' said
Landi. 'I shall sit next to you whether the cards are placed so or not,
Edith, and you'll tell me everything between the soup and the ices.'
'I will indeed.'
'Madame Meetchel,' he said, looking round through his eyeglass, 'is sure
to have given you a handsome young man, someone who ought to drive Bruce
wild with jealousy, but doesn't, or ... or ...'
'Or some fly-blown celebrity.'
The door opened and the last guest appeared. It was young Coniston (in
khaki), who was invariably asked when there was to be music. He was
He approached Landi at once.
'Ah, cher maître, quel plaisir!' he said with his South Kensington
accent and his Oxford manner. (He had been a Cambridge man.)
'C'est vrai?' asked Landi, who had his own way of dismissing a person in
a friendly way.
Coniston began talking to him of a song. Landi waved him off and went up
to Mrs Mitchell, said something which made her laugh and blush and try
to hit him with her fan--the fan, the assault and the manner were all
out of date, but Mrs Mitchell made no pretence at going with the
times--and his object was gained.
* * * * *
Sir Tito took Edith in to dinner.
As they found their places at the long table (Sir Tito had exchanged
cards, as though he meant to fight a duel with Edith's destined partner)
of course the two turned their backs to one another. On her other side
was Mr Mitchell. When Madame Frabelle noticed this, she gave Edith an
arch shake of the head, and made a curious warning movement with her
hand. Edith smiled at her in astonishment. She had utterly forgotten her
friend's fancy about the imaginary intrigue supposed to be going on
between her and Mr Mitchell, and she wondered what the gesture meant.
Sir Tito also saw it, and, turning round to Edith, said in a low voice:
'Qu'est-ce-qu'elle a, la vieille?'
'I really don't know. I never understand signs. I've forgotten the code,
Mr Mitchell, after a word to the person he had taken down, gladly turned
to Edith. He always complained that the host was obliged to sit between
the oldest and the most boring guests. It was unusual for him to have so
pretty a neighbour as Edith. But he was a collector: his joy was to see
a heterogeneous mass of people, eating and laughing at his table. For
his wife there were a few social people, for him the Bohemians, and
always the younger guests.
'Not bad--not bad, is it?' he said, looking critically round down the
two sides of the table, while his kind pink face beamed with
'You've got a delightful party tonight.'
'What I always say is,' said Mr Mitchell; 'let them enjoy themselves!
Dash it, I hate etiquette.' He lowered his voice. 'Bruce is looking
pretty blooming. Not so many illnesses lately has he?'
'Not when he's at home,' said Edith.
'Ah! At the F O the dear fellow does, I'm afraid, suffer a good deal from
nerves,' said Mr Mitchell, especially towards the end of the day. About
four o'clock, I mean, you know! You know old Bruce! Good sort he is. I
see he hasn't got the woman I meant him to sit next to, somehow or
other. I see he's next to Miss Coniston.'
'Oh, he likes her.'
'Good, good. Thought she was a bit too artistic, and high-browed, as the
Americans say, for him. But now he's used to that sort of thing, isn't
he? Madame Frabelle, eh? Wonderful woman. No soup, Edith: why not?'
'It makes me silent,' said Edith; 'and I like to talk.'
Mitchell laughed loudly. 'Ha ha! Champagne for Mrs Ottley. What are you
about?' He looked up reprovingly at the servant. Mr Mitchell was the
sort of man who never knows, after twenty years' intimate friendship,
whether a person takes sugar or not.
Edith allowed the man to fill her glass. She knew it depressed Mr
Mitchell to see people drinking water. So she only did it
surreptitiously, and as her glass was always full, because she never
drank from it, Mr Mitchell was happy.
A very loud feminine laugh was heard.
'That's Miss Radford,' said Mr Mitchell. 'That's how she always goes on.
She's always laughing. She was immensely charmed with you the day she
called on you with my wife.'
'Was she?' said Edith, who remembered she herself had been out on that
'Tremendously. I can't remember what she said: I think it was how clever
'She saw Madame Frabelle. I wasn't at home.'
'Ha ha! Good, very good!' Mr Mitchell turned to his other neighbour.
'Eh bien,' said Sir Tito, who was waiting his opportunity. 'Commence!'
At once Edith began murmuring in a low voice her story of herself and
Aylmer, and related today's conversation in Jermyn Street.
Sir Tito nodded his head occasionally. When he listened most intently,
he appeared to be looking round the table at other people. He lifted a
glass of champagne and bowed over it to Mrs Mitchell; then he put his
hand to his lips and blew a kiss.
'Who's that for?' Edith asked, interrupting herself.
'C'est pour la vieille.'
'Madame Frabelle! Why do you kiss your hand to her?'
'To keep her quiet. Look at her: she's so impressed, and thinks it so
wicked, that she's blushing and uncomfortable. I've a splendid way,
Edith (pardon), of silencing all these elderly ladies who make love to
me. I don't say "Ferme!" I'm polite to them.'
Edith laughed. Sir Tito was not offended.
'Yes, you needn't laugh, my dear child. I'm not old enough yet pour les
jeunes; at any rate, if I am they don't know it. I'm still pursued by
the upper middle-age class, with gratitude for favours to come (as
'Well, what's your plan?'
'I tell Madame Frabelle, Madame Meetchel, Lady Everard--first, that they
have beautiful lips; then, that I can't look at them without longing to
kiss them. Lady Everard, after I said that, kept her hand before her
face the whole evening, so as not to distract me, and drive me mad.
Consequently she couldn't talk.'
'Do they really believe you?'
'Evidemment!... I wonder,' he continued mischievously, as he refused
wine, 'whether Madame Frabelle will confess to you tonight about my
passion for her, or whether she will keep it to herself?'
'I dare say she'll tell me. At least she'll ask me if I think so or
'Si elle te demande, tu diras que tu n'en sais rien! Well, I think....'
'You must wait. Wait and see. Really, it's impossible, my dear child,
for you to accept an invitation for an elopement as if it were a
luncheon-party. Not only that, it's good for Aylmer to be kept in doubt.
Excellent for his health.'
'When I say his health, I mean the health and strength of his love for
you. You must vacillate, Edith. Souvent femme varie. You sit on the
fence, n'est-ce-pas? Well, offer the fence to him. But, take it away
before he sits down. Voilà!'
Edith laughed. 'But then this girl, Miss Clay, she's always there. And I
'What is her nationality?'
'How funny you should ask that! I think she must be of Spanish descent.
She's so quiet, so religious, and has a very dark complexion. And yet
wonderful light blue eyes.'
'Quelle histoire! Qu'est-ce-que ça fait?'
'The poor girl is mad about Aylmer. He doesn't seem to know it, but he
makes her worse by his indifference,' Edith said.
'Why aren't you jealous of her, ma chère? No, I won't ask you that--the
answer is obvious.'
'I mean this, that if I can't ever do what he wishes, I feel she could
make him happy; and I could bear it if she did.'
'Spanish?' said Landi, as if to himself. 'Olé! olé! Does she use the
castanets, and wear a mantilla instead of a cap?'
'How frivolous and silly you are. No, of course not. She looks quite
English, in fact particularly so.'
'And yet you insist she's Spanish! Well, my advice is this. If he has a
secret alliance with Spain, you should assume the Balkan attitude.'
'Good gracious! What's that?'
'We're talking politics,' said Landi, across the table. 'Politics, and
geography! Fancy, Meetchel, Mrs Ottley doesn't know anything about
'Ha, very good,' said Mitchell. 'Capital. What a fellow you are!' He
gave his hearty, clubbable laugh. Mr Mitchell belonged to an
exceptionally large number of clubs and was a favourite at all. His
laugh was the chief cause of his popularity there.
'Il est fou,' said Landi quietly to Edith. 'Quel monde! I don't think
there are half-a-dozen sane people at this table.'
'And if there are, they shouldn't by rights be admitted into decent
society. But the dear Meetchels don't know that; it's not public. I
adore them both,' he went on, changing his satirical tone, and again
apparently drinking the health of Mrs Mitchell, who waved her hand
coquettishly from the end of the long table.
'Now listen, my child. Don't see Aylmer for a little while.'
'He wants me to take him out for a drive.'
'Take him for a drive. But not this week. How Madame Frabelle loves
Bruce!' he went on, watching her.
'Really, Landi, I assure you you're occasionally as mistaken as she is.
And she thinks I'm in love with our host.'
'That's because _elle voit double_. I don't.'
'What makes you think....'
'I read between the lines, my dear--between the lines on Madame
'She hasn't any.'
