“Doesn’t it seem to you rather awful to care about bonnets at ninety-four?”
“Not a bit,” said Pamela. She was powdering her face as she spoke. “I like to see old people holding on, not losing interest in their appearance, making a brave show to the end.... Did you never see anyone use powder before, Jean? Your eyes in the glass look so surprised.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Jean, in great confusion, “I didn’t mean to stare—” She hastily averted her eyes.
Pamela looked at her with an amused smile.
“There’s nothing actively immoral about powdering one’s nose, you know, Jean. Did Great-aunt Alison tell you it was wrong?”
“Great-aunt Alison never talked about such things,” Jean said, flushing hotly. “I don’t think it’s wrong, but I don’t see that it’s an improvement. I couldn’t take any pleasure in myself if my face were made up.”
Pamela swung round on her chair and laid her hands on Jean’s shoulders.
“Jean,” she said, “you’re within an ace of being a prig. It’s only the freckles on your little unpowdered nose, and the yellow lights in your eyes, and the way your hair curls up at the ends that save you. Remember, please, that three-and-twenty with a perfect complexion has no call to reprove her elders. Just wait till you come to forty years.”
“Oh,” said Jean, “it’s absurd of you to talk like that. As if you didn’t know that you are infinitely more attractive than any young girl. I never know why people talk so much about youth. What does being young matter if you’re awkward and dull and shy as well? I’d far rather be middle-aged and interesting.”
“That,” said Pamela, as she laid her treasures back in the box, “is one of the minor tragedies of life. One begins by being bored with being young, and as we begin to realise what an asset youth is, it flies. Rejoice in your youth, little Jean-girl, for it’s a stuff will not endure.... Now we’ll go downstairs. It’s too bad of me keeping you up here.”
“How you have changed this room,” said Jean. “It smells so nice.”
“It is slightly less forbidding. I am quite attached to both my rooms, though when Mawson and I are both here together I sometimes feel I must poke my arms out of the window or thrust my head up the chimney like Bill the Lizard, in order to get room. It is a great disadvantage to be too large for one’s surroundings.”
The parlour was as much changed as the bedroom.
The round table with the red-and-green cover that filled up the middle of the room had been banished and a small card-table stood against the wall ready to be brought out for meals. A Persian carpet covered the linoleum and two comfortable wicker-chairs filled with cushions stood by the fireside. The sideboard had been converted into a stand for books and flowers. The blue vases had gone from the mantelshelf and two tall candlesticks and a strip of embroidery took their place. A writing-table stood in the window, from which the hard muslin curtains had been removed; there were flowers wherever a place could be found for them, and new books and papers lay about.