“Good thing I liberated this,” said Bun, pulling a bottle of Sir Benedict’s champagne out of one of the large poacher’s pockets in his jacket. “Don’t suppose you’ve such a thing as a bottle of brandy, Monny?”
Monica had not. Eccles was philosophic. He removed the wire from the bottle and then, seizing the bulbous part of the cork in his teeth, he gave a tremendous wrench; when the champagne spurted he checked it dextrously with his thumb. “Here,” he said, passing it to her, “stab yourself and pass the dagger.”
Monica had had only one glass of champagne at the party, and Revelstoke, who never drank much, had taken little more. They were both glad of a refreshing pull at the champagne, but did not want more than a gulp or two. He was still in high spirits, which he could support on excitement alone; he had enjoyed the party, springing as it did from his personal success; the only annoyance he felt was with Persis, who had vanished with Odingsels. Monica was too much elated at having him in her living-room, almost to herself, to want other stimulant. But Eccles was a hardened and persistent drinker. When his turn at the bottle came he did not take it from his lips until it was empty. Then — “I want a bath,” said he; “humping the old trout upstairs has brought me out in a lather.” He rose, belched cavernously, waved a casual farewell and went. They heard him go down the stairs; the bathroom door was slammed and its noisy bolt pressed home; water ran, and the whole house hummed with the rumble of pipes.
“I hope he doesn’t come to any harm,” said Monica.
“Not Bun,” said Revelstoke, “but he may have a doze in the tub.”
What now? Girls in books and plays always seemed to know what to do when left alone with the men they loved; Monica hadn’t an idea in her head.
“Would you like something to eat?” she said.
He wanted nothing to eat.
Silence that went on for minutes.
“It was wonderful of you and Sir Benedict to rescue me. I was afraid Mrs Merry was going to throw us out.”
“Would have served them right. They have no manners.”
“It would have been a shame, though, just as you came. We wanted to celebrate the broadcast.”
“You saw how they celebrated.”
“They all said you were a genius.”
“I wish I had their certainty.”
“I thought it was magnificent.”
“Did you really?”
“Of course I don’t know much about it. You know that. But if you won’t laugh, I’d like to say that I think you have an extraordinary melodic gift.”
“Oh? How do you mean?”
“Well, of course you know that I’m no judge of modern music, or any music, really, but I think I have a feeling for it, and it seems to me that so many modern composers write for the voice without having any real understanding of it, or love for it. And all the vocal part of Discoverie seemed to me to be so wonderfully singable. The idiom was modern, of course, but the feeling was — you know, the feeling you get with Handel, the feeling that you are in expert hands. The singers could settle into their parts, without having to be getting ready all the time for the next bit of acrobatics. A certainty of touch, I suppose you would call it.”
“That’s very shrewd of you. The others don’t really know anything about music, and what they say doesn’t matter. Odingsels knows a good deal, but he’s terribly jealous of anyone who makes a mark, you know. That’s why he’s pinched Persis for tonight; wants to take me down a peg.”
Monica had heard all her life that Opportunity knocks but once. But when Opportunity knocks, the sound can bring your heart into your mouth. No use dithering. She plunged.
“Do you think she’d have behaved like that if she really loved you?”
“I’ve never thought for an instant that she loved me.”
Opportunity had a foot in the door and was thundering on the knocker. Now was the moment. She felt awkward and plain; her head was light and seemed to be thumping. But, beneath these discomforts, she was elated. She was alive as never before.
“If I had Persis’ chance to show that I loved you I could do things for you that she can’t. You’re a genius. I know it and she doesn’t. I care about it and she doesn’t. I’m ignorant and silly, and I made a fool of myself at your mother’s house at Christmas, boasting and pretending. You must have despised me. But I wanted to impress you. I suppose I ought to have known better, but I didn’t. And you had shown that you had some feeling for me. And there it is.”
As she finished this speech, sitting bolt upright on the uncomfortable day-bed, looking at the carpet, Monica’s mind was almost entirely filled with a sense of having taken an irrevocable step, of having gone beyond the bounds of modesty which had been established for her in twenty-two years, of having burned her bridges: but there was room also for a sense of wonder, and indeed of admiration, for herself, and a pleased recognition that she had spoken plainly and well. She was ashamed of these latter sensations, and tried to banish them, but they would not go. Very far at the back of her mind a triumphant Monica was exulting, I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve brought it to the point!
Revelstoke looked at her for a time, smiling, and twisting the ring which he wore on his left hand. He looked as he had looked when first she saw him, when he interrupted her playing of Danse Macabre.
“If you love me, prove it,” said he.
He means going to bed with him, she thought. Well, I knew that. I’m ready.
“I know that sounds hatefully egotistical,” he went on, “but I have always wondered what people meant when they talked about love. My mother has always told me that she loves me, but it’s astonishing how little she will do to show it; the love between us always seems to mean great concessions on my part, and very little ones on hers. And there have been girls — quite a few girls — who were sure they loved me, and whom I thought I loved, but it never seemed to go beyond what was pleasant and flattering to themselves. Once they had me, as they thought, under their thumb, they wanted great changes in me. I do not propose to change to anybody’s pattern. That is the charm of Persis; she doesn’t expect changes in me, and she certainly doesn’t mean to make any in herself. She knows that I am no Darby, and certainly she is no Joan. Now, I have a suspicion — and I know it is caddish of me to mention it at such a tender moment as this — that you want to reform me, and make me better. Am I right?”
“Don’t you want to make a quiet haven for me, in which I shall write immortal music, while you keep bad influences from the door, and do wonders with our tiny income?”
“No. You must do whatever seems best to you.”
“You have no notions about marriage?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Then let me tell you a thing or two. Our meeting at Neuadd Goch was a shock to me, and when I thought you had planned it, I hated you and determined to do you a very bad turn for it. But when I found out from my mother that it was all quite unplanned, I was delighted to find you there, and our encounter in the bathroom was proof of it. You were silly, bragging about your family; I don’t know anything about them, but every word you said was palpably false. And what were you trying to do? You wanted to impress my family. Why? Did you think them so marvellous that you couldn’t live without their admiration?”
“They were kind to me; I don’t know any other people like that. I wanted to be a little bit like them, I suppose.”
“You think you are devoted heart and soul to music, but you will waste so much effort and stoop so far to impress the first examples of our declining county gentry you meet? Well, never mind. Now listen: I don’t love you. Is that understood? But if ever I do love you, I’ll tell you. I’ll be absolutely honest with you. But because I fall short of loving you, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you, and that I am not sometimes extremely fond of you. Meanwhile, you think you love me. Shall we act on that assumption?”
He led her into the bedroom, and there the atmosphere which had so enraptured Monica at Neuadd Goch was created again. Giles would not say that he loved her, but that was only a form of words; could he treat her so if he did not? She would not believe it.