The sun went down an hour ago,|
I wonder if I face towards home;
If I lost my way in the light of day
How shall I find it now night is come?
‘It’s so hot I can’t sleep. Don’t worry.’
Maisie put her elbows on the window-sill and looked at the moonlight on the straight, poplar-flanked road. Summer had come upon Vitry-sur-Marne and parched it to the bone. The grass was dry-burnt in the meadows, the clay by the bank of the river was caked to brick, the roadside flowers were long since dead, and the roses in the garden hung withered on their stalks. The heat in the little low bedroom under the eaves was almost intolerable. The very moonlight on the wall of Kami’s studio across the road seemed to make the night hotter, and the shadow of the big bell-handle by the closed gate cast a bar of inky black that caught Maisie’s eye and annoyed her.
‘Horrid thing! It should be all white,’ she murmured. ‘And the gate isn’t in the middle of the wall, either. I never noticed that before.’
Maisie was hard to please at that hour. First, the heat of the past few weeks had worn her down; secondly, her work, and particularly the study of a female head intended to represent the Melancolia and not finished in time for the Salon, was unsatisfactory; thirdly, Kami had said as much two days before; fourthly,—but so completely fourthly that it was hardly worth thinking about,—Dick, her property, had not written to her for more than six weeks. She was angry with the heat, with Kami, and with her work, but she was exceedingly angry with Dick.
She had written to him three times,—each time proposing a fresh treatment of her Melancolia. Dick had taken no notice of these communications. She had resolved to write no more. When she returned to England in the autumn—for her pride’s sake she could not return earlier—she would speak to him. She missed the Sunday afternoon conferences more than she cared to admit. All that Kami said was, ‘Continuez, mademoiselle, continuez toujours,’ and he had been repeating the wearisome counsel through the hot summer, exactly like a cicada,—an old gray cicada in a black alpaca coat, white trousers, and a huge felt hat. But Dick had tramped masterfully up and down her little studio north of the cool green London park, and had said things ten times worse than continuez, before he snatched the brush out of her hand and showed her where the error lay. His last letter, Maisie remembered, contained some trivial advice about not sketching in the sun or drinking water at wayside farmhouses; and he had said that not once, but three times,—as if he did not know that Maisie could take care of herself.
But what was he doing, that he could not trouble to write? A murmur of voices in the road made her lean from the window. A cavalryman of the little garrison in the town was talking to Kami’s cook. The moonlight glittered on the scabbard of his sabre, which he was holding in his hand lest it should clank inopportunely. The cook’s cap cast deep shadows on her face, which was close to the conscript’s. He slid his arm round her waist, and there followed the sound of a kiss.
‘Faugh!’ said Maisie, stepping back.
‘What’s that?’ said the red-haired girl, who was tossing uneasily outside her bed.
‘Only a conscript kissing the cook,’ said Maisie.
‘They’ve gone away now.’ She leaned out of the window again, and put a shawl over her nightgown to guard against chills. There was a very small night-breeze abroad, and a sun-baked rose below nodded its head as one who knew unutterable secrets. Was it possible that Dick should turn his thoughts from her work and his own and descend to the degradation of Suzanne and the conscript? He could not! The rose nodded its head and one leaf therewith. It looked like a naughty little devil scratching its ear. Dick could not, ‘because,’ thought Maisie, ‘he is mind,—mine,—mine. He said he was. I’m sure I don’t care what he does. It will only spoil his work if he does; and it will spoil mine too.’
The rose continued to nod it the futile way peculiar to flowers. There was no earthly reason why Dick should not disport himself as he chose, except that he was called by Providence, which was Maisie, to assist Maisie in her work. And her work was the preparation of pictures that went sometimes to English provincial exhibitions, as the notices in the scrap-book proved, and that were invariably rejected by the Salon when Kami was plagued into allowing her to send them up. Her work in the future, it seemed, would be the preparation of pictures on exactly similar lines which would be rejected in exactly the same way——
The red-haired girl threshed distressfully across the sheets. ‘It’s too hot to sleep,’ she moaned; and the interruption jarred.
