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Title: The Three Lovers
Author: Swinnerton, Frank
Language: English
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                           THE THREE LOVERS

                           FRANK SWINNERTON



BY FRANK SWINNERTON


  THE THREE LOVERS

  COQUETTE

  SEPTEMBER

  SHOPS AND HOUSES

  NOCTURNE

  THE CHASTE WIFE

  ON THE STAIRCASE

  THE HAPPY FAMILY

  THE CASEMENT

  THE YOUNG IDEA

  THE MERRY HEART

  GEORGE GISSING
    _A Critical Study_

  R. L. STEVENSON
    _A Critical Study_



                           THE THREE LOVERS


                                  BY

                           FRANK SWINNERTON

        AUTHOR OF "COQUETTE," "SEPTEMBER," "SHOPS AND HOUSES,"
                           "NOCTURNE," ETC.


                               NEW YORK
                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                           COPYRIGHT, 1922,
                      BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY


                            [Illustration]


                         THE THREE LOVERS. II

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


                       PART ONE

     CHAPTER                              PAGE

        ONE: THE STUDIO                      9

        TWO: NEW FRIENDS                    22

      THREE: PATRICIA                       44

       FOUR: THE REACTION                   64

       FIVE: EDGAR MOVES                    77

        SIX: EVENING WITH HARRY             90

      SEVEN: SECOND EVENING                107

      EIGHT: A DAY IN PATRICIA'S LIFE      124

       NINE: MISCHIEF                      148


                      PART TWO

        TEN: EDGAR HEARS A WISEACRE        163

     ELEVEN: CHANGE                        178

     TWELVE: ENCOUNTER                     191

   THIRTEEN: THE SIBYL                     210

   FOURTEEN: ANOTHER DAY                   222

    FIFTEEN: CONTRAST                      238

    SIXTEEN: PLAYING WITH FIRE             256

  SEVENTEEN: THE VISITOR                   272

   EIGHTEEN: BLANCHE                       286

   NINETEEN: NIGHT CALL                    296

     TWENTY: BABIES                        314



PART ONE



THE THREE LOVERS



CHAPTER ONE: THE STUDIO


i

It was a suddenly cold evening towards the end of September. The
streets were very dark, because the sky was filled with heavy clouds;
and from time to time, carried by an assertive wind, there were little
gusts of fine rain. Everybody who walked along the London pavements
shivered slightly, for the summer had disappeared in a few hours and
had been buried in this abrupt darkness; and the wind seemed to come
flying from all corners of the earth with a venom that was entirely
unexpected. The street-lamps were sharp brightnesses in the black
night, wickedly revealing the naked rain-swept paving-stones. It
was an evening to make one think with joy of succulent crumpets and
rampant fires and warm slippers and noggins of whisky; but it was
not an evening for cats or timid people. The cats were racing about
the houses, drunken with primeval savagery; the timid people were
shuddering and looking in distress over feebly hoisted shoulders,
dreadfully prepared for disaster of any kind, afraid of sounds and
shadows and their own forgotten sins. Sensitive folk cast thoughts at
the sea, and pitied those sailors whose work kept them stationary upon
the decks of reeling vessels already weather-beset. The more energetic
breathed deep if they were out-of-doors, or more comfortably stretched
towards their fires if they were within. Poor people huddled into old
overcoats or sat on their nipped fingers in close unheated rooms. The
parsimonious who by settled ritual forswore fires until the first of
October watched the calendars and found an odd delight in obedience to
rule. The wind shook the window-panes; soot fell down all the chimneys;
trees continuously rustled as if they were trying to keep warm by
constant friction and movement.

In the main streets the chain of assembled traffic went restlessly on,
with crowded omnibuses and tramcars, with hurrying cabs, and belated
carts and drays, as though the day would never cease. The footways
were thick with those who walked, bent this way and that to meet
and baffle the sweeping breezes. The noises mingled together in one
absorbing sound, heard at a distance of many miles, a far undersong
to the vehement voice of the country. Apart from the main streets,
so crowded and busy, London was peculiarly quiet. If a door banged
it was like a gun; and such a rumble provoked only a sudden start,
and no constriction of the cardiac muscles, for Londoners were no
longer accustomed to the sound of guns breaking night silences with
their drum-like rollings. Passengers in every direction instinctively
hurried, making for shelter from the rainy draughts and the promise of
storm. It was a subtly dismal evening, chilled and, obscure. It was the
real beginning, however premature, of a long hard winter. Those who
had joys were sobered: those who had griefs were suddenly over-powered
by them, depressed and made miserable by the consciousness of unending
sorrow. Nobody could remain unaffected by so startling a change in the
atmosphere. All craved light and warmth and society. In a few hours the
aspect of life had altered and winter forebodings were upon the land.


ii

Out in South Hampstead the big old houses stood black in the common
murk. Few of the windows were lighted. The only illumination came from
the street lamps, which seemed crushed by the overmastering clouds,
and from occasional passing cabs, whirring swiftly out of the main
roads and losing themselves once again within an instant's space. The
wide roads were clear, the noises subdued: one would have thought it
midnight and the shuttered city at rest. But within these comfortable
houses the scene was changed. Fires brightly burned and gas or electric
light gave an enviable brightness even to rooms the furniture of
which was stale with irremediable ugliness. Warmth and comfort was
in every house. It was a whole district of warmth and comfort. And
in one house especially there was a gently pervasive heat, a subdued
brightness, a curiously wanton elegance, in strong contrast with the
outside chill. It was a long two-storeyed house lying back from the
broad road. One reached it by means of a wide gravel sweep, and the
solid old door supported a heavy knocker of iron. The house stood
quite alone, as silent as its fellows; but its furnishing, although
sparse in the modern manner, was dazzling. It was like the house of a
suddenly transported Pasha, and colours dashed themselves upon the eye
with a lustre that commanded surrender. To meet such colours without
a trembling of the eyelids would have been impossible to normal men.
They were rich to a point of extravagance. They all sang together like
the morning stars, clashing and commingling like the notes of barbaric
music. They made a very beautiful scene, intoxicating and superb. And
cunningly, as though some arch genie had brought the furnishings
hither, they merged into voluptuous comfort. One sat in chairs that
rose caressingly about one like the waters of a river. The lights were
so shaded that nothing harsh or strident offended the eye. The taste
of the whole, although extraordinarily courageous, was unquestionable.
The owner of this house, whatever one might think of his paintings, was
obviously a connoisseur. He knew. He was upon the point of entertaining
friends in his studio. His hospitality richly ignored and dominated the
weather. He defied the outer world, as though he had been a magician.
It was his nature to ignore every discomfort as he ignored his
correspondence; and this house, the home of a sybarite, was the symbol
of his arrogant disregard.

Monty Rosenberg was a sublimely and ruthlessly selfish man, who gave
joy to others by accident, pursuing all the while his own luxurious
aims. From the day of his birth until this lamentable evening in
September he had never wished to benefit anybody but himself. He lived
to and for himself, and this beautiful home had been made for his own
delight; and yet the inscrutable ways of life had performed a seeming
miracle, and Monty was to-night a mere voiceless child obeying the
decrees of circumstance. He was preparing to entertain his guests in
a mood of solemn and magistral calm. He thought nothing at all of
their pleasure or their envy. He was as much above snobbery as he
was below compassion. But he had created an atmosphere of gorgeous
appropriateness to the marvels of the human heart, and the gloomy night
furnished a contrast as violent as the most emotional person in the
world could have desired. He had prepared a stir of colour which must
affect all those who were to be present upon this occasion.


iii

Monty was walking about his studio in a state as nearly approaching
self-satisfaction as his sleek pride would permit. He relished the
studio's warmth, its beauty. He sufficiently perceived his own beauty,
for although he was fat for his thirty-seven years, and although in a
short time he would be subsiding into a grossly apparent middle-age,
Monty carried his heaviness with an air of distinction. His manner
was such that the least sycophantic accorded him the usual tokens of
respect. He was well-built; his clothes were well-cut; his rather
sensual face retained in its aquiline nose a delicacy and in its soft
eyes a suggestion of smouldering fire which saved it from anything
like dulness. He was still graceful in all his movements. His long
black hair was beautifully worn; the single ring upon his little
finger was small and in keeping with his fastidious hands. A slight
vanity gave him unfailing carriage and address. Oxford, money, talent,
all combined to make him agreeable. He had no friends. There was no
essential kindness in his nature. He was an artist and a connoisseur,
a viveur and a solitary, a quick and shrewd calculator who would have
been a good business man if circumstances had not legitimised his air
of general unconcern with petty economies. He was still a stranger,
a polished and foreign stranger, to all his acquaintance; and no man
knew his secrets. That he had secrets was evident. There was talk, of
course, about Monty as there is about every man of personality in the
world of chatter. He was too discreet in his relations with all--though
never so furtive as to hint at mysterious understandings--to avoid
altogether the belief that he managed his "affairs" (which were
supposed to be many) with skill and gentlemanly coolness, and his
manner towards women was a little assured. At least one of his
prospective guests had seen him angry, when a kind of thick toughness
of savagery had flung breeding to the ends of the earth. He was not a
gentleman through and through; but he was a tolerable enough imitation
of one--an imitation that was not all counterfeit. The tough will which
lay behind his usually suave manner was what made his imperiousness
weigh in the minds of social inferiors. These inferiors could not avoid
reading and fearing danger to themselves behind that steady assumption
of their obedience. Others also were aware of a menace, and they gave
place rather uncomfortably to Monty. Some of them, bidden to his
parties, came with reluctance; and revenged themselves for their fears
by sarcasms uttered at a safe distance.

So upon this September evening, fastidiously aware of every detail in
the studio, of every detail in the proceedings (so far as these could
be planned in advance), Monty stood looking at his finger-nails or
smoking an aromatic cigarette or reading carelessly from book or paper,
waiting for his guests to arrive. He was ready well in advance of the
appointed hour; but he was not restless or impatient, but gave the
impression of being imperturbably in harmony with the quiet tickings
of his handsome clock. Outside in South Hampstead the whirling wind
sank, and the rain which had come earlier in gusts began to fall in a
spiteful steady downpour. The clouds hung lower and more threateningly
over London. Everything became sodden with shivering wet, and gulleys
and drains were full of singing water. The rain hissed; running
footsteps were sometimes heard; the lamps were streaming with rillets
formed by helter-skelter raindrops.


iv

As the hour of eight o'clock approached, Monty drew from his pocket a
hunter watch and snapped open the case, observing the motion of the
seconds hand with a kind of absorbed interest. In reality his brain was
slowly working and he was hardly aware of the movement under his eyes.
He was recalling the preparations which he had made and calculating
the numbers of his guests. Twenty people were coming--people of all
sorts; but mostly people belonging to that type to which an American
writer has given the name of troubadours. That is to say, few among
them were what would be called men of action; for men of action, who
had nothing to say for themselves or whose view of life was philistine,
had no interest for Monty. Men of action were men who could dance and
kill and plan utilitarian works, but who could not think of anything
that required an original and creative gift. Their interests were at
best mechanical; and at the worst they had no vital interests at all
apart from the consumption of time. To Monty, whose consumption of
time was lordly and individualistic, who could do nothing without a
clear aim, such men were outside the pale. He was no sentimentalist.
His mind shrank from nothing. Applied to men and women it was almost
purely corrosive and therefore destructive; and his self-sufficiency
was so great that no affection ever made him yield his judgment to
a warmer feeling. He never acted upon impulse, never caught beauty
or inspiration flying; but always deliberately and mathematically
laid foundations and with skill built up his structure with an eye
to the final effect. He never loved anything or anybody enough to
lose his head. He could always, at any moment, draw up and dismiss an
inconvenience or a line of conduct, so that nothing and nobody ever
had a claim upon him that he could not repudiate. He was a wise man in
a world of impulsive fools running after their own tails and dashing
emotionally into hysteria.

Eight o'clock chimed by the gentle bell of the clock which stood upon
a table in the far corner of the studio. The strokes pinged and hung
like scent upon the air. Monty sat unmoved, fingering his watch, slowly
passing his thumb backwards and forwards across the golden case.
He was lost in a reverie. His eyes were narrowed as though he were
scrutinising a memory and paring it down to its essential traits. With
such an expression his face lost vitality and became heavy--not ugly or
sinister, but unpleasing. The coldness of his nature was revealed, with
its adjunct of unplanned but deliberate cruelty. The secret of Monty's
self-command and his power to deal with every event was no longer a
secret, but a calculable fact. It lay plain to see in that disregard of
others which marks the _esprit fort_, the strong man of our weak ideal.
He was a secret man, captain of his own nature, and capable through
insensibility to their conflicting aims of dominating the actions of
others.

Eight o'clock, and silence in this gorgeous house upon the miserable
September night. Monty sat in luxurious quiet, waiting for his first
guests. The moments dropped quietly away as the softly-ticking clock
marked their passage. At last a short peal sounded at the door-bell.
Monty rose, his steps noiseless upon the heavy rugs, and moved to greet
the early arrivals. He advanced into the wide and tapestried hall.


v

And then for half-an-hour came successive rings at the bell, and
loud-speaking people arrived in a general flurry of raindrops and
shiverings. Some of them had walked through the rain, others had
come in taxicabs, one or two in their own cars. The hall, with
additional mats and two or three long jars to hold umbrellas, was
quickly sprinkled from the overcoats and furs of the visitors; two
rooms adjoining were made into cloak-rooms; and then the studio was
invaded. Here all the visitors, talking, laughing, cigarette-smoking,
sat upon chairs or divans or cushions, and scattered the ash from
their cigarettes in every direction, as motley and restless as the
furnishings, and still by great fortune harmonious. There were women in
short frocks, with bobbed hair, and women with long gowns and long hair
decorated with combs, one or two in evening-dress, one in plain black;
and men in all varieties of costume from dinner-jackets to tweeds.
Above their heads, towards the studio's glass roof, rain-bespattered,
rose tobacco-smoke; from their lips came an endless spume of words,
often enough in loud voices which from the hall itself made the
guests sound like a distant multitude. The studio was dwarfed by the
presence of so many people and so much noise. To Edgar Mayne, who
alone of all those invited stood slightly aloof, as one to whom the
others were strangers, it seemed that never had he heard people with
such loud voices, except at performances given by the Stage Society.
He was one of the sober ones--a man of nearly forty, undistinguished
in appearance and dressed in an ordinary lounge suit. His association
with Monty was that of business only, and he was here experimentally,
quite lost in the crowd, and so unsympathetic with it as at times to
be almost hostile. So he stood away from the fire, back from the rest,
and surveyed them with an unreadable air of interest. He received
stares of appraisal from all; no greeting, but also no coolness, had
been vouchsafed; and he knew that he could without fear of a snub
have entered any one of the several deafening conversations which were
in progress in his neighbourhood. He preferred to look on, for this
society was to such a worker as himself something so novel as to be
nearly incredible. He was half-dazed by the noise and the colour and
the rising smoke. The general relation of the men and women baffled
him. The women had not ceased to be women, but their professionalism
and slanginess made them exceptional in his eyes. That he liked them,
Edgar could not have said; but he was not yet summing-up. They were
merely different from the suburban young women whom he met at tennis
or in the drawing-room. For one thing, Edgar had never yet been at a
mixed party where conversation was regarded as a sufficient form of
entertainment. He had never met women who talked as freely as these did.

So his eyes wandered from face to face--from a man with long hair who
spoke in a rather strained high voice to a sturdy young woman in a
cretonne frock which appeared barely to reach her knees, who lolled
back against the leg of a table and held a cigarette so dangling from
her lips that its smoke straggled up into her eyes. He could hear
nothing but odd words from all the conversations; but the tones, the
gestures, and the glances of the talkers were all new and puzzling
to such a stranger. His eyes were never at rest. Purple, gold,
crimson, scarlet, green, terracotta, black; faces that were long and
thin, surmounted by straight fringes of hair, or round and plump and
white, with full lips and heavy eyes; a fluttering hand, a startling
costume--all caught his gaze and helped to bewilder him. The types
were strange, the voices and the assumptions; and Edgar was from
Respectability and Commerce, and too old to be merely excited. He was
critical, as well. He was especially critical of the girls, although
upon the whole he preferred the girls to the men.

One young man with high spirits and a quick laugh several times drew
his attention. He studied him--a tall, fair type, very handsome, and
with large white teeth which showed when he laughed. The young man
was big and well-made. He carried himself with an ease that suggested
athletics, and he had evidently a great deal of self-assurance. He was
talking to a short, and rather plump, girl whose black hair, bobbed,
and milk-white complexion made her one of the most attractive of them
all. That he was amusing her there could be no doubt. Her eyes were
raised delightedly, so that it was the young man who sometimes looked
away and returned and occasionally flickered a little glance at others
in the room. Edgar's consciousness registered a definite impression. He
liked the fair, and rather sparkling, young man with the white teeth;
but he at once made purely masculine reservations. They might only be
jealousies, for we are all alert to see the limitations of others; but
they were valid for Edgar. As he was engaged in judgment he discovered
for the first time that the young man, through all his sportive talk,
was demonstrating a similarly observant interest in himself, and
no doubt docketing complementary reservations. A half-smile crept
to Edgar's face. The left hand, resting in his trousers pocket,
involuntarily clenched. His chin hardened. With his lids lowered he
looked straight back at the boy, and the smile vanished.


vi

The studio by now was well-filled; and from Monty's engagement in
the general hubbub Edgar supposed that the total number of expected
guests had arrived and had taken their places in the crowd. But he
was wrong, for in spite of the fact that he could no longer hear the
bell he could see the door opening again to admit further newcomers.
His attention was being given to those nearest, and for an instant
he did not do more than glance towards the door. Most of those about
him were self-absorbed, or intent upon what they were talking about,
which amounted to the same thing. The smoke and the chatter, in fact,
allowed Edgar no free activity of the mind. He was as one drowning.
It was only a sense that his young friend of the flashing teeth had
ceased talking that gave Edgar an opportunity for this instant's new
interest. He looked up and towards the door. There stood within the
studio an old man--a tall old man with a long white moustache and a
rather bald head, erect but markedly obsequious to Monty, dressed in
such a way that all must recognise him as a painter. A slight pucker
showed in Edgar's forehead. The face was familiar, the bearing.... He
knew the man. He was conscious of displeasure at seeing him. But he
could not immediately remember what had given rise to this distaste.
Then, he looked beyond the old man, and his attentiveness quickened.
In the doorway stood a young girl. She was very slight, very fair, and
her dress was both beautiful and striking. Her hair was worn so that
a rolled curl was above each ear, and it was brushed high from her
neck. Clear blue eyes, a delicate nose, an impetuous mouth, a peculiar
stillness in her attitude; and Edgar could no longer record detail in
his general admiration. He was filled with interest. Not even the green
dress which she wore and which startled the eye could rob Edgar of the
sudden impression that she was somebody alone--alone in the world,
alone in herself, alone here this evening. She was the first person who
had struck him in all this party as belonging to life as he imagined
it to be. There was a fresh vitality about the girl that he found in
none of the others. In none?

Edgar looked from the girl to Monty, who had taken her hand and was
smiling. Monty, with his rather heavy, rather oriental face and
figure, smooth and impossible to be hurt, a man of determination and
of personality. Edgar knew very quickly what Monty's nature was. He
was not unpractised in the art of understanding his fellows. The
experience by which this skill had been gained had been a part of the
training which had led to his business success. The contrast, then,
to Edgar, between Monty and the girl who had come as his guest was as
unmistakable as was the difference in their complexions. There was
no likeness here. Edgar would have made no further comment; but some
instinct made him look from Monty's possessive figure to another,
which stood nearer. It was that of the young man whom he had noticed
before. The teeth were to be seen at this moment, for the young man
was standing, as fair and as full of vitality as the girl herself,
with his lips parted and his eyes intent. There was no mistaking the
significance of his attitude and his tense regard. Edgar looked again
from the girl to Monty, as they stood together by the door; and he saw
the sparkle of the girl's eyes and the quick flight of her smile. Again
he looked from Monty to the young man, and so back to the girl. And as
he returned to his observation of the young man Edgar saw him take a
quick breath, and saw his lips meet.

It was in this single instant that the young man, urged no doubt by an
impulse as incalculable as Edgar's, drew his eyes from the girl. He
turned sharply and looked at Edgar. Their glances crossed. Both smiled.



CHAPTER TWO: NEW FRIENDS


i

Harry Greenlees, the young man with the flashing teeth, had been
given his Rugby blue ten or eleven years before, and had helped
Oxford to beat Cambridge in a memorable year. Since leaving the
University he had played for two seasons with the Harlequins; but
his footballing days were over now as he could no longer endure the
strain of ninety-minutes' incessant conflict. During the rather aimless
experiments which followed in the art of earning a living without
exertion, Harry had revived an undergraduate habit of writing sporting
descriptive articles, and to fellow-journalists his competence for
this work was known. It was not, however, celebrated among his friends
or the general public, and as he had fallen in quite by accident
with a semi-literary and artistic set, the members of which took him
for granted as a cheerful companion with enough money to live on,
Harry enjoyed a most agreeable sort of life. His work was slangy and
vigorous, and if it did not produce an income upon which a man of his
type could exist, it made sufficient the small private means which were
already at Harry's command. He was able to support himself in comfort
and to go about the world very much at his ease.

Abroad, Harry walked, with a knapsack on his shoulders, and saw the
countries of Europe from the road. It was for papers chiefly concerned
with out-of-door life and sport that he worked, and accordingly he
found material ready for his eye and his fountain-pen wherever
he turned for diversion. His was a life of varied pleasure, and
for as long as he remained fit he would find it inexhaustible in
possibilities. He was a lively companion and a good sort. He was
full of zest, making friends lightly and as lightly letting them go.
Everybody felt his honesty and his energy, and he had neither the
mannerisms of the unduly famous nor the menacing air of those who are
intellectually better than their company. He was happy, impulsive,
handsome, agreeable, and charming. It needed an Edgar Mayne to detect
his faults, and Harry was too unsuspecting and satisfied to suppose
that others were more subtle than himself.

He had been talking to Rhoda Flower, the dark girl with the milk-white
face, when he first observed Edgar. And Edgar had been so little
remarkable in appearance that this was the first fact about him which
Harry had noticed. Harry, however, had found himself looking back at
Edgar, unable to account for the interest he felt in the unknown.
Rhoda, whom he had asked, knew no more about the man than he did, and
had been indifferent; but Harry was definitely curious. If Edgar had
been nearer he would have found himself directly addressed; but as it
was the exchanged glance already mentioned was the only communication
to pass between the two men. The glance had originated in a most
singular impression which formed in Harry's mind.

When Monty had moved forward to great old Dalrymple, who was some sort
of artist, Harry had felt his usual dislike of the man, based upon
the feeling that Dalrymple carried with him an air of stale drink and
unsuccess. But he had looked past the old man to the unknown girl
who seemed to be his companion; and instantly there shot through him
that strong sexual interest which Harry was in the habit of calling
"love." He was a strong young man, very sufficiently sensual, and his
notions of love were made accordingly. It was a quick impulse, and
his first thought after receiving it and deciding that he must know
the stranger was the realisation that what he had desired Monty also
would desire. And then, ignoring all the others present, he had sharply
sensed danger. The glance at Edgar had been quite three-quarters of a
challenge. The flashing teeth had been bared, and the blue eyes had
been hard. But there was something about Edgar which disarmed him.
Hence the smile.

This was not the first time Harry had been in love. He was attractive,
and he was quickly attracted. He had self-assurance, and he knew how
to give pleasure. To Rhoda Flower he was certainly the most attractive
person in the world. It was to her that he continued quietly to talk
while the stranger was being brought forward to the group round the
fireplace. He was teasing Rhoda, and gave no further sign of interest
in the other girl; but he knew when she was near. He turned his head
and looked at her. He looked from near at hand at the soft, beautifully
moulded cheeks and the impetuous mouth and the clear blue eyes; and
a very faint additional colour came into his face. Not knowing that
Edgar was watching him, he was perfectly aware of the girl's grace and
beauty. The curve of her neck and breast and shoulder seemed always to
have been known and entrancing to him. With Harry it was love at first
sight.

"... Greenlees--Miss Quin," said Monty, leading the stranger from one
to the other of his older friends, and making her acquainted with them
all.

The smoke-filled atmosphere seemed to come down like a cloud against
which she stood fresh and lovely. All the vehemences of colour
about him were softened. For that instant Harry saw nothing but the
stranger, felt nothing but her hand. He found Miss Quin adorable. She
was a reality, a sweet and wayward reality, like a flash of scarlet;
and his one desire was to feel her soft hair against his cheek, her
cool shoulder, her surrendered lips. The imagination of these contacts
was intense. Into Harry's expression of light spirits crept something
ever so slightly heavier. He was serious. To him the senses were a
cause of seriousness, a cause of the complete oblivion of all that was
comic or whimsical.

From behind him came the voice of the young artist, Amy Roberts.

"Hullo, Patricia," she said in greeting.

Patricia! Patricia Quin. So that was the stranger's name. Harry's faint
flush subsided. He cooled. The vision had passed. The quick physical
imagining was for the present gone, no longer an eager craving. He must
talk to her, see her, be with her; but in a few minutes, quite easily
and simply. What lay in the future was something which stretched much
farther than his immediate vision. To Harry it beckoned as irresistible
adventure.


ii

The party swayed and engulfed Patricia. She was among all the others,
and talking or listening, extraordinarily delighted with all this
sound and colour. To her, whose first party of the kind it was, such
a brimming claim to the senses had no shortcomings. It was all new
and glorious and intoxicating. She felt herself a queen. Wherever she
looked she found the strong colour and sensation for which she had
pined. It was the first party, and a landmark. Compared with her days
and the unattractive dinginess of her own rooms, Monty's home was all
that was rich and desirable. At two-and-twenty, when one is starving
for colour, a glut of it is like a feast. She was so happy, like a
child at its first theatre, that she sat there spell-bound. It could
not have occurred to her to think these people sophisticated; they
were all so kind, she thought to herself, so kind and generous and
interesting. Her heart went out to them all. It was as though she cast
her own warm affectionateness upon the party. Her radiance increased
with each instant. The corners of her mouth went up; her sweet,
child-like laugh melted into the general laughter. All this light and
colour and sound was superb. It was vivacity and richness, music and
poetry, an unequalled stimulant to gaiety and the senses. It was life
as she had dreamt of it. There was a spice of daring in such contact
with the unknown and the exciting, and daring was her ideal. It was
lovely.... She was in a beautiful dream of delight.

Even Patricia at last began to look, beaming in her happiness, from
one face to the other. They were all faces that interested her. They
all had a cast--not of dignity or wisdom, but of something which she
thought of as enlightenment. There was a quality about them to which
she was unaccustomed, and she exalted it. She was prepared to find all
knowledge and emotion in the faces, and she found it. The tones of the
voices charmed her; the little jokes which she did not understand, and
the fragments of criticism which belonged to another world of interests
and consciousness, were all a part of the magic and delight of the
evening. She set herself to look round the studio, sitting close to
Amy Roberts, as a child might have done, while Amy, to whom all this
sort of thing was becoming almost as commonplace as she pretended to
Patricia that it already was, preserved an air of most distinguished
semi-boredom. Amy, herself an artist, told her the names of those
present, and sometimes, if she knew it, something about the people.
Patricia from time to time glanced aside at Amy's fair bobbed hair and
her white face and light lashes and eyebrows and dissatisfied mouth;
and thought how nice Amy was, and how clever, and how she wished Amy
had a sense of humour of the same kind as her own.

"That's Rhoda Flower--that dark girl. She's a dress-designer. Not much
good, as you can see from her dress. And those two over on the right,
who're so fond of each other and think each other perfect...."

"I know. They're engaged," guessed Patricia, laughing.

"More than that. They're _married_. And happy. The only married people
I know who _are_ happy. And how it is that Olivia has brought herself
to leave the babies this evening I can't understand. They must have got
a nurse. So I suppose Peter's been making some money, for a change.
Olivia and Peter Stephens, they are. They've been married three years,
and they've got two babies. They're still devoted to each other."

"Odd!" joked Patricia, with archly raised brows. She had no notion of
the truth of her comment in the present company, or of the underlying
cynicism which an unfriendly hearer might read into it. Amy looked
side-ways at her friend. She was puzzled, as the sophisticated always
are puzzled by a remark made with nonsensical humour and without
consciousness of its implications.

"It is," she agreed drily. "Then there's somebody who _isn't_ devoted
to her husband--Blanche Tallentyre. And with good reason. That white
woman with the salmon lips."

"Is she unhappy?" Patricia's face clouded. She imagined a tragedy,
and she still passionately desired happy endings to all stories. She
scanned Mrs. Tallentyre's face, and saw the hard lines at the lips, and
the thin cheeks, and how tight her skin was across the cheek bones;
and her heart felt soft towards one to whom love had been cruel. Now
that she knew this of Blanche Tallentyre she could notice the hunger in
Blanche's face, and the thinness of her bare arms, and the cup at the
base of her throat. She could imagine sleepless, tearless sorrow. So
there was one at least here who, in spite of all the thrill of it, was
unhappy.

"Not _too_ unhappy," said Amy. "Hush. I'll tell you later. Not now."

They paused, Patricia looking childishly wise in an effort to disguise
her faint distaste for this hint at an only dimly-realised form of
ugliness; and both stared valiantly round at the others, so mysterious
to Patricia, and so fascinating in their mysteriousness.

"Jack Penton's here," proceeded Amy. "Somewhere. Of course, not when
he's.... Oh, there you are, Jack. You know Patricia, don't you? Who's
that man at the back? Behind Charlotte Hastings. That quiet man."
Patricia looked quickly at Jack Penton, whom she had met before. He
was a dark, clean-shaven, commonplace-looking young man with a rasping
voice; but he was a good dancer, and she thought him, if not clever,
at least intelligent and worthy of some other girl's love. There was
cameraderie, but no love, in Amy's manner to the boy; and something
very similar, upon the surface, in his manner to Amy; but to Patricia
it was agreeable to see their faces near together. But then Patricia
was a sentimentalist, and saw and imagined all sorts of things that
never existed.

Jack wrinkled his brow in the effort to recall a name half-forgotten.

"Er--I _think_ his name's Rayne, or Mayne," he huskily reported.
"That's it: Edgar Mayne. He's something in the city. Rather an _old_
bird, don't you think? He's a friend of Monty's. Somebody told me he
was clever, but you never know with that sort of chap."

"He looks very nice," whispered Patricia. "But rather stern. I don't
think he likes this kind of thing. He looks disapproving. Oh, I wish he
liked it."

Again came that incredulous stare from Amy which convicted Patricia of
a naïveté. Patricia stiffened a little, and became more guarded. Some
vanity in her cried out against criticism. It was the one thing she
could not bear.

"Just there, on the right, is Felix Brow," proceeded Amy.

"_Not_ ..." Patricia began in amazement.

Suddenly, as they sat thus absorbed, there came an interruption.

"Can't I help?" breathed an eager voice. "I can tell you all sorts of
things you don't know--about everybody. Who they married, and why they
separated, and who they're living with. I'm really an expert guide."

They all looked up, and saw Harry Greenlees, whose face was so lowered
to Patricia's that it was almost level with her own. It was so close,
too, that she could see the warm colour under his skin, and the crisp
hairs of his moustache, and the curl of his lips as they parted in
a smile of entreaty. Seen near at hand, Harry's face had all the
additional attractiveness which health gives to good featured. His
vigour was manifest. There was a pleading in his eyes that was almost
irresistible. It was the pleading of an ideally masterful lover who
would not understand a refusal and so would not accept it. Patricia
looked, and held back her own head until the curve of her cheek was
lengthened and made even more beautiful than before. She was smiling,
and when she smiled one beheld such a picture of happiness that one
became quite naturally intrigued and marvelling. To Harry the picture
was an intoxication.

"You may tell me everything," said Patricia, with assurance equal to
his own. "But first of all tell me who _you_ are."

He took a seat upon the floor by her side, clasping his knees, and
fixing his attention upon the two plump little hands which were clasped
in Patricia's lap.

"I am the most marvellous and unfortunate of men," he said.
"Unfortunate, at least, until this very minute. My name is Harry
Greenlees...."


iii

To Patricia it was all as delicious as a fairy tale. She was not unused
to admiration, for her beauty was of the kind to draw men; but the
admiration of the men she had known had been too easily won to possess
any lasting value. She had become regal and fastidious, accepting
homage even while she despised those by whom it was offered. And who
were these men, after all? They were men she had met at local dances,
or in the office in which she had not very competently or devotedly
worked. A few she had met at the homes of acquaintances, a few at
the seaside hotels at which she and her uncle had stayed from summer
holiday to summer holiday. They had been clerks or young school-masters
or inferior stragglers in one or other of the professions. All, apart
from the admiration they offered and the fact that they were more
or less organically sound males, had failed to interest a lively
intelligence and an impatient spirit. But now that her uncle, like her
father and mother, was dead; and now that, having lost her situation
and determined upon a Career for Herself, Patricia was in new lodgings
and facing life upon a new footing, the case was altered. Old
Dalrymple, whom she had met several times, and who had pleased her
with his rather stale compliments and the still-unpricked bubble of
his exaggerated tales of acquaintance with the great, had brought her
to Monty's. He had been proud to do it. Partly he had an old man's
rather morbid sentimental feeling towards her, which played with the
pretence that it was paternal; and partly he had the knowledge that
Patricia was a creditable companion. So he had brought her here on this
occasion, and Patricia, revelling in the newness of her delight, had
forgotten him. She was already in a hitherto-untasted heaven. And this
ardent young man at her feet, who shone with admiration so confident
and encroaching as almost to excite her, was a new type to Patricia.
She had always been so much quicker-witted than her followers that
she had discouraged them in turn. She was still engaged in battling
with Harry's wit, and thinking it exceedingly nimble and daring and
charming. She was more and more charmed each minute, partly with Harry,
partly with herself for so charming him.

He told her about all the different men and women who were before her,
what they did in order to live, and why they were present; and as she
skipped quickly with her eyes and brain from one to the other he made
up a great deal of nonsense about their private lives which diverted
Patricia extraordinarily, while Amy listened with disapproval to the
whole catalogue.

"Stuff!" she at last interrupted. "There's not a word of truth in it,
Patricia."

"I know!" bubbled Patricia. "Don't you see, that's what's so nice!" Her
whole face was alight as she spoke. Amy's objection seemed to Patricia
to show her so very pedestrian in standard and judgment.

"Patricia understands me," said Harry, unchecked in his use of her
Christian name. "She's the first person to understand me. Do you know,
I've been looking all over the world for you--for thirty weary years."
He beamed whimsically, handsomer in Patricia's eyes each instant.

"I wonder how many times you've said that," snapped Amy, who was
impervious.

"A million times, and never meant it until now." Harry's smile showed
his big white teeth, and long lashes shaded his eyes; and his big frame
was so firm and manifest that Patricia, in laughing as she did with an
exultancy that almost held tears, was full also of happiness in the
enjoyment of his manly graces.

"I understand everything," she announced, confidingly; and mystically
believed it.

"Yes, but he doesn't think so," warned Amy, in grave alarm. "Or he
wouldn't be telling lies at such a rate. It isn't _true_ that Dolly
Fletcher's the daughter of a Russian prince and a charwoman."

"Oh, but wouldn't it be nice if she was!" cried Patricia.

"Exactly," agreed Harry, and proceeded to embroider his legend. "You
see the short nose of the Russian of high caste, and hear the accent
of the London back street. Notice the powder, the scent, the gold
chain; the fur edging to her frock. You can imagine snow on her shoes
and a pail in her hand. You can imagine waves of dirty water slopping
just under the edge of the bed, and silk underclothing, and cosmetics,
and a bath on the first Sunday of the Month--as a rarefied sensual
indulgence."

"She does look dirty," admitted Amy, scrutinizing Dolly. "It's her
skin. But she's a very decent sort."

This was said defiantly, while Patricia wondered. How strange! It was
the first flaw that she had found in her handsome new friend, and it
was unwelcome. She wished he had not spoken in that way. It troubled
her.

"Tell us what you know about Mr. Mayne," said Patricia, to change
this topic and to conceal her distress. It continued for a moment or
two, nevertheless, as an undercurrent to her thoughts, and was still
unpleasant. Personal uncleanliness was abhorrent to her; but the joking
suggestion of it was equally abhorrent. It was an ugliness.

"Mayne? Who's he? Oh, is _that_ Mayne? Really!" Harry seemed for a
moment to be lost in thought. "How astonishing. Edgar Mayne. I didn't
know who it was. Well, Mayne's a peculiar fellow, as I don't mind
telling you."

"Is he married?" demanded Amy impatiently. "If you don't know anything
about him, say so. Don't make it up. If you play any tricks on us about
the man I shall go across and ask him myself."

"No, this is true," said Harry, reflectively. As he spoke he looked
again at Edgar, who was talking to Rhoda Flower and listening calmly to
her chatter. "He's a man who started as a bootblack or something...."

"Lie number one," commented Amy. "Take care!"

"Well, an office boy. And he got to be a ledger clerk. And he became
an accountant. And then manager. And then partner. No, Amy, he's not
married, as far as I know. And instead of marrying he's stuck to work
and he's just bought a newspaper of some sort. So I suppose he's
presently going into Parliament, and intends to be in the Cabinet in
five years. He'll attack the Government in his paper until he's offered
a job; and then they'll give him an Under-Secretaryship. Then he'll
push out the old chap above him, and become a Minister. And there you
are."

"Very nice. He's rich, then?" Amy was as sharp and persistent as the
claws of a playing kitten.

"I s'pose so. I don't know. He's the industrious apprentice."

Unperceived by his hearers, Harry was sneering a little, as one always
does at industriousness, with the suggestion that it is a common vice,
whereas it is a chimera.

"What's the paper he's bought?" asked Jack Penton. "If it's a daily
he'll burn his fingers. I thought he was in the City."

"I don't know what the paper is." Harry's motion towards Jack, however
graceful and even consciously charming, showed that he was busy with
his more honest thoughts. They became vocal, and his voice, hitherto so
ingratiatingly warm, had lost all quality. It was merely cautious and
speculative. "I wonder if he'd give me the job of Sports Editor on it,"
Harry said.

"Take it," jeered Amy. "Take it. That's the sort of thing you do, isn't
it?"

Harry smiled again, altogether recovered, and once again the teasing
comrade he had been. It was a most welcome return.

"I will," he assured them. "You may regard it as taken. I'll just tell
Mayne about it before he goes."

Patricia listened still, the colour deeper in her cheeks as the result
of so much excitement and new knowledge. She was quite fascinated by
Harry, as she was fascinated by this whole unfamiliar scene. She could
hardly keep still, so delighted was she to be in this realm of men and
women who "did" things, whose names and qualities and actions were
known and public. Such gossip as she had heard was quite new to her.
Such assurance as Harry had shown in sketching the possible future
of Mr. Mayne argued an inside knowledge of the world of politics and
affairs and finance and wide-reaching action involving the fortunes of
other people which no man whom she had hitherto known had possessed or
pretended to possess. A gentle glance of encouragement, almost shy,
but wholly attractive, passed between Patricia and Harry. Upon his side
it was prolonged. He gave a little laugh.

"Oh, it's a great life!" he ejaculated, as though he had known her
thoughts.

How Patricia agreed with him!

"It's a _great_ life!" she emphatically repeated, kindled to enthusiasm
at having her vaguer thoughts crystallised. And she felt how she and
Harry appreciated it in common as a great life, and was again pleased
and excited, so that she wanted to clap her hands with joy. The little
group of four, of which Patricia and Harry were the centre, was
observed by all; and if Patricia was in any degree aware of this the
knowledge can only have added to her conviction of the general splendid
entertainingness of life. She was quite carried out of herself and into
the spirit of the hour.


iv

By this time the first half of the evening was coming to an end. Monty,
who had talked to all his guests, had observed that it was ten o'clock;
and it was now that a screen at one end of the studio was removed,
allowing the buffet for the first time to reveal its attractions.
The visitors spread--all except our party of four;--and the most
remarkable collection of drinks and foodstuffs was being relished by
all. For some moments Patricia and her friends knew nothing of what
was going forward; but at last Harry and Jack rose abruptly from their
places to secure refreshment for their charmers. No sooner had they
joined the group at the buffet than Monty and Edgar approached the
two girls, the former bearing a tray upon which were glasses large
and small, and the latter a couple of piled plates. It was Monty's
habit to make his guests serve themselves, and he had only relaxed
his rule because he was interested in Patricia and her youthful
delight. Upon his heels as he thus approached hung Dalrymple, who
saw an opportunity of reclaiming his charge. Patricia had forgotten
Dalrymple--characteristically,--although but for him she would never
have known the joys of the evening at all.

She was charmed at being thus waited upon, and accepted champagne cup
and some of Edgar's more nourishing products with the most urbane
pleasure. To Edgar, who came second in the procession, she was
especially friendly, for she had been absorbed by Harry's tale of his
history. She had time only to thank him and to catch his grave smile,
and then Dalrymple, rather officiously, brought himself to her notice.

"Is Patricia having a good time?" the old man asked, with his smirking
air of hints and mystery. "That's right. That's right. Is there room
here for an old man?"

Amy looked at him with aversion as he squeezed into their seat beside
Patricia, and her expression was suspicious and scornful. But Patricia
had no criticism. It was nothing to her that his eyes were protruding
and gooseberry-like, and the fringe of his moustache above the mouth
browned with the stains of food and much drink. She was in a mood
to welcome all who contributed to this party. She felt in a curious
psychic way that it was peculiarly _her_ party; and the atmosphere
of the place would have led her, in any case, to frank friendliness
with all comers. She was transported, and hardly conscious of her own
actions. The barbaric colours seemed to have mingled into a glorious
harmony, and she was as much intoxicated by these colours and the
sounds and associations of the evening as she could have been made by
deep potations. The glass in her hand was only half-empty; but she
was drunk with happiness, her cheeks flushed, her eyes brimming with
laughter, her lips parted in eager sportiveness. Danger she could not
foresee. She lived in the moment, and knew that for her it was good.
She was unaware of Dalrymple's singular glance, with its old man's
ugliness and preoccupation. She could not read the expression upon
Monty's face when he looked at her over the glass-laden tray. She knew
nothing of Amy's grave distrust and even suspicion. She only felt that
she had never been so happy.

Upon an impulse she thrust her glass into Dalrymple's hand, and rose
and went straight to Edgar. It was extraordinary that she should feel
no embarrassment; but Patricia did not reflect. She was acting upon
impulse, and she exalted impulse, as modern young women are in the
habit of doing. Moreover, all who knew Edgar trusted him.

"I wanted to ask you ..." began Patricia, and then faltered. Edgar's
face was blurred to her vision by the tears that suddenly filled her
eyes. She blinked them away, and took new courage from his expression.
This man, so different from the others there, was one of those, she
felt, who could always be reached by the truth. He was so controlled,
so grave, that he might have terrified her in other circumstances; but
in this mood of exaltation Patricia was carried beyond fear. "I wanted
to ask you ..." she stammered again. "They say ... Mr. Greenlees says
you've just bought a newspaper.... And will you _please_ make him
Sports Editor! I don't think he means really to ask you; but he said he
would; and I think he wants to be.... If only you could, it would be so
awfully nice.... He's really ..."

And then Patricia faltered. She was at the end of her knowledge.
Her cheeks flushed. For the first time she was conscious of grave
discomfort. She would have cancelled all she had said if it had been
possible; but it was too late, and her trembling smile of anxiety was
the most beautiful thing Edgar had seen for many days. Nevertheless, he
shook his head.

"Such an advocate would secure a man _any_ position," he said. "But
only if it were available. It is quite true that I've bought a paper;
but _what_ a paper! Miss Quin--I hardly like to tell you what paper
it is. I have only bought it because the Editor is a man I love and
admire, and because the paper would otherwise die. It is called 'The
Antiquarian's Gazette,' You see, we could only have some very antique
sports in such a paper."

"Couldn't you ... couldn't you ... bring it up-to-date?" begged
Patricia.

Edgar shook his head with so concerned an expression that she could
hardly detect his lurking smile.

"I'm afraid ..." he said.

"No." Patricia was rueful. "No, I see it wouldn't do. I'm sorry,
though." Her thoughts ran on apace. "Did you mean," she asked suddenly,
"that the editor would have ... he wouldn't have had anything to live
on?"

"Well, he's a very proud old gentleman," admitted Edgar.

"And then you've bought it to ..."

"More or less," he agreed. "It's a very special case, of course."

"Well, I think you're splendid," Patricia cried. "But then, everything
..." She paused, almost overcome. "To-night, everything's splendid."

And with that she began quite suddenly to cry, large tears rolling down
her cheeks, while Edgar took one of her half-raised hands and held it
in his own until she should have regained self-control. It came in a
moment, and her friendly smile, so almost roguish, pierced the tears
and obliterated them. Edgar smiled also, in relief and friendship.

"All right?" he questioned, very quietly.

Patricia's other hand was for the lightest instant upon his, and she
was free. She nodded reassuringly, and with her handkerchief caused
two tears which stood upon her cheeks to vanish. She was like a little
girl; but she had made another friend, for nobody could have withstood
behaviour as free from artifice and so full of naïve emotion. The
episode was finished; but its consequences could never be finished, for
a human relation had been established, and these things are undying.


v

With the arrival and circulation of the drinks, Monty's party took
a new turn. The noise at first increased, into such a sustained and
stentorian buzzing that the sounds would have stunned a newcomer
unprepared for such celebrations; but presently the noise so died that
the steady downpour of rain could be heard upon the studio's glass
roof. The cup was a strong one, mixed by a cunning hand; liqueurs
followed; tinklings and small clashes were audible. The party grew
quieter. A heaviness began to show in its members. The pallor of
some of the guests increased, and with the now great heat of the
poorly-ventilated room there came closeness and some discomfort. Only
Dalrymple and Frederick Tallentyre (the husband of Blanche--a swarthy
man with a mass of dark hair) remained at the buffet; and Dalrymple
began to laugh quietly, showing his old yellow teeth.

Patricia looked once at her escort, and if she also had not had the
first Benedictine of her life she would have been shocked. As it was
she sat still beside Amy, her lips a little swollen and her eyes
glowing; almost noisy, but no longer happy as she had been. Any
outbreak of noise and dancing would have carried her with it; but these
people, with their increasingly white puffy faces and the seriousness
which began to overtake most of those present, were no longer adorable.
They fell into a monotony of familiar dummies. Even Harry, eager though
he was, she saw with less intensity of vision. He was still delightful
and gay; but she was surfeited with emotion. Not at all intoxicated,
but over-tired, she was now ready for the end of the evening. She even
observed the first departure with some gladness. Departures began and
continued.

"I say ... I'm sorry ..." Harry was murmuring in Patricia's ear. His
hand was upon her wrist. "I say ... we must meet again, you know."

"Of _course_," she agreed, her face clear and open and full of the
sweet candour she was feeling.

"How ... when can I see you?" He was hot and urgent. "I'm awfully
sorry, but I promised to see young Rhoda home. But ... I ... er....
When, I mean ... when can I see you. I must.... It's got to be soon,
you know." Oh, they were of one mind upon that!

Dalrymple was now alone at the buffet, a benign smile upon his aged
face, and his attitude that of one by the world forgotten.

"Any time. Let me know," said Patricia, very gravely, and without
coquetry.

"But how can I find you?"

"Amy.... Any way, it's ..."

She was giving him her address when Rhoda appeared against the
doorway, all muffled in furs, with her expression one of impatience
ill-concealed. Harry shook Patricia's wrist, and made off to the door.
He turned as he reached it, and kissed his hand. Patricia, with
her head back and her eyes suddenly sombre, waved in return. He was
gone. She turned to Amy, who was frowning at Jack Penton. Amy sharply
whispered:

"How are you going to get home?"

As if in answer, Dalrymple approached rather lurchingly from the
buffet. He smiled ingratiatingly upon the reduced company.

"Where's ... where's my lit ... little ... companion?" he said, coming
towards them. It was clear that although he could control his movements
he was no longer quite sober.

"No," said Amy, in Patricia's ear.

"I wonder if I might give you a lift in my car, Miss Quin."

The voice was that of Edgar. It was so quiet as to be almost an
undertone.

"Oh, _do_." Amy was the one to answer, for Patricia was dazed.

"Get your coat, then. Will you take her?" Edgar supplemented his
instruction with the request to Amy; and the two girls moved quickly
away. They saw no more of Dalrymple. By the time they were dressed
Edgar was waiting in the hall; and they stood in the doorway together
while he started the engine of his car. Two great lights illumined the
gravel sweep in front of Monty's house. Then Patricia was in a warm,
soft-lighted vehicle, and they were in motion. She pressed back in her
place, her head throbbing and her mouth still nervously smiling. It
was as though she were flying from all unpleasantness, very tired and
happy, with one she trusted and would have trusted with her life.

"And now ..." said Edgar. "Where do we go?"

Patricia was looking back at the doorway. In it she could no longer see
Amy and Jack Penton. There remained, silhouetted against the light of
the hall, only the figure of Monty; and Monty, so still that he might
have been without pulses, stood watching the departure of Patricia and
her escort. For her thereafter there was nothing but the soft purring
of the engine and the sense of security and safe harbourage against all
the elements.


vi

In the studio, Monty stood alone. His last guest had gone. He was
in the midst of that stale atmosphere and the wreck of a past
entertainment. Smoke hung about in the air, the faint pungent smells
of the drinks and of drying dampness combined with it. All was hot and
vitiated. Monty stood with perspiration faintly upon his cheeks and
under his heavy eyes. He had mixed himself a glass of whisky and soda,
and rested it now upon the mantelpiece. The soft front of his dress
shirt was crumpled, and his hair was less thickly smooth than it had
been; but he was otherwise immaculate, from his beautifully-cut dinner
jacket to his patent-leather shoes. He looked round the studio, and
listened to the pattering of rain above his head.

Slowly Monty sank into one of his soft armchairs, and set his glass
upon the floor. Around him was an indescribable mess of cigarette
ash. The ghost of the party was risen. It was everywhere about him,
in the now-silent chatter and the remembered scents and interests of
the evening. Monty's thoughts were not mournful or stagnant, as those
of one more sensitive might have been. He was entirely collected, and
satisfied with his party. There had been no hitch at all; and even
Dalrymple had at last been persuaded to go by the arrival of a taxi and
the loan of his fare. Monty was alone, well content.

All the same, Dalrymple must never again come to one of his parties.
Monty had no use for a man such as he had shown himself to be. This
was for Monty the end of Dalrymple. Far otherwise was the case with
Dalrymple's companion. Far otherwise.... The exclusion of Dalrymple
must not affect the little Quin girl. She could be reached through Amy
Roberts ... possibly through Harry Greenlees....

Monty almost smiled as he had this last thought. Then he became
serious again. He had other matters to think of. There were many other
things....

Half-an-hour later he still sat in the studio, and at last, as his
man-servant came into the doorway to ask if there were any further
instructions, he roused himself from his reverie.

"No. Good-night, Jacobs," said Monty.

It was quite remarkable how long that little girl's face had remained
in his memory, he thought. Fresh.... She was fresh. Attractive little
thing ... Greenlees seemed to like her...."

Monty laughed quietly to himself.



CHAPTER THREE: PATRICIA


i

Patricia was indoors. She lived in two rooms in an old house near
the King's Road, and her rooms were at the top of the house. As
the door snapped behind her she saw her little bedroom lamp as the
only illumination of a narrow passage leading to the stairs; and
instinctively she paused, her shadow thrown solid and leaping against
the door, while the muffled sound of Edgar's car died away in the
distance. The house was dark and silent, and Patricia's heart sank.
A sigh of regret escaped her. It was hard to come so abruptly from
the glowing scene she had left, with her brain in a ferment of all
its new memories and wonderings, to this dingy home in which all was
so tasteless. She slowly mounted the stairs, smoke from the lamp's
flame smirching the glass chimney and rising acrid to her nostrils.
Her bedroom was cold; and a damp shivering breath came from the open
window, across which the curtains were yet undrawn. Outside the window
everything was black. No lights came even from the houses that backed
on to the one in which she lived. She could hear the rustling of the
rain. A shudder shook Patricia. Deeply chilled, she moved away from the
window.

Even when she was in bed, and slow warmth had returned to her body,
she was conscious of unhappiness. It was not that she was normally
discontented: she suffered now only from a sense of the acute contrast
between this sullen room with the steady rain without and the warmth
and peacock brilliance of the studio she had left. And the journey
had been so rapid, and for the most part so silent, that she was
plunged sharply back from her dreaming joy to sombre consciousness of
every-day reality. Had there been a gay party homeward, had friendly
voices shouted jocular farewells from the pavement, the happiness
might have continued; but she was shaken at this sharp transition. For
the first time Patricia girded at her loneliness, which until now--as
independence--had made her feel so proud. To the sense of loneliness
was added a memory of her poverty. To be alone and poor, young and
eager, was to struggle with gloom itself. She did not cry; but a sob
rose in her throat. It was such unmistakable anti-climax to be made
to face the fact that she did not rightfully belong to this sparkling
world of noise and light and colour in which she had spent the
wonderful evening.

"Oh, dear!" cried Patricia to herself, suddenly desperate and at war
with her lot, as other debutantes have been. "It's too bad. It's too
_bad_!"

And then, fortunately, some little recollection from the multitude of
recollections which would presently disengage themselves, made her
smile. A soft little sound, such as a baby might have made, came from
her throat, the lips being once again closed. Her hands were bunched
at her breast. It was the reaction caused by the bed's cosiness and
her sweet exhaustion. An instant later she was fast asleep, and in her
sleep she smiled as she dreamed of a party of beautiful gaiety, in
which she was supreme and unchallenged, ... the admired and the adored
of all ... Patricia!


ii

In the morning she awoke to ambitious determination. At first waking
she knew it was late, and sighed, very drowsy and comfortable. Happy
thoughts began to float into her consciousness, and she smiled again
to herself like a little girl. But when Lucy, the maid of the house,
tramped up to her door and knocked there with knuckles of iron,
Patricia no longer lay in reverie. She instantly arose, took her
primitive bath, and was in her sitting-room long before the breakfast
arrived.

There were no letters. There were never any letters for Patricia.
Letters never come, she believed, to the truly deserving. She had a
hunger for letters. She longed intensely to be like those young men
in demodé books who opened uncountable bills and billets doux at the
breakfast-table and stuck all their cards of invitation round the
edges of the mirror upon the mantelpiece. The mirror was there; but
no cards adorned it. The mirror had a gilded frame, and was no longer
very fresh. It was flanked by vases intended to represent perfectly
incredible marble. In the fireplace was a gas-fire, alight. The floor
was covered with green and red oilcloth, and a woolly rug of yellow and
magenta lay before the hearth. There was a sofa against the opposite
wall, and at the window stood a sturdy table bearing a typewriter. In
the middle of the room was another table upon which the first signs
of breakfast were laid. Here, too, was Patricia's own little bowl of
flowers. That bowl, the flowers, and the typewriter, were here her sole
possessions. The rest belonged to the landlady who lived somewhere far
below stairs, and it received daily a severe banging from Lucy, whose
speed and energy exceeded her competence by about as much as the salary
of a competent staff would have exceeded Lucy's wages.

Patricia went to the flowers and raised the bowl so that she could
still detect the ghost of their waning fragrance. In her morning dress
of blue serge, the collar high and the shape quite simple, she seemed
perhaps taller and slimmer than she had been on the previous night.
But she was quite as pretty, and the fresh pink of her rounded cheeks
betokened good health. Her hair, which was not long, was arranged
to-day as it had been arranged at Monty's party. She was the same girl,
but she was graver, because this morning her thoughts were more active
and she was therefore more sad.

