Yvette was rather thrilled by the Eastwoods, as she called them. The little Jewess had only to wait three months now, for the final decree. She had boldly rented a small summer cottage, by the moors up at Scoresby, not far from the hills. Now it was dead winter, and she and the Major lived in comparative isolation, without any maid-servant. He had already resigned his commission in the regular army, and called himself Mr. Eastwood. In fact, they were already Mr. and Mrs. Eastwood, to the common world.
The little Jewess was thirty-six, and her two children were both over twelve years of age. The husband had agreed that she should have the custody, as soon as she was married to Eastwood.
So there they were, this queer couple, the tiny, finely-formed little Jewess with her big, resentful, reproachful eyes, and her mop of carefully-barbered black, curly hair, an elegant little thing in her way, and the big, pale-eyed young man, powerful and wintry, the remnant surely of some old uncanny Danish stock: living together in a small modern house near the moors and the hills, and doing their own housework.
It was a funny household. The cottage was hired furnished, but the little Jewess had brought along her dearest pieces of furniture. She had an odd little taste for the rococco, strange curving cupboards inlaid with mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, ebony, heaven knows what; strange tall flamboyant chairs, from Italy, with sea-green brocade: astonishing saints with wind-blown, richly-coloured carven garments and pink faces: shelves of weird old Saxe and Capo di Monte figurines: and finally, a strange assortment of astonishing pictures painted on the back of glass, done, probably in the early years of the nineteenth century, or in the late eighteenth.
In this crowded and extraordinary interior she received Yvette, when the latter made a stolen visit. A whole system of stoves had been installed into the cottage, every corner was warm, almost hot. And there was the tiny rococco figurine of the Jewess herself, in a perfect little frock, and an apron, putting slices of ham on the dish, while the great snow-bird of a major, in a white sweater and grey trousers, cut bread, mixed mustard, prepared coffee, and did all the rest. He had even made the dish of jugged hare which followed the cold meats and caviare.
The silver and the china were really valuable, part of the bride's trousseau. The Major drank beer from a silver mug, the little Jewess and Yvette had champagne in lovely glasses, the Major brought in coffee. They talked away. The little Jewess had a burning indignation against her first husband. She was intensely moral, so moral, that she was a divorcée. The Major too, strange wintry bird, so powerful, handsome, too, in his way, but pale round the eyes as if he had no eyelashes, like a bird, he too had a curious indignation against life, because of the false morality. That powerful, athletic chest hid a strange, snowy sort of anger. And his tenderness for the little Jewess was based on his sense of outraged justice, the abstract morality of the north blowing him, like a strange wind, into isolation.
As the afternoon drew on, they went to the kitchen, the Major pushed back his sleeves, showing his powerful athletic white arms, and carefully, deftly washed the dishes, while the woman wiped. It was not for nothing his muscles were trained. Then he went round attending to the stoves of the small house, which only needed a moment or two of care each day. And after this, he brought out the small, closed car and drove Yvette home, in the rain, depositing her at the back gate, a little wicket among the larches, through which the earthen steps sloped downwards to the house.
She was really amazed by this couple.
"Really, Lucille!" she said. "I do meet the most extraordinary people!" And she gave a detailed description.
"I think they sound rather nice!" said Lucille. "I like the Major doing the housework, and looking so frightfully Bond-streety with it all. I should think, when they're married, it would be rather fun knowing them."
"Yes!" said Yvette vaguely. "Yes! Yes, it would!"
The very strangeness of the connection between the tiny Jewess and that pale-eyed, athletic young officer made her think again of her gipsy, who had been utterly absent from her consciousness, but who now returned with sudden painful force.
"What is it, Lucille," she asked, "that brings people together? People like the Eastwoods, for instance? and Daddy and Mamma, so frightfully unsuitable?—and that gipsy woman who told my fortune, like a great horse, and the gipsy man, so fine and delicately cut? What is it?"
"I suppose it's sex, whatever that is," said Lucille.
"Yes, what is it? It's not really anything common, like common sensuality, you know, Lucille. It really isn't!"
"No, I suppose not," said Lucille. "Anyhow I suppose it needn't be."
"Because you see, the common fellows, you know, who make a girl feel low: nobody cares much about them. Nobody feels any connection with them. Yet they're supposed to be the sexual sort."
"I suppose," said Lucille, "there's the low sort of sex, and there's the other sort, that isn't low. It's frightfully complicated, really! I loathe common fellows. And I never feel anything sexual—" she laid a rather disgusted stress on the word—"for fellows who aren't common. Perhaps I haven't got any sex."
"That's just it!" said Yvette. "Perhaps neither of us has. Perhaps we haven't really got any sex, to connect us with men."
