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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Pretty Lady: A Novel - Chapter 20. Mascot
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The Pretty Lady: A Novel - Chapter 20. Mascot Post by :ravijp Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1927

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The Pretty Lady: A Novel - Chapter 20. Mascot

A single light burned in Christine's bedroom. It stood low on the pedestal by the wide bed and was heavily shaded, so that only one half of the bed, Christine's half, was exempt from the general gloom of the chamber. The officer had thus ordained things. The white, plump arm of Christine was imprisoned under his neck. He had ordered that too. He was asleep. Christine watched him. On her return from the Albany she had found him apparently just as she had left him, except that he was much less talkative. Indeed, though unswervingly polite--even punctilious with her--he had grown quite taciturn and very obstinate and finicking in self-assertion. There was no detail as to which he did not formulate a definite wish. Yet not until by chance her eye fell on the whisky decanter did she perceive that in her absence he had been copiously drinking again. He was not, however, drunk. Remorseful at her defection, she constituted herself his slave; she covered him with acquiescences; she drank his tippler's breath. And he was not particularly responsive. He had all his own ideas. He ought, for example, to have been hungry, but his idea was that he was not hungry; therefore he had refused her dishes.

She knew him better now. Save on one subject, discussed in the afternoon, he was a dull, narrow, direct man, especially in love. He had no fancy, no humour, no resilience. Possibly he worshipped women, as he had said, perhaps devoutly; but his worship of the individual girl tended more to ritualism than to ecstasy. The Parisian devotee was thrown away on him, and she felt it. But not with bitterness. On the contrary, she liked him to be as he was; she liked to be herself unappreciated, neglected, bored. She thought of the delights which she had renounced in the rich and voluptuous drawing-room of the Albany; she gazed under the reddish illumination at the tedious eternal market-place on which she exposed her wares, and which in Tottenham Court Road went by the name of bedstead; and she gathered nausea and painful longing to her breast as the Virgin gathered the swords of the Dolours at the Oratory, and was mystically happy in the ennui of serving the miraculous envoy of the Virgin. And when Marthe, uneasy, stole into the sitting-room, Christine, the door being ajar, most faintly transmitted to her a command in French to tranquillise herself and go away. And outside a boy broke the vast lull of the Sunday night with a shattering cry of victory in the North Sea.

Possibly it was this cry that roused the officer out of his doze. He sat up, looked unseeing at Christine's bright smile and at the black gauze that revealed the reality of her youth, and then reached for his tunic which hung at the foot of the bed.

"You asked about my mascot," he said, drawing from a pocket a small envelope of semi-transparent oilskin. "Here it is. Now that is a mascot!"

He had wakened under the spell of his original theme, of his sole genuine subject. He spoke with assurance, as one inspired. His eyes, as they masterfully encountered Christine's eyes, had a strange, violent, religious expression. Christine's eyes yielded to his, and her smile vanished in seriousness. He undid the envelope and displayed an oval piece of red cloth with a picture of Christ, his bleeding heart surrounded by flames and thorns and a great cross in the background.

"That," said the officer, "will bring anybody safe home again." Christine was too awed even to touch the red cloth. The vision of the dishevelled, inspired man in khaki shirt, collar and tie, holding the magic saviour in his thin, veined, aristocratic hand, powerfully impressed her, and she neither moved nor spoke.

"Have you seen the 'Touchwood' mascot?" he asked. She signified a negative, and then nervously fingered her gauze. "No? It's a well-known mascot. Sort of tiny imp sort of thing, with a huge head, glittering eyes, a khaki cap of _oak_, and crossed legs in gold and silver. I hear that tens of thousands of them are sold. But there is nothing like my mascot."

"Where have you got it?" Christine asked in her queer but improving English.

"Where did I get it? Just after Mons, on the road, in a house."

"Have you been in the retreat?"

"I was."

"And the angels? Have you seen them?"

He paused, and then said with solemnity:

"Was it an angel I saw?... I was lying doggo by myself in a hole, and bullets whizzing over me all the time. It was nearly dark, and a figure in white came and stood by the hole; he stood quite still and the German bullets went on just the same. Suddenly I saw he was wounded in the hand; it was bleeding. I said to him: 'You're hit in the hand.' 'No,' he said--he had a most beautiful voice--'that is an old wound. It has reopened lately. I have another wound in the other hand.' And he showed me the other hand, and that was bleeding too. Then the firing ceased, and he pointed, and although I'd eaten nothing at all that day and was dead-beat, I got up and ran the way he pointed, and in five minutes I ran into what remained of my unit."

The officer's sonorous tones ceased; he shut his lips tightly, as though clinching the testimony, and the life of the bedroom was suspended in absolute silence.

"That's what _I saw.... And with the lack of food my brain was absolutely clear."

Christine, on her back, trembled.

The officer replaced his mascot. Then he said, waving the little bag:

"Of course, there are fellows who don't need mascots. Fellows that if their name isn't written on a bullet or a piece of shrapnel it won't reach them any more than a letter not addressed to you would reach you. Now my Colonel, for instance--it was he who told me how good my mascot was--well, he can stop shells, turn 'em back. Yes. He's just got the D.S.O. And he said to me, 'Edgar,' he said, 'I don't deserve it. I got it by inspiration.' And so he did.... What time's that?"

The gilded Swiss clock in the drawing-room was striking its tiny gong.

"Nine o'clock."

The officer looked dully at his wrist-watch which, not having been wound on the previous night, had inconsiderately stopped.

"Then I can't catch my train at Victoria." He spoke in a changed voice, lifeless, and sank back on the bed.

"Train? What train?"

"Nothing. Only the leave train. My leave is up to-night. To-morrow I ought to have been back in the trenches."

"But you have told me nothing of it! If you had told me--But not one word, my dear."

"When one is with a woman--!"

He seemed gloomily and hopelessly to reproach her.

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"What o'clock--your train?""Nine-thirty.""But you can catch it. You must catch it."He shook his head. "It's fate," he muttered, bitterly resigned. "What is written is written."Christine sprang to the floor, shuffled off the black gauze in almost a single movement, and seized some of her clothes."Quick! You shall catch your train. The clock is wrong--the clock is too soon."She implored him with positive desperation. She shook him and dragged him, energised in an instant by the overwhelming idea that for him to miss his train would be fatal to him--and to her also. She could and did believe in the efficacy of
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In the doorway of his flat Christine kissed G.J. vehemently, but with a certain preoccupation; she was looking about her, very curious. The way in which she raised her veil and raised her face, mysteriously glanced at him, puckered her kind brow--these things thrilled him.She said:"You are quite alone, of course."She said it nicely, even benevolently; nevertheless he seemed to hear her saying: "You are quite alone, or, of course, you wouldn't have let me come.""I suppose it's through here," she murmured; and without waiting for an invitation she passed direct into the lighted drawing-room and stood there, observant.He followed her.
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