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Tenterhooks by Ada Leverson

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come. I want you.

Edith.'

The bell was rung violently. Orders were given, arrangements made,
packing was done. Aylmer was suddenly quite well, quite happy.

In a few hours he was in the midnight express due to arrive in London
at six in the morning--happy beyond expression.

By ten o'clock in the morning he would hear her voice on the telephone.

He met a poor man just outside the hotel selling matches, in rags.
Aylmer gave him three hundred francs. He pretended to himself that he
didn't want any more French money. He felt he wanted someone else to be
happy too.

CHAPTER XVIII

A Contretemps

Edith did not know, herself, what had induced her to write that letter
to Paris. Some gradual obscure influence, in an impulsive moment of
weakness, a conventional dread of Paris for one's idol. Then, what
Vincy told her had convinced her Aylmer was unhappy. She thought that
surely there might be some compromise; that matters could be adjusted.
Couldn't they go on seeing each other just as friends? Surely both
would be happier than separated? For, yes--there was no doubt she
missed him, and longed to see him. Is there any woman in the world on
whom a sincere declaration from a charming, interesting person doesn't
make an impression, and particularly if that person goes away
practically the next day, leaving a blank? Edith had a high opinion of
her own strength of will. When she appeared weak it was on some subject
about which she was indifferent. She took a great pride in her own
self-poise; her self-control, which was neither coldness nor density.
She had made up her mind to bear always with the little irritations
Bruce caused her; to guide him in the right direction; keep her
influence with him in order to be able to arrange everything about the
children just as she wished. The children were a deep and intense
preoccupation. To say she adored them is insufficient. Archie she
regarded almost as her greatest friend, Dilly as a pet; for both she
had the strongest feeling that a mother could have. And yet the fact
remained that they did not nearly fill her life. With Edith's intellect
and temperament they could only fill a part.

Bending down to a lower stature of intelligence all day long would make
one's head ache; standing on tiptoe and stretching up would do the
same; one needs a contemporary and a comrade.

Perhaps till Edith met Aylmer she had not quite realised what such real
comradeship might mean, coupled with another feeling--not the
intellectual sympathy she had for Vincy, but something quite different.
When she recollected their last drive her heart beat quickly, and the
little memories of the few weeks of their friend-ship gave her
unwonted moments of sentiment. Above all, it was a real, solid
happiness--an uplifting pleasure, to believe he was utterly devoted to
her. And so, in a moment of depression, a feeling of the sense of the
futility of her life, she had, perhaps a little wantonly, written to
ask him to come back. It is human to play with what one loves.

She thought she had a soft, tender admiration for him, that he had a
charm for her; that she admired him. But she had not the slightest idea
that on her side there was anything that could disturb her in any way.
And so that his sentiment, which she had found to be rather infectious,
should never carry her away, she meant only to see him now and then; to
meet again and be friends.

As soon as she had written the letter and sent it she felt again a
cheerful excitement. She felt sure he would come in a day or two.

Aylmer arrived, as I have said, eight hours after he received the
letter. His first intention was to ring her up, or to speak to Bruce on
the telephone. But it so happened that it was engaged. This decided him
to have a short rest, and then go and surprise her with a visit. He
thought he would have lunch at one (he knew she always lunched with the
children at this hour), and would call on her unexpectedly at two,
before she would have time to go out. They might have a long talk; he
would give her the books and things he had bought for her, and he would
have the pleasure of surprising her and seeing on her face that first
look that no-one can disguise, the look of real welcome.

Merely to be back in the same town made him nearly wild with joy. How
jolly London looked at the beginning of July! So gay, so full of life.
And then he read a letter in a writing he didn't know; it was from
Mavis Argles, the friend of Vincy--the young art-student: Vincy had
given her his address some time ago--asking him for some special
privilege which he possessed, to see some of the Chinese pictures in
the British Museum. He was to oblige her with a letter to the museum.
She would call for it. Vincy was away, and evidently she had by
accident chosen the day of Aylmer's return without knowing anything of
his absence. She had never seen him in her life.

Aylmer was wandering about the half-dismantled house _desoeuvre_, with
nothing to do, restlessly counting the minutes till two in the
afternoon. He remembered the very little that Vincy had told him of
Mavis; how proud she was and how hard up. He saw her through the
window. She looked pale and rather shabby. He told the servant to show
her in.

'I've just this moment got your letter, Miss Argles. But, of course,
I'm only too delighted.'

'Thank you. Mr Vincy said you'd give me the letter.'

The girl sat down stiffly on the edge of a chair. Vincy had said she
was pretty. Aylmer could not see it. But he felt brimming over with
sympathy and kindness for her--for everyone, in fact.

She wore a thin light grey cotton dress, and a small grey hat; her hair
looked rich, red, and fluffy as ever; her face white and rather thin.
She looked about seventeen. When she smiled she was pretty; she had a
Rossetti mouth; that must have been what Vincy admired. Aylmer had no
idea that Vincy did more than admire her very mildly.

'Won't you let me take you there?' suggested Aylmer suddenly. He had
nothing on earth to do, and thought it would fill up the time. 'Yes!
I'll drive you there and show you the pictures. And then, wouldn't you
come and have lunch? I've got an appointment at two.'

She firmly declined lunch, but consented that he should drive her, and
they went.

Aylmer talked with the eagerness produced by his restless excitement
and she listened with interest, somewhat fascinated, as people always
were, with his warmth and vitality.

As they were driving along Oxford Street Edith, walking with Archie,
saw them clearly. She had been taking him on some mission of clothes.
(For the children only she went into shops.) He was talking with such
animation that he did not see her, to a pale young girl with bright red
hair. Edith knew the girl by sight, knew perfectly well that she was
Vincy's friend--there was a photograph of her at his rooms. Aylmer did
not see her. After a start she kept it to herself. She walked a few
steps, then got into a cab. She felt ill.

So Aylmer had never got her letter? He had been in London without
telling her. He had forgotten her. Perhaps he was deceiving her? And he
was making love obviously to that sickening, irritating red-haired fool
(so Edith thought of her), Vincy's silly, affected art-student.

When Edith went home she had a bad quarter of an hour. She never even
asked herself what right she had to mind so much; she only knew it
hurt. A messenger boy at once, of course.

'Dear Mr Ross,

I saw you this morning. I wrote you a line to Paris, not knowing you
had returned. When you get the note forwarded, will you do me the
little favour to tear it up unopened? I'm sure you will do this to
please me.

'We are going away in a day or two, but I don't know where. Please
don't trouble to come and see me.

'Good-bye.

'EDITH OTTLEY.'

Aylmer left Miss Argles at the British Museum. When he went back, he
found this letter.

CHAPTER XIX

An Extraordinary Afternoon

Aylmer guessed at once she had seen him driving. Being a man of sense,
and not an impossible hero in a feuilleton, instead of going away again
and leaving the misunderstanding to ripen, he went to the telephone,
endeavoured to get on, and to explain, in few words, what had obviously
happened. To follow the explanation by an immediate visit was his plan.
Though, of course, slightly irritated that she had seen him under
circumstances conveying a false impression, on the other hand he was
delighted at the pique her letter showed, especially coming immediately
after the almost tender letter in Paris.

He rang and rang (and used language), and after much difficulty getting
an answer he asked, '_Why he could not get on_' a pathetic question
asked plaintively by many people (not only on the telephone).

'The line is out of order.'

In about twenty minutes he was at her door. The lift seemed to him
preternaturally slow.

'Mrs Ottley?'

'Mrs Ottley is not at home, sir.'

At his blank expression the servant, who knew him, and of course liked
him, as they always did, offered the further information that Mrs
Ottley had gone out for the whole afternoon.

'Are the children at home, or out with Miss Townsend?'

'The children are out, sir, but not with Miss Townsend. They are
spending the day with their grandmother.'

'Oh! Do you happen to know if Mr and Mrs Ottley will be at home to
dinner?'

'I've heard nothing to the contrary, sir.'

'May I come in and write a note?'

He went into the little drawing-room. It was intensely associated with
her. He felt a little emu.... There was the writing-table, there the
bookcase, the few chairs, the grey walls; some pale roses fading in a
pewter vase.... The restfulness of the surroundings filled him, and
feeling happier he wrote on the grey notepaper:

'DEAR MRS OTTLEY,

I arrived early this morning. I started, in fact, from Paris
immediately after receiving a few lines you very kindly sent me there.
I'm so disappointed not to see you. Unless I hear to the contrary--and
even if I do, I think!--I propose to come round this evening about
nine, and tell you and Bruce all about my travels.

'Excuse my country manners in thus inviting myself. But I know you will
say no if you don't want me. And in that case I shall have to come
another time, very soon, instead, as I really must see you and show you
something I've got for Archie. Yours always--'

He paused, and then added:

'Sincerely,

'AYLMER ROSS'

He went to his club, there to try and pass the time until the evening.
He meant to go in the evening, even if she put him off again; and, if
they were out, to wait until they returned, pretending he had not heard
from her again.