'Oh, go along,' said Landi, who sometimes broke into peculiar English
which he thought was modern slang. Raising his voice, he said: 'The
dinner is _exquis--exquis_,' so that Mr Mitchell could hear.
'I can't help noting what you've eaten tonight, Landi, though I don't
usually observe these things,' Edith said. 'You've had half-a-tomato, a
small piece of vegetable marrow, and a sip of claret. Aren't you going
to eat anything more?'
'Not much more. I look forward to my coffee and my cigar. Oh, how I look
forward to it!'
'You know very well, Landi, they let you smoke cigarettes between the
courses, if you like.'
'It would be better than nothing. We'll see presently.'
'Might I inquire if you live on cigars and coffee?'
'No,' he answered satirically; 'I live on eau sucré. And porreege. I'm
'I can't talk to you if you're so silly.'
'You'll tell me the important part on the little sofa upstairs in the
salon,' he said. 'After dinner. Tonight, here, somehow, the food and the
faces distract one--unless one is making an acquaintance. I know you too
well to talk at dinner.'
'Quite true. I ought to take time to think then.'
'There's no hurry. Good heavens! the man has waited four years; he can
wait another week. Quelle idée!'
'He's going back,' said Edith, 'as soon as he's well. He wants me to
promise before he goes.'
'Does he! You remind me of the man who said to his wife: "Good-bye, my
dear, I'm off to the Thirty Years' War." It's all right, Edith. We'll
find a solution, I have no fears.'
She turned to Mr Mitchell.
* * * * *
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly. Alone with the women, Madame
Frabelle was the centre of an admiring circle, as she lectured on 'dress
and economy in war-time,' and how to manage a house on next to nothing a
year. All the ladies gasped with admiration. Edith especially was
impressed; because the fact that Madame Frabelle was a guest, and was
managing nothing, did not prevent her talking as if she had any amount
of experience on the subject, although, by her own showing she had been
staying at hotels ever since the war began, except the last weeks she
had spent with the Ottleys.
The men soon joined them.
A group of war valetudinarians, amongst whom Bruce was not the least
emphatic, told each other their symptoms in a quiet corner. They
described their strange shiverings down the spine; the curious fits of
hunger that came on before meals; the dislike to crossing the road when
there was an accident; the inability to sleep, sometimes taking the form
of complete insomnia for as much as twenty minutes in the early morning.
They pitied each other cordially, though neither listened to the other's
symptoms, except in exchange for sympathy with their own.
'The war has got on my nerves; I can't think of anything else,' Bruce
said. 'It's an _idée fixe_. I pant for the morning when the newspaper's
due, and then I can't look at it! Not even a glance! Odd, isn't it?'
The Rev. Byrne Fraser, who gave his wife great and constant anxiety by
his fantasies, related how he had curious dreams--the distressing part
of which was that they never came true--about the death of relatives at
the front. Another man also had morbid fancies on the subject of the
casualty list, and had had to go and stay at a farm so as to 'get right
away from it all'. But he soon left, as he had found, to his great
disappointment, that his companions there were not intellectual, and
could not even talk politics or discuss literature. And yet they went in
(or so he had heard) for 'intensive culture'!...
Presently Sir Tito played his Italian march. The musical portion of the
party, and the unmusical alike, joined in the chorus. Then the party
received a welcome addition. Valdez, the great composer, who had written
many successful operas and had lived so much abroad that he cared now
for nothing but British music, looked in after a patriotic concert given
in order to help the unengaged professionals. Always loyal to old
friends, he had deserted royalty itself tonight to greet Mrs. Mitchell
and was persuaded by adoring ladies to sing his celebrated old song,
'After Several Years.' It pleased and thrilled the audience even more
than Landi's 'Adieu Hiver'. Indeed, tonight it was Valdez who was the
success of the evening. Middle-aged ladies who had loved him for years
loved him now more than ever. Young girls who saw him now for the first
time fell in love, just as their mothers had done, with his splendid
black eyes and commanding presence, and secretly longed to stroke at
least every seventh wave of his abundant hair. When Edith assured him
that his curls were 'like a flock of goats on Mount Gilead' he laughed,
declared he was much flattered at the comparison, and kissed her hand
with courtly grace.
Young Mr. Cricker, who came because he wasn't asked, insisted on dancing
like Nijinsky because he was begged not to, but his leaps and bounds
were soon stopped by a few subalterns and very young officers on leave,
who insisted, with some fair partners, on dancing the Fox Trot to the
sound of a gramophone.
* * * * *
For a few moments on the little sofa Edith managed to convey the rest of
her confidence to Landi. She pointed out how hurried, how urgent, how
pressing it was to give an answer.
'He wants a war elopement, I see,' said Landi. 'Mais ça ne se fait pas!'
'Then what am I to say?'
'But, Landi, you know I shan't really ever...'
'Would it give you pleasure to see him married to the Spanish girl?'
'She's not exactly Spanish--she only looks it. Don't laugh like that!'
'I don't know why, but Spain seems always to remind me of something
ridiculous. Onions--or guitars.'
'Well, I shouldn't mind her nearly so much as anyone else.'
'You don't mind her,' said Landi. 'Vous savez qu'il ne l'épouse pas?
What would you dislike him to do most?'
'I think I couldn't bear anyone else to take my place exactly,' admitted
'C'est ça! you don't want him to be in love with another married woman
with a husband like Bruce? Well, my dear, he won't. There is no other
husband like Bruce.
Landi promised to consider the question, and she arranged to go and see
him at his studio before seeing Aylmer again.
* * * * *
As they went out of the house Miss Coniston ran after Madame Frabelle
and said eagerly:
'Oh, do tell me again; you say _soupe à la vinaigre_ is marvellously
nourishing and economical. I can have it made for my brother at
'Of course you can! It costs next to nothing.'
Arthur Coniston came up.
'And tastes like nothing on earth, I suppose?' he grumbled in his
sister's ear. 'You can't give me much less to eat than you do already.'
'Oh, Arthur!' his sister said. 'Aren't you happy at home? I think you're
'A pessimist!' cried Mitchell, who was following them into the hall.
'Oh, I hate pessimists! What's the latest definition of them? Ah, I
know; an optimist is a person who doesn't care what happens as long as
it doesn't happen to him.'
'Yes,' said Edith quickly, 'and a pessimist is the person who lives with
'Dear, dear. I always thought the old joke was that an optimist looks
after the eyes, and a pessimist after the feet!' cried Madame Frabelle
as she fastened her cloak.
'Why, then, he ought to go to a cheer-upadist!' said Mr Mitchell. And
they left him in roars of laughter.
Dulcie Clay, in her neat uniform of grey and white, with the scarlet
cross on the front of her apron, was sitting in the room she occupied
for the moment in Aylmer's house in Jermyn Street. It was known as 'the
second best bedroom'. As she was anxious not to behave as if she were a
guest, she used it as a kind of boudoir when she was not in attendance.
It was charmingly furnished in the prim Chippendale style, a style
dainty, but not luxurious, that seemed peculiarly suited to Dulcie.
She was in the window-seat--not with her feet up, no cushions behind
her. Unlike Edith, she was not the kind of woman who rested habitually;
she sat quite upright in the corner. A beautiful little mahogany table
was at her right, with a small electric lamp on it, and two books. One
of the books was her own choice, the other had been lent to her by
Aylmer. It was a volume of Bernard Shaw. She could make neither head nor
tail of it, and the prefaces, which she read with the greatest avidity,
perplexed her even more than the books themselves. Every now and then a
flash of lightning, in the form of some phrase she knew, illumined for a
second the darkness of the author's words. But soon she closed the thick
volume with the small print and returned to _The Daisy Chain_.
Dulcie was barely one-and-twenty. She carried everywhere in her trunk a
volume called _The Wide, Wide World_. She was never weary of reading
this work with the comprehensive title; it reminded her of schooldays.
It was comforting, like a dressing-gown and slippers, like an old
friend. Whether she had ever thoroughly understood it may be doubted. If
any modern person nowadays were to dip into it, he would find it,
perhaps, more obscure than George Meredith at his darkest. Secretly
Dulcie loved best in the world, in the form of reading matter, the
feuilletons in the daily papers. There was something so exciting in that
way they have of stopping at a thrilling moment and leaving you the
whole day to think over what would come next, and the night to sleep
over it. She preferred that; she never concentrated her mind for long on
a story, or any work of the imagination. She was deeply interested in
her own life. She was more subjective than objective--though, perhaps,
she had never heard the words. Unconsciously she dealt with life only as
it related to herself. But this is almost universal with young girls who
have only just become conscious of themselves, and of their importance
in the world; have only just left the simple objectiveness of the child
who wants to look at the world, and have barely begun to feel what it is
to be an actor rather than a spectator.
