Part 2 out of 4
children; very sweet of you, I'm sure. What darling pets they must be!
Angels!--Angels! Oh, I'm so fond of children! But, particularly--isn't
it funny?--when they're not there, because I can't stand their noise.
Now my little grandchildren--my daughter Eva's been married ten
years--Lady Lindley, you know--hers are perfect pets and heavenly
angels, but I can't stand them for more than a few minutes at a time. I
have nerves, so much so, do you know (partly because I go in a good
deal for music and intellect and so on), so much so, that I very nearly
had a rest cure at the end of last season, and I should have had,
probably, but that new young French singer came over with a letter of
introduction to me, and of course I couldn't desert him, but had to do
my very best. Ever heard him sing? Yes, you would, of course. Oh, how
wonderful it is!'
Edith waited in vain for a pause to say she didn't know the name of the
singer. Lady Everard went on, leaning comfortably back in Aylmer's
'Willie Cricker dances very prettily, too; he came to one of my
evenings and had quite a success. Only an amateur, of course; but
rather nice. However, like all amateurs he wants to perform only when
people would rather he didn't, and when they want him to he won't; he
refuses. That's the amateur all over. The professional comes up to the
scratch when wanted and stops when the performance is not required.
It's all the difference in the world, isn't it, Mrs Ottley? Still, he's
a nice boy. Are you fond of music?'
'Very. Really fond of it; but I'm only a listener.'
Lady Everard seemed delighted and brightened up.
'Oh, you don't sing or play?--you must come to one of my Musical
Evenings. We have all the stars in the season at times--dear Melba and
Caruso--and darling Bemberk and dear Debussy! Oh! don't laugh at my
enthusiasm, my dear; but I'm quite music-mad--and then, of course, we
have any amount of amateurs, and all the new young professionals that
are coming on. In my opinion Paul La France, that's the young man I was
telling you about, will be one of the very very best--quite at the top
of the tree, and I'm determined he shall. But of course, he needs care
and encouragement. I think of his giving a _Conference_, in which he'll
lecture on his own singing. I shall be on the platform to make a sort
of introductory speech and Monti, of course, will accompany. He is the
only accompanist that counts. But then I suppose he's been accompanying
somebody or other ever since he was a little boy, so it's second nature
to him. And you must come, and bring your husband. Does he go with you
to places? Very nice of him. Nowadays if husbands and wives don't
occasionally go to the same parties they have hardly any opportunity of
meeting at all; that's what I always say. But then, of course, _you're_
still almost on your honeymoon, aren't you? Charming!'
In the dining-room Cricker was confiding in Aylmer, while Vincy and
Bruce discussed the Old Master.
'Awful, you know,' Cricker said, in a low voice--' this girl's mania
for me! I get wires and telephones all day long; she hardly gives me
time to shave. And she's jolly pretty, so I don't like to chuck it; in
fact, I daren't. But her one cry is 'Cold; cold; cold!' She says I'm as
cold as a stone. What do you thing of that?'
'You may be a stone, and a rolling one at that, said Aylmer, 'but there
are other pebbles on the beach, I daresay.'
'I bet not one of them as stony as I am!' cried Cricker.
Cricker came a little nearer, lowering his voice again.
'It's a very peculiar case,' he said proudly.
'Of course; it always is.'
'You see, she's frightfully pretty, on the stage, and married! One of
the most awkward positions a person can be in. Mind you, I'm sorry for
her. I thought of consulting you about something if you'll give me a
minute or two, old chap.'
He took out a letter-case.
'I don't mean Ill show you this--oh no, I can't show it--it isn't
'Of course not. No-one really likes to show a really lukewarm love
letter. Besides it would hardly be--'
Cricker put the case back.
My dear chap! I wasn't going to show it to you--I shouldn't dream of
such a thing--to anybody; but I was just going to read you out a
sentence from which you can form an opinion of my predicament. It's no
good mincing matters, old boy, the woman is crazy mad about me--there
you've got it straight--in a nutshell.--Crazy!'
'She certainly can't be very sane,' returned Aylmer.
Before the end of the evening Aylmer had arranged to take the Ottleys
to see a play that was having a run. After this he dropped in to tea to
discuss it and Bruce kept him to dinner.
Day after day went on, and they saw him continually. He had never shown
by word or manner any more of his sentiment than on the second occasion
when they had met but Edith was growing thoroughly accustomed to this
new interest, and it certainly gave a zest to her existence, for she
knew, as women do know, or at any rate she believed, that she had an
attraction for him, which he didn't intend to give away. The situation
was pleasant and notwithstanding Vincy's slight anxiety, she persisted
in seeing nothing in it to fear in any way. Aylmer didn't even flirt.
One day, at Vincy's rooms, she thought he seemed different.
Vincy, with all his gentle manner, had in art an extraordinary taste
for brutality and violence, and his rooms were covered with pictures by
Futurists and Cubists, wild studies by wild men from Tahiti and a
curious collection of savage ornaments and weapons.
'I don't quite see Vincy handling that double-edged Chinese sword, do
you? said Aylmer, laughing.
'No, nor do I; but I do like to look at it,' Vincy said.
They went into the little dining-room, which was curiously furnished
with a green marble dining-table, narrow, as in the pictures of the
Last Supper, at which the guests could sit on one side only to be
waited on from the other. On it as decoration (it was laid for two,
side by side) were some curious straw mats, a few laurel leaves, a
little marble statuette of Pan, and three Tangerine oranges.
'Oh, Vincy, do tell me--what are you going to eat tonight?' Edith
exclaimed. 'Unless you're with other people I can never imagine you
sitting down to a proper meal.'
Eat? Oh a nice orange, I think,' said he. Sometimes when I'm alone I
just have a nice egg and a glass of water, I do myself very well. Don't
worry about me, Edith.'
When they were alone for a moment Aylmer looked out of the window. It
was rather high up, and they looked down on the hustling crowds of
people pushing along through the warm air in Victoria Street.
'It's getting decent weather,' he said.
'Yes, quite warm.'
They always suddenly talked commonplaces when they were first left
'I may be going away pretty soon,' he said.
'Going away! Oh, where?'
'I'm not quite sure yet.'
There was a pause.
'Well, you'll come to tea tomorrow, won't you? said Edith. 'Yes,
indeed, thank you--thank you so much. I shall look forward to it. At
five?' He spoke formally.
'At four,' said Edith.
'I shall be lunching not very far from you tomorrow.'
'At a quarter to four,' said Edith.
'I wonder who this other place is laid for,' said Aylmer, looking at
'How indiscreet of you! So do I. One must find out.'
'How? By asking?'
'Good heavens, no!' cried Edith. 'What an extraordinary idea!'
Shopping Chez Soi
Edith was expecting Aylmer to call that afternoon before he went away.
She was surprised to find how perturbed she was at the idea of his
going away. He had become almost a part of their daily existence, and
seeing him was certainly quite the most amusing and exciting experience
she had ever had. And now it was coming to an end. Some obscure
clairvoyance told her that his leaving and telling her of it in this
vague way had some reference to her; but perhaps (she thought) she was
wrong; perhaps it was simply that, after the pleasant intercourse and
semi-intimacy of the last few weeks, he was going to something that
interested him more? He was a widower; and still a young man. Perhaps
he was in love with someone. This idea was far from agreeable, although
except the first and second time they met he had never said a word that
could be described even as flirtation. He showed admiration for her,
and pleasure in her society, but he rarely saw her alone. The few
visits and _tete-a-tetes_ had always begun by conventional commonplace
phrases and embarrassment, and had ended in a delightful sympathy, in
animated conversation, in a flowing confidence and gaiety, and in long
discussions on books, and art, and principally people. That was all. In
fact he had become, in two or three weeks, in a sense _l'ami de la
maison_; they went everywhere with him and met nearly every day, and
Bruce appeared to adore him. It was entirely different from her long
and really intimate friendship with Vincy. Vincy was her confidant, her
friend. She could tell _him_ everything, and she did, and he confided
in her and told her all except one side of his life, of which she was
aware, but to which she never referred. This was his secret romance
with a certain girl artist of whom he never spoke, although Edith knew
that some day he would tell her about that also.
But with Aylmer there was, and would always be, less real freedom and
impersonal frankness, because there was so much more selfconsciousness;
in fact because there was an unacknowledged but very strong mutual
physical attraction. Edith had, however, felt until now merely the
agreeable excitement of knowing that a man she liked, and in whom she
was immensely interested, was growing apparently devoted to her, while
_she_ had always believed that she would know how to deal with the case
in such a way that it could never lead to anything more--that is to
say, to more than _she_ wished.
And now, he was going away. Why? And where? However, the first thing to
consider was that she would see him today. The result of this
consideration was the obvious one. She must do some shopping.
Edith was remarkably feminine in every attribute, in manner, in
movement and in appearance; indeed, for a woman of the present day
unusually and refreshingly feminine. Yet she had certain mental
characteristics which were entirely unlike most women. One was her
extreme aversion for shops, and indeed for going into any concrete
little details. It has been said that her feeling for dress was sure
and unerring. But it was entirely that of the artist; it was
impressionistic. Edith was very clever, indeed, most ingenious, in
managing practical affairs, as long as she was the director, the
general of the campaign. But she did not like carrying out in detail
her plans. She liked to be the architect, not the workman.