She remembered old Dalrymple, whom she had met through the agency of
Amy, asking her to go to the party with him, and calling for her; she
remembered their journey, her entry of the mysteriously charming house,
of the studio, her first sight of Monty and instinctive interest in
that dark and impenetrable face. And then the noise and brilliance,
and Amy, and all the gay talk, and Mr. Mayne.... For a long time she
was shy of permitting any thought of Harry, as one sometimes leaves
the finest peach to the last; and it was delicious to be always almost
returning and arriving at Harry, to feel him perpetually there,
summonable at impulse, and wilfully to hold thought of him in reserve.
Yet in reality it was most often of Harry that she was aware in every
wayward turn of memory.


iii

Breakfast was another blow for Patricia. There were bacon and eggs, and
both were depressingly cold. The tea was strong and cold. Not so would
breakfast be, she decided, in any home truly her own; though if, as she
had long ago assumed, her future home were to be one in which servants
played a leading part, she had no notion of the way in which cold
breakfasts were to be avoided. Were there not such things as spirit
lamps? Patricia had not stayed often enough in large houses to know
that cold breakfasts are inevitable there unless the meal is eaten in
the kitchen. She merely felt sure that Monty had hot breakfasts. But
she did not associate her confident belief with the fact that he was
an autocrat with a man-servant. It is the woman's lot to be ill-served
wherever she goes. One has only to lunch at a woman's club in London to
have this truth emphasised.

So breakfast this morning was a disappointment. Only good
digestion--which she fortunately possessed--could have dealt with
it effectively. And with breakfast finished, and the dish with
solid streaks of grease upon it mercifully concealed by the cracked
dish-cover, Patricia wondered what she would do next. She was at
leisure, which meant that she was not in a situation; and her ambition
exceeded her powers of performance. Her father and mother had both
died long ago, and Patricia had lived the greater part of her life
with Uncle Roly until his death a year since. He had been a casual
man, subsisting from week to week upon a large salary which his habits
converted into a small one. What he had done, except to go to an
office every day, Patricia had never known; but while she had been
with him there had always been plenty to eat, idleness and chocolates
for herself, and drinks for Uncle Roly; and a holiday each year at
the seaside or in the country. And then he had died, to Patricia's
great but quite short-lived grief, and with his death ended the salary
from which nothing had been saved. Patricia had exactly two hundred
pounds, and the world to face. No relatives barred her path with
offers of homes or advice. There followed a situation as typist at a
time when even young girls were able to find remunerative situations.
Dancing, suburban gaiety, restlessness, and boredom lasted as long
as the situation. That too had ended; and Patricia, with only one
hundred pounds of inheritance and savings left (for she had not been
thrifty, any more than her fellow-workers and -players had been), was
confronted with a new problem.

The alternatives were another situation, which was difficult to find,
and a life of vague splendour derived from her talent. Search for the
situation being tiresome, and therefore not very sedulously pursued,
she was inclined to stake everything upon her talent, as yet unproved.
A novel was undertaken--a very autobiographical novel, in which the
heroine was extraordinarily charming; and short stories, small poems,
little sketches and essays, were all produced from her brain and typed
by her busy fingers. When one or two of the stories were accepted
and paid for, she had no real fear for the future. She was sanguine
with youthful confidence; and her remaining hundred pounds seemed an
inexhaustible sum. As she thought of these things Patricia could not
help feeling rather conceited. Sometimes, when she dreamed of her
ultimate fame, she could almost suppose that those who passed her in
the street were already conscious of it.


iv

It was after a day of wasted literary effort, when nothing would come
right, that Patricia swept aside all sign of her work, and sought
comfort from a visit to Amy. Amy--at least, the adult, as opposed to
the child of other days--had first been encountered by accident about
a month previously, when she and Patricia had both been shopping. They
had stared at each other for a couple of minutes, both half-recognising
and half-recognised, and had then pronounced each other's names,
reviving a school friendship. Amy, who was alone in the world of
London æstheticism by her own choice, and in receipt of an allowance
from parents who had plenty of money, was embarked upon an artistic
career, and was trapesing about from publisher to publisher with a
large portfolio containing pen-and-ink sketches depicting scenes in
"The Vicar of Wakefield" and other classic novels. She thus sought
employment as a designer and illustrator. She also made drawings of
her friends in water-colour and experimented with oils; but as far as
Patricia could see (with the candid eye of a true friend) she spent
much of her time in dress-making and in drinking tea and smoking
cigarettes. She wore her hair bobbed, and dressed in loose cretonne
frocks and brilliant stockings and shoes that were as much like sandals
as anything could be. She had a casual and dissatisfied air, and was
developing extreme untidiness under the impression that untidiness was
distinguished. That she was happy in her chosen life nobody to whom
it was unfamiliar could have supposed; for it held neither security
nor romance. On the contrary, it resulted in an aimless see-saw
between gregariousness with others equally ego-ridden and amateurishly
opinionated about the arts, and solitary days of labour at work which
might have been done more competently by those of smaller æsthetic
pretensions. Still, this was the sort of society to which Patricia
felt herself at this time drawn; and bohemianism in any guise was
fascinating for both of them. They became good friends once more.
Patricia made her way to the chintz-adorned studio in Fitzroy Street.

Amy, very professional in a long overall with sleeves, carried a brush
between her teeth, and a palette over her left thumb, as she opened the
studio door in answer to Patricia's mock-peremptory knock.

"Good!" she heartily cried. "Just the one I want. Don't take your hat
off for a minute, and turn round. I want to see just exactly how the
hair grows."

"All over the place, mostly," said Patricia, as she obediently turned.
The picture in progress stood upon the easel, and represented nothing
upon earth. A bloated something without form carried an eye upon its
cheekbone. The miracle had been achieved of showing a head upon three
sides of its common aspect. Patricia observed it with respect, although
she might have been moved to great laughter if she had found it in a
child's painting book. She looked crampedly from her stance, as she
waited, upon such part of the room as was to be seen. It was not a
large studio, but it was lofty, and although a bed stood in the farther
corner it was the best combined room she had ever seen. It would be
possible, she thought, to be quite happy here. The stained floor was
bare except for rugs at the fire and beside the bed, and a large easel
stood right under the glass roof. The studio was warm, and so lighted
that it appeared to stretch indefinitely into the dusky corners. The
only comfortable seats were a big deep armchair and a "podger" which
lay against the wall by the side of the fire. Patricia continued to
beam upon it as a home for one such as herself. She coveted the studio
with a pure and humane covetousness.

"Ye-es," presently came her friend's comment. "All right, thanks. Sit
down. Have a cigarette? Well, and you got home all right, did you? With
your gay companion."

"He _was_ gay!" jeered Patricia. "He hardly said a word."

Amy clucked her tongue. "Too bad!" she observed. "However, you'd have
got soaked otherwise. Anyway, it was better than having Dalrymple. Did
you ever see such an old toper? It was amazing. Monty won't have him
again."

"Oh!" It was a cry of disappointment.

"Oh, that won't matter." Amy was laying down her palette and searching
for matches as she spoke. There was cigarette ash all over the hearth
in front of her little gas fire, and ash was scattered across the
floor. The bed, covered with bright chintz, showed that she had lain
upon it during the afternoon. "You'll be invited without him another
time."

"Shall I?" It sent a spark of joy through Patricia to hear this. She
looked gratefully at Amy's white face and smooth hair. "Really?"

Amy shrugged with a conceited air of boredom. "You made an impression
last night," she announced. Patricia laughed gaily, and Amy continued:
"It's easy enough, and it comes naturally to you. Of course, Monty's
parties aren't what they were. He used to have a lot of decent people;
but he's peculiar, you know. He gets tired of people, and drops them.
It's the privilege you enjoy when you've got money. Only of course
you've got to keep on making fresh friends, and he's not as bright
as he used to be. He used to be able to talk. Now it isn't worth his
while; so he says nothing at all. He thinks it. He's sardonic."

"He looks that," agreed Patricia, trying to seem as expert and as
patronising as her friend. "But he looks interesting, as well; and
that's a great deal."

"Oho! I should think he was. And as clever as the devil. But he's a
beast."

"I don't mind that, so long as he isn't beastly to me," said Patricia.
"I don't mind what anybody does, so long as they are nice to me."

Amy laughed, and professionally flicked the ash from her cigarette with
a little finger. It was a laugh that held dryness.

"Oh, they'll all be nice to you," she observed. "No reason why they
should be anything else."

Patricia pondered upon that suggestion, and upon the strange gleam
in Amy's eye. She had so much affection to give, she thought, and she
had met so much kindness in others, that there really did not seem to
be anything but kindness in her whole life. Even Lucy, in her rough
way, was kind. Amy, of course, did not know that, and had not meant
to suggest it; but there were things which Patricia still did not
understand at sight, in spite of her self-confidence in that direction.

"No," she said. "There isn't, is there. Except that I'm poor; but
people don't notice that. Of course, Mr. Mayne was really very kind.
But he's rather unbending, I think. He's ... well, he seemed to me to
be rather out of place at Monty's."

So soon had she caught the trick of calling all persons by a Christian
name! Amy, from a greater experience, noticed the more naïve
satisfaction of Patricia at the habit, and was amused by it.

"Yes. And then there's Harry Greenlees, of course," she prompted, a
little inquisitively.

"Yes, Harry. He's awfully nice and amusing," said Patricia. She was
instinctively guarded.

"Quite," replied Amy, now very dry. She shot a glance at her friend
that hinted suspicion. "You see in that one evening you made three new
friends...."

There was a pause; and then Patricia, who knew nothing of suspicion,
went on:

"Amy ... do you know Rhoda Flower?"

"In a way. Not well. Just from seeing her at that sort of thing--and
hearing about her. She isn't any good."

"What sort of things do you hear?" Patricia had caught that note, at
least, and was stung by it to a question. Amy shrugged, since she had
no fact to communicate.

"Oh, nothing ... Nothing _really_. But of course they're always
together."

Patricia started slightly. They? Rhoda and Harry.

"Oh, yes," she said, as if merely in acquiescence. "I thought she was
pretty, and looked all right."

"Rhoda?" Amy laughed scornfully. "Yes, she's pretty. But she's a fool."

"How d'you mean? Not got any brains?"

"With Harry."

Patricia was puzzled. She just prevented herself from saying "But I
thought one did as one liked, without question, in Bohemia."

"What, ... what, is she in love with him?" she stammered, her eyes wide
open.

Amy shrugged, blowing cigarette smoke from her nostrils.

"Oho, I don't know," she said, in a particularly measured voice. "Who
knows? It's not the sort of thing one woman tells another unless she is
a friend. But she'll burn her fingers with him, you can see. She's not
experienced enough at the game. You've only got to look at him to see
he's after every fresh face."

It came like a flash to Patricia: Amy's jealous of me! She was aghast
and amused in the same instant.

"Oh, well," she cried, with masterly skill. "Who isn't?"

And then Amy and Patricia looked at each other, both smiling, but in
conflict as they had not hitherto been. Amy's face was sickly, and
there was an extraordinary glitter in Patricia's eyes. Patricia's
thoughts leapt quickly forward, skipping all reasons and shades of
interpretation. It was not merely of the impression which Patricia had
made upon Harry Greenlees that Amy was jealous: it was of Patricia
herself, of her power to attract, her intelligence, her freshness.
Patricia, even under her horror and her inclination to ridicule such
an attitude, was conscious of a sharp accession of complacency. She had
entered this new world; she had seen it to be good; she had triumphed
with the ease of mastery. It was her fate. She was confirmed in her
belief that there was a genuine irresistible _something_ in the world
called Patricia. Nothing was impossible to her. The chagrins of the
morning were obliterated.


v

Presently the two girls busied themselves in preparing a meal in the
small kitchen attached to the studio. It was not a feast; but it
satisfied them, and Patricia loved the sense of camping out. They ate
it off a small round table with a large coloured napkin used as a
tablecloth. The crockery was all odd, as Amy had purchased it from a
former tenant, and one plate bore upon it the name of a famous hotel.
They had an egg dish and some potted meat and some thin claret, with an
apple apiece to complete the meal and some coffee which was rather the
worse for wear. Amy smoked cigarettes continuously throughout, laying
them upon the edge of her plate during mastication. Her consumption of
cigarettes during the day was considerable, and she even smoked and
read in bed. Patricia made a note of this, as it seemed to be a part of
the bohemian life.

"I never noticed this plate before," she suddenly cried, alluding to
the one which had upon it the name of the hotel. "D'you suppose it was
stolen, or what?"

Amy shrugged, and wiped a small piece of clinging tobacco from her lip
with a forefinger.

"May have been," she said. "Or else its a throw-out. You get them cheap
in markets, I believe."

"I hope it was stolen," breathed Patricia. "Fancy eating off a stolen
plate! But you'd wonder how any body smuggled anything so large out of
an hotel. Awful if it fell!"

"You're perfectly ridiculous, Patricia," said Amy.

What strange eyes Amy had, thought Patricia. They were like big
blue-green marbles. They stood out a little. Or perhaps it was only
that her eyelashes were fair. Harry had beautiful eyelashes--long and
dark; and they made his eyes look charming. She hadn't noticed Edgar
Mayne's eyes.... Oh, yes, she had. They were kind and brown. Funny! The
thought of him made her smile; but she had at the same time a curious
warming of the heart.

"Isn't it strange," she remarked, thoughtfully, "that you can feel
perfectly----"

But what Patricia had been about to commend to Amy's notice was lost;
for at that moment there came a tapping at the studio door. Instantly
Patricia had one of those celebrated intuitions to which all young
women at times are liable. She felt sure that the person knocking was
Harry. It proved to be Jack Penton, who came in as though the place
were familiar to him, and stood frowning at the signs of their feast.
He was as smooth and insignificant as ever.

"Oh," he said, in his rasping voice. "You've had your meal."

"Nothing left for you," answered Amy, brusquely.

Jack's manner in reply was protestingly sullen, as if he had been
detected in a fault.

"I was going to ask you to come out to dinner," he grumbled.

"I don't think I _could_ eat anything more," smiled Patricia. "It's so
nice of you." That was her solace for him, a contribution to what she
felt might be a disappointment to so worthy a young man.

"Well...." He hesitated. "I've just got along. Erm.... Look here, I'll
go and get something to eat, and come back, if I may."

Amy agreed, and Jack was letting himself out when a notion occurred to
her.

"If you meet anybody, bring them with you," she called after him. And
when the door had clicked she turned to Patricia. "Don't go, whatever
you do...." She put her hand to her brow. "That young man.... He's
beginning to be a nuisance."

"What, Jack?" Patricia was full of sympathy for the absent. "But he's
most agreeable. I like him."

"Yes," responded Amy, with rather a morose air. "You don't have to put
up with him. He's moody. He's got a fearful temper, and he sulks. It's
the temperament that goes with that complexion. He's dark and sulky. He
hasn't got any notion of.... He's old-fashioned...."

"Do you mean he's in love with you?" asked Patricia. "That seems to be
what's the matter."

"Oho, it takes two to be in love," scornfully cried Amy. "And I'm not
in love with him."

"But he's your friend."

"That's just it. He won't recognise that men and women _can_ be
friends. He's a very decent fellow; but he's full of this sulky
jealousy, and he glowers and sulks whenever any other man comes near
me. Well, that's not my idea of friendship."

"Nor mine," echoed Patricia, trying to reconstruct her puzzled estimate
of their relations. "But couldn't you stop that? Surely, if you put it
clearly to him...."

Amy interrupted with a laugh that was almost shrill. Her manner was
coldly contemptuous.

"You _are_ priceless!" she cried. "You say the most wonderful things."

"Well, _I_ should."

"I wonder." Amy moved about, collecting the plates. "You see ... some
day I shall marry. And in a weak moment I said probably I'd marry him."

"Oh, Amy! Of _course_ he's jealous!" Swiftly, Patricia did the young
man justice.

"It didn't give him any right to be. I told him I'd changed my mind.
I've told him lots of times that probably I shan't marry him."

"But you keep him. Amy! You do encourage him." Patricia was stricken
afresh with a generous impulse of emotion on Jack's behalf. "I mean, by
not telling him straight out. Surely you can't keep a man waiting like
that? I wonder he doesn't _insist_."

"Jack insist!" Amy was again scornful. "Not he!"

There was a moment's pause. Innocently, Patricia ventured upon a
charitable interpretation.

"He must love you very much. But Amy, if you don't love him."

"What's love got to do with marriage?" asked Amy, with a sourly cynical
air.

"Hasn't it--everything?" Patricia was full of sincerity. She was too
absorbed in this study to help Amy to clear the table; but on finding
herself alone in the studio while the crockery was carried away to
the kitchen she mechanically shook the crumbs behind the gas-fire and
folded the napkin. This was the most astonishing moment of her day.

Presently Amy returned, and sat in the big armchair, while, seated
upon the podger and leaning back against the wall, Patricia smoked a
cigarette.

"You see, the sort of man one falls in love with doesn't make a good
husband," announced Amy, as patiently as if Patricia had been in fact a
child. She persisted in her attitude of superior wisdom in the world's
ways. "It's all very well; but a girl ought to be able to live with any
man she fancies, and then in the end marry the safe man for a ... well,
for life, if she likes."

Patricia's eyes were opened wide.

"I shouldn't like that," she said. "I don't think the man would,
either."

"Bless you, the men all _do_ it," cried Amy, contemptuously. "Don't
make any mistake about that."

"I don't believe it," said Patricia. "Do you mean that my father--or
_your_ father...?"

"Oh, I don't know. I meant, nowadays. Most of the people you saw last
night are living together or living with other people."

Patricia was aware of a chill.

"But _you've_ never," she urged. "I've never."

"No." Amy was obviously irritated by the personal application. "That's
just it. I say we _ought_ to be free to do what we like. Men do what
they like."

"D'you think Jack has lived with other girls?"

"My dear child, how do I know? I should hope he has."

"Hope! Amy, you do make me feel a prig."

"Perhaps you are one. Oh, I don't know. I'm sick of thinking, thinking,
thinking about it all. I never get any peace."

"Is there somebody you _want_ to live with?"

"No. I wish there was. Then I should _know_."

"I wonder if you would know," said Patricia, in a low voice. "Amy,
do you really know what love is? Because I don't. I've sometimes let
men kiss me, and it doesn't seem to matter in the least. I don't
particularly want to kiss them, or be kissed. I've never seen anything
in all the flirtation that goes on in dark corners. It's amusing once
or twice; but it becomes an awful bore. The men don't interest you. The
thought of living with any of them just turns me sick."

Amy listened with attention. Her eyes protruded. She tapped her foot
upon the floor.

"Yes, but you're not sensual," she said. "You're not an _artist_.
Experience is a thing every artist must have. Not a humdrum marriage,
and children, and washing books ... I must have experience--to do great
work...."

Patricia's eyes flew to the canvas, now covered, which stood upon the
easel.

"But ..." she began.

"You drive me perfectly mad!" cried Amy, suddenly beside herself with
impatience. "You ask questions. You're like a child. You don't know
what torment is. You don't know what it is to be bothered the whole
time with all this ... never to get away from it."

"It can't be very healthy," said Patricia. Amy showed her teeth in an
angry smile. She did not answer for several minutes, during which her
face became set in an expression of discontented egotism.

"Sometimes I think I'll marry Jack just to find out what marriage is
like," she said at last. "I could always leave him and go off on my
own."

"Poor Jack!" thought Patricia. She said aloud: "He wouldn't like that."

"Oho, he wouldn't be any worse off than he is now."

"He'd be prevented from marrying anybody else."

"If I left him I shouldn't mind what he did," explained Amy. "Of
course, he could divorce me."

Patricia thought she had never heard such confident expression of
selfishness. It was one thing, she felt, for her to be selfish, because
she really _was_ wonderful; but to hear Amy speaking as though she had
no need to consider others struck Patricia as almost abominable. She
was pleased with the word--it was almost abominable. There was a long
silence, while their thoughts ranged.

"I certainly don't think you ought to marry him," remarked Patricia.
"It wouldn't be fair. You _must_ consider him a little. His feelings, I
mean."

Amy stretched her legs out in front of her and nestled her head in the
corner of the chair. She lighted one cigarette from another, and slowly
took two or three puffs.

"You'll find that it's best not to consider other people," she said at
length. "They only become a nuisance. I'm kind to Jack, and _he's_ a
nuisance. I've told him he can go; but he won't go unless I definitely
say I won't marry him."

"He's very weak!" exclaimed Patricia, fiercely. "I'm ashamed of him."

"He's not at all weak. He wants something, and he's waiting for it,
that's all."

"If you feel like that, surely it shows that you mean to marry him in
the end."

"I wonder if I shall," murmured Amy. "Perhaps. Perhaps not...."

"I could give you a good shaking!" cried Patricia.


vi

To herself, she thought: "She thinks she's immoral, when she's only
conceited. How silly!" And with that she had her first glimpse of
Amy's soul. The rapid judgment of others which children possess was
still a faculty of Patricia's. Her self-knowledge was rather less.
This that Amy indicated was to her an unknown world; but after all
she had preserved her own liberty through a number of episodes common
to the period in which she lived. The superficial excitements of
dancing partners were not unknown to her, and she had the modern girl's
knowledge of things which of old were hidden. Only a quick intelligence
had saved her in the past, and she had been made exceptionally
confident by experience in her power to deal with whatever situations
might arise in her own life. Amy, who looked upon Patricia as a babe,
continued to brood upon her trials.

"The men I like," she presently admitted, with candour, "don't seem to
like me. The men who attract me. They go for the pretty, dolly woman."

"You're pretty," urged Patricia.

"They don't think so. What's left to me? People like Jack."

"But Amy.... It _can't_ be so...." The word Patricia sought was
"casual." "I mean, I thought one _knew_--that one either loved a man or
didn't." She was pathetically bewildered.

"That's in days when a girl only knew the man she married, and one or
two others. It's different now. You know a hundred men--who's to know
which is the best of them?"

"Is that how the men feel?" asked Patricia.

Amy stirred in discomfort. She was ill at ease.

"My dear girl, you don't understand," she said. "There's physical
attraction; and there's ... well, there's being pals with a man. But
the old ideas of such things are _gone_."

Patricia shook her head. She was hearing of something she did not
understand.

"I wish they weren't," was all she could find to say.

"They are!" fiercely cried Amy. "If I were a good girl, living at home,
I should marry Jack and be told I'd made a 'suitable match.' But I'm
not. I'm on my own. I'm going to have a life of my own. I'm going--I'm
not going to be any man's property. That's finished."

A blank misery seized Patricia.

"I wish you were happy," she murmured. "Oh, I do wish you were." It was
the only thing she could say, for she was not learned enough to arrive
at any truer explanation than her own unutterable thought of a few
minutes earlier.

Sombre dissatisfaction continued to cloud Amy's face.

"Yes," she said. "Of course, you don't understand. You _couldn't_.
You've got one of those simple little natures. You're content. You
don't know what suffering or temptation is. If a man says he loves you,
you're ready to believe him. You're ready to fall in his arms."

"Am I?" inquired Patricia, dangerously. Her indignation was rising.

Amy looked suspiciously at her, too self-absorbed to give more than
passing attention.

"You'll see. You're younger than I am. Perhaps you'll learn. Perhaps
you'll find out for yourself what suffering is," she admonished, almost
with a grim hopefulness.

There came again a sharp tapping at the studio door, and, as if bored
almost to lethargy, Amy slowly moved to answer the call. Patricia,
instantly alert to recall the injunction under which Jack Penton had
departed, imagined hastily that he might have brought another visitor.
And for Patricia at this time "another visitor" meant one only. She
started at the second voice. Surely it was Harry's. Standing now, she
faced the door, and could see beyond Amy to the figures of the two men
who entered. First came Jack. There followed Monty Rosenberg.



CHAPTER FOUR: THE REACTION


i

Monty came into the small studio very much as a tall man enters the
saloon of a yacht. His head was lowered, and he produced the impression
that all about him was very small. Patricia's first thought of Monty
was a disappointed: "Oh, he's fat!" But when his overcoat was laid
aside, and he was nearer, she saw that whatever he might become in the
future he was still on the slim side of corpulence.

"What a pleasant surprise," murmured Monty. His air caused Jack Penton
to appear callow. He was almost mocking to Amy. There was something in
the way he held his shoulders, and stood quite still, that made him
seem nearly as well-bred as a servant; and yet there was such ease in
his manner that Patricia felt he could never in all his life be for an
instant discomposed. She envied Monty. She was silent with envy, and
her slight shyness, which was expressed by such graceful unconscious
shrinking, was an added charm.

"What happened to Dalrymple, Monty?" demanded Amy, as her new guest
took the armchair, and smiled down upon Patricia.

"Oh, he went home." Monty had a soft voice, perfectly quiet and smooth;
and he almost always raised his inflexion at the end of the sentence,
as if he were inviting a response.

"He was drunk," said Amy.

"My dear Amy!" Monty cast a glance of pretended protest which included
Patricia, but seemed also to associate her in his protest. "There are
so many stages of drunkenness."

"A lot of the people were drunk last night. And not jollily drunk,
either. They were all white and puffily drunk." Amy was persistent. She
was determined--as ever--to speak the truth which was in her.

"How unpleasant," remarked Monty. "But you enjoyed yourself, didn't
you, Miss Quin? I hope you'll come again when there is a sober party."

"I'd love to," cried Patricia, sparkling. She was happy again, the
perplexities arising from her talk with Amy forgotten. "I thought it
was a wonderful party."

Monty ran his eye over her, with the quick certainty of a connoisseur.
She was fair, fresh, volatile, beautifully shaped; vain, and therefore
to be reached by flattery; over-confident, perhaps, of her power
to please; but unspoilt and capable of affording him interest and
amusement. He had no interest at all in Amy. She was too crudely
egotistical, and she was, besides, too set. Monty could have foretold
her expressed opinion (not necessarily her true opinion, since she
was often, as he knew, unaware of what she really thought) upon every
matter that was likely to come up between them. Neither did she
interest him physically: for that she was too hard, and although he
supposed her to be sensual she appeared to Monty to lack both mystery
and _abandon_. So, although he knew that he could more easily create
an artificially-emotional situation with Amy, he gave all his interest
to Patricia. There was more in the fresh little new girl, he decided,
than in anybody he had recently met. He eyed her appreciatively, as
a gourmet may eye a dainty dish. She was interesting. All she did,
even if she did nothing but sit quite still upon that enormous cushion
beside the gas fire, had grace and personality in it. Especially
he noticed that impetuous mouth, which might betray weakness or
instability or reckless bravado, but which could never, he was sure, be
associated with tedium. He resolved upon a quick stroke. He saw that
Amy and Jack were debating something which removed their attention from
his own activities, and so he bent towards Patricia.

"I'm so glad you enjoyed the party. Look here ...." He appeared to
consider. "I've got a small party on Friday ... I wonder if you'd
like to come to that. I'm afraid ... Let me see, there are only about
half-a-dozen people...." He was thinking as he spoke, and recollecting
the names of his guests. "I think the only one you know who is coming
is Mayne. You met him, didn't you? Yes, I remember, you went home in
his car. Would you like to come?"

Patricia could have jumped for joy. How lovely!

"I should like to come very much," she made herself say very sedately;
but Monty was not so inexperienced in these matters as she might have
wished him; and she was not altogether sure that her eagerness had
escaped his notice.

"That's delightful," he said in his gentle way. "So nice." He was
extraordinarily polite and agreeable. And in an instant it was as
though that matter were settled and forgotten. Monty rose and went
casually to the easel, Patricia watching him in curiosity as he
contemplated the monstrous botch. "Yes," he said at last. "I like that.
That bit's awfully well-done, Amy." He indicated with a slowly sweeping
hand. Amy was by his side, her expression greedily changed. She was
avid of this expert flattery, and eagerly receptive. Jack Penton hung
behind. He came over to Patricia, stooping to her.

"Do you like it?" He jerked his head at the painting.

"Very much." Patricia was doing her best. She had not had much
experience in catching the true note of art criticism; but a rush of
sympathy made her cordial to him, and anxious to say what she imagined
he might find in some degree reassuring. Jack shrugged, and took a
cigarette-case from his hip-pocket.

"I can't understand it," he said bluntly. "I see an eye, and a blob and
a swish; and I can't make it into a picture." He was clearly puzzled
and undecided. "I wish I _could_ understand it," he went on. "Suppose
I'm dull, or something."

"Perhaps it isn't everybody's idea of painting," agreed Patricia,
guardedly. "I'm afraid I don't know much about it."

Jack lowered himself to the floor at her side.

"I wish I did," he said. "You know, I'm interested, and all that; and
I _want_ to like it, because it's Amy's. But I can't, and that's all
about it. When a chap like Rosenberg comes along.... He's so damned
fluent with it all.... You see, this is what worries me. He's pulling
her leg. He thinks her work's awful."

"Oh! Oh!" came in protest from Patricia.

"It's true," said Jack, gloomily. "They all do. To her face they say
this sort of stuff; and when they're away they make fun of it. They
just laugh. I wish she'd give it up."

"I _can't_ believe ..." began Patricia, greatly distressed.

"No, you don't want to." Jack's dark face, already thin, seemed to
grow haggard. "Imagine what I feel about it. They shut up a bit when
I'm there; but nobody thinks she's really any good. And what's to be
the end of it? Can _you_ see? Can't you imagine her going on, fiddling
with this and that--water colours and oils--all drunk with her conceit.
And then, what? When she's soured and disappointed she'll...." He
shrugged. During the speech his temper had risen, and his tone held
a stabbing savageness. "They won't care. They never care about human
beings, as we do. They'll laugh, and she'll never know it, but she'll
think there's a conspiracy against her. She may go all to pieces;
she may pull through. Anything may happen. Sometimes I feel inclined
to leave her to it; but I've been in love with her for years--since
she was a kid; and I feel I just can't let her drop. She hasn't got
a friend in the world except me. Not one that cares if she sinks or
swims. Look at her purring, and Monty ladling out the lies. _Look_ at
it!"

He checked himself as with venom in his urgent tone he drew attention
to the two by the easel. Patricia had paled under the fury of his quiet
disclosure. The husky voice, which she had previously disliked, was
in keeping with his mood and his words, and it therefore assumed new
meaning, and her dislike was gone immediately. She saw him as a young
man deeply--almost passionately--in earnest, but she was saddened by
the picture of such unhappiness as his must be. Her vision of this
whole affair became horrible, beyond bearing.

"If her work isn't any good," said Patricia, "surely she'll realise it?
She is wise. At any rate, she's shrewd enough to find out the truth,
isn't she? If it _is_ the truth."

"Never. You don't understand what ... all this rot"--he waved
vaguely--"means to her. When did a dud--a second-rate person--ever
realise his second-rateness? Why, all the really able people I know, or
that I've ever heard of, are humble--not that they aren't conceited,
too; but it's in a different way. They're humble as well. They've got
a sense of their own limitations. They're not like Amy. She's mad
about her own cleverness. She calls herself an artist, when it's for
other people to do that. And it's only because she guesses there's a
catch somewhere. She feels she's failing, and won't face the reason.
There's nothing like success for lowering a person's conceit. She's
never had any success--not _real_ success. She's got to make it all up
inside. Her vanity's all out of control; and if you try to warn her she
just flies into a passion and calls you a fool for your pains. She'll
_never_ have any success. It's impossible, with her temperament."

"Well, then, you mean she's worthless," whispered Patricia, with
indignation.

"I'm in love with her," answered Jack, in the same low tone of
doggedness. "That's all."

"Isn't it a funny sort of love that decries ... as you've been doing?"
She was still warm with loyalty, to hide the dreadful convincingness of
his words.

"You're just a dear little girl, as kind as anything," Jack said. "And
you think I'm a cantankerous fool."

"No ... never that. Oh, no." Patricia made a gesture of uneasiness, her
hand almost upon his hand in consolation. "No, I think you're unhappy
and bitter, looking at the dark side ... exaggerating...."

Jack Penton gave a little bitter laugh.

"Exaggerating!" he said. "I wish I was!"

"Then _leave_ her. Let her learn. You're only driving her deeper...."

"I can't leave her," he answered, doggedly. "I'm in love with her. I'd
go, and she'd call to me, and I'd come running back. See, I'm not a
strong chap. Some men could do it. I can't."

"No, no. It's dreadful. Dreadful. I feel helpless. I don't know what to
say. I'm so sorry. So _really_ sorry."

Patricia was as vehement as he. She was carried right out of her young
ignorance, as she often was, by emotion; and she sat looking at him
with a glowing face, her eyes melting in their sympathy. The lines
upon that poor grey forehead and round those troubled eyes hurt her,
and the bitter droop of Jack's thin dark lips made its direct appeal
to her heart, even while that heart sank inevitably at the prospect
of unhappiness in life which lay for all to see in front of this
bewildered lover. It was at this moment that Amy and Monty, both aware
of tension in that other corner of the studio, turned and contemplated
their companions. Very strange impressions were recorded by each at
such manifest intimacy between the two who were sitting absorbed by the
fire.


ii

Upon Monty's side there was a considerable increase of interest in
Patricia. It was as though he addressed to himself an appreciative
"Ah!" at the sight of a young woman less simple than she appeared.
The ideal sport, for him, was to be obtained from freshness that
had _savoir faire_ behind it. He began to relish this girl. As he
scrutinised her his lids were low, and he watched for some betraying
gesture of crude sophistication as only an expert could watch. None
came. He was the more intrigued. His companion was less passive.

"Well, you two," cried Amy. "Jack's the perfect philistine, of course."
She came to the fire, resting her hand upon the mantelpiece, and
holding a cigarette forward in her lips for Monty to light. She spoke
thereafter with the cigarette in the corner of her mouth and the smoke
drifting up into her eyes. "You can explain a thing to him in words
of one syllable for hours on end, and at the end he just says, 'Well,
I know what I like!' Doesn't turn a hair. Not a swerve. Isn't it
marvellous?"

"Why pretend?" suavely demanded Monty. "A great deal of talk about
the arts is humbug. It's created by the apparent necessity for saying
_something_."

"I agree with you," snorted Jack, who was still ruffled by the recent
exploration of his inexhaustible troubles, and who therefore was in
danger of being rather less than polite.

"I felt sure you would, my dear Penton," lazily responded Monty.
"What we need is standardised criticism. Unfortunately, people are so
perverse. They insist on having their own views."

"It's only a pretence," said Jack. "They're all other people's. Unless
they're made up for the occasion, in which case they're nobody's."

"When _you_ say one thing, and somebody else says the opposite, what
happens?" asked Patricia, directly interrogating Monty, and feeling
bold in the action.

"I? Oh, the other person's wrong, of course," rejoined Monty, easily.

"Is there no argument?"

"Oh, no!" Monty's "Oh" was merely a quick intaking of the breath.

"It's ill-bred," sneered Jack. "In the æsthetic world there's no
argument at all. One just slangs everybody else behind their backs."

"Are you quite well, Penton?" archly inquired Monty. His question made
Jack grin, but not altogether with amiability. "I thought you might be
ailing."

"Why is it that anybody who speaks the truth is always suspect?" asked
Jack, vigorously. "It's extraordinary to me."

"It's because you live in the material world of unreality, my dear
Penton. Once you realise that art is the fundamental principle of life,
you'll take yourself less seriously."

Patricia thought: one for Master Jack. Is it that he does that? Does
he take himself--everything--too seriously? I think so. And what is
the material world of unreality? That was the question which Jack was
asking aloud.

"The world of phenomena," explained Monty, "is the unreal world."

"The world of seeing and hearing? Well, in that case what tests have we
left to us?" Jack was puzzled.

"Nothing," whispered Monty, and began good-naturedly to laugh. "None of
these set measures. Only the intrinsic value of everything will stand
revealed."

"Pooh!" said Jack. "I wonder what your intrinsic value is, or mine."

"It lies in terms of character, dear boy."

Patricia saw upon Monty's lips the shadow of contempt. She saw that,
imitatively, Amy was reflecting just such an expression. She sighed.
In terms of character! Well, why should Monty be so confident that
the superiority lay with him? And why Amy? She almost laughed in
their faces--not as a token of amusement, but as a protest. The word
"booh!"--with its immediate implications--would have expressed her
feeling. They were only complacent because they had quicker brains than
Jack. As though quickness of brain mattered! She had it herself, by
starts, and was quite abreast of their comments.

"What's character?" demanded Patricia.

"My dear child!" expostulated Amy, screwing her face under the smarting
onset of cigarette smoke.

"Well, what is it?" This time it was Jack, dangerously bellicose.

"It's what everybody thinks they've got," said Patricia.

"When they haven't got it," added Jack.

"Oh, not nowadays," urged Monty, correcting that assumption with a
quite lordly indifference. "We're all so self-conscious."

"I mean...." Jack was at a loss. Patricia's brain supplemented his
deficiency; but she had not the courage to say her thoughts aloud. He
meant that it was not of character that people were vain. It was of
accomplishments; of quickness, skill, beauty. And yet....

"It all goes much deeper than you think," she announced; and by
provoking sharp laughter from them all by this profundity, Patricia
saved the argument about reality from becoming a real argument. It was
a lively contribution to the evening.

"A philosopher!" cried Monty, in his slow, rather jeering way, very
easily and as if all views were one to him.

"Very well: we'll see," thought Patricia. Rebelliously, she was aware
of power within herself transcending all quickness and all agility. It
was the power in virtue of which she was peculiarly Patricia. She had
not caught more than the faintest glimpse of the fact that Monty had
been playing with them all, and that his interest during the whole of
the discussion had been concentrated upon the changes of expression to
be noted in rapid progress across Patricia's very readable face.


iii

"You _must_ have honesty," grumbled Jack. "It's all so simple. If a
chap's honest and decent, his cleverness doesn't matter. That's what
you mean by character, I take it."

"That's what _you_ mean," suggested Monty.

"If a man's a liar...."

It was here that Patricia interrupted Jack for his salvation.

"Jack: don't be logical," she pleaded. "You couldn't convince anybody
by logic."

He gave a gesture of despair.

"That's just it," he sighed. "That's what I complain of, nowadays.
There's all this damned affected cant against sense. People first find
out what they ought to do, and then do something else, in case they
should be suspected of sense."

Amy and Monty were no longer listening. Patricia gave Jack a warning
glance. What he said, so far as she understood it at all, appeared to
be ridiculous.

"I must go." Monty rose. He bent over Patricia. "You'll come on Friday.
At eight o'clock? Splendid." Neither of the others heard him. Swarthy
and regal, he moved slowly into his overcoat and swept them a slight
bow upon leaving. With his going, there went from the studio, for
Patricia, all vividness of interest. She was prepared to look with
distaste at both of her remaining companions. To them the inevitable
squabble might be--must be--of importance, but she felt she was tired
of them. They bored her. They took themselves too seriously. It was all
thoroughly ugly and absurd. People with only one idea!

She waited, enduring the opening stages of a wrangle.

"My dear Jack. Why you must make a fool of yourself...." began Amy, as
soon as the door had closed. The trouble continued. Saying nothing,
Patricia put on her coat.

"I'm going," she announced, curtly; and left them to their
self-important disagreement.


iv

On the way home, Patricia thought much of what she had heard during
the evening from both Amy and Jack. By a strange chance, she had
heard in the same hour both sides of an unhappy conflict; and this
must always be a depressing experience. It set a weight upon her heart
during the whole of her journey. She saw Jack, incapable of measuring
his words with tact; honest, puzzled, commonplace; she saw Amy selfish
and short-sighted; without talent, sure of her own rightness and
cleverness. Patricia did not know that in each estimate her mind was
quite naturally registering the adverse statements which had been made
to her by the prejudiced parties.

She turned into the street in which her home lay, and for the first
time knew that the hour must be late. The houses were all dark. In
her own house, above the door, she could see only the faintest of
lights, which must be that of her little bedroom lamp. Patricia
shrank, laughing to herself, at the thought of her landlady's views
on successive late nights. Disapproval! Well, she must get used
to that sort of thing. In future there might be many late nights.
Parties of every kind danced before her. Patricia, living for herself,
and venturing forth into this new world of vivid personality and
adventure, was above fear of what any landlady might think. The lure of
anti-conventionality was before her. She laughed quietly in enjoyment
of its charm.

Nevertheless, she opened the front door with stealth. Her expectation
as to the scene which was to meet her eyes was fulfilled. Before her,
upon the hall-table, stood the little lamp, turned very low in case it
should smoke. Cavernous blackness lay along the passage, towards the
kitchen stairs; and above, where she must herself go, was a drab shadow
towards which she must not, for courage's sake, look too sensitively,
lest it be peopled with imagined horrors. Grey ceilings receded into
the dimmest of distances. Patricia closed the door, feeling upon
her cheeks a little warmth from the atmosphere of the house and its
most recent meal. Something very small and white lay upon the table
immediately beside the lamp; and with the thought that it must concern
herself she picked it up at once. Her heart gave a sudden throb.
Almost, her lips trembled. She gazed at the card over which she was
bending; and the mood of unhappiness swept again upon a heart that had
already been deeply troubled in the course of the evening.

Then, slowly, Patricia took her lamp and went up the stairs, Harry's
card between her fingers.



CHAPTER FIVE: EDGAR MOVES


i

But however miserable Patricia may have felt at night, she rose
rewarded in the morning; for upon her breakfast-table she found a
letter in an unknown handwriting. She pounced upon it with a lifting of
the heart. "Miss Patricia Quin," she read. The handwriting was small
and flowing, firm and curly. All the capital letters were large and
beautifully formed; and yet there was a carelessness and grace in the
general style which charmed her. The post mark she could not decipher.
With sudden resolution, Patricia tore open the envelope, her intuition
for once the infallible intuition of every woman's dream.

  "Dear Patricia. Sorry you were not in when I called. What about
  coming out to dinner and to dance afterwards on Saturday? I suggest
  the Marnier, seven-thirty sharp; and then on to either Topping's or
  the Queensford. Yours ever, Harry."

Patricia gave a low laugh, and read the letter through a second time.
How lucky that she would have a new dress! She sat down at once, with
her note-paper and pen, biting the end of the pen as she planned the
reply.

  "Dear Harry," she wrote. "Splendid. Marnier, seven-thirty. Then
  which ever you like. I've never been to either. Yours ever,
  Patricia."

She carefully sealed the envelope, and wrote the address in a
handwriting as near that of Harry as her natural penmanship allowed.
She was still contemplating the letter and re-reading her invitation
when Lucy kicked the door open and stamped into the room, kicking the
door back again with her heel. Both sides of the door showed signs of
Lucy's regular methods. With raw and dirty hands Lucy dumped down the
meal.

"Cole," she remarked agreeably. "Young man come for you larce night,
tole me to say he's sorry to miss you."

"Yes, thank you."

"Gotcher letter, then," said Lucy.

"Yes, thank you, Lucy." Patricia was trying to be sedate; but the sharp
grey eyes of Lucy, which shone from above red cheeks and a snub nose
and a grimy neck, were inexorable.

"Thought he'd write," said Lucy. "I ses, 'Can I take any message?'--you
know, sweet as sugar. He gimme a card. Wouldn't leave no message. Fine
lookin' young man, he was."

"I expect you were very excited," said Patricia, dryly--even, she
hoped, quellingly. Lucy stood looking down at her, very sturdy and
determined.

"What say?" she asked. Patricia repeated her remark. Lucy turned
abruptly. "No," she said, over a raised shoulder. "But I thought _you_
would be."

She was gone, leaving Patricia faintly pink.


ii

Although cold, it was a fresh morning. The clouds had gone, and the sky
was blue. Patricia--having eaten her breakfast and hurried exultingly
out of doors--felt a strong temptation to run along one of the streets
leading riverwards. She could imagine herself standing upon the Albert
Bridge and looking down at the swiftly-moving Thames. A fine breeze
would be sweeping there. She would be able to pretend that she was at
sea. How stern Patricia must be with herself! She vigorously maintained
her course along the King's Road, towards Sloane Square, and there made
her purchases. She thought: "I'm not like these other women. I know
what I want. They stand fingering stockings for half-an-hour. I suppose
it's a hobby. I simply ask for what I want. And get it."

This made her seem to the assistant who served her somewhat peremptory.
Patricia took no interest in shop-assistants when she bought material
for a dress for herself. She thought she did; but although she became
indignant--vicariously--at thought of shop-assistants' wages, she
did not really acknowledge that in relation to herself they had any
existence. She retired from the shop with approximately what she had
entered for the purpose of buying; and the assistant watched her go
with an air of some preoccupation. As another assistant near her was
doing the same thing, the two gathered together in order to discuss
Patricia. They appeared to rub noses, as kittens might have done;
mournfully and confidingly, holding conversation in a whisper, and
separated only at the entrance of another customer.

"Yes, moddam?" inquired Patricia's shop-assistant, with mechanical
address.

Patricia was far down the King's Road, carrying her parcel.

"I should hate to be a shop-assistant," she impulsively thought. "It
must be a rotten life, attending to people who don't know what they
want, and stand fingering stockings for half-an-hour, and then buy a
reel of cotton. They like me, because I know what I want."

She could not help being rather pleased with herself.


iii

Now, while Patricia was busy making her dress, and forgetting
altogether that she was going to meet him on the Friday night, Edgar
Mayne, who did not even know that the meeting was to occur, was working
quietly in his office, transacting business in which he had only a
material interest. Edgar was one of those men, of whom there are many,
who made money without deliberately intending to do so. It was true,
as Harry had announced at the party, that Edgar had begun life as an
office boy. He had left school at the age of fourteen, and had answered
advertisements until one of them brought a favourable reply. He had
begun life by copying letters by means of damp sheets and a press; and
he had been promoted a year later to a junior clerkship. He had no
interest in figures beyond that which natural aptitude could supply.
He had none of the born accountant's delight in their possibilities.
Solely, he brought to his accounts a character naturally precise, and
with similar ease he could at this time have directed his intelligence
to many other matters. If Edgar's parents had been wealthy, he would
have had a complete education, and his gifts would have promised a
great career; but they were poor, and themselves ill-educated, and so
it became necessary that Edgar should early add something to the weekly
budget. He did so.

From one competence he advanced to another. By the time he was thirty,
Edgar was manager of the business, which dealt in the importation
of those goods which English people require from abroad, and the
exportation of goods produced in England for which there was a foreign
market. He never saw the goods in bulk; but he saw samples of them
and was furnished with myriads of catalogues specifying their quality
and the current market rates at which they were to be bought and at
which they were being sold. By means of occasional visits abroad, by
more frequent interviews and excursions in England, Edgar grew to
considerable knowledge of prices and conditions of manufacture. His
advice was thus demanded by those directing the firm, who presently
invited him to become one of their number. With increase of business
came increase of income and power; and as Edgar's interests extended
he found himself at thirty-seven a man of some wealth, who had at the
same time a considerable standing among those able to appreciate his
commercial acumen.

During this time his family had shared his progress. His father no
longer worked; his mother directed the household, but no longer
laboured upon her knees to keep it clean and neat. His younger brother,
if he had not been killed in the War, would have benefited equally;
while his young sister Claudia stayed at home and amused herself and
everybody else very much by a display of housewifely virtues for which
many others girls of her period, even if they have the inclination, can
find nowadays no opportunity. The family, having spent miserable years
in a place called West Hampstead, had moved seven years before the
opening of this story to Kensington, where they occupied a small house
and spent an agreeable, if aimless, existence. The elders, who were
proud of Edgar, feared him a little; his sister, proud also, feared him
not at all. It was she, in fact, who had kept Edgar human; for without
her he might either have become lost in his business or have married
some tepid young woman who herself had cast the die.

The household consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Mayne, Claudia, Edgar,
Pulcinella (a small but irrepressible Cocker Spaniel), Percy (a cat
with a character), and a cook and maids who were both respectfully
spoiled by Mrs. Mayne. The servants despised Mrs. Mayne, and idolised
her children. There was nothing which Claudia might not do without
fault; and Edgar was so unobtrusively tended that he was almost unaware
of the devotion which breathed firmly from the kitchen. He went his
way, liking very simple things and dealing with them as they arose; and
none knew the secret chagrin which lay always in his solitary heart.


iv

This chagrin was nothing less than loneliness. He did not easily make
friends. His office work had so occupied his time and energy that Edgar
had become rather shy in company. And so, while Claudia had a few
friends, he had none. Claudia's friends seemed to him to be dull little
boys and girls, for Claudia was a good deal younger than himself; and
although he was amused when one or other of them was timidly pert to
him they combined together to make him feel old. He had the reputation
of a born celibate. Work, therefore, and more work, kept him rather
staid. Edgar's fear was that he might dry up altogether before he had
ever had time to live. With a warm heart, an eager sympathy, and a
manner so reserved and shy that it gave the appearance of coldness, he
was in danger--not, as he thought, of drying up, but of making some
ridiculous plunge into emotionalism which might wreck his life.

Since the night of Monty's party, Edgar had thought much of Patricia.
It did not please him to think of her in the rather sophisticated
company of those who had gathered at Monty's. She was clearly delighted
with these people, and they were a danger to her purity. Edgar thought
more of Patricia during that week than of any other person. He liked
her. He would have liked to help her--oh, always unobtrusively, so
that she could not be embarrassed by his help;--but also not perhaps
quite as impersonally as he supposed.

It was therefore with a start of delight and surprise that Edgar, upon
arriving at Monty's house, found that Patricia was to be his neighbour
at dinner.


v

His car had been behaving erratically _en route_, which is a way cars
behave when they ought to be in perfect order; and therefore Edgar
strode into the house with grimy hands, and kept the party waiting for
several minutes while he washed. At last, hot and irritated, he joined
the others, to find only Patricia, Monty, some people called Quellan,
and Blanche Tallentyre. All were sitting or standing in a small drawing
room, and dinner was immediately announced. Upon his left Edgar found
Mrs. Quellan, a fair, large woman, originally thin and raw-boned,
who was accumulating undesired and undesirable plumpness; and who
wrote books for boys under a masculine pseudonym. Upon his right was
Patricia, from whose dress all except one tiny white thread had been
removed at exactly the moment when she should have begun her journey.
The thread caught her eye as they sat down. It also caught Edgar's eye,
which was not unused to such sights.

"I might have called for you if I had known you were coming," he said,
unfolding his napkin.

"If you had, I should have kept you waiting," responded Patricia, with
a small grimace.

"Were you busy up to the last minute, then?"

"Beyond that!" They laughed together.

Then Edgar glanced round the handsome room with its high and painted
ceiling and its curiously severe walls of luminous grey. It was not a
warm-looking room. There were no pictures; but the furniture was old
and good. The table at which they sat was circular, and the light above
caught all the brilliances of glass and silver ware, while it increased
the cold darkness of the walls.

"Do you know these people?" he next asked.

"Mrs. Tallentyre was at the party. Isn't she unhappy-looking?"

"Perhaps it's only her manner." Edgar strove to make his tone light;
for his assumptions were otherwise.

"No. It's real." They both verified the impression. To Edgar it
appeared that Mrs. Tallentyre made adroit use of cosmetics; but they
heightened the hard glitter of her eyes, and the markedly anxious
vivacity of her manner. Patricia resumed: "Her husband was at the
party. A horrid man."

Well: Edgar wondered what she was doing here at all, sitting at Monty's
left hand and talking to Quellan as if she had something to gain from
him. Mrs. Quellan, fortunately, was engaged with Monty. Jacobs, having
served the soup, was at the sideboard with the decanters under his eye.

"I wish I'd known you were coming," Edgar said, rather lamely.

"I was told you'd be here." Patricia was perhaps roguish. "I've been
feeling that I must have been rather silly.... I didn't thank you...."

"Oh, no.... I'd been thinking...." Edgar broke off.

"I met ... Mr. Rosenberg at Amy Roberts's the night after the party,
and he asked me then. Amy Roberts was at school with me."

"Is she ... some sort of artist? Forgive me...." He saw that Patricia
was laughing; but it was at a swift association of his stumbling
enquiry with the monstrosity which stood upon Amy's easel. "I'm
altogether ignorant of painting and reputations." Edgar could not
have expressed the curious happiness which pervaded him at the sight
of Patricia's laughing face. The new curve of her cheeks in laughter,
and the poise of her head, were all delicious to him. Some reflection
of his feeling must have appeared in his eyes; for she sobered almost
responsive to his admiration.

"I don't think anybody knows her work," explained Patricia. Something
like sorrow transformed her face. She was recalling Jack and his
miserable confessions. "Mr. Rosenberg was praising a picture she's now
painting when he was at the studio."

"You like it yourself?"

Patricia looked frankly back at him. There was something in Edgar which
invited the truth. She felt strongly tempted to tell him the whole
story of Jack. How strange that she should feel at once so intimately
friendly!

"I don't know," she admitted. Then, quite astonished at herself, she
went breathlessly on: "You see, I don't know anything about pictures;
and I want to seem to know. It isn't pretence ... or not altogether.
I want to understand. But Amy's so difficult, and you can't ask her
to tell you why something that's very ugly, from one point of view,
is really good from another. I don't mean that I like sentimental
pictures. I hate them. But you need educating to appreciate the sort of
things Amy does."

Unconsciously, Patricia had drawn the attention of Monty, at the other
side of the round table. He had missed the opening words of her speech;
but he had heard the conclusion.

"You need no education, Miss Quin," he cried. "She simply isn't an
artist."

Patricia flushed deeply.

"I thought you were ... were praising her the other evening," she
said, indignant and breathless, her face alight with vivacity. She was
obviously loyal, obviously in earnest, and in such company demanding to
be teased.

Monty's wicked smile made the others laugh.

"One must be polite, of course," he said.

"You think she's bad?" demanded Patricia. "I mean, you think her work
is bad?"

"Terrible." They laughed again.

"But you praised her. Why do you let her go on?"

"One lets _everybody_ go on. You can't stop a runaway car or a deluded
woman."

Patricia glanced aside at Edgar.

"You think that?" she asked him before them all.

"It would hurt her to be told the truth. She wouldn't believe it, I
suppose," he said. "If it would do any good, certainly tell her; but
only a close friend whose judgment she valued would do good."

"Nobody, my dear Mayne. Amy Roberts couldn't understand." This was from
Monty, who had his dark eyes fixed upon Patricia's every change of
expression with a concentration not to be misread.

"She's my friend, you see," urged Patricia. "I hate to think of her
being...."

"It'll do her good to find out for herself," said Blanche Tallentyre,
with a snap.

Across the table Patricia stared a little at Blanche.

"I wonder," she answered, ruthlessly. "Aren't there quite enough
unhappy women in the world, who've found out too late?"

It was strange that this was the first sign of temper she had shown.
Blanche's eyes, as filled with miserable sophistication as a monkey's,
glittered at the thrust. Her haggard cheeks showed no sign of emotion;
but her lips were tightly pressed together. They parted to make
retort, but were again sealed. Patricia hardly guessed, because she did
not care, that she had made an enemy.


vi

While Patricia ignored the outcome of her remark, Edgar was not unaware
of it. He had _felt_ the electric silence which followed the speech,
had seen Blanche's glitter, and had not been unprepared for the look of
slow and comfortable malicious enjoyment which crossed Monty's face. To
Edgar the truth was apparent. There was danger in the air. Dalrymple
was not the only possible danger. Nor Harry Greenlees. Edgar was
quietly alarmed. There was always danger; but in Patricia's case it was
acute. She had done herself no good by that instant's admission of the
power to hurt. She had roused Blanche's animosity, and had heightened
Monty's interest in herself. With what assurance he could master, Edgar
withdrew her from the general circle and demanded her personal interest.

"I have a sister rather younger than you," he said. "I should like you
to meet her."

Patricia turned to him, her darkening obliterated.

"Is she very nice? And pretty?" she begged.

"Both," asserted Edgar. "She's very spirited, and slangy, and
good-tempered. She's a great tease. And she's clever."

"And alarming!" cried Patricia, ruefully.

"Then I've been unjust to her. She's alarming, because she's
unexpected. But I think you'd like her."

"Would _she_ like _me_?" The question was not all coquettish.

Edgar smiled; and thereby caused Patricia to smile in return.

"I should like you to meet her," he said.

