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  • 1921
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moment of admiration, Mr. Waddington possessed himself of the uncovered sketch-book. Barbara saw him in the looking-glass. She turned, with a cry:

“You mustn’t! You mustn’t look at it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t let anybody see my sketches.”

“You’ll let _me_.”

“I _won’t_!” She dashed at him, clutching his arm and hanging her weight on it. He shook himself free and raised the sketch-book high above her head. She jumped up, tearing at it, but his grip held.

He delighted in his power. He laughed.

“Give it me this instant,” she said.

“Aha! She’s got her little secrets, has she?”

“Yes. Yes. They’re all there. You’ve no business to look at them.”

He caracoled heavily, dodging her attack, enjoying the youthful violence of the struggle.

“Come,” he said, “ask me nicely.”

“Please, then. _Please_ give it me.”

He gave it, bowing profoundly over her hand as she took it.

“I wouldn’t look into your dear little secrets for the world,” he said.

They sat down amicably.

“You’ll let me stay with you a little while?”

“Please do. Won’t you have one of my cigarettes?”

He took one, turning it in his fingers and smiling at it–a lingering, sentimental smile.

“I think I know your secret,” he said presently.

“Do you?” Her mind rushed to Ralph.

“I think so. And I think you know mine.”


“Yes. Mine. We can’t go on living like this, so close to each other, without knowing. We may try to keep things from each other, but we can’t. I feel as if you’d seen everything.”

She said to herself: “He’s thinking of Mrs. Levitt.”

“I don’t suppose I’ve seen anything that matters,” she said.

“You’ve seen what my life is here. You can’t have helped seeing that Fanny and I don’t hit it off very well together.”

“Fanny’s an angel.”

“You dear little loyal thing…. Yes, she’s an angel. Too much of an angel for a mere man. I made my grand mistake, Barbara, when I married her.”

“She doesn’t think so, anyhow.”

“I’m not so sure. Fanny knows she’s got hold of something that’s too–too big for her. What’s wrong with Fanny is that she can’t grasp things. She’s afraid of them. And she can’t take serious things seriously. It’s no use expecting her to. I’ve left off expecting.”

“You don’t understand Fanny one bit.”

“My dear child, I’ve been married to her more than seventeen years, and I’m not a fool. You’ve seen for yourself how she takes things. How she belittles everything with her everlasting laugh, laugh, laugh. In time it gets on your nerves.”

“It would,” said Barbara, “if you don’t see the fun of it.”

“You can’t expect me to see the fun of my own funeral.”

“Funeral? Is it as bad as all that?”

“It has been as bad as all that–Barbara.”

He brooded.

“And then you came, with your sweetness. And your little serious face–“

“_Is_ my face serious?”

“Very. To me. Other people may think you frivolous and amusing. I daresay you are amusing–to them.”

“I hope so.”

“You hope so because you want to hide your real self from them. But you can’t hide it from me. I’ve seen it all the time, Barbara.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite, quite sure.”

“I wish I knew what it looked like.”

“That’s the beauty and charm of you, my dear, that you don’t know.”

“What a nice waistcoat you’ve got on,” said Barbara.

He looked gratified. “I’m glad you like it I put it on for your birthday.”

“You mean,” she said, “my adoption day.”

He winced.

“It _is_ good,” she said, “of you and Fanny to adopt me. But it won’t be for very long. And I want to earn my own living all the same.”

“I can’t think of letting you do that.”

“I must. It won’t make any difference to my adoption.”

He scowled. So repugnant to him was this subject that he judged it would be equally distasteful to Barbara.

“It was Fanny’s idea,” he said.

“I thought it would be.”

“You didn’t expect me to have paternal feelings for you, Barbara?”

“I didn’t _expect_ you to have any feelings at all.”

The wound made him start. “My poor child, what a terrible thing for you to say.”

“Why terrible?”

“Because it shows–it shows–And it isn’t true. Do you suppose I don’t know what’s been going on inside you? I was blind to myself, my dear, but I saw through you.”

“Saw through me?” She thought again of Ralph.

“Through and through.”

“I didn’t know I was so transparent. But I don’t see that it matters much if you did.”

He smiled at her delicious naivete.

“No. Nothing matters. Nothing matters, Barbara, except our caring. At least we’re wise enough to know that.”

“I shouldn’t have thought,” she said, “it would take much wisdom.”

