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When she was told that Francis Lingen and Urquhart were coming on the nineteenth, not to dine, Lucy said, “Oh, what a bore!” and seeing the mild shock inflicted on the eyeglass by her remark, explained that it was Lancelot’s day for going to school, and that she was always depressed at such times. The eyeglass dropped, and its master stretched out his fine long legs, with a great display of black speckled sock. “My dear, absurd as it may seem, they are coming to see Me. I know your little way. You shan’t be disturbed, if I may be indulged so far as to contrive that the house hold us both. I had thought that it would be only civil to bring them in to you for a minute or two, when they’ve done. But that is for you to decide.”

She was immediately penitent. “Oh, do, of course. I daresay they will be useful. I’m very foolish to miss him so much.” The eyeglass ruefully stared at the fire.

“Urquhart consents,” said James, “and Lingen will have his money. More snuff-boxes, you’ll find. But he’s had to work for it. Insured his life and a letter from Sir Giles, which must have cost him something.” Sir Giles Lingen was the uncle of Francis, a childless veteran. He turned his disk upon her for a moment. “You like Urquhart?”

“Yes,” Lucy said, “I do. I like him because he likes Lancelot.”

“Ah,” said James, who thought her weak where the boy was concerned. He added, “Urquhart gets on with children. He’s a child himself.”

“Why do you call him that?” she asked, with a tinge of offence in her voice. James could raise the fine hairs at the back of her neck by a mere inflection.

He accepted battle. “Because he only thinks of one thing at a time. Because to get what he wants he’ll sacrifice every mortal thing very often the thing itself which he’s after.”

But Lucy had heard all that before, and wasn’t impressed. “All men are like that,” she said. “I could give you a much better reason.”

James and his eyeglass both smiled. “Your exquisite reason?”

“He is like a child,” said Lucy, “because he doesn’t know that anybody is looking at him, and wouldn’t care if anybody was.”

James clasped his shin. “Not bad,” he said, “not at all bad. But the test of that is the length to which you can carry it. Would he wear a pot hat with a frock-coat? that’s the crux.”

It really was, to James, as she knew very well. She perused the glowing fire with its blue salt flames. Perhaps to most men. Probably also to Mr. Urquhart. But she felt that she would be lowering a generous ideal if she probed any further: so James was left to his triumph.

The fatal week wore on apace; one of the few remaining days was wholly occupied with preparations for the last. A final jaunt together was charged with a poignancy of unavailing regrets which made it a harder trial than the supreme moment. Never, never, had she thought this bright and intense living thing which she had made, so beautiful and so dear. Nor did it make a straw’s worth of difference to the passion with which she was burdened that she felt precisely the same thing every time he left her. As for Lancelot, he took her obvious trouble like the gentleman he was. He regretted it, made no attempt to conceal that, but was full of little comfortable suggestions which made her want to cry. “You’ll have no more sapping upstairs directly after dinner, I suppose!” was one of them; another was, “No more draughty adventures by the Round Pond.” Lucy thought that she would have stood like Jane Shore by the Round Pond, in a blizzard, for another week of him. But she adored him for his intention, and was also braced by it. Her sister Mabel, who had three boys, did not conceal her satisfaction at the approaching release but Mabel spent Christmas at Peltry; and the hunting was a serious matter.

The worst of her troubles was over when they were at Victoria. Lancelot immediately became one of a herd. And so did she: one of a herd of hens at the pond’s edge. Business was business. Lancelot remained kind to her, but he was inflexible. This was no place for tears. He even deprecated the last hug, the lingering of the last kiss. He leaned nonchalantly at the window, he kept his eye on her; she dared not have a tear. The train moved; he lifted one hand. “So long,” he said, and turned to his high affairs. She was almost aghast to realise how very small, how very pale, how atomy he looked to confront a howling world! And so to listen to the comfortable words of Mrs. Furnivall-Briggs. “My dear, they’ve no use for us. The utmost we can do is to see that they have good food. And warm socks. I am untiring about warm socks. That is what I am always girding my committee about. I tell the Vicar, ’My dear sir, I will give you their souls, if you leave me their soles.’ Do you see? He is so much amused. But he is a very human person. Except at the altar. There he’s every inch the priest. Well, good-bye. I thought Lancelot looked delightful. He’s taller than my Geoff. But I must fly. I have a meeting of workers at four-fifteen. Bless me, I had no idea it was four o’clock. The parish-room, Alphonse.” A Spartan mother.

