Bliss and Other Stories
" Ah! thank you. Yes. Yes. I've found them." I lighted my cigarette and walked up and down, smoking.
It was so quiet it might have been two o'clock in the morning. It was so quiet you heard the boards creak and pop as one does in a house in the country. I smoked the whole cigarette and stabbed the end into my saucer before Mouse turned round and came back to the table.
" Isn't Dick being rather a long time ? "page 108
" You are very tired. I expect you want to go to bed/' I said kindly. (And pray don't mind me if you do, said my mind.)
" But isn't he being a very long time ? " she insisted.
I shrugged. " He is, rather."
Then I saw she looked at me strangely. She was listening.
" He's been gone ages," she said, and she went with little light steps to the door, opened it, and crossed the passage into his room.
I waited. I listened too, now. I couldn't have borne to miss a word. She had left the door open. I stole across the room and looked after her. Dick's door was open, too. But—there wasn't a word to miss.
You know I had the mad idea that they were kissing in that quiet room—a long comfortable kiss. One of those kisses that not only puts one's grief to bed, but nurses it and warms it and tucks it up and keeps it fast enfolded until it is sleeping sound. Ah ! how good that is.
It was over at last. I heard some one move and tip-toed away.
It was Mouse. She came back. She felt her way into the room carrying the letter for me. But it wasn't in an envelope ; it was just a sheet of paper and she held it by the corner as though it was still wet.
Her head was bent so low—so tucked in her furry page 109 collar that I hadn't a notion—until she let the paper fall and almost fell herself on to the floor by the side of the bed, leaned her cheek against it, flung out her hands as though the last of her poor little weapons was gone and now she let herself be carried away, washed out into the deep water.
Flash ! went my mind. Dick has shot himself, and then a succession of flashes while I rushed in, saw the body, head unharmed, small blue hole over temple, roused hotel, arranged funeral, attended funeral, closed cab, new morning coat. . . .
I stooped down and picked up the paper and would you believe it—so ingrained is my Parisian sense of comme il faut—I murmured "pardon" before I read it.
" Mouse, my little Mouse,
It's no good. It's impossible. I can't see it through. Oh, I do love you. I do love you, Mouse, but I can't hurt her. People have been hurting her all her life. I simply dare not give her this final blow. You see, though she's stronger than both of us, she's so frail and proud. It would kill her—kill her, Mouse. And, oh God, I can't kill my mother I Not even for you. Not even for us. You do see that—don't you.
It all seemed so possible when we talked and planned, but the very moment the train started it was all over. I felt her drag me back to her— page 110calling. I can hear her now as I write. And she's alone and she doesn't know. A man would have to be a devil to tell her and I'm not a devil, Mouse. She mustn't know. Oh, Mouse, somewhere, somewhere in you don't you agree ? It's all so unspeakably awful that I don't know if I want to go or not. Do I ? Or is Mother just dragging me ? I don't know. My head is too tired. Mouse, Mouse—what will you do ? But I can't think of that, either. I dare not. I'd break down. And I must not break down. All I've got to do is— just to tell you this and go. I couldn't have gone off without telling you. You'd have been frightened. And you must not be frightened. You won't—will you ? I can't bear—but no more of that. And don't write. I should not have the courage to answer your letters and the sight of your
Forgive me. Don't love me any more. Yes. Love me. Love me. Dick."
What do you think of that ? Wasn't that a rare find ? My relief at his not having shot himself was mixed with a wonderful sense of elation. I was even—more than even with my " that's very curious and interesting " Englishman. . . .
She wept so strangely. With her eyes shut, with her face quite calm except for the quivering eyelids. The tears pearled down her cheeks and she let them fall.page 111
But feeling my glance upon her she opened her eyes and saw me holding the letter.
" You've read it ? "
Her voice was quite calm, but it was not her voice any more. It was like the voice you might imagine coming out of a tiny, cold sea shell swept high and dry at last by the salt tide. . . .
I nodded, quite overcome, you understand, and laid the letter down.
" It's incredible ! incredible ! " I whispered.
At that she got up from the floor, walked over to the wash-stand, dipped her handkerchief into the jug and sponged her eyes, saying : " Oh, no. It's not incredible at all." And still pressing the wet ball to her eyes she came back to me, to her chair with the lace tabs, and sank into it.
" I knew all along, of course," said the cold, salty little voice. " From the very moment that we started. I felt it all through me, but I still went on hoping—" and here she took the handkerchief down and gave me a final glimmer—" as one so stupidly does, you know."
" As one does."
" But what will you do ? You'll go back ? You'll see him ? "
That made her sit right up and stare across at me.
" What an extraordinary idea ! " she said, more coldly than ever. " Of course I shall not dream page 112of seeing him. As for going back—that is quite out of the question. I can't go back."
" But . . ."
" It's impossible. For one thing all my friends think I am married."
I put out my hand—" Ah, my poor little friend."
But she shrank away. (False move.)
Of course there was one question that had been at the back of my mind all this time. I hated it.
" Have you any money ? "
" Yes, I have twenty pounds—here," and she put her hand on her breast. I bowed. It was a great deal more than I had expected.
" And what are your plans ? "
Yes, I know. My question was the most clumsy, the most idiotic one I could have put. She had been so tame, so confiding, letting me, at any rate spiritually speaking, hold her tiny quivering body in one hand and stroke her furry head—and now, I'd thrown her away. Oh, I could have kicked myself.
She stood up. " I have no plans. But—it's very late. You must go now, please."
How could I get her back ? I wanted her back. I swear I was not acting then.
" Do feel that I am your friend," I cried. " You will let me come to-morrow, early ? You will let me look after you a little—take care of you a little ? You'll use me just as you think fit ? "page 113
I succeeded. She came out of her hole . . . timid . . . but she came out.
" Yes, you're very kind. Yes. Do come tomorrow. I shall be glad. It makes things rather difficult because—" and again I clasped her boyish hand—" je ne parle pas français."
Not until I was half-way down the boulevard did it come over me—the full force of it.
Why, they were suffering . . . those two . . . really suffering. I have seen two people suffer as I don't suppose I ever shall again. . . .