MILLICENT was organizing a hospital supply dépôt, organizing indefatigably, from morning till night. It was October; Dick had not seen his sister since those first hours of the war in Scotland; he had had too much to think about these last months to pay attention to anyone but himself. To-day, at last, he decided that he would go and pay her a visit. Millicent had commandeered a large house in Kensington from a family of Jews, who were anxious to live down a deplorable name by a display of patriotism. Dick found her sitting there in her office—young, formidable, beautiful, severe—at a big desk covered with papers.
“Well,” said Dick, “you’re winning the war, I see.”
“You, I gather, are not,” Millicent replied.
“I believe in the things I always believed in.”
“So do I.”
“But in a different way, my dear—in a different way,” said Dick sadly. There was a silence.
“Had we better quarrel?” Millicent asked meditatively.
“I think we can manage with nothing worse than a coolness—for the duration.”
“Very well, a coolness.”
“A smouldering coolness.”
“Good,” said Millicent briskly. “Let it start smouldering at once. I must get on with my work. Good-bye, Dick. God bless you. Let me know sometimes how you get on.”
“No need to ask how you get on,” said Dick with a smile, as he shook her hand. “I know by experience that you always get on, only too well, ruthlessly well.”
He went out. Millicent returned to her letters with concentrated ardour; a frown puckered the skin between her eyebrows.
Probably, Dick reflected as he made his way down the stairs, he wouldn’t see her again for a year or so. He couldn’t honestly say that it affected him much. Other people became daily more and more like ghosts, unreal, thin, vaporous; while every hour the consciousness of himself grew more intense and all-absorbing. The only person who was more than a shadow to him now was Hyman of the Weekly International. In those first horrible months of the war, when he was wrestling with Pearl Bellairs and failing to cast her out, it was Hyman who kept him from melancholy and suicide. Hyman made him write a long article every week, dragged him into the office to do sub-editorial work, kept him so busy that there were long hours when he had no time to brood over his own insoluble problems. And his enthusiasm was so passionate and sincere that sometimes even Dick was infected by it; he could believe that life was worth living and the cause worth fighting for. But not for long; for the devil would return, insistent and untiring. Pearl Bellairs was greedy for life; she was not content with her short midnight hours; she wanted the freedom of whole days. And whenever Dick was overtired, or ill or nervous, she leapt upon him and stamped him out of existence, till enough strength came back for him to reassert his personality. And the articles she wrote! The short stories! The recruiting songs! Dick dared not read them; they were terrible, terrible.