THE SINGULAR BEHAVIOUR OF MARY SCOTT
The looking-glass was, perhaps, a little merciless in that clear north light, but Mary’s sigh as she looked away from it was certainly unwarranted. For, as a matter of fact, she had improved wonderfully since her coming to London. A certain angularity of figure had vanished—the fashionable clothes which Mr. Bullsom had insisted upon ordering for her did ample justice to her graceful curves and lithe buoyant figure. The pallor of her cheeks, too, which she had eyed just now with so much dissatisfaction, was far removed from the pallor of ill-health; her mouth, which had lost its discontented droop, was full of pleasant suggestions of humour. She was distinctly a very charming and attractive young woman—and yet she turned away with a sigh. She was twenty-seven years old, and she had been unconsciously comparing herself with a girl of eighteen.
She drew down one of the blinds and set the tea-tray where she could sit in the shadow. She was conscious of having dressed with unusual care—she had pinned a great bunch of fragrant violets in her bosom. She acknowledged to herself frankly that she was anxious to appear at her best. For there had come to her, in the midst of her busy life—a life of strenuous endeavour mingled with many small self-denials—a certain sense of loneliness—of insufficiency—a new thing to her and hard to cope with in this great city where friends were few. And last night, whilst she had been thinking of it, came this note from Brooks asking if he might come to tea. She had been ashamed of herself ever since. It was maddening that she should sit waiting for his coming like a blushing schoolgirl—the colour ready enough to stream into her face at the sound of his footstep.
He came at last—a surprise in more ways than one. For he had abandoned the blue serge and low hat of his daily life, and was attired in frock coat and silk hat—his tie and collar of a new fashion, even his bearing altered—at least so it seemed to her jealous observation. He was certainly looking better. There was colour in his pale cheeks, and his eyes were bright once more with the joy of life. Her dark eyes took merciless note of these things, and then found seeing at all a little difficult.
“My dear Mary,” he exclaimed, cheerfully—he had fallen into the way of calling her Mary lately “this is delightful of you to be in. Do you know that I am really holiday-making?”
“Well,” she answered, smiling, “I imagined that you were not on your way eastwards.”
“Where can I sit? May I move these?” He swept aside a little pile of newspapers and books, and took possession of the seat which she had purposely appropriated. “The other chairs are so far off, and you seem to have chosen a dark corner. Eastwards, no. I have been at the office all the morning, and we have bought the property in Poplar Grove and the house in Bermondsey. Now I have finished for the day. Doctor’s orders.”