It was a great relief to arrive at last at that pause when she could say to her aunt, "Now, dear?" and rise and hold back the curtain through the archway. Capes and her father stood up, and her father made a belated movement toward the curtain. She realized that he was the sort of man one does not think much about at dinners. And Capes was thinking that his wife was a supremely beautiful woman. He reached a silver cigar and cigarette box from the sideboard and put it before his father-in-law, and for a time the preliminaries of smoking occupied them both. Then Capes flittered to the hearthrug and poked the fire, stood up, and turned about. "Ann Veronica is looking very well, don't you think?" he said, a little awkwardly.
"Very," said Mr. Stanley. "Very," and cracked a walnut appreciatively.
"Life--things--I don't think her prospects now--Hopeful outlook.""You were in a difficult position," Mr. Stanley pronounced, and seemed to hesitate whether he had not gone too far. He looked at his port wine as though that tawny ruby contained the solution of the matter. "All's well that ends well," he said; "and the less one says about things the better.""Of course," said Capes, and threw a newly lit cigar into the fire through sheer nervousness. "Have some more port wine, sir?""It's a very sound wine," said Mr. Stanley, consenting with dignity.
"Ann Veronica has never looked quite so well, I think," said Capes, clinging, because of a preconceived plan, to the suppressed topic.
At last the evening was over, and Capes and his wife had gone down to see Mr. Stanley and his sister into a taxicab, and had waved an amiable farewell from the pavement steps.
"Great dears!" said Capes, as the vehicle passed out of sight.
"Yes, aren't they?" said Ann Veronica, after a thoughtful pause.
And then, "They seem changed."
"Come in out of the cold," said Capes, and took her arm.
"They seem smaller, you know, even physically smaller," she said.
"You've grown out of them. . . . Your aunt liked the pheasant.""She liked everything. Did you hear us through the archway, talking cookery?"They went up by the lift in silence.
"It's odd," said Ann Veronica, re-entering the flat.
She shivered, and went to the fire and poked it. Capes sat down in the arm-chair beside her.
"Life's so queer," she said, kneeling and looking into the flames. "I wonder--I wonder if we shall ever get like that."She turned a firelit face to her husband. "Did you tell him?"Capes smiled faintly. "Yes."
"Well--a little clumsily."
"I poured him out some port wine, and I said--let me see--oh, 'You are going to be a grandfather!' ""Yes. Was he pleased?"
"Calmly! He said--you won't mind my telling you?""Not a bit."
"He said, 'Poor Alice has got no end!' "
"Alice's are different," said Ann Veronica, after an interval.
"Quite different. She didn't choose her man. . . . Well, I told aunt. . . . Husband of mine, I think we have rather overrated the emotional capacity of those--those dears.""What did your aunt say?"
"She didn't even kiss me. She said"--Ann Veronica shivered again--" 'I hope it won't make you uncomfortable, my dear'--like that--'and whatever you do, do be careful of your hair!' Ithink--I judge from her manner--that she thought it was just a little indelicate of us--considering everything; but she tried to be practical and sympathetic and live down to our standards."Capes looked at his wife's unsmiling face.
"Your father," he said, "remarked that all's well that ends well, and that he was disposed to let bygones be bygones. He then spoke with a certain fatherly kindliness of the past. . . .""And my heart has ached for him!"
"Oh, no doubt it cut him at the time. It must have cut him.""We might even have--given it up for them!""I wonder if we could."
"I suppose all IS well that ends well. Somehow to-night--I don't know.""I suppose so. I'm glad the old sore is assuaged. Very glad.
But if we had gone under--!"
They regarded one another silently, and Ann Veronica had one of her penetrating flashes.
"We are not the sort that goes under," said Ann Veronica, holding her hands so that the red reflections vanished from her eyes.
"We settled long ago--we're hard stuff. We're hard stuff!"Then she went on: "To think that is my father! Oh, my dear! He stood over me like a cliff; the thought of him nearly turned me aside from everything we have done. He was the social order; he was law and wisdom. And they come here, and they look at our furniture to see if it is good; and they are not glad, it does not stir them, that at last, at last we can dare to have children."She dropped back into a crouching attitude and began to weep.
"Oh, my dear!" she cried, and suddenly flung herself, kneeling, into her husband's arms.
"Do you remember the mountains? Do you remember how we loved one another? How intensely we loved one another! Do you remember the light on things and the glory of things? I'm greedy, I'm greedy! I want children like the mountains and life like the sky. Oh! and love--love! We've had so splendid a time, and fought our fight and won. And it's like the petals falling from a flower. Oh, I've loved love, dear! I've loved love and you, and the glory of you; and the great time is over, and I have to go carefully and bear children, and--take care of my hair--and when I am done with that I shall be an old woman. The petals have fallen --the red petals we loved so. We're hedged about with discretions--and all this furniture--and successes! We are successful at last! Successful! But the mountains, dear! We won't forget the mountains, dear, ever. That shining slope of snow, and how we talked of death! We might have died! Even when we are old, when we are rich as we may be, we won't forget the tune when we cared nothing for anything but the joy of one another, when we risked everything for one another, when all the wrappings and coverings seemed to have fallen from life and left it light and fire. Stark and stark! Do you remember it all? . . .
Say you will never forget! That these common things and secondary things sha'n't overwhelm us. These petals! I've been wanting to cry all the evening, cry here on your shoulder for my petals.
Petals! . . . Silly woman! . . . I've never had these crying fits before. . . .""Blood of my heart!" whispered Capes, holding her close to him.
"I know. I understand."