Read CHAPTER TWO - LADY BARBARA NEAVE of The Education of Eric Lane , free online book, by Stephen McKenna, on ReadCentral.com.

“CONSTANTINE: From seventeen to thirty-four . . . the years which a
man should consecrate to the acquiring of political virtue . . .
wherever he turns he is distracted, provoked, tantalised by the
bare-faced presence of woman. How’s he to keep a clear brain for
the larger issues of life? . . . Women haven’t morals or intellect
in our sense of the words. They have other incompatible qualities
quite as important, no doubt. But shut them away from public life
and public exhibition. It’s degrading to compete with them . . .
it’s as degrading to compete for them. . . .”
GRANVILLE BARKER: “THE MADRAS HOUSE.”

1

The latest, costliest and most ingenious mechanical device in Eric’s bedroom was an electric dial and switchboard communicating with the kitchen and so constructed that, by moving a clock-hand, the corresponding dial abandoned the non-committal elusiveness of “Please call me at ” for “Please call me at 8.00 (or 9.00 or 9.30).” There was something calculatedly dissolute about the invention (which cost L17.10 and had struck work four times in three weeks). After a long night of work or frolic, the sybarite moved the hand on for twelve hours his last conscious act before collapsing into bed; if, again, he had retired early or were so much debauched that he could not sleep, he wearily set the hand for “Please call me now.

Eric looked with smarting eyes first at the luminous clock, then at the dial. Half-past five, coupled with “Please call me at eight.” He undressed ruminatively, reheated his hot-water can at the gas-ring, methodically folded his clothes, smoothed his trousers away in their press, selected a suit for the following day, washed face and hands, brushed teeth and hoisted himself into bed. The dial must stand as he had left it. Lady Barbara Neave had come and gone; she was not going to disturb his work.

His sleep seemed to be interrupted almost instantly by the arrival of a maid with tea, rusks, letters and The Times. His head was hot, but he was singularly untired; that would come later.

His letters varied little from day to day; two appeals for free sittings with Bond Street photographers; four receipts; one bill; a dignified protest from a country clergyman who had been shocked by the line: “Oh, you’re not sending me down with that woman, Rhoda? She’s God’s first and most perfect bore.” There was an ill-written request for leave to translate his play into French, three news-cuttings to herald his new play, a conventional letter from his mother, two petitions for free stalls from impecunious friends and nine invitations to luncheon or dinner. He had hardly finished reading them, when a pencilled note, sent by hand from Mrs. Shelley, made the tenth.

Eric piled his correspondence under the butter-dish to await his secretary’s arrival and turned methodically to The Times. Half-an-hour later he rang for his housekeeper and subjected her book to scrutiny. A leather-bound journal with a snap-lock lay on his table, and he next wrote his diary for the previous day. “So to dinner rather late with Lady Poynter to meet her nephew, Capt. Gaymer (R. F. C). Mrs. O’Rane (as beautiful as ever, but too voluble for my taste), Mrs. Shelley and Lady Barbara Neave. Meredithian debate on wine with Lord P., which I would give anything to put into a play. Bridge; but I cut out.” He hesitated and drummed with his fingers on the thick creamy pages. “Took Lady B. home rather late and circuitously.

Then his secretary knocked and settled herself on the edge of an arm-chair.

“Good-morning,” Eric began. “Will you write first of all to the manager of the bank ”

The telephone rang with a dull drone at the foot of his bed, and the girl made tentative movements of discreet departure.

“No, you deal with this!” Eric cried. “Out of London. You’re not sure when I shall be back. Can you take a message?”

The girl picked up the instrument, while Eric glanced again through his letters.

“Hullo! Yes. Yes. He’s away, I’m afraid. . . . But, you see, he’s away. . . .” She looked despairingly at Eric. “He’s awa-ay!” Then breathlessly she clapped the receiver back.

“It was Lady Barbara Somebody; I couldn’t hear the surname. She said you weren’t away and she must speak to you. I thought it was best ”

Eric had to collect himself before answering. In the sane cold light of early morning the overnight escapade was a draggled, unromantic bit of folly. If he met Barbara again, he would make things as easy as possible: there would be no allusions, no sly smiles; the whole thing was to be forgotten. And yet she was already digging it from under the lightly sprinkled earth. If she were throwing herself on his mercy, it was unnecessary; he had said “Good-bye . . .” very distinctly. And she must surely know that she need not beg him not to talk. . . .

“You were quite right,” he told his secretary. “Where were we? Oh, the manager ”

The bell rang again. Eric frowned and picked up the receiver, while the girl, after a moment’s hesitation, tip-toed out of the room. Barbara had already disturbed his time-table for thirty seconds. . . .

“Hullo? Mr. Lane is away at present,” he said. There was a pause. “I told you yesterday, Lady Barbara. Just as when you say ‘Not at home.’ . . . I’m exceedingly busy and I must have a few days to myself. Good-bye.”

The constant factor in her overnight autobiography was that every one had always done what Barbara wanted; but, if she fancied that she was going to break into a working-day with any of her nonsense, she would be disappointed.

At the other end of the line a gentle, rather tired voice said:

“Don’t cut me off. If you know the trouble I’ve had to get hold of you! Eric, why aren’t you in the book? Another device for escaping your adorers? I’ve been pursuing you round London for a good half-hour; then your people at the theatre ”

“Is it anything important?” he interrupted curtly.

“It’s very important that you should listen most politely and carefully and patiently and attentively when I’m talking to you. So far you haven’t asked how I am, you haven’t told me how you are ”

“I’ve suggested that I’m very busy,” he interrupted her again.

“But I don’t allow that sort of thing to stand in the way.”

“And I don’t allow any one to break into my time. Good-bye ”

“Eric, don’t you dare ring me off! I want to know whether you’ll lunch here to-day. I’ve collected rather an amusing party.”

“I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Where are you lunching? At home? Then you can certainly come. . . . I don’t care who’s lunching with you. . . . If you don’t Well, you’ll see. In the meantime, has Marion Shelley invited you to dine to-night and are you going?”

“Yes, to the first; no, to the second,” Eric answered. “Lady Barbara ”

“It must be ‘yes’ to the second, too, dear Eric. I rang her up at cock-crow to say that you wanted her to invite us together. You do, you know; you want to see whether last night’s impression was true; that’s why I asked you to lunch. . . . Now I want to know if you’ve a rehearsal to-day, because, if so ”

“Lady Barbara, I am going to cut you off,” said Eric distinctly.

