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coloured all over his brown face. 'Look here, I have a thousand and one things to say to you. Will you come and dine with me somewhere this evening ?
Why not here?'
' It would gratify him so enormously,' Edith pleaded. 'He's begun to find out he bores people, poor old dear, and I can't bear it. Besides, he 'll leave us together to talk after dinner. He goes to bed early.'
Michael yielded with his usual easy grace.
Shall you be in uniform ?” he asked, with a glance at her nursing dress and a smile.
“No, I will come in what we call “worldly clothes.”
* I'm glad of that. I want to be reminded of-Clode, and our friendship.'
She blushed because his look was rather ardent than friendly, but spoke without confusion.
Though you look older and wiser, I suppose you have not changed much-in essentials ?' she asked curiously.
“I have changed a great deal,' said Michael instantly. tell you to-night how much. By the by, you are a shockingly bad correspondent.'
'I had my mother and three brothers to write to—and my work to do,' she said, excusing herself. 'I acknowledge you are an unusually good one.'
'I have often thought I ought to have been a journalist,' be said, nodding. 'Good chaps, some of those war-correspondents. What time may I come this evening ?'
They did not touch on any serious subject during this brief interview, but Edith found herself regarding the hours which must pass before she could see Michael again as interminable, although she knew that they must be filled with work.
The realisation of her own impatience came upon her with the shock of a surprise.
She gave herself conscientiously to the fulfilment of her duty throughout the day, but she could not help the working of her sub-conscious mind ; and this engendered something like annoyance at the torrent of feeling which her meeting with Michael had aroused in her.
She tried to recall all the calm impartial opinions she had ever formed concerning him, and recollected that she had decided long ago that he was an egotist and a sentimentalist, borne lightly by the breath of circumstance over the surface of his own facile emotions. Yet, even while tracing in imagination the weak lines of his mouth and chin, she found herself dwelling upon the charm of his smile, and his ingratiating twinkle.
At the end of this long day she hurried round to Eaton Place and up to her own room in her uncle's house, arriving just in time to dress for dinner.
That room now represented, in a sense, her home. It was filled with treasures of her childhood and girlhood. Her father's photograph stood on the dressing-table, and above the glass hung a water-colour sketch of Clode—the old grey stone house, with the dull greens and greys of its familiar northern landscape. The sense of space and comfort, and above all the silence of her bedroom, brought soothing to her spirit; the tumult of her thoughts calmed, and she faced squarely for the first time the knowledge that she longed secretly for Michael's love, and that in all probability it lay within her grasp.
The thought made her cheek burn and her heart beat; she gave herself to it, however, but for an instant, before the self-control compelled by habit returned. She banished his image resolutely from her mind on the stairs, only to find Michael himself waiting eagerly for her in the drawing-room.
After all, he appeared to be quite as light-hearted as the Michael of old. At dinner he listened to Colonel Bertwald's diatribes, and answered his questions with that deferential and sympathetic manner which always endeared him to the old, and with only an occasional look or word to tell Edith that throughout he was acutely conscious and glad of her presence.
Her' worldly clothes' took the form of a severely plain black velvet gown which followed every graceful line and curve of her tall figure faithfully, but a red June rose in her dark hair, and another in the lace at her breast, gave touches of colour which were excessively becoming to her.
Edith to-night looked beautiful and knew it, and was aware that Michael knew it, and that her uncle's dimmed eyes looked at her proudly and fondly.
She left the two men sitting over their port, and went up to the drawing-room, which was a bower of roses.
Colonel Bertwald's flowers as well as his vegetables came from Covent Garden market, and he sometimes rose at dawn to buy them for himself.
'He'll go to bed early to-night,' she thought, as she wandered softly and restlessly about the room, touching the roses here and there with a light, caressing hand.
Either her uncle's fatigue or Michael's tactful management cut short the after-dinner talk, and Colonel Bertwald, with many apologies for his invalid habits, said 'Good night' almost immediately after their entry into the drawing-room, and went off to bed.
Edith led the way through the French window on to the reddraped balcony, where even the London smoke could not altogether spoil the softness of the summer-night air.
At her invitation Michael lighted a cigarette, and they sat dow side by side in the semi-darkness, with a pleasant, intimate sense of comradeship.
'I brought your mother's letter to read to you. I kept it for you as you asked,' he said.
‘She said I might see anything she wrote to you.'
He took it from his pocket-book, and, leaning forward into the square of light cast by the open window from the drawing-room lamps, read it aloud.
Edith will have told you of my marriage. Since I saw you last a thousand times have I thought of Disraeli's saying :
Grief is the agony of a moment.
