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out the lights. And very soberly he went to the room where his small
son lay asleep.

His entrance roused George.

"Are you going to sleep with me, Daddy?" he asked nervously.

"Yes, old son," Osborn replied as nervously as the child had spoken.

"I'll be very quiet in the morning, Daddy," said George.

"You needn't be, old boy," Osborn replied.

He sat down on the edge of George's bed, with a wish that someone of
all his household, this child at least, should be glad to see him.

"We're going to be great pals," he stated, "aren't we?"

"Yes, Daddy," the child answered.

"Give me a kiss and say good night, then."

George obeyed dutifully. Osborn tucked him up and turned away. As he
undressed he thought of the toys he would buy the children to-morrow.




CHAPTER XXIII

INDIFFERENCE


Marie met her husband serenely at the breakfast-table next morning.
She looked fair and fresh and had other things to do than to give him
undivided attention. George and Minna were at table, behaving
charmingly, though the baby, being yet at a sloppy stage, was taking
her breakfast in the kitchen in deference to her father's return.
Osborn paid his family some attention and his newspaper none; and he
appeared to be in no hurry to be off.

"My first morning back," he remarked; "I need hardly turn up
punctually."

"I suppose," said Marie, with interest, from behind her coffee-pot,
"that your work will be rather different."

"It will, rather. I believe I'm to put in some days in town, and then
run down to our various agents in the Midlands. There's quite a busy
programme mapped out, I believe."

"You'll enjoy that."

"Shall you go away again, Daddy?" asked Minna.

"Don't talk at breakfast, dear," said her mother.

Osborn looked across at his wife.

"I shall be off your hands a good deal."

Bitterness savoured his voice. She smiled at him sympathetically, but
he smarted under the knowledge that her sympathy did not go very deep.
Yet he was strangely reluctant to hurry away. He remained until George
had started for school; until Minna had begged to be allowed to get
down and go to see baby finish her breakfast. Then he rose, and went
rather heavily round the table to his wife, and laid a hand on her
shoulder.

"I couldn't sleep. I was thinking of you and all the things you said
last night."

"I'm sorry you didn't sleep. I expect you were rather tired with
travelling; over-tired, perhaps."

"I was as fresh as paint when I got here yesterday and you know I was.
_You_ took it out of me."

"We shan't be able to argue about this every day; I couldn't stand it,
Osborn."

"I'm ready to say that I daresay we men are thoughtless sort of
brutes; but you didn't marry one of the worst by a long chalk, you
know."

A smile twitched her lips, goading him to desperation.

"No," she owned. "There was nothing lurid about you. But, heavens! it
was dull!"

He took his hand off her shoulder and went to search for matches and
pipe on the mantelpiece. He noticed many little things acutely in his
unhappiness; how nicely the silver vases were cleaned, and that the
piperack was kept on the righthand side now instead of the left.

"You'll come round."

"If you knew how impossible it seems to me you wouldn't say that."

"I suppose I shall be worrying over this business all day as well as
all night?"

"I hope not. I'm lunching with you, at one, at the Royal Red."

"What! You'll come to lunch?"

"You asked me."

Pleasure, almost triumph, lit his face. "I'll give you a good time.
Sure you wouldn't like some other place better than the Royal Red?"

"I've got, somehow, a special ache for it."

"Then you must have what you want, of course. I'll get away
punctually, so as not to keep you waiting."

Marie accompanied him into the hall to help him on with his coat, and
to remark that his muffler needed washing. But she did not kiss him on
parting; before he could ask mutely for the salute she was on her way
back to the breakfast-table.

She sat there some while after he had gone, comfortably finishing her
own meal, which had been interrupted by attendance on the children, as
if deliberately determining that Osborn's return should interfere in
no whit with her recent ease. Only when she was quite ready, with no
hurry and at her own pleasure, did she start out to the Heath to give
the children their morning airing.

"Mummie," said Minna, "George said Daddy has promised to bring us some
toys."

"That's very kind of Daddy, isn't it?"

She walked thoughtfully. "Things have changed," she said to herself,
"I suppose money has changed them. It always can." She thought this
with a certain enjoyment, yet down underneath, where that stony organ
which used to be her heart lay, she knew that she wanted, more than
thousands and thousands of pounds, the light and life of that first
year over again. What joy was like the birth of such love? Or what
regret like the death of it?