He hung up the receiver and was about to ring for his secretary, when his memory was arrested by the picture of Barbara springing to her feet, reviling him, collapsing on the sofa and bursting into tears. “Bully her, and she cries,” he murmured impatiently. “Don’t bully her, and she bullies you. I’m not cut out for the part of tame cat. Another forty-eight hours, and she’ll expect me to drive round London and look at dresses with her. . . .” But if his petulance had made her cry again . . . Eric hunted for a pen and, without involving himself in delicacies of address, wrote “I am not discourteous by preference, but you drive me to it. La comedia e finita.” He left the note unsigned and asked his secretary to have it sent by hand to Berkeley Square. When it had left him past recall, he felt that he could have done better; and he knew that he would have done best of all by not writing. . . . But he was irritated by her too insistent unconventionality; irritated and yet rawly elated by his ascendancy over her.

His secretary returned, and he dictated to her until half-past nine struck. It was his signal to get up so that he could be dressed by ten, so that he could work from ten till one, so that he could walk out and lunch at one-thirty, observing his time-table punctually.

The telephone rang again, and Mrs. Shelley enquired tonelessly whether he had received her invitation.

“Oh, Eric! I did hope you could come!” she exclaimed. “Can’t you reconsider? Poor Babs seems so anxious to see you again.”

Mrs. Shelley, then, had the wit to guess where the initiative lay.

“I’m afraid that the privilege of gratifying Lady Barbara’s whims ”

He forgot how he had meant to finish the sentence, and there was a pause.

“Don’t you like her, Eric?” asked Mrs. Shelley. “Most people fall a victim the first time they meet her.”

“I’ve outgrown the susceptible age,” he laughed. “And, anyway, I’m working. It’s awfully kind of you to invite me, Mrs. Shelley ”

“Eric, I wish you’d reconsider,” she interrupted before he could repeat his refusal. “I feel you’ll be doing her a kindness by coming; you amused her and turned her thoughts. . . . I was dreadfully distressed last night; she looked as if she were going into a decline. . . .”

In contrast to Mrs. Shelley’s toneless voice Eric heard again Barbara’s abrupt, startling cry, “You’re hopeless, hopeless!” just before she collapsed limply on the sofa and cried about something which she would not explain. . . .

“You make it impossible for me to refuse,” he said with an uneasy laugh.

“I’m so grateful! I knew you’d come, Eric.”

He threw back the bed-clothes and rang for his bath.

“I suppose Lady Barbara will think she knew I was coming, too,” he said to himself. “I don’t mind being made a fool of once. . . .”

At noon he tidied his papers and lighted a cigarette while he waited for a call from his agent. The “Divorce” was being produced in America; and for an arid, perplexing half-hour Mr. Grierson, with eyes half-closed in the grey smoke of his cigar, pushed cables, letters, copies and a draft agreement across the table.

“Stay and have some lunch,” Eric suggested, as half-past twelve struck. “Manders is due any time now. He wants me to make certain alterations in the ‘Bomb-Shell,’ and you can keep me in countenance. I’m getting rather tired of being told: ’Of course, with great respect, Lane, you’re a new-comer to the theatre. . . .’ New-comer I may be, but it doesn’t lie in Manders’ mouth to say so, if he’ll trouble to calculate how many thousands I’ve put in his pocket. . . . Isn’t this the sort of time when one has a cocktail?”

Grierson’s eyes lighted up at the suggestion, and Eric rang for ice. He was in the middle of his preparations when Harry Manders entered in a suit of light tweeds, clutching a flat-brimmed bowler hat in one hand and a leather-topped cane in the other.

“‘Mornin’, Eric. Hullo, Phil! Sinister combination for a poor devil of an actor-manager author and agent. What’s this you’re givin’ me? Well, only up to the top On my honour, boy, only up to the top!” He nodded over the brimming glass with a knowing “Well, chin-chin!” and subsided diagonally into a chair with his legs across one arm.

“I thought Grierson’s age and experience might save my play from further amateur surgery,” Eric explained.

“Tootaloo,” chirped Manders resiliently and dragged a crumpled script from his pocket. Eric’s obstinate assurance would have exasperated any other manager, but, as Manders wearily said, “I’ve been too long at the game to lose my temper.”

With that they settled to work and argued their way through the marked passages of Manders’ copy heatedly and without reaching conviction or agreement. Once Grierson rose and shook a second cocktail; twice a maid announced that luncheon was on the table. Something, which he attributed to his broken night, made Eric unreasonable to a point where he knew that he was being unreasonable. He was too tired for anything except sustained obstinacy, and his companions grated on him.

“Oh, let’s have something to eat!” he exclaimed at length. “The second act’s got to stand as I wrote it. We shan’t do any good by talking. . . .”

“Now don’t you be in a hurry, boy,” began Manders. “Turn back to the beginning. . . .”

Eric looked at his watch.

“Don’t forget we’ve a rehearsal,” he said. “I don’t know what there is for lunch, but it will be tepid.”

“Then let’s wait for it to get cold. Now, in the first act you said Damn!”

He flapped the script impatiently on his knee as the now familiar knock of Eric’s parlour-maid was heard yet again.

“Lady Barbara Neave to see you, sir,” she whispered a little breathlessly.

“Will you please say that I can’t possibly see any one?” Eric answered curtly. “Tell her that two gentlemen have come to see me on business. Ask her to leave a message.”

He turned to find Manders smiling, as though to say, “Why didn’t you tell us? We should have understood. We’re men of the world.”

“The first act,” Eric repeated earnestly. “As you will, but do go ahead with it. I want some lunch.”

For five seconds the three men turned the limp, dog’s-eared pages until they had found the place. Manders cleared his throat unreservedly and then looked up with an expression of ebbing patience, as the door opened again. This time there was no knock, and Lady Barbara walked in after hesitating for a moment on the threshold to identify Eric. She was wearing a black dress with a transparent film of grey hanging from the shoulders, a black hat shaped like a butterfly’s wings with her hair visible through the spider’s web crown. One hand swung a sable stole, the other carried to and from her mouth a half-eaten apple.

“Eric, please invite me to lunch with you!” she begged. “You’ve such delicious food. I was shewn into your dining-room and I could hardly resist it. There’s a dressed crab I behaved perfectly, I didn’t touch it and, if all three of you had the weeniest little bit less, there’d be enough for us all. Hullo, there’s Mr. Manders!”

She shook hands and waited for Eric to introduce Grierson.

“You’re interrupting an important discussion, Lady Barbara.”

“Is it about your new play? Oh, then I can help! But, if you knew how hungry I was ”

“They’re expecting you to lunch at home,” Eric interrupted. “You told me you had a party.”

“But I’ve just telephoned to say that I’ve been invited to lunch here! I’ve burnt your boats. Father was perfectly furious, because mother’s lunching with Connie Maitland, and he counted on me to see him through.”

As she smiled at Eric with her head on one side, he realized that work was over for the morning.

