“I haven’t seen Mr Cotterill yet,” said Mrs Capron-Smith.
“When did you come?” Denry asked.
“Only this afternoon.”
She continued to talk.
As he looked at her, listening and responding intelligently now and then, he saw that Mrs Capron-Smith was in truth the woman that Ruth had so cleverly imitated ten years before. The imitation had deceived him then; he had accepted it for genuine. It would not have deceived him now—he knew that. Oh yes! This was the real article that could hold its own anywhere.... Switzerland! And not simply Switzerland, but a refinement on Switzerland! Switzerland in winter! He divined that in her opinion Switzerland in summer was not worth doing—in the way of correctness. But in winter...
Nellie had announced a surprise for Denry as he entered the house, but Nellie’s surprise for Denry, startling and successful though it proved, was as naught to the surprise which Mr Cotterill had in hand for Nellie, her mother, Denry, the town of Bursley, and various persons up and down the country.
Mrs Cotterill came hysterically in upon the duologue between Denry and Ruth in the drawing-room. From the activity of her hands, which, instead of being decently folded one over the other, were waving round her head in the strangest way, it was clear that Mrs Cotterill was indeed under the stress of a very unusual emotion.
“It’s those creditors—at last! I knew it would be! It’s all those creditors! They won’t let him alone, and now they’ve done it.”
So Mrs Cotterill! She dropped into a chair. She had no longer any sense of shame, of what was due to her dignity. She seemed to have forgotten that certain matters are not proper to be discussed in drawing-rooms. She had left the room Mrs Councillor Cotterill; she returned to it nobody in particular, the personification of defeat. The change had operated in five minutes.
Mrs Capron-Smith and Denry glanced at each other, and even Mrs Capron-Smith was at a loss for a moment. Then Ruth approached Mrs Cotterill and took her hand. Perhaps Mrs Capron-Smith was not so astonished after all. She and Nellie’s mother had always been “very friendly.” And in the Five Towns “very friendly” means a lot.
“Perhaps if you were to leave us,” Ruth suggested, twisting her head to glance at Denry.
It was exactly what he desired to do. There could be no doubt that Ruth was supremely a woman of the world. Her tact was faultless.
He left them, saying to himself: “Well, here’s a go!”
In the hall, through an open door, he saw Councillor Cotterill standing against the dining-room mantelpiece.
When Cotterill caught sight of Denry he straightened himself into a certain uneasy perkiness.
“Young man,” he said in a counterfeit of his old patronising tone, “come in here. You may as well hear about it. You’re a friend of ours. Come in and shut the door.”