“More than you think, my child; more than you think. You’ve only got to be wise for yourself. I’ve got to be wise for both of us.”

She thought: “Heavy parent. That comes of being adopted.”

“When it comes to the point,” she said, “one can only be wise for oneself.”

“I’m glad you see that. It makes it much easier for me.”

“It does. You mustn’t think you’re responsible for me just because you’ve adopted me.”

“Don’t talk to me about adoption! When you know perfectly well what I did it for.”

“Why–what _did_ you do it for?”

“To make things safe for us. To keep Fanny from knowing. To keep myself from knowing, Barbara. To keep you…. But it’s too late to camouflage it. We know where we stand now.”

“I don’t think _I_ do.”

“You do. You do.”

Mr. Waddington tossed his cigarette into the fire with a passionate gesture of abandonment. He came to her. She saw his coming. She saw it chiefly as the approach of a canary yellow waistcoat. She fixed her attention on the waistcoat as if it were the centre of her own mental equilibrium.

There was a bend in the waistcoat. Mr. Waddington was stooping over her with his face peering into hers. She sat motionless, held under his face by curiosity and fear. The whole phenomenon seemed to her incredible. Too incredible as yet to call for protest. It was as if it were not happening; as if she were merely waiting to see it happen before she cried out. Yet she was frightened.

This state lasted for one instant. The next she was in his arms. His mouth, thrust out under the big, rough moustache, was running over her face, like–like–while she pressed her hands hard against the canary yellow waistcoat, pushing him off, her mind disengaged itself from the struggle and reported–like a vacuum cleaner. That was it. Vacuum cleaner.

He gave back. There was no evil violence in him, and she got on her feet.

“How could you?” she cried. “How could you be such a perfect pig?”

“_Don’t_ say that to me, Barbara. Even in fun…. You know you love me.”

“I don’t. I don’t.”

“You do. You know you do. You know you want me to take you in my arms. Why be so cruel to yourself?”

“To myself? I’d kill myself before I let you…. Why, I’d kill you.”

“No. No. No. You only think you would, you little spitfire.”

He had given back altogether and now leaned against the chimneypiece, not beaten, not abashed, but smiling at her in a triumphant certitude. For so long the glamour of his illusion held him.

“Nothing you can say, Barbara, will persuade me that you don’t care for me.”

“Then you must be mad. Mad as a hatter.”

“All men go mad at times. You must make allowances. Listen–“

“I won’t listen. I don’t want to hear another word.”

She was going.

He saw her intention; but he was nearer to the door than she was, and by a quick though ponderous movement he got there first. He stood before her with his back to the door. (He had the wild thought of locking it, but chivalry forbade him.)

“You can go in a minute,” he said. “But you’ve got to listen to me first. You’ve got to be fair to me. I may be mad; but if I didn’t care for you–madly–I wouldn’t have supposed for an instant that you cared for me. I wouldn’t have thought of such a thing.”

“But I _don’t_, I tell you.”

“And I tell you, you do. Do you suppose after all you’ve done for me–“

“I haven’t done anything.”

“Done? Look at the way you’ve worked for me. I’ve never known anything like your devotion, Barbara.”

“Oh, _that_! It was only my job.”

“Was it your job to save me from that horrible woman?”

“Oh, yes; it was all in the day’s work.”

“My dear Barbara, no woman ever does a day’s work like that for a man unless she cares for him. And unless she wants him to care for her.”

“As it happens, it was Fanny I cared for. I was thinking of Fanny all the time…. If _you’d_ think about Fanny more and about Mrs. Levitt and people less, it would be a good thing.”

“It’s too late to think about Fanny now. That’s only your sweetness and goodness.”

“Please don’t lie. If you really thought me sweet and good you wouldn’t expect me to be a substitute for Mrs. Levitt.”

“Don’t talk about Mrs. Levitt. Do you suppose I think of you in the same sentence? That was a different thing altogether.”

“Was it? Was it so very different?”

He saw that she remembered. “It was. A man may lose his head ten times over without losing his heart once. If it’s Mrs. Levitt you’re thinking about, you can put that out of your mind for ever.”

“It isn’t only Mrs. Levitt. There’s Ralph Bevan. You’ve forgotten Ralph Bevan.”

“What has Ralph Bevan got to do with it?”

“Simply this, that I’m engaged to be married to him.”

