JUDITH liked Mr. Beeker. He was very kind, very gentle; and though he was not good-looking, his plainness was the type which women find attractive. “Such a nice man, that Mr. Beeker,” Judith’s Aunt Phoebe decided after a not very profound examination of the big man who always seemed to be on hand to move deck chairs and carry rugs. “So good, so kind.”
It had not occurred to Aunt Phoebe that Mr. Beeker was in love with her niece. He was to her merely one of the more comforting incidents of ocean travel.
To Judith also, Mr. Beeker appeared good and kind. But he was more than that. He was a millionaire—a fact, she realized, which was not likely to be noticed by Aunt Phoebe who was extremely rich herself. Also, Judith was quite aware of Mr. Beeker’s love for her. She had become aware of it the second night out, when the Atlantic had so far reduced Aunt Phoebe that she had been unable to think of any of her hundred reasons for keeping Judith beside her.
He managed to see a great deal of the tall, beautiful girl who contrived an astonishing air of pride despite her bondage to a cross old woman. It was that pride of Judith’s, showing in all her bearing, which had first attracted Mr. Beeker, who liked proud women and had met few of them. He had seen her struggling down the deck, conquering the wind, her lovely head held high, not bowed as might have been natural in the conquest, and he had thought, “There goes a fine, proud woman,” and, had thought further, “a mother for fine sons.”
When he found that this glorious creature was the child of a misalliance, that her name was Smith and that she was poor as a church mouse, dependent for her livelihood on the exacting old woman, her aunt, his admiration turned to love. Watching Judith he found himself saying, “The poor, beautiful, gallant thing.”
As a matter of fact, Aunt Phoebe though exacting was not entirely unamiable. She was often amusing and sometimes generous. Judith’s life since her mother’s relatives had condescended to become aware of her existence had so much changed for the better that, looking back, she wondered how she had ever endured her lonely, hardworked childhood; changed so much for the better indeed that, rather than abandon it, she had abandoned the only man she was ever likely to love.
No, Mr. Beeker was wrong, and it must be admitted Judith did nothing to confirm him in his mistakes.
Yet her frankness did not come entirely from the surety of her power. In the gentle, big, plain-looking man who seemed at times perplexed, overwhelmed by the things which his money was presenting to him, she disceijied an honesty which shamed her out of pretense.
ALL THIS,” Anthony said on the calm third night at sea, “is so familiar to you that you probably don’t notice it. But to me it still has the quality of dream stuff and I never feel quite sure that it won’t be snatched away from me. I’ve been poor for so long. I’ve dreamed and merely dreamed it for so long.” The epic of his poverty, which he related to her, had nothing to do with his riches. Those had come suddenly, spouting from the land which had taken his youth and, until then, given him nothing.
Hearing that, Judith obeyed an impulse. She told him of her own girlhood, of its poverty and meanness, of her first jobs, of those bitter mornings when the alarm clock jangled relentlessly through the darkness. Then she had told him of the almost magical transformation of her circumstances after the death of her father had removed the barrier to Aunt Phoebe’s benevolence. There had been two years with Oak Manor as her home, where the novel luxury of her surroundings, the contacts with gay, leisured company, had been more than sufficient to offset the fret dissociable from the fact that she was Aunt Phoebe's paid companion as well as her niece. And these two years of travelling, she concluded—well, they had meant as much to her as the grasping of a dream meant to him.
“Why, dam it, he’s quite likeable,” Judith thought on the fourth night. “I’m not exactly crazy to have him kiss me, but that, as our grandmothers used to be told, will come with marriage.” So, after all—why not? The marriage she had decided to seek was practically this—wife to an extremely rich man whom one could like and respect, and who would love and trust one sufficiently to make possible those little adventures which might come the way of a rich, beautiful woman.
It was just such a marriage she had decided upon the night she had turned away from love and Terry Lowry, Judith reflected as she dressed for dinner on the night before the ship was due at Cherbourg. “He is quite sweet,” she told herself. “He’s the best bet I’ve struck so far, but—oh, if Terry’s face could be taken away from me!”
