First Published London, 1908.
(Book One of THE LITTLE OTTLEYS)
Love like a shadow flies When substance love pursues; Pursuing that that flies, And flying what pursues.
'There's only one thing I must really implore you, Edith,' said Bruce anxiously. 'Don't make me late at the office!'
'Certainly not, Bruce,' answered Edith sedately. She was seated opposite her husband at breakfast in a very new, very small, very white flat in Knightsbridge—exactly like thousands of other new, small, white flats. She was young and pretty, but not obvious. One might suppose that she was more subtle than was shown by her usual expression, which was merely cheerful and intelligent.
'Now I have to write that letter before I go,' Bruce exclaimed, starting up and looking at her reproachfully. 'Why didn't I write it last night?'
Edith hadn't the slightest idea, as she had heard nothing of the letter before, but, in the course of three years, she had learnt that it saved time to accept trifling injustices. So she looked guilty and a little remorseful. He magnanimously forgave her, and began to write the letter at a neat white writing-table.
'How many g's are there in "Raggett"?' he asked suspiciously.
She didn't answer, apparently overtaken by a sudden fit of absence of mind.
'Only one, of course. How absurd you are!' said her husband, laughing, as he finished the letter and came back to the table.
She poured out more coffee.
'It's a curious thing,' he went on in a tone of impartial regret, 'that, with all the fuss about modern culture and higher education nowadays, girls are not even taught to spell!'
'Yes, isn't it? But even if I had been taught, it might not have been much use. I might just not have been taught to spell "Raggett". It's a name, isn't it?'
'It's a very well-known name,' said Bruce.
'I daresay it is, but I don't know it. Would you like to see the boy before you go?'
'What a question! I always like to see the boy. But you know perfectly well I haven't time this morning.'
'Very well, dear. You can see him this afternoon.'
'Why do you say that? You know I'm going golfing with Goldthorpe! It really is hard, Edith, when a man has to work so much that he has scarcely any time for his wife and child.'
She looked sympathetic.
'What are you doing today?' he asked.
'Hyacinth's coming to fetch me for a drive in the motor.'
His face brightened. He said kindly, 'I am so glad, darling, that you have such a delightful friend—when I can't be with you. I admire Hyacinth very much, in every way. She seems devoted to you, too, which is really very nice of her. What I mean to say is, that in her position she might know anybody. You see my point?'
'How did you meet her originally?'
'We were school-friends.'
'She's such a lovely creature; I wonder she doesn't marry.'
'Yes, but she has to find someone else whom she thinks a lovely creature, too.'
'I wish you wouldn't snap me up like that. Oh, I know you don't mean it, but it's growing on you, rather.'
She tried to look serious, and said gently, 'Is it, really? I am sorry.'
'You don't mind me telling you of it, do you?'
'Not at all. I'm afraid you will be late, Bruce.'
He started up and hurried away, reminding Edith that dinner was to be at eight. They parted with affectionate smiles.
When he had gone down in the lift, Edith took an inextensive walk through the entire flat, going into each room, and looking at herself in every looking-glass. She appeared to like herself best in the dining-room mirror, for she returned, stared into it rather gravely for some little time, and then said to herself: 'Yes, I'm beginning to look bored.'
Then she rang the bell, and the nurse brought in a pretty little boy of nearly two, Huffily dressed in white, who was excited at the prospect of his great morning treat—going down in the lift. Speaking of him with some formality as Master Archie, she asked the nurse a few questions, which she mistakenly supposed gave that personage the impression that she knew all that there was to be known about children. When she was alone with him for a minute she rushed at him impulsively, saying, privately, 'Heavenly pet! Divine angel! Duck!' in return for which he pulled her hair down and scratched her face with a small empty Noah's Ark that he was taking out with him for purposes of his own.
When he had gone she did her hair up again in a different way—parted in the middle. It was very pretty, wavy, fair hair, and she had small, regular features, so the new way suited her very well. Then she said again—
'Yes, if it were not for Hyacinth I should soon look bored to death!'
Hyacinth Verney was the romance of Edith's life. She also provided a good deal of romance in the lives of several other people. Her position was unusual, and her personality fascinating. She had no parents, was an heiress, and lived alone with a companion in a quaint little house just out of Berkeley Square, with a large studio, that was never used for painting. She had such an extraordinary natural gift for making people of both sexes fond of her, that it would have been difficult to say which, of all the persons who loved her, showed the most intense devotion in the most immoderate way. Probably her cousin and guardian, Sir Charles Cannon, and her companion, Anne Yeo, spent more thought and time in her service than did anybody else. Edith's imagination had been fired in their school-days by her friend's beauty and cleverness, and by the fact that she had a guardian, like a book. Then Hyacinth had come out and gone in for music, for painting, and for various other arts and pursuits of an absorbing character. She had hardly any acquaintances except her relations, but possessed an enormously large number of extremely intimate friends—a characteristic that had remained to her from her childhood.
Hyacinth's ideal of society was to have no padding, so that most of the members of her circle were types. Still, as she had a perfect passion for entertaining, there remained, of course, a residue; distant elderly connections with well-sounding names (as ballast), and a few vague hangers-on; several rather dull celebrities, some merely pretty and well-dressed women, and a steadily increasing number of good-looking young men. Hyacinth was fond of decoration.
As she frankly admitted, she had rather fallen back on Edith, finding her, after many experiments, the most agreeable of friends, chiefly because in their intercourses everything was always taken for granted. Like sisters, they understood one another without explanation—a demi-mot.
While Edith waited impatiently in the hall of the flat, Anne Yeo, her unacknowledged rival in Hyacinth's affections, was doing needlework in the window-seat of the studio, and watching Hyacinth, who, dressed to go out, was walking up and down the room. With a rather wooden face, high cheek-bones, a tall, thin figure, and no expression, Anne might have been any age; but she was not. She made every effort to look quite forty so as to appear more suitable as a chaperone, but was in reality barely thirty. She was thinking, as she often thought, that Hyacinth looked too romantic for everyday life. When they had travelled together this fact had been rather a nuisance.
'Why, when you call at the Stores to order groceries, must you look as if you were going to elope?' she asked dryly. 'In an ordinary motorveil you have the air of hastening to some mysterious appointment.'
'But I'm only going to fetch Edith Ottley for a drive,' said Hyacinth. 'How bored she must get with her little Foreign Office clerk! The way he takes his authority as a husband seriously is pathetic. He hasn't the faintest idea the girl is cleverer than he is.'
'You'd far better leave her alone, and not point it out,' said Anne. 'You're always bothering about these little Ottleys now. But you've been very restless lately. Whenever you try to do people good, and especially when you motor so much and so fast, I recognise the symptoms. It's coming on again, and you're trying to get away from it.'
'Don't say that. I'm never going to care about anyone again,' said Hyacinth.
'You don't know it, but when you're not in love you're not yourself,' Anne continued. 'It's all you live for.'
'It's quite true. It's nearly three months since you—had an attack. Blair was the last. Now you're beginning to take the same sort of interest in Cecil Reeve.'
'How mistaken you are, Anne! I don't take at all the same interest in him. It's a totally different thing. I don't really even like him.'
'You wouldn't go out today if you were expecting him.'
'Yes, but I'm not ... and he doesn't care two straws about me. Once he said he never worshipped in a crowded temple!'
'It's a curious coincidence that ever since then you've been out to everyone else,' said Anne.
'I don't really like him—so very much. When he does smile, of course it's rather nice. Why does he hate me?'
'I can't think,' said Anne.
'He doesn't hate me! How can you say so?' cried Hyacinth.
'Perhaps it's because he thinks I look Spanish. He may disapprove of looking Spanish,' suggested Hyacinth.
Hyacinth laughed, kissed her, and went out. Anne followed her graceful figure with disapproving, admiring eyes.
The Anxieties of Sir Charles
Like all really uncommon beauties, Hyacinth could only be adequately described by the most hackneyed phrases. Her eyes were authentically sapphire-coloured; brilliant, frank eyes, with a subtle mischief in them, softened by the most conciliating long eyelashes. Then, her mouth was really shaped like a Cupid's bow, and her teeth were dazzling; also she had a wealth of dense, soft, brown hair and a tall, sylphlike, slimly-rounded figure. Her features were delicately regular, and her hands and feet perfection. Her complexion was extremely fair, so she was not a brunette; some remote Spanish ancestor on her mother's side was, however, occasionally mentioned as an apology for a type and a supple grace sometimes complained of by people with white eyelashes as rather un-English. So many artistic young men had told her she was like La Gioconda, that when she first saw the original in the Louvre she was so disappointed that she thought she would never smile again.
About ten minutes after the pretty creature had gone out, Anne, who had kept her eyes steadily on the clock, looked out of the window, from which she could see a small brougham driving up. She called out into the hall—
'If that's Sir Charles Cannon, tell him Miss Verney is out, but I have a message for him.'
A minute later there entered a thin and distinguished-looking, grey-haired man of about forty-five, wearing a smile of such excessive cordiality that one felt it could only have been brought to his well-bred lips by acute disappointment. Anne did not take the smile literally, but began to explain away the blow.
'I'm so sorry,' she said apologetically. 'I'm afraid it's partly my fault. When she suddenly decided to go out with that little Mrs Ottley, she told me vaguely to telephone to you. But how on earth could I know where you were?'
'How indeed? It doesn't matter in the least, my dear Miss Yeo. I mean, it's most unfortunate, as I've just a little free time. Lady Cannon's gone to a matinee at the St James's. We had tickets for the first night, but of course she wouldn't use them then. She preferred to go alone in the afternoon, because she detests the theatre, anyhow, and afternoon performances give her a headache. And if she does a thing that's disagreeable to her, she likes to do it in the most painful possible way. She has a beautiful nature.'