He was no better. He had been away six weeks and was rather more in
love than ever. He would only see her--she _did_ want to see him before
they all separated for the summer! He could not think further than of
the immediate future; he would see her; they could make plans
afterwards. Of course, her letter was simply pique! She had given
herself away--twice--once in the angry letter, also in the previous
one to Paris. Where was she now? What did it mean? Why did she go out
for the whole afternoon? Where was she?

* * * * *

After Edith had written and sent her letter to Aylmer in the morning,
Mrs Ottley the elder came to fetch the children to dine, and Edith told
Miss Townsend to go for the afternoon. She was glad she would be
absolutely alone.

'Aren't you very well, dear Mrs Ottley?' asked this young lady, in her
sweet, sympathetic way.

Edith was fond of her, and, by implication only, occasionally confided
in her on other subjects than the children. Today, however, Edith
answered that she was _very_ well _indeed_, but was going to see about
things before they went away. 'I don't know how we shall manage without
you for the holidays, Miss Townsend. I think you had better come with
us for the first fortnight, if you don't mind much.'

Miss Townsend said she would do whatever Edith liked. She could easily
arrange to go with them at once. This was a relief, for just at this
moment Edith felt as if even the children would be a burden.

Sweet, gentle Miss Townsend went away. She was dressed rather like
herself, Edith observed; she imitated Edith. She had the soft, graceful
manner and sweet voice of her employer. She was slim and had a pretty
figure, but was entirely without Edith's charm or beauty. Vaguely Edith
wondered if she would ever have a love affair, ever marry. She hoped
so, but (selfishly) not till Archie went to Eton.

Then she found herself looking at her lonely lunch; she tried to eat,
gave it up, asked for a cup of tea.

At last, she could bear the flat no longer. It was a glorious day, very
hot, Edith felt peculiar. She thought that if she spent all the
afternoon out and alone, it would comfort her, and she would think it
out. Trees and sky and sun had always a soothing effect on her. She
went out, walked a little, felt worried by the crowd of shoppers
swarming to Sloane Street and the Brompton Road, got into a taxi and
drove to the gate of Kensington Gardens, opposite Kensington Gore. Here
she soon found a seat. At this time of the day the gardens were rather
unoccupied, and in the burning July afternoon she felt almost as if in
the country. She took off her gloves--a gesture habitual with her
whenever possible. She looked utterly restful. She had nothing in her
hands, for she never carried either a parasol or a bag, nor even in
winter a muff or in the evening a fan. All these little accessories
seemed unnecessary to her. She liked to simplify. She hated fuss,
anything worrying, agitating.

... And now she felt deeply miserable, perturbed and agitated. What a
punishment for giving way to that half-coquettish, half self-indulgent
impulse that had made her write to Paris! She had begged him to come
back; while, really, he was here, and had not even let her know. She
had never liked what she had heard of Mavis Argles, but had vaguely
pitied her, wondering what Vincy saw in her, and wishing to believe the
best. Now, she assumed the worst! As soon as Vincy had gone out of
town--he was staying in Surrey with some of his relatives--she, the
minx, began flirting or carrying on with Aylmer. How far had it gone?
she wondered jealously. She did not believe Aylmer's love-making to be
harmless. He was so easily carried away. His feelings were impulsive.
Yet it was only a very short time since Vincy had told her of Aylmer's
miserable letter. Edith was not interested in herself, and seldom
thought much of her own feelings, but she hated self-deception; and now
she faced facts. She adored Aylmer! It had been purely jealousy that
made her write to Paris so touchingly, asking him to come back--vague
fears that, if he were so depressed in Spain, perhaps he might try by
amusements to forget her in Paris. He had once said to her that, of all
places, he thought Paris the least attractive for a romance, because it
was all so obvious, so prepared, so professional. He liked the
unexpected, the veiled and somewhat more hypocritical atmosphere, and
in the fogs of London, he had said, were more romantic mysteries than
in any other city. Still, she had feared. And besides she longed to see
him. So she had unbent and thought herself soon after somewhat
reckless; it was a little wanton and unfair to bring him back. But she
was not a saint; she was a woman; and sometimes Bruce was trying....

Edith belonged to the superior class of human being whom jealousy
chills and cures, and does not stimulate to further efforts. It was not
in her to go in for competition. The moment she believed someone else
took her place she relaxed her hold. This is the finer temperament, but
it suffers most.

She would not try to take Aylmer away. Let him remain with his
red-haired Miss Argles! He might even marry her. He deserved it.

She meant to tell Vincy, of course. Poor Vincy, _he_ didn't know of the
treachery. Now she must devote herself to the children, and be good and
kind to Bruce. At least, Bruce was _true_ to her in his way.

He had been in love when they married, but Edith shrewdly suspected he
was not capable of very much more than a weak rather fatuous sentiment
for any woman. And anyone but herself would have lost him many years
ago, would very likely have given him up. But she had kept it all
together, had really helped him, and was touched when she remembered
that jealous scene he made about the letter. The letter she wouldn't at
first let him see. Poor Bruce! Well, they were linked together. There
were Archie, the angel, and Dilly, the pet.... She was twenty-eight and
Aylmer forty. He ought not to hold so strong a position in her mind.
But he did. Yes, she was in love with him in a way--it was a mania, an
obsession. But she would now soon wrestle with it and conquer it. The
great charm had been his exclusive devotion--but also his appearance,
his figure, his voice. He looked sunburnt and handsome. He was laughing
as he talked to the miserable creature (so Edith called her in her own
mind).

Then Edith had a reaction. She would cure herself today! No more
flirtation, no more amitie amoureuse. They were going away. The
children, darlings, how they loved her! And Bruce. She was reminding
herself she must be gentle, good, to Bruce. He had at least never
deceived her!

She got up and walked on and on. It was about five o'clock now. As she
walked, she thought how fortunate she was in Miss Townsend; what a nice
girl she was, what a good friend to her and the children. She had a
sort of intuition that made her always have the right word, the right
manner. She had seemed a little odd lately, but she was quite pleased
to come with them to the country. What made her think of Miss Townsend?
Some way off was a girl, with her back to Edith, walking with a man.
Her figure was like Miss Townsend's, and she wore a dress like the one
copied from Edith's. Edith walked more quickly, it was the retired part
of the gardens on the way towards the Bayswater Road. The two figures
turned down a flowery path.... It was Miss Townsend! She had turned her
face. Edith was surprised, was interested, and walked on a few steps.
She had not seen the man clearly. Then they both sat down on a seat. He
took her hand. She left it in his. There was something familiar in his
figure and clothes, and Edith saw his face.

Yes, it was Bruce.

Edith turned round and went home.

CHAPTER XX

Journeys End

So that was how Bruce behaved to her!

The deceit of both of them hurt her immensely. But she pulled herself
together. It was a case for action. She felt a bitter, amused contempt,
but she felt it half-urgent _not_ to do anything that would lead to a
life of miserable bickering and mutual harm.

It must be stopped. And without making Bruce hate her.

She wrote the second note of this strange day and sent it by a
messenger.

Giving no reason of any kind, she told the governess that she had
decided the children's holidays should begin from that day, and that
she was unexpectedly going away with them almost immediately, and she
added that she would not require Miss Townsend any more. She enclosed a
cheque, and said she would send on some books and small possessions
that Miss Townsend had kept there.

This was sent by a messenger to Miss Townsend's home near Westbourne
Grove. She would find it on her return from her walk!

And now Edith read Aylmer's note--it was so real, so sincere, she began
to disbelieve her eyes this morning.

It gave her more courage; she wanted to be absolutely calm, and looking
her very best, for Bruce's entrance.

He came in with his key. He avoided her eye a little--looked rather
sheepish, she thought. It was about seven.

'Hallo! Aren't the children in yet? Far too late for them to be out.'
'Nurse fetched Dilly. She has gone to bed. Archie is coming presently;
mother will send him all right.'

'How are you, Edith, old girl?'

'I'm quite well, Bruce.'

'I have a sort of idea, as you know,' he said, growing more at ease,
'that we shall rather miss--a--Miss Townsend, when we first go away.
What do you think of taking her for part of the time?' 'Dinner's
ready,' announced Edith, and they dined. Towards the end of dinner he
was about to make the suggestion again, when Edith said in clear, calm
but decided tones:

'Bruce, I am not going to take Miss Townsend away with us. She is not
coming any more.'

'Not--Why? What the devil's the idea of this new scheme? What's the
matter with Miss Townsend?'

'Bruce,' answered Edith, 'I prefer not to go into the question, and
later you will be glad I did not. I've decided that Miss Townsend is
not to come any more at all. I've written to tell her so. I'll look
after the children with nurse until we come back.... It's all settled.'

Bruce was silent.

'Well upon my word!' he exclaimed, looking at her uneasily. 'Have it
your own way, of course--but upon my word! Why?'

'Do you really want me to tell you exactly why? I would so much prefer
not.'

'Oh, all right, Edith dear; after all--hang it all--you're the
children's mother--it's for you to settle.... No, I don't want to know
anything. Have it as you wish.'

'Then we won't discuss it again. Shall we?'

'All right.'

He was looking really rather shamefaced, and she thought she saw a
gleam of remorse and also of relief in his eye. She went into the other
room. She had not shown him Aylmer's letter.