It had come again, the bitter pain of remembering Terry, as it had come each time during the two years when she had tried to convince herself of her reasons for marrying this man or that. That numbing pain was creeping over her again, must once more be fought; and this time, she swore, she would emerge victorious. For many minutes she sat before her mirror, then rose to her feet with a swiftness which was almost savage. In a frenzy of movement she achieved decision. She went to her wardrobe and chose her most enchanting gown—satin of a greenish blue which exactly matched her eyes and accentuated every line of her strong, beautiful body. She slid it over her smooth gold hair, caught up a short ermine cape which had been one of Aunt Phoebe’s apologies for a disgraceful outburst of temper, and walked purposefully out of her stateroom.
Her resolve was firm throughout the evening, and when Anthony, escorting them to the companionway, whispered, “Please come up here again when you have put your aunt to bed; I must talk to you.” she said “Yes,” without any preliminary excuses.
Later, beside the rail, high on the boat deck, she stood listening while Anthony told how he loved her. It took him some time, because in offering himself he tried to make clear to her the kind of man he was, to uncover his shy soul, to make her a present of his dreams so that she should herself see their marvellous fulfillment. The delight of his hour filled Anthony, but Judith, wrapped in a thick steamer coat, leaning against him as if her body had been broken and thrown there by the wind, stared with great eyes at the dark waters and heard scarcely a word. She was thinking of Terry, thinking with such concentration that all the delight and bitterness of their love were completely revivified for her. Perversely, while she listened to the proposal of this man whom she had decided to marry, she was realizing, once and for all, that in giving up Terry she would be giving up the only thing which mattered in life.
JUDITH had met Terry at the house of one of her aunt’s friends. He had come in from the tennis courts, his hair rumpled, a white sweater tied clumsily by the sleeves around his neck. He had been laughing at a story told by one of the quartette outside the door. “Jane,” he had called to his hostess, “I think I’ve fallen in bad company. Bill’s just been telling us . . . ” He had broken off then, seeing the new arrivals, but as he bowed to Aunt Phoebe, to her, the echo of his laughter was about his lips, in his eyes. “That’s the kind of man,” Judith had said to herself. “There’s an intensity about this man. I could fall in love with him.”
Afterward, Terry confessed that he had not known, in the first moment, as she had.
“I thought you were the best-looking woman I’d ever seen. But you didn’t affect me until I saw you coming downstairs before dinner. You looked like a white bird. You looked so graceful, the most graceful thing I’d ever seen in my life. Most women move as if their feet are glued to the earth. And there was something dangerous about you—oh, I don’t know what it was, but suddenly I knew that life had ceased to be dull.”
The house party had not broken up on the Monday. Only Terry left, hating to go, he said. "But I’m not a (XTson of leisure like the rest of you. I don’t go into an office and give orders. 1 go in and get thrown out if I'm not on time.”
Jane had mourned to Judith, as they went round the garden that morning, saying, "All my nicest young men are poor. The war took away my generation of charming men, and the crisis is taking yours away almost as effectively.”
It had been a terrible disappointment finding out that Terry was poor. But at that stage Judith’s need of him was great enough to discard his circumstances. She had thrust all thought of consequences, of issues from her mind : she had stripped her love of all material considerations and caught it naked to her breast, and she had almost fainted with delight when Aunt Phoebe, the following week, had announced:
"I think we shall go to town for a couple of months. I’m tired of trees. They wave about so. I’m getting quite dizzy.”
So to town had gone Aunt Phoebe, and to Judith town had been Terry.
“I love it," she had said the first time she had looked at Terry’s room from Terry’s arms. “It is the loveliest place I’ve ever seen. Kiss me.” And his kiss had blotted out the shabby room, the gas ring, the small grate, the concealed washstand, the bed advertised as “divan,” the cheap worn carpet, none of which things possessed novelty for her. Years of her life had been passed in rooms such as Terry’s. She knew all about them and loathed them.
Oh, she loved him. She told him to have no doubts about that, even while she was telling him that she would never marry him and that they must forget each other as soon as possible. That had been one night after they had dined together at the cheap little restaurant to which they occasionally went for an economical meal.
rT'ERRY, for all his quietness, had taken the thing rather badly. He had been very white, and his eyes were dull as if they would never shine again.
“If you had never been poor, I wouldn’t have asked you” he said. “But knowing that you’d been able to stand years of it, I thought you might try it again with me.”
