Part 4 out of 4
'What scent do you use, Edith?'
'I hardly ever use any. I don't care for scent.'
'But lately you have,' he insisted. 'What is it? I think I like it.'
'It's got a silly name. It's called Omar Khayyám.'
'I thought it was Oriental. I think you're Oriental, Edith. Though
you're so fair and English-looking. How do you account for it?'
'I can't think,' said Edith.
'Perhaps you're a fair Circassian,' said he. 'Do you think yourself
'I believe I am, in some ways. I like lying down on cushions. I like
cigarettes, and scent, and flowers. I hate wine, and exercise, and
cricket, and bridge.'
'That isn't all that's needed. You wouldn't care for life in a harem,
would you?' He laughed. 'You with your independent mind and your
'Perhaps not exactly, but I can imagine worse things.'
'I shall take you to Egypt,' he said. 'You've never been there, have
'Never.' Her eyes sparkled.
'Yes, I shall take you to see the Sphinx. For the first time.'
'Oh, you can't. You're looking very well, Aylmer, wonderfully better.'
'I wonder why? You don't think I'm happy, do you?'
'I am,' said Edith.
'Because you're a woman. You live for the moment. I'm anxious about the
'Oh, oh! You're quite wrong. It's not women who live for the moment,'
'No, I don't know that the average woman does. But then you're not an
'What am I?'
'You're Edith,' he answered, rather fatuously. But she liked it. She
'Now that's awfully mean of you, taking advantage of my wounded limb.'
She rang for tea.
'And that's even meaner. It's treacherous,' he said, laughing.
She sat down on a chair at a little distance.
'Angel!' he said, in a low, distinct voice.
'It is not for me to dictate,' said Edith, in a tone of command, 'but I
should think it more sensible of you not to say these things to
The servant came in with tea.
Just before Archie went back to school he made a remark that impressed
Edith strangely. Quite dressed and ready to start, as he was putting on
his gloves, he fell into one of his reveries. After being silent for
some time he said:
'Why doesn't father fight?'
'I told you before, darling. Your father is not very strong.'
'Is Aylmer older than father?'
'Yes. Aylmer's four years older. Why?'
'I don't know. I wish I had a father who could fight, like Aylmer. And
I'd like to fight too, like Teddy.'
'Aylmer hasn't any wife and children to leave. Teddy's eighteen; you're
'I wish I was old enough to fight. And I wish father was stronger.... Do
you think I shall ever fight in this war?'
'Good heavens, dear! I hope it isn't going to last seven years more.'
'I wish it would,' said Archie ferociously. 'Mother!'
'But what's the matter with father? He seems quite well.'
'Oh, he isn't very well. He suffers from nerves.'
'Nerves! What's nerves?'
'I think, darling, it's time for us to start. Where's your coat?'
She drove him to the station. Most of the way he was very silent As she
put him in the train he said.
'Mother, give my love to Aylmer.'
'All right, dear.'
He then said:
'Mother, I wish Aylmer was my father.'
'Oh, Archie! You mustn't say that.'
* * * * *
But she never forgot the boy's remark. It had a stronger influence on
her action later than anything else. She knew Archie had always had a
great hero-worship for Aylmer. But that he should actually prefer him
She didn't tell Aylmer that for a long time afterwards.
* * * * *
Before returning to the front Teddy had become so violently devoted to
Miss Clay that she was quite glad to see him go. She received his
attentions with calm and cool friendliness, but gave him not the
smallest encouragement. She was three years older, but looked younger
than her age, while Teddy looked much older, more like twenty-two. So
that when on the one or two occasions during his ten days' leave they
went out together, they didn't seem at all an ill-assorted couple. And
whenever Aylmer saw the two together, it created the greatest irritation
in him. He hardly knew which vexed him more--Dulcie for being attractive
to the boy, or the boy for being charmed by Dulcie. It was absurd--out
of place. It displeased him.
A day or two after Teddy's departure Dulcie went to see Lady Conroy, who
immediately declared that Dulcie was extraordinarily like a charming
girl she had met at Boulogne. Dulcie convinced her that she was the
'Oh, how perfectly charming!' said Lady Conroy. 'What a coincidence!
_Too_ wonderful! Well, my dear, I can see at a glance that you're the
very person I want. Your duties will be very, _very_ light. Oh, how
light they will be! There's really hardly anything to do! I merely want
you to be a sort of walking memorandum for me,' Lady Conroy went on,
smiling. 'Just to recollect what day it is, and what's the date, and
what time my appointments are, and do my telephoning for me, and write
my letters, and take the dog out for a walk, and _sometimes_ just hear
my little girls practise, and keep my papers in order. Oh, one can
hardly say exactly--you know the sort of thing. Oh yes! and do the
flowers,' said Lady Conroy, glancing round the room. 'I always forget my
flowers, and I won't let Marie do them, and so there they are--dead in
the vases! And I do like a few live flowers about, I must say,' she
Dulcie said she thought she could undertake it.
'Well, then, won't you stay now, and have your things sent straight on?
Oh, do! I do wish you would. I've got two stalls for the St James's
tonight. My husband can't come, and I can't think of anybody else to
ask. I should love to take you.'
Dulcie would have enjoyed to go. The theatre was a passion with her, as
with most naïve people. She made some slight objection which Lady Conroy
at once waved away. However, Dulcie pointed out that she must go home
first, and as all terms and arrangements absolutely suited both parties,
it was decided that Dulcie should go to the play with her tonight and
come the next day to take up her duties.
She asked Lady Conroy if she might have her meals alone when there were
guests, as she was very shy. A charming little sitting-room, opening out
of the drawing-rooms, was put at her disposal.
'Oh, certainly, dear; always, of course, except when I'm alone. But
you'll come when I ask you, now and then, won't you? I thought you'd be
very useful sometimes at boring lunches, or when there were too many
men--that sort of thing. And I hear you sing. Oh, that will be
delightful! You'll sing when we have a few tedious people with us? I
adore music. We'll go to some of those all-British concerts, won't we?
We must be patriotic. Do you know it's really been my dream to have a
sweet, useful, sympathetic girl in the house. And with a memory too!
Dulcie went away fascinated, if slightly bewildered. It was a pang to
her to say good-bye to Aylmer, the more so as he showed, in a way that
was perfectly obvious to the girl, that he was pleased to see her go,
though he was as cordial as possible.
She had been an embarrassment to him of late. It was beginning to be what
is known as a false position, since Headley the butler could now look
after Aylmer. Except for a limp, he was practically well.
Anyone who has ever nursed a person to whom they are devoted, helped him
through weakness and danger to health again, will understand the curious
pain she felt to see him independent of her, anxious to show his
strength. Still, he had been perfect. She would always remember him with
worship. She meant never to love anyone else all her life.
When she said good-bye she said to him:
'I do hope you'll be very happy.'
He laughed, coloured a little, and said as he squeezed her hand warmly:
'You've been a brick to me, Miss Clay. I shall certainly tell you if I
ever am happy.'
She wondered what that meant, but she preferred to try to forget it.
* * * * *
When Dulcie arrived, as she had been told, at a quarter to eight,
dressed in a black evening dress (she didn't care to wear uniform at the
theatre), she found Lady Conroy, who was lying on the sofa in a
tea-gown, utterly astonished to see her.
'My dear! you've come to dine with me after all?'
'No, indeed. I've dined. You said I was to come in time to go to the
'The play? Oh! I forgot. I'm so sorry. I've sent the tickets away. I
forgot I'd anyone to go with me. I'm afraid it can't be helped now. Are
you very disappointed? Poor child. Well, dear, you'll dine with me,
anyhow, as you've come, and I can tell you all about what we shall have
to do, and everything. We'll go to the theatre some other evening.'
Dulcie was obliged to decline eating two dinners. She had not found it
possible to get through one--her last meal at Aylmer's house. However,
as she had no idea what else to do, she remained with Lady Conroy. And
she spent a very pleasant evening.