Indulgence in it is the mistake of a lifetime." * The very excess of my sorrow forced it the sooner to expend itself; and when I raised my eyes, blind with weeping, to peet into the future, I saw an empty road of intolerable length stretching before me. I was appalled by the loneliness. Now it is no lon empty, and I walk beside a companion with whom I have every occupation, every interest, I can almost say every thought in commor. The hours are no longer weighted with the heaviness of heart that made them pass slowly. They fly. We have supped each our fill of sorrow, and realise acutely the fleetingness of earthly joys, and the knowledge makes the more precious this belated and unexpected good fortune. In many ways we find ourselves strangely alike; we are equally unable to endure solitude, or uncongenial companionship ... You will understand how proud I must be of Humphrey -and if you could read what he writes of you, you might be a little
proud on your own account. Next to my three, your name is the one I have looked for most anxiously in the papers. I lie awake at night, thinking, is it possible they will all come through safely? You well know how much more tender the thought makes me of him, who has given both his sons now, and is now, save for me, alone. Yet never hopeless, for he believes, as I do, in the Unseen World, and, as you know his writings, you must know also how near to him it seems
'My relations have behaved as relations generally do on these occasions. One or two have written, delighted, because I shall do them more credit as the wife of a diplomat than as an eccentric widow wandering alone over the face of the earth. One or two to remind me affectionately of my age. One distressed on the subject of settlements, and several at the thought of my children's inevitable disapproval. But as I could, and did, give a résumé of the contents of most of these epistles, -50 typical of the writers,—before opening them, to my beloved partner, you may believe that my vanity was rather gratified than distressed by their contents. And there were my boys' letters, and Edith's, and those of my few friends, to assure me that somewhere in the world there was joy in my joy, and understanding of my need for happiness. For it is happiness, strange as it seems to myself, and it is God whom I am thanking to-day, and for ever while I live...
'It is very like her,' said Edith, with her usual frankness, ' tenderness and egotism combined. That was written, of course, soon after their marriage, but I think her absolute content has grown day by day. They are not only married but mated that is very rare, I suppose. I felt it when they came home for a flying visit before he returned to his Embassy. Some day, I suppose, I
Ι shall go and stay with them.'
They relapsed into a silence, of which neither was wholly aware, until Michael broke the spell by striking a match and relighting his cigarette ; and then Edith, in a low voice and hesitating, spoke of Bernard.
Michael had written to her at the time, so that the facts were all known to her, but she had not realised how deep was the influence the dead boy had exerted over his friend ; with what extraordinary tenderness and reverence Michael the careless, the light-hearted, had regarded him.
In the summer darkness he poured forth his feelings, and she listened with tears rather of sympathy than of sorrow.
Michael stretched out his hand suddenly, and took hers, whereon tears had fallen.
' Are you crying-for him? God bless you. But his fate calls for no tears,' he said.
'Not for him, individually, for them all—for the pity of it all. The young lives cut short—those who sit alone in darkened houses—all over England-most of all, perhaps, for those who have given their strength and activity and health, and will drag on broken lives as invalids ; for they pay dearest of all,' she said. * But for Bernard—I did not know him.'
‘I wish you had known him. I wish I had not, in my selfishness, sent him off in order to talk to you myself that day I brought him here,' said Michael, vehemently. "I found out afterwards that he treasured up that brief glimpse of you as a kind of revelation.'
Oh, hush,' Edith said, but she remembered Thekla's words.
'It 's true. And I sent him off before you had time to form any opinion of him, -scarcely to look at him.'
'I formed an opinion of him ; that though he might not be very strong, physically,—though he had a delicate face and rather girlish colouring,-yet that he had a will of his own.'
'Inflexible,' said Michael. 'Curious you should have divined it.'
* And I agree with you that his fate does not call for tears,' said Edith. He would be a monk, and fate made him a soldier. He did his duty. He is dead. But no more dead to you, surely, than if he had become a monk.'
Not dead to me at all,' said Michael, in a low voice, since I may hope to see him again.
Your faith is still-sure ?' she said, hardly above her breath. • You find consolation in it still ?' 'I don't know what I should do,' he said simply, if I lost
I don't know what would become of me. I should go mad, I think. After once realising the peace---the securityBut, please God, I'm not very likely to lose it,' he laughed in his old manner, half-deprecating, that she remembered ; and, in the same tone, murmured a few words, sincere enough, yet as one a little amused by his own strong feeling-of the historical interest of the faith he professed ; its special appeal to those who were by nature weak, or sensuous, or vacillating; the completeness of its consolation ; the severity of its guidance ; the perfection of its organisation;