Their walk on the Heath lasted till eleven o'clock, when she returned
to put the children under the charge of the maid. She was meticulous
in her instructions for their care and requirements, almost passionate
in her loving good-byes to them. Truly no one, she thought again, as
their arms clung about her neck, could know all that they had been to
her, how heavenly kind they were.

Minna, admiring her mother's clothes, walked with her to the door and
waved her down the bleak staircase.

It was precisely one o'clock when Marie Kerr entered the lounge of the
big restaurant, where she had waited some while for Osborn on a
birthday evening which she remembered keenly this morning. But this
time he was there before her, waiting anxious and alert, like a lover
for the lady of his affections. He had booked a table and upon it, as
she sat down, she saw, laid beside her cover, a big bunch of her
favourite violets, blue and dewy.

"You still like them best?" he asked.

"Still faithful," she smiled back lightly and, when she had thrown
open her coat, she pinned them at her breast.

She looked around her unafraid.

Her clothes were good; her hair was burnished; her hands were white;
her man worshipped like the other women's men.

She was once more, after that long, that humble and tearful
abdication, at the zenith of her power.

* * * * *

They did not rise from their table until nearly three o'clock. Twice
she had asked: "How about the firm?" and twice he had answered
irreverently: "Let them be hanged!" He looked into her eyes wondering
and hoping, but in their clearness read no promise. He tried to lead
their talk round to the one subject which pervaded and appalled him,
but each time that he drove in his wedge of reference she shook her
head at him, smiled and closed her lips, as a woman saying: "You don't
talk me over in this world or the next."

But when he reminded her "It was here, to this very table, that I took
you, on your birthday before last," she joined him in reminiscence.

"And I was miserable, envying every woman I saw, ashamed of my frock
and my hands and my old shoes; ashamed of everything. I knew I
couldn't compete."

"You could compete with any woman in the world." He cast a deprecating
look around them.

"I couldn't then. There was a woman I specially envied, I remember, an
actress whose name you knew. How long ago it seems."

"Only a year and a half," he replied quickly, plunging into a side
issue.

"You admired her," she said curiously, "didn't you?"

He lied: "I don't remember."

"I do," she said. "I used to pray about you - that woman was in my mind
when I prayed, and asked God to make you admire me for the children
I'd borne, and not to let you see how old and ugly I should grow.
Doesn't it seem funny?"

"It's not at all funny," he said, his eyes on the tablecloth. "I'm
sorry you - if you'd told me - talked to me - "

"You'd have thought me more of a whining wife than ever."

"Well, it's over, anyway. Won't you forget it?"

"I'm just delighted to forget it. But there's a kind of joy in
remembering all the same, such as a man feels in thinking of his
starvation early days after he's made himself rich."

"And now I'm to be starved instead?"

Then she collected her muff and gloves, closed her coat, pinning the
violets outside, thanked him for a nice lunch and left him. He paid
the bill in a hurry and hastened after her, catching up with her upon
the kerb.

"Well," he said in her ear, "I shall keep on asking. What do you
think?"

She signalled a passing omnibus to stop and boarding it left him with
a smile and wave of the hand. For a few seconds, he stood on the kerb,
at grips with a feeling of humiliation and defeat, then he began to
walk back to his work. He was not yet accustomed to the setting of
this new act he was playing with his wife - he thought of it
thus - though it was making him smart badly. As he went forward,
threading his way among the hurrying after-lunch throngs, he was
thinking hard. He attracted some attention from women's eyes as he
swung along, oblivious, big, straight-shouldered and masculine. All
the afternoon, while his mind was ostensibly upon his business, he
fumed and fretted.

In taking up his job in London, he found a good deal to do and to book
that first day. He had to pay rushing visits to two agents, talk over
his tour with the head of the firm, and drive about the Park, in a
Runaway, a rich undecided peer who couldn't make up his mind to buy
her. But he bought the car _de luxe_ before they parted, and his
cheque lay in Osborn's pocket.

Another twenty-pounds commission, and what for? To spend on a woman
who coolly didn't want it. Osborn Kerr started for home, chafing
sorely.

