The weather had turned so much worse that the rest of the day was certainly lost. The wind had risen and the storm gathered force; they gave from time to time a thump at the firm windows and dashed even against those protected by the verandah their vicious splotches of rain. Beyond the lawn, beyond the cliff, the great wet brush of the sky dipped deep into the sea. But the lawn, already vivid with the touch of May, showed a violence of watered green; the budding shrubs and trees repeated the note as they tossed their thick masses, and the cold troubled light, filling the pretty saloon, marked the spring afternoon as sufficiently young. The two ladies seated there in silence could pursue without difficulty--as well as, clearly, without interruption--their respective tasks; a confidence expressed, when the noise of the wind allowed it to be heard, by the sharp scratch of Mrs. Dyott's pen at the table where she was busy with letters.
Her visitor, settled on a small sofa that, with a palm-tree, a screen, a stool, a stand, a bowl of flowers and three photographs in silver frames, had been arranged near the light wood-fire as a choice "corner"--Maud Blessingbourne, her guest, turned audibly, though at intervals neither brief nor regular, the leaves of a book covered in lemon-coloured paper and not yet despoiled of a certain fresh crispness. This effect of the volume, for the eye, would have made it, as presumably the newest French novel--and evidently, from the attitude of the reader, "good"--consort happily with the special tone of the room, a consistent air of selection and suppression, one of the finer aesthetic evolutions. If Mrs. Dyott was fond of ancient French furniture and distinctly difficult about it, her inmates could be fond--with whatever critical cocks of charming dark-braided heads over slender sloping shoulders--of modern French authors. Nothing bad passed for half an hour-- nothing at least, to be exact, but that each of the companions occasionally and covertly intermitted her pursuit in such a manner as to ascertain the degree of absorption of the other without turning round. What their silence was charged with therefore was not only a sense of the weather, but a sense, so to speak, of its own nature. Maud Blessingbourne, when she lowered her book into her lap, closed her eyes with a conscious patience that seemed to say she waited; but it was nevertheless she who at last made the movement representing a snap of their tension. She got up and stood by the fire, into which she looked a minute; then came round and approached the window as if to see what was really going on. At this Mrs. Dyott wrote with refreshed intensity. Her little pile of letters had grown, and if a look of determination was compatible with her fair and slightly faded beauty the habit of attending to her business could always keep pace with any excursion of her thought. Yet she was the first who spoke.
"I trust your book has been interesting."
"Well enough; a little mild."
A louder throb of the tempest had blurred the sound of the words. "A little wild?"
"Dear no--timid and tame; unless I've quite lost my sense."
"Perhaps you have," Mrs. Dyott placidly suggested--"reading so many."
Her companion made a motion of feigned despair. "Ah you take away my courage for going to my room, as I was just meaning to, for another."
"Another French one?"
"Do you carry them by the dozen--?"
"Into innocent British homes?" Maud tried to remember. "I believe I brought three--seeing them in a shop-window as I passed through town. It never rains but it pours! But I've already read two."
"And are they the only ones you do read?"
"French ones?" Maud considered. "Oh no. D'Annunzio."
"And what's that?" Mrs. Dyott asked as she affixed a stamp.
"Oh you dear thing!" Her friend was amused, yet almost showed pity. "I know you don't read," Maud went on; "but why should you? YOU live!"
"Yes--wretchedly enough," Mrs. Dyott returned, getting her letters together. She left her place, holding them as a neat achieved handful, and came over to the fire, while Mrs. Blessingbourne turned once more to the window, where she was met by another flurry.
Maud spoke then as if moved only by the elements. "Do you expect him through all this?"
Mrs. Dyott just waited, and it had the effect, indescribably, of making everything that had gone before seem to have led up to the question. This effect was even deepened by the way she then said "Whom do you mean?"
"Why I thought you mentioned at luncheon that Colonel Voyt was to walk over. Surely he can't."
"Do you care very much?" Mrs. Dyott asked.
Her friend now hesitated. "It depends on what you call 'much.' If you mean should I like to see him--then certainly."
"Well, my dear, I think he understands you're here."