After ten minutes he came in and said: 'Look here, Edith. Make what
arrangements you like. _I_ never want to see--Miss Townsend again.'

She looked a question.

'And I never shall.'

She was really pleased at this, and held out her hand. Bruce had tears
in his eyes as he took it. 'Edith, old girl, I think I'll go round to
the club for an hour or two.'

'Do. And look here, Bruce, leave it to me to tell the children. They'll
forget after the holidays. Archie must not be upset.'

'Whatever you do, Edith, will be--what I mean to say is that--Well,
good night; I sha'n't be long.'

Edith was really delighted, she felt she had won, and she _did_ want
that horrid little Townsend to be scored off! Wasn't it natural? She
wanted to hear no more about it.

There was a ring. It was nine o'clock. It was Aylmer's voice.

CHAPTER XXI

The Great Exception

The absurdly simple explanation, made almost in dumb show, by action
rather than in dialogue, was soon given. He was surprised, simply
enchanted, at the entire frankness of her recognition; she acknowledged
openly that it mattered to her tremendously whether or not he was on
intimate terms or flirting with little Miss Argles, or with little Miss
anybody. He was not even to look at any woman except herself, that was
arranged between them now and understood. They were side by side, with
hands clasped as a matter of course, things taken for granted that he
formerly never dreamt of. The signs of emotion in her face he
attributed of course to the morning's contretemps, knowing nothing of
the other trouble.

'It's heavenly being here again. You're prettier than ever, Edith;
sweeter than ever. What a time I had away. It got worse and worse.'

'Dear Aylmer!'

'You're far too good and kind to me. But I _have_ suffered--awfully.'

'So have I, since this morning. I felt--'

'What did you feel? Tell me!'

'Must I?'

'Yes!'

'I felt, when I saw you with her, as if I hadn't got a friend in the
world. I felt quite alone. I felt as if the ground were going to open
and swallow me up. I relied on you so much, far more than I knew! I was
struck dumb, and rooted to the spot, and knocked all of a heap, in a
manner of speaking, as Vincy would say,' Edith went on, laughing. 'But
now, you've cured me thoroughly; you're such a _real_ person.'

'Angel!'

She still left her hand in his. Her eyes were very bright, the result
of few but salt tears, the corners of her mouth were lifted by a happy
smile, not the tantalising, half-mocking smile he used to see. She was
changed, and was, he thought, more lovable--prettier; today's emotion
had shaken her out of herself. The reaction of this evening gave a
brilliancy to her eyes, happy curves to her lips, and the slight
disarrangement of her hair, not quite silky-smooth tonight, gave her a
more irresponsible look. She seemed more careless--younger.

'Where's Bruce?' Aylmer asked suddenly.

'He's gone to the club. He'll be back rather soon, I should think.'

'I won't wait. I would rather not meet him this evening. When shall I
see you again?'

'Oh, I don't know. I don't think I want to make any plans now.'

'As you wish. I say, do you really think Vincy can care for that girl?'

'I believe he has had a very long friendship of some kind with her.
He's never told me actually, but I've felt it,' Edith said.

'Is he in love with her? Can he be?'

'In a way--in one of his peculiar ways.'

'She's in love with him, I suppose,' said Aylmer. 'It was only because
she thought it would please him that she wanted to see those things at
the museum. I think she's a little anxious. I found her a wild,
irritating, unaccountable, empty creature. I believe she wants him to
marry her.'

'I hope he won't, unless he _really_ wants to,' said Edith. 'It would
be a mistake for Vincy to sacrifice himself as much as that.'

'I hope indeed he won't,' exclaimed Aylmer. 'And I think it's out of
the question. Miss Argles is only an incident, surely. She looks the
slightest of episodes.'

'It's a very long episode. It might end, though--if she insists and he
won't.'

'Oh, bother, never mind them!' Aylmer replied, with boyish impatience.
'Let me look at _you_ again. Do you care for me a little bit, Edith?'

'Yes; I do.'

'Well, what's going to be done about it?' he asked, with happy
triviality.

'Don't talk nonsense,' she replied. 'We're just going to see each other
sometimes.' 'I'll be satisfied with anything!' cried Aylmer, 'after
what I've suffered not seeing you at all. We'll have a new game. You
shall _make_ the rules and I'll keep them.'

'Naturally.'

'About the summer?'

'Oh, no plans tonight. I must think.' She looked thoughtful.

'Tell me, how's Archie?' he said.

'Archie's all right--delightful. Dilly, too. But I'm rather bothered.'

'Why should you bother? What's it about? Tell me at once.'

She paused a moment. 'Miss Townsend won't be able to come back any
more,' she said steadily.

'Really? What a pity. I suppose the fool of a girl's engaged, or
something.'

'She won't come back any more,' answered Edith.

'Will you have to get a new Miss Townsend?'

'I thought of being their governess myself--during the holidays,
anyhow.'

'But that will leave you hardly any time--no leisure.'

'Leisure for what?'

'For anything--for me, for instance,' said Aylmer boldly. He was full
of the courage and audacity caused by the immense relief of seeing her
again and finding her so responsive.

There is, of course, no joy so great as the cessation of pain; in fact
all joy, active or passive, is the cessation of some pain, since it
must be the satisfaction of a longing, even perhaps an unconscious
longing. A desire is a sort of pain, even with hope, without it is
despair. When, for example, one takes artistic pleasure in looking at
something beautiful, that is a cessation of the pain of having been
deprived of it until then, since what one enjoys one must have longed
for even without knowing it.

'Look here,' said Aylmer suddenly. 'I don't believe I can do without
you.'

'You said _I_ was to make the rules.'

'Make them then; go on.'

'Well, we'll be intimate friends, and meet as often as we can. Once a
week you may say you care for me, and I'll say the same. That's all. If
you find you don't like it--can't stand it, as you say--then you'll
have to go away again.'

'I agree to it all, to every word. You'll see if I don't stick to it
absolutely.'

'Thank you, dear Aylmer.'

He paused.

'Then I mustn't kiss you?'

'No. Never again.'

'All right. Never again after tonight. Tonight is the great exception,'
said Aylmer.

She made a tardy and futile protest. Then she said:

'Now, Aylmer, you must go.' She sighed. 'I have a lot of worries.'

'I never heard you say that before. Let me take them and demolish them
for you. Can't you give them to me?'

'No; I shall give nothing more to you. Good-bye....

'Remember, there are to be no more exceptions,' said Edith.

'I promise.'

She sat quietly alone for half-an-hour, waiting for Bruce.

She now felt sorry for Bruce, utterly and completely indifferent about
'the Townsend case', as she already humorously called it to herself.
But, she thought, she _must_ be strong! She was not prepared to lose
her dignity, nor to allow the children to be educated by a woman whose
faith at least with them and in their home was unreliable; their
surroundings must be crystal-clear. It would make a certain difference
to them, she thought. How could it not? There were so many little ways
in which she might spoil them or tease them, scamp things, or rush
them, or be nicer to one of them, or less nice, if she had any sort of
concealed relation with their father. And as she had been treated
absolutely as a confidante by Edith, the girl had certainly shown
herself treacherous, and rather too clearly capable of dissimulation.
Edith thought this must have a bad effect on the children.

Edith was essentially a very feminine woman though she had a mental
attitude rightly held to be more characteristic of men. Being so
feminine, so enraged under her calm and ease, she was, of course, not
completely consistent. She was still angry, and very scornful of Miss
Townsend. She was hurt with her; she felt a friend had played her
false--a friend, too, in the position of deepest trust, of grave
responsibility. Miss Townsend knew perfectly well what the children
were to Edith, and, for all she knew, there was no-one in Edith's life
except Bruce; so that it was rather cruel. Edith intended to keep up
her dignity so absolutely that Miss Townsend could never see her again,
that she could never speak to Edith on the subject. She wished also,
_very_ much, that Bruce should never see her again, but didn't know how
to encompass this. She must find a way.

On the other hand, after the first shock and disgust at seeing him,
Edith's anger with Bruce himself had entirely passed. Had she not
known, for years, that he was a little weak, a little fatuous? He was
just as good a sort now as he had ever been, and as she was not blinded
by the resentment and fury of the real jealousy of passion, Edith saw
clearly, and knew that Bruce cared far more for _her_ than for anybody
else; that in so far as he could love anybody he loved her in his way.
And she wanted to keep the whole thing together on account of Archie,
and for Dilly's sake. She must be so kind, yet so strong that Bruce
would be at once grateful for her forbearance and afraid to take
advantage of it. Rather a difficult undertaking!...

And she had seen Aylmer again! There was nothing in it about Miss
Argles. What happiness! She ought to have trusted him. He cared for
her. He loved her. His sentiment was worth having. And she cared for
him too; how much she didn't quite know. She admired him; he fascinated
her, and she also felt a deep gratitude because he gave her just the
sort of passionate worship that she must have always unconsciously
craved for.

Certainly the two little events of today had drawn her nearer to him.
She had been far less reserved that evening. She closed her eyes and
smiled to herself. But this mustn't happen again.

With a strong effort of self-coercion she banished all delightful
recollections as she heard Bruce come up in the lift.

He came in with a slightly shy, uncomfortable manner. Again, she felt
sorry for him.

