He was rather surprised and impressed that she had recognized the piece for what it was. But of course she did, as a fact, know something about music, he remembered, though she never touched the Pianisto.
“I think it’s a pity you can’t choose some other evening for your funeral marches!” she exclaimed.
“If that’s it,” said Edward Henry like lightning, “why did you stick me out you weren’t afraid of hydrophobia?”
“I’ll thank you to come upstairs,” she replied with warmth.
“Oh, all right, my dear! All right!” he cooed.
And they went upstairs in a rather solemn procession.
Nellie led the way to the chamber known as “Maisie’s room,” where the youngest of the Machins was wont to sleep in charge of the nurse who, under the supervision of the mother of all three, had dominion over Robert, Ralph and their little sister.
The first thing that Edward Henry noticed was the screen which shut off one of the beds. The unfurling of the four-fold screen was always a sure sign that Nellie was taking an infantile illness seriously. It was an indication to Edward Henry of the importance of the dog-bite in Nellie’s esteem.
When all the chicks of the brood happened to be simultaneously sound the screen reposed, inconspicuous, at an angle against a wall behind the door; but when pestilence was abroad, the screen travelled from one room to another in the wake of it, and, spreading wide, took part in the battle of life and death.
In an angle of the screen, on the side of it away from the bed and near the fire (in times of stress Nellie would not rely on radiators) sat old Mrs.. Machin, knitting. She was a thin, bony woman of sixty-nine years, and as hard and imperishable as teak. So far as her son knew she had only had two illnesses in her life. The first was an attack of influenza, and the second was an attack of acute rheumatism, which had incapacitated her for several weeks.
Edward Henry and Nellie had taken advantage of her helplessness, then, to force her to give up her barbaric cottage in Brougham Street and share permanently the splendid comfort of their home. She existed in their home like a philosophic prisoner-of-war at the court of conquerors, behaving faultlessly, behaving magnanimously in the melancholy grandeur of her fall, but never renouncing her soul’s secret independence, nor permitting herself to forget that she was on foreign ground.
When Edward Henry looked at those yellow and seasoned fingers, which by hard manual labour had kept herself and him in the young days of his humble obscurity, and which during sixty years had not been idle for more than six weeks in all, he grew almost apologetic for his wealth.
They reminded him of the day when his total resources were five pounds—won in a wager, and of the day when he drove proudly about behind a mule collecting other people’s rents, and of the glittering days when he burst in on her from Llandudno with over a thousand gold sovereigns in a hat-box—product of his first great picturesque coup—imagining himself to be an English Jay Gould.