'MY DEAR HARRIETT,--Thank you for [FE] [MS] your kind letter of sympathy. Although we had expected the end for many weeks poor Prissie's death came to us as a great shock. But for her it was a blessed release, and we can only be thankful. You who knew her will realise the depth and extent of my bereavement. I have lost the dearest and most loving wife man ever had....' Poor little Prissie. She couldn't bear to think she would never see her again. Six months later Robin wrote again, from Sidmouth. 'DEAR HARRIETT, Priscilla left you [FE] this locket in her will as a remembrance. I would have sent it before but that I couldn't bear to part with her things all at once. 'I take this opportunity of telling you that I am going to be married again--' Her heart heaved and closed. She could never have believed she could have felt such a pang. 'The lady is Miss Beatrice Walker, the devoted nurse who was with my dear wife all through her last illness. This step may seem strange and precipitate, coming so soon after her death; but I am urged to do it by the precarious state of my own health and by the knowledge that we are [MS] fulfilling poor Prissie's dying wish....' Poor Prissie's dying wish. After what she had done for Prissie, if she had a [FE] dying wish-- But neither of them had thought of her. Robin had forgotten her.... Forgotten.... Forgotten. But no. Priscilla had remembered. She had left her the locket with his hair in it. She had remembered and she had been afraid; jealous of her. She couldn't bear to think that Robin might marry her, even after she was dead. She had made him marry this Walker woman so that he shouldn't-- Oh, but he wouldn't. Not after twenty years. 'I didn't really think he would.' She was forty-five, her face was lined and pitted and her hair was dust colour, streaked with gray: and she could only think of Robin as she had last seen him, young: a young face; a young body; [FE] young, shining eyes. He would want to marry a young woman. He had been in love with this Walker woman, and Prissie had known it. She could see Prissie lying in her bed, helpless, looking at them over the edge of the white sheet. She had known that as soon as she was dead, before the sods closed over her grave, they [MS] would marry. Nothing could stop them. And she had tried to make herself believe it was her wish, her doing, not theirs. Poor little Prissie. She understood that Robin had been staying in Sidmouth for his health. A year later, Harriett, run down, was ordered to the seaside. She went to Sidmouth. She told herself that she wanted to see the place where she had [FE] been so happy with her mother, where poor Aunt Harriett had died. Looking through the local paper she found in the list of residents: Sidcote.-- Mr and Mrs Robert Lethbridge and Miss Walker. She wrote to Robin and asked if she might call on his wife. A mile of hot road through the town and inland brought her to a door in a lane and a thatched cottage with a little lawn behind it. From the doorstep she could see two figures, a man and a woman, lying back in garden chairs. Inside the house she heard the persistent, energetic sound of hammering. The woman got up and came to her. She was young, pink- faced and golden haired, and she said she was Miss Walker, Mrs Lethbridge's sister. [MS] A tall, lean, gray man rose from the [FE] garden chair, slowly, dragging himself with an invalid air. His eyes stared, groping, blurred films that trembled be- tween the pouch and droop of the lids; long cheeks, deep grooved, dropped to the infirm mouth that sagged under the limp moustache. That was Robin. He became agitated when he saw her. 'Poor Robin,' she thought.' All these years, and it's too much for him, seeing me.' Presently he dragged himself from the lawn to the house and disappeared through the French window where the hammering came from. 'Have I frightened him away?' she said. 'Oh, no, he's always like that when he sees strange faces.' 'My face isn't exactly strange.' [FE] 'Well, he must have thought it was.' A sudden chill crept through her. 