Part 4 out of 4
'No, Dilly doesn't know. Guess what I am, grandmamma!'
'I give it up.'
'I thought you'd never guess. Well, I'm a blue-faced mandrill!'
declared Archie, as he took the goggles off reluctantly and gave them
back to La France, who put them under his chair.
'Yes, he's a two-faced mangle,' repeated Dilly.
He turned round on her sharply. 'Now, don't talk nonsense! You're a
silly girl. I never said anything about being a two-faced mangle; I'm
a blue-faced mandrill.'
'Well, I said so; a two-faced mangle.'
'Don't say anything at all if you can't say it right,' said Archie,
raising his voice and losing his temper.
'Well, they's both the same.'
'No, they jolly well aren't.'
He drew her a little aside. 'A blue-faced mandrill, silly, is real;
it's in my natural history book.'
'Sorry,' said Dilly apologetically.
'In my natural history book it is, a _real_ thing. I'm a blue-faced
mandrill.... Now say it after me.'
'You's a two-faced mangle.'
'Now you're doing it on purpose! If you weren't a little girl, Dilly--'
'I wasn't doing it on purpose.'
'Oh, get away before I hit you! You're a silly little fool.'
She slowly walked away, calling out: 'And you're a silly two-faced
mangle,' in a very irritating tone. Archie made a tremendous effort to
ignore her, then he ran after her saying:
'Will you shut up or will you not?'
Aylmer seized hold of him.
'What are you going to do, Archie?'
'Teach Dilly what I am. She says--Oh, she's _such_ a fool!'
'No, Archie, leave her alone; she's only a baby. Come along, old boy.
Give Mr Cricker a cup of tea; he hasn't had one yet.'
Archie was devoted to Aylmer. Following him, he handed the tea to Mr
Cricker, saying pathetically:
'I'm a blue-faced mandrill, and she knew it. I told her so. Aren't
girls fools? They do worry!'
'They _are_ torments,' said Aylmer.
'I wish that Frenchman would give me his goggles to keep! He doesn't
'I'll give you a pair,' said Aylmer.
'Thanks,' said Cricker,' I won't have any tea. I wish you'd come and
have a little talk with me, Ross. Can I have a word with you alone?'
Aylmer good-naturedly went aside with him.
'It's worse than ever,' said Cricker, in low, mysterious tones. 'Since
I've been staying with Lady Everard it's been wire, wire, wire--ring,
ring, ring--and letters by every post! You see, I thought it was rather
a good plan to get away for a bit, but I'm afraid I shall have to go
back. Fancy, she's threatened suicide, and telling her husband, and
confiding in Lady Everard! And giving up the stage, and oh, goodness
knows what! There's no doubt the poor child is absolutely raving about
me. No doubt whatever.'
Aylmer was as sympathetic as he knew how.
The party was just going off when La France found that the
goggles had disappeared. A search-party was organised; great excitement
prevailed; but in the end they went away without the glasses.
When Dilly had just gone to sleep in her cot a frightening figure crept
into her room and turned on the electric light.
'Oh, Archie! What is it! Who is it! Oh!... Oh!'
'Don't be frightened,' said Archie, in his deepest voice, obviously
hoping she would be frightened. He was in pyjamas and goggles. 'Don't
be frightened! _Now! Say what I am_. What am I?'
'A blue-faced mandrill,' she whined.
He took off the goggles and kissed her.
'Right! Good night, old girl!'
The following Tuesday, Edith, Aylmer, Vincy and Mrs Ottley were sitting
on the veranda after dinner. They had a charming little veranda which
led on to a lawn, and from there straight down to the sea. It was their
custom to sit there in the evening and talk. The elder Mrs Ottley
enjoyed these evenings, and the most modern conversation never seemed
to startle her. She would listen impassively, or with a smile, as if in
silent approval, to the most monstrous of paradoxes or the most
Aylmer's attention and kind thought for her had absolutely won her
heart. She consulted him about everything, and was only thoroughly
satisfied when he was there. His strong, kind, decided voice, his good
looks, his decision, and a sort of responsible impulsiveness, all
appealed to her immensely. She looked up to him, in a kind of admiring
maternal way; Edith often wondered, did she not see Aylmer's devotion?
But, if she did, Mrs Ottley thought nothing of it. Her opinion of Edith
was so high that she trusted her in any complications....
'Isn't Bruce coming down tonight?' she asked Edith.
'I'm to have a wire.'