Lady Conroy told her all about herself, her husband, her children and
her friends. She told her the history of her life, occasionally
branching off on to other subjects, and referring to the angel she had
met on a boat who was in the Black Watch, and who, Dulcie gathered, was
a wounded officer. Lady Conroy described all the dresses she had at
present, many that she had had in former years, and others that she
would like to have had now. She gravely told the girl the most
inaccurate gossip about such of her friends as Dulcie might possibly
meet later. She was confidential, amusing, brilliant and inconsequent.
She appeared enchanted with Dulcie, whom she treated like an intimate
friend at sight. And Dulcie was charmed with her, though somewhat
confused at her curious memory. Indeed, they parted at about eleven the
best possible friends; Lady Conroy insisting on sending her home in
Dulcie, who had a sensitive and sensible horror of snobbishness, felt
sorry to know that her father would casually mention that his daughter
was staying with the Conroys in Carlton House Terrace, and that her
stepmother would scold her unless she recollected every dress she
happened to see there. Still, on the whole she felt cheered.
She had every reason to hope that she would be as happy as a companion,
in love without hope of a return, could be under any circumstances.
Madame Frabelle and Edith were sitting side by side in Edith's boudoir.
Madame Frabelle was knitting. Edith was looking at a book. It was a thin
little volume of essays, bound by Miss Coniston.
'What is the meaning of this design?' Edith said. 'It seems to me very
unsuited to Chesterton's work! Olive-green, with twirly things on it!'
'I thought it rather artistic,' answered Madame Frabelle.
'It looks like macaroni, or spaghetti. Perhaps the idea was suggested by
your showing her how to cook it,' said Edith, laughing.
Madame Frabelle looked gravely serene.
'No--I don't think that had anything to do with it.'
'How literal you are, Eglantine!'
'Am I? I think you do me injustice, Edith dear,' returned the amiable
guest with a tinge of stateliness as she rolled up her wool.
Edith smiled, put down her book, looked at the clock and rearranged the
large orange-coloured cushion behind her back. Then she took the book up
again, looked through it and again put it down.
'You're not at all--forgive me for saying so--not the least bit in the
world restless today, Edith darling, are you?' said Madame Frabelle in a
calm, clear, high voice that Edith found quite trying.
'Oh, I hope not--I think not.'
'Ah, that's well,' and Madame Frabelle, with one slight glance at her
hostess, went on knitting.
'I believe I miss Archie a good deal,' said Edith.
'Ah, yes, you must indeed. I miss the dear boy immensely myself,'
sympathetically said Madame Frabelle. But Edith thought Madame Frabelle
bore his loss with a good deal of equanimity, and she owned to herself
that it was not surprising. The lady had been very good to Archie, but
he had teased her a good deal. Like the Boy Scouts, but the other way
round, he had almost made a point of worrying her in some way or other
every day. Edith could never persuade him to change his view of her.
He said she was a fool.
Somehow, today Edith felt rather pleased with him for thinking so. All
women are subject to moods, particularly, perhaps, those who have a
visitor staying with them for a considerable time. There are moments of
injustice, of unfairness to the most charming feminine guest, from the
most gentle hostess. And also there are, undoubtedly, times when the
nicest hostess gets a little on one's nerves.
So--critical, highly strung--Madame Frabelle was feeling today. So was
Edith. Madame Frabelle was privately thinking that Edith was restless,
that she had lost her repose, that her lips were redder than they used
to be. Had she taken to using lip salve too? She was inclined to smile,
with a twinkle in her eye, at Madame Frabelle's remarks, a shade too
often. And what was Edith thinking of at this moment? She was thinking
of Archie's remarks about Madame Frabelle. That boy had genius!
But there would be a reaction, probably during, or immediately after,
tea-time, for these two women were sincerely fond of one another. The
irritating fact that Edith was eighteen years younger than her guest
made Eglantine feel sometimes a desire to guide, even to direct her, and
if she had the disadvantage in age she wanted at least the privilege of
gratifying her longing to give advice.
The desire became too strong to be resisted. The advantage of having
something to do with her hands while she spoke was too great a one not
to be taken advantage of. So Madame Frabelle said:
'I've been wanting to say something to you.'
Edith leant forward, putting her elbows on her knees and her face on her
hands, and said:
'Oh, _do_ tell me, Eglantine. What is it?'
'It is simply this,' said the other lady, calmly continuing her
knitting.... 'Very often when one's living with a person, one doesn't
notice little things a comparative stranger would observe. Is that
'What have you observed? What's it about?'
'It is about your husband,' said Madame Frabelle.
'What! Bruce?' asked Edith.
'Naturally,' replied Madame Frabelle dryly.
'What have you observed about Bruce?'
'I have observed,' replied Madame Frabelle, putting her hand in the sock
that she was knitting, and looking at it critically, her head on one
side, 'I have observed that Bruce is not at all well.'
'Oh, I'm sorry you think that. It's true he has seemed rather what he
calls off colour lately.'
'He suffers,' said Madame Frabelle, as if announcing a great discovery,'
he suffers from Nerves.'
'I know he does, my dear. Who should know it better than I do? But--do
you think he is worse lately?'
'I do. He is terribly depressed. He says things to me sometimes
that--well, that really quite alarm me.'
'I'm sorry. But you mustn't take Bruce too seriously, you know that.'
'Indeed I don't take him too seriously! And I've done my best either to
change the subject or to make him see the silver lining to every cloud,'
Madame Frabelle answered solemnly, with a shake of her head.
'I think what Bruce complains of is the want of a silver lining to his
purse,' Edith said.
'You are jesting, Edith dear.'
'No, I'm not. He worries about money.'
'But only incidentally,' said Madame Frabelle. 'Bruce is really worried
about the war.'
'Naturally. But surely--I suppose we all are.'
'But Mr. Ottley takes it particularly to heart,' said Madame Frabelle,
with a kind of touching dignity.
Edith looked at her in a little surprise. Why did she suddenly call
Bruce 'your husband' or 'Mr. Ottley'?
'Why this distant manner, Eglantine?' said Edith, half laughing. 'I
thought you always called him Bruce.'
'I beg your pardon; yes, I forgot. Well, don't you see, Edith dear, that
what we might call his depression, his melancholy point of view, is--is
growing worse and worse?'
Edith got up, walked to the other end of the room, rearranged some
violets in a copper vase and came back to the sofa again. Madame
Frabelle followed her with her eyes. Then Edith said, picking up
'Take care, dear, you're losing your wool. Yes; perhaps he is worse. He
might be better if he occupied his mind more.'
'He works at the Foreign Office from ten till four every day,' said
Madame Frabelle in a tone of defence; 'he looks in at his club, where
they talk over the news of the war, and then he comes home and we
discuss it again.... Really, Edith, I scarcely see how much more he
'Oh, my dear, but don't you see all the time he doesn't do
anything?--anything about the war, I mean. Now both you and I do our
little best to help, in one way or another. You especially, I'm sure, do
a tremendous lot; but what does Bruce do? Nothing, except talk.'
'That's just it, Edith. I doubt if your husband is in a fit state of
health to strain his mind by any more work than he does already. He's
not strong, dear; remember that.'
'Of course, I know; if he were all right he wouldn't be here,' said
Edith.' I suppose he really does suffer a great deal.'
'What was it again that prevented him joining?' asked Madame Frabelle,
with sympathetic tenderness.
'Neurotic heart,' answered Edith. Though she tried her very utmost she
could not help the tone of her voice sounding a little dry and ironical.
Of course, she did not in the least believe in Bruce's neurotic heart,
but she did not want Madame Frabelle to know that.
'Ah! ah! that must cause him a great deal of pain, but I think so far
his worst symptoms are his nervous fears. Look at last night,' continued
Madame Frabelle, and now she put down her knitting and folded it into
her work-basket.' Last night, because there was no moon, and it wasn't
raining, and fairly clear, Mr Ott--Bruce had absolutely made up his mind
there would be a Zeppelin raid. It was his own idea.'
'Not quite, dear. Young Coniston, who is a special constable, rang up
and told him that there was a chance of the Zeppelins last night.'
'Well, perhaps so. At any rate he believed it. Well, instead of being
satisfied when I told him that I had got out my mask, that I saw to the
bath being left half-filled with water, helped your husband to put two
large bags of sand outside his dressing-room--in spite of all that, do
you know what happened in the middle of the night?'