Exactly the same way. Then she would divide her years between the little studio in England and Kami’s big studio at Vitry-sur-Marne. No, she would go to another master, who should force her into the success that was her right, if patient toil and desperate endeavour gave one a right to anything. Dick had told her that he had worked ten years to understand his craft. She had worked ten years, and ten years were nothing. Dick had said that ten years were nothing,—but that was in regard to herself only. He had said—this very man who could not find time to write—that he would wait ten years for her, and that she was bound to come back to him sooner or later. He had said this in the absurd letter about sunstroke and diphtheria; and then he had stopped writing. He was wandering up and down moonlit streets, kissing cooks. She would like to lecture him now,—not in her nightgown, of course, but properly dressed, severely and from a height. Yet if he was kissing other girls he certainly would not care whether she lecture him or not. He would laugh at her. Very good. She would go back to her studio and prepare pictures that went, etc., etc. The mill-wheel of thought swung round slowly, that no section of it might be slurred over, and the red-haired girl tossed and turned behind her.
Maisie put her chin in her hands and decided that there could be no doubt whatever of the villainy of Dick. To justify herself, she began, unwomanly, to weigh the evidence. There was a boy, and he had said he loved her. And he kissed her,—kissed her on the cheek,—by a yellow sea-poppy that nodded its head exactly like the maddening dry rose in the garden. Then there was an interval, and men had told her that they loved her—just when she was busiest with her work. Then the boy came back, and at their very second meeting had told her that he loved her. Then he had—— But there was no end to the things he had done. He had given her his time and his powers. He had spoken to her of Art, housekeeping, technique, teacups, the abuse of pickles as a stimulant,—that was rude,—sable hair-brushes,—he had given her the best in her stock,—she used them daily; he had given her advice that she profited by, and now and again—a look. Such a look! The look of a beaten hound waiting for the word to crawl to his mistress’s feet. In return she had given him nothing whatever, except—here she brushed her mouth against the open-work sleeve f her nightgown—the privilege of kissing her once. And on the mouth, too. Disgraceful! Was that not enough, and more than enough? and if it was not, had he not cancelled the debt by not writing and—probably kissing other girls?
‘Maisie, you’ll catch a chill. Do go and lie down,’ said the wearied voice of her companion. ‘I can’t sleep a wink with you at the window.’
Maisie shrugged her shoulders and did not answer. She was reflecting on the meannesses of Dick, and on other meannesses with which he had nothing to do. The moonlight would not let her sleep. It lay on the skylight of the studio across the road in cold silver; she stared at it intently and her thoughts began to slide one into the other. The shadow of the big bell-handle in the wall grew short, lengthened again, and faded out as the moon went down behind the pasture and a hare came limping home across the road. Then the dawn-wind washed through the upland grasses, and brought coolness with it, and the cattle lowed by the drought-shrunk river. Maisie’s head fell forward on the window-sill, and the tangle of black hair covered her arms.
‘Maisie, wake up. You’ll catch a chill.’
‘Yes, dear; yes, dear.’ She staggered to her bed like a wearied child, and as she buried her face in the pillows she muttered, ‘I think—I think. . . . But he ought to have written.’
Day brought the routine of the studio, the smell of paint and turpentine, and the monotone wisdom of Kami, who was a leaden artist, but a golden teacher if the pupil were only in sympathy with him. Maisie was not in sympathy that day, and she waited impatiently for the end of the work. She knew when it was coming; for Kami would gather his black alpaca coat into a bunch behind him, and, with faded flue eyes that saw neither pupils nor canvas, look back into the past to recall the history of one Binat. ‘You have all done not so badly,’ he would say. ‘But you shall remember that it is not enough to have the method, and the art, and the power, nor even that which is touch, but you shall have also the conviction that nails the work to the wall. Of the so many I taught,’—here the students would begin to unfix drawing-pins or get their tubes together,—’the very so many that I have taught, the best was Binat. All that comes of the study and the work and the knowledge was to him even when he came. After he left me he should have done all that could be done with the colour, the form, and the knowledge. Only, he had not the conviction. So to-day I hear no more of Binat,—the best of my pupils,—and that is long ago. So to-day, too, you will be glad to hear no more of me. Continuez, mesdemoiselles, and, above all, with conviction.’