"So that as he evidently isn't coming," Maud laughed, "it's particularly flattering! Or rather," she added, giving up the prospect again, "it would be, I think, quite extraordinarily flattering if he did. Except that of course," she threw in, "he might come partly for you."
"'Partly' is charming. Thank you for 'partly.' If you ARE going upstairs, will you kindly," Mrs Dyott pursued, "put these into the box as you pass?"
The younger woman, taking the little pile of letters, considered them with envy. "Nine! You ARE good. You're always a living reproach!"
Mrs. Dyott gave a sigh. "I don't do it on purpose. The only thing, this afternoon," she went on, reverting to the other question, "would be their not having come down."
"And as to that you don't know."
"No--I don't know." But she caught even as she spoke a rat-tat-tat of the knocker, which struck her as a sign. "Ah there!"
"Then I go." And Maud whisked out.
Mrs. Dyott, left alone, moved with an air of selection to the window, and it was as so stationed, gazing out at the wild weather, that the visitor, whose delay to appear spoke of the wiping of boots and the disposal of drenched mackintosh and cap, finally found her. He was tall lean fine, with little in him, on the whole, to confirm the titular in the "Colonel Voyt" by which he was announced. But he had left the army, so that his reputation for gallantry mainly depended now on his fighting Liberalism in the House of Commons. Even these facts, however, his aspect scantily matched; partly, no doubt, because he looked, as was usually said, un-English. His black hair, cropped close, was lightly powdered with silver, and his dense glossy beard, that of an emir or a caliph, and grown for civil reasons, repeated its handsome colour and its somewhat foreign effect. His nose had a strong and shapely arch, and the dark grey of his eyes was tinted with blue. It had been said of him--in relation to these signs--that he would have struck you as a Jew had he not, in spite of his nose, struck you so much as an Irishman. Neither responsibility could in fact have been fixed upon him, and just now, at all events, he was only a pleasant weather-washed wind-battered Briton, who brought in from a struggle with the elements that he appeared quite to have enjoyed a certain amount of unremoved mud and an unusual quantity of easy expression. It was exactly the silence ensuing on the retreat of the servant and the closed door that marked between him and his hostess the degree of this ease. They met, as it were, twice: the first time while the servant was there and the second as soon as he was not. The difference was great between the two encounters, though we must add in justice to the second that its marks were at first mainly negative. This communion consisted only in their having drawn each other for a minute as close as possible--as possible, that is, with no help but the full clasp of hands. Thus they were mutually held, and the closeness was at any rate such that, for a little, though it took account of dangers, it did without words. When words presently came the pair were talking by the fire and she had rung for tea. He had by this time asked if the note he had despatched to her after breakfast had been safely delivered.
"Yes, before luncheon. But I'm always in a state when--except for some extraordinary reason--you send such things by hand. I knew, without it, that you had come. It never fails. I'm sure when you're there--I'm sure when you're not."
He wiped, before the glass, his wet moustache. "I see. But this morning I had an impulse."
"It was beautiful. But they make me as uneasy, sometimes, your impulses, as if they were calculations; make me wonder what you have in reserve."
"Because when small children are too awfully good they die? Well, I AM a small child compared to you--but I'm not dead yet. I cling to life."
He had covered her with his smile, but she continued grave. "I'm not half so much afraid when you're nasty."
"Thank you! What then did you do," he asked, "with my note?"
"You deserve that I should have spread it out on my dressing-table- -or left it, better still, in Maud Blessingbourne's room."
He wondered while he laughed. "Oh but what does SHE deserve?"
It was her gravity that continued to answer. "Yes--it would probably kill her."
"She believes so in you?"
"She believes so in YOU. So don't be TOO nice to her."
He was still looking, in the chimney-glass, at the state of his beard--brushing from it, with his handkerchief, the traces of wind and wet. "If she also then prefers me when I'm nasty it seems to me I ought to satisfy her. Shall I now at any rate see her?"
"She's so like a pea on a pan over the possibility of it that she's pulling herself together in her room."
"Oh then we must try and keep her together. But why, graceful tender, pretty too--quite or almost as she is --doesn't she re- marry?"
Mrs. Dyott appeared--and as if the first time--to look for the reason. "Because she likes too many men."
It kept up his spirits. "And how many MAY a lady like--?"