'I'm afraid I don't,' said Edith. 'Since Archie went back to school I
have had Dilly in my room, and we both slept soundly all night.'
'Did you? I fancied I saw a light in your room.'
This was quite true. Edith was writing a very long letter.
'Well, at three o'clock in the morning, fancy my surprise to hear a
knock at my door!'
'I wonder I didn't hear a knock at mine,' said Edith.
'Your husband was afraid to disturb the little girl. Most considerate, I
thought. Well, he knocked at my door and said that he was unable to
sleep, that he felt terribly miserable and melancholy, in fact was
wretched, and that he felt on the point of cutting his throat.... Don't
be frightened, dear. I don't mean that he really _meant_ it,' said
Madame Frabelle, putting her hand on Edith's.
'Poor fellow! But what a shame to disturb you.'
'I didn't mind in the least. I was only too pleased. Well, what do you
think I did? I got up and dressed, went down to the library and lighted
the fire, and sat up for half-an-hour with your husband trying to
cheer him up!'
'Did you really?' Edith smiled. 'It was very sweet of you, Eglantine.'
'Not at all; I was only too glad. I made a cup of tea, Bruce had a
whisky and soda, we had a nice talk, and I sent him back quite cheerful.
Still, it just shows, doesn't it, how terribly he takes it all?'
'Rather hard on you, Eglantine; quite improper too,' laughed Edith as
she rang the bell.
Madame Frabelle ignored this remark.
'If I could only feel at all that I've done a little good during my stay
here, I shall be quite satisfied.'
'Oh! but you mustn't dream yet of--' began Edith.
There was a ring at the bell.
'Why, here is Bruce, just in time for tea.'
Edith went to meet him in the hall. Although he came in with his key, he
invariably rang the bell, so that the maid could take his coat
'Hallo, Edith,' he said, in a rather sober tone. 'How are you? And where
is Madame Frabelle?'
Bruce came in with a rather weary air, and sat down by the fire. Madame
Frabelle was presiding at the tea-table.
'How are you feeling, Bruce?' Edith asked.
'Oh, pretty rotten. I had a very bad night. How are you, Madame
'Oh, very well. Tea?'
'Poor Bruce!' said Edith kindly. 'Oh, and poor Madame Frabelle,' she
added, with a smile.
Bruce gave Madame Frabelle a slightly reproachful look as he took a cup
of tea from her.
'I've been telling Edith,' said that lady in a quiet, dignified way.
'About last night,' said Madame Frabelle, passing Bruce the buttered
toast without looking at him, as if avoiding his glance.
'I'm really very much ashamed of it,' said Bruce. 'You can't think how
kind she was to me, Edith.'
'I'm sure she was,' said Edith.
'Oh, you won't have a bad night like that again,' said Madame Frabelle
'I'm sure I hope not.' He gave a dark, despairing look, and sighed.
'Upon my word, if it hadn't been for her I don't know what I would have
done.' He shook his head and stroked his back hair.
Suddenly Edith felt intensely bored. Madame Frabelle and Bruce were
looking at each other with such intense sympathy, and she knew they
would repeat in different words what they had said already. They were so
certain to go over the same ground again and again!... Edith felt she
was not wanted. But that didn't annoy her. She was merely thinking of an
excuse to get away from them.
'By the way, how's Aylmer, Edith?' asked Bruce.
'Getting on well. I believe he's been ordered out of town.'
'To the seaside? For God's sake don't let him go to the east coast!'
'The east coast is quite as safe as any other part of England, _I_
think.' said Madame Frabelle.
'Oh, he'll take his chance,' Edith replied.
'I expect he'll miss _you_, my dear,' said Bruce. 'You've been so jolly
good to him lately.'
'Naturally,' said Madame Frabelle, a little quickly, very smoothly, and
with what Edith thought unnecessary tact. 'Naturally. Anyone so
kind-hearted as Edith would be sure to try and cheer up the convalescence
of a wounded friend. Have a _foie-gras_ sandwich, Edith?'
Edith felt an almost irresistible desire to laugh at something in the
hospitable, almost patronising tone of her guest.
'Oh, Edith likes going to see him,' said Bruce to Madame Frabelle. 'So
do I, if it comes to that. We're all fond of old Aylmer, you know.'
'I know. I quite understand. You're great friends. Personally, I think
Mr Ross has behaved splendidly.' Madame Frabelle said this with an air
of self-control and scrupulous justice.
'You don't care very much about him, I fancy,' said Bruce with the air
of having made a subtle discovery.
She raised one eyebrow slightly. 'I won't say that. I see very excellent
points in him. I admit there's a certain coldness, a certain hard
reserve about his character that--Well, frankly, it doesn't appeal to
me. But I hope I am fair to him. He's a man I respect.... Yes, I
'But he doesn't amuse you--what?' said Bruce.
'The fact is, he has no sense of humour,' said Madame Frabelle.
'Fancy your finding that out now!' said Bruce, with a broad smile.
'Funny! Ha ha! Very funny! Do you know, it never occurred to me! But now
I come to think of it--yes, perhaps that's what's the matter with him.
Mind you, I call him a jolly, cheery sort of chap. Quite an optimist--a
distinct optimist. You never find Aylmer depressed.'
'No, not depressed. It isn't that. But he hasn't got--You won't either
of you be angry with me for what I say, will you?'
'Oh no, indeed.'
'You won't be cross with me, Edith? Perhaps I ought not to say it.'
'Yes, do tell us,' urged Edith.
'Well, what I consider is the defect in Aylmer Ross is that he has
brains, but no temperament.'
'Excellent!' cried Bruce. 'Perfectly true. Temperament! That's what he
Edith remembered hearing that phrase used in her presence to Madame
Frabelle--not about Aylmer, but about someone else. It was very
characteristic of Madame Frabelle to catch up an idea or a phrase,
misapply it, and then firmly regard it as her own.
Bruce shook his head. 'Brains, but no temperament! Excellent!'
'Mind you, that doesn't prevent him being an excellent soldier,' went on
'Oh dear, no. He's done jolly well,' said Bruce. 'I think I know what
she means--don't you, Edith?'
'I'm sure _she_ does,' said Edith, who had her doubts. 'I don't know
that I do quite know what people mean when they say other people haven't
got temperament. The question is--what _is_ temperament?'
'Oh, my dear, it's a sort of--a something--an atmosphere--a sympathy.
What I might call the magnetism of personality!'
'That's right!' said Bruce, passing his cup for another cup of tea.
'Aylmer's hard, hard as nails.'
'Hasn't he got the name of being rather warm-hearted and impulsive,
though?' suggested Edith.
'Oh, he's good-natured enough,' said Bruce. 'Very generous. I've known
him to do ever so many kind things and never let a soul except the
fellow he'd helped know anything about it.'
'You don't understand me,' said Madame Frabelle. 'I don't doubt that for
a moment. He's a generous man, because he has a sense of duty and of the
claims of others. But he has the effect on me--'
'Go on, Eglantine.'
'Frankly, he chills me,' said Madame Frabelle. 'When I went to see him
with Edith, I felt more tired after a quarter of an hour's talk with him
than I would--' She glanced at Bruce.
'Than you would after hours with Landi, or Bruce, or Byrne Fraser, or
young Coniston,' suggested Edith.
'That's what I mean. He's difficult to talk to.'
'I have no doubt you're right,' said Edith.
'Well, she generally is,' said Bruce. 'The only thing is she's so
infernally deep sometimes, she sees things in people that nobody else
would suspect. Oh, you do, you know!'
'Oh, do I?' said Madame Frabelle modestly.
'Yes, I think you do,' said Edith, who by this time felt inclined to
throw the tea-tray at her guest. The last fortnight Edith's nerves had
certainly not been quite calm. Formerly she would have been amused at
the stupidity of the conversation. Now she felt irritated, bored and
worried, except when she was with Aylmer.
There was a moment's silence. Bruce leant back and half shut his eyes.
Madame Frabelle softly put a cushion behind his shoulder, putting a
finger on her lip as she looked at Edith.
Edith suddenly got up.
