Of this next chapter we need only say that the Blue Review (Adults Only) declares it to be the most daring and yet conscientious handling of the sex-problem ever attempted and done. The fact that the Congregational Times declares that this chapter will undermine the whole foundations of English Society and let it fall, we pass over: we hold certificates in writing from a great number of the Anglican clergy, to the effect that they have carefully read the entire novel and see nothing in it.
They stood looking at one another.
“So you didn’t know,” she murmured.
In a flash de Vere realised that she hadn’t known that he didn’t know and knew now that he knew.
He found no words.
The situation was a tense one. Nothing but the woman’s innate tact could save it. Dorothea Overgold rose to it with the dignity of a queen.
She turned to her husband.
“Take your soup over to the window,” she said, “and eat it there.”
The millionaire took his soup to the window and sat beneath a little palm tree, eating it.
“You didn’t know,” she repeated.
“No,” said de Vere; “how could I?”
“And yet,” she went on, “you loved me, although you didn’t know that I was married?”
“Yes,” answered de Vere simply. “I loved you, in spite of it.”
“How splendid!” she said.
There was a moment’s silence. Mr. Overgold had returned to the table, the empty plate in his hand. His wife turned to him again with the same unfailing tact.
“Take your asparagus to the billiard-room,” she said, “and eat it there.”
“Does he know, too?” asked de Vere.
“Mr. Overgold?” she said carelessly. “I suppose he does. Eh après, mon ami?”
French? Another mystery! Where and how had she learned it? de Vere asked himself. Not in France, certainly.
“I fear that you are very young, amico mio,” Dorothea went on carelessly. “After all, what is there wrong in it, piccolo pochito? To a man’s mind perhaps—but to a woman, love is love.”
She beckoned to the butler.
“Take Mr. Overgold a cutlet to the music-room,” she said, “and give him his gorgonzola on the inkstand in the library.”
“And now,” she went on, in that caressing way which seemed so natural to her, “don’t let us think about it any more! After all, what is is, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is,” said de Vere, half convinced in spite of himself.
“Or at any rate,” said Dorothea, “nothing can at the same time both be and not be. But come,” she broke off, gaily dipping a macaroon in a glass of crème de menthe and offering it to him with a pretty gesture of camaraderie, “don’t let’s be gloomy any more. I want to take you with me to the matinee.”
“Is he coming?” asked de Vere, pointing at Mr. Overgold’s empty chair.
“Silly boy,” laughed Dorothea. “Of course John is coming. You surely don’t want to buy the tickets yourself.”
The days that followed brought a strange new life to de Vere.
Dorothea was ever at his side. At the theatre, at the polo ground, in the park, everywhere they were together. And with them was Mr. Overgold.
The three were always together. At times at the theatre Dorothea and de Vere would sit downstairs and Mr. Overgold in the gallery; at other times, de Vere and Mr. Overgold would sit in the gallery and Dorothea downstairs; at times one of them would sit in Row A, another in Row B, and a third in Row C; at other times two would sit in Row B and one in Row C; at the opera, at times, one of the three would sit listening, the others talking, at other times two listening and one talking, and at other times three talking and none listening.
Thus the three formed together one of the most perplexing, maddening triangles that ever disturbed the society of the metropolis.
The denouement was bound to come.
It was late at night.
De Vere was standing beside Dorothea in the brilliantly lighted hall of the Grand Palaver Hotel, where they had had supper. Mr. Overgold was busy for a moment at the cashier’s desk.
“Dorothea,” de Vere whispered passionately, “I want to take you away, away from all this. I want you.”
She turned and looked him full in the face. Then she put her hand in his, smiling bravely.
“I will come,” she said.
“Listen,” he went on, “the Gloritania sails for England to-morrow at midnight. I have everything ready. Will you come?”
“Yes,” she answered, “I will”; and then passionately, “Dearest, I will follow you to England, to Liverpool, to the end of the earth.”
She paused in thought a moment and then added.
“Come to the house just before midnight. William, the second chauffeur (he is devoted to me), shall be at the door with the third car. The fourth footman will bring my things—I can rely on him; the fifth housemaid can have them all ready—she would never betray me. I will have the undergardener—the sixth—waiting at the iron gate to let you in; he would die rather than fail me.”
She paused again—then she went on.
“There is only one thing, dearest, that I want to ask. It is not much. I hardly think you would refuse it at such an hour. May I bring my husband with me?”
De Vere’s face blanched.
“Must you?” he said.
“I think I must,” said Dorothea. “You don’t know how I’ve grown to value, to lean upon, him. At times I have felt as if I always wanted him to be near me; I like to feel wherever I am—at the play, at a restaurant, anywhere —that I can reach out and touch him. I know,” she continued, “that it’s only a wild fancy and that others would laugh at it, but you can understand, can you not—carino caruso mio? And think, darling, in our new life, how busy he, too, will be—making money for all of us—in a new money market. It’s just wonderful how he does it.”
A great light of renunciation lit up de Vere’s face.
“Bring him,” he said.
“I knew that you would say that,” she murmured, “and listen, pochito pocket-edition, may I ask one thing more, one weeny thing? William, the second chauffeur—I think he would fade away if I were gone—may I bring him, too? Yes! O my darling, how can I repay you? And the second footman, and the third housemaid—if I were gone I fear that none of——”
“Bring them all,” said de Vere half bitterly; “we will all elope together.”
And as he spoke Mr. Overgold sauntered over from the cashier’s desk, his open purse still in his hand, and joined them. There was a dreamy look upon his face.
“I wonder,” he murmured, “whether personality survives or whether it, too, when up against the irresistible, dissolves and resolves itself into a series of negative reactions?”
De Vere’s empty heart echoed the words.
Then they passed out and the night swallowed them up.