He went into the garden to smoke and mourn over the lost Binat as the pupils dispersed to their several cottages or loitered in the studio to make plans for the cool of the afternoon.
Maisie looked at her very unhappy Melancolia, restrained a desire to grimace before it, and was hurrying across the road to write a letter to Dick, when she was aware of a large man on a white troop-horse. How Torpenhow had managed in the course of twenty hours to find his way to the hearts of the cavalry officers in quarters at Vitry-sur-Marne, to discuss with them the certainty of a glorious revenge for France, to reduce the colonel to tears of pure affability, and to borrow the best horse in the squadron for the journey to Kami’s studio, is a mystery that only special correspondents can unravel.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said he. ‘It seems an absurd question to ask, but the fact is that I don’t know her by any other name: Is there any young lady here that is called Maisie?’
‘I am Maisie,’ was the answer from the depths of a great sun-hat.
‘I ought to introduce myself,’ he said, as the horse capered in the blinding white dust. ‘My name is Torpenhow. Dick Heldar is my best friend, and—and—the fact is that he has gone blind.’
‘Blind!’ said Maisie, stupidly. ‘He can’t be blind.’
‘He has been stone-blind for nearly two months.’
Maisie lifted up her face, and it was pearly white. ‘No! No! Not blind! I won’t have him blind!’
‘Would you care to see for yourself?’ said Torpenhow.
‘Oh, no! The Paris train doesn’t go through this place till to-night. There will be ample time.’
‘Did Mr. Heldar send you to me?’
‘Certainly not. Dick wouldn’t do that sort of thing. He’s sitting in his studio, turning over some letters that he can’t read because he’s blind.’
There was a sound of choking from the sun-hat. Maisie bowed her head and went into the cottage, where the red-haired girl was on a sofa, complaining of a headache.
‘Dick’s blind!’ said Maisie, taking her breath quickly as she steadied herself against a chair-back. ‘My Dick’s blind!’
‘What?’ The girl was on the sofa no longer.
‘A man has come from England to tell me. He hasn’t written to me for six weeks.’
‘Are you going to him?’
‘I must think.’
‘Think! I should go back to London and see him and I should kiss his eyes and kiss them and kiss them until they got well again! If you don’t go I shall. Oh, what am I talking about? You wicked little idiot! Go to him at once. Go!’
Torpenhow’s neck was blistering, but he preserved a smile of infinite patience as Maisie’s appeared bareheaded in the sunshine.
‘I am coming,’ said she, her eyes on the ground.
‘You will be at Vitry Station, then, at seven this evening.’ This was an order delivered by one who was used to being obeyed. Maisie said nothing, but she felt grateful that there was no chance of disputing with this big man who took everything for granted and managed a squealing horse with one hand. She returned to the red-haired girl, who was weeping bitterly, and between tears, kisses,—very few of those,—menthol, packing, and an interview with Kami, the sultry afternoon wore away. Thought might come afterwards. Her present duty was to go to Dick,—Dick who owned the wondrous friend and sat in the dark playing with her unopened letters.
‘But what will you do,’ she said to her companion.
‘I? Oh, I shall stay here and—finish your Melancolia,’ she said, smiling pitifully. ‘Write to me afterwards.’
That night there ran a legend through Vitry-sur-Marne of a mad Englishman, doubtless suffering from sunstroke, who had drunk all the officers of the garrison under the table, had borrowed a horse from the lines, and had then and there eloped, after the English custom, with one of those more mad English girls who drew pictures down there under the care of that good Monsieur Kami.