'Ah, here's the last post. Perhaps he's written instead.'
Vincy fetched the letters. There was one from Bruce.
Edith went into the drawing-room to read it; there was not sufficient
light on the veranda....
In growing amazement she read the following words:--
'I hope what I am about to tell you will not worry you too much. At any
rate I do hope you will not allow it to affect your health. It is
inevitable, and you must make up your mind to it as soon as possible. I
say this in no spirit of unkindness; far from it. It is hard to me to
break the news to you, but it must be done.
'Mavis Argles and I are all in all to each other. We have made up our
minds on account of certain _circumstances_ to throw in our lot
together, and we are starting for Australia today. When this reaches
you, we shall have started. I enclose the address to write to me.
'In taking this step I have, I am sure, acted for the best. It may
cause you great surprise and pain. I regret it, but we met and became
very quickly devoted to one another. She cannot live without me. What I
am doing is my duty. I now ask you, and believe you will grant my
request, to make arrangements to _give me my freedom as soon as
possible_. Mind you do this, Edith, for it is really my duty to give my
name to Mavis, who, as I have said, is devoted to me heart and soul,
and cannot live without me.
'I shall always have the greatest regard and respect for you, and _wish
'I am sorry also about my mother, but you must try and explain that it
is for the best. You also will know exactly what to do, and how to
bring up the children just as well without me as with.
'Hoping this sudden news will not affect your health in any way, and
that you will try and stay on a good while at Westgate, as I am sure
the air is doing you good, believe me, yours affectionately as always,
'_P.S._--Mind you don't forget to divorce me as soon as you can for
Mavis's sake. Vincy will give you all the advice you need. Don't think
badly of me; I have meant well. Try and cheer up. I am sorry not to
write more fully, but you can imagine how I was rushed to catch today's
She sat alone gazing at the letter under the light. She was divided at
first between a desire to laugh and cry. Bruce had actually eloped! His
silly weakness had culminated, his vanity had been got hold of. Vincy's
horrid little art-student had positively led him into running away,
and leaving his wife and children.
Controlling herself, Edith went to the veranda and said to Mrs Ottley
that Bruce wasn't coming back for a day or two, that she had neuralgia
and was going to retire, but begged Aylmer not to go yet. Of course at
this he went at once.
The next morning Aylmer at his hotel received a little note asking him
to come round and see Edith, while the others were out.
It was there, in the cool, shady room, that Edith showed him the
'Good God!' he exclaimed, looking simply wild with joy. 'This is too
marvellous!--too heavenly! Do you realise it? Edith, don't you see he
wants you to make him free? You will be my wife--that's
settled--that's fixed up.'
He looked at her in delight almost too great for expression.
Edith knew she was going to have a hard task now. She was pale, but
looked completely composed. She said:
'You're wrong, Aylmer. I'm not going to set him free.'
'What?' he almost shouted. 'Are you mad? What! Stick to him when he
doesn't want you! Ruin the wretched girl's life!'
'That remains to be seen. I don't believe everything in the letter. The
'Edith!' he exclaimed. 'What--when he doesn't _want_ the children--when
he deserts them?'
'He is their father.'
'Their father! Then, if you were married to a criminal who implored you
to divorce him you wouldn't, because he was their father!'
'Bruce is not a criminal. He is not bad. He is a fool. He has behaved
idiotically, and I can never care for him in the way I used to, but I
mean to give him a chance. I'm not going to jump at his first real
folly to get rid of him.... Poor Bruce!'
Aylmer threw himself down in an arm-chair, staring at her.
'You amaze me,' he said. 'You amaze me. You're not human. Do you adore
this man, that you forgive him everything? You don't even seem angry.'
'I don't adore him, that is why I'm not so very angry. I was terribly
hurt about Miss Townsend. My pride, my trust were hurt but after that I
can't ever feel that personal jealousy any more. What I have got to
think of is what is best.'
'Edith, you don't care for me. I'd better go away.' He turned away; he
had tears in his eyes.
'Oh, don't, Aylmer! You know I do!'
'Well, then, it's all right. Fate seems to have arranged this on
purpose for us--don't you know, dear, how I'd be good to the children?
How I'd do anything on this earth for them? Why, I'd reconcile Mrs
Ottley to it in ten minutes; I'd do _anything_!' He started up.
'I'm not going to let Mrs Ottley know anything about it for the
'You're not going to tell her?'
