The occasion was an afternoon call paid at the vicarage. Of all houses in the Garden Home Sabre most dreaded and feared the vicarage. He paid this call, with shuddering, in pursuance of his endeavour to do with Mabel things that gave her pleasure. (And in the most uncongenial of them, as this call at the vicarage, he used to think, characteristically, “After all, I haven’t got the decency to do what she’s specially asked—give up the bike ride.”)
The Vicarage drawing-room was huge, handsomely furnished, much adorned with signed portraits of royal and otherwise celebrated persons, and densely crowded with devoted parishioners. Among them the Reverend Boom Bagshaw moved sulkily to and fro; amidst them, on a species of raised throne, Mrs. Boom Bagshaw gave impressive audience. The mother of the Reverend Boom Bagshaw was a massive and formidable woman who seemed to be swaddled in several hundred garments of heavy crepe and stiff satin. She bore a distinct resemblance to Queen Victoria; but there was stuff in her and upon her to make several Queen Victorias. About the room, but chiefly, as Sabre thought, under his feet, fussed her six very small dogs. There were called Fee, Fo and Fum, which were brown toy Poms; and Tee, To, Tum, which were black toy Poms, and the six were the especial care and duty of Miss Bypass. Every day Miss Bypass, who was tall and pale and ugly, was to be seen striding about Penny Green and the Garden Home in process of exercising the dogs; the dogs, for their part, shrilling their importance and decorating the pavements in accordance with the engaging habits of their lovable characteristics. In the drawing-room Miss Bypass occupied herself in stooping about after the six, extracting bread and butter from their mouths—they were not allowed to eat bread and butter—and raising them for the adoring inspection of visitors unable at the moment either to adore Mr. Boom Bagshaw or to prostrate themselves before the throne of Queen Victoria Boom Bagshaw.
Few spoke to Miss Bypass. Those who did were answered in the curiously defiant manner which was her habit and which was called by Mabel abominably rude, and by Sabre pathetic. As he and Mabel were taking their leave, he had Miss Bypass in momentary conversation, Mabel standing by.
“Hullo, Miss Bypass. Haven’t managed to see you in all this crowd. How’re things with you?”
“I’m perfectly well, thank you.”
“Been reading anything lately? I saw you coming out of the library the other day with a stack of books.”
Miss Bypass gave the impression of bracing herself, as though against suspected attack. “Yes, and they were for my own reading, thank you. I suppose you thought they were for Mrs. Boom Bagshaw.”
Certainly her manner was extraordinarily hostile. Sabre took no notice.
“No, I bet they were your own. You’re a great reader, I know.”
Her tone was almost bitter. “I suppose you think I read nothing but Dickens and that sort of thing.”