Not that any living being could be less selfish or vain, or less of an
egotist than Dulcie. If she saw things chiefly as they were related to
herself, it was because this problem of her life was rather an intricate
one. Her position was not sufficiently simple to suit her simple nature.
Her mother, who had been of Spanish descent, had died young; her father
had married again. He was the sort of man who always married again, and
if his present wife, with whom he was rather in love, had passed away he
would have undoubtedly married a third time. Some men are born husbands;
they have a passion for domesticity, for a fireside, for a home. Yet,
curiously, these men very rarely stay at home. Apparently what they want
is to have a place to get away from.
The new stepmother, who was young and rather pretty, was not unkind, but
was bored and indifferent to the little girl. Dulcie was sensitive;
since her father's second marriage she had always felt in the way.
Whether her stepmother was being charming to her husband, or to some
other man--she was always charming to somebody--Dulcie felt continually
that she was not wanted. Her father was kind and casual. He told
everyone what he believed, that his second wife was an ideal person to
bring up his little daughter.
Therefore it came upon him as a surprise when she told him she was grown
up, and still more that she wished to leave home and be a nurse. Mrs.
Clay had made no objection; the girl rather depressed her, for she felt
she ought to like her more than she did, so she 'backed up' with
apparent good nature the great desire to go out and do something.
Dulcie had inherited three hundred a year from her mother. Her father
had about the same amount of his own to live on. He believed that he
added to it by mild gambling, and perhaps by talking a good deal at his
club of how he had been born to make a fortune but had had no luck. His
second wife had no money.
Dulcie, therefore, was entirely independent. No obstacles were placed in
her way--the particular form that her ambition took was suggested by the
war, but in any case she would have done something. She had taken the
usual means of getting into a hospital.
Gentle, industrious, obedient and unselfish, she got on well. Her
prettiness gained her no enemies among the women as she was too serious
about her work at this time to make use of her beauty by attracting men.
Yet Dulcie was unusually feminine; she had a natural gift for nursing,
for housekeeping, for domesticity. She was not artistic and was as
indifferent to abstractions and to general ideas as the ideal average
woman. She was tactful, sweet, and, she had been called at school,
rather a doormat. Her appearance was distinguished and she was not at
all ordinary. It is far from ordinary, indeed it is very rare, to be the
ideal average woman. She took great interest in detail; she would lie
awake at night thinking about how she would go the next day to a certain
inexpensive shop to get a piece of ribbon for one part of her dress to
match a piece of ribbon in another part--neither of which would ever be
seen by any human being.
Such men as she saw liked and admired her. Her gradual success led her
to being sent abroad to a military hospital. She inspired confidence,
not because she had initiative, but because one knew she would do
exactly as she was told, which is, in itself, a great quality. At
Boulogne she made the acquaintance at once of Aylmer, and of _the coup
de foudre_. She worshipped him at first sight. So she thought herself
fortunate when she was allowed to come back to London with him. Under
orders she continued her assiduous attention. Everyone said she was a
Occasionally she went to see her father. He greeted her with warmth and
affection, and told her all about how, on account of racing being
stopped, he was gradually becoming a pauper. When she began telling him
of the events in which she was absorbed he answered by giving her news
of the prospects for the Cambridgeshire. In the little den in the house
in West Kensington, where he lived, she would come in and say in a
'Papa dear, you know I shan't be able to stop much longer.'
'Much longer where?'
'Why, with my patient, Mr Ross--Mr Aylmer Ross.'
'Shan't you? Mind you, my dear, there are two good three-year-olds that
are not to be sneezed at.' He shook his head solemnly.
It had never occurred to Dulcie for a moment to sneeze at
three-year-olds. She hardly knew what they were.
'But what do you advise for me, papa?'
'My dear child, I can't advise. You can't select with any approach to
confidence between Buttercup and Beautiful Doll. Mind you, I'm very much
inclined to think that More Haste may win yet. Look how he ran in
August, when nobody knew anything about him!'
'Yes, I know, papa, but--'
She gave it up.
'Go and see your mother, dear; go and ask her about it,' and he returned
to the racing intelligence.
Strange that a man who had not enough to live on should think he could
add to his income by backing losers. Still, such was Mr Clay's view of
life. Besides, he was just going out; he was always just going out.
She would then go and see her stepmother, who greeted her most
Dulcie only kept half her little income for herself at present, a
considerable advantage to a woman like Mrs Clay, who declared she was
'expected to dress up to a certain standard, though, of course, simply
during war-time.' She would kiss the girl and drag her up to her bedroom
to show her a new coat and skirt, or send the general servant up to
bring down the marvellously cheap little tea-gown that had just
Both her parents, it will be seen, were ready enough to talk to her, but
they were not prepared to listen. All the warmth and affection that she
had in her nature very naturally was concentrated on her patient.
Dulcie now sat in the window-seat, wondering what to do. She was sadly
thinking what would happen when the time came for her to leave.
In her mind she knew perfectly well that what several people had said
was true: the profession she had chosen was too arduous for her physical
strength. Besides, now she could not bear the idea of nursing anyone
else after Aylmer. She was trying to make up her mind to take something
else--and she could not think what.
A girl like Dulcie Clay, who has studied only one thing really
thoroughly, could be fitted only to be a companion either to children,
whom she adored, or to some tedious elderly lady with fads. She knew she
would not do for a secretary; she had not the education nor the gift
The thought of going back to the stepmother who showed so clearly her
satisfaction and high spirits in having got rid of her, and of being
again the unwanted third in the little house in West Kensington, was
She had told much of her position to Edith, who was so sympathetic and
clever. It would have been a dream of hers, a secret dream, to teach
Edith's little girl, whom she had once seen, and loved. Yet that would
have been in some ways rather difficult. As she looked out of the
window, darkened with fog, she sighed. If she had been the governess at
Edith's house, she would be constantly seeing Aylmer. She knew, of
course, all about Aylmer's passion. It would certainly be better than
nothing to see him sometimes. But the position would have been painful.
Also, she disliked Bruce. He had given her one or two looks that seemed
rather to demand admiration than to express it; he had been so kind as
to give her a few hints on nursing; how to look after a convalescent;
and had been exceedingly frank and kind in confiding to her his own
symptoms. As she was a hospital nurse, it seemed to him natural to talk
rather of his own indisposition than on any other subject. Dulcie was
rather highly strung, and Bruce got terribly on her nerves; she
marvelled at Edith's patience. But then Edith.... No, she could not go
to the Ottleys.
Her other gift--a beautiful soprano voice--also was of hardly any use to
her, as she was now placed. When she sang she expressed herself more
completely than at any other time, but that also she had not been taught
thoroughly; she had been taught nothing thoroughly.
A companion! Though she had not absolutely to earn her living, and kept
only half of her little inheritance for herself, what was to become of
her? Well, she wouldn't think about it any more that day. At any rate
Aylmer talked as though she was to remain some time longer.
When he had returned suddenly to the house in Jermyn Street, a relative
had hastily obtained for him the necessary servants; his former valet
was at the front; they were all new to him and to his ways, and he had
no housekeeper. Dulcie did the housekeeping--could she take that place
in his house? No, she knew that she was too young, and everyone else
would have said she was too pretty. Only as a nurse would it be correct
for her to be his companion.
And from fear of embarrassing him she was hardly ever with him alone.
She thought he was abrupt, more cool to her since their return, and
guessed the reason; it was for fear of compromising her. How angelic of
him; what a wonderful man--how fortunate his first wife must have been.
And the boy, Teddy--the charming boy so like his father, whom she had
only seen for a day or two before he left to go out. Teddy's presence
would help to make it more difficult for her to remain.
In that very short time the boy had distinctly shown her by his marked
attention how much he admired her. He thought her lovely. He was devoted
to music and she had sung to him.
Aylmer also liked music, but apparently did not care to hear her sing.
On the occasion that she did, it seemed to irritate him. Indeed, she
knew she was merely the most amateurish of musicians, and could just
accompany herself in a few songs, though the voice itself was a rare
gift.... How perfect Aylmer had been!... There was a sharp ring. She
closed the book, turned out the little electric lamp and went
She was looking ideally pretty in the becoming uniform, but uniforms are
always becoming, whatever the uniforms or the people may be. The reason
of this is too obscure to fathom. One would say that to dress to suit
oneself would be more becoming to men and women. Yet, in fact, the
limitation and the want of variety in this sort of dress had a singular
attraction. However, if she had chosen it to suit her, nothing could
have been more becoming. The severity of the form, the dull colour,
relieved by the large scarlet cross, showed off to the greatest
advantage her dense dark hair, her Madonna-like face and the slim yet
not angular lines of her figure. Dulcie's beauty was of a kind that is
thrown into relief by excessive plainness of dress.