Judith, anguished, scarcely realizing that the hour she had dreaded was upon them, had tried to convince him and herself.
“Don’t you see, that’s just the reason? If I had never been poor I would certainly have taken it on, not knowing what it means. But now I can’t. I can’t go back those horrible times, with a week-end now and again Oak Manor or with people like Jane to show us what we’re missing. I know how poverty—and you've said it will real poverty for years—frets one, mbs all the graciousness out of life. It would mb out our love, or if it didn't it would take all the joy out of it. You know I can't expect anything from Aunt Phoebe. She’s generous enough to me now, because I'm there, dancing attendance on her. But, married to you, I’d cease to exist for her—”
Terry had stopped her.
“All this.” he had said, “need hardly have been touched upon. I don’t know why you’re talking in this way. Please stop.” He had passed his hands across his eyes.
Judith, thinking about it while Anthony talked and the ship rolled through the black waters, remembered that there had been gaps of silence which hurt and convinced one, even more than words, that a death was being died in the little room that night. At last had come a silence so prolonged, that it said there was nothing more to say. It was over, Terry had said. If she would not marry him she must leave him alone, go away out of his life.
It had been very late and the house still when they went softly down the stairs for the last time. Shivering, waiting outside for a taxi, they had talked almost banallv, saying things such as “Men have died, but not for love.” But at the last moment Terry had kissed her. a long kiss which drained away her strength and left her clutching at him for support. “Wherever you are,” he had said, “whatever happens to either of us, remember that I will always love you. No woman will ever take your place. I love you so much that even the rotten thing you're doing doesn’t make any difference.”
She had never seen or heard of him again, as she might have done if, two days later, Aunt Phoebe had not said:
“I really do think, Judith, that at last I should like to see foreign parts.”
ANTHONY stopped speaking. Tentatively he encircled her with his arms. The silence, his breath on her face, aroused her and she drew away.
“No,” she said tonelessly, staring at him like one awakened from sleep. “No, I’m sorry, Anthony. Forgive me, but I can’t marry you. There’s some one else, and it’s got to be him. I didn’t quite realize it before. These two years of constant change sort of dulled my mind. But now I know that going home means him. Most terribly, Anthony.”
The hurt which her words had inflicted still showed in Anthony’s eyes when he said good-by to her next morning. But he was smiling.
“Good-by,” he said. “It’s been wonderful knowing you. And if anything goes wrong, if you ever change your mind, you know where to find me. I’ll be waiting, always.”
Thoughts of Terry, resolutions made and unmade, were occupying Judith to the exclusion of everything else. Several times Aunt Phoebe called her shrilly to order. But she spared a moment to think sorrowfully of Anthony, “so good, so kind,’’and to realize that he meant what he said, though why she believed it she could not have told.
All purpose except to find Terry again was now excluded from her mind. But Aunt Phoebe did not want to go to London. “We shall go straight to Oak Manor,” she said.
Very late on the night of their return, Judith sat down in her beautiful room to write to Terry, renouncing the room and all it stood for. But she found no words to convey her feelings, and was indeed struck for the first time by the realization that she knew little of him as that moment might find him, not even his address, whether he worked for the same people, or whether he still cared to hear from her. The wrong words, she felt might ruin everything, and it were better to wait.
Jane’s invitation, arriving at the end of the week, confirmed her in this belief. When Aunt Phoebe told her of the house party, she knew with a fearful exquisite certainty that Terry would be there, and her heart sank like a stone when her aunt said further: “Telephone her, ‘Thank you very much, but no.’ I’m worn out with celebrating and I’m getting to be an old woman, as she will have the pleasure of seeing some time soon.”
"But—” Judith began desperately.
"Yes. there’s a but.” Aunt Phoebe said with that asperity which always marked the conferring of her favors. “Tell her you’ll go. I've enough people around me at the moment and Chrissie will look after me. But you can’t have the big car or Walter’s. You’ll have to drive yourself in the Delage.”
