“What sort of rot do you want me to talk?” I asked.
“Common sense,” he said.
I resisted the desire to say that I was glad he acknowledged the Jervaise version of common sense to be one kind of rot.
“All serene,” I agreed.
He did not thank me.
And when I looked back on the happenings of the two hours that had elapsed since Jervaise had fetched me out of the improvised buffet, I was still greatly puzzled to account for his marked choice of me as a confidant. It was a choice that seemed to signify some weakness in him. I wondered if he had been afraid to trust himself alone with Anne at the Farm; if he were now suffering some kind of trepidation at the thought of the coming interview with his father? I found it so impossible to associate any idea of weakness with that bullying mask which was the outward expression of Frank Jervaise.
IN THE HALL
We found the family awaiting us in the Hall—Mr. and Mrs. Jervaise, Olive, and “Ronnie” Turnbull, whose desire to become one of the family by marrying its younger daughter was recognised and approved by every one except the young lady herself. Ronnie had evidently been received into the fullest confidence.
We had come in by the back door and made our way through the rather arid cleanliness of the houses’ administrative departments, flavoured with a smell that combined more notably the odours of cooking and plate-polish. The transition as we emerged through the red baize door under the majestic panoply of the staircase, was quite startling. It was like passing from the desolate sanitation of a well-kept workhouse straight into the lighted auditorium of a theatre. That contrast dramatised, for me, the Jervaises’ tremendous ideal of the barrier between owner and servant; but it had, also, another effect which may have been due to the fact that it was, now, three o’clock in the morning.
For just at the moment of our transition I had the queerest sense not only of having passed at some previous time through a precisely similar experience, but, also, of taking part in a ridiculous dream. At that instant Jervaise Hall, its owners, dependants and friends, had the air of being not realities but symbols pushed up into my thought by some prank of the fantastic psyche who dwells in the subconscious. I should not have been surprised at any incongruity in the brief passing of that illusion.
The sensation flashed up and vanished; but it left me with the excited feeling of one who has had a vision of something transcendental, something more vivid and real than the common experiences of life—just such a feeling as I have had about some perfectly absurd dream of the night.
* * * * *
Mr. Jervaise was a man of nearly sixty, I suppose, with a clean-shaven face, a longish nose, and rather loose cheeks which fell, nevertheless, into firm folds and gave him a look of weak determination. I should have liked to model his face in clay; his lines were of the kind that give the amateur a splendid chance in modelling.