As she came in, Aylmer looked at her with more observation than usual,
and he acknowledged to himself that she was pretty--remarkably pretty,
quite a picture, as people say, and he liked her, as one likes a
confidante, a reliable friend. He trusted her, remembering how he had
given himself away to her that dreadful day in the Boulogne hospital....
And she had another quality that pleased him immensely; she was neither
coquettish nor affected, but simple and serious. She appeared to think
solely of her duties, and in Aylmer's opinion that was just what a nurse
* * * * *
But Edith's remark that Dulcie was madly in love with him had made a
certain impression on his mind. Indeed, everything Edith said, even a
merely trivial observation, was of importance to Aylmer. Edith wouldn't
have said that unless she meant it. If it was true, did it matter?
Aylmer was very free from vanity and masculine coquetry. He had a good
deal of pride and great self-respect. Like almost every human being who
is superior to the average, he didn't think ill of himself; there were
things that he was proud of. He was proud, secretly, of having gone into
the army and of having been wounded. It made him feel he was not on the
shelf, not useless and superannuated. He took a certain pride also in
his judgement, his excellent judgement on pictures and literature.
Perhaps, even, having been a spoilt only child, he was privately proud
of some of his faults. He knew he was extravagant and impatient. The
best of everything was barely good enough for Aylmer. Long before he
inherited the property that had come to him a year ago he had never been
the sort of young man who would manage on little; who would, for
example, go to the gallery by Underground or omnibus to see a play or to
the opera. He required comfort, elbow-room, ease. For that reason he had
worked really hard at the Bar so as to have enough money to live
according to his ideas. Not that he took any special interest in the
Bar. His ideal had always been--if it could be combined--to be either a
soldier or a man of leisure, devoted to sport, literature and art.
Now he had asserted himself as a soldier, and he meant to go back. But
he looked forward to leisure to enjoy and indulge his favourite tastes,
if possible, with the only woman he had ever been deeply in love with.
He was particularly attractive to women, who liked his strong will and
depth of feeling, his assertive manner and that feeling of trust that he
inspired. Women always know when a man will not treat them badly.
Teddy's mother, his first wife, he had really married out of pity.
When she died everyone regarded it as a tragedy except himself. He still
worshipped his mother, whose little miniature he kept always by him, and
he had always fancied that Edith resembled her. This was simply an _idée
d'amoureux_, for there was no resemblance. His mother, according to the
miniature, had the dark hair and innocent expression that were the
fashion at the time, while Edith was fair, with rather dark eyebrows,
grey eyes and the mouth and chin characteristic of Burne-Jones's and
Rossetti's pictures. But though she might be in appearance a
Burne-Jones, she was very modern. His favourite little photograph of her
that he had shown, in his moment of despair, to Dulcie, showed a
charming face, sensuous yet thoughtful, under a large hat. She had fur
up to her chin, and was holding a muff; it was a snapshot taken the
winter before they had parted.
Aylmer worshipped these two women: his dead mother and the living woman
whom he had never given up entirely. How unlike were both the types to
Dulcie Clay, with her waved Madonna hair, dark skin, large, clear blue
eyes, softened by eyelashes of extraordinary length. Her chin was very
small, her mouth fine, rather thin; she had a pathetic expression; one
could imagine her attending, helping, nursing, holding a child in her
arms, but not his intellectual equal, guiding and directing like his
mother; and without the social brilliance and charm of Edith.
* * * * *
Seeing him looking at her with a long, observant look, Dulcie became
nervous and trembled slightly. She waited for him to speak.
'Come here, Miss Clay. I want to speak to you.'
Instantly she sat down by him.
'I wanted to say--you've been most awfully kind to me.'
Dulcie murmured something.
'I'm nearly well now--aren't I?'
'Dr Wood says you can go out driving next week.'
'Yes; but I don't mean that. I mean, I'm well in myself?'
He spoke quickly, almost impatiently.
'The doctor says you're still suffering from nervous shock;' she
answered in a toneless voice, professionally.
'Still, very soon I shan't need any attendance that a valet or a
housekeeper couldn't give me, shall I?'
'No, I suppose not.'
'Well, my dear Miss Clay--of course, I shall hate you to go,' he said
politely, 'but don't you think we ought to be thinking--'
'Of course I'll go whenever you and Dr Wood think it right.'
'You see,' he went on, 'I know I shall need a housekeeper, especially
when Teddy comes back. He's coming back on leave next week'--Aylmer
glanced at the telegram in his hand--'and, well--'
'You don't think I could--'
'Of course you would make a splendid housekeeper,' he laughed. 'You are
She didn't wish to make him uncomfortable. Evidently he was thinking
what she knew herself. But she was so reluctant to go.
'Don't you think I could remain here for a little while?' she said
modestly. 'To do the housekeeping and be useful? You see, I've nowhere
to go really.'
'But, my dear girl, excuse me, don't you see you're rather too--young.
It would be selfish of me to let you.'
He wished to say that it would be compromising, but a certain
consciousness prevented his saying it. He felt he would be ridiculous if
he put it into words.
'Just as you like. How soon do you think I ought to go?'
Though she tried not to show it, there was a look almost of despair in
her face. Her eyes looked startled, as if trying not to shed tears.
He was very sorry for her, but tried to hide it by a cool and impatient
'Well, shall we say in about a fortnight?'
'Certainly.' She looked down.
'I shall miss you awfully,' he said, speaking more quickly than usual to
get it over.
She gave a very small smile.
'Er--and then may I ask what you're thinking of doing next?'
'That was just what I was thinking about,' she answered rather naïvely.
'There are so few things I can do.'
Then fearing this sentence sounded like begging to remain, she hastily
'And of course if I don't go home I might be a companion or look after
'I wonder if Mrs Ottley--' began Aylmer. 'She has a dear little girl,
and I've heard her say she would soon want someone.'
'Dilly?' said Dulcie, with a slight smile.
There was a moment of intense awkwardness between them.
Then Dulcie said:
'I'm afraid that wouldn't quite do. I'm not clever enough.'
'Oh, rot. You know enough for a child like that. I shall speak to Mrs
Ottley about it.'
'It's very, very kind of you, but I would rather not. I think I shall
try to be a companion.'
'What's the name of that woman,' Aylmer said good-naturedly, 'that Irish
woman, wife of one of the Cabinet Ministers, who came to the hospital at
Boulogne and wanted to have lessons?'
'Lady Conroy,' Dulcie answered.
'Yes, Lady Conroy. Supposing that she needed a secretary or companion,
would you dislike that?'
'Oh, no, I should like it very much.'
'Right. I'll get Mrs Ottley to speak to her about it. She said she was
coming to London, didn't she?'
'Yes. I got to know her fairly well,' said Dulcie. 'She's very
'She's celebrated for her bad memory,' Aylmer said, with a smile.
'She declares she forgets her own name sometimes. Once she got into a
taxi and told the man to drive home. When he asked where that was, she
said it was his business to know. She had forgotten her address.'
They both laughed.
'I'll go tomorrow,' said Dulcie, 'and see my stepmother, if you don't
want me in the afternoon. Or, perhaps, the day you go for a drive would
'Tell me, Miss Clay, aren't you happy at home?'
'Oh, it isn't that. They don't want me. I'm in the way. You see, they've
got used to my being out of the house.'
'But, excuse me--you don't earn your own living really?'
'No, that isn't really necessary. But I don't want to live at home.'
Her face showed such a decided distaste to the idea that he said no
'You're looking very well today,' Dulcie said.
He sighed. 'I feel rather rotten. I can't read, can't settle to
She looked at him sympathetically. He felt impelled to go on.
'I'm a bit worried,' he continued.
'About your son?'
'No, not about him so much, though I wish he would get a flesh wound and
be sent back,' his father said, laughing. 'But about myself.'
She looked at him in silence.
'You know--what I told you.'
She made no answer, looking away to give him time to speak.
'I've made a suggestion,' he said slowly.... 'If it's accepted it'll
alter all my life. Of course I shall go out again. But still it will
alter my life.'
Suddenly, overpowered by the longing for sympathy, he said to himself
'I wonder if there's a chance.'
'I don't know what it is,' she murmured, but instinctively she had
guessed something of it.
