“You can have two cupfuls of water to wash your hands and one for your face. You’ll find the barrel and basin upon the back porch. And don’t throw the water away! I’ll save it for you to use the next time you come.”
“Thank you. But I washed over at Garton’s. He lets me have two cupfuls for my face. And now I’m going to help you. What can I do?”
“Nothing. If you wanted to work, why did you wait until the last minute? Unless you know how to set a table?”
“I can set anything from an eight-day clock to a hen,” he assured her, gravely. “Where’s Mr. Crawford? Has he come yet?”
“No. I expect him any minute. But we won’t wait for him. It’s against the law in the Crawford home to wait meals for anybody.”
Under her direction he found the dishes in a cupboard built into the walls, knives, forks, spoons, and napkins in drawers below, and journeying many times from kitchen to dining-room, stopping after each trip to stand and watch his hostess in her preparations for dinner, he at length had the table set. And then he insisted upon helping play waiter with her until she informed him that he was positively retarding matters. Whereupon he made a cigarette and sat upon the kitchen table and merely watched.
For many days Conniston had longed to see Mr. Crawford, to talk with him concerning the big work. Now, as he and Argyl sat down together, his one wish was that Mr. Crawford be delayed indefinitely. As he looked across the table, with its white cloth, its few cheap dishes, its simple fare, he was conscious of a deep content. He helped Argyl to the piece de resistance—it consisted of dried beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots all stewed together; she passed to him the biscuits which she had just made; they drank each other’s health and success to the Great Work in light, cooled claret made doubly refreshing with a dash of lemon; and they dined ten times as merrily as they would have dined at Sherry’s.
He told her of Tommy Garton, and suddenly surprised in her a phase of nature which he had never seen before. Her eyes filled with a quick, soft sympathy, a sympathy almost motherly.
“Poor little Tommy,” she said, gently. “He laughs at himself and calls himself ‘half a man,’ while he’s greater than any two men he comes in contact with once in a year. I call Tommy my cathedral—which sounds foolish, I know, but which isn’t! Do you know the feeling you get when you steal all alone into one of those great, empty, silent churches, where it is always a dim twilight? Not that Tommy is as somber and stately as a great cathedral,” she smiled. “Just the opposite, I know. But his sunny nature, his unruffled cheerfulness affect me like a sermon. When I allow myself to descend into the depths and see how Tommy manages it, I feel as if I ought to be spanked. I think,” she ended, “that I have pretty well mixed things up, haven’t I? But you understand what I mean?”