Once he had gone to a wedding reception, and among the serious presents some grinning Philistine drew his attention to an uncouth club—“a wife-beater” he called it. The flippancy had jarred upon John terribly: this intrusive reminder of the customs of the slums. It grated like Billingsgate in a boudoir. Now that savage weapon recurred to him—for a lurid instant he saw Winifred’s husband wielding it. Oh, abomination of his sex! And did he stand there, in his immaculate evening dress, posing as an English gentleman? Even so might some gentleman burglar bear through a salon his imperturbable swallow-tail.
Beat a woman! Beat that essence of charm and purity, God’s best gift to man, redeeming him from his own grossness! Could such things be? John Lefolle would as soon have credited the French legend that English wives are sold in Smithfield. No! it could not be real that this flower-like figure was thrashed.
“Do you mean to say—?” he cried. The rapidity of her confidence alone made him feel it all of a dreamlike unreality.
“Hush! Cecilia’s singing!” she admonished him with an unexpected smile, as her fingers fell from her face.
“Oh, you have been making fun of me.” He was vastly relieved. “He beats you—at chess—or at lawn-tennis?”
“Does one wear a high-necked dress to conceal the traces of chess, or lawn-tennis?”
He had not noticed her dress before, save for its spiritual whiteness. Susceptible though he was to beautiful shoulders, Winifred’s enchanting face had been sufficiently distracting. Now the thought of physical bruises gave him a second spasm of righteous horror. That delicate rose-leaf flesh abraded and lacerated!
“The ruffian! Does he use a stick or a fist?”
“Both! But as a rule he just takes me by the arms and shakes me like a terrier. I’m all black and blue now.”
“Poor butterfly!” he murmured poetically.
“Why did I tell you?” she murmured back with subtler poetry.
The poet thrilled in every vein. “Love at first sight,” of which he had often read and often written, was then a reality! It could be as mutual, too, as Romeo’s and Juliet’s. But how awkward that Juliet should be married and her husband a Bill Sykes in broadcloth!
Mrs. Glamorys herself gave “At Homes,” every Sunday afternoon, and so, on the morrow, after a sleepless night mitigated by perpended sonnets, the love-sick young tutor presented himself by invitation at the beautiful old house in Hampstead. He was enchanted to find his heart’s mistress set in an eighteenth-century frame of small-paned windows and of high oak-panelling, and at once began to image her dancing minuets and playing on virginals. Her husband was absent, but a broad band of velvet round Winifred’s neck was a painful reminder of his possibilities. Winifred, however, said it was only a touch of sore throat caught in the garden. Her eyes added that there was nothing in the pathological dictionary which she would not willingly have caught for the sake of those divine, if draughty moments; but that, alas! it was more than a mere bodily ailment she had caught there.