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Chapter 21


Cecilia's house in the Old Square was steeped from roof to basement in the peculiar atmosphere brought by Sunday to houses whose inmates have no need of religion or of rest.

Neither she nor Stephen had been to church since Thyme was christened; they did not expect to go again till she was married, and they felt that even to go on these occasions was against their principles; but for the sake of other people's feelings they had made the sacrifice, and they meant to make it once more, when the time came. Each Sunday, therefore, everything tried to happen exactly as it happened on every other day, with indifferent success. This was because, for all Cecilia's resolutions, a joint of beef and Yorkshire pudding would appear on the luncheon-table, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Stone--who came when he remembered that it was Sunday--did not devour the higher mammals. Every week, when it appeared, Cecilia, who for some reason carved on Sundays, regarded it with a frown. Next week she would really discontinue it; but when next week came, there it was, with its complexion that reminded her so uncomfortably of cabmen. And she would partake of it with unexpected heartiness. Something very old and deep, some horrible whole-hearted appetite, derived, no doubt, from Mr. Justice Carfax, rose at that hour precisely every week to master her. Having given Thyme the second helping which she invariably took, Cecilia, who detested carving, would look over the fearful joint at a piece of glass procured by her in Venice, and at the daffodils standing upright in it, apparently without support. Had it not been for this joint of beef, which had made itself smelt all the morning, and would make itself felt all the afternoon, it need never have come into her mind at all that it was Sunday--and she would cut herself another slice.

To have told Cecilia that there was still a strain of the Puritan in her would have been to occasion her some uneasiness, and provoked a strenuous denial; yet her way of observing Sunday furnished indubitable evidence of this singular fact. She did more that day than any other. For, in the morning she invariably "cleared off" her correspondence; at lunch she carved the beef; after lunch she cleared off the novel or book on social questions she was reading; went to a concert, clearing off a call on the way back; and on first Sundays--a great bore--stayed at home to clear off the friends who came to visit her. In the evening she went to some play or other, produced by Societies for the benefit of persons compelled, like her, to keep a Sunday with which they felt no sympathy.

On this particular "first Sunday," having made the circuit of her drawing-room, which extended the whole breadth of her house, and through long, low windows cut into leaded panes, looked out both back and front, she took up Mr. Balladyce's latest book. She sat, with her paper-knife pressed against the tiny hollow in her flushed cheek, and pretty little bits of lace and real old jewellery nestling close to her. And while she turned the pages of Mr. Balladyce's book Thyme sat opposite in a bright blue frock, and turned the pages of Darwin's work on earthworms.

Regarding her "little daughter," who was so much more solid than herself, Cecilia's face wore a very sweet, faintly surprised expression.

'My kitten is a bonny thing,' it seemed to say. 'It is queer that I should have a thing so large.'

Outside in the Square Gardens a shower, the sunlight, and blossoms, were entangled. It was the time of year when all the world had kittens; young things were everywhere--soft, sweet, uncouth. Cecilia felt this in her heart. It brought depth into her bright, quick eyes. What a secret satisfaction it was that she had once so far committed herself as to have borne a child! What a queer vague feeling she sometimes experienced in the Spring--almost amounting to a desire to bear another! So one may mark the warm eye of a staid mare, following with her gaze the first strayings of her foal. 'I must get used to it,' she seems to say. 'I certainly do miss the little creature, though I used to threaten her with my hoofs, to show I couldn't be bullied by anything of that age. And there she goes! Ah, well!'

