English author Dornford Yates wrote humorous and romantic works for magazines throughout the early 20th century using a pen name that derived from the surnames of each of his grandmothers. Yates’s fiction revolves around the class rifts of the Edwardian Era.
Eve Malory Carew tilted her sweet pretty chin.
“It’s my hair,” she said.
“Exactly,” said Jeremy Broke. “That’s why to cut it would be so — so blasphemous. If it was anybody else’s, it’d be their funeral. But your hair’s a sort of national treasure, like Anne Hathaway’s cottage or Arthur’s Seat — I mean, Leith Hill. It’s not really yours to cut.”
“It’s mine to brush,” said Eve; “and fix and do generally. If you had a beard — “
“That’s an idea,” said Broke. “If you cut your hair I’ll grow a blinkin’ beard; a long, spade-shaped one — by way of protest.”
Eve laughed delightedly.
“But how,” she gurgled — “how would that affect me? If we kissed when we met, or always dined tete-a-tete “
“I trust,” said Jeremy stiffly, “that the indecent spectacle of an old friend gone wrong would twist the tail of your conscience. Besides, you wouldn’t like it when I accosted you in Bond Street, beard in hand.”
Miss Carew shuddered. Then, “Seriously, Jeremy, why shouldn’t I have it off? Listen! First, it would suit me. I went to see Sali today and he said it’d look immense. Secondly, it’s the fashion. I don’t want it bobbed, you know. I want it really well cut. Thirdly, I go through such hell morning and night. I wish you could see it down. Then perhaps you’d realize what I mean.”
“I have,” said Jeremy Broke. “The night of the Lyvedens’ ball.”
“Well, how would you like to have to cope with it twice a day?”
Jeremy inclined his head.
“I cannot imagine a greater privilege.”
Eve smiled very charmingly.
“Let’s drop hypothesis,” she said, “and come back to facts. I’ve given you three good reasons for having it cut. Except that it’s a national treasure, of which, I assume, I am the luckless trustee, can you give me one single reason why it should be preserved?”
Jeremy hesitated. Then, “No,” he said quietly, “I can’t.”
There was a silence. The man smiled thoughtfully, staring straight ahead. With a faint frown, the girl regarded the leisurely disintegration of the logs in the grate. The distant throb of ragtime filtered into the room, only to subside, as though abashed, before the stately lecture of a Vulliamy clock.
“Let us talk,” said Eve, “of the past.”
“Good!” said Jeremy. “I’ll begin. If I’d been brought up to be a plumber instead of a diplomat — ”
“Oh, I wish you had,” said Eve. “My bath’s gone wrong again.”
“What, not the Roman?”
“The same,” said Eve.
“There you are,” said Broke. “I told you not to have it. You cannot introduce a relic of the Stone Age into a superflat. It can’t be done. If you must have a circus leading out of your bedroom, the only thing to do is to set it right up and then build a house round it.”
“We’re off!” said Eve, bubbling.
“What’s the trouble?” he demanded.
“Won’t empty,” said Eve. “I’m — I’m having it taken away.”
“Taken away?” cried Broke.
“Well, filled in or something. I don’t know what the process will be. I simply said it was to be washed out and an ordinary bath put in its place.”
“Why on earth?”
“Because experience has shown me that your advice was good. Between you and me, it nearly always is — though why you keep on giving it me when I only chuck it away heaven only knows. I should have got mad months ago. I think you must be very, very strong, Jeremy. At least, I’m very conscious of being the — the weaker vessel.”
“A most appropriate sensation.”
Eve shot him a lightning glance. Then, “We were to talk of the past,” she said quickly. “ D’you remember this day a year ago?”
Jeremy knitted his brows.
“Was that the first time we met?”
“It was,” said Eve. “May Day, 1923. Here in this house. . . . Jeremy, I’ve a confession to make. I asked that you should be introduced to me.”
“Well, I asked too.”
“Because I wanted to know you,” said Jeremy Broke.
“I suppose you attracted me.”
“I must be attractive,” said Eve.
Miss Carew shrugged her white shoulders.
“I’m still unmarried,” she said. “That,” said Jeremy Broke, “is your little fault. At least, rumor has it that you’ve turned a good many down.”
“Rumor is wrong,” said Eve. “I admit I’ve had one or two overtures, but the idea of being married for my money never appealed to me.”
“I shouldn’t have thought,” said Broke, “that you need be afraid. If you were forty instead of twenty-four; if you had a face like the back of a hansom; if — ”
“Here!” said Eve. “Don’t cut out the gilt. There was the making of a compliment. Besides, I value your opinion. What is my face like, Jeremy?”
The man regarded her.
“It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“My mouth,” said Eve, “is too large.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Broke. “It’s just perfect. So’s your nose, an’ — an’ the rest. That’s why it seems so wicked to cut your hair.”
“Was it my face that attracted you — last year?”
The man considered. “Your face and your pretty ways.”
“You just felt you wanted to know me?”
“Well, you’ve had your wish,” she said. “I mean, you’ve got to know me pretty well.”
“You’ve been very sweet,” said Jeremy.