'Hallo!' he said.

He gave her a quick glance, a sort of cautious look which made her feel
rather inclined to laugh. Then he said:

'I've just been down to the club. What have you been doing?'

'Aylmer's been here.'

'Didn't know he was in town.'

'He's only come for a few days.'

'I should like to see him,' said Bruce, looking brighter. 'Did he ask
after me?'

'Yes.'

He looked at her again and said suspiciously:

'I suppose you didn't mention--'

'Mention what?'

'Edith!'

'Yes?'

He cleared his throat and then said with an effort of self-assertion
that she thought at once ridiculous and touching:

'Look here, I don't wish to blame you in any way for what--er--
arrangements you like to make in your own household. But--er--have you
written to Miss Townsend?'

'Yes; she won't come back.'

'Er--but won't she ask why?'

'I hope not.'

'Why?' asked Bruce, with a tinge of defiance.

'Because then I should have to explain. And I don't like explaining.'

There was another pause. Bruce seemed to take a great interest in his
nails, which he examined separately one at a time, and then all
together, holding both hands in front of him.

'Did Archie enjoy his day?'

'Oh yes,' said Edith.

Bruce suddenly stood up, and a franker, more manly expression came into
his face. He looked at her with a look of pain. Tears were not far from
his eyes.

'Edith, you're a brick. You're too good for me.'

She looked down and away without answering.

'Look here, is there anything I can do to please you?'

'Yes, there is.'

'What? I'll do it, whatever it is, on my word of honour.'

'Well, it's a funny thing to ask you, but you know our late governess,
Miss Townsend? I should like you to promise never to see her again,
even by accident. If you meet her--by accident, I mean--I want you not
to see her.'

Bruce held out both his hands.

'I swear I'd never recognise her even if I should meet her
accidentally.'

'I know it's a very odd thing to ask,' continued Edith, 'just a fancy;
why should I mind your not seeing Miss Townsend?'

He didn't answer.

'However, I _do_ mind, and I'll be grateful.'

Edith thought one might be unfaithful without being disloyal, and she
believed Bruce now. She was too sensible to ask him never to write a
line, never to telephone, never to do anything else; besides, it was
beneath her dignity to go into these details, and common-sense told her
that one or the other must write or communicate if the thing was to be
stopped. If Miss Townsend wrote to him to the club, he would have to
answer. Bruce meant not to see her again, and that was enough.

'Then you're not cross, Edith--not depressed?'

She gave her sweetest smile. She looked brilliantly happy and
particularly pretty.

'Edith!'

With a violent reaction of remorse, and a sort of tenderness, he tried
to put his arm round her. She moved away.

'Don't you forgive me, Edith, for anything I've done that you don't
like?'

'Yes, I _entirely_ forgive you. The incident is closed.'

'Really forgive me?'

'Absolutely. And I've had a tiring day and I'm going to sleep. Good
night.'

With a kind little nod she left him standing in the middle of the room
with that air of stupid distinction that he generally assumed when in a
lift with other people, and that came to his rescue at awkward
moments--a dull, aloof, rather haughty expression. But it was no use to
him now.

He had considerable difficulty in refraining from venting his temper on
the poor, dumb furniture; in fact, he did give a kick to a pretty
little writing-table. It made no sound, but its curved shoulder looked
resentful.

'What a day!' said Bruce to himself.

He went to his room, pouting like Archie. But he knew he had got off
cheaply.

CHAPTER XXII

Another Side of Bruce

Ever since his earliest youth, Bruce had always had, at intervals, some
vague, vain, half-hearted entanglement with a woman. The slightest
interest, practically even common civility, shown him by anyone of the
feminine sex between the ages of sixteen and sixty, flattered his
vanity to such an extraordinary extent that he immediately thought
these ladies were in love with him, and it didn't take much more for
him to be in love with them. And yet he didn't really care for women.
With regard to them his point of view was entirely that of vanity, and
in fact he only liked both men or women who made up to him, or who gave
him the impression that they did. Edith was really the only woman for
whom his weak and flickering passion had lingered at all long; and in
addition to that (the first glamour of which had faded) she had a real
hold over him. He felt for her the most genuine fondness of which he
was capable, besides trust and a certain admiration. A sort of respect
underlay all his patronising good-nature or caprices with her. But
still he had got into the habit of some feeble flirtation, a little
affair, and at first he missed it very much. He didn't care a straw for
Miss Townsend; he never had. He thought her plain and tedious; she
bored him more than any woman he had ever met, and yet he had slipped
into a silly sort of intrigue, beginning by a few words of pity or
sympathy to her, and by the idea that she looked up to him in
admiration. He was very much ashamed of it and of the circumstances; he
was not proud of his conquest with her, as he generally was. He felt
that on account of the children, and altogether, he had been playing it
a bit low down.

He was not incapable, either, of appreciating Edith's attitude. She had
never cross-questioned him, never asked him for a single detail, never
laboured the subject, nor driven the point home, nor condescended even
to try to find out how far things had really gone. She hadn't even told
him how she knew; he was ashamed to ask.

And, after that promise of forgiveness, she never referred to it; there
was never the slightest innuendo, teasing, reproach. Yes, by Jove!
Edith was wonderful! And so Bruce meant to play the game too.

For several days he asked the porter at the club if there were any
letters, receiving the usual reply, 'None, sir.'

The third day he received the following note, and took it to read with
enjoyment of the secrecy combined with a sort of self-important shame.
Until now he hadn't communicated with her:--

'Dear Mr Ottley,

Of course you know I'm not returning to the children after the
holidays, nor am I going with you to Westgate. I'm very unhappy, for I
fear I have offended Mrs Ottley. She has always been very kind to me
till now; but I shall let the matter rest. Under the circumstances I
suppose I shall not see you any more. May I ask that you should not
call or write. I and mother are going to spend the summer at Bexhill
with some friends. Our address will be Sandringham, Seaview Road,
Bexhill, if you like to write just one line to say good-bye. I fear I
have been rather to blame in seeing you without Mrs Ottley's knowledge,
but you know how one's feelings sometimes lead one to do what one knows
one ought not to ...'

'Sandringham, indeed! Some boarding house, I suppose,' said Bruce to
himself. 'What a lot of 'ones'!... Fine grammar for a governess.'

'... Wishing you every happiness (I _shall_ miss the children!).

Yours sincerely,

Margaret Townsend

'_P.S._--I shall never forget how happy I was with you and Mrs Ottley.'

Bruce's expression as he read the last line was rather funny.

'She's a silly little fool, and I shan't answer,' he reflected.

Re-reading the letter, he found it more unsatisfactory still, and
destroyed it.

The thought of Miss Townsend bored him unutterably; and indeed he was
incapable of caring for any woman (however feebly) for more than two or
three weeks. He was particularly fickle, vague, and scrappy in his
emotions. Edith was the only woman for whom even a little affection
could last, and he would have long tired of her but for her exceptional
character and the extraordinary trouble and tact she used with him. He
didn't appreciate her fine shades, he was not in love with her, didn't
value her as another man might have done. But he was always coming back
to a certain steady, renewed feeling of tenderness for her.

With the curious blindness common to all married people (and indeed to
any people who live together), clever Edith had been entirely taken in,
in a certain sense; she had always felt (until the 'Townsend case')
half disdainfully but satisfactorily certain of Bruce's fidelity. She
knew that he had little sham flirtations, but she had never imagined
his going anywhere near an intrigue. She saw now that in that she had
been duped, and that if he didn't do more it was not from loyalty to
her. Still, she now felt convinced that it wouldn't occur again. She
had treated him well; she had spared him in the matter. He was a little
grateful, and she believed he would be straight now, though her opinion
of him had rather gone down. Edith always felt that she must go to the
very extreme of loyalty to anyone who was faithful to her; she valued
fidelity so deeply, and now this feeling was naturally relaxed a
little. She hadn't the slightest desire for revenge, but she felt she
had a slightly freer hand. She didn't see why she should, for instance,
deprive herself of the pleasure of seeing Aylmer; she had not told him
anything about it.

That day at the club, Bruce in his depression had a chat with
Goldthorpe, his golfing companion and sometime confidant. Over a
cigarette and other refreshments, Bruce murmured how he had put an end
to the little affair for the sake of his wife.

'Rather jolly little girl, she was.'

'Oh yes,' said Goldthorpe indifferently. He thought Edith very
attractive, and would have liked to have the duty of consoling her.

'One of those girls that sort of _get round_ you, and appeal to
you--_you_ know.'

'Oh yes.'

'Grey eyes--no, by Jove! I should call them hazel, with black lashes,
no, not exactly black--brown. Nice, white teeth, slim figure--perhaps
a bit too straight. Brownish hair with a tinge of gold in the sun.'

'Oh yes.'

'About twenty,' continued Bruce dreamily. He knew that Miss Townsend
was thirty-two, but suspected Goldthorpe of admiring flappers, and so,
with a subconscious desire to impress him, rearranged the lady's age.

'About twenty--if that. Rather long, thin hands--the hands of a lady.
Well, it's all over now.'

'That's all right,' said Goldthorpe. He seemed to have had enough of
this retrospective inventory. He looked at his watch and found he had
an appointment.