"In order not to like any of them too much? Ah that, you know, I never found out--and it's too late now. When," she presently pursued, "did you last see her?"
He really had to think. "Would it have been since last November or so?--somewhere or other where we spent three days."
"Oh at Surredge? I know all about that. I thought you also met afterwards."
He had again to recall. "So we did! Wouldn't it have been somewhere at Christmas? But it wasn't by arrangement!" he laughed, giving with his forefinger a little pleasant nick to his hostess's chin. Then as if something in the way she received this attention put him back to his question of a moment before: "Have you kept my note?"
She held him with her pretty eyes. "Do you want it back?"
"Ah don't speak as if I did take things--!"
She dropped her gaze to the fire. "No, you don't; not even the hard things a really generous nature often would." She quitted, however, as if to forget that, the chimney-place. "I put it THERE!"
"You've burnt it? Good!" It made him easier, but he noticed the next moment on a table the lemon-coloured volume left there by Mrs. Blessingbourne, and, taking it up for a look, immediately put it down. "You might while you were about it have burnt that too."
"You've read it?"
"Dear yes. And you?"
"No," said Mrs. Dyott; "it wasn't for me Maud brought it."
It pulled her visitor up. "Mrs. Blessingbourne brought it?"
"For such a day as this." But she wondered. "How you look! Is it so awful?"
"Oh like his others." Something had occurred to him; his thought was already far. "Does she know?"
But the door opened too soon for Mrs. Dyott, who could only murmur quickly--"Take care!"
It was in fact Mrs. Blessingbourne, who had under her arm the book she had gone up for--a pair of covers showing this time a pretty, a candid blue. She was followed next minute by the servant, who brought in tea, the consumption of which, with the passage of greetings, inquiries and other light civilities between the two visitors, occupied a quarter of an hour. Mrs. Dyott meanwhile, as a contribution to so much amenity, mentioned to Maud that her fellow guest wished to scold her for the books she read--a statement met by this friend with the remark that he must first be sure about them. But as soon as he had picked up the new, the blue volume he broke out into a frank "Dear, dear!"
"Have you read that too?" Mrs. Dyott inquired. "How much you'll have to talk over together! The other one," she explained to him, "Maud speaks of as terribly tame."
"Ah I must have that out with her! You don't feel the extraordinary force of the fellow?" Voyt went on to Mrs. Blessingbourne.
And so, round the hearth, they talked--talked soon, while they warmed their toes, with zest enough to make it seem as happy a chance as any of the quieter opportunities their imprisonment might have involved. Mrs. Blessingbourne did feel, it then appeared, the force of the fellow, but she had her reserves and reactions, in which Voyt was much interested. Mrs. Dyott rather detached herself, mainly gazing, as she leaned back, at the fire; she intervened, however, enough to relieve Maud of the sense of being listened to. That sense, with Maud, was too apt to convey that one was listened to for a fool. "Yes, when I read a novel I mostly read a French one," she had said to Voyt in answer to a question about her usual practice; "for I seem with it to get hold more of the real thing--to get more life for my money. Only I'm not so infatuated with them but that sometimes for months and months on end I don't read any fiction at all."
The two books were now together beside them. "Then when you begin again you read a mass?"
"Dear no. I only keep up with three or four authors."
He laughed at this over the cigarette he had been allowed to light. "I like your 'keeping up,' and keeping up in particular with 'authors.'"
"One must keep up with somebody," Mrs. Dyott threw off.
"I daresay I'm ridiculous," Mrs. Blessingbourne conceded without heeding it; "but that's the way we express ourselves in my part of the country."
"I only alluded," said Voyt, "to the tremendous conscience of your sex. It's more than mine can keep up with. You take everything too hard. But if you can't read the novel of British and American manufacture, heaven knows I'm at one with you. It seems really to show our sense of life as the sense of puppies and kittens."
"Well," Maud more patiently returned, "I'm told all sorts of people are now doing wonderful things; but somehow I remain outside."
"Ah it's THEY, it's our poor twangers and twaddlers who remain outside. They pick up a living in the street. And who indeed would want them in?"
