him “a barren rascal,” and had lashed him
into fury; when, white with realisation that the secret
was about to escape from his lips, he had laid her
on the sofa and had gone blindly into the street.
Now facing each other for the first time after many
months, they remembered all too poignantly that parting.
The barren rascal who stood before her was the man
who had written every word of Adrian’s triumphant
second novel, and had given it to her out of the largesse
of his love. And he had borne with patience all
her imperious strictures and had obeyed all her crazy
and jealous whims. He had fooled her—quixotically
fooled her, it is true—but fooled her as
never woman had been fooled in the world before.
And knowing Adrian to be the barren rascal, all the
time, never had he wavered in his loyalty, never had
he uttered one disparaging word. And he had secured
the insertion of a life of Adrian in the next supplement
to the Dictionary of National Biography; and he had
helped her to set up that staring white marble monument
in Highgate Cemetery, with its lying inscription.
Never had human soul been invested in such a Nessus
shirt of irony. No wonder she had passed through
Hell-fire. No wonder her soul had been scorched
and shrivelled up. No wonder the licking fires
of unutterable shame kept her awake of nights.
And if she writhed in the flaming humiliation of it
all when she was alone, what was that woman’s
anguish of abasement when she stood face to face,
and compelled to speech, with the man whose loving
hand had unwittingly kindled that burning torment?
The poor human love for Adrian was not dead.
That secret I had plucked out of her heart a few weeks
ago in the garden. How did she regard the man
who must have held Adrian in the worst of contempt,
the contempt of pity? She hated him. I was
sure she hated him. I could not take my mind
off those two closeted together. What was happening?
Again and again I went over the whole disastrous story.
What would be the end? I wearied myself for a
long, long time with futile speculation.
* * * *
My library door opened, and Liosha, bright-eyed, with
quivering lip and tragic face, burst in, and seeing
me, flung herself down by my side and buried her head
on the arm of the chair and began to cry wretchedly.
“My dear, my dear,” said I, bewildered
by this tornado of misery. “My dear,”
said I, putting an arm round her shoulders, “what
is the matter?”
“I’m a fool,” she wailed. “I
know I’m a fool, but I can’t help it.
I went in there just now. I didn’t know
they were there. Susan’s music mistress
came and I had to go out of the nursery—and
I went into the drawing-room. Oh, it’s
hard, Hilary, dear—it’s damned hard.”
“My poor Liosha,” said I.
“There doesn’t seem to be a place in the
world for me.”
“There’s lots of places in our hearts,”
I said as soothingly as I could. But the assurance
gave her little comfort. Her body shook.