And still, in the back of her mind, there was the pear tree. It would be silver now, in the light of poor dear Eddie’s moon, silver as Miss Fulton, who sat there turning a tangerine in her slender fingers that were so pale a light seemed to come from them.
What she simply couldn’t make out – what was miraculous – was how she should have guessed Miss Fulton’s mood so exactly and so instantly. For she never doubted for a moment that she was right, and yet what had she to go on? Less than nothing.
“I believe this does happen very, very rarely between women. Never between men,” thought Bertha. “But while I am making the coffee in the drawing-room perhaps she will ‘give a sign’ “
What she meant by that she did not know, and what would happen after that she could not imagine.
While she thought like this she saw herself talking and laughing. She had to talk because of her desire to laugh.
“I must laugh or die.”
But when she noticed Face’s funny little habit of tucking something down the front of her bodice – as if she kept a tiny, secret hoard of nuts there, too – Bertha had to dig her nails into her hands – so as not to laugh too much.
It was over at last. And: “Come and see my new coffee machine,” said Bertha.
“We only have a new coffee machine once a fortnight,” said Harry. Face took her arm this time; Miss Fulton bent her head and followed after.
The fire had died down in the drawing-room to a red, flickering “nest of baby phoenixes,” said Face.
“Don’t turn up the light for a moment. It is so lovely.” And down she crouched by the fire again. She was always cold … “without her little red flannel jacket, of course,” thought Bertha.
< 12 >
At that moment Miss Fulton “gave the sign.”
“Have you a garden?” said the cool, sleepy voice.
This was so exquisite on her part that all Bertha could do was to obey. She crossed the room, pulled the curtains apart, and opened those long windows.
“There!” she breathed.
And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon.
How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?
For ever – for a moment? And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.” Or did Bertha dream it?
Then the light was snapped on and Face made the coffee and Harry said: “My dear Mrs. Knight, don’t ask me about my baby. I never see her. I shan’t feel the slightest interest in her until she has a lover,” and Mug took his eye out of the conservatory for a moment and then put it under glass again and Eddie Warren drank his coffee and set down the cup with a face of anguish as though he had drunk and seen the spider.
“What I want to do is to give the young men a show. I believe London is simply teeming with first-chop, unwritten plays. What I want to say to ‘em is: ‘Here’s the theatre. Fire ahead.'”
“You know, my dear, I am going to decorate a room for the Jacob Nathans. Oh, I am so tempted to do a fried-fish scheme, with the backs of the chairs shaped like frying-pans and lovely chip potatoes embroidered all over the curtains.”…