On his way to the Piccadilly Tube he passed the Piccadilly Theatre.
Outside the doors hung a big frame of photographs of the entire cast
of Sautree's new production, and he paused to look, absent-minded as
he was, with male interest in that galaxy of charm. In the second row
of faces he met Roselle's. She photographed well, her big, smooth
shoulders bare, her hair smooth and smart, her chin uptilted so that
she looked out, foreshortened. She smiled inscrutably. He knew the
smile well, although he had never translated it so far as to guess
that it covered stupidity in a sphinx's mask that baffled and piqued.
That smile was of sterling value to Roselle; it was like so many
pounds paid regularly into her pocket; it set men wondering what her
meaning was when all the while she meant nothing. As Osborn Kerr
paused before the rows of portraits, he wondered, a little yet, what
Roselle meant when, so inscrutably, she smiled.

She was beautiful, there was no doubt of it. He remembered with some
self-gratulation those hours spent with her in the blue Runaway with
its silver fittings; Roselle in her fur coat and the purple velvet hat
crushed close, in a cheeky fashion, over her night-black hair; and
people turning to look at them both. He had seen in men's faces as
they passed that they thought him a lucky fellow. They would have
liked to be in his shoes, or rather, in his seat beside her, in the
Runaway.

He passed on, the trouble in his heart a shade lighter for the
intrusion of something else, something pleasant. It was like diluting
a nasty draught, or soothing pain by partly anæsthetising it.

He reached home at his old time; it seemed so familiar to fit the key
into the lock and step into the hall, redolent, even through the
closed kitchen door, of the savoury preparations for dinner. But no
little woman ran out, smiling and anxious, to ascertain his mood.

He had to go in search of her; he opened the sitting-room door and
found her ensconced on the chesterfield, knitting those socks. This
evening she had on a purply thing, a wrap, a tea-gown - he did not know
what to call it - very graceful. It made her look slimmer than ever;
and stranger. All these strange clothes had the effect of increasing
the gulf between them. In the old days she had to ask him, and she did
not do it very often, for what she wanted, and it was his to withhold
or to give. Everything about her then had seemed familiar because, in
a way, it was his. But now she had a horrible independence, a mastery
of life, even to spending her own money upon her own clothes. He did
not mind that, of course; he liked her to be able to buy what she
wanted; but it made a difference.

She wore her amethyst earrings, but not the hair ornament from Paris.

Coming up behind her quickly, he bent over and kissed her cheek, it
being all that she offered. He laid a box of sweets on a table near,
and it reminded her of that evening before he went away, when he had
brought home a packet of chocolates to sugar his news.

"Not lost your sweet tooth I hope," he smiled.

"It's sweeter than ever."

He untied the ribbons. "Do you still thread these in your cammies?"

"If they're pretty. That'll do for Minna - I'm wearing mauve now."

"I'd noticed."

"Because of poor mother, you know."

"Oh, of course." He put a bonbon in her mouth.

"What a nice baby it is!" he said softly, stroking her silk knee.

He knew himself to be a fool, but all that evening he let himself
remain on the rack, wondering; wondering if she'd relent; if her
stoniness wasn't just a mood, and if it hadn't passed away; wondering
if he couldn't break down that unnatural opposition in her. And when
at ten o'clock she rose and nodded "Good night," he detained her,
asking again urgently:

"Can't we - can't we - be as we were before?"

"Thank heaven, no!" she replied, with a tiny shudder.

Osborn looked at her narrowly and spoke crudely:

"Do you know, if I were like some men, I should tell you that I
wouldn't stand such fool nonsense; and there'd be an end of it?"

She went a trifle paler, but displayed no fear. "Don't you dare!" she
said between her teeth. "I'd leave you next day."

Again he went a little way up the corridor, but stopped before the
aloof reserve of her look.

"Believe me," she said gravely, "I couldn't stand you."

He bit his lip sharply. "It's dangerous, you know, what you're doing.
I told you last night men are natural animals all the world over. I
shan't stand being turned down like this for ever; it's absurd,
unnatural; it's preposterous after we've been married all these years.
I tell you what you're doing is not safe. You'll drive me elsewhere."

"Make your own life," she said, with a cheerful indifference; "I have
all I want in mine."

Osborn turned away with a sharp exclamation; and heard her door click
behind her while he still stood in the corridor.

"That's that!" he breathed hard.

The next morning he took a bag with him and in the afternoon he wired
home: "Shall not be back for dinner."