Bruce, thinking he seemed jealous, smiled to himself.

For a few days after what had passed there was a happy reaction in the
house. Everyone was almost unnaturally sweet and polite and unselfish
about trifles to everybody else. Edith was devoting herself to the
children, Bruce had less of her society than usual. She seemed to
assume they were to be like brother and sister. He wouldn't at present
raise the question; thinking she would soon get over such a rotten
idea. Besides, a great many people had left town; and they were,
themselves, in the rather unsettled state of intending to go away in a
fortnight. Though happy at getting off so easily, Bruce was really
missing the meetings and notes (rather than the girl).

Fortunately, Vincy now returned; he was looking sunburnt and happy. He
had been having a good time. Yet he looked a little anxious
occasionally, as if perplexed.

One day he told Edith that he had just had a rather serious quarrel
with someone who was awfully cross, and carried on like anything and
wouldn't give over.

'I guess who she is. What does she want you to do?'

'She wants me to do what all my relations are always bothering me to
do,' said Vincy, 'only with a different person.'

'What, to marry?'

'Yes.'

'To marry her, I suppose? Shall you?'

'I'm afraid not,' he said. 'I don't think I quite can.'

'Don't you think it would be rather unkind to her?'

Neither of them had mentioned Miss Argles' name. The fact that Vincy
referred to it at all showed her that he had recovered from his
infatuation.

'But do you think I'm treating the poor girl badly?'

'Vincy, even if you adored her it would end unhappily. As you don't,
you would both be miserable from the first day. Be firm. Be nice and
kind to her and tell her straight out, and come and stay with us in the
country.'

'Well, that was rather my idea. Oh, but, Edith, it's hard to hurt
anyone.'

'You know I saw her driving with Aylmer that day, and I thought he
liked her. I found I was wrong.'

'Yes. He doesn't. I wish I could get some nice person to--er--take
her out. I mean, take her on.'

'What sort of person? She's pretty in her way. I daresay she'll attract
someone.'

'What sort of person? Oh, I don't know. Some nice earl would please
her, or one of those artist chaps you read of in the feuilletons--the
sort of artist who, when he once gets a tiny little picture skied at
the Academy, immediately has fortune, and titles and things, rolling
in. A little picture called 'Eventide' or 'Cows by Moonlight', or
something of that sort, in those jolly stories means ten thousand
pounds a year at once. Jolly, isn't it?'

'Yes, Vincy dear, but we're not living in a feuilleton. What's really
going to be done? Will she be nasty?'

'No. But I'm afraid Aunt Jessie will abuse me something cruel.' He
thought a little while. 'In fact she has.'

'What does she say?'

'She says I'm no gentleman. She said I had no business to lead the poor
girl on, in a manner of speaking, and walk out with her, and pay her
marked attention, and then not propose marriage like a gentleman.'

'Then you're rather unhappy just now, Vincy?'

'Well, I spoke to _her_ frankly, and said I would like to go on being
her friend, but I didn't mean to marry. And _she_ said she'd never see
me again unless I did.'

'And what else?'

'That's about all, thanks very much,' said Vincy.

Here Bruce came in.

'Edith,' he said,' have you asked Aylmer to come and stay with us at
Westgate?'

'Oh no. I think I'd rather not.'

'Why on earth not? How absurd of you. It's a bit selfish, dear, if
you'll excuse my saying so. It's all very well for you: you've got the
children and Vincy to amuse you (you're coming, aren't you, Vincy?).
What price me? I must have someone else who can go for walks and play
golf, a real pal, and so forth. I need exercise, and intellectual
sympathy. Aylmer didn't say he had anywhere else to go.'

'He's going to take his boy, Freddie, away to some seaside place. He
doesn't like staying with people.'

'All right, then. I shall go and ask him to come and stay at the hotel,
for at least a fortnight. I shall go and ask him now. You're
inconsistent, Edith. At one moment you seem to like the man, but as
soon as I want to make a pleasant arrangement you're off it. So like a
woman, isn't it, Vincy?' He laughed.

'Isn't it?' answered Vincy.

'Well, look here, I'm going right down to Jermyn Street purposely to
tell him. I'll be back to dinner; do stop, Vincy.'

Bruce was even more anxious than he used to be always to have a third
person present whenever possible.

He walked through the hot July streets with that feeling of flatness
--of the want of a mild excitement apart from his own home. He saw
Aylmer and persuaded him to come.

While he was there a rather pretty pale girl, with rough red hair, was
announced. Aylmer introduced Miss Argles.

'I only came for a minute, to bring back those books, Mr Ross,' she
said shyly. 'I can't stop.'

'Oh, thank you so much,' said Aylmer. 'Won't you have tea?'

'No, nothing. I _must_ go at _once_. I only brought you in the books
myself to show you they were safe.'

She gave a slightly coquettish glance at Aylmer, a half-observant
glance at Bruce, sighed heavily and went away. She was dressed in green
serge, with a turned-down collar of black lace. She wore black suede
gloves, a gold bangle and a smart and pretty hat, the hat Vincy
pretended had been given to _him_ by Cissie Cavanack, his entirely
imaginary cousin, and which he'd really bought for her in Bond Street.

'Well, I'll be off then. I'll tell Edith you'll write for rooms. Look
sharp about it, because they soon go at the best hotels.'

'At any rate I'll bring Freddie down for a week,' said Aylmer, 'and
then we'll see.'

'Who is that girl?' asked Bruce, as he left.

'She's a young artist, and I lent her some books of old prints she
wanted. She's not a particular friend of mine--I don't care for her
much.'

Bruce didn't hear the last words, for he was flying out of the door.
Miss Argles was walking very slowly; he joined her.

'Pardon me,' he said, raising his hat. 'It's so very hot--am I going
your way? Would you allow me to see you home?'

'Oh, you're very kind, I'm sure,' she said sadly. 'But I don't think--I
live at Ravenscourt Park.'

Bruce thought there was plenty of time.

'Why how very curious! That's just where I was going,' said he boldly.

He put up his stick. Instead of a taxi a hansom drove up. Bruce hailed
it.

'Always like to give these chaps a turn when I can,' he said. It would
take longer.

'How kind-hearted you are,' murmured the girl. 'But I'd really rather
not, thank you.'

'Then how shall you get back?'

'Walk to the Tube.'

'Oh no; it's far too hot. Let me drop you, as I'm going in your
direction.'

He gave her a rather fixed look of admiration, and smiled. She gave a
slight look back and got into the cab.

'What ripping red hair,' said Bruce to himself as he followed her.

* * * * *

Before the end of the drive, which for him was a sort of adventure,
Mavis had promised to meet Bruce when she left her Art School next
Tuesday at a certain tea-shop in Bond Street.

Bruce went home happy and in good spirits again. There was no earthly
harm in being kind to a poor little girl like this. He might do a great
deal of good. She seemed to admire him. She thought him so clever.
Funny thing, there was no doubt he had the gift; women liked him, and
there you are. Look at Miss Mooney at the Mitchells' the other day,
why, she was ever so nice to him; went for him like one o'clock; but he
gave her no encouragement. Edith was there. He wouldn't worry her, dear
girl.

As he came towards home he smiled again. And Edith, dear Edith--she,
too, must be frightfully keen on him, when one came to think about it,
to forgive him so readily about Margaret Tow--Oh, confound Miss
Townsend. This girl was a picture, a sort of Rossetti, and she had had
such trouble lately--terrible trouble. The man she had been devoted to
for years had suddenly thrown her over, heartlessly.... What a brute he
must have been! She was going to tell him all about it on Tuesday. That
man must have been a fiend!...

'Holloa, Vincy! So glad you're still here. Let's have dinner, Edie.'

CHAPTER XXIII

At Lady Everard's

Lady Everard was sitting in her favourite attitude at her
writing-table, with her face turned to the door. She had once been
photographed at her writing-table, with a curtain behind her, and her
face turned to the door. The photograph had appeared in _The Queen, The
Ladies' Field, The Sketch, The Taller, The Bystander, Home Chat, Home
Notes, The Woman at Home_, and _Our Stately Homes of England_. It was a
favourite photograph of hers; she had taken a fancy to it, and
therefore she always liked to be found in this position. The photo had
been called: 'Lady Everard at work in her Music-Room.'

What she was supposed to be working at, heaven only knew; for she never
wrote a line of anything, and even her social notes and invitation
cards were always written by her secretary.

As soon as a visitor came in, she rose from the suspiciously clean
writing-table, put down the dry pen on a spotless blotter, went and sat
in a large brocaded arm-chair in front of some palms, within view of
the piano, and began to talk. The music-room was large, splendid and
elaborately decorated. There was a frieze all round, representing
variously coloured and somewhat shapeless creatures playing what were
supposed to be musical instruments. One, in a short blue skirt, was
blowing at something; another in pink drapery (who squinted) was
strumming on a lyre; other figures were in white, with their mouths
open like young birds preparing to be fed by older birds. They
represented Harmony in all its forms. There were other attempts at the
classical in the decoration of the room; but Lady Everard herself had
reduced this idea to bathos by huge quantities of signed photographs in
silver frames, by large waste-paper baskets, lined with blue satin and
trimmed with pink rosettes, by fans which were pockets, stuffed cats
which were paperweights, oranges which were pincushions, and other
debris from those charitable and social bazaars of which she was a
constant patroness.

