“Of course, Mr. Arthur can afford it,” Mrs. Hewson went on. Sally made no reply. Mr. Hewson simpered affectedly. “Of course, I’m only supposin’ it’s Mr. Arthur. P’raps I may be quite wrong.” Sally still resorted to silence. “Are you going to a theayter with him?” She shot the last bolt—went as far as decency in such matters and such surroundings would permit, and it succeeded—it forced Sally to retort.
“It’s not Mr. Arthur, Mrs. Hewson—there is no need to worry yourself.” She snapped the words—broke them crisp and sharp with pardonable irritation and spirit.
“Oh—indeed—I’m not worrying meself. I’m sorry to have made you so offended like—it’s no affair of mine. I’m quite aware of that—only that I thought, seeing you’ve been here nigh on two years and never gone out by yourself before like—I was only just making—whatcher might call—friendly inquiry about it—see?”
She brushed the heads of the shrimps into the slop-basin with her hand and stood up, evidently offended, from the table.
“Of course, it’s no business of mine, and I have no cause to complain of anything you do; you give no offence to me, I must say that. I never had better be’aved lodgers than I’ve got at present.”
“But you felt curious?” suggested Janet.
“Me? Curious? Well, I think that’s the last thing you could accuse me of. I’ve got enough affairs of me own without worrying about other people’s. Me? Curious?” She laughed at the impossibility of such a thing, and began to clear away the breakfast things with more noise than was actually necessary.
“Well, there’s nothing to be excited about, then,” said Janet.
Mrs. Hewson laid a cup and saucer with such gentleness upon a pile of plates that the absence of noise was oppressive.
“I’m not excited,” she said with crimson cheeks.
“Sorry,” said Janet, laconically; “thought you were. If there’s a thing more hateful than another, I think it’s the vexation of a person who can’t satisfy their curiosity about some other body’s business. Don’t you think so, Mrs. Hewson?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. Those abstruse matters don’t worry me.”
“No? Well, that is so, and it’s about the commonest weakness of humanity. If I thought you worried about our affairs—of course, I know you don’t, you’re most reasonable—I wouldn’t stay here another minute.”
The colour in Mrs. Hewson’s cheeks went from red to white.
“But you said I was curious,” she said in a reserved voice.
“Oh yes, that was only fun! Hadn’t you better get a key, Sally, if you’re going to be late. Can you spare Miss Bishop a key, Mrs. Hewson?”
“Certainly; of course; I’ll go and get it.”
They both laughed when she had gone out. Sally told Janet that she was wonderful.
“She’ll never meddle again,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it like you did.”