She read the telegram, uncaring. Two years ago it would have made her
fear. She would have trembled over it; her heart would have leapt as
at a thunderbolt; she would have run to her glass and reckoned with
the sallowness of her face, the little lines about her eyes, each
representing little anxieties about little things; her chapped hands
and her dull wits. She would have thought of the other women, the
hundreds of them, the younger, freer and fresher women who passed him
by every day in the streets. But now she smiled; she felt awfully old,
experienced in reading under and between the brief message.

She mused: "Tactics! How funny men are! Can he think I'll mind?"

It occurred to her, too, that perhaps it was not tactics; perhaps he
genuinely quested in other directions; perhaps, already, she had
driven him elsewhere. And still she was unmoved; she could not care.
She longed to care very deeply, tragically, to thrill to the pulse of
life again, but she could not. She even told herself that she was a
little glad on his behalf and her own, if such was the solution. As
she went in to dinner, and seated herself at the solitary table, she
liked it; privacy had returned to her. This was almost like the year
of her grass-widowhood.




CHAPTER XXIV

FOOL'S CAP


Osborn visited a smart flower shop when he went out to lunch and
ordered carnations, a generous sheaf of them, to be sent to Miss
Roselle Dates at the Piccadilly Theatre at half-past seven. He rang up
and booked a stall for himself and, later, sent the wire to his wife.

"She's cut me loose," he said to himself, "and that's that."

He lunched as he liked now, with a memory that could afford to be
humorous of the five-shilling weekly limit to which he had cut himself
down in the bad old days only just over a year ago. But they were dear
old days, too, when this extraordinary complication between his wife
and him wasn't even thought of....

His luck was wonderful. He sold another car that afternoon. Two
three-hundred-pound cars in two days, meaning forty pounds in his
pocket! People liked him; he was big, good-looking and plausible, and
he had a way with him which absolutely prevented any possible
purchaser from ever giving another thought to any two-seater but the
Runaway. When he turned out of the establishment that winter
afternoon, on his way to an hotel to dress for his early and lonely
dinner somewhere or other, he was pleased. Brisk business did a little
towards lightening his trouble, just as less innocuous excitements
might do.

"Stick to business and stick to fun," he told himself grimly, as he
strode along, "and you'll worry through."

He thought of his children more than of anyone else throughout the
courses of his dinner in a light, bright, well-served restaurant.
George was a fine little boy, and should be done well, thoroughly
well, with no expense spared; he must get to know the little chap,
take him about a bit and make him interested in things worth knowing.
Minna was going to be pretty, a facsimile of her mother; and the baby
was a splendid little female animal. There was no doubt that he
possessed three beautiful kids of whom any man might be proud.

Surely, if only for their sakes, some day she'd soften and return to
him? Some evening he'd come home and find her as she used to be during
the first year, sweet and eager, and shining; loving and
passionate....

Osborn smoked several cigarettes over his coffee thinking of these
things; he was in no hurry to see the show at the Piccadilly, and
there would be plenty of time for Roselle afterwards. But he was
rather lonely here by himself, and looked around somewhat wistfully at
gay couples, laughing parties, all about him. There was not a woman
there who could equal Marie, he said to himself; if she were only here
with him, with her fresh, soft face, and her springing hair, and her
round and slender figure, she'd put all this paint and powder right
out of court.

But she was sitting afar off in a quiet flat, softly lighted,
ineffably cosy, in the place called home, where husbands were not
wanted.

He confessed to himself: "It used to be pretty beastly for her; a
little delicate thing - three babies and no nurse; no help with
anything. I suppose I could have done a lot, but how's one to think of
these things? I suppose I've failed as a husband, but what am I to do
about it now? It's all over and can't be helped."

He went to his stall at the Piccadilly, and, looking about him at
other men's clothes, decided that he must have new ones. The price of
an evening suit need not trouble him now. He settled down and began to
enjoy the play.

Roselle was on the stage, in the beauty chorus, looking magnificent,
and her eyes were sweeping the stalls. They paused here and there in
their saucy habit, lingering upon more than one man with one of her
tiny inscrutable smiles winging a message, but their search continued
until at last she had found Osborn Kerr sitting on the lefthand side
in the third row. He had scribbled on the card which accompanied his
flowers, "Look for me to-night," and when her look met his, he had a
sudden thrill of pleasure. Watching her eyes sweeping here and there,
it had been exciting to wait for the moment when they should fall on
him. After he had signalled back a discreet smile in answer, he put up
his glasses and looked at her eagerly.

