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what the troth, or whatever it was called, sounded like."
Kitty imitated the curate to perfection. Henry laughed, and Anthony wondered where the Kitty was who at the moment of those uttered words had looked afraid. She had not been thinking of the curate's adenoids then.
He was absorbed in his thoughts of .Kitty's remaining hours. Did she realize how few there were, or know the awful curtain which would come down between the Kitty as she was today and the Kitty she was to be to-morrow? He wanted every moment of her held in the privacy of their small house, dedicated to their love and understanding, and he felt a bitter rebellion against the artificial public hours that she had claimed instead.
It was a harsh, unlovely day. London had a look of dirty cold, the houses were pinched into mere shelters, the raw air pursued and baffled the passers-by, forcing them into an irritated consciousness of their errands. There was no color anywhere. The gray of the sky was dead and unluminous, the streets a greasy brown. Their motor skidded and shuffled through the traffic like a sleep-walker, blind to everything but its own passage.
Henry talked cheerfully of possible skating. At present it was too damp, but the temperature was falling fast; a good hard frost.
He hoped Kitty and Anthony were not going to fall out on their wedding day; neither of them made any suitable response to the possibility of frost. These hasty rushes into marriage usually ended in bad temper.
Henry congratulated himself wardly on his escapes from matrimony. They had never been narrow escapes. He had foreseen the danger a long way off, but they had been complete. People were likely to turn out unsatisfactory at close quarters, especially women. Women were romantic, and when they were married they were incessant, and it took a very strong digestion to stand incessant romance. That was the worst of marriage; you could n't turn away from it with a good conscience.
Of course Anthony had made the situation a great deal more difficult than
it need have been. Miss Costrelle was perfectly charming, but none of her charms were domestic, and all of them were undoubtedly a shade too obvious. She reminded Henry of a picture in the Wallace Collection. It was a portrait of Perdita Robinson with a muff. Perdita Robinson had n't been very domestic, either.
Kitty smiled across at him.
"I know what you 're thinking of," she said alarmingly. "You 're like the man in the Bible who thanked God he was n't as other men were. You know the proper kind of a wife is a bother, and the kind of wife who would n't be a bother that 's me, you know, Tony-is n't a proper kind of wife at all. Confess you were thinking something like that, Henry."
"Few men can be so fortunate as Anthony," replied Henry with skilled irrelevancy; but he was glad when they reached the Carlton.
If Kitty had been guilty of a gust of bad temper, it left her as she entered the hotel. The big, smart lounge was like home to her. She drew in a long breath of the slightly stale, slightly scented air as if it refreshed her. She knew exactly how to hold herself in public. She was more conscious than any Englishwoman is by nature, and more trained than any Englishwoman allows herself to be to hide her consciousness. Her studied spontaneity gave an impression of perfect ease, which is the seal of the true artist.
The Carlton was Kitty's sphere; in a moment she had seen and mastered the human material in the lounge. No other woman there held men's eyes as Kitty held them. She moved slowly, with little pauses, in exactly the right space and light. With each brief phrase she threw at Henry or Anthony she was aware first of its effect upon them, and then in the widening circles of a disturbed pool she noted the further effect spreading throughout the room.
Mr. Costrelle rose slowly from behind a palm and greeted his guests phlegmatically. His eyes ran over Kitty with a steady critical appreciation. Anthony saw with a pang of pure surprise that at the moment it mattered more to Mr. Costrelle that Kitty should be dressed
properly than that she should n't look ill. She did not look ill to the ordinary spectator, who failed to take account of the carefully hidden signs. She was made up with finished and unerring skill. Her picture hat, with its thick, shaded plumes of dull pale pink, softened the outlines of her face. She carried her head as if she had never known physical fatigue.
Kitty had what other women missed, the art of personality. Nothing that she did miscarried, and no movement of her fine, supple body was without significance. To-day she was more alive than Anthony had ever seen her; differently alive, for it was not the life of her inner self: it was the directed energy of a trained workman performing his task.
Mr. Costrelle led them to the table he had prepared for them. He had chosen the most public and visible spot in the
Kitty sat down with her back to the light, and smiled at him across a bowl of mauve and pale pink carnations. Her smile was like a signal between two trained performers.
