- Transcriber's Notes 1. Where possible, punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards. 2. Diacritical marks are as they appeared in the printed book, and may not reflect current usage. 3. Obvious typographic and spelling errors have been corrected. -
MAN AND MAID
By ELINOR GLYN
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with J. B. Lippincott Company Printed in U.S.A.
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY ELINOR GLYN
MAN AND MAID
I am sick of my life—The war has robbed it of all that a young man can find of joy.
I look at my mutilated face before I replace the black patch over the left eye, and I realize that, with my crooked shoulder, and the leg gone from the right knee downwards, that no woman can feel emotion for me again in this world.
So be it—I must be a philosopher.
Mercifully I have no near relations—Mercifully I am still very rich, mercifully I can buy love when I require it, which under the circumstances, is not often.
Why do people write journals? Because human nature is filled with egotism. There is nothing so interesting to oneself as oneself; and journals cannot yawn in one's face, no matter how lengthy the expression of one's feelings may be!
A clean white page is a sympathetic thing, waiting there to receive one's impressions!
Suzette supped with me, here in my appartement last night—When she had gone I felt a beast. I had found her attractive on Wednesday, and after an excellent lunch, and two Benedictines, I was able to persuade myself that her tenderness and passion were real, and not the result of some thousands of francs,—And then when she left I saw my face in the glass without the patch over the socket, and a profound depression fell upon me.
Is it because I am such a mixture that I am this rotten creature?—An American grandmother, a French mother, and an English father. Paris—Eton—Cannes—Continuous traveling. Some years of living and enjoying a rich orphan's life.—The war—fighting—a zest hitherto undreamed of—unconsciousness—agony—and then?—well now Paris again for special treatment.
Why do I write this down? For posterity to take up the threads correctly?—Why?
From some architectural sense in me which must make a beginning, even of a journal, for my eyes alone, start upon a solid basis?
I know not—and care not.
* * * * *
Three charming creatures are coming to have tea with me to-day. They had heard of my loneliness and my savageness from Maurice—They burn to give me their sympathy—and have tea with plenty of sugar in it—and chocolate cake.
I used to wonder in my salad days what the brains of women were made of—when they have brains!—The cleverest of them are generally devoid of a logical sense, and they seldom understand the relative value of things, but they make the charm of life, for one reason or another.
When I have seen these three I will dissect them. A divorcee—a war widow of two years—and the third with a husband fighting.
All, Maurice assures me, ready for anything, and highly attractive. It will do me a great deal of good, he protests. We shall see.
Night. They came, with Maurice and Alwood Chester, of the American Red Cross. They gave little shrill screams of admiration for the room.
"Quel endroit delicieux!—What boiserie! English?—Yes, of course, English dix-septieme, one could see—What silver!—and cleaned—And everything of a chic!—And the hermit so seduisant with his air maussade!—Hein."
"Yes, the war is much too long—One has given of one's time in the first year—but now, really, fatigue has overcome one!—and surely after the spring offensive peace must come soon—and one must live!"
They smoked continuously and devoured the chocolate cake, then they had liqueurs.
They were so well dressed! and so lissome. They wore elastic corsets, or none at all. They were well painted; cheeks of the new tint, rather apricot coloured—and magenta lips. They had arranged themselves when they had finished munching, bringing out their gold looking-glasses and their lip grease and their powder—and the divorcee continued to endeavour to enthrall my senses with her voluptuous half closing of the eyes, while she reddened her full mouth.
They spoke of the theatre, and the last bons mots about their cheres amies—the last liasons—the last passions—They spoke of Gabrielle—her husband was killed last week—'So foolish of him, since one of Alice's 'friends' among the Ministers could easily have got him a soft job, and one must always help one's friends! Alice adored Gabrielle.—But he has left her well provided for—Gabrielle will look well in her crepe—and there it is, war is war—Que voulez vous?'
"After all, will it be as agreeable if peace does come this summer?—One will be able to dance openly—that will be nice—but for the rest? It may be things will be more difficult—and there may be complications. One has been very well during the war—very well, indeed—N'est ce pas ma cherie—n'est ce pas?"
Thus they talked.
The widow's lover is married, Maurice tells me, and has been able to keep his wife safely down at their place in Landes, but if peace should come he must be en famille, and the wife can very well be disagreeable about the affair.
The divorcee's three lovers will be in Paris at the same time. The married one's husband returned for good—"Yes, certainly, peace will have its drawbacks—The war knows its compensations—But considerable ones!"
When they had departed, promising to return very soon—to dinner this time, and see all the "exquisite appartement," Burton came into the room to take away the tea things. His face was a mask as he swept up the cigarette ash, which had fallen upon the William and Mary English lac table, which holds the big lamp, then he carefully carried away the silver ash trays filled with the ends, and returned with them cleaned. Then he coughed slightly.
"Shall I open the window, Sir Nicholas?"
"It is a beastly cold evening."
He put an extra log on the fire and threw the second casement wide.
"You'll enjoy your dinner better now, Sir," he said, and left me shivering.
* * * * *
I wish I were a musician, I could play to myself. I have still my two hands, though perhaps my left shoulder hurts too much to play often. My one eye aches when I read for too long, and the stump below the knee is too tender still to fit the false leg on to, and I cannot, because of my shoulder, use my crutch overmuch, so walking is out of the question. These trifles are perhaps, the cause of my ennui with life.
I suppose such women as those who came to-day fulfill some purpose in the scheme of things. One can dine openly with them at the most exclusive restaurant, and not mind meeting one's relations. They are rather more expensive than the others—pearl necklaces—sables—essence for their motor cars—these are their prices.—They are so decorative, too, and before the war were such excellent tango partners. These three are all of the best families, and their relations stick to them in the background, so they are not altogether declasse. Maurice says they are the most agreeable women in Paris, and get the last news out of the Generals. They are seen everywhere, and Coralie, the married one, wears a Red Cross uniform sometimes at tea—if she happens to remember to go into a hospital for ten minutes to hold some poor fellow's hand.
Yes, I suppose they have their uses—there are a horde of them, anyway.
To-morrow Maurice is bringing another specimen to divert me—American this time—over here for "war work." Maurice says one of the cleverest adventuresses he has ever met; and I am still irresistible, he assures me, so I must be careful—(for am I not disgustingly rich!)
Burton is sixty years old—He is my earliest recollection. Burton knows the world.
* * * * *
Friday—The American adventuress delighted me. She was so shrewd. Her eyes are cunning and evil—her flesh is round and firm, she is not extremely painted, and her dresses are quite six inches below her knees.
She has two English peers in tow, and any casual Americans of note whom she can secure who will give her facilities in life. She, also, is posing for a 'lady' and 'a virtuous woman,' and an ardent war worker.
All these parasites are the product of the war, though probably they always existed, but the war has been their glorious chance. There is a new verb in America, Maurice says—"To war work"—It means to get to Paris, and have a splendid time.
Their toupe is surprising! To hear this one talk one would think she ruled all the politics of the allies, and directed each General.
* * * * *
Are men fools?—Yes, imbeciles—they cannot see the wiles of woman. Perhaps I could not when I was a human male whom they could love!
Love?—did I say love?
Is there such a thing?—or is it only a sex excitement for the moment!—That at all events is the sum of what these creatures know.
Do they ever think?—I mean beyond planning some fresh adventure for themselves, or how to secure some fresh benefit.
I cannot now understand how a man ever marries one of them, gives his name and his honour into such precarious keeping. Once I suppose I should have been as easy a prey as the rest. But not now—I have too much time to think, I fear. I seem to find some ulterior motive in whatever people say or do.
To-day another American lunched with me, a bright girl, an heiress of the breezy, jolly kind, a good sort before the war, whom I danced with often. She told me quite naturally that she had a German prisoner's thigh bone being polished into an umbrella handle—She had assisted at the amputation—and the man had afterwards died—"A really cute souvenir," she assured me it was going to be!
Are we all mad—?
No wonder the finest and best "go West."—Will they come again, souls of a new race, when all these putrid beings have become extinguished by time? I hope so to God....
These French women enjoy their crepe veils—and their high-heeled shoes, and their short black skirts, even a cousin is near enough for the trappings of woe.—Can any of us feel woe now?—I think not....
Maurice has his uses—Were I a man once more I should despise Maurice—He is so good a creature, such a devoted hanger on of the very rich—and faithful too. Does he not pander to my every fancy, and procure me whatever I momentarily desire?
How much better if I had been killed outright! I loathe myself and all the world.