He was not wholly absorbed, even now, in Patricia. He could see Mrs.
Quellan, growing slightly plump, but struggling against middle-age and
natural gracelessness with all the energy of those whose youth has been
lost in work and anxiety. He could see her husband, thin-haired, pale,
and elaborately cheerful over suppressed care. He could see Blanche,
so obviously what she was at that table, aged beyond her years, her
spirit tired and malignant. And Monty, full of well-being and will and
calculation, relentless and immovable in his design. The one fresh and
unwarped spirit was Patricia. She was youth incarnate. She had vitality
denied to all the others. And she was helpless through inexperience.
She was over-confident, warm-hearted, blind.

Edgar shrugged slightly. He also was not without will.

"Yes," he said, quietly. "You must certainly meet Claudia."


vii

At the end of the evening, when they were in the car together, Patricia
said:

"I feel sorry for Blanche Tallentyre; but I hate her."

"Well," replied Edgar. "Don't you think she may hate you, as well?"

Patricia did not speak. She was puzzled. She thought for some time
before she answered him.

"I meant, I don't think Blanche Tallentyre can ever really have been
..." She paused.

"Young? Oh, I think ... I think perhaps you were more right about her
than you knew," said Edgar.

"I found myself saying that," naïvely admitted Patricia. "I didn't mean
to hurt her at all."

"No," answered Edgar. "That was the devil of it. You never _do_ mean
to hurt or to do wrong, do you?" He laughed, which showed Patricia that
he was not finding fault with her. "But I pity anybody who tries to
make you do right."

"Well, you see, I'm ... I'm Patricia Quin," said Patricia, as though
that were an all-sufficient justification of any idiosyncrasy.

"Quite so." Edgar was silent in his turn. Yet he was shot through
and through with an impulse either to kiss her or to strike her; and
he continued methodically to drive his car through the after-theatre
traffic as though no such possibilities could ever have occurred to
him. Patricia, wholly unconscious that he was anything but the quiet
and composed creature whom she saw, basked in her delusion.

"I should think you must be an awfully good friend," she impulsively
said.

"Should you?" Edgar's tone was expressionless. He did not relax his
attention to the traffic.

No more was said between them upon that subject.



CHAPTER SIX: EVENING WITH HARRY


i

Half-past seven, and the appointed restaurant. A revolving door,
brilliant lights, warmth a general air of opulence; and Patricia found
herself in a small entrance hall, at one side of which attendants
wrested their outer garments from all men. She had noticed before that
no man may enter a restaurant with his hat and coat, although a woman
may sit in her furs all the evening; but she had never understood the
meaning of this differentiation between the sexes. Before her, several
people were sitting, as if waiting for others; and in a fireplace
glowed what she at first took to be a real fire. A sandy young man was
perched upon the edge of a chair, gnawing his under-lip, and ever and
again flirting his wrist out of his sleeve as he checked the lateness
of a friend. Two highly refined women talked in loud voices about their
private affairs, extraordinarily self-conscious in face of the sandy
young man. They broke off in order to stare at Patricia in a well-bred
manner, and resumed their conversation in a slightly lower key. The
young man looked again at his wristwatch.

Patricia, for her part, was frowning. She was punctual, because she
was always punctual. And she expected any host to be punctual also.
Harry's lateness, when she had arrived so eager, chilled her. She stood
hesitating, only half-aware of those others who were in the small
room with her. She had imagined something very different--an arrival,
and Harry's greeting as eager as her own. When she had so carefully
refrained from the coquetry of lateness it was only right that he
should have done the same. She was chagrined. There came back into her
mind--by what connection she could not have said, since she was only
half-conscious of her own flying sensations--memory of her distaste for
his jokes about personal cleanliness.

And while she stood there, a little wavering, all her doubts were
dispersed. There was drawn across every unpleasant thought an oblivion
so complete as to be annihilating. Patricia had seen the half-filled
restaurant through the bevelled glass panes of another door, and had
been aware of a muffled noise of conversation and the sounds common
to all restaurants; and as she waited she saw a quick movement of
black and white. The door was burst open. The black and white, so tall
as to be unmistakable, gave place in her eyes to Harry's sparkling
countenance. He was at her side, as full of verve as he had ever been
in the football field, delightfully impetuous.

"Hul-lo!" he cried in greeting. "I say, I'm so sorry! I was just
ordering the dinner. It's only just half-past, isn't it?"

Patricia was electrically happy. The life in her responded to the
life in him. They were two vital creatures, meeting and delighted;
and as she went with him into the restaurant those diners who were
conveniently placed were all moved to attentiveness at the sight of
such health and radiance. With her spirits mounting to expectation
itself, Patricia suffered the waiters to wedge her behind a small
table which Harry had reserved in the corner of the shining golden
restaurant. She was dazzled by a thousand lights and reflections,
her heart dancing, and her eyes so dangerously tender that she
instinctively withheld them from Harry's inspection.


ii

"I say!" exclaimed Harry. "This is superb, you know!" He was looking at
her brilliant dress, upon which nobody had thought to make any comment
on the previous evening. "I've never seen anything to beat it." The
dress was quite plain; but the taste which had planned it was manifest.
Both the material from which it was made and the delicate silk with
which its adornments had been fashioned were sun-coloured. Every light
made it richer, more simple, more effective. He was full of admiration.
Patricia was rewarded. She knew now that she had thought of Harry all
the time she had been employed in the long task of preparing the dress.
She made no reply. He resumed impetuously: "I could have murdered that
girl of yours the other night. Somehow I'd reckoned on finding you at
home."

"I was at Amy's."

"Oh!" He was astonished. "I almost went on to her."

"Monty and Jack Penton were there, too. They came in after dinner."

Harry frowned. It was his turn to do so. But it was not a very serious
frown, as Patricia, glancing side-ways, could see.

"Oh, the old fat man!" he lightly commented. "I don't know Penton. I
mean, I've met him, but I can't remember him."

"Did you go and see Mr. Mayne?"

Harry shook his head.

"No. I wasn't serious. One can't push one's self." His teeth showed,
not in a smile, but as if in some habitual expression. "He's not my
sort."

"He's very kind."

Harry laughed.

"Exactly," he said. His eyes were upon her, so eager as to be
devouring. "You know, I'm most awfully glad you could come to-night.
I've got all sorts of things to tell you."

"I wish," murmured Patricia, "I wish you'd tell me why men have to
leave their overcoats at the door of a restaurant."

His voice was lowered. His eyes roved for an instant.

"It's so that they can cut a figure," he explained. "A man in his
overcoat--oh, a sorry sight. A woman--it's so different. She's got to
keep her shoulders warm. She's got to show her furs to everybody. By
the way, where are yours?"

Patricia regretfully shook her head.

"You have to imagine them," she ventured.

"They're the finest here," Harry assured her. "It's all simply a
question of decoration. And also, no doubt, of tips. You see, a woman
is entertained."

"I never understand why _that_ is," cried Patricia. "I'd far rather
always pay for myself. I do, as a rule."

"Not with me," said Harry, with a sudden firmness which she admired.
"You don't want to with me, do you?" He was confident; but he spoke
truly. She had no will to flout him.

A shyness fell upon them. They ate for a moment in silence. After all,
they did not know each other very well; and it may have occurred to
each that part of the lightness of the conversation was due to a kind
of defiance of constraint. Their moods, however, were in harmony; as
was testified by the exchanged smile which succeeded the silence.

"Are you a _good_ dancer?" demanded Patricia. Harry laughed again.

"I didn't bring my testimonials," he answered. "Did you?"

"I brought my shoes." She was quite ready for him. "If you're a bad
dancer I shall be shocked."

"You needn't worry," said Harry, calmly. "The question is, can _you_
dance?"

Patricia thought: How splendid! How splendid! Her glance was roguish
and evasive, so perfect did the understanding between them appear to
be. Aloud, she very demurely responded:

"We'd better both hope for the best, hadn't we? It's no good meeting
trouble half-way."


iii

They found themselves autobiographical in a very short time. Patricia
was made to give a sketch of Uncle Roly and others; and Harry detailed
some of the more amusing episodes of his youth. He had been born in the
country, it seemed, and had lived in the country until he was sent away
to school. Patricia rejoiced. Some of her own early memories were of
the country, and with her fancy quickened by the occasion she followed
Harry's narrative with what she felt sure he must recognise as perfect
understanding. He pictured the district in which he had lived, making
little strokes in the tablecloth with his dessert knife in order to
give her a rough notion of the scenes amid which he had played.

"That's the hut," he said. "The ditch was along here. Trees, you know
... and the road here. That hut was a real treasure. One never gets
tired of that sort of place. It suits every game, and every weather. We
slept there sometimes in the summer, in hammocks slung across. It's a
queer thing to sleep out of doors in the midst of all the night noises."

"Is it alarming?" asked Patricia. She was thinking of things
inexplicable.

Harry's eyes opened. He did not understand her.

"Oh, no," he said. "I only meant, queer to listen to the jolly old
owls, and things."

"Had you got a river near you?" She resented his misunderstanding; but
for an instant only.

"You mean, boating? No, not near. There were streams, and bits of
water; but nothing big enough for boating. We used to bathe. Jove, they
were days! Of course, I get some of the old pleasures now by tramping.
I started it before the war, and went back to it directly I got out of
uniform. There's nothing to beat the road, if one doesn't mind roughing
it. You go along and along, and haven't anything to tie you to a place
or a bed. You get meals where you can, and tumble in for a rest where
you can, and come home when you like, and go where you like. Even now
it's quite decent, so long as your passport is all right and you don't
mind taking what you can get."

"And when you were a little boy, were you naughty?"

"Yes. And were you a naughty little girl?"

"No. I was a good little girl."

"What, _never_ naughty?" His face was full of incredulity.

And so the meal progressed, and the friendship was enhanced by every
piece of observation which either of them directed at the other.
Seen close at hand, as Patricia knew already, Harry had all the
attractiveness which belongs to good health and physical vigour. All
his movements were definite, his eyes were clear and his glances
assured. His hair was crisp, his colour good, his frame large and
impressively well-knit. He had played forward for the Harlequins, in
a pack that was both heavy and quick, a team that owed its triumphs
not only to great generalship but also to the speedy adroitness of its
individual members. And in spite of his years Harry was still a man of
sure and rapid action. At all points he charmed Patricia.

Patricia charmed him no less. That which in him was quick and vivid
found its counterpart in her. If they had had nothing intellectually in
common, still their proximity would have brought happiness to both. But
in addition Patricia was nimble of wit, and intrigued Harry's interest
in that respect also. She was as quick as he was, and sometimes she was
quicker than he. Harry could see the play of expression upon her face
during the whole time that he was talking, and the play showed that
she had no mental inertia, and no single inability to comprehend the
meaning of all he said. Harry was quite used to the skill with which
a more ignorant girl would manifest understanding of which she was
incapable. He knew that in Patricia's case it was the real thing. So
speaking a face could not deceive. And perhaps he did moreover "receive
fair speechless messages" which increased his ardour and his already
dominating confidence. He was very happy. They both were very happy,
and their happiness added lustre to the beauty of both.


iv

"Where are we going after dinner?" Patricia demanded suddenly. She
had declined a liqueur, and was finishing her last cigarette. Already
the restaurant was half-empty of those diners who had proceeded to
theatres. The remainder sat on, talking. She could see the two highly
bred women of the lounge in the company of two glossy-haired men in
evening dress. Neither man, she recognised with satisfaction, could
compare with her own escort. And so the manner of her inquiry had been
complaisant as well as calm.

"It's for you." Harry set down his liqueur glass. "The Queensford's
the more genteel; and there's a better band at Topping's. Floor's about
the same at both. The Queensford's larger."

"Is Topping's _low_?" she sparkled. "Let's be low."

"Right." He called the waiter.

"If it's not far, let's walk there," said Patricia. "It's such a
beautiful night."

The mirror at her side gave back a reflection of what she knew to be
an excited and even slightly flushed face. But she could not fail to
be charmed by her own prettiness as she rose and went towards the door
with Harry. The refined ladies and their escorts abandoned conversation
as Patricia passed, which gave her further satisfaction. She knew that
they could none of them withhold curiosity and perhaps admiration.
Well, wasn't that quite pleasant to Patricia? She had no fault to find
with her situation.

They were in the street, and in the piercing whiteness of electric
light. The air was very crisp, and she welcomed its cold touch upon
her cheeks. There were taxicabs and newspaper sellers and loitering
people; and a huge omnibus went heavily by. Crowds were thinner than
they had been early in the evening, but every face was whitened by the
light, bleached to the colourless gravity of a kinema film. Above, very
distant in the most lovely of blue night skies, was the moon, silver to
the eye, very pure and remote. Patricia looked up at the moon, smiling
her love for it, so much did that silent shape draw wonder from her
heart; and in doing this she unconsciously moved into Harry's path. He
took her arm for an instant's guidance, and, as they approached the
crossing of Piccadilly, he retained his hold. It was all nothing, and
she was free again when they reached the other side of the street; but
the protection had been so natural that it gave her pleasure. She
walked by Harry's side with a thousand beautiful little memories and
emotions and imaginings making what she knew to be happiness in her
heart.

And then they were at Topping's; and she could hear the band. Other
young people stood about on the broad stairs--fluffy-haired girls and
well-groomed young men, all with that curious excited expression in
their eyes which went with late hours and noise and nervous exhaustion.
Patricia felt her feet begin to catch the strongly marked rhythm, and
went quickly to change her shoes and leave her coat. She was out again
upon the stairs before Harry had returned; and stood there listening,
her breast rising and falling rather fast, a piquant figure, both
light and graceful, so fresh in that brilliant light that she drew the
attention of all who were near.

She was still waiting when two people came down the stairs from the
street towards her, both cloaked and muffled against the cold. For an
instant she did not recognise them; but as Monty took off his hat and
moved away to the men's cloak-room Patricia was recalled to memory
with a start. Evidently Monty had not seen her. Swiftly she looked at
the on-coming figure of his companion. A cold greeting was exchanged,
surprise rather than pleasure being obviously the emotion upon both
sides. Patricia followed the newcomer with her eyes until she was
hidden; and her brain was engaged with a problem.

Monty. Monty ... and Blanche Tallentyre. How strange.


v

Patricia was not allowed further time to ponder this singular meeting,
for Harry was once again at her elbow. He had not seen Monty, but was
eager to be dancing. They descended the remaining stairs. There was
a good deal of noise, not only from the band, but from the dancers
and, even more, from those who were still dining in that part of the
very large room which was set apart for the purpose. Patricia could
see that girls and men were at many of the small tables, smoking and
drinking, and that it was the custom for them to leave their places in
order to dance and to resume them when the music stopped. She had a
few moments to examine the throng; for exactly at the instant of their
arrival the band quickened its pace for the end of the dance which she
had heard in progress. Couples dispersed, and there was a crowded and
dishevelled scene which took her breath away. All sorts of girls in
all sorts of dresses and coiffures filled her eyes; all sorts of--no,
there was not such variety in the young men. They did not surprise her,
for they seemed to be men such as she might have known all her life.
The uniformity of costume, also, made many of them indistinguishable.
Everywhere there was an atmosphere of excitement such as she herself
was feeling. She was dazzled and delighted. A new ichor seemed to run
in her veins. It was some weeks since she had danced, and this place
was so much more attractive than the suburban halls and rooms she had
known that the surroundings appeared to Patricia ideal. For a moment
she was almost timid in the face of such terrific energy, such fizz
and glitter; but as soon as the band began to blare out a favourite
fox-trot Patricia lost all timidity. New elasticity ran through her
body: she was thrilling to the finger-tips. She was aware of Harry's
hands--one clasping her own, the other lightly and firmly at her waist;
of the ease of his step, the certainty of his command; and she yielded
herself completely to the dance.

"It's all right," Harry murmured in Patricia's ear. "Perfect. Knew it
would be."

He was able at last to hold Patricia within his arm, to be conscious of
her dangerously charming proximity, to speak close to her radiant eyes,
to employ the tone and glance which could no longer mar or frighten
away the prospect of this manœuvred evening. He was in a familiar land,
dealing with familiar emotions and opportunities, supremely content.

Patricia's face lighted up with a mischievous and unsuspecting smile.
She could not read his more sophisticated satisfaction, but she was
wholly spirited in her own.

"You're not such a bad dancer," she impudently informed him.
"Considering."


vi

A slightly increased pressure of the hand was Harry's only response. He
had rapidly fallen into that mood of enjoyment which gave his nature
its fullest play. His energy was being employed; he was being charmed
and gratified; his senses were all being titillated. Half a hundred
women would have given him most of his present pleasure, but the
novelty no less than the beauty of Patricia supplied just that added
spice which any indulged appetite presently demands in its exercise.

They danced three times, and then sat down, watching the other dancers
and comparing their styles. Here they could see a pair pedantically
apart, correctness itself; there a couple buried in each other, the
young man's face lost to view in his partner's hair. Every degree of
absorption in the dance or in physical sensation was to be observed.
The one thing absent from all faces was love; but since Harry and
Patricia were not looking for this rare emotion in others they did not
observe its absence.

Patricia was the first to catch sight of Monty, for whose figure she
had been searching in the crowd. As she could have foretold, he was
dancing perfectly. Blanche was rather stiff, she was pleased to notice.
Monty's expression was that of one who was bored: a line of white
showed beneath the iris of his eyes. His manner was almost too easy,
as though his thoughts were engaged otherwise than with his partner or
the dance. Nevertheless, he was obviously at home. His clothes fitted
and suited him. He was far beyond most of his neighbours in appearance;
for in too many of these Patricia cruelly discerned mediocrity. She
shook her head at the spectacle of so much that was to her fresh eye
uninspired and uninspiring.

"You see Monty?" she said to Harry.

He was about to answer when a swarm of people seemed to rise up about
them. All greeted Harry. It was a large party, newly arrived, all
the members of which appeared to be his friends. Young men, some of
them fair, with toothbrush moustaches and curly hair, some of them
dark and clean-shaven and very like Jack Penton in appearance; young
women of all colours and all varieties of noisiness, clamoured for
his attention. All the young men were combed and brushed to resemble
tailors' dummies; all the young women were freshly powdered and freshly
adorned with rouge and belladonna and those aids to lashes and brows
and hair which heighten the attractiveness of women already attractive.
Patricia listened laughingly while each was introduced to her; but she
heard none of their names, and only knew that she was in the midst of a
lively party. She could not analyse them, although she tried to do so
in a hurry; and so she accepted them simply as Harry's perhaps ever so
slightly peculiar friends. Only when it became clear that they proposed
to settle in this place and spoil her evening with Harry did Patricia
take alarm. She was moving very quietly, preparing for the first notes
of the next dance, when she saw the liveliest of the girls--a brunette
who was beautiful enough to be dangerous, and obviously adept at this
practice--seize Harry, pull him in step towards the dancing space, and
thus forcibly kidnap him.

"Well!" ejaculated Patricia, wholly to herself. Harry cast a laughing,
appealing glance at her. He was captured, and by a ruthless and rather
boisterous victor. Patricia followed the two indignantly with her
eyes. Swift anger gripped her. She had never been so angry as at this
trifling folly. It was a direct challenge to her. It was a thing she
could not have done herself--this impudent appropriation of a man who
was confessedly present as the escort of another girl. She disliked the
interloper. She was instantly suspicious of her. Although impulsive
herself, Patricia had no interest in the impulsiveness of others,
especially if the others were girls. Her anger blazed silently for a
full minute. Slowly it diminished. She found herself almost deserted
by the party of intruders, all of whom, with great freedom of gesture,
were now dancing. Only one rueful young man remained; a young man with
unoccupied blue eyes and flaxen hair, who looked painfully surprised at
everything, and was in appearance so almost excessively juvenile as to
make Patricia suppose him fresh from school.

"Er ..." said the young man, with great feebleness of intellect.

"Yes!" cried Patricia. "I never saw anything like it. It's shameful.
It's cradle-snatching. Was she _your_ partner? Never mind; come along!"
She swept him into the arena, as indomitably unmoved in appearance as
she could have desired. Though her heart was burning, Patricia's pride
was beyond reproach. Nevertheless, she was desperately wounded.


vii

She was still aching from the injury to her pride when the dance came
to an end. By that time the anonymous young man with the sheep-like
blue eyes had exchanged an expression of helpless vacancy for one of
helpless admiration. Once, during the dance, he had stammered: "I ...
I say, ... you _do_ ... d-dance well"; but Patricia had ignored his
speech. She could not compliment him in return. Her one curiosity was
to know the name of the girl who had stolen Harry from her. Several
times during the dance they had encountered the other pair; and
Patricia had not failed to observe the voluptuous abandonment of the
girl to a posture more nearly approaching immodesty than anything to be
seen elsewhere.

"What was that girl's name?" she asked, as the young man proudly led
her back.

"Bella?" he queried. "That's ... that's Bella Verreker. That's not her
name really: it's her stage name."

Stage! Generations of puritanism caused a shiver to run through
Patricia. She was instantly apprehensive. Bella was dangerous to Harry,
to the evening, to ... her own happiness. Stricken with horror as she
was, Patricia's distress was poignant. She was really afraid. This was
something beyond her depth and her understanding. Her mood of fear
was thereafter succeeded by one in which this curbing of spontaneous
enjoyment was resented by her vanity. She was elaborately indifferent.

At that moment they met Monty, who had come towards her through the
pressing crowd, with a politeness oriental in its quality, in its
subtly encroaching familiarity towards herself.

"Hullo!" cried Patricia, in joyous greeting. She was all unconscious of
anything but her own feelings. At this juncture the appearance of Monty
was welcome, not for her interest in him, but for his opportuneness as
a diversion. "I caught sight of you before."

"Come and dance," demanded Monty.

"Where's ... Mrs. Tallentyre?"

"Resting, and talking to a friend."

Patricia's teeth were firmly together. That impetuous mouth had become
hard. Monty could read her as though she had spoken aloud. He knew she
had been hurt, that she was in reaction. He knew that he had presented
himself to Patricia as an opportunity. She was tempted; she was
falling. He smiled comfortably.

"No you don't, Monty!" came Harry's voice: "No bagging my partner!"

There was a singular little scene; the three of them standing together,
all ruffled and all good-humouredly smiling. Monty was not as tall
as Harry, who accordingly towered over both of the others. He was
very much the well-groomed man of the world in this place, and yet
his smile was faintly ugly. It had changed within an instant, had
deepened and become set. Not a wrinkle showed upon his unreadable face.
Harry's cheerful grin, which displayed all his big white teeth, held
combativeness. Patricia, thoroughly exasperated at the general bad
manners, and not least at her own impulse to naughtiness, resented the
feeling that she was a mere partner to be claimed by either. She was
both exasperated and wisely alarmed.

"I saw you dancing with Bella," suavely explained Monty.

"She's with a party here ...." Harry was grim. There was definite
conflict between the two men, spoiling, but controlled, so that while
all three of them knew the conflict to be there no others near by could
have guessed its presence. "But Patricia's with me."

Something--she did not realise what it was--cleared Patricia's vision.
It was necessary that she should act with decision. She turned to
Harry, no longer ill-tempered, but paler and almost deliberately
patient in her manner to him.

"I'll dance once with Monty," she said. "And then come back to you."

And as the music began, she fell into step with Monty, leaving Harry
chagrined and reddening. There was still a little temper in her
emotion; but her chief thought as she danced was: "Two great babies!"

Patricia might have considered herself a third; but she did not do this.


viii

During the rest of the evening the relation between Harry and Patricia,
although it was gay and friendly, never quite recovered the fluency it
had attained during dinner. They danced together; but Patricia, warned
by what she had seen, shunned anything more cordial than the merest
partnership in the dance. Harry tried to hold her more closely, but he
found that it was at the cost of enjoyable dancing, and he therefore
abandoned the attempt. He discovered that Patricia, while she was as
agreeable as ever, had no intention of letting him make love to her.
It was contrary to his practice to explain or to apologise, and he did
not refer to Bella. Patricia, upon her side, showed no disposition to
forsake or despise the interloping party; and so gradually the two of
them drifted apart. She danced with two or three of the other men,
and he with Bella and another girl. The noise of the room, and the
crowd of people, seemed to increase. It became late. The party showed
signs of an inclination for the evening's end. Drinks had long been
done with; new arrivals, fresher and more eager than those who had been
dancing for some time, took the floor. The evening was collapsing.
Quite definitely it was petering out. At a quarter-to-twelve there was
a signal for closing the place; and then, as part of a general shoal of
departing merry-makers, a very sleepy party pressed out into the night
air. Monty and Blanche had left long before.

As they thus emerged, Patricia, in evading Harry's attempt at
segregation, found herself with two of the other girls, who both said
they lived at Chelsea. The journey homeward was therefore made in a
crowd, which separated Harry and Patricia. They all came to the end of
the street in which Patricia lived, and then to the house itself; so
that she was not for an instant alone with Harry. Even at the parting,
he was but the last of the group to bid farewell, and she walked slowly
upstairs to her rooms with cheery voices still ringing in her ears.



CHAPTER SEVEN: SECOND EVENING


i

From that evening Patricia had no lack of companionship. She had fallen
into a whole group of new friends and new Christian names. There was
no end to the Dorises, the Bills, the Owens, the Hildas, and the
Normans whom she met at every dance and every party. She sat on floors
and talked with assurance; she danced with a score of men. During the
daytime she did more dress-making than bread-work. In the evenings,
carried away by the sense of new experience and new power, she added a
veneer of alluring sophistication to her nature. Never had the face of
life been so quickly altered.

At first it seemed to Patricia that these young men and women whom
she now so constantly met belonged to a different species from
herself. She had been brought up in a suburban atmosphere in which
anything not perfectly respectable was done in secret. It had been a
disagreeable atmosphere to her, because she was both impetuous and
innocent, a combination of characteristics which always raises trouble
for the owner. Regarding herself as a free spirit, she had received
rebuffs from those more strict; and her candour had given rise to
wrong impressions about herself in her own mind as well as in the
minds of others. She had supposed that Patricia alone was in a state
of rebellion against suburban laws. She had even exaggerated her own
importance as a rebel. Now she found that these laws did not apply;
and that in fact defiance of them was unnecessary. The young people
of her fresh pleasure did not defy: they had forgotten. She became
aware of a whole new code. A free spirit she still felt herself; but
one in a world of free spirits. Along with the exaggerated sense of
her own personality common to clever girls of our day she had also
the good sense to realise the improvement in her own circumstances.
Patricia rejoiced. She delighted in the feeling of wide acquaintance,
of new liberty. It pleased her to meet cordial young people who were no
cleverer and no more concerned with strait-laced morals than herself
and whom she did not despise. She began at last to feel at home. They
were young, free-and-easy, less mentally ingenious than she was,
admiring, unaffected. It was as though she belonged to the same family
as themselves, but was of a naturally brighter plumage. Her vanity was
sensibly fortified.

And through all this new experimenting with her own strength there ran
for Patricia something more precious still. The added significance
which had been given to her days was due only in small part to this
increased circle. The friends she made were a background; they filled
in the picture; but no more. Every day was coloured and moulded for
Patricia by happiness, the happiness of young half-love. It warmed her
heart through the gloomy winter days; made her laugh, sparkle, sigh,
with a new tenderness; and gave fresh life to all her perceptions and
understandings. Occasionally she even glimpsed her own happiness, when
the excitement of it was past and she sat more thoughtfully alone. And
then the precariousness of it, the sense of insecurity, of withheld
culmination, gave to the vision a fresh colour and zest of danger.

That one evening with Harry, which had begun so splendidly and ended
in such dissonance, was but the beginning. The mixed crowd of people
had resolved itself into two separate portions--the theatrical and the
non-theatrical; and even the theatrical portion proved shortly to be
a welcoming band. Bella Verreker was appearing in musical comedy, and
she did not again encroach. Only the less aggressive girls continued
to join the parties; and Patricia found that several of these, and
some of the young men, were so far without regular paying engagements.
They appeared in private or semi-private shows, for experience and
reputation; and she had the first consciousness of forming a part
of her generation. All were lively people to know slightly, and the
non-theatricals, some of whom were Civil Servants and others of
moderately independent means or of various artistic or semi-artistic
occupations, were immense talkers and eager, but not expert, dancers.
Beside them all, Harry was as distinguished in his way as was Patricia
in hers. They were both welcomed, even sought.

Patricia felt herself alive at last. Letters came for her in the
mornings and at night. Harry called for her. She herself gave a little
party in her small rooms at the top of the house. It was fun to have
seven or eight guests sitting with difficulty in the crowded space,
and talking to their hearts' content. But more than that she enjoyed
going to yet larger parties in more capacious studios, where the
floor was sometimes cleared for impromptu dancing, where there was
dressing-up, and where the games made them all laugh and talk nonsense
together. She loved to swing into one of the brasseries of West End
restaurants, to meet other talkative youngsters, to smoke cigarettes
and sip little strange drinks. It made her feel very bold and modern
and authoritative. And most of all did she enjoy the evenings which
she and Harry spent together, dining at Paggolino's or some smaller
Italian restaurant, and going together to a theatre or to Topping's or
the Queensford or even to more popular halls where the bands were good
and the floors better.

"If only," breathed Patricia. "If only one could never grow up! Always,
always this beautiful...."


ii

And then sometimes she longed to grow up. As the variety began to stir
her blood, and an odd unoccupied evening became a restless horror,
she knew that one day she would want to be different--to do different
things. She tried to tell Harry how she felt. They were sitting at
dinner together one evening, when she had telephoned to him in fear
of a solitary time, and they had gone to the Chat Blanc. Patricia
was smoking one of her own cigarettes over coffee, and was blowing
the smoke slowly from between pursed lips. She was fully conscious
of the extraordinary intimacy between them, and at the same time of
the constraint that underlay the intimacy and gave it an attractive
excitement. Harry was so very much her friend, and yet her feeling
for him was so entirely different from that which she had for the
other young men of her acquaintance. He was cleverer than they--with
his constant sparkle of lively expression,--and more handsome. He
was himself, where the others were almost indistinguishable both in
themselves in their rather immature and shallow and admiringly friendly
attitude to herself. His admiration was that of a man. She responded to
it.

Around Patricia rose the white walls of the restaurant, daubed with
the strange sick fancies of eccentric artists; and from their table
she could command the whole of the long narrow room filled with other,
similar tables, all with orange and white check tablecloths and black
cruet stands and pewter knives and forks and spoons. Patricia could
see other guests departing at the approach of theatre times, and
waiters bowing and flicking the tables clear of crumbs, and folding
fresh napkins and standing the menus upright again. In a few moments
they would be the only people left in the restaurant, except for one
suburban couple who had strayed into Soho under the impression that
theirs was a very bold experiment in night life, and who were waiting
for the sensations to begin. It was just then that Patricia had this
notion, which was new, and therefore irrepressibly vehement, about the
desirability of growing up.

Harry sat opposite, a little leaning back from the table, dabbing a
finished cigarette into the plate which they were using as an ash-tray.
He was in brown tweeds, which made his beautiful fairness appear to
dominate and penetrate even his clothes. The fresh brown of his face,
the strength of his shoulders, the gold at his temples and in his
neat moustache, the cleanness of his lips and chin, and the general
magnetism of his air of disciplined vigour, were all apparent. But in
addition she was most singularly moved by the fine moulding of his
cheeks and that air of confident good-humour with which the popular
man is so peculiarly endowed. His smile, so ready, so consciously
agreeable and charming, was a part of Harry himself. Patricia, equally
fair, with her piquant little head, and the blue expressive eyes and
mobile lips, was his delicious counterpart. She was her age, and a
child, and a witch, with much greater unconsciousness than he, because
with Patricia, whose thoughts were quick and fleeting, every thought
had a reflection in her face. And at this moment, from happiness, she
had turned to a sudden grave discovery, far more quickly than most men
could have done; and her gravity had given way before resolution,
desire, uncertainty, and again conviction.

"I'd like to have a big house," she said. "A country house, with lots
of servants, and a lake, and peacocks, and a ballroom, and a wood, and
lawns. I'd like to manage an estate."

"Good God!" cried Harry, pretending to be startled, and sharply
dropping his cigarette stump into the plate. "What for?"

"I'd like it. You see, all this running about--it's great fun, and I
love it. But it won't _last_."

"Why not?" Harry's tone was a little flat, as though his surprise had
only been exaggerated, as though he had been disturbed by a definite
assumption. "I don't see why it shouldn't. After all...."

"I shall get tired of it."

Harry laughed, showing his big white teeth. Patricia wondered if he
knew that when he laughed she had a sudden almost aching thrill of
affection for something boyish and lovable in him. Did he know?

"You won't," he assured her, the laugh remaining and fixing in his
cheeks for a moment deep lines of untroubled good humour. "Not for a
century."

"I might. I might get tired of it in a month," she said. "Sometimes I'm
tired of it already." Patricia hardly knew what she was saying. The
words came easily; but the conviction was lagging behind somewhere in
another thought. "You see, Tom Perry and Daphne and Woods--they're all
right, but they've got no brains. If I want to talk to anybody--really
talk, I mean,--there's nobody but you."

"Well?" His grin reappeared. "Aren't I enough?"

"You're splendid, of course."

"You're not so sure?" Harry's question was teasing: he was not taking
her seriously, was being indulgent, deliberately winning: but a shock
ran through Patricia even as she responded to his charm. The hesitation
which he had detected--had it really been there? Quick emotion moved
her. She turned away her head for an instant. For that fraction of time
her doubt had become a reality. She was pitiably uncertain of herself.
Surely if one were--say, even half-in-love--one never had such a doubt
of the beloved? And yet Harry--he was older than herself, a man, fixed
perhaps in his present state of life.... If she grew out of him! What
then? In such a life as they led.... Patricia still clung to the theory
of constancy, of common growth, of happiness for ever after. With all
her arrogance, she did not want to lead. To be led was a necessity to
her.

"Don't you see I'm not sure?" she asked. "How can you be sure? How can
you ever know what you'll think in a week, or a month, or a year?"

"Of course you can't," Harry agreed jocularly. "The best way is not to
think of it--not to look forward at all." His words were light, his
face untroubled. Did he not understand? Was he reassuring her, or did
his words truly represent the limitations of his insight?

"But I've _got_ to!" She was urgent. Tears were in her eyes. "I was
just thinking...."

"I'm not going to get tired of it," Harry said, his jaw set and his
laughter gone.

"Aren't you?" asked Patricia, her heart sinking. Her doubt of an
instant before seemed to be confirmed. A heavy sigh escaped her. For a
moment she was silent. Then, with an abrupt rally, she shook her head.
"No," she continued. "You're not going to get tired of it. Nor am I!"


iii

But as soon as she had spoken the words, she knew they were not true.
She could not tell whether she would tire now or later; but she was
sure that one day she would tire. Her capacity for growth already flew
a warning, and she could not for ever be blind to the signal. Well, and
what then? A shadow darkened her eyes. She looked across at Harry's
clear and happy face, at his crisp hair, and felt the strength and
energy that was in him. How resist that boyish charm, the laughter that
seemed so constant? Could one ever tire of laughter? Surely it was
impossible. Her heart softened. The little impetuous mouth drooped ever
so little. At sight of that, Harry's smile broadened.

"You've got a quaint mind," he said. "It doesn't matter in the least."

"It does." Patricia frowned. Then as suddenly she smiled in return.
"No, it doesn't. You're quite right. And yet it does, you know."

"Well, which?"

"I don't know. I don't know. I'll never know."

"As for these young cubs and cublets, let 'em rip. _They'll_ never
be any different. Where you're wrong is in worrying about it. If you
think, you wobble. Therefore, don't think."

"It's easy to say." Patricia regarded herself for a moment with
solemnity. She had a clear sense of herself refusing to be content
with something less than the best. She wanted to live to the fullest
capacity. She was quite intensely in earnest about that, about her
responsibility to Patricia Quin. It was a sacred trust.

He stretched a big hand across the table and caught her wrist,
pressing it. Their exchanged glance was of joy, almost, it seemed, of
understanding.

"Cheer up!" Harry urged. "Let's clear out of this."

Within two minutes they were out in the black street. A stormy wind
rushed along towards and past them, leaving Patricia shivering a
little. Harry put out an arm and caught her suddenly to him. She was
immediately free again, but she was breathless with something other
than loss of breath, and her heart was beating.

"We'll go and dance somewhere," he suggested.

Patricia shrank from his tenderness at this moment. The wind, the
hint of rain, her hidden conflict of perplexity, all discomposed her.
She wanted to be alone, to think. And yet, on the contrary, most
passionately to be with him, and not to think--never to think, never to
wake.... At last:

"No," said she. "I'm not in the mood. I'd spoil it. I'll go home. Let's
go by Tube."

They came out into Shaftesbury Avenue, which was half deserted now that
the omnibuses and the theatres had engulfed so many of those who crowd
the street; and then that deluge which had been on the tail of the
wind was suddenly released, and poured down so sharply that the two of
them had to run to the Piccadilly Circus station. Warmed and laughing,
they stood close together in the crowded lift, and plunged down into
the earth. Echoing passages, vehement advertisements of concerts and
theatres, some stairs in a blaze of baffling light; and they were
listening to the distant rumblings of Underground trains.

"On Saturday," resumed Harry, "we'll go to the Ireland match at
Twickenham. It's always the best Rugger of the season. If you'd like
to? And in the evening Puffer's got a party in his cellars. Sweaty but
jolly, the cry is, I believe."

"No, I'm going to Monty Rosenberg's."

"The devil! Monty?" He pulled up quickly. His head was shaken. "No,
don't go there. Puffer's a decent old sort."

"So's Monty." Patricia was suddenly defiant, as at some assumption of
right. Harry grimaced at her.

"First I've heard of it," he said. "Don't go there, there's a dear!"

"I've promised. I'm going with Jacky Dean."

"Good Lord!" Harry was amazed. He would have protested further; but
their train at this moment burst from the tunnel. They were crushed
into it by eager fellow passengers, and sat blinking in that strained
artificial light which is so much more trying to the eyes than the
light of the sun. Extraordinary roaring filled their ears. With the
crowd and the dazzle and the subterranean re-echoings of violent noise
they were dazed and helpless. Impossible to converse. Impossible to
think clearly. When they wished to communicate with one another it was
only by means of raised voices at each other's ears. At last Harry
could stand it no longer. At a shout, he proceeded: "Jack's ... a
decent little ... owl. But he's an _awful_ ... fool!" Patricia nodded.
The train ran into a station, and there was an instant's silence. In
it, Harry resumed: "Why not come with me? Don't you want to come?" No
answer. He bent nearer, and Patricia could not look up. "You'd rather
go to Monty's? Well, look here, come to the match, any way. I've got to
go there--on business. I'm doing a special on it. Will you? That all
right? Good."

The train started again. They were lost in that fearsome jungle of
uproar. Patricia was struggling with herself. The noise seemed to have
destroyed all her wit, all her confidence. She could not understand the
sensation she had--as though she were stifling, as though the blood
were filling her cheeks.

"I'd rather come to Puffer's," she managed to shout.

"Well?"

"I can't."

Harry turned away grimly, staring at an advertisement. Their wills were
in conflict. Patricia's eyes closed. Her brain was full of tormenting
thoughts. He was cruel. Then, no ... it was she who had been....
Uncontrollably, her hand swiftly moved, and was tucked lightly between
his arm and his body. Harry's hand came as swiftly to press hers, and
although the two hands drew apart again Patricia's remained within the
crook of his elbow for the rest of the short journey.


iv

By the time they reached South Kensington station the rain had ceased.
Big clouds were passing overhead at high speed, and the wind remained
fierce. Somehow it appeared to Patricia that when one had looked
upwards and seen the clouds, and behind them that lighter darkness
the sky, all that stood upon the surface of the earth was dwarfed.
The people, the lamps, the trees, the houses, were all shrunk to
insignificance, as the pain and bewilderment of poor humans must seem
to those steady eyes of pity, the stars. She could not see any stars,
but the gusts of wind made for the impression of great spaces, and
presently the few trees by the side of the road, and the dark houses
which lay beyond, took on the air of a mysterious wood. She felt that
she and Harry were wandering alone in a wood at night, beneath the
stars, listening to the endless torment of the anguished leaves; and
all her love of beauty made her heart soft, so that she was moved
beyond tears, and wished only to rest her head and prolong the ecstatic
moment.

But she could not speak to Harry. She could have taken his hand and
walked onward in silence; but that was impossible, because this
vision that she had was unsubstantial, and Harry, whose laughter was
so delightful, would not understand anything that was so intangible,
so unrelated to his normal life. She was conscious in him of a thick
stream of emotion, of the power of serious preoccupation with sensual
things, amounting to obsession; and sometimes she had that same
thickness of emotion when she was with him or longing for him, but
never with obsession;--always with a shyness, a flying away, as of some
will o' the wisp. But she more often had only a light playing of fancy,
which made love a beautiful game; and now she had only a childish
desire for happiness and mystical beauty. This her instinct told her
was not shared. If Harry laughed, it was because there were whole
realms of which he knew nothing. She had a swift certainty; there was
no poetry in his nature. He was all the time absorbed in the tangible.
Oh! What treason! She would not allow such thoughts. They were wicked,
unjust, treacherous.... How the wind thrust and blustered among the
trees! She could feel it upon her face and in her hair, and in her
eyes. Harry said:

"Your friend Amy Roberts has been making a fool of herself."

Patricia, withdrawn from her wonderings by so incongruous a speech,
could hardly understand him for a moment. Amy ... Amy.... It was an
instant before she could bring herself to recognition.

"Oh." At last, vaguely, Patricia groped for his meaning. "What's she
been doing?"

"It seems she ran into Felix Brow somewhere, and taxed him with saying
she couldn't paint. Of course, poor Felix muffed the thing. Or perhaps,
after all, he didn't. He said he didn't know she painted at all. Yes,
I expect that wasn't so much of a muff as I thought it was at first.
Damned insulting," Harry laughed appreciatively, thinking the speech
over to himself before he continued: "He begged her not to betray him.
That made Amy angry. Somebody had told her he'd said she painted with
a besom. She'd prefer even that to being ignored. After all, she's no
good as an artist. She's too stupid. And she _makes_ these ridiculous
scenes. There's some itch in her that makes her precipitate a row."

"I think she's conceited."

"Of course she is. Did you ever know a fool who wasn't? But she's
worse, because she quarrels with people who mean kindly by her."

"I know." Rather despairingly, Patricia shook her head. "Did Felix
really say that?"

"My dear! Poor old Felix wouldn't say anything so dull. After all, he
is a wit. He'd say something worth saying, and worth repeating, or he
wouldn't open his mouth."

"These witty things, though. Are they really said?"

Patricia's cynicism was too much for Harry. He laughed, looking down at
her with an almost proprietary air of delight.

"I've heard a few of them. They're not always spontaneous, of course.
But it's so absurd of Amy to quarrel with a man like Felix. It can only
do her harm. He _will_ say something about her now. I mean, he's a man
to stand in with, not quarrel with."

Patricia was struck by this point.

"Do you really think that?" she asked. "That one ought to 'stand in'
with people."

"Of course!" Harry's tone was severe.

"You think it's right? You do it yourself?" Patricia's tone was
sad. She could not see his face; but then neither could he see hers.
For Patricia the question was of vital importance. Yet Harry was not
conscious of the meaning of her question.

"You've got to do _everything_ in this world," he assured her
confidently.

"How base!" Patricia's protest was so low that it escaped Harry. "But
surely, Harry, if you're any good...."

"All the more reason. Of course, it doesn't matter in Amy's case...."

"I must go and see her."

Patricia spoke mechanically. She was not thinking of Amy. She was
thinking of Harry, and of herself.

"She'll probably tell you about Felix--with embellishments of her own.
A few of the withering replies she's thought of since. I will say that
for Amy: she improves her speeches a lot in revision." He laughed with
some dryness.

"Harry!" protested Patricia. "I believe you're spiteful!"

"As a nun!" he agreed. "Didn't you know?"

Again Patricia shrank into herself. They were nearing her home
now, and the road was very dark, and Harry's nearness gave her a
sense of happiness and security. And yet she was neither happy nor
secure. It seemed as though the stormy evening had reawakened all her
sensitiveness. No, she was not happy. Intermingled with her own mood
was the strange jumble of problems which had been raised by their
talk and the memories it evoked. Now she wanted to leave him, now to
stay--and at each turn she was exasperated anew at her own waywardness.
The shallowness of Harry's conviction that one ought to cultivate those
who might be useful hurt her (as similar remarks had done several
times before). She remembered several of her distastes for things he
had said. She remembered, too, their talk over dinner on the subject
of growing up; and it made her shiver. And yet she continued to walk
by Harry's side, feeling in his proximity the same joy, the same warm
affection as she had done all the evening. It surprised her to know
that one's love for a person could fluctuate so, and so persist; that
it could come and go almost as if with breathing. She was undecided.
Did she perhaps not love him at all? It was as though some reality
greater than inclination, or else some very strong illusion, was always
interrupting her love and making it ineffective. He was the only
man she had ever wanted to kiss her, the only man to whom she could
physically have yielded herself; and yet....

She fell into a series of fresh ponderings, about Amy and Jack Penton,
about Harry and Amy, about Harry and Rhoda, Harry and Bella, about
Harry's spitefulness; and with each variation of the theme it became
less and less possible to disclose the nature of her thoughts to Harry.
How could one love a person, and yet sometimes dislike what they said,
and resent what they did, and hate what they thought? And yet, as her
heart told her, he was the man she loved, so beautiful, so strong, so
much her true love. What were thoughts and speeches compared with that
instinctive certainty? She was torn. It was a puzzle to Patricia that
this hesitation should arise. She was unhappy under her happiness.

Suddenly she became aware that they were outside her home, and that the
house was dark, and that Harry had spoken to her without receiving a
reply.

"Hey!" he cried sharply, to attract her attention.

Patricia, startled, looked up at him as if she were dreaming. The
little hushing wind in the slim and bare branches of small trees was
accompanied by the pattering drops of a fresh shower. Cold splashes
touched her cheeks. She could see Harry standing like a giant above
her, could feel the radiance of his strength and beauty and love for
her. She was deeply moved. Harry, amused and laughing at her abstracted
silence, put his arm round her. As if naturally, but in reality because
she was only half-attentive, Patricia stopped, standing there within
his arm. She was quite happy, quite at ease, but dreaming.

"What is it?" she asked, in a very hushed way, hardly to be heard.

"Only that you're a darling!" Harry stooped and kissed her, holding
her tightly but gently within his arm, and with his free hand raising
her hand to his lips. She felt his rough cheek against her own, his
warm lips, and against her hair the brim of his hat. How strange that
for a moment, held so firmly, Patricia felt nothing at all except that
it was delicious to be there, delicious to be so encircled, so loved.
Harry kissed her a second time, but not her averted mouth. She felt his
lips encroaching, his hold more urgent. Patricia's heart beat faster.
So she might yield herself to love. He would kiss her lips, and she
would kiss him, and then for ever--for ever.... She was half-yielding.
She was yielding. Faster and faster ran her heart, and the wind and
rain and darkness were blotted out in this sweet stupor. And then some
electrical revolt shocked her into resistance.

"No!" she said, very quietly, and sought to disengage herself.

"Kiss me!" demanded Harry. "My dearest!"

"No!" said Patricia, again. But she was not really unwilling or afraid.
She was happy and at ease and full of almost luxurious reassurance. And
at the same time she was inexorable. When Harry would have kept her
and again would have kissed her he was unable to do so. Her body seemed
to be steel, her will greater than his impetuousness. In the struggle
between domination and the instinct for liberty this new strength of
Patricia's was in no way to be gainsaid. She continued, despite his
effort, unquestionably to belong to herself. The impulse to submit was
vanquished by something yet more insistent.

"Patricia!" commanded Harry. He was warm, was masterful. Such a tone
had never hitherto failed him, and was now both ardent and sincere.
Patricia was quite aware of the physical agitation which he thus
expressed. He was bent upon victory, forcing the issue. And with each
fleeting second his will strengthened her own. Harry was urgent.
Patricia's nerve was steadied. He followed her, determined, very nearly
irresistible.

"No. I'm not sure that I want you to." Her tone was cold and without
feeling; but her eyes were shining and her heart was full.

"My dear, you can't...."

She held his hand, and pressed it, all the time evading his renewed
embrace. The wind came sweeping along the street, and around them was
blackness and silence. Moved and troubled, but as one in a dream,
Patricia freed herself, made no answer to his entreaty, and left him
listening to the sound of a closing door, and feeling the smart tingle
of raindrops upon his face and the backs of his bare hands.



CHAPTER EIGHT: A DAY IN PATRICIA'S LIFE


i

Patricia undressed, still trembling, still with a set face and a false
air of coolness. Only when she was in bed was she hysterically filled
with anger for herself, and contempt, almost with self-horror. She
could not comprehend herself or her own stupidity, so great was her
longing for love and understanding.

"Love--yes; but understanding!" He could understand her in
happiness--now, at dinner, at the dance. But as she grew older, as she
needed guidance and wisdom? Never! That was her thought of Harry, the
first wild sweep of anger at _his_ deficiency. "He'd never understand
me--never!" And then again she demanded of the silence, striking the
pillow with her vehemence: "Why--why--why?" Why had she so shrunk
from love? Excuses poured into her mind, the more vehement because
she felt them to be invalid. It had been a mood, this rejection of
his love. She wasn't accountable for her moods. She said definite
things without knowing them to be definite--without meaning them to
be definite. It wasn't final. It _wasn't_. Then self-anger again grew
uppermost. "You fool! You little fool!" she cried aloud. Then again:
"I'm not _ready_. I don't know what love is. I only want to _be_
loved. I don't _want_ to love and be loved--not finally, like this;
not give myself up to it. Only like a little girl. I don't love him.
I felt it. I've just been playing ... I _can't_ love him! If I did, I
should be sure. I shouldn't think ... of all this ... of his not ...
of my growing out of him.... I should be proud--overwhelmed. I'm not
proud. Not overwhelmed. He's only selfish. I could tell. Anybody could
have told. The _feeling_ was all wrong. It was.... He's kissed other
girls. _They_ were proud--willing.... He wants love in _his_ way--not
mine. He can't have it. I'm not _sure_. I've got to be sure. It's for
life. He must give me time. I felt he wouldn't.... And yet I do love
him so.... Harry! My dear!" She pressed her lips to her own fingers,
kissing them sweetly. "I wanted him to kiss me. I liked it. I wanted
it. I wouldn't let him.... How could I be so beastly--so _beastly_! I
couldn't have kissed him. I've thought of it--liked the idea of it.
It's the reality--cowardice. Oh, I'm afraid of life. It's all very well
to play and dream--lovesick girl. When a man really.... It wouldn't
have been right. It wouldn't have been true. It _can't_ be right to
feel like this! I'm sophisticated. I want love, and not love,--love and
friendship and wisdom and understanding--somebody to understand me;
somebody delicate and wise ... beautiful.... I want too much. You can't
ask...."

With a mind distraught, she turned upon the pillow, until it grew hot
and seemed to rasp her cheeks; and her head ached and her eyes and lips
burned and the room seemed overpoweringly full of stale air. She could
see the darkness out of doors, and hear the wind tearing and pressing
in wild gusts out of doors, and soot whispering down the chimney, like
mice foraging in a newspaper. The wooden rod at the foot of the hanging
linen blind knocked against the casement until she was frenzied; and
she rose passionately to draw the blind to its full height, out of the
draught. Standing there in the darkness she could feel the cold air
upon her raised arm and her breast, and in a moment through her thin
nightgown. And all the time her lips were drawn back and down in this
great distress and self-blame which had come suddenly into her blithe
days. And she realised that it had all been implicit in her blitheness,
that only a young girl could have supposed that the postponement could
go on for as long as her delight in it was maintained.

"If only I had something to _drink_ I should feel better!" cried
Patricia, on an impulse. She went to the washstand, and the carafe
was empty. The water-jug was empty. Lucy had forgotten to fill it.
Even here the catastrophe was a futility, a humiliation, a further
exasperation. She was maddened. She was shaken and jangled. Rage swept
her. "Oh, damn!" she cried. "Everything! It's _awful_!"

With her hands in her mouth, Patricia turned back towards the bed, and
leant against the foot of it; and sobs shook her body, so bitterly that
she was afraid her crying would be overheard, and crept back to bed to
cover herself and stifle the noise. It was the great strong dreadful
crying of a little girl who had been disappointed of some dearest wish.
It was not a woman's crying at all. It was the result of shock and
self-contempt; but it was not the heartbreaking sorrow of the hopeless
woman. Patricia would yet laugh again--would laugh, perhaps even at
herself. But now she could see only her own cowardice, and she was in
despair.

Presently the crying ceased, and Patricia began to talk to herself,
very softly, as a little girl who has been desperately unhappy will
sometimes do; and because there was nobody in the world to comfort her
she began to try and comfort herself, speaking between small spasmodic
sobs, and explaining and cheering, as the mother she could not remember
might have done. It was poor cheer; but it gradually began to soothe
her. And at last, lingeringly, in pity for herself at having nobody to
console her for ignorance and uncertainty, Patricia began refreshingly
to cry. Long afterwards, while it was still dark, she fell asleep.


ii

When Lucy banged into the room in the morning Patricia still slept,
her little pale face deep in the pillow, and her hair tumbled; and
she would have continued to sleep if Lucy, in stumping across to the
window, had not been reminded of her failure to fill the carafe and
water-jug.

"Gawd love a duck!" exclaimed Lucy, at which Patricia awoke.

She could vaguely see a pink dress, very soiled, and a big dirty apron
surrounding a stumpy body, and a little cap, and the dirty red smudge
which she knew to be Lucy's face.

"Good morning," said Patricia drowsily, still hardly conscious of the
day.

"I've said it once," cried Lucy, emphasising the sibilants until she
appeared to hiss. "I said it as I come in. And now I've got to traipse
all the way downstairs again to get you some cole water! What a life!"

"Well, Lucy," said Patricia, putting her head out of bed. "I don't
think you can blame me for that. In fact I was very annoyed last night,
when I was thirsty, to find there wasn't any. I might have parched to
death."

"You didden brush your teeth larce night, I can see," retorted Lucy.
"Got 'ome too late, I s'pose, and frightened of the beetles." She
clucked her tongue in reproof. "Your young man wouldn' like to know
_that_ about you!"

"Don't be coarse, Lucy. I _did_ forget to brush my teeth. But it's the
first time for months."

"Gawd. Some people wants a nursie always after them! I got no time for
it. Not myself, I 'aven't. I s'pose I got to get your water now. Don't
want to scald yourself. 'E wouldn' like that, neither!"

An idea shot into Patricia's head. She had a sudden cowardice about
getting up. What if Harry had written? She felt she simply could not
face all the possible sequels to last night's scene. It was terrifying!
As she lay there she definitely feared the day, and its outcome. All
the time Lucy was away, Patricia was trembling with apprehensiveness.
She would run away--she would burn a letter--she would.... Ghastly
possibilities flew through her mind. Lucy had hardly re-entered,
panting and noisy, before the inquiry was launched alarmingly at her.

"Lucy, is there a letter for me?" demanded Patricia, in a betrayingly
self-conscious and unsteady voice.

"No!" said the smudge, rather severely. "There ain't! But there's some
nice cole kipper, if you 'urry."

She disappeared, while Patricia, half-relieved and half tearful, with
a sinking heart, put her head back under the clothes, feeling ill and
doleful and heavy with trepidation.


iii

There was a long silence. It was not that Patricia was asleep, although
she was so tired. She was malingering. A fond mother would have been
misled. She almost, in that rôle, convinced herself. But she knew that
Lucy would never be a willing dupe, and something about Lucy's wholly
unsentimental attitude towards ill-health alarmed Patricia. It was not,
however, until she was stung by a bitter thought that she rolled back
the bedclothes and paddled her bare feet upon the floor.

"I'm just like Amy, with Jack Penton!" was the thought. "How
_horrible_!"