Anne smiled, and passed him a little gold box.
'Have a cigarette?' she suggested.
'Thanks—I'm not really in a bad temper. But why this relapse of devotion to little Mrs Ottley? And why are you and I suddenly treated with marked neglect?'
'Mrs Ottley,' said Anne, 'is one of those young women, rather bored with their husbands, who are the worst possible companions for Hyacinth. They put her off marrying.'
'Bored, is she? She didn't strike me so. A pleasant, bright girl. I suppose she amuses Hyacinth?'
'Yes; of course, she's not a dull old maid over forty, like me,' said Anne.
'No-one would believe that description of you,' said Sir Charles, with a bow that was courtly but absent. As a matter of fact, he did believe it, but it wasn't true.
'If dear little Mrs Ottley,' he continued, 'married in too great a hurry, far be it from me to reproach her. I married in a hurry myself—when Hyacinth was ten.'
'And when she was eighteen you were very sorry,' said Anne in her colourless voice.
'Don't let us go into that, Miss Yeo. Of course, Hyacinth is a beautiful—responsibility. People seem to think she ought to have gone on living with us when she left school. But how was it possible? Hyacinth said she intended to live for her art, and Lady Cannon couldn't stand the scent of oils.' He glanced round the large panelled-oak room in which not a picture was to be seen. The only indication of its having ever been meant for a studio was the north light, carefully obstructed (on the grounds of unbecomingness) by gently-tinted draperies of some fabric suggesting Liberty's. 'Life wasn't worth living, trying to keep the peace!'
'But you must have missed her?'
'Still, I prefer coming to see her here. And knowing she has you with her is, after all, everything.'
He looked a question.
'Yes, she has. I mean, she seems rather—absorbed again lately,' said Anne.
'Who is it?' he asked. 'I always feel so indiscreet and treacherous talking over her private affairs like this with you, though she tells me everything herself. I'm not sure it's the act of a simple, loyal, Christian English gentleman; in fact, I'm pretty certain it's not. I suppose that's why I enjoy it so much.'
'I daresay,' said Anne; 'but she wouldn't mind it.'
'What has been happening?'
'Nothing interesting. Hazel Kerr came here the other day and brought with him a poem in bronze lacquer, as he called it. He read it aloud—the whole of it.'
'Good heavens! Poetry! Do people still do that sort of thing? I thought it had gone out years ago—when I was a young man.'
'Of course, so it has. But Hazel Kerr is out of date. Hyacinth says he's almost a classic.'
'Oh no! His method. She says he's an interesting survival—he's walked straight out of another age—the nineties, you know. There were poets in those days.'
'Method! He was much too young then to have a style at all, surely!'
'That was the style. It was the right thing to be very young in the nineties. It isn't now.'
'It's not so easy now, for some of us,' murmured Sir Charles.
'But Hazel keeps it up,' Anne answered.
Sir Charles laughed irritably. 'He keeps it up, does he? But he sits people out openly, that shows he's not really dangerous. One doesn't worry about Hazel. It's that young man who arrives when everybody's going, or goes before anyone else arrives, that's what I'm a little anxious about.'
'If you mean Cecil Reeve, Hyacinth says he doesn't like her.'
'I'm sorry to hear that. If anything will interest her, that will. Yet I don't know why I should mind. At any rate, he certainly isn't trying to marry her for interested reasons, as he's very well off—or perhaps for any reasons. I'm told he's clever, too.'
'His appearance is not against him either,' said Anne dryly; 'so what's the matter with him?'
'I don't know exactly. I think he's capable of playing with her.'
'Perhaps he doesn't really appreciate her,' suggested Anne.
'Oh, yes, he does. He's a connoisseur—confound him! He appreciates her all right. But it's all for himself—not for her. By the way, I've heard his name mentioned with another woman's name. But I happen to know there's nothing in it.'
'Would you really like her to marry soon?' Anne asked.
'In her position it would be better, I suppose,' said her guardian, with obvious distaste to the idea.
'Has there ever been anyone that you thoroughly approved of?' asked Anne.
He shook his head.
'I rather doubt if there ever will be,' Anne said.
'She's so clever, so impulsive! She lives so much on her emotions. If she were disappointed—in that way—it would mean so much to her,' Sir Charles said.
'She does change rather often,' said Anne.
'Of course, she's never really known her own mind.' He took a letter out of his pocket. 'I came partly to show her a letter from Ella—my girl at school in Paris, you know. Hyacinth is so kind to her. She writes to me very confidentially. I hope she's being properly brought up!'
'Let me read it.'
'I'm having heavenly fun at school. Last night there was a ball for Madame's birthday. A proper grown-up ball, and we all danced. The men weren't bad. I had a lovely Easter egg, a chocolate egg, and inside that another egg with chocolate in it, and inside that another egg with a dear little turquoise charm in it. One man said I was a blonde anglaise, and had a keepsake face; and another has taken the Prix de Rome, and is going to be a schoolmaster. There were no real ices. Come over and see me soon. It's such a long time to the holidays. Love to mother.
'A curious letter—for her age,' said Ella's father, replacing it. 'I wish she were here. It seems a pity Lady Cannon can't stand the noise of practising—and so on. Well, perhaps it's for the best.' He got up. 'Miss Yeo, I must go and fetch Lady Cannon now, but I'll come back at half-past six for a few minutes—on my way to the club.'
'She's sure to be here then,' replied Anne consolingly; 'and do persuade her not to waste all her time being kind to Edith Ottley. It can't do any good. She'd better leave them alone.'
'Really, it's a very innocent amusement. I think you're overanxious.'
'It's only that I'm afraid she might get mixed up in—well, some domestic row.'
'Surely it can't be as bad as that! Why—is Mr Ottley in love with her?' he asked, smiling.
'Very much indeed,' said Anne.
'Oh, really, Miss Yeo!—and does Mrs Ottley know it?'
'No, nor Hyacinth either. He doesn't know it himself.'
'Then if nobody knows it, it can't matter very much,' said Sir Charles, feeling vaguely uncomfortable all the same. Before he went he took up a portrait of Hyacinth in an Empire dress with laurel leaves in her hair. It was a beautiful portrait. Anne thought that from the way he looked at it, anyone could have guessed Lady Cannon had tight lips and wore a royal fringe.... They parted with great friendliness.
Anne's wooden, inexpressive countenance was a great comfort to Sir Charles, in some moods. Though she was clever enough, she did not have that superfluity of sympathy and responsiveness that makes one go away regretting one has said so much, and disliking the other person for one's expansion. One never felt that she had understood too accurately, nor that one had given oneself away, nor been indiscreetly curious.... It was like talking to a chair. What a good sort Anne was!
'Would you like me to play to you a little?' Anne asked, when Hyacinth had returned and was sitting in the carved-oak chimney-corner, looking thoughtful and picturesque.
'Oh no, please don't! Besides, I know you can't'
'No, thank goodness!' exclaimed Anne. 'I know I'm useful and practical, and I don't mind that; but anyhow, I'm not cheerful, musical, and a perfect lady, in exchange for a comfortable home, am I?'
'No, indeed,' said Hyacinth fervently.
'No-one can speak of me as "that pleasant, cultivated creature who lives with Miss Verney," can they?'
'Not, at any rate, if they have any regard for truth,' said Hyacinth.
'I wish you wouldn't make me laugh. Why should I have a sense of humour? I sometimes think that all your friends imagine it's part of my duty to shriek with laughter at their wretched jokes. It wasn't in the contract. If I were pretty, my ambition would have been to be an adventuress; but an adventuress with no adventures would be a little flat. I might have the worst intentions, but I should never have the chance of carrying them out. So I try to be as much as possible like Thackeray's shabby companion in a dyed silk.'
'Is that why you wear a sackcloth blouse trimmed with ashes?' said Hyacinth, with curiosity.
'No, that's merely stinginess. It's my nature to be morbidly economical, though I know I needn't be. If I hadn't had L500 a year left me, I should never have been able to come and live here, and drop all my horrid relations. I enjoy appearing dependent and being a spectator, and I've absolutely given up all interest in my own affairs. In fact, I haven't got any. And I take the keenest interest in other people's—romances. Principally, of course, in yours.'
'I'm sure I don't want you to be so vicarious as all that—thanks awfully,' said Hyacinth. 'At any rate, don't dress like a skeleton at the feast tomorrow, if you don't mind. I've asked the little Ottleys to dinner—and, I want Charles to come.'
'Oh, of course, if you expect Cecil Reeve!—I suppose you do, as you haven't mentioned it—I'll put on my real clothes to do you credit.' She looked out of the window. 'Here's poor old Charles again. How he does dislike Lady Cannon!'
'What a shame, Anne! He's angelic to her.'
'That's what I meant,' said Anne, going out quickly.
'Charles, how nice of you to call and return your own visit the same day! It's like Royalty, isn't it? It reminds me of the young man who was asked to call again, and came back in half an hour,' said Hyacinth.
'I didn't quite see my way to waiting till Monday,' he answered. 'We're going away the end of the week. Janet says she needs a change.'
'It would be more of a change if you remained in town alone; at least, without Aunty.'
From the age of ten Hyacinth had resented having to call Lady Cannon by this endearing name. How a perfect stranger, by marrying her cousin, could become her aunt, was a mystery that she refused even to try to solve. It was well meant, no doubt; it was supposed to make her feel more at home—less of an orphan. But though she was obedient on this point, nothing would ever induce her to call her cousin by anything but his Christian name, with no qualification. Instinctively she felt that to call them 'Charles and Aunty', while annoying the intruder, kept her guardian in his proper place. What that was she did not specify.
'Well, can't you stay in London and come here, and be confided in and consulted? You know you like that better than boring yourself to death at Redlands.'