‘They are very droll,’ said Suzanne to the conscript in the moonlight by the studio wall. ‘She walked always with those big eyes that saw nothing, and yet she kisses me on both cheeks as though she were my sister, and gives me—see—ten francs!’
The conscript levied a contribution on both gifts; for he prided himself on being a good soldier.
Torpenhow spoke very little to Maisie during the journey to Calais; but he was careful to attend to all her wants, to get her a compartment entirely to herself, and to leave her alone. He was amazed of the ease with which the matter had been accomplished.
‘The safest thing would be to let her think things out. By Dick’s showing,—when he was off his head,—she must have ordered him about very thoroughly. Wonder how she likes being under orders.’
Maisie never told. She sat in the empty compartment often with her eyes shut, that she might realise the sensation of blindness. It was an order that she should return to London swiftly, and she found herself at last almost beginning to enjoy the situation. This was better than looking after luggage and a red-haired friend who never took any interest in her surroundings. But there appeared to be a feeling in the air that she, Maisie,—of all people,—was in disgrace. Therefore she justified her conduct to herself with great success, till Torpenhow came up to her on the steamer and without preface began to tell the story of Dick’s blindness, suppressing a few details, but dwelling at length on the miseries of delirium. He stopped before he reached the end, as though he had lost interest in the subject, and went forward to smoke. Maisie was furious with him and with herself.
She was hurried on from Dover to London almost before she could ask for breakfast, and—she was past any feeling of indignation now—was bidden curtly to wait in a hall at the foot of some lead-covered stairs while Torpenhow went up to make inquiries. Again the knowledge that she was being treated like a naughty little girl made her pale cheeks flame. It was all Dick’s fault for being so stupid as to go blind.
Torpenhow led her up to a shut door, which he opened very softly. Dick was sitting by the window, with his chin on his chest. There were three envelopes in his hand, and he turned them over and over. The big man who gave orders was no longer by her side, and the studio door snapped behind her.
Dick thrust the letters into his pocket as he heard the sound. ‘Hullo, Torp! Is that you? I’ve been so lonely.’
His voice had taken the peculiar flatness of the blind. Maisie pressed herself up into a corner of the room. Her heart was beating furiously, and she put one hand on her breast to keep it quiet. Dick was staring directly at her, and she realised for the first time that he was blind. Shutting her eyes in a rail-way carriage to open them when she pleased was child’s play. This man was blind though his eyes were wide open.
‘Torp, is that you? They said you were coming.’ Dick looked puzzled and a little irritated at the silence.
‘No; it’s only me,’ was the answer, in a strained little whisper. Maisie could hardly move her lips.
‘H’m!’ said Dick, composedly, without moving. ‘This is a new phenomenon. Darkness I’m getting used to; but I object to hearing voices.’
Was he mad, then, as well as blind, that he talked to himself? Maisie’s heart beat more wildly, and she breathed in gasps. Dick rose and began to feel his way across the room, touching each table and chair as he passed. Once he caught his foot on a rug, and swore, dropping on his knees to feel what the obstruction might be. Maisie remembered him walking in the Park as though all the earth belonged to him, tramping up and down her studio two months ago, and flying up the gangway of the Channel steamer. The beating of her heart was making her sick, and Dick was coming nearer, guided by the sound of her breathing. She put out a hand mechanically to ward him off or to draw him to herself, she did not know which. It touched his chest, and he stepped back as though he had been shot.
‘It’s Maisie!’ said he, with a dry sob. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I came—I came—to see you, please.’
Dick’s lips closed firmly.
‘Won’t you sit down, then? You see, I’ve had some bother with my eyes, and——’
‘I know. I know. Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I couldn’t write.’
‘You might have told Mr. Torpenhow.’
‘What has he to do with my affairs?’
‘He—he brought me from Vitry-sur-Marne. He thought I ought to see you.’