'He'll be all right when he gets used to you,' Miss Walker said. The strange face of Miss Walker chilled her. A strange young woman, living close to Robin, protecting him, explaining Robin's ways. The sound of hammering ceased. [MS] Through the long, open window she saw a woman rise up from the floor and shed a white apron. She came down the lawn to them, with raised arms, patting dis- ordered hair, large, a full, firm figure, clipped in blue linen. A full-blown face, bluish pink; thick gray eyes slightly protruding; a thick mouth, solid and firm and kind. That was Robin's wife. Her sister was slighter, fresher, a good ten [FE] years younger, Harriett thought. 'Excuse me, we're only just settling in. I was nailing down the carpet in Robin's study.' Her lips were so thick that they moved stiffly when she spoke or smiled. She panted a little as if from extreme exertion. When they were all seated Mrs Leth- bridge addressed her sister. 'Robin was quite right. It looks much better turned the other way.' 'Do you mean to say he made you take it all up and put it down again? Well--' 'What's the use . . . Miss Frean, you don't know what it is to have a husband who will have things just so.' 'She had to mow the lawn this morning [MS] because Robin can't bear to see one blade of grass higher than another.' 'Is he as particular as all that?' [FE] 'I assure you, Miss Frean, he is,' Miss Walker informed her. 'He wasn't when I knew him,' Harriett said. 'Ah--my sister spoils him.' Mrs Lethbridge wondered why he hadn't come out again. 'I think,' Harriett said, 'perhaps he'll come if I go.' 'Oh, you mustn't go. It's good for him to see people. Takes him out of himself.' 'He'll turn up all right,' Miss Walker said, 'when he hears the tea-cups.' And at four o'clock when the tea-cups came, Robin turned up, dragging him- self slowly from the house to the lawn. He blinked and quivered with agitation; Harriett saw he was annoyed, not with her, and not with Miss Walker, but with [FE] his wife. 'Beatrice, what have you done with my new bottle of medicine?' 'Nothing, dear.' [MS] 'You've done nothing, when you know you poured out my last dose at twelve?' 'Why, hasn't it come?' 'No. It hasn't.' 'But Cissy ordered it this morning.' 'I didn't,' Cissy said. ' I forgot.' 'Oh, Cissy--' 'You needn't blame Cissy. You ought to have seen to it yourself.... She was a good nurse, Harriett, before she was my wife.' 'My dear, your nurse had nothing else to do. Your wife has to clean and mend for you, and cook your dinner and mow the lawn and nail the carpets down.' [FE] While she said it she looked at Robin as if she adored him. All through tea-time he talked about his health and about the sanitary dust- bin they hadn't got. Something had happened to him. It wasn't like him to be wrapped up in himself and to talk about dustbins. He spoke to his wife as if she had been his valet. He didn't see that she was perspiring, worn out by her struggle with the carpet. 'Just go and fetch me another cushion, [MS] Beatrice.' She rose with tired patience. 'You might let her have her tea in peace,' Miss Walker said, but she was gone before they could stop her. When Harriett left she went with her to the garden gate, panting as she walked. [FE] Harriett noticed pale, blurred lines on the edges of her lips. She thought: 'She isn't a bit strong.' She praised the garden. Mrs Lethbridge smiled. 'Robin loves it.... But you should have seen it at five o'clock this morning.' 'Five o'clock?' 'Yes. I always get up at five to make Robin a cup of tea.' Harriett's last evening. She was dining at Sidcote. On her way there she had overtaken Robin's wife wheeling Robin in a bath-chair. Beatrice had panted and perspired and had made mute signs to Harriett not to take any notice. She had had to go and lie down till Robin sent [MS] for her to find his cigarette case. Now she was in the kitchen cooking Robin's part [FE] of the dinner while he lay down in his study. Harriett talked to Miss Walker in the garden. 'It's been very kind of you to have us so much.' 'Oh, but we've loved having you. It's so good for Beatie. Gives her a rest from Robin.... I don't mean that she wants a rest. But, you see, she's not well. She looks a big, strong, bouncing thing, but she isn't. Her heart's weak. She oughtn't to be doing what she does.' 