“Because I like it, damn you,” barked Jim. “Because I’m in need of it.”
None of them quite knew whether they ought to take it as a joke. It was just a bit too real to be quite pleasant.
“Why are you such a baby?” said Lilly. “There you are, six foot in length, have been a cavalry officer and fought in two wars, and you spend your time crying for somebody to love you. You’re a comic.”
“Am I though?” said Jim. “I’m losing life. I’m getting thin.”
“You don’t look as if you were losing life,” said Lilly.
“Don’t I? I am, though. I’m dying.”
“What of? Lack of life?”
“That’s about it, my young cock. Life’s leaving me.”
“Better sing Tosti’s Farewell to it.”
Jim who had been sprawling full length in his arm-chair, the centre of interest of all the company, suddenly sprang forward and pushed his face, grinning, in the face of Lilly.
“You’re a funny customer, you are,” he said.
Then he turned round in his chair, and saw Clariss sitting at the feet of Julia, with one white arm over her friend’s knee. Jim immediately stuck forward his muzzle and gazed at her. Clariss had loosened her masses of thick, auburn hair, so that it hung half free. Her face was creamy pale, her upper lip lifted with odd pathos! She had rose-rubies in her ears.
“I like HER,” said Jim. “What’s her name?”
“Mrs. Browning. Don’t be so rude,” said Josephine.
“Browning for gravies. Any relation of Robert?”
“Oh, yes! You ask my husband,” came the slow, plangent voice of Clariss.
“You’ve got a husband, have you?”
“Rather! Haven’t I, Juley?”
“Yes,” said Julia, vaguely and wispily. “Yes, dear, you have.”
“And two fine children,” put in Robert.
“No! You don’t mean it!” said Jim. “Who’s your husband? Anybody?”
“Rather!” came the deep voice of Clariss. “He sees to that.”
Jim stared, grinning, showing his pointed teeth, reaching nearer and nearer to Clariss who, in her frail scrap of an evening dress, amethyst and silver, was sitting still in the deep black hearth-rug, her arm over Julia’s knee, taking very little notice of Jim, although he amused her.
“I like you awfully, I say,” he repeated.
“Thanks, I’m sure,” she said.
The others were laughing, sprawling in their chairs, and sipping curacao and taking a sandwich or a cigarette. Aaron Sisson alone sat upright, smiling flickeringly. Josephine watched him, and her pointed tongue went from time to time over her lips.
“But I’m sure,” she broke in, “this isn’t very interesting for the others. Awfully boring! Don’t be silly all the time, Jim, or we must go home.”
Jim looked at her with narrowed eyes. He hated her voice. She let her eye rest on his for a moment. Then she put her cigarette to her lips. Robert was watching them both.