With the words “I am ready,” spoken from the doorway, Mr. Stone interrupted further colloquy....
But though the girl’s position in the household had, to all seeming, become established, now and then some little incident—straws blowing down the wind—showed feelings at work beneath the family’s apparent friendliness, beneath that tentative and almost apologetic manner towards the poor or helpless, which marks out those who own what Hilary had called the “social conscience.” Only three days, indeed, before he sat in his brown study, meditating beneath the bust of Socrates, Cecilia, coming to lunch, had let fall this remark:
“Of course, I know nobody can read his handwriting; but I can’t think why father doesn’t dictate to a typist, instead of to that little girl. She could go twice the pace!”
Blanca’s answer, deferred for a few seconds, was:
“Hilary perhaps knows.”
“Do you dislike her coming here?” asked Hilary.
“Not particularly. Why?”
“I thought from your tone you did.”
“I don’t dislike her coming here for that purpose.”
“Does she come for any other?”
Cecilia, dropping her quick glance to her fork, said just a little hastily: “Father is extraordinary, of course.”
But the next three days Hilary was out in the afternoon when the little model came.
This, then, was the other reason, on the morning of the first of May, which made him not averse to go and visit Mrs. Hughs in Hound Street, Kensington.
FIRST PILGRIMAGE TO HOUND STREET
Hilary and his little bulldog entered Hound Street from its eastern end. It was a grey street of three-storied houses, all in one style of architecture. Nearly all their doors were open, and on the doorsteps babes and children were enjoying Easter holidays. They sat in apathy, varied by sudden little slaps and bursts of noise. Nearly all were dirty; some had whole boots, some half boots, and two or three had none. In the gutters more children were at play; their shrill tongues and febrile movements gave Hilary the feeling that their “caste” exacted of them a profession of this faith: “To-day we live; to-morrow—if there be one—will be like to-day.”
He had unconsciously chosen the very centre of the street to walk in, and Miranda, who had never in her life demeaned herself to this extent, ran at his heels, turning up her eyes, as though to say: ’One thing I make a point of—no dog must speak to me!’
Fortunately, there were no dogs; but there were many cats, and these cats were thin.
Through the upper windows of the houses Hilary had glimpses of women in poor habiliments doing various kinds of work, but stopping now and then to gaze into the street. He walked to the end, where a wall stopped him, and, still in the centre of the road, he walked the whole length back. The children stared at his tall figure with indifference; they evidently felt that he was not of those who, like themselves, had no to-morrow.