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   Chapter 25 THE QUARREL

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 7335

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"The other day," said Sylvia, "you were perfectly sweet to me. I was really happy; I knew you loved me, and that was quite enough. Now again I feel that miserable doubtfulness."

"May I ask," said Woodville, who was sitting in front of a pile of papers, while Sylvia was leaning her head on her hand opposite him at the table, "how it is that you're here again?"

He spoke in a tone that was carefully not affectionate and that he tried not to make irritable.

"Certainly. I arranged to go out with Felicity-before papa-and then I telephoned to her that I had a headache."

"Isn't that what you did on Thursday?"

"No; on Thursday I said I was going to the dentist. And came in here instead."

"Do you intend to do this often?" he asked.

"Yes, continually."

He rustled the papers.

"Why shouldn't I? Don't you like it?" she said.

"I can't help thinking it's rather risky. Suppose Felicity comes and finds you in blooming health?"

"Surely I can recover from my headache if I like? Besides, she telephoned to me to get some aspirin. She won't expect me to be down till this afternoon, and she won't come till then."

"Did you get some?"

"Frank, what idiotic questions you ask!"

There was a pause.

"Don't you think, dear," she said, "this is very jolly, to arrange to have two hours like this alone together?"

"Oh, delightful! But I don't see what's the good of it, as we're placed."

"Not to have a nice quiet talk?"

"I have nothing to talk about." He seemed nervous.

"Are you going to be like this when we're married?" asked Sylvia in a disappointed voice.

"Not at all!"

"Oh, I'm so glad! If you'll excuse my saying so, Frank darling, you seem to me to have a rather sulky disposition."

He seized the papers and threw them on the floor.

"Sulky? I, sulky? You never made a greater mistake. You're not a good judge of character, Sylvia. Don't go in for it. Leave it alone. You'll never make anything of it, you haven't the gift. As it happens, I have a very good temper, except that now and then I'm 'rather violent when roused,' as the palmists say, but sulky-never!"

Sylvia seemed to have made up her mind to be irritating. She laughed a good deal. (She looked most lovely when laughing.)

"What are you laughing at?" he asked.

"At you. Pretending to be violent, good-tempered. Of course you're neither. What you think is self-control is merely sulkiness."

His eyes flashed.

"What do you want?" he said, in an undertone.

"Why, I want you to be sensible and jolly; like you were that day at Richmond."

"How can I be like I was that day at Richmond? It was a lovely day; we were in the country; it was our escapade. It was an exceptional case."

"Oh dear! Then will you only be like that as an exceptional case?"

"My dear child, you don't understand. When a man has-has work to do," he said rather hesitatingly.

She laughed again.

"Work! It must be frightfully important work if you throw it on the floor from temper."

He bore this well, and answered, picking up the papers, "Important or not, it's what I'm here for-it's what your father pays me for. How on earth he can think I'm the slightest use to him I can't imagine."

"Oh, he knows you're not, really, dear," said Sylvia soothingly. "But he's grown used to you, and to have a secretary makes him feel he's a sort of important public man. Don't you see?"

"What! I'm not useful to him?" Woodville asked angrily. "I should like to know--" Here he stopped.

"I suppose you think he won't know what to do without you when we're married," said Sylvia.

"Oh, I do wish you'd leave off saying that, Sylvia."

"Saying

what?"

"When we're married. You have no idea how irritating you are, darling."

"Irritating? Oh dear, Frank, I'm so sorry. Do forgive me. Perhaps it is rather bad taste, but I say it to cheer you up, to remind you you have something to look forward to. Do you see?"

She looked at him sweetly, but he would not meet her eyes.

"Perhaps you're not looking forward to it?" she said in a piqued voice.

"Sylvia, would you mind going away?"

"Oh, all right. Very well. I won't disturb you any more. It's very sweet and conscientious of you to bother about the papers. I'll go. Shan't you want me always with you when we're married?"

"Never!" he answered. "At least, not if I have any other occupation."

Her eyes brightened.

"Oh! then it isn't that I worry you, but I sort of distract your attention. Is that it?"

He made no answer.

"I'm afraid," said Sylvia sadly, "that we shall quarrel dreadfully."

"Quarrel? Rot!" said Woodville. "We shall never quarrel. You'll do exactly what I tell you-and I shall devote myself to doing everything for your good."

"If I thought you meant anything as dull as that I should break it off at once," said Sylvia. "The programme doesn't sound attractive."

He laughed. "How do you think it ought to be then?"

"There'll be only one will between us," said Sylvia, "that is to say, you'll do everything I want always, Frank. Do you hear? Won't you answer? Well, I see you're in a bad temper." She got up. "Good-bye." She held out her hand. "I shall hardly see you again all day, and Frank--I see you don't want to kiss me once before I go."

"Oh, you see that, do you?"

"Of course, I think you're an ideal man and a darling in every way, and I love you very much, but I think it's a pity you're so cold and heartless." She came nearer to him.

"Don't say that again," he said, with a rather dangerous look.

"But you are! You're absolutely cold. I think you only love me as a duty."

At this Woodville seemed to lose his head. He seized her in his arms and kissed her roughly and at random, holding her close to him.

"Oh don't, Frank. How can you be so horrid? You're making my hair untidy. Oh, Frank!"

When he at last released her, he walked to the window and looked out. She went to the looking-glass with tears in her eyes, and arranged her hair.

"I didn't think," she said reproachfully, "that you could behave like that, Frank!"

He made no reply.

As she stood at the door she said, pouting, "You didn't seem to care whether I liked it or not."

"And I didn't!" said Woodville. "I wasn't thinking about what you'd like."

"And-shan't you ever think about what I'd like?"

"Oh, I shall think a great deal about what you'd like," said Woodville, "and I shall see that you like it. But that will be different. I don't apologise; you brought it on yourself."

"I'll try to forgive you," said Sylvia. "But now, I really have a headache."

"Take some aspirin," said Woodville.

"How peculiar you are! Then I'm not to come in to-morrow morning?"

"Do as you like; you know what to expect."

"Why, you don't mean to say you would behave like that again?"

"I shall make it a rule," he answered.

"It's unkind of you to say that, because now you know I can't come."

"This sort of thing is becoming impossible," said Woodville. "You make it worse for me."

"I'm sorry," she said gently. "I assure you it wasn't what I wanted, really."

"I dare say not. But you don't understand."

"Will you promise never to break the compact again?" said Sylvia, looking up at him sweetly.

"Will you go?" he answered in a low voice.

This time she went.

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