And, thinking of the old struggle, he threw out his hand, as he had done that night when he had met Francey Wilmot, and clenched the slender, powerful fingers as though he had life by the throat, smiling a little in the cold, rather cruel way that Cosgrave knew—a theatrical gesture, had it been less passionately sincere.
It was in his consulting-room that Cosgrave found him after a prolonged, muddle-headed search that had lasted till close on midnight. Cosgrave himself was drunk—less with wine than with a kind of heady exhilaration that made him in turn maudlingly sentimental or recklessly hilarious. And yet there was a definite and serious purpose in his coming—a rather pathetic desire to “put himself right,” to get Stonehouse, who leant against the mantleshelf watching him with a frank contempt, to understand and sympathise.
“Of course—you’re mad with me—you’ve got every right to be—it was a rotten thing to do—bolting like that—beastly ungrateful and inconsiderate. It was just because I couldn’t explain. I knew you thought it was the fresh air and—and hunting down those poor jolly little beggars—and all the time it was just a girl and a blessed tune running through my head.”
He began to hum, beating time with tipsy solemnity, and even then the wretched song brought something riotous and headlong into the subdued room.
The door seemed to have been flung violently open with an explosive gesture, as though some invisible showman had called out: “Look who’s here!” and the woman herself had catherine-wheeled into their midst, standing there in her exotic gorgeousness, with her arms spread out in salutation and her mouth parted in that rather simple smile. Robert could almost smell the faint perfume that surrounded her like a cloud. It was ridiculous—yet for the moment she was so real, that he could have taken her by the shoulders and thrust her out.
“And you did want me to get better, didn’t you?” Cosgrave pleaded wistfully, “even if it wasn’t with your medicine. And in a sort of way it was your medicine, wasn’t it? You made me go to see her.”
Stonehouse had to sit down and pretend to rearrange his papers in order to hide how impatient he felt.
“My professional vanity isn’t wounded, if that’s what you’re getting at. If you were better I’d be very glad. As far as I can see you’re only drunk.”
“I know—a little—I’m not accustomed to it—but it’s not that, Robert. Really, it isn’t. I’m jolly all—the time—even in the early morning. Seem to have come back to life from a beastly long way off—all at once—by special aeroplane. I don’t think I’ve felt like this since—since——”
“Since Connie Edwards’ day,” Robert suggested. “But I expect you’ve forgotten her.”
Cosgrave stared, round-eyed and open-mouthed and foolish.
“Connie——? No—I haven’t. You bet I haven’t. Often wonder what became of her. She was a jolly good sort.”