For example, the small household affairs in the flat went on wheels;
everything was almost always perfect. But Edith did not rattle her
housekeeping keys, or count the coals, nor did she even go through
accounts, or into the kitchen every day. The secret was simple. She had
a good cook and housekeeper, who managed all these important but
tedious details admirably, under her suggestions. In order to do this
Edith had to practise a little fraud on Bruce, a justifiable and quite
unselfish one. She gave the cook and housekeeper a quarter of her dress
allowance, in addition to the wages Bruce considered sufficient;
because Bruce believed that they could not afford more than a certain
amount for a cook, while he admitted that Edith, who had a few hundred
pounds a year of her own, might need to spend this on dress. Very
little of it went on dress, although Edith was not very economical. But
she had a plan of her own; she knew that to be dressed in a very
ordinary style (that is to say, simple, conventional, comme il faut)
suited her, by throwing her unusual beauty into relief. Occasionally a
touch of individuality was added, when she wanted to have a special
effect. But she never entered a shop; very rarely interviewed a
milliner. It was always done for her. She was easy to dress, being
tall, slim and remarkably pretty. She thought that most women make a
great mistake in allowing dress to be the master instead of the servant
of their good looks; many women were, she considered, entirely crushed
and made insignificant by the beauty of their clothes. The important
thing was to have a distinguished appearance, and this cannot, of
course, easily be obtained without expensive elegance. But Edith was
twenty-eight, and looked younger, so she could dress simply.
This morning Edith had telephoned to her friend, Miss Bennett, an old
schoolfellow who had nothing to do, and adored commissions. Edith,
sitting by the fire or at the 'phone, gave her orders, which were
always decisive, short and yet meticulous. Miss Bennett was a little
late this morning, and Edith had been getting quite anxious to see her.
When she at last arrived--she was a nondescript-looking girl, with a
small hat squashed on her head, a serge coat and skirt, black gloves
and shoes with spats--Edith greeted her rather reproachfully with:
'You're late, Grace.'
'Sorry,' said Grace.
The name suited her singularly badly. She was plain, but had a pleasant
face, a pink complexion, small bright eyes, protruding teeth and a
scenario for a figure, merely a collection of bones on which a dress
could be hung. She was devoted to Edith, and to a few other friends of
both sexes, of whom she made idols. She was hard, abrupt, enthusiastic,
ignorant and humorous.
'Sorry, but I had to do a lot of--'
'All right,' interrupted Edith. 'You couldn't help it. Listen' to what
I want you to do.'
'Go ahead,' said Miss Bennett, taking out a note-book and pencil.
Edith spoke in her low, soft, impressive voice, rather slowly.
'Go anywhere you like and bring me back two or three perfectly simple
tea-gowns--you know the sort of shape, rather like evening
cloaks--straight lines--none of the new draperies and curves--in red,
blue and black.'
'On appro.?' asked Miss Bennett.
'On anything you like, but made of Liberty satin, with a dull surface.'
'There's no such thing.' Grace Bennett laughed. 'You mean charmeuse, or
'Call it what you like, only get it. You must bring them back in a
'They're not to cost more than--oh! not much,' added Edith, 'at the
'Economical woman! Why not have a really good tea-gown while you're
'These _will_ be good. I want to have a hard outline like a
'Oh, really? What's that?'
'Never mind. And suppose you can't get the shape, Grace.'
'Bring some evening cloaks--the kimonoish kind--I could wear one over a
lace blouse; it would look exactly the same.'
'Edith, what curious ideas you have! But you're right enough. Anything
else?' said Miss Bennett, standing up, ready to go. 'I like shopping
for you. You know what you want.'
'Buy me an azalea, not a large one, and a bit of some dull material of
the same colour to drape round it.'
'How extraordinary it is the way you hate anything shiny!' exclaimed
Miss Bennett, making a note.
'I know; I only like _mat_ effects. Oh, and in case I choose a
light-coloured gown, get me just one very large black velvet orchid,
'Right. That all?'
Edith looked at her shoes; they were perfect, tiny, pointed and made of
black suede. She decided they would do.
'Yes, that's all, dear.'
'And might I kindly ask,' said Miss Bennett, getting up, 'any
particular reason for all this? Are you going to have the flu, or a
party, or what?'
'No,' said Edith, who was always frank when it was possible. 'I'm
expecting a visitor who's never seen me in anything but a coat and
skirt, or in evening dress.'
'Oh! He wants a change, does he?'
'Don't be vulgar, Grace. Thanks awfully, dear. You're really kind.'
They both laughed, and Edith gently pushed her friend out of the room.
Then she sat down on a sofa, put up her feet, and began to read
_Rhythm_ to divert her thoughts. Vincy had brought it to convert her to
When Archie and Dilly were out, and Edith, who always got up rather
early, was alone, she often passed her morning hours in reading,
dreaming, playing the piano, or even in thinking. She was one of the
few women who really can think, and enjoy it. This morning she soon put
down the mad clever little prophetic Oxford journal. Considering she
was usually the most reposeful woman in London, she was rather restless
today. She glanced round the little room; there was nothing in it to
distract or irritate, or even to suggest a train of thought; except
perhaps the books; everything was calming and soothing, with a touch of
gaiety in the lightness of the wall decorations. An azalea, certainly,
would be a good note. The carpet, and almost everything in the room,
was green, except the small white enamelled piano. Today she felt that
she wanted to use all her influence to get Aylmer to confide in her
more. Perhaps he was slipping away from her--she would have been only a
little incident in his existence--while she certainly wished it to go
on. Seeing this, perhaps it oughtn't to go on. She wondered if he would
laugh or be serious today... whether...
* * * * *
Miss Bennett had come up in the lift with a heap of cardboard boxes,
and the azalea. A taxi was waiting at the door.
Edith opened the boxes, cutting the string with scissors. She put four
gowns out on the sofa. Grace explained that two were cloaks, two were
gowns--all she could get.
'That's the one,' said Edith, taking out one of a deep blue colour,
like an Italian sky on a coloured picture post-card. It had a collar of
the same deep blue, spotted with white--a birdseye effect. Taking off
her coat Edith slipped the gown over her dress, and went to her room
(followed closely by Miss Bennett) to see herself in the long mirror.
'Perfect!' said Edith. 'Only I must cut off those buttons. I hate
'How are you going to fasten it, then, dear?'
'With hooks and eyes. Marie can sew them on.'
The deep blue with the white spots had a vivid and charming effect, and
suited her blonde colouring; she saw she was very pretty in it, and was
'Aren't you going to try the others on, dear?' asked Grace.
'No; what's the good? This one will do.'
'Right. Then I'll take them back.'
'You're sweet. Won't you come back to lunch?'
'I'll come back to lunch tomorrow,' said Miss Bennett, 'and you can
tell me about your tea-party. Oh, and here's a little bit of stuff for
the plant. I suppose you'll put the azalea into the large pewter vase?'
'Yes, and I'll tie this round its neck.'
'Sorry it's cotton,' said Miss Bennett. 'I couldn't get any silk the
'Oh, I like cotton, if only it's not called sateen! Good-bye, darling.
You're delightfully quick!'
'Yes, I don't waste time,' said Miss Bennett. 'Mother says, too, that
I'm the best shopper in the world.' She turned round to add, 'I'm dying
to know why you want to look so pretty. Who is it?'
With a quiet smile, Edith dismissed her.
'It always seems to me so unlike you,' Aylmer said (he had arrived
punctually at twenty minutes to four)--'your extreme fondness for
newspapers. You're quite celebrated as a collector of Last Editions,
'I know it's very unliterary of me, but I enjoy reading newspapers
better than reading anything else in the world. After all, it's
contemporary history, that's my defence. But I suppose it is because
I'm so intensely interested in life.'
'Tell me exactly, what papers do you really read?'
She laughed. 'Four morning papers--never mind their names--four
evening papers; five Sunday papers: _The Academy, The Saturday Review,
The Bookman, The World, The English Review_.'
'Well, I think it's wicked of you to encourage all this frivolity. And
what price _The Queen, Horrie Notes, or The Tatler_?'
'Oh, we have those too--for Bruce.'
'And does Archie show any of this morbid desire for journalism?'
'Oh yes. He takes in _Chums and Little Folks_.'
'And I see you're reading _Rhythm_. That's Vincy's fault, of course.'
'Perhaps it is.'
'How do you find time for all this culture?'
'I read quickly, and what I have to do I do rather quickly.'
'Is that why you never seem in a hurry? I think you're the only
leisured-looking woman I know in London.'
'I do think I've solved the problem of labour-saving; I've reduced it
to a science.'
'By not working, I suppose.'
'You're wonderful. And that blue....'
'Do you really think so?'
He was beginning to get carried away. He stood up and looked out of the
window. The pink and white hyacinths were strongly scented in the warm
air. He turned round.
She said demurely: 'It will be nice weather for you to go away now,
'I don't think so.' He spoke impulsively. 'I shall hate it; I shall be
'Really!' in a tone of great surprise.
'You're dying to ask me something,' he said.
'Which am I dying to ask you: _where_ you're going, or _why_ you're
going?' She gave her most vivid smile. He sat down with a sigh. People
still sigh, sometimes, even nowadays.
'I don't know where I'm going; but I'll tell you why.... I'm seeing too
much of you.'
She was silent.
'You see, Mrs Ottley, seeing a great deal of you is very entrancing,
but it's dangerous.'
'In what way?'