With her usual curious combination of weak volubility and decided
laying-down of the law, she was preparing to hold forth to young La
France (whom she expected), on the subject of Debussy, Edvina, Marcoux,
the appalling singing of all his young friends, his own good looks, and
other subjects of musical interest, when Mr Cricker was announced.

She greeted him with less eagerness, if less patronage, than her other
protege, but graciously offered him tea and permitted a cigarette.

Lady Everard went in for being at once _grande dame_ and Bohemian. She
was truly good-natured and kind, except to rivals in her own sphere,
but when jealous she was rather redoubtable.

'I'm pleased to see you, my dear Willie,' she said; 'all the more
because I hear Mrs Mitchell has taken Wednesdays now. Not _quite_ a
nice thing to do, I think; although, after all, I suppose we could
hardly really clash. True, we _do_ happen to know a few of the same
people.' (By that Lady Everard meant she had snatched as many of Mrs
Mitchell's friends away as she thought desirable.) 'But as a general
rule I suppose we're not really in the same set. But perhaps you're
going on there afterwards?'

That had been Mr Clicker's intention, but he denied it, with surprise
and apparent pain at the suspicion.

She settled down more comfortably.

'Ah, well, Mrs Mitchell is an extremely nice, hospitable woman, and her
parties are, I know, considered _quite_ amusing, but I do think--I
really do--that her husband carries his practical jokes and things a
_little_ too far. It isn't good form, it really isn't, to see a man of
his age, with his face blacked, coming in after dinner with a banjo,
calling himself the Musical White-eyed Kaffir, as he did the last time
I was there. I find it _deplace_--that's the word, _deplace_. He seemed
to think that we were all children at a juvenile party! I was saying so
to Lord Rye only last night. Lord Rye likes it, I think, but he says Mr
Mitchell's mad--that's what it is, a little mad. Last time Lord Rye was
there everybody had a present given them hidden in their table napkins.
There had been some mistake in the parcels, I believe, and Miss
Mooney--you know, the actress, Myra Mooney--received a safety razor,
and Lord Rye a vanity bag. Everybody screamed with laughter, but I must
say it seemed to me rather silly. I wasn't there myself.'

'I was,' said Mr Cricker. 'I got a very pretty little feather fan. I
suppose the things really had been mixed up, and after all I was very
glad of the fan; I was able to give it to--' He stopped, sighed and
looked down on the floor.

'And is that affair still going on, Willie dear? It seems to me _such_
a pity. I _do_ wish you would try and give it up.'

'I know, but she _won't_,' he said in a voice hoarse with anxiety.
'Dear Lady Everard, you're a woman of the world, and know everything--'

She smiled. 'Not everything, Willie; a little of music, perhaps. I know
a good voice when I hear it. I have a certain _flair_ for what's going
to be a success in that direction, and of course I've been everywhere
and seen everything. I've a certain natural knowledge of life, too, and
keep well up to date with everything that's going on. I knew about the
Hendon Divorce Case long before anyone else, though it never came off
after all, but that's not the point. But then I'm so discreet; people
tell me things. At any rate, I always _know_.'

Indeed, Lady Everard firmly believed herself to be a great authority on
most subjects, but especially on contemporary gossip. This was a
delusion. In reality she had that marvellous talent for not knowing
things, that gift for ignorance, and genius for inaccuracy so
frequently seen in that cultured section of society of which she was so
popular and distinguished a member. It is a talent that rarely fails to
please, particularly in a case like her own. There is always a certain
satisfaction in knowing that a woman of position and wealth, who plumes
herself on her early knowledge and special information, is absolutely
and entirely devoid of the one and incorrect in the other. A marked
ignorance in a professionally well-informed person has always something
touching and appealing to those who are able, if not willing, to set
that person right. It was taken for granted among her acquaintances,
and probably was one of the qualities that endeared her to them most,
that dear Lady Everard was generally positive and always wrong.

'Yes, I do know most things, perhaps,' she said complacently. 'And one
thing I know is that this woman friend of yours is making you perfectly
miserable. You're longing to shake it off. Ah, I know you! You've far
more real happiness in going to the opera with me than even in seeing
her, and the more she pursues you the less you like it. Am I not
right?'

'Yes, I suppose so. But as a matter of fact, Lady Everard, if she
didn't--well--what you might call make a dash for it, I shouldn't worry
about her at all.'

'Men,' continued Lady Everard, not listening, 'only like coldness;
coldness, reserve. The only way in the world to draw a man on is to be
always out to him, or to go away, and never even let him hear your name
mentioned.'

'I daresay there's a lot in that,' said Cricker, wondering why she did
not try that plan with young La France.

'Women of the present day,' she continued, growing animated, 'make such
a terrible, terrible mistake I What do they do when they like a young
man? Oh, I know! They write to him at his club; they call at his rooms
and leave messages; they telephone whenever they can. The more he
doesn't answer their invitations the more they invite him. It's
appalling! And what's the result? Men are becoming cooler and cooler--
as a class, I mean. Of course, there are exceptions. But it's such a
mistake of women to run after the few young men there are. There are
such a tremendous lot of girls and married women nowadays, there are so
many more of them.'

'Well, perhaps that's why they do it,' said Cricker rather stupidly.
'At any rate--oh, well, I know if my friend hadn't been so jolly nice
to me at first and kept it up so--oh, well, you know what I mean--kept
on keeping on, if I may use the expression, I should have drifted away
from her ages ago. Because, you see, supposing I'm beginning to think
about something else, or somebody else, she doesn't stand it; she won't
stand it. And the awkward part is, you see, her being _on_ the stage
_and_ married makes the whole thing about as awkward as a case of that
sort can possibly be.'

'I would not ask you her name for the world,' said Lady Everard
smoothly. 'Of course I know she's a beautiful young comedy actress, or
is it tragedy? I wonder if I could guess her first name? Will you tell
me if I guess right?' She looked arch.

'Oh, I say, I can't tell you who it is, Lady Everard; really not.'

'Only the first name? I don't _want_ you to tell me; I'm discretion
itself, I prefer not to know. The Christian name is not Margaretta, is
it? Ah! no, I thought not. It's Irene Pettifer! There, I've guessed.
The fact is, I always knew it, my dear boy. Your secret is safe with
me. I'm the tomb! I--'

'Excuse me, Lady Everard,' said Cricker, with every sign of annoyance,
'it's no more Irene Pettifer than it's you yourself. Please believe me.
First of all I don't _know_ Irene Pettifer; I've never even seen her
photograph--she's not young, not married, and an entirely different
sort of person.'

'What did I tell you? I knew it wasn't; I only said that to draw you.
However, have a little more tea, or some iced coffee, it's so much more
refreshing I always think. My dear Willie, I was only chaffing you. I
knew perfectly well it wasn't either of the people I suggested. The
point is, it seems to prey on your mind, and worry you, and you won't
break it off.'

'But how can I?'

'I will dictate you a letter,' she said. 'Far be it from me to
interfere, and I don't pretend to know more about this sort of thing
than anybody else. At the same time, if you'll take it down just as I
tell it, and send it off, you'll find it will do admirably. Have you
got a pencil?'

As if dully hypnotised, he took out a pencil and notebook.

'It would be awfully kind of you, Lady Everard. It might give me an
idea anyway.'

'All right.'

She leant back and half closed her eyes, as if in thought; then started
up with one finger out.

'We must be quick, because I'm expecting someone presently,' she said.
'But we've got time for this. Now begin. July 7th, 1912. Have you got
that?'

'Yes, I've got that.'

'Or, perhaps, just Thursday. Thursday looks more casual, more full of
feeling than the exact date. Got Thursday?'

'Yes, but it isn't Thursday, it's Friday.'

'All right, Friday, or any day you like. The day is not the point. You
can send it tomorrow, or any time you like. Wednesday. My dearest
Irene.'

'Her name's not Irene.'

'Oh no, I forgot. Take that out. Dear Margaretta. Circumstances have
occurred since I last had the pleasure of seeing you that make it
absolutely impossible that I could ever meet you again.'

'Oh, I say!'

'Go on. Ever see you or meet you again. You wish to be kind to her, I
suppose?'

'Oh yes.'

'Then say: Duty has to come between us, but God knows I wish you well.'
Tears were beginning to come to Lady Everard's eyes, and she spoke with
a break in her voice. 'I wish you well, Irene.'

'It's not Irene.'

'I wish you well, Margaretta. Some day in the far distant future you'll
think of me, and be thankful for what I have done. It's for your good
and my own happiness that we part now, and for ever. Adieu, and may God
bless you. How do you sign yourself?'

'Oh, Willie.'

'Very well then, be more serious this time: Always your faithful
friend, William Stacey Cricker.'

He glanced over the note, his face falling more and more, while Lady
Everard looked more and more satisfied.

'Copy that out, word for word, the moment you go back, and send it
off,' she said, 'and all the worst of your troubles will be over.'

'I should think the worst is yet to come,' said he ruefully.

'But you promise to do it, Willie? Oh, promise me?'

