To these words Cecilia answered with a sound almost like a gasp. “I hadn’t thought of that. Then we’re responsible; it was we who advised Hilary to make her change her lodging.”
Stephen stared; he regretted sincerely that his legal habit of mind had made him put the case so clearly.
“I can’t imagine,” he said, almost violently, “what possesses everybody! We—responsible! Good gracious! Because we gave Hilary some sound advice! What next?”
Cecilia turned to the empty hearth.
“Thyme has been telling me about that poor little thing. It seems so dreadful, and I can’t get rid of the feeling that we’re—we’re all mixed up with it!”
“Mixed up with what?”
“I don’t know; it’s just a feeling like—like being haunted.”
Stephen took her quietly by the arm.
“My dear old girl,” he said, “I’d no idea that you were run down like this. To-morrow’s Thursday, and I can get away at three. We’ll motor down to Richmond, and have a round or two!”
Cecilia quivered; for a moment it seemed that she was about to burst out crying. Stephen stroked her shoulder steadily. Cecilia must have felt his dread; she struggled loyally with her emotion.
“That will be very jolly,” she said at last.
Stephen drew a deep breath.
“And don’t you worry, dear,” he said, “about your dad; he’ll have forgotten the whole thing in a day or two; he’s far too wrapped up in his book. Now trot along to bed; I’ll be up directly.”
Before going out Cecilia looked back at him. How wonderful was that look, which Stephen did not—perhaps intentionally—see. Mocking, almost hating, and yet thanking him for having refused to let her be emotional and yield herself up for once to what she felt, showing him too how clearly she saw through his own masculine refusal to be made to feel, and how she half-admired it—all this was in that look, and more. Then she went out.
Stephen glanced quickly at the door, and, pursing up his lips, frowned. He threw the window open, and inhaled the night air.
‘If I don’t look out,’ he thought, ’I shall be having her mixed up with this. I was an ass ever to have spoken to old Hilary. I ought to have ignored the matter altogether. It’s a lesson not to meddle with people in those places. I hope to God she’ll be herself tomorrow!’
Outside, under the soft black foliage of the Square, beneath the slim sickle of the moon, two cats were hunting after happiness; their savage cries of passion rang in the blossom-scented air like a cry of dark humanity in the jungle of dim streets. Stephen, with a shiver of disgust, for his nerves were on edge, shut the window with a slam.
HILARY HEARS THE CUCKOO SING
It was not left to Cecilia alone to remark how very white Mr. Stone looked in these days.