“I must have come an awful mucker,” Gerda murmured, after a pause. “It must have looked silly, charging over the edge like that.... You didn’t.”
“No. I didn’t.”
“It was stupid,” Gerda breathed, and shut her eyes.
“No, not stupid. Anyone might have. It was a risky game to try.”
“You tried it.”
“Oh, I ... I do try things. That’s no reason why you should.... You’d better not talk. Lie quite quiet. It won’t be very long now before they come.... The pain’s bad, I know.”
Gerda’s head was hot and felt giddy. She moved it restlessly. Urgent thoughts pestered her; her normal reticences lay like broken fences about her.
“Yes. Shall I raise your head a little?”
“No, it’s all right.... About Barry, Nan.”
Nan grew rigid, strung up to endure.
“And what about Barry?”
“Just that I love him. I love him very much; beyond anything in the world.”
“Yes. You’d better not talk, all the same.”
“Nan, do you love him too?”
Nan laughed, a queer little curt laugh in her throat.
“Rather a personal question, don’t you think? Suppose, by any chance that I did? But of course I don’t.”
“But doesn’t he love you, Nan? He did, didn’t he?”
“My dear, I think you’re rather delirious. This isn’t the way one talks.... You’d better ask Barry the state of his affections, since you’re interested in them. I’m not, particularly.”
Gerda drew a long breath, of pain or fatigue or relief.
“I’m rather glad you don’t care for him. I thought we might have shared him if you had, and if he’d cared for us both. But it might have been difficult.”
“It might; you never know.... Well, you’re welcome to my share, if you want it.”
Then Gerda lay quiet, with closed eyes and wet forehead, and concentrated wholly on her right leg, which was hurting badly.
Nan too sat quiet, and she too was concentrating.
Irrevocably it was over now; done, finished with. Barry’s eyes, Barry’s kiss, had told her that. Gerda, the lovely, the selfish child, had taken Barry from her, to keep for always. Walked into Barry’s office, into Barry’s life, and deliberately stolen him. Thinking, she said, that they might share him.... The little fool. The little thief. (She waved the flies away from Gerda’s head.)
And even this other game, this contest of physical prowess, had ended in a hollow, mocking victory for the winner, since defeat had laid the loser more utterly in her lover’s arms, more unshakably in his heart. Gerda, defeated and broken, had won everything. Won even that tribute which had been Nan’s own. “You little sportsman,” Barry had called her, with a break of tenderness in his voice. Even that, even the palm for valour, he had placed in her hands. The little victor. The greedy little grabber of other people’s things....