Remembering suddenly, however, that she was sitting there to clear off Mr. Balladyce, because it was so necessary to keep up with what he wrote, Cecilia dropped her gaze to the page before her; and instantly, by uncomfortable chance, not the choice pastures of Mr. Balladyce appeared, where women might browse at leisure, but a vision of the little model. She had not thought of her for quite an hour; she had tired herself out with thinking-not, indeed, of her, but of all that hinged on her, ever since Stephen had spoken of his talk with Hilary. Things Hilary had said seemed to Cecilia's delicate and rather timid soul so ominous, so unlike himself. Was there really going to be complete disruption between him and Bianca--worse, an ugly scandal? She, who knew her sister better, perhaps, than anyone, remembered from schoolroom days Bianca's moody violence when anything had occurred to wound her--remembered, too, the long fits of brooding that followed. This affair, which she had tried to persuade herself was exaggerated, loomed up larger than ever. It was not an isolated squib; it was a lighted match held to a train of gunpowder. This girl of the people, coming from who knew where, destined for who knew what--this young, not very beautiful, not even clever child, with nothing but a sort of queer haunting naivete' to give her charm--might even be a finger used by Fate! Cecilia sat very still before that sudden vision of the girl. There was no staid mare to guard that foal with the dark devotion of her eye. There was no wise whinnying to answer back those tiny whinnies; no long look round to watch the little creature nodding to sleep on its thin trembling legs in the hot sunlight; no ears to prick up and hoofs to stamp at the approach of other living things. These thoughts passed through Cecilia's mind and were gone, being too far and pale to stay. Turning the page which she had not been reading, she heaved a sigh. Thyme sighed also.

"These worms are fearfully interesting," she said. "Is anybody coming in this afternoon?"

"Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace was going to bring a young man in, a Signor Pozzi-Egregio Pozzi, or some such name. She says he is the coming pianist." Cecilia's face was spiced with faint amusement. Some strain of her breeding (the Carfax strain, no doubt) still heard such names and greeted such proclivities with an inclination to derision.

Thyme snatched up her book. "Well," she said, "I shall be in the attic. If anyone interesting comes you might send up to me."

She stood, luxuriously stretching, and turning slowly round in a streak of sunlight so as to bathe her body in it. Then, with a long soft yawn, she flung up her chin till the sun streamed on her face. Her eyelashes rested on cheeks already faintly browned; her lips were parted; little shivers of delight ran down her; her chestnut hair glowed, burnished by the kisses of the sun.

'Ah!' Cecilia thought, 'if that other girl were like this, now, I could understand well enough!'

"Oh, Lord!" said Thyme, "there they are!" She flew towards the door.

"My dear," murmured Cecilia, "if you must go, do please tell Father."

A minute later Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace came in, followed by a young man with an interesting, pale face and a crop of dusky hair.

Let us consider for a minute the not infrequent case of a youth cursed with an Italian mother and a father of the name of Potts, who had baptised him William. Had he emanated from the lower classes, he might with impunity have ground an organ under the name of Bill; but springing from the bourgeoisie, and playing Chopin at the age of four, his friends had been confronted with a problem of no mean difficulty. Heaven, on the threshold of his career, had intervened to solve it. Hovering, as it were, with one leg raised before the gladiatorial arena of musical London, where all were waiting to turn their thumbs down on the figure of the native Potts, he had received a letter from his mother's birthplace. It was inscribed: "Egregio Signor Pozzi." He was saved. By the simple inversion of the first two words, the substitution of z's for t's, without so fortunately making any difference in the sound, and the retention of that i, all London knew him now to be the rising pianist.

He was a quiet, well-mannered youth, invaluable just then to Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace, a woman never happy unless slightly leading a genius in strings.

Cecilia, while engaging them to right and left in her half-sympathetic, faintly mocking way--as if doubting whether they really wanted to see her or she them--heard a word of fear.

"Mr. Purcey."

'Oh Heaven!' she thought.

Mr. Purcey, whose A.i. Damyer could be heard outside, advanced in his direct and simple way.

"I thought I'd give my car a run," he said. "How's your sister?" And seeing Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace, he added: "How do you do? We met the other day."

"We did," said Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace, whose little eyes were sparkling. "We talked about the poor, do you remember?"