Lucy paid two calls, on people who were out, and indulged herself with shopping in Sloane Street. Lancelot had recently remarked on her gloves. “You have jolly thin hands,” he had said. “It’s having good gloves, I expect.” The memory of such delightful sayings encouraged her to be extravagant. She thought that perhaps he would find her ankles worth a moment if she took pains with them. Anyhow, he was worth dressing for. James never noticed anything or if he did, his ambiguity was two-edged. “Extraordinary hat,” he might say, and drop his eyeglass, which always gave an air of finality to comments of the sort. But her shopping done, for Lancelot’s sake, life stretched before her a grey waste. She went back to tea, to a novel, to a weekly paper full of photographs of other people’s houses, dogs, children and motor-cars. It was dark, she was bored as well as child-sick, dissatisfied with herself as well as heart-hungry. She must get herself something to do, she said. Who was the Vicar of Onslow Square? She didn’t know. Somehow, religion, to her, had always seemed such a very private affair. Not a soul must be near her when she said her prayers except Lancelot, of course. When he was at home she always said them while he said his. Last night ah, she had not been able to say anything last night. All her faculties had been bent to watching him at it. Was it bravery in him or insensibility? She remembered Mr. Urquhart had talked about it. “All boys are born stoics,” he said, “and all girls Epicureans. That’s the instinct. They change places when they grow up.” Was James an Epicurean?

It was six o’clock. They would be at their meeting in James’s room. Surely they wouldn’t want tea? Apparently Crewdson thought that they might, otherwise well, she would leave it to Crewdson. James never seemed to care for anything done by anybody except Crewdson. Sometimes he seemed to resent it. “Have we no servants then?” the eyeglass seemed to inquire. She wondered if James knew for how much his eyeglass was answerable. How could one like to be kissed, with that glaring disk coming nearer and nearer? And if it dropped just at the moment well, it seemed simply to change all one’s feelings. Oh, to have her arms round Lancelot’s salient young body, and hear him murmur, “Oh, I say!” as she kissed his neck!...

At this moment, being very near to tears, the light was switched off. She seemed to be drowning in dark. That was a favourite trick of Lancelot’s, who had no business, as a matter of fact, in his father’s room. It gave her a moment of tender joy, and for another she played with the thought of him, tiptoeing towards her. Suddenly, all in the dark, she felt a man’s arms about her, and a man’s lips upon hers. To wild alarm succeeded warm gratitude. Lucy sobbed ever so lightly; her head fell back before the ardent advance; her eyes closed. With parted lips she drank deep of a new consolation: her heart drummed a tune to which, as it seemed, her wings throbbed the answer. The kiss was a long one perhaps a full thirty seconds but she was released all too soon. He left her as he had come, on silent feet. The light was turned up; everything looked as it had been, but everything was not. She was not. She found herself an Ariadne, in a drawing-room, still lax from Theseus’ arms. Yes, but Theseus was next door, and would come back to her.

To say that she was touched is to say little. She was more elated than touched, and more interested than either. How utterly romantic, how perfectly sweet, how thoughtful, how ardent of James! James, of all people in the world! Her husband, of course: but who knew better than she what that office had implied and who less than she what it must have hidden? Really, was it true? Could it be true?

For some time she sat luxurious where she had been left, gloating (the word is fairly used) over this new treasure. But then she jumped up and looked at herself in the glass, curiously, quizzingly, and even perhaps shamefaced. Next she laughed, richly and from a full heart. “My dear girl, it’s not hard to see what has happened to you. You’ve been ” Not even in her thoughts did she care to end the sentence. But those shining dark eyes, that air of floating, of winged feet “Ha, my dear, upon my word! At thirty-one, my child. Really, it becomes you uncommonly.”

