The Great Pandolfo - William J. Locke - ebook

The Great Pandolfo ebook

William J. Locke

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Opis

Paula Field was a woman who happily suffered from most people. Such a gift as a gift of a song or painting or a solution to acrostic. Consequently, she had many more friends around the world who loved her than it was humanly possible to love her in return. From time to time, the jealous turned around a scorpion and stung her. They called her insincere.

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Liczba stron: 506

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER I

Paula Field was a woman who suffered most people gladly. Such is a gift, like that of song or painting or the solving of acrostics. Consequently she had many more friends, all over the world, who loved her than it was in human power for her to love in return. Now and then the jealous turned scorpion-wise and stung her. They called her insincere, which is the penalty of large-heartedness. Not that she ever promised more than she could perform; but the small-minded read into her sympathy more than she could think of promising. She was also a woman of peculiar personal attraction. Sir Spencer Babington, one of the coming men in post-war diplomacy, and a noted weigher of dry words, once remarked that, a century or so ago, she would have been a reigning toast. The fact of his being in love with her for years past did not detract from the accuracy of his diagnostic.

All kinds of men had fallen in love with her during her nearly thirty years of life. Only one had she selected, and that was a soldier man, Geoffrey Field, whose bones now lay in a prim little cemetery by the Somme. He was a gallant fellow; she had given him her heart; and to all suitors she would say in effect: “What is the good of a woman without the least bit of a heart left to give?” Some sighed and went away. Others gave her to understand that heart was not everything that they were looking for; and, as she had no fortune, in fact was hard put to it to make ends meet, she found herself in the position of the Lady in “Comus,” and like her, dismissed the rabble-rout, but in terms less direct and more graciously ironical. To neither camp did Spencer Babington belong. As maid, she had suffered his adust wooing; as wife, she had proved him a loyal friend; to her, as widow, he remained a faithful swain; and smiling endurance of boredom in his company was her only means of expressing a sincere gratitude.

Still there were limits. A woman’s nerves are not always under control. When the body is enmeshed in a network of sensitive microscopic strands, a certain petulance of expression may be forgiven.

They were in her little flat in Hansel Mansions, under the lee of Harrod’s stores. It was a sunless, airless day in July, the kind of day in which she, big creature bred in open spaces, felt herself at her worst. Spencer Babington had come in casually for tea, and, uninfluenced by meteorological conditions, had asked her to marry him, just as though they had been wandering in scented hay fields, or sitting before the open mystery of the moonlit sea. Paula was conscious of dampness; of a wisp of hair sticking to her forehead. It takes a wise man to appreciate the folly of making love to a damp woman–especially when the love-making is uphill work. In the ways of women Sir Spencer Babington was not wise. Gently repulsed, he pressed his suit.

At last she said wearily:

“My dear Spencer, you would be a much pleasanter creature if you would take no for an answer.”

“This, then, is final?”

“The finalest thing you can possibly imagine.”

His fingers moved in the correct Englishman’s miniature gesture.

“It’s a pity,” said he.

“What’s a pity?”

Here the inevitable petulance. She sat up away from her cushions; somewhat combative.

“In the circumstances,” said he, “it’s rather an odd question.”

“Not a bit. You’ve asked me for the fourth time this year–”

“The fifth,” he corrected.

“Call it the nth. What does it matter? Once more I tell you I can’t marry you–for the simple reason that I don’t want to. You say it’s a pity. I ask why? For a diplomatist the phrase is loose. It sounds as if you were sorry for me; as if in my pigheadedness I had missed something to my advantage.”

He rose and stood before her, tall, lean, distinguished; clean-shaven, grave, just a bit bald; fingering a tortoise-shell-rimmed eyeglass that dangled from his neck by a broad silk ribbon. Although he was precisely dressed–for everything about Spencer Babington was precise–this eyeglass was the only sign of foppery about him. No man had ever seen him fix it in his eye. A vivacious lady had once said that he must use it exclusively in his bath to examine his conscience.

“Isn’t that rather cruel, Paula?” he asked.

She replied that she was open to an explanation.

“It’s a pity,” said he, “that two old and tried friends like us can’t unite our lives. It is I that miss all the happiness and comfort you could give me. To me the loss is a million pities. I have a position with no one to share it; a great house with no one to adorn it; thoughts, tastes, ambitions with no one on whom they can react. A very solitary life, I assure you.”

She replied, a trifle irritably–he was so dry and she so damp: “In your forty years, you could surely have picked up a hundred female reagents in any quarter of the globe.”

Again the tiny gesture–this time of despair.

“It pleases you to–wilfully–misunderstand me.”

He split the infinitive with an air of deliberate sacrifice.

Paula laughed–and when she laughed, she was adorable in most eyes. “No, my dear, I don’t misunderstand you. I’ve known you ever since I was a child. I’m awfully fond of you. You’re the only real man friend I have in the world.”

“Then,” said he, “why on earth–?”

“That’s it,” she interrupted. “Why on earth do you want to convert a valued friend into an inconsiderable husband?”

“I object to the term,” said he, drawing himself up stiffly. “After all, I’m a man of some consideration.”

“Of course you are, you dear foolish Spencer.” She laughed again. “Where’s your logic? Who said you weren’t? I was speaking of you not as a man, but as a husband. An unloved husband, must, qua husband, be inconsiderable. Mustn’t he?”

Obstinate, he declined to agree with her proposition.

She saw that he was hurt. But he always had been hurt when she refused to marry him. And her heart was always pricked with remorse for hurt inflicted. There was monotony, however, in the recurrence of the pangs.

She rose and, as tall as he, a slim and stately woman, laid her hands on his shoulders.

“I have a hundred good reasons for not wanting to marry you, but a thousand for not wanting to spoil precious life-long relations.”

Could woman let down man more graciously? But he went on arguing.

“Our points of view are different. It’s only a matter of reconciling them; of bringing our spiritual vision, as it were, into a common focus. I can’t conceive the possibility of those relations being spoiled. Quite the contrary. You twitted me just now about remaining a bachelor. I should have thought that, perhaps, in a woman’s eyes, fastidiousness might be a merit. I couldn’t pick up other women by the hundred, for the simple reason that you happened to exist. That you knew in the years gone by. I had hopes. But the gods–and yourself–thought otherwise.”

He turned away, not without feeling and dignity, and stared across the street at the display of perambulators and invalid chairs in the opposite floor-window of Harrod’s stores. She followed him and said softly:

“How can I help it if the gods–and I–are still of the same opinion?”

He swung back. “Then you’ve made up your mind never to marry again?”

She nodded. “I’ll never marry again.”

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