A voice, behind him said: “Mr. Courtier!”
He turned, and there was Barbara.
“I want to talk to you about something serious: Will you come into the picture gallery?”
When at last they were close to a family group of Georgian Caradocs, and could as it were shut out the throng sufficiently for private speech, she began:
“Miltoun’s so horribly unhappy; I don’t know what to do for him: He’s making himself ill!”
And she suddenly looked up, in Courtier’s face. She seemed to him very young, and touching, at that moment. Her eyes had a gleam of faith in them, like a child’s eyes; as if she relied on him to straighten out this tangle, to tell her not only about Miltoun’s trouble, but about all life, its meaning, and the secret of its happiness: And he said gently:
“What can I do? Mrs. Noel is in Town. But that’s no good, unless—” Not knowing how to finish this sentence; he was silent.
“I wish I were Miltoun,” she muttered.
At that quaint saying, Courtier was hard put to it not to take hold of the hands so close to him. This flash of rebellion in her had quickened all his blood. But she seemed to have seen what had passed in him, for her next speech was chilly.
“It’s no good; stupid of me to be worrying you.”
“It is quite impossible for you to worry me.”
Her eyes lifted suddenly from her glove, and looked straight into his.
“Are you really going to Persia?”
“But I don’t want you to, not yet!” and turning suddenly, she left him.
Strangely disturbed, Courtier remained motionless, consulting the grave stare of the group of Georgian Caradocs.
A voice said:
“Good painting, isn’t it?”
Behind him was Lord Harbinger. And once more the memory of Lady Casterley’s words; the memory of the two figures with joined hands on the balcony above the election crowd; all his latent jealousy of this handsome young Colossus, his animus against one whom he could, as it were, smell out to be always fighting on the winning side; all his consciousness too of what a lost cause his own was, his doubt whether he were honourable to look on it as a cause at all, flared up in Courtier, so that his answer was a stare. On Harbinger’s face, too, there had come a look of stubborn violence slowly working up towards the surface.
“I said: ‘Good, isn’t it?’ Mr. Courtier.”
“I heard you.”
“And you were pleased to answer?”
“With the civility which might be expected of your habits.”
Coldly disdainful, Courtier answered:
“If you want to say that sort of thing, please choose a place where I can reply to you,” and turned abruptly on his heel.
But he ground his teeth as he made his way out into the street.
In Hyde Park the grass was parched and dewless under a sky whose stars were veiled by the heat and dust haze. Never had Courtier so bitterly wanted the sky’s consolation—the blessed sense of insignificance in the face of the night’s dark beauty, which, dwarfing all petty rage and hunger, made men part of its majesty, exalted them to a sense of greatness.