The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/Some Emotions and a Moral/Part 2 Chapter 4

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IV.


"You wrote to me once before, Cynthia."

"Why do you remind me of that? It doesn't help us today. The truth of the matter is that there is really nothing trustworthy about me. I don't know my mind from one moment to the next. The one thing certain seems to be this—in some way or other I must find amusement."

"Then when you spoke to me at the Museum as you did, it was for amusement?"

"Yes—if you like. I had been dull so long, and I couldn't resist the temptation. When I reached home I thought better of it, and I wrote as I did. In the circumstances I think that was rather decent—for me. I was afraid you might take me too seriously—again. An unnecessary fear, no doubt; but give me the credit of trying to put things right. It is not often that I want to do even that."

They were both in the drawing-room at Curzon street. Cynthia was sitting in an armchair; Provence was standing by the fireplace. He looked pale and careworn—Cynthia smiling and ironical.

"I refuse to believe that letter. If you did not speak the truth at the Museum, the whole world is a lie."

"No, Godfrey, not the whole world—only me. Besides, I never said I didn't like you: I couldn't say that. But there is a difference between liking and loving. I can't love any one—I have tried. I have no love to give, and I am not worth loving. Believe me; do believe me."

"Are you being fair to yourself—or me—now?"

"Believe me!" she repeated.

"I believe in you always," he said, quietly. "If faith could understand, it wouldn't be faith."

"If I loved you, how much I would love you for saying that!" She saw she had said too much and hastened to atone for it. "That really explains my feeling for you from the beginning. I always wanted to love you and—couldn't. That is why I think it will be so much happier, for both of us, never to see each other again. Your life is full of many things—first of all, your work. Love that, it will repay you better than loving me. As for my life, that will pass pleasantly enough. I have got what I always wanted—money. I would have loved you, only I loved money more. It was my first love, and I have been faithful to it. That should be a redeeming quality, shouldn't it? You can say I have been faithful to one love. That can't be said of every woman." She rose from her chair, and as she stood by him brushed a short golden hair from his coat sleeve. She held it up to the light and it curled round her finger.

"That belongs to your child," she said, "not to Grace. I call that a rather pretty omen." The clock struck seven. "In an hour's time," she said, "Aunt Theodosia and I shall be starting for Dover. Agatha was quite right. I shall find it gayer abroad. Good-bye, and—Godfrey—believe me, but don't hate me."

And so they parted.

When Lady Theodosia came in a few moments later, she found Cynthia standing cold and passive where Provence had left her—by the fireplace. As her aunt entered she looked at the clock. "I suppose," she said, "we ought to hurry, or we shall lose the train."

Lady Theodosia's heart beat high with pride when she remembered that, after all, this self-control ran in the family.


It was not until Provence had wandered blind and despairing through the streets for more than two hours that he remembered a note he had in his pocket from Golightly's tippling friend. This note had evidently been written under considerable agitation, and entreated him to call that day. Provence decided to forego the grim pleasure of brooding over his own misery, and drove to Golightly's chambers.

The tippling friend, whose name was Collingwood, received him.

"Thank God, you've come," he said. "I'm in a devil of a way. I want to talk to you about Golightly. He's in trouble. God knows what's up, but something is going to happen. I feel it."

"What is the trouble?" said Provence.

"The usual trouble," roared Collingwood; "Potiphar's wife."

"Are you quite sure you know what you're talking about?"

"I don't know who the woman is, but I know she's a bad one. When a man talks of ruining himself for a woman he can't conscientiously call an angel till he's drunk two bottles of champagne, she must be awful—perfectly awful. But they're all awful—hell-cats every man-jack of 'em. He won't listen to me. He always says, 'You're a dear old sort, Collingwood, but you're drunk.' That's the worst of letting your friends know you've got a weakness—they despise you when you want to help them. But you can get at him—he's got respect for you. He hasn't any for me.

"I can't do anything unless I have some facts to go on. You must see that yourself."

