The schoolmistress, abandoning herself to an inexplicable but overwhelming impulse, took breath for a proud lie.
‘No,’ she answered; ‘but if you had come three minutes earlier——’
She smiled calmly.
‘Oh!’ murmured May Deane, after a pause.
That evening May Deane returned home at half-past nine. She had been with her two brothers to a lawn-tennis party at Hillport, and she told her father, who was reading the Staffordshire Signal in his accustomed solitude, that the boys were staying later for cards, but that she had declined to stay because she felt tired. She kissed the old widower good-night, and said that she should go to bed at once. But before retiring she visited the housekeeper in the kitchen in order to discuss certain household matters: Jim’s early breakfast, the proper method of washing Herbert’s new flannels (Herbert would be very angry if they were shrunk), and the dog-biscuits for Carlo. These questions settled, she went to her room, drew the blind, lighted some candles, and sat down near the window.
She was twenty-two, and she had about her that strange and charming nunlike mystery which often comes to a woman who lives alone and unguessed-at among male relatives. Her room was her bower. No one, save the servants and herself, ever entered it. Mr. Deane and Jim and Bertie might glance carelessly through the open door in passing along the corridor, but had they chanced in idle curiosity to enter, the room would have struck them as unfamiliar, and they might perhaps have exclaimed with momentary interest, ‘So this is May’s room!’ And some hint that May was more than a daughter and sister—a woman, withdrawn, secret, disturbing, living her own inner life side by side with the household life—might have penetrated their obtuse paternal and fraternal masculinity. Her beautiful face (the nose and mouth were perfect, and at either extremity of the upper lip grew a soft down), her dark hair, her quiet voice and her gentle acquiescence (diversified by occasional outbursts of sarcasm), appealed to them and won them; but they accepted her as something of course, as something which went without saying. They adored her, and did not know that they adored her.
May took off her hat, stuck the pins into it again, and threw it on the bed, whose white and green counterpane hung down nearly to the floor on either side. Then she lay back in the chair, and, pulling away the blind, glanced through the window; the moon, rather dim behind the furnace lights of Red Cow Ironworks, was rising over Moorthorne. May dropped the blind with a wearied gesture, and turned within the room, examining its contents as if she had not seen them before: the wardrobe, the chest of drawers, which was also a dressing-table, the washstand, the dwarf book-case with its store of Edna Lyalls, Elizabeth Gaskells, Thackerays, Charlotte Yonges, Charlotte