But he saw Christine most clearly. She sat in the big arm-chair where his patients waited for his verdict. She wore the big, floppy, black hat that she had liked best, and the grey hair hung in the old untidy wisps about her face. The chair was much too big for her. Her little feet hardly touched the ground. Her hands in the darned gloves were folded gravely over the shabby bag. He could see her looking about dimly and hear the clear, small voice.
“How wonderful of you, Robert! How proud your dear father would have been!”
He fidgeted with the papers on his table, rearranging, re-sorting, desperately trying not to suffer. But he would have torn the whole place down in ruins to have remembered that he had given her one day of happiness.
Well, there had been that one day on Francey’s hill—the picnic. She had liked that. The wood at the bottom, like a silent, deep, green pool—and Francey’s arms about his shoulders, Francey’s mouth on his, giving him kiss for kiss.
Ghosts everywhere—and no living soul who cared now whether he failed or won through, whether he suffered or was satisfied. Only Cosgrave perhaps—poor, unlucky little Cosgrave—always hunting for happiness—breaking himself against life—going to the dogs for the sake of a rotten woman.
He fell forward with his face hidden in his arms and lay there shaken by gusts of fever. They weakened gradually, and he fell asleep. And in his sleep his father drew himself up suddenly, showing his terrible white face, and clutched at little Robert Stonehouse, who skirted him and ran screaming down the dark stairs.
“You can’t—you can’t—you’re dead. I’m grown up—I’m free—I’m not like you—you can’t—you can’t——”
But the next morning he was himself again, sure and cool-headed and cool-hearted. He did not believe that he had suffered or in the recurrence of that terror.
Probably she had expected him. It must have seemed to her, so Stonehouse reflected as he followed the shrivelled old woman down a passage dim and gorgeous with an expensive and impossible Orientalism, a natural sequel to his enmity. Men did not hate her—or they did so at their peril. Then she would be most dangerous. The luckless Frederick, so the story ran, had snubbed her at a charity bazaar, and had made fun of her dancing. And he had stolen and finally shot himself for her sake. Perhaps she thought there was a sort of inevitability in this programme.
He had to wonder at and even admire the mad splendour of the place. Her taste was as crude and flamboyant as herself, but it too had escaped vulgarity which at its worst is imitative of the best, a stupid second-handness, an aggressive insolent self-distrust. She was not ashamed of what she was. She was herself all through, and she trusted herself absolutely. She wanted colour and there was colour. She wanted Greek columns in a Chinese pagoda and they were there. The house was like a temple built by a crazy architect to a crazy god, and every stick and stone in it was a fanatic’s offering.