'You won't think it horrid of me, Bruce? I've got to go out for a few
'Oh no, no, no!' said Bruce. 'Certainly not. Do go, my dear girl. You'll
be back to dinner?'
'Dinner? Of course. It isn't a quarter to six.'
Her eyes were bright. She looked full of elasticity and spirit again.
'I quite forgot,' she said, 'something that I promised to do for Mrs
Mitchell. And she'll be disappointed if I don't.'
'I know what it is,' said Madame Frabelle archly. 'It's about that
Society for the Belgians,'--she lowered her voice--'I mean the
'That's it,' said Edith gratefully. 'Well, I'll fly--and be back as soon
as I can.'
Bruce got up and opened the door for her.
'For heaven's sake don't treat me with ceremony, my dear Edith,' said
She made a little sign, as much as to say that she would look after
Bruce. But she was not very successful in expressing anything by a look
or a gesture. Edith had no idea what she meant. However, she nodded in
return, as if she fully comprehended, and then ran up to her room, put
on her hat, and, too impatient to wait while the servant called a cab,
walked as quickly as possible until she met one near the top of Sloane
Street. It was already very dark.
'Twenty-seven Jermyn Street,' said Edith as she jumped in.
* * * * *
Ten minutes later she was sitting next to Aylmer.
'Only for a second; I felt I must see you.'
'Fool! Angel!' said Aylmer, beaming, and kissing her hand.
'Bruce is too irritating for words today. And Madame Frabelle makes me
sick. I can't stand her. At least today.'
'Oh, Edith, don't tell me you're jealous of the woman! I won't stand it!
I shan't play.'
'Good heavens, no! Not in the least. But her society's so tedious at
times. She has such a pompous way of discovering the obvious.'
'I do believe you object to her being in love with Bruce,' said Aylmer
reproachfully. 'That's a thing I will _not_ stand.'
'Indeed I don't. Besides, she's not. Who could be?... And don't be
jealous of Bruce, Aylmer.... I know she's very motherly to him, and
kind. But she's the same to everyone.'
They talked on for a few minutes. Then Edith said:
'Good-bye. I must go.'
'Good-bye,' said Aylmer.
'Oh! Are you going to let me go already?' she asked reproachfully.
She leant over him. Some impulse seemed to draw her near to him.
'You're using that Omar Khayyám scent again,' he said. 'I wish you
'Why? you said you liked it.'
'I do like it. I like it too much.'
She came nearer. Aylmer gently pushed her away.
'How unkind you are!' she said, colouring a little with hurt feeling.
'I can't do that sort of thing,' said Aylmer in a low voice. 'When once
you've given me your promise--but not before.'
'I won't rush you. You'll see I'm right in time, dear girl.'
'You don't love me!' suddenly exclaimed Edith.
'But that's where you're wrong. I do love you. And I wish you'd go.'
She looked into his eyes, and then said, looking away:
'Are you really going out of town?'
'I'm ordered to. But I doubt if I can stand it.'
'Well, good-bye, Aylmer dear.'
'Fiend! Are you going already? Cruel girl!'
'Why you've just sent me away!'
'I can stand talking to you, Edith. Talking, for hours. But I can't
stand your being within a yard of me.'
'Thank you so much,' she said, laughing, and arranging her hat in front
of the mirror.
He spoke in a lower voice:
'How often must I tell you? You know perfectly well.'
'I'm not that sort of man.'
After a moment's pause he said:
'I can't kiss people.'
'I'm very glad you can't. I have no wish for you to kiss _people_.'
'I can't kiss. I don't know how anyone can. I can't do those things.'
She pretended not to hear, looked round the room, took up a book and
'Will you lend me this, Aylmer?'
'No, I'll give it you.'
'Good-bye, darling,' said Aylmer, ringing the bell.
The butler called her a cab, and she drove to Mrs Mitchell's.
When she got to the door she left a message with the footman to say she
hadn't been able to see about that matter for Mrs Mitchell yet, but
would do it tomorrow.
Just as she was speaking Mr Mitchell came up to the door.
'Hallo, hallo, hallo!' he cried in his cheery, booming voice.
'Hallo, Edith! How's Bruce?'
'Why, you ought to know. He's been with you today,' said Edith.
'He seems a bit off colour at the Foreign Office. Won't you all three
come and dine with us tomorrow? No party. I'm going to ring up and get
Aylmer. It won't hurt him to dine quietly with us.'
'We shall be delighted,' said Edith.
Mr Mitchell didn't like to see her go, but as he was longing to tell his
wife a hundred things that interested them both, he waved his hand to
'Good-bye. The war will be over in six months. Mark my words! And then
won't we have a good time!'
'Dear Mr Mitchell!' said Edith to herself as she drove back home in the
Landi was growing rather anxious about his favourite, for it was quite
obvious to him that she was daily becoming more and more under the
spell. Curious that the first time she should have found the courage to
refuse, and that now, after three years' absence and with nothing to
complain of particularly on the subject of her husband, she should now
be so carried away by this love.
She had developed, no doubt. She was touched also, deeply moved at the
long fidelity Aylmer had shown. He was now no longer an impulsive
admirer, but a devotee. Even that, however, would not have induced her
to think of making such a break in her life if it hadn't been for the
war. Yes, Sir Tito put it all down to the war. It had an exciting,
thrilling effect on people. It made them reckless. When a woman knows
that the man she loves has risked his life, and is only too anxious to
risk it again--well, it's natural that she should feel she is also
willing to risk something. Valour has always been rewarded by beauty.
And then her great sense of responsibility, her conscientiousness about
Bruce--no wonder that had been undermined by his own weak conduct. How
could Edith help feeling a slight contempt for a husband who not only
wouldn't take any chances while he was still within the age, but
positively imagined himself ill. True, Bruce had always been a _malade
imaginaire_; like many others with the same weakness, his
valetudinarianism had been terribly increased by the anxiety and worry
of the war. But there was not much sympathy about for it just now. While
so much real suffering was going on, imaginary ills were ignored,
despised or forgotten.
Bruce hated the war; but he didn't hate it for the sake of other people
so much as for his own. The interest that the world took in it
positively bored him--absurd as it seems to say so, Edith was convinced
that he was positively jealous of the general interest in it! He had
great fear of losing his money, a great terror of Zeppelins; he gave way
to his nerves instead of trying to control them. Edith knew his greatest
wish would have been, had it been possible, to get right away from
everything and go and live in Spain or America, or somewhere where he
could hear no more about the war. Such a point of view might be
understood in the case, say, of a great poet, a great artist, a man of
genius, without any feeling of patriotism, or even a man beyond the age;
but Bruce--he was the most ordinary and average of human beings, the
most commonplace Englishman of thirty-seven who had ever been born; that
Bruce should feel like that did seem to Edith a little--contemptible;
yet she was sorry for him, she knew he really suffered from insomnia and
nerves, though he looked a fine man and had always been regarded as a
fair sportsman. He had been fair at football and cricket, and could row
a bit, and was an enthusiastic golfist; still, Edith knew he would never
have made a soldier. Bruce wanted to be wrapped up in cotton wool,
petted, humoured, looked up to and generally spoilt.
* * * * *
But what Sir Tito felt most was the thought of his favourite, who had
forgiven her husband that escapade three years ago, now appearing in an
unfavourable light. She had been absolutely faithful to Bruce in every
way, under many temptations, and he knew she was still absolutely
faithful. Aylmer and Edith were neither of them the people for secret
meetings, for deception. It was not in her to _tromper_ her husband
while pretending to be a devoted wife, and it was equally unlike Aylmer
to be a false friend.
Landi was too much of a man of the world to have been particularly
shocked, even if he had known they had both deceived Bruce. Privately,
for Edith's own sake he almost wished they had. He hated scandal to
touch her; he thought she would feel it more than she supposed. But,
after all, he reflected, had they begun in that way it would have been
sure to end in an elopement, with a man of Aylmer's spirit and
determination. Aylmer, besides, was far too exclusive in his affections,
far too jealous, ever to be able to endure to see Edith under Bruce's
thumb, ordered about, trying to please him; and indeed Landi was most
anxious that they should not be alone too much, in case, now that Edith
cared for him so much, his feelings would carry him away.... Yes, if it
once went too far the elopement was a certainty.