'No. I shall invent a story to account for his absence. No-one need
know. But, of course, if, later--I mean if he persists--'
'Oh, Edith, don't be a fool! You're throwing away our happiness when
you've got it in your hand.'
'There are some things that one _can't_ do.' said Edith. 'It goes
against the grain. I can't take advantage of his folly to make the path
smoother--for myself. What will become of him when they quarrel! It's
all nonsense. Bruce is only weak. He's a very good fellow, really. He
has no spirit, and not much intellect; but with us to look after him,'
she unconsciously said us, and could not help smiling at the absurdity
of it,' he will get along all right yet.'
'Edith, you're beyond me,' said Aylmer. 'I give up understanding you.'
She stood up again and looked out of the window.
'Let him have his silly holiday and his elopement and his trip! He
thinks it will make a terrific sensation! And I hope she will be
seasick. I'm sure she will; she's the sort of woman who would, and
'And you'll take him back? You have no pride, Edith.'
She turned round. 'Take him back?--yes; officially. He has a right to
live in his own house, with his own children. Why, ever since I found
out about Miss Townsend ... I'm sure I was nice to him, but only like a
sister. Yes. I feel just like a sister to him now.'
'Oh, good God! I haven't patience with all this hair-splitting
nonsense. Brotherly husbands who run away with other girls, and beg you
to divorce them; sisterly wives who forgive them and stick to them
against their will....'
He suddenly stopped, and held out his hand.
'Forgive me, Edith. I believe whatever you say is right. Will you
'You see, it's chiefly on account of the children. If it weren't for
them I _would_ take advantage of this to be happy with you. At
least--no--I'm not sure that I would; not if I thought it would be
'And you don't think I'd be good to the children?'
'Good? I know you would be an angel to them! But what's the use? I tell
you I can't do it.'
'I won't tease you, I won't worry you any more,' he said, in a rather
broken voice. 'At any rate, think what a terrible blow this is to me.
You show me the chance of heaven, then you voluntarily dash it away.
Don't you think you ought to consult someone? You have asked no-one?'
'I have consulted _you_,' she said, with a slight smile.
'You take no notice of what I say.'
'As a matter of fact, I don't wish to consult anyone. I have made my
own decision. I have written my letter.'
She took it out of her bag. It was directed to Bruce, at the address he
had given her in Australia.
'I suppose you won't let me read it?' he said sadly.
'I think I'd rather not,' she said.
Terribly hurt, he turned to the door.
'No--no, you shall read it!' she exclaimed. 'But don't say anything,
make no remark about it. You shall read it because I trust you, because
I really care for you.'
'Perhaps I oughtn't to,' he said. 'No, dear; keep it to yourself.' His
delicacy had revived and he was ashamed of his jealousy.
But now she insisted on showing it to him, and he read:
'I'm not going to make any appeal to your feelings with regard to your
mother and the children, because if you had thought even of me a little
this would not have happened. I'm very, very sorry for it. I believe it
happened from your weakness and foolishness, or you could not have
behaved with such irresponsibility, but I'm trying to look at it quite
calmly. I therefore propose to do nothing at all for three months. If I
acted on your suggestion you might regret it ever after. If in three
months you write to me again in the same strain, still desiring to be
free, I will think of it, though I'm not sure that I should do it even
then. But in case you change your mind I propose to tell nobody, not
even your mother. By the time you get this letter, it will be six weeks
since yours to me, and you may look at things differently. Perhaps by
then you will be glad to hear that I have told your mother merely that
you have been ordered away for a change, and I shall say the same to
anyone else who inquires for you. If you feel after this time still
responsible, and that you have a certain duty, still remember, even so,
you might be very unhappy together all your lives. Excuse me, then, if
I don't take you at your word.
'Another point occurs to me. In your hurry and excitement, perhaps you
forgot that your father's legacy depended on the condition that you
should not leave the Foreign Office before you were fifty. That is
about fourteen years from now. If you are legally freed, and marry Miss
Argles, you could hardly go back there. I think it would be practically
impossible under those circumstances, while if you live in Australia
you will have hardly any means. I merely remind you of this, in case
you had forgotten.
'I shall regard it all as an unfortunate aberration; and if you regret
it, and change your mind, you will be free at any time you like to come
back and nothing shall be ever said about it. But I'm not begging you
to do so. I may be wrong; perhaps she's the woman to make you happy.
