“The trouble with our young writing men is that they are still too romantic. You can’t put out to sea without being seasick and wanting a basin. Well, why won’t they have the courage of those basins?”
“A dreadful poem about a girl who was violated by a beggar without a nose in a little wood … “
Miss Fulton sank into the lowest, deepest chair and Harry handed round the cigarettes.
From the way he stood in front of her shaking the silver box and saying abruptly: “Egyptian? Turkish? Virginian? They’re all mixed up,” Bertha realised that she not only bored him; he really disliked her. And she decided from the way Miss Fulton said: “No, thank you, I won’t smoke,” that she felt it, too, and was hurt.
“Oh, Harry, don’t dislike her. You are quite wrong about her. She’s wonderful, wonderful. And, besides, how can you feel so differently about someone who means so much to me. I shall try to tell you when we are in bed tonight what has been happening. What she and I have shared.”
At those last words something strange and almost terrifying darted into Bertha’s mind. And this something blind and smiling whispered to her: “Soon these people will go. The house will be quiet – quiet. The lights will be out. And you and he will be alone together in the dark room – the warm bed … “
She jumped up from her chair and ran over to the piano.
“What a pity someone does not play!” she cried. “What a pity somebody does not play.”
For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband. Oh, she’d loved him – she’d been in love with him, of course, in every other way, but just not in that way. And equally, of course, she’d understood that he was different. They’d discussed it so often. It had worried her dreadfully at first to find that she was so cold, but after a time it had not seemed to matter. They were so frank with each other – such good pals. That was the best of being modern.
But now – ardently! ardently! The word ached in her ardent body! Was this what that feeling of bliss had been leading up to? But then, then – “My dear,” said Mrs. Norman Knight, “you know our shame. We are the victims of time and train. We live in Hampstead. It’s been so nice.”
“I’ll come with you into the hall,” said Bertha. “I loved having you. But you must not miss the last train. That’s so awful, isn’t it?”
“Have a whisky, Knight, before you go?” called Harry.
“No, thanks, old chap.”
Bertha squeezed his hand for that as she shook it.
“Good night, good-bye,” she cried from the top step, feeling that this self of hers was taking leave of them for ever.
When she got back into the drawing-room the others were on the move.
” … Then you can come part of the way in my taxi.”
“I shall be so thankful not to have to face another drive alone after my dreadful experience.”
“You can get a taxi at the rank just at the end of the street. You won’t have to walk more than a few yards.”
“That’s a comfort. I’ll go and put on my coat.”
Miss Fulton moved towards the hall and Bertha was following when Harry almost pushed past.
“Let me help you.”
Bertha knew that he was repenting his rudeness – she let him go. What a boy he was in some ways – so impulsive – sosimple.
And Eddie and she were left by the fire.
“I wonder if you have seen Bilks’ new poem called Table d’Hote,” said Eddie softly. “It’s so wonderful. In the last Anthology. Have you got a copy? I’d so like to show it to you. It begins with an incredibly beautiful line: ‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?'”
“Yes,” said Bertha. And she moved noiselessly to a table opposite the drawing-room door and Eddie glided noiselessly after her. She picked up the little book and gave it to him; they had not made a sound.
While he looked it up she turned her head towards the hall. And she saw … Harry with Miss Fulton’s coat in his arms and Miss Fulton with her back turned to him and her head bent. He tossed the coat away, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her violently to him. His lips said: “I adore you,” and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheeks and smiled her sleepy smile. Harry’s nostrils quivered; his lips curled back in a hideous grin while he whispered: “Tomorrow,” and with her eyelids Miss Fulton said: “Yes.”
“Here it is,” said Eddie. “‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?’ It’s so deeply true, don’t you feel? Tomato soup is so dreadfully eternal.”
“If you prefer,” said Harry’s voice, very loud, from the hall, “I can phone you a cab to come to the door.”
“Oh, no. It’s not necessary,” said Miss Fulton, and she came up to Bertha and gave her the slender fingers to hold.
“Good-bye. Thank you so much.”
“Good-bye,” said Bertha.
Miss Fulton held her hand a moment longer.
“Your lovely pear tree!” she murmured.
And then she was gone, with Eddie following, like the black cat following the grey cat.