“I suppose I talked. I heard my voice sometimes. The easy flow Sabre had started with didn’t last long. The girl hardly spoke. I watched her a lot. I liked the look of her. She must have been uncommonly pretty in a vivacious sort of way before she ran up against her trouble, whatever it was. I say Whatever it was. I’d no real reason to suppose I knew; though mind you, I was guessing pretty shrewdly it was lying there on the sofa wrapped up in what d’you call ’ems—swaddling clothes. Yes, uncommonly pretty, but now sad—sad as a young widow at the funeral, that sort of look. It was her eyes that especially showed it. Extraordinary eyes. Like two great pools in a shadow. If I may quote poetry, at you,
Her eyes were deeper than
Of waters stilled at even.
And all the sorrow in them of all the women since Mary Magdalen. All the time but once. Once the baby whimpered, and she got up and went to it and stooped over it the other side of the sofa from me, so I could see her face. By gad, if you could have seen her eyes then! Motherhood! Lucky you weren’t there, because if you’ve any idea of ever painting a picture called Motherhood, you’d ha’ gone straight out and cut your throat on the mat in despair. You certainly would.
“Well, anyway, the banquet got more and more awkward to endure as it dragged on, and mighty glad I was when at last the girl got up—without a word—and picked up the baby and left us. Left us. We were no more chatty for being alone, I can promise you. I absolutely could not think of a word to say, and any infernal thing that old Sabre managed to rake up seemed complete and done to death the minute he’d said it.
“Then all of a sudden he began. He fished out some cigarettes and chucked me one and we smoked like a couple of exhaust valves for about two minutes and then he said, ’Hapgood, why on earth should I have to explain all this to you? Why should I?’
“I said, a tiny bit sharply—I was getting a bit on edge, you know—I said, ‘Well, who’s asked you to? I haven’t asked any questions, have I?’
“Sabre said, ’No, I know you haven’t asked any, and I’m infernally grateful to you. You’re the first person across this threshold in months that hasn’t. But I know you’re thinking them—hard. And I know I’ve got to answer them. And I want to. I want to most frightfully. But what beats me is this infernal feeling that I must explain to you, to you and to everybody, whether I want to or not. Why should I? It’s my own house. I can do what I like in it. I’m not, anyway, doing anything wrong. I’m doing something more right than I’ve ever done in my life, and yet everybody’s got the right to question me and everybody’s got the right to be answered and—Hapgood, it’s the most bewildering state of affairs that can possibly be imagined. I’m up against a code of social conventions, and by Jove I’m absolutely down and out. I’m absolutely tied up hand and foot and chucked away. Do you know what I am, Hapgood—?’