She found herself now walking swiftly up and down the room, clasping and unclasping her hands. To think that James the last man in the world had kept this up his coat-sleeve for years and at last ! And how like the dear thing to turn the light out! To save his own face, of course, for he must have known, even he must have known, that she wouldn’t have cared. She would have liked the light to see his eyes! There had been no eyeglass this time, anyhow. But that was it. That was a man’s romance. In Cupid and Psyche, it had been Psyche who had wanted to know, to see. Women were like that. Such realists. And, as Psyche was, they were always sorry for it afterwards. Well, bless him, he should love her in the dark, or how he pleased.

She stopped again again in front of the glass. What had he seen what new thing had he seen to make him want to kiss her like that? Was she pretty? She supposed that she really was. She fingered the crinkled whiteness at her neck; touched herself here and there; turned her head sideways, and patted her hair, lifting her chin. Now, was there anything she could put on something she could put in for dinner? Her thoughts were now turned to serious matters this and that possibility flashed across her mind. They were serious matters, because James had made them so by his most extraordinary, most romantic, most beautiful action. Then she stretched out her hands, the palms upward, and sighed out her heart. “Oh, what a load is lightened. Oh, days to come!”

Voices in the conservatory suddenly made her heart beat violently. He was coming! She heard James say oh, the rogue! “Yes, it’s rather nice. We put it up directly we came. Lucy’s idea. Mind the little step at the door, though.” Urquhart, Francis Lingen were in the room Francis’ topknot stood up like a bottle-brush. Then came the hero of the evening, James, the unknown Eros. She beamed into the shining disk. Sweet old spyglass, she would never abuse it again. All the same, he had pocketed it for the occasion the last time he had been in the room!

Urquhart refused tea. “Tea at seven o’clock at night!” All her eyes were for James, who had sought her in love and given her heart again. The eyeglass expressed its horror of tea at seven o’clock. “God forbid,” said James, dear, ridiculous creature.

Mr. Urquhart talked at once of Lancelot. “Well, he’s off with all the rest of them. They love it, you know. It’s movement it’s towards the unknown, the not impossible the ’anything might turn up at any minute.’ Now, we don’t feel so sure about the minutes, do we?”

Oh, don’t we though? She laughed and tilted her chin. “We feel, anyhow, for their minutes, bless them,” she said, and Urquhart looked at her with narrowed eyes.

“‘He for God only, she for God in him,’” he said. He added, “I like that boy of yours. I think he understands me” and pleased her.

There were a few minutes’ desultory talk, in the course of which Lucy gravitated towards James, and finally put her hand in his arm. You should have seen the effect of this simple caress upon the eyeglass. Like a wounded snake it lifted its head to ask, “Who has struck me?” It wavered and wagged. But Lucy was glass-proof now.

Urquhart said that he was going away shortly, at least he supposed he should. A man he knew wanted to try a new motor. They were to rush down to Biarritz, and possibly over the frontier to Pampluna. But nothing was arranged. Here he looked scrutinising and half quizzical at her. “Are you adventurously inclined? Will you try my monster? It’s a dragon.”

She was very adventurously inclined as James might know! but not with a Mr. Urquhart necessarily: therefore she hesitated. “Oh, I don’t really know ” Urquhart laughed. “Be bold be bold be not too bold. Well, there it is. I start for the Newmarket road at eleven to-morrow but I’ll fetch you for twopence. Ask him.” He jerked his head forward towards James, on whose arm her hand rested. Lucy looked up at her romantic lord a look which might have made a man proud. But James may have been proud enough already. At any rate, he didn’t see her look, but was genial to Urquhart over whom he considered that he had triumphed in the library.

“Sooner her than me,” he said. “I know that she likes it and so advise her to go. But I should die a thousand deaths.”

“She won’t,” said Urquhart; and then to Lucy, “Well, ma’am?”

Her eyes assented before she did. “Very well, I’ll come. I dare say it will be delightful.”

“Oh, it will,” he said.

Still he rambled on plain, grumbling, easy, familiar talk, while Lucy fumed and fidgeted to be alone with her joy and pride. “Your handsome sister has asked me to hunt in Essex. Don’t like hunting, but I do like her and there’s a great deal waiting to be done at Martley. I don’t know. We’ll talk about it to-morrow.” Then he asked her, “Would she come and look at Martley?” It seemed she had half promised.