'Well--your society--you see one gets to feel one can't do without it,
do you see?'
'But why should you do without it?'
He looked at her. 'You mean there's no reason why we shouldn't keep on
going to plays with Bruce, dining with Bruce, being always with Bruce?'
(Bruce and Aylmer had become so intimate that they called each other by
their Christian names.) 'Don't you see, it makes one sometimes feel one
wants more and more of you--of your society I mean. One could talk
'But you can come and see me sometimes, can't you?'
'Yes; that's the worst of all,' he answered, with emphasis.
Aylmer spoke decidedly: 'I'm not a man who could ever be a tame cat.
And also I'm not, I hope, a man who--who would dare to think, or even
wish, to spoil--to--'
'And is that really why you're going?' she asked gently.
'You're forcing me to answer you.'
'And shall you soon forget all about it?'
He changed his position and sat next to her on the sofa.
'And so you won't miss me a bit,' he said caressingly. 'You wouldn't
care if you never saw me again, would you?'
'Yes, I should care. Why, you know we're awfully good friends; I like
'As much as Vincy?'
'Oh! So differently.'
'I'm glad of that, at any rate!'
There was an embarrassed pause.
'So this is really the last time I'm to see you for ages, Mrs Ottley?'
'But aren't we all going to the theatre tomorrow? With you, I mean?
Bruce said so.'
'Oh yes. I mean the last time alone. Yes, I've got a box for _The
Moonshine Girl_. Bruce said you'd come. Lady Everard and Vincy will be
'That will be fun--I love that sort of show. It takes one right away
from life instead of struggling to imitate it badly like most plays.'
'It's always delightful to hear what you say. And anything I see with
you I enjoy, and believe to be better than it is,' said Aylmer. 'You
know you cast a glamour over anything. But the next day I'm going away
for three months at least.'
'A long time.'
'Is it? Will it seem long to you?'
'Why, of course. We shall--I shall miss you very much. I told you so.'
'Really?' he insisted.
'Really,' she smiled.
They looked at each other.
Edith felt less mistress of the situation than she had expected. She
was faced with a choice; she felt it; she knew it. She didn't want him
to go. Still, perhaps.... There was a vibration in the air. Suddenly a
sharp ring was heard.
Overpowered by a sudden impulse, Aylmer seized her impetuously by the
shoulders, kissed her roughly and at random before she could stop him,
and said incoherently: 'Edith! Good-bye. I love you, Edith,' and then
stood up by the mantelpiece.
'Mr Vincy,' announced the servant.
'The Moonshine Girl'
The next evening Bruce and Edith were going to the Society Theatre with
Aylmer. It was their last meeting before he was to go away, Edith half
expected that he would put it off, but there was no change made in the
plans, and they met in the box as arranged.
Aylmer had expected during the whole day to hear that she had managed
to postpone the party. At one moment he was frightened and rather
horrified when he thought of what he had done. At another he was
delighted and enchanted about it, and told himself that it was
absolutely justified. After all, he couldn't do more than go away if he
found he was too fond of her. No hero of romance could be expected to
do more than that, and he wasn't a hero of romance; he didn't pretend
to be. But he _was_ a good fellow--and though Bruce's absurdities
irritated him a great deal he had a feeling of delicacy towards him,
and a scrupulousness that is not to be found every day. At other
moments Aylmer swore to himself, cursing his impulsiveness, fearing she
now would really not ever think of him as he wished, but as a hustling
sort of brute. But no--he didn't care. He had come at last to close
quarters with her. He had kissed the pretty little mouth that he had so
often watched with longing. He admitted to himself that he had really
wished to pose a little in her eyes: to be the noble hero in the third
act who goes away from temptation. But who does not wish for the _beau
role_ before one's idol?
* * * * *
This meeting at the play tonight was the sort of anti-climax that is
almost invariable in a London romance. How he looked forward to it! For
after Vincy came in only a few banalities had been said. He was to see
her now for the last time--the first time since he had given himself
away to her. Probably it was only her usual kindness to others that
prevented her getting out of the evening plans, he thought. Or--did she
want to see him once more?
At dinner before the play Edith was very bright, and particularly
pretty. Bruce, too, was in good spirits.
'It's rather sickening,' he remarked, 'Aylmer going away like this; we
shall miss him horribly, sha'n't we? And then, where's the sense,
Edith, in a chap leaving London where he's been the whole of the awful
winter, just as it begins to be pleasant here? Pass the salt; don't
spill it--that's unlucky. Not that I believe in any superstitious rot.
I can see the charm of the quaint old ideas about black cats and so
forth, but I don't for one moment attach any importance to them, nor to
the number thirteen, nor any of that sort of bosh. Indeed as a matter
of fact, I walked round a ladder only today rather than go under it.
But that's simply because I don't go in for trying to be especially
'No, dear. I think you're quite right.'
'And oddly enough--as I was trying to tell you just now, only you
didn't seem to be listening--a black cat ran across my path only this
afternoon.' He smiled, gratified at the recollection.
'How do you mean, your path? I didn't know you had one--or that there
were any paths about here.'
'How literal women are! I mean _I_ nearly ran over it in a taxi. When I
say I nearly ran over it, I mean that a black cat on the same side of
the taxi (if you must have details) ran away as the taxi drove on....
Yes, Aylmer is a thoroughly good chap, and he and I have enormous
sympathy. I don't know any man in the world with whom I have more
intellectual sympathy than Aylmer Ross. Do you remember how I pointed
him out to you at once at the Mitchells'? And sometimes when I think
how you used to sneer at the Mitchells--oh, you did, you know, dear,
before you knew them--and I remember all the trouble I had to get you
to go there, I wonder--I simply wonder! Don't you see, through going
there, as I advised, we've made one of the nicest friends we ever had.'
'Really, Bruce, you didn't have _any_ trouble to get me to go to the
Mitchells; you're forgetting. The trouble was I couldn't go there very
well until I was asked. The very first time we were asked (if you
recollect), we flew!'
'Flew? Why, we went on the wrong night. That doesn't look as if I was
very keen about it! However, I'm not blaming you, dear. It wasn't your
fault. Mind you,' continued Bruce, 'I consider the Society Theatre pure
frivolity. But one thing I'll say, a bad show there is better than a
good show anywhere else. There's always jolly music, pretty dresses,
pretty girls--you don't mind my saying so, dear, do you?'
'No, indeed. I think so myself.'
'Of course, the first row of the chorus is not what it was when I was a
bachelor,' continued Bruce, frowning thoughtfully. 'Either they're not
so good-looking, or I don't admire them so much, or they don't admire
_me_ as much, or they're a different class, or--or--something!' he
'You're pleased to be facetious,' remarked Edith.
'My dear girl, you know perfectly well I think there's no-one else in
the world like you. Wherever I go I always say there's no-one to touch
my wife. No-one!'
Edith got up. 'Very sweet of you.'
'But,' continued Bruce, 'because I think you pretty, it doesn't follow
that I think everybody else is hideous. I tell you that straight from
the shoulder, and I must say this for you, dear, I've never seen any
sign of jealousy on your part.'
'I'd show it soon enough if I felt it--if I thought I'd any cause,'
said Edith; 'but I didn't think I had.'
Bruce gave a rather fatuous smile. 'Oh, go and get ready, my dear,' he
answered. 'Don't let's talk nonsense. Who's going to be there tonight,
do you know?'
'Oh, only Lady Everard and Vincy.'
'Lady Everard is a nice woman. You're going to that musical thing of
hers, I suppose?'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'It's in the afternoon, and it's not very easy for me to get away in
the afternoon, but to please you, I'll take you--see? I loathe music
(except musical comedies), and I think if ever there was a set of
appalling rotters--I feel inclined to knock them off the music-stool
the way they go on at Lady Everard's--at the same time, some of them
are very cultured and intelligent chaps, and _she's_ a very charming
woman. One can't get in a word edgeways, but _when_ one does--well, she
listens, and laughs at one's jokes, and that sort of thing. I think I'm
rather glad you're not musical, Edith, it takes a woman away from her
'Not musical! Oh dear! I thought I was,' said Edith.
'Oh, anyhow, not when I'm here, so it doesn't matter. Besides, your
being appreciative and that sort of thing is very nice. Look what a
social success you've had at the Everards', for instance, through
listening and understanding these things; it is not an accomplishment
to throw away. No, Edith dear, I should tell you, if you would only
listen to me, to keep up your music, but you won't and there's an end
of it...That souffle was really very good. Cook's improving. For a
plain little cook like that, with such small wages, and no kitchenmaid,
she does quite well.'
'Oh yes, she's not bad,' said Edith. She knew that if Bruce had been
aware the cook's remuneration was adequate he would not have enjoyed
* * * * *
They were in the box in the pretty theatre. Lady Everard, very smart in
black, sparkling with diamonds, was already there with Aylmer. Vincy
had not arrived.
The house was crammed to the ceiling. Gay, electrical music of
exhilarating futility was being played by the orchestra. The scene
consisted of model cottages; a chorus of pretty girls in striped cotton
were singing. The heroine came on; she was well known for her smile,
which had become public property on picture post-cards and the Obosh
bottles. She was dressed as a work-girl also, but in striped silk with
a real lace apron and a few diamonds. Then the hero arrived. He wore a
red shirt, brown boots, and had a tenor voice. He explained an
interesting little bit of the plot, which included an eccentric will
and other novelties. The humorous dandy of the play was greeted with
shouts of joy by the chorus and equal enthusiasm by the audience. He
agreed to change places with the hero, who wished to give up one
hundred and forty thousand pounds a year to marry the heroine.
