“No, you shan’t go.” He barred her way. Her airiness had given him new hope.
“If you don’t behave sensibly, I’ll go altogether—give notice.”
“Then I’ll follow you to your next place.”
“No followers allowed. Seriously, I’ll leave if you are foolish.”
“Very well,” he said abruptly. “Let’s go on reading Plato,” and he turned to the book.
“No, no more Dialogues, in or out of Plato.”
She was smiling but stern. He opened the library door and bowed as she passed out.
“Remember,” he said. “I will remain foolish for ever.”
“You have too long an opinion of yourself,” was Eileen’s parting flash.
The next evening she sat in the drawing-room before dinner, softly playing an accompaniment to her thoughts. Why didn’t she feel anything about Robert Maper except a mild irritation at the destruction of so truly platonic a converse? In a book, of which his proposal savoured, she would have found him quite a romantic person. In the actuality she felt as frigid as if his marble forehead was chilling her, and what she remembered most acutely was his fishlike gasping. Then, too, the contradictoriness of his social attitude, his desire to make her a rich drone, his shame at his mother, his reclusive shyness—all the weaknesses of the man—came to obscure her sense of his literary idealism, if not, indeed, to reveal it as a mere coquetry with fine ideas and coarse clothes. And then for a moment the humour of being Mrs. Maper’s daughter-in-law appealed to her, and she laughed to herself in soft duet with the music.
And in the middle of the duet Mrs. Maper herself burst in, with her bodice half hooked and her hair half done.
“What’s this I hear, Miss Hirish Himpudence, of your goings-on with my son?”
Eileen swung round on her stool. “I beg your pardon,” she said.
“Oh, you can’t get out of it by beggin’ my pardon, creepin’ into the library like a mouse—and it’s a nice sly mouse you are, too, but there’s never a mouse without its cat—”
“She’d have done better to do your hair and mind her business,” said Eileen, calmly.
Mrs. Maper’s forefinger shot heavenwards. “It was you as ought to have minded your business. I didn’t pay you like a lady and feed you like a duchess to set your cap at your betters. But I told Mr. Maper what ’ud come of it if we let you heat with us, though I didn’t dream what a sly little mouse—”
The torrent went on and on. Eileen as in a daze watched the theatric forefinger—now pointed at the floor as if to the mouse-hole, now leaping ceilingwards like the cat,—and her main feeling was professional. She was watching her pupil, storing up in her memory the mispronunciations and vulgarisms for later insinuative improvement. Only a tithe of her was aware of the impertinence. But suddenly she heard herself interrupting quietly.