Would the world blame her so very much? That Bruce would let her take
the children Landi had no doubt. He would never stand the bother of
them; he wouldn't desire the responsibility; his pride might be a little
hurt, but on the whole Sir Tito shrewdly suspected, as did Edith
herself, that there would be a certain feeling of relief. Bruce had
become such an egotist that, though he would miss Edith's devotion, he
wouldn't grudge her the care of the children. Aylmer had pledged her his
faith, his whole future; undoubtedly he would marry her and take the
children as his own; still, Edith would bear the brunt before the world.
This Sir Tito did not fancy at all, and instinctively he began to watch
Bruce. He felt very doubtful of him. The man who had flirted with the
governess, who had eloped with the art student--was it at all likely
that he was utterly faithful to Edith now? It was most unlikely. And
Edith's old friend hoped that things would be adjusted in fairness
He knew she would be happy with Aylmer. Why should she not at
thirty-five begin a new life with the man she really cared for--a
splendid fellow, a man with a fine character, with all his faults, who
felt the claims of others, who had brains, pluck, and a sense of honour?
But Aylmer was going out again to the front. Until he returned again,
nothing should be done. They should be patient.
Dulcie had now been settled down with Lady Conroy for about a week. She
found her luxurious life at Carlton House Terrace far more congenial
than she had expected. Her own orderly ways were obviously a great
comfort to her employer, and though Lady Conroy turned everything to
chaos as soon as Dulcie had put it straight, still she certainly had a
good effect on things in general. She had a charming sitting-room to
herself, and though she sometimes sighed for the little Chippendale room
with the chintzes, at Jermyn Street, she was on the whole very
contented. Lady Conroy was a delightful companion. She seldom pressed
Dulcie to come down to meals when there were guests. Occasionally she
did so, but so far the only person Dulcie had met more than once was
Valdez, the handsome composer, who was trying so hard, with the help of
Lady Conroy and his War Emergency Concerts, to assist such poor
musicians as were suffering from the war, and at the same time to assert
the value of British music.
Dulcie had been immensely struck by the commanding appearance and manner
of Valdez, known everywhere as a singer, a writer of operas and a
favourite of foreign royalties.
Landi she had often met at Aylmer's, but, privately, she was far more
impressed by Valdez; first, he was English, though, like herself, of
Spanish descent, and then he had none of the _méchanceté_ and teasing
wit that made her uncomfortable with Landi. He treated her with
particularly marked courtesy, and he admired her voice, for Lady Conroy
had good-naturedly insisted on her singing to him. He had even offered,
when he had more time, to give her a few lessons. Lady Conroy told her a
hundred interesting stories about him and Dulcie found a tinge of
romance about him that helped to give piquancy to her present life.
* * * * *
Dulcie was very much afraid of Lord Conroy, though he didn't appear to
notice her. In his own way he was as absent-minded as his wife, to whom
he was devoted, but whose existence was entirely independent of his.
Lord Conroy had his own library, his own secretary, his own suite of
rooms, his own motor, he didn't even tell his wife when he intended to
dine out, and if he occasionally spoke to her of the strained political
situation which now absorbed him, it certainly wasn't when Dulcie was
there. With his grey beard and dark, eyebrows, and absent, distinguished
manner, he was exactly what Dulcie would have dreamed of as an ideal
Cabinet Minister. He evidently regarded his wife, despite her
thirty-eight years and plumpness, almost as a child, giving her complete
freedom to pursue her own devices, admiring her appearance, and smiling
at her lively and inconsequent conversation; he didn't seem to take her
seriously. Dulcie was particularly struck by the fact that they each had
their own completely distinct circle of friends, and except when they
gave a party or a large dinner these friends hardly met, and certainly
As everyone in the house had breakfasts independently, and as Dulcie
didn't even dine downstairs unless Lady Conroy was alone, she saw very
little of the man whom she knew to be a political celebrity, and whose
name was on almost everybody's lips just now. She heard from his wife
that he was worried and anxious, and hoped the war wouldn't last
There were no less than seven children, from the age of twelve
downwards. Two of these lived in the schoolroom with the governess, one
boy was at school, and the rest lived in the nursery with the nurse. One
might say there were five different sets of people living different
lives in different rooms, in this enormous house. Sometimes Dulcie
thought it was hardly quite her idea of home life, a thing Lady Conroy
talked of continually with great sentiment and enthusiasm, but it was
pleasant enough. Since she was here to remember engagements and dates
everything seemed to go on wheels.
One day, feeling very contented and in good spirits, she had gone to see
her father with an impulse to tell him how well she was getting on.
Directly the door was opened by the untidy servant Dulcie felt that
something had happened, that some blow had fallen. Everything looked
different. She found her father in his den surrounded by papers, his
appearance and manner so altered that the first thing she said was:
'Oh, papa! what's the matter?'
Her father looked up. At his expression she flew to him and threw her
arms round him. Then, of course, he broke down. Strange that with all
women and most men it is only genuine sympathy that makes them give way.
With a cool man of the world, or with a hard, cold, heartless daughter
who had reproached him, Mr Clay would have been as casual as an
At her sweetness he lost his self-control, and then he told her
* * * * *
It was a short, commonplace, second-rate story, quite trivial and
middle-class, and _how_ tragic! He had gambled, played cards, lost, then
fallen back on the resource of the ill-judged and independent-minded--gone
to the professional lenders. Mr Clay was not the sort of man who would
ever become a sponge, a nuisance to friends. He was far too proud, and
though he had often helped other people, he had never yet asked for help.
In a word, the poor little house was practically in ruins, or rather, as
he explained frankly enough (giving all details), unless he could get
eighty pounds by the next morning his furniture would be sold and he and
his wife would be turned out. Mr Clay had a great horror of a smash. He
was imprudent, even reckless, but had the sense of honour that would cause
him to suffer acutely, as Dulcie knew. Of course she offered to help;
surely since she had three hundred a year of her own she could do
something, and he had about the same....The father explained that he had
already sold his income in advance. And her own legacy had been left so
that she was barred from anticipation. Dulcie, who was practical enough,
saw that her own tiny income was absolutely all that the three would have
to live on until her father got something else, and that bankruptcy was
inevitable unless she could get him eighty pounds in a day.
'It's so little,' he said pathetically, 'and just to think that if Blue
Boy hadn't been scratched I should have been bound to--Well, well, I
know. I'm not going to bet any more.'
She made him promise to buck up, she would consult her friends.... Lady
Conroy would perhaps be angelic and advance her her salary. (Of course
she loathed the idea when she had been there only a week of being a
nuisance and--But she must try.) It was worth anything to see her father
brighten up. He told her to go and see her stepmother.
Mrs. Clay received her with the tenderest expressions and poured out her
despairs and her troubles; she also confided in Dulcie that she had some
debts that her husband knew nothing of and must _never_ know. If only
Dulcie could manage to get her thirty pounds--surely it would be easy
enough with all her rich friends!--it would save her life. Dulcie
promised to try, but begged her not to bother so much about dress
'Of course I won't, darling! You're a pet and an angel. _Darling_
Dulcie! The truth is I adore your father. And he always told me that he
fell in love with me because I looked so smart! I was so terrified of
losing his affection by getting dowdy, don't you see? Besides, he
doesn't take the slightest notice what I wear, he never knows what I've
got on! Always betting or absorbed in the Racing Intelligence; it's
Dulcie promised anything, at least to do her best, if only Mrs Clay
would be kind, sweet to her father.
'Don't scold him, don't reproach him,' she begged. 'I'm sure he'll be
terribly ill unless you're very patient and sweet to him. And I promise
he shall never know about your debts.'
Mrs Clay looked at her in wonder and gratitude. The real reason Dulcie
took on herself the wife's separate troubles and resolved to keep them
from her father was that she felt sure that if he reproached his wife
she would retort and then there would be a miserable state of feud in
the house, where at least there had been peace and affection till now.