She said, “Oh, yes, of course.” Nothing of that kind seemed very important. But James here looked down at her, which made it different. “We might go at Whitsuntide,” he said.

She looked deeply up deeply into him, so to speak. “Very well, we will. If you’ll come.”

“Oh, he’ll come,” Urquhart said; and James, “I should like it.” So that was settled. Heavens, how she wished these people would go. She could see that Francis Lingen wanted to be asked to stay to dine, but she didn’t mean to have that. So when Urquhart held out his hand with a blunt “Good night to you,” she let hers hover about Francis as if his was waiting for it which it wasn’t, but had to be. “Oh, good night,” said the embarrassed exquisite, and forgot to be tender.

James picked up the evening paper and was flickering his eye over the leading articles, like a searchlight. Lucy, for her part, hovered quick-footed in his neighbourhood. This was her hour of triumph, and she played with it. She peeped at the paper over his shoulder till he said, “Please,” and moved it. Her fingers itched to touch his hair, but very prudently refrained. She was too restless to settle to anything, and too happy to wish it. If she had been a singing-bird she would have trilled to the piano; but she had not a note of music. The dressing-gong gave her direction. There was plenty to be done. “The gong! I’m going to make myself smart, James. Quite smart. Are you coming up?”

James had the paper open in the middle. “Eh? Oh, there’s lots of time run away. I’m rather busy.”

“You’re not a bit busy. But I’ll go.” And she went with hardly a perceptible hang-back at the door. Upstairs she rejected her usual choice with a curled lip. “No, no, too stuffy.” “Oh, Smithers, I couldn’t. It makes me look a hundred.” No doubt she was absurd; but she had been starved. Such a thing as this had not happened to her since her days of betrothal, and then but seldom. When she had satisfied herself she had a panic. Suppose he said, “Comic Opera!”

He said nothing at all. He was in a thoughtful mood, and talked mostly of Urquhart’s proposal for Whitsuntide. “I believe it’s rather remarkable. Quite a place to be seen. Jimmy does things well, you know. He’s really a rich man.”

“As rich as you?” Lucy asked, not at all interested in Urquhart just now.

The eyeglass was pained. “My dear soul! You don’t know what you’re saying!” She quizzed him with a saucy look. “I didn’t say anything, dear. I asked something.”

If eyeglasses shiver, so did James’s. “Well, well you quibble. I dare say Urquhart has fifteen thousand a year, and even you will know that I haven’t half as much.”

She quenched her eyes, and looked meek. “No, dear, I know. All right, he’s quite rich. Now what does he do with it?”

“Do with it?” James tilted his head and scratched his neck vigorously, but not elegantly. “Very often nothing at all. There will be years when he won’t spend a hundred above his running expenses. Then he’ll get a kind of maggot in the brain, and squander every sixpence he can lay hands on. Or he may see reason good, and drop ten thousand in a lap like Lingen’s. Why does he do it? God knows, Who made him. He’s made like that.”

Lucy said it was very interesting, but only because she thought James would be pleased.

Then she remembered, with a pang of doubt, that she was to be driven by this wild man to-morrow. But James would he ? He had never been really jealous, and just now she didn’t suppose he could possibly be so; but you can’t tell with men. So she said, “James dear,” very softly, and he looked over the table at her. “If you don’t think it sensible, I could easily telephone.”

“Eh? What about? to whom? how? I don’t follow you.”

“I mean to Mr. Urquhart, about his motor to-morrow. I don’t care about it in the least. In fact ”

“Oh,” said James, “the motor? Ah, I had forgotten. Oh, I think you might go. Urquhart’s been very reasonable about this business of Lingen’s. I had a little trouble, of course it’s a lot of money, even for him. Oh, yes, I should go if I were you. Why, he might want me to go, you know which would bore me to extinction. But I know you like that sort of thing.” He nodded at her. “Yes, I should go.”

She pouted, and showed storm in her eyes all for his benefit. But he declined benefit. A strange, dear, bleak soul.

