The Bond/Part 1/Chapter 5

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V

TERESA was late to lunch; she found the three men waiting in the drawing-room when she came in, fresh and full of colour, from her rapid walk. Two of them seemed not to mind being kept waiting—but then Gerald never minded anything she did, and the Major's manners were perfect; and Gerald was playing Bach, and the Major loved music.

Basil, however, was in a bad humour, as she perceived from his walking restlessly about the room, and smoking a cigarette with quick vicious tugs.

"It's twenty minutes past one, Teresa; where on earth have you been?" he demanded irritably.

"Business," said Teresa blandly. "I'm awfully sorry. Come on out, I won't even stop to take off my hat. I suppose lunch is ready?"

"I should suppose so. For a wonder, it was ready on time," growled Basil.

Teresa took the Major's arm and led him out, wishing that Basil had some of his parent's suavity. The Major said something cheerful about the bright spring morning and the roses in her cheeks, and put an extra shade of gallantry into his manner of seating her. She always felt that he was sorry for her when Basil was rough; the Major never could have been rude to any woman, not even to a plain woman. Teresa perceived why it was that two women had fallen in love with and married the Major, to their own practical disadvantage. He was purely an article of luxury. He was a very neat old man, with smooth-shaven, rosy, withered cheeks, carefully-clipped silver hair and moustache, and the sweet blue eyes of a child. His small figure still had the military carriage, and the scar of an old wound at the corner of one eye brought out oddly the gentleness of his face. He was very well dressed; his second wife liked to see him looking smart; but he almost never had pocket-money.

In this respect he was poorer even than Gerald Dallas, who never had anything but pocket-money. Gerald always gave the Major a drink, or several, when they met, and had frequently lent him five dollars till the first of the month; but Gerald's coat, buttoned closely round his slim figure, was shiny at the seams and the pockets, and his long nose was red from the wind. He always pawned his overcoat on the first warm day, "for fear of moths," as he had explained to Teresa. The Major loved him because of his conviviality and his music, Teresa because of his Celtic melancholy and his sentiment for herself. He was one of Basil's bachelor intimates, and the hardest drinker of them all; but now he had become more Teresa's friend than Basil's.

By the time the grapefruit had gone its way, and the soup had proved to be really clear, and the whisky decanter had been twice round the table, the slight constraint in which the meal began had vanished. Basil, as his hunger was appeased, regained his good humour; but Teresa avoided looking at him, and her smile, as she listened to the talk or joined in it now and then, was by no means gay. Basil's roughness always took her by surprise, and always wounded her, especially when it came close on the heels of a passionate expression of his love. She then felt not only pain, but humiliation, and a sort of anger very different from his—not quick, not forced to expression, but half-dormant somewhere in darkness, slow to disappear. Basil called it "the sulks," and much preferred his own kind. "At least, I get it out and over with," he would argue.

Now he sought Teresa's eyes across the table, which was gay with sunlight and yellow daffodils, in little vases of Italian pottery, and silver dishes full of sweets, and Mexican lace-work fine as cobwebs; for, even if meals were late, Teresa always had a pretty table. But she would not look at him, till at last he asked her a direct question.

"Teresa, will you pose for me this afternoon? I got a note from Mrs. Perry this morning, saying she's off motoring for a fortnight, so I'm out of a job for to-day."

"Can't, I'm going to a concert with Gerald," she said, and now her narrow eyes, half-closed, sent a knife-like glint at him.

"Well, afterwards. You could come soon after four for an hour."

"No, I shall be too tired."

Basil shrugged his shoulders, and after a moment's pause the talk went back to politics. The Major was a great politician, Gerald was a newspaper man, and Basil was interested in anything that anyone else could talk about. But politics tiered Teresa, and though she seemed to listen she was really absorbed in her own thoughts.

First she rejoiced that Mrs. Perry had disappointed Basil. "That will show him how much she cares about him and his picture," she reflected. "I wonder if he is vexed about her, or about the picture? That was the reason of his flying out at me when I came in. But he shan't be rude to me simply because other women have put him out of temper. I will—I will——"

What she would do about it remained vague, dying away in undertones of thought and feeling; but what was perfectly definite in her mind was the intention that Basil should pay for his unkindness.

The lunch, she was glad to see, was good; only the spring lamb was overdone, because of the half-hour's delay. However, the Major enjoyed his food with his usual zest, at times approaching ecstasy. And Teresa, as usual, was half-pleased by his enjoyment, and half-amused by its triviality. He seemed to her like a child that had been given a piece of cake; but so did Gerald when he was given anything to drink; so did Basil given a different sort of pleasure. They were all children, she thought all greedy, all absurdly anxious to enjoy themselves. But of the three the Major's pleasure seemed to her the most trivial. How could a man have a passion for food? How could a woman love a man who loved new peas and lobster? … But perhaps the Major had been less devoted to eating in the days when Basil's mother fell in love with him—the splendid red-haired woman with the strong chin and piercing dark eyes, whose portrait, in black velvet and Venetian lace, hung in Basil's study. At any time, though, the Major must have been a child in comparison with her. She had been rich, for those days, and very headstrong, and had run away with the Major against the wish of her relatives; and, when her son was born, she had made a will carefully tying up her property for his benefit, and leaving the Major only a life income. A year later she had died in child-birth. Basil was like her. He had her vigour, her keenness, her good sense and will. From his father he took his artistic impulse. … And that father, a few years after his wife's death, had married a little half-German woman, whose only merits apparently were that she cooked to perfection and made his physical man thoroughly comfortable. Comfortable! He could marry for that, and have several more children—after the fine creature who had condescended to love him had died in her youth. …

