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   Chapter 28 No.28

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 36171

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Her Doda! The one that was her baby girl, that was her tiny daughter! The one that was to be her woman treasury in which she'd pour her woman love; that was to be her self's own self, her heart's own heart, her tiny woman-bud to be a woman with her in the house of Harry and of Huggo! Her Doda!

Look, there she is! There's lovely Doda! She's fourteen. It's early in 1915, in the first twelve months of the war. (That war!) She's at that splendid school. She's been there nearly three years. She loves it. She's never so happy as when she's there, except, judging by her chatter, when she's away in the holidays at the house of one of her friends. It's at home-when she is at home-that she's never really happy. She's so dull, she always says, at home. She always wants to be doing something, to be seeing something, to be playing with somebody. She can't bear being in the house. She can't bear being, of an evening, just alone with Rosalie. "Oh, dear!" she's always saying. "Oh, dear, I do wish it would hurry up and be term time again."

"Darling, you are a restless person," Rosalie says.

"Well, mother, it is dull just sticking here."

"You know how Benji loves to have you home, Doda. Benji simply lives for you. I've never known a brother so devoted. You ought to think of Benji sometimes, Doda."

"Well, I can't be always thinking of Benji. I'm surely entitled to be with my own friends sometimes. I don't ask Benji to be devoted to me."

She's strangely given to expressions like that: "I didn't ask for"-whatever circumstance or obligation it might be that was irksome to her. "Not traditions-precedents!" The watchword of the school was strangely to be traced in her attitude, still in her childish years, towards a hundred commonplaces of the daily life. She was always curiously older than her years. She seemed to have a natural bent away from traditionally childish things and towards attractions not associated with childhood. She did excellently well at the school. She was, her reports said, uncommonly quick and vivid at her lessons. She was always in a form above her years. Her friends, while she was smallish, were always the elder girls, and the elder girls gave her welcome place among them. "Perhaps a shade precocious," wrote the lady principal in one of the laconic, penetrating sentences with which, above her signature, each girl's report was terminated: and, in a later term, "Has 'Forward!' for her banner, but should remember 'not too fast'."

"Gripes! I know what she's referring to," said Doda, seeing it, and laughed, obviously flattered.

"Your expressions, Doda!"

"Huggo uses it."

"They're wretched even in Huggo. But Huggo's a boy. You're a girl."

"Well, mother, I didn't ask to be a girl."

"Doda, that's merely silly."

"A lot of us say it, that's all I know."

"Then, darling, a lot of you are silly."

"Oh, I shall be glad when next week I go to the Fergussons. It is dull."

Look, there she is. She's sixteen. She's beautiful. She's pretty as a picture, and she knows she is. She's grown out of the rather early fullness of figure that had been hers. She's slim and tall and straight and supple and slender as a willow wand. If she had her hair up and her skirts lengthened (skirts then were only starting on their diminution to the knees), she'd pass for twenty anywhere, and a twenty singularly attractive, curiously self-possessed, strikingly suggestive in her pale and beautiful countenance, and in an alternating sleepiness and glinting in her eyes; strikingly suggestive of, well, strikingly suggestive according to the predilictions and the principles of the beholder.

This was in 1917. She was beginning rather to hate school now. She wanted to be out and doing some war work of some kind. Oh, those sickening scarves and things they were eternally knitting, that wasn't war work. It was fun at first. They were fed to death with doing them now. She didn't much want to go into a hospital or into any of these women's corps. They were a jolly sight too cooped up in those things from what she'd heard. She wanted to go into one of the Government offices and do clerical work. Several of the school Old Girls who had been there with her were doing that and it was the most ripping rag. Of course you had to work, and of course it was jolly good patriotic work, but you had a topping time in many ways. That was what she wanted to do. Oh, mother, do let her chuck school now and get to it! Not till she was seventeen? Well, it was sickening. Well, it was only another term, thank goodness.

It was in the holidays-in her brief days at home of the holidays-in which these wishes were expressed, that Rosalie found Doda was corresponding with officers at the front.

Doda was appallingly untidy in her habits. She was out one evening to a party-she managed to get a considerable number of parties into her dull days at home. Rosalie, come in from Field's, peeped into her bedroom to find her. She had not known that Doda was going out. The bedroom cried aloud that Doda had gone out. Drawers were open and articles of dress hanging out of them. One drawer, no doubt stubborn in its yieldings, was bodily out in the middle of the room. Clothes were on the floor. Clothes strewed the bed. Powder was all over the mirror. It was as if a whirlwind had passed through the room.