Let me know within three months how you feel about it. No-one will
suffer except myself during this time, as I shall keep it from your
mother, and shall remain here during this time. Perhaps you will be
very angry with me that I don't wish to take you at your word, Bruce.
At first I thought I would, but I'm doing what I think right, and one
cannot do more.
'I'm not going to reproach you, for if you don't feel the claims of
others on you, my words will make no difference.
'Think over what I say. Should you be unhappy and wish to separate from
her without knowing how, and if it becomes a question of money, as so
many things do, I would help you. I did not remind you about your
father's legacy to induce you to come back. If you really find
happiness in the way you expect, we could arrange it. You see, I have
thought of everything, in one night. But you _won't_ be happy.
'Remember, whenever you like to come back, you will be welcomed, and
nothing shall ever be said about it.'
Aylmer gave her back the letter. He was touched.
'You see,' she said eagerly, 'I haven't got a grain of jealousy. All
that part is quite finished. That's the very reason why I can judge
She fastened up the letter, and then said with a smile:
'And now, let's be happy the rest of the summer. Won't you?'
He answered that she was _impayable_--marvellous--that he would help
her--devote himself to doing whatever she wished. On consideration he
saw that there was still hope.
'Never, Edith!' exclaimed Vincy, fixing his eyeglass in his eye, and
opening his mouth in astonishment. 'Never! Well, I'm gormed!'
A week had passed since the news of Bruce's elopement. The little group
at Westgate didn't seem to have much been affected by it; and this was
the less surprising as Aylmer and Edith had kept it to themselves. Mrs
Ottley listened imperturbably to Edith's story, a somewhat incoherent
concoction, but told with dash and decision, that Bruce had been
ordered away for a sea-voyage for fear of a nervous breakdown. She
cried a little, said nothing, kissed Edith more than usual, and took
the children away for longer walks and drives. With a mother's
flashlight of intuition she felt at once certain there was something
wrong, but she didn't wish to probe the subject. Her confidence in
Edith reached the point of superstition; she would never ask her
questions. Edith had assured her that Bruce would come back all right,
and that was enough. Personally, Mrs Ottley much preferred the society
of Aylmer to that of her son. Aylmer was far more amusing, far more
considerate to her, and to everybody else, and he didn't use his
natural charm for those who amused him only, as the ordinary
fascinating man does. Probably there was at the back of his attentions
to Mrs Ottley a vague idea that he wanted to get her on his side--that
she might be a useful ally; but he was always charming to elderly
women, and inclined to be brusque with younger ones, excepting Edith;
he remembered his own mother with so great a cult of devotion, and his
late wife with such a depressed indifference.
Edith had asked Aylmer to try and forget what had happened--to make
himself believe that Bruce had really only gone away medicinally. For
the present, he did as she wished, but he was longing to begin talking
to her on the subject again, both because it interested him
passionately from the psychological point of view, and far more,
naturally, because he had hopes of persuading her in time. She was not
bound by letter; she could change her mind. Bruce might and possibly
There was difficulty in keeping the secret from Vincy, who was actually
staying in the house, and whose wonderful nerves and whimsical mind
were so sensitive to every variation of his surroundings. He had the
gift of reading people's minds. But it never annoyed anyone; one felt
he had no illusions; that he sympathised with one's weaknesses and
follies and, in a sense, enjoyed them, from a literary point of view.
Probably his friends forgave his clear vision for the sake of his
interest. Most people would far rather be seen through than not be seen
One day Vincy, alone on the beach with Edith, remarked that he wondered
what had happened to Mavis.
Edith told him that she had run away with a married man.
'Never, Edith!' he exclaimed. 'Who would have thought it! It seems
almost too good to be true!'
'Don't say that, Vincy.'
'But how did you hear it? You know everything.'
'I heard it on good authority. I _know_ it's true.'
'And to think I was passing the remark only the other day that I
thought I ought to look her up, in a manner of speaking, or write, _or
something_,' continued Vincy; 'and who _is_ the poor dear man? Do you
He looked at her with a sudden vague suspicion of he knew not what.
'Bruce was always inclined to be romantic, you know,' she said
'Oh, give over!'
'Yes, that's it; I didn't want anyone to know about it. I'm so afraid
of making Mrs Ottley unhappy.'
'But you're not serious, Edith?'
'I suppose I'd better show you his letter. He tells me to ask your
She gave it to him.
'There is only one word for what I feel about it,' Vincy said, as he
gave it back. 'I'm gormed! Simply gormed! Gormed, Edith dear, is really
the only word.'