“Very well. If it saves you anything, I’ll do it,” she said. James was gratified; as he was also by the peeling of walnuts and service of them in a sherry glass, which she briskly performed, as if she liked it. Further than that she was too shy to go; but in the drawing-room, before it might be too late, she was unable to forbear her new tenderness.

She stood behind him; her hand fell upon his shoulder, and rested there, like a leaf. He could not but be conscious of it he was very conscious of it, and accepted it, as a tribute. Such a tribute was gratifying. Lucy was a charming woman. She did pretty things in a pretty way, as a man’s wife should, but too seldom did. How many men’s wives after fourteen years of it would stand as she was standing now? No the luck held. He had a tradition of Success success without visible effort. The luck held! Like a steady wind, filling a sail.

Discipline, however; gentle but firm! He went on reading, but said, most kindly, “Well, Luce, well ” adding, on an afterthought, “How can I serve you?”

Her eyes were luminous, dilating her gentle mood, downcast towards his smooth black hair. She sighed, “Serve me? Oh, you serve me well. I’m happy just now that’s all.”

“Not fretting after the boy?”

“No, no. Not now. Bless him, all the same.”

“To be sure.” Whereon, at a closer touch of her hand, he looked comically up. Her head moved, ever so slightly, towards him. He dropped his eyeglass with a smart click and kissed her cheek. She shivered, and started back. A blank dismay fell upon her; her heart seemed to stop. Good Heavens! Not so, not at all so, had James kissed her in the dark.

There wasn’t a doubt about that not the shade of a doubt. Here had been a brush on the cheek; here the cold point of his nose had pecked a little above. She had felt that distinctly, more distinctly than the touch of his lips. Whereas that other, that full-charged message of hope and promise oh, that had been put upon her mouth, soft and close, and long. She recalled how her head had fallen back and back, how her laden heart had sighed, how she had been touched, comforted, contented. Good God, how strange men were! How entirely outside her philosophy!

She strayed about her drawing-room, touching things here and there, while he complacently fingered his Punch, flacking over the leaves with brisk slaps of the hand. At this moment he was as comfortably-minded a householder as any in London, engaged solely in digestion, at peace at home and abroad, so unconscious of the fretting, straining, passionate lost soul in the room with him, hovering, flicking about it like a white moth, as to be supremely ridiculous to any one but Lucy. It is difficult to hit off her state of mind in a word, or in two. She was fretted; yes, but she was provoked too. She was provoked, but she was incredulous. It could not continue; it was too much. Men were not made so. And yet and yet James was a possible Eros, an Eros (bless him!) with an eyeglass: and Eros loved in the dark.

She comforted herself with this thought, which seemed to her a bright solution of the puzzle, and saw James rise and stretch his length without mutiny. She received the taps on the cheek of his rolled Punch, allowed, nay, procured, another chilly peck, with no pouting lips, no reproachful eyes. Then came a jar, and her puzzlement renewed. “Shall you be late?” “Oh, my dear soul, how can I possibly say? I brought papers home with me and you know what that means! It’s an interesting case. We have Merridew for us. I am settling the brief.” Alas, for her. The infatuate even stayed to detail points of the cause. Much, it appeared, depended upon the Chancellor of the diocese: a very shaky witness. He had a passion for qualification, and might tie himself into as many knots as an eel on a night-line. Oh, might he indeed? And this, this was in the scales against her pride and joy! She was left alone on Naxos now while James went sharply to his papers.

There I must leave her, till the hour when she could bear the room no more. She had fought with beasts there, and had prevailed. Yet unreason (as she had made herself call it) lifted a bruised head at the last. Papers! Papers, after such a kiss! Oh, the folly of the wise! Caught up she knew not whence, harboured in the mind she knew not how, the bitter words of an old Scots song tasted salt upon her lips:

There dwelt a man into the West,
And O gin he was cruel;
For on his bridal night at e’en
He up and grat for gruel.

They brought him in a gude sheepshead,
A bason and a towel.
“Gar take thae whimwhams far frae me,
I winna want my gruel!”

Standing in the hall while these words were ringing in her head, she stayed after they were done, a rueful figure of indecision. Instinct fought instinct, and the acquired beat down the innate. She regarded the shut door, with wise and tender eyes, without reproach; then bent her head and went swiftly upstairs.