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Bliss and Other Stories


A clock struck. He wheeled sharply. What time was it. Five ? A quarter past ? Back, back the way he came. As he passed through the gates he saw her on the look-out. She got up, waved and slowly she came to meet him, dragging the heavy cape. In her hand she carried a spray of heliotrope.

" You're late," she cried gaily. " You're three minutes late. Here's your watch, it's been very good while you were away. Did you have a nice time ? Was it lovely ? Tell me. Where did you


" I say—put this on," he said, taking the cape from her.

" Yes, I will. Yes, it's getting chilly. Shall we go up to our room ? "

When they reached the lift she was coughing. He frowned.

" It's nothing. I haven't been out too late. Don't be cross." She sat down on one of the red plush chairs while he rang and rang, and then, getting no answer, kept his finger on the bell,

" Oh, Robert, do you think you ought to ? "

" Ought to what?"'

The door of the salon opened. " What is that ?

page 187

Who is making that noise ? " sounded from within. Klaymongso began to yelp. " Caw ! Caw ! Caw ! " came from the General. A Topknot darted out with one hand to her ear, opened the staff door, " Mr. Queet! Mr. Queet! " she bawled. That brought the manager up at a run.

" Is that you ringing the bell, Mr. Salesby ? Do you want the lift ? Very good, Sir. I'll take you up myself. Antonio wouldn't have been a minute, he was just taking off his apron——" And having ushered them in, the oily manager went to the door of the salon. " Very sorry you should have been troubled, ladies and gentlemen." Salesby stood in the cage, sucking in his cheeks, staring at the ceiling and turning the ring, turning the signet ring on his little finger. . . .

Arrived in their room he went swiftly over to the washstand, shook the bottle, poured her out a dose and brought it across.

" Sit down. Drink it. And don't talk." And he stood over her while she obeyed. Then he took the glass, rinsed it and put it back in its case. " Would you like a cushion ? "

" No, I'm quite all right. Come over here. Sit down by me just a minute, will you, Robert ? Ah, that's very nice." She turned and thrust the piece of heliotrope in the lapel of his coat. " That," she said, " is most becoming," And then she leaned her head against his shoulder, and he put his arm round her.

page 188

" Robert——" her voice like a sigh—like a


" Yes——"

They sat there for a long while. The sky flamed, paled ; the two white beds were like two ships. . . . At last he heard the servant girl running along the corridor with the hot water cans, and gently he released her and turned on the light.

" Oh, what time is it ? Oh, what a heavenly evening. Oh, Robert, I was thinking while you were away this afternoon . . ."

They were the last couple to enter the dining-room. The Countess was there with her lorgnette and her fan, the General was there with his special chair and the air cushion and the small rug over his knees. The American Woman was there showing Klaymongso a copy of the Saturday Evening Post. . . . " We're having a feast of reason and a flow of soul," The Two Topknots were there feeling over the peaches and the pears in their dish of fruit, and putting aside all they considered unripe or overripe to show to the manager, and the Honeymoon Couple leaned across the table, whispering, trying not to burst out laughing.

Mr. Queet, in everyday clothes and white canvas shoes, served the soup, and Antonio, in full evening dress, handed it round.

" No," said the American Woman, " take it away, Antonio, We can't eat soup. We can't eat anything mushy, can we, Klaymongso ? " page 189" Take them back and fill them to the rim ! " said'the Topknots, and they turned and watched while Antonio delivered the message.

" What is it ? Rice ? Is it cooked ? " The Countess peered through her lorgnette. " Mr. Queet, the General can have some of this soup if it is cooked."

" Very good, Countess."

The Honeymoon Couple had their fish instead.

" Give me that one. That's the one I caught. No it's not. Yes, it is. No it's not. Well, it's looking at me with its eye so it must be. Tee I Hee ! Hee ! " Their feet were locked together under the table.

" Robert, you're not eating again. Is anything the matter ? "

"No. Off food, that's all."

" Oh, what a bother. There are eggs and spinach coming. You don't like spinach, do you. I must tell them in future . . ."

An egg and mashed potatoes for the General.

" Mr. Queet! Mr. Queet! "

" Yes, Countess."

" The General's egg's too hard again."

"Caw! Caw! Caw!"

" Very sorry, Countess. Shall I have you another cooked, General ? "

. . . They are the first to leave the dining-room. She rises, gathering her shawl and he stands aside, waiting for her to pass, turning the ring, turning page 190the signet ring on his little finger. In the hall Mr. Queet hovers. " I thought you might not want to wait for the lift. Antonio's just serving the finger bowls. And I'm sorry the bell won't ring, it's out of order. I can't think what's happened."

" Oh, I do hope . . ." from her.

" Get in," says he.

Mr. Queet steps after them and slams the door....

. . . " Robert, do you mind if I go to bed very soon ? Won't you go down to the salon or out into the garden ? Or perhaps you might smoke a cigar on the balcony. It's lovely out there. And I like cigar smoke. I always did. But if you'd rather . . ."

" No, I'll sit here."

He takes a chair and sits on the balcony. He hears her moving about in the room, lightly, lightly, moving and rustling. Then she comes over to him. " Good night, Robert."

" Good night." He takes her hand and kisses the palm. " Don't catch cold."

The sky is the colour of jade. There are a great many stars ; an enormous white moon hangs over the garden. Far away lightning flutters—flutters like a wing—flutters like a broken bird that tries to fly and sinks again and again struggles.

The lights from the salon shine across the garden path and there is the sound of a piano. And once the American Woman, opening the French window to let Klaymongso into the garden, cries page 191" Have you seen this moon ? " But nobody answers.

He gets very cold sitting there, staring at the balcony rail. Finally he comes inside. The moon —the room is painted white with moonlight. The light trembles in the mirrors ; the two beds seem to float. She is asleep. He sees her through the nets, half sitting, banked up with pillows, her white hands crossed on the sheet. Her white cheeks, her fair hair pressed against the pillow, are silvered over. He undresses quickly, stealthily and gets into bed. Lying there, his hands clasped behind his head. . . .