by Amy Mack (1876-1939), writing as “Fayre”
They had been engaged for a year and a half, but lately she had noticed that his love was beginning to cool. He never talked in the old, rapturous way of “some day,” and their daily meetings had dwindled down to weekly, without even letters between.
The last time she saw him she had noticed that her laughter and smart speeches had jarred on him, and he had spoken in praise of a woman of their acquaintance with a soft, cooing voice. “Purring,” the girl called it.
She expected him to-night, and had made up her mind for battle, and victory. She clad herself in her woman’s armour—a dress he liked the best, a clinging white cashmere that left her throat and shoulders bare. Her soft round arms and neck were her strongest weapons, and she meant to use them.
She was sitting in a low chair when he came, and he noticed how the yellow cushion behind her head suited her eyes, her soft brown eyes.
She rose as he came towards her and held out her hands with a glad gesture.
“I knew you would come to-night, for I have been thinking of you all day.”
He sat down by the fire, but she did not go back to her chair. She stood behind him, her fingers playing in his hair in a tender, motherly way. She did not speak for some minutes, but he could feel her heart against his ear as she leant over him. It made it very hard for him to say what he had come to tell her. He wished he had written, or waited till to-morrow. Why had she worn that frock to-night? He had not seen it for months. And why was she so soft and sweet to night, when she had been so different lately?”
“Dear,” her voice was a caress, “why did you stay away so long? I have been so lonely.” Her bare arm came soft and warm round his neck, and her cheek was laid on his hair.
He could never tell her like this. He must do it at once.
He got up quickly and walked across the room and back again. She stood watching him with a hurt, wondering look.
“What is the matter, Jim? Something is troubling you. Have you anything to tell me?”
“Yes, I have. Won’t you sit down? I can’t talk while you are standing there.’’
She sat down in her chair by the fire, but he stood against the mantelshelf. It gave him courage to stand thus looking down on her, and clumsily, in his man’s way, he told her what, he had come to say.
It was just what she had expected. They had both made a mistake… They were not suited to each other… He had met another girl, a little, fair-haired thing who was just the sort of gentle woman he wanted for a wife.
“You are too clever for me, Joy, you know. You would soon grow tired of a big, stupid fellow like me. You want a man who can talk poetry and metaphysics and stuff like that. And I want a wife who cares for home things more than books. You must see that we have both been mistaken, don’t you Joy?”
She sat listening, with her hands clasped before her, her eyes never leaving his face for one second. When he finished speaking, she made just one little choking sound, and hid her face against the chair.
She did not speak at all, and he stood looking down at her, wishing she would not sit like that but would say something. He had expected angry, cutting things, but instead there was silence, and that bent head. What a pretty head it was! The firelight shone on the bright brown hair, and played in the deep ripples above her ear. Those ripples were never made by tongs or curling-pins, and neither was that little curl that lay on her neck, and tried to hide the tiny mole. He remembered that mole so well. She had always grumbled at it, but he had kissed it and called it her beauty-spot. How long ago that was! It was soon after they were engaged; the night he had given her that emerald ring. He glanced at her hand hanging limp by her side. Yes, there it was in the same place on her little finger—she would not have it on the third. Her hand would look strange without it, for it was the only one she wore. It was a dear hand. Too thin for actual beauty, but soft and well-shaped; and, after all, he did not like fat hands. Hers were firm and cool, and so comforting when one’s head ached. Ethel’s hands were such baby things, soft and pink and kissable, but he liked a woman to have firm, strong hands best. Joy’s were strong. He remembered how she had held his dog the day the poor little brute broke its leg. She had cried so hard afterwards, too. He wondered if she were crying now. Her head was still hidden. Would she never look round? He couldn’t stand it much longer. He wanted to comfort her. That little mole seemed to invite him to kiss it. He— She lifted her head and looked at him. Her eyes were wet, but they gleamed with a depth of love he had never seen there before. All the sparkle had gone out of them, but something sweeter had come in. She rose and came to where he was standing.
“Perhaps you are right, dear! I am too hard and worldly for you.” Hard!—with that look in her eyes! “She will make the soft, yielding wife you want, and I know you will be happy. We will say good-bye, and you must go away for a while, and then I shall get used to it—some day,”
She was fidgetting with some violets in a bowl beside her, and he could see she had something more to say.
Suddenly she lifted her face to him and held out her hands.
“Jim, Jim! kiss me just once before you go! You will be hers soon, but now you are mine still. I love you; oh, my dear, I love you!”
Her head was thrown back. Her red lips were parted in eagerness, and her eyes glowed with passion. She had never looked so beautiful before. For one second he looked at her, and then …. one white arm was round his neck, her head was bowed on his shoulder, and she had conquered.
* * *
When he said good-bye, two hours later, it was settled that the wedding should be in a month.
“I nearly made a big mistake,” he said; “which only proves that I was right when I said you were too sweet and clever for such an ass.”
Her only answer then was a kiss, but when the door closed behind him she smiled at herself in the glass.
“Yes, he was right! I am far too clever for him. It was a fine piece of acting, ma chère!” — with a little bow to her image in the glass—“and it brought down the house!”
Amy Mack, “Her coup-de-theatre“, The Bulletin (23 Sep 1899)