That was the call which was competing with that other trumpet-call, and Yeovil knew on which side his choice would incline.
It was one of the last days of July, cooled and freshened by a touch of rain and dropping back again to a languorous warmth. London looked at its summer best, rain-washed and sun-lit, with the maximum of coming and going in its more fashionable streets.
Cicely Yeovil sat in a screened alcove of the Anchorage Restaurant, a feeding-ground which had lately sprung into favour. Opposite her sat Ronnie, confronting the ruins of what had been a dish of prawns in aspic. Cool and clean and fresh-coloured, he was good to look on in the eyes of his companion, and yet, perhaps, there was a ruffle in her soul that called for some answering disturbance on the part of that superbly tranquil young man, and certainly called in vain. Cicely had set up for herself a fetish of onyx with eyes of jade, and doubtless hungered at times with an unreasonable but perfectly natural hunger for something of flesh and blood. It was the religion of her life to know exactly what she wanted and to see that she got it, but there was no possible guarantee against her occasionally experiencing a desire for something else. It is the golden rule of all religions that no one should really live up to their precepts; when a man observes the principles of his religion too exactly he is in immediate danger of founding a new sect.
“To-day is going to be your day of triumph,” said Cicely to the young man, who was wondering at the moment whether he would care to embark on an artichoke; “I believe I’m more nervous than you are,” she added, “and yet I rather hate the idea of you scoring a great success.”
“Why?” asked Ronnie, diverting his mind for a moment from the artichoke question and its ramifications of sauce hollandaise or vinaigre.
“I like you as you are,” said Cicely, “just a nice-looking boy to flatter and spoil and pretend to be fond of. You’ve got a charming young body and you’ve no soul, and that’s such a fascinating combination. If you had a soul you would either dislike or worship me, and I’d much rather have things as they are. And now you are going to go a step beyond that, and other people will applaud you and say that you are wonderful, and invite you to eat with them and motor with them and yacht with them. As soon as that begins to happen, Ronnie, a lot of other things will come to an end. Of course I’ve always known that you don’t really care for me, but as soon as the world knows it you are irrevocably damaged as a plaything. That is the great secret that binds us together, the knowledge that we have no real affection for one another. And this afternoon every one will know that you are a great artist, and no great artist was ever a great lover.”
“I shan’t be difficult to replace, anyway,” said Ronnie, with what he imagined was a becoming modesty; “there are lots of boys standing round ready to be fed and flattered and put on an imaginary pedestal, most of them more or less good-looking and well turned out and amusing to talk to.”