* * * * *
Once—before the war—the doing up of this flat caused me raptures. To get it quite English—in Paris! Every antiquaire in London had exploited me to his heart's content. I paid for it through the nose, but each bit is a gem. I am not quite sure now what I meant to do with it when finished, occupy it when I did come to Paris—lend it to friends?—I don't remember—Now it seems a sepulchre where I can retire my maimed body to and wait for the end.
* * * * *
Nina once proposed to stay with me here, no one should know, Nina?—would she come now?—How dare they make this noise at the door—what is it?—Nina!
* * * * *
Sunday—it was actually Nina herself—"Poor darling Nicholas," she said. "The kindest fate sent me across—I 'wangled' a passport—really serious war work, and here I am for a fortnight, even in war time one must get a few clothes—"
I could see I was a great shock to her, my attraction for her had gone—I was just "poor darling Nicholas," and she began to be motherly—Nina motherly!—She would have been furious at the very idea once. Nina is thirty-nine years old, her boy has just gone into the flying corps, she is so glad the war will soon be over.
She loves her boy.
She gave me news of the world, our old world of idle uselessness, which is now one of solid work.
"Why have you completely cut yourself off from everything and everybody, ever since you first went out to fight?—Very silly of you."
"When I was a man and could fight, I liked fighting, and never wanted to see any of you again. You all seemed rotters to me, so I spent my leaves in the country or here. Now you seem glorious beings, and I the rotter. I am no use at all—"
Nina came close to me and touched my hand—
"Poor darling Nicholas," she said again.
Something hurt awfully, as I realized that to touch me now caused her no thrill. No woman will ever thrill again when I am near.
Nina does know all about clothes! She is the best-dressed Englishwoman I have ever seen. She has worked awfully well for the war, too, I hear, she deserves her fortnight in Paris.
"What are you going to do, Nina?" I asked her.
She was going out to theatres every night, and going to dine with lots of delicious 'red tabs' whose work was over here, whom she had not seen for a long time.
"I'm just going to frivol, Nicholas, I am tired of work."
Nothing could exceed her kindness—a mother's kindness.
I tried to take an interest in everything she said, only it seemed such aeons away. As though I were talking in a dream.
She would go plodding on at her war job when she got back again, of course, but she, like everyone else, is war weary.
"And when peace comes—it will soon come now probably—what then?"
"I believe I shall marry again."
I jumped—I had never contemplated the possibility of Nina marrying, she has always been a widowed institution, with her nice little house in Queen Street, and that wonderful cook.
"What on earth for?"
"I want the companionship and devotion of one man."
"Anyone in view?"
"Yes—one or two—they say there is a shortage of men, I have never known so many men in my life."
Then presently, when she had finished her tea, she said—
"You are absolutely out of gear, Nicholas—Your voice is rasping, your remarks are bitter, and you must be awfully unhappy, poor boy."
I told her that I was—there was no use in lying.
"Everything is finished," I said, and she bent down and kissed me as she said good-bye—a mother's kiss.
* * * * *
And now I am alone, and what shall I do all the evening? or all the other evenings—? I will send for Suzette to dine.
* * * * *
Night—Suzette—was amusing—. I told her at once I did not require her to be affectionate.
"You can have an evening's rest from blandishments, Suzette."
"Merci!"—and then she stretched herself, kicked up her little feet, in their short-vamped, podgy little shoes, with four-inch heels, and lit a cigarette.
"Life is hard, Mon ami"—she told me—"And now that the English are here, it is difficult to keep from falling in love."
For a minute I thought she was going to insinuate that I had aroused her reflection—I warmed—but no—She had taken me seriously when I told her I required no blandishments.
That ugly little twinge came to me again.
"You like the English?"
"They are very bons garcons, they are clean, and they are fine men, they have sentiment, too—Yes, it is difficult not to feel," she sighed.
"What do you do when you fall in love then, Suzette?"
"Mon ami, I immediately go for a fortnight to the sea—one is lost if one falls in love dans le metier—The man tramples then—tramples and slips off—For everything good one must never feel."
"But you have a kind heart Suzette—you feel for me?"
"Hein?"—and she showed all her little white pointed teeth—"Thou?—Thou art very rich, mon chou. Women will always feel for thee!"
It went in like a knife it was so true—.
"I was a very fine Englishman once," I said.
"It is possible, thou art still, sitting, and showing the right profile—and full of chic—and then rich, rich!"
"You could not forget that I am rich, Suzette?"
"If I did I might love you—Jamais!"
"And does the sea help to prevent an attack?"—
"Absence—and I go to a poor place I knew when I was young, and I wash and cook, and make myself remember what la vie dure was—and would be again if one loved—Bah! that does it. I come back cured—and ready only to please such as thou, Nicholas!—rich, rich!"
* * * * *
And she laughed again her rippling gay laugh—
We had a pleasant evening, she told me the history of her life—or some of it—They were ever the same from Lucien's Myrtale.
* * * * *
When all of me is aching—Shall I too, find solace if I go to the sea?
I have been through torture this week—The new man wrenches my shoulder each day, it will become straight eventually, he says. They have tried to fit the false leg also, so those two things are going on, but the socket is not yet well enough for anything to be done to my left eye—so that has defeated them. It will be months before any real improvement takes place.
There are hundreds of others who are more maimed than I—in greater pain—more disgusting—does it give them any comfort to tell the truth to a journal?—or are they strong enough to keep it all locked up in their hearts?—I used to care to read, all books bore me now—I cannot take interest in any single thing, and above all, I loathe myself—My soul is angry.
Nina came again, to luncheon this time. It was pouring with rain, an odious day. She told me of her love affairs—as a sister might—Nina a sister!
She can't make up her mind whether to take Jim Bruce or Rochester Moreland, they are both Brigadiers now, Jim is a year younger than she is.
"Rochester is really more my mate, Nicholas," she said, "but then there are moments when I am with him when I am not sure if he would not bore me eventually, and he has too much character for me to suppress—Jim fascinates me, but I only hold him because he is not sure of me—If I marry him he will be, and then I shall have to watch my looks, and remember to play the game all the time, and it won't be restful—above all, I want rest and security."
"You are not really in love with either, Nina?"
"Love?" and she smoothed out the fringe on her silk jersey with her war-hardened hand—the hand I once loved to kiss—every blue vein on it!—"I often, wonder what really is love, Nicholas—I thought I loved you before the war—but, of course, I could not have—because I don't feel anything now—and if I had really loved you, I suppose it would not have made any difference."
Then she realized what she had said and got up and came closer to me.
"That was cruel of me, I did not mean to be—I love you awfully as a sister—always."
"Sister Nina!—well, let us get back to love—perhaps the war has killed it—or it has developed everything, perhaps it now permits a sensitive, delicious woman like you to love two men."
"You see, we have become so complicated"—she puffed smoke rings at me—"One man does not seem to fulfill the needs of every mood—Rochester would not understand some things that Jim would, and vice versa—I do not feel any glamour about either, but it is rest and certainty, as I told you, Nicholas, I am so tired of working and going home to Queen Street alone."
"Shall you toss up?"
"No—Rochester is coming up from the front to-morrow just for the night, I am going to dine with him at Larue's—alone, I shall sample him all the time—I sampled Jim when he was last in London a fortnight ago—"
"You will tell me about it when you have decided, won't you, Nina. You see I have become a brother, and am interested in the psychological aspects of things."
"Of course I will"—then she went on meditatively, her rather plaintive voice low.
"I think all our true feeling is used up, Nicholas—our souls—if we have souls—are blunted by the war agony. Only our senses still feel. When Jim looks at me with his attractive blue eyes, and I see the D.S.O. and the M.C., and his white nice teeth—and how his hair is brushed, and how well his uniform fits, I have a jolly all-overish sensation—and I don't much listen to what he is saying—he says lots of love—and I think I would really like him all the time. Then, when he has gone I think of other things, and I feel he would not understand a word about them, and because he isn't there I don't feel the delicious all-overish sensation, so I rather decide to marry Rochester—there would be such risk—because when you are married to a man, it is possible to get much fonder of him. Jim is a year younger than I am—It would be a strain, perhaps in a year or two—especially if I got fond."
"You had better take the richer," I told her—"Money stands by one, it is an attraction which even the effects of war never varies or lessens," and I could hear that there was bitterness in my voice.
"You are quite right," Nina said, taking no notice of it—"but I don't want money—I have enough for every possible need, and my boy has his own. I want something kind and affectionate to live with."
"You want a master—and a slave."