‘Why, what has happened? Can I do anything for you? No, I can’t. I forgot.’
‘Oh, Dick, I’m so sorry! I’ve come to tell you, and—— Let me take you back to your chair.’
‘Don’t! I’m not a child. You only do that out of pity. I never meant to tell you anything about it. I’m no good now. I’m down and done for. Let me alone!’
He groped back to his chair, his chest labouring as he sat down.
Maisie watched him, and the fear went out of her heart, to be followed by a very bitter shame. He had spoken a truth that had been hidden from the girl through every step of the impetuous flight to London; for he was, indeed, down and done for—masterful no longer but rather a little abject; neither an artist stronger than she, nor a man to be looked up to—only some blind one that sat in a chair and seemed on the point of crying. She was immensely and unfeignedly sorry for him—more sorry than she had ever been for any one in her life, but not sorry enough to deny his words. So she stood still and felt ashamed and a little hurt, because she had honestly intended that her journey should end triumphantly; and now she was only filled with pity most startlingly distinct from love.
‘Well?’ said Dick, his face steadily turned away. ‘I never meant to worry you any more. What’s the matter?’
He was conscious that Maisie was catching her breath, but was as unprepared as herself for the torrent of emotion that followed. She had dropped into a chair and was sobbing with her face hidden in her hands.
‘I can’t—I can’t!’ she cried desperately. ‘Indeed, I can’t. It isn’t my fault. I’m so sorry. Oh, Dickie, I’m so sorry.’
Dick’s shoulders straightened again, for the words lashed like a whip. Still the sobbing continued. It is not good to realise that you have failed in the hour of trial or flinched before the mere possibility of making sacrifices.
‘I do despise myself—indeed I do. But I can’t. Oh, Dickie, you wouldn’t ask me—would you?’ wailed Maisie.
She looked up for a minute, and by chance it happened that Dick’s eyes fell on hers. The unshaven face was very white and set, and the lips were trying to force themselves into a smile. But it was the worn-out eyes that Maisie feared. Her Dick had gone blind and left in his place some one that she could hardly recognise till he spoke.
‘Who is asking you to do anything, Maisie? I told you how it would be. What’s the use of worrying? For pity’s sake don’t cry like that; it isn’t worth it.’
‘You don’t know how I hate myself. Oh, Dick, help me—help me!’ The passion of tears had grown beyond her control and was beginning to alarm the man. He stumbled forward and put his arm round her, and her head fell on his shoulder.
‘Hush, dear, hush! Don’t cry. You’re quite right, and you’ve nothing to reproach yourself with—you never had. You’re only a little upset by the journey, and I don’t suppose you’ve had any breakfast. What a brute Torp was to bring you over.’
‘I wanted to come. I did indeed,’ she protested.
‘Very well. And now you’ve come and seen, and I’m—immensely grateful. When you’re better you shall go away and get something to eat. What sort of a passage did you have coming over?’
Maisie was crying more subduedly, for the first time in her life glad that she had something to lean against. Dick patted her on the shoulder tenderly but clumsily, for he was not quite sure where her shoulder might be.
She drew herself out of his arms at last and waited, trembling and most unhappy. He had felt his way to the window to put the width of the room between them, and to quiet a little the tumult in his heart.
‘Are you better now?’ he said.
‘Yes, but—don’t you hate me?’
‘I hate you? My God! I?’
‘Isn’t—isn’t there anything I could do for you, then? I’ll stay here in England to do it, if you like. Perhaps I could come and see you sometimes.’
‘I think not, dear. It would be kindest not to see me any more, please. I don’t want to seem rude, but—don’t you think—perhaps you had almost better go now.’
He was conscious that he could not bear himself as a man if the strain continued much longer.
‘I don’t deserve anything else. I’ll go, Dick. Oh, I’m so miserable.’
