Its one claim upon my love was that the south wind swept sometimes unobstructed up it, soft with suggestions of the sea. These lugubrious thoughts I naturally kept to myself, though I never ceased to regret the little flat whose cheapness had seduced us. Now, as I watched my sister’s impassive face, I realized that perhaps she, too, felt as I felt, yet, brave woman, without betraying it.
“And, look here, Fanny,” I said, putting a hand upon her shoulder as I crossed the room, “it would be the very thing for you. You’re worn out with catering and housekeeping. Mabel is your oldest friend, besides, and you’ve hardly seen her since he died—”
“She’s been abroad for a year, Bill, and only just came back,” my sister interposed. “She came back rather unexpectedly, though I never thought she would go there to live—” She stopped abruptly. Clearly, she was only speaking half her mind. “Probably,” she went on, “Mabel wants to pick up old links again.”
“Naturally,” I put in, “yourself chief among them.” The veiled reference to the house I let pass.
It involved discussing the dead man for one thing.
“I feel I ought to go anyhow,” she resumed, “and of course it would be jollier if you came too. You’d get in such a muddle here by yourself, and eat wrong things, and forget to air the rooms, and—oh, everything!” She looked up laughing. “Only,” she added, “there’s the British Museum—?”
“But there’s a big library there,” I answered, “and all the books of reference I could possibly want. It was of you I was thinking. You could take up your painting again; you always sell half of what you paint. It would be a splendid rest too, and Sussex is a jolly country to walk in. By all means, Fanny, I advise—”
Our eyes met, as I stammered in my attempts to avoid expressing the thought that hid in both our minds. My sister had a weakness for dabbling in the various “new” theories of the day, and Mabel, who before her marriage had belonged to foolish societies for investigating the future life to the neglect of the present one, had fostered this undesirable tendency. Her amiable, impressionable temperament was open to every psychic wind that blew. I deplored, detested the whole business. But even more than this I abhorred the later influence that Mr. Franklyn had steeped his wife in, capturing her body and soul in his somber doctrines. I had dreaded lest my sister also might be caught.
“Now that she is alone again—”
I stopped short. Our eyes now made pretence impossible, for the truth had slipped out inevitably, stupidly, although unexpressed in definite language. We laughed, turning our faces a moment to look at other things in the room. Frances picked up a book and examined its cover as though she had made an important discovery, while I took my case out and lit a cigarette I did not want to smoke. We left the matter there. I went out of the room before further explanation could cause tension. Disagreements grow into discord from such tiny things—wrong adjectives, or a chance inflection of the voice. Frances had a right to her views of life as much as I had. At least, I reflected comfortably, we had separated upon an agreement this time, recognized mutually, though not actually stated.