“YOU’VE been away more than a week. What have you been doing up there in Scotland? They make a great mystery of it.”
So it was she began on that fateful evening of his return. She spoke in an intimate undertone. Miss Blame had dined and gone upstairs and Miss Pooley was out. The Dutchman was rapt in thought about the English Subjunctive Mood, and quite unheeding a talk that plainly was not addressed to him. “Eef you were,” he was whispering over and over again, “Eef you was. Yess.” She had waited for Edward Albert and now behind this barrier she had him to herself.
“Jerst business affairs,” he told her. “Fact is — quite unexpected — I been left an estate — in Scotland.”
“Property anyhow. No idea I had any relations up there. Right out of the blue. There’s things have been kep’ from me. I been sort of made away with. I always felt it — kind of mystery. I been seeing lawyers and agents and all that,”
“And is it murch, Teddy? I hope it won’t take you away from here. I should miss you.”
“Well, I’ll be pretty well off. Naturally I ain’t made any plans. It’s all so sudden. I don’t want to go away from here — and ye. You all,” he corrected, feeling that after all others might be listening. “Leastways not till I got somewhere to go.”
She nodded. “What does it all come to?”
His discretion gave way to his desire to be impressive.
“Some fousands,” he said, “anyhow.”
“All that,” he said.
“Lucky Teddy! You can go where you like; you can do what you please.”
“I’m going to look round me a bit first. You know I’m not even going to give up my — business job. Not for a bit. Just for something to do, I’ll keep it. I’d feel kind of lost. You see, you can’t be too careful. All this money; it’s come like a dream. Suppose I wake up tomorrow and find it was a dream.”
“Yes,” she said, “I can understand that at first. But you’ll find it real. You’ll find all the world before you.”
“I suppose if you was me you’d go right off to that gay Paree of yours?”
“I wonder. I might not, because you see then I could do it at any time, Teddy. I might want to stay here a bit. Just as you might. I might feel I was tearing myself away from something I cared for and wanted to go on seeing, We’re very much alike, Teddy, you and me, in a lot of things.”
“I never thought of that.”
“But we are, you know.”
“P’raps we are. Only you’re kind of cleverer. . . . She was so intent on their mutual business that she had completely forgotten her enthusiasm for French. She was just her preParisian self, and hardly a word of Entente Cordial escaped her.
When they went up stairs she put her arm through his, a thing she had never done before. “Come into the corner,”
she said, “I must talk some more to you about all this. Down there at table with all those people peeping and listening, one couldn’t let oneself go. But no I murst, I murst talk to you, Teddy, my dear. I’m so happy to see you so happy and I’m so afraid for you and the things that may happen to you. It will be wonderful for you to get away from all this. Do what you choose. Lead a life of your own. And so dangerous. I envy you, Teddy boy, I envy you. I could cry over you.”
Her intense sincerity evoked a reciprocal sincerity in him, Presently he was exposing himself to her as he rarely exposed himself even to himself. They sat close together so that the breath of their common desire mingled. She had dressed herself carefully and thinly, and he could feel her soft arm against his shoulder and her hand rested lightly on his knee.
“Of course you know I’m not what you might call educated — not ‘ighly educated. I often think if I could get someone
to help me a bit — And now — Particularly. . . . ”
“Couldn’t I perhaps — help you?”
“You’d ‘elp me?”
“I’d love to.”
“Me? You with your travel and all that, and the books you’ve read and knowing French as you do, I’d seem common. . . . ”
She looked at him steadily for a moment. “You’re the most lovable modest man I’ve ever known, my dearest. A woman wants to give. I tell you I’d love to do — anything — for you. To give myself wholly. Can I?”
He lost his last trace of coquettishness.
“You know I’ve always said I loved you. Always. I mean it.”
“You love me?”
A heavily charged silence ensued. She was speaking so closely that he could feel the beating of her heart. There was a glow in her eyes. He trembled. He wanted to kiss her. But this was no place for kisses. Maybe someone was peeping at them round an evening paper or out of a corner. You could never be sure at Doober’s. Never.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“Love,” she answered.
They were silent for an intense moment.
“You mean it?”
“Strike me dead.”
There was another yet longer pause. Then she looked at her wrist watch. “Time I was in bed,” she said. “I’ve to be at business at nine tomorrow, my dear. Back at the old grind.”
“Not for long,” he said. “Not now.”
And with that it seemed everything was said.
She stood up and smiled.
He stood up smiling back at her.
He went upstairs after her, not caring now who saw them. For he’d got her. None of your “Starp it” kids this time. This meant everything. Miss Blame in a distant corner affected to be reading. Outside her room Evangeline stopped short and shot a hasty glance upstairs and down. Not a soul in sight and nobody listening. She took ‘both his hands in hers and held them for a moment, looking at him possessively. Then she dropped them, and slowly, deliberately, drew his head to hers and kissed him. It was a long thirsty kiss; it was the kiss of a bright-minded young woman who had given some thought to the matter, it wandered a little and then closed down, and with it the last memory of Molly’s kissing vanished from his mind. “And so,” she said at last in a low whisper, “Good night, my lover. Je fainu, je fadon.”
He hesitated. “Good night,” he said almost interrogatively.
“Good night,” she said.
He went on up to his own room. He looked back over the banisters but her door had closed noiselessly behind her. . . .
He lay awake for a very long time in a state of intense excitement. Reverie and desire danced a wild fandango in his cranium. He went to bed and got up again. He walked about his room in his pyjamas. He went to his door, listened a long time, opened it softly and peered downstairs,
“Evangeline,” he whispered very softly, heard the young Dutchman opposite snoring, and retired precipitately into his room again.
There he stripped himself and contemplated himself as well as he could in his little looking-glass. The salt cellars over his collar bones, he decided, were not as hollow as they used to be.
Finally he got into bed and embraced his bolster with passionate tenderness. “Evangeline,” he whispered to it.
“Oh, my dear Evangeline. Say you love me. Keep on saying you love me. Keep — keep on.”
And so at last he was able to sleep.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15