THE MILES slid away from Judith’s racing wheels, and all the land’s loveliness was presented to hcr in a blue of green and gold, from which villages emerged now and then like a motif in a frieze. Over good roads she flew, over bad ones she hurtled, until she realized that she was behaving like a fool. Any one would think he was actually to be there, waiting for her to fall into his arms, she told herself sternly. For all she knew, he might be in China or Peru. There wasn’t a chance in a hundred that he would be at Bromley. Yet, as she went more sedately over the last miles, she prayed for the hundredth chance. If she could meet Terry at Bromley, they could more easily blot out the tragic London memories and recreate the lovely beginnings of their love.
She was trembling when she got out of the car in front of the house, which was bathed in the mellow' afternoon light. Through the trees she caught glimpses of the tennis courts, its white-clad figures barely distinguishable. She could hear shouts and the spank of balls on rackets. Was he there? Would he come in, flushed and laughing? Sometimes life repeated itself.
Jane hugged her warmly; so sweet, so welcoming. She, of all Aunt Phoebe’s friends, had best loved Judith.
“My dear, you haven’t changed.”
“Nothing’s changed,” Judith cried, but her friend disclaimed that.
“I'm fat, darling. I’ve crossed the line. I’m settling dowrn into a comfortable middle age. But you—stand back and let me look at you.”
“Is he here?” thought Judith. “Will she tell me now that he’s here? Did she know' wre w'ere in love with each other?” "Judith, you’ve growm. You’re quite marvellous. When I think of you as you were the day your aunt produced you—your clothes wrong, your hair wrong, and you so haughty you were almost aggressive, all on the defensive, with your great eyes, and your hurt, tight mouth ...” “Please! I felt like that then. 1 had a bed-sitting room complex and 1 was suspicious of you all.”
Jane still regarded her. “You had the air, even then. But now—you’re a finished product now. 1 do hope there is no foreign young man in your life. I’m going to love throwing you to the lions. Now' tell me about Phoebe.” While Judith talked, satisfying Jane’s curiosity, she w'as thinking, “Can I ask her? Can I say quite casually, ‘Any one I know here?’ Or perhaps more definitely: ’lío you ever see that man Lowry I met here once?’ ” But she said nothing, postponing the pain of disappointment, fearful.
Terry came in through the sun-filled doorway, his sweater tied clumsily about his neck. He was smiling, and Judith, at the sight of his dear face, his rumpled hair, felt her heart give a great leap in her breast, then all her body was still. She was at peace, like a buffeted swimmer flung on a kind shore. No, nothing had changed. Scarcely breathing, she waited for him to see her, waited for that exquisite moment when his eyes should find hers.
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“Jane,” he began, “there’s been a casualty. I—” He broke off, his lounging body stiffened. The smile stayed on his lips, but all mirth was withdrawn from it. The seconds of his staring at Judith were cut into by Jane’s voice.
“Didn’t you two meet before down here? Terry, this is the surprise I’ve been keeping for the party. A lovely lady just returned from far lands. Judith, in case you ve forgotten him, this is Terry Lowry, who has nothing particular to recommend him except a charming wife.”
Terry recovered first. His greeting was almost perfect and he continued easily to Jane:
“As a matter of fact, the charming wife happens to be the casualty. I hit her on the leg with a tennis ball, and she’s been so aggravated about it I thought I d better get in and tell my story first.”
Judith whispered something. She never knew what it was. The effort to pump breath through her strangled throat was terrific. She wondered if those seconds when she felt as if her body were crumpling up, losing life, left any mark on her face. But Terry, after that first look, kept his face averted. Jane appeared to notice nothing, and almost at once the tennis players came straggling in, and under cover of the din she fought to regain her control. She even managed to smile when Terry’s wife was presented to her—a full, wide smile which felt as if it were tearing the muscles of her face. Then arose a merciful spate of laughter and conversation, and her whiteness and her silence went unremarked. After a while she noticed, with the surprise one would have for a materialization, that an elderly gentleman was beside her and that he was talking about prohibition in America, had been for some time, to judge from his remarks.
“Terry’s wife,” Judith was thinking as she leaned with an enchanting air of attentiveness toward the elderly gentleman. “That is Terry’s wife. She’s in his home, in his life instead of me. He can’t love her! He couldn’t forget so soon. He swore he’d never forget. If he’d forgotten, he wouldn’t have looked at me as he did when he saw me here. She’s got him. She’s his wife, but she hasn’t taken my place. It isn’t my love he’s given her. She’s nothing. She’s just an ordinary little thing. She isn’t as goodlooking as I am. I know how she did it. She mothered him; she’s the type. She flattered his self-esteem, which was hurt and raw after I left him. I can see him telling her about me. He felt sorry for himself and lonely and reached out for whatever was nearest.”