“Don’t mention it,” said Miss Carew. “It’s — it’s been a pleasure. Besides, I’m very lonely. And I wanted to know you, you know. . . . Never mind. I hope when you’re married — ”
“I’m not engaged yet.”
“That’s your little fault,” said Eve. “I could mention several ladies who have put their arms round your neck — certainly figuratively and, for all I know, literally.”
“My dear, I’ve seen it going on. Don’t be afraid; I’m not going to mention names.”
“But I’ve no money.”
“What does that matter? They have.”
“I think you’re mistaken.” said Broke. “Everyone’s always very nice, but people don’t pick up stray curs — ”
“How dare you say such a thing?”
Eve was on her feet. Her brown eyes were flaming and there was wrath in her voice. Slowly Jeremy rose.
“My dear Eve — ”
“How dare you speak like that? It’s cheap and paltry and it’s a wicked lie. D’you think I’d give my friendship to — to a stray cur?”
“You have,” said Broke. “I’ve seen you. Down on the Portsmouth Road. His blood was all over your dress and he died in your arms.”
“Yes; but — ”
“I’ll take back ‘cur’ if it offends you; but I’m a stray, Eve. I’ve nothing to offer at all. I can only just live. A plumber makes twice the money that they pay me. The jobs I was trained for are bust or sold or given to — to business men. If it wasn’t for Babel, I should be on the streets, and — Oh, Eve, my lady, for God’s sake don’t cry! I didn’t mean — ”
Instinctively he put out his arms and the girl slipped into them. He held her gently enough, comforting her, patting her shoulder, talking in steady tones of bygone days and gilding the future with a laughing tongue. After a little, Eve had herself in hand.
As he released her, “Let’s — sit — down,” she said jerkily.
They sat down together and she slid an arm through his.
“Listen!” she whispered. “I can’t talk loud, because I shall cry if I do. Listen to me! I’ll tell you the name of one woman who’s put her arms round your neck. She’s done it for nearly a year — not very glaringly until tonight. Her name’s Eve — Eve Malory Carew.” His fists clenched. Jeremy sat like a rock. The girl continued tremulously: “I’ve given you opening after opening. I’ve put the very words into your mouth. I’ve given myself away. I’ve asked and pleaded and begged. I’ve done what I’ve never done in all my life, what I never dreamed I should do — sunk pride, vanity, self-respect — to — make — you — speak. I’m not good at the arts, but I’ve used them all tonight. I gave you my profile, stared, tried to get my soul into my voice. I didn’t cry to make you take me in your arms — that was a piece of sheer luck. But I did everything else. . . . Well, there you are. I’ve failed. And now I want to know one thing. There’s only one answer you can give me; but from the way you give it I shall be able to tell if you’re speaking the truth. Do you love me, Jeremy?”
The man laughed. “You know I’ve been mad about you for just one year.”
Eve sighed very happily. “And I’m quite silly about you,” she said. “I started dreaming about you months ago. But I think up to now I’ve behaved all right, haven’t I?”
“Perfectly,” said Broke.
Eve squeezed his arm.
“I’m glad of that. And now suppose you kissed me. Or d’you think I ought to kiss you?”
Suddenly she was in his arms, blushing and breathless.
“You witch!” breathed the man.
“You exquisite, glorious witch! I’ve steeled myself and fought a thousand times. And tonight I swore I’d see you — and kiss the rod. Rod? Sword! It’s been like a sword in my side to wait upon you. Tonight was laden with memories, but I swore to come through. I swore I’d recall them and bow-and come away — walk through the wet streets triumphant, because I’d flirted with fire and not been burned. And now — I’ve failed.”
He lifted up his eyes with the look of one who is looking into heaven.
“I shan’t walk home, Eve. By rights I should slink, because I’ve broken my oath. But — I shan’t — slink. I think I shall dance, Eve — dance, leap, run; give silver to the beggars I meet; shout, because you love me — because of the stars in your eyes and the flower they call your mouth.” Eve flung back her beautiful head and closed her eyes. The smile on her parted lips was not of this world. “You ask if I love you. I love the lisp of your footfalls and the print of your tiny feet. I love the rustle of your gown and the silence your laughter breaks. All that you do I love — because you do it — you — Eve — my princess.”
He kissed her lips.
“I’m very happy,” said Eve. “I hope you are.”
Broke picked her up in his arms.
“You wicked child!” he said.
“Witch, princess, child,” said Eve, with an arm round his neck. “Which will you marry?”
“The child,” said Jeremy Broke.
“That’s right,” said Eve. “The others have served their turn. The stick to persuade you to jump; the scepter to dazzle your vision.” She fell to stroking his hair. “I’m really more of an artist than I thought. Looking back, I wonder I had the courage to be so indecent. Of course I was desperate. Still — “
“It is the prerogative of royalty.”
Eve made a maddening mouth.
“Diplomat!” she said. Then, “As a matter of fact, stacks of us do it all the time, darling. But I never thought I should.”
