“I don’t want to know what the foul thing means.”
He still paused, looking hard at the boy. Then he sniffed.
“A young fool,” he said. “I repeat it.... Lock up when you come.... Good night.”
Mrs. Baxter possessed one of the two secrets of serenity. The other need not be specified; but hers arose from the most pleasant and most human form of narrow-mindedness. As has been said before, when things did not fit with her own scheme, either they were not things, but only fancies of somebody inconsiderable, or else she resolutely disregarded them. She had an opportunity of testing her serenity on one day early in February.
She rose as usual at a fixed hour—eight o’clock—and when she was ready knelt down at her prie-Dieu. This was quite an elaborate structure, far more elaborate than the devotions offered there. It was a very beautiful inlaid Florentine affair, and had a little shelf above it filled with a number of the little leather-bound books in which her soul delighted. She did not use these books very much; but she liked to see them there. It would not be decent to enter the sanctuary of Mrs. Baxter’s prayers; it is enough to say that they were not very long. Then she rose from her knees, left her large comfortable bedroom, redolent with soap and hot water, and came downstairs, a beautiful slender little figure in black lace veil and rich dress, through the sunlight of the staircase, into the dining-room.
There she took up her letters and packets. They were not exciting. There was an unimportant note from a friend, a couple of bills, and a Bon Marche catalogue; and she scrutinized these through her spectacles, sitting by the fire. When she had done she noticed a letter lying by Maggie’s place, directed in a masculine hand. An instant later Maggie came in herself, in her hat and furs, a charming picture, fresh from the winter sunlight and air, and kissed her.
While Mrs. Baxter poured out tea she addressed a remark or two to the girl, but only got back those vague inattentive murmurs that are the sign of a distracted mind; and, looking up presently with a sense of injury, noticed that Maggie was reading her letter with extraordinary diligence.
“My dear, I am speaking to you,” said Mrs. Baxter, with an air of slightly humorous dignity.
“Er—I am sorry,” murmured Maggie, and continued reading.
Mrs. Baxter put out her hand for the Bon Marche catalogue in order to drive home her sense of injury, and met Maggie’s eyes, suddenly raised to meet her own, with a curious strained look in them.
“Darling, what is the matter?”
Maggie still stared at her a moment, as if questioning both herself and the other, and finally handed the letter across with an abrupt movement.
“Read it,” she said.