“I wonder if Miss Fulton has forgotten?”
“I expect so,” said Harry. “Is she on the ‘phone?”
“Ah! There’s a taxi, now.” And Bertha smiled with that little air of proprietorship that she always assumed while her women finds were new and mysterious. “She lives in taxis.”
“She’ll run to fat if she does,” said Harry coolly, ringing the bell for dinner. “Frightful danger for blonde women.”
“Harry – don’t!” warned Bertha, laughing up at him.
Came another tiny moment, while they waited, laughing and talking, just a trifle too much at their ease, a trifle too unaware. And then Miss Fulton, all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hair, came in smiling, her head a little on one side.
“Am I late?”
“No, not at all,” said Bertha. “Come along.” And she took her arm and they moved into the dining-room.
What was there in the touch of that cool arm that could fan – start blazing – the fire of bliss that Bertha did not know what to do with?
Miss Fulton did not look at her; but then she seldom did look at people directly. Her heavy eyelids lay upon her eyes and the strange half-smile came and went upon her lips as though she lived by listening rather than seeing. But Bertha knew, suddenly, as if the longest, most intimate look had passed between them – as if they had said to each other: “You too?” – that Pearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what she was feeling.
And the others? Face and Mug, Eddie and Harry, their spoons rising and falling – dabbing their lips with their napkins, crumbling bread, fiddling with the forks and glasses and talking.
“I met her at the Alpha show – the weirdest little person. She’d not only cut off her hair, but she seemed to have taken a dreadfully good snip off her legs and arms and her neck and her poor little nose as well.”
“Isn’t she very liee with Michael Oat?”
“The man who wrote Love in False Teeth? “
“He wants to write a play for me. One act. One man. Decides to commit suicide. Gives all the reasons why he should and why he shouldn’t. And just as he has made up his mind either to do it or not to do it – curtain. Not half a bad idea.”
“What’s he going to call it – ‘Stomach Trouble’ ?”
“I think I’ve come across the same idea in a little French review, quite unknown in England.”
No, they didn’t share it. They were dears – dears – and she loved having them there, at her table, and giving them delicious food and wine. In fact, she longed to tell them how delightful they were, and what a decorative group they made, how they seemed to set one another off and how they reminded her of a play by Tchekof!
Harry was enjoying his dinner. It was part of his – well, not his nature, exactly, and certainly not his pose – his – something or other – to talk about food and to glory in his “shameless passion for the white flash of the lobster” and “the green of pistachio ices – green and cold like the eyelids of Egyptian dancers.”
When he looked up at her and said: “Bertha, this is a very admirable soufflee! ” she almost could have wept with child-like pleasure.
Oh, why did she feel so tender towards the whole world tonight? Everything was good – was right. All that happened seemed to fill again her brimming cup of bliss.