TONY turned away from her with a movement which was a confession of incompetence; a sense more over of the awkwardness of being so close to a grief for which he had no direct remedy. He could only assure her, in his confusion, of his deep regret that she had had a distress. The extremity of her collapse, however, was brief, a gust of passion after which she instantly showed the effort to recover. “Don’t mind me,” she said through her tears; “ I shall pull myself together; I shall be all right in a moment.” He wondered whether he oughtn’t to leave her; and yet to leave her was scarcely courteous. She was quickly erect again, with her characteristic thought for others flowering out through her pain. “ Only don’t let Julia know that’s all I ask of you. One’s little bothers are one’s little bothers they’re all in the day’s work. Just give me three minutes, and I shan’t show a trace.” She straightened herself and even smiled, patting her eyes with her crumpled handkerchief, while Tony marvelled at her courage and good humour.
“Of one thing you must be sure, Rose,” he expressively answered, “ that whatever happens to you, now or at any time, you’ve friends here and a home here that are yours for weal and woe.”
“Ah, don’t say that,” she cried; “ I can scarcely bear it! Disappointments one can meet; but how in the world is one adequately to meet generosity? Of one thing you, on your side, must be sure: that no trouble in life shall ever make me a bore. It was because I was so awfully afraid to be one that I’ve been keeping myself in and that has led, in this ridiculous way, to my making a fool of myself at the last. I knew a hitch was coming I knew at least something was; but I hoped it would come and go without this!” She had stopped before a mirror, still dealing, like an actress in the wing, with her appearance, her make-up. She dabbed at her cheeks and pressed her companion to leave her to herself. “Don’t pity me, don’t mind me; and, above all, don’t ask any questions.”
“Ah,” said Tony in friendly remonstrance, “your bravery makes it too hard to help you! ”
“Don’t try to help me don’t even want to. And don’t tell any tales. Hush!” she went on in a different tone. “ Here’s Mrs. Beever! ”
The lady of Eastmead was preceded by the butler, who, having formally announced her, announced luncheon as invidiously as if it had only been waiting for her. The servants at each house had ways of reminding her they were not the servants at the other.
“Luncheon’s all very well,” said Tony, “ but who in the world’s to eat it? Before you do,” he continued, to Mrs. Beever, “there’s something I must ask of you.”
“And something I must ask too,” Rose added, while the butler retired like a conscientious Minister retiring from untenable office. She addressed her self to their neighbour with a face void, to Tony’s astonishment, of every vestige of disorder. “ Didn’t Mr. Vidal come back with you? ”
Mrs. Beever looked incorruptible. “ Indeed he did!” she sturdily replied. “ Mr. Vidal is in the garden of this house.”
“Then I’ll call him to luncheon.” And Rose floated away, leaving her companions confronted in a silence that ended as Tony was lost in the wonder of her presence of mind only when Mrs. Beever had assured herself that she was out of earshot.
“She has broken it off!” this lady then responsibly proclaimed.
Her colleague demurred. “She? How do you know? ”
“I know because he has told me so.”
“Already in these few minutes? ”
Mrs. Beever hung fire. “ Of course I asked him first. I met him at the bridge I saw he had had a shock.”
“It’s Rose who has had the shock!” Tony returned. “ It’s he who has thrown her over.”
Mrs. Beever stared. “ That’s her story? ”
Tony reflected. “ Practically yes.”
Again his visitor hesitated, but only for an instant. “Then one of them lies.”
Tony laughed out at her lucidity. “ It isn’t Rose Armiger! ”
“It isn’t Dennis Vidal, my dear; I believe in him,” said Mrs. Beever.
Her companion’s amusement grew. “ Your opera tions are rapid.”
“Remarkably. I’ve asked him to come to me.”
Tony raised his eyebrows. “ To come to you? ”
“Till he can get a train tomorrow. He can’t stay on here.”
Tony looked at it. “ I see what you mean.”
“That’s a blessing you don’t always! I like him he’s my sort. And something seems to tell me I’m his! ”
“I won’t gracefully insult you by saying you’re every one’s,” Tony observed. Then, after an instant, “Is he very much cut up?” he inquired.
“He’s utterly staggered. He doesn’t understand.”
Tony thought again. “ No more do I. But you’ll console him,” he added.
“Til feed him first,” said his neighbour. “I’ll take him back with me to luncheon.”
“Isn’t that scarcely civil? ”
“Civil to you?” Mrs. Beever interposed. “ That’s exactly what he asked me. I told him I would arrange it with you.”
“And you’re ‘ arranging ’ it, I see. But how can you take him if Rose is bringing him in? ”
Mrs. Beever was silent a while. “ She isn’t. She hasn’t gone to him. That was for me.”
Tony looked at her in wonder. “ Your operations are rapid,” he repeated. “ But I found her under the unmistakable effect of a blow.”
“I found her exactly as usual.”
“Well, that also was for you,” said Tony. “ Her disappointment’s a secret.”
“Then I’m much obliged to you for mentioning it.”
“I did so to defend her against your bad account of her. But the whole thing’s obscure,” the young man added with sudden weariness. “ I give it up! ”
“I don’t I shall straighten it out.” Mrs. Beever spoke with high decision. “But I must see your wife first.”
“Rather! she’s waiting all this while.” He had already opened the door.
As she reached it she stopped again. “Shall I find the Doctor with her? ”
“Yes, by her request.”
“Then how is she? ”
“Maddening!” Tony exclaimed; after which, as his visitor echoed the word, he went on: “I mean in her dreadful obsession, to which poor Ramage has had to give way and which is the direct reason of her calling you.”
Mrs. Beever’s little eyes seemed to see more than he told her, to have indeed the vision of something formidable. “ What dreadful obsession? ”
“She’ll tell you herself.” He turned away to leave her to go, and she disappeared; but the next moment he heard her again on the threshold.
“Only a word to say that that child may turn up.”
“What child?” He had already forgotten.
“Oh, if you don’t remember!” Mrs. Beever, with feminine inconsequence, almost took it ill.
Tony recovered the agreeable image. “ Oh, your niece? Certainly I remember her hair.”
“She’s not my niece, and her hair’s hideous. But if she does come, send her straight home! ”
“Very good,” said Tony. This time his visitor vanished.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:02