“I daresay there will be enough for four,” he answered.

“Then for goodness’ sake let’s begin before any one else turns up unexpectedly!” she cried, catching him by the sleeves and drawing him to the door.

Grierson and Manders smiled and followed them, carefully brushing cigar-ash from their clothes and smoothing the back of their hair.

2

Elation battled with annoyance in Eric’s mind throughout luncheon. Barbara had sought him out, when a hundred other men several of them, like George Oakleigh, undisguisedly in love with her might have been preferred to him; but he was offended by her proprietory attitude towards his work and life. Manders would have the whole story, too, helped out with first-rate mimicry, running through the Thespian Club by dinner-time; it would spread in twenty-fours through all of the London that knew him and half of the London that knew her; and Eric Lane would be quoted as the latest foil or companion in the latest Barbara Neave story. One did not even want the girl to be made a peg for Manders’ wit. . . .

The luncheon, Eric observed morosely, was cheaply successful, for Barbara talked with barely concealed desire to lay Grierson and Manders under her spell. By intuition or accident she gave them what tickled their interest most keenly intimate stories about herself or her friends, the proved history of what to them had hitherto been but alluring gossip, anecdotes of Government House and the minor secrets and scandals of her father’s three terms of office. Eric felt that it was a little below the dignity of a girl, who was after all the daughter of a distinguished former viceroy, to be discussing herself and her friends so freely. . . .

They had lost count of time when Grierson looked furtively at his watch and jumped apologetically to his feet. As he hurried out of the room Barbara again asked Eric whether he had a rehearsal that day.

“Because I want to come,” she explained wheedlingly, with her head on one side.

Her eyes were dark and tired after her overnight excitement; she had exhausted herself with talking; and for a moment Eric forgot to be irritated and only saw her as a child whom it would be ungracious to disappoint. Then he remembered one phase of a rambling story in which her love of getting her own way had caused her cavalier of the day to wait in his car from midnight until six because she had forgotten to leave a message that she had already gone home. In the story Eric could not remember any apology from Barbara. Triumphs came so quickly and easily that she expected everything and valued nothing; a man was sufficiently rewarded by being allowed to fall in love with her. . . .

“I’m afraid rehearsals aren’t open to the public,” he told her, brusquely enough to dismiss the appeal, he hoped, but not so brusquely as to hurt her.

She looked at him with the glint of defiance which he had seen once before; then she turned to Manders.

“Please, I want to come to the rehearsal,” she begged. “It’s your theatre, Mr. Manders.”

“It’s my play,” Eric interrupted.

She turned her head long enough to say:

“I was asking Mr. Manders.”

“But it happens that I also ”

Manders intervened with a clucking noise of the tongue.

“Keep the ring, keep the ring!” he cried. “You got out o’ bed the wrong side, Eric boy. Don’t quarrel, do-ant quarrel! If Lady Barbara wants to come, let her! It’s against the rules, but I’ll make an exception for her.” The girl rewarded him with a glowing smile. “You’ll be bored, my dear, I warn you.”

“Oh, if I am, I can talk to Eric.”

“Look here, Manders, if a rehearsal’s worth taking at all, it’s worth taking seriously,” cried Eric petulantly. “I’ve plenty of other use for my time.”

Manders was faintly amused by the outburst and wholly unmoved. Dire experience of the jealous and irascible had taught him that he could not afford to let other people lose their tempers.

“Lady Barbara will promise not to talk,” he prophesied. “We’re late, boy.”

“I shall talk afterwards,” she warned them. “At dinner to-night Mr. Manders, I can’t get Eric to see what bad plays he writes and what good plays he might turn out. He’s very funny about it.”

“Authors are a rum lot!” said Manders jocosely, slapping Eric’s shoulder. “See about a taxi, boy. I don’t let my people keep me waiting and I don’t want them to wait for me.”

It was a defeat for Eric, formally recorded by Barbara with that glint of triumph which was beginning to fill him with misgiving. They drove in silence to a side street off Shaftesbury Avenue and groped their way through the stage-door down a cork-screw staircase and along several short passages which branched disconcertingly to right or left as soon as Barbara fancied that she could walk ahead with impunity. From above came the mechanical runs and flourishes of a piano-organ against the drone of traffic; somewhere below there was a rapid squeak of voices. The corridors and stairs were wrapped in warm darkness, and, after one stumble, Eric felt a hand running down his sleeve and twining round his fingers.

“Are you angry with me?” Barbara whispered. “You were so grumpy in the taxi. And I made such a success of your lunch. Mr. Manders and Mr. Grierson loved me, and I made even you smile.”

Eric tried to locate Manders in the velvety darkness before replying.

“You were very amusing,” he answered unenthusiastically. “But it’s possible to be amusing even when you’re making rather a nuisance of yourself to several very busy men.”

A sigh fluttered wistfully through the darkness, and he felt her drawing closer to him.

“Aren’t you a little bit brutal, Eric?”

“Don’t you find every one brutal who doesn’t fetch and carry and wait out in the snow for you all night and give you material for new stories? . . . Stand still while I find the handle.”

He led her through a studded iron door into the twilit auditorium. The stalls were swathed in holland covers, and there was a brooding warm desolation which invited undertones. Barbara looked with growing interest at a sprawling group of two men and three women on the stage. Without make-up they were white and featureless in the glare of the foot-lights; they were jaded and a little impatient, too, but Manders, who seemed to make his personality unyielding and metallic on entering a theatre, galvanized them into alertness. A wooden platform had been built over the middle of the orchestra; and, as soon as he had disposed of Barbara in the stalls, Eric mounted it and seated himself in an arm-chair. Manders cautiously squeezed past him, script in hand, to the stage; there was a preliminary cough, a cry of “Beginners, please!” and the rehearsal opened.

Eric allowed the first act to be played without interruption; at the end he jumped up and entered into whispered conversation with Manders, turning the leaves of the manuscript and tapping them impressively with his pencil. One player after another emerged from the wings and stood listening, nodding and discussing as each point was thrashed out. A few minutes later Manders came down into the stalls and sat by Barbara.

“Just a breather,” he explained. “No good nagging your people, particularly when they’ve been at the job for years and you’re a new-comer. . . . Some of my spoiled darlings find that a little Eric goes a long way. You’re sure you’re not bored, my dear?”

“I can’t see very well,” Barbara answered. “If I had a chair on the little platform ”

Manders wasted an unseen wink on her.

“Well, you mustn’t talk to Eric, that’s all. And, if you see you’re making him nervous, you must run away.”

He helped her up and accommodated her with a property foot-stool by Eric’s chair, leaving her for a moment’s resentful scrutiny by a young woman who had been arguing with winsome persuasiveness about a speech which Eric under pressure from Manders had consented to cut.