'I don't want to think about it any more at present.'
'Shall I read to you?'
She quietly arranged a pillow behind him and took up a newspaper.
He often liked her to read to him; he never listened to a word of it,
but it was soothing.
She had taken up 'This Morning's Gossip' from _The Daily Mail_, and she
began in the soft, low, distinct voice reading from The Rambler:
'Lord Redesdale says that when Lord Haldane's scheme for a Territorial
Army was on foot he took it to the--'
Aylmer stopped her.
'Shall I read you a novel?'
'I think I should like to hear some poetry today,' he answered.
She had taken up a pretty, tiny little book that lay on his table,
called _Lyrists of the Restoration_, and began to read aloud:
'_Phyllis is my only joy,
Faithless as the winds or seas,
Sometimes cunning, sometimes coy,
Yet she never fails to please_.'
'Oh, please, stop,' Aylmer cried.
She looked up.
'It tinkles like an old-fashioned musical-box. Try another.'
'What would you like?' she asked, smiling.
He took up a French book and passed it to her.
'You'll think I'm very changeable, but I should like this. Read me the
beginning of _La-Bos_.'
And she began.
He listened with his eyes closed, lulled by the curious technique, with
its constant repetitions and jewelled style, charmed altogether. She
read French fluently enough.
'That's delightful,' he said, but he soon noticed she was stumbling over
the words. No, it was not suitable for her to read. He was obstinate,
however, and was determined she should read him something.
* * * * *
So they fell back on _Northanger Abbey_.
Lady Conroy had arrived home in Carlton House Terrace, complaining of a
headache. She remained on the sofa in her sitting-room for about five
minutes, during which time she believed she had been dozing. In reality
she had been looking for her glasses, dropping her bag and ringing the
bell to send a servant for a handkerchief.
She was a handsome woman of thirty-eight, with black hair turning a
little grey, grey Irish eyes and a wonderfully brilliant complexion. She
must have been a remarkably good-looking girl, but now, to her great
vexation, she was growing a little too fat. She varied between
treatments, which she scarcely began before she forgot them, and utter
indifference to her appearance, when she declared she was much happier,
letting herself go in loose gowns, and eating everything of which she
had deprived herself for a day or two for the sake of her figure.
Lady Conroy had often compared herself to the old woman who lived in a
shoe, because of her large family. Her friends declared she didn't
remember how many children she had. She loved them, but there were
certainly weeks when she didn't see the younger ones, for she was
constantly absorbed in various different subjects. Besides, she spent
most of her life in looking for things.
She was hopelessly careless and had no memory at all.
Suddenly she glanced at the watch on her wrist, compared it with the
splendid Empire clock on the mantelpiece, and went with a bewildered
look to the telephone on her writing-desk. Having gone through a
considerable amount of torture by calling up the wrong number and
absently ringing off as soon as she had got the right one, she at last
found herself talking to Edith.
'Oh, is that you, dear? How lucky to catch you! Yes.... Yes.... I came
back yesterday. Dying to see you. Can't you come round and see me? Oh,
you've got on your hat; you were just coming? Of course, I forgot! I
knew I had an appointment with someone! How soon will you be here?...
In a quarter of an hour? Good! Could you tell me the time, dear?...
Four o'clock, thanks. My watch is wrong, and they've never wound the
clock up all the time I've been away. Good-bye. Don't be long.... How
soon did you say you could come?... Oh, about a quarter of an hour! Do
hurry!... I say, I've something very particular to tell you. It's about...
Oh, I'm detaining you. Very well. I see. Au revoir.'
As she waited for her visitor, Lady Conroy walked round the room. Nearly
everything on which she cast her eye reminded her of a different train
of thought, so that by the time Edith was announced by the footman she
had forgotten what she wanted to tell her.
'How sweet you look, dear!' cried Lady Conroy, welcoming her most
affectionately. 'How dear of you to come. You can't think how I was
longing to see you. Can you tell me what day it is?'
'Why, it's Thursday,' Edith said, laughing. 'Don't you remember? You
wired to me to come and see you today.'
'Of course; so I did. But, surely, I didn't ask you to come on
'I assure you that you did.'
'Fancy! How stupid of me! Thursday is my day at home. Dear, dear, dear.
I forgot to tell Standing; there will be no proper tea. Oh, I've brought
such a nice French maid--a perfect wonder. She knows everything. She
always knows what I want. One moment, dear; I'll ring for her and give
her orders. Wait a minute, though.' She took Edith's hand and patted it
affectionately. 'Nobody knows I've come back; it'll be all right. We
shan't have any visitors. I'm bursting with news to tell you.'
'And I'm longing to hear what it is.'
Lady Conroy's charming, animated face became blank. She frowned
slightly, and a vague look came into her eyes--the pathetic look of
someone who is trying to remember.
'Wait a minute--what is it? Oh yes. You know that woman you introduced
me to at Dieppe?'
'Don't you know, dear? Good heavens, it was you who introduced her--you
ought to know.'
'Do you mean Madame Frabelle?' asked Edith, who was accustomed to Lady
Conroy, and could follow the drift of her mind.
'Capital! That's it. How wonderful of you! Yes, Madame Frabelle. How do
you like her?'
'Very much. But I didn't introduce her to you. You sent her to me.'
'Did I? Well, it's very much the same. Look here, Edith dear. This is
what I want to ask you. I remember now. Oh, do you mind ringing the bell
for me? I must tell Marie about the tea, in case people call.'
'You see, dear,' went on her hostess, 'I've undertaken a terrific number
of things--Belgian refugees, weekly knitting, hundreds of societies--all
sorts of war work. Well, you know how busy I am, even without all that,
don't you? Thank heaven the boys are at school, but there are the
children in the nursery, and I don't leave them--at least hardly
ever--to their nurse. I look after them myself--when I think of it. Oh,
they've grown such heavenly angels--too sweet! And how's your
'Very well. But do go on.'
'How right of you to keep me to the point, darling. That's where you're
such a comfort always. Do you mind passing me my glasses? Thanks.'
She put them on and immediately took them off. She only needed them for
'Oh yes. I wanted to consult you about something, Edith.'
The footman came in.
'Oh, Standing, send Marie to me at once.... Bother the man, how he keeps
worrying! Well, Edith dear, as I've got all this tremendous lot of work
to do, I've made up my mind, for the sake of my health, I simply must
have a sort of secretary or companion. You see?'
'I quite see. You spoke of it before.'
'Well, how do you think that woman you introduced to me, Madame
Frabelle--how do you think she would--? Oh, Marie, today's my day at
home; isn't it, Edith?'
'Today is Thursday,' said Edith.
'Thursday! Oh, my dear. Thursday's not my day at home. Well, anyhow,
never mind about that. What was I saying, Marie?'
Marie remained respectfully waiting, with a tight French smile on her
'Oh, I know what it was. Marie, I want you to look after certain things
for me here--anyhow, at present. I want you to tell the cook that I want
tea at four o'clock. Oh no, it's half-past four--well, at five. And
there's something I particularly want for tea. What is it?' she asked,
looking at Edith. Immediately answering herself she said: 'I know, I
'Madame want "nuffing"?' said Marie.
'No, no, no! Don't be so stupid. It's an English thing, Marie; you
wouldn't understand. Something I've forgotten to tell the cook about.
It's so cosy I always think in the winter in London. It always cheers me
up. You know, what is it?... I know--muffins--_muffins_!' she said the
word carefully to the French maid.
Edith came to the rescue.
'Tell the cook,' she said, 'for madame, that she wants some muffins for
'Oh, oui. Ah, oui, bien, madame. Merci, madame.'
As the maid was going away Lady Conroy called out:
'Oh, tell the cook it doesn't matter. I won't have them today.'
Edith was already in a somewhat hilarious mood. Lady Conroy didn't
irritate her; she amused her almost more than any friend she had.
Besides, once she could be got to concentrate on any one subject, nobody
was more entertaining. Edith's English humour delighted in her friend's
There was something singularly Irish in the way Lady Conroy managed to
make a kind of muddle and untidiness all round her, when she had been in
a room a minute or two. When she had entered the room, it was a
fine-looking apartment, rather sparsely furnished, with very little in
it, all severest First Empire style. There were a few old portraits on
striped pale green walls, and one large basket of hot-house flowers on a
small table. Yet, since her entrance, the room already looked as if
several people had been spending the week in it without tidying it up.
Almost mechanically Edith picked up her bag, books, newspaper,
cigarettes and the glasses.
