She broke off. They both looked at her, perplexed. Philip shook his head good-naturedly.
“Miss Grimes,” he said, “you forget that the rooms are mine till next quarter day. I promise you we will respect any of your belongings we may find there. Come along, Elizabeth.”
“We’ll see you as we come down,” the latter promised, nodding pleasantly,
“I don’t know as you will,” the girl retorted fiercely. “I may not be here.”
They climbed the last two flights of stairs together.
“What an extraordinary young woman!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Is there any reason for her being quite so rude to me?”
“None that I can conceive,” he answered. “She is always like that.”
“And yet you took an interest in her!”
“Why not? She is human, soured by misfortune, if you like, with an immense stock of bravery and honesty underneath it all. She has had a drunken father practically upon her hands, and life’s been pretty sordid for her. Here we are.”
He fitted the key into the lock and swung the door open. The clear afternoon light shone in upon the little shabby room and its worn furniture. There were one or two insignificant belongings of Philip’s still lying about the place, and on the writing-table, exactly opposite the spot where he used to sit, a little blue vase, in which was a bunch of violets. Somehow or other it was the one arresting object in the room. They both of them looked at it in equal amazement.
“Is any one living here?” Elizabeth enquired.
“Not to my knowledge,” he replied. “No one could take it on without my signing a release.”
They moved over to the desk. Elizabeth stooped down and smelt the violets, lifted them up and looked at the cut stalks.
“Is this where you used to sit and write?” she asked.
“But I never had any flowers here,” he observed, gazing at them in a puzzled manner.
Elizabeth looked at the vase and set it down. Then she turned towards her companion and shook her head.
“Oh, my dear Philip,” she sighed, “you really don’t know what makes that girl so uncouth?”
“You mean Martha? Of course I don’t. You think that she ... Rubbish!”
He stopped short in sudden confusion. Elizabeth passed her arm through his. She replaced the vase very carefully, looked once more around the room, and led him to the door.
“Never mind,” she said. “It isn’t anything serious, of course, but it’s wonderful, Philip, what memories a really lonely woman will live on, what she will do to keep that little natural vein of sentiment alive in her, and how fiercely she will fight to conceal it. You can go on down and wait for me in the hall. I am going in to say good-by to Miss Martha Grimes. I think that this time I shall get on better with her.”