“Who’s that, Eric?” Barbara whispered, as he settled into place.

“Mabel Elstree.”

“H’m. She doesn’t seem to like my being here. . . . Does everybody call you Eric?”

“You’re well placed to answer that. Now, Lady Barbara, remember your promise: no talking!”

The act was played a second time, taking form and life as all warmed to their work. Eric watched with critical narrowed eyes, no longer scattering pencil-marks in the margin of the script, restrained, impassive and absorbed. Barbara sat with her hands clasped round her ankles and her head resting against his knee. Only when the act was ended did he seem to become aware of her; then he edged away and stood up.

“Better! Very much better! Just turn to the place where ” He rustled back into the middle of the act and had it played through to the curtain.

Half-an-hour later Barbara emerged into sunshine. Eric was tired and rather husky, but pleased and hopeful. His earlier irritability was forgotten save when it obtruded itself reproachfully to remind him that he had been scantly civil to the girl by his side.

“The next thing is a taxi,” he murmured, as they came out into Shaftesbury Avenue.

“You wouldn’t dream of taking me home and offering me some tea?” she suggested.

“I would not, Lady Barbara,” he answered cheerfully. “Your practice of visiting young unmarried men in their rooms should be promptly checked. But I’ll drop you in Berkeley Square, if you like.”

“That would be more respectable. It’s curious how you seem to have made up your mind not to do anything I ask you.”

“It doesn’t seem to make much difference to the result.”

She ceased pouting and smiled self-confidently for a moment. Then her assurance left her, and she slipped her arm timidly through his.

“Am I being a nuisance, Eric? You said so, and oh, it did hurt! I honestly enjoyed myself this afternoon; and I wasn’t so very much in the way, was I? Don’t you like me to enjoy myself? Don’t you like to see me happy? Are you sure you’re not a little bit sorry you were so brutal to me?”

“My conscience is quite easy, thanks. Lady Barbara ”

He hesitated and felt himself flushing.

“Yes?”

“Lady Barbara , I don’t understand you, I don’t begin to understand you.”

“You won’t write a good play till you do,” she laughed. “All your women are romantic dolls. We’re much better and much worse than you think. But that wasn’t what you started to say.”

“I know. . . . Well, you oughtn’t to have come to my rooms last night. And you oughtn’t to have come to-day, though that wasn’t as bad. . . . What d’you imagine people like Grierson or Manders think? What d’you imagine Mabel Elstree thinks, when you sit with your head against my knee?”

She withdrew her arm and walked for some time without speaking.

“I’m sorry if I’m compromising you with your friends,” she said at length.

“And whether you compromise yourself doesn’t matter?”

“I suppose I’m used to it,” she sighed; then, with one of her April changes, the sigh turned into a provocative laugh. “If you don’t mind being compromised by me, I’d make you write a wonderful play. My technique’s so good. All you have to do is to fall in love with me ”

“I shan’t have the opportunity,” he interrupted. “We meet to-night at Mrs. Shelley’s ”

“And we were so positive that we weren’t going!” she murmured. “You don’t want to see me again?”

Eric hailed a passing taxi.

“I like meeting you,” he told her frankly enough. “You amuse me and you interest me enormously. But I’ve work to do . . . for one thing. . . .”

She seated herself in the taxi and held out her hand through the window.

“You might come and call for me to-night,” she suggested.

Eric shook his head. He was shy of entering a house to which he had not been officially admitted, confronting a strange butler, being pushed into a room to wait for her, meeting and explaining himself to Lord Crawleigh or one of the brothers, who would look superciliously at “Babs’ latest capture.” . . .

“I’ll meet you at Mrs. Shelley’s,” he said.

The hand was withdrawn, and he could see her biting her lip.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“There’s no need to be.”

“I was apologizing to myself for giving you another opportunity of refusing something I asked you to do for me.”

Eric walked back to his flat, puzzled and irritated. The girl was intolerably spoiled; nothing that you did was right, there was altogether too much wear and tear in trying to adapt yourself to her moods. . . .

Even if you wanted to. . . .

3

The rehearsal, despite Barbara, was over in good time, and Eric could lie unhurriedly in his bath without fear of being late for Mrs. Shelley’s dinner. Two days of his holiday had already slipped away, and he had made little mark on the work which he had schemed to do. To-morrow he would start in earnest. . . .

Barbara. . . . He could not remember what had set him thinking about her. She looked desperately ill, but that was not his fault, nor could he cure her; which disposed of Barbara. . . . What she needed was some one who would pull her up, steady her, master her. . . . Unfortunately for her he could not spare the time; nor was it part of his scheme of life to effect her physical and moral regeneration. . . . And it was now the moment to begin dressing.

Mrs. Shelley’s house lay between Sloane Square and the river; and Eric arrived punctually to find her insipidly grateful to him for coming. A self-conscious Chelsea party was assembling; there were two war-poets, whose “Trench Songs” and “Emancipation,” compensating want of finish with violence of feeling, had made thoughtless critics wonder whether the Great War would engender a new Elizabethan splendour of genius; there was Mrs. Manisty, who claimed young poets as of right and helped them to parturition in the pages of the Utopia Review; there was a flamboyant, short-haired young woman who had launched on the world a war-emergency code of sex-morals under the guise of a novel; there were three bashful aliens suspected of being pianists and one self-assured journalist who told Mrs. Shelley with suitable heartiness that he had not met Mr. Lane, but of course he knew his work and went on to ask Eric if he was engaged on a new “work.” The flamboyant woman, Eric observed, talked much of “creation” and its antecedent labour; the trench poets, with professional modesty, referred to their “stuff.” A fourth alien entered and was greeted and introduced in halting French, to which he replied in rapid and faultless English.

Eric looked round on a triumph of ill-assortment. He came here partly out of old friendship for his hostess, but chiefly for fear of seeming to avoid a section of society which at least took itself seriously. There was no question of a Byronic descent on Chelsea; these people would ever cringe before the face of success and disparage behind its back, as they had always done; they made a suburb and called it a school. For ten years Eric had listened to their theories and discoveries; after ten years he was still waiting for achievement. The very house, with its “art” shades of upholstery, its hammered brass fenders, its wooden nooks and angles filled with ramshackle bookcases, hard seats and inadequately stuffed cushions, was artificial; it was make-believe, pretentious, insincere. . . .

“Lady Barbara Neave.”

There was a rustle of excitement, the more noticeable against the conscientious effort of several not to seem interested. Eric smiled to himself, as the young journalist, interrupted in his discourse on “the aristocracy of illiterates,” watched Barbara’s entry and posed himself for being introduced. She looked round with slow assurance, fully conscious of the lull in conversation and of the eyes that were taking stock of her. Eric felt an artistic admiration for her way of silently dominating a room.