That thought stayed with Patricia during the whole of her bathing and
washing. She was appalled by it. No criticism could have been more
withering.

"But Harry would never be like Jack!" she exclaimed, with certainty.
"He'd never stay on the chance that I'd change my mind. With him it's
one thing or the other. I _wonder_...."

It was a possibility. Perhaps it was the solution. Patricia felt
brighter. Of course! Why had she not thought of it before? She would
say to Harry, and it would be an extremely reasonable speech: "Harry,
I do think I love you. But I want to make sure. Can we go on as we
are--just being friends--for the present?" "Of course, old girl," Harry
would say. "I don't want to hurry you, if you're not sure. Just try me
for a little while." Patricia laughed, as she imagined him saying that.
Harry would laugh, too. She would.... Her eyes sparkled. She became
demure.

Suddenly, in her imagining, Harry turned sharply to her. "By the way,"
he said. "How long am I to wait?" Patricia answered very quickly.
"Well, I couldn't marry you until I got a trousseau, could I?"

She had awakened in a very different state of mind from that in which
she had slept. Far from the danger, she had become quite bold. It
seemed at this moment as though she had almost made up her mind.

"But I haven't ... really," said Patricia. "I'm only brave in the
morning, because the danger isn't urgent." It was true. She had
floated back into her dream of love. The reality no longer disturbed
her. Slowly her mind returned to the bitter thought which had driven
her out of bed. Supposing Harry said: "Now or never!" What then?
Immediately her courage oozed away. She shook her head, and became
very grave. Even in her drowsy state of unreality she still knew that
she must play the game. "I can't give him up!" she thought. Then she
laughed without glee. "I'm like Amy. I know it. Why am I like her? Are
all girls like her? Impossible! I shall go and see Amy. It'll be good
for me. I'll go this very afternoon!"


iv

Over breakfast, the nature and temperature of which was as Lucy had
prophesied, and of which she could therefore eat little, Patricia had
a cunning insight. Harry was not in the habit of accepting refusals.
If he wanted a thing he went for it. Therefore, supposing his work did
not prevent, he might call for her at any time during the day. He would
come.... She was seized with panic. No message would send him away, and
she was not in a state to see him.

"You silly!" cried Patricia.

All the same, she could not see Harry until she was more composed. It
would be impossible. Consent won from her in such circumstances, she
knew, would be disastrous. Instinct was sound there! She knew herself
well enough to realise that coercion of her impulses would result--not
in submission, as it might do in the case of girls less neurotic, but
in inhibitions. Therefore she must not see Harry until she was calmer,
until she could freely give him the love he demanded. To know this, and
to foresee his possible arrival, was to take instant action. She looked
out of the window. Last night's storm had been appropriately followed
by morning calm. The few clouds in the sky immediately visible from
her room were white, and they were racing ferociously to the east.
That meant more rain. She would go prepared; but she could not stay at
home another minute without increasing her danger.

Quick! Her mackintosh, her waterproof cap! Her handbag, gloves.... In
fresh panic, Patricia gathered these necessary things and hurried down
the stairs.

"Lucy!" she called to the kitchen. "I'm going out. All day. If anybody
comes, say you don't know _when_ I'll be back."

"Righto, miss!" came a faint call in response.

The gusty wind slammed the front door behind her. A hasty glance along
the street showed that the path was still clear. With lowered head and
beating heart Patricia made her escape, laughing a little at her own
fears. Some exultation showed itself also in her inner consciousness--a
vanity, a something of the heart. After all, it was something to have a
lover of whose determination one could be happily afraid! Panic had its
core of delight!


v

An omnibus carried Patricia to Charing Cross, and she walked over to
the National Gallery. It was not open yet. The beginning of her day
was inauspicious. It became necessary that she should wander about the
streets, looking in shops, unless she could think of some alternative
to her first improvised plan. She glanced up at the sky, and the rapid
movement of the clouds gave her inspiration. The sky was brilliantly
blue, and a draughty day in London might well be delightful in the
country. But where, cheaply, could she go? The nearest open space would
be the best. It required but a moment's reflection to decide what to
do. Another omnibus would take her to Hampstead. And so she was once
again in movement, and, looking over the side of the vehicle with a
curled lip of distaste and a sharp wonder at the people who could bear
to live in such districts, she passed through the dinginess of Camden
Town and Gospel Oak. From the point of arrival, where the omnibuses
rested awhile before they returned once again on their unsteady
journey, she quickly reached the Heath.

It was very windy, and the ground beneath her feet was soggy with
the rain; but Patricia trudged on valiantly, looking back from the
height over that grey fog of rising smoke which marked the daily life
of nearer London. All about her was a wide stretch of green, rising
and falling from one round height to a lowland where several large
ponds spread their black waters. The Heath, and the Parliament Hill
Fields, were deserted. It was not the time of year, nor the day of
the week, for this enormous and house-bound green to be peopled. Even
children were at school. Only an occasional old gentleman or loitering
out-of-work passed her, with hastily averted eyes of resentment and
fear, and occasionally a girl or nurse with young children in a
perambulator ambled by, munching fruit or studying a novelette as she
trusted to the rim of grass to keep her path true. The paths yielded
to Patricia's feet; the grass concealed mud, and was treacherous. But
the fresh air was most sweet, and the exercise improved her _morale_,
and every trouble in the world seemed to have drifted to a convenient
distance. Patricia was breathing deeply with relief.

She walked upon the Heath for a couple of hours, and sat awhile upon
a seat, exposed to every wind, until the cold began to make her
uncomfortable; and then, with a plunge, she returned to the point from
which the omnibuses start. Within half-an-hour Patricia was back in the
West End, very much better, very much more able to enjoy the crowds in
Regent Street and Oxford Street. A short tour brought her to the end of
the shops, and she found it was lunchtime. Still further refreshed by
a light meal at a neighbouring teashop, she returned to the National
Gallery; and stared at pictures until the extremely tiring pastime made
her begin to yawn. Patricia knew that it was now--if she was going to
keep to the schedule of her planned day--her duty to call upon Amy, and
to Amy's studio in Fitzroy Street she accordingly went on foot.

Arrival at Amy's found her weary and depressed. She had begun once
more to take a pessimistic view of her own affairs. When she had rung
the bell Patricia had a momentary inclination to run away. To endure a
talk here was the last thing for which she was prepared. It had been a
ridiculous proposal. She wavered, feeling demoralised. The impulse to
flight, however, was frustrated by the appearance at the door of Amy
herself, very white and very puffy about the eyes, with a cigarette
between her discoloured fingers, and her dress crumpled as though she
had been lying down. Her short light-coloured hair was also rough,
which strengthened the first quick impression. She looked ill and
discontented.

"Oh, it's you," said Amy, not very agreeably. "I thought you'd
forgotten I existed."

"Oh, how unkind, Amy. When I've come to see you!" cried Patricia, in
rebuke.

"It's about time." Amy, after this laconic protest against neglect,
led the way to the studio, and closed the door. Her gas-fire was fully
alight, and a book lay face downwards upon a table which bore the
remains of a meagre lunch. The bed had been made, and the brilliantly
coloured spread was over it, but the studio was untidy and unswept. The
early dusk was darkening it, and the whole place had a dispirited air
which chilled the visitor to the heart.

"I'm not going to excuse myself," continued Patricia, briskly, to cover
her shrinking. "I'm a beast, and I know it, and I'm sorry. Don't be
hard on me. I've been having a rushing time. How are you?"

Amy looked at her sourly, and Patricia was shocked to see how
thoroughly ill she seemed. There was increased discontent in her
expression, and the unkempt air she wore showed that Amy was taking no
care of herself or of her person.

"I've seen you; and I've heard about you," Amy said.

"I hope I looked nice." Patricia was being painfully cheeky, because
she was afraid. She had never been so afraid as she had been since her
parting with Harry. "Are you all right?" The question was not merely
perfunctory: it was drawn from her by real pity.

"No. I'm not. Patricia, I feel perfectly awful. Not with
you--everything. I can't work, I can't do anything. I don't know what I
shall do. I feel desperate."

"What's been happening?" Full of concern, Patricia turned from throwing
her mackintosh over a chair, and regarded Amy with eyes in which
contempt and dread mingled with her sympathy.

"Nothing's been happening. That's just it. _I_ can't paint. I never
_could_ paint. It's all ridiculous. Ridiculous!" The words were blurted
out in a breathless voice of pain. "I'm in hell!"

And with that Amy began to cry. Patricia put an arm round her, and felt
the poor creature sobbing. But no tears came; the sobs were long drawn
and agonised; and Amy could not weep.

"And nobody's come near you!" murmured Patricia, stricken with
conscience. "Oh, you _poor_ thing. You _poor_ thing!" Amy jerked
herself free, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief that had been
soiled with paint. She stood there all puckered, terribly hostile to
consolation.

"Don't!" she choked. "I can't stand being pawed! All the damned fools
in the world have come. Damn them! Grinning and ... Damn!" She began
to blow her nose and to wipe her eyes, looking inexpressibly forlorn
in her little linen dress without a waist. It was a piteous sight. An
old woman stood there, facing bitter knowledge. Patricia could see that
Amy's face was swollen with crying. She was evidently in a state of
wretched misery, and yet what could be done? Nothing! Desiring pity,
comfort, sympathy, Amy could yield herself to none of these, and her
hysterical scorn for them was devastating. There was a long silence,
awkward and increasingly embarrassed. Patricia stared downward, biting
her lip, oppressed with the knowledge of her helplessness. When she
spoke she could hear her own words, and her false voice, and the
emptiness of her emotion.

"You'd better go away for a holiday," she suggested. "Go down to
Cornwall."

"No." Amy jerked with impatient unhappiness. She was like a desperate
animal that snarls at a rescuer. "I don't want to do anything. I don't
want to see anybody." She controlled herself with a fierce effort,
moving a few steps this way and that, and smoking furiously, until the
cigarette was glowing and burning her lips. For a time during this
paroxysm of fury there was silence; and then Amy went on in a curious
dry disinterested voice: "Sit down, Patricia. Tell me what you've
been doing. No, I'm all right. I'll stand up. I can't bear to keep
still. Got a cigarette?" She lighted the fresh one from her burning
stump, in the same grievous way leaning against the mantelpiece and
again starting erect with nervous lack of self-control; and every
now and then she was shaken by a sob. Without waiting for Patricia's
narrative, Amy went on viciously: "That brute Felix has been spiteful
about me--and I don't care. I don't _care_! I'd like to kill him--all
of them. All these grinning apes.... I _know_ I can't paint. I'm no
good at it. I never shall be any good. Well? What's it to do with
them? They're all as glad ... because I'm a woman. That's what it is.
What it comes down to is naked sex jealousy. I _know_. I've known it
all the time. And I've gone on, pretending to believe it, pretending
I was taken in. I wasn't. They thought I didn't know they laughed at
me. Well, I _did_. And it's I who laugh at _them_. I despise them. I'm
no good; but they're no good, either! And I've told them so. There's
_that_...."

Her voice had grown louder and more hysterical as she progressed.
Patricia stood rooted, quite overcome by this torrential violence of
anger and chagrin and revelation. But Amy's voice changed again. Almost
beseechingly, she turned to her friend.

"But what am I to do, Patricia? I've spent all this money--pounds and
pounds of it--and worked and worked and worked; and kept on and on,
hoping ... refusing to see." Then, suddenly again out of all control,
she shouted. "And it's _no good_! D'you see? It's _no good_!" The
suppressed rage in her voice was as if saturated with the bitter tears
which she could not shed. The tears started to Patricia's eyes in
sympathy. She was suffused with conscience-stricken loyalty.

"Where's Jack?" she demanded, fiercely. "What's _he_ doing?"

"Jack!" It was almost a scream. "God! I hate the sight of him. Hate the
sound of his rusty voice."

"D'you see him?"

"Do I not!" Amy was concentrated scorn. "Every evening! He comes to
cheer me up; and I could kill him, I'm so bored! He's driving me mad!"

Patricia made a little sound with her tongue. Here, if ever, was
the occasion for Jack to be strong, to control matters. He must be
stupid--stupid! She shook her head, frowning.

"Amy, dear; it's such a pity for you to be making yourself ill like
this. Couldn't you...."

"I'm gloating in it!" came Amy's shrill interruption. "I'm enjoying
it. It's not often a woman comes up against the sex war as clearly as
this. If it had been a man--oh, very different. They'd have stopped me.
They'd have criticised me sick. They'd have had no more consideration
for my feelings than for a dog's feelings. But I'm a woman--to be
teased and lured and flattered and laughed at. What d'you suppose all
the praise of woman is? You see us praised. Yes, and why? To keep us
quiet. Like giving sweets to a baby. Praise is our comforter. It's not
meant. A man's given a chance to _learn_ that he's a fool. We're not.
We're up against honeyed lies. It's cotton-wool everywhere, for us,
until we're broken by it. And all the time they're laughing--sniggering
at us behind our backs. They don't care. They fool us to the top of
our bent. They praise our daubs and our abortions of books; and to
themselves they're doubled up with laughter. That's what woman's
freedom means. That's what equality of the sexes means. It means broken
hearts for women. Broken hearts for bloody failures! Oh, my God, my
God, my heart will break!"


vi

She began once more convulsively to sob; and Patricia, who was now
herself white and shaken as the result of this tirade, was stricken
with fear for her reason. These ghastly, tearing sobs were unbearable.
They echoed in the lofty studio, rising, sometimes almost to the pitch
of screams. For ten minutes they lasted, and then, gradually, with
returns and relaxations of violence, Amy became quiet, and lay on her
bed, drying her eyes. Long afterwards she began to talk in what was
very nearly her ordinary voice.

"There, that's enough," she said. "I'm a fool. You're bad for me,
Patricia. You make me lose my head. You look so kind and pretty, and
as if you understood, which of course you don't in the least. No, if
Jack was any good to me, I'd marry him at once just to get out of
it. But a man who bores you is no good. I should leave him on the
train somewhere, poor fool that he is. It's no good. We're all alone,
Patricia. Each of us. You think you're not----"

"I know I _am_," swiftly corrected Patricia.

"Oho! So _you're_ getting it, too. We all do, sooner or later; and
you're the sort of pretty little fool who gets caught by her vanity.
I've done it. You'll have a bad time before you're done. Yes, now I
look at you I see you're a bit peaky. I suppose it's Harry Greenlees.
Harry Greenlees, Good God!" Amy laughed with a strained satirical note.
"Well, I warned you. I could have told you about all sorts of girls
he's treated the same----"

Patricia's heart stopped beating for an instant.

"All sorts of girls?" she cried. "What d'you mean?"

Amy looked at her sharply, her face transformed, almost venomous.
"Well, little Jean Cowley went away with him. It was all over in a
month. They hardly notice each other now. She's through it. He's been
the lover of half-a-dozen girls I know----"

"I don't believe you!" cried Patricia, perfectly white with anger.

Amy looked back with a superciliousness as great as her own.

"Jean Cowley told me all about it herself. I'm not a liar. Penelope
Gorran ... Phyllis Mickle...."

"Amy!"

"I know what I'm talking about."

"Not whom you're talking to, though!" cried Patricia.

Amy became for the first time really intense. She rose from the bed and
came across the studio, and Patricia could see her red eyes and the
terrible white face all disfigured with angry grief.

"You're not his mistress, are you?" demanded Amy. "You poor fool!"

How far Patricia had travelled since their previous talk about girls
and their lovers. She was not now stricken with shame at such a
suggestion. She was merely indignant.

"Be quiet, Amy!" she cried. "You _can't_ talk like that!"

Amy gave a short laugh, raising her arms in the air in a gesture of
offensive marvel.

"Beautiful!" she said. "Beautiful!"

As they faced each other, both desperately angry, with opposed glances
of hostility, breathing quickly in their common agitation, there came a
ringing at the bell of Amy's studio. Slowly the blood rose and flooded
Patricia's cheeks. She knew who was without. All her anger died. Its
place was taken by fear. She was paralysed, knowing that the moment she
had dreaded was upon her.


vii

Harry entered the studio with impetuosity, and his height and energy
made it a normal-sized room. He made no pretence of having come to see
Amy, but as soon as he caught sight of Patricia he addressed her.

"I thought I might find you here," he said, and stopped. His eyes
embraced her, and Patricia's heart leapt. Then, uncontrollably, she
turned away while Harry looked at Amy. "Sorry to be unceremonious; but
I'd been to Patricia's," he said cheerfully. "Found she was out. How
are you, Amy? I hear you've been having a fracas with old Felix. Poor
old Felix! I wonder how he's feeling now, eh? Jolly rough on him--what?
Now I want to get hold of Patricia, because we're going to a football
match on Saturday, and didn't fix up a time of meeting. You don't mind,
do you?"

"Not at all!" said Amy, sarcastically. "Ignore me. Use my studio as
your own. Interrupt a conversation with the greatest assurance----"

"Thanks," answered Harry, not troubling to be polite. "I will." His
blue eyes had their steel; and his cheerful face its grimness. "Now,
Patricia...."

"Now, Harry." Patricia was recovering her nerve. At his insincerity,
his rudeness to Amy, her spirits had risen. Whatever secret weaknesses
her will might hint, she was sparkling with temper. He had entered a
bully; well, she would not be bullied. She saw the difference of his
demeanour to Amy, whom he disliked, and to herself, whom he loved. For
how long would his behaviour remain different? In Jean Cowley's case it
had been a month. "Now, Harry," said Patricia.

Harry's manner softened. His tone was lowered. His possessiveness was
subtly mingled with appeal. He took a step forward, a big figure with
bared teeth and that ready smile. There was no doubt of the effect he
had on Patricia. She felt herself small, weak, laughing.... And yet not
now yielding. A day ago she would have been yielding, tasting all the
sweetness of surrender to such masterful treatment.

"Put your coat on," pleaded Harry. He wore none himself. "I want you to
come and have a meal with me."

"It's barely tea-time," objected Patricia.

"All the better. We'll have tea and dinner as well."

They both ignored Amy, who stood angrily staring at them.

"Why _should_ she?" cried Amy. "What cheek!"

Harry turned upon Amy, and laughed at her.

"Hullo, Amy!" he answered. "You there? Sorry. Look here, I know it's
cheek; and I apologise. But I must talk to Patricia, d'you see. Our
last talk was interrupted."

"Patricia's talks seem to be subject to interruption. Her talk with me
was interrupted."

"I know. By me," Harry said, charmingly. "It's too bad."

Patricia was mechanically putting on her mackintosh as they squabbled.
She smoothed her hair; and a curious excitement which had risen in her
was transformed into intrepidity. So may a man in danger become aware
of new alert vitality. She heard the remarks without observing their
content, so engrossed was she with thoughts of her own.

"How's Rhoda?" asked Amy suddenly. It came like a stab, and like a
stab was Patricia's glance at Harry. His own glance towards her was as
sharp, as keen.

"Very well, I think," said Harry, in a patient voice.

"She's away, isn't she?"

"I really don't know."

Amy again gave that strained laugh of sarcasm.

"Oho!" she laughed. "Harry!"

Harry held out his hand to Amy, seeing that Patricia was ready. Amy
ignored the hand. She never shook hands with anybody. It had always
seemed to her more masculine and professional not to do so.

"You ready?" Harry asked Patricia.

"Awkward questions," murmured Amy, almost unheard. "Well, cheerio,
Patricia. Perhaps one day we shall meet again. I shall be here, I
expect."

"Do try to go away," whispered Patricia. "Really try. It's so bad for
you to be alone." Harry was outside the door by now, and the parting
was solitary. "Try to go away--just for change of thought and scene."

Amy shook her head--almost with a shudder.

"Now go," she said. "Harry's waiting. And Patricia--what I told you was
_true_. D'you see? Not spiteful."

"I know. I know." Patricia pressed her hand and was gone.


viii

Outside, in the street, Harry was waiting.

"What a sight that woman is! Silly little fool!" he explained. "She's a
cat, too. Did you notice that?"

"Look here, Harry," said Patricia, abruptly. "I don't want to listen to
abuse of Amy. I'm sorry for her."

"Oh, God, so am I!" cried Harry, lightly.

"No, I'm really sorry. You don't understand." With sudden indignation,
she concluded: "You couldn't _ever_ understand. You don't know enough."

"Well?" He was quite cool. "I see you're in a rage about something."

"I'm not in a rage about anything; but I do resent your coming to the
studio as if I belonged to you. You've got no right to do that. I came
out because I didn't want a row before Amy."

"Oh! A row!" Harry turned a laughing, coaxing face to her, very sure of
himself. His hand was at her arm; but Patricia was completely mistress
of herself.

"Yes, a row," she cried, her eyes sparkling afresh. "Let's go and have
tea somewhere."

Harry's face was also alight. If Patricia had temper, so, it appeared,
had he. They were matched.

"That was exactly my idea," he said impudently. "Let's!"

They walked through into Oxford Street and joined the crowd there. Such
teashops as the one at which Patricia had lunched were unsuitable.
They were at this hour too crowded for conversation. As a result the
journey was for a time without result; but at last they came to a
big restaurant at which few visitors to the West End imagined that
such a thing as tea would be served. Here it was that, surrounded
by innumerable empty tables, and at a distance from half-a-dozen
pensive waiters, amid gilded mouldings and huge mirrors and imposing
candelabra, Harry and Patricia seated themselves for their talk.

"Now!" cried Harry. "Tea, crumpets, cakes. No crumpets? Toast." He
instructed the waiter with the assurance of one who has entertained
since the days of undergraduate life. Having seen the waiter depart
upon his errand, he then cleared a vase of flowers from the table, and
moved a dish which stood in his way. Then, with wrists upon the table,
he stared at Patricia. "Darling!" he said. "I seem to feel most at home
with you when you're in a rage. There's a little nick ... see...."

"Never mind the little nick," said Patricia, sternly. Her heart had
begun to sink again. "I wasn't going to talk to you like this; but I
must." Harry waved his hand, as if giving her free permission to change
her mind without restraint. "I want to ask you several things. You
needn't answer if you don't want to...."

"You want to ask me about Rhoda!" suggested Harry, his smile deepening.
There was no quelling his easy confidence.

"That was one thing," admitted Patricia, also in no way superficially
discomposed, although her heart was struggling.

"I thought so. Well, now, Rhoda--mind, I'm very fond of her--is nothing
at all to me."

"Has she been?"

"Oh! Oh!" He protested at such a demand. "No, she hasn't been. I admit
that she may think ... I'd better put it like this: she thinks she's in
love with me."

"I see. Then, the other thing I wanted to ask is this. You see, I'm not
sure if I'm in love with you or not."

"You soon would be," he interrupted. "Sure, I mean. I'm in love with
you."

"That was just it. You've been in love before."

"Lots of times. Never as much as this, Patricia!" He stretched his
hands towards her. Patricia hesitated. Then she shook her head.

"You mustn't joggle me," she said. "I've got to find out for myself."

"Well, was that all you wanted to ask me? If so, I'll tell you
something. You've got the most beautiful eyes, Patricia; and your
little mouth changes every----"

"That wasn't all," cried Patricia, and stammered, the warmth rising to
her cheeks. She could see him so near, and his ardent glance and air
of conscious and indulgent charm were intoxicating to her; and she was
shot through and through with the knowledge that Harry could be brutal
and harsh and tyrannical, that he could be brusque and unfeeling; that
the thick stream of emotion which she was conscious of recognising in
him made for satiety and not for the delicate, whimsical, pervasive
love she craved. She had been going to ask him other things--things
which it was essential to her peace of mind both now and in the future
that she should know; and she could not do so. They, whether she had a
right to them or not, were all of no account beside her certainty. He
was a stranger at heart, who should have been master of her finest and
truest consciousness. Patricia paled, her hands sharply together. "No!"
she cried. "I can't marry you. It's too great a risk. I can't do it!"

"And who on earth," said Harry, "who on earth _asked_ you to marry me?"


ix

Patricia felt her heart jump and then turn cold. She stared at him.

"Oh," she stammered. "Oh ... then ... then, that's all right, isn't
it? I thought you wanted me to. I...." She gave a small nervous laugh.
"What _do_ you mean, then?"

"Look here," said Harry. "I'm in love with you, and you're in love with
me."

"No," said Patricia. "I'm clear about that now."

"You're not. You're in love with me." Harry was overbearing in his
confidence. His face had not lost its beaming affection and good
nature, but the power to charm her was vanished. "And so you think of
marriage. Well, there's no question of that, because I know something
about myself and about you. It wouldn't last. How could it? Love's a
rapture."

"We don't mean the same thing," replied Patricia, steadily, meeting his
eyes frankly, and with defiance. The coldness which had possessed her
on the previous evening was reinforced by a pride that was insane in
its egotism.

"When people say 'Love and Marriage' they're not thinking of us.
Marriage belongs to the days of women's economic dependence," he
asserted.

"It belongs to the idea of constancy."

"When a woman was economically dependent," pursued Harry, ignoring
the interruption, "she said 'what will you give for my love? Will you
support me for life?' That's altered now. She gives love for love."

"And when she's broken?" Patricia's anger began to manifest itself.
"Do you think other men think as you do? I mean, when they're offered
something soiled?"

"Soiled?" Harry's astonishment was marked. "That doesn't arise."

Patricia controlled herself.

"To me it does," she said, gravely. "Not to you."

"Good Lord! I'd no idea you were such a little ... puritan!" cried
Harry. Into his air of unconquerable charm came the faintest sneer;
but it was not strong enough to wound. He was genuinely perturbed and
unable to fathom her objection to something which for himself was a
standard of conduct.

"Yes, you were mistaken, weren't you?" said Patricia. "You didn't know
I was a ... prig!"

"No, no!" He was handsome in his protest. "It's a question of truth--of
sense. Patricia, it's a question of purity. The delight of love doesn't
last. What _is_ the good of pretending that it does? My dear, I love
you. I'm not trying to seduce you. Never!"

"My dear Harry," exclaimed Patricia, "you're talking to the wrong
person. You think that love is just self-indulgence. Perhaps you're
right. You may be right. I can't tell. But you see I don't think like
that. I admit that I...." She could not proceed. "I'm not even thinking
of sacrifices. I'm thinking of happiness."

"You're refusing it, my dear," said Harry.

"Then it's not worth having."

He turned aside with brusqueness. He even shrugged. It was in his case
not viciousness, not deliberate sophistry. He had merely mistaken
Patricia's readiness to accept his standards. To Harry these were the
common sense of love. He was not at all unclean. It was astonishment
at a question that made him thus obtuse. The waiter came to their
table and began to spread the cups and plates with absorbed deftness.
Patricia, her mind elsewhere, watched him with constraint. When once
the waiter had gone, she said breathlessly to Harry:

"Look here, Harry. I can't eat any of this. It would make me sick. I'm
going. I'm sorry to...." She rose to her feet, trembling. Harry rose
too, masterfully.

"Shut up, Patricia. Sit down, and don't.... Look here, we'll talk about
it. I'll make you see my point of view. I'm not trying to...."

"I'm going. You eat it. I'm ... I don't want...."

Patricia stood there, her eyes stern but loving; reproachful and
contemptuous. There was still a moment; and it passed. She turned
swiftly, and left Harry standing by the table. He called once; but his
fear of attracting attention in a public place held him there. It was
the one thing which would have restrained him. Sick at heart, but with
her head erect, Patricia walked quickly out of the restaurant and into
the street. She felt that her heart was breaking.



CHAPTER NINE: MISCHIEF


i

For two days Patricia kept within doors. She was broken and weary. For
a time it was as though she had lost all the pride which had sustained
her at the parting with Harry. She longed to see him, longed to beg for
anything at all at his hands; and was restrained only by some timid
delicacy, some fear, some paralysis of the will. The days were spent in
sitting in her little front room, staring apathetically before her, or
without seeing them at the fire and the murky sky. The nights were even
more torturing, for if Patricia slept at all it was to dream hideously;
while her wakeful tossings were almost unendurable. Harry, of course,
came to the house; but Lucy was staunch, and he had been sent away with
elaborate lies. Never until this moment had Patricia understood how
much warmth and generosity lay behind the pink smudge of Lucy's face.
She had been forced into half-confidence; and Lucy had understood the
whole. At first, shrewdly, she had taken a consoling view. "Expect
it'll come right," she had said, out of a deep knowledge of feminine
psychology. "You feel queer now. You're all of a twitter. Then you'll
want 'im, and go out and meet 'im somewhere on the sly. And--" But she
had very quickly discovered that the break was serious. "Ah!" she had
said. "All for the best, you and 'im bein' so fair, with blue eyes
and all. I expect the babies would have been little niggers." She had
sworn, refusing Harry's tips, that Patricia had gone into the country,
leaving no address. Her pink face had glowed with the most righteous
honesty. A letter had followed, a long letter full of explanations;
and Patricia, although it had deeply moved her, had left it without
acknowledgment. A further letter, asking for at least an interview, had
been similarly ignored.

She was quite at a loss. Harry had meant so much to her, both in fact
and in her happy dreams of love, that she was miserable without him.
She knew that her silence was inexcusable; that it would make him
think her merely the little suburban prig of his supposition. But
the facts which were turned over and over in her mind--the sudden
intuitions which had been the occasion of the crisis, his own attitude
to marriage, the illuminations provided by Amy--were devastating.
Patricia could not deal with them. They were too much for her. At
times she tried to reason with herself. Fear sprang to her heart, and
reduced her to panic. She made an attempt even to analyse her own
sense of shock, to say that it was stupid, that it was squeamish,
old-fashioned, babyish. Useless! The truth was more bitter than any
merely cowardly flinching. Whatever might be her feeling in the
future, she was almost hysterically determined at this moment. Her
mind leapt on to blacker thoughts of Harry, and recoiled from them.
All the curious exaggerations of wickedness which will arise in the
most virgin minds tempted her own. They were repulsed. She was not yet
sophisticated enough to be ready to believe the alarmist suggestions of
her imagination.

At last she wrote to Harry:

  "Dear Harry: I was silly to leave you under a wrong impression. I
  had been thinking I was in love with you; and then I had suddenly
  realised that I couldn't _marry_ you. I wasn't shocked at the
  thought that you only wanted to have an affair with me. I had just
  felt that you weren't any use to me, and that I wasn't any use
  to you. I am very fond of you. I have never been so attracted to
  any one. It isn't enough for me. I want lots more. Sorry, Harry.
  Patricia."

To this letter there had been no answer. Harry, evidently, was lying
low.


ii

So the matter stood, and Patricia was drowned in bewilderment and shame
for as long as her first mood lasted. But then young buoyancy revived.
On the third night she slept, and her dreams were sweeter. On awakening
she was still unhappy; but as she lay in bed and her little thoughts
darted about like shadows of birds she had suddenly an overwhelming fit
of arrogance.

"Pooh!" cried Patricia, violently throwing back the bedclothes. She
stepped out of bed and stood there, yawning, with her hands clasped
behind her head, and her cheeks resting lightly against her raised
arm. Downstairs Lucy had begun her strong clouting of the furniture.
The morning was still grey. And as she stood there Patricia caught a
movement in the mirror by the window, and was drawn across the room to
it. In the mirror's depths she saw her own sleepy face; her little fall
of hair, her soft cheeks, "two witch's eyes above a cherub's mouth,"
and the beautiful line of her neck. "I'm pretty!" she said to herself.
"I'm pretty, and I know it. I've got taste. I've got brains. Pooh!"

And with that she went back to bed, to await the arrival of Lucy with
the hot water. Wave after wave of arrogance passed through her in
healthy reaction to her earlier despair. "I'm better off than Amy,"
she thought. "I'm cleverer than she is--not such an idiot. Rhoda ...
poor thing! Poor thing to be _known_ to be in love, and by a man who
doesn't care for you at all. Unless he made it up! I wonder!" Did men
pretend sometimes, as girls did, that they were loved? She expected so.
She had known a girl who thought all men were in love with her, who
thought a man must either love her or dislike her. Well, Patricia did
not believe in that assumption. She admitted candidly that, although
they seemed to like her, all the men she knew were not in love with
herself. "It's very funny," she said, ruminating. "People in love.... I
suppose there are all sorts of ways of being in love. There's Harry's
way, which is just self-indulgence. There's Jack Penton's way, which
is silly devotion to somebody who doesn't care _that_! There's ... oh,
there's lots of ways. And my way--or my thought of way.... Perhaps it's
only.... Pooh! If I don't love a man I needn't marry him. You can do
all sorts of things, if you aren't one of these silly little creatures
who give in. I'd live with him--if I loved him. I don't love Harry:
that's why I wouldn't...." This, however, was bravado; and she passed
on, ignoring the gross lapse into indelicate falsehood. "But he'd have
to love me better than himself. That's it! I've got to be _loved_;
not just wanted. I've got to be needed, and adored, and passionately
wanted, and respected, and understood. Then I should be sure, and
then I'd give back love for love--full measure. I'm too good for this
ordinary love--this sort of 'affair' that Harry likes; or the marriage
that's like taking a situation--'permanency.' I'm too good for it. I
need half-a-dozen husbands to do me justice. I don't have to take what
I can get. I'm ... I'm Patricia Quin!"

She was filled with supreme egotism.


iii

When little Jacky Dean called for her on the Saturday evening, Patricia
was still full of her healing arrogance. She greeted Jacky rather
sweepingly, because he was a young man who invited disdain; and in two
minutes had received fresh reassurance as to her superiority to all
other girls. Jacky was, in fact, the open-mouthed fair young man with
whom she had found herself left at Topping's. He was always perfectly
dressed, because he was wealthy and without occupation; and he was by
way of being infatuated with Patricia. He was always at her service,
always eager to stand a dinner or a dance, or a _revue_ or musical
play. Conversation beyond the "top-hole" stage he was incapable of
reaching; but he was very dog-like, and looked sweetly pink and golden;
and his dancing had improved; and he was never any strain, as he made
no demands at all, but merely sought to be useful and obliging. He had
two thousand pounds a year, with the prospect of more when an elderly
aunt died; and he would proudly have married Patricia on the morrow. No
wonder, therefore, that she was kind to him in a disdainful way, and
refrained from hurting his feelings. Nothing would have made her marry
him--the thought of doing so had never entered her mind; but she found
his devotion rather pathetic at times, and always, in spite of the
discipline Jacky received, most timidly fervent.

Jacky was subservient by nature. He had attached himself to the
purlieus of the stage door as soon as he had become a man; he was
a feature of river parties in the summer and every other sort of
party for the remainder of the year. In physique he was a weed; but
there was nothing noticeably the matter with him, beyond an amiable
lack of brain. He was everybody's pet, as one who would never grow
up and who never minded paying. Pleasure, in Jacky's case, was no
feverishly-sought goal, but a state of being so customary as to
limit his interests. His wan little face, with its air of constant
innocence, was still that of a child. Whatever adventures he might
have had in connection with the stage door had left him unscarred. He
was still the delicious babe of his unripe years. Patricia found him
easily manageable; he had never even dared to put his arm round her
in a taxicab, although obviously he would have liked to venture this
exploit. She had a considerable sense of power when she was in his
company, and nothing had ever occurred to weaken it.

Jacky's idea of the evening was dinner in the West End, salted with
cocktails in plenty, with champagne, and with old brandy. Then a taxi
would carry them from Regent Street to South Hampstead in a fit state
to enjoy a rowdy dance, during which Jacky, laughing with joy, would
assist the band. But Patricia checked his enthusiasm. On no account
could she risk a meeting with Harry--she even dreaded that he might
appear at Monty's,--and her own plan was less ambitious. It was she who
named the restaurant--an obscure place to which she knew Harry would
never think of going; and Jacky was too mild of spirit to resist. They
went therefore to this shabby place--the Axminster--where all was faded
cream and gold, with rusty palms and magenta lamp-shades and artificial
flowers and vulgar mirrors and English waiters. It is true that Jacky's
face fell at sight of the bill of fare, and still more at the meagre
printed wine list (with alterations in a crabbed handwriting), but in
the midst of his furtive glance round preparatory to suggestion of
flight he was diverted by the sound of a popular one-step as played
to applause by the restaurant orchestra. He subsided, looking with
shallow-pated amusement at all the respectable men and women of middle
age who sat around them. If Jacky's simple-minded ingenuity in the
matter of painting the restaurant red came to nothing, at least, as
Patricia could tell, he was perfectly happy to be dining alone with
his goddess; and the meal was carried through, upon his part, with a
silence as complete as lack of ideas for conversation could make it.


iv

Patricia liked Jacky. Although silly and lacking in brains, he was
very honest and very good-natured. When she said to him that she was
out of sorts, and wanted to be quiet, he did not become fussy, and he
did not sulk. He did naturally what was the best thing to do in the
circumstances. When he thought of anything to say he said it, in his
queer unlettered English; and when he had nothing at all to say, he
cheerfully allowed himself to be silent. There was no difficulty at
all. Patricia, although she was in such a state of advanced conceit,
had one sweep of comprehension; and she was touched to the point of
moist eyes and an ejaculation.

"You _are_ a sport, Jacky!" she said, impetuously.

Jacky glowed. The colour came creeping up from behind his tall collar,
and he jerked his neck out of the collar with a nervous movement, as of
one whose throat has suddenly become swollen.

"Er ... Quite all right," he said, in his jargon. "Cheers; and all
that...."

No more was said. They ploughed a way unsuccessfully through an
ill-cooked meal, of which the major part was encased in thicknesses of
flour and water which had been very severely fried.

"Er ... saw old Harry," presently said Jacky. "Last
night--yesterday--I forget. He ... thought you were away, or something.
Thought you'd forgotten our evening. Jolly glad you turned up. Er....
Must have been your...."

"He's not coming, is he?" Patricia's head was down. She was struggling
to remain composed. That was what this meant: wherever she went she
would see Harry, would hear of him. And she knew she _wanted_ to see
him, _wanted_ to hear of him. It was the strangest sensation. Harry
to her was become a stranger; she realised that she knew nothing and
always had known nothing of his heart. But all the time she was deeply
concerned with him. He was a stranger; but he was the only stranger she
knew in that vast crowd of strangers. Patricia awaited Jacky's answer
with dread.

"I forget what he said," answered Jacky, slowly and vaguely. "No, I
don't think he could come. The old fellow was ... er ... some jolly old
thing or other. I quite forget."

Patricia nodded. She must accustom herself to all this sort of thing.
She had only to be firm when they met--firm and friendly (ah! how easy
to contemplate; how hard to execute!), and all would settle itself. It
was not like.... Oh, how silly life was! thought Patricia. Her eyelids
fluttered. How alone she felt! Sometimes it seemed to her that with all
these friends she had no friend. What was the cause? Was it in herself?
Impossible! She said that last word aloud.

"Pardon?" asked Jacky, only half hearing Patricia's exclamation.

Patricia laughed at his surprised face.

"Only talking to myself," she assured him. "What's the time?"

"Have a Kümmel," urged Jacky. "Cures anything." His own face was
irradiated with a cheerful and meaningless smile. Patricia's heart
sank. He was one of her friends. She was torn between shame for him,
shame of herself for thinking shame of him, and a sense of superiority
to her contemporaries.


v

They reached Monty's by half-past nine; and Patricia was struck by the
difference between her sensations now and upon her first visit. Then,
it had been fairyland. But she saw the studio with changed eyes. It
was not so large or so beautiful; the people were not so handsome or
remarkable. She looked round upon them with interest, but it was not as
an astonishing body. It was with curiosity as to the composition of the
gathering. Fully half of them were now known to her as acquaintances.
The noise they made was familiar; she had no longer the feeling of
fresh enthusiasm. She was restless and dissatisfied.

Only Monty still attracted her. She thought him easily more
distinguished than any of his guests. Where they all appeared to say
the same thing over and over again, he, by his silence, his inscrutable
air of seeing everything and knowing everything, soothed and charmed
her. When Monty danced with her she was happy. He was unlike the rest.
Patricia could dance a whole evening with Jacky, and be unaware that
there was any current between them of more than common enjoyment of
moderate proficiency in dancing. But she could not dance once with
Monty without feeling his magnetism. There was something amazing in
his dexterity, in his immovable calm. To be with him was to be as one
hypnotised. Monty's low, soft tones, with that singular rise at the
end of each sentence; his certainty of resource; his extreme delicacy
of movement and his fastidious politeness--these were the instruments
of his hypnotic power. But the feeling she had that he was so wise in
the affairs of life, so bored by them, so expert in handling them, went
with a corresponding feeling that he was greatly attracted to herself.
Monty's almost exaggerated respect, and the incessant flattery of his
conciliatory manner, all moved Patricia to happiness. And her happiness
was the whole time salted by the feeling that she did not trust him,
that she must never be off her guard with him. It made Monty the more
flattering, the more attractive. He moved her. He made her forget Harry.

There was something in Monty's manner which caused Patricia to feel
that he knew all about Harry and herself--all about everything Harry
had ever done; and that she would never know how much he knew of
herself. She felt that nothing would ever surprise him, or move him;
and yet at the same time she knew that he was a refined voluptuary, and
that the soothing calm of Monty affected her own senses as even Harry's
beauty and vitality and eager affection for herself had not done. She
danced three or four times with Monty; and each time she danced with
him it was as though she received from his touch a subtle current that
made her, if not wiser, at least more experienced in the art of living
dangerously and with relish.

To Jacky, afterwards, she said:

"Monty's an epicure. An epicure in sensation."

"Er ... yes," said Jacky, agreeably. Patricia thought her cliche
enlightening. Jacky's vacant face was not. She had the feeling that she
towered above Jacky.

"Nobody could say that of you," she remarked. But her tone was less
offensive than her words. "You're just a nice little boy. You don't
know _anything_."

Jacky shot her a look of infantile cunning.

"Ha, ha!" he laughed, with a small feeble simulation of heartiness.
It roused Patricia's affection for him. She felt he really _was_ a
nice little boy, clean and unpretentious, not at all baffling or
sophisticated or exciting. They danced together again; and Patricia
felt how pleasant and uneventful it was to dance with Jacky.


vi

Patricia did not dance again that evening with Monty; but he spoke to
her before she left. He had been bidding good-bye to some guests as
Patricia was leaving; and Jacky was farther away, struggling with his
overcoat. Monty, in the tapestried hall, subdued to dimness by the
method by which it was lighted, looked like a Pasha. He was swarthy
and impassive and alluring. Patricia had that quick feeling--of loose
robes and a turban; and sherbet and willing slaves who came obediently
in response to a clapping of hands. She imagined heavy incense, and the
plashing of fountains and all the delights of those stories she had
read of the East, and Monty was the Pasha of these stories.... He came
to Patricia as she emerged cloaked and hooded and ready for the road.

"I'm sorry you're going," he said in his low voice. "We must dance
again soon."

There was flattery in his manner; he made Patricia feel that he thought
her beautiful and marvellous and charming and full of grace and
tenderness. She stood beside him, as tall as Monty, but very slender
and youthful, a complete contrast in her fairness.

"Yes, we must dance again soon," agreed Patricia.

"But how soon?" asked Monty. "Next week? To-morrow?--Monday?"

He was not at all urgent: his tone was gentle, almost caressing.

"Tuesday," suggested Patricia.

He bowed his head. Jacky had approached; and they both ignored him. He
was the unnecessary third to their conversation. And Patricia had the
feeling of danger. She was charmed and flattered. She suddenly felt
that Monty was not the Pasha of her moment's invention, but that he was
as sleek and perhaps as treacherous as a collie; and a recklessness
seized her at the knowledge that behind his charm there might lie
something that threatened all peace. If Harry had not been dismissed
the charm might have been neutralised. Harry was gone. She had nothing
but her own pleasure to think of, nothing but sensation and the
confusion of the future.

Their farewells were said. With Jacky, Patricia was upon the way
from the house. She still carried with her the sensation of having
been enveloped by something as light as a mist. She was pleased and
excited.



PART TWO



CHAPTER TEN: EDGAR HEARS A WISEACRE


i

The Windmill Club lies in one of the streets on the north side of
Piccadilly. It is a tedious grey building, quite unimpressive in its
exterior, and to those who pass along the street it appears to be
no more than a couple of large houses to which entry is obtained by
a single central doorway. Once the door has been passed, however,
the club has every air of sober comfort. To come into its basking
warmth from a cold London breeze, to pass up the steps beyond the
glass-enclosed office of the guardian porter, and to walk into an
enormous dining room marred only by outrageous portraits of the undying
great, is to encounter a different world from the world of every day.
It is not a political club, but will be found mentioned in Whitaker's
Almanac with the description "Social and the Arts." The members are of
all ages, and they include lawyers, writers, artists, and business men.
They do not play high, and they do not drink heavily; yet the club's
cellar is famous, and there are both card and billiard rooms of some
dimensions. It was to this club that Edgar Mayne belonged, although
he seldom visited it. He had found the Windmill after depressing
experience of most of the other West End clubs, and he had now been a
member of it since just before the beginning of the War. Its comfort,
to Edgar, lay in its silence, its freedom from aggressively-opinionated
politicians of the envious rank, and its well-controlled hospitality.
The Windmill possessed an efficient committee. More need not be said
in order to distinguish it precisely from its fellows; although as
comfort is a common feature of clubs the distinction lay rather in the
fact that the Windmill was solvent and self-supporting.

One night about a week later than the events last described Edgar,
who had been on the Continent during the whole of the preceding six
weeks, was dining at his club in company with a man called Gaythorpe.
His companion was one of those hard-working city men who look as
though they live wholly out-of-doors. Gaythorpe, in fact, was a keen
golfer; but he was not among those golfers who weary with anecdote or
the description of links. He was a tall thin fellow of sixty, with
a face that was ruddy yet lean, with eyes almost black and melting
enough to have been those of a Jew, and a small mouth which never
gave any indication of his thoughts. Naturally grave, Gaythorpe had a
pervasive sense of humour which was a substitute for imagination, as
it sometimes is in those of low vitality and broad experience. He was
white-haired and spectacled, long-sighted and unemotional; and he had
been knighted before the War on account of expert financial services
to a dead government. His directorial connection with a large bank
had been founded upon his skill in finance, and he was one of those
older business men who had the greatest belief in Edgar's sagacity,
both private and commercial. Sagacity, Gaythorpe was in the habit of
saying, was one of the rarest qualities to be possessed by a man. He
rated it above brilliance and above patience. Edgar's sagacity was
with Gaythorpe unquestionable. It was the corner-stone of Gaythorpe's
pleasure in their association.

The two men were at a small table with a shaded light which stood
right in a corner of the big dark room. Both were in evening dress,
and their faces were obscured by the dim light, except that the gold
rims of Gaythorpe's spectacles occasionally gleamed. They were alone,
for no other diners sat near, and they had eaten a small but highly
agreeable meal. A bottle of still Moselle stood between them, nearly
empty; and the extraordinary faint fragrance of its contents hung in
the air. Edgar, whose information at the moment was coloured by the
dominant wishes and prejudices of those Frenchmen and Germans with whom
he had talked while abroad, was moderately expressing his view of the
attitude of foreign traders in general. He was not cheerful, because
he had found in all the centres which he had visited a uniformity of
depression which he could not gainsay. But neither was he hopeless. He
sat very quietly, still the undistinguished man of Patricia's first
glimpse, but obviously more in keeping with his surroundings here
than he had been at either of Monty's parties. When one looked at him
a second time one perceived that the outward sign of Edgar's quality
lay in one peculiarity of carriage. He did not, as Monty always did,
convey a sense of threat, of sleeping cruelty; there was not in Edgar,
as there was in Harry, a buoyant masterfulness. Very quiet, very brown
in hair and eyes and skin, he commanded from those who waited here,
as from those who dealt otherwise with him, a willing respect in
which there was no fear of menace. The quality which marked him was
a sureness that belongs exclusively to dignity, which comes from a
tranquil heart. He could be ignored at a distance, but never ignored in
the personal relation, because it is there that character tells most
surely. Gaythorpe had spoken little during the meal. He had listened
soberly throughout, never at any point relaxing his own judgment of the
facts and of the speaker.


ii

"All you say confirms my own view," Gaythorpe was commenting
thoughtfully. "It confirms the reports we've been getting. It's no good
being bold, you think?"

Edgar smiled, shaking his head.

"I wonder what you mean by 'bold,'" he said. Gaythorpe, watching him,
caught the lightness behind his friend's gravity, but he did not smile.
He waited. He was not the only one of those older men who had this
strange warming of the heart towards Edgar. Although trustworthiness
may generally command respect, it is only truly valued in terms of
affection by those to whom it is not a reproach.

"Exactly 'bold,'" he remarked at last. "Just 'bold.'"

"It's always worth while to be generous," answered Edgar.

"Personally, perhaps." Gaythorpe hesitated. "But in business--my dear
boy!"

"Well, you've had conferences and committees sitting for years, and
discussing things all over the world. They cut a figure in the press.
Does any one believe in them as productive of solutions? They're like
letters, or any other form of imitation dignity. It's quite easy to hit
on a formula; but the formula isn't a reality. Once get a group of men
together with conflicting interests----"

"A common interest," supplemented Gaythorpe. "It's come to that when
the world's in danger of bankruptcy."

"Conflicting self-interest. Any number of people can agree on a
principle; but bring them into relation with others dominated by a
rival self-interest, and you're helpless."

"Pool your self-interest. Face it," Gaythorpe suggested. "Use it as the
basis of agreement."

Edgar smiled slightly, his hands clasped upon the table.

"You'll never do that in international finance," he said. "At any rate,
as long as nationalism's a gospel."

"Oh, I agree. But that's precisely what we've got to kill." Gaythorpe
was so eager that he raised a finger. Edgar leaned forward, his face no
longer at all grave. He looked at the old man with compassion.

"Travel, my friend. You'll become a defeatist," he said. "Nationalism's
such an easy thing to teach. Besides, selfishness is the gospel of
the day. You really _must_ take human beings into account. How are
you going to move them? Not by altruism. There _are_ good men, who
think in good-will; but they can't imagine other men in bulk. They
talk about Germans, or wages, or exports; but they don't feel reality
when they do that. I mean, not the reality of wine upset or a train
to catch or a toothache. It's all like casting a column of figures.
They don't feel themselves personally affected. Any more than they
do when they talk of stabilising the world. No. The only thing is
to work for some defined clash, to formulate an altruistic policy
and give it a selfish aim. Then embark on a campaign of propaganda,
showing that it pays to be good and do right--that it's going to
reduce income tax or the cost of petrol. Enlarge your group. Make it
first English--Anglo-Saxon--European--then World-wide. But you've got
to make it a party policy, an issue. Have a scrap--a scrap of ideas
and convictions. Divide England into two fierce political camps, and
restore political life in England. Then carry your policy into action.
You could sweep the world in a generation."

Gaythorpe good-humouredly shook his head.

"It's an altruistic resolution in itself," he objected. "You'd be
bankrupt long before you succeeded. You'd have burnt your house to
roast your pig. But I'm glad to find you such an idealist. If you carry
such principles into your private life it must be exciting. All the
same, rather Quixotic."

Edgar laughed slightly.

"Oh," he said. "As to private life, I'm a sentimentalist like yourself."

"I wonder." Gaythorpe pondered.

"On the surface. It's self interest at bottom, I expect. If I try to do
good it's to gratify myself. I want other people to do what I think is
good for them."

Gaythorpe was pleased at the turn which Edgar's remarks had taken,
because Edgar too seldom spoke about himself, and this was a subject
which interested Gaythorpe, who was really human, more than most
others. Further, this was a side of Edgar which he did not know, and it
had its attractiveness upon that score also.

"If you try to help them," Gaythorpe suggested, "it must be from
disinterested good-will."

"Not always," replied Edgar, very promptly. "It's a complex question.
But why do I--why does anybody else do the same?--help willingly
those I like--those who are young and attractive, or those who move
my affection? Why don't I help those I dislike? Why do I feel, at any
rate, extremely unwilling to help those I dislike?"

"Because it would be morbid self-mortification to help anybody you
dislike."

"No, no. I'm thinking of a state of mind. If I can help somebody I
like, it's a perfectly instinctive thing. But just remember how many
objections and difficulties rush to your mind when you're asked to help
somebody who is disagreeable to you."

Gaythorpe answered shrewdly enough:

"You're thinking of somebody in particular?"

Edgar started.

"In both instances," he agreed. "No, in one only."

Gaythorpe gave a snort of pretended annoyance. His keen old face was
benevolent.

"That's the worst of these damned generalisations," he cried. "One
sees them exploded each instant. You see fifty people abroad, and you
put their views into a general statement of the actual position of
millions. You come back. You find, perhaps, a letter--two letters----"

"One letter," corrected Edgar.

"Exactly. And they say women have the monopoly of that form of
inflation!"

"I'm not going into details," calmly warned Edgar. "My generalisations
were quite--quite general. The fact that I had a letter is an accident.
It doesn't affect the generalisation."

Gaythorpe was a cunning man. He was sixty, and he knew something of the
world. He said, in a tone which was altogether respectful:

"As you know, I'm not ... not exactly given to sentimental questioning;
but was your letter from a woman?"

"From a man," explained Edgar, with a touch of malice. "About his own
financial affairs. It had no relation whatever to a woman."

"Hm," grunted Gaythorpe. "I think you said he was the unattractive
person?"

"The attractive person was hypothetical," said Edgar.

"Oh, yes," agreed Gaythorpe. "Quite so. Quite so. Well, after all,
you've been away over a month; and much may happen in that time.
I didn't, of course, suppose that you had any specially young and
attractive beneficiary in mind. It would not have occurred to me."
He was silent for an instant after this somewhat dry protest.
"Nevertheless, I ... I must own to considerable interest in your
correspondent, since he ... ah ... affects you----"

"No." Edgar smilingly shook his head. "You're a very inquisitive old
man; and you have a great gift for wheedling information. But you won't
get any more. Come and smoke now."

He rose from the table.

"I was _so_ interested," grumbled Gaythorpe; and stood up to his
lean height of six feet. He followed Edgar across the room, and
there waited. His thin face was unreadable; but he was consumed with
curiosity.


iii

When the two men were in the smoking room, and deep down in comfortable
armchairs, with large and delicious cigars, they spoke no more of
business or the world at large. Gaythorpe had been married for a
quarter of a century, and he had three boys in whose progress he took
deep interest. It was of the boys that he spoke--Cyril, who had left
Oxford and was devoting himself to archæology; Roland, who was still at
the University; and Alistair, who was at Marlborough. Of Mrs. Gaythorpe
he for some time said nothing. But at last he mentioned her.

"D'you know we've been married twenty-five years?" he demanded. "I was
thirty-five, and now I'm sixty. You're thirty-seven, and unmarried. You
ought to marry soon--before you're forty, because otherwise you won't
enjoy your children as I've done. It's a point to bear in mind."

Edgar slightly frowned.

"I shan't marry now," he said. Gaythorpe laughed, a sudden chuckling
old man's full laugh.

"By Jove, that's a dangerous thing to say!" he protested. "It's the
most dangerous and suspicious remark in the world. I don't think you'll
escape marriage. Some young fly-away will make up her mind to settle
down; and you'll be pleasantly surprised to find yourself happily
married."

"A fly-away?" Edgar raised his brows. "That sounds alarming. I suppose
on the principle of the reformed rake. However, I've got an open mind.
I admit that I want children; but as far as I can see the people I know
don't have them."

"What a sterile crew you must know."

"No. Just platonic."

Gaythorpe smiled at the sarcasm.

"What is the general length of the childless marriage?" he asked. "The
average."

"I haven't noticed. I don't know. A couple of years? Five years? At
any rate, I see no point in the ceremony. But the thing arises from
excessive individualism among women; and I don't see any way out of it.
The only justification of the man who insists on children is his wife's
love; and if the wives are fuller of self-love I can't see why they
should be forced to undergo the pains of childbirth."

"My dear Edgar," said Gaythorpe. "Don't be sentimental. The people who
most acutely feel the pains of childbirth are sentimental men. That
a woman should suffer great physical pain for twenty-four hours, and
a good deal of nervous distress for some time before her delivery,
perhaps two or three times in the course of her life, is no reason why
(if she's reasonably robust) she shouldn't have children. If there's an
exaggerated fear of physical pain, or a great deal of egotism, in the
woman you want to marry, call the whole thing off at once."