"Nina, when you loved me—what did you want?"
"Just you, Nicholas—just you."
"Well, I am here now, but an eye and a leg gone, and a crooked shoulder, changes me;—so it is true love—even the emotion of the soul, depends upon material things—"
Nina thought for a while.
"Perhaps not the emotion of the soul—if we have souls?—but what we know of love now certainly does. I suppose there are people who can love with the soul, I am not one of them."
"Well, you are honest, Nina."
She had her coffee and liqueur, she was graceful and composed and refined, either Jim or Rochester will have a very nice wife.
Burton coughed when she had left.
"Out with it, Burton!"
"Mrs. Ardilawn is a kind lady, Sir Nicholas."
"I believe you'd be better with some lady to look after you, Sir—."
"To hell with you. Telephone for Mr. Maurice—I don't want any woman—we can play piquet."
This is how my day ended—.
Maurice and piquet—then the widow and the divorcee for dinner—and now alone again! The sickening rot of it all.
* * * * *
Sunday—Nina came for tea—she feels that I am a great comfort to her in this moment of her life, so full of indecision—It seems that Jim has turned up too, at the Ritz, where Rochester still is, and that his physical charm has upset all her calculations again.
"I am really very worried Nicholas," she said, "and you, who are a dear family friend"—I am a family friend now!—"ought to be able to help me."
"What the devil do you want me to do, Nina?—outset them both, and ask you to marry me?"
"My dearest Nicholas!" it seemed to her that I had suggested that she should marry father Xmas! "How funny you are!"
Once it was the height of her desire—Nina is eight years older than I am—I can see now her burning eyes one night on the river in the June of 1914, when she insinuated, not all playfully, that it would be good to wed.
"I think you had better take Jim my dear, after all. You are evidently becoming in love with him and you have proved to me that the physical charm matters most,—or if you are afraid of that, you had better do as another little friend of mine does when she is attracted—she takes a fortnight at the sea!"
"The sea would be awful in this weather! I should send for both in desperation!" and she laughed and began to take an interest in the furnishings of my flat. She looked over it, and Burton pointed out all its merits to her (My crutch hurts my shoulder so much to-day I did not want to move out of my chair). I could hear Burton's remarks, but they fell upon unheeding ears—Nina is not cut out for a nurse, my poor Burton, if you only knew—!
When she returned to my sitting room tea was in, and she poured it out for me, and then she remarked.
"We have grown so awfully selfish, haven't we, Nicholas, but we aren't such hypocrites as we were before the war. People still have lovers, but they don't turn up their eyes so much at other people having them, as they used. There is more tolerance—the only thing you cannot do is to act publicly so that your men friends cannot defend you—'You must not throw your bonnet over the windmills'—otherwise you can do as you please—."
"You had not thought of taking either Jim or Rochester for a lover to make certain which you prefer?"
Nina looked unspeakably shocked—.
"What a dreadful idea Nicholas!—I am thinking of both seriously, not only to pass the time of day remember."
"That is all lovers are for, then Nina?—I used to think—."
"Never mind what you thought, there is no reason to insult me."
"Nothing was farther from my desire."
Nina's face cleared, as it had darkened ominously.
"What will you do if, having married Rochester, you find yourself bored—Will you send for Jim again?"
"Certainly not, that would be disaster. I shan't plunge until I feel pretty certain I am going to find the water just deep enough, and not too deep—and if I do make a mistake, well I shall have to stick to it."
"By Jove what a philosopher," and I laughed—She poured out a second cup of tea, and then she looked steadily at me, as though studying a new phase of me.
"You are not a bit worse off than Tom Green, Nicholas, and he has not got your money, and Tom is as jolly as anything, and everybody loves him, though he is a hopeless cripple, and can't even look decent, as you will be able to in a year or two. There is no use in having this sentiment about war heroes that would make one put up with their tempers, and their cynicism! Everybody is in the same boat, women and men, we chance being maimed by bombs, and we are losing our looks with rough work—for goodness sake stop being so soured—."
I laughed outright—it was all so true.
* * * * *
Friday—Maurice brings people to play bridge every afternoon now. Nina has gone back to England—having decided to take Jim!
It came about in this way—She flew in to tell me the last evening before she left for Havre. She was breathless running up the stairs, as something had gone wrong with the lift.
"Jim and I are engaged!"
"A thousand congratulations."
"Rochester had a dinner for me on Wednesday night. All the jolliest people in Paris—some of those dear French who have been so nice to us all along, and some of the War Council and the Ryvens, and so on—and, do you know, Nicholas—I heard Rochester telling Madame de Clerte the same story about his bon mot when a shell broke at Avicourt—as I had already heard him tell Admiral Short, and Daisy Ryven!—that decided me—. There was an element of self-glorification in that modest story—and a man who would tell it three times, is not for me! In ten years I should grow into being the listener victim—I could not face it! So I said good-bye to him in the corridor, before up to my room—and I telephoned to Jim, who was in his room on the Cambon side, and he came round in the morning!"
"Was Rochester upset?"
"Rather! but a man of his age—he is forty-two, who can tell a self-story three times is going to get cured soon, so I did not worry."
"And what did Jim say?"
"He was enchanted, he said he knew it would end like that—give a man of forty-two rope enough and he'll be certain to hang himself, he said, and, Oh! Nicholas—Jim is a darling, he is getting quite masterful—I adore him!"
"Senses winning, Nina! Women only like physical masters."
She grew radiant. Never has she seemed so desirable. "I don't care a fig Nicholas! If it is senses, well, then, I know it is the best thing in the World, and a woman of my age can't have everything. I adore Jim! We are going to be married the first moment he can get leave again—and I shall 'wangle' him into being a 'red tab'—he has fought enough."
"And if meanwhile he should get maimed like me—what then, Nina?"
She actually paled.
"Don't be so horrid Nicholas—Jim—Oh! I can't bear it!" and being a strict Protestant, she crossed herself—to avert bad luck!
"We won't think of anything but joy and happiness, Nina, but it is quite plain to me you had better have a fortnight at the sea!"
She had forgotten the allusion, and turned puzzled brown eyes upon me.
"You know—to balance yourself when you feel you are falling in love"—I reminded her.
"Oh! It is all stuff and nonsense! I know now I adore Jim—good-bye Nicholas"—and she hugged me—as a sister—a mother—and a family friend—and was off down the stairs again.
Burton had brought me in a mild gin and seltzer, and it was on the tray, near, so I drank it, and said to myself, "Here is to the Senses—jolly good things"—and then I telephoned to Suzette to come and dine.
* * * * *
There is a mole on the left cheek of Suzette, high up near her eye, there are three black hairs in it—I had never seen them until this morning—c'est fini—je ne puis plus!
* * * * *
Of course we have all got moles with three black hairs in them—and the awful moment is when suddenly they are seen—That is the tragedy of life—disillusion.
I cannot help being horribly introspective, Maurice would agree to whatever I said, so there is no use in talking to him—I rush to this journal, it cannot look at me with fond watery eyes of reproach and disapproval—as Burton would if I let myself go to him.
May 16th—The times have been too anxious to write, it is over two months since I opened this book. But it cannot be, it cannot be that we shall be beaten—Oh! God—why am I not a man again to fight! The raids are continuous—All the fluffies and nearly everyone left Paris in the ticklish March and April times, but now their fears are lulled a little and many have returned, and they rush to cinemas and theatres, to kill time, and jump into the rare taxis to go and see the places where the raid bombs burst, or Bertha shells, and watch the houses burning and the crushed bodies of the victims being dragged out. They sicken me, this rotten crew—But this is not all France—great, dear, brave France—It is only one section of useless society. To-day the Duchesse de Courville-Hautevine came to call upon me—mounted all the stairs without even a wheeze—(the lift gave out again this morning!)—What a personality!—How I respect her! She has worked magnificently since the war began, her hospital is a wonder, her only son was killed fighting gloriously at Verdun.
"You look as melancholy as a sick cat," she told me.
She likes to speak her English—"Of what good Jeune homme! We are not done yet—I have cut some of my relatives who ran away from Paris—Imbeciles! Bertha is our diversion now, and the raids at night—jolly loud things!"—and she chuckled, detaching her scissors which had got caught in the purple woolen jersey she wore over her Red Cross uniform. She is quite indifferent to coquetry, this grande dame of the ancien regime!
"My blesses rejoice in them—Que voulez vous?—War is war—and there is no use in looking blue—Cheer up, young man!"
Then we talked of other things. She is witty and downright, and her every thought and action is kindly. I love la Duchesse—My mother was her dearest friend.