'Very disinterested,' murmured Lady Everard. 'Very nice of him, I'm
sure. It isn't many people that would do a thing like that. A nice
voice, too. Of course, this is not what _I_ call good music, but it's
very bright in its way, and the words--I always think these words are
so clever. So witty. Listen to them--do listen to them, dear Mrs
They listened to the beautiful words sung, of which the refrain ran as
'The Author told the Actor,
(The Actor had a fit).
The Box Office man told the Programme-girl,
The Theatre all was in quite a whirl.
The call-boy told the Chorus.
(Whatever could it be?)
The super asked the Manager,
What did the Censor see?'
'Charming,' murmured Lady Everard; 'brilliant--I know his father so
'Whose father--the censor's?'
'Oh, the father of the composer--a very charming man. When he was young
he used to come to my parties--my Wednesdays. I used to have Wednesdays
then. I don't have Wednesdays now. I think it better to telephone at
the last minute any particular day for my afternoons because, after
all, you never know when the artists one wants are disengaged, does
one? You're coming on Wednesday to hear Paul La France sing, dear Mrs
Edith smiled and nodded assent, trying to stop the incessant trickle of
Lady Everard's leaking conversation. She loved theatres, and she
enjoyed hearing every word, which was impossible while there was more
dialogue in the box than on the stage; also, Aylmer was sitting behind
The comic lady now came on; there were shrieks of laughter at her
unnecessary and irrelevant green boots and crinoline and Cockney
accent. She proposed to marry the hero, who ran away from her. There
was more chorus; and the curtain fell.
In the interval Vincy arrived. He and Bruce went into the little salon
behind the box. Lady Everard joined them there. Edith and Aylmer looked
round the house. The audience at the Society Theatre is a special one;
as at the plays in which the favourite actor-managers and _jeunes
premiers_ perform there are always far more women than men, at this
theatre there are always far more men than women.
The stage box opposite our friends was filled with a party of about ten
'It looks like a jury,' said Edith. 'Perhaps it is.' 'Probably a board
of directors,' said Aylmer.
The first two rows of the stalls were principally occupied by
middle-aged and rather elderly gentlemen. Many had grey moustaches and
a military bearing. Others were inclined to be stout, with brilliant
exuberant manners and very dark hair that simply wouldn't lie flat.
There were a great many parties made up like those of our friends--of
somebody in love with somebody, surrounded by chaperons. These were the
social people, and also there were a certain number of young men with
pretty women who were too fashionably dressed, too much made up, and
who were looking forward too much to supper. These ladies seemed
inclined to crab the play, and to find unimportant little faults with
the unimportant actresses. There were many Americans--who took it
seriously; and altogether one could see it was an immense success; in
other words everyone had paid for their seats...
* * * * *
The play was over; Aylmer had not had a word with Edith. He was going
away the next day, and he asked them all to supper. Of course he drove
Edith, and Lady Everard took the other two in her motor....
'You're an angel if you've forgiven me,' he said, as they went out.
'Have you forgiven me?' he asked anxiously, as soon as they were in the
dark shelter of the cab.
'Yes, oh yes. Please don't let's talk about it any more... What time do
you start tomorrow?'
'You think I ought to go then?'
'You say so.'
'But you'd rather I remained here; rather we should go on as we
'Well, you know I should never have dreamt of suggesting you should go
away. I like you to be here.'
'At any cost to me? No, Edith; I can't stand it. And since I've told
you it's harder. Your knowing makes it harder.'
'I should have thought that if you liked anyone so _very_ much, you
would want to see them all the time, as much as possible, always--even
with other people...anything rather than not see them--be away
altogether. At least, that's how I should feel.'
'No doubt you would; that's a woman's view. And besides, you see, you
'The more I cared, the less I should go away, I think.'
'But, haven't I tried? And I can't bear it. You don't know how cruel
you are with your sweetness, Edith...Oh, put yourself in my place! How
do you suppose I feel when I've been with you like this, near you,
looking at you, delighting in you the whole evening--and then, after
supper, you go away with Bruce? _You've_ had a very pleasant evening,
no doubt; it's all right for you to feel you've got me, as you know you
have--and with no fear, no danger. Yes, you enjoy it!'
He saw in the half-darkness that her eyes looked reproachful.
'I didn't mean it. I'm sorry--I'm always being sorry.' His bitter tone
changed to gentleness. 'I want to speak to you now, Edith. We haven't
much time. Don't take away your hand a minute....I always told you,
didn't I, that the atmosphere round you is so clear that I feel with
you I'm in the Palace of Truth? You're so _real_. You're the only woman
I ever met who really cared for truth. You're not afraid of it; and
you're as straight and honourable as a man! I don't mean you can't
diplomatise if you choose, of course, and better than anyone; but it
isn't your nature to deceive yourself, nor anyone else. I recognise
that in you. I love it. And that's why I can't pretend or act with you;
I must be frank.'
'Please, do be frank.'
'I love you. I'm madly in love with you. I adore you.'
Aylmer stopped, deeply moved at the sound of his own words. Few people
realise the effect such words have on the speaker. Saying them to her
was a great joy, and an indulgence, but it increased painfully his
passionate feeling, making it more accentuated and acute. To let
himself go verbally was a wild, bitter pleasure. It hurt him, and he
'And I'd do anything in the world to get you. And I'd do anything in
the world for you, too. And if you cared for me I'd go away all the
same. At least, I believe I should...We shall be there in a minute.
'Listen, dear. I want you, occasionally, to write to me; there's no
earthly reason why you shouldn't. I'll let you know my address. It will
prevent my being too miserable, or rushing back. And will you do
something else for me?'
'Angel! Well, when you write, call me Aylmer. You never have yet, in a
letter. Treat me just like a friend--as you treat Vincy. Tell me what
you're doing, where you're going, who you see; about Archie and Dilly;
about your new dresses and hats; what you're reading--any little thing,
so that I'm still in touch with you.'
'Yes, I will; I shall like to. And don't be depressed, Aylmer. Do enjoy
your journey; write to me, too.'
'Yes, I'm going to write to you, but only in an official way, only for
Bruce. And, listen. Take care of yourself. You're too unselfish. Do
what you want sometimes, not what other people want all the time. Don't
read too much by electric light and try your eyes. And don't go out in
these thin shoes in damp weather--promise!'
She laughed a little--touched.
'Be a great deal with the children. I like to think of you with them.
And I hope you won't be always going out,' he continued, in a tone of
unconscious command, which she enjoyed....'Please don't be continually
at Lady Everard's, or at the Mitchells', or anywhere. I hate you to be
admired--how I hate it!'
'Fancy! And I was always brought up to believe people are proud of
what's called the 'success' of the people that they--like.'
'Don't you believe it, Edith! That's all bosh--vanity and nonsense. At
any rate, I know I'm not. In fact, as I can't have you myself, I would
really like you to be shut up. Very happy, very well, with everything
in the world you like, even thinking of me a little, but absolutely
shut up! And if you did go out, for a breath of air, I should like
no-one to see you. I'd like you to cover up your head--wear a thick
veil--and a thick loose dress!'
'You're very Oriental!' she laughed.
'I'm not a bit Oriental; I'm human. It's selfish, I suppose, you think?
Well, let me tell you, if you care to know, that it's _love_, and
nothing else, Edith....Now, is there anything in the world I can do for
you while I'm away? It would be kind to ask me. Remember I shan't see
you for three months. I may come back in September. Can't I send you
something--do something that you'd like? I count on you to ask me at
any time if there's anything in the world I could do for you, no matter
No woman could help being really pleased at such whole-hearted
devotion and such Bluebeard-like views--especially when they were not
going to be carried out. Edith was thrilled by the passionate emotion
she felt near her. How cold it would be when he had gone! He _was_
nice, handsome, clever--a darling!
'Don't forget me, Aylmer. I don't want you to forget me. Later on we'll
have a real friendship.'
'_Friendship!_ Don't use that word. It's so false--such humbug--for
_me_ at any rate. To say I could care for you as a friend is simply
blasphemy! How can it be possible for _me_? But I'll try. Thanks for
_any_thing! You're an angel--I'll try.'
'And it's horribly inconsistent, and no doubt very wicked of me, but,
do you know, I should be rather pained if I heard you had fallen in
love with someone else.'
'Ah, that would be impossible!' he cried. 'Never--never! It's the real
thing; there never was anyone like you, there never will be.
Let me look at you once more....Oh, Edith! And now--here we are.'
Edith took away her hand. 'Your scarf's coming off, you'll catch
cold,' said Aylmer, and as he was trying, rather awkwardly, to put the
piece of blue chiffon round her head he drew the dear head to him and
kissed her harshly. She could not protest; it was too final; besides,
they were arriving; the cab stopped. Vincy came to the door.
'Welcome to Normanhurst!' cried Vincy, with unnecessary facetiousness,
giving them a slightly anxious glance. He thought Edith had more colour
than usual. Aylmer was pale.