'Never mind that. How did you enjoy your drive?'
'Immensely, and I've asked both the little Ottleys to come to dinner tomorrow—one of those impulsive, unconsidered invitations that one regrets the second after. I must make up a little party. Will you come?'
'Perhaps, if I arranged to follow Janet to Redlands the next day, I might. Who did you say was the other man?'
'I expect Cecil Reeve,' she said. 'Don't put on that air of marble archness, Charles. It doesn't suit you at all. Tell me something about him.'
'I can't stand him. That's all I know about him,' said Sir Charles.
'Oh, is that all? That's just jealousy, Charles.'
'Absurd! How can a married man, in your father's place, a hundred years older than you, be jealous?'
'It is wonderful, isn't it?' she said. 'But you must know something about him. You know everyone.'
'He's Lord Selsey's nephew—and his heir—if Selsey doesn't marry again. He's only a young man about town—the sort of good-looking ass that your sex admires.'
'Charles, what a brute you are! He's very clever.'
'My dear child, yes—as a matter of fact, I believe he is. Isn't he ever going to do something?'
'I don't know,' she said. 'I wish he would. Oh, why don't you like him?'
'What can it matter about me?' he answered. 'Why are you never satisfied unless I'm in love with the same people that you are?'
'Charles!' she exclaimed, standing up. 'Don't you understand that not a word, not a look has passed to suggest such a thing? I never met anyone so—'
'No, so listless, and so respectful; and yet so amusing.... But I'm pretty certain that he hates me. I wish I knew why.'
'And you hate him just as much, of course?'
'No, sometimes I don't. And then I want you to agree with me. No-one sympathises really so well as you, Charles.'
'Not even Miss Yeo?'
'No, I get on so well with Anne because she doesn't She's always interested, but I prefer her never to agree with me, as she lives here. It would be enervating to have someone always there and perpetually sympathetic. Anne is a tonic.'
'You need a little opposition to keep you up,' said Sir Charles.
'Didn't I once hear something about his being devoted to someone? Wasn't there a report that he was going to be married to a Mrs. Raymond?'
'I believe it was once contradicted in the Morning Post that he was engaged to her,' said Sir Charles. 'But I'm sure there's no truth in it. I know her.'
'No truth in the report? Or the contradiction?'
'In either. In anything.'
'So you know her. What's she like?' Hyacinth asked anxiously.
'Oh, a dear, charming creature—you'd like her; but not pretty, nor young. About my age,' he said.
'Oh, I see! That's all right, then!' She clapped her hands.
'Well, I must go. I'll arrange to turn up to dinner tomorrow.' He took his hat, looking rather depressed.
'And try to make him like me!' she commanded, as Sir Charles took leave.
The Sound Sense of Lady Cannon
Lady Cannon had never been seen after half-past seven except in evening dress, generally a velvet dress of some dark crimson or bottle-green, so tightly-fitting as to give her an appearance of being rather upholstered than clothed. Her cloaks were always like well-hung curtains, her trains like heavy carpets; one might fancy that she got her gowns from Gillows. Her pearl dog-collar, her diamond ear-rings, her dark red fringe and the other details of her toilette were put on with the same precision when she dined alone with Sir Charles as if she were going to a ceremonious reception. She was a very tall, fine-looking woman. In Paris, where she sometimes went to see Ella at school, she attracted much public attention as une femme superbe. Frenchmen were heard to remark to one another that her husband ne devrait pas s'embeter (which, as a matter of fact, was precisely what he did—to extinction); and even in the streets when she walked out the gamins used to exclaim, 'Voila l'Arc de Triomphe qui se promene!'—to her intense fury and gratification. She was still handsome, with hard, wide-open blue eyes, and straight features. She always held her head as if she were being photographed in a tiara en profil perdu. It was in this attitude that she had often been photographed and was now most usually seen; and it seemed so characteristic that even her husband, if he accidentally caught a glimpse of her full-face, hastily altered his position to one whence he could behold her at right angles.
As she grew older, the profile in the photographs had become more and more perdu; the last one showed chiefly the back of her head, besides a basket of flowers, and a double staircase, leading (one hoped) at least to one of the upper rooms in Buckingham Palace.
Lady Cannon had a very exalted opinion of her own charms, virtues, brilliant gifts, and, above all, of her sound sense. Fortunately for her, she had married a man of extraordinary amiability, who had always taken every possible precaution to prevent her discovering that in this opinion she was practically alone in the world.
Having become engaged to her through a slight misunderstanding in a country house, Sir Charles had not had the courage to explain away the mistake. He decided to make the best of it, and did so the more easily as it was one of those so-called suitable matches that the friends and acquaintances of both parties approve of and desire far more than the parties concerned. A sensible woman was surely required at Redlands and in the London house, especially as Sir Charles had been left guardian and trustee to a pretty little heiress.
It had taken him a very short time to find out that the reputation for sound sense was, like most traditions, founded on a myth, and that if his wife's vanity was only equalled by her egotism, her most remarkable characteristic was her excessive silliness. But she loved him, and he kept his discovery to himself.
'Twenty-five minutes to eight!' she exclaimed, holding out a little jewelled watch, as Sir Charles came in after his visit to Hyacinth. 'And we have a new cook, and I specially, most specially told her to have dinner ready punctually at half-past seven! This world is indeed a place of trial!'
Sir Charles's natural air of command seemed to disappear in the presence of Lady Cannon. He murmured a graceful apology, saying he would not dress. Nothing annoyed, even shocked her more than to see her husband dining opposite her in a frock-coat. However, of two evils she chose the less. They went in to dinner.
'I haven't had the opportunity yet of telling you my opinion of the play this afternoon,' she said. 'I found it interesting, and I wonder I hadn't seen it before.'
'You sent back our stalls for the first night,' remarked Sir Charles.
'Certainly I did. I dislike seeing a play until I have seen in the papers whether it is a success or not.'
'Those newspaper fellows aren't always right,' said Sir Charles.
'Perhaps not, but at least they can tell you whether the thing is a success. I should be very sorry to be seen at a failure. Very sorry indeed.'
She paused, and then went on—
'James Wade's Trouble has been performed three hundred times, so it must be clever. In my opinion, it must have done an immense amount of harm—good, I mean. A play like that, so full of noble sentiments and high principles, is—to me—as good as a sermon!'
'Oh, is it? I'm sorry I couldn't go,' said Sir Charles, feeling very glad.
'I suppose it was the club, as usual, that made you late. Do you know, I have a great objection to clubs.'
He nodded sympathetically.
'That is to say, I thoroughly approve of your belonging to several. I'm quite aware that in your position it's the right thing to do, but I can't understand why you should ever go to them, having two houses of your own. And that reminds me, we are going down to Redlands tomorrow, are we not? I've had a little' (she lowered her voice) 'lumbago; a mere passing touch, that's all—and the change will cure me. I think you neglect Redlands, Charles. You seem to me to regard your responsibilities as a landowner with indifference bordering on aversion. You never seem amused down there—unless we have friends.'
'We'll go tomorrow if you like,' said he.
'I can easily put off the Duke,' he said thoughtfully, as he poured out more wine.
She sprang up like a startled hare.
'Put off the ... what are you talking about?'
'Oh, nothing. The Duke of St Leonard's is giving a dinner at the club tomorrow, and I was going. But I can arrange to get out of it.'
'Charles! I never heard of anything so absurd! You must certainly go to the dinner. How like you! How casual of you! For a mere trifle to offend the man who might be of the greatest use to you—politically.'
'Politically! What do you mean? And it isn't a trifle when you've set your mind on going away tomorrow. I know you hate to change your plans, my dear.'
'Certainly I do, but I shall not change my plans. I shall go down tomorrow, and you can join me on Friday.'
'Oh, I don't think I'll do that,' said Sir Charles, rather half-heartedly. 'Why should you take the journey alone?'
'But I shall not be alone. I shall have Danvers with me. You need have no anxiety. I beg of you, I insist, that you stay, and go to this dinner.'
'Well, of course, if you make a point of it—'
She smiled, well pleased at having got her own way, as she supposed.
'That's right, Charles. Then you'll come down on Friday.'
'By the early train,' said Sir Charles.
'No, I should suggest your coming by the later train. It's more convenient to meet you at the station.'
'Very well—as you like,' said he, inwardly a little astonished, as always, at the easy working of the simple old plan, suggesting what one does not wish to do in order to be persuaded into what one does.
'And, by the way, I haven't heard you speak of Hyacinth lately. You had better go and see her. A little while ago you were always wasting your time about her, and I spoke to you about it, Charles—I think?'
'I think you did,' said he.
'But, though at one time I was growing simply tired of her name, I didn't mean that you need not look after her at all. Go and see her, and explain to her I can't possibly accompany you. Tell her I've got chronic lumbago very badly indeed, and I'm obliged to go to the country, but I shall certainly make a point of calling on her when I return. You won't forget, Charles?'
'I should go oftener,' she continued apologetically, 'but I have such a great dislike to that companion of hers. I think Miss Yeo a most unpleasant person.'
'She isn't really,' said Sir Charles.
'I do wish we could get Hyacinth married,' said Lady Cannon. 'I know what a relief it would be to you, and it seems to me such an unheard-of thing for a young girl like that to be living practically alone!'
'We've been through that before, Janet. Remember, there was nothing else to do unless she continued to live with us. And as your nerves can't even stand Ella—'
Lady Cannon dropped the point.
'Well, we must get her married,' she said again. 'What a good thing Ella is still so young! Girls are a dreadful responsibility,' and she swept graciously from the dining-room.