When she had stayed twenty minutes—she came over close to my chair.
"I knew you would be bitter at not being in the fight, my son," she said, patting me with her once beautiful hand, now red and hardened with work, "So I snatched the moments to come to see you. On your one leg you'll defend if the moment should come,—but it won't! And you—you wounded ones, spared—can keep the courage up. Tiens! you can at least pray, you have the time—I have not—Mais le Bon Dieu understands—."
And with that she left me, stopping to arrange her tightly curled fringe (she sticks to all old styles) at the lac mirror by the door. I felt better after she had gone—yes, it is that—God—why can't I fight!
Is some nerve being touched by the new treatment? I seem alternately to be numb and perfectly indifferent to how the war is going, and then madly interested. But I am too sensitive to leave my flat for any meals—I drive whenever one of the "fluffies" (this is what Maurice calls the widow, the divorcee and other rejoicers of men's war hearts) can take me in her motor—No one else has a motor—There is no petrol for ordinary people.
"It reminds one of Louis XV's supposed reply to his daughters"—I said to Maurice yesterday. "When they asked him to make them a good road to the Chateau of their dear Gouvernante, the Duchesse de la Bove—He assured them he could not, his mistresses cost him too much! So they paid for it themselves, hence the 'Chemin des Dames.'"
"What reminds you of what—?" Maurice asked, looking horribly puzzled.
"The fluffies being able to get the petrol—."
"But I don't see, the connection?"
"It was involved—the mistresses got the money which should have made the road in those days, and now—."
Maurice was annoyed with himself; he could not yet see, and no wonder, for it was involved!—but I am angry that the widow and the divorcee both have motors and I none!
"Poor Odette—she hates taxis! Why should she not have a motor?—You are grinchant, mon cher!—since she takes you out, too!"
"Believe me, Maurice, I am grateful, I shall repay all their kindnesses—they have all indicated how I can best do so—but I like to keep them waiting, it makes them more keen."
Maurice laughed again nervously.
"It is divine to be so rich, Nicholas"!
* * * * *
All sorts of people come to talk to me and have tea (I have a small hoard of sugar sent from a friend in Spain). Amongst them an ancient guardsman in some inspection berth here—He, like Burton, knows the world.
He tests women by whether or no they take presents from him, he tells me. They profess intense love which he returns, and then comes the moment (he, like me, is disgustingly rich). He offers them a present, some accept at once, those he no longer considers; others hesitate, and say it is too much, they only want his affection—He presses them, they yield—they too, are wiped off the list—and now he has no one to care for, since he has not been able to find one who refuses his gifts. It would be certainly my case also—were I to try.
"Women"—he said to me last night—"are the only pleasure in life—men and hunting bring content and happiness, work brings satisfaction, but women and their ways are the only pleasure."
"Even when you know it is all for some personal gain?"
"Even so, once you have realized that, it does not matter, you take the joy from another point of view, you have to eliminate vanity out of the affair, your personal vanity is hurt, my dear boy, when you feel it is your possessions, not yourself, they crave, but if you analyse that, it does not take away from the pleasure their beauty gives you—the tangible things are there just as if they loved you—I am now altogether indifferent as to their feelings for me, as long as their table manners are good, and they make a semblance of adoring me. If one had to depend upon their real disinterested love for their kindness to one, then it would be a different matter, and very distressing, but since they can always be caught by a bauble—you and I are fortunately placed, Nicholas."
We laughed our vile laughs together.—It is true—I hate to hear my own laugh. I agree with Chesterfield, who said that no gentleman should make that noise!
* * * * *
As I said before, all sorts of people come to see me, but I seem to be stripping them of externals all the time. What is the good in them? What is the truth in them? Strip me—if I were not rich what would anyone bother with me for? Is anyone worth while underneath?
One or other of the fluffies come almost daily to play bridge with me, and any fellow who is on leave, and the neutrals who have no anxieties, what a crew! It amuses me to "strip" them. The married one, Coralie, has absolutely nothing to charm with if one removes the ambience of success, the entourage of beautiful things, the manicurist and the complexion specialist, the Reboux hats, and the Chanel clothes. She would be a plain little creature, with not too fine ankles,—but that self-confidence which material possessions bring, casts a spell over people.—Coralie is attractive. Odette, the widow, is beautiful. She has the brain of a turkey, but she, too, is exquisitely dressed and surrounded with everything to enhance her loveliness, and the serenity of success has given her magnetism. She announces platitudes as discoveries, she sparkles, and is so ravishing that one finds her trash wit. She thinks she is witty, and you begin to believe it!
Odette can be best stripped, people could like her just for her looks. Alice, the divorcee, appeals to one.—She is gentle and feminine and clinging—she is the cruelest and most merciless of the three, Maurice tells me, and the most difficult to analyse: But most of one's friends would find it hard to stand the test of denuding them of their worldly possessions and outside allurements, it is not only the fluffies, who would come out of not much value!
Oh! the long, long days—and the ugly nights!
One does not sleep very well now, the noise of "Bertha" from six A.M. and the raids at night!—but I believe I grow to like the raids—and last night we had a marvelous experience. I had been persuaded by Maurice to have quite a large dinner party. Madame de Clerte, who is really an amusing personality, courageous and agreeable, and Daisy Ryven, and the fluffies, and four or five men. We were sitting smoking afterwards, listening to de Vole playing, he is a great musician. People's fears are lulled, they have returned to Paris. Numbers of men are being killed,—"The English in heaps—but what will you!" the fluffies said, "they had no business to make that break with the Fifth Army! Oh! No! and, after all, the country is too dull—and we have all our hidden store of petrol. If we must fly at the last moment, why on earth not go to the theatre and try to pass the time!"
de Vole was playing "Madame Butterfly"—when the sirens went for a raid—and almost immediately the guns began—and bombs crashed. One very seldom sees any fear on people's faces now, they are accustomed to the noise. Without asking any of us, de Vole commenced Chopin's Funeral March. It was a very wonderful moment, the explosions and the guns mingling with the splendid chords. We sat breathless—a spell seemed to be upon us all—We listened feverishly. de Vole's face was transfigured. What did he see in the dim light?—He played and played. And the whole tragedy of war—and the futility of earthly interests—the glory, the splendour and the agony seemed to be brought home to us. From this, as the noise without became less loud, he glided into Schubert, and so at last ceased when the "all clear" commenced to rend the air. No one had spoken a word, and then Daisy Ryven laughed—a queer little awed laugh. She was the only Englishwoman there.
"We are keyed up," she said.
And when they had all gone I opened my window wide and breathed in the black dark night. Oh! God—what a rotter I am.
* * * * *
Friday—Maurice has a new suggestion—he says I should write a book—he knows I am becoming insupportable, and he thinks if he flatters me enough I'll swallow the bait, and so be kept quiet and not try him so much.—A novel?—A study of the causes of altruism? What?—I feel—yes, I feel a spark of interest. If it could take me out of myself—I shall consult the Duchesse—I will tell Burton to telephone and find out if I can see her this afternoon. She sometimes takes half an hour off between four and five to attend to her family.
Yes—Burton says she will see me and will send me one of her Red Cross cars to fetch me, then I can keep my leg up.
I rather incline to a treatise upon altruism and the philosophical subjects. I fear if I wrote a novel it would be saturated by my ugly spirit, and I should hate people to read it. I must get that part of me off in my journal, but a book about—Altruism?
I must have a stenographer of course, a short-hand typist, if I do begin this thing. There are some English ones here no doubt. I do not wish to write in French—Maurice must find me a suitable one.—I won't have anything young and attractive. In my idiotic state she might get the better of me! The idea of some steady employment quite bucks me up.
* * * * *
I felt rather jarred when I arrived at the Hotel Courville—the paving across the river is bad; but I found my way to the Duchesse's own sitting room on the first floor—the only room apparently left not a ward—and somehow the smell of carbolic had not penetrated here. It was too hot, and only a little window was open.
How wonderfully beautiful these eighteenth century rooms are! What grace and charm in the panelling—what dignity in the proportions! This one, like all rooms of women of the Duchesse's age, is too full—crammed almost, with gems of art, and then among them, here and there, a shocking black satin stuffed and buttoned armchair, with a bit of woolwork down its centre, and some fringe! And her writing table!—the famous one given by Louis XV to the ancestress, who refused his favours—A mass of letters and papers, and reports, a bottle of creosote and a feather! A servant in black, verging upon ninety, brought in the tea, and said Madame la Duchesse would be there immediately—and she came.