"Powder!" murmured Rosalie.

The state of the room dismayed her. The intense orderliness of her own character forbade her ringing for a maid. She simply could not look at untidiness like that without tidying it. She started to tidy. Doda's box was open. Its contents looked as if a dog had burrowed in it, throwing up the things as he worked down. If anything was to go in, everything must first come out. Rosalie lifted out an initial clearance.

There lay scattered beneath it quite half a dozen photographs of officers in khaki.

There were all inscribed. "To the school kid." "Wishing you were here." "With kisses." "Till we meet." And with slangy nicknames of the writers. There lay with them a number of letters, all in their envelopes. There lay also a sheet of paper covered in Doda's bold handwriting. It began "Wonderful Old Thing."

Rosalie had not touched these evidences of an unknown interest in Doda's life. She stooped, staring upon them, the lifted bundle of clothes in her hand. The stare that took in "Wonderful Old Thing" took in also the first few lines. They were not nice. But she oughtn't to read it. One didn't do that kind of thing. She replaced the bundle and closed the box. Then she tidied the room and wiped the mirror.

Early next morning, immediately on coming out of her bath, she went in to Doda. She opened the door softly and she distinctly saw the lids of Doda's eyes flash up and close again.

"Doda!"

Doda pretended to be asleep. Rosalie had sat up for Doda the previous night but had said nothing to her either of her discovery or of going to an invitation without having told her. Doda wasn't pretending to be asleep because she feared trouble. She was pretending to be asleep just because she had no wish for an early talk with her mother.

There was a little pang at the heart of Rosalie.

But it was just that the child wasn't demonstrative of her affections. None of them were. Even Benji not really what you would call demonstrative. How beautiful the child was! Her Doda! How little she ever saw of her!

She called her again.

Doda opened her eyes. "Hullo, mother."

Just that. No more. They were different, the children.

She sat down on Doda's bed and began to talk to her. Tidiness! "Doda, your room as you left it last night when you went out was simply terrible. How can you?"

"Oh, I can't be tidy," said Doda. "I simply can't. It's no good trying."

"Darling, you ought to try. It's so odd. I'm so fearfully tidy. It's almost a vice with me. One would have thought you'd have had it too."

Doda said indifferently, "I don't see why." She said, "Oh, I am sleepy. It's a matter of teaching when you're a kid, that sort of thing. You're tidy, but you never taught me to be tidy."

Rosalie said some more of encouragement to tidiness. She then said, "And there's another thing, Doda. I think you ought not to have rushed off like that to the Trevors last night without telling me."

"Mother, you knew where I was. I told the maids."

"You should have consulted me, Doda."

The child assumed the Huggo look. "Mother, how could I? They only asked me on the telephone at tea-time. How could I have consulted you?"

"In the same way as you were invited. On the telephone."

"Well, I never thought about it. Why should I if I had? I knew you'd have agreed. You wouldn't have stopped me, would you? It's dull enough, goodness knows."

"Doda, what I've come in to talk about is this. When I was tidying your room last night-"

Doda sat up. "Did you tidy my room?"

"I couldn't possibly leave a room like that. Well, I went to tidy your box-"

"I'll get up," said Doda. She jumped very quickly out of bed and put on a wrapper and her slippers. "Yes, well?"

"Are you writing to men at the front, Doda?"

"Every girl is. It's a thing to do. It helps them."

"Are they friends of yours, dear? Personal friends."

"They're brothers of girls I've stayed with."

"All?"

"Practically all. There're not more than two or three. Lonely soldiers, they're called. They used to advertise. It helps them. There's no harm in it, is there?"

"I haven't suggested there is, Doda."

"I can see you're going to, though. If you ask me-" She stopped.

"I don't think I like the idea, quite. I never did when I heard of it being done. Why should they send you their photographs?"

"But what's the harm? Why shouldn't they?"

"Darling, it's I am asking you. I'm your mother."

"Well, if you ask me-" Doda walked over to the window. She stood there a moment looking out. She suddenly turned. "If you ask me, I don't think it's right to-Of course if you think it right to-if you've been reading my letters-"

"Doda, I haven't. I just saw them there. But I'd like to read them, Doda. May I?"

