“Why, Esther, it’s you! How sweet of you! I was just dying to see you!” exclaimed the little lady, turning a pretty, but somewhat worn, and brilliantly sad face from her gardening. “Just let me finish this thirsty bed, and then you must give me a kiss. There!”
Then the two embraced; and as Mrs. Myrtilla Williamson held Esther at arm’s length and looked at her admiringly,—
“How pretty you look to-day!” she exclaimed, generously. “That new hat’s a great success. Didn’t I tell you mauve was your colour? Turn round. Yes, dear, you look charming. Where in the world, I wonder, did you all get that grand look of yours from?—I don’t mean your good looks merely, but that look of distinction. Your father and mother have it too; but where did they get it from? You’re a puzzle-family—all of you. But wouldn’t you like a cup of tea? Come in,” and she led the way indoors to a tiny, sweet-smelling boudoir on the left of the hall, of which a dainty glimpse, with its books and water-colours and bibelots, was to be caught from the terrace.
Everything about Myrtilla Williamson was scrupulously, determinedly dainty, from the flowered tea-gown about her slim, girlish figure,—her predilection for that then novel and suspected garment was regarded as a sure mark of a certain Parisian levity by her neighbours,—to her just a little “precious” enunciation. In France, in the seventeenth century, she would almost certainly have been a visitor at the Hotel Rambouillet, and to-day she was mysteriously and disapprovingly spoken of as “aesthetic.” She had a look as if she had tripped out of a Japanese fan, and slept at night in a pot-pourri jar. And she had brains, those good things—brains.
Her name was very like her life, one-half of which might be described as Myrtilla, the other half as Williamson. She was Myrtilla during the day, dabbling with her water-colours, her flowers, or her books; but at six o’clock each afternoon, with the sound of aggressive masculine boots in the hall, her life suddenly changed with a sigh to Williamson. The Williamson half of her life was so clumsily, so grotesquely ill-matched with the Myrtilla half that it was, and probably will always remain, a mystery why she had ever attempted so tasteless and inconvenient an addition,—a mystery, however, far from unique in the history of those mysteriously stupid unhappy marriages with evident boors which refined and charming women will, it is to be feared, go on making to the end of the human chapter.
It was perhaps a day hardly less interesting for Myrtilla than for the young people themselves when she had first met Henry and Esther Mesurier. Before, in the dull bourgeois society into which Williamson had transplanted her from London, she had found none with whom she dared be her natural Myrtilla. There she was expected to be Williamson to the bone. Henry and Esther, however, were only too grateful for Myrtilla, through whom was to come to them the revelation