Mrs. Blessingbourne seemed unable to say, and yet at the same time to have her idea. The subject, in truth, she evidently found, was not so easy to handle. "People lend me things, and I try; but at the end of fifty pages--"
"There you are! Yes--heaven help us!"
"But what I mean," she went on, "isn't that I don't get woefully weary of the eternal French thing. What's THEIR sense of life?"
"Ah voila!" Mrs. Dyott softly sounded.
"Oh but it IS one; you can make it out," Voyt promptly declared. "They do what they feel, and they feel more things than we. They strike so many more notes, and with so different a hand. When it comes to any account of a relation say between a man and a woman--I mean an intimate or a curious or a suggestive one--where are we compared to them? They don't exhaust the subject, no doubt," he admitted; "but we don't touch it, don't even skim it. It's as if we denied its existence, its possibility. You'll doubtless tell me, however," he went on, "that as all such relations ARE for us at the most much simpler we can only have all round less to say about them."
She met this imputation with the quickest amusement. "I beg your pardon. I don't think I shall tell you anything of the sort. I don't know that I even agree with your premiss."
"About such relations?" He looked agreeably surprised. "You think we make them larger?--or subtler?"
Mrs. Blessingbourne leaned back, not looking, like Mrs. Dyott, at the fire, but at the ceiling. "I don't know what I think."
"It's not that she doesn't know," Mrs. Dyott remarked. "It's only that she doesn't say."
But Voyt had this time no eye for their hostess. For a moment he watched Maud. "It sticks out of you, you know, that you've yourself written something. Haven't you--and published? I've a notion I could read YOU."
"When I do publish," she said without moving, "you'll be the last one I shall tell. I HAVE," she went on, "a lovely subject, but it would take an amount of treatment--!"
"Tell us then at least what it is."
At this she again met his eyes. "Oh to tell it would be to express it, and that's just what I can't do. What I meant to say just now," she added, "was that the French, to my sense, give us only again and again, for ever and ever, the same couple. There they are once more, as one has had them to satiety, in that yellow thing, and there I shall certainly again find them in the blue."
"Then why do you keep reading about them?" Mrs. Dyott demanded.
Maud cast about. "I don't!" she sighed. "At all events, I shan't any more. I give it up."
"You've been looking for something, I judge," said Colonel Voyt, "that you're not likely to find. It doesn't exist."
"What is it?" Mrs. Dyott desired to know.
"I never look," Maud remarked, "for anything but an interest."
"Naturally. But your interest," Voyt replied, "is in something different from life."
"Ah not a bit! I LOVE life in art, though I hate it anywhere else. It's the poverty of the life those people show, and the awful bounders, of both sexes, that they represent."
"Oh now we have you!" her interlocutor laughed. "To me, when all's said and done, they seem to be--as near as art can come--in the truth of the truth. It can only take what life gives it, though it certainly may be a pity that that isn't better. Your complaint of their monotony is a complaint of their conditions. When you say we get always the same couple what do you mean but that we get always the same passion? Of course we do!" Voyt pursued. "If what you're looking for is another, that's what you won't anywhere find."
Maud for a while said nothing, and Mrs. Dyott seemed to wait. "Well, I suppose I'm looking, more than anything else, for a decent woman."
"Oh then you mustn't look for her in pictures of passion. That's not her element nor her whereabouts."
Mrs. Blessingbourne weighed the objection. "Does it not depend on what you mean by passion?"
"I think I can mean only one thing: the enemy to behaviour."
"Oh I can imagine passions that are on the contrary friends to it."
Her fellow-guest thought. "Doesn't it depend perhaps on what you mean by behaviour?"
"Dear no. Behaviour's just behaviour--the most definite thing in the world."
"Then what do you mean by the 'interest' you just now spoke of? The picture of that definite thing?"
"Yes--call it that. Women aren't ALWAYS vicious, even when they're--"
"When they're what?" Voyt pressed.
"When they're unhappy. They can be unhappy and good."
"That one doesn't for a moment deny. But can they be 'good' and interesting?"
"That must be Maud's subject!" Mrs. Dyott interposed. "To show a woman who IS. I'm afraid, my dear," she continued, "you could only show yourself."