"XyfARY LOWRY was half-turned from 4VX her, holding her teacup with one hand, while with the other she fingered her bruised ankle. Judith could not take her eyes from the small, bending figure. In profile, Mary looked very young. There was something childish in the cut of her lips, in her slightly tilted nose. Her hair was smooth and fair, and fell thick and straight to her neck in á page-boy cut. Old-fashioned. A child playing little mother; with the eternal looking out of her grave eyes while she crooned to a doll . . . “Oh, curse you, curse you,” Judith said in her soul, and the passion of her hate seemed to storm in silence across the room; and the little, bending figure straightened, a child startled by some intangible presence. After seeking about the room, her grave brown eyes found Judith’s. “She knows,” Judith thought. “She knows about me.”
“Does it hurt much, Mrs. Lowry?” she called. Her voice sounded harsh.
“It did at first,” Mary admitted. She smiled graciously, but her eyes were watchful. “At first I thought I was in for a bad time. But now I see it’s nothing.”
Terry had come to stand beside his wife. His hand was on her shoulder.
“I’m awfully som’, dear.” he said. “But I couldn’t help myself. You rushed in and ; got right in the way of it.”
Mary turned and, catching his hand, patted it gently.
“My dear, you don’t have to tell me you wouldn’t hurt me if you could help it.”
“Do they mean anything by these remarks?” Judith asked herself. “Do we all mean something? The two of them there— they look like a sculptural group. Defense, it might be called.” She had an insane desire to laugh and, realizing it, clenched her teeth. She grew afraid lest she might betray herself to all these people, that some one might notice the three of them and this extraordinary, tense attitude. Warily, she looked round. No one was watching. Only the three knéw what was happening. She was sure now that Mary’ knew.
“I agree with you entirely,” she said to the elderly gentleman.
When the players returned to the courts she did not join them. She managed to whisper to Terry' as he was passing her:
“I must see y'ou, Terry. Please. Come down early before dinner and I’ll be in the smoking room. No one will go in there, probably.”
While she was dressing she sought her reasons for this request, and felt that no good would come out of its granting. Terry j had bowed his head, but whether in assent ! or not, she could not tell. For almost an ¡ hour she had lain, face downward on her 1 bed, fighting desperation. Her face, when she dragged herself to the mirror, she found, was blotched and ugly from crying. Her eyes were dull. All light and energy seemed to have been withdrawn from her, as if her soul had been snuffed out. And she asked herself, “What good can it do now? It’s finished. He belongs to her; to that pale. : clinging little thing. She’ll hang on to him. She’s mad about him. Anyone can see that.” She began to walk up and down her room, striding more vigorously as her brain, listless from the storm, was once more recharged with energy.
Judith was completely dressed, wearing the blue-green gown which had helped in her conquest of Anthony, before she ; admitted to herself what she was going to do. Then she made her admission aloud, I flinging the words in the teeth of her mirrored self, which gazed from eyes grown almost black. All the color was lost in those great, dilated pupils. “I’m going to get him back. He’s mine and he knows it, and he’s afraid. This girl doesn’t count. She i mustn’t be allowed to count. It’s fair | enough. He’s been an incredible fool. He 1 should have waited. But it’s not too late, j Nothing that might have happened could make it too late except death. Because he j still cares.”
She went downstairs, her head held high though her fingers were cold from her fears, j She was not sure that he would be waiting for her in the smoking room, or that they 1 would be alone, but she had rehearsed her phrases. She would begin casually.
But when she saw him, lounging against the fireplace mantel on a supporting elbow, a pose so well-remembered, her precisely achieved opening was forgotten and she ! stumbled toward him, her hands reaching out to him, his name tearing from her on a , sob.
“Terry—oh, Terry', how could you!”
HE DREW BACK. His face was pale as her own.
