“But the cream of it was,” said Norman, pressing a large tortoiseshell-rimmed monocle into his eye, “you don’t mind me telling this, Face, do you?” (In their home and among their friends they called each other Face and Mug.) “The cream of it was when she, being full fed, turned to the woman beside her and said: ‘Haven’t you ever seen a monkey before?'”
“Oh, yes!” Mrs. Norman Knight joined in the laughter. “Wasn’t that too absolutely creamy?”
And a funnier thing still was that now her coat was off she did look like a very intelligent monkey who had even made that yellow silk dress out of scraped banana skins. And her amber ear-rings: they were like little dangling nuts.
“This is a sad, sad fall!” said Mug, pausing in front of Little B’s perambulator. “When the perambulator comes into the hall–” and he waved the rest of the quotation away.
The bell rang. It was lean, pale Eddie Warren (as usual) in a state of acute distress.
“It is the right house, isn’t it?” he pleaded.
“Oh, I think so – I hope so,” said Bertha brightly.
“I have had such a dreadful experience with a taxi-man; he was most sinister. I couldn’t get him to stop. The more I knocked and called the faster he went. And in the moonlight this bizarre figure with the flattened head crouching over the little wheel … “
He shuddered, taking off an immense white silk scarf. Bertha noticed that his socks were white, too – most charming.
“But how dreadful!” she cried.
“Yes, it really was,” said Eddie, following her into the drawing-room. “I saw myself driving through Eternity in a timeless taxi.”
He knew the Norman Knights. In fact, he was going to write a play for N.K. when the theatre scheme came off.
< 8 >
“Well, Warren, how’s the play?” said Norman Knight, dropping his monocle and giving his eye a moment in which to rise to the surface before it was screwed down again.
And Mrs. Norman Knight: “Oh, Mr. Warren, what happy socks?”
“I am so glad you like them,” said he, staring at his feet. “They seem to have got so much whiter since the moon rose.” And he turned his lean sorrowful young face to Bertha. “There is a moon, you know.”
She wanted to cry: “I am sure there is – often – often!”
He really was a most attractive person. But so was Face, crouched before the fire in her banana skins, and so was Mug, smoking a cigarette and saying as he flicked the ash: “Why doth the bridegroom tarry?”
“There he is, now.”
Bang went the front door open and shut. Harry shouted: “Hullo, you people. Down in five minutes.” And they heard him swarm up the stairs. Bertha couldn’t help smiling; she knew how he loved doing things at high pressure. What, after all, did an extra five minutes matter? But he would pretend to himself that they mattered beyond measure. And then he would make a great point of coming into the drawing-room, extravagantly cool and collected.
Harry had such a zest for life. Oh, how she appreciated it in him. And his passion for fighting – for seeking in everything that came up against him another test of his power and of his courage – that, too, she understood. Even when it made him just occasionally, to other people, who didn’t know him well, a little ridiculous perhaps … For there were moments when he rushed into battle where no battle was … She talked and laughed and positively forgot until he had come in (just as she had imagined) that Pearl Fulton had not turned up…