'Well, then, you don't think Madame Frabelle would do?' said Lady
'My dear Lady Conroy, Madame Frabelle wouldn't dream of going as a
companion or secretary. You want a young girl. She's about fifteen years
older than you are and she's staying with me as my guest. I shouldn't
even suggest such a thing.'
'Why not? It wouldn't be at all a hard place.'
'No, I know. But she doesn't want a place. She's very well off,
'Good heavens, she can't have much to do then if she's only staying with
you,' said Lady Conroy.
'Oh, she has plenty of engagements. No, I shouldn't advise Madame
Frabelle. But I do know of someone.'
'Do you? Oh, darling Edith, how sweet of you. Oh, just ring the bell for
me, will you?'
'I want to send for Marie, my maid, and tell her to order some muffins
for tea. I forgot to tell the cook.'
'But you have already ordered and countermanded them.'
'Oh, have I?--so I have! Never mind, don't ring. It doesn't matter. Who
do you know, dear?'
Standing appeared in answer to the bell.
'What do you want, Standing? You mustn't keep bothering and interrupting
me like this. Oh, tea? Yes, bring tea. And tell Marie I shan't want her
Lady Conroy leant back against her cushions and with a sigh went on:
'You see, I'm in the most terrible muddle, dear Edith. I don't know
where to turn.'
She turned to her writing-table and opened it.
'Look at this, now,' she said rather triumphantly. 'This is all about my
war work. Oh no, it isn't. It's an advertisement from a washer-woman.
Gracious, ought I to keep it, do you think? No, I don't think I need.'
She folded it up and put it carefully away again.
'Don't you think yourself I need someone?'
'Yes, I do. I think it would be very convenient for you to have a nice
girl with a good memory to keep your things in order.'
'That's it,' cried Lady Conroy, delighted, as she lit a cigarette.
'That's it--someone who will prevent me dropping cigarette ash all over
the room and remember my engagements and help me with my war work and
write my letters and do the telephoning. That's all I shall want. Of
course, if she could do a little needlework--No, no, that wouldn't do.
You couldn't expect her to do brainwork as well as needlework.'
Edith broke in.
'Do you remember mentioning to me a girl you met at Boulogne--a nurse
called Dulcie Clay?'
'Perfectly well,' answered Lady Conroy, puffing away at her cigarette,
and obviously not speaking the truth.
'No, my dear, you don't. But it doesn't matter. Well, this girl has been
nursing Mr Aylmer Ross, and he doesn't need her any more--at least he
won't after next week. Would you see her and judge for yourself? You
might try her.'
'I'm sure I shall if I take her. I'm afraid I'm a trying person. I try
everyone dreadfully. Oh, by the way, Edith, I met such a perfect angel
coming over. He was a wounded soldier. He belongs to the Black Watch.
Doesn't the name Black Watch thrill you? He's in the Irish Guards, so,
of course, my heart went out to him.'
'The Irish Guards as well?'
'Oh no. That was another man.'
She put her hand to her forehead.
'I'm worrying you, dear, with my bad memory. I'm so sorry. Well, then,
you'll see Madame Frabelle for me?'
'I will if you like, but not as a companion. It's Miss Clay.'
'Miss Clay,' repeated Lady Conroy. 'Ah, here's tea. Do you take milk and
'Let me pour it out,' said Edith, to whom it was maddening to see the
curious things Lady Conroy did with the tea-tray. She was pouring tea
into the sugar basin, looking up at Edith with the sweetest smile.
'I can't stay long,' Edith went on. 'I'm very sorry, dear, but you
remember I told you I'm in a hurry.... I've an appointment at
'Landi? And who is that?'
'You know him--the composer--Sir Tito.'
'Oh, darling Sir Tito! Of course I do know him!' She smiled
reminiscently. 'Won't you have anything to eat, dear? Do have a muffin!
Oh, bother, there are none. I wonder how it is cook always forgets? Then
you're going to send Madame Frabelle to see me the day after tomorrow?'
Edith took both her hands and shook them, laughing, as she stood up.
'I will arrange to send Miss Clay to see you, and if you like her, if
you don't mind waiting about ten days or a fortnight, you might engage
her. It would be doing her a great kindness. She's not happy at home.'
'Oh, poor girl!'
'And she went as a nurse,' continued Edith, 'chiefly because she
couldn't think of anything else to do. She isn't really strong enough
'Isn't she? How sad, poor girl. It reminds me of a girl I met at
Boulogne. So pretty and nice. In very much the same position really. She
also wasn't happy at home--'
'This is the same girl,' said Edith. 'You wrote to me about her.'
'Did I? Good heavens, how extraordinary! What a memory you've got,
Edith. Well, then, she's sure to do.'
'Still, you'd better have an interview,' said Edith. 'Don't trouble to
ring. I must fly, dear. We'll soon meet again.'
Lady Conroy followed her to the door into the hall, pouring forth
questions, sympathy and cheerful communications about the charming young
man in the Black Watch. Just before Edith escaped her friend said:
'Oh, by the by, I meant to ask you something. Who is Madame Frabelle?'
Sir Tito lived in a flat in Mayfair, on the second floor of a large
corner house. On the ground floor was his studio, which had two
entrances. The studio was a large, square, white room, containing a
little platform for pupils. A narrow shelf ran all the way round the
dado; this shelf was entirely filled with the most charming collection
of English and French china, little cottages, birds and figures. Above
the shelf was a picture-rail, which again was filled all the way round
with signed photographs of friends. Everything in the room was white,
even the piano was _laqué_ white, and the furniture, extremely luxurious
and comfortable, was in colour a pale and yet dull pink. A curtain
separated it from another smaller room, which again had a separate
entrance into the hall on the left, and, through a very small
dressing-room, led into the street on the right side.
Sir Tito was waiting for Edith, spick, span and debonair as always
(although during the war he had discarded his buttonhole). He was
occupied, as he usually was in his leisure time, not in playing the
piano or composing, but--in making photograph frames! This was his
hobby, and people often said that he took more pleasure in the carving,
cutting out, gumming and sticking together of these objects than in
composing the melodies that were known and loved all over the world.
As soon as Edith came in he showed her a tiny frame carved with
'Regarde,' he said, his eyes beaming. 'Voilà! C'est mignon,
n'est-ce-pas? On dirait un petit coeur! Ravissante, hein?' He gazed at
'Very sweet,' said Edith, laughing. 'Who is it for?'
'Why, it's for your _mignonne_, Dilly. I've cut out a photograph of hers
in the shape of a heart. Gentil, n'est ce pas?'
He showed it to her with childish pleasure. Then he put all traces of
the work carefully away in a drawer and drew Edith near to the fire.
'I've just a quarter of an hour to give you,' said Sir Tito, suddenly
turning into a serious man of business. And, indeed, he always had many
appointments, not a few of which were on some subject connected with
love affairs. Like Aylmer, but in a different way, Sir Tito was always
being consulted, but, oddly enough, while it was the parents and
guardians usually who went to Aylmer, husbands worried about their
wives, mothers about their children; to the older man it was more
frequently the culprit or the confidant himself or herself who came to
confide and ask for help and advice.
'The dreadful thing I've to tell you, Landi, is that I've completely
'Yes. I'm in love with him all over again.'
'Yes. I don't know how and I don't know why. When he first made that
suggestion, it seemed wild--impossible. But the things he said--how
absolutely true it is. Landi, my life's been wasted, utterly wasted.'
Landi said nothing.
'I believe I was deceiving myself,' she went on. 'I've got so accustomed
to living this sort of half life I've become almost _abrutie_, as you
would say. I didn't realise how much I cared for him. Now I know I
always adored him.'
'But you were quite contented.'
'Because I made myself so; because I resolved to be satisfied. But,
after all, there's something in what he says, Landi. My life with Bruce
is only a makeshift. Nothing but tact, tact, tact. Oh, I'm so tired of
tact!' She sighed. 'It seems to me now really too hard that I should
again have such a great opportunity and should throw it away. You see,
it is an opportunity, if I love him--and I'm not deceiving myself now.
I'm in love with him. The more I think about it the more lovely it seems
to me. It would be an ideal life, Landi.'
He was still silent.
'You see, Aylmer knows so well how much the children are to me, and he
would never ask me to leave them. There's no question of my ever leaving
them. And Bruce wouldn't mind. Bruce would be only too thankful for me
to take them. And there's another thing--though I despised the idea at
the time, there's a good deal in it. I mean that Aylmer's well off, so I
should never be a burden. He would love to take the responsibility of us
all. I would leave my income to Bruce; he would be quite comfortable and
independent. Oh, he would take it. He might be a little cross, but it
wouldn't last, Landi. He would be better off. He'd find
somebody--someone who would look after him, perhaps, and make him quite
happy and comfortable. You're shocked?'
