“Oh yes; he might.”
“Then I don’t know what you mean.”
Janet stood up from the bed. “I can smell bloaters for supper,” she said; “if you don’t hurry up, Mr. Hewson ’ll get the best one. I can see Mrs. Hewson picking it out for him. Come on. Put a blouse on. There’s a woman who’s sold her independence. She doesn’t get much for it, as far as I can see. Come on. I’m going to talk to Mr. Arthur about art to-night.”
It is one thing to say you could never marry a man, and it is another thing to refuse him when he asks you.
That very afternoon Mr. Arthur had received the intimation at his bank that he was shortly to be made a cashier. He glowed with the prospect. His conversation that evening was of the brightest. The poisoned shafts of Miss Hallard’s satire met the armoured resistance of his high spirits. They fell—pointless and unavailing—from his unbounded faith in himself. A man who, after a comparatively few years’ service in a bank, is deemed fitted for the responsible duties of a cashier, is qualified to express an opinion, even on art. Mr. Arthur expressed many.
“Don’t see how you can say a thing’s artistic if you don’t like it,” he declared.
“I think you’re quite right, Mr. Arthur,” said Mrs. Hewson. “If I like a thing—like that picture in one of the Christmas Annuals—I always say, ‘Now I call that artistic,’ don’t I, Ern?”
Her husband nodded with his mouth full of the best bloater.
“Well, you couldn’t call that thing artistic, Mrs. Hewson, if you mean the thing that’s over the piano in the sitting-room?”
“Why not?” asked Janet; “don’t you like it?”
“No,” said Mr. Arthur emphatically, “nor any one else either, I should think. I bet you a shilling they wouldn’t.”
“But Mrs. Hewson does,” Janet replied quietly. “Doesn’t that satisfy you that it must be artistic, since some one likes it?”
Mrs. Hewson, finding herself suddenly the object of the conversation, picked her teeth in hurried confusion. Her husband surveyed the company over the rim of his cup and then returned to his reading of the evening paper.
During the weighted silence that followed Janet’s last remark, he laid down his paper.
“I see,” he said, “as ’ow there are some people up in the north of England ’aving what they call Pentecostal visitations.”
Mrs. Hewson laughed tentatively, the uncertain giggle that scarcely dares to come between the teeth. She knew her husband’s leaning towards the arid humour of an obscure joke.
“What’s that, Ern?”
“Well, ’cording to the paper, they get taken with it sudden. They can’t stand up. They fall down in the middle of the service and roll about, just as if they’d ’ad too much to drink.”
Mrs. Hewson’s laugh became genuine and unafraid, a hysterical clattering of sounds that tumbled from her mouth.