Edgar was faintly irritated.

"You can't dictate nowadays," he said. "That's past. Women have got to
be treated--the women that one could marry, I mean--as equals. They've
got to have an opportunity of living to the full extent of their
powers."

"Well," said Gaythorpe, very deliberately. "I'm going to say something
you'll dislike. I'm going to say that no woman who has any inclination
to love you will thank you for treating her as an equal. She'll think
it a weakness in you. She won't understand it. Women are so constituted
that they associate consideration with indifference."

"You were talking a little while ago about generalisations," murmured
Edgar.

"Perhaps I was. But what I say is true."

"You leave out of account," said Edgar, "in your old-fashioned
conceptions,--the fact than an individual woman is always--in spite of
her sex--exactly what an individual man is. She's always first of all a
human being."

"Sometimes," responded Gaythorpe, with an excessively benevolent air;
"sometimes, do you know, I'm very strongly disposed to question whether
a woman can properly be regarded as a human being at all."


iv

"And now," continued Gaythorpe, towards the end of their conversation,
"to revert to your unattractive correspondent."

Edgar gave a short laugh. He turned upon his friend in rebuke.

"He's never been far away from your thoughts. I've felt him there the
whole evening. You have two or three facts--that he's antipathetic to
me, that he's in a financial difficulty, and that he's written me a
letter. That ought to be enough for you."

"Financial difficulty. H'm ... yes...." Gaythorpe reflected. "He wants
a loan, presumably. A substantial loan?"

"No, he doesn't want a loan."

"Advice." Gaythorpe was inquisitively silent. "I'm interested in him,
you know."

"You're worse. You're inquisitive." Both smiled with a kind of
determination. Gaythorpe grunted, conning afresh the points of his
information.

"As you know," he presently resumed, "my interest is largely in you.
It's by way of being paternal. Before this evening I should have said
that you were a bit on the hard side. But there's nothing a sentimental
idealist might not do; and I see now that you're a sentimental
idealist. I'm filled with fear. I see you Quixotically ruining your
family for the sake of self-mortification. You want to help this
man because you dislike him. I tell you what's the matter with you,
Edgar. Your particular kind of egotism leads you to make a fetish of
magnanimity."

"Oh!" laughed Edgar.

"It isn't cowardice. It's indifference. The only thing that will save
you is to fall deeply in love with Miss Fly-away. She will tempt you to
imprudence, perhaps; but she will vitalise you, and harden you."

"If you remember, she was to marry me only when she was reformed,"
parried Edgar. "You seem to have forgotten that."

"On the contrary, you misjudge me. Any man, marrying the most reformed
character, will find that he has domesticated a tigress," replied
Gaythorpe. "Marriage is an illuminating experiment. And now to revert
to your unsympathetic correspondent...."


v

They parted well before midnight, Gaythorpe to travel by taxicab to
Waterloo and thence to his home at Hindhead, and Edgar to walk home
through the deserted streets. Gaythorpe went his way still ignorant of
the identity of Edgar's correspondent; but by his adroit questioning
he had increased Edgar's preoccupation with the subject of that
letter. It had been a perfectly simple letter, containing an account
of various Stock-buying experiments which had come to disaster, a list
of securities held, a statement of immediate need, and a request for
advice. The writer of the letter had need of several thousand pounds,
and if he were to sell the stock he held it would involve him in still
further loss. Therefore, although Edgar had been technically truthful
in saying that there had been no request for a loan, he had no doubt
at all that the fitting reply to the letter would be an offer of
assistance.

But why a bank had not been asked to advance money on the securities,
which would have been the normal course to adopt, Edgar did not
understand. Had the writer been a close personal friend, he could have
seen the whole thing clearly, and his offer would have been immediate.
But the letter was from Monty Rosenberg. Edgar was deeply perplexed.
What was Monty's object in applying to him? That there must be some
definite object he did not question. He could not suppose that Monty
ever did anything without purpose; and in addition, he felt sure that
Monty was a man to conceal from his acquaintances any hint that he was
embarrassed.

Something, Edgar felt sure, was afoot. He walked home in a brown study.

Only once did he smile; and that was when he recollected Gaythorpe's
curiosity. Gaythorpe, he remembered, had been curious not only about
Monty, but also about the hypothetical attractive person whom it would
have been a pleasure to help. Strange that he should have made so much
of this point. Working, Edgar supposed, from the words "young and
attractive," Gaythorpe had taken it for granted that this person was
a woman--no doubt the fly-away girl who was to marry Edgar against
his will. For an instant it seemed that Gaythorpe must have been
hinting at some story, because in general he was not one of those arch
sentimentalists who wink and curvet about the subject of marriage.
Edgar gave a little laughing grunt as he walked.

"Silly old man," he thought. "I wonder what put all that nonsense into
his head."

Perhaps Edgar was not quite as candid with himself as he should have
been and as he generally was. He strode at a rapid pace along the
ringing pavements; and the fresh wind that met him came deliciously
cordial to his cheeks and lungs. Although he was not tall--about five
feet eight--Edgar was sturdily built, and he loved walking. And in
London the night hours are the best for that exercise. He was refreshed
and invigorated. By the time he was half way down the Brompton Road
Edgar had dismissed the subjects of Monty and the unknown from his
mind; and thereafter all his thoughts were of business affairs until
he reached home. All of them? Very nearly all. Some few, perhaps, he
spared for Patricia; but he hardly was conscious when he thought of
her, so familiar was he with the subject.


vi

It was not until he was indoors, and sitting rather moodily by a
waning fire, that Edgar returned to some of Gaythorpe's remarks. He
did this in an instinctive effort to explain the moodiness of which
he felt suddenly conscious. True, he had felt moments of melancholy
while abroad; but those had been explicable by the fact that he was
friendless in strange cities. Now the case was different. Somewhere
within his heart there was an almost bitter resentment of Gaythorpe's
cynicism on the subjects of women and marriage. At the moment he had
accepted them as he would normally have done. They returned with added
venom to his memory. The first thought--that perhaps Gaythorpe had been
unhappy in his marriage--Edgar dismissed as sentimentality. The truer
explanation was probably that the old man was expressing a fundamental
cynicism, due to the fact that his own happiness had left him occasion
to view the miseries of others. Edgar, too, had witnessed those
miseries. He was still unable to explain them except in individual
cases. He was thoughtful and none too happy. There had been menace--the
deeper because he had concluded it to be unconscious--in Gaythorpe's
insistence on the reality of a young woman towards whom Edgar felt a
helpful eagerness.

"What a fool I was to give him such an opening!" he thought.

Slowly it was as though Edgar fell asleep. He saw two clear eyes, which
he thought to hold all the truth and beauty in the world. He heard
spoken words--words that were almost all that Patricia had ever said
to him. The sense of her presence was extraordinarily strong ... a
presence that was more than presence, for Edgar was quite poignantly
imagining a real Patricia, so much more beautiful than she would seem
with others present. His lips moved in unspoken words. His hands were
gently raised from the arms of his chair, and extended. If desire and
imagination had the power to call those we love to our sides, then
surely Edgar would have awakened with Patricia in his arms. He was
experiencing a reality of communion which only those who love deeply
can conceive. The emotion he then felt transcended anything he had ever
known.

And then his eyes opened, and he saw the extended arms with something
like shame. The lips so lately parted were again firmly set, and he
coloured faintly. Not thus was a woman to be won, he knew. And yet the
vision had served to make his heart clear to him. He had seen Patricia
as she had been at their first meeting, in all the smoke and din and
brilliance of Monty's party. Again he had glimpsed Dalrymple and Monty;
again he had exchanged with Harry Greenlees that measuring glance. He
rose from the chair, and went across to the fireplace, his face lighted
by a sudden flicker of flame. Now he knew why he had been so sensitive
to Gaythorpe's allusions and his bitterness. Now, too, he realised what
had been hidden from him. Never would he have been divided by the sharp
impulse to strike or to kiss Patricia if she had not been the only
person in the world capable of causing him pain. He loved deeply.



CHAPTER ELEVEN: CHANGE


i

The following evening Edgar found on reaching home that some old
friends of his parents had so protracted an afternoon call that they
had been asked to stay for dinner. Both were old ladies from a small
country town, of substantial wealth and position, whose perspective had
become grotesque as the result of long life in a restricted circle;
and as companions Edgar found them insupportable. The airs of the
schoolmistress, the independence of the housemaids, and the general
superiority of the Misses Wickford to the whole of their world were
incessantly discussed; and all these topics combined to make Edgar
restlessly unhappy throughout the meal. Claudia was absent, at the home
of friends; and he had neither solace nor variety. Because of this
trouble Edgar decided upon a plan which was already half-formed in his
mind. It was to run up and see Monty Rosenberg, and thus to learn the
truth about Monty's financial straits and to discover the real nature
of the help which Monty required from him.

Having correctly taken leave of the Misses Wickford, who thereupon
discussed his bachelor state with those who remained and advanced
the claims of a really nice girl living in their district, Edgar was
quickly upon the road. Within half-an-hour he was at Monty's door.
He had not made up his mind what to say; but he had Monty's letter
in his pocket, and was ready to be helpful and businesslike. And as
the door was opened Edgar heard such a din that he recoiled. From the
studio was a huge and brazen noise, as of kettles and fire-irons in
competition with piano and banjo.

"Oh," he cried, electrically reconsidering his plan for the evening.
"A party?" Coming as he had done with the object of advising a man
financially embarrassed, Edgar felt as Mother Hubbard must have done
when she found her dog dancing. He hesitated, quick comments darting
through his mind. This was not the suitable setting for a financial
talk. Was Monty mad? His recoil subsided. After all, Nero fiddled....
"Then perhaps I'd better----"

But the door of the studio had opened, shedding fresh light and
redoubled din from within; and Monty was already aware of his arrival.
The shutting of the door made the noise comparatively negligible again.
Monty hastened forward.

"Hullo, Mayne. I'm glad to see you. Don't go. Come in here." He
indicated the big drawing room to the left of the hall. It was empty,
but a fire was alight there, and the room was warm. From the amber
walls and rich golden brown of the furnishings the soft illumination
evoked glowing beauty. "It's just a few people dancing. Are you a
dancing man?"

Edgar explained the object of his visit. He was all the time acutely
conscious of the room and its air of impenetrable richness, contrasting
it without being aware that he did so with the less exquisite plainness
of his own home, which represented so much more love and enterprise and
so much less finished taste. It stiffened him a little.

"That had better be postponed," he said. "We can't discuss it now."

"I'd like to. Come and dance--and then we'll talk later on."

Monty's manner was cordial--friendly; and yet Edgar felt that it held
perhaps a slight uneasiness. The beautifully-groomed air which always
masked Monty was unchanged; but in those dark eyes and behind the
assured manner lay something that was almost an appeal. Edgar shrank;
but he accepted the invitation, and he was led into the studio.


ii

It had been cleared so as to provide ample floor-space for the guests.
At the piano sat one man and by his side another who played upon a
banjo. Both were in evening dress. A sportive young fellow had been
adding to the noise by clashing tongs and fire-shovel together. About
twenty people were in the studio altogether, of whom only a few of the
men wore dinner jackets; and the dancing had not long been in progress.
It was not yet a rowdy party, although it might later develop into
one when the character of the music and the stimulation of the common
movement should have had their effect. The studio walls rose high
above the moving figures; and the place was quite different from what
it had been when Edgar had seen it before. All that æsthetic blending
of colour which he had noticed was now reduced. It was a large bare
place, the chairs and divans withdrawn to the walls, and the decoration
subdued. Hangings and rugs were gone: the walls were adorned only with
casually hung or pinned sketches. The place seemed lighter and more
airy, but it was wholly out of key with Edgar's recollection. Nor were
the guests recognisable to him in that first glimpse. Edgar smiled as
he turned aside to Monty, and then he heard the music cease. There
came a babble from all round him. It was now that Edgar's heart gave a
slight stir, for he saw that Patricia, who sat with her late partner
at the farther end of the studio, was looking in his direction. She
wore a plain dark dress which emphasised her fairness and the whiteness
of her skin; but he could not tell at that distance of what material
the dress was made nor how Patricia looked, so strong was the light.
Instantly Edgar was delighted that he had come. He felt nothing more
intense than delight--nothing more possessive; but he was engrossed,
and could hardly attend to what Monty was saying.

"I'll introduce you to one or two of the girls. The others won't
interest you. And we'll get away presently and have a talk. That suit
you?"

Again Edgar was aware of that appeal. It revived his sense of
stiffness, for he could never have pleaded for himself as this man was
doing. In distaste for Monty's suppleness, Edgar found also something
which gave him sudden personal interest in the man. He saw him very
truly in that instant, in a quick glimpse. Monty was without pride.
Therefore he was to be watched. Not merely treachery might arise, but
insensitiveness, which upsets standards by unconsciousness that they
exist. It was with a faint shrug that Edgar turned to be introduced to
Rhoda Flower. Strange how instinctively contemptuous of suppleness an
Englishman often is! Edgar did not under-rate Monty; but he despised
him. Deep down, far below his awareness of judgment, lay the snorting
epithet "Foreigner!" All his experience of life and his tolerance of
moral defects could not annul that instinctive hostility to alien
civilisation. Even while he was dancing with Rhoda, he was preoccupied
with other perceptions. He did not speak; he hardly felt her there; but
mechanically followed the rhythm of the dance.

Something awakened him. He could not dance with Rhoda without
recognising her as a voluptuary; and he was interested in her from
the knowledge that Rhoda's personality was, in spite of its mobility,
surprisingly fixed for so young a girl as he supposed her to be.
He looked sharply at his partner--at her black bobbed hair and her
beautifully clear cheeks and eyes. There was something vaguely familiar
about her face, and about the life which gave it constant vivacity of
expression.

"I've seen you before, haven't I?" he said, frowning in the effort to
remember.

"How clever of you!" cried Rhoda. A slow and delicious smile drew
her lips apart, and revealed teeth yet whiter. In the plump but
beautifully-moulded cheeks appeared dimples. Rhoda was languorously
arch. "I wish I was clever!"

"Have you seen me before?" demanded Edgar. He could not resist the
attraction to her, and he was smiling responsively; but he was still
puzzled, thinking her face so familiar and yet so unfamiliar.

"How gallant you are!" teased Rhoda. "Isn't this a good tune?"

"Were you here at a party about six weeks ago?"

Rhoda laughed outright. Patricia, at that moment passing, opened her
eyes wide. She had not hitherto recognised Edgar as a wit, and she took
a peculiar interest in Rhoda Flower, so that her observation in this
instance was made the more alert.

His doubts resolved, Edgar was at ease with Rhoda. He now recognised
her as the girl who had been with Harry Greenlees at the first
party, and who had left in his company at the end of the evening.
He remembered her air of attentiveness to the young man who smiled
so broadly. It was pleasant to recall this picture, because it was
related to his first sight of Patricia. He looked round for Harry, who,
however, was not present. Nor could he see Blanche Tallentyre; but some
of the other faces were those of guests at the earlier gathering. The
majority were unknown to him, and while their spirits seemed to be
good, Edgar thought the company as a whole was a little inclined to be
rakish. He was glad to be dancing with Rhoda, who, apart from Patricia,
was the freshest among the girls. The men struck him as a poor lot.
Now that he was used to the band Edgar no longer found it deafening.
He was only a moderately-good dancer, because although he had a good
ear and sufficient physical elasticity he was not especially interested
in the exercise; but he could tell that his partner was both accurate
and enthusiastic. She moved beautifully, with complete absorption in
the dance. Moreover, he found her impudent cheerfulness delightful.
He would have preferred only one other companion; and it was to this
other that his glance flew whenever she was near. The flying glimpse
was all Edgar had for a long time, for Rhoda was busily engaged during
intervals between dances in trying to learn something about him by
means of adroit questioning, while Patricia herself seemed to be quite
content with her partners and to be elated by their obvious admiration.

Edgar was happy in Patricia's presence. He did not feel any immediate
need to speak to her, and he was in some curious way too shy to wrest
her from these other men. But into his glances there came presently a
slightly anxious gravity, for he noticed differences in her, wrought
by the month during which he had been absent from London, and these
differences were unwelcome. An eye less keen would not have discerned
them: Edgar himself could not have said wherein they were shown. At
last, when Rhoda was momentarily engaged with somebody else, he went
across the room to Patricia's side.


iii

Even in her greeting he found Patricia changed, yet he was at the same
time puzzled at his sense of the change. She was as unaffected as ever,
and almost as fresh. Ah! almost--that was the difference he felt. It
was a restlessness in her expression that made Edgar frown, a strain in
the eyes, a small and perhaps momentary diminution in the bloom of her
cheek. To another there would have seemed no change at all.

"I saw you as soon as I arrived," Edgar said; "but you seemed to have
partners for each dance. I've been abroad for a month."

"I wish I had been," answered Patricia.

Again the mark of slight change! And a leaping impulse in Edgar to
respond that she had but to be constant in such a wish to make him
altogether happy.

"It wasn't really very cheerful," he assured her. "I was very lonely."

"But you were _doing_ something the whole time."

"And what have you been doing? Amusing yourself?"

"Trying to. Oh, yes ... I suppose so." Patricia was listless and
unresponsive. Her vivacity had died down. He was seeing her in a
moment of discouragement. But even as Edgar received this impression,
she brightened, and went on: "That man there--" she indicated a
medium-sized man of about thirty, who was describing something to a
companion and raising his hands with a grace which suggested that he
was not English--"That one ... dances better than anybody I've ever
met. If I could dance as well as he does I should be happy."

"Is he happy?" asked Edgar. "I thought you looked as though you were
happy and as though you danced about as well as anybody could."

She shook her head.

"What did you see abroad?" she demanded.

"Poverty and glitter; cabs in the streets and jewels at the opera;
and everybody wondering how on earth to make both ends meet. Money
that didn't buy what it ought to buy. Plenty of misery going on in
each corner, and plenty of noise and fuss. The same old contradictions
everywhere."

Patricia frowned.

"Worse than here?"

"I couldn't tell. I was busy, and depressed. The men I met were
wretched; and I saw the gaiety only in passing. Very much the same, I
expect."

"Hm." She made no comment; but she had become grave. "D'you think
everybody's mad? I do."

"Perhaps they always are. Perhaps we are."

"Sometimes I feel I shall _go_ mad." There was a discouraged note in
Patricia's voice which confirmed Edgar's intuition. She was obviously
not in a normal mood; although he had seen her laughing with her
partners earlier in the evening.

"Let's dance," he suggested. "Postpone the madness."

"I think," said Patricia, slowly, and as if she were being strangled by
some unexpressed emotion, "that ... you're only afraid because ... you
think I'm a child to be petted out of...."

She allowed him to make her dance; but she did not respond to him, and
there were tears in Patricia's eyes. Edgar did not speak while they
danced. Almost, he did not look at her. He was too much disconcerted,
too preoccupied with an effort to explain Patricia's mood. Yet to
Patricia he appeared immovable.


iv

Once during their partnership Edgar was conscious of a long deep glance
from her. When at last he looked to meet it the glance was withdrawn,
but the gravity of Patricia's face was unchanged. He, too, frowned,
made thoughtful by her expression; and when they were once more seated
together, since he felt that their degree of intimacy was not great
enough for an invited confidence, he tried to divert her attention from
her own thoughts.

"You remember that before I went away you promised to come and make the
acquaintance of Claudia?" he said. "What would you say to coming one
evening this week? Would that be possible?"

"I'm not sure," said Patricia, coldly. "I'm rather busy this week."

The devil you are! thought Edgar. He grew equally cold for an instant,
until his patience conquered his irritation.

"I'll ask my mother to write and suggest an evening," he went on, as if
unconcernedly. "You could come to dinner, and you could meet Claudia.
Also Pulcinella and Percy."

Patricia inclined her head; she was not listening. A moment later she
was claimed by the dancer for whom she had expressed admiration; and
Edgar saw her moving about the room as if she were entirely happy.
He was bewildered. Was it to himself that she had become hostile?
His impulse was to withdraw, to see her no more; but dudgeon is a
preserve of the very young man, so he dismissed it. Nevertheless he was
resentful of her listlessness in his own company, her inattention. What
could account for it?

While Edgar sat thus absorbed in a single problem, he found that Monty
had drawn near. Monty made a motion towards the door.

"Could you come now?" he asked. The two men left the studio and went
into the room to which Edgar had first been introduced on arrival.


v

As the door was closed Edgar could not forbear the comment which had
been in his mind from the moment of discovery that a party was in
progress.

"I thought from your letter that you were in some urgent difficulty,"
he said.

Monty was quite suave. He stood before his companion with the utmost
nonchalance, a faint smile upon his lips.

"Do sit down," he answered, in that gentle voice with the rising note.
"I _am_ in a difficulty, and it's most kind of you to ... give me your
advice. Now, in detail that is quite impossible this evening. This ...
this affair prevents my being away long. But perhaps if I tell you
a little more the whole matter will be ... plainer." When Edgar was
settled, Monty supported himself by the table, and continued. "Well,
now ... as I told you, there's about twenty thousand invested in those
different ... concerns. In every case the prices are seriously down.
Most of them will go up again."

"Quite," agreed Edgar.

"Normally, then, I should hang on. And of course I could borrow from
the bank."

"I wondered why you hadn't done that."

Monty lowered his voice still further, until the thick vibration which
underlay its ordinary softness was emphasised. Edgar had the sense
that Monty always spoke of business in this lazy and confidential way,
that he had the large loose meanness of those born opulent, that even
in dealing with himself Monty was conscious of a sort of explanatory
patience.

"I don't want to go to the bank for a reason which ... I wonder if
you'll appreciate its strength ... because ... well, the local manager
is ... an acquaintance ... a very social man ... rather indiscreet; and
his wife might possibly be more indiscreet; and I'm a little morbid
about...."

"Do they--I understand perfectly. Do you keep your securities at the
bank, or do you keep them yourself?"

"At the bank. That's the trouble. I can get them, of course. I could
transfer them from this branch and deposit them elsewhere without
question or inconvenience; but I have a very definite personal reason
for making no change at all in my present allocations. And, my dear
Mayne, the money I need is ... I need hardly say, this is in great
confidence.... The money I need will have to be paid quickly, and ...
in fact, the whole thing is difficult."

"What's the sum?"

"Two-thousand five-hundred. You understand, I don't...."

"Who are your bankers? Could it be done with the Head Office? No, I
suppose not."

"Not.... Look here, Mayne, I don't want to be mysterious at all...."

"No: that's quite all right. I'm only thinking...."

"It's the Great Central Bank, just up here. I particularly don't
want to do anything whatever in relation to the bank. But for that I
shouldn't have troubled you. I want to raise the money outside. I don't
want to alter my deposits. Let me make that perfectly clear."

Edgar interrupted him.

"You'd like me to suggest lending you the money myself?" he asked
directly.

There was a moment's pause--as if for the passage of a shiver of
distaste for such brusque ill-breeding. Then Monty, as if nothing in
the world could have ruffled him, nodded slowly.

"That would be most kind," he replied. "_Most_ kind."

"I wonder how long it would be for?" pondered Edgar, aloud.

"Five hundred in a month's time. The whole of the rest within six
months. That I think I could promise definitely. Could you do it
yourself without inconvenience? You're most generous."

I wonder if I'm generous? thought Edgar, recalling Gaythorpe's jeer
at his morbidity. And secretly he knew that it was not generosity but
a sort of contempt which had prompted his leading question, and that
Monty himself, placed similarly, would have avoided the issue and
evaded the loan.

"Well, I'm not a money-lender; and it's quite true that the thing
presents difficulties. But I could certainly arrange to let you have
the money."

"My dear Mayne...."

"Not at all. When do you want it? And how?" He was impatient.

Monty shrugged. His orientalism was more marked than ever.

"This instant," he admitted. "Or ... as soon as possible." Edgar
nodded. "And I should like it," continued Monty, with his singular
smile, "I should like it--if that happened quite perfectly to suit
you--as an open cheque, payable to bearer...."


vi

"Oh!" cried Edgar, as if in surprise.

"I'm perfectly ready to sign any acknowledgment," insisted Monty. "But
this will be of peculiar service." There was a silence between them.
The cheque was to be open, and the matter was pressing: therefore the
payment was to be a secret payment. If Monty's investments were as
he stated them to be, and his relations with the bank and its branch
manager amicable, what purpose was there in such concealment? Edgar
frowned slightly. He was being used as a friend--as a convenience--by
one who was not his friend and who did not trust him with an
explanation. As if he felt what was in Edgar's mind, Monty interrupted.
"I feel I _must_ emphasise the point that my reason for wanting this
money privately is personal, and not financial," he said.

A sudden smile lighted Edgar's face.

"I perfectly understand that," he answered. "There's no more to be
said."

Together the two men went back to the studio. In two minutes they
had so mingled with the noise and rising spirits of the dancers that
their absence, if it had been noticed at all, was forgotten. Edgar
sought Rhoda Flower, and was amused to find her interest in himself
shown without concealment. But even as he talked to her he was from
time to time seeking in that crowd for Patricia, and seeking among his
impressions for something which would explain the change in her. As
far as Edgar could tell, Patricia did not concern herself at all with
him. It was strange how this wound that she had inflicted outstayed
every other sensation of the evening--from his pleasure in Rhoda to his
growing antipathy towards Monty. He was puzzled and chagrined.



CHAPTER TWELVE: ENCOUNTER


i

Patricia arrived at the Maynes' house a moment early. She had walked
from her rooms through one of the streets to the north of the King's
Road, and in spite of her new boredom, which made her a little shrink
from the prospect of an evening with uncongenial people, she was
aware of curiosity at sight of the house. It was one of those tall
featureless houses which lie in respectable avenues in Kensington,
stained by a kind of grim insipidity and separated from the road by an
iron railing, a grass plot, and an immense flight of stone steps. The
portals were massively columnar, and the windows bay. There was nothing
to make the Maynes' house different from those upon each side of it
excepting the number and the fact that the iron gate did not groan as
it was opened. From without, the house was what Patricia expected.

Indoors it was distinct. There was no smell of cooking; the walls
were papered in a blue-gray, the staircase was fresh and clean with
blue-grey paint, and a carpet of the same colour in a rather darker
shade extended as far as she could see. Her mind instantly received
the impression: "Liberty!" The maid was young, pretty, smiling, and
curious. And as Patricia went forward into the room into which she was
informally shown Edgar himself was there, with a plump old lady and
a pretty young woman and a surreptitiously barking immature cocker
spaniel all close behind him. Patricia received a shock. This was
a home, the first home she had been in for years. These were kind
people. Her heart was opened to them. She was a child at once, eager
that they should like her and be her friends. How strange it was,
when she had dreaded something alarming and something boring. She was
hardly conscious that they looked at her with keen eyes and brains, so
definitely did she feel herself greeted by warm hearts. She was for an
instant deeply moved.

"My mother, Claudia, Pulcinella ..." said Edgar, with a minimum of
awkwardness.

There were two warm hand-clasps, and a glance, ever so rapid, at
Claudia; and Patricia saw the little dog's tail twisting, and
stooped to pat the glossy body which was being shyly insinuated into
her notice by its agreeable owner. In the firelight and gaslight
there was cheerfulness, but there was peace also, and it was the
tranquillity--the homely quality of peace--that Patricia first noticed.
She saw it for a moment only; and then Claudia led the way up to a
bedroom in which she could remove her cloak and hat, and smooth her
hair, and if necessary, powder her face before dinner. But Patricia had
no need to powder her face, and so the two girls had no opportunity
for any prolonged mutual scrutiny by means of the mirror. They were
shy of each other, and hardly spoke together until their return to the
drawing-room. It was then that Patricia, sitting down, first properly
glimpsed the Mayne household, which by now had been brought to full
strength by the arrival of old Mr. Mayne and a sedate cat whose name
was Percy.

Mr. Mayne was a man of over sixty, small and thin, with a fierce aspect
and a ridiculously mild voice. He had a moustache and beard resembling
the pictures Patricia had seen of pirates. His eyes were commanding.
Only his voice was inappropriate. It was a clear deep voice, but it
lacked volume; and in face of such a terrifying presence it came
as the bleat of the kid from the mouth of the jaguar. His wife was
equally gentle, but she looked placid, and in Mrs. Mayne there were
no sharp contrasts. She was round, plump, and cheerful, the sort of a
woman upon whose lap a ball of wool refuses to stay, especially when
there is a little dog at hand. Very different from these were the two
children. For Edgar Patricia was conscious of an increasing sense of
respect. She now saw that his quietness had its quality and interest.
His rather grave face, with its general air of brownness, was not one
which attracted her; but he looked well-built, and her friendliness
towards him would have been perfect if she had not felt one very
singular thing about Edgar. It was that he went his own way. With great
considerateness of others, she was sure, but quite inhumanly, he went
his own way. Patricia felt that if he decided to do a thing an effort
beyond her own power would be needed to turn him from his object. She
had made up her mind that he was not subject to human weaknesses, and
she resented the aloofness created by this freedom.

Claudia was different again, but not equally disconcerting. She was
tall, and noticeably pretty, with a very occasional immaturity of
gesture which indicated her youthfulness. Dark, and a little like
her brother, she had a gaiety of demeanour and a sparkling air of
enthusiasm which his temperament forbade. To Patricia there was
something irresistibly charming and wise about Claudia. That she also
went her own way, if such was the case, caused in Claudia's case no
barrier between them. It was natural and right that Claudia, being a
modern young woman, should go her own way. Patricia went her own way.
She thought of Claudia: "She's prettier than I am, but her figure isn't
as good. Nor's her taste. She doesn't dress as well as I do. She's
very clever and kind and nice. I like her. Of course, not as clever or
as nice as I am. But then I'm...."

It was extremely pleasant to be in a comfortable home which really was
a home, and to be in the company of such born friends as the Maynes.
Patricia sighed with content.


ii

She had not noticed Percy, who had entered the room during her absence;
and Percy, who had been washing his face, had not noticed Patricia.
When he discovered that a stranger was in the room Percy was slightly
annoyed. He did not like strangers. It had taken him some weeks to
grow used to Pulcinella and even now he sometimes spat at the little
dog, for Percy had been for three years the dominating force in this
house. When Percy wished to leave or to enter a room he gave a single
blood-curdling deep miaow; when he thought the time had come for him to
be nursed he took his welcome for granted; when he shook off the years
and demanded a game they were all at his service. Although Pulcinella
was insistently lively, no real romp ever occurred in which Percy was
not the leader. Even Pulcinella, who barked and bounded in the effort
to produce a mock-battle, was afraid of Percy; and the human beings
were not so much afraid as respectful and affectionate towards him.
Percy therefore disliked strangers, who disturbed his sense of what was
proper. Pausing in the act of licking delicately extended fingers, he
stared rudely at Patricia. He decided to watch her for a few moments
before making up his mind as to her acceptability as a new acquaintance.

Patricia, quite unconscious of this important scrutiny, was allowing
herself to be entertained by Percy's elders. She did not see a big
Persian cat, whose long hair was nearly as black as his dignified nose
and whose tail, when paraded, was as large as an ostrich feather. She
merely looked from the small face with bushy whiskers of Mr. Mayne
to the beautiful soft complexion of Mrs. Mayne, and again to the
exuberantly expressive eyes and lips of Claudia. She liked Claudia
better and better each minute. She did not look at all at Edgar, in
whom she was conscious of feeling no true interest whatever.

"Isn't it very lonely for you to live alone, Miss Quin?" Mrs. Mayne
was asking. She did not wait for an answer; but continued: "I've never
lived alone, so I don't know what it's like; but I should have thought
it likely to make a young girl miserable. Yet I know, of course, that
one sometimes wishes very much to be alone with one's thoughts. As a
_holiday_ it must be very pleasant...." It was the quiet voice of a
contented woman that meandered slowly and almost prattlingly among
words that came without effort.

"Think of the liberty, mother!" exclaimed Claudia. "Not always having
other people to consider. Not always having somebody to say she isn't
ladylike."

"I like it," said Patricia. "And I'm not at all ladylike."

"Perhaps you're not much alone?" suggested Claudia.

"Oh, yes. All day. But I'm generally out in the evenings."

"Claudia always speaks as though I were a fault-finding mother; but
it isn't true, and I don't think she means it altogether. I should be
sorry to think I was a fault-finder," ruminated Mrs. Mayne.

"You're a darling," Claudia declared. "But, like most mothers, you live
in the past. You don't feel that you're grown up and that you don't
understand this generation. That's what I complain of." She turned to
Patricia. "This is a very difficult household. Father doesn't care two
straws about anything that goes on outside the house, except the things
that are put into newspapers. He _would_ write letters to the papers,
only he prides himself on never having written to the papers. He's
conceited about it. That's what saves us endless humiliation. Mother
thinks the world's a very distressing place, and the latest sort of
girls very top-heavy and reckless and...."

"I don't think they're very happy," urged Mrs. Mayne.

"Perhaps they're not. All the better. Perhaps something will come of
it--unless they enjoy their unhappiness too much, as some of them do.
She doesn't understand that there have been _changes_ since she was a
girl."

"Only too well." Mrs. Mayne showed spirit.

"Well, she doesn't sympathise with them. She doesn't realise her
standards don't apply to to-day. She's absolutely----"

"I'm sure I'm very faulty," agreed Mrs. Mayne, almost approvingly.
Edgar laughed at his mother's unquenchable power to discomfit Claudia,
and the two exchanged a glance.

"As for Edgar," proceeded Claudia, "he's quite hopeless. I bring
friends here, and he thinks they're awful. So they are--he's quite
right. But I shouldn't know they were awful if he didn't point it out.
That's the disastrous consequences of bringing people here. Edgar says
nothing about them at all, and so he stimulates _my_ corrosive faculty.
He'll drive me to having surreptitious friends."

Patricia's nose was a little in the air.

"I don't think he's very human," she said.

"You see?" Claudia looked in triumph at her brother. To Patricia,
she continued. "The trouble about him is, he's a _good_ man. He's
old-fashioned. He has principles. It's a nuisance when a man has
principles. He was brought up to think it was the thing to be decent
and honourable, and so on. He doesn't live in our age at all, when
everybody's trying hard to be wicked and only half-succeeding."

"I know," agreed Patricia, relishing the irony but perceiving the
truth of her new friend's analysis. "I think it's impossible for one
generation to understand the next."

"Exactly. But the next can understand the one--like winking."

"I'm sure I'm very easy to understand," said Mrs. Mayne. "Edgar isn't.
I've never understood him. Or, for that matter, Claudia, although she's
my own daughter."

"You know too much _about_ me to understand me, mother," cried Claudia.
"That's true, isn't it, Edgar? Too many things, I mean."

"It's certainly ingenious," agreed Edgar, quietly. He had hitherto been
listening in silence to the debate, although all had been aware of his
presence.

"What nonsense!" cried Mrs. Mayne.

Patricia thought: How nice and silly they are with each other! Her
spirits rose yet higher. She felt that here the talk was the kind
of talk--nonsensical and yet true--that she liked above every other
kind. It was clear and light, without strain and without stereotyped
slang. After so much that was quite otherwise, that aped smartness
and achieved only repetition, this chatter gave her ease of heart as
nothing else could have done. She smiled upon them all, impulsively, so
that Edgar turned away to hide his passionate relief.


iii

"Dinner is served, ma'am," said the pretty maid, at the door. They all
moved forward, leaving Percy at his toilet and losing Pulcinella _en
route_.

Patricia, leading the way with Mrs. Mayne, saw the dining room with a
friendly and interested eye; and as the chairs and sideboard were all
of old mahogany, she supposed herself to be amid the relics of Mr. and
Mrs. Mayne's early married life. The room was large and lofty, and the
mahogany furniture suited it, so much did the shape and arrangement of
everything accord. It was very different from the drawing room, where
the note had been a light grey, with loose covers of flowered chintz
upon the more comfortable seats and curtains of a shade warmer than
that which otherwise prevailed. Here in the dining room the curtains
were dark and the gas-shades mellow in tone. Everything was subdued.
It was an "old" room, not at all what she would have expected from
her quick imagination of Claudia's taste. Well, that was a puzzle the
more. Involuntarily she shook her head. In this house the older people
counted more heavily than she could have expected. The younger ones
were not all-powerful. She guessed that the drawing room represented
the farthest concession Mrs. Mayne would make to modernity; and it was
already fifteen years out of date. She did not realise that it heralded
the coming revival of Liberty in house-decoration.

Her insight was gone as quickly as it had come. Patricia hardly knew
what had been her impression, so much less apt was she in thought than
in intuitive knowledge. She was still charmed; but she knew that Mrs.
Mayne also was in the habit of going her own way. It was a family
habit. Patricia could not restrain a half-glance at the whiskered
Mr. Mayne, who sat with such benignant fierceness at the head of the
table. Was his pictorial ferocity merely a compensation? Or was his
mildness the serenity of a dictator? Perhaps even Mr. Mayne.... She
was deeply and childishly impressed. For an instant her self-assurance
trembled. Patricia, of course, was unquestionably Patricia and in
that respect unique; but could there possibly be other people--other
real people--than Patricia in the world? It had seemed in that very
uncomfortable instant as though there might be four others. With
something like panic, she raised her spoon from the table.


iv

"What I should like to do," explained Claudia, "would be to re-shuffle
the world a little. I could do it so nicely. I'd separate people under
forty and people over forty. They could meet, and talk, and the people
over forty wouldn't be made to feel they were quite useless; but they
shouldn't have any power over the younger ones."

"It would be a splendid idea." Patricia was eagerly responsive.

"For a month," agreed Mrs. Mayne, with her natural irony.

"For always," firmly insisted Claudia. "Oh, you'd see a change."

"Forty in _years_?" asked Edgar. "Isn't that rather arbitrary?"

"I didn't mean I'd destroy them. Only separate them."

Edgar laughed a little.

"I believe you'd have a reactionary 'left' even then," he said,
agreeably. "And a revolutionary 'right,' too. And another thing,
Claudia ... you don't take into account the fact that some quite young
people are obscurantist. When you think of young people you always
think of yourself. Never of Johnny Rix or Daphne Petton...."

"Oh, but they're _awful_! I'd expose them at birth!" declared Claudia.

Edgar was unconvinced. He shook his head.

"You can't be everywhere at once," he warned.

"Well, there's Miss Quin...."

"Two of you--against a multitude."

"You're _hopelessly_ cynical, Edgar. Miss Quin, he's a Pyrrhonist, I
find."

"Good gracious!" Patricia was astounded. "What's that?"

"Nothing. Simply nothing at all."

"Inhuman?" asked Patricia, hopefully.

"Perfectly. I forget whether it comes from a man or a place; but he
doesn't believe in anything at all. It's a ghastly state of mind to be
in."

"Really, Claudia; you're _too_ sweeping," protested Mrs. Mayne.
"Anybody would think Edgar wasn't the kindest and best----"

"Oh, _ever_ so good. Good unbelievably. Kind.... Frightfully interested
in the insect world of human beings. Considerate--as few men are
considerate--to the poor creatures who live around him."

"And very tolerant of Claudia," pursued Mrs. Mayne, turning to
Patricia. "Oh, dear, this fish is over-cooked, Rachel, and I
particularly.... However, it's no good grumbling.... I hope you'll like
it, my dear. We have a very good fishmonger, and a very good cook, too;
but ... Edgar, I wish you'd speak for yourself. Claudia will give Miss
Quin such a peculiar...."

"He doesn't care ..." Claudia looked across at her brother. "Do you?"

Patricia could tell that he did not care. He was quite unconcerned.
A slight grimness came into her expression. She wished him less
unconcerned. She would have liked to believe in Edgar's susceptibility
to pain. As it was, he seemed invulnerable. Patricia turned once more
to Claudia with great sympathy and friendliness.

"I think your idea's very attractive," she said. "About the division."

Mr. Mayne gave a short, rather sardonic laugh.

"Wine's corked," he remarked. "Take it away, Rachel. And bring another
bottle. With the chill off. Properly. Not roasted...."

Patricia lost her head. A tremulous twitching seized the corners of
her mouth. She tried to control herself, and became desperate in the
effort. In another instant she felt that she must giggle. Fortunately
there came a diversion which saved her.

"Miaow!" cried Percy, from outside the door.

"What a menagerie it is!" said Mr. Mayne, in a savage tone. "It's
incredible! Let him in, let him in! Of course, it's the fish. I never
knew a cat...." His voice, even in this protest, was very low. He spoke
as hushedly as a man telling a tale of horror.

It was then that Patricia saw that behind his ferocious air Mr. Mayne
could hardly restrain his own ridiculous laughter. She looked swiftly
round the table, from one to the other, from Edgar, to whom her
glance first went, to Claudia, at his side. All were smiling, as if
good-naturedly and at something absurd. Uncontrollably she laughed a
little, thankful to find that they were not even solemn. And as she
did this Percy appeared. Patricia had a glimpse of brilliant eyes and
a huge waving tail which stood high above Percy's body as he made a
leisurely entrance.


v

"Do you go to the theatre much, Miss Quin? My husband and I sometimes
go, but it always seems to me that it's only an excuse for going out
to dinner and for dressing up and seeing crowds of expensively-dressed
people who are enjoying the same experience. I'm really much happier
at home with a book. Although the books nowadays don't seem to be
as interesting as they were. They're not very amusing. Very clever,
I suppose, telling us all about our thoughts--which I'm sure we
never have--and about young men and girls who seem to me to be very
disagreeable and morbid and get themselves into sad trouble about
things that don't happen to any of our friends. Do you like them?"

"I'm never quite sure," admitted Patricia. "They _are_ very clever, of
course."

"I wonder if cleverness _is_ a good thing. Is it, Edgar?"

"Very good thing, mother," said Edgar, obediently, as if he had been
thinking of something else.

"He doesn't think so!" declared Claudia. "Nor do I. It's only
self-consciousness."

Mrs. Mayne appeared to digest the information. Unchecked, she
thoughtfully continued:

"People _are_ self-conscious, of course. Even I notice that. Of course,
I'm old; and so I take an interest in what _other_ people are doing.
But I don't think I was ever any different. I'm sure I'm not always
thinking about myself or my own affairs, which is all that seems to
engross most of the people Claudia brings to the house. They seem
_rather_ peculiar. I'm not always saying that the young ones don't
understand me----"

"It wouldn't be true," interjected Claudia. "It would be absurd."

"I think it _might_ be true. But we hear nothing at all from Claudia,
from morning to night, but the great disadvantages of young people; and
their wisdom, and foresight; and----"

"Mother!"

An extremely mischievous smile appeared upon Mrs. Mayne's face. With
her white hair and clear complexion, and in her rather high-cut dress
of amber-coloured silk, she looked, when she smiled, ageless. She was
a match for her daughter. Behind that rambling speech was a brain as
acute and as teasing in its workings as anything Claudia could show;
and Mrs. Mayne had the advantage over Claudia that her ideas were
inflexible, while her daughter's were undisciplined and often wholly
undetermined. Claudia resumed:

"I think you ought to know, Miss Quin, that mother's very unscrupulous.
I mean, you must have noticed it for yourself; but you're so nice that
perhaps you may not have let yourself _think_ it. Father and I are the
only people in this house who are scrupulous. We're very just. Edgar's
pretty awful. But mother's unscrupulousness passes all bounds. I _have_
this evening said a few words about young people, but that's because of
something Edgar was saying earlier in the evening. He said you were a
young woman, as though that conveyed anything at all. He was asked to
describe you; and he said _that_."

"Oh, more than that," interpolated Edgar. "Surely."

"That was the principal thing. I said: 'What sort of a young woman?'
and mother admitted that 'young woman' sounded like a term of reproach.
Which it certainly is. She _admitted_ it."

Patricia looked across at Edgar with some resentment, but also with
some pity. He was eating his dinner in tranquillity, and Patricia felt
a sudden suppression of anger in her breast.

"After all," she said, quietly. "He's a 'young man,' I don't know
which is more of a term of reproach. We can't help our age or our sex.
But for some reason women _cannot_ get men to think of them as human
beings. Always, they're regarded as women, and never as individuals."

"I think it's because men are rather new to the idea that they _are_
individuals, and because women also are rather self-conscious about it.
They haven't had an individual life for very long. Don't you think so,
Miss Quin?"

Patricia, recovering a little from her enthusiasm, shook her head,
smiling as if with greater wisdom.

"I think it's because women are simply rather conceited," remarked
Edgar, in a surprised tone. "The temptation to conceited men is to take
them down a peg."

A jerk seemed to shake Patricia. So that was what he thought! She
understood now the reason of her lack of sympathy with him. He was
indifferent. He cared for nothing but his own egotism. In that he
resembled other men, no doubt; but in his case the offence took an
extreme form. He did not appreciate Patricia Quin! He thought her
conceited. He did not take her seriously. It was unpardonable, since
it showed invincible stupidity. But what did it matter, after all?
Patricia decided suddenly that she did not like him, that she had never
liked him. When she looked at Edgar she could tell that such a man, so
free from human weakness, and so incapable of appreciating anything
which did not accord with his prejudices, would never be able to
inspire real affection.


vi

After dinner a number of Claudia's friends came either unexpectedly or
upon some casual invitation from Claudia. All were young men and women
of refined tastes; and for a short time during their restless incursion
there was a good deal of chatter. Patricia found herself not quite
so much at home as she had been. She wished it had not been thought
necessary--if that were indeed the case--for others to be invited. She
felt so much older than Claudia's friends, so much superior to them in
intelligence and knowledge of the world. They produced a superficial
air of bustle and jollity; but it was all so naïve as to be tiresome
and stupid. Claudia was different. She at least had brains and high
spirits. She also had vitality. But the others were so many boys and
girls, and not of the kind of boy and girl that Patricia had recently
begun to find amusing. These had no spice of danger about them; and
Patricia had developed of late a new craving for just this spice. The
girls were good suburban girls; the boys good suburban boys. Not one
of them seemed to have a lurking devil. Quickly the party became what
Patricia had feared it would be. It became insipid. Mrs. Mayne, from
even the teasing and mischievous old lady of the dinner, grew into
such a woman as her placid appearance would have indicated. Edgar and
his father both disappeared, the former to return after not more than
half-an-hour, during which--as he supposed that Patricia would be
amusingly employed--he had cleared off some arrears of work. If it had
not been for Claudia, Patricia's spirits would deeply have been sunk
into boredom.

But at last the evening took a turn. The visitors, having stayed an
hour, went as suddenly as they had come. Supper brought her once more
within the circle of the Maynes; and she and Claudia and Edgar were
at a table together. Edgar seemed preoccupied; but nothing could check
Claudia's high spirits. She and her mother sparred with considerable
spirit. Patricia delighted in the happy relationship. She found herself
as the evening advanced recovering all the zest that she had lost on
the coming of the juvenile visitors. Called upon to do so, she even
gave her impressions of those who had called, and during this period
she could not help glancing at Edgar to see whether he was amused
at her comments. To her chagrin, Edgar remained serious. Although
he smiled, his expression was grave. He was not attending. Patricia
hardened. Such neglect chilled her, so unusual was it. Swiftly her
resentment at his implied belief in her conceitedness returned and
increased. It was not known to her that during his absence from the
room Edgar had discovered something which had given him a great shock.
She judged only by her own egocentric knowledge, and she accordingly
misinterpreted his mood. Only to Edgar, therefore, was Patricia's
manner at all cold. But he presently shook off whatever had been
the matter which had made him thoughtful, and as he became animated
Patricia was lured farther and farther from her grievance, until at
last it was for the time altogether forgotten.

By then it was eleven o'clock, and the evening was ended. After warm
exchanges of kind expressions between herself and Claudia, and after
a further invitation from Mrs. Mayne, Patricia found herself walking
through the dark streets by Edgar's side.

"I'm very glad I came," she told him naïvely. "I think Claudia's
splendid."

"You were rather afraid, weren't you?" Edgar asked.

"I'm always afraid of meeting somebody new. I feel at a disadvantage.
I'm afraid of meeting people cleverer than myself."

"Oh, Claudia isn't that," she heard him say. Patricia's eyes opened in
the safe darkness. Oho! she wonderingly said to herself. That did not
sound much like an attempt to discourage a conceited young woman. How
strange he was!

"I think she is." A very subdued voice conveyed the disclaimer. Edgar
made no reply. Patricia, who believed him incapable of inspiring
affection, felt a remarkable little flood of liking fill her heart.
What a peculiar effect Edgar had upon her. He made her feel like a very
small girl, much younger than himself, much weaker and sillier and
less splendid than usual, but in no way distressed by the sensation.
Childishly, there darted into Patricia's mind the wish that she had
also possessed a brother--a brother something like Edgar, who could
understand what was said to him, who did not all the time make demands,
who was safe and sure and reliable.

A sigh shook her. It was so light as to be imperceptible to her
companion. Her eyes filled with tears. At times in Patricia's
conquering life there came instants when she would have given the world
to rest quite quietly upon some such strong human support. Moments of
loneliness sometimes assailed her, when a sustaining hand would have
been of all things the most welcome. She did not feel lonely with
Edgar--only happy and at ease. She was now very happy indeed. Then the
moment's mood passed, and she was once again alert, and, immediately
afterwards, troubled by another thought. She did not know that she was
hiding her heart even from herself.


vii

The walk from the Maynes' house was an affair of perhaps half-an-hour.
Their course lay almost directly south; but the intersection of the
streets was imperfect, so that they had occasionally to take sharp
turns. It was a fine starry night, and the stars seemed to yellow the
lamps which at regular intervals shed very definitely restricted rays
into the darkness. Tall houses stood erect upon each side of every
road, and every now and then the walkers passed loitering couples or
other pedestrians. Very few people, however, were in the streets; for
the night, although serene, was chilly and therefore untempting.

Patricia could see the lamps winking in the distance, and whenever she
came into that little glow which surrounded each of them she had a
curious sense of her own physical appearance, as though she could see
herself. She walked well, and enjoyed the swinging motion. She felt
strangely at peace, and spoke without effort. And then suddenly, when
they were close to a lamppost and could see all around them faintly
illuminated, two other people--a man and a girl--coming from the
opposite direction, were simultaneously within the circle of light. A
quick greeting passed, and the parties were once more separated, lost
in the immediate darkness.

Neither Edgar nor Patricia spoke--Patricia because a shock had gone
straight to her heart and left her breathless. The two who had thus
unexpectedly emerged and disappeared in that silent moment were Harry
and Rhoda Flower. The shock had been like a dagger in Patricia's heart.
All her talk ceased. She felt that all her happiness was extinguished.
She continued to walk by Edgar's side; but it was as one numbed and
bewildered by a tragic happening. They were both very silent for the
remainder of the journey, all the ease of their companionship destroyed.

At parting Patricia kept her betraying face half turned from Edgar, and
stayed only for the briefest and coldest "Good night, and thank you,"
before setting her key to the door and slipping into the house. But
Edgar had not failed to see that she was quite colourless, so that he
too had something to think about upon his return journey.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE SIBYL


i

During that evening Edgar had been away from the others for about
half-an-hour, seated in his room with bundles of papers belonging to
his business. This was enforced, because his absence from England had
led to great accumulations of work, and only by some such evening
trouble could he hope to make good the time lost from the daily
routine. So he had been busy. And quite by accident, Edgar had come
across a single sheet of paper which had disturbed him out of all
proportion to its size and importance among its fellows. It was with
other papers in a small bundle surrounded by an elastic band; and in
glancing through this bundle, flicking the letters apart, Edgar had
caught sight of an arresting address. Hastily, though still without
more than casual interest, he had stretched the band so as to see the
whole of the letter. It was the signature which, taken in conjunction
with the heading, had brought an exclamation to his lips. It had thrown
him quite unexpectedly into a revelation concerning Monty Rosenberg. It
opened to his investigation some at least of the interstices of Monty's
dark and secret mind.

The occasion of Monty's sudden need of money had been for Edgar a
curious puzzle. Monty's unwillingness to follow the obvious course,
which was to raise a loan from his bank to tide him over the emergency,
had been another puzzle. The third puzzle had been his reason for
approaching Edgar for assistance. Edgar had explained the third puzzle
by the fact that he had recently been engaged in business dealings
with Monty (over the transfer to himself of the "Antiquarian's
Gazette," in which no money had passed), and the possibility that
Monty, who was secretive by nature, had no friend intimate enough to
be asked--without explanation--for so large an amount as two-thousand
five-hundred pounds. And the other two puzzles were both explained by
the letter which Edgar had discovered.

The letter was written upon a single sheet of business note-paper, and
was an acknowledgment of some trivial communication. But the heading
was that of the South Hampstead branch of the Great Central Bank; and
the signature was plainly to be read as "Frederick Tallentyre, Branch
Manager." It became immediately clear why Monty should have wished to
conceal any adjustment of his affairs from the manager of his local
bank. Less clear was the immediate occasion. Frederick Tallentyre was
the husband of Blanche. And Blanche, unless Edgar's perceptions were at
fault, was Monty's present mistress. Now why should Monty want so large
a sum at short notice? And why should he wish the fact of his requiring
a loan concealed from the husband of his mistress?

That was one of Edgar's preoccupations as he walked homeward. As a
business man, he needed to know as much as possible about all those
with whom he was engaged in financial transactions, and he was not so
wealthy as to regard two-thousand five-hundred pounds as a negligible
sum. Had the money something to do with Blanche? And, if so, what had
it to do with her?


ii

The second and even more pressing preoccupation was with Patricia and
Harry. It had been clear to Edgar that Patricia, when he met her at
Monty's, was changed, that she was not at peace. She had been restless
and emotional beyond the ordinary. It seemed that her attitude to
himself was different, and less cordial. He loved her, and any change
was thus of importance to him. The same air of reluctance in her
glances and speeches had been apparent during this evening. Only upon
their walk had she seemed to return to an ordinary _cameraderie_. And
at the height of their newly-rediscovered ease this encounter with
Harry Greenlees had spoiled everything. Or had it been the encounter
with Rhoda? Could it be--and Edgar's heart leapt at the thought--that
Patricia had with chagrin noticed him in Rhoda's company at Monty's
party; had thought.... It was fantastic. Patricia was not crude enough
for that. Edgar brushed aside any notion so preposterous. Harry,
then.... His mouth became stern.

Edgar was not, outside of business, analytical; but he took intricate
views of whatever was unfamiliar. And Patricia was unfamiliar. She was
his new and precious delight. During the whole of the evening he had
watched her without direct scrutiny; had felt, and not calculated,
her changes of expression, the quick, gentle turns of her head, the
speedless flights of amusement, interest, disdain, hostility, and
sympathy which were so easily to be read. And in each reference to
himself he had discerned something unwelcome--flattering, perhaps,
as showing that she did not ignore him; but unwelcome. All the arch
curiosity which might have accompanied any consciousness of attraction
was absent. What if this should be explicable by some feeling for
Harry? It might easily be so. Edgar knew that, so far as he could
imagine the standards of a young girl's heart and mind, there was no
comparison between Harry and himself. Harry was a big fellow with a
handsome face, a ready tongue, charm--with the very qualities, in fact,
to make him the subject of sentimental dreams. And Edgar could not
refuse to suppose Patricia capable of sentimental dreams. He fought
against the notion; but common sense had greater power over him than
the instinct to idealise the beloved. He recognised that Patricia, like
other young girls, was probably romantic. Well, he was no figure of
romance. That was all. If she employed romantic standards he stood no
chance of winning her love in return for his devotion. The battle was
lost before issue was joined.


iii

He awoke still less sanguine, but with a grimness which was not
unfamiliar. After all, he had certain obvious advantages. He might be
less showy than Harry; but he was not insignificant. If it came to the
test of brain, his own was not inferior. His position was assured,
while Harry's was probably that of a freelance--delightful in youth,
but dwindling and even becoming precarious with the passing of each
year. More than that, however. Edgar had the knowledge that Harry
succeeded easily. He could tell that Harry took little heed for the
morrow. That unlined youthful face, in a man not much younger than
himself, told him a good deal. He put Harry down as thirty-five. And if
a man had not taken thought by the time he is thirty-five he will never
begin to take thought after that age. He may harden; but he will never
mature. Also, if a man is not married by the time he is thirty-five,
there is generally a reason. It might be, as it was in Edgar's own
case, that he has worked too hard, so that all his energy has been
absorbed. That was not Harry's position. He was not married because
he did not wish to be married. He pleased too easily, and he was not
the sort of man who finds marriage an excellent starting-point for
inexhaustible love-affairs.