'Ça ne m'étonne pas. It's the reaction,' said Landi, nodding.
'How wonderful of you to understand! I haven't seen him again, you know.
I've just been thinking. In fact, I'm surprised at myself. But the more
I reflect on what he said, the more wonderful it seems.... Think how
he's cared for me all this time!'
'Sans doute. You know that he adores you. But, Edith, it's all very
well--you put like that--but could you go through with it?'
'I believe I could now,' she answered. 'I begin to long to. You see, I
mistook my own feelings, Landi; they seemed dulled. I thought I could
live without love--but why should I? What is it that's made me change
so? Why do I feel so frightened now at the idea of losing my happiness?'
'C'est la guerre,' said Sir Tito.
'The war? What has that to do with it?'
'Everything. Unconsciously it affects people. Though you yourself are
not fighting, Aylmer has risked his life, and is going to risk it again.
This impresses you. To many temperaments things seem to matter less just
now. People are reckless.'
'Is it that?' asked Edith. 'Perhaps it is. But I was so completely
deceived in myself.'
'I always knew you could be in love with him,' said Landi. 'But wait a
moment, Edith--need the remedy be so violent? I don't ask you to live
without love. Why should a woman live without the very thing she was
created for? But you know you hate publicity--vulgar scandal. Nobody
loathes it as you do.'
'It doesn't seem to matter now so much,' Edith said.
'It's the war.'
'Well, whatever's the cause, all I can tell you is that I'm beginning to
think I shall do it! I want to!... I can't bear to refuse again. I
haven't seen him since our talk. I changed gradually, alone, just
thinking. And then you say--'
'Many people have love in their lives without a violent public scandal,'
'Yes, I know. I understand what you mean. But I hate deceit, Landi. I
don't think I could lead a double life. And even if I would, he
She spoke rather proudly.
'Pauvre garçon!' said Sir Tito. 'Je l'admire.'
'So do I,' said Edith. 'Aylmer's not a man who could shake hands with
Bruce and be friends and deceive him. And you know, before, when I
begged him to remain ... my friend ... he simply wouldn't. He always
said he despised the man who would accept the part of a tame cat. And he
doesn't believe in Platonic friendship: Aylmer's too honest, too _real_
'But, Edith, oh, remember, before,' said Landi taking her hand, 'even
when Bruce ran away with another woman, you couldn't bear the idea
'I know. But I may have been wrong. Besides, I didn't care for him as I
do now. And I'm older now.'
'Isn't this rather sudden, my dear?'
'Only because I've let myself go--let myself be natural! Oh, _do_
encourage me--give me strength, Landi! Don't let me be a coward! Think
if Aylmer goes out again and is killed, how miserable I should feel to
have refused him and disappointed him--for the second time!'
'Wait a moment, Edith. Suppose, as you say, he goes out again and is
killed, and you _haven't_ disappointed him, what would your position
She couldn't answer.
'How is it your conscientiousness with regard to Bruce doesn't come in
the way now? Why would it ruin him less now than formerly?'
'Bruce doesn't seem to matter so much.'
'Because he isn't fighting?' asked Sir Tito.
'Oh no, Landi! I never thought of that. But you know he always imagines
himself ill, and he's quite all right really. He'll enjoy his grievance.
I _know_ he won't be unhappy. And he's older, and he's not tied to that
silly, mad girl he ran away with. And besides, I'm older. This is
probably _my_ last chance!'
She looked at Landi imploringly, as if begging his permission.
He answered calmly: 'Écoute, chérie. When do you see him again?'
'I'm to take him for a drive tomorrow.'
'My dear Edith, promise me one thing; don't undertake anything yet.'
'But why not?'
'You mustn't. This may be merely an impulse; you may change again. It
may be a passing mood.'
'I don't think it is,' said Edith. 'Anyhow, it's my wish at present.
It's the result of thinking, remember--not of his persuasion.'
'Go for a drive, but give him no hope yet.' He took both her hands.
'Make no promise, except to me. Don't I know you well? I doubt if you
could do it.'
'Yes, I could! I could go through _anything_ if I were determined, and
if I had the children safe.'
'Never mind that for the present. Live for the day. Will you promise me
She hesitated for a moment.
Then he said:
'Really, dear, it's too serious to be impulsive about. Take time.'
'Very well, Landi. I promise you that.'
'Then we'll meet again afterwards and talk it over. I'll come and see
'Very well. And mustn't I tell him anything? Not make him a little bit
'Tell him nothing. Be nice to him. Enjoy your drive. Put off all
decision at present.'
He looked at her. Her eyes were sparkling, her colour, her expression
were deepened. She looked all animation, with more life than he had ever
seen in her.... Somehow the sight made his heart ache a little, a
Poor girl! Of course she had been starving for love, and hidden the
longing under domestic interests, artistic, social, but human. But she
deserved real love, a real lover. She was so loyal, so true herself.
'Tiens! You look like a lamp that has been lighted,' said Sir Tito,
chuckling a little to himself. 'Eh, bien!--and the pretty nurse? Does
she still dance the Cachuca? I know I'm old-fashioned, but it's
impossible for me not to associate everything Spanish with the
ridiculous. I think of guitars, mantillas, sombreros, or--what else is
it? Ah, I know--onions.'
'She isn't even Spanish, really!'
'Then why did you deceive me?' said Landi, a shade absently, with a
glance at his watch and another in the mirror.
'She can't remain with Aylmer. She knows it herself. I'm trying to
arrange for her to become a companion for Lady Conroy.'
'You are more particular about her being chaperoned than you were last
'Landi, Aylmer will never care for her. She's a dear, but he won't.'
'Tu ne l'a pas revu? Lui--Aylmer?'
'No, but he's written to me.'
'Oh, for heaven's sake, my child, burn the letters! I daresay it won't
be difficult; they are probably all flames already.'
'I did have one lovely letter,' said Edith.
She took it out of her dress. He glanced at it.
'Mon Dieu! To think that a pupil of mine drives about in a taxi-cab with
compromising letters in her pocket! Non, tu est folle, véritablement,
To please him she threw it into the fire, after tearing a small blank
piece of the paper off, and putting this unwritten-on scrap back in the
bodice of her dress. As she hurried away, she again promised him not to
undertake anything, nor to allow Aylmer to overpower her prudent
intention during their drive.
'What time do you start? I think I shall come too,' said Sir Tito,
pretending to look at his engagement-book.
He burst out laughing at her expression.
'Ah, I'm not wanted! Tiens! If you're not very careful _one_ person will
go with you, I can tell you. And that will be Madame Frabelle.'
'No, she won't. Indeed not! It's the last day of Archie's holidays.'
'He's coming with you?'
'On the front seat, with the chauffeur,' said Edith.
There was a ring at the bell. He lifted the curtain and caressingly but
firmly pushed her through into the other room.
* * * * *
Sir Tito had another appointment.
While this drama was taking place in the little house in Sloane Street,
Madame Frabelle, who lived for romance, and was always imagining it
where it didn't exist, was, of course, sublimely unconscious of its
presence. She had grown tired of her fancy about Edith and Mr Mitchell,
or she made herself believe that her influence had stopped it. But she
was beginning to think, much as she enjoyed her visit and delighted in
her surroundings, that it was almost time for her at least to _suggest_
She had made Edith's friends her own. She was devoted to Edith, fonder
of the children than anyone except their grandmother, and strangely,
considering she was a visitor who gave trouble, she was adored by the
servants and by everyone in the house, with the single exception
She was carrying on a kind of half-religious flirtation with the Rev.
Byrne Fraser, who was gradually succeeding in making her very high
church. Sometimes she rose early and left the house mysteriously. She
went to Mass. There was a dreamy expression in her eyes when she came
back. A slight perfume of incense, instead of the lavender water that
she formerly affected, was now observable about her.
She went to see the 'London Group' and the 'New English' with young
Coniston, who explained to her all he had learnt from Aylmer, a little
wrong; while she assured him that she knew nothing about pictures, but
she knew what she liked.
She bought book-bindings from Miss Coniston, and showed her how to cook
macaroni and how to make cheap but unpalatable soup for her brother. And
she went to all the war concerts and bazaars got up by Valdez, to
meetings for the Serbians arranged by Mrs Mitchell and to Lady Conroy's
Knitting Society for the Refugees. She was a very busy woman. But it was
not these employments that were filling her mind as she sat in her own
room, looking seriously at herself in the glass. Something made her a
She was beginning to fear that Bruce was getting too fond of her.