* * * * *
The supper was an absolute and complete failure; the guests
displayed the forced gaiety and real depression, and constrained
absentmindedness, of genuine and hopeless boredom. Except for Lady
Everard's ceaseless flow of empty prattle the pauses would have been
too obvious. Edith, for whom it was a dreary anti-climax, was rather
silent. Aylmer talked more, and a little more loudly, than usual, and
looked worn. Bruce, whom champagne quickly saddened, became vaguely
reminiscent and communicative about old, dead, forgotten grievances of
the past, while Vincy, who was a little shocked at what he saw (and he
always saw everything), did his very best, just saving the
entertainment from being a too disastrous frost.
'Well! Good luck!' said Aylmer, lifting his glass with sham
conviviality.' I start tomorrow morning by the Orient Express.'
'Hooray!' whispered Vincy primly.
'Doesn't it sound romantic and exciting?' Edith said. 'The two words
together are so delightfully adventurous. Orient--the languid East,
and yet express--quickness, speed. It's a fascinating blend of ideas.'
'Whether it's adventurous or not isn't the question, my dear girl; I
only wish we were going too,' said Bruce, with a sigh; 'but, I never
can get away from my wretched work, to have any fun, like you lucky
chaps, with no responsibilities or troubles! I suppose perhaps we may
take the children to Westgate for Whitsuntide, and that's about all.
Not that there isn't quite a good hotel there, and of course it's all
right for me, because I shall play golf all day and run up to town when
I want to. Still, it's very different from one of these jolly long
journeys that you gay bachelors can indulge in.'
'But I'm not a gay bachelor. My boy is coming to join me in the summer
holidays, wherever I am,' said Aylmer.
'Ah, but that's not the point. I should like to go with you now--at
once. Don't you wish we were both going, Edith? Why aren't we going
with him tomorrow?'
'Surely June's just the nice time in London, Bruce,' said Vincy, in his
'Won't it be terribly hot?' said Lady Everard vaguely. She always
thought every place must be terribly hot. 'Venice? Are you going to
Venice? Delightful! The Viennese are so charming, and the Austrian
officers--Oh, you're going to Sicily first? Far too hot. Paul La
France--the young singer, you know--told me that when he was in Sicily
his voice completely altered; the heat quite affected the _veloute_ of
his voice, as the French call it--and what a voice it is at its best!
It's not the _highest_ tenor, of course, but the medium is so
wonderfully soft and well developed. I don't say for a moment that he
will ever be a Caruso, but as far as he goes--and he goes pretty far,
mind--it's really wonderful. You're coming on Wednesday, aren't you,
dear Mrs Ottley? Ah!'... She stopped and held up her small beaded fan,
'what's that the band's playing? I know it so well; everyone knows it;
it's either _Pagliacci_ or _Boheme_, or _some_thing. No, isn't it
really? What is it? All the old Italian operas are coming in again, by
the way, you know, my dear... _Rigoletto_, _Lucia_, _Traviata_--the
_bel canto_--that sort of thing; there's nothing like it for showing
off the voice. Wagner's practically gone out (at least what _I_ call
out), and I always said Debussy wouldn't last. Paul La France still
clings to Brahms--Brahms suits his voice better than anyone else. He
always falls back on Brahms, and dear de Lara; and Tosti; of course,
Tosti. I remember...'
* * * * *
Aylmer and his guests had reached the stage of being apparently all
lost in their own thoughts, and the conversation had been practically
reduced to a disjointed monologue on music by Lady Everard, when the
lights began to be lowered, and the party broke up.
'I'm coming to see you so soon,' said Vincy.
It was about a fortnight later.
Edith and Bruce, from different directions, arrived at the same moment
at their door, and went up together in the lift. On the little
hall-table was a letter addressed to Edith. She took it up rather
quickly, and went into the drawing-room. Bruce followed her.
'That a letter, Edith?'
'What do you suppose it is, Bruce?'
'What _could_ I have supposed it was, Edith? A plum pudding?' He
laughed very much.
'You are very humorous today, Bruce.'
She sat down with her hat, veil and gloves on, holding the letter. She
did not go to her room, because that would leave her no further
retreat. Bruce sat down exactly opposite to her, with his coat and
gloves on. He slowly drew off one glove, folded it carefully, and put
it down. Then he said amiably, a little huskily:
'Letter from a friend?'
'I beg your pardon? What did you say, dear?'
He raised his voice unnecessarily:
'I Said A LETTER FROM A FRIEND!'
She started. 'Oh yes! I heard this time.'
'Edith, I know of an excellent aurist in Bond Street. I wish you'd go
and see him. I'll give you the address.'
'I know of a very good elocutionist in Oxford Street. I think I would
go and have some lessons, if I were you, Bruce; the summer classes are
just beginning. They teach you to speak so clearly, to get your voice
over the footlights, as it were. I think all men require to study
oratory and elocution. It comes in so useful!'
Bruce lowered his voice almost to a whisper.
'Are you playing the fool with me?'
She nodded amiably in the manner of a person perfectly deaf, but who is
pretending to hear.
'Yes, dear; yes, quite right.'
'What do you mean by 'quite right'?' He unfastened his coat and threw
it open, glaring at her a little.
'Who--me? _I_ don't know.'
'Who is that letter from, Edith?' he said breezily, in a tone of sudden
careless and cheery interest.
'I haven't read it yet, Bruce,' she answered, in the same tone,
'Oh. Why don't you read it?'
'Oh! I shall presently.'
'When I've opened it.'
He took off his other glove, folded it with the first one, made them
into a ball, and threw it across the room against the window, while his
'Oh, do you want to have a game? Shall I send for Archie?'
'Edith, why don't you take off your hat?'
'I can't think. Why don't you take off your coat?'
'I haven't time. Show me that letter.'
'Don't prevaricate with me.' Bruce had now definitely lost his temper.
'I can stand anything except prevarication. Anything in the world, but
prevarication, I can endure, with patience. But _not_ that! As if you
didn't know perfectly well there's only one letter I want to see.'
'Who's your letter from?'
'How should I know?'
Edith got up and went towards the door. Bruce was beforehand with her
and barred the way, standing with his arms outstretched and his back to
'Edith, I'm pained and surprised at your conduct!'
'Conduct!' she exclaimed.
'Don't echo my words! I will _not_ be echoed, do you hear?...
Behaviour, then, if you prefer the word.... Why don't you wish me to
see that letter?'
Edith quickly looked at the letter. Until this moment she had had an
unreasonable and nervous terror that Aylmer might have forgotten his
intention of writing what he called officially, and might have written
her what she now inwardly termed a lot of nonsense. But she now saw she
had made a mistake: it was not his handwriting nor his postmark. She
'Look here Bruce,' she said, in a decided voice, quietly. 'We have been
married eight years, and I consider you ought to trust me sufficiently
to allow me to open my own letters.'
'Oh, you do, do you? What next? What next! I suppose the next thing
you'll wish is to be a suffragette.'
'The question,' said Edith, in the most cool, high, irritating voice
she could command, 'really, of votes for women hardly enters into our
argument here. As a matter of fact, I take no interest in any kind of
politics, and, I may be entirely wrong, but if I were compelled to take
sides on the subject, I should be an anti-suffragist.'
'Oh, you would, would you? That's as well to know! That's interesting.
Give me that letter.'
'Do you think you have the right to speak to me like that?'
'Edith,' he said rather pathetically, trying to control himself. 'I beg
you, I _implore_ you to let me see the letter! Hang it all! You know
perfectly well, old girl, how fond I am of you. I may worry you a bit
sometimes, but you know my heart's all right.'
'Of course, Bruce; I'm not finding fault with you. I only want to read
my own letter, that's all.'
'But if I let you out of this room without having shown it me, then if
there's something you don't want me to see, you'll tear it up or chuck
it in the fire.'
Edith was quite impressed at this flash of prophetic insight. She
admitted to herself he was right.
'It's entirely a matter of principle,' she said after another
reassuring look at the envelope. 'It's only a matter of principle,
dear, I'm twenty-eight years old, we've been married eight years; you
leave the housekeeping, the whole ordering of the children's education,
and heaps of other quite important things, entirely to me; in fact, you
lead almost the life of a schoolboy, without any of the tiresome part,
and with freedom, going to school in the day and amusing yourself in
the evening, while everything disagreeable and important is thought of
and seen to for you. You only have the children with you when they
amuse you. I have all the responsibility; I have to be patient,
thoughtful--in fact, you leave things to me more than most men do to
their wives, Bruce. You won't be bothered even to look at an
account--to do a thing. But I'm not complaining.'
'Oh, you're not! It sounded a little like it.'
'But it isn't. I don't _mind_ all this responsibility, but I ought, at
least, to be allowed to read my letters.'
'Well, darling, you shall, as a rule. Look here, old girl, you shall. I
promise you, faithfully, dear. Oh, Edith, you're looking awfully
pretty; I like that hat. Look here, I promise you, dear, I'll _never_
ask you again, never as long as I live. But I've a fancy to read this
particular letter. Why not just gratify it? It's a very harmless whim.'
His tone suddenly changed. 'What do you suppose there's _in_ the damned
letter? Something you're jolly well anxious I shouldn't see.'
She made a step forward. He rushed at her, snatched the letter out of
her hand, and went to the window with it.
She went into her own room, shut the door, and threw herself on the
bed, her whole frame shaking with suppressed laughter.
