When he had gone, Lennan remained staring at his unfinished sheep-dogs in the gathering dusk. Again that sense of irritation at contact with something strange, hostile, uncomprehending! Why let these Dromores into his life like this? He shut the studio, and went back to the drawing-room. Sylvia was sitting on the fender, gazing at the fire, and she edged along so as to rest against his knees. The light from a candle on her writing-table was shining on her hair, her cheek, and chin, that years had so little altered. A pretty picture she made, with just that candle flame, swaying there, burning slowly, surely down the pale wax—candle flame, of all lifeless things most living, most like a spirit, so bland and vague, one would hardly have known it was fire at all. A drift of wind blew it this way and that: he got up to shut the window, and as he came back; Sylvia said:
“I like Mr. Dromore. I think he’s nicer than he looks.”
“He’s asked me to make a statuette of his daughter on horseback.”
“And will you?”
“I don’t know.”
“If she’s really so pretty, you’d better.”
“Pretty’s hardly the word—but she’s not ordinary.”
She turned round, and looked up at him, and instinctively he felt that something difficult to answer was coming next.
“I wanted to ask you: Are you really happy nowadays?”
“Of course. Why not?”
What else to be said? To speak of those feelings of the last few months—those feelings so ridiculous to anyone who had them not— would only disturb her horribly.
And having received her answer, Sylvia turned back to the fire, resting silently against his knees. . . .
Three days later the sheep-dogs suddenly abandoned the pose into which he had lured them with such difficulty, and made for the studio door. There in the street was Nell Dromore, mounted on a narrow little black horse with a white star, a white hoof, and devilish little goat’s ears, pricked, and very close together at the tips.
“Dad said I had better ride round and show you Magpie. He’s not very good at standing still. Are those your dogs? What darlings!”
She had slipped her knee already from the pummel, and slid down; the sheep-dogs were instantly on their hind-feet, propping themselves against her waist. Lennan held the black horse—a bizarre little beast, all fire and whipcord, with a skin like satin, liquid eyes, very straight hocks, and a thin bang-tail reaching down to them. The little creature had none of those commonplace good looks so discouraging to artists.
He had forgotten its rider, till she looked up from the dogs, and said: “Do you like him? It is nice of you to be going to do us.”
When she had ridden away, looking back until she turned the corner, he tried to lure the two dogs once more to their pose. But they would sit no more, going continually to the door, listening and sniffing; and everything felt disturbed and out of gear.