No! Edgar was quite generous to Harry. He saw him as a man free
from that skidding of the mind which is called sentimentalism. Love
affairs--yes; but always sporting. As a man he had no objection to
Harry. Directly, however, Harry appeared in the neighbourhood of
Patricia, the situation changed. It would almost equally have changed
if Harry had begun to make love to Claudia. He did not know that
Claudia would have found Harry tiresome; but that was because he did
not perceive that in calling himself unattractive, he spoke without her
authority. And as for Patricia--who could tell what Patricia thought
or felt? For all Edgar knew she might have fallen in love with the man
whose dancing she so much admired; or with the pink and white baby who
performed with the fire-irons, or with Monty Rosenberg. She might be
incapable of falling in love with anybody, through self-infatuation,
which is a disease greatly in vogue in modern times. She might give her
love in time even to Edgar Mayne.

Edgar somehow thought, as he shaved, that this was not so improbable as
he had felt on the previous evening or upon his awakening.


iv

Claudia was the first person Edgar encountered that day. She was
sitting by the fire in the breakfast-room, eating an apple and reading
"The Daily Courier." A dress of blue serge with a small green collar
and green cuffs made her look very slim and juvenile. Her dark hair,
in a billow, hid part of her face as she bent over the paper; and
Edgar could barely catch a glimpse of her eyelashes and the rather
inquisitive tip of her nose. At the other end of her person there was
a considerable display of ankle, small and well-shaped.

"Hullo, good-morning!" said Claudia cheerfully. "Nobody else down
yet, my poor boy. And I only got up to see you. I think that girl's
splendid." She cast aside her paper. "You've got good taste in people,
Edgar. I've noticed it. She's got one fault; and I'm going to cure her
of it. I'm going to take that girl in hand."

"I wonder if she'd do the same for you," pondered Edgar aloud, as he
rang for breakfast.

"She may try. Don't you want to know her fault?" asked Claudia, with a
straight glance.

"Perhaps I know it."

"Perhaps you do." The acknowledgment was faintly puzzled. "But you like
her, don't you?"

"Very much."

"She's _almost_ good enough for you to marry." Claudia was reflective.

"Oh, not quite?" innocently asked Edgar. "No, I suppose not." He was
too well-acquainted with Claudia to be drawn, even if he had supposed
her to be angling for an admission, which she was not.

"Is she rich?"

"I've no idea."

"I shall find out. I think she's poor. And that's one reason why this
fault of hers is a danger."

They seated themselves at the table, and began to eat moderately warm
breakfast.

"Why do you think it's a danger?" asked Edgar.

"Well ..." Claudia spoke with her mouth full; but she was full of
candour, because she and Edgar were the best friends in the world. "You
see, Edgar, she's conceited. It may be only skin deep; but if it isn't,
then she's hopeless. I mean, if it's ingrained."

Edgar felt a creeping of the flesh. His grave expression of interest
did not change; but his breath was a little short.

"She's very young, of course," he objected. "Isn't conceit a phase with
some people?"

"I hope to cure her. But you'd admit it's a very dangerous thing to
have in the blood."

"You're very wise, Claudia," he said, after a pause.

"I'm vain; and you're proud (which is a sort of vanity); and we're
both obstinate. But we're not conceited. Now Patricia thinks no end of
herself. She's got the idea that there's something wonderful just in
the fact that she's herself. At least, I think so."

"She thought you were cleverer than she was. She liked you."

"Well, that's good," said Claudia. Edgar smiled. "No, don't you see,
it's good because it shows.... All the same, its wrong to compare
yourself."

"I've just been comparing myself with another man. I thought I came out
of it rather well, on the whole...."

"Silly! That sort of thing's...."

"I was quite serious."

"Then you're in love. That's all I can say. And I don't _want_ you to
be in love--yet I like Patricia awfully. I'm going to see her; and I
think I'm going to cure her of her fault. But if I _don't_ cure her,
then I'd sooner you didn't fall in love with her."

"I don't think we'll quite assume...."

"My dear Edgar. You can't bring a girl to this house without my
realising that something's up. You'll grant that, won't you? I don't
mean the ordinary inspection. Less crude than that, I hope. But none
the less pretty obvious."

"I can see that it was a very incautious thing to do," admitted Edgar,
solemnly.

"_Therefore_--" "Miaow!" cried Percy from outside the door.
Claudia rose to admit him, speaking as she crossed the room.
"Therefore--good-morning, Percy--I consider that I'm called on to
protect you. You're fortunate in having me. Of course, mother's fallen
in love with her on the spot; and _hopes_ she will attract you."

For the first time Edgar showed signs of embarrassed exasperation.

"She's idiotic!" he muttered.

"The older generation," calmly explained Claudia. "That's what _that_
is. You'd admit that I'm much more realistic. I'm not by any means
sure that Patricia's ... well, eager to attract you. She ought to be,
because you're the best man she's ever likely to meet. But you can't
tell. When a girl's conceited, she tries this man and that until she's
afraid of missing the train altogether. And then she plunges, and ...
well!"

"Claudia, you make me uncomfortable by your profundity," said Edgar,
respectfully.

She bowed to him across the table.

"Mother says I'm an _enfant terrible_. I have already told her that I'm
a child of my generation. In some ways I know much more than you do,
Edgar."

"In all, my dear. In all," was his modest rejoinder. "You also talk
more. But I hope you will save Patricia."

"If I don't, nobody can," said Claudia. "But she may have to have a ...
Well, we'll see. I was going to say she might have to burn her fingers.
I wonder how you'd like that. Not much, I expect. Edgar, there's
something I want to ask you...."


v

Edgar looked at his watch.

"I oughtn't to stay," he said. "Fill my cup first. I shall be
listening."

"What's a man's feeling about a girl?" Edgar waited. "I mean, about
things she does."

"What things?"

"Reckless things. Silly things. I expect men feel different things--and
different things about different girls--and different things about
different girls at different times. But what I mean is this. All girls
except me have very much more liberty than they used to do.--Well,
even me, then; but they use their freedom differently. They go about
freely, and so on. Don't they? Well, they do silly things--compromise
themselves."

"I should think it's harder to do that now than it used to be."

"It's very funny--I don't think it is, somehow. It's all a convention.
You can do certain things; but not others. It's odd. But that's not
what I wanted to ask you. What I meant was--if somebody had been
silly--had, we'll say, gone off with a man, found she didn't care for
him, left him.... How would you feel about ... about marrying her?"

"You alarm me!" cried Edgar, still a little amused, but with a
constriction of the heart. And then, for a moment, it crossed his
mind that she might even be hinting at something which he dared not
contemplate. His mind went straight to Harry, to the meeting.... He was
conscious of a cold sweat. The thing was so monstrous, and the feeling
it aroused in him so passionate, that he did not understand until he
had recovered composure what it was further that Claudia was saying.

"That _is_ how you feel?" Claudia was persisting. "You do feel ...
well, horror?"

Edgar looked at her. Gradually his expression lightened. Claudia's face
was so earnest, her concern to know his view was so obviously sincere.

"I couldn't possibly tell you how I should feel," he answered, smiling.

"Would you marry a girl who ... well, who wasn't quite ... wasn't quite
fresh?"

Forgetting the horror he had glimpsed, Edgar thought for an instant.

"It all depends on the girl's attitude," he ventured. "I think for me
it would be a question of whether there was any confusion in her mind
between me and the other man. If there were, I wouldn't marry her."

"You do admit the right of a girl to freedom of every kind of action?"

"In theory."

"Not in fact?" Claudia was very eager. Edgar answered definitely.

"Not in fact. Any more than I admit the same right in a man."

"Ah, that's the point! You admit the right; but you don't think it
should be indulged. I quite agree, Edgar. It's because it affects other
people. That's ethics; not conventions. All the difference in the
world. Thank you. I've been thinking about it a good deal, and I wanted
to hear what you felt. Good boy!"

As he rose from the table, Claudia also rose, and gave him that rare
thing, a kiss. For Claudia was no more demonstrative of affection than
her brother.

"Sorry to have been a bore," she said abruptly. "I wanted to know. It
hadn't anything to do with--with what we'd been talking about, you
know."

"God forbid!" said Edgar, as he turned away from her in some haste.

Claudia returned to Percy, who had jumped upon her chair and was giving
little sniffs at the odours of breakfast. She patted Percy's head, or
rather, his nose, so that he scowled at her; and, after having lifted
Percy to another chair, poured herself more coffee. Although Claudia
looked so young, and her movements were still the free movements of
youth, she was rather grave as she sat at the table. So many little
thoughts and intuitions, chiefly about Edgar, but some of them about
Patricia, ran in her head. She could not be other than grave.


vi

Edgar went straight out of the house after he had left Claudia in
the breakfast room. He could not at first understand why he felt so
extraordinarily miserable as he walked along the street; but he awoke
to find his own exclamation, "God forbid!" dinning in his ears. What
if the subject Claudia had introduced _were_ something to do with
Patricia! His mind was instantly alight. The man distraught by love
will believe almost anything evil of the inscrutable mistress--that she
is a devil, harlot, liar, angel, fool.... Edgar was not so extreme; but
he was filled with that wild electricity of emotion which accompanies
the throwing into a combustible mind of any such suggestion. His day
was spoilt because of this one frantic thought. There was no pity here
for Patricia; no understanding; only the fierce blaze of uncontrollable
mental agitation. His heat cooled, of course; but the effect of it
remained. Edgar knew that those calm doubtings and considerations of
the night and morning were but the shadows of his real doubtings. Of
consideration he had none: only a fire that smouldered, and that
looked and felt like coldness. But he did not dare to recall the
subject of the morning talk, or Claudia's dissociation of it from the
discussion of Patricia's nature. To have done so would have brought
him to a pitch of unmanageable fear. As it was, the thought, although
suppressed, lay full of secret life.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN: ANOTHER DAY


i

While Edgar speculated, Patricia suffered. Her vanity had been wounded
by Harry's silence: the meeting, which showed her that he was solacing
himself with Rhoda, wounded her vanity yet more. It was a mortal blow
to her sense of power. Parting might have been sweet pain. This was
otherwise. It was a shuddering anguish. Soberly Patricia tried to face
the truth: her mind could not grasp it. She could not suppose that
the romance--so sweet, so almost childish--was concluded. Although
her words, and even her thoughts, were frequently those of a woman,
her heart was still the easily wounded heart of a child. She had been
living in a dream; and nobody would tarry until her due awakening.
She found herself in a discouraging world where the grown-up is still
all-powerful. Harry was a man, fixed in rigid manhood, without the gift
of indefinite spiritual expansion; and she had hoped that he was still
a boy, still able to play, still able to postpone his maturity until
some vaguely contemplated future. Her dream was shown to have been a
folly.

It was to the sense of disaster that Patricia came. Not yet to
desperation.


ii

That morning it occurred to her to look at her bank-book. Two
manuscripts had been returned through the post; and as she ate her
breakfast Patricia suddenly recollected that she had not had anything
accepted for some weeks. A tremor went through her. Her eyes flinched.
Supposing.... With some anxiety she counted the small amount of money
in her purse. And then, as she continued to sit in that constricted
room with the low ceiling and the sun-stained wall-paper, the room
seemed to grow darker. The oilcloth and rug grew more tawdry. The whole
of her surroundings were seen as deplorable. Patricia had thought
little of money lately, for she had given all her attention to the
delightful play that was in progress; and she had worked without
earnest endeavour. It had not appeared necessary, and the fancies had
come with ease. So often her eyes had wandered, and her memories and
anticipations had become exciting; and when that happened the pen
strayed on only half-heeded, or remained quite still upon the table.
And now, with this awakening, what she had written seemed to Patricia
silly and babyish and without value, with all the pleasant sportiveness
by which it had been inspired wholly evaporated. And she found that she
had other things to face besides the loss of Harry.

For a few minutes she pretended that there was nothing to fear, that
there must lie pounds and weeks between the moment and the end of
comfort. Her confidence was staunch. Nothing to fear ... nothing to
fear.... She was Patricia Quin. Just as she felt that she would never
die, so Patricia felt that she would never want. It was true, perhaps.
And yet when her thoughts tried to create money out of nothing it did
not seem clear how she was to live ... presently ... soon ... very
soon....

Without preparation, Patricia's courage suddenly deserted her. She lost
her nerve. She no longer had her dream of Harry: she was awake: she
was stifling. And disaster lay ahead. She wasn't any good.... She was
afraid.

"I'm afraid," she whispered to herself, with bowed head. "I'm a
coward!" It was for Patricia a terrible confession. Energy, confidence,
egotism as a rule sustained her in every shock. Now these things were
deserting her in face of a spectre. In vain did she rally. It was true:
she was afraid.


iii

With the expression of a baby that is afraid and is trying not to
confess it; with eyes that seemed to grow larger each minute and a
mouth that was pursed in fear that masqueraded as courage, Patricia
stood alone in that ugly little room with the highly coloured
furnishings and the gilded mirror. She knew she had her friends,
who would welcome her rich or poor, but they would welcome a happy
Patricia, and not one who was cowed by disaster. Such a Patricia
as this would be unfamiliar. She could never bear to go among them
starving or wretched. Where she had queened it, she could never
play Cinderella. But when her imagination darted ever so little
forward--to the day when the money which had seemed such wealth was
exhausted,--Patricia heard pity, and shrank from it. Hers was the
panic cry: "All is lost!" She had been bold; her way had seemed so
clear, so conquering. In that minute of discovery it was not surprising
that confidence vanished. She was not one used to hardship, to the
canvassing of expedients. All her life had been spent thoughtlessly so
far as provision for anything beyond the moment was involved. She had
no preparation at all for this emergency. She had awakened to nightmare.

With nerves shaken, and despair almost at her elbow, ready to plunge
into her heart at a motion, Patricia tried to think. If her money
went, what prospects were there? Harry's help--no! She could never
appeal to Harry. That was a new thought, and one which confirmed her
decision. In no circumstances whatever could she ever have gone to
Harry as one humiliated. Nor could she have married him except for
love, as an equal--as a superior, the adored, the shining wonderful
of her own dreams. Marriage occurred to her--marriage as a way out of
want--as it has occurred many times to women;--and it was only without
true imagination that she saw it. It was a suggestion made by her
inexperience--the sort of careless, unrealised notion that trips off
the mind's surface. She knew that at any time she could have married
Jacky; and the notion almost, even in the midst of her distress, made
her laugh. It was absurd. Jacky! Jacky as a husband, a perpetual
companion! There was nobody whom she could marry. A situation? Who
would employ her? Now, when men and women were clamouring for work! And
how, after so much liberty, endure the constraints and disciplines of
office life! Impossible.

Dry-eyed and wretched, Patricia received her shock. She was stunned.
A day earlier--in full panoply, deliciously happy, self-enchanted,
inspired with the greatest ambitions, now she was amazed to find
how insubstantial were the foundations of her confidence. In an
instant, from independence, she had fallen to a paralysing discovery.
Patricia was terrified. The knowledge that she was only a frightened,
inexperienced little girl was borne in upon her.


iv

If she could have been caught in that mood by somebody capable of
understanding her, who would have taken all her native silliness at
its true value as the ebullience of youth, Patricia might have been
turned at this moment into a channel leading straight to growth and
happiness. But there was nobody at hand. There so rarely is anybody at
hand. She had friends, but no friend. She was entirely without a friend
to whom she could turn for renewal of that self-justification which is
essential to happiness. She had been without a guide all her life, and
all the acquaintances of the last few weeks were self-engrossed and
pleasure-loving. She had been so wonderful, and now she saw that the
power upon which she had counted did not exist. She was alone, and that
was the consciousness which for Patricia lay uppermost. She was alone.
Although she tried very hard to bluster, it was forced home to her that
nobody cared very much what she did with her life. Harry had wanted
her for himself, to make love to, to play with; never for the sake of
seeing that she made the best of herself. He had not been interested in
her. He had not imagined her. He did not love Patricia: he was merely
"in love" with her, which meant that she provided, in her response,
flattery to his own self-love.

Not a real friend: they did not grow in this heartless realm. There was
only one house in London which she had felt as a home; and Claudia she
hardly knew, while she was sure that Edgar Mayne, although he was kind,
was inhuman. He could never understand that she was Patricia Quin, the
marvellous Patricia; and that so she must remain in her own eyes for
weeks and months and years to come--she believed, for ever. When she
thought of him it was of one whose friendship she might value if only
he would do what he could never do--acknowledge her will as a thing
quite as splendid as his own. No friend: she was alone. A sob shook
Patricia. The first hint of desperation showed in her. She gave a sob.
What did it matter _what_ she did? Nobody cared. Again that surge of
arrogance swept--now a little less strongly--over her. She could rely
upon only herself; and she was a little girl. Edgar was grown-up. Harry
was grown-up. Amy was grown-up. They were all finished: only Patricia
had the power of infinite growth. They could none of them understand
her. She was too big to be understood--too big, and too childishly
helpless. Patricia angrily wiped away two tears which had stolen out on
to her cheeks. The contrast between her egotism and her situation was
insufferable. She felt reckless, without hope. Who cared?


v

She was dining that night with Monty; and they were going on to dance
at a club. She supposed it would be Topping's, but she was not sure.
And as she wiped away her tears Patricia felt glad to be going out to
dance. She thought that for one evening at least she would be able
to forget that she had lost Harry and that she was on the verge of
poverty. Still with that expression of fear and misery upon her face,
she began to wonder about the dress she would wear, and about the
evening, and about Monty; and as she did this her heart was a little
eased at the distraction of her thoughts, and a more cheerful glance
gave freshness to her appearance. She might still be fearful; but at
any rate she was--ever so slightly--relieved. Complete disaster was not
yet.

The day went on, very slowly, giving Patricia time for many changes of
emotion between her fear and her arrogance, for tears and blustering or
consoling speeches and recoveries; and by the evening she had become
calmer. But the assertion of self-control had been purchased. She
was no longer normal. The knocking of a postman in the street below
made her heart flutter, and her ears strain. Any violent noise was
enough to set her nerves jangling. With her mind lost, she could not
do anything with concentration, but committed mistakes in spelling,
wrote words that made nonsense, spilt water from the vase she had just
re-filled, and almost broke the vase itself by striking it against the
table in inattentive blindness. And at last the day grew dark, and then
it seemed as though the lighted gas tried her eyes, making them smart,
and as though the atmosphere were unaccountably heavy. Out-of-doors it
was raw, with a mist rising. Within, the heat was dry and exhausting.
And the hours would not pass quickly enough. They dallied slowly round
the clock, and she watched the seconds hand with impatience from
quarter to quarter. The room grew smaller and smaller, closing in upon
her until she sprang to her feet as if to force the walls apart, so
that she could breathe.


vi

The meeting with Monty was for seven o'clock, and the little restaurant
where they were to dine was already half-full of people when Patricia
arrived. She went straight in, and saw Monty waiting in the hall of the
restaurant, his overcoat already discarded, and a cigarette between his
lips. For the first time that day Patricia's heart really lightened.
Monty was in evening dress (for so it had been arranged), and he always
looked his most handsome when dressed. The white shirt enhanced the
olive darkness of his skin, and the beautifully cut coat made him look
slimmer than he was. And there was a quality in Monty's caressing
manner which pleased and soothed Patricia. It was full of admiration.
Monty had very dark and tired eyes, which seemed never to yield their
secrets. There was power in his carriage. Everything about Monty, from
his bearing to his finger tips, suggested luxury and invulnerability.
He seemed always just to have left the hands of his hairdresser and the
manicurist.

And on this evening he was more than ever regal and courteous. His
quick glance was full of sympathy and reassurance, as though he were
saying: "You are unhappy, but you look, as usual, incomparably lovely.
You deserve, and you shall have, all the consolation, all the happiness
that I can give you; and it will make me very proud if you will let me
entertain you with all the resources of expensiveness and unobtrusive
delicacy." Spoken, the words would have been odious; conveyed, they
were as balm.

"Come straight in," murmured Monty, his hand upon her wrist. Patricia
could still feel that he bore about him the aroma of the Egyptian
cigarette which he had thrown away, and it seemed appropriate to him.
He had for her the attractiveness of something exotic. The proximity
of that dark face and dark head was agreeable; where all was softness
and gentle modulation, she, too, could not fail to yield. "How punctual
you always are! I've got a table there--in the far corner. It will be
quieter. And I ventured--you will excuse me?--to order the dinner."

With a checked sigh, Patricia allowed Monty to help her with her coat,
so that her arms might be free; and as he seated himself opposite she
smiled. She did not know that it was a pathetic smile: she would have
blushed had she known it. But Monty's glance seemed to be everywhere,
although it was so seldom anything but gentle and melancholy. He spoke
to the waiter, who disappeared and returned too quickly to allow of any
talk in the interval. The waiter bore two small glasses.

"This is a very exceptional cocktail," said Monty. "It will do you
good."

Patricia held out her hand for the glass he extended. For the first
time in her life she was eager for stimulant. She drank the cool bitter
drink, which sent a slow motion of revived life through her, and filled
her eyes and made the feeling of dispirited tiredness recede. Monty was
watching her.

"_Very_ good," Patricia assured him. She saw the black head inclined,
the slow smile which crossed Monty's face; and upon the table his plump
and beautifully shapely hand as he received his own glass. As he did
this, a waiter brought a shining bucket, containing ice, held a bottle
for verification, and drew with a muffled pop the wine-cork. Patricia
started: Monty was giving her champagne. How glad she was! It was as if
he had known that she was miserable, and had planned to disperse the
shadow. It was magic.

"You like the wine dry?" said Monty. "This is Ruinart."

Patricia nodded, shyly smiling. How kind he was! How kind and consoling
and suave and perfectly controlled. As if he had known! Her heart
warmed. Already the wretchedness of the day was slipping out of her
memory. Her spirits were rising with each instant. She was growing
happy.


vii

"You're tired," suggested Monty. "Don't talk. Keep very still, and your
headache will go. Let me do the talking. I'm not so used to that as
some of our friends are; and it will please me and rest you. Will you
have some of this--and this?" His voice was so low, and its quality had
so much the soft smoothness of velvet, that every word brought peace.
"It ought to be possible for us all to leave England now and follow
the sun. One ought now to be starting for the East, where the sun is,
and spending the days in winter quarters. We ought to be going soon to
Tunisia or beyond, further than the winter tourists go; and then we
could come back and explore the ruins of Carthage; and you should learn
all about the ancient civilisations, and forget that this sharp and
strident Europe exists. It's so very lovely to travel back gradually
to the West, and to see Sicily, where the most beautiful things in
the world are; or it must be enchanting to go to India, to those
places where Europeans rarely go, and learn something about the Hindu
philosophy by going back for a dozen or so centuries and forgetting
that the world as we know it has any existence. I've never been to
India; but one day I shall go, because the wish to see it is growing
stronger and stronger, and I'm afraid of dying or growing old before
I've savoured all the beauties of the unfamiliar."

Monty spoke very slowly, and as if to cast a spell upon her, so that
she might forget her tiredness and her headache. Patricia nodded.
She thought how beautiful it would be to escape from all her present
distress, and to wander over the face of the earth, where there was
always sunshine and happiness.

"I should like," continued Monty, "to travel by car all over the world,
and go through the roads, staying where the fancy suggested, and going
on when I was tired. It would be very good to go through France, and
Northern Italy, and on to the East. One's seen the familiar beauties.
Now is the time to try and see what remains."

"I haven't seen even the familiar beauties," said Patricia, staring
straight in front of her. In imagination she could see a long white
road winding towards distant mountains. "I've never been out of
England. Why, I still think that to go to France and Italy and Spain
would be the most glorious thing in the world. Perhaps I shall go, one
day."

"Nothing could be easier, I'm sure," sympathised Monty. "Why not go?"

"Because I haven't any money," retorted Patricia. "You can't go, if you
haven't any money."

"You should get somebody to take you," ventured Monty. "It could easily
be arranged."

Patricia remained serious: Harry, she knew, tramped through Europe. It
would have been easy to go with him. He would make everything easy. A
film was across her eyes. Meditatively, forgetting Monty, she sipped
her champagne, and felt its incomparable pricking upon her tongue,
delicious and golden.

"Yes, it could easily be arranged," said Patricia, drowsily. Then a
little dryness touched her, and she looked straight at Monty, smiling.
"But it won't," she added.

Monty's glance held her eyes for an instant. But Patricia's eyes were
blue and clear, as baffling to Monty in their purity as his own were
unreadable to Patricia by reason of their impenetrable softness.
Something in those eyes smouldered.

"What a pity," said Monty.


viii

Two hours later they were at Topping's, and Patricia was dancing. The
champagne had cleared her head, but she had had more to drink than
usual, and her lightness was unwelcome. As she left the room where
she changed her shoes and handed her coat to an attendant she was
moved once more to thought of Harry by memory of her first visit to
this place. Her lips seemed to be swollen and to ache, and she had
been made short-sighted, and her lids were hot and unrefreshing to
tired eyes. But she was less unhappy, more pliant, more forgetful of
the possible disasters of the future. When Monty joined her she took
his arm naturally, but also because she felt glad of the safety which
his protection gave her. She could not bear to be here alone, to hear
the band in the distance, and to think of Harry. It was as though, in
touching Monty, she had said: "Take me anywhere--anywhere--so that I
shan't think of to-morrow. Because I'm frightened of to-morrow!"

They pressed into the room, through little bunches of people who
stood near the door; and Patricia heard the noise incomparably loud
in her ears, and she was dancing with Monty as if there were to be no
to-morrow. The champagne had robbed her of the power to feel: she was
numbed by it; but it had given her brain clearness and vivacity. When
suddenly she caught sight, among the dancers who were sitting at a
neighbouring table, of Harry and Rhoda, the shudder which ran through
her body was unconcealed. Tears filled her eyes. Monty could not have
failed to observe her emotion; but his acknowledgment of it was a
warmer pressure of reassurance.

"Don't let's ... go ... over there," whispered Patricia. "I don't want
to go. I don't ... like them. I don't want to ... talk to Harry and
Rhoda. Let's ... keep on dancing. I _want_ to."

If only Monty would keep her there, with one arm about her, safe from
her unhappiness.... If only he would protect her now....


ix

Patricia was not to escape Harry; for she and Monty had presently to
rest. They sat at one of the tables, and Monty ordered some more to
drink, and gently urged Patricia to join him. As she was hesitating,
refusing, yielding, a voice came from behind them which sent a tremor
through her. Harry and Rhoda stood there, laughing like children who
had stolen unawares upon sleeping elders.

"Hullo!" cried Harry. "Hullo, Patricia!"

Rhoda drew up a chair to Patricia's side, and began vivaciously to
talk. Patricia had a glimpse of the dead white cheeks and red lips and
full dark eyes, and struggled to carry on a conversation with Rhoda
while she was giving all her attention to what was passing behind her,
between the two men.

"Saw you when you first came in!" said Rhoda. "What a pretty dress
that is. This blue ... there aren't many complexions that would stand
it. Yours does, though. I'm sticking to black just now. Makes me look
svelte. I'm getting fat. You've been dining with Monty, I suppose.
Lucky girl. I had to dig Harry out. He's working like a nigger. Going
abroad...."

"I ... had ... to ... dig ... Harry ... out!... He's ... going ...
abroad!" That was all Patricia heard. "He's going abroad ... going
to the East, and the sun, perhaps ... tramping in the sun, making
everything ... easy."

"I wish ... I were going ... abroad," stammered Patricia.

"Wouldn't it be jolly. I say, let's _all_ go! If you could get
somebody.... You could join us somewhere.... I mean...." Rhoda checked
herself. Patricia shrank back.

"No, no!" she whispered. But she had heard the words which Rhoda had
spoken so thoughtlessly. And behind her was Harry's voice, quite
quietly saying:

"Let's change partners for a dance, Monty. I...."

Her hand shot out uncontrollably. A "no" started to her lips. She heard
Monty say with equal quietness, in his thick sweet voice:

"By no means, Harry. I wouldn't deprive you of your partner for the
world. How entirely charming she looks, with that ivory skin...."

"Patricia," said Harry, at her side, his lips to her ear. "Dance this
once with me. Dear, I want you to. This once."

She looked up at him with something of the old insolent laughter in her
eyes.

"What nonsense!" she said, rather breathlessly. "I'm with Monty."

She was quite cold to Harry now; but she would have died rather than
dance with him.


x

When once more she was dancing, Patricia felt that the encounter,
the blow, the opportunity, had caused her spirits to mount. And her
gratitude to Monty was vehement. She yielded herself completely to
the sensuous enjoyment of the dance, to Monty's immaculate skill, to
the secret enchantment that bound her. She could feel Monty's soft,
wine-laden breath upon her cheek, and the occasional contact of his
body with her own; and she did not in any smallest degree shrink
from him. But the emotion which she experienced was tinged with
recklessness. She was being sustained by fierce resistance to the
shadow of desperation, which now, as the evening neared its end, grew
ever nearer.

"I'm sorry. I ought to have been able to avoid that encounter. I didn't
see Harry until they were there," Patricia heard Monty saying in her
ear. She laughed back.

"It didn't matter in the least," she said. "It was fun. I enjoyed it."

And having heard herself laugh, she laughed again, each moment more
elated by the wine she had drunk and the blatant noise with which the
room was filled to echoing and the excitement which accompanied the
noise and gave it significance. She could see the smouldering light
leap again into Monty's eyes, and she was thrilled anew with revived
consciousness of power. It intoxicated her. That sweeping sense of
invincibility came back and settled upon Patricia like a golden
cloud which had strayed. She was extraordinarily lovely. The glitter
of her fair hair in the bright light, and the pure beauty of her
clear eyes, and the life in all her features, were enhanced and made
wonderful. Monty's attraction to her was so manifest that she could
not but respond to it. The little darting spice of mischief was in her
expression; but he could see that her nostrils were pinched above the
parted lips, as though she were trying to restrain the betrayal of her
inclination towards him. Never had Patricia shaken herself so free from
care; never had she been so aware of the secret jubilation which she
felt at being admired. She was excitedly happy, but with a new feeling
that was not zest, that was, instead, a knowledge of peril--even a
deliberate and wanton encouragement of it.

Patricia chose to go home by omnibus. She knew that if they went
otherwise Monty must inevitably make love to her; and although she
was warmed and excited, and so, amorous, she was restrained from
_abandon_ by some timidity, rather than by distaste or a saving
caution. Monty's desire for her was palpable: Patricia could not be
unaware of it. The knowledge was in her blood, and it fired her; but
she was not experienced or callous or bold enough to yield to her
own importunities. Reckless though she felt, she must at all costs
gain time. She was not ready--she was maliciously tantalising--she
was inspirited and moved and made tremulous with fierce and unusual
excitement. And so, to gain time, Patricia chose to travel in the
open. Some colour to her preference was given by the fact that the
evening was brilliantly fine, and Monty remained inscrutably unruffled
to the end. He was never more characteristic than in his watchful
impassivity. But as they parted he quickly and deliberately put his arm
round her, as if it might have been for one further dance. Patricia
did not protest. She breathed quickly, her lips closely compressed.
Even when he stooped and took her hand, and then lingeringly kissed
it, she remained, with a sort of excited triumph, and her head back,
unflinching. She pressed his hand gently in releasing her own, and
stood watching from the open door Monty's retreating figure. He looked
back, espied her, hesitated, made as if to return; and was only
discouraged by her swift withdrawal. Patricia's eyes were fixed, and
she entered the house unseeing, creeping up the stairs, with tightly
closed mouth. She was jubilant, cool once more, exulting; and there
was for the first time cruelty and baseness in her triumph. Only when
she was in her own room, and when she had set the candle down, did she
feel the blood flooding her cheek and her neck and even her breast.
It receded, and came again, painfully, until her whole body burned.
Patricia was ashamed.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN: CONTRAST


i

Patricia thought: How difficult it is to be good! And it's so easy to
be wicked. Some people want to be wicked, and can't. It's ... it's easy.

She was standing in her little brown room and looking at her own
reflection in the mirror with the gilded frame. And as she looked
at herself, she saw a hardness come, and a new glitter in her eye.
And it was then that she realised how easy it was to be wicked, and
how difficult to be good. How easy it was to drift into wickedness
that made one defiant afterwards, and a little afraid! That made one
continue avid of excitement!

Patricia felt that she could not keep still. Such nervous restlessness
as she was now experiencing was strange; but she could not keep still.
If she sat down she found herself immediately again standing, moving
about the room; and stopping, lost in a dream. She could not think
consecutively. If she began to think, ridiculous words came into her
head from nowhere, and fragments of the speech of somebody else; and
cross currents of her own thought interrupted and distracted her
attention.

"I'm going mad!" she suddenly thought. And from somewhere came the
comment, "Ah, I've noticed that, have I?... Pengewith.... As if it
could be helped.... Monty was ... of course, women ... I wonder how
the name Saskatchewan is really pronounced: I suppose it's.... Yes,
mad. Mad, because all this ... I could go to Africa, Biskra--isn't
that where they go? Or Samarkand.... What beautiful names they have.
... I'd like to go travelling on and on, and the moon at night shining
on the desert.... All very quiet, and stars, and peace.... Horrible
insects.... Stop! Stop!"

Patricia put her hands to her ears, as if in that way to check the
nightmare of her thoughts. She forced herself to sit quietly down,
to take up a book. Every noise in the house and street was subdued;
and after a few moments her eyes would not attend to the page, and
her brain would not accept the meaning of the printed word; and these
idiotic thoughts came stealthily back as little devils might have done.
She was trying hard not to think of something in particular. She was
trying not to think of what had happened on the previous evening, of
what might still happen. She did not want to face her own actions, or
their consequences; and all these devilish little thoughts that so
frightened her came because she had as it were locked up the only thing
she wanted most desperately to think about, and was refusing to let her
mind have free play.


ii

In the afternoon there was a noise at the door, and Lucy put in a pink
face. She was washed, and she looked mysterious. A finger was to her
lips.

"Some'dy downstairs," she whispered, her lips framing the words. "Miss
Roberts. Shall I let her come up?"

Patricia welcomed the thought of a visitor. She brightened at once.

"Oh, _anybody_!" she cried, with a great breath of relief at the
prospect of escape from her solitude, and the gnawing thoughts to which
she was offering so steadfast a resistance.

"Right!" cried Lucy, who had been secret from a sense of diplomacy.
Patricia, hastily scrambling useless papers together, heard Lucy
trample down to the front door and send Amy up; and so she went out
on to the dark landing to guide and exhort her friend. She was really
delighted to see the dim form which she knew to be that of Amy rounding
the difficult corner and achieving the ascent. Eagerly she stretched a
hand to bring her friend within the tiny, ugly room.

"How nice!" she exclaimed. "Come in. I'm in a muddle; but come in."

"What stairs!" Patricia heard Amy gasp. Then she saw the visitor throw
off a cloak and a light hat, and toss her hair. There was a moment's
silence as they scrutinised each other. "Patricia, I had to come and
see you. You didn't write, or anything." The agitation which Patricia
was feeling was as nothing to the agitation which Amy showed. She
looked ghastly, and the climb had made her breathe gaspingly. Her lips
looked blue.

"I ought to have come." Patricia was filled with remorse.

"No. I--felt I had to see you after the other day. You know, the day
you came to see me, and Harry Greenlees came."

"Well!" Patricia gave a startled exclamation. Then she sat down and
began to laugh. "What ages ago it seems!" Really, it was incredible!
She had almost forgotten the studio and Amy's warning and Harry's
arrival. So much had happened in the interval, so poignant had been her
emotions, that the reference made her breathless. "Well!"

"I heard Harry was going abroad," pursued Amy, again with that sharp
scrutiny. "I was afraid...."

"Afraid? Oh, that I might be going, too! But why, Amy? I should
have thought you would have known ... Nothing could happen to
me--ever--that I didn't ... I thought ... I thought a girl ought to be
free to live with any man she chose ... to see...."

Patricia was half-laughing. For this moment she was malicious in the
ridicule of such singular concern. She was immediately to learn the
occasion of it. Amy, who sat in the only armchair in the room, which
had been covered with horsehair, and super-covered (as it were) by a
loose envelope that was washable, looked disagreeably back at Patricia
in recognition of such levity. Her face, under the stress of recent
events, was losing its clearness, and was developing a rough greyness
of colour. Her eyes protruded, and the rims of them were faintly pink.
Amy was ageing quickly. By thirty she might be unsightly. She was old,
and stale, and without any sort of colour or imagination or quality.
She repelled Patricia, as a poor relation might have repelled a busy
man in difficulties, or as a sick person repels a healthy one.

"I know," she whispered. "I've tried it. I went down to the country
with Jack. But I couldn't stand it. It was _awful_. I left him as soon
as we got there. Patricia, I couldn't have stayed there with him."

Patricia wheeled round at the incredible announcement. She stared at
her friend. An exclamation burst from her lips.

"But Jack!" she cried. "Jack!"

Amy misunderstood her; she thought Patricia was still in a state to
harp on the inconsiderateness to Jack.

"Oh, he doesn't matter. He's quite all right----."

"I was thinking ... Yes ... I expect he's all right; but I was
thinking...." stammered Patricia. She was aghast. "Why on earth, if you
_were_ going, did you go with somebody who bores you? Surely it was
madness! Oh, my _dear_! ... Amy, you _must_ admit that Jack...."

"I know. I know. He is idiotic. I don't know why I did it. It seems
ridiculous--now. But he kept on saying I ought to go away; and it
seemed impossible to go away alone. So I thought--well: he's supposed
to love me. If I can bear it, perhaps.... You see, I was in despair.
Well, it's no good: that's all. I've been in hell. I got into the next
train, leaving him there. I simply went out without telling him, and
fortunately caught the only possible train back. It was dreadful to see
the train coming, and watch the road in case Jack was coming, too ... I
felt insane!"

"So I should think," said Patricia. "Poor Amy!" She had not really any
pity for Amy; but she did not know what else to say to this inglorious
tale. If she had imagined it, she would have shuddered as at a squalor.
She hesitated, her brain active. Then, sharply, she demanded: "Have you
seen Jack since?"

Amy nodded, tears in her eyes. She was the picture of lugubriousness.
But the colour was rising to her cheeks.

"He says he's finished with me," she pulped. "We've had a flaming row.
He was _filthy_!"

"Good!" cried Patricia, almost with vicious emphasis.

There was a moment's horrified pause. Then Amy, ignoring the
ejaculation, continued:

"However, I shall never be rid of him. He isn't the sort. He'll always
be thinking I'll change, and be pestering me. He's like a cur. The
more you kick him, the closer he sticks. I've only got to whistle. I
loathe him. Don't let's talk about Jack. It was only that I had to tell
you!" She paused, and then, in a minute, resumed: "Oh, Patricia, I've
begun painting again, you'll be glad to hear. I was a fool ever to
take any notice of Felix. Of course, you know what the explanation of
_that_ was! Mere sexual jealousy. Men simply can't bear a woman to be
an artist. It damages their singularity. It was all a part of the sex
conspiracy. I might have known! All this upset has revived my ambition.
It's done me good, in fact. It's given me impetus. I'm doing something
that's going to be _really_ good."

Patricia addressed Amy.

"Amy," she said. "You've finished with Jack. If he hasn't finished
with you, you must be finished with him. For a man who will still
stick to you after that _must_ be an idiot. He _couldn't_ be any good
to you. And if you are going back to painting after swearing as you
did that you had done with it, I shall never understand you. It seems
preposterous. Why, I can remember--Amy, you were absolutely finished
with it. My dear, what's the _good_? As for sex conspiracy--it's
laughable! I think you've been behaving very badly, indeed."

"Indeed!" cried Amy, shocked into vituperation by such an onslaught.
"And what about yourself, pray? When it comes to bad behaviour?"

It was unanswerable. Patricia flushed, staring.

At this moment, while the two of them were mutually speechless with
active hostility, Lucy, interpreting liberally Patricia's welcome
to "anybody," and also possibly rather intrigued by the appearance
of the caller, personally ushered into the room a second visitor.
It was Claudia. She had crossed the landing with a single impetuous
step, and her eagerness brought fresh air into the stuffy little
room. Her tallness, her dark complexion, the rich crimson of her
astrakhan-trimmed cloak, were all such as to make her distinguished.
There was animation in Claudia's face which showed her health and
tranquillity. The quick immature grace of her movement was lovely. She
was free from all self-consciousness. Only at sight of Amy--stricken
by contrast into absolute sickliness of appearance--did she pull up
short.

"Oh," she gasped. "I didn't know.... Sorry!"

"Come in!" Even to Patricia it was evident that Claudia's entry had
brought radiance to the room. She hurried across to greet her. "This is
my friend Amy Roberts--Miss Mayne."

"I'll go," cried Amy, rising from the armchair.

"No, no. Don't be silly." "Oh, don't ... I shall feel...." There were
two protests. But Amy was injured, wounded.

"Yes. I've said all I'd got to say. And listened to some plain
speaking. Very plain. And I must get back to my studio. I'll astonish
everybody yet! I'm an artist, Miss Mayne, and I can't leave my work for
long." She fumbled with her cloak.

"But I shall feel I've driven you away!" cried Claudia, with a puzzled
smile.

"You needn't." Amy was brusque in the effort to be dignified; and as
she flung on her cloak and hat she gave Claudia a frigid smile. "I was
just going in any case." And with that she went to the door. "Good-bye."

"Excuse me." Patricia's glance of reassurance led Claudia to remain,
and, as the two others disappeared, to remove her own cloak, and to
await Patricia's return. She looked quickly round the shabby room--at
the typewriter, the table-cover, the rug, the stained wall-paper, and
the glass with the gilt frame. Then she went to the window to glance at
the dingy outlook, and returned to sniff the gas-fire.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Claudia, very privately to herself. "The poor
thing's stewed alive in smuts up here. It's a _horrible_ place--all
mouldy. No wonder she's conceited! I should be, myself. She's a dear!
As for the other one--pooh!"


iii

She had barely concluded this soliloquy when Patricia, who had run up
the stairs, arrived breathless, and closed the door with a rush. She
was completely changed.

"It's lovely of you to come," she cried. "I'm ever so glad. And you
came opportunely. I don't know what would have happened. I'd been
lecturing Amy, and she was excessively cross. She can't bear the
truth--or _any_ criticism. She's _very_ silly!"

"She seemed gloomy," commented Claudia, with some forbearance.

"Oh, she's worse. I couldn't tell you.... You see--" Patricia seated
herself, all fire to communicate wisdom--"the poor thing is absolutely
mad about herself. She was told some time ago that she wasn't any good
as an artist. I admit it was heartless, and I don't know who broke
the news. I didn't tell her myself, because I didn't know. I may as
well admit--I did the same to your brother, as anybody would have to
do--that I tried to like her pictures. They're very strange pictures,
and apparently everybody laughs at them. They think she's ... well, no
good at all. Well, somebody told her. She was heart-broken. She saw it.
She really did see it. She was passionate, and crushed; but she somehow
realised that she _wasn't_ any good. That was a week ago. But now she's
all changed. She thinks it's a conspiracy. Belief in her own genius has
come back--twice it's strength!"

"Recoil!" suggested Claudia, elated.

"Something like that. And she's been behaving _atrociously_--to a poor
man who loves her. I admit that he's an idiot; but still--even idiots
have their rights, you'd think! He isn't a lunatic. I don't mean that
he's really mad--only in relation to Amy. And it's bad for her. It
makes her feel a sort of horrible empty power--that he's always there
if she needs him. He's just a dog-like creature, filled with devotion.
I like him. He's too good for her. But he's perfectly idiotic about
Amy."

"I _couldn't_ fall in love with that girl," said Claudia distinctly.
"I could try to like her; because she's your friend. No more. I think
she's probably an egoist; and egoism's a bother."

Patricia was pulled up at this comment.

"There's a lot of good in her," she apologetically explained. "I
oughtn't to talk unkindly about her. And I'm afraid I'm rather an
egoist myself."

"The first thing you've got to do--if you'll try hard to forgive me for
saying such an awful impertinence--is to move out of these rooms," said
Claudia, with superficial irrelevance.

Again Patricia received a shock. But she recovered and smiled.

"I can't," she answered. "They're cheap." Then her tone became more
sober. "I've got no money at all. In fact...." Her lips quivered.

"You couldn't have any money in these rooms," said that distinct voice.
"Move out of them. _We'll_ get you some money." Claudia spoke with
assurance. Patricia was dazzled.

"But how?" she asked. "I'm desperate for it."

"We'll ask Edgar."

"I couldn't. I think ... I think ... It seems absurd; but I think
perhaps I'm just a little afraid of him."

Claudia surveyed her newest friend with astonishment and approval. Her
emotion seemed to be almost one of hopeful relief, which surprised
Patricia a good deal. Claudia proceeded.

"Oh, that's awfully good!" she cried. "I'm not afraid of him; but
I think it's nice of you to be. I'm pleased at that. However, you
needn't be afraid of him; because.... Well, what I really came for
is to beg you to come home with me for dinner. Could you? Mother
and father are having their annual wayzgoose, or beano. It's the
anniversary of their wedding. So Edgar and I are dining alone. You
needn't change your dress. I shan't. Will you come? Do!"


iv

The two girls had tea together at a café, and then walked to the
Maynes' house, arriving there before six o'clock. Claudia then hastily
telephoned to Edgar, leaving Patricia for the necessary few moments to
the entertainment of Percy and Pulcinella. Patricia was once again in
that delicately cordial room of blue and blue-grey; and the size of
the room as well as the purity of its simple comfort was a solace to
her. There were very few pictures in the room, and of these the largest
was a strong and beautiful landscape by a modern artist, C. J. Holmes,
which gave Patricia delight. All else was unaffected and apparently
unstudied. A bright fire burned within the noble grate; and a big old
clock ticked hollowly, reminding her of the clock in a half-forgotten
poem, which said "Ever--Never--Never--Forever."... The room was quite
silent except for this ticking and the occasional whispering collapses
of fragments of coal. There was an extraordinary peace in this house,
and a sense of open space in the sitting-room which was enhanced by
the cool tones of the furnishings. Patricia sighed as she sat there
alone. The little dog, Pulcinella, a glossy black twisting creature,
was exuberant and friendly. Patricia could almost have believed that he
recognised her. Percy was more distant. He stared with big steady eyes.
But at last he, too, rising from his place, stretched and yawned, and
came slowly across to her side. Here, instead of making any advance,
he merely sat with his feathery tail straight behind him on the floor,
while he contemplated the stranger in silence.

"Percy," said Patricia. "You're awfully proud."

He looked at her relentingly. Patricia slipped to her knees beside him,
and the little dog came frisking there also. Percy turned a solemn
head, in order to watch the gambollings of Pulcinella, and again
yawned. His dignified coquetry was engaging. Then he rubbed his head
against Patricia's sleeve.

"I wish I had as little care as you," she whispered. And as she sat
there her face grew white. She sprang up, transformed from white to
red. Memory of the unknown creature she had been on the previous night
came destructively to her mind. Her face hardened. "I oughtn't to be
here!" Patricia thought, as the conflict between her memory and this
pervading tranquillity sank into her mind. "I'm wicked. I _want_ to be
wicked! Claudia--why, Claudia wouldn't want to be my friend at all if
she knew all I think and do and want to do. I'm an impostor. I'm not
nice at all. I'm wicked." A great stab of misery held her silent, still
scarlet. She even took pleasure in hurting herself, in thinking that
she was wicked.

While Patricia was yet stricken with the enormity of her own guilty
inclination, Claudia came back into the room, and stood with that air
of affection that made Patricia soft towards her new and guileless and
altogether innocent friend. Claudia pulled a chair up to the fire, and
pointed to it.

"That boy will be here in no time," she gaily said.

"Boy? Oh, how strange to...." Patricia checked herself. Almost vaguely,
she went on: "I hope he's not coming ... leaving his work."

"It'll do him good!" cried Claudia, unexpectedly. "What he wants is....
No, Percy, you mustn't claw!" This last was because Percy was resenting
Patricia's neglect and seeking to re-establish their relations. "What
Edgar wants is something to save him from work altogether. Work's a
great monster."

"I hate it!" acknowledged Patricia. "It's devil-begotten!"

"Edgar's work has made happiness for everybody in this house. Without
it, we should be nowhere. We shouldn't exist. But Edgar's the one
who gets least out of his work. We're all Old Men of the Sea on his
shoulders. I've never thought of that before, by the way. I suppose you
didn't happen to think of it, by any chance, and put it into my head?"

"Oh, no," said Patricia naïvely. "You see, I don't ... don't know Edgar
very well."

Claudia gave her a quick side-long glance.

"He knows you pretty well, doesn't he?" she answered. "But of course
that's different."

That was the third shock Patricia had received that afternoon from
Claudia. She turned as if to answer; but Claudia was moving across the
room, and Patricia was left to draw her own inference. The remark had
almost seemed to accuse her of injustice to Edgar. And what beyond?


v

They had dined, and were back again in the tranquil sitting-room, all
cosily round the fire, with the lights soft and the fire an enormous
red glow. Patricia was very subdued. She was happy and unhappy at the
same time. The contrast of this evening, and this quiet fireside, with
the previous evening's hot and tempting excitement, was impressive; it
shook her. She knew that this was in some way better than the other;
she felt herself yielding to it upon the one hand as she had done
upon the other to passion; and as she knew and remembered, she became
confusedly restless. She wondered if the Maynes always spent their
evenings quietly, and in such blessed and unendurable tranquillity.

"I couldn't bear to," she thought, with the tears starting into her
eyes. "I'm wicked. I must have excitement. I couldn't stand it. I
should scream, and make a dash--like Amy running for the train!"

But as if Claudia had guessed what were Patricia's thoughts, she said:

"This is the first evening Edgar and I have both been at home for about
six weeks--seven weeks--except that night when you came to dinner."
Patricia sighed wearily, her eyes closing in despair at the sense of
guilt which oppressed her. There was a moment's silence. In the middle
of it, Claudia rose. "Oh, by the way, Edgar. Patricia's hard up. She
wants to ask your advice. I promised you'd help her."

"No, no. I don't ..." began Patricia, and looked round for support. But
Claudia was no longer in the room. The door was closed. She was alone
with Edgar, as one imprisoned; and everything Edgar stood for in her
mind was hostile to passion and folly and hot-mouthed temptation.

She could not bring herself to meet his glance. She could look no
higher than the shoulders of his dark grey tweed suit. His small and
well-shaped feet were opposite her own. He lay back in a chair which
was the counterpart of the one in which Patricia sat. Edgar, the maker
of this home, who breathed restraint and clear understanding and
ridicule of emotional recklessness. She was ashamed and tongue-tied.
But one grey tweed suit is very like another, and when Edgar spoke
she could not help quickly glancing up, with resentment of his
unsusceptibility to the charm which she knew herself to be capable of
exercising. He was very brown, and his brown eyes were very honest, and
his lips were very clearly and pleasantly moulded, as though he smiled
easily. He was smiling now.

"I expect you'd better, hadn't you?" he asked, with perfect gravity and
good-humour.

There came into Patricia's heart a trust which was rare, and an
irresistible call to candour. It annihilated her resentment, her
hostile clinging to the memory of Monty and the fever in her blood
which he represented.

"I didn't mean to ask your advice," she said, looking straight at
Edgar. "You couldn't advise me. You couldn't understand how I'm placed."

"Of course I couldn't," agreed Edgar. "Unless you'd tell me. Of course,
you _could_ do that."

"Are you laughing at me?" demanded Patricia, with sharp anger. Then,
the question unsolved, she went on. "It's quite true. I'm coming to the
end of my money; and I don't know what to do. I'm not making any money
just now: only spending it. And I ought to work."

"What sort of work?" asked Edgar. "What can you do?"

The colour filled Patricia's cheeks. She was again ashamed before him,
with the same feeling of shackled personality.

"I'm afraid, nothing," she said, speaking at first with a sort of dry
impertinence, and afterwards with rather wistful humility. "Nothing
that you would regard as anything. I've been writing. I want to write.
I think I've got talent. But ... I'm only a beginner. You see, I was in
an office during the War; and I had a little money when my uncle died;
and I've sold a few of the things I've written."

"What d'you mean by nothing that I should regard as anything?" inquired
Edgar. Patricia remained silent, the colour slowly rising, and her
heart frozen. She could not withstand his personality, but she was
fighting against its approach to herself. "You want to keep on the life
of a woman of leisure!" he proceeded, smiling again. He changed his
attitude, sitting more upright in his chair. "It's awfully hard to go
back to drudgery."

Patricia's heart leapt--at the thought, and at his affectionate
kindness.

"I simply couldn't," she cried breathlessly.

"I'm sure you could. You could do anything you chose." There came from
those steady eyes a look that was full of encouragement, of sympathy.
To Edgar there was no question. He trusted her. It was he who evoked
her quality. Patricia found herself agitated in self-abhorrence.

"O-oh!" she cried, in pain. "If you _knew_...." The painful colour
again flooded her cheeks.

"Suppose you tell me," begged Edgar.

"No." Patricia stared into the fire, her hands clasped upon the arm
of her chair. She was driven to defiance that shocked herself. "I
couldn't. And you couldn't understand. There are all sorts of things
in my _nature_ that you couldn't understand. You ... you've got a cold
will. You don't shrink and waver. You're not impulsive and ...."

Edgar rose from his chair, his hands in his pockets. He stood looking
away from Patricia, as if in deep thought. At last he said:

"Do you resent my will, that you call it cold? Why should you do that?
It's unjust. I've no wish but to help you. As a matter of fact, I
haven't a cold will. I'm obstinate; and I shrink and waver. But I don't
shrink and waver once I've made up my mind. I made up my mind some
time ago that I loved you and wanted to marry you, and to help you; and
so there's no more hesitation about _that_."

Patricia was astounded. She turned sharply, her lips parted in
amazement. He was in earnest. His words made her heart race. Then anger
came--and again shame--and an emotion which she did not analyse.

"Marry? When.... Don't be ridiculous!" cried Patricia.

Edgar looked down at her, apparently as grave and unmoved as before,
although his voice was changed.

"Why not?" he asked. "I'm in love with you. Will you marry me?"

Patricia laughed, almost savagely. She was deeply moved, and her
present emotion, in conflict with all she had been feeling so recently,
made her voice loud and angry, as if she were afraid.

"Love me ... I don't feel that you love me," she said with bitterness.
"Something quite different. I feel that you're interested in me----"

"Well, I should hope so!" cried Edgar, apparently amazed. "Isn't that
essential?"

"And I don't love you," said Patricia, vehemently. "I don't!" She was
still emphatically protesting. "I respect you. I think you're ... I
think you're everything that's kind and ... inhuman." She was trying to
remain calm, to equal his restraint with her own; and she was failing.
The failure gave her a passionate sense of inferiority to him that
was intolerable. Suddenly she began to cry, her hands outstretched
helplessly before her. "It's no good.... It's no good!" she sobbed
through her tears, her little face distorted with the torment of her
heart. "I'm ... an awful ... _beast_!"

Edgar took the outstretched hands in his own, dropping to one knee in
order to do so. He was so gentle, so extraordinarily inviting of trust
and sincerity and goodness, that Patricia's head came forward for the
merest instant, and touched his shoulder, as if there to find relief
from her own suffering.

"Do think of it," he urged, his face so near her own, so comprehending,
so full of love. "Patricia ...."

She rose in anguish, beating her hands together.