‘Nonsense. You’ve nothing to worry about; I’d tell you if you had. Wait a moment, dear. I’ve got something to give you first. I meant it for you ever since this little trouble began. It’s my Melancolia; she was a beauty when I last saw her. You can keep her for me, and if ever you’re poor you can sell her. She’s worth a few hundreds at any state of the market.’ He groped among his canvases. ‘She’s framed in black. Is this a black frame that I have my hand on? There she is. What do you think of her?’
He turned a scarred formless muddle of paint towards Maisie, and the eyes strained as though they would catch her wonder and surprise. One thing and one thing only could she do for him.
The voice was fuller and more rounded, because the man knew he was speaking of his best work. Maisie looked at the blur, and a lunatic desire to laugh caught her by the throat. But for Dick’s sake—whatever this mad blankness might mean—she must make no sign. Her voice choked with hard-held tears as she answered, still gazing at the wreck—
‘Oh, Dick, it is good!’
He heard the little hysterical gulp and took it for tribute. ‘Won’t you have it, then? I’ll send it over to your house if you will.’
‘I? Oh yes—thank you. Ha! ha!’ If she did not fly at once the laughter that was worse than tears would kill her. She turned and ran, choking and blinded, down the staircases that were empty of life to take refuge in a cab and go to her house across the Parks. There she sat down in the dismantled drawing-room and thought of Dick in his blindness, useless till the end of life, and of herself in her own eyes. Behind the sorrow, the shame, and the humiliation, lay fear of the cold wrath of the red-haired girl when Maisie should return. Maisie had never feared her companion before. Not until she found herself saying, ‘Well, he never asked me,’ did she realise her scorn of herself.
And that is the end of Maisie.
For Dick was reserved more searching torment. He could not realise at first that Maisie, whom he had ordered to go had left him without a word of farewell. He was savagely angry against Torpenhow, who had brought upon him this humiliation and troubled his miserable peace. Then his dark hour came and he was alone with himself and his desires to get what help he could from the darkness. The queen could do no wrong, but in following the right, so far as it served her work, she had wounded her one subject more than his own brain would let him know.
‘It’s all I had and I’ve lost it,’ he said, as soon as the misery permitted clear thinking. ‘And Torp will think that he has been so infernally clever that I shan’t have the heart to tell him. I must think this out quietly.’
‘Hullo!’ said Torpenhow, entering the studio after Dick had enjoyed two hours of thought. ‘I’m back. Are you feeling any better?’
‘Torp, I don’t know what to say. Come here.’ Dick coughed huskily, wondering, indeed, what he should say, and how to say it temperately.
‘What’s the need for saying anything? Get up and tramp.’ Torpenhow was perfectly satisfied.
They walked up and down as of custom, Torpenhow’s hand on Dick’s shoulder, and Dick buried in his own thoughts.
‘How in the world did you find it all out?’ said Dick, at last.
‘You shouldn’t go off your head if you want to keep secrets, Dickie. It was absolutely impertinent on my part; but if you’d seen me rocketing about on a half-trained French troop-horse under a blazing sun you’d have laughed. There will be a charivari in my rooms to-night. Seven other devils——’
‘I know—the row in the Southern Soudan. I surprised their councils the other day, and it made me unhappy. Have you fixed your flint to go? Who d’you work for?’
‘Haven’t signed any contracts yet. I wanted to see how your business would turn out.’
‘Would you have stayed with me, then, if—things had gone wrong?’ He put his question cautiously.
‘Don’t ask me too much. I’m only a man.’
‘You’ve tried to be an angel very successfully.’
‘Oh ye—es! . . . Well, do you attend the function to-night? We shall be half screwed before the morning. All the men believe the war’s a certainty.’
‘I don’t think I will, old man, if it’s all the same to you. I’ll stay quiet here.’
‘And meditate? I don’t blame you. You deserve a good time if ever a man did.’