Mr. Purcey, a sensitive man if you could get through his skin, gave her a shrewd look. 'I don't quite cotton to this woman,' he seemed saying; 'there's a laugh about her I don't like.'

"Ah! yes--you were tellin' me about them."

"Oh, Mr. Purcey, but you had heard of them, you remember!"

Mr. Purcey made a movement of his face which caused it to seem all jaw. It was a sort of unconscious declaration of a somewhat formidable character. So one may see bulldogs, those amiable animals, suddenly disclose their tenacity.

"It's rather a blue subject," he said bluntly.

Something in Cecilia fluttered at those words. It was like the saying of a healthy man looking at a box of pills which he did not mean to open. Why could not she and Stephen keep that lid on, too? And at this moment, to her deep astonishment, Stephen entered. She had sent for him, it is true, but had never expected he would come.

His entrance, indeed, requires explanation.

Feeling, as he said, a little "off colour," Stephen had not gone to Richmond to play golf. He had spent the day instead in the company of his pipe and those ancient coins, of which he had the best collection of any man he had ever met. His thoughts had wandered from them, more than he thought proper, to Hilary and that girl. He had felt from the beginning that he was so much more the man to deal with an affair like this than poor old Hilary. When, therefore, Thyme put her head into his study and said, "Father, Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace!" he had first thought, 'That busybody!' and then, 'I wonder--perhaps I'd better go and see if I can get anything out of her.'

In considering Stephen's attitude towards a woman so firmly embedded in the various social movements of the day, it must be remembered that he represented that large class of men who, unhappily too cultivated to put aside, like Mr. Purcey, all blue subjects, or deny the need for movements to make them less blue, still could not move, for fear of being out of order. He was also temperamentally distrustful of anything too feminine; and Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace was undoubtedly extremely feminine. Her merit, in his eyes, consisted of her attachment to Societies. So long as mankind worked through Societies, Stephen, who knew the power of rules and minute books, did not despair of too little progress being made. He sat down beside her, and turned the conversation on her chief work--"the Maids in Peril."

Searching his face with those eyes so like little black bees sipping honey from all the flowers that grew, Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace said:

"Why don't you get your wife to take an interest in our work?"

To Stephen this question was naturally both unexpected and annoying, one's wife being the last person he wished to interest in other people's movements. He kept his head.

"Ah well!" he said, "we haven't all got a talent for that sort of thing."

The voice of Mr. Purcey travelled suddenly across the room.

"Do tell me! How do you go to work to worm things out of them?"

Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace, prone to laughter, bubbled.

"Oh, that is such a delicious expression, Mr. Purcey! I almost think we ought to use it in our Report. Thank you!"

Mr. Purcey bowed. "Not at all!" he said.

Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace turned again to Stephen.

"We have our trained inquirers. That is the advantage of Societies such as ours; so that we don't personally have the unpleasantness. Some cases do baffle everybody. It's such very delicate work."

"You sometimes find you let in a rotter?" said Mr. Purcey, "or, I should say, a rotter lets you in! Ha, ha!"

Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace's eyes flew deliciously down his figure.

"Not often," she said; and turning rather markedly once more to Stephen: "Have you any special case that you are interested in, Mr. Dallison?"

Stephen consulted Cecilia with one of those masculine half-glances so discreet that Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace intercepted it without looking up. She found it rather harder to catch Cecilia's reply, but she caught it before Stephen did. It was, 'You'd better wait, perhaps,' conveyed by a tiny raising of the left eyebrow and a slight movement to the right of the lower lip. Putting two and two together, she felt within her bones that they were thinking of the little model. And she remembered the interesting moment in the omnibus when that attractive-looking man had got out so hastily.

There was no danger whatever from Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace feeling anything. The circle in which she moved did not now talk scandal, or, indeed, allude to matters of that sort without deep sympathy; and in the second place she was really far too good a fellow, with far too dear a love of life, to interfere with anybody else's love of it. At the same time it was interesting.