“To be married? To be married to Ralph Bevan? Oh, Barbara, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Ralph didn’t want me to, till nearer the time.”

“The time…. Did it come to that?”

“It did,” said Barbara.

He moved from the doorway and began walking up and down the room. She might now have gone out, but she didn’t go. She _had_ to see what he would make of it.

At his last turn he faced her and stood still.

“Poor child,” he said, “so that’s what I’ve driven you to?”

Amazement kept her silent.

“Sit down,” he said, “we must go through this together.”

Amazement made her sit down. Certainly they must go through it, to see what he would look like at the end. He was unsurpassable. She mustn’t miss him.

“Look here, Barbara.” He spoke in a tone of forced, unnatural calm. “I don’t think you quite understand the situation. I’m sure you don’t realize for one moment how serious it is.”

“I don’t. You mustn’t expect me to take it seriously.”

“That’s because you don’t take yourself seriously enough, dear. In some ways you’re singularly humble. I don’t believe you really know how deep this thing has gone with me, or you wouldn’t have talked about Mrs. Levitt….

“… It’s life and death, Barbara. Life and death…. I’ll make a confession. It wasn’t serious at first. It wasn’t love at first sight. But it’s gone all the deeper for that. I didn’t know how deep it was till the other day. And I had so much to think of. So many claims. Fanny–“

“Yes. Don’t forget Fanny.”

“I am not forgetting her. Fanny isn’t going to mind as you think she minds. As you would mind yourself if you were in her place. Things don’t go so deep with Fanny as all that…. And she isn’t going to hold me against my will. She’s not that sort…. Listen, now. Please listen.”

Barbara sat still, listening. She would let him go to the end of his tether.

“I’ll confess. In the beginning I hadn’t thought of a divorce. I couldn’t bear the idea of going through all that unpleasantness. But I’d go through it ten times over rather than that you should marry Ralph Bevan…. Wait now…. Before I spoke to you to-day I’d made up my mind to ask Fanny to divorce me. I know she’ll do it. Your name shan’t be allowed to appear. The moment I get her consent we’ll go off together somewhere. Italy or the Riviera. I’ve got everything planned, everything ready. I saw to that when I was in London. I’ve bought everything–“

She saw forked lightnings on a magenta Waddington.

“What are you laughing at, Barbara?”

He stood over her, distressed. Was _Barbara_ going to treat him to a fit of hysterics?

“Don’t laugh. Don’t be silly, child.”

But Barbara went on laughing, with her face in the cushions, abandoned to her vision. From far up the park they heard the sound of Kimber’s hooter, then the grinding of the car, with Fanny in it, on the gravel outside. Barbara sat up suddenly and dried her eyes.

They stared at each other, the stare of accomplices.

“Come, child,” he said, “pull yourself together.”

Barbara got up and looked in the glass and saw the green jade necklace hanging on her still. She took it off and laid it on the table beside the forgotten sketch-book.

“I think,” she said, “you must have meant this for Mrs. Levitt. But you may thank your stars it’s only me, this time.”

He pretended not to hear her, not to see the necklace, not to know that she was going from him. She stood a moment with her back to the door, facing him. It was her turn to stand there and be listened to.

“Mr. Waddington,” she said, “some people might think you wicked. I only think you funny.”

He drew himself up and looked noble.

“Funny? If that’s your idea of me, you had better marry Ralph Bevan.”

“I almost think I had.”

And she laughed again. Not Mrs. Levitt’s laughter, gross with experience. He had borne that without much pain. Girl’s laughter it was, young and innocent and pure, and ten times more cruel.

“You don’t know,” she said, “you don’t know how funny you are,” and left him.

Mr. Waddington took up the necklace and kissed it. He rubbed it against his cheek and kissed it. A slip of paper had fallen from the table to the floor. He knew what was written on it: “From Horatio Bysshe Waddington to his Little April Girl.” He took it up and put it in his pocket. He took up the sketch-book.

“The little thing,” he thought. “Now, if it hadn’t been for her ridiculous jealousy of Elise–if it hadn’t been for Fanny–if it hadn’t been for the little thing’s sweetness and goodness–” Her goodness. She was a saint. A saint. It was Barbara’s virtue, not Barbara, that had repulsed him.

This was the only credible explanation of her behaviour, the only one he could bear to live with.

He opened the sketch-book.