“Please, please, Judith,’’ he said unsteadily. “You mustn’t say anything. For both our sakes, you mustn’t remember the past. I didn’t dream you would be down here or . . . ”
“But I love you, Terry. I love you so much. I found I couldn’t forget. I was coming back to ask you to marry me, to beg you . . . You can’t have forgotten.” “You know I haven’t forgotten!” The words were tom from him. “But Judith, I’m married. I can’t listen to you say such things. There can’t even be explanations, there must be no bringing up of the past at all. I’ll find some pretext for leaving here tomorrow, and till then we must get through as if there’d been nothing between us. That’s what I came down to tell you. idease, Judith, be fair ...”
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But her arms were around him, and with a groan he let his face fall to hers and his lips press into hers.
“Oh, I’ve longed for you so much,” he said thickly. “I’ve never forgotten the feel of you for an instant. It’s you—really you, beautiful Judith.” His hands about her body were savage.
When she withdrew from his arms she was triumphant. Her eyes were lustrous, her lovely mouth curved in a smile.
“You see? You see, Terry? You couldn’t fight it, not even for this first hour. It’s no good trying to have scruples about love like ours, Terry.”
But while he hungered for her, the outrage provoked him to bitter accusation. He stormed at her:
"If you felt like this, why didn’t you let me know? Write to me, tell me to wait? I’d have waited as long as you wished. But you went away, telling me to forget you. You convinced me that the best I could do for your happiness was to get out of your life and let you forget me. And now you come back and do this. You’ve got no shame, no honesty. There’s nothing decent in you. No decent woman would act the way you’ve acted!”
“But you love me.”
“Part of me loves you. It always will. There’s something about you, Judith, that a man can’t forget. But you’re not coming into my life again for all of that.”
“I have come into it again, Terry.”
“You seem to have forgotten Mary entirely.”
"No, I haven’t. But I can’t feel that she matters, that she has anything to do with you and me. She’s just a little, strange girl . . . Terry, how can I feel for her? She—she just got in the way, like she did with the ball, and she gets hurt and no one can help it.”
"Oh, yes, they can,” Terry said grimly. “I can.”
“Do you really believe you can give me up, Terry? Knowing I'm here, waiting for you any time? I won’t ask you to divorce lier. I won’t even ask that, Terry, if it would hurt you both too much. But just sometimes it will be—you and me. It must be, Terry.”
“You know if it were sometimes, it would be all the time. You’d be in my mind, in my blood. I’d have nothing left to give her, really, except my name. God knows, it’s only these last few months that I’ve been able to push you into the background at all. She knows. She knows she's never really had me. But she’s sweet. She’s a wonderful girl, Judith. Oh, why, in the name of heaven didn’t you come back before—-or never come back. And even now, you aren’t prepared to make any sacrifice. Just, ‘sometimes it will be you and me.’ At your convenience. Do you think if I wouldn't accept that before, I’d accept it now? You’re a rotten, selfish lover, Judith.”
She was shockingly hurt. She put her hands over her face and sobbed behind them; her slow, difficult tears wetting her perfumed fingers.
“No, Terry, no; please don’t say that. I’d do anything you wanted now. I said I wouldn’t ask you to divorce her, because I thought it would be asking too much. I was willing to pay that way, not having you completely, for the mistake I made. But I’d do anything. I’d starve, I’d be the reason for your divorce, I wouldn’t care who knew. I’d be anything you wanted. Please believe that. You’ve got to believe that.”
She caught her hand, twisting it cruelly, while he stared with stormy eyes at nothing.
"I don’t know what to do,” he said
savagely. “I could have got through if you’d made no sign, if you’d have behaved as any decent woman would. But I can’t fight you as well as myself. To think a few hours of you can sweep all the year with Mary away from me!”
Suddenly Judith laid her fingers on his lips. “Ssh,” she said. “Someone’s coming. Please dear . .
He laughed mirthlessly.. “You see? You’re guilty as hell. For all your fine fervor about our love, you know we’re being shabby, mean; that it’s something to hide.” “Well, let them see ! I don’t care,” Judith flared.
But Jane, who had been singing as she came along, did not come into the room. She put her head in the door and called: “Come into the other room, children, and have a lemonade.”
