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page 314


Somehow Mab got Brevis upstairs and into his bed, where he was snoring loudly before his head reached the pillow. Unable to look at those puffy lips and eyelids, at the general ugly abandonment of him, Mab went hurriedly into the sitting-room and put the fire together.

"I have got to think this out," he said, trying to speak firmly. "I have got to think this out. Jenny … of course she will have to be told."

He knew that constructive thought never came easily to him, and as he lit his pipe with shaking hands and let himself down into Brevis's old leather chair his head went round and round. Frasquita, Jenny. Frasquita … there seemed no doubt that Frasquita was alive. Brevis's incoherencies as he was being helped into bed had covered the ground adequately if sketchily. Frasquita, as Mab made it out, had gone to Pisa, and from there Brevis had heard of her death. Now, from Pisa, had come a friend's letter saying that she was alive and looking for Brevis. Pisa? What did Mab know of Pisa? Something grotesque. Not the Leaning Tower. Yes; a painting in the chapel of a big black devil eating men. Chewing 'em up.

Chewing them up and rending them as Brevis was being rent, as Jenny would have to be rent. "Not," said Mab, stoutly, "not Jenny. Not my dear maid." But she would be, all the same. He was so shattered that he could not yet hate Brevis, whose selfish carelessness had done this to Jenny. Why hadn't he made sure? Oh, God! why hadn't he?

Firelight touched the gay goatish figure of the faun in the corner, explaining that, explaining all men. Yes, all men took their pleasures as they came and went gambolling after others, seeing (fettered or free, but seeing all the same) white limbs flash in the dusky trees ahead, hearing echoing light laughter. They page 315all bowed down before outlandish images like that icon up on the shelf; praying dumbly, sometimes humbly, but never getting any answers. They all sought to pierce the treasure of Mona Lisa's smile—that smile quickening into such scornful laughter where the red firelight ran on the wall. Banged themselves against the inscrutable, the implacable, they did, searching for impossible heavens. And from her, the mid-note, the unattainable, they turned themselves again to the faun or to the icon. Mab had done it, would keep on doing it. Every man did.

Shadowy in the warm shadows he saw the young Julia with her child eyes as he had kissed her in the hut so long ago. He sprang up and began to walk about nervously. Jenny, now. He must concentrate on Jenny. Thank God they were not married! And yet … he didn't know. She would have had some fulfillment of that deep passionate love of hers, while now … "Oh, I don't know," he groaned. How could one, knowing too that daring, loving woman that was Jenny?

Something must be done, of course. Brevis must find Frasquita and divorce her. But that cost money, and Brevis had precious little and Mab none. He thought of those feverish days of hunting in the caves just after Snow was killed. A whole regiment of 'em, with shovels and lanterns. Collins's caches of silver plate and jewels and mouldy finery had been found, but Snow had done his hiding better. Collins? He was an old story, just as the love of Mab and Julia in the summer-house on that hot night was an old story. But the scar was on them both yet, warping any other love that might have come. Jenny was a dimpled child then who was now a woman to be broken on the wheel which had broken those youthful lovers. And so the world went round.

"Something must be done. I must think it out very carefully," said Mab, and sat down to light another pipe. But before the dying fire, his troubled brain wearily fumbling at a matter too big for him, too big for all of them, he fell asleep.