Sir Charles took out an irritating little notebook of red leather, the sort of thing that is advertised when lost as 'of no value to anyone but the owner.' It was full of mysterious little marks and unintelligible little notes. He put down, in cabalistic signs, 'Hyacinth's dinner, eight o'clock.' He enjoyed writing her name, even in hieroglyphics.
'I say, Eugenia.'
'Look here, Eugenia.'
'What is it, Cecil?'
'Will you marry me?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Will you many me, Eugenia?'
'You heard what I said. I asked you to marry me. Will you?'
'Certainly not! Most decidedly not! How can you ask such a ridiculous question!'
The lady who thus scornfully rejected a proposal was no longer young, and had never been beautiful. In what exactly her attraction consisted was perhaps a mystery to many of those who found themselves under the charm. Her voice and smile were very agreeable, and she had a graceful figure. If she looked nearly ten years younger than her age (which was forty-four), this was in no way owing to any artificial aid, but to a kind of brilliant vitality, not a bouncing mature liveliness, but a vivid, intense, humorous interest in life that was and would always remain absolutely fresh. She was naturalness itself, and seemed unconscious or careless of her appearance. Nor did she have that well-preserved air of so many modern women who seem younger than their years, but seemed merely clever, amiable, very unaffected, and rather ill. She had long, veiled-looking brown eyes, turned up at the corners, which gave to her glance an amusing slyness. It was a very misleading physiognomical effect, for she was really unusually frank. She wore a dull grey dress that was neither artistic, becoming, nor smart. In fact, she was too charming to be dowdy, and too careless to be chic; she might have been a great celebrity.
The young man who made the suggestion above recorded was fair and clean-shaven, tall and well-made, with clear-cut feature; in fact, he was very good-looking—good-looking as almost only an Englishman can be. Under a reserved, dandified manner, he tried unsuccessfully to conceal the fact that he was too intelligent for his type. He did not, however, quite attain his standard of entire expressionlessness; and his bright, light-blue eyes and fully-curved lips showed the generous and emotional nature of their owner. At this moment he seemed very much out of temper.
They were sitting in a dismal little drawing-room in one of the smallest houses in a dreary street in Belgravia. The room was crowded with dateless, unmeaning furniture, and disfigured by muddled, mistaken decoration. Its designer, probably, had meant well, but had been very far from carrying out his meaning. There were too many things in the room, and most of them were wrong. It would be unjust, however, to suppose Mrs Raymond did not know this. Want of means, and indifference, or perhaps perverseness, had caused her to leave the house unchanged since his death as a sort of monument to poor Colonel Raymond's erring taste.
'You might just as well marry me as not,' said Cecil, in his level voice, but with pleading eyes. He made the gesture of trying to take her hand, but she took hers away.
'You are very pressing, Cecil, but I think not. You know perfectly well—I'm sure I make no secret of it—that I'm ten years older than you. Old enough to be your mother! Am I the sort of person who would take advantage of the fancy of a gilded youth? And, now I come to think of it, your proposal's quite insulting. It's treating me like an adventuress! It's implying that you think I would marry you! Apologise, and withdraw it at once, or I'll never speak to you again.'
'This is nonsense. To begin with,' said Cecil, 'I may be a little gilded—not so very—but I'm far from being a youth. I'm thirty-four.'
'Yes, I know! That's just the absurd part,' she answered inconsequently. 'It's not as if you were a mere boy and didn't know better! And you know how I hate this sort of thing.'
'I know you do, and very likely I wouldn't have worried about marrying at all if you had been nicer to me—in other ways. You see, you brought it on yourself!'
'What do you mean? I am nice. Don't you come here whenever you like—or nearly? Didn't I dine with you once—a year or two ago? I forget, but I think I did.'
'You never did,' he answered sharply.
'Then it must have been with somebody else. Of course I didn't. I shouldn't dream of such a thing.'
'Someone else! Yes, of course; that's it. Well, I want you to marry me, Eugenia, because I want to get you away from everyone else. You see my point?'
She laughed. 'Oh, jealousy! That's the last straw. Do you know that you're a nuisance, Cecil?'
'Because I love you?' he said, trying to look into her sly Japanese eyes.
She avoided his glance.
'Because you keep on bothering. Always writing, always telephoning, always calling! As soon as I've disposed of one invitation or excuse to meet, you invent another. But this last idea is quite too exasperating.' She spoke more gently. 'Don't you know, Cecil, that I've been a widow for years? Would I be so ridiculous as to marry again? Why, the one thing I can't stand is being interfered with! I prefer, far prefer, being poor and alone to that. Now what I want you to do is to marry someone else. I have an idea who I should like it to be, but I won't talk about it now. It's the most charming girl in the world. I shan't tell you her name, that would be tactless. It's that lovely Miss Verney, of course. She's much too good for you—an heiress, a beauty, and an orphan! But she's wonderful; and she really deserves you.'
He stopped her.
'How heartless you are!' he said admiringly.
'Really not, Cecil. I'm very fond of you. I'd be your best friend if you'd let me, but I shan't speak to you again or receive you at all unless you promise not to repeat that nonsense about marrying. I know how horridly obstinate you are! Please remember it's out of the question.'
At this moment the servant brought in a letter to Mrs Raymond. As she read it, Cecil thought she changed colour.
'It's only a line from Sir Charles Cannon,' she said.
'What's he writing about?'
'Really, Cecil! What right have you to ask? I certainly shan't say. It's about his ward, if you must know. And now I think you'd better go, if you will make these violent scenes.'
He stood up.
'You must let me come soon again,' he said rather dejectedly. 'I'll try not to come tomorrow. Shall I?'
'Yes, do try—not to come, I mean. And will you do everything I tell you?'
'I suppose it will please you if I dine with Hyacinth Verney this evening? She asked me yesterday. I said I was half-engaged, but would let her know.'
'Yes, it would please me very much indeed,' said Mrs Raymond. 'Please do it, and try to know her better. She's sweet. I don't know her, but—'
'All right. If you'll be nice to me. Will you?'
She was reading the letter again, and did not answer when he said good-bye and left the room.
The Little Ottleys
'Edith, I want you to look nice tonight, dear; what are you going to wear?'
'My Other Dress,' said Edith.
'Is it all right?'
'It ought to be. Would you like to know what I've done to it? I've cut the point into a square, and taken four yards out of the skirt; the chiffon off my wedding-dress has been made into kimono sleeves; then I'm going to wear my wedding-veil as a sort of scarf thrown carelessly over the shoulders; and I've turned the pointed waist-band round, so that it's quite right and short-waisted at the back now, and—'
'Oh, don't tell me the horrible details! I think you might take a little interest in me. I thought of wearing a buttonhole. Though you may have forgotten it now, before I was a dull old married man, I was supposed to dress rather well, Edith.'
'I know you were.'
'I thought I'd wear a white carnation.'
'I should wear two—one each side. It would be more striking.'
'That's right! Make fun of me! I hope you'll be ready in time. They dine at eight, you know.'
'Bruce, you're not going to begin to dress yet, are you? It's only just four.'
He pretended not to hear, and said peevishly—
'I suppose they don't expect us to ask them? I daresay it's well known we can't return all the hospitality we receive.'
'I daresay it is.'
'It's awful not having a valet,' said Bruce.
'But it would be more awful if we had,' said Edith. 'Where on earth could we put him—except in the bathroom?'
'I don't think you'll look you're best tonight,' he answered rather revengefully.
'Give me a chancel Wait till I've waved my hair!'
He read the paper for a little while, occasionally reading aloud portions of it that she had already read, then complained that she took no interest in public events.
'What do you think Archie brought home today,' she said to change the subject, 'in his Noah's Ark? Two snails!' She laughed.
'Revolting! I don't know where he gets his tastes from. Not from my family, that I'm quite sure.' He yawned ostentatiously.
'I think I shall have a rest,' Bruce said presently. 'I had a very bad night last night. I scarcely slept at all.'
'Poor boy!' Edith said kindly. She was accustomed to the convention of Bruce's insomnia, and it would never have occurred to her to appear surprised when he said he hadn't closed his eyes, though she happened to know there was no cause for anxiety. If he woke up ten minutes before he was called, he thought he had been awake all night; if he didn't he saw symptoms of the sleeping sickness.
She arranged cushions on the sofa and pulled the blinds down. A minute later he turned on the electric light and began to read again. Then he turned it out, pulled up the blinds, and called her back.
'I want to speak to you about my friend Raggett,' he said seriously. 'I've asked him to dinner here tomorrow. What shall we have?'
'Oh, Bruce! Let's wait and settle tomorrow.'
'You don't know Raggett, but I think you'll like him. I think you will. In any case, there's no doubt Raggett's been remarkably decent to me. In fact, he's a very good sort.'
'Fancy!' said Edith.
'Why do you say fancy?' he asked irritably.
'I don't exactly know. I must say something. I'm sure he's nice if he's a friend of yours, dear.'
'He's a clever chap in his way. At least, when I say clever, I don't mean clever in the ordinary sense.'
'Oh, I see,' said Edith.
'He's very amusing,' continued Bruce. 'He said a very funny thing to me the other day. Very funny indeed. It's no use repeating it, because unless you knew all the circumstances and the characters of the people that he told the story of, you wouldn't see the point. Perhaps, after all, I'd better ask him to dine at the club.'
'Oh no! Let him come here. Don't you think I'm worthy to see Raggett?'
'Oh nonsense, dear, I'm very proud of you,' said Bruce kindly. 'It isn't exactly that.... Mind you, Raggett's quite a man of the world—and yet he isn't a man of the world, if you know what I mean.'
'I see,' said Edith again.
'I can't decide whether to ask him here or not,' said Bruce, walking up and down the room in agitation.
'Well, suppose we leave it till tomorrow. You can make up your mind then,' she said good-naturedly.