Dulcie couldn't endure the idea of her father being made unhappy, and
she thought that by making her stepmother under an obligation to her,
she would have a sort of hold or influence and could make her behave
well and kindly to her husband. Dulcie hadn't the slightest idea how she
was going to do it, but she would.
She never even thought twice about giving up her income to her father.
She was only too delighted to be able to do it. And she believed that
his pride and sense of honour might really even make him stop gambling.
And then there was some chance of happiness for the couple again.
* * * * *
Dulcie had really undertaken more of a sacrifice for her stepmother,
whom she rather disliked, than for her father, whom she adored, but it
was for his sake. She left them cheered, grateful, and relying on her.
* * * * *
When she got home to her charming room at Carlton House Terrace she sat
down, put her head in her hands and began to think. She had undertaken
to get a hundred and ten pounds in two days.
How was she to do it? Of course she knew that Aylmer Ross would be able
and willing, indeed enchanted, to come to the rescue. He was always
telling her that she had saved his life.
She would like to get his sympathy and interest, to remind him of her
But she was far too much in love with him still to endure the thought of
a request for money--that cold douche on friendship! She would rather go
to anyone in the world than Aylmer.
What about Edith Ottley? Edith had been kindness itself to her; it was
entirely through Edith that she had this position as secretary and
companion at a salary of a hundred a year which now would mean so
much to her.
She admired Edith more than any woman she knew; she thought her lovely,
elegant, clever, fascinating and kindness itself. Yet she would dislike
to ask Edith even more than Aylmer. The reason was obvious. Edith was
her rival. Of course it was not her fault. She had not taken Aylmer away
from her, she was his old friend, but the fact remained that her idol
was in love with Edith. And Dulcie was so constituted that she could ask
neither of them a favour to save her life.
Lady Conroy then.... But how awkward, how disagreeable, how painful to
her pride when she had been there only a week and Lady Conroy treated
her almost like a sister!... There was a knock at the door.
'Come in!' said Dulcie, surprised. No-one ever came to her little
sitting-room at this hour, about half-past five. Who could it be? To her
utter astonishment and confusion the servant announced Mr Valdez.
* * * * *
Dulcie was sitting on the sofa, still in her hat and coat, her eyes red
with crying, for she had utterly given way when she got home. She was
amazed and confused at seeing the composer, who came calmly in, holding
a piece of music in his hand.
'Good morning, Miss Clay. Please forgive me. I hope I'm not troubling
you? They told me Lady Conroy was out but that you were at home and up
here; and I hoped--' He glanced at the highly decorated little piano.
This room had been known as the music-room before it was given
'Oh, not at all,' she said in confusion, looking up and regretting her
crimson and swollen eyes and generally unprepared appearance.
He immediately came close to her, sat down on a chair opposite her sofa,
leant forward and said abruptly, in a tone of warm sympathy:
'You are distressed. What is it, my child? I came up to ask you to play
over this song. But I shall certainly not go now till you've told me
what's the matter.'
'Oh, I can't,' said Dulcie, breaking down.
'You can. You shall. I'm sure I can help you. Go on.'
Whether it was his personality which always had a magnetism for her, or
the reaction of the shock she had had, Dulcie actually told him every
word, wondering at herself. He listened, and then said cooly:
'My dear child, you're making a mountain out of a molehill. People
mustn't worry about trifles. Just before the war I won a lot of money at
Monte Carlo. I simply don't know what to do with it. Stop!' he said, as
she began to speak. 'You want a hundred and ten pounds. You shall have
it in half-an-hour. I shall go straight back to Claridge's in a taxi,
write a cheque, get it changed--for you won't know what to do with a
cheque, or at any rate it would give you more trouble--and send you the
money straight back by my servant or my secretary in a taxi.' He stood
up. 'Not another word, my dear Miss Clay. Don't attach so much
importance to money. It would be a bore for you to have to bother Lady
Conroy. I understand. Don't imagine you're under any obligation; you can
pay it me back just whenever you like and I shall give it to the War
Emergency Concerts.... Now, _please_, don't be grateful. Aren't
'You're too kind,' she answered.
He hurried to the door.
'When my secretary comes back she will ask to see you. If anyone knows
you have a visitor say I sent you the music or tickets for the concert.
Good-bye. Cheer up now!'
In an hour from the time Valdez had come in to see her, father and
stepmother had each received the money. The situation was saved.
* * * * *
Dulcie marvelled at the action and the manner in which it was done. But
none who knew Valdez well would have been in the least surprised. He was
the most generous of men, and particularly he could not bear to see a
pretty girl in sincere distress through no fault of her own. It was
Dulcie's simple sincerity that pleased him. He came across very little
of it in his own world. That world was brilliant, distinguished,
sometimes artistic, sometimes merely _mondain_. But it was seldom
sincere. He liked that quality best of all. He certainly was gifted with
* * * * *
From this time, though Valdez still encouraged Dulcie to sing and
occasionally accompanied her, the slight tinge of flirtation vanished
from his manner. She felt he was only a friend. Did she ever regret it?
Perhaps, a little.
'Bruce, said Edith, 'I've just had a letter from Aylmer, from
'Oh yes,' said Bruce. 'Got him off to the seaside at last, did they?'
It was a Sunday afternoon. Bruce was sitting in a melancholy attitude on
a sofa in Edith's boudoir; he held _The Weekly Dispatch_ in his hand,
and was shaking his head over a pessimistic article when his wife
Bruce was always depressed now, and if he felt a little more cheerful
for a moment he seemed to try and conceal it. No doubt his melancholy
was real enough, but it was also partly a pose and a profession. Having
undertaken to be depressed, he seemed to think it wrong to show a gleam
of brightness. Besides, on Sundays Madame Frabelle usually listened to
him; and this afternoon she had gone, unaccompanied, to hear the Rev.
Byrne Fraser preach. Bruce felt injured.
He had grown to feel quite lost without her.
'He's very dull there,' said Edith.
'I dare say he is,' he answered. 'I'm sure _I_ should feel half inclined
to cut my throat if I were alone, with a game leg, at a place like that.
Besides, they've had the Zepps there already once. Just the place for
them to come again.'
'He's very bored. But he's much better, and he's going back to the front
in a fortnight.'
'In a fortnight! Good heavens! Pretty sharp work.'
'It is, indeed. He's counting the hours till he can get off.'
Bruce, sighing, lighted his cigarette.
'I wondered if you'd mind, Bruce, if I went down for the day to see
'Mind! Oh _dear_, no! Of course, go. I think it's your duty, poor old
chap. I wondered you didn't run down for the weekend.'
'I didn't like to do that,' she said.
'Why on earth not?' said Bruce. 'Hard luck for a poor chap with no-one
to speak to. Going back again; so soon too.'
'Well, if you don't mind I _might_ go down tomorrow for a couple of
days, and take Dilly.'
'Do,' said Bruce eagerly; 'do the kid good.'
Edith looked at him closely.
'Wouldn't you miss her, now that Archie's at school too? Wouldn't the
house seem very quiet?'
'Not a bit!' exclaimed Bruce with emphatic sincerity. 'Not the least bit
in the world! At least, of course, the house _would_ seem quiet, but
that's just what I like. I _long_ for quiet--yearn for it. You don't
half understand my condition of health, Edith. The quieter I am, the
less worried, the better. Of course, take Dilly. _Rather_! I'd _like_
you to go!'
'All right. I'll go tomorrow morning till Tuesday or Wednesday. But
wouldn't it seem the least bit rude to Madame Frabelle? She talks of
going away soon, you know.'
'Oh, she won't mind,' said Bruce decidedly. 'I shouldn't bother about
her. We never treat her with ceremony.'
* * * * *
When, a little bit later, Madame Frabelle came in (with a slight perfume
of incense about her, and very full of a splendidly depressing sermon
she had heard), she heartily agreed with Bruce. They both persuaded
Edith to run down on the Monday and stay till Wednesday evening
'Perhaps we shall never meet again,' said Bruce pleasantly, as Edith,
Dilly and the nurse were starting; 'either the Zeppelins may come while
you're away, or they may set your hotel at Eastcliff on fire. Just the
place for them.'
'Well, if you want me you've only to telephone, and I can be back in a
little more than an hour.'