"That little model, now," she said, "what about her?"

"Is that the girl I saw?" broke in Mr. Purcey, with his accustomed shrewdness.

Stephen gave him the look with which he was accustomed to curdle the blood of persons who gave evidence before Commissions.

'This fellow is impossible,' he thought.

The little black bees flying below Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace's dark hair, done in the Early Italian fashion, tranquilly sucked honey from Stephen's face.

"She seemed to me," she answered, "such a very likely type."

"Ah!" murmured Stephen, "there would be, I suppose, a danger---" And he looked angrily at Cecilia.

Without ceasing to converse with Mr. Purcey and Signor Egregio Pozzi, she moved her left eye upwards. Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace understood this to mean: 'Be frank, and guarded!' Stephen, however, interpreted it otherwise. To him it signified: 'What the deuce do you look at me for?' And he felt justly hurt. He therefore said abruptly:

"What would you do in a case like that?"

Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace, sliding her face sideways, with a really charming little smile, asked softly:

"In a case like what?"

And her little eyes fled to Thyme, who had slipped into the room, and was whispering to her mother.

Cecilia rose.

"You know my daughter," she said. "Will you excuse me just a minute? I'm so very sorry." She glided towards the door, and threw a flying look back. It was one of those social moments precious to those who are escaping them.

Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace was smiling, Stephen frowning at his boots; Mr. Purcey stared admiringly at Thyme, and Thyme, sitting very upright, was calmly regarding the unfortunate Egregio Pozzi, who apparently could not bring himself to speak.

When Cecilia found herself outside, she stood still a moment to compose her nerves. Thyme had told her that Hilary was in the dining-room, and wanted specially to see her.

As in most women of her class and bringing-up, Cecilia's qualities of reticence and subtlety, the delicate treading of her spirit, were seen to advantage in a situation such as this. Unlike Stephen, who had shown at once that he had something on his mind, she received Hilary with that exact shade of friendly, intimate, yet cool affection long established by her as the proper manner towards her husband's brother. It was not quite sisterly, but it was very nearly so. It seemed to say: 'We understand each other as far as it is right and fitting that we should; we even sympathise with the difficulties we have each of us experienced in marrying the other's sister or brother, as the case may be. We know the worst. And we like to see each other, too, because there are bars between us, which make it almost piquant.'

Giving him her soft little hand, she began at once to talk of things farthest from her heart. She saw that she was deceiving Hilary, and this feather in the cap of her subtlety gave her pleasure. But her nerves fluttered at once when he said: "I want to speak to you, Cis. You know that Stephen and I had a talk yesterday, I suppose?"

Cecilia nodded.

"I have spoken to B.!"

"Oh!" Cecilia murmured. She longed to ask what Bianca had said, but did not dare, for Hilary had his armour on, the retired, ironical look he always wore when any subject was broached for which he was too sensitive.

She waited.

"The whole thing is distasteful to me," he said; "but I must do something for this child. I can't leave her completely in the lurch."

Cecilia had an inspiration.

"Hilary," she said softly, "Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace is in the drawing-room. She was just speaking of the girl to Stephen. Won't you come in, and arrange with her quietly?"

Hilary looked at his sister-in-law for a moment without speaking, then said:

"I draw the line there. No, thank you. I'll see this through myself."

Cecilia fluttered out:

"Oh, but, Hilary, what do you mean?"

"I am going to put an end to it."

It needed all Cecilia's subtlety to hide her consternation. End to what? Did he mean that he and B. were going to separate?

"I won't have all this vulgar gossip about the poor girl. I shall go and find another room for her."

Cecilia sighed with relief.

"Would you-would you like me to come too, Hilary?"

"It's very good of you," said Hilary dryly. "My actions appear to rouse suspicions."

Cecilia blushed.

"Oh, that's absurd! Still, no one could think anything if I come with you. Hilary, have you thought that if she continues coming to Father---"

"I shall tell her that she mustn't!"