"You think it's so simple. You think it's a question of talking and
persuading. You don't know what love is," she said, in this violent,
strangled voice. And then, as if indignantly, she added: "Nor do I! Nor
do I! I _couldn't_. I don't know how to love. I'm too much of a beast.
I'm too selfish and ugly-hearted! And if you knew anything about my
nature you wouldn't _want_ to love me. You'd hate me." And with that
she began to dry her eyes, staring away from him, and trembling.

"You're so silly to talk of being wicked," Edgar said. "How are you
wicked?" A very faint tinge of humour came into his voice at her
persistent remorse. "What's your particular form of wickedness? Don't
be so vague, my dear. You'd enjoy it more if you _were_ thoroughly
wicked. Let me help you not to be wicked!"

Patricia made no answer. When he repeated her name she ignored him.
In a minute, as if she were trying to be conversational, she went on,
still in a dreary, hopeless tone:

"Isn't it funny. I've been coming across ... all sorts of people's
ideas of love ... lately--both girls and men;--and they're all of them
different. They're none of them ... mine. And I _must_ have _my_ way of
love!"

Edgar was also upon his feet, facing her.

"What _is_ your way of love?" he asked. "It's my way, too. The others
aren't love. They're phantasms." But Patricia would not speak. Only a
little tearful smile, as at some baffling secret knowledge which he
could never share, played upon her lips and in her eyes. The smile, as
well as her silence, provoked his complaint. "There's a sort of sublime
cheek about you," said Edgar, wonderingly, "that isn't likely to be
equalled. I asked you to marry me. You ramble on about other people's
ideas of love. The ideas of other people don't interest me."

"Exactly!" cried Patricia, thrown back into anger and shame and
resistance. "That's exactly why nobody could ever possibly love you.
You're only interested in your own ideas."

"They're not enough, my dear. I want _your_ love."

"I could _never_ love you," said Patricia, trying to speak coolly, and
remaining unconvincing in her childish emphasis. "I could never love
anybody so ... so bitterly inhuman!"

"Well, won't you try?" he urged, puzzled at her quarrelsomeness and
unable to reconcile it with the indifference he had feared. "You like
me, don't you?"

Patricia shook her head, unexpectedly.

"No!" she cried. "I _don't_ like you. I hate you. I shall always hate
you. You make me feel such a cad!"

And with that she left him, going in search of Claudia. Edgar, his
heart beating, and his temper ruffled, remained standing as he had
stood during the latter part of their interview. He did not see her
again that night. She had left the house by the time Claudia returned
to the room, and brother and sister averted their eyes from each other
at their first encounter.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN: PLAYING WITH FIRE


i

Patricia made some important discoveries about herself within the next
twelve hours. She was sleepless, and her brain was active. She found
that all love-stories were entirely wrong, that they were too simple
and too prudish. They did not represent her own feelings at all. And
the more she tried to discover what her own feelings were, the more
bewildered she became. Like so many other matters connected with
herself, as to which she had no standards of comparison, her feelings
seemed to Patricia to be unique. She was both ashamed and exultant at
this.

At first she was too frantically troubled at the position in which she
found herself to be anything but exclamatory. Within an amazingly short
time she had allowed three men to make love to her, if with certain
restrictions; and her sense of purity was horrified at this. There
immediately followed, by reaction, some vehement attempts to justify
her own conduct. But when she had been hysterical for a little while
Patricia became calmer. The calm was even more false than the hysteria.
It was in fact a feature of advanced hysteria. She was not equal to the
strain which the events of the last few days had created.

"I don't love any of them," she said. "I'm too selfish--too wicked. I
don't deserve to be loved. And I'm _not_ loved, either. I wanted Harry
to adore me. He couldn't! I want Monty ... he fascinates me. He excites
me. I like it, and hate myself for liking it. He's passionate; he's
sensual. And _I'm_ passionate; _I'm_ sensual. It's the wicked side of
me coming out. And I only want Edgar to respect me. Respect!" She gave
a hollow little mocking laugh. "He doesn't know me. He doesn't care
for me. He couldn't adore me, because he despises me. He couldn't be
passionate about me, because he's too cold. He's cold, I tell you. He
doesn't know what it is to want somebody _fiercely_. I've got no power
over him at all. And I must have power! I _must_!"


ii

Her mind went creeping back to Edgar, with a sort of raging contempt.

"He thinks love's an endless conversation. He thinks it's like paying
another person's daily cheque into your own account, and being able
to draw cheques to the same amount. It's a transaction. It _isn't_.
There's no romance in him. He's business. He'd engage me as a wife
as he'd engage a secretary. 'Good post.' A considerate employer!
Everything in the day's round--breakfast, love, business ... I _hate_
him! I could never move his judgment. He'd be kind; but he'd never
really give in to me. Besides, I don't want to be just a part of a
man's life. I wouldn't. I must be the whole of it. I'm too big to be a
part of anything. The man I marry must adore me....

"It's strange. I could--I couldn't ever feel any shyness or pride
with Edgar. I could tell him anything that came into my head.... No,
I couldn't. He's intelligent; but he's amused at me. He doesn't take
me seriously. That's his limitation. He thinks I'm a funny little
insect. If I told him I was wonderful, he'd say, 'In what way?' Fancy
trying to live with a man who asks what your ideas of love are! No, he
wouldn't.... He'd say, quite calmly: 'Yes, I suppose you are. We all
are, in our way.' He does everything with his head. He hasn't _got_ a
heart! He'd think me silly and vain and....

"Of course, if I was worn out--a poor, broken dispirited girl who just
wanted a home, and food, and if I fitted in with his work, then it
would be different. I'm not! I'm young! I want love and life, and other
young people ... and admiration. I want power. And I want to be loved
for my beauty ... as Monty loves me. I want to be desired, as Monty
desires me. Edgar _couldn't_ feel for me in that way.... He only cares
for himself.... For me, perhaps, in a funny way. But only as something
secondary to himself.

"I could go on living with Edgar all my life....

"I couldn't live with him at all. I could have lived with Harry,
because ... Harry's stupid. He's obtuse. But he's charming. Edgar's not
charming. He doesn't _want_ to be. He could be, if he wanted to be. He
only wants to be quite honest, quite fair.... My God! Fancy wanting to
be quite fair in love!

"Why is it that I attract these men?" She laughed again, murmuring. She
was diverted at her own scorn of her three lovers. Had life nothing
better to offer her than a choice between charm and desire and cool
affection? It seemed not. And yet on the whole, they were personable.
Harry and Monty were handsome. Edgar, if not handsome, was not
fantastically ill-looking. He had a good plain clean-cut face, and his
hair and eyes and teeth were good. Oh, she admitted that! But she was
thinking of them, not as men whom one might notice or fail to notice in
the street, but as possible husbands....

Not only as husbands; but as husbands for Patricia Quin!


iii

These thoughts represented her arrogance. There remained her modesty.
It did not apply in the case of Harry, because Harry lay, as it were,
in the past. And he had not wanted to marry her. Did Monty? Patricia's
thought of that was a wild blur. But the secret of her feeling of
resentment towards Edgar suddenly emerged once more in the modest mood
which now came. She had been able to charm Harry: she both attracted
and excited Monty: she did not know what could attract Edgar to
herself, since she felt she did not charm him at all. How charm the
basilisk? If she tried to charm him he would think her _farouche_.

"He likes the truth. He'd soon find out that there's nothing in me at
all. I'm only a shallow, pleasure-loving girl, who's caught his eye
because she's pretty and young. That's nothing. Fifty thousand girls
would do as much. He'd find me out. There's nothing in me. There's
only vanity and ... and wickedness. He wouldn't like that. He'd be
displeased with me for not being wise and good ... and sensible....

"He's kind. I trust him....

"What on earth am I talking like this for? Anybody would think I wanted
to persuade myself to marry him. I don't. I don't love him; and never
could love him; and I'll never marry him. He'd bore me. Besides, it's
ridiculous. It's not as though I'd asked him to want me. I'm not a
beggar--yet. And he doesn't really want to marry me at all. He couldn't
care for me.

"I'm inferior to him. I have thoughts and feelings he wouldn't like.
I'm full of ugliness and selfishness and wickedness.

"I'm no good. I'm no good to anybody. I'm horrible.

"Not really quite horrible. I'm only a ... you see, I'm ... I _am_
nice. I _am_ good!

"No, I'm no good. I'm no good to anybody...." There was a long
tormented pause. Very low, with a sudden flush of blood to the cheeks,
in an almost vicious despair:

"Except Monty...."


iv

There was a letter from Monty lying beside her plate upon the
breakfast-table. It said:

  "Dear Patricia: Come to dinner--here--to-morrow night ('To-night'
  when you get this). We'll dine and talk, and perhaps go and dance
  somewhere. Monty."

"Here" was his own house in South Hampstead. Patricia read the note as
a command, and her brows were raised. Then she re-read it as an appeal.
Her heart began to beat a little faster. For the first time she was
repelled by the warning sense of danger. It was in a mood entirely
reckless that she threw the letter aside, determined to go. The
hardness was again in her eyes. It was as though she had snapped her
fingers at Edgar; but her heart was heavy, and the curve of her lips
was that of shame and defiance.


v

Monty sat in the studio waiting for his visitor. Those hangings which
had supplied such barbaric decoration upon the night of the September
party had been replaced. The whole studio was filled with colour,
blazing from wall to wall. And Monty sat in sombre Napoleonic gloom
amid the marvels of his invention. His face gave no sign of the slow
and melancholy thoughts which were passing steadily, processionally,
before his concentrated attention. Monty never hurried. He always
saw his way clear before taking any step. He had a slow, fatalistic
patience which was almost always rewarded.

For weeks now Monty had thought that Patricia Quin was desirable.
He had seen her first at his own party in September, and since then
upon many occasions. He had looked at her at first, speculating, with
the cool observation of a connoisseur. There was much grace, much
wilfulness: her movements were delightful, and the play of her light
emotions full of singular interest. For a little while Monty had
wondered how innocent she really might be; for he appreciated freshness
as much as any traditional roué could have done, and he disliked what
was callow. His experience of women also made him suspicious of the
assumption of purity in such young women as interested him. One of
Monty's precepts had been "You cannot shock a woman." It revealed in
him a standpoint already fixed.

As he had seen Patricia his interest in her had grown. She amused
him by her confidence, her ignorance; she was fresh, and she had
spirit. Moreover, when he thought of her, Monty had the air of one
grimly smiling. Spirit in a young girl entertained him: it could be
played with, and tormented. With its positive effects upon those less
sophisticated than himself he had no concern. For Monty it had no
positive effects, since he was entirely impervious to the behavior of
others where his own determination was engaged. Such a spirit would
be amusing to break. Nothing more. Even as he thought that, Monty had
an increased stolidity of air. But his interest was not only in her
spirit, which was probably the mark of unstable will. Patricia seemed
to him in every way delectable. She was unspoilt; she was to be won by
flattery; she was to be kept by insolence.

Nevertheless, Monty did not under-rate the address which might be
required in winning Patricia. He had dealt previously with young women
who were without experience of love. He foresaw that Patricia would
be shy as a doe, ready at a single alarming move to fly. She could
be flattered, interested, cajoled, by way of her vanity; but not yet
was the moment to be ruthless. That, perhaps, was a part of the game.
Patricia could be roused, indulged, enjoyed, slowly punished. At least
she must be handled with finesse. Monty calculated his finesse.

A point which alarmed him was that his own interest had grown beyond
what he had at first imagined that it would be. He had not been, at
any time, wholly cold-blooded in his design. That was not the whole of
Monty's nature. He had a slow, rising passion; and it was this which
determined his actions in all matters of sex. But he had been surprised
to find, especially at their last two meetings, that Patricia's
innocence, and her virgin coldness, had moved him to an unexpected
degree of desire. Only by the greatest self-control had he refrained
from alarming her.

Monty appeared to sleep as he sat in his chair in that
barbarically-decorated room with the glass roof. A look of heaviness
spread across his face. Slowly his head fell back among the cushions.
He was intently listening, and his eyes were closed.

Monty had been right. The noise he had heard had been that made by the
bell. An instant later the studio door opened and Patricia appeared,
demure, even roguish, but pale and, as he immediately saw, in a state
of over-strained nerves which signalled caution. She was alarmed by
the sense of danger, in no mood of submission, but as timid as a wild
bird. So much was clear even from her glance round the empty studio,
the involuntary sway of recoil which marked her realisation of its
emptiness.

"Hullo!" cried Patricia, in greeting. "Am I the first?"

"You're the most welcome," Monty assured her. "Come and sit down. What
a cold hand! Is it so very cold out?"

"Freezing," Patricia assured him. "And it's a horrid journey, you know."

"How stupid of me!" murmured Monty. "Yes, that's very stupid. I'm so
sorry. It's unpardonable of me."

"Never mind. It's really quite all right. Who else is coming?" she
asked, eagerly. "Not that I need anybody else, of course." The quick
addition was a conscious attempt to placate him, the result of an
effort to seem more experienced than in fact she was. It did not
deceive Monty.

"That's so kind," he answered. "To dinner--nobody. I thought you
wouldn't mind just ourselves. But afterwards there are several
people--Felix, and ... oh, I forget. Rudge and Cynthia Blent and
Mackinnon and Timothy Webster. Several more. But they won't be here
till good and late."

Patricia nodded. Monty had not failed to observe her relief. He felt
he had been wise in thus departing from his original intention, and
preparing an after-dinner party. His letter had suggested another
pastime, as they both knew. Neither commented. It might have been, he
thought, a trivial piece of policy; in reality, as Monty instantly
saw, it had saved the day. He was perfectly well-aware that otherwise
Patricia would have been on edge for the evening.

"Very fortunate," he thought definitely. "Something's been happening to
her. Look at the eyes, the pupils ... hands.... Drawn lips. Not only
fear of me. ... Strange. What can it be? It's Greenlees, I suppose; but
what? Is she deeper, or stupidly excitable?"

"Dinner is served, sir," said Jacobs, from the doorway.

"Come along!" Monty caught Patricia's arm with an attempted air of
gaiety. It was essential him that he should touch her. At that moment
his impulse was savagely to embrace her, to force her body against his
own, to hold her to him while he kissed ravenously her neck and cheeks
and shoulders.

Patricia started at the touch, and there was a warning degree of
resistance in her slightly rigid arm.

"I'm so glad you've got the hangings up again in the studio," she said,
with attempted ease as they entered the dining-room thus linked and
apart. "They make it like a necromancer's consulting room."


vi

"And supposing myself to be the necromancer," said Monty, across the
table, "how would you wish to consult me?"'

Patricia unfolded her napkin before answering, and looked round the
dining room. The ceiling and walls were dim, because the room was
lighted only by half-a-dozen candles set upon the table. The table
itself had been made as small as possible, a perfect circle, and was
not covered with a cloth. The candles within their decorated orange
shades gave a mellow glow. She could see directly across the table to
Monty, hardly three feet away, and soup was served the instant she was
seated. Jacobs, having served the soup, retired from the room to await
a summons.

"I should wish to consult you ... oh, upon a great number of things,"
evasively answered Patricia.

"As for instance?"

She smiled, looking quickly round, as if with a sinking heart.

"I don't strictly know what a necromancer is; but supposing him to
be a seer of the future, I should like to know ... I should like to
know...." Again Patricia hesitated. Hastily she improvised a substitute
for the real problem in her mind. "Do you believe in anything at all?"
she asked.

It was strange how tones, however low, were audible in that room. She
could hear Monty's rich, caressing, magnetic voice, so soothingly
quiet, as if it came from beside her.

"What would you like me to believe in?" he begged. "In Progress, or
Faith, or the future of England and the Arts? In Beauty and Goodness?
In yourself?"

"In honesty, for example. In truth."

"My dear Patricia, you shock me," protested Monty. "I have the greatest
respect for truth, and of course for honesty."

"Have you any familiarity with either?" She could see that he would not
talk seriously; and she presently was glad that he would not do so. She
had wanted answers to other questions, and not to those she had put.
The other questions it would have been impossible to ask.

"Patricia, I find that truth and honesty are supposed to be dull--so
commonplace as to shock even those who seem to be unable to invent any
satisfactory substitutes. 'Let us,' says the life-weary dweller in
this district, 'let us read something and see something at the theatre
which will take us away from the sordid truth of every-day life.' And
yet, I have never seen truth. I believe I shouldn't know it if I saw
it. 'What is truth?' asked jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an
answer. He might have waited until the last trump. As for honesty, it's
an appanage of truth, another romantic illusion. If you had asked me if
I believed in Beauty, or Goodness, or in yourself, I should have said
that the terms were indistinguishable."

"That would have been ample answer to my question about honesty," said
Patricia. "I don't think I shall ask more questions of the necromancer.
He seems to me rather specious." Nevertheless, Monty's elaborate reply
to her false question had increased her composure. She was almost at
ease, but still there was something to Monty not quite comprehensible
in her ever so faintly agitated manner. "Won't you ... won't you tell
me something about Carthage, please, or Egypt, or the Desert...." she
asked.

"The desert," said Monty, musingly. "Yes, the desert...."


vii

He described to the wondering Patricia the Nile as he had seen it, and
how it takes its rise in the mountains, and how at first the river is
red and then green because of the flood of the Blue Nile, and how the
flood of the White Nile comes later, so that the banks are covered and
the surrounding country is inundated with rich fertilising mud. He
described the desert, and repeated that short poem of Shelley's about
the King Ozymandias. He told her of the sounds and colours of the East,
of all those things which as a traveller he had seen and experienced.
He pictured the crowds of the Bazaar, the contrasts, always keeping
to familiar things of which she might have read, for the sake of
reawakening past imagination and past emotion, which would be so potent
in colouring her present mood. And all the time he was speaking in
that slow magic-creating voice of sweetness. Monty's eyes never once
left Patricia, but continued to absorb her fairness and her purity, as
though he could never cease from desiring her more than anything upon
earth or beyond life itself.

So given were they both to this scene that the food before them was
eaten mechanically, and the wine they drank insensibly was making them
more intimate and more at the mercy of the hour; and Patricia hardly
knew that she was eating and drinking, so much was she in a dream. And
in the dream she was haunted by the sense that she would awaken, that
fierce, cruel birds of prey were tearing her heart, that never again
would she know tranquillity or ease of spirit. And Monty was watching
her still, with eyes that yielded nothing and took everything, while he
sought only to maintain the power which he was achieving by the effect
of his story upon her imagination. To Monty all the marvel of which he
spoke was familiar. He was unmoved by it. Patricia's beauty, and that
alone, was the cause of his unrelaxing attentiveness, the creeping
white heat of his feeling, which grew each moment more fierce, more
concentrated, more difficult to keep within his own power. He was moved
so vehemently that his eyes were glowing. Into his face had stolen that
look of greedy sensual heaviness which his passion created. His voice
was lower, and the softness had given place to a dryer tone, still
caressing, still full of unknown music, but deeper and less smooth. His
lips were apart, showing his white teeth. His hands upon the table were
rigid.

And something made Patricia look suddenly at Monty, when his expression
was unguarded; and she had this clear understanding of his nature and
his attitude to herself. Again she had the sensation which had come to
her at night after they had parted; of blood which rose to her cheeks
and shoulders, which in its recession made her body burn. It was with
fear, a fear which made a shrill cry of protest, of agony, difficult to
repress, that she slightly shrank. The colour faded from her cheeks. It
was succeeded by deadly pallor, and a trembling such as she could never
previously have known.


viii

After the dinner was finished, they went back to the studio for coffee;
but the picture of the East was forgotten, and to both of them it
was the moment alone that was the secret preoccupation. Patricia sat
upon a low seat near the fire, and smoked a cigarette; and they spoke
of other things without conviction, and without more than a pretence
of interest or intimacy. And when Monty would again have engaged her
with pictures of travel she was steadfast in refusal to yield herself.
There was a chasm between them. He could see that she had taken fright.
He was once more adroitly soothing--talked of the furnishings of his
studio, and, indicating each, said how he had acquired it, and with
what pure cunning--talked not very light-hearted nonsense about the
people who were coming later in the evening--talked of pictures and
music, of mountains and lakes and seas--everything to reassure her and
restore her ease. But all the time Patricia could remember that glow in
his eyes to which she had awakened at the table; and she shrank back,
uncontrollably, filled with vehement dread, shocked with the sense of
these impenetrable hangings, the dreadful silence beyond the closed
door.

And Monty could not continue to control himself with the same coolness.
With every effort to maintain the earlier calm, he was driven by urgent
necessity to approach her more nearly. Still he did not touch her;
but his manifestly exercised restraint was betrayed in every tone.
The colours of those barbaric curtains and chairs began for Patricia
to merge and swim together. And Monty was no longer a man; he became
some diabolical and terrifying figure, dark, sinister, grotesque. She
was afraid--not now of herself, as she had been, but solely of him.
She was cooler now, but watchful, still half-fascinated, but as one on
edge in face of danger. Monty was laughing and speaking of the dancing
which they had amusedly noticed at their last visit to Topping's; of
Jacky Dean; of the crowd; of other clubs. He imitated Jacky's devoted,
colourless style, which moved him to great mirth, prolonged until it
began to jar. And at last he said:

"Have you seen the new steps? Look...." As he spoke, he began dancing
alone in the middle of the brilliant studio, a black figure of grace,
his head turned from her so that she should not see the colour of
his cheeks and the ferocity of his eyes; while Patricia watched the
movement of his feet and the poise of his body. "See? Ta-ta-tum-ta....
Two steps ... it's a variation of the Tango, of course, very much
simplified; but it's rather deceptive. Try it...."

He approached her, his hands outstretched. With a heart of water,
Patricia rose, half-protesting. Their hands met, their heads were
level. And as Monty held her so he increased and strengthened his hold
until with suddenly uncontrollable passion he was savagely pressing
her to him and with fury advancing his face so that he might command
her lips. His whole body was rigid. The muscles of his arms were like
iron to her tender flesh. Patricia did not scream. She could not have
done so. Both were desperately silent except for their heavy breathing.
She withdrew her head to the greatest distance that Monty's cruel hold
allowed, until she was suffocating. One hand was tightly pressed to
Monty's side between his body and her own, and was useless. The other
remained. With all her hysterical strength she used it to push away
that dark, insistent face. Patricia's strength at the moment of stress
was so abnormal that, suddenly exerted so very little more, it might
have been sufficient to dislocate his neck. It was for an instant only.
They were struggling no more. Monty released her, and they drew apart,
panting. Red marks were beneath Monty's chin. Patricia felt bruised, as
she might have done if she had been severely beaten with a stick. She
was shuddering.

"I'm sorry, Patricia," Monty said, harshly. "I beg your pardon. It was
too much for me." The two of them turned away from each other, Monty
breathing rapidly, Patricia still almost stifled. "Did I hurt you? Poor
child! I was brutal. I'm sorry...."

With her heart seeming to beat in her throat, Patricia nodded slowly.

"My fault," she said, indistinctly. "I ought...."

Both, if it had not been for breathlessness and dishevelment, were
treating the situation with strange coolness, as if all heat had
evaporated from it. Patricia had no fear. She knew that the embrace
could not be repeated. It was as though the fire which had burned
in Monty had been extinguished. He stood before her, recovering his
normal address, the heaviness gone from his face, and the fury from his
eyes. Already he was slipping back into that slow thick courtesy of
manner which had been so attractive. Quite soon he would be debonair,
perfectly at ease. And she herself, incapable of thought, and in a
state of physical agitation though she was, became apparently composed.
But even as Patricia felt this, she was overcome by deadly sickness.
Her pallor was increased. She groped her way to the fireplace, resting
her head against the cool mantelpiece in an effort to recover. And as
she stood thus, only half-conscious, there came a sound which made
Monty start. He gave an exclamation, and turned quickly. At first his
hands went to his neck, instinctively to the spot where he might bear
marks of the struggle. Then, from a sharp glance, with similar intent,
at Patricia, he discovered her fainting condition.

"Good God, you're ill!" he cried. "That's the bell. They'll be coming
now. Drink this. For God's sake don't let them see...."

As he spoke he moved quickly across the studio to a cupboard, from
which he produced and brought to her side a decanter and glass. Again
Patricia nodded, taking the glass from his hand, and sitting once more
upon her low chair, and drinking the brandy. It made her cough. In
the midst of her coughing the studio door opened and a merry group of
newcomers, all peeping and laughing, appeared without.

They gave universal shouts of greeting, and proclaimed envy of anybody
caught with a brandy-glass in her hand, and made general uproar. And
in doing so the crowd pushed its way into the studio and its members
scattered.

"Hul-lo!" they jovially cried. "Caught you, Patricia! Leading an
inebriate's life, I see.... Greedy! Oh!"

Patricia, laughing, waved the glass in acknowledgment; but it was poor
laughter, and was fortunately unheard amid the louder noises of the
careless people who had brought their own gaiety.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE VISITOR


i

The noise which the others made, as fresh arrivals increased their
numbers, enabled Monty to return to Patricia's side. She could see a
whiteness even in Monty's cheeks when he was quite close to her, and
her aversion to him died. Quickly her heart told her that he too was
suffering.

"How are you feeling? Would you care to lie down? Shall I get you a
taxi? I can't get rid of these people yet. If you'll lie down, I'll
take you home later."

"I'll go soon," she whispered back, touched by his subdued tone. "Don't
worry. I'm all right. I'm better. I'll go presently, when I feel able.
I'll just slip out."

"I'm so sorry," he repeated. "Look here, I must see you before you go."

At that her nerves again raised protest. A deep shudder shook her.

"I'd rather not," she said, in the same low voice. "I couldn't stand
any more ... excitement to-night."

"I _must_ see you," he said. "You mustn't go without giving me five
minutes."

And at that moment there was a loud call for him from the other end of
the studio, and Monty left Patricia. She continued to sit quite still,
while the brandy began slowly to have its effect. The blood stole back
to her cheeks. She looked at her little hands, which lay together,
clenched, in her lap, and slowly unclenched them, so that the knuckles
were no longer white. The nails had left two or three pink marks in
her palms, which gradually disappeared. The shuddering left her body,
which was now quite inert. A dreadful sensation of staleness pervaded
Patricia. Her head ached. Quietly, and as if by accident, Monty was
near her again. He poured a little more brandy into her glass.

"Patricia's not very grand," she heard him whisper to another man. "See
that she drinks this, will you?"

The other man, a stranger, drew up his chair, and sat near her, talking
in a low voice while she drank the brandy. She could not understand
what he said, but his voice was grateful. She smiled her thanks at him,
and her attention wandered away to the groups in other parts of the
studio, so loud, so closely resembling in appearance the groups which
had been present on the occasion of her first visit to this studio.

So much had happened since that evening that she realised how changed
she now was. It seemed to Patricia that she must have been a child
then. She felt very old now, as if she were looking back, an old woman,
upon days of happy ignorance. The noise did not echo sweetly in her
ears as it had done. This was no longer an enchanted meeting-place for
those who were wise and wonderful and superior to the rest of all human
beings. She had seen so much, and felt so much, since she had first
known them that the staleness which had come upon her this evening was
diffused among the visitors. She felt them to be also stale, curious
automata chattering to hide their emptiness and unhappiness, as she too
might now chatter to combat the knowledge that she was weary and unable
any longer to experience simple things with her old fresh delight.

A sigh shook Patricia. The feeling of sickness remained with her. And
this stranger who tried vainly to distract her attention with idle
speeches about things she did not understand and did not want to
understand was no other than the rest. She could see his long hair and
hear his thin light voice; and she was stirred by a contempt for all
that these groups represented. But her contempt no longer arose from
a sense that she was superior to the groups. For the first time she
was sick at heart as well as in mind and body. She made no attempt
to listen. She only felt tired and filled with distaste and the
longing for quietude and sincerity. The crowd became vague. At first
Patricia thought that she was again in danger of fainting; but she was
immediately better, and able at last to hear what the man said. He was
talking about the theatre, and was describing a play he had seen.

"Perfectly ghastly...." he was saying. "And all these suburbans were
enjoying it with all their ears. A silly little fool of a girl,
supposed to be extraordinarily charming; and saying and doing the most
incredible things...."


ii

Patricia could never have understood that it was her state of mind
alone which made these people distasteful to her. Any other crowd
would have seemed equally empty and unprofitable. But she was sitting
amid the noise sobered by her late excitement; and her reactions were
so rapid that she was misconstruing a mood as a revelation. As she
had hitherto over-valued herself, and then, by the mere plunge of her
neuroticism, had undervalued every quality she had, she now felt aghast
at the results of her own unreasoning wilfulness. She saw herself as a
feather, tossed by every wind of inclination, veering, flying, without
will. She was deeply shocked.

She thought of Harry; of Monty; of Edgar; and she was ashamed. There
was no indignation towards Monty; only acid shame. She had been
fascinated, tempted; she had been flattered and excited; and her vanity
had betrayed her. When the reality had come she had awakened to the
understanding that this fascinating sport with fire was a horror to
her. She, who had thought herself so clever, and so experienced, was
appalled at the very thing which she had supposed so fascinating.
She felt like the little boy who coveted one of those big glass jars
full of coloured liquid which still stand in the windows of small
pharmacies; and who, when the water had been emptied, found himself
possessed of a jar without beauty. Nothing could have been more bitter
than the realisation that she was a fool who had not even the courage
to pursue her folly to its end.

Patricia had played with the idea of love for Harry; and it had been
shown to be empty. She hardly thought of him. Lightly, she had fallen
in love with love. And then, tempted, she had enjoyed her sense of
power over Monty. She had responded to him, encouraged him; and the
result had been this evening's ignominious struggle. The bruises she
had received had been not only those of the body; they had been bruises
of her self-esteem, of the immaculate legend of Patricia Quin.

Subdued, miserable, she accepted her mortification.

"I've had my lesson!" she thought. And then, with a rising of that fear
which she had thought to allay by means of excitement, she exclaimed:
"But what in the world am I to do?"


iii

It was to Patricia an appalling moment of realisation. She fell into
a kind of stupor, a dream in which all things appeared to her in a
clear light of understanding, in which facts which hitherto she had not
truly perceived were made apparent. She was not asleep, but she was
so absorbed in contemplation that all noise made an undersong to her
reverie.

"I've been too clever," she thought. "I shall always be too clever
for myself, too big for my boots. All my life. I shall go on and on,
thinking myself so marvellous, until I come up against ... what? How
am I marvellous at all? What have I ever done that I should consider
myself marvellous? Nothing!" It was a terrible confession. If she had
been alone she must have screamed. But she was not alone. She was in
this wildly-coloured room, where each thing had been brought and placed
by some inner certainty of judgment on Monty's part, until the whole
room was a sort of picture of his mind; and there were others laughing
and talking within a few yards of her. And as Patricia remembered that
this piece of stuff had been brought from that place, and this other
given by some friend, and a lacquered chest discovered in a small shop
in Dublin, and a bronze figure ... she could not prevent herself from
thinking that Monty was much more wonderful than she would ever be,
much more wonderful, perhaps, than she had ever imagined. She saw him
among his guests, ever and anon glancing to make sure that she was
still there, that she was better; and Patricia knew that in culture and
acquaintance with all beautiful and sophisticated things he had wisdom
that she would never attain. This whole house was filled with his
personality, filled with his taste and his knowledge, his love of rare
things and those that were rich in colour and florid in design. His
interests were innumerable. He could talk of all the arts as only one
who was a connoisseur in each could talk. His sensitiveness to these
arts, so coolly displayed, was due not only to spontaneous outgoing to
whatever was sightly but to the gift which enabled him to appraise its
quality, and that degree of precision to the artist's concept to which
a work of art owes its singularity and therefore its permanence. He was
not a child, exclaiming at a toy: he was the product of a civilisation,
of many civilisations. His merest words were charged with references
and associations of which Patricia must for ever remain ignorant. And
with all this knowledge, all this culture, Monty was at bottom the
crude animal she had discovered. He had wanted her as an animal wants
another animal of the same species. And Patricia had opposed her will
to his, her instinctive doctrine of life to Monty's. Well?

Harry Greenlees had nothing like Monty's culture. In Monty's sense he
was not even educated. But even Harry was better-instructed and more
positive than herself. He was an individual; he could stand alone;
whereas Patricia only tried to do so, and made a tremendous fuss about
standing alone. Harry was physically as charming as herself. He was
lively, beautiful, able to do many unexpected things which were outside
the needs of his daily life. He could spend whole days alone without
monotony, which in itself was testimony to his endowment. He could tell
all the wild flowers of Europe in their seasons; without pretending to
be a musician he could play the piano well enough to be mistaken by the
unlearned for a professional; and without pretending to be an artist he
could draw with a certain cunning. And he was a competent journalist,
a specialist in his own department, rough and ready in diction, but
capable and individual in style. His technical acquaintance with all
sports was considerable. In his own way Harry also was a connoisseur.
He had a devotion to sport and sportsmanship, and a code which related
itself to the sporting code; and his sureness of judgment in everything
sporting was that of a good critic. And at bottom Harry was just a
rolling stone, wandering about the world for the fun of it; and he
had wanted Patricia for his chum, to roll about the world with him
for a space, until one or other of them was tired of the exploit. And
Patricia had refused to roll about the world, because she imagined that
she had a nobler destiny. Well?

Edgar was a man who by the strict disciplining of his natural capacity
had done what came first to his hand. He had learnt the details of
a business which had been distasteful to him; and he had mastered
them. He had made money, he had travelled, he had created a microcosm
for his family, in which they moved graciously and comfortably. The
whole of his business was at the tips of his fingers; his reading was
considerable, and his understanding enormous. She had never yet found
Edgar betraying by a false note any failure to comprehend the essential
qualities of a subject or its intricacies. His mind was so trained
that he unerringly caught secondary meanings, and those which were
implicit. He spoke without any air of authority; but she knew that he
was reckoned wise even among men of greater accomplishments. And Edgar
had offered her help and love; and Patricia had clung to her own path
of folly. What had she to put against this weight of challenge? If she
insisted upon her personality, in what way was the intrinsic value of
this personality made manifest to the impressible world?

Soberly Patricia faced the challenge, shrinking from it. She was a
pretty girl; she had high spirits, cleverness of wit and tongue; an
extraordinary sense of the possibilities of her own talent. And she
was essentially a woman. It was because of her sex that she was at
a disadvantage in her power to experience active life; but it was
also because of her sex, and not because she could command equality
of knowledge or understanding with them, that these three men sought
her and desired her. If she had refused all of them it was because
either she thought none of them was worthy of her love; or because she
had such confidence in her own individuality that she preferred to go
forward alone. That is, because she thought that the gift she had for
the world was greater than the gift which these men desired of her. Was
it that she proposed to remain unmarried, to ignore love? Her response
to Harry and Monty had proved that this was not so. She could not stand
alone. Patricia shrank from the knowledge; but it was forced upon her
in her present mood. And presently she made, aside from all these
specious exaggerations of the value of knowledge for its own sake, a
genuine discovery.

To the question which rebelliously she put to her own challenge,
"Why should they be so much ... more learned ... than I?" came an
answer which was a revelation. It was unwelcome. She disliked it, and
presently would fall upon her own intuition and perhaps destroy it. But
for the moment it was valid. Patricia was not incapable of such flights
of intuition, and--as she did now--she generally over-valued them as
truths. The answer which she received from herself in the course of
this singular vision was: "Because they are all interested in something
else besides themselves."

She awoke from her dream to find that the party was still in progress;
and that the man beside her was still speaking with unabated zest of
the theatre, which seems to be an unrivalled subject for monologue.
With a yawn, Patricia saw that the whole of her analysis had passed
within a few minutes. Nevertheless she remembered it very clearly;
and she was still, as the result of her intellectual pilgrimage, very
serious.


iv

It is one thing to receive such an inspiration as this, however, and it
is quite another to believe it. To believe it, that is, as one believes
in such things as breakfast, or to-morrow, or relativity. Consequently
Patricia felt already a little vague. She was not satisfied even with
her inspiration, though it had descended in a dream. She knew that it
was a feminine intuition, and feminine intuitions, however acute, are
as the interpretations of the stars or the palm or the tealeaf--never
so remarkable or so celebrated as when they are confirmed. And as she
conned her problem, Patricia had a very singular notion. She found
herself thinking:

"I shall ask Edgar."

She was astounded at herself. She almost begged herself to repeat
something half-heard which had seemed incredible. "Oh, I couldn't
ask him!" she said, as if in answer, "I shan't see him again. Of
course I shall see him again. How absurd! I mustn't be silly. He's my
friend." And with that a low small laugh escaped her lips. Her thoughts
strayed into a fresh vein. She wondered what would have happened if
the others had not come into the studio, if Monty and she had still
been alone there. She knew that she would not still have been in the
studio at all, since she would have been driven to leave the house
long before. And her mind leapt back to that suggestion about Edgar.
Again she had that consciousness of refuge in him. "I should have ...
I should have...." Then, very quietly indeed, but also with conclusive
sharpness: "I couldn't...."

If only one could do things as they came into one's head, all the same,
how easy life would be!

Patricia sighed. She interrupted the young theatrical enthusiast,
who was talking about societies which were being formed in all the
villages in England for the performance of Euripides in Gilbert
Murray's translation.

"What nonsense!" she said, still only half-attentive to what her new
friend was saying, and without conscious rudeness. "I'm going home now.
Thank you very much for looking after me. I'm quite well again."

And with that she rose and went quickly to the door of the studio.

Monty followed.


v

He made no attempt to conceal his pursuit from the other guests. He
was too obviously afraid that Patricia might slip out of the house,
and so escape him. And the urgency of his desire to speak with her
was extreme. He arrived in the hall just as she disappeared into the
room where her hat and coat had been left; and Monty waited there
in the dimmed light, a sombre figure, with his head lowered and his
broad shoulders bowed. To Patricia, emerging, he was like an emissary
of the Inquisition, so appalling, even to her expectant eye, was his
appearance. She lifted her own shoulders with a slight brusqueness, her
head high, and her breath rapid.

"Good-night," said Patricia, quickly. She moved towards the front door.

"Not yet." It was an appeal, a deep whisper.

"No, no. I'm going."

"I must see you--speak to you--for an instant. Patricia...."

Monty had interposed himself in order that she might not reach the
door without touching him, and as Patricia could not have borne this
contact she was checked instantly. She stood, hesitant; and then with
bowed head followed the direction of his entreating arm and stepped
into the room at the farther side of the hall. It was the amber-hued
drawing-room in which Edgar had seen Monty a few evenings previously,
a lofty room which the electric light caused to become faintly and
alluringly luminous. There was a fire, and the room was warm; but
Patricia was shivering a little as she stood a short distance from the
door, facing him. Monty followed her into the room, closing the door.

"Won't you come over to the fire?" he said in his gentlest tone. "I
can't let you go like this without a word."

Still that careful modulation, still the raised note at the end of the
sentence! She went nearer to the fire, and Monty stood near her, by the
table.

"Aren't you going to forgive me?" he asked, suddenly. His manner was
slightly changed. A familiarity had entered it, as though they had
a secret understanding; but he was still bearing himself with soft
respect. Nevertheless, beneath his humility there was ironic contempt
for her sex which betrayed him.

Patricia started at the tone, at the discovery. The tears came to her
eyes. She felt she had no use at all for such false contrition as he
was prepared to display. It was not forgiveness Monty desired. He was
deliberately pandering to a mentality which his sensual cynicism led
him to despise. Having, apparently, no belief in purity in women,
he was prepared elaborately to connive at its cunning or hysterical
assumption and to submit to its merely formal placation. He was the
diplomat, playing a familiar game, bargaining with vanity; not a
penitent. And to Patricia such insolent flattery was more offensive
than a brazen making-light of the episode would have been.

"Don't talk like that, Monty," she begged. "It isn't forgiveness you
need; and you know it. I can't talk about forgiving. Surely you see
that."

"I want you to believe that in asking you here--" began Monty,
cajolingly, still with that cringing air which masked watchfulness for
any sign of emotion or relenting.

Patricia laughed--uncontrollably.

"Oh, Monty!" she exclaimed; and there were still tears in her voice at
the knowledge that he held her to be simply a common piece of woman's
flesh, to be won still, so long as he sacrificed to her false delicacy,
assumed, perhaps, for the sake of bargaining.

"It's true," he persisted, with more energy. Patricia turned aside,
weary of the encounter, sickened at his cynical insincerity.

"I've told you I don't want to talk about forgiveness," she said. "I
couldn't forgive you, because there's no question of that. It's myself
that I can't forgive. It was idiotic of me to try and play a game I'm
not fitted for, and I'm ashamed of myself. Isn't that enough?"

"Then you'll come again?" he questioned, as if puzzled.

"No," she said. "I've had my lesson. I've been silly and wicked; but
you've been worse. And you're still being worse, you know. You're
under-rating me. You think I'm pretending. You think you've only got
to flatter me to find I'm no better than ... the rest--I suppose." She
shrugged. "I'm not pretending. I'm going."

"I love you," Monty told her. "You were surprised. You were
shocked...." He was still persisting in his former attitude because
his imagination was not quick enough to anticipate the changes of this
chameleon. But he was admiring her perhaps more than he had already
done, and finding her still very desirable.

"I was horrified," Patricia said slowly. "But we're not talking about
the same thing." She was very serious now. And the fact that she was
serious made her again baffling to Monty, who had expected tears or
reproaches or formal forgiveness, and was trying to discover some new
point of contact which would at least gain time. Given time, he thought
he was always assured of victory; but he was in a difficulty. She had
changed, slipping out of his power to dominate her; and he had not the
key to the change, for that lay in Patricia's singular vision.

"We're talking about...."

"No," said Patricia. "I came here in a reckless state, because I'd been
very miserable; and you asked me to come because you wanted to make
love to me."

"And I frightened you," said Monty quickly. "Poor little girl!"

"You did me a lot of good," answered Patricia. "You shocked me into my
senses."

Monty stared at her, his dark eyes glowing, and his face once more
alight with admiration. She saw him moisten his lips, and saw his hands
clenched by his sides. But also, from another point altogether, she
heard a faint incomprehensible sound. At once she strained her ears;
but Monty had heard no sound, and continued to stare at her. The sound
Patricia thought she had heard was a tiny crunching of gravel outside
the house. She stared back at Monty, her nerves quivering. Dread was
back in her heart.

"There's nothing to fear," said Monty, in his level voice of
reassurance. "I'm not going to lose my head again as I did early in the
evening. I beg your pardon for that." Patricia bowed her head again
in acknowledgment of his apology; but she was no longer heeding his
tactical advances. As he spoke, her eyes were glancing from Monty to
the window. She looked so slim and fair, with the golden light of the
room evoking the gold in her hair and the delicate gleam of colour in
her cheeks, that Monty was moved anew as he had been earlier in the
evening. He was engrossed in her, his eyes avid and his excitement
intense. "By God, you know, you're beautiful, Patricia," he whispered.
"Look here, we'll go together to the East, and you shall see all those
wonders for yourself." She did not seem to be listening. Monty played
his trump card. "We'll be married, d'you see, and go straight to the
East together; and you shall have...."

In his eagerness, Monty came towards her, his hands outstretched. He
was continuing, with increasing vehemence, when Patricia interrupted
him. She would have cried out that what he offered was unthinkable,
but, as she made the effort to speak, her eyes were caught by something
that stifled the words. She could only stand there, looking beyond
Monty, to the doorway, her lips parted as if in the act of speech, her
body rigid with amazement. For there, just within the room, silhouetted
against the golden door, was another person--a woman, heavily cloaked,
with the hood of her dark cloak shrouding her face, a woman who had
heard the last speech as she swiftly and silently opened the door, and
who stood perfectly white, as if she were stone. Within the fold of the
hood Patricia saw two glittering eyes. All else was white, ghastly.

"Really!" said the woman, in a breathless tone, as if she were stricken
with illness. "Monty!"

It was Blanche Tallentyre.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: BLANCHE


i

She had seemed haggard when first Patricia had noticed her at the
September party, and again upon their second meeting; but now, in that
light, hooded, and in extremity of emotion, Blanche was a picture of
unhappiness such as Patricia had never known. The long line of her face
was sharply cut by the edge of the dark hood; her lips were a piteous
thin gash of brilliance, almost like a new cut; her eyes were black
diamonds. She stood within the room, pressed back against the door,
listening and watching, her bleak glance entirely for Monty.

There was an instant's silence after her anguished cry. Monty's
outstretched hands fell once more to his side. Patricia did not move:
she was too horrified to do so. During that instant, when even the
studio revelry was ignored, the hearts of all three might have stopped
beating for all the motion visible. Then Patricia saw that Blanche's
low breast was rising and falling very quickly, and the dark cloak fell
away from her neck and showed the hollows at the base of Blanche's
throat. But Blanche paid no heed. She was entirely absorbed in the
moment. Only when Monty moved ever so little towards her did she speak.

"I didn't expect to find anybody here," Blanche said, hoarsely. "I
didn't expect to find you...." She hesitated, and with a sort of dreary
sarcasm completed her sentence, "... making a proposal of marriage. It
seems rather odd. I didn't ... expect it. I wonder if you quite mean
it...."

Monty said to Patricia:

"We're interrupted, you see." His shoulders were a little raised; but
his face gave no sign of whatever emotion he might be feeling. With
the emergency, he had slipped back into that unreadable air of reserve
which at first had been for Patricia such a strong attraction. It
showed, she now knew, as much caution as self-control; but the silent
person in a quarrel is always at an advantage. His head was sunk upon
his shoulders, and the heavy outline of his jaw was projected, as
though his teeth were firmly clenched.

"I see we're interrupted." Patricia took two or three steps towards
the door. She was still in a state of suppressed excitement, and was
half blind with the continued emotional tension. "Mrs. Tallentyre," she
said, impulsively. "Monty didn't quite mean his proposal of marriage;
but if he had meant it I shouldn't have ... taken it seriously. How
d'you do?"

For the first time Blanche took notice of Patricia. She turned her eyes
from Monty and looked from Patricia's head to her feet, as if with
intent deliberately to ignore her. When she spoke again her eyes were
averted.

"What are you doing here?" she asked coldly. She was imperious, like a
mistress who has discovered a servant in the act of prying.

"Monty has a party," answer Patricia, trying to control her excitement
and to speak in an ordinary tone. "But I don't understand what.... What
is it to do with you?" In spite of her effort, and perhaps because of
it, she found herself trembling with anger. "I don't understand you."

Blanche sneered. A look of contempt passed across her face. The bitter,
anxious eyes darted at Patricia a quick glance of scorn.

"You're impertinent!" she cried, and was again as if frozen.

"No, Blanche. This is really intolerable, you know," put in Monty,
anger in his own contemptuous tone. "We're not at the Lyceum now.
Patricia is here as my guest."

"And you are proposing to her. I interrupted you. I'm sorry." Blanche
gave a brusque laugh. But she did not move from her position at the
door.

"And now I'm going," said Patricia. She made as if to do so, but looked
from one to the other of them in uncertainty that was not without
indignation. Her heart was fluttering.

"No. You asked what right I had to...." Blanche moved her arm stiffly,
and Patricia saw its wretched thinness, and the ugly bone at the elbow.
"Of course, I haven't any right...."

"You really mustn't make a scene, my dear Blanche," interposed
Monty. "It's quite out of the piece, so to speak. You interrupted a
conversation...."

"I came, because I wanted to see you, Monty," said Blanche. "But the
conversation I interrupted concerns me very vitally. Miss Quin, you
may not be to blame. I can't tell. It's all so ... peculiar. You're
only a vain little fool, of course. But Monty has no right to offer you
marriage."

"I can assure you," answered Patricia, with undesignedly offensive
coolness which arose from her fear and her effort at self-control,
"that that doesn't in the least matter."

"And now, good-night, Patricia. I'll see you to the door," said Monty.

"No!" Blanche pressed back. "Miss Quin: Monty and I have quarrelled. We
quarrelled here a fortnight ago, and he has not answered my letters----"

"My dear Blanche! The story of our quarrel--" Monty approached, seizing
Blanche's arm. He could quite easily have torn her from the door and
made way for Patricia, and that was clearly his object. His hand was
to her elbow, and Blanche was already bent to exert her strength in
resistance. But as Monty's grip tightened, she said in a very low tone:

"Do you want me to scream, and bring the others? Then let go my arm."

Patricia's saw Monty's teeth bared, his left fist clenched. And then he
stood back a little way.

"You're doing yourself no good, you know," he said presently, in his
caressing voice. "Only harm. Poor fool that you are."

"Miss Quin----"

Patricia spoke entreatingly. She went closer to Blanche, her voice low
and her hands appealing.

"Mrs. Tallentyre, is there any _need_ for me to hear? I was going when
you came: my one wish is to go now. You're mistaken in me. You needn't
have any thought----"

"Please let me tell you. For a fortnight I have been ill. I have
written to Monty, and he has not answered my letters. This afternoon
I received, without a letter, a thousand pounds in bank-notes. From
Monty, you understand. A thousand pounds. It was my solatium. I was to
take the thousand pounds, and--good-bye! You understand that, also?
You're very quick."

During all this time, Monty stood with his back turned to Blanche, and
his hands in his pockets. He appeared not to be listening, but to be
thinking of another matter. Such disregard was to be expected of him;
but at this point he showed that he had been listening intently. He
wheeled round with angering insolence, his eyes widely opened, his head
thrown back.

"Oh," said Monty, as if with surprise. "You've come to chaffer!"


ii

Blanche flinched, and Patricia--stung to loyalty for one so helpless in
face of the power to insult--felt a sudden outgoing of pity for her.

"You poor thing!" she cried vehemently. "You're suffering!"

"Oh, don't be sentimental!" cried Blanche, in a harsh, impatient voice.
She jerked her head in pain. "I haven't come to chaffer, and I've got
no use for your school-girl sympathy. Keep that for your own wounds.
I'm dealing with real things, as Monty will discover in a minute. You,
with your silly baby face, haven't the heart to understand. You.... But
I'm forgetting. Monty won't like me to speak harshly to his promised
bride. He'll----"

"I'm not!" shouted Patricia, suddenly out of control. "I _wouldn't_!"
She was sparkling with temper; and yet remained staring at Blanche. Her
feelings were in tumult--indignation in conflict with fear, and both
with pity. "Nothing can keep me from being sorry for you," she said,
"because you're unhappy. I don't like you. I don't _like_ you. But I'm
sorry for you."

"Well, that's very nice," drawled Blanche. "It's so nice for women to
feel for one another."

"If you've not come for Patricia's pity, and not come to raise the
thousand pounds, which, after all, is quite a generous sum--" began
Monty.

"During all the time we've known each other, I've taken no money from
you, Monty. D'you realise that? You couldn't realise it! It's not in
your nature to realise it, because you're avaricious yourself, and
find avariciousness.... Oh, God...." Blanche's voice dropped wearily.
"Haven't I heard your views of money.... Don't I know you, Monty? How
_well_ I know you. Too well! No, I haven't come for money. I don't want
it. I wouldn't take money----"

"But, my dear, you _must_," Monty said. He turned quickly, and came
towards her, ignoring Patricia, whom he had forgotten. "It's the only
thing I can give you. Look, I'll make it two thousand. I want to be
generous----"

"Generous! My God!" whispered Patricia. She raised her hands in
an unconscious gesture. Was it really thus that Monty--that such
men--computed generosity? In guineas? She was distraught.

"But it's no good to think that you and I can go on," Monty was
continuing. "We can't go on." Even here he was speaking slowly and
deliberately, in that thick, sweet voice which was so seldom raised
beyond quietness. "Our interest is gone. The whole thing's finished,
you know."

Blanche looked at him, her face drawn, and her lips parted in a
miserable smile.

"Finished, yes," she said. "You're tired of me. That I realise. I
realised it long ago. _Tant pis._ But it isn't finished." She shook
her head. "Five years ago I was tired of Fred. I met _you_. Now you're
tired. But you've forgotten Fred."

"Fred!" exclaimed Monty. "What's he got to do with it?" His voice was
suddenly coarse with cruelty. "He doesn't count. It's nothing to do
with him."

"That's why I came," said Blanche, very low. "All this time Fred's been
wondering why I didn't care for him...."

"Look here, Blanche," said Monty, quietly. "It's no good to threaten
me. You know that!"

"I'm not threatening you, my dear," returned Blanche, with a shudder.
"But it seems that Fred's found a little girl he wants to marry."

"Fred!" cried Monty. He seemed astounded. Behind his air of surprise
his thoughts moved with the speed of lightning. "What d'you mean?"

"Just that. You see, he's had me watched," answered Blanche. "He says
he's got all he needs. So I've brought you back your money. He's
vengeful, Monty. He'll go for damages."


iii

Patricia conceived the situation. Blanche, consumed with that hot,
wasting love which is concentrated upon the fear of loss, watched,
trapped by a husband as unscrupulous as herself; Monty, at first
passionate, as he had been with Patricia herself, and with more
success, with his love tiring, bent upon extrication, also watched,
trapped; herself, a spectator, half-guilty as the result of foolish
recklessness, trapped here, but possessing the power of flight. She
could escape, and would eventually do so; but there was no escape
for Blanche. There was none, perhaps, for Monty. Ugly love, ugly
renunciation, and a squalid sequel; and what then! No hope for
Blanche! Nothing for that poor, haggard woman with the ugly elbows
and the glittering wretched eyes of a dumb creature in pain. There
was even no future for her. Patricia was appalled. And Monty's clumsy
attempt--so grossly insensitive--to close the intrigue with money....
Why had he chosen this way? A quarrel there had been, a parting, some
coarse-grained assumption and deliberate plan to make the parting
"equitable" and final. He must have had some urgent reason. Herself?
Monty gave a jeering laugh.

"Well, done, Fred," he said quietly. And then, after a pause: "And
where's his evidence? He's bluffing, Blanche."

"You _say_ that...." Blanche contemptuously answered. "He's not
bluffing, Monty. He's got an object. I _know_. And it isn't money. It's
the little girl."

"But, good God, what's that to do with me?" demanded Monty. "Or, for
that matter, with you? Nothing. Nothing whatever. Any little girl, at
Fred's age, isn't going to be particularly squeamish about marriage.
You've only to look at Fred, too. She must be out for what she can get.
Oh, no, it's absurd. Take it from me, Blanche, he's bluffing!"

While Patricia, more impressed than ever, was filled with consternation
at this inside glimpse of the working of Monty's mind, Blanche sighed.
Perhaps it was no revelation to her? Were, then, _all_ people at bottom
coarse, cynical? Was she herself? Patricia recoiled from a question.
Again she had the sense of comparing those anxious, ghastly eyes to
the eyes of a monkey, which seem to hold all misery, and anxiously to
survey a treacherous and sophisticated and bewildering world. So might
her own eyes have looked if they had indeed, at this moment, mirrored
her dread.

"You'll see," at last Blanche answered quietly, after a moment's pause.

Monty shrugged his shoulders. He was not so obstinate in his belief as
his speech made him appear. Already he was searching in his memory for
occasions, for details, for possible spies. An idea occurred to him.

"Jacobs?" he asked. "Impossible."

Blanche shook her head. Patricia, watching her, thought she was paler.
The brilliant lips were hardly parted as she spoke.

"Nothing's impossible," answered Blanche, drawing her breath quickly.

Monty looked at her with sudden attention. Suspicion darted to his eyes.

"You?" he cried. "Not you, Blanche?" His face had crimsoned. Again
Blanche slowly shook her head.

"Nothing's impossible," she repeated.


iv

It was then only that she took further notice of Patricia, to whom she
made a slight ironic inclination of the head. While Monty stood with
that brooding glance of suspicion still directed upon her, his doubt,
once awakened not easily to be dispelled, Blanche opened the door.

"You want to go, don't you?" she said. "Well, you can go now. We shall
get along better without you now. I hope you've been edified. You've
seen Monty, and you've seen me, and you've learnt quite a lot that you
won't be able to repeat. It'll do you good. You once said that the
world was full of women who had found out too late. I wish that you
could be one of them. I should enjoy it. Now go."

