“Have you, Nona?”
She answered, “Do you think that’s what life is, Marko?”
“It’s not unlike,” he said. And he added, “Except about some one coming along with a stick and drawing a bit into safety. I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps that’s what we’re all looking for—”
He suddenly realised that he was back precisely at the thoughts his mind had taken up on the morning he had met her. But with a degree more of illumination. Two feelings came into his mind, the second hard upon the other and overriding it, as a fierce horseman might catch and override one pursued. He said, “It’s rather jolly to have some one that can see ideas like that.” And then the overriding, and he said with astonishing roughness, “But you—you aren’t flotsam! How can you be flotsam—the life you’ve—taken?”
And, lo, if he had struck her, and she been bound, defenceless, and with her eyes entreating not to be struck again, she could not deeper have entreated him than in the glance she fleeted from her eyes, the quiver of her lids that first released, then veiled it.
It stopped his words. It caught his throat.
He got up quickly. “I say, Nona, never mind about thinking. I’ll tell you what’s been doing. Rotten. Happened just after I met you the other day.”
“The dust on these roads!” she said. She touched her eyes with her handkerchief. “What, Marko?”
“Well, old Fortune promised to take me into partnership about an age ago.”
“Marko, he ought to have done it an age ago. What’s there rotten about that?” Her voice and her air were as gay as when she had entered.
“The rotten thing is that he’s turned it down. At least practically has. He—” He told her of the Twyning and Fortune incident. “Pretty rotten of old Fortune, don’t you think?”
“Old fiend!” said Nona. “Old trout!”
Sabre laughed. “Good word, trout. The men here all say he’s like a whale. They call him Jonah,” and he told her why.
She laughed gaily. “Marko! How disgusting you are! But I’m sorry. I am. Poor old Marko.... Of course it doesn’t matter a horse-radish what an old trout like that thinks about your work, but it does matter, doesn’t it? I know how you feel. They had an author man at a place we were staying at the other day—Maurice Ash—and he told me that although he says it doesn’t matter, and knows it doesn’t matter, when an absolutely trivial person says something riling about any of his stuff, still it does matter. He said a thing you’ve produced out of yourself you can’t bear to have slighted—not by the butcher. Gladys Occleve made us laugh. Maurice Ash said to her, ’It’s like a mother’s child. Look here, you’re a countess,’ he said to her. ’You oughtn’t to mind what a butcher thinks of your children; but supposing the butcher said your infant Henry was a stupid little brat; what would you do?’ Gladys said she’d dash a best end of the neck straight into his face.”