'Oh yes rather,' said he half-heartedly.

'Word for word?'

'O Lord, yes. That's to say, unless anything--'

'Not a word, Willie; it will be your salvation. Come and see me soon,
and tell me the result. Ah! here you are, cher maitre!'

With a bright smile she welcomed Mr La France, who was now announced,
gently dismissing Willie with a push of the left hand.

'Good heavens!' he said to himself, as he got into the cab, 'why, if I
were to send a thing like that there would be murder and suicide! She'd
show it to her husband, and he'd come round and knock me into a cocked
hat for it. Dear Lady Everard--she's a dear, but she doesn't know
anything about anything.'

He tore the pages out of his pocket-book, and called out to the cabman
the address of the Mitchells.

'Ah, chere madame, que je suis fatigue!' exclaimed La France, as he
threw himself back against the cushions.

His hair was long and smooth and fair, so fair that he had been spoken
of by jealous singers as a peroxide blond. His eyes were greenish, and
he had dark eyebrows and eyelashes. He was good-looking. His voice in
speaking was harsh, but his manner soft and insidious. His talents were
cosmopolitan; his tastes international; he had no duties, few pleasures
and that entire want of leisure known only to those who have
practically nothing whatever to do.

'Fatigued? That's what you always say,' said Lady Everard, laughing.

'But it is always true,' he said, with a strong French accent.

'You should take more exercise, Paul. Go out more in the air. You lead
too secluded a life.'

'What exercises? I practise my voice every day, twenty minutes.'

'Ah, but I didn't mean that. I mean in the open air--sport--that sort
of thing.'

'Ah, you wish I go horseback riding. Ver' nice, but not for me. I have
never did it. I cannot begun now, Lady Everard. I spoil all the
_veloute_ of my voice. Have you seen again that pretty little lady I
met here before? Delicious light brown hair, pretty blue eyes, a
wonderful blue, a blue that seem to say to everyone something
different.'

'What!' exclaimed Lady Everard. 'Are you referring to Mrs Ottley?' She
calmed down again. 'Oh yes, she's charming, awfully sweet--devoted to
her husband, you know--absolutely devoted to her husband; so rare and
delightful nowadays in London.'

'Oh yes, ver' nice. Me, I am devoted to 'er husband too. I go to see
him. He ask me.'

'What, without _me_?' exclaimed Lady Everard.

'I meet him the other night. He ask me to come round and sing him a
song. I cannot ask if I may bring Lady Everard in my pocket.'

'Really, Paul, I don't think that quite a nice joke to make, I must
say.' Then relenting she said: 'I know it's only your artistic fun.'

'So she ver' devoted to him? He have great confidence in her; he trust
her quite; he sure she never have any flirt?'

'He has every confidence; he's certain, absolutely certain!' exclaimed
Lady Everard.

'He wait till she come and tell him, I suppose. 'E is right.'

He continued in this strain for some time, constantly going back to his
admiration for Edith, and then began (with a good deal of bitterness)
on the subject of another young singer, whom he declared to be _un
garcon charmant_, but no good. 'He could not sing for nuts.'

She heartily agreed, and they began to get on beautifully again, when
she suddenly said to him:

'Is it true you were seen talking in the park to that girl Miss
Turnbull, on Sunday?'

'If you say I was seen, I was. You could not know I talk to her unless
I was seen. You could not know by wireless.'

'Don't talk nonsense, Paul,' she answered sharply. 'The point isn't
that you were seen, but that you did it.'

'Who did it? Me? I didn't do anything.'

'I don't think it's fair to me, I must say; it hurt my feelings that
you should meet Amy Turnbull in the park and talk to her.'

'But what could I say? It is ver' difficul. I walk through the park;
she walk through it with another lady. She speak to me. She say: Ah,
dear Mr La France, what pleasure to see you! I ask you, Lady Everard,
could I, a foreigner, not even naturalised here, could I order her out
of the park? Could I scream out to her: Go out, do not walk in ze Hyde
Park! Lady Everard do not like you! I have no authority to say that. I
am not responsible for the persons that walk in their own park in their
own country. She might answer me to go to the devil! She might say to
me: What, Lady Everard not like me, so I am not allowed in the park?
What that got to do with it? In a case like this, chere madame, I have
no legal power.'

She laughed forgivingly and said:

'Ah, well, one mustn't be too exacting!' and as she showed some signs
of a desire to pat his hair he rose, sat down to the piano, greatly to
her disappointment, and filled up the rest of the time by improvising
(from memory). It was a little fatiguing, as she thought it her duty to
keep up an expression of acute rapture during the whole of the
performance, which lasted at least three-quarters of an hour.

CHAPTER XXIV

Miss Bennett

Since his return Aylmer saw everything through what he called a
rose-coloured microscope--that is to say, every detail of his life, and
everything connected with it, seemed to him perfect. He saw Edith as
much as ever, and far less formally than before. She treated him with
affectionate ease. She had admitted by her behaviour on the night he
returned that she cared for him, and, for the moment, that was enough.
A sort of general relaxation of formality, due to the waning of the
season, and to people being too busy to bother, or already in thought
away, seemed to give a greater freedom. Everyone seemed more natural,
and more satisfied to follow their own inclinations and let other
people follow theirs. London was getting stale and tired, and the last
feverish flickers of the exhausted season alternated with a kind of
languor in which nobody bothered much about anybody else's affairs.
General interest was exhausted, and only a strong sense of
self-preservation seemed to be left; people clung desperately to their
last hopes. Edith was curiously peaceful and contented. She would have
had scarcely any leisure but that her mother-in-law sometimes relieved
her of the care of the children.

Being very anxious that they should not lose anything from Miss
Townsend's absence, she gave them lessons every day.

One day, at the end of a history lesson, Archie said:

'Where's Miss Townsend?'

'She's at Bexhill.'

'Why is she at Bexhill?'

'Because she likes it.'

'Where's Bexhill?'

'In England.'

'Why isn't Miss Townsend?'

'What do you mean, Archie?'

'Well, why isn't she Miss Townsend any more?'

'She is.'

'But she's not our Miss Townsend any more. Why isn't she?'

'She's gone away.'

'Isn't she coming back?'

'No.'

Watching his mother's face he realised that she didn't regret this, so
he said:

'Is Miss Townsend teaching anybody else?'

'I daresay she is, or she will, perhaps.'

'What are their names?'

'How should I know?'

'Do you think she'll teach anybody else called Archie?'

'It's possible.'

'I wonder if she'll ever be cross with the next boy she teaches.'

'Miss Townsend was very kind to you,' said Edith. 'But you need not
think about her any more, because you will be going to school when you
come back from the holidays.'

'That's what I told Dilly,' said Archie. 'But Dilly's not going to
school. Dilly doesn't mind; she says she likes you better than Miss
Townsend.'

'Very kind of her, I'm sure,' laughed Edith.

'You see you're not a real governess,' said Archie, putting his arm
round her neck. 'You're not angry, are you, mother? Because you're not
a real one it's more fun for us.'

'How do you mean, I'm not a real governess?'

'Well, I mean we're not _obliged_ to do what you tell us!'

'Oh, aren't you? You've got to; you're to go now because I expect Miss
Bennett.'

'Can't I see Miss Bennett?'

'Why do you want to see her?'

'I don't want to see her; but she always brings parcels. I like to see
the parcels.'

'They are not for you; she brings parcels because I ask her to do
shopping for me. It's very kind of her.'

She waited a minute, then he said:

'Mother, do let me be here when Miss Bennett brings the parcels. I'll
be very useful. I can untie parcels with my teeth, like this. Look! I
throw myself on the parcel just like a dog, and shake it and shake it,
and then I untie it with my teeth. It would be awfully useful.'

She refused the kind offer.

Miss Bennett arrived as usual with the parcels, looking pleasantly
business-like and important.

'I wonder if these things will do?' she said, as she put them out on
the table.

'Oh, they're sure to do,' said Edith; 'they're perfect.'

'My dear, wait till you see them. I don't think I've completed all your
list.' She took out a piece of paper.

'Where did you get everything?' Edith asked, without much interest.

'At Boots', principally. Then the novels--Arnold Bennett, Maxwell--Oh,
and I've got you the poem: 'What is it?' by Gilbert Frankau.'

'No, you mean, 'One of us',' corrected Edith.

'Then white serge for nurse to make Dilly's skirts--skirts a quarter of
a yard long!--how sweet!--and heaps and heaps of muslin, you see, for
her summer dresses. Won't she look an angel? Oh, and you told me to get
some things to keep Archie quiet in the train.' She produced a drum, a
trumpet, and a mechanical railway train. 'Will that do?'

'Beautifully.'

'And here's your travelling cloak from the other place.'

'It looks lovely,' said Edith.

'Aren't you going to try it on?'

'No; it's sure to be all right.'

'I never saw such a woman as you! Here are the hats. You've _got_ to
choose these.'

Here Edith showed more interest. She put them on, said all the colour
must be taken out of them, white put in one, black velvet in the other.
Otherwise they would do.

'Thanks, Grace; you're awfully kind and clever. Now do you know what
you're going to do? You're going to the Academy with me and Aylmer.
He's coming to fetch us.'