DURING DINNER Terry kept his eyes from her. But Judith watched him covertly, and saw that he scarcely spoke throughout the meal and ate little. His face seemed to have aged in the hours since she had seen him come, laughing, through the sun-streaked doorway. She knew that he was suffering, and a dull hatred for Mary as the cause of this suffering rose in her. A woman who married a man while he loved another woman deserved all she got, she thought viciously. Whatever hurt came to Mary, she deserved. Then Judith realized that, even now, she knew nothing of Terry’s marriage or of his wife. None of the hundred things she had planned to tell Terry in this first meeting had been told. Queer, those flaming minutes in the smoke room. She had not thought to achieve so much. But all barriers had crashed at once. Well, that was the way these things happened. Preliminaries were waived. There was no ordered unfolding. One tore through to the core of things, if there were a core at all, and all the outer coverings were left lying around, waiting for examination. Perhaps she might manage a few minutes alone with Terry during the evening.
But it turned out that they were all going to a dance at the golf club, starting early, Jane announced; there was a scurry for wraps, and cars were brought, round almost before coffee had been swallowed. Judith was told to bring her car and a passenger, as there would be a crush otherwise, and so, without any manoeuvering, she found herself at the wheel of her car and Terry being bundled in beside her. “No husbands allowed to sit with their wives,” Jane said gaily.
She heard Terry sigh, then he leaned back, and, glancing at him quickly, she saw that his eyes were closed tightly and his mouth twisted in a snarl.
“You see?” she said. “It’s outside our control. I’ve felt that, ever since the night on the ship when I decided about you. I’ve been obsessed”.
He said nothing. Mary came to the side of the car and peered in.
“Oh,” she said. “You two.”
At once, Terry grew over jovial.
“Exalted company,” he said. “Would you care for the privilege of riding with us? We can squeeze you in if you’re a good girl.” But Mary jumped off the running board on to which she had stepped, wriggling away from her husband’s detaining arm. She thrust her chin in the air.
“Thank you for no honor at all,” she said. “I’ve a much bigger, brighter car. I’m going with Dr. Humphrey. Aren’t you jealous?” But she could not keep it up. Her voice broke on the last word and she turned and ran. The two watched her running until the radius of the car lights no longer held her small figure.
“What are you doing to me, Judith?” Terry groaned.
SHE did not answer him or speak until they were smooth-running on the highway, the first to leave. The car moved swrift as the wind, seemed one with it. Judith
threw back her head, enchanted with the night.
“Sunshine tomorrow,” Judith said.
The car was open. The wind tossed her unbound hair about her face. She thrust back her head, and her bared throat was like a thick, pale stalk. Terry leaned across and touched it with his lips.
“I should cut your throat, not kiss it,” he said.
The car swerved dangerously and Judith cried, “Darling, you will, if you’re not careful. If we have a smash we are in the right place for broken glass.”
“I wouldn’t care much if we did smash up,” Terry said moodily. “That would be a solution. W'e’ve got a lot of thinking to do, Judith. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Now that I’ve got you back, I feel I can’t let you go again. I’ve been every kind of a fool. But Mary’s there, through my idiocy, and we can’t hurt her.”
“Don’t I mean more to you than she does?”
“She’s my wife. I don’t quite know what that means to me. I’ve been married nearly a year, but I’ve never analyzed my marriage. At first it was just something in which I tried to drown the memory of you. Lately—oh, I don’t know. She’s been so good, so understanding. She even understood about you. This is hurting her. Do you know what she said when we were dressing?”
“No—why should I tell you? It wouldn’t make any difference to you. Judith, there’s a kind of ruthlessness in you now—yet it was there all the time. You were just as ruthless in turning me down because you thought you wanted something else at the time.”
“Oh, stop, can’t you? I’ve come back. If you’d had any sense, you’d have known that the thing between us would have brought me back sooner or later. But you were too weak. You had to have somebody’s shoulder to lay your head on. That was it, wasn’t it?”
“In a way,” Terry assented miserably. “It started like that. Some one to come home to.”
“Where do you live? What have you got—a house, a flat?”
“A flat at Hampstead. You must come and see us sometime.” His teeth bit off the last word of the poor joke.