"You'd show then the most beautiful specimen conceivable"--and Voyt addressed himself to Maud. "But doesn't it prove that life is, against your contention, more interesting than art? Life you embellish and elevate; but art would find itself able to do nothing with you, and, on such impossible terms, would ruin you."
The colour in her faint consciousness gave beauty to her stare. "'Ruin' me?"
"He means," Mrs. Dyott again indicated, "that you'd ruin 'art.'"
"Without on the other hand"--Voyt seemed to assent--"its giving at all a coherent impression of you."
"She wants her romance cheap!" said Mrs. Dyott.
"Oh no--I should be willing to pay for it. I don't see why the romance--since you give it that name--should be all, as the French inveterately make it, for the women who are bad."
"Oh they pay for it!" said Mrs. Dyott.
"So at least"--Mrs. Dyott a little corrected herself--"one has gathered (for I don't read your books, you know!) that they're usually shown as doing."
Maud wondered, but looking at Voyt, "They're shown often, no doubt, as paying for their badness. But are they shown as paying for their romance?"
"My dear lady," said Voyt, "their romance is their badness. There isn't any other. It's a hard law, if you will, and a strange, but goodness has to go without that luxury. Isn't to BE good just exactly, all round, to go without?" He put it before her kindly and clearly--regretfully too, as if he were sorry the truth should be so sad. He and she, his pleasant eyes seemed to say, would, had they had the making of it, have made it better. "One has heard it before--at least I have; one has heard your question put. But always, when put to a mind not merely muddled, for an inevitable answer. 'Why don't you, cher monsieur, give us the drama of virtue?' 'Because, chere madame, the high privilege of virtue is precisely to avoid drama.' The adventures of the honest lady? The honest lady hasn't, can't possibly have, adventures."
Mrs. Blessingbourne only met his eyes at first, smiling with some intensity. "Doesn't it depend a little on what you call adventures?"
"My poor Maud," said Mrs. Dyott as if in compassion for sophistry so simple, "adventures are just adventures. That's all you can make of them!"
But her friend talked for their companion and as if without hearing. "Doesn't it depend a good deal on what you call drama?" Maud spoke as one who had already thought it out. "Doesn't it depend on what you call romance?"
Her listener gave these arguments his very best attention. "Of course you may call things anything you like--speak of them as one thing and mean quite another. But why should it depend on anything? Behind these words we use--the adventure, the novel, the drama, the romance, the situation, in short, as we most comprehensively say--behind them all stands the same sharp fact which they all in their different ways represent."
"Precisely!" Mrs. Dyott was full of approval.
Maud however was full of vagueness. "What great fact?"
"The fact of a relation. The adventure's a relation; the relation's an adventure. The romance, the novel, the drama are the picture of one. The subject the novelist treats is the rise, the formation, the development, the climax and for the most part the decline of one. And what is the honest lady doing on that side of the town?"
Mrs. Dyott was more pointed. "She doesn't so much as FORM a relation."
But Maud bore up. "Doesn't it depend again on what you call a relation?"
"Oh," said Mrs. Dyott, "if a gentleman picks up her pocket- handkerchief--"
"Ah even that's one," their friend laughed, "if she has thrown it to him. We can only deal with one that is one."
"Surely," Maud replied. "But if it's an innocent one--"
"Doesn't it depend a good deal," Mrs. Dyott asked, "on what you call innocent?"
"You mean that the adventures of innocence have so often been the material of fiction? Yes," Voyt replied; "that's exactly what the bored reader complains of. He has asked for bread and been given a stone. What is it but, with absolute directness, a question of interest or, as people say, of the story? What's a situation undeveloped but a subject lost? If a relation stops, where's the story? If it doesn't stop, where's the innocence? It seems to me you must choose. It would be very pretty if it were otherwise, but that's how we flounder. Art is our flounderings shown."
Mrs. Blessingbourne--and with an air of deference scarce supported perhaps by its sketchiness--kept her deep eyes on this definition. "But sometimes we flounder out."
It immediately touched in Colonel Voyt the spring of a genial derision. "That's just where I expected YOU would! One always sees it come."
"He has, you notice," Mrs. Dyott parenthesised to Maud, "seen it come so often I; and he has always waited for it and met it."