'Oh, really--what fun!'

At this moment he arrived. Edith introduced them.

'I've been having such a morning's shopping,' she said, 'I deserve a
little treat afterwards, don't I?'

'What sort of shopping? I'll tell you what you ought to have--a great
cricket match when the shopping season's over, between the Old
Selfridgians, and the Old Harrodians,' he said, laughing.

They walked through acres of oil paintings and dozens of portraits of
Chief Justices.

'I can't imagine anyone but Royalty enjoying these pictures,' said
Edith.

'They don't go to see pictures; they go to view exhibits,' Aylmer
answered.

Declaring they had 'Academy headache' before they had been through the
second room, they sat down and watched the people.

One sees people there that are to be seen nowhere else. An
extraordinary large number of clergymen, a peculiar kind of provincial,
and strange Londoners, almost impossible to place, in surprising
clothes.

Then they gave it up, and Aylmer took them out to lunch at a club
almost as huge and noisy and as miscellaneous as the Academy itself.
However, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Edith and Bruce were to take up their abode in their little country
house at Westgate next day.

CHAPTER XXV

At Westgate

'I've got to go up to town on special business,' said Bruce, one
afternoon, after receiving a telegram which he had rather
ostentatiously left about, hoping he would be questioned on the
subject. It had, however, been persistently disregarded.

'Oh, have you?'

'Yes. Look at this wire.'

He read aloud:

'_Wish to see you at once if possible come up today M_.'

'Who _is_ 'M'?'

'Mitchell, of course. Who should it be?' He spoke aggressively, then
softened down to explanation, 'Mitchell's in town a few days on
business, too. I may be detained till Tuesday--or even Wednesday next.'

Bruce had been to town so often lately, his manner was so vague, he
seemed at once so happy and so preoccupied, so excited, so pleased, so
worried, and yet so unnaturally good-tempered, that Edith had begun to
suspect he was seeing Miss Townsend again.

The suspicion hurt her, for he had given his word of honour, and had
been nice to her ever since, and amiable (though rather absent and
bored) with the children.

She walked down to the station with him, though he wished to go in the
cab which took his box and suit-case, but he did not resist her wish.
On the way he said, looking round as if he had only just arrived and
had never seen it before:

'This is a very nice little place. It's just the right place for you
and the children. If I were you, I should stay on here.'

It struck her he spoke in a very detached way, and some odd
foreshadowing came to her.

'Why--aren't you coming back?' she asked jokingly.

'Me? _What_ an idea! Yes, of course. But I've told you--this
business of mine--well, it'll take a little time to arrange. Still, I
expect to be back on Tuesday. Or quite on Wednesday--or sooner.'

They walked on and had nearly reached the station.

'How funny you are, Bruce!'

'What do you mean? Are you angry with me for going up to see about
important business? Why, here you've got Aylmer and his boy at the
hotel, my mother and Vincy to stay with you. You've got plenty of
companions. I don't suppose you'll miss me much. You see--a--this is a
sort of business matter women don't understand. Women are incapable of
understanding it.'

'Of what nature is it?'

'How do you mean, nature? It's not of any particular _nature_. Nature,
indeed! How like a woman! It's just business.' He waited a minute.
'Stockbroking; that's what it is. Yes, it's stockbroking. I want to see
a chap who's put me in to a good thing. A perfectly safe thing. No
gambling. But one has to see into it, you see. Mitchell wants to see me
at once, you see. Do you see? You saw his wire, didn't you? I've
explained, haven't I? Aren't you satisfied with my explanation?'

'_You_ appear to be--very. But I'm not asking you to tell me any
details about the business, whatever it may be.'

They arrived at the station, and Bruce gave her what she thought a very
queer look. It was a mixture of fear, daring, caution and a sort of
bravado. Anxiety was in it, as well as a pleased self-consciousness.

'Tell me, frankly, something I'd like to know, Bruce.'

'Are you getting suspicious of me, Edith? That's not like you. Mind
you, it's a great mistake in a woman; women should always trust.
Mistrust sometimes drives a man to--to--Oh, anyhow, it's a great
mistake.'

'I only want you to tell me something, Bruce. I'll believe you
implicitly if you'll answer.... Do you ever see Miss Townsend now?'

'Never, on my honour! I swear it.' He spoke with such genuine good
faith that she believed him at once.

'Thanks. I'm glad. And--have you never since--'

'Never seen her, never written to her, never communicated with her
since she left! Don't know where she is and don't care. Now you do
believe me?' he asked, with all the earnestness and energy of truth.

'Absolutely. Forgive me for asking.'

'Oh, that's all right.'

He was relieved, and smiled.

'All right, Bruce dear. I'm glad. It would have worried me.'

'Now go, Edith. Don't bother to wait till I get in. I'll write to
you--I'll write to you soon.'

She still lingered, seeing something odd in his manner.

'Give my love to my mother,' he said, looking away. 'I say--' Edith.'

'Yes, dear?'

'Oh, nothing.'

She waited on till the train started. His manner was alternately
peevish and kind, but altogether odd. Her last glimpse was a rather
pale smile from Bruce as he waved his hand and then turned to his
paper....

'Well, what _does_ it matter so long as he _has_ gone!' exclaimed
Aylmer impatiently, when she expressed her wonder at Bruce's going. The
tide was low, and they went for a long walk over the hard shining sand,
followed by Archie picking up wonderful shells and slipping on the
green seaweed. Everything seemed fresh, lovely. She herself was as
fresh as the sea breeze, and Aylmer seemed to her as strong as the sea.
(Privately, Edith thought him irresistible in country clothes.) Edith
had everything here to make her happy, including Bruce's mother, who
relieved her of the children when she wanted rest and in whose eyes she
was perfection.

She saw restrained adoration in Aylmer's eyes, love and trust in the
eyes of the children. She had all she wanted. And yet--something tugged
at her heart, and worried her. She had a strange and melancholy
presentiment.

But she threw it off. Probably there was nothing really wrong with
Bruce; perhaps only one of those little imaginary romances that he
liked to fabricate for himself; or, perhaps, it was really business? It
was all right if Mr Mitchell knew about it. Yet she could not believe
that 'M' _was_ Mitchell. Bruce had repeated it too often; and, why on
earth should Mitchell suddenly take to sending Bruce fantastic
telegrams and signing them, for no reason, with an initial?...

CHAPTER XXVI

Goggles

'What divine heavenly pets and ducks of angels they are!' exclaimed
Lady Everard rather distractedly. 'Angels! Divine! And so good, too! I
never saw such darlings in my life. Look at them, Paul. Aren't they
sweet?'

Lady Everard with her party (what Aylmer called her performing troupe)
had driven over to Westgate, from where she was staying in the
neighbourhood, to have tea with Edith. She had brought with her a sort
of juvenile party, consisting of Mr Cricker, Captain Willis and, of
course, Paul La France, the young singer. She never moved without him.
She explained that two other women had been coming also, but they had
deserted her at the last minute.

Paul La France had been trying for an hour and a half to make eyes
through motor goggles, which, naturally, was not a success; so he
seemed a little out of temper. Archie was staring at him as if
fascinated. He went up and said:

'Voulez-vous lend me your goggles?'

'Mais certainement! Of course I will. Voila mon petit.'

'The darling! How sweet and amusing of him! But they're only to be used
in the motor, you know. Don't break them, darling, will you? Monsieur
will want them again. Ah! how sweet he looks!' as he put them on, 'I
never saw such a darling in the whole course of my life! Look at him,
Mrs Ottley. Look at him, Paul!'

'Charmant. C'est delicieux,' grumbled La France.

'What a charming little lawn this is, going right down to the sea, too.
Oh, Mr Ross, is that you? Isn't this a delightful little house? More
tea? Yes, please. Mr La France doesn't take sugar, and--'

'You don't know what I am now,' said Archie, having fixed the goggles
on his own fair head, to the delight of Dilly.

'Oh, I guess what you are! You're a motorist, aren't you, darling?
That's it! It's extraordinary how well I always get on with children,
Mrs Ottley,' explained Lady Everard. 'I daresay it's through being used
to my little grandchildren, Eva's two angels, you know, but I never see
them because I can't stand their noise, and yet I simply adore them.
Pets!'

'What am I?' asked Archie, in his persistent way, as he walked round
the group on the lawn, in goggles, followed closely by Dilly, saying,
'Yes, what is he?' looking exactly like a live doll, with her golden
hair and blue ribbons.

'You're a motorist, darling.'

'No, I'm not a silly motorist. Guess what I am?'

'It's so difficult to guess, such hot weather! Can you guess, Paul?'

'I sink he is a nuisance,' replied the Frenchman, laughing politely.

'No, that's wrong. You guess what I am.'

'Guess what he is,' echoed Dilly.

'O Lord! what does it matter? What I always say is--live and let live,
and let it go at that,' said Captain Willis, with his loud laugh.
'What, Mrs Ottley? But they won't do it, you know--they won't--and
there it is!'

'Guess what I am,' persisted Archie.

'Never mind what you are; do go and sit down, and take those things
off,' said Edith.

'Not till you guess what I am.'

'Does Dilly know?'

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