The two were married one brilliant June morning full of the airs and graces of a belated spring. Broke received twelve presents, Miss Carew six hundred and four — such is the power of money. The former had already resigned his ghost of a job and was earning much less than a living by plying his pen. From this Eve sought to dissuade him, but the man was resolute.
Jeremy Broke was thirty and of a cheerful countenance. His gray eyes were set well apart and his forehead was broad. His nostrils were sensitive, his mouth firm and shapely, his thick brown hair well-ordered, his head carried high. He was tall and his shoulders were square. He had good hands, and cared for them as a man should. His manners were above reproach, his style that of a gentleman. So were his instincts.
He brought his wife no debts. He sold his great-grandfather’s chronometer to pay such expenses of the wedding as are usually met by the groom; and, once married, that the money they spent was not his he made most evident. Friends, acquaintances, strangers, servants — none must credit him with Eve’s wealth. He did not insist upon the truth — go about shouting “It’s hers!” but the things that were Caesar’s unto Caesar he scrupulously rendered. Most of all was he careful in private to assume no whit of that authority which riches give. He never stooped; but he never sat in her seat. It was impossible not to revere feeling so fine. His wife found it worshipful — with tears in her eyes.
Eve Malory Broke was a very striking example of the Creator’s art. Her features were beautiful and she was perfectly made. The curves of her neck and shoulders, her slender white wrists, her slim silk stockings and the shining arches of her feet — these and other points lifted her straight into the champion class. She was lithe of body and light as air in the dance. The grace of her form and movement were such as Praxiteles rejoiced to turn to stone. You would have said that only an etching needle could catch her very delicate dignity but for one thing. That was her coloring. Her great brown eyes and the red-gold splendor of her amazing hair, the warm rose of her cheeks and the cream of her exquisite skin — never was leaping vitality more brilliantly declared. Old masters would have gone mad about her. Adam would have eaten out of her hand. In a word, she became her name.
A warm, impulsive nature, rich in high qualities and puny faults, made her a wife to be very proud of, to love to distraction and occasionally to oppose.
After doing their best to spoil each other for nearly ten months, Eve and Jeremy had their first pitched battle in Rome one tearful April morning.
“In other words,” said the former silkily, “I can’t carry my liquor.”
“I never said or suggested such a thing. For all I know, you could drink me under the table.”
“Then what’s the point of your protest?”
Short-skirted, perched upright on a table, her knees crossed, one admirable leg slowly swinging, her beautiful fingers drumming deliberately upon the table’s edge, Eve was superb. If her wonderful hair had been about her shoulders, she might have sat to a Greuze and furnished gaping posterity with a new ideal.
“I think it’s a pity,” he said, “deliberately to put off what so very few women have.”
“What’s that? “
Eve raised her brown eyes to heaven.
“Because I drink two cocktails instead of one — ”
“It’s tough,” said Jeremy. “It’s a tough thing to do. A woman’s supposed to drink, not because she likes it but because it’s the fashion or because she needs bucking up. Very well, it’s the fashion to drink a cocktail before your dinner. To that fashion women subscribe — many, perhaps, cheerfully — but that’s their business. If they make a meal of it — ask for a second helping — the assumption or fiction that they’re following a fashion is gone and they’re merely advertising an appetite which isn’t particularly becoming to a man, but actually degrades a woman, whoever she is.”
“I’m much obliged,” said Eve. “Tough and degraded. I am a topper, am I not? I suppose you realize that this is 1924.”
“If you mean I’m old-fashioned, I admit it. I don’t like to see a girl drink. But that’s beside the point. I mayn’t like the fashion, but I don’t shout about it. You can’t curse anyone for toeing the line. But I think it’s a thousand pities to overstep it.”
Eve smote upon the table with the flat of her pretty hand.
“You don’t seem able to see,” she cried, “that you’re blowing a whole gale about nothing at all — nothing! Because there’s a cocktail going spare and I’m fool enough to give it a home, d’you seriously suggest that I shall be branded as a sot? One swallow doesn’t make a drunkard.”
“That’s better,” said Jeremy, smiling. “That’s the way to talk. And of course I don’t, sweetheart. I’m not such a fool. But — you are so attractive, Eve, so — so dazzling; you set such a very high standard of sweetness that when you do something that brings us down to earth we’ve got such a long way to fall. A taste for liquor seems so much worse in you — “
“But I haven’t a taste for liquor. I hate it. I don’t care whether I drink a cocktail or not. Yes, I do; I’d much rather think water.”
“I know you would,” cried Broke; “but no one else would. And when, to put it plainly, you have a couple, then — “
“Everyone knows I don’t drink.”
“But you do — you are — you’re inviting attention to the fact. Thoughtlessly, idly, of course. You don’t care a damn about liquor; but by having a second cocktail you’re declaring your liking for drink.”
“I don’t agree,” said Eve; “but supposing I am. Why shouldn’t I like my liquor?”
“I’ve tried to point out,” said Jeremy wearily, “that a taste for liquor doesn’t become you. But I think in your heart you know that. What you won’t see is that to drink two cocktails is tough.”
“I confess that I can’t,” said Eve. “What’s more, I propose to drink two more tonight.”
