When he had left her, Lady Casterley sat down in a little low chair—long she sat there by the empty hearth, till the daylight, was all gone.
Not far from the dark-haloed indeterminate limbo where dwelt that bugbear of Charles Courtier, the great Half-Truth Authority, he himself had a couple of rooms at fifteen shillings a week. Their chief attraction was that the great Half-Truth Liberty had recommended them. They tied him to nothing, and were ever at his disposal when he was in London; for his landlady, though not bound by agreement so to do, let them in such a way, that she could turn anyone else out at a week’s notice. She was a gentle soul, married to a socialistic plumber twenty years her senior. The worthy man had given her two little boys, and the three of them kept her in such permanent order that to be in the presence of Courtier was the greatest pleasure she knew. When he disappeared on one of his nomadic missions, explorations, or adventures, she enclosed the whole of his belongings in two tin trunks and placed them in a cupboard which smelled a little of mice. When he reappeared the trunks were reopened, and a powerful scent of dried rose-leaves would escape. For, recognizing the mortality of things human, she procured every summer from her sister, the wife of a market gardener, a consignment of this commodity, which she passionately sewed up in bags, and continued to deposit year by year, in Courtier’s trunks.
This, and the way she made his toast—very crisp—and aired his linen—very dry, were practically the only things she could do for a man naturally inclined to independence, and accustomed from his manner of life to fend for himself.
At first signs of his departure she would go into some closet or other, away from the plumber and the two marks of his affection, and cry quietly; but never in Courtier’s presence did she dream of manifesting grief—as soon weep in the presence of death or birth, or any other fundamental tragedy or joy. In face of the realities of life she had known from her youth up the value of the simple verb ’sto—stare-to stand fast.’
And to her Courtier was a reality, the chief reality of life, the focus of her aspiration, the morning and the evening star.
The request, then five days after his farewell visit to Mrs. Noel—for the elephant-hide trunk which accompanied his rovings, produced her habitual period of seclusion, followed by her habitual appearance in his sitting-room bearing a note, and some bags of dried rose—leaves on a tray. She found him in his shirt sleeves, packing.
“Well, Mrs. Benton; off again!”
Mrs. Benton, plaiting her hands, for she had not yet lost something of the look and manner of a little girl, answered in her flat, but serene voice:
“Yes, sir; and I hope you’re not going anywhere very dangerous this time. I always think you go to such dangerous places.”