Miss Tattersall, Olive Jervaise’s friend, a rather abundant fair young woman, warmed by excitement to the realisation that she must flirt with some one, also noticed the theatrical sound of that announcement of midnight. She giggled a little nervously as stroke succeeded stroke in an apparently unending succession.
“It seems as if it were going on all night,” she said to me, in a self-conscious voice, as if the sound of the bell had some emotional effect upon her.
“It’s because it’s out of place,” I said for the sake of saying something; “theatrical and artificial, you know. It ought to be...” I did not know quite what it ought to be and stopped in the middle of the sentence. I was aware of the wide open door, of the darkness beyond, and of the timid visiting of the brilliant, chattering crowd by the fragrance of scented night-stock—a delicate, wayward incursion that drifted past me like the spirit of some sweet, shabby fairy. What possible bell could be appropriate to that air? I began, stupidly, to recall the names of such flowers as bluebell, hare-bell, Canterbury-bell. In imagination I heard their chime as the distant tinkling of a fairy musical-box.
Miss Tattersall, however, took no notice of my failure to find the ideal. “Yes, isn’t it?” she said, and then the horrible striking ceased, and we heard little Nora Bailey across the Hall excitedly claiming that the clock had struck thirteen.
“I counted most carefully,” she was insisting.
“I can’t think why that man doesn’t come,” Mrs. Sturton repeated in a raised voice, as if she wanted to still the superstitious qualms that Miss Bailey had started. “I told him to come round at a quarter to twelve, so that there shouldn’t be any mistake. It’s very tiresome.” She paused on that and Jervaise was inspired to the statement that the fly came from the Royal Oak, didn’t it, a fact that Mrs. Sturton had already affirmed more than once.
“What makes it rather embarrassing for the dear Jervaises,” Miss Tattersall confided to me, “is that the other things aren’t ordered till one—the Atkinsons’ ’bus, you know, and the rest of ’em. Brenda persuaded Mrs. Jervaise that we might go on for a bit after the vicar had gone.”
I wished that I could get away from Miss Tattersall; she intruded on my thoughts. I was trying to listen to a little piece that was unfolding in my mind, a piece that began with the coming of the spirit of the night-stock into this material atmosphere of heated, excited men and women. I realised that invasion as the first effort of the wild romantic night to enter the house; after that.... After that I only knew that the consequences were intensely interesting and that if I could but let my thoughts guide me, they would finish the story and make it exquisite.
“Oh! did she?” I commented automatically, and cursed myself for having conveyed a warmth of interest I certainly did not feel.