Pondering deeply, he ascended the leafy lane that leads between high railings from Notting Hill to Kensington.
It was so far from traffic that every tree on either side was loud with the Spring songs of birds; the scent of running sap came forth shyly as the sun sank low. Strange peace, strange feeling of old Mother Earth up there above the town; wild tunes, and the quiet sight of clouds. Man in this lane might rest his troubled thoughts, and for a while trust the goodness of the Scheme that gave him birth, the beauty of each day, that laughs or broods itself into night. Some budding lilacs exhaled a scent of lemons; a sandy cat on the coping of a garden wall was basking in the setting sun.
In the centre of the lane a row of elm-trees displayed their gnarled, knotted roots. Human beings were seated there, whose matted hair clung round their tired faces. Their gaunt limbs were clothed in rags; each had a stick, and some sort of dirty bundle tied to it. They were asleep. On a bench beyond, two toothless old women sat, moving their eyes from side to side, and a crimson-faced woman was snoring. Under the next tree a Cockney youth and his girl were sitting side by side-pale young things, with loose mouths, and hollow cheeks, and restless eyes. Their arms were enlaced; they were silent. A little farther on two young men in working clothes were looking straight before them, with desperately tired faces. They, too, were silent.
On the last bench of all Hilary came on the little model, seated slackly by herself.
This the first time these two had each other at large, was clearly not a comfortable event for either of them. The girl blushed, and hastily got off her seat. Hilary, who raised his hat and frowned, sat down on it.
“Don’t get up,” he said; “I want to talk to you.”
The little model obediently resumed her seat. A silence followed. She had on the old brown skirt and knitted jersey, the old blue-green tam-o’-shanter cap, and there were marks of weariness beneath her eyes.
At last Hilary remarked: “How are you getting on?”
The little model looked at her feet.
“Pretty well, thank you, Mr. Dallison.”
“I came to see you yesterday.”
She slid a look at him which might have meant nothing or meant much, so perfect its shy stolidity.
“I was out,” she said, “sitting to Miss Boyle.”
“So you have some work?”
“It’s finished now.”
“Then you’re only getting the two shillings a day from Mr. Stone?”
The unexpected fervour of this grunt seemed to animate the little model.