And she saw herself, back at Tunbridge Wells. No longer the mistress, but the underpaid underling. Eating once more off fine old china, at a table sparkling with silver and glass. But the bread was bitter, the bread of the dependent. And she came and went at another’s bidding, and the yoke was not easy. She trod once more, round and round, in that little circle which she knew so well. She used to think that the walls would stifle her. How much more would they not stifle her now that she had known this larger freedom?
“I say,” said Reggie’s voice from the doorway, “here’s someone coming to see you.”
It was Mrs. Sharp, making her laborious way slowly up the path.
“Why,” said Nora, in a low voice, “it’s Mrs. Sharp, the wife of our neighbor. Whatever brings her here on foot! She never walks a step if she can help it.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Sharp,” she called.
Mrs. Sharp had apparently come on some sudden impulse. Usually, well as they knew each other by this time, she always made more or less of a toilet before having her husband drive her over. But to-day she had evidently come directly from her work. She wore a battered old skirt and a faded shirt-waist, none too clean. On her head was an old sunbonnet, the strings of which were tied in a hard knot under her fat chin.
“Come right in,” said Nora cordially. “You do look warm.”
“Good afternoon to you, Mrs. Taylor. Yes, I’m all in a perspiration. I’ve not walked so far—well, goodness alone knows when!”
“This is my brother,” said Nora, presenting Eddie.
“Your brother? Is that who it is!”
“Why, you seem surprised.”
Mrs. Sharp forbore any explanation for the moment. Sinking heavily into the rocking chair, she accepted with a grateful nod the fan that Nora offered her. There was nothing to do but to give her time to recover her breath. Nora and Eddie sat down and waited.
“I was so anxious,” Mrs. Sharp at length managed to say, still panting—whether with exhaustion or emotion, Nora could not tell—between her sentences, “I simply couldn’t stay indoors—another minute. I went out to see if I—could catch a sight of Sid. And I walked on, and on. And then I saw the rig what’s—outside. And it gave me such a turn! I thought it was the inspector. I just had to come—I was that nervous——!”
“But why? Is anything the matter?” asked Nora, completely puzzled.
“You’re not going to tell me you don’t know about it? When Sid and Frank haven’t been talking about anything else since Frank found it?”
“Found it? Found what?”
“The weed,” said Mrs. Sharp simply.
“You’ve got it then,” said Marsh, with a slight gesture of his head toward the table where Nora’s flowers made a bright spot of color.