"Met it, dear lady, simply enough! It's the old story, Mrs. Blessingbourne. The relation's innocent that the heroine gets out of. The book's innocent that's the story of her getting out. But what the devil--in the name of innocence--was she doing IN?"
Mrs. Dyott promptly echoed the question. "You have to be in, you know, to GET out. So there you are already with your relation. It's the end of your goodness."
"And the beginning," said Voyt, "of your play!"
"Aren't they all, for that matter, even the worst," Mrs. Dyott pursued, "supposed SOME time or other to get out? But if meanwhile they've been in, however briefly, long enough to adorn a tale?"
"They've been in long enough to point a moral. That is to point ours!" With which, and as if a sudden flush of warmer light had moved him, Colonel Voyt got up. The veil of the storm had parted over a great red sunset.
Mrs. Dyott also was on her feet, and they stood before his charming antagonist, who, with eyes lowered and a somewhat fixed smile, had not moved.
"We've spoiled her subject!" the elder lady sighed.
"Well," said Voyt, "it's better to spoil an artist's subject than to spoil his reputation. I mean," he explained to Maud with his indulgent manner, "his appearance of knowing what he has got hold of, for that, in the last resort, is his happiness."
She slowly rose at this, facing him with an aspect as handsomely mild as his own. "You can't spoil my happiness."
He held her hand an instant as he took leave. "I wish I could add to it!"
When he had quitted them and Mrs. Dyott had candidly asked if her friend had found him rude or crude, Maud replied--though not immediately--that she had feared showing only too much how charming she found him. But if Mrs. Dyott took this it was to weigh the sense. "How could you show it too much?"
"Because I always feel that that's my only way of showing anything. It's absurd, if you like," Mrs. Blessingbourne pursued, "but I never know, in such intense discussions, what strange impression I may give."
Her companion looked amused. "Was it intense?"
"_I_ was," Maud frankly confessed.
"Then it's a pity you were so wrong. Colonel Voyt, you know, is right." Mrs. Blessingbourne at this gave one of the slow soft silent headshakes to which she often resorted and which, mostly accompanied by the light of cheer, had somehow, in spite of the small obstinacy that smiled in them, a special grace. With this grace, for a moment, her friend, looking her up and down, appeared impressed, yet not too much so to take the next minute a decision. "Oh my dear, I'm sorry to differ from any one so lovely--for you're awfully beautiful to-night, and your frock's the very nicest I've ever seen you wear. But he's as right as he can be."
Maud repeated her motion. "Not so right, at all events as he thinks he is. Or perhaps I can say," she went on, after an instant, "that I'm not so wrong. I do know a little what I'm talking about."
Mrs. Dyott continued to study her. "You ARE vexed. You naturally don't like it--such destruction."
"Of your illusion."
"I HAVE no illusion. If I had moreover it wouldn't be destroyed. I have on the whole, I think, my little decency."
Mrs. Dyott stared. "Let us grant it for argument. What, then?"
"Well, I've also my little drama."
"An attachment ?"
"That you shouldn't have?"
"That I shouldn't have."
"Ah thank goodness, no!"
Mrs. Dyott continued to gaze. "The object's unaware--?"
Mrs. Dyott turned it over. "Are you sure?"
"That's what you call your decency? But isn't it," Mrs. Dyott asked, "rather his?"
"Dear no. It's only his good fortune."
Mrs. Dyott laughed. "But yours, darling--your good fortune: where does THAT come in?"
"Why, in my sense of the romance of it."
"The romance of what? Of his not knowing?"
"Of my not wanting him to. If I did"--Maud had touchingly worked it out--"where would be my honesty?"
The inquiry, for an instant, held her friend, yet only, it seemed, for a stupefaction that was almost amusement. "Can you want or not want as you like? Where in the world, if you don't want, is your romance?"
Mrs. Blessingbourne still wore her smile, and she now, with a light gesture that matched it, just touched the region of her heart. "There!"
Her companion admiringly marvelled. "A lovely place for it, no doubt!--but not quite a place, that I can see, to make the sentiment a relation."
"Why not? What more is required for a relation for me?"
"Oh all sorts of things, I should say! And many more, added to those, to make it one for the person you mention."
"Ah that I don't pretend it either should be or CAN be. I only speak for myself."