“Look here!” said Broke, deliberately ignoring the glove. “A little while ago it was the fashion to wear short skirts, wasn’t it? Very well. You subscribed to the fashion and wore them too. Well, you wouldn’t have exaggerated that fashion — turned out in a frock that only got as far as your knees, would you?”
“What d’you think?” said his wife.
“Well, some girls did.”
“Exactly,” cried Broke.
“And because they went beyond the dictates of fashion, they were properly judged to be tough.”
“That didn’t make them tough. They were tough already or they wouldn’t ‘ve done it.”
Jeremy spread out his hands.
“Out of your own mouth,” he said. “Only tough people do tough things; or, in other words, tough things are only done by tough people.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then, “Right-o!” said Eve. “ I’m tough. And just to leave no doubt upon the subject, I’m going to drink two and probably three cocktails tonight. If as a result I get tight, it’ll be your privilege to escort me upstairs and apply the usual restoratives. Really,” she added, raising her delicate arms and stretching luxuriously, “it’s a great thought that if I like to exceed I shall be properly cared for. A minute ago I was wondering why I’d married you, but at least a tame missioner has his points. Even if you do choke him off, it’s his job to return good for evil.”
Jeremy turned to the window.
“Are you trying,” he said, “to get a rise?”
“No,” said Eve calmly. “I never attempt to accomplish a fait accompli.”
“Why d’you call me a missioner and talk about choking me off? You know it’s unfair and uncivil.”
“I don’t consider it unfair, and whether it’s civil or not doesn’t concern me.”
“Then it should,” said Broke shortly. “And in future I’ll be glad if it does. I’m not rude to you and I see no reason why you should be rude to me.”
Eve laughed musically.
“You have been most offensive,” she said. “Familiarity breeds contempt, I know. Still, one likes it to be veiled. At least I do. You might make a note of that. And next time you feel impelled to review my manners — “
“Eve, Eve, why do you speak like this?”
“In the hope that you’ll understand. If we’re to continue to live together, I advise you to pull up your socks. Because it amuses me to let you hold the reins — ”
“You’re determined to force my hand,” he said quietly. “I beg that in future you will take only one cocktail before a meal.” Eve raised her eyebrows and sighed.
“Your request is refused,” she said.
“Must I make it an order?”
Mrs. Broke stared.
“An order?” she said, rising.
“An order — which I shall enforce.”
Jeremy watched the blood mount to the glorious temples, the exquisite lips tighten, the red glow of anger steal into the great brown eyes.
He continued evenly, “I am determined that my wife shall not cheapen herself. I’ve entreated in vain; I’ve used argument and it’s failed; and so I must use power.”
“Power?” breathed the girl. “Power? When you make enough money to pay your washing bills — ”
Jeremy stiffened suddenly and went very pale. With a hammering heart his wife stood still as death. For a moment he spoke no word. Then, “I’m going out,” he said shortly. “Don’t wait for lunch. I shan’t be back till seven. I shall come back then — this time. But if ever you say such a thing again, or anything like it, I shall walk right out for good.”
He picked up his hat and coat and passed out of the room.
Rome has much to offer. She offered much to Broke that April morning. But all he took was the aged Appian Way, tramping this steadily with an empty pipe between his teeth and the thin rain playing on his face. He had no eyes for his flank guards, no thoughts for the pomp of traffic that had swept or stalked or stumbled over his present path to build a world. He was aware only of a proud, passionate face, angry, yet exquisite in anger — the face of a spoiled child.
Sixteen miles he covered before he returned to the hotel, hungry and healthily tired, but with a clear brain and steadfast heart.
He had been checking and weighing many things. He had reviewed his married life, faced the mistakes he had made and steeled himself to pay for every one of them. He had found himself wanting in patience, slow to make due allowance, visiting Eve with ills which his own shortcomings had begotten. More. The bill his heart had run up was truly formidable. To do his darling pleasure he had let everything rip for month after flashing month. He had smiled at this extravagance, abetted that whim, encouraged that vanity. They had drifted — gone as they pleased. The trivial round had been bought off, the common task compounded with. Discipline had become a dead letter; indulgence, lord of misrule — And it was his fault. She was a child and — she had great possessions; so life and love had become two excellent games, effortless, fruitful. Indubitably, it was his fault. He should have pointed the child, steadied her, used .his experience. His failure was inexcusable, because he had been through the mill, seen that life at any rate was no game; a stroll or a struggle, perhaps, according as fate laid down, but not a game. The pity was they might have strolled so pleasantly.
Jeremy had also reviewed the recent affray. He had decided that he had been clumsy, quick to anger and blunt. But he was perfectly certain, first that his contention had been sound, and second that his withdrawal was wholly justified. Moreover, cost what it might, if ever again Eve laid such a whip across his shoulders he would have to go. Had he been less punctilious, had he ever given his wife the slightest cause, it would have been different. As it was, to condone such usage would be fatal. Her respect for him, his respect for himself, would rapidly bleed to death, and happiness would shrivel like a fallen leaf. There would in fact be nothing at all to stay for — unless one cared for love with his tongue in his cheek.
