“That’s Mr. Arthur,” said Janet. “He’s drunk.”
And whereas Janet found sympathy for him, Sally lost that which she had.
The dinner was fixed some few days later for seven o’clock in a little restaurant in Soho.
“Don’t think because I chose this place,” concluded Traill’s letter, “that I am considering the fact that we are not dressing, and that, therefore, it ought not to be some ultra-fashionable place. You shall come to those another time if you wish. This particular evening I want to be quiet, and this is the quietest place I know. I leave the theatre to your choosing. Anything will suit me, I have seen them all.”
Janet watched her across the breakfast-table as she folded the letter and crumpled it into her pocket. Their eyes met and they smiled.
“I shan’t be in to dinner this evening, Mrs. Hewson,” Sally said presently.
Mrs. Hewson looked up from a plate of shrimps which had been left over from the last evening’s supper. Her sharp little eyes criticized Sally. Janet often stayed out for the evening; that was by no means an uncommon occurrence. Art students are convivial souls; they love the unconventionality of the evenings in each other’s company. Sometimes Sally went with her to a small impromptu dance or a musical at-home in the purlieus of Chelsea. But never before had she announced that she was going out by herself. Mrs. Hewson did not profess to have any control over the morals of her lodgers, so long as they did not reflect in any way upon her own respectability; but she could not refrain from that British desire for interference in other people’s affairs in the cause of morality itself.
Morality itself, not as any means to an end, but just its bare superficial display of conventional morals, is treasure in heaven to the average English mind. And their morality itself is a poor business—cheap at the best. To be respectable, to do what others expect of you, is the backbone of all their virtue. It has been said, we are a nation of shopkeepers. If that is true, then all the shops are in one street, packed tight, the one against the other. For we are a nation of neighbours too, prone to do what is being done next door, and a lax king upon the throne of England could turn our morals upside down. All things are fashions—even moralities—they take longer to come and longer to go, but they change with the rest of things nevertheless, and we follow, doing what is at the moment the thing to do.
In Mrs. Hewson’s eyes, as she looked up at Sally, was a considerate inquiry blent with curiosity, touched with suspicion which she tried in vain to conceal.
“Going out to dinner, Miss Bishop?” she asked.
“Oh—that’s nice for you—isn’t it?”
Though Janet had finished her breakfast, she waited on with amusement concealed behind an expressionless exterior.