Cecilia looked at Hilary. “I hardly think—–”
The landlady quickly turned the handles of the doors, showing that they would not open.
“I keep the key,” she said. “There’s a bolt on both sides.”
Reassured, Cecilia walked round the room as far as this was possible, for it was practically all furniture. There was the same little wrinkle across her nose as across Thyme’s nose when she spoke of Hound Street. Suddenly she caught sight of Hilary. He was standing with his back against the door. On his face was a strange and bitter look, such as a man might have on seeing the face of Ugliness herself, feeling that she was not only without him, but within—a universal spirit; the look of a man who had thought that he was chivalrous, and found that he was not; of a leader about to give an order that he would not himself have executed.
Seeing that look, Cecilia said with some haste:
“It’s all very nice and clean; it will do very well, I think. Seven shillings a week, I believe you said. We will take it for a fortnight, at all events.”
The first glimmer of a smile appeared on the landlady’s grim face, with its hungry eyes, sweetened by patience.
“When would she be coming in?” she asked.
“When do you think, Hilary?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Hilary. “The sooner the better—if it must be. To-morrow, or the day after.”
And with one look at the bed, covered by a piece of cheap red-and-yellow tasselled tapestry, he went out into the street. The shower was over, but the house faced north, and no sun was shining on it.
HILARY PUTS AN END TO IT
Like flies caught among the impalpable and smoky threads of cobwebs, so men struggle in the webs of their own natures, giving here a start, there a pitiful small jerking, long sustained, and failing into stillness. Enmeshed they were born, enmeshed they die, fighting according to their strength to the end; to fight in the hope of freedom, their joy; to die, not knowing they are beaten, their reward. Nothing, too, is more to be remarked than the manner in which Life devises for each man the particular dilemmas most suited to his nature; that which to the man of gross, decided, or fanatic turn of mind appears a simple sum, to the man of delicate and speculative temper seems to have no answer.
So it was with Hilary in that special web wherein his spirit struggled, sunrise unto sunset, and by moonlight afterward. Inclination, and the circumstances of a life which had never forced him to grips with either men or women, had detached him from the necessity for giving or taking orders. He had almost lost the faculty. Life had been a picture with blurred outlines melting into a softly shaded whole. Not for years had anything seemed to him quite a case for “Yes” or “No.” It had been his creed, his delight, his business, too, to try and put himself in everybody’s place, so that now there were but few places where he did not, speculatively speaking, feel at home.