Her twinkling eyes kindly as ever "Good day Nicholas," she said and kissed me on both cheeks, "Thou art thy mother's child—Va!—And I thank thee for the fifty thousand francs for my blesses—I say no more—Va!—."
Her scissors got caught in her pocket, not the purple jersey this time, and she played with them for a minute.
"Thou art come for something—out with it!"
"Shall I write a book?, that's it. Maurice thinks it might divert me—What do you think?"
"One must consider," and she began pouring out the tea, "paper is scarce—I doubt, my son, if what you would inscribe upon it would justify the waste—but still—as a soulagement—an asperine so to speak—perhaps—yes. On what subject?"
"That is what I want your advice about, a novel?—or a study upon Altruism, or—or—something like that?"
She chuckled and handed me my tea, thin tea and a tiny slice of black bread, and a scrape of butter. There is no cheating of the regulations here, but the Sevres cup gave me satisfaction.
"You have brought me your bread coupon, I hope?" she interrupted with,—"if you eat without it one of my household has less!"
I produced it.
"Two days old will do here," then she became all interest in my project again and chuckled anew.
"Not a novel my son, at your age and with your temperament, it would arouse emotions in you if you created them in your characters, you are better without them.—No!—Something serious; Altruism as well as another, by all means!"
"I expected you to say that, you are always so practical and kind, then we will choose a research subject to keep me busy."
"Why not the history of Blankshire, your old county where the Thormondes have sat since the conquest—hein?"
This delighted me, but I saw the impossibility. "I cannot get at the necessary reference books, and it is impossible to receive anything from England."
She realized this before I spoke.
"No—philosophy it must be—or your pet hobby, the furniture of your William and Mary!"
This seemed the best of all, and I decided in a moment. This shall be my subject. I really know something of William and Mary furniture! So we settled it. Then she became reflective.
"The news is tres grave to-day, my son," she whispered softly, "the fearful ones predict that the Boche will be within range in a few days.—Why not leave Paris?"
"Are you going, Duchesse?"
"I,—Mon Dieu!—Of course not!—I must stay to get my Blesses out—if the worst should come—but I never believe it.—Let the cowards flee—. Some of my relatives have gone again. Those I speak to will have become a minority when peace arrives, it would seem!"—then she frowned angrily. "Many are so splendid—devoted, untiring, but there are some—!—Mon Dieu! the girls play tennis at the tix aux pigeons!—and the Germans are sixty-five kilometers from Paris!"
I did not speak, and then, as though I had said something disparaging and she must defend them—"But you must not judge them hardly—No!—it is not possible with our National temperament that young girls of the world can nurse men—No—No—and our ministry of War won't employ women—what can they do—ask yourself, what can they do?—but wait and pray! Other nations must not judge us—our men know what they want of us—yes, yes—"
"Of course they do."
"My niece Madelaine—a lighthead—dragged me to the Ritz to lunch last week, before the wild rush cleared them off again—Mon Dieu! what a sight there in that restaurant!—Olivier and the waiters are the only things of dignity left! The women dressed to the eyes as Red Cross nurses. Some Americans, and, yes, French—nursing the well English officers I must believe—no nearer wounded than that!—floating veils, painted lips—high heels—Heavens! it filled me with rage—I who know the devoted and good of both nations who are not seen, and you English—. But there it is easy for you with your temperament to be good and really work—France is full of sensible kind Americans and English—but those in Paris—they make me sick! Quarter of an hour twice a day—to have the right to a passport to come—and to wear a uniform—Pah! Sick, sick!—"
I thought of the fluffies!—they too played at something the first year of the war, but now have given up even the pretence of that.
The Duchesse was still angry.
"My nephew Charles, le Prince de Vimont, eats chicken and cutlets on the meatless days, he told me with pride, his maitre d'hotel—he of the one eye—like thou, Nicholas, is able to procure plenty on the day before from friends in the trade, and with ice—Mon Dieu!—and I pay twenty-eight francs apiece for the best poulets for my blesses for extra rations!—and ice!—impossible to procure—. Oh! I would punish them all, choke them with their own meat—it is they who should be "food for the guns" as you English say,—they, these few disgrace our brave France, and make the other nations laugh at us."
I tried to assure her that no one laughed, and that we all understood and worshipped the spirit of France, that it was only the few, and that we were not deceived, but I could not calm her.
"It makes me weep" at last she said and I could not comfort her.
"Heloise de Tavantaine—my Cousin's Jew daughter-in-law—paid four thousand francs for a new evening dress, which did not cover a tenth of her fat body—Four thousand francs would have given my blesses—Ah!—well—I rage, I rage."
Then she checked herself—.
"But why do I say this to thee Nicholas?—because I am sore—it is ever thus—we are all human, and must cry to someone."
So after all there is some meaning in my journal.
"One must cry to someone!"
* * * * *
Burton is delighted that I shall write a book!—He wrote at once to my aunt Emmeline to tell her that I was better. I have her letter with congratulations in it to-day. Burton does the correspondence with my few relations, all war working hard in England. I am becoming quite excited, I long to begin, but there is no use until Maurice finds me a stenographer. He has heard of two. One a Miss Jenkins, aged forty—sounds good, but she can only give three hours a day—and I must have one at my beck and call—There is a second one, a Miss Sharp—but she is only twenty-three—plain though, Maurice says, and wears horn spectacles—that should not attract me! She makes bandages all the evening, but is obliged to work for her living so could come for the day. She is not out of a job, because she is very expert, but she does not like her present one. I would have to pay her very highly Maurice says—I don't mind that, I want the best.—I had better see Miss Sharp, and judge if I can stand her. She may have a personality I could not work with. Maurice must bring her to-morrow.
The news to-night is worse.—The banks have sent away all their securities.—But I shall not leave—one might as well die in a bombardment as any other way. The English Consul has to know all the names of the English residents in case of evacuation. But I will not go.
Bertha is making a most fiendish noise, there were two raids last night,—and she began at six this morning—one gets little sleep. I have a one horse Victoria now, driven by Methusala; I picked Maurice up at the Ritz this evening at nine o'clock—there was not a human soul to be seen in the Rue de la Paix, or the Place Vendome, or the Rue Castiglione—a city of the dead—And the early June sky full of peace and soft light.
What does it all mean?
Maurice brought Miss Sharp to-day to interview me. I do not like her much, but the exhibition she gave me of her speed and accuracy in short-hand satisfied me and made me see that I should be a fool to look further. So I have engaged her. She is a small creature, palish with rather good bright brown hair—She wears horn rimmed spectacles with yellow glasses in them so I can't see her eyes at all. I judge people by their eyes. Her hands look as if she had done rather a lot of hard work—they are so very thin. Her clothes are neat but shabby—that is not the last look like French women have—but as if they had been turned to "make do"—I suppose she is very poor. Her manner is icily quiet. She only speaks when she is spoken to. She is quite uninteresting.
It is better for me to have a nonentity—then I can talk aloud my thoughts without restriction. I am to give her double what she is getting now—2000 francs a month—war price.
Some colour came into her cheeks when I offered that and she hesitated,
I said "Don't you think it is enough?"
She answered so queerly.
"I think it is too much, and I was wondering if I would be able to accept it. I want to."
"Very well—I will of course do my very best to earn it"—and with that she bowed and left me.
Anyhow she won't make a noise.
Nina writes since she has married Jim—which she did just before the offensive in March—she has been too happy—or too anxious, to remember her friends—even dear old ones—but now fortunately Jim is wounded in the ankle bone which will keep him at home for two months so she has a little leisure.
"You can't think, Nicholas, what a different aspect the whole war took on when I knew Jim was in the front line—I adore him—and up to now I have managed to keep him adoring me—but I can see I'll have to be careful if he is going to be with me long at a time."
So it would seem that Nina had not obtained the rest and security she hoped for.
I hope my writing a book will rest me. I have arranged all my first chapter in my head—and to-morrow I begin.
June 26th—Miss Sharp came punctually at ten—she had a black and white cotton frock on—There is nothing of her—she is so slight—(a mass of bones probably in evening dress—but thank goodness I shall not see her in evening dress,) she goes at six—She is to have her lunch here—Burton has arranged it. An hour off for lunch which she can have on a tray in the small salon, which I have had arranged for her work room.—Of course it won't take her an hour to eat—but Burton says she must have that time, it is always done. It is a great nuisance for perhaps when 12:30 comes I shall just be in the middle of an inspiration and I suppose off she'll fly like the housemaids used when the servants' hall bell went at home. But I can't say anything.
