“If any one has earned a holiday,” she said, quietly, “you have. There is some cake on the table there.”
“Thanks. Well, it was hard work at first. How we stuck at it down at Stepney, didn’t we? Six in the morning till twelve at night. And then how we rushed ahead. It seems to me that we have been doing nothing but open branches lately.”
“I wonder,” she said, “that you have stood it so well. Why don’t you go away altogether for a time? You have such splendid helpers now.
“Oh, I’m enjoying myself,” he answered, lightly, “and I don’t care to be out of touch with it all.”
“You enjoy contrasts,” she remarked. “I saw your name in the paper this morning as one of Lady Caroom’s guests last night.”
“Yes, Lady Caroom has been awfully good to me, and I seem to have got to know a lot of pleasant people in an incredulously short time.”
“You are a curious mixture,” she said, looking at him thoughtfully.
“Of what?” he asked, passing his cup for some more tea.
“Of wonderful self-devotion,” she answered, “and a genuine and natural love of enjoyment. After all, you are only a boy.”
“I fancy,” he remarked, smiling, “that my years exceed yours.
“As a matter of fact they don’t,” she answered, “but I was not thinking of years, I was thinking of disposition. You have set going the greatest charitable scheme of the generation, and yet you are so young, so very young.”
He laughed a little uneasily. In some vague way he felt that he had displeased her.
“I never pretended,” he said, “that I did not enjoy life, that I was not fond of its pleasures. It was only while my work was insecure that I made a recluse of myself. You, too,” he said, “it is time that you slackened a little. Come, take an evening off and we will dine somewhere and go to the theatre.” How delightful it sounded. She felt a warm rush of pleasure at the thought. They would want her badly at Stepney, but “This evening?” she asked.
“Yes. No, hang it, it can’t be this evening. I’m dining with the Carooms—nor to-morrow evening. Say Thursday evening, will you?”
Something seemed suddenly to chill her momentary gush of happiness.
“Well,” she said, “I think not just yet. We have several fresh girls, you know—it is a bad time to be away. Perhaps you will ask me later on.”
He laughed softly.
“What a funny girl you are, Mary. You’d really rather stew in that hot room, I believe, than go anywhere to enjoy yourself. Such women as you ought to be canonized. You are saints even in this life. What can be done for you in the next?”
Mary bit her lip hard, and she bent low over the tea-cups. In another moment she felt that her self-control must go. Fortunately he drifted away from the subject.
“Very soon,” he said, “we must all have a serious talk about the future. The management is getting too big for me. I think there should be a council elected—something of the sort must be done, and soon.”