Patricia, in silence, passed from the room, and into the hall; and the
door was closed again. Monty had not spoken. She was alone in the hall,
which rose lofty and spacious above her head to a painted ceiling, the
whole in a brilliant blue. Around the ceiling ran a strip of shaded
light, the reflection of which made the hall's illumination. The walls
were hung with thick brilliant curtains which deadened all sound, and
thick rugs lay along the polished parquet flooring. Only by the door
stood a single small piece of statuary, a reproduction of a classic
fragment. There seemed to be a stifling heaviness in the air, as of
scent, so much had she been affected by the late scenes. Patricia
paused here as one in a dream, bowed and trembling, but with emotion
that was new to her. She was no longer afraid or angry; but she was
pierced through and through with the longing for contact with something
unquestionably clean.

She had reached the heavy front door. Her hand was outstretched to the
catch. And then she hesitated. This poignant desire was irresistible.
It was the longing to be assoiled. Only by such contact could she
recover purity, could she be at peace. Memory flashed a thought into
Patricia's mind. With a glance across her shoulder, a hasty step to the
wide staircase, a pause for intent listening, she ran back into the
room from which she had a short time before taken her hat and coat.



CHAPTER NINETEEN: NIGHT CALL


i

At his desk that day, Edgar had worked loyally to keep his attention
concentrated upon matters in hand. He had always been in the habit
of excluding private concerns from his mind during business hours;
and even here, owing to determination and practice, he was partly
successful. He did not consciously think of Patricia while he was
reading and dictating letters, while he was talking to several
exacting visitors, while he telephoned, and even while he lunched
in company with other business men. He made no attempt to be alone
or to be in company. It was not apparent to any of those who dealt
with him that day that he was otherwise than as usual--competent,
friendly, and benevolently unshakeable in decision. And yet the secret
Edgar, the unsuspected Edgar, the Edgar who was Hamlet, was extremely
disturbed. This Edgar was faced with a crisis. He was angry. He was
angry and exasperated and broken-hearted. But he was much more angry
and exasperated than he was broken-hearted. And in the middle of his
emotions, this secret Edgar was engaged in the preposterous act of
laughing.

The secret Edgar was, in fact, a little boy who had never grown up; but
he concealed this from everybody, and it was supposed that he did not
exist. Therefore the really grown-up persons in Edgar's office--such
as his typist and his junior clerks and his shipping clerks--had a
feeling of superiority to him which was mingled with their feeling of
respect. They all thought, privately, how imaginative they were, in
being able to enjoy books and plays which contained whimsical notions,
and how completely a business man Edgar was. And this secret Edgar,
who lost his temper and raged and roared with merriment in the middle
of his own furies, was like a little boy who had been angry and cannot
keep on being angry because everybody else, so amused, is trying to
remain grave. The secret Edgar was unsuspected by those around the
outward Edgar; and Edgar lived so entirely in the secret Edgar that
he never knew that there was any other Edgar at all. It never entered
his head to suppose that there were two Edgars--outside and inside,
as it were,--and as the serious Edgar had a day's work to do, the
secret Edgar made no attempt to interfere. The day's work was done; the
last letter was signed; and Edgar--the composite Edgar--the physical
Edgar--was at length free to abandon himself to anger and exasperation
and broken heart and laughter. He put his hat unemotionally upon his
head, and carefully threaded himself into his overcoat; and then he
left the office, and was out in the darkness and traffic of the City of
London.

Night in the City of London, on a week-day, is as remarkable and as
romantically bizarre as night in some such centre of the engineering
industry as Barrow-in-Furness, where the tipping of molten slag and the
blazing sky-reflections of many furnaces compose miraculous effects
for the sensitive. As Edgar stepped out into the cold air, thousands
of people were making the sidewalks impassable, and pressing out into
the asphalted roadways, and jostling and going self-absorbed to every
point of the compass. Many vehicles were joined in the general hustle
and congestion; cabs, omnibuses, postal-vans, and the like, all flashed
their way through the crowds. Deafening noises filled the ears. Lights
and shadows fought desperately their incessant battle. Boys and
young men carrying waste-paper baskets full of letters, or piles of
parcels which extended from their waists to their chins, or bundles
carried fore and aft across their bent shoulders, staggered from all
directions; others ran, doubling in and out among the foot-passengers
and the vehicles, unburdened, hurrying hither and thither, their little
black hats pressed down upon their ears, or their little cheap soft
felt hats cocked askew with impudent carelessness. Others again wore
no hats at all, but swung along bare-headed and short-coated even
in the chilly evening breeze. High above the streets were globes of
white light, which hung centrally, without standards to support them.
And in these narrow streets, in the white, fizzing lights, amid the
close-running traffic, with this noise and helter-skelter rushing to
catch posts and trains and omnibuses dinning into his ears and dazzling
his eyes and bewildering his senses, the secret Edgar found himself
sensibly exhilarated. It was quite dark, and the sky was invisible.
Somewhere beyond the crowd and the lights, and beyond the overhanging
murk, it lay; to be guessed and known, but never to be seen. He had
worked well all day. He was contented with the way in which various
transactions in which he was engaged were progressing. And only one
thing in all the world caused him distress; and yet that one thing, so
all-important, out-weighed every complacency and every other care. It
was a preoccupation. It was Patricia.

Because of Patricia, Edgar was angry and exasperated and
broken-hearted. Because of Patricia, he was shaken with preposterous
laughter.


ii

Within an hour he was indoors, in that house in Kensington where
Patricia had realised what the word "home" might mean. The house was
still; the servants were quiet-footed and the carpets were thick.
Doors, well-made and heavy, closed gently and remained closed, without
rattling. Even Pulcinella was subdued by even-tide, except upon the
arrival of a member of the family much beloved. Then no amount of
custom could stale the little dog's rapture. Edgar admitted himself,
and washed, and went down to the brown room upon the mezzanine floor
which was his own room, where there was a fire, and where books upon
white-enamelled shelves warmed the walls from floor to ceiling and made
them cordially glow with companionship. He had an hour before dinner,
an hour in which to vent his anger and exasperation, in which to
contemplate his broken heart. And when he reached the room he spent his
hour in doing none of these things. He sat instead and tried to decide
what he was going to do about Patricia. For he had now definitely
made up his mind that Patricia was to be won. No young woman is so
ostentatiously decided when she has in fact made up her mind.

At the same time, Patricia was a mystery to Edgar. He could have
named her traits with scarcely a grievous error in observation; but,
this done, she would still have been a mystery. A man who behaved
as she was obviously in the habit of behaving could have had no
interest for Edgar. If he had not loved Patricia he would have found
her insufferable. But he loved her. The secret Edgar--who was all
heart--loved her; the outward Edgar merely received impressions of her.
The impressions might constantly be disagreeable--some of them were
wholly disagreeable;--but they slipped into the heart of the secret
Edgar, which was big enough to hold them all. And it was this secret
Edgar who conned the mystery, with rather more humour than the outward
Edgar was always supposed to possess. Which explains why Edgar's
ruminations were interrupted by laughter--not loud, hearty, hopelessly
solemn laughter; but laughter that was a catching of the breath,
explosive, and then silent.

"She _is_ the most preposterous creature that ever lived," said Edgar.
"The most conceited, blind, ridiculous little fathead...."

He would not have dared to communicate this view of Patricia to anybody
alive. He would not have dared to mention it even to Claudia. Even to
hint the smallest part of it to Patricia herself would have been the
act of a madman. And yet to himself Edgar was frank and fair about it.
Because Edgar knew that when he said or thought such a thing every word
was qualified and softened by an emotion in himself towards the object
of his laughter which was without comparison the most precious thing in
his life.


iii

Presently he heard the telephone bell ringing downstairs, and as he
was not sure that Claudia was in, and as Mrs. Mayne was almost as
ridiculous on the telephone as her husband, who invariably rang off
while he went to find somebody less incompetent, Edgar walked out of
the room. The bell had ceased ringing; but he proceeded as far as
the clothes-cupboard where it was installed, on the chance that the
answerer might not be Claudia. It was she, however. As Edgar put his
head inside the clothes-cupboard she was saying "Hold on," and she
turned as if to leave the cupboard in search of somebody who was wanted.

"Oh, there you are," said Claudia. "I didn't know you were in. It's Mr.
Gaythorpe."

Edgar took the receiver from his sister's hand. Old Gaythorpe was one
of those rare people who speak as clearly on the telephone as they
would speak in a room. Every word he said was audible. Edgar could
imagine the old man present. The dry wisdom of his manner was in an
extraordinary degree conveyed by the sound of his voice.

"Look here, young man," said Gaythorpe. "I've been kept here by
importunate suitors. My train has gone. I want to see you. Can I come
to dinner?"

"Of course!" cried Edgar, foolhardy in giving such encouragement
without consultation with the kitchen, but relying upon Mayne ingenuity
to expand a meal at short notice.

"I'll take what Mrs. Mayne gives me," the voice continued, the voice of
an experienced family man. "Right. I'll come along."

Edgar flung up the receiver. He turned to Claudia, who was leaning
pensively against the doorpost, waiting to hear the worst.

"He's coming to dinner."

"Gracious!" exclaimed Claudia, blanching. "I must see mother! We've got
one guest already--Olivia Stephens."

"Oh, do you know her?" said Edgar, surprised. He was familiar with the
name; but he could not at first discover in what connection.

"School with her," called Claudia, hurrying away. "Known her all my
life. So have you. Come and talk to her."

It was evidently to be a bright evening. Edgar followed, trying to
remember Olivia Stephens, and to recall what he knew of her. There came
back to his mind a picture of a girl who came to see Claudia in bygone
days, a girl with a long plait of hair and very arched brows and a
freckled snub nose; of an older girl with her hair up, who had not very
much to say for herself; of a young creature who flaunted a shapeless
olive-green frock down the cobbled street of a Cornish fishing village,
attended by an amiable fellow in a reddish-brown Norfolk suit, bearing
a black-bowled pipe and a cudgel. This picture, which wavered and
sharpened in its successive stages, like a series of kinema close-ups,
recalled Olivia to his experience. She was the girl who had married
an artist--the Norfolk-jacketed young man with the pipe; upon whose
behalf Edgar had been persuaded to buy some water-colour drawings
which hung in his mother's bedroom. What was it about her?--poor,
artist-husband--cheerful--ah, babies! Olivia was the girl who had the
two babies! The girl of his ideal! She it was of whom Claudia had
given accounts which had filled him with admiring approval. Edgar was
triumphant at his own instinct for clues and associations. It came into
his head that he had seen vague resemblances to Olivia and the young
artist at Monty's September party. Of course! He had not spoken to her,
because his memory had been too vague; but now he was clear. The girl
he had seen must indeed have been Olivia; and her artistic husband must
have been the link with Monty and the æsthetes. They were the young
people who were still in love with each other. He could recall their
happiness. Even in recollection Edgar was pleased with them.

"Babies," he ejaculated recognisingly to himself. He entered the
sitting-room with the anticipation of interest; but with a certain
sinking of the heart lest Olivia should be restricted to a single topic.


iv

"How are you, Edgar?" asked Olivia. She sat by the fire in the
blue-grey drawing-room; and there was work in her hands. The work was
obviously a garment for a small child. He recognised her at once by the
well-arched eyebrows, and by the fact that she wore--as in his first
vision--a dress which was olive-green in colour. The freckles were
banished (whether by the season, or by some more permanent cure, he
could not tell); but the calm, innocent eyes and odd little nose were
much as he remembered them to have been. Her shoulders were broader,
and her breast had developed. Otherwise she was the agreeable creature
he had known, between fair and dark, with plump arms and legs and a lot
of fair hair. She had a very sweet lazy smile, and an unself-conscious
manner which came of not taking herself very seriously. She was about
twenty-six. Theoretically, Edgar knew, Olivia was his ideal type of
woman. She gave love with the eager readiness of the trustful child;
she spoke quietly and seldom, but without constraints; she had courage
and patience and unselfishness. And he was in love with her opposite.
One more insoluble problem.

"How are you?" he answered. "And how's ... er, Stephens?" Then, with
the proud feeling of taking his fences: "And how are the babies?"

"How nice of you to ask about them!" said Olivia, comfortably, with
her slow, happy, lazy smile. "Joan isn't very grand. She's got a cold.
That makes her just a little trying and sentimental at the moment. But
Michael is tremendously hefty, and already weighs about ten stone. He's
a sort of prize ox. In fact Mercy--Peter's sister--says he's not like a
baby at all, but like a beautiful white calf. You haven't seen either
of them, I expect, though Claudia has. Joan's three; and Michael's just
over a year, and walks well. Look here, you ought to come and see them.
They'd do you good. You must be getting quite middle-aged, Edgar. Yes,
I can _see_ you are. You ought to have children of your own. Then you
wouldn't have time to grow old. Come and see them, will you?"

"This conversation is going to be extremely indelicate and extremely
rude, I can see," replied Edgar. "I begin already to remember you as
an excessively rude and, indelicate girl in a pigtail. I am _not_
middle-aged, and I don't _look_ as though I were middle-aged. So that's
finished. As to the babies, I _will_ come. I ought to have come before;
but I had forgotten all about you. When Claudia said you were here I
had really to recall who you were. How is it you never come to see us?
Or _do_ you come, secretly?"

Olivia grimaced.

"I go out very little. The babies, you see. Michael needs somebody
still--they both need somebody to put them to bed; and Michael
sometimes yells for me. I'm only out this evening because Peter's
sister is staying with us. Peter's coming for me later on. He couldn't
come to dinner, because he's finishing some work."

"Painting?"

Olivia shook her head, a little ruefully.

"Black-and-white. He's got some regular work to do at last. So things
are looking up with us. We're beginning to save. He wants us to go and
live in the country somewhere--not too far away--for the sake of the
babies; and we shall do that next year if we can get a cottage."

"But would you like that? Wouldn't it be dull for you?" asked Edgar.

Olivia shook her head again, this time without any ruefulness at all.

"Nothing could be duller than London," she said. "Besides, if we had
a nurse, Peter and I could always come up to town for an evening. One
consequence of being rich would be a nurse; and that would mean lots
of liberty, with the right girl. We shouldn't go anywhere quite in the
wilds. And it isn't as though Joan would need a school just yet. She's
got another three years before she need go. The great thing is for them
to be able to play out-of-doors."

Edgar nodded, much impressed by this notion of life.

"Would _you_ be happier?" he asked.

"I?" cried Olivia. "I couldn't be. I seem to have got everything I
want."

Edgar stared meditatively at this remarkable woman.

"You're very fortunate," he said, drily. And then: "You're very rare."


v

With dinner came the other guest, cynically benevolent as ever; and
the table in the big old-fashioned dining-room was a full one. At
it there were three elderly people and three young ones; and, as if
naturally, all the talking which was not done by Mrs. Mayne took place
between Claudia and old Gaythorpe. They sparred on the best of terms,
because there was a very pleasant feeling between them, and they were
like partners in a game who knew each other's play. Mr. Mayne sat with
fierce dignity at one end of the table, high above the heat of battle;
and his wife, placidly nimble of brain, at the other, absorbed in
it. Olivia blissfully enjoyed her dinner in a home-made frock, with
hands that were reddened by house-work, and an inner happiness which
caused her to accept every kindness with glee. Edgar, lazily listening
to Claudia in combat with his old friend, was content to leave the
conversation to them. And Claudia, who was full of spirits, was being
agile and aggressive; and old Gaythorpe was in his own dry way being
equally agile and aggressive. The motto of each was the same: "Never
give your adversary a moment's peace."

"You seem to think that income tax is the only tax there is!" cried
Claudia. "It's the rich man's tax, and always will be. If you were
poor, and paid your taxation indirectly--"

"I do that as well, my dear Claudia. My sugar costs me--"

"Neither your sugar nor your coal!" she retorted.

"Indeed, yes."

"Our sugar doesn't. Nor our tea. Nor our coal. We buy in bulk. If you
don't escape, it's by bad buying. We have tons of coal. Poor people buy
in quarter-hundredweights, and pay fifty per cent more. A ha'porth of
jam--you can't get ha'porths now, as it happens--multiplied many times
makes much more a pot than you pay. Every necessary costs more."

"Is jam a necessary? I never eat it."

"Your pampered children do."

"Ah, my children. Yes.... Pampered _indeed_. I agree. The younger
generation, of course. Take the cost of education, Claudia. What have I
paid in school fees?"

"If the Council schools are all you say, they'd have been quite
adequate."

"Your own dexterity isn't the fruit of the Council school," parried
Gaythorpe.

"No; it's my own!" cried Claudia.

"Claudia, dear," objected Mrs. Mayne. "Your father and I can hardly be
called ordinary people."

They all laughed at this simple interruption. Claudia was instantly
deflated. She turned to Olivia.

"Are you going to give your babies any education?" she demanded.

"Well," said Olivia. "Peter doesn't think ordinary education is much
good. He thinks it just spoils children to be taught by rote. But then
he thinks that better education only teaches them to spend money--not
to make it. He was at a public school himself."

"And is he well-educated?" pressed Claudia.

"Oh, he ... of course, he _knows_ a lot. But it isn't very precise
knowledge. He can't spell: he's never sure about words like 'separate'
or 'receipt.' He's not very good at figures. I have to do the sums as a
rule; but then of course that's just knack."

"Yes, and there's another thing!" Claudia, reminded by Olivia's
admission as to figures, returned to her direct challenge. "Women!"

There was a general groan.

"He's very unsound there," interjected Edgar, cheerfully. "You'd better
go no further."

"By the way, Olivia." Claudia was diverted from her argument. "Have you
ever met an awful girl--an artist--called Amy Roberts?"

"O-oh!" exclaimed Olivia, in disgust. "Where on earth did you meet her?"

"At Patricia's--Patricia Quin's."

"Such a nice girl," said Mrs. Mayne, aside to Gaythorpe. "A friend of
Edgar's."

Instantly Gaythorpe shot a glance of inexpressible malice at Edgar.

"Indeed," he said, politely. There was benign poison in his encouraging
tone. He beamed upon Mrs. Mayne, hoping for further information about
Edgar's friend, immediately recalling the Miss Fly-away of their
conversation.

"Patricia Quin?" repeated Olivia, doubtfully. "Oh, a fair girl--. Isn't
she Harry Greenlees's mistress?"

"No." Edgar did not hear himself speak.

"Who told you that?" indignantly cried Claudia. "It's scandalous!"

Olivia, disconcerted, tried to remember the name of her informant. The
general distress was so obvious that she slightly reddened.

"Wait a minute," she said. "I'm sorry if I've said something I ought
not to. I thought there wasn't any question about it. I think it was
Blanche Tallentyre who told Peter."

"Well, it's not true!" cried Claudia. "What a beast Blanche Tallentyre
must be. Have you ever met her, Edgar?"

Edgar, deeply moved, was staring at the table, his face stern.
All their eyes were upon him. He had a remembered glimpse of an
unhappy-looking woman across a dinner-table, of lips parted to speak,
of a speech checked and an enmity formed in a single instant.

"Yes," he answered slowly. "At Monty's. Patricia was rude to her.
That's the explanation. Not deliberately rude, but wounding. I saw that
she felt vicious about it. But surely you don't accept anything _she_
might say as probable, Olivia?"

"Perhaps not," Olivia agreed. "No: she isn't a nice woman. I suppose
there's no doubt that she's Monty's mistress, herself."

"Dear, dear!" protested Mrs. Mayne. "It seems so horrible to have that
word bandied about by nice young girls. It's such a pity. Don't you
think so, Mr. Gaythorpe?"

"I quite agree with you, Mrs. Mayne," said the old man. "A great pity.
A very great pity. And who--" he paused, speaking across the table to
Edgar. "Who is Monty?"

"Monty Rosenberg." It was a chorus.

"Indeed. And is he a friend of yours, Edgar?"

Edgar's eyes met those of his tormentor very candidly across the table.

"Perhaps one could hardly call him a friend," he suavely replied.

"Ah," said Gaythorpe. "Perhaps a debtor?"

No reply was returned to his question, which had been hardly audible.
Gaythorpe bit his lower lip. The rims of his glasses caught the light
as he glanced aside. He was not, perhaps, altogether certain; but he
thought he had made a very fair guess at the answers to two questions
which for some time had been troubling him. He wondered whether Monty
had ever asked for Edgar's help, and whether Patricia had ever refused
it....


vi

Although Edgar had so immediately denied the assertion that Patricia
was Harry's mistress, Olivia's words caused him suffering so poignant
that he could hardly maintain composure under the scrutiny of the
party. He had to admit his own jealousy of Harry, and he was also made
to remember Patricia's claim to wickedness, and Claudia's terrible
questions at the breakfast-table. Together they made a hateful
collection of poisonous thoughts. Although he now answered when he was
addressed, he did so with his mind far away. He could not eat; he could
not think. His one impulse was to get away from this table, from these
people, in order that he might be alone. All the anger and all the
laughter which had shaken him earlier in the evening were banished. He
did not believe the suggestions which his mind stealthily insinuated;
but they were all the time sliding into his attention, as though devils
were at work in his tired brain, maddening him. If Patricia were not
pure, of what use her youth, her charm, her cleverness? None, none,
none! He was distraught with suspicions; not with beliefs, not with
doubts; but with these suggestions, which were like secret voices of
temptation. It was essential that he should deal with them seriously,
by direct conflict, and not emotionally, by infatuated refusal to face
possibilities.

And the meal continued, and the chatter--although sobered by the turn
which the talk had taken--was maintained. Edgar could not leave the
others. Gaythorpe was his guest. He must play his part. This he did,
with honest endeavour to preserve his good spirits and his composure.
He followed the others into the drawing-room, and there drank coffee
with them. For a moment it struck him that it was almost better to be
with the whole party than with Gaythorpe alone. If Gaythorpe were in
his study, then a process of inquiry might be applied; until Edgar
could not be sure of his power to avoid such irritability as would be,
to Gaythorpe's probing mind, more betraying than actual proclamation.

But either from tact or from imperceptiveness, Gaythorpe made no
attempt, when at last they withdrew from the others, to introduce a
personal note. His desire to see Edgar that night had been due entirely
to business problems; and it was with these that the two men were
engaged for a further hour. Only as he left, old Gaythorpe, in bidding
farewell to Mrs. Mayne, dropped a hint unheard by Edgar. To Mrs.
Mayne's invitation for another evening he made a significant reply.

"And I hope that the next time I come I shall have the pleasure of
meeting Miss Patricia ... Patricia Quin. You have quite whetted my
appetite to see the young lady."

He bowed, and his hand-pressure was a reassurance to Mrs. Mayne; who
was much comforted by such confirmation of her belief in Patricia's
innocence.


vii

At last Edgar was alone. He had bidden good-bye to Olivia, and had
received her invitation to come at any time, on any day, to visit the
babies. He had said good-night to his mother and father, had received
a light touch of farewell from his sister; and he was in his room, by
the fire, with a pipe; and a tray bearing a decanter, a syphon, and a
glass, together with a slice of Mrs. Mayne's latest private cake, lay
on a small table behind him. He was bending over the fire in the room's
light glow, and the books were shining and the shelves gleaming in the
shadow, when, with a slight rustle, Claudia appeared in a long silk
dressing-gown, her hair plaited for the night.

"My dear," she hurriedly said. "I knew you'd feel a bit sick. You don't
believe it's true, do you?" The remark was not a question. It was a
statement.

Edgar turned, making no pretence of misunderstanding her.

"No," he said. "It's not true. And of course it's the venom of a
miserable woman. But it doesn't make me very cheerful, because ...
well, at any rate, they're friends."

"I was afraid of that," breathed Claudia. "I thought she might be ...
in love with him. I got an idea ... nothing at all ... just the sort of
thing you imagine.... That's really why I came."

"Well, we'll see," answered Edgar, gravely, and without very much
sanguine colour in his tone. "Good-night."

No caress passed. Claudia was a sister, and Edgar was a brother. They
loved and trusted each other. But neither could have borne to see the
other in acute distress; because both knew that the cause of such
distress would necessarily be external to themselves, and therefore
beyond reach of consolation. Claudia silently withdrew.

Nevertheless, her visit had done Edgar good. He sat on, smoking; and
the fire grew less brilliant, dying on the surface and keeping its red
heart, as it would continue to do long after the grate had seemed to a
casual eye to be filled only with sullen ash. The room was a large one,
and there were many books in bright, warm bindings. A desk stood near
the window, in such a position that in daylight it would catch the sun
upon its left side. The desk was orderly. It bore a stand lamp and a
stationery cabinet, and various bundles of papers, tied or encircled
with bands. To this desk Edgar presently went, standing above it lost
in thought, the finger tips of one hand resting lightly upon its
surface. And at length, when his pipe was burning harshly, he knocked
out the remaining charred fragments of tobacco, and mixed himself a
whisky-and-soda. In a few minutes he would be in bed, thinking still of
Patricia....

And, as he thought that, it seemed to Edgar that he heard the ringing
of the telephone bell. Strange! He opened the door of his room. There
was no mistake. The bell was furiously ringing. It was echoing through
the house. Edgar knew that everybody else was in bed, so he did not
delay. He ran down to the clothes-cupboard, and heard the rattling of
the bell still in the receiver as he put it to his ear.

"Hullo! Hullo!" he cried.

And from far off came a little breathless voice.

"Mr. Mayne's? Is that you? Edgar? This is Patricia. I'm at Monty's ...
yes, Monty's. Look here, I haven't ... changed my mind. No. But I'm
in trouble. Could you come and fetch me in your car? Could you? How
splendid! Don't come to the house. No, _don't_ come. I'll walk along
to Marlborough Road station, and wait for you there. Yes. You're sure
it's all right? Sure? Be quick. Quick...." Her voice died as she said
the last words; showing that she was moving away from the telephone
even as she spoke.

Strangely elated, his heart beating fast, Edgar stood for an instant
ejaculating with surprise.

"Well!" he whispered to himself. "What on earth does _that_ mean?" In
his excitement Edgar gave a little laugh. "Extraordinary!"

No more time was wasted. It was precious. He ran quickly to the
hall, back to get an overcoat, felt in its place for the garage key,
remembered approximately the amount of petrol in the tank of his car,
made sure that he had the key of the front door,--all as if in a single
movement of thought and action; and then, with his coat still open,
left the house at high speed. He was out again in the night, and in
that chilly darkness, racing to the garage; and as he raced he laughed
again, exhilarated by the sense of adventure, by the surprise of such
a call, by quick speculation as to its cause. Above everything else,
exhilarated by the knowledge that he was after all to see Patricia that
night.



CHAPTER TWENTY: BABIES


i

The night was very still and very fresh; but it was not freezing. A
little wind hung and played in the trees, and sometimes swept along the
ground; and it was dark because neither moon nor stars were visible.
All the noises of the day were silenced. Only at times did a solitary
taxicab create a burst of humming as it passed the end of a road, and
the sound faded as suddenly as it had risen. Edgar, running from the
house in his thin shoes, made hardly more than a light pattering upon
the sidewalk. It was a night for adventure.

He could not yield to the quick speculations which darted to his brain;
for the moment was one which demanded a clear head and rapidly applied
thought. So many things might impede his progress: the car might be
difficult to start, a tyre might be down, the thousand unexpected
vagaries with which the motorist may at any moment be hindered were all
present as possibilities to Edgar's mind. He was alert and anxious,
bent upon meeting every emergency before it arose; and as he ran
swiftly he was almost praying that there might on this occasion be no
mishap.

The garage in which Edgar kept his car lay at some distance from his
home. It had been a stable; but was so no longer. Two heavy, painted
doors fastened with a padlock. They were opened very quickly, and
pushed back against the outer wall of the garage. The light showed
his faithful friend standing mutely in its place, as if waiting for
his arrival--a grave little dark blue coupé with a long blue bonnet
to match its body, and an interior of soft grey. Even in his haste,
Edgar looked proudly upon the car. It was so beautiful, so speedy, so
responsive to his touch; its line was so graceful, its lightness so
apparent. Very fit instrument was this car for the deliverance of any
maid in distress. There was no least incongruity between it and the
romantic mission upon which Edgar believed himself to be engaged.

And yet he must not stay to think or feel. For him the detail of
mechanical aids to swiftness was of urgent importance. As if in one
movement, he switched on the lights, front and tail, manipulated
three little knobs, ran quickly to the front of the car, and gave his
engine a swing. His lips were tightly compressed; his expert ear was
strained.... The engine was cold. What if there should be a difficulty
in starting? Ghastly! Again he swung upon the handle, and at the
resulting sound straightened with a breath of inexplicable relief.
Within that little blur of fluttering noise lay reassurance. It was all
right. Tick-a-tick-a-tick-a-tick, said the engine, as happy and regular
as if the car were coasting a hill. One, two, three; Edgar was in his
place. The noise was increased. The car was in motion. He was out upon
the dark road, speeding to Patricia through the deserted streets, now
so fair and open to the questing traveller; the only sound audible
to Edgar that beautiful eagerness which animated his own car. His
eyes were steady and his hand easy upon the wheel. The lights of the
main thoroughfares were clear, unearthly, and the way was free, as if
inviting him to the race.

London at night he knew; but this journey gave Edgar a new vision of
it. So quickly did he pass familiar objects that they swam together in
his recording impression. It was London dignified and purified into
ghostly loveliness by the night, but London so decreased in size that
it became a village. All monuments and buildings of great size or
antiquity were made insignificant; the broad roads of the west as he
sped through them were so many paths. He had his goal, and could not
attend the beauties he so silently and so eagerly left upon his way.

And at last, as he emerged to the appointed meeting-place, Edgar saw
Patricia, a little disconsolate figure, waiting in the shadow of the
railway-station façade. All there was darkness. The last trains had
rumbled their way through the station, and it was as deserted as if it
had been forgotten. Only Patricia's outline was to be discerned, but
she was recognisable, and as he turned the car and ran alongside the
kerb she came immediately forward. Both moved as in a dream. He had
one glimpse of a white face within the radiance of the nearer lamp;
and his nerves thrilled as he opened the door so that she could join
him. It was an almost mute encounter, with midnight long past, in this
silence and darkness, and there was unavoidable constraint upon both
sides, so singular was the relation existing between them. Without a
word, Patricia shut the door and drew back into the farther corner of
the car, away from Edgar. To his inquiry she made no answer, and he
saw that her eyes were closed, as if in complete exhaustion. Puzzled,
Edgar touched her hand once; but there was no response, and after a
single instant in which he tried to gain some knowledge from Patricia's
expression he turned away once more and in silence they began their
journey together.


ii

Now all was changed. Edgar no longer drove at reckless speed. He went
slowly and easily by a longer route, which took them by frequented
streets; and they passed many cabs or cars travelling from the
opposite direction. They were thus not alone, since they were in an
active world. Edgar was still concentrated upon the car and the road;
but he was very conscious of Patricia's ominous and stubborn silence.
Many explanations of it, and speculations as to what had happened, and
what had made her telephone to him at so late an hour entered his head;
but a moving automobile at night, in a city, when one is the driver, is
not a possible situation for agitated enquiry. Edgar therefore waited
for Patricia to explain of her own accord, which apparently she could
not yet do. Therefore, with only occasional slight glances aside at the
face half invisible in the darkness, he concerned himself wholly with
their progress. Only when the road was at last clear, and he could take
the wheel with his right hand, did he stretch out the left to her.

"What is it?" he asked. "What _was_ it?"

Patricia took his hand in both her own, and pressed it, holding it
tightly against her breast. But still she did not speak; and in a
moment, when there was an obstruction in the road, Edgar was forced to
withdraw his hand so that he could use the other to sound the warning
horn. He could feel Patricia's hand extended so that she could touch
him, and the knowledge that she wished this reassuring contact gave him
a faint happiness; and so they sat together in the darkness until they
arrived in Chelsea, and in the road where Patricia lived. Edgar stopped
the car and the engine, turning to her.

"You haven't changed your mind," he said, in a murmur. "What then?"

His arm was moved to embrace her; but she did not permit it. Only she
again took his hand in both of hers.

"I haven't changed my mind at all," said Patricia in a cold voice.

"So I heard," answered Edgar, smiling, his face close to hers.

"But I wanted to see you," she whispered.

"And then?"

There was a pause.

"Nothing," whispered Patricia again, so low that he could hardly hear
her. She immediately afterwards stiffened, discarding his hand as
though it had been a loathsome temptation. Edgar stared down at his
poor hand. "Nothing--nothing at all."

"It's done you good to see me?" he asked. He could see a quick little
nodding. "Well, that's something, don't you think?"

"You're good," said Patricia. "You're better than me."

"Of course, I'm extraordinarily good," Edgar agreed. "But--"

"Silly!" It was a sort of ashamed mumble that he heard. "Well, I'm
going now."

"Oh, not yet." He had tried to take her hand; but Patricia eluded him,
and bent forward to open the door. The catch was difficult, and she
could not master it. Edgar also bent forward, both arms extended; and
it seemed so much easier to take Patricia in his arms than to undo the
catch of the door that he could not help following the easier course.

"No!" cried Patricia, succeeding with the catch, and almost tumbling
out of the car. She shut the door firmly behind her; and Edgar, inside,
looked out upon Patricia, who stood without. The window upon that
side of the car was raised, and so communication between them was
impossible. Edgar opened the door. "Don't get out," said Patricia,
quickly. "Thank you very much for coming for me. It was awfully good of
you to come."

"Not at all," said Edgar, very politely, stepping to the ground. "But
won't you tell me why you wanted to see me? And there are one or two
other things, by the way--"

Patricia groaned.

"I can't argue with you to-night," she said, as if in a goaded voice of
exhaustion.

"Will you argue with me to-morrow?"

"I'll _never_ argue with you!" vehemently exclaimed Patricia. He did
not believe her. He thought she would always argue with him. "And I'm
not sure that I want to see you to-morrow."

"Very well," said Edgar quietly. He took off his cap, and stepped back
into the car.

"What time?" cried Patricia.

He leaned forward.

"You're a silly little thing!" he said. "But as to-morrow is Saturday,
and I shall not go to the office at all, I'll call for you in this at
ten o-clock, and take you to some thoroughly vulgar and third-rate
hotel for lunch, and then I'll explain--I won't argue; but I'll
explain--what's the matter with you."

And with that he used his mechanical starter, closed the door of the
car, and would have driven off. But Patricia had come round to the open
window of the car.

"Edgar," she said, pleadingly. "_Don't_ be unkind. I've been a horrible
little beast to-night; and I'm very ashamed of myself--and worse. And
I had to see you to ... to...." She stammered. "I can't tell you,"
she continued. "Yes, I can. I must. I wanted to see you to get clean
again after what I've been going through this evening. And while I was
waiting for you I thought I'd see if I was good enough for you. And
I'm _not_. But do come for me to-morrow. It's very necessary. Really.
Good-night, Edgar." She held her hand in at the window. He shook it,
and Patricia, who perhaps had expected another form of farewell,
withdrew the hand as the car moved forward upon its homeward journey.


iii

The next morning Edgar gave Claudia the surprise of her life. They were
sitting at breakfast, and Claudia was being very quiet and tactful in
case Edgar should be feeling badly about what Olivia had said during
dinner on the previous evening. She had taken peeps at him, and was
gradually relaxing her vigilance in face of his apparently normal
cheerfulness. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Mayne was present; and the brother
and sister were eating and drinking with a sedate nonchalance customary
to both.

"You going to the office to-day?" asked Claudia, suddenly.

Edgar awakened from some evidently pleasant preoccupation.

"Er ... no, not to-day," he said, helping himself to another piece of
toast. "By the way, you've got a fur coat, haven't you? Could you lend
it to me? That is, I suppose you wouldn't mind Patricia wearing it? I'm
taking her out to-day in Budge, and she might be cold."

Claudia passed her hand across her forehead.

"Taking Patricia.... My poor boy!" she cried. "Trouble's turned your
brain. No, no. _I'll_ come if you think it would do you good; but
Patricia...."

"I am taking Patricia out in Budge to-day," repeated Edgar. "And
require the loan of your fur coat. Don't ask questions, there's a good
girl; but if you wouldn't mind lending the coat it might be a boon."

Claudia collapsed.

"The world ends," she said, as if stupefied. "Of course, have my fur
coat. Take anything. But for Goodness' sake, Edgar, don't leave this
thing unexplained. I couldn't bear it."

"I may bring Patricia here to dinner to-night," answered Edgar,
briefly. "On the other hand, I may not."

"Quite probably not, I should say," observed Claudia, with detachment.
"Does she _know_ you're taking her out in Budge?" He nodded. Claudia
rushed wildly to the door, and returned presently bearing a fur coat.
"There!" she cried. "And if you won't tell me what communication you've
had with Patricia since I went to bed last night you're a pig, and I'll
throw you over."

He explained, tactfully, that Patricia had telephoned. He said no more.
He was not now quite sure what _had_ happened on the previous night. He
could not disentangle from each other the speeches actually made and
those which had occurred to him since as possible to have been made in
such circumstances. He was sure of only one thing; and he was not, as
yet, ready to tell Claudia the whole truth. Therefore he took her fur
coat and swung easily out of the house bearing it upon his arm.

Claudia, left by herself at the breakfast-table, was bereft of
self-confidence.

"Well!" she exclaimed. "What does it all mean? I'm flabbergasted!"
She knew there had been no telephone call this morning. She knew that
Patricia had no telephone in her rooms. It was a mystery. For the first
time she wondered whether it might not be the case that Patricia loved
Edgar. She had not believed that hitherto. It was a testimony to her
insight as well as to her sisterly tact that she had not believed it
and had not pretended to believe it, while at the same time she had
resolved that it should become credible to both Edgar and herself.
Perhaps, also, to Patricia. She went about her work during the morning
with a lighter heart than she had known for several days.


iv

Edgar was punctual in his arrival at Patricia's door. As he left the
car and lowered its hood, a church clock near by struck the hour. He
advanced to the front door, and knocked. And as he did so Patricia
appeared at the door, dressed for going out. She had feverishly been
ready for ten minutes, and had watched for him. She greeted him, but
their eyes did not meet, and he could see that she was still pale,
possibly from want of sleep; possibly even, it might have been, from
inability to eat her breakfast.

"I brought a coat of Claudia's," he said, with a good deal of
carelessness which covered a temporary lack of assurance. "You'd better
wear it, because it may be very cold driving. Would you like to leave
your own coat? No, better bring it."

Patricia was mystified as to his reasoning; but she allowed herself
to be packed into the fur coat, and then sat quite still while Edgar
re-started the car and drove down the road and round a corner into
the King's Road and so through Putney to Kingston and out on to the
Guildford road. She had tried to equal his casualness with her own;
but she was feeling very shaky, and was glad of the silence. Patricia
did not know where they were going; but the car's smooth motion
was delightful, and the morning was crisply cold; and as they drew
free of traffic and tramcars the opening country began to surround
her with beauties which sprang freshly upon every hand and awakened
self-forgetful rapture in her heart. Although the year was dying, there
were trees which still clung to their leaves, and strange attractive
byeways which caught the eye and roused the impulse to explore; and,
as they sped farther, charming little towns and villages which she had
never before seen. When once they were through Guildford and upon the
Hog's Back the views--thinned and obscured though they were by autumnal
mists--were entrancing, and Patricia lay back with colour coming again
into her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes. She was cosily warm in the
borrowed fur coat; the car, although small, had the movement of one
considerably larger; and as Patricia had almost complete ignorance
of motoring the experience was new and fine. Everything passed
swiftly--everything was glimpsed, half-seen, and immediately succeeded
by some other object of beauty or interest, until it seemed as though
she must be surfeited, since the greedy mind could not hold so many
fleeting images of loveliness. Patricia thought that this must be the
way in which children saw the whole of life--as a great swift progress
of joys to which they had only to stretch their hands. But those who
grew up knew that the joys passed before ever they were gathered.
The joys alone? Perhaps the sorrows also. Everything ... everything
passed.... That was the thought in her mind. She remembered the French
saying.... Everything passes. Would this journey end? Would she always
travel unsatisfied, wonder-struck and unresting? Was that her lot? The
fear of it made her shiver.

"Cold?" asked Edgar, aside.

Could he see her? Was he then watching, although so apparently intent
upon the road? Patricia cried "No!" in response, and a further
"Lovely!" in case he should be hurt; and then her eyes stole on a
journey. If Edgar could know when she shivered, was there ever to
be any escape from his watchfulness, his care? When Patricia, like
the Devil, was sick, or afraid, there was nothing she so demanded
as care; but when she was well, it irked her. She could see Edgar's
face in profile, brown and kind and firm; and she was a little afraid
of him. She thought he could be stern. Not cruel--never cruel; but
stern. And the words "all the better to eat you with, my dear" crept
into Patricia's head. She was very subdued, and although she was
still observant of the beauties they passed, and stirred by the rapid
motion through crisp air that was now tempered by brilliant sunshine,
extraordinarily defensive argumentation was going on in her brain. If
she were to marry Edgar, it must be after clear speech between them.
Never for comfort or in despair. She was resolved upon that. For one
thing, her respect for him exacted as much. Patricia's nerve had been
shaken, and she had lost some of her self-confidence; and, with that,
some of her natural ease of carriage and pleasure in life itself.

"Where are we going?" she presently called out.

To her surprise, Edgar slowed down. He even stopped, there upon the
Hog's Back, with the beautiful country stretching away in two valleys
upon each side of the lofty road.

"Wherever you like," he said. "We can lunch at Winchester. There's a
village on the way there--a most charming village called Chawton, where
Jane Austen lived--full of old thatched houses. You'd like it. I don't
know anything more delicious in its way. I don't know if we could get
food there."

"Are you hungry?" she asked. Unconsciously her tone was arch; but with
pathetic, troubled archness. "And what's that about Jane Austen?"

"Well, I didn't bring anything to eat, and the air will make you
hungry. We can either go south from Farnham--only I don't know the
roads round Liss or Petersfield;--or we can go on to Winchester, lunch
there, and go back by way of Basingstoke. Or we can turn back now and
go through Guildford to Godalming...."

"Oh, oh!" cried Patricia. "I don't mind what we do."

"You like it?" He was looking at her in such a peculiar way that
Patricia shivered again. It seemed to break her composure, which she
was struggling so hard to preserve.

"Oh, my dear," she whispered suddenly. "I'm not _worth_ it!"

Her hands were in his, and her eyes were as candid as his own. So they
sat in the car on that bright morning, upon the top of the Hog's Back,
and the wide rise and fall of the lower lands spreading to north and
south under a slight haze. The sky above them was a deep blue. The road
was open, and it seemed that none used it, so peaceful was the scene
upon this glorious morning. Only Edgar and Patricia were there, with
the breeze around them, and the sunshine ardent, and a sense of the
limitlessness of the world strong in both.

It was here that their talk began.


v

"Of course the trouble about you is that you don't love me," said
Edgar, in a cool voice which showed that he was anxious by its
elaborate calm. "Not, at any rate, as I love you."

"No," agreed Patricia. Her own tone was a copy of his; and the word was
a mere acceptance. She was as grave as he, and yet neither was grave.
They were both grave and not grave. But Patricia had said "no"; and
Edgar had received the shock to which he had steeled himself.

"Do you--forgive me--you don't love anybody else? It isn't, of course,
necessary that you should; but sometimes it's a factor."

Patricia glanced up at him, and even in her gravity she smiled.

"No, I don't love anybody else," she said. "And I know you well enough
to know that when you talk like that you're being funny."

"I'm not being at all funny," protested Edgar. There was a sound of
consent from Patricia. He went on, undeterred. "The reason you don't
love anybody else is that you're in love with yourself."

"Oh." Patricia had not been so forewarned as to steel herself; and this
shock depressed her. In a very low voice she said, trying to hide her
wound: "I'm not much in love with myself at this moment."

The tone was so sad that unconsciously Edgar pressed her hands in pain.
He would have done so much to save her from humiliation; and yet his
way was clear and his attitude deliberately adopted.

"This is your wickedness, I suppose?" he asked patiently. Patricia
nodded.

"At least, not wickedness--silliness. But perhaps you'd think it worse.
I'd better tell you. Five minutes ago--a few days ago--I thought I
_was_ in love with a man."

"Harry Greenlees," interposed Edgar. Again Patricia nodded.

"I can't have been. I was attracted to him--I thought I was in love
with him. I thought he was my ideal man. I was fond of him. But when it
came to the point I felt I couldn't ever marry him. And as a matter of
fact he didn't _want_ to marry me. He only wanted to have a love affair
with me. But I only found that out at the end. Well, it's a very little
while ago, and I was in great anguish; and now I've forgotten him. It
couldn't have been anything; anything but just a silly playing at love
and beauty. It wasn't his fault. He did care for me in his own way; but
it was a grown-up way; and I wasn't ready for grown-up love. I'm not
ready now. I'm shallow. I don't think I could love anybody. Perhaps
what you said is true."

Edgar had listened with attention; and he could tell that she was being
painfully honest, and that she could not help being honest with him;
and this made him feel proud and humble. It seemed to Edgar to be the
first step in such a relation as theirs must be if it was to lead to
happiness for them both.

"There doesn't seem to me to be much wickedness there," he suggested
mildly.

"No, there isn't," said Patricia, with a faint colour coming to her
cheeks. "The wickedness comes later. The wickedness comes up to
last night." She could tell that he was now really serious, and she
faltered. "It's ... it's Monty," she concluded. Edgar's head jerked.

"Monty!" he cried. "Monty! Oh, but my dear, how _could_ you?" He was
incredulous. "Monty!"

"He fascinated me. There was no question of my being in love with him.
But he made me feel I was wonderful and beautiful...."

"But to be taken in by Monty!" exclaimed Edgar. "It's extraordinary. I
believe women _must_ somehow be less fastidious than men. You couldn't
imagine me fascinated with Monty's counterpart?" His face expressed the
horror he felt at his own image. Patricia shuddered.

"You'd never be fascinated by anybody," she said. "You'd always be
quite calm. Besides, you don't want to be thought wonderful."

"I don't want Brummagem admiration."

"And you don't _give_ it!" she flashed at him. "You don't give _any_
admiration. You don't think I'm wonderful. You think I'm a silly child.
Well, that makes ... you see, I _couldn't_ love you...."

"By the way," said Edgar, coolly. "What makes you think you're so
jolly wonderful? Is it something you _do_, or something you _are_?"

Patricia looked at him breathlessly. She was stimulated to temper.

"Nobody could _ever_ love you!" she cried angrily. "You're too inhuman!"


vi

Her hands were now altogether withdrawn from him, and tears sparkled in
her eyes. Edgar bent forward, so that she could not escape him.

"Look here, Patricia," he said. "Can you imagine the feeling of a
lover who hears that the girl he loves has been making love to an
obvious rotter the previous evening? I mean, if there's one thing
that strikes me about Monty more than another it is his lack of ...
what can I say?--his lack of.... I think he's obviously sensual and
unclean. I can't see his fascination for you. If I came to you and said
I'd been with some horrible woman, wouldn't you turn sick? Well, I'm
disappointed. I'm angry. The love-making is nothing unless you meant
it, which you didn't. It's nothing. You exaggerate its importance. You
were never in any real danger. I don't blame you, except for folly.
Though of course I don't like it. But that you should be _taken in_ by
Monty!"

"I wasn't taken in. I knew he must be a rotter. And yet, you see, I
went there," said Patricia. "That shows the sort of girl I am. I was
miserable and reckless. It amused me to--to play with him, if you
like. It made me feel a woman. I was trying to grow up. You've made a
mistake, Edgar." She was bitter, but not only with anger. There was
hopelessness also in her defiance. "You ought to marry a _nice_ girl."

"I propose to," said Edgar. "I propose to marry you."

"Oho!" cried Patricia. "You won't marry me. You needn't think it."

"Unless of course," retorted Edgar.... "Unless I adopt you. That might
be the simpler course." He also for the moment was bitter with chagrin.
He was encountering a fact which was hard to accept; and he was in love
with Patricia.


vii

Leaving Patricia aghast at his alternative, he began to drive on; and
the sun continued to glitter upon the polished metal of the car and
upon the wind screen. Patricia lay back in her corner recovering her
temper and her composure. Presently she shouted at him.

"You've got too much respect for women!" she said. Edgar took no notice
of her. She was quiet a little while, thinking. At last: "You're quite
right. I'm _not_ wonderful! Edgar, stop! I want to talk to you. I want
to tell you something."

The car was checked; and in her very truthful voice Patricia described
the events of the previous evening. When she came to the thousand
pounds Edgar exclaimed. At the mention of two thousand he turned
quickly to her.

"Monty was prepared to go up to two-thousand five-hundred," he said.
"He's got a regal way of pensioning his mistresses. You might have made
two-thousand five-hundred pounds, Patricia."

"He offered to marry me," answered Patricia, defiantly. "But he
didn't really mean it, of course. It was only something to attract my
attention."

"I was thinking," said Edgar, slowly. "Your lovers are rather a fine
set of men, aren't they!"

"You think they're something to be conceited about?" retorted Patricia.
"Edgar, don't you _really_ think I'm rather wonderful!" It was
apparently wistful; but only apparently so.

"I'm so concerned with my own marvellousness," he crudely answered,
"that I can't spare time to admire yours."

"But Edgar, girls _have_ to be admired," she said. "Look here: you've
_done_ something. You've achieved something. Can't you see that if
you've never _done_ anything you have to make up something to live
for. If I loved you, and had no other ambition, I could live in your
interests, as you want me to. But I can't play second fiddle--not
yet--not until I've sown my wild oats. If I'm no good, then...."

Edgar turned round. If he observed the fiddler sowing wild oats he
ignored the confusion.

"There's something in that," he said. "I don't _want_ you to play
second fiddle. You haven't made up your mind to marry me; but you've
got a sense that you're _going_ to ... that's so, isn't it?" There was
a pause.

"I think so," answered Patricia at last, in a very quiet voice. "It
seems inevitable. That is, if I'm to marry anybody at all. But I'm not
ready to marry you."

"What you'd like to do is not to make up your mind. You'd like to go on
as we are, being friends, until I'm tired of you and you are tired of
me, and we can have disagreeable middle-ages of loneliness and regret.
I don't care to waste our lives in that way. I admit that I'm not an
ideal lover; but I've got other points, and you know them. You know
that in some curious way you depend on me. You may not be in love with
me; but no other man means as much to you, or will ever mean as much.
If it's put to you that you either marry me or lose me, you'll marry me
rather than lose me. But if you don't love me, it would be very wrong
to marry me simply because you couldn't bear to lose me...."

Patricia allowed him to wander on. She was smiling.

"I like to hear you talk," she said. "It's agreeable. It's all
irrelevant, and verbose; and if you think I'm to be threatened into
marrying you, you're mistaken. Can't you see it would murder my vanity?
But I haven't anything to give you. You'd be giving to me all the time.
I could have given something they wanted to Harry and Monty, and when
it came to the point I wouldn't give it, because they couldn't give me
anything I wanted in exchange. You can give me a lot. You can make my
life worth living. But I can't give you anything, because you don't
want it."

"We'll get on to Winchester now," said Edgar, with studied--even
ostentatious--patience. "Because I want to take you back to London to
tea with some friends of ours--Olivia and Peter Stephens."

"Stephens?" said Patricia. "Aren't they ... aren't they the married
people who are happy?" She became thoughtful. The car began to move;
but she was unconscious of everything but her own darting intuitions.
Amy ... the happy young lovers ... what had Amy said? For an instant
full memory of the conversation eluded her. Then at last. "Why take me
there?" she asked.

"It'll do you good to meet some real people for a change," said Edgar.
"Happy people. People who haven't got their heads cluttered with
sophistication and egotism. People who aren't sterile sensation-rakers,
and lascivious fiddlers with their senses."

Again Patricia was lost in thought. His rather heated tone was a
natural discouragement to her. Suddenly she gave an exclamation.

"Oh, babies!" she said. She did not open her lips again until the car
arrived in Winchester.


viii

They had lunched, and were again upon the road; and the bare hedges
showed Patricia lands that stretched full of wood and copse and meadow
into the farthest distance. From a high place upon a common, where
Edgar had halted for the sake of the glorious panorama, she could see
Hampshire extending upon the one hand and Surrey upon the other. She
was very happy now, but her heart a little ached. It was the breeze,
perhaps, that chilled; or a return of her old painful feeling of
loneliness.... But as Patricia thought that, she knew suddenly what she
wanted, and Edgar knew it also, for he put his arm round her.

"My old sweet," he said. "Never think I don't love you,--as much as any
Harry or Monty; and with the same warmth. I do. You're everything to
me."

His lips were very close; and still Patricia delayed, not excited, but
welcoming, half-smiling, half-afraid. She was shy. She had not been shy
with Harry or with Monty. But she was shy with Edgar. From him a kiss
seemed almost ceremonial. And as she thought that, Patricia blushed.

"Don't let's go to the Stephenses'," she said, breathlessly, her head
lowered. "I know why you want me to go there. Do you want babies
so much, Edgar? More than you want me? You see, I'm ... I know I'm
conceited and horrible ... but it's because I feel so worthless."
Lower and lower sank her head, to his breast, and she was held close
to Edgar's heart. "Funny heart, to beat," she said. "You _do_ love me,
don't you.... Really love me...."

"Really," he swore. "All my heart."

"And you think I'm an idiot."

"Yes."

Patricia hit her lover a sharp blow of exasperation.

"And you don't think I'm wonderful."

"No."

She sat upright again, still within the circle of his arm.

"Has your car got a name?" she asked.

"Yes, Budge. Claudia named him; because at first he wouldn't. She kept
saying 'He won't budge. He won't budge.' And suddenly he _did_. So
that's how he was christened."

"Well," said Patricia, as though she were concluding a scene. "This is
all very well; but ... Edgar, you _do_ love me? And you'll try to make
me less idiotic? Of course, I'm not in love with you. You don't attract
me at all. But in a sort of way you're rather nice."

Her lips were trembling. She blinked away some tears. It did not at all
accord with her anticipation of romance. And yet it was shot through
and through with a beautiful tranquillity.

"I wish you'd let me kiss you," said Edgar. "I can't if you turn your
face away. Unless I slew it round by force."

"Silly!" muttered Patricia. Edgar exerted force. Not much was
necessary. Patricia put her arms round his neck, and they kissed, and
then laughed. "Suppose we're making a mistake," she cried. "Suppose
it's all wrong."

"After all, most people take a risk," said Edgar.

"I don't take a risk. It's _you_ who take the risk," she answered. "You
can be trusted. I can't. Look at the way I've behaved. I'm a rake!
Suppose I ran away with somebody?"

"Then I should keep the babies," said Edgar.

Patricia looked indignantly at him.

"You're only a great baby yourself!" she said. "How extraordinary!
And I thought...." She was amazed. It was a discovery of the most
astounding significance to her. She had thought of him always hitherto
as a grown-up. Was he then not grown-up? Her eyes glowed. "Edgar, tell
me this!" she exclaimed. "Are you afraid of me?"

"I am," said Edgar.

"Truly afraid? And do you think I'm a poor insect?"

"I think you're the most wonderful creature that ever lived. I adore
you," said Edgar.

Great tears splashed from Patricia's eyes. Laughing, she held him
closely, and impulsively kissed the brown cheek next her own.

"Dearest!" she cried. "It's a dream. I didn't know I ... I didn't
realise how much I loved you, until just exactly that moment when I saw
you were nothing but a silly baby. But you're artful, you know! You're
a deep one." Ruminatingly, she presently added: "I'm not so sure about
those risks."

She was strangely exalted and happy, and her face was the funny face of
a baby; and she sometimes could not meet Edgar's eyes, and sometimes
boldly sought them; and altogether was mystified by her own sensations,
and by the odd thoughts which came sparkling into her mind and on
to her tongue. The two of them continued to sit in Budge and to be
consumed in the marvel of their situation. Around them the wind played
and the sun shone as it travelled towards the west, and the counties
continued to subsist as if no lovers sat high above them absorbed in
joy.


THE END.





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