“That is good!”
“There is one virtue in dogs,” said Hilary, “which human beings lack —they are incapable of mockery.”
But Bianca’s lips, parted, indrawn, seemed saying: ’You ask too much! I no longer attract you. Am I to sympathise in the attraction this common little girl has for you?’
Mr. Stone’s gaze was fixed intently on the wall.
“The dog,” he said, “has lost much of its primordial character.”
And, moving to his desk, he took up his quill pen.
Hilary and Bianca made no sound, nor did they look at one another; and in this silence, so much more full of meaning than any talk, the scratching of the quill went on. Mr. Stone put it down at last, and, seeing two persons in the room, read:
“’Looking back at those days when the doctrine of evolution had reached its pinnacle, one sees how the human mind, by its habit of continual crystallisations, had destroyed all the meaning of the process. Witness, for example, that sterile phenomenon, the pagoda of ‘caste’! Like this Chinese building, so was Society then formed. Men were living there in layers, as divided from each other, class from class—–’” He took up the quill, and again began to write.
“You understand, I suppose,” said Hilary in a low voice, “that she has been told not to come?”
Bianca moved her shoulders.
With a most unwonted look of anger, he added:
“Is it within the scope of your generosity to credit me with the desire to meet your wishes?”
Bianca’s answer was a laugh so strangely hard, so cruelly bitter, that Hilary involuntarily turned, as though to retrieve the sound before it reached the old man’s ears.
Mr. Stone had laid down his pen. “I shall write no more to-day,” he said; “I have lost my feeling—I am not myself.” He spoke in a voice unlike his own.
Very tired and worn his old figure looked; as some lean horse, whose sun has set, stands with drooped head, the hollows in his neck showing under his straggling mane. And suddenly, evidently quite oblivious that he had any audience, he spoke:
“O Great Universe, I am an old man of a faint spirit, with no singleness of purpose. Help me to write on—help me to write a book such as the world has never seen!”
A dead silence followed that strange prayer; then Bianca, with tears rolling down her face, got up and rushed out of the room.
Mr. Stone came to himself. His mute, white face had suddenly grown scared and pink. He looked at Hilary.
“I fear that I forgot myself. Have I said anything peculiar?”
Not feeling certain of his voice, Hilary shook his head, and he, too, moved towards the door.
“Each of us has a shadow in those places—in those streets.”
That saying of Mr. Stone’s, which—like so many of his sayings—had travelled forth to beat the air, might have seemed, even “in those days,” not altogether without meaning to anyone who looked into the room of Mr. Joshua Creed in Hound Street.