Her beauty returned to his senses like a familiar thing; he had
admired the way her hair grew from her temples, and to-night it was
dressed to show the unusual charm; her ankles had always been
wonderfully slim, and to-night they looked finer than ever atop of
twinkly little Court shoes in a vivid green hue; her eyes had that
deep, still look which expressed her inanity, while having the result
of concealing it.

During the first interval he scribbled a note to her, and sent it
round with an imperative request for an answer. The note asked:

"My dear Roselle, come out to supper? And shall I wait for you at the
stage door? - O.K."

And her reply, in her big, silly back-hand writing, said laconically:

"Right. I'll be out at eleven. - R.D."

Eleven found him waiting by the stage-door entrance, and she did not
keep him long. Soon she came, big and brilliant, out from the gloomy
gully, in the inevitable fur-coat which he remembered so well, but
which had begun now to look battered, and the velvet hat shoved on
cheekily, like a man's wideawake. Her eyes and her teeth acclaimed him
in a kindred smile, for which he felt the warmer.

"Hallo, dear old thing!" she greeted him. "I thought you were lost."

He held her hand, smiling. "This is fine!" he said. "Where shall we
go?"

"Romano's."

"Romano's let it be. I've a cab here, waiting." He handed her in,
jumped in after her, and slammed the door, with a feeling that for an
hour at least he had left his troubles outside.

"How are you?" he asked. "What have you been doing since I saw you
last? And didn't you ever expect to see me again?"

Her eyes, in the dimness, looked very deep.

"I knew I should," she answered murmurously.

The inimitable atmosphere of Romano's loosened his tongue. After she
had ordered supper, with every whit of the appetite and extravagance
which he remembered as her chief characteristic, next to her beauty,
and after each had been stimulated by a cocktail, he was conscious
that he wanted to confide in her, not so much because she was Roselle,
but because she was a woman, would look soft and listen prettily. He
wanted stroking gently, patting on the back, and reassuring about
himself.

The slight moodiness of his expression set her suggesting confidences.
"You've got a pretty bad hump," she said caressingly. "What is it? Has
the car slumped? Won't they have it? Or is it indigestion? You're not
what you were when - "

She gave a quick sigh and smile, very inviting.

"When we were touring about Canada and the States together," he
finished. "Well, you see; when a man has come back to all he left
behind him - "

"Did you leave much behind you?"

"Why do you ask?"

"You never told _me_ anything," she pouted. "But I'm not
_asking_. I've no curiosity. The knots men tie themselves into - "

"You can laugh."

"You make me. Aren't men silly? Tell me about - to whom you came back."

"What does it matter?"

"It doesn't. _I_ don't care." She drummed her fingers on the
table. "All men are like cats, home by day, and tiles by night. But if
you'd told me you were likely to get scolded for saying how d'you do
to me, I'd have been more careful of you."

Her smile derided him. "Has someone scolded you?" she asked.

Consommé was set before them and she began to drink it with appetite,
not repeating her question till it was finished.

"Well?" she said then, tilting her head inquiringly to one side.

"The fact is," he answered abruptly, "I - I've had a bad let-down."

"Financial?"

"No."

"Oh! Really!" she said pettishly.

"It doesn't matter," he remarked, rousing himself, "the thing is to
make the best of life, and by Jove! I'm going to!"

"So you come and look for me?"

"Precisely," said Osborn. "You've been awf'ly decent to me, Roselle.
Knowing you has meant a lot to me. I don't believe you'd let a fellow
down very badly, would you?" He began to feel tender towards her, and
the stupidity and avarice, which he had awhile ago begun faintly to
see in her, now receded under the spell of the lights and the hour.
"If no one else has cut in since I last saw you," he said, leaning
towards her, "you might be kind to me again. Will you? I'm lonely. I'm
simply too dreadfully lonely for anything. What are you doing this
week-end?"

"Nothing," she said after a careful pause.

"Come out into the country on Saturday."

"I've a matinée."

"Of course. Sunday then? I'd bring the car round for you early, and
we'd have a jolly day, get down to the sea somewhere. You'd like


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