He thought, “Girding! Sneering! Can’t I get out of this?” Then he thought, “Dash it, man, it’s only just her way. What is there in it?” He said, “Yes, but look here, Mabel, we started at my riding home in the dark—or rather at old Low Jinks’s muffin knee. Let’s work out the trouble about that.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. I think it’s extraordinary of you to go riding by yourself all through the winter just to avoid people I’d like you to be friendly with. I ask you not to and you call it ’fugging up in railway carriages with them.’ That was the elegant expression you used.”
“Elegant.” That was the word Nona had said she was going to have for her own.
He sat up in his chair. He was glad he had kept his mind detached all through this business. He was going to make an effort.
He said, “Well, listen, Mabel. I’ll explain. This is me explaining. Behind this fork. I see what you mean. Perfectly well. I’m sorry. I’m absolutely rotten at meeting new people. I always have been. I never seem to have any conversation. They always think I’m just a fool—which, as a matter of fact, I always feel in a crowd. But apart from that. You’ve no idea how much I enjoy the bike ride. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’ve tried to explain to you sometimes. It gets me away from things, and I like getting away from things. I feel—it’s hard to explain a stupid thing like this—I feel as if I were lifted out of things and able to look at things from a sort of other-world point of view. It’s jolly. Don’t you remember I suggested to you, oh, years ago, when we were first—when we first came here, suggested you might ride in part of the way with me of a morning, and told you the idea of the thing? You didn’t quite understand it—”
She pushed back her chair. “I don’t understand it now,” she said.
His eyes had been shining as they shone when he was interested or eager. He threw himself back in his seat. “Oh, well!”
She got up. She said in a very loud, very thin and edged voice, the little constrictions on either side of her nose extraordinarily deep:
“I never can understand any of your ideas, except that no one else ever seems to have them. Except your Fargus friends perhaps. I should keep them for them if I were you. Anyway, all I wanted to say I’ve said. All I wanted to say was that, if you persist in riding home in the dark, I really cannot allow Rebecca to go out and bring in your bicycle. After this leg of hers is over, if it ever is over, I really cannot allow it any more. That’s all I wanted to say.”
She left the room.
He began to fumble with extraordinary intensity in the pocket of his dinner jacket for his cigarette case. He could feel it, but his fingers seemed all thumbs. He got it out and it slipped through his fingers on to the table. His hands were shaking.