Teresa looked at the Major's scarred cheek, and watched the loving care with which he extracted the meat from a lobster-tenacle—and she marvelled at the ways of man.

She and Gerald left the table when the dessert came on, and even then they were late and had to wait in the corridor of the concert-hall till the first number was finished. Teresa was out of humour, partly because she had not had time to change her dress, and she hated having to hurry; partly because Basil had called after her that he didn't think he should be home to dinner, and she suspected he meant to make a night of it, and drink more than was good for him. But Gerald's attempts at gaiety and his extreme nervousness ended by distracting her attention from herself. She had observed at lunch that he was drinking a good deal of whisky; and now in his physical constraint, the tense looks of his ugly but charming face, and the occasional twitch of his hands, she saw familiar signs of danger. These continued when they were seated, and even through the music. The string quartette played wonderfully. Teresa could not help enjoying it, though she was conscious all the time that Gerald, sitting with his arms tightly folded across his thin chest, was not listening. They did not talk much during the pauses. Gerald had talked well enough at lunch, and Teresa began to feel irritated with him, and terribly sorry for him at the same time. However, when she looked at him, during the last of the programme, and met his miserable eyes, she felt a thrill of disgust.

"Gerald, you'll come back with me and have tea, won't you?" she whispered.

He shook his head, "I can't, thank you."

"Yes, do. I want to go to my studio first, and Miss Pease can give us some tea there. Then we might walk for an hour, and you could dine with me. Basil may be out, and I hate dining alone."

"I can't."

People were looking at them severely, and Teresa said no more till the music ended on a beautiful soft contralto strain dominated by the violoncello, which kept the audience a moment in their seats and silent, before the prolonged applause and noise of dispersal.

"I am going to walk down, and you must come a little way with me," she commanded, as they moved up the aisle in the crowd.

When they were out in the street and had distanced the knots and groups of people, so that they could not be overheard, Teresa said, looking straight ahead:

"Would you rather I didn't speak of it?"

Gerald made a hopeless gesture. "No use," he said bitterly. "I'm only sorry I've made a damned fool of myself and spoilt your afternoon. Don't think about me."

"You know I can't help it. Gerald, how long is it since—since you——"

"Since I made a beast of myself last time? It's nearly three months, and now it's got to come. Don't—let me go now—I hate myself for going to your house to-day. Will you forgive me? Yes, I know you will, and you despise me, and you ought to despise me, Teresa. I ought to have the decency to keep away from you altogether—it's the only sort of decency I might have still."

They had reached a street corner, and Gerald stopped short. Teresa felt, suddenly, very tired, very weak, and inclined to cry. The look in his eyes chilled and disgusted her, as it had done before. She put her grey muff up to her face, and two tears suddenly fell on the fur.

"Oh, Teresa—don't, for God's sake! It doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter, I tell you. I shall never come near you again."

He turned round and fairly bolted up the side street. Teresa walked on down the avenue, holding her muff against her face, and drying her tears behind it. She became aware that she must get out of the street, and that she wanted some tea—hot, strong, and bracing. She called a cab, and drove down to her rooms. Miss Pease was busy with some visitors in the studio, and Teresa made her own tea in the dining-room, and cried by herself on the divan while the water was heating. She had taken off her hat and was mopping very red eyes with a damp handkerchief when Miss Pease, a subdued-looking girl, came in with a little bronze, a finger-high study of a naked child playing with a frog.

"A lady wants to know if she can have this for thirty dollars, instead of thirty-five——" she began neutrally, then said in embarrassment, "Oh, I beg your pardon——"

"Tell her she can't have it at all. Tell her it's sold," snapped Teresa.

"But——" began timidly Miss Pease.

"Tell her it's sold!"

Teresa made her tea almost black, and drank three large cups of it. Then she took out her little silver cigarette-case and began to smoke, lying back on the divan. She had ceased to cry, and felt perfectly indifferent to everything. Let Gerald Dallas drink himself to death if he chose, or if he could not help it. He was right—she did despise him. And let Basil dine out if he chose, and be angry about nothing, and make himself odious. She suspected that he was beginning to have secrets from her. If so, it was all over between them. It was clear that no dependence was to be placed on any of the creatures. Aunt Sophia was perfectly right. She thought of Aunt Sophia because that lady's voice—clear, slightly nasal and authoritative—was now to be heard dominating the slight buzz in the other room.