That she had drawn such a whip had opened Broke’s eyes. He had been hurt — naturally; but he was far more concerned. Ten months ago Jeremy blamed himself very much indeed. He was, of course, most deeply in love with his wife and she with him.
When he came in that evening she flung her arms round his neck and burst into tears.
“What do you think of me?” she wailed. “I must have been mad. You are so wonderful, Jeremy, so wonderfully sweet about it all; and then I take up your sweetness and slash you across the face. Jeremy boy, you’ve got a cad for a wife.”
Jeremy kissed her hair. “My lady,” he said. “My darling.”
Eve shook her glorious head.
“No,” she said. “No lady. Don’t call me that again. I’ve done the unspeakable thing. I know it. If you’d given me cause, it would’ve been the grossest form. But as things are “She drew away and passed a hand over her eyes. “I think I must be possessed, Jeremy. Of course I hadn’t a leg — about the drinks, I mean. You were perfectly right. But I can mend that. I’ll never touch a cocktail again as long as I live. But I can’t mend the other.”
“It’s mended,” said Jeremy, taking her hands in his. “I made you mad as a hornet. I didn’t mean to, dear; but I’m clumsy, you know. Well, when you’re mad, you just pick up the first brick. You don’t care what it’s made of or what it is. The point is it’s something to heave.”
Eve looked him in the face.
“There was a label on that brick — Not to be Thrown,” she said. “We’ve all got two or three bricks labeled like that — Do Not Touch — Dangerous. I think from what you said, that brick is marked Dangerous too.”
Jeremy bowed his head.
“Jeremy,” said Eve, “you’ve something I haven’t got — thousands of things, of course, but especially one. And that’s my respect.”
Her husband smiled. Then he extended his arms and brought her face to his chin.
“You’ve got mine anyway,” he said.
Jeremy nodded solemnly.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “you never lost it. If you could have seen yourself — ”
“A sulky child,” said Eve.
“No,” said Broke. “A — a princess.”
“That’s not what you married.”
“I know. But that was your fault. You went and gave me my choice.”
A mischievous look stole into the big brown eyes.
“What a fool I was!” said Eve, and put up her mouth.
If the Brokes had slid back for ten Months, for the next six they went steadily forward, hand in hand. It was the strangest progress. Luxury, idleness, ease certainly came behind, but dutifully, as servants should.
A jovial discipline jogged by their side. Respect and self-respect marched solemnly ahead.
Jeremy did admirably. Eve was twenty-six. She was worth twenty thousand pounds year. Finally, she was American. With Infinite patience, with gentleness, firmly her husband went to work — helping his ‘fife, helping himself, helping his wife to “OP him and always giving her the glory. Eve gave it back always, with a look in her eyes that money cannot buy.
The vanities of a wicked world were against her, but her love and respect for Jeremy beat them back. She began to see the smile on Discipline’s face, look for his cheerful wink, glow before his bluff praise.
One November morning Jeremy woke to find her fully dressed. This was unusual. That one’s fast should be broken in bed was one of the articles of Mrs. Broke’s faith. So soon as her husband could speak he asked what was wrong. After a little, a child told him her tale.
“You remember that poor man yesterday I gave half a crown to? Well, what’s half a crown to me? It wasn’t giving him anything, really. I mean I wasn’t missing anything. It wasn’t hurting me. So I thought if this morning I got up at seven o’clock — It sounds silly, because it hasn’t done him any good. But he did have his half crown, and I — well, I’m glad I’m up now, but I do hope it was a deserving ease, Jeremy.”
Her husband slid out of bed and picked up her hand.
“I take my hat off,” he said uncertainly. And as is so often the way, two days later the pretty pilgrims’ progress came to a violent end.
It was a bleak afternoon, with a sky of concrete and a wind that cut like a lash. Eve, who had been to the dressmaker’s, was sitting before the fire, reflecting comfortably that in ten days’ time she and Jeremy would be in the South of France. Her husband entered quickly.
“Sorry I’m late, my darling, but when he’d finished with me he said he was going south and I was fool enough to offer to drive him down. You know what these artists are. Five and twenty minutes he kept me waiting.” He stooped and kissed her. “And — and I’ve a confession to make.”
“Go on,” said Eve, smiling.
“I’ve done it again, Eve.”
Jeremy stepped to the fire.
“Got stopped in the park.”
“I’m awfully sorry, dear. It’s a kind of disease with me.”
“But you gave me your word — ”
“I know. I’m frightfully sorry. I wasn’t thinking about speed. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Hudibras. And then, just as I was going to switch out of Clarence Gate, they pulled me up. Perfectly ridiculous, of course. The road was clear.”
“That’s hardly the point,” said Eve coldly.
“I know, I know.” He paused. Then, “Of course you’ll think I’m mad; but, Eve, ten minutes later I did it again.”
His wife sat up.
“Again,” he said uncomfortably. “Down Constitution Hill. I tell you, Eve, I could hardly believe my eyes.’ Just as I got to the Palace, out they stepped. Thirty-three miles an hour. They’re perfectly right.”
