Bliss and Other Stories
At length, after countless trains had steamed into my mind, and countless Dick Harmons had come rolling towards me, the real train came. The little knot of us waiting at the barrier moved up close, craned forward, and broke into cries as though we were some kind of many-headed monster, and Paris behind us nothing but a great trap we had set to catch these sleepy innocents.
Into the trap they walked and were snatched and taken off to be devoured. Where was my prey ?
" Good God ! " My smile and my lifted hand fell together. For one terrible moment I thought this was the woman of the photograph, Dick's mother, walking towards me in Dick's coat and hat. In the effort—and you saw what an effort it was—to smile, his lips curled in just the same way and he made for me, haggard and wild and proud.page 96
What had happened ? What could have changed him like this ? Should I mention it ?
I waited for him and was even conscious of venturing a fox-terrier wag or two to see if he could possibly respond, in the way I said: " Good evening, Dick ! How are you, old chap ? All right ? "
" All right. All right." He almost gasped. " You've got the rooms ? "
Twenty times, good God ! I saw it all. Light broke on the dark waters and my sailor hadn't been drowned. I almost turned a somersault with amusement.
It was nervousness, of course. It was embarrassment. It was the famous English seriousness. What fun I was going to have ! I could have hugged him.
" Yes, I've got the rooms," I nearly shouted. " But where is Madame ? "
" She's been looking after the luggage," he panted. " Here she comes, now."
Not this baby walking beside the old porter as though he were her nurse and had just lifted her out of her ugly perambulator while he trundled the boxes on it.
" And she's not Madame," said Dick, drawling suddenly.
At that moment she caught sight of him and hailed him with her minute muff. She broke away from her nurse and ran up and said something, very page 97quick, in English; but he replied in French : " Oh, very well. I'll manage."
But before he turned to the porter he indicated me with a vague wave and muttered something. We were introduced. She held out her hand in that strange boyish way Englishwomen do, and standing very straight in front of me with her chin raised and making—she too—the effort of her life to control her preposterous excitement, she said, wringing my hand (I'm sure she didn't know it was mine), Je ne parle pas Français.
" But I'm sure you do," I answered, so tender, so reassuring, I might have been a dentist about to draw her first little milk tooth.
" Of course she does." Dick swerved back to us. " Here, can't we get a cab or taxi or something ? We don't want to stay in this cursed station all night. Do we ? "
This was so rude that it took me a moment to recover ; and he must have noticed, for he flung his arm round my shoulder in the old way, saying : " Ah, forgive me, old chap. But we've had such a loathsome, hideous journey. We've taken years to come. Haven't we ? " To her. But she did not answer. She bent her head and began stroking her grey muff; she walked beside us stroking her grey muff all the way.
" Have I been wrong ? " thought I. "Is this simply a case of frenzied impatience on their part ? Are they merely ' in need of a bed,' as we say ?page 98
Have they been suffering agonies on the journey ? Sitting, perhaps, very close and warm under the same travelling rug? " and so on and so on while the driver strapped on the boxes. That done——
" Look here, Dick. I go home by métro. Here is the address of your hotel. Everything is arranged. Come and see me as soon as you can."
Upon my life I thought he was going to faint. He went white to the lips.
" But you're coming back with us," he cried. " I thought it was all settled. Of course you're coming back. You're not going to leave us." No, I gave it up. It was too difficult, too English for me.
" Certainly, certainly. Delighted. I only thought, perhaps . . ."
" You must come ! " said Dick to the little fox-terrier. And again he made that big awkward turn towards her.
" Get in, Mouse."
And Mouse got in the black hole and sat stroking Mouse II and not saying a word.