It was Fanny, coming in that instant, who saved him from the worst.

When she had restored the sketch-book to its refuge in the bureau and locked it in, she turned to him.

“Horatio,” she said, “as Ralph’s coming to dinner to-night I’d better tell you that he and Barbara are engaged to be married.”

“She has told me herself…. That child, Fanny, is a saint. A little saint.”

“How did you find that out? Do you think it takes a saint to marry Ralph?”

“I think it takes a saint to–to marry Ralph, since you put it that way.”


“Dearest Fanny:

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Waddington and I have had a scrap. It’s made things impossible, and I’m going to Ralph. He’ll turn out for me, so there won’t be any scandal.

“You know how awfully I love you, that’s why you’ll forgive me if I don’t come back.

“Always your loving


“P.S.–I’m frightfully sorry about my birthday dinner. But I don’t feel birthdayish or dinnerish, either. I want Ralph. Nothing but Ralph.”

That would make Fanny think it was Ralph they had quarrelled about. Barbara put this note on Fanny’s dressing-table. Then she went up to the White Hart, to Ralph Bevan. She waited in his sitting-room till he came back from Oxford.

“Hallo, old thing, what are _you_ doing here?”

“Ralph–do you awfully mind if we don’t dine at the Manor?”

“If we don’t–why?”

“Because I’ve left them. And I don’t want to go back. Do you think I could get a room here?”

“What’s up?”

“I’ve had a simply awful scrap with Waddy, and I can’t stick it there. Between us we’ve made it impossible.”

“What’s he been up to?”

“Oh, never mind.”

“He’s been making love to you.”

“If you call it making love.”

“The old swine!”

As he said it, he felt the words and his own fury fall short of the fantastic quality of Waddington.

“No. He isn’t.” (Barbara felt it.) “He was simply more funny than you can imagine…. He had on a canary yellow waistcoat.”

In spite of his fury he smiled.

“I think he’d bought it for that.”

“Oh, Barbara, what he must have looked like!”

“Yes. If only you could have seen him. But that’s the worst of all his best things. They only happen when you’re alone with him.”

“You remember–we wondered whether he’d do it again, whether he’d go one better?”

“Yes, Ralph. We little thought it would be me.”

“How he does surpass himself!”

“The funniest thing was he thought I was in love with _him_.”

“He didn’t!”

“He did. Because of the way I’d worked for him. He thought that proved it.”

“Yes. Yes. I suppose he _would_ think it…. Look here–he didn’t do anything, did he?”

“He kissed me. _That_ wasn’t funny.”

“The putrid old sinner. If he _wasn’t_ so old I’d wring his neck for him.”

“No, no. That’s all wrong. It’s not the way we agreed to take him. We’d think it funny enough if he’d done it to somebody else. It’s pure accident that it’s me.”

“No doubt that’s the proper philosophic view. I wonder whether Mrs. Levitt takes it.”

“Ralph–it wasn’t a bit like his Mrs. Levitt stunt. The awful thing was he really meant it. He’d planned it all out. We were to go off together to the Riviera, and he was to wear his canary waistcoat.”

“Did he say that?”

“No. But you could see he thought it. And he was going to get Fanny to divorce him.”

“Good God! He went as far as that?”

“As far as that. He was so cocksure, you see. I’m afraid it’s been a bit of a shock to him.”

“Well, it’s a thundering good thing I’ve got a job at last.”

“_Have_ you?”

“Yes. We can get married the day after tomorrow if we like. Blackadder’s given me the editorship of the _New Review_.”

“No? Oh, Ralph, how topping.”

“That’s what I ran up to Oxford for, to see him and settle everything. It’s a fairly decent screw. The thing’s got no end of hacking, and it’s up to me to make it last.”

“I say–Fanny’ll he pleased.”

As they were talking about it, the landlady of the White Hart came in to tell them that Mrs. Waddington was downstairs and wanted to speak to Miss Madden.

“All right,” Ralph said. “Show Mrs. Waddington up. I’ll clear out.”

“Oh, Ralph, what am I to say to her?”

“Tell her the truth, if she wants it. She won’t mind.”

“She will–frightfully.”

“Not so frightfully as you think.”

“That’s what _he_ said.”

“Well, he’s right there, the old beast.”


“Barbara _dear_,” said Fanny when they were alone together, “what on earth has happened?”

