There was a glance from eyes whose luster time and irregular living had conspired to dim.
“Ah!—you men!” Mrs. Pendomer retorted. “And there we have the tragedy of life in a nutshell!”
Silence lasted for a while. The colonel was finding this matutinal talk discomfortably opulent in pauses.
“Rudolph, and has it never occurred to you that in marrying Patricia you swindled her?”
And naturally his eyebrows lifted.
“Because a woman wants love.”
“Well, well! and don’t I love Patricia?”
“I dare say that you think you do. Only you have played at loving so long you are really unable to love anybody as a girl has every right to be loved in her twenties. Yes, Rudolph, you are being rather subtly punished for the good times you have had. And, after all, the saddest punishment is something that happens in us, not something which happens to us.”
“I wish you wouldn’t laugh, Clarice——”
“I wish I didn’t have to. For I would get far more comfort out of crying, and I don’t dare to, because of my complexion. It comes in a round pasteboard box nowadays, you know, Rudolph, with French mendacities all over the top—and my eyebrows come in a fat crayon, and the healthful glow of my lips comes in a little porcelain tub.”
Mrs. Pendomer was playing with a teaspoon now, and a smile hovered about the aforementioned lips.
“And yet, do you remember, Rudolph,” said she, “that evening at Assequin, when I wore a blue gown, and they were playing Fleurs d’Amour, and—you said—?”
“Yes”—there was an effective little catch in his voice—“you were a wonderful girl, Clarice—’my sunshine girl,’ I used to call you. And blue was always your color; it went with your eyes so exactly. And those big sleeves they wore then—those tell-tale, crushable sleeves!—they suited your slender youthfulness so perfectly! Ah, I remember it as though it were yesterday!”
Mrs. Pendomer majestically rose to her feet.
“It was pink! And it was at the Whitebrier you said—what you said! And—and you don’t deserve anything but what you are getting,” she concluded, grimly.
“I—it was so long ago,” Rudolph Musgrave apologized, with mingled discomfort and vagueness.
“Yes,” she conceded, rather sadly; “it was so long—oh, very long ago! For we were young then, and we believed in things, and—and Jack Charteris had not taken a fancy to me—” She sighed and drummed her fingers on the table. “But women have always helped and shielded you, haven’t they, Rudolph? And now I am going to help you too, for you have shown me the way. You don’t deserve it in the least, but I’ll do it.”
Thus it shortly came about that Mrs. Pendomer mounted, in meditative mood, to Mrs. Musgrave’s rooms; and that Mrs. Pendomer, recovering her breath, entered, without knocking, into a gloom where cologne and menthol and the odor of warm rubber contended for mastery. For Patricia had decided that she was very ill indeed, and was sobbing softly in bed.