'I'm not jealous,' said Edith. 'My last trouble with Bruce seems to
have cured me of any feeling of the kind. But I have a sort of pity and
affection for him still in a way--almost like a mother! I'm really
afraid he will be miserable with her, and then he'll feel tied to her
and be wretched all his life. So I'm giving him a chance.'
He looked at her with admiring sympathy.
'But what about other friends?'
'Well--oh, you know--'
'Edith, I'm awfully sorry; I wish I'd married her now, then she
wouldn't have bothered about Bruce.'
'But you can't stand her, Vincy.'
'I know, Edith dear; but I'd marry any number of people to prevent
anything tiresome for you. And Aylmer, of course--Edith, really, I
think Aylmer ought to go away; I'm sure he ought. It is a mistake to
let him stay here under these circumstances.'
'Why?' said Edith. 'I don't see that; if I were going to take Bruce at
his word, then it would be different, of course.'
'It does seem a pity not to, in some ways; everything would be all
nicely settled up, just like the fourth act of a play. And then I
should be glad I hadn't married Mavis... Oh, do let it be like the
fourth act, Edith.'
'How can life be like a play? It's hopeless to attempt it,' she said
'Edith, do you think if Bruce knew--how much you liked Aylmer--he would
have written that letter?'
'No. And I don't believe he would ever have gone away.'
'Still, I think you ought to send Aylmer away now.'
'Why?' she repeated. 'Nothing could be more intensely correct. Mrs
Ottley's staying with me--why shouldn't I have the pleasure of seeing
Aylmer because Bruce is having a heavenly time on board ship?'
'I suppose there's that point of view,' said Vincy, rather bewildered.
'I say, Edith!'
'About Bruce having a heavenly time on board ship--a--she always
grumbles; she's always complaining. She's never, never satisfied... She
keeps on making scenes.'
'So does Bruce.'
'Yes. But I suppose if there's a certain predicament--then--Oh,
Edith--are you unhappy?'
'No, not a bit now. I think I'm only really unhappy when I'm undecided.
Once I've taken a line--no matter what it is--I can be happy again. I
can adjust myself to my good fortune.'
Curiously, when Edith had once got over the pain and shock that the
letter first gave her, she was positively happier now than she ever had
been before. Bruce really must have been a more formidable bore than
she had known, since his absence left such a delicious freedom. The
certainty of having done the right, the wisest thing, was a support, a
During these summer days Aylmer was not so peacefully happy. His
devotion was assiduous, silent, discreet, and sometimes his feelings
were almost uncontrollable, but he hoped; and he consoled himself by
the thought that some day he would really have his wish--anything might
happen; the chances were all in his favour.
What an extraordinary woman she was--and how pretty--how subtle; how
perfect their life might be together....
He implored Vincy to use his influence.
'I can't see Edith in anything so crude as the--as--that court,' Vincy
'But Bruce begs her to do it. What could their life be together
afterwards? It's simply a deliberate sacrifice.'
'There's every hope that Miss Argles will never let him go,' said
Vincy. 'One has to be very firm to get away from her. Oh, ever so firm,
and _obstinate_, you can't think! How many times a day she must be
reproaching Bruce--that will be rather a change for him. However,
anything may happen,' said Vincy soothingly. He still maintained, for
he had a very strong sense of propriety in matters of form, that Aylmer
ought to go away. But Edith would not agree.
* * * * *
So the children played and enjoyed themselves, and sometimes asked
after their father, and Mrs Ottley, though a little anxious, enjoyed
herself too, and Edith had never been so happy. She was having a
holiday. She dismissed all trouble and lived in a sort of dream.
* * * * *
Towards the end of the summer, hearing no more from Bruce, Aylmer grew
still more hopeful; he began to regard it as practically settled. The
next letter in answer to Edith's would doubtless convince her, and he
would then persuade her; it was, tacitly, he thought, almost agreed
now; it was not spoken of between them, but he believed it was all
* * * * *
Aylmer had come back to London in the early days of September and was
wandering through his house thinking how he would have it done up and
how he wouldn't leave it when they were married, when a telephone
message summoned him to Knightsbridge.
He went, and found the elder Mrs Ottley just going away. He thought she
looked at him rather strangely.
'I think Edith wants to speak to you,' she said, as she left the room.
'Dear Edith! Be nice to her.' And she fled.
* * * * *
Aylmer waited alone, looking round the room that he loved because he
associated it with her.
It was one of the first cold damp days of the autumn, and there was a
fire. Edith came in, in a dark dress, looking pale, and different, he
thought. She had seemed the very spirit of summer only a day or two
A chill presentiment struck to his heart.
'You've had a letter? Go on; don't keep me in suspense.' He spoke with
nervous impatience, and no self-restraint.
She sat down by him. She had no wish to create an effect, but she found
it difficult to speak.
'Yes, I've had a letter,' she said quietly. 'They've quarrelled. They
quarrelled on board. He hates her. He says he would rather die than
remain with her. He's written me a rather nice letter. They quarrelled
so frightfully that a young man on board interfered,' she said, smiling
faintly. 'As soon as they arrived the young man married her. He's a
commercial traveller. He's only twenty-five.... It seems he pitied her
so much that he proposed to her on board, and she left Bruce. It wasn't
true about the predicament. It was--a mistake. Bruce was grateful for
my letter. He's glad I've not told anyone--not done anything. Now the
children will never know. But I've told Mrs Ottley all about it. I
thought I'd better, now it's over. She won't ask him questions....
Bruce is on his way home.'
'All right!' said Aylmer, getting up. 'Let him come. Forgive him again,
that's right! Would you have done that for _me_?'
'No! Never! If you had once been unfaithful, and I knew it, I'd never
have forgiven you.'
'I quite believe it. But why?'
'Because I care for you too much. If you had been in Bruce's position I
should never have seen you again. With him it's different. It's a
feeling of--it's for him, not for me. I've felt no jealousy, no
passion, so I could judge calmly.'
'All right,' repeated Aylmer ironically; 'all right! Judge calmly! Do
the right thing. You know best.' He stopped a moment, and then said,
taking his hat: 'I understand now. I see clearly at last. You've had
the opportunity and you wouldn't take it; you don't care for me. I'm
He went to the door.
'Oh, come back, Aylmer! Don't go like that! You know I care for you,
but what could I do? I foresaw this...You know, I can't feel _no_
responsibility about Bruce. I couldn't make my happiness out of someone
else's misery. He would have been miserable and, not only that, it
would have been his ruin. Bruce could never be safe, happy, or all
right, except here.'
'And you think he'll alter, now, be grateful and devoted, I
'Do people alter?' she answered.
'I neither know nor care if he will, but you? I could have made you
happy. You won't let me. Oh, Edith, how could you torture me like this
all the summer?'
'I didn't mean to torture you. We enjoyed being together.'
'Yes. But it makes this so much harder.'
'It would be such a risk!' she answered. 'But is anything worth having
unless you're ready to risk every-thing to get it?'
'I _would_ risk everything, for myself. But not for others...If you
feel you want to go away,' she said, 'let it be only for a little
'A little while! I hope I shall _never_ see you again! Do you think I'm
such a miserable fool--do you think I could endure the position of a
tame cat? You forget I'm a man!... No; I'll never see you again now,
not if it kills me!'
At these words, the first harsh ones she had ever heard from him, her
nerves gave way, and she burst into tears.
This made him irresolute, for his tender-heartedness almost reached the
point of weakness. He went up to her, as she lifted her head, and
looked at her once more. Then he said:
'No, you've chosen. You _have_ been cruel to me, and you're too good to
him. But I suppose you must carry out your own nature, Edith. I've been
the victim. That's all.'
'And won't you be friends?' she said.
'No. I won't and I can't.'
He waited one moment more.
* * * * *
'If you'll change your mind--you still can--we can still be happy. We
can be everything to each other.... Give him up. Give him up.'
'I can't,' said Edith.
'What are you going to wear tonight, Edith?'
'Don't say anything. I don't wish you to wear anything. I'm anxious you
should look your best, really nice, especially as we haven't been to
the Mitchells' for so long. Wear your new blue dress.'
Bruce got up and walked across the room and looked in the glass.
'Certainly, I'm a bit sunburnt,' he remarked thoughtfully. 'But it
doesn't suit me badly, not really badly; does it?'
'Not at all.'
'If I've spoken about it once, I've spoken about it forty times. This
ink-bottle is too full.'
'I'll see about it.'
'Don't let me have to speak about it again, will you? I wonder who will
be at the Mitchells' tonight?'
'Oh, I suppose there'll be the new person--the woman with the dramatic
contralto foghorn voice; and the usual people: Mr Cricker, Lady
Everard, Miss Mooney--'
'Miss Mooney! I hope not! I can't stand that woman. I think she's
absurd; she's a mass of affectation and prudishness. And--Edith!'
'I don't want to interfere between mother and daughter--I know you're
perfectly capable and thoroughly well suited to bringing up a girl, but
I really do think you're encouraging Dilly in too great extravagance.'
'Oh! In what way?'
'I found her making a pinafore for her doll out of a lace flounce of
real old Venetian lace. Dilly said she found it on the floor. 'On the
floor, indeed,' I said to her. 'You mustn't use real lace!' She said,
'Why not? It's a real doll!' Lately Dilly's got a way of answering back
that I don't like at all. Speak to her about it, will you, Edith?'
'Oh yes, of course I will.'
'I'm afraid my mother spoils them. However, Archie will be going to
school soon. Of course it isn't for me to interfere. I have always made
a point of letting you do exactly as you like about the children,
haven't I, Edith? But I'm beginning to think, really, Dilly ought to
have another gov--' He stopped, looking self-conscious.
'Oh, she's only five, quite a baby,' said Edith. 'I daresay I can
manage her for the present. Leave it to me.'
* * * * *
Since his return, Edith had never once referred to Bruce's sea-voyage.
Once or twice he had thanked her with real gratitude, and even remorse,
for the line she had taken, but her one revenge had been to change the
subject immediately. If Bruce wished to discuss the elopement that she
had so laboriously concealed, he would have to go elsewhere.
* * * * *
A brilliantly coloured version, glittering with success and lurid with
melodrama, had been given (greatly against the hearer's will) to
Goldthorpe at the club. One of the most annoying things to Bruce was
that he was perfectly convinced, when he was confessing the exact
truth, that Goldthorpe didn't believe a word of it.
It was unfortunate, too, for Bruce, that he felt it incumbent on him to
keep it from Vincy; and not to speak of the affair at all was a real
sacrifice on Vincy's part, also. For they would both have enjoyed
discussing it, while Goldthorpe, the only human being in whom Bruce
ever really confided, was not only bored but incredulous. He considered
Bruce not only tedious to the verge of imbecility, but unreliable
beyond the pardonable point of inaccuracy. In fact, Bruce was his ideal
of the most wearisome of liars and the most untruthful of bores; and
here was poor Vincy dying to hear all about his old friend, Mavis (he
never knew even whether she had mentioned his name), ready to revel,
with his peculiar humour, in every detail of the strange romance,
particularly to enjoy her sudden desertion of Bruce for an unmarried
commercial traveller who had fallen in love with her on board.--And
yet, it had to be withheld! Bruce felt it would be disloyal, and he had
the decency to be ashamed to speak of his escapade to an intimate
friend of his wife.
* * * * *
Bruce complained very much of the dullness of the early autumn in
London without Aylmer. This sudden mania for long journeys on Aylmer's
part was a most annoying hobby. He would never get such a pleasant
friend as Aylmer again. Aylmer was his hero.
'Why do you think he's gone away?' he rather irritatingly persisted.
'I haven't the slightest idea.'
'Do you know, Edith, it has sometimes occurred to me that if--that,
well--well, you know what I mean--if things had turned out differently,
and you had done as I asked you--'
'Why, I have a sort of idea,' he looked away, 'that Aylmer might--well,
might have proposed to you!'
'Oh! _What_ an extraordinary idea!'
'But he never did show any sign whatever, I suppose of--well,
of--being more interested in you than he ought to have been?'
'Good heavens, no!'
'Oh, of course, I know that--you're not his style. You liked him very
much, didn't you, Edith?...'
'I like him very much now.'
'However, I doubt if you ever quite appreciated him. He's so full of
ability; such an intellectual chap! Aylmer is more a man's man. _I_
miss him, of course. He was a very great friend of mine. And he didn't
ever at all, in the least--seem to--'
'Seem to what?'
'It would have been a very unfair advantage to take of my absence if he
had,' continued Bruce.
'But he was incapable of it, of course.'
'He _never_ showed any special interest, then, beyond--'
'I was right, I suppose, as usual. You never appreciated him; he was
not the sort of man a woman _would_ appreciate ... But he's a great
loss to me, Edith. I need a man who can understand--Intellectual
* * * * *
'Mr Vincy!' announced the servant.
Vincy had not lost his extraordinary gift for turning up at the right
moment. He was more welcome than ever now.