Edith was dressed, when she found Bruce still in the throes of an agitated toilet. Having lost his collar-stud, he sat down and gave himself up to cold despair.
'You go without me,' he said in a resigned voice. 'Explain the reason—no, don't explain it. Say I've got influenza—but then perhaps they'll think you ought to look after me, and—'
'Here it is!' said Edith.
In the cab he recovered suddenly, and told her she looked awfully pretty, which cheered her very much. She was feeling rather tired. She had spent several hours in the nursery that day, pretending to be a baby giraffe with so much success that Archie had insisted upon countless encores, until, like all artists who have to repeat the same part too often, she felt the performance was becoming mechanical.
Hyacinth's Little Dinner
'The little Ottleys,' as they were called (they were a tall, fine-looking couple), found themselves in a small circle of people who were all most pleasing to the eye, with the single exception of Miss Yeo. And even she, in a markedly elegant dress of a peculiarly vicious shade of green, had her value in the picture. A little shocked by the harshness of the colour, one's glance turned with relief to Hyacinth, in satin of a blue so pale that it looked like the reflection of the sky in water. A broad, pale blue ribbon was wound in and out of her brown hair in the Romney fashion. Of course she looked her best. Women always do if they wish to please one man when others are there, and she was in the slightly exalted frame of mind that her reflection in the mirror had naturally given her.
The faint atmosphere of chaperonage that always hung about Sir Charles in Hyacinth's house did not interfere with his personal air of enjoying an escapade, nor with his looking distinguished to the very verge of absurdity. As to Cecil, the reaction from his disappointment of the afternoon had made him look more vivid than usual. He was flushed with failure.
He talked rather irresponsibly, and looked at Hyacinth, his neighbour at dinner, with such obvious appreciation, that her gaiety became infectious. In the little panelled dining-room which, like all the house, was neither commonplace nor bizarre, but simple and distinguished, floated an atmosphere of delightful ease and intimacy.
Sir Charles admired the red roses, which Anne declared she had bought for two-and-threepence.
'Very ingenious,' said Sir Charles.
'I am ingenious and clever,' said Anne. 'I get my cleverness from my father, and my economy from my mother. My father's a clergyman, but his wife was a little country girl—a sort of Merry Peasant; like Schumann's piece, you know. Peasants are always merry.'
'I fancy that's a myth,' said Cecil. 'If not, I've been singularly unfortunate, for all the peasants I ever ran across seemed most depressed.'
'Of course, if you ran over them!' said Hyacinth.
'But I didn't exactly run over them; I only asked them the way to somewhere. They were angry! Now I come to think of it, though, they weren't peasants at all. It was only one man. He was a shepherd. I got to know him better afterwards, and he was rather a good chap. Shepherds don't have a bad time; they just wear ribbons and crooks and dance with shepherdesses, you know.'
'Oh, then can you tell me why a red sky at night is a shepherd's delight?' asked Hyacinth. 'Is it because it's a sign of rain, and he needn't look after the sheep, but can go fast asleep like little Bo-peep—or was it little Boy Blue—if he likes?'
'For you, I'll try to find out; but I'm ashamed to say I know very little of natural history—or machinery, or lots of other interesting things. And, what's far worse, I don't even want to know any more. I like to think there are some mysteries left in life.'
'I quite agree with you that it would be rather horrid to know exactly how electricity works, and how trains go, and all that sort of thing. I like some things just to happen. I never broke my dolls to see what they were made of. I had them taken away the moment any sawdust began to come out,' said Hyacinth.
'You were perfectly right, Miss Verney. You're an Idealist; at least, you don't like practical details. But still you take a great interest in other people psychologically. You want to know, I'm sure, just how a shepherd really feels, and why he feels it. I don't even care for that, and I'm not very keen on scenery, or places either, or even things. My Uncle Ted's so frightfully fond of Things. He's a collector, you know, and I don't sympathise a bit. In fact, I hate things.'
'You seem rather difficult to please, Mr Reeve. What do you like?'
'People; at least, some people. Don't you?'
'Do you like people who talk nonsense?'
'Yes, and still more people who listen to it charmingly,' he answered. 'I didn't know before tonight that you ever listened to nonsense or talked it. I always thought you were the person who solves all the Hard Cases in Vanity Fair—under different names.'
'I wonder you didn't think I won all the prizes in the Limericks,' said Hyacinth.
'I have my faults, Miss Verney, but I'm not blasphemous. Will you have an olive?'
She accepted it. He lowered his voice to say—
'How wonderful you're looking tonight!'
'What am I to say to that? I don't think people should make unanswerable remarks at dinner,' she said, trying to look reproving, but turning pink with pleasure.
'If people will look adorable at dinner—or anywhere—they must take the consequences,' said Cecil, under cover of a very animated discussion between Bruce and Miss Yeo on sixpenny cab-fares.
Then for a second he felt a remorseful twinge of disloyalty. But that was nonsense; wasn't he obeying Mrs Raymond's distinct commands? Nothing would please her so much....
And to flirt with Hyacinth was not at all a disagreeable task. He reflected that Eugenia might have asked him to do something a good deal harder.
Under the combined influence, then, of duty, pique, and a little champagne, he gave way to the curious fascination that Hyacinth had always had for him, and she was only too ready to be happy.
He remembered how he had first met her. He had been dragged to the Burlingtons' dance—he loathed all large parties—and, looking drearily round, he'd been struck by, and asked to be introduced to, Miss Verney. She wasn't Eugenia, of course, and could never, he was sure, be part of his life. He thought that Eugenia appealed to his better nature and to his intellect.
He felt even a little ashamed of the purely sensuous attraction Hyacinth possessed for him, while he was secretly very proud of being in love with Mrs Raymond. Not everyone would appreciate Eugenia! Cecil was still young enough to wish to be different from other people, while desiring still more, like all Englishmen, to appear as much as possible like everybody else.
He did not thoroughly understand Hyacinth; he couldn't quite place her. She was certainly not the colourless jeune fille idealised by the French, but she had even less of the hard abruptness of the ordinary young unmarried Englishwoman. She called herself a bachelor girl, but hadn't the touch of the Bohemian that phrase usually seems to imply. She was too plastic, too finished. He admired her social dexterity, her perfect harmony with the charming background she had so well arranged for herself. Yet, he thought, for such a young girl, only twenty-two, she was too complex, too civilised. Mrs Raymond, for instance, seemed much more downright and careless. He was growing somewhat bewildered between his analysis of her character and his admiration for her mouth, an admiration that was rather difficult to keep entirely cool and theoretical, and that he felt a strong inclination to show in some more practical manner.... With a sigh he turned to Edith Ottley, his other neighbour.
As soon as Anne had locked up she removed with the greatest care her emerald dress, which she grudged wearing a second longer than was necessary, and put on an extraordinary dressing-gown, of which it was hardly too much to say that there was probably not another one exactly like it in Europe. Hyacinth always said it had been made out of an old curtain from the Rev Mr Yeo's library in the Devonshire Rectory, and Anne did not deny it.
She then screwed up her hair into a tight knot, put one small piece of it into a curling pin, which she then pinned far back on her head (as if afraid that the effect on the forehead would be too becoming), took off her dainty green shoes, put on an enormous pair of grotesque slippers, carpet slippers (also a relic), and went into Hyacinth's room. Anne made it a rule every evening to go in for a few minutes to see Hyacinth and talk against everyone they had seen during the day. She seemed to regard it as a sacred duty, almost like saying her prayers. Hyacinth sometimes professed to find this custom a nuisance, but she would certainly have missed it. Tonight she was smiling happily to herself, and took no notice of Anne's entrance.
'I suppose you think it went off well,' said Anne aggressively.
'I thought the dinner was ridiculous. A young girl like you asking two or three friends needn't have a banquet fit for a Colonial Conference. Besides, the cook lost her head. She sent up the same dish twice.'
'Did she? How funny! How was that?'
'Of course, you wouldn't know. She and the kitchenmaid were playing Diabolo till the last minute in the housekeeper's room. However, you needn't worry; nobody noticed it.'
'That's all right. Didn't Edith look pretty?'
Anne poked the fire spitefully.
'Like the outside of a cheap chocolate-box.'
'Oh, Anne, what nonsense! Bruce seemed irritable, and fatuous. I didn't envy Edith going back with him.'
'Bruce was jealous of Cecil Reeve, of course. You hardly looked at anybody else.'
'Anne, really tonight there were one or two little things that made me think he is beginning to like me. I don't say he's perfect; I daresay he has his faults. But there's something I like about his face. I wonder what it is.'
'I know what it is, he's very good-looking,' said Anne.
'Do you think he cares for me?'
'No, I don't.'
'I think, perhaps, he will, in time—in a way.'
'Do you think if I were very careful not to show I liked him it would be better?'
'No, there's only one chance for you.'
'What is it?'
'Keep on hammering.'
'Indeed I shan't! I never heard of such a thing. I suppose you think there's somebody else?' said Hyacinth, sitting up angrily.
'Oh, I daresay he's just finishing off with someone or other, and you may catch him on the rebound.'
'What horrid things you say!'
'I only say what I think,' said Anne. 'Anyhow, you had a success tonight, I could see, because poor Charles seemed so depressed. Why do you have all these electric lights burning when one lamp would be enough?'
'Oh, go away, Anne, and don't bother,' said Hyacinth, laughing.
On his return home, Cecil suddenly felt a violent reaction in favour of Mrs Raymond. Certainly he had enjoyed his evening with Hyacinth, but it was very bitter to him to think what pleasure that enjoyment would have given to Eugenia.... He began to think he couldn't live without her. Something must be done. Further efforts must be made. The idea struck him that he would go and see his uncle, Lord Selsey, about it. He knew Uncle Ted was really fond of him, and wouldn't like to see his life ruined (so he put it to himself), and his heart broken, though he also probably would disapprove from the worldly point of view. Decidedly unhappy, yet to a certain extent enjoying his misery, Cecil went to sleep.