“Am I late, dear Marion?” she asked, with the smile of startled recognition which made men and women anxious to throw protecting arms round her thin shoulders. “Eric and I have been rehearsing our play the new one, I mean, that I’m taking in hand and I had such a lot to do when I got home.” She displayed adequate patience, while Mrs. Shelley completed her introductions, and then crossed to Eric’s corner. “Glad to see me again?” she whispered. “I’ve decided that you’re to lunch with us on Saturday.”

“And I’ve decided to gladden the hearts of my family by going down to Winchester,” he answered.

“But you must go later. I’ll come with you, if you’ll find a practicable train; I’m going to Crawleigh. Say you’d like to travel down with me.”

“I make a practice of sleeping in the train,” he answered.

“You won’t on Saturday. Sometimes, Eric, I find your little practices and habits and rules rather tiresome; I must educate you out of them. By the way, I want to be seen home to-night.”

It was a disappointing dinner for Eric, as, after coming to gratify Barbara, he was separated from her by the length of the table. In conversation Mrs. Shelley always gave people what was good for them rather than what they liked; Barbara was accordingly set next to an art editor, who tried to wheedle from her an article on “Eastern Decoration in Western Houses,” while Eric found himself sandwiched without hope of escape between Mrs. Manisty, who discussed poetry which he had not read, and the flamboyant novelist, who had lately discovered and insisted on exposing a mutual-admiration ring in the novel-reviewers of the London press.

If dull, the meal was at least not so embarrassing as his dinner of the night before with Lady Poynter. Barbara seemed chilled by uncongenial company, though she touched his hand on her way to the door and turned, with patent consciousness that she was being watched, to give him a parting smile. Mrs. Manisty also turned, before she could control her curiosity, to see for whom the smile was intended. And, as Eric threw away his match after lighting a cigar, he found two of the men smiling.

In the absence of a host to pull them together, six groups self-consciously set themselves to discover a subject of conversation more worthy of their steel than either the evening communique or the port. The three alien pianists had reduced themselves to a Polish sculptor, an Irish novelist and a Scottish portrait-painter. By sitting next to the journalist, Eric saved himself the effort of talking and recuperated at leisure after the exhausting boredom of dinner. He had looked forward to seeing Barbara again, feeling disappointment that she was not in the big shadowy drawing-room when he arrived (but she would come any moment) and a little proprietory thrill of pleasure when she walked straight across the room to him. But her manner, her use of his Christian name (and Mrs. Shelley knew that they had first met less than twenty-four hours ago) her clear-voiced, unabashed habit of flirtation, the parting smile at the door. . . .

One of his neighbours interrupted the ill-humoured train of thought by introducing himself in a pleasant, soft brogue.

“Er, me name’s Sullivan, Mr. Lane. Ye know Priestley, I expect? Priestley and I have been concocting a great scheme. I have a new book coming out in the spring and I’m wanting a girl’s head for the frontispiece. Well, since I saw Lady Barbara to-night, there’s only one head that will do for me. And Priestley’s the one man to do it. Charcoal, ye know; a single sitting would be enough. Do ye think she would be willing?”

Eric smiled to hide his impatience.

“Why not ask her?” he suggested. “She’s fairly well-known, of course; everybody’d recognize it.”

“Ah, don’t distress yourself! The book’s symbolical,” Sullivan explained vaguely. “I was wondering now, would ye sound her? Priestley and I don’t know her, ye see. And, as ye’re a friend ”

“We’ll ask her, when we get upstairs,” Eric answered.

Three tentative chords broke the silence overhead, and a woman’s voice began to sing.

Butterfly,” the journalist jerked out as though he were in the last heat of a competition. “Second act, isn’t it? Where Madame Butterfly hears that Pinkerton’s ship has been sighted. I never think Butterfly’s as bad as some of the high-brows try to make out. If you like that sort of thing, I mean,” he added prudently.

Eric held up his hand.

Please! I want to hear this.”

One fine day, we’ll notice
A thread of smoke arising on the sea
In the far horizon,
And then the ship appearing:
Then the trim white vessel
Glides into the harbour, thunders forth her cannon.
See you? He is coming!
I do not go to meet him. Not I. I stay
Upon the brow of the hillock and wait, and wait
For a long time, but never weary
Of the long waiting.
From out the crowded city,
There is coming a man
A little speck in the distance, climbing the hillock.
Can you guess who it is?
And when he’s reached the summit
Can you guess what he’ll say?
He will call ‘Butterfly’ from the distance.
I, without answering,
Hold myself quietly concealed,
A bit to tease him, and a bit so as not to die
At our first meeting: and then, a little troubled,
He will call, he will call:
‘Dear baby-wife of mine, dear little orange-blossom!’
The names he used to call me when he came here
. . . .”

Eric had allowed his cigar to go out. He lighted it again and turned to his neighbour with an apology, as the voice ceased and then seemed to revive with a last sob of ecstasy.

“She did that very well. Shall we go upstairs? I should like some more. We can take our cigars with us.”

Without waiting for an answer, he made for the door and hurried ahead of the others. The drawing-room was sombrely lighted by three low standard lamps which threw the upper half of the room into shadow. He stood for several moments with lips parted and shining eyes, trying to identify three scattered couples of women before reducing the figure at the piano, by elimination, to Barbara.

“I say, was that you?” he demanded.

She made way for him at her side, welcoming him with a chastened smile and wondering at his sudden enthusiasm.

“Did you like it? I’m so glad. I was beginning to think you were a craftsman, but I believe you’re an artist. . . . I’m full of accomplishments, Eric. Pity, isn’t it, that in spite of it all?”

She hesitated, wistfully provocative.

“What’s a pity?” he asked.

“What you were thinking; that I am what I am.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” he answered dreamily. “I was wondering if you’d sing again. We couldn’t hear you at all downstairs ”

“Enough to bring you up very quickly?”

He sighed with exasperation.

“Yes, if your vanity needs a sop. Was that why you sang?”

She shook her head at him wearily, and he saw undried tears on her cheeks.

“Marion just asked me to sing. It was either that or talking to Yolande Manisty, and I hate her. What would you like me to sing?”

Eric felt ashamed of his rasping harshness.

“I don’t know. That particular song always makes me cry. In spite of that,” he looked at her, and smiled to himself. “No, I’m going to be very self-sacrificing. You said you wanted me to take you home, and I will if you’ll come at once.”

“But it’s not half-past nine yet.”

“I don’t care. My dear child, d’you think I can’t see that you’re tired, ill, over-excited ”

“It makes the night so long, Eric! But thank you! I was beginning to think you were a prig, but I believe you’re a saint!” The wistfulness left her eyes, and she smiled mischievously. “In moments of emotion how all our habits and practices break down! ‘My dear child,’ ’My dear child,’ ‘D’you think I can’t see?’ ‘My dear child,’ ’Tired, ill, over-excited.’”