The moment the idea occurred to her, it occurred to Bruce also. She had
a hypnotic effect on him; as soon as she thought of anything he thought
of it too. Something in her slight change of manner, her cautious way of
answering, and of rustling self-consciously out of the room when they
were left alone together, had this effect. Bruce was enchanted. Madame
Frabelle thought he was getting too fond of her! Then, he must be!
Perhaps he was. He certainly didn't like the idea at all of her going
away and changed the subject directly she mentioned it. He had always
thought her a very wonderful person. He was immensely impressed by her
universal knowledge and agreeable manners and general charm. Still,
Madame Frabelle was fifteen years older than Bruce, and Bruce himself
was no chicken. Although he was under forty, his ideal of himself was
that he liked only very young girls. This was not true. But as he
thought it was, it became very much the same thing. As a matter of fact,
only rather foolish girls were flattered at attentions from Bruce.
Married women preferred spirited bachelors, and attractive girls
preferred attractive boys. In fact, Bruce was not wanted socially, and
he felt a little bit out of it among the men through not being among the
fighters. The fact that he told everyone that he was not in khaki
because he was in consumption didn't seem to make him more interesting
to the general public. His neurotic heart bored his friends at the club.
In fact there was not a woman, even his mother, except Madame Frabelle,
who cared to listen to his symptoms. That she did so, and with sympathy,
was one of her attractions.
But as long as she had listened to them in a sisterly, friendly way, he
regarded her only as a friend--a friend of whom he was very proud, and
whom he respected immensely. As has been said, she impressed him so much
that he did not know she bored him. When she began rustling out of the
room when they were left alone, and looking away, avoiding his eye when
he stared at her absently, things were different, and he began to feel
rather flattered. Of course it would be an infernal shame, and not the
act of a gentleman, to take advantage of one's position as a host by
making love to a fascinating guest. But there was so much sympathy
between them! It is only fair to say that the idea would never have
occurred to Bruce unless it had first occurred to Madame Frabelle. If a
distinguished-looking woman in violet velvet leaves the room five
minutes after she's left alone with one--even though she has grey
hair--it naturally shows that she thinks one is dangerous. The result of
it all was that when Bruce heard Edith was taking Aylmer for a drive, he
apologised very much indeed for not going with her. He said, frankly,
much as he liked Aylmer, wounded heroes were rather a bore. He hoped
Aylmer would forgive him. And Madame Frabelle had promised to take him
to the Oratory. She disapproved of his fancy of becoming a Catholic; she
was not one herself, though she was extremely high, and growing daily
higher, but the music at the Oratory on that particular day was very
wonderful, and they agreed to go there. And afterwards--well, afterwards
they might stroll home, or--go and have tea in Bond Street.
* * * * *
It was the last day of Archie's holidays, and though it was rather cold
his mother insisted on taking him with her.
Aylmer tried to hide the shade that came over his face when he saw the
boy, but remembering that he had undertaken to be a father to him, he
cheered up as soon as Archie was settled.
It was a lovely autumn day, one of those warm Indian-summer days that
resemble early spring. There is the same suggestion of warmer sunshine
yet to come; the air has a scent as of growing things, the kind of
muffled hopes and suppressed excitement of April is in the deceptive
air. This sort of day is dangerous to charming people not in their very
* * * * *
In high spirits and beyond the speed limit they started for Richmond.
A week later Aylmer and his son were sitting looking at each other in
the old brown library. Teddy had come over for ten days' leave from
somewhere in France. Everyone, except his father, was astonished how
little he had changed. He seemed exactly the same, although he had gone
through strange experiences. But Aylmer saw a different look in his
eyes. He looked well and brisk--perhaps a little more developed and more
manly; his shoulders, always rather thick and broad, seemed even
broader, although he was thinner. But it was the expression of the eyes
that had altered. Those eyes had _seen things_. In colour pale blue,
they had a slightly strained look. They seemed paler. His sunburn
increased his resemblance to his father, always very striking. Both had
large foreheads, clearly cut features and square chins. Aylmer was,
strictly speaking, handsomer. His features more refined, more chiselled.
But Teddy had the additional charm of extreme youth--youth with the
self-possession and ease that seemed, as it were, a copy--as his voice
was an echo--of his father. The difference was in culture and
experience. Teddy had gone out when he was just on the point of going to
Balliol, yet seemed to have something of the Oxford manner,
characteristic of his father--a manner suave, amiable, a little
ironical. He had the unmistakable public-school look and his training
had immensely improved his appearance.
Aylmer was disappointed that the very first thing his son insisted on
doing was to put on evening clothes and go to the Empire. That was where
the difference in age told. Aylmer would not have gone to the Empire
fresh from the fighting line. He made no objection, and concealed the
tiniest ache that he felt when Teddy went out at once with Major Willis,
an elder friend of his. Quite as old, Aylmer thought to himself, as _he_
was. But not being a relative, he seemed of the same generation.
The next evening Teddy spent at home, and sat with his father, who
declared himself to be completely recovered, but was still not allowed
to put his foot to the ground, Miss Clay was asked to sing to them. Her
voice, as has been said, was a very beautiful one, a clear, fine
soprano, with a timbre rare in quality, and naturally thrilling. She had
not been taught well enough to be a public success perhaps, but was much
more accomplished than the average amateur.
Teddy delighted in it. She sang all the popular songs--she had a way
that was almost humorous of putting refinement into the stupidest and
vulgarest melody. And then she sang some of those technically poor but
attaching melodies that, sung in a certain way, without sickening
sentimentality or affectation, seem to search one's soul and bring out
all that there is in one of romance.
She looked very beautiful, that Aylmer admitted to himself, and she sang
simply and charmingly; that he owned also. Why did it irritate him so
intensely to see Teddy moved and thrilled, to see his eyes brighten, his
colour rise and to see him obviously admiring the girl? When she made an
excuse to leave them Teddy was evidently quite disappointed.
The next day Aylmer limped down to the library. To his great surprise he
heard voices in the room Dulcie used for her sitting-room. He heard
Teddy begging her to sing to him again. He heard her refuse and then
Teddy's voice asking her to go out to tea with him.
Aylmer limped as loudly as he could, and they evidently heard him, but
didn't mind in the least. He didn't want Miss Clay to stop at home. He
was expecting Edith.
'Hang it, let them go!' he said to himself, and he wondered at himself.
Why should he care? Why _shouldn't_ she flirt with the boy if she liked,
or rather--for he was too just not to own that it was no desire of
hers--why shouldn't the boy make up to her? Whatever the reason was, it
Annoyance was soon forgotten when Mrs Ottley was announced.
Since their drive to Richmond there had been a period of extraordinary
happiness and delight for Edith. Not another word had been said with
reference to Aylmer's proposal. He left it in abeyance, for he saw to
his great joy and delight that she was becoming her old self, more than
her old self.
Edith was completely changed. The first thing she thought of now in the
morning was how soon she should see him again. She managed to conceal it
well, but she was nervous, absent, with her eyes always on the clock,
counting the minutes. When other people were present she was cool and
friendly to Aylmer, but when they were alone he had become intimate,
delightful, familiar, like the time, three years ago, when they were
together at the seaside. But her mother-in-law had then been in the
house. And the children. Everything was so conventional. Now she was
able to see him alone. Really alone.... His eyes welcomed her as she
came in. Having shut the door quietly, she reached his chair in a
'Don't take off your hat. I like that hat. That was the hat you wore the
day I told you--'
'I'm glad it suits me,' she said, interrupting. 'Does it really? Isn't
it too small?'
'You know it does.'
He was holding her hand. He slowly took off the glove, saying: 'What a
funny woman you are, Edith. Why do you wear grey gloves? Nobody else
wears grey gloves.'
'I prefer white ones, but they won't stay white two minutes'
'I like these.'
'Tell me about Teddy. Don't, Aylmer!'
Aylmer was kissing her fingers one by one. She drew them away.
'Teddy! Oh, there's not much to tell.' Then he gave a little laugh. 'I
believe he's fallen in love with Miss Clay.'
'Has he really? Well, no wonder; think how pretty she is.'
'I know. Is she? I don't think she's a bit pretty.'
'She's to see Lady Conroy tomorrow, you know,' Edith said, divining an
anxiety or annoyance in Aylmer on the subject.
'Yes. Will it be all right?'
'Well, Teddy's going back on Monday anyway, and I certainly don't need a
nurse any more. Headley will do all I want.'
Headley was the old butler.