I was full of ideas and the beginning of my first chapter spouted out, and when Miss Sharp had read it over to me I found she had not made any mistake. That is a mercy.
She went away and typed it, and then had her lunch—and I had mine, but Maurice dropped in and mine took longer than hers—it was half past two when I rang my hand bell for her (it is a jolly little silver one I bought once in Cairo) She answered it promptly—the script in her hand.
"I have had half an hour with nothing to do," she said—"Can you not give me some other work which I can turn to, if this should happen again?"
"You can read a book—there are lots in the book case" I told her—"Or I might leave you some letters to answer."
"Thank you, that would be best"—(She is conscientious evidently).
We began again.
She sits at a table with her notebook, and while I pause she is absolutely still—that is good. I feel she won't count more than a table or chair. I am quite pleased with my work. It is awfully hot to-day and there is some tension in the air—as though something was going to happen. The news is the same—perhaps slightly better.—I am going to have a small dinner to-night. The widow and Maurice and Madame de Clerte—just four and we are going to the play. It is such a business for me to go I seldom turn out.—Maurice is having a little supper in his rooms at the Ritz for us. It is my birthday—I am thirty-one years old.
Friday—What an evening that 26th of June! The theatre was hot and the cramped position worried me so—and the lights made my eye ache—Madame de Clerte and I left before the end and ambled back to the Ritz in my one horse Victoria and went and sat in Maurice's room. We talked of the situation, and the effect of the Americans coming in, bucking everyone up—we were rather cheerful. Then the sirens began—and the guns followed just as Maurice and Odette got back—They seemed unusually loud—and we could hear the bits of shrapnel falling on the terrace beneath us, Odette was frightened and suggested going into the cellar—but as Maurice's rooms are only on the second floor, we did not want to take the trouble.
Fear has a peculiar effect upon some people—Odette's complexion turned grey and she could hardly keep her voice steady. I wondered how soon she would let restraint slip from her and fly out of the room to the cellar. Madame de Clerte was quite unmoved.
Then the dramatic happened—Bang!—the whole house shook and the glass of the window crashed in fragments—and Maurice turned out the one light—and lifted a corner of the thick curtain to peep out.
"I believe they got the Colome Vendome" he said awed—and as he spoke another bomb fell on the Ministaire beside us—and some of the splinters shot into space and buried themselves in our wall.
We were all blown across the room—and Madame de Clerte and I fell in a heap together by the door, which gave way outwards—Odette's shrieks made us think that she was hurt, but she was not, and subsided into a gibbering prayer—Maurice helped Madame de Clerte to rise and I turned on the torch I keep in my pocket, for a minute. I was not conscious of any pain. We sat in the dark and listened to the commotion beneath us for some time, and the crashing bombs but never one so near again.—Maurice's voice soothing Odette was the only sound in our room.
Then Madame de Clerte laughed softly and lit a cigarette.
"A near thing that, Nicholas!" she said—"Let us go down now and see who is killed, and where the explosion actually occurred—The sight is quite interesting you know you can believe me."
"When Bertha hit the —— two days ago, we rushed for taxis to go down to see the place—Coralie—has petrol for her motor since two weeks you know"—and she smiled wickedly—"Monsieur le Ministre must show his gratitude somehow mustn't he?—Coralie is such a dear—Yes—?—So some of us packed in with her—we were quite a large party—and when we got there they were trying to extinguish the fire, and bringing out the bodies—You ought to come with us sometime when we go on these trips—anything for a change."
These women would not have looked on at the sufferings of a mouse before the war—.
The sight in the hall when we did arrive there after the "all clear" went—was remarkable—the great glass doors of the salon blown in and all the windows broken—and the Place Vendome a mass of debris—not a pane whole there I should think.
But nobody seems very much upset—these things are all in the days work—.
I wonder if in years to come we shall remember the queer recklessness which has developed in almost everyones mentality, or shall we forget about the war and go on just as we were before—Who knows?
* * * * *
I said to Miss Sharp this morning—
"What do you do in the evenings when you leave here"?
I had forgotten for a moment that Maurice had told me that she makes bandages. She looked at me and her manner froze—I can't think why I felt she thought I had no right to question her—I say "looked at me"—but I am never quite sure what her eyes are doing, because she never takes off her yellow glasses—Those appear to be gazing at me at all events.
"I make bandages."
"Aren't you dead tired after working all day with me?"
"I have not thought about it—the bandages are badly needed."
Her pencil was in her hand, and the block ready—she evidently did not mean to go on conversing with me. This attitude of continuous diligence on her part has begun to irritate me. She never fidgets—just works all the time.
I'll ask Burton what he thinks of her at luncheon to-day—As I said before, Burton knows the world.
* * * * *
"What do you think of my typist, Burton?"
He was putting a dish of make-believe before me—it is a meatless day—my one-legged cook is an artist but he thinks me a fool because I won't let him cheat—our want of legs makes us friendly though.
"And with a brother in the trade I could get Monsieur chickens and what he would wish!" he expostulates each week.
I repeated the question.
"The young lady works very regular."
"Yes—That is just it—a kind of a machine."
"She earns her money Sir Nicholas."
"Of course she does—I know all that—But what do you think of her?"
"Beg pardon Sir Nicholas—I don't understand?"
I felt irritated.
"Of course you do—What kind of a creature I mean—?"
"The young lady don't chatter Sir—She don't behave like bits of girls."
"You approve of her then Burton?"
"She's been here a fortnight only, Sir Nicholas, you can't tell in the time"—and that is all I could get out of him—but I felt the verdict when he did give it would be favourable.
Insignificant little Miss Sharp—!
What shall I do with my day—? that is the question—my rotten useless idle day?—I have no more inspiration for my book—besides Miss Sharp has to type the long chapter I gave her yesterday. I wonder if she knows anything about William and Mary furniture really?—she never launches a remark.
Her hands are very red these last days—does making bandages redden the hands?
I wonder what colour her eyes are—one can't tell with that blurred yellow glass—.
Suzette came in just as I wrote that; she seldom turns up in the afternoon. She caught sight of Miss Sharp typing through the open door.
"Tiens!" she spit at me—"Since when?"
"I am writing a book, Suzette."
"I must see her face," and without waiting for permission, Suzette flounced into the small salon.
I could hear her shrill little voice asking Miss Sharp to be so good as to give her an envelope—She must write an address! I watched her—Miss Sharp handed her one, and went on with her work.
Suzette returned, closing the door, without temper, behind her.
"Wouff!" she announced to me—"No anxiety there—an Anglaise—not appetizing—not a fausse maigre like us, as thin as a hairpin! Nothing for thou Nicholas—and Mon Dieu!—she does the family washing by her hands—I know! mine look like that when I have taken one of my fortnights at the sea!"
"You think it is washing?—I was wondering—."
"Does she take off her glasses ever, Nicholas?"
"No perhaps she has weak light eyes. One never can tell!"
Suzette was not yet quite at ease about it all—. I was almost driven to ask Miss Sharp to remove her glasses to reassure her.
Women are jealous even of one-legged half blind men! I would like to ask my cook if he has the same trouble—but—Oh! I wish anything mattered!
Suzette showed affection for me after this—and even passion! I would be quite good-looking she said—when I should be finished. Glass eyes were so well made now—"and as for legs!—truly my little cabbage, they are as nimble as a goat's!"
Of course I felt comforted when she had gone.
* * * * *
The hot days pass—Miss Sharp has not asked for a holiday, she plods along, we do a great deal of work—and she writes all my letters. And there are days when I know I am going to be busy with my friends, when I tell her she need not come—there was a whole week at the end of July. Her manner never alters, but when Burton attempted to pay her she refused to take the cheque.
"I did not earn that" she said.
I was angry with Burton because he did not insist.
"It was just, Sir Nicholas."
"No, it was not, Burton—If she did not work here, she was out of pocket not working anywhere else. You will please add the wretched sum to this week's salary."
Burton nodded stubbornly, so I spoke to Miss Sharp myself.
"It was my business as to whether I worked or did not work for a week—therefore you are owed payment in any case—that is logic——."
A queer red came into her transparent skin, her mouth shut firmly—I knew that I had convinced her, and that yet for some reason she hated having to take the money.
She did not even answer, just bowed with that strange aloofness that is not insolent. Her manner is never like a person of the lower classes, trying to show she thinks she is an equal. It has exactly the right note—perfectly respectful as one who is employed, but with the serene unselfconsciousness that only breeding gives. Shades of manner are very interesting to watch. Somehow I know that Miss Sharp, in her washed cotton, with her red little hands, is a lady.