“I’m sorry, Lady Barbara.”

He tried to rise, but she pulled him back.

“You baby! Can’t I make fun of you ever? It meant so much just that little change in your voice when you forgot to be inhuman. I prefer ‘dear child’ to ‘Lady Barbara’ any day. Do you find it so hard to be affectionate, Eric?”

“I haven’t tried. It would be impossible with you. I I don’t understand you. When I was dressing for dinner ”

“You thought you did? I’m so glad you thought of me, when you were dressing for dinner; I’ve a sort of feeling that it’s not your practice to think of me when you’re dressing for dinner.”

“I don’t imagine my affection makes any great difference in your life,” he interrupted stiffly.

“Dear Eric, let me laugh at you sometimes! It’s good for you and it’s ever so good for me. It isn’t as if I’d laughed so very much lately. . . . I will come home and I’ll go straight to bed. But don’t be too hard on me, Eric.”

Her voice was trembling, and her eyes had again filled with tears.

“May I say that I’m ‘not in the habit’ of being hard on people? But I don’t understand you.”

“Ah, now you’re repeating yourself,” she threw back flippantly over her shoulder, as she went to bid Mrs. Shelley good-night. “I’m telling Marion I’ve got a headache.”

Eric felt that he was slipping into the practice of letting people make a fool of him. . . .

4

Though it was a fine night, they sought in vain for a taxi and had to walk the whole way from Chelsea to Berkeley Square, Barbara with her arm through Eric’s and her hand in his, leaning against him.

“I’m going away on Saturday,” she reminded him, as they entered Eaton Square.

“High time, too,” he answered.

“Do you want to get rid of me as much as all that?” she asked in gentle reproach.

“Well, you’ll automatically stop compromising yourself with me. But even that doesn’t matter so much as your health, which you’re quite deliberately ruining.”

She stopped and put her hands on his shoulders, drawing his head to her until she could kiss him. Still capable of being surprised, he thanked Heaven after a quick survey that they had Eaton Square to themselves.

“Dear Eric, are you very delicate?” she asked. “It’s only when health is mentioned that you become human. Last night, at the very beginning of dinner. . . . And again this evening. If if I gave in and had a week in bed, I could twist you round my finger. Now, don’t pull yourself away and look dignified! Don’t you see that I’m paying you a wonderful compliment? You’re like a woman not that that’s a compliment. . . .”

She slipped her arm through his again, and they walked on past St. Peter’s. Barbara was tired enough by now to be dragging on his arm, and he felt a sudden responsibility for her as he had felt the night before when she had implicitly entrusted herself to him. He glanced down and found her walking with eyes closed and a faint smile on a very white face. The wind was blowing her hair into disorder, and he bent forward to draw her cloak more warmly over her chest.

She looked up with her eyes dark and sleep-laden.

“Am I coming undressed? Eric, you’re very good to me! I shall miss you. Perhaps you’ll write to me, perhaps I shall be coming up to London for just one night in about a week’s time; we might dine together. Are you coming to lunch on Saturday?”

“I’ll give the matter my best consideration. Go to sleep again, child.”

“Dear Eric!”

She roused again as they crossed Piccadilly; and at the end of Berkeley Street she again cautiously bade him good-night.

“And about Saturday?”

Until that moment he had decided to be immovable about the Saturday invitation. He did not want to go, he wanted still less to make her think that he was going to please her. But, when she stopped him before walking on alone to her house, he felt that their position must be regularized. He had a certain status of his own and some little pride.

“Yes, I’ll come. Delighted,” he said with sudden determination.

“Good-night, dear.”

“Good-night, Lady Barbara.”

There was time for an unexpected hour’s work; but his broken night and jarring day had exhausted him, and he was glad to hurry through his letters and get into bed. Once there he found himself too tired even for the routine of reading the evening paper; and, while he tried to make up his mind to stretch up a hand to the switch, he dropped asleep, clutching the Westminster Gazette and with the light blazing on to his face.

So he found himself five minutes later when the telephone-bell rang. The voice of a child, eager for praise, said:

“I’m in bed, Eric. And the light’s out. And I’m going to sleep in one moment.”

“I was actually asleep,” he answered.

“My dear! And I woke you up? I am sorry. Go to sleep again at once! Good-night!”

But the sudden shock of the bell had made his nerves restless. He had, after all, to read the evening paper and two chapters of a novel before he felt sleepy enough to turn out the light and compose himself.

Contrition, whim or pressure of other business kept Barbara out of his life the next morning. He read his letters unmolested, dictated to his secretary undisturbed and worked until mid-day uninterrupted. Then, as it was his practice to walk for half-an-hour before luncheon, he abandoned his own pretence that he was away from London and strolled along Piccadilly into the Green Park before making for the Thespian Club in Grosvenor Place. At Devonshire House he caught himself pausing to glance down Berkeley Street. . . .

At the club, Manders was lunching with a square-faced law lord and a doctor with humorous, shrewd eyes, who called upon Eric to join them.

“We never see anything of you nowadays,” complained Dr. Gaisford.

“I don’t have time to get as far away as this for lunch every day,” Eric answered, as he pulled a chair in to the table. “You’re cutting your vacation short, aren’t you, Lord Ettrick?”

“Oh, I had three weeks’ fishing in Scotland,” the law lord answered. “Ever since I came back, I’ve been thinking that, if I had my life over again and could choose my own career, on my soul! I’d be a gillie. They’re a great breed, and it’s a great life.”

Manders looked reflectively at the powerful, lined face, tanned yellow over a normally unwholesome white.

“I’d ’a gone into the Navy,” he said. “My idea of a holiday is to get into old clothes and moon about the Docks or Portsmouth anywhere with salt and tar about, you know.”

“And what would our young friend do?” asked Dr. Gaisford.

Eric blushed to find three pairs of eyes on him. He thought resentfully over his ten years of journalism; then, with a warm rush of satisfaction, he saw the elaborate little flat in Ryder Street, the bathroom poster of “A Divorce Has Been Arranged,” the envelopes from his agent Grierson, containing cheques for what would they be for? the invitations, the pleasant hum of work and stir of interest as shewn in letters from country clergymen who objected to his use of the word “God” in a comedy of manners, the deference paid him when he was invited out to be spoiled and petted, the easy triumphs. . . .

“If I had my life over again,” he answered slowly, “I should alter nothing.”

Lord Ettrick looked at him with raised eyebrows, chewing his under-lip reflectively.

“I wonder how long you’ll say that,” he murmured.

