’A lady, a friend of my sister’s, has just brought me some news. I expect she is as tired and hungry as I am. Do you think,’ coaxingly, ’that you could get tea for us in the parlour, Mrs. Hunter? and perhaps you will join us there’; for class-instinct had awoke in Eric at the sight of a lady’s face, and I suppose, in spite of my Quakerish gray gown, I was still young enough to make him hesitate about entertaining me in his bachelor’s room.
There was a short parley after this. Then Mrs. Hunter came up panting, and, still wiping her hands from imaginary soap-suds, carried off the steak and the three-cornered loaf. ’It will be ready in about twenty minutes, Jack,’ she observed, with a good-natured nod.
Eric employed the interval of waiting by questioning me eagerly about his sisters. Then he tried to find out, in a gentlemanly way, how I contrived to be so mixed up with his family. This led to a brief resume of my own history and work, and by the time Mrs. Hunter called us I felt as though I had known Eric for years.
Mrs. Hunter beamed on us as we entered. There was really quite a tempting little meal spread on the round table, though the butter was not fresh nor the forks silver, but the tea was hot and strong, and the bread was new. And Eric produced from his stores some lump sugar and a pot of strawberry jam, and I did full justice to the homely fare.
When Mrs. Hunter went into the kitchen to replenish the teapot I took the opportunity of consulting Eric about a lodging for the night. It was too late to return to Heathfield. Besides, I had made up my mind that Eric should accompany me. Aunt Philippa and Jill were in Switzerland, and the house at Hyde Park Gate would be empty. I could not well go to an hotel without any luggage. Eric seemed rather perplexed, and said we must take Mrs. Hunter into our confidence, which we did, and the good woman soon relieved our minds.
She said at once that she knew an excellent person who let lodgings round the corner,—a Miss Moseley. Miss Gunter, who had been a music-mistress until she married the young chemist, had lived with her for six years; and Miss Crabbe, who was in the millinery department at Howell’s, the big shop in Kimber Street, was still there. Miss Gunter’s room was vacant, and she was sure Miss Moseley would take me in for the night and make me comfortable.
I begged Mrs. Hunter to open negotiations with this obliging person, and she pulled down her sleeves at once, and tied her double chin in a very big black bonnet. While she was gone on this charitable errand, Eric and I sat by the parlour window in the gathering dusk, and I told him about Gladys’s engagement to Uncle Max.
He seemed much excited by the news. ’I always thought that would be a case,’ he exclaimed: ’I could see Mr. Cunliffe cared for her even then. Well, he is a first-rate fellow, and I am awfully glad.’ And then he fell into a reverie, and I could see there were tears in his eyes.