Suddenly a thud was heard at the door down the passage.
"I'll go," cried Mrs Whiston, and she was gone down the hall.
The postman was a ruddy-faced man who had been a soldier. He smiled broadly, handing her some packages.
"They've not forgot you," he said impudently.
"No--lucky for them," she said, with a toss of the head. But she was interested only in her envelopes this morning. The postman waited inquisitively, smiling in an ingratiating fashion. She slowly, abstractedly, as if she did not know anyone was there, closed the door in his face, continuing to look at the addresses on her letters.
She tore open the thin envelope. There was a long, hideous, cartoon valentine. She smiled briefly and dropped it on the floor. Struggling with the string of a packet, she opened a white cardboard box, and there lay a white silk handkerchief packed neatly under the paper lace of the box, and her initial, worked in heliotrope, fully displayed. She smiled pleasantly, and gently put the box aside. The third envelope contained another white packet--apparently a cotton handkerchief neatly folded. She shook it out. It was a long white stocking, but there was a little weight in the toe. Quickly, she thrust down her arm, wriggling her fingers into the toe of the stocking, and brought out a small box. She peeped inside the box, then hastily opened a door on her left hand, and went into the little, cold sitting-room. She had her lower lip caught earnestly between her teeth.
With a little flash of triumph, she lifted a pair of pearl ear-rings from the small box, and she went to the mirror. There, earnestly, she began to hook them through her ears, looking at herself sideways in the glass. Curiously concentrated and intent she seemed as she fingered the lobes of her ears, her head bent on one side.
Then the pearl ear-rings dangled under her rosy, small ears. She shook her head sharply, to see the swing of the drops. They went chill against her neck, in little, sharp touches. Then she stood still to look at herself, bridling her head in the dignified fashion. Then she simpered at herself. Catching her own eye, she could not help winking at herself and laughing.
She turned to look at the box. There was a scrap of paper with this posy:
"Pearls may be fair, but thou art fairer. Wear these for me, and I'll love the wearer."
She made a grimace and a grin. But she was drawn to the mirror again, to look at her ear-rings.
Whiston had made the fire burn, so he came to look for her. When she heard him, she started round quickly, guiltily. She was watching him with intent blue eyes when he appeared.
He did not see much, in his morning-drowsy warmth. He gave her, as ever, a feeling of warmth and slowness. His eyes were very blue, very kind, his manner simple.
"What ha' you got?" he asked.
"Valentines," she said briskly, ostentatiously turning to show him the silk handkerchief. She thrust it under his nose. "Smell how good," she said.
"Who's that from?" he replied, without smelling.
"It's a valentine," she cried. "How da I know who it's from?"
"I'll bet you know," he said.
"Ted!--I don't!" she cried, beginning to shake her head, then stopping because of the ear-rings.
He stood still a moment, displeased.
"They've no right to send you valentines, now," he said.
"Ted!--Why not? You're not jealous, are you? I haven't the least idea who it's from. Look--there's my initial"--she pointed with an emphatic finger at the heliotrope embroidery--
"E for Elsie, Nice little gelsie,"
"Get out," he said. "You know who it's from."
"Truth, I don't," she cried.
He looked round, and saw the white stocking lying on a chair.
"Is this another?" he said.
"No, that's a sample," she said. "There's only a comic." And she fetched in the long cartoon.
He stretched it out and looked at it solemnly.
"Fools!" he said, and went out of the room.
She flew upstairs and took off the ear-rings. When she returned, he was crouched before the fire blowing the coals. The skin of his face was flushed, and slightly pitted, as if he had had small-pox. But his neck was white and smooth and goodly. She hung her arms round his neck as he crouched there, and clung to him. He balanced on his toes.
"This fire's a slow-coach," he said.
"And who else is a slow-coach?" she said.
"One of us two, I know," he said, and he rose carefully. She remained clinging round his neck, so that she was lifted off her feet.
"Ha!--swing me," she cried.
He lowered his head, and she hung in the air, swinging from his neck, laughing. Then she slipped off.
"The kettle is singing," she sang, flying for the teapot. He bent down again to blow the fire. The veins in his neck stood out, his shirt collar seemed too tight.
Blow the fire,
Puff! puff! puff!"
she sang, laughing.
He smiled at her.
She was so glad because of her pearl ear-rings.