* * * * *
Bruce, alone, with trembling fingers tore open the envelope. Never in
his life had he been opposed by Edith before in this way. He read these
words in stereotyped writing:
_'Van will call on receipt of post-card. The Lavender Laundry hopes
that you will give them a trial, as their terms are extremely mod--'_
Bruce rushed to the door and called out:
'Edith! Sorry! Edie, I say, I'm sorry. Come back.'
There was no answer.
He pushed the letter under the door of her room, and said through the
'Edith, look here, I'm just going for a little walk. I'll be back to
dinner. Don't be angry.'
Bruce brought her home a large bunch of Parma violets. But neither of
them ever referred to the question again, and for some time there was a
little less of the refrain of 'Am I master in my own house, or am I
The next morning, when a long letter came from Aylmer, from Spain,
Edith read it at breakfast and Bruce didn't ask a single question.
However, she left it on his plate, as if by mistake. He might just as
well read it.
Vincy had the reputation of spending his fortune with elaborate yet
careful lavishness, buying nothing that he did not enjoy, and giving
away everything he did not want. At the same time his friends
occasionally wondered on what he _did_ spend both his time and his
money. He was immensely popular, quite sought after socially; but he
declined half his invitations and lived a rather quiet existence in the
small flat, with its Oriental decorations and violent post-impressions
and fierce Chinese weapons, high up in Victoria Street. Vincy really
concealed under an amiable and gentle exterior the kindest heart of any
man in London. There was 'more in him than met the eye,' as people say,
and, frank and confidential as he was to his really intimate friends,
at least one side of his life was lived in shadow. It was his secret
romance with a certain young girl artist, whom he saw rarely, for
sufficient reasons. He was not devoted to her in the way that he was to
Edith, for whom he had the wholehearted enthusiasm of a loyal friend,
and the idolising worship of a fanatic admirer. It was perhaps Vincy's
nature, a little, to sacrifice himself for anyone he was fond of. He
spent a great deal of time thinking out means of helping materially the
young art-student, and always he succeeded in this object by his
elaborate and tactful care. For he knew she was very, very poor, and
that her pride was of an old-fashioned order--she never said she was
hard up, as every modern person does, whether rich or poor, but he knew
that she really lacked what he considered very nearly--if not
quite--the necessities of life.
Vincy's feeling for her was a curious one. He had known her since she
was sixteen (she was now twenty-four). Yet he did not trust her, and
she troubled him. He had met her at a studio at a time when he had
thought of studying art seriously. Sometimes, something about her
worried and wearied him, yet he couldn't do without her for long. The
fact that he knew he was of great help to her fascinated him; he often
thought that if she had been rich and he poor he would never wish to
see her again. Certainly it was the touch of pathos in her life that
held him; also, of course, she was pretty, with a pale thin face, deep
blue eyes, and rich dark red frizzy hair that was always coming
down--the untidy hair of the art-student.
He was very much afraid of compromising her, and _she_ was very much
afraid of the elderly aunt with whom she lived. She had no parents,
which made her more pathetic, but no more free. He could not go and see
her, with any satisfaction to either of them, at _her_ home, though he
did so occasionally. This was why she first went to see him at his
flat. But these visits, as they were both placed, could, of course,
Mavis Argles--this was the girl's extraordinary name--had a curious
fascination for him. He was rather fond of her, yet the greatest wish
he had in the world was to break it off. When with her he felt himself
to be at once a criminal and a benefactor, a sinner and a saint.
Theoretically, theatrically, and perhaps conventionally, his relations
with her constituted him the villain of the piece. Yet he behaved to
her more like Don Quixote than Don Juan....
* * * * *
One afternoon about four o'clock--he was expecting her--Vincy had
arranged an elaborate tea on his little green marble dining-table.
Everything was there that she liked. She was particularly attached to
scones; he also had cream-cakes, sandwiches, sweets, chocolate and
strawberries. As he heard the well-known slightly creaking step, his
heart began to beat loudly--quick beats. He changed colour, smiled, and
nervously went to the door.
'Here you are, Mavis!' He calmed her and himself by this banal welcome.
He made a movement to help her off with her coat, but she stopped him,
and he didn't insist, guessing that she supposed her blouse to be unfit
She sat down on the sofa, and leaned back, looking at him with her
pretty, weary, dreary, young, blue eyes.
'It seems such a long time since I saw you,' said Vincy. 'You're tired;
I wish I had a lift.'
'I am tired,' she spoke in rather a hoarse voice always. 'And I ought
not to stop long.'
'Oh, stay a minute longer, won't you?' he asked.
'Well, I like that! I've only just this moment arrived!'
'Oh, Mavis, don't say that! Have some tea.'
He waited on her till she looked brighter.
'How is Aunt Jessie?'
'Aunt Jessie's been rather ill.'
'Still that nasty pain?' asked Vincy.
She stared at him, then laughed.
'As if you remember anything about it.'
'Oh, Mavis! I do remember it. I remember what was the matter with her
'I bet you don't. What was it?' she asked, with childish eagerness.
'It was that wind round the heart that she gets sometimes. She told me
about it. Nothing seems to shift it, either.'
Mavis laughed--hoarse, childlike laughter that brought tears to her
'It's a shame to make fun of Aunt Jessie; she's a very, very good
'Oh, good gracious, Mavis, if it comes to sorts, I'm sure she's quite
at the top of the tree. But don't let's bother about her now.'
'What _do_ you want to bother about?'
'Couldn't you come out and dine with me, Mavis? It would be a
change'--he was going to say 'for you', but altered it--'for me.'
'Oh no, Vincy; you can't take me out to dinner. I don't look up to the
mark.' She looked in a glass. 'My hat--it's a very good hat--it cost
more than you'd think--but it shows signs of wear.'
'Oh, that reminds me,' began Vincy. 'What _do_ you think happened the
other day? A cousin of mine who was up in London a little while bought
a hat--it didn't suit her, and she insisted on giving it to me! She
didn't know what to do to get rid of it! I'd given her something or
other, for her birthday, and _she_ declared she would give this to _me_
for _my_ birthday, and so--I've got it on my hands.'
'What a very queer thing! It doesn't sound true.'
'No; does it? Do have some more tea, Mavis darling.'
'No, thanks; I'll have another cake.'
'May I smoke?'
She laughed. 'Asking _me_! You do what you like in your own house.'
'It's yours,' he answered, 'when you're here. And when you're not, even
more,' he added as an afterthought.
He struck a match; she laughed and said: 'I don't believe I understand
you a bit.'
'Oh--I went to the play last night,' said Vincy. 'Oh, Mavis, it was
such a wearing play.'
'All about nothing, I suppose? They always are, now.'
'Oh no. It was all about everything. The people were _so_ clever; it
was something cruel how clever they were. One man _did_ lay down the
law! Oh, didn't he though! I don't hold with being bullied and lectured
from the stage, do you, Mavis? It seems so unfair when you can't answer
'Was it Bernard Shaw?' she asked.
'No; it wasn't; not this time; it was someone else. Oh, I do feel
sometimes when I'm sitting in my stall, so good and quiet, holding my
programme nicely and sitting up straight to the table, as it were, and
then a fellow lets me have it, tells me where I'm wrong and all that; I
_should_ like to stand up and give a back answer, wouldn't you?'
'No; I'd like to see _you_ do it! Er--what colour is that hat that your
cousin gave you?'
'Oh, colour?' he said thoughtfully, smoking. 'Let me see--what colour
was it? It doesn't seem to me that it was any particular colour. It was
a very curious colour. Sort of mole-colour. Or was it cerise? Or
violet?... You wouldn't like to see it, would you?'
'Why, yes, I'd like to see it; I wouldn't try it on of course.'
He opened the box.
'Why, what a jolly hat!' she exclaimed. 'You may not know it, but that
would just suit me; it would go with my dress, too.'
She took off her own hat, and touched up her hair with her fingers, and
tried on the other. Under it her eyes brightened in front of the glass;
her colour rose; she changed as one looked at her--she was sixteen
again--the child he had first met at the Art School.
'Don't you think it suits me?' she said, turning round.
'Yes, I think you look very charming in it. Shall I put it back?'
There was a pause.
'I sha'n't know what on earth to do with it,' he said discontentedly.
'It's so silly having a hat about in a place like this. Of course you
wouldn't dare to keep it, I suppose? It does suit you all right, you
know; it would be awfully kind of you.'
'What a funny person you are, Vincy. I _should_ like to keep it. What
could I tell Aunt Jessie?'
'Ah, well, you see, that's where it is! I suppose it wouldn't do for
you to tell her the truth.'
'What do you mean by the truth?'
'I mean what I told you--how my cousin, Cissie Cavanack,' he smiled a
little as he invented this name, 'came up to town, chose the wrong hat,
didn't know what to do with it--and, you know!'
'I could tell her all that, of course.'
'All right,' said Vincy, putting the other hat--the old one--in the
box.' Where shall we dine?'
'Oh, Vincy, I think you're very sweet to me, but how late dare I get
back to Ravenscourt Park?'
'Why not miss the eight-five train?--then you'll catch the quarter to
ten and get back at about eleven.'
'Which would you _rather_ I did?'
'Well, need you ask?'
'I don't know, Vincy. I have a curious feeling sometimes. I believe
you're rather glad when I've gone--relieved!'
'Well, my dear,' he answered, 'look how you worry all the time! If
you'd only have what I call a quiet set-down and a chat, without being
always on the fidget, always looking either at the glass or at the
clock, one might _not_ have that feeling.'