Mr. Costrelle had done his part. The meal was perfect. He had ordered a few dishes, each one the best and most delicate of its kind. He had chosen two sound wines, and crowned them with the Château Yquêm, which lay in a basket beside him.
It was now Kitty's turn to play hers. She must be entertaining enough to keep everything going, and not so absorbing as to interfere with a due appreciation of the food. She must make each man feel at his best for not too long at a time, and without interfering with the attractions of the other men. She must also make all the other women in the room jealous and their men envious.
Anthony, with his heart on the rack, watched her with grim concern. Everything in the big, spacious room was utterly unreal to him: its little tables, its flowers, its groups of well-dressed people. Their idleness, their privileges, their evocation of temporary tastes, revolted and amazed him.
For years he had lived hard and thought continuously, he had seen pain and struggled with it as the man in the
Laocoon struggles with the presence of the coiled serpent; and these people lived dead against the image of pain, even when, as in Kitty's case, it hung poised above them ready to strike; they blinded themselves against the issues of life. They spent money and time and strength on expensive clothes and foods and endless reiterations of unnecessary, unenlightening words.
Sometimes Anthony caught a clever phrase. Mr. Costrelle and Kitty herself were often inadvertently witty, but they had not set out to be, and they never let it go very far. They wanted to entertain, but they had n't any notion of sticking to an idea; it did not seem to them very entertaining to stick to anything for long.
Kitty sat there discussing a notorious career with clipped expert phrases,the career of a woman she did n't know, a mere bagatelle out of a newspaper,and she was within a few hours of the sharpest of personal struggles, she was even now menaced by acute and driving pain. Anthony saw the shadow of it in her eyes, and heard in the faint hardness of her laughter, the effort of her self-control.
They were wasting their few hours, that tiny margin left to them, on a dish called "les jeunes demoiselles," a careful preparation of shell-less crawfish in a cream sauce. Kitty's eyes rested on Anthony for a moment, but only with the genial audacity with which they passed on to Henry. They had no message for him. She acquiesced in the jeunes demoiselles.
A smart, good-looking man, whose attention had been riveted on their table for some time, rose, and crossed the room to speak to Kitty. His eyes had a look in them which was like the sudden assertion of a claim.
"What luck!" he exclaimed as he reached them. "Who in the world would have expected you here?"
"And why not here?" asked Kitty, with a veiled challenge in her laughing eyes. "It's very jolly and comfortable and not unknown, I believe, as a European resort. You know my father, don't you? This is my husband-Captain Arden. Sir Frederick Stair."
The claim in Sir Frederick's eyes
sharpened into incredulity. He turned from Kitty to Anthony. Anthony met and returned his hard critical gaze.
The two men measured each other, and Kitty, leaning back in her chair, watched them with unconcealed amusement.
Mr. Costrelle poured out a glass of wine imperturbably. The situation appealed to him; he liked to watch Kitty handle a difficult moment.
Henry cleared his throat. He was not sure that everything was quite comfortable, and he was annoyed that Sir Frederick had apparently forgotten playing bridge with him some time ago at the club.
"Oh," said Sir Frederick at last, with his eyes still on Anthony, "we have n't run across each other before, I think?"
"We have not been particularly likely to," said Anthony, a little dryly. spent most of the war in a German prison."
"I was in Egypt," said Sir Frederick. "A good deal going on there one way or another. Where does one find you now, Mrs. Arden? I can't afford to have you disappear again. But perhaps you will be more permanent now that you 're married?"
"I don't think I shall ever be awfully permanent," said Kitty, closing her long eyelashes together and then opening them suddenly. "We 're just passing through town."
Sir Frederick's eyebrows shot up. He was being dismissed, and he had not expected dismissal. Kitty smiled at him. Her smile was reassuring to his pride.
Stupid things, her kind eyes said, had intervened. She did n't like dismissing him, either; but still she dismissed him.
"I was fortunate," he said politely, "to have caught even this glimpse."
Kitty gave him her hand. Mr. Costrelle mentioned his club.
Sir Frederick threw back a very fine pair of shoulders, bowed stiffly to Anthony, and walked away.