The mere thought of confiding in Lord Selsey was at once soothing and bracing. He was a widower with no children, and Cecil was by way of being his heir. Since the death of his wife he lived in a kind of cultured retirement in a large old house standing a little by itself in Cambridge Gate. He used to declare that this situation combined all the advantages of London and the country, also that the Park that was good enough for the Regent was good enough for him. He had a decided cult for George IV; and there was even more than a hint of Beau Brummel in his dress. The only ugly thing in the house was a large coloured print of the pavilion at Brighton.
In many ways Lord Selsey was Cecil's model; and unconsciously, in his uncle's suave presence, the young man's manner always became more expressive and his face more inscrutable.
Lord Selsey was remarkably handsome; the even profile, well-shaped head, and blond colouring were much the same in uncle and nephew, the uncle's face having, perhaps, a more idealistic cast. The twenty years' difference in age had only given the elder man a finer, fairer, more faded look, and the smooth light hair, still thick, was growing grey.
Cecil was not surprised to find his uncle sitting in his smoking-room, smoking, and not reading the morning paper. He was looking over his collection of old coins. At a glance he saw by Cecil's excessive quietness that the boy, as he called him, was perturbed, so he talked about the coins for some minutes.
Cecil made little attempt to conceal that fact that Things bored him.
'Well, what is it?' said Lord Selsey abruptly.
Cecil couldn't think of anything better by way of introducing the trouble than the vaguely pessimistic statement that everything was rather rotten.
'You don't gamble, you're not even very hard up.... It's a woman, of course,' said Lord Selsey, 'and you want to marry, I suppose, or you wouldn't come to me about it.... Who is she?'
Cecil gave a rough yet iridescent sketch of Mrs Raymond.
'Of course she's older than I am, but it doesn't make the slightest difference. She's been a widow ever since she was twenty. She's very hard up, and she doesn't care. She's refused me, but I want to make her come round.... No, she isn't pretty, not very.'
Lord Selsey put his old coins away, and leant back in his chair.
'I should like to see her,' he said thoughtfully.
'I'm sure of one thing, uncle you could never have any vulgar, commonplace ideas about her—I mean, she's so peculiarly disinterested, and all that sort of thing. You mustn't fancy she's a dangerous syren, don't you know, or.... For instance, she doesn't care much for dress; she just sticks up her hair anyhow, and parts it in the middle.'
'Then it would certainly be difficult to believe anything against her,' said Lord Selsey.
'Besides, she really wants me to marry someone else.'
'She's always trying to persuade me to propose to Hyacinth Verney ... you know, that pretty girl, old Cannon's ward.... She is awfully pretty, of course, I know.'
'I should like to see her,' said Lord Selsey.
Cecil smiled. It was well known that Lord Selsey was a collector. Though no-one could have less of the pompous, fatuous vanity of the Don Juan, beauty had always played, and always would play, a very prominent part in his life. It was, in fact, without exception, his greatest pleasure, and interest—even passion. The temperament that gave to beauty and charm a rather inordinate value had, no doubt, descended to his nephew. But Cecil was, in that as in everything else, much less of a dilettante.
'You actually want me to advise you to persuade Mrs Raymond to marry you? My dear boy, how can I?'
'How is it you don't say she's quite right not to?' asked Cecil curiously.
'From her point of view I think she's quite wrong. As you're both practically free and you would marry her tomorrow—or this afternoon for choice—if she cared for you she would probably do it. Where I think she's wrong is in not caring for you.... Who is it?'
'I don't believe it's anyone. Eugenia's peculiar; she's very independent, very fantastic. She likes to do whatever comes into her head. She's very fascinating ... but I shouldn't be at all surprised if she's absolutely cold; I mean, really never could care for any man at all.'
'I should like to see her,' repeated Lord Selsey, his eyes brightening.
'It's most awfully good of you, Uncle, the way you take it. I mean to say, I'm afraid I'm not at all asking your consent, you know, or anything of that sort, as I ought.'
'You're asking my advice, and it's about the only thing most men of my age enjoy giving. Well, really, Cecil, and frankly, I think it's a dismal little story. It would be humbug if I pretended I was sorry about Mrs Raymond's—a—attitude, and I quite see its absolute genuineness But, if you'll excuse my saying so, what price the other girl?'
'What price? No price.'
'She likes you,' said Lord Selsey acutely.
'What makes you think that?'
'Because otherwise you wouldn't be so cool about her. You're a little too frightened of being obvious, Cecil. I was like that, too. But don't give way to it. Hyacinth Verney—what a charming name! ... What would old Cannon say?'
'I don't think he seems particularly keen on me,' said Cecil frankly.
'That's odd. Then he must be very ambitious for her, or else be in love with her himself ... probably both.'
'Oh, I say, Uncle Ted! Why, there's Lady Cannon! She's a very handsome, gigantic woman, and they have a daughter of their own, a girl called Ella, at school in Paris. She's pretty, too, only a flapper, you know, with a fair plait and a black bow.'
'I should like to see her; what delightful families you get yourself mixed up with, Cecil! If I were you I should certainly cultivate the Verney girl. I know it's no use telling you to do the contrary, as I should if you weren't in your present frame of mind.'
'I should very much like you to meet Eugenia,' said Cecil.
'Yes. How shall we arrange it? A dinner at the Savoy or something?'
'No. Somehow that isn't the kind of thing she'd like,' said Cecil.
'I thought not. But if I suddenly go and call on her, even with you, wouldn't it make it too much of a family affair? And I should be so afraid of having the air of trying to persuade her to give you up. I don't want to make a fool of myself, you know.'
Cecil seemed a little stung, though he smiled.
'If she knew you, perhaps it would make her more interested in me!'
'Do you think she'd come and hear some music here,' said Lord Selsey, 'if I wrote and asked her?'
'Yes, I think she might. There's no nonsense about her—about etiquette and things of that sort, I mean.'
'Then that's settled. You tell her about it, and I'll write. On Thursday afternoon. The two young pianists, George Ranger and Nevil Butt, are coming, and the little girl, the new Russian singer.'
'A juvenile party?' asked Cecil, laughing.
'No, only two or three people.'
'Two or three hundred, I suppose. Well, I'll get Mrs Raymond to come. Thanks so much.'
They shook hands with more than cordiality. As Cecil went out his uncle said—
'You've been most interesting this morning. But the other girl's the one, you know. Don't neglect her.'
He laughed, for he saw the young man was rather flattered at the notion. Evidently, Mrs Raymond was worth knowing.
The Peculiarities of Raggett
'Oh, Bruce,' said Edith, as she looked up from a Sale Catalogue, 'I do wish you would be an angel and let me have a little cash to go to Naylor and Rope's. There are some marvellous bargains—spring novelties—there, and Archie absolutely needs one or two things.'
Bruce frowned and sat down to breakfast, rather heavily.
'I object,' he said as he took his coffee, 'on principle—purely on principle—to spring sales. Women buy a lot of things they don't want, and ruin their husbands under the ridiculous impression they're buying bargains.'
'I won't ruin you, dear. I want to get Archie a coat—and a hat. I only want'—she watched his expression—' a sovereign—or two.' She smiled brightly, and passed him the toast.
His manner softened.
'Well, dear, you know I'm not a rich man, don't you?'
'But I should much prefer that you should get Archie's things at a first-rate place like Wears and Swells, where we have an account, and send me the bill. Will you do that?'
'Of course I will, if you like; but it'll cost more.'
She had often marvelled at a comparative lavishness about cheques that Bruce combined with a curious loathing to parting from any coin, however small.
'Then that's settled. And now I want to speak to you about Raggett.'
He paused, and then said seriously, 'I've absolutely decided and very nearly made up my mind to have Raggett to dinner tonight at the Savoy.'
'Yes, yes; no doubt this little flat is very comfortable'—he looked round the room with marked disdain—'and cook, thanks to you, isn't half bad ... but one can't give dinners here! And after all I've said to Raggett—oh, one thing and another—I fancy I've given him the impression of a rather luxurious home. It won't matter if he calls here in the afternoon some day, but for a man like that, I'd rather—yes—the Savoy. You look as if you objected. Do you?'
'Not at all. It'll be rather fun. But I'm so glad you can afford it. We haven't an account there, you know.'
'I propose to make a slight sacrifice for once.... I will engage a table and telephone to Raggett. Women never understand that to do things well, once in a way, is sometimes a—a very good thing,' he finished rather lamely.
'All right. I am getting curious to see Raggett!'
'My dear Edith, he's nothing particular to see, but he's a man who might be—very useful.'
'Oh, shall you take a private room?'
'I don't think so. Why? You can wear what you wore last night.... You looked quite nice in it, and you can take it from me, once for all'—he got up, looked in the glass, and said—'that Raggett's all right. Now, tell cook we're dining out. She might have a holiday tonight. A change may do her good; and I shall hope to find the omelette less leathery tomorrow.'
Edith did not point out that Bruce, after specially ordering breakfast punctually at nine, had come down at half-past ten.
'And now I must go.... The dinner was charming last night. It was only spoilt by that empty-headed fool—what's his name—Reeve, who was obviously making up to Hyacinth. Anyone can see she only endures his attentions from politeness, of course. He knows nothing about anything. I found that out when we were smoking after dinner; and one can't get a word out of old Cannon.'
Edith was putting Bruce's writing-table in order when she found an open letter in the blotting-book, glanced at the signature, and saw that it was from Raggett. So she eagerly read it, hoping to get some further light on the mysterious man in whose honour Bruce was prepared to offer so extravagant a festivity.