“And you promised to keep to twenty!”
“I know. I’m frightfully sorry. It just shows — “
Eve laughed. “It shows you don’t care. I’ve begged and prayed you just for my sake to go slow. You know why. Because I’m worried to death when you’re out alone. You know it over and over again you’ve given your word.”
Jeremy stared at the floor.
“I’ll give up driving,” he said.
“I don’t care what you do. The damage is done. I begged, you swore, and now you’ve broken your word. If the police hadn’t stopped you I should never have known. The obvious inference is that you’re breaking it all the time.”
“I haven’t really, Eve. I’ve crawled about. But today I got talking and — ”
“Why,” said Eve, “should I believe you? What does it matter whether I do or not? Day in, day out I try to do what you want. I’m sick and tired of trying to do your will. Yet I keep on because it amuses you — amuses you to see me cramp my style. God knows why. It’s a funny form of love. But that’s by the way. I try. I sweat and grunt and slave — for peace in our time. And you stand over me and keep my nose to the stone. I’m not like that. It wouldn’t amuse me to put you through the hoop. Only one wretched favor I’ve ever asked; and that I asked because I loved you.”
“I know,” said Broke. “I’m sorry. I’ve no excuse. But don’t lay on so hard, Eve. You know it doesn’t amuse me to — ”
“Then why do you do it?” said Eve. “Don’t say ‘Out of love,’ or I shall burst.”
“I do what I do,” said Broke, “because I want you to get the most out of life.”
“Oh, let us pray!”
Jeremy bit his lip.
“You do it,” continued his wife, „“to assert your authority. If the money was yours and not mine, you’d have the whip hand. As it isn’t, you play the priest, trade on my better feelings, take advantage of my love. I didn’t marry you for that, you know.”
“You will please,” said Jeremy, “take that back at once.”
His wife stared. “You’re out for trouble,” she said. “Well, here it is — hot and strong. I said I didn’t marry you for that. Well, I don’t pay you for that either.”
Without a word Jeremy left the room. Ten minutes later he passed out of the house.
For month after halting month Eve carried on. The girl hoped desperately that Jeremy would return. If he did he should find her soul swept and garnished. She dressed soberly, spent so much and no more, rose always at eight. She kept the same state, but entertained the less fortunate, was always lending her cars. When she saw some object she fancied she asked the price and gave the amount to charity. Herein she was scrupulous. A chinchilla coat attracted her very much. Still, her sables were perfect. Besides — After careful reflection she decided that but for Jeremy’s teaching she would have bought the fur — and wrote a check for the sick for four hundred pounds.
She made no search for her husband — not because she was proud, but because she felt that it was vain. If he was coming he would come. If he was not — Had she stumbled across him she would have begged and prayed. But look she would not. She had no doubt at all that she was up against fate, and Jeremy had always said that fate didn’t like you to try to force its hand. “So sure as you do, my lady, you lose your labor.”
She often wondered why she had lost her head that bitter afternoon. After all, to exceed a limit was not a grave offense. He was careful in traffic, no doubt; and then, slipping into the park he hurried along. Besides, he was only hastening back to her, and he had been so humble.
Eve decided that she had been possessed. Some malignant devil had entered into her soul, distorting truth, ranting of motes and beams, raising a false resentment of a fictitious injury.
To say that she missed him is to call leviathan a fish. Only the fetish that she must do his will saved her alive. The night of his going she lifted up her head, shook the tears from her eyes and answered two letters that she had left too long.
And now four months had gone by.
Sitting before the fire Eve thought of the past with blank, see-nothing eyes. For the millionth time she wondered where Jeremy was, how he was faring, what he was doing to live. Never had riches seemed so empty, luxury so drear as they had seemed since she had been alone. The thought that as like as not he was going hungry tore at her heart.
She picked up the paper to try to distract her thoughts.
Staring straight at her was the advertisement of the St. James’ Review. This was announcing the contents of the current issue. Third on the list was:
BABEL: Jeremy Broke A child fell upon the telephone. A subeditor or someone was speaking:
“I’m afraid we’re not at liberty to give his address, but if you write him a letter care of this office it will be sent on at once.”
“All right,” said Eve. “Thank you.”
A child’s letter went off by messenger within half an hour:
My Darling Jeremy: I would like to come to you if you will tell me where you are. I have tried very hard to do what you would have liked ever since you went, and if you had been here I should have been very happy. Please let me come, because if you don’t I don’t think I shall be able to go on. I would try, of course, but I think I should break. I’ve tried to write calmly, darling, but I shall be very glad to hear as soon as you can. Oh, Jeremy, my precious, I suppose you couldn’t wire.
Your very loving,
No sooner had the letter been dispatched than a terror that it would miscarry flung into Eve’s heart. She saw it being mislaid, forgotten, let to join the faded habitues of some dusty mantelpiece. Of course she should have marked it Important, enclosed it in a note to the editor saying how serious it was, asking for it to be expressed or sent by hand. Then, at least, he would have taken action. Besides, it was serious — desperately so; and urgent — most urgent. Yet she had done nothing to accelerate a reply — nothing. What a fool she was! She had certainly asked him to wire, but why not to telephone? If the letter had gone to him by hand and he were to have telephoned —
The tide of apprehensive impatience rose to an intolerable height. Eve rose to her feet and stood twisting her fingers. After a moment, trembling a little, she stepped to the telephone.
