类型:奇幻地区:莫桑比克剧发布:2020-09-21 08:03:32


For the next week Miss Propert continued to display a galaxy of unvarying excellence in her duties, and Keeling, though he told himself that he had dismissed her overheard criticism from his mind altogether, and perhaps believed that he had done so, acted towards her in sundry little ways, as if he consciously deprecated her opinion and sought to change it. The weather, for instance, continuing very hot, he ordered an electric fan to be placed in the small stuffy den where she did her work, saying nothing about it to her, but setting it going while she was absent for her hour’s interval in the middle of the day. On another occasion when he was sitting at his table with his hat on, he took it off as she entered, on a third he{89} cleared a space for her to write at when she came to receive his dictation for the morning. In part, though he would have denied it, his dislike of her verdict on him prompted these infinitesimal courtesies, but in part another incentive dictated them. Vaguely and distantly she was beginning to mean something to him personally, she was acquiring a significance apart from her duties. He began to notice not only the speed and efficiency of her fingers, but the comely shape of her hand: he began to heed not only the distinctness of her voice as she read over her shorthand transcripts to him, but its quality. It reminded him rather of John’s voice.... And oftener and oftener as he dictated his correspondence he looked up with his gray eyes set deep below their bushy eyebrows at that quiet, handsome face, which hardly ever raised its eyes to his. Somehow her perfect fulfilment of the complete duties of the secretary, devoid of any other human relationship to him whatever, began to pique him. She treated him as if he had no existence apart from his function as her employer. He had never before had so ideal a secretary, so intelligent and accurate a piece of office-furniture, and now, having got it, he was inconsistent enough to harbour a smothered wish that she was a shade more human in her dealings with him. He wished that she would not call him ‘sir’ so invariably, whenever {90}she spoke to him: he looked out for the smallest indication on her part of being conscious of him in some human manner. But no such indication appeared, and the complete absence of it vexed him, though as often as it vexed him (the vexation was the smallest of annoyances) he strenuously denied to himself that such a feeling existed at all in his mind.

Keeling went out through his book department, where he nodded to Propert, into the bustle of the square, noticing, with a satisfaction that never failed him, as he walked by the various doors of his block of building, how busy was the traffic in and out of the Stores. It was still an hour to sunset: on the left the municipal offices and town-hall rose pretentious and hideous against the blue of the southern sky, while in front to{82} the west the gray Gothic glories of the Cathedral, separated from the square by a line of canonical houses, aspired high above the house-roofs and leaf-laden elm-towers in the Close. The fact struck him that the front of the town-hall, with its wealth of fussy adornment, its meaningless rows of polished marble pilasters, its foolish little pinnacles and finials, was somehow strangely like the drawing-room in his own house, with its decorations selected by the amazingly futile taste of his wife. There was a very similar confusion of detail about the two, a kindred ostentation of unnecessary objects. There was waste in them both, expense that was not represented on the other side of the ledger by a credit balance of efficiency. No one took pleasure in the little pink granite pilasters between the lights of the windows in the town-hall, and certainly they were entirely useless. The money spent on them was thrown away: whereas money spent ought to yield its dividend, producing either something that was useful or something that gave pleasure. If you liked a thing it was worth paying for it, if it was directly useful it was worth paying for it. But where was the return on the money spent on pink pilasters or on the lilies painted on the huge looking-glass above his wife’s drawing-room chimney-piece? Those lilies certainly were not useful, since they prevented the mirror exercising its proper function of reflecting what stood in front of it. Or did they yield{83} a dividend in pleasure to Emmeline? He did not believe that they did: he felt sure that she had just bought No. 1 drawing-room suite dining-room suite with extras, as set forth in his catalogue. He knew the catalogues well: with extras No. 1 suite came to £117. It had much in common with the front of the town-hall. So, too, if you came to consider it, had the crocodile with the calling-cards in the abominable hall.

Suddenly it struck him that the situation was parallel to, but more significant than that which had occurred in her drawing-room when Norah had come into it for a few minutes one snowy{183} evening. Then, as now, his wife had hinted at an underlying truth, which he was aware of: then, as now, he had scolded her for the ridiculous suggestion her words implied. But to-day the same situation was intensified, it presented itself to him in colours many tones more vivid, even as the underlying truth had become of far greater concern to him. And, unless he was mistaken, it had become much more real to his wife. Her first vague, stupid (but truly-founded) suspicion had acquired solidity in her mind. He doubted whether he could, so to speak, bomb it to bits by the throwing to her of a pearl-pendant.Alice guessed what he meant in a moment.

Then he turned to Alice.In consequence of the two men talking together she was left to Lady Inverbroom, but as she had taken the trouble to read the small paragraphs in a Society journal that day, she could give her little tit-bits of information about the movements of the King and the Royal Family, while with half an ear she continued to listen to her husband, so as to interrupt in case he tended to unsuitable topics again. But she was so dumbfoundered when, à propos of book-plates (which sounded safe enough), she heard Lord Inverbroom say that he had a charming one lately made for him by a Miss Propert, that the apposite talk she was engaged in died on her lips.Keeling waited quite still for a moment, and then came back into himself from the bright places into which he had aspired.

She had settled in her own mind to get away before the party broke up, but she grew absorbed in her work, and it came with something of a surprise and shock to her when again she heard the gabble of mixed voices outside, saying what a pleasant evening they had had, and realized that she must wait till those compliments were finished. She had not yet written the note which Keeling had asked her to leave on the table, regarding her brother’s health, and this she did now as she waited, giving a promising account of him. Soon the front-door closed for the last time, leaving silence in the hall, and she heard a well-known foot cross it in the direction of the drawing-room, pause and then come back. Keeling entered.

‘Yes. I think it does. I don’t want to make unpleasantness.’

‘Infinitely distressed,’ he repeated. ‘I had no idea that you ever looked upon me——’‘Do you know how I love you?’ he asked.

Never had the clear glance lasted so long. He expanded and throve in it.



This entertaining scheme succeeded admirably. Alice showed a remarkable sense of dramatic by-play, and talked very eagerly to her neighbour, while Mr Silverdale stripped off layer after layer of paper, as if she was quite unaware that anything unusual was happening, and it was not till an unmistakable shape of slippers began to reveal itself in the core, that Master guessed.It did not sound right as he said it; he had the perception of that. He perceived, too, that Lord Inverbroom did not pursue the style. Then, presently arriving, they found that the waiting motor contained no impatient Lady Inverbroom, and they stole into the library, at her husband’s desire, so that no news of his coming should reach her, until he had had a quarter of an hour there with his host. Then perhaps she might be told, if Sir Thomas would have the goodness....

‘Then take my advice and make your brother go to the seaside with you instead. You’ve been rather overworked lately and he has too. A change would do you both good.’‘Oh, I hope it fitted well,’ said Alice, diverted for the moment by the mention of this piece of ecclesiastical finery.




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