A page-boy threaded his way to the table and stood bashfully at a distance with a tarnished salver pressed against his buttons.

“Wanted on the ’phone, sir,” he whispered.

Eric rose resignedly and followed the page to a dark, ill-ventilated box behind the porters’ desk in the hall.

“Hullo!”

“Is that Eric? Say what you like, my staff-work’s extraordinarily efficient!” Barbara’s voice rippled into laughter. “You weren’t at your flat, I just divined that you’d be lunching at your club. I looked in Who’s Who to see which it was. . . . How are you, Eric, dear? I haven’t seen or heard of you since last night.”

Eric’s utterance hardened and became precise.

“I was asleep then; and I’m at lunch now.”

“Who are you lunching with?” she enquired with unabashed interest.

“Oh, nobody that matters! What is it, Lady Barbara? What do you want, I mean?”

“I want to talk to you. Don’t you like talking to me?”

“At the proper time and in the proper place. I say, you know, this is becoming a little bit tiresome.”

There was a short pause; then a crestfallen voice murmured:

“I’m sorry, Eric. I’m truly sorry. I apologize.”

“Lady Barbara!” he cried.

There was only a dull click, a silence and then a brisk nasal voice saying, “Number, please?”

Eric strode wrathfully back to the coffee-room.

“You can’t do right with that damned girl,” he muttered.

His companions were already paying their bills, so he abandoned his cheese and walked upstairs with them to the bright biscuit-coloured card-room overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace. While the others drank their coffee, he tried to write a very short, very simple note which somehow rejected his best efforts of phrasing. He had torn up four unsatisfactory drafts when Lord Ettrick threw away his cigar and asked whether any one was walking towards the Privy Council.

“I’m only scribbling one note,” Eric answered.

What he was always in danger of forgetting was that Barbara was really only a child; she had begun to speak with a delightful ripple of laughter, and he had driven it from her voice. When she apologized, there was something hurt, something very much surprised as though he had seen her smiling and slapped the smile away.

Please forgive me,” he wrote. “I didn’t mean to be rude.

5

Before deciding whether to send his letter by hand, Eric ascertained that, by posting it, he could be sure of its reaching its destination by the last delivery. Then he walked through the Park with Lord Ettrick, left him at the door of the Privy Council Office and returned home for an hour’s work before rehearsal. On leaving the Regency, he came back to Ryder Street and dressed for dinner. His own letters clattered into their wire cage at a quarter past eight, and, before sitting down to dinner, he transferred the telephone to his dining-room. The child was unlikely to refuse so open an invitation to ring up and say that all was well. . . .

There was no call during dinner, no call as he worked in the smoking-room with the telephone and lamp on a table at his elbow, no call when he went to bed, though he lay reading for half-an-hour after his usual time, to be ready for her. The morning brought a pencilled note ("Surprisingly tidy hand,” Eric commented, “seeing what she’s like"), instinct with a new aloofness and restraint. “After your refreshingly plain hint that I was a nuisance to you, I determined that you should not have occasion to suffer from my importunity. You may lunch with us on Saturday, if you like. And I shall be very glad indeed to see you, but you must not feel that you are doing this to please me. I SAY as you THINK: that I have no claim on you. Barbara.

Eric smiled indulgently and tossed the note into a despatch-box before ringing for his secretary. He must be more careful in future. . . .

When he looked at his engagement-book on Saturday morning, he found that Barbara had named no hour; which was characteristic of her. When he telephoned to the house, there was no answer; which by no great stretch of calumny was characteristic of the house in which she lived. Ninety per cent. of the people that he knew lunched at half-past one, excluding a Cabinet Minister, who lunched punctually at a quarter past two, and three Treasury clerks and one novelist who lunched at one; accordingly, at half-past one, he presented himself in Berkeley Square, to be informed by a sedately combative butler that luncheon was at two o’clock but that Barbara was believed to be in her room.

Eric followed his guide up four short flights of marble stairs and was shewn into the untidiest room that he had ever seen, filled in equal measure with the priceless and the worthless. The bindings of Riviere rubbed shoulders with tattered paper-backs; a cabinet of Japanese porcelain was outraged by foolish, intrusive china cats; there was a shelf of Waterford glass with a dynasty of blown-glass pigs, descending from the ten-inch-high parent to the thumb-nail baby of the litter gravely and ridiculously arranged in a serpentine procession. Fifty kinds of trophy adorned the mantel-piece, ranging from a West African idol at one end to a pathetic, brown-eyed Teddy Bear at the other, with stiff, conventional photographs and occasional miniatures for punctuation. He recognized his own silver flask and passed on, with a smile. Three small tables were almost buried beneath their load of pink carnations; a box of cigarettes, half-open and half-empty, lay tucked between the cushions in each of three arm-chairs, and the white bearskin rug was littered with The Times, a round milliner’s box, two cheque-books and a volume of Ronsard.

The butler looked dispassionately at the confusion and withdrew, giving it up as a hopeless task. A moment later he returned to inform Eric that her ladyship would be with him immediately. Ten minutes later Barbara came in by another door to find him cautiously picking his way through the disorder and examining her books and pictures.

“I didn’t expect you so early,” she began. “Will you give me a little kiss, or am I still a nuisance?”

“You didn’t say any time, so I chanced half-past one,” Eric answered. “If you’d told me to come at two, you’d still have been ten minutes late, wouldn’t you?” he added with a laugh. “Lady Barbara, your conception of tidiness ”

She opened her eyes wide at him in unfeigned surprise.

“My dear, but you should see my bedroom!” she suggested.

“The purple bedroom?”

“Did you remember that? I believe you’re beginning to like me, Eric. Come and sit down instead of fidgeting.”

He paused to finish his inspection, ending up with the nursery toy-cupboard on the mantel-piece.

“Hullo! I don’t know this one of Jack Waring,” he exclaimed on reaching a cabinet photograph in a silver frame.

Barbara lighted a cigarette and came beside him, resting her hand on one shoulder and looking over the other at the photograph, her hair brushing against his cheek.

“He Give me another match, Eric; this is burning all down one side It’s good, don’t you think?”

“The best I’ve ever seen of him, poor chap. I must get his sister to give me one.”

“And don’t forget that you’re going to find out whether they’ve had any news of him, will you? Johnny Carstairs asked the Foreign Office to make enquiries through Copenhagen and Madrid, but he hasn’t been able to find out anything.”

“I should be afraid there’s nothing to find out,” Eric murmured. “He’s been missing for weeks.”

“But if he’s been wounded or lost his identification disc a hundred things. And it takes months to get news sometimes. D’you like my pig family, Eric?”

“Not among Waterford glass,” he answered. “Except as part of the general setting for you.”