Judith was picturing the flat and Mary— the year of nights Mary had had with Terry coming home to her—-and she found the picture unbearable. Her lips tightened, her eyes grew misty. Whatever happened now, she would not be able to have quite that thing that Mary had had. There would be a shadow hovering always, and a just, fresh happiness could never be hers. But she said nothing. She pressed her foot on the accelerator and the car leaped forward, all its power released. The speed eased her pain a little, the windy wildness submerged the wildness of her emotions. The road ran whitely into darkness, and piled shadows crouched and jumped and fell away.
“But I’ll never give him up,” she was thinking as a tum in the road emerged sickeningly from the darkness and Terry cried a warning.
“Look out!” Terry cried again, and she slewed her wheels round desperately, but the white road rejected the racing tires, a stone wall rushed into the light, and Judith knew an instant of terror before blackness engulfed her.
WHEN she regained consciousness there was light all about her. The other cars had come up, and in the glare of headlights she saw the wreckage of the Delage. Her head was in somebody’s lap. She felt all right and got to her feet dazedly.
“Oh, thank God!” a voice said. It was Jane’s. “Darling, are you all right? Jim is with Terry. He said there was nothing wrong with you except a faint.”
“Terry? Where is he?’’
Terry was stretched out very still on a
rug. Beside him Mary was crouching, gnomelike. Her face was stony, all the force of her being concentrated in a terrible willing of that quiet figure to movement. Humphrey was at Terry’s head, doing something to his eyelids. When he saw Judith he said curtly:
“Yes.” She shivered.
At the sound of her voice Mary looked up, stared at her for a few seconds with no change of expression. Then she got to her feet and moved unsteadily across the space which separated her from Judith.
“You,” she said. “I want to—say something to you. Jane, I want to say something to Judith, please.” She looked from one to the other, her frozen little face unchanging, then she caught Judith’s hand in her tight, cold fingers.
“There’s blood on your arm,” she said dispassionately. She tugged at Judith, dragging her to the side of the road which was in shadow. There, where their two pale faces lost all definiteness, she began to speak, tonelessly, relentlessly.
“I wanted to tell you now, while he’s lying there like that. I want to tell you that if you’ve taken him away from me I’ll hurt you some way. I’m not sure that you haven’t done it on purpose. Your kind would do a thing like that. You’re bad, but you’re brave, I think. If you’ve taken him away from me, I’ll hurt you so badly that you won’t want to live after it. I don’t know how. But I’ll find some way.”
Silent, almost rigid, Judith listened. She made no effort to escape from the tight, cold fingers.
“It’s not only for myself. A little bit for myself, because I don’t see why I should let you hurt me and not pay back. I’d have fought you, whatever way you tried to take him from me. You didn’t think I was that kind, did you? Well, I am. I got him fairly enough. I loved him more than you did. I took the chance with him you wouldn’t take. I gave up more, really, though I’m not going to bother about telling you why. And now you’ve come back and you want him. You’re just no good.”
Her fingers fell away from Judith’s arm and buried themselves in the soft folds of her dress. She drooped a little. But her toneless voice went on.
“There’s going to be a baby, too.. He didn’t even know about it. I’ve only just found out myself. So you see what you’ve done to us.”
Judith put out a hand, blindly.
“I,” she began, “I—”
But there was a stir. Some one came running.
“It’s all right, Mary. He’s come round. He wants you. He came to, muttering your name in the most approved fashion. Jim says there’s nothing serious—whoa, there !— Judith, lend a hand. She’s had a terrible shock, poor child.” Mary had stumbled, almost fallen, but she drew herself away from their supporting arms.
“There’s nothing the matter with me,” she said. “It’s Judith you should be looking after. She’s the one that’s hurt.”
"You see?” she said to Judith. “You see? It’s me he wants. In a crisis, it’s my sort of love that counts. Wild things like your love aren’t wanted in a crisis. Perhaps you will leave us alone now.”
She turned and ran across the lighted roadway, and in the shadows Judith drooped slowly until she was a huddled heap on the ground.
“Judith, let me help you,” a man said uneasily.
Judith never knew who he was, or noticed when he went away. Her pain was too concerned with itself. But even in those minutes a thought, nebulous and swiftly rejected, came to her, as hope comes to the too sorely tried—a thought of Anthony, of the things that marriage can give without giving love’s wildness; things it had given to Mary and Terry and that they would claim in this hour.—The End