Madame Frabelle accompanied Edith to the station. She said to her on the
'Do you know, Edith, I'm half expecting a telegram which may take me
away. I have a relative who is anxious for me to go and stay with her,
an aunt. But even if I did go, perhaps you'd let me come back to
Edith assented. Somehow she did not much believe either in the telegram
nor the relative. She thought that her friend talked like that so as to
give the impression that she was not a fixture; that she was much sought
after and had many friends, one or two of whom might insist on her
leaving the Ottleys soon.
Aylmer was at the little Eastcliff station to meet them. Except that he
walked with the help of a stick, he seemed well, and having put Dilly,
the nurse and the luggage in a cab, he proposed to Edith to walk to
'This _was_ angelic of you, Edith. How jolly the child looks!--like a
'You didn't mind my bringing her?'
'Why, I'm devoted to her. But, you know, I hope it wasn't done for any
conventional reasons. Headley and I are in the Annexe, nearly
half-a-mile from you.'
'I know,' said Edith.
'And when you see the people here, my dear, nobody on earth that counts
or matters!--people whom you've never seen before and never will again.
But I've been counting the minutes till you came. It really isn't a bad
He took her down to a winding path covered in under trees, which led to
the sea by steps cut in the rock. They sat down on a bench. The sea air
was fresh and soothing.
'This is where I sit and read--and think about you. Well, Edith, are you
going to put me out of my suspense? How much longer am I to suffer? Let
me look at you.'
She looked up at him. He smiled at what he saw.
'It'll be rather jolly to have two days or so here all to ourselves,' he
said, 'but it will be far from jolly unless you give me that promise.'
'But doesn't the promise refer to after you come back again?' she said
in a low voice.
'I don't ask you to come away until I'm back again. But I want you to
promise before that you will.'
Nothing more was said on the subject at the time, but after dinner, when
Dilly had been put to bed, it was so warm that they could come out
again, and then she said:
'Aylmer, don't worry yourself any more. I mean to do it.'
He looked at her ecstatically.
'Oh, Edith! I'm too happy! Do you quite realise, dear, what it is?...
I've been waiting for you for four years. Ever since that night I met
you at the Mitchells'. Do you know that before the war, when I came into
that money, I was wild with rage. It seemed so wasted on me. I had no
use for it then. And when I first met you I used to long for it. I hated
being hard up.... The first time I had a gleam of hope was when they
told me I'd got over the operation all right. I couldn't believe my life
would be spared, for nothing. And now--you won't change your
Edith convinced him that she would not. They sat hand in hand, perhaps
as near perfect happiness as two human beings can be....
'We shall never be happier than we are now,' said Edith in a low voice.
'Oh, shan't we?' he said. 'Rubbish! Rot! What about our life when I come
back again?--every dream realised!'
'And yet your going to risk it,' said Edith.
'Naturally; that's nothing. I shall come back like a bad penny, don't
you worry. Edith, say you mean it, _again_.'
'Say I mean what?'
'Say you love me, you'll marry me. You and the children will belong to
me. You won't have any regrets? Swear you won't have any regrets
'I never will. You know, Aylmer, I am like that. Most women know what
they want till they've got it, and then they want something else! But
when I get what I want I don't regret it.'
'I know, my darling sensible angel!... Edith, to think this might have
happened three years ago!'
'But then I _would_ have had regrets.'
'You only thought so,' he answered. 'I should have made you forget them
very soon! Don't you feel, my dear, that we're made for each other?
I know it.'
'Aylmer, how shall I be able to bear your going out again? It will be
like a horrible nightmare. And perhaps all we've both gone through may
be for nothing!'
'No, now I've got your promise everything will be all right.... I feel I
shall come back all right.... Look here, darling, you need not be
unhappy with Bruce. We're not going to deceive him. And when I come
back, we'll tell him. Not till then. There is really no need.'
They walked together to the Annexe, which was entered by a small flight
of stone steps from the garden. Here Aylmer had a little suite of rooms.
Edith went into the sitting-room with him and looked round.
'It's ten o'clock and you're here for your health! Call Headley and go
to bed, there's a good boy.'
He held both her hands.
'I mustn't ask you to stay.'
'_Aylmer_! With Dilly here! And Bruce let me come down to look after
you! He was quite nice about it.'
'All right, dear, all right.... I know. No. I'm looking forward to when
I come back.... Go, dear, go.'
Edith walked very slowly down the steps again. He followed her back into
'And suppose--you didn't come back,' she said in a very low voice.
Aylmer glanced round: there was no-one in the garden.
'I'm on my honour here,' he said. 'Go, dear, go. Go in to Dilly.' He
gave her a little push.
'One kiss,' said Edith.
'Darling girl, I've told you before that's a thing I can't do. I really
oughtn't to be alone with you at all until we're quite free....'
'But I feel we're engaged,' said Edith simply. 'Is it wrong to kiss your
'Engaged? Of course we're engaged. Wrong? Of course it's not wrong! Only...
I _can't_! Haven't got the self-command.... I do believe you're made
of ice, Edith--I've often thought so.'
'Yes,' said Edith, 'I dare say you're right.'
'Nonsense! Good night, my darling--don't catch cold. And, Edith.'
'I'll meet you here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning.'
'Then you'd better go back in the afternoon. It won't do for you to stay
another night here. Oh, Edith, how happy we _shall_ be!'
He watched her as she walked across the garden and went into the hotel
at the front door. Then he went indoors.
* * * * *
The next day Edith, Dilly and the nurse went back to London early in the
Edith, during the short journey home, sat with a smile on her lips,
thinking of a little scene she had seen before leaving Eastcliff from
the hall, known as the lounge, of the hotel. She had watched Dilly,
beaming with joy, playing with a particularly large air-ball, bright
rose colour, that Aylmer had bought her from a well-known character of
the place, a very old woman, who made her living by the sale of these
old-fashioned balloons. Dilly was enchanted with it. She had said to
Aylmer when the old woman passed with a quantity of them. 'They look
like flowers; they ought to have a pretty scent,' which amused him
immensely. As she held it in her hand, pressing it with her tiny finger,
a tragedy happened. The air-ball burst. Edith could hardly help laughing
at seeing Dilly's expression. It was despair--gradual horror--shock, her
first disillusion! Then as tears were welling up in the large blue
eyes--she was saying: 'Oh, it's dead!'--Edith saw Aylmer snatch the
collapsed wreck from the child's hand and run as fast as he could (which
was not very fast, and only when leaning on a stick) after the old
woman.... He caught her as she turned the corner, brought back a pink
and a blue air-ball and gave them to Dilly, one for each hand. The child
beamed again, happier than at first, threw her arms round his neck and
kissed him. How touched and delighted Edith was! Would Bruce _ever_ have
done such a thing? Aylmer had so thoroughly appreciated the little drama
of joy, disillusion and consolation shown in the expression in Dilly's
lovely little face. Had anything been wanting to Edith's resolution this
small incident would have decided it.
* * * * *
When they arrived home, a day sooner than they were expected, the
servant told Edith at the door that Madame Frabelle had gone away.
'Gone without seeing me?'
'Yes, madam. A telegram came for her and she left last night. Here is a
letter for you, madam.'
Edith ran into the dining-room and tore it open.
'MY DEAREST EDITH (it said),
'To my great regret a wire I half expected came, and I was compelled to
leave before your return, to join my relative, who is ill. I can't tell
you how sorry I am not to say good-bye and thank you for your dear kind
hospitality. But I'll write again, a long letter. I hope also to see you
later. I will give you my address next time.
'May I say one word? I can't say half enough of my gratitude for your
kindness and friendship, but, apart from that, may I mention that I
fear your husband _is very unwell indeed_, his nerves are in a terrible
state, and I think his condition is more serious than you suppose. He
should be humoured in everything, not worried, and allowed to do
whatever he likes. Don't oppose any of his wishes, dear. I say this for
your and his own good. Don't be angry with him or anybody. Never think
me wanting in gratitude and friendship.
'Truly, I am still your affectionate friend,
What a strange letter. How like her to lay down the law about Bruce! It
irritated Edith a little, also it made the future seem harder.