This was said in a manner that made Mrs. Dyott, with a visible mixture of impressions, suddenly turn away. She indulged in a vague movement or two, as if to look for something; then again found herself near her friend, on whom with the same abruptness, in fact with a strange sharpness, she conferred a kiss that might have represented either her tribute to exalted consistency or her idea of a graceful close of the discussion. "You deserve that one should speak FOR you!"
Her companion looked cheerful and secure. "How CAN you without knowing--?"
"Oh by guessing! It's not--?"
But that was as far as Mrs. Dyott could get. "It's not," said Maud, "any one you've ever seen."
"Ah then I give you up!"
And Mrs. Dyott conformed for the rest of Maud's stay to the spirit of this speech. It was made on a Saturday night, and Mrs. Blessingbourne remained till the Wednesday following, an interval during which, as the return of fine weather was confirmed by the Sunday, the two ladies found a wider range of action. There were drives to be taken, calls made, objects of interest seen at a distance; with the effect of much easy talk and still more easy silence. There had been a question of Colonel Voyt's probable return on the Sunday, but the whole time passed without a sign from him, and it was merely mentioned by Mrs. Dyott, in explanation, that he must have been suddenly called, as he was so liable to be, to town. That this in fact was what had happened he made clear to her on Thursday afternoon, when, walking over again late, he found her alone. The consequence of his Sunday letters had been his taking, that day, the 4.15. Mrs. Voyt had gone back on Thursday, and he now, to settle on the spot the question of a piece of work begun at his place, had rushed down for a few hours in anticipation of the usual collective move for the week's end. He was to go up again by the late train, and had to count a little--a fact accepted by his hostess with the hard pliancy of practice--his present happy moments. Too few as these were, however, he found time to make of her an inquiry or two not directly bearing on their situation. The first was a recall of the question for which Mrs. Blessingbourne's entrance on the previous Saturday had arrested her answer. Had that lady the idea of anything between them?
"No. I'm sure. There's one idea she has got," Mrs. Dyott went on; "but it's quite different and not so very wonderful."
"What then is it?"
"Well, that she's herself in love."
Voyt showed his interest. "You mean she told you?"
"I got it out of her."
He showed his amusement. "Poor thing! And with whom?"
His surprise, if the distinction might be made, was less than his wonder. "You got that out of her too?"
"No--it remains in. Which is much the best way for it. For you to know it would be to end it."
He looked rather cheerfully at sea. "Is that then why you tell me?"
"I mean for her to know you know it. Therefore it's in your interest not to let her."
"I see," Voyt after a moment returned. "Your real calculation is that my interest will be sacrificed to my vanity--so that, if your other idea is just, the flame will in fact, and thanks to her morbid conscience, expire by her taking fright at seeing me so pleased. But I promise you," he declared, "that she shan't see it. So there you are!" She kept her eyes on him and had evidently to admit after a little that there she was. Distinct as he had made the case, however, he wasn't yet quite satisfied. "Why are you so sure I'm the man?"
"From the way she denies you."
"You put it to her?"
"Straight. If you hadn't been she'd of course have confessed to you--to keep me in the dark about the real one."
Poor Voyt laughed out again. "Oh you dear souls!"
"Besides," his companion pursued, "I wasn't in want of that evidence."
"Then what other had you?"
"Her state before you came--which was what made me ask you how much you had seen her. And her state after it," Mrs. Dyott added. "And her state," she wound up, "while you were here."
"But her state while I was here was charming."
"Charming. That's just what I say."
She said it in a tone that placed the matter in its right light--a light in which they appeared kindly, quite tenderly, to watch Maud wander away into space with her lovely head bent under a theory rather too big for it. Voyt's last word, however, was that there was just enough in it--in the theory--for them to allow that she had not shown herself, on the occasion of their talk, wholly bereft of sense. Her consciousness, if they let it alone--as they of course after this mercifully must--WAS, in the last analysis, a kind of shy romance. Not a romance like their own, a thing to make the fortune of any author up to the mark--one who should have the invention or who COULD have the courage; but a small scared starved subjective satisfaction that would do her no harm and nobody else any good. Who but a duffer--he stuck to his contention--would see the shadow of a "story" in it?