I have not seen my dear Duchesse lately—she has been down to one of her country places—where she sends her convalescents, but she is returning soon. She gives me pleasure—.
* * * * *
August 30th—The interest in the book has flagged lately—I could not think of a thing, so I proposed to Miss Sharp to have a holiday. She accepted the fortnight without enthusiasm. Now she is back and we have begun again—Still I have no flair—Why do I stick to it?—Just because I have said to the Duchesse that I will finish it?——I have an uneasy feeling that I do not want to probe my real reason—I would like to lie even to this Journal. Lots of fellows have been upon the five days' leave lately, things are going better—they jolly one, and I like to see them, but after they go I feel more of a rotten beast than ever. The only times I forget are when Maurice brings the fluffies to dine with me—when they rush up to Paris from Deauville. We drink champagne—(they love to know how much it costs) and I feel gay as a boy—and then in the night I have once or twice reached out for my revolver. They have all gone back to Deauville now.
Perhaps it is Miss Sharp who irritates me with her eternal diligence—What is her life—who are her family? I would like to know but I will not ask—I sit and think and think what to write about in my book. I have almost come to the end of grinding out facts about Walnut and ball fringe—and she sits taking it all down in short-hand, never raising her head, day after day—.
Her hair is pretty—that silky sort of nut brown with an incipient wave in it—her head is set on most gracefully, I must admit, and the complexion is very pale and transparent—But what a firm mouth!—Not cold though—only firm. I have never seen her smile. The hands are well shaped really—awfully well shaped, if one watches them—How long would it take to get them white again I wonder? She has got good feet, too, thin like the hands—. How worn her clothes look—does she never have a new dress—?
Yes Burton, I will see Madame de Clerte—.
* * * * *
Solonge de Clerte is a philosopher—she has her own aims—but I do not know them.
"Writing a book, Nicholas?" There was the devil of a twinkle in her eye—"There is a poor boy wounded in the leg who would make a perfect secretary if you are not satisfied."
I grew irritated—.
"I am quite satisfied"—we heard the noise of the typing machine from beyond—these modern doors allow nothing to be unknown.
"Young, is she?" Madame de Clerte asked turning her glance in that direction.
"I don't know and don't care—she types well"—.
She saw that I was becoming enraged.—My dinners are good and the war is not yet over—.
"We shall all be terribly interested—yes—when we read the result—."
Then she told me of complications occurring about Coralie's husband.
"Of an insanity to attempt the three at once" she sighed—.
And now I can turn to my journal again—Good God—the last pages have all been about Miss Sharp—ridiculous, exasperating Miss Sharp! did I write ridiculous?—No—it is I who am ridiculous—I shall go for a drive—!
* * * * *
God! what is the meaning of it all—!
I have been in hell——I came in from my drive very quietly, it was early, a quarter to six, Miss Sharp goes at six—It was a horribly chilly evening and Burton had lit a bright wood fire—and I suppose its crackling prevented my hearing the sounds which were coming from the next room for a minute. I sat down in my chair—.
What was that?—the roucoulements of a dove?—No, a woman's voice cooing foolish love words in French and English—and a child's treble gurgling fondness back to her. It seemed as if my heart stopped beating—as if every nerve in my spine quivered—a tremendous emotion of I know not what convulsed me.—I lay and listened and suddenly I felt my cheek wet with tears—then some shame, some anger shook me, and I started to my feet, and hobbled to the door which was ajar—I opened it wide—there was Miss Sharp with the concierge's daughter's baby on her lap fondling it—the creature may be six months old. Her horn spectacles lay on the table. She looked up at me, the slightest flash of timidity showing—but her eyes—Oh! God! the eyes of the Madonna—heavenly blue, tender as an angel's—soft as a doe's—. I could have cried aloud with some pain in the soul—and so that brute part of me spoke—.
"How dare you make this noise"?—I said rudely—"do you not know that I have given orders for complete quiet"—.
She rose, holding the child with the greatest dignity—The picture she made could be in the Sistine Chapel.
"I beg your pardon" she said in a voice which was not quite steady—"I did not know you had returned, and Madame Bizot asked me to hold little Augustine while she went to the next floor—it shall not occur again!"
I longed to stay and gaze at them both—I would have liked to have touched the baby's queer little fat fingers—I would have liked—Oh—I know not what—And all the time Miss Sharp held the child protectively, as though something evil would come from me and harm it.—Then she turned and carried it out of the room—and I went back into my sitting-room and flung myself down in my chair—.
What had I done—Beast—brute—What had I done?
And will she never come back again?—and will life be emptier than ever—?
I could kill myself—.
* * * * *
It shall not be only Suzette but six others for supper to-night—.
Five a.m.—The dawn is here and it is not the rare sound of an August pigeon that I am listening to, but the tender cooing of a woman and a child—God, how can I get it out of my ears.
This morning I feel as if I could hardly bear it until Miss Sharp arrives—I dressed early, ready to begin a new chapter although I have not an idea in my head, and, as the time grows nearer, it is difficult for me to remain still here in my chair.
Have I been too impossible?—Will she not turn up?—and if she does not, what steps can I take to find her?—Maurice is at Deauville with the rest, and I do not know Miss Sharp's home address—nor if she has a telephone—probably not. My heart beats—I have every feeling of excitement as stupid as a woman! I analyse it all now, how mental emotion reacts on the physical—even the empty socket of my eye aches—I could hardly control my voice when Burton began a conversation about my orders for the day just now.
"You would not be wishin' for the company of your Aunt Emmeline, Sir Nicholas"?—he asked me—.
"Of course not, Burton, you old fool—"
"You seem so much more restless, sir—lately—"
"I am restless—please leave me alone."
He coughed and retired.
Now I am listening again—it wants two minutes to the hour—she is never late.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten—. It feels as if the blood would burst the veins—I cannot write.
She came after all, only ten minutes beyond her usual time, but they seemed an eternity when I heard the ring and Burton's slow step. I could have bounded from my chair to open the door myself.—It was a telegram! How this always happens when one is expecting anyone with desperate anxiety—A telegram from Suzette.
"I shall return to-night, Mon Chou."
Her cabbage!—Bah! I never want to see her again—.
Miss Sharp must have entered when the door was opened for the telegram, for I had begun to feel pretty low again when I heard her knock at the door of the sitting-room.
She came in and up to my chair as usual—but she did not say her accustomary cold good morning. I looked up—the horn spectacles were over her eyes again, and the rest of her face was very pale—while there was something haughty in the carriage of her small head, it seemed to me. Her eternal pad and pencil were in her little thin, red hands.
"Good morning"—I said tentatively, she made a slight inclination as much as to say—"I recognize you have spoken," then she waited for me to continue.
I felt an egregious ass, I knew I was nervous as a bird, I could not think of anything to say—I, Nicholas Thormonde, accustomed to any old thing! nervous of a little secretary!
"Er—would you read me aloud the last chapter we finished"—I barked at last lamely.
She turned to fetch the script from the other room—.
I must apologize to her, I knew.
She came back and sat down stiffly, prepared to begin.
"I am sorry I was such an uncouth brute yesterday," I said—"It was good of you to come back—. Will you forgive me?"
She bowed again. I almost hated her at that moment, she was making me feel so much—A foolish arrogance rose in me—
"We had better get to work I suppose," I went on pettishly.
She began to read—how soft her voice is, and how perfectly cultivated.—Her family must be very refined gentlefolk—ordinary English typists have not that indescribable distinction of tone.
What voices mean to one!—The delight of that exquisite sound of refinement in the pronunciation. Miss Sharp never misplaces an inflection or slurs a word, she never uses slang, and yet there is nothing pedantic in her selection of language—it is just as if her habitual associates were all of the same class as herself, and that she never heard coarse speech.—Who can she be—?
The music of her reading calmed me—how I wish we could be friends—!
"How old is Madame Bizot's grandchild?" I asked abruptly, interrupting.
"Six months," answered Miss Sharp without looking up.
"You like children?"
"Perhaps you have brothers and sisters?"
I knew that I was looking at her hungrily—and that she was purposely keeping her lids lowered—.
The tone said, "I consider your questions impertinent—."
I went on—
"And a sister?"
"Eleven and thirteen."
"That is quite a gap between your ages then?"
She did not think it necessary to reply to this—there was the faintest impatience in the way she moved the manuscript.