“Oh, I rang up a little while ago and asked for Mr. Broke’s address — Mr. Jeremy Broke. And you said — I think I spoke to you — you said that if I sent a letter — ”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, I’ve just sent you a letter by hand, but I ought to have marked it Important, and — and — well, I really should have enclosed it in a note to you because it’s very urgent and I would like it sent on by messenger boy if you could do it. At once — tonight, I mean. You see — ”
“I don’t think he’s in London. Wait a minute.” The voice became almost inaudible. Frantically Eve strained her ears. “Broke. Jeremy Broke — fellow that wrote Babel. . Messenger boy. . . . Rome, isn’t it.? Poste Restante, Rome.” The voice returned to the mouthpiece. “No, I’m afraid Hullo! Are you there? Hullo! Hullo — “
After a moment or two the speaker replaced his receiver with a sigh.
“Cut off,” he said wearily. “Never mind. She’ll ring up again.” He was quite wrong.
He had had his last conversation with Mrs. Broke. The latter was already preparing to leave for Italy. Two days later the lady had reached Rome and was being rapidly driven to the Ritz Hotel. Purposely she avoided the Grand, where she and Jeremy had stayed — centuries ago.
She passed into the hall and up to the polished bureau. The reception clerk was busy, speaking into the telephone:
“Oui, madame. . . . Parfaitement. . . . Jusqu’d samedi prochain les deux, et apres samedi les trois avec un salon en suite. . . . C’ est entendu, madame. . . . Merci.”
He left the instrument, stooped to make an entry and turned with an apology to Eve.
“Hullo, Jeremy,” said his wife.
At half past eight that evening Jeremy Broke, gentleman, entered the Grand Hotel and sent up his name. His head was aching and he felt rather tired. He wondered dully what this dinner with Eve would bring forth. The great gulf fixed between them seemed exceeding wide; everything was insisting upon its width. Not since the day on which he had left her house had he been used as a gentleman; now he was treated with respect — which her wealth had induced. A page she would presently tip was dancing attendance; here was the pomp of a salon which she had purchased; there was champagne waiting for which she would pay.
As the door closed behind him, another was opened and Eve in a plain black frock came into the room.
“Oh, Jeremy!” He went to her quickly and kissed her hands and lips. The big brown eyes searched his steadily. He smiled back. “What is it, Jeremy? Why are you playing up?”
Jeremy dropped her fingers and turned away.
“The burnt child,” he said slowly, “ dreads the fire.”
“Are you sorry I came?”
He drew in his breath sharply, hesitated and fell to playing with his mustache.
Dinner was served. The meal did much for both of them, as meals can. Jeremy’s headache passed and Eve was refreshed. The flesh being fortified, the spirit lifted up its head. By the time the servants had withdrawn they were exchanging news with zest.
“So, really,” concluded Jeremy, settling himself in a chair, “I’ve — I’ve done very well. It’s a most entertaining job — smoothing down the indignant, humoring the whimsical, bluffing the undesirable, assisting the helpless, shepherding the vague. I never had the faintest idea how many remarkable people are floating around. We had a fellow one day who stayed for six weeks. He went to bed when he arrived and he never got up. For six solid weeks he stayed in his bed. Nothing the matter with him. No suggestion of ill health. It was just his way of life. He did it wherever he went. Chauffeur and valet kicking their heels all day. He wouldn’t have the valet in his room except to shave him. Said he didn’t like his face. Then one day he got up and left for Naples.
“I got off once — with an old English lady. She had a courier and two maids and traveled with her own bath. She used to be ringing me up the whole day long and she never went out or came in without speaking to me. It was most embarrassing. She gave me a check when she left for a hundred pounds. I tore it up, of course.”
“You would,” said Eve.
“Well, I couldn’t take money like that.”
“Plenty of people do.”
“Yes, but — ”
Eve leaned forward.
“She wanted you to have it, Jeremy. She was rich and it gave her pleasure to spend her money like that. Your conscience was clear.”
Jeremy shifted in his chair.
“It wouldn’t ‘ve been,” he said, “if I’d frozen onto it.”
“Because I didn’t deserve it.”
“Wasn’t that a matter for her?”
The man hesitated. Then, “ I just couldn’t take it,” he said.
“Because it was a tip?”
“Oh, no. If it had been a fiver — well, I suppose I’d been attentive, and I’ve no false pride.”
“Then why,” said Eve, “why did you turn it down?”
“I’m damned if I know,” he said. “But it couldn’t be done.”
Eve lay back in her chair and crossed her legs.
“Shall I tell you?” she said. “Because you’re a gentleman. You thought she’d lost her head — she probably had — and you weren’t going to take advantage of a runaway heart. That hundred pounds was Caesar’s; you rendered it whence it came.”
