Miss Bengough’s eyes were on the floor. Without moving them she said, “You’re not regretting it, Paul?”
“Am I not?” he took her up. “Upon my word, I’ve lately thought I am! What do I get in return for it all?”
“You know what you get,” she replied.
He might have known from her tone what else he could have had for the holding up of a finger—herself. She knew, but could not tell him, that he could have done no better thing for himself. Had he, any time these ten years, asked her to marry him, she would have replied quietly, “Very well; when?” He had never thought of it....
“Yours is the real work,” she continued quietly. “Without you we jackals couldn’t exist. You and a few like you hold everything upon your shoulders.”
For a minute there was a silence. Then it occurred to Oleron that this was common vulgar grumbling. It was not his habit. Suddenly he rose and began to stack cups and plates on the tray.
“Sorry you catch me like this, Elsie,” he said, with a little laugh.... “No, I’ll take them out; then we’ll go for a walk, if you like....”
He carried out the tray, and then began to show Miss Bengough round his flat. She made few comments. In the kitchen she asked what an old faded square of reddish frieze was, that Mrs. Barrett used as a cushion for her wooden chair.
“That? I should be glad if you could tell me what it is,” Oleron replied as he unfolded the bag and related the story of its finding in the window-seat.
“I think I know what it is,” said Miss Bengough. “It’s been used to wrap up a harp before putting it into its case.”
“By Jove, that’s probably just what it was,” said Oleron. “I could make neither head nor tail of it....”
They finished the tour of the flat, and returned to the sitting-room.
“And who lives in the rest of the house?” Miss Bengough asked.
“I dare say a tramp sleeps in the cellar occasionally. Nobody else.”
“Hm!... Well, I’ll tell you what I think about it, if you like.”
“I should like.”
“You’ll never work here.”
“Oh?” said Oleron quickly. “Why not?”
“You’ll never finish Romilly here. Why, I don’t know, but you won’t. I know it. You’ll have to leave before you get on with that book.”
He mused for a moment, and then said:
“Isn’t that a little—prejudiced, Elsie?”
“Perfectly ridiculous. As an argument it hasn’t a leg to stand on. But there it is,” she replied, her mouth once more full of the large-headed hat pins.
Oleron was reaching down his hat and coat. He laughed.
“I can only hope you’re entirely wrong,” he said, “for I shall be in a serious mess if Romilly isn’t out in the autumn.”