“Our maid is out, you see, Mr. Melhuish,” she explained quickly, and turning to Brenda, continued without a pause, “So Anne has even had to lend you a dress. You’re about of a height, but you’re so much slighter. Still, with very little alteration, her things would fit you very well. If we should be obliged ...” She broke off abruptly as Anne returned, followed by Mr. Jervaise and the glowering, vindictive figure of his son.
Anne’s manner of entrance alone would have been sufficient to demonstrate her attitude to the intruders, but she elected to make it still more unmistakable by her announcement of them.
“The Jervaises, mother,” she said, with a supercilious lift of her head. She might have been saying that the men had called for the rent.
Little Mrs. Banks looked every inch an aristocrat as she received them. The gesture of her plump little white hands as she indicated chairs was almost regal in its authority.
Old Jervaise, obviously nervous, accepted the invitation, but Frank, after closing the door, stood leaning with his back against it. The position gave him command of the whole room, and at the same time conveyed a general effect of threat. His attitude said, “Now we’ve got you, and none of you shall leave the room until you’ve paid in full for your impertinence.” I had guessed from his knock that he had finally put his weakness for Anne away from him. He was clever enough to realise just how and why she had fooled him. His single object, now, was revenge.
Banks brooded, rather neglected and overlooked in a corner by the window. He appeared to have accepted his doom as assured, and being plunged into the final gulf of despair, he had, now, no heart even to be apologetic. The solid earth of his native country was slipping away from him; nothing else mattered.
There was one brief, tense interval of silence before old Jervaise began to speak. We all waited for him to state the case; Frank because he meant to reserve himself for the dramatic moment; we others because we preferred to throw the onus of statement upon him. (I do believe that throughout that interview it is fair to speak of “we others,” of the whole six of us, almost as of a single mind with a single intention. We played our individual parts in our own manners, but we were subject to a single will which was, I firmly believe, the will of Mrs. Banks. Even her husband followed her lead, if he did it with reluctance, while the rest of us obeyed her with delight.)
Old Jervaise fumbled his opening. He looked pale and tired, as if he would be glad to be out of it.
“We have called,” he began, striving for an effect of magisterial gravity; “we have come here, Mrs. Banks, to fetch my daughter. I understand that you’ve been away from home—you and your husband—and you’re probably not aware of what has taken—has been going on in your absence.”
“Oh! yes, we know,” Mrs. Banks put in disconcertingly. She was sitting erect and contemptuous in her chair at the foot of the table. For one moment something in her pose reminded me of Queen Victoria.