"They're private letters. I don't see how you can expect me to show you private letters."

Rosalie went over to Doda and stood by her and stroked her hair. "Doda, I think we'll look at it like this. Let me read the letters and we'll talk about them and see if it's nice to go on writing to the men, in each individual case. That certainly you shall do, continue writing, if it all seems nice to us, together, Doda. If you won't show them to me-well, let us say if you'd rather not show them to me-then I'll ask you just to burn them and we'll forget it."

Doda stepped violently away from the hand that stroked her hair. "No. I won't show them."

"Then it's to burn them, Doda."

Doda looked slowly around the room. Her face was not nice. She said sullenly, "There's no fire here."

"Bring them down with you to the breakfast-room. Your father will have gone. We'll see Benji's not there."

She went to Doda and kissed her on the forehead. Doda shut her eyes. Her hand on Doda's shoulder could feel Doda quivering. She went to the door and at the door said, "And the photographs, dear. I should bring them too."

She had long finished breakfast when at last Doda came down. The tall, slim, beautiful and pale creature appeared in the doorway. She walked towards the fire, her head held high, her brown hair in a thick tail to her waist. She had a packet in her hands. As she began to stoop over the fire she suddenly uprighted herself and turned upon her mother. She said violently, "Perhaps you'd like to count them?"

Rosalie said very softly, "Doda!"

Doda bent to the flames and pressed the packet down upon them. She stood watching them mount about it. A half-burnt photograph slid onto the hearth. She gave a sound that was a catching at her breath and swiftly stooped and snatched the burning fragment up and cast it on its fellows. The leaping flames died down. She turned violently towards Rosalie, seated at the table watching her, her heart sick. That tall, slim, beautiful creature whose face had been pale and was habitually pale was in her face crimson, her slight young bosom heaving, her eyes, so often sleepy, flashing, her young hands clenched. "I call it a shame!" Her voice was high and raw. "I call it a shame! I call it wicked! I call it abominable! I call it an-an outrage!"

Rosalie said, "Doda! Doda, I haven't reproached you. I haven't reproved you. If they had been letters you could have shown me, yes, then a shame-"

The child called out, "I'm nearly seventeen! I call it an outrage!"

Rosalie got up and went to her. "Darling, they couldn't be shown. They're just burnt. They're forgotten." She put out inviting arms. "My poor Doda!"

That child, almost touched by her arms, brushed herself from the arms. "Why should I have things like this done to me by you?"

"Doda, I am your mother. You have a duty-"

"Well, I won't have a duty! Why should I have a duty? I didn't ask to be born, did I? You chose for me to be born, didn't you? I didn't choose it. I'll never forget this. Never, never, never!"

Tears rushed into her eyes and leapt from her eyes. She gave an impassioned gesture. She rushed from the room.

Strike on!

Look at her. There she is. She's only eighteen but she's woman now. Grown-up. "Out," as one would have said in the old and stupid days, but out much wider than the freest budding woman then. It's 1919. They've caught, the rising generation, the flag of liberty that the war flamed across the world; license, the curmudgeons call it; liberty, the young set free. It's 1919. She's been a year war-working in one of the huge barracks run up all over London for the multitudes of women clerks the Government departments needed and, the war over, not too quickly can give up. She loves it. She's made a host of friends. Her friends are all the girls of wealthy parents, like herself, or of parents of position if not of means; and all, like her, are far from with complaint against the war that's given them this priceless avenue away from home. She loves it. Of course she doesn't love the actual work. Who would? What she loves is the constant titillation of it. The titillation of getting down there of a morning and of the greetings and the meetings and the rapt resumptions of the past day's fun; the titillation of watching the clock for lunch and of those lunches, here to-day, to-morrow there, and of the rush to get back not too late. The titillation of watching the clock for tea, and of tea, and then, most sharpest titillation of them all, watching the clock for-time!; for-off!; for-out!; away! That is the charm of it in detail. The charm in general, as once expressed to Rosalie by one of Doda's friends brought in to tea one Sunday is, "You see, it gets you through the day."

That's it. The night's all right. There's nearly always something doing for the night. It's just the day would be so hopeless were there not this lively way of "getting through the day." That's it, for Doda.