Her colour rose, and tears came to her eyes. 'Oh, then you _are_ glad
when I'm gone!' She pouted. 'You don't care for me a bit, Vincy,' she
said, in a plaintive voice.
He sat down next to her on the little striped sofa, and took her hand.
'Oh, give over, Mavis, do give over! I wish you wouldn't carry on like
that; you do carry on, Mavis dear, don't you? Some days you go on
something cruel, you do really. Reely, I mean. Now, cheer up and be
jolly. Give a kiss to the pretty gentleman, and look at all these
pretty good-conduct stripes on the sofa! There! That's better.'
'Don't speak as if I were a baby!'
'Do you mind telling me what we're quarrelling about, my dear? I only
ask for information.'
'Oh, we're _not_. You're awfully sweet. You know I love you, Vincy.'
'I thought, perhaps, it was really all right.'
'Sometimes I feel miserable and jealous.'
He smiled. 'Ah! What are you jealous of, Mavis?'
'Oh, everything--everyone--all the people you meet.'
'Is that all? Well, you're the only person I ever meet--by appointment,
at any rate.'
His eye instinctively travelled to a photograph of Edith, all tulle and
roses; a rather fascinating portrait.
'What about _her_?' asked Mavis. 'What price Mrs Ottley?'
'Really, Mavis!--What price? No price. Nothing about her; she's just a
great friend of mine. I think I told you that before. ... What a
frightfully bright light there is in the room,' Vincy said. He got up
and drew the blind down. He came back to her.
'Your hair's coming down,' he remarked.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'But at the back it generally is.'
'Don't move--let me do it.'
Pretending to arrange it, he took all the hairpins out, and the cloud
of dark red hair fell down on her shoulders.
'I like your hair, Mavis.'
* * * * *
'It seems too awful I should have been with you such a long time this
afternoon,' she exclaimed.
'It _isn't_ long.'
'And sometimes it seems so dreadful to think I can't be with you
'Yes, doesn't it? Mavis dear, will you do up your hair and come out to
'Vincy dear, I think I'd better not, because of Aunt Jessie.'
'Oh, very well; all right. Then you will another time?'
'Oh, you don't want me to stay?'
'Yes, I do; do stay.'
'No, next time--next Tuesday.'
'Very well, very well.'
He took a dark red carnation out of one of the vases and pinned it on
to her coat.
'The next time I see you,' she said, 'I want to have a long, _long_
'Oh yes; we must, mustn't we?'
He took her downstairs, put her into a cab. It was half-past six.
He felt something false, worrying, unreliable and incalculable in
Mavis. She didn't seem real.... He wished she were fortunate and happy;
but he wished even more that he were never going to see her again. And
He walked a little way, then got into a taxi and drove to see Edith.
When he was in this peculiar condition of mind--the odd mixture of
self-reproach, satisfaction, amusement and boredom that he felt now
--he always went to see Edith, throwing himself into the little affairs
of her life as if he had nothing else on his mind. He was a little
anxious about Edith. It seemed to him that since Aylmer had been away
she had altered a little.
More of the Mitchells
Edith had become an immense favourite with the Mitchells. They hardly
ever had any entertainment without her. Her success with their friends
delighted Mrs Mitchell, who was not capable of commonplace feminine
jealousy, and who regarded Edith as a find of her own. She often
reproached Winthrop, her husband, for having known Bruce eight years
without discovering his charming wife.
One evening they had a particularly gay party. Immediately after dinner
Mitchell had insisted on dressing up, and was solemnly announced in his
own house as Prince Gonoff, a Russian noble. He had a mania for
disguising himself. He had once travelled five hundred miles under the
name of Prince Gotoffski, in a fur coat, a foreign accent, a false
moustache and a special saloon carriage. Indeed, only his wife knew all
the secrets of Mitchell's wild early career of unpractical jokes, to
some of which he still clung. When he was younger he had carried it
pretty far. She encouraged him, yet at the same time she acted as
ballast, and was always explaining his jokes; sometimes she was in
danger of explaining him entirely away. She loved to tell of his
earlier exploits. How often, when younger, he had collected money for
charities (particularly for the Deaf and Dumb Cats' League, in which he
took special interest), by painting halves of salmon and ships on fire
on the cold grey pavement! Armed with an accordion, and masked to the
eyes, he had appeared at Eastbourne, and also at the Henley Regatta, as
a Mysterious Musician. At the regatta he had been warned off the
course, to his great pride and joy. Mrs Mitchell assured Edith that his
bath-chair race with a few choice spirits was still talked of at St
Leonard's (bath-chairmen, of course, are put in the chairs, and you
pull them along). Mr Mitchell was beaten by a short head, but that, Mrs
Mitchell declared, was really most unfair, because he was so
handicapped--his man was much stouter than any of the others--and the
race, by rights, should have been run again.
When he was at Oxford he had been well known for concealing under a
slightly rowdy exterior the highest spirits of any of the
undergraduates. He was looked upon as the most fascinating of
_farceurs_. It seems that he had distinguished himself there less for
writing Greek verse, though he was good at it, than for the wonderful
variety of fireworks that he persistently used to let off under the
dean's window. It was this fancy of his that led, first, to his
popularity, and afterwards to the unfortunate episode of his being sent
down; soon after which he had married privately, chiefly in order to
send his parents an announcement of his wedding in _The Morning Post_,
as a surprise.
Some people had come in after dinner--for there was going to be a
little _sauterie intime_, as Mrs Mitchell called it, speaking in an
accent of her own, so appalling that, as Vincy observed, it made it
sound quite improper. Edith watched, intensely amused, as she saw that
there were really one or two people present who, never having seen
Mitchell before, naturally did not recognise him now, so that the
disguise was considered a triumph. There was something truly agreeable
in the deference he was showing to a peculiarly yellow lady in red,
adorned with ugly real lace, and beautiful false hair. She was
obviously delighted with the Russian prince.
'Winthrop is a wonderful man!' said Mrs Mitchell to Edith, as she
watched her husband proudly. 'Who would dream he was clean-shaven! Look
at that moustache! Look at the wonderful way his coat doesn't fit; he's
got just that Russian touch with his clothes; I don't know how he's
done it, I'm sure. How I wish dear Aylmer Ross was here; he _would_
appreciate it so much.'
'Yes, I wish he were,' said Edith.
'I can't think what he went away for. I suppose he heard the East
a-calling, and all that sort of thing. The old wandering craving you
read of came over him again, I suppose. Well, let's hope he'll meet
some charming girl and bring her back as his bride. Where is he now, do
you know, Mrs Ottley?'
'In Armenia, I fancy,' said Edith.
'Oh, well, we don't want him to bring home an Armenian, do we? What
colour are they? Blue, or brown, or what? I hope no-one will tell Lady
Hartland that is my husband. She'll expect to see Winthrop tonight; she
never met him, you know; but he really ought to be introduced to her. I
think I shall tell him to go and undress, when they've had a little
dancing and she's been down to supper.'
Lady Hartland was the yellow lady in red, who thought she was flirting
with a fascinating Slav.
'She's a sort of celebrity,' continued Mrs Mitchell. 'She was an
American once, and she married Sir Charles Hartland for her money. I
hate these interested marriages, don't you?--especially when they're
international. Sir Charles isn't here; he's such a sweet boy. He's a
friend of Mr Cricker; it's through Mr Cricker I know them, really. Lady
Everard has taken _such_ a fancy to young Cricker; she won't leave him
alone. After all he's _my_ friend, and as he's not musical I don't see
that she has any special right to him; but he's there every Wednesday
now, and does his dances on their Sunday evenings too. He's got a new
one--lovely, quite lovely--an imitation of Lydia Kyasht as a
water-nymph. I wanted him to do it here tonight, but Lady Everard has
taken him to the opera. Now, won't you dance? Your husband promised he
would. You both look so young!'
Edith refused to dance. She sat in a corner with Vincy and watched the
By special permission, as it was so _intime_, the Turkey Trot was
allowed. Bruce wanted to attempt it with Myra Mooney, but she was
horrified, and insisted on dancing the 1880 _trois-temps_ to a jerky
'Edith,' said Vincy; 'I think you're quieter than you used to be.
Sometimes you seem rather absent-minded.'
'Am I? I'm sorry; there's nothing so tedious to other people. Why do
you think I'm more serious?'
'I think you miss Aylmer.'
'Yes, I do. He gave a sort of meaning to everything. He's always
interesting. And there's something about him--I don't know what it is.
Oh, don't be frightened, Vincy, I'm not going to use the word
personality. Isn't that one of the words that ought to be forbidden
altogether? In all novels and newspapers that poor, tired word is
always cropping up.'
'Yes, that and magnetism, and temperament, and technique. Let's cut out
technique altogether. Don't let there be any, that's the best way; then
no-one can say anything about it. I'm fed up with it. Aren't you?'
'Oh, I don't agree with you at all. I think there ought to be any
amount of technique, and personality, and magnetism, and temperament. I
don't mind _how_ much technique there is, as long as nobody talks about
it. But neither of these expressions is quite so bad as that dreadful
thing you always find in American books, and that lots of people have
caught up--especially palmists and manicures--mentality.'
'Yes, mentality's very depressing,' said Vincy. 'I could get along
nicely without it, I think.... I had a long letter from Aylmer today.
He seemed unhappy.'
'I had a few lines yesterday,' said Edith. 'He said he was having a
very good time. What did he say to you?'