It was written on a rough sheet of paper, with no address. The handwriting was small, compressed, and very untidy. It ran.—
'Y'rs to hand. I shall be glad to dine with you, as I have told you several times, and I would accept your invitation with pleasure if I knew when and where the dinner was to be. These two points you have always avoided mentioning.
It struck Edith that it was quite extraordinary, after so many descriptions from Bruce—some vivid, some sketchy, others subtly suggestive—how little she could imagine Raggett.
Notwithstanding quantities of words, nothing, somehow, had ever come out to throw the least glimmer of light either on his character, personality, or walk of life. Not bad, all right, useful, rather wonderful, but quite ordinary and nothing particular, were some of the phrases she recalled. She had never been told anything about his age, nor his appearance, nor how long Bruce had known him. She had only gathered that he wasn't athletic like Goldthorpe (Bruce's golf companion), and that he wasn't in the Foreign Office, and didn't belong to Bruce's club. Where, how, and when could he be useful?
If she seemed bored when Bruce was enthusiastic about him, he was offended; but if she seemed interested and asked leading questions, he became touchy and cautious, almost jealous. Sometimes she had begun to think that Raggett was a Mrs Harris—that there was no such person. There, evidently, she had been wrong.
At eight o'clock that evening, on arriving at the Savoy, Edith decided not to take off her cloak (on the ground of chilliness, but really because it was smarter and more becoming than her dress). Therefore she waited in the outer room while Bruce, who seemed greatly excited, and had given her various contradictory tips about how to behave to their guest, was taking off his coat. Several other people were waiting there. She saw herself in the glass—a pretty, fair, typically English-looking woman, with neatly-chiselled features, well-arranged blond-cendre hair, a tall, slight figure, and a very thin neck. She noticed, among the other people waiting, a shabby-looking man of about thirty-five, who looked so intensely uncomfortable that she pitied him. He had a vague, rough, drab beard, colourless hair, which was very thick in front and very thin at the back, quite indefinite features, an undecided expression, and the most extraordinary clothes she had ever seen. The shirt-front was soft, and was in large bulging pleats. He wore an abnormal-looking big black tie, and the rest of the costume suggested a conjurer who had arrived at a children's party in the country and had forgotten his dress-suit, and borrowed various portions of it from different people staying in the house, who were either taller or shorter than himself. The waistcoat ended too soon, and the coat began too late; the collar reminded one of Gladstone; while the buttonhole of orchids (placed, rather eccentrically, very low down on the coat) completed the general effect of political broadmindedness, combined with acute social anxiety.
He looked several times at Edith with a furtive but undisguised admiration. Then Bruce appeared, held out his hand cordially, and said, 'Ah, Raggett, here you are!'
A Musical Afternoon
Lord Selsey often said he disapproved of the ordinary subdivisions of a house, and, especially as he lived alone, he did not see why one should breakfast in a breakfast-room, dine in a dining-room, draw in a drawing-room, and so on. Nevertheless, he had one special room for music. There was a little platform at the end of it, and no curtains or draperies of any kind to obscure or stifle sound. A frieze of Greek figures playing various instruments ran round the walls, which were perfectly plain so that nothing should distract the eye from the pleasures of the ear; but he was careful to avoid that look of a concert-room given by rows of chairs (suggesting restraint and reserved guinea seats), and the music-room was furnished with comfortable lounges and led into a hall containing small Empire sofas, in which not more than two persons could be seated. Therefore the audience at his entertainments often enjoyed themselves almost as much as the performers, which is rare.
This afternoon there was the usual number of very tall women in large highly-decorated hats, smooth-haired young men in coats that went in at the waist, a very few serious amateurs with longish hair, whose appearance did not quite come up to the standard of the Tailor and Cutter, and a small number of wistful professional feminine artists in no collars and pince-nez—in fact, the average fashionable, artistic crowd. The two young geniuses, George Ranger and Nevil Butt, had just given their rather electrifying performance, one playing the compositions of the other, and then both singing Faure together, and a small band of Green Bulgarians were now playing strenuously a symphony of Richard Strauss, when Cecil and Mrs Raymond appeared together. Lord Selsey received her as if she had been an old friend. When they shook hands they felt at once, after one glance at Cecil and then at each other, that they were more than friends—they were almost accomplices.
By one of those fortunate social accidents that are always occurring in London, Lord Selsey had met Hyacinth and Anne Yeo at a party the day before, had been introduced to them, and invited them to hear Ranger and Butt. Hyacinth, aware she was to meet Mrs Raymond, wore her loveliest clothes and sweetest expression, though she could not keep out of her eyes a certain anxiety, especially when she saw that Cecil greeted her with a slight, cold embarrassment that was very different from his usual manner. He had not expected to meet Hyacinth, and resolved to avoid the introduction he knew she desired. But no man is a match for a woman in a detail of this sort. In the refreshment-room, where Cecil was pressing coffee on Mrs Raymond, Hyacinth walked in, accompanied by Anne, and stood not very far from him. He came up to her, as Hyacinth saw, at Mrs Raymond's instigation.
'Can I get you anything, Miss Vemey? Some tea?'
'Thanks, yes. Isn't that Mrs Raymond? I do wish you would introduce me to her.'
Mrs Raymond came forward. Cecil murmured their names. They shook hands. Mrs Raymond looked at her with such impulsive admiration that she dropped a piece of cake. They spoke a few words about the music, and Cecil moved aside.
Anne called him back, not wishing to see him spared anything.
'You mustn't,' said Cecil, 'on any account miss the next thing. It is the wonderful new singer, don't you know—the little girl, Vera Schakoffsky.'
'Oh, very well,' said Hyacinth. 'I'll go,' and she went on with Anne. But when they had returned to the music-room she said to Anne, 'I left my handkerchief,' and went back to the refreshment-room.
A screen was by the door. Just before she had passed it she heard Mrs Raymond say—
'What an angel! How can you not be at her feet? Go and talk to her at once, or I'll never speak to you again!'
'I just shan't!' said Cecil doggedly. 'You make me simply ridiculous. If you won't be nice to me yourself, you needn't throw me at the head of other people.'
Hyacinth turned back and went to the music-room again.
Some time afterwards Cecil joined her, Mrs Raymond having apparently disappeared. The new tenor was singing an old song. Cecil sat down next to Hyacinth on a little Empire sofa.
'Let me look at the programme,' he said. And as he took it from her he pressed her fingers. She snatched her hand angrily away.
'Pray don't do that,' she said in a contemptuous tone. 'Even to obey Mrs Raymond, you needn't do violence to your feelings!'
'Miss Verney! I beg your pardon! But what do you mean?'
'Surely you understand. And don't trouble to come and see me any more.'
He looked at her. Her suave social dexterity had vanished. Her eyes were dark with purely human instinctive jealousy. They looked at each other a moment, then Lord Selsey came up and said—
'I'm afraid my attempt at originality hasn't been quite a success. The concert's not as harmonious as I hoped. Come and have tea, Miss Verney.'
Hyacinth did not speak a word to Anne on their way home, nor did she refer to the afternoon, nor answer any remark of Anne's on the subject till that evening, when Anne came into her room to complain of the electric light and make fun of Lord Selsey's guests. Then she found Hyacinth sobbing, and saying—
'I shall get over it. I shall be all right tomorrow. I'm going to cut him out of my life!'
'He'll soon cut in again,' said Anne.
'Indeed he won't! I'm not going to be played with. Preferring an old Japanese who doesn't even like him, and then making a fool of me!'
'If she ran after him, and you begged him to stick to her, it would be the other way,' said Anne.
'What do you mean? Hasn't he any real preference?'
'Yes. He's attached to her, fond of her. She's utterly indifferent about him, so he's piqued. So he thinks that's being in love.'
'Then why does he try to deceive me and flirt with me at all?'
'He doesn't. You really attract him; you're suited to him physically and socially, perhaps mentally too. The suitability is so obvious that he doesn't like it. It's his feeling for you that he fights against, and especially because he sees you care for him.'
'I was horrid enough to him today! I told him never to call here again.'
'To show your indifference?'
'I made him understand that I wanted no more of his silly flirtation,' said Hyacinth, still tearful.
'If you really made him think that, everything will be all right.'
'Really, Anne, you're clever. I think I shall take your advice.'
Anne gave a queer laugh.
'I didn't know I'd given any, but I will. Whatever he does now, leave him alone!'
'I should think so! Then why did you tell me the other day to keep on hammering?'
'I was quite right the other day.'
'Didn't I look nicer than Mrs Raymond?'
'That's not the point. You talk as if you were rivals on the same platform. She's on a different plane. But he'll get tired in the end of her indifference and remember you,' added Anne sardonically.
'Then he'll find I've forgotten him. Oh, why am I so unhappy?'
'You're too emotional, but you'll be happy through that too. Please don't make your eyes red. There are other people in the world. Cecil Reeve—'
'And yet there's something so fascinating about him. He's so unlike anybody else.'
'Bosh!' said Anne. 'He's exactly like thousands of other young men. But it just happens you've taken a fancy to him; that's the only thing that makes him different.'
'I hate him,' said Hyacinth. 'Do you dislike him, Anne?'
'Dislike him?' said Anne, turning out one of the lights. 'No, indeed! I loathe him!'
Anne went to the door.
'Because you're a fool about him,' she said somewhat cryptically.
Hyacinth felt somewhat soothed, and resolved to think no more of Cecil Reeve. She then turned up the light again, took her writing materials, and wrote him three long letters, each of which she tore up. She then wrote once more, saying—
'DEAR MR REEVE,
'I shall be at home today at four. Do come round and see me.'
She put it under her pillow, resolving to send it by a messenger the first thing in the morning, and went to sleep.