Until she found her feet-not in her office, but at home at first emergence from her school-until she found her feet she often used to be kept uncommonly late at office. In a very short while she found her feet and that excuse no longer was put forward. Every girl of Doda's association was on her feet in 1919; and for Doda very much easier, at that, than for the generality, to establish her position in the house. By 1920, when she was nineteen, she was conducting her life as she pleased, as nineteen manifestly should. In 1921, when she was twenty, the war work was over and she was "getting through the day" much as she lived the night. It was pretty easy to get through the day in 1921. That which the curmudgeons called license, and liberty the free, was in 1921 held by charter and by right prescriptive.

Look at her. There she is. She's lovelier yet, if that which was her budding loveliness could bear a lovelier hue. She's always out somewhere, or she's always off somewhere, or she's always coming in from somewhere. Her eyes, in presentation more pronounced, have always got that sleepy look or got that glinting look. She never talks much at home. She seems to keep her talking for her friends and she never brings her friends home. She's on good terms with Rosalie. That's the expression for it. She was to have been a woman treasury into which was to be poured by Rosalie all her woman love. She was to have been a woman with her mother in the house of Harry and of Huggo. But that's all done. She's not a daughter to her mother. She never asked to be born to her mother, as once she told her mother, and though that never now again is said it is the basis of her stand. She owes no obligations. They just meet. They get on very pleasantly. She's on good terms with Rosalie.

It is odd-or else it isn't odd but only natural-that in all the pictures seen by Rosalie there scarcely is a picture that ever shows the children all together. They hardly ever, within the compass of her pictures, were together. As in their schoolhood, so much more in adolescence, they never showed a least desire for one another's company. They had their friends, each one, and much preferred their friends. You'd not, it's true, say that of Benji; but Benji in fraternal wish had to take what was offered him and there was nothing offered him by Doda; by Huggo less than nothing.

Benji!

Look, here's the Benji one; the good, the quiet, gentle one; the one that never gave a thought of trouble, Benji.

Her Benji! The one that came after disfavour, after remorse; that came with tears, with thank God, charged-with-meaning tears. The littlest one. The one that was so tiny wee beside the big and sturdy others. Her last one! Her Benji!

Look, there he is. Always so quiet, gentle, good. Always, though snubbed, so passionately fond of Doda. Look, there he is. He's at Milchester, in his spectacles, the darling! He's always i

n his books. He isn't good at games. He does so well at school. Oh, isn't Harry proud of him and fond of him! Oh, doesn't Harry often sigh and wish he could have gone to Tidborough to win those prizes and those honours there. But Tidborough's closed to Harry, Harry says. Look, there goes Benji! It's 1919. He's sixteen. It's Speech Day at Milchester. He's in the Sixth. He's won all those prizes. She's holding two and Harry's holding three, and there he goes to take the Heriot Gold Medal. All the great hall is simply cheering Benji! The Head is saying that he's the youngest boy that's ever won the Heriot. Look, there's the Bishop handing it, and shaking Benji by the hand, and patting Benji on the back, and saying something to him. You can't possibly hear what it is, every one is cheering so. Look, here he comes with the medal, in his spectacles, the darling! She can scarcely see, her eyes are brimming so. Harry's quite shameless. Harry's got tears standing on his cheeks and he's set down the prizes and is stretching both his hands out to the boy. Feel, that's his hand-her Benji's hand-snuggled a moment in hers, and then he turns to his father and is eagerly whispering to his father, his spectacles rubbing his father's head, the darling! He's more demonstrative to his father than he is to her. She feels it rather sometimes. He's awfully sweet to her, but, you can't help noticing it, it's more his gracious manner than the outpouring she'd give anything to have. It's funny how he always seems the tiniest atom strange with her as if he didn't know her very well or hadn't known her very long. It sometimes pains a little. He's different with his father. He loves being with his father. And doesn't Harry love having the boy with him! Harry idolises the boy. Of course Huggo is Harry's eldest, and whatever Huggo's disappointments, these men-at least these perfect Harry type of men-have for their eldest boy within their hearts a place no other child can quite exactly fill. There's some especial yearning that the eldest seems to call. There's some incorporation of the father's self, there's some reflection that he sees, there's some communion that he seems to find, that makes "My eldest son" a thing apart. But, with that reservation, and that's ingrained in men, it's Benji that's the world to Harry. He's going to Ox-ford. He's going to have the Bar career that Huggo wouldn't take. But Harry thinks there's some especial wonders going to come to Benji. He says the boy's a dreamer. He says the boy's a thinker. "Benji's got something rare about him, Rosalie," he says. "That boy's got a mark on him that genius has. You wait and see, old lady. It's Benji's going to make the old name shine!" Strike on!