"How horrible it sounds: connect us with men!" cried Lucille, with revulsion. "Wouldn't you hate to be connected with men that way? Oh I think it's an awful pity there has to be sex! It would be so much better if we could still be men and women, without that sort of thing."
Yvette pondered. Far in the background was the image of the gipsy as he had looked round at her, when she had said: The weather is so treacherous. She felt rather like Peter when the cock crew, as she denied him. Or rather, she did not deny the gipsy; she didn't care about his part in the show, anyhow. It was some hidden part of herself which she denied: that part which mysteriously and unconfessedly responded to him. And it was a strange, lustrous black cock which crew in mockery of her.
"Yes!" she said vaguely. "Yes! Sex is an awful bore, you know Lucille. When you haven't got it, you feel you ought to have it, somehow. And when you've got it—or if you have it—" she lifted her head and wrinkled her nose disdainfully—"you hate it."
"Oh I don't know!" cried Lucille. "I think I should like to be awfully in love with a man."
"You think so!" said Yvette, again wrinkling her nose. "But if you were you wouldn't."
"How do you know?" asked Lucille.
"Well, I don't really," said Yvette. "But I think so! Yes, I think so!"
"Oh, it's very likely!" said Lucille disgustedly. "And anyhow one would be sure to get out of love again, and it would be merely disgusting."
"Yes," said Yvette. "It's a problem." She hummed a little tune.
"Oh hang it all, it's not a problem for us two, yet. We're neither of us really in love, and we probably never shall be, so the problem is settled that way."
"I'm not so sure!" said Yvette sagely. "I'm not so sure. I believe, one day, I shall fall awfully in love."
"Probably you never will," said Lucille brutally. "That's what most old maids are thinking all the time."
Yvette looked at her sister from pensive but apparently insouciant eyes.
"Is it?" she said. "Do you really think so, Lucille? How perfectly awful for them, poor things! Why ever do they care?"
"Why do they?" said Lucille. "Perhaps they don't, really.—Probably it's all because people say: Poor old girl, she couldn't catch a man."
"I suppose it is!" said Yvette. "They get to mind the beastly things people always do say about old maids. What a shame!"
"Anyhow we have a good time, and we do have lots of boys who make a fuss of us," said Lucille.
"Yes!" said Yvette. "Yes! But I couldn't possibly marry any of them."
"Neither could I," said Lucille. "But why shouldn't we! Why should we bother about marrying, when we have a perfectly good time with the boys who are awfully good sorts, and you must say, Yvette, awfully sporting and decent to us."
"Oh, they are!" said Yvette absently.
"I think it's time to think of marrying somebody," said Lucille, "when you feel you're not having a good time any more. Then marry, and just settle down."
"Quite!" said Yvette.
But now, under all her bland, soft amiability, she was annoyed with Lucille. Suddenly she wanted to turn her back on Lucille.
Besides, look at the shadows under poor Lucille's eyes, and the wistfulness in the beautiful eyes themselves. Oh, if some awfully nice, kind, protective sort of man would but marry her! And if the sporting Lucille would let him!
Yvette did not tell the rector, nor Granny, about the Eastwoods. It would only have started a lot of talk which she detested. The rector wouldn't have minded, for himself, privately. But he too knew the necessity of keeping as clear as possible from that poisonous, many-headed serpent, the tongue of the people.
"But I don't want you to come if your father doesn't know," cried the little Jewess.
"I suppose I'll have to tell him," said Yvette. "I'm sure he doesn't mind, really. But if he knew, he'd have to, I suppose."
The young officer looked at her with an odd amusement, bird-like and unemotional, in his keen eyes. He too was by way of falling in love with Yvette. It was her peculiar virgin tenderness, and her straying, absent-minded detachment from things, which attracted him.
She was aware of what was happening, and she rather preened herself. Eastwood piqued her fancy. Such a smart young officer, awfully good class, so calm and amazing with a motor-car, and quite a champion swimmer, it was intriguing to see him quietly, calmly washing dishes, smoking his pipe, doing his job so alert and skilful. Or, with the same interested care with which he made his investigation into the mysterious inside of an automobile, concocting jugged hare in the cottage kitchen. Then going out in the icy weather and cleaning his car till it looked like a live thing, like a cat when she has licked herself. Then coming in to talk so unassumingly and responsively, if briefly, with the little Jewess. And apparently, never bored. Sitting at the window with his pipe, in bad weather, silent for hours, abstracted, musing, yet with his athletic body alert in its stillness.
Yvette did not flirt with him. But she did like him.
"But what about your future?" she asked him.
"What about it?" he said, taking his pipe from his mouth, the unemotional point of a smile in his bird's eyes.
