Grandmama and May were playing casino. A bitter game, for you build and others take, and your labour is but lost that builded; you sow and others reap. But Grandmama and May were both good-tempered and ladylike. They played prettily together, age and youth.
Why did life play one these tricks, Mrs. Hilary cried within herself. What had she done to life, that it should have deserted her and left her stranded on the shores of a watering-place, empty-handed and pitiful, alone with time the enemy, and with Grandmama, for whom it was all very well?
In the Crescent music blared out—once more the Army, calling for strayed sheep in the rain.
“Glory for you, glory for me!” it shouted. And then, presently:
Count them one by one!
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”
Grandmama, as usual, was beating time with her hand on the arm of her chair.
“Detestable creatures,” said Mrs. Hilary, with acrimony, as usual.
“But a very racy tune, my dear,” said Grandmama, placidly, as usual.
“Blood! Blood!” sang the Army, exultantly, as usual.
May looked happy, and her attention strayed from the game. The Army was one of the joys, one of the comic turns, of this watering-place.
“Six and two are eight,” said Grandmama, and picked them up, recalling May’s attention. But she herself still beat time to the merry music-hall tune and the ogreish words.
Grandmama could afford to be tolerant, as she sat there, looking over the edge into eternity, with Time, his fangs drawn, stretched sleepily behind her back. Time, who flew, bird-like, before May’s pursuing feet; time, who stared balefully into Mrs. Hilary’s face, returning hate for hate, rested behind Grandmama’s back like a faithful steed who had carried her thus far and whose service was nearly over.
The Army moved on; its music blared away into the distance. The rain beat steadily on wet asphalt roads; the edge of the cold sea tumbled and moaned; the noise of the fire flickering was like unsteady breathing, or the soft fluttering of wings.
“Time is so long,” thought Mrs. Hilary. “I can’t bear it.”
“Time gets on that quick,” thought May. “I can’t keep up with it.”
“Time is dead,” thought Grandmama. “What next?”
Not Grandmama’s and not Neville’s should be, after all, the last word, but Pamela’s. Pamela, who seemed lightly, and as it were casually, to swing a key to the door against which Neville, among many others, beat; Pamela, going about her work, keen, debonair and detached, ironic, cool and quiet, responsive to life and yet a thought disdainful of it, lightly holding and easily renouncing; the world’s lover, yet not its servant, her foot at times carelessly on its neck to prove her power over it—Pamela said blandly to Grandmama, when the old lady commented one day on her admirable composure, “Life’s so short, you see. Can anything which lasts such a little while be worth making a fuss about?”