It is odd, sad, significant, that there is scarcely a picture that shows together those three children, or even two of them. It's 1921 now and drawing very close to Finis; but always the old detachment, the seeming want of mutual love, appears to hold the three apart. Doda is sometimes glimpsed, no more, with Benji, always putting off or chilling off her brother for her friends; sometimes she's seen with Huggo, meeting him and he her, more like an acquaintance of their sets than like fruit of the same parents; familiar, apparently, with one another's lives: referring to places of amusement by both frequented, as had been done, in instance, on that night of Huggo's announcement of his marriage when with a note that rung sinister he had bantered Doda and she had turned and run upstairs. But no more than that. The children seem to have no mutual love. They're different.

It's 1921. Huggo was scarcely ever seen now. He had married in haste and had in haste repented. He also had played a trick, involving a sum of money, on his father. His wife, as it appeared, had been met at some dancing club and the brief courtship had continued anywhere but at her home. Of her home Huggo knew only what she told him; and what she told him was only what she could invent. She was then, at their first meeting, in the uniform of a war service corps to which she belonged. She said her father was a clergyman.

"A clergyman's daughter!" cried Huggo bitterly, acquainting Rosalie only three months after his marriage of his marriage's failure. "A clergyman's daughter! That's what they all say-those! Wasn't I a fool to be caught out by that! Oh, wasn't I a fool! If you want to know what she really was, she was a teashop waitress, in the city somewhere. If you want to know what her reverend father in the country was, is, he doesn't live in the country; he lives in Holloway, and he doesn't live in a rectory in Holloway, he lives in a baker's shop. That's what he is, a baker! That's what I've done for myself, married a waitress! Yes, and then you, you and father, when she comes whining here and complains I ill-treat her and keep her without money, you two take her part and send her back to me with your championship and get me here to pijaw me about my duty to my pretty young wife! Well, now you know, now you know, and you can tell father what my pretty young wife is-how she deceived me. Deceived me! Now you know."

Rosalie said, "Huggo, you deceived her."

Huggo had been leaving and now very violently went. "That's your tone, is it? I might have known! That's all you can say, is it? To see me ruin my life and then reproach me! Ruin my life! It's not I that's ruined my life. It's you. There, now I've told you! I can see things now. What sort of a chance have I ever had? What sort of a home have I ever had? Have I ever had a mother? When I was a kid did I ever have a mother like other kids have? I can see things now. A mother! I can't ever remember a time when I wasn't in the charge of some servant or governess or other. You said this afternoon before father that I didn't love you. Did you ever teach me to love you? By God, I can't remember it. By God, I can't."

Strike on!

Also that trick, touching a sum of money, upon his father. When he first made known his marriage, and it was obvious he must have his way and be set up to start in life, he had also, as he had said, the chance of a lucrative business. It was the kind of thing he liked. It was the kind of thing he was keen on. It was a motor-car business. There was a little syndicate that was putting a new car on the market. They'd got works, just outside London somewhere. They'd got show-rooms in the West End. And they'd got an absolutely first-class article. That chap Telfer was one of the directors; a first-class chap called Turner was another; they'd let him in for eight thousand pounds and he'd be absolutely set up for life and be pulling in an immense fortune in no time. You will, won't you, father?

Of course Harry forgave the boy, his eldest son. The marriage was done, what was the use of being unkind or stupid about it? Of course Rosalie welcomed the wife, Lucy, the prettiest creature, a tiny shade common, perhaps, but a sweet little soul with always about her a pathetic air of being afraid of something (of when it should come out precisely what she was, as the event proved). Of course Harry paid over the eight thousand pounds. Huggo took, "to start with," as he said, a tiny furnished flat in Bayswater. Rosalie installed him and his bride therein and left him, on their first night there, ever so gay, so confident, so happy. Her Huggo!

