“I do not know whether your story is an allegory or not,” she said softly. “It really doesn’t matter, does it? You must come and see me again—afterwards.”
Burton travelled down to Garden Green on the following morning by the Tube, which he hated, and walked along the familiar avenue with loathing at his heart. There was no doubt about Ellen’s being at home. The few feet of back yard were full of white garments of unlovely shape, recently washed and fluttering in the breeze. The very atmosphere was full of soapsuds. Ellen herself opened the door to him, her skirts pinned up around her, and a clothes-peg in her mouth.
He greeted her with an effort at pleasantness. “Good morning, Ellen,” he said. “I am glad to find you at home. May I come in?”
Ellen removed the clothes-peg from her mouth.
“It’s your own house, isn’t it?” she replied, with a suspicious little quiver in her tone. “I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten your way into the parlor. Keep well away from me or you may get some soapsuds on your fine clothes.”
She raised her red arms above her head and flattened herself against the wall with elaborate care. Burton, hating himself and the whole situation, stepped into the parlor. Ellen followed him as far as the threshold.
“What is it you want?” she demanded, still retaining one foot in the passage. “I’m busy. You haven’t forgotten that it’s Friday morning, have you?”
“I want to talk to you for a little while,” he said, gently. “I have something to propose which may improve our relations.”
Ellen’s attitude became one of fierce contempt mingled with a slight tremulousness.
“Such ridiculous goings-on and ways of speaking!” she muttered. “Well, if you’ve anything to say to me you’ll have to wait a bit, that’s all. I’ve got some clothes I can’t leave all in a scurry like this. I’ll send Alf in to keep you company.”
Burton sighed but accepted his fate. For a few moments he sat upon the sofa and gazed around at the hopeless little room. Then, in due course, the door was pushed open and Alfred appeared, his hair shiny, his cheeks redolent of recent ablutions, more than a trifle reluctant. His conversation was limited to a few monosyllables and a whoop of joy at the receipt of a shilling. His efforts at escape afterwards were so pitiful that Burton eventually let him out of the window, from which he disappeared, running at full tilt towards a confectioner’s shop.
Presently Ellen returned. It was exceedingly manifest that her temporary absence had not been wholly due to the exigencies of her domestic occupation. Her skirt was unpinned, a mauve bow adorned her throat, a scarf of some gauzy material, also mauve, floated around her neck. She was wearing a hat with a wing, which he was guiltily conscious of having once admired, and which she attempted, in an airy but exceedingly unconvincing fashion, to explain.