Cecilia's heart gave two thumps, the first with pleasure, the second with sympathy.

"It will be horrid for you," she said. "You hate doing anything of that sort."

Hilary nodded.

"But I'm afraid it's the only way," went on Cecilia, rather hastily. "And, of course, it will be no good saying anything to Father; one must simply let him suppose that she has got tired of it."

Again Hilary nodded.

"He will think it very funny,", murmured Cecilia pensively. "Oh, and have you thought that taking her away from where she is will only make those people talk the more?"

Hilary shrugged his shoulders.

"It may make that man furious," Cecilia added.

"It will."

"Oh, but then, of course, if you don't see her afterwards, they will have no--no excuse at all."

"I shall not see her afterwards," said Hilary, "if I can avoid it."

Cecilia looked at him.

"It's very sweet of you, Hilary."

"What is sweet?" asked Hilary stonily.

"Why, to take all this trouble. Is it really necessary for you to do anything?" But looking in his face, she went on hastily: "Yes, yes, it's best. Let's go at once. Oh, those people in the drawing-room! Do wait ten minutes."

A little later, running up to put her hat on, she wondered why it was that Hilary always made her want to comfort him. Stephen never affected her like this.

Having little or no notion where to go, they walked in the direction of Bayswater. To place the Park between Hound Street and the little model was the first essential. On arriving at the other side of the Broad Walk, they made instinctively away from every sight of green. In a long, grey street of dismally respectable appearance they found what they were looking for, a bed-sitting room furnished, advertised on a card in the window. The door was opened by the landlady, a tall woman of narrow build, with a West-Country accent, and a rather hungry sweetness running through her hardness. They stood talking with her in a passage, whose oilcloth of variegated pattern emitted a faint odour. The staircase could be seen climbing steeply up past walls covered with a shining paper cut by narrow red lines into small yellow squares. An almanack, of so floral a design that nobody would surely want to steal it, hung on the wall; below it was an umbrella stand without umbrellas. The dim little passage led past two grimly closed doors painted rusty red to two half-open doors with dull glass in their panels. Outside, in the street from which they had mounted by stone steps, a shower of sleet had begun to fall. Hilary shut the door, but the cold spirit of that shower had already slipped into the bleak, narrow house.

"This is the apartment, m'm," said the landlady, opening the first of the rusty-coloured doors. The room, which had a paper of blue roses on a yellow ground, was separated from another room by double doors.

"I let the rooms together sometimes, but just now that room's taken--a young gentleman in the City; that's why I'm able to let this cheap."

Cecilia looked at Hilary. "I hardly think---"

The landlady quickly turned the handles of the doors, showing that they would not open.

"I keep the key," she said. "There's a bolt on both sides."

Reassured, Cecilia walked round the room as far as this was possible, for it was practically all furniture. There was the same little wrinkle across her nose as across Thyme's nose when she spoke of Hound Street. Suddenly she caught sight of Hilary. He was standing with his back against the door. On his face was a strange and bitter look, such as a man might have on seeing the face of Ugliness herself, feeling that she was not only without him, but within--a universal spirit; the look of a man who had thought that he was chivalrous, and found that he was not; of a leader about to give an order that he would not himself have executed.

Seeing that look, Cecilia said with some haste:

"It's all very nice and clean; it will do very well, I think. Seven shillings a week, I believe you said. We will take it for a fortnight, at all events."

The first glimmer of a smile appeared on the landlady's grim face, with its hungry eyes, sweetened by patience.

"When would she be coming in?" she asked.

"When do you think, Hilary?"

"I don't know," muttered Hilary. "The sooner the better--if it must be. To-morrow, or the day after."

And with one look at the bed, covered by a piece of cheap red-and-yellow tasselled tapestry, he went out into the street. The shower was over, but the house faced north, and no sun was shining on it.

John Galsworthy