About four o'clock Landi called unexpectedly. He always came just when
Edith wanted him most, and now she confided in him and told him of her
promise to Aylmer.
He approved of their resolution to wait till Aylmer returned from the
front and to have nothing on their conscience before. He was indeed much
relieved at the postponement.
'And how is the Spanish girl?' he asked. 'How does she get on with Lady
'Oh, all right. She's not Spanish at all. She had rather a blow last
week, poor girl. Her father nearly went bankrupt; she was quite in
despair. It seems your friend Valdez came to the rescue in the most
generous way, and she's immensely grateful.'
'He helped her, did he?' said Landi, smiling.
'He seems to have behaved most generously and charmingly. Do you think
he is in love with her, Landi?'
'Very likely he will be now.'
'And she--she adores Aylmer. Will she fall in love with Valdez out of
'C'est probable. C'est à espérer.... Enfin-mais toi, mon enfant?'
'And where is Madame Frabelle?' asked Landi.
Edith looked at the postmark.
'Apparently she's at Liverpool, of all places; but she may be going
somewhere else. I haven't got her address. She says she'll write.'
'C'est ça.... When does Aylmer return to the front?'
'He goes before the Board tomorrow and will know then.'
That evening, when Bruce came in, Edith was struck by his paleness and
depression; and she began to think Madame Frabelle was right; he must be
really ill. Then, if he was, could she, later, be so cruel as to leave
him? She was in doubt again....
'Very bad news in the evening papers,' he said.
'Is it so bad?'
'Edith,' said Bruce, rather solemnly, without listening, 'I want to
speak to you after dinner. I have something serious to say to you'.
Edith wondered. Could Bruce suspect anything? But apparently he didn't,
since he spoke in a very friendly way of Aylmer, saying that he hoped he
wouldn't stop away long....
The dinner passed in trivial conversation. She described Eastcliff, the
hotel, the people. Bruce appeared absent-minded. After dinner she went
to join him in the library, where he was smoking, and said:
'Well, Bruce, what is it you have to say to me?'
'Good heavens,' said Bruce, looking at his writing-desk, 'if I've spoken
of this once I've spoken of it forty times! The inkstand is too full!'
'Oh! I'm so dreadfully sorry,' said Edith, feeling the strangeness of
Bruce's want of sense of proportion. He had, as it seemed, to speak to
her about some important matter. Yet the inkstand being too full
attracted his attention, roused his anger! She remembered he had said
these very words the day he came back from his elopement with the
Edith looked round the room, while Bruce smoked. And so she had really
made up her mind! She _meant_ to leave him! Not that she intended to see
Aylmer again now, except once, perhaps, to say good-bye.
But still, she really intended to change her whole life when he returned
again. She felt rather conscience-stricken, but was glad when she looked
at Bruce that there had never been anything as yet but Platonic
affection between her and Aylmer, which she could have no cause to blush
for before Bruce. And how grateful she felt to Aylmer for his wonderful
self-control. Thanks to that, she could look Bruce in the face.... Bruce
'Edith,' he said with some agitation, 'I wish to tell you something.'
She saw he looked pale and nervous.
'What is it, Bruce?' she asked kindly.
'It's this,' he said in a somewhat pompous tone, 'I am in a very strange
condition of health. I find I can no longer endure to live in London; I
must get away from the war. The doctor says so. If I'm to keep sane, if
I'm not to commit suicide, I must give up this domestic life.' She
stared at him. 'Yes, I'm sorry, I've tried to endure it,' he went on. 'I
can't stand the responsibility, the anxiety of the children and
everything. I'm--I'm going away.'
She said nothing, looking at him in silence.
'Yes. I'm going to America. I've taken my passage. I'm going on
Friday.... I thought of leaving without telling you, but I decided it
was better to be open.'
'But, Bruce, do you mean for a trip?'
He stood up and looked at her full in the face.
'No, I don't mean for a trip. I want to live in America.'
'And you don't want me to come too?'
'No, Edith; I can't endure married life any longer. It doesn't suit me.
Three years ago I offered you your freedom and you refused to take it; I
offer it you again now. You are older, you are perfectly fit to manage
your life and the children's without me. I must be free--free to look
after my health and to get away from everything!'
'You mean to leave us altogether then?' said Edith, feeling unspeakably
'Exactly. That's just what I do mean.'
'But will you be happy--comfortable--alone in America?'
He walked across the room and came back.
'Edith, I'm sorry to pain you, but I shall not be alone.'
Edith started, thinking of Madame Frabelle's letter ... from Liverpool!
Evidently they were going away together.
'Of course I give up the Foreign Office and my salary there, but you
have some money of your own, Edith; it will be enough for you and the
children to live quietly. And perhaps I shall be able to afford to send
you part of my income that my father left me when I get something to do
over there,' he added rather lamely.
'You mean to get something to do?'
'Yes; when I'm strong enough. I'm very ill--very.'
There was a long pause, then Edith said kindly:
'Have you any fault to find with me, Bruce?'
'Edith, you are a perfect mother,' he said in a peculiar tone which
sounded to Edith like an echo of Madame Frabelle. 'I've no fault to find
with you either as a wife. But I'm not happy here. I'm miserable. I
implore you not to make a scene. Don't oppose me; forgive me--on account
of my health. This will save my life.'
If he only knew how little she wished to oppose him! She stood up.
'Bruce, you shall do exactly as you like!'
He looked enchanted, relieved.
'I hope you will be happy and well, and I shall try to be. May I just
ask--is Madame Frabelle going to America?'
'Edith, I will not deny it. We mean to throw in our lot together! Look
out! You'll have the inkstand over!' She had moved near the
Edith stopped herself from a hysterical laugh.
'You won't mind if I go down to the club for an hour?'
'And, Edith--say what you can to my mother, and comfort her. Tell her
it's to save my going off my head, or committing suicide. Will you
'I will,' she replied.
Five minutes later the door banged. Bruce had gone to the club. He
hadn't told her he had taken a room there, and the same evening he sent
up for his luggage. He did not wish to see Edith again.
Just before he went out, as if casually for an hour at the club, Edith
'Would you like to come and see Dilly asleep?'
It had occurred to her that at least he had been frank and honest, and
for that he deserved to see Dilly again.
'Edith, my nerves won't stand scenes. I'd better not. I won't see her.'
'Oh, very well!' she cried indignantly. 'I offered it for your sake. I
would rather you _didn't_ see her.'
'Try not to be angry, Edith. Perhaps--some day--'
'You would never let me come back again to see you all?'
'Oh! nothing. You needn't be so cross. Remember my health.'
'I do,' said Edith.
'Don't forget about that inkstand, will you? It's always filled just a
little too full. It's--it's very awkward.... Remember about it,
'Yes. Good night.'
And Bruce went to the club.
* * * * *
The next day Edith felt she could neither write nor telephone to Aylmer.
Just once--only once, for a long time--she must see him.
She confided in Landi, who invited them both to tea at his studio for
once only and was urgent in impressing patience on them.
* * * * *
When Edith arrived with this thrilling piece of news to announce she
found Aylmer alone in the pretty white studio. Landi was expected back
every moment from a lesson at a pupil's house.
* * * * *
Aylmer was beaming with Joy. 'Oh, my dear!' he cried, 'I'm not going
away at all! They won't have me! They've given me an appointment at the
'Oh, Aylmer! How wonderful! I know now--I couldn't have borne your going
He put his arm round her. Ah! this, she felt, was real love--it wrapped
her round, it lifted her off her feet.
'But now, Aylmer, we mustn't meet, for a long time.'
'But, why not? What is it? Something has happened!'
'Aylmer, I needn't keep my promise now.'
'What do you mean?'
'Aylmer, Bruce wants to leave me. He's going to leave me--to desert me.
And the children, too.'
'What! Do you mean--Do you mean--like before?'
'Yes. But this time he won't come back. And he wants me to divorce him.
And--this time--I shall!'
'Edith! And do you mean--will he want to marry again?'
'Yes, of course! And she'll take care of him--he'll be all right.'
'Oh, Edith!' exclaimed Aylmer. 'Thank heaven for Madame Frabelle!'