It was over in a moment.
In a flash she remembered the strangeness of the entertainment. Miss A. made a movement which showed her to have been made a perfect example.
“Borrow? Do you imagine for a moment that I would raise money on expectations, when I know so well of Miss B’s unspeakable horror of every transaction of that sort?”
Miss B’s arrival had been welcomed with an uncritical friendliness that first irritated her pride and then brought a sharp sense of her terrifying situation.
On the Monday, when the party disbanded with a polite ‘adieux’, the return to town threw into stronger relief the charms of the uproarious life she was leaving.
“Oh, it’s much easier and safer to be fond of dangerous people. But she is dangerous – and if I ever saw her up to mischief it’s now. I can tell by his manner. That man is a perfect barometer – he always knows when she is going to…” “To fall?” Miss B. suggested.
The strangeness of entering as a suppliant the house where she had so long commanded, increased Miss B’s desire to shorten the ordeal; and when Miss S. entered, rustling with the best quality crape, her visitor went straight to the point: would she be willing to advance the amount of the expected legacy?
Miss B. had not been long in this pallid world without discovering that Mrs H. was its most substantial figure. That lady, though still floating in the void, showed faint symptoms of developing an outline; and in this endeavour, she was actively seconded by Miss S.
It was he who had selected the blue ribbon Show, had introduced her to the photographer whose portraits of her formed the recurring ornament of the ‘Supplements’…Miss B. did not take long to learn that its regulation was no longer in his hands.
Through this jumble of activities came and went a strange throng of hangers-on – manicures, beauty-doctors, dresssers, teachers of games, of French, of ‘physical development’; figures sometimes indistinguishable, by their appearance, or by Mrs. H’s relation personally to each of them, from the ‘visitors’ constituting her clandestine society.
Here was, after all, something that her charming listless hands could do; she had no doubt of their capacity for knotting a ribbon, and of course those finishing touches would be expected of her: subordinate fingers would prepare the shapes and stitch the lining, while she, against the pervasive whiteness, in the mirror’s reflection, the stirring of the wind, where her finished creations, wreaths, aigrettes, and the rest, frivolities, were frozen like birds poised forever in flight.
She turned the girl over and peered at her. The white oval of her face seemed to be swimming waveringly from the background of shadows, despite the bright daylight, its uncertainty blurring consciousness like a haze surrounding the two cuts around the mouth.
Miss B. had began to undress without ringing for her maid, whom she had sent to bed, urging her to sleep through the afternoon heat. She had been long enough in bondage to other people’s pleasure to be considerate of those who depended on hers, and in her bitter moods it sometimes struck her that she and her maid were in the same ungainly position, except that the latter received her wages more regularly.
Happily for both, there was little physical strength to sustain his frenzy. It left him, collapsed and breathing heavily, to an apathy so deep and prolonged That L. almost feared that passers-by would think it the result of some kind of seizure, and stop to offer aid. But of all places, it was thankfully the one where the human bond is least close, and odd sights are the least arresting despite their picaresque qualities and photo opportunities.
‘If you won’t go back – I must – don’t make me leave you.’ She urged. But he remained mutely resistant, and she added,: ‘What are you going to do? You really can’t stay here all night. You can go to a hotel’. He was suddenly aroused by her new thought.
It was a dreadful hour – an hour from which she emerged from her modesty shrinking and seared, as though her lids had been scorched by its actual glare. It was not that she had never had premonitory glimpses of such an outbreak, but rather that the metal surface of life had shown such ominous cracks and vapours that her fears had been on the alert for the inevitable upheaval, wondering what would give way first.
‘Dénouement – isn’t that too big a word? The worst of it, after all, is the fatigue which B. has probably slept off by this time.’
She took this in what seemed the only possible way, with a laugh and a bow, intended to sink the question in his humourous, vicious treatment of it. ‘Well, it would have been difficult. We should have to take him in turn. But it would have been jolly to see the sunrise’. ‘You saw it then?’ he mocked. ‘I saw it yes; from the deck. I waited up’.
He remained silent and she continued: ‘…the agent had another man he wanted her to meet, and to seek a young lady’s intervention.’ Miss B. always had an air of getting what she wanted, in that she was used to being appealed to as an intermediary, and, relieved of any vague apprehension of her future, she took refuge in the conventional formula.