I was so afraid to annoy her further in case she should give me notice to go, that I let her have her way, and returned to work.
But I was conscious of her presence—thrillingly conscious of her presence all the morning. I never once was able to take the work naturally, it was will alone which made me grind out the words.
There was no sign of nervousness in Miss Sharp's manner—I simply did not exist for her—I was a bore, a selfish useless bore of an employer, who was paying her twice as much as anyone else would, and she must in return give the most perfect service. As a man I had no meaning. As a wounded human being she had no pity for me—but I did not want her pity—what did I want?—I cannot write it—I cannot face it—. Am I to have a new torment in my life?—Desiring the unattainable?—Eating my heart out; not that woman can never really love me again, but that, well or ill, the consideration of one woman is beyond my reach—.
Miss Sharp is not influenced because I am or am not a cripple—If I were as I was when I first put on my grenadier's uniform, I should still not exist for her probably—she can see the worthless creature that I am—Need I always be so?—I wish to God I knew.
* * * * *
She worked with her usual diligence the entire day almost, not taking the least notice of me, until at five o'clock when my tea came I rang for her—Perhaps it was the irritation reacting upon my sensitive wrenched nerves, but I felt pretty rotten, my hands were damp—another beastly unattractive thing, which as a rule does not happen to me—I asked her to pour out the tea.
"If you will be so kind," I said—"I have let Burton go out"—Mercifully this was true—she came in as a person would who knew you had a right to command—you could not have said if she minded or no.
When she was near me I felt happier for some reason.
She asked me how I took my tea—and I told her—.
"Are you not going to have some with me?" I pleaded.
"Mine is already on my table in the next room—thank you"—and she rose.
In desperation I blurted out—.
"Please—do not go!—I don't know why, but I feel most awfully rotten to-day."
She sat down again and poured out her cup.
"If you are suffering shall I read to you?" she said—"It might send you to sleep—" and somehow I fancied that while her firm mouth never softened, perhaps the eyes behind the horn spectacles might not be so stony. And yet with it all something in me resented her pity, if she felt any. Physical suffering produces some weaknesses which respond to sympathy, and the spirit rages at the knowledge that one has given way. I never felt so mad in all my year of hell that I cannot be a man and fight—as I did at that moment.
A French friend of mine said—In English books people were always having tea—handing cups of tea! Tea, tea—every chapter and every scene—tea! There is a great deal of truth in it—tea seems to bring the characters together—at tea time people talk, it is the excuse to call at that hour of leisure. We are too active as a nation to meet at any other time in the day, except for sport—So tea is our link and we shall go down through the ages as tea fiends—because our novelists who portray life accurately, chronicle that most of the thrilling scenes of our lives pass among tea cups!—I ventured to say all this to Miss Sharp by way of drawing her into conversation.
"What could one describe as the French doing most often?"—I asked her—.
She thought a moment.
"They do not make excuses for anything they do, they have not to have a pretext for action as we have—They are much less hypocritical and self-conscious."
I wanted to make her talk—.
"Why are we such hypocrites?"
"Because we have set up an impossible standard for ourselves, and hate to show each other that we cannot act up to it."
"Yes, we conceal every feeling—We show indifference when we feel interest—We pretend we have come on business when we have come simply to see someone we are attracted by—."
She let the conversation drop. This provoked me, as her last remark showed how far from stupid she is.
That nervous feeling overcame me again—Confound the woman!
"Please read," I said at last in desperation, and I closed my one eye.
She picked up a book—it happened to be a volume of de Musset—and she read at random—her French is as perfect as her English—The last thing I remember was "Mimi Pinson"—and when I awoke it was past six o'clock and she had gone home.
I wonder how many of us, since the war, know the desolation of waking—alone and in pain—and helpless—Of course there must be hundreds. If I am a rotter and a coward about suffering, at all events it does not come out in words—and perhaps it is because I am such a mixture that I am able to write it in this journal—If I were purely English I should not be able to let myself go even here—.
Suzette came to dinner—I thought how vulgar she looked—and that if her hands were white they were podgy and the nails short. The three black hairs irritated my cheek when she kissed me—I was brutal and moved my head in irritation—.
"Tiens?! Mon Ami!"—she said and pouted.
"Amuse me!" I commanded—.
"So! it is not love then, Nicholas, thou desirest—Bear!"
"Not in the least—I shall never want love again probably. Divert me!—tell me—tell me of your scheming little mouse's brain, and your kind little heart—How is it 'dans le metier'?"
Suzette settled herself on the sofa, curled up among the pillows like a plump little tabby cat. She lit a cigarette—.
"Very middling," she whiffed—"Cases of love where all my good counsel remains untaken—a madness for drugs—very foolish—A drug—yes to try—but to continue!—Mon Dieu! they will no longer make fortunes 'dans le metier'—"
"When you have made your fortune, Suzette, what will you do with it?"
"I shall buy that farm for my mother—I shall put Georgine into a convent for the nobility, and arrange a large dot for her—and for me?—I shall gamble in a controlled way at Monte Carlo—."
"You won't marry then, Suzette?"
"Marry!" she laughed a shrill laugh—"For why, Nicholas?—A tie-up to one man, hein?—to what good?—and yet who can say—to be an honored wife is the one experience I do not know yet!"—she laughed again—.
"And who is Georgine—you have not spoken of her before, Suzette?"
She reddened a little under her new terra cotta rouge.
"No?—Oh! Georgine is my little first mistake—but I have her beautifully brought up, Nicholas—with the Holy Mother at St. Brieux. I am then her Aunt—so to speak—the wife of a small shop keeper in Paris, you must know—She adores me—and I give all I can to St. Georges-des-Pres—. Georgine will be a lady and marry the Mayor's son—one day—."
Something touched me infinitely. This queer little demi-mondaine mother—her thoughts set on her child's purity, and the conventional marriage for her—in the future. Her plebeian, insolent little round face so kindly in repose.
I respect Suzette far more than my friends of the world—.
When she left—it was perhaps in bad taste, but I gave her a quite heavy four figure cheque.
"For the education of Georgine—Suzette."
She flung her arms round my neck and kissed me frankly on both cheeks, and tears were brimming over in her merry black eyes.
"Thou hast after all a heart, and art after all a gentleman, Nicholas—Va!—"—and she ran from the room.
For two days after I last wrote, I tried not to see Miss Sharp—I gave short moments to my book—and she answered a number of business letters. She knows most of my affairs now,—Burton transmits all the bills and papers to her.—I can hear them talking through the thin door. The excitement of that time I was so rude seems to have used up my vitality, an utter weariness is upon me, I have hardly stirred from my chair.
The ancient guardsman, George Harcourt, came to lunch yesterday. He was as cynically whimsical as ever—He has a new love—an Italian—and until now she has refused all his offers of presents, so he is taking a tremendous interest in her—.
"In what an incredible way the minds of women work, Nicholas!" he said—"They have frequently a very definite aim underneath, but they 'grasshopper'—."
I looked puzzled I suppose—.
"To 'grasshopper' is a new verb!" he announced—"Daisy Ryven coined it.—It means just as you alight upon a subject and begin tackling it, you spring to another one—These lovely American war workers 'grasshopper' continuously.—It is impossible to keep pace with them."
"Yet they seem to have quite a definite aim—to get pleasure out of life."
"To 'grasshopper' does not prevent pleasure to the grasshopper.—It is only fatiguing to the listener. You can have no continued sensible conversation with any of these women—they force you to enjoy only their skins—"
"Can the Contessa talk?"
"She has the languour of the South—She does not jump from one subject to another, she is frankly only interested in love."
"Honestly, George—do you believe there is such a thing as real love?"
"We have discussed this before, Nicholas—You know my views—but I am hoping Violetta will change them. She has just begun to ask daily if I love her"—
"Why do women always do that—even one's little friends continually murmur the question?"
"It is the working of their subconscious minds——Damn good cigars these, my dear boy—pre-war eh?——Yes it is to justify their surrender—They want to be assured in words that you adore them—because you see the actions of love really prove nothing of love itself. A stranger who has happened to appeal to the senses can call them forth quite as successfully as the lady of one's heart!"
"It is logical of women then to ask that eternal question?"
"Quite—I make a point of answering them always without irritation."
——I wonder—if Miss Sharp loved anyone would she?——but I am determined not to speculate further about her—.
When Colonel Harcourt had gone—I deliberately rang my bell—and when she came into the room I found I was not sure what I had rung for—It is the most exasperating fact that Miss Sharp keeps me in a continual state of nervous consciousness.