“Your mother would feel like that, too?” I dared in my extremity.
Any ordinary person would have parried that question by a semblance of indignation or by asking what I meant by it. Anne made no attempt to disguise the fact that the question had been justified. Her scorn gave way to a look of perplexity; and when she spoke she was staring out of the window again, as if she sought the spirit of ultimate truth on some, to me, invisible horizon.
“She isn’t practical,” was Anne’s excuse for her mother. “She’s so—so romantic.”
“I’m afraid I was being unpractical and romantic, too,” I apologised, rejoicing in my ability to make use of the precedent.
Anne just perceptibly pursed her lips, and her eyes turned towards me with the beginning of a smile.
“You little thought what a romance you were coming into when you accepted the invitation for that week-end—did you?” she asked.
“My goodness!” was all the comment I could find; but I put a world of feeling into it.
“And I very nearly refused,” I went on, with the excitement of one who makes a thrilling announcement.
Anne humoured my eagerness with a tolerant smile. “Did you?” she said encouragingly.
“It was the merest chance that I accepted,” I replied. “I was curious about the Jervaise family.”
“Satisfied?” Anne asked.
“Well, I’ve been given an opportunity of knowing them from the inside,” I said.
“You’ll be writing a play about us,” Anne remarked carelessly.
I was astonished to find that she knew I had written plays. “How did you know that I did that sort of thing?” I asked.
“I’ve seen one of them,” she said. “‘The Mulberry Bush’; when mother and I were in London last winter. And Arthur said you were the same Mr. Melhuish. I suppose Frank Jervaise had told him.”
“People who go to the theatre don’t generally notice the name of the author,” I commented.
“I do,” she said. “I’m interested in the theatre. I’ve read dozens of plays, in French, mostly. I don’t think the English comedies are nearly so well done. Of course, the French have only one subject, but they are so much more witty. Have you ever read Les Hannetons, for instance?”
“No. I’ve seen the English version on the stage,” I said.
I was ashamed of having written The Mulberry Bush, of having presumed to write any comedy. I felt the justice of her implied criticism. Indeed, all my efforts seemed to me, just then, as being worthless and insincere. All my life, even. There was something definite and keen about this girl of twenty-three that suddenly illuminated my intellectual and moral flabbiness. She had already a definite attitude towards social questions that I had never bothered to investigate. She had shown herself to have a final pride in the matter of blackmailing old Jervaise. And in half a dozen words she had exposed the lack of real wit in my attempts at playwriting. I was humbled before her superior intelligence. Her speech had still a faint flavour of the uneducated, but her judgments were brilliantly incisive; despite her inferentially limited experience, she had a clearer sight of humanity than I had.