He had been perfectly polite and he had shown Kitty no sign of disrespect; perhaps he had been a shade more respectful than a man need be to a woman for whom no other idea had ever occurred.
"An odd coincidence," said Mr. Costrelle. “Stair turning up to-day. I shall now open the Château Yquêm.”
He took up a small napkin and the best type of corkscrew in silence, and with great precaution he first held and then detached the cork, handing it round to each one in turn to catch the perfume which clung to it; then with unfaltering gravity he poured out the four glasses. The wine was golden and soft as honey; the dry fire in it had blended with the ripening touch of time.
They drank in silence and without a toast. Anthony raised his eyes to Kitty, but she was not looking at him. She was smiling, but her lips were grave. Some memory or perhaps some premonition held her.
"I don't think," said Mr. Costrelle, slowly and gravely, "that you can beat this wine now in England."
"The war has done a dreadful lot of harm," agreed Henry, sympathetically. "Priceless wine has been parted with— I believe rashly-to Americans."
"People who can take wine like this across the Atlantic," said Mr. Costrelle, "deserve to drink nothing but their own raw grapes."
"It's been simply awfully jolly, Papa dear," said Kitty, drawing on her gloves; "but I suppose we must be off. I 've enjoyed myself immensely."
Kitty lingered in the lounge. She liked watching the throngs of people passing in and out. The veiled admiration of the men, the covert glances of the women, eased her heart. After all, it was her world. She had succeeded in it.
She said good-by laughingly to Henry and her father. Henry's appreciation of the lunch had brought Mr. Costrelle to offering him one of his best cigars.
"I'll see you next week, I dare say," Mr. Costrelle observed to Kitty. "That dead pink is a good shade, especially with sable." And to Anthony he added, "You might perhaps ring me up some time."
Henry shook hands warmly with them both. Anthony had, after all, done nothing out of the way, and Kitty had been perfect-as another man's wife. For Henry himself she would have had to be a little toned down.
When they were alone in the motor, Kitty turned to Anthony with appealing eyes.
"You did n't mind awfully, did you?" she asked quickly. "You see, after all, Tony, it is the only kind of thing I know how to do."
FOR the last three days before the operation Anthony had succeeded in warding off from Kitty any fresh attack of pain. He had studied her with an absorption as acute as the absorption of personal consciousness in the presence of mortal danger. All his senses had been alert to forewarn and protect Kitty, and he had accomplished the temporary miracle.
After the luncheon party, Anthony noticed with alarm that she showed that peculiar physical restlessness which is often the forerunner of severe pain. He made Kitty go to bed, and sat beside her hour after hour, soothing and quieting er. Peckham had been invaluable; she had brought out various garments of Kitty's for correction and comparison. She had been full of stories of Kitty's childhood, and questions about their going abroad. It had been settled that as soon as Kitty recovered from the operation they were to go to Spain.
At last Anthony had left her quiet and apparently asleep. He went into the dressing-room next to hers, leaving the door open so that he could hear her turn or sigh. He felt that he must be alone for an hour. All these days his mind had been taking bitter account of the symptoms ranged against him.
This was his hour of reckoning. He knew that he had done all that was in his power; he had given Kitty a respite before the operation, but he could do no more: the disease was progressive and inexorable. Anthony saw with a terrific clarity the force of all that was against him. The symptoms of Kitty's case came on against his mind like the resistless impact of waves. If he succeeded in beating the first line of breakers, the limitless ocean heaved up a further challenge. His puny strength would spend itself against them in vain;
sooner or later the sea would overwhelm them both.
It was too late to save Kitty. Anthony did not need Hilton Laurence's verdict; something in his own heart suddenly failed him. He saw that he had done his uttermost in the last few days, and that his uttermost was worth nothing. He wondered fearfully, if he had been a younger man, untried and undaunted by experience, could he by mere audacity and blindness have snatched Kitty back from disease? Suffering is not a school of strength; it is a school in which one learns one's weakness.
Anthony knew what he could bear, and to that extent knowledge freed his mind; he was not surprised by the weight of pain. He was too used to it, but he was incapable in his turn of surprising pain. He had learned not only his powers, but his limitations. Facts entrapped and hampered him. He was aware of the frailness of his mind, strung to too high a pitch; it would not give him any reassurance of its capacity.
