“I have no right to give advice, I suppose,” he said; “but in my opinion you should drop it—drop it dead. The girl is not worth your looking after. Turn her over to that Society—Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace’s thing whatever it’s called.”
At a sound as of mirth Stephen, who was not accustomed to hear his brother laugh, looked round.
“Martin,” said Hilary, “also wants the case to be treated on strictly hygienic grounds.”
Nettled by this, Stephen answered:
“Don’t confound me with our young Sanitist, please; I simply think there are probably a hundred things you don’t know about the girl which ought to be cleared up.”
“Then,” said Stephen, “they could—er—deal with her accordingly.”
Hilary shrank so palpably at this remark that he added rather hastily:
“You call that cold-blooded, I suppose; but I think, you know, old chap, that you’re too sensitive.”
Hilary stopped rather abruptly.
“If you don’t mind, Stevie,” he said, “we’ll part here. I want to think it over.” So saying, he turned back, and sat down on a seat that faced the sun.
THE PERFECT DOG
Hilary sat long in the sun, watching the pale bright waters and many well-bred ducks circling about the shrubs, searching with their round, bright eyes for worms. Between the bench where he was sitting and the spiked iron railings people passed continually—men, women, children of all kinds. Every now and then a duck would stop and cast her knowing glance at these creatures, as though comparing the condition of their forms and plumage with her own. ‘If I had had the breeding of you,’ she seemed to say, ’I could have made a better fist of it than that. A worse-looking lot of ducks, take you all round. I never wish to see!’ And with a quick but heavy movement of her shoulders, she would turn away and join her fellows.
Hilary, however, got small distraction from the ducks. The situation gradually developing was something of a dilemma to a man better acquainted with ideas than facts, with the trimming of words than with the shaping of events. He turned a queer, perplexed, almost quizzical eye on it. Stephen had irritated him profoundly. He had such a way of pettifying things! Yet, in truth, the affair would seem ridiculous enough to an ordinary observer. What would a man of sound common sense, like Mr. Purcey, think of it? Why not, as Stephen had suggested, drop it? Here, however, Hilary approached the marshy ground of feeling.
To give up befriending a helpless girl the moment he found himself personally menaced was exceedingly distasteful. But would she be friendless? Were there not, in Stephen’s words, a hundred things he did not know about her? Had she not other resources? Had she not a story? But here, too, he was hampered by his delicacy: one did not pry into the private lives of others!