But this letter, like the others, was never sent. By the morning light she marvelled at having written it, and threw it into the fire.
The Troubles of the Ottleys
'Bruce', said Edith, 'you won't forget we're dining with your people tonight?'
'It's a great nuisance.'
'It's such an infernally long way.'
'It's only to Kensington.'
'West Kensington. It's off the map. I'm not an explorer—I don't pretend to be.' He paused a moment, then went on, 'And it's not only the frightful distance and the expense of getting there, but when I do get there.... Do you consider that my people treat me with proper deference?'
'With proper what?' asked Edith.
'Deference. I admit I like deference. I need it—I require it; and at my people's—well, frankly, I don't get it.'
'If you need it,' said Edith, 'I hope you will get it. But remember they are your father and mother.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'Well, I mean they know you very well, of course ... and all that.'
'Do you imply...?'
'Oh, no, Bruce dear,' she answered hastily; 'of course I don't. But really I think your people are charming'
'To you I know they are,' said he. 'It's all very well for you. They are awfully fond of you. You and my mother can talk about Archie and his nurse and housekeeping and fashions, and it's very jolly for you, but where's the fun for a man of the world?'
'Your father—' began Edith.
'My father!' Bruce took a turn round the room. 'I don't mind telling you, Edith, I don't consider my father a man of the world. Why, good heavens! when we are alone together, what do you suppose he talks about? He complains! Finds fault, if you please! Says I don't work—makes out I'm extravagant! Have you ever found me extravagant?'
'No, indeed. I'm sure you've never been extravagant—to me.'
'He's not on my level intellectually in any way. I doubt very much if he's capable of understanding me at all. Still, I suppose we might as well go and get it over. My people's dinners are a most awful bore to me.'
'How would you like it,' said Edith gently, 'if some day Archie were to call us my people, and talk about us as you do of yours?'
'Archie!' shouted Bruce. 'Good heavens! Archie!' Bruce held out his arm with a magnificent gesture. 'If Archie ever treats me with any want of proper deference, I shall cut him off with a shilling!'
'Do give me the shilling for him now,' said Edith laughing.
The elder Mrs Ottley was a sweet woman, with a resigned smile and a sense of humour. She had a great admiration for Edith, who was very fond of her. No-one else was there on this occasion. Bruce always complained equally, regarding it as a slight if they were asked alone, and a bore if it was a dinner party. The elder Mr Ottley was considerably older than his wife, and was a handsome, clean-shaven elderly man with a hooked nose and a dry manner. The conversation at dinner consisted of vague attempts on Bruce's part to talk airy generalities, which were always brought back by his father to personalities more or less unflattering to Bruce.
Edith and Mrs Ottley, fearing an explosion, which happened rather frequently when Bruce and his father were together, combined their united energy to ward it off.
'And what do you intend the boy to be when he grows up?' asked old Mr Ottley. 'Are you going to make him a useful member of society, or a Foreign Office clerk?'
'I intend my son,' said Bruce—'(a little port, please. Thanks.)—I intend my son to be a Man of the World.'
His father gave a slight snort.
'Be very careful,' said Mrs Ottley to Edith, 'not to let the darling catch cold in his perambulator this weather. Spring is so treacherous!'
'Does he seem to show any particular bent for anything? I suppose hardly—yet?'
'Well, he's very fond of soldiers,' said Edith.
'Ah!' said Mr Ottley approvingly; 'what we want for empire-building is conscription. Every fellow ought to be a soldier some time in his life. It makes men of them '—he glanced round rather contemptuously—'it teaches them discipline.'
'I don't mean,' said Edith hastily, 'that he wants to be a soldier. But he likes playing with them. He takes them to bed with him. It is as much as I can do to keep him from eating them.'
'The angel!' said Mrs Ottley.
'You must be careful about that, Edith,' said Bruce solemnly. 'I understand red paint is poisonous.'
'It won't hurt him,' said old Mr Ottley, purely from a spirit of contradiction.
'But he's just as fond of animals,' said Edith quickly, to avert a storm. 'That Noah's Ark you gave him is his greatest pleasure. He's always putting the animals in and taking them out again.'
'Oh, the clever darling!' cried Mrs Ottley. 'You'd hardly believe it, Edith, but Bruce was like that when he was a little boy too. He used to—'
'Oh mother, do shut up!' said Bruce shame-facedly.
'Well, he was very clever,' said Mrs Ottley defiantly. 'You'd hardly think so now perhaps, but the things that child used to say!'
'Don't spoil Archie as his mother spoilt Bruce,' said Mr. Ottley.
'Have you seen the new play at His Majesty's?' asked Bruce.
'No, I haven't. I went to the theatre last year,' said old Mr Ottley. 'I haven't heaps of money to spend on superfluous amusements.'
'Bruce, you're not eating anything,' said Mrs Ottley anxiously. 'Do try some of these almonds and raisins. They're so good! I always get almonds and raisins at Harrod's now.'
Edith seemed much interested, and warmly assented to the simple proposition that they were the best almonds and raisins in the world.
The ladies retired.
'Most trying Mr Ottley's been lately,' said Mrs Ottley. 'Extremely worrying. Do you suppose I have had a single instant to go and order a new bonnet? Not a second! Has Bruce been tiresome at all?'
'Oh, no, he doesn't mean to be,' said Edith.
Mrs Ottley pressed her hand. 'Darling I know what it is. What a sweet dress! You have the most perfect taste. I don't care what people say, those Empire dresses are most trying. I think you're so right not to give in to it as so many young women are doing. Fashion indeed! Hiding your waist under a bushel instead of being humbly thankful that you've got one! Archie is the sweetest darling. I see very little likeness to Bruce, or his father. I think he takes after my family, with a great look of you, dear. Most unfortunately, his father thinks Bruce is a little selfish ... too fond of pleasure. But he's a great deal at home, isn't he, dear?'
'Yes, indeed,' said Edith, with a slight sigh. 'I think it's only that he's always been a little bit spoilt. No wonder, the only son! But he's a great dear, really.'
His mother shook her head. 'Dear loyal girl! I used to be like that too. May I give you a slight hint? Never contradict. Never oppose him. Agree with him, then he'll change his mind; or if he doesn't, say you'll do as he wishes, and act afterwards in the matter as your own judgement dictates. He'll never find it out. What's that?'
A door banged, hasty steps were heard. Bruce came into the drawing-room alone, looking slightly flushed and agitated.
'Where's your father?' asked Mrs Ottley.
'Gone to his study.... We'd better be getting home, Edith.'
Edith and Mrs Ottley exchanged glances. They had not been able to prevent the explosion after all.
At the National Gallery
It was with considerable difficulty and self-restraint that Cecil succeeded in waiting till the next day to see Mrs Raymond after his uncle's party. He was of an age and of a temperament that made his love affairs seem to him supremely urgent and of more importance than anything else in his life.
He called on Mrs Raymond at eleven in the morning on the pretext of having something important to tell her. He found her sitting at her writing-table in a kind of red kimono. Her hair was brushed straight off her forehead, her eyes were sly and bright, and she looked more Japanese than ever.
Cecil told her what Hyacinth had said to him.
'Now, you see, I can't go on making up to her any more. She doesn't care a straw about me, and she sees through it, of course. I've done what you asked me. Won't you be nice to me now?'
'Certainly not! She's quite devoted to you. Telling you not to go and see her again! I never heard of anything so encouraging in my life. Now, Cecil,' she spoke seriously, 'that girl is a rare treasure. It's not only that she's a perfect beauty, but I read her soul yesterday. She has a beautiful nature, and she's in love with you. You don't appreciate her. If you take what she said literally, you're much stupider than I gave you credit for being. I—I simply shan't see you again till you've made it up. When you know her better you must care for her. Besides, I insist upon it. If you don't—well, you'll have to turn your attention somewhere else. For I seriously mean it. I won't see you.'
He looked obstinate.
'It's a fad of yours, Eugenia.'
'It's not a fad of mine. It's an opportunity of yours—one that you're throwing away in the most foolish way, that you might regret all your life. At any rate, I'm not going to be the cause of giving that poor darling another moment's annoyance or uneasiness. The idea of the angelic creature being worried about me! Why, it's preposterous! I'm sure she heard what I said to you when she came in behind the screen. I can't bear it, and I won't have it. Now go and see her, and you're not to come back till you have. I mean it.'
'I don't suppose for a moment—'
'Rubbish! A woman knows. She went home and cried; I know she did, and she's counting the minutes till you see her again. Now, I've lots to do, and you're frightfully in the way. Good-bye.' She held out her hand.
'You send me away definitely?'
'Definitely, Your liking for me is pure perverseness.'
'It's pure adoration,' said Cecil.
'I don't think so. It's imagination. However, whatever it is I don't want it.'
'Good-bye, then,' said Cecil.
He went to the door.
'You can let me know when you've seen her.'
'I don't suppose she'll see me.'
'Yes, she will now. It's the psychological moment.'
'You shan't be bothered with me any more, anyhow,' said Cecil in a low voice.
'Good. And do what I tell you.'
He shut the shabby door of the little house with a loud bang, and went out with a great longing to do something vaguely desperate.
Lunch produced a different mood. He said to himself that he wouldn't think of Mrs Raymond any more, and went to call on Hyacinth.
The servant told him she was out.
He was just turning away when Anne Yeo came out. She glanced at him with malicious satisfaction.
'Hyacinth's gone to the National Gallery,' she volunteered. 'Did you want to see her? You will find her there.'
Cecil walked a few steps with her.
'I'm going to the greengrocer's,' continued Anne, 'to complain.' She held a little book in her hand, and he noticed that she wore a golf cap, thick boots, and a mackintosh, although it was a beautiful day.