So they arrived, mounted a dark stair, and entered a large, handsome room, one of the Adams rooms. Jim had furnished it from Heale’s with striped hangings, green and white and yellow and dark purple, and with a green-and-black checked carpet, and great stripe-covered chairs and Chesterfield. A big gas-fire was soon glowing in the handsome old fire-place, the panelled room seemed cosy.
While Jim was handing round drinks and sandwiches, and Josephine was making tea, Robert played Bach on the piano—the pianola, rather. The chairs and lounge were in a half-circle round the fire. The party threw off their wraps and sank deep into this expensive comfort of modern bohemia. They needed the Bach to take away the bad taste that Aida had left in their mouths. They needed the whiskey and curacao to rouse their spirits. They needed the profound comfort in which to sink away from the world. All the men, except Aaron, had been through the war in some way or other. But here they were, in the old setting exactly, the old bohemian routine.
The bell rang, Jim went downstairs. He returned shortly with a frail, elegant woman—fashionable rather than bohemian. She was cream and auburn, Irish, with a slightly-lifted upper lip that gave her a pathetic look. She dropped her wrap and sat down by Julia, taking her hand delicately.
“How are you, darling?” she asked.
“Yes—I’m happy,” said Julia, giving her odd, screwed-up smile.
The pianola stopped, they all chatted indiscriminately. Jim was watching the new-comer—Mrs. Browning—with a concentrated wolfish grin.
“I like her,” he said at last. “I’ve seen her before, haven’t I?—I like her awfully.”
“Yes,” said Josephine, with a slight grunt of a laugh. “He wants to be loved.”
“Oh,” cried Clariss. “So do I!”
“Then there you are!” cried Tanny.
“Alas, no, there we aren’t,” cried Clariss. She was beautiful too, with her lifted upper-lip. “We both want to be loved, and so we miss each other entirely. We run on in two parallel lines, that can never meet.” She laughed low and half sad.
“Doesn’t SHE love you?” said Aaron to Jim amused, indicating Josephine. “I thought you were engaged.”
“HER!” leered Jim vindictively, glancing at Josephine. “She doesn’t love me.”
“Is that true?” asked Robert hastily, of Josephine.
“Why,” she said, “yes. Why should he make me say out here that I don’t love him!”
“Got you my girl,” said Jim.
“Then it’s no engagement?” said Robert.
“Listen to the row fools make, rushing in,” said Jim maliciously.
“No, the engagement is broken,” said Josephine.
“World coming to pieces bit by bit,” said Lilly. Jim was twisting in his chair, and looking like a Chinese dragon, diabolical. The room was uneasy.
“What gives you such a belly-ache for love, Jim?” said Lilly, “or for being loved? Why do you want so badly to be loved?”