“It has been a wonderful day. But I mustn’t come again. I’m too old. It’s silly to fall in love with life when one is old.”
Robert leant across to her. He ached with his love and pity.
“A little. But it has been worth while. You carried me so nicely—so big and strong.”
She leant against Francey, nodding and smiling to reassure him. And presently she was asleep. He saw how Francey shifted her arm so that it encircled the bowed figure, and every ugly thing that had dogged him in that lonely, haunted walk vanished before the kind steadfastness of her eyes.
It was as though she had said aloud:
“We’ll take care of her together. We won’t let her die before we’ve made her very, very happy.”
Then he took out a note-book and made a shaky sketch of a pompous, drunken-looking house with a huge door, on which were two brass plates, side by side, bearing the splendid inscriptions:
Dr. Frances Stonehouse, Robert Stonehouse,
He showed it to her and they smiled at one another, and there was no one else in the carriage but themselves and their happiness.
It meant a tightening—a screwing up of his whole life. Time had to be found. The hours had to be packed closer to make room for her. He grasped after fresh opportunities to make money with a white-hot assiduity. He worked harder. For he was hag-ridden by his unfaithfulness. He drew up a remorseless programme of his days, and after that Francey might only walk home with him from the hospital. And there was an hour on Sunday evening when he was too tired for anything else.
It meant a ceaseless, active negation: a “No” to the simple wish to buy her a bunch of flowers, “No” to the longing to walk a little farther with her in the quiet dusk, “No” to the very thought of her.
As usual, on the way home, they discussed their best “cases.” There was No. 10 in A Ward, a raddled woman of the streets who had been brought in the night before as the result of a crime passionnel, and whose injuries had been the subject of long deliberations. Even before they had reached the hospital archway Robert and Francey agreed that Rogers’ air of mystery was simply a professional disguise for complete bafflement.
“It’s the sort of case I’d like to have,” Robert said. “Something you can get your teeth into and worry. I believe if I were on my own—given a free hand—I’d work it out—pull her through. Rogers may too. But just now he’s marking time. And there’s nothing to hope from time in a job like that. No constitution. Rotten all through. Still, it would be a feather in one’s cap.”
He brooded fiercely, intently, like a hound on a hot scent. People turned to look at the big, shabby young man with the sunken, burning eyes that stared through them as though they had been so many shadows. He did not, in fact, see them at all. He made his way by sheer instinct across the crowded street.