“It doesn’t matter,” said Miss Ford calmly. “We are all going across the sea to-morrow.” She roused herself a little, and said to Mr. Frere with a smile: “You know, I inherit the sea tradition. My father commanded H.M.S. Indigestible in ’84.”
“I wonder what put out the flame so suddenly?” asked Mr. Tovey, who was still dreamily beating time to imaginary music with one hand.
“I put it out,” said Richard.
“I wonder whose house it is?” added Mr. Tovey, turning vaguely to face Richard.
“It is my house,” said Richard.
They all discovered his presence.
“Your house, dear Rrchud?” exclaimed Lady Arabel. “Are you sure? I didn’t know the Higginses had any house property on Mitten Island.”
“They haven’t now,” replied Richard. “But never mind. It has always seemed to me that there were too many houses in the world. Most houses are traps into which everything enters, and out of which nothing comes. It always grieves me to see tradesmen pouring sustenance in at the back door, and no result or justification coming out of the front door. I often think that only the houses that men’s bodies have deserted are really inhabited.”
“It was I who burnt your house down, Richard,” said Miss Ford. “But it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t a real house.”
“You are right,” said Richard. “To such as you, dear Meta, it was not a real house. It was the House of Living Alone, and only to people who live alone was it real. It is dark and deserted now, and levelled with the cold ground; it is as though it were a tent, being moved from its position to follow the fortunes of those dwellers alone who wander continually in silence up and down the world....”
He looked at Sarah Brown.
“Talking of wandering,” said Miss Ford. “We are all going to America, Richard. Can you get us passports?”
“Certainly,” agreed Richard. “To America, eh? A nice little trip for you all. America, you know, would be entirely magic, if it weren’t for the Americans....”
“I have quite a circle of friends in New York,” said Miss Ford, who seemed to be recovering from her nerve-storm.
“Beware,” said Richard, “lest you all forget the magic of to-night, and change from adventurers to tourists.”
“I am not going to America,” said Lady Arabel. “I am going home. I never heard such dretful nonsense. I was only in fun when I agreed to the plan.”
“I never agreed to the plan at all,” said Mr. Frere. “I shall be truly thankful to get to bed, and wake up to-morrow sober. I will never go out to tea in Kensington again if this is the result.”
“I am going to America,” said Mr. Tovey, fixing his innocent eyes, obscured by hair, upon Miss Ford.
“I am going to America,” echoed the unseen Mayor from an unexpected direction. Nobody had yet dared to tell him of the misfortune that had overtaken him. “I’ll give up this Mayor job to-morrer. Catch me stayin’ be’ind if—oh, by the way, that reminds me——”