'Oh, he wrote, frankly to _me_.'
'Bored, is he?'
'Miserable; enamoured of sorrow; got the hump; frightfully off colour;
wants to come back to London. He misses the Mitchells. I suppose it's
Edith smiled and looked pleased. 'He asked me not to come here much.'
'Ah! But he wouldn't want you to go anywhere. That is so like Aylmer.
He's not jealous; of course. How could he be? It's only a little
exclusiveness.... And how delightfully rare that is, Edith dear. I
admire him for it. Most people now seem to treasure anything they value
in proportion to the extent that it's followed about and surrounded by
the vulgar public. I sympathise with that feeling of wishing to
keep--anything of that sort--to oneself.'
'You are more secretive than jealous, yourself. But I have very much
the same feeling,' Edith said. 'Many women I know think the ideal of
happiness is to be in love with a great man, or to be the wife of a
great public success; to share his triumph! They forget you share the
man as well!'
'I suppose the idea is that, after the publicity and the acclamation
and the fame and the public glory and the shouting, you take the person
home, and feel he is only yours, really.'
'But, can a famous person be only yours? No. I shouldn't like it.
It isn't that I don't _like_ cleverness and brilliance, but I don't
care for the public glory.'
'I see; you don't mind how great a genius he is, as long as he isn't
appreciated,' replied Vincy. 'Well, then, in heaven's name let us stick
to our obscurities!'
The Agonies of Aylmer
In the fresh cheerfulness of the early morning, after sleep, with the
hot June sun shining in at the window, Aylmer used to think he was
better. He would read his letters and papers, dress slowly, look out of
the window at the crowds on the pavement--he had come back to
Paris--feel the infectious cheeriness and sense of adventure of the
city; then he would say to himself that his trip had been successful.
He _was_ better. When he went out his heart began to sink a little
already, but he fought it off; there would be a glimpse of an English
face flashing past in a carriage--he thought of Edith, but he put it
aside. Then came lunch. For some reason, immediately after lunch his
malady--for, of course, such love is a malady--incongruously attacked
him in an acute form. 'Why after lunch?' he asked himself. Could it be
that only when he was absolutely rested, before he had had any sort of
fatigue, that the deceptive improvement would show itself? He felt a
wondering humiliation at his own narrow grief.
However, this was the hour that it recurred; he didn't know why. He had
tried all sorts of physical cures--for there is no disguising the fact
that such suffering is physical, and so why should the cure not be,
also? He had tried wine, no wine, exercise, distraction,
everything--and especially a constant change of scene. This last was
the worst of all. He felt so exiled in Sicily, and in Spain--so
terribly far away--it was unbearable. He was happier directly he got
to Paris, because he seemed more in touch with England and her. Yes;
the pain had begun again....
Aylmer went and sat alone outside the cafe. It was not his nature to
dwell on his own sensations. He would diagnose them quickly and
acutely, and then throw them aside. He was quickly bored with himself;
he was no egotist. But today, he thought, he _would_ analyse his state,
to see what could be done.
Six weeks! He had not seen her for six weeks. The longing was no
better. The pain seemed to begin at his throat, pressing down gradually
on the chest It was that feeling of oppression, he supposed, that makes
one sigh; as though there were a weight on the heart. And certain
little memories made it acute; sudden flashing vivid recollection of
that last drive was like a sharp jagged tear. Had they ever been on
nearer terms, and had she treated him badly, it would not have caused
this slow and insidious suffering. He was a man of spirit; he was proud
and energetic; he would have thrown it off. If he could have been angry
with her, or despised her, he could have cured himself in time. Instead
of that, all the recollections were of an almost sickening sweetness;
particularly that kiss on the day he went to see her. And the other,
the _second_, was also the last; so it had a greater bitterness.
'Rapture sharper than a sword,
Joy like o sudden spear.'
These words, casually read somewhere, came back to him whenever he
Aylmer had read, heard of these obsessions, but never believed in them.
It was folly, madness!
He stood up, tossing his head as though to throw it off.
He went to fetch some friends, went with them to see pictures, to have
tea, and to drive in the Bois, accepting also an invitation to dine
with a man--a nice boy--a fellow who had been at Oxford with him, and
was at the embassy here, a young attache.
He was quite nice: a little dull, and a little too fond of talking
about his chief.
Aylmer got home at about half-past six to dress for dinner. Then the
torture began again. It was always worse towards evening--an agony of
longing, regret, fury, vague jealousy and desire.
He stood and looked out of the window again at the crowd, hurrying
along now to their pleasures or their happy homes. So many people in
the world, like stars in the sky--why want the one star only? Why cry
for the moon?
He had no photograph of her, but he still thought she was like his
mother's miniature, and often looked at it. He wished he wasn't going
to dine with that young man tonight. Aylmer was the most genial and
sociable of men; he usually disliked being alone; yet just now being
with people bored him; it seemed an interruption. He was going through
Yes; he could not stand anyone this evening. He rang the bell and sent
a _petit bleu_ to say he was prevented from dining with his friend.
What a relief when he had sent this--now he could think of her alone
She had never asked him to go away. It was his own idea. He had come
away to get over it. Well, he hadn't got over it. He was worse. But it
wasn't because he didn't see her; no, he didn't deceive himself. The
more he saw of her the worse he would be. Not one man in a thousand was
capable of feeling so intensely and deeply as Aylmer felt, and never in
his life before had he felt anything like it. And now it came on again
with the ebb and flow of passion, like an illness. Why was he so
miserable--why would nothing else do? He suddenly remembered with a
smile that when he was five years old he had adored a certain nurse,
and for some reason or other his mother sent her away. He had cried and
cried for her to come back. He remembered even now how people had said:
'Oh, the child will soon forget.' But he wore out their patience; he
cried himself to sleep every night. And his perseverance had at last
been rewarded. After six weeks the nurse came back. His mother sent for
her in despair at the boy's misery. How well he remembered that evening
and her plain brown face, with the twinkling eyes. How he kissed his
mother, and thanked her! The nurse stayed till he went to school and
then he soon forgot all about her. Perhaps it was in his nature at rare
intervals to want one particular person so terribly, to pine and die
That was a recollection of babyhood, and yet he remembered even now
that obstinate, aching longing.... He suddenly felt angry, furious.
What was Edith doing now? Saying good-night to Archie and Dilly? They
certainly did look, as she had said, heavenly angels in their night
attire (he had been privileged to see them). Then she was dressing for
dinner and going out with Bruce. Good heavens! what noble action had
Bruce ever done for _him_ that he should go away? Why make such a
Perhaps, sometimes, she really missed him a little. They had had great
fun together; she looked upon him as a friend; not only that, but he
knew that he amused her, that she liked him, thought him clever,
and--admired him even.
But that was all. Yet she _could_ have cared for him. He knew that. And
not only in one way, but in every way. They could have been comrades
interested in the same things; they had the same sense of humour, much
the same point of view. She would have made him, probably,
self-restrained and patient as she was, in certain things. But, in
others, wouldn't he have fired her with his own ideas and feelings, and
violent passions and enthusiasms!
She was to be always with Bruce! That was to be her life!--Bruce, who
was almost indescribable because he was neither bad, nor stupid, nor
bad-looking. He had only one fault. _'Il n'a qu'un defaut--il est
impossible,'_ said Aylmer aloud to himself.
He took up a book--of course one of _her_ books, something she had lent
* * * * *
Now it was time to go out again--to dinner. He couldn't; it was too
much effort. Tonight he would give way, and suffer grief and desire and
longing like a physical pain. He hadn't heard from her lately. Suppose
she should be ill? Suppose she was forgetting him entirely? Soon they
would be going away to some summer place with the children. He stamped
his foot like an angry child as he imagined her in her thin summer
clothes. How people would admire her! How young she would look! Why
couldn't he find some fault with her?--imagine her cold, priggish,
dull, too cautious. But he could only think of her as lovely, as beyond
expression attractive, drawing him like a magnet, as marvellously kind,
gentle, graceful, and clever. He was obliged to use the stupid word
clever, as there was no other. He suddenly remembered her teeth when
she smiled, and a certain slight wave in her thick hair that was a
natural one. It is really barely decent to write about poor Aylmer as
he is alone, suffering, thinking himself unwatched. He suddenly threw
himself on his bed and gave way to a crisis of despair.
* * * * *
About an hour later, when the pain had somehow become stupefied, he lit
a cigarette, ashamed of his emotion even to himself, and rang. The
servant brought him a letter--the English post.
He had thought so much of her, felt her so deeply the last few days
that he fancied it must somehow have reached her. He read:
'My Dear Aylmer,
'I'm glad you are in Paris; it seems nearer home. Last night I went to
the Mitchells' and Mr Mitchell disguised himself as a Russian Count.
Nobody worried about it, and then he went and undisguised himself
again. But Lady Hartland worried about it, and as she didn't know the
Mitchells before, when he was introduced to her properly she begged him
to give her the address of that charming Russian. And Vincy was there,
and darling Vincy told me you'd written him a letter saying you weren't
so very happy. And oh, Aylmer, I don't see the point of your waiting
till September to come back. Why don't you come _now_?
'We're going away for Archie's holidays. Come back and see us and take
Freddie with us somewhere in England. You told me to ask you when I
wanted you--ask you anything I wanted. Well, I want to see you. I miss
you too much. You arrived in Paris last night. Let me knew when you can