“Oh, no, you won’t really. To tell the truth, I’ve done none to-day. I can’t get into the mood.”
“So you’ve been getting Angel to help you. Oh, well, of course, if Angel can be allowed to interrupt you, I suppose I can too. Well, then, I’ll stay a quarter of an hour.”
“But you may as well take your things off, and I’ll make a cup of tea, eh? That’ll be cosey, won’t it? And then you can read me Mike’s last letter, eh?”
“Oh, he’s doing splendidly, dear! I had a lovely letter from him this morning. Would you really care to hear a bit of it?”
And Esther would proceed to read, picking her way among the endearments and the diminutives.
“I am glad, dear. Why, if he goes on at this rate, you’ll be able to get married in no time.”
“Yes; isn’t it splendid, dear? I am so happy! What I’d give to see his little face for five minutes! Wouldn’t you?”
“Rather. Perhaps he’ll be able to run up on Bank Holiday.”
“I’m afraid not, dear. He speaks of it in his letter, and just hopes for it; but rather fears they’ll have to play at Brighton, or some other stupid seaside place.”
“That’s a bother. Yes, dear old Mike! To think of him working away there all by himself—God bless him! Do you know he’s never seen this old room? It struck me yesterday. It doesn’t seem quite warmed till he’s seen it. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have him here some night?—one of our old, long evenings. Well, I suppose it will really come one of these days. And then we shall be having you married, and going off to London in clouds of glory, while poor old Henry grubs away down here in Tyre.”
“Well, if we do go first, you will not be long after us, dear; and if only Mike could make a really great hit, why, in five years’ time we might all be quite rich. Won’t it be wonderful?”
Then the kettle boiled, and Henry made the tea; and when it had long since been drunk, Esther began to think it must be five o’clock, and, horrified to find it a quarter to six, confessed to being ashamed of herself, and tried to console her conscience by the haste of her good-bye.
“I’m afraid I’ve wasted your afternoon,” she said; “but we don’t often get a chat nowadays, do we? Good-bye, dear. Go on loving me, won’t you?”
After that, Henry would give the day up as a bad job, and begin to wonder if Ned would be dropping in that evening for a smoke; and as that was Ned’s almost nightly custom about eight o’clock, the chances of Henry’s disappointment were not serious.
A HEAVIER FOOTFALL
One morning, as Henry was really doing a little work, a more ponderous step broke the silence of his landing, a heavy footfall full of friendship. Certainly that was not Angel, nor even the more weighty Esther, though when the knock came it was little and shy as a woman’s.