"Facts! Damn facts. I go by symptoms. I tell you the man is trying to drink himself into love—and he can't succeed. I've been trying to drink myself out of it for the last twenty years, and, take my word for it, Provence, it's a hopeless game in either case. I'm very fond of Golightly—he's been damned good to me. If he comes to grief, I shall lose my faith in human nature." He pushed the decanters towards Provence and poured out a glass of brandy for himself—which he swallowed, and again another—which he looked at.

"Have you any suspicion—any idea who she is?"

"Not the faintest. He told me I should probably know quite soon enough. He said this much, that her husband was a brick. I consider that a bad sign—his calling the husband a brick. It's too unusual. It proves conclusively the Potiphar theory."

"I will do what I can," said Provence, "but of course a matter of this kind wants very delicate handling. My wife has a great deal of tact, and he is very fond of her. I wonder if she could help us."

"Ah," said Collingwood, dropping his jaw, "you've got a wife; I forgot that."

"What do you mean? "said Godfrey.

"Nothing. But I always forget that fellows have got wives."

"Yes, I will talk it over with her," continued Provence. "She will be able to give very good advice."

"Women are so deep," said Collingwood.

"My wife isn't deep," said Provence, getting rather angry; "that is not a word I care for."

"Look here," said Collingwood, "I like you—it's a funny thing to say, but I do. At one time I didn't. And let me tell you this—Golightly thinks a lot of you. Don't be hard on him, now he's in a scrape. He's weak, and that woman has a hold on him. But there's stuff in him yet."

Provence wished him good-night and left him maundering in this strain over the brandy-decanter.

When he reached home it was past eleven, but Grace was reading in the drawing-room. She was dressed in a lace tea-gown, and he thought she was looking even pretty: very innocent, too, and child-like. He was filled with remorse to think that the shadow of his lonely, monotonous life had fallen on so light and airy a being.

"Were you sitting up for me, Grace?" he said.

She yawned. "I don't mind the sitting up." She did not think it necessary to add that George Golightly had been there the greater part of the evening. "I should like to be told, though," she went on, "when you intend to dine out."

"I haven't dined at all," he said; "but I'm very sorry if you delayed dinner for me. I have had one or two things to bother me to-day. I'm afraid George is in trouble. From all I hear from Collingwood, he has got into some entanglement with a married woman. Of course, I can be sure of one thing. Even if it comes to the worst, George would have to persuade himself that he was doing the right thing. He's rather easily led, but he would never act dishonourably with his eyes open. I would stake my life on that. I wish I could find out who the woman is. Things may not be so bad as they seem. Can you think of any one?"

Grace shook her head. "Don't worry about it," said Godfrey, kindly; "you look quite pale and upset already. I ought not to have told you when you were so tired."

"I hate Collingwood," she said, faintly. "I don't believe one word he says."

"But now I think of it, I have noticed a change in George lately myself," said Provence. "I can hardly explain it, but he seems different. He used to be very frank and boyish in his manner; now he seems cold and reserved. Sometimes I have fancied he wanted to avoid me....What a dull, sad business life is," he added, wearily; "it is not until everything has gone wrong that we see how easily it might all have been right. And always ourselves to blame, never any one else—only ourselves."

"I could be happy enough," said Grace, "if it wasn't for other people's interference;" and she went upstairs to her bedroom.

Twelve o'clock struck, and one—and still Godfrey sat thinking. At half-past one he was roused by a furious knocking at the hall-door. When he opened it Collingwood rushed in, pale, stricken, and breathless.

"We are too late, Provence," he cried; "I told you something would happen. He has shot himself. He is dead."

They heard a woman's cry behind them. Grace had seen Collingwood drive up, and had crept to the top of the stairs to hear what was said. When the first shock of his news had passed she came slowly down the staircase, with one trembling hand on the railings, with the other clutching vainly at the wall.

"Did he leave any letter behind him," she said, when she finally reached the hall.

"Not a line," said Collingwood.

She burst into hysterical tears. "There is nothing to prove, then, that it wasn't an accident?"

"Nothing," said Collingwood, sternly.

For the first time she turned towards Godfrey. "It—is—too dreadful—to realize—all at once. I— never had strong nerves."

Collingwood left her sobbing on her husband's arm. But the tragedy was in Provence's face, for although he held her he looked away.