That night there was a tumult on the stairs. The correspondents poured in from theatre, dinner, and music-hall to Torpenhow’s room that they might discuss their plan of campaign in the event of military operations becoming a certainty. Torpenhow, the Keneu,, and the Nilghai had bidden all the men they had worked with to the orgy; and Mr. Beeton, the housekeeper, declared that never before in his checkered experience had he seen quite such a fancy lot of gentlemen. They waked the chambers with shoutings and song; and the elder men were quite as bad as the younger. For the chances of war were in front of them, and all knew what those meant.
Sitting in his own room a little perplexed by the noise across the landing, Dick suddenly began to laugh to himself.
‘When one comes to think of it the situation is intensely comic. Maisie’s quite right—poor little thing. I didn’t know she could cry like that before; but now I know what Torp thinks, I’m sure he’d be quite fool enough to stay at home and try to console me—if he knew. Besides, it isn’t nice to own that you’ve been thrown over like a broken chair. I must carry this business through alone—as usual. If there isn’t a war, and Torp finds out, I shall look foolish, that’s all. If there is a way I mustn’t interfere with another man’s chances. Business is business, and I want to be alone—I want to be alone. What a row they’re making!’
Somebody hammered at the studio door.
‘Come out and frolic, Dickie,’ said the Nilghai.
‘I should like to, but I can’t. I’m not feeling frolicsome.’
‘Then, I’ll tell the boys and they’ll drag you like a badger.’
‘Please not, old man. On my word, I’d sooner be left alone just now.’
‘Very good. Can we send anything in to you? Fizz, for instance. Cassavetti is beginning to sing songs of the Sunny South already.’
For one minute Dick considered the proposition seriously.
‘No, thanks, I’ve a headache already.’
‘Virtuous child. That’s the effect of emotion on the young. All my congratulations, Dick. I also was concerned in the conspiracy for your welfare.’
‘Go to the devil—oh, send Binkie in here.’
The little dog entered on elastic feet, riotous from having been made much of all the evening. He had helped to sing the choruses; but scarcely inside the studio he realised that this was no place for tail-wagging, and settled himself on Dick’s lap till it was bedtime. Then he went to bed with Dick, who counted every hour as it struck, and rose in the morning with a painfully clear head to receive Torpenhow’s more formal congratulations and a particular account of the last night’s revels.
‘You aren’t looking very happy for a newly accepted man,’ said Torpenhow.
‘Never mind that—it’s my own affair, and I’m all right. Do you really go?’
‘Yes. With the old Central Southern as usual. They wired, and I accepted on better terms than before.’
‘When do you start?’
‘The day after to-morrow—for Brindisi.’
‘Thank God.’ Dick spoke from the bottom of his heart.
‘Well, that’s not a pretty way of saying you’re glad to get rid of me. But men in your condition are allowed to be selfish.’
‘I didn’t mean that. Will you get a hundred pounds cashed for me before you leave?’
‘That’s a slender amount for housekeeping, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, it’s only for—marriage expenses.’
Torpenhow brought him the money, counted it out in fives and tens, and carefully put it away in the writing table.
‘Now I suppose I shall have to listen to his ravings about his girl until I go. Heaven send us patience with a man in love!’ he said to himself.
But never a word did Dick say of Maisie or marriage. He hung in the doorway of Torpenhow’s room when the latter was packing and asked innumerable questions about the coming campaign, till Torpenhow began to feel annoyed.
‘You’re a secretive animal, Dickie, and you consume your own smoke, don’t you?’ he said on the last evening.
‘I—I suppose so. By the way, how long do you think this war will last?’
‘Days, weeks, or months. One can never tell. It may go on for years.’
‘I wish I were going.’
‘Good Heavens! You’re the most unaccountable creature! Hasn’t it occurred to you that you’re going to be married—thanks to me?’
‘Of course, yes. I’m going to be married—so I am. Going to be married. I’m awfully grateful to you. Haven’t I told you that?’
‘You might be going to be hanged by the look of you,’ said Torpenhow.
And the next day Torpenhow bade him good-bye and left him to the loneliness he had so much desired.