“Rice,” he cried, “you are a brick. I’ll do it. I’ll go to her now.”
He went out with a brief farewell. Rice sat down upon his one cane chair, and folded his anus. The room seemed very empty.
THE TASTE OF THE LOTUS
Douglas was kept waiting for a minute or two in the long, cool drawing-room at Grosvenor Square. The effect of Rice’s story was still strong upon him. The perfume of the flowers, the elegance of the room, and its peculiar atmosphere of taste and luxury irritated rather than soothed him. Even the deference which the servants had shown him, the apologetic butler, her ladyship’s own maid with a special message, acquired new significance now, looking at things from Rice’s point of view. There was so much in his own circumstances which had lent weight to what he had been told. He was earning a good deal of money, but he was spending more. Emily had insisted upon rooms of her own choosing in a fashionable neighbourhood, and had herself selected the furniture—which was not yet paid for. She had insisted gently but firmly upon his going to the best tailors. The little expeditions in which he had been permitted to act as her escort, the luncheons and dinners at restaurants, although they were not many, were expensive. Yes, Rice was right. To be near Emily de Reuss was to live within a maze of fascination, but the end to it could only be the end of the others. Already he was in debt, a trifle behind with his work—a trifle less keen about it. Already the memory of his sufferings seemed to lie far back in another world—his realisation of them had grown faint. There was something paralysing about the atmosphere of pleasure with which she knew so well how to surround herself.
The door opened and she came in, a dream of spotless muslin and glinting colours. She came over to him with outstretched hands and a brilliant smile upon her lips.
“How is it, my friend,” she cried, “that you always come exactly when I want you? You must be a very clever person. I have to go for a minute or two to the stupidest of garden parties at Surbiton. You shall drive with me, and afterwards, if you like, we will come back by Richmond and dine. What do you say?”
“Delightful,” he answered, “and if I were an idle man nothing in the world would give me more pleasure. But this afternoon I must not think of it. I am behind with my work already. I only came round for a few minutes’ talk with you.”
She looked at him curiously. She was not used to be denied.
“Surely,” she said, “your work is not so important as all that?”
“I am afraid,” he said, “that lately I have been forgetting how important my work really is. That is precisely what I came to talk to you about.”
She sat down composedly, but he fancied that her long, dark eyes had narrowed a little, and the smile had gone from her face.