Ever since the early days of Anthony's captivity darkness had broken in upon him from time to time and shaken the steadiness of his mind. He knew the only thing to do was to wait till it passed, to keep before his eyes the fact that the darkness was from outside and impermanent, and to hold to the integrity of his unflinching will.
In the long run, what Anthony had decided to do he could do; he could not attain the desired result, but he could force himself step by step to take the right direction toward the result. He held to his will now, but he was aware that the struggle was harder. He needed more for Kitty than he had ever needed for himself.
He steadied his mind to confront the future. He wanted to envisage the whole course of Kitty's case. He had to put out of his mind the insistent pictures of the operating-table, the arrangements he had made with Hilton Laurence, the minute preparations and precautions for the actual hour. The details kept rushing at him like delusive lists of uncompleted purchases. He knew there was no need for him to
keep them in his mind, but they flickered to and fro, taunting him with his fallibility.
Suppose he forgot something important, something vital? Kitty depended on his memory, and his memory was outrageously tired. It played Anthony tricks to show him how tired he was, and then with a gloomy clearness it reiterated a string of details none of which he needed or could control. He did not want to use his memory now. He wanted to get beyond it to some point of decision. If he could not save Kitty, what should he do?
If he let things take their course, Anthony saw exactly what would take place. There would be the operation, a tedious, dangerous business, which must in the nature of the case be left incomplete. Moment by moment Kitty's life would hang by a thread. Hilton Laurence would hold the threads. Anthony could trust the task to him; he was a masterly operator with a thorough, placid mind. He had been known in moments of great tension to hold the ends of a severed artery together and tell a funny story to relieve the nerves of his audience. Probably Hilton Laurence would safely disentangle and keep together the threads of Kitty's life. She would, what is called, get over the operation.
Her left arm would be powerless for a long time. She would suffer again regularly and without strength the onslaughts of atrocious pain. Kitty would very gradually get better up to a certain point; then she would stick for perhaps two or three months; then the little innocuous-seeming, deadly signs of a return would start up. The disease would be very quick on its returning pathway, and, short of the mercy of an accident, it would be very dreadful.
Words from "The Duchess of Malfi" haunted Anthony's mind: "her death a hideous storm of terror." Was that all he could do for Kitty?
It was n't any use fighting for her life. The question was a smaller one than that he was only fighting for time. Fighting for life, with every symptom opposed, was only fighting for a convention, an idea. But this convention was a sacred one to Anthony.
It was a professional necessity, a point of honor, to prolong menaced existences. It was not a real necessity; because, unlike real necessities, he had in his hands the power to evade it. Nor could Anthony delude himself with the mercy of an accident. He had no talent for self-delusion, and he had seen too many cases where there were no accidents.
If all he wanted was to save Kitty, why could n't he still save her by letting her go? Why force her through a year of misery, with its shadowed horror at the end? Why not now, on the top of the course of her momentary security, grant her freedom?
But had he the right to let her go? She would have let herself go without a qualm; it was only her confidence in his love, her pity for him, which held her back. But who was he to judge what was best for Kitty? He could not see the sky for the stars, nor her body for her soul. All his being was invaded by his tenderness for Kitty; there was no desire in her which did not meet in him with a passion of response. He did not know what she most wanted now; her reticent, shy spirit was buried under all the haphazard promiscuities of her life. Kitty had fenced it away not only from Anthony, but from herself. She had snatched at the trivial to cover the eternal.
He longed desperately at this moment of her great ordeal to stand by her spirit, as he stood by her beleaguered body, and help it forth upon the chartless seas. Was it fair to set this child soul free? Fear of her anguish and her mortal struggle bit deep into his heart, but he had a deeper fear, a deeper question, to which he found no
He sat torn with his indecision; then he heard her voice murmuring, "Tony! Tony!" and went back into the lighted circle of her room.
The room was full of flowers and shaded wax candles. Kitty sat up in bed with long plaits of dark hair down her back. She looked like a child of ten, a very frightened child.
"Tony," she said "Tony, it's the pain coming-"
Her eyes fastened themselves on his