In two months it all came out. Lawyers are notoriously lax in making their own wills. Harry, who could master a case quicker than any man at the Bar, and could see to the soul and beyond it of a hostile witness a minute after getting on his feet to cross-examine, was fooled blind by the syndicate that was going to put the absolutely first-class article on the market. Whether it was that there never had been a business, and that Harry's inspection of works, visits to show-rooms, and examination of books, was all part of an elaborate swindle carried out with the aid of some one who possessed these accessories; or whether it was that the whole thing was bought up cheap merely to sell at a profit, was never clearly known to Harry and to Rosalie. Harry was too grieved to pursue the shock. "I'll take not a step further in the matter, Rosalie," Harry said. "I can't bear to find the boy out deeper. It's done. There's no sense in being stupid or unkind about it."

What happened was that the car enterprise never was an enterprise at all except an enterprise to get eight thousand pounds into the possession of the syndicate. Nothing ever was properly announced by Huggo. It just "came out." It "came out" that the syndicate was not established in the West End show-rooms but in three rather dingy offices in the city. It "came out" that the syndicate was not running a motor-car business but a business cryptically described as "Agents." Huggo said disaster had overtaken the car enterprise and that the syndicate, rescuing what remained of the smash, had pluckily set up on another line. He thought he could scrape along. It was a knockout of course, but he thought he could scrape along.

"But what I can't make out, old man," said Harry, when Huggo had stumbled through an entirely non-explanatory explanation of the syndicate's business in its new capacity as agents, "What I can't make out, old man, is why you should trade under another name. Why, 'So-and-So, and So-and-So, and So-and-So, Agents'-I can't ever remember the names? Why not 'Telfer, Occleve and Turner'?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, father-I want you to know everything without any concealment-"

"I know you do, old man. I know you do."

"Well, as a matter of fact, that's just a bit of useful swank. The names we're trading under are swagger names and we think it sounds better."

"Occleve sounds pretty good to me, Huggo. We've been a good long way on Occleve, the Occleves."

"Well, that's what they think, father, and of course, as I've told you, they know infinitely more about business than I do. They'll explain the whole thing to you any time you like. It's all absolutely above-board, father."

"My dearest old boy, don't talk like that. Of course it is. We're only so grieved, your mother and I, that you should have had such a setback so early. But remember, old man, the great thing is not to let your wife suffer. No pinching or screwing for her, Huggo. Always your wife first, Huggo. We'll give you at the rate of three hundred a year just until all's going swimmingly, and that's to keep Lucy merry and bright, see?"

It was shortly after that it all came out that the thing was a ramp, the motor-car business never in existence; shortly after that it came out Huggo was neglecting his wife; shortly after that the high words to Rosalie, telling her how his wife had deceived him; shortly after that that the syndicate, amazingly prosperous, moved into offices better situated and handsomely appointed; shortly after that it came out that the business of the syndicate was in some way connected with company promotion.

Harry, seen among these developments, was not the man he used to be. He was at the crest of his career at the Bar, working enormously and earning richly, but the old bright, cheery way had gone from Harry. There was permanently upon his face, and there was intensified, the beaten look that Rosalie first had seen on that night, in the war, when there had been the Huggo drinking business and when for the first and only time he had spoken passionately to Rosalie. When he now was at home he used to sit for long periods doing nothing, just thinking. When sometimes, home earlier than he, Rosalie saw him coming up the street towards the gamboge door she noticed, terribly, the bowed shoulders, the weary gait, the set, careworn face. She used to run down then to the famous gamboge door and open it and greet him and his face used to light up in the old way, but it was not the same face, and the effect of its radiation therefore not the same. It was not that the face was older. It was that its aspect was changed.

He used to look up from that chair where he sat just thinking, when Doda, butterflied for the evening, butterflied across the room, and used to say, "Out again, Doda?" He then would relapse back into his thoughts. He had a habit of getting up suddenly and rather strangely wandering about from room to room of all the principal rooms of the house, just standing at the door of each, and looking in (they were all empty of inhabitants), and then coming back and sitting again in the chair and just sit, thinking.

It used to pain the heart of Rosalie.

She said more than once when he returned from such a tour, "Dear Harry, looking for anything?"

He'd say rather heavily, "No; no, dear. Just having a look around."

It used to pain the heart of Rosalie.

But he used to be enormously brightened up when Benji came home. Benji was just at Oxford then, eighteen. He was a different man when Benji was at home. He used to say, "Rosalie, that boy's going to make a name for himself in the world. My heart's wrapped round that boy, Rosalie. Ay, me! I wish he'd been our eldest, Rosalie."