"A career! Doesn't every man have to carve out a career?—like some huge goose with gravy?" She gazed with odd naïveté into his eyes.
"I'm perfectly all right today, and I shall be all right tomorrow," he said, with a cold, decided look. "Why shouldn't my future be continuous todays and tomorrows?"
He looked at her with unmoved searching.
"Quite!" she said. "I hate jobs, and all that side of life." But she was thinking of the Jewess's money.
To which he did not answer. His anger was of the soft, snowy sort, which comfortably muffles the soul.
They had come to the point of talking philosophically together. The little Jewess looked a bit wan. She was curiously naïve and not possessive, in her attitude to the man. Nor was she at all catty with Yvette. Only rather wan, and dumb.
Yvette, on a sudden impulse, thought she had better clear herself.
"I think life's awfully difficult," she said.
"Life is!" cried the Jewess.
"What's so beastly, is that one is supposed to fall in love, and get married!" said Yvette, curling up her nose.
"Don't you want to fall in love and get married?" cried the Jewess, with great glaring eyes of astounded reproach.
"No, not particularly!" said Yvette. "Especially as one feels there's nothing else to do. It's an awful chickencoop one has to run into."
"But you don't know what love is?" cried the Jewess.
"No!" said Yvette. "Do you?"
"I!" bawled the tiny Jewess. "I! My goodness, don't I!" She looked with reflective gloom at Eastwood, who was smoking his pipe, the dimples of his disconnected amusement showing on his smooth, scrupulous face. He had a very fine, smooth skin, which yet did not suffer from the weather, so that his face looked naked as a baby's. But it was not a round face: it was characteristic enough, and took queer ironical dimples, like a mask which is comic but frozen.
"Do you mean to say you don't know what love is?" insisted the Jewess.
"No!" said Yvette, with insouciant candour. "I don't believe I do! Is it awful of me, at my age?"
"Is there never any man that makes you feel quite, quite different?" said the Jewess, with another big-eyed look at Eastwood. He smoked, utterly unimplicated.
"I don't think there is," said Yvette. "Unless—yes!—unless it is that gipsy"—she had put her head pensively sideways.
"Which gipsy?" bawled the little Jewess.
"The one who was a Tommy and looked after horses in Major Eastwood's regiment in the war," said Yvette coolly.
The little Jewess gazed at Yvette with great eyes of stupor.
"You're not in love with that gipsy!" she said.
"Well!" said Yvette. "I don't know. He's the only one that makes me feel—different! He really is!"
"But how? How? Has he ever said anything to you?"
"Then how? What has he done?"
"Oh, just looked at me!"
"Well you see, I don't know. But different! Yes, different! Different, quite different from the way any man ever looked at me."
"But how did he look at you?" insisted the Jewess.
"Why—as if he really, but really, desired me," said Yvette, her meditative face looking like the bud of a flower.
"What a vile fellow! What right had he to look at you like that?" cried the indignant Jewess.
"A cat may look at a king," calmly interposed the Major, and now his face had the smiles of a cat's face.
"You think he oughtn't to?" asked Yvette, turning to him.
"Certainly not! A gipsy fellow, with half a dozen dirty women trailing after him! Certainly not!" cried the tiny Jewess.
"I wondered!" said Yvette. "Because it was rather wonderful, really! And it was something quite different in my life."
"I think," said the Major, taking his pipe from his mouth, "that desire is the most wonderful thing in life. Anybody who can really feel it, is a king, and I envy nobody else!" He put back his pipe.
The Jewess looked at him stupefied.
"But Charles!" she cried. "Every common low man in Halifax feels nothing else!"
He again took his pipe from his mouth.
"That's merely appetite," he said.
And he put back his pipe.
"You think the gipsy is a real thing?" Yvette asked him. He lifted his shoulders.
"It's not for me to say," he replied. "If I were you, I should know, I shouldn't be asking other people."
"Yes—but—" Yvette trailed out.
"Charles! You're wrong! How could it be a real thing! As if she could possibly marry him and go round in a caravan!"
"I didn't say marry him," said Charles.
"Or a love affair! Why it's monstrous! What would she think of herself!—That's not love! That's—that's prostitution!"
Charles smoked for some moments.
"That gipsy was the best man we had, with horses. Nearly died of pneumonia. I thought he was dead. He's a resurrected man to me. I'm a resurrected man myself, as far as that goes." He looked at Yvette. "I was buried for twenty hours under snow," he said. "And not much the worse for it, when they dug me out."
There was a frozen pause in the conversation.
"Life's awful!" said Yvette.
"They dug me out by accident," he said.
"Oh!—" Yvette trailed slowly. "It might be destiny, you know."
To which he did not answer.