“—Up to wealthy men whom they have not had the pleasure of meeting, it’s naturally a beastly conception of life to compare them with those unfortunate women whose existence of course we all know about, but would much rather not discuss. I really quite agree with you, I have a loathsome mind.”
Dolly rose with perfect dignity to her feet. “Do you think you ought to talk about things like that to me, Jack?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it is questionable whether one ought to treat one’s sister as a simple innocent, or talk to her, as undoubtedly you do talk in society to other men’s wives and other men’s daughters. I think myself that it doesn’t really matter. You’re not thinking of the impropriety of it. That doesn’t worry you in the least. Many a man has talked to you sympathetically on similar subjects before. You’ve listened to them. The fault in me is the gentle vein of irony. Irony’s an insidious thing when you grind it out of the truth. Sit down, Dolly; I won’t talk about it any more. I’ll pour the sweetest nothings you ever heard into your ears. Come on—sit down. It’s not much after nine. I only wanted to show you why I don’t appreciate society. I wouldn’t mind it, if it admitted its vices and called them by their names; I think I’d permit myself to be dragged into it by a woman who was clean right through; but as it is, and as it describes itself, I prefer the pavement artist with his little sack of coloured chalks. There’s not much reality, I admit, in his portrait of Lord Roberts or his beautiful pink and blue mackerel with its high light, that never shone on land or sea, except on the scales of that fish; there’s not much reality in them, when they’re finished, but there’s a hell of a lot of it in the doing of them.”
He sat and puffed at his pipe, while she remained standing, looking down into the fire.
The silence was long, then it was broken abruptly. A knock rattled gently on the door. It was soft, timid, but it rushed violently through their silence. Traill slid to his feet. His sister stood erect. Her eyes fastened to his face, and she watched him calculating the possibilities, as if he were counting them on his fingers, of whom it might be.
Then it came again.
“Who do you think it is?” she whispered. She was beginning already to shrink at the thought that some woman had come to see him. He heard that in her voice and casually smiled.
“It’s all right,” he said quietly. “I shan’t let any one in who’d offend your sense of propriety. However I talk, we’re related. Stay there.”
She watched him cross to the door; turned, so that she could still observe him and yet with one twist of the head, if any one entered, seem to have been untouched by any curiosity.
He opened the door. It cut off his face from view; but she heard his sudden exclamation of surprise, and allowed a thousand speculations to travel through her brain.