She replaced the photograph, laughing, and took his arm, leading him round the room and giving him the history of her trophies, until a footman knocked and announced that luncheon was on the table.

Eric spent the next five minutes being pushed round a large library, which seemed to contain twice as many voices as people, and introduced to a second person before he had fixed the identity of the first. Lady Crawleigh was timorous and subdued, with an air of having been all her life interrupted in the middle of her sentences and with a compensating pair of flashing pigeon’s eyes which seemed to miss nothing.

“I’m so glad Babs gave us the opportunity of meeting you,” she said to Eric. “I enjoyed your play so much. Your first, wasn’t it? It must be a glorious sensation to make such a success at the outset.”

("She takes in a thousand times more than she ever gives out,” Eric said to himself; then he found himself being spun through the rest of the family. “Wonder what she does with it?”)

Lord Crawleigh interrupted an indignant, staccato conversation with Lady Maitland, who was holding her own with emphatic shakes of a massive head, to touch finger-tips and introduce him to his sister the whole done cholerically and with the air of transacting a great deal of tiresome business in a short time.

("Bullies the life out of every one, I’ve always heard,” was Eric’s private comment, as he was introduced to a pair of tow-haired young officers with limp hands; “except the girl. And she bullies him.”)

“I knew you by sight at Oxford,” said Lord Neave, withdrawing his limp hand jerkily, as though he feared that it would be stolen. “You were at Trinity, weren’t you? You, er, know my brother Charles Mr. Lane.”

Eric grasped a second limp hand, received a quick, business-like nod from John Gaymer and found himself confronted by the Duchess of Ross.

“No one will introduce us!” she cried shrilly with a vermillion pout. “I’ve so much wanted to meet you, Mr. Lane. You wouldn’t dine when I asked you! Won’t some one introduce us properly!”

The babble of high-toned voices, the quick patter of speech, the sense of hurry, the hyperbolical intimacy and enthusiasm were bewildering to a man who was naturally shy and at that moment mentally tired. Eric commended his soul to his humour and circumambulated the room, two steps at a time, until a sudden lessening of noise and tension told him that luncheon had dawned upon Lady Crawleigh as a thing to be not only discussed but eaten.

“We’ve heard so much about you from Babs,” she said, struggling to finish one of her interrupted sentences. “So good of you to bring her home the other night.”

Eric poised himself on mental tip-toes, wondering, in general, how far Barbara made her family a party to her life and, in particular, to which night Lady Crawleigh was alluding.

“Really ,” he began.

“She gets these turns,” Lady Crawleigh pursued. “I blame myself entirely; I allowed her to stay on working at the hospital when she simply wasn’t fit for it. Now she has to pay for my weakness.”

Eric looked from one to the other.

“I should prescribe three months in the country, bed at ten and make her stay there for twelve hours.”

“I should be out of my mind in a week,” Barbara protested.

There was a pause, and Lady Crawleigh, with a rueful shrug, turned away to speak to Gaymer.

“I like the way you order me into bed and out of bed!” Barbara whispered. “If you cared what happened to me, it would be one thing, but, when I’m becoming a bit of a nuisance, you know. . . .”

Eric looked round cautiously and lowered his voice.

“Lady Barbara,” he began.

“You persist in that?”

“Babs, then ”

“Yes, but you’re receiving a favour, not conferring it.”

He drew a deep breath.

“You are the most exasperating ”

“Dear Eric! I can’t help teasing you! Are you the clever only child? Well, you ought to be. . . . I don’t believe any one’s ever teased you before. You mustn’t be exasperated by me!”

Her laughter was irresistible, and Eric joined in it.

“Lady Barbara I’m sorry Babs, this is serious. You say you’d be out of your mind in a week, if you adopted my prescription. Let me tell you this; if you go on as you’re doing now, you will go out of your mind ”

“I shouldn’t bother you, if I were in an asylum.”

Eric stiffened and turned his attention to the food before him.

“You’re not an easy person to talk to ,” he began.

“Oh, you dear child!” said Barbara, with a gurgle of laughter. “Two minutes ago it was, ‘Ahaw, Lady Crawleigh, I should prescribe . . .’ And one minute ago you became earnest and loving and grand-paternal, with your fond advice! Eric, I love you when you’re like that! Now don’t be self-conscious! ‘Your ideahs of tidiness, aw, Lady Barbarah . . .’ Whatever people may say, I believe you’re intelligent. In time you’ll understand.” Her eyes softened and ceased to laugh at him. “Less than half a week! In time you’ll know what you’ve done for me, what I very humbly hope and pray you’re going to go on doing for me. . . . You’ll know why I trust you and love you more than I’ve ever loved any one in my life before. There! Is that plain enough? I don’t say it excuses my being ‘tiresome,’ but it may explain it. . . . Now don’t say, ’Lady Barbarah, I er I don’t aw understand you!’” Her fingers twined their way confidingly between his. “Why bother? Why not go on being just what you are?” she whispered. “Something that’s made me think life’s still worth living. I don’t claim it,” she added with a change of tone. “I ask it.”

“And will you do something for me in return?” Eric asked. “Will you take six months’ complete rest in the country, drop smoking?”

“But I told you I should go out of my mind in a week!”

“Will you go for six weeks, six days?”

“You want to get rid of me?”

Eric felt his patience ebbing.

“I want to see you looking less of a haggard little wreck than you do now,” he exclaimed.

“Then I’ll go. Thank you, Eric.”

From the end of the table Lord Crawleigh’s voice penetrated authoritatively.

“Barbara! . . . Barbara! Are you coming with us by the 4.10?”

She pressed Eric’s hand before turning her head.

“I can’t come till the 5.40,” she said.

“But, my dear Barbara ”

“I can’t, father.”

("Bullies the life out of every one, I’ve always heard,” Eric repeated to himself, as Lord Crawleigh subsided into inarticulate blustering. “Except the girl. And she bullies him.”)

“I did wonderful staff-work with Waterloo this morning,” Barbara confided. “The 5.40 stops at Winchester and Crawleigh.”

“I could have told you that,” said Eric. “So could Bradshaw, deceased.”

“But fancy looking at Bradshaw, when you can persuade some one to look at it for you! . . . And you can’t get anywhere in Bradshaw without going through the Severn Tunnel and waiting two hours at Bletchley. Besides, Waterloo rather loved me. Just my voice, you know. . . . We’ll go down together. You can wire to your people.”

“I told them I’d come by the 5.40.”

“But how lucky!”

“How understanding,” he amended.

If you can be sure of your opponent, you may win by throwing down your weapon. It is the victory of the weak over the strong, the ‘tyranny of tears.’ Or perhaps it is the victory of the weak over the weaker. But you must be sure of your opponent.” From the Diary of Eric Lane.