Broke got upon his feet and turned to the mantelpiece. Presently he took out a pipe and a well-worn pouch.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said slowly.
After a long look Eve lowered her eyes to the floor.
“You got off once before, Jeremy — nearly three years ago now.”
“Yes,” said Jeremy, pressing tobacco home.
“Did you think I’d lost my head?”
“Or that to take my money would be taking advantage of my heart?”
“Yet you rendered it to Caesar — every cent.” She leaped to her feet and caught the lapels of his coat. “Every rotten cent that the good God had given us to make us happy you rendered unto Caesar as though it were Caesar’s. And it wasn’t Caesar’s, Jeremy. It was ours — yours and mine.” Her voice broke and the tears came into her eyes. “I was so happy, dear, to think I was rich, because I felt I’d got something worth sharing — which you would share. I was so proud and happy. And then — you wouldn’t — share — it. Well, at first I was dismayed, as children are. You married a child, you know. . . . I tell you, I was ready to cry for disappointment. And then suddenly I saw something very magnificent — unearthly handsome, Jeremy, in your refusal. It was something so bright and shining that I couldn’t think of anything else. I found you were paying me a compliment for all the world to see such as no woman with money had ever been paid before. Well, I’m vain; and the childish impulse to burst into tears was swallowed up in pride to think that I had for my husband so fine a gentleman. I found it so flattering, Jeremy; I was just drunk with vanity. And so I became a princess — you made me one, dear; and the child that you married disappeared, and with the child disappeared the idea of sharing — a princess doesn’t share. That it was our money never occurred to me again. I had no eyes for such an idea. Every hour of every day you showed me that it was mine, and I came to prize its possession because it had brought me this superb allegiance. I sank to be a queen, Jeremy, and dragged you down to be the keeper of my purse — you. And then a day came when the queen became imperious, high with her faithful servant, thought him presumptuous, rose in the dignity he’d given her and asked who paid him to keep the privy purse.” There was a long silence. Presently Eve went on: “And then a strange thing happened. You went, of course. But so did the queen, Jeremy. So did the pride and vanity and all the false position you had built up. And if you could have seen what was left, you’d ‘ve seen a child crying — because it had no playmate to share its pretty toys.
“I say the false position you had built up. Jeremy lad, it’s true. I let you build it, of course. I gave you the bricks. If I hadn’t been so vain — so hellishly vain — I’d ‘ve caught your arm at the beginning and stopped the rot. You built so faithfully, Jeremy, with the cleanest, honestest heart. And I watched you and let you build and thought how wonderful it was. And all the time you were rendering our happiness to Caesar. He’s had a year of it already — a long, matchless year out of our little treasure. Oh, Jeremy, Jeremy, you’re not going to give him anymore?”
Jeremy caught her to him and held her close.
“My eloquent darling,” he said, with his cheek against hers. “But you’ve forgotten my sex. A man — ”
You’d ‘ve married me if I’d been poor?”
“You know I would.”
“It was because I was rich that you wouldn’t speak?”
“It was the child you wanted to play with — not her toys?”
“Why, then your honor is clean, and it’ll always be clean so long as you’d play with the child if she had no toys. You wouldn’t want me to throw my toys away; I’ve always had them to play with. Yet how d’you think I feel when the child I’ve picked to be my playfellow won’t share my pretty toys?”
“I wonder,” said Jeremy slowly — “I wonder whether you’re right. ‘Unto Caesar.’ You mean I’ve been paying conscience money — which I never owed?”
Eve nodded. The man put her gently aside and began to pace the room.
Slight fingers to mouth, Eve watched him as one watches the flow of a crisis which one is powerless to treat. Her face was calm and she stood like statuary; only the rise and fall of her breast betrayed her hammering heart. Her brain was straining frantically to perceive the line she would have to take. She had moved him — shaken him plainly. Everything in the world was depending on how she handled the next move Jeremy made.
Suddenly he swung round.
“Eve, if I come back my livelihood’s gone. And I mayn’t be quite so lucky — another time.”
His wife stood up.
“You go too fast, Jeremy. I’ve suffered, you know — most terribly. And I can’t go through it again.” She hesitated. “Before you come back, you must promise — to play with my toys.”
For a long minute Jeremy stood regarding his wife. Then suddenly he smiled — the smile of a man who has suddenly come upon the truth. He stepped to Eve and put his arms about her.
“What a fool I’ve been!” he said. “What a blinking, blear-eyed fool! Of course, it’s partly your fault. You gave me my choice when you had no choice to give.”
“What do you mean, Jeremy?”
“You asked me which I would marry — the child or the witch or the princess. Well, I couldn’t pick and choose. I had to marry the three — or none at all.”
“But — “
“Listen! When you’re a child, I’ll play with your pretty toys; when you’re a witch, play with your beautiful hair; and when you’re a princess — ”
“Yes, yes?” eagerly.
“Why, then,” said Jeremy proudly, “I’ll play the prince.”
A glorious smile swept into his darling’s face.
“And they lived happily,” she breathed.
“Ever after,” he whispered.