“Of course—for Mrs. Boyce’s sake alone I should have no alternative.”
She turned round and began to take up the thread of the Nocturne from the point where she had left off; but she only played half a page and quitted the piano abruptly.
“The pretty little spell is broken, Majy. No matter how we try to escape from the war, it is always shrieking in upon us. We’re up against naked facts all the time. If we can’t face them we go under either physically or spiritually. Anyhow—” she smiled with just a little touch of weariness,—“we may as well face them in comfort.”
She pushed my chair gently nearer to the fire and sat down by my side. And there we remained in intimate silence until Marigold announced the arrival of her car.
I shrink morbidly from visiting strange houses. I shrink from the unknown discomforts and trivial humiliations they may hold for me. I hate, for instance, not to know what kind of a chair may be provided for me to sit on. I hate to be carried up many stairs even by my steel-crane of a Marigold. Just try doing without your legs for a couple of days, and you will see what I mean. Of course I despise myself for such nervous apprehensions, and do not allow them to influence my actions—just as one, under heavy fire, does not satisfy one’s simple yearning to run away. I would have given a year’s income to be able to refuse Boyce’s request with a clear conscience; but I could not. I shrank all the more because my visit in the autumn to Reggie Dacre had shaken me more than I cared to confess. It had been the only occasion for years when I had entered a London building other than my club. To the club, where I was as much at home as in my own house, all those in town with whom I now and then had to transact business were good enough to come. This penetration of strange hospitals was an agitating adventure. Apart, however, from the mere physical nervousness against which, as I say, I fought, there was another element in my feelings with regard to Boyce’s summons. If I talk about the Iron Hand of Fate you may think I am using a cliche of melodrama. Perhaps I am. But it expresses what I mean. Something unregenerate in me, some lingering atavistic savage instinct towards freedom, rebelled against this same Iron Hand of Fate that, first clapping me on the shoulder long ago in Cape Town, was now dragging me, against my will, into ever thickening entanglement with the dark and crooked destiny of Leonard Boyce.
I tell you all this because I don’t want to pose as a kind of apodal angel of mercy.
I was also deadly anxious as to the nature of the communication Boyce would make to me, before his mother should be informed of his arrival in London. In spite of his frank confession, there was still such a cloud of mystery over the man’s soul as to render any revelation possible. Had his hurt declared itself to be a mortal one? Had he summoned me to unburden his conscience while yet there was time? Was it going to be a repetition, with a difference, of my last interview with Reggie Dacre? I worried myself with unnecessary conjecture.