'Doesn't Robin see it?' 'He doesn't see anything. He never knows when she's tired or got a headache. She'll drop dead before he'll see it. He's utterly selfish, Miss Frean. Wrapt up in himself and his horrid little ailments. Whatever happens to Beatie he must have [FE] his sweetbread, and his soup at eleven and his tea at five in the morning.... '. . . I suppose you think I might help more?' 'Well--' Harriett did think it. 'Well, I just won't. I won't encourage Robin. He ought to get her a proper [MS] servant and a man for the garden and the bath-chair. I wish you'd give him a hint. Tell him she isn't strong. I can't. She'd snap my head off. Would you mind?' Harriett didn't mind. She didn't mind what she said. She wouldn't be saying it to Robin but to the contemptible thing that had taken Robin's place. She still saw Robin as a young man, with young, shining eyes, who came rushing to give himself up at once, to make himself known. She had no affection for this [FE] selfish invalid, this weak, peevish bully. Poor Beatrice. She was sorry for Beatrice. She resented his behaviour to Beatrice. She told herself she wouldn't be Beatrice, she wouldn't be Robin's wife for the world. Her pity for Beatrice gave her a secret pleasure and satisfaction. After dinner she sat out in the garden talking to Robin's wife, while Cissy Walker played draughts with Robin in his study, giving Beatrice a rest from him. They talked about Robin. 'You knew him when he was young, didn't you? What was he like?' [MS] She didn't want to tell her. She wanted to keep the young, shining Robin to herself. She also wanted to show that she had known him, that she had known a Robin that Beatrice would never know. [FE] Therefore she told her. 'My poor Robin.' Beatrice gazed wist- fully, trying to see this Robin that Priscilla had taken from her, that Harriett had known. Then she turned her back. 'It doesn't matter. I've married the man I wanted.' She let herself go. 'Cissy says I've spoiled him. That isn't true. It was his first wife who spoiled him. She made a nervous wreck of him.' 'He was devoted to her.' 'Yes. And he's paying for his devotion now. She wore him out.... Cissy says he's selfish. If he is, it's because he's used up all his unselfishness. He was living on his moral capital.... I feel as if I couldn't do too much for him after what he did. Cissy doesn't know how awful his life was with Priscilla. She was [FE] the most exacting--' 'She was my friend.' 'Wasn't Robin your friend, too?' [MS] 'Yes. But poor Prissie, she was paralysed.' 'It wasn't paralysis.' 'What was it then ? ' 'Pure hysteria. Robin wasn't in love with her, and she knew it. She developed that illness so that she might have a hold on him, get his attention fastened on her somehow. I don't say she could help it. She couldn't. But that's what it was.' 'Well, she died of it.' 'No. She died of pneumonia after influenza. I'm not blaming Prissie. She was pitiable. But he ought never to have married her.' 'I don't think you ought to say that.' 'You know what he was,' said Robin's [FE] wife.' And look at him now.' But Harriett's mind refused, obstinately, to connect the two Robins and Priscilla. She remembered that she had to speak to Robin. They went together into his study. Cissy sent her a look, a signal, and rose; she stood by the doorway. 'Beatie, you might come here a minute.' [MS] Harriett was alone with Robin. 'Well, Harriett, we haven't been able to do much for you. In my beastly state--' 'You'll get better.' 'Never. I'm done for, Harriett. I don't complain.' 'You've got a devoted wife, Robin.' 'Yes. Poor girl, she does what she can.' 'She does too much.' [FE] 'My dear woman, she wouldn't be happy if she didn't.' 'It isn't good for her. Does it never strike you that she's not strong ?' 'Not strong ? She's--she's almost in- decently robust. What wouldn't I give to have her strength!' She looked at him, at the lean figure sunk in the arm-chair; at the dragged, infirm face, the blurred, owlish eyes, the expression of abject self-pity, of self- absorption. That was Robin. The awful thing was that she couldn't love him, couldn't go on being faithful. This injured her self esteem.