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Mr Skeffington


But Fanny, sideways through her eyelashes, did see him, saw how he hesitated and half stopped, saw how red he grew,
thought: Poor Job, I believe he's still in love with me, and idly mused, as she was driven on up St. James's Street in the
direction of her attractive house--his attractive house really, if you looked at it dispassionately--on the evident capacity
of men to be in love with several women at once. For she was sure there were several women in Job's background at the
very moment he was hesitating on the pavement, and turning red for love of he r. He couldn't do, she now thoroughly
well knew, without several--one in his home, and one in his office, and one God knew where else; perhaps at Brighton,
whither he was so fond of going for a breath, he used to explain, of sea air.
Yet here he was half stopping when he saw her, and gazing at her with those opaque dog's eyes of his as though she
were the single love of his life. And she, who was a believer in one thing at a time, fell to considering her patience, her
positively angelic patience, over his lapses. Seven lapses, before she did anything about them. Why, she might have
divorced him, completely justified even in her mother's eyes, who was all for wives sticking to their husbands, after the
second lapse, and started on her delicious career of independence at twenty-three instead of twenty-eight. Then she
would have had five whole years more of it, with everybody bent on making up for his shameful treatment of her, and
for what it was imagined she must have suffered. Five years her patience had cos t her; five years of happiness.
And she asked herself, as she went into her flower-filled library--the quantity of flowers that arrived for Fanny every day
at this period had to be seen to be believed--and found Lord Conderley of Upswich, an elderly (she thought him old, but
he was, in fact, under fifty) and impassioned admirer, waiting to take her out to lunch--she asked herself what other
woman would have been such an angel of forbearance. Or was it, really, not so much forbearance as that she didn't
care?
Yes, thought Fanny, who was an honest girl, and liked to see things straight, it wasn't being an angel; it was because,
after the third lapse, she simply hadn't cared.
* * * * *
But that was a long while ago. It didn't seem long, but it was. Then she was twenty-eight. Now she would soon be fifty. A
generation had passed, indeed had flashed by, since she saw Mr. Skeffington that morning on the pavement of Pall Mall,
and the plovers' eggs with which, at the Berkeley, Conde rley had afterwards ardently fed her--solid enough the hard-
boiled things had seemed, as she cracked their shells--where were they now? Reappeared as flowers, perhaps, or grass
and been eaten by sheep, and once more, in the form of mutton, eaten perhaps by her. Everything, looking back, had
dispersed and vanished, to reappear as something else. Life was certainly a queer business--so brief, yet such a lot of it;
so substantial, yet in a few years, which behaved like minutes, all scattered and anyhow. If she and Job had had children
they too, by this time, would be all scattered and anyhow. Grown up. Married. And of course making a grandmother of
her. Incredible, the things one could be made by other people. Fancy being forced to be a grandmother, whether you
liked it or not!
But--grandchildren. She turned the word over on her tongue cautiously, as if to see what it really tasted like. A woman
might hide for years from people who didn't look her up in Debrett that she had had a fiftieth birthday, but she coul dn't
hide grandchildren, they would certainly insist on cropping up. Just as well, then, that there weren't any. Who wanted to
be dated?
Yet--didn't they fill a gap? Didn't they come into one's life when it was beginning, like one's hair, to thin out? Since she
had had that awful illness in the autumn, with her temperature up in the skies for days on end, her hair, she knew and
deeply deplored, wasn't what it was. Nothing, since then, seemed quite what it was. She had stayed in the country for
several months, slowly recovering, and when she got back London and the people in it might almost have been a
different place and race--so apathetic; so dull. While as for the way one's friends had lately taken to dying....
* * * * *
Fanny was reflecting on these things in bed. It was an icy, foggy February morning outside, but inside, in her bedroom,
all was rosy and warm. Wrapped in a rose-coloured bedgown--when she was younger her bed arrangements had been
sea-green, but it is curious, she herself noticed, how regularly the beds of older women turn pink,--the shaded, rose-
coloured lights doing their best for her, and a most beautiful wood fire bathing the room in a rosy glow, she ate, or tried
to eat, her breakfast of half a grapefruit.
Cold, sour stuff to begin a winter day on, she thought, giving up and pushing the tray aside. The idea was to keep
slender; but suppose you did keep slender--and nobody, since her illness, could possibly be more slender--what was the
good of it if you had no hair? One went to Antoine's, of course, and bought some, but to buy hair, to _buy_ hair, when
one had had such heaps of it till only a few months ago, did seem most dreadful. And it put a stop to so many things,
too, once one had got something on one's head that didn't really belong. For instance, poor Dwight, the latest, and also
the youngest of her adorers--for some time now they had kept on getting younger,--a Rhodes scholar fresh from
Harvard, and worshipping her with transatlantic head longness, wouldn't be able to touch it reverently any more, as she
used sometimes to allow him when he had been extra sweet and patient. If he did, the most awful things might happen;
the most awful things _must_ happen, when a woman lets herself have adorers, whil e at the same time easily coining to
bits.
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