“Oh, nothing. We just had a bit of a tiff, that’s all.”

“About Ralph? He told me it was Ralph.”

“You might say it was Ralph. He came into it.”

“Into what?”

“Oh, the general situation.”

“Nonsense. Horatio was making love to you. I could see by his face…. You needn’t mind telling me straight out I’ve seen it coming.”

“Since when?”

“I don’t know. It must have begun long before I saw it.”

“How long do you think?”

“Oh, before Mrs. Levitt.”

“Mrs. Levitt?”

“She may have been only a safety valve. That’s why I made him adopt you. I thought it would stop it. In common decency. But it seems it only brought it to a head.”

“No. It was his canary waistcoat did that, Fanny.”

The ghost of dead mirth rose up in Fanny’s eyes.

“You’re muddling cause and effect, my dear. He wasn’t in love because he bought the waistcoat. He bought the waistcoat because he was in love. And those other things–the romantic pyjamas–because he thought they’d make him look younger.”

“Well then,” said Barbara, “it was a vicious circle. The waistcoat put it into his head that afternoon.”

“It doesn’t much matter how it happened.”

“I’m awfully sorry, Fanny. I wouldn’t have let it happen for the world, if I’d known it was going to. But who could have known?”

“My dear, it wasn’t your fault.”

“Do you mind frightfully?”

Fanny looked away.

“It depends,” she said. “What did you say to him?”

“I said a lot of things, but they weren’t a bit of good. Then I’m afraid I laughed.”

“You laughed at him?”

“I couldn’t help it, Fanny. He was so funny.”

“Oh!” Fanny caught her breath back on a sob. “That’s what I can’t bear, Barbara–his being laughed at.”

“I know,” said Barbara.

“By the way, when you’re dying dear, if you should be dying at any time, it’ll be a consolation to you to know that he didn’t see your drawings–“

“Did _you_ see them?”

“Only the one he was looking at when I came in.”

“Was it–was it the one where he was getting into bed?”

“No. He was only hunting.”

“God has been kinder to me than I deserve then.”

“He’s been kinder to him, too, I fancy.”

She went on. “I want you to see this thing straight. Understand. I don’t mind his being in love with you. I knew he was. Head over ears in love. And I didn’t mind a bit.”

“I think he was reckoning on that. He knew you’d forgive him.”

“Forgive him? It wasn’t even a question of forgiveness. I was _glad_. I thought: If only he could have one real feeling. If only he could care for something or somebody that wasn’t himself…. I think he cared for you, Barbara. It wasn’t just himself. And I loved him for it.”

“You darling! And you don’t hate me?”

“You know I don’t But I’d love you even more if you’d loved him.”

“If I’d loved him?”

“Yes. If you’d gone away with him and made him happy. If you hadn’t laughed at him, Barbara.”

“I know. It was awful of me. But what could I do?”

“What could you do? We all do it. I do it. Mrs. Levitt did it.”

“I didn’t do it like Mrs. Levitt.”

“No. But you were just one more. Think of it. All his life to be laughed at. And when he was making love, too; the most serious thing, Barbara, that anybody can do. I tell you I can’t bear it. I’d have given him to you ten times first.”

“Then,” said Barbara, “you _have_ got to forgive me.”

“If I don’t, it’s because it’s my own sin and I can’t forgive myself….

“… Besides, I let it happen. Because I thought it would cure him.”

“Of falling in love?”

“Of trying to be young when he didn’t feel it. I thought he’d see how impossible it was. But that’s the sad part of it. He _would_ have felt young, Barbara, if you’d loved him. If I’d loved him I could have kept him young. I told you,” she said, “it was all my fault.”

“You told me Ralph and I would never be old. Is that what you meant?”


They sat silent a moment, looking down through Ralph’s window into the Market Square.

And presently they saw Mr. Waddington pass the corner of the Town Hall and cross the wide, open space to the Dower House.

“You must come back with me, Barbara. If you don’t everybody’ll know what’s happened.”

“I can’t, Fanny.”

“He won’t be there. You won’t see him till your wedding day. He’s going to stay with Granny. He says she isn’t very well.”

“I’m sorry she isn’t well.”

“She’s perfectly well. That isn’t what he’s going for.”

Across the Square they could see the door of the Dower House open and receive him. Fanny smiled.

“He’s going back to his mother to be made young again,” she said.