That was because he couldn't tear away the wrappings of his heart from about his eldest. Men can't.

It used to pain the heart of Rosalie.

Of course, with everything now known, Huggo was forgiven. Huggo was prosperous now, almost aggressively prosperous. He kept a car. The syndicate, whatever it actually did, was obviously doing enormously well. What was the good of being stupid and unkind to the boy now that, at last, he had found his feet? But Huggo scarcely ever came to the house. He had virtually left Lucy. Lucy lived on in the originally-taken furnished flat in Bayswater. Huggo had rooms somewhere, no one quite knew where, and lived there. Rosalie used to get Lucy to the house sometimes, but Lucy was never at her ease on these visits, and Doda, who sympathized entirely with Huggo in the matter, very much disliked her and would not meet her. Lucy was in bad health and she was going to have a baby. Her health and her condition made her look much more common than she used to look.

Then the baby was born; a little girl. Poor, grateful Lucy called it Rosalie. She told Rosalie that Huggo said he didn't care what the baby was called. He was very angry about the baby. "He was worse than usual when he was here last week," said Lucy. "I think he's got something on his mind. I think he's worrying about something. Oh, he was sharp."

Lucy was very ill with the birth of her baby. She didn't seem able to pick up again from her confinement. She kept her bed. Then, suddenly, she developed pneumonia. The maternity nurse, paid by Rosalie, was still in attendance. Rosalie sent in another nurse, and on that same night, going straight to the sick bed from Field's, and then coming home very late, told Harry, who was waiting up for her, that the worst was feared for Lucy. She then said, "Harry, if anything happens, I think we'll have that baby here. It will practically be a case of adopting the child."

Harry agreed.

"I'd get in a nurse for her, the new little Rosalie." She sighed.

"Yes, yes," said Harry.

She said after a little, "Harry, the nurseries in use again!"

He sat there as he was always sitting, thinking.

She went over to him. "Dear, won't you like the nurseries to be in use again?"

He said slowly, "I will, very much, Rosalie. It's lonely, these empty rooms. I will very much-in some ways."

Rosalie knew what Harry meant. She touched his hand. "Dear, I think it can be made different."

Harry knew what Rosalie meant. He pressed the hand that touched his own. "That's all right, Rosalie. That's all right, dearest."

Rosalie was down early next morning. She desired an early breakfast and to go on to see Lucy before Field's. It might be necessary to stay the day with Lucy. There was also Huggo. What was Huggo doing? Overnight Rosalie had seen Doda, come in late from an evening with a very intimate friend of hers always known, through some private joke of Doda's, as "the foreign friend." The foreign friend, not in the least foreign but English, was a young married woman living apart from her husband. Doda had brought her to the house once. She was very pretty and a cheery soul. She would have been called fast when Rosalie was a girl. In 1921 she would almost, in the manner she presented to Rosalie, have been called slow. Doda and she were greatly attached.

Doda, overnight, going straight upstairs to bed, had said, "Have you seen Huggo to-day? He's in a scrape of some sort."

"Oh, Doda, what kind of a scrape?"

"He didn't tell me. I ran into him quite by chance coming away from a theatre with the foreign friend. We both thought he was rather badly rattled."

"Was he going on to Lucy? Did he know Lucy was very ill indeed?"

Doda said, "I don't know. He didn't tell me. Is she?" and indifferently passed upstairs.

Rosalie at her early breakfast was thinking what news the day would give of Lucy and of Huggo. She was suddenly, by Huggo in person, brought intelligence of both. She heard the door bell ring and in a minute Huggo surprisingly broke into the room. He had kept his hat on. He looked white, drawn and very agitated. He shut the door behind him. "Lucy's dead."

Tears sprang into the eyes of Rosalie, "Oh, my poor Huggo!"

He made a gesture. "Oh, that's no good! Look here, mother, will you look after things over there for me? That's all I've come in to say. Will you see to everything and will you take the kid? I can't stop."

He made to go.

"Huggo, of course I will. But you'll be there? Are you going there now?"

"I'm not. I'm going away."

"Going away?"

His hand was on the door. "Yes, going away. Look here, there's another thing. If any one comes here for me will you say you haven't seen me? It's important. It's vital."

"Huggo, what is the matter?"

"You'll jolly soon know. You may as well know now. Then you'll realise. If you want to know-the police are after me."

He was gone.

* * *

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