Mrs. Martin, in her blouse, moved a little nearer the fire, and said she must be off soon to bed; Mrs. Mayle, in her black silk, added that there was no telling when her ladyship would get to bed, what with Mrs. Stapleton and all, and commiserated Miss Baker; Miss Baker moaned a little in self-pity; and Mr. Parker remarked for the fifth time that it was a wild night. It was an astonishingly serene and domestic atmosphere: no effort of imagination or wit was required from anybody; it was enough to make observations when they occurred to the brain, and they would meet with a tranquil response.
As half-past ten tinkled out from the little yellow marble clock on the mantelpiece—it had been won by Mrs. Mayle’s deceased husband in a horticultural exhibition—Mrs. Martin said that she must go and have a look at the scullery to see that all was as it should be; there was no knowing with these girls nowadays what they might not leave undone; and Mrs. Mayle preened herself gently with the thought that her responsibilities were on a higher plane. Mr. Parker made a courteous movement as if to rise, and remained seated, as the cook rustled out. Miss Baker sighed again as she contemplated the long conversation that might take place between the two ladies upstairs before she could get her mistress to bed.
Once more the tranquil atmosphere settled down on the warm room; the brass lamp burned brightly with a faint and reassuring smell of paraffin; the fire presented a radiant cavern of red coals fringed by dancing flames; and Mr. Parker leaned forwards to shake off the ash of his cigar.
Then, on a sudden, he paused, for from the passage outside came the passionless tinkle of an electric bell—then another, and another, and another, as if some person overhead strove by reiteration on that single note to cry out some overwhelming need.
Overhead in the great empty drawing-room the noise of the wind and rain, the almost continuous spatter on the glass, and the long hooting of the gusts, had been far more noticeable than in the basement beneath. Below stairs the company had been natural and normal, talking of this and that, in a brightly lighted room, dwelling only on matters that fell beneath the range of their senses, lulled by warmth and food and cigar-smoke into a kind of rapt self-contemplation. But up here, in the gloom, lighted only on this occasion by a single shaded candle, in a complete interior silence, three persons had sat round a table for more than an hour, striving by passivity and a kind of indescribable concentration to ignore all that was presented by the senses, and to await some movement from that which lies beyond them.
Lady Laura had sat down that night in a state of mind which she could not analyze. It was not that her anxieties had been lulled so much as counterbalanced; they were still there, at once poignant and heavy, but on the other side there had been the assured air of the medium, his reasonableness and his personality, as well as the enthusiasm of her friend, and her astonished remonstrances. She had decided to acquiesce, not because she was satisfied, but because on the whole anxiety was outweighed by confidence. She could not have taken action under such circumstances, but she could at least refrain from it.