[To SYLVESTER GATES]
She lay on a sofa covered with white
marabou, her head sunk deep into a billowy morass
of lace-coloured satin and lace-coloured lace.
She could see her pointed toes emerging and her arm
dangling over the edge as if she had forgotten it.
On her finger was a huge emerald ring, a splotch of
crème de menthe spilt on the whiteness
of her hand. She felt entrenched and anchored
in an altogether strong position, so fixed that all
advances would have to be made to her. This gave
to her voice and to her gestures an indolent melodious
As the door opened she turned her
eyes round slowly, suppressing all eagerness.
“Mortimer!” She wondered
if disappointment could be as easily controlled as
joy. “How nice of you to come and see me!”
“Are you glad really?”
He was kissing her hand with an unnecessary mixture
of shyness and intensity.
“How intolerably literal people
in love are,” she thought petulantly; “always
forcing significance into everything.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling lazily.
“It is good of you to let me
come like this.” How she hated his humility,
but “I like you to,” she murmured,
“How lovely you look! Lovelier
than ever before as lovely as ever before.”
And then, “I love you.”
“Do you think so?” She seemed amused and
“Do you doubt it?” He clutched her wrist.
“Not if you put it like that.”
“You are laughing at me,” he recognised
“Forgive me.” She
put her hand on his, lightly, caressingly, her voice
gentle and tender.
“But you do know it, don’t you?”
He was very insistent.
("Does he think that I am blind and
deaf and that no one has ever loved me before?”
she wondered irritably.)
“I think you think so,” she prevaricated.
“I know,” he was firm. “I shall
love you always.”
“Nonsense.” She was
tart with realism. “Why do you fly in the
face of all experience with meaningless generalisations?”
“I have never said it before.”
“Then how can you know?”
He hated her barrister mood.
“Elaine, aren’t you glad I love you?”
“Of course.” She
closed her eyes wearily. They talked of other
things and she remembered how intelligent he was.
It had been during these last months very
easy to forget. But though her interest was concentrated,
his attention was on other things.
“Elaine,” he blurted, “are you going
to the country to-morrow?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will you know?”
“I have no idea!”
“But when shall I see you again?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Elaine, please do put me out of my misery.”
“Very well then I shan’t see
you again this week.”
“I am sorry I bothered
you; don’t punish me. I promise not to ask
any more questions, but please let me know when you
come back. Even if you only ring me up on the
telephone I shall have heard your voice!”
“You’re not angry with me, are you?”
“Why should I be?”
“I thought perhaps you were.”
There was a pause. “Is
there anything amusing about being loved?” she
thought; “what patient women the great coquettes
of the world must have been! How I wish I were
a crisp intelligent old maid, with a talent perhaps
for gardening or books on the Renaissance!”
“How tired you look!”
He had taken her hand and was pressing it with funny
little jerky grasps. “I wish you belonged
to me; I wouldn’t let you spend yourself on
every Tom, Dick and Harry.”
“It is so difficult to know,”
she murmured, “who is Tom, who is Dick, or who
“When I think of the way your
divine sympathy is imposed upon the way
your friends take advantage of you!”
“But I like being taken advantage of.”
makes me sick. Look at your white face and your
drooping eyelids, and your tired little smiles.”
“I am sorry.”
“Sorry! Good God!
My beloved, do take care of yourself, please.
Promise me not to see any one after I leave; go to
bed and pull the blinds.”
“But I am expecting Bill.”
“Bill will be all the better for not getting
what he wants for once.”
“But supposing he doesn’t want it?”
“I don’t understand.”
The door opened.
“Bill!” She put out her
left hand, all her features lit up with a quiet luminous
radiance. His eyes were smiling, but his mouth
“Elaine!” He said it as
if it were a very significant remark, and, though
he hadn’t meant to, he caressed her name with
“Mortimer thinks I ought to go to bed and send
“But you won’t?”
“Probably not.” She
was bubbling over with gaiety. “I am very
The two men were not looking at one
another, but currents of hostility flowed between
them. Bill had not fought for Elaine’s love;
it had come to him with a strange inevitability.
He had no fear of losing it and no particular desire
to keep it, but the thought that you possess something
that some one else passionately covets is always exhilarating.
He would never have admitted it he could
never have admitted it, but she was to him like an
object dangled on a watch chain not obtrusively
displayed but a possession recognised by everybody
and taken for granted by him. Only he never seemed
bored because he was never tired of mobilising his
own charms. And in herself, she delighted him it
was only in her relations with him that she got on
his nerves. He loved to see her with other men
exercising the divine arts of her irresistibility,
her every smile, her every gesture, the intonations
of her voice, the turn of her head, her bubbling brilliance,
her cool indifference, the ice of her intellect, the
glow of her sympathy, each contributing to the masterpiece
of her coquetry. But with him she was not even
a coquette jerky, passionate, nervous,
humble, exacting, dull she tired him to
“Well, I must be going.”
Mortimer spoke doubtfully. There was a pause.
Then Elaine pulled herself together.
“I have so much to do.”
“It was so nice of you to come and see me.”
“It was so nice of you to let
me come. Please remember your promise to let
me know when you come back.”
“Of course.” He was gone.
Wearily she shut her eyes. “Do
you remember the time when Mortimer was charming?”
“Indeed I do; he was quite delightful
till he fell in love with you. He is really a
warning against loving.”
“You hardly heed it, do you?”
Her voice was very bitter. How he hated the entry
of the acidulated tragic into all their talks.
“Perhaps not.” He
felt guilty, knowing how much he was hurting her.
“After all you cannot ask me to model myself
on the man who bores you most in the world.”
She smiled. “What a good reason for not
“The best!” He was smiling
his enchanting, flattering smile at her the
smile that always seemed to draw you into the Holy
of Holies of his confidence.
“I may be going away to-morrow,” she said.
“But I shall be back on Thursday. Shall
we dine together that night?”
“I am dining with a Russian
friend of mine who is passing through London.”
“Friday I am going to the country for the week-end.”
“Then it will have to be Monday.”
“Yes, I am afraid so.”
“Afraid that you will have to dine with me?”
“How civil you are!”
There was a pause. She wished
she could keep all the acid out of her voice.
He thought how tiresome women were, always wanting
to know just what you were going to do.
“Bill,” she said, holding
out her hand, which he took rather perfunctorily.
He felt like a dog that knows exactly which trick follows
what word of command, but as, from force of habit,
he invariably became lover-like when he was absent-minded,
he stroked her arm with a significant caressing gesture
that filled her with joy.
“Are you glad I love you?” she murmured.
“There is an intelligent woman,”
he thought, “who has had hundreds of men in
love with her, making a demand for verbal assurances
that can’t possibly add anything to her peace
of mind. Either they are true and superfluous,
or they are false and transparently unconvincing.”
“Bill,” she said, reading
his thoughts, “you can’t understand my
wanting mere words, can you?”
“No,” he said, “not
you, who know so exactly what they mean.”
“Nevertheless, they are sometimes
vaguely comforting and reassuring a sort
of local anæsthetic.” He loved her insight,
her curious layers of detachment.
“Bill,” she murmured, “I haven’t
seen you for ages.”
“Not since two this morning.”
“I don’t count a ball; besides I was too
tired to stop dancing.”
“You danced like an angel and
your eyes were shining with ecstasy, lighting hopes
all round, though of course I knew you didn’t
know your partner from the parquet if he
happened to be as good as the floor.”
“You love watching me, don’t
you? much better than seeing me.” How he
wished she weren’t always right.
“Remember what a wonderful drama you are, Elaine.”
“A drama in which you have played
lead. But you only liked the first act the
Comedy Act, and you won’t even enjoy the curtain
as much as you think, because always there will be
the nasty certainty of its some day going up again,
and then you won’t even be in the wings.”
How diabolically clear-sighted she was!
“Bill, dearest,” she held
out her hand, “you are reaching the moment when
you long to be the third person. You want a little
rest. You have come to the point in the life
of every lover when he prefers the husband to the
But this was more than he could stand.
A horrible shadow was being cast over his future,
romance was shrinking before his eyes. Frightened,
he bent down and kissed her. “Darling,”
he murmured, nestling his face in her neck, “what
nonsense you talk.”
Love, passion, romance, fidelity all
were vindicated by this deliberate act.
Her doubts, her certainties, subsided,
vanished hypnotised with happiness.
“I was teasing,” she lied.
“I must go,” he said.
“Not just this moment, please; five more minutes.”
“It will be just as difficult then.”
“But I shall have had five more minutes.”
“How practical you are!”
“I will write to you.”
“And I shall try and be back
in time for tea Thursday, then I shall see you, in
spite of your stupid Russian.”
“If I can get away.”
“Can’t you bring him to dine with me?”
“I’m afraid not; he has asked some one
“Shall I have some forms printed
with ‘I miss you, bless you,’ for you
to sign and send me each day.”
“Well, at any rate, I shall have you properly
“And please make a great effort about Thursday.”
She drew him down to her, holding his face in her
“It is silly to love at my time
of life,” she said; “I am too young.
It is like wearing a lovely new dress to climb mountains
“You will always be young,” he said; “you
It was his considered view; he wished
she weren’t. Kissing her a little absently
he walked to the door; then because he had always done
so, he walked back.
“Bless you,” he said.
It was perfunctory and final. The shutting of
the door turned out the light in her eyes.
“How tired I am!” she
thought, and then “Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.”