Towards midnight she motioned to him and whispered something that he could not understand. But the old woman rose heavily from her knees and went over to the gramophone, thrusting aside with savage resolution the nurse who tried to intercept her. Stonehouse himself made an involuntary gesture.
“Why not?” he said. “Let her alone.”
He stood close to her and waited. He felt that some part of him was dying with her, that he stood with her before a black partition which was thinning slowly, and that presently they would both know whatever lay beyond.
The macaw fidgeted on its golden perch, craning towards the light and blinking uneasily as though a strange thing had come into the room. The needle scratched under a shaking hand.
“I’m Gyp Labelle;
Come dance with me. . .”
He bent over her so that his face almost touched hers.
“I’m sorry—I’m sorry, Gyp.”
She turned her head a little, her lips moving. It was evident that she had not really heard. But he knew that she had never borne him malice.
And then suddenly it was over. He had broken through. Beyond were understanding and peace and strange and difficult tears. He loved her, as beneath the fret and heat of passion Cosgrave and all those others had loved her, for what she sincerely was and for the brave, gay thing she had to give. He loved her more simply still as in rare moments of their lives men love one another, saying: “This is my brother—this is my sister.” From his lonely arrogance his spirit flung itself down, grieving, beside her mysterious, incalculable good.
He could hear the jolly bang-bang of the drum and the whoop of a trumpet. He could see her catherine-wheeling round the stage, and the man with the bloated face and tragic, intelligent eyes.
“Life itself, my dear fellow, life itself.”
And she was dead.
For a moment they stared at one another. He did not at once recognize Connie Edwards, in the puritanical serge frock and with her air of rather conscious sobriety, and he himself stood in the shadow. He thought:
“She’s wondering if I’m a tramp.” He felt like one, broken and shabby.
“Dr. Wilmot?” he muttered.
She leant closer.
“Oh, hallo—Robert.” She corrected herself severely, and held the door wide open. “Dr. Stonehouse—to be sure. Francey’s upstairs.”
She led the way. It was almost as though she had been expecting him. At any rate, she was not surprised at all. But half-way up the stairs she glanced back over her shoulder.
“I don’t usually open the door. I’m her secretary. And a damn good one too. Rather a jest, eh, what?”
“Rather,” he said.
And it was really the same room—a fire burning and the faun dancing in the midst of its moving shadows. There was a faint, warm scent of cigarette smoke and a solemn pile of books beside her deep chair. It wouldn’t be like Francey to rest under her laurels.