“Nell,” he said, “I suppose you wouldn’t care to come to London with me?”
“Oh!” she answered smiling, a smile of a peculiar quality. It was astonishing how that simple woman could put just one tenth of one per cent of irony into a good-natured smile. “What’s the meaning of this?” Then she flushed. The flush touched Edward Henry in an extraordinary manner.
("To think,” he reflected incredulously, “that only last night I was talking in the dark to Elsie April—and here I am now!” And he remembered the glory of Elsie’s frock, and her thrilling voice in the gloom, and that pose of hers as she leaned dimly forward.)
“Well,” he said aloud, as naturally as he could, “that theatre’s beginning to get up on its hind-legs now, and I should like you to see it.”
A difficult pass for him, as regards his mother! This was the first time he had ever overtly spoken of the theatre in his mother’s presence. In the best bedroom he had talked of it—but even there with a certain self-consciousness and false casualness. Now, his mother stared straight in front of her with an expression of which she alone among human beings had the monopoly.
“I should like to,” said Nellie, generously.
“Well,” said he, “I’ve got to go back to town to-morrow. Wilt come with me, lass?”
“Don’t be silly, Edward Henry,” said she. “How can I leave mother in the middle of all this spring-cleaning?”
“You needn’t leave mother. We’ll take her too,” said Edward Henry, lightly.
“You won’t!” observed Mrs. Machin.
“I have to go to-morrow, Nell,” said Edward Henry. “And I was thinking you might as well come with me. It will be a change for you.”
(He said to himself, “And not only have I to go to-morrow, but you absolutely must come with me, my girl. That’s the one thing to do.”)
“It would be a change for me,” Nellie agreed—she was beyond doubt flattered and calmly pleased. “But I can’t possibly come to-morrow. You can see that for yourself, dear.”
“No, I can’t!” he cried impatiently. “What does it matter? Mother’ll be here. The kids’ll be all right. After all, spring-cleaning isn’t the Day of Judgment.”
“Edward Henry,” said his mother, cutting in between them like a thin blade, “I wish you wouldn’t be blasphemous. London’s London, and Bursley’s Bursley.” She had finished.
“It’s quite out of the question for me to come to-morrow, dear. I must have notice. I really must.”
And Edward Henry saw with alarm that Nellie had made up her mind, and that the flattered calm pleasure in his suggestion had faded from her face.
“Oh! Dash these domesticated women!” he thought, and shortly afterwards departed, brooding, to the offices of the Thrift Club.