Hilary’s face had assumed its retired expression. ’I cannot go into that with you,’ it seemed to say.
Quick to see the change, Creed rose. “But I’m intrudin’ on your dinner,” he said—“your luncheon, I should say. The woman goes on irritatin’ of him, but he must expect of that, she bein’ his wife. But what a misfortune! He’ll be back again in no time, and what’ll happen then? It won’t improve him, shut up in one of them low prisons!” Then, raising his old face to Hilary: “Oh dear! It’s like awalkin’ on a black night, when ye can’t see your ’and before yer.”
Hilary was unable to find a suitable answer to this simile.
The impression made on him by the old butler’s recital was queerly twofold; his more fastidious side felt distinct relief that he had severed connection with an episode capable of developments so sordid and conspicuous. But all the side of him—and Hilary was a complicated product—which felt compassion for the helpless, his suppressed chivalry, in fact, had also received its fillip. The old butler’s references to the girl showed clearly how the hands of all men and women were against her. She was that pariah, a young girl without property or friends, spiritually soft, physically alluring.
To recompense “Westminister” for the loss of his day’s work, to make a dubious statement that nights were never so black as they appeared to be, was all that he could venture to do. Creed hesitated in the doorway.
“Oh dear,” he said, “there’s a-one thing that the woman was a-saying that I’ve forgot to tell you. It’s a-concernin’ of what this ’ere man was boastin’ in his rage. ‘Let them,’ he says, ’as is responsive for the movin’ of her look out,’ he says; ‘I ain’t done with them!’ That’s conspiracy, I should think!”
Smiling away this diagnosis of Hughs’ words, Hilary shook the old man’s withered hand, and closed the door. Sitting down again at his writing-table, he buried himself almost angrily in his work. But the queer, half-pleasurable, fevered feeling, which had been his, since the night he walked down Piccadilly, and met the image of the little model, was unfavourable to the austere process of his thoughts.
MR. STONE IN WAITING
That same afternoon, while Mr. Stone was writing, he heard a voice saying:
“Dad, stop writing just a minute, and talk to me.”
Recognition came into his eyes. It was his younger daughter.
“My dear,” he said, “are you unwell?”
Keeping his hand, fragile and veined and chill, under her own warm grasp, Bianca answered: “Lonely.”
Mr. Stone looked straight before him.
“Loneliness,” he said, “is man’s chief fault”; and seeing his pen lying on the desk, he tried to lift his hand. Bianca held it down. At that hot clasp something seemed to stir in Mr. Stone. His cheeks grew pink.