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Chapter Thirty-Three

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« on: June 13, 2023, 07:36:22 am »

LOVEDAY looked up from a book.

“What ages you’ve been, Hélène!”

“Have you been bored?” said Hélène de Lara.

She stood in the doorway of her sitting-room and looked at Loveday curled up in a big chair with Pif-paf-pouf on her lap.

“Oh no---it takes a lot to bore me. Did you do your shopping? What did you buy?”

Hélène slipped out of her fur coat and let it fall on the arm of the sofa.

“I did not buy anything,” she said. There was something elusive in her voice. She came slowly over to the fire and held out her hands towards it.

“Oh, I am cold and tired!”

“What a waste of time and petrol to go all that way and not buy anything!”

Hélène gave a faint laugh.

“One doesn’t always have to buy things---sometimes one has them given to one.”

Loveday went back to her book. If Hélène wanted her to ask questions, she just wasn’t going to do it.

Mme. de Lara went on speaking softly to the fire:

“Yes, sometimes one has things given to one. That is better than buying---isn’t it? Anyone can buy; but a gift may mean---Ah, well, who can tell how much a gift may mean?”

Loveday continued to read.

Hélène sighed.

“He’s so young, poor boy!” She hummed just above her breath:

    “ ‘Oh, there’s nothing half so sweet in life as
       Love’s young dream!’


“You are too young, Chérie, to know what that means.”

Loveday’s shoulder jerked.

“I do wish to goodness, Hélène, that you would call me by my proper name instead of that ridiculous French Chérie!

Mme. de Lara laughed.

Oh, la-la!” she said.

Loveday fixed a bright angry gaze upon her. “Every time you do it I shall call you Ellen.”

“Ssh!”

“Well, it’s your own proper name. I can’t see why anyone wants to be French.”

“Ah well,” said Hélène, “you are very young, Loveday. And I wish---oh, I wish I were as young as you, because, you see---he is young!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Loveday.

She turned a page and became, apparently, immersed in her book again.

“I was talking about Hugo,” said Hélène sweetly. “Hugo Ross---poor boy!”

Loveday looked up.

“Why is he poor?”

“Well, he hasn’t any money---has he?”

“That’s not what you meant.”

Hélène blew her a kiss.

“Are you interested? He would be flattered. But take care, Chérie---he is mine.”

“Is he---Ellen?”

Hélène’s eyebrows went up; her mournful eyes looked angry for a moment. Then she decided to laugh again.

“That was just a little rude. It is not attractive to be gauche---men do not like it. You will discover that, my dear, when you are no longer the schoolgirl.” She made a little malicious grimace and added, “You are---interested in Hugo Ross?”

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

“Why should you, when you have only seen him once?”

“Perhaps I fell in love with him at first sight,” said Loveday with the grave stare of a child.

“If you did, you are wasting your time.”

“Because he is yours?” said Loveday.

Hélène nodded. She walked across to the sofa, picked up her fur coat, and took out of the pocket the two halves of Hugo’s flute.

“Is not this an original gage d’amour?” she said. Her eyes dwelt on Loveday. “You will not understand me when I say that it is more to me than diamonds. Any man without a soul can buy diamonds; but this”---she held out the two halves of the flute---“this is the boy’s treasure---the thing he pours his dreams into---his romance. And he gives it to me to keep for him---until he comes.” Her voice sank to a low murmur on the last words.

Loveday’s heart thumped hard. She didn’t believe for an instant that Hugo had given the flute to Hélène---Hélène was just swanking---she had taken the flute. But why had she taken it? What had been happening? And what was going to happen?

She got as far as this, and then---the hand that was holding her book closed hard on a sharp corner; the corner made a deep dint in her palm, but Loveday didn’t feel it. Hélène was holding out the two halves of the flute; the open ends were towards Loveday; and she could see in each the edges of a tight-rolled paper whirl.

She gripped the book, and she didn’t cry out. Her heart gave another thump. She laughed and said,

“I can’t think why on earth you didn’t go on the stage. You’ve got a simply lovely voice for it. You made me feel gruely all down my spine when you said that---‘until he comes.’ No---I can’t do it---but you’d have made a simply wonderful actress.”

Hélène lifted the flute to her cheek for a moment and held it there, smiling wistfully. Then she laid it on a table sacred to flowers and one or two rare and cherished bits of china.

“Perhaps,” she said, “perhaps I wanted the larger stage, and a part in the great unwritten play.”

Loveday bent down and kissed Pif-paf-pouf on the top of his orange head. Then she gave a gurgle of laughter.

“I suppose you know what you mean! Anyhow you made it sound lovely. I wish I could do things with my voice like that. Oh, by the way, Emily rang up.”

Emily?

“Yes, Emily. She’s back---and I can go home to-morrow. Aren’t you pleased?”

“Ah now, I have loved having you---I think you know that, my dear.”

Loveday didn’t know it at all; she didn’t think Hélène would love having anyone who poked fun at her and called her Ellen. But she admired the beautiful thrill in Hélène’s voice and the mournful affection in her eyes.

“You seem to want me more than Emily does,” she said. “Emily was just having a sense of duty about me. She said I could come back to-night if I liked, but she’d much rather I stayed till to-morrow---if you can put up with me till then.”

“Oh,” said Hélène, “but if she wants you---”

“She doesn’t.”

A fleeting gleam of annoyance just showed in Mme. de Lara’s eyes.

“Ah now, Loveday, you must not be so cynical! At your age---” She sketched a little gesture of recoil. “Dear Emily! She has no children---you fill the empty place in her home. I think perhaps I am selfish to keep you here to-night. She will miss your welcome.”

Loveday giggled.

“She didn’t say she would.”

“She is reserved and sensitive. I don’t think you understand Emily, my dear.” Hélène’s tone was grave and reproachful.

“Perhaps I don’t.”

Loveday gazed at Hélène because she was so dreadfully afraid of looking at the flute. If only Hélène would go out of the room. She had an inspiration.

“Why don’t you ring Emily up? Then you could give her the welcome and find out whether she’s really raging and craving to have me back to-night. Because if she is, I know you’d be beautifully unselfish about it---wouldn’t you? I mean you’d give me up---wouldn’t you?”

“Of course,” said Hélène. She went to the door, opened it, and turned on the threshold. “I don’t think you really appreciate Emily,” she said, and went out.

“She’s simply dying to get rid of me,” said Loveday to herself. “She’s dying to get rid of me because she’s expecting Hugo.”

She jumped up with a little angry thrill running all through her. Pif-paf-pouf said “Grr!” and stretched a sleepy curled-up paw as she put him down in the seat of the chair with a pat. Next moment she was at the table and one of the halves of the flute was in her hand.

The plans had been rolled up very tight. She couldn’t move them. How long would it take Hélène to make Emily have her back to-night? She undid her brooch, and with the help of the pin she got the tight roll to move. The paper tore, and a shred or two fell. A little more, and she could catch hold of it and pull. Out it came, and went down inside her jumper. Now the second roll. It came out more easily.

She got back into her chair, gathered up Pif-paf-pouf, and balanced the book she had been reading on top of him. Pif-paf-pouf stretched and sank into lazy slumber.

Loveday could hear Hélène at the telephone. Her voice was a great deal higher than usual. Emily was probably being firm. What on earth was she to do with the plans?

She rolled them the wrong way to straighten them. But they were awful things to hide---they crackled. If she pushed them down inside her jumper, they would crackle every time she moved. Horrible things! What on earth was she to do with them?

Hélène’s voice stopped.

In a panic Loveday folded the papers across and shut them between the pages of her book. She pushed the book down between her and the chair.

Hélène found her kissing the top of Pif-paf-pouf’s head. She smiled indulgently.

“Emily does want you, my dear. What did I tell you? I knew that she must be longing to have you back. Poor Emily! I have ordered the car for you at once. I knew she would want you to be there for dinner. And you must come back and see me another time.”

Loveday kissed Pif-paf-pouf again, slid him gently on to the hearth-rug, and got up clasping her book. She was now as anxious to get away as Hélène could possibly be to see her go.

“I shall just have to throw my things in,” she said. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to stop and keep you company?”

Hélène smiled wistfully.

“Ah now, that’s sweet of you! But---well, perhaps you guess. Do you?”

“That you want to get rid of me?”

Hélène exclaimed laughingly, “How terrible that sounds! And yet perhaps it is just a little true. And you must not be angry, Loveday, because one day you will understand and---and be very happy yourself when someone whom you care for comes to tell you that he cares too.”

Loveday could have slapped her. She stood in the doorway with her hands behind her holding the book.

“I suppose you mean Mr. Ross is coming.”

“Perhaps,” said Hélène. “Ah, Chérie, love is a very wonderful thing. And some day it will come to you---some day a man will put his heart into your hands and----”

“Good gracious!” said Loveday. “You really ought to have been on the stage, Hélène. Well, I must pack. You can do the rest of that lovely piece another time---you do it most awfully well. But if I’ve got to dine with Emily, I can’t stop and hear any more of it now. Emily’s cook turns puce with rage if anyone’s late for dinner.” She ran upstairs.

“In another minute I’d have pitched the book at her head, plans and all,” she said to herself as she jerked out her suitcase and threw the book into the bottom of it.

Emily would not have approved of the packing that followed; it was rapid and sketchy in the extreme---shoes, frocks, and a damp sponge-bag, all pushed in anyhow. It had the one merit of being swift. In six minutes Loveday was descending the stairs ready for the road. The suitcase was put into the car, an umbrella retrieved from the stand in the hall.

Hélène came out with a beautiful parting embrace. Loveday was enfolded, kissed on both cheeks, and murmured over.

“Come